Mundane Matters

The Week Before—


   
So much to do.

So many little details to remember.

So many last minute, couldn’t be done sooner, errands.

So many things that can go wrong.

You know the feeling.

That last week before: your scheduled c-section; wedding; graduation and party; leaving home; saying goodbye to that son or daughter who’s being deployed; the conference for which you are chairman; etc., etc. etc.

Always nagging questions and what ifs.

Especially the what ifs.  

EXCEPT FOR THIS WEEK

This isn’t the blog I intended to write. It’s not even the subject I promised someone I would address. 
Because yesterday began the countdown to Easter. 

That day we celebrate as Christ’s resurrection.

That day life triumphed death.

That day when all that was promised was delivered.

Was anything forgotten?

Ah, yes. Forgotten and forgiven. 

My sins.

And
          Oh!
                  How!
                             That!
                                        Matters!  

More Threads of Grace

Chapter Five
continued

     Silence settled around Trey like lead. He didn’t want to think, but the events of the last couple of days kept slithering in and out like a rattler among rocks. So Mr. Taylor might be his pa. He hated the possibility—and the man. He was married—but he didn’t love his wife. How could he? How could he love the woman who now stood in the way of any chance to reclaim Claire? 
     The click of the door opening broke the silence.
     “I said leave, Ben, and I meant it.”
     “I’m not Ben. I’m Lily and I brought Miss Libby because she feels bad I stuck my tongue at you. She says I should ‘pologize, but I’m not the one sorry because you said mean things about Annie . But I am sorry you got hurted, so I decided to come see you and let  Miss Libby tell you whatever she wants. She has a mind of her own, you know.”
     He turned his head and Lily jumped when their noses clashed. “You’re still in your nightgown. Does your sister know where you are?”
     “No, because she would say I shouldn’t bother you, but I don’t always do what she says because sometimes Miss Libby has other things for me to do instead.”
     “Don’t you know you shouldn’t be in a man’s bedroom by yourself? Go on back to you sister and take your raggedy doll with you.”
     Lily put her elbows on the bed. “Why are you always so cranky? Why can’t you be nice like Ben? I don’t like you as much as I do Ben because you always grumble and say naughty things about people. Miss Libby says you need to learn manners, but you know what I think?”
     “I don’t suppose it would matter to you if I didn’t care to know, would it? Okay, let’s have it, then you get out of here and leave me alone.”
     The mattress dipped as she replanted her elbows closer to him. “Well, I talked with Miss Libby about this. I think what you really need is to love Jesus. Do you know who He is? I don’t know how He does it, but He can come live in you heart if you ‘vite Him in. You can’t see Him, but if He’s in there then it makes Him sad when you’re mean and He tells you only you don’t really hear Him talking. You just can think the things He tells you and SueAnna says that is the Holy…that’s the …I can’t remember what she says only it’s Holy.”
     Did this child ever take a breath? “You mean the Holy Ghost?”
     She giggled. “No, silly. Ghostes aren’t holy. Ghostes aren’t even real, are they?” Her eyes got big and she inched even closer. 
    “Boo!”
     She jumped and two fat tears ran down her face. “See! You’re mean. I know Jesus is living in my heart cuz I ‘vited Him, but I don’t feel very nice for you. I wanted to help you feel better but now I’m glad I stuck my tongue at you. And I don’t know what the Holy thing is, but if it tells me I have to say sorry again I’m not going to do it because you aren’t nice.”
     Lily walked to the door, then stopped and came back and shook her finger at him. “Ben said I should ask you if you needed anything necessary. But even if you do, I’m not going to tell him because then you will know how it feels to have somebody be mean to you.”
   The door clicked behind her, but to Willie it sounded like a jail door slamming shut. Was he really mean? Ma’s heart would break if she knew what he’d become.
     “Ben. Beenn,” please let someone hear me.
      He closed his eyes and continued to yell. When footsteps approached the bed he breathed a sigh of relief—until he opened his eyes and saw it was SueAnna.
     “I was hollering for Ben.”
      “Yes, I could hear you. But Ben went out. I guess you forgot there was a bell beside your bed so you needn’t yell.” 
     She moved to the window and he caught a whiff of rose petals as she passed. 
     “Maybe a little sunshine will make you feel better.” She pushed the curtains to one side. “Would you like more water? Doc Thayer says you can eat something if you feel like it. What would you like?”
    He scrunched his eyes closed. “I’d like for Ben to get in here. And no, I don’t need any more water.” Did she leave? Why doesn’t she say something? How hard would it be to let him know she’d call for Ben?”
     “You still here? I told you I want Ben.”
     “And I told you he wasn’t in the house.”
     He opened his eyes and met hers, rimmed with dark circles and full of tears. 
     “I don’t know why my presence continues to make you so angry. No matter what you think of me, I’m not the husband-hungry female you seem to believe I am. And it’s not my fault I’m not the woman you wish were here. As soon as Mr. Covington is able to be up and around on his own, I’ll take Lily and go back to the Nelsons. Under the circumstances, I’m sure there will be no problem having this marriage annulled. In the meantime, couldn’t we at least be civil to one another? Now, what can I do to help you? That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? Hired help?”
     Well, at least he knew Lily got her long windedness honestly. “I don’t want your help. I need Ben.” Why did he scream at her when she’d never raised her voice?”
     “Then you’ll have to wait until I can find Ben. Do you wish to have breakfast?” She removed the pillow from behind his head.
     “I told you I didn’t want anything from you. Why did you let me think you was Claire? Did you enjoy letting me make a fool of myself?” The words sounded cruel even to him.
     She plumped the pillow and put it back behind him, then wound her hands in her skirt. “I wasn’t trying to be dishonest, Trey. You wanted it to be Claire, and I didn’t think it would hurt. Thinking about her is probably what kept you from giving up.”
     “You could have told me who you were instead of letting me touch you all over.”
     She smiled at him. “You didn’t touch me all over. You touched my face and convinced yourself I was who you wanted me to be. I couldn’t just leave you there. I never intended for you to find out it was me. I suppose I have Ben to thank for that.”
    He turned away from her. Why didn’t she snap at him like he did at her? Claire would have. Claire wouldn’t have let him get by with his rudeness. He would get mad and ride off in a huff then come back the next day for more. But SueAnna—
     “You love her, don’t you?”
     “Love who?” The question cut into his thoughts of SueAnna.
     “Claire. You still love Claire Hudson.” She lowered her eyes
     He nodded.
     “Are you going to go after her? Doc told me he was thinking about asking Mr. Covington to allow you to go.”
     “And what good would that do? I already have a wife.” 
     Her eyes watered, but she didn’t look away. “I think you should go. I’ve already told you, I’ll take Lily and go back to the Nelsons. We both know this marriage is a sham. It’s not like I’d be asking for a divorce.”
     “You want me to leave? Just like that?” Why was she so eager? Isn’t that what he wanted to hear?
     “Oh, I get it. I leave and Ben stays. That’s it, isn’t it?”
     “Ben has nothing to do with this conversation. I don’t want to be the one who stands in the way of your happiness, that’s all. What good would it do if we were to stay married if you love someone else? We don’t even know one another, Trey. We don’t know if we would have ever loved one another if things had been different. But unless you go looking for her, you’ll never know. Will you?”
     “And what would become of you? How would you make enough money at Nelsons to care for you and Lily? Where did that thought come from? You’ve never cared before. 
     She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’d send my name into one of those mail order bride places. I’m sure there’d be somebody out there who would like a housekeeper–and her little sister.”
     “You wouldn’t do that. I…that would be a dumb thing to do. It would be dangerous. You could get some guy who wouldn’t even—” 
     “Wouldn’t love me? And that would be different than what, Trey?” She swiped at a tear. “I’m sorry. That was unnecessary.”
     “I deserved it.”
     She got to her feet and the fragrance of rose petals engulfed him again. 
     “Thank you for finding me.”
     She shrugged. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
     “But you wouldn’t have had to help hunt for me.”
     “And what kind of wife would that make me? I”ll get Ben.” 
     “Thank you…for everything.”
     She smiled. “You’re welcome.” 
    Her presence lingered even after she left the room and it bothered him. He’d seen her smile before, but why did it cause his chest to tighten today? 
     And why did the smell of rose petals send his senses into a whirl?

