Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04] (5 page)

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
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“Well, you can’t say that the church social won’t offer us a good time,” Charity commented. Mara was unsure what had brought about this remark and decided to pay better attention.

“I didn’t mean to imply that at all,” Dianne said, her needle weaving in and out rhythmically. “I merely said this town offers nothing of entertainment or positive influence. It appears quite the contrary. My boys, for example. They never got into such fights when we lived on the ranch. Now it’s not unusual for one or the other to come home once a week with a blackened eye or torn clothes.”

“I have to admit,” Ardith threw in, “Winona has learned more bad habits during our time here. Perhaps it’s because we were so isolated on the ranch.”

“And the life there was better. We had more control and influence over our children because we schooled them instead of a stranger.”

“Well, this town offers good along with the bad,” Faith declared. Mara knew that the former slave was often ill-treated by the whites of Virginia City, so it surprised her that Faith Montgomery should defend life in town.

“If it weren’t for the hospital and doctor, I have no doubt my Lucy would have died from the croup a long time ago. Then there’s something to be said for having so many conveniences at your fingertips.”

“We never lacked for anything when we lived on the ranch,” Dianne said, her voice getting louder. “And while I realize we went from time to time into Madison before it burned to the ground, it wasn’t like being in a town of this size.”

“It could be worse,” Charity said with a smile. “We could be in Bozeman where there are plenty more people and problems.”

“Or in Butte,” Faith said, “where I’m told every blade of grass has died and withered away because of the fouled air from the mines.”

“Of course, things could always be worse,” Dianne agreed.

Tension filled the air, making Mara uncomfortable. She’d been with these same people now for nearly five years. They were the closest people she had to real family. Her own father wanted nothing to do with her. He considered her a traitor—worse than that even. He considered her nothing … nothing at all. Her brothers were worthless, except for Joshua, but she hadn’t heard from him in years. Then there was Elsa, her little sister. Mara longed to help Elsa escape the ranch.

The silence fell heavy, and Mara could no longer stand it. “I would like very much for you to pray for me,” she said softly.

“Why, child, whatever is wrong?” Charity asked.

Mara smiled and paused in her stitching. “Nothing is wrong. I simply want you to pray that God will bring me a husband. I want very much to marry and have a family. The prospects here have been many, but not very well suited to my desires or needs. I know that God wants me to marry and raise a family, because He’s put that longing in my heart.”

“Marriage is a rough and rocky road,” Dianne said with a sigh. “A great deal of hard work that requires every bit of hope and strength you can give it. Be sure you are ready for such things before jumping in.”

“I saw my parents and their marriage, so I know all about the ugly side of it,” Mara admitted. “They held no real love for each other. I’m actually not certain what ever brought them together. They seemed more miserable than happy for as long as I can remember.”

“Marriage is pain,” Ardith said softly. “Life is pain. You can’t count on anything, and nothing ever turns out the way you hoped it might.”

“But marriage is also joyous if it involves the right people. Don’t tell me you didn’t share happy times with Levi,” Charity said, looking tenderly at Ardith. The girl had been like a daughter to the older woman, and Mara knew Charity’s love for Ardith ran deep. Charity even acted as grandmother to Winona.

Ardith stopped her stitches and grew thoughtful. “There were good times, yes. But there were bad times. A miscarriage. A death. Those things, put in the balance against the good times, are much more overwhelming.”

“Would you trade the time you had with Levi?” Faith asked softly.

Ardith picked up her needle again. “If it meant never experiencing this pain, then yes. Yes, I would wish I’d never met him.”

Again the silence permeated, invading Mara’s peace of mind. She wondered at these women. All had different outlooks on what marriage meant to them. The good and the bad, the difficult and simple, it all added up to leave its scars and memories for each one.

“I will pray that God will send you the right man,” Charity said to Mara. “I will pray it right now.” She stilled her hand and bowed her head. “Father, I ask for your mercy on this child. I ask for your blessing—the blessing of a husband and family. I ask that her heart might be strong enough to endure the things to which she will be called to face in marriage and motherhood. I pray too for Ardith. I ask that her pain might be lessened and taken away. That the joy of what you gave her in marriage to Levi might indeed be more precious … more lovely … more desirous than remembering the misery and sorrow. And I pray too for Dianne and Faith, that they might grow in love and hope through you and that their marriages might be strengthened and made joyful as they draw closer to you. Amen.”

