7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Part 9 - A Forted Frontier Holiday: Amish Snow by Kelly Long

Part 1 - Inside Fort Providence by Carrie Fancett Pagels
Part 2 - A Providential Proposal by Susan Craft
Part 3 - Landlocked by Carla Olson Gade
Part 4 - Preserve my Life From Fear by Elaine Marie Cooper
Part 5 - A Gift from Buckskin Samson by Kathleen L. Maher
Part 6 - Narrow Passage by Pat Iaccuzzi
Part 7 - Through the Storm by Lynn Squire
Part 8 - Christmastide by Carrie Fancett Pagels, Susan F. Craft, and Elaine Marie Cooper

Since Christmas the militia and Colonel Christy and his son have begun scouring the countryside and examining the farms that the inhabitants of Fort Providence abandoned. When a fierce snow storm blankets the countryside the men return to the fort. Some of the Amish inhabitants have taken ill with the fever that began in November. And now for:

Part 9 - Amish Snow by Kelly Long

            He was hot, burning with need, and he wanted her to hurry. The soft light of the oil lamp pulled shadows across the quilt on the bed and he had the absurd notion that he might fall headfirst into the dark play of light and heat and wait for her there.
            “Your fever burns higher,” she whispered.
            Daniel Mast tried to smile up at his beautiful young wife but the effort cost him and he sighed instead. He saw the pail in her hands, brimming with fresh white snow and closed his eyes against the desire of his thirst. She understood though and soon held her fingers full of snow to his mouth and he sucked gratefully. The snow was so much cooler to his throat than water and Miriam was patient, giving him taste after taste until he turned his head with reluctance.
            Miriam sat down on the edge of the bed, putting the pail on the floor.
            “You know what comes next, I fear,” she said sadly, reaching a small hand to the damp hair of his forehead.
            He drew a deep breath. “Go on with it.”
            There was a sudden knock on the thin door of the bedroom and Amos, his younger bruder, poked his head in. “I bring more snow—ice too And the rope.”
            Miriam waved at him. “Kumme. We must start.”
            Amos dragged a full tub filled with icy whiteness across the wooden floor and stood with a length the rope in his hands. “Miriam, go on out. I will do it this time.”
            “Jah, go,” Daniel breathed as he raised his arms above his head and allowed his bruder to tie him fast to the bed.
            She shook her head, the glow of the light catching on the fair hair that peeked from beneath her kapp. Her blue eyes were large in her face, shadowed with worry. He didn’t want to see her in pain, or watch her tears when he screamed…
            Miriam Mast lifted her chin then bent to lift the nine-patch quit from her husband’s big body.  He had started to visibly shiver already and she wanted to cry. He wore doeskin breeches; she and Amos had decided to allow him the clothing for modesty’s sake after the last tortuous bout but she knew she’d have to help him change once they were done.
            She folded the quilt and laid it aside then bent to scoop up a large handful of snow from the wooden tub. Gritting her teeth, she began to pack the icy whiteness firmly against her husband’s long legs. She tried to concentrate on the thought that she was doing the right thing, what Grossmuder Mae would have done back in Lancaster. But Miriam was gone from that world now, living instead in a small house with Daniel and Amos and longing for Lancaster though they had left to build a new home. But they were blessedly inside Fort Providence, in the palm of Derr Herr’s hand, and they were safe for the moment. Safe but for a fever that had wracked her husband for days, and she was at her wit’s end in trying to battle the heat of his body. She was used to him tall, secure as a rock, his brown hair tousled and his green eyes shining. But now, his thick lashes lay against his flushed cheeks in dark crescents as his eyes narrowed in pain. Packing him in the ice and snow was one of the most difficult things she’d done in life and when he moaned she bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood.
            “Faster,” Amos encouraged her as he piled ice on his bruder’s chest.  She knew Amos hated doing it to Daniel too—at seventeen to Daniel’s nineteen, Amos more than honored his beloved brother and she knew that he was as worried as she. Yet there was nothing to do save finish the work, and at last, it was over. Daniel lay tied, his body, but for his face, encased in ice and snow, after several more fillings of the wooden tub. They must leave him thus until the snow melted or until he could stand the burning cold no more. She must not give in to his sobbing pleas; she knew he was beyond reason. But when he screamed—the strangled sound of a strong man in unbearable pain—she wanted to cover her ears and flee. Yet she stood fast.
            “Third day of this,” Amos murmured in an anguished tone beside her. “He can’t take much more.”
