About the book
She fell in love with him because he loved her when she couldn’t love herself…
After suffering at the hands of her cruel husband, Charlotte Bell has no option but to escape. Traumatized, there’s only one place she can take refuge in: her childhood friends’ house.
Having lived the life of a wanderer, Timothy Dawson is finally returning home. What he doesn’t expect is to find his sister’s beautiful best friend waiting for him on the other side of the door.
But like a rose among thorns, their love blooms amidst danger.
Foiling the plans of a cruel businessman comes with a price that neither is prepared to pay. Just when they believe they’re safe, Charlotte’s worst fear becomes reality. Because someone knows. And someone who knows always tells...
Widesdale, Montana, 1884
Charlotte Hooper gazed at herself in the mirror, but she hardly recognized the person staring back. It was fortunate that her hair was long. The brunette curls, her mother—some years deceased—used to say, made her prettier than any other girl in the town. Fortunate, because they hid the bruise which was rising on her cheek. A sad reminder of her husband’s latest angry outburst.
I guess it’s not that noticeable.
But it was, and she could hardly explain it away again to the women at church or the Ladies Guild. She’d done that last week, claiming that she’d fallen and her cheek glanced off the dresser which stood in the corner of the parlor.
But several of the women had given her wry looks and passed comments about the temper which Jay Hooper was renowned for in the town of Widesdale. She sighed to herself, pulling her hair forward to try and hide the mark, but it was no use. By the afternoon, she’d have a bruise as black and blue as if she’d been kicked by a horse and she knew it to be inevitable that more were to come.
Jay had been so kind at first, when they were courting. Her father had called him a reformed man, a gentleman even, and when he’d walked her down the aisle, he’d declared their match to be all but perfect.
But you don’t see him now, Daddy.
She looked at her father’s picture, which took pride of place on the mantelpiece. In it, he was standing behind her mother, who sat at the writing desk which still took pride of place in the parlor. A family portrait, painted just a few weeks after they’d arrived in Widesdale from Coppertrails. A tear ran down her cheek and she picked up the photo, clutching it to her breast and shaking her head.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror once more, her black mourning dress a somber reminder of her sorrow.
I wish you were here now, Daddy. You wouldn’t let him hurt me anymore if you were.
Her father’s funeral had been only a few weeks ago and ever since then her husband had become more and more controlling. He asked her where she was going and whom she was meeting. He watched her come and go, and never let her far from his sight. But it was his temper which had grown worse and with each passing day he seemed more aggressive and violent towards her.
Thinking back to that first day he hit her, she dreaded his return that afternoon. He’d been at the saloon and would no doubt arrive home drunk and angry. He seemed angry all the time, more so if he’d lost at cards or dice. Jay was no longer the man she’d married. Quite different, in fact, a man who seemed to think he could have what he wanted, when he wanted, and let everyone else be damned.
She brushed away her tear and replaced the picture of her father on the mantelpiece. Crossing to the window, she looked out down the long street which led into the town. It had once been such a bustling place, a real old frontier town where opportunity abounded.
But now, it felt tired, slow and forlorn. Several of the houses were boarded up and many of the once-thriving businesses had closed. Charlotte had once thought her whole life would be spent here, but if that were to be the case then it would be a truly sorrowful one, for she had no desire to remain in Widesdale a moment longer. But could she really just leave? The scandal it would cause was unimaginable. She’d be the talk of the town and the gossip of every well-to-do lady in the county.
It was an idea which had been brewing in her mind for some time. Ever since the first time Jay had hit her, the day after her father’s funeral. He’d shown no concern for her, made no pretense to mourning, and instead had demanded she accompany him to the Widesdale miner’s dance. An annual event and one hardly appropriate for a woman in mourning.
When she refused, he’d flown into a rage, accusing her of disloyalty, and that was when she’d first felt his hand. It had shocked her, left her reeling and confused. He’d never laid a hand on her, though all Widesdale knew of his reputation for having a strong temper. As a young man, Jay had been a heavy drinker, his business interests demanding that he keep up with the best of them. But her father had been so certain that he’d turned over a new leaf and reformed his character. There was no suggestion he’d ever been violent towards a woman before.
But old habits die hard and that was not the last time he’d ill-treated her. In the weeks following her father’s funeral it had become almost normal. So normal that she expected it. So normal that she had almost come to think of it as a fact of married life.
But it’s not, Charlotte. It’s not at all.
A fresh tear ran down her cheek, as she turned back from the window. She ought to be grateful, she told herself. She had a nice house, a husband with money and good prospects, a comfortable life. Without Jay, she had nothing but her reputation, and if she left him, that would be gone, too.
A merry fire was burning in the hearth and the tea things were set out on a table in the corner. It was the maid’s afternoon off and a cold dinner had been laid out, waiting for Jay to arrive home from the saloon. Charlotte was dreading that moment and as the clock struck five o’clock, she knew he’d soon be home.
I don’t know how much more of it I can take, but what other choice do I have?
She sat down in an armchair by the fire, waiting for the click of the gate. His footfall would determine what kind of evening she was to endure. If he was stumbling, then she knew she’d be for it. The best thing was to say what he wanted to hear and nothing else. But the duty felt a heavy one and the longer she brooded over it, the worse her prospects seemed.
Charlotte awoke with a start. She must have dozed off, the fire now having burned low with twilight descending outside. She rubbed her eyes and got up, quickly lighting the lamps around the parlor, lest Jay arrive at any moment.
Oh, I do hope he’s not been drinking again.
But the sound of his footfall a few moments later suggested otherwise. She smoothed down her dress and pulled her black shawl more tightly around her shoulders. He’d find some fault in her, some fresh reason to chastise her. But Charlotte was a proud woman and she had no intention of letting Jay see any weakness in her.
You’ll escape from this, somehow, I promise you.
The key was being turned awkwardly in the lock. She could hear it out in the hallway. He never trusted her to be alone, always pocketing the key with a smug self-satisfaction.
