It was hard to believe a little more than a year had passed since Sheriff Luke Johnson married the woman of his dreams. Luke still had to pinch himself every now and again to make sure it was real and not some elaborate fantasy. Each morning he woke next to Amelia, in their new house and he felt blessed.
Well, not too blessed lately. Amelia was pregnant. She was in the last stages of that blessed state and frankly, she was driving him nuts. He hoped the kid would come soon so that things could go back to normal.
His usually pleasant, wonderful wife was short-tempered and snappy one moment and weepy and inconsolable the next. He was never sure what he was going home to. Between that and her aching body which no matter how he positioned the pillows could never be comfortable, caused them both a severe lack of sleep. Honestly, Luke was just about at his wit’s end.
Thank goodness he’d needed to take a ride out to the Gunther’s farm that morning. Old Man Gunther was having trouble with his neighbors on the other side of his farm, the Campbells.
A relatively young couple, the Campbells had four children aged from seven to fourteen, all boys. They were a rowdy bunch and when not doing chores liked nothing more than to get into mischief. It seemed this time they had caught three of Gunther’s pigs and dressed them up in his nice clean laundry from his washing line.
Perhaps if it was the first time they had caused trouble Old Otto Gunther might have let it slide like the relatively harmless prank it was. But this was after they had poured lemon juice in his pitcher of milk, ruining the man’s morning cup of coffee, and put cow manure in his boots.
He was at the end of this tether and Luke had to go and speak to the boys to put “the fear of God” in them, as Gunther said.
Mr. and Mrs. Campbell met him at the gate. Old Gunther was there too and together the adults made their way into the farmhouse where the boys sat at the kitchen table. It was clear from their faces that Mr. and Mrs. Campbell had already given the boys a stern talking to because they all stared at the tabletop, looking pink and scrubbed, and never said a word.
Like their parents, the boys were strong, blonde, and green-eyed. Each looking like a slightly different version of the other. They stared down, not making so much as a peep while Luke spoke to them.
“Now I understand the fun in playing pranks on people,” Luke said. “But ruining Mr. Gunther’s clothes his boots and his coffee, is going a bit too far. Don’t you think?”
The boys nodded.
“Yeah, it’s a bit too far,” Luke said. “So, how about you apologize to Mr. Gunther here and promise him you’ll leave him alone?”
“But he’s the best person to prank!” the youngest, Geoffrey said momentarily forgetting himself.
He caught his mother’s eye and looked down at the table again.
“Why is that?” Luke asked.
“Well,” Geoffrey said in a little voice. “He always falls for them. I mean he don’t notice anything. Ever!”
The other boys laughed.
“Now boys!” their father admonished. “It’s not Christian to behave like this! And I have a good mind to tan all your hides…”
“Martin!” Mrs. Campbell said. “We talked about this.”
“Yes, Jemima,” he said. “And I still think they need a firmer hand, even if they are your babies.”
The boys grinned and Luke decided to put his foot down.
“Right,” he said. “No more pranks. Next one who plays a prank on anyone will spend a night in my cells and then will do some lovely hard work clearing the weeds from the streets in town.”
The boys all stared at him then and uttered “aws,” and “no’s” in disappointment.
“That’s the way it’s got to be,” Luke said. “If you can’t respect people enough to treat them kindly then I have to step in and teach you that lesson. You don’t want me to teach it to you, do you?”
Every head shook, no.
“Right, no more!” Luke said.
The boys were sent out then and he had a cup of coffee with the Campbells and Gunther. By the end of it, they were all a bit friendlier and Luke felt his work was done.
Before heading back to town, he stopped in to see his mother. His father was out working the fields with his brothers and that left their mother alone. She was thrilled to see him. They took seats outside on the porch and drank a glass of cold cider.
“Luke, I have a gift for the baby,” his mother said holding out a little package of something soft tied with a yellow ribbon. “I made it green since I think any child from you and Amelia should have the coloring for it. Any idea when the little angel will come?”
“Soon, hopefully,” he said.
His mother smiled knowingly. “Driving you nuts, is she?”
He nodded. “I love her mama but…” he sighed. “Nothing I do is right anymore. I mean I chewed too loudly last night and had to sleep in the guest bed because she couldn’t stand the sight of me. Then this morning she’s all cuddles and kisses.”
She laughed. “Yes, it should be soon. Has she started fussing over the baby’s crib and room yet?”
“Yeah, last couple of days she’s been moving the room around constantly,” Luke said. “Well, I say she’s been, but what I mean is she’s been directing poor Joel into moving the furniture around. I swear that crib has been in every position possible in that room.”
His mother laughed again and patted his knee. “Not long now,” she said. “Any day in fact and you’ll have a little person in your house.”
Luke was relieved. This pregnancy seemed to be going on forever and he was excited and eager to meet his child, be it a boy or a girl.
“Well, give Amelia my love,” his mother continued. “If she’s not disgusted by something you do when you get home.”
Luke laughed but with little mirth. There was every possibility his wife would overreact to something he did when he got home.
