Two years later
The pain was over. Cilla was holding her first child in her arms. The baby girl was beautiful and to John’s relief, looked like Cilla’s family. He did not want Black Tom Mason to live on in his grandchildren.
“How do you feel?” he asked his wife.
Now that it was over, she could smile at him. “I am fine, John. I had plenty of help.”
The living room was full with her helpers as Val and Melissa had returned the favor that she had done them. Her own mother had been staying for the last two weeks and already adored her granddaughter.
“Dora,” Cilla said. “It has to be Dora.”
“It does indeed.” He took the little mite in his arms and held her like he had done with baby Madeleine.
“You always were a natural father, John.”
“I practiced on Madeleine and Michael. Mike is so proud of the little boy.”
“I loved Madeleine from the very start. She is quite a little terror sometimes nowadays.”
The child murmured and Cilla took her back to feed. John asked if she could eat something and went away to cook it for her. Her mother came in and sat on the bed.
“My grandchild. It is wonderful,” she said.
“And called Dora, if you don’t mind that.”
“Oh, that is a lovely idea. I have sent your dad a telegram.” There was another knock and Fiona came in to see the newborn.
“The children all want to know if it is a boy or a girl. They are really excited about it.”
“A girl called Dora,” Cilla told her. “When she is stronger and a little older, I will bring her over. How is Catherine coping?”
“She is doing really well. The pupils are being really well-behaved for her.”
“Thanks for being her assistant whilst I am out of action.”
“My pleasure. Take time to get strong again. We will manage.” Fiona left the family to it and John brought in something light for Cilla to eat.
“I have put vegetables and some meat in the oven for everyone for later.”
The baby was finished drinking and Cally paced the floor to bring up the baby’s wind. Cilla enjoyed her meal and wondered when she could get back to work.
“Which work? The school is managing fine.” John knew that Cilla would want to be back in action.
“Do take a little time,” her mother said. “Enjoy these young days because they do not last forever.”
“I was thinking more of her other job,” John told his mother-in-law. “Cilla has taken to Uncle Charlie’s business like a duck to water and she likes to know what everyone is doing.”
“I can still do the accounts from my bedroom,” Cilla declared.
“I know,” John said resignedly. “I brought them over from the office.”
“How is your first love doing? Have you finished the wardrobe for Mrs. Maclean?”
“I have and you must see it before it leaves. The French polish has brought out the grain and made it shine.” He looked at the painted one that was in the bedroom. “It is the exact shape of that one but in mahogany. Uncle Charlie was right to say that if it was in short supply, I should bring some in.”
“You are busy bees, you two. You do need a babysitter when you are back to work.” Cally was obviously bursting to say something, and they both looked at her.
“Your dad applied to take over the church here as the minister is retiring.” She held her breath for a moment and waved a piece of paper. “He got the job!”
“That is fantastic, Momma. There is a house as well.”
“I will go back in a few days and pack up our things.” John stood up and grabbed his mother-in-law. He swung her around in the air and kissed the top of her head.
“Wonderful. Dora will have her grandmother to see all of the time.”
“And grandmother can offer to look after her,” Cally added.
“Just perfect,” Cilla said.
“I haven’t told the others yet. Shall I let them know?”
Cilla nodded and saw her mother go off with excitement to tell Val and Melissa. She could hear little Madeleine running about out in the next room.
As the door opened, the toddler shot past Cally’s legs and headed for the bed.
“Be very careful,” Cilla warned and lifted Madeleine onto the bed. She held little Dora and rested the baby on the toddler’s lap. Madeleine beamed and lifted the baby’s hand. The little fingers curled around hers and she looked at Cilla with wonder.
“She held me,” she whispered.
“That is your cousin, Dora.”
Val came in carrying four-month-old Michael and sat at the bottom of the bed.
“How lucky are we, Cilla?”
“The luckiest in the world, Val. Lovesville is a good place to live.”
“Better since you found the water. It is not a huge water supply, but lots better than having to catch all the rainwater.”
“Uncle Charlie goes from strength to strength,” Cilla replied. “There is no stopping him. There are four drills going now and the pipeline takes it away. Talk about modern machinery.”
“You are good for him. He has found that you talk about things to him. He doesn’t feel so different anymore.”
Cilla laughed. “You mean his strange collections from around the world? I guess I was always curious about everything like he is, but I had Aunt Dora and I went to college.”
Little Dora murmured and Val put her own baby on the bed and held out her hands for the four-month-old. Val walked the room with Dora.
“John is like a man walking on air out there,” Val said.
“He confessed he is relieved that the baby does not have dark curly hair. He does not want Tom Mason passed on to his children.”
“With the baby, the carpentry and the water pipeline to supervise, he won’t have time to worry about it.” Val smiled and put the baby in the crib at the bedside. “Your mom will be a great help once they are moved to the minister’s house.”
“Great news,” Cilla said.
“Lie back and get some rest. Dora will sleep now.” She took away her own two children and Cilla did as she suggested. John peeped in and saw her sleeping, checked his daughter, and tiptoed away.
