Chapter 1: Conversation
"Avoid always any discussion upon religious topics, unless you are perfectly certain that your remarks cannot annoy or pain any one present. If you are tête-à-tête with a friend, and such a discussion arise, inquire your companion's church and mention your own, that you may yourself avoid unpleasant remarks, and caution him."
"Jesus Christ is Lord," Sister Ruth sang softly to herself.
She was bored. They were going over particularly bumpy terrain, which made it near impossible for her to read her Bible. Kid Cole was napping or at least he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. The man across from her, who was at least a decade or two older than her which made him quite elderly, was hard of hearing. She knew because she'd already tried to strike up a conversation with him and failed because of it.
"I've always thought that song should say Son of God," remarked the lady on the man's other side. Ruth hadn't even tried speaking to her because up until now the younger woman had been involved in her reading.
Sister Ruth immediately perked up at the imminent religious discussion. "Well, He is, sister, but being that He's also Lord, there ain't nothing wrong with the lyrics."
She smiled politely in return but in a way that said she disagreed.
"'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' Can't say it any plainer than that. 'The Lord our God is one Lord.'"
"You know your scripture," the woman remarked.
"Well, I'm a revivalist and a faith healer but mostly I just love the Lord and His Word. My name's Sister Ruth. My husband and I are heading to San Francisco. What about you?"
"I'm Miss Benson. I'm moving west with my grandfather. Not as far as California though just into Utah territory. It means more opportunities for me to marry as there are more like-minded people there."
"How'd you come to know Jesus as your Savior?" Ruth doubted she did if the start of the conversation was a true indication of her beliefs, but she couldn't be sure until she spoke with her more.
"I grew up in the church. What church do you attend?"
Asking her what church she attended was an avoidance tactic that she recognized, but Ruth answered anyway. "Whatever church is handy: Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, so long as they worship the same Jesus I do and preach from the Bible."
"I'm from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." A clear warning that they should drop the subject of religion without saying it outright.
Ruth didn't care to drop it though, and she was extremely curious. She'd heard much of their group but never yet had occasion to meet one. She knew they'd added a book of their own to the Bible. "Can I see your Bible, sister?"
That was one thing the ladies had in common, carrying Bibles. Miss Benson obliged.
She skimmed the extra book as much as she could. The bouncing had lessened to a tolerable shaking, but it still wasn't easy to read. What she did read made her frown, not that she'd even considered it could be another biblical book, but she had hoped it lined up with Christian teaching better than that.
She handed the book back. Miss Benson was tense, so Ruth picked a lighter topic for the moment. "Looky yonder. A rattler's sunning himself on that there rock."
"I came across a man about to kill a baby rattlesnake when we left the station. Can you believe that? I just stuck the poor thing in my reticule." Miss Benson was in the process of opening up her bag.
"Oh, Lord in heaven," Ruth cried, nudging Kid and praying simultaneously. The girl had a venomous baby snake in a moving stagecoach. It wasn't going to be happy about being shut up in a small bag or all the bumping that had been going on. If Ruth backed up any further into the corner, she was going to be hanging out the window by her ankles. She didn't even know what she expected Kid to do in this confined space.
She immediately relaxed when Miss Benson drew out a simple piece of candy and finished her statement, "And dropped him next to the creek. The pitiable creature."
"Saints alive, child, you about sent me onto heaven a little earlier than I'd planned just from pure shock." Her heart was still pounding over the encounter. "You could've been killed your own self, picking it up. The man had the right idea."
"They'll be resurrected same as us. Their life should be respected."
"There'll be animals in heaven, sure enough, but the Bible just speaks to people being resurrected. We should care for the animals up to a point, but God gave the breath of life to man alone. And thank the Lord. I'm not sure how I'd feel about sharing eternity with a rattlesnake."
"Joseph Smith said differently," Miss Benson said, speaking of the Mormon prophet.
She almost answered that she didn't care what Joseph Smith said, but that was likely to offend the woman. Instead, she spent the rest of their time trying to persuade her to various truths by having her turn to verses with her. But in the end, it was useless as the Book of Mormon trumped the rest of the Bible to Miss Benson's way of thinking. And showing her how Revelations spoke of the completeness of the Word didn't change her mind. But she gave it everything she had in trying to persuade her.
When they disembarked, Miss Benson barely said goodbye before she ran off with her grandfather, and though it wasn't a dead run, it was quicker than a lady should walk.
"I wasn't trying to annoy her," Ruth explained to Kid. "I just feel so sorry for her and others like her who don't understand the message of salvation."
"I know, baby, but you can't save every soul no matter how much you might want to."
"On our way back from California, maybe we should stop in Utah."
"Why? So you can convert the whole Mormon population?" he asked with a laugh.
But Sister Ruth was serious. "They have to know who Jesus Christ really is or they have no hope. You can't accept Him as Lord if you don't understand He's the Lord. And why didn't you say anything in the stagecoach?"
"Because you could argue circles, especially religious ones, around anybody I know, including me, and it doesn't seem quite polite to discuss religion when the person's got no way of escape." He said the last part with a half smile. "Providing they don't decide to jump out of a moving stagecoach, of course. Which I think I saw her considering a time or two."
"I reckon I do come on too strong sometimes, and I don't always know when to be quiet. I hope I didn't scare her off from the truth."
"You were very gentle in your explanations and things do have to be said, but words only go so far when someone's that wrapped up in their ideas. That's when faith has to speak louder than words. When you led me to the Lord, it was the way you loved people that didn't like you, the way you loved without discrimination that drew me in more than your arguments. I saw Christ in you."
"That's very wise, honey, and scriptural." She gave him an affectionate kiss. Then she shook her head in disbelief. "I still can't believe the girl picked up a rattlesnake and carried it in her pocketbook. You know, she had to be one of the most interesting traveling companions I've ever had."
He grinned. "I'm sure she's saying the same thing about you."
Chapter 2: Dress
"Avoid oddity or eccentricity in your dress."
