Camilla Glen stood a fair distance from the house, in the middle of the wide-open field. She looked out at the mountain ranges in the far-off distance. It was the evening of a hot summer day, and yet, even from here, Camilla was convinced that the top of the mountains appeared to be capped with snow. She told herself that, perhaps, it was her imagination, and it was simply a type of rock that was found at the top of those mountains. Perhaps it was some soft, sedentary rock. Maybe it was an excess of chalk. Of course, Camilla thought to herself, given why most of the people were coming into the state, the most likely explanation was that it was probably the sunlight bouncing off of silver.
Then Camilla just smiled and shook her head. She was better than this, she thought to herself. She certainly enjoyed daydreaming, but at some point—especially at her age now—even daydreaming had to give way to common sense. Obviously, there was a lot of silver found in the mountains of Nevada. But if the mountains were so over-laden with silver that even their tops would shine brilliantly with it, then surely, people would’ve noticed the value of these mountains long ago and stripped them bare. No, she thought to herself, newcomers into the state were only just starting to grow in number. Many young men flocked into the state, desperate to see if they could find themselves even a little bit of silver to start founding their own fortunes. The rush had only just begun. They were certainly more men around now than when she was a little girl, but with all of the new mines opening up around here, she knew there would only be more in due time.
Camilla just snickered. It was a fanciful idea to think that the mountains were decorated with silver from one peak to the next. But in truth, she wasn’t a miner, and her family did not come from such stock. She knew full well that she had no idea why the tops of the mountains looked so white, even on a hot summer day. And she didn’t have to. She was just grateful they were there, rubbing up against the white clouds on an otherwise blue sky. She loved how they looked so pretty against an otherwise gold and red landscape. She loved how they seemed to be the perfect background for the sounds in the air, which were mostly just a light breeze, gently playing, but occasionally having its silence broken by the moving of cows, the stomping feet of jackrabbits, or the birds.
The chirping of young birds, born just a season ago, trying to find their way in the world. Just learning to fly.
Camilla certainly didn’t know the first thing about mining. But she loved these creatures. The sweet things, which took pleasure in the freedom they had out in the wilds of Nevada. Bold, innocent things that were able to go anywhere, do anything, and live out their lives to the fullest.
It was enviable, she thought to herself. But mostly, it was beautiful.
Camilla’s eyes caught sight of a bird, and then another few, just behind the first. They were up there, very high in the sky, though still visible, even though they weren’t discernable at this distance. Which led her to believe that they were probably larger hunting birds. Possibly hawks, or eagles, searching for desert mice for a quick little meal. She followed them with her eyes as they floated across the endless blue, gliding gracefully on the air towards the horizon. She watched them until they grew so small that they were just black dots floating aimlessly towards the mountains off in the distance.
And even though the birds faded from view, there was something else there to see. At this distance, Camilla could see, just barely, the fence line that separated her father’s property from the Walkers, their closes neighbors. If she could even call five miles “close”.
Still though, Camilla thought to herself, only a year ago, her closest neighbor was ten miles away. And that was only because that’s how close Twin Rivers was. Not including the city back then, it almost felt as if she had the entire county to herself. Things had certainly changed since then.
She thought of Bernard. Wonderful, wonderful Bernard. Yes, things have certainly changed, indeed.
Camilla walked from where she had been standing, in a wide circle around her house, towards the back, where most of the cows had chosen to graze today. They had virtually stripped all the other areas around the house bare and would have to start going around to the back end, where more brush was still available. The cows are certainly capable of digesting all the desert grass as quickly as possible, but given how much land they had, there was always more. A rarity in this part of the world, she thought to herself.
All the same, it would be nice to visit the cows. She rather liked the large, darling little creatures and always enjoyed their endless existence, wandering, eating, keeping an eye out for their own calves. She knew, of course, what faith befell them on a ranch, but she wasn’t going to be too poetic about it. People did need to eat, and life was hard on a ranch.
For most people anyway, Camilla briefly thought.
For as long as she could remember, she’d grown up in this part of Nevada. When the Americans had won it in the war, many people came through here on their way to California for all the gold, including her father and his young wife at the time. Camilla remembered her mother telling her that it was only when they got to this spot that it became apparent they could go no farther by virtue of the fact that her mother had gone into labor. And so, giving up on tracking across the harsh desert land with a recently childbearing wife and a newborn, her father decided to stake a claim around here and start a ranch instead. Not a half-bad idea, as it turned out since this was one of the few areas of the desert that had a rather large river running through it. It made for good irrigation and rather healthy homesteading. Once it started becoming apparent that all the water in the world wasn’t going to create miracle crops in the hot desert, her father decided to change tactics and used his crops to feed cows, establishing a pretty early ranch. It had been a good move on his part as well, as it only grew and grew and grew. By the time Camilla was old enough to go to school, her dad’s ranch was so large that she could look out to the horizon and know that he owned the land behind it as well.
