From His Prairie Duchess ....
Clear Creek, Oregon 1858. Thirty-eight days until the Duke’s stipulated deadline.
On the First day...
Cozette Duprie was up a tree.
She always did like the sound of that. How her name so easily rhymed with what came naturally to her. For if not a tree she would climb something else. A ladder. A lattice. And most recently the backside of a building. Albeit with the help of her father’s grappling hook. It was getting down that proved to be more difficult. But she suffered fewer injuries than the Dunnigan girl she rescued, so all in all Cozette couldn’t complain. She just hoped her latest feat didn’t draw too much attention to herself. That, of course, was the last thing she needed. For either herself or her father.
She settled in amongst the branches and watched as a wagon train slowly wound its way across the prairie in the distance. It would set up camp most likely. She heard Mr. Van Cleet tell her father they often camped a mile or so south of town to rest and restock any supplies before continuing on to Oregon City. Unfortunately for this wagon train, any restocking of supplies might prove difficult. The mercantile in Clear Creek burned down three weeks ago.
Cozette glanced at her bandaged hand. Her father had tended the burns she’d incurred while rescuing Belle Dunnigan and they were healing nicely. In fact, today she could take the bandage off, but would wait until she returned to camp outside of town to do so. Watching the wagon train was more interesting. Especially since this one seemed a bit odd.
It wasn’t very big, only six wagons in all. But that wasn’t what was different. It was the fact the wagons were pulled by draft horses instead of oxen. Perhaps they hadn’t traveled far and so used horses instead. They could be coming from the Wyoming territory, or lost their oxen and could only get horses to replace them. Whatever the reason, Cozette enjoyed watching as they stopped and began to set up camp. She often wondered what it would be like to travel with a wagon train for months and spend time with families around a nightly campfire.
But then, Cozette often wondered what it would be like to do a lot of things.
Like wear a dress with a pretty hat, one with lots of flowers and feathers. Or shop in a mercantile for a bonnet covered in ribbons. Maybe have her very own house. One with wallpaper covered in delicate flower petal designs and furniture with colors to match. And lace, lots of lace. She loved to study the intricate designs of it. She was highly attracted to the delicate patterns of china and fine cloth as well. She wanted to cook something on a stove instead of over a campfire and be able to bake something in an oven. But what Cozette wanted most of all, was to sleep in a bed. A real bed. All the rest of her days.
She often imagined a huge four poster canopied bed, one fit for a Queen. With lots of pillows and a mattress she could sink into and lose herself night after night in dream-filled slumber.
Cozette sighed. For a dream is all it was. And probably always would be.
Not that her current life was horrible, it wasn’t. She was free, incredibly so. She didn’t suffer the conventional constraints other women had. She could hunt, fish, shoot, and if need be... kill. She’d even helped her father take down a buffalo.
But none of it seemed to matter when the gnawing began. A pulsating yearning that started in the deepest part of her, and would soon grow until she laid upon her bedroll at night and wept in silence. Her voice wouldn’t even produce a decent sob. But then, her voice hadn’t produced anything for years. It died, along with the rest of her hopes and dreams, the night her mother died. A night Cozette wished she could forget.
Maybe if she did, she’d get her voice back.
Her father didn’t know about her ‘spells’ as she came to call them. And because he never heard her suffering in the middle of the night, he most likely wouldn’t come to know. But the spells came more frequently of late, and she wished she knew what caused them. And they were getting worse, the something that gnawed away at her heart, the deep longing. But for what?
Perhaps she missed her mother. Yes, that was probably it. But to think of her mother brought great sadness, and Cozette feared the memories that came to haunt her in the dark of night. She didn’t want to remember. She didn’t want to see in her mind’s eye the horrible things that happened to her mother, or remember the sounds of her screaming...
Cozette closed her eyes and forced her memories to still. She concentrated on watching the wagon train set up camp instead and wondered how long they would stay before moving on. And no doubt her father would have her remain hidden for as long as it took them to do so. But at this point in her life, she'd grown used to it.