All Is Found
by Sarah Grace Hammond
The afternoon sun beat down hot. Sweat stood out on my brow and trickled down my face. I swiped the drips away.
My horse, Ginger, was just as miserable. I patted her sorrel mane. I knew she was itching to get out of the sun and into refreshing shade.
“Don’t worry, girl,” I told her. “The mercantile isn’t that far away.”
I urged her into a brisk trot and together we dodged a rattling wagon. The driver shook his fist angrily at me. “Watch yourself, missy!”
I shook my head and muttered to myself. What a grump. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I guess folks aren’t as nice around here like we’re used to,” I said. Ginger bobbed her head in agreement.
I was relieved when Goodwin’s Mercantile came in sight. I slid off Ginger’s back and wrapped the reins around the hitching post.
I stared at the mercantile building, leaning into Ginger for courage. The ‘help wanted’ sign mocked me.
The town of Fresno hadn’t been very kind to me in the short time I’d been around. Everyone seemed to see me as a threat, walking briskly past without so much as a ‘howdy-do’.
I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, but it was stubborn. I’d already been through town for the whole morning and some of the afternoon searching for a job. I’d been turned down every time. I didn’t think I could stand being turned down yet again. I needed a job.
But you can’t shy away from a task that has to be done, I told myself. Besides, there’s always the possibility that he’ll say yes.
Taking a deep breath, I darted across the boardwalk. Before I could skid to a stop, an elderly woman opened the mercantile door, a large basket filled to the brim with groceries in her arms. We collided. Groceries flew in the air and hit the ground hard.
I stumbled backward, tripped, and fell. I was relieved to see the old woman had the mercantile to keep her on her feet.
When the old woman gathered herself together, she glared and scolded me. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you ever watch where you’re going?” The woman knelt and gathered groceries. “Help me get these groceries up.”
I scrambled to obey. “I-I’m sorry, ma’am,” I told her, jamming a bottle of vanilla in the basket. “You’re right. I need to look where I’m going before I leap.”
“You be grateful there wasn’t nothin’ breakable or I’d make you pay,” she snapped.
I was grateful there hadn’t been anything breakable.
I opened my mouth, but before I could apologize again, a piercing scream and loud shouting met my ears. I whirled and my heart lurched. In the near distance, a beautiful appaloosa was tearing down the street. People scrambled out of his way, pulling others along with them. The horse wasn’t stopping for anything.
My thoughts spun. Someone had to stop that horse before it trampled people. And that someone had to do it now.
Without thinking things through, I dashed out on the street.
“Girl! Come back! Are you crazy?”
I didn’t give the woman a backward glance. Once out on the street, I faced the oncoming horse and spread my arms out straight. I stared at the horse unwaveringly. I was fully prepared to leap out of the way, but only at the last minute. I had to stop the horse.
The horse stared back just as unwaveringly and kept coming at top speed. But I wouldn’t give up.
My determination won. Just as I was going to make a leap for it, the appy skidded to a stop. My heart’s thumping slowed down, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I kept my eyes on his, and waited for the sign.
The appy snorted and tossed his short thin mane. His eyes darted around restlessly, his skin twitching. I remained motionless. I was hopeful though. His fear showed me he didn’t want to fight. He just wanted to get away from danger.
He peered at me suspiciously, ears flicking. My heart leapt when he ducked his head slowly and licked his lips. This was the gesture I’d been waiting for.
Weak with relief, I passed my hand down his broad neck and scratched his withers. Eyelids drooping, he laid his head on my shoulder with a sigh.
I smiled and leaned my head against his. I reckon we could have stood like that for eternity, if we hadn’t been interrupted.
Both our heads jerked up at the shout. A man skid to a stop beside us, dust billowing up. “Dakota,” he panted.
I studied him closely. He was young, handsome too, with wavy brown hair and sparkling hazel eyes.
“Is this your horse?” I asked.
The man nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” A nicker from Dakota brought a grin to the man’s face. He patted Dakota. “You okay, buddy? I’m sorry about your scare.”
“What happened?” I asked.
The man chuckled softly. “My dog likes to cause a bit of a scene, especially if a cat’s nearby. Tucker was chasing a cat and they went right under Dakota and spooked him. He took off, and . . .” The man broke off and turned to me with an air of surprise. “And you stopped him--without laying a finger on him. How’d you manage that, ma’am?”
I flushed and shrugged. “My papa taught me. He was the best horse trainer around where I lived.” Was? Past tense?
“I’m sure he was.” The man grinned and stuck out his hand. “The name’s Riley Prescott.”
