Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Author:
Life doesn’t wait, and neither does Kelly Eileen Hake. In her short twenty-three years of life, she’s achieved much. Her secret? Embracing opportunities and multitasking. Kelly received her first writing contract at the tender age of seventeen and arranged to wait three months until she was able to legally sign it. Since that first contract five years ago, she’s reached several life goals. Aside from fulfilling fourteen contracts ranging from short stories to novels, she’s also attained her BA in English Literature and Composition and earned her credential to teach English in secondary schools. If that weren’t enough, she’s taken positions as a college preparation tutor, bookstore clerk, and in-classroom learning assistant to pay for the education she values so highly. Currently, she is working toward her MA in Writing Popular Fiction. No matter what goal she pursues, Kelly knows what it means to work for it!
Kelly’s dual careers as English teacher and author give her the opportunity explore and share her love of the written word. A CBA bestselling author and dedicated member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kelly is a reader favorite of Barbour’s Heartsong Presents program, where she’s been privileged to earn numerous Heartsong Presents Reader’s Choice Awards; including Favorite New Author 2005, Top 5 Favorite Historical Novel 2005, and Top Five Favorite Author Overall 2006 in addition to winning the Second Favorite Historical Novel 2006!
Her Prairie Promises trilogy, set in the 1850s Nebraska Territory, features her special style of witty, heartwarming historical romance. Barbour plans to release the first of this collection, The Bride Bargain, in fall 2008.
Visit the author’s website by clicking on her name or photo. (ISBN#9781602601758, 288pp, $10.97)
Nebraska Territory, Oregon Trail, two weeks journey past Fort Laramie, 1855
â€œThat does it!â€ Clara Field gritted her teeth and tugged harder on her leather glove, which was currently clamped between the jaws of a cantankerous ox. She didnâ€™t know whether to laugh or cry.
â€œIâ€™ll get him in a headlock for you, Miss Field, and cut off his air so heâ€™ll open his mouth.â€ Burt Sprouse sauntered over. â€œThat should take care of things quick enough.â€
â€œOh, choking him wouldnâ€™t be the right answer.â€ Clara struggled to hide her disgust at the very suggestion. â€œI have to marvel at how similar animals and humans can be. Neither group likes to be forced into anything, and try as I might, I canâ€™t seem to convince him weâ€™re trudging toward freedom.â€
â€œWell, I reckon I could knee him in the chest to make him let go.â€ Sprouse shuffled closer. â€œHickoryâ€™s got an eye on you.â€
â€œThank you, Mr. Sprouse. Iâ€™ll handle this.â€ Clara waited until the burly ex-lumberjack wandered away before pleading with the ox. â€œYour antics are going to get us kicked off the wagon train, Simon!â€
At the sound of his name, the ox perked his ears and his mouth went slack, allowing Clara to yank away her glove. How an ox had a taste for leather escaped her, but bovine cannibalism counted as the least of her worries at the moment. She held up the mangled thing and sighed.
Thank You, Lord, that I brought an extra pair just in case I lost one. Her lips quirked at the tooth marks on the leather. Though I never thought things would come to this.
Yanking on the length of rope sheâ€™d tied around Simonâ€™s neck, Clara urged him toward the makeshift corral the trail boss had set up for the night. The obstinate animal refused to budge, his eyes fixed on her glove with a greedy gleam.
â€œThereâ€™s lots of good forage and fresh water,â€ she tempted. â€œAnd plenty of rest.â€ Oooh, how good that sounded. A verse from Psalms floated into memory: â€œHe leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.â€
For it being a river, the Platte came as close to still water as any running water could ever hope. Wide, shallow, and dark with mud, it was their constant guide and water source. Clara tried not to compare it to babbling brooks, flowing streams, or any other clear, flowing water with a friendly rush of sound.
As for the earlier part of that scripture. . .well, theyâ€™d only just stopped for the night. Until she got this last ox to the corral, gathered enough fuel for the campfire, and cooked dinner for herself, Aunt Doreen, and the blessedly helpful Burt, she wouldnâ€™t be lying beside anything.
But weâ€™re one day closer to Oregon. Eleven miles farther toward a new start. Not even Simonâ€™s snacking can take that away.
