One Hundred Valleys
by Bonnie Leon
After the death of her mother, Emmalin Hammond discovers she is not the heiress she’d always assumed she’d be. The revelation exposes her fiancé’s true intentions when he withdraws his marriage proposal, leaving Emmalin heartbroken and humiliated. When she discovers the father she believed to be dead is still alive and living in the Oregon Territory she decides it is time to meet the man who has been hidden from her all of her life.
Oregon City was not what Emmalin had expected. She’d been told the Oregon Territory was cool with lush meadows, sprawling farmlands and heavy forests fed by unrestrained white-water rivers. Instead, as the wagon train rolled across the eastern territory and over the mountains, she’d been confronted by rocky, unyielding trails sandwiched between cliff sides. The great Columbia River was jammed with steamboats, barges and canoes. And a sawmill encroached on a powerful waterfall near the settlement.
The hodgepodge town of Oregon City had overcrowded streets congested with travel-weary settlers who kept the land claims office abuzz. Their wagons and cattle swirled up dust in the streets. The air was hot, and there were no clouds promising rain or cooler temperatures.
Sweat pearled on the fair skin of her forehead and at the base of her neck where Emmalin tucked a strand of ginger-colored hair into place. She stepped out of the hotel and onto the boardwalk. The hour was early and already the heat was insufferable.
A wagon rattled past, kicking up more dust. A pig, tied to a hitch at the back, trotted along, moving its stout legs in clipped, quick steps in order to keep up. Children’s dirty faces peered over the side rails, eyes wide with curiosity.
What had she done? She shouldn’t have come. She didn’t belong here.
Her place was on the estate grounds cutting roses for a bouquet to grace the vestibule or sitting at her Steinway, hands stroking the keys as she set free compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. Emmalin longed for tranquil, cultured Philadelphia where she had breakfasted in the kitchen nook that overlooked her mother’s lush gardens.
She should have simply accepted her small inheritance and settled into a simpler life, never giving her lost father a thought. He’d walked away years before. Her hopes of a reconciliation had been unrealistic. Uncle Jonathon shouldn’t have indulged her and then agreed to accompany her. If he hadn’t, she never would have come.
Now there would be no Bach or Beethoven, not here. Nor would there be afternoon luncheons with friends. Or time spent embroidering in the parlor with her mother.
Like the twist of a knife, pain cut through her middle. Why did God let people die? Tears burned her eyes. Her mother was gone—so far away, too far…forever.
Emmalin wiped away tears. Would the grieving never end? She’d carried heart ache across the open prairies and parched deserts, over mountains and through rivers rushing with spring run-off. She’d carried her mother with her across the miles.
Attempting to toss away the pain, Emmalin lifted her chin and opened her parasol, then moved along the wooden walkway in front of the hotel. A man led a pair of oxen up the street while a black and white dog danced around the animals’ hooves, barking. Dust irritated her nose, bringing on a sneeze, which she captured beneath a lace handkerchief.
She’d had enough of dirt and grime. She’d been buried in it for months on the trail. The promise of a luxurious soak in a tub captured her thoughts. Her name had been added to a list of others waiting for sweet relief from the grime, but she would have to wait until late in the day before it would be her turn to lower herself into warm soapy water.
Emmalin stopped at a wooden bench and gingerly swept it clean before sitting. The street was quieter than it had been the previous day, but it was still early, not yet eight o’clock.
She hadn’t slept well. The late-night racket from a nearby saloon along with the lack of a breeze in her overheated room made sleeping as elusive as the peace she sought. She hadn’t expected this place to be exactly like Philadelphia, but she’d hoped for something a bit more civilized.
Emmalin wanted to flee to her birthplace with its familiar comforts, but there wouldn’t be another group leaving for the East until spring. And even so, would she have the courage to journey back across this monstrous country?
There was no escape. She was trapped here between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, at least until spring.
Her empty stomach grumbled, and she pressed a hand against her abdomen, hoping no one had been within earshot. After a long, day of travel she’d been too weary to eat before falling into bed the previous evening.