I pumped his hand. “I’m...uh...Emma.”
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you in town before, Miss Emma. You new?” Riley grabbed Dakota’s bridle and led him to the horse trough.
“Yeah.” I followed him and leaned against Ginger.
“You like it much?”
I shrugged. “I-it’s okay.”
“You here with your folks?”
“No, I-I’m an orphan.” The lie burned my tongue. I swallowed and looked away.
“Oh, I’m real sorry about that, ma’am.”
I chanced a look at Riley. His eyes were glistening with sympathy. I looked away again. “It’s not your fault.”
Silence hung over us. Finally, Riley slapped Dakota’s rump. “Well, we better get going. But I thank you, miss, for stopping Dakota. You saved lives today.” He grinned. “My boss, Chad Carter, isn’t going to believe me when I tell him.”
Carter. Where have I heard that last name? “Your boss sounds like a bit of a skeptic.”
“Well, it’s not every day that you hear of someone who stopped a runaway horse without laying a finger on him.” Riley smiled. “You sure got a gift.”
I smiled back, but I wasn’t really listening. I was trying to place the name Carter.
“. . . of course on the Circle C there’s lots of untrained horses, but--”
“Circle C!” I cried, then flushed when Riley raised his eyebrows. “Sorry. Don’t mind me. I need a job and the Circle C has horses. I love horses. I. . .” I stopped. I was babbling and my tongue was getting twisted.
“Whoa there!” Riley laughed. “Slow down.”
“Sorry.” I grinned. “Riley, do you know if the Circle C could have a job for me?”
“I’m not quite sure, but Mrs. Carter might. Why don’t you ride out to the ranch and find out?”
“I would. But I don’t know how to get there.”
“It’s simple,” Riley instructed. “You just follow the road leading out of town for an hour’s time. It’s not hard to find.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I hiked myself onto Ginger’s back.
“I’d take you myself, but I’ve gotta round up Tucker. Maybe I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Sounds good.” I flashed Riley a smile. “Thanks a lot, mister.”
Riley shook his head. “No, thank you.”
I gave him a jaunty salute and urged Ginger into a brisk trot, smiling.
I was on my way to a large ranch where I would be surrounded by horses, the animals that I love.
Maybe the sun was hot. Maybe the ride was an hour long. I wasn’t going to let that bother me. If I was going to support myself I had to be willing to do whatever it takes.
I don’t know what I thought the Circle C looked like, but it certainly wasn’t like anything I saw. In the distance, I saw a huge, white ranch house. Beside the house was a large garden. I saw cows and horses everywhere, grazing in golden-grassed pastures. Dogs frolicked in the yard, chasing cats and chickens. Ranch hands were buzzing around the yard, shouting and laughing.
I gasped. I hadn’t heard much about the Circle C, just that it was a large spread and the Carter’s were upright folks who went to church regularly. Somehow I never realized they were rich.
What was I thinking? No rich person in his right mind would hire a strange girl who was probably around just to cause trouble. I groaned. Why hadn’t Riley warned me?
I slipped off Ginger’s back and gripped the reins in my hand. I still had to try. I headed toward the hitching post.
“Who are you?”
I whirled around, and looked up into the face of a handsome, black haired man. He was eyeing me carefully.
“I--I’m. . .” I broke off, and stared helplessly.
“Go on, speak up,” he commanded.
The sound of hoofbeats saved me. I saw a horse and rider approaching. A dog followed beside them. I sagged in relief. Dakota and Riley.
The man’s hand shot up in the air, waving Riley over. “Riley!” he bellowed. “Over here!”
Dakota broke into a gallop and a few minutes later, Riley was beside us. “Yeah, Chad?” Then he saw me and he grinned. “There you are, Miss Emma. I see you’ve met Chad.”
I turned back to Chad. “Uh. . .Not really.”
Riley swung down from Dakota’s back. “Well, it’s my duty to introduce y’all. Miss Emma, this is Chad Carter. He runs the Circle C. Chad, this is my friend Emma.”
“Pleased to meet you, mister,” I told Chad.
“Same here, Miss.” Chad tipped his black Stetson to me.
“I met Miss Emma in town earlier today,” Riley continued. “Dakota spooked in and took off. But thanks to Miss Emma, Dakota was stopped in the nick of time without her laying a finger on him.”
Chad looked a bit surprised. “You must be talented, miss. ”
I shrugged. “My pa taught me everything I know.”
“Where’s your pa now?”
I lowered my eyes and fidgeted with the end of my braid. “I-I. . .” The lump in my throat did its best to keep the lie inside, but it came out anyway. “I’m an orphan.”
