While harvesting, the German settlement near New Market, Virginia receive warning of an impending attack by French and Indians war parties. They flee to a quickly cobbled refuge, Fort Providence—for they will surely need to rely on God’s Provision. The forted colonials long to celebrate the holidays and await the arrival of visitors.
Each CQ contributor to this serial will bring their characters into the fort from throughout colonial America. Join us for A Forted Frontier Holiday each Monday on CQ for the next two months!
Part 1 - Inside Fort Providence by Carrie Fancett Pagels
Part 2 - A Providential Proposal by Susan Craft
“Do not fret, my dear. Mother is resourceful. Mayhap she enticed Lucy to help her for a spell.” Nathaniel looked up from the small piece of wood he was carving into a whistle.
“But Lucy has her own family now,” Constance said.
“I’m sure mother is managing just fine. She always hires more girls to help at the Red Griffin in the autumn. Harvest is past, and they have likely already helped her put up food for the winter. By now they are busy giving the house a good scrubbing. Thanksgiving will be upon them soon and Mother always welcomes extra guests at the inn.” Nathaniel reached for hand and cast an assuring gaze over her pensive face.
Constance clamped down on her lower lip. Thanksgiving. She had never experienced this colonial American holiday before. How she longed to experience the festivities that she had heard so much about. To celebrate the Lord’s goodness with her new husband and family. Now she would miss it altogether. “I should have never come, but I had to find you before you left on this trip. I could not let my harsh words leave such a breech between us.”
“We have gone over this before, my dear. Though I wish you had stayed, I did not wish to leave you. ‘Twas strictly a matter of business.” Nathaniel set his knife down and drew Constance close, his arm wrapped around her waist. “I am grateful to have you near me now. ‘Twasn’t easy leaving my new bride.”
“I simply did not wish for you to think that I wished you ill on your trip. It was that you had to depart so soon after our marriage. Your mother proffered good advice, she being a young bride once whose merchant husband frequently set sail. I don’t know how she could bear it, especially with four sons underfoot. You and Jonathan at the helm.” A tiny grin spilled onto her face.
“I assure you, that this is a rare occasion, but the terms of the agreement Uncle Phineas made for us to obtain such good lumber from the Shenandoah Valley proved to advantageous to turn down. This will mean a great deal and save us much expense for our ship carving shop. And Jonathan was pleased at the opportunity for trade. ” Nathaniel inspected his small carving before his eyes drifted to hers.
Constance looked upon her husband’s handsome face, losing herself in his loving gaze. His eyes, despite their stormy blue-grey, held such tranquility–mocking the uncertainty of this trip. They had sailed from the coast of Connecticut all the way to Alexandria. But when Jonathan decided to explore further trade options up the Potomac River, they were diverted to land. The British Colonel Lee Christy informed them of the need to bring supplies to a fort in the Shenandoah Valley. It might have meant losing some of his investment, but he and Nathaniel agreed that it was well worth providing for the welfare of the forted inhabitants. “At least I brought you some extra foods for the journey, my love, a peace offering of sorts.”
“Aye, and they were palatable indeed. I am still marveling at the fact.” Her brother-in-law stepped up behind them, teasing his way into the conversation. “I am not accustomed to stow-aways, you know. I shall forgive you this time, Constance, since it was my ship’s beam that knocked you senseless, leaving you aboard my vessel for the duration of our travels.”
“Had I not snuck aboard and retreated below to regain my composure to ready myself to speak to my husband, I would have not found myself at your mercy, Jonathan. Pardon, Captain Ingersoll.” Constance straightened to attention, hiking her chin. “But that cat you had on board nearly frightened me to death.”
“You can imagine my own fright when I found you lying there on the floor,” Nathanial said. “At least Jonathan had the good sense to offer you his own quarters for your convalescence.”
“And the continued comfort for the newly married couple, I might add. My back might never recover. I do not know how my crew endures sleeping in such small compartments.” Jonathan’s face contorted as he rubbed his back with exaggerated flair.