Tension eased from her shoulders as Simon ambled toward the enclosure. She and Aunt Doreen had already lost two oxen on the trail, and when they settled in Oregon, the remaining stock would be used for food or trade. The sadness creeping over her at the thought explained, at least in part, why Clara wasnâ€™t an accomplished driver. Even after weeks on the trail, she couldnâ€™t bear to use a whip harshly.
With Simon safely tucked away with the rest of the trainâ€™s livestock, Clara began hunting for buffalo chips. The tall, dry grass rustled around her skirts as she searched. Typically, the prairie held a large and ready supply of the quick-burning fuel. But the recalcitrant ox had cost her valuable time. The areas closest to the circled wagons were picked over by the other women on the train whose husbands saw to the animals. She needed to go farther, though never too far, to scrape together a fair-sized load.
By the time she got back to camp and started their fire, Aunt Doreen already had vegetablesâ€”the same supply of potatoes, carrots, and an onion that theyâ€™d been using since the stop at Fort Laramieâ€”chopped and in the pot for cooking and the batter ready for Petecake. Once the fire burned hot enough to heat the Dutch oven and cook the stew, Clara gratefully sank down beside the makeshift kitchen.
A healthy breeze carried away the smoke from the fire, bringing welcome coolness as the sun faded. The moon came into view, its modest glow bathing the plains in whitish blue light.
â€œGrub ready yet, Miz Field?â€ Burt Sprouseâ€™s head tilted forward as he sniffed the air like a hopeful bear. In exchange for their cooking, alongside a bit of washing and mending, the ex-lumberjack provided them with fresh meat whenever possible, took on the night watches assigned to their wagon, and lent a hand when he could.
â€œNot quite, Mr. Sprouse.â€ Apologies wouldnâ€™t make the rabbit cook any faster. â€œI had difficulty finding enough buffalo chips tonight.â€
â€œLooked like the oxen gave you some trouble tonight.â€ Burtâ€™s voice held no censure as he squatted down. â€œIâ€™ll take on your watch tonight, like we agreed, but Hickoryâ€™s getting antsy about having you and your aunt in your own wagon. You were last in the row and last to set up camp tonight.â€
â€œSure were.â€ The trail boss, Hickory McGee, stomped over to glower at them. Disgust filled his tone. â€œSame as every day on this trail. I warned you gals I didnâ€™t want to take on two women with no menfolk to shoulder the night watches, wagons, and livestock. You know the law of the trailâ€”pull your weight or be left behind.â€
â€œWe know.â€ Clara forced the words through gritted teeth. Men who believed women to be inferior in every way put up her back as little else could. If you spent more time helping and less time harping, things would get done faster. As it is, you accomplish nothing with threats, yet Aunt Doreen and I hold things together in spite of them. A true gentlemanâ€”the kind of man a mother would be proud to raise and a woman would be glad to claim as husbandâ€”would be respectful and helpful.
She kept the thoughts to herself. Speaking her mind was a luxury she couldnâ€™t afford if it angered the trail boss. A quick prayer for patience, and she swallowed her ire.
â€œI havenâ€™t completely mastered the art of unhitching the oxen,â€ Clara admitted before staring him down. â€œBut Mr. Sprouse makes sure our watches arenâ€™t shirked, and you know it.â€ She cast a grateful look at Burt.
â€œYou ainâ€™t the ones doinâ€™ it,â€ Hickory groused. â€œNo call for a man with his own wagon and responsibilities to shoulder yours.â€
â€œI donâ€™t mind taking the extra watch in exchange for their cooking,â€ Burt put in.
â€œDonâ€™t recall askinâ€™ you, Sprouse.â€ Hickory turned his glare from Clara to the lumberjack. â€œBut anyone causinâ€™ problems can be left behind.â€
â€œWorse comes to worseâ€â€”Mr. Sprouse shruggedâ€”â€œI can sear some meat. Got an iron stomach, I do.â€
â€œGlad to hear it.â€ The guide returned his attention to Clara. â€œYouâ€™re lagging behind as it is. Not being able to control your animals is one more hassle to endanger the train. One rampaging ox can set off a stampede.â€
â€œWe managed to sort it out.â€ Aunt Doreen tugged a bucket of water toward them. â€œWe always do.â€
â€œIt didnâ€™t put anyone else out.â€ Clara shoved aside her remorse over Mr. Sprouseâ€™s late dinner. â€œWeâ€™ll be ready to pull out at dawn, same as everyone else.â€
â€œBetter be.â€ The disagreeable guide punctuated that statement by launching spittle toward their cookfire. It hissed as he stalked away.
