Chapter OneNicodemus, Kansas August 1882
What have you done? What have you done? The horse's hooves pounded out the words in an unrelenting cadence that constricted Moses Wyman's throat as tightly as a hangman's noose.
He strained in the saddle and bowed his shoulders against the ache that had plagued him for the last five miles. The train ride from Topeka had been tiresome, but the final miles atop his sturdy horse had proved the most grueling leg of the journey. His time away from home had lasted longer than anticipated. And though Moses hungered to once again embrace his wife, he feared his news would dampen the sweetness of their reunion.
The horse snorted and pranced, wanting his head as they approached this more familiar territory. They'd both been gone far too long-Moses in Topeka, where he'd served as the elected representative of Graham County at the statewide Republican convention, and his horse at the livery in Ellis with Chester Goddard. With only a nudge, the horse galloped northward until they were a short distance from town.
With a tug on the reins, Moses slowed the animal to a trot and entered the outskirts of Nicodemus. Since the day he'd arrived in Nicodemus, he'd loved this town and its people. Even though he'd not been one of the original settlers, Moses delighted in telling others their story. He swelled with pride whenever given the opportunity to relate how the small band of ill-prepared African Americans, who had arrived in Kansas with little more than their dreams and expectations, had successfully established a town for themselves. Believing the promises of the men representing the company that had plotted the town, they'd come west expecting what they'd been promised: an established community of businesses, churches, homes, and a school. Instead they'd been greeted by nothing but the empty Kansas prairie. In spite of the unfulfilled promises, most of those first pioneers had remained. With an indefatigable determination and an unflagging faith in God, they'd built homes, churches, a school, and businesses. Now Moses, too, hungered to contribute something more to the community. Editing and printing the newspaper provided a measure of fulfillment, but not enough to smother the burning fire in his belly. He wanted to see Nicodemus spread her wings and soar, and grow as abundantly as did the fields of wheat and corn that dotted the township's acreage.
New residents often arrived in Nicodemus-folks who opened a business in the heart of their little town, or purchased a farm on its outskirts, or sought employment among other people of color. But for each one that came, another departed. This was a grueling place, with its ongoing plagues of harsh weather and hard times. One thing Moses knew for certain: for a town to grow, it needed the railroad.
Urging his horse onward, he caught sight of the home he shared with his wife. Truth stood on the porch as if she'd known the exact moment he would arrive. His heart swelled as he waved and called her name. Without a doubt, she had been God's greatest blessing in his life. He prayed she would accept his unexpected news with enthusiasm. However, his heart told him otherwise. He would tell her first thing. Then again, perhaps he should wait until the entire family was gathered together before breaking the news....
"Moses! I've missed you so. It seems as though you've been gone for months." Truth raised up on tiptoe to meet his lips, her kiss filled with longing. "I'm never going to agree to such a separation again. I want you right here in Nicodemus with me. One of the other men can represent Graham County at those conventions in Topeka."
"Indeed, they may need to elect someone else as their representative in the future. However, I believe you would enjoy Topeka. I'm only sorry you weren't feeling well enough to go along with me this time. I must say you're fairly glowing right now. The doctor has pronounced you well?"
With an enthusiastic nod, she confirmed he had declared her fit as a fiddle. Gently tugging on his hand, Truth led him into the house and to the parlor. Moses dropped down beside her on the brocade divan. Truth was nibbling her lower lip-a sure sign she had something important to tell him. "I want to hear all that occurred at the convention," she said. "But first I have a special surprise to share with you."
His wife enjoyed a surprise more than anyone he knew, and he wondered what she had come up with while he was gone. Perhaps she had planned a special meal with the entire family. He hoped so, for he was hungry. He leaned forward.
Truth's eyes sparkled as they met his. "We're going to have a baby, Moses. Can you believe it?" She stroked her hand down his cheek. "That's why I wasn't feeling well." She clasped his fingers. "Isn't this wonderful? Aren't you thrilled? You're going to be a father. Imagine! We're going to have our very own child."
His stomach lurched and he swallowed hard. A tumult of emotions assaulted him. He jumped to his feet and pulled Truth into an embrace, fearful she would detect the panic in his eyes. "I'm delighted, my dear." He sounded like a croaking bullfrog and gulped a lungful of air, praying that he would quickly regain his composure.
"I can hear the emotion in your voice. I know you had given up hope."