Threads of Grace

Chapter Five
continued

     “He’s over here, but you have to be careful. It’s steep and the rocks want to scatter ahead of you.” SueAnna held Ben’s lantern above her head and plunged ahead of the other men.
     “We know it’s steep. We were ahead of you, remember? How in the world did we get past him?” 
     She reached for Ben’s hand as they started down the incline. “I was far enough behind to hear him, I guess. But wait—” She stopped and put her hand against his chest. “Ben, he thinks I’m Claire. I think he might be hurt bad.”
     “Could you see him at all?”
     “Not really. I think he could only use one arm, and he said he couldn’t move his legs. I couldn’t see them, though.” She lowered herself to the ground and used her feet to gauge the path ahead of her. “Be careful, this is where it gets steep. I had to slide down before.”
     “Wait.” He gripped her hand. “Don’t go any further until I’ve let the others know.” He turned and cupped his hands to his mouth. “Can you hear me, fellas?”
     “We hear you. You find him?”
     “SueAnna found him. Bring the wagon around to the east side of the grove. I’ll need a couple of you to bring ropes and blankets. You shoot a couple of times when you get there and I”ll holler to lead you down to us.”
      “We hear you. Be careful, Ben.”
      SueAnna pulled Ben along with her as they inched toward Trey. “Don’t tell him I’m not Claire, okay? Right now I think that’s what’s kept him going. He’ll find out soon enough.” Fresh tears fell and she was glad it was too dark for Ben to see them.
     “He’s still a dope, but for your sake I won’t tell him. But if we get him out of here I’ll have plenty to say to him in a day or two.”


###

   Doc Thayer groaned as he straightened and pulled the covers back over Trey. “I promise you, if I have to bend over one more KIM man and tell him how lucky he is to be alive, I’ll shoot him myself—and tell anyone who cares he just died. What happened out there, anyway?”
    Ben shook his head. “He can’t tell us—says he doesn’t remember. All we can figure is that his horse threw him, for some reason, and he tumbled down the bluff. His legs were caught up in some thorny bushes. That’s probably what stopped him from slidin’ down any further. Must have hit his shoulder, and probably his head. He thinks SueAnna is Claire, and she won’t let us tell him otherwise.”
     “He’ll come to his senses once he sleeps off the pain medicine. I gave him a hefty dose of laudanum so I could take a look at that shoulder. Nothing broke, just banged up good. The reason he isn’t thinking straight is from being without water for such a long time. If we can get him drinking again, he’ll snap out of it. Any volunteers to sit with him?”
    Ben nodded. “I”ll do it. I’ve got a few things to say to him when he opens his eyes again.”
   Doc rubbed his lower back. “Don’t be too hard on him, boy. Don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d had that much information dumped on me all in one load. Give him some time. Time heals a lot of things. How did that horse of his get home?”
     “Don’t know. Trey says he told the animal to go get Claire. You and me both know that ain’t right.” Ben sat next to Trey’s bed. “You want me to try to get him to drink now and then?”
     “Yeah, if he stirs. Just a spoonful at a time, though. Come get  me if you need anything. I’ll be stretched out in Adam’s office. G’night.”
     He didn’t bother lighting the lamp when he got to Adam’s office, but plunked into the leather chair by the windows. He doubted his eyes could have focused long enough to read, and he could think well enough with his eyes closed. He leaned his head against the chair and stretched his legs out in front of him.
     What a day this had been. What would happen when Trey discovered SueAnna was not Claire. Maybe Adam should relent and let the boy go find her. He’d give that some thought. Adam would listen to him. He might not agree, but he’d listen.
     But what if he did agree, and for some reason Claire hadn’t waited like she promised? Maybe he should hang his shingle on the gate of the KIM. Probably be a spell before he’d get back go town. 
     He should have stayed with doctoring mules.
  
