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 5 - A Gift from Buckskin Samson by Kathleen Maher
Part 6 - Narrow Passage by Pat Iacuzzi
Through the Storm
By Lynn Squire
Snowflakes stung Abigail Griffith’s cheeks and bit her nose. She wiggled her stiff toes while icy mud surged over the badger skins Caleb Owen had wrapped around her leather shoes. With each step, wind wound her skirt about her legs threatening to pull her down.
“Abigail, step into the wheel prints. It will make your goin’ easier.” Caleb’s large hand took her elbow. An auburn lock escaped his fur cap and brushed his crinkled brow. But his smile was gentle. Like his cousin, Joseph. Her Joseph.
She looked away. “I’m sorry.” Lord, I don’t blame You for taking Joseph from me. I didn’t deserve him, but now, to be a burden on the Owens and cause them to make this trip in this wretched weather. Abigail’s hand went to her abdomen. If the Owens learned of her condition, would they also learn of her sin and shun her, even as her father had?
The wind rippled the bonnet of their Conestoga wagon. “’Tis nothin’ to be sorry about.” Caleb Owen stepped into the other lane of prints. “I’d have you ride in the wagon, but the horses are struggling. If Mum’s feet were not infected, she’d walk as well. As it is, Tad fights to keep the horses moving.”
The wagon turned, and a cold blast hit Abigail. She stumbled.
Caleb caught her arm, steadying her. “See there?” His mitted hand pointed to a white field barely visible through the storm’s veil. “’Tis cleared land. We’re less than a mile from Fort Providence.”
A whirlwind of snow and leaves thrust past them. Its cold claws cutting through her woolen cloak, and its icy nails scratching the tips of her ears. She tugged her clout and hood over them then touched the rucksack hanging off her shoulder, its hidden contents a constant reminder of her secret sin. Would Johan’s priest uncle be there? Would he give me absolution? Joseph had said God would forgive her if she would pray, but why would God? Her father hadn’t.
“I wish you’d let me put your rucksack into the wagon.” Caleb all but shouted above the roaring wind. The wagon halted, and he bumped into the end gate.
“No. It is my burden to bear.” Her fingers tightened around the woven cloth, drawing the heavy sack to her bosom.
Uncle Alwyn appeared around the wagon's corner. “I can see moccasin prints in the snow. I fear Indians may be between us and the fort.”
Abigail blinked away the ice crystals forming on her lashes. Lord Almighty, will this be my restitution? Must You also punish these good people for my sins?
The muscle of Caleb’s cheek flexed. He reached into his buckskin and pulled out an intricately carved reed with feathers dangling from it.
“What is it?” Abigail reached to stroke the soft plumage.
“A calumet given to me by a French fur trader. It signifies to the Indians we’re messengers of peace.” Caleb tossed it to Uncle Alwyn. “If God gives us favor, whoever made the tracks will acknowledge this.”
“With that, you had planned to meet the Savages?” Abigail cringed to think what might happen to him.
“Yes.” Caleb brushed the snow from his shoulders. “And I hope to bring them to the cross, the symbol of the peace God offers us.”
The wagon jerked forward again, and Abigail’s first step sent shards of pain through her freezing toes. Her rucksack banged against her breast and jangled.
“I had a rattle that made the noise of what’s in yer bag.” Caleb narrowed his eyes though a tender smile quivered about his lips. His foot stepped in a puddle and splashed ice crystals. “When do you expect your child?” he whispered just loud enough for her to hear over the wind.
Abigail pressed her hand to her belly and looked away from him. “I…how did you know?”
“You’ve grown since we’ve started, and yet you eat little.” He braced his back against another icy blast. “My sister, she was but five months when one could not mistake the bulge beneath her dress. If I were to guess, you’re about that far along.”
“Then you know it’s not Joseph’s child.”
“Aye. I suspected as much. But he is a babe, and ye need to be caring for him.” The wagon wobbled as another gust hit it broadside. “Why did yer Tad send you away in your condition?”
Abigail stared across the empty field, though little could be seen more than five feet from her except snow. White. Barren. Oh how she wished she was barren. Then no one could discover her shame. She squeezed her eyes closed and the horror of that night rose up before her. “No,” she cried out and stumbled, falling to her hands and knees, the frigid wet ground penetrating her gloves, assaulting her like—
“Abigail.” Caleb’s hands were on her shoulders, lifting her up. He yanked off her wet gloves and shoved her hands into his fur hat.
She lifted her gaze to see his auburn hair whipping in the wind. So much like Joseph's hair. “I was to marry another man, but when he discovered my condition…” Spinning away, she hurried to the wagon.
Caleb jogged after her. “So Joseph married you?”
“Joseph and I, we’d been friends since childhood. When he sailed to Wales last June, Father posted banns for me to marry another. I was angry. I ran away. Not thinking where I was going. Then behind the White Horse Tavern in Newport…” She could still feel the man’s hands on her.
Caleb punched the back of the wagon. “’Tis wickedness.”
The wagon halted, and Uncle Alwyn rushed around its side. “I see the fort. We are yards away, but the mare has fallen.” He tossed Caleb the calumet. “Come help.”
Caleb tucked the calumet into his coat then helped Abigail into the wagon. “We’ll talk when we get to the fort.”
Aunt Claire’s hand reached across the crates to grasp Abigail’s. “We’re nearly there. Come, get under these furs and get warm.”
Abigail tugged on the leather thongs holding the badger skins on her shoes and pulled them off. Clumps of ice clung to the skins. She shuddered at the thought of how cold she’d have been without them. Then, she scooted around bushels of dried fruit and nuts, passed a crate of dried meat, and slid under the buffalo fur, pressing her rucksack against her bosom."Our Father, which art in heaven, hollowed be thy name..." Would that God would hear her. What would she do at the fort? what would she become?
