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A Gown of Spanish Lace, страница 1


A Gown of Spanish Lace

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A Gown of Spanish Lace

  © 1995 by Janette Oke

  Published by Bethany House Publishers

  11400 Hampshire Avenue South

  Bloomington, Minnesota 55438


  Bethany House Publishers is a division of

  Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  Ebook edition created 2011

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

  ISBN 978-1-5855-8732-2

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

  In memory of my father.

  A true gentleman, a special daddy,

  a lover of nature, and an avid reader,

  who good-naturedly humored

  my “romance” with the West.

  JANETTE OKE was born in Champion, Alberta, during the depression years, to a Canadian prairie farmer and his wife. She is a graduate of Mountain View Bible College in Didsbury, Alberta, where she met her husband, Edward. They were married in May of 1957, and went on to pastor churches in Indiana as well as Calgary and Edmonton, Canada.

  The Okes have three sons and one daughter and are enjoying the addition of grandchildren to the family. Edward and Janette have both been active in their local church, serving in various capacities as Sunday school teachers and board members. They make their home near Calgary, Alberta.

  A Word From the Author

  In the Women of the West fiction series, I have attempted to present several different facets of pioneer life. A rough, rugged element of the “new frontier” was also a significant part of the history of the West. With that in mind I have included this story, which takes a look at the coarser life of the new land—the lawless side. What happened when good and bad collided?

  This story is not born of sudden inspiration. My fascination with the West began when I was a teenager, and because of my growing love for the land and the people, I read everything I could find that dealt with the subject. The fictional accounts I discovered were written in one genre—westerns. So it was natural that my very first idea for a story was also in that vein. In my mid-teens, I romanticized about a West far different than the one in which I had grown up.

  When it came time for me to begin my own writing, I chose to deal with the settlers—those courageous people who carried with them far more than their walking plows and cooking pots. In many instances they also had a deep personal faith in a sovereign God. They built towns in sheltered valleys and shaped the rugged open plains into productive farmlands.

  So I put aside this story plot—supposing I would never have use for it. That was forty-plus years ago.

  But over the years the idea continued to push itself forward. Each time I gently nudged it back into some hidden recess of my mind. Finally, I came to the conclusion that God might have some use for it. I began to pray for His direction.

  I knew I would have to honestly present the ruthless mind-set of the outlaws to make the reader understand the real danger of my characters—the ones who were victims and the ones who struggled to free themselves from such a life. Could this be presented in such a way as to show the hopelessness and helplessness of those who choose to live without law—without compassion—without God? Was there a reader of westerns who could benefit from this approach? This story?

  The answer seemed to be yes. If even one reader finds some encouragement or direction—or hope—then the story will have served a purpose.

  If you happen to be that reader, may you know at the outset—I have prayed for you.

  Janette Oke


  1. A Girl and a Town

  2. A Boy and a Camp

  3. Ariana

  4. The Snowstorm

  5. Searching

  6. Arrival

  7. The Dilemma

  8. Guardian

  9. Early Trouble

  10. What Now?

  11. An Ally

  12. Explosion

  13. Escape

  14. Waiting

  15. Terror

  16. At Last!

  17. End of Journey

  18. A Joyous Hello and a Painful Goodbye

  19. Adjustments

  20. Truth

  21. Reunion

  22. Adrift

  23. The Diary

  24. The Answers

  Chapter One

  A Girl and a Town

  The schoolhouse was set in the ideal spot. The simple wood-slab walls blended in with the slate gray of the rocky hillside behind it. A wooden step led to a heavy, hewed oak door with its leather-strap pull and squeaky iron hinges. The building faced east and looked out over the downward slope. The blend of nearby trees was broken by the silver of the now-quiet stream that could at times become a tempestuous surge of flood waters. A simple wooden bridge that after every spring runoff had to be rebuilt, or at the least repaired, spanned the water. Farther down and beyond stood a cluster of more wood-frame buildings. The town’s businesses melted together along one long, winding street, seeming to point the way to the town’s single church marking the outskirts on the east. Rows of simple homes spilled out blue-gray smoke lifting lazily into the brightness of the morning sky. All seemed quite still except for an occasional stirring here or there announcing that one or another of the town’s occupants was busy on some self-appointed mission.

  The scent of autumn’s fallen leaves hung delicately in the air to mix with the tang of the woodsmoke. Bright gold of aspen interchanged with the greenery of spruce and pine, filling the valley with color that continued on up the slopes of the hills enfolding the little town. Birds, wishing to remain long enough to feast on the last red berries from mountain ash or wild chokecherry before making their flight south, sprinkled the morning air with song, reminding the saucy squirrels that the summer’s bounty had to be shared.

  On the wooden steps of the school, a young woman stood, cast-iron bell in hand. Though she looked to be little more than a schoolgirl herself, her face held a look of serenity and her eyes reflected her sense of responsibility.

