January 14, 1897
It was the smallest box under the tree at Christmas. I was surprised when Sam brought it to me. His eyes were watery as he watched me carefully unfold the paper it was wrapped in and slip the top off of the box.
“It was Dad’s.” Sam said. “I think he would want you to have it. Maybe through it he can still give you direction when you need it. God knows I can’t.”
At the time, it felt light in my hand, but now as I prepare to lead all these girls, it feels heavy. It is as if my entire burden rests within it. Everyone’s eyes were on me as I found north with my father’s compass and then turned east. I looked around at the girls, standing beside their saddled horses, maybe I should have smiled, but I did not.
“Once we head out there will be no turning back.” I said.
They were all dressed in flannel shirts and riding pants. Some of them nearly disappeared into their heavy coats and I could tell by the looks on their faces that most were at least a little uncomfortable in the unfamiliar garments. It had been Elizabeth Bassett’s idea, but it was a good one. From a distance we would appear as men and even as close as I was, I would not have noticed if there were a man in our midst.
Edith came up to stand beside me. I gave her a nod of respect, though not long ago I would never have done so, she has earned it from me now. In truth she deserved it even before I gave it, but those days are now in the past.
“If anyone doubts this is their path then go back now before it is too late.” Edith said.
No one moved. I should not have been surprised, they are after all Primrose Girls, just like me. Whatever had driven them to Primrose in the first place was as varied as the girls themselves, but there was one thing we all shared; Once those doors to Primrose were opened to us, there was never any turning back. Even if Primrose doors have truly been closed they will not remain that way, not when we stand united on the steps.
“Alright, it is time. Saddle up, we are moving out.” I said.
It took more time than I would have liked. All of the girls needed help getting up on their horses. The sheriff and a few men with him were watching and laughing at our comedy of errors, but in the end the horses were mounted and the men ignored. As we rode past them, there was no longer any laughter.
People gathered outside to watch as we rode past and out of town. There was a solemn quiet in the air and I realized the answer to the question I had once asked Mr. Bard; Sometimes people do know when the moment they are in is a moment for the history books.
“Do you feel it?” Edith asked.
We rode side by side at a slow trot.
“Yes.” I replied. “I think the world is trembling.”
“And you are not afraid at all?”
“Of what? Everything I ever feared to lose, I have lost. What more should make me afraid?”
“Men.” She said.
I laughed at the very thought.
“We’ll never make it in two days at this pace.” I said.
“They are not experienced riders.” Anna said.
“Maybe not, but by nightfall they will be. Take up the rear and make sure we leave no one behind.” I said.
Anna nodded although her face clearly said she did not agree with me.
“We are placing our faith in you.” Edith said.
“I’ll do my best, but at the end of the day I am just a girl. Just like you.” I said.
“You are not ‘just’ anything, Miss Waters. Of that, I am certain.”
I prodded Jasper to a gallop and listened for the others to follow. They did and faster than I expected, we were all thunder and hooves. The road was hard to follow and so I turned to the train tracks and kept father’s compass for the times when our path was unclear. I kept my uncertainties to myself and led with a steadiness I never knew I had.