And then, of course, things only got better after they struck silver not too far from where they lived. Before that, Camilla’s neighbors—again, the “neighbors” only being reachable by horse over the better part of a day—were few and far between, and they were also homesteaders and ranchers. Now, with the mines opening up, lots of young men and families were coming over, trying to find a way to make a life for themselves. And considering the amount of work they had to do, quite understandably, they were very hungry men. Very hungry men who would need quite a lot of protein and meat.
And all of a sudden, the ranching business was booming.
By the time Camilla was starting to enter womanhood, she could remember the quiet air being gone for good, replaced with a constant mooing. They were always more and more cows.
After a quick twenty-minute walk, Camilla got to visit some of those cows herself, finally having reached the first heard, a fair distance from the house, but still close enough she could see it. What sweet animals, she thought to herself, stroking her hand across their hides. For the most part, the cows barely even noticed, though some of them would give her an awkward stare. The younger ones, the calves, would usually stop eating, and trot over, wondering what this giant pink thing was and why it was always smiling at them, why it was giving them little scratches on the head.
Funnily enough, whenever she came towards these adorable little creatures and gave them their scratches, the mothers always kept a watchful eye on their little ones but never seemed to mind. They never reacted, never mooed aggressively, never came at her. Probably because they all knew her by now, Camilla thought to herself. She had helped raise these loveable creatures and their ancestors since she was a little girl herself. She told herself that they probably just knew her, probably knew that she was a good friend, and would never harm any of these loving little things. Perhaps they trusted her, she thought to herself. Perhaps they cared about her.
She certainly felt the same way about them.
These were just one small herd among the many that her father owned, Camilla knew. She could remember a time, long ago, when she was barely even in school, when she would help feed these loving creatures and was even taught to milk them. Back then, a herd this size was effectively the family’s entire livelihood. Now, it was probably one of what? Eight or ten herds? Yeah, probably closer to ten herds, she thought to herself. Possibly more, since her father didn’t go on with every financial detail. Ultimately though, the point was it was quite a great many cows. Constantly requiring feeding, milking, and slaughtering, in order to keep up with the demand of new ranchers, new miners, the increasingly growing town of Twin Rivers, and, as business began to grow, nearby towns like Marysville as well. There were other ranchers that tried their luck, as well, but some of them just weren’t as lucky as her father, and some of them just didn’t have access to the Reese River and all its freshwater. As a result, they’d have to sell, and her father would be there to buy it all up. It made them surprisingly wealthy in this area. Or so she was told.
As far as Camilla was concerned, any time she got to run her hands over the horns of one of these gentle little cows and the little darlings didn’t react at all because they knew they could trust her. That, as far as she was concerned, was real wealth. The doe-eyes of these simple things, knowing that she was their friend. That she was a part of their lives. The side of jackrabbits who didn’t immediately fully when they saw her. The beautiful song of whatever little bird made its home in the rafters of her porch.
That was the kind of wealth she believed in. The wealth that could be seen under the sunlight every morning and glowed brilliant red under every sunset.
While checking on her cows, Camilla looked up and thought she saw somebody coming towards the ranch house from the opposite side. Staring a little more intensely, she realized she was right; it was a horseback rider. For the briefest moment, she wondered if maybe, just maybe, Bernard had learned a thing or two about keeping steady on a horse. But thinking more wisely about it, no offense to Bernard, but far more likely, it was going to be her father.
And sure enough, looking out over the ranch, she could see his skinny, elderly, but still vibrant frame, bouncing on the saddle.
Camilla smiled. She always loved seeing her father on horseback. But secretly, she did wish that, for once, it was Bernard.
When she was very little, her parents allowed her to go to school in Twin Rivers, which even back then still had some people in it. Mostly just a blacksmith or the owner of a local saloon. Though, it did actually have a schoolhouse for the few children from local ranching families, even if there were so few of them then that Camilla could count their number on both hands. She remembered going to school, learning simple math and reading, before she got to an age that her father determined that it wasn’t practical anymore, and having her help out on the ranch just made more sense. She missed her old school friends, even though, within the next few years, none of them would’ve finished school either, and all went back to their own respective farms or ranches or perhaps moved away even further. But in those simpler days, she could remember how few children there were, simply because of how few people there were in Twin Rivers in general.