When we get to Oregon, it will be worth it, she vowed to herself for the thousandth time since they left Independence and started out on the trail. The Lord will see us to a new life and a happy home.
â€œThe johnnycake should be about ready.â€ Clara pushed the ashes off the top of the Dutch oven with her ladle handle, wrapped her hand in a dishcloth, and lifted the lid. The sweet smell of warm cornbread wafted toward them. â€œLet me slice a piece for you to have now while the stew finishes.â€
â€œMmmph.â€ A moment later, Mr. Sprouse plunked himself down and set to munching the hot bread. His obvious enjoyment didnâ€™t soothe Clara as it usually didâ€”not when heâ€™d made it clear that their agreement wasnâ€™t as strong as Hickoryâ€™s warnings.
â€œHere, Aunt Doreen.â€ Clara made sure her aunt got a large portion. After weeks on the trail, not only did their simple dresses boast enough dust to plant a garden, but the calico also hung from her auntâ€™s thin frame. After a grueling day of travel, any moment they could use for a good nightâ€™s rest was another small loss her aunt didnâ€™t deserve to bear. Unacceptable.
Aunt Doreen passed Mr. Sprouse another piece before he asked. Their success on the trail depended on keeping the man well fed. So long as they did that and kept pressing onward, the trail boss couldnâ€™t leave them behind.
Clara filled a tin with the steaming stew. Onions came from their supply, greens theyâ€™d gathered along the way, and the rabbit came courtesy of Mr. Sprouseâ€™s shotgun. If it werenâ€™t for their little arrangement with him, she and her aunt would be surviving on jerky.
â€œBest deal I ever made.â€ His grunt made both of them smile. Burt made no bones about the fact he liked to eat but couldnâ€™t cook. Anotherâ€™s misfortune was rarely cause for prayers of gratitude, but. . .
â€œI was just thinking the same thing.â€ Clara knew Aunt Doreenâ€™s reply came from the heart, to say the least.
Until now, Mr. Sprouse was just one more example of how the Lord watched over them and would see them through this arduous journey, which had become more wearing than Clara anticipated. A continuous stream of mishaps drained their supplies and energy. And theyâ€™d yet to make it past the prairie to the hardships of the mountains.
â€œWhen we reach the mountains, things will go more slowly.â€ She meant the words as a comfort to her own aching bones and her auntâ€™s worries, but Burt Sprouse didnâ€™t see it that way.
â€œYep. Snow can make us lose days, get off the trail, have so many delays food runs out and animals freeze. Everythingâ€™s harder once you hit the Rockies.â€
â€œOur oxen are too ornery to freeze.â€ Clara couldnâ€™t help smiling even as she muttered the words.
â€œEven so, weâ€™ll all probably lighten our loads.â€ Burt shrugged. â€œI hear the mountains are littered with furniture and heirlooms abandoned by travelers so they can get free of a snow bank or make it up a steep pass.â€
Her auntâ€™s gasp made Clara wrack her brain for something positive to say.
â€œAfter that rough river crossing, we already lost several items.â€ She quelled the sense of loss that overcame her at the memory of her childhood trunk, filled with her doll and dollâ€™s clothes. The last thing her father gave her, lost in the Platte forever. â€œSo we probably wonâ€™t need to leave anything else behind.â€ She forced a smile.
â€œFor all those reasons, you have to be careful not to get on the trail bossâ€™s bad side.â€ Burt waved his spoon in the air. â€œWe wonâ€™t make it without him, and heâ€™s dead serious about leaving behind anyone who causes problems.â€
He does care. Surely Burt said that nonsense about having an iron stomach just to placate Hickory. She eyed him fondly as he made his way back to his own wagon. Who would have thought a burly ex-lumberjack looking to make his fortune gold mining would be their saving grace?
