A storm was coming. Deric could see it. Even if he had not been able to see the dark clouds moving toward him, he would have known by the way the cattle were acting. In preparation for spring round up, he and the men who worked for him were attempting to move a portion of the herd down to the southern pasture, where it would be easier to work. The cattle, nervous at the approaching storm, however, were having none of it.
Deric was not afraid, he had lived out here all his life, after all and knew what to expect from a Wyoming storm. The uneasy lowing of the animals, the darkening sky and the tension in the air were, however, putting him on edge. He was glad he had told his wife to stay with Cookie and the chuck wagon. They would have already found shelter. He was also thankful for his sure-footed mount, a big, ornery stallion who wasn’t afraid of anything, including the spooked cattle. That horse wasn’t letting any thing or anyone bother him.
Cracking his whip over a straying cow, Deric shouted and herded the animal back among the others. The men around him were doing the same, hoping against hope they could get to lower ground before the storm hit.
Glancing up, he tried to guess how long they had and was dismayed to see that the roiling mass of clouds had developed a greenish brown look. Tornadoes did not usually come in April, although it was possible. He studied the clouds and just as a streak of lightning lit up the underside of the boiling mass, he saw something that chilled his blood.
Riding toward them, her back to the storm was his wife.
Now, what was she doing out here? Had she lost her mind?
He wanted to shout to her, to tell her to get off that horse and head for the lowest piece of ground she could. He knew it was futal, though, because she would not be able to hear him.
Trying to remain calm, he made his way through the mass of bodies and clashing horns, praying he could get to her in time.
She turned then and saw him. Waving frantically, she pointed to the storm and said something, but he could not hear her and was not close enough to read her lips. He shook his head and motioned for her to ride. She just sat there, tall as ever, outlined against the ever-increasing bolts of lightning.
Crazy female! Why did she have to get all independent now?
Although Deric had never been one to order a woman about as if he owned her, there were times when he expected to be obeyed. And, right now, in the midst of a coming tornado and at the outside of a full out stampede, was one of them.
Leaning low over the saddle, he pushed his mount, aptly named Lightning, toward the place where his Pamela waited. Thunder boomed, drawing his attention to the steer at his right that was mooing in his ear. Deric jerked back, only to stare in horror at the beast’s horns. They had little bluish bits of light on them. Seeing them, he shied away and pressed himself even lower, grabbing a handful of the horse’s mane. Then, the wind, which had kicked up a few moments before, died down. Left in its wake was what would have been an ominous silence, if the cattle had not been bawling.
Then, without warning, a horn caught Deric from his other side. With a grimace of pain, he pressed his arm to his side. He didn’t think the wound was serious, but it warned him to get moving. He had to get away from the cattle and get to his wife.
He looked up then, searching for her. Ah, there she was. Now, if he just had a clear path…
Just as he was thinking this, however, a flash so bright it blinded him split the gloom and at the same time, there was an awful bang that he felt in his chest. There was no time to react, no time to scream, no time for anything. One minute, he was headed for his wife, and the next, he was deaf, blind and being hurled along. It was impossible to know where he was going.
It felt like forever to him, but in just a couple of minutes, he realized that he and the horse were heading in a different direction than the stampeding herd. He chanced a cautious glance up and froze. There on top of the knoll where his wife had been on her own mount, was nothing.
Her name was a cry on his lips, as he threw himself out of the saddle. After catching himself, Deric ran to where she had been just a minute ago. He would have fallen over her, if he had not been watching the ground. As it was, he only stumbled over her horse, as he made his way to where she lay.
Ignoring the pain in his side, he knelt by her and touched her face. He kept calling her name in hopes of a response, but there was none. He checked her pulse; then her breathing, but with thunder shaking the ground and rain pelting down, he could not feel or hear a thing. He tried blowing in to her mouth, as Dr. Wilson had taught him. He sealed his lips over hers and forced air down in to her lungs, but his efforts, frantic as they were, did not seem to matter.
With a dawning horror, he realized she was gone. His Pammy, the love of his life, was gone.
Throwing back his head, he stared with unseeing eyes up in to the writhing heavens and cried out with all the emotion inside him.
