Dick walked confidently up the porch and knocked on the ranch door.
While some may have called him arrogant, those who knew him called him anything but that.
Life had been hard on 21 year old Dick, who was the eldest of the three Leslie children.
His mother had died on the way to Oregon and his father had died 2 years later in an accident, leaving him responsible for his two younger siblings. But Dick never gave up. He had learned ranching and traveled around with his two younger siblings working at different ranches all throughout Oregon and California.
With the money he earned he was able to provide for his siblings and, carefully saving, he had scraped together enough money to send his younger brother Clarence to college. His sister Abigail Grace stayed with him and went to school for snatches here and there when Dick was able to find steady work for a few months.
He was a handsome young man, with unruly, curly black hair, a quick and ready smile, blue eyes that seemed to sparkle all the time, broad shoulders and a strongly built frame.
Dick also had the strength of character and faith in God's word, the Bible, that is truly rare in young men his age. He had a confident and determined personality that dared anyone to stand in his way.
It was a beautiful, spring Saturday. Dick walked around the porch while waiting for someone to come to the door. This ranch was nothing like the ranches he had worked on before. The tall, two-story hacienda-style house was more grand than anything he had seen, The large wrap-around porch provided an excellent view of the sunrises and sunsets, there was a large barn that stabled a large number of well-groomed horses, and the fences went on for miles and miles, while the hills within them boasted numerous heads of well fed cattle.
Justin who was at home for the day opened the door. “May I help you, sir?” he asked.
“Hi, my name’s Dick. I'm looking for a job, and the sheriff in Fresno said this might be a good place to get one.”
“Well, I don't really handle the ranch matters. My brother Chad handles it and he’s out on the range. Why don't you come inside and wait. They'll be home in about a half an hour for lunch.”
Just then, Andi bounded down the stairs. ”Are you ready for our ride to town yet, Justi-- Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize anyone else was here.”
“Andi , this is Dick. He's looking for a job, I thought he could stay for lunch and talk to Chad.”
“Nice to meet you.” Dick tipped his hat toward her and smiled. “You remind me of my sister, Abby Grace. She's always impatient to get going somewhere.”
Justin laughed. “That's Andi alright! Why don't you come in the parlor and we can talk. Mother and Melinda will be there as well. Andi , why don't we wait until Chad and Mitch get here and then you and I can pack a picnic lunch and eat it while we're riding to town?”
Andi grinned. “That would be great! I'll go ask Nila to make us some sandwiches, then I'll go saddle Taffy and Thunderbolt.”
“Andi , you can go ask about the sandwiches but don't go outside alone. I want you to wait till I am ready to go with you before you go out. There are rumors that Hugh Baker escaped from jail and is back in this area so I don't want you to go out alone. Alright?”
Andi sighed “Alright, Justin.” Andi quickly went to the kitchen and asked Nila to make the sandwiches. That being finished, she went and sat in the music room and stared out the window. Just then, she saw Mitch ride up, tie his horse to the hitching post, and walk toward the house. Andi ran to the door. “Mitch, what are you doing back?”
Mitch grinned. “I came back for lunch. What did you think?”
“But you’re early.”
“Only about 15 minutes.”
Mitch laughed. “Aren't you happy to see me? I thought you'd rather see me then 'bossy Chad' as you call him.”
“I'm happy to see you. I just wondered where Chad was.”
“He'll be here in a little while,” Mitch replied.
“Say, Mitch, since you got back early, can you come outside with me to saddle Taffy and Thunderbolt? Justin said there are rumors that Hugh Baker has escaped from jail and is in this area so he doesn’t want me to go outside alone.”
“Sure. Are you and Justin planning on going somewhere?” Mitch asked.
“We're going to town, but we're going to go on a picnic first!”
Mitch opened the door. “Let's go! Why don't you saddle Taffy and I can saddle Thunderbolt? We'll get it done faster that way.”
“Sure.” Andi agreed, “By the way, there is someone named Dick here. He wants to talk to Chad about being hired as a ranch hand. Justin told him you would talk it over at lunch.”
“Well, I'll be sure to tell you how it goes. Oh, have you heard that Johnny is coming back from Military school?”
“No, I haven't. When will he be back? I sure hope he stays away from me!”
Mitch pulled her braid affectionately. “Don't worry. I'll make sure He stays away from my Little Sis.”
Andi grinned. “Don't tease me. That's Chad's privilege and he isn't here.”
Mitch turned serious. “I mean it, Andi. I will never put anything past him after he stole a kiss against your will.”
Andi 's face flushed. “Don't remind me! I was hoping to forget about the incident.”
“Something like that you won't forget, Andi. Just try to forgive Johnny. Then don't let it bother you anymore.”
Andi nodded then suddenly stiffened.
“What is it?” Mitch asked, concern evident in his voice.
“Mitch, I think I just saw Hugh Baker!”
Mitch's eyes became alert searching every corner of the barn.
“Are you sure it was him, Andi? I don't see anyone.”
“Well, I don't see him now. Maybe I imagined it. This whole thing about Hugh Baker being back in town is giving me the creeps.”
“How about we go back inside and see if cook has the sandwiches ready. Chad should be back before long and you and Justin should be ready to go.”
“Sure. You go ahead. I'll be in in a minute.”
Mitch smiled knowingly. “Going to talk to Taffy about your problems?” When Andi nodded, he winked at her. “Alright. Chad should be back soon so you won’t be alone long.”
As Mitch left, Andi began to talk to Taffy about Johnny returning and the rumors that Hugh Baker was back in town. “And I really think I saw him just a minute ago, Taffy.”
Taffy snorted and stomped her hoof.
Just then, she heard a footstep behind her. Whirling around, she looked into the face of Hugh Baker and a colt 44. revolver.
“What do you want?” Andi asked, praying her voice didn't shake.
Hugh laughed a sickly sweet laugh. “ I decided I needed to have a little chat with the people who got me put in jail. You and your brother especially.”
Andi 's temper flared. “You cared about no one other than yourself!”
Hugh's smile came off his face, replaced with a sneer. He reached out to grab her arm. “Listen here, missy. I will get you and your brother one way or another. I thought you’d both made it real easy on me when I saw you were out here together and alone. But then that other brother of yours rode up. So I hid and when I came back just you were here.”
Andi, still struggling, exclaimed, “You leave my brother alone. Justin's coming out soon and he'll take care of you!” The moment the words left her mouth Andi wished she had held her tongue.
“You have way too many brothers,” Hugh muttered in disgust. “Listen, you just make sure you're with your brother tomorrow when he checks the fence in the far south-east pasture.”
Andi gave him a startled look. “How do you know what Mitch is doing tomorrow?
Hugh gave an evil chuckle. “Let's just say I've been in the area for a while and I’m good at eavesdropping. It's just a little something I overheard Chad telling him to do it.”
“Let-me—Go!” Andi exclaimed, still struggling.
'I'll let you go. Just don't forget about tomorrow and don't say a word to anyone or you’ll be sorry.”
Just then the door of the house slammed and Justin began walking toward the barn.”
“Just remember.” Hugh said releasing her, then he was gone.
“Ready for our ride, Andi? I've got the sandwiches.”
“Andi ? What's wrong? Why is your arm red? Are you hurt?” Justin deposited the sandwiches in Thunderheads saddle bags, then walked over to Andi .
“Oh, I'm fine, Justin.” Andi answered, quickly mounting Taffy before Justin got a good look at her arm. “Let's go.”
“You don't sound too good. We can take our ride another day. The work at my office will wait,” Justin said, giving Andi a concerned look.
“No, no. Let's still go today.”
Reluctantly, Justin mounted Thunderbolt and they galloped down the lane.
All through the day with Justin, Andi worried about what to do.
Justin noticed the difference and hurried through his business in town so they could get back to the ranch. After they had brushed down the horses and put the tack away, Justin turned to Andi, “Okay. I know something’s wrong. What is it?”
Andi fidgeted with her braids. “It's nothing, Justin. I'm fine.” Well, not exactly lying, Andi thought. I haven't been hurt and I am still fine.
“Andi, honey, I want to help you but I can't' do anything if you don't tell me what's wrong.”
Andi rolled her eyes. Justin knew all the tricks of getting people to talk, but they wouldn't work with her. “I'm fine. Just tired and I don't feel well.” She brushed past him and walked toward the house.
Justin sighed, closed the barn door and followed her into the house.
As she entered the ranch, Andi walked up to her room and sat on her bed. The day had looked so beautiful a few hours ago. What would keep Mitch home tomorrow?
She shuddered at the thought of what he might do to her if they didn't show up the following day. As she walked out of her room and down the stairs, Andi overheard the conversation in the parlor.
“I don't know what's wrong with her and she won't talk to me.” Justin sounded exasperated.
“She was fine with me earlier today. But, come to think of it, she did think she saw Hugh, ” Mitch said.
“Well, you can be guaranteed that if something has happened, Andi is in the middle of it,” Chad’s voice chimed in.
