Andi Carter giggled gleefully as the wind whipped through her hair. The chocolate palomino horse beneath her, Shasta, caught her excitement and pushed even harder. Finally, Andi reluctantly slowed her horse and turned around.
I need to get back home and cook Riley some supper. Andi smiled wistfully as she thought of her handsome husband. They had married June 12, 1886, and today was May 27, 1887. They had been married almost a year, but their love for each other had never wavered.
As she rode back toward the house, a lone figure was galloping straight toward her. As the figure grew closer, Andi recognized the broad-shouldered, handsome rider as her husband. She urged Shasta into a gallop as she headed to meet him.
As they drew near, Riley tipped his hat. “Hello, my beautiful bride! I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
“Riley, what a pleasure! Although your announcement is obviously far from thrilling, I’m honored you came to meet me.”
Riley grinned and leaned over to give Andi a peck on the cheek. “Aw, Andi, I guess I should admit it… Well, I guess this could have waited till supper, but I wanted to use it as an excuse to come see you. Anyway, Justin sent a telegram from San Francisco. There’s been some complications, and he needs me to take the first train in the morning to bring him some old case files. I’ll be gone till Monday night.”
Andi’s heart sank at the thought of not seeing her husband for three days. Well, if Lucy can do it, so can I.
“That’s fine, Riley! I can handle the ranch for three days.”
“Oh, I never doubted that, Andi! The ranch is growing at a fast rate, so I just hired six new men yesterday. I don’t know them, and I don’t know how they’ll handle a lady givin’ them orders.”
“Don’t worry, Riley. Chad will always be happy to lend a hand if needed.”
The next morning, husband and wife bid a sad farewell. Andi mounted up and headed out to tell the men the orders Riley had left. After conveying Riley’s requests, Andi settled into a relaxing ride on Shasta.
Justin Carter smiled at the nervous young lady directly across from him.
“Relax, Lin Mei. Andi will be positively thrilled to see you again.”
“Oh no, Justin. I believe you have it backward. It is I who will be most thrilled to be reunited once again with the miracle that saved my life so many years ago! If it were not for her, I would still be in bondage.”
Justin smiled again. “I’ll be picking up Andi’s husband, Riley, from the train station tomorrow night. He’s expressed excitement about meeting you, as well. Andi will be escorted here Sunday afternoon by our sister, Melinda. She will be told it’s just to give her a break from everything, and that Chad will run the ranch. This should work out perfectly. Andi is in for a big surprise!”
Riley woke suddenly. I must have fallen asleep just after our journey got underway. I must have been tired. I wonder how Andi’s doin’. Hope the men are mindin’ her.
“Did you have a good nap young fellow?”
Riley’s attention was jerked to a kind-looking, elderly gentleman occupying the bench beside his. “Yes, sir, I did. I hope I didn’t bother you too much. I have been known to snore occasionally.” Why does this man look so familiar?
“Not at all!” The elderly man claimed with a deep, rolling chuckle. “Where are you heading, Mr.--” I know him! I know him! Who is it?
“Riley-- Riley Prescott. Please, call me Riley. Mr. Prescott is my father. To answer the question, I’m headed to San Francisco. My brother-in-law has planned a wonderful surprise for my beautiful wife. I’m simply going along to help with the last-minute preparations. It will all be worth it to see my Andi’s face. ” Riley’s thoughts drifted once again to his wife.
The man laughed again. “Haven’t been married long have ya, son?”
“No, sir. Not quite a year.”
“That explains it.” The man nodded, knowingly.
Riley bristled and quickly changed the subject. “So where are you heading, Mr--”
“Oh, how rude of me! My apologies. Vanderbilt--Henry Vanderbilt. And I am also heading to San Francisco, but for a business meeting.”
Riley’s jaw dropped. “You’re Henry Vanderbilt? The Henry Vanderbilt?”
“The one and only. At least I think I am. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to stay in San Francisco for longer than a day. How long will you be staying?”
I’m talking to the richest man in world. He’s not stuck up; he’s kind; and he’s worth more money than I’ll ever even see. Wow, wait until I tell Andi!
Andi turned Shasta back toward their house. She’d had a pleasant ride, and had finally worked up enough courage to face the housework on her list of chores. As she neared the barn, Andi noticed three of Riley’s new employees huddled together suspiciously.
She quickly dismounted and looped Shasta’s reins around the nearest fencepost. Staying concealed in a patch of trees, Andi quickly and quietly made her way to within hearing distance of the men.
“Harry, today’s the day! Vanderbilt gets off the train tonight.”
“I know, Pete, but are ya sure we should go through with this?”
