We had a really fine, really well-crafted serial last time, didn’t we? Well, we like variety, don’t we? Don’t we? Brace yourselves for another soap opera.
From the Improvement Era, 1931-32 –
A Daughter of Martha
By Ivy Williams Stone
Night was falling softly on the plains, with the slow shadows of gray veiling the monotony of the endless flats. Camp-fires burned brightly, and with singing and soft laughter a weary company of travelers came to the end of a hard day’s trek. Men and women, boys and young girls, children of playful years, too young to realize the hardships of the trip, joined in the song and prayer which marked the close of another day. Strangers from many lands were gathered here, their strangeness melting into the close friendship of a single purpose, and their lives, once so different, becoming as one life, with one end in view — the reaching of the promised westland, where none should be hurt, and none should be afraid, and happiness be complete.
Quiet in the midst of pleasant confusion, Margaret Kirkman sat a little apart from the others, on a grassy mound, and wondered at the turns of fate which had brought her here. Memories crowded in upon her with lightning swiftness, and in a few moments she lived over the events and experiences of the past many years. The prairie faded away, and the light of the campfire became the illumination of the dying South African sun, setting upon a peaceful little village. It was ten years ago. The cattle and oxen were safe in the kralls, and the mock orange hedges made an effective barrier against the depredations of predatory animals. The Kafir house servants, good servants if you kept them in their place and fed them well, went about their usual routine with childish simplicity. Fort Somerset on the hill, fully garrisoned with trained English soldiers, was an ever present reminder to the Kafirs and Hottentots of the futility of another uprising. Peace had endured for eleven years.
Ticky, the chore boy for the Kirkman family, had caught a monkey by baiting a gourd with lump sugar. The four Kirkman boys were gathered about the chattering little animal, with other children in the village, laughing at the frightened little fellow. But Margaret Kirkman, wife of John Kirkman, storekeeper and trader, did not join the general hilarity.
“John,” she whispered to her husband, “I like not the feeling I have. I have seen several Kafirs, tattooed and naked, sneaking through the thicket. They are painted and have their ox skin shields and those deadly assagais. You had best go to the Fort and bring soldiers.”
“You borrow trouble, my wife,” answered John Kirkman, “you are not well. They will never again dare to rise against the English. We are too powerful.”
John Kirkman glanced about. He felt an impending, ominous fear which he could not explain. Life had been secure and peaceful — too much so.
With a wild, piercing cry the war broke forth from the shelter of the orange thickets, and the following evening the setting sun was reddened and dulled with the smoke that rose from the plundered village. And there, under the African skies, illumined with flames, with only God and neighbor women to help, Margaret Kirkman bore a child — a girl child, with a wealth of curling, auburn hair, a little pug nose, delicately formed hands and thin, transparent skin.
“Dear God,” breathed Margaret Kirkman, “Save her from the menace of the black race. Lead us to another country where we may live in peace.”
Then missionaries had come who had told of a wondrous country across the Atlantic, across the United States, far on to a land called Utah.
“But there are negroes even in the States,” parried John Kirkman, who hesitated to leave his hardearned holdings.
“But they are slaves,” answered his wife.
“This land of which I heard is far beyond the slave country. These people, themselves, are fled from persecutions. They preach a wonderful religion. They worship God as their conscience dictates. They are far beyond trouble.”
Ten years later, sincere converts to this marvelous religion, Margaret Kirkman and her sons and the youthful Gloria stood on the beach, ready to start for America and the United States and the great inland country beyond, where their religion beckoned them. Her husband, who was to follow his wife and children as soon as he could dispose of their chain of isolated stores, gravely presented Margaret with a new wedding ring and fifteen yards of heavy, black silk.
“This,” he announced, “has traveled from England to Africa; now it goes on from Africa to Utah; would that I could go in its stead!” He picked up the wide-eyed, wondering Gloria and kissed the flamboyant curls.
“Little daughter,” his voice in spite of great control faltered a little, “I send you with your mother and brothers to a land of freedom, peace and plenty. Await my coming.”
