Ada was cold. Sleepily she snuggled closer to Roy and wished that the wind wouldn’t whip through the canvas of the wagon.
“Where’s Papa?” her little brother mumbled.
“Mama said he’d come for us soon,” Ada answered, sliding her arms around his middle.
“Are we going to go down the hole, too,” Roy wanted to know, “like all the other wagons?”
Ada thought of the hole in the rock that Papa and the other men on the mission had worked on for six weeks. Papa said that going down the cliff to the river was the only way to the San Juan mission, and since Heavenly Father and the prophet wanted them to go, they would do it, even if it meant sliding 1,800 feet (550 m) down a steep road. “Papa said so,” she said.
“Papa!” Ada ran and threw her arms around her papa’s neck. “Are we going down the hole?”
“Yes, we are, and by ourselves, too,” Papa said, letting them go and stepping back. Ada could hear him muttering as he moved around the wagon, hitching up the horses. “There I was helping them across the river and not one of them came back to help bring my wagon down!”
“I can help!” Roy called out from his bed.
“Just hang on,” Mama told him. She scrambled into the wagon with the baby.
Ada listened to the horses’ feet, sharp on the bare rock where the snow had blown clear or had been worn away by the other wagons.
“Easy, boy, easy.” The wagon lurched to a stop.
Ada heard the chains rattle. Papa was chaining the back wheels so that they could not roll. That would help keep the wagon from going too fast. Even so, a funny, scary tickle started in her belly. The road down the cliff was as steep as the roof of a house. Skinny, too. Part of it was only a place where holes had been drilled into the rock, wooden stakes pounded in, and brush and dirt piled on top. If it didn’t work, the wagon might slip off and tumble to the river that was only a silver thread at the bottom of the gorge.
None of the other 82 wagons had fallen, but each had been held back by as many as 10 men. Ada had seen them straining with all their might, grunting and panting white steam into the cold air.
“Come on, Ada,” Mama called. She gathered a pile of quilts and lifted the three children from the wagon bed. “I am going to help Papa get the wagon down.”
“All by yourself?”
Ada shivered. Out in the wind, the cold was worse. This was the rockiest, driest, coldest place Ada had ever seen. Since October, when they had left Cedar City, she had been dirty and thirsty. Now it was almost the end of January. She wondered if they would ever get to Montezuma, the new town.
Papa was looking down the hole-in-the-rock. He kept shaking his head. Ada couldn’t hear what he and Mama were talking about, but Mama had on her “stubborn look,” which meant that Mama would do whatever she decided was best.
Ada hugged her shawl tighter around her. Pretty soon Mama came back to where the children waited and spread the quilts right on the snow.
“Sit here, Roy,” she said. Roy sat, and Mama put the baby in his arms. Even if he was only three years old, Roy was good at holding Baby George. “Hold little brother till Papa comes for you. Now, Ada, sit by your brothers and say a little prayer.”
Ada wanted to be brave, but she felt like crying and hanging onto Mama’s skirts. But she was five, a big girl, and so she sat and let Mama tuck the quilt over her legs.
“Don’t move, dears,” Mama told them. “Don’t even stand up. As soon as we get the wagon down, Papa will come back for you!”
The scary tickle in Ada’s belly got worse. She tilted her head back and stared up at Papa, his face red from the cold and his blue eyes crinkled at the corners. “Will you come back, Papa?”
He nodded and turned his head aside. But she saw that he was crying. Papa crying! But he said that he’d come back, so Ada knew he would.
“Then I’m not afraid!” she said. “We’ll stay here with God till you and Mama get the wagon down.” Ada bowed her head. “Father in heaven, bless me and Roy and Baby George until our father comes back.”
When Ada looked up again, Papa was on the wagon seat. Mama stood behind the wagon with Old Ned, the spare horse, who was tied to the back of the wagon to help slow it down. She wrapped Ned’s reins round and round her hands.
“Giddap!” Papa clucked. The horses lunged forward, and the wagon lurched through the hole. Mama ran behind, dragging on the reins so hard that she was leaning backward. Then the wagon, Old Ned, and Mama dropped out of sight.
Faintly Ada heard rattling. Then it was so quiet that her ears buzzed, and when she swallowed, it sounded loud.
“Ada?” Roy whispered. “Where’d they go?”
“Down to the river, I guess.”
A gust of wind swirled the powdery snow and whipped it across the children, stinging their faces. Roy stuck out his bottom lip and snuffed.
Ada thought hard. Mama had told them to stay still, but if Roy started crying, then Baby George might, too, and Ada didn’t know what to do. Yes, she did!
“It will be all right,” she said to Roy. “Papa said he would be back. And we said a prayer, didn’t we? Heavenly Father and Jesus know that we are in the snow, and They will keep us safe.”
They waited a long time. Ada wiggled her toes to keep them warm. Roy rubbed his red nose on his shoulder and sniffed. They waited some more.
Finally Ada couldn’t wait anymore. She didn’t stand up, but she tilted her head back and called, “Papa! Papa!”
From far away she heard Papa yelling, “Coming, Ada!”
“He’s coming! Listen!” She told Roy.
He nodded happily. “Papa!”
“Ada!” Papa’s voice was louder now. And then she saw his hat through the hole-in-the-rock, and then his face, and then all of him striding through the snow to where they waited.
“God stayed with us,” Ada told him when he knelt on one knee next to them.
Roy piped up. “The baby’s gone to sleep, and my arm feels like it’s ‘most broke.”
Papa smiled a little, then scooped up Baby George in one arm and Roy in his other.
“Come on, Ada,” he said. “Hang on to my pockets while we walk down.”
Ada stood and hooked her hands in Papa’s back pockets. She had to take long steps to keep up, but it was fun bouncing along behind him. “Where’s Mama?”
“Down with the wagon. Old Ned fell, and so did Mama. The wagon dragged them part of the way down, but I think they will both be all right.” He stopped to adjust the boys in his arms. Ada peered around him at the slanted, rocky path. She shivered and closed her eyes.
The first part, they sat down and slid. Then they walked as close to the wall of the canyon as they could. It made Ada dizzy to look down, so she concentrated on Papa’s back. Where the road was filled in, the ground felt spongy. Papa said that the horses didn’t like walking on it, either. The very end of the road was sandy. Ada’s feet slid and sank in. At last the ground evened out.
“We made it,” Papa told her. “My wife and children are the bravest pioneers in the Church.”
Letting go of Papa’s pockets, she turned and looked back up to the hole-in-the-rock at the edge of the sky. How had they gotten down safely? Ada knew. “God helped us.”