Late June 1876
Dianne Chadwick Selby sat straight up in bed. Panting, she put her hand to her mouth to stifle the scream that threatened to break free. She threw back the covers and ran to the cradle at the foot of the bed. Her six-month-old son, Luke, slept peacefully. His closed eyes and even breathing offered some solace to her frayed nerves.
Looking back to the bed, Dianne was equally relieved to see her husband, Cole, deep in slumber, ignorant of the terror in her heart.
Dianne drew a deep breath and sat down at the foot of the bed. The dream had seemed so real. She could almost hear the screams and cries of the people who were under attack. There had been a great battle. Soldiers and Indians. Even Cole and Lucas had been there.
“Something wrong?” Cole asked in a groggy tone. “What time is it?” He yawned and glanced at the window.
“I don’t know,” Dianne admitted. She got up and looked outside. “There’s a hint of light on the horizon. Probably a half hour or so before dawn.”
“Sure comes early this time of year,” Cole said, moaning softly as he sat up.
“Are your ribs still sore?” Dianne asked, pushing aside the images from the night.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “That horse has a mean streak a mile long.”
“He definitely didn’t take to the saddle,” she said, remembering the strawberry roan gelding. She smiled and went to get the liniment from the mantel. “Here, let me rub some more of this on. Koko said it would do wonders.” Her aunt was especially gifted with healing remedies. Koko was half Blackfoot Indian and had learned many medicinal remedies from her mother. Her knowledge had been a blessing to this family on more than one occasion.
Dianne rubbed the ointment across her husband’s back and side, drawing her hand gently over the bruised ribs. She loved this man more than life—would give her life for him. She thought of her dream and shuddered.
“What’s wrong? Why were you up? Is Luke all right?” Cole took hold of her hand and stilled her ministering. He stared long, searching her face as if to find the answers there.
“I had a nightmare. I dreamed Zane was in a battle. A horrible battle. There were bodies everywhere. Dead soldiers and Indians. Then without warning, we were in the middle of it too, and the Indians were attacking here at the Diamond V.”
Her uncle’s ranch lay in the lush Madison Valley, along a river also named for the country’s fourth president. Uncle Bram had loved this land as much as she did, but now he was gone—killed by a grizzly attack. It seemed only yesterday he had been telling Dianne of his great plans for the Diamond V.
Cole rubbed her hand gently. “It was only a dream.”
Dianne shook her head and gripped his hand. “But there are so many threats of Indian attacks and conflict. Zane’s regiment is moving to the Little Big Horn River, where they plan to help move the Sioux and Cheyenne back to their reservation. What if something goes wrong? What if the Indians stage an uprising?”
“Nothing will go wrong. Your brother knows how to take care of himself. Not only that, but the army is well aware of what’s going on. They are trained to handle these kinds of matters.”
“But there’s always the chance that something could be missed, overlooked.”
“Dianne, it was just a nightmare.”
Luke stirred and Dianne glanced to the cradle. “I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you or Luke. Or any of the others, for that matter.”
“But we have to trust that God has it all under control,” Cole said with a lopsided grin. “Which is a heap better than taking on that load ourselves.”
Dianne smiled. “I know you’re right. I just can’t help fretting.”
Cole pulled her into his arms and together they fell back against the bed. He nuzzled her neck with kisses, leaving her happy and contented with the attention.
Luke began to fuss, then to cry. Dianne watched her husband rise up and look to his baby boy. “Traitor,” he murmured. Then looking back to Dianne, he shrugged. “Another time, I guess.”
She laughed and pushed him aside as she went to tend their son. “At least he’s sleeping through the night. Koko’s children didn’t do that until they were nearly a year old.”
“Hard to believe our little guy is already six months old. Seems like only yesterday he was born.” Cole got up and stretched and winced.
“Maybe you should take it easy today,” Dianne said as she changed Luke’s wet diaper.
“There’s not much time to rest on a ranch this size. I can’t believe the way the herd has grown. It’s a blessing, but it also means more work.” He began to dress for the day as Dianne took her place in the rocker.
