Excerpt for A Garden Full of Love: A Trio of Historical Romance Novellas by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A Garden Full of Love: A Trio of Historical Romance Novellas


Doreen Milstead

Copyright 2017 Susan Hart

A Woman’s Heart Is Beautiful

The Strong English Woman & The Outlaw In Arizona

The Cowboy With The Haunted Past In North Dakota & His Singing Bride

A Woman’s Heart Is Beautiful

Synopsis: A Woman’s Heart Is Beautiful - An amputee woman decides to move from Chicago to North Dakota and become both a teacher and then hopefully, a mail order bride because she has been corresponding with several young men who seemed interested, but she has not chosen one yet. She meets a young half Native American man in the lawless small town and also learns what it’s like to defend both your life and honor.

Sitting in a mahogany colored sitting chair beside a silent stone fireplace, Mandy heard the front door close with the sound only angry disappointment could achieve. Bowing her head, she tossed her eyes down onto her lap. As she bowed her head, long, pretty, blond hair rushed forward over her frail shoulders, reaching down over a lovely blue and white dress from France—reaching to cover a broken heart and broken spirit.

“You were wrong to deny Mr. Brown’s proposal,” a sharp voice snapped at Mandy rushing into an expensive parlor decorated with furniture that, Mandy assumed, came from old parts of Europe that only her elders could name.

Unwilling to raise her eyes to meet her mother’s angry voice, Mandy placed her shaky hands together and drew in a deep breath of stale peppermint and old pipe tobacco that had stained the parlor’s atmosphere with good and bad memories. “Mr. Brown wishes to marry me for money. He does not love me.”

“Love,” Mandy’s mother hissed and then rolled her eyes, “love is not an emotion young women must depend to find a good husband.”

Feeling her mother angrily fold her arms, Mandy cowered down and waited for another tongue thrashing. Even though her mother was a small woman with dark black hair, she somehow overpowered Mandy with just the look in her eyes and the words from her hateful mouth. “Mother, please, I just wish to be left alone.”

“Left alone,” Mandy’s mother snapped. Unlocking her arms she threw them down the dark purple dress, she was wearing and then bawled her hands into tight fist. “Your father and I cannot take care of you forever. We have been very patient because of your…condition. However, we are becoming impatient with you. We wish to move on with our lives.”

“My condition,” Mandy whispered. Against her will, she allowed her eyes to drop down to her right leg like hard stones. Even though the dress she was wearing covered her right leg, beneath the dress from the right knee down there was only empty space. “I have lost my leg from the knee down. I do not have a condition, mother. I was in a horse accident…a horse ran wild and toppled the buggy I was riding in. The buggy crushed my right leg.”

“I’m aware of the accident,” Mandy’s mother said impatiently. “I am also aware that because of your condition, certain young men are no longer interested in accepting you as a wife.”

“I know,” Mandy agreed as tears began to drop from her eyes. “I am aware that I am a cripple and a horrid sight to the men who once chased me for my beauty. I am also aware Father bribed Mr. Brown to propose to me. Mr. Brown is a shallow man. His heart is set on the dollar.”

“Your father and I only want—“

“Leave me alone,” Mandy begged. Throwing her hands up to her face, she began to cry. “Mother, leave me alone this very instant.”

Snarling her voice up into an ugly knot Mandy’s mother stood silent and watched her daughter cry. Finally, she decided to speak as a hard rain began to fall outside. “Your father and I are taking a trip to France next week. Summer has arrived. It has been a long, difficult winter. I suppose you should come along with us now that you have insulted Mr. Brown.”

Mandy shook her head no. “I am still a school teacher. I have...been considering taking a teaching position in North Dakota.”

Shocked, Mandy’s mother slowly refolded her arms. “Continue.”

“Dean McMillan has made it very clear to me that teaching at Academy is no longer an option for me. He politely insinuated that my age was the factor for his decision. But we both know that is a lie,” Mandy explained forcing her tears to the side. “I am twenty-two years old. I have two years teaching experience. Yes, I am still young. However, only experience can allow me to develop into a better teacher for my students.”

Listening to the heavy rainfall outside, Mandy’s mother simply nodded her head as a selfish idea began to form in her hard mind. “Dean McMillan dismissed you because of your condition. Your father and I debated on whether to object to his decision, but we both know that any objection would end in failure. However, I am somewhat taken back by your sudden announcement. Why haven’t you expressed interest in this teaching position before now?”

