Martys trembling hand pushed back a wisp of wayward hair from her warm, moist face as she peered once more out the window. Why was she shaking so? Was it because they had been bouncing hour after long hour in the seemingly slow-moving stagecoach, or was it her intense excitement at the prospect of once again being home? Marty made an effort to still her handand the tumult within her. Her slight movement must have caught Clarks eye. Though busy talking with a fellow passenger about the need for rain, he reached for Martys hand, and she felt the pressure of his fingers, his unspoken message that he understoodnot only her weariness, but her impatient longing to be home again, as well. She returned the squeeze, assuring him that she was all right in spite of her overwhelming desire for the trip to end. Clark gave her a quiet smile, then turned again to the man who was speaking. Marty leaned forward for the umpteenth time to get a better look out the small stagecoach window.
They were in familiar territory now. Marty recognized the landmarks, but they only served to make her more distressed with their slow progress. Oh, how she pined to be home againto see the dear children whom she had not seen for so many months! Though her body was physically exhausted, her eagerness to come to the end of this journey had her sitting on the edge of her seatevery nerve and muscle vibrating with her concentrated energy. Home! I want to get home! She clutched at the door handle as the coach lurched through another pothole.
Clark turned from his conversation with the black-suited gentleman and gave her another understanding smile. Wont be long now, he assured her, looking over her shoulder at the landscape. Thets Andersons Corner just up ahead.
Marty knew he was right. Still, she told herself, it would seem forever before the stagecoach finally pulled to a dusty stop outside their local livery. She wondered if she would be able to keep herself in check for these last endless miles. In an effort to do so, she set her thoughts to imagining what lay ahead. Who would be there to meet them? Would firstborn Clare be the one driving the family team? Would he have his Kate with him? Or would it be Arnie who would be waiting for them? Would their youngest, Luke, be along?
Martys thoughts switched to her home. Would it seem strange to her when she walked through the door? Would she feel she was entering the abode of someone else, or would she still have the delightful sense of fully belonging there? Would Ellie have supper waiting, impatient with the fact that the stagecoach was almost an hour overdue and things would be overcooked as the dishes waited on the back of the large, homey kitchen stove?
Marty thought of the farmyard, the garden, her chickens clucking about the pen, the spring, and the woods. She could hardly wait to see them all again. Here I am, a grown woman, actin like Lukey when he was a little shaver waitin for an egg to hatch. She smiled to herself.
She stretched her legs in an effort to relieve some of the stiffness from the long ride. Her glance fell on Clarks one booted foot placed firmly on the floor, and she knew his long leg must be even more cramped than her short ones. She did not look at the other side, the pinned-up leg of his trousers. At least that one isnt complainin about more room! Clark had showed her how to treat his handicap lightly. But it must ache, too, after this long period of forced inactivity, she reasoned and wondered if Clark was suffering any pain with the shortened limb.
Clark must have seen her glance and read her question. He shifted his position and spoke to her. Really takin this jostlin fairly well, he said, patting his thigh. It will be as glad as the rest of me to be out of this rockin stage, though. Seems we been shut in here most a lifetime.
Marty nodded and tried another smile in spite of the fact that she was hot and dusty and longed to be out in some clean, fresh air. Even the switch to the old farm wagon for those last few miles would be a welcome one.
Marty leaned for another look out the window and discovered they had covered some good distance since her last check. Right up ahead lay the last bend in the road before the small community they called their town would come into view. A quiver of excitement passed all through heroh, to be home again! During the long trip home by train and stage, she realized just how much she had missed ithad missed all of them.
Her thoughts returned to Missie and Willie, Nathan and Josiah. How wonderful it had been to spend the time with them. She had learned to love and appreciate the West along with Willies ranch and the men who lived and worked on it. She wondered how Cookie was doing. Was he progressing in his newly discovered faith? She remembered Wong and his last-minute gift of baking for their train trip home. And there was Scottie, the kind and patient man who needed to allow God to work in his life. She thought of the bitter Smith and hoped that it wasnt just wishful thinking on her part that the mans attitude was beginning to soften. Perhaps one day he would even venture to attend the Sunday services in the new church. Martys thought of the new church brought all sorts of memories of the many people with whom they had worshiped and grown to love as neighbors and friends. How was Henry doing as he led the little flock in Bible study? Were the Crofts still coming faithfully, and had they found the peace that Mrs. Croft especially had so longingly searched for? Did Juan and Maria... ? And then the stagecoach driver was yelling whoa to his horses, and the stage was sliding to a halt in a whirl of dust.
