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The Little Sparrows
By Al & JoAnna Lacy
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2002 ALJO Productions
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was early April 1874, in southeastern Wyoming on a bright sunny Saturday morning. The prairie was golden with sunlight beneath an azure sky. White clouds rode the high wind, patching the land with drifting shadows. The air was clear and crisp, and from the Circle C ranch where rancher Sam Claiborne and his wife, Emma, stood on the front porch of their two-story white frame house looking westward, their range of vision extended all the way to the majestic Rocky Mountains some fifty miles away. The lofty peaks were still snow packed and filled the horizon. The Claibornes were looking for movement on the prairie, but the only movement in sight was a bald eagle winging its way southward on the airwaves.
The lanky rancher, who would turn thirty-five on his next birthday, sighed. "Honey, I can't wait any longer. I've got to get into Cheyenne for my appointment with Lyle Wilson. The bank closes at noon on Saturdays and I don't want to be late."
Emma, who was a year younger than her husband, said, "Go ahead and saddle Midnight, dear. I'll keep watch."
Sam nodded. "Okay. Be back shortly."
Emma observed her husband's form as he hurried around the house, then a small frown lined her brow and a shadow flicked across her blue eyes as she looked toward the west onceagain. She knew how much her child enjoyed riding and racing her bay mare across the prairie, but of late she had found herself ill at ease each time.
She whispered a prayer toward heaven, asking the Lord to bring both girls back safely. Betty Houston was Jody's best friend and a fine Christian girl. The girls were excellent riders, but out there on the prairie a lot of things could happen.
Emma took her eyes off the prairie for a moment to look around the ranch. She and Sam had worked hard over the years to make the Circle C what it was today. And even now, from sunup till sundown, their days were filled with chores and work of various sorts. Sundays always brought a nice break, with church services morning and evening, which invariably were a blessing.
Emma smiled to herself as she scanned the five hundred acres she could see from the porch, and thought how all the work was worth it. After all, she mused, good hard work never hurt anyone.
Two weeks ago, she and Sam, along with Jody's help, had put a fresh coat of paint on the house. Now it stood gleaming in the sunshine. Dark green shutters adorned each open window, making pretty frames for the lace curtains fluttering in the morning breeze. The grass around the house was beginning to put on its spring greenery, and the tulips and the daffodils made a bright-colored border around the front porch.
I couldn't ask for more, Emma thought. You've been so good to us, Lord.
Some fifteen minutes after he had headed for the barn, Sam came around the corner of the house, leading his big black stallion. She glanced at him and shook her head. "No sign of them, yet. I hope nothing's wrong."
Sam pulled Midnight to a halt at the porch steps. "I'm sure they're all right, honey. Sometimes those girls just get wound up while racing each other and forget about the time."
"Mm-hmm. I know."
Sam flipped the reins over Midnight's head, looping them over the saddle horn, then moved up the porch steps. He took Emma in his arms and kissed her. "I'll be back by one o'clock or so." He moved down the steps, took hold of the saddle horn, and lifted his foot to put it in the stirrup.
"Wait a minute, Sam. Here they come!"
He dropped the foot to earth and looked westward.
The Circle C was located some thirteen miles north of Cheyenne on the south bank of the Lodgepole River. Sam's eyes focused on the two riders as they galloped along the edge of the river toward the ranch, bent forward in their saddles, their long hair flowing in the wind.
He smiled when he saw that the bay mare carrying the girl with the dark hair was ahead by two lengths. Sam was proud of his twelve-year-old daughter, who had become an expert rider. He flicked a glance at Emma. "Honey, those girls sure love to race each other."
"That they do," she said, descending the porch steps. "Strange, isn't it? About half the time Jody and Queenie win, and half the time Betty and Millie come out ahead."
"Yeah. I think those two mares have a secret pact to make it work like that."
Emma laughed. "Know what? I believe you're right!"
Soon the bay mare thundered up and skidded to a halt a few seconds before the gray roan. Betty Houston, who was the same age as Jody Claiborne, said jokingly, "You and Queenie cheated, Jody!"
While the horses snorted, breathing hard from the race, Jody laughed. "And just how did we cheat?"
"Well, you and Queenie made Millie and me ride closer to the riverbank. The air is thicker close to the water, so it slowed Millie down."
