He had just finished loading passengers and luggage, and was about to mount to the box, so he turned angrily at her voice. Taking in the slender body loaded down with luggage and baby, his face softened.
“Ok, Ma’am. Just leave the luggage here and get in and settle yourself. There is plenty of room. I’ll tend to your things.” He tipped his hat and opened the coach door.
Leaving all but one bag on the ground, she climbed in and settled herself in a corner. There were only two other passengers, officials of the railway line who had been looking over the area. The railway company was going to extend the line through the town and on Westward. In a few years, this Coach, from Morganstown to Tucson would be retired.
They said nothing, just tipped their hats, tight lipped as they contemplated a long trip with an infant. A short time later the coach started, and soon they were travelling along at good clip. There was not much light as night closed in, the moon being in the earliest crescent phase.
She sat looking out the window, seeing nothing with her eyes, only that last scene in Morgan’s saloon. She still felt shaken, still heard the report of the gun, muffled though it was between their bodies. Why couldn’t he have left her alone? No one in that bigoted, judgmental town had ever believed her. She had come to teach, but instead she was condemned as a whore, a slut - because she had a child and no husband in evidence. She had shown the Preacher and the school board her marriage certificate, and the death certificate for her husband, and they had scoffed and brushed them off as forgeries. Any enterprising whore could provide herself with the like, they said. She should have been wary when the advertisement for the teaching job said ‘four-square Gospel Christian preferred.’
Still, she had tried to make a home for herself and Jamie there. She had no where else to go, she had used almost all of her money getting there, expecting a job and salary. She had scrimped and saved, doing sewing, housecleaning for the women who practically spit on her if they met her on the street. And all the time fighting off the oh, so holy men of the town. Now she had enough for the Stage Coach fare to Tucson, thanks to a gift from her in-laws. They had tracked her down, and begged her to come to them. They wanted to help her and their grandson. If only the Stage had come in earlier, then nothing terrible would have happened. She sighed.
I didn’t mean to kill him, I just wanted him to leave me alone. But no, he grabbed me, held a gun to little Jamie’s head, threatening him if I didn’t ‘put the kid down and give out’. I put Jamie down on the floor, and as I was straitening up, he jumped me. We both fell and I fought, as hard as I could, using teeth and nails. He still held the gun, and somehow it got between us. I got my hand on it, and pressed his finger on the trigger. He jerked, and his arms fell away from me.
When I stood up, the blood was running from his chest. He moaned once, tried to turn his head, and stopped breathing. Now Ed Stanley is dead and I am a murderess. Maybe, when I get to Tucson, I should go to the Sheriff and tell him what happened. But not until I make sure Jamie will be all right with Will’s family.
The tiring journey went on, the coach stopping before midnight at a small way station. The passengers were given food and a place to rest. She was able to change and clean Jamie, and even got some sleep. Then they were on the way again just as the sun was rising.
Three days later they were in Tucson and a neatly dressed black man approached. “Excuse me, Ma’am, are you Mrs. William Clarkson? I’m George, driver for Mr. William Henry Clarkson, and they sent me to bring you home.” He tipped his hat and smiled.
“Oh!” AnnaBeth said. “Yes, I am. I didn’t expect to be picked up, thank you.”
“Fine, Missy, just you rest here and I will gather your luggage.” smiling again he pointed to a bench. She agreed, described her luggage, and settled down to wait. It was not long before he was back pulling a cart with all her bags on it. “Come along now, Missy, the carriage is just outside.”
She got up and followed, and was amazed when she saw the splendid coach, shiny black and pulled by a matched set of greys. There was an insignia painted on the door, WGC, in red and gold. OH! She thought. I didn’t know Will’s family were rich! Oh, dear, how will I ever fit in? Ah, but I won’t, not if I tell them about Ed. At laest I’ll know my Jamie will be well cared for and educated.
“In you get, Missy, I’ll just stow your bags and we’ll be off. You don’t have anything more to worry about, now.” He helped her up the steps, folded them away, and very soon after climbed up to the driver’s box, clicked to the horses, and they were off.
Less than half an hour later they drove up a long, winding drive to stop before a beautiful mansion. Standing on the steps were an older couple, undoubtedly Will’s parents, smiling and holding out their hands.
Once they had each had a chance to cuddle Jamie, he was sent off with a nursemaid, and they sat down to a sumptuous meal. She felt she had to tell them about the killing, it was not a thing she could hide. They listened quietly, William asking an occasional question. There was silence for a few minutes after she was done.
“I thought I should tell a sheriff about it,” she said.
“No, my dear, you are not a murderess.” William said. “I am an attorney, and know the law. You had no intention to kill, you were just protecting yourself and your son. And he was the one who drew a gun. I know the governor of Oklahoma, and he will have that town investigated. The only demand they can make on a religious basis is that the person be Christian. And they can not refuse to accept valid evidence of anyone’s marital status. Forget that place, and Ed Stanley. You and Jamie are safe here, now. And we are so happy to have you. We lost a son, but now we have gained a daughter and a grandson. You and Jamie are a true blessing to us, and will fill a big hole in our lives and hearts. Please look on us as your new parents, and let us love and help both of you.”
“Do you really think I should just forget Ed? I’d like to forget him and that whole terrible town. Thank you so much. It would be so good to have a real home, and a family again.” Her strained face eased, as she smiled and felt the tension drain out of her tired body. Maybe all would be well, and she and Jamie could have the future Will had planned for them. With that thought, she was at last able to relax, and look forward to a good future.