Two years had passed since Olaf Karlsson was shot, and Polly’s memory was restored. It never ceased to amaze her that she had been through all the things that had happened and she could be so very happy. She was sitting in her favourite rocking chair with the latest addition to the family on her knee. Like the toddler racing around in the yard in front of her, this little girl was also the very model of Dru. She had his dark hair and slim face, and her name was Jenny Delmar Ryder.
Polly knew and smiled as she thought about it, that in Windyhill, Jennifer had a girl as well, and she was called Polly. Becky came and sat on the chair beside her and asked what she was smiling for.
“Thinking about Jennifer and Polly and me and Jenny,” she answered as Becky took the little girl and rocked her in her arms.
“She is quite quite beautiful,” she said. The two women looked out across what was now a busy, working ranch. They had sold what they could the first year but kept all the calves, and the second year had doubled those amounts. Dru had left the deputy’s job and was ranching full-time. The place was making a profit, and to the women’s surprise, so was the guest house. They had two rooms to rent out to visitors because Margaret had married Jinty.
“I might treat myself to some new clothes,” Becky mused. “I never had spare money in my life before.”
“You work hard for it, why not?” Polly answered and waved at Margaret as she came out of the small cabin they had built to hang some clothes on the line to dry.
“Jinty works really hard, doesn’t he?” Becky asked, and Polly said that he had put in a whole lot of effort for no pay when the place was starting.
“He is a good foreman, and I think, in his heart, glad he has a permanent home and job.”
“I am glad they found each other.” Becky looked across the space to the corrals. “They sort of saved each other.”
“Montague’s out on the range.” Polly laughed, “He’ll be back at meal time.” Becky laughed as well.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Sure is,” Polly answered and thought what a stunning young woman Becky had grown into. “Every man in the place would like to come courting you, Becky.”
“Don’t want them, though,” Becky said.
“Montague is a lucky man.”
Polly had already fed the baby and the two women settled the child in the crib where she settled and never opened her eyes. Dru stamped his feet at the porch to shake off the dust before he came over and looked down at the youngster in the cradle.
“Just needed a coffee. Forking hay is dusty work,” he said to Polly, “and a quick look at Jenny Ryder.” He traced the baby’s head lightly with his finger before pouring a cup from the pot constantly brewing on the stove.
The little boy that was Andrew Ryder climbed the porch steps and followed his dad inside. He clutched the man around the leg, and Dru swung him high above his head. Andrew giggled and shrieked and then asked to do it again. Eventually, Polly held out a piece of bread to the youngster and allowed Dru to have his coffee in peace.
“How is the work going?” Becky asked although both Dru and Polly knew she meant where was Montague working?
“We need such a lot of fencing. Montague is out there now marking out where it will go.”
“Will you need more help?” Polly asked, and he nodded and said he would have to find some money to pay for some men to help out.
“Joel knows folk who will give us some hours, and Montague does as well. The timber yard will drop off the first wood that we need tomorrow.” He stood up and grabbed his hat. “With more beasts next year, we will need more accommodation and a cookhouse to take on more men full-time.”
“How many men?” Polly asked, and he said that it would just be two at first.
“I can cook for two more,” she told him. “That would ease things to start with.”
“And I can help,” Becky said.
“What a team,” Dru called as he pushed his Stetson onto his head and went back to the barn. “We still have to build the bunkhouse.”
Carter rushed up the steps and into the house. The lad was a strapping fourteen-year-old now who was glad to leave school behind and be working on the ranch. He had spent his early years on a small ranch with his folks, and his riding and roping skills made him a natural cowboy.
“He is growing up fast,” Polly thought, and he asked where Dru was.
“In the barn. Is something wrong?”
“Montague’s horse caught its foot in a hole, and he came off. The horse is too lame to ride back.”
“Is Montague alright?” Becky asked anxiously, and he grinned at his adopted sister.
“Don’t worry. He only fell off the saddle and got up again. I need to take him a horse to ride back on. We can lead the lame one.”
He turned and hurried off to find Dru, and Dru went back to the place where Montague was waiting with him to make sure things were okay. The two of them had been at the far part of the spread where the trees marked the horizon. It took some time to get there and a slow journey back with the lame animal moving behind them.