Sam and Emma both laughed at Betty's good-natured reasoning. "She's right, Jody!" Sam said. "You should've been the one riding closest to the river. It's only fair that you give your best friend the advantage."
Jody looked at her best friend. "Thanks Betty! I appreciate your letting Queenie run in the thin, dry air. Next time, it'll be Millie's turn."
Everybody laughed, and Jody dismounted. "Daddy, I'm sorry if I held you up. We kind of let the time get away from us. But thanks for waiting for me. I sure want to ride to town with you."
Sam smiled. "It's all right, Jody. I thought you girls might be a while getting back, so I went ahead and saddled up Midnight. Soon as Queenie catches her breath, we'll go."
Betty ran her gaze over the three faces. "I'll be going. See all of you later."
"Thanks for letting me win," Jody said, a wide grin spread over her pretty face.
Betty grinned back, wheeled her mare around, and trotted away.
Jody turned to her father. "Daddy, just give me two minutes to wash my face and get a drink of water, and I'll be all set to go with you."
"Sure. Go ahead, honey. Hurry, though. Remember I have an appointment with the bank president. I don't want to be late."
"Yes, sir!" she said. "Be right back."
As Jody took the porch steps two at a time and plunged through the door, Sam took Emma in his arms and kissed her. "Thank you for giving me a daughter like that, sweet stuff. What a girl! She's so much like her mother."
Emma crinkled her nose. "My, hasn't God blessed you? Just think what a fortunate man you are to have two such marvelous women in your life."
"Don't I know it!"
Emma clipped his chin. "And don't you forget it!"
"Oh, how could I? How blessed I am!"
Sam stepped to Queenie, took hold of the reins, and said, "Hey, ol' gal, let's get you a drink of water."
He led her to the nearby watering trough and let her drink all she wanted. As he was leading her back to the front of the house, Jody came out the door and put her arms around her mother. She asked if there was anything else her mother needed from the general store other than what was on the list she had given her that morning.
Emma said there was nothing else. Jody told her she would see her later and moved up to her father. "Thank you for watering Queenie for me, Daddy, and thank you for waiting for me."
Emma looked on with pleasure as Sam kissed Jody's forehead and squeezed her tight. She was glad that Sam and his daughter were very close. It pleased her that they spent so much time together. Jody had made herself a tomboy, knowing her father very much wanted a son too. She worked with him on the ranch and helped with the chores. She also helped her mother with the cooking, washing, ironing, and the housework, which she enjoyed more.
Father and daughter mounted up and rode toward town, where he would take care of his banking business while she purchased a few things at the general store.
As Sam and Jody rode into Cheyenne and were moving past the railroad station, they saw a train with several coal cars. The coal was being unloaded into wagons owned by Cheyenne residents, town merchants, the town's blacksmith, and several ranchers and farmers.
Jody glanced at her father. "I guess we don't need coal this time, do we, Daddy?"
"No. We're set till the middle of next fall."
She ran her gaze over the coal cars. "Those Rocky Mountains must really be full of coal. They just keep digging more out all the time."
"Yes. When God created the earth, He knew that man would need the coal to heat his homes and business buildings; that the blacksmiths would need it to do their work, and the factories would need it for melting alloys of iron, carbon, and other elements to make steel."
"Well, I'm sure glad we have coal to heat our house in these cold Wyoming winters, Daddy. The Lord sure has been good to the people He put on this earth. I wish more of them would see how good the Father was to send His Son to provide them with salvation. But most of them seem to have no interest in Jesus. They want religion, but they don't want Him. Or they want to mix what He did at Calvary with human works, which is to say that what Jesus did when He shed His blood on the cross, died, and rose again was not enough to save lost sinners."
"You've got that right, sweetheart. Anything added to His finished work at Calvary is human works, and as you well know, the Bible says salvation is by grace, not of works, lest any man should boast."
"That's what my Sunday school teacher was saying last Sunday, Daddy. When human works are added to the gospel, it takes the glory from Jesus and puts it on those who do the works."
"Right. And because Jesus paid the full price for our sins on the cross, God the Father wants all the glory to go to His Son."
"And that's the way it should be."
"Amen, sweetheart." Soon Sam and Jody were in Cheyenne's business section. As they drew near the general store, Jody said, "Daddy, I'll be sitting on one of those benches in front of the store when you come back from the bank."