“We shall forever be in your debt, sir.” Constance looked up the trail, beyond the Shenandoah River. Although they were no longer aboard the Rivier Handelaar. She was glad to be in the company of two such stalwart men while so far from home. What pleasure it gave her to think of Glassenbury, Connecticut as her home now when several months before she had been spirited away from all she knew and loved in England.
“All is well now, my love,” Nathaniel said, yet his hand tightened around the stock of his musket.
“Is it?” Constance looked from Nathaniel to Jonathan, and her eyes darted about their surroundings. The dense forest concealed many mysteries. Among them, the danger lurking there. “When will Colonel Christy return rejoin us?”
“We shall know in a moment’s time. The Colonel will return presently along with the minister he is escorting to Fort Providence. Word has it that the reverend’s services were required for a burial.
Jonathan eyed Nathaniel. “The dead woman had an arrow in her back. The man beside her husband was scalped.”
Nathaniel shook his head and growled at Jonathan. “That information was not necessary to share, brother.”
Nathaniel tugged back on his dark queue and exhaled. “Do not be alarmed, Constance. Fort Providence is not much further away. We have had God’s protection thus far, and I have no doubt that we can trust Him still.”
A freshet of tears filled Constance’s eyes, threatening to spill like the Connecticut river during a spring flood. She did not want Nathaniel to see her like this. She had promised herself she would not be a burden to him–she, his uninvited guest. There was nowhere to retreat from his presence, save the wagon. Constance turned and made her way across the Old Wagon Road to the trees sheltering their covered conveyance, Nathaniel calling out to her as she fled.
In a flash she reached her refuge and glanced back at Nathaniel. What was she running from? He was her safe harbor. She leaned against a towering oak, the rough bark pressing into her shoulder blades. She stepped away, closing her eyes as she pulled in a deep breath.
As she opened her eyes she caught the shadow of an arm reaching around from behind her. A rough, firm hand clamped around her gaping mouth. Another arm grabbed her around her waist and pulled her back against her attacker. She caught the glimpse of a tawny arm, striped in dark paint. Oh Lord, no! An Indian.
Her eyes shot up in search of Nathaniel and Jonathan. The pair had their rifles pointed straight in her direction. Though she trembled in her captor’s grip, she thrashed about pursuing her escape. The savage clutched her tighter, his odor permeating her nostrils.
“Drop your weapons, men! Fear not.” Colonel Christy commanded from atop his gray gelding. “He is a friend.”
“Tell him to release my wife–at once!” Nathaniel demanded.
“If he is no foe, why has he taken her?” Jonathan snapped.
“Perhaps so you would not kill him on sight.” Colonel Christy got down from his horse and went toward them.
“Dark Horse, you may let go of Mrs. Ingersoll,” The Colonel ordered. “Mrs. Ingersoll, he will release you now and you may walk toward your husband with no fear.”
“It is alright, Mrs. Ingersoll. He is a praying Indian, and our ally.” Reverend Saks calmly walked toward her, hand extended.
“Go.” The Indian released Constance and gave her a gentle push. “The colonel. The preacher. Friends.”
Her eyes fixed on Nathaniel, who remained alert, his musket braced against his shoulder. He nodded, his stormy eyes beckoning her. She took one step, and then another, with legs that she could no longer feel.
“Come, dear,” the minister said as her came near.
She hastened her pace, yet the weight of her body pulled her to the ground and shrouded her in darkness.
Nathaniel hooked Constance’s elbow around his and ushered her by the light of dusk toward the main building where they would make their temporary dwelling. Jonathan would sleep in the wagon. And the little boy they had discovered was fast asleep. Constance's heart broke for the boy who had lost both his parents in the Indian attack. What would become of the lad? Nathaniel patted her hand, seemingly aware of her thoughts.
As they turned the corner, Constance gasped. Dark Horse.
He nodded and stepped aside.
Nathaniel called to him as he passed. “Dark Horse.”