“We don’t want you getting out now,” he’d say, smiling at her, as he left the house.
Now, she waited nervously, as the door banged open and her husband’s voice echoed through the house.
“No lamps lit out here, Liddy, where are you? Come take my coat,” he cried, and Charlotte tentatively opened the parlor door.
“She’s not here, Jay, she finishes her chores and leaves before the afternoon, don’t you remember? Here, let me take your coat,” she said, holding out her hand and giving him a weak smile.
“Take it. And make sure you hang it up properly. It was still damp when I went out. Put it next to the fire or something,” he said, scowling at her and pushing past her into the parlor.
Charlotte took the coat. She wanted to throw it into the flames and watch it burn up. But instead, she shook it out, placing it carefully to hang near the fire, as Jay sank into a chair and stretched his feet out.
“Did you have a pleasant afternoon?” Charlotte asked, settling herself down opposite him.
“No, I didn’t have a ‘pleasant afternoon,’ Charlotte. I had a thoroughly miserable afternoon and now I have to come home and stare at your miserable face all night,” he said, still scowling at her.
“I merely asked…” she began, but he shook his head and raised a warning finger to her.
“Did I want you to? And can’t a man get some dinner in his own house? What’s all this?” he said, pointing to the table, which was laid with a fine spread of cold food.
“I told you, Jay. Liddy has her afternoon off. We always eat like this on a Wednesday. I can help you to a plate if you’d like? A drink, perhaps?” she asked, and her husband nodded.
“Get to it, woman, and bring me a whisky, too,” he replied and Charlotte nodded.
He made no attempt to engage her in conversation, instead sitting with his feet stretched out towards the fire and a copy of the Widesdale Trumpet open on his knees. She got up and went over to the table, pouring him a glass of whisky and taking up a plate. Liddy had left all manner of good things to eat, though Jay would not bother to make a compliment.
She put a slice of mutton pie and some potato salad on his plate, and a few slices of ham and some pickles, alongside a hunk of bread. She’d eat later, when Jay had retired to his study. He always worked in the evenings, even after an afternoon in the saloon. She was grateful that he wasn’t too drunk, though his temper still seemed erratic and unpredictable. It was as though they were balanced upon a knife edge and at any moment, they could fall either way.
“Here you are,” she said, passing him his plate and glass.
“Put it down there,” he replied, pointing to the table at his side.
Dutifully she laid it down, taking a step back and settling herself again by the fire. For a moment, she watched him reading his paper, his brow furrowed, as though deep in concentration. There was nothing about him she could love anymore, but an awful lot she could dislike.
Did I ever love him?
She did, in a way, once. When her father had first introduced them. They’d been business associates and it had seemed an ideal match for the daughter of a local mine owner to wed a man of business in the town. They’d courted for some months before the arrangements for their marriage had been made. He’d been different back then, but something had changed. It seemed that every day, he was sinking further into a different nature. A nature which saw Charlotte merely as a possession, rather than the wife and woman that she was.
“Stop staring at me,” Jay said, tossing aside his paper and looking up at her. “You’ve been staring at me for ten minutes. Am I an exhibit in the county museum? Have you nothing better to do?”
She met his gaze and tried her best not to show her contempt for him. But it was a hard act, for she was coming to hate him more and more for his behavior towards her. How she longed to tell him of his cruelty, of how wicked he was in behaving like this towards her.
Her father would never have stood for this, nor would her mother. They were good folks, with honest and decent values. Charlotte felt a tear well up in her eye at the thought of them. But they were gone now and the only person she had was the man sitting opposite her, her worst enemy, a man she had no love for anymore, if she ever had in the first place.
“I’m… I’m not staring, Jay. I… I was just wondering why you’ve not eaten your dinner yet,” she said, her voice sounding as cheerful as she could make it.
Again, he scowled at her, looking down at his plate and taking up his glass, which he drank in one swallow.
“Perhaps my appetite is diminished when I’m constantly watched by you,” he said, rising from his chair and going to pour another glass of whisky.
Charlotte made no reply—whatever she said would be used against her. He twisted her words, made her feel small and insignificant. She had dreamed of marriage, of a man who would make her happy, and with whom she could share the rest of her life. But now she felt trapped, trapped in a marriage born not out of love but servitude. She could say nothing that wasn’t worthless—she may as well not even be his wife, given the way he treated her.
Jay sat back in his chair and Charlotte took up a piece of cross-stitch she’d been working on. It was a scene from back home in the west, the creek where she and her friend Josephine used to swim when they were youngsters. She’d embroidered the trees and the odd shaped rock, which from one side looked like a horse’s head, the blues of the gushing water, and the setting sun overhead. It was a fine piece, not that Jay would’ve noticed.
“I may retire early this evening,” Charlotte said, as the clock struck nine and she laid her cross-stitch aside.
“You may retire when I say you may retire. In half an hour I’ll go to my study to work and until that point I wish for my wife’s company,” Jay replied, not looking up from his paper.
“Very well,” she replied, yawning and stretching out her arms.
There was no choice but to stay. If Jay decided she should do something, then the only answer was yes. She didn’t dare answer back, for she knew well enough what the consequences would be, if not from his tongue then from his hand.
“Don’t sit like that, woman,” he said to her, as Charlotte’s eyes began to close.
“But I’m tired, Jay,” she said, realizing in an instant that it was the wrong thing to have said.
“Tired? You don’t know the meaning of the word. Have you ever worked a day in your life? I spend my whole time providing for us and you want to go to bed at nine o’clock? Isn’t a man entitled to his wife’s company after a hard day’s work?” Jay said, folding his paper and looking at her angrily.
“I was here all afternoon by myself. We could’ve spent the afternoon together, like we used to do. But you chose to be in the saloon, just like you do every day,” she replied, realizing again that she said the wrong thing, just as soon as she opened her mouth.
“What did you say?” he asked, rising from his place and catching her by the arm.
