A Promise Kept [Maggie's Prayer] by Elaine Robinson by Elaine Robinson - Read Online

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A Promise Kept [Maggie's Prayer] - Elaine Robinson

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Maggie’s Prayer – A Promise Kept

by

Barbara Permenter Robinson
WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Barbara Permenter Robinson

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-681-2

Cover Artist: Gemini Judson

Editor: Jeremy Tyler

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

To my grandson, William, who cajoled, urged, and always believed in my ability to pen a manuscript worthy of publication.

Chapter 1

Arizona Territory, 1889

Maggie Yates stood on the porch staring at the mountains that separated the New Mexico and Arizona territories. The mountains stood like giant sentinels guarding the Arizona ranch she shared with her husband and two stepchildren from her previous marriage. Her husband, Charlie, was somewhere in New Mexico on the other side of the mountains. It was time for him to come home. They needed Charlie home.

Charlie had gone in answer of a letter that he received from, Audrey, his ex-wife. She lived in Indian Pines, New Mexico. Audrey said that her husband had been killed and she needed help with their son, a son Charlie never knew about until he was exonerated of a murder charge and released from prison.

The last thing Charlie said before he left for New Mexico was, ‘I promise I’ll be home when I do what I have to do.’

What have you done, Charlie, and when are you coming home? Maggie said, as she whispered a silent prayer that Charlie’s promise was a promise kept.

Charley left the ranch for New Mexico weeks ago –the last week of August. The warm summer days were gone, and now, so was the month of September. If Charlie didn’t make it home before the snows began to fly, Maggie knew the mountain passes would be closed and he would be stuck on the other side of the mountains till the spring thaw–or else be forced to travel the long way around. If he did that, it would take him another week or more to reach the ranch.

Suddenly, Maggie’s attention was drawn to riders coming through the front gates. She smiled when she recognized her stepson, Jerome, and the two hired hands, William Zachary and Blue Boy. Jerome waved and she waved back. Jerome had turned into a fine young man.

The three men had left the ranch before sunup to drive the last of the wild horses they caught, broke to the saddle, and then sold to the Army at Fort Madison. The Army bought all the horses they could break for remounts. Money from the sale of the horses was needed to purchase food supplies for the house, and feed and grain for the animals.

Maggie breathed deeply of the clean mountain air as she stepped from the front porch. The wind was blowing crisp and cold. Fall was in the air. Before long, winter would be upon them. Already the grassy meadows were gone and the few trees surrounding the ranch had shed their leaves. She pulled her coat closer about her body and looked again at the mountains.

My stepchildren’s father was lost to the heat in the New Mexico desert, she muttered as she walked toward the corral, I pray Charlie isn’t lost to snow in the mountain passes.

Maggie shivered at the remembrance of that ordeal three years before that claimed the life of her first husband, R.J. Ferguson. A chill slithered up her spine. R.J. had left her and his children waiting in the New Mexico desert while he searched for water. He never came back and she was left with a missing husband, two resentful stepchildren, and an empty water barrel. She and his children would also have perished, if it hadn’t been for Charlie Yates–an escapee from prison who was on a mission to find the person that framed him for murder. He happened upon their camp and led them out of the desert.

Maggie’s first marriage was an arranged one. R.J. Ferguson needed a wife for himself and a mother for his two children. She did not love the man but she mourned him when the Army’s search turned up no clue to his disappearance. After he was declared dead, and Charlie was cleared of the murder charge that sent him to prison, she married Charlie Yates. His wife had remarried and he was looking for a new start. Her husband was dead, and she and her stepchildren needed someone. The four of them continued to Arizona’s wilderness area and here they established their horse ranch.

I know Charlie will be home soon, Maggie whispered to herself as she neared the corral, Charlie promised he would come back and it is a promise that I know will be kept.

* * * *

Maggie Yates wore her thirty, plus years well. She was tall, slender, and rounded in just the right places. Her button nose was sprinkled with freckles and dimples brightened her smile. She was not beautiful, but she was what men called a handsome woman. She wore her long blonde hair braided and wound about her head like a crown, and she looked at the world with big, brown, trusting eyes.

Maggie was fit and healthy. She was accustomed to hard work that came with living on a ranch. Her mother died when she was twelve, and as the oldest of three, she assumed the responsibility of caring for her brother, Dillon, and sister, Leanne, while their father farmed the land to eek out a living. Then her father died a few years later and Maggie had the sole responsibility of providing for her siblings.

By the time Dillon and Leanne were old enough to care for themselves her time had run out to have a family of her own. So, she answered a man’s newspaper ad for a wife and mother. She hoped the marriage would provide both she and the man with what they wanted. Sadly, the marriage didn’t turn out so well. But Charlie Yates promised things would be different if she married him. She loved him and so far he had kept his promise.

Now, as Maggie made her way to the corral, she shook the sad memories of the past from her mind. She had more important things to worry about, like money for food, supplies, and feed to carry them through the winter months. Hopefully, the money from the sale of the horses would be enough to see them through till spring. She also hoped there would be money left for a water pump for the kitchen after purchasing the necessary winter supplies. A pump meant no more hauling water from the pump on the back porch in freezing weather. And, there was certain to be money for a real Christmas this year that included a tree with presents under it.

Maggie shivered but not from the cold but at the possibility that Charlie might not make it home for Christmas. She shook the thought from her head and quickened her steps. Her stepson was already at the corral. He was standing beside the gate and there was a big grin on the young man’s face. Maggie knew how much his making the delivery of the horses to Fort Madison without Charlie’s help meant to him. He was trying hard to be the man of the house in Charlie’s absence. The young man was seventeen. He was no longer a boy; he was a man. Maggie made a mental note to treat him as such from now on.

We did okay today, Jerome called as he swung the gate closed. The money from the sale of the horses should be enough to see us through the winter.

Maggie nodded her agreement. I’m happy to see you men made it back to the ranch before dark, she said, smiling her best smile.

Me too, Maggie, Jerome said rubbing his stomach. What’s for supper? I’m starved.

We’ve got your favorite, Maggie replied. Food will be on the table by the time you put your horses away. I’ll see you back at the house.

She turned to retrace her steps back to the ranch house but Jerome caught her arm.

Here. Take this with you, he said, thrusting a wad of money toward her.

Then Maggie saw the smile drop from his lips and worry lines crossed his face. And when he spoke, there was anger in his voice.

If Charlie had stayed home instead of going to New Mexico, we might have had a bigger delivery of horses for the Army.

Maggie pulled from Jerome’s grasp. Her reply was quick and sharp. But Charlie did go to New Mexico, Jerome, and you did make the delivery. Hopefully, there will be enough money from the sale to see us through the winter.

Jerome looked away from the anger in Maggie’s eyes. When he spoke there was no longer anger in his voice. I’m sorry, Maggie. I’ll help the others put the horses away and then we’ll see you at the house.

The others Jerome referred to were Blue Boy and William Zachary. Blue Boy was an Indian. Charlie had found Blue Boy and his wife Little Dove hiding on the ranch after escaping the Indian reservation. Charlie granted them sanctuary and in return, Blue Boy agreed to work as a ranch hand.

William Zachary was another man that Charlie found one day while searching for horses that escaped the corral. Zack, as the man preferred to be called, looked as though someone had given him a terrible beating. Charlie brought him back to the ranch house and fixed up a room in the big grain barn for him. Zack said he wasn’t running from the authorities and not wanted for any crime in Arizona. So, Charlie took him on as a second hired hand.

Maggie watched until the three men disappeared inside the horse barn then she turned and stared at the distant mountains. Oh Charlie, she said softly, When are you coming home?

The ranch house was constructed from logs and timber that were cut from a stand of trees growing near a stream that flowed across the back corner of their land. Maggie’s favorite feature of the house was the porch. It ran the entire length across the front of the house and down one side to the kitchen door. Charlie had not been in favor of the porch but Maggie had insisted. The house faced west and she wanted a porch where she could sit and watch the sun set behind the mountains. Reluctantly, he had agreed and he even constructed chairs to line the porch.

The ranch house had five rooms–a kitchen, three bedrooms, and a large front room with a huge stone fireplace. Maggie preferred to call it a family room. She called it that because that’s where the family gathered at the end of the day to relax before retiring for the night. The ranch house was Maggie’s first real home. She loved it because Charlie built it for her.

It took years of hard work to build, but it was certainly worth it, she said as she stared at the ranch house.

Maggie didn’t know Jerome was standing behind her until he said, I’m glad this was the last drive of horses to Fort Madison.

She whirled about to face him. You startled me. I didn’t hear you walk up.

I saw you standing and not walking toward the house. I thought something was wrong.

Maggie said seeing the worry in Jerome eyes. Nothing is wrong. I was just thinking.

What were you thinking about?