Andi walked into the parlor where they sat talking. “I heard what you were discussing. I guess I really should tell you, even though he told me not to.” Starting at the beginning, Andi told them everything that had happened since Mitch left her in the barn.
Chad's face clouded over and Andi knew he was angry. “How dare he lay a hand on you!” he exclaimed. “Let me see your arm, Andi.”
“No, It'll be fine.”
“Andi , let Chad see your arm,” Justin said in a quiet voice.
Andi lifted her sleeve up and held out her arm. “Just please be careful.” She winced as he touched it. “It hurts a lot.”
Chad's face turned livid as he inspected her arm. “How dare any man do this to my sister!” he exclaimed. “Well, by the time I'm through with him he'll wish he never saw Andi !”
“No, Chad. You can't let him know I told you or he'll do something dreadful to me,” Andi whispered.
“So, he threatened you also?” asked Mitch.
“We need to come up with a plan,” said Justin. “Something where nobody will get hurt, but where we are able to catch Hugh unarmed. Or, at the very least, be able to disarm him.”
At the supper table they talked about it with Mother. They still hadn't reached a decision when it was time for Andi to go to bed. "We'll tell you what we've decided in the morning," Mitch told her. "Oh, and by the way, we hired Dick as a ranch hand. He has a sister your age. You'll be able to meet her at church tomorrow."
Andi grinned. "That sounds fun! Goodnight."
Sunday was another beautiful spring day. Andi hurriedly dressed and rushed down the stairs, anxious to hear what her brothers had planned for Hugh after church. As she got to the bottom of the stairs, the breakfast bell rang. She entered the dining room and took her seat. Her mouth watered. Eggs, bacon, flapjacks and orange juice. One of her favorite breakfasts.
As she started eating, Justin turned to her. “So, do you want to hear what we came up with last night?”
“We decided to have you and Mitch go like he wanted. We are going to surround the pasture but be far enough away to be out of sight. Anything that happens will be visible to Chad, the ranch hands and me. Chad and I will stay within shooting range so, if he does anything desperate, you and Mitch won't be on your own. Mitch will wear his gun in his holster, as usual but he will also wear one inside his vest..”
“That sounds like it will work. I'm going to be so nervous until all this is over.”
Mitch nodded. “Same here. But it's time to go to church so we'd better all get into the buggy.”
As Andi left the dining room, Mother pulled her aside and gave her a hug. “I don't like this at all, Andrea. I wish there was another way. I'll be praying for you this afternoon.”
Andi returned her mother's hug. “Thanks, Mother.”
As Andi and her family entered the church, Andi noticed that Dick, Chad's new ranch hand, was there as well as a girl her age. She also noticed that Johnny was back. When church was finished, Andi hurried over to where Dick and his sister were seated.
Dick looked up as she walked over and grinned. “Hey, Andi. It's good to see you again. This is my sister, Gail.”
“It's good to meet you!” Andi exclaimed. “It'll be so fun to have you at the ranch!”
Gail smiled shyly. “Hi, Andi, it's great to meet you. Dick says you remind him of me.”
“That's right. Andi and my little Abby Grace will get along well,” Dick smiled.
Gail rolled her eyes. “He insists on calling me that because he knows I hate it. My full name is Abigail Grace but it's too fancy for me.”
Andi laughed. “My full name is Andrea Rose, but it's too fancy for me too!”
Just then Johnny walked up. “Hey, Andi. It's good to see you again.”
Andi regarded him with a stony stare. “It's nice to see you back. How was Military school ?”
“Not too great. It was alright. Well, I'll see you later today. Bye, Gail, Dick.”
Andi stared after him, then turned to Dick and Gail. “ How do you know Johnny?”
“He's been my only friend since we came to Fresno. And he’s been a lot of help to Dick,” Gail explained.
“What? Johnny? You must be mistaken. He’s a bully! ”
Gail looked startled. “ No, he’s not. He's also going to help us move later today.”
“It's time to go, Andi. Dick and Gail will come to the ranch this afternoon. Dick is going to help us later on.” Chad said, coming up behind her.
Andi nodded. “Bye Gail, see you later.”
When they got back, they had a hurried lunch, then Andi and Mitch went out to saddle the horses. Chad, Justin and the ranch hands had already surrounded the pasture.
Gail and Dick had arrived. Sure enough, Johnny was there helping them move and he was able to talk his way into going with Dick to surround the pasture.
Andi muttered. “I can't believe Chad let him come along. I would never trust him with my life. He's probably working with Hugh. I don't believe Johnny can change as much as he has.”
Just then, Mitch walked into the barn. “Well, everything's ready, Andi. Let's go.”