Ruth slipped her white robe on over her dress as her revival meeting was about to start. She'd put on one of her simpler dresses because she was in a poorer part of the town and didn't want to look like she was lording her wealth over them though the Lord knew she was far from wealthy. All her worldly goods were in a covered wagon and none of it was especially fine, but these people made her look well-off.
She fingered the lace on her robe. Her own special feminine touch to a garment usually only worn by men. Her first robe had been made by her mother and had been much plainer, but she did love pretty things. She hoped it didn't make her guilty of vanity, but one only had to look at the flowers to know God appreciated pretty things, too.
"Are you Sister Ruth?"
"That's what they tell me, brother," she said, turning to a young man in a suit and tie. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I've been looking everywhere trying to find you." He leaned towards her and said in a whisper, "Do you know you're in the negro section of town?"
"So that's why the people look so dark," she teased as she looked at all the people of color milling about them. Then she got serious. "Of course I know where I am, and you want to know something? The Lord don't care and neither do I. He looks at the heart. And you want to know something else? If Jesus was here today, people like you would sadly reject him for not being as white as you or me. He wasn't European, you know."
"I'm not here to discuss religion," he said. He was trying to regain his composure after being utterly shocked by what she'd said. "We need you in court. You need to testify about one of your healings. I was beginning to think you'd done left town."
"Oh. Well, just let me change."
"No time. The trial's already started."
So Sister Ruth found herself being drug into the middle of a full courtroom dressed in her revival robe. Of course, the judge wore his black robe, but then that was to be expected. She thought about taking off her robe, but it seemed kind of indecent to disrobe under the eyes of as solemn a looking judge as was presiding over the trial even if she was fully dressed underneath. And she'd just have to carry it balled up in her hands anyway.
They brought a Bible over, and she had to set the one in her hands down to swear on this one.
The lawyer sitting by Mr. Devon approached. "Do you recognize this man?"
"Why sure. That's Brother Newton Devon."
"Was he sick when you visited him?"
"He was deathly ill. I feared it was too late, but God is good."
"Amen," cried Newton.
"You healed him then?" he asked. "Monday about 7:30 in the evening?"
"I heal through the power of Christ, but yes. His faith in Jesus made Brother Newton well."
"No further questions, Your Honor," he said, speaking to the judge.
She was about to get up, but the prosecutor wanted to ask her questions, too. The plaintiff was dressed in silks and fine linen. As they had rushed to the courthouse, the bailiff had explained it all to her. This rich man was suing Newton for missing work. He claimed Newton had feigned illness to get a month's vacation and his business had suffered because of it.
"One only has to look at her manner of dress to know how eccentric and odd she is," the prosecutor was saying to the jury. "Can we trust a person who makes a mockery of clerical robes by her gender and frippery?"
The whispers around the courtroom seemed to agree.
She adjusted her collar and pulled her robe higher. She'd never been one to take much stock in fashion, but she didn't look that bad, and she wasn't making a mockery of anything. The momentary self-consciousness was replaced with annoyance. "I don't tell you how to dress, Counselor, so don't tell me how to dress. And it wouldn't be Christian of me to tell you what I think of your clothes."
His tie was entirely too loud for one thing; the splotches of orange in his tie clashed with his bright purple vest. The crowd snickered and this time the whispers were louder.
"Order," said the judge, banging his gavel to get everyone's attention. "Order."
"In the future, a simple yes or no sir will suffice," the prosecuting attorney said to her with a glare.
"Then, yes sir. You can trust my testimony."
"I haven't asked you anything yet."
"No, you just wanted to cast doubt on my character before I even uttered a word. I tell you it's a good thing the Lord don't look at outward appearance. Probably for you and me both."
The judge wasn't amused. "Miss McKenzie, please do remember you're in a witness box and not at a pulpit and just answer the questions."
"You have no medical training. Is that correct?" the attorney asked, looking pleased with the way things were going.
"No formal training, no. But-"
"Miss McKenzie, please," the judge said.
"No, sir," Ruth was forced to say.
"Then you can offer no valid medical opinion as to his condition before you arrived. And you have no way of proving you're a genuine faith healer. Is that not so?"
"No sir, it ain't so. Any fool could see he was sick, including your client if he'd been kind enough to drop in on him any of the four weeks Mr. Devon was out. As for the faith healing, this room couldn't begin to hold all the people I've seen that have been healed by the power of faith."
The attorney had been looking at the judge, expecting him to stop her during this lengthy reply. He hadn't, probably figuring it for a lost cause. He turned back to Sister Ruth. "The bottom line is you can't prove there's such a thing as faith healing, and you can't prove the defendant was ever sick. Is that correct?"
"Have you ever seen the wind? Held it in your hands? You feel it though, don't you? You see the effects when the leaves rustle? Faith healing is like that. You can feel Him moving. You can see the healed body. What more proof do you need?"
There was the sound of applause at her mini-speech.
The lawyer's face turned red and for a second it looked as if steam was going to shoot out of his nostrils and ear canals like a locomotive, so incensed he was by the approval she received.
The trial didn't last much longer after that. Three more witnesses testified to his ill health, giving Newton a rock-solid case. Ruth said a quick word to him about how happy she was he'd won. Then she hurried back to her revival meeting, hoping the attendees didn't think she had abandoned them.
She didn't return alone though. A large number had followed her from the courtroom. She looked out over the mixed crowd as she prepared to begin. There were whites and blacks and rich and poor looking back at her. Maybe she was a little eccentric in her dress and in other ways too, but sometimes eccentricity paid off.
Chapter 3: Traveling
"If you travel under the escort of a gentleman, give him as little trouble as possible."
A 9-year-old girl cried over her potatoes, no doubt making them saltier in the process.
"What's wrong, honey?" Sister Ruth asked her.
"Fluffy's gone. She ran away. It was the last present my parents ever got me, and Aunt Keri said I could bring her. Now she's gone."