“Amen,” Mara said with a smile as she met the older woman’s gaze. “Thank you. I suppose some would say I want what I’ve never seen or experienced. Some might think me a wishful thinker or a dreamer, but I need to believe that love is out there for me.”

Dianne nodded. “I’m sorry, Mara. I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t. I merely hoped to make you understand that it isn’t all flowers and laughter. It’s sometimes very hard. I just didn’t want you to go into it unaware.”

“I’m not a fool,” Mara replied. “I know nothing in life comes easy. What happiness I’ve known, I’ve fought for. Even living here with you—knowing love and the real meaning of family for the first time in my life—has been so wondrous. But it certainly didn’t come easy.”

They were all looking at her now, and Mara suddenly felt very self-conscious. Still, she couldn’t stop the flow of words. “All of my life I lived with lies. No one ever said what they really meant. They were hurtful and mean, self-seeking in every way. There were no birthday celebrations or Christmases like you know them. There was no compassion or sympathy. My father always said, ‘Sympathy is for fools who wish only to continue in their misery.’ I’m sure he felt compassion was the same.

“Living here with you, getting to know you and how much you care for each other … well, it’s given me hope. Hope to believe that God might someday allow me the same privileges.”

“And He will,” Charity said softly. “I believe it.”

“I believe it too,” Faith declared, and Dianne nodded slowly. Mara watched Ardith go back to her handwork. There would be no acknowledgment from her. The widow was still much too unwilling to give life another chance. Mara felt bad that Ardith should still mourn so deeply. She’d watched the sorrow separate Ardith from her child, and it made Mara uncomfortably aware of memories from her own past. Times when her own mother had hardened herself against her children. Mara vowed she’d never treat her loved ones in such an ill manner.

“So what kind of a man are you looking for?” Faith asked with a grin.

Mara was rather taken aback by the question. She thought for a moment, however, and offered an answer. “He would have to love God, first and foremost. He should be honest and trustworthy. Gentle, loving, good natured, good humored, and kind.” She looked up and smiled. “I think those are the most important things.”

“Those are all wonderful traits,” Charity said. She put aside her sewing and got up to stretch.

“Why don’t we rest and have some tea,” Dianne suggested. She, too, put aside her needle and thread and got up. “I have some cake for us as well.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Ardith said, pushing back her chair. “I’m quite tired. I’d like to lie down before Winona comes home.”

“Certainly. Take your rest,” Charity encouraged. “When she gets back from playing with her friends, I’ll see to her.”

Mara watched the woman walk away.
It could happen to me,
she thought.
I could end up a widow—a mother without a father for my child. I could end up alone and bitter … hopeless
. The thought frightened her to the marrow of her bones.
I don’t want to be like her. I don’t want to feel such loss
.

“Are you coming?” Charity asked as she moved toward the kitchen.

Mara smiled and secured her needle. “Yes. I was just daydreaming.”

“Keep dreaming. One day, when you least expect it, your dream may very well come true.”

Mara laughed. “That’s what I’m counting on. I just haven’t found the right man to fit the dream,” she said as a knock sounded at the front door. Mara looked up, realizing she was the reasonable one to answer it. “I’ll see who it is.”

“Then come join us in the kitchen,” Charity said as she turned to go.

Mara smoothed down her blue calico print gown and touched her fingers to her dark hair. That morning she’d tied it back very simply with a blue ribbon that matched the color of the dress. It felt like everything was still in order. Without giving her conversation another thought, Mara opened the door only to be stopped in midsentence.

“Good after …” Her voice faded into silence.

The man standing on the other side of the door laughed heartily. She knew this man—not well, but nevertheless she knew him. She didn’t remember him being quite so tall—or so handsome. She saw his twin, Morgan Chadwick, from time to time, but Zane was often absent.

