Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04] (48 page)

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
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“Zane should be bringing them in today,” Cole said as he pulled on his gloves. “There isn’t a whole lot left to do, but with Zane’s help, we ought to make the place at least livable. We can always do some of the trimming up later in spring.”

“I’m so glad they’ve agreed to come live with us,” Dianne said, following Cole across the yard to where the small house stood. “I hope they like what we’ve done.”

“You know Ben and Charity. They could be happy in a shack in the middle of nowhere, as long as they had each other.”

“That’s true enough, but Ben’s health is slipping fast, and they may not have each other for long. Sometimes that’s hard to imagine. I think about it for us as well. I don’t like the idea of either one of us dying and leaving the other behind.”

Cole stopped and turned. “You worry too much, wife of mine.” He leaned down and placed a kiss on her cheek. “It’s all a matter of God’s timing. Who are we to question it?”

“I know,” she said softly. “It’s the way life is.”

“But because life is like that,” he replied, “we simply need to appreciate what God has given us—who God has given us—and do our best each day. We certainly can’t live in the regrets of yesterday or the worries of tomorrow.”

Dianne nodded, trying to push her thoughts aside. She would have whatever time God allotted her. Both for her life and the lives of her friends and family. Either she trusted Him with those lives or she didn’t.

“Look, Pa! Zane’s comin’,” Luke called from atop the small house. He and his brothers were already working to finish up with the shingles.

“No doubt Ben and Charity will be exhausted and cold. I’ll get some tea on,” Dianne said. She leaned up on tiptoes, and Cole met her lips with his own. “Be careful,” she whispered before turning to the house.

It wasn’t long before Dianne found herself seated at her dining table with Ben and Charity. She offered them freshly baked bread and butter, along with their tea.

“I’m sorry I don’t have any cookies. The children exhausted our supply yesterday.”

“Well, I can certainly help with that,” seventy-seven-year-old Charity declared.

“And I can help too,” Ben threw in. “Eat them, that is.”

Dianne laughed. “I get plenty of help from Cole as well.”

“I’d love to help with your chores,” Charity said, growing serious. “We’re much obliged to you taking us on here. Obviously there was never much money to put aside for our later years.”

“I’m honored for the opportunity. I miss having my parents to care for. I know we’ll have lots of time for talking and sewing,” Dianne said, pouring more tea into her cup. “And I think it will be a blessing for the children to have you here. Oh, did I tell you that Cole’s mother went to live with one of his sisters?”

“No,” Charity replied, shaking her head. “I would imagine Cole is glad for that.”

“I think he is relieved. His mother wrote him saying that she couldn’t abide someone else farming the land. Personally, I think she finally realized Cole wasn’t coming back and that the farm had no hold on him.”

“But she knew he’d sold the property,” Charity said. “Why would she wait two years for something that could never be?”

Dianne shrugged. “I really don’t know. She’s certainly stubborn. I wrote her a while back and apologized for anything I’d done to offend her. I told her I was sorry that we hadn’t been better friends and hoped that maybe we could be in the future. I thought maybe in hindsight she’d write to apologize, but she never has. I suppose some people simply can’t or won’t change.”

Ben picked up a second piece of warm bread and began slathering it in butter and jam. “Hard hearts aren’t easily softened.”

“No, they aren’t. I can testify to that firsthand,” Dianne said, still sometimes feeling a twinge of guilt for the way she’d comported herself with Cole’s mother. “Only God has the ability to do the job right.”

They fell silent and continued eating. Dianne often wondered if there might still be some way to reach Cole’s mother, but so far she’d not come up with anything.

“So you’ve no doubt heard we’re finally a state,” Charity submitted.

“Oh, yes. Several of the cowhands were in Bozeman for the celebration. I guess it was a grand time.”

“In Virginia City, too,” Ben said. “It’s a wonderful thing for us. For the country too. There will no doubt be more folks who will come west to settle now.”

“New people and new problems,” Dianne said, not at all enthused about what it might mean.

“Still, it would be nice to have things grow a little,” Charity said. “I mean, wouldn’t it be useful to you to have a town nearby that you could make a quick trip to without having to spend days on the road?”

“Certainly, but I also cherish the simplicity and privacy we have.” Dianne shrugged. “I’ve lived in cities, and I don’t think a whole lot of them.”

“Ma! Ma, come quick! Uncle Morgan and David are headin’ in!” John called.

“Uncle Morgan’s coming!” Lia announced as she burst through the front door. She had become quite the belle of the family. She looked completely feminine in her pink gingham coat. Her brothers doted on her as if she were their favorite pet, and Lia enjoyed their attention.

“I thought he might come in a week or two. That’s what his last letter indicated,” Dianne said, getting to her feet. “You two go ahead and enjoy your rest. I’ll go greet the travelers.”

She took her shawl from the back door peg and walked outside with Lia bouncing up and down at her side. The child seemed to skip or run everywhere she went.

Dianne waved to Morgan and David as they rode up the lane. They waved back and urged their horses into a trot.

“We didn’t expect you so early, but you know you’re welcome!” Dianne called as they came to the hitching post.

They dismounted quickly, but instead of tying the horses up, Morgan instructed David to take them to the barn. “If that’s all right with you,” he said, looking to Dianne.

“You know it is. You’d best hurry too. From the looks of the clouds, I’m betting we’ll have snow before much longer.” She looked to see that the shingling of Ben and Charity’s house was finally complete. “The men are inside the new house,” she said, motioning. “Zane’s here. He brought Ben and Charity up. That’s going to be their place.”

