Henry Long Feather leaned against a tree and studied the white woman. She taught the children from the Bar FB three days a week and often brought them out of the little shack Fairbanks had built for a school. This was a rare thing for a white teacher to do, but she—Laurie Wilcox—was different from most whites Long Feather knew.
She was older, like him. Perhaps fifty summers or so, but youth still lived in her smooth skin and ready smile. Everything about her was light and delicate and fascinating to him. From her long, golden braid that gleamed even when there was no sun, to her slight nose, to her haunting eyes—the icy blue of a stream in winter. But they warmed him, like now.
She raised her gaze over the heads of her students and beamed at him. “Mr. Long Feather. Come to join us for a lesson?”
A dozen little cowboy hats and twin braids all swung round to him, showing young faces bright with curiosity. Shoving his hands into his pants pockets, he pushed off the tree and strode over to them more than happy to forget the event with the bull. “Not today, Mrs. Wilcox. I have come for Joseph.” He tapped the top of a brown hat and the freckled-face boy of eight beneath it grimaced up at him. “Yes, you. Your father has need of you in the blacksmith barn. He asked me to send you over.”
“Aw,” the boy moaned, kicking at a dirt clod.
“That’s perfect timing. We just finished our lesson.” Mrs. Wilcox snapped her Bible shut. “You go on, Joseph. Don’t keep your father waiting. The rest of you,” she surveyed the ring of a dozen or so students, “Spelling test tomorrow. Make sure you study.”
The children gave her their own collective groan and drifted away, a few darting for trouble at various places on the ranch. When they were gone, their teacher rocked on her heels and smiled up at Long Feather, an awkward kind of sign that he couldn’t read. But there was much he did not understand about Mrs. Wilcox.
“What kept you busy today, Mr. Long Feather?”
He shrugged, not quite prepared to share all the details of his day. “The boys brought in a couple of Indian ponies Fairbanks wants me to train to the saddle. They are willing. It will not be much work.” Unlike this new task of training Joel Chapman. “And you, Mrs. Wilcox? What does a teacher do with herself when the students have gone?”
“Please, call me Miss Laurie. Everyone does.” He nodded, acquiescing to her request and she continued. “I have my own homework—some papers to grade.” She bit her bottom lip and tilted her head in a way that made him want to brush his hand down her cheek. “Could I see them? The Indian ponies.”
“Surely.” The answer slipped out before he’d had a chance to think about it. A missionary, Miss Laurie was liked on the ranch, but the hands kept their distance, as if her religion might be catching. Long Feather harbored no such fear. Instead, he wondered what they would say about her strolling with an Indian if she wasn’t preaching at him.
She scrunched her forehead at him. “You don’t want to show me?”
Her perceptiveness caught him off guard. “No, it is not that. You are a white woman.”
“Yes, I was born with the affliction.”
Her joke took a moment to light on his brain, but when it did, he offered her a reserved chuckle. “You don’t understand—”
“I understand perfectly, Mr. Long Feather. And as a child of God, I love all people. I can’t help what others think about that. I don’t let their prejudices dictate with whom I stroll.”
He pushed a hand over his mouth, sighed, and gestured back toward the way he’d come. “After you.”
Hmmm. What trouble awaits this relationship? I hope you’ll read and find out. Get your copy today!
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From Chapter 5:
A day later, Joel was strong enough to travel.
And to send word to Ruth of his whereabouts.
He tapped the pencil on the Western Union form, trying to determine how much to write. He believed it a safe assumption his wife did not care where he was so long as he was not in her presence.
His time away with the cavalry had changed Ruth. Her letters had grown colder, her thoughts more succinct. Coming home minus a limb had only served to deepen the divide between them.
What exactly was the state of their relationship now? Dead? Dying? How did one resuscitate a marriage in this condition? Prayer. Ask God for a miracle to revive their love?
He had prayed for revival, but without any passion behind the request. He knew he should care, be desperate to save their marriage. Yet, desperation had died with every brief, emotionless letter from her, every repulsed look she had revealed, and every touch from which she had recoiled. The guilt of his growing apathy weighed on him. He suspected Ruth had reasons for some guilt as well, but Joel had no proof. Without proof, suspicions were merely that—suspicions.
Finally, tired of debating, he wrote, Delayed in Evergreen, Wy. Will notify you when I proceed to South Dak. He pondered adding love, Joel. In the end, he didn’t and slid the paper over to the clerk.
The Bar FB sat in a long, flat valley, ringed with hills that alternated between open pastures thigh-high with brittle, fall grass, and deep, dark-green forests of Scotch and Blue spruces. White-faced Hereford cattle milled about everywhere.
Various log buildings such as the barn and bunkhouse surrounded the imposing main house at strategic distances. Surprising Joel, the home was a white-washed antebellum structure with a cupola on the top. From it, he imagined a man could sit up there and see the whole valley in any direction.
King of all he surveys, eh?
“You could still back out,” Angela said from beside him, hunching her shoulders and rubbing her arms. Joel assumed she was cold, but the action could have also just as easily expressed her fears at this homecoming.
He tapped the reins across the horses’ rear ends to maintain their speed. “Not much of an option right now.”
“You could drop me off and keep riding.”
A cowardly act he couldn’t fathom. He was here now and he was committed to the cause.
“You’re an honorable man, aren’t you, Captain Chapman?”
“I used to think so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t like lying. Normally I wouldn’t have fallen into something like this. I believe almost any man can be reasoned with.” He cut his eyes at her. “You’ve made me believe your father may be the exception and this subterfuge is necessary. I hope I have not misjudged.”
She heaved a great sigh. “I understand your concern. Two seconds with my father, though, and you’ll understand mine.”
They rolled beneath the gate that proudly displayed the Bar FB encircled in barbed wire, and then into the main yard. A few ranch hands nodded and tipped their hats. One, a large fellow with a silvery-yellow beard, paused, allowed his smile to widen, and approached the buggy. Joel pulled it to a stop.
“Miss Angela.” The cowboy swiped his hat off. “What a surprise. Your father said you was back East in school. He didn’t say anything about you coming for a visit.”
“Howdy, Glenn, it’s nice to see you. I’ve missed your saucy jokes.”
The man blushed from his neck up, the color disappearing into his beard, then stole a quick glance at Joel. A glint of disapproval flashed across Glenn’s face but disappeared quickly.
“Oh.” Angela squared her shoulders. “Glenn, this is my husband, Joel Chapman. Joel, my father’s foreman, Glenn Leary.”
Joel reached across Angela and the two shook hands. Glenn was clearly shocked by the news, judging from his slack jaw. “Husband, huh? Yeah, your father didn’t mention that either.”
“I imagine there’s a lot he hasn’t mentioned about me since I left.”
The man pursed his lips as if acknowledging a secret. “Yeah, he hasn’t said too much since you’ve been gone.” He replaced the Stetson. “And he has been in one continual sour mood. Now that you’re back, maybe he’ll quit yellin’ so much.”
“Maybe.” She didn’t sound like she believed it. “We’ll see you soon.”
Angela touched Joel’s arm and he drove the rig up to the front of the house. “Well, here goes nothing.” Her voice wiggled and Joel wished he could give her a reassuring hug.
In lieu of that, he said, “I’ve faced a hundred screaming Indians, dodged a hailstorm of fiery arrows, and a blizzard of bullets. I’m not afraid of your father.” He smiled, hoping he had reassured her some.
Instead, her smile was pitying. “That doesn’t mean he can’t hurt you.”
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