Martys whole insides leaped with such eagerness she felt dizzy with the intensity. Clarks hand was supporting her as she struggled to her feet. Which of the family will be here? How long will it be until we see the others? What if they didnt get the message of our coming and no one is here to meet the stage? How can I ever bear the extra hours until we can find some way home? Her thoughts clamored for answers. Dared she look beyond the stagecoach door?
Momentarily she shut her eyes and steadied her jangled nerves with a little prayer. Clarks firm grip on her arm calmed her. She took a deep breath and sat back down to allow the other passengers to leave the coach ahead of her, then waited for Clark to step down so he might help her as she left the coach, now finally stationary. She felt as if she were still movingswaying slightly with the roll of the stage. Marty steadied herself, reaching for Clarks outstretched hand, and stepped down as gracefully and calmly as she could. And then the air around her seemed to explode in cries and blurred movement as family members swept toward her. Marty was passed from one pair of arms to another, crying and laughing as she held each one close. They were all there. Clare and his Kate; Arnie, Ellie, and Luke; Josh and Nandry and the children. Only Joe and Clae were missingmissing because they were still in the East, with little Esther Sue, where Joe was finishing up his seminary training.
Marty finished the round of hugs and turned to hug them all again. Wiping away tears of joy, she stood back to marvel at how much the grandchildren had grown, how pretty and grown-up Ellie looked, how Luke didnt look like a boy anymore, and how tall and manly her two oldest sons appeared. They had changed, her family. In just one shortand longyear, they had changed so much. Josh was shaking Clarks hand now and telling him how much he had been missed. Marty saw anxious glances at Clarks pinned-up pants leg, and she knew that this was a difficult and emotional time for her family. Clark put them all at ease as he expertly maneuvered his crutch and picked up some of their belongings.
Member how we left this place? Stuff piled up high till I wondered iffen the poor horses would be able to pull the load. Well, we came back with far less than we left with. He grinned and slapped his short leg. Even lightened me up a bit fer the return trip, he quipped.
The boys laughed some, and the tension eased. The menfolk started in on the luggage and soon had it moved to the waiting wagon.
Marty turned again to the girls. Oh, its so good to be home! Its such a long trip, an I have so much to talk bout Im fair burstin. Then she spoke to Ellie. Thought youd be home stewin bout the stagecoach bein so slow an ruinin yer supper.
We got together an decided to just this once be real extravagant, said Ellie, her lovely face and smile warming Martys heart once more. We knew youd be tired after yer long ride, and we thought ya might need a little break before climbin in the wagon an headin on home. Sides, were all anxious fer some talkin time, so we decided to meet in town an eat together at the hotel.
Marty was surprised but, after mulling it over quickly in her mind, agreed with their decision. It would be good to just stretch a little and then enjoy a meal with the family. She would simply put off the reunion with her home and its familiar surroundings.
Marty turned to talk with Nandry, but the young woman was standing as though transfixed, watching the men move off toward the waiting wagon. The grown boys appeared to jostle for position beside their father, all talking and laughing at once. It was obvious they shared the joy of having him back. Nandrys Josh, too, walked with them, carrying their youngest, Jane, along with them. Andrew bustled along with the men, hoisting high Martys prized hatbox. But it was on Clark that Nandrys eyes were fastened, and Marty saw deep pain in her face. Marty wanted to assure Nandry that it was all right, that the stump of leg no longer gave Clark dreadful discomfort, that he was still able to do all the things he used to do ... well, almost all the things. He had made the adjustment well, and they had even been able to thank God for the life-changing event in their lives, since so many things had happened for Gods glory from the results of the tragedy. But before Marty could even move toward her oldest daughterthis one whom she loved as truly as though hers by birthNandry had moved away, the pain in her eyes showing clearly on her troubled face.
