Love Cometh in The Morning
Anna sat on the edge of the bed with sweat streaming down her face. As she eyed the exit, she tingled her toes and blinked. There is a whole new life screaming at her from outside. Sounds of gunshots in the wild, children bickering about, roosters singing their evening songs. She could hear Mother Rose’s voice in the distance too.
Anna was eighteen and is the oldest in the orphanage. She was the only one who had to stay behind because no mines would employ her. The meatpacking houses and factory managers all thought Anna was too frail for labor. She became Mother Rose’s scapegoat.
“Minnie!” a girl cooed as she passed by the door.
“Her name is Anna!” a little girl replied, and the little girl came in to sit beside Anna.
Anna just sat there bouncing her knee like a bob on a bull’s neck.
“Where will you go, Anna?”
“Anywhere but here, Daisy,” Anna laughed.
Daisy looked at Anna as she laughed. “Look!” Anna exclaimed, “you have a tear on your shirt.”
“No,” Daisy soothed, “I will fix it. You always fix my clothes. You have a lot on your mind today.”
Daisy stood up straight as Rose Higgins rushed in with a squeezed grimace as if she was trying to fit her large frown into her tiny face.
“What are you still doing here on my bed, you worthless child?” Rose hollered. “Isn’t it enough that you eat and drink for free in this entire estate? Is it not enough, I ask, you puny little pig?! Do you think I run this place on water?”
“I-I,” Anna babbled.
“You shameless rat! You are old and lazy! Do you think I will be here if not—oh my days! You are choking the air around here. You had better get out before I pounce on you!” Rose shook her fists in the air, towering over the poor girls, and Anna dared not look at her eyes or talk back. The highest Anna’s eyes went was Rose’s legs that were planted wide.
“You and your filthy sisters are forsaken by God and your parents, and you have ruined my own life too!” Rose mumbled, “pests!”
Rose’s voice petered out as she continued to rant.
Anna did not want to take anything from the orphanage with her. She turned around and twisted her feet. In an instant, she was surrounded by Daisy and seven other little girls—her friends.
“Sister Anna, where will you go?” said the first little girl with a bow on her hair.
Anna cried. “I will miss you, girls.”
“We want you to have this, and this.—”
“We made them for you,” Daisy said, grinning.
Anna stared long and hard at the knit cardigan and cross bag the kids stretched out to her and pressed her fingers to her lips with a cry. She swept all eight kids into a hug and said, “I have never been treated so kindly before.”
“We really wished you could stay.”
“I either stay here and die, or leave and—” she sighed, “and die too. Even then, death anywhere else is better than to die at the hands of Mother Rose.”
The meadow was drying in these parts. The sun was going down, and Anna knew that her new gift cardigan could only take so much in the nipping cold. Anna clutched at the edges of the cardigan. She began to walk faster.
“Mini!?” a familiar voice startled Anna so much that she jumped. It was a young man with a tiny immature beard. “You are out too, Mini.”
Anna bit her lip and looked down. “Y-yes.”
“I have gotten out since ‘85, and it is the best decision of my life! You just stayed there with Mother Rose like you would never live your own life.”
Anna glared at him. “Who are you?”
“Ha! You don’t know me. I am a boy. But I know you! We – I mean I – never mind. Where do you want to go now?”
Anna dug her right foot into the sand, taking the chore of uprooting the dry grass.
“What about I introduce you to my family?” the boy demanded, pulling Anna’s hand.
Anna’s eyes lit up. “A family!”
“Yes. Everyone will be glad to see you!”
Anna had watched kids get adopted right before her very eyes ad no one wanted her. She does not have the hands that can help any farm. Anna hated that boy for calling her Mini. Still, she would forgive him because he was generous enough to introduce her to his family.
Anna sat on the edge of the chair with sweat streaming down her face. The Sheriff’s table feels like a mountain hiding her shaky feet. As she eyed the exit, she glared at the crucifix right above the entrance and shuddered. That exit speaks two ways: jail or freedom. At least one is a more wholesome death than the other. There is a whole new life screaming at her from outside. Sounds of gunshots in the county jail field, soldiers bickering about, and on their evening patrol. She could hear the sergeants screaming commands and marching boots in the distance too.
