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Authors: Janice Thompson

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Chapter Thirteen

T
he Wednesday-evening church service drew to a close and Ida shifted in her seat, anxious for the meeting to begin. She looked at her papa for reassurance. They’d spent their dinner hour talking through a plan of action, during which he had done his best to convince her that more flies could be caught with honey than vinegar.

Ida wasn’t completely convinced. Continuing to pray for Mick would be the best plan of action, according to Papa. That, and encouraging others to pray for him, as well. Then, if the church folks agreed, they would hold a prayer meeting in town in front of the gambling-hall site, followed by a meeting with Mr. Bradley to discuss other options for his new building. Perhaps the walls of Jericho would come tumbling down if the good Christian people of Spring Creek would unite and pray.

And perhaps, in taking a slightly softer approach, the Lord would somehow reach Mick, cause him to
see things in a new light. Papa seemed convinced, and Ida dared hope—in spite of his words earlier this afternoon—that Mick Bradley might be persuaded to reconsider his current plans.

As the service ended, Reverend Langford addressed the congregation. “We’ll be takin’ a break for about five minutes, then I’ll be callin’ the meetin’ to order.”

The congregants stood and stretched their legs. Several of the womenfolk approached Ida to thank her for taking such a strong interest in the town.

Mrs. Oberwetter, a widow, said, “You’re a brave girl to take on a goliath like Mick Bradley.”

“I hear you’re the one behind this meeting, Ida,” Mrs. Gertsch offered as her eyes filled with tears. “I believe your mother would be so proud of you. She was a woman of strength, and you’re so much like her.”

“I…I am?”

“Oh, indeed.” The older woman slipped an arm around her shoulder. “She was always one to protect others. I see you’ve inherited that same spirit.” She leaned in close to whisper in her ear. “Just let the Lord lead you, child. Don’t get ahead of Him.”

“I won’t.”
I hope.

Reverend Langford called the meeting to order, than prayed a heartfelt prayer for Mick Bradley. As Ida listened to his words, her heart seemed to flip-flop. Though she wanted to see an end to Mr. Bradley’s gambling hall, there was still something about the man that very nearly caused her to lose control of her senses. It was such a confusing sensation,
given that he stood for everything she felt was wrong with Spring Creek.

After praying, the reverend turned the meeting over to Ida, who approached the front of the room with her knees knocking. She wondered if this was how Esther had felt. Did her throat feel tight and constricted? Did her hands shake? Did her feet feel like mush?

As Ida turned to face the crowd, she took a moment to look at the faces of all in attendance. She’d known and loved so many of these folks since birth. Many of the women had swept in when her mother died, looking after her as best they could.

She would do no less for Spring Creek’s children. She would follow in her mother’s footsteps, caring for those who could not care for themselves.

With courage mounting, she began to speak. “I want to thank you all for staying for the meeting, and special thanks to Reverend Langford for allowing me the privilege of speaking out in the church. I count it an honor.

“As you all know, we’re here to discuss the building of the new gambling hall. Now, I know as individuals we’ve spent many an hour in prayer about this already, but I also know there is power in the prayer of agreement. That’s why I’ve asked for a bit of your time this evening. I’ve heard some of the scuttlebutt about Mr. Bradley’s gambling hall. I’ve even been a part of it, I must confess. But merely talking about it isn’t the right approach. I believe the Lord is calling us to do more.”

Ida’s thoughts shifted at once to Esther. Her heart stilled a bit and she forged ahead. “We can talk all day and night, but folks are still going to come into our town and build what they like. Truly, the only resolution to this is prayer, followed by carefully thought-out action.”

The crowd began to stir, and she stilled them by raising her hand. “Surely the Lord would have us link hands and hearts in prayer and in action. I would like to suggest a civilized meeting with Mr. Bradley on his lot, but not until Saturday. We need time to pray first—to seek the Lord for what He would have us say. When we are all in agreement, we will choose one of the men to represent us as we all stand face-to-face with Mr. Bradley.”

She paused a moment as she contemplated the image of the congregation standing in front of Mick Bradley. How would he respond? Could he be persuaded?

“This is my suggestion, anyway,” she continued. “With that in mind, perhaps some of you have questions or suggestions.”

Hands quickly went up all over the place. Mrs. Gertsch quoted a lengthy passage from the Bible, advocating a prayerful approach. Mrs. Oberwetter interjected, suggesting they run the man out of town on a rail before Spring Creek’s children were swept away by the raging tide of sin and corruption. Papa countered with a passage on love, and several of the other men offered their middle-ground thoughts.

“I don’t believe it’s necessary to insist upon Mr. Bradley’s leaving town,” Ida explained. “Though I felt so at one time. Papa has convinced me—and Reverend Langford, too—that the Lord must’ve had a reason for bringing Mick Bradley to Spring Creek. And surely we—” she gestured around the room with a smile “—are part of that reason. Now let’s get to work and see if we can win Mick Bradley to the Lord.”

