Thursday, April 1, 2010Posted by Elizabeth Ludwig at 8:00 AM
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Montana Territory, 1876
Belle Tanner pitched dirt right on Anthony’s handsome, worthless face.
It was spitefulness that made her enjoy doing that. But she was sorely afraid Anthony Santoni’s square jaw and curly dark hair had tricked her into agreeing to marry him.
Which made her as big an idiot as Anthony.
Now he was dead and she was left to dig the grave. Why oh why didn’t she just skip marrying him and save herself all this shoveling?
She probably should have wrapped him in a blanket, but blankets were hard to come by in Montana. . .unlike husbands.
She labored on with her filling, not bothering to look down again at the man who had shared her cabin and her bed for the last two years. She only hoped when she finished she didn’t forget where she’d buried Anthony’s no-account hide. She regretted not marking William’s and Gerald’s graves now for fear she’d dig in the same spot and uncover their bones. As she recalled, she’d planted William on the side nearest the house, thinking it had a nice view down the hill over their property. She wasn’t so sure about Gerald, but she’d picked right most likely because she’d dug the hole and hadn’t hit bones. Unless critters had dug Gerald up and dragged him away.
Belle had to admit she didn’t dig one inch deeper than was absolutely necessary. Maybe a little less than was necessary. This was rocky ground. It was quite a chore. Her husbands had made too many chores for her over the years. Digging their graves was the least of it.
She’d risked her own life to drag her first husband, William, out of the cattle pen, the one any fool would know was too dangerous to go into—which Belle always did, not being a fool. Rudolph, their longhorn bull, was a mite cantankerous and given to using his eight foot spread of horns to prove himself in charge of any situation.
Then Gerald had gotten himself thrown from his horse. His boot had slipped through the stirrup, and judging by his condition, Belle figured he’d been dragged for the better part of the three-hour ride home from the Golden Butte Saloon in Divide by a horse whose instincts told him to head for the barn.
Anthony’s only good quality was he’d managed to get himself killed quick. They’d been married less than two years. For a while there Belle feared he’d last through pure luck. But stupid outweighed luck. Stupid’ll kill a man in the West. It wasn’t a forgiving place. And Anthony was purely stupid so he didn’t last all that long.
Between William and Gerald—that is between being married to ’em—Belle had changed the brand to the T Bar. Known as the Tanner Ranch from then on, it never changed, regardless of whatever Belle’s last name happened to be at the time. She’d also had a real smart lawyer in Helena draw up papers for Anthony to sign so the ranch would always belong to Belle, and if something happened to her instead of a worthless husband, Belle’s wishes would be carried out.
She tamped the dirt down good and solid. About the fifth tamp she admitted she was using more energy than was strictly necessary. She’d whacked it down especially tight over Anthony’s pretty boy face.
Three sides of the the Husband Tree used up. She wasn’t up to puttin’ up with a live one or buryin’ another dead one. The tree roots wouldn’t appreciate it.
And neither would the children.
She said a quick prayer for Anthony, reflecting silently as she spoke that knowing Anthony as she did, it was doubtful there were enough prayers in the world to save his warped soul. Never had it been necessary for God to perform a greater miracle, and Belle asked for just that, though she didn’t hold out much hope.
She finished the service in one minute flat, not counting the digging and filling which had taken considerably longer. It had been early in the day when she’d found Anthony dead beside the house. Planting him had interrupted chores, but there was no help for it. She couldn’t leave him lying there. He was blocking the front door.
She nodded to the children, four of ’em, one from each husband and a spare thanks to William. “We got chores.”
“Why’d you marry him anyway, Ma?” Lindsay bounced the baby on her hip. They were a study those two. Lindsay so blonde, the baby so dark.
“Not a lick of sense, that’s all.” Belle had no desire to fancy this up. She’d been pure stupid to get married, and her girls needed to know that.
“Well, have you learnt your lesson?” Sarah plunked her little fists on her hips and arched her bright red eyebrows at Belle.
“It’s a humbling thing just how well I’ve learned it, Sarah. There will never be another husband on this ranch. You have my word.”
Mary is giving away a copy of her book The Husband Tree. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!