“I made a rough note of how long it would take to fence what we need,” Montague told Dru. “If the wood is arriving, I can get a couple of men to start straightaway near to the house and start on the first section.”
“Macallister has a fence up on the edge of his land, and we can work across and join to that. At least one section will be complete,” Dru answered and asked him to contact the men to do the work. “Joel says he can start on the bunkhouse in between his other jobs, and I told him we would all lend a hand.”
“It’s all go.” Montague grinned. “Good to see things growing.”
“There is more land beyond those trees,” Carter joined in, “and I don’t think it belongs to anyone.”
“You are way ahead of me boy,” Dru told him, “but you never know what lies ahead.
The women came out to make sure Montague was unhurt, and Dru asked for a poultice of oats to put on the gelding’s leg. Polly went off to find what she needed, and Becky asked if Montague really was alright.
“I could whirl you around in a dance to prove it,” he joked, and Carter took off before things got really sloppy.
He found Dru back in the barn running his hands over the horse’s leg.
“Feel that,” Dru told him. “Can you feel how hot it is?” Carter said that he could, and when Polly arrived with the poultice, he held the horse whilst Dru applied the bandage and then put the animal in a stall with some hay to keep him occupied.
“Enforced rest in the stall, I think,” Dru said, and they walked out to look over the corral rails.
“Where will the bunkhouse go?” Polly asked.
“Away from the house a little bit so that the men don’t think the boss is watching them all of the time,” Dru answered. Carter asked if he was going with the men to do the fencing, and Dru said they would all go, and the job would be finished quickly.
“I can do food for the end of the day for everyone,” Polly offered, and he said they would make a fire and brew up at midday themselves, but a hot meal at the end would be a good idea.
“Dru,” Carter said, and they both looked at him because it was a voice that suggested he was worried. Both Dru and Polly knew that Carter and Becky had both had times when the bad memories behind them had been hard to forget. Montague was obviously helping Becky move on, but Carter was still young.
“What?” they both said together, and he grinned. He knew they worried about him.
“I’m not upset or anything, but you know that land beyond the trees?” Dru nodded. “Do you think I could sell the farm and buy that land and join it to this land?”
“Well, you have taken the wind out of my sails with that one, Carter,” Dru answered, but he looked at Polly and got an imperceptible nod. “Before I answer, we can take Jinty and Montague and go to see what is out there. I know roughly because when I was sheriff I covered most of the territory round about.”
“You don’t think I am crazy?” Carter said with a smile. He had been a bit scared to broach the subject.
“I think you are too young to buy and sell it yourself. I would have to check with the lawyer and the bank to see if it would be possible. We’ll have a look first and see what is out there.”
“Thanks, Dru,” Carter said. Polly squeezed his arm and told him that if he was always going to be close at hand, she would be a happy woman.
They found Montague still standing at the porch steps making Becky smile and asked him if he was happy to go along on a scouting expedition.
“Great,” he said, “do you want the fencing done first?”
“I think so. Let’s get that first section done and then relax a bit.” Montague said he would go and find the men on his way home, and Becky walked to the gate with him. The others tried not to smile and went inside the house. As they finished their meal, and Polly had left the others to clear away as she fed the baby, Margaret and Jinty knocked and came inside.
“All cleared outside, boss,” Jinty said. “I took a look at the horse, and the leg feels as if the swelling has gone down a bit.”
“Have a seat you two and listen to Carter’s idea.”
“Sounds good to me,” Margaret said when she heard the lad say his piece.
“Happy to go and have a look with you, Carter,” Jinty added.
“Fences first and scouting expedition after that,” Dru said, and there was a pause in the conversation. Margaret shuffled in the chair. Polly and Becky both looked at her and wondered what was wrong.
“I am thirty-eight, you know,” Margaret started, and Jinty grinned. Polly saw with a flash of inspiration what was coming and burst in.
“And you’re pregnant.”
Margaret nodded and smiled.
“Oh, how wonderful,” Becky said and went over to give both of them a hug.
“Place will be bursting with babies if we keep on like this,” Dru said but grinned and shook Jinty by the hand.
“Hope it’s a boy,” Carter said and offered his hand like Dru had done.
“I’m not a young woman anymore,” Margaret worried. “I just thought I was someone who would never have a family.”
“People have babies at all ages,” Polly told her. “You are my family anyway and having another one will be marvellous.
