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Catherine stood by her kitchen window, the place which had become the center of her existence. Never before had she felt closed in by her life, or considered her world too small. But this winter had been the loneliest she had ever known, with her father's health failing and the storms as bad as any she could remember and Andrew often away. To make matters worse, there had been only one letter from Anne and this one back in November. And none at all from Nicole. Catherine's isolation grew with each day that she did not hear from her beloved daughters.
She was certain they both had written. She knew this in her bones, that they thought of her and prayed for her and wrote regularly. It wasn't their fault, in spite of the fact that they each were too far away. It was the war.
The window was open now, in spite of the chill wind still shaking a fist at spring. Her father, John Price, dozed by the fire, the quilt pulled tight against his chin. He seldom moved very far these days, and he ate next to nothing. They didn't speak of his condition much, though everyone in the village knew the old man was merely biding his time, waiting for the silent knock on his door. He had made his peace, was about all John would say if asked how he was faring. Occasionally he would add that he was growing impatient to bow in person before his Lord. Whenever he spoke like this, Catherine was forced to quell the immediate pang in her heart, sometimes fleeing to her bedroom to compose herself again.
The breakfast dishes done, the lane in front of their house empty, and it would be another hour or so before she would start preparing the midday meal. Yet she remained standing there,watching the sunlight cast upon the brown earth. Patches of half-melted snow were all that was left of the longest winter she had ever endured. A single bird chirped once, the crystal sound echoing the longing in her heart for Anne, for Nicole.
As though sensing her sorrow, Andrew opened the bedroom door and moved toward her, his slippers treading light across the bare wood planks. The one good thing about the entire winter, the one blessing she recounted each time she bowed her head in prayer, was that Andrew was as strong as he had been in years. The endowment from Charles had meant he could give up his leatherworking trade that so drained his energy, as well as buy himself a fine horse. For Andrew wasn't only providing pastoral care for a growing community, he was also constantly visiting those soldiers camped nearby. So many needs, and so many of them truly dire. The horse had provided transport and saved him precious time.
Andrew gripped Catherine's arms from behind and leaned in close enough to breathe gently against her hair. He did this often, especially before another journey, holding her so tight she finally had to pull away and take a long, slow breath.
Despite the worry and the quiet mournfulness of another day without any news, Catherine couldn't help but smile as Andrew buried his face in her hair. She asked her husband, "What do you smell?"
"Flour," he murmured, not retreating.
"That would be the biscuits from breakfast."
"Though it has been three days since I last washed those tresses so close to your nose."
The quip she might have said caught in her throat. Catherine let herself be guided around by his strong hands until she stared directly into his eyes. "I do love you, my husband."
"And I you." His face still held the chiseled quality of the lieutenant and warrior she had married twenty-three years ago. But now his features were overlaid by creases of age and concern and also the gentle fervor of one who lived to serve his Lord. From his eyes shone the clearest light, a sign just for her that intimated she was indeed loved.
Andrew told her, "I heard in town of another encampment along the Halifax road. I think I will ride out and make sure all is well."
"You said yesterday you wouldn't leave until after our noon meal—."
"There are storm clouds gathering out back. I saw them through the bedroom window. I should go while the day is dry."
"I'll pack you provisions for the journey." But Andrew continued to hold her close and watch her with luminous gaze. "What is it?" she asked.
"I was praying earlier."
Catherine nodded. This she knew. It was another of the many gifts that had come to them with the acceptance of Charles's funds. Andrew now had time for study and prayer every morning, something she was certain had done much to improve his health.
"And I had the strongest impression," Andrew continued. "Not words, mind you. But almost that powerful, and certainly as clear."
"The Lord spoke to you?"
"So it seemed to me then. And now." A hand rose to gently stroke her cheek. "I believe our daughters are well. They are fine."
Catherine nodded in agreement, for it was this reassurance that had made it possible for her to continue to live each day as normally as she did.
"And I think," said Andrew, looking straight into her eyes, "that we shall be hearing from them very soon."
Catherine felt her distress rise. "But how? You hear the war news and the rumors more than I. Nothing is getting through the blockades. Nothing!"
It was no longer possible to ignore the war. The conflict had become woven into the fabric of their daily lives. The actual battles remained well to the south and west of them, yet war now touched every aspect of their world.
The Halifax harbor was jammed with ships, either joining the New York and Boston blockades or ferrying troops to the conflict in Quebec. Even when the roads had become impassable from vicious winds and lashing snow, still the news had managed to filter through, carried by desperate refugees. And almost all the news was of death and darkness.
Andrew did not shush her so much as soothe away her words as he caressed her cheek. "I cannot tell you how I feel these things, or why. But that is how it seems to me. That we shall soon be hearing from them both, and the news will be good. Very good indeed."
Catherine slipped out of her husband's grasp and turned to the worktable. She didn't want to send Andrew off with tears. "Let me see to your meal," she said briskly, managing to wipe her eyes while pretending to adjust her apron. "I believe there is some of that good salt beef left along with biscuits from breakfast ... and the last of the dried apples."
Nicole resisted the urge to crane out the carriage window yet again. There was nothing to be seen save more trees and another stretch of empty road. "Why is it taking so long?" she asked again, recognizing it was a childish query.
She knew Gordon Goodwind would not respond. She spoke because she could no longer hold on to her impatience.
After a sharp lurch the carriage jarred to a halt. The horses in front whinnied a protest as they jangled their leads. The conveyance rested at an uncomfortable angle. Nicole watched Gordon lean out his window as the driver leaped down from his station. She knew the tidings before Gordon moved back in and the driver clambered up on the step to report, "Looks like we're good and stuck this time, missus."