“Soup,” he said quietly to himself. “I need to build her strength up.”
The children sent little cards over the next few days from the classroom. Fiona and the assistant teacher, Catherine, popped around from time to time and Cally North left to supervise packing her household up for the move.
Cilla had left her bed and sat in an armchair where she could do some little jobs, and then at the table where she had the books for the water supply to keep up to date. John had a lot of orders for the pieces he was making and kept coming back to check that she was alright.
Cilla managed to see to the accounts and prepare some lessons for her assistant and Fiona to give to the pupils. Little Dora was happy in her crib as long as the food supply was there. Cilla smiled at the baby she was feeding.
“How soon before you can have pretty dresses, little one?” she asked the infant. The dog nudged her leg and she dropped a hand to scratch his ears. She glanced around the room and enjoyed looking at the furniture John had made for them. When people saw them, they ordered something similar.
“Your daddy is a clever man, Dorabelle,” she said. The kitchen was bigger, the living room was the same size but had beautiful furniture, and the bedroom was big enough to contain the painted wardrobe.
“Then he built you your own bedroom, sweetheart. We are two lucky girls.”
The newest lucky girl just gurgled and the door opened. John came inside.
“You have two male visitors, and I came to ask if they could come inside.”
“Male visitors. I am curious—who is it?” John opened the door and the two older boys who came to school on their ponies came inside.
“Oh, wonderful. You left school, but you can’t stay away.” Cilla smiled at them both.
“We never really saw you when we finished school,” Bart said, and Jed held out a package.
“So we brought your newest pupil a little gift.”
She opened the packet and found a small box with a silver spoon inside. It was shaped with a curled handle and was a feeding soon. It was meant as a keepsake and not as a spoon.
“That is beautiful, boys. We will treasure it forever. Thank you.” She paused. “I have missed the two of you since you left. It was always like having another two adults in the room to help me.”
“And we do appreciate how you ran for help and rode out to look for Cilla,” John told them.
“How are you liking work?” Cilla asked and they told her the oil field was hard going but it was good to have some money to spend.
“That is why we all work, lads,” John said. The two young men had stood up to leave when another knock sounded on the door. John opened it and stood stock still. Two years after he shot Black Tom Mason and his wife rode away to safety, she was there on his doorstep.
“Mrs. Douglas,” John said when he collected himself from the surprise.
“I know this is a surprise and I won’t stay long but I needed to ask you something.”
“Come in,” Cilla invited.
Bart looked from one to the other. “We will leave you in peace.”
“We’re going to see Mrs. Gracie,” Jed added with a nod.
“Thank you, boys,” Cilla said. “The gift is wonderful. Tell Fiona about it.” She turned to the woman who had come inside.
“My pupils who have grown up and left the school. I miss them.”
“They brought a gift for the new baby,” John added. “Have a seat and tell us why you are here.”
Bertha Douglas told them that she had served eighteen months in prison for aiding a criminal to evade the law.
“I am free but before travelling away, I wondered if you still have that necklace that was planted in your table drawer. It was mine and I would like it back.”
“I think it is probably at the sheriff’s office,” Cilla said. “We could find out.”
Little Dora stirred and murmured. Cilla picked her up.
“She is almost a week old,” Cilla said and walked the floor to calm the child down.
“I know that you must really dislike me and wish that I hadn’t come, but I wanted to tie up that one loose end. James bought that necklace.” She smiled. “He did not steal it. I miss him very much but we all knew it would come to an end.”
“He was my father in a biological sense but never a father to me. I never thought that I would shoot a man dead, let alone that man, but Cilla was more important to me than he was. I know I am being brutally honest. I am sorry that you miss him.”
The woman smiled.
“This would be his grandchild”
“This is Dora, after my Aunt Dora who gave me that locket. She will be able to inherit the necklace eventually.”
“So, I kept it safe for her for six years,” Bertha said. “Sadly, James and I never had the time to have children.”
There was a knock and Fiona came inside.
“The boys told me who was here.”
Cilla explained what Bertha was asking and from her pocket, Fiona brought out a packet and handed it to the woman.
“Is this it?” Bertha took out the gold chain and started to cry. The three other adults in the room looked at each other and then Cilla came to her senses.
“Tell us what is wrong, Bertha. I cannot imagine what it is like to face life without your husband. He and I did not agree with each other, but he came back for you.”
“And he died. He would have been better off leaving me in a jail cell. At least we would have met again eventually. Now there is nothing.” She finished the sentence with a finality that pulled at all of their heartstrings.
“Will you go to your house in Oregon?” Fiona asked. The woman shook her head and looked down at the gold chain still held in her hands.
“They took it away to pay for some of the people who were robbed,” she whispered. “I have nothing left to remind me of what we had except for this gift.” She looked at Fiona. “Thank you for keeping it.”
“What do you plan on doing?” John asked her. She shook her head.
“I need a job, first of all, to put food in my mouth. Mr. Loveworthy would not take me back.”