Then, somebody struck a load of silver in Comstock. And suddenly, everybody wanted to move out to Nevada. In particular, all the poor souls who went all the way to California just to find out that the promise of gold wasn’t quite as promising as they thought.
Suddenly, Camilla didn’t need to go to school to meet up with people. By this time, there were so many people coming and going, they were certainly plenty to meet for various reasons, whether they needed to buy meals for the men or simply begged for a cup of water on the way to work. It wasn’t lost on Camilla that as she was starting to mature into a woman, she couldn’t help but notice that so many of the people coming in were young, muscular men constantly toiling in the mines.
No, Camilla thought to herself, blushing a little at the memory of it. It wasn’t lost on her at all.
Camilla left the cows behind her—always a hard thing to do, whenever they were so peaceful and grazing calmly—and started to run back to the house. Whatever reason her father had for coming back after his trip was probably very important. In her younger days, her father, Kendrick Glenn, had always been a hard-working farmer and rancher, but over the years, and as the ranching business improved, his old frame couldn’t handle the workload anymore, and he largely turned to keeping in touch with all the hands he hired to watch the cows over several fields. Effectively moving into a position of a manager, something she never imagined she would see from her dear old father. But that was the American story for her: rags to riches. Her father was desperate for wealth when she was born, and now, twenty-one years later, he was in charge of the livelihoods of so many people.
People like Bernard.
As she started getting a little older, Camilla would socialize with many other men and women who worked on her father’s ranches. The women were usually former ladies of the household that were used to owning their ranches before her father bought them up. Sometimes, they were the wives and daughters of the miners, working to make a little extra income. But she would get along with all the men as well. Typically, men who had more experience with animals than with mining, or possibly men who worked both fields, first one and then the other, trying to earn as much money as possible.
Only about a year or two back, she had met one of the young lads who her dad hired to clean up after the cows, collect their manure, and put in a pile to make into fertilizer. A nice fellow by the name of Bernard. Around her age, muscular but with less education than she had. He spent most of his life working one job or another. He was always a hard worker, and he always had a nice smile for anybody who ever talked to him. For the most part, Camilla thought that he never had the same opportunities as other boys, and he always seemed to be a little slow in picking up on hints or comments. But overall, he was a very sweet young man, quite handsome, and always a good listener. He never interrupted, never had a boorish comment to say.
And, And most importantly, at least in her mind, he was actually very good at ranching. It was a very important point to Camilla. In due time, her father would be too old for any work on the ranch, and he wouldn’t be happy that his only daughter would be alone. He would likely be insistent that she try to carry on the family with some young man from somewhere. Who better than Bernard? He already knew the job, and he was very good at it. And more to the point, she was rather sweet on him. It seemed like a perfect fit. Both Camilla and her family would get exactly what they wanted. A truly happy ending.
They spent the days working with the animals, taking care of the people of the nearby towns and ranches. Evenings were made for listening to the songs of the grasshoppers and the birds. Especially all the little birds. Maybe, if there weren’t any mountain lions or coyotes around, they would even watch the stars glittering in the sky at night. There would be no better way, in Camilla’s mind at least, to make a home in a life like this one. She wanted it more than anything.
Rushing up to the house, Camilla saw her father’s steed tied up to the porch, where he had a habit of leaving him to graze and drink water before somebody else—usually Camilla—would put him away in the barn properly. Nothing unusual there. It was just another one of his idiosyncrasies that she’s gotten used to. She always loved spending time with her father and got used to even the aspect of him that would’ve driven any other woman mad.
So, leaping over the porch, and seeing the horse, really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. What she wasn’t expecting, upon entering the house, was to see her father go directly into the living room.
Normally, he would drop off his hat and boots in the front room before making his way into the kitchen to find some quick morsel of food for him to eat. He never went into the living room. Frankly, since the room was largely for show, nobody ever really went into the living room.
Certainly, nobody paced around the living room like her father was doing now, Camilla realized.
“Dad,” she said, giving her father a big hug. “How are you? Is something wrong? What are you doing? Here, let me grab your hat.”
The kindly old man just smiled and waved his daughter away. “Don’t worry,” he replied. “I’ll hang it up. I just…Well, I was hoping that you and I could talk a bit.”
Camilla stopped in place, wondering if she had caused some slight she couldn’t remember anymore. “Well, yes, Dad, of course. Did something happen? Is everything all right?”