A man with a woman on his arm and five children trailing behind, hurried past. Their faces were alight with hope. Likely they were pioneers who had crossed the country with dreams of making a new life here in Oregon. The oldest boy had a piglet in his arms and wore a satisfied smile. What did he have to be happy about? This place was almost as dreary as the dry, empty deserts.
Realizing she’d nearly forgotten what happiness felt like, she cast an apology heavenward while at the same time longing for solace from a God she wasn’t sure she even believed in anymore. Since her mother’s death her joyful heart and her faith had gone limp like the fragile leaves of the wildflowers she’d seen along the trail, thirsting for a rain that might never come. God had deserted her, the way her father had. Emmalin glanced at the hotel door. She’d expected to find her uncle in the lobby when she’d come down from her room. He wasn’t one to sleep late.
A huge, heavy-coated white dog approached her. He seemed friendly. The animal stepped onto the boardwalk, sniffed Emmalin’s hand, then rested his giant head on her lap, as if they were old friends
“Where did you come from?” She stroked his head and his tail swished back and forth. His presence comforted her. How divine it would be to live oblivious to the hardships of life.
A tall man carrying a rifle and wearing a hatchet on his hip stepped off the street. “Ah, there you are, Henry.” He gave the dog a pat on the head and shot Emmalin a smile, his hazel eyes penetrating. “I apologize. Can’t keep up with him. He’s friendly enough, but usually not a bother.”
“I don’t mind.” Emmalin stroked Henry’s neck.
The man tipped his hat. “Come on, boy.” He moved along, the dog at his side.
Emmalin wished Henry could have stayed longer, then wondered at her silliness. She’d never even owned a dog. Her uncle had kept hounds in a kennel for hunting, but that was all.
The stranger glanced back, tossed her a smile, and went on his way.
At least Oregonians seemed friendly. She was happy for that.
The hotel door creaked open and her uncle stepped out. “There you are. I went to your room, but you’d already gone.” He took her hands. “Did you sleep well, dear?”
“No. But lying on a real bed did feel lovely, so much better than a tick mattress on the ground.”
Emmalin stood. “I was beginning to wonder where you’d gotten to. What shall we do for breakfast? I’m famished but can’t imagine finding anything especially appetizing in this dusty little town.”
Jonathon cupped her chin in his hand. “Take heart. I have it on good authority that there’s a dandy café just down the street.” He tucked his niece’s arm into his. “Let’s give it a try, shall we?”
The idea of a warm meal heartened Emmalin. “I do hope they serve something scrumptious. I don’t know that I can tolerate one more slice of bacon served with a hard biscuit.”
Jonathon laughed. “I thought you’d grown fond of the menu.”
“I don’t know how you can tease about that.”
Jonathon chuckled. “I’ll have to admit trail food had grown a bit tiresome.”
“I wish I were a better cook, but I did my best.”
“You did splendidly.”
“Thank you, but I dare say you are being gracious.” She looked down at her over-worn dress. “I desperately need a bath. I’m a mess.”
“You look lovely even with the dust of the trail on you. And nothing can dim the light in those sky-blue eyes of yours, my dear.”
“Oh, Uncle, you’re too kind.” Emmalin smiled, but worry nagged at her. Would she be able to make it here in the West? What if she couldn’t find her father?
“We still have several days’ travel ahead of us,” Jonathon said.
Emmalin released a groan. “Is there a stagecoach that will carry us south?”
“There is, but only part of the way. And there has been trouble with Indians in that part of the territory. I’m not sure it’s safe to travel by coach. They don’t have military escorts.”
“What will we do?”
“I was given the name of a man who might be able to help us. I was told he has a way with the native people. After breakfast I’ll see if I can make arrangements for the journey and find a place to store our supplies and furnishings.”
Emmalin pressed a hand to the base of her neck, feeling the quick beat of her heart. “I didn’t know there were hostile Indians here. I thought all of that worry was behind us.”
“I’m afraid not. While many villages in the territory are peaceful, there has been increasing trouble between the settlers and Indians. Can’t say I blame the natives for fighting to hang on to their lands.”
Emmalin grasped her uncle’s arm. “Was this a good idea?”
“What do you mean?”