“Dean McMillan may have dismissed me, but only because the Board pressured him. He isn’t a horrible man.”

“I see. So it was Dean McMillan who brought this position to your attention, then?” Mandy’s mother inquired. Walking over to a double window covered over with a dark green drape, she carefully peered out onto a front cobblestone street being drenched with heavy rain

“Yes,” Mandy confessed and wiped at her tears. “I have been debating on this matter all winter. I am a cripple and such a trip will be very difficult on me. However, Dean McMillan has assured me that the town of Black Bear, North Dakota, is in desperate need of a schoolteacher as well as decent women who wish to become mail order brides. I have made plans to become both and have been corresponding with several men.”

“It seems to me,” Mandy’s mother answered as a selfish grin slipped across her thin lips, “that you have already made your decision.”

Dreams of dining at expensive Paris restaurants and sipping delicious wines cheered her mood.

Understanding her mother’s tone pained Mandy’s heart. Yet, she knew that her mother’s wish for her to move away held no room for personal considerations toward her emotions. “I have,” Mandy confessed. “I have informed Deal McMillan. I am due to leave next Monday. I was going to tell you and father tonight over dinner.”

Widening her grin Mandy’s, mother looked through the hard falling rain into a warm and blooming Paris. “Your father and I will do all that we can to accommodate you financially. We will support you on your new endeavor completely.”

“And if I decided to return home,” Mandy dared to ask. “I was born and raised in Chicago. I may not be able to adjust to a location that isn’t Chicago.”

“Then,” Mandy’s mother admitted without turning away from the window, “You will live here in this house, but you will no longer be a burden to me or your father. But, I have a feeling this new position will not be one that you will give up on so easily.”

Leaning back in the sitting chair Mandy drew in a deep breath. “Yes, mother, I pray you are right.”

“So do I,” Mandy’s mother replied. Walking away from the window, she strolled over to the door to the parlor like a cruel finger pointing hateful accusations. “Dinner will be ready at its usual time. Over dinner we will discuss what financial assistance you will need for your trip.”

Watching her mother leave the parlor, Mandy bowed her head. Against her will, she began to cry again. Her tears reached out into the wet front street and mingled in with the hard falling rain—mingled into a dance of fear and pain. “You can do this,” she whispered in a trembling voice.

Stepping down from a dusty stagecoach with the help of an old man that looked as rugged as a sun soaked stone, Mandy coughed as a storm of dust ran at her face in a dry laugh. She felt dust was consuming everything from her hair down the light gray dress she was wearing.

Gripping the wooden cane in her right hand, she slowly eased her way down onto a dry, dusty street. “This drought ain’t gonna let up no time soon,” the old man helping Mandy down from the stagecoach said with a dry tongue. “Worst I’ve seen in years. Winter didn’t bring much snow, so there ain’t no snow melt off.”

“I see,” Mandy said, forcing a polite smile to her lips. The old man helping her was a nice enough man. The clothes he was wearing were ragged, worn down, dusty and hot. His short gray hair was messy and sweaty. But he had a kind, honest, face that wasn’t capable of spilling out a single lie; not intentionally anyway. “I am supposed to be meeting a Mrs. Landon?”

“Ah,” the old man said and wiped sweat from his forehead, “Mrs. Landon ain’t one to ever be on time. She’s on up in her years, but she’s tough as nails. It just takes her a whole to hitch her horses. She’ll be along shortly.”

Nodding her head Mandy walked her eyes around the small, dry, town before her. Her heart sank in misery. A single dirt street stood before her, lined with wooden buildings desperately in need of painting. In the middle of the street, she saw a hotel. A general store, sheriff’s office, and saloon stood across from the hotel. A few horses were hitched in front of the saloon; the horses all had their head down, too hot to keep them raised.

Daring to raise her eyes skyward again, she witnessed a blazing blue sky that was forcing any hope of rain away. “What can tell me about Black Bear,” Mandy asked the old man.

“Not much to tell,” the old man replied and scratched the back of his head. “The hills surrounding this town once had some gold in them, but that gold ran dry. But the land is good for cattle…well, when there’s rain, that is. There’s a few ranches around. The ranches help keep the town going. But with this drought…the cattle just ain’t got enough grass to eat.”

The worry in the old man’s voice concerned Mandy. Feeling homesick for streets lined with people and lights, Mandy sighed miserably. “Perhaps this was a mistake?”