She forced herself to relax as Luke began to nurse. She knew she would only frustrate him if she let herself remain tense and her milk wouldn’t let down. Still, the images of the night lingered in her thoughts.
“Trenton told me he was going to take a stab at that roan today,” Cole said, buttoning his shirt. “Your brother is quite good at breaking those green mounts.”
“Trenton seldom has the chance—or desire—to talk to me, it seems,” Dianne said sadly. “We used to be so close. Zane and Morgan had each other. They had a special bond because they were twins, you know.... I could never get in close to either one of them. But Trent ... he was different. He cared about what I thought and talked to me long into the night when we were young.”
“He’s a grown man now,” Cole offered. “And no doubt he lived a good deal in his time before joining us here. A man changes. Can’t be helped.”
“Women change too,” she murmured, knowing in her heart she was far removed from the young woman who had arrived homeless and parentless on the Diamond V.
Cole leaned down and kissed Dianne’s forehead. “I’d better get to work. Ring the bell loud and clear when breakfast is ready.”
“No doubt there’s already a pot of coffee brewing on the stove,” she said with a grin. “Probably biscuits baking in the oven too. Faith is always good to sneak over and see to that.” The former slave was a faithful friend and worker on the ranch.
“She and Malachi sure make our days a whole lot easier. We’d all go hungry and have shoeless horses if not for them.”
Cole went to the bedroom door and opened it. Looking back, he
~smiled. “You two make a man proud.” He didn’t wait for a response before heading out.
Dianne shifted Luke and smiled at his greedy feeding. He was such a little butterball. He watched her with dark blue eyes that never seemed to miss a single thing. If Dianne frowned, he frowned too, and if she smiled, his grin was bigger by far.
The dream still haunted her, however. In spite of this peaceful moment and Cole’s obvious love, Dianne felt cold inside. She closed her eyes and saw the battlefield once again. No doubt she was merely recalling the vivid descriptions written up in the newspapers. Journalists seemed to have a flair for the dramatic and graphic.
But what if the dream was a forewarning? Didn’t God do things like that? Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and escape Herod. Other people in the Bible had dreams that helped them to survive.
But this dream offered no promise of hope. It only showed complete destruction. Dianne shuddered again and Luke stopped nursing, looking up as if to ask what the problem was.
“Oh, my sweet baby boy,” she said, stroking back his tawny hair. “I pray it was only a bad dream and nothing more.” He gurgled and smiled in response.
Dianne laughed, but the joy was only momentary. Prayer would see her through the day, but hard times were coming. Gus, their foreman, said the winds were blowing up a change, and frankly, Dianne wasn’t at all sure she liked the sounds of it.
Later that morning Dianne and Faith made jam. It promised to be a hot day, so they hurried to get the task out of the way before the sun would make everything unbearable.
Faith’s children, Mercy and Daniel, played quietly in the corner while Luke slept in the front sitting room. Faith rubbed her bulging abdomen and smiled.
“This one sure is a kicker. Can’t hardly see how we’ll make it to October. I’m bettin’ this baby comes early.”
Dianne shook her head. “Each time has been different, hasn’t it?”
Faith nodded and re-secured a red bandanna around her head. “Guess carrying babies is as different as the babies themselves. Leastwise it’s been that way for me.”
“My mama indicated the same thing,” Dianne said, remembering her mother’s words, “although she did say they all had one thing in common.”
“What was that?” Faith asked, giving Dianne a curious look.
“She said they all wore her out.”
Faith laughed and stirred the cooking jam. “That’s true enough. But it’s a joyous burden to bear, don’t you agree?”
Dianne did agree. She loved little Luke more than she could express in words, and she looked forward to having more children. She wanted a whole houseful—like it was when she was growing up.
“Mmm, smells good in here,” Cole said as he came through the back door. “Any coffee left?”
“Now, Cole Selby,” Faith began in a scolding manner, “you know there’s always coffee to be had in this house.”
