The next day the winds died down and the skies were a clear icy blue. They had received only a dusting of snow, much to everyone’s relief. Koko seemed no better, however. Her fever refused to abate, and the cough was still relentless. Susannah seemed weak, and although Dianne tried to spoon fresh milk into her mouth a few drops at a time, it just wasn’t enough. Feelings of helplessness overwhelmed Dianne at times.
“I brought you two pails of milk,” Morgan announced, coming in from the back porch. “Oh, and we spotted a couple folks walking this way—maybe a mile or more off. I can’t imagine what would bring anyone out in this cold, but there they were. Uncle Bram spotted them first.”
Dianne checked the coffee pot. “There’s plenty of hot coffee to thaw them out. Who do you suppose it is?” She went to the woodbox, realizing she’d better get the morning meal cooking if they were to have guests.
“I couldn’t say. They were still a ways off. Uncle Bram decided to drive out and fetch them back.”
Dianne nodded. “They must be very cold.” She threw extra wood in the stove. “Hungry, too, I’d imagine. I’ll get breakfast on and make enough for them as well.”
She hurried to cut thick slabs of ham. The meat had hung on the back porch all night and was frozen clear through. Nevertheless, Morgan had given all of her knives a fine edge, and the one she used sliced the meat as though it were nothing more difficult than bread. With the meat cut, Dianne pulled two cast-iron skillets from the wall and began heating them atop the stove. She tossed the ham in to begin cooking, then directed her attention to the rest of their meal.
The biscuits were already prepared and sat in a covered basket on the table. Dianne hadn’t planned on making gravy but decided with visitors coming she’d whip some together as well.
“Would you take this pitcher and bring me back some milk?” she asked Morgan.
“It hasn’t been separated yet.”
“That’s all right,” Dianne replied, turning the ham so it wouldn’t burn. “We’ve got plenty of butter, and a rich gravy will stick to the bones. Just bring me the milk as is.”
Morgan did as she asked, and soon Dianne had the ham steaks stacked on the platter and the gravy bubbling in the skillet. She’d no sooner added salt and pepper than the back door opened to reveal Uncle Bram.
“Ummm, smells mighty good in here.” He pushed the door back and stepped aside. “I’ve brought you a surprise, Dianne.”
“Me?” she asked, turning to see what he could possibly mean.
As the two frozen figures unwrapped their faces and pulled away thick knitted scarves, Dianne could see exactly what her uncle was talking about.
“Faith! Malachi!” It was the two former slaves she’d met on the wagon train. Going to her dear friend Faith, Dianne embraced her. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“I can’t either. We prayed we’d find you,” Faith said between chattering teeth. “Been asking all over the valley.” Her skin, generally a beautiful coffee color, had grown pale, almost ashen.
“Come warm up by the stove. We haven’t had our breakfast yet, so I made extra when I heard we had company coming.” Dianne stood back as Malachi joined his wife. “I’m so happy to see you both.”
Malachi nodded. “Thank ya kindly, Miz Dianne.”
Dianne waited until they’d had a few moments to warm by the fire before making introductions and taking their coats. Faith and Malachi remembered Morgan from the wagon train, and they squatted down to greet Jamie.
“We’ll get some hot food and coffee into you, and that will warm you up to be sure,” Dianne said as she hurried to hang up their things on the pegs by the back porch door. “Everyone sit down, and I’ll bring the food.”
Malachi and Faith were too exhausted to argue. Dianne smiled at her uncle. “I think we just might have our miracle. Faith knows a great deal about sickness and such.”
Bram’s face brightened. “Truly?”
Dianne’s smile broadened. “Truly.”
She served the breakfast quickly and waited impatiently as Uncle Bram blessed the food and prayed for the well-being of his family. Dianne had a million questions to ask Faith, and it was so hard to be patient. She wondered where Faith and Malachi had come from, how they’d managed in the gold fields, and what had happened to the baby they’d been expecting when they’d parted company some five years ago. Knowing, however, that they were probably half starved, Dianne held her tongue.
They ate in silence for several minutes, with only an occasional comment about the delicious food being added to break the stillness of the meal. Finally Dianne could wait no more.
“Where did you walk in from?” she asked.
“Can’t really say,” Faith replied. “We were up north for a spell. Then west. We’ve been so many places, I can’t even remember their names.”
“You were going for gold,” Morgan stated. “How did that work out?”
“Oh, we found da gold,” Malachi assured. “Not much. Jes’ enough for us. But we no sooner had it den somebody would come to take it away. We was robbed mo’ than five times.”
“Oh no!” Dianne gushed with great sympathy. “How awful.”
“There were worse things,” Faith said softly.
Dianne met her pained expression and instinctively understood. “The baby?”
“Three babies,” she admitted. “I miscarried two, and one was born stillborn last week.”
“Last week! Oh, Faith. You should be in bed.” Dianne looked to her uncle. “They can stay in my room, can’t they?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
“We gotta earn our keep,” Malachi said, pushing back his plate. “I come lookin’ fer a job. I’m a hard worker.”
Dianne nodded. “And not only that, Uncle Bram, but he’s a smithy.”
Morgan smiled. “And a right good smithy. I saw him mend many a wagon wheel on the trail west—not to mention shoe horses and oxen. He knows what he’s doing, that’s for sure.”
“We could use a good smithy,” Bram replied. “I’ve long wanted to set up my own blacksmith shop here on the ranch. I’d be happy to give you a try.”
And before Dianne knew it, the entire matter was settled. But when Dianne turned to smile at Faith, she recognized her friend showed signs of exhaustion. “I’m going to put Faith to bed,” Dianne said as she helped her stand. “You go on and finish your breakfast.”
No one argued, especially not Faith. She allowed Dianne to pull her along until they reached Dianne’s bedroom. As Dianne helped her into a warm flannel gown, Faith offered her thanks.
“I thought we’d die before we found you. I prayed for a miracle.”
Dianne laughed and tucked Faith into bed. “We were praying for a miracle too. You see, my aunt Koko had a baby girl yesterday, several weeks early. I fear my aunt may have pneumonia, and the baby isn’t doing very well either. I don’t have enough understanding of such things to really know what to do.”
“Can she feed the baby?” Faith asked, her voice breaking with emotion.
“No, not really. And the baby isn’t thriving.” Dianne saw tears come to Faith’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t talk about it, what with you having just lost a little one. I’m so sorry.”
Faith shook her head. “No. God has a purpose, even in this. Don’t you be sad—I’m sad enough for us both.” She paused and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Bring me the baby.”
“What?” Dianne shook her head. “You need your rest.”
“Bring her to me. I can wet-nurse her. I have plenty of milk. Plenty so as it hurts to bear.” She looked away from Dianne, tears streaming down her brown cheeks. “My heart knows my baby boy is gone, but not my body. Bring her to me.”
Dianne reached out to squeeze Faith’s hand. “You truly are my miracle. You can’t possibly know how hard I prayed for help.”
Faith turned her face upward and met Dianne’s gaze. “I know,” she said sadly. “I know.”
The Coming Storm (Heirs of Montana, Book 2) by Tracie Peterson
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 076422770X, ISBN 0764229079 (large print)
Published by Bethany House Publishers