Chapter Nineteen


Rose stood in the central aisle of the church, staring up at the dazzling colors of the stained glass as the morning sunlight streamed through, igniting the mural. The church had emptied around her, the congregation having moved to the entrance courtyard to conduct their social graces, and the sounds of conversation and the occasional too-loud child's yell filtered in through the open double doors, piercing the quiet.

Above her, the Virgin Mary sat holding the infant Jesus, her glowing face beaming down, but Rose's eyes were drawn to the angels surrounding Mary, hovering like shepherds over the mother and child.

"For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

Rose had listened to the sermon, absorbing the passages as they were read, and she found her thoughts in conflict with her heart. The angels of God had seemed powerless or, worse yet, absent on….that night. It was hard to reconcile the reality with the words.

"You struggle with the concept of angels?"

Rose turned with a start; the pastor had quietly drawn near until he stood beside her, his eyes following the line of her sight, and he had somehow read her thoughts.

"Yes. I have seen … terrible suffering. I don't understand why some are helped and some…are not."

"Angels aren't just sent to help when death is near, my child. Some are aided then, but lives are long and only God knows when each of us will need our lungs filled with our angel's breath."

Rose looked back to the mural, considering his words. Her spirit rose up, lifted like a feather in the wind to be bathed in the blazing colors, up into the firmament of glass, and her mind flicked through images like pictures in an album. Her father, mother, Cal, Mr. Andrews, Cora, Gina, Thomas, Red, Molly…….Jack.

Does God really help the righteous and punish the evil? she asked the heavens.

Rose had come a long way, and she so wanted to believe.

"Do you think we each have an angel?" she asked, but her question echoed off the walls unanswered and, turning, Rose saw the pastor had vanished as silently as he had arrived, leaving her alone in the center of the swirling rainbow storm from above.


Rose pulled on her riding boots, the ones she had purchased when she realized her wardrobe was ill-suited to being a cowgirl, and descended the stairs from her flat, headed for the stables and a date with Red. She wore a pair of durable dungarees that had been previously reserved for scrubbing the floors of her flat, and a sensible shirt. As she stepped out into the afternoon, she noticed Thomas leaning against a tree in front of the building, trying to keep cool in the limited shade. He looked up and smiled at her, stepping forward in greeting.

"On your way to ride Red?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, flatly.

"Mind if I come along?"

Rose almost answered with a curt, 'Please, no', but remained silent. She had felt strange after they had returned from dancing; guilty, though she knew she had no reason to feel that way, and she had rebuffed his every offer to escort her out for another evening. She knew her refusals had hurt Thomas some, but she still felt unsure of her feelings, of what she was ready for. She had come to like Thomas a lot, and that realization felt like a double-edged sword, a dream and a betrayal in one. In addition, Thomas would be leaving for Harvard shortly and she eventually for….who knew where; facts that further muddled her thoughts.

"All right," she finally answered. Despite all her misgivings, she liked his company.

They strolled southwest, towards the stables in which the Carson brothers bedded down their horses. Rose was comfortable to walk in silence but Thomas had other ideas.

"I noticed how closely you were examining that painting at the saloon the night we met. Do you like art?"

Rose's shield immediately went up, distressing her.

I wish I didn't always have to be careful what I say.

"Yes, I do. I have seen photos of some of the modern art from Europe and I find them strangely compelling. Those horrible paintings at the saloon reminded me of them."

"Compelling, yes. The perfect word for them. The perfection of the photograph has made realism in painting a bit moot, so I suppose the artists are trying to find a different mode of expression."

Rose glanced at him as they walked.

"Are you studying art as well, Thomas?"

"A little. Well-rounded student and all that, don't you know. What good is a doctor saving your life if he isn't versed in Renoir?"

Rose smiled at his words.

"And you, where does your interest stem from?" he asked.

They turned a corner. Rose paused before replying.

"My father loved art, and he passed that love on to me," she answered, simply.

Thomas seemed to sense her hesitancy, so he changed topics.

"You seem a natural dancer. Have you had any training?"

"A little," she said, her answers becoming more and more terse.

They walked another half a block without speaking. Thomas stopped and turned to face her.

"Rose, I can sense something terrible has happened in your life, something that has left you reluctant to talk about your past. I understand that, I do. I have pains of my own that I keep locked deep inside.

"I enjoy knowing you, and I wouldn't want to jeopardize our friendship. Please, feel free to scold me anytime I seem to pry to deeply."

Once more, as she had at the Pavilion, Rose wanted to stop, to pull Thomas by the hand and sit him down and tell him everything; to have release. 'Everything in its time', he had said to her. Well, for completely explaining her past the proper time might be ages in coming. She didn't know. For the foreseeable future, the love, the loss, the pain were hers and hers alone.

So, instead, she smiled weakly.

"Thank you, Thomas. I will."

Rose's voice wavered, and she was afraid to speak further. They traveled on, turning onto a dirt road, and the air became thick with the blended aromas of hay and manure, a smell so distinctive that one could surely find the stables from anywhere in the district with one's eyes closed.

Midway down the road, Rose turned through an entranceway into a small covered paddock, surrounded by a dozen wooden stalls. A few horses stirred at their entrance, hoping for attention; others were deep in the recesses of their stalls, munching contentedly.

"Good day, Miss Dawson."

"Good day, Sean."

Sean Carson, the iceman's son, worked as groom for his family's wagon horses, his own horse Faith, and for a few other head. He was a tall, gangly boy, easily mistaken for several years older than his age of fourteen.

Rose introduced Thomas to Sean and then, as Sean left to ready her tack, she and Thomas drifted over to Red's stall. The colt's head bobbed brightly at their approach and Rose patted his neck gently. She opened the stall door and led the horse, who followed quiet as a kitten, out into the paddock.

"He has really taken a shine to you," Thomas observed.

"Oh, usually he's a soft touch, though sometimes he can be quite stubborn."

Rose glanced quickly at Thomas, searching for a reaction, but he just gazed back at her evenly, hiding a sheepish grin as best he could.

Sean returned from the back room with the tack for Red, and he and Rose set to positioning the saddle and tightening the girth, one working on each side of the horse.

"Do you need Faith and me to ride alongside today?" Sean asked when they were done. The boy had led Red around by the bridle the first few times Rose had ridden him, allowing her to find her balance and feel on the horse.

"What do you think? Am I ready?" Rose asked.

"You're ready," he replied, and gave Rose a leg-up onto Red's back. Thomas backed up against the stall door to allow Rose room to ride. As he did, Givvy's head emerged from the next stall over, looking for a treat. Thomas scratched the horse's snout as he watched Rose.

Rose adjusted the reins to a comfortable length as Sean had taught her, and set Red off into a slow canter, with Sean at the center of their circular path like a circus ringleader. She tested her communication with the horse through a series of stops and turns, and Rose beamed a smile at the feeling of being astride the big colt and having his power at her command.

When she had first gotten on Red's back, Rose had been afraid of his speed and of the feeling of losing control. As she had gradually learned to trust the horse, and he her, the fright gave way to a rush of freedom and accomplishment.

"You are a regular cowhand, Rose," Thomas called out.

"Can I take him out onto the road?" Rose asked Sean.

"If you're game, sure, but don't be lettin him go off on too quick a gallop. He's got a fast turn of foot, he does."

Thomas and Sean followed horse and rider out onto the dirt road, and watched as Rose reined Red around, clucked to him and gave him gentle urging with her boot-heels. They took off on a trot and smoothly transited into a slow run.

The speed was exhilarating to Rose, feeling the wind blow across her. It felt so natural, but there was still mixed in with her joy an edge of fear, so she reined him down to a slower, more comfortable pace and they turned to retrace their path. As they pulled up in front of the stable once again, Sean commented on her riding form.

"You'll not be needin me anymore, cept to cinch the girth. Pretty good for only a month of riding Sundays, Miss Dawson. And darn good for a …."

The boy's mouth froze in an open position and he looked down at his feet.

"That's all right, you can say it. 'For a girl.'"

Sean's already ruddy complexion turned a brighter scarlet, and Thomas chuckled at his embarrassment. Rose smiled kindly at the boy.

"I thank you, Sean. I think I'll ride the neighborhood a bit. I hope you don't mind, Thomas."

Thomas dismissed her concern with a quick wave of his hand.

"Not at all. Enjoy yourself."

Rose took her charge on a loop of the surrounding streets, being careful to avoid the busier thoroughfares. Red seemed to be happy to run on the near-empty dirt byways, to really stretch his legs after being harnessed to a wagon all week. Pedestrians and drivers hardly noticed another horse and rider, but several looked twice when they realized the rider was a woman, alone. As she took an ever-widening loop through the area, Rose's confidence grew and she forgot about everything save the feeling of the horse beneath her and the streets stretching out before her.

They walked the final blocks to Red's home to allow the horse to cool down. When they reached the stables the paddock was empty, but Sean soon appeared at the sound of Red's snorts.

"Thomas went off on an errand, Miss Dawson, and said he'd be back shortly. I hope you had a good ride."

"We did, thank you. And I wish you'd call me Rose."

"My dad wouldn't like that, Miss Dawson," he replied, shaking his head vehemently. "No, he wouldn't like that at all."

Rose laughed as Sean helped her remove the tack, and she led Red to his stall. She retrieved a brush from a box hung on the outside of the door and began to rhythmically brush his coat in long, clean strokes. That finished, she walked him across the paddock, drew a bucket of water and washed the accumulated layer of the city off him until his coat gleamed.

Rose smiled to herself. The first time she had washed and brushed Red, Mr. Carson had been so startled at his horse's shimmering appearance he had circled him twice in disbelief.

While giving him a final brush out, Rose caught Red looking back at her as she worked. He seemed as soothed by the attention as she herself was calmed by the work.

"You and I, we've been to the edge and back, haven't we fella? I think we understand each other," Rose said to him. Satisfied with her work, she returned him to his stall for his dinner just as Thomas entered the paddock, carrying a small box.

Thomas peeked over the stall door at the horse.

"He looks great, Rose. I think you two make a fine team. I hope you don't mind, but I bought you a small present. I had a hard time getting one on a Sunday afternoon.

"If you won't accept if from me, consider it a thank you from Red for saving his life."

Rose set the brush back in its place and took the box that Thomas offered.

"You really shouldn't have, Thomas."

She pulled off the lid, revealing a lavender riding cap, adorned with matching rose-shaped bows on each side. She removed the cap from the box and tried it on.

"How does it look?" she asked.

"It suits you perfectly," he replied, leaning back against the stall boards to assess her appearance.

Rose's face clouded slightly, and she suddenly felt uncomfortable with the gift. She didn't want to appear ungrateful, so she said nothing and just replaced it in the box. She noticed Thomas busy rubbing a section of Red's stall door; there appeared to be a small, tarnished plate nailed there.

Rose hadn't noticed the plate before as it was covered with stable grime and its outline was barely visible. Making only a little headway with his fingers, Thomas retrieved a dirty rag from the tack box and rubbed hard, revealing a brass plate. After he had cleared the entire rectangle, Rose could read its inscription. It read, simply:


Rose's eyes widened at the discovery, and she smiled in understanding. Thomas moved to Givvy's adjoining stall and cleaned the nameplate there as well.


Thomas glanced over the horses in the closest three stalls.

"Faith, Forgiveness and Redemption," he said. "Well, I'll be."

"And Mr. Carson lets on like he's such a gruff man," Rose said, and they both laughed heartily.

'Red', Rose thought. Redemption


Rose sat in her room, her emotions a confused jumble. She and Thomas had returned home from the stables in the late afternoon in relative silence. She had declined his invitation for dinner, and they parted with Rose thanking him again for her gift.

The box now lay open on the bed next to her, the cap sitting beside it. She had removed and replaced the cap a dozen times over the past hour, her uncertainty rising with each change.

Thomas is very nice, and it's just a small gift, so why do I feel that even touching it is betraying what Jack and I had? It's stupid to think this way, but I can't help it. I know Jack would understand, but still I'm afraid to get too… close.

Afraid I'll never love like that again, never be ABLE to love anyone, ever.

Or maybe I'm afraid of losing everything all over. Maybe I'm not supposed to be happy.

Rose stood and began pacing in the small space between the bed and the wall.

I can't think this way! There WILL never be another love in my life like Jack, I know that….but that doesn't mean I can't ever love again.

She walked to the bed and picked up the gift, turning it over and over in her hands. Nodding to herself, she nestled it gently back in its box and replaced the lid.

But not yet, she thought. Not here.

She descended the stairs and knocked on the O'Reilly's door. Thomas answered, his face showing surprise and anticipation at seeing her.

"You've changed your mind about din…" His voice cut off mid-sentence when he noticed the box in her hand.

"Thomas, I wish I could tell you more. I don't expect you to understand, but I just can't accept your gift."

Thomas opened his mouth to insist but closed it again without uttering a word. Rose turned and walked slowly up the stairs, feeling guilty and ungrateful when the door closed behind her, the sound echoing in the stairwell.

She sat in her apartment in the dark, wondering if she really knew what she was doing. After an hour had passed, she heard the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs, and then a gentle knock at her door.

Thomas, she thought. He will insist now, and I'll have a difficult time refusing. I know he doesn't understand; I just wish he would accept my decision.

She opened the door to face him and her heart leapt into her throat, a loud gasp leaving her lips.

Gina stood before her, wearing a long-sleeved coat much too warm for the season. She had the collar turned up and her large hat pulled down such that the two almost met.

Just below Gina's left eye was a large purple bruise, swollen so badly that it was forcing her eye shut. A trickle of blood trailed down her cheek and led to a stain on her coat. Rose noted with horror that the fingers on Gina's right hand were caked with blood.

"Gina!" was all Rose could manage.

"Rose….I'm in trouble…."


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