Some pages from a new novel I am writing…Klondike
Bethia didn’t know where she was going, she just knew she had to get away. Over-hearing her stepfather’s plans for her, the evening after her mother’s funeral still had her breaking out in a cold sweat.
She stuffed as many clothes, a pair of work boots and her blanket roll into the old carpet bag and dragged it out to the shed behind the shack they called home. She would pretend to be asleep when he staggered home and then as soon as she heard him snoring in the other room, she would shinny down the wall from her attic room and head as far away as she could manage.
She took her mother’s small Bible with all the family names written in it and placed it in the small fitted chest pack she would wear under her clothes. She had learned to dress to hide her shape around her stepfather at a young age and thought maybe that would be a good thing to keep doing while out on her own. The little bit of money she had managed to earn over the years helping neighbors was also in her small pack.
She heard her stepfather stumble in a couple of hours later, and waited as quietly as she could, afraid even to move for fear he would remember her up here alone.
At last, she heard snores echoing through the shack and hurried over to her small window. She knew it was going to be a tight fit getting out through it as she had grown some since the last time she went out this way.
The window creaked alarmingly as she opened it and she stopped, waiting to see if she had awakened him. After a couple of snorts and gurgles, he seemed to resume snoring at his usual volume so she proceeded to climb down the outside wall to the ground.
As she neared the ground, a hand grasped her ankle and yanked her the rest of the way down, landing on the ground hard, knocking the breath right out of her.
In the dim light, she recognized one of her stepfathers drinking buddies and using the last bit of strength in her arms, she smacked him with the rock her hand found as she landed. The blow knocked him off her and she scrambled back out of his reach. His sour breath nauseated her and she fought to retain the evening meal she had eaten shortly before going up to the attic. She couldn’t afford to waste food by throwing up, no matter how much she felt like it.
The man started to raise up and then groaned and collapsed back onto the ground. His breathing was ragged but steady and strong, so she would not worry about him.
She scrambled to her feet and headed back to the shed she stored her carpet bag behind and found the man had tied a scrawny horse there by the reins, near her bag. Even though it could be considered horse stealing and she could be hung for it, she was going to borrow this horse and turn it loose as soon as she got to town.
She tied the bag to the old saddle, removed the bridle to make it look like the horse had pulled loose. Then used a piece of thin rope tied around the horses’ lower jaw and looped back for reins and climbed onto the horse. Softly murmuring to the horse, she urged it to move out away from the shed and they were on their way.
She was afraid to push the horse to go any faster than the ambling walk they were going, but the horse managed to keep it up all night and by morning, they were entering the outskirts of Seattle.
She rode on into the city a little ways, and soon noticed everyone was very excited and all heading toward the docks. It was just the 17th of July, 1897, nothing to get excited about, she thought. She finally dismounted and removed her makeshift bridle and sent the horse on back the way they had come.
When she found a deserted building close to the road that was not locked, she entered and changed her clothes. A young woman entered the building, a very young man exited it, carrying a large carpet bag. She would have to remember to speak lower and be seen as a boy, not a woman alone. The small amount of dirt she smudged over her cheeks might give an appearance of some soft beard starting, she hoped.
It took her all day to get close to the docks and by then, she knew what the excitement was about. A ship had docked carrying a ton of gold from the Klondike. Everyone was trying to head north and strike it rich. That sounded like a good plan to her and she decided to go north, also.
She traded some of her clothes for some warmer men’s clothing at a store she found. If the owner found it odd that a young man had only women’s clothes to trade, he did not say anything. The clothes were well made and he could sell them easily enough. By the time she left the store, her carpet bag was much lighter and she owned two sets of heavier clothes, and another pair of work boots, wool socks and gloves. The man had thrown in an oil cloth to use to keep things dry.
Sitting on the boardwalk, listening to the talk around her near the ships, she heard which ones were due to head north the next morning on the tide, so made her way toward the largest one she could see that was going. She had a loaf of bread stashed in the bag and some sarsaparilla. Not the best supplies but better than none. A tin cup and spoon rounded out her gear and she felt she could manage.
She stashed her bag and grabbed a load of freight piled on the dock and walked onto the ship, carrying it, placed it down and went back for more. On one of her trips aboard, she managed to carry her own bag on and hid it in one of the lifeboats on deck. She continued working into the evening and was surprised when the man at the gangplank handed her some money for her work and told her to look them up when ever they were in dock and there would be work available for a willing hand. She nodded to the man and ducked behind some other freight as soon as she was out of his sight.
When he finally left his post at the gangplank, she hurried on board and climbed into the lifeboat with her carpet bag. This was going to be a very long trip in uncomfortable conditions. She settled in as well as possible and managed to doze off to sleep.
When she awoke, the ship was already under way and she wished she could see the scenery they were passing through. The movement of the ship was mildly unpleasant but didn’t bother her too much. The being enclosed was much worse. It was too much like being locked in her closet when she was younger and displeased her stepfather.
By the time it was dark and the boat quieted down enough she could chance climbing out of her hiding place, she was in agony, looking for a place to relieve herself. She finally found a secluded area and afterwards, discovered crates of apples. She filled her pockets and carried as many as she could back to her hiding place. Once she was safely hidden again, she ate 2 of the apples, savoring each bite.