Ruth knew of Fluffy very well. Fluffy was a plump, lap dog, a tan-colored Pomeranian, that had yipped all the while they'd been in the stagecoach. She'd thought it had been too quiet since they'd stopped. Ruth looked at the time. There was a good solid hour before the stagecoach left again. "We'll find your dog."
"We will?" Kid Cole asked, sounding much less sure.
"My husband here is right handy at tracking," she said, patting his arm.
"Tracking criminals and outlaws, not a bushy-haired little dog, who has probably done been carried off by a hawk."
Ruth never lost her smile, but she did give him a pinch of warning, not intending to hurt but just to grab his attention and silence him before he came up with any more tragic fates for the animal.
Fortunately, the girl was too hysterical to have heard the possibility.
"You just stay here and pray, sweetheart, that we find her. And we'll be back before you know it." Ruth had already stood though her dinner was only half-finished.
Kid had no choice but to stand with her. He looked sorrowfully at his soon-to-be cold potatoes but followed her out the door.
Thanks to the recent rain, tracking the animal didn't prove to be a problem. If one didn't mind walking through the squelchy mud.
He blew a sigh of frustration as his boot sank deep into clay brown mud and said, "I didn't think you liked dogs anyway."
"I don't like the way they lick you in the face or the way their hair gets all over everything or the way the little ones bark so shrill, but it's not like I hate them."
"I wouldn't call that loving them."
"I'm mostly doing it for that poor girl. She already lost her parents. She shouldn't have to lose her pet, too." She had her hems lifted trying to avoid the mud, but it was an impossible task. She eventually gave up and let the skirt and petticoats get a rim of mud around them. They were already dusty from the ride earlier anyway. "I guess this is what they make traveling clothes for."
"They didn't make them for tromping all through creation looking for a lost pet, I can promise you. But as much as I would've enjoyed the peace and quiet, I guess it is the right thing to do."
They followed after the little paw prints for what seemed like hours.
"We're lost," Kid announced at last. "You know that right? That crazy dog is going in circles."
"We're not lost."
"Oh, no? Tell me which direction does the rest station lay then?"
"Well, I don't know. I guess we'll just follow our tracks back."
"We're lost," Kid repeated. He could see though she had no intention of turning back without the dog. She was stubborn that way.
The tracks finally ended at the base of a tree where there was a natural bed made from fallen leaves. Only instead of finding one dog, they found four.
"Aww, no wonder she ran off. She had puppies," Ruth said, leaning in for a closer look.
There were three newborn puppies with closed eyes, not nearly as fluffy as their mother but of a similar color.
"I suppose we have to take them back with us, too?" Kid asked already knowing the answer.
"We can't leave them here to get eaten or die of starvation. How cruel would that be?"
"The coyotes will take them in as one of their own. What are coyotes but overgrown dogs?"
"Don't give me that. You can take the mother. I'll get the puppies." She knew perfectly well he hadn't meant it. He talked a big game sometimes, but he was a softie and never would have left behind the puppies. Though his annoyance with the whole situation was perfectly real.
Kid muttered as he grabbed Fluffy, taking care to avoid her razor sharp teeth. A dog was never happy about being separated from her litter. They did as Ruth had suggested and followed the tracks back for there really was no other sure way to be sure they found their way back.
For such a little dog, it sure was a fighter. It kept trying to twist around and snap at him. Ruth took pity on him about halfway back and offered to trade with him. He refused at first, but she insisted.
Of course, it turned out the demon in fur was perfectly content to be with Ruth. It quit its barking and snapping altogether.
"Must be more used to females," she said.
"Must be." He thought he had it made with the three sleeping, blind puppies until a damp spot appeared on his shirt. Which wouldn't have been so bad if Ruth hadn't noticed and looked as if she were trying desperately hard to contain her mirth.
"You had better not be laughing."
"Why would I be laughing? I'm the one that has to do your laundry, remember?"
He was more than a little happy when the rest station came into view, but it didn't last for long. "The stagecoach left without us."
"Oh, mercy. So it did."
Their trunks had been set down in front of the building. And the sad part was that they were only five minutes off schedule.
The woman who managed the rest stop informed them it wasn't more than ten miles to their destination. "My brother lives there. You can borrow an old mule of mine to get you there, and he'll see that it gets back to me. I saved your lunches, too. I thought that was so sweet of ya'll helping that little girl."
So they got to finish eating and freshened up as best they could. The lady gave them directions and the mule.
"We're taking the dogs with us, ain't we?" Kid asked.
Her smile told him the answer.
The old gray mule carried their trunks and the dogs after Ruth made up a basket for them that she carefully tied around its neck. Kid and Ruth walked through more mud while the dogs stayed happily clean in their padded basket.
They made it before nightfall, which was a miracle considering the stubborn animal protested the walk every fifty feet or so. They even managed to track down and reunite the girl with her lost dogs.
"Oh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you!" cried the girl in between the happily lickings of her Pomeranian. And Kid thought he might walk ten more miles through the mud to see such a joyful reunion. But bone-weary and filthy, he was glad he didn't have to.
The aunt offered a puppy to the Coles as a reward if they were still around in a few weeks.
"No," Kid and Ruth cried out simultaneously. At least they were of one mind in this.
As they walked back to the hotel where they'd just booked a room, Ruth started laughing. "You look awful."
He cracked a grin. "Well, honey, you don't exactly look as fresh as a daisy yourself."
She got serious. "I'm a lot of trouble, ain't I?" She was looking up at him ruefully.
"Yes, you are," he said, hugging her despite their muddy state. "But truth be known, I wouldn't have you any other way."
Chapter 4: How to Behave at a Hotel
"Remember that a lady-like deportment is always modest and quiet."
Hank Lawson took a long, hard drink of whiskey. He had a feeling it was going to be a long night. No, more than a feeling, unless anything had changed from last night.
He had never hoped for a couple making up in all his life. In fact, he rather encouraged the opposite. An unhappy marriage meant more liquor sales and more soliciting of his girls. But he found himself hoping now.
He still didn't know what Loren wanted with a wife. A man who'd been married before ought to know better. Sister Ruth and Kid Cole were a walking advertisement against the idea.