            “He will be well. I have prayed,” she whispered.
            “I too,” her bruder-in-law sighed. “Perhaps Gott will grant us grace as it is nearly Second Christmas.”
            Miriam nodded. She’d forgotten the holiday in her worry. Now she remembered the Amisch observance of the Epiphany and the normal exchange of small gifts that would take place. She recalled last year with a sudden flush to her cheeks. Daniel’s gift had been three extravagant kisses…
            “Three of the Wiseman…three gifts, and as thee knows, I lack the coin to buy you such, but would use my lips to do you honor as my wife instead.” He’d touched her hair and then her cheeks and then brought his mouth enticingly low against her throat…
            She remembered herself with a start as someone pounded on the thin door, the noise echoing above her husband’s strangled cries.
            Amos narrowed open the door—they were not much used to visitors as such. But the wood fell back from his hand as a flurry of white snow swirled inside, bringing a lanky youth, dressed in casual buckskins, his bright black eyes glittering above ruddy cheeks.
            “You don’t know me…” the visitor gasped with the cold. “But I cannot help but notice your actions the last few hours. I wonder—do you have a man down with the fever then?”
            Miriam stepped forward, wetting her lips. Perhaps the youth knew a healer…
            “Jah, my husband has been ill for three days now.”
            The dark-haired young man reached out a large hand, first to Amos, and then bowed to Miriam with a courtly air.
            “William Christy is my name. And three days is much too long for such doings as the torture of ice-packing a man.”
            Miriam saw Amos bridle a bit at the other man’s tone but then she heard Daniel moan again.
Sei se gut—please, sir, if ye might aid us in any course, we will gladly accept.”
            William unwrapped his hands and nodded. “Then get him out of that ice for one thing. I will heat some herbs at the fire.”
            Miriam gestured to Amos and they hurried to Daniel, scraping off the ice and snow then draping him in a dry quilt. Amos untied his bruder’s hands with a sigh of relief.
            Daniel lay panting on the bed when William Christy brushed Miriam aside with a gentle hand. “Step away, milady. ‘Twill only take a moment to get this bitter lot down his throat, but it will help him. From the Indians hereabouts. A fever killer.”
            “Indians?” Amos almost growled.
            Miriam watched William look at her brother-in-law with steady eyes. “Yes, sir. The Indians could teach us much were we willing to learn, and I thought the Amisch were open to all.”
            “’Tis true,” Miriam interceded quickly. “Amos…well, his betrothed was killed in a skirmish between Indians and our covered wagons. He—he will learn to forgive.”
            “Jah,” Amos whispered finally, dropping his gaze.
            William Christy turned back to his patient and Miriam was amazed to see that already her husband’s color looked more normal. She pressed her hands together and began to pray softly, tears coming to her eyes.
            “’Tis not to cry over, milady, for I wager this man will be up and about and trouble soon enough by the size of him.”
            “Ye are kind,” Miriam choked. “Please, will you take some tea with us?”
            “Only if I brew it,” William Christie inclined his head. “I am particular about my tea.”
            Daniel came to himself in inches, painfully crawling back from near death to new life by the stranger’s hands he’d began to recognize. Then Miriam’s face would be above his, pale but hopeful, and he longed for the strength to take her in his arms. He’d drifted lazily in his fever at times, thinking of her golden hair unbound and flowing, covering his chest and arms…and then the bleak cold would drive away warmer thoughts until he swallowed a vile brew which seemed to bring him strange peace…
            And then there was the cold day that he brought himself to sit up. Miriam heard Amos tell her husband about the strange young man who befriended Indians and who came to bring herbs to heal him. They were surprised to learn he was son of the British colonel who’d taken charge over the Virginia militia who’d arrived at Christmas.  They had ceased to see young Christy after his kindness and Miriam thought she might sew a shirt for their friend, if she could only find him about. But Mrs. Rousch, clasping her new baby Noela, informed them that William had gone to scout whether their homes might be safe enough to return to soon.
            But, for now, she was thankful to Gott for Daniel’s renewed strength and for the lopsided grin he wore when he drew her close.
            “No more Amisch snow, my love,” he teased.
            She shook her head and cuddled closer to him. “Nee…but let us see if we might recall last year’s gifts of Epiphany.” Her words were a husky whisper which brought the response she’d longed for from him.