“I… I just said that… that we could spend more time together if you weren’t always—” she said, but as she did so, his hand struck her across the face and she reeled back, smarting at the pain.
“Go to bed, Charlotte. Your company is no longer required. When I wish to go to the saloon I shall do so and if you ever question me about it again you’ll feel my hand twice as hard,” he said, and he turned his back on her, as Charlotte fled from the room.
I can’t do this anymore, I can’t live like this, this isn’t life, it’s just existing.
And she fell asleep that night with tears running down her cheeks and such a sense of hopelessness that it seemed all else was lost.
Timothy Dawson was used to suspicious eyes, wary folks who didn’t trust a stranger in their midst. He’d grown used to it over the last ten years, as he traveled about the country seeking his fortune. A fortune he’d never found.
Redhills, Wyoming. Now this looks like an interesting place.
He climbed down from his horse, Tripp, and nodded to an elderly man that sat outside the saloon.
“Evening,” he said, but the man just stared at him, and Timothy shook his head and smiled.
“Tough crowd,” he whispered to himself.
The sun was going down across the prairie and the warm day was turning to a sultry night. He’d been on the trail all day and was feeling hungry, not to mention thirsty, for the heat had been intense and the ride long.
“Now then, Tripp, let’s get you tethered up and I’ll find you some oats and a pail of water,” he said to the horse, patting the faithful animal’s mane and leading him down the long dusty street.
The town of Redhills was like many others in the west. The buildings were made of slat boards and painted an assortment of colors. There was a bank and a grocery store, a schoolhouse and a little church, which lay on the edge of the town. At that time of the evening things were quiet, the saloon having only opened a short while before. Timothy glanced round him, looking for a boarding house or hotel to lay down his head.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said, stopping a man in a wide-brimmed Stetson who was ambling along the street, “Can you tell me where I can get a room and board?”
The man looked him up and down with a sneer and shook his head.
“The boarding house closed two years ago. I’m guessing you’re not from round these parts,” he replied and Timothy nodded.
“I’m from Coppertrails, Idaho, but I’ve been on the trail these past ten years. I’m only passing through. I’ll sleep in a barn if it means a roof over my head,” Timothy said, despairing somewhat of the man’s attitude.
“You can sleep in my barn. I own the ranch on the edge of town. But, can you work for it? Do you know how to herd cattle? Or has the trail taught you nothing?” the man asked.
“I know how to herd cattle, sir. I’ve worked as a ranch hand many a time. If I can sleep in your barn tonight, then I’ll happily herd your cattle tomorrow,” Timothy replied, and the man’s face broke into a grin.
“You seem all right, son. We’re just wary of strangers around here. You say you’re from Idaho? I had a cousin up there, he went out west long before me. Come on, let me show you where you’ll be sleeping,” the man said. “The name’s Hogan, Beresford Hogan.”
“Timothy Dawson, I’m pleased to meet you,” Timothy replied, pulling Tripp by the reins, as he followed the rancher up the street.
It was almost dark before they arrived at the ranch and his new acquaintance pointed Timothy towards the barn, collecting an oil lamp as they passed the ranch house.
“I can give you dinner, or perhaps you prefer the saloon. Though you’ll get just as friendly a welcome in there as I gave you,” Beresford said, grinning at Timothy, as the two stood together in the barn.
Tripp was tethered up to a post, next to where Timothy would be sleeping, and he let out a loud neigh, stomping his feet.
“We’ll get you some oats, don’t worry,” Timothy said, patting the horse’s mane. “I’m used to unfriendly welcomes, Mr. Hogan. I’ll take the saloon, but thanks anyway. I’ll be awake early and you just set me to whatever work you want me to do,” Timothy replied.
“It’s rare you meet a man on the trail with such a good work ethic. You must be Protestant,” Beresford replied, laughing and tipping out some oats for Tripp, who nuzzled himself against the rancher’s face.
“Oh, I’ve always been a good worker, Mr. Hogan. I’ve had just about every job there is. I’d earn a little money here and there, then move on someplace else, earn a little there, and so on,” Timothy replied, as they made their way back outside and into the ranch yard.
“It’s a shame more aren’t like you, son. Well, go enjoy the saloon, but I’m not sure you’ll find much life there tonight. Tell me, though, why are you heading back to Idaho after ten years on the trail? Don’t you like it anymore?” Beresford asked.
“Oh, I like it very well, but you see, my sister is getting married and I want to be there for her special day,” Timothy replied, nodding to the rancher, as he wished him goodnight.
Timothy would gladly have stayed on the trail—it was all he knew. When he’d left Coppertrails at the age of eighteen he’d wondered if he’d ever see it again. He liked the simple life, unhampered by responsibility. There’d been nothing to keep him there back then, and his sense of adventure had got the better of him. But two months back he’d received a letter from his sister, telling him the good news of her engagement. He had worked for a few months on a ranch in Oregon, at a place called Wisenbach Creek. It had suited him well enough and from there he’d been able to write regularly to his sister back home.
When the news had come that she was to be married it made him think about his old life back home. He rarely considered going back to Coppertrails but he also gave little thought to what would happen next in his life. And at the age of twenty-eight, Timothy knew he couldn’t live his whole life out on the trail, as much as he would have liked to.
So, he made the decision to go home. But being in no hurry to do so, he found his route taking him on a circuitous journey across various states, pausing at times to rest, still intent upon seeing as much of the country as he could. He had picked up the trail going north and finally arrived at the town of Redhills, where he now stood in front of the saloon, imagining the curious looks he’d receive when he stepped through the swing doors.
A warm welcome awaits.
And he laughed to himself, remembering the numerous times he’d found himself on the receiving end of wary hospitality as the years had gone by. But Timothy was used to it and entering the saloon, he took off his hat and surveyed the scene with interest.
