Read Spring Creek Bride Online

Authors: Janice Thompson

Spring Creek Bride (4 page)

BOOK: Spring Creek Bride
3.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Chapter Six

T
he late-May sunshine rippled through the trees, causing the pine needles overhead to glisten like an emerald-green parasol. Ida wound her way beyond the gristmill, through the comfort of the familiar forest, and entered the clearing to the west of Spring Creek’s tiny schoolhouse. The rustic wood-framed building hadn’t changed much over the years. Indeed, it had remained every bit the same since Ida’s childhood days.

Standing there brought a rush of warmth to her soul, and memories surfaced. She saw herself as a little girl once more, rolling hoops with a stick across the schoolhouse yard. Pigtails bounced about on her head, and gingham skirts twisted around her ankles, just as they did now. Oh, the joy of those days! What sweet and simple times she had known as a child in this blessed place. What innocence and wonder.

Immediately, a dark cloud hovered over her reminiscing. Would the few children who remained in
Spring Creek fare as well? How could they, with the town on such a downward spiral?

Ida’s thoughts shifted to a conversation she’d had with Papa just that morning, a most revealing chat about Mick Bradley, the handsome stranger in the fine suit. Unfortunately, he was not the man of integrity she’d made him out to be in her imagination. No, his intentions were clearly of another nature altogether. According to Papa, who’d heard it from the sheriff, Mick Bradley had come to Spring Creek to build a gambling hall.

Ida trembled with fury at the very idea. Didn’t the townspeople have enough trouble with Chuck Brewster and his house of ill repute? And weren’t there two other such establishments in town already—places where the railroad men and all those who were just passing through could get liquored up and wreak havoc? Did they really need another?

No indeed. And now that she knew the truth, Ida would do everything she could to stop Mick Bradley in his tracks before he brought more pain and corruption to her town. With determination taking hold, she resolved to do all she could to dissuade him from his task.

Just one small piece of business to take care of first.

Ida made her way across the schoolyard. The pungent scent of gardenias filled the air, the bushes nearly bursting with excitement. She remembered the day they were planted, just six years ago. Her teacher, Miss Marta, had thought
it a lovely idea to offer the children a flower garden of their very own.

Of course, Miss Marta was Mrs. Hollander now. She had long since married and moved on to Houston, like so many others. But the flowers remained a testament that things of strength continued to blossom and grow, in spite of adversity.

Was Spring Creek strong enough to keep blooming with so many villains about? And how could she, a simple girl, accomplish the kinds of changes she sought? Only one way. She must seek out help—and she knew just where to begin.

Ida tiptoed a bit closer and squinted in an attempt to see through the classroom window. The boys and girls squirmed at their desks. With school letting out in less than a week, they were likely to be anxious for a romp in the sunshine.

Sophie Weimer, her dearest childhood friend, stood at the front of the classroom looking quite scholarly as she gave the children their assignments. Her shirtwaist showed off a tiny waist, and her broad skirt swished this way and that as she tended to the needs of her students with great enthusiasm and a broad smile.

“It’s a shame you’re only filling in until a real teacher can be found,” Ida whispered as she watched her friend at work. “You’re quite good at this.” She tugged at her collar, trying to gain some relief from the heat. “Come on, Sophie. It’s time to ring the bell. Let ’em go.”

As if she had somehow heard Ida’s thoughts, Sophie reached for the bell on her desk and dismissed the students for the day.

Out they flowed, like tumbleweeds rolling across a plain. Little Maggie Jordan shrugged off the attentions of one of the boys—a bully by the name of Everett. Several of the lads raced from tree to tree. Ida watched them all with amazement. How long had it been since she and Sophie had run from that same door, headed out to pick dewberries? And how many years had it been since she’d worn her braids twisted up on her head like so many of these little darlings?

Ida walked up the steps to the schoolroom and peeked inside, taking in the familiar desks and inkwells.

A smiled broadened her friend’s face. “What brings you to our schoolhouse this afternoon?” Sophie asked.

Ida pressed a hair behind her ear and gave Sophie a knowing look. “I’ve come to see what kind of a teacher you make.”

