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His Steadfast Love
By Golden Keyes Parsons
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Golden Keyes Parsons
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSeptember 1860
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side. Abraham Lincoln
The sweet, gooey peach pie filling had overflowed its crust and dribbled down the side of the plate. Amanda Belle made a quick swipe on the side of the tin, then turned her back on the table laden with pies and licked her index finger. A husky voice interrupted her surreptitious snack.
"Which pie do you recommend? They all look tasty."
Startled, she looked into a pair of blue eyes as clear as a cloudless Texas sky.
She cleared her throat and bobbed a curtsy. "I'm afraid you have observed me being rather impolite. Please excuse my bad manners."
Ignoring the heat rising in her cheeks, she waved her hand over the desserts lined up on long tables covered in calico tablecloths. The special offerings of the ladies of the Methodist church dotted the tables—and each woman watched eagerly to see which platters and baskets emptied first. A young slave stood at each end of the table steadily waving a palm fan to keep the flies away.
"Our Elsie baked the chess pie, and it is a favorite. So you are fortunate that there is still a piece left—if you like chess pie, that is, Lieutenant."
The stranger grinned. "I don't blame you for sampling the goods. I don't know that I could have resisted either. And it's Captain."
Flustered, Amanda flicked open her fan. "Oh, my soul. I'm sorry. I'm not very conversant with military ranks."
"Give it no mind." Pointing to the chess pie, he said, "That must be a Southern dish. I've never tried it, but upon your recommendation, I'm happy to indulge." He held his plate toward her, and she lifted a sugary, buttery slice of the chess pie onto his already full plate. "This is such a treat for my men—to sit down to home cooking. Thank you for your hospitality."
"You are very welcome, sir."
"I am Captain Kent Littlefield." He tipped his hat with his free hand.
Again she dipped a slight curtsy. "Amanda Irene Belle, sir. My father is filling in as pastor until we can call a permanent one." She nodded toward her father, who lingered at the front door of the church, visiting with members of the congregation. The shoulders of his lean, lanky form slumped forward, as they usually did—a habit formed because of his height. "That 'temporary' position has lasted for two years already." She smiled. "I am pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure is mutual." Captain Littlefield nodded his head and grinned as he walked to join his men at a nearby table, balancing his overloaded plate. He glanced in her direction several times, but she averted her eyes and looked away.
After dinner, as they were clearing the tables, the captain walked toward Amanda carrying several plates. "Here, let me help you."
"Thank you, Captain Littlefield. We're almost finished."
He handed her the plates and then pulled the cloth from the serving table. He shook it out, folded it, and handed it to her. "Well, thank you again, Miss Belle." Their hands brushed, and he took hers and raised it to his lips. "I like it."
"The chess pie—I like it."
"Oh ... yes ... the pie." She fumbled with her basket.
Before she could pick it up, Captain Littlefield had it over one arm and offered her his other. "May I escort you to your buggy?" He cupped her elbow in his hand and assisted her. "I shall look forward to seeing you again ... at church?"
She laughed. "Yes, I'm here every Sunday. You know, when you're the pastor's daughter, it's expected." She cleared her throat. "So to speak."
He fixed his gaze on her and lifted his eyebrows, then stepped back as her father approached. The two men shook hands and introduced themselves. Amanda touched her cheek, which had started to blotch, displaying her disquietude to those around her. She twisted the cameo ring on her finger and turned to watch as the captain mounted his horse and waved good-bye.
* * *
Father's bass voice boomed out the familiar line of the closing hymn. "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee."
Amanda, her brother, Daniel, and the three little Belle sisters turned to leave when they spotted Captain Littlefield across the aisle toward the back.
Daniel bounded toward him and shook his hand. "Welcome again, Captain Littlefield. I'm Daniel Belle, Amanda's brother."
The captain glanced over Daniel's shoulder at Amanda. "Yes, I remember from last week. Good to see you again."
The two young men turned and walked out the back door where Father stood at his usual place bidding members of the congregation good-bye. Captain Littlefield shook his hand and lingered a moment, chatting. Her father smiled and clapped the officer on his shoulder.
What were they talking about? Grabbing Mary and Catherine's hands, Amanda skirted around the bevy of women moving slowly down the steps and waited for Daniel and Captain Littlefield.
Ten-year-old Emmaline had broken away from her sisters and run to her brother. Suddenly shy, she ducked behind Daniel's long legs, and he laughed and pulled her in front of him as they approached the hitching rail. Captain Littlefield gathered the reins of his horse.