Moses clung to her. How could he possibly reveal his news now? They would celebrate this moment with unbridled joy. He would tell her later.
She wiggled from his embrace and graced him with a look of pure adoration. "I'm so happy, Moses. I've invited the family to supper tonight so that we can make the announcement together. I've not told anyone because I wanted you to be the first to know, but this has been the most difficult secret I've ever been required to keep."
Leaning forward, he kissed her forehead. "Thank you, my dear. Keeping such news to yourself must have been extremely difficult." He chuckled, hoping to mask his apprehension.
She watched him carefully as he sat down. "You don't appear quite as excited as I expected. Although I must admit I didn't know how you would react." Her brows furrowed. "Was there some sort of difficulty in Topeka?"
He could easily clear the air by revealing exactly what had occurred in Topeka. But he wouldn't spoil this moment in their lives. "You know that I have always prayed for children, Truth. Still, I must admit I am more than a little surprised. Please try to understand-I had no idea ..."
She smiled broadly before kissing his cheek. "Of course you didn't-nor did I. Let me fix you a cup of coffee and then you can tell me about the convention. I'm anxious to hear how you were received and how the voting went."
Moses didn't attempt to stop her. He needed a few moments to gather his wits about him. The news of the child made him question whether he'd made a mistake. Perhaps he should have prayed more. Had his decision been one of pride rather than God's urging? He rubbed his forehead and longed for a solution to this dilemma.
More than anything, he wanted to be alone and think. He stood and massaged the back of his neck with one hand. "I'm going to take my bag upstairs and unpack," he called. "There's no hurry for the coffee, Truth. If you don't mind, I may take a short nap."
Truth peeked into the hallway. "In that case, I'll go ahead with my supper preparations while you rest. I'm sure you're tired. I can hear about the convention along with the rest of the family at supper."
She retreated into the kitchen and Moses trudged up the stairs, feeling the weight of his recent decision. He opened his bag and carefully separated the clean clothes from the dirty, the slow, methodical process somehow calming his nerves. After removing his shoes and jacket, he lay down on the bed to pray. He had uttered only a few words to God when his eyelids began to droop.
Moses was uncertain how much time had passed when he awoke to the sound of voices. Jerking into an upright position, he yanked his shoes onto his feet and grabbed his jacket. Anxious to greet their guests, he rushed down the staircase while shoving his arms into the sleeves of his waistcoat. A shrug of his broad shoulders forced the coat upward, and the wool fabric settled evenly across his back. Stopping in front of the hallway mirror, he straightened his tie and wondered why his wife hadn't awakened him before their guests arrived. Surely she realized he would have preferred a few moments to formulate his thoughts.
"There he is!" His father-in-law's voice boomed throughout the house when he caught sight of Moses in the hall. "We's all anxious to hear 'bout what went on in Topeka." Ezekiel patted the seat beside him as the rest of the family offered their greetings. "Sit down and tell us."
Truth wagged her index finger back and forth. "Not now, Pappy. Supper is ready, and I know how you men are-you'll start talking and I'll never get you around the table."
Moses pulled Truth into a gentle hug. "Your daughter's correct, Mr. Harban. We don't want this fine meal to grow cold."
With a sigh of resignation, Ezekiel sat down at the table and the rest of the family followed. Moses sat at one end and Ezekiel at the other. Truth's sister and brother-in-law, Jarena and Thomas Grayson, were seated on one side, with Silas and Grace on the other. Silas Morgan was their only guest who wasn't a relative; however, if he had his way, he and Truth's twin sister would soon be wed. Refusing to remain in the high chair, Thomas and Jarena's little daughter, Jennie, rested comfortably on her mother's lap. The little girl wiggled her tiny fingers toward the bowl of mashed potatoes near her mother's plate.
Moses eyed the child, who had turned one several months ago. Little Jennie had been named after Ezekiel's deceased wife, and the entire family doted upon her. Somehow it was difficult to imagine he and Truth would have a child of their own at this time next year. The mere thought of his wife's condition caused his worries to rise anew.
After Ezekiel had offered a prayer of thanks for their meal, he turned his attention to Moses. "Now, then, pass dat platter of chicken down the table and start to talkin'. I wanna know ever'thing that happened from the minute you get off the train in Topeka 'til you get back home."
Truth patted Moses's hand. "No politics at the table, please. The medical community agrees that food is best digested when table conversation is pleasant rather than conflict-ridden and divisive."