Next week Part 10, by Dina Sleiman, continues our anthology.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Resolute for the Kingdom of Heaven

"My heart was greatly attached to the Holy Scripture. I have not yet forgot the burning desire--the soul-longings that I had to know what was the mind of God, contained in his word. I would read--then pray--then read and pray again, . . . that I might know the truth as it is in Jesus." John Leland, The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, p. 14)

"Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." Matthew 13:44

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Matthew 13:45-46

Like most people, come year end I begin to look to the next year and reflect on the past one. I love the work God has been doing in my life, though many times His lessons have been bitter pills to swallow. Rarely has there been a year in my adult life that I've looked back and said, "What a wonderful year I have had." I suppose that is partly due to my analytical mind, which always wants to 'fix the problem.' Such a mind tends to seek out problems in order to satisfy its compulsive desire to make things right.

However, this time I look back and give a solemn nod to the events of the year. I'm glad for what I've been through, what cutting away God has done of cancerous mindsets, sins, and what-not. I haven't yet "arrived," but I can see God's merciful and gracious hand at work to mold me into the person He would have me be for His glory and honor--and that is why I live.

I confess, I go into the new year recognizing a flaw in me I often point out is the problem with others: the desire for comfort and rest from all hardships. Aye, most people would not consider that a flaw. Nonetheless, I look to what weakens our society and those close to me, including myself, and I see the lust for recreation, entertainment, and comfort. I say lust because there is nothing wrong with enjoying life. But when it becomes a lust, it replaces what is good about 'enjoyment' with addictions, substituting what should be consuming our lives with what should not.

What does all this have to do with the kingdom of heaven? Like John Leland, the man finding the treasure in the field or the merchant man finding the pearl of great price, the burning desire for the kingdom of heaven has a two fold effect. First, all else in one's life seems of little value. Second, only one thing seems worth living for: the kingdom of heaven.

The coming of the kingdom of heaven was preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples. It is not an earthly kingdom. When Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, the entrance to this kingdom was opened to all who believe. One becomes a citizen of it by being born again. One is born again through faith in the death of Jesus Christ as payment for one's sins, in His burial, and in His resurrection. This faith changes one's life. Many claim this faith, but their lives haven't changed. If you measure the lack of change in their lives against what Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven is like, then you will likely conclude they have not bought the field or the pearl.

Reflecting upon the 'selling' of ALL in order to obtain the kingdom of heaven, I asked myself, "What have I not yet sold?" I am already a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, but am I fulfilling the whole duty of a citizen? Can a stranger, when he encounters me, tell that I am a citizen of this great kingdom? If I am still carrying the baggage of this worldly kingdom then I cannot fully reflect the heavenly kingdom. Thus, I am resolute to know the mind of God and live a life worthy of His kingdom.

Reflecting upon the 'buying', I asked myself if there was anything hindering me from being fully committed (like when one purchases a valuable item is fully committed to ownership) to this kingdom of heaven. Like the patriots of our country during the War of Independence, am I willing to suffer great loss in order to help others, including my children and future grandchildren, to gain the freedom found in the kingdom of heaven?

Weariness tends to pull one's attention away from the plow and to the shade under the tree or the spring of fresh water. Sometimes we mistake entertainment or recreation for the only shade tree or the only source of fresh water. Yet the true source is found in Christ: in the studying of God's Word, the worship of our Lord Almighty, and the fellowship of the saints (meaning fellow believers).

I am weary right now, and yet in my heart beats a desire to not seek refreshment from movies or sports or the variety of entertainment the world provides. I know that when I am weary these things can often leave me feeling empty and even fill me with more anxiety. They are only momentary diversions, not true sources of help.

Looking to the new year, my resolutions may seem to some a bit backward. I look to endure hardships and to teach my children how to endure them. Not that I plan to seek out trouble, but that I be willing and ready to 'sell' those comforts or pleasures that draw me away from God. Most of all, I plan to get back to the basics of life: hard work.

My father was a hard worker. His notion of a relaxing Sunday afternoon was hoeing the trees or checking the cows or riding the fence line. I loved going with him. Such peace could be found riding beside him or sitting in the truck, and even in putting my hoe in the dirt.

We rarely ever watched sports or a movie on TV. Of course, we only had two or three channels. Our lives didn't halt when a football game or a hockey game came on TV. Dad put a full days work in on the farm, and then after the sun set, he would pull out his Bible and study with the same fervor with which he worked. What a wonderful example he was to me. I want to be like him and find my pleasure in both my work and in my walk with God.

What a change this resolution is this year from last year. Last year, I thought I needed to spend more time relaxing and enjoying life so I planned to spend more time playing games or seeking what others considered good fun. I found out I sought the enjoyment of life in the wrong places. I forgot the great pleasure work could bring. This year I want to 'sell' it all and 'buy' the field. Doing so will bring greater joy than any entertainment, any comfort, any pleasure the world can bring. I want to work that field for Christ, because in it is the greatest treasure of all, the kingdom of heaven.