Maggie smiled. I was thinking that we’re very fortunate to have such a fine home. It’s a beautiful home that you and Charlie built for us.

It is a nice house, the young man replied. The tone of his voice told her just how much he appreciated her words.

It’s more than a house, Maggie said with a playful swat to the young man’s shoulder.

Then tears dimmed her brown eyes. You were fourteen when we lost your father in the desert. You were forced to grow up in a hurry these past three years, Jerome. I’m so proud of the man you’ve become. I’m not your mother but I hope you know how much I love you.

Jerome took Maggie’s hand and lifted it to his lips. I love you too, Maggie. It took me a long time to realize it, but I do.

Maggie looked into Jerome’s dark eyes until she could speak without sobs choking her words. Charlie would be proud of the way you’ve taken charge while he’s away. I know your father would be proud of you, too.

Jerome dropped his gaze and walked a few steps toward the house. I try not to think about Poppa, he called over his shoulder, I’ve never told you this, Maggie, but I want you to know that I’m glad you answered the advertisement that Poppa put in the paper.

Maggie stepped quickly to the young man’s side and took his hand. Even though the marriage didn’t turn out as we hoped, I’m glad I answered the ad, too, she said softly.

It seems like such a long time ago when the four of us started out to homestead a farm, Jerome said as he looked about the acreage surrounding the house. Poppa would have put a plow to the land. I’m glad me and Charlie decided on a horse ranch.

Me, too, Maggie replied. And I’m so happy that you and Charlie were finally able to put your differences aside and work together.

I still believe he ought not to have gone off to help that woman, Jerome said as a scowl replaced the smile on his face.

It was hard for Maggie not to agree with Jerome, but Charlie wouldn’t be the man she loved if he had not gone to answer the letter from his ex-wife. She needed help with her son, Charlie’s son. How could she ask Charlie not to go if his son needed him? For that reason, she had not told Charlie that she suspected that she was pregnant.

She couldn’t ask him to choose between staying with her and going to see about his son. Truth was that she was afraid of the choice he might make. If he stayed because she was pregnant and something happened to his son, Charlie might never forgive her. So, she kept quiet about the possibility of her pregnancy.

Six weeks had passed since Charlie left for New Mexico. By now Maggie was pretty certain that she was pregnant. And even though she was in the early stages of her pregnancy, she already felt a protective bond for the child growing inside her body. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to protect the child. Surely Charlie felt the same about his son. He had enough on his mind already and she didn’t want to burden him with anything else.

Oh Charlie, I wish now I had told you, she whispered, forgetting that Jerome was standing beside her.

He heard what she said and asked what she wished he had told Charlie. To avoid answering the young man’s question she suggested that he go help the hired hands with the evening chores while she got their evening meal ready and on the table.

I offered to help but Zack said they didn’t need my help, he answered.

But with Charlie gone, I’m certain William Zachary and Blue Boy could use your help.

Her words angered the young man.

If Charlie hadn’t gone to New Mexico to play daddy, it wouldn’t be necessary for others to do his share of the work, Jerome shot back in an angry voice.

Maggie was up to a shouting match with her stepson, so she ignored his outburst and continued toward the ranch house. Jerome fell into step beside her. After a moment or so he asked her again what it was that she wished she had told Charlie.

Maggie took a deep breath before saying, It doesn’t concern you, Jerome.

If it concerns the ranch then it does concern me, he said, frowning at her.

Maggie stopped and looked him. He had a scowl on his face and both hands were clinched in tight fists. He looked like the fourteen-year-old boy he was when she was first introduced to him three years before. He wasn’t happy then that she was his new stepmother and he wasn’t happy when she married Charlie. It had taken him a long time to work through his anger and resentment that his father married her. It took even longer for him to accept Charlie Yates as part of their family after she married him.

But thankfully, the young man and Charlie finally resolved things and were able to work together and build up the ranch. Now, to hear bitterness toward Charlie spew from Jerome’s mouth made Maggie’s heart ache. She wasn’t ready to tell Jerome or anyone else about her pregnancy, so she struggled to find words to answer without telling him that she wished she had told Charlie that they were going to have a child.

If you must know, I said that I wished Charlie knew how much we needed him here, she said with a deep sigh. That wasn’t what she said, of course, but it was the truth. She did need Charlie home.

Maggie’s answer was soft but Jerome’s reply was loud and angry.

You got that right! he shouted, It wasn’t right for Charlie to leave and have us to do all the work.

