Chapter 4 – Moving to Menomonie
Nettie held onto Grandma Cupp tightly. The frail woman trembled as Nettie embraced her. The move to Menomonie was taking a toll on them all.
Will I ever see her again?
Nettie’s crisply starched white blouse was wet on the shoulder from her grandmother’s tears.
This move is unfair! I don’t want to leave St. Paul. I want to stay in my house and live there until I marry. Why can’t I have my dreams?
Grandma Cupp pulled out of the embrace. Taking Nettie’s hands in hers, she said, “Nettie, my dear, I am going to miss you more than you can ever imagine. Remember what your mother and I have taught you. Always be true to yourself. May God bless you and your dreams.”
Nettie watched as her grandmother backed away toward the buggy she and her family arrived in a few minutes earlier. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I’ll be there to keep her mind off your leaving.” Beatrice pulled her daughter into a spirited hug. “I hope you know how proud your father and I are. Here you are only nineteen, and you’re going off to help a community in another state educate their children. To think, when you were small, you only wanted to grow up and be a mommy. Next thing, I’ll learn that you’re teaching at a university.”
“Oh, mother!” Nettie gave her mother a huge bear hug.
“Are you guys forgetting someone?” Homer moved closer to them, and Nettie reached out and pulled her father into the group hug.
The Beginning of the Journey
“Nettie, Bertha, this is Charles Rogers.” Homer nodded to Charles, who sat atop his wagon. “I’ve known him for years, and he’ll be watching over you during the journey.”
Charles tipped his hat to the two young women.
“Pleased to meet you, ladies. We’ll try to make this as pleasant as possible for the two of you. We rarely have passengers on this supply route, though. Some of the men can be a little crude, but I had a talk with them, and they assure me they’ll be on their best behavior.”
“Thank you, Charles.” Homer lifted Nettie’s satchel up into the wagon as Charles jumped down to help him load the two trunks.
Bertha and her parents said their goodbyes and the girls climbed up in the wagon with Charles.
Nettie tied her bonnet tightly under her chin to protect her face from the rising sun. Her lip was sore and bruised from chewing on it all morning.
Charles clicked his tongue, snapped the reins, and the horses slowly began to pull the wagon away from the blacksmith shop. The journey began.
They reached the shores of the St. Croix River mid-morning. People and supplies lined the riverbank. Everyone waited for the boat to arrive to transport them across the river.
Charles jumped down off the wagon and unhitched the horses. He led the team to a large barn where a man took the reins and led them into the enclosure to be fed and watered. Another man helped him unload the supplies and luggage from the wagon.
Nettie and Bertha chatted while they waited in the shade under an old oak tree, Suddenly, Bertha pinched Nettie’s arm.
“Ouch! What did you do that for?”
“Do you see him?” Bertha’s eyes fixated on a young man walking directly toward them.
Nettie took in a deep breath. “He’s coming toward us.” She whispered the words, but they came out much louder than she intended. Her cheeks instantly turned crimson.
“Good morning, ladies. My name is Raymond Henson. Mr. Shepherd of the Village Committee asked me to watch over you on the trip to Menomonie. Is there anything either of you need?”
“How charming!” Bertha’s words came out much faster than normal. “We are waiting for the boat to arrive. Right now, I can’t think of anything we need other than milder temperatures.” She brushed at her skirt.
Nettie marveled at how many people were now watching over them.
Raymond laughed. It was the broadest and most robust laugh Nettie ever heard. She desperately needed to splash some cold water on her face to cool her cheeks. No man had ever had such an instant effect on her.
Nettie’s senses were on fire. The musky scent coming from the man standing in front of her, mingled with the fishy, earthen smells of the rapid waters of the St. Croix. The heat of the day was rising steadily, and she became light-headed. She attempted to steady her footing but instead stumbled forward on the rocks under her feet.
Raymond placed his hands on her hips to prevent her from falling face forward into the rocky pathway.
Nettie gasped as what felt like a bolt of electricity ran from her neck to her toes.
Raymond removed his hands quickly and took two steps backward. “I didn’t intend to frighten you, Miss. I simply wanted to prevent you from falling and tearing your skirt.”
Nettie nodded, as she looked down at the ground. She didn’t trust herself to meet his eyes.
“Thank you for saving my friend.” Bertha smiled her most perfect smile. Her blue eyes sparkled.