It was a motley crew of cowboys and ranchers who inhabited the saloon. Several sat playing cards, while others lined the bar, behind which a rather large, pot-bellied man was dispensing drinks. There was an odd smell to the place, sawdust and liquor and the dingy interior hung with tobacco smoke. Silence came over the gathering, as Timothy walked in. He nodded to a couple of the men, who eyed him suspiciously, then leaned on the bar, nodding to the barman.
“Whisky, neat,” he said, pointing to the bottle on the bar. “And I’ll have one of those pies, too.”
“Money? Can you pay for it, cowboy?” the barman asked, and Timothy smiled.
“I can,” he replied, taking out what he hoped would be enough.
“We don’t get many strangers passing through Redhills,” the barman said, as he placed the drink in front of Timothy and took his money.
“I’m just passing through, heading back to Idaho,” Timothy said, grateful for the drink and a bite to eat, though the pie tasted suspiciously old.
“Idaho, now that’s a ride,” the barman said, and Timothy nodded.
“That’s why I’m only passing through. You won’t see me again,” he said.
“Then perhaps you would like to try your hand,” one of the men sitting at the card table called out, and Timothy turned to find the four of them looking at him.
They were an interesting collection of men, all young but well dressed, as though they were the owners rather than workers in the ranches round about the town.
“Do you play?” another said, pointing to the cards.
I play a better hand than all of you.
He learned to play cards back home in Coppertrails and there wasn’t much he didn’t know about winning a game of poker. One of the men drew up another chair and a hand was dealt for Timothy, who came to sit there with his drink in hand.
“Show your money, cowboy,” the man who issued the invitation said, but Timothy smiled and shook his head.
“No, thank you, I’d rather earn an honest buck than risk what little money I have on a game of chance,” he replied, and the man shook his head.
“Your choice,” he replied, and the men returned to their cards.
“You’re really not like the others, are you?” the barman said, shaking his head, as Timothy turned back to finish his drink.
“I just keep to my own ways. I’ve learned enough over the years to know that money is no easy thing to come by—you have to work hard for what you have. I’m not going to risk it all on a hand at poker. Well, goodnight,” he said, taking up his hat and pushing out of the swing doors into the warm night.
The moon was high in the sky and Timothy was glad he’d be sleeping in a barn, rather than beneath the scratchy blankets of a boarding house bed.
It’ll be warm tonight.
The town was quiet, few sounds coming from the houses, as he made his way back towards the ranch.
“Hey there, boy,” Timothy said, the horse stirring as he entered the barn, patting the horse before laying down to sleep.
I’m ready to go home, if only to see this man that Josephine has chosen.
He had her letter in his pocket and before he went to sleep, he sat and read it by the lamplight. She spoke about life back home and how she missed him. It had been ten years since they’d seen each other and what a lot of water had passed under the bridge since then. Would she even recognize him when he arrived home?
There’s only one way to find out.
He could hear mice running about the barn, and he curled up in the hay, hoping for no disturbances. It would be strange to sleep in his own bed again after all these years. He’d become so used to the trail, to living hand to mouth, taking jobs as he could, and surviving from day to day.
And blowing out the oil lamp, he settled down to sleep, as the mice scurried around him and all seemed at peace.
Charlotte was grateful that Jay paid her no further attention that night. He worked late in his study and she heard him crashing around in the room next door a little after one o’clock. When she awoke, her cheek still felt tender and she lay for a little while beneath the blankets, dreading what the day would bring.
There was no telling what mood her husband would be in and as she rose, she listened cautiously for any signs of life coming from next door. But it seemed that Jay had already gone out and when she emerged from her bedroom, clad in her mourning dress and shawl, she found only Liddy at home.
“Good morning, ma’am,” the maid said, glancing at the bruise on Charlotte’s cheek and giving a little shake of her head.
“Good morning, Liddy. Has Mr. Hooper gone out already?” she asked, and the maid nodded.
“He drank two cups of coffee and said he had business to attend to for the rest of the day. Am I to prepare lunch for him?” the maid asked.
“Oh, yes,” Charlotte said, for she knew it wouldn’t do for Jay to return and there be nothing for him to eat.
“Ma’am, may I speak freely for a moment?” Liddy said, and Charlotte gave her a weak smile.
“You may speak freely to me whenever you wish, Liddy. You’ve always been a good and loyal companion,” Charlotte replied.
“Well… it’s just that… a few of the women in the town have been talking. I overheard them in the grocery store this morning, Mrs. Winterton and Mrs. Harris. They say that… that the bruises on your face are the work of Mr. Hooper, and I must say I’ve seen such a temper in him of late as to be quite terrifying, so that I believe them,” Liddy said, shaking her head, as Charlotte fought back the tear in her eye.
She sighed, raising her hand involuntarily to her cheek and nodded.
“He… yes, Mr. Hooper has a short temper and sometimes I’m on the end of it,” she replied, as the maid began to tut.
“You can’t let him treat you like that, ma’am. Imagine if your father were here now. Mr. Bell would have him run out of town, or your dear mother would. Why, if a man laid so much as a finger on one of my daughters, I’d see him before the Sheriff,” Liddy replied, clattering the plates from the breakfast table.
“But what can I do, Liddy? I’m married to him. I’ve made my choice and now… I have to live with it,” Charlotte said, and she began to cry.
She’d not cried like this since the day of her father’s funeral and it was as though every ounce of grief now came flooding out. Liddy laid down the plates and wiped her hands on her apron, putting her arms around Charlotte and holding her close.
“There, there, ma’am, I’m telling you, you’ve made no choice. The man you thought you knew isn’t that man and the sooner you escape from this awful place the better,” Liddy said, pulling out her handkerchief and dabbing at Charlotte’s tears.
“But, I…” Charlotte began.
“It’s no weakness, ma’am. Jay Hooper’s a bully—he’s always been a bully and he fooled your father into thinking he wasn’t one. I knew him when he was a boy and he was as nasty then as he is now. But you need to look after yourself, ma’am, because no one else will,” Liddy said, just as there came a knock at the door. “That will be the postman,” and she bustled off into the hallway.
