Martha Ramsey held her nine-year-old sister and watched in horror as her cousins roamed through the house.
“Grandma promised me this sewing box,” the woman called Marlene said and picked up the small mahogany box on legs standing to one side of the living room. Martha gasped but said nothing. Her own sewing things were inside the box, but she did not want to try and save them.
“Those two vases are mine,” Janine, the other woman, called out and went to pick up one of the two quite elegant and tall pieces of porcelain on the mantel shelf. The two husbands of these two women were in the house as well. They were the cousins of Martha on her grandfather’s side.
“George, give me a hand with this sideboard,” Mattie, the older cousin, shouted.
“I’ll take that dresser, then,” George said as he came to help. “You can help me with that.” The five children with these two couples were poking around all over the house. The older ones were seventeen, and there were three younger children. None of them spoke to Martha or Nataly. Then the man called George came over to Martha.
“I know our grandfather talked about leaving things to you, but he didn’t actually do it. Everything in here is ours. You can get out more or less straight away.”
Martha could feel her little sister shaking and knew she was frightened. She held on and whispered that it would soon be over. The cousins on their grandfather’s side of the family claimed what they said was theirs as soon as the poor grandmother was in the ground. They had come from the funeral and expected Martha to provide food and drink. She had used the money she knew her grandmother kept to buy food and drink. The family had swarmed in, spread out through the house, and generally picked up what they wanted. Martha did not contest it. She was outnumbered.
“Where is my bag?” Nataly, her sister, whispered.
“With Mrs. Scott next door,” Martha reassured her. “Mine is there as well.” The two sisters watched as the people who were supposed to be family cleaned out the house where the sisters had lived for six years, loaded their wagon, and without a goodbye, drove away.”
“Oh, dear Lord,” she said and took Nataly’s hand. “Mrs. Scott was right to warn me this would happen. Thank goodness that she did.”
“Where will we go?” Nataly asked.
“To Uncle Eddie and Aunt Caroline,” Martha said. “They will try and help us even though they have seven children of their own.” The two sisters took one last look at the place they had called home, and Martha locked the door. Then she threw the key into the bushes in one last defiant and enjoyable gesture.
Mrs. Scott was waiting and made them eat some soup before setting off for Uncle Eddie’s. She asked what the family had done in the house and nodded as she heard the tale.
“They were always nasty, and I really think your grandfather was a little bit afraid of them.”
“Grandma said she was sorry that he had left me nothing. At least I was there to hold her hand. She gave us a home for six years.”
“You will manage somehow, girls. Your uncle on your mom’s side is a good man. You will never need to see those ghastly cousins again.”
“Thanks for your advice, Mrs. Scott. You were right about what they would do. They have cleaned out what they wanted in the house.”
They thanked the neighbor for the food, pulled on cloaks, and Martha took the two big bags. Nataly took the smaller one. They set off into the streets of New York. It was a long walk to their uncle’s, but they had no choice. The nine-year-old was very brave and kept going, but as they passed a stall holder selling food, they stopped for a rest and bought something to eat. There was a seat a little way off, and they were glad of it.
An hour later, they reached the place where their uncle’s family lived and knocked on the door. Caroline Cardle looked at them and then looked again.
“Good Lord, is it Martha and Nataly? Come in, girls. Come in.” She called for her husband, and the five children still at home crowded around. To be in a place that made them welcome after the long walk and the funeral was just too much, and Martha burst into tears. Nataly clung to her sister, and the family found them seats and listened to the story.
“I am sorry to cry, but it is just all too much,” Martha told her uncle and auntie.
“We will fit you in here somehow,” her uncle said, “until you decide what to do.” Caroline took the two older girls and went off to sort sleeping arrangements, and her uncle went over the story of the family on the other side. He shook his head.
“Your grandfather meant well, but he was frightened of them.”
“That’s what Mrs. Scott, next door, said,” Martha agreed.
“They were horrible,” Nataly added.
“They won’t follow you because they have got what they wanted. Just greed, plain and simple,” Uncle Eddie told them. “The best thing for you to do would be to find a good man to marry.”
“Easier said than done,” Martha said and thought she would quite like to meet someone she really wanted to marry. She pushed it to one side. Her uncle was right. She would need to find a good job to support herself and her sister or a man who would take them both into his life. She comforted herself with the thought that her grandmother had told her as she was dying that she had saved some money over the years.
“Take it and keep it to help you,” the dying woman had told her. “It is all I can do to help.”
