Saturday, May 31, 2014


Of Unblemished Character 

"The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man
whom I can really love.  I require so much!"
Jane Austen, "Sense and Sensibility"

Camille sank down into a soft chair in the parlor fanning herself with her school's graduation folder with a lion embossed on the front in gold.  The graduation had taken what seemed like an eternity and the reception at the church hall even longer.  Her cheeks ached from forcing a smile for hours.  "I'm glad that's over!"

"Now that you are done with your schooling, darling, what would you like to do?"

"Truly, Pa?  You know how much I loved going to stay with your kinfolk down in Texas.  It's been a few years since I've been there.   You took Elise down last time and wouldn't let me go with you.  You left her for such a long visit when she was my age that I didn't think it was fair.  It's my turn now..."

Her father had a sudden spell of a coughing while her mother beat him on the back.

"You okay, Pa?  Well, as I was saying, what I'd love more than anything is to go down to your Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Amos' ranch for the summer and maybe stay even longer.  I haven't been down there since I was twelve years old, and it was the happiest summer of my life."

"Is there any particular reason you are wanting to go right now that you should be telling your mother and me about?  I mean, are you sure it doesn't have anything to do with that Patrick boy?"  Her father seemed overly anxious.

"I don't ever want to hear that name again.  I can't stand him!  It would be hard to keep that snake from  crossing my path since we have the same friends and move in the same circles.  But really and truly, I just want to get away."

Camille saw her parents looking long and hard at each other and finally when her mother shrugged, her father said, "I'll see what can be arranged.  I'll have to write and wait for a response.  You have to remember that they are getting up in years now."

"Tell them I can be a big help.  I'll milk the cow and muck the hay out of the stalls, hang out the laundry on the line, anything as long as I can go riding nearly every day.  The city doesn't provide much of a chance of that here. The small corral out back is hardly more than a horse could trot around in a dog and pony show."

"Think on it, and I'll write a letter after supper if that's what you really want.  I would have to arrange my business in order to take the time away to chaperon you down on the train.  It would be good to see my aunt and uncle again.  I've always had a soft spot for the ranch since they used to let me come spend summers working on their place all during my teenage years before I went away to college."

"I'm surprised at you, Camie.  I thought you'd be wanting to go to the seashore like we usually do or up in the mountains to the hot springs. Isn't that where you'd most likely find your friends?  Your sister did not have fond memories of her time in Texas."

"Then why did she stay there so long?  Sometimes I think I've out grown my friends.  The older they get, the more shallow they become and start back-biting as soon as someone is out of the room.   I think a change of scenery and being away from them for awhile would be a breath of fresh air."

"Aren't there any young men you'd want to be spending time with now that you are out of school and have become a young lady?"

"Definitely not!  You think that the girls are gossips, well, the guys are worse, coarser, and just simply awful!"  Camille stopped before she said too much.  She did not want her parents to know what her friends and her former admirer had told tales about her.

"I see.  Well, a wardrobe for the ranch would be simpler since you won't need as many nice dresses, though some new cotton ones would be cooler.  It is hot down there.  Let's go up and see what you might need.  You've gotten taller and well, your figure has finally blossomed so most of the things from last year won't do.  Of course, you'd need a riding habit."

"I'd need a pair of boots, not lace ups, but real cowboy boots and a hat. A split skirt or two would do.  Nothing fancy.  I would only have to impress the armadillos."

"Still, you'd need some nice church clothes. You never know who you might meet down there."

"Whatever you think.  But you're right, Texas is hot.  Some simple calico would be nice and some plain skirts and blouses.  It doesn't matter if they are store-bought; I just want to be ready to go as soon as daddy can get free."

At the supper table her mother opened an envelope and said, "Here's a letter from your sister Elise, Camie.  She seems to have become quite the little housewife since her marriage to George." Suddenly her mother stood up squealing and ran to hug her husband, "She's expecting!  Isn't that exciting!"

Her father used the cloth napkin to wipe his brow, "Yes dear.  I'm sure she will be a good mother now that she has the chance."

"What is that supposed to mean?  Of course she'll have the chance." Camille did not see the look pass between her mother and father.  "When is the baby due?"  She just hoped it wouldn't interfere with her trip plans.  Since her sister had always been a bit on the unmanageable side, she and Elise had never been close.  Her last few years at home only created turmoil. Last summer had been consumed by Elise's wedding.  The summer before that she had spent many months in Texas and never even finished her schooling.  Camie didn't want this summer to be displaced by a baby.  It seemed her parents had finally breathed a sigh of relief when George had taken Elise off their hands, and she hated to see them all caught up in her sister's affairs once again.

"She's due in the fall, probably October.  This is just wonderful!"

Camille couldn't believe her mother was so happy that she was crying with the news."  She excused herself from the table after saying, "I haven't changed my mind, Pa.  I really want to go to Texas to the ranch.  Can you write the letter?"

"Oh, oh, and put in this good news from Elise.  I know they will be so happy for her."

Camie rolled her eyes on her way out  and went up to read one of the old westerns that had been a favorite as a young girl.  She soon forgot her sister and hugged herself hardly believing she'd soon be at the ranch. With her education finished, she looked forward to a few lazy days of just pleasure reading before she left.

One shopping trip, and everything was ready.  Camille had a time of it getting her mother to agree to purchasing clothes off the rack rather than from the dressmaker.  "It's alright if they are not fitted and are a bit loose: it will allow me to cool.  I don't want anything that will cling to me when its hot and humid."

"Perhaps you are right, but as soon as you are back home, you will get a proper wardrobe.  These cheap things won't last more than a few months I'll wager."

Camille was especially pleased with the tooled leather boots.  Even though they would be covered by her skirts, she would know just how they looked under her hem without even seeing them.  They were prettier to her than a diamond necklace.  In her room, she propped them up on the footboard of her bed so she could glance at them as she read.  A happy sigh escaped.  She was content to wait until she got to Texas to purchase a hat as her mother was not at all convinced that she should be seen in one that cowboys wore.  Camille knew her father would not object once they got there.

The smoking black engine was a behemoth eating up the iron tracks as it arrived.  Camie was so excited, her heart was nearly jumping out of her skin.  She clung to a carpet bag that she was keeping with her while her father held a basket of food her mother had insisted on sending. 

"She thinks we'll starve," he winked.  He kissed his wife on the cheek then Camille hugged her mother goodbye.  "I hope you are able to go see Elise while I'm gone," she said, though she thought, I'm so glad I won't have to.

Once seated, they waved as long as she was in sight, then settled back on the plush seats.  Camie loved the sway of the train as it rocked down the tracks.  Her father told her the fond stories of his days on the ranch until yawning, he opened his newspaper and promptly fell asleep.  Camille watched the scenery glide by and played her favorite game of picking a favorite horse out of each herd that startled and ran as if racing the line of cars.  She hoped Uncle Amos would let her have a special horse to ride all her own while at the ranch.

Upon their arrival, the first horseflesh she saw was the team of work horses hitched to a wagon.  Uncle Amos had sent some young cowpoke to drive them to their destination. "Would you like to refresh yourself with a glass of lemonade or something first before we head on out?  Beatrice wanted me to be sure and ask," he offered.  "By the way, I'm Jacob, but most folks call me Jake.  I think I met you a couple of years ago, sir,  when you came down before."

"Nice to see you again, Jake.  This is my daughter Camille."  The cowboy shook her father's hand but hardly glanced her direction without so much as a smile on his tan face.  "Why don't I get you settled in the hotel lobby, Camille, while Jake and I wait for them to unload the luggage."

She did not want to appear too fragile, but the glass of lemonade surely did sound good.  "Thank you, father.  I believe I'd like to do that, and she turned her back to the hired hand.  She wondered if he was the best that the ranch had to offer in the way of  hired hands.  Camille thought that cowboys went by some code of honor in the treatment of ladies.  She'd remembered some kind ones when she was a girl who never seemed too busy to help her saddle up or practice throwing a lasso.  "I hope Gus is still there," she said to her father as he walked her across a dusty street to the hotel. 

