Look Out Don Quixote And Pauline.
Fear, stark and vivid made her heart pound double time!
The ground trembled beneath her quivering body.
Where is he?
Her perfect hero?
He had come to rescue her many times before but this time, she had her doubts. Sheer fright swept through her. No! Her fears were premature. He would come.
But then… could she be sure?
The answer was easy; all she had to do was will him and he’d be there. It was panic making her doubtful. Hurry!
Her hands and ankles tied securely made her painfully aware of the danger she was in. Turning her head, the cold rusted tracks bruised her neck. The shrill of a whistle caused her heart to turn to ice. The only other warning of the peril she was in was the puff of smoke appearing as the iron monster roared around the bend.
She tried to scream but her throat was as parched as an old leather bag. Her stomach knotted as her mind flirted with hope and fear. Eyes squeezed tight, she didn’t want to face death but moments later, she bravely opened them in one last display of courage. Sweat burned inside her lids clouding her vision. She blinked. Something was in the distance.
Her hero was coming!
A wave of relief swept through her as she watched with loving anxiety her hero riding atop the white stallion, Sea Foam. Both man and beast was magnificent racing alongside the train. The color of the clear blue sky seemed dull in comparison to the blue of his eyes. Angels
must have spun gold moonbeams for his hair and God had to be in a generous mood when he molded the clay to form her perfect hero. He had to be the handsomest man in the universe!
Hurry, her heart begged.
The ground convulsed. The horrible shrill of the whistle filled the air. Man and train were neck and neck. She nearly swooned with joy as the ropes began to loosen and her body being swept up into strong arms. The choking train sped by with a roar as she clung to her savior.
Cinders and choking dust whirled about her. She dared not open her eyes until the danger passed. When she thought it was safe, she looked into his smiling eyes that gleamed above a roguish smile. His blond hair fell around his strong, bronzed face.
“What took you so long?” she bristled.
“Well, ma’am,” he drawled and quirked a brow. “There were Indians and stampedin’ long horns, and, oh yes, a stage coach under attack by bandits along the way. Ya know bein’ a hero keeps me busy.”
She giggled. “Well, thank you my handsome hero.”
“My pleasure little princess,” his smooth voice did things to her equilibrium.
She blinked at his endearing comment, then fingering the Silver Star on his chest, she said, “I see you are a sheriff. Nice badge.”
Her hero frowned and corrected her, “Marshal, ma’am.”
“Oh, excuse me, Marshal,” she blushed slightly and closed her eyes, savoring the thrill of being in his strong arms.
“Bethany Ann Graham!”
“Mmmm,” she snuggled closer. “Yes?”
She blinked. “Huh?”
“Child, are you woolgathering again?”
Miss Campbell cracked the ruler against the desk.
Toni jumped her mind not yet back in the school room.
“You will stay after class again and every day until you start paying attention, young lady!”
She didn’t have to look to know all eyes were on her. Toni cast her gaze down and bit a thumbnail. “Yes, ma’am,” she muttered. She was intensely humiliated and she prayed the shame that filled her did not show on her face. But, horse dung! She was bored.
Miss Campbell sighed frustrated, and Toni knew it was because of her. Well, she cared not. And she cared even less that the teacher said that she was a problem child. Bah, she was only thirteen, and was the eldest of her classmates and she was also the smartest, when she put her mind to her lesson. A tomboy, through she constantly fantasized about a blond-god, she called her perfect hero. The man she claimed she would marry some day.
“Humph!” Miss Campbell whacked the ruler against her palm, still intimidating Toni with a cold glare.
“Children, you can go, Toni you stay!” The class snickered but her teacher ignored it.
“Au jeeze,” Toni pouted and slouched into her chair.
“Watch your mouth, young lady. And sit up straight!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Again, she’ll have to submit herself to the same old lecture.
As the classmates scrambled out, her teacher reminded them to study their times tables. This caused a round of moans and grumbles but it quickly turned into laughter and screams of relief once outside the little school house.
“Now, young lady.”
Miss Campbell fell into a chair and leaned back crossing her arms over her flat chest. Toni rolled her eyes. Oh, oh, here it comes.
“I want you to tell me what you were daydreaming about this time.” She spoke with a desperate firmness conveying her annoyance. Toni opened her mouth but Miss Campbell raised her hand to silence her and she sighed. “No, never mind! Your silly fantasies no longer interest me. Where do you get such impractical notions?”