The Praying Indian turned, acknowledging Nathaniel with his penetrating stare. “Yes, Nathaniel Ingersoll.”
“I am sorry to cause your wife fear.” Dark Horse’s coal black eyes were upon her.
Constance’s heart thumped beneath her stays. But what was there to be afraid of now? She was safe in her husband’s arms and the fort was full of armed men. Dark Horse had proved to be a staunch ally and she had learned that he had aided the forted colonials on several occasions. She nodded at this unlikely hero and managed a weak smile.
“Will you remain for Thanksgiving tomorrow? With the deer you provided and the supplies we brought in we shall have a great feast.”
“I leave at dawn.”
“Stay.” Constance could not believe the word the spilt from her lips.
Dark Horse grinned and looked at Nathaniel.
“You heard the woman.” Nathaniel chuckled and winked at Constance. “As I told you our forefathers did.”
“Indeed, Dark Horse. We have much to be thankful for.” Reverend Saks sauntered by, Prayer Book beneath his arm. “Tomorrow will be a great day of thanksgiving for God’s provision and providence. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Ingersoll, I would like you to come with me to meet a young couple who will be wed on the morrow. It seems as if I have arrived in time to help them tie the knot.”
Dark Horse looked at the minister, confusion in his dark eyes. Reverend Saks smiled and adjusted his wire rimmed spectacles. “A marriage, Dark Horse. Like Mr. & Mrs. Ingersoll’s.”
The following morn, the fort was a bustle with preparations for the great feast. Constance, Nathaniel, and Jonathan were introduced to several of the families. They met Rousches with their many children, and niece, Sarah; the colonel's son William, who was sweet on the girl; the Camerons; and the Zerkles, whose foolhardy patriarch recently lost his life to the Indians, and son Nicholas who barely escaped with his life and hobbled around the fort on makeshift crutches.
The aromas of corn spoon bread, sweet potatoes, pheasant on the spit, and all manner of pies and other dishes filled the community kitchen of the great house; the deer and pig being roasted in the yard. Young girls snapped peas, and chopped squashes, and rolled out biscuits. Constance helped prepare a Marlborough Pudding, an Ingersoll Thanksgiving favorite dish, to bake in the large hearth.
The petite Mrs. Rousch came alongside Constance. “It is no small miracle that your troupe arrived when it did, oui? There are many Palatinate Germans here who greatly missed our communal day of thanksgiving when we were sent to the fort before the harvest was in. Some of the other colonists share the tradition, and some observe this time with a simple day of prayer and fasting. But since you and your Indian friend have brought so many provisions, it is a perfect occasion for a feast after our time of worship.” She rested her arm atop her rounded center, exceedingly great with child. “With the mariage this afternoon, we have much to celebrate. And there is talk that Allison and Doug may take the enfant trouvé, the foundling, as their own.”
Thy goodness in full glory shines;
Thy truth shall break thro’ every cloud
That vails and darkens thy designs.
As mountains their foundations keep;
Wise are the wonders of thy hands;
Thy judgments are a mighty deep.
Both man and beast they bounty share;
The whole creation is they charge,
But saints are they peculiar care.
Whence all our hope and comfort springs!
The sons of Adam in distress
Fly to the shadows of thy wings.
We shall be fed with sweet repast;
There mercy like a river flows,
And brings salvation to our taste.
Springs from the presence of the Lord;
And in the light our souls shall see
The glories promis’d in thy word.
(Psalm 36, v 5-9, Perfections, Providence, and Grace of God
The Psalms of David by Isaac Watts)
GIVEAWAY: One of Carla's books will be given away to a commenter for this post. The winner will be announced at the TEA PARTY this coming Friday, November 23rd, given for Kelly Long, Dina Sleiman, and Gina Welborn. Come by in character for a chance to win the gift basket (chocolate included!)
This Forted Frontier Holiday installment, "Landlocked", was based on characters from my novella, "Carving a Future", featured in Colonial Courtships (Barbour/2012).