Updated: Sep 8
It is 1881. Anne is 19, a widow on the Oregon Trail. She has no option but to travel with her husband's murderer. She dreams of revenge...but God has other plans. Here is Chapter One...
Anne smiled as if she was guarding some delicious secret. She could never have imagined she'd be married and traveling over two thousand miles in a covered wagon. The very thought of being a mail-order bride once sounded so ludicrous. She'd been so frightened about it at first. Her mother said the very idea of marrying someone she had never met was complete insanity. But, traveling these three months beside her husband, basking in his love . . .
Her William proved to be more than she could have asked for. He was tall and handsome, a perfect man, well . . . near perfect. No one but Jesus was perfect.
“I'm so glad you insisted we marry back in Independence on the very day I arrived.”
“Didn't want you to change your mind.”
“Who wouldn't want to marry you?” She giggled, adjusting her bonnet.
As they stopped to set up camp for the night, Anne jumped from the wagon and froze where she landed. She couldn’t move. The beauty surrounding her was mesmerizing. The hills were ablaze with gold and scarlet from the setting sun. The wind softly blew wisps of hair across her face. She breathed in the sweet smell of the prairie grass that rippled around her like ocean waves. There seemed to be no end to the sky. It looked like a window into eternity.
Anne watched William blow on the kindling to start the evening fire. Baby flames leaped into the air. Coyotes started their evening serenade, crying to God for their supper. It was all so breathtakingly beautiful. She had never felt so happy, so content, in all her life.
Anne was thankful William gave her time to breathe in the beauty. He didn’t scold her, as others would have, and demand she get supper ready. Looking towards the lingering colors of the setting sun, Anne was surprised to see the captain and two men loping towards them from the back of the wagon train.
“Hmmm, I wonder what that's all about?” she questioned aloud.
Her husband followed her gaze. His stare turned into a glare before her eyes. There was something she had never seen in those green eyes before. The cold ugliness almost stopped her heart.
“Anne, get in the wagon.” An unfamiliar meanness edged his voice.
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“Do as I say!” The tone of his voice scared her.
The strangers reined in their mounts as they approached William's wagon.
Anne hesitated. “But what's the matter?”
“Now! Just do it!” he hissed through clenched teeth.
Hurrying to the back of the wagon, she took one last glance before grabbing hold of the ladder and hiking herself up. What could the captain and those men want? Why had William acted that way? She peeked around the corner of the canvas and was shocked to see her husband pull his pistol. Gunshots echoed through the air. Her husband lay crumpled on the ground. Anne climbed out of the wagon as fast as she could and ran to him.
“William!” A crimson stain spread across the front of his shirt. She glared at the strangers. “What have you done?” She put her hand on his chest. It remained perfectly still. There was no breath. She looked at his face. His eyes stared into nothingness. Her husband was dead.
“No! Nooooo! William, no! God, help me!”
Sobs racked her body as she collapsed onto his corpse.
The next thing Anne knew, strong hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her away from William.
“No! Leave me alone!”
“I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't have a choice.”
She glared up into the man's face. “Didn't have a choice? Are you crazy? You just murdered my husband!” She turned to the captain. “You saw what happened. You can't let him get away with this!”
“Ma’am, he’s a US Marshal.”
Anne couldn’t believe what just happened. She was finally having a life of her own—freedom and a husband. She was soon to have her very own home in California. Now this? Widowed and alone on the Oregon Trail.
God, what were You thinking? I thought I could trust You.
Anne slumped onto a stump beside the now blazing fire. She couldn’t stop sobbing. The marshal sat on a stump beside the widow, trying to calm her.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Ma’am.”
Anne screamed inside her head at this wretched man. Shut up! You aren’t sorry at all!
It was surprising how quickly hatred could consume the human heart. She now hated the marshal. Why did he shoot her husband? She would never forgive him.
The captain had to know why this happened. He led the marshal and his deputy right to William. Everything happened so fast. If they hadn’t drawn their guns, would the story have been different?
This whole thing seemed like a nightmare and Anne felt trapped in it. Watching the deputy pull a shovel off the side of the wagon was surreal. The deputy strode off to dig a grave. The captain followed—her husband’s body draped over a horse.
How could that be her husband’s body? How could he be dead? There must be some mistake. She had just spoken to him. Anne stared at the fire William had just built—still burning brightly—as if nothing happened. Tears stung her eyes.
Lord, make this horrible man—this murderer—go away—leave me alone.
Anne couldn’t tell him to go away. She was crying so hard the words caught in her throat and wouldn’t come out. She didn’t want to hear his words, but the marshal insisted on talking to her.
He repeated, “I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”
Does he think I didn’t hear him before? Or maybe he’s just plain stupid and has no other words to say. Make him shut up, Lord. Better yet, could you send a few lightning bolts his way and strike him dead?
They sat for over an hour, listening to the sound of the shovel turning the earth. The horrible sound finally stopped, and the captain walked over to the fire. He gave the marshal a nod. “A word?”
They moved a stone’s throw away. Did they really think she couldn’t hear them? It’s funny how sounds carry on the prairie at night.
“I can’t have an unaccompanied woman on my train. It would be too dangerous.”
The hard reality of her situation settled over Anne’s shoulders like a cold blanket.
Now what, God? Do You have a plan or are You just going to send me off to die in the wilderness?
The marshal’s voice sounded thoughtful. “Couldn’t a few of the men on the train take shifts to help her?”
“Never work. She can’t pull her weight. There’d be fighting over her, and there’d be men who’d try to force their attentions on her. Way too much trouble. She can’t stay.”
