Read an Excerpt
The Grand Tour Series
By Lisa T. Bergren
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 Lisa T. Bergren
All rights reserved.
As the locomotive reached the train station, I strained so hard to see my folks that my eyes hurt. I looked left and right, but the town was as sleepy as always. It wasn't as if I had to search for them among throngs—I saw no one but old Clifford Miller across the street, climbing into his wagon with some effort, and Susan Johnson entering her hardware store.
Likely just late, I decided, making my way forward between the seats before we had fully stopped, then climbing down the steep steps to the wooden platform.
"Miss?" asked a man's voice behind me.
I turned in surprise, holding my hand up to my old hat as I felt a pin slip, and then— embarrassed that I'd forgotten to even look for it—took my valise from the conductor's hand. "Thank you."
The railroad man looked beyond me to the vacant platform and street. "Someone comin' for you, miss?"
I nodded eagerly. "Yes. My parents. They must've been delayed. They'll be along shortly." A long whistle sounded. Not that there was anyone around to rush aboard. Protocol, I supposed. That whistle, usually heard from three miles distant, was a part of all my childhood years. A warm sense of home filtered through me, making me smile.
The man lifted his brows and nodded back with a curious smile as the train began to chug into motion. "Good day, then."
"Good day," I returned, watching as he stepped aboard the steps and disappeared inside the train.
The train station—little more than a water tower, a platform, and a tiny hut of a shelter—was in the center of Main Street, which was all of two blocks long. I shaded my eyes and looked to the massive mountains behind the station, which were a pale blue in the afternoon sun. Dunnigan had once been a gold-rush town, established to supply the miners who had streamed into the mountains, seeking their fortune. But it had seen its heyday come and go. Now the buildings were in need of paint, and half the storefronts were abandoned. These days, it existed solely to supply the local farmers who stubbornly eked out an existence on the prairie in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains' peaks, farming and ranching.
But oh, did it feel good to see those mountains again. I closed my eyes and lifted my face to feel the cool breeze coming off them, down to us on the eastern plains. The feel of it, the scent of pine and sage and dust ... all were of home. I craned my neck again, eagerly looking down the road in the direction Mama and Papa should be coming from. But no one was on the road—and I could see a good mile before it disappeared over a hill.
Mr. Miller, with his balding head, giant, flapping ears, and sagging jowls, pulled up alongside the platform. "Well, if it isn't Cora Diehl," he said with a smile. "Welcome home, girl."
"Thank you, Mr. Miller. I don't suppose you've seen my folks today, have you?" A stab of anxiety shot through me. What if something was wrong?
"No, miss. Drove right by your place on the way in. Didn't see hide nor hair of 'em. But I can take you out." He nodded toward the foothills, in the direction of home.
"Oh, that's all right," I said. I could walk the three miles faster than Clifford Miller's old mare could haul us.
"Nonsense, girl. I'll take you. And if we meet your folks on the road, then that's less time on the road for them."
"Oh, Mr. Miller. I don't wish to burden your mare ..."
"Come, come," he said, waving me forward. "If old Star can haul hay, she can haul a bit of a girl like you. Unless that valise is full of bricks." Even though his tone was gruff, his watery eyes twinkled.
I smiled. I was hardly a bit of a girl. I was a woman grown, but I supposed my old neighbor would always see me as the five-year-old who would come to call, uninvited, and trail him around his homestead. "As long as you're certain it's no imposition."
"Imposition? Pshaw. Just being neighborly. Did they not teach you that in teacher college?" He reached over across the seat to take my hand as I clambered up.
I met his teasing grin. "No, we didn't cover that particular subject."
"Hmph," he said, flicking the reins.
We moved out, down the road. Mr. Jennings, the saddler, came outside to sweep his front stoop and waved as we went by. "Welcome home, Cora."
"Thanks, Mr. Jennings! See you soon!"
"Hope so! You stop by and tell me all about that teacher college, all right?"
I didn't know what was keeping my folks, but it didn't really matter—I felt welcomed already. The welcome sight of sleepy Main Street; the warm, dry wind as it swept dust across the road; the cheery red barns and tidy fence posts ... After the busy bustle and noise of the city, the quiet and normalcy of the long summer stretching before me felt peaceful, like a blanket settling in around my shoulders, urging me into a porch swing.
"So I take it that Normal School over there in Dillon still suits you," Mr. Miller said.
"It's wonderful," I said. "I've learned a great deal. Two more years, and I can teach anywhere in the state."
"Should come home. Settle down with Lorrie Cramer."
I lifted my brows. "Isn't Lorrie Cramer seeing Louisa Anderson?" I said politely. Not that I really cared. Lorrie Cramer was a nice boy. Quiet. Hardworking. But all he ever thought about—all he ever wanted to think about—was farming. In the last year, I'd decided I loved learning. It fed me. Expanded me. Shaped me. I'd be eager to return to school, come fall. And I knew I needed a man who longed for the same.
