Prudence Callaghan walked through a strange land at dusk, her long legs eagerly eating up the distance. Her intelligent hazel eyes took in her surroundings with interest while her heart tried to say “home” and mean it. Her eyes and her legs were doing their part but her heart was not. This wasn’t home for all that she was happy to be there, for all that she was eager for a new start. But it was too new, to alien to be home. Home had been a small farm in Northern Ireland, shared by her Papa and his brother and their broods. A small farm no longer able to house both large families. A small farm surrounded by people who knew about the eldest Callaghan girl’s troubles. Troubles that were not her fault, but when trouble was around someone had to own it.
She and her family’s covered wagon had set out months ago, traveling west to a land that was empty and ripe for the taking. A new beginning they had heard back in Ireland and back then, before the reality of it had set it, it had seemed like a dream. But that had been before the sea journey where they had been crammed too many into the boat and where little Tom had caught a cough that hadn’t ever left him. Even then, arriving in this new land they had all still felt that same excitement, it still felt like an adventure. The very land seemed to thrum with promise. A new Beginning, everything seemed to proclaim.
Even their covered Wagon had seemed like a novelty when they had started out, the canvas pristine, the wheels so large. But then the reality had set in. It was winter and the cold was pervasive, there was no shelter from it and the fires at night could only do so much. They huddled together for warmth through long dreary hours of rattling, bumpy travel. Tom’s cough had gotten worse and before they were a month in there was one less mouth to feed.
They buried him as deep as they could in a pretty spot high on a hill there the sun had a chance to warm up the ground some, softening it to a point. They buried him and covered the grave with rocks and hoped that the scavengers would leave him be. Papa read from their bible, they all said farewell and moved onward, leaving a little piece of themselves behind. Pru had stared back at the small wooden cross Bridget had made from some saplings and felt each inch from poor Tom as a blow to her heart. They’d had plenty of reasons to leave Ireland she knew, but the final one had been her troubles. Guilt pricked at her and had stolen much needed sleep from her along the journey.
Finally they were where they were going to be, just waiting for the claims office to open and then to make their way to their new home. But she’d needed to be out of the wagon, away from her family and away from the guilt she felt every time she looked at their thin faces and dark-circled eyes. So she’d offered to get firewood and had left before someone could offer to come with her as was their usual custom. It felt good to move through this land that still felt so foreign, taking great strides that ate up ground, pausing only every now and again to gather sticks for her task. The ground around her grew wetter and the air took on a familiar scent, one she’d not expected to find here. For the first time since they’d set out her heart spoke one word, “home.” She moved deeper into the wet ground of the bog and breathed in deep of the rich peaty smell. A smile flickered across her pretty face, the first in months. What a surprise to find a place so familiar so far away from home. It felt like the land was offering her a gift, something to make her feel welcome, like she belonged there.
She was lost in thought, remembering home, remembering Tom so she didn’t hear the first signs of their approach. When a particularly loud snap of a twig reached her ears she gasped and spun taking n the scene in a second. Three boys, all of them larger and older than her, two of them looking like siblings formed a half circle around her. She clutched her pile of sticks closer to her chest and backed up a step, dipping her head to hide behind her fall of dark red-hair. She wanted so badly to run, her feet were twitching for it but she knew, from past experience, that they liked it when you ran.
“Well now what ‘ave we ‘ere Rory?” asked the oldest of them. A tall boy with cruel eyes and a mask of freckles over his leering face.
“I'd say we have a new neighbor.” Said the one, presumably called Rory, with a hungry expression on his face.
The third one just nodded, his eyes on the partly concealed swell of her breasts behind the pile of sticks she clutched. It was too much, the scene too familiar, she ran. It didn’t take trouble long to catch her, it had been catching her off and on since she’d begun showing signs of being a woman and whatever particular combination of her face and shape that made men like these thinks she was ripe for the taking had developed. They took her and then as she lay sobbing, broken and used, they ended her. It wasn’t hard to hide the evidence of their fun, it was a bog after all. They carried her deep into the bog and threw her in at a deep point. The bog embraced her like a mother, holding her and keeping her safe. It seemed like an end to Pru Callaghan’s troubles.