“Well, frankly, yes! Everything is quite all right! I was going over to the Masterson place to see how their son was doing. The poor young man came down with a terrible fever, but he’s already starting to mend. I’m sure he’ll be up and about in no time. And then I figured I would see some of my other old friends in town, and while I was there, well, I, I figured I would just, pop into the post office, see if there was any mail.”
“Father, you’re rambling. You’re either absolutely terrified or elated.”
Kendrick looked at his daughter and then stared off into the middle distance, laughing a little to himself. “Well, I guess you’re right,” he finally said. “I guess you could say I’m a little of both. Such a clever one you always were.”
“Daddy, just get on with it. What’s going on?”
“Well, I went to the post office, and I did get a letter. From a Mister Stimpson. Someone I’ve been communicating with recently. Wonderful man, very nice man. And a railroad owner! You know, that’s a very important position these days. We’re going to need more railroads as we start expanding all over the land, straight on to the Pacific, and across the Rockies, and…and, well, all that stuff.”
“Yes, Dad, lovely. What exactly does this have to do with anything?”
“Well, frankly, Camilla, my dear, it’s largely all about you.”
Camilla cocked her head and stared at her father more intensely. When he said that, he almost looked as if he was trying to be the happiest man in the world. Like he was trying to force it out of himself. Like he wanted to believe it more than anything.
“Me?” she finally answered. “I don’t know a Mister Stimpson. I don’t know anything about the railroad. What do I have to do with anything about this?”
“Well…I mean, I really don’t know how to broach this…Camilla, you understand that I’m getting on in life.”
“Unless you’re trying to deny it, yes.”
“Smart. Well, the thing is, frankly, I really have to start thinking about what you are going to be doing for the rest of your life.”
“Can’t I just work here? I like the ranch.”
“You’re not married, so if I died, it wouldn’t be passed to you. I’m certain nobody around here would foreclose this house on you. They know you’re my daughter, and they like you around here. Still, all you’d be left with is this house and a bit of land around it. It wouldn’t be much of a future. Frankly, I imagine a lot of the people who work for me would love to be able to use their funds and maybe even get their ranches back. I wouldn’t blame them.”
“Well,” Camilla started, seizing on the opportunity, “to be honest, Dad, I’ve been giving that some thought. That, if I did find a nice man, and settled down, then maybe we could run the ranch together. And he could legally inherit everything, and we’d still have everything, and we’d be happy.”
“Exactly!” said Kendrick, pointing his old finger at his clever young daughter. “Exactly! But again, I insist, I have to start thinking about your future. Certainly, it’s nice here, and I’m sure you’ve enjoyed it. But you have to imagine what I came from. I would’ve been lucky at your age to even have two rooms in a house, and it would’ve been built out of raw logs. Then I sold everything to get a wagon and head out West. It’s been hard work to get to where we are now. And I keep thinking about it, and I keep thinking about everything we’ve achieved, and it still pales in comparison to what a man can make when he works for the future.”
“Yes, yes. There will always be farms. There will always be butchers. Everyone will always have to eat. But the people who are making real lives for themselves are the people who are jumping on the machines of the future. New mining equipment. Smaller, faster guns. And the railroads! I mean, the world will be opening up, and a railroad magnate will really take advantage of so much of it!”
“So, you’re expanding into the…the railroad industry, Father?”
She watched as her father cocked his head and fiddled with his hat, trying to find his words. “Well,” he finally said, slowly, “in a sense, yes. Or, more to the point, well…you are.”
Camilla didn’t have the words to say anything. She wasn’t sure what any of this meant anymore.
“See, the reason why I was so happy to get this letter,” Kendrick continued, “was because I’ve been in correspondence with Mr. Stimpson. I met him while I was trying to negotiate the transportation for some dairy cows to get across the state. We got to talking, and I learned that he has a son. Not much older than you, and a bachelor. And to put it straight to the point, he seems very eager to ensure that his son finds himself a wife pretty soon. So, I started thinking that, after we lost touch, perhaps, he might make the offer to some other young woman, so why…I implied that, perhaps, he would consider arranging the marriage of his son to…Well, frankly, to you.”
Somehow, Camilla had never been less certain of anything.
“Father,” she finally said, “you can’t possibly be serious.”
Her father looked taken aback. “Why wouldn’t I be serious about this?” he asked.
“Well…I mean…You just promised me to some man?”
“The son of a major railroad industrialist. He’s not just ‘some man’!”
“Dad, why is this the first time I’m hearing about any of this?!”