“Last teacher made it two weeks and then ran back to St. Louis,” the old man told Mandy. “Young ones around here sure need to learn how to read them books you have with you. It ain’t likely you’ll stay long enough to teach them, though.”

The old man’s words struck Mandy hard across her face. Feeling ashamed of her statement, she looked into the old man’s eyes. “You don’t know how to read, do you?”

“I know horses,” the old man tipped a wink at Mandy. “And speaking of horses, I’ve got to get the bunch hooked to this coach moving or my boss will tar my hide. I’ll unload your belongings over at the hotel. Mrs. Landon wanted me to put you off here.”

“Why?” Mandy asked.

The old man pointed his left. At the end of the street, sitting off in the distance on a small hill, Mandy saw a little wooden school building. “She wants you to meet up there.”

“I see,” Mandy said. “Thank you. I’ll walk up there.”

Before Mandy could take a single step, a loud commotion behind her caused to her turn around. A man wearing a brown shirt came flying backwards out of the saloon. A man wearing a red shirt came barreling out after him. The two men met up on the dry street and began throwing punches at each other. As they fought, other men appeared from the saloon, whooping and hollering, encouraging the violence.

Mandy watched, horrified, as the two men beat up each with bloody enthusiasm. Finally, the man wearing the brown shirt was hit so hard he dropped down onto the dry street and fell unconscious. The men cheered and then dispersed back into the saloon. “Oh my,” Mandy gasped staring at the unconscious, bloody, face. “Is that man…dead?”

“Nah,” the old said and laughed. “Joe just crossed Charlie the wrong away again. Those two chew each other’s fist at least once a week. Well, be seeing you.”

“Yes…of course,” Mandy said. I’ll…make my way to the school now.”

Forcing her eyes away from the unconscious man, Mandy began the difficult struggle of walking. Even though no one could see it, Mandy had a wooden leg peg attached to her right knee to help her walk. Sure, Mandy knew only pirates wore wooden leg pegs, but she didn’t feel like a pirate and she thanked God that she was able to move around with the assistance of her cane and wooden leg peg.

Slowly walking away, favoring her right side with difficulty but success, Mandy moved forward. The school building, although in sight, seemed impossible to reach. The bright sun overheard laughed and mocked her with unbearable heat. “Don’t give up,” Mandy begged forcing her body to fight against the heat and her heart to battle against her fears. “One…step at a time.”

Feeling her right knee begin to ache from the stress of the walk, Mandy knew she was going to have a miserable night of pain awaited her. Dr. Hudson always stressed to take easy walks. Taking a morning walk to get the morning newspaper under a soft snow was one thing—battling a tormenting heat while struggling to reach a building sitting on a small hill was another. “One…step…at a time,” Mandy begged as streams of sweat poured down form her soft forehead into her dark, beautiful blue eyes.

After what seemed forever, Mandy reached the front steps to the school building. Breathing hard she cautiously sat down on the wooden front steps leading up to closed door. Taking deep breaths, she placed her cane down next to her and stared down onto the town below her. Her first thought was one of wondering how people could leave in such a horrid place. And she had yet to see a single child.

But, when she turned her head to left, and then to the right, and witnessed the beautiful hills surrounding her, she understood. Peace and serenity surrounded Black Bear like a heavy blanket of beauty surrounding the dreams of a romantic dreamer. The sounds of silence drifted into her ears over a hot wind like a strange friends saying hello for the first time.

Captivated in the beautify surrounding her Mandy didn’t see a young man walk around the right side of the school building. Spotting Mandy sitting down, the young man smiled. “Hello.”

Startled, Mandy jerked her head around, shocked to see a tall, handsome, young man her own age smiling at her. “Oh, hello,” Mandy said. “You startled me.”

“I have that affect. My name is John O’Mally. You must be Ms. Green.”

Pulled in by the smile on John’s face, Mandy felt strange ease come over her. She looked at John’s short black hair that covered a tanned face that held gentleness but strength. She looked into his dark green eyes that held kindness and intelligence. She looked at the white shirt he was wearing tucked into a pair of gray trousers. “I was expecting Mrs. Landon,” Mandy replied, hoping her quick analysis of John had gone unnoticed.

“Mrs. Landon is has fallen ill,” John explained allowing his eyes to catch Mandy’s cane. “It’s nothing serious. Her arthritis is acting up again. She asked me to meet you. I’m Mrs. Landon’s grandson.”

