Authors: Valley of Dreams
© 2011 by Lauraine Snelling
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ebook edition created 2011
Ebook corrections 5.22.2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Cover design by John Hamilton Design
To my friend Woodeene, who has pulled me out of the fire so often, especially, but not only, when my computer would eat a chapter. Computers mind for her, mastermind that she is. Besides that, she listens closely, gives wise advice as we wade through life’s many challenges, and makes me laugh when technology makes me cry. God gave us each other, and we live and share His unconditional love. To God be the glory.
Who am I, daughter of the wind,
The wind that brings rain,
The wind that brings life?
I am she who breathes deep of that wind,
Drinks until full of the rain,
Lives so that others
Yearn for the wind.
October 1, 1906
Dickinson, North Dakota
ust get through today,” Cassie told herself, as she did every October first.
As far as she could figure, hard work was the only antidote to the grief that threatened to paralyze her. So far, on this day that had started, as every day, before dawn, she had given her trick-riding pinto, Wind Dancer, a bath, brushed him dry, and made sure not one tangle remained in his black-and-white mane and tail. She had cleaned and polished his hooves and would have brushed his teeth, if that were possible.
Her tent on the grounds of the Lockwood and Talbot Wild West Show would meet military standards for order and cleanliness, the supplies in her trunk all folded or placed precisely. Her guns gleamed from polishing; no trace of gunpowder or dust would dare adhere to stocks or barrels. All were wrapped in cotton cloths and returned to their cases.
If George had allowed it, she would have scrubbed him too, but while the ancient buffalo bull enjoyed a good grooming, he didn’t care for bathing. Even Cassie knew better than to push her friend too far. Her dog, Othello, on the other hand, had been scrubbed to the point of nearly losing his wiry hair—and his dignity. While he stayed near her in the corral, he kept his head turned the other way.
It was only three o’clock. If there had been a show today, she could have handled the memories better. Digging into the grooming bucket, she pulled out a carrot and fed it to George. The crunching brought Othello over to sit by the bucket, hinting that he’d like one too but was too miffed to ask.
She broke a second carrot in half and fed part to the dog and the rest to Wind Dancer. Between the pinto and the buffalo, where no one else could see her, she let the tears that had been burning behind her eyes all day pour forth. Othello abandoned his resentment and came to sit at her feet as she cried into Wind Dancer’s mane. George snorted and shook his head but stayed right beside her, as he had ever since she bottle-fed him as a calf after his mother died.
Would the tears never cease? Such was the case every year, no matter how hard she fought to control her emotions. All the other performers had learned to leave her alone if they didn’t want to lose their head.
Her mother and father had both died on October first, five years apart. For Cassie Lockwood, at age ten, losing her mother had taken the light from her world, but when she was fifteen and her father died, her life nearly went with him. Each of the five years since, she had struggled through this day of memory, praying for peace and comfort, feeling that God had left her right along with her parents.
After what seemed like hours she wiped her tears on George’s dense coat and heaved a sigh that came clear up from her toes. She rubbed his favorite spot, right above his eye and onto his forehead, turned to Wind Dancer and did the same, then leaned down and ruffled Othello’s ears. “Maybe I should just give up and cry it out at the beginning of the day. You think it would be easier?”
George nudged her with his broad black nose, so she petted him some more too. Safe between her three animal friends, she wiped her eyes on her shirttail before tucking it back into the waistband of her britches. With her mother no longer around to force her into the niceties of womanhood, Cassie wore pants to work around the animals. As the star of the show with her trick riding and shooting, she pretty much did as she pleased, but when she entered the arena, she was all professional. Her mother and father, who headlined before her, had taught her well.
“Miss Cassie.” Micah—he never had given a last name—waited patiently for her outside the corral.
“I’ll be along soon.”
“You are all right now?” While slow of speech and movement, Micah had a way with animals that bordered on legendary.
“Yes, thank you.”
Or at least I soon will be.
“The supper bell rang.”
Really? I didn’t even hear it.
“Food will be gone soon.”
Cassie heaved another sigh and picked up her bucket. She gave each of her friends another pat and exited the corral out the swinging gate. Othello remained at her knee, and Micah fell into step beside her. He took the bucket and went to set it inside her tent before catching up with her again. Sometimes she wondered who was guarding whom. Years before, she had come upon two of the young roustabouts deviling him and lit into them like a swarm of bees. Micah had assigned himself to her service ever since, along with taking care of the show stock of Longhorn cattle, buffalo, and horses. He’d arrived one night, skinny and starving, and grew into the length of his feet, but while strong, he had a whipcord stature. He saved his rare smiles for Cassie and the animals.
Cassie thought a moment.
That rumbling in her belly was most likely hunger now that the pain of grief had retired to await another vulnerable time. “I guess. You know what’s for supper?”
“Smells like pork chops.”
Othello whined, so Micah dropped a hand down to the dog’s head. “I’ll save you my bones. Don’t worry.”
Cassie knew that Micah carried on more conversations with the animals than he did with humans, and she no longer let it bother her. Others were not so tolerant. Since Micah listened more than he talked, he usually knew what was happening in their confined world of travel and performing. October was usually the final month of the show season before they headed south to winter in warmer weather. When her father ran the show, they did enough gigs in the winter season to keep all of the cast and crew employed. Not so with Jason Talbot, her father’s former partner and Uncle Jason to her, an honorary title for the family friend she’d known all her life. He’d promised both her and her father that he would see to Cassie’s care as long as she needed him.
“Something strange going on.” Micah held back the flap for her to enter the cook tent ahead of him.
Cassie thought back as she returned greetings, making sure she smiled to let her friends know she was all right. When had she first sensed the feeling?
“You’re lookin’ better, honey,” Miz Mac, the seamstress and costume designer and keeper, said, concern darkening her fading blue eyes. She and her husband, Mac, had taken Cassie into their tent and hearts when her father died. Cassie had opted for a tent of her own when she turned eighteen, two years earlier. “We saved you a place.”
“Thank you. We’ll be right back. How’s the food?”
“John Henry is back.”
“Good thing.” Cassie grinned and headed for the serving line. John Henry had left the troupe to return home for a few days to bury his father. His second in command could make good soups, but the quality slipped on other entrees.
With their trays full, Cassie and her cohort made their way back to the table without incident, but several conversations had hushed as they passed. Folks always thought she belonged more on the management side, a slight cut above the performers. She’d never be able to disabuse them of that notion. She might call him
Jason, but he never shared business information with her, still thinking of her as that cute little pigtailed girl who used to sit on his knee. At least that was Cassie’s take on things.
Halfway through her meal, weariness rolled over her like a huge wave, leaving her foundering in the backwash. The conversation around her faded as she fought to stay awake. Two nights of little sleep had a tendency to do that to a person. She set the remainder of her plate on the ground for Othello, bid the others good-night, and headed for her tent. Tomorrow would be a show day, a better day for sure. Maybe her sense of apprehension was on high alert because she was so tired.