After sixty days, during which the daily pumping of the boat never ceased, the Henrietta had finally covered the sixty-eight hundred miles, and docked at New York. Here was a queer board, called a gang plank, down which the wondering Gloria walked, with a brother in front and one behind. Before them was an odd, round building, called Castle Gardens. It was here, their guiding missionary had told them, that the Swedish nightingale had sung. They called her Jenny Lind. Her marvelous voice had charmed the whole world. Would some adventurer find her, Gloria, and her curls, in that far away land to which they journeyed, and would she become famous?
Her childish reverie was rudely interrupted by an exclamation of dismay from Margaret Kirkman. A bold-speaking, self-assured military officer in blue, his glance covetous as he surveyed the four tall, stalwart, well built sons of Margaret Kirkman, approached.
“We need fine young men like you in our army.” His voice was mellowed, his manner flattering. “We can offer you splendid boys real pay, real food, and glory fighting for a real cause. There will be many benefits afterwards. Choice lands will go to the soldiers. You boys can help set the down-trodden black men free.”
Free black men! Margaret Kirkman caught her breath. Was it for this she had traveled nearly seven thousand miles? Had she left husband and holdings and prosperity, to send her sons to free black men from whom she was fleeing? Quickly she glanced at her sons and motioned them to silence.
“Ons is Mormons. Ons is op weg na Utah. Ons wil nie veg nie.” She spoke evenly, in the language of the African-born Boer.
“I do not know your Dutch, but I will get an interpreter,” answered the officer quickly. “He can make you understand. Wonderful chance for immigrant boys to secure land.”
Almost before Margaret Kirkman had a chance to explain her motive to her sons, and to admonish them to silence, the officer returned, accompanied by a man whom she easily recognized as a Boer.
He began to talk to them in the native Afrikaandan, which she and her sons understood perfectly, but which they pretended not to know. When he had finished a glowing account of the benefits of the Union Army, Margaret Kirkman spoke again, in the language of the Kafirs, which the faithful Mooloo had taught her in idle moments.
“Gina lo Mormons. Gina hamba lapa lo Utah. Gina aikona juna ilwa.” Imitating the guttural click of the Kafirs, she stared at the interpreter with an assumed stupidity.
“Can’t you speak English or Dutch?” he demanded crossly. “Gina aikona niass” (“We do not understand”), she repeated.
“The poor slaves are whipped like cattle and sold in the markets,” urged the enlisting officer. “The plantation owners of the South have no mercy. Land will be your reward.”
“Gina aikona niaas,” repeated Margaret Kirkman, glad of her ability to speak this language.
“I don’t understand them,” the interpreter turned to the officer. “They don’t speak Boer or English. A native jargon which I know not. They are Mormons, that much I can understand.”
The officer in blue swore audibly. “D– the Mormons!” he cried harshly. “If you could talk sense, we would take you anyway!”
Gloria stood silently by, watching the custom officers open their trunks. Dress goods which later kept them from actual want had been torn into short pieces, to avoid duty. Two heavy porcelain dinner plates, which later became valuable exhibits, were wrapped in a thin Paisley shawl. There was the confusing changing of their English money into the American coinage. These people all spoke of dollars. It took more than four shillings to equal one of them, and almost five of those dollars to equal a pound sterling. These people spoke of eagles and half eagles. Ten dimes, twenty nickels, a hundred pennies, two halves and four quarters, all equalled the same; a dollar. There was paper money too. Margaret Kirkman turned to her sons, relying upon their youth and adaptability to solve this necessary adjustment.
“Mind, lady,” the custom officer spoke gravely, “no matter what inducements are offered, do not change your money into coin that does not bear the stamp of the U. S. A.”
The immigrants had occasion to remember the warning. Scarcely had they left Castle Gardens when a suave, polite man approached them, offering to change currency of the Confederate States of America two for one. “I could see, lady,” his voice was just a trifle too smooth, “that you are a stranger in a strange land. I like to help deserving people like you.”
Margaret Kirkman shook her head, but the man persisted.
“The Confederate States are financially sound; they are bound to win in this great conflict. Their homes, their lands, are at stake. But they wish their currency scattered broadcast. For one of your dollars, you can buy two dollars worth.”