###

     Trey turned his head and something wet dribbled down his neck. He opened his eyes and tried to focus. 
     “Be still, drat it. Every time I about get some to your mouth you either close it or turn away. Doc says you need this, so open up.”
    “That you, Ben?” The voice was his, but all Trey could see was a mouth stretched across an ugly face. 
     “Yeah, it’s me.”
     Something metal clanked against Trey’s front tooth.
     “If you don’t open that hole in your head, I’ll make a new one right thought your teeth with this spoon.”
     Trey opened his mouth and was rewarded with a sip of cool water. He smacked his lips then opened again for more. After several sips he was satisfied and refused the next one, only to have it dripped down his neck. “You did that on purpose, you big galoot.” He tried to lift himself with his elbows but fell back to the bed with a groan.
     “Hurts, don’t it? Doc says you banged up your shoulder real good so it will take awhile before you can use it. But you ain’t dead. Guess we can be glad for that.”
     “You guess? Thanks a lot, pal. Where’s Claire? Good thing she came along when she did. I could have died, you know.”
    “It weren’t Claire who found  you. You still ain’t thinkin’ straight.”
     “I’m thinking straight enough to know my Claire. It was her face I felt with my own hand, Ben—her eyes, her lips. A fella doesn’t forget those things. I knew she’d come looking for me, and she did.”
     Ben leaned across the bed. “And I”m telling you it wasn’t her. It was SueAnna who found you. You just wanted it to be Claire.”
     “But…but it was her face. I wiped her tears, and…”  He closed his eyes. “Please don’t tell me I was touching all over SueAnna. What was she doing out there, anyway? How did she get there? It was your doing, wasn’t it?”
     “We tried to get her to stay at the house, but she wouldn’t listen. She said no matter how you felt, you were still her husband and she was comin’ along. You’re not going to believe this, but she rode your horse.”
    Trey fisted his hand and pounded the mattress. “Get this straight, buddy. You can tell me anything you want, but I ain’t believing any of it. No one rides Huck but me, and you know it. And if the girl who found me wasn’t Claire, then I wish I would have died out there. Get out—now.” He tried to raise himself again but there was such pain in his shoulder that he flopped back down onto the pillows. “You’re still here, aren’t you?”
     “I”m still here. Not much you can do about it, either. Now,  you take a long listen to me for a change. I called you a dope once, and you’re still a dope. Why do you think Claire would come lookin’ for  you? You left her two years ago. You think she just suddenly showed up because you got horse-throwed?”
     “I don’t want to hear this. I told you to leave.”
     “Like it or not, Trey, it was SueAnna who found  you. You might have not claim her, but you’re still married to her and she cared enough to come lookin’ for you. She rode that horse as good as you, and he only crow-hopped once. It was her that shinnied down that bluff in the dark because you was hollerin’ for help. She knowed you thought she was Claire and wouldn’t let nobody tell you otherwise. Them were her tears, you dope. And you don’t deserve one of them.”
     “Then she was crying for nothing.”
     Ben shook his fist at him. “You got that right. You’re about as big a nothin’ as I know right now. This whole gettin’ married thing rested on us, not her. Now you want to blame her for bein’ here. If she ends up leavin’ this place you got every man of us to fight. She ain’t hardly rested since Hilda left. First Mr. Covington. Now you. As far as I’m concerned, you can both jump off the bluff.”
       “I said leave. Please.”
     Ben swiped his hand through his hair. “Oh, I’m leavin’g alright. But you better think on this, buddy. SueAnna is a much bigger man than you’ll ever be—and believe me, she ain’t no man.” 
     He moved toward the door, then stopped and turned around, his face filled with a smile. “And guess what, my fine dope of a friend. You’re stripped down to nothin’, you only got one arm and you can’t get up or stand up all by your lonesome. I done spooned enough water in ‘ya durin’ the night that real soon you’re gonna be hollerin’ for help. Only this time you’re on your own.” 
     

Threads of Grace

Chapter Five

     Trey’s horse gave a crow-hop when SueAnna put her foot in the stirrup, but she wasn’t going to let that deter her. She grabbed his  mane and pulled herself into the saddle. She was not going to be left behind, and she would stay on top of this animal. 
     “You gonna be okay?” Ben blocked her path. “We won’t have time to come back for you if you get lost.”
     “Just find Trey and quit worrying about me.” She gave the horse a nudge and edged past him. They rode single file when they got to the cedars, and when the trees became too thick to navigate on horseback, they dismounted. 
     “You wait here, SueAnna. Please.” Ben handed her his horse’s reins. “You’ll help most by staying with the horses and out of our way. You have no business climbing around these rocks after dark.”
     “I will not stay here, Ben. She clenched her hands and crossed her arms. “These horses are broke to ground-tie and you know it. “
     “Yeah. Well, that didn’t keep Trey’s horse from heading for the ranch, did  it?”
     “Did you ever think that maybe Trey sent him back?”
     “Like a dog? Hardly, but be stubborn if you insist. If these horses spook and leave us afoot, you get to explain to Mr. Covington you were too stubborn to take orders.” He walked away and joined the other men as they headed further into the grove of trees. 
     She followed, and prayed the horses wouldn’t run.
     She had no lantern but the arcs of light ahead of her, and the voices of the men as they yelled for Trey helped her to know she was on the right path. Once they cleared the grove of trees the terrain changed to a sharp slope. She had to move with caution to keep from tumbling forward as she picked her way across the rocky ground. It was though the foliage along the way was alive, as limbs loaded with stickers grabbed and pulled at her skirts. But she wouldn’t ask the men to stop. And before long she was alone, with only her resolve to find Trey to keep her going. She dropped to her knees to make her way. She’d crawl if need be. But she’d find him. 