“I love you, Gran,” Martha had said. “You have been a lovely mom to me and Nataly.” She had held the older woman’s hand as she passed into the next world and cried real tears of unhappiness at the loss.
The family came back in and took the two newcomers into their bedroom. “Rest for a little while, and we will all have something to eat,” Caroline told them and closed the door.
Martha held out her arms for her sister, and the pair held onto each other and sobbed quietly until the feelings were under control.
“We will be alright,” Martha said. “I will either get a job or get married, and we will have a new home.”
They ate with the family, and a normal conversation seemed to make everything seem not so bad. Martha liked her two teenage cousins, and they took Nataly into their hearts as well. The three youngest children were boys with their own interests and ran outside as soon as they could to play. The two eldest children were married and had left home.
“If I can help around the house, I am happy to,” Martha told her aunt and added that she had a little money if a dollar a week would be any help.
“I would be very grateful for that,” Caroline told her. “Thank you.”
“Grandma gave me what she had saved because they had not left me anything.”
“Poor soul. She has been very glad of your company over the last six years. Your grandfather was not an easy man. They never had children of their own.” She laughed. “Some of us have too many.”
“But you love them,” Nataly said with a sudden insight into her young thoughts.
“I do indeed,” Caroline told her. “We cannot see our cousins out on the street.”
The days and weeks passed, and the two girls felt part of the family. Nataly was not frightened anymore, but Martha knew they were two people too many in the household. She would have to find a job soon, though there was nothing suitable.
Her uncle came to find her.
“I have a widowed old friend, and he will marry you and look after Nataly. He is a good man even though he is a lot older than you.”
Martha put her hand over her mouth and looked at him. “I know I have to do something. It is just frightening.”
“I will find someone to travel with you so that you are not just two girls out on your own. It will be the safest thing for you to do.”
“Thank you for all your help,” Martha answered. “I will have to be brave.”
Eddie went off to talk to people about travel arrangements, and she sat and thought about making a new start somewhere else in the world. The idea of marrying this older man she’d never met was daunting, but Martha realized she had little choice.
I have to be strong and sensible for Nataly. We lost Mom and Dad in that dreadful accident. Grandma and Grandad gave us a home, and Grandma tried so hard. I am the one left to protect my sister.
She went to help Aunt Caroline in the kitchen.
Ronnie Harman was only twenty-two but felt he had the world’s cares on his shoulders.
“You have to go and sort it out, Ron. None of us can go, and you are the one Leo will listen to.” His dad had been so worried, and so had all the family. His brother Leo had run up gambling debts, and they had promised the gang they would pay it all back. The bunch was dangerous and had connections to the gangs in New York. Everyone knew their lives were worth nothing if they did not pay them what they wanted.
“If you meet Leo in Redport and tell the gang’s relative there that you can get the money together. That will give us a little breathing space, and your great uncle Sid has promised to lend me the money as long as we pay it all back. It will move the danger away from here and the family. I have most of the money, and the rest will be arranged for you in Redport.”
“It is a tall order,” Ronnie replied. “They might not listen to me.”
“But we have to do it. Leo will have to avoid more gambling once it is paid.”
“If he won’t come back with me, I will not be able to make him.”
The family went over what could be done about Leo, but they had no real answer, and Ronnie was left to go to Redport and sort it out.
He went out of the house and walked to clear his head. Ronnie was a man who could look after himself, but a gangland mob was more than one man could handle. He knew he would go to help the family, but it was not going to be easy or even possible.
“I wish I could just move on and live my own life,” he said out loud, and when he arrived back at the house, he found another man there who was a friend of his father.
“This is my son, Ronnie,” his dad said, introducing Eddie Cardle.
“Howdy,” Ronnie said, assuming the two men had business together. Then Eddie told him that his two nieces were traveling to Redport alone, and he would pay something toward the journey if Ronnie could just see that they got there safely.
“It’s just too much coincidence that you are making the same journey.”
Ronnie was appalled but tried hard not to show it. He could see that the older man was very concerned. He already had his foolish brother and the gang to contend with. A woman and a child were not a responsibility he needed right then.
“I’m going to sort out my brother’s gambling debt. I might put them in more danger.”
“Son, I know you will do your best. I haven’t very much money, but it will be a great relief if you can keep an eye on them.”
Ronnie’s dad added that it seemed like a good idea that the three should travel together as they were all going to the same place. Ronnie could not refuse Eddie Cardle’s pleas and hoped that this older girl was not silly like many of these New York women. He agreed, and they worked out that they would meet at the stagecoach station, and it should be as soon as possible because the gang would not wait long for their money.