“Our coming here. Journeying all this way…leaving everything behind. Sometimes it seems the danger will never end. And what if I don’t find my father?”
A gentle expression of understanding settled on her uncle’s face. “It is done. We cannot undo it.” He patted her arm. “Let’s talk about it over breakfast, shall we?”
Emmalin leaned against him. “I suppose we might as well make the best of things.” She walked along the street, acting as if she were out for her typical morning stroll. But no matter how she tried to imagine it, this wasn’t typical.
Jonathon stopped in front of a quaint-looking restaurant and a spark of hope lit up inside Emmalin. Perhaps Oregon City was more cultured than she’d believed. And maybe Deer Creek would be as well.
Her uncle opened the door as she closed her parasol and stepped inside. The smell of frying sausage and baked goods intensified her hunger. There were several tables, each draped with a white tablecloth and a small bouquet of flowers in the center. She crossed to a table on the far side of the room. Removing her gloves, she allowed her uncle to seat her. “This is quite nice.”
“Not bad.” Jonathon took the chair across from her.
A young woman wearing a freshly starched apron approached them. “Good morning. Did you come in on the latest train?” She smoothed back wispy blonde hair.
Embarrassment washed through Emmalin. Was her appearance so disheveled that it was obvious she was part of the new batch of pioneers?
“Yes, we are,” said Jonathon. “Just yesterday. And we’re hungry as hounds.”
“I think we can help you.” The woman smiled. “We always serve eggs and sausage along with potatoes and biscuits. Today we also have sourdough pancakes.”
Jonathon looked at Emmalin. “What would you like, my dear?”
“I’ll try the pancakes.” She’d be happy if she never saw another biscuit. If only there were croissants with fresh berries like the ones Mrs. Pascolli used to make for her.
“The same for me plus eggs and sausage.” Jonathon leaned back in his chair. “Do you serve tea?”
“Sorry. Just coffee.”
“All right then, I’ll have that. Emmalin?”
“Just water, please.”
The meal came served on large plates. Emmalin was surprised there was maple syrup. She drizzled it over the pancakes and took a bite. Light and fluffy, but fresh berries would have been nice.
When Emmalin had finished, she laid her knife across the plate. “I detest the idea of traveling back across the country, but I doubt I will adjust to living in the Oregon Territory. Come spring, I will likely make the dreadful journey east.” She took a drink of water. “When we decided to travel here, I thought I might stay, but it’s so primitive. Much worse than I had imagined.”
Jonathon shook his head. “I’m afraid I’ve spoiled you overly much. But you did well on the trail. Your mother would have been proud. You were quite courageous and sturdy.”
Shame swept over Emmalin. She hadn’t been brave. “You are very kind, Uncle, but I wasn’t brave, and I did far too much complaining.”
He chuckled. “You did a fair amount. But you were brave.”
“I miss Mother.”
“I miss her too.”
“I still can barely believe she’s gone.” Emmalin felt the sting of tears. “She went so suddenly.”
“Life has a way of surprising us…sometimes atrociously.”
Emmalin swallowed the ache in her throat. “I wish she would have told me about my father. I don’t understand it.” She felt betrayed but didn’t dare speak such words out loud. After all, it was her mother who had kept the secret. There must have been a good reason.
Jonathon grasped her hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’m so sorry she didn’t. I had no idea he was still alive. All I remember about that time is one day my sister was happily married and the next your father was gone. She never mentioned him, except when she received word of his death. I know she was likely doing her best to protect you. But she did have a rather haughty protective way about her.”
“Uncle! How dare you speak of her that way.”
“Come now. She was haughty—and so are you.”
“You really think so?”
He squeezed her hand again. “In a friendly sort of way.” He smiled. “Sometimes you do put on airs.” Reaching up and pressing his hand to her cheek, he said, “It’s not really your fault. Your mother and I overindulged you. But it won’t get you far here. It’s plain to see people won’t tolerate pretentiousness.”
She’d never considered herself to be snooty. But she had beenspoiled.
“You’ll do fine. You’ve got a good heart and will adjust.”
