Linda Weaver Clarke

One Last Dance

Chapter 1

Autumn of 1836 Lucas stepped onto the porch and breathed in the fresh air. He folded his arms across his chest as he scanned the neighborhood.

"Wow!" He marveled at the sight before him. "What kind of world have I stepped into?"

He was in awe as he gazed at the beautiful colors. The trees were beginning to change, making the neighborhood seem like a land of fantasy. There were various shades of yellow, red, green, pink, and orange. It was absolutely gorgeous. Autumn was his favorite time of year.

Willow Valley was such a beautiful place to set up his new practice. Turning around, Lucas gazed at the plaque on the door that read: Doctor Lucas Abraham Golden. It had taken him a few years to finish college. He had been working as a blacksmith, which paid for his education. Between school and his job, he was kept quite busy.

Lucas pulled out his handkerchief and polished the golden plaque. It was just below his uncle's name. When Uncle Henry learned that he had graduated from Kentucky's Medical Department of Transylvania University, he immediately wrote to Lucas and asked him if he was interested in being his partner.

When Lucas received his uncle's letter, he was elated and immediately accepted the offer. Without delay, he packed his bags and headed for Willow Valley. But it was not without incident. He had taken a steamboat up the Mississippi. It was such a pleasant day. What happened next was unexpected.

A young woman, standing beside him, was pointing at a catfish in the water and showing it to her five-year-old son. He was enthralled at seeing such a huge fish and was laughing with delight.

Just at that moment, two large boats pulled up alongside the riverboat and were quickly attached to the side. Within seconds, about two-dozen men climbed aboard with pistols in hand. Before anyone had a chance to think twice, the River Pirates had taken over the boat.

The young mother gasped when she realized who they were. "Pirates!" she exclaimed as she slid her hand inside her bag.

When Lucas noticed her pistol, he quickly placed his hand on top of hers and said, "No! It's not worth it. Your life is more valuable than what you have in that bag."

"But this is all the money I have."

He motioned to her son. "You have a valuable treasure right here that you must protect. Do as they say. Let them get on with their robbing."

The young woman nodded and fastened her bag.

Lucas wondered why River Pirates were interested in a riverboat. Then it dawned on him. There were some well-known gamblers on board for a high stakes poker game. Maybe that was what lured them to this riverboat?

When two gunshots were heard, the young mother winced. Her son looked up quizzically and said, "What was that?"

She shook her head and pulled him close. "River Pirates, dear. Be still and don't say a word."

The boy nodded and clung to his mother.

A few minutes later, three pirates headed down the walkway, demanding everyone to stand back against the railing. Two pirates held pistols in both hands, while the third held a large sack.

They stopped in front of each passenger and said with authority, "Drop your valuables in the sack! No harm will come to you, if you do as I say."

As the five-year-old boy clung to his mother, she glanced at Lucas and he nodded. "It'll be all right. I won't let them harm you."

When the pirates finally stood in front of her, she dropped her bag in the sack and did not say a word.

"Very good," said the pirate. "We have obliging people today."

Another gunshot was heard and someone yelled, "Time to go! Get in the boat."

Within seconds, Lucas watched the pirates disappear over the railing and into the boats below, while a half dozen men stood guard with rifles in their hands. They were making sure their fellow pirates escaped without a problem. When the last man climbed over the railing, those who were standing guard jumped down into the boats and they took off.

Everything was organized. Lucas had never seen anything so well planned. It happened quickly and no one was prepared. That was his introduction to Willow Valley, just two miles downstream.

As soon as Lucas arrived in town, he hunted for a place to stay. It didn't take long until he found a small Boarding House, just a half mile down the road from his office. It was perfect for a bachelor.

When Uncle Henry led him into the office building where Lucas would practice medicine, he said, "If you need anything, I'll get it for you. I'm glad you're here, Lucas. I'm not as spry as I used to be, so I'll only be putting in four hours a day... from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon. I'm hoping to retire in a year."

Realizing his uncle was slowing down, Lucas made a vow to help him with his chores every Saturday, such as chopping wood and anything that was difficult for his uncle. Being a blacksmith for the past few years had kept him in shape.

Lucas had dark blond hair, sky blue eyes, and a muscular build that he was proud of. He had only been in Willow Valley for two weeks. A few of the older folks didn't think he had enough experience and called him a young "whippersnapper." They told him they would make an appointment to see him when he had more experience. Until then, they would continue to see Dr. Jones. Being referred to as a whippersnapper made him chuckle.

After locking the door to his office, Lucas sat down on a bench that was on the front porch. He had had a long day. It seemed as if one person after another showed up without an appointment, and he would have to squeeze them in. Lucas figured it was because the people of the community were curious about him and decided to see what the new doctor was like.