"Good morning. Is that a new bonnet?" Claire, Amanda's best friend and Daniel's sweetheart, stopped them. She patted Catherine, who was six, on the head and knelt down to hug little Mary. "How are you girls today?"
"Hold you." Mary held her arms up.
Claire laughed. "You're almost too big for me to hold anymore, but I'll try." She swung the four-year-old into her arms and settled her on her hip, and kissed her on the cheek. "You're growing up too fast."
"Not fast enough." Amanda smiled. "Sometimes I think they will never grow up."
"I'm sure it does seem like that to you sometimes. But look at Emmie. She's getting so tall." She waved in the direction of Daniel and Emmaline, who were chatting with Captain Littlefield.
Daniel motioned for the girls to join them. Amanda felt her face flush as they drew near to the men. Daniel reached for Claire's arm, still holding on to Emmaline with the other hand.
"Captain Littlefield, may I introduce my fiancée, Claire Beecham. I believe you've met my sister Amanda. And these are my two youngest sisters, Mary and Catherine."
"You are surrounded by beautiful women, it seems."
Daniel chuckled. "Yes, so it seems." He took Mary from Claire.
"I noticed you visiting with my father at the door," Amanda said.
Captain Littlefield grinned. "Yes, I asked him if it was permissible for a Presbyterian to attend your Methodist services when my duties at Fort Washington allow me to do so."
"He assured me that it was." The captain mounted his large gray. "I must return to my duty station."
"How long have you been stationed at the fort?"
"Just a couple of months."
Amanda opened her parasol against the vivid noonday sun as she looked up at him. "I hope you and your men know how much we appreciate the protection of the federal troops. We feel most vulnerable here on the frontier, with the wetlands and swamp on one side and the ocean on the other. Thank you for your service."
He smiled and tipped his hat. "You are most welcome. Ladies, Daniel. I trust we will have the opportunity to meet again soon."
* * *
Amanda saw Captain Littlefield in church every Sunday after that for a month, although he did nothing more than tip his kepi and say, "Good morning, Miss Belle." She wondered if he was more interested in chess pie than he was in her, yet there was something in his expression when he looked her way. His eyes seemed to smile at her.
One Sunday morning in October the captain entered the pew behind the Belle family. He held his cap in his hand. "Good morning, all you beautiful Belle women. You too, Daniel."
Amanda ducked her head and blushed.
Daniel turned around to shake the captain's hand. "For a Presbyterian you are becoming quite faithful to this Methodist church."
Kent laughed, and even his laughter sounded husky, like his voice. "I guess I am. I enjoy your father's sermons."
"Would you do us the honor of coming to our home for dinner? Then you and Father could have more than simply a few moments to talk."
Amanda turned around in her seat. "Please do, Captain Littlefield. We have great plenty at our house."
"You are certain that it is acceptable with your father?"
Amanda nodded. "Guests are always welcome in our home."
"Will you be serving chess pie?"
Her lips lifted in a demure smile. "I can't guarantee chess pie, but I can guarantee that the meal will be delicious."
"How could I resist such a tempting invitation? I heartily accept."
* * *
The three young people passed the time on the veranda before dinner. The day was cloudy and threatening rain, and Amanda could smell the moisture in the air. She and Daniel sat in the swing as they chatted, and Captain Littlefield leaned against the railing. The family's big yellow dog lay sprawled at Daniel's feet.
The captain let the dog sniff his hand. "Pretty dog. What's his name?"
"Sam Houston—after our governor—we just call him Sam. He's a mutt, but he's a good dog."
Sam wagged his tail and nuzzled the captain's hand.
He chuckled. "Looks like I've made a friend."
Amanda leaned forward, stopping the gliding of the swing. "Daniel tells me you are a graduate of West Point."
"Yes. It's a family tradition that all of our men go to West Point. And since I'm the only son ..." He grinned. "I have four sisters."
Daniel slapped his knee. "Very good! That's something we have in common."
"And where is your home, Captain Littlefield?" Amanda asked.
Daniel leaned back in the swing and put his arm around his sister. "How do you like Texas?"
"I love Texas, especially here on the coast where you can see the ocean from every part of town. And since horses are my passion, well ... there's no better horse country than Texas."
"Texas is indeed horse country, even though some have attempted to make it camel country as well."
They all laughed at the mention of the less than successful experiment of bringing camels to south Texas.
"Camels will never replace horses in Texas," Daniel said.
"I agree. However, the army does use camels to carry large loads of equipment across the desert."
Daniel nodded toward the captain's gray. "That's a fine horse you have. What's his name?"
"Sterling Prancer, but I just call him Sterling. He's a bit of a show-off—likes to prance around in front of people. My father gave him to me when I turned eighteen."