Montana, May, 1882
Dr. Faith Valentine closed the door to her medicine cabinet with a sigh of satisfaction. It had taken nearly all day to restock her supplies, but now the chore was over. Being the only woman doctor around was not the easiest job but she loved the people out here, just as her late husband had.
She and Richard had met during her last year of medical school at the Women’s Medical College in New York. He had been practicing medicine for a few years already, and they just seemed to hit it off. He began courting her and soon they were married, much to their parents’ delight. He never treated her as if she was beneath him or inferior. In fact, he consulted her on many a case. She had learned a lot under his instruction while he had grown more sympathetic by watching her bedside manner. She had taught him how to listen to what the patient was not saying and he had taught her most of what he knew about surgery.
Then, after they had practiced medicine alongside one another for two full years, he had told her he felt called to take his medical knowledge out West. They had prayed a great deal about it, and believing in her husband, Faith had packed their belongings and followed him to the frontier. At first, she had not been accepted as a physician, and, even now, folks were still a bit leery of her. Nevertheless, her husband’s obvious confidence in her abilities and the fact that there was more doctoring than one man could do alone, caused the folks of this town to start calling on her nearly as often as they had called on her husband.
Things had sort of smoothed out in to a comfortable rhythm and Faith had begun thinking things would only get better. Then one sunny afternoon, her world came crashing down. She still had nightmares about that day a year ago, feeling that if she had only listened or had only been a better doctor, her husband would have lived. She had almost gone out of her mind with grief. While it was so hard doing it all alone, God had been her stay. Also, her friends had been there to help cushion some of the hardest blows. What would have happened to her without the sheriff and his wife, Bill and Shirley Tucker, and Pastor Marks and his wonderful wife, she could not say. All she knew was the townsfolk needing her services, added with the friendship of those wise souls, had been just the medicine needed to bring her back to the land of the living.
It had been almost a year, now since Richard’s death and it was she that they called on when they needed medical care. From a child’s tummy ache, to a man dying of cancer, she treated them all, and was glad to do it.
Smoothing a hand over the crisp, white sheet that lay over the examination table, she took one more look around the office and smiled. It was now as neat as a pin.
All she needed now was a sick person to dirty it up.
At that thought, she laughed out loud and left the office in search of the children who had grown way too quiet for her peace of mind. Knowing their favorite place was outside, she headed toward her front door first. She found she had no need to look further. There they were, all sprawled out in different directions on her porch.
Colbey and Candace Lockhart were the oldest at fourteen and, as such, they had claimed the only swing on the porch. Faith thought it was amazing how that even though they were growing up and growing apart, when sitting next to one another, they always seemed to be touching in some way. Like just now, for instance, both had their heads bent over separate books, but Candace was leaning a bit to the left so that her shoulder brushed her brother’s.
Sprawled at their feet was eleven-year-old Ruby with her flaming red hair and snappy green eyes. That one, Faith knew, gave Miss Ellis, the head of the orphanage, more trouble by herself than all ten of them combined. And, even now, while the rest of the children were reading, Ruby was drawing with the set of pencils and paper Faith had bought her for her birthday last week.
Twelve-year-old Zachary sat on the other end of the porch with his ten-year-old brother, Cody sitting next to him, reading aloud. Zach’s vision was poor, but Cody’s eyes more than made up for it. Faith felt her own eyes burn at the sight of Cody reading to his brother. Cody read so well, and sometimes, all the children would stop what they were doing and ask him to read aloud to them. He made stories come alive, as he tried to act out the parts.
The remaining five children lay on their backs or stomachs between the older ones, and all had books in their hands. They were all Faith’s books that she had allowed them to use for the afternoon. She never had to worry about them tearing them up. Somehow, being without the luxury of books had taught these children to be extremely careful. Allowing her gaze to caress each one, she smiled. The little ones always seemed to sit or lie down according to their ages. At one end, closest to Ruby, was her eight-year-old brother Tommy. Next to him was seven-year-old Megan, whose white blond hair could always be seen in sunshine or in rain. Next to her lay seven-year-old Blake, who could outrun anybody. Next to Blake was six-year-old Tracy, whose parents had been killed in a train robbery only two years before. Faith knew he still had bad dreams about it. Lastly, lying on her back with a picture book held gently in her small hands was four-year-old Kierstin, whose Swedish parents had not been able to endure the climate out here. Faith could still remember how she and Richard tried to treat them. Despite the two doctor’s best efforts, they had died, leaving their little daughter alone to live with the older children in an orphanage.