He pulled his watch from his vest pocket and looked at the time. Five o'clock. After winding it, he tucked it back into the small pocket. It was time for his daily piano recital. The soothing music helped him relax after a long day at work.

Gazing at the house across the street, he waited. According to his uncle, Miss Scott was a piano teacher. Between two and five o'clock, she had piano students. But at five o'clock, she sat down at her piano and played delightful pieces for half an hour. In the mornings, she would practice for an hour, going over difficult runs. But at five, she played music that she knew and loved. It was more like she was having fun, rather than practicing.

As if on cue, angelic music began drifting toward him. It seemed to caress his weary soul. Each note sounded like angel-gifts from heaven. Listening to her each day gave Lucas renewed strength and it uplifted him. It actually took away his stress.

How was that possible? Did music have that kind of effect on everyone? After a while, Lucas found himself tapping his foot to the rhythm of the music. He hadn't met the young lady, but he hoped to some day because he would like to express his thanks for her daily recitals. The way she expressed herself as she played seemed to come straight from her heart. The music would swell with emotion and then decrescendo in just the right places. The sweet notes gave a hint of mystery. And it captivated him.

When the piece ended, Miss Scott began playing one of his favorites: Fur Elise. Lucas closed his eyes and listened. What a perfect way to end his day! Toward the ending of the piece, he heard a disturbing sound not far from him. Ping... Ping... Ping... Ping... Ping! It sounded like someone was smacking a bucket over and over again. Lucas wrinkled his brow. The incessant sound was quite annoying and disruptive.

Pulling himself to his feet, he stepped down from the porch. At the other side of the street, where the piano teacher lived, was a young boy with a slingshot in his hand. He was pulling the strap back and aiming at a bucket. Apparently, the boy had placed several buckets on the pickets of his whitewashed fence, using them as targets.

Just at that moment, a gentleman, who lived directly across the street from the boy, strode out of his house and toward the road. In a disgruntled tone, he yelled, "Stop that noise, boy! Cease and desist! I mean it. I don't want to hear another sound from that dad-blasted sling-shot."

The boy had just stretched the sling back to its limits when the man began yelling at him. The boy looked up at the neighbor just as he let go of the sling. Lucas winced as an agonizing howling-sound pierced the air. The man fell to his knees in excruciating pain and groaned. It was the saddest, most mournful sound Lucas had ever heard in his life.

Rubbing his chin, Lucas said, "Ouch! Now that"s just gotta hurt."

When the boy turned toward Lucas, the expression on his face told him that it was an accident. His eyes were wide and he looked scared. Realizing he was in trouble, the boy turned and ran around the house with the slingshot in his hand.

When Lucas heard a deep chuckle, he turned around and was surprised to see Uncle Henry standing behind him.

"What do you think?" asked Henry. "Was it an accident or did he do it on purpose?"

"I think it was an accident. The look on that boy's face was priceless. He was shocked. I think he got distracted."

Henry motioned toward the fifty-year-old man, who was groaning and limping toward his house. "Mr. Miller is an upright citizen. He's running for Mayor. I think he has a pretty good chance of getting elected. A lot of us are tired of Mayor Sutherland. Just because he has wealth and influence, he gets elected every time he runs. And he doesn't live up to his promises. We've got a lot of people in this town who are out of work and can't find a job. There are some folks who are homeless. Has the mayor done anything about it? No. We need a change...someone who cares. I think Matthew Miller would be a good choice."

Henry motioned toward Miss Scott's home and sighed. "That boy is a good example of what I'm talking about. He would have been out on the streets if it weren't for his aunt taking him in. His younger sister, Josie, would have been easy to place with a family, but not Samuel. He's too lively and quite mischievous. There aren't many folks who want to raise a boy his age and put up with his antics."

Lucas raised a curious brow. "What happened?"

"Samuel's mother passed away last year and no one knows where his father is. He just disappeared one day. The boy is a handful and sometimes acts resentful."

"How old is he?"

"I'm not sure. I think he's twelve or thirteen. He's a handsome lad. He'll break some hearts when he grows up, if he hasn't already. His sister is as sweet as honey. She's eight." Henry motioned across the street at the piano teacher's home. "Miss Scott is caring for the children and she seems to adore them." He shrugged. "Like I said, they're a handful. Especially Sam."

"That's sad." Changing the subject, Lucas asked, "What are you doing here? Checking up on me?" He laughed as they walked down the street toward his Boarding House. "You're supposed to take it easy. Remember? That's why I'm here. We agreed that you would put in four hours every day. Then you'd go home and relax."