Ezekiel stared at his daughter as though her hair had turned green. "You sound like Dr. Boyle's daughter 'stead of mine. When'd you take up usin' all that highfalutin' talk 'bout medicine and the like?"
"There's no need to make fun just because I'm attempting to use proper grammar. In fact, when we were growing up, Jarena constantly insisted that Grace and I speak properly. Isn't that right, Jarena?"
Her older sister nodded while attempting to curtail little Jennie's antics and a possible catastrophe with the platter of chicken.
The dinner conversation turned to the usual topics of weather, crops, the Sunday morning sermon, and little Jennie's latest accomplishments. Moses had hoped to mention his news during their meal, but Truth's remonstration against political discussions had quashed that possibility.
"I prepared a lemon cake for dessert. Moses's favorite," Truth announced. "After we've finished our cake, Moses and I have an announcement to make."
Ezekiel's eyebrows arched as he looked down the table at his son-in-law. Moses gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and turned his attention back to his dinner plate. The sooner they finished eating, the sooner the entire ordeal would be over. Once Truth announced the baby, and congratulations were extended, Ezekiel would turn the conversation back toward the Republican convention. That's when Moses would make his announcement. With any luck, the family would embrace the news and Truth would be caught up in their excitement. He hoped God had looked with favor upon the brief prayer request he'd uttered before falling asleep earlier today.
With the family gathered in the parlor a short time later, Truth nudged Moses. "Go ahead and tell them."
He tugged at his jacket and cleared his throat. Before he could speak, his father-in-law grinned broadly and pointed at them. "You two's gonna have a young'un, ain't ya?"
Truth folded her arms across her waist and frowned. "Pappy! You spoiled our surprise."
Ezekiel laughed and shook his head. "Don' take no big education to figure out what kinda surprise you was gonna tell. You was feelin' poorly every mornin' fer two months afore Moses left fer Topeka."
Moses scratched beneath the edge of his starched shirt collar. "Maybe it didn't surprise any of the rest of you, but it certainly astonished me. I'm feeling rather foolish that it didn't occur to me before I left for Topeka."
"Ain't no need fer you to feel foolish. With all her medical talk 'bout digestion and the like, I reckon Truth is the one who shoulda figured out what was ailin' her." He guffawed and slapped his knee.
Moses clasped her hand and gave his wife an encouraging smile. "This is an important event for us, and Truth wanted us to be together when we shared it with all of you. I'm pleased she waited until I came home from Topeka. She wanted to give me the good news first."
Truth brightened, and Moses clasped her hand while she accepted congratulations from her family.
As the women continued to chatter, Ezekiel clapped Moses on the shoulder. "Let's pray fer a boy. We could use some more men in this here fambly. Now if my daughter ain't got no more objections, I'd like to hear 'bout the convention."
Thomas pulled his chair closer. "I'm wantin' to hear, too. How did they treat you in the capital city, Moses?"
Suddenly the room became quiet. Everyone was looking at him-all of them anxious to hear the details of his representation as a delegate to the convention. There was no holding back now. He carefully related the events, answering each of their questions in detail, all the while attempting to gather his faltering courage.
"I's mighty glad you was there, Moses. Makes me plumb proud that my son-in-law represented Graham County. Course, I was proud of ya anyway. Did them fellas know Governor St. John appointed you to serve as county clerk fer Graham County last year?"
The question provided the opening he needed. "As a matter of fact, they did. What's more, the day I arrived in Topeka, members of the Republican Party approached me and asked if I'd consider running for state auditor."
For a moment everyone was silent, but then their voices exploded into an onslaught of questions, each one attempting to be heard above the other. Moses finally signaled for quiet. "I can't make out any of your questions with everyone talking at once."
Truth's lower lip trembled. "You didn't agree, did you?" Her eyes shone with fear-or was that anger?
"Course he did, gal. Why, jest being asked to serve is a genuine honor." Ezekiel leaned forward and rested his long arms across his thighs.
Moses avoided his wife's piercing gaze. "You're correct, Ezekiel, I did agree. They were pleased by my acceptance. In fact, I was on the ballot with the final contender."
"A white fella?" Ezekiel rubbed his large hands together and leaned even closer.
"Now ain' that somethin' to be proud of! Did ya make a decent showin' when the votin' was all said and done?"
Moses nodded. "I won the bid."