Cilla and John looked at each other and both nodded at the same time.
“Would you work for me, Bertha?” Cilla asked. The woman smiled and shook her head.
“I would be no good in a school.”
“Cilla wasn’t thinking about the school,” John said and told her about finding the water.
“I saw the well and the pump in the street,” Bertha said. “Water is needed here very badly.”
“If we hadn’t been chasing your husband, we would never have found it,” Cilla told her. That did bring another weak smile from the woman still sitting clutching the necklace.
“I cannot move out of here for a little while yet, but I can do the accounts as I am doing now. I need someone to be my legs and eyes. The business is still in the early stages. John goes out to check the pipe and the pumps and is building fencing to keep them from being damaged. Uncle Charlie is the money man behind it all and we keep him informed all of the time.”
“Would he mind if I worked for you?”
“I will ride out today and ask him.” John stood to find his Stetson and slipped the holster around his waist. Then he stopped and looked at her. “If I showed you how to apply French polish to a table would you mind doing that? I am really short handed just now.”
“I would be happy to,” she said. “Show me what is to be done.”
“First, we should eat. I think you will work better if you feel better.” Cilla put Dora in the crib. She smiled at her husband. “You are not the only one who can cook bacon and eggs.”
“But I do it better,” he said and tipped his hat as he left.
“When did you last eat?” Fiona asked.
“Yesterday on the railroad,” Bertha answered. Fiona jumped to her feet.
“I have cake.” She ran off to her house and Cilla looked at the woman in her kitchen.
“You must have been desperate to come back here.”
“I was, and you are being kind. I would work for nothing if I could pay you back for the hurt.”
Cilla put two plates of food on the table and sat with this woman who had suddenly come back into their lives.
“That is his granddaughter over there in the crib.” She said it gently and put her hand on Bertha’s arm. “Can I tell you what happened after I was shot?”
Cilla relayed the story about seeing her Aunt Dora and saying that it was not time yet. “My dad is a minister of the church and he said it was proof that we do live on after this life. That might give you some comfort.”
“It does. Thank you. But he is not in this life, and I have to live without him. I know he flirted and had his way with other women, but he always came back to me. We were a good team.” The tears ran down her face and Cilla handed her a handkerchief.
“It takes time, but you are strong. We do need help around here and Uncle Charlie will not bear a grudge.” By the time John returned with that message from his uncle, the two women were talking about other things and he took her to show her the polishing that was to be done.
Afterwards, John walked with her to tell the sheriff why she was in town and then took her to Georgia to book a room.
“Do you mind if I see his grandchild grow up?” she asked John.
“Don’t teach her to rob trains,” he said with a grin. He left her in the care of Georgia and went to make sure that his mom would understand that the woman needed help. Then he went back home and took his wife in his arms.
“You have a heart of gold, Cilla Loveworthy and I am one lucky man.”
“I just think that life without you would be the worst thing that could happen to me, and she knows he is gone forever.”
“Do you think that the people here will forgive and forget? I stopped off and made sure my mom knew about it.” He looked at his wife. “She said that we can afford to be generous.”
“Then that is what we will be and help her to make a new start. What did Charlie say?”
“He said that she was a good worker and to take her on.” John grinned and went to the door. He stepped outside and came back in with a small table that had three legs that were carved to look like elephant’s trunks. “He said you would like it.”
“I do,” she said. “It is a day for gifts. It was lovely of the boys to bring the little silver spoon.”
Dora started to stir, and Cilla went to give her a feed. She sat on a small chair that was the right height and had no arms to get in the way. John poured himself a beer and sat beside the fire.
“I remember when you held Madeleine. I knew then that one day, we would have our own children.”
Cilla smiled and asked him how many he had in mind.
“Maybe five or six,” he said with a grin and she picked a cushion up with her free hand and threw it at him. The baby ate, was changed, and laid in her crib in the bedroom.
They both stood and looked down at their daughter.
“She is just wonderful,” Cilla said.
“Like her mother,” John replied. “I love you, Cilla. I did from the first time I saw you and it will never change.”
“Love you too, big man. Now and forever.”
He took her hand. “Dora is asleep. Take a quick look in the workshop.”
She was mystified but followed him out and he took a lantern because it was dark outside. The dog followed them out and went for a sniff around as John took hold of a cloth and did a reveal to show her what was underneath.
“Oh, my Lord. That is exquisite, John. Is it an order?” He shook his head.
“It’s a day for gifts, you said. I copied the shape of the wardrobe but made the dressing table and stool in mahogany. The mirror was ordered in by Charlie so that you didn’t know about it. It is yours. A labor of love.”
She ran across and trailed her fingers over the smoothness of the wood and sat on the stool.
“It is a work of art,” she said and put her arms around his neck. “Thank you. I guess we might need to extend the bedroom again.”
They held hands and went back to check on Dora.
“Happy ever after, Cilla. Happy ever after.”
“In this world and eternity.” She reached up and put her hands behind his neck. “Kiss me, John. It still makes my heart dance.”
He did just that.