“I see,” Mandy nodded her head. Then, without understanding why or how, she asked John if he was Native American.

“I’m part Sioux,” John explained. “My mother was Sioux and my father was a white man. I wasn’t raised with the Sioux. I was raised by my grandmother after my father was killed.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry.”

John shrugged his shoulders. “I never knew him, so it’s hard to be sorry about a man you never knew.”

“What about your mother?”

“Died giving me birth,” John told Mandy. Without losing his smile, he inquired about Mandy. “So what brings you all the way to Black Bear from Chicago?”

Lowering her eyes down to cane at her side, Mandy sighed. “I’m no longer welcomed to be a teacher in Chicago.” John listened as Mandy explained her story. “My passion is teaching, even if I have to teach in a place like this.”

John made a strange face at Mandy. “A place like this…oh, I see, small town. Yeah, Black Bear isn’t Chicago. I’ve been to Chicago a few times. I like St. Louis better.”

“You’ve been to Chicago?” Mandy asked, amazed.

“Mr. Thorn sells his cattle to a man in Chicago,” John told Mandy.

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow,” Mandy confessed dreaming of a cold cup of water.

“I’m Mr. Thorn’s accountant,” John explained. “I know, with me being half Sioux you might expect me to be chasing buffalo and drinking the white man’s fire water. But I’m an educated man, Ms. Green. My grandmother sent me to college in Boston.”

“Oh, I wasn’t insinuating that you were not educated,” Mandy quickly said feeling her cheeks turn red. “It’s obvious that you are a very educated man.”

John drew in a deep breath and shook his head. Nodding his eyes down at the town, he shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe not as educated as you may think,” he admitted. “If I had any sense I would leave Black Bear and move to St. Louis.”

“Then why do you stay here,” Mandy dared to ask.

“The land,” John told Mandy in a voice that the Sioux in him could only speak. “I would miss this land if I left. I suppose that’s the Sioux in me. Now, you look very thirsty. I took the liberty to dig a well out back two years ago. The water is cold and fresh.”

“I would love a cold cup of water,” Mandy beamed. Grabbing her cane she struggled to stand up. John moved forward and offered his assistance. “No,” Mandy shook her head, “I have to do this on my own.”

Admiring Mandy’s courage and strength, John backed away. “Okay,” he smiled captivated by Mandy’s inner beauty just as much as her outer beauty. Staring at Mandy, John realized that he had never seen a woman so beautiful in all of his life. Mandy’s beauty, John thought as he watched Mandy stand up, was as a beauty that could conquer the heart of any man; including his own.

Mandy was surprised when John appeared at the hotel the following morning with two beautiful brown horses attached to a lovely brown horse buggy. She was even more surprised when John loaded her belongings onto the back of the buggy and rode her out of town. “Where are we going,” Mandy asked John, placing her cane down next to her right leg. Feeling clean after a cool bath and pretty in the pink dress she was wearing, she felt a little better about her choice to leave Chicago and come to Black Bear.

At least she felt like her old self. Most women she saw in Black Bear wore simple bland colored dresses. However, Mandy liked color. Color made her feel good.

John was wearing a gray shirt over a pair of tan trousers with dark brown boots. He looked different somehow.

“My grandmother wants you to live with her,” John told Mandy quietly, admitting her beauty. “The hotel isn’t exactly a grand estate.”

Catching John looking at her, Mandy blushed and turned away. Before John had walked her to the hotel the previous day, they had spent a considerable amount of time talking and becoming acquainted. John showed her the inside of the school and talked about the kids who would be in her class.

The inside of the school was dusty, hot, and depressing. Somehow, John made the room come to life for Mandy. “Dusty,” Mandy agreed letting her eyes take in the beautiful hills surrounding the trail. “The grass is browning, but the hills are still very beautiful.”

“This is the worst drought I’ve seen,” John answered attempting to hide the worry in his voice.

Hearing the worry in John’s voice caused Mandy to look into his face. “John, what will happen if this drought isn’t taken away by rain?”

John didn’t answer at first. It seemed Mandy’s inquiry was one he was deep friends with. “Most people in Black Bear are here because they settled here. Black Bear is all they know. If this drought doesn’t let up, it’s possible Black Bear may become a ghost town. Mr. Thorn is having a very hard time with his own ranch right now. Black Bear depends on the money the ranches bring in to survive.”