â€œYou go on ahead and get to bed,â€ Clara encouraged her aunt after theyâ€™d eaten their fill. â€œIâ€™ll clean up and join you in a few moments.â€
Aunt Doreenâ€™s lack of protest and grateful nod spoke of her weariness more eloquently than if sheâ€™d carped over the long day. Yet the older woman never uttered so much as a word of complaint. Not that she ever had, even throughout the long years of living under Uncle Uriahâ€™s thumb.
No matter how many verses her uncle warped out of context, how often he misinterpreted her own words or actions, Clara held firm to the conviction that Uriahâ€™s chauvinism was personal prejudice, not truth. Oft-repeated lectures against the frail values and fragile mindsets of the so-called weaker sex only underscored the quiet strength of the woman whoâ€™d raised her.
The few months when sheâ€™d had Doreenâ€™s sole attention soothed her soul, pulling her from the endless cycle of guilt and anger over Maâ€™s and Paâ€™s deaths. Clara owed everything to the self-sacrificing love of Doreen. Then sheâ€™d married Uriah Zeph, and their world tilted once more. For the worse.
Hopes ahead; regrets behind. Grandmaâ€™s saying had become their motto over the years and seemed more appropriate with each passing day. Tonight, as Clara fell into her quilt, she added one more phrase. . . .
And God alongside.
Outskirts of Baltimore
Filth everywhere. Dr. Saul Reed shook his head as he made his way from the room he rented to the area of the Baltimore outskirts that housed businesses. Brackish water and mud splotched the street. The odor of stale urine in the alleyways fought for dominance over the smell of stewed cabbages and onions.
To think, this was the better area of town, where most of the residents had roofs over their heads and cabbage to eat at all. There were others less fortunate, left to burrow under garbage or be chased away from bridges until pneumonia or fever took them away. The illness he could treat, the neglect of hygiene and sanitation he could fight, but all he could do was pray for the indifference neighbors showed for one another.
Thatâ€™s why heâ€™d chosen this place. A cozy practice in a whitewashed building in the heart of Baltimore would bring affluent clients, respectable standing, and a nice living. Here, though, he could put his knowledge to the best use. These were the areas where people otherwise denied medical attention needed his help.
If only You will open their ears, Lord, he prayed as he entered the post office. His youth became an impediment in the eyes of some, who saw more value in years than in his Edinburgh education. They didnâ€™t take into account the schoolâ€™s reputation as he had when making his choice. The universityâ€™s renown for technological advancement didnâ€™t transmit beyond the medical community.
â€œLetter come for ya, Doc.â€ The post office worker thrust the note at him.
â€œAny packages?â€ Saul peered into the cubbyholes behind the desk to no avail. â€œThose forceps I ordered should be coming in any day now.â€
â€œAny day ainâ€™t today.â€ The man chewed his tobacco before sending a thick stream of sludge onto the floor beside an obviously oft-missed spittoon. â€œWhile yer here anâ€™ all, though. . .â€
â€œWhatâ€™s ailing you?â€ Saul prayed the man wouldnâ€™t do as he had the last time heâ€™d asked for help and pull down his britches to display a carbuncle on his hip.
â€œMâ€™ mouth.â€ The tobacco tucked into his cheek, he opened wide.
Holding his breath to avoid the foul blast of air, Saul tilted his head and surveyed browned teeth, yellowed gums, and a sore the size of his thumb on the manâ€™s tongue. Saul pulled back to a safe distance and inhaled.
â€œYouâ€™ve got an open sore on your tongue.â€
â€œHeck, Doc, even I knowed that much.â€ The man rolled his eyes. â€œWhat can I do about the thing?â€
â€œIâ€™ll make you a rinse of witch hazel to clean it out. Be sure to drink a lot of water and use the rinse after you eat anything.â€ Saul set his jaw. â€œMost of all, you must stop using the tobacco.â€
â€œWhaâ€™?â€ His jaw gaped, treating the doctor to another view of that open sore and losing the tobacco altogether. It landed with a soft thud on the dusty floor.
â€œGood. The tobacco is whatâ€™s causing the problem.â€
â€œNaw.â€ The man stooped down, scooped up the wad, dusted it off as best he could, and plopped it right back in his mouth.
