Part 25: The Road to Walla Walla Is Paved in Blood
NOVEMBER 6TH, 1848
Having survived Snake River and enjoyed almost an entire week of good weather without incident, the Neckebards arrived at Blue Mountain. They were now only a few days away from their goal, but it was time to make a decision:
Fort Walla Walla was the only chance left to stop for food, medical supplies, but most importantly; rest. Since their explosive breakout from Fort Bridger, the Neckebards hadn't had a moment of relaxation without having to look over their shoulder. They hadn't seen any soldiers for weeks and were starting to feel like they were finally in the clear.
I think we need to go to Fort Walla Walla.
Fort whatnow? I'm dying to get off the trail for a few days but do you really think it's safe? They wouldn't give up on us all of a sudden, would they?
Actually, I think there's a pretty good chance they didn't get past that river. We haven't heard or seen anything in over a week.
I really hope we don't regret this decision. In retrospect, this whole conversation would seem to be foreshadowing.
Stop being a puss, Cyrus.
It would only turn out to be a three-day trip to the Fort. Just a three-day trip. To be on the safe side, they all agreed to a cover story- the Bardneckes were a simple farming family just passing through. Susan would keep the accent under wraps. They'd need disguises. And Waffles would have to be the designated slave.
Why I gotta be the slave, pa? I'm not black!
I know, Waffles, I know. But we can't arouse any suspicion. Just try not to say anything while we're there.
I'm sorry, Cyrus Jr, but your father's right. We need to keep as low a profile as possible.
Why don't I have a disguise, mom?
Oh, Sarah Jane, I don't think anybody looks at... I mean, you were in the wagon at Bridger so nobody saw you.
As they got closer to Walla Walla, Cyrus was becoming more and more nervous but he agreed they needed the rest. His family was becoming more and more diseased.
He decided that evening that he was going to catch up on some hunting- it couldn't hurt to hone his shooting skills a bit... just in case. After informing his wife, he headed out into the wilds. It was getting cold out and food to shoot at might be scarce. Fortunately, Snake River hadn't swept away all of their bullets.
As he stood in a quiet glade, he couldn't keep his mind from wandering. Was all of this really necessary? If they just toughed it out a little longer they could have skipped the whole thing. Plus, what was the point of bringing Waffles to Fort Bridger in the first place? Why had Sterling called him "the one who would turn this war around?". And did he really have an older son somewhere out there? In the last few days with all the drama there just hadn't been a good time to talk about it. Maybe when they finally made it to Oregon.
It was a good thing they didn't lose any food in the river. There was literally nothing out here with the winter weather approaching. It crossed his mind that other than his allergic reaction to alcohol and despite spending day in and day out in a rolling plague factory, he hadn't caught any diseases at all.
Speaking of disease, why was he still with Susan? It occured to him that he had always been a pushover. A normal man wouldn't associate himself with a killer and a spy! If those weren't his kids, what reason did he have to keep risking his life? What would happen after they got to Oregon? Would Susan still continue her assault on America? What the hell was her mission, anyways?
Lost in thought, a rustle from behind startled the ever-loving crap out of Cyrus, who turned and reflexively blew several holes into the dirt around his feet.
Cyrus breathed a sigh of relief. For a second there he was worried that one of the kids might have followed him out into the woods, but it was just a rabbit. A well-perforated rabbit blown to pieces by several point-blank rifle shots. Wait a second, this wasn't his hunting rifle, this was one of the Bridger rifles. Ah, well.
Pleased with himself, Cyrus gathered up what pieces he could find and started to head back to the wagon.
This probably does not need explanation, but Cyrus is not much an outdoorsman, he's a banker. And that's why he got completely lost in the woods that evening and ended up wandering around for several hours, swearing. That is, until he heard the gunshots. They sounded a lot like the blast he had made with his soldier's rifle. There were a hell of a lot of them.
He started running.
Frantically following the general direction of the gunshots, Cyrus broke out from the woods to a sight of tremendous chaos. Dozens of men in colonial oufits were scattered across the ground. A second wagon he had never seen before was lying flipped on its side, a few dead horses nearby. Susan leaned against the side of their own wagon, breathing heavily, an oozing gash in her side and a distant look in her eyes.
Sarah Jane sat on her knees in the middle of the camp, a rifle by her side. She looked unharmed, but she was sobbing quietly. Next to her lay Waffles.
Cyrus rushed to the boy's side.
Oh, granny gristle... Pa...? I aint feelin' too good.
Cyrus looked across at his son's chest and saw that three distinct bullet holes were gushing blood, gathering now in a pool on the ground around them.
Shh, it'll be alright... Cyrus Jr. We're gonna get you to Walla Walla and you'll be fine, hear me?
No, pa... can't go to Walla Walla... that's where they came from. Gonna tell you what happened with... waffle...
I don't care about the waffle incident! Don't talk, alright...
I'm done, pa. Listen, the waffle incident... it wasn't me that done it. It was... it was Matt. Matt the shopkeeper..
Cyrus was taken aback. His brain ran through the whole gamut of emotions- guilt for not being able to help his son, shock at this new revelation, fear for his son's life and a full host of anger and anxiety.
As Cyrus sat in shock, Waffles laid his head back and breathed his last.
Nothing moved and no sound travelled on the wind. It was as though time had stopped.
Eventually Cyrus realized that Susan was standing over them. She tossed her fake eyepatch to the ground. Her voice had become quiet but clearly conveyed the rage of a hurricane.
There's one thing left to do.
I'm going to burn Walla Walla to the ground.
Susan had begun to gather up the rifles from the dead soldiers. She had a deep cut in her side and at least a dozen debilitating illnesses, but acted as though she had just woken up from a refreshing nap on the porch.
I don't expect you or Sarah Jane to come with me, but I'm taking this wagon. There's some horses from their wagon still alive that you can ride back to Snake River. If this is the last time we see each other, Cyrus, I've... always loved you.
Cyrus stammered and sputtered. He didn't know what to do. Assaulting an entire fort by herself? It was suicide! But the odds were no better with his help... and how could he drag a young girl into it? None of this would have happened if it wasn't for Susan, but somehow...
She was holding the reigns of the wagon now. She cast a final, somber glance at Cyrus who was standing beside his dead son and his weeping daughter. It was now or never...