   ### 

     Trey opened his eyes, but all he could see was dark. Why was it taking so long for someone to find him? Maybe his horse hadn’t gone home like he thought he would. Or maybe he did get home and no even noticed.  Claire would look for him. If he didn’t come home when expected, Claire would have a search party out to find him. But after his tussle with Ben, he doubted anyone would care. He struggled to free himself but the effort shot pain through his shoulder, and his legs were tangled in something he couldn’t see.
    “Help! Can anyone hear me?”
     Please, God. don’t let me die out here all alone. Send someone—anyone.
     “I”m down here, just below the bluff. Is anyone there?”
     ‘Trey?”
     Claire. It was Clair, and she was calling his name.
     “Trey? Can you hear me?”
     A shower of dirt and rocks hit him in the face. She was coming after him. “Here! I’m down here. I knew you would come, Claire.”
     More debris rattled around him, then tender hands touched his face. “Can you move, Trey? Where does it hurt?”
     “My legs. Can’t move my legs. But don’t leave me. Promise. Please, just let me feel your face.”
     She lifted his hand to her face and he traced his fingers around her eyes and lips. “Promise you won’t leave me.”
     “I promise I’ll not leave for good. But the men are looking for you. I need to let Ben know I found you. I’ll be back, but—” Tears dampened his fingers.
     “Shh. Don’t cry, Please don’t cry. I’m so sorry I left you, but now it’s okay, isn’ it? You’re here. You found me. Go, call for Ben then hurry back to me. Oh, how I long to be able to see your face and hold you again.”

###


Mundane Matters

CHANGE

I don’t do it well

But it’s inevitable

So I must greet it as one greets a new acquaintance

And perhaps it will become a friend.


Another grand leaves the nest



Change

I don’t do it well

Yet

It matters!