Something in John’s voice sent a horrible chill through Mandy. She couldn’t put her hand on it, but something was bothering John. She watched his eyes study the dusty road. She saw a dark shadow run across his eyes. “John, is something the matter?”

Hearing the sounds of approaching horses, John ignored Mandy’s question and quickly brought the two horses attached to the buggy to a stop. As the horses came to a stop two men galloped up the buggy, one man on John’s side and one man on Mandy’s side. “Well, here’s our little Indian,” a man with a long dirty beard and ugly gray eyes snarled.

“What do you want, Wade,” John asked, narrowing his eyes. Mandy caught movement in his right hand. Lowering her eyes she watched as John’s right hand slid to a gun attached to his a holster resting on his right hip. How she had not noticed the gun before stunned her.

“Mr. Thorn wants to see you,” Wade growled at John. Taking his eyes to Mandy, he smiled. His smiled revealed a dirty, tobacco eaten mouth that disgusted Mandy. “My, you’re a mighty pretty one.”

“She sure is,” the man sitting on a tired horse on Mandy’s side of the buggy agreed. The man didn’t have a beard, but his face was dirty and cruel. Like Wade, he was wearing dusty work clothes that hung on his body like poison alcohol.

“I told Mr. Thorn last night my services for him are over,” John told Wade in a voice that came out deadly. “I don’t take much to intimidation.”

“Listen, Indian,” Wade snapped lowering his hand down to his own gun, “Mr. Thorn sent me to fetch you and that’s what I’m gonna do…dead or alive.”

Fear paralyzed Mandy. The thought of seeing John shoot it out with the two horrible men now holding them at bay caused her begin to shake. “John, please, let’s go,” she pleaded.

“You move this buggy and you’re a dead man,” Wade warned John.

John pulled his gun out and aimed it at Wade’s head before Wade could take a second breath. “Tell Dan to drop his gun or you’ll sleep on Titler’s Hill tonight.”

Gritting is teeth in fury Wade nodded his head at his friend. “Don’t draw on him,” he told Dan.

Mandy couldn’t believe that Wade was showing anger instead of fear. How could a man not be afraid when another man had a gun pointed right at his head? Then she knew: Wade was already dead, spiritually. The man didn’t know the Lord. Those who deny Jesus, she knew from reading her Bible, were dead already. “John, please, let’s go.”

“Both of you, toss you guns into the buggy,” John ordered Wade.

“You’re a dead man,” Wade promised John. “Dan, do what he says.”

When Wade and Dan tossed their guns into the buggy, John nodded his head. “Tell Mr. Thorn my services for him are complete. If you try and come for me I’ll fight.”

“Oh, we’re coming for you,” Wade promised John and then yanked hard on his horse. “Get moving,” he yelled. Dan followed suit.

Mandy watched in relief as Wade and Dan stormed away from the buggy, back toward town, but her relief quickly formed into fear. “Those men will try and kill you.”

“Probably,” John admitted putting his gun back into his holster. “Mr. Thorn isn’t the kind of man to take ‘No’ for an answer.”

“John, why is this Mr. Thorn after you?” Mandy begged.

Glancing out of the buggy, John made sure Wade and Dan were not going to double back on him. Confident that he could get the buggy moving without interference, he ordered the horses to start walking. “Mr. Thorn wants me to…rearrange his financial books.”

Familiar with her father’s business, Mandy understood what it meant when a person changed financial data. “I’m listening.”

“This drought has struck his ranch pretty bad. His cattle are starving because he can’t afford the hay to feed them. The man in Chicago refused to by his stock this year because the cattle are not fat enough,” John continued. “Mr. Thorn is set to lose a great deal of money. Even worse, he could lose his ranch.”

“Unless you commit a crime for him,” Mandy finished.

“Mr. Thorn wants me to rearrange his books to show in a court of law that the man in Chicago has been cheating him over the price of beef… basically, it’s a blackmail scheme. He wants to strong-arm the man into buying his stock. The man in Chicago is a very prominent person. He’s the type of man that will go to great lengths to avoid bad publicity,” John explained.

“But this man has not been cheating this Mr. Thorn,” Mandy said, looking down at the two guns lying at John’s feet next to his brown boots.

“The man is an honest business man,” John agreed nodding his head. “I thought…Mr. Thorn was, too…until last night when he sent for me.”

“So what will you do?” Mandy asked afraid for John’s life.

