Early spring, 1890
Golden, New Mexico
“Are you plumb crazy?” Jeremiah Dennison’s loud retort bounced around the main room of the adobe house and returned to mock him. “Where did you get such a harebrained idea?”
Trying to control his anger, he shoved his clenched fists into his denim trousers’ pockets, paced to the window, and stared out, pay¬ing scant attention to the piñon trees bending in the wind. He loved Philip Smith like a father, but the man could vex the weather. And this latest idea was the most farfetched yet.
Philip gave a snort. “Harebrained?” He put his rocking chair into motion that sent out a rhythmic squeaking. “Why’d ya say that? It’s worked fer other men.”
Jeremiah tried to calm down. He wanted to measure his words, season them with wisdom that would awaken his elderly friend to all the pitfalls he would face. “What would you do with a mail-order bride?”
The old miner stilled the chair and stared at Jeremiah, obsidian eyes piercing under his bushy white brows. “Somethin’ ”—he smoth¬ered a hacking cough with his fist, then swiped a clean handkerchief across his face—“has a deadly grip on me.
“I know you’re sick. I take care of you, don’t I?” Jeremiah resented the fact that what he’d done wasn’t enough. Otherwise, Philip wouldn’t even consider such a preposterous proposition.
His old friend reached up to scratch the scraggly beard he’d worn all the years he was a miner, but it no longer covered his clean-shaven chin. Old habits died hard. “Jerry, I don’t wanna be a burden on ya.”
“You’d rather be a burden to a woman you don’t even know?” Jeremiah regretted his cynical tone the moment the words flew from his lips. He softened his tone. “I’ve never considered you a burden any more than you thought I was a burden when I came to the gold fields as a greenhorn.”
Philip clutched the arms of the rocking chair and slowly rose. He took a moment to steady himself before he ambled toward Jeremiah. “I ain’t come to this decision easy.” He squinted up into Jeremiah’s face. “I done studied on it fer a while.”
Jeremiah straightened the fingers he’d gripped into fists and relaxed his stiff spine. “What do you mean, ‘studied’?”
“Well, I figure a woman who’d answer them ads in the news¬paper must be purty needy, maybe even desperate to get out of a particular bad situation.” He gave a vigorous nod that riffled his snowy hair. “Made me a fortune when I sold my mine. More money than any man can spend in his lifetime. What good is a fortune to an old-timer like me? Won’t never have a family of my own. Maybe I’ll git me a woman with children. She can take care a me, and my money can take care a her.” Another nod punctuated his last state¬ment. “And her young’uns, if she has any.”
How could Jeremiah deny his mentor’s request? Philip never asked for much. If he didn’t do this, the stubborn old man would look for help from someone else. A lesser friend might have a wagging tongue and spread the story all around Golden. Philip didn’t need people gossiping about him sending for a bride. And other miners might try to nab her for themselves when she arrived. If Jeremiah had his way, it would be fine with him if they did, but his friend would be too disappointed. He didn’t want to break Philip’s heart, just talk him out of making this mistake.
“Jerry, ya ain’t mad ’cause I’m plannin’ to give my money to someone else, are ya?”
The words stabbed Jeremiah’s heart. How could Philip believe that about him? “I don’t need your money. I have more than enough of my own, thanks to selling my own mine and starting the ranch like you told me to.”
The hoary head nodded. “That’s what I figured.”
“Where you going to send the ad?” Jeremiah couldn’t believe he was considering being a part of this crazy scheme. But what else could he do?
Philip limped toward the sturdy pine dining table where a stack of newspapers was piled haphazardly beside blank paper, an inkwell, and a pen. “I read all these, and I think I’ll send it to the Boston Globe.” He picked up the top newspaper and shoved the rumpled pages toward Jeremiah.
Taking the newsprint, Jeremiah glanced at the headlines on the front page. An unusually hard winter had left many people out in the cold. “Why Boston?”
“Don’t want jist anybody. Wanna help a lady in distress.” Philip folded his scrawny arms across his bony chest. “Figure most a the women in Boston are ladies. My aunt Charlotte come from Boston, and she was a lady.” He stopped and cleared his throat, then wheezed out a slow breath. “You do the writin’, ’cause mine looks like hen scratchin’.”
Judging from the stubborn tilt to the older man’s chin, Jeremiah knew Philip’s mind was made up. He dropped the newspaper back on the stack and pulled out the chair beside the stationery. “What do you want to say?”
He picked up the pen with the golden nib—another of the things the old miner had bought after he’d sold the mine. It had never been dipped into the inkwell until now.
Philip leaned both hands on the table, puffed out his chest, and wrinkled his forehead in concentration. “How about, Wanted, a… No. Makes it sound like she’s an outlaw, or somethin’. Do it this way. A Christian man in Golden, New Mexico, is seekin’…” He waited for Jeremiah to finish writing the phrase. “Sound all right so far?”
