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Authors: Caryl Mcadoo

Vow Unbroken

BOOK: Vow Unbroken
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Without my beloved, humble, and supportive husband of forty-five years, this story would certainly never have been penned. So much more than my inspiration and encourager, Ron completes me and makes me whole. He leads me and is devoted to our triune relationship with Father God through His Son. Thank you, sweetheart. I love you more than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

And to all the handmaidens of the Lord who have made and kept their vows—God has not forgotten you. He loves you deeply and rejoices over you with singing. Hold fast to your vision and do not give up, not ever, for He is your faithful Father whose Word never returns void, but always accomplishes its purpose, His good plan for you.

For You, O God, have heard my vows; You have given
me
the heritage of those who fear Your name.

Psalm 61:5 NKJV

CHAPTER

ONE

H
E TOOK THE PINCH OF
cotton Sue offered and rubbed it between his short, pudgy fingers. “I'm truly sorry, Mis'ess Baylor. Two cents is all I can pay.”

She seethed but forced at least a show of civility. “Mister Littlejohn.” She spoke in a stiff staccato. “A week ago. Before everyone left. You promised three and a half to four cents a pound! You said depending on the quality. That is the main reason. The biggest reason. That I didn't go with the others.”

The man smiled. “Oh, I might have said two and a half or maybe even three, but things change. You know that.”

She couldn't stand being talked down to, especially by such a lying loafer.

“I wish I could help you, but two cents it is. I mean, besides, anyone can see.” He held the sample up. “It's shoddy lint.” He shook his head. “Pardon me for saying, Mis'ess Baylor, but a granger you are not.”

“Anyone can see its excellent quality, you mean.”

A bit of breeze, a very little bit, stirred the top layer of dust from the street; it cooled her skin, but her insides still steamed.

He stuck out his bottom lip. “I'd advise you to take my offer. I can pay half now, the rest when I return.”

Sue studied his face while a hundred calculations ran through her mind. He certainly didn't look like the weasel he'd turned out to be. Her cotton was as good as, if not better than, any of the loads that left last Thursday. She reached up and massaged her neck, then lifted her braid to let some air dry her sweat.

She glanced over at her wagons. Levi had Becky laughing hard. The children would be so disappointed. Maybe if—

No. She would not allow this thief to take advantage of her family. How could he even think to? The loathsome, immoral oaf! She'd worked too hard getting her crop in. Everyone had, even her nine-year-old, Becky. Why, at two cents, she'd hardly realize any profit after the extra seed and what she paid the pickers.

She squared her shoulders and, determined anew, faced him again. “I'll accept three and a half cents per pound. All cash. Not a fraction less.”

“Two cents, ma'am. Half now, half when I get back.” He jingled the coins in his vest pocket.

Perspiration trickled down to the small of her back. The sun, though its climb had barely begun, already shone bright on the eastern horizon and heated the mid-September air so that every breath scorched her throat. Much like Jack Littlejohn, it offered no mercy. And like the air, her throat held no moisture, though she needed to swallow.

“You're wasting my time. Good day, Mister Littlejohn.” She whirled and headed toward her wagons. Her face burned, and she knew full well that it had turned red. How dare that man! A grubby hand grabbed her arm and, whirling her around, jerked
her to an abrupt stop. She yanked away from his grasp and glared; she wished the fire inside her would somehow leap forward and set the despicable excuse of a human being ablaze.

“Keep your cheating hands off me.”

He almost looked apologetic. “Be reasonable, Mis'ess Baylor. Two cents is a right fair price. Besides, who else you going to sell to?”

She swatted at a fly buzzing about and adjusted her hat, never taking her eyes from the man's. “I'll burn my cotton before I sell it to the likes of you.” She stopped next to her first wagon and faced the second one. “Levi, we're going.”

“But, Aunt Sue—”

Doing everything in her power to keep from bursting into angry tears, she glared. Never, never, never would she give that horrible man the satisfaction of seeing her lose control. She kept her voice calm and steady. “Levi, now!”

“Yes, ma'am.”

She climbed aboard and probably struck the reins against her mules' backs a bit too forcefully. The poor animals hadn't lied to her. She made a point to sound sweet. “Get up, now, Dex.” She clucked. “Hey, now, Daisy.”

She wanted to scream, but held it all in.

The wooden wheels creaked under the load. Metal clanged against metal. The harnesses strained as the four animals snorted and urged the two wagons, heavy with all her hopes and dreams, into motion. Plans had been to camp out, spend a night under the Texas stars in the heart of the small community she called home. Plans had been to order the children a pair of new shoes each and a bolt or two of fabric for some new clothes. But as she knew all too well, plans often changed.