They bickered a lot for people who had separate rooms. The only break came during the day when they went their own ways. Now Kid had just returned and he could hear their arguing from the saloon.
Well, actually what he heard was Sister Ruth. That woman had a voice that could resonate, and he didn't mean that as a compliment. The harder he tried to tune it out, the more it seemed to carry. A couple of customers looked towards the ceiling.
He polished off the glass to fortify himself. He had to do something before someone complained again. And when a bunch of drunks complained the inside of a saloon was too loud like they had last night, it was a bad situation indeed.
He could hear both sides of the conversation as he approached.
"If you'd quit picking at me and twisting my words for just five seconds, I'm trying to tell you Dr. Mike invited us to have supper."
"Beats me. I sure wouldn't invite you anywhere. As cantankerous as you've been lately."
"And I suppose you've been all sugar and spice?"
"I didn't say that. What I am saying is go clean up so we can get going. I don't want to be late."
"What's wrong with the way I look?"
"Good heavens," she said, throwing her arms up in exasperation. "Nothing. Let's go then."
"I ain't going." He started to go into his room.
"Oh, for pity's sake, you're going if I have to drag you there by the ear."
He looked back but kept moving.
Her tone went softer. "Matthew and Brian are looking forward to it. You know how much they look up to you though Lord knows why. You can disappoint me, but don't disappoint them."
That worked. Hank even thought he saw a flash of guilt before Kid's face hardened again. "I'll go, but I won't like it."
"Can we please just get along long enough to make it through supper with the Sullys? Is that too much to ask?"
Kid followed her out of the hotel though he didn't look happy about it.
It was too much to ask, Hank thought. They'd never make it that long without fighting. He'd bet his last dollar on that.
The saloon had just closed for the night, and Hank was polishing the counter.
"I've never been so embarrassed in all my born days," Sister Ruth was complaining as they came into the hotel.
"That's a lot of days. And if you hadn't called me a sinner-"
"I called everybody a sinner, myself included. That was no reason to storm out."
"I came back, didn't I? And don't tell me you weren't thinking of me when you said that prayer."
"Believe it or not, I wasn't. You ain't all I ever think about, you know."
"Trouble in paradise?" Hank asked sarcastically as they walked in front of him.
That seemed to quiet them, and Hank went to bed not long after they did. But a woman's voice sliced through his dreams and disturbed his rest. That distinctive, unmistakable voice.
He went to the hallway where their rooms were, expecting to find them arguing in the hallway, but they weren't. He could still hear her hollering. He knocked on Sister Ruth's door first and got no answer. He went to Kid Cole's next. Kid answered. He'd obviously been asleep. And Hank wondered how he'd managed that.
"Where's that wife of yours?" he practically bellowed.
Kid pointed towards the window, and Hank went to look out. He quickly saw that Sister Ruth was outside, pacing up and down in front of the saloon with the Bible in her hands, yelling.
"What in tarnation? She's arguing with herself now," Hank cried out.
"No, she's arguing with God. Probably telling Him about me if I had to guess."
"Does He argue back?" He wondered if Sister Ruth had more screws loose than he'd thought.
"To hear Sister Ruth tell it, you'd think so," he replied, unable to keep from cracking a grin. "She's sane enough if that's what you mean. Just a loud prayer sometimes."
Hank cracked the window and yelled out, "God ain't deaf, sister! You're probably giving him a headache, too. Go to bed like a normal person!"
Hank almost made it to dawn without another interruption. He was seriously starting to regret going into the hotel business. This time they were in their usual place to argue.
"Where have you been?" she was asking him.
"I told you it ain't none of your business."
"I know you weren't drinking cause the saloon's closed. Were," she took a moment to collect herself, "-were you with one of the girls?"
"Yeah, cause that's what I want is another woman. I'm getting shed of you just so I can hitched up to another problem."
"I don't mean the girls we're transporting. I meant Hank's girls."
"They could all be my daughters, and I got better things to do with my time. I thought you knew me better than that."
"I thought I did, too, but lately I don't know you at all. So where were you?"
"Just outside, enjoying the night air. Or is that a sin?"
Her face flamed in anger. "You-"
"Okay. Break it up, you two," Hank interrupted.
Ruth had a dressing gown on over her nightclothes, but the robe had started coming undone. She tightened it and moved behind Kid.
"You ain't got nothing I ain't seen before," Hank said. He would have laughed about it if it hadn't been just after 4. In the morning. "And what's more if I hear another peep out of you, the whole town's going to see cause I'll throw you out of this hotel."
And suddenly Kid's anger was directed at him somehow and seemed a lot more real. "You lay a finger on her and it'll be you that's carried out of here. Feet first."
Hank swallowed hard and this time the words came out pleadingly. "Would you all please for the love of all that is holy just go to bed?"
Ruth went into her room first. Then Kid went into his.
He thought he heard one or two girls giggle from behind their door over his continuing problem with the Coles as he walked back to his room. The mail-order brides, not his girls. His girls wouldn't have been so foolish. "Enjoying the show, ladies?"
More giggles. It was definitely nights like this Hank was glad he'd never married.
Sister Ruth and Kid were leaving, and Hank couldn't have been happier. He had come out just to make sure they both got into the stagecoach. He did a double-take when he spotted them though.
It was plain to see Kid was saying something kind of mushy to Sister Ruth, and her laughter carried with the same power as her voice. The look that passed between them then was tender and warm. And so loving. He didn't know what had changed between them but something had. Or maybe the love had never really left at all.
And it was days like this Hank wished he had married.
Chapter 5: Evening Parties
"Do not make any display of affection for even your dearest friend; kissing in public, or embracing, are in bad taste. Walking with arms encircling waists, or such demonstrative tokens of love, are marks of low breeding."
Sully and Michaela had been married five years. Their friends had made it an event to remember, renting out a room at Preston's resort and Grace catering a meal fit for a king. Dorothy took it upon herself to invite Michaela's mother and two friends she had mentioned in passing that she longed to see.