“How long have you been with them?”
The Sheriff was writing in his pad. His big bible was on the one side of the table next to his badges.
“No-not so long.”
“Did you know that the Oakey devils were criminals when you joined?”
Anna looked at the Sheriff. She closed her eyes and sighed. Anna stared long and hard at the door and the crucifix above it as if they were not alone in the Sheriff’s office.
“I was desperate for a family. The wild west was not safe for someone like me to be out on her own–” she sobbed, “A boy who was from the orphanage offered to introduce me to his family, and they were his family.”
The frown on the Sheriff’s face deepened.
“I never wanted any part of their business. I just wanted to be with a family, someone that wanted me. And I – I,”
“Did you follow them for any crime?”
“No, sir.” Anna cried, “Sometimes, they force me to go out with them to gunfights and robbery, but – but I never want anything to do with crime.”
“Miss, if you don’t mind, I need to call in my deputy. I have some concerns about your case.”
“Please, I beg of you, sir. Have mercy on me.”
Anna watched the Sheriff walk out of the office. She stared at the door, gripping her hands together as if it was her chance to escape. She leaned away from the chair.
When the Sheriff came in, a short fat man walked behind him with a whiplash. Anna flinched as the door slammed shut behind the men.
“This is my deputy,” the Sheriff sat down, “Please, soldier, how did your boys find this young lady?”
The deputy saluted the Sheriff and started, “there was a robbery in the Oakdale city bank, and we have proof that the Oakies did it. This woman is a part of the gang. Several people in the county have testified to have seen her with the Oakies.”
“Hmm,” the Sheriff sighed.
“And we found her right in the Oakies’ hideout. I say we torture her to confess the whereabouts of the rest of her gang. She is a vixen!”
“Thank you, Robertson,” the Sheriff declared.
Anna fell to her knees in tears. She clasped her hands together and rubbed them vigorously. “Please, sir, I am not a criminal. I have never robbed anyone of anything in my life. I am an orphan and a sinner. I have done so many bad things and made so many bad decisions, but I have never robbed a bank. And I don’t know anything about the gang. Please have mercy on me.”
“Don’t listen to her, Sheriff,” Robertson said, “This may be the only lead we might have to catch the Oakies.”
“No, sir,” Anna sobbed, “I swear I don’t know where they are. I was supposed to go with them, but they complained that I would drag them down, and they abandoned me. Please, Sheriff, have mercy upon me. No one wants to see me. I have become a pariah to the people.”
The Sheriff stole a glance at her. He closed his eyes and rapped his fingers on the table. He looked up at the deputy and down at Anna, who was sweating and weeping profusely on her knees.
He glanced at Robertson, “keeping this lady here will not bring any o’ the crazy Oakie devils back.”
“Nonetheless,” the Sheriff glared at Anna, “that does not mean she is not guilty.”
“Thank you!” the deputy chipped, “exactly my point. To the gallows. A deterrent to other naïve young ‘uns who might err because they could not find a family.”
Anna wailed. “This is the end. Not even God can forgive me.”
“Hold your horses, Rob.” The Sheriff raised his hand.
Robertson rubbed his stomach like an impatient hungry little child.
“You don’t seem to me as a bad person,” the Sheriff said, “you look young and apprehensive. You have been seen with the Oakdale gang, and they have robbed a bank. You can be prosecuted for this or even killed. But as my Lord lives, I do not know if seeing you with a gang is proof of guilt or merely bad luck for you.”
Anna rubbed her nose, sniffling loudly.
“How old are you, miss?”
“20,” she lied.
“If you walk through that door, you could either be going to jail or home. Which would you choose, Anna?”
Anna shifted the chair. She sniffled twice, this time again.
“I-I have not really thought of that, sir. I have no home. I have no place to go.” She sobbed.
