A Love to Have and to Hold – Linda Ford

Walker’s legs buckled. He caught himself before he fell. He wiped his eyes. Shimmering shapes ahead made him squint to focus. Buildings. A town. He stumbled forward. A steeple on the nearest building pointed heavenward. Thank You, God. I made it. He staggered the last few paces and collapsed on the steps of the church. From inside, came the sound of a piano and ladies singing in harmony. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. Yes, Lord, it was Your amazing grace and love that brought me to safety. The music stopped. The door behind him was ajar, and he heard bits and pieces of a conversation. “He’d like to court you.” A second voice answered. “I don’t want to encourage him.” Walker missed a few words from the first speaker. Then the second person spoke again. “I’m not interested in marriage, but even if I was, it would not be with a penniless, homeless cowboy.” Walker figured that about described him. Not that he was looking for a wife. Nope.

Besides, this wasn’t the first young lady to speak her mind about poor cowboys. Dianne had taught him a lasting lesson on the matter. Now he had other things on his mind. Fog filled his brain, and he couldn’t remember what his plans were. Wavy lines distorted the world around him. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and waited for the weakness to pass. A hand touched his shoulder. The scent of wild flowers wafted into his senses. “Mister, you look to be in need of help.” He couldn’t answer. “Wait here. I’ll get my pa.” A different voice spoke. “Is he okay while you do that? I need to check on the children.” The speaker seemed eager to be away. A soft chuckle. “I don’t think he’ll be going anyplace soon.” Footsteps faded away. Walker’s head echoed with the urgent beat of his heart. Moments later a man’s voice spoke, and there was a gentle touch on his shoulders. “You’re in safe hands.” Walker squinted in an attempt to bring the face into focus. A kindly looking man with dark brown hair and steady gray eyes. Beside him, a young lady with similarly colored hair but brown eyes whose brow wrinkled in concern. He managed to take them in before his vision again blurred.

“Let’s get him into the house.” The man urged Walker to his feet, holding him as he swayed. With one person on either side of him, he was guided across a patch of grass and into a kitchen. He was lowered to a chair by the table. “Mister,” the man asked, “are you sick?” Walker struggled to find the strength to talk. “Weak. Thirsty.” He touched his head. “Got a bump here.” The robber had hit him with the butt of his gun. “I’ll have a look.” Walker flinched as the man parted his hair and examined the wound. “You have a goose egg, but it doesn’t look serious. I expect it will hurt for a few days.” “Here, drink this.” The young lady held a cup of cold water to his lips, and he drank eagerly. She hastened to bring him a bowl of soup and fed it to him spoonful by spoonful. He would have protested, but he didn’t have the strength or the will. Slowly he began to feel his body. His brain started to clear. The man sat opposite him. “Welcome to Glory, Montana Territory. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the preacher, Jacob Kinsley. This is my daughter, Josephine.

” Another woman entered the room, with two children in tow. “This is Mrs. Norwood and her children, Blossom—” A sweet looking little girl he thought might be about three. “And Donny.” The boy could be five or six. Marshall wasn’t good at judging children’s ages. But there was no mistaking the bright curiosity in the child’s eyes. Miss Josephine placed a cup of fragrant coffee before him. “Can you manage to drink it on your own, or do you need help?” He recognized her voice as the one who had spoken against penniless cowboys. “I’ll manage. Thank you.” His self-respect had returned, but he soon discovered he needed to use both hands to lift the cup to his mouth. The hot drink served to revive him. The preacher nodded. “I see you’re feeling a bit better. Can you tell us what happened to you?” “I was robbed. The scoundrel hit me on the head before he took my horse and saddle and all my supplies. Left me to perish.” “You proved him wrong, I’d say.” “If I hadn’t found this place when I did, he might have succeeded.” He’d been fighting the weakness of his body all morning. “It would have been so easy to stop putting one foot in front of the other.” His world had narrowed down to that simple act. “How many days since you were robbed?” “Not sure but seems like it was five days. I’ve been wandering around, trying to find help since then.