Sister Ruth and Kid Cole were a little late to the celebration because the train they were on was a little late.
Sister Ruth embraced Michaela first. "We're so happy to be able to help you and Sully celebrate. Lord knows it's been long enough since we've seen ya'll."
"I can't believe you're both here!" Michaela exclaimed. "Should you be traveling?"
"Yes, we should," Kid answered, hugging her next.
It pained Michaela to feel how thin Kid Cole was. He was fighting the disease hard to have survived so long in this stage, but the consumption was winning. She kept her smile bright though.
"We sure are glad to see you both," Sully said. "It's a fine surprise."
The Coles hugged the rest of the family, commenting on how much Katie and Brian had grown before Ruth led a protesting Kid off to sit down.
"You are going to rest a spell," she informed her husband. "That was a long walk from the station to the resort. There's plenty of time for mingling and punch when you've caught your breath."
Michaela smiled. Sister Ruth was looking after Kid's health with great meticulousness. It eased her mind greatly. She wouldn't have let him come if she hadn't thought he was up to it.
"I have never seen such distasteful displays of affection," her mother commented, having joined her at her side.
"That's just their way, Mother, Sister Ruth's especially. They're good Christian people. In fact, most people I know out here put on displays as you say for friends. The social rules are not quite as strict as they are in Boston."
"You don't have to remind me that people out here are ill-mannered and ill-bred."
"If you want my opinion, I think society has lost something by not being physically demonstrative."
"Michaela," Elizabeth whispered harshly as if she spoke blasphemy.
"No, it's the truth. A hug from a friend makes you feel very loved, and there's nothing wrong with that. If that makes me ill-bred and ill-mannered, so be it." She walked off to join Sully, who was getting Katie a plate of treats. She wasn't eager to argue with her mother on what should be a happy occasion.
There was dancing and music and refreshments. Elizabeth's attention was frequently on the newcomers though. They were holding hands pretty much throughout the party and once or twice they'd even walked across the room with arms encircling waists. They danced one of the dances and a person would have had trouble sliding a penny between them, they danced so close. Elizabeth's sensibilities were shocked.
When they sat down to the dinner, Dorothy tapped her spoon against her glass to get everyone's attention. "I think Sully and Dr. Mike should say a few words."
Sully took the lead. "Some people say love fades with age, but I've found that to be the furthest thing from the truth. The seeds of love we planted all those years ago continues to be cared for and cherished so that the roots in our hearts have grown so deep, I can't imagine our love ever being uprooted. I love you, and I always will."
"Oh, Sully. I love you, too," she leaned in to kiss him, overcome at the beautiful words. They were as pretty as anything Walt Whitman could have written.
It was Michaela's turn. "I think there were a lot of people who would've said we couldn't last and some of them are probably celebrating with us tonight. We were just too outwardly different, a doctor from Boston and a mountain man more comfortable in the woods than in town. But they didn't see all the ways we were alike: the passion we have for the right thing, the stubbornness, but mostly the love we have for each other. Yes, sometimes our differences have caused disagreements, but nonetheless our hearts beat as one."
Michaela and Sully kissed again with more passion than the last though still brief enough to be at least a little respectable. Elizabeth had to work hard to keep from rolling her eyes though.
She turned her head and caught sight of Sister Ruth and Kid Cole giving each other a quick peck. The love pouring forth from their eyes as they gazed at one another was enough to embarrass anybody by making them feel as if they'd intruded on a private moment. It may have been an anniversary party but was all the kissing really necessary?
One could excuse the younger generation, especially when one considered Sully made up the other half. He never had learned to blend seamlessly into society though he had tried mighty hard in Boston. The Coles were of her generation though and should know better.
Presents were about to be opened. Elizabeth went to get hers. A silver tea set hidden under her cloak, boxed and wrapped in fine paper. She hadn't wanted to take a chance of it getting knocked off the table with her rather active granddaughter.
She didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it was impossible not to with them in the doorway of the cloakroom. They'd stepped out of the party for a moment, and Kid held a blood-splattered handkerchief in one hand and the other hand was holding Sister Ruth's hand.
"I knew this would be too much for you. You need to go to bed and rest," she said.
"I want to see them open presents. I'll be okay in a minute. You don't have to hover over me, you know."
She looked deflated. "I know. I just feel if I let go of you, you'll be gone. Like I'm keeping you tethered to earth. Silly, ain't it?"
"No. If it wasn't for you, I think I would have given up a long time ago. You are what's keeping me anchored until the Lord decides it's time." He tucked his handkerchief back in his pocket and then kissed her hand. "Besides, I like you hovering and holding onto me."
She laughed. "Good. Cause I ain't got no intention of stopping." She saw Elizabeth then. "Oh, I'm sorry. We're blocking you from your wrap." They moved out of the way. "You're Dr. Mike's mother, ain't you?"
"You raised a good woman. I'm sure you're proud," Kid said with a smile.
"Maybe not as often as I should be," Elizabeth admitted.
Shame washed over her. They weren't the ones showing low breeding. She was by judging a couple she knew nothing about. Michaela was right. They did appear to be very nice people.
She thought of Josef. She had loved that man even if romance hadn't been her primary reason for making the match. She had restricted physical affection to the bedroom though. In the dark. She wondered what Josef would have done if she'd ever had the nerve to give him an affectionate display in public.
She smiled. He probably would have keeled over from shock. How she missed him and wished he was here. He would have liked Sully. He would've liked the Coles, too.
And if he were here, she would've held his hand, and she wouldn't care who saw.
Chapter 6: Table Etiquette
"Never eat every morsel that is upon your plate; and surely no lady will ever scrape her plate, or pass the bread round it, as if to save the servants the trouble of washing it."
The preacher and his wife had traveled with Ruth clear to Richmond, Virginia. It was where the pastor was originally from, and he knew a lady there, who could finance her journey westward. Many of her neighbors and friends would have loved to have helped her, but none of them were wealthy enough. They eked their living out of the land.