He grinned. “Well, there’s always the chance it could run out.”
“Maybe when that strawberry roan of yours sprouts wings and flies,” Faith said, putting down the spoon to get a cup of coffee for Cole.
“I think maybe that roan did grow wings,” Dianne teased. “At least it sure seemed Cole was flying pretty high yesterday when that beast finally managed to let loose of him.”
“Now, if you’re not going to be nice to me,” Cole began, “I won’t tell you the surprise.”
Dianne noted the amusement that danced in his expression. “What surprise?”
“We’re going to Bozeman City for the Fourth of July celebration. We’ll leave in a few days.”
“Truly?” Dianne questioned. This would allow her to get over to Fort Ellis and see if there was any word from her brother’s regiment. Not only that, but the festivities might be precisely the thing to get her mind off of her worries.
“Truly.” He threw her a look that suggested he knew what she was thinking. “I figured we couldn’t be missing out on the country’s centennial celebration. A lot has happened in a hundred years. Lot’s happened in the last fifty years. Anyway, I also figured it’d be the easiest way to put our minds at ease. I’ll take you over to the fort first thing and we can ask about Zane.”
“There’s bound to be supplies we can pick up as well,” Faith offered.
“For sure. That town’s grown up quite a bit, and it’ll be interesting to see what all they’re offering.” Cole took a sip of his coffee. “We’ll take a couple of wagons and buy what we need. I’ve already talked to Malachi, and he’s pretty excited about making the trip.”
“You don’t think the trip would be too hard on Luke, do you?”
Faith answered before Cole had a chance. “That baby is made of tougher stuff than you give him credit for. He’ll be fine. The trip will probably do all of us good.”
“What about the ranch?” Dianne asked.
“Are you looking for excuses not to go?” Cole asked after downing the last of his coffee.
Dianne shook her head. “Not at all. I just wondered if you’d made provision for that matter.”
“You don’t see me as being very capable, do you?” He was smiling, but there was something serious in his tone.
“I know you’re capable,” Dianne said, trying to choose her words carefully. “I just didn’t know if you’d thought this through or if it was more one of those whimsical things.”
“I’m hardly known for whimsy,” Cole stated matter-of-factly. “We’ll leave a small crew to keep an eye on things, but I figure this is a good way to cut the boys loose and give them some time away from the ranch. They’ll enjoy the holiday and help us get things freighted back here afterward.”
“Sounds like a perfect plan to me,” Faith said, lifting the heavy kettle from the stove and placing it on the wooden counter. “This is ready to strain.”
“I’d better get back to work,” Cole said, putting the coffee cup in the sink.
Once he’d gone, Faith turned to Dianne. “He’s a good man, you know. You can trust him to think things through. Besides, Gus isn’t going to let him make a bad decision.”
Dianne shrugged, knowing she’d been careless with her words. “Cole hasn’t been doing this very long. I worry he’ll overlook things.”
“And if he does, he’ll make that mistake only once. We learn from our mistakes,” Faith said in a motherly tone. “Least we do if we’re allowed to make them.”
Dianne sighed. “Sometimes it’s hard to let him have free rein. I guess because of working with Uncle Bram for so long, I feel like this place needs my attention.”
“You’ve had these issues before. You’ve struggled with trusting Cole to do his job on other occasions.”
Dianne shook her head. “It’s not a matter of trust, but rather training.” She always justified it this way to herself. Cole often did things differently from Uncle Bram, and it made her nervous. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe Cole capable, but only that he might not realize why things were done a certain way, and end up causing them more trouble than help.
“You worry too much.”
“That she does,” Koko announced as she came into the room.
“Well, I simply feel that Uncle Bram gave me a responsibility to see to this ranch and its success.”
“But he’d also want you to relax and let others do the jobs they are capable of. Cole is a good man, the same as Bram was. He’ll make wise decisions.”
“Cole’s planning for us to go to Bozeman for the Fourth of July celebration. Will you bring the children and come too?” Dianne asked, hoping to divert the discussion.