"Gus?  Oh, you mean Uncle Amos' head wrangler.  I don't know, sugar.  He was older than my Uncle Amos and is probably retired by now.   I thought he had tougher wrinkled skin than a gator when I was a kid, and that was many a year ago," he laughed.

Camille felt better after the cold drink then went out to wait on the porch until the wagon pulled up.  Anxious to get there, aren't you, darling," her father laughed as he helped her up to sit between himself and the driver.  She listened as the men talked over her but took in all the familiar sights.  It smelled heavenly with spring's green growth of lush grass. 

"Look,"  Camie said suddenly, pointing.  "There're some bluebonnets!  Aren't they gorgeous?"  The cowboy had grabbed for his rifle when she had so suddenly exclaimed, then settled back shaking his head.

"Yes, sugar, it's been awhile since I've seen a prettier field of flowers.  I wish your mother could see that then maybe she wouldn't think Texas such a dry wasteland."

"Come this fall, it'll be pretty scorched, except where the river runs through it.  Just the same, it has a way of sticking to your heart tighter than a burr to your socks.  This hill country is a sight nicer than the flat land west of here where I'm from."

Camille stole a look up at the young driver who never gave her a second glance.  She was used to turning heads, so she figured he must have a sweetheart already or he was just plain stuck up.  Either way, she planned on steering clear of him once on the ranch.  His hair may have once been brown, but had so many bleached streaks that he looked almost blonde.  His blue eyes were like a pool of water in his lean brown face.  It didn't matter if he was good looking, not a bit.  Camille had already decided he was like all the other young men she'd known, and she would never give him the time of day.   He caught her looking at him and frowned with a clenched jaw.  The feeling was mutual it seemed.

The welcome was much warmer at the ranch.  Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Amos came out with hugs for her and handshakes and slaps on the back for her father.  "It's been too long, sweetheart.  I hardly recognize you.  I guess I figured you'd just stay that little cowgirl who was here last time, but now you are a lady all grown up," Aunt Bea said.  "Come inside.  Dinner's on the table."

It was comfort food for sure.  "This is so delicious that I'll have to watch my portions or I won't fit in my same clothes for long,"  she said.  Her father dropped his fork with a loud clatter and the adults all looked funny at each other.

"Apples don't fall far from the tree," the cowhand Jake muttered under his breath so only she could hear.  She didn't know why he ate in here like family instead of with the other wranglers in their mess hall.  Somehow knowing it was meant only for her ears to hear didn't set well either, and she clenched her teeth.

After the pie was eaten, Camille jumped up to help clear the table.  "I plan to be as helpful as possible, Aunt Beatrice.  I don't want my visit here to be a burden."

"Too late for that," Jake whispered in her ear in passing as he left.  He had some nerve!

"You couldn't be a burden, but I'm not too proud to accept help.  Things are pretty simple around here without much for a young lady to do.  I hope you won't get bored."

"I just want to learn to cook like that, help around the house and barn. But what I really would like to do is take time to ride every day if possible.  I've been looking so forward to being here on the ranch.  I don't need any other entertainment."

"I think that can be arranged," her great aunt winked at her husband of fifty years.

"Sure thing, sugar pie.  After you are done helping in here, come out to the corral and look the herd over.  Jake will help you pick a good mount to be yours while you are here."

That dampened her excitement a little wishing it was his former wrangler instead.  "Is Gus still around?"

"Why yes, he's still here, but has slowed down a mite.  Cowboys never take their boots off when it comes to ranching, but he's some crippled up at his age.  We've promised him his place as long as he's still  breathing the fresh Texas air."  He laughed, "Ol' Gus, spends most his time spinning tall tales and spouting his cowboy poetry.  He'll be happy to see you.  Didn't he call you his Cowgirl Camie?"

She laughed.  "I'd forgotten that.  Sounds about right."

Talking with Aunt Bea while doing dishes and making preparations for the next meal was as pleasant as she remembered.  Learning to make a custard was not going to be easy, but she was determined to achieve one that no one could tell wasn't made by her great-aunt's hands.  Finally, Aunt Bea went to lay down while her father and Uncle Amos were still settled in their old leather chairs talking. Camille wandered out and hung her arms over the corral fence gazing at the horses.  A couple came up to nuzzle while the others took no interest in her.  She petted their soft noses and patted their necks while gazing into their chocolate eyes.

"A horse tamer, I see.  Well, either one of these two are broken for a lady to ride.  Any preference?"

It was Jake.  Evidently, Uncle Amos had told him of her desire to ride.

"Which one still has a little life in its step?"

"The morgan.  She rides well but never took to being a cutter horse with the cows.  We keep her as a breeder.  She'll do for you.  She's pregnant, but I doubt that will bother you none," he said the last with almost a sneer.

"I'll try her after lunch tomorrow then.  I'll be helping Aunt Bea in the morning."

"It might be best to ride early morning unless you are planning on sleeping late.  It'd be pretty hot in the afternoon, and I get busy helping Amos run the ranch."

"First thing in the morning does sound good."

"You'd have to get up before the sunrise to beat Beatrice at her breakfast making.  She gets up before the birds start singing.  I'll take you out right after breakfast.  That'll be early enough, though I'm warning you, there will be plenty of times when I'm not available to help you."

"I can saddle up myself.  I'm not helpless."

He snorted and walked off pulling his hat down harder on his head.

Indeed, the next morning the birds did wake Camille up.  The smell of bacon and biscuits lured her into the kitchen after dressing in her riding skirt as fast as she could hardly taking time to put up her hair.  The boots took no time at all to slip on.

Her father and Uncle Amos were still eating, but Jake leaned in the open doorway with his back to her evidently having eaten already.

"Good morning, Sunshine!  How'd you sleep?"  Aunt Bea made her forget the cowboy, and she enjoyed lingering over her food.  Coffee had never tasted so good and Camille didn't know how she had lived so long without it.  The fresh cream from the small ironstone pitcher pooled in the black brew until it blended into a light mud color.  Perfect.  She had a second cup before she stood to clear the table.

"You run along now, honey.  This is the best time to go for a ride in the cool of the morning.  Jake's been waiting to take you. 

Camille looked at the regulator clock.  It was only six-thirty, still early, but Jake had already left.  She found he had saddled her horse and was mounted on his own who seemed more anxious to ride than she was.

"You don't have to do this.  I can saddle a horse by myself.  I don't need you to ride along with me. Surely you have other things to do?"

"I'm under orders."  He turned and went on ahead without waiting for her to mount her horse.

If her great uncle thought to saddle her with this unpleasant man, she would have to speak to him.  This cowboy found a way to infuriate her every time he opened his mouth.  She wouldn't let one hired hand ruin her summer.

Lagging a good distance behind so she wouldn't eat his dust or have to listen to his grumping, Camille began to relax letting the great outdoors seep into her soul.  They rode up the trail to where craggy pines staggered the shade on a hillside that gave a great view of the expanse of the ranchland. She stopped to take it all in breathing in the fresh sage scented air.

"It's my favorite lookout.  Here."  He offered his canteen. 

She drank deeply.  The dry air had left her parched.  She watched when she handed it back as he closed his eyes and swallowed long.  A drip escaped down his chin and caught in the stumble of his morning shadow. 

When he caught her looking at him, he startled her by asking, "Why did you really come?" There was an edge in his voice.

It took a minute for her to gather her senses and simply replied, "I don't have to answer to you.  I don't know you and don't wish to."  She turned and lead the way back down to the ranch breaking into a gallop once on the level.

Her straight silky hair had come down.  She was dusty, and her legs were a little shaky unused to riding so long. Still Camille felt good by the time she had taken her horse's saddle off and curried her.  She mucked her stall before heading back to the house walking past where Jake brushed his horse.  My, but she was already starving even after that big breakfast which seemed hours ago.  She did not notice, the young man staring after her as her long brown locks swung with her hips as she strode toward the house.

"Can I help you with anything in particular this morning, Aunt Bea?"

"Looks like the ride put a little color in your cheeks, Sunshine.  Why don't you sit a spell first, have a cookie with some milk and visit.  I'm so used to being the only female in a man's world out here on the ranch, that I would enjoy some girl talk," her aunt chuckled as her laugh lines took on their own beauty.