No sooner were the words spoken than the back door to the church opened. Ida gasped aloud as Chuck Brewster and the other saloon owners entered. Brewster removed his hat and nodded in her direction, then took a seat in the back pew, the others joining him. Folks turned around and stared.

The reverend went back to welcome the men. As Ida watched him shake hands with Chuck Brewster, a shiver ran down her spine. She couldn’t help but think that these rough and rowdy fellows had a plan all their own.

 

Late Wednesday evening Mick finished up his dinner at The Harvey House and took a stroll down Midway, curious as to why the street seemed so deserted at eight o’clock in the evening. He noticed a bit of activity coming from Brewster’s place, but other than that, very few people came and went—a fact that confused him.

“Ah, yes,” he said aloud as he remembered. Wednesday night. The townsfolk were likely in church.

The strangest sensation came over him as he
thought about Reverend Langford. Was he standing up in front of the congregation now, preaching? Convincing folks of the error of their ways? Was Ida sitting in the front pew, hanging on every word? Preparing another speech about the sinfulness of his plans?

Mick turned his attention back to the nearly empty street, noticing a couple of men ambling in his direction, likely fresh off the evening train. As he approached the mercantile, he saw an unfamiliar man with dark hair, a bit younger than himself.

“Mercantile closed?” the fellow asked.

“Yes, they close at five,” Mick said. “Half the town’s in church tonight, anyway.”

“I wondered why it was so quiet around here.” The man stuck out his hand. “Johnsey Fischer. Just got off the train. I work for the Great Northern.”

“Mick Bradley,” Mick said, nodding his head. “You staying in town?”

“Harvey House,” Johnsey replied. “Seller’s is full up. And I don’t think it’d be wise to rent a room at Wunsche Brothers. Too much going on over there.” His cheeks turned red, and Mick nodded in understanding. So this was a good boy. Well, no problem there. Despite what Ida seemed to think, Mick didn’t care much for the houses of ill repute—he’d rather men spend their hard-earned money on liquor and cards, not women.

Johnsey tipped his hat and turned back toward the hotel. Mick continued on with his walk, and then returned to his room to get ready for bed.

Just as he was falling asleep, Mick awoke to a suspicious sound outside his door. He rose from the bed and inched his way across the room, then leaned his ear against the heavy wood to listen. A rustling of paper and rapid footsteps moving away piqued his curiosity. Looking down, he noticed a piece of paper on the floor. He picked it up, startled to find the words, “Stay in Spring Creek at your own risk.”

The note must’ve come from Brewster or one of the other saloon owners. Would they act on this threat, or was this some sort of a bluff? He read the words over several times. Surely they were meant to inflict fear, though anger rose in him instead of intimidation. He’d faced tougher adversaries in the past. These Texans wouldn’t get to him.

Mick decided he’d better check on the lot. He dressed quickly, grabbed a lantern and made his way over. A scrap of paper had been tacked to the front exterior wall, one that left nothing to the imagination. “The train north leaves at three. Be on it.”

Mick turned on his heel. He knew, of course, that Chuck Brewster would be standing outside The Golden Spike with a cigar dangling from his lips, looking his way.

What he didn’t know was that half a dozen of Brewster’s henchmen would be standing alongside him.

Chapter Fourteen

I
da rounded the corner onto Midway at the usual time, surprised by the crowd in front of Mick Bradley’s lot. The sheriff stood near Mick with his arms folded at his chest, and a concerned look on his face. The workmen appeared to be closing up shop for the day. Strange, at two in the afternoon.

And Mick. She couldn’t help but wonder at the look of pain in his eyes.

Ida groaned internally as she saw that the exterior of the structure had gone up. It was a fine-looking building, as buildings went. If only he could be persuaded to reconsider its purpose. On the other hand, it looked as if Mr. Bradley had a lot to contend with this fine day.

Ida hoped to overhear a bit of the conversation but the sheriff turned and walked away just as she passed by. Was it possible their prayers had already been answered? Surely something had happened here.

Ida entered the mercantile and looked around in
amazement at the crowd. The stirrings next door had certainly increased their business.

As she untied the ribbons on her bonnet, Ida tried to catch Dinah’s eye. Her aunt tended to a customer at the register, too focused on her work to respond to Ida’s inquisitive look. A short time later the crowd thinned and Ida finally had an opportunity to ask, “What has happened next door, Dinah?”

Her aunt spoke in a lowered voice. “Some of the men threatened Mr. Bradley last night. I heard the shots fired myself. It was terrifying.”

A shiver ran down Ida’s spine, and she found herself wondering if Mrs. Oberwetter’s approach might not be best after all. Driving the saloon owners out of town—Mick Bradley included—would put a stop to all this nonsense once and for all.

Dinah let out a sigh, the crease in her brow deepening. “I prayed that the saloon owners would link arms with the church folks and approach Mr. Bradley in a peaceable way. It is certainly not God’s plan to drive the man out of town with threats and physical violence.” Her aunt shook her head. “I have the strangest feeling, Ida.”

“What do you mean?”

“Perhaps he’s not the villain we’ve made him out to be.”

“You can say this when your life was in danger because of him last night?”