Consequently, back at his house, there was a mad rush to pack things that the girls would need on the journey, and Martha tried to make her little sister see that it was an exciting adventure to be starting. Nataly and Martha knew that it was another upheaval in their young lives.
In the morning, their uncle and auntie came to the stagecoach office, bought the tickets, and saw the bags stowed in the back of the coach. Both girls carried a bag inside the coach with personal things. Ronnie Harman was already there, and he shook hands with Martha, said howdy to Nataly, and helped them on board. They waved as the stage moved away.
Martha sat back and looked at Ronnie. They had been told there were more passengers to collect but to start with, there were just the three of them.
“Thank you for keeping us company,” Martha told him. “I was afraid to start this on my own.”
Despite his worries about himself and his situation, he could not help noticing Martha’s nervousness. He smiled at her, and she saw the face of this quite serious-minded man who was not that much older than herself, change completely.
“We will try not to be a nuisance to you,” she said, holding out a hand. “I am Martha Ramsey, and this is my sister Nataly. We lived with our grandparents, but both passed away. Maybe a life away from New York will be better for us in the end.”
“Ronnie Harman,” he answered, realizing he had held her hand just a shade too long. “I have to find my brother, who is in trouble due to his gambling. I must admit that I agree with you about a life away from New York. I often think about it myself.”
“So, we are both dealing with problems. I will try not to give you even more.”
“We’re just traveling to the same place. It’s better if women have a man with them. Once we are there, I’ll have to leave you to make your own arrangements. This man I have to meet does not seem to be someone you should be around. These gangs and moneylenders are dangerous people.” He looked out the window and tried not to let her see that he was really concerned about the job he had agreed to do.
Martha reached out and put a hand on his arm. He turned at the touch and saw this pretty girl with blonde hair and blue eyes was clearly concerned for him.
“We will try not to be something else for you to worry about. I am sorry that my uncle asked you to take care of us.”
Ronnie felt the warmth of her hand through the material of his jacket and covered her hand with his own.
“We can help each other through the journey. That should be the easy part. Then you’ll have to find this man who is going to marry you. Then you’ll be safe.”
He felt the shiver running through her body and knew she was unhappy about her situation. He asked about her family, and she told him how her parents had died and then her grandparents.
“You have had a dreadful time,” he sympathized and understood that this woman was going through a time when she did not know what lay ahead of her. Ronnie Harman was a man with a heart that was going out to Martha Ramsey. “I will do my best to help you.”
The conversation ended as the coach stopped and took on three more passengers going only a short distance. The two men and one woman said howdy to the three travelers in the coach. They moved up to make room, and the older man said he was sorry to make it rather full, but they were only going to the next depot, and the coach would have more room again.
“We’re going all the way to Redport,” Ronnie told the newcomers.
“That’s a long journey,” one of the ladies replied. “You will be exhausted by the time you get there.”
They spoke to Nataly, and she replied. Settled against her sister, she seemed to have accepted the new adventure. They talked a little, but it was difficult with the bumping of the coach as they rode along. Two hours later, they stopped at the first depot. The travelers wished them well and climbed off the stage. The driver said they would stop to rest the horses, and the hotel would have food and drink.
Ronnie helped them both down, and they looked around.
“It always feels freer when you leave the city,” Ronnie said.
“I have only once been outside of New York,” Martha told him as they went up the steps and into the hotel.
He looked at her with a new understanding. “You are very brave to make this journey, then,” he told her. “I’ve worked out of the city and been back and forth several times. I think I’ll stay away from the city once I’ve settled this affair with my brother.”
“New lives for all of us,” Martha said and for the first time, felt able to smile.
Ronnie felt a little twist inside his chest as she seemed to be relaxing for the first time. She was not a silly, simpering little girl as a lot of the women he met had been. He offered her an arm and took Nataly by the hand at the other side.
“Let’s try and enjoy this journey,” he said, and the three sat at a table. The young man serving said that the chicken was good, and they ordered a meal.
“I am glad to leave New York behind,” Martha resumed the conversation as they ate. “Maybe I was meant to be a country girl all along.”
“Where did you live before your parents died?” he asked.
“On the outskirts of New York. When we moved in with my grandparents, it took us into the part where there were factories and apartments. It seemed very crowded.”
“And dirty,” Nataly added.
“The people working in the factories are treated very badly,” Ronnie commented.