One more time. Why did this keep happening? One more
time a man had tried to take advantage of her, bilk her because she was alone. Her father the judge would tell her that she should have insisted on a contract, or at least a deposit; she had absolutely no legal recourse against the charlatan. Should have paid to have it hauled like last year, but no. Well, that wasn't an option now. How glad she was that her daddy lived so far away and would never know about her stupidity. She'd disappointed him enough for one lifetime.

What could she do now? She had to sell the crop. It represented all her savings, and if she didn't get a fair price, she'd have to sell off some of her land—her husband's and his brother's legacy to the children. That no-good Littlejohn! Why had she taken him at his word?

She closed her eyes a moment and whispered, “Help me, Lord.”

God willing, maybe she could catch up to the cotton train, then make the trip with the Foglesongs and Howletts and the rest. Maybe only two wagons could travel farther each day; start earlier of a morning, and stay after it until dark. Those Jefferson buyers were big guns, too; paid in gold coin on the barrelhead.

Ideas and options raced through her mind as she steered the team out of the Sulphur Fork Prairie settlement toward her farm four or five miles south. A few she dismissed as crazy. Her blood still boiled. What a waste; all that way for nothing.

“Ooooogh!” She was glad her daughter was riding with Levi and didn't witness her outburst.

She simply had to get her cotton to Jefferson, and do it before the rains set in. The question was, Could she go alone? Levi would certainly be a help, but could he pull enough weight? Be responsible for such a long hard haul? Her nephew was a good boy and strong for fourteen, but— Who? Who else
could she ask? The answer came like a bolt of lightning—Elaine!

She'd see if her best friend would go. Larry could look after their kids. The baby had turned four her last birthday, and the oldest girl was sixteen. He shouldn't mind all that much. Pulling to the right, she waved the reins on the mules' backs again and turned toward the Dawsons' place.

Anyway, the unexpected visit would bless the whole bunch, even Levi and Becky. They'd love having the children to play with for a while. That would give her the opportunity to propose her plan. She stopped the team on the shady side of the barn and climbed down. She went back to help her daughter off the second wagon before heading to the house.

“Mama, I'm not a baby.” Becky thrust her fists on her hips and frowned. “I can get down by myself.”

“Fine, little girl, but you had better watch your tone.”

Joseph, one of the middle Dawson boys, ran out. “Mama, Mama! Miss Sue's here with Becky and Levi!”

A passel of children came from several directions, and laughter and greetings were shouted all around. Her friend waited on the porch, smiling. Sue so admired Elaine's wisdom and appreciated her advice. As long as she'd known her, Elaine Dawson had never jumped into anything or made one snap decision. Instead, everything she did, every move, had been well thought out.

Sue wished she could be more like that. She needed Elaine's cool head now. Her friend would just have to agree to help. Besides, with her along, the journey would even be fun. Once seated on the porch, with tea served and the children playing, Sue explained her predicament and asked Elaine to go with her.

“Are you crazy, Susannah Baylor?”

“No, I am not. You tell me, what choice do I have?” Sue hated the desperation dripping from her words. She sipped the tea Elaine had poured and watched the children playing, her mind spinning. How could she talk her friend into it? She'd used almost everything she could think of, but not one argument she'd offered had budged Elaine.

Finally, Sue surrendered. “Oh, fine, then. If you won't go and help me, what do you think about Rebecca staying here? The trace would be so hard on her. The round trip is liable to take me a month or better.”

Elaine shook her head. “You simply cannot go. Listen to me! You and Levi cannot do this alone.” She leaned forward and held Sue's eyes. “Now pay attention. It's too dangerous. Anything could happen. There's the Indians, thieves, and wild animals; the wagons or mules might break down. You'll have the Sulphur River to cross, not to mention the White Oak Creek bottoms. What if you got stuck? What would you do then?”

“How about Larry going? I wouldn't ask, but—”

“Please don't, honey. You know he's got way too much to do around here to be gone a month. We've already bought wheat seed, and our fields need a lot of work before they're ready to plant.”

“Maybe I could hire someone in Cuthand, before I have to cross the river.”

“And you'd leave on that possibility. Come on, Sue.” Her friend's eyebrows both went up, and her eyes, troubled only moments ago, suddenly sparkled. “I know! What about Henry Buckmeyer? I'm pretty certain he's still around.”

“That layabout heathen?”

“No, wait a minute. You shouldn't judge him on the gossip.
I've known his mother for years, and she's a wonderful Christian woman. Everyone speaks highly of her. I can't imagine she didn't raise her son in the faith. He could be the perfect one to help you.”

“So what if his mother's a Christian? You'd really suggest I spend a month on the trace with a single man? What about abstaining from all appearances of evil?”

BOOK: Vow Unbroken
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