“We’ll take care of you. Feet up and all that,” Becky said. The women fell to talking about dates and what they would need to prepare for another baby, and Dru pointed his head at the door. Jinty and Carter followed him outside.
The fencing took a lot of effort, and the men came back for each night of the week worn out and ready for the food that Polly had ready. It gave her an idea of what feeding extra hands would be like when they expanded.
Carter already knew how to put up a fence but found that he was holding the posts for other people to knock into the ground and secretly was quite happy about that. He kept glancing towards where the tree line was that marked the far boundary and wondering how it would look. He knew inside himself that being a cowboy and eventually a rancher was what he really wanted to do with his life.
Whenever they stopped for a rest and a coffee the men would challenge him to rope whatever was at hand. They joked about it, but it was obvious that he had a particular talent in that direction, and they treated him like one of the men and not just a young lad.
Dru saw the boy growing up, getting stronger, and becoming a man that he would be proud to know. He looked towards the trees as well and visualised the land out there. He knew there were streams of clear water and probably places to dig a well.
A day’s rest, he thought, and then a scouting expedition.
The fencing was finished and the herd kept inside of it. It meant that they could stop having to ride out and bring the wanderers back. The second lot of fencing would be easier because the stock would be near the ranch.
The four of them set off on the journey to see the land and left the women to run the household for a day. They galloped the horses for quite a while but slowed down to rest them, and the far boundary of trees was suddenly at hand. The land was fairly level for most of the time but rose up in the far distance towards the mountains. They pulled up once through the trees and surveyed what was ahead.
“How far to the trail to Windyhill?” Carter asked, and Dru thought it was another day’s ride and then the trail for a day after that. A ride to different parts of the area showed them that there was some good grazing but areas that were rocky and not a lot of use. There were streams and water which was good, and they saw wildlife in plenty.
“No neighbours,” Montague remarked, “there might be the possibility of expanding.”
“What do you think?” Carter asked, and the three men all thought that it was possible but a long way from both Windyhill and Whiterush. They turned back for home, and in the trees that marked the boundary of Dru’s land, Carter said that he still remembered seeing the flash of something when they first rode out there.
Out of curiosity, Dru asked if he remembered where it was, and the lad looked back at the tree line and pointed. They rode over and looked at the spot. Riding back and forth, Dru spotted where the trees had been broken, and although the breaks were old and healed over, someone had made a camp there at some point. The undergrowth had grown back, but if it were kicked it away, there was the sign that a fire had been lit there more than once.
“Looks like you were right, Carter. Someone made this spot a camp. I wonder why,” Dru observed.
“Curiosity satisfied,” Jinty said as they turned for home, but Montague was a little behind him and slid down from the horse. He kicked the undergrowth and bent to pull out a bag. It was dirty and falling apart but still a bag of the sort that Karlsson had used for the gold.
The others saw him find something and came back to see.
“So, Karlsson probably camped here before he came to try and kill me,” Dru observed.
He took the remnants of the bag from Montague and then threw it into the bushes.
“Leave the past in the past,” he said and climbed back onto his horse. They kicked the horses to a gallop and let the speed and movement take their minds away from what had been a bad time. They reached home to find hot food ready and the women pleased to see them. They all ate together in the huge kitchen and told the story of the land and finding the old bag.
Polly stopped eating and shivered, and Dru covered her hand with his own.
“I don’t faint now at the sight of a bag.” She laughed. “You were right to throw it away and leave it there.”
“What about this extra land?” Becky asked. Carter looked at Dru who told them what they had seen.
“I think,” he said, “that if we can lay claim to it in Carter’s name, it might not cost a lot. Nobody else has thought to put in a claim, and his money can stay where it is until he is eighteen.”
“That sounds the right thing to me,” Montague added. “I have lived here all my life and worked on most of the ranches. It has always been there and not used. You could run cattle on it if it was in Carter’s name, and then you would see if it would work.”
Carter looked from one to the other, and a smile spread across his face.
“Well?” Polly asked, “what do you think?” He couldn’t get out the words but nodded his head and then stuttered that it would be great.
“Your land supporting my cattle?” Dru asked and held out a hand.
“It’s a deal,” Carter answered and shook on it. Montague told them good luck and stood up to go home. Becky went out with him to the gate, and Polly glanced out after a few minutes. There was no sign of either of them, but a little later when she was starting to think about where Becky had gone, they both arrived back at the house hand-in-hand.
