The Culbertson family buckboard turned into the church yard. Effie scanned faces of people milling around the front steps. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Robert disappear behind the church. Someone followed him.
They were to announce their engagement today. Where was he going? And who was shadowing him?
As Effie’s pa, brought the horses to a halt, she jumped out intent on following her fiance’.
“Effie,” Shelly came running. “Let me see.” The two best friends walked arm and arm, heads together admiring the small diamond ring on Effie’s finger.
“Can sure tell you’re marrying into a rich doctor family.” Shelly said. “Where is your handsome doctor?”
They almost reached the Sunday School class when Effie saw Robert come out of the library. He didn’t look her way. Someone else stepped out and scurried after Robert into the classroom. Effie and Shelly stared at each other. The unanswered question hung in the air between them, why were Robert and Abigail coming out of the library together?
Effie shushed Shelly, “Don’t you say anything. It’s nothing I’m sure.”
“I’m your best friend. It had better be nothing or he’ll have me to explain to.”
Effie smiled picturing her petite friend taking on Robert’s six foot frame. Though she wouldn’t describe herself as petite, Effie felt small beside him.
The girls entered the room in a swish of petticoats. Effie met Robert’s gaze. He waved and patted the seat beside him. He tucked her ringed finger gently in the crook of his arm. She tried to admire the promise he’d given her the night before, but he held her firmly. “Let’s wait till after church to announce this, okay?”
She searched his face and started to protest, but his confident air of assurance and the teacher hushing everyone for morning prayer quieted her.
Effie tried to concentrate on the lesson. She tried not to itch around the high, binding collar of her white lace blouse with the tight fitting sleeves. She much preferred her split riding skirt or when she could get away with it, a pair of one of her brother’s cast-off overalls. It was easier to ride and work with a horse dressed so one could move then to be hampered with tight, binding undergarments. But this was the Lord’s day and she’d dressed so carefully for Robert and he hadn’t noticed.
He could be down right fussy. His starched stiffness made her feel a little frumpy. She knew his being a doctor and cleanliness being close to godliness and all, but it didn’t make the itching any better.
Effie was disappointed again when Robert and his father received a message of medical importance.
“Seems Mrs. Rickner’s baby is coming a bit early,” Effie said to Shelly. “I’ll have to get used to him taking off at all hours. Part of being a doctor’s wife.”
“I’m sorry the announcement is delayed, but it won’t be for long.”
Effie tried to smile. “I better go see if my parents are ready to leave.”
On the way home Effie was lost in thought. She daubed her handkerchief over her already hot face. The noon sun beat down on sage brush covered mountains. It would soon turn the spring green to summer brown and it was only April.
Effie half listened to her younger sister’s excited chatter about a new boy who’d moved to the area. She heard the soft mumbling of her parents as they shared thoughts on the morning sermon.
She had so many questions. What had she missed? Robert seemed open and loving last night when he’d put the ring on her finger. What had happened? He seemed relieved when the elder Dr. Gallston received the message.
Then the worst question, why were he and Abigail coming out of the library together?
In spite of drippy weather the next morning, Effie decided to go on a ride. She breathed in the clean, misty aroma from sagebrush, pine trees, and bunch grass. Wildflowers covered the meadows. The blue-bells, yellow-bells, and spring beauties were the first to open their petals to the spring sunshine.
She sent Sandy, her buckskin colored mare into her paces; walk, trot, canter. The mare responded to all signals. Effie smiled and patted the horse’s neck.
She whistled for Buddy, her half lab and mostly mutt. He wiggled in excitement at the opportunity to go with his mistress. He bounded off in front of them, determined to lead the way. Effie grinned, knowing he would soon lose interest and be off on his own adventure.
A slight pressure from her legs and Sandy moved toward the open field. Effie felt the eagerness in her horse, but kept her in check like grandpa had taught her.
Grandpa had given her her first horse, Blackie. He didn’t have a speck of white on him. Effie turned nine on that birthday. She’d prayed for a horse, but didn’t dream it would come true. So much for her faith in prayer.
