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Prairie's Children, Chapter 6
Submitted by Starla Anne on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 22:30
Before breaking camp the next morning, Ruth, Josh, and James Hickock enjoyed flapjacks and brewed coffee over the campfire. During breakfast, the discussion centered on Indians.
"Yep, I have heard that Dull Knife is causing problems around here,"mentioned Hickok. I also understand that a half-breed serving as a scout for the army has joined him. So, that could spell trouble."
"I thought I saw one or two watching us at a distance, but they soon disappeared from sight," replied Josh.
"That is the way they do sometimes. The like to create fear in settlers. They don't want homesteaders here. They may attack after showing themselves or they may not -- according how the wind blows, I reckon. We are not in a covered wagon and all they see are three people and even the girl here is not wearing a dress. We may just get by."
Ruth spoke up. "You don't sound very encourging."
"Don't mean to, ma'am," answered Hickok. "Just don't want you to to get to thinking that you are safe 'cause you are not. At least, you are not wearing a gun belt like your husband. Remember, that has caused quite a stir."
"You didn't have to mention that," frowned Ruth in a friendly way.
"Well, let's get started toward Abilene. Be a lot safer from Indians when we get there, though not from the po'cats who wear trousers," Hickok remarked as he got up getting ready to go.
James Hickok slowed his pace because of the young couple. He had plenty of time. He had gotten a telegram that he had been appointed as an US Marshall after losing the sheriff's race and had been assigned to Abilene, so he was sure that he had a secure position.
"Do you have any plans?" he asked Josh after awhile in the saddle.
"Not really. Just hope to find work of some kind. After all, I have a wife to support now," replied Josh with a huge smile. He glanced back and Ruth and saw her smile, too, at the remark.
"I don't guess you would take a job as a law man?" asked Hickok. "A good man is hard to find in these parts."
"Nope -- just wanna make some money so we can move on and settle down somewhere. Maybe a farm or something" answered Josh.
"Well, Abilene is a cattle town. Maybe you can get hooked up with a cattleman. Good cowhands are hard to find, too. I will see if I can help you in finding work."
Riding into Abilene, the trio discovered a bustling town. James Hickok headed toward the marshall's office while Josh and Ruth searched for a boarding house. They located one at the edge of town.
There was only one room available and Josh proudly presented themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Fortson. Finally, they were able to spend a night in their own room -- in peace. The room was simple, but to them it was as wonderful as any honeymoon suite.
It was late in the morning when the couple awoke, so they were last at the breakfast table. " 'Fraid it is almost gone, reported Miss Hammer, the single lady who owned the boarding house.
"Okay, that is okay," Ruth said with a smile. "I would like to cook my husband's first breakfast -- that is, if you don't mind."
Miss Hammer returned the smile. "Hon, I don't mind. Newly married?"
"Yep," replied Josh, looking like a proud husband.
"What's your name, Hon?" Miss Hammer asked Ruth.
Ruth decided to give her middle name in case her reputation had preceded her. "Ann," she proclaimed. "Ann Fortson and this is my husband, Josh Fortson."
Miss Hammer was pleased to see such a happy couple. Anyone with the brain of a flea could see that they were in love.
Ruth (or Ann, as she referred to herself now) served up fried eggs, bacon, and sawmill gravy. Josh thought it was the best breakfast he had ever eaten. He realized that he had married a good cook -- well, for breakfast anyway. He did not know that Ruth could not cook very many things, but what she could prepare was great. The new Ann Fortson set a place for Miss Hammer, too, against her wishes.
"Hush," insisted Ruth. "I'm doing this."
After breakfast, Ruth Ann helped clean up the kitchen, much to Miss Hammer's surprise. Ruth Anne gave the explanation, "I am experienced at this. I helped at the last boarding house." She did not mention she had been an employee.
James Hickok found Josh sitting on the porch after breakfast, thinking about where he might start looking for work. As he dismounted from his horse, Hickok brought some good news. He had found employment for both Josh and Ruth Ann.
"It is at the store right down from the marshall's office. They need a man to haul freight and work in the stock room and Ruth can work as a clerk. She can count money, can't she?"
"Sure, one thing she knows is money," replied Josh, hoping he was correct.
"The owner's wife is sick and he needs to be with her as much as possible and was asking where he could find somebody he could trust. I thought about you and Ruth right away and you are hired upon my word if you want it."
"That would be great. With both of us working, we can save money that much quicker and I can keep an eye on Ruth, lest she gets a wild idea about shooting somebody." They both laughed at the last remark.
"I heard that," said Ruth Ann as she came out the door grinning. "And don't let anyone hear you call me 'Ruth'. I am going by 'Ann' now so people won't figure out who I am."
"Okay, ma'am -- Ah, I mean Ann" mocked Josh as she swung at him with a broom. "Okay, lets go over and get acquainted -- that is, if Mr. Hickok has time to introduce us."
The introductions were made and Scott Brown, the store owner, was pleased with the neat appearing youngsters. He also felt that a married couple would be more dependable.
The afternoon was spent with Josh becoming familiar with the stock room and Ruth Ann checking the prices and location of everything.
The store was a combination dry good/hardware establishment. The customers consisted of ranchers, the men purchasing necessary tools for work and the women looking at material to make curtains, dresses, and shirts. Sometimes the men bought the wife a store-bought dress as a birthday surprise or Christmas gift.