"All right, honey. See you later."
Jody veered Queenie toward the hitch rail in front of the store as her father headed for the next block where the Bank of Cheyenne was located.
She dismounted, patted Queenie's long neck, and entered the general store.
Twenty minutes later, Jody came out of the store, packages in hand, talking to a teenage girl who was in her Sunday school class. The girl headed down the boardwalk, and Jody stepped into the street and drew up to her mare. She began placing the small packages into a canvas bag that was attached to the rear of her saddle. When she got to the last package, she reached inside and took out a long stick of licorice candy. Her favorite.
Jody's mother always gave her permission to purchase a nickel's worth of candy whenever she went to the general store for her. She patted the mare's neck again. "Daddy will be back in a little while, Queenie."
The mare bobbed her head and whinnied lightly as if she understood Jody's words.
Jody went to one of the benches and sat down to wait for her father.
She relished every bite of her licorice stick. Since it was Saturday, farm and ranch families were in town for shopping, which made for a constant stream of people moving along the boardwalk. Jody sat in complete contentment, for people watching was one of her preferred pastimes. A few minutes had passed when Jody looked up and saw Pastor Dan Forbes, his wife Clara, and their two sons coming down the boardwalk. Peter Forbes was Jody's age, and Paul was ten years old. Clara Forbes spotted Jody first, and pointed her out to the rest of the family. Jody put the licorice stick in her purse.
"Your parents in the general store, Jody?" asked the pastor.
"No, sir. Daddy's over at the bank doing business with Mr. Wilson. Mommy didn't come to town with us. I just finished a little grocery shopping for her."
"Oh, I see."
Clara smiled. "Well, it's nice of you to do the shopping for her, honey."
"I enjoy it."
Jody noticed Peter and Paul as they stepped across the boardwalk to the hitch rail and stroked Queenie's long face, speaking to her. Queenie nickered her own greeting.
The pastor looked at Jody. "Have you and Betty had a good race lately?"
"Oh yes. Just this morning, in fact."
"And who won?"
"Well, that's good. The last time I asked about you girls racing was at church a couple of weeks ago. Betty had won."
Jody giggled. "Oh, we trade off as to who wins."
"Really? So you two plan on who's going to win before you race?"
"No. Millie and Queenie plan it out."
The pastor and his wife both laughed. "Come on, boys, we have to be going. We don't want to be late for your dentist appointment, Paul."
The boys left Queenie and moved back to the spot where their parents stood. Jody said, "Tell Dr. Miller hello for me, Paul."
Paul chuckled. "Tell you what, Jody-I'll stay here, and you go see Dr. Miller in my place. Tell him hello in person."
"Nice try," said Clara.
Paul made a mock scowl. "I don't want to go to the dentist, Mom."
"Nobody does," said Clara. "But with all of us it's necessary from time to time."
The pastor told Jody he would see her and her parents at church tomorrow, and he and his family walked away.
Jody sat down on the bench again, took her licorice stick out of her purse, and went back to her people watching.
A short time later, she saw her father riding down the street toward her. As he pulled up to the hitch rail, he looked at her and smiled. "Get your shopping done, honey?"
"Sure did," she said, putting the last piece of licorice in her mouth and rising from the bench. "I already loaded the sacks into the canvas bag." She ducked under the hitch rail and mounted Queenie. "Pastor Forbes and his family came by, Daddy. Paul has an appointment with the dentist."
Sam screwed up his face. "I'm glad we have dentists in this world, but I sure don't like to go to them."
"I never met anyone who likes to go to the dentist."
As father and daughter headed north on Main Street, they soon found themselves drawing near the railroad station. They saw that the coal train was gone and a passenger train stood in its place.
Jody's attention was drawn to a long line of children who were standing on the depot platform next to the train. Men and women were talking to them. "Daddy, look! It's one of the orphan trains."
"Sure enough. I read the announcement about this train in the Cheyenne Sentinel last week. It told that the train would be in today for prospective foster parents to pick and choose the orphans as they wished."
"I've heard you and Mommy talk about the orphan trains at times, Daddy, but I never understood about these foster parents.
Excerpted from The Little Sparrows by Al & JoAnna Lacy Copyright © 2002 by ALJO Productions
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.