“Harry, it’s simple. We stop the train and threaten to blow it up if they don’t hand over Vanderbilt. Far as I’m concerned, it’s an easy kidnapping.”
“Harry, Pete, you won’t believe it!” The owner of the voice rounded the corner, looking panicked.
“Keep it down, Johnny! Do you wanna blow this whole operation wide open?”
“Sorry, Pete. But guys, Boss is on the train! What are we gonna do?”
“Really? Pete, if boss is on that train we can’t go through with it!”
“C’mon Pete, Johnny, get it together! It don’t matter one bit if boss is on that train. We ain’t stickin’ around, and we’re gonna be masked! I only hope Mr. Prescott is sensible and stays out of the way, or he may just get hisself hurt.”
What? They are going to kidnap a man off of Riley’s train? Riley is not gonna sit by and let that happen. He’s going to get himself killed. I have to get to the sheriff!
Andi raced back toward Shasta, and quickly mounted.
“C’mon Shasta, we’ve got to get to the sheriff!” If Andi would’ve taken a little more time to look around, she would’ve seen the man standing on the other side of the fence, glaring.
Riley listened attentively as Mr. Vanderbilt named the traits he had learned a good businessman needed to possess. This man is so knowledgeable! Even though he could arguably own this whole railroad, he is respectful and humble. The good Lord has blessed him for his spirit. Aw, Andi, I wish you could be here listening to this man! God, did I do the right thing leavin’ Andi alone? Please, Lord, protect her; and, no matter what, keep her safe.
Andi slowed Shasta to a fast trot to give her a break. She was finally nearing town. She heard a horse galloping behind and quickly urged Shasta to the side of the road to let the other rider pass. As the other horse came even with Andi, the man astride pulled, cocked, and leveled a gun at Andi’s head.
“I’m sorry, miss, but your ride stops here.” The man quickly tied Andi’s hands to the saddle horn, looped another rope around Shasta’s neck, and quickly began leading Shasta down the road.
Oh, Lord, help me! I don’t know how I’m gonna get out of this one, but I trust this situation is in Your hands. And Lord, please keep my Riley safe and alive. I know you love him more than I do. I’m trusting you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Wait! I have that pistol Riley insisted I carry in my saddle bags in case I came upon a dangerous animal! Thank you, Jesus! Now, just how do I get free?
Andi worked her wrists back and forth until the skin was broken in many places. Finally, her efforts paid off, and her hands slipped off the saddle horn. Andi studied her captor’s every move, waiting for an opportunity to free herself.
Finally, the man stood in the stirrups to adjust his sitting position.
Andi lunged for the gun. Within seconds she had the pistol cocked and pointed at the shocked man.
“Yes, I have a gun. Yes, I know how to use it. The only problem is I’m a little nervous, which makes me a little trigger happy. You’ll probably want to do exactly what I say--exactly how I say to do it. Please drop your gun.”
The man let the gun drop to the ground.
Andi then took the reins from his horse and proceeded to smack the horse on the rump. When the horse was out of sight, Andi scooped up the gun, rammed it in her saddlebags, and immediately urged Shasta into a gallop once again. Thank you so much, Lord. For helping me escape!
Finally, Andi reached the sheriff’s door, breathless, and scared. She burst through the door with a shout.
“Sheriff! Sheriff! You’ve got to help me because Riley had to leave the ranch and he got on a train to go help Justin and he hired new people at the ranch and now they are planning on holding up the train and kidnapping someone because Henry Vanderbilt is on the train--”
“Whoa, girl! Are you ever gonna take a breath? Wait--did you say Henry Vanderbilt?” The sheriff stopped his tirade to stare at her in shock.
“Yes! Please, Sheriff! Help me!”
“Calm down, Andi! Course I’ll help ya. Now take a deep breath, then fill me in.”
Andi did as she was told, and by the end of her story, the sheriff rounded his deputies--along with some men from town-- and headed after the train.
Before he left, the sheriff made good preparations to get Andi escorted back to her family’s ranch. Upon her arrival, Andi’s family hovered over her. All were showing different forms of affection. Chad and Mitch were threatening to make short work of the man who held Andi hostage; Melinda was trying to calm Andi’s nerves by reading her the latest fashion magazines (which didn’t help at all); and Mother hovered near to pounce if Andi thought about moving.
“You know, Andi, with all the excitement, I’m ready to get out of here for a little while. All this stress could hurt the baby,” Melinda began as she rubbed her swollen belly. “I think I would like to head to the city for a couple of days. It might be best if you joined me.”