They idled the rest of the morning away chatting before they both jumped up to put the lunch on the table before boots pounded up the porch steps.  Camille slipped off to her room to freshen up and to redo her hair which had hung loose since her ride. 

"Where's my Cowgirl Camie?"

She heard his raspy voice and came out of her room to give him a hug.  He had shrunk and she had grown, but it was like time had stood still.  He was still the same ol' Gus to her.  He ate the noon meal with them and kept them all in stiches, except for Jake who only managed to crack a smile once in a while she noticed. 

After lunch dishes were done, Camille took down the clean laundry that had already dried on the line.  She buried her face in some of it. Nothing smelled as clean as cotton hung outside.  Once finishing folding these and placing them in the basket, she took it in and replaced it with a new load of wet clothes.  She hung these on the line watching as they blew in the breeze as if also breathing in the fresh air. This was her favorite chore.  Next she swept off the porch before going in to help with supper preparations.  Everything was smelling so good she could hardly stand it.

"Why am I so hungry here?  It must be fresh air and your good cooking.  I think that must be why I longed to come back here all these years," she gave her Aunt Bea a squeeze around her waist.
"I don't know that I'll ever be ready to go back to the city.  I'm already spoiled here."

"Spoiled?  You've been working hard ever since you set your boots down off that train, sweet girl.  I think your mother raised you right because it's a pure pleasure to have you here."

"It's like I've really come home.  It is so peaceful.  Elise spent a lot of years keeping our house churned up worse than clabbered milk."

"Did you notice a difference when she came home from her visit here?"

"I was so busy with school, clubs, friends that I wasn't around her much.  I guess I did notice her being more settled and less likely to run off to trouble.  I had spent a lot of years avoiding her so I guess I did not give her much thought.  Then she was caught up in her courtship with George and the wedding."

"Elise let me pray with her to become a Christian while she was here.  We saw quite a change in her attitude when she was with us, from a selfish girl to one with joy in spite of her circumstances."

"Well, she always seemed to have the best of circumstances as far as I could see, but wasted them with bad choices.  I'm glad to know she became a Christian, but she never said anything to me.  I guess you could say she helped lead me to Christ after seeing the hard road she had chosen.  I decided early on that I wanted the straight and narrow." 

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Do you mind telling me why that hired hand eats in here with you?  He doesn't seem like a very nice person to have around.  Not even Gus takes all his meals in here."

Aunt Bea threw back her head and laughed.  "Jake does seem a little bent out of shape, but for the life of me I don't know why.  He's usually all smiles around us, happy-go-lucky.  Maybe he's just gotten so used to being around the menfolk, he's a little rusty around a pretty little thing like you.  Actually, he is your Uncle Amos' top hand.  He's really taken a load off his shoulders now that Gus is, well, retired.  Your uncle has slowed down too, but Jake seems to take to the job like fish to water.  He's our great nephew on my side, by the way, but no relation to you.  He spent a lot of summers here when he got old enough.  Since he has an older brother to take over their family ranch, he was happy to come work for us.  Just like you and your sister, he and his brother rubbed horns a few too many times.  Their loss, our gain, as your uncle would say."

"But does he always have to go with me when I go riding?"

"I'm afraid so, darling.  We can trust Jake around a young lady, whereas we can't say that about the other hired hands.  It isn't really safe for a young woman to go riding alone.  There's some bad sorts lurking around, cattle thieves.  So, your uncle decided that if he can't spare Jake to take you riding in the morning, you'll have to wait until he can.  Sorry dear.  I don't think you realize that this is still a little of the wild west here, and you are a very pretty young lady.  Sometimes those things just don't mix well."

Camille sighed.  "If that's the only way, I'll just pretend he's not there."

"Is he that bad?  Maybe your uncle will have to speak to him."

"No, please don't.  I can handle this.  Perhaps, I'm judging him too harshly from my other bad impressions of young men.  I'd rather wash my hands of the whole lot."

Once again, Aunt Bea's pleasant laughter filled the kitchen.  "Give it time, darling.  You can take my word on it, you won't always feel this way."

"Well, I've yet to meet a young man I can truly respect."

Jake grimaced as he came in to sit down with her uncle and father hearing the last bit of their conversation.

"What's this, sugar plum?  Didn't any of those city slickers make a good impression on you?" her uncle asked.

"What do you think, Uncle Amos?  They don't make 'em like you and Gus any more."  They all laughed and even Jake could hardly stifle a grin.

Her Uncle said, "Take Jake here.  He can work with the best of  'em, but he put his time in at that college down in Georgetown.  Did you learn anything worthwhile over there, Jake, that's worth its salt on the home place"  Camille was taken aback by her uncle's statement and turned to look at the cowhand with surprise.

"I've put into practice a thing or two with grazing practices, doctoring and breeding, but it takes mostly brute strength and stubbornness to run this place," he said as he tried to pass off the attention on himself.

"Where we're from the only thing they work hard at is a game of tennis.  They are a bunch of simpering cads."

"Honey, perhaps you are speaking a little harshly," her father chided.

"Name one, Father, that would be equal to life here on the ranch."

He thought for a minute then shook his head and chuckled.  "Maybe you're right.  Not too many with calloused hands where we are from."

"It's not just that, Pa.  It's their character.  They are as shallow as a mud puddle."

"Are the young women any better?" Jake broke in unexpectedly.

Camille thought this over.  "No, not as a whole, I'm sorry to say."

"Why do you think this is, Henry?"  Aunt Bea asked her father.

He scratched his neck and then said, "Maybe it's partly because of the churches.  They have become little more than social clubs to see and be seen in with watered down sermons.  It's been years since I have heard eternal damnation preached to put the fear of God in anyone.  But most of the blame would have to lie with the parents."

"But that's not necessarily true, Father.  You are the same parents who raised both my sister and I, and look how differently we turned out."

"Perhaps we learned from our mistakes with Elise and were more vigilant in our watch care over you."

"You said yourself, darling, that you came to the Lord early after seeing so many of your sister's wrong choices," Aunt Bea added.  "I think it can have everything to do with finding the Lord in the days of your youth."

"Some people are bound and determined to slide down the banister of life with all the splinters pointed upward," Uncle Amos said as they all smiled in agreement.  Then the dinner conversation lightened along more pleasant lines.

"Will you be ready to ride out in the morning again, miss?" Jake said as he was leaving the table.

"I'm sure you have more important things to do than babysit me, but if you have to ride anywhere, I wouldn't mind going along.  Just tell me if I'm in the way."

"Yes m'am."

After helping with the supper dishes, Camille found herself yawning.  "I think I'll turn in early, Aunt Bea.  Good night."  She gave her aunt, uncle, and father each a kiss on the cheek, then went in to bed.  She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

The next morning she rose early and was sitting down eating breakfast when Jake came in.  He and Uncle Amos talked about what needed to be done.  "I'll ride along and check the water ditches for a ways, then come back and take a turn trying to break that new broncho."

"Am I able to ride along when you check the water?" 

"Sure,  you can keep your eyes peeled for rattlers while I'm wading in pulling out the snags." he said winking at Uncle Amos before draining his coffee mug.  "Thanks, Aunt Bea."

"Maybe, I could get a little target practice in so I could shoot them between the eyes while I'm at it," she retorted much to her aunt and uncle's glee.  "Do you have another canteen, Aunt Bea?  I'd hate  for Jake to have to be stingy with his drinking water."

Uncle Amos was slapping his knee chortling.  "She's got you there, Jake.  You'll have to get up earlier in the morning to have that gal beat, all right."

She borrowed her aunt's leather gloves, wide brimmed hat, and canteen with thanks and headed for the barn.

"They get along about as well as a couple of prickly pears," Uncle Amos said.

"You never can tell what might bloom.  Prickly pears bloom in a desert, so anything is possible.  Now wouldn't that be something!"

"Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, Beatrice."

"No, but I'll not gather 'em all:  I'll leave some to brood."