â€œYes.â€ Saul closed his eyes. â€œThough taking things from the ground and putting them in your mouth doesnâ€™t help, either.â€
â€œDirt donâ€™t hurt.â€ Crossing his arms over his chest, he rolled the chaw in his mouth, sending another stream toward the ground. This time it landed perilously close to Saulâ€™s boot. â€œEven a quackâ€™d know that.â€
â€œPeople track in more than dirt.â€ Saulâ€™s voice became more stern. â€œThe more you chew, the worse itâ€™ll get. Keep on, and youâ€™ll see more sores until they spread down your throat and you canâ€™t speak.â€
The manâ€™s laughter followed Saul outsideâ€”another example of the ignorance that ruled this area. How can I make a difference if they wonâ€™t let me? What do I have to do, Lord, to make them see how to take care themselves? Give me the chance to make a difference.
As he rounded a corner, a shaky voice sounded. â€œYoung and untouched. Iâ€™ll give ya a good time, sir.â€
â€œNo.â€ He made to move on, but her gaunt face stopped him in his tracks. The girl couldnâ€™t be more than eleven. Shadows smudged her eyes, and bony wrists protruded from beneath too-short sleeves.
â€œI swear itâ€™s true.â€ She drew closer, obviously misinterpreting his pause for interest. In the brighter light, livid bruises bloomed along her throat. Whether theyâ€™d been pressed there by a violent customer or an enraged pimp was impossible to say.
â€œStay there.â€ He held out a hand to stay her progress. Between her youth, her assertion of innocence, and those bruises, he couldnâ€™t walk away. â€œWhat is your name?â€
â€œWhatever ya like.â€ She raised a nervous hand to the marks on her throat. â€œWhatever ya want.â€
Enraged pimp then. Saul peered down the alleyway to see if the brute lingered behind. No one there.
â€œWhat can you doâ€”no, not that.â€ He stopped her hastily as she prepared to speak. â€œCan you sew? Cook? Clean?â€
â€œWhat?â€ Astonishment replaced the desperation in her gaze.
â€œI know a lady who runs a boardinghouse and is in need of some help.â€ Saul kept his voice muted. â€œIf youâ€™re an honest sort and not afraid of solid work, you might do.â€
â€œI sews real fineâ€”itâ€™s what he used to have me do.â€ The glow of pride left her abruptly. â€œHeâ€™d find me.â€ The whisper almost floated past him unheard, but when her hand fluttered toward her neck again, Saul understood her fear.
â€œWhere is he now?â€
â€œPub.â€ She jerked her head toward a side street.
â€œCome with me now, and heâ€™ll never know.â€ Saul shifted his doctorâ€™s bag so it came into a more prominent view, hoping the symbol of trusted authority would put her at ease.
â€œYouâ€™re one of them what purges babes when one of us gets unlucky?â€ Suspicion blazed to life in her pinched face. â€œLike him that came last night? He took the baby, right, but mâ€™ sister hasnâ€™t stopped bleeding since.â€
â€œAbsolutely not.â€ Saul closed his eyes at the image she evoked. â€œWhereâ€™s your sister?â€ Obviously the woman needed immediate helpâ€”if it wasnâ€™t too late.
â€œInside.â€ She backed away a step. â€œBe on yore way, sir. Mâ€™ sister donâ€™t need any more help from no doctors. She didnâ€™t want the first one to come, but he didnâ€™t give â€™er no choice.â€
â€œThe quack who did that to her was no doctor.â€ Rage boiled in Saulâ€™s chest. â€œIf she keeps bleeding, your sister will die.â€
â€œAnd Iâ€™ll be alone wifâ€â€”her gaze darted in the direction of the pub sheâ€™d indicated earlier as her voice went hoarseâ€”â€œhim.â€ Though Saul wouldnâ€™t have thought it possible, her face became even more pale. â€œHe said heâ€™d take care of us, but he turned Nancy out within a week. After last night he said Iâ€™d have to take her place.â€
â€œNo, you wonâ€™t. Take me to Nancy.â€
Check back soon for my review. Don’t forget to click the bookcover for more info and look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on this book in today’s blog postings.