“Ida, it wasn’t Mr. Bradley organizing mobs and brandishing firearms. And the sheriff wouldn’t even
listen to his story until this afternoon. He’s not being treated fairly. Maybe he is just a man—”

“Set on bringing more grief?” Ida crossed her arms. “I will continue to pray. I know you will, too. But this situation seems to be getting worse every day, not better.”

She quieted her voice as an unfamiliar customer approached. The man looked to be in his early thirties, with dark curls and a well-trimmed mustache.

“Can I help you?”

Ida noticed that Dinah’s cheeks flushed as she spoke.

“Yes.” The fellow nodded. “I wonder if you might help me locate the home of a—” he glanced down at a piece of paper in his hand “—Mrs. Gertsch.”

“Emma Gertsch?” Dinah asked.

He gave the paper another look. “I suppose. They didn’t give me a first name.”

“May I ask who ‘they’ is?” Ida said.

“The folks at The Harvey House,” he explained. “That’s where I’ve been staying. But to be honest,” he said, lowering his voice and looking around before continuing, “it’s too rowdy in town. With all the noise and fighting, I think I’d prefer something a little farther out. I understand there’s a Mrs. Gertsch who has rooms to let.”

“She does, although I can’t be sure of her situation at this time,” Dinah said. “She lives just up the road apiece. I would be happy to give you directions.”

The fellow flashed a contagious smile. “I’d be in your debt, Miss…”

“Hirsch. Dinah Hirsch.”

“Nice to meet you, Miss Hirsch.” He folded the paper and put it in his pocket. “Johnsey Fischer from Centerville. I work for the Great Northern,” he said, extending his hand.

“N-nice to meet you.” Dinah’s gaze shifted to the front door as the bell jangled. She quickly withdrew her hand as another customer entered the store.

“I have such fond memories of this place after my last visit,” Johnsey said. “But Spring Creek has changed since I was here last.”

Ida wondered if they had discovered a kindred spirit here, someone who might be able to help them save the town. “How long has it been?”

“Three years.” He shook his head, a forlorn look in his eyes. “And true, the place has grown. But I’m referring to more than just a physical change. Something I can’t quite put my finger on.”

“You needn’t say more.” Dinah sighed. “I see the transformation all too clearly, and it’s not for the better. I pray every day the situation will improve.”

“Then I will add my prayers to yours.” He gave them a sympathetic look.

Carter interrupted their conversation, appearing with marbles in hand. He took one look at Mr. Fischer and promptly began explaining the details of his prized collection. Thankfully, the newcomer appeared to be taken with the child and spent several minutes talking with him.

The fellow finally left, and the color seemed to go
out of Dinah’s cheeks as he did. Ida took note but did not say a word. Instead, she went on about her business, tending to the needs of shoppers, including Myrtle Mae.

“I heard about what happened next door,” the older woman whispered. “And I’m praying for you all, honey. For your protection.”

As Myrtle Mae left, Chuck Brewster came in. As was often the case, he was seeking chewing tobacco and coffee, along with crackers and peanuts. He gave Ida a curt nod after she waited on him, and she returned the gesture out of politeness, though a chill went through her. Had this man been responsible for the shots fired at Mick Bradley? If so, had something in their meeting last night stirred him to action?

Ida took a peek out the window and saw Mick standing in front of his new building. A feeling of shame swept over her. Perhaps she’d been too hasty in condemning him. Maybe, with a bit of help from above, he might see the error of his ways—if she left the matter in God’s hands and didn’t try to handle this on her own.

Another glance out the window at Mick’s stooped shoulders and somber expression convinced her once and for all to release both her bitterness and her determination to fix this situation—and to do exactly what she’d told the church folks she would do. Pray.

Perhaps in her haste to become like Esther, she
had overstepped her bounds. Surely the time had come to step aside, and just let God…be God.

 

Mick Bradley had never been one to tuck his tail between his legs and back his way out of town, even in the worst of situations. Still, as this nuisance of a day continued, the temptation to do just that gradually took hold.

A man should be safe, standing on his own plot of land, shouldn’t he? He shouldn’t have to duck passing bullets, or fend off foul-mouthed ruffians. And yet the last twenty-four hours had brought both, and in just that order.

Last night’s bullets, according to the sheriff, must’ve been an accident—the result of a misfire, perhaps, or a couple of railroad men blowing off some steam. Funny, no railroad men had been nearby at the time. Based on the angle, there was no doubt the shots had been fired from The Golden Spike.

And the drunken visitors who’d paid him a visit moments later, sticks in hand? The ones who’d threatened to take him down if he didn’t hightail it out of town? Just railroad fellas, up to no good, according to the sheriff. Mick had to disagree. The threats from Brewster’s henchmen had been quite real, and left little to the imagination.

And to top it all off, his workers had abandoned him today. So much for doubling their pay.

Everything about this just had a bad feel to it. Brewster’s men would surely continue to harass
him, not giving up until he boarded that train headed north.

Maybe he should just save them all the time and trouble and do just that.

BOOK: Spring Creek Bride
13.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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