Once saddled, Camille was happy to follow Jake.  Neither one of them felt the need to talk.  Birds made a swell of song rising above the earth with grasshoppers as their fiddlers.  Frogs were croaking  from some scum covered eddy in the water ditch.  Jake dropped his reigns, and slid from the saddle going down on his belly to pull on a heavy branch larger than a man's arm and twice as long that was making a dam catching smaller branches and debris.  He drug it away so it wouldn't fall in again.

"I'll bring the wagon around in a few weeks and pick up the snags for firewood.  Water soaked wood won't do us any good as it is now."

As the morning proceeded, he repeated the process several times.  Sometimes he had to pull his boots off and wade in.  Once a particularly heavy log was being stubborn, so he lassoed it.  His horse knew just how to back up pulling it up and over the bank.  Camille had remained quiet unless asking about a flower or bird.  Jake seemed to always know what they were.  It was getting hot, and she wasn't sorry when he turned them to head back.  Her canteen was empty. 

Aunt Bea had an early lunch ready for them.  She listened to the hum of conversation around the table.  "I don't want you to try to get on that bronco yet, Jake.  Just keep trying to break it to the rope.  He has a wild eye.  I don't recommend climbing on the corral fence either missy. He has a mean kick and  bite."

Her aunt shooed her off to go watch with her father and Uncle Amos.  Several of the other wrangers were perched on the fence watching.  Even Gus was calling out advice.


Camille found herself tense and holding her breath as the stallion screamed and lunged in anger.
She had no idea how Jake held on.  He never took his eyes off the animal leading it in a circle around the corral.  Finally, man and beast were soaked in sweat, and the horse hung his head so that Jake could shake off his lasso.  Camie felt exhausted just watching.  She looked over at her dad who was whooping it up with the other wranglers who were cheering him on.  She headed back to the house hoping Aunt Bea had that lemonade she'd mentioned. 

A little later, Jake came in with her father and uncle.  They removed their boots as always at the door.   The bronco buster looked almost as beat as the horse.  His hair that had been plastered to his head in sweat, was now dripping from holding it under the pump in the yard.  His forehead had a white blaze across it where his hat always kept it out of the sun. 

As soon as lemonade and cookies were gone, he excused himself and went out to the porch and stretched out on a long bench in the shade and fell asleep.  By the time the dishes were washed and put away, Camille glanced out and saw he had disappeared.  It had been a catnap. 

"Would you mind if I go lay down for a bit, Aunt Bea?"

"Not at all, honey.  I usually do that myself.  Your Uncle Amos falls asleep in his chair, but I stretch out on my bed.  We don't sleep long, but feel better after our little siesta."

Camille thought she'd drop off like she had the night before, but found herself puzzling over the head wrangler, bronco busting college man.  Finally, she did sleep so soundly that it was hard to wake up afterward.  She found her aunt humming in the kitchen making many large pans of peach cobbler.

"The men are going to barbeque some meat outside for us tonight.  Thought we'd have a little singing around the campfire later on while your father is still here.  He always did have a nice voice.  Do you like to sing, Camie?"

"Only in a group.  I don't do solos.  Will Gus recite some of his poetry?"

"Does a bird fly?  Of course.  He usually goes to sleep with the chickens, but when there's a campfire, he stays up with the young bucks."

"Are all these your hands, Uncle Amos?" Camille was surprised at the crowd of cowboys gathered around the campfire, feeling a little shy and outnumbered.

"Nah, word got out to a few of the surrounding ranches, and they rode in after supper.  They all like a singing.  Wait till you hear my nephew.  He can plunk that guitar and really yodel."

"Like in the Swiss Alps?"

"Not quite.  It's just a cowboy style of singing we do down here in Texas.  Your Pa sure loved these campfires when he was a strapling."

The young woman hung back in the dark away from the flames to watch the scene in front of her.  She found herself caught up in the music though many of the songs were unknown to her, mostly love songs.  Jake did have a haunting tone to his voice that was quite compelling.  She was almost sorry when they quieted to hear Gus quote his favorite selections.  He had the respect of all the men, it was quite obvious even as he entertained them. 

Finally, Aunt Bea found her and slipped her arm around her.  "Would you like to help me put out the cobblers on the porch?  I've already made a huge pot of coffee for the men.  They bring their own tins, forks, and cups, so we won't have to worry about cleaning up afterwards."

When the gathering broke up, snatches of men's voices could be heard as they rode away singing.  It was quite beautiful.  She finally went and sat up close to the fire and watched it burn down to embers.

"I didn't see you around the campfire."

"I was a little shy of so many cowpokes.  I sat over there."

"How'd you like it?"

"It was charming, unlike any music I've heard before.  You especially have a lovely voice.  I could have listened for hours.  Do cowboys really sing to the herds?"

"Sometimes, if the cattle seem stirred up by a storm or something.  They're just a bunch of big babies wanting to hear a lullaby. A stampede is no child's play though.  It can be really serious quickly."

They sat quietly watching the flames.

"You're nothing like your sister," he said throwing a twig in the fire.

"You knew Elise?"  It made sense though she'd not put two and two together.  Of course, if there was a good looking man, her sister would have had her claws in him.  "You fell for her too, then, huh."

He looked up startled while she stared straight at him unflinching in her gaze.

"Perhaps a little at first," Jake ran his fingers through his hair.  "Well, truthfully I fell hard, but then I got up, dusted myself off and didn't look back.  She was a real piece of work."

"She's that alright.  What made you walk away?"

"She led me on, and I bought it hook, line, and sinker, until, well, you know..."

"No, I don't know.  What?"

"She started showing."

Camille jumped up and practically shouted, "What's that's supposed to mean?"

"You can't mean you didn't know she was sent out here until she had her baby."  He was standing now too looking like he didn't believe her.  Sneering, he said, "You're her sister.  Surely, you are not that na├»ve."

Tears burned salty in her eyes, but the flames burned them away.  She could taste them in her throat though.  She gulped for air like a fish out of water staggered by what he was saying.

"You truly didn't know did you.  Well, I'll be jiggered.  I think I just let a polecat out of the bag.  Your father's going to kill me."

Camille's head was swimming with things that had been said that were just beginning to make sense.  She covered her face whispering to herself, "I can't believe I was so stupid."

Suddenly she looked up and gripped Jake's arm.  "Where's the child?  Did it live?  Was it a boy or girl?"

He tried to get away as if bit by a rattler, but she wouldn't let him loose.  In fact, she grabbed his jacket by the collar and got up in his face with her eyes glittering in the firelight.  "You're the one who started this conversation, and you owe me more of an explanation."

He threw his hands up, "Listen, I didn't know, didn't want to know about the baby. Your aunt handled all of that.  All I remember is hearing her and Uncle Amos talking about how happy some couple was to have the child.  You'll have to ask Aunt Bea, but she'll have my hide for sure.  I was furious thinking your sister had tried to trap me into marrying her without telling me about the baby on the way."

She finally let go while he shrugged his shoulders glad to be free from her grip.  "In fact, we all thought maybe you were being sent out here for the same reason.  Not even your father was convinced a hundred percent that it might not be the reason you up and wanted to come here all of a sudden like..."

Camille slapped him, slapped him hard.  "How dare you!" she hissed.

It was too much.  She turned her back but couldn't stop the sobs.  She had never felt so alone, misjudged by her friends, and now her family and kinfolk.  If there was somewhere to go, she would have gone to run away from it all.  Camille was angry, hurt, crushed, betrayed.

The touch of his hands on her shoulders instantly chilled her.  She shook him off and marched back into the house covering her ears not wanting to hear anything else the cruel cowboy had to say.  Hoping everyone else had gone to bed, she was glad to  find only one candle burning.  She blew it out and felt her way to her room in the dark.

Camille had tossed and turned and did not find sleep until the wee hours.  She finally slept until her father came in to bid her goodbye.  "Your mother and I will miss you, sugar."  He mistook her tears pooling in her eyes as sadness at parting.  He patted her hand.  "Have a wonderful time this summer.  Let me know when you are ready to come home."  She nodded and waved, then he was gone. Camille didn't have the time or strength to ask questions that she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answers to.

"You're awfully quiet this morning, dear.  Are you sad to see your father go?"  Aunt Bea looked at her with her head cocked to the side knowing something was amiss.

