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Chapter One


“Son, you simply cannot be serious about this!” Martha Willis carefully sat her fragile teacup on its equally fragile saucer before she jumped to her feet in agitation.  “Ohio Country is so far away, and full of wild Indians!  Your entire family is here! Why can’t you settle right here on this land?” 

Jacob did not doubt his Mother was upset.  She was wringing her hands and trying very hard not to cry.  None of her children had left her, and no matter that she had six other children living close by, she was not the type of woman to easily let go of even one of her precious brood.  He answered gently and without rancor.  “You know why, Mother.  John is to inherit this land, and I want something to call my own.”

“But, John loves you and he considers you his partner.  If that is not enough, Jacob, then your father will assist you in finding land right here.”

“Mother, I want to go to Ohio.  I have talked of this for a long time now.  I want to do as Grandfather did, and make my own way in the world.  I want to choose my place, and improve on it.  I want to build my own house, as he did.”

“You are a dreamer!” Martin Willis had overheard enough of the conversation before entering the parlor to add his two cents worth.  “Do you think to build a fine house and farm a wild land all by yourself?  Why, you shall be scalped before your next birthday!” he added, causing his wife to cry out in fear.  “I beg your pardon, my dear.”  Martin did not want his son to leave either, and he suddenly felt compassion for the grandparents his own father left behind across the Atlantic to come to New York to make a life for himself.

“Please, Jacob, listen to your father.  It is much too dangerous in the wilderness.  I must insist you stay right here.” Martha used the firm tone that used to bring her children to heel, and then she stomped her foot when Jacob merely smiled at her.  “Jacob, this is not amusing!”

“I am sorry, Mother, but this is what I have dreamed of for the last five years.  John is more than capable of carrying on here.  He has Jason to help him, and John has sons who will want to work the land when they are older.  My decision is made and I am leaving next week.”  His mind was made up and the only reason he was telling his Mother now was to give her time to come to terms with the fact he was leaving.  That and the fact he needed time to see everyone in his family before he left.

“And if I forbid you to leave?” Martin bellowed at his son.

Jacob looked at his father and smiled.  “I will remind you that I am a full grown man, Father.  I do not need your permission to follow my dreams.  I have worked and saved my earnings for several years now.  I have already purchased my wagon and supplies.  All that remains is to wait another week to make sure the weather is stable, and have time to say goodbye to the relatives and my friends here.

“No, Jacob!  I will never see you again if you leave!” Martha’s face fell and tears ran down her cheeks.

“I will write, Mother.”  It was all he could offer, and it did not appease Martha Willis one little bit.

“And it will take months for even one letter to reach us, Jacob!  And, what of marriage and children?  There are no women in Ohio!  At least none you can marry!”  Martha put her hand over her heart.  “Why, this news will devastate dear Caroline!  Mrs. Hershey has confided in me that Caroline has set her cap for you!”

“Mother, I have barely said five words to Caroline Hershey!” Jacob was shocked to learn the pretty little redhead was looking at him as a possible husband!  Why, the girl used to play with his little sister Jenny, and he was forever the one who got them out of mischief in the hopes of doing so before Martin Willis learned of it and cut a switch to stripe Jenny’s backside.  “Caroline is pampered and spoiled.  No thank you, I would not consider that frivolous little girl for a wife; she would never survive the hardships of living in a wagon while I clear the land and put in a crop and build a cabin.  If I were to marry it would have to be to a woman who was not afraid to work by my side to build a life.  And marriage is not in my immediate future.”

“Women aren’t suited to such work, son,” Martin said firmly, agreeing with his son.  “And, you are wise to stay away from that Caroline Hershey.  The girl hasn’t a lick of sense.  I had to punish our Jenny for getting into mischief with Caroline right before Jenny wed James.  If Caroline’s Father paid more attention to what was happening right in his own house, he would take a stick to Caroline and teach her to act her age.  No man in his right mind would marry that impossible little trouble maker.”

“Now, that is unkind, husband!” Martha scolded gently.  “Our Jenny was as much a part of that unfortunate prank as dear Caroline.  While I do not think it fair that our Jenny was punished and Caroline was not, you cannot place all the fault on Caroline.  Jenny admitted to me that the whole of it was her idea and Caroline tried unsuccessfully to talk her out of frightening Widow Franklin.  Jenny said it was her last chance to be a child before she married James, and her only complaint was that Caroline’s bottom did not suffer as hers did.”

“That whole escapade was Jenny’s idea?” Martin was obviously astounded.  “Our Jenny’s?” he repeated.

