I wanted to give you a little taste of the new book. Now I confess that I meant to post this months ago – because of course I optimistically believed it would be on shelves around the world long before this. However, I don’t find it on the blog, and it’s probably changed a little since then. So here you go, chapter 1…
Sunlight dripped through the overarching trees painting a golden mosaic on the hard packed dirt road. Stopping in the middle of the path, Emma England admired the beauty around her. Her imagination whizzed from thoughts of angels shining in heavenly light to fairies sliding freely down the sun’s rays. The ideas made her giggle and she opened her arms and spun around as she danced with the characters in her mind’s eye.
Realizing what a sight she must be, her hand flew to her mouth in a vain attempt to suppress the giggles. The effort brought tears to her eyes and she gave into the moment and skipped past her dog and flock.
Biting her lower lip she silently warned herself, Papa would threaten to skin me if he saw this foolishness.
Tom England had lectured many times that his sixteen year old daughter was now a woman, old enough to marry and raise her own daughters. He felt it was time to leave behind her foolish girlhood.
Emma let out a long sigh as she paused to allow the tiny herd of sheep to catch up. Her faithful dog brought up the rear. Really, he could do this job alone, but Papa always wanted someone to walk to the creek with the sheep and it was most often Emma. She didn’t mind, it was a quiet time to think and to imagine.
The sounds of home surrounded her and she lifted her face, allowing the sunlight to peek under the wide brim of her straw hat. The sun was making quick work of warming the air and there was a coolness near the bubbling water which tempted her to let the hat hang from its long cotton straps and dangle against her back. Only her mother’s repeated warnings stayed her hands at the knot.
In that moment, Emma felt there was no one else in the world and she basked in the woodsy quiet. Surrounded by singing birds and barking squirrels she could block out the noise of her five siblings, and all the sounds of the farm.
Suddenly her solitude was broken by a loud screeching. She jerked her head to face the noise. Someone was coming. The air was filled with the tell-tale rattle of wheels, the squeak of harness and that awful screeching as the brake was applied to slow the wagon as it started the long descent toward the creek bed.
Without a second thought, Emma stepped into the road to move her sheep out of the way with Ruff was already alerting her to an unexpected visitor. As the noise drew closer, she looked over her shoulder to acknowledge the neighbor.
A big load of logs towered behind a tall, slender young man that Emma did not recognize. Yet something about this man captivated her. She never would have imagined she would be so rude, but she stared as he closed the last ten yards.
He stared too, turning his head as the wagon’s momentum carried him alongside her.
The team slowed and her breath caught in her throat as she wondered, Is he stopping?
A flash of yellow caught Millard Stepp’s eye and for a second he wondered if there might be a flowering meadow at the bottom of the hill. Half standing to push his right foot onto the stiff friction brake, he allowed his eyes to focus on the moving color that was coming into focus. Soon there was a girl’s head adorned with a homemade straw hat and behind her wandered a dozen ragged sheep.
As she turned, he saw the profile of a beautiful young girl.
He feared he would embarrass her but he found himself unable to turn away.
As he reached the bottom of the hill, he failed to ease the pressure from the wagon’s brake and the team responded to the increasing weight of the load and slowed their pace. The wheels had slowed near to stopping when he realized his error and jerked his foot from the peddle. With his head still turned to face her, Millard gave a gentle slap of the reins and the four big mules moved a bit quicker.
With the distraction gone, its noise drifting away, Ruff moved his herd on to water where they quieted their bleating and drank. Emma had not moved.
What just happened? Who was that? What’s wrong with me standing here like a big ole’ stone? Emma’s questions rolled through her head with little hope of answers.
Above all she questioned why she had been so transfixed by the tall stranger. She had seen his face no more than a few seconds yet it seemed indelibly printed on her memory. Dark eyes set in deep sockets were clear beneath a tattered hat that had been pushed to the back of his head with a shock of dark hair spilling forward. Sharp, chiseled features in his lean face seemed to draw her. He seemed young, she thought no more than twenty. Yet that face might have endured eons of life’s joys and struggles. He had not smiled and she found herself longing to see a smile on that face.
“More silliness from a silly girl. He’s a teamster from The Flat Woods and he’ll probably climb on that train with his logs and never think about this mountain again.”
Emma looked at her sheep and patted Ruff’s head, “Let’s take ‘em home boy.” With a last look down the shady road she started up the hill toward home.
With each step, Emma’s thoughts moved faster and faster, quickening her steps until she was in the middle of the sheep instead of following them as a proper shepherdess ought to. “Come on, you’re awful slow today.”
