I wrote this short story to introduce some of the River Girl characters to you. Anna is not in the novel; I created her for this story only.
Remember Me, Anna
Claire stretched out on a gray rock next to the Klamath, her back warmed by sunrays while she absorbed heat from the smooth hard surface. The water rushed past, as always — green, cool liquid from which she’d just emerged. Dust-scented river willows hid her from the cabin. Her long brown linen frock clung to her and slowly dried in the searing afternoon heat.
“Claire, come in!” Her mother, Genevieve, called to her.
She turned over and sat up. It would not be right to hide and disobey, so she slowly stood and replied, “I’m coming.” She picked her way over a wide bar of round river rocks, then climbed the hill to their cabin. There she found her mother gathering things: blankets, medicines, and food.
“We need to get going.”
“Where to?” Claire’s eyes adjusted to the dark interior of the cabin and she focused on what her mother was doing.
“There’s been an accident upriver. Asa, Toby and Jake already left. They’re going on ahead.”
Claire watched her mother gather things to take.
Genevieve stopped suddenly, and looked at her. “Here, carry this,” she said, thrusting a large heavy crazy quilt into Claire’s arms. She then pointed at a white ceramic pitcher on the table. “Get that too. Fill it with water and see that you don’t break it.”
Claire did as she was told, then waited outside. When her mother emerged carrying a satchel with food, bandages and salves, and a few more blankets, they walked together toward the road leading uphill, upriver, toward the cliffs.
“They said a stage went off the road and people are injured. I hope we’ll get there in time to help someone.”
Claire trudged uphill beside her mother. Genevieve was strong and healthy. She worked on the north side of the river as a cook for miners. Asa, her husband, worked downriver at a mill when he could.
Claire had climbed this hill a hundred times with Toby, her younger brother, and his annoying friend, Jake. She glided up the steep hillside without effort while her mother’s breaths came deep and short. Once they were at the top, starting a downhill stretch, Claire was in unfamiliar territory. She never wandered that far east. She knew there was a town named Seiad Valley in that direction, but she’d never seen it.
They walked for another half hour before they heard voices, then came to the scene. A stagecoach, garishly painted bright blue, was being hauled out of a ravine on the north side of the road. The coach was splintered in places, the top smashed in, and one wheel hung off to the side at an unnatural angle.
Asa walked up to Genevieve when they arrived and said, “Down in the gully. There’s injuries.”
Genevieve nodded and he pointed toward a section of hillside he’d decided was safe for their descent. A rope had been strung from a tree at the top, and they clung to it as they lowered themselves along a rock-strewn hillside.
Toby and Jake stood beside an area where two people lay on the ground. They looked up, then Toby ran to relieve Claire of the pitcher full of water.
Both victims looked miserable, obviously suffering. One was a young girl who seemed to be about Claire’s age, twelve. Claire sat down beside her and looked at the girl’s long, dark face and frightened brown doe eyes. “We’re here to take care of you, my mother and I,” she said. “What’s your name?”
The girl tried to move her lips a bit but wasn’t able to talk. Her lips quivered. Claire picked up her hand and squeezed it gently.
On the other side of the girl a woman lay, crying, her forearm broken. “Her name is Anna,” the woman said through her tears.
“Are you her mother?”
The crying woman nodded while the young girl’s eyes danced right and left, as if looking for the source of her mother’s voice.
“You see, Anna?” Claire looked into the young girl’s eyes. “Your mother is right here beside you, and you’ll be fine. We’ll take good care of you both.”
Genevieve spread the large crazy quilt over Anna and her mother, saying, “You need to be warm. Though it is a summer day, you’re in the shade and on the ground. It will do you well to be warmer still.”
Anna started to cry. “It hurts,” she said, tears streaming down.
Claire pulled the blanket up to the girl’s neck. “Anna, a doctor will come. And I’ll stay beside you until he gets here. I promise. We’ll do everything we can to help you and your mother.”
“We were going to see my father in Happy Camp,” she said through tears and sniffles.
“Does he know you’re coming?”
“He was supposed to meet us at the ferry.”
“They’ll find him. I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”
Anna’s father didn’t come. Eventually it was decided that Claire’s family would give a bed and nursing to Anna and her mother. They were lifted onto stretchers made of tree limbs covered with blankets and carried downriver to the crowded one-room cabin built by Rupert Welch, Claire’s uncle, before he drowned.
At home, Claire tucked Anna into her bed. “Isn’t this wonderful?” Claire thought out loud. “Now I’ll have a friend. Anna, you can’t imagine how happy I am that you’re here. I don’t know any other girls my own age.”
Anna said nothing, and instead, started crying again.
“You’re not happy! Of course, you’re still hurt from the accident. Doctor Ha Chin will be here soon.”
Anna sniffled and sighed. “It really doesn’t hurt much right now. I think I’ll be okay. I just want to go home.”
“Where is your home?”
Claire nodded. “My home was Antioch, near San Francisco Bay. I didn’t want to leave there either.”
A tear ran down Anna’s cheek. “I want to see Daddy, but then go home, and Mama wants to stay.”
“We could be friends.”
“I hope so.”
That afternoon Dr. Ha Chin arrived with his herbs and teas. He examined Anna and said she would recover quickly. “She was shocked by the accident. That was the worst thing,” he said. Anna’s mother got a splint and sling for her broken arm.
The next afternoon Anna’s father arrived. “I was up Indian Creek at the mine,” he said. “I thought you would be on next week’s stage, not this one.”
“I wish we’d waited,” Anna’s mother said, smiling at the sight of her husband. They embraced a long time.
“I’ve got friends here,” he said. “They’ll help me get you and Anna across the river into Happy Camp.”
Claire gasped. “Oh no! You’re not taking Anna over there, are you?”
“I reckon I must,” he said.
“Can’t they live on this side of the river?”
“Can’t be done. I’ve got a house over there all ready for them.”
Anna, full of joy at seeing her father, didn’t look at Claire. She couldn’t see Claire’s sullen expression and downcast eyes, all the life and happiness drained out of them. Her father picked Anna up and carried her out of the cabin, then returned to get his wife.
Genevieve pushed Claire’s shoulder. “Go say goodbye to your friend.”
“She’s not my friend.”
“Of course she is, Claire. She wants to be your friend. She’ll always be your friend. Happy Camp isn’t that far away. You’ll see her again.”
Claire glared at her mother’s concerned, compassionate face, then humbled herself. She realized her mother loved her and meant to help her. She got up and walked outside, then ran down the path to a rocky cove where Anna was already sitting inside the boat.
“Anna!” she shouted.
Anna turned toward her, smiled, and waved. Claire ran to her.
“Remember me, Anna,” she said. “When I get to Happy Camp, I want to see you.”
Anna jumped up and out of the boat, right into Claire’s arms. “I’m so glad we met, Claire!” she said. “Wherever I’m going, I’ll always think of you, my first and dearest friend in this wild, windy place.” After a long, happy hug, she turned back to the boat, her shoes and stockings soaked in the Klamath River water.
Claire sat on one of the river boulders nearby and watched as Anna’s father rowed them across the river. The current dragged the little boat downstream and before long they were out of sight. Claire sighed, and got up to walk home. Then she saw her brother, Toby, waiting uphill on the roadway. He waved at her, and she ran to him. “Let’s go pick apples,” he suggested, and they were off on another adventure to celebrate the day.