The Leighton Legacy
Historical suspense, full-length novel
15 July, 1839
The more Mother sighs and the longer Father lectures, the more resolute is my vow never to marry. You would think to hear them that there were no longer babies being brought into the world and that unless I produce one, the human race will be threatened. I find babies dreadful creatures, particularly when ill, and they always seem to be out of sorts in one way or another. There is another reason I do not much care for infants, but mother pleaded with me not to speak of it in case the servants overhear and they scatter like the superstitious sheep they really are. In fact, Diary, I have two cherubs plaguing me daily in my chambers. They often rest upon the heavy jabots at the window, their fat rumpled bellies jiggling with mirth as they watch me at my toilette. I try to ignore them, but on occasion they swoop overhead, dragging their wretched little round toes across my scalp and soaring off again. I swat at them and did manage to finally knock one to the ground. The cherub appeared stupefied to be touched by human hand, and I was just about to wrap it in my shawl and give it a toss out the turret window when its detestable companion speared me—yes! Speared me directly in the neck with its tiny arrow. Mind you it hurt no more than a black fly but I was distracted long enough that the felled babe managed to regain its senses and heave its chubby form back into flight.
The Custer County clerk squinted at our signatures, her crooked nose nearly touching the land deed spread out between us on the wooden counter. She shifted her gaze to our photo IDs, which she gripped in one bumpy hand. Like a rusted toy crane, her neck cranked her head upward until she could peer over the top of her spectacles at my face, then to my shoulders, and, finally, even down to my chest. I felt like a teenager caught after curfew in the beam of a cop’s flashlight. I tried to arrange my face into something pleasant but she didn’t return my smile. Next to me, standing still as a column, my husband Frank started a nose chortle that threatened to break into full chuckle — but it failed to thrive and aborted into a cough when the clerk’s rheumy eyes darted to him.
Stamp! She pounded the deed and I started my happy dance, but only from the waist down. Foots, c’mon and play. Our dream had come true — we’d been anointed landowners! What an atrial-fluttering word! What a picture of stolid American work ethic it conjured!
And then, it happened: somewhere between floating out of the courthouse in Westcliffe, Colorado, and finishing up a course of congratulatory bean burritos at the diner, we started having delusions of the grandiose sort that went something like this: Drive to our land; search for a couple fallen Ponderosa pines; peel them with some tool or another; sink them deep into the rutted track leading to our property and then hang between them a plank of wood upon which will be etched the clever name of our homestead, something catchy such as Hare Today, Fawn Tomorrow Ranch.