Charlotte sighed to herself, wiping away her tears and taking a sip of coffee. Liddy was right, of course, things wouldn’t get any better. If anything, they’d only get worse. She was twenty-four years old and all she had to look forward to was a life of bruises and broken promises. It was hardly the life she had dreamed of, the one her father had promised her when she was a little girl growing up in Coppertrails.
“One day, you’ll meet a wonderful man, Charlotte, and you’ll be as happy as I hope your dear mother has been,” he used to say, and Charlotte had believed him.
But now, those dreams were dashed and she wondered just what would become of her, all alone in the world, with only Jay at her side.
“Any letters for me, Liddy?” she asked, but the maid shook her head. “No, ma’am, all for Mr. Hooper. But I don’t know how he expects me to answer the door when he always locks us in. Luckily he doesn’t know I keep a spare key for when he locks us in during the day,” Liddy said. “Were you expecting something?”
Charlotte shook her head. If she didn’t have Liddy, then she truly would be all alone. She used to get letters all the time, before she was married. But Jay had prevented her from writing to her closest friend, Josephine, back in Coppertrails.
“You don’t need her,” he said, ripping the letter Charlotte was about to send out of her hands.
In it, Charlotte had written to her friend about her marriage and her hopes for the future. But she’d heard nothing from Josephine for months, long before she’d gotten involved with Jay. Her best friend didn’t even know she’d been married and she certainly didn’t know how miserable she was.
But Charlotte had kept all her letters from before. They reminded her of simpler times back in Coppertrails when they’d been children. When Charlotte had been happy. She didn’t dare admit to herself that she had not been happy in a long time, else she would surely just burst into tears.
Charlotte would’ve given anything to have seen Josephine there and then. She’d been faithful in writing, but of late, Charlotte had felt so downhearted that there was little she could have told her friend which wouldn’t sound sad and melancholy. Even if Jay had allowed her to write.
When Liddy had returned to the kitchen, Charlotte made her way over to the writing desk and rummaged around beneath her papers. It was there, folded into an envelope, that she kept her letters from Josephine and now she unfurled one, grateful to herself that she’d kept them hidden from Jay. She was comforted by the familiar handwriting.
My dear Charlotte,
How I miss you so, though I know I write that in every letter. It’s some months since I heard from you, though I suppose life in Widesdale must be busy for you. How are you? Have you met a handsome young man yet? I think of you each day and wonder what you’re doing.
How is your father? I know he misses your mother ever so much and do please pass my love to him. He was always so kind to me, as was your mother. Life for me is the same as ever, I do my chores and help around the house. We had the most wonderful summer fair pass through the town. You’d have loved it and the school children performed a pageant. Do you remember when you and I were dressed as sheep? We looked a picture, though we complained the whole day.
But we have had our share of sadness here in Coppertrails too, several deaths and an accident at the mine, though it was all kept hushed up. It’s a truly terrible place to work and I wonder sometimes just why we need such a place in our otherwise happy little town. Afterwards, Reverend Cole preached a mighty sermon on the dignity of man’s labor, it really touched me. He said that God wants the best for each of us and I truly believe that. God wants us all to be happy and I do hope that you are, as I am.
Oh, dear Charlotte, I do miss you and perhaps soon there might be a way of you coming out to Coppertrails to visit me. You’d be welcome anytime, my house has always been your home and I’d love to see you. But until then, you take care of yourself and remember that you’ll always have a friend in me. I’ll write again soon and I hope to hear from you in due course.
Ever your loving friend,
Charlotte reread the letter several times. She could hear Josephine’s voice in it, as loud and clear as though she was standing just opposite her. She was such a kind person. Charlotte had been so happy in Coppertrails and she wondered whether Josephine herself had found a husband and settled down. She felt guilty for not writing and resented Jay for the cruel way in which he had forced her to stop writing to Josephine.
They’d moved to Widesdale when Charlotte was fifteen and looking back, she realized that she’d never been truly happy there. The town held no attractions for her. Every time she went out, she was reminded of her father or the fact that it was here that she was destined to spend the rest of her life. Liddy’s words rang true, for what else was there but misery in a marriage to Jay?
He’ll never change, he’ll only get worse.
She raised her hand to her face and a sense of resolve came over her. Why should she stay in Widesdale, when all she had to look forward to was misery? Liddy was right, she owed Jay nothing, except perhaps a thick lip. She was tired of walking on eggshells and watching every word she spoke. Surely there was more to life than this?
But I can’t just go, can I?
It seemed too incredible to think. Could she just up and leave? Where would she go and what would she do when she got there?
She was just contemplating this, when the key turned in the lock and she stuffed Josephine’s letter into the envelope and hid it in the writing desk. Rising from her place, she straightened her shawl, as the sounds of Jay shouting at Liddy came from the hallway.
“They were on here, I left them on here,” he was shouting, as Charlotte emerged from the parlor.
“I don’t throw nothing away, Mr. Hooper. When I dusted earlier on, there were no papers here, I assure you,” Liddy replied, for she was far more willing to stand up to Jay than Charlotte was.
“They were here, on the side. I need them,” he said, scowling at Liddy, who shook her head and went back to her dusting.
“Perhaps you took them with you,” Charlotte ventured from the doorway.
He hadn’t seen her standing there and at the sound of her voice, he turned to her angrily.
“Are you saying I’m lying, Charlotte?” he said, advancing towards her.
“No… No, Jay, I’m not saying that. I’m only asking if you took them with you. I didn’t see any papers here when I came down earlier,” she replied.
“Perhaps you took them. Perhaps this is some kind of conspiracy against me, and you’re both in on it,” he said, turning to Liddy, who rolled her eyes and made no reply.
“There’s no conspiracy, Jay. You’ve just mislaid them,” Charlotte said, regretting her words immediately.
