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The Coming Storm
By TRACIE PETERSON
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2004 Tracie Peterson
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Chapter OneMontana Territory January 1870
Dianne Chadwick gazed out across the valley from her favorite perch atop a hill on the Diamond V ranch. Gray clouds stretched across the skies from south to west, and biting cold winds whisked down from the mountains, announcing the coming storm. Uncle Bram promised it wouldn't be all that bad; how he knew, Dianne could never tell, but he seemed right more times than not. Perhaps it was the fact that Bram Vandyke had spent over twenty years in the wilds of this rugged, sometimes hostile, land. Perhaps it was because he listened to the intuitive nature of his wife, Koko, who happened to be half Blackfoot Indian.
No matter the reasoning, Dianne knew both Bram and Koko possessed a strong understanding of the land and the elements in Montana Territory. Dianne wished she could claim the same intimacy with the land, but like a suitor toying with her affections, Montana remained a mystery to Dianne in many ways.
The horse beneath her snorted and gave a toss of his head. He was a young stallion, one Dianne had been working with for the past few weeks. Fiercely independent and stubborn, the young horse had given her nothing but trouble. Still Dianne persevered. She saw something in this horse-signs of strength and quality-thatencouraged her hard work. But beyond that, Dianne felt the animal would one day be a good friend. She couldn't explain her thoughts, but ever since coming west on the Oregon Trail, Dianne had come to discover an affinity she had with animals, particularly horses.
When she looked at this black-really looked at him-she saw a long-term companion. Her uncle laughed at this idea. A stallion was much too temperamental for a woman, he'd say. Dianne would only smile at this.
"I'm much too temperamental as well," she murmured. "Aren't I, Jack?"
The black seemed to understand the question and pawed the dirt in a little dance of affirmation. Dianne laughed. She'd named him Jack after her mother's favorite Southern general, Stonewall Jackson. The name seemed appropriate for the horse. He emitted not only a powerful, striking nature, but a fearlessness that impressed most everyone who'd dealt with him.
He reminded Dianne of Cole Selby, the man she loved. The man from whom she'd been separated now for much too long. Cole had decided, after much prayer, to remain in Topeka for at least a year. He'd gone to Kansas to see his parents and to try to straighten out their difficult past. Dianne had encouraged him and understood the need for him to make the trip; however, Cole's decision to stay on and help his father establish a farm had been difficult for Dianne to endure. Part of her was fiercely proud of her husband-to-be. She knew his actions revealed his faith that God could heal the bitterness of the past. Yet she longed for his presence.
"He'll be home this summer," she told herself.
Just across the valley the heavy slate gray clouds pressed in. "Come on, Jack. We'd best head back. That snow will be here before we know it."
Dianne maneuvered Jack back to the trail and sighed. It was only January, and it would be at least June before she saw Cole again. Determined to push aside her loneliness, Dianne tried to focus on the many blessings she had at hand.
Koko, who'd become such a dear friend, was expecting her second child, though the pregnancy had not gone as well as it had when she'd carried little James. The boy, now a rambunctious two-year-old, held a very special place in Dianne's heart. She fulfilled her longing to be a mother by giving her love to Jamie.
"My day will come," she reminded herself aloud. "It's all about God's timing."
But God's timing was sometimes so hard to wait for. At twenty-two, Dianne found her patience weakened by letters from friends back in Missouri. Her girlfriends were married and happily settled in homes of their own. They wrote about the blessings of their new lives-of plans for large families. It cut Dianne deeply, while at the same time she rejoiced for them.
"I just need to keep myself busy," Dianne murmured. "That's the secret to enduring loneliness."
As she neared their cabin, Dianne was surprised to find Uncle Bram rushing out to greet her. "It's Koko. She's having the baby."
"But it's too early," Dianne said, kicking her boots out of the stirrups. She slid down Jack's muscular side as Bram took hold of his reins.
"I know. I think something's wrong," he said, the worry contorting Iris expression.
"Will you see to Jack?" This bear of a man, who would think nothing of staring down a cantankerous bull or dealing with a rattlesnake, appeared terrified by the prospect of what might come.
"Of course. Just help her," he said. "I can't lose her."
Dianne knew Bram had been very concerned ever since Koko had taken sick with a cold just after the new year began. The cold had gradually worsened, and Dianne herself was worried that perhaps Koko's sickness had developed into pneumonia. The last few days the poor woman had struggled with a deep, painful cough and a tightness in her chest that left her breathless.