Its a shock, thought Marty, a terrible shock. She needs time to face it an time to adjust. I didnt bear it very well at first, either.
Ellie was speaking. Mama, how is Pa? I know thet he seems ... well, he seems his old self. Is he really? Does ... does it bother im?
Yer pa is fine ... just fine. Marty hoped her voice would carry to Nandry, who stood silently with her back to the group. Course it was hard on all of us. Its hard on you, too ... I know thet. Specially at first. But aint nothin much yer pa puts his mind to thet he cant do. Hes a big man, yer pa. A little thing like a missin leg wont slow im down much. Youll
But Ellie was weeping. Quiet sobs shook her slight frame as large tears streamed unheeded down her cheeks.
Marty crossed quickly to her and held her close, patting her back and rocking her back and forth until Ellie had cried herself dry.
Its okay, Marty whispered. I had me a lot of cryin time, too. Its all right.
Ellie dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. Oh, Mama, she apologized, I thought I was all through with such like. I promised myself ... but when I saw im ... when I realized it was really true, I ...
Marty held her close. Its just fine, she assured her again. Why, I couldnt begin to tell ya the number of times Missie an me cried together.
Ellie blew her nose and Kate did, as well. Marty hadnt realized Clares young wife had also been weeping. She moved to Kate and held her new daughter-in-law for many minutes. Kate clung to her, no doubt sensing the love and strength that were being offered her by this newfound mother-in-law.
Marty turned next to Nandry. Taking the young woman in her arms, Marty could feel a stiffness in her body. No tears flowed. Nandry embraced her in return, but Marty could sense a withholding there. Go ahead. Weep, Marty wished to say. Youll feel better if you do, and well all understand. But Nandry was drawing away, dry eyed and silent.
The men were returning. Ellie and Kate made another effort to dab at the tears and turned to face the family.
The walk to the hotel dining room was full of loving commotion. Martys mind went back to the morning so long ago when they had gathered together to say their good-byes. They had been noisy then, too. In fact, Clark had needed to silence his family in order to get the gathering under control. Just as these thoughts flew through Martys mind, Clark turned to the chattering throng and held up his free hand. Hold it, he spoke loudly. How bout we git some order outta this chaos.
Tina, who appeared to have grown many inches, responded as she had a year before. Oh, Grandpa
And Clark finished it for her. I know ... I know. How can you organize chatter? He pulled her pigtail and they both laughed. Tina reached up for the hug she knew would be forthcoming.
Marty laughed, too, a tight little laugh that caught in her throat and brought her pain as well as gladness. See, she wanted to say to her gathered family, nothing has changednot reallyat least nothing that really matters. But perhaps they all got the message without her saying anything, for Marty noticed the changing expressions on the faces before herthe sorrow, then the acceptance, and finally the relief.
Pa was still Pa. This big man whom they knew and loved was still the same man. His accident had not altered his character. He was still in command. Oh, not of incidents, maybe, but he was in command of himself. He had not allowed something like a missing leg to shape who he was, the person he had become. He was, thankfully, still in control. No, that was not right. Clark had never claimed to be in control. That was the secret. The man who stood before them, the man whom they were blessed enough to call Pa, the one whom they had loved and respected and learned early to obey, had always assured them that the real secret to life and its true meaning was not to try to take over the controls. The answer to a life of meaning and deep peace was to leave the controls in the hand of the almighty Father. And the fact that He was still totally and wisely in control was a fact not a one of them in the close little circle doubted.
Only Nandry, who stood slightly apart with eyes averted from the empty pants leg, seemed to have any doubts at all. Marty watched the expression on her face and knew Nandry was not allowing herself even to recognize any part of the situation. Marty prayed silently for this daughter who had always kept herself rather closed and alone. Nandry would need to deal with this new reality, but she probably couldnt manage it just now.
Love's Unending Legacy (Love Comes Softly, Book 5) by Janette Oke
Copyright © 2004
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.