With a roar, he raised his hand to her, and she leaped back, avoiding his blow and letting out a scream.
“That is enough, Mr. Hooper,” Liddy cried, rushing to Charlotte’s side.
“Am I no longer master in my own house?” he shouted, turning and marching out of the door, which he slammed behind him.
“Oh, Mrs. Hooper, come here, let me help you up,” Liddy said, as Charlotte got to her feet.
But there were no tears in her eyes this time, only a sense of grim determination flooding through her. She wasn’t going to stay a moment longer in that house. She had enough of Jay and enough of being his wife. Everything about him repulsed her. She hated him and she wasn’t going to put up with his wicked ways any longer.
“I’m leaving, Liddy,” she said, touching her hand to her cheek. “I’m leaving right now. I’m sorry, but I can’t take any more of this.”
“Oh, ma’am, but where will you go? He’ll find you for sure. There’s no boarding house in Widesdale that will hide you and if I took you in, he’d know for sure. It’s not safe here,” Liddy said, a tear falling down her cheek, as she clutched at Charlotte’s hand.
“I’m going far away, Liddy, back to Coppertrails. He can follow me all he wants, but I’m never going back to him, not ever. I don’t care about the scandal. I don’t care anymore, I’m leaving,” Charlotte said.
Liddy looked at her, brushing away her tears, as she nodded.
“Then we don’t have much time, ma’am. Go quickly and change. You can’t be in mourning on the trail, the less attention you draw to yourself the better. Tie your hair up with a scarf and put on an old dress, I’ll pack you some supplies for the journey. Make your way to the halt, there’ll be a train heading west in about an hour by my reckoning and once you’re on it, don’t look back,” Liddy said, and she threw her arms around Charlotte, who held her tightly.
“My dear Liddy, the only friend I have here. Don’t let him mistreat you, there are other positions. I heard Mr. Waugh is looking for a daily to help him,” Charlotte said, but Liddy just laughed.
“Don’t you worry, ma’am, I won’t let that bully of a husband of yours lay a finger on me. If he does, he’ll soon know what’s coming to him. I have four sons and just one of them could teach that man the lesson he deserves. Quickly now, we don’t have much time,” she replied.
Charlotte nodded, hurrying upstairs and throwing off her black mourning dress. She didn’t pause to think about what she was doing, if she’d done so then she might not have gone through with it. But if she stayed, it would only be more of the same and Charlotte knew there was more to life than that. She put on a plain dress and tied her pretty curled hair up in a scarf, wrapping a shawl around her and putting on a bonnet.
I barely recognize myself.
She stood for a moment and breathed a deep sigh. For the first time in a long while, she felt in control and though what lay ahead was a mystery, it was at least a destiny she could have some control over.
I’ll go to Coppertrails and find Josephine, she’ll help me, I know she will.
Back downstairs, Liddy had packed a bag with bread and cheese, a few other supplies, and an extra shawl. It was hardly the makings of an expedition, but Charlotte knew she could take only the barest essentials.
“Am I ready, Liddy?” she said, and the maid nodded.
“You’ll have God’s providence with you, ma’am, I know you will. Trust in Him and keep yourself safe,” Liddy replied.
“Jay’s bound to come after me,” Charlotte said, glancing nervously at the door.
“You’ll be long gone by then, ma’am. Hurry now, out the back way and across the paddock. The quicker you go, the sooner you’ll be away from here,” Liddy said.
Charlotte was about to leave when a thought struck her and she hurried into the parlor, where the photo of her parents stood on the mantelpiece. She picked up the photo, placing it carefully into her bag.
“Goodbye, Liddy, and God bless you for everything you’ve done for me,” Charlotte said, as Liddy hurried her out of the back door.
“Godspeed to you, ma’am, and perhaps one day we’ll meet again,” Liddy said, as Charlotte kissed her before running off across the paddock towards the train halt.
There’s no going back now, but perhaps there’s a better life ahead.
And with that thought in her mind, Charlotte left her old life behind, knowing that whatever lay ahead was surely better than what she had.
Timothy awoke early the next morning, keen to keep his promise to Beresford and see to the cattle herding. Over the years, Timothy had herded more cattle than he cared to remember and by the time that the rancher emerged from the ranch house, he’d already been at work for over an hour.
“Is this where you want them, Mr. Hogan?” he asked, as the rancher came ambling up to the pen, which Timothy had herded the cattle into.
“Just where I want them, son. You’ve done a fine job. I must say, I was expecting to find you gone without so much as a word of thanks,” Beresford said, laughing, as Timothy climbed down from Tripp.
“Of course I stayed, Mr. Hogan, I’m an honest man. You were kind enough to let me sleep in your barn and herding cattle is second nature to me. I could do it in my sleep,” Timothy replied.
“Well, I’m just sorry you’re not staying longer. I could use a strong and decent man like you about the place. I get decent men and I get strong men, but it’s rare that both come along at once,” the rancher said. “Come on inside and have some breakfast.”
The two shared a simple meal of bread and fried eggs, cooked by the rancher’s wife, who smiled incessantly at Timothy, causing him to blush. Afterwards, he wished his hosts goodbye, having helped Beresford remove sacks of corn from the barn loft and pull a plough out of the barn.
“Thank you for letting me stay, Mr. Hogan. I won’t forget your kindness,” Timothy said, as he rode out of the ranch yard.
“If you’re ever back this way, then be sure to look us up,” Mr. Hogan said, waving him off.
But Timothy had no intention of returning. His heart was calling him back to Coppertrails and in just a few short weeks he’d be there. He had no idea what kind of welcome he’d receive, or whether anyone would be pleased to see him, but he knew where he belonged and right now that was back in Coppertrails at his sister’s side.
He pointed Tripp to the northern trail, urging him into a gallop, as they left Redhills in a cloud of dust.
Next stop, who knows where, but very soon, home.
Timothy reined in Tripp and looked down the hill towards Coppertrails. It had been so long since he’d last been there that it felt strange returning after all these years. Ten years was a long time and Timothy had no idea what he’d find down in the town below.
