Rebecca dismounted her horse in front of the blacksmith’s shop. She straightened her long skirt and tipped her bonnet down, protecting her fair skin from the blistering sun.
The blacksmith smiled. “Need new shoes?”
“Yes, his front feet.” She stroked the gelding’s velvety brown neck. “I’m going to the mercantile while you shoe him.”
She walked across the street to the general store. Mr. Johnson was busy pouring coffee beans from a burlap bag into a glass container. He glanced up and nodded at Rebecca. She nodded back and examined some cotton fabric. It was pale blue and would make a lovely dress. The two dresses she owned were getting badly worn, but she couldn’t ask Mr. Johnson to let her charge the fabric. She hoped he would be kind enough to allow her to charge the flour and dried beans she had come after.
Taking a deep breath, she approached the counter. “Mr. Johnson, could I have some flour and beans on credit?”
He hesitated. “Mrs. Maloney, you already owe me three dollars.”
“Yes, I know. I should have some money coming in by next month. My hens haven’t started laying yet.”
“I’ll let you have the flour. I’m mighty low on beans, and the next shipment won’t be in for two weeks. I need to save them for paying customers.”
Rebecca’s bottom lip trembled. “I understand.”
Mr. Johnson’s countenance softened. “I wish it was different, Mrs. Maloney, but I do well to break even.”
She nodded, her lip still quivering.
He continued. “They’re building the railroad soon. It shouldn’t take supplies so long to get here then.”
Mr. Johnson weighed her flour and handed her the bag. “Bring me some eggs when your hens start laying, and I’ll trade with you.”
“All right.” She returned to the blacksmith shop.
After a short wait, the blacksmith had finished. “He’s ready. This will be the last time I can shoe him for free. I figure I’ve repaid my debt to your late husband now.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Rebecca was about to mount her horse when the stage coach made its usual stop in front of the mercantile. The wheels had barely stopped turning when an obviously distraught woman bounded out and ran in the store. Rebecca watched as she stayed inside only a moment, then came running across the street to the blacksmith’s shop.
The woman spotted Rebecca. “Are you Rebecca Maloney?”
“Yes.” Rebecca couldn’t help noticing the woman’s fine satin dress and feathered hat with the pearl hatpin.
“My brother is ill. They said there’s no doctor for fifty miles, but you care for the sick. Come.”
She turned and ran back across the street, with Rebecca following.
The young woman threw the coach door open. “He took ill yesterday afternoon.”
Sweat beaded the forehead and upper lip of the young man. His eyes were glassy, and he didn’t respond when Rebecca spoke to him.
She motioned to the driver. “Follow me.”
She got her horse and led the driver and the young woman to her house. The three of them carried the patient inside and put him in Rebecca’s feather bed.
The driver returned to his route, leaving the two women. Rebecca had lots of questions. “What’s his name?”
“George Sneed. I’m his sister Katherine. We’re here to do some planning for the railroad.”
“He’s awfully ill.” She drew a damp cloth across his forehead.
“Will he be all right?”
“If it’s the Lord‘s will. Stay with him while I get something.”
She returned shortly and placed a strong-smelling poultice on his chest. “Let’s pray.”
Bowing her head, she offered a prayer for the stranger.
Rebecca stayed at his side, dusk falling around them. She lit the oil lamp and sat with him all night, taking turns mopping his brow and holding Katherine’s hand.
By morning, George’s fever had broken, and he opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw was Rebecca’s green eyes staring back at him, and he spoke. “You’re lovely.”
She blushed and turned to Katherine. “I think he’s going to be okay.”
“We owe you so much. You truly have a gift. I’m going to the mercantile and tell them to let you have whatever you want. George and I will pay the bill.”
“I can’t let you do that. This is just what God has called me to do.”
“And God has called me to be generous.”
A broad smile broke across Rebecca’s face. Katherine smiled back.
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