  But for the moment she appeared to have forgotten the noisy little group of children who chased about the small yard that had been coaxed from the forested hillside. She seemed to have forgotten even the bell in her hand and what she had come out to do. Her eyes gazed out over the scene before her to drink in every aspect of the picture. It was a beautiful morning. A beautiful autumn. Yes, and a beautiful, sleepy little town. Smithton. She loved it. Everything about it.

  She stirred and sighed deeply.

  Finally her eyes turned to the frolicking youngsters. Her students. She loved them, too.

  With a flick of her wrist the bell brought them to attention. The clear ringing lifted eyes in the streets below to the little schoolhouse on the hill. She could see the few pedestrians raise their heads, or stop midstride to glance upward before hurrying on their way. She knew that the contentment she felt, the love for the town she claimed as home, was shared by those who walked the morning streets below her.

  The bell caused a change in the noise that came from the schoolyard. It didn’t lessen—simply altered in tone as boys and girls of various ages and dispositions hastened to fall into line, eventually to be led with some measure of decorum into the classroom.

  The young woman marched directly to the front of the room and turned to face the scurrying troop. After depositing lunch pails and outer wraps at their assigned spots, all students hurried to the simple wooden desks that were the
ir centers for learning. The little crew stood at attention, hands fidgeting slightly or hanging limply at their sides.

  The teacher’s eyes scanned the group quickly. They were all there. No one missing because of colds or grippe. That would come with the winter months. She reminded herself to take full advantage of the days of good weather and good health.

  “Good morning, class,” she said evenly, trying to keep the joy she was feeling inside from spilling out too enthusiastically into the words.

  “Good morning, Miss Benson,” they replied in ragged unison.

  “We will salute our flag,” announced the teacher and turned her back to her class to face the faded cloth that had been proudly mounted on the wall above the blackboard.

  The flag would have hung rather forlornly had it not been firmly supported and carefully secured by caring hands. Ariana Benson knew the local school officials were proud of that flag. Not all schools in the territories could boast a flag of their own. It might look worn and a bit scruffy to outside eyes, but this flag had done honorable duty. It had once led the way for a contingent of blue-coated soldiers who had fought to bring law and order to the West.

  The voices of the fifteen students joined in with their teacher as the pledge to flag and country was solemnly repeated. Though Miss Benson could not see her students, she was confident that all fifteen stood rigidly at attention, hand held over heart as the words were spoken.

  As soon as the salute ended, the teacher turned and lifted a Bible from the corner of her desk. She had already marked the passage for the day, Proverbs, chapter three, and she read it now in a clear voice, accentuating the words she particularly wanted the children to hear and understand.

  When she reached the fifth verse, her eyes lifted slightly from the page to quickly scan her small audience. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart,” her tone encouraged, “and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him,” she went on, “and he shall direct thy paths.”

  As she closed the Book and looked out over her class of students, willing them to hear and heed the words, she wondered just how fully she understood the verses herself. Silently she vowed to remind herself of them frequently in the days to come, to gain deeper insight into their meaning for her.

  She could recite the verses by memory. Her father and mother had seen to that. Now she needed to get them from her head to her heart. To learn to do as the verses admonished.

  “Let us pray together,” she invited in a soft voice, and fifteen heads bowed as one, and fifteen young voices lifted together in the Lord’s Prayer.

  A general shuffling followed as students took their seats. The teacher’s full attention was turned to the lessons of the day.

  After the students had been dismissed at school day’s end, Ariana remained behind, poring over lesson books as she corrected grammar and sums. When the last assignment had been properly marked, she turned her attention to preparations for the next day’s lessons. It required hours of careful planning to make sure she had meaningful, productive studies for each of the students in the eight grades. And as it was Ariana’s first year as a schoolteacher, and her sixteenth birthday had just passed, at times the task seemed almost overwhelming.

  But she loved to teach. She was thankful her parents had sacrificed in order for her to get her teacher’s certificate. Ariana could imagine doing nothing else with her life. The light in a child’s eyes when a new discovery was made was worth all the long hours and every effort on her part to make learning fun and exciting.

  The last glow of twilight was fading from the skies before Ariana finally closed the last book, picked up her wrap, and carefully fastened her hat in place with its two pins.

  She was weary. Yet she had exciting news to tell when she reached home. Little Jeff Newcome had recited the entire alphabet on his own for the first time. She had worked and prompted and struggled and prayed. She had begun to fear that he would never master the letters. But today—today he had stood proudly and carefully worked his way through the alphabet. She had asked him to repeat, fearing that the one time might have been some fortunate accident. But he had made his way through the list again. Ariana felt nearly as triumphant as he did as she handed him the wrapped sweet from Barker’s Store as his reward.

