Marta Campbell sank onto the bench outside the train depot. The letter she had just read had officially ended her hope for the future.
We were appalled to hear what had befallen you on your journey to us. We sympathize with you and rejoice that you escaped your captors without major harm. However, when you weren’t at the train station when we came to meet you, we had no choice but to seek an immediate replacement for the position. There is no need for you to continue your journey to San Francisco as our need for a nanny has been met.
We wish you the best in your future endeavors.
John and Caroline Forsythe.
She had no clue what to do next. She couldn’t continue to stay with the Jacobs family. They were a sweet older couple, but she knew her staying with them was putting a stress on their resources. She’d prayed that the Forsythes would still need her, but now she knew that they didn’t. Marta closed her eyes against the despair the words of the letter brought her. “What now, God?” she prayed.
“Well, if it were me, I’d go to the mercantile and get some lemon drops.” The voice startled Marta, and she opened her eyes to see the old woman sitting beside her on the bench. “Excuse me?”
The older woman was dressed in a light gray travel dress, her face, while old and wrinkled, held a joy and peace unlike anything Marta had ever seen before. “You asked what now; I said if it were me I’d go get some lemon drops. They are your favorite, aren’t they, Marta?”
Marta’s mouth dropped open. “How do you know who I am? Or that my favorite candy is lemon drops?”
The woman smiled at her. “I know everything there is to know about you, Marta Campbell. I’m your angel.”
Marta’s eyes got large; this woman had to be a bit senile. “I am not crazy and you are not imagining me. I’m an angel, and I’ve been assigned to you for the foreseeable future.”
Marta slid as far to the end of the bench as she could. “Umm… all right… So you’re my angel and your answer to me asking God what to do now that my life is a mess is to go buy some lemon drops?”
The woman smiled. “I can see you don’t believe me, but the answer is yes, that’s what you should do next. Just because the path you thought you were set on has ended doesn’t mean there isn’t another path you should be following.” The woman rose and took a step to stand in front of Marta. Marta started as the stationmaster walked right through the woman like she wasn’t even there. Marta shook her head. Maybe she was sleeping, and this was all a nightmare.
The woman placed her hands on her hips and sighed. “Pinch yourself.”
“I want you to pinch yourself so you know you are not dreaming. Now hurry; you are running out of time.”
Marta frowned. “Running out of time for what?”
“To find the path you should be on. Oh for heaven’s sake, here.” The woman reached down and pinched Marta on the back of her hand.
“Now you know you aren’t asleep or dreaming, and no you aren’t going crazy. Now get yourself down to the mercantile and buy that candy. Keep your eyes open on the way, too. When God closes one door, he always opens another. So look for it.” The woman started to walk away when she suddenly turned back, “Oh, and no matter how crazy it may sound you should accept any proposal that might come your way today.”
Marta jumped to her feet. “What?”
But the woman had disappeared as if she’d never been there.
Marta didn’t know what to think except maybe the woman had been her angel. It would be just like her to get an angel who spoke in riddles and gave useless advice. However, she had nothing else to do and, oddly enough, some lemon drops did sound like a good way to soothe her disappointment while she tried to figure out what to do next. Maybe she’d see if there were any recent newspapers from Denver at the mercantile. While she was there, she needed to start looking for another option besides living off the charity of the townspeople of Creede or Bachelor, kind as they had been.
As she neared the mercantile, she saw a wagon with several children out front. There was no adult to be seen, and the children, well two of the children, seemed to be roughhousing in the back. Two boys, by the looks of things, and they had the wagon rocking with their antics. Shouldn’t someone have been watching them? The oldest was a girl and she didn’t look old enough to be trying to watch out for the others. Where were their parents?
Just then, the bigger boy shoved and the younger one flipped over the back of the wagon and landed on the hard-packed road behind the wagon. Marta ran up and took the small child in her arms. “My goodness, are you okay?”
The child in her arms started crying, and the older boy in the wagon called out, “I’m sorry, Randy. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to throw you outta the wagon.” Then he was crying, too. The older girl climbed down to stand beside Marta, who still was holding the little boy in her arms. “Are you hurt, honey?”
The girl gave her a look that would curdle milk. “His name is Randy and he’s fine. He’s had worse spills than that.”
“Where are your parents? They shouldn’t have left you all out here alone. What if your brother had fallen to the right and under a passing wagon or horse?”
The little girl put her hands on her hips. “I was watching them.”
“Yes, but you shouldn’t be alone like this; anything could happen.”