“I was taught things like dancing, embroidery, and painting to make me a good marriage prospect,” Martha told him. “I would have chosen to do other things instead, but you have to do what seems best at the time.”
“To a new life,” Ronnie said and lifted his glass. They all had drinks, and Nataly clicked hers against the other two with a grin.
“A new life,” they all repeated. Martha insisted that they share the cost of the meal, and when Ronnie had paid the bill, she gave him the cost for herself and her sister.
Only one other man joined them in the coach, and he buried his head in a newspaper after passing the time of day. The three companions settled into seats, and Martha pulled out of her bag a book.
By sheer chance, Ronnie felt in his luggage as well and produced a book at exactly the same time. They held up the books and looked at each other. There was a short silence, and then they both laughed.
“Do you read a lot?” Ronnie asked.
“All the time,” Martha said and looked to see what he was reading. “You are reading Mr. Dickens,” she cried, showing him she was doing the same.
“Good Lord, what a coincidence,” Ronnie exclaimed. “Which one are you reading?”
“The Old Curiosity Shop,” she answered, and he showed her the book cover he had himself. It was Oliver Twist.
“I wish I had been able to hear Mr. Dickens read his books out loud. People say it was just magical. I think he wanted to be on the stage and entertain people all his life,” Martha reflected.
“He paints a very true picture of the hard life that the workers had. We discussed that before and how hard it is for folk who work in factories.”
Martha found a younger storybook for her sister and handed it over. They all settled to read despite the coach shaking, but Nataly sighed and closed the book after a while.
Ronnie glanced across at her.
“Is it not a good story?”
“I have read it a lot of times before.”
Ronnie looked at Martha, who had stopped reading as well. “I have a brother about the same age as you, and I sometimes tell him about these stories by Mr. Dickens.”
“What is his favorite?” Martha asked, and Ronnie grinned at her.
“Everybody’s favorite is ‘A Christmas Carol,’ is it not?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t read that one.”
The man in the corner put down his newspaper. “I have, and it is definitely my favorite.”
“Mine too,” Ronnie said. Without asking if she wanted to hear it, he looked at Nataly and told her about the poor family of Bob Cratchit and his poorly son.
“It was cold and snowy outside, and the Cratchits were looking for wood to burn on the fire to keep themselves warm while the man that Bob worked for was called Mr. Scrooge, and he had the best of everything.”
Nataly was drawn into the story already and leaned against Ronnie as he went on to tell her how mean and frumpy Mr. Scrooge was and did not care about anyone at all.
“He did not care about the Cratchitts and poor little Tim, who struggled to walk but was always cheerful.”
Just before Christmas, when the shop windows were full of lovely things to eat, and people were cooking plum puddings, Tim could only look at what other people could have. His dad asked Mr. Scrooge for a little money to treat his son, and Scrooge refused and slammed the door. Then he went to his luxurious house saying, ‘bah humbug’ to anyone asking for a few pennies.
“I hate Christmas,” he was muttering. He pulled on his nightclothes and funny nightcap, took a bed warmer, and was cosy beneath his thick woollen blankets.
“Did little Tim keep warm?” Nataly asked, and Ronnie shook his head. He went on to tell the rest of the story and described the dreams that Mr. Scrooge had that frightened him silly.
“Her Rocky Trail to Happiness” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Martha Ramsey’s world is shattered after the passing of her last close relative, her loving grandmother. Left to care for her younger sister too, she has no choice but to comply with her uncle’s offer of marriage to an older man in the West and embark on this precarious journey to the unknown. Her escort is Ronnie, a charming young man that makes her wonder if true love is among the cards that fate has in store for her…
Will she choose to accept her destiny or will she find the courage to show what lies deeper in her heart?
Ronnie Harman is a dutiful son tasked by his family to pay off the debts of his gambling brother to a notorious gang. Little did he expect to accompany a spoiled city lady, Martha, and her sister on his trip back home as part of his deal. Despite his first displeasure, he finds himself drawn to this dazzling young woman who is nothing like he predicted and is willing to risk everything for the safety of her family. When dangers and difficulties cross their path his heart will shiver in fear for her…
Can this unknown woman be the one who will capture his lonely heart?
As they travel west, Martha and Ronnie discover a connection that neither of them could foresee. They must rely on each other to survive and fight together to protect what is most precious to them. As two strangers that are bound together, can the powerful light of their romance dissipate the threats that lurk around, or will they be doomed along with their love story?
“Her Rocky Trail to Happiness” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.