With the gate latched tight, Emma stepped onto the rickety porch kicking her boots to ensure she carried no mud from the creek onto the spotless kitchen floor. She hung her hat beside the door without even noticing if anyone was in the kitchen.
“Emma, you came up that hill like you’d sprouted wings but now you look a millions miles away. What have you got on your mind child?”
“Oh Mama, I didn’t even see you there. I guess I was somewhere else. There was a man on the road down there…”
Rhoda England set the plate on the dry sink so hard Emma gave a little jerk. “Who was it? And what’d he say to you to drive you into such deep thought?”
“I don’t know who it was; I’d never seen him before.”
“A stranger on the Roslin road? That don’t happen much”
“Well, he had a big load of logs on his wagon…”
“Oh, a logger.” Rhoda gave a quick shake of her head as she picked up her dish towel and plate.
“I guess he must have been from the Flat Woods.”
Rhoda turned again trying to see into her daughter’s eyes, “What’d he say to you? Do we need your Papa to take the sheep down?”
Emma’s eyes popped open wide, she didn’t want Papa thinking he needed to straighten the fellow out for some offense caused to his daughter. “No, no. It was nothing like that; in fact, he didn’t say a word to me. He turned and looked as he drove by. Only, I couldn’t stop looking at him either.”
Now Rhoda chuckled slightly, “Well it’s not such an awful thing to look twice at a handsome man. I’ve sure seen a few boys at church taking a second look at my Em.”
“Mama! What a thing to say.” Emma felt her heart speed up as she cast her eyes around for something to occupy her hands. Yanking the still damp rag from its hook she began wiping the table with such fury it shook. After a long moment she took a deep breath and looked up at her mother.
“I didn’t particularly notice whether he was handsome or not. It was just like I was drawn to him somehow. Oh Mama it’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Rhoda worked in silence for a few minutes as Emma watched and waited for the wise guidance her mother always supplied.
Finally, Rhoda placed the last dish in its place, hung the towel on its peg and turned to Emma. “I cannot explain it. If it was a neighbor you knew, I’d think God was giving you a special burden to pray for him. But these folks at the logging camp come and go and we never know any of them. Chances are that you’ll never see him again. I’d put it all out of my mind if I’s you.”
Emma nodded, trusting her mother completely. She turned back to the table and finished the cleaning it did not require as Rhoda slipped into the front room where she always found a few minutes mid-morning to read the family bible and pray.
Millard hunched his back and rested his forearms on his knees. He smiled, remembering his father in the same position. He often thought about the man he’d known only five years. Despite Harrison Stepp’s pre-mature death, his widow had kept him alive in memories so that his twelve children would know the man she had loved.
“Easy there Big Red. Keep your head up Lady.” He spoke to the mules with ease. In fact, he often felt more comfortable talking to these four-legged animals than to his two-legged companions because the fellas in The Flat Woods logging camp tended to be rougher than he liked and he kept hearing his mother’s voice warning him not to allow coarse talk to dominate him.
There was a child in Millard that longed to sit at his mother’s knee with her hand upon his head. Yet, he’d been on his own most of his life and long ago learned an independence that belied his scant eighteen years. Still, his mother’s voice often rang in his ears with the advice and warnings she’d given him.
The trip to Sunbright was familiar to him, but more importantly, it was familiar to his team. They needed little guidance through the long day’s drive and he let his mind wander as the mules plodded east. In his mind’s eye, he kept seeing the girl by the creek. Kept remembering that he’d first thought he was looking at a field of wild flowers. That made him smile again.
I wonder if I will always remember her like that. This time the smile became a snicker. Lil’ Bess, the bay nearest his right hand, flicked an ear at his voice.
“It’s okay, girl. I’m just thinking out loud I guess.”
Millard had been at the lumber camp for two months now and had driven the load half a dozen times yet this was the first time he’d seen the sheep. Now he wondered why. The farms along the way were familiar and he’d begun to learn the neighborhood and its families. But this girl was a stranger and he wondered whether she had always lived in Roslin. In fact, he couldn’t stop wondering for the two days it took to bring supplies back from town and as he watched for Bridge Creek miles before it would have been possible to see it he realized how much he hoped to catch another glimpse of her. There was no sign of the herd of sheep or the girl who kept them and Millard’s heart sank.
You can pickup a copy of Plans for Emma at Halls Family Pharmacy in both Jamestown and Clarkrange. You can also order a copy from Amazon.com.