Saturday, February 3, 2018


The story until now:
For days they've known someone was following them, someone who wishes them harm. Unable to take the safe route back to the nearest settlement, Micha has chosen the ancient, dangerous trail along the Middle Fork of the Salmon, sometimes known as "The River of No Return" for the violence of its rapids.
She looked tired, he realized. Dust coated her face and turned her dark blue clothing to mottled tan. Sweat stained the sides of her shirt. Suddenly he realized what he hadn't noticed until now.
"What have you got on underneath?"
"Under your shirt and britches. What kind of underwear do you have on?"
"I don't think that's any of your business," she snapped, as her cheeks turned rosy.
"It is if you're overheating. Are you wearing wool longjohns?"
She nodded, and got even pinker.
He shook his head, more at his own negligence than at her foolishness. She was a lady, despite the trousers and the shorn hair. Of course she was wearing longjohns. "You'll want to go down to the river after we get camp set up. Get yourself a quick bath, and when you dress, leave off the wool underwear."
She opened her mouth.
"Eliza, it got hot today. Tomorrow's apt to be even hotter, because at least half the time we'll be feeling the full force of the sun. We'll probably have to use the water in the cask, because I don't think getting to the river's going to be easy in the next stretch. Do you want to get heatstroke?"
"No, of course not. But--"
For a moment she gnawed on her lip. "When you said we had to leave as much as we could spare behind... Well, I don't have anything else that's decent. It's all in that bundle you took to Jethro."
Sucking in his cheeks to prevent laughing aloud, he managed to say, "I don't think anyone will notice." You are lying through your teeth, boy. "Those clothes don't fit all that tight. Now, you get done here and head down to the river. I'll keep Jocky busy while you get cleaned up."
She gave a sigh and turned back to the pack she'd been opening. "All right, but it just doesn't seem mannerly, to go around half-dressed."
Micah decided he would be wisest if he kept his mouth shut. He went looking among the trees near the river's edge for game trails. The itch was back, and if possible he'd like to keep their camp hidden. But only if he could avoid the paths made by critters on their way to water.
He also wanted to tether the mules tonight. Reminded, he called, "Eliza, when you go to the river, take Rachel, will you? She can soak her legs while you wash." And if Rachel was with her, he'd worry a lot less while doing his best not to look her way. Mules were nearly as good as watchdogs.
Eliza stripped quickly and shook the dust from her britches and shirt. Her longjohns were damp and stuck to her in the most uncomfortable places. She skinned out of them and started to toss them on top of her other clothing, but then paused and gave them a good look. She wasn't going to put them back on today or tomorrow, was she? She took them into the water with her, and resisted squealing when she squatted. It's cold! Why is it this cold when the air is nice and warm?
Quickly she soaped herself, dunked to rinse. She stayed as low in the shallow water as she could--up to her waist--while soaping the longjohns and squeezing them between her hands. When she submerged them the water turned brown. I didn't realize how filthy I was. A couple more rinses and squeezes and she saw no trace of either brown or soapsuds.
Just then Rachel brayed. She was looking downriver.
Peering in that direction, Eliza saw no motion, nothing that might have caught Rachel's attention. And now the mule was drinking, so she couldn't really be alarmed. Perhaps a coyote, slinking around... They'd seen a couple today.

She splashed to the bank and used her shirt to wipe most of the water away. It would dry quickly, in this heat. When she'd dressed, she realized how much cooler she was without that layer of thin wool next to her skin. But it still felt indecent.
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