All Margaret Kirkman knew was the warning of the officer. Here was a war over black men, from whom she had fled. She studied the expression of this money-changer, but his gaze never met hers directly. His eyes were shifting, suspicious.
“Gina aikona niaas,” she answered.
“Maybe that would have been a good thing,” Stephen hoped for quick wealth.
“Never expect something for nothing, my son,” counseled Margaret Kirkman. “The States are established — I cannot trust anything which has to do with the treacherous black man.”
The marvels of Broadway fascinated the young Gloria. Polk bonnets, crinoline skirts, pantalettes, fringed shawls, gay parasols with folding handles. Horses drawing fancy, open carriages. But there were no velvet riding habits and plumed hats, such as Lady Somerset had worn back in Africa. Men with grave faces and long beards — men in uniform — men with a flapping sleeve or a peg leg! Whenever Gloria saw a blue coat she sought refuge behind her mother’s full skirts.
A train, with red plush cushions, the first she had ever seen, took them farther West, closer to their promised land. But after two days the train was halted by more blue coated horsemen and after a brief parley the Mormon immigrants were turned out with the terse comment:
“To the cattle cars with you Mormons. They’re too good for such as you. Huskies like you should fight!”
Thus Margaret Kirkman, who had never seen a snowstorm, who had never done a washing, whose life had been built around an indulgent husband, and the slow, even tenure of colored servants, found herself and family established in a none too clean cattle car, on the last lap of the journey to the Missouri.
From St. Louis to Omaha by boat. More men in uniform, some of them gray. Glimpses of negroes, some arrogant, as befitted a freeman, some humble and cowering. They were blacker than the Kafirs and lacked the stalwart bodies. Why should white men fight and die for such as these?
It was hard for Margaret Kirkman to understand.
Two wagons were carefully loaded with bounteous provisions, and the treasures from far away England, which had come from the grandfather who fought under Wellington. Four oxen to each wagon, a cow, a sheet iron stove. White flour, dried fruits, beans and peas. Slabs of bacon, which the rough hostlers called “sow belly.” Margaret Kirkman fashioned a capacious wall-pocket on the white canvas cover, for handy storage, and put a clever little step on the rear, so the active Gloria could climb in quickly when she tired of walking. Flowers everywhere. Meadows dotted with pink, fragrant blossoms. Sand lillies around the ant hills. Inquisitive little prairie dogs, chattering chipmunks that knew no fear, but came in to your meals as if bidden. Shaggy, lumbering buffalo, that occasionally furnished fresh meat. The rivers plentiful with fish. The start of the journey was like a glorious vacation.
Thomas and Stephen Kirkman, accustomed to handling sixteen oxen through the swollen streams of Africa, were capable teamsters when fording a river. But all the men of the party were not so skilled. Despite their warning, an elderly man drove rashly into an untried ford, and his oxen floundered and lost their footing. The wagon turned on its side, and in the confusion that followed, and the rescuing of family and household belongings, he failed to count his family. From the half submerged portion of the wagon came evidence of a desperate struggle. Thomas Kirkman plunged downward and groped blindly about. He felt, rather than saw, a head, covered with long trailing hair. He grasped it firmly, bound it around his wrist and came to the surface, pulling a young woman by her watery locks!
The next night, after the train had made camp, a band of Indians rode up. They were dressed for the war path, and again Margaret Kirkman felt a sickening weakness. True, they were not black; but their lithe, stalwart bodies were built for ruthless action, their eyes were cruelly cold. It was their first encounter with Indians, and therein Stephen Kirkman learned a lesson he never forgot. He soon learned that it is the height of folly to lie to or joke with, an Indian.
From the security of the front wagon, Gloria peered out at the Indians, fascinated by their bright feathers and painted faces. Their ponies were lively and spotted, like the pattern on calico. Seeing her brothers talking with them, she grew bolder and drew back the canvas.
“That your squaw?” demanded the chief, pointing a feathered arrow at Gloria’s bright head.
Stephen nodded, and thought to have fun. “How many ponies you give me for her?” he queried.
The chief instantly became serious. He called his warriors, had them double up and promptly offered five ponies in exchange for the squaw, whose bright tresses so fascinated him.