“Oh. I’m sorry about that, kid.” Chad’s voice was soft.
I blinked away tears, the lump growing larger in my throat as I kept my sobs inside where they belonged. I didn’t deserve sympathy. I was a rotten, lying skunk. I yanked on my braid, trying to inflict pain upon myself.
Riley broke the heavy silence. “The reason Miss Emma came out to the ranch is because she wants a job on the Circle C.”
“Is that so?” Chad asked.
I nodded. “Yes, sir, but I won’t be around for long. I need just enough money to feed my horse and me until we get to the next town.”
Chad scratched his chin. “Well, Mother might need your help inside.”
My heart leapt. “Really?”
“Yep, come with me. I’ll take you to her.” Chad started toward the white house. “Riley’ll care for your horse.”
I shot Riley a grateful smile and trotted after Chad.
My nervousness heightened as we stepped on the wide front porch. Chad opened the front door and led me into a large kitchen. I hoped my boots weren’t tracking dirt.
“Mother?” Chad shouted into the silence.
The next minute, a pretty woman with graying blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a gentle smile appeared. “You needed me, Son?”
“Yes, ma’am. This is Emma. She’s looking for work, and I thought you might have a job for her.”
Mrs. Carter looked surprised.
“Howdy, Mrs. Carter,” I said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Emma. And I’m glad you came.” She smiled again. “I’ve needed some extra help for a while. Come, sit down and we’ll talk it over.”
I shuffled over.
“Chad?” Mrs. Carter turned to her son. “Fetch Andrea, will you? I’m sure she’d love to meet Emma.”
“Sure.” Chad left the kitchen.
Mrs. Carter joined me at the table. “So, Emma, why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
I swallowed with difficulty, and felt heat creeping into my cheeks. I didn’t want to lie to this kind woman; I’d already lied too much. But I couldn’t tell the truth. I couldn’t be found.
I folded my hands on the table and stared at them.
Mrs. Carter patted my hands. “For starters, why don’t you tell me where you're from, dear?”
“I’m from Arizona. I came to California after my parents died.”
“Ohh,” Mrs. Carter murmured. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing loved ones is difficult.”
Mrs. Carter drew in a breath. “Well, let’s get down to business. How long do you think you would be able to work for me?”
“A month sounds about right.”
Mrs. Carter nodded. “What are you familiar with, as far as housework goes?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but at that moment the door opened and a pretty girl stepped in. “You wanted me, Mother?”
I looked up and our blue eyes locked. She was about my age, maybe older. She had long dark hair that she’d sloppily braided. She had a small, freckled nose, a full mouth, and wide blue eyes. Her cheeks were flushed a rosy pink from the hot sun.
She shot me a smile. “Howdy.”
I smiled back and nodded. “Howdy.”
Mrs. Carter stood and laid an arm on her daughter’s shoulders. “Andrea, I’d like you to meet Emma. She’s here to work for us. I was hoping you’d show her around the ranch.”
“Sure thing, Mother.” Her smile widened. “You’ll love the ranch, Emma.” She motioned me to follow her out of the kitchen.
I followed eagerly.
Outside, she tugged her hat farther down her forehead. I noted her smile had turned saucy. “Now, Emma, I want you to tell me how you stopped Dakota mid-run without laying a finger on him. If I’m going to be a rancher, I need to know these things.”
I laughed. “Who told you I did that?”
“Riley, of course. He’s been gloating about ‘Miss Emma’ to anyone who will listen.” The girl feigned a stern look. “Now don’t beat around the bush, ya hear? Tell me!”
I laughed again. “Alright, as long as you don’t call me ‘Miss Emma’ like Riley.”
She laughed with me. “I had the same problem with him, too. I finally told him to call me ‘Andi’.” She smiled at me. “You call me Andi too, okay?”
I nodded, smiling.
I slid into my place as one of the Carters’ hired help, but they didn’t treat me like I was hired help. I ate with them, I went to church with them, and I spent each evening with them. Andi and I became the greatest of friends.
My life was going pretty well. I was happy.
But that all didn’t last long.
It was about two weeks later that everything went downhill.
I was eating breakfast with the Carter family, listening to them chat happily. Once in a while Chad or Mitch would crack a joke and they would all burst into laughter. I would’ve been laughing too, but I was feeling self-pity. My family had been this happy. Until I went and ruined it.
Suddenly there was a loud insistent knock and I heard the door open. Voices drifted into the dining room.
After a few moments, Luisa led the visitors into the dining room. I glanced toward them and froze. My blood turned cold, making me tremble.