“Me? In the city? And whoever heard of going to the city to lessen stress?” Andi snorted her opinion of her sister’s suggestion.
“You know, Andrea,” Mother began softly, “Melinda may just be on to something. You need to get out of town for a bit, and Melinda greatly enjoys the city. It just might be best for both of you.”
“Mother? You too? Ugh! You both know I can’t stand the city!”
“C’mon, Sis. Do it for Melinda. You’ve always been willing to do anything to help your family.”
“Mitch! I can’t believe my ears. Chad, I suppose you think I should go as well?”
“Well, Sis. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to hurt Melinda’s baby, and I would like to hear how the city is now. It’s been a while since I’ve been.”
Then you should go! Not me! I hate the city! Ugh! I can’t disappoint Mother. I should also be willing to help out Melinda. Great. City, here I come.
“I suppose I could grant you a couple of days in the city, Melinda. When do you want to leave?” Melinda squealed in delight,
“Well, just as soon as we can, of course.”
Andi covered up a sigh. “All right, I’ll go pack.” As Andi turned, she sent a look to her brothers saying You had better pay me back for this!
Justin sighed as he glanced at his watch again. Riley should have been here half an hour ago! Maybe I’ll ask the clerk at the ticket counter.
“Excuse me, sir, when will the train from Fresno arrive?”
“I apologize, sir, but that train has been delayed. We are not yet sure why.”
“Alright, thank you.” Justin slowly made his way back to the wagon to wait.
Riley stretched to his full height as he moved between train cars. Feels good to walk for a change. Wait--what’s that? Riley craned his neck to distinguish the many moving shadows. It was horses. Are we about to be held up? I should warn the conductor.
He made his way to the front of the train and to a door marked “CONDUCTOR-KEEP OUT.” He rapped the door sharply with his knuckles before entering.
“Excuse me, sir, but I have seen some horses some distance away in the east. Of course I don’t know their intentions, but I reckoned it was best to tell you and let you decide the plan of action.”
“Thieves? We don’t have that much money,” Began the conductor uncertainly, “Wait! We have Mr. Vanderbilt aboard! Mr. Smith!” A man quickly poked his head around the door.
“Get Mr. Vanderbilt into the coal room. He will not be comfortable, but at least he will be safe and alive. Also, elect certain men to collect money and valuables from the passengers in their cars. Perhaps it will be taken as a peace offering. Hurry! We do not have much time! Sir, would you collect the valuables and money from your car?”
Riley hesitated. He hated to think the scoundrels would get what they wanted, but at least lives would be saved. “Yes, sir. I will do my best.”
Riley left the frantic conductor and rushed back to his car. Mr. Smith appeared right behind him, and began whispering to Mr. Vanderbilt.
“Absolutely not! I will not cower while my brave travel-mates give their valuables, money, and maybe even lives to these brutal men! I will rally along and give my own money to this worthy cause.”
The train lurched to a halt and bodies were thrown into the aisle.
“Will everyone please collect any money, jewelry, or any other valuables you could possibly offer and place them in this hat?” Riley pleaded.
Everyone looked unsure until Mr. Vanderbilt placed a wad of bills and his gold watch into the hat. The floodgates were opened and people willingly gave in abundance.
“Surely today we all have something to be proud of!” Vanderbilt stood as he spoke. “You brave men and women have undoubtedly saved lives by the giving of your valuables today. You have done your duty as good Americans, and you have all given to a worthy and noteable cause!”
Cheers erupted around the room.
Riley prayed. Lord, you see this situation, and I believe that you are gonna work things out to Your glory. Lord, spare every life if it is in Your will; and allow people to see that you are in control. Comfort every scared soul, and strengthen all of us as we face what’s ahead.
The sheriff and his men drew closer to the stopped train.
“They must be already aboard, men. Take different cars, and clear them fully before moving on! Lastly, men, save lives! Let’s move!” The sheriff moved straight ahead to a car and paused outside the door. He heard some man spewing about how giving money would save lives, and his blood boiled. No amount of money will save yours!
He gripped his gun, took a deep breath, and kicked the door open with a splintering crash. “Everyone sit down and don’t move a muscle!” The Sheriff shouted.
Everyone scurried to do as he or she was ordered. He scanned the room for the culprit.
“Sheriff Tate?” The voice was incredulous.
Sheriff Tate turned to see Riley. “Riley Prescott? Good to see you’re alright, boy! Andi was worried sick!”
“Andi? What does she got to do with anything?”
“It’s a long story. First, where are the thieves?”
“They ain’t here. We thought y’all were thieves!” The Sheriff whirled and called all his men out.