"Not really," she shrugged picking at her breakfast.  Everyone else had eaten and left.

"Jake hung around for a little while.  I think he was wondering if you wanted to go riding, but I told him to let you sleep.  They went out to look for calves today.  He thought you might like that.  He said to tell you they'd probably do it again tomorrow.  You could go then."

"Do you have any clothes to hang on the line today, Aunt Bea?"  She suddenly changed the subject.
Camille never wanted to go with that wretched man again even if it meant the end to riding.  She would just go for long walks.  Surely, she could be trusted to do that by herself.

After hanging out the wet clothes, and helping to make bread.  It was just the two of them for a simple lunch of leftovers.  She practically choked on small talk.  Camille decided to go for a walk merely saying, "I'll be back after awhile, Aunt Bea." 

The wranglers were all out looking for calves and the ranch looked deserted.  This time she decided to follow the creek, but soon found out that her boots were not comfortable for walking.  Instead, she found a large, smooth rock to sit upon and leaned back upon a tree.  The gurgling water soon sung her to sleep.  When she woke up, the sky was blushing with a sunset and she was slapping mosquitoes.  She couldn't believe she'd slept through supper.  She needed to get back before it grew any darker or she'd have trouble seeing her way back.

Someone was calling her name.  It was Jake, so she decide to ignore him since it was still dusk and she knew it wasn't much farther.  He rode up on her and got down to stand in her way. "What do you mean going off and scaring your Aunt Bea like that.  She's beside herself worrying.  Uncle Amos has every hand on the place looking for you, even Gus."

"I fell asleep by the creek."  She tried to walk by him.

"Listen, I'm sorry, I said all that stuff to you. I was stupid, okay.  Since you've been here, I've been struggling with all those feelings about your sister that I thought I had gotten rid of and have been taking it out on you.  I'm sorry."

"I am not my sister.  Let me by."

Instead he picked her up and put her on his horse as if she didn't weigh as much as a sack of potatoes.  Then he swung up behind her before she could even squawk out a protest.  "We can get home faster this way, and I don't want Aunt Bea worrying one minute more than she has to.  As soon as he reached the corral, she was startled when he pulled his pistol and shot into the air.  "Have to call the search off.  They'll know I'm shooting from here and you're home safe."  He let her slide down to go meet her Aunt Bea standing silhouetted in the doorway. 

"I'm sorry, Aunt Bea.  I fell asleep by the stream and was almost home when Jake found me.  I'm worse than one of those stray calves, I guess.  I'm sorry to have caused you worry."  She found herself burying her face in the kind woman's shoulder. 

"There, there.  The important thing is you are home safe in one piece.  I just couldn't help thinking about the cougar that's been leaving its huge paw prints down by the creek.  Maybe, it's time your Uncle Amos taught you to shoot.  I know it would give me some peace of mind knowing you'd have a little protection."

At the mention of the cougar, Camille shuddered.  "I think I'd like that."

"Here's your supper I saved back for you."  She pulled off the cloth that kept the flies from the cold supper.  "Do you want a glass of milk or water?"  Her Uncle Amos came in with Gus and she ate humble pie sincerely apologizing. 

Gus looked at her and said in an old man's stage whisper, "Tomorrow we're going to talk, missy."
She nodded wondering how she could already be tired.  There was a crick in her neck from leaning up against the tree, and she felt the pain from sleeping on a rock, a big rock.  Camille was glad this day was over.

The next morning Camille was up bright and early.  She avoided looking at Jake and politely declined his invitation to ride along with the cowboys.  He shrugged, slapped on his hat and left while she looked into the depths of her second cup of coffee.  "What chores are we doing today, Aunt Bea?"
"You can gather the eggs, then we'll do a little extra cooking and baking since tomorrow's the Sabboth.  Do you realize, you left home nearly a week ago?  Do you miss it?"

"No!"  She startled even herself with her sudden denouncement.  I was thinking last night about asking father to send me to the Normalcy School so I can prepare to teach.  Are they needing teachers here in Texas, do you know?"

"I don't know how your father would feel about a daughter of his working so far from home.  You know, you are more than welcome to stay here with us as long as you and your parents are in agreement.  I have to admit, you've lightened my load considerably.  I don't know when, if ever, I've had someone help me as much as you do, sweet girl.  You're going to spoil me rotten.  If you ever do leave, I'll have to get Uncle Amos to hire me two town girls to try to take your place."

"Thank you, Aunt Bea."

"And just so you know, I'm patient letting God work some things out in your heart, but want you to know I'm praying for you.  I sense, you're carrying some hurt in there.  If you need to talk, you know you can always come to me."

"I'm not pregnant," Camille blurted out.

Aunt Bea laughed so hard she was breathless.  "I've known that since you arrived, dear one.  Your parents were scared to death that something had happened to you uninvited.  I assured your father, everything was fine.  He knew it in his heart, but it was just their fear talking.  I think it would have broken them in two if they would have had to walk that hard road again. 

"They never told me about Elise.  I just found out."

Aunt Bea was open-mouthed speechless and sank down in her chair.  "Well, I never!  I just assumed you knew.  We all did.    Don't families talk together, pull together?  I guess they were overly protective of you, baby girl.

"I guess they hushed up Elise's pregnancy quite well, even from her own sister.  But where's her baby? Did she have a boy or girl?  Can I go see the child, my niece or nephew?"

Aunt Bea looked sad.  "Elise made a childless couple very happy.  They moved away shortly afterward.  I can show you the letter later if you'd like.  They lost the little girl when she was one and a half.  Diptheria.  We all grieved, but they  were still grateful for the gift she had been to them for as long as they had her.  Her name was Beatrice, after me.  I thought that was pretty special.  It was a name your sister suggested, and they agreed."

"I don't know how Elise could have given her own child away like that.  It just doesn't seem natural."

"It was very hard for her actually and sacrificial.  She knew her baby would have a mother and a father.  It's a difficult world for a mother to raise a child on her own.  Your parents would have helped, but it is hard for a child to stand the scrutiny of it all. 

"Jake said that she tried to trick him into marrying him."

"Oh, so that's where the loose tongue is.  Well, yes.  She was feeling pretty desperate trying to find a way to keep her child.  It wasn't right what she did, but she did ask his forgiveness as well as the Lord's.  She was practically serene those last couple of months of her pregnancy once she made her peace with God.  Before that..." Aunt Bea chuckled and shook her head, "she was a caged animal.  Shall we say, life on the ranch is not her cup of tea.  We were all pretty miserable for awhile.  Maybe that's why we thought the distraction with Jake was innocent enough.  We didn't realize how hard he had fallen until too late.  Some of that was our fault.  We should have seen that coming."

"Well, you don't have to worry about me.  I can't stand to be in the same room with him."

"Gus said he thought he saw you two fighting by the campfire and that you'd slapped him good.  He's wanting to know if Jake had gotten out of line.  The ol' codger wanted to fight him but we suggested he wait until we could talk to you.  I'm glad you had enough confidence left in any of us to talk to me.  It was never our intention to keep secrets from you, dear."

"I'm feeling pretty betrayed and angry.  I feel like everyone is looking at me thinking I'm here for the same reason as my sister.  That's what Jake thought.  It will be hard sitting in church Sunday.  I'll feel like everyone will be wondering about me, another one for the ranch for wayward girls.  I feel let down by my own parents most of all, for shutting me out, then doubting" 

"Purity?  Has anyone ever told you what your name means?  'a virgin of unblemished character.'  I've always loved your name and I'd say it fits you quite well.  But I'll be praying for you dear.   The anger you carry will hurt you most of all.  Don't let it.  Ask God to help you let it go with forgiveness."

"That doesn't mean I have to like your top ranch hand though.  He makes me feel madder than a wildcat."

Aunt Bea laughed.  "Maybe that's why he seemed so jittery wondering if you were going to jump out and pounce on him."

"He's lucky all I did was slap him.  That explains some of my treatment back home too.  Even my one-time admirer bragged that I would be easy to, well...that's why I came out here.  I don't like to be misjudged.  Now I know I have my sister to thank for that."