"They's been dragging cannon through here, from the looks of things." The driver was an impossibly cheerful soul, someone Nicole would have loved to visit with under different circumstances. "Either that or plowing furrows down the lane. We'll have to unharness the horses and drag her out backwards, that's my guess."
"We might as well get out and have something to eat," Gordon offered.
Nicole bit down hard on her tongue. There was nothing to be gained from expressing again her impatience. The men were doing the best job they could. That they had come this far at all was a miracle. More than that, a series of miracles had occurred, one after another, as though angels assisted and protected her at every step.
Even so, the voyage from England had taken nearly five months. Had she known she would be forced to fight her way across the tides of conflict, Nicole doubted she would have had the fortitude to begin the journey at all.
Twice their ship had been waylaid by the British. The first time was on the high seas. A war squadron suddenly appeared out of a squall line and sent three shots through their rigging before the captain could convince the hostile ships that he was in fact their ally. Apparently the French had taken to flying false colors as a means of getting their ships through to help the Americans. Which had done little to ease their captain's anger at being struck by one of the king's own. Only his wife, who served as Nicole's official chaperone and companion on the voyage, managed to hold off a dangerous confrontation.
A month later, following the frigid winter crossing of the North Atlantic, they had been stopped by the British blockade off New York. These blockade ships held royal grants, which permitted the requisition of all foodstuffs and armaments from vessels sailing through the blockade line. Their own stores already had been reduced to primarily hardtack and jerky. To their captain's dismay, the blockade lieutenant had scrounged their last wheel of Wesleyan cheese and the remaining half barrel of apples, not to mention the better part of their gunpowder and shot.
New York proved to be firmly in British hands. The city was crammed tight with troops and Loyalists who were fleeing the conflict in other areas. The place held to such a chaotic din that Nicole made no protest when Gordon, who was serving as her escort and protector, suggested they stay berthed on the ship. So there they had remained for three of the most tense and frustrating weeks of Nicole's life. The wind had blown continuously from the north, causing every rope and every stanchion to grow icicles as long as her arm.
Prices within the city itself were beyond belief, for the Revolutionaries had cut off all the roads leading north so that only a trickle of supplies was coming in from the Loyalist colonies farther south. One morning Nicole witnessed a refugee family buying a sack of cornmeal in exchange for a solid silver candelabra.
The garrison commander had wanted to requisition both the ship and all the men. Only two factors saved them. One was Gordon's offer to travel north for supplies and more troops. The second was a surprise her uncle Charles had kept well hidden, one she had discovered when they were more than halfway through their journey. At the bottom of one of her trunks, amidst a mass of other papers related to her new landholdings in western Massachusetts, Nicole found a charter officially naming her the Viscountess Harrow. Charles had attached a terse note, stating simply that the sanctioned title might come in handy in these uncertain times. Indeed it had. Not even the commander of the New York garrison was willing to risk royal ire by depriving a viscountess of her ship. As had been planned, Captain Madden and his wife remained in New York. At Captain Madden's suggestion, Nicole had formally contracted the vessel and its crew to take her north, with Captain Gordon Goodwind as her official escort. A family, desperate to flee the war, begged for passage north, as they had kin homesteading on the outskirts of Halifax. Nicole was happy to acquiesce since the woman and her two daughters would provide female companionship for the remaining journey.
The voyage to Nova Scotia had taken another month. Twice they had spotted sails on the horizon and elected to detour far out to sea rather than risk running afoul of a French man-o'-war.
Halifax itself turned out to be in colossal chaos. They had berthed next to a hulk so blasted and war blackened that Nicole couldn't even read her name. The city was one mass of troops and Loyalists. The roads were nearly impassable, more closely resembling half-frozen swamps than lanes. Horses strained and fought to drag even empty carts through the mire. Men and animals alike were spattered in red mud up to their chests. Planks had been laid across the busiest thoroughfares, but one wrong step and one was plunged into muck. Most women elected to be carried from one covered walkway to another—that or stay at home. For it wasn't merely the mud and the endless wet that made the streets of Halifax unsafe that long winter.
Once again Nicole's title had proved to be a boon. Rooms were made available in the governor's own manor, and Nicole had enjoyed her first full bath and fresh hot meal in weeks. Three days they had stayed there, enduring a barrage of war news and ugly rumors. Time and again Gordon was urged to take up the king's arms and join the struggle. He had carefully countered that his immediate allegiance was already given to those who had entrusted him with the vessel at his charge. At such times Nicole felt her feelings surge to the bursting point for the young officer. Without him she knew she would have made no progress whatsoever.
When they had found it impossible to beg or buy transport, the governor offered Nicole his personal carriage. Normally she would have balked at the idea of arriving home in such grand style. But after all the frustration and delays, she nearly wept with gratitude. But here again their way had been met by further frustration, more obstacles. First there had been no horses trained to pull in tandem. Then the rain had set in once more, which made the roads worse still.
Finally there came three sunny days in a row, enough for the driver to pronounce the roads fit for travel. Only then it seemed as if the entire city had elected to start off along the Georgetown road. Nicole had never seen such congestion of beast and vehicles. What should have been a long day's journey, two at the most, had stretched into four days, then five and still there was no sight of Georgetown, no sign they were even drawing near to her beloved parents.
The Distant Beacon (SONG OF ACADIA series) by Janette Oke & T. Davis Bunn
Copyright © 2002, Janette Oke & T. Davis Bunn
isbn:0764226002, 0764226010, 0764226029, 0764226037
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.