Stephen knew his mistake and was deeply troubled. “No — no — “ he shook his head. “Little squaw. Heap little squaw.” He motioned behind him with his hands, and the alert Gloria slipped quickly from her own wagon to the inner side of the circle. She did not know just what it was all about, but understood she was a part of the argument, from the glances the chief had cast toward her. She entered another wagon and hid under a feather bed. The chief continued his demands and finally dismounted and ransacked the Kirkman wagon, turning everything topsy-turvey, grunting his disgust at the escape of the squaw whom he had coveted. Finally he rode off, vowing vengeance. Gloria remained in hiding all evening, and the crestfallen and wiser Stephen assumed all the tasks of rearranging the disheveled wagon. But the incident was not ended, and the captain of the company, wise to the ways of Indians, doubled the night watch, and put all the cattle inside the circle. Just before dawn, from the security of a nearby hill, the band of Indians bore down upon them. Screaming their inimitable war cry, they circled the camp, seeking to stampede the oxen. Inside her wagon, Margaret Kirkman wondered if Indians were as cruel to their captives as the Hottentots and Kafirs, and she thought of her dead father and brothers. But as she prayed for deliverance, she prepared extra ammunition, knowing that Stephen, who assumed all blame for the attack, had placed himself in the most dangerous post. But no shots were fired; the Indians had sought only to stampede the oxen, leaving the immigrants helpless. That night, when the train was fifteen miles further along, Stephen, always slow of speech made the terse comment:
“Indians are not like negroes. You can’t joke with them. If I could find some black dye, I would dip Gloria’s hair.”
A month later Gloria started out with her youngest brother Henry, to drive the milk cows. They left camp an hour early, in order to seek noon pasture for the cows. Gloria had begged for days for this privilege, and now Margaret Kirkman felt the day was propitious as the country seemed level and smooth. If she tired, she could rest under a tree or by a stream to await the train.
Gloria skipped ahead of the placid, browsing cows. She chased a squirrel until he found refuge in a hole; she was enthralled by the song of a bird from a nearby tree. She sucked the nectar from the stems of the ant lilies, and searched diligently for thimble berries. She flung her slatted bonnet back from her face as the morning grew warmer, and let the prairie wind ruffle her curls. She filled her pockets with delicately lined stones, and assisted her brother to drag a dead tree close to the trail so the train would find it and bring the precious firewood into camp. She saw beauty in a line of buffalo profiled on a hill top. Finally tiring, she sat down to await the fanned her curls and carried with it a faint cry. A human voice, faint, but unmistakably human: “Help!”
Gloria glanced fearfully about her. Indians! was her first conclusion. Indians come to steal her. Indians who loved red hair. Gloria cried aloud in her sudden fright, and this time the breeze brought a louder, more hopeful cry: “Help — I am hurt!”
Indians did not talk that way, nor Kafirs. Perhaps one of those negroes over whom the white men were foolishly fighting. But somewhere there was a human, needing help. That hereditary power which urges all true Englishmen never to give up an undertaking came to her aid. The power which had urged a grandfather through the battle of Waterloo, that had turned her mother’s face westward, urged the child Gloria. She gave a loud Halloo and was answered with another faint cry, from farther up the creek. Flinging away her bonnet, she hastened in the direction of the cry. Shortly she found a saddle bag, farther on a canteen, then a gun. A little farther, and she came upon a prostrated, wounded man. His bloody shirt indicated a chest wound; his lips were parched with fever. He lay prostrate on the creek bank, unable to move. He was tantalizingly near the stream, without strength to crawl to it.
“Water, child,” he muttered. “Water!”
Afterwards, Gloria’s memory seemed hazy as to how she accomplished the feat. But having revived the man with water, and telling him of her train which would soon pass on the trail, she urged him to crawl to the trail before they passed. She half carried him, half dragged him down the slight incline. He was slightly built and Gloria had a sinewy strength in her slender limbs and arms. Frequent rests, much encouragement, and finally they came in sight of the trail and the approaching ox train.
“Mother,” gasped Gloria, “I have saved a man. He is not black like the Kafirs; nor red like the Indians. He is white. He is red with blood.”