Andi mounted Taffy while Mitch mounted Chase. It took only about a twenty minute gallop until they got to the south-east pasture. Sure enough, there was Hugh waiting on a horse, Andi recognized, as one from the livery.
Mitch motioned for her to slow the horses as they neared Hugh.
As they rode up, Hugh pulled his gun from his holster, cocked it, and pointed it at Mitch. “Well, Andi. Good to see you kept your part of the bargain. I've got a little surprise planned for you and your brother.”
“Get to the point, Hugh. What do you want?”
Hugh glared at Mitch. “I want $10,000.”
Andi gasped. “What would you do with that much money?”
“Well, the first half of it would get me to Mexico and the other half I could live off off comfortably for quite a while.”
Mitch returned Hugh's glare. “What if I say, ‘No’?”
Hugh face turned sickly sweet. “Then perhaps you would let me wed your sister here. How old is she? Sixteen? Plenty old enough to get married in my opinion.”
Andi turned a horrified face to Mitch.
“No, don't you dare touch my sister. I'll get you the money.”
Hugh laughed. “Good. That should at least repay me for all that money you took from me up in the mountains that time.”
“That was stolen money!” Andi exclaimed.
Hugh laughed. “I like you, Andi. You've got spunk and you’re not afraid to speak your mind.”
Andi glared at him.
“Well, let's go into town and you can get me the money at the bank.”
“But, first you need to take your gun off. Just throw it on the ground.”
Mitch and Andi exchanged a knowing look. Mitch unbuckled the belt from around his waist, and the holster and gun slipped to the ground.
“Wait, it's Sunday. The bank won't be open.” Andi suddenly remembered.
Hugh laughed. A sound that made chills race up and down Andi 's spine. “We'll figure out a way to get in, won't we?”
“You don't need me to help you get money from the bank. Can't I stay here at the ranch?”
“No. You are my back-up plan, my 'hostage' in case Mitch tries anything stupid. Hand me your reins.”
Andi looked at Mitch. He nodded, and Andi threw the reins to Hugh.
Hugh wrapped them around his saddle horn. “Now you won't be getting away any time soon.”
He put his gun back in his holster and they took off at a gallop. As they neared the trees, Hugh slowed the horses to a trot.
Just then Andi heard a gun cock behind them. And a voice Andi recognized as Johnny's said. “Don't move.”
Andi groaned. Of all the people Chad could have put to watch this area, it had to be Johnny.
“Don't move a muscle, Hugh Baker. Or I'll have a good mind to relocate this bullet into you.”
Hugh was sitting ramrod straight on his horse. One look at his face and Andi shuddered. He was seething with rage.
“Mitch, why don’t you go find Chad and Dick. They shouldn't be too far off.”
As Mitch rode off, there was a crackling explosion in the bushes behind them as two deer leaped from the brush. Startled, Johnny whirled around, giving Hugh the chance he needed. Ramming his spurs into his horse, Hugh galloped away. Taffy, whose reins were still tied around Hugh's saddlehorn followed.
Johnny, seeing that Hugh was getting away, mounted his horse and began to chase them. He was within shooting range. If he could only be sure he wouldn't hit Andi when he shot. Just then, Chad, Dick and Mitch appeared in front of Hugh and Andi. Hugh pulled the horses to a stop. There was no way he could escape.
Later, after Hugh had been taken to the town jail and everything had settled down, Andi walked out to the barn where Chad, Mitch, Justin, Johnny and Dick were.
'I'm sure glad that's over with!” Andi exclaimed.
“Me too,” Mitch agreed. “it gave me a real scare when I saw Hugh trying to run off with you.”
“Yeah, about that. Thanks Johnny. I wouldn't have thought you would try to help me but you did. Thank you.”
Johnny shrugged. “It was nothing. I'm sorry for how I treated you before. Can you ever forgive me?”
Andi thought a minute. “Sure, Johnny. If Jesus was able to forgive me for all my sins and love me limitlessly besides, I can forgive you. But it will be hard to forget.”
Johnny nodded. “I know. That's about all I can ask. Thanks, Andi.”
Dick leaned against the porch railing of the private bunkhouse the Carters had given for him and Gail to use.
The stars shone bright, twinkling in the clear sky as the crescent shaped moon rose ever higher in the sky.
The door to the bunkhouse opened then clicked shut as Gail joined him.
“It’s a beautiful night tonight.” she whispered as she leaned against him.
“Enchanted, almost.” he answered smoothing her hair.
“God’s so good, isn’t he Dick?”“Yes,” her brother agreed. “And He truly does direct the paths of those who trust in Him.”