Ella’s heart ached within her. She was to be Mrs. Cade Stevens, but after all this time, she hadn’t even known the man’s true name. How could she trust anything he’d told her?
But a soft spot in her heart, pierced through the anger. He had come for her after all—come for her when she disappeared down a raging brook. He had come the night of her father’s burial, when she chased him away. And once again, he had come today. Cade Rivers had truly loved her…
Ella picked a piece of wild grass and twisted it between her fingers. Even on the rocky outcroppings, it would grow here in the mountains. Stubbornness did not make it any more desirable. It was still a simple piece of grass, not a wild flower. Was Cade no different?
The realization ached within her. She turned from the hill and headed towards the church. Even without her father, the building provided a sense of normalcy to her life. The familiar wood doors, carved by her father’s hands greeted her with welcome. Inside, she lit a lantern. The dark had no place here, and she prayed by morning the terror of this night would fade into her dreams.
“Let me out of here! I ain’t stayin’ in no hole in the ground cell the rest of my life.” Cade leaned against the bars and hollered out the window at Mr. Barton.
The large, jovial man turned to smile at him. “Mr. Rivers, we both know you don’t have much choice in the matter.”
“Sir,” Cade hollered toward the stranger at Barton’s side. “This man is wanted for murder in the Whippercreek Valley. You must arrest him.”
The other man shook his head. “I ain’t in the business of justice, son. I do what I’m told, that’s all.”
“Then, let me out here! I’ll take care of justice!” Cade clenched and shook the bars once more with frantic anger.
“Can’t do that son, neither.”
Just then, an older woman hollered across the street. “I’m coming to see you, Mr. Baylor.”
Cade couldn’t take his eyes off of the familiar face. Her gray hair had marbled white in his absence, but he recognized the hatred he saw in her eyes. This woman had looked upon him once before.
“Mrs. Lawson, how do you do this morning?” The man at Barton’s side tipped his hat as the elderly woman approached.
“I’m right fine, but I come here to see the man for myself. Is that the one?” She pointed toward Cade, who felt like slinking away from the window at the accusation.
“Well now, Mrs. Lawson, you tell us.” Baylor smiled, as if this were all but a game.
The woman marched with a haggard limp toward Cade’s cell.
And in that moment, Cade felt smaller than her petite frame. He would have happily slunk into the shadows, but something about meeting the woman’s eyes, pleading with her to understand, drew him toward the window.
Mrs. Lawson frowned and tilted her head back. “That’s him, Baylor.”
“And why do you say that, ma’am?”
The woman shook her head and stared with bewilderment towards Cade once more. “I’d know those eyes anywhere, the color of a sky just before the storm.”
Cade bit his lower lip. “I’m sorry for what I done, ma’am.”
Now, the woman’s face contorted with anger. “You dare say you’re sorry, boy?” She crooked a shaking finger at him in accusation. “You ain’t sorry, son. You just sorry to get caught.”
Cade’s heart heaved inside his chest.
“When’s there to be the hangin’?” The bitter old woman turned back to the man she called Baylor.
“The miner’s wish for a hearing tomorrow at noon,” he said with a matter-a-fact flat voice. “Afterwards, if they’re satisfied with your testimony, I suppose we’ll have the noose at the ready.”
“Good.” The old woman snubbed her nose once more towards Cade’s cell, and then faded down the street.
Cade slunk to the dirt, sheltering his head with the hands that had brought him here. If the miner’s determined his fate, Cade already knew their answer. Lawson was a man of the mine. Like the others, he would have sided with his own. And so, Cade awaited an unchangeable fate amidst the damp shadows of Bannack’s jail.
Ella woke late as the morning light pierced through the stained glass windows of the church. Her back felt sore from sleeping on the wooden bench, and grogginess from a long night of restless dreams weighed down her mind.
But the memories from the previous evening remained clear. She could hardly have believed them if it had not been for her present state. The immense repulsion she felt at the thought of Cade soured her stomach.
Upon their first encounter, she accused him of being an outlaw. He claimed the title of vigilante instead. Later, she found him in the woods with his gun. Never before had she witnessed someone draw so fast. On more than one occasion, he could have hurt her. But Cade had always protected.
Was that not how The Good Book described love?
And yet, The Good Book also said love does not account for wrong, love endures, love believes all…
Should she forgive the man she loved for even such a grave offense?
Ella bowed her head in prayer.
Jesus, I can’t fathom forgiving Cade, but some part of me still loves him. Am I wrong for wanting to know the truth?
The thought shook Ella’s heart. Of course, she deserved to hear the truth, and Cade alone could tell her. Without a moment’s hesitation, Ella stood and exited the church. Finding her way to Mister Pelkman’s storefront she waited for her ride to Bannack.