Again Toni’s answer was stopped when the hand was raised, along with a shaking of her head. Miss Campbell blew angrily at a wisp of her mousy brown hair that had loosened from the knot at the base of her neck. Stubbornly, it fell back on her face and she swiped at it again. Toni got the feeling it was her that Miss Campbell wanted to smack and she pouted, wishing the teacher would make up her mind.
Miss Campbell emitted a loud sigh. “Does your sister know you read trashy ten cent novels? Probably not,” she answered her own query. “If you sister permitted this then Cynthia Graham wasn’t being a good role model. Or substitute mother for you, young Lady!”
Toni made no move to answer, it was one thing to reprimand her but her sister! That was another matter! What was the use, Miss Campbell wouldn’t give her a chance to speak. And, besides, she’d only dig herself in deeper if she defended her sibling. Miss Campbell sighed dramatically. You’d think she’d be out of steam by now, thought Toni.
“Your mother is probably turning over in her grave,” she continued her one sided conversation, making Toni groan inwardly. She would’ve liked to tell her teacher to leave her sister and her mother out of this, but again she knew that she was in enough hot water as it was. It was also on the tip of her tongue to tell her that they were Cynthia’s novels, but she didn’t want Miss Campbell to know that. Toni wouldn’t put it past the old maid to come to the farm and tell her pa the truth. Sucks, her dime novels were her only salvation.
“Well, I’m sending you home with a note to give to your sister. And see that she gets it or I’ll be paying your pa a visit.”
I thought so.
The irate teacher pushed herself to a standing position and groused, “Romance novel indeed! Hero’s bah!” The tensing of her jaw betrayed her deep frustrations. “There’s no such species as heroes riding white horses, saving damsels in distress; maybe in books but never in real life.” She shook her head and impatiently shuffled through some papers. “And, remember, your time tables.”
She didn’t look up so Toni secretly stuck out her tongue. I know them backward, so there! Her mouth tightened, she kept her words to herself and fought the impulse to tell the old spinster that if she had a man in her life, she might think differently. Old prune! A wave of Miss Campbell’s hand was a gesture of dismissal.
Toni took the short cut through the woods, grumbling to herself. “I may only be fourteen but I bet I know more about romance than that spinster Campbell. Bah! Oh, mama, I bet you’re not turning over in your grave because I’ve seen you read ten cent novel a few times. Maybe I should slip one on my teacher’s desk, spice up her life,” she grinned mischievously. Upon hearing laughter, coming from the direction of the pond she snapped back into the present. It would be a waste of a good romance novel to give it to Miss Campbell, she told herself.
Assuming the boys were taking their daily dip in the swimming hole a wicked smile lit up her face. A naughty notion had crossed her mind many times before, but fearing repercussions, she ignored the devil in her. Not today. As long as she was in hot water already she might as well make it worth her while. Those boys were always ogling and teasing her because she had developed before the other girls her age. Ha! She’d fix them.
Toni peeked over the foliage and scanned the area. Sure enough, there they were skinny dipping. Scrawny, pink fleshed little monsters, splashing and hooting with merriment. Tippy-toeing, she gathered all their belongings and clenched her jaw tight preventing her from giggling.
“Hey!” one, yelled, “look! Toni’s taking our clothes! Someone get her!”
She turned around to see Charles shouting. He stood a head over the other boys, bigger in the size department and smaller in the brains department.
“I’m not going after her in my birthday suit, you moron!” he yelled.
“Me neither,” cried another.
Now she was laughing. “Serves you right, you snot nose boys. Next time you’ll think twice about funning me.” She struck out her tongue. “Pffft.”
Charles started coming out of the water. “I’ll beat the friggin’ crap out of you, with or without my clothes!”
Oh, now she’s done it. Would he dare? Oops, he dared.
She turned to run, because she knew if he caught her he’d definitely hurt her. He was strong and older than the others. Dropping the clothes, Toni ran, not daring to look back in fear he was on her tail. So frightened her head was buzzing, but the sound was not in her skull but coming from above. She took a chance and glanced up spotting a bee hive. Quickly, she searched for a long branch and luckily she found the perfect weapon. A couple of swats and angry bees swarmed around just as Charles came up the trial.
Hurriedly, Toni dropped the branch and ran for dear life and she didn’t have to turn to see. His yelps and screams were enough to tell her he had run right into the angry insects. She laughed all the way out of the woods and into the dirt road, and then she sat on a large rock and closed her eyes to catch her breath.
“Tsk, tsk, shame on you little one,” a deep voice scolded.
“Oh! You startled me.” She shaded her eyes and looked up. “You saw me?”
Her hero sat atop his white stallion as it pranced and snorted. “You know I’m always watching you, you do have a way of getting into trouble. It wasn’t bad enough I had to rescue you again this afternoon, but you go and look for more mischief.”
He clucked his tongue at her again making Toni feel warm.
“I know I was wrong, but horse dung...err, feathers, they’re a pain in my, um, backside.”
Her hero chuckled. “Boys will be boys.”
She snorted. “Yeah, but ...” She shrugged. “I bet you were a perfect little boy.”
Sea Foam side stepped and snorted, nodding his head in compliance.
“See, your beautiful horse agrees with me.”
“Now you stay out of trouble, Toni.”
She opened her eyes. “Huh?”
“Are you woolgathering again?” asked her good friend Susan Cole pushing her glasses up nose. Susan folded her arms across her undeveloped chest with a stance any mother would give her naughty child, with a lecture forthcoming. “I waited for you but you disappeared, so I suspected you went through the woods. You know you’re not supposed to go in there. The boys are always skinny dipping after school.”
Her big eyes seemed to cross when she looked down her nose at Toni.
“Bah! They don’t own the pond,” she hissed. “Anyway, who cares about naked boys, they’re not much to look at.”
The glasses slide down the girl’s freckled nose again when she blinked, making Toni giggle.
“Yeah, I was there and Charles came after me. For a big kid his, um, his pee wee, is itsy bitsy.” She put her thumb and finger about an inch apart to demonstrate then held her side in a fit of cackling. Susan’s chin rested on her small chest. It took her friend some time to remember to close her mouth before she swallowed a fly. “You should have seen their faces when I swiped their clothes and....” Her voice ragged with humor, she didn’t think her friend could look more shocked.
“You didn’t?” Susan was astounded but then her lips began to tremble as if she was trying her darnest not to laugh, but she failed and burst out in giggles also.
Toni stood and wiped her teary eyes. “That’s not all,” she confessed in hysterics.
Susan raised her hand. “Please, I’d rather not know.”
“Okay, but it will put you in stitches.”
She pushed her glasses up, “Okay, spill it.”
After Toni told all, they laughed all the way to the fork in the road where they parted.
“Can’t wait until Monday!” Susan yelled over her shoulder.
“Yeah, me neither,” Toni fibbed. She was in deep horse dung!
Toni was in no hurry to get home, though she knew her big sister was waiting for her to help prepare supper. It would be a poor meal, mostly vegetable soup from the garden. Oh, well, some day she’d leave this place and....
A thunder clap broke into her thoughts making her hurry along. She prayed for rain to help her father’s lettuce crop grow. She just made it to the porch as the first large drop of rain fell on her head. The back screen door slammed. “How many times have I told you not to do that?” barked her sister.
Toni peeked into the pot her Cynthia was stirring and frowned, ignoring the question she had heard so often.
“How was your day?” asked Cynthia, poking Toni away from their supper. “It’s the same thing every afternoon. Door slamming, nose poking in the pot, but soon I’ll be married and things will be different.”
Toni received a scowl from her sister but she merely shrugged, and murmured, “The usual.” She turned to avoid her sister’s look of doubt.
Cynthia remained quiet, not wanting to discuss anything before supper, fearing they’d have another argument in front of their father. She was not willing to make him angrier; he never came in from the fields in a very good mood. She peeled potatoes and told Toni to scrape the carrots. They worked in silence which was uncharacteristic for her younger sibling. Toni, who normally chattered away like a magpie was silent and she suspected her sister was hiding something.
She loved her little sister, but the girl was a handful ever since their mother died. Cynthia looked at her chipped nails and hands red from doing manual labor in the house and out in the fields. The lettuce crop wasn’t good this year because of the drought and her father drank more and more. She sighed, anxious for her wedding day to arrive but she hated leaving Toni behind. Maybe things will be better since her in-laws were very wealthy. Surely, her future husband would help her pa and sister. It wasn’t easy being poor, but she believed things would get better and she thought, if only she could take her sister with her, but Toni had to stay with their pa. The young girl would survive; she was a strong minded female, maybe too stubborn.
After supper, Toni helped clean the dishes. Cynthia had a feeling her little sister was stalling and fretting about something, she seemed to be plying with her peas. Whatever it was Toni would wait until bedtime. Their father usually got sloshed after dinner, retire early and she would read the Bible, and then joined her sister in their room.