What are your New Year's resolutions?

Then I commend mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, tahn to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina - Visit by Carrie Fancett Pagels

Middleton Place outside of Charleston, South Carolina, is a magical place.  When we lived there, I had a family membership and could go any time I wished.  Now, living in Virginia, I only get to go if we are visiting Charleston, which may be every few years.  Recently we got to visit during their special colonial days event.  Talk about providential timing for our trip to Charleston!

It was a pretty busy weekend day when we arrived in November.  The parking lots were much bigger than I remember. There is also a greenhouse on the property now.  We got several nice pictures on the steps of the ruins of the old main house.  This structure fell after an earthquake hit Charleston, after the Civil War.  One of the guest buildings still stands and is used for tours.  

I will admit I was quite disappointed with the tour.  The charge was steep, the crowd was large, and with my difficulty walking I was the last person in each room, couldn’t hear the speaker, and was rushed on to the next section.  However, since the displays hadn’t changed much in the past decade or so, I was reasonably familiar with much of what was in the house.  Given that it was a very busy weekend, however, I probably shouldn't be surprised at how packed the tour was.

Isn't this a lovely bench?  It is located on the side of the house.  

At the side of the property are Middleton's famed Butterfly lakes.  Several movies have been filmed at Middleton, including "The Patriot" scene where Cornwallis is shown occupying Middleton.

The Middleton Place staff and volunteers out at the farm were attentive and took their time explaining different common daytime tasks on a plantation and crafts.  I was delighted to be taken under the wing of one of the staff member’s spouses and he introduced me to many people working in the various crafts. 

One occupation at Middleton was barrel making.  These barrels were used to ship goods up the river and out from Charleston. Note the detailing which is from local wood.

Indigo dying was also displayed the day we were there.

The type of cotton grown during colonial times had black seeds that had to be removed from the cotton. The reenactor who demonstrated, patiently explained to the children (including mine) how this process worked.
Middleton Place Reenactor
Question:  Do you have a favorite historical place you love to visit?  Has it changed over time?  What keeps you going back?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Shirley Plantation at Christmas

Shirley Plantation Great House - Christmas
If you are looking for a wonderful place to visit that can offer up a true taste of colonial Virginia, look no further than Shirley Plantation in Charles City.  

Gift Shop at Shirley Plantation, Christmas tree
Located between Richmond and Williamsburg, along the river, it is a lovely drive up Highway 5 in the countryside to arrive at Shirley.  Open to the public now for over fifty years, Shirley is currently accessible to visitors throughout the week. Tours, such as schools, also can be arranged by contacting Janet Appel, Director, at Shirley Plantation.

This time of year, the gift store is full of all kinds of goodies, including a great assortment of jams made especially for Shirley Plantation.  Artwork, books, jewelry, dishes, ornaments, and more can be found on location. 

The lion greets guests!
This beautiful plantation is still an operational farm and family-owned.  Five original structures are open for viewing. After parking, visitors enter through the Queen Anne style forecourt.  Two brick structures flank the left and two flank the right.  At the center and top of the forecourt is the Great House.  Two original flankers are no longer present on the property.  

Christmas tree in the kitchen.

Decorated for Christmas, this year the kitchen held the Christmas tree. I have a manuscript, out on submission, set at Shirley Plantation and going there is like a Christmas gift to myself!

Colonial fare displayed in the kitchen building.

A feast was being prepared in the kitchen building. I am going to admit that Julian Charity, the historian, Janet Appel, and the delightful Randy Carter and I did not partake of our luncheon in the kitchen (it is all replicas of authentic colonial food!)  A beautiful display, though!

And in closing...(From the Shirley Plantation Facebook page For a gift that lasts all year long...a Shirley Plantation Foundation membership starts at just $40.00! Call 1-800-232-1613 or visit www.shirleyplantation.com for information.