“I’ve heard from the students that I make a fine one,” Sophie said with a laugh. “Of course, I also made a fine waitress for The Harvey House, and a fine worker at the gristmill before that. And I can shoe a horse with the best of ’em. Any other questions?”

“I dare say, you excel at everything,” Ida said with a nod, “which is exactly why I’ve come to ask your opinion on something.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve come to speak with you about a matter of
utmost importance to our community,” Ida stressed. “Something I believe you will find
very
troubling.”

“Ah. I see.” Sophie closed up the classroom and together she and Ida stepped out onto the playground, where several of the children were still gathered around.

“Run along home now, boys and girls,” Sophie instructed. “I’m sure you’ve afternoon chores to get to. We don’t want your parents to worry.”

Everett let out a groan. “Aw, Miss Sophie, you’re no fun.”

“If they had any idea the kind of trouble you stirred up as a child,” Ida muttered under her breath, “they might think otherwise.”

Within a matter of minutes, the students had all scattered to the winds, their childish ramblings now just a whisper among the pines.

“You look as if you don’t feel well,” Sophie commented as they started on the path to town. “Has something happened?”

Ida sighed. “I’m afraid so.” Pulling out a handkerchief, she swabbed the back of her neck to rid herself of the moisture underneath her hairline. “You know that piece of property next to the mercantile?” She folded the hankie and tucked it into her sleeve.

“Yes, of course.”

“Any guesses as to who’s bought it?”

Sophie spilled out a long list of names, and Ida shook her head with each one.

“Who, then?” Sophie asked.

They stopped walking and Ida looked Sophie in
the eye. “A stranger. From up North.” She felt foolish as she realized how easily she’d been taken in by the man’s polished exterior. Why, if not for the sheriff’s conversation with Papa, she might very well have continued on with her fanciful notions about Mick Bradley. But no more. Now that she knew the truth, justice would surely follow.

Concern filled Sophie’s eyes. “I’d been told that piece of property would be ideal for a new feed store. Mr. Skinner was looking into purchasing it, wasn’t he?”

“That’s not to be. Mrs. Skinner told Dinah that her husband is considering building on the outskirts of town to avoid the chaos on Midway, or perhaps abandoning the idea of a new store altogether.”

“Can’t say as I blame him.”

“Me, either.” Ida sighed again. “But there is more to the story.”

“Do tell.”

“I heard Papa talking to the sheriff, who stopped by our place just this morning. The new owner of the property next to the mercantile is a gambling-hall fellow from Chicago named Mick Bradley, come to bring more greed and despair to our town. He’s going to open a place for the railroad men to load up on liquor and gamble their earnings away.”

“No.”

“Yes.” Her anger intensified as she continued on. “And right next door to our store, no less. Can you imagine? Isn’t it enough that we have to contend
with the brawls from Chuck Brewster’s place? And the Wunsche Brothers’ saloon? The last thing we need is another such place.”

Sophie paused, her brow furrowed. “This is a matter for prayer, Ida.”

“Yes, of course. But don’t you think the Lord would ask more of us?” Ida said as they continued to walk.

“More?”

“Someone has to
do
something,” Ida implored. “We’ve watched and waited, prayed and pleaded, but things are only getting worse. It’s time to grab the horse by the reins.”

Sophie shook her head. “Oh, Ida. Have you talked to your papa about this? I can’t imagine he would be happy to hear what you’re saying. You know how he feels about your concerns.”

“My papa is a strong man,” she said. “And he has raised a strong daughter.”

Sophie nodded. “To be sure.”

They rounded the corner onto Midway, where activity abounded. Ida clamped her handkerchief over her nose as the overwhelming scent of horse manure assaulted her.

“Little good this does,” she grumbled. The tiny square of cloth could do nothing to block out the mix of nauseating aromas—the ever-present stench of railroad men in need of a bath, the smell of soot from the nearby trains and the overwhelming scent of burnt grease from the restaurant at The Harvey House.