The howling wind carried the shouts of the men while they worked, and Aunt Claire shifted to peer through the front of the wagon. “I can see the fort.”
Abigail rose to her knees when a movement behind the wagon caused her to turn. A tomahawk waved above the head of a man with furs wrapped about his face.
As though an iron rod, Abigail’s back straightened. She put herself between the man and Aunt Claire. “What do you want?”
“Alwyn.” Aunt Claire shouted.
The stranger spoke an unknown language and wielded his weapon.
Abigail lifted her palms. “Please. We just want to get to the fort.” Stories of what savages did to women whirled in her mind. Lord, let him do what he will to me, but don't let him hurt Aunt Claire.
He roared at her and jumped onto the back of the wagon.
Abigail jerked back and Aunt Claire screamed, “God Almighty, help.”
“Peace.” Caleb stepped into view. With a calm face and slow movements, he held out the calumet to the man now squatting near a wicker basket.
The savage’s eyes narrowed and he turned, tomahawk raised above his head. His gaze flitted to the calumet. He lowered his weapon and spoke again. When Caleb shrugged his shoulders, the man motioned to his mouth then pointed to the food.
“I think he’s hungry.” Abigail reached into a bushel and grabbed a handful of nuts. “Here.”
He snatched it from her hand, his fingernails scraping her palms, then pointed a bony finger to the other baskets and crates. The scent of tobacco mingled with musk wafted from him sending Abigail's stomach into turmoil. She reached beside her and fingered the top of the meat crate. Perhaps if she offered him more, he’d leave them be.
“Give him whatever he wants.” Uncle Alwyn came beside Caleb, musket in hand.
Caleb lowered the calumet. “He looks near starved.”
Indeed, he did. Was this what would become of her?
After loading meat on top of a bushel of dried fruit, the stranger jumped out of the wagon. Without a word, he slipped into the white cover of the storm.
“Where will he go? It’s so cold.” Abigail glanced out the front of the vehicle. She could barely see the fort ahead for the snow, as though she were looking at a figure through oiled parchment. “Will he be okay?” She moved to the back of the wagon, and Caleb helped her out while Uncle Alwyn went to the horses.
“Aye, I expect so.” His gaze drifted to her abdomen then to her face. “You were brave and kind. I’m sure that helped.” His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I wish you would accept God’s kindness to you.”
Her throat closed about the notion. I do not deserve kindness. “Why would He be kind to me when I have ruined so many lives with my foolishness?”
Caleb took her hands in his. “He loves you and desires to forgive you.” His mitted thumb caressed her fingers. “I have prayed for you every day since Joseph’s letter came to me.”
“I didn’t know he sent you a letter.”
“He seemed to know his next sail would be his last.” Caleb let go of her hands, snapped his to behind his back then stepped away. “He asked me to take care of you should something happen to him. I vowed I would.”
“Oh.” Abigail looked to the white ground, frozen, cold.
The wagon pulled away from them, the snowfall slowed, and Fort Providence stood engulfed in fog like a distant fortress, a refuge perhaps. Any hope for her future peace rested there.
“Joseph longed for you to know the Saviour he knew.” Caleb touched her arm. “The Saviour I know.” He took her elbow and led her through the snow. “God is not your enemy. He loves you more deeply than any human can.”
A mew escaped her taut throat. If only this could be true.
He let go and rubbed his whiskers. “You saw how the calumet softened the anger of the Indian. So the cross makes peace with God. On the cross, Jesus shed His blood for you. He became your sin offering. Can you believe in Him—in His death, burial, and resurrection for your sin?” He touched her rucksack. “To relieve you of the burden you bear? Call on Him.”
Oh Lord, my God I cannot bear the thought of what I’ve done…of what has become of me.
Caleb drew her to a halt. “You simply need to ask for His forgiveness. He will not condemn you. Just turn from your sin to follow Him and believe He gives you freedom from sin's wages and its shackles.”
Dear Lord, is it so simple? Her weakened legs shook and collapsed. There was nothing she could do to free herself from the shackles this sin placed about her heart. Would God give her peace and freedom if she asked? “Dear Lord God, forgive me for running from my father, for my pride and anger. Oh Lord, have mercy on me.”
Caleb’s hand rested on her shoulder and shouts came from the fort. “Do you believe He has forgiven you—that He has saved you from your sin?”
Did she believe? Across her bosom rolled an inner warmth. For so long she’d believed God hated her. Did God truly love her?
The gate swung open and cheery voices welcomed them.
“I find it hard to fathom.” She lifted her head, heart beating, blood rushing, and saw Suzanne and Johan running toward her. Their faces glowed from bright smiles.
“Can you stand?” Caleb tugged on her arm.
Her legs shook when she rose to her feet, but she could not deny the release she felt, as though her soul took flight. Would the gates of Heaven be like this? Joseph and other friends coming to her? Jesus coming to her? “I…I want to believe.”
She closed her eyes and when they opened, Suzanne and Johan had taken her rucksack and wrapped her in their arms. She searched for Caleb’s face and mouthed, “I do believe.” Oh Lord, You made Your Soul an offering for my sin. I give You my battered one. Will You make it whole again?
Lynn Squire is the author of Joab's Fire (a novel set at the turn of the 20th century in Alberta, Canada), Best of Faith, Fiction, Fun, and Fanciful (a collection of short stories, poems, and devotionals), and A Week of Faith More Precious than Gold (a collection of short stories and devotionals).
Prior to her days of writing fiction, Lynn wrote for horsey periodicals when she wasn't teaching horsemanship and having grand adventures. Today her adventures center around three kids, a loving husband, and wherever her imagination takes her.