Bio: Carrie Fancett Pagels is owner/administrator of Colonial Quills.  She writes "romantic" historical fiction and is represented by Joyce Hart.  Carrie is the ACFW MidAtlantic Zone Director.  She also has an international group blog "Overcoming With God."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Part 8 - A Forted Frontier Holiday: Christmastide by Carrie Fancett Pagels, Susan F. Craft, and Elaine Marie Cooper

Part 1 - Inside Fort Providence by Carrie Fancett Pagels
Part 2 - A Providential Proposal by Susan Craft
Part 3 - Landlocked by Carla Olson Gade
Part 4 - Preserve my Life From Fear by Elaine Marie Cooper
Part 5 - A Gift from Buckskin Samson by Kathleen L. Maher
Part 6 - Narrow Passage by Pat Iaccuzzi
Part 7 - Through the Storm by Lynn Squire

Part 8 - Christmastide by Carrie Fancett Pagels, Susan F. Craft, and Elaine Marie Cooper

Christmas eve

“Riders!” Nicholas Zerkle called down to Johan from his perch by the gates. 

“Who?” Johan called up. Suzanne had begun her laboring and now they had arrivals. He rubbed the ache in his temple.

“Militia.” The shout of militia circulated around the fort, accompanied by the sound of moccasins and shoes skimming over packed dirt.

Finally—Colonel Christy’s request had been answered.

Johan gazed around at this varied group that somehow he’d been asked to commandeer. Dear God please have sent some real help, provisions, and some good news.

The colonel strode out from the barracks, which were being decorated for tonight’s festivities. “Open the gates.”

A contingent of men, perhaps thirty total, brought their horses to a halt just outside Fort Providence.

Their leader, an aristocratic-looking man but dressed in Virginia militia clothing dismounted and headed into the fort—Wyatt Scott, their old friend from New Kent.  The men remained outside.  Perhaps a good sign—if they were pursued they’d come in.  Or were they on their way?

Christy pulled Wyatt into a brief embrace.

The militia officer rubbed his chin.  He turned toward Johan, his eyes widening. “Suzanne invited me to celebrate a French-style Christmas sometime, you know—elsewise I’d not be here.”  He chuckled then turned and motioned for the men to begin carrying in boxes of provisions.

Ja, I think you are confused. I think you just wanted to be here for the new baby, Wyatt?”  Johan clapped the militia lieutenant on his shoulder.

“Another?” He arched on eyebrow then glanced around. “Where is Suzanne?”

Johan’s older kinder rushed toward them and wrapped their arms around Wyatt’s legs.  He hugged the oldest two and lifted the younger, one in each arm.

“Mama’s having a baby.” Adam squared his broad shoulders. Only seven, his height made him appear much older—how long till he looked like the young militia men outside the gates?

Wyatt grinned and removed his tricorn hat. “Well then, I have just the thing for babies—good food for their mother’s.”

The boy sniffed and cocked his head. “And their brothers and sisters?”

Colonel Christy mussed the boy’s tawny hair. “Yes.”

Reaching into a pouch strapped across his chest, Wyatt retrieved a chocolate bar and handed it to Adam. “Take this and divide it for you and your brothers.”

Suddenly Johan’s limbs were empty as the others clambered toward their brother. He caught a whiff of the spicy dark chocolate and his mouth watered.  He’d not seen chocolate like that since he’d been to Williamsburg a year earlier. A chill breeze gusted across the yard, chasing the children toward the cabin.

With a wink, Wyatt reached in and handed a bar to Christy and to Johan. “We stopped at Shirley Plantation—young Carter loaded us up when he heard what was happening up here.  He’s been a great help rounding up the militia, as well.”

A muscle in Christy’s jaw twitched. “Have you provisions for all of us?”  He raised his chocolate bar.

“Mr. Carter was most generous—he’s sent a case of chocolate, though some is already grated for hot chocolate drinks.”

He couldn’t resist any longer—Johan unwrapped the thick bar and took one bite, savoring the taste until Nicholas Zerkle scowled at him.

Wyatt Scott fixed his gaze on the man. “If you wish to receive your own, I suggest you get back to work.”  He held Nicholas’s gaze until the younger man stalked off outside toward the militia.

 “We have extra guns, powder and horns, and we’ve brought salted fish, ham, squash, potatoes, corn and meal. All crated. And apples we secured not far from here at an abandoned farm.”

“Phillip Sehler’s farm, most likely.” Johan gestured toward the sentry craning his neck to get a better view of the militia. “He’ll be glad for relief from your men, Wyatt.”

“Which we’ll be happy to provide—once they’ve had a little rest.”  His glance veered toward the large central building within the compound.

The minister emerged from the barracks building.  Earlier it had been swept clean and was now being decorated with trinkets the ladies had gathered. Although the pastor moved slowly, he had survived his severe case of flux that hit just after his arrival. The young couple who were to marry that evening had been separated so that the ladies might prepare the bride as best they could. And the Baptists had announced that although they would attend the wedding they would not dance afterward.

