Authors: Susan Page Davis
|White Mountain Brides |
|Susan Page Davis|
Will God use thievery and murder to bring His children together?
Since her redemption from captivity in Canada, Christine has led a quiet, unassuming life. She cares tirelessly for Pastor Samuel Jewett’s motherless family and is content. But life is about to take an unexpected turn.One night, coming back from drawing water at the river, Christine discovers a man snooping about the cottage she shares with a widow. At knifepoint, he swears her to secrecy and demands that she supply him with food and other necessities. To save the pastor’s children from harm, Christine complies with his demands, even finding herself stealing from her friends. When murder finds its way to Cochecho, however, Christine can no longer be silent. And her confession puts a strain on the tentative but growing relationship between her and the preacher.Who can know the ways of the Lord? They are far beyond man’s ways, and Samuel and Christine learn this lesson well.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than thirty published novels. She’s a Carol Award Winner and a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award. In 2011, Susan was named Favorite Author of the Year in the 18th Annual Heartsong Awards. A native of Maine, she and her husband, Jim, now live in western Kentucky.
Print ISBN 978-1-60260-256-4
Adobe Digital Edition (.epub) 978-1-60742-914-2
Kindle and MobiPocket Edition (.prc) 978-1-60742-915-9
Copyright © 2008 by Susan Page Davis. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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Christine Hardin sat up straight on the backless bench in the meetinghouse as the Reverend Samuel Jewett finished his sermon with a stirring benediction. The congregation rose to blend their voices in the final hymn. Christine glanced sideways, along the line of Jewett children—all five of them, from three-year-old Ruth up to Ben, who was nearly as tall as his father now. At the far end of the row sat the Widow Deane. All eyes stayed forward, except Ruth’s. The little girl swiveled her head and looked up at Christine. She smiled and raised her arms in a gesture she used many times a day, begging Christine to pick her up.
Christine couldn’t help smiling back at the sweet child, though the reverend wanted his children to be sober in church. She tousled Ruth’s dark curls, which were the exact shade of her dead mother’s. As she turned toward the pulpit once more, hoping Ruth would follow her example, Christine let her hand rest lightly on the little girl’s shoulder. All five of the children grieved their mother, and Christine mourned her dear friend. Each time she looked into the minister’s eyes, the emptiness there tore at her heart.
“You may be seated,” the Reverend Jewett intoned, and the children stirred and looked to her with confusion. Wasn’t it time for dinner?
Christine sat down quickly and pulled Ruth against her side, nodding to Abby and Constance to sit, as well.
The congregation quieted, and the parson raised his voice once more. “Hear ye, hear ye, the marriage banns of Mordecai Wales, a freeman, and Parthenia Jones.”
A soft murmur rippled through the congregation.
“A fortnight hence, on the twentieth of August, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, six hundred and ninety-six, the marriage shall take place, if so be the will of the Almighty.”
Christine saw ten-year-old John Jewett start to turn his head, but his older brother, Ben, elbowed him. The Jewett family occupied the front pew in church, and the children learned very early that they must never, never look behind them during services. But she recognized how tempting it was just then.
Most of the congregants must be staring at old Farmer Wales. He had buried his second wife a mere month ago, and now it seemed he intended to marry a third—and much younger—woman in two weeks’ time. Parthenia Jones was also widowed, and she had two small children. It would no doubt be a good match for her, as Mr. Wales would provide for her and the little ones. She, in return, would take over management of his household and the half-grown offspring of his second marriage. She would tend him in his old age. And, if she didn’t succumb in childbirth first, she would be well taken care of after he died.
Still, Parthenia couldn’t be more than eight-and-twenty, Christine calculated, and Mordecai Wales must be all of sixty. Ah well, the farmer probably wanted a stout young woman who could work hard and perhaps bear him more children. Christine felt her cheeks redden just for thinking it.
People behind them rose to their feet and shuffled toward the aisle, and she realized the pastor had dismissed them.
On the common outside the stark meetinghouse, Christine’s friends, Jane and Sarah, waited for her. Their husbands, Charles Gardner and Richard Dudley, stood off to one side, talking with Richard’s brother Stephen. Charles held his little son, who was eight months old, on one arm, his musket in the other hand. The baby tugged at his father’s beard, much to Charles’s delight. Ben Jewett, the pastor’s eldest son at fourteen, joined the men and was welcomed into the circle.
Christine kept a close hold on Ruth’s hand and drew her over to where Jane and Sarah stood. Sarah held her little girl, Hannah, who would soon be a year old. Constance Jewett followed Christine, but Abby flitted off to spend a moment with her friends.