Toni handed Cynthia the letter after her sister undressed and combed out her hair. She was grateful that Cynthia brushed it a hundred times nightly; it gave her a slight reprieve.
Cynthia’s auburn brows pinched as she read Miss Campbell’s note. Toni sat on the edge of the bed watching her beautiful, older sibling pace the small room, digesting her teacher’s words. She envied Cynthia’s beauty. She was of medium height, and her figure was curving and regal. Her skin was milky in color and her hair was glowing, reddish brown that hung in long graceful curls over her slim shoulders. Her eyes were like turquoise stones and her facial bones were delicately carved; her mouth faintly rosy.
Cynthia’s exquisite looks only made Toni feel like an ugly duckling in comparison. Again, she hated the fact that, although thin, her breasts were budding faster than her sister’s and Cynthia was already eighteen. Toni wanted to bind them, hating the looks boys gave her and the sneering remarks of the girls.
It wasn’t her fault. Her pa said she’d probably take after her ma and someday have a figure that would drive men crazy. Well, she wanted to be like her sibling and didn’t care a wit what men liked. Pshew! She only wanted to please one man, her hero!
Cynthia stopped pacing and sat on the bed, her expression growing more serious by the minute. Toni smiled blandly at her glum-faced sister.
“Sweetheart, this daydreaming has to stop.” Cynthia’s finger touched her arm with gentle authority. “You’re not a child anymore and pretending all the time is unhealthy. You’ll be fifteen soon, a young lady and it’s time to act your age.”
“No buts, I had to beg pa to let you go to school. You’re very smart and learn your lessons easily, not like me. Do you want to work the fields like I do?”
“But isn’t a sentence! Look, sweetheart, I want better for you.”
“But….” Toni smothered a groan and overlooked Cynthia’s condescending remark even though her sister treated her like a child. She sighed dramatically, “Cindy, school bores me and I know all I need to know. Anyway, you not finishing school didn’t hinder your future. In six months you’re marrying a very wealthy rancher and moving away from this God forsaken land.”
Cynthia hugged her. “Aw, baby, it was just luck I met David Wojciechouski when he delivered some of his father’s horses to our neighbor, Jim Braid. It was only by chance I was at the ranch visiting my friend, Kathy that day.” She sighed, dreamily. “It was love at first sight. But dear, that’s a rare occurrence,” she commented firmly.
Toni bit her lip and looked away feeling uneasy. She wouldn’t… no couldn’t tell her sister she had a crush on her future brother-in-law; that he was her model for the hero. Yes, she envied Cynthia, the young lady had everything she wished and dreamed about. So Cynthia couldn’t see the guilty look on her face, she walked over to the window and peered out.
“I hate it here,” she said in a grudging tone, then swallowed hard and turned. “It’s boring. Everything in my life is boring.” She folded her arms across her chest and snorted, “Ma died trying to help pa with the farm. We’re nothing but sod busters, trying to grow a healthy crop of lettuce and for what! Rabbit food? We’re dirt poor, damn it all!”
She spat out the words bitterly and didn’t miss seeing her sister stiffen or see the annoyance cross Cynthia’s lovely features upon hearing her angry words. Now regretting her outcry, she turned back and pouted. “My fantasies keep me from going crazy. I have only them to live for.” Her words fogged up the window pane and she lazily drew a heart in the moisture. “Your romance novels take me away from reality and... Oh, horse poop! I’m going to be fifteen in two weeks,” she cried.
“Aw, honey, that’s just it, you’re not a baby no more and it is only make believe. You must live in the real world not fantasies. Look, if you promise not to sit in school woolgathering, I’ll not stop you from reading my books. What do you say?”
Toni sighed heavily. What choice was she given? Those books were her only salvation.
And she kept her promise.×
Toni Graham is a young girl with an active imagination who fantasizes about a blond, blue eyed hero saving her from the perils of life.
After her father’s death, a half-breed Indian known as Maverick, Horse with Spirit, escorts her on a treacherous journey to her sister’s ranch out west.
Toni stubbornly refuses to see the truth of what a “real” hero consists of. Even after Maverick nearly dies from knife wounds, (saving her from renegades,) snake bites, wild beasts, and other perils, she’s not swayed.
Many characters in this book have accents and or different speech patterns. The author has attempted to illustrate this phonically. These are not spelling errors.