Suzanne came out of their cabin, Sarah at her side, as the children pushed past them, inside.

“Reverend Saks,” Christy called out. “I fear that as soon as the wedding and celebration as completed tonight we will need to get the pallets set up for our militia. I hate to rush the events of the evening but I suspect they’ll need to rest.”

“Indeed.” Wyatt rubbed his chin and turned to look through the open gate at the men tending their horses.  Boxes and crates were being brought in and stacked in the center of the yard.  People began to gather around them and carry them toward the barracks.

“Johan!” Suzanne called out.

When his wife placed her hand on her swollen abdomen and gasped, Johan moved toward her. She’d overdone her preparations for the French Christmas celebratory feast for that night after the wedding and dance.

Sarah, eyes wide, placed a hand under Suzanne’s arm and lowered her onto a bench.  Johan ran to her and spied the ground beneath his wife’s tiny feet darkening with the baby’s fluid.  Tears filled his beautiful wife’s eyes.

Ja, the baby would come soon.  Here, in this place.
Two Shall Become One, A Fort Providence Wedding

Walking beside her dah, her arm curled through the crook of his arm, Allison Cameron gave her attention to the lace dripping from the elbows of her wedding dress. Her sister, Katherine, had tatted the lace that had adorned her own bridal gown. Allison’s quilted petticoats rustled underneath her finely hetcheled linen skirt that billowed around her legs like a pale blue cloud. Overcome by an awkward shyness, she dropped her gaze to the toes of her boots, one of which held a silver sixpence for good luck. Drawn by an irresistible urge, she lifted her chin and stared straight into her groom’s eyes. Blue like flax flowers in summer, they studied her with powerful emotions -- adoration, pride, and desire – stirring sensations that whirred in her stomach like a spinning wheel.

Douglas. Soon to be “My Douglas.”

How handsome he looked in his chocolate brown waistcoat, crisp white shirt, buff breeches, and shiny black boots. His dark auburn hair usually free flowing around his shoulders was secured in a brown bow. The clan McCallum sash, its green and muti-hued blue stripes that reflected the color of his eyes, draped across his chest. In the few weeks they had known each other as passenger and wagon master, Allison had never seen her husband-to-be in anything but buckskins and moccasin leggings. This new Douglas took her by surprise. Her heart thrummed, and she barely felt her feet touching the ground.

When they stopped in front of Reverend Saks, Mr. Cameron, his moss green eyes twinkling, leaned down, kissed her forehead and whispered, “May God bless you with great joy, my dear sweet lass.”

She caressed his cheek and swallowed the lump in her throat. She looked up at Douglas, who must have heard the exchange for his Adam’s apple bobbed beneath his superbly tied cravat.

Her pulse fluttering in her ears like the pedals of her spinning wheel, she barely registered the pastor’s words, and made her proper responses in a daze, until Douglas gripped her fingers.

“It’s time, dearest,” he prompted.

Stunned, she realized she had missed the pastor’s proclamation of their marriage. Trying not to stammer, she began the first verse of their traditional blessing, “God to enfold me. God to surround me. God in my speaking. God in my thinking.”

She stared at his full bottom lip as he spoke the next verse in a strong, vibrant voice. “God in my sleeping. God in my waking. God in my watching. God in my hoping.”

She caught the gleam in his eyes and her lips trembled. “God in my life. God in my lips. God in my soul. God in my heart.”

Holding hands, they spoke the last words together. “God in my sufficing. God in my slumber. God in mine ever-living soul. God in mine eternity.”

Douglas released her hands to pull the tartan from his body. “I’m sorry my mother isn’t here to perform this honor, sweetheart. She would have loved you, I know.” He arranged the sash across her right shoulder. “You are my family now, a stór.”

His family. His treasure. Her heart leapt.

Suddenly they were surrounded by revelers, their fellow refugees who had sought shelter at Fort Providence. All seemed ecstatic for a short respite from the dangers lurking outside the fort’s walls. They began clapping, shouting, hugging, laughing, and, much to her chagrin, pulling her apart from her husband. Her mah, her eyes misty with unshed tears, asked her to lean down so she could kiss her on both cheeks. Loud peals of laughter tumbled from the tiny woman as she pulled Allison across the room to Katherine, who, still recovering from a near death bout with fever, sat in a chair, holding her one-year-old son in her lap. Allison kept craning her neck, trying to spot Douglas, who was doing the same thing while good-naturedly bracing himself against the slaps on his back. She caught his eye and they laughed when she found herself surrounded by the ladies who oohed and ahhed over her dress.

When finally the laughter died down, the crowd escorted Allison and Douglas to a table where they sat together and marveled at the bounty laid before them, venison swimming in gravy, succulent rabbit stew, cinnamon sweet potatoes, dumplings, vibrant green snap peas, walnuts, baked pumpkin, and rhubarb pie.

Allison had been too nervous to eat anything all day, and the food made her mouth water. “Such a feast, Douglas.”

He lifted her hand to his lips and place small kisses across her knuckles. “You are all the feast I want.”

His words and the longing in his eyes wiped away her appetite, and she could feel her eyes growing wide.

Sensing the others watching them, he dug his fork into a dumpling and brought it to her lips. “I suppose we should make the effort?”
She took the morsel in her mouth, chewed, and swallowed, all without taking her eyes from his. When he reached across to her plate and cut the venison for her, she wondered what his tan, scarred hands would feel like on her person. She took a sip of ale and nearly choked when he drew his thumb across her lips to catch a stray drop of the fiery liquid.

Johan Rousch, a bear of a man, lumbered into the center of the room and in a thick German accent announced, “Now, we dance. That is except for my wife and I, for await a new member of our family. But all is going well. Please, all of you, we have much to celebrate this night—dance!” 

He scanned the room and joined Colonel Christy and his son, William, at the far end of the room where they chatted with the newly arrived militia captain.

The oldest Zerkle sibling stepped from the crowd and adjusted a fiddle under his chin. One of the soldiers pulled a fife from his pocket, and another man dressed in buckskins sat on a chair and began to pluck a dulcimer. The men and women opened up a circle and stared with anticipation at the newlyweds as the musicians sought out a tune that Allison recognized as Eriskay Love Lilt.

“I apologize that I couldna find a piper, my love.” Douglas held out his hand. “Shall we?”

On the makeshift dance floor, her husband – what a lovely sound – surprised her once again by leading her through a slow reel with grace that belied his large frame. The others joined in, some dancing and some singing.

Douglas stopped with Allison at the edge of the circle and stood behind her to watch the couples weave in and out of the intricate reel. His chest vibrated against her back as he recited one of the verses –
Thou'rt the music of my heart,
Harp of joy, o cuit mo chridh,
Moon of guidance by night,
Strength and light thou'rt to me.
The song came to an end, and Douglas leaned down and whispered, “Beloved, I should like very much to leave now, but if you desire to stay longer, we will.”
“We are of the same thought.”
“I’ll find your cloak.”
Allison made her way to the door where her mother and father greeted her with such happy faces she wanted to shout for joy. Douglas helped her with her cloak, taking the piece of dried heather from her curls and tucking it into his shirt.
“Ha! I see they are making their escape,” yelled one of the men.
The man standing next to him poked him in the ribs. “I seen where he set up their tent. Far away. So’s they can make as much noise as they please.”
Some of the men guffawed.
“Oh!” Mortified, Allison threw her hands up to her face and dropped her head against Douglas’ chest.
“They do naught but jest, my love.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Now, look here. It’s the foundling, come to present us with the traditional horse shoe.”
Allison uncovered her eyes and dropped down on one knee to receive the good luck charm from the young orphan who had recently lost his parents in an Indian attack. Her heart had gone out to him the moment they met.
“Thank you, lad.” She rumpled his thick hair the color of corn silk and he smiled at her, his bright blue eyes sparkling.
When she stood, Douglas glanced from her face, to the boy, and back again. “’Tis another thought we have in common, my dear. We shall talk of it later. But now….” He swept her up into his arms to the delight of the ladies present.

Several of the men moved toward them, causing Allison to wrap her arm around her husband’s neck, her lips grazing his ear. “They will not follow, will they?”

“No. That is another tradition we will dispense with.” He nodded toward two sturdy fellows who approached the door with Mr. Rousch. “They will keep the rogues inside.”

Douglas hoisted her up closer to his chest. “And so we are away, my sweet.”

She laughed and snuggled her face into his neck.

Yes, away to a new life, a new adventure. She could not wait to see what life had in store.

Christmas morn

Comfort carried the swaddled infant out the birthing room door. Her eyes rested on a distressed looking Johan. “Here you are, Mr. Roush. Your new daughter. She is well—as is your brave wife.”

A look of relief mixed with parental love flooded the father’s face. Comfort smiled as her own tears welled.

Such love! Would Jonathan look like that when he beheld their child?