“Yes, husband.  And before you lose your dreadful temper to go riding over there to scold, I would thank you to remember that our daughter is with child.”

“She is?” Martin was shocked once again.  “So soon?”

“She has been married for six months, husband.  It is not unheard of for a child to be born in the first year of marriage,” Martha said calmly.

“I will still caution her against spending time with that Caroline, however.”

Jacob made sure his father did not see his smile.  Martin took his role as a parent seriously, even after his children were grown and adults.  John was now thirty years of age, married, and blessed with three children of his own, but Martin felt it his duty to try and guide him as well as his youngest, Jenny, who was newly wed.  Jacob, at twenty-four, was his own man and the time for fulfilling his dream had arrived.

“Jacob, I sincerely wish you would reconsider.  Our table will be empty with you gone,” Martha exaggerated as she was wont to do.

“Now, Mother, you already have more children and grandchildren than will fit around your table,” he teased, and then crossed the room to take her hand in his and squeeze it gently as he bent down to kiss her cheek.  “I shall miss you, too, and I promise I shall write often.  This is my dream, Mother, and the west calls to me.  I am aware of the dangers, but I want the same opportunity your parents sought when they came to this new country to make a better life for themselves.”

“Are you so unhappy here, Jacob?” Martin asked sadly.

“I am not unhappy, Father.  I am restless and feel a deep rooted need to make my own way in the world.”

Martin nodded.  “I will give you my blessing, then.  You are a man full-grown, and while I do not agree with your decision, I will accept you have the right to make it.”  He cleared his throat, and then took out his handkerchief and blew his nose.  “You go and see this Ohio Country, but if you change your mind and wish to come home, there will always be a place for you right here.”

“Thank you, Father.”  Jacob smiled warmly. 

“We must have a party to send Jacob off,” Martha said, clapping her hands excitedly.

“According to you, my dear, every occasion is a reason to have a party,” Martin teased, but his eyes were twinkling indulgently.  “Of course we shall have a party.  I’ll go and send our daughters to you so they can help.”

“Thank you, husband.”

*****

Caroline looked at Jenny in dismay.  “You cannot be serious?  Jacob is leaving?  MY Jacob?”

“Jacob is hardly yours, dear Caroline.  He is not even aware of your feelings for him, and I fear he considers you much like his little sister,” she said the words gently.

“But how will I ever make him aware of my feelings if he leaves?” Caroline asked imploringly.

“Jacob is determined to go, Caroline.  I know this is not what you hoped for, but Jacob is not aware he is breaking your heart.”  She burst into tears.  “I do not want him to leave!  He will never be part of our lives again.  My child will never know his uncle!”

Caroline started crying, too, for the babies she would never have with the man she loved!  She had tried so hard in the last few months to make Jacob notice her, but while he was polite to her, he paid her no special attention, and now he was going away, and there was no time to catch his eye.

While Jenny was kept busy helping her Mama plan Jacob’s going away party, Caroline sat in her room and moped… until she came up with a plan of her own!

*****

“Caroline, dear!  Whatever are you doing here so early?”  Martha was obviously flustered when a ‘guest’ arrived hours ahead of schedule.  Why, she and her daughters were barely starting the food and decorating, and there was a full day of work ahead before they greeted guests!

“I’ve come early to offer assistance wherever I may, Mrs. Willis.  With Jenny’s condition, I thought she might tire too much, and I really do wish to help.  What might I do?” Caroline asked with a smile.

“I will find you an apron, and you can give Jenny a hand in the kitchen.  I have put the other girls to decorating and doing other jobs, but I thought it best to give Jenny a more restful job, so that she may sit down often if she feels the need.  Having you here to help keep her occupied is a wonderful idea, my dear.  Thank you for being so considerate.”

“I love Jenny as a dear sister, Mrs. Willis,” Caroline said, and the sincerity of her words were reflected in her pretty green eyes.  “She is so lucky to be able to live her life close to you and her other siblings… with the exception of Jacob, of course.  I cannot believe he wishes to leave New York and travel all the way into the wilderness of Ohio.  He is very brave.”

“Brave and foolish,” Martha said tearfully.  “I truly wish there was a way to keep him from going so far away.”  She looked at the redhead and asked with a sympathetic tone in her voice, “Are you truly as sad as Jenny has confided to me, dear child?”