“Welcome, Zane,” she murmured and opened the screen door.

“How do you know it’s Zane and not Morgan?” he asked.

“You two have your differences—if you know where to look.” She immediately grew embarrassed at having answered so boldly.

He seemed amused. “Truly? You’ll have to elaborate someday and tell me your secret for figuring us out.” He peered past her into the house. “Is Dianne home?”

Mara could only nod. Up until now she hadn’t found a single man who struck her fancy. Up until now she hadn’t felt the flutter of butterflies in her stomach and the rapid palpitation of her heart at the sight of a man. Up until now, she’d never considered Zane Chadwick as a potential mate. But that had just changed.

CHAPTER 4

O
N
F
RIDAY, WORD CAME FROM
C
OLE’S MOTHER THAT HIS
father was near death. For Cole, the news was devastating.

“They’ve never seen the children,” he said, shaking his head. “I just never thought to make that trip to take them back. I always figured there’d be plenty of time.”

“It’s too far to up and go on a whim,” Dianne said, trying to comfort her husband. “Besides, we had the ranch to worry about.”

“Yes, the ranch kept us busy. Maybe too busy.”

Dianne cringed at the comment. Was this Cole’s way of condemning their former home and way of life? “I think,” she began, “we should see how close George and Jamie are to completing the cabin. Maybe once we’re moved back onto the Diamond V, you could take the train to Kansas and see your father.”

“Did you not understand what I read to you?” Cole asked, pushing back errant brown hair. “He’s dying. He may already be dead.”

“Which is exactly why you can’t go getting all excited about this and rushing into anything. He very well may be gone,” she said, trying her best to be sympathetic. Her biggest fear at this moment was that Cole would use this as an excuse to take her farther from the home she loved. “I just don’t think we should act hastily. Why don’t you send your mother a telegram and get more information?”

“She can’t afford to be telegraphing me back, and I can’t afford to waste any time,” Cole replied. “If this were your father, would you wait?”

She shook her head. He had a good point. If it were her family member, she’d move heaven and earth to be at their side. “No, of course you’re right. Why don’t you go back and—”

“We’ll all go,” Cole declared. “I want them to see the children.”

“But it’s an awfully long trip.”

“Not by train. The train will make it seem easy. You’ll see. I’ll go wire for tickets and a schedule. You get our clothes packed and ready everyone for the trip,” he said as he moved to take up his hat. “We’ll have one of our freighters take us to the station at Dillon, and we’ll head south from there.”

Dianne struggled to sound sympathetic. “I know you want your mother and father to see the children, but Cole, please hear me out. This isn’t the best situation to thrust upon the children. They might not be able to handle this.”

“Then we’ll help them handle it,” he said, looking her in the eye. “Dianne, I need you to help me through this.” His voice was low and soft, yet there was an undertone of pleading.

She nodded and went to him. She felt bad for the way she’d treated him. They held each other close for several moments. Dianne couldn’t begin to tell him the fear in her heart. What if they went back to Kansas and had to stay for an undetermined amount of time? What if they never came back to Montana?

She pushed the thoughts aside even as she pushed away from her husband. “I’ll let the children know. I’m sure they’ll be excited about their first train trip.”

“Thank you.” He turned to go. “I’ll arrange everything so that we can leave immediately.”

Dianne watched him leave, and her heart sank. She felt despair wash over her and threaten to strangle the breath right out of her body. It was bad enough to live in Virginia City, but at least it was only twenty-five miles from the ranch. Kansas was an entire world away. She blinked back tears and bit her lower lip to keep from crying.

The ranch is my home. I should be there now
. In her mind she could see Koko and Susannah working around the house and grounds. She imagined Koko tending a garden and nurturing life out of the soil. She thought of Jamie, now nineteen years old. He had a real pride in working his father’s land. He loved working with the cattle and the horses. Especially the horses.

“Mama, what’s wrong?” Lia asked as she came into the room. “Are you sad?”

Dianne looked at her daughter and nodded. “Yes. Yes, I’m very sad. Grandfather Selby is very sick.”

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
3.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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