"You're looking a mite peaked," Mrs. Jacobson commented.
"I feel fine. Just nerves, I reckon. So much is riding on this little visit."
"Remember that the Lord is with you." He'd known Ruth since she was knee high to a tadpole and he knew her forthright manner could be off-putting. "Maybe you'd better let me do the talking. Mrs. Devin knows why we're here, of course, but I might be more persuasive since I know her better."
"Why sure, preacher. It'd take a load off my mind."
It wasn't long before they pulled up in front of a row of houses.
"Great day in the morning!" Ruth exclaimed. She'd never seen so many houses lined up right next to each other before. If they tried that in the valley, it wouldn't look quite the same with all the hilly land they had, and who'd want to be so close to your neighbor you could see them spit? She was glad the Lord hadn't called her to a city. She liked having elbow room even if the shopping must be nice.
She turned to Pastor Jacobson. "Sorry, preacher." He didn't care for any sort of euphemisms. When it was an obvious and weak replacement for taking the Lord's name in vain, she agreed, but sometimes a person had to say something to show their surprise. Still, she didn't want to offend him. "I've just never seen the like."
The inside was even more impressive. "I declare! I feel like I've walked into a palace." She realized she'd done it again. She had a feeling she knew what Sunday's sermon was going to be about. "I'll behave now."
She'd taken her cloak off and held it in her arms. While she was admiring the staircase, she had it snatched from her arms, which startled her. A lady in her late 30s, early 40s, wearing a black dress and white apron had taken it.
"You plum scared the daylights out of me! You must be Mrs. Devin. I'm Ruth McKenzie." She held her hand out to shake hands, but the lady didn't take the proffered hand.
"She's just the help," Pastor Jacobson quietly told her.
"Oh." She'd never seen anyone with servants before, or slaves for that matter. She wondered which this woman was with her light olive skin and tight curly hair. She was either of Italian heritage or mixed, she supposed. "Well, it's nice to meet you anyway, ma'am. Thanks for taking my cloak."
She seemed to embarrass the poor woman who scurried away with all their outerwear.
A woman about the same age as the previous woman but with much paler skin and straight golden brown hair came out in her place.
"This is Mrs. Naomi Devin," the preacher said, introducing her to the women. "Our fathers worked together. This is my wife, Rachel, and this is the young woman I've wrote so much about, Ruth McKenzie."
"How do you do?" Mrs. Devin said, shaking hands with the women. "I hope ya'll didn't have to cross the river. We've had so much rain lately, it's running high and fast."
She could listen to the woman's lovely Richmond accent all day. It was so elegantly southern and refined. River sounded like rivah. Though Pastor Jacobson had come from Richmond once upon a time, his accent had long since faded to take more of a mountain twang though he didn't sound totally Appalachian either.
She, on the other hand, probably sounded like she'd never left the hollow she'd been born in, and she hadn't until now. But if all went well, that would change with this dinner: how far she traveled, not her accent.
Mrs. Devin escorted them to the dining room where the woman from before was putting out the food. The pastor gave the blessing.
"Amen, preacher. Praise the Lord and pass the taters." She wasn't altogether kidding with the popular expression. She really want the mashed potatoes. The servant lady served her next, giving her a big heap of them.
Ruth felt funny having the woman wait on them and then not sit down to eat with them. She at least hoped she'd be eating the same thing in the kitchen or wherever it was she ate. She looked too thin like she could use a helping of taters herself. Mrs. Devin seemed to treat her with respect though, so she probably did eat well. She prayed so anyway.
She waited until everyone was served and then dug into the delicious-looking meal with gusto. All she'd had for lunch was poke salat and venison. Now she was being treated to crabs and clams, a mess of green beans, mashed potatoes with gravy, and rolls with butter. She'd been offered wine but had taken water instead as had the minister and his wife.
She was so famished, she did little talking. The green beans looked as if they'd been picked too soon. They were such skinny looking pods, but they tasted right nice. The crab was good if you could get past the claw and shell. The clams took some getting used to as they were a little tough to chew, but she didn't dare hurt the hostess' feelings by not eating all of it. She sopped the last of the gravy with her roll, not willing for even a little of the satisfying dinner to go to waste. It would have almost seemed a sin.
"Are you quite done, Miss McKenzie?" Mrs. Devin asked.
Ruth hadn't realized they'd been waiting on her, so intent she'd been on her meal. "I enjoyed the seafood, Mrs. Devin. Back home trout and catfish are as close as we get to seafood."
"You couldn't possibly have saved room for pie and coffee."
She grinned. "There's always room for dessert."
They retired to the parlor to discuss over dessert what they'd come to talk about. Mrs. Devin didn't give Pastor Jacobson a chance to talk. She dove right in with the first bite of chess pie still in Ruth's mouth.
"I believe you've gone and bit off more than you can chew, and I'm not referring to your table manners, wanting though they may be. My advice to you is go home and leave the Lord's work to another. I'm not sure I approve of a woman going out west by herself anyway."
"You've up and done it now," the pastor's wife said mostly to herself. Ruth had the same look her husband wore when he was gearing up for a sermon. And Ruth McKenzie had the gift of gab. Even back when she'd taught her in Sunday school, the girl could talk seemingly without coming up for air and so full of questions. She hadn't really been surprised when she'd shared her desired vocation with the church at eighteen.
The words had made Ruth madder than a wet hen. More because she saw the devil at work than anger with this woman. "I know hard work. I've worked hard all my life. Working in the dirt beside my brothers, and I've dealt with some tough folks. Men and women who cuss, drink, and think beating each other is fun. I shared Christ with them often times with success. And sometimes my brother or daddy went with me, but sometimes they didn't. I've had plenty of book learning from my family and the preacher too. I know the Bible. And I ain't afraid. Not because I think I can take care of myself but because I think God can take care of me. I'm not trying to boast, you understand, but I do want you to know I am equipped for the job, at least with the Lord's help that is."
"Don't go getting your feathers ruffled," Mrs. Devin said. "I'm prepared to hear you out before I make a final decision."