The coyote’s howling suddenly hushed—as if they held their breath—waiting to hear what would be said next.
“I have an idea.” The marshal spoke so quietly Anne had to strain to hear his words.
“We passed Fort Laramie a couple days ago. I’m headed back that way. My deputy and I could take her there. There are families there—womenfolk. She wouldn’t be alone.”
“Well, that sounds like a mighty fine solution. I’ll tell her she’s leaving with you—that you’re pulling out first thing in the morning.”
The captain strolled towards her. Did he really expect her to travel with that horrid man—that murderer?
“Ma’am. I’m sorry—but, I’m afraid you can’t continue to Oregon alone on this train. The marshal has offered to take you back to Fort Laramie.”
Anne said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to say anything. Her thoughts were too horrible.
“He will be pulling out in the morning. He has offered to drive your team.”
Anne’s mouth went dry. Her body seemed frozen to the spot. Words tumbled through her mind—but she couldn’t make them come out. She couldn’t believe the feelings trying to encase her heart and hold her hostage. Hatred. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. Revenge.
First, God took her husband. Now, did He really expect her to travel with her husband’s murderer? Did God love her at all?
The next morning, Anne walked far behind the man walking beside her oxen. She despised this man.
The marshal called back, “You’re welcome to rest in the wagon if you get tired, ma’am.”
His intentions were good, but she didn’t want his help. She wanted to be walking beside William. Maybe, with any luck, the marshal would trip and break his neck.
Anne walked for about an hour. The sun beat down on her mercilessly. She had barely slept the night before. Physically and emotionally exhausted, Anne climbed into the back of the wagon. It was so full of supplies there was hardly any room to sleep. She wedged herself into a corner, but the pitching of the wagon made sleep impossible. She tossed for a few hours, as the wagon jolted over bumps and rocks.
God, I know it’s not right, but I hate him. I will never forgive him. Don’t ever ask me to forgive him.
Anne gave up trying to rest, climbed out of the wagon, and again walked a good distance behind the marshal. They followed the deep grooves made from other wagons near the banks of the Platte River.
He called back to her, “Couldn’t rest?”
“How’d you figure that out?”
“You just missed the biggest herd of buffalo I’ve ever seen.”
Anne didn’t answer. He didn’t deserve an answer. She watched the tall prairie grasses swaying in the hot breeze. It was so dusty. The prairie stretched as far as she could see. The dazzling blue sky seemed to go on forever.
The marshal called back to her, “The breeze is fairly calm now, but it’s not always this calm. Winds sometimes howl through this land with such force wagon canvases are shredded.”
Anne ignored his comment.
When they stopped for lunch of hard biscuits, bison jerky, and sweet tea, Anne continued to ignore the marshal. Maybe if she pretended he wasn’t there, he would be quiet and the trip would go faster? Ignoring him didn’t help. He didn’t seem to be able to take a hint. He kept talking.
“Ma’am, I’ve made this trip a few times. It would be dangerous for you to be alone on the Oregon Trail.”
Well, if he wanted to talk, she would talk about important things. “Why did you shoot William?”
“I had no choice ma’am. It was him or me.”
“That’s not what I meant. Why would you shoot an innocent man?”
“I’d rather not say at this time, ma’am.”
“Why? Is it because you have no good reason?”
“I think you’ve had enough grief for one day, ma’am.”
There was no way of dragging an answer out of him, so after the brief lunch Anne let him walk ahead again so she could be alone with her thoughts.
Hours later, with no civilization in sight, and the day drawing to a close, the marshal called back to her, “Well, this looks like a good spot to camp.” He stopped the oxen.
“I’ll see to the animals. Can you start a fire?”
Mosquitoes descended in droves at dusk. Anne swatted at them while she tried to prepare supper. She thought Pharaoh would have let the children of Israel go sooner if these mosquitoes had swarmed him.
Anne boiled the potatoes and jerky in a cauldron over a blazing fire. Hundreds of coyotes were yipping and howling in the distance. The marshal nursed a coffee and asked, “How are you doing, ma’am?
She pretended not to hear the question.
The deputy spoke up. “I’m truly sorry for your loss, Ma’am.”
“You should be.”
After dinner, the deputy went for a walk.
The marshal said, “I’m truly sorry for your loss, ma’am. I hope you can forgive me.”
Forgive him? Was he crazy?
She knew if she didn’t forgive, God wouldn’t forgive her either, but she just couldn’t.
She watched the flames dance in the deadfall she had collected. Embers exploded, sending tiny fireworks flying into the night sky.
Anne thought about what a funny thing time is. Yesterday at this time, she had a husband and was looking forward to building a home and a life with him. A day later she sat with two strangers—off in the wilds—with no husband. How quickly things change.
Several verses from the Bible flitted through her mind.
…whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” 
William had no idea when he woke up yesterday morning that it would be the last day he had to breathe on Earth. If he had known, would he have done anything differently? Anne thought about how none of us knows the day we will stand before God.
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
It certainly has been an evil day, Lord. Would You please avenge my husband’s death? Could you please kill that marshal? You know, the eye for an eye thing You spoke about in Your Word. He shot an innocent man. He doesn’t deserve to live.
“You owe me an explanation. Why did you shoot my husband?”
“Not today, ma’am,” the marshal said as he climbed under the wagon for the night.
Anne almost screamed “You insufferable man! How dare you kill my husband and not tell me why!”
Instead, she held her tongue—and went to bed dreaming about how she could avenge William’s death.
ANNE by Rena Groot https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BXQ49WYZ