“Well, it was all so rushed, and I’m so busy these days—”
“Dad! You’re too busy for, for THIS?! I can’t marry this man! This is ridiculous! I don’t even know this person!”
“So, you’ll meet him! You’ll go over there, get to know him, and get to know his family, and then, once you get to know him, and you can…decide—”
“To marry him the same day!”
“Probably not the EXACT same day.”
“Dad! You can’t do this to me! I’m just supposed to throw my whole life away?!”
Her father slumped his shoulders and sat down at the living room table, dropping his hat down upon it. He looked out over the long wooden surface, staring off into infinity. “Camilla,” he said in exasperation. “You don’t have a life here. You have memories, yes, certainly. But what are you supposed to do after I’m gone? You don’t have any brothers. You’ve never taught in a school. You’re going to, what, spend the rest of your life washing other women’s sheets? Think about what I’ve wanted to try to do for all of us here. Did I build everything here so you could…stick your hands into warm soapy water, day in, day out until you’re as old as me? I wanted you to have an impressive position. And now, with the impressive position that you have…I managed to get you a possibility of going even further than anything I could possibly provide. You could get so far in life, being tied to an industrialist. You could live so easily. So comfortably!”
“What about what I want, Father?!”
“Someday, you’ll get to an age where you realize that ease and comfort are things that everybody wants. And are very easy to miss if you’re not careful.”
“But, Dad! I like my life here! And what if I married one of the men here? Then we could just come and take over the ranch!”
“Camilla, living in the past is not as bright as you might think! Moving up from working on a ranch is a far better idea than you seem to think it is!”
“But…but say I, met a man, like, I don’t know, as an example, Bernard, then, we could just, do so much here. And…and I’d be happier!”
Kendrick slowly turned his gaze back towards his daughter and stared at her with a raised eyebrow. “Bernard?!” he said, almost snickering. “You think, Bernard…why Bernard?”
“Dad, it was just an example.”
Kendrick stopped snickering. In fact, he looked like his face had filled with sorrow, and all he could do was shake his head.
“Oh, darling,” he said quietly. “Not Bernard. I don’t think you know him as well as I do.”
Camilla loved her father and respected him as any daughter would love a father. Those feelings were all that kept her from throttling him at that moment.
“You’re wrong, Dad!” she said, her face growing red, her body shaking. “I love him! I love him, and he loves me!”
“My sweet girl, I am a man, and I’ve been a young man, and I’ve known man. And I don’t think you’ve gotten to know Bernard as well as you think you have.”
“You’re wrong!” she said, banging her fist down on the table. “YOU’RE WRONG! AND I’M NOT GOING TO GET MARRIED TO YOUR STUPID FRIEND! I LOVE BERNARD, AND HE LOVES ME!”
Perhaps her father yelled something very indignant and very ruthless after Camilla, but she certainly didn’t hear a word of it. She jumped up and was already out the door, and hopping onto her father’s horse, still waiting at the porch, before riding off with him into Twin Rivers.
The beat of his hooves sounded against the desert prairie. The hot wind flowed through her hair. The distant smell of cows and nature filled her nostrils. The songs and cries of birds tried to calm her.
This was her life, Camille thought to herself. She wasn’t going to give it up for anything. Or anybody.
Twin Rivers was a small community built just up the river from where her father had established his original home, the same home that was now the center of his small ranching empire. It was always a fair trip for Camilla to get there as a child, just to go to school. But as she got older and her legs grew stronger, and she learned how to ride, it was easier to make the journey. And even though she stopped going to school at a certain point, she still had many reasons to come over.
Namely, even though life on her father’s quiet little ranch was beautiful, she couldn’t deny that even a town as small as Twin Rivers was very lively.
There was always some noise coming from the local saloon, for example. Typically, because it was where all the men, particularly the bachelors, always went to spend their money after they had earned it toiling in the silver mines. It was a place where they could gamble, drink away their worries, and even meet some of the few women in the town who didn’t have respectable positions in life. Camilla tried not to judge them to harshly. After all, not everybody could have an easy life, and sometimes women were put into desperate positions. But Camilla could never understand why the men in town would immediately gravitate towards them.
And she certainly wondered why Bernard always came to the saloon after his work with his buddies as well.
Camille always told herself that it was because he wanted to keep in good standing with all of his friends. After all, all the dirty old men came to the saloon, where all the alcohol was poured, and all the working girls would call the men up. She told herself that he didn’t partake in any of this, that he was just trying to be a nice friend to all of his coworkers, that he just wanted to maintain peace and be a friendly face, to make his work to go a little easier. That he would much rather spend his private hours seeing her.
Maybe they could’ve gone down to the general store together and see if any of the gossips had news from what was going on in the country outside of Nevada. Or maybe they could hang around the sheriff’s office long enough to see if he would drag some drunk in to let him sweat it out before charging him. Or maybe, they could go down to the doctor’s office and see if he was in a good mood. The local doctor played the fiddle and sometimes liked to play on his porch. Camille always wondered if, maybe someday, he would be playing just as she and Bernard walked by, and then maybe they could have a little dance.
It never actually happened, not even once. But she always wondered.
She always wondered what life would be like if it was far more beautiful than any dream she could imagine. Only in his arms.
No, however, she didn’t have to imagine it. She needed to beg for it. She needed Bernard’s support against her father, to see if he could help explain to the old man that getting married to some distant stranger for the sake of a livelihood was an old and archaic notion, reserved for princes and princesses of all Europe, purely for making alliances and preventing wars, which, strangely enough, always had a habit of starting up anyways over there in those old European kingdoms. That wasn’t the sort of thing she wanted to see in America.
That wasn’t the life for her.
Tying her father’s horse up just outside of the saloon, Camilla very briefly stopped herself before entering. It was a moment of hesitation that made perfect sense for her. Women just didn’t go into a place like this. Nonetheless, they wanted every passerby who caught sight of her going in to talk about what she planned on doing for money once she got in there. Even married women traveling with their husbands never went into a saloon, seeing it as too debaucherous. Of course, Camilla had heard once or twice of women charging into the saloon for a drink or a quick game of cards, who were not pleasure women, as it were. Typically, bold women of courage and intellect who weren’t about to let silly things like rumors get in the way of their good fun. She liked hearing those stories that she knew that those women were few and far between. And they always seemed to be visiting from far away somewhere.
But her hesitation passed. She wasn’t going in there to find a room or a man. She wasn’t going in there to entertain or be entertained. She was going in there to prove to herself that the man she loved would be willing to walk out of there with her.
To take her away from this world.
Pushing her way through the door, she felt the stares of many men as they casually glanced up and then glanced again, surprised that the person coming through the door wasn’t the usual tired old man from the mines. She looked around and saw the bartender looking at her, several old ranchers gaping at her, the women peering at her over the banisters on the second floor.
And there, sitting not too far from the empty piano, was the table where a few younger men were playing a card game. One of them being Bernard.
And the room glowed brightly in her eyes.
Ignoring the hoots and whistles of the various men who thought she was there to offer her services; she made a straight line for her lovely man and quickly grabbed his attention. He was so startled by her presence that he nearly revealed his hand to his friend, a detail that seemed to matter to them far more than that their friend was being accosted by his woman in a bar.
“By golly,” said Bernard, surprised and wide-eyed. “Camilla! By George! What are you doing here? Why are you here?”
“Oh, Bernard,” she said, bending down slightly and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “I came here to see you! I need to see you! Something has happened! I really needed to see you!”
One of Bernard’s friends snickered. “If you really needed him that badly,” he said, “they’ve got rooms for that upstairs.”
The rest of the table laughed and guffawed and even included the laughs of some nearby men who overheard. Camilla was a little embarrassed and not at all pleased but couldn’t help noticing that Bernard didn’t defend her. He didn’t laugh either, of course, but he almost seemed as if he had no idea what to do. Which was just so much like him, she thought to herself.
Bernard dropped his cards and stood up from his chair to look Camilla in the eyes. “Camilla, come on,” he stammered, “I mean, you know I’m always glad to see you, but what are you doing here? This really isn’t a place for women!”
“Well then, why are you always in here?”
For a moment, Bernard looked dumbstruck before he smiled a stupid grin. “Well, I guess I’m not a woman,” he finally said, waiting for a laugh.
He never got one.
“Bernard,” Camilla finally spoke up, “something terrible has happened. Can we please get out of here?”
“Get out of here?” Bernard said, taken aback. “But I barely just got here! Come on, darling, just tell me. What happened? I’m sure it’s not that bad!”
“I say it certainly is! Or, at the very least, it sure feels that way in my heart! Bernard, my daddy told me that I have to get married to some railroad tycoon’s son!”
“Some ridiculous thing about how he wants the best for me. How this is going to open up all the opportunities in my life. I’m going to bring in money! Funny how what I want never came up! And funny how this never came up at all! He chose only to spring this on me after he worked it out with everybody else!”