"If you don't help me, I'll find someone who will because it's what I know I was made to do, called to do. To go west with the gospel and show that we can be healed through the power of Christ. So many are sick in body and spirit, and there ain't enough doctors for their bodies or their souls. The great commission was given to male and female alike. The Lord's offering you a chance to be a part of the mission. He don't need your money because He'll find another way for me to go west, but you'll be blessed if you do."
"You have the fire for it. I'll give you that." She looked at Pastor Jacobson. "Do you think her capable?"
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't. She's prayed about it. I've prayed about it. We believe this to be the course for her life."
"Then who am I to stand in God's way? We'll talk about the amount after we finish."
Ruth was so excited she barely tasted her pie and coffee after that. She would be ready to go west as soon as she said goodbye to her family. The question now was whether the West was ready for Sister Ruth.
Chapter 7: Conduct in Church
"Remember, in whatever church you may be, whether at home or abroad, conform to the mode of worship whilst you are in that church. If you find, in these modes, forms which are disagreeable to you, or which shock your own ideas of religion, avoid a second visit, but do not insult the congregation, by showing your contempt or disapproval, whilst you are among them. "
Sister Ruth was ninety-six years old, and she seemed to feel her years a little more every day. Still, she was in good health for her age. She took a walk around her neighborhood every day, requiring only the light use of a cane.
One of the neighbors, puttering in his flower garden, called out to her. He'd been her neighbor since she had come with Kid to St. Louis to live nearly thirty years ago.
"You'll like the Christian Science church that was just built. Christian scientists are big into healing, a return to the way the early church worked, they say," he said.
Sister Ruth had a regular church, a Baptist church she'd attended with Kid, but it didn't keep her from worshiping with other believers at times, and the idea of faith healing being a regular part of the service intrigued her. "Thank you, brother. I believe I will go this Sunday."
She could tell it was going to be unusual the moment she went into the church for there was no place for any clergy to stand. That didn't bother her though for she could see the people carried Bibles. As long as they were reading and teaching from the Bible, they couldn't go very wrong.
There was a man who read from the King James. She followed along as he read of the healings in Acts. Then another reader began to read from an unfamiliar book called the Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written by the founder of their church, Mary Eddy Baker.
"There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind, in its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Therefore, man is not material; he is spiritual."
She could hardly wrap her mind around that erroneous statement. As near as she could figure, they were saying they weren't flesh and blood because everything was God, which was pure lunacy.
Being that Easter was drawing near, the reader also read of the death of Jesus or rather the lack thereof. According to their reading, He was alive in the tomb to show that death wasn't real, and He came to destroy the belief in sin. Realizing this was the great task set before them. Jesus was a merely a man like them rather than God in human flesh, and when they spoke of Christ, it was used for this so-called divine idea that Jesus possessed.
If there were minor disagreements in theology, Ruth didn't make a big deal of it though she would show the person scripture that told why she believed what she believed and politely discuss it with them. She wouldn't interrupt a service over something minor. Though she would talk with the pastor afterward on occasion. However, this wasn't even in the ballpark of Christianity and there was no minister to speak with. She could not stand to hear Jesus Christ, her Redeemer, being made less than He was.
She shakily stood to her feet with the help of her cane. "I am a sinner as a descendant of Adam and Eve. I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth. Look at the lines in my face, the frailty of my body. I am paying the wages of sin, which is death. But praise be to God. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, who was God with us. Maybe you should be reading from Romans." She didn't yell. Her words were gentle. She spoke as a kindly grandmother and the people listened because of it even though they might have disagreed.
"Adam was not a real man. It's just a word for error," one of the readers said.
"Not real? The Lord formed him from the dust and breathed His spirit into him. Yes, man is spirit, but he's physical too. Woman, Eve, was formed from His rib. The Bible lists their children. And you and I may not like it, but they ate the forbidden fruit and corrupted our bodies with sin and death. And all the codes and keys in the world ain't going to change that. If there's no such thing as death, ya'll are trying mighty hard here with all your healing and teaching for nothing."
"What right have you to speak against us? You're clearly not a Christian Scientist," the other reader said, angry.
"No, just a Christian. The Holy Ghost dwelling in me gives me the right to preach His words and truths."
"The Holy Ghost is Christian Science," said the angry reader.
Ruth gasped. The blasphemy in that statement was appalling. Not that she was surprised they didn't know the gift of the Holy Spirit. They hadn't accepted Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. "The Holy Ghost is God, which you receive when you follow God's plan for salvation. Not Mary Eddy Baker's. And the Holy Spirit is the key to understanding scripture."
"You do not believe," said the first reader. "Your cane makes that obvious. If you believed with your mind, you wouldn't need it. Believe you don't need it and you can walk out of here without it."
"If I believe that, you'll be peeling me off the steps out front after service."
"God doesn't want anyone to die," he said.
"No, He doesn't. That's why He warned Adam in the garden about the tree, and He didn't much want to Himself either as Jesus prayed to the Father for another way and sweat drops of blood, but love and His will that we not perish triumphed through the only way possible, Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection. He conquered the grave and that should make us happy. We will die. But if we die in Christ Jesus, there's no need to fear."
Many in the congregation began to speak of times they'd been healed. Ruth didn't believe it. If the illness had been in their head to begin with, believing this way might do some good, but these people couldn't heal a cat of a hairball with their philosophy much less do any kind of real healing because they didn't go to the true source, the Lord Jesus Christ. And that was dangerous because they were playing with life and death, not even believing in the value of medicine. They were gambling with their very souls with this false teaching.
She eventually stopped listening as she felt a flash of guilt. Was she so different? Had she sometimes led people to think that the only reason they couldn't be healed was from a lack of faith? She had believed that at one time, but Kid and his struggle with consumption had taught her differently. Sometimes the answer for healing was yes, but sometimes it was no. Sometimes the Lord healed and sometimes there was a reason not to. And there were many reasons He chose to heal. It was true people were healed because of their faith in Him, but other times He healed out of compassion or for His glory.