"Maybe the coughing has brought things on," Dianne suggested.
Bram's brow wrinkled. "She's just so weak. I hate to see her like this."
Dianne squeezed his arm. "It's not the best thing for the baby to come early, but these things can't always be helped." By Koko's calculations, the baby wasn't due for another four or five weeks. Dianne could only pray the baby would settle down and wait out the time. The frontier was hard enough on children. "I'll see what I can do for her."
Dianne couldn't help but remember the little sisters she'd lost on the wagon trail coming west. Ardith was only ten when she was swept away in a flood-swollen river. Betsy was six when a mule kicked her in the head, killing her instantly. The losses were hard for Dianne to bear. Hard, too, for their pregnant mother, who died later that same year, taking the unborn Chadwick sibling with her. That left Dianne only her older brothers: Trenton, whom she hadn't heard from in years, and the twins, Morgan and Zane. Zane was nearby, living the life of a frontier army soldier, while Morgan remained at the ranch.
Dianne made her way to the house, lost in thought. Morgan wouldn't stay on for long. Over the last few months he'd taken to going off for days, sometimes weeks, by himself. He'd heard about some caves to the northwest and had gone to explore them. Before that, he'd traveled to the Yellowstone River country, anxious to see some of the wonders he'd heard about. He'd been turned back by hostile Indians, barely escaping death at one point. No, it wouldn't be long before Morgan left for good.
The cabin was deathly quiet. Dianne threw off her coat and gloves and made her way quickly to her aunt and uncle's room.
Dimly lit by a single lamp, the room portrayed ominous shadows as Dianne moved to Koko's bedside.
"The baby's coming ... early," Koko said, her upper lip beaded with sweat in spite of the chill in the house. She said no more, as a wracking cough overtook her. Dianne went to her and helped Koko sit up until the cough subsided. Pain marred the pretty woman's features, but Dianne wasn't sure if it was from the contractions or the pneumonia.
Regaining her ability to speak, Koko leaned back wearily. "It started a couple hours ago, but I thought it would pass. Now I know it's too late. I can feel the baby coming."
"I'll get the fire going." Dianne looked around the room. "Where's Jamie?"
"Morgan took him to help get the milk cows into the barn."
"Good. That will keep him occupied for at least a short time," Dianne said as she went about the room gathering some of the things they'd need for the delivery. "You just rest as well as you can. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Dianne remembered from when Jamie had come into the world that birthing generally took hours. She calmed her hurried steps, reminding herself that her anxiety would do nothing to help Koko.
"How is she?" Bram asked as he burst into the house.
"She's feverish and seems very weak," Dianne admitted.
"She hasn't slept well in days. The sickness, you know."
"I know. She was telling me that just yesterday." Dianne held back from saying anything more. She didn't want to unduly worry her uncle. Koko's failure to improve had concerned Dianne so much she'd thought of riding to Virginia City or Ennis for a doctor-but she wasn't sure anyone would make the trip for a woman who was part Indian.
Koko gave an uncharacteristic scream, sending both Dianne and Bram rushing to the bedroom.
"It's the baby-now!" Koko cried. Coughing again overwhelmed her. She doubled up on her side and made a gasping, wheezing sound as she tried to clear her lungs.
Dianne turned to Bram. "This is much quicker than expected. Bring me some of the heated water from the stove." She then turned to Koko. "Don't worry. Everything will be all right"'
Dianne rolled up her sleeves and checked on the baby's progress. Sure enough, the head was already crowning. A few pushes and this baby would be born.
There was no time for panic or worry. Dianne gently guided the infant's small head as Koko bore down to push the baby from her body. A tiny, squalling girl emerged. Dianne thought the baby seemed quite mad about the interruption to her warm, quiet existence.
Laughing, Dianne cut the cord just as Bram returned with the water. "Congratulations, Papa. It's a girl."
"Sounds like a girl" Bram teased. "She's already caterwauling about something."
Dianne laughed and worked quickly to clean the baby and get her wrapped warmly. The little girl was half the size Jamie had been at birth. She probably weighed no more than three or four pounds.
Bram remained at his wife's side. "You did a fine job, Koko. I'm so very proud."
Dianne glanced up to see Koko offer a hint of a smile. "She's our little Susannah," Koko replied.