As the words flew from his mouth he picked up a clod of dirt and hurled it as far as he could, as if trying to hit an unseen target. Charlie could have waited until the last delivery of horses was made to Fort Madison. After all, it was his idea to supply remounts to the Army.

Maggie bit her lip before saying something that she might regret later. Instead, she said, You made the delivery without any trouble, and Charlie would have been proud of the job you did.

She hoped Jerome would drop the subject, but he wasn’t content to let the matter drop.

That woman in New Mexico ain’t even Charlie’s wife no more. It looks to me like Charlie’s forgotten that you’re his wife now, Maggie. Jerome said as he turned to look at her.

Charlie hasn’t forgotten that, Jerome.

It sure looks like it, and if you ask me, he’s forgotten a lot of things.

The statement was an odd thing to say and Maggie grabbed his arm and asked him what he meant by the remark. What has Charlie forgotten, Jerome?

The young man stared defiantly at Maggie for a moment before he answered. Then he said in an angry voice, Charlie made a promise to the three of us, you, me, and my sister. Don’t you remember that day you married him. You may have forgotten what he promised, but I haven’t.

Suppose you refresh my memory. What did Charlie promise? She said as she released his arm.

Jerome lowered his gaze and when he spoke his voice was not as harsh.

Remember when the priest at the San Carlos Mission married you two? Charlie said, ‘all my yesterdays are behind me and I promise all my tomorrows to you three.’ That’s what he said. I remember. Surely you remember that, too, Maggie.

Maggie nodded. She did indeed remember the day she and Charlie married. They had just buried a man that Indians had found wandering in the desert. She and Jerome identified the man as Raymond Jerome Ferguson –her husband and father of Jerome and RayAnn. Truth was, neither she nor Jerome could positively identify the man –he was too near death. She prayed that it was her husband.

Maggie shook the painful memory from her mind and nodded to Jerome. I remember, Jerome, and I’m certain Charlie meant what he said that day. He will be home as soon as he does what he went to New Mexico to do.

And what exactly did he go to New Mexico to do, Maggie?

You heard what he said. His ex-wife needs his help with their son.

Jerome picked up another clod of dirt and hurled it into the distance. That boy doesn’t even know that Charlie is his father! Charlie said so.

It’s enough that Charlie knows the boy is his son. That’s why he felt he had to go. She turned and hurried toward the house hoping that Jerome would let the subject drop.

He followed her to the house and plopped down on the front porch.

What about us? What about you and me and RayAnn? I thought we were his family. Don’t we count? he asked before she crossed the porch to the front door.

It hurt to hear the bitterness in her stepson’s voice and she tried to think of something to say that would help to lessen the anger he felt. Jerome was seventeen, but at the moment he was acting like a spoiled child. She bit her tongue before scolding him. Instead, she decided to remind him of the love his father had for him and his sister RayAnn.

You should know better than most that a father doesn’t turn his back on his son, Jerome. Your father gave his life to search for water to save you and your sister.

The expression on Jerome’s face softened and he stared into the gathering shadows of twilight for a long time. When he didn’t say anything, Maggie took a deep breath and said, Can we please not argue anymore.

I just want to say one more thing, Maggie. Poppa would never have left us.

Maggie turned away from the smug look on the young man’s face. She could have reminded him that his father did leave them, in the desert, with an empty water barrel. But she saw no need to dredge up the painful memories that they had buried at the San Carlos Mission.

She sighed and stepped quickly to the door and entered the house. Once inside the front room, Maggie stood for a moment leaning against the closed door. The house was empty and it was so quiet. Normally the room was filled with the sounds of life and laughter. Now, all she heard was the soothing sound of the clock on the mantle ticking away the seconds of the day.

Enough of this, she said walking quickly toward the warm and cozy kitchen where two pots warmed on the iron cook stove.

A tasty aroma wafted from the pots and tickled her nose. One pot contained stew and the other was a pot of steamed pudding. Maggie punched up the fire in the stove and then collected dishes and flatware from the cupboard and placed them on the table. Her eight-year-old stepdaughter had gone home with Little Dove, the wife of Blue Boy. She thought about asking Jerome to fetch his sister, home but instead she decided to go herself. She needed the walk to clear her mind.

I don’t know what I would do without Little Dove, she muttered as she walked toward the front room.  The Indian couple lived in a small cabin not far from the ranch house.