Raymond nodded to Bertha. “Right now I’ll see about the riverboat arrangements. Then I’ll return to give you more information.” He turned and walked toward a group of men standing on the banks of the river by the pier.
“It looks like this journey is filled with far more potential than we ever dreamed!” Bertha’s fingers nervously smoothed her golden curls.
“He does seem to have eyes for you.” Nettie regretted that she couldn’t feel more support for her friend. Raymond’s smile most definitely was in response to Bertha’s reaction to his chivalry.
“Do you ladies need anything?” Charles reappeared, carrying a jug of water and a tin cup.
Nettie drank greedily. She couldn’t remember there ever being a warmer day than this one.
Within the hour, the boat arrived, and the men loaded the majority of the supplies aboard.
Charles suggested the girls wait under the tree until the last boxes were aboard before escorting them to the boat.
“I can’t believe I’m going to cross the St. Croix River,” Bertha said. “I’ve always wanted the opportunity to do this.”‘
The River Boat
“Well, it looks as though your dream is coming true today, Bertha.” Nettie smiled as she took the arm Charles offered to help her board the boat. She clutched the railing for a few seconds before her feet became accustomed to the motion of the deck under them.
Bertha came next, followed by Charles.
“The school prepaid your passage, ladies, so don’t let anyone try to convince you to pay again.” Charles tipped his hat as he moved beyond them to the shade of the seating section.
“Oh, please, Nettie, stay out here on the deck with me. I don’t want to miss even a second of our crossing. Do you think we’ll see any turtles or catfish?”
A bell rang overhead.
Nettie watched as Raymond untied the ropes attached to the dock and jumped aboard. He fastened the moorings to the iron bars of the railing before walking over to where they stood.
“Have you ever been on the St. Croix?” He looked directly at Nettie.
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. I’m acting like a school girl. What in the world is wrong with me?
“No we haven’t,” Bertha said. She quickly smoothed back her damp blonde curls.
The sun was scorching now, and the glare from the water made it difficult to see clearly. As the boat slowly moved toward the opposite shore, the girls drank in the beauty of the majestic river on its journey to meet the Mississippi.
The First Evening
It took most of the afternoon to cross the river and unload the boat.
“Welcome to Weskohsek. That’s the Menominee Nation’s word for Wisconsin. It means ‘a good place to live with clean water, clean air, bountiful fish and game, medicines for our use, and good land.’” Charles grinned.
A few minutes later, he directed the girls to the covered wagon they would use to travel the rest of the way to Menomonie. He’d left it on this side of the river when he came to collect them. Nettie’s father arranged for the borrowed wagon they’d used on the Minnesota side. The owner planned to collect it the following day.
Dinner consisted of beans and rice, dried meat, a loaf of acorn bread sent by Beatrice, and some dried fruit with pine nuts for dessert. Nettie already longed for the scent of dinner cooking in the kitchen. This meal carried only the scent of the surrounding pines and dry earth.
A New Compliment
The sun hadn’t quite set when Nettie heard the strains of a harmonica. She stuck her head out of the covered wagon and saw that Charles was sitting on a log near the dying fire playing Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.
Nettie began to sing softly, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling – Calling for you and for me.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Is there anything you ladies need?”
“No, thank you, Raymond. Bertha and I are just settling in for the night.” What if Bertha thinks I’m flirting with Raymond? She’s so totally taken with him and he’s shown he has eyes for her, too. This is awful.
“We’ll be starting at dawn tomorrow. We have a long day ahead of us.”
“Please don’t worry about us, we’ll be ready.” Nettie quickly slipped back behind the canvas, nervous her eyes would betray her feelings.
The End of Day 1
“Who was that?” Bertha looked up from the pallet she prepared in the bottom of the wagon.
“It was Raymond.” Nettie hung her bonnet on a spike on an upright board along the side of the wagon.
“Do you know how that man is looking at you?”
“Whatever do you mean?” Nettie undid the apron she’d put on to prepare their dinner. She kept her back turned so Bertha wouldn’t see the sudden flush to her cheeks.
“He can’t take his eyes off you. I’m so envious I can barely stand it. If you weren’t my dearest friend, I’d be planning on ways to win him away from you.”
“Don’t be silly, Bertha. The man only has eyes for you.”
“Silly?” Bertha shook her head, laughing.
Nettie picked up a pillow and lobbed it at her friend. “We’ll be far too busy for men when we reach Menomonie.”
Nettie watched Raymond gallop his horse to the front of the caravan. When he reached the first wagon, he pulled back on the reins, and his horse slowed to a steady trot.