The next day, Andi sighed as she and Melinda prepared to leave home. Oh why oh why did I ever commit to this! The city! Ain’t nothin’ there but gawkers and rude folk. I hope Melinda realized my struggle!
“Andi!” Melinda’s shout was excited, “It’s time to go! Chad is going to drive us to the station. Hurry up!”
“Coming! The city will still be there!” Andi raced toward the steps and stopped. Surely a proper young lady of twenty would not slide down the banister. Good thing I ain’t a proper young lady!
Before she could convince herself otherwise, Andi hopped aboard the banister and flew to the bottom. She entered the kitchen with a small smile.
“I saw that.” The teasing whisper came from Mitch.
Andi shushed him with a look, and ignored his laughter. She shoved down her breakfast--In a completely unladylike manner--and headed out the door. “Bye Mother, bye Mitch! I’ll see you when I get back! That is, if I survive the city.”
“Bye, Lil’ Sis! If you don’t survive I’ll eat your share, and take over your room. Don’t worry!”
“Mitchell, don’t tease you sister. Goodbye, Andrea! Have a good time.”
Andi settled back and watched the ranch fade from view.
Justin jerked awake at the sound of a train whistle. He groggily pulled his watch from his pocket and used the gas lamp to read it. 3:28 A.M? Wow! I wonder why they’re so late. He struggled to the crowd of exiting passengers.
“Justin! Over here!”
“Riley! Good to see you. What in the world took ya so long?” Riley poured out his story.
“Sheriff Tate and his men hid, and when the thieves arrived, he took them all into custody! Thank the Lord no one was hurt!”
“Well Andi’s getting here tonight, and Lin Me will be meeting us at dinner.”
“Can’t wait to see her face!” Both men smiled at the thought.
“San Francisco! San Francisco!” The conductor warned at the train pulled into the station. Andi stretched her tired body and glanced toward Melinda. Her eyes shone with happiness.
“Oh, Andi! I cannot wait.” She squealed. Andi just nodded, not wanting to disappoint her sister. When the two stepped off the platform, Andi heard a shout.
“Riley, Justin? What?” Andi shot toward the men, her spirits restored.
“We were here, so we decided to pick y’all up.” Justin explained. Andi smiled.
“I’m glad you did.” All exchanged hugs and greetings before Justin brought up food.
“Are y’all hungry? There is a positively delicious cafe just a little ways from here.”
“Absolutely. Riding all day on a train has me starved. What about you, Sis?”
“I could eat.” Melinda replied, a twinkle in her eye.
As they entered the cafe, Andi’s eyes lit on a pretty young Chinese woman Justin was conversing with. She excused herself, and headed toward Justin. She looks familiar. Super familiar. Where have I seen her before?
“Andi, I would like you to again meet Lin Mei.” Justin smiled at her look of shock.
“Lin Mei? Oh, Lin Mei, it is so good to see you!” Andi enveloped the petite girl in an embrace.
“Oh, Andi! The pleasure is mine! I have longed for the day I would be reunited with you. Just to say again, thank you! It sounds feeble to my ears, but I don’t know how else to put it! You saved my life, Andi. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!”
“Lin Mei, I would do it again in the blink of an eye. You were worth more than that. God had a plan for your life, and He simply used me to bring some things about.”
“I have heard of God, but I don’t know much about Him. Will you tell me?”
Andi blinked back hot, happy tears. Lord, let Lin Me see the light. Let her become one of your children. Show her your love, and open her eyes to the truth. Andi breathed her prayer quickly.
“Of course, Lin Me. I would be honored.” Andi then outlined the path of salvation.
Lin Me was blown away. Only minutes later found them rejoicing as Lin Me was born again. Her face was glowing with happiness. “I am now one of His children, Andi. I am still your friend, but I am now also your sister.”
Andi nodded as she wiped her eyes and stepped in for another hug. “One verse all new Christians should learn quickly, Lin Me, is Isaiah 59:1. It says--” Andi paused and flipped through the Bible Justin had lent her. ‘Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.’ That means that God will always hear your prayers. Even when you think God is not listening, you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. When I was being kidnapped, God answered every part of my prayer, and God answered Riley’s prayers as well. Sometimes we have to wait until we don’t think it could get any worse before God steps on the scene. He never turns a deaf ear to our cries.”
“Amen.” Justin nodded.
“Well said, little sister.” Andi spun in shock to see Mitch, Chad, and Mother standing with smiles wreathing their faces.
Mother wiped some tears from her eyes. “You’re so right, honey. He never turns a deaf ear to our cries. He never turns a deaf ear.”