” A collective gasp came from the adults, and the little boy’s eyes widened with admiration as he leaned on the corner of the table and watched Walker. “Five days?” The preacher shook his head. “How did you survive?” “Mostly I think I went in circles. Couldn’t get my bearings.” The blow to his head had left him dizzy and disoriented. “Yesterday, I found the road. I could see signs that the river was nearby, but I didn’t have the strength to make it to the river and back. I hoped if I stayed on the road, someone would find me.” “You didn’t encounter any homes?” “I passed a homesteader’s shack a couple days ago.” He wasn’t sure of the time frame any more than he was certain the place hadn’t been born in the wanderings of his mind. “Didn’t seem to be anyone home.” He couldn’t remember if he’d knocked on the door or not. One thing he was certain of. “I couldn’t bring myself to take anything. Even being hungry doesn’t make stealing right.” “God certainly had His hand on you.” “Preacher, I couldn’t agree more.” “Now, you’ll be needing somewhere to rest and recover your strength. Turns out I have just the place.” “Pa?” It was Miss Josephine. “What do you have in mind?” “We’ll put a cot in the addition.” He held up a hand to forestall his daughter’s objection. “I know it’s not finished, but the walls are up, the roof is almost shingled. It will provide shelter.” “Yes, Pa.

” “With your ma away tending to Mrs. Smith, I’ll be counting on you.” “Of course.” “I can help,” Mrs. Norwood offered. Miss Josephine patted the woman’s shoulder. “I will gladly accept help, but Ma would have my hide if I let you do too much. You need to rest and regain your strength.” Mrs. Norwood sighed. “It seems to be taking forever.” “There’s no rush.” Miss Josephine turned back to her father. “I’ll help set up a place.” She and her father left. Young Donny remained at the table, studying Walker. Walker grinned. “Do I look that bad?” Donny nodded. “You’s covered with dust, and your hair is pokey.” He raised spread fingers to his head to indicate what he meant. “Donny, mind your manners,” the child’s ma said. Donny ducked his head. “Sorry, mister.” “No offense taken. I expect I am rather a mess, but I’ll tell you, I’m mighty glad to be alive.

” Mrs. Norwood breathed an “Amen.” She raised her voice to speak to Walker. “You couldn’t have found yourself in a better place. The Kinsleys are hospitable and will help you get back on your feet.” “I’m afraid I have nothing to offer them in exchange. I’m a poor, penniless cowboy without even a horse and saddle to my name.” “That won’t make an ounce of difference.” Walker nodded. It might not matter to the preacher, but he was certain it mattered a lot to the preacher’s daughter. Not that Walker cared. He only wanted to regain his strength, find a way to earn enough money to buy another horse and outfit, and then proceed with his plans. JOSİE HELPED her pa set up a cot in the unfinished addition. “Pa, how long do you think he’ll be here?” She spread out bedding as she spoke. “As long as he needs to be. God has a plan in bringing him to us, and we don’t want to miss out on what the good Lord has in store. Do we?” “No, Pa.” Her tone must have said more than she intended, because Pa stopped pushing aside pieces of lumber to study her. “This is the reason we need the addition—so we can provide a place for the sick, the injured, and destitute. We can give them shelter and succor.” That’s what the room down the hall was supposed to do, but it would be some time before Stella and her children could leave. Pa continued. “Is there some reason you don’t want him here? Is it because your mother is away? I have every confidence you can handle this. You’re very capable.” “I don’t mind the work.

” It was the man’s words about not being able to bring himself to steal food even when he was hungry that twisted inside her stomach. Sometimes a person had to steal to survive. “He’s a fine looking fellow,” Pa said, still watching her to see her reaction to his words. “I suppose he is, though he could use some water to wash with and some clean clothes.” Even in his disheveled state she couldn’t help but note the man’s dark blond hair, his piercing blue eyes, and the firmness of his chin. Pa chuckled. “Josie, my dear daughter, someday a young man is going to make you forget your past and make you want to march into the future.” “Pa, you know I already have plans for my future.” Pa shook his head, his mouth drawn back in a slight frown. “Your plans sound lonely to me.” “I love sewing, and I see ladies as they come to order gowns and things.” Though since they’d moved to Montana Territory, she didn’t see many. “Soon I’ll have enough money to buy a sewing machine, and then I’ll set up business in a little shop.” She’d be independent and self-sufficient, with her future secure. “There’s more to life than making money.” They’d had this discussion before. She’d explained it wasn’t about the money. It was about security. But Pa insisted her only security was in trusting God. “I can trust God and do my part as well.” She stepped back and studied the room. Now that Pa had moved aside the lumber, she could see how dirty the floor was. “I better sweep up the sawdust.” “I’ll bring out a stand and some water so he can wash.” Pa chuckled.

“He does have several layers of trail dust on him.” He headed for the doorway. “I expect you can find something for him to wear in Ma’s things.”


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