She could see his head bob as the laughter filtered back to them. She couldn’t hear what the men were saying, but they were certainly enjoying the early afternoon push through the wooded hills of western Wisconsin.
“You are most definitely smitten,” Bertha said. Her eyes sparkled in the summer sunlight.
Nettie crossed her arms across her chest. She lifted her chin slightly and looked straight ahead.
“I apologize, Nettie. Please don’t be angry with me.”
“I’m not angry, Bertha. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never been…what did you call it? Smitten? I don’t understand why he has affected me so.”
“I’m certain you’re not the first woman to notice him. He’s extremely handsome.”
Charles Rogers smiled to himself while they chatted as if he weren’t sitting right beside them. He was glad the young ladies had noticed Menomonie’s newest resident. The school made an excellent choice to send Raymond along to watch over the young ladies on the long journey.
Indian Attack Scare
A shot rang out.
Nettie and Bertha screamed in unison as Raymond turned his horse and galloped back to their wagon.
“Bertha!” Nettie yelled as her friend slumped against her arm. Nettie immediately began to check her friend for signs of blood.
“She’s fainted, Miss.” Charles pulled up on the reins and jumped down off the wagon to give the girls more room.
It took a few minutes to revive Bertha.
Nettie felt sorry for her friend. She was obviously quite embarrassed to have made such a scene.
“There’s no danger, ladies. Joshua is out hunting in the woods to get us some fresh meat for the evening meal. I apologize. I should have warned you.”
Nettie smoothed her skirt. “Yes, Mr. Henson, a warning would have been appropriate. We thought there were Indians in the woods and we were under attack.
The caravan came to a halt as two horsemen galloped toward the woods. After several minutes, they returned dragging a large moose behind their horses. It took five men to lift the beast into one of the wagons.
The Journey Continues
Nettie could taste the dust in her mouth. What she wouldn’t give for a warm bath and clean hair.
The meal last evening had been extraordinary. The men grilled the moose over an open fire, and the girls collected greens along the edge of a stream. For the second evening in a row, Raymond led them in prayer before the meal. Nettie loved a man of faith. Without a doubt, her father would approve of this young man.
After the scare yesterday, Raymond appeared to pay much more attention to Bertha. Nettie was happy for her friend. Raymond was a perfect match for Bertha, although she had hoped beyond hope that he’d continue to have eyes for her.
“You are lost in thought,” Bertha said. She fiddled with a stray strand that had fallen from her tightly wound bun.
“The journey is long; I perhaps daydream a bit to cut into the monotony.” I certainly can’t tell her I’ve been daydreaming about Raymond for the past two hours.
“When will we get there, Charles?” Bertha asked the driver.
“This will be our longest day, Miss Carlson. We’ll arrive in Menomonie as the sun sets.”
“What’s it like?” Nettie turned her attention to Charles.
For the next two hours, Charles entertained them with stories of the lumber industry and Captain William Wilson. Captain Wilson was a principal owner in the Knapp, Stout & Co. He was also the first mayor of the city and the first state senator.
The girls listened as Charles described Captain Wilson’s estate in detail. The grounds had been enclosed by a sandstone wall built only a few years earlier on the twenty-two-acre estate.
Nettie could picture herself sitting in a rocking chair on the pillared front porch of Wilson’s mansion. The colonial-style mansion was the most prominent feature of the town, according to Charles.
Charles described the Christmas party at the mansion last season. It was a festive affair, with the home decorated with pine boughs and candles burning along the circular drive leading up to the entryway.
The girls became very animated when Charles talked about the Captain’s daughter, Angelina. She had worn a beautiful red velvet dress to the party and helped her parents entertain their guests by singing Christmas carols.
The afternoon flew by as Charles prepared them for their new lives.
2 thoughts on “The Christmas Prayer – Menomonie”
Your a great writer. I wish my daughter and her two oldest read like I do. My daughter has a degree in Education her oldest a degree in Computer Science and her second is in her second year at the U of Iowa. They All are grammar obsessed. They are constantly correcting me. Lol. My mom was the same way and her vocabulary was amazing. I’m enjoying each chapter. I absolutely Love period pieces in books and movies. I’m so proud of someone from my hometown doing such a great job at their craft.
Thank you, so much, Barb! You have no idea how much that means. I tried to be true in the fictional story to the real story of Uncle Bill’s mother and father’s great love.