When Calls the Heart(8)

By: Janette Oke

Chapter Three

On the Way

I fidgeted on the worn leather of the train seat, willing my nerves to quit jumping and my heart to quit its thunderous beating. I would soon be arriving in Calgary. The very name with its unfamiliar ring made my pulse race.

I would soon be seeing my brother Jonathan. My memories were vaguely outlined in the shadowy figure of a tall, gangly youth with a strong will of his own. I would also be meeting his wife, Mary, whom he declared to be the sweetest and most beautiful woman on the face of the earth. And I would be introduced to four little children--one nephew and three nieces. I was prepared for them, having purchased sweets at our last stop. Children were easy to win, but would my brother and my sister-in-law be pleased with me? Was I ready to step out of the relative safety of the train into a strange, new world?

My four slow-moving days on the Pacific Western, spent sitting stiffly in cramped train seats, and even slower-passing nights, had been gradually preparing me. I finally had been able to overcome my intense homesickness. The first three days I had missed my family to such an extent that I feared I might become ill. Gradually the ache had left, and in its place there now seemed to be only a hollow.

As the pain had left me, I had been able to find some interest in the landscape, which seemed amazingly different from what I was accustomed. Jonathan had tried to describe the land to me in his letters, but I had not visualized the emptiness, the barrenness, the vastness of it all. As I gazed out the train window, it seemed that we traveled on forever, seeing hardly any people. Occasionally we did pass small herds of animals-antelope, deer and even a few buffalo, roving slowly across the prairie, and delaying the train once in a while as they lazily crossed the iron tracks.

I had expected to see Indian teepees scattered all across the countryside. But in fact, I saw very few Indians at all, and they were almost all in the small towns that we passed through, looking very "civilized" indeed. I saw no braves painted for the warpath. Most Indian people moved quietly along the streets, concerned only with their own trading activities.

Now we were nearing the frontier town of Calgary, the home of my brother Jonathan and many other adventuresome persons. What would it be like? Would it be at all modern? After I had made my decision to go, Julie had read all she could find about the West. Where she discovered all of her information, I never did learn; but at any hour of the day or night that she could corner me, she would announce new "facts" she had gathered. According to her, the West was full of reckless, daring men, so eager for a wife that they often stole one. (I wasn't sure that she disapproved.) Julie painted word pictures of cowboys, voyageurs, miners and lumbermen-all roaming the dusty streets in their travel-stained leather and fur, looking for excitement, women, wealth and danger. though not necessarily in that order. And Indians-everywhere Indians. Though most were rather peaceable now, she was sure they still wouldn't hesitate to take a scalp if the opportunity existed. This irrepressible sister of mine had even dared to whisper that perhaps I should bob my hair so none of them would be overly tempted by my heavy mass of waves. She warned me that they might find my dark gold curls with their red highlights irresistible.

"My scalp, complete with its hair, is quite safe from the Indians," I had assured Julie, but I will admit that she made me shiver a few times. She had nodded solemnly and informed me that I was probably right and it was all due to the fortunate fact that the West now had the North West Mounted Police. According to Julie, they were the West's knights in red-serge armor, and Calgary abounded with them. Should the need ever arise, a lady had only to call, and Red Coats would come running. Judging from the sparkle in Julie's eye as she described this scene, I would have expected her to avail herself of their services quite regularly.

Julie had also claimed that Calgary was a land of perpetual blizzard. It stopped snowing only long enough to allow an occasional "chinook" to blow through, and then the cold and neck-deep snow would again take over.

Calgary was now only minutes away, according to the conductor, and on this August afternoon, with the hot sun beating down unmercifully upon the stuffy coach, I realized that Julie had been wrong at least on this one point-unless, of course, this was just one of those chinooks. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if Julie may have been mistaken about some other "facts" as well. I would soon see. In my impatience I stood up to pace the floor.

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