Chad rose to greet the guests. “Howdy, I’m Chad Carter. What can I do for you?” Chad pumped the man’s hand and nodded to the woman.
Mr. Howard Miles shot me a triumphant look and laid a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “I’m Howard Miles and this is my wife Bertha. We’re here for our daughter--” he paused for effect “--Emma.”
The blood drained from my face. The family gasped.
Chad spun on his heel and gaped at me. “Emma, you said your parents died!”
I licked my chapped lips. “I--” but Mrs. Miles cut me off.
“Emmie ran away about 4 months ago. I’ve been worried sick. And to believe she told everyone we died!” She buried her face in her husband’s shoulder with a wail.
“Emma!” Mrs. Carter sounded so hurt and sorrowful. “We trusted you, and you lied to us?”
I had lied. It was pointless to argue.
Chad wasn’t anything but furious. “Why didn’t you tell us you’d run away?” he snapped, eyes flashing.
Mrs. Miles, again, didn’t let me speak. “We had a disagreement the day before she ran off. She was fired up, but I never thought she would leave and go against everything she’d been taught!”
I glanced over at Andi. She was glaring at me.
“I can’t believe I trusted you!” she cried, eyes glistening with hurt.
To have my only friend turn against me made the air leave my lungs. My world spun out of control and the loud voices became distant echoes.
Someone was calling me. It sounded like . . . “Mama?” I whispered.
Then everything went black.
“Emma? Emma, wake up.”
Someone was patting my cheeks. I opened my eyes slowly. Mrs. Carter’s face loomed overhead. She sighed in relief when she saw my eyes open. “She’s awake.”
I pushed myself to a sitting position and glanced around. I was lying on a sofa in a parlor surrounded by the Carters and the Mileses. “What happened?”
“You fainted,” Andi said stiffly from her position beside me. “Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“I suppose you were shocked and overwhelmed,” Mrs. Carter said.
I leaned back into the pillows and squeezed my eyes shut. I was stuck. Really stuck, and the only way I could get out was by confessing and asking forgiveness of the ones I’d lied to.
I drew in a deep breath. “My name,” I began timidly, “isn’t Emma.”
Mrs. Miles snorted. “Don’t be silly, child. Of course your name’s Emma.”
I sighed. “Let me talk.” I glanced at the Carters. “Please.”
Mrs. Carter nodded.
“My name’s Varity Parker and I am from Arizona. I did run away from my home, but the Miles are not my parents or related to me in any way,” I said firmly.
“Why did you run away?” Andi asked.
I stared at the ceiling, my throat tight. “I-I did something bad. I disobeyed my parents, and my disobedience killed my sister. I wanted to go rafting on our creek during the winter when it’s strong and dangerous, but my parents wouldn’t let me. But since my friends had done it, I was determined to. So I made my sister, Lucy, come with me.” I squeezed my eyes to keep the tears from leaking out. “She didn’t really want to, but I begged, so she relented.
“We took our handmade raft to the creek and it was fun at first. But then we hit a rock and went under. I don’t really remember what happened. I reckon my brother, Alex, fished Lucy and I out. Lucy died the next day; I only got a bad case of influenza.
“Once I was better, I left my home. I couldn’t stay. Not after what I did. Of course, my family didn’t show their disdain, but I know and I don’t blame them. I didn’t want to be a bother to them any longer, so I ran.”
It took me a moment to regain my composure. “A few weeks later, I stumbled upon the Mileses. They took care of me when I came down with the influenza again, but when I recovered they threatened me to work for them or else.
“I stayed with them for a few weeks, before it got to be too much. Then Ginger and I left. I came to Fresno a few weeks later, and here I am.” I opened my eyes and stared at them all, waiting.
Mr. Miles was on his feet in an instant, glaring with beady eyes. “Ain’t we taught you not to lie, girl?”
“You’re not my father!” I shouted. “And all you’ve taught me is that you are dishonest and wicked!”
Mr. Miles looked like he was figuring to come after me, but Chad leaped to his feet and faced the huge man. “I suggest you folks leave or I’m going to fetch Sheriff Tate.”
Mr. Miles sneered, but he turned to his wife. “Come, Bertha. Let’s go.”
They left, slamming the door. I hoped I would never see them again.
I turned to the Carters. “I’m sorry for all I’ve done,” I whispered. “I just couldn’t let them find me.”
Mrs. Carter pulled me into a hug. “I understand, and I forgive you. You were in a tight spot weren’t you?”
I nodded, too choked up to respond.
“You need to go back to your family,” Chad said gruffly.