“Leave Black Bear,” John admitted miserably. “Most people in Black Bear accept me even though I’m part Sioux. But Mr. Thorn has a lot of influence and can easily turn everyone against me. Even my grandmother won’t be able to stop him.”

Feeling any hope of a good day fade away, Mandy lowered her eyes back down to her lap. “My knee didn’t hurt me when I fell asleep last night. Usually after such a strenuous day, my knee would have hurt a great deal. I had hoped that by my knee not hurting it was a positive sign that my trip to Black Bear had not been in vain. Now I fear it has been. I cannot remain in a place knowing what kind of man influences the people. You see, John, I’m a Christian.”

John glanced over at Mandy. “My grandmother is a Christian, too. I gave my life to Jesus seven year ago. But most people around here aren’t Christians.”

“I assumed Black Bear wasn’t a Christian community when I didn’t see a church. I…” Mandy shook her head. “When I met you yesterday you made my fear of Black Bear go away. I was wrong to ignore the obvious.”

“I felt connected to you, too,” John confessed giving Mandy a warm smile. “You may have lost part of your right leg, that that didn’t take away from your beauty. It’s not a leg that makes a woman beautiful; it’s her heart. I’ve known many women who thought they were beautiful, but they were ugly because they didn’t have any heart to them.”

Consuming John’s compliment with a grateful heart, Mandy reached over and gently touched John’s hand. “Thank you. I needed to hear those words from a good man.”

“I only speak the truth,” John smiled at Mandy. Falling into her beautiful eyes he knew Mandy held his heart in her tender hands. “I’m not a coward. I’m not running because I’m scared. I’m leaving because I know the battle is one I can’t win.”

“Come back to Chicago with me,” Mandy pleaded. “My father is a businessman. He will give you a position.”

“Your father runs Green’s Shipping Company,” John told Mandy forcing his eyes away from her. “I am familiar with him. That’s why I was surprised when my grandmother told me who the new teacher was going to be. After you told me what happened to you, though, I understand. Most business men can be very hard…better business men than fathers.”

“You’re very insightful,” Mandy told John. Looking out at the hills, she felt the hot morning sun overhead bear down on the buggy with cruel hands. “The weather is very amazing. Chicago received a great deal of snow this winter but Black Bear received very little. Why, just last week it was raining in Chicago.”

John nodded his head. “God controls the weather. If Black Bear isn’t receiving rain, then God has His reasons. Maybe…it’s time for Black Bear to shut down. As much as I love the land, it’s been a long time since Black Bear has had any good in it. The last preacher we had…was shot dead by a drunk cowboy.”

“Oh my,” Mandy gasped, “how horrible.”

“I…come to believe that maybe…Black Bear is under judgment,” John confessed to Mandy. Glancing to his right, John looked into Mandy’s glowing face. “You’ll leave back for Chicago, then?”

“Yes,” Mandy replied but without regret. “As much as I love to teach, this is not the place. There will be only four students in my class, and as you pointed out, those students are all boys who don’t have a high opinion of education.”

“The last teacher tried to teach those boys to read. One of the boys pulled a knife on him,” John shook his head and then laughed to himself. “Mike Nelson is a future outlaw. Someday I’ll see his face on wanted posters all across this country. My grandmother knows Dean McMillan. She maneuvered him into sending someone out here.”

“And I was the scapegoat,” Mandy replied feeling anger rise in her cheeks. Her anger quickly ran away into the dust, though. “At least I was given a chance to still, teach.”

“What will do when you go back to Chicago?” John asked Mandy, considering her invitation to come back with her.

“My parents will allow me to live back in their house,” Mandy explained. “But I will ask my father to rent me a private apartment and try to begin a private tutoring practice for handicapped children. I suppose that’s the path I should have taken to begin with…I just did not want to admit that I could no longer teach in a classroom anymore.”

Topping a hill John slowed the horses down and eased them down a trail to his right. Falling into silence John considered his options. He knew if he stayed in Black Bear he was a dead man. At best, he had to nightfall to get out.

Allowing John to fall into silence Mandy withdrew into her own thoughts. She only spoke when the buggy topped a hill. Below the hill sitting in a beautiful open piece of land with a shallow river running behind it was a gorgeous Victorian home that should have been standing in Chicago instead outside of a dying town. “Oh my, it’s beautiful.”

Mrs. Seymour Landon fussed at a dying garden with a rake that nibbled at weak weeds and bored rocks. “I’ll shoot him dead,” she told John in a tone that meant war.