With great determination, she pulled the handker
chief away from her face and looked Sophie squarely in the eye. “I am on a mission,” she stated quite plainly. “One from on high.”

Sophie chuckled. “You have such a way of putting things, Ida. Perhaps you should be writing novels, not just reading them.”

“I am quite serious, Sophie. Have you not read the book of Esther—in the Old Testament?”

“Of course I have.” Sophie gave her a quizzical look. “But what does that have to do with you?”

“Esther was put upon the earth to save her people. The Bible says she was born for such a time as this. Remember?”

“Yes, of course. But—”

“I have no doubt that
I
was born for such a time as this,” Ida explained, triumphant. “To save our little town from the evil influence of men like Mr. Bradley.”

“Ah.” A hint of a smile crossed her friend’s face. “If I believed anyone were capable of saving our little town, it would be you.”

“Truly?”

Sophie gave Ida a pensive look and arched an eyebrow. “You and the Lord working together, of course.”

They stopped in front of The Golden Spike as Nellie DeVries, one of the dancing girls, sprinted past them in full regalia, almost knocking them down.

“Sorry!” the young woman called out with an apologetic giggle. “Chuck needs me inside.”

Ida drew in a breath and kept walking. “This is just
the sort of thing that concerns me most, now that a new gambling hall might be opening up,” she whispered. “Barmaids. Saloon dancers. The few women left in this town will eventually have little choice but to turn to occupations such as these.”

“I do hope you’re wrong.” Sophie fanned herself.

Anger took hold again as Ida said, “What other choices will they have? All the reputable businesses will be gone, if these strangers have their way. And I, for one, won’t have it. I will not allow the girls of Spring Creek to grow up into women such as…such as…” She pointed at the door that Nellie DeVries had just vanished behind and sputtered, “Women such as that!”

Sophie looked at Ida carefully. “Ida, perhaps you’re judging a bit too—”

Ida never heard the rest. Her attentions shifted to Mick Bradley’s property across the street. She gave it a stern once-over. “This is the spot where that good-for-nothing out-of-towner hopes to weave his web. And I plan to stop him in his tracks.” Ida turned to look her friend in the eye. “I do need the Lord’s help. But I’ve come to ask for someone else’s assistance, as well.”

Sophie’s eyes lit with understanding. “Ah. You mean me.”

“Indeed.” Ida nodded, knowing Sophie would understand the depth of her meaning. “I mean you.” She leaned in, and added, “Even Esther couldn’t manage alone, you know.”

Sophie linked arms with Ida. “In that case,” she
said with a smile, “I am all yours. Someone’s got to keep an eye on you, Ida Mueller,” she teased. “At this rate, you’re likely to set the entire town ablaze with your great passion for propriety.”

 

Irritation set in as Mick gazed at his property. Only three days into his new venture and already his plan was fraught with problems. The land agent—the same one who had assured him by letter that the lot would be his as soon as money changed hands—had suddenly turned up with another offer. The scoundrel was probably just trying to up the ante, but Mick wasn’t playing that game.

Still, he had come a long way, and for what? To lose the piece of property he’d been assured would be his? Could he risk that? What would the investors back in Chicago say?

Maybe he should up his offer, just to be safe.

On the other hand, folks weren’t exactly warming up to him. The local sheriff, a burly fellow with an overgrown mustache, had paid a visit to his hotel room just last night. What was it he had said, again? Ah, yes. Something about making his visit to Texas brief. Not exactly a threat. More of a warning.

And the ever-present stares from the saloon owners—especially Chuck Brewster—who clearly saw him as a threat to their businesses, did little to calm Mick’s troubled mind. How could he keep the peace and still get the job done?

Maybe he could convince the pretty blonde to help
people see him as the upstanding businessman he was. She probably knew everyone in town, since she worked at the mercantile. Perhaps he should pay her a visit and see if he could win another one of those lovely smiles. Purely for business reasons, of course.

BOOK: Spring Creek Bride
3.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn
The Grim Wanderer by James Wolf
Belladonna by Fiona Paul
Bare Trap by Frank Kane
Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty
The Guardian Lineage by Seth Z. Herman