Now she owned Sandy and put all her knowledge into this horse to show she had the ability to train horses and start her own business. Blackie ruled his domain of the pasture and orchard by the house. Effie rode him around the place once in awhile, but he was getting old.
With Sandy calmed, Effie let her trot then canter. After a while she reined in and sat gazing out over the country. She could hear the Wenatchee River flowing by the town of the same name. The Culbertson apple orchard and family farm lay situated on a point of the river. Effie had lived most of her nineteen years here. Her parents, two older brothers, Hiram and John, and baby sister Laurie had homesteaded here in 1892. Effie was six. Grandpa joined them the next year after Grandma died.
Effie recalled the excitement of seeing Grandpa pull his wagon into their lane that morning years ago. The whole family together again. But grandpa had waited to tell about grandma’s passing. He explained she’d gotten sick and nothing could be done. No time to send a message from Iowa. Effie remembered him saying, “This seemed best. She made me promise to come out here. Always thinking of someone else, that woman.”
Effie watched a herd of deer on the big bare mountains surrounding her. Her dream of raising and training horses came true in the horse she rode now. Grandpa would be proud. He’d taught her all he knew about horses before he died. She learned from him all the finer points. She wanted a good man like her grandpa and pa to complete her dream picture. She didn’t want to think about Robert. He and Abigail together kept haunting her thoughts.
In spite of not wanting to think about Robert that’s exactly where her thoughts went. She felt Robert was the one for her. The one who could renew her faith in a man. After being jilted in grade school and Mack treating her the way he did. Robert was steadfast and practical. The one who could make her forget and forgive.
In the distance she caught sight of a rider. Robert waved as he got closer. Good, she thought. Now we can talk. He’ll explain and everything will be fine.
Suddenly a grouse flew up from the brush and Sandy bolted. Effie grabbed the saddle horn and hung on as the mare went into a full gallop.
She regained her balance and began to enjoy the wild ride, letting the wind whip out the pins in her long brown hair. A feeling of freedom overcame her.
In another moment she became aware of Robert galloping beside her. Leaning over he grabbed Sandy’s reins and gave it a jerk.
“Be careful of her mouth, Robert.” Effie yelled.
Robert held the leather and brought them both to a stop. “Are you okay, Effie?”
She jumped from the saddle and spoke to Sandy. “There, there, girl. Settle down. It’s okay.” She stroked the horse and whispered as she rubbed Sandy’s legs looking for any bumps or cuts she may have gotten in her mad dash across the field.
Sandy snorted, side-stepped, throwing her head.
“Are you okay?” Robert repeated with more exasperation in his voice than concern.
Effie glanced at him. “Of course I’m okay.”
Robert threw his hands up. “I’m suppose to believe that? I just rescued you from a runaway horse.”
“There’s no need to get excited. I had things under control. She would have stopped soon.”
Robert dismounted and took Effie by the arm. “Oh, well then, you’re welcome. It didn’t look like you were in complete control, but next time I won’t interfere.”
Effie shrugged off his grasp, surprised at his rather rough way. “Don’t grab me like that. I’m not one of your patients with a broken bone to be set. What’s wrong? I’ve never seen you this way.”
He released her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...”
Effie went back to patting Sandy. She took a deep breath and faced Robert. “Thank you for rescuing me. Though I didn’t need it, you didn’t realize.” Effie wrapped the reins around Sandy’s neck preparing to mount.
“Please, Effie, wait. Let’s talk.”
She searched Robert’s handsome features. “I know what I’m doing around horses. My grandpa taught me all he knew. He was a great horseman.”
“I know all that, but it scares me. I’m not sure training horses is an occupation I want for my wife.”
Her heart sank. “Don’t say that. I love horses. This is my dream.”
“A wife’s dream is supposed to be for her husband.”
Effie took a step back. “Are you saying I’m the pretty ornament for your home? Isn’t that what you said?”