Thursday’s Thread of Grace

     SueAnna knelt on the floor in front of the trunk Ben and the men had moved to her room. It was over two years ago that she helped Pa pack their wagon and head west.
     The trunk in front of her held the blankets and quilts and a few pretties her ma didn’t want broken. As she lifted each item from its hiding place, memories crept from between the folds and she swallowed against the lump in her throat. The quilts her mother made still smelled like the rose petals she insisted they save to tuck into little sachets. 
     Footsteps, then a knock on the door sent her heart skipping. This day had been full of tension and she wasn’t ready to face anyone, or field any more questions. She untangled her skirts to get to her feet, and prayed whoever was out there wouldn’t waken Lily.
     “Miss SueAnna? Could I talk with you, please?”
     Ben stood in the hallway, hat in hand. “I’m sorry to bother you at night like this.”
     “What is it, Ben? Is Mr. Covington worse?”
      “No ma’am. It ain’t the boss.” He turned the hat in his hands.
     “Then what is it? It must be important or you wouldn’t have come up here so late.” 
     “It’s Trey, ma’am. His horse came back a couple hours ago. The saddle was hangin’ sideways but Trey weren’t on him. Us men went looking for him. We thought maybe somethin’ spooked the horse and he fell off. But we can’t find him.”
     “Nowhere?” She folded her hands to stop the shaking. “Did you look in the trees? Lily said she saw him hiding in the trees. Do you know what trees she’s talking about?”
     He nodded. “That’s the last place I saw him, too, but he weren’t there. We had lanterns and we hollered but he didn’t answer. We was hopin’…well, ma’am’, what we was hopin’ is that he was here…with you.”
     She leaned against the wall. Her face was hot enough to glow, but with luck the darkened hallway would hide the evidence of her embarrassment. 
     “I bet I know where he is.” Lily’s bare feet must have muffled her approach. But here she was, Miss Libby draped over one arm, and her apron over her nightdress. 
     Oh, Lord. Would it have been so hard to keep her asleep? “Ben has already look in the trees, honey. You go back to bed, please. And please take off your apron. Since when do you sleep with an apron over your nightclothes?”
     “Since I found this.” She retrieved her shiny prize from the pocket of her apron and handed it to SueAnna. 
     “Do you mind stepping into my room so we have the light from the lantern?” 
     “No, ma’am. Just don’t want to make things look worse is all.”
     She smiled. “I doubt anyone will see us unless the men are hiding somewhere.” She stepped closer to the light and gazed at the object in her hand. “Where did you get this, Lily? Did Mr. Martin give it to you?”
     “No. I saw it all shiny in the sun and Mr. Ben said I could go see what it was and I did and I thought it was pretty and put it in my pocket. Am I in trouble?”
     “It’s Trey’s. I recognize it.” Ben scooped Lily into his arms. “Did you show this to Mr. Martin?” 
     Lily shook her head. “No. He was all cranky and I told him he couldn’t see it.”
     “There’s nothing in it but the clamps look like they’ve been pried open.” SueAnna handed it to Ben. “You say you recognize it? Was there ever a picture in it?”
     Ben sat Lily on the bed. “It was a picture of his ma. And…well, ma’am. She looked an awful lot like you.”
     “He got real mad at Ben and Ben went like this,” Lily doubled her fist and punched the side of her face. “And then Mr. Martin said he wasn’t ever going to—”
     Ben covered the girl’s mouth with his hand. “That’s enough. I thought we agreed you weren’t going to say anything.”
     Lily hung her head. “I forgotted.”
     “I don’t think she could repeat anything that would surprise me, Ben. But that’s a small problem compared to his not returning. Have you told Mr. Covington?”
     “Not yet. I was gonna check here first. I never busted in on a married couple before, but I prayed this would be the first time. Trey’s a lunk-head, that’s for sure, but I love him like a brother.”
     She laid Lily against the pillows. “You stay right here, do you hear me? You can sleep with me tonight, but I don’t want you to move from this bed.”
     Lily’s face clouded.
     “No, no crying. I don’t have time to wipe your tears. Ben and I need to go talk with Mr. Covington.”
     “But I stuck my tongue out at him  cuz he said mean things about you. He said it was your fault he couldn’t love nobody and he wasn’t ever going to sleep with you and he was all mad and I wanted him to feel bad so I went like this,” she stuck out her tongue, then clamped her hand over her mouth. “I forgotted again, didn’t I?”
     “It’s okay, little-one.” Ben pulled the covers up to her shoulders. “But you behave and stay here like your sister told you.”
     “Annie, is Mr. Martin in trouble?”
      Was he? How could she answer that? She didn’t want him hurt…or worse…if that’s the trouble she had in mind. But yes, if they found him safe they would have a lot to talk about. And no doubt, there would be trouble.
 ###
     “Where did you get this?” Ben stood on one side of his bed, SueAnna on the other and Fred Thayer at the foot. Adam was surrounded…or trapped. He didn’t know which.
     “Lily found it.” Ben retold the happenings of the day.
     “But when you left him, he was okay?” 
     Ben shrugged. “I slugged him on the chin, but other than that he was fine. Just mad.”
     “I think you all better sit down. I’ve got a very long story to tell you. You have to know this so you can understand why you can’t find Trey. I don’t think anything happened to him. I think he’s chosen to disappear for awhile.”
     SueAnna’s face was wet with tears when he finished. “I’m so sorry I came here. It’s my fault he will never get to see Claire—”
     “Nonsense. Trey knew about Claire when he agreed to Bittman’s conditions. You haven’t done anything wrong no matter how ugly he’s gotten with you. He’s really angry with me, you know. You’re just the one he can hurt the most right now.”
     “Do you think he took off to find her anyway? Even if you told him he couldn’t?” 
     “That’s exactly what I would think if his horse hadn’t come back. You say you supplied line four today, Ben? Did you recheck he cabin there?”
     “I didn’t, but Slim did. Only thing there was Dan and Jake’s stuff. They’re ridin’ that line right now.”
     “I know of one spot, but it’s a long shot. You say he was in the grove of cedars above the ranch—the ones on the bluff?”
     Ben nodded. “I shouldn’t have hit him, sir. He was good and mad.”
     “Or maybe you should have hit him harder.” He smiled at the red-headed cowboy. “Don’t feel guilty. Trey’s made his own choices all the way through this situation. I’d just hope he’d be man enough to take the responsibility for them. Doc, you mind getting me a pencil and some paper? If he’s where I think he is, you’ll need a map. And pull me up a bit so I can see what I’m doing.”
     Doc handed him the paper and Ben pulled him higher onto his pillows. “Okay, now gather around so you all can see this. If you go into the grove from the north and go all the way through you will come to a series of rocks that look like steps.” He glanced at Ben. “You know where this is?”
     Ben nodded.
     Good. Follow those rocks below the bluff to the bottom. But watch your step. It’s steep, and rattlers love the rocks. Now, when you get to the bottom you’ll need to turn around and face the north again. About fifteen to twenty feet above your head there will be a small cave opening. You’ll have to look closely.”
    “But could he get there after the sun went down? Ben said it was dark when his horse came back.” SueAnna’s eyes were full of fear.
     “Yeah, but it was around noon when I saw him last,” Ben said. “He would have had plenty of time to snoop around if he was wantin’ to hide.”
     “Did he say anything when you saw him, Ben?”
     “He said plenty, that’s why I punched him. I called him a dope for the way he was talkin’ about SueAnna.”
     “A dope he is, but we’ve still got to find him. You’ll have to scramble up some rocks to get to the opening”
     “Couldn’t we find this place on the way down? Seems like a lot of trouble to go all the way to the bottom then up again.”
     “Maybe, if you ever have to find it again. But it’s near impossible to see it from the top side. Just do what I say this first time, and hope there won’t be a second. Once you’re in the cave there’s two paths. The one to the left leads to a larger room and inside there you will find a lantern, matches, cot, bedding and whatever a person would need to hole up for awhile. Should even be some canned food.”
     “You’ve been there before, I take it.” 
     “Lots of times, Ben. I never wanted anyone else to know about it, but this  might be our only chance of finding him.”
    “What happens if he’s in there but went to the right?”
     “If you go to the right you can become lost real fast. It’s like a maze. I followed it once and thought I might never see daylight again. Get the men and some lanterns—and your guns. Better take a wagon as far as the grove, too, just in case he’s hurt and can’t ride out. If he’s hurt, take him to line four and send someone back for Doc.”
     “It’d save time if I went with them now, Adam.”
     “No, I need you here, Fred. Someone has to keep me from going crazy.”
    Ben walked to the door and SueAnna followed.
    “You best stay here, SueAnna. This is no job for a lady.”
    She shook her head. “I know this sounds silly, but no matter how it looks, or what has been said, Trey Martin is my husband.”
    “But we’ll be riding…fast.” Ben joined the opposition.
    “I can ride and I can keep up.”
     Adam raised himself on one elbow. “Is his horse still tacked?”
     “No, but he’s in the barn. Only he don’t like nobody riding him but Trey. She’ll never stay on top of him.”
    “I told you Ben—I can ride and I’ll keep up.” She stomped in front of him.
    Adam chuckled. “Stubborn isn’t she, boy? Best follow her or she’ll beat you out there.”
    As soon as they left, he fell back to the pillow. “I can’t lose him, Fred. I just found him.
 ###
     
     

Wednesday Full Of Words

This story will never get finished if I don’t add a day now and then.