"We just have to be responsible to God.  We can't worry over every loose tongue."

"Even Jake's?" the girl smiled.

"Especially, Jake's," her aunt laughed. 

When Camille went out to gather eggs, Aunt Bea whispered a huge thank you to the Lord for helping the girl talk to her.  "She's got a ways to go, but she's crawling out from under a big rock that was dropped on her, Lord.  She needs your help and healing."

When the men came in for supper, as soon as she was sure that her great-niece's back was turned, she shook her finger at Jake.  Sometimes she wondered what God put between the ears of young men now-a-days.

The next morning Aunt had a simple breakfast ready, and then they rode in an ancient buggy to church, Aunt Bea and Camille in the back with Jake and Uncle Amos in the front.  A few of the cowboys rode on their horses behind their dust.  When her great aunt saw her look back, she poked her in the side and said, "I wish they were as eager to go to the Lord's house as they are to look over the crop of young ladies in the meeting house."

"Why, they have left me alone.  I can't believe they are all that woman-crazy."

"It's because your uncle threatened to string 'em up, if they so much as looked at you.  But the word's out, and there should be an extra good attendance today to get a glimpse of the new girl at the ranch."

Aunt Bea swatted Jake her Bible.  "Jacob Winthrep, I can't believe you.  I do believe your tongue has become unhinged."

Her uncle just laughed.

"I just hope they don't mistake me for my sister," Camille muttered under her breath.

Somehow Uncle Amos herded them into their usual pew with her sitting between Aunt Bea and Jake.  He held the hymnal out for her to share with him.  He truly did have a beautiful voice, and she just listened. 

"Don't you know any hymns?" he whispered.

"Of course."  The next verse she harmonized with him without looking down at the words or notes.

Gus had come to sit with them, and that squished them even closer.  Camille was glad the church provided paper fans.  A picture of Jesus knocking at the door was printed on one side.  It was heating up quickly. 

"Aim that thing a little more my way, if you don't mind.  I told you it would be packed today."

"Didn't your mother teach you not to whisper in church when you were little?"


Camille had just begun telling him again when it suddenly became quiet and everyone could hear her."  Now Jake was shaking with silent laughter at her expense until Aunt Bea shushed him.

Jake was holding a Bible for her to follow along with him as the preacher read his text Romans 16:17,  only his finger slid up to the verse above where he pointed to,  "Greet one another with a holy kiss."  She poked him in the side, and he let out a loud grunt.  Now Aunt Bea was snapping her fingers at them while he looked innocently straight ahead.

She tapped the open Bible and  pointed her finger at the text, "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and turn away from them."  Making sure he had read every word along with the pastor, she turned sideways as best she could until her back was nearly to him.  Then he did the unthinkable: the scoundrel slipped his arm around her shoulder and turned her back around then left his arm over her on the back of the pew.  Camille could feel her face turn crimson.  She heard none of the sermon that day, but fanned furiously.

He kept his hand on her back all the way down the aisle and didn't leave her side as her aunt and uncle made many introductions.  Every time she tried to move away, his arm came around her waist and pulled her closer.  She stayed stiff as a board.  One time he had the audacity to lean over and whisper in her ear, "You used some of Aunt Bea's rose soap.  It sure smells good."

She half raised her hand wanting to slap him again, but remembered her place in the church yard.  The last thing she wanted to do was cause a scene, and she knew that's why he was teasing her so unmercifully.

People were spreading blankets out under the shade trees, and Uncle Amos brought a basket from the buggy that she had not noticed. "I did not realize we were having a picnic today, Aunt Bea."

"Most every Sunday, weather permitting and the creek don't rise, we do this.  Afterwards, we'll have an afternoon testimony and prayer service, then go home in time to take care of the livestock.  Since we don't get to see neighbors very often, Sunday dinner on the grounds is a wonderful way to catch up.   It had been so many years, that Camille could only remember a few of the good folk of the church.  Several of the  cowboys were bold enough to come introduce themselves.   She found herself scooting closer to Jake as they towered over her from where she sat on the blanket. 

"I can't remember any of their names,  I'm afraid, or their faces."

"Just be careful that you don't give any of those young pups a holy greeting,"  Jake teased.

"Are you always this obnoxious or just on Sundays?"

"Oh, I can guarantee you, he can be annoying all the time," Aunt Bea said, "worse than a horsefly."

Just then, a girl about her age came strolling by twirling an umbrella to keep her face out of the sun.  "Are you going to introduce me to your new young friend, Jacob?"

He kept it short and sweet before she added, "Why don't we go for that walk you promised me last week, Jacob."

She pulled him along looping her arm through his as they headed away.  It became all too quiet all of a sudden. 

"Never did like a girl to be so brash," Aunt Bea said.  "I know for a fact that he doesn't care a whit about her.  He needs to tell her and get on with other things."

"He doesn't look too miserable.  Is he a ladies man, Aunt Bea?"

"No, he usually seems a little shy.  Oh, but he was a bad boy in church today though, sakes alive!"

"You don't know the half of it," Camille said under her breath."

Jake showed up suddenly and said, "We need to head back.  The sky's looking a little too green for my taste and the wind is kicking up in gusts."

Aunt Bea was quickly packing up the basket then shook out the blanket they'd been sitting on.  Uncle Henry came striding over, "I told Gus to tie his horse onto the back of the buggy.  He needs to ride home with us so he won't get a soaking."

Her aunt and uncle climbed in the back and she sat between Gus and Jake on the quick-paced race back to the ranch.  No one said much, just kept watching the clouds.  It burst on them with hail, small at first, then larger and larger.  Jake jumped down handing the reigns to Gus.  He threw open the barn doors and Gus drove the buggy in.  Jake then went out and tried to "Yi-ha" several of the mares with foals into the barn until Uncle Amos yelled for him to come in out of the pelting hail that was now bigger than walnuts.

"If they don't have sense enough to come in our of that, you can't help 'em now."

"I got all the young ones in.  I hope it doesn't hurt the calves though," he said as they all stared out the barn door at the bouncing white beating the ground was taking. 

"There goes my garden," Aunt Bea said.

"It's early yet.  You can replant," her husband said.  "It remains to be seen if the hay crop can survive this, but the Lord giveth and the Lord  taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord," he quoted.

Camille couldn't believe the calm the old rancher faced this destructive weather with.  She thought of her own little problems and realized she'd kicked a lot of dust up over small things and felt ashamed of herself wondering if she would ever get the kind of faith she saw in her elders here. 

When it had blown over, she walked out of the barn kicking the balls of ice.  Her Uncle Amos hung on to Aunt Beatrice so she wouldn't fall on the slippery ground.  Looking around, she saw cows crowded under the protection of trees.  Some new calves were laying down under their mothers.  The flowers around the house looked crushed where icy drifts buried them.

"I've never seen such big hail," she said once they were in the house unpacking the picnic basket.

"We've had bigger and later in the season that just about did us in a time or two.  We'll have to check with some of our neighbors tomorrow and make sure no one is suffering under too great a loss.  I'm sure your Uncle Amos will send out some of the boys on that errand in the morning.  It looks like you and I will be planting a garden later this week."

"It's a shame as I know some of your plants had some green tomatoes already setting on them." 

"Oh well. I still have canned tomatoes from last season.  There's always something to be thankful for.  Knowing God's in charge of our lives helps us take the good with the bad easier than those folks who think they can live without God in their lives."

Uncle Amos and Jake came in about then with buckets of hail.  "How 'bout if we crank out some ice cream since the good Lord provided the ice like the manna on the ground.  It's just laying in drifts for the taking, and we won't even have to chip it off the block of ice like usual."

Aunt Beatrice's laughter filled the kitchen, "If that don't beat all.  Sure, boys, it will just take me a few minutes to stir it up.  Camille, why don't you peel and slice some of the ripest peaches you can find in the basket.  Looks like we're having home-made peach ice cream. I'm sure glad we picked most of the crop of those before the hail. I look forward to peach season all year, and I must confess, I would have grieved the loss of those."

A little later Camille said, "I don't think I've ever tasted anything finer than this," as she finished her second bowl. 