Robert coughed. “Yes, I said that, but it was in fun.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.”
It seemed the closer the wedding day came the more she saw attitudes about Robert that made her uncomfortable and harder to ignore.
The rain started again. The two stood under a pine tree. Effie watched the drizzle. She tried to recoil her hair, but had lost so many pins, she gave up. What is it with men? Why had Robert asked her hand in marriage if he wanted to change her?
She blushed remembering the time in grade school when she told a boy she’d love him forever then he jilted her for the new girl with blond curls.
When she was fourteen the school bully, Mack snuck up behind her and snipped off one of her braids. She still heard his Indian war whoop as he ran off holding her braid and lilac ribbon in his hand. She never did understand why he’d done that. She’d helped him with his math. He’d been nice to her.
Effie stayed away from boys the rest of her school days. Her ma spoke to her of forgiveness, but she sloughed it off and went for a ride. Her horse accepted her the way she was. It was all she needed.
Now years later here she was considering Robert. She felt it was time to give up the school girl troubles and grow up. Robert’s kindness and understanding with his patients made him a much sought after doctor. His caring for people and their illnesses intrigued her. Some said he outdid his father. He was living his dream, the thought of him taking away her dream put him in a different light. Another thought about him saying it frightened him to see her on what he thought was a run away horse showed his caring. Maybe that’s all it was. Maybe he didn’t mean what he said, he’d just been scared.
“The rain’s letting up. We should be getting in,” Robert said.
Effie decided to be cordial and cooperate. “How did you happen to be out this way?”
Robert smiled. “I was coming from the office. I wanted to see you.”
Effie searched his face. He was talking to her like she was one of his patients. “Would you like to come to dinner?”
Robert took his pocket watch out. “I’m sorry, Effie, I can’t. Father wishes for me to go over some medical books with him. There’s a new procedure he wants to discuss. Another time, okay?”
“Sure, fine.” She whistled for Buddy who came bounding out from underneath a bush.
It was when Effie was almost home she recalled Robert saying he’d been at the office. Strange, when she’d seen him he’d been riding from the opposite direction-the general direction of Abigail’s.
The Culbertson tradition was to end the day by the fireplace. They sat back, relaxed and caught up on what each other had been doing. Even though the sons, Hiram and John were on their own, it wasn’t unusual to find them sitting in their old spots by the fireplace.
Mattie, Effie’s ma sat in her rocker, a sewing basket on the floor beside her. She held one of John’s shirts sewing a button on and mending a tear. Laurie sat at the table doing homework. Effie held an open book in her lap, but was watching her pa. Marshal reached for his pipe. He took his tobacco pouch from his shirt pocket and filled the bowl of the pipe. He gently tamped the tobacco with his finger and added a bit more. He struck a match on the side of the stone fireplace. After a few puffs, the smoke slowly curled around his head. It reminded Effie of a wreath. She’d watched this ritual from the time she carried a tattered blanket everywhere she crawled.
These little family habits meant home and love for Effie. Would she feel warmth and comfort in her own home?
Mattie Culbertson passed values on to her children such as dream big, work hard for those dreams, and love and respect God. Mattie was a writer. She wrote for the newspaper on occasion and other magazines. She had her husband’s support and always told her he’d be her first reader, which most of the time, he was.
Effie wondered why Robert thought when they married, she would only occupy herself with gracing his home. When he realized he hung onto an old-fashioned notion and she had dreams too, it would be better.
She thought about her school girl troubles and the promises she’d made to herself. She smiled. Those were little girl thoughts. She was a grown woman now, about to be married. Robert would not make her give up her plans.
When the Gallston’s moved to Wenatchee, everyone was excited about a new doctor. Dr. Gallston senior had stitched her knee one time. She was flattered when young Dr. Gallston had started paying her court. It well pleased her that he’d followed his father into medicine. His patients liked him and more times asked for his expertise rather than his father’s. Effie sighed softly and went back to reading her book.
Laurie finished her school work and moved closer to the fireplace. “I think Nate likes me.”
