Trailing Home Ch. 07

byharemgirl©

She had built the fire as close to the wagon as she dared, and she hung two of the soaked blankets on the side of the wagon to catch the heat from the fire. They might get smoky, but at least they would dry.

Selena sadly inspected the dead chickens. She didn't want to see them completely go to waste, so she hung a large pot of water over the fire to heat. When it was scalding hot, she dipped the chickens into it and set about plucking their feathers. Finally, she singed their carcasses to remove the last of the feathers and cleaned them for cooking. At least, she thought, they would enjoy something other than boring beans and bacon for their supper. She cut up the chickens, along with some dried potatoes, onions and carrots, and placed them into a pot of simmering water. She added a few spices, and soon the aroma of hearty chicken soup wafted up from the pot.

Taking up the tent once more, Selena continued to work on repairing it. When she finished, she erected the poles and stretched the canvass into place, securing the corners with stakes that wobbled in the muddy soil. She had to laugh at the results. Although her stitches were neat and well-applied, the canvass looked more like a patchwork quilt than a tent.

Having done all she could to restore order, Selena changed into some dry clothes and hung her wet ones near the fire to dry. Liam and Gerald still hadn't come back, and it was past lunch time. Selena began to fret, and rather than sit and worry, she walked the short distance to the Boyds' campsite to see if there was something she could do to help Marcia.

Susan and Natasha were busy repairing their own much larger tent. Selena smiled and nodded to them but otherwise directed her attention to Marcia. She had also managed to build a fire, and she turned to Selena with a smile.

"That was quite the storm last night wasn't it?" Marcia asked.

"Yes. I hope we don't have any more like that. I don't enjoy being scared out of my wits."

"Amen," Marcia agreed. "I hope the men are having some luck finding our mule. I don't relish the thought of having to try to hitch an ox to the buggy."

Selena gave her a comforting hug. "I'm sure they'll find him. By the way, I'm making some chicken soup, and there's more than enough for all of us, so don't bother with supper."

"You're an angel," Marcia beamed. "It's been so long since I had anything other than beans that I'm about to lose my appetite. I'll make some bread to go with it."

Selena nodded and looking around, she asked, "What can I do to help you, Marcia?"

Selena pitched in, and by late afternoon, the four women had the Boyds' campsite neat and tidy once more. Selena went back to her wagon, and finding the two blankets dry, she took them down and hung two other wet ones in their place. She folded the smoky smelling blankets and put them in the wagon, and checked on the soup, happy to find that it tasted delicious. Still, the men hadn't returned, and Selena was beginning to get seriously worried.

"What could have happened to them?" she mumbled, squinting as she searched the rolling plains all around them for any sign of Liam.

There were only a couple of hours of daylight left, and she nibbled at her lip in indecision. She wanted to go in search of Liam, but she had no idea where he was. She knew the direction he had taken when he left, but he had said they were going to circle around, so he could be anywhere by now. There was a large hill a little less than a mile away, and she wondered if she climbed up there whether she would be able to spot the men. As long as she kept the fire within view, there was no danger of getting lost. If she caught sight of Liam, she wouldn't have to worry so much.

Informing Marcia of her intention, Selena set off toward the hill. Trudging through the tall grass and sucking mud sapped her strength, and although the hill was not very far away, she was breathless and tired by the time she reached the top of it. She had slipped a couple of times, and her skirts were muddy and wet up to her thighs. She smiled ruefully, thinking that she should have waited to change into clean clothes.

Selena put a hand up to her brow and turned in a circle, squinting against the light of the setting sun as she looked for any sign of Liam and Gerald. They were nowhere to be seen, but her vantage point allowed her to see into a shallow valley that would not have been visible from the camp. In the distance, she spotted the mule. The cantankerous beast was grazing happily near the bottom of the hill.

Selena set out to catch the mule, being careful not to slip as she trudged down the embankment. She was almost to the bottom when her foot sank into a mud filled hole and she felt a wrenching pain in her ankle. She cried out, falling to her hands and knees as the pains shot up her leg. It was difficult to tell anything with her foot coated in muck, but her probing fingers could already detect swelling, and she sucked in her breath and grimaced.

Now what? She looked back in the direction she had come, and she realized that she was no longer within sight of the camp. It wouldn't do her any good to yell for help. There was no way anyone would hear her from this distance. She stood up, but she knew she wouldn't be able to walk on her ankle. When she tried to put any weight on that foot, her knees began to buckle beneath her. She let out a frustrated moan, feeling incredibly foolish for finding herself in this predicament. She estimated that she had one more hour of daylight, and then she would be stuck out here in the pitch black night.

***********

Liam and Gerald returned to camp, disgusted and tired. They hadn't had any success in finding Gerald's wayward mule, and their entire day had been wasted on an exercise in futility. Liam was irritated and hungry, looking forward to Selena's soothing presence as he approached their campsite.

To his surprise, Selena was nowhere to be seen. He checked the tent and called her name, but there was no response. All other thoughts fled his mind as worry blossomed. He glanced up at the sky, seeing that is was nearly dark, and his worry coalesced into real fear. Where the hell was Selena?

Liam hurried to find Marcia. "Have you seen Selena?" he asked anxiously.

Marcia frowned at him. "She's not back yet?" Seeing Liam's negative headshake, her eyes opened wide with worry as she pointed to a nearby hill. "She said she was going to go to the top of that hill and try to catch a glimpse of you and Gerald. I thought she had already come back."

Gerald wandered up to join them. "What's going on?" he asked.

"Selena's missing," Marcia said softly.

"When did she leave?" Liam asked.

"I'm not sure. It's been at least two hours or so."

They all peered into the gloom, trying to catch a glimpse of Selena. Liam was tortured by fears. As much as he had reassured Selena, it was always possible that there was a rogue band of Indians roaming around. It was not unheard of for a white woman to be taken hostage to be used as a slave or worse. Then again, he had seen several deep gullies that day. What if she had fallen into one and gotten injured? It got very cold at night, and with it being so wet, she could easily die from exposure before he found her.

"I'm going to look for her," Liam said. "If she comes back to camp, make sure she stays here."

"I'll help you," Gerald offered.

"No, you stay here. There's no sense in both of us taking chances. Your family needs you."

Gerald didn't look happy about it, but he reluctantly agreed. "Alright. If she comes back to camp, I'll fire the rifle so you know."

"Thanks." Liam hurried to the wagon and retrieved the lantern. He set out toward the hill Marcia had indicated. He fought against a sense of urgency and picked his way carefully through the tall grass. It wouldn't do either of them any good if he fell and hurt himself.

"Selena!" he called. "Selena, can you hear me?" Yelling her name in the darkness only served to increase his anxiety. However, he pushed steadily on, hoping and praying that he would find her, safe and sound.

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