"Ach. He doesn't care about Louisa. He's always had an eye for you." Mr. Miller gave me a sidelong glance, and I smiled. While I couldn't help but find Lorrie's attention flattering, I didn't want him to set his cap for me. Because he and I would never be more than friends. We just weren't well matched.
Mr. Miller and I chattered on about his rheumatism, the strange, dry winter followed by the dry spring, the shortage of spring lambs, calves, and foals. "Wind started in January," he said, "and hasn't let up yet."
In all my years on the farm, I could only remember one year when my papa was happy with how much rain we'd had—when it came, how it came, how long it lasted. Every other year, it was the common refrain of every farmer I knew—if only the weather ... But even in Dillon, we'd noted the uncommonly warm winter, the lack of snow at Christmas. Papa would likely be fretting too.
I squinted my eyes, trying to see the house now that we were over the hill and about a half mile distant. The wind was gathering in strength as we neared the mountains, sending waves of dust across our path. All along, I was certain we'd meet up with my folks, and with each bend in the road, I grew more anxious.
My heartbeat accelerated. Something was wrong. Or was it simply my imagination running wild?
I thought back to the last time I'd heard from my mother—a letter two weeks ago, with the ticket enclosed. Perhaps they never got my reply confirming I'd be on this train, on this day? That was likely it. Everything was fine. Just a misunderstanding.
But the words inside my mind didn't match the fear gathering in my chest, making me fight for breath.
They'd know I would be on that train. They'd expect me. Today. An hour ago.
As we neared the farm, I could see that the wagon was pulled up to the house—Sugarbeet ready for a run to town. So what had kept them?
Mr. Miller gave me a sidelong glance. He had fallen conspicuously silent. At last, we turned onto our farm's long lane, and I could bear the slow pace no longer. "Please. Stop the wagon, Mr. Miller. I need to get out."
"Just a bit farther, Cora. I'll deliver you to your stoop."
"No," I said, shaking my head. "Please."
When he only frowned, I half stood and jumped to the ground, even as he abruptly pulled back on Star's reins. I was out and running before he came to a full stop, tearing down the lane as if a mad dog were after me. I lifted my skirts and ran across our yard and into the house. "Mama?" I called, opening the door. "Papa?" The house was quiet.
I turned and saw that Mr. Miller was only halfway up the lane. I ran across the yard to the barn, hesitating at the door. I peered into the dark recesses. "Papa?"
That was when I glimpsed her. My mother. Weeping over my father, who was sprawled over the straw-strewn floor of the barn, his neck and head in her lap. He looked semiconscious, deathly pale.
"C-Cora?" Mama asked, looking up at me, her face red and blotchy. "Oh, Cora. I didn't know what to do," she sobbed. She reached out to me, and her expression was so full of raw need and fear, I brought a hand to my chest as I sank to my knees beside Papa.
He was breathing. But his eyes were wide and vacant, and his hand was so cold—
"Cora!" Mama said. "Please, baby. Take Sugarbeet and run for the doctor."CHAPTER 2
In a stupor, I ran to unhitch Sugarbeet, then hurried her back into the barn to throw my old saddle over her back. I glanced at Papa again and, with shaking hands, reached under Sugarbeet's belly for the strap, then cinched it tight. I mounted and trotted past my dazed neighbor, who was frowning up at me in confusion. "Going for the doctor!" I shouted. "Papa's in trouble. Will you stay with them?"
Mouth agape, Mr. Miller nodded once, and I was off.
I made it to town in a quarter of the time it had taken Mr. Miller to travel the same road home, and Doc Jameson followed behind me on the way back, coming at a good clip in his smart buggy. By the time he reached us, Mama and I'd managed to get Papa on top of a blanket. And once Doc Jameson gave us a nod of approval, together we moved him into the house.
We were fortunate that Papa was a slight man, nothing but lean muscle and bone. I'd met his height before I was thirteen and outgrew him by a couple of inches by the time I'd turned fourteen. "You grow as fast as the weeds in my fields," he'd teased me. But he also encouraged me to stand straight. "Never stoop, Cora. Nothing finer than a woman as lovely and straight as you, with her head held high. My own Lady Liberty," he called me. "My elegant girl."
Please don't let him die, Lord. Please. Please, please, please, I prayed, as I'd been praying ever since I left the barn to fetch the doctor.
We set Papa on the sagging bed—the same bed he and Mama had bought when they arrived here nineteen years ago. Our house wasn't much, and it felt smaller than I remembered. But it was as tidy as ever, and I found the sameness of it comforting.
Mama sat beside Papa, holding his hand, as Doc Jameson continued his examination. Mr. Miller went to the front window, gazing out with a sober expression on his face, worrying a handkerchief in his hands. And I stood in the corner, watching the doctor's expressions as he listened to my father's heartbeat through his stethoscope and then timed his pulse by pinching his wrist and keeping track on a pocket watch. Papa seemed to be sleeping now, his face relaxing and seeming even more lopsided than it had been when I first arrived.
Doc Jameson looked up at Mama and then over at me. His brows lowered. "Best take a seat, Cora. You look as white as a new snow. Don't want you keeling over in a faint."