Leaving his parents’ farm Luke rode slowly back into town. There was no need to rush after all. He had Jasper and Joel as his new deputies and Mayor Abernathy was as good as his word. Two new volunteer deputies had been hired, Donovan and Michael. They were reasonably good at conflict resolution. He could have sent them out to deal with the Campbell and Gunther issue but Luke liked to handle things like that himself. Having neighbors at each other’s throats was bad for the town and needed to be worked out carefully.
Otis met him when he reached the sheriff’s office. The old man was mucking out Horse’s stable. There were three other horses in there now and a lot more work to do. Otis seemed to enjoy it and the pay that went with it. Since Luke was a married man now and living in his new house, he had given the apartment upstairs to Otis who seemed to love it.
“How did it go?” Otis asked.
“Fine!” Luke said. “Got it sorted. I told the Campbell boys I’d make them do hard labor like prisoners if they misbehaved again and their parents seemed pleased.”
“Well, you could always make ‘em shovel this lot out!” Otis said brandishing his shovel. “It sure is mucky work.”
“Sure is,” Luke said getting down off his horse and handing Otis the reins. “If you need help, just let me know.”
“Oh, no sheriff,” Otis said. “Since I gave up the liquor, I’m a stronger man. I can do this job, no problem.” He smiled.
Luke smiled too and patted his back. “You keep up the good work Otis. Amelia is very proud of you.”
Otis’s smile grew. “Well, you don’t say.” And he shuffled off with Horse into the stable to take care of him.
Luke walked around the side of the sheriff’s office and had just sat down in his chair when Jasper came rushing in.
“Where?” Luke asked.
“Seen on the south side of town,” Jasper said. “Looks like a thieving party. Got a telegram not two hours ago from Marshal Goode in Yuma. He said they held up a bank in Forsythe and some other place. Might be heading for us too.”
“Darn it!” Luke swore. “That’s not good. We’d better gather the men and…”
Just then the door to the office flew open and Martha came rushing in. “Oh thank goodness you’re here!”
He blinked at her and turned back to Jasper. “We’d better be ready. Can’t have the bank targeted again. When is the pay for the miners arriving? Tomorrow, right?”
Jasper shrugged. “I think so… you think they’re gonna wait for that?”
“I would,” Luke said.
“Luke!” Martha interrupted. “It’s time!”
“For what?” he asked wondering if he could get more men and where would be the best place to ambush these bandits. Surely laying a trap at the bank would be best, unless they planned to hit the coach as the money came into town. There was that possibility.
“Luke!” Martha roared. “Your wife is in labor and your child is about to be born!”
“What?” Luke asked. “Now?”
“Yeah!” Martha said. “I’ve got Joel outside with the cart. Come on! You need to come with us now!”
Oh, this was bad timing! Never before had Luke wished to be in two places at once more than now. He would have to think quickly.
“All right!” he said turning to Martha. “Please, send Joel in here now. I need a few minutes to sort things out and then I’ll be there.”
Martha shook her head and looked upset, but Luke couldn’t worry about his sister-in-law’s sensibilities right now. He had an ambush to plan and a wife to go and support while she gave birth to their child.
She went out and a moment later Joel came in. It was his day off, but the old cowboy never seemed to take his day.
He grinned. “So, what’s going on?”
Jasper filled him while Luke weighed up their options. It was so hard to think knowing his child was about to come into the world. It seemed to be consuming his mind, filling all the spaces until there was no room for anything else.
“Bandits huh? Sounds like fun. So, what’s the plan?” Joel asked bringing Luke back from the brink of fatherhood.
“We don’t have one,” Jasper said. “Not yet.”
Silence. Luke stared into space. He would teach the little tyke to ride and shoot. Unless of course, he was a girl in which case…good luck to any boy who so much as looked at her. Luke would keep his shotgun at hand and…
He felt a hand on his arm and jerked back to reality.
It was Joel. “You go. We’ll work something out and fill you in later.”
“But…” Luke protested.
“Oh, go on! We’ve got time before those bank robbers turn up,” Joel said. “You won’t miss a thing.”
Reluctantly Luke picked up his satchel and left.
Martha harrumphed when he reached the cart. “Well, it took you long enough!” she snapped.
Was every woman in his life going to be short with him from now on? Luke wondered. He climbed into the driver’s seat and urge the horses on. He could have walked. It wasn’t far to the house and perhaps the time it took to get there would calm his nerves, allow him to get himself under some kind of control.
Martha fidgeted and sighed next to him as though he was taking too long with everything. If she was so worried, why had she come to call him? Joel could have managed on his own.
One look at her face and Luke decided not to ask.
They went down the street from the sheriff’s office and when they reached the red-roofed schoolhouse, turned right. Three houses down the street, bordered by a large front yard was their little house, newly built. It had a grey slate, pitched roof over two stories that contained a kitchen and scullery, laundry area, parlor, and study downstairs and upstairs, with four bedrooms. Amelia wanted two children and a guest room for out of town guests like Aunt Rosy.
She’d be on the next train the moment Amelia sent her a telegram. For a woman never keen on having her own children, Aunt Rosy was highly enthusiastic about Amelia having them. She’d already told them she’d come to visit the moment the child was born.