“Hold on now! Married?!”
“Oh, for the—YES, Bernard! Married!”
“As in, completely? Well, I mean, obviously completely, but I mean, you know what I mean, right? As in, for real? No foolin’? And there’s no talking your way out of this?”
“Of course, you silly bird! He’s just completely decided to ship me off and start over my life for me!”
“By golly,” said Bernard. “And he never asked you?”
“And he’s arranged all of it behind your back?”
Bernard seemed to stare off into the distance, holding his hand over his mouth. He sighed deeply, as did all the other men at the table, hearing the whole thing at the same time and feeling very uncomfortable in their shoes at that moment.
“Well, dang,” he finally said, wiping his brow. “Dang, dang, dang. That just doesn’t seem fair, now does it?”
“Bernard! Is that really all you have to say?”
“Goodness gosh, no! Of course not! I mean, I’m just stymied! And upset, obviously. But I just…I just wasn’t expecting any of this! So, you can understand that I was just kind of shocked by all of this!”
“Well, how do you think I feel, Bernard? I’m the one who’s being led around, like a dog on a leash!”
“Well, yeah, that makes sense. So, what are you gonna do?”
Camilla tried to contain herself but could feel her pent-up aggression starting to boil. “What do—what am I—what am I going to do?! Well, I’m not getting married to some stranger! I’m going to tell my father that I want to be with you and that we can make a life with each other, and if we were to start our lives together, then I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of bigamy!”
Bernard took a step back and held up his hands, trying to calm down his sweet young lady. “Well now,” he said to her gently, “let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I mean, obviously, I love you dearly, but marriage? I mean, what can I possibly do to start a family with you?”
Camilla stood dumbfounded. She felt as if everything inside her was filled with lead. “What?” she asked weakly.
“Well, Camilla, I mean, be real with me. I need to save my money to really start up my life. It’s gonna be a lot harder to save up my money to start up two lives! And where would you live? I don’t even have a home of my own. I sleep in a tent by the mines.”
“B-but if we convinced my father, you could take up the ranch, and we could use my family’s money! You wouldn’t have to mine anymore!”
Bernard let out a chuckle. “Now, what do I know about cows other than steak?” he asked, grinning.
Camilla couldn’t believe it. He actually stood there grinning.
“You can’t be serious,” she replied.
“Well, I mean…Are you?” he finally said, finding his words. “I mean, I wouldn’t even be living off of my money. I’ve been living off of your daddy’s money. And how would that look? And what would I do? I don’t know anything about ranching!”
“I mean…Look, it’s not like I want you to go off and get married to some rich fella, but…You’re throwing a lot at me right now, and this seems like…a lot of work.”
Camilla could feel the stares of everybody in the bar pointing directly at her. She felt it overwhelmingly. She wondered if it was causing her to cry because right then and there, she wasn’t sure whether she was or not. It was all too much to bear to worry about a small thing like tears.
“This isn’t supposed to be a lot of work,” she said, practically whimpering. “I’m asking you to save me.”
Bernard just glanced around and scratched the back of his head. “Well…I mean…save you from what? I mean, it’s not like you’re being sold off on a ship somewhere. You’re going to have a pretty good life, and you didn’t have to do nothing to get it. I mean, I’ll miss you, obviously, but…I have a shift tomorrow and a shift the day after that and the day after that. And every day for as long as I can think. What in the world do you think I’ll be doing? I mean, I don’t even know, but I can tell you, I can’t see me starting up a family with just enough money for a drink and a deck of cards.”
Whatever noise the world around her was making just didn’t matter anymore. Camilla felt like she wanted to sink into the floor and let the earth open up and swallow her. She wanted the whole world to go dark and bury her. She couldn’t care about anything else other than the emptiness inside of her swallowing her whole.
“Look,” Bernard finally said with a shrug. “For what it’s worth…I think you’re the darndest and the cutest. And I’ll always love ‘ya.”
This time, Kamala was certain that she was crying.
The last thing she remembered seeing was the women on the second floor, looking down at her conversation, staring at her with sympathy. Even these women, with nothing to show for their lives as far as she knew, felt like they were watching everything in Camille’s life as it got destroyed, leaving her with less than they had. She only caught a glimpse of their gazes as she turned on her heels and ran out of the saloon.
The various catcalls of old men, asking her to come back so they can make her tears go away, filled the air as she quickly untied her father’s horse from the porch, popped up on his back, and rode it back to her father’s ranch. She certainly didn’t want to go there, but there was no other part of the world that felt like it would welcome her either.
