To Keep a Promise [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Terry Burns
eBook Category: Historical Fiction/Spiritual/Religion EPIC eBook Award Finalist
eBook Description: A naive young minister, intent on saving souls, heads west with his new bride. In the course of his work, he is murdered. Alone, his wife finds the strength to not only survive, but to carry on her husband's mission. Befriended by two cowboys, she makes her way to Clarendon, Texas, a town established by Methodist ministers, and dubbed "Saint's Roost" due to its piety in the midst of the wild cow towns of the area.
eBook Publisher: The Fiction Works, Published: http://www.fictionworks.com, 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2007
The setting is historically accurate, although the author acknowledges taking some minor liberties with the dates to enhance the telling of the story. This book is dedicated to my Mother, Ruth Burns, who wanted me to write her a good story with a heroine as the lead. Momma grew up in Electra, Texas in the shadow of the Waggoner Ranch and her grandfather worked for the ranch after he retired from being a scout for the U. S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Sill, OK. She's my link to the Irish storytelling tradition of my forefathers. * * * * Chapter I
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A wagon leaving the safety of a wagon train to strike out by itself is a lonesome sight.
It's occupants, Patrick and Janie Benedict, were headed west in an old Conestoga that complained at every bump and jolt in the road. The wheels squealed a high-pitched, irritating sound. Still, it was marginally dependable. More dependable were the four Missouri mules which drew it, depending on their mood and disposition at the moment.
The young couple looked the part, him tall and handsome with the sincere brown eyes appropriate for a young minister. The prairie heat made shirtsleeves mandatory and he peered out from under a flat-brimmed black hat indicative of those who pursued the avocation of a circuit-riding preacher.
His bride of only a few months sat next to him, simply clad in a checked dress and plain white bonnet. Her hair peeked out from the bonnet and lit up scarlet red when the sun touched it. Both their faces were lit more from the barely contained excitement and enthusiasm than from the rays of the hot summer sun.
They made the trek west because Patrick had been called to the ministry. More specifically, he had felt himself called to do missionary work in what he referred to as the wild, Wild West. Not that he had to go so far to find sinners; there was certainly more sin right there in certain sections of St. Louis than would be found in the entire west.
Yet many of his seminary classmates knew that in the secret compartments of his mind, Patrick saw himself in a saintly pose, surrounded by a throng of half naked savages as he converted them in droves by the power of his magnificent oratory. Such ambitious visions were certainly encouraged at the seminary.
Still, some of his teachers thought him very naive. Others thought he had a "unique evangelistic drive." The term the wagon master came up with when a couple of young people barely in their twenties left the train alone was ... well ... to be truthful ... stupid. * * * *
Quite a distance back up the wagon trail, pint-sized Ruben Dunn had his own ideas. He had these ideas on virtually any subject you could name, and he didn't mind sharing them with anyone inclined to listen.
Ruben's alter-ego and long-time saddle mate was a tall drink of water by the name of Frank Walker. Had Frank ever been caught asleep at the wrong place, someone might have mistakenly used him to try and repair a length of split rail fence. Frank had unruly dark hair, chocolate brown eyes, and was unfailingly good humored and easy going.
More important, and absolutely essential to have a friendship with Ruben, he knew his own mind and did not feel it necessary to debate various points with his confident, but diminutive companion. Once Frank made up his mind, he simply went ahead and did what he wanted without much, if any, discussion.
Ruben on the other hand could debate the finer points of doing something different the entire time he calmly followed Frank's lead. The fact that he espoused one course of action while he did another never seemed to be a problem, it was merely how life worked. It certainly had nothing to do with diluting the opinions Ruben might hold.
At the present time the pair drifted with no particular destination in mind. Ruben did have some thoughts on where they should go and what they should do, however. He tipped his hat back on his head to reveal a shock of blonde hair with the look and consistency of prairie straw. He squeezed off his ever-present grin to compress his face into a more thoughtful expression, closed both hands on top of his saddle horn and ventured his opinion.
"What I think," Ruben said, "is we could get us a ranch started down Texas way. There's loose stock, mavericks they call them, all over the place, and they're ours for the taking if we want to put up the hard work. There's unclaimed land where all we have to do is stake it out. The land of opportunity, that's what they call it, and that's what it is. We could call our ranch the Dunn-it ranch. I can almost see the sign over the gate," he looked off with a far-away look in his eye.
"Me being the IT, I suppose," Frank responded with his usual lack of physical response.
"Aw, Frank, it ain't like that, it's just a catchy name."
"If we branded cows with Dunn-it, they'd be medium rare while they was still on the hoof."
"Dang it, Frank, you got no imagination." Ruben let go of the saddle horn and poked the air vigorously to emphasize his point.
"That ain't so, and you know it. I ain't even hung up on a name, I just like to twist your tail a little ever' now and then. Keeps you humble." Frank may have had a hint of a smile on his face. With him it was hard to tell.
"I don't think it's possible to keep me humble, me being so nacherly great and all."
"Actually, I kinda like the name. It'd make people feel sorry for me with what I have to put up with. You know, me being an it' would be plain enough for anybody."
Ruben only looked at him as if unable to comprehend as he shook his head slowly side to side. * * * *
"Janie," Patrick rested his hands on his knees, keeping gentle pressure on the reins. "I can hardly wait. I know I've been called to do great things. I'll convert so many of these heathens..."
