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Eagle's Bay, Maine
Mara Keller didn't need the hymnal in her hands to sing. She knew the words by heart. "'Crown Him with many crowns, The Lamb upon His throne.'"
Dietrich fidgeted beside her. She placed a hand on her son's head, smoothing down his dark silky hair.
"'Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee.'"
She couldn't help but glance at the gentleman who stood on the other side of her son. He had a deep, melodious voice, not what she'd expect in a farmer. He was a large man, and despite his broadcloth suit, he seemed more suited to corduroys and a flannel shirt. Her gaze strayed to the hand holding the hymnal within her view. As she thought, it was large and rough-looking, the back lightly sprinkled with rusty-red hair the same shade as the hair on his head.
He had a strong profile. His cheeks were cleanly shaven, which surprised her, since most of the men in this farming community sported bushy side whiskers or beards.
She gave an imperceptible shake of her head at her own inattention to the music, and turned back to face the front of the church. Her musician's ear cringed slightly as a wrong note was struck on the organ. The robed men and women sang lustily but their voices were untrained. It made the farmer's voice to her left all the more agreeable to her ears.
The final notes echoed in the small wooden church as the last verse of the hymn came to an end. The rustle of people putting away their hymnals and sitting down on the wooden pews filled the room for the next few moments. Mara gently closed her own hymnal and set it soundlessly in the back of the pew in front of her before sitting down. She glanced at Dietrich to make sure he was putting away his bookhe'd insisted on holding his own instead of sharing hers. He was forever forging ahead determined to do everything for himself.
"Good morning, everyone," the minister said, taking his place behind the pulpit. "It makes my heart glad to see all of you here today."
As he began the announcements, Mara settled back and smoothed down the merino wool of her old black dress. Once it had been the height of fashion but it had seen many winters. It would have to do, however, for the months remaining of her mourning periodfor both her father and her husband.
For the one she felt such sorrow, and for the other nothing but a numbing relief.
Her stepmother nudged her sharply on her other side. Mara raised an inquiring eyebrow to Carina, whose nostrils flared in displeasure. With a jut of her pointy chin she indicated Dietrich.
Mara quickly turned to see what her six-year-old was up to. His hands rested on his lap but his legs swung vigorously, causing a slight noise each time the toes of his boots banged against the pew in front of him.
Mara touched him lightly on his arm and he looked up at her, his brown eyes wide in inquiry. How much he resembled his father in moments like these. With a gesture of her hand she indicated his feet, and after a few seconds he stopped moving them. Blowing out a loud sigh, he shifted on the pew.
"Make sure you greet Eagle's Bay's newest resident, Mrs. Mara Keller."
Hearing her name from the pulpit, Mara looked forward with a start.
The minister glanced at her with a benign smile. "She has lately come to live with us from the faraway capitals of Europe."
The color rose in her cheeks as people turned to stare at her. It was her first Sunday at the church, and she dreaded what her stepmother would say after the service during their ride home. Most unseemly of you to be calling attention to yourself like that would be a good bet, accompanied by a sniff.
"As some of you may know," the minister continued, "Mrs. Keller is the daughter of the late Mr. Robert Black-stone, a gifted painter who made Eagle Bay his residence in the latter years of his life. Mrs. Keller is gifted in her own right as a musician.
"She has suffered the recent bereavement of her husband, an acclaimed pianist. We are so happy to have you with us, ma'am, though we regret your loss, which made your return to our hamlet possible."
She smiled wanly, shrinking from the curiosity she saw in people's eyes. If they only knew the reality of her existence in Europe. But she'd become so adept at keeping up a front that it had become second nature.
"Well, now that I've given you the particulars on our latest resident, you can save yourselves the trouble of reading about it in the Weekly Chronicle!''
As the congregation laughed, the parson turned to other announcements.
"Mama, was that you he was talking about?" Dietrich whispered loudly.
She bent close to his ear. "Yes. Now, hush, dear, so others can hear the minister."
He nodded and turned back to face the front. Mara sat back and caught the eyes of a girl craning her neck around the tall farmer on Dietrich's left. The girl's greenish-gray eyes stared at her, her pale pink lips slightly parted. She wore two long braids, a shade redder than the gentleman's. Clearly, the two must be related, perhaps father and daughter.
When Mara smiled tentatively at the girl, who appeared in her early teenage years, she snapped her mouth shut and disappeared once more behind the gentleman. Mara glanced toward his face to find him looking at her.
He, too, had light-colored eyes, though his were more gray-blue. Washed-out, she would call them. Yet he was looking at her kindly enough. He held her gaze a second longer before bowing his head slightly.
He had the ruddy complexion of someone who spent time out of doors. The color in his cheeks seemed to deepen just as he turned away. Mara wondered if he were shy. Possibly a farmer trying to be friendly but who wouldn't know what to say to her after the minister had built her up so much. Reverend Grayson meant well, she was sure, but from the little she remembered of this isolated part of the coast of Maine, she could well imagine that she would soon be friendless if everyone was intimidated by her reputation. How little they would realize how much in need she was of a friend and of a place to call home.
As the minister gave the Scripture reading of the morning, she opened her Bible on her lap and turned to it.
Minutes later, the fidgeting on her left increased. Mara tried to ignore it, but as it grew worse, she resorted to tapping Dietrich's arm from time to time. That only served to still his movements for a few seconds before they began again. She repressed a sigh. Dietrich had always been active. She remembered his hard kicks when she'd carried him in her womb. As a boy of six, he had trouble sitting through an entire church service.
She focused on the preacher's words. He was talking about facing the trials of life. Her own life seemed to have been nothing but trials since she'd become an adult. She let her mind wander to those carefree days of her youth, when she'd been beloved by her father, and she'd kept house for him until he'd married Carina.
As she pulled herself from these reflections of the past, Mara realized she hadn't felt any movement from Dietrich in several minutes. She turned her gaze sideward and stopped in amazement at the sight of her son's attention glued to the gentleman's hands.
They were folding a piece of paper into an intricate shape. She stared spellbound at the sight of such blunt fingers handling a delicate piece of paper so lightly and deftly. In moments, the clear figure of a bird emerged from the workings of his quick creases and pleats.
She blinked up and once again caught the man's gaze. This time he gave a brief smile before focusing on the paper in his hand. With a final adjustment, he handed the bird to Dietrich.
She studied the man's profile a few seconds longer, noting the straight nose and wide forehead beneath hair that was slicked back, evidence of his morning ablutions, yet which didn't succeed in taming its curl. Her glance strayed downward past the deeper reddish hair of his sideburns and along the firm jawline to the defined curve of his chin.
Once more, she caught a telltale shade along his cheekbones and she realized she was staring. Was he conscious of it? Quickly, she looked back down at her Bible.
Dietrich turned his paper bird around and around in his hands. Mara settled back against the pew and listened to the preacher's message.
When she next sensed restless movement at her side, