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Gallant BrideBook 6
By Jane Peart
ZondervanCopyright © 1990 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLucas Valley, California-1868
Who could that be? Blythe asked herself, setting down the water bucket she was carrying from the well up to the weathered frame ranch house. Shaking back her long, auburn hair, she shaded her eyes against the late afternoon sun as a rickety buckboard pulled by two pack mules came through the ranch gate.
At fifteen Blythe had lived most of her life in Lucas Valley and knew nearly everyone in the small, northern California community. But she did not recognize this scraggly bearded stranger. She stood watching his approach a minute longer, then picking up her calico skirt, ran with coltish grace toward the house to the porch steps, calling "Pa! Pa! Come see!"
Immediately a tall man opened the front door and stepped out, looking in the direction of her pointed finger.
"Wonder who it is, Pa?" she whispered.
"We'll find out directly, child," Jedediah Dorman said quietly, moving to the edge of the porch as the wagon drew to a shaky stop in front. The driver pushed his battered brown felt hat back on his forehead, wiped his brow with a red bandana, then turned a dust-coated face toward them.
"Howdy." Jed's greeting was friendly but cautious.
"Howdy," the man replied, his eyes traveling the lean height of the rancher, taking in his blue denim shirt, faded but freshly ironed, the good leather boots, the man's direct gaze, his honest, kindly face. Then they moved on to the girl at his side, who was staring at him with the wide velvety-brown eyes of a doe. Not more than a child, he guessed, but tall and glowing with health. Yep. He reckoned he'd come to the right place.
"Name's Ben Mulligan. Jes' come down from the hills. Been prospecton' for the last year. Passed a mine site thet looked to be deserted, so I thought I'd take a look 'round and found-" He jerked his thumb toward the back of the wagon. "-a pretty sick feller. Must've been minin' with a partner, but no one else was about-only this man, a-burnin' with fever, out of his head. I couldn't leave nobody in that state-to die alone. And I figgered he was close to doin' jest that."
Blythe moved closer to her father, slipping her hand through his arm. She shivered. She'd never seen a dying person before.
"Anyhow," the man went on, "this here is the first place we come to. I'm lookin' to leave this feller with folks who kin take keer of him. I'm on my way to git new supplies, register my claim, head back to my mine. Mebbe I shouldn't uv moved him, but, like I say, didn't feel I could rightly leave him."
The prospector halted, waiting for Jed to say something.
Jed nodded. "Mighty good of you, mister."
"Figgered it was the least I could do." He shrugged and spat a long, thin stream of brown tobacco juice onto the dusty path. "But I cain't take him no farther. He's pretty far gone. See what you think." With that he looped the reins around the wooden brake, jumped down from the driver's seat, and walked to the back of the wagon to let down the panel.
Jed patted Blythe's hand reassuringly. Then, moving quickly and lightly for such a big man, he joined the other. Blythe followed close behind.
On the floor of the buckboard, wrapped in a filthy blanket, huddled a man of indeterminate age. His hair was a mass of tangles, his face covered with a dark stubble of beard. Even as they looked on, he stirred restlessly, mumbling incoherently. Hard chills ravaged his body.
Jed put out one large hand and touched the man's forehead, then drew it back in surprise. "You're right. The poor fellow's on fire with fever," he said. "Help me get him into the house. We'll see what we can do."
"I'm much obliged to ye. Now, if ye'll lift his shoulders, I'll git his legs."
Together, the two men wrestled the inert form from his resting place. But as they began tugging at the stricken miner, he thrashed about, flinging his arms as if to ward off some unseen attacker.
"No, you'll not take me alive!" he shouted in a hoarse voice. "To the last man, well hold on!"
"Easy there. We mean you no harm." Jed's voice was soft and soothing. "No one is going to take you."
The man was too weak to struggle further. He slumped against them as they continued to ease his body forward. At last they swung him free of the buckboard and moved toward the house.
Blythe sprang to action, running ahead to hold the door open.
"Go turn down the quilt on my bed, there's a good girl," Jed directed once they were inside. "Then draw some more water."
She did as she was told, both frightened and strangely excited by this unusual turn of events. By the time she returned to the house with the water, the man was settled in her father's bed.
She poured a dipperful of the spring water into a basin beside the bed and watched as her pa wrung out a clean cloth and bathed the sick man's face and brow.
The bedraggled prospector stood at the foot of the bed. "Then ye'll be takin' 'im on?"
Jed did not look up. "I hardly think we can do less than you. Yes, we'll take him ... until he's well enough to travel. He must have folks somewhere who'll be worrying-" With that, he turned to Blythe, saying, "Blythe, offer our friend here a cup of coffee."
"Well, thanky, I'd take kindly to that, ma'am. Then I best be on my way. Want to make the nearest town with an assayer's office 'fore sundown."
"You'd be welcome to stay for supper," Blythe offered, leading the way into the kitchen.
"I'm thankin' ye, ma'am, but now I know this feller's in good hands, I can rest easy." He twisted his dented hat in gnarled hands and followed her into the kitchen.
Blythe went to the stove, took off the blue enameled coffeepot, then poured out a steaming mugful and handed it to the prospector.
"Nice place you have here." He sipped the hot brew gingerly as he peered around the big front room. "Been so long in the wilderness, I'd purt' nigh forgot what a real home looks like."
Blythe's gaze followed his as it swept the area, from the shiny black stove with its polished trim and the starched curtains at the windows to Pa's big rocker by the low bookcase where his leather-bound volumes of Dickens were proudly displayed. A round table in the middle of the room had been freshly set with a blue and white checked tablecloth, centered with a small pitcher containing golden wild poppies and purple lupin. Blythe had arranged them herself only this afternoon.
"This don't look like most of the ranch houses I've seed out here," he observed. "Looks more like a farmhouse back East."
"My Pa's from Kentucky," Blythe informed him. "Some of our furniture did come from back East. Pa says lots of folks who crossed the prairie in covered wagons brought all their worldly goods with them. Then, when they needed money to buy livestock or for a grubstake, they had to sell off some things-even prized possessions. Pa's got a right good eye for quality," she said with some pride. "Besides, he likes to help people out."
"He's a good man, your pa." The old man nodded.
As if the sparse furnishings had gained new value through her visitor's compliments, Blythe's eyes touched and lingered lovingly on her favorite pieces-the mellow pine hutch that held the set of Blue Willow china, the mahogany drop-leaf table, and the little curved loveseat.
"Well, I'll be movin' on," he said taking a last gulp of coffee and setting down the mug. "I'll jes' water the horses, iffen ye don't mind, then I'll be shovin' off."
Coming to the doorway, Jed said, "I know this man-whoever he is-will be grateful when he hears how you went out of your way to help him."
"No more'n anybody'd do-"
Jed shook his head. "Not necessarily. The world would be a better place if what you say were true. But I was a miner myself for a good many years, saw a lot of things-cruel, inhuman things-. No, I'm afraid there are not many Good Samaritans around."
"You mined in these parts?" The prospector perked up his ears.
Excerpted from Gallant Bride by Jane Peart Copyright © 1990 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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