“What did you think of the announcement at the end?” Sarah Dudley asked with arched eyebrows. She shifted Hannah to a more comfortable spot on her hip. Hannah promised to grow up to be as lovely as her mother. Christine was happy that her two friends had found loving husbands who treated them well.
“He didn’t waste any time picking out a new wife,” Jane noted.
Sarah chuckled. “True. But the marriage will be an improvement in situation for Parthenia, even though he is so much older than she.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t come courting you, Christine.” Jane smiled at her impudently.
Christine shuddered. “Please. You ladies have convinced me by your example that marriage is not necessarily all bad. But to a man of Goodman Wales’s years? I think not.”
“Aha! You witnessed what she said.” Jane turned eagerly to Sarah. “Christine is open to the idea of marriage at last.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Of course you did,” Jane said. “And we must look about for a
man for her.”
“Or at least one not yet in his dotage.” Sarah seemed perfectly willing to enter into Jane’s teasing.
“Miss Christine.” Constance tugged at her overskirt.
Christine felt a pang of contrition. Here she was gossiping with her friends and setting a poor example for the parson’s daughters, who were in her care.
“What is it, Constance?”
“Are you getting married?”
Christine stared down at the six-year-old’s innocent face, at a loss for words.
“Not yet,” Jane said, reaching out to tweak Constance’s braid. “But we shan’t stop trying to find a match for her.”
“A match?” Constance’s brown eyes widened.
“A husband,” Sarah said. She glanced at Jane and Christine. “I think this conversation has gone about as far as it should for now.”
“I agree. I implore you ladies to put it out of your minds,” Christine said. She had long maintained that she had no desire to marry. Indeed, she cringed at the very thought.
Pastor Jewett came out onto the steps of the meetinghouse carrying his musket, which he had traded for in the spring. Renewed threats of Indian attacks had prompted the peace-loving minister to make the purchase. Only two weeks had passed since some of his congregation had been attacked by hostile savages as they left the church service. None of the men went about without their guns these days. He rested it against the wall and spread out a sheet of parchment against the church door, then pulled a hammer from his coat pocket.
“Come, girls. Your father is posting the marriage banns.”
“Ah, he’ll be wanting his dinner,” Jane said.
“Yes. Time to go home.” As she turned to look about for Abby and John, Christine noticed a portly woman approaching her. She usually tried to stay out of the path of Mahalia Ackley, who was known for her sharp tongue. Indeed, her reckless gossiping had sent the goodwife to the stocks on more than one occasion. This time there was no avoiding her, however.
“Good day, ma’am.”
The older woman pulled up before her, panting, with her skirts swirling into place. “My hired girl left me last week. Her father moved his family to Cape Cod.”
“I heard that.” Christine sensed what was coming, but she waited out of courtesy.
“I be looking for a stout girl to do for me. Cleaning and washing mostly, but I hear you’re a fair hand with spinning and weaving, too.”
Christine forced a smile. She had lived with the Jewett family for nearly a year before the pastor’s wife died and still worked for them more than a year after Goody Jewett’s death. Her position made her privy to all the secrets of Cochecho, and she knew that Goody Ackley had run through the list of available domestic help in the village.
“I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you, ma’am. I’ve all the work I can handle at the Jewett house.”
“Surely the parson’s children are old enough to do for themselves.”
Christine had the distinct feeling the woman was chiding her. She sought for an appropriate reply. “The children are a big help with the work about the parsonage, to be sure, but the girls are very young yet. They can’t do the cooking and washing themselves. Goody Deane and I go across the road nearly every day to help them.”
Mahalia Ackley looked furtively about.
Sarah Dudley had joined her in-laws’ family and handed Hannah to her husband, but Jane Gardner still stood by Christine, listening with apparent interest.
Goody Ackley took Christine’s sleeve between her plump fingers and tugged her aside. She leaned close and said in a confidential tone, “Surely the parson can’t pay you much.”
Christine felt her cheeks color. She wanted to end this line of conversation firmly, but she couldn’t embarrass the pastor by flinging a rude retort at one of his parishioners. She cleared her throat. “I receive adequate compensation, and since Goody Jewett died last year, I feel the family needs me more than ever. You understand.”
Goody Ackley’s dark eyes snapped with displeasure as she pulled back slightly. “Oh, yes, yes. The poor, motherless children. Some people don’t understand that as folks get older they need more help than the able-bodied young ones.” She gathered her skirts and whirled away, stirring up dust in the dry churchyard.