Of course, Aunt Molly, who was still the best midwife in town, would be upstairs with Amelia right now, doing whatever it was they did. Luke halted the cart and with shaking hands tied the horses to the picket fence. He pushed the little sweetheart gate open and ran up the paved path that led to the front door.
The house was oddly quiet.
Luke stood in the entrance hall not sure what to do. Should he call out? Should he go upstairs? But what if they were busy and he got underfoot and that made things go wrong?
“Well?” Martha snapped. “Go up!”
He took a deep breath and steadied himself taking hold of the banister as he began to climb the stairs. A prayer leaped to his lips as he climbed. A prayer for the safe birth of his child. That at the top of the stairs when he entered the room he shared with the woman he loved more than anything, he would find her whole, alive, and the child fine and perfect. It was a heartfelt prayer that he almost didn’t have the words for.
Pausing at the door to the bedroom he held his hand up to knock. This was it. The moment of truth when he would know if he was going to be a widower again with a baby to care for, or if he was going to be the luckiest man on earth.
He let his knuckles hit the wood of the door. Once. Twice. Three times.
There was a pause and then the door opened to reveal Aunt Molly. She was smiling.
“You can breathe daddy,” she said. “Everything’s fine. Your wife and son are sleeping.”
“Son?” he asked.
Aunt Molly nodded. “Yes, he’s a perfect little gentleman,” she said. “He’s a big boy but he came quickly and it was an easy birth.”
Luke stepped into the room and walked up to the bed. There was Amelia, looking pale, drawn, and exhausted. In the crook of her right arm was a little bundle, wrapped in a blanket. The little pink face was splotchy and the eyes were shut although the little lips, so full and delicate, moved as though his son had a lot to say in his sleep.
Aunt Molly touched his arm and indicated they should go out. She left the door ajar, about six inches open and they went downstairs to the kitchen.
“She went into labor early this morning,” she said, sinking into a chair at the large wooden table that took up a good deal of the kitchen. Amelia had insisted she have a table like Mavis’ in the Blue Bird. But where that one was scarred; this one was brand new and the wood was still unblemished.
Martha pushed him down into a chair too and put a cup of something in front of him. It wasn’t tea or coffee.
“I couldn’t find the glasses,” she said.
Luke sniffed. “Bourbon?”
“Darn right!” Martha said. “We are celebrating the arrival of my nephew and my not shooting you when I finally tracked you down. You certainly cover a lot of ground in your day.”
“What do you mean?” Luke asked.
“Well, when we realized Amelia was going to have the baby quickly, we tried to find you. Joel and I rode all over looking for you. Oh, your mother will be by tomorrow to see her grandson.”
Luke smiled. “Sorry,” he said. “Macon is a bit spread out.”
“No kidding!” Martha said.
“A toast!” Aunt Molly said. “To my first grandchild, may he break hearts!”
“To my nephew may he be as kind and smart as his mother!” Martha said.
“What? No wishes he inherited something from me?” Luke asked with a wink and a chuckle.
Martha thought and added, “Your looks. It would be terrible if he looked like a girl.”
They laughed and held their mugs aloft.
“To Amelia and the baby!” they said, clinking the mugs before drinking their toast.
It took a couple of days for Luke to come to terms with being a father. The little one, who after much debate was named Robert William Johnson after his two grandfathers, was the apple of Luke’s eye. Although he was mostly the property of his mother, since she was his source of food and comfort at the moment, Luke still doted and fussed over them.
Where he had been spending a lot of time at work he now left early whenever he could and came home just to be with his little family. He’d sent the telegram to Aunt Rosy and her arrival would be imminent.
For the local family, he and Amelia decided to have a dinner so they could all meet little Bobby. They held it at the house with Martha, Amelia, and Aunt Molly working to make a roast leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, and fresh-baked vegetables from Molly’s garden. Mavis sent them an apple pie and Jasper brought a bottle of good wine.
Joel had crafted a pretty good small crib that could be gently rocked to and fro and he placed it by the table. “So, you can have your hands free,” he said.
Amelia kissed his cheek. “You are a marvelous woodworker.”
The meal was excellent, and everyone had a wonderful time. They were just passing round coffee mugs when there was a knock on the door. Luke went to answer it and was surprised to find Deputy Donovan standing on his front step.
“Sorry to bother,” he said. “We got word from Jed that those bank robbers are headed into town. They took the path down by his farm and he sent his son over quick as you like to warn us.”
“Right,” Luke said. He looked inside at his family. He might be able to let someone else handle it. Maybe. Jasper and Joel came over to the door. He explained what was going on.
“You stay, we got this,” Jasper said.
“It’s a five-man job,” Luke said.
The women were as understanding as could be expected. Luke rode out knowing that he would always have a piece of his heart at home with his wife and child. He also knew that each time he foiled a bank robber, or caught a thief, or pulled some child out of a well, he was making Macon a better place for his family. One day when Bobby grew up he would know that the town he lived in was the wonderful place it was because of his daddy and his deputies who would stop at nothing to make it the best place to live on earth. And the reason Luke could do this was because of the love he felt for Amelia and their little boy.
With that knowledge burning in his chest, Luke turned to the others. “Let’s ride!”