"Jake, why don't you take this ice cream maker out to the boys and they can make themselves a batch  to enjoy out at the bunk house." 

"Yes m'am,"  He was about finished licking off the beater. 

"Cook said that for a second he thought we were under attack when the hail started bouncing off the tin roof of the mess hall today.  It took his mind back to the days of the Civil War when he was just a young drummer boy when the sound of battle was deafening.  He confessed it left him shaking for a minute," Jake said.

"This ice cream will cheer him up, I imagine," Aunt Bea nodded.

The next morning the men were going to go assess the damage on the ranch and in the neighborhood when Camille asked Jake, "May I come?"

He looked at her with surprise.  "Sure, but I can't promise I can bring you home till late in the day."

She got ready quickly not even trying to put her hair up, just tying it back.  Kissing Aunt Bea, she was mounted and ready to go with the others.  Jake gave orders dividing the men to ride over different sections of the ranch.  Uncle Amos and Gus were going to visit with the neighbors to check on their damage.

Camille shadowed Jake.  The calves they found seemed to have survived with little damage.  "I don't think such large hail fell everywhere as it did at the ranch house.  Thankfully, there's a lot of trees scattered which offered many of the herd shelter."

They did come across a tree spit and blackened from a lightning strike.  A cow and a calf had been killed.  Camille looked away from the gruesome sight covering her nose with her scarf from the stench of burnt leather. 

"I won't take care of them now, but will send one of the boys back later to see if any of it can be salvaged.  Doesn't look like even the hide can be saved.  Let's just move on."

Finally Jake found some shade by the stream and they ate in quiet.  Finally he spoke up, "Do I take it that you've decided to forgive me for my rudeness to you ever since you've arrived, Miss Camille?"

"Aunt Bea says that unforgiveness would hurt me more than you, and I don't want that.  So, for my sake, I've decided to forgive you," she quipped.

"Well, I don't think I ever heard an apology accepted quite like that, but I'll take it," he said with a smile.  "I truly have been beating myself up for my bad behavior towards you.  Your slap in the face was the slightest of my wounds."

"I'm sorry I slapped you."

"I deserved it."

Aunt Bea said that my sister became a Christian when she was here.  She also said that her little girl died not long ago.  I wish I could have seen her just once."

"I'm sorry to hear about the little girl," he said pulling grass up by the roots.  "I think I would have married her you know."

Camille was taken by surprise at his words.

"I probably would have even married her, carrying another man's child, except for her deceit.  If she had been up front with me, I don't think it would have mattered too much.  Even if she would have apologized for it, I think I would have forgiven her.  I hope she has a good life with the man she did marry.  I'm glad she's going to have another child.  I'm happy for her."

"You're a better man than I gave you credit for, Jake.  She's not been an easy person to live with all these years.  I don't envy George.  It helps, I'm sure, now that she's a Christian, but still, I don't know..."

"I don't think it was God's will for us.  I can live with that."

"I don't think she would have been happy here at the ranch, and I doubt that you'd be happy in the city.  Am I right?"


Somehow thinking of Jake with her sister rankled her, and she got up shaking the crumbs off her skirt.  "Ready?"

"I might as well take you back to the ranch.  I don't expect to find more losses."

That afternoon, Jake used the time to work with the wild stallion.  Gus and Uncle Amos were also back.  Everyone went out to watch him work him after lunch.  The creature seemed wilder than ever pawing the air with his deadly hooves.  In an instant, Jake's foot got tangled in a lead line and he went down.  The horse reared over him when a shot rang out.  The horse fell backwards breaking the corral fence falling down Camille's way.  Before she could jump back she was partially under the immense dead weight of the animal with pain searing. Then she passed out not hearing the shouts.

Jake grabbed a piece of broken rail and used it as leverage while Gus and Amos pulled her out.  Then cook ran out with a bench and they placed her on it like a stretcher and took her into the house before transitioning her onto the bed where she woke up in such pain that she clutched wildly at the covers.  Aunt Bea was trying to give her some medicine, but she could barely breathe and batted it away.

"Now honey, you need to take this before they try to set your leg.  It's going to get worse before it can get better."

"It hurts to breathe," she managed to whisper, but she swallowed the spoonful.

Quickly her uncle cut off her boot.  With a final tug, she screamed.  She barely heard them talking about how lucky it was that only her foot seemed broken.

"And probably some ribs.  I hope one didn't puncture her lungs.  When the doctor gets here, he'll probably be able to tell.  After you set her ankle, I'll wrap the ribs.  Prop her up and see if she can breathe any better," her Aunt Bea was saying.

"I'd rather the horse had come down on me than land on her.  It was vicious in life and in death," Jake said, "though I'm sure no one imagined he would go down like that."

"I'm sorry I didn't shoot the thing earlier.  It was a man-killer, no doubt about it.  I shouldn't have let you in the ring with it again," her Uncle Amos was saying.  "I can stand to lose a horse, but not my top hand and nephew."

"It could have been much worse," Aunt Bea said.  "Jake you hold her down while Amos and Gus work to straighten those broken bones.  I already gave her the laudanum."

One yank and Camille had passed out, but not before she had the memory of Jake leaning over her holding her arms down with his eyes full of compassion.

The doctor arrived and gave the good news that he did not believe her lungs had been involved in the injury beyond a bruise.  A couple of ribs were cracked besides her leg that was broken which he examined and wrapped with orders not to let her get out of bed and to keep it elevated.  They all were thankful knowing it could have been deadly.  He commended the men in their ability to set the bones.

"It comes in useful on the ranch, as you well know, as so many cowboys tend to get a break now and then," Uncle Amos said.

"Here's some more pain medicine that will make her sleepy.  She'll need it especially the next three days.  Believe it or not, the ribs might be the more painful.  The pain should subside gradually after that.   Watch for swelling and infection, but I don't expect there to be any in one so young and in good health.  Make sure she breathes deeply in spite of the pain.  I don't want the lungs to collect fluid lying there.  Well, young lady, you survived a man-killing stallion.  Not everyone lives to tell that tale.  You had the good Lord looking after you."

Camille nodded and said, "Thank you," before laying back against the pillows.  She just realized she was gripping Jake's hand and didn't even know how long she had been doing so.  "I'm sorry, Jake.  I hope I didn't squeeze it too hard when he was examining me."  A tear escaped to trickle down her cheek.  "I was sure you were going to die there for a minute with the stallion hovering over you on the ground."

"I wish it was me lying broken on this bed instead of you. It doesn't seem right since you weren't even in the corral with that vicious animal."

"You would surely be dead without that shot that toppled him.  He would have trampled you to death.  No one could have foreseen what would a happen.   We are both blessed to be alive, I guess."

"He's the first horse I haven't been able to tame," he winked, "but not the first female.  Some refuse to be gentled."

She wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much so she turned her face away, "I think I need to sleep." 

"I'll stay in the house today, in case you need anything else.  Just ring the bell Aunt Bea left there for you on that tray beside your bed."

He joined Gus, Uncle Amos and Aunt Bea at the table to eat their peach pie made from salvaged peaches that had been driven from the trees by the hail.  With her door open, the hum of their conversation was a comfort even though she was too groggy to make out what they were saying.

It was dark when she woke with pain radiating making it hard to breathe.  She tried to call, then grabbed for the bell which she clumsily knocked off the bed in a clatter.  Aunt Bea came in with  Uncle Amos and Jake hovering in the doorway.  Aunt Bea lit a candle before giving her the drink of water then  a dose of the nasty medicine.  When she shuddered at its ghastly taste, it hurt her ribs."

"Wake me up when the pain is over!  I just want to sleep through the next several days."

Over the next few days, however, different cowboys knocked on the door and came in bearing gifts: a hand tooled halter, a horsehair hat band, a silver buckle, a pair of Indian beaded gloves, several bouquets of wild flowers, a silver dime pounded into a ring, and such.  Camille felt honored to be the recipient of such kindness.  Uncle Amos fashioned her crutches to use when the time came, but Gus presented her with one of his specially carved canes.