"Before you went to West Point?"
"Yes, and then my orders brought me to Texas. I truly love this area. In fact, I'd like to buy a ranch and settle here someday—after I retire from the military. There is a charm about the West that tugs at me."
"How would your family feel about that?"
"I'm sure they would rather I settle in Pennsylvania." He looked at Amanda. "But I have nothing to tie me down there—no sweetheart, I mean, or anything like that."
Amanda avoided his eyes and put her hand to her neck. As usual, she could feel the embarrassing mottling of her skin that she inherited from her mother spread to her cheeks.
* * *
"Is that Captain Littlefield?" Amanda asked as an officer on horseback approached their fence.
"I invited him to come by this evening after he got off duty." Daniel rose from his seat on the porch swing and strode out to meet the officer.
Captain Littlefield walked through the gate and stopped to greet Emmaline, Catherine, and Mary, who were playing in the yard. The girls giggled as he handed each of them a wildflower he had plucked somewhere along the way.
"Welcome, Captain Littlefield. I'm glad you could get away from your post and drop by for a visit," Ezekiel said.
The captain shook his hand. "Good evening, sir."
"Please, have a seat." Her father moved to the swing beside Amanda, and indicated a chair next to a table.
The captain turned and handed one remaining flower to Amanda. "There are still wildflowers in the fields. I thought you might enjoy ..."
Amanda rose and took the flower. She opened the front door. "Elsie, would you bring the lemonade and cookies, please?"
Captain Littlefield cleared his throat and took a deep breath. Leaning over the railing of the veranda, he looked out over the ocean. "I love the fragrance of the ocean. Did you know that it smells different on the East Coast?"
Amanda turned her attention to the young man. "Well, Papa's family is from Alabama—on the coast, but that's still the Gulf. Why would there be any difference?"
"I suppose it has to do with the different vegetation and sea animals, but the odor is definitely different." The glow from the setting sun sent brilliant shades of pink and orange across the waves. "You have a beautiful view." He turned to Amanda's father. "May I have permission to escort your daughter on a stroll along the beach, sir?"
Her father sputtered and stood, sending the swing twisting from side to side. "It's getting late, and we need to get the girls to bed."
"Kitty can do that," Amanda said. "Daniel will come with us—won't you, Daniel?"
Daniel laughed and leapt over the railing. "Of course. A walk on the beach is always in order."
"Very well," their father grumbled. "Don't be gone long."
The young people, accompanied by Sam, were down the steps before he could voice any other arguments.
They walked toward the shoreline, the rhythmic swooshing of the waves punctuating their conversation. Daniel plied the captain with a plethora of questions about military life. "Do you get homesick? What is the most difficult part of being an officer? Is the food horrible? Aren't those uniforms hot? What has been your most difficult order to carry out?"
"Little brother! Give the poor captain a rest. I'm sure he's growing weary of your questions."
Amanda laughed. "Yes, but barely. It gives him pause for me to call him that. There's only eleven months between us."
"Oh, I see."
An awkward silence followed before Daniel interjected, "I'm nineteen."
"Yes, well, I don't mind the questions about being in the military. They are all questions I had prior to going to West Point."
Daniel held up his hand. "Very well, then, one more question: what do you find is the main difference between living in the North and living in the South?"
Captain Littlefield hesitated before he answered. "Isn't that rather obvious? It would be the issue of slavery."
Amanda and Daniel both stared at the captain, and Amanda felt her pulse escalate. "You have servants in your home, do you not?"
"We do. We have servants. Not slaves. They are free to come and go."
"Is it ... is our way of life offensive to you?"
"I would say different. I see that your slaves are well cared for and seem to be content, but—" He stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Go on, please. But what?"
"But ... they are not free. I must admit that I am offended by the fact that human beings are owned by other human beings."
Amanda snapped her fan. "My father says he will free our slaves soon, especially with President Lincoln backing the abolition of slavery. But how will we run our farm then? Bellevue is not a true plantation, but we are a very large farm."
Daniel stepped in. "This is nothing we can solve today. It's a difficult question."
"Yes, and I must admit that I don't have all the answers. Nobody does."
The three fell silent. Daniel ran to the shore and began skipping rocks on the water. Amanda and the captain fell behind.
"Miss Belle ..."
"Please call me Amanda."
"Yes, well, Amanda. I hope this discussion about slavery won't discourage you from ..."
"Discourage you from looking upon me with favor. I would like to ask permission to call on you."
Excerpted from His Steadfast Love by Golden Keyes Parsons Copyright © 2011 by Golden Keyes Parsons. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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