“I don’t mean to be highhanded.” Emmalin managed a smile, then glanced around the room at the country folk, feeling her face go hot. It wouldn’t be easy to change. And she wasn’t at all certain that this hearty stock would have patience with her while she tried to make the transition from big city life to wilderness living. “I don’t know if I’ll ever fit in, or if I even want to.”
“You’ve already transformed a fair amount. You’re much more vigorous than you were when we set off.”
“I never want to experience anything like that again. It was awful—all those months of worrying about Indian attacks, diseases, terrible food, and the hours on the trail with the sun or rain beating down on us. I doubt my feet will ever be the same again.” She swirled her water in its glass.
“But you managed to cook over a campfire, and you learned to shoot a rifle. And you made it here.”
Emmalin smiled. “I did, didn’t I?”
Uncle Jonathon leaned on the table. “Emmalin, no matter what you decide, I must return to Philadelphia in the spring.”
A pang of fear struck her. “Even if I stay?”
“I’m afraid so. I have a business to run and holdings to oversee.”
Emmalin had trouble catching her breath. She’d be alone.
The life she’d once had, enticed her. If only it could be hers again. But if she returned, she’d have to face humiliation. Collier would see her as insipid and weak-willed.
“If you’re thinking of that weasel fiancé of yours don’t. He’s not worth even one thought from you.”
“Do you think he ever loved me? I know his father was never in favor of our marriage. Did he know about my lack of inheritance?”
Jonathon didn’t answer right away. “He likely knew. And I’m sure he brought down pressure on Collier, but if Collier was a man of honor what his father thought would not have kept him from marrying you.”
Emmalin was pierced afresh by the pain of it all. He should have stood up for her. If only she could strike him from her heart and mind. Emmalin took a shallow breath. “I truly hope to reunite with my father. And perhaps build a relationship with him.” She gave a small shrug. “If he doesn’t want that, then I’ll return with you.” She glanced out the window. “He may wish I’d never been born. In all these years, he’s never contacted me.”
“I can’t imagine him not loving you.” Jonathon grasped Emmalin’s hand.
“Let’s finish eating and then I’ll make arrangements for transportation to Deer Creek.” He stacked a piece of sausage and a bite of egg on his fork. “With any luck your father will still be there.”
Emmalin dabbed her lips with her napkin. “He didn’t reply to my letter.”
“With the mail service the way it is, he probably didn’t get it.”
Emmalin nodded but wasn’t convinced. Perhaps he hoped she wouldn’t come.
One Hundred Valleys$4.99 – $15.99
Using a mother-of-pearl fan, Emmalin attempted to cool her face. “I had no idea it would be so stifling here.”
“Summer comes to the Oregon Territory just as it does back home.” Jonathon moved along the walkway. “I suppose we can be grateful for the lack of humidity we suffered with in Philadelphia.”
A stagecoach with dust swirling about its wheels rolled past. Jonathon brushed off his trousers. “Can’t say I appreciate the dust, however. And there’s nearly as much congestion here as we had in the city, except here the locals lack any sense of caution.”
Emmalin had to agree. Restraint didn’t seem to be something to be admired in this wild place. She gazed at the mountainous terrain east of town. Its heavy green forests belied the heat and dryness.
Jonathon stopped to admire a display in a shop window. “You, my dear, are in need of a new hat.” He steered her into the shop. “While you do a little shopping, I’ll see about procuring transportation south.”
Emmalin frowned. “Really, Uncle Jonathon, I don’t need another hat. I’d rather go with you.”
“This is men’s business. You enjoy yourself. I shall return shortly.”
Seemingly from nowhere apprehension ignited in Emmalin. She couldn’t fathom the reason for it. She’d faced every kind of danger on the trail. Why, now that she was in a more civilized place, would she suddenly be afraid? Perhaps her uncle’s plans to return home had stirred up a sense of being abandoned. She had experienced a good deal of it recently—her mother’s death, then being cast off by Collier. But it all truly began with her father’s turning his back on her mother.
“Don’t leave the store until I return for you.”
“Of course. I’ll wait.” She watched him go, her anxiety increasing. She clutched her reticule tightly, pressing it against her abdomen. When he had walked out of sight, she opened the bag, took out a handkerchief, and patted the base of her neck and palms dry before returning it to the handbag. She directed her attention to the merchandise in the store. Perhaps the distraction would calm her nerves.
