Chapters 14–21

When 15-year-old Samantha, a Chinese-American girl living in Missouri in the mid-19th-century, finds herself on the wrong side of the law, she and her best friend embark on a journey westward, following the Oregon Trail.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. mincing
    affectedly dainty or refined
    Franny engages the steer in a kind of mincing dance, matching it step for step until it tires of the footwork and rejoins its brethren.
  2. lariat
    a long looped rope used to catch animals
    West wings his lariat under the ox’s hind foot, then snaps his wrist up. Franny digs in her heels, and West reels in his catch, helping the ox remember it can go backward.
  3. mirth
    great merriment
    All the mirth has left Cay’s eyes.
  4. taut
    pulled or drawn tight
    West winds his rope, pulling the loops taut with more force than necessary.
  5. earful
    a severe scolding
    “You’re a fool, and one day you’re going to get us all killed.”
    “Don’t worry, I already got an earful from that one,” says Cay, flicking his gaze to Andy.
  6. careen
    move sideways or in an unsteady way
    My eyes careen around the campsite in search of the man, with his red-flannel shirt and stout form.
  7. idle
    not in action or at work
    Not a hand lies idle when we return to our hosts.
  8. bravado
    a swaggering show of courage
    Mrs. Calloway, her face crinkling, allows the yin and yang of male bravado and female adoration to ebb and flow.
  9. ebb
    fall away or decline
    Mrs. Calloway, her face crinkling, allows the yin and yang of male bravado and female adoration to ebb and flow.
  10. splay
    widen or spread apart
    Andy splays her fingers out in front of her, eyes held wide in suspense.
  11. copse
    a dense growth of trees, shrubs, or bushes
    I step over the tongue of a wagon and stumble toward the river, but then my feet take another turn and lead me into a copse of conifers.
  12. conifer
    a type of tree or shrub bearing cones
    I step over the tongue of a wagon and stumble toward the river, but then my feet take another turn and lead me into a copse of conifers.
  13. resolute
    firm in purpose or belief
    Her lips press into a resolute bundle.
  14. staple
    a necessary commodity for which demand is constant
    Before we leave, the sheriff’s crew loads us up with food staples, including Cay’s favorite, coffee.
  15. deliverance
    recovery or preservation from loss or danger
    “I think you are right. Good luck, girls. No road is ever safe but the one you walk with the Lord. I will pray for your safe deliverance.”
  16. brood
    think moodily or anxiously about something
    A chill snakes up my spine as I brood over what they might have done if I hadn’t pulled the trigger.
  17. propitious
    presenting favorable circumstances
    Chinese people believe Rabbits and Snakes make for a propitious union, since the word for happiness, fu, looks like the two animals intertwined.
  18. firmament
    the sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected
    Clouds outlined in gold streak across the firmament, casting uneven shadows over the landscape.
  19. ducat
    formerly a gold coin of various European countries
    “Ain’t a proper way to make a living.”
    “Tell that to Michelangelo. He got more than three thousand ducats for painting the Sistine Chapel in Italy. That’s about twenty thousand U.S. dollars.”
  20. prattle
    speak about unimportant matters rapidly and incessantly
    “Of course,” I prattle on, “the king’s minstrel was given a fancy title and a pretty wife.”
  21. minstrel
    a singer of folk songs
    “Of course,” I prattle on, “the king’s minstrel was given a fancy title and a pretty wife.”
  22. gambol
    play or run boisterously
    My mule loves to gambol even after a day of travel and an evening of riding exercises.
  23. uncanny
    surpassing the ordinary or normal
    Princesa throws back her head and screams, a scream that sounds uncannily like a shriek of laughter.
  24. splice
    join by interweaving strands
    I keep my eye on my rope so I don’t mix up the strands. This reminds me of how I used to braid my hair. If we had not cut it, I could have spliced my hair around my head as practice.
  25. rile
    disturb, especially by minor irritations
    “You offend me.”
    “Oh-fend? You mean like rile you up? I thought Chinamen never get mad.”
  26. rabid
    marked by excessive enthusiasm for a cause or idea
    The stars are too irresistible, and I don’t want to close my eyes. Every time I do, fears start racing through my mind, led by a couple of Scots driving a rabid posse against me.
  27. skulk
    move stealthily
    As if summoned by my worries, a trio of scruffy-faced men in navy-blue uniforms materialize out of the haze and skulk toward me.
  28. stupor
    marginal consciousness
    A spark jumps out of the fire with a loud crack and wakes me from my stupor.
  29. emphatic
    forceful and definite in expression or action
    Andy hoists her eyebrows at me but adds an emphatic, “Me neither.”
  30. ditty
    a short simple song
    He can’t get enough of that dirty ditty about two lovers who meet under the furniture.
  31. mislay
    place (something) where one cannot find it again
    I shiver, wishing I still had my shawl, the one Father had Mrs. Kurtz knit for me out of the softest lambs’ wool. He tied it tight over my shoulders and told me not to mislay it, the way I did its predecessor and my bonnet with the daisies.
    But I lost it anyway.
  32. mar
    cause to become imperfect
    She frowns at the water. Fish nip at mosquitoes, marring the surface.
  33. gusto
    vigorous and enthusiastic enjoyment
    I pray he didn’t see me bawling. Just in case, I pin a grumpy scowl on my face and gnaw on my bacon with extra gusto.
  34. consternation
    sudden shock or dismay that causes confusion
    Cay cocks his head in consternation.
  35. heathen
    not acknowledging the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam
    Andy frowns, probably saying a prayer for the preservation of my heathen soul.
  36. ferment
    cause to undergo the breakdown of sugar into alcohol
    “It worked, too. Father said Mother was as lovely as the empress’s teacup, with a temperament as sweet as autumn pears. He loved her very much. Every night, he placed a cup of her favorite drink, fermented rice wine, on the mantel.”
  37. meander
    move or cause to move in a winding or curving course
    Andy and I continue down the trail, which meanders along the Platte River.
  38. sentinel
    a person employed to keep watch for some anticipated event
    Along the banks, large cottonwoods stand ramrod straight like sentinels among minions of sagebrush.
  39. encumber
    hold back, impede, or weigh down
    “I just hope we can make up some time crossing the Platte.” Unlike the pioneers, we will not have wagons to encumber us.
  40. brackish
    slightly salty
    Sometimes the shoreline disappears altogether as the brackish waters ooze over into the high grass.
Created on June 3, 2020 (updated June 8, 2020)

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