He used to sit among the prairie grass up here as a boy, looking down on the town below. Things had always seemed much simpler up there, peaceful even, the hustle and bustle of the old frontier town going on below.
It looked much the same as it had always done, though there were more buildings now. The houses snaked out as far as the schoolhouse, which in Timothy’s day had been surrounded by a meadow and trees. He could see the little mission church where he’d been baptized and the saloon where he’d taken his first drink. There was Mr. Casey’s grocery store and the boarding house run by old Mrs. Finley. Further out, he could see the mine shaft, built into the rock face of the opposite hill, and just make out the horses pulling up the copper from below.
I suppose there’s no reason why it should have changed.
But Timothy had changed. Ten years is a long time for a young man and since leaving Coppertrails he had grown from being a boy to a man of the world. He had so many adventures, seen so many sights, but it was here in Coppertrails that his home was and he breathed a deep sigh of relief at having now come home.
“Come on, Tripp, let’s go surprise Josephine,” he said to the horse, who stomped his foot and neighed.
As they came down into the town, Timothy paused. They were close to the mission church, with its neat rows of graves, the white crosses standing ceremoniously on either side. He climbed down from Tripp’s back, tethering him up to a post by the church and picking two white flowers from beside the door.
He walked along the rows of graves, noting names familiar from his childhood, before he found the ones he was looking for.
William Dawson, beloved husband and devoted father. Mary Dawson, beloved wife and devoted mother.
He sighed, shaking his head, as he knelt on the ground and laid the flowers in front of his parent’s graves.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I’m sorry,” he said, feeling awkward kneeling there in the warmth of the late afternoon.
“Well, if it isn’t the return of the prodigal son.”
Timothy, startled, turned to find the kindly face of Reverend Cole looking back at him. The pastor had aged since Timothy saw him last, his shock of white hair and wrinkled face surprising Timothy, who had not thought of the town of Coppertrails as an ageing place. To him, it stood still, but of course it hadn’t and the pastor held out his hand, which Timothy gladly took.
“Well, hey there, Reverend, how are you?” Timothy asked, and the pastor laughed.
“I’m shot through with arthritis and if I knelt there I’d never get up. But the good Lord has seen fit to give me a few more years and for that I’m grateful. Are you back for your sister’s wedding? She hasn’t mentioned anything about your return,” the pastor said.
“I didn’t tell her. I thought it would be a surprise. I hinted I might come back but she’s going to get a shock when she sees me shortly,” he said.
“Well, I’m glad to see you’re taking your duties seriously. It was sad that you weren’t here at the end,” Reverend Cole said, looking down at the graves.
Timothy was silent for a moment. He felt such guilt when Josephine had written to tell him of their parents’ death. They’d died of fever three winters back and Timothy had been hundreds of miles away, wintering on a ranch in the east. But there’d been no way that he could’ve got home in time for the funeral and besides, what good would it have done?
“I remembered them in my own way, Reverend,” Timothy replied.
“And are you here to stay? After the wedding, I mean? You’ll find some changes, of that I’m certain,” the pastor replied.
“We’ll see. It feels like the right time. But my feet might start itching,” Timothy replied.
It was at that moment that a shrill whistle came from across the graveyard and Timothy turned to see a puff of smoke rising up in the distance. The clickety-clack of a train was hurrying by and Timothy shook his head in amazement at the sight of a train pulling through Coppertrails.
“And that’s the first big change. The railroad has brought a lot of benefits, but it has caused a bit of trouble, too. This town used to be such a quiet little place, well, you remember it, but now…” Reverend Cole said, shaking his head.
“Progress, I guess,” Timothy replied, still mesmerized by the sight of the steaming locomotive pulling into town.
“Well, you better get home to your sister, and you’ve young David to meet, too,” the pastor said, smiling at Timothy and holding out his hand.
“Oh, I knew David Rivers back before I left. Of course, he was just a deputy back then, now he’s Sheriff Rivers. I’d better watch myself,” Timothy said, laughing.
“He’s a good man. He always says his prayers and he has done so much for the town,” Reverend Cole replied.
“I’m just glad she made the right choice. She sure is sweet on him. Anyway, I’d better be getting back, it’ll be dark soon and she’ll wonder who it is knocking on her door at such a time,” Timothy replied, doffing his hat to Reverend Cole.
“Yes, indeed, off home with you, prodigal son. If I remember my scriptures, there was something of a party on that day and I’m sure there’ll be one for you, too,” the pastor said, and Timothy nodded, waving to the Reverend, as he hurried back through the graveyard towards Tripp.
He walked slowly through the town, savoring the sights and sounds. That familiar smell of wood smoke still pervaded the streets, wafting from the copper mine on the far side of town, where they burned charcoal by the wagon load. The same old shops still stood along the main street, though it seemed busier now, with folks hurrying to and fro. No one gave Timothy a second look, but he recognized some of the faces, older now, though still familiar.
It was dark now, the lights being lit in the windows along the street, and folks hurrying inside to their families after a hard day’s work. His sister’s house stood a short way from the center of town out on its own, with no neighbors either side. When he’d left, it had not been his sister’s house, but that of his parents and Josephine had remained there following their deaths. It was a large house, with a veranda running along two sides and a trail of wisteria growing up the front. He used to smell the roses in the garden before he even caught sight of the house and it reminded him of Mother.
She always loved roses.
He took the road out of town, the lights becoming fewer, as he approached the track leading to his sister’s house. He could’ve found his way in a sandstorm, so familiar was the route, and he began to hum to himself, clambering down off Tripp’s back, to walk along the track leading to the house.
He wondered if he should have written and told her he was coming. It seemed rude to just turn up like that. And what if she wasn’t home? His sister often attended charity benefits and was involved with all manner of good works in the town.
She’ll be overjoyed to see me.