Dianne started at this. "You're naming her after Mother?"
Bram nodded. "We decided if it was a girl, we'd name her after my sister and Koko's mother. The baby will be called Susannah Sinopa."
Dianne brought the baby to her mother. "What a pretty name. Sinopa means fox, right? Perhaps she'll be wily and graceful like a fox." She placed the infant in Koko's arms and pushed back a strand of hair that had come undone from Koko's braid.
"Susannah seems much too long for such a little one." She gently touched her finger to the baby's cheek.
"I'm bettin' she'll grow into it," Bram said, smiling.
"You could always call her Suzy," Dianne suggested. "At least while she's little. Jamie and Suzy sound good together." She smiled in admiration for the little family.
After tending to Koko, Dianne built a fire in the bedroom fireplace. The baby seemed unable to maintain her body temperature, so Bram suggested they heat the room well and move the bed closer to the fire. Morgan arrived to help with the move, and Jamie got his first view of his new baby sister.
"She's too little," he said firmly. "I want a bigger one." Jamie, who'd spoken with a great vocabulary since his first words, was not shy about sharing his opinion. Nearing three years of age, he appeared to be quite the authority on such matters.
They all laughed as Bram scooped up his son. "She's just the right size. If she were bigger, you wouldn't be able to look out for her as well. We're going to need you to help us keep little Susannah safe from harm. You'll help, won't you, son?"
Jamie nodded solemnly. "I help."
"Good boy. I knew we could count on you."
"If she ... if she ... gets bigger," Jamie chanted, "we can play."
"That's true," his father agreed. "But this is how God sent her to us, and God always knows best, right?"
Jamie looked at his sister and then at his father. "I talk ... I talk to God. He can ... make her bigger."
They all laughed at this. Dianne moved across the room to ruffle her nephew's hair. "I think it would be just fine to pray that, Jamie. We want Susannah to grow bigger and stronger every day. I think it would be perfect if you would pray for your sister and ask God to make her bigger."
Jamie seemed delighted by this news and despite Koko's illness and the early delivery, the household in general was joyous in the celebration of this new life.
As evening came on, however, the wind picked up with a ferocity that surprised everyone. The howling sound was enough to put everyone's nerves on edge, but as the temperature continued to drop, Dianne worried about the baby's ability to stay warm.
She worried, too, about Koko, who showed no signs of recovery. Every time Koko tried to put Susannah to her breast, the poor baby was interrupted by the coughing. She'd had far too little nourishment today. If she wasn't able to adequately feed the baby soon, Dianne feared the child wouldn't thrive.
Dianne glanced out the kitchen window, praying it wouldn't snow. There was just so much to worry about all at once. Uncle Bram had been confident the storm wouldn't be that bad. Still, Dianne knew he worried about his stock. Would they be all right? Would a sudden blizzard come up and threaten them all?
Bram had already arranged for some of the hands to bring in extra firewood. Dianne knew they'd have to conserve fuel in case things remained unusually harsh. She had the fire in Koko's bedroom stoked but otherwise had limited the rest of the house. She had a nice blaze going in the kitchen stove, which was why she hadn't yet retired to her own bedroom. No doubt it would be very cold in that part of the house, but Koko had made her a fine buffalo cover. Dianne knew once she was buried under its warmth she'd sleep quite comfortably no matter how low the temperature dropped.
She yawned and pulled away from the window. It was times like these when she really missed Cole. She worried because she couldn't remember the sound of his voice. Did that mean she didn't love him as deeply as she believed? Wouldn't true love always remember the tiniest of details?
She could still see his face-every line and feature. She imagined his windblown hair and his lopsided grin.
Dianne felt despair wash over her. "So why can't I remember his voice?"
Just then Bram came in from checking on the livestock. "Everything out there seems to be just fine. How about in here?" he asked, stuffing his gloves into his coat pockets.
"They're both sleeping. I gave Koko some tea mixed with the herbs she suggested. It eased her cough and allowed her to nurse Susannah just a bit." She hesitated but knew she couldn't lie to her uncle. "I'm worried about them both. Susannah won't thrive if Koko can't nurse her. And Koko's sickness continues to weaken her."
Bram nodded solemnly. "I know."
Dianne saw the worry in his expression.
Excerpted from The Coming Storm by TRACIE PETERSON Copyright © 2004 by Tracie Peterson. Excerpted by permission.
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