Janie smiled, she had heard this day and night for over a year, but she didn't mind. She was proud of the man she thought of as her young knight, and believed in his quest. She had no doubt but what he would do exactly as he said he would do.
All the way down through Kansas he practiced his oratory and he wrote sermons. His only congregation for these epistles, besides Janie, were four Missouri mules. There was no record as to whether he converted them or not, as they were notoriously uncommunicative. The evidence certainly proved him to be a patient and pious man, however, as any one who can drive a brace of such animals without the fortification of good teamster cusswords, was a man of character, indeed.
Clearing the Kansas line took them into Indian Territory. Had they come straight down from St. Louis, it would have put them over in the territory of the five civilized tribes. The tribes in that part of the state were known for farms and towns, and had centuries of religious belief of their own which did not conflict strongly with Christian beliefs. It would have been fertile ground for Patrick's work.
They had consistently veered off to the right, however, and by the time they got through Kansas, they were well into the part of the territory known as no-man's land. A land inhabited by outlaws and the roving Comanche and Kiowa who roamed across the plains of Texas all the way up into western Kansas. Here, indeed, were exactly the inveterate sinners and naked savages Patrick had envisioned.
It was mid-morning when they met their first opportunity to start his ministry. They topped a small rise in the sea of blowing grass they had been in for days. Suddenly, ahead of them were two magnificent mounted warriors. Tall and naked to the sun except for a breechcloth and moccasins, the feathered bonnets on their heads trailed well down their backs. They held shields with bright painted symbols on them in their left hands.
Patrick was elated. His first prospects! He pulled the team up about 50 yards away, tied them off and dismounted. The warriors watched curiously. He slipped into his black frock coat, picked up and clutched his Bible to his chest and started toward them with his hand held up in a sign of peace.
His smile was still fixed on his face when the arrow drove deep into his chest. The great sermon he had practiced so long remained caught in his throat. He thought, This can't be. I can't be denied my destiny. I am to do great things. This cannot happen. But then he fell over on his face, and the last of his air gently left him as he went on to his reward.
Janie stifled a scream in her throat, transfixed. She could not believe what she saw. She had shared his dream as deeply as he, and had harbored no doubt but what the savages would melt before the power of his words. It hadn't occurred to either of them that the natives would not understand a single word had he gotten to say it. Her eyes opened wide in horror as the two got down and took his hair. Then they looked towards her...
She squealed as she saw them turn, and she scrambled backward into the wagon. This is no good, she thought. This wagon is no protection. They've already seen me. They won't hesitate to come in here. Are they going to kill me too? Or do they intend to take me with them? Suddenly she realized whichever they did, they were certain to put their hands on her first. She couldn't bear that.
The couple had no weapons except a shotgun for hunting. She grabbed it and tried to bring it up under her chin. It's wrong to kill oneself, but surely under the circumstances...
But with the weapon tucked under her chin, she couldn't reach the trigger. Desperately, she looked for another answer. Maybe something she could reach the trigger with. But it was too late. Suddenly, they eased up into the wagon, like reptiles slithering over the tailgate. They had evil grins on their painted faces. She had never seen such evil before, and they were coming for her!
She pushed the gun forward to push them away. With their heads together in the tiny space, it went off right in their faces. The noise in the tiny wagon deafened her. The two bodies toppled back off the wagon. As suddenly as they had appeared, she was alone, and couldn't seem to comprehend what had happened. * * * *
Janie had gone into shock. When consciousness began to reclaim her, she didn't know how much time had passed. She looked out of the wagon. Did I faint? I've never done that before, what's happening?
The mules had been tied off with the brake set, yet still had eaten everything they could reach. They had even dragged the wagon, brake and all, a considerable distance to reach more grass. The bodies were no longer in sight. As she regained her senses, she knew the team must be very thirsty.
She began to water them, and such a practical act started her to function again. What am I to do? she thought. Or did I say that out loud? It really didn't matter. Everything is so fuzzy ... surreal. Woodenly, she took the team out of the harness and picketed them to graze.
"The first order of business, is to take care of Patrick." This was something she did not want to do, but knew she must, just as she knew she must do something with ... with them. She didn't know how she could bear to touch them, but it was the Christian thing to do. It must be done!
She could scarcely move them, so all she could do was dig a hole next to them and push them in. It hardly seemed respectful for Patrick, but she could do no more. She retrieved his Bible and read over him. Then she said a few words over the Indians interceding on their behalf, with little confidence that it would do any good.
Finally she turned her attention to making something to eat. Since she had begun to get her senses about her again, she had been operating as if in a dream world. She had been too much in shock to grieve, and had merely been doing what needed to be done. Now, with something on her stomach, she began to feel better, at least physically. But in place of the numbness came the most terrible desolate feeling. For the first time in her life she felt truly and horribly alone.
The word alone had always been kind of a neat little respite. It meant being left by yourself while everyone was somewhere else. It represented personal time, or quiet time, as you sat alone in the attic reading or walking in the woods smelling the delicate scent of flowers. It was something you were glad for from time to time.
This time the word ALONE was spelled in big capital letters, and it meant there was no-one, and wasn't going to be anyone. The word meant she was scared and had a big hollow feeling throughout her body due to the loss she had suffered. And she hadn't even started to think about the possibility of more Indians out where these two came from.