Becky was grinning like the cat that got the cream but trying not to show it. Polly glanced at Dru and at Margaret who smiled.
“Dru,” Montague started, and Becky gave his hand a squeeze. “I would like to … to … to … to … marry Becky if that is alright with you.” There was a moment of silence, and then the room erupted. Polly and Margaret threw themselves at the couple. Becky found tears were streaming down her cheeks, and Carter stood beside Jinty until the room came to its senses.
“I guess the answer is yes,” Dru said and shook Montague by the hand before picking Becky up and twirling her around in the air. She held her arms around his neck.
“Thanks, Dad,” she whispered into his ear, and Dru had to hold back a tear that threatened to come out.
“Carter?” Becky asked because these two had become a very firm brother and sister. He smiled and held out his arms. Becky flew into them and was whirled around again. Then she went back to Montague and put her arm around his waist.
“When?” Jinty asked.
“Enough time for the folks from Windyhill to plan to get here,” Polly answered.
“And for my sister to make the best wedding dress ever,” Montague added. “Can Becky come with me to tell her the news?”
“Of course,” Polly said and watched with a smile as the two of them mounted Montague’s horse together and walked away down the main street.
“I am guessing that the whole town will notice the two of them together and work out what is happening.”
“Oh, Lord. We need to build another house, Jinty,” Dru said. The other man nodded and held his hand out for his wife.
“Wedding before the baby comes please,” he said as the two of them set off for their own cabin. Polly sank onto the sofa, and Dru came beside her.
“What a day,” Carter said.
“I cannot believe that you are both growing up so fast,” Polly told him. “A landowner and a married woman.”
“And Margaret’s baby,” Dru added.
Sometime later, Montague brought Becky home, and they all talked about a date.
“I’ll telegraph Matt and then we can write a letter with the details,” Dru told them.
“My sister is delighted and already has pictures of dresses pulled out of cupboards,” Montague said, and then Becky walked him to the gate, and it was some time before she came back inside.
The time sped away, and after about six weeks, the excitement was at fever pitch. The men had managed to build a small cabin so that the couple could have their own place but would still eat in the main house.
Remembering how Ma Brooks had decked out the wedding for Jennifer, Polly, Becky, and Margaret worked like slaves to do the same and were assisted when she could by Sue Sibster. Sue was making dresses for Margaret and Polly as well as the wedding dress.
“The folk from Windyhill were making the journey as Polly and Dru had done for before and arrived a day in advance. Polly was on tenterhooks as she waited for them to arrive, and when the coach came in at the gate, ran out to throw herself at Ma Brooks who was grinning broadly.
They had never seen the new baby, and Ma was such a proud granny that she was bursting with it. They were all to stay at Corby Mount, and when everyone had said hello to everyone, they sank onto chairs to catch up with all of the news.
“Becky, I cannot believe that this is your wedding. It doesn’t seem five minutes since we saw you,” Ma told her, and they were all introduced to Montague. The decorations were inspected and passed the Ma Brooks test of approval.
There was so much news to give and receive, but in the end, tiredness caught up, and they went to bed. Polly thought she would never sleep and had a million things racing through her mind to remember to do, but Dru held her close, and his arms around her worked their magic as always.
The day dawned, and Polly started on breakfasts. Ma Brooks insisted that she would help and that Becky should relax and enjoy her day. Only Polly had seen the dress before the day, but Sue Sibster had excelled herself, and when Becky appeared in the living room, she was like a fairy princess.
The layers of lace cascaded down, and the long sleeves clung to her arms. There was a decoration at the neck, and Polly tied up Becky’s hair onto her head so that they could pin flowers into it. Then she dressed herself in the deep cream velvet that Sue had made for her and waited for Margaret who had a beautiful gown with enough loose detail to cover the baby bump.
The now very active Andrew had a special outfit as well and held his mother’s hand with many warnings about behaving himself.
The hired carriage took Becky and Dru to the church after the others had all gone, and he walked her down to the minister with as much pride and joy as if she was his own daughter. She truly felt like his daughter.