The ten of them were all special in their own unique way and Faith, even though she had no reason to, felt responsible for them. They spent as much time at her place as Miss Ellis would allow, which was quite a sizeable amount, as the older woman could not handle them on her own.
Faith did not mind. In fact, she enjoyed the company they brought her. Why, they could be good little helpers, if you could get them all to agree on something. Besides, if it had not been for these children, she might have gone out of her mind with grief. Unknown to them, their love and their neediness had brought her through the hardest year of her life.
Clearing her throat to get their attention, she asked, “Would anyone like to help me?”
Ten pairs of eyes looked up in question.
“Help you with what?” Candace asked.
Ticking the chores off on her fingers, she said, “I need someone to go for some ice, someone else to go down to the spring for the cream, I need someone to fetch the rock salt and…”
“Someone to go for the ice cream maker!” the littlest ones shouted in glee.
Grinning from ear to ear, Faith only nodded and let them put away the books and head in all different directions to help with the ice cream making.
“There’s that jar of cherries you canned last summer, Dr. V.,” Ruby said. “May we put some in it?”
“That would be wonderful,” Faith smiled. “”Why don’t you go to the pantry to fetch it.”
With so many hands, the cherries were soon chopped up small enough to put in to the ice cream. It wasn’t long until everyone had a bowl and spoon, enjoying the fruits of their labor.
“Didn’t you say you received a letter from your folks, Dr. V.?”
Faith swallowed a mouthful and answered, “I did, Candace.”
These children, having no folks of their own, delighted in Faith’s correspondence with hers. Often, she would share some, if not all, of her parents’ letters with them.
“Mama wrote to say that Papa is finally starting to feel like his old self, again.”
“And his sore knee is getting better?” Cody asked.
“Yes,” Faith smiled, reaching out with a napkin and wiping the boy’s upper lip clean of ice cream. “They are planning on attending church this Sunday.”
The exclamation of gladness from each one of them was as infectious as she knew it would be. It was so good to share her own excitement with this bunch, who really did care.
Several weeks ago, her father had fell down the basement steps in his house in New York. He had been in a hurry, looking for something, and he had lost his balance, falling down to the bottom and landing in a heap. Nothing had been broken, but he had been bruised and sore enough that he had found that staying home to mend was his preferred way to spend the time. The good news from her mother was like a breath of fresh air.
“I sure would like to meet them,” said Blake.
The others nodded in agreement and Faith’s heart went out to them all. The eager looks in their eyes and faces made her want to drag them back east and give them all their young hearts could desire. But, she knew she could not, even if they were hers. She purposed in her heart to put their case before her parents and see what could be done.
Later that evening, when all ten children were back at the orphanage, Faith opened another envelope. This one she had not told the children about. It was from her father’s brother who was practicing medicine in Wyoming.
“My dear niece,” it began. “I know I have asked you before and I know you have turned me down before, but I do wish you would come to Cheyenne and stay with me for a time. I’m getting on in years, you know, and not as able as I once was in keeping up with all the sick folks around, especially the ones who live out on these ranches so far from town. I know you are attached to folks there in Montana, and I know your Richard is buried there, but dear, you need to think about moving on. I really could use an extra pair of hands. Who knows, the folks down here could take to you right away, leaving me to retire. Of course, I don’t want you to make a hasty decision. So, take your time and pray about it before giving me an answer. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for you and ask you to pray for me that God will give me strength to hang on. Maybe, if you can’t come to stay, you could come for a short visit. I haven’t seen you since you graduated from medical school, you know, and I do miss you. Well, my dear, I hear someone calling for me, so I will end for now. Take care and write as soon as you are able. I remain your favorite uncle, George Wilson.”
Refolding the letter, Faith smiled. Uncle George, her father’s only brother was her only uncle, so of course, he was her favorite. His offer sounded nice, but the thought of leaving everyone here made her miss them already. Sure enough, it was a matter to pray about in earnest.