Mandy watched John raise his hand in objection and then focused back on Mrs. Landon. The woman was well into her eighties; and still tough as the hide off a stubborn black bear. Her long gray hair held into a ponytail. Her dark gray eyes were set in a determined stance on her wrinkled face. Yet, Mandy noticed, the woman looked delicate in soft in the light yellow dress she was wearing. “Mrs. Landon, I’ve asked John to return to Chicago with me.”

“Young lady,” Mrs. Landon paused with her racking, “we do not back down from a fight in these parts. I’ve always known that Thorn was a crook, and I’ve warned my grandson. But he refused to listen.”

“Grandmother, please, now is not the time,” John shook his head. “I took Wade and Dan’s guns. They’ll come for me, but not alone. Before nightfall Mr. Thorn will have the whole town out here hungering to hang me.”

“And we’ll shoot them all dead,” Mrs. Landon snapped at John.

“We can’t shoot everyone dead, grandmother,” John sighed and then patted his grandmother on her right shoulder. “You shouldn’t be in your garden today. Your arthritis—“

“My arthritis was bad yesterday and kept me from my chores. Today I work,” Mrs. Landon told John in a stubborn voice. “I’ve got to tend to this miserable garden and then get inside and do some cleaning and get dinner ready.”

“Mrs. Bakers will be by shortly to—“

“I fired her,” Mrs. Landon interrupted John. “That woman showed yesterday smelling of whiskey. I’ve gave her warning after warning.”

Anxious to leave Black Bear, Mandy focused her attention on the beautiful Victorian home behind her. “This is a beautiful home, Mrs. Landon. I wish the circumstances were different. I would love to know your home better, but I am worried that if we don’t leave soon something horrible may happen to John.”

Mrs. Landon nodded her head at the cane in Mandy’s right hand. “A young pretty woman like yourself had the courage to come here, and now you’re running away scared. Mr. McMillan said you were very special, that you had guts. I guess he was wrong.”

“Mrs. Landon,” Mandy began and then stumbled. Honored by an unknown compliment from a man she respected, Mandy felt ashamed to be retreating back to Chicago but knew if she didn’t John would surely die. “John told me about my students. Those boys do not seem too willing to learn. My place is in Chicago, not here, with students who are committed to education.”

Mrs. Landon threw her hand up at Mandy and went back to her garden. “The four boys I want you to teach are raised by hard hands and whiskey bottles. Do you really expect them to embrace learning with open arms? It’s your job, Ms. Green, to teach them how to want to learn. That’s the problem with those boys; everyone deserts them.”

“Grandmother, you know as well as I do those boys have no intention of learning,” John said coming to Mandy’s defense. “You intentions were noble but in vain.”

“Maybe so, maybe so,” Mrs. Landon agreed slapping at a rock with her rake, “but I see your own father in those boys. Hoping against the wind isn’t impossible.” Mandy watched Mrs. Landon stopped slapping at the rock with her rack. Slowly she bowed her head. “Perhaps…in this case it was. Yes, those boys will never learn. The hard hands of their fathers have already damaged their souls. Only the Lord can save them now. Go on back to Chicago, Ms. Green.”

“What about John?” Mandy asked stepping closer to John. Even though she barely knew John, she felt connected to him in heart; connected to John in a way that she just could not explain to herself.

“I reckon he needs to leave these parts, too,” Mrs. Landon nodded her head. “My influence in town has become weak. Thorn will rile up the town the way a man does when he steps on a sleeping rattle snake.”

“He’ll try and kill me before he’ll fear I’ll confess his plan to the man in Chicago,” John told his grandmother. Before he could continue speaking, a horrible thought struck him. “Or maybe he’ll try and hold you to force me to do what he wants…and then kill me? Grandmother…I don’t think I can leave you. Mr. Thorn may try and use you as leverage against me.”

Mandy considered John’s words. The face of Wade and Dan slithered into her mind like two filthy snakes emerging from a shallow snake hole. Men like Wade and Dan, she knew, would not hesitate to hurt an innocent old woman. “Mrs. Landon, you must come with us.”

“Yes,” John agreed in an urgent voice. “I know trails that Mr. Thorn and his men aren’t aware of. I can’t sneak us out of here and get us to Chicago.”