Montague turned and was speechless at the sight of his bride in the stunning dress walk towards him. The service was a joy, and everyone sang the hymns. The bride and groom walked arm-in-arm back to the carriage and the festivities. There was not a dry eye in the place. Polly took Dru’s arm and walked behind the happy couple followed by Ma Brooks and family and everyone else there.
It seemed the whole town was invited. Everyone knew how Becky had suffered before she came there. She was a likeable girl, and Montague was a popular man. Many a young woman would be sad to see Montague Sibster was no longer available.
The awning was done as Ma Brooks had done before them. Tables were laden with food, and the local fiddler and his pals were already playing foot tapping tunes. Montague and Becky told everyone as they arrived to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves, and that was just what the whole town did.
The babies had been left behind with trusted helpers but were nursed by willing friends as Polly and Margaret assisted by Ma and Jennifer made sure that everyone was plied with food and drink.
The dancing was wild and furious. Polly found herself pulled into the ring time after time and sometimes was whirled around by Dru and by Carter. The moon had risen and darkness fallen by the time the last revellers made their way home, and Montague and Becky made their way to the new house and their new life.
“Love you, Becky,” Polly said and kissed her cheek. Montague whisked his bride into his arms and carried her over the threshold. The door closed, and the rest of the family retired to the house.
“Sensational wedding,” Ma Brooks declared as she sank onto a chair, “but I am feeling my age a bit more.”
“We copied what you had done shamelessly,” Polly told her.
“What a great way to meet up,” Matt said, “No crime, no nasty people and just a good day.”
Jennifer was nursing baby Polly and looked as happy as could be. Polly was so glad that her friend had found happiness, and now Becky had as well. It looked like Carter would eventually be a rancher, and Margaret and Jinty had their own special joy. She took Dru’s hand.
“We are so lucky,” she said, and everyone said they would drink to that.
The party from Windyhill left the next day to much hugging and plans to meet again. Polly, Dru, and everyone else waved them off from the gate, and the ranch went back to what they thought was a normal day.
“Don’t want to see you two,” Polly told Becky. “Go and have a day to yourselves.”
Jinty and Carter rode off to check the stock and make sure the new fences were working. Dru and Polly went back inside the house and sank onto chairs.
“You did a great job on the wedding, Dru told his wife.
“You were proud as punch to walk her down the aisle,” she replied, “the dress was a work of art.”
“I was proud of Andrew as well,” Dru told her, “He was really well behaved all day.” The little one was playing outside with some wooden toys that he was dragging around on a string.
“Our eldest daughter is married, the next one down is going to be a landowner, Andrew is being good, and baby Jenny will be as gorgeous as Becky. I am one happy woman.”
“It is hard to believe that three years ago you were kidnapped, and I never found you for a year. I thought life was not worth living. This is a far cry from the bottom of a whisky bottle.”
“It is amazing how you can recover. Carter and Becky have both conquered their horrible memories even though I know it was not always easy. I think that shooting Karlsson was a moment that turned the corner for her. Carter as well had a crucial hand in bringing the man down. Jennifer had a ghastly time but has Matt and baby Polly now. Her parents suffered for a year as well.”
“She has Ma Brooks to look after her.” Dru grinned and pushed himself to his feet. He went to the little desk he kept in the corner for looking at the papers for the ranch.
“My lifetime dream of a ranch is coming together, and the guest house makes a profit.” He took a box from the drawer. “Have you seen the little necklace that your mom gave you lately?”
Polly shook her head. “I guess it is in the bedroom. It has nothing to hold it around my neck. I should do something about that.”
He came over and handed her a little box and then dropped to one knee. “I cannot propose to you all over again, Polly but I had this made for you. I love you so much. Always have and always will. There has never been another girl for me.”
She looked inside the box and found not only her mother’s gift with a new, silver chain to hold it in place but a beautiful version of it in gold on a gold chain. Polly was speechless and looked at him with eyes shining with tears of joy. She picked up the delicate gold pendant and said how exquisite it was.
“Like my wife.”
“Oh, Dru. My darling boy. I love you from the bottom of my heart. I fell in love with you when I was fifteen. Best of all, I can remember every day since then. Thank you.”
He took the chain and fastened it around her neck and then kissed the place where it lay. Then he pulled her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her. The kiss that happened between them was long, lingering, and held their love as a sure and lasting promise that would never be broken.
“Happy ever after,” she whispered in his ear.