“You gonna build one for me when I get too old to guide folks around the mountains?” Morgan teased.

“You bet I will,” Dianne said, hands on hips. “I’ll build one for you and one for Zane and one for Trenton.”

“Speaking of which, has there been any news?”

“None to speak of—not since the last letter Angelina wrote. They met with the governor, and the response was good. He seemed to believe the witnesses and understand the circumstances. Our friend Senator Danssen has been extremely helpful, and people seem to hold his word in highest esteem. Angelina believes they’ll drop the old conviction of murder. At least that was how she read things.”

“Good. We’ve been praying that it would be so.”

She hugged her shawl closer as the wind picked up. Gazing to the west, she could see that the clouds had grown dark. “If you and David want to come warm up by the fire, that would be fine. If you’d rather go visit with the boys, feel free to do that. Dinner won’t be for another hour or so. I’m going to fry up some chickens we killed this morning.”

“You sure know how to treat a fellow,” Morgan said, stepping closer to kiss Dianne on the cheek. “Sure glad you’re my sister.”

“I am too,” she replied. It was so good to have Morgan home. Even for a short while. “How long can you stay?”

“The dudes have been scarce since the weather turned cold. I think we’re just going to take it easy this winter. I am getting older, you know.”

She laughed. “Yes, I know. Same thing’s been happening to me.” She picked up her skirts. “Well, you know you’re welcome for as long as you like. Take the back two rooms like always, and bring me your dirty clothes.” She grinned and added, “And a bath wouldn’t hurt you either.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Morgan said, giving her a slight bow. “I’ll see to it.”

Dianne giggled all the way back into the house.

The snows held off, veering to the north and leaving them dry. The next day they celebrated Dianne’s forty-second birthday. She was completely surprised when Koko and George showed up with Jamie and Elsa. Susannah had long ago convinced her mother to send her to a finishing school in Denver, so she was the only one absent from the party.

Koko, Ardith, and Charity created a wonderful supper, complete with a large chocolate cake, Dianne’s favorite. Adding to Dianne’s surprise were all the presents she received. Ardith and Winona, now as close as they ever had been, gave Dianne a new brush and mirror set. Ben and Charity had bought her a new George MacDonald book. Morgan and David surprised her with a bolt of cloth they’d purchased in Helena. It was a lovely shade of turquoise and had a delicate floral print. She thought it perfect for a new gown.

Luke, Micah, and John had worked with their father to make a new china cabinet. The delicate piece amazed everyone at the party.

“I can’t believe how much work you must have put in on this,” Dianne declared as the boys maneuvered it into place with Cole and Zane’s help.

“We worked for about thirty years on it,” John said, causing everyone to laugh.

Dianne had known there was to be a special gift from them, as Cole had often rounded the boys up after supper to go to the barn for their extra work. But the boys had been silent about the project, not even telling Lia.

Lia had worked on a piece of embroidery with Dianne, telling her as they made the small table runner that it was for someone special. Dianne had presumed Lia would give it to Charity or Koko but was moved to tears when she opened the piece and realized she was the someone special.

“Mara made this for you,” Zane announced as he handed Dianne a gift wrapped in brown paper.

Dianne undid the string that held the package and was surprised to find a lovely white knitted shawl. “Oh, this is perfect. I’ve needed one just like this. Please tell her how much I love it.”

Elsa and Jamie gave Dianne a little wooden box for trinkets, and Koko and George completed the celebration by giving Dianne new saddlebags. They were beautifully designed, tanned to a rich reddish brown, with decorative markings burned into the leather.

“This is lovely,” Dianne said, holding up the bag to inspect it. “Thank you so much. I can see that a lot of hard work went into this.”

“A lot of chewing leather,” George teased. It was their ongoing joke.

Dianne grinned. “I hope you didn’t have to lower yourself to do women’s work, George.”

“Not me. I did the designs.”

“I hope you use them for many years to come,” Koko said.

“Hear, hear,” Ben declared and raised his glass. “Many years of health to you, Dianne. Many years of blessings and happiness.”

Dianne looked at her friends as they toasted her. She couldn’t have asked for better people with whom to share her life. She couldn’t have known more happiness than in that moment.

“Speech! Speech!” her brothers chanted in unison.

Dianne blushed and got to her feet. She looked down the long, very crowded table. This had once been the house of her enemy—a house of sadness and hatred. Now it was a home of love and friends.

“Thank you all. You are such an important part of who I am,” she began. “For most of my life I’ve known all of you. For all of my life, I’ve known some of you.” They laughed and she couldn’t help but join them before continuing.

“I’ve been blessed beyond all that I could have anticipated. My life hasn’t always been easy—the storms and trials have been difficult. So much so that at times I despaired of making it through. I can’t say that if I had the chance to do some things different, that I wouldn’t jump in and do it. There are things that I would have gladly changed—but you aren’t among those things.”

She looked down the table at each person—the love they held for her evident in their faces. “We face a new era of statehood. A new life that is sure to bring changes. Some of those changes will be good, while others will be less beneficial. But most important, we’ll face them all together. There is nothing worse than to be in this world without a friend.” She looked to David, the newest member of their family, and smiled.

“There’s nothing harder than to live without love.” She moved her gaze to Cole. He smiled, and his expression warmed her.

“And there’s nothing more devastating than to live life without hope. The hope of Jesus—the hope within.”

She looked to each of them and cherished the affection she found on their faces. This was her family—her life. They were the heirs of Montana. Heirs to a vast fortune of land and liberty and love.

“To hope,” she said, lifting her glass.

“To hope!” they cheered in unison.

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
6.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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