  She carefully pulled the heavy door shut tightly behind her. The cumbersome door with its worn hinges did not cooperate well, and the leather pull tended to slip through one’s hands in resistance. Ariana tugged again—just to be sure it was properly in place. She turned her eyes to the rocky path that wound its way down the hillside, over the footbridge, and into town.

  It was darker than she had expected. The sun slipped quickly behind the hills, bringing night to the town before it was so evident on the surrounding prairies. Ariana quickened her step. She did not wish to be the cause of her mother’s worrying.

  “It’s Saturday,” Mrs. Benson said, her tone gentle but firm.

  Ariana lifted her head from the book opened on the table before her. Her eyes held a question, though she did not voice it.

  “It’s Saturday,” repeated the woman. “Don’t you think you can lay your books aside for one day?”

  Ariana stirred restlessly. She did wish she could forsake her reading. Her eyes were weary from perusing the printed pages. She lifted a hand to rub the ache from the back of her neck.

  “I haven’t enough knowledge of the Industrial Revolution to challenge my two eighth graders,” she responded.

  “I would think any knowledge of the Industrial Revolution would be more than what they know now,” put in Mrs. Benson.

  Ariana pushed the book aside. She straightened tired shoulders and reached up to tuck in a stray lock of hair. Inwardly she once again bemoaned the fact that the tresses were too soft and wayward to stay pinned. Outwardly she turned her attention to her mother.

  “You’ve been at that book all morning,” her mother continued.

  “Was there something you wished me to do?” asked Ariana, who was careful to tend to her share of household chores.

  “No. No—except give yourself a bit of rest. You can’t keep studying all the time.”

  With a sigh Ariana closed the book and stood to her feet.

  “You are right,” she admitted reluctantly. “But it is so—so hard to keep up.”

  “You’ll be getting sick if you don’t get some fresh air and exercise,” her mother went on.

  Ariana let her gaze steal to the open window. Her mother was letting fresh air sweep into the home, spilling its fall fragrance into the room along with the breeze that rustled the curtains.

  “It’s not the same as walking in it—breathing it in,” her mother said as though reading Ariana’s thoughts.

  Ariana’s eyes stayed on the window. Another beautiful day called—it beckoned. She longed to forget her responsibility as the town’s schoolteacher and follow her heart up the winding trail and into the woods. She knew the little creek would sing. The fallen leaves of aspen and birch would rustle beneath her feet. The sky would present just enough fleecy clouds to make one’s imagination have full run. Ariana longed to be out in the sunshine—the freshness of the day. It would be so easy to feel like a kid again. She longed for that. Longed to lay aside her adult responsibilities for just a few hours.

  She stretched and gave her shoulders a little shake. She had another hour’s reading to do to be properly prepared for Monday morning.

  “I really—” she began.

  “You really need to get out,” her mother encouraged. “Surely a break will make you fresher for finishing the studying later.”

  Ariana considered the comment, then nodded slowly. “You’re right,” she said, her voice trembling slightly with eagerness. “I’ll just—take a little walk. I can finish up later.”

  She gave her book another little push as though to inform it that she was done with it for the present.

  “Where’s Papa?” she asked.

  “At the church. Putting fin
al preparations on his Sunday sermon.”

  “Can I take him a cup of tea?”

  “He’d like that.”

  The older woman smiled and moved toward the kitchen to prepare the tea while Ariana went to her room to gather a shawl and change into something more suitable for walking. By the time she reappeared, her mother had a small tray with a teapot wrapped snugly in a cozy, a single cup, and a slice of toast smothered with wild blueberry jam.

  “Remember it gets dark earlier than it did,” her mother warned as she kissed Ariana’s cheek.

  Ariana nodded.

  Once the door closed behind her, Ariana breathed deeply. Her eyes took on a new sparkle. Her step quickened and her chin lifted. Her mother was right. The fresh air and fall sunshine would do her a world of good.

  Chapter Two

  A Boy and a Camp

  Tall trees shadowed the winding trail hidden from view of all eyes save the lone eagle drifting on soundless currents of morning air far above the crags and rocky slopes.

  To those below, the hillside was unbroken from its wildness—uninhabited by humankind. Uninformed eyes would not have detected the slight indentation that resulted in a passageway, small and tucked securely away against the face of steep outcroppings of rough and ragged rock, leading into a secret valley.

  It was the perfect setting for any who wished to keep their whereabouts concealed from an outside world. Outlaws. Bandits. Desperadoes. Blackguards. Brigands. Freebooters. Highwaymen. They had been called many things throughout the years—but always the names carried with them the same sense of hostility and hatred. They were seen as parasites—by terror and force living off the sweated brows and calloused hands of honest workers.

  But the young man who removed his stained hat, who squinted his eyes against the harshness of the midday sun, cared little about any of those names. He paid no heed to the expressions of hatred. The words of contempt. He had been raised in the hidden camp, had known no other life, no other family—if one could call the band of rough, cursing, hard-riding, desperate men a family.

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