Scott Brown observed how Ruth Ann handled the customers, especially the women. Just before noon, he checked on Josh and gave him instructions and directions on some items that needed to be delivered. Mr. Brown seemed pleasantly satisfied with his new employees.
Finally, he told the couple, "I think you are going to do just fine. I am going home to see about Mrs. Brown and the store is in your hands. I think you can handle it." Giving the key to Ruth Ann, he said, "Lock up at 5 o'clock and be sure and carry the money home with you. Don't want anyone to think I leave money around here at night."
The rest of the week went by quickly and Saturday afternoon arrived without any problems. Mr. Brown drove up in a buggy just before closing and surprised Josh by saying, "I am leaving the buggy so you and the missus can have a way to church tomorrow morning without messing up your Sunday clothes."
"I appreciate that, but I am afraid that we don't have any Sunday clothes," replied Josh.
"Oh yes you do. Check with your missus and I think you will find that Mrs. Brown has sent you a suit and the missus a Sunday dress."
"How did you know our sizes?"
"I am sneaky. I got your wife to check your trousers one night for your size and she knew her size. I just happened to have the clothing in stock. They have been here too long. Somebody needs to wear them."
"How can we ever thany you? We have only been here a short time."
"Long enough. Just consider it a bonus," replied Mr. Brown as another man brought him a horse.
When Josh told Ruth Ann about the invitation, he added, "I have never been to church."
"Me, neither," said Ruth. "My momma read to me from the Bible and always told me that some day the Lord would call me to salvation -- whatever that meant."
Josh looked at the ground a moment and twisted his foot back and forth in the dirt. Looking up, he said, "I guess we need to go. Our jobs may depend on it."
"Okay, but I am not sure I will know how to act," was Ruth Ann's reply.
Sunday morning began as a beautiful sunny day. The boarding house had a bath, so the young couple bathed early. Some of the guests had already taken their Saturday night baths, a few slept late since it was Sunday morning and others had staggered in during the wee hours of the morning, looking only for a bed.
Josh dressed in a blue suit with a white shirt, completed with a bolo string tie adorned with a black stone. He discovered he had some new boots and a new black hat, too.
Ruth Ann was dressed in a calico dress with a rose print and bewter buttons. It had a square neckline with a gathered waist and was trimmed in lace at the neckline, on the front bodice, and at the bottom of the sleeves. Her outfit included a matching bonnet and new ankle-length button up boots.
Arriving just before the service began, the couple took a seat on the back bench. As the congregation began to sing some old hymns, Ruth Ann whispered, "I know those songs. I remember momma singing them."
Tears began to flow down her cheeks as she thought about momma and poppa and the old home place where she grew up. They were sad memories, but precious. She knew her mother was in Heaven with Jesus and Ruth Ann wanted to go there when she left her earthly life.
She thought the minister must have sensed that. He preached about Heaven being a wonderful place and how terrible the other place would be for people who missed it. Ruth Ann listened with interest as he painted a picture so vivid that she could almost see Heaven in her mind. When he finished, his shirt was wet with perspiration when he gave the 'altar call'.
Ruth Ann squeezed Josh's hand and whispered, "Will you go up there and pray with me?"
Josh looked at her with tear filled eyes and said, "Sure. This will be a good way to start a family."
The young couple nervously stepped into the aisle and made the long walk toward the front. The pastor welcomed them with his arms extended and pointed toward an old wooden bench that had been placed in front of the pulpit.
"What do I do?" asked Ruth Ann. "I ain't never been to church before."
"Child, just pour your heart out to God and ask Jesus into your heart," was the answer.
Upon her knees, she did just that and felt a warm glow in her chest around what she imagined to be her heart. She knew instantly that God had heard her and had prepared her to meet momma some day. She raised her head and, with tears of joy in her eyes, she said, "Thank you, Jesus." She did not know why she thanked Jesus, but that was the way the words came out.
She turned to Josh and asked, "Are you saved, too?"
"Yes, I think so," answered Josh. Then he said, "I know so."
The congregation was invited to march around and greet the young couple. There were neck hugs, tears, and shouts of praise from the women. Then, the pastor 'opened the doors of the church'.
"What does that mean?" asked Ruth Ann to Josh.
A woman heard her and whispered, "He is asking if anyone wants to join the church and get baptized."
"I don't know what 'baptized' is," answered Ruth Ann.
The pastor heard Ruth's answer and said to the congregation, "Sing a few songs while I talk to these young folks."
The pastor led Josh and Ruth outside and explained that baptism was being submerged under water for a few seconds to symbolize a burial and when brought up out of the water, that symbolized the resurrection. He explained that they were a Baptist church and that is how they became members of the church. He stated that being baptized publicly was an open confession that they had died out to their old life and began a new life with Jesus and the process of being 'saved' was what Jesus referred to as being 'born again. The pastor assured them that they would learn more if they came to church regularly.
"Can I get baptized today?" asked Ruth Ann.
"Sure -- just let us go back into the church and tell them what you want and we will go down to the creek and baptize you," answered the pastor.
After that was done, the pastor said, "We will conclude the service at the baptizing hole."
Both Josh and Ruth Ann were baptized. Ruth did not know about Josh, but she had never been so happy in her life and everything seemed much brighter -- and was sure she would see momma and poppa again some day.
---To be continued
Copyright by Starla Anne Lowry