Threads of Grace

Chapter Four

     Doc slapped his forehead. “You told him? You told that boy you might be the Pa he was looking for? Why? Why would you tell him before you were certain? Can’t stand to be miserable alone, can you?”
     Adam propped himself on his elbows. “I had no intention of saying anything, Fred. Not a word. But the boy came in without knocking. Said he’d thought it over and even if it cost him his job he was going to go look for this Claire-girl. I couldn’t just let him leave. Not with him being—”
     “Married? And yes, I know. Sometimes I think the only smart one on this ranch is Lily. She might as well have set off a keg of dynamite with her announcement. I left a bunch of shamed-face cowboys pushing away from the table before they got their fill of breakfast.”
     “Lily told?” He shook his head. “Lots of truth in that old adage, isn’t there?”
     “What old adage would that be?”
     “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
     Doc nodded. “What baffles me the most is why there was deception in the first place. I’ll admit the boy plunged into something he wasn’t at all ready for, but you’ll have to take part of the blame for that. Don’t need to tell you what a mess it is now.”
     “And I don’t know how to clean it up. I thought by telling Trey the truth it would help.”
     Doc stood and fluffed the pillow behind Adam’s head. “You were wrong. In the first place, you don’t know if it is the truth. Now this young man has a whole pile of muck on his shoulders just because you wanted your own barn cleaned.”
     “What’s that supposed to mean?”
     Doc pointed his finger at him. “You’ve been fretting about the way you two look alike for a long time, haven’t you? And now, because one little girl happened to mention it, you jumped way ahead and decided it was time to come clean. I may be a doctor, but I’ve had my share of muck throwing in my day. Cleaned many a barn before I decided I’d rather heal people than fling flop.”
     Adam closed his eyes. He had no idea where this was going, but for sure the man wouldn’t shut up until he let him have his say. But he didn’t want to hear it.
     “One thing I learned early. You clean out stalls every day and nothing can pile up. Spread it around and it can even help things grow. You wait and unload it all at once it begins to heat up, then it smokes, and first thing you know it’s killed everything underneath it. I don’t know what all you told that young man, but I’ve an idea it went on pretty hot. You’ll be lucky if the kid doesn’t run. You shattered all sorts of dreams all with one loaded tongue.”
     “Was he at breakfast?”
     “Until Lily made her little proclamation. He left in a hurry once those men got to asking questions and giving him thunder.”
     “Where is he now?”
     Doc shrugged. “Have no idea.”
     Adam wiped his hand across his eyes. He hadn’t meant to hurt the boy. Just the opposite, in fact. Why had he thought Trey might even be glad to know he could be his pa? Isn’t what what he wanted? Hadn’t a quirk of fate brought him to the KIM? 
     “And SueAnna? Did she leave, too?”
     “SueAnna left the room, not the ranch. Where would you expect her to go, Adam?” He turned at the door. “I think you’d better have some time alone to think this through. I’ll be downstairs. Ring the bell by the bed if you need anything.”
     How long had it been since he allowed tears? Images of Kathleen, her black hair shining in the sun like a raven’s wing, her arms stretching toward him as her wagon careened away. “I’ll find you, I promise. I won’t ever stop looking. Be Strong. I’m coming.”
   All the promises he’d made. All the promises broken. One letter. He’d allowed one piece of communication from the man who hated him stop his pursuit for his one true love. He’d never sought love again. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t. 
     But what about Trey? He’d given those young ranch hands an assignment. Stupid assignment, it was. And now, because Trey followed through, he was kept from ever knowing if his girl was still waiting. Trey said his mother never stopped expecting him to come for her. Was Claire waiting for his son? 
     His leg throbbed, and he welcomed the pain. He needed to hurt. He’d lost his lover. Possibly lost the son he’d hoped he’d found. He might as well lose his leg, too.