One thing was true beyond a shadow of a doubt and was something she'd known from the beginning of her ministry, God was the Healer and the Great Physician and He worked through doctors, He had worked through her, and He worked in ways nobody expected. She also knew people would only experience perfect bodily health in glory.
She prayed for forgiveness for any time she had unwittingly misled anyone, and she prayed for a more perfect knowledge of Him. Anyone who had perfect knowledge of God was in heaven where the Bible said "then shall I know even as also I am known." Down here, they were still learning.
The good news though for those still on the earth was the Bible was where one went to learn more of Him and His ways, a life-long process. Not to the Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures or to any other book. Only the Good Book was divine in origin.
"Pray that God reveals Himself to you all because He will if you ask Him. It's what I'll be praying for ya'll. Don't let yourselves be deceived." She left the service early before she said something she'd regret and because she refused to continue listening to them twist the Bible to suit their ideas of religion.
Going down the steps made her knees hurt. "I'd like to check back when they're closer to my age and see what they think of pain and death then," she muttered.
She stopped to rest in the cemetery where Kid was buried. There was a stone bench near his grave.
"I really hadn't meant to say as much as I did," she said with a chuckle. She'd made up for their lack of a preacher.
She wasn't crazy, but sometimes she could almost hear Kid's voice. "That's not like you, not to mean to say much," he would say in his teasing way.
"The rocks'll never need to cry out with you around," he'd told her a time or two. She hoped and prayed not. It was a Christian's job to praise God and to confess the Messiah wherever they were, and if they didn't, God would use another way. But she was ever so glad and thankful He used her.
Chapter 8: The First Rule
"'Do unto others as you would others should do to you.' You can never be rude if you bear the rule always in mind, for what lady likes to be treated rudely? True Christian politeness will always be the result of an unselfish regard for the feelings of others, and though you may err in the ceremonious points of etiquette, you will never be impolite."
Sister Ruth didn't like the look of those clouds. They were dark and foreboding. "Is it getting colder?"
"Feels like it. I just threw another log on the fire," Kid told her.
But she wasn't worried about them staying warm. She was worried about one man in particular and continued to watch out the window for him. "We're going to get a storm for sure."
"And it's been warm enough that it could be ice."
"Oh, Lord. May it not be so, but watch over us all if it is. Where's our friend?"
Figuring she directed that last part to him and not the Lord, he got his coat on. "I don't know, but I'll go find him."
She kissed him in gratitude. "Thank you, honey. Be quick. This ain't good weather for your consumption."
"I don't reckon it's good weather for anybody." He was smiling despite his grumbling. Ruth was probably the only person in St. Louis willing to take this specific homeless man into her home.
"I hope he's George today," she said with a slight frown. "George is so much nicer than Martin."
That was putting it mildly. The middle-aged man suffered from a mental disorder that sent him back and forth between two personalities. Kid hoped it was George too, mild-mannered and childlike and very eager to please. Martin, on the other hand, was cantankerous, had a tendency to break things, and could be aggressive though so far not badly enough to be a true danger.
Still, one could never be sure what a man so disturbed would do. Kid knew he would have to watch over him closely while he was here even if he came in as George as the switches could never be predicted.
He didn't have to go far as luck would have it. He found the man on the street corner. "Sister Ruth wants you to come visit until the storm passes."
He followed Kid wordlessly back to the house, giving him no hint to his current personality, but when Ruth greeted him with a bright and warm "good evening", he made it pretty clear.
"What's good about it?"
"Oh, boy," Kid said. "It's Martin. How blessed are we?"
"Very blessed," she answered in spite of his sarcasm. " I've got a warm bowl of soup waiting on you, Martin."
Martin's hands were shoved in his pockets and his strides were long. The way he walked should have clued him in. George walked with a shy sort of shuffle.
Ruth showed him to the table and poured him a cup of hot tea. She waited for him to take a spoonful of the chowder. "How's your soup? Not too hot, is it? If it's too cold, I'll heat it some more."
"I can't eat this," Martin complained.
"I can get you something else," she assured him. "What do you like?"
"It's not the food. It's the snakes."
Her eyebrows lowered in confusion, but she didn't lose her pleasant tone. "Snakes?"
"You blind, woman? They're slithering all over the floor."
This was going to be a fun night with him hallucinating, Kid thought, not unusual for either Martin or George.
"Oh, so they are," she said, acting as if she could see them. "Let me just get them out of here for you."
Ruth proceeded to carry out every invisible snake he saw, which ended up numbering about ten. She opened the door to throw each one out and let plenty of cold air in, but it soothed Martin, so that he could go back to eating his soup.
They'd gotten him in just in time. The ice started pinging on the roof as Kid had predicted.
"I'll get you some clean, warm clothes when you're finished," Ruth promised Martin. "You can have the feather bed. If there's anything I can do to make you more comfortable, you just let me know."
Kid admired his wife. She was treating him like he was a king. Like it was the Lord Jesus himself she served at the table rather than a crazy man with hollow eyes that frightened most, who hadn't seen a bath probably since last winter when they'd taken him in from a storm then, too.
She took Martin's hands when he was done eating and prayed with him, prayed that he would be healed and find peace and rest under their roof. She thanked God for bringing him here and asked for His love and mercy for them all.
Martin switched to George after the amen. It was visible in the way his posture in the chair changed. Whether it was the result of the prayer or just one of his regular switches, he didn't know, but Kid was thankful.
A verse came to Kid's mind. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." That was one rule that never changed. It was true when it had been written, it was true today, and it would be true a thousand years from now. It was a rule Ruth kept as well as a mere mortal could. Even when she'd hounded him with the gospel when they first met, she'd done it because she knew she would have wanted someone to share the message of salvation with her.
She failed perhaps daily in the world's eyes of what a lady should be, but she beat all those high society, finishing school women when it came to considering others' feelings, the highest rule of politeness. Sister Ruth was a true lady because her book of etiquette was the Bible.