As she passed through the front room Maggie stopped for a moment to listen to the melodic sound of the mantle clock striking the hour. It reminded her that the day was hurrying to a close. Darkness fell early in the sheltered valley they called home, and she knew that soon the house would be cloaked in shadows.

As she stepped outside she was surprised to find Jerome still sitting on the porch. She thought surely he had gone to the barn to help William Zachary and BlueBoy with the evening chores. The young man looked up and smiled when he saw Maggie exit the house.

I didn’t hear RayAnn when you went inside, he called. She must be with Little Dove.

Maggie nodded. I’m going now to get her.

I’ll go, the young man said as he jumped to his feet. He walked a few steps and then turned and asked Maggie what was for supper.

I put all the leftovers together and made stew, Maggie called, And for desert we have steamed pudding.

Sounds good, he said and then sprinted across the yard.

Maggie watched him for a moment and then she walked to one of the chairs lining the porch and sat down. The wind blowing in from the mountains was cool and there was a hint of wild sage in the air. She drew her shawl tighter about her shoulders and breathed deeply. This was her favorite time of the day, just before sunset. It was the time that she and Charlie loved to sit and watch the sun sink slowly behind the tall peaks. She wondered if Charlie was watching the sunset, wherever he was.

Maggie was so lost in thought that she didn’t hear or see William Zachary walking toward her from the barn until he stood at the edge of the porch. She smiled when she saw him. Zack was tall and lean with a handsome face that was obscured by a thick, scruffy beard. He was younger than she and Charlie by five or six years. He looked very different than the first time she laid eyes on him.

When Charlie found the man he had fallen from his horse and was lying on the ground. He was unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. When Charlie brought him to the house, she had been hesitant to treat his wounds and even more hesitant to offer the man shelter. She didn’t know if he was just a hurt cowboy or possibly an outlaw running from the authorities. But the man was hurt and Charlie asked her to stitch up his wounds. She did after Charlie said he would stay only until he was well enough to ride.

Zack healed but he didn’t leave the ranch. Charlie offered him a job and Zack agreed. He proved to be a good hand with the horses and he was a good worker. He was pleasant enough but he kept to himself and shared nothing about his past. That didn’t bother Charlie but it bothered Maggie. She couldn’t help but wonder what brought the man to their part of the territory. But, she kept her thoughts to herself. Charlie and Jerome needed help breaking the wild mustangs they caught and Zack proved more than capable of doing just that.

Now, as William Zachary stepped onto the porch, he asked Maggie if there was anything she needed before he washed up for supper.

Maggie shook her head. Everything is ready. We can eat as soon as Jerome gets back with RayAnn. She went home with Little Dove.

Then I’ll wash up and be right back, the man said.

Maggie watched until he disappeared inside the big barn. That’s where his room was. The room was just large enough for a bunk and a chest to hold his gear. Small as the room was, Zack insisted it was adequate. But the nights were getting colder and Maggie knew that soon the room would be too cold for the man’s comfort at night. The walls of the barn had large cracks that allowed cold wind to whistle through. Soon they would need to find another place for Zack to sleep.

Maggie’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her stepdaughter’s voice. She stood and walked to the edge of the porch to greet the girl.

Guess what Little Dove did, Momma, the girl said, rushing into Maggie’s arms.

I can’t imagine what you and she did. Maggie said as she looked into the eyes of her stepdaughter’s.

Little Dove measured my feet for moccasins, real Indian moccasins.

I hope you remembered to thank her properly, Maggie said as she took the girl’s hand and led the way back inside the house. Jerome followed behind them.

I thanked her, Momma, the girl said, and I helped her grind the corn, too.

If you can help Little Dove then it’s about time you helped Maggie more with all she has to do in the house, Jerome called to his sister, You can start by helping Maggie get the food on the table. Some of us worked hard today and we’re hungry.

I worked hard today too, the girl cried.

Before RayAnn could argue more with her brother, Maggie told her to wash her hands and help get the food on the table. The girl grumbled, but did as Maggie had asked, but not before making an ugly face at her brother.

Jerome washed his hands and then offered to help, but Maggie told him that everything was done. All we need do is put it on the table. We can eat as soon as Zack gets here.

Where is Zack? Jerome asked as he emptied the wash-basin in the sink.

Why don’t you see if you can hurry him along? Maggie replied.

Jerome nodded and hurried outside. While they waited for the men to return, Maggie sliced bread and hard cheese to eat with the stew. By the time both men returned, the meal was ready and on the table.

Something sure smells good, Jerome said as soon as