###
     Trey dropped the horse’s reins and stumbled to the stand of red cedars on the bluff above the main house. He wound his way among the trees until he came to a small clearing then sat down with his back against an old stump. He’d found this place one afternoon when he was looking for stray cows. It was hot, and the trees gave the only shade for miles around. He visited it often since then. The ground stayed damp beneath the trees and when his boots crushed the dead-fall branches and needles the smell of fresh cedar filled his nostrils. 
     He crossed his legs at the ankles and stared at the picture in the gold locket clutched in his hand. His hands shook as he pried the picture from the clamps holding it in place, then threw the locket as far as he could. So, Adam Covington thought he might be his pa? Oh, Ma. I’m so glad you aren’t alive. He hated him, and it would break her heart to see him so angry, but he didn’t want anything that reminded him of the man who’d deserted her, and left him fatherless in the doing. How could a man just stop looking? So he had a letter saying they were dead. Wouldn’t he want to know for himself? 
    All these years of watching his ma patch everything she wore because there wasn’t enough money to buy fabric to make new. She even cut down some of her old dresses to make his shirts, and the boys at school laughed at him until he got big enough to fight. 
     Not one penny had ever been sent from this so-called grandfather. Covington was probably lying about that, too. His ma never once mentioned her pa. Only his. And how he would be so proud when he found them.
     Every morning since he could remember he was up early to help Mr. Hudson with the chores. Even though he was the preacher, Hudson had a small farm of his own and was willing to help him and Ma with theirs. When he came home from school in the evenings, Mr. Hudson would be waiting for him with more chores. Only the occasional outings with Claire and the Hudson family broke the monotony of hot, sticky summer days of labor. 
    He ran down the lane in a thunderstorm once, no shoes or jacket to protect him against the pelting rain, because Ma was sure she’d seen his pa waving for her. Only when he got to the end, it was just an old limb that had split partway off a bush and was wagging in the wind. 
     And all this time, Covington was rich. He had land, cattle and the finest house you could want. He paid men to work for him, while he and Ma didn’t have money enough for groceries most of the time. 
     If only he hadn’t tried to find him. And now, just because his name was Martin, and someone thought they looked alike,  Covington’s conscience got the best of him. He’d taken love away from Ma, and now he took it away from him and Claire, too. And to top it all off—the men knew about him and SueAnna.
     He clenched his jaw. SueAnna. It was all because of her he could never call Claire his wife. He would never know how it felt to kiss her lips or hold her close to him again. All this time they’d waited to be married—now it would never happen and it was Adam Covington and SueAnna’s doing. 
     What was done was done, he supposed. If he tried to back out now he wouldn’t be any better than Covington—and he hated his boss. So he might be married. Okay, so he was for sure married. But nobody could ever make him love her—nobody.
     He rose to his feet and shook his fist toward heaven, then screamed until he had no voice left. Exhausted, he slid to the ground and sat with his knees drawn up against him. His head hurt and his chest was so tight he couldn’t take a deep breath. This isn’t how he thought it would be if he ever found his pa. He flopped to his stomach, buried his head in his arms and wept great gulping sobs. 
     “Are you hiding, Mr. Martin?” 
      Trey lifted his head and stared into two blue eyes as big as saucers. 
     “When I hide my face I pretend no one can see me. Is that what you’re doing?” Lily was on her knees beside him.
     “No, that isn’t what I’m doing. What are you doing here, anyway? Did you follow me?” He sat up and brushed at his face. If there were tears remaining she would most likely blab about it the next time everyone was at the table.
     “I’m helping Ben deliver supplies.”
     “If you’re helping him, what are you doing here? Anyone else come along with you?”
     “When we was riding by the trees I saw something shiny and Ben said I could see what it was.” She patted the pocket of her apron. “I got it in here, but I’m not going to show you because you’re cranky.”
    “I don’t even want to see it, so there.” Well, Trey. That sounded grown-up. He stood and dusted the cedar needles from his pants. 
     “Where’s Ben, anyway? He should know better than to let you wander around here by yourself. What if a bear comes along and eats you?”
     “A bear wouldn’t eat me. There’s no bears here. Is there?” She sidled closer to him. 
     “No, there ain’t bears here, Lily. Mr. Martin is just tryin’ to scare you.”
     Trey jumped at Ben’s voice.
     “And lookee there. Did you see him jump? He done scared himself.” Ben laughed and grasped Lily’s hand. “Come on, Little Miss, we better be heading back. Be lunch time soon and we don’t want SueAnna to worry where you are.”
     “You can tell Miss Morrow I won’t be eating lunch…or supper.”
     Ben shook his head. “No, Trey. If you want her to know somethin’, then you talk to her. Ain’t anyone around here what’s goin’ to be a party to you actin’ like she’s the hired girl. Not since they know the truth.”
    “There isn’t one of them that knows the truth. I was forced into this, but I don’t have to like it…or her.”
     “The truth is, Trey…nobody forced you into this and  you know it. I shoulda listened to Lily, here, and married her myself. At least I’d treat her right.”
     Trey sneered. “Be my guest, Mister.”
     Ben widened his stance. “You don’t mean that the way it sounds, do you? Somebody needs to take a whip to your backside. I don’t know what took place between you and Mr. Covington, but whatever it was ain’t SueAnna’s fault. You always got to be the biggest, don’t you? Only you ain’t bigger than Covington so you’ll take it out on your wife.” He walked away, pulling Lily with him.
     “What did she tell you, anyway?” Trey screamed after them. “That I’m an ogre? You heard Lily this morning. My dear little wife says I cant sleep with her until we get babies. Now that was news for the fellas, wasn’t it? I imagine they got a real kick out of that one. Well, you tell them this—I have no intention of sleeping with her, now or ever.”
     Ben dropped Lily’s hand and took two long strides toward Trey. “Don’t flatter yourself, pal. You ain’t the one them boys is thinking about. Not one of them understands why you’d want to keep our marriage to someone as sweet as SueAnna a secret. You’re a dope, Trey Martin. You don’t deserve her.” He turned on his heel and walked away.
     Trey followed and grabbed Ben’s shoulders to turn him face to face. “I don’t deserve her? I suppose you do. What I don’t deserve is spending the rest of my life being hooked up with somebody I don’t even like while my true love, my only love, is waiting for me to come for her. You think you’re big enough to call me a dope? You might be taller, but you ain’t bigger.”
     Ben shrugged Trey’s hand away. “Big isn’t what’s on the outside, Trey. I could be seven feet tall, weigh three hundred pounds and pound you to a pulp with one hand but that wouldn’t make be big. Big is what you are on the inside. Big is who you are when nobody else is lookin’. Big is taking responsibility for your own actions and not blamin’ everyone else when you act like a…like a first class dope. And you can spell that in capital letters if you know how.
    Trey jumped in front of Ben before he could walk off again. He clenched his fists. “You don’t know what it’s like—”
     Ben’s fist connected with Trey’s jaw. “I’ve heard it once, and I ain’t listenin’ again. Now you put this in your stupid head to think about. SueAnna and Lily are orphans. Just like me. Their Ma and Pa ain’t never comin’ back and they don’t know where their brother might be. You stay out here and feel sorry for yourself, but it don’t hold no water with me. I’d hit you again but it ain’t worth the skinned knuckles.”
     Trey blinked as the two walked away. The tall redheaded cowboy stooped to the hold the little girl’s hand while she skipped along beside him.
    And when they got to the edge of the clearing, Lily turned around and stuck her tongue out at him.
### 

     
       

     
     
     
     

Tuesday’s Tale

Springtime In The Hills



FIRST THE SMOKE





THEN THE FIRE

There’s a beauty to this yearly ritual. If you’ve never driven through the pasture lands of Kansas, in the springtime—at night—then you’ve possibly missed this rite of passage. 

Pasture burning season, they call it. 

A time to get rid of the old, dried, foliage that has provided its own kind of beauty during the long winter months, to allow the nutrition-rich grasses to emerge. The only thing more beautiful than the long lines of fire glowing in the night, is the sight of emerald green, grass covered hills in the early morning sun. 

While I would never suggest you follow a fire truck, I will gladly challenge you to follow the smoke you witness rising from the horizon. Take a camera. Throw away all other impressions you might have of ‘old, flat Kansas’, and experience…well, you’ll have to see it to put your own title on this story of springtime in the hills. 