Nerves ran through him and he felt foolish. This was Josephine, his dear, darling sister. The little girl he teased incessantly and always played tricks on, who had grown into a fine young woman. The kindest and most caring woman, and any man would be proud to call her his sister.
Come on, Timothy. Just get on with it.
He smiled to himself, picturing her face when she opened the door. He paused, looking up at the trees which surrounded that side of the track. His father had planted them years ago, when Timothy was a boy. But now they’d grown up tall and stronger, casting long shadows in the moonlight. He smiled to himself and shook his head.
There’ll be plenty of changes.
Just then, he heard a movement behind him and he turned, expecting to see a familiar face greeting him. But as he did so, a blow was struck to the side of his head and he fell backwards with a cry.
Tripp started whinnying, just as a well-aimed kick winded Timothy and left him sprawling in pain. Opening his eyes, he saw his attacker running off into the darkness and rolled over with a groan.
Charlotte glanced over her shoulder. It had become something of a habit ever since she’d left Widesdale. She was nervous about being followed, by Jay or someone else in his service.
She had caught the train that afternoon, days ago now, from Widesdale Halt. It had been a nervous wait on the station, where she imagined her husband springing on her and returning her home. He would have locked her away and thrown away the key, of that she was certain. But the train had arrived and she boarded it without so much as a glimpse of Jay, or any of their acquaintances. It didn’t matter where it went, so long as it took her as far away from Widesdale as possible. She settled back in a corner seat, not wishing to draw attention to herself, and she only spoke when the train guard appeared some time later.
“Does this train go all the way to Coppertrails?” she asked him. He shook his head and told her she would need to change on the state border.
The state border was far enough from Widesdale to make a clean escape and besides, it would be harder to follow her if she changed trains. She settled back and looked out of the window, watching the last of Widesdale disappear into the distance. There had been no sadness on her part, only hope in knowing that a new life lay ahead of her.
The journey west had been largely uneventful. She changed trains as directed and caught another which would pass through Coppertrails on its way to Oregon. The ride had been bumpy and uncomfortable, taking several days, but at last the call for Coppertrails came and Charlotte had gathered up her meagre possessions and made ready to disembark.
“I hope you’ve not had too hard a journey, dear,” a woman opposite her said, as Charlotte turned, glancing over her shoulder.
She’d been watching Charlotte with interest since she got on board at the state border, a wizened old woman with matted black hair and a grey face. Charlotte shook her head.
“Oh… no, it’s been quite comfortable really, all things considered,” Charlotte replied, as the train let out a loud whistle and began to slow.
“I’m surprised your husband allows you to travel alone,” the woman continued and Charlotte looked at her in surprise.
“My… my husband?” she asked, and the woman nodded.
She pointed to the ring on Charlotte’s finger and made a tutting noise, shaking her head and jabbing her finger in the air.
“You’ve got a ring on, dear. Where’s your husband? Is he meeting you off the train? I sure hope so,” the woman said.
Charlotte made no reply, but looked down at the ring on her finger. She was remembering with anger the man who had given it to her, a symbol of the property he believed he’d acquired.
“I… I’m a widow,” she replied, causing the woman to blush with embarrassment, as she removed the ring from her finger, “and I assure you, I need no chaperone to find my way in the world.”
She left the woman muttering to herself and picked her way along the carriage. She had travelled in third class, wedged between ranch hands and immigrant families destined for the frontier. It was hot and stuffy in the carriage and as the train pulled up to Coppertrails Halt, she breathed a sigh of relief.
The sooner I find Josephine the better.
The train guard helped her with her bag, opening the door for her and wishing her a good day. As she stepped out, the warm breeze from the prairie hit her and it felt like a soothing balm after the closeness of the carriage. She looked around her, trying to get her bearings, before realizing that the last time she’d been in Coppertrails there had been no railroad.
Oh, but there’s the mine out there across the prairie, so I must be near the church. Which means that Josephine’s house is that way.
She glanced over her shoulder out of habit, smiling to herself for there was no way that Jay could’ve followed her here so soon.
If he even bothers to look for me. Why would he care? I was nothing to him.
She stepped down from the platform and looked around her again. She had forgotten that smell of woodsmoke in the air, and it reminded her of her childhood. A comforting smell, homely, and it made her smile. She hadn’t smiled like that in a long time, nor had she felt happy as she did now, walking along the side street towards Josephine’s house.
On the corner, close to the grocery store, was the house she’d grown up in. It had been built by her father, when her parents had moved out west all those years ago. She paused for a moment, looking up at the neat façade. Through the window, she could see two children sitting at the parlor table reading. It made her smile to see the house alive and a tear came to her eye, as she realized just how right she’d been to find her way back here.
She greeted several folks as she passed, women who looked familiar, though older, of course. That was what had changed; things looked older. Folks, buildings, the whole town. It looked older now, a little worn around the edges and the folks, too. But it was hardly going to have stayed the same. Places change, folks change—Charlotte herself certainly had.
She was outside Josephine’s house now, hidden away down the familiar track a short distance out of town, and for an awful moment she wondered if her friend might have moved. She had sent her correspondence to the post office in Coppertrails and had no idea whether Josephine still resided at the home of her parents or not. She hoped so, for she had nowhere else to go if she didn’t.
She pushed open the gate, breathing in the familiar scent of roses. Mrs. Dawson had always loved her garden, Charlotte recalled, imagining Josephine’s reaction when she saw Charlotte standing amidst the red and white blooms.
She rang the bell, listening for the sound of Josephine’s footsteps from inside. It took a moment before she heard them and even before the door was opened, she knew it would be Josephine who answered. She still had that light step, and a floorboard still creaked inside, just before she answered the door. It was all so familiar and Charlotte delighted in that familiarity, for there was such a feeling of safety to it after her long years of exile. This was home and being back in her hometown filled her with such happiness as to be palpable.
“Whoever it is, I’m just about to go out,” came Josephine’s familiar voice through the door.
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