Koko shook her head. “I don’t think so. With all the Indian trouble, it would probably be wise for me to remain here. No sense causing anyone to be uncomfortable.”
“I wouldn’t worry about making the townsfolk uncomfortable,” Dianne declared as she helped Faith with the jelly jars. She was glad to have the focus off of her treatment of Cole.
“I wasn’t so much worried about the townsfolk,” Koko admitted. “I didn’t want the children hurt.”
Dianne thought of nine-year-old Jamie and six-year-old Susannah. Both children bore some of their mother’s features, although each were more white than Blackfoot. Society surely wouldn’t see them that way, however, and Koko was right about the tensions and ugly attitudes toward those with Indian blood.
“Well, what can we bring you back?” Dianne finally said, knowing that she couldn’t make the situation right. She met her aunt’s expression and offered a smile.
Koko nodded as if sharing unspoken information with her niece. “There are several things we could use. I’ll make a list for you before you go.”
The smell of something rotten and foul was the first thing that caught their attention.
Colonel Gibbon’s forces moved forward to join up with George Armstrong Custer’s ranks along the Little Big Horn River. Their objective was to quell the Sioux and Cheyenne and see them returned to their reservation to the east, but the smell and deadly silence distressed every member of the regiment.
Zane felt a chill run up his spine. The sensation did nothing to ease his fears. For days there had been rumors and disconcerting messages from his superiors. One infantryman had come to tell them that some of Custer’s Indian scouts had been found. They spoke of a horrible battle in which every soldier was annihilated, but surely that couldn’t be true.
On the other hand, he heard more than one man complain that they were heading out on another wild goose chase, and just as the first thought didn’t ring true, Zane didn’t feel this to be an accurate statement either.
Sweat dampened his skin and ran a stream down his face. He could feel it slip beneath his collar, leaving him sticky and uncomfortable. The temperatures were near the one hundred mark. Funny how that at the first of the month they had marched in snow. Most of it hadn’t lasted much longer than it had taken to fall from the sky and hit the ground, but in places the white powder had accumulated. Zane tried hard to remember how he’d hunkered down in his wool coat chilled to the bone, but it was no use. The heat of late June now threatened to bake him alive.
He could see in the faces of his comrades that he wasn’t the only one to bear the harsh elements in discomfort. The dust and sweat made striping streaks on the faces of the soldiers, almost as if they had painted their faces Indian style, for war. Especially those in the infantry. They marched long hours in the dust. Day after day they walked in a cloud of their own making, then struggled at the end of the day to scrape the earth from their bodies.
Zane knew their misery. Infantry life had never really agreed with him. Now, however, as a newly appointed lieutenant, he was at least given the choice of riding if he wanted. Some officers rode, others did not. Zane was known to be a good hand with a horse—his background on the Diamond V preceded his transfer into Colonel Gibbon’s forces. The ranch was a good provider for army horseflesh, and his superiors seemed bent on keeping Zane happy, lest the supply be cut off.
The horses were acting strange, and that, coupled with the awful stench, made everyone uneasy. They would probably come up on a buffalo jump or some other place where a mass butchering had taken place. The smell of death always made the horses nervous. Zane tried to calm his mount, but the animal continued side-stepping, as if to avoid what was ahead.
Without warning, a pale-faced rider came flying over the ridge. His horse was lathered from the strain, and the man appeared to barely keep his seat on the animal. Zane’s horse reared slightly and whinnied loudly as the rider came to a stop not far from where Colonel Gibbon sat atop his own mount.
The man, really no more than a boy, leaned over the side of his horse and lost the contents of his stomach. The action took everyone by surprise. Without looking up, the man pointed behind him and shook his head. The words seemed stuck in his throat.
“What is it? What did you find?” Gibbon asked impatiently.
“They’re dead, sir. Custer. His men. Every last soldier—dead.”
To Dream Anew (Heirs of Montana, Book 3) by Tracie Peterson
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764227718, 0764229087
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.