“You want to go to jail?”
“You have not denied your association with the Oakdale gang,” Robertson snapped.
“No, I don’t deny that I am with the Oakies, but….”
“What more evidence do we need, Sheriff? She is outright guilty!”
Anna recoiled and leaned back so that the chair shifted. The atmosphere in the room was tense, and her tears were already dried on her face. She sighed, staring at the badge on the table with the fliers in a stack on the edge of the table.
There was a loud ruckus in the compound with a lousy woman’s voice covering every soldier’s. The Sheriff gestured the deputy, and Robertson moved out.
“Talk to me, Anna,” the Sheriff tapped on the table right in front of where Anna knelt, “first, rise and sit.”
“I want to hear your story from you.”
“I am an orphan. I-I had the most terrible childhood because my ‘mother’ thought I was too frail.”
The Sheriff watched as she sobbed through her story.
“The neighbors never allowed her to take me to the orphanage farm, and I could only work in the house with patches and all house chores. I wish I could do more. I go hungry for the most part, and when I complain, I get flogged. I am only a little puny pig. I am a slight rat, and I can never do anything well. That is why I want to agree with the Deputy Sheriff.”
The Sheriff frowned his face, tilting his head slightly to the right with his eyebrows drawing in, in an empathetic grimace.
“Should I keep living like this?” Anna sobbed, “I am terrible at everything. I ruin everything I touch or move close to.”
“Anna, listen to me,” the Sheriff said, I….”
The deputy sheriff opened the door and saluted his commander. A woman walked in behind him, holding a rope tied in a knot.
“What is this?” the Sheriff demanded.
“This woman lives in Mount Forest, and she has lost her horses,” Robertson glared at Anna as if he had seen the horses with her.
“Good evening, good Sheriff. You have been doing the best for the county since you came in, and the good Lord has blessed the land. But since some people got loose from wherever they were, it has become as if something keeps spoiling your good work.
My horses had always been in my stable for as long as I can remember, and now, I can’t find them. Gad, the tapper, told me that he saw my steed, Blue, in front of Oakdale bank! How? If not for the Oakies.”
The woman kept eyeing Anna, but Anna did not look up.
The Sheriff looked at Anna for a minute and then asked the woman to sit. He reassured the woman that her horses would be found and gave the deputy specific instructions. When the woman left with Robertson, he turned to Anna.
“Anna, what do you want?”
“I don’t know!” Anna closed her eyes tightly and shook her head, “I can never be forgiven. Robertson is right.”
“Hey, Anna, the Lord is merciful, and everybody deserves a second chance.”
“Not me, Sheriff. I am worthless!”
“No, you’re not.” The Sheriff picked one of the fliers that she had eyed on the edge of the table and handed it to her. There will be a lottery in Hays in a fortnight. You should be in it.”
Anna sighed deeply. She took the flier and read it loudly. It was a bride lottery in the neighboring town, not far from the prison-house where she sat.
“I had thought of moving to Hays to find a job,” Anna sobbed, “but no one will hire me.”
“Why?” the Sheriff demanded, “What can you do?”
“I can knit. I can…”
Anna stopped midsentence as if she felt the ridiculousness of her own words. No one needs a mender when they have grandmothers and housewives.
“That is why I think you need to be in the bride lottery. I am a part of the committee that set it up, and I will speak to Wyatt Hart, the Sheriff of Hays. We worked together on the committee. We will find a way to fix you up and get your name into the lottery. Maybe you will find a man who wants you. Perhaps you might find a man there who can give you a modest home and a family.
Anna let out a long, low sigh. “It’s either that or death.”
Anna slumped in the chair. She took the flier and held it high as though it was a ticket to escape poverty and social stigma.
“I will expect your decision in a few hours.”
Anna walked out of the office, and the Sheriff watched her go. She dragged her feet with her shoulders slumped like a scarecrow.
“It will be better,” The Sheriff muttered, “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief. It does not matter how many times a just one errs. We are all sinners. May God bless you.”