“I cannot bear the thought of Jacob going so far away from me, Mrs. Willis.  I have had no time to show him that I am grown up now and ready to be seen as a woman.  I fear he still looks at me as a pesky little sister.”  Her eyes filled with tears, but she bravely blinked them away.  “I know I must sound foolish right now.  You are saying good-bye to your son, and I do not need to be adding to your sadness.  Please put me to work, ma’am, before I give in to tears I have no right to be shedding.”  She smiled with great effort.

Martha was touched.  She impulsively hugged Caroline and said, “I am truly sorry that Jacob will not be here to give attention to your feelings, dear.  Men are a bit silly when it comes to changing their opinions about women.  Why, after thirty-three wonderful years of marriage to my Martin, he still sees me as some pretty, but naïve, fragile flower that he must protect from the harsh realities of life.”  She giggled.  “He also sees our Jenny as a little girl, and he was most indignant to learn she is with child!”

Caroline giggled at that.  “Jenny is most happy, and James is so proud.  James loves Jenny…  I want to be loved like that.”  Her green eyes filled with tears yet again. 

“Oh my.  Your feelings for Jacob run deep.  Keeping busy is the best thing you can do, my dear.”  A few minutes later, Caroline was sitting on a stool in the kitchen, breaking eggs into a large bowl to make a custard, and visiting with her best friend, who was very happy to see her.

*****

If Jacob had suspected that he would find Caroline in the kitchen with his little sister, he wouldn’t have gone inside, hoping for a snack to tide him over until the party.  Once inside the door, however, he could hardly turn on his heel and walk back outside.  That would be rude, and he had already been scolded for the callous way he had treated Miss Caroline Hershey, although he had had no idea she had feelings for him.  The news was a shock to him, and he had no idea what he could say to the child to make his leaving less painful.  Her feelings would surely pass in an instant since they were based on no solid foundation.  The last conversation he had with her was at his sister’s wedding.  Their words then were solely based on the day, and not in the least personal.  He felt awkward, but he had already been seen by both of the females and there was nothing he could do but be polite.

“You two look busy,” he said with a smile.

“We are busy.”  Jenny looked at him.  “You know, you could always change your mind and stay right here where you belong, Jacob!  Then this party would turn into a celebration!”

“I have to follow my dream, Jenny.”  He reminded himself to be patient.

“Even if it means you will never see us again?” she asked sadly.

“Who says I won’t see you again?” he asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Do not speak to me as if I am a child, Jacob.  You know as well as I do that it will be many years, if ever, you make the trip east.”  Jenny’s eyes filled with tears.  “I do not want you to go!  Please stay!”

“I cannot stay, Jenny.  My dreams are too important to me to ignore.  I feel as our grandfather did when he came to this country.  We grew up listening to his stories, and we always felt he did what was right.  Now I am the one who needs to move forward and live out my dream.  I want to build something with my own two hands, little sister.  I want to have something for my children and their children.  Please try to understand,” he said softly, dabbing at her tears with his clean handkerchief and reminding himself that he should place a clean one in each pocket because he was sure to have need of them before the day was over.

“I do understand, Jacob, and I will try not to make your leaving any more difficult than it will naturally be for you.”  She kissed him and said, “I need a moment of privacy.”

And just like that Jacob found himself alone with Caroline.

“Do not mind Jenny, Jacob.  She is more emotional than usual because of the babe she carries.  She will be fine.”

“Of course she will.”  He was pleased that Caroline was not raking him over the coals.

“Tell me of your plans… When will you leave?” Caroline asked curiously as she continued to do the work assigned by Jenny’s Mother.  It gave her something to do with her hands while she listened to him speak.

Jacob found himself talking of his plans with Caroline, and she nodded, and asked questions, thinking of a couple of things he hadn’t thought of.  He was rather surprised, and wondered when the little redhead had grown up?   

“Are you truly sure you wish to move so far away from your family and friends, Jacob?” she asked.

“It is what I must do if I wish to build something of my own, Caroline.  I love my brother John, and it is only right that he inherit from Father, just as Father did from Grandfather.  Jason will always have to work for John if he chooses to remain on this land, and perhaps that is what he wants, but I want something I can call mine.  There is plenty of rich land in Ohio, and all I need to do is settle it.  It will be a lot of hard work, but I have never shied away from hard work.”

“Do the Indians not frighten you?”

“I will have to learn their ways.  I don’t want to have to fight with them, but I have never run from a fight, either.”  To his surprise, she laughed.  “What is so amusing, Caroline?”

“I was recalling the time that Fred Ferguson was picking on Jenny and me and you came along and told him to leave us alone.  He was bigger than you, but you made him back down.  You were so brave, even then.”

