Just before dawn, Jared felt Aunt Phebe’s boot in the small of his back, not too hard, but businesslike. He pulled his head out of the bedroll and squinted into the pale gray light. The circle of covered wagons stood ghostly and still, but he could hear pans clanging gently, wood thudding into piles for breakfast fires, women preparing for another day of travel.
Jared pulled himself into a sitting position, keen anticipation surging through him. A kind of magic had come into each day since Catherine and her family had joined the wagon train at Council Bluffs. He watched her every day as she walked beside her family’s wagon, often with her younger brother holding one hand. He guessed her to be near his own age. Jared had not yet had the courage to speak to her, and she seemed quite unaware of him.
Aunt Phebe had gone about the business of breakfast, and Jared quickly pulled on his boots and his hat and started out onto the prairie to gather firewood. He breathed the cool, clear air deeply, relishing this pleasant time before the prairie sun began to beat down on their heads. A cottontail darted into the sagebrush, and Jared knew he should have brought his gun. Rations were good now, but things might be different by the end of the journey. He felt his responsibility to provide food, but he hated shooting small animals. He guessed that was why he was always leaving his gun behind.
Coming back into the camp, Jared peered around his load of wood to see if Catherine was out of her wagon, but he couldn’t see her.
“Jared, please quit gawking around and bring that wood,” Aunt Phebe called to him. Jared dumped the wood on the ground by the wagon and smiled at his aunt, his mother’s sister. She returned his smile, shaking her head gently at him, and then stooped to feed the fire that was already blazing brightly from last night’s coals. Jared studied her, thinking how different she was from his mother. His mother had been tall, too, but slender, her long arms and hands graceful and quick. Jared’s stomach still tightened with grief when he thought about her—how pale and still she had lain; how suddenly and silently she had gone. Before leaving Winter Quarters his dad married Aunt Phebe. She was strong and cheerful and a wonderful cook. Jared watched her work, her generous frame bent over the fire. He loved her, and at the same time he wished it were his own mother working there. Suddenly Aunt Phebe looked up.
“Jared, don’t you have anything to do?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Jared smiled at her again and turned toward the wagon. His father was checking harnesses, hitching up the oxen for their day’s work. As he moved around the animals, he patted them and talked softly to them.
Jared folded his bedroll neatly and tucked it into its place in the wagon. He looked at the black trunk that stood against one side. Jared hesitated, wondering if he had time to look at the doll without being disturbed. Then he quickly undid the latches and opened the trunk. Carefully he folded back the linens that covered it and looked at the beautiful porcelain figurine.
In spite of its age and the delicate spiderweb cracks that covered it, the colors remained pure and vibrant. Its dress was painted an exquisite clear blue; auburn hair surrounded the gentle face. Jared liked the arms, slightly outstretched as though to receive a running child. His mother had told him about the doll many times—how her grandmother had given it to her when she was a little girl; how it had always sat on her mantle. When she lay sick, she had given it to him.
“Take it to your new home, Jared, and when you are married, put it on your mantle. Perhaps your wife will treasure it.”
Jared knew his mother had grieved at not having a daughter, and now she would not see her daughter-in-law either. Jared’s eyes misted as he gently folded the linens over the doll. No daughter could treasure it more than he did, and he didn’t care who might think it silly or unmanly. Still, he didn’t want anyone to see him with it. Quickly he closed the trunk and hurried to help his father with the rest of the morning chores.
Later, as Jared walked beside the wagon, he could see Catherine up ahead, striding easily along with her little brother on one side and her older brother on the other. Jared liked the way she walked, strong and easy, a relaxed kind of eagerness in her gait. Her dark hair lifted gently on her back beneath her bonnet. From time to time she leaned down and picked up a pebble, putting it quickly into her pocket. Jared wondered what she was saving them for. He would have liked to quicken his pace until he walked beside her, but he couldn’t. She was always so closely surrounded by her family. Her four brothers packed wood and water and did everything else that needed doing. It would be ludicrous for Jared to offer to help. How could she be so close and yet so inaccessible? He wondered if they would arrive in the valley without his ever having spoken to her. The day was becoming hot. Sweat began to trickle down his spine. He envied Aunt Phebe sitting on the wagon driving the team. His father walked beside the oxen. He had often said that it would be time for strong men to ride when they were sick or injured. Until then, they walked. His father loved his oxen and spared them whenever he could.
That evening Jared helped his father set up camp. Tomorrow was the Sabbath, and they would stay here and rest. They had traveled late in order to reach the stream, but it was almost dry. Dark water lay in pools among the rocks. But large cottonwoods grew along the bank, and the spot was pleasant. Their barrels contained enough for a few more days travel, so the need for water was not desperate.
After supper and the evening chores, the men built a large fire in the center of the circle, and everyone gathered around for singing and dancing. Jared sat between his father and Aunt Phebe. He was keenly aware of Catherine only a few feet away, surrounded as always by her brothers. After the group had sung several hymns, Brother Aimes struck a lively tune on his fiddle, and several couples got up to dance. One of Catherine’s brothers took her hand and pulled her into the circle of dancers. Jared watched her continuously, his heart constricting until he felt he could hardly breathe. Her long dark hair whirled about her face. Her arms were bare in the warm summer evening. They reminded him of the doll, graceful and somehow delicate, although they were brown and quite used to work. She and her brother passed quite close to Jared. As they turned, Catherine looked directly into Jared’s eyes and smiled slightly. He felt his face redden, and his heart hammered in his chest.