A petite woman wearing a fashionable dark blue gown approached. Layers of fabric in the puffed skirt rustled as she walked. Looking at her attire made Emmalin feel more overheated. She was thankful for her sensible cooler day dress.
“Good morning. Welcome to Emily’s Dress Shop.” She pressed a hand to her bodice. “I’m Emily.” She smiled demurely. “I can see you are a woman with discriminating taste.” She clasped her hands at her waist. “What can I do for you?”
Emmalin turned to the window display. “Possibly a new hat.” She glanced out at the street. How long would it be before Jonathon returned?
“Did you just come in on the wagon train that arrived yesterday?”
“You must be exhausted. What a harrowing trip. Two years ago, I made it myself.” She lifted a hat from the display. “I think this would set off the blue in your eyes.”
Emmalin took the bonnet. It had a lovely sky-blue trim and white and turquoise feathers—too extravagant for this town. Looking into a mirror, she gently settled it over her ginger-colored hair and pinned it in place. She rather liked it. “Where did you live before you moved here?”
“My husband and I traveled from Cincinnati.” A shadow touched her eyes. “He died on the trail.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” On the journey west, Emmalin had seen men die—women and children too. The horror still felt fresh. So many had been taken. No one was safe from the grim hand of death.
The proprietor tipped her head slightly. “I’ve managed. I had a little money and used most of it to open this shop. I thought it would be nice to bring a bit of culture to our town.” She chose another hat. “Perhaps you’d like to try this one.”
Emmalin removed the one with the sky-blue trim and settled the more sensible bonnet on her head.
“What about you? Do you and your husband plan to stay on in Oregon City?”
“I’m not married.” Emmalin saw surprise in the woman’s eyes. At twenty-two she was well beyond marrying age. “I’m traveling with my uncle…on a personal matter. We’ll be continuing south to Deer Creek.”
“I’ve heard of it. I’m sure it’s lovely there. Do be careful, though. It’s a dangerous trek—Indians, you know.”
Emmalin studied her reflection in the mirror, hating the fear she saw in her eyes. “Is it really as bad as all that? You know how people enjoy embellishing stories.”
“I wish that’s all it was. You’d be wise to stay put and settle here in the city.”
“I have family business there.”
“Well then, I pray the good Lord provides helpful companions for your journey south. It’s best to travel with others.”
Emmalin needed no encouragement on that count. She wouldn’t think of making the trip without an escort. She removed the hat and returned it to the stand. “I’m sure my uncle will see to it that we have proper protection.”
After traveling thousands of miles, a few hundred more were not going to keep her from finding her father…if he still lived in Deer Creek. There was good reason to doubt he was still there. Men on the frontier were known to roam, and the most recent letter he’d sent to her mother had been posted more than five years ago. An earlier post came from Fort Hall and one from here in Oregon City. The first had inquired about her mother’s well-being and little more, but the second one he sent he’d told her how sorry he was he’d left her. He entreated her to join him in the west. And the last was mostly a farewell letter, since it was obvious she wanted nothing more to do with him. He sounded like a beaten man. Was he?
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Lost in thought, Emmalin was startled by the woman’s voice. “Oh. No thank you. I’ll just have a look around on my own.” She offered an appreciative smile.
The woman bobbed her head. “Please let me know if I can be of assistance.”
Emmalin perused the shop, doing her best to act as if she were feeling serene, but her mind churned with doubts and questions. Everything she’d heard about the dangers and hardships during the months on the trail, and since arriving in Oregon City, were just too much. She never should have come.
Why couldn’t things have stayed as they were? If only her mother were still alive. An ache squeezed beneath her breast. Life would never again be as it should. Emmalin moved on to a display of readymade gowns. They were pretty, but not nearly as refined as what she would have purchased in Philadelphia.
More than an hour passed, and Uncle Jonathon had not yet returned. Emmalin was certain she had looked at every item in the shop. It had become stuffy and hot indoors, so she strolled outside and sat on a wooden bench in front of the store. People came and went, most seemed to be in a hurry.