Before the girl could say anything more, the door to the mercantile opened and a man with red hair and a beard hurried over. He placed a large box in the back of the wagon before rounding to where Marta was still kneeling, holding the young boy and wiping his tears. “What’s going on here, Rachel?”
Marta stood with the boy still in her arms. “Are these your children?”
“What is the meaning of leaving them out here unsupervised? Your son fell out of the wagon and got hurt. Thankfully, he fell out of the back and not over the side where he could have been struck by a passing wagon. What kind of father are you, anyway?”
“An overwhelmed one, Miss…?”
“Campbell, Marta Campbell.” That was when she noticed that the man’s face was haggard like he hadn’t had much sleep. In the arm that hadn’t been balancing the box of goods from the store was a very small baby, no older than a few months. “Where is your wife, Mister?”
All the children started crying at her question. What in the world?
The man’s eyes went hard. “Clark. And for your information, Miss Campbell, my wife passed away two months ago. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances.”
Marta gasped at his declaration. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Clark. I didn’t know, but you still can’t be leaving your children to themselves like this. Your son could have been seriously hurt.”
Mr. Clark’s face, what she could see of it under his scruffy beard, turned as red as his hair. “Look here, we’re doing the best we can. If for one minute you think you could take care of my family better than I’ve been, then marry me and prove it.”
Marta’s mouth dropped open in shock. She caught a movement on the boardwalk behind Mr. Clark and looked to see the old woman, her angel, nodding and mouthing, “Yes! Say yes!”
She looked back at the man and the five children watching them. “All right, I will. Take us to the pastor’s house.”
Now it was the man’s mouth that dropped open. “What??”
Marta lifted the boy she held into the back of the wagon and then pointed to the man. “You said if I thought I could take better care of your family than you have been, to marry you and prove it. So I shall! Take us to Pastor Bing, and let’s get married.” She turned and looked at the little red-haired girl still standing beside her. “Can you get in the wagon on your own, Rachel, or do you need help?”
The girl glared at her. “I don’t need nothing from you.”
“Then get in the wagon; we have places to go.”
The girl looked up at her father. “Pa?”
The man nodded then turned his attention to Marta again. “Are you serious? You want to get married today? Right now?”
She looked him in the eye and held her arms out to take the infant. He placed it automatically in her arms. “Yes, I’m serious. It is obvious you need the help and, honestly, I was just wondering what I was going to do with myself. I think God put us in the same place to help us both. So let’s go see the pastor and get this over with.”
She climbed up into the seat on the wagon and settled the baby in her arms. After a few minutes, Mister Clark came around and climbed up into the seat beside her. He looked at her again like he couldn’t believe she was sitting there beside him before he took up the reins. With one last look at his four children in the back, “You young’uns sit still now. We’re going to Bachelor before we go home.”
“Why, Pa?” The oldest girl asked. “We don’t need her help.”
“Yes, we do, Rachel. You’re doing the best you can, but you’re still a little girl yourself.”
“I don’t want her to help us.”
“That’s enough, Rachel. I said she’s coming to help us and take care of you and your brothers and sisters, and that’s the way it is.”
“Fine, but I’m not gonna call her Ma. ‘Cause she ain’t our ma!”
Marta looked at the girl. “That’s fine, Rachel. How about you just call me Marta. I know I’m not your ma, and I won’t try to take her place, but let me help take care of your Pa and family. Will that be okay?”
The girl scowled and crossed her arms. “I reckon since Pa says so.”
“Thank you.” Marta gave the girl a smile and then looked at the man she was going to be marrying as he got the wagon started and turned to head up to Bachelor. “Since I’m going to be marrying you, don’t you think I should know your first name?”
The man sighed. “Reckon so. It’s Royce. Royce Clark.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Royce. I’m Marta.”
Royce nodded and then turned his attention to the road ahead of them.
“Just so you know, I’m not sure I can offer you a normal loving marriage. I mean, my Lucy isn’t but two months gone.”
Marta looked down at the little child in her arms. “I understand that. I’m not asking you for your heart Royce. Honestly, I’m one of the women who was abducted. I’m sure you knew that. I lost a live-in position as a nanny by being taken. While the people here have been kind, I can’t keep living off of their charity. I figure what you are offering me isn’t much different than what I would have been doing as a nanny. Only it gives me a house to run as well. As for love, I gave up on that a while ago.”
“Well, I just wanted you to know. I’ll do the best I can for you, and you’ll always have a home, but my heart still belongs to Lucy. It always will.”