“My entire family is buried out in the back field,” Mrs. Landon told John in a voice that was set in stone, “I intend to die in the same house my children were born in, and my husband died in. I intend to be buried in the same family burial plot. No one is going to run me away from my land or my home. If Thorn comes onto my land I’ll fight him until my death.”

Without even knowing Mrs. Landon, Mandy knew the old woman’s statement was as sure as her own right leg missing from her body. Nothing or no one was going to make her leave her land and home. Raising her eyes up into a bright, hot, clear blue sky, she said a quick prayer. Lord, you fight our battles and defeat our enemies, if you are for us who can be against us. Please be our fortress and strong tower in this moment of need, in Jesus sweet name, Amen. “John, we need to leave.”

“No,” John said staring at his grandmother. “My grandmother is right. My family is buried here. If I leave, Mr. Thorn may try to kill my grandmother, burn down the house, and destroy the family burial plot.”

“If you stay you will die,” Mandy told John in a desperate voice. Reaching out, she grabbed his sweaty hand. “Please, you must come with me. If you stay, you will surely be killed. You even said it yourself that Black Bear is under God’s judgment.”

“Maybe it is,” John turned to Mandy. Staring into her beautiful, worried face, he fought back the urge to lean forward and kiss her. “Growing up I was always called a savage. I always fought to be better than the names that people called me. I went to school and became an educated man. Education can’t take away who a man really is.

“Black Bear is a part of me. This is my home and my land, my people are here, and I belong here. Someday Black Bear will be nothing but a miserable ghost town. I’ll leave here when I know the time is right. Not because I’m being run off.”

Hearing the sound of an approaching horse caused Mandy’s chest to tighten. John quickly pulled his gun out from the holster around his hip. Mrs. Landon raised her rack in an attack-ready stance. When the old man who had delivered Mandy to Black Bear came galloping around the side of the large Victorian home on a brown horse with white spots, Mandy sighed a breathe of relief. “Whoa now, don’t shoot,” the old man yelled at John.

Hesitantly, John lowered his gun. “What do you want?” he demanded.

The old man eased his horse up to John. “Mrs. Landon, mam, how are you?”

Mrs. Landon sneered up at the old man and went back to her gardening. “Dirt is dry as bones.”

“What are you doing here,” John demanded of the old man again.

“I’ve come for her,” the old man pointed down at Mandy. “Not sure what’s going on, but the men folk in town are as mad as wet hornets. Mr. Thorn is buying drinks at the saloon, getting the men drunk while making them angrier and angrier at you. Not sure what you did, but boy, you better get while you can.”

“What did you hear,” John asked the old man, “and who told to come and get Ms. Green?”

“Please,” Mandy pleaded. Feeling her right knee begin to hurt because she was standing too long, Mandy looked toward a quaint and cozy back porch attached to the back of the house. Her eyes spotted a rocking chair. Hungering to sit down and rest and praying for a drink of cold water, she looked at Mrs. Landon who obviously suffered from bad arthritis. She’s hurting…that’s obvious…but she still out here in this blistering sun.

Forcing her mind to ignore the pain in her right knee, Mandy focused back on the old man. “Help us, please.”

“No one told me to come and get you,” the old man told Mandy looking down at her from his saddle. “When I hear talk of a killing and know that the new teacher is with the man who is going to be killed, well, it’s only right to try and get her out of harm’s way. No offense to Mrs. Landon, I know she ain’t gonna leave the fight.”

“What’s the talk in town?” John asked the old man.

“I was in the saloon getting me my morning milk before my run down to White Bluff. Mr. Thorn was sitting at the back table. Then all of sudden two of his men bust in yelling something about how you ambushed them on the trail and tried to kill them. They even said you took their guns. That’s when Mr. Thorn stood up and told his two men to gather all the men they could into the saloon. Wasn’t no time before the saloon was filled to the brim and Mr. Thorn started telling all the men that you were working with a developer to bring a railroad straight through Black Bear. This made all the men angry and Mr. Thorn fueled that anger with whiskey.”

“Was Sheriff Henry in the saloon,” Mrs. Landon asked in a disgusted voice.

“He was,” the old man nodded his head. “He said he would put out a warrant for your grandson’s arrest for attempted murder. The men in the saloon started calling for a hanging.”

“Oh John, this is horrible,” Mandy said feeling her hands begin to shake. Wishing she were a hard woman like Mrs. Landon, she felt ill prepared to deal with such a situation. Only the Lord could win her battle.

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