Jonathan approached her from a group of men standing in the large room. “Comfort! Are you all right?”

Holding him with her eyes, she managed a muffled “Yes.” Inhaling deeply she grasped his arm. “It was a miracle. Perhaps the Virginians are correct—a true Christmas miracle!”

Her husband’s arms enveloped her waist as he led her towards the door. He lifted a cloak from a hook, wrapped it around Comfort, and gently drew her outside. The light snow barely announced its presence as it danced, then found its home on the wool before melting into the warmth of the material. The look on her husband’s face brought a shiver of delight, far warmer than the cloak.

“I was so worried about you. You’ve not been well.” Jonathan touched her cheek with tenderness.

“Jon, I am not ill.” Comfort drew his hand over her belly that was beginning to make its presence apparent. “We shall have our own child soon. I…I did not wish to worry you.”

Tears brimmed Jonathan’s eyes. “Our own child?” His face contorted and trails of salty tears blended with the melting snowflakes on Comfort’s cloak.

Comfort bit her lip. “Are you distraught, Jon?” She fought the moisture that welled in her own eyes.

Jonathan leaned toward Comfort and kissed her tenderly. “No, Comfort.” His lips touched her cheek. “Thank you, dear one. Thank you for our new family.”

Suzanne sucked in a shaky breath—the night had been long, but Comfort had proven capable and competent in assisting Sarah in the delivery of her first daughter and seventh child.

“Noela—I wish to name her Noela, Johan.”  Suzanne released their precious daughter to her husband, his face tender, awed. How she loved him, he'd truly journeyed through so much with her.

“She is really a girl? Ja? You are sure?”  He began to unwrap her.

Oui, Johan!” What a silly man. “Of course I know she is a fille. Leave our daughter be—she is all wrapped fine. Bien.”

He settled next to her on the bed. “Noela—I like the sound of this name. Noela Marie?”

“Noela Marie.” She squeezed his hand, so warm and sure. “A daughter, after all those boys—I cannot believe it.  I would not allow myself to hope for a girl this time.”  Tears slipped down her cheeks.

Johan leaned forward, his hand cradling the baby’s head and protecting her as he kissed her forehead. “You look beautiful, Suzanne, and so does our daughter.”

He pressed a gentle kiss to Noela’s little cheek. She was so tiny and perfect.  Tiny rosebud lips began to move.  She’d want to eat soon. 

Suzanne sighed. “We missed the wedding. I love weddings.” And the bride would surely have been radiant.

Standing, Johan patted the baby’s back. “Ja, and we missed the celebration you worked so hard on--the Christmas feast. Well, you missed it anyway.”

Her husband never missed a meal. She laughed. “I think you felt it your responsibility, n’est pas? To be there to oversee?”

A soft knock on the door stopped her from teasing him further. Johan opened the door, grinning broadly. “Did you hear? I have a daughter—a girl this time!”

The Ingersoll men appeared stunned. “After six sons?” They cast a speculative glance in her direction.

Johan rocked back on his heels. “Six sons now a daughter. God is good.”

“Congratulations.  We’ve brought her a present.” Nathaniel and Jonathan Ingersoll carried in the cradle they’d crafted for the baby.

“May I see?” Suzanne had viewed the cradle earlier in the week but not the piece had been completed.

The men brought it closer. On the head and foot board, Nathaniel had carved a cherub, his workmanship superb—Suzanne had seen the work of master craftsman at Versailles whose work paled in comparison.

“Beautiful.  Merci beaucoup.”

Jonathan patted the bedding in the cradle cradle. “Constance’s contribution. She embroidered the Rousch name, too.”

Suzanne raised her head and could make out the faint outline of Rousch in white work thread. Constance’s work was excellent. 

“Lovely. Thank her for me.”

Nathaniel licked his lips. “’Twas sad that the fabric came from the wagon belonging to the foundling's family. But it very much pleased the little boy to see it used for the new baby.”

She smiled. “Tell him Noela thanks him.”  Reaching for her daughter, she caught the hesitation on Johan’s face. When the baby began rooting around on his shoulder though, he handed her back.

“Gentleman, I think we go now to assist with the Christmas feast and bring Suzanne back a nice plateful, ja?” Johan clapped an arm around each man’s shoulder and steered them toward the door.

Giveaway: Susan Craft is giving away a copy of her beautiful book "The Chamomile" to one reader. This made my 2011 Top Ten Favorites on my personal blog Overcoming With God. 

Next Monday, look for the next installment of A Forted Frontier Holiday,
Amish Snow by Kelly Long.