by Griffin, Stuart


Chapter One

The Scare of His Life

The sun had just broken through the trees, making the wet leaves reflect the light of the sun as if they had grown diamonds. It’s always amazing the way God can take the simplest of things and make them beautiful, mused Sheriff Will Jacobs as he saddled Bella, his roan mare.

Nature had always intrigued him, making him appreciate God’s love and care. He called California home, and to him it was the finest landscape he had ever seen. The ocean lying to the west, the desert, the large stands of timber to the north, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and an abundance of fertile soil—all added to the beauty of the West.

Bella shifted away from him as he tightened the girth, and he laid a hand on her withers. “Steady,” he said. The horse stood almost 17 hands high. After a night of rest, she was fresh and eager to move on. Will cinched his bedroll to the back of his saddle. The sun felt warm on his face, and he was grateful for it. He was damp and cold from having nothing but his bedroll between him and the ground. As he mounted Bella and rode off, he noticed the recent rain had made the trail slippery in spots, and he guided his horse to firmer terrain.

The sheriff hoped to be home by noon—it was possible if he pushed hard. He looked forward to seeing his wife, Emma, and his little girl, Loretta.

Emma will be pleased to know that I did not take the marshall’s job, he thought to himself. She loved the town of Stone Ridge because she had roots there.

Two years earlier, in 1851, they’d bought a small house on the north end of town. He and Emma worked well together. With her touch as a homemaker and his carpentry skills, the house slowly took shape and become a home. The townspeople had accepted them, and Emma had made friends who were important to her. She was particularly close to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s daughter, Molly, was Loretta’s favorite playmate.

By and large, a wide variety of people called Stone Ridge home, many settling there after the long migration West. Those that migrated came with some sort of emotional baggage that manifested itself in one way or another. Traveling West was filled with heartache and disappointment. But it was the growth in crime that gave the sheriff his greatest concern.

With the discovery of gold up north came the fever to get rich quick, which made the towns and mining camps grow at an unstoppable pace. Stony, as some had nicknamed it, had inherited some of this gold money along the way. But prosperity had its hooks, and at times, it penetrated deep into the soul. Some men seemed to be willing to do anything to turn over a new dollar.

Will tried to understand this deep hunger for gold, a hunger that would make a man leave his wife and children in search for it. Then if they found it, some would lie, cheat, and sometimes kill to hold on to the precious “yellow” they had acquired. At times he wished he had the ability to know the intent of a man’s heart, but that could be more of a curse than a blessing, for the hidden things of the heart are known only by God.

Then there were the drifters who were cut from a different mold. A few decided to stay and start a new life; the rest just moved on with their restless hearts, still in search of what they had not yet found.

Carl Muller was one such man. He had drifted into town a year earlier. Muller often got drunk, but one dreadful day he killed a man and wounded another over a card game at the saloon. He had then stepped into the street yelling, “Sheriff Jacobs, face me! Do you hear me?”

The sheriff had never met a man more vile than Carl Muller. He was the kind of man who didn’t care for anyone or anything, not even himself. The sheriff still had misgivings over having to shoot him. But Muller had left him no other choice.

As Bella pushed through some dried brush crowding in on the trail, Will was a bit surprised to see Dry Creek so soon. They were making good time. He patted the horse’s neck, and she shook her mane, dislodging several deer flies. The creek was swollen more than he had expected; the rain had definitely fallen harder here.

“Bella, this creek could be trouble for us.” She shook her head as if she understood the words. He decided to travel downstream a number of yards to find a more suitable place to cross that was shallower.

He paused near the edge of the creek and the location he had selected to cross at. “We can walk or ride through it, but I’d rather ride, girl. It would keep my boots dryer you know.” As he was crossing over, he noticed spring flowers on the opposite bank that reminded him of Emma—she loved flowers.

“Sheriff Jacobs!” A man’s voice cut sharply through his thoughts. A rider careened down the trail toward him on a lathered horse. Reining up, he sent a shower of stones as the horse sank onto its haunches and slid to an abrupt halt, heaving and snorting.

Will could feel his guts twist with a strong sense of apprehension. “Buckley! What’s the trouble?” John Buckley was not a man prone to needless haste—something had clearly gone wrong in his absence.

Will kicked Bella, urging her across the last of the creek. When she reached the bank, she lunged up it toward the well-worn trail to meet the rider of bad news. He could see Buckley was pale and agitated. “It’s Emma; she gone! She’s been kidnapped!”

“Kidnapped? Emma? When?” Will demanded.

“Two days ago from your house!” Buckley replied tersely.

Will felt a sudden sickness wash over him. Without waiting to hear anymore, Will spurred Bella, slapping her with the ends of the reins and urging her on. He leaned over her neck and felt her hoof beats match the pounding of his heart. His thoughts raced. Emma! Kidnapped! Why would anyone do such a thing? What could they hope to accomplish? Why was Buckley sent two days late? No answers came.

He wasn’t paying any attention to the muddy and slippery trail until Bella’s flying hooves slipped out from under her and they almost went down in a heap. A quick jerk upward on the reins averted disaster, and the mare regained her footing, but he noticed foam flecking her sides. Reluctantly he slowed her to a more reasonable pace, but fear gripped his mind like a trap holding its prey. His life, and the life of his family, would never be the same again. They had turned a corner, and he couldn’t see where it was leading.

Will continued to ride for town. He had forgotten about Buckley, who was working hard to keep up. Suddenly he heard his traveling companion’s voice in the distance. “Sheriff! Watch the ridge; it’s hazardous like the trail!”

Will knew he was right. As they topped the ridge, Will didn’t notice the fine view that looked north to town with the shops on the main street or the trees that spread their branches like the wings of a bird to shade the passerby from the noonday sun. There were the side streets that the sheriff walked on his rounds, which were lined with homes and places to rent. Families and singles, young and old lived and worked on and around these streets.

Will rode down the ridge and toward town. As he reached the outskirts, he picked up speed again, now that Bella had sure footing. It was midweek, which always brought an increase of life to the pulse of the town. The main street was alive with the sounds of the blacksmith’s hammer, wagons, horses, and the ringing of a small bell on the door of a shop as customers came or went. The mud was a strong reminder of the hard rain. But mud could be a blessing if viewed in the right way because it kept the dust down for a short time.

Will dismounted and tied his horse to the post. Buckley suddenly pulled up beside him. “I’ll water and wipe her down quickly for you,” he said.

End of preview.

Here is the Table of Contents of the complete book:

Chapter One - The Scare of His Life
Chapter Two - The Lack of Unity
Chapter Three - An Unexpected Answer
Chapter Four - A Short Delay
Chapter Five - The Escape
Chapter Six - Perfect Timing
Chapter Seven - Like Brothers
Chapter Eight - The Measure of a Man
Chapter Nine - The Trail Home
Chapter Ten - Life’s Second Chance
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