Gentle, willing hands lifted the injured man to a bed in a wagon. The captain had a slight knowledge of surgery. Sage tea was quickly prepared and hot drinks administered. The man slept, and later told his story.
“I am Jonas Whitman from England. My wife and two sons are ahead in Captain Dread’s company. Two days ago Indians stole four fine horses, and three of us returned to find them. I became separated from my companions, and my horse stumbled in a badger hole and discharged my gun — I guess into my shoulder. I thought I was raving with fever when I caught a glimpse of her bright curls, with the sunlight on them. Then I called for help. The Lord sent her to me.” He smiled his gratitude and ran a caressing hand over the curls. Gloria thought his visionary, dreamy eyes were very beautiful.
When the party camped for noon, Henry was much impressed with his sister’s adventure. “You were brave, Curly,” he praised, and she felt repaid for the effort. Before the train started again, a whirl of dust was noticed approaching them, and soon a light wagon drove into camp, horse drawn. Two worried men came up. Had anyone seen a man? He was slightly built, and wore a shepherd plaid suit. His companions had missed him; his wife was distracted.
When they drove away with an improvised bed in the back of the wagon, Jonas Whitman stroked the red curls and gave her a benevolent smile:
“Little girl, you were Heaven sent. Only through your efforts am I restored to my family. May your courage stay with you throughout your life, Crown of Glory.”
The train arrived in Salt Lake City September first. Captain Patterson congratulated all four of the Kirkman sons on their prowess and training for pioneer life. He praised young Gloria for her bravery. He reassured the timid Margaret Kirkman that coyotes were not man eating, that Indians did not always carry off little girls, that life would be worth the living.
The two wagons had stood up under a severe test, but now one wheel required repairs. So Stephen rolled the weakened wheel to a blacksmith shop and his mother went along, to do some other shopping as well. When the job was finished, Margaret Kirkman reached into her voluminous pocket for the purse where she had kept a precious five hundred dollars in gold. She had had no occasion to use any of the money since leaving Omaha, three months before. To her astonishment and grief, the purse was not there.
She felt in her other pocket. She hastily searched for a possible hole, but both pockets were sound.
“Stephen” she called in terror — “my purse — our money is gone. I have lost all our money. Five hundred dollars. My pockets are empty!”
A hasty return to camp only brought the consolation of sympathizing friends. A hurried search of the two wagons, a return with horse and cart to the scene of the last camp fire gave only false hopes. The money was gone. Their supplies were practically exhausted. There was not even sufficient funds to pay the blacksmith for his services. The hope of purchasing a home, of buying provisions, of filing on land, all seemed vanished and blasted.
“I have only that black silk that is not cut,” with hope almost dead in her heart, Margaret Kirkman wondered how she could pay the smith his just bill. “Perhaps we can sell that silk,” she thought.
“Perhaps I could sell my gun,” volunteered Stephen.
With the beautiful silk pattern on her arm, and the English made gun over Stephen’s shoulder, together they traveled from door to door. But money was hardly known, barter being the means of exchange. Finally they returned to the smith’s shop. “You may have the silk for your bill,” Margaret Kirkman was too weary even to cry. “I cannot pay you in money.”
“So fine a silk is not fitted to this land of pioneering,” the smith was not unkind, but frank. “I need sturdy homespun for my children’s clothes. But I will take part. Perhaps my wife can at some time wear it. You are a sister in distress.”
He measured off six yards with his begrimed hands, and Stephen rejoiced that the cloth was black. They returned to the night camp. Gloria and the boys had prepared a meal the best they could, of the few provisions still left. Too weary to eat, Margaret Kirkman sought the seclusion of her wagon and knelt in prayer.
“Dear Lord,” she muttered, “guide me to my lost purse.”
As she rose to rejoin her family, a severe wind struck the wagon. The canvas sides flapped; the bows creaked, the contents of the wall pocket fell into the wagon. Margaret Kirkman reached to replace them. In the bottom of one pocket she felt a leather pouch; it was heavy with metal that clinked. In a flash she remembered. When the Indians had tried to stampede the cattle, she had transferred the money from her dress to the wall pocket, thinking it was safer.
She stepped out to call the children. The air was unstirred and calm. No wind was rustling the canvas of the other wagons.