Mattie smiled at her youngest child. “He seems a nice boy.”
Effie didn’t pay attention to the murmurings and kept reading.
“Effie, did you hear me?” Laurie said.
She jumped at the sound of her name. “What? I heard it all yesterday.”
Laurie’s face crumpled. Effie was by her side in a moment. “I’m sorry, I’m wrapped up in my wedding and forgetting you. Do you think Nate will ask you to the spring dance?”
Laurie’s face brightened. “That’s what I said. He already asked.”
The house filled with laughter as the girls discussed what they would wear and past gatherings.
Effie vaguely wondered why pa sat so quiet. He rocked gently in his old rocker. He watched them with a smile and nod now and then.
“I believe no one’s too old to do something new,” he said.
The family chatter stilled. Everyone looked at pa. “Well, land’s sake, Marshal. What’s that all about?” Mattie said.
Another puff from the pipe rose towards the ceiling. He looked at each family member. “I’ve been hearing stories about a place called the Methow Valley. It’s not far, ’bout a hundred miles or so. I’m going to scout it out. If the stories are true, I’ll buy us a piece of land.” Marshal sat back and puffed on his pipe.
A log fell in the fire sending sparks flying.
Laurie found her voice first. “You can’t mean it, pa. I don’t want to change schools, leave my friends, and Nate.”
Effie stood. Her book clattered to the floor. “What about my wedding?”
Mattie’s surprise kept her silent.
Marshal surveyed his family. He bestowed a special look for his wife. “It’s okay, girls. I’m only exploring.” He watched Effie. “Besides, maybe Robert would want to go along, start his own practice.”
Effie stared at the fire. Her mind burned with anxious thoughts of her upcoming marriage and how Robert would take this news. Would her life end in a pile of ashes and charred remains? What is pa thinking?
“What about Hiram and John?” Effie asked.
“Well, Hiram won’t be able to leave Margaret with the baby on the way and he has a new client to represent in court. John is going with me.”
“It seems we are the last to know,” said Effie.
“Effie girl, I’m just going for a look-see. I promise it won’t interfere with your plans.”
The endearment gave her comfort and some of her anxiety slipped away.
Laurie calmed too, realizing they weren’t packing up and leaving the next day. Mattie shuffled her youngest off to bed. On her way out she kissed her husband lightly on the cheek. “You are always full of surprises.”
Marshal and Effie watched the embers. “Pa, something else bothers me. Robert’s been acting funny lately.”
Marshal stood and knocked the ashes out of his pipe into the fireplace. “He’s just getting skittish. Happens to all us men when that certain filly starts shortening the reins.”
Effie laughed, then frowned. “I’m not sure, pa.” She told him about Sunday at church and their talk in the meadow.
Marshal cupped Effie’s chin. “He has a lot on his mind. His father is demanding. I wouldn’t worry. The Gallston’s are good people. It’ll work out.”
The last crackling of the fire with it’s blue and orange haze lulled them. Marshal pushed a stray strand of hair from Effie’s face. “We’d better get to bed.”
Effie smiled. “Thanks, pa.”
“We love you, Effie girl. We’re right proud of you.”
Effie gave him a good night hug and kiss on the cheek and nearly skipped out, a burden lifted. By the time she got to her room the thought of sleep faded. The burden bore down again making her heart heavy and her spirit limp.
She sat on the edge of her bed and fingered the quilt she and ma had made. One of the few womanly chores she could perform. It was full of color, small squares of fabric sewn together like her life. Small incidents here and there that make up living and here she sat.
The cozy room enveloped her with her treasures. Books lined a shelf. A dresser sat against another wall with a tatted runner ma had made for a birthday and on that the comb and and brush set of grandmother’s. Effie’s whole being lived here. She looked at the picture of her and Blackie. “Grandpa,” she spoke to the picture. “Should I give up my love of horses for Robert? What about pa?”
Effie fell to her knees knowing she should pray, but burst into tears instead.