I obediently sank beside Mama on the bed. Tell us, I urged him silently as he seemed to gather his thoughts. Out with it.
"Alan's had a stroke," Doc said with a grimace. "Now, I can give him some medicine, but mostly we simply have to wait it out to see how much he'll recover. Some folks make a full recovery, go on to live out a long, full life. Others are partially incapacitated. And still others suffer another stroke that takes them."
I frowned. I couldn't imagine my papa, so strong, so virile, now so incapacitated. I looked from his slack face to his wet pants, then away, embarrassed for him.
Being stuck in bed or a chair would kill him, even if another stroke didn't come hunting him. He loved to work hard, day in, day out. With the animals. In the fields. Numbly, I stared at the kitchen table, where we'd shared so many good meals, laughing and talking. I could picture him there, at the head, his eyes crinkled up as he smiled, a big gap between his teeth. The way he pounded the table when he laughed ...
Doc Jameson rose, went to the sink, lifted the water pump lever once, and then let the meager trickle partially fill a cup. Then he poured some powder from an envelope into it, swished it around, and moved back to Papa's bedside. "Help me get him up, Alma," he said to Mama.
She did as he asked, but she'd said nothing since I'd returned. Only stared with wide, frightened eyes, her thin fingers to her lips, and moved like a wooden puppet, pushing through one task and then the next.
They managed to pour the mixture down Papa's throat, raising him and thumping on his chest when he choked, coughed, let it dribble down his chin and neck. I wondered how much of the medicine reached his gut. But Doc Jameson seemed unperturbed. Maybe he had figured that a certain amount would be lost and had accommodated for that in what he'd measured. Or maybe giving him medicine at all was a stage act, designed to give me and Mama a measure of peace. Please, Lord. Please, please, please—
"Cora," Doc said, gesturing me toward the kitchen. I'd known the man all my life, just as I did nearly everyone else in town. Doc had been in this house the day I was born, had delivered me into the world. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders as we walked to the window, and his touch felt like a comforting uncle's. Mr. Miller had left, mumbling something about "informing the pastor—back tomorrow." Even now, his wagon was turning left out of the lane, making the journey back to town behind the old horse that was more than ready to be put out to pasture. But bless Mr. Miller's soul, he was trying to help. Trying to do something for us.
"Cora, I'm glad you're home," Doc said in a whisper, glancing past me, back to my mother. "This has been quite a shock for Alma."
"You need to be strong for her, Cora. She'll need you now more than ever."
I glanced up at him. "But Papa ..."
The hope died in me as Doc slowly shook his head, his eyes full of pain and sorrow. "I can only do so much for him, Cora," he whispered, glancing over my shoulder toward Mama.
I wanted to sink to the wooden floor and weep. I had trouble breathing.
"But he's only forty-eight," I gasped out. Plenty of men died young, but not men as strong and virile as my papa.
Doc simply stared back at me with his gray eyes, waiting me out, his lips clamped in a sad line, his eyebrows peaked in the center.
"How long?" I managed.
"A day. Maybe two," he whispered back.
"Why not tell her?" I asked, finding breath in my fury. Grasping for strength.
"Because she needs to hope. Every family needs hope. And every family needs someone prepared to cope if the worst happens. I'm sorry, Cora," he said, dropping his arm from my shoulders and turning to face me. "But you have to be that one. I hate to burden you so. But you're a woman grown now—"
"Yes," I admitted, suddenly wishing I was eight again. "Yes. Fine. I understand. So we are to simply ... wait?"
He took a deep breath and straightened. "I'll return in the morning. If he survives the night ... who knows?" He offered a tentative smile.
I took a breath. "So we need only get him through the night."
He shook his head slowly, caution in his eyes. "It's often a mercy if the Lord chooses to take them sooner than later."
"How can you say that?" I said, my voice rising, sounding foreign, strangled. I turned toward him. "Get out. Get out!"
He stared at me as if I'd gone mad. "Now, Cora," he said, glancing toward Mama with concern, waving his hands in an effort to settle me.
I opened the door. "My father is going to make it through the night," I said. "Come tomorrow and see for yourself."
He licked his lips and then reached for his hat, tucking it atop his silver hair. He gave me a long, compassionate look. "I'm sorry, Cora."
I inhaled a stuttering breath, trying to calm myself. "Thank you kindly for coming to see to my papa, Doctor."
He turned and walked out. I quietly shut the door behind him, resting my head against it. I felt the wave of strength leave me as soon as he was gone, leaving me feeling weak-kneed and empty. Please, Lord. Please, please, please ...
"Cora," Mama said softly. "What did he tell you?"
I turned toward her, holding the cool metal knob of the front door behind me as if it would hold me upright. "We need to pray especially hard for Papa tonight, Mama. If we can get him through the night ..." My voice cracked, and I brought my hand around my belly, the other to my mouth. Then I swallowed back the lump in my throat and stood straight. I forced a small smile to my face. "When we see the sun, he'll be through the worst of it."
Excerpted from Glamorous Illusions by Lisa T. Bergren. Copyright © 2012 Lisa T. Bergren. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.