Robert stared down at the two coins in his hands—the last of his money. He clenched his jaw in anger. How could Ada have done this to him? Bitterness stung his tongue, but he held his would-be outburst in check when he glanced over at the three children. He reasoned that it really wasn't their fault, but how in the world was he going to be able to feed and clothe his ready-made family? He watched Becky bending over the fire, stirring a pot of watered-down rabbit stew with a wooden spoon. He'd made camp this week outside of
Bozeman since he couldn't afford a hotel room and no one would take his credit, but he didn't blame them really.
Becky glanced up and shot him a glare, so he looked away. The feeling of animosity was mutual. How could he feel any different when his wife of only two months sprang the surprise of three children right before she passed away? He needed a walk to clear his head. It was too much, just too much for him.
He headed away from camp and moved through the forest, feeling a heavy weight of responsibility and yet wanting to run as far in the opposite direction as he could. He was a complete failure. Losing his wheat farm and a wife simultaneously was too much for one man to bear. He'd begged and pleaded with God not to take Ada, and what had that gotten him? The surprise of three children!
He leaned against a large cottonwood, the bark scratching him through his thin shirt, and gazed out at the landscape. Spring breezes flittered through the tree's branches with a quiet whisper—the whisper of the Lord? Be strong and of good courage...
"I'm sorry, Lord, for my doubt and bitterness. I'm having a hard time seeing beyond today. Help me..." was all he could choke out, remembering the Holy Spirit utters petitions when he couldn't. He dragged his hand through his long hair with a sigh, then shoved his hands inside his pockets and started back to camp. He didn't want the children to feel abandoned, but how was he supposed to have emotions for them when they'd only met a few weeks ago, after burying his wife? They barely knew one another.
He knew he was going to have to try harder since he'd promised Ada on her deathbed. Now he was regretting that promise. They couldn't take care of themselves, and it was certain her sister who had them
before wanted no part of more children to add to her burgeoning household of five. God forbid they would become indentured servants or forced into industrial labor as many orphaned children had been. If he could only find work, he could afford to rent a house, perhaps, and put a roof over their heads. Thankfully, it was still cold only after the sun set. Mornings, while chilly, were tolerable.
Tomorrow he'd go to town one more time and ask around before they moved on to the next place. With new resolve and determination, he would find something. Maybe he could get Becky to trim his hair so he'd look more presentable—if she decided not to stick him with the scissors! The thought gave him a chuckle when he entered the clearing, determined to make the best of his predicament.
Grace took care of the horse and buggy when she returned home, then hurried inside to fix supper. Her dad was sitting in the parlor reading and looked up when she entered, giving her a warm smile. How she loved him! A sweeter man never lived, she was certain.
"Pop, I'm sorry I'm running late," she said, and she leaned over to give him a peck on his wrinkled cheek. "I stopped by to see Ginny. Are you starved?"
He laughed. "Only a little. How was she faring?" He struggled against the arms of his chair to rise, but Grace instantly reached for him.
"Let me help you. Where are you heading?" Grace felt his thin shoulders beneath her hands as she half-lifted him. The doctor had told her he may have had a mild stroke that affected his legs, but Owen was able to walk, though somewhat unsteadily. Only time would tell if his strength would return.
"To the kitchen to help you." Owen smiled up at his daughter.
Once she got him steady on his feet he held on to her arm as they went toward the kitchen. "Ginny is her usual happy, matchmaker self."
"I see no harm in her trying, my dear. She wants to see you happy, you know."
"But I am happy." Grace steered him to a kitchen chair, then walked over to the stove to heat up supper for them.
Her father harrumphed. "Now, Grace. You can't be too happy taking care of me all the time and doing most of the chores here single-handedly."
"All right, have it your way," she replied. "Truth be told, that's exactly the reason I went to town today—to post a help wanted ad at the mercantile."
"You did? I'm glad to hear that. This farm work is too much for one person." He scratched the stubble on his chin. "It's been a while since I rode into town. I need to keep up better with what's happening."
"Next time, if you're feeling stronger, you can come with me. I hope I get a response soon."
"I have a feelin' you will, daughter—yes, you will."