Threads of Grace

Threads of Grace
Continued

    Doc leaned closer to Adam and took a deep sniff. “Nope that isn’t it.”
     “That isn’t what? What kind of doctor are you going around sniffing people like you were some kind of dog?”
     “Trying to figure out how you got that little girl to sneak you a jug of apple jack. Thought you must be drunk.”
     “How long have we known one another, Abe?”
     “Too long. And don’t ask me what kind of first impression you made. If I recall, Abe Rawlings had you bent over a table while he pulled cactus thorns out of your bony rear end. You howled like a banshee when Adam poured rum over your behind so you wouldn’t get infection.”
     Adam smiled. “And Alice screamed in the background because she was saving it for her Christmas cakes. Yeah, I remember. But you know I don’t drink, so stop your sniffing.”
     Doc plunked into the nearest chair and braced his foot against the side of the bed. “Tell me this whopper of a tale one more time. If it matches, then I’ll know you’re telling the truth.”
     “It’s no whopper. I named this ranch after the only woman I’ll ever love—Kathleen Isabella Martin—KIM—and now that little Lily-girl voiced a question I’ve had since the day I first laid eyes on and heard the name Trey Martin.”
     “The name is a coincidence. Surely you know that. Didn’t you say you had a letter from this woman’s pa that said both she and your child died? You best leave her in her grave, Adam.”
     He attempted to turn to his side but pain restricted him. Doc was the best friend he had. Couldn’t he understand how difficult it was to confess his long-unspoken questions? Did he see the resemblance and not want to admit it?
     “Fred, what if he lied. Kathleen’s pa was determined to keep us apart. Wouldn’t he be even more determined to keep me from our child? What if Trey Martin is my son, and I’m treating him like a hired hand? What if Kathleen is still alive?”
    “That’s a lot of what-ifs, my good friend. Trey isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so you’ve time to address this whole mess later. For now, you need to rest. I’m not cutting you any quarter, Adam. You want to keep that leg, your behave yourself.” He walked to the door.
     “Wait.”
     “No more, Adam. I don’t want to hear any more until I’ve chewed and swallowed this piece of news.”
     “But—”
     The click of the door announced the departure of his audience. If that was how he wanted it, then fine. He’d just have to find out the hard way that Trey and SueAnna were married. Likely Miss Lily would announce it soon enough.

   ###  
    Dawn’s pink fingers had just punched a hole in the morning mist that lay over the hills when SueAnna made her way down the stairs and into the still-dark kitchen. What would this day bring? Was it her imagination, or had Trey become more withdrawn each day? She didn’t expect him to love her. But now he seemed angry, and was very short tempered with Lily. She didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, but she would try harder to please him. And she’d instructed Lily to stay out of his way.
    She rushed to get everything done in time and when she rang the bell for breakfast the sun had just peeked its full face over the hills. Trey was the last one to the table. If his neck were any stiffer he could use it for a flag pole. She bit her tongue to keep from smiling. How many ways could one man manage to ignore a woman? Wouldn’t the men be—
     “Annie, I needs help.”
     One by one the men stopped talking and all heads turned to the doorway. There stood Lily. She wore the blue dress Naomi Bittman had given her, her hair piled on top of her head, though SueAnna could not imagine what held it up there. And she was barefoot.
     “Oh, Lily,” SueAnna groaned.
     “Why, Miss Lily.” Ben scooted his chair away from the table and stood. “Won’t you come and join us?” He motioned to the empty chair beside him.
     “I can’t come in.” She twisted from side to side
     “Lily, please come in a sit down.” SueAnna trembled. Ben grinned, but Trey had a scowl deep enough to get stuck.
     “I can’t because I couldn’t reach the buttons and my skin shows.”
     Rough hands covered grins.
     SueAnna moved to the girl, buttoned the dress, tied the sash and gave her a pat on her bottom. “Now sit and behave yourself,” she whispered.
     Lily didn’t flinch but walked with her head held high to be seated next to Ben.
     “That surely is a pretty dress you have on today, Miss Lily. You goin’ somewhere special?” Ben winked at her as he tucked a napkin around her neck.
     Lily giggled.”You seed this before, Ben. This is the dress I wore when Annie and Mr. Martin got married. Don’t you remember?”
     SueAnna dared to look at Trey. His eyes shot arrows are her, and she would bet they were poisoned.
     “Hey, Trey. You been holding out on us?”
     “When were you going to tell us, boy?”
     “Does Covington know?”
     “Why are you still sleeping in the bunkhouse. Don’t you know that’s no way to treat a wife?”
     Lily pushed loose hair from her face and an ivory comb fell and landed in her plate. “Annie says Mr. Martin can’t sleep with her ’til they get babies. Can I have a biscuit please.”
     Forks stopped mid-air and eyes roved between Trey and SueAnna. 
     She covered her face with her hands and raced from the dining room. She took the steps two at a time and flung herself on the bed. She couldn’t be mad at Lily. She was just a little girl. But would Trey ever believe she didn’t put her up to such an announcement?She burrowed her head into her pillow and sobbed.
     “Miss SueAnna. It ain’t fittin’ for me to come in your room, so would you step out here in the hallway so we could talk?”
     Ben’s voice startled her. Had he heard her crying? She dried her eyes and stepped out of her room. “Did Trey send you?” She wrapped her arms around her middle.
     “No, ma’am. I done sent myself. I…well, you know Lily didn’t mean no harm.”
     “I do know that, Ben. But what must those men think of me? And what about Trey? I can’t go back down there and face them.”
     “You don’t have to face nobody. Trey, he lit out like the prairie was on fire. And the men…well, them men is just as worried about seein’ you as you are them. They done left and went about their business.”
     “Where’s Lily?”
    “Lily, she’s finishin’ her breakfast. Then if you don’t mind, I’ll take her with me. I got supplies to deliver to line four and she can ride along in the wagon. Probably should change her clothes, though.” He winked. “A girl shouldn’t be ridin’ a dirty ole’ wagon in her weddin’ dress. Got a fence to fix around the corral, too. I’ll watch her.”
    “Lots of fences need mending around here, don’t they Ben?”
    He sighed. “Yeah, I reckon so. But you gotta find all the places that are broke before you can fix ’em. Fix just one hole and it still leaves more for the critters to crawl through.”
    SueAnna mulled this over. Ben was right. You had to know where the holes were before you could mend them. 
     Right now there was a great big hole in her heart. And nobody seemed to care.