Henry chuckled. "I thought I would stretch my legs. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to see how everything went today."

Lucas laughed. "You wouldn't believe the day I've had. Mrs. Young came in with her daughter, saying she was feeling under the weather."

"What was wrong with her daughter?"

"Nothing. The appointment was for Mrs. Young. While I examined her, Marcy sang to me." Lucas grinned. "She has a nice voice and I thanked her when she was done. Then I gave Mrs. Young something for her ailment, and she paid me for my services."

Henry chuckled. "She wasn't sick, was she?"

Lucas shook his head. "Oh, there's more. Soon after she left, Mrs. McGregor arrived with her daughter. As I examined her, she bragged about her daughter's culinary skills. By the time she was done, I knew what was coming next. I could smell it. Her daughter pulled out a freshly baked pie from her basket and handed it to me." He chuckled and said, "It was the best looking pie I had seen in a long time. I thanked her for the pie then gave Mrs. McGregor something for her ailment. After she paid me for my services, she invited me over to her home for Sunday dinner. I politely declined, of course, saying I had previous commitments."

Henry broke into laughter. "You have to expect such things here in Willow Valley. When an eligible bachelor comes into town, it's bound to happen. These mothers want to find a fine young man for their daughters."

"But that's not all. Soon after she left, Mrs. Whitaker appeared..."

"With her daughter," added Henry. "Right?"

"That's right."

Henry chuckled. "I'm not surprised. Those ladies are good friends but very competitive. I can just see Mrs. Young saying that she had an appointment with the new doctor in town, and she was going to introduce her talented daughter to him. That's all it takes for the competition to begin. What did Mrs. Whitaker's daughter do to entertain you?"

With humor lacing his voice, Lucas said, "She quoted Lord Byron's: So We'll Go No More A-Roving. Then she recited a few poems by Thomas Moore. When she was finished, I thanked her and told her that she had a great talent. After I gave Mrs. Whitaker something for her ailment, she invited me to visit them and gave me her address."

Henry shook his head with amusement. "So what did you give these so-called ailing mothers?"

"Chamomile tea. It helps to lower stress and regulates your sleep." He kicked a stone out of his way and glanced at his uncle. "Since they weren't sick, I figured these mother's were worried about their unmarried daughters and Chamomile tea would help."

Henry broke into laughter. "Very wise, indeed. So which of the young women are you most interested in?"

Lucas turned to his uncle and chuckled. "None of them! They're too young. I'm twenty-nine, uncle, going on thirty in a couple of months. Not that I'm looking, but I'm more interested in a mature, more independent woman... someone who has her head on straight, rather than some giggling young lady. Mrs. McGregor's daughter was charming and her pie was delicious, but she's not my type."

Henry laughed and patted his nephew on the back. "That's a difficult order to fill. Most women who are mature and nice-looking are taken." He scratched his scalp and thought for a moment. "Well... there's the mayor's daughter. She left her husband just last year, saying he was a no-good scoundrel. She's very pretty and has one of those southern accents that seem to draw most men to her. If she weren't the mayor's daughter and if she weren't spoiled rotten, I'd recommend her.

Lucas laughed. "Thanks for the warning."

Uncle Henry stopped in front of his house and leaned against the fencepost. "There's the piano teacher. She doesn't have anyone lined up at her doorstep. Not too many men want a ready-made family. And she's picky, too. She told me that the kids have to give their approval before she'll give her heart to anyone, because she isn't about to put them through another traumatic experience. After a few months, most suitors give up on her. Apparently it's too difficult to win the hearts of the children."

Lucas shook his head and sighed. "Poor kids. It must be tough to lose a parent and have the other disappear on you."

Henry nodded. "Mighty tough, indeed!" He motioned toward the house. "Want to come in and have a bite to eat?"

Lucas shook his head. "Mrs. O'Riley would scold me good if I did. She's preparing roast beef with potatoes and carrots. It's something I requested. She's a great cook. Every now and then she'll serve one of her Irish meals."

Uncle Henry gave him a pat on the back and smiled. "See you bright and early tomorrow morning."

Lucas watched his uncle walk toward his home then he headed down the street. After two more blocks, he walked into the Boarding House. The two-story building was attractive and it felt like home. It had a gable in the front that was painted auburn, and the windows had auburn shutters. The owner of the Boarding House was Mrs. O'Riley. She was motherly and made sure he had a healthy breakfast every morning before he left for work.

When she asked him what kind of meals he preferred, Lucas said he was not picky. Anything would do, as long as the sweetest Irish woman in town made it. That did it. She treated him like family ever since.