Aunt Bea hovered but not as much as Jake.  It was like he had taken the position of guard dog.  Even though he was sent out by Uncle Amos every day to take care of his ranch duties, he always came back to sit in the chair in her room in the late afternoon to read to her and even to play his guitar and sing, which she like very much.  They never said much.  Sometimes she would just hold his hand and gaze out the window. 

"Are you still glad you came to the ranch?"

"Oh, very much so," she answered, surprised at his question.

"When do you think you'll be going back," he asked.

"I don't think about that at all.  This seems more like home than back there.  I guess I'll stay here until they make me go home.  I feel horrid that I have become a burden instead of a help though."

"I don't think they feel that way.  You know Aunt Bea loves to mother you.  I'm sure it gives her great pleasure to fuss over you."

"I've taken too much of your time.  You're in here more than anyone come evening.  I hope it's not guilt, because none of it was your fault.  It's just something unexpected that happened."

"If I've overstayed my welcome, I'm sorry..." he began to rise out of his chair.

"No," she laid a hand on his knee.  "I just meant I don't want you to be here because you feel you have to out of guilt."  She hesitated and then said, "I look forward all day to when you can sit in here with me.  It's hard to lie in bed for hours when I want to be up and around."

"Well," he grinned, "I'm glad to know it gives you as much pleasure as it gives me to be here.  I guess we're doing better than we used to anyway, hating each other's stinking guts."

She began to laugh, but it hurt.  "Don't make me laugh or I'll send you out of this room.  Yes, I guess I find your stinking guts quite tolerable now."

He laughed heartily while Camille smiled.

When the doctor next visited, he examined her and said that she could be up and about as long as there was no weight put on her broken leg.  She was exhilarated.  Uncle Jake brought in her crutches while Aunt Bea wrung her hands.

Camille felt a little light-headed when she sat up in bed before standing on her good foot with Jake's arm around her waist.  When she got the crutches under her arms, her ribs screamed.  "I don't know, my ribs hurt so badly." She was crying without meaning to.  Jake gently scooped her up gently letting the crutches fall back on the bed and took her out onto the porch into Aunt Beatrice's willow rocker. 

"Is this better?" 

"Thank you.  I'll have to learn to use the crutches eventually, but my ribs are too tender for that as yet.  Oh my, it's good to be outside!"

Aunt Bea brought cookies and milk out onto the porch where they all enjoyed them.  "Looks like you'll be able to join us at the dinner table from now on.  That will be wonderful.  I'm sure Jake can pick you up and set you wherever you want to go."

"I didn't know how quickly I'd become weak.  And I can't believe how much I've missed the simple pleasures like sitting on the porch."

The next morning Jake carried her out to sit to the table with them, the talk was all of the roundup for branding the calves.

"Judging by when you rode out to check on the calves, do you think most are grown enough for branding?"

"No doubt.  It will take us three or four days with all the hands doing the roundup, then we'll have a hot iron party."

"Sounds good.  Respect those mean mommies.  They'll do anything to protect their young'uns.  But I guess I don't have to tell you that.  Just make sure the young hands understand the dangers."

"Yes sir."

"If there's any trouble, send a rider back to get me.  I'm staying here to make sure Gus stays home.  If I go, sure as shoot'n, he'd insist on going too."

"Can't leave the whole ranch for Aunt Bea to take care of, can we?"

"He has many a time, but I'm glad he's not going out.  He's got you to do that for him now," Beatrice said.

"Ready?" Jake picked Camille up to take her back to her room.

"I'm going to miss you.  I think you've got me spoiled with your company." she said softly.

"I'll miss you too." 

Standing in her room, he was hesitating still holding her in his arms with her arms around his neck when he bent down to kiss her, coming slowly in case she refused him.  She did not.  His kiss was tender and sweet.  He said huskily, "Just something to remember me by."

He set her down gently then left without looking back.  Camille's cheeks felt so hot that she said under her breath, "I wish to goodness, I had one of those paper Jesus fans right now.  My heart's knocking like crazy."

"I certainly must," said she.  "This sensation of listlessness, weariness, stupidity, this disinclination to sit down and employ myself, this feeling of everything's being dull and insipid about the house! 
 I must be in love; I should be the oddest creature in the world if I were not."
Jane Austen, "Emma"

The long afternoons grew shadows that groped for the darkness.  It upset her that Aunt Bea was having to replant the garden without her though Uncle Amos was helping.  Gus often came in to sit with her while they were outside working.  Finally, she could not lie still a minute longer and managed to get up and walk into the kitchen with the help of the crutches while ignoring the searing pain in her ribs.  She sat at the table where she could look outside and see them working.  Her fingers itched to hang laundry, bake, even plant the garden, anything but sit idly by as time was heavy.

That's where they found her peeling peaches.  She had already whipped the cream. "I must have something to do!"

Before they went back out to finish planting the garden, Aunt Bea had her equipped to make the rolls and able to peel the potatoes at the table with her foot propped up.  They all looked forward to the peach pie she was finishing.

The next day, Aunt Bea stayed in the kitchen where they worked side by side, well, Camille was seated and her aunt was busy on her feet.  Yet, it felt so good to be helpful again.  How she had missed talking with this special woman around the table.

"Aunt Bea, how did you know Uncle Amos was the right man, you know, the one?" 

She laughed with a twinkle in her eye.  "It's been over fifty years, but it seems like yesterday when he walked in and took my breath away.  Back then, engagements weren't long a'tall, and we wed two weeks after we met.  We both were Christians and had no illusions about hard work and  commitment.  We both knew we wanted to be equally yoked and headed in the same direction for a lifetime.  There's nothing worse than young folks yoked together but heading in opposite directions.  It has been hard, terribly hard at times, especially when we lost our children, but not a single day have either of us have ever regretted saying, "I do."  I knew he was a good man when I first met him though we rubbed off a few rough edges we each had. Like the Good Book says, 'iron sharpens iron.'  That means sometimes sparks fly.  But there is no place for selfishness in a good marriage.  If a body is fully surrendered to God, then self-centeredness has to go."

She continued, "Romance is God's idea; in fact, He is the perfect example.  First He woos us, pursues us.  Even though we come to the point where we feel totally unworthy of His love, He bestows it upon us anyway: He has set His love upon us.  No matter what our past, He is willing to forgive and forget and gives us a new beginning with Him.  His lovingkindness is new every morning.  All that He asks is that we accept His love, listen to His words of love, and spend time with Him.  He is preparing a home for us, and the marriage supper of the Lamb."

"He is coming for us on His white horse.  I've always loved that verse in Revelation," Camille agreed.

"The New Testament tells a woman to respect her husband and for the husband to love, cherish, his wife.  So, if you can't respect a man, don't even think about marrying him.  Many people enter marriage thinking they can change a person.  That's God's job. There's no guarantee a person will change: some just get set in their ways.  If a man isn't kind and loving, able to cherish her, even lay down his life for a woman, he is not worthy of her either. 

"That's a lot to think about, truly."

"And Camie girl, he's a good man.  Men like him don't come around every day," and she winked while Camille blushed with a heat that crept across her face.  She thought to what she read last night...

"Sometimes the last person you want to be with is the one person you can't be without."
Jane Austen, "Pride and Prejudice"

After two more of the longest days of her life, the cloud of dust and the pounding of hooves finally approached, and Camille's heart felt faint.  Instead of stepping out to the porch to watch like the others, she shrank back to wait.   She knew the sound of his boots when he came up the steps and across the porch and looked up to his eyes and saw the same longing she felt.  She tried to stand, but he picked her up and sat her on his lap on the sofa where her arms did not let go.  He did not hesitate to kiss her this time and she responded in a way new to her, but as old as love itself. 
Finally when she laid her head on his shoulder, he confessed, "That was the hardest round-up in my life.  I could only think about wanting nothing but to ride back to you."

"And the whole time you were gone, I was thinking that two weeks is almost too long to wait," she smiled.

"Two weeks?  I was only gone four days."

"Two weeks until I think I can manage to walk down the aisle..."

There was a cowboy whoop heard across the ranch, and a couple of lovers of fifty years smiled at each other.  "I believe my chickens have hatched," she said as he held her wrinkled hand.