Wanting to laugh, Jeremiah kept his eyes trained on the words before him. Philip was so serious. “What are you seeking?”
The old miner scratched his head. “I want a lady. Done already told ya that.”
“Maybe we could say, a Christian lady. That should cover it.”
Jeremiah dipped the pen in the inkwell. When he held it poised over the paper, waiting for Philip to agree with his suggestion, a small drop fell and quickly spread into an unsightly blob. “I’ve messed up this sheet. Do you have a pencil? I could use it while we figure out the wording. Then I’ll copy it in ink.”
Philip made his way to the sideboard against the back wall of the large open room and pulled out a drawer. He shuffled through the contents before holding up the stub of a pencil. “Here’s the onliest one I got.”
“It’ll do.” Jeremiah reached for the pencil and continued, “A Christian man in Golden, New Mexico, seeks a Christian lady… where do we go now?”
Once again, Philip was deep in thought. “…who needs a chance at a new life.”
Jeremiah nodded and added the words. “I like it. Do you want to say anything else, or should I just put your name and address?”
“That’s enough, but put General Delivery as my address.” A smile crept across the older man’s face, bringing a twinkle to his rheumy eyes.
He returned to his rocking chair while Jeremiah copied the words with ink, folded the message, inserted the paper in an envelope, and wrote the address for the Boston Globe on the front.
“I suppose you want me to take this to the post office.” He knew Philip didn’t get out much in the chilly spring air of the Ortiz Moun¬tains, because it aggravated his breathing problem.
“If ya don’t mind.” Philip reached into the watch pocket of his trousers and pulled out a coin. “Here’s the money.”
“I don’t need your money.” Jeremiah headed toward the front door. “I just hope you aren’t making a mistake.”
Philip cleared his throat. “Jerry?” Huskiness colored his tone. “I’m thankful fer all ya do to help me.” He paused until Jeremiah gave him a nod. “I’ve talked to the good Lord about this. I’m sure He agrees with what I’m doin’.”
What could Jeremiah say to that? Nothing. He couldn’t explain why, but when Philip Smith talked to his Lord, things happened. Jeremiah pushed his hair back before donning his Stetson and exit¬ing through the front door, being careful it latched behind him. He didn’t want Philip to have to get up and close it again if it should blow open after he was gone. Let him rest in his rocking chair. After all his long years of mining, he’d earned it.
Marching down the cobblestone street toward the post office, Jer¬emiah hoped he wouldn’t meet anyone who wanted to talk. The sooner he got this letter mailed, the sooner he could wash his hands of the whole situation. Maybe no one would answer the ad. Or maybe he could just tear the whole thing up and not tell Philip he didn’t mail it.
If he wasn’t honorable, he could get away with that. But he couldn’t lie to the man who meant more to him than anyone in the world. Wouldn’t be right. He’d make sure to look over any letters Philip received. He wouldn’t let some floozy use his friend as her meal ticket and think coming here was her golden opportunity—in more ways than one. No sirree, he’d watch anyone who came with an eagle eye. She would have to pass his inspection before he’d introduce her to Philip. Even if his old friend did say he’d talked to God about it.
As Jeremiah walked into town, he fastened the top button on his long-sleeved shirt. The day would heat up later, but spring brought cool breezes in the early morning. When he passed the hotel, Caro¬line Oldman stepped through the door and started sweeping the boardwalk.
“Morning, Caroline.” He tipped his hat to the proprietress, who was also the wife of the preacher. They’d been good friends to Jer¬emiah since they arrived in Golden. Their influence had calmed the rowdy town a lot.
He kept walking toward the post office. Would Philip hear from a woman before summer? Jeremiah hoped the old miner wouldn’t receive a single answer to his ad. Jeremiah thought back to when he came from Missouri to New Mexico searching for gold. Philip was the first miner he’d met. Thin and wiry, the old man’s face was almost hidden behind his long beard and thin gray hair that reached to his shoulders, but he had a heart of gold. He’d befriended Jeremiah and helped him learn all about mining. He was even there when Jeremiah’s partner was killed in a cave-in at the mine they owned together.
Philip had listened to all of Jeremiah’s rantings and guided him toward becoming a cattleman. He knew Philip prayed for him all the time. But Jeremiah couldn’t accept all that God nonsense himself. Where had God been when train robbers killed his mother and he was left in the clutches of his cruel uncle and father?
With a shudder, he shook his head to dislodge the images invad¬ing his thoughts. The less he thought about the past, the better. Too much pain and suffering there.
He was sure Philip had prayed about sending this letter, but Jeremiah wasn’t convinced there was a God. And if there was, why would He care whether some greedy woman came to fleece the old miner? Jeremiah would guarantee that didn’t happen.