The minutes ticked by, one agonizing, sluggish second at a time. Thirty minutes more and her uncle still had not come back. What had delayed him so long?
Perhaps she should go to the hotel to wait. She was just about to do so when she spotted a sheriff and the tall, broad-shouldered man with the white dog. They were walking toward her. Something in their purposeful steps set off an alarm inside Emmalin. Her heart raced. Were they looking for her? The sheriff fixed his eyes on Emmalin, but the man she’d met earlier avoided her gaze.
The sheriff removed his hat. “Miss Hammond?”
“Yes. That’s me.” She stood and smoothed her skirt, heart still racing. What did they want with her? Had something happened to her uncle?
Both men seemed uneasy. The tall one lifted his hat and rested it against his abdomen. Did she see regret in his hazel eyes? His dog sat steadily at his side.
Emmalin’s stomach tightened. “Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?”
“I’m Marshal Taylor, ma’am.” He cleared his throat. “And yes, I’m afraid so.”
Emmalin’s heart tripped.
The marshal shuffled his hat through his fingers. “I’m sorry to have to tell you your uncle has been in an accident. A lift at the stables broke and…a load of lumber fell on him. I’m truly sorry, ma’am, but he was killed.”
The ground dropped out beneath Emmalin then whirled away. She reached out to steady herself and the man with the dog grabbed her hand. “Are you all right, ma’am?”
She managed to whisper, “Yes,” then tried to focus on the marshal. “My uncle has died?”
“He has, ma’am.”
“You’re certain it isn’t someone else?”
“Is your uncle Jonathon Hammond?” the other man asked.
“He and I had just spoken…before it happened. He hired me to take you and him to Deer Creek.” He took out a billfold from an inside coat pocket. “He paid me. I’m here to return the cash.”
Emmalin stared at the money. No. It wasn’t possible. How could dear Jonathon be gone? What should she do? She thought she might be sick and pressed a hand against her stomach. “I…I…need a moment.” She turned and faced the shop and closed off tears behind shut eyes. What would Uncle Jonathon want her to do?
There would have to be a burial. But here in this foreign place? No one here knew Uncle Jonathon. He had no church or family…just her. Emmalin’s mind carried her back to her mother’s funeral. It had been well attended and the casket had been made of a deep, rich mahogany. There had been a profusion of flowers and food. She could do none of those things for her uncle. How could she bury him here? She swept away unbidden tears.
Something pressed against her leg. Henry. He sniffed her hand and lifted his head beneath it. Emmalin felt reason returning, resolve. She turned and faced the man. “I don’t want the money. I need to go to Deer Creek.” She looked squarely at him. “Can you take me?”
“Well sure, but Deer Creek isn’t much and without your uncle—”
“I have business there.” She opened her parasol and did her best to conceal her quaking. “Before I can leave, I must bury my uncle. Will two days wait be all right with you?”
He scrubbed a day’s worth of beard. “Yes, but no more than that. I’ve got a shipment I need to deliver.” He returned his hat to his head. “Name’s Jacob Landon.” He tipped his head slightly, then with a stalwart expression, said, “It isn’t an easy trip, ma’am. I think you should reconsider.”
Was she being foolish? Emmalin lifted her chin slightly. Her father probably didn’t even want to see her. Tears burned, but she willed them away and pressed a hand to her chest. She couldn’t breathe.
“Maybe you should sit.” Mr. Landon took her by the elbow and helped her to the bench.
Her legs felt wobbly, like those of a newborn calf. How was it possible? Uncle Jonathon gone…just like that? He’d made it all the way across the country just to die in a freak accident?
“You sure you don’t want to stay put until spring and head back with a wagon train heading east?”
Emmalin didn’t know what she wanted. She needed time to think. But she had no time.
Was looking for her father, whom she’d never even met and who likely didn’t want anything to do with her, worth the risk? “I’ll decide that before next spring, but for now I need to complete my business.”
“Do you have anyone, ma’am. Family?” the sheriff asked.
She studied the empty street as a puff of wind lifted dust into the air. “No. There is no one.”
One Hundred Valleys$4.99 – $15.99