“You could just go ask her. Her brother would give her up.” Aunt Phebe’s voice startled him.
“I couldn’t do that,” he mumbled, his face hot.
Aunt Phebe patted his knee.
“Well, do what you feel good about doing, but I suggest you do something before the journey’s over. Once we reach the valley, she’ll have dozens of suitors.”
Jared wondered if Aunt Phebe had meant to encourage him. What he felt was a bleak depression. He forced himself not to look at Catherine. Jared felt uncomfortable about dancing. He and his parents had been Baptists before they’d joined the Church, and dancing had been frowned on by his former congregation. He didn’t know any dance steps, although it looked simple enough. Maybe when she sat down he’d go over, but the thought of approaching her in front of all those people sent chills down his spine. His father and Aunt Phebe stood up and danced. Catherine had sat down, but Jared remained glued to the keg he sat on, feeling entirely miserable. When the wagon master stood up and called on Brother Adams to pray, Jared felt a mixture of relief that it was over and agony that he had missed his opportunity.
He lay awake a long while in his hard bed on the ground, mostly hating himself for his awkwardness. But tomorrow was another day, and the Sabbath too. There should be opportunities. Before he went to sleep, Jared determined that tomorrow should not pass without his approaching her in some way.
After the morning service and the noon meal, the Saints dispersed for naps and scripture reading. Some of the women gathered under the cottonwood trees to relax and visit.
Jared wandered aimlessly around the wagons, alert for any sign of Catherine, hoping desperately that she would not join the women under the trees. He tried to station himself between her wagon and the women without appearing to have a purpose there.
Suddenly some movement off in the sagebrush caught his eye. Someone was moving around in the brush. As he watched, Catherine came into view, bending over, studying something on the ground. Jared couldn’t believe his luck. He walked slowly toward her, trying to appear nonchalant, hoping no one would see him. Catherine did not see him until he was close enough to touch her.
“Hello,” he said.
She stood up quickly, her face flushed, tendrils of hair clinging damply to her forehead.
“Hello,” she said, smoothing her dress and straightening her bonnet.
Seeing her so flustered gave Jared some courage.
“May I ask what you’re doing?” he said, smiling at her.
“Well, actually, I was looking for rocks.”
“Rocks? What for?” Jared wanted to look into her brown eyes, remembering her look at the dance, but instead he looked just beyond her.
“I like rocks. I collect them.” She cupped the large pocket of her dress in her hand and jiggled it. It bulged with small rocks.
“Could I help you look?” Jared said, finally looking directly into her eyes and experiencing a slight shiver through his body.
“Why yes, I’d like that.” They walked in silence for a time, both watching the ground. Suddenly Jared laughed.
“I really don’t know what I’m looking for at all,” he said. Catherine laughed too and stopped walking.
“I really don’t know what to tell you. I just look for rocks that are unusual in their shape or color or texture.” She took a handful of rocks from her pocket. To Jared they looked fairly ordinary.
“Look at this one,” she said, holding it up to the light. Jared could see that it was rather translucent, a soft purple in color.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. He took it from her hand and studied it.
“I have a book that tells the names of many different kinds of rocks. When we get to the valley, I hope to learn more.” She stopped talking abruptly and looked at him. “Do you think that’s strange?”
“Why no,” he said, looking at her for the second time.
“Does it seem unfeminine to you for me to be interested in geology?” She looked at him so directly that he didn’t know what to say for a moment. Then a feeling of great warmth came over him. Something relaxed and opened within him. He wanted very much to show her the doll.
“No, it doesn’t,” he said. “Would you come back to my wagon and let me show you something?”
He held the stone in his palm. “May I keep this?” he asked, opening his hand.
“Yes,” she said again, and Jared dropped it into his pocket.
They picked their way carefully over the roots and mounds in their path, and at one point Jared took her hand. When they reached the camp, they dropped each other’s hand, but Jared didn’t mind if the sisters under the cottonwoods observed them coming into camp together, which they did.
When they reached the wagon, Jared crawled inside, then took Catherine’s hand and helped her in. He opened the latches on the trunk, folded back the linens, and lifted the porcelain figurine in his two hands. He held it in the light from the back of the wagon and said nothing for a moment. Catherine took it carefully from his hands and looked at it closely.
“My mother gave this to me before she died. Her grandmother gave it to her when she was a little girl. My mother said I should put it on my mantle.” Jared was silent a moment. “Do you think it’s unmanly for me to treasure a doll?”
Catherine smiled, a warm, radiant smile.
“Jared,” she said, “in the first place, this is not just a doll. It’s a work of art and an heirloom. It’s exquisite. And if it were just a doll, I still wouldn’t think it unmanly.”
“Would this doll look right next to a rock collection on the mantle?” Jared was amazed at his own boldness. He lowered his eyes, and both were silent a moment.
“No,” she said decisively. “But something like my grandmother’s rosebud vase could stand with it.” Then she added more shyly, “Someone will have to build some sturdy shelves for my rocks one day.”
Jared took the doll from her hands and laid it in the trunk, too overcome by his emotions to speak.
“I wanted to ask you to dance last night,” he said finally.
“I was hoping you would.”
“Next Saturday night I will.” He took her hand and helped her down from the wagon. He continued holding her hand as they walked across the prairie grass to where her family rested in the shade.