“Fred Ferguson was a bully.”

“He still is,” she confided.

“Has he been bothering you, Caroline?”  He felt a surge of protectiveness, and promised himself that he would deal with Fred if he needed to.

“He tried, but I am afraid I told him a lie, and he is afraid to tangle with you.”

Jacob saw her cheeks were tinged with pink.  “What lie did you tell him?” he was compelled to ask, even though he was sure he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“That we are courting and you would not be happy if I told him he was pestering me.”

“Caroline!  People are going to think I have been toying with your feelings if he has spread it about.”  Jacob was not happy.

“You will not be here to deal with it,” she said, giving him a sweet smile.

“You need a sound spanking, Miss Caroline Hershey, and it is a good thing for you that I am leaving in the morning.”  No wonder everyone was giving him scolds over Caroline’s feelings for him.  They all thought he’d been courting her and filling her head with false promises, and now he was leaving her behind… as if he’d been toying with her.

“I am sure that everyone will know the truth of the matter then for sure,” Caroline said softly.

Jacob looked at the redhead, tempted to give into temptation and set her bottom on fire!  He took a threatening step in her direction, fully intending to give in to the urge to take the redhead over his knee, but he heard his Mother calling his name.  He answered her, and then left the kitchen; his Mother needed some help to set up more makeshift tables outside… and Jacob needed time to cool off.

Caroline did her best to avoid being alone with Jacob, but Mrs. Willis sent her outside to the smokehouse to get another ham.  Caroline was surprised when the door to the smokehouse shut behind her.  She whirled around, half expecting to find Fred Ferguson standing there, but instead, it was Jacob.  “What do you want?” she asked, watching him slap a sturdy stick against the palm of his left hand.

“What I want is to teach you what happens to little girls who tell lies,” Jacob told her with a grin.  “After all, if we have been courting, Caroline, no one would find it at all remiss if I found it necessary to correct your behavior upon occasion.”

“I would find it remiss!” she retorted angrily, backing up.  There was only so far she could go, however, and Jacob quickly caught her arm and turned her around to tuck her under his arm.  He gave her skirted backside a whack with the stick, and then three more.

“That is what happens to little girls who tell fibs, Carolyn.  If you needed help with Fred, all you had to do was ask, not make up stories.”  He gave her one more sturdy whack, and then released her and went to help with the last minute preparations for the party.

The party went well.  Most of the men in attendance were a bit jealous of Jacob, and the women sympathized with his Mother and sisters.  Still, the day went well, and Jacob did his best to say goodbye to one and all.  He went to sleep with a smile on his face.  Tomorrow would begin the adventure of his life.

It was midmorning before Jacob was on his way.  His parents each wanted a private word with him, and both of his brothers and all of his sisters were there to eat breakfast and see him off.  Jacob didn’t feel very manly as he set out with tears streaming down his face.  He hated to see his Mother and his sisters cry, and even though he was following his heart by leaving, it was hard to leave his family behind and know that he might not ever see them again, especially if his Mother was right and Indians scalped him.  That made him smile, and he promised he would somehow write and do his best to keep her from worrying about him.

Jacob made good progress and traveled until dark.  He took care of his oxen, started a fire, and heated up the food his Mother insisted on sending along.  He brewed tea and hoped it would help to ward off the chill still in the air, and once it was gone, he banked the fire and took his blanket roll out of the back of the wagon.  He was going to sleep while he could.  Not that he did not need to be aware of what was happening around him, but the farther he got from home and into less civilized lands, he would need to be ever vigilant.  Jacob made sure his new musket was close, wrapped up in his blanket under the wagon bed and went to sleep.

*****

Caroline had to relieve herself and she prayed that Jacob would remain asleep while she crawled out of her hiding place inside the wagon and found a spot in the wooded area close by to empty her bladder.  It was much too soon for Jacob to discover her, and she was in for at least another two days of riding in the back of the wagon before she dared reveal herself to the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.  If he caught her now, he would merely turn around and take her back, and she would be the laughingstock of their community.  No, it was entirely too soon to be discovered.  She needed as much time as possible to convince Jacob he needed her.

Once she was finished tending to her needs, she crawled into the wagon and hid herself, smiling as she settled down to sleep.  Toward morning she would sneak out again and relieve herself before Jacob headed out for the day.  She would have to make do with her small hoard of food and water and try not to inhale when he cooked for himself.  Caroline was very comfortable when she felt the wagon move.  She could hear Jacob’s snoring and knew it was not him climbing inside!

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