The tears started again. “Don’t you see?” I cried. “They won’t--they can’t--forgive me for what I did. I killed Lucy. I don’t deserve to be forgiven.”
The sobs shook me so hard, I could scarcely breathe.
“Varity.” Mrs. Carter’s voice was almost stern. “Listen to me.” She lifted my chin. “You didn’t kill your sister. You didn’t drag her to the creek and force her onto the raft, did you? No, she decided to go with you.”
Mrs. Carter shushed me. “No buts. I think the best thing for you to do is to ask for forgiveness from your parents, and I know they will forgive. I don’t think it ever once crossed their minds that you were the reason Lucy died.”
“Mrs. Carter, you--”
“Varity, before the accident were you positive your parents loved you?”
Mrs. Carter rose from the settee and smiled. “Then I’m sure they want you home. Shall I tell Justin to contact you parents?”
I bit my lip. “I reckon.”
It was about three weeks later, on a warm Sunday afternoon. Andi and I were seated on the front porch steps. Andi was asking me what I thought of her church and her friends. I was about to answer when I heard hoofbeats in the distance. A black carriage was rattling toward the house. It was too far away to see whom the visitors were.
“Are you expecting any visitors today?” I asked.
Andi shrugged. “We usually get callers on Sunday.”
We went back to our former conversation, all the while the surrey was getting closer.
Finally it stopped. Four people alighted. I studied them carefully, feeling a twinge of recognition, but I shoved it away.
They came closer, and I could tell there was a hint of excitement in Andi’s voice. I stared at her, puzzled. Then I turned back to the oncoming visitors, and my breath caught.
They stopped in front of me. I stood to my feet, trembling.
“Mama?” My voice was husky. “Papa?”
“Varity.” The next minute, Papa had gathered me in his arms. My tears flowed freely and my shoulders shook. Mama came up beside me and Papa wrapped an arm around her.
When my sobs quieted, Papa pulled away and cupped my face in his hands. “You don’t know how far we’ve searched to find you,” he told me, his eyes moist.
“We were relieved to receive Mr. Carter’s telegram,” Mama added, dabbing at her tears with a handkerchief.
“D-don’t you hate me?” I asked, peering into Papa’s face.
“Hate you?” His face was incredulous. “For what?”
I lowered my eyes. “My disobedience resulted in Lucy’s death. I made her come rafting with me. It’s my fault she’s dead.”
“Varity!” Mama exclaimed, taking me into her arms. I could feel her tears dripping onto my forehead. “It’s not your fault, sweetheart, and I never thought it was. It never crossed my mind.” I felt her hand stroking my black curls. “Lucy was never forced to do anything, you know that as well as anyone. She went along with you because she wanted to, not because you forced her to.” Mama pulled away and peered at me with her soft brown eyes. “It wasn’t your fault.”
My eyes spilled over with tears, blurring my vision. “I love you, Mama, and I’m so sorry that I ran away and caused you more grief.”
“It’s easy to forgive you, li’l sister,” Derek, my brother, called out cheerfully. “I’m so happy to see you that I would forgive you for anything.”
I laughed through my tears. “I’m happy to see you too, Derek.”
Mama turned to Andi and smiled. “Who’s your friend, Varity?”
I slung an arm around Andi’s shoulders. “This is Andi Carter, and she’s my best friend.”
Seeing my family meet the Carters was a bittersweet affair. It was nice to see them get along so splendidly. But it made my heart squeeze when I realized they would never meet Lucy. Lucy with the big brown eyes and curly auburn hair. Lucy with the bubbly, lovable, adventurous personality. Lucy and her loyalty to God and those that she loved.
I smiled as I remembered her open love for God, and the exuberance in which she told someone she’d just met about Him. It had been because of Lucy that I’d become a Christian myself.
But I sure haven't been loyal like Lucy.
When my life turned for the worst I’d left God behind and carried within me a bitter heart. I had blamed him for the problems in my life, and that had led to my rebellion. And my rebellion had led to Lucy’s death.
Before I could start crying again, I was reminded of a verse that Lucy had always quoted: God gives and takes away. God had taken away a lot of things from me, including my sister. But I knew right then that it wasn’t exactly a punishment that He’d taken Lucy away. It had been a reward for her, and an eye opener for me.
I knew that turning from God was a miserable course to take, and I decided that it was a course I would no longer take.
Tears filled my eyes. I had lost almost everything because I’d run from God. He loved me, and He’d been trying to get my attention all along. Now that I had turned to Him, all was found. My happiness, my family, my love and loyalty to my Heavenly Father.
I smiled. When all is lost in this world, all is found in Jesus Christ.