When she got back home, she found her father waiting for her on the bench out on their porch. He stood up to meet her and gently approached her as she slid off her mount. To his credit, Camilla thought to herself, he didn’t look prideful, smug, or even upset by her theft of the steed.
If anything, he looked apologetic.
Camilla, for her part, couldn’t stand to look at him or even touch him. She didn’t feel like she wanted anybody to touch her, even though she felt at the same time that she just wanted warm, beautiful hands to wrap themselves around her and make all the pain go away. For a moment, she told herself that she wanted it to be Bernard’s hands until she remembered that those hands would never be coming close to her ever again.
Instead, she walked over to the bench and sat down upon it, just on the other side of where her father sat a moment ago. He smiled as she joined him in his usual spot.
After a moment of silence, he finally spoke up.
“Bernard is a good boy,” he said. “But I’ve known him, working for me. And he is a boy. He never had to take care of anybody. He never had to think about anybody other than himself. I don’t think he’d know how. I don’t mean to insult him. I’m simply saying that he has his place in the world, much as we all do. And though some of us are granted a little bit of extra grace from the Lord himself, we can also say that sometimes, we put ourselves in our places. And in that boy’s case…he knows he’s here to make money, and he knows he’s here to have fun in his spare time. He’s not worried about anything beyond his own little world.” He reached over and patted Camilla’s hand.
“And you know what, more luck to him. If that’s the way he’s gonna live, that’s just all right. But I’m not responsible for him. I am responsible for my own.
“If I died right now, I’d be leaving you to a big house, with a big ranch, and a lot of hardship, which would amount to a lifetime of nothing more than…than this wide-open field. And every day that I look at you, I think to myself, this bright, wonderful girl deserves so much more than that. She deserves more than to be forgotten about and be left behind as the world spins around her.
“That’s why I need you to understand why I put so much effort into finding this Mr. Stimpson and finding his son for you. There’s no greed, no desire in it. Except, maybe, the desire to see that you’ve got a future for yourself and that you’ll be taken care of. This opportunity, given the world that the Lord has given you, being my daughter, being out in these desert fields, this is all you’ve been graced with. But whether you choose to make something of it and choose something better…well, that I leave in your hands.”
And with that, Kendrick Glen patted his old, withered hand gently on Camille’s shoulder before going back into the house and leaving her alone out on the porch.
She sat there a while longer, watching as the sun from the middle of the day was now far lower on the horizon, beginning to set behind the mountains. With the air getting cooler, some of the birds began to fly a little low. The grasshopper seemed to quiet down, and the sky was a brilliant collection of yellow and orange. Camilla thought to herself that if she had to spend the rest of her life standing out in that field, as she was earlier that day, staring at nothing about this for the rest of her days, then maybe she could live with herself. Maybe she could enjoy doing nothing but staring at the same thing, over and over again. Never growing, never changing.
Only dreaming. Dreaming of nothing.
Kind of like Bernard, who, it was now apparent, wasn’t really going to be heading anywhere in his life, either.
And intrinsically, Camilla knew she wouldn’t like it.
She also felt, truly believed, she would hate being a pawn for some rich man’s son, far away from everything she knew. But…what else could she possibly do? When she really had nothing else going for her, she thought to herself.
Maybe, just maybe, there would be something else to all of this after all.
Not love, though. She believed she was done with such a painful thing as dreaming about love.
“When Rails of Destiny Cross” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Camilla Glen is still nursing her broken heart as she was prevented from marrying the man she loved. Forced into an arranged marriage by her father, she finds herself next to a frigid stranger who owns a railroad empire in the Wild West. Her heart rebels against the match, yet Dalton, her new husband, is not who she first thinks he is… Camilla discovers the tender soul he hides under his thick skin just when she abandoned any hope of finding true love.
Will she be able to lay aside her doubts and give Dalton a chance?
Dalton Stimpson seems like a man obsessed with his business, cold and distant, just like his father. The truth is, he is a torn man, longing for a carefree future but as the eldest son of a railroad tycoon, he feels he has to fulfill his role in the empire. As he falls in love with his wife, Camilla, their common dream of a new beginning, fuels his own wish to create a peaceful life in the countryside.
However, escaping the tight grasp of his duties will not be an easy task to accomplish…
Even though at first glance, Camilla and Dalton don’t seem like the perfect match, they are soon proven to be kindred spirits. When unexpected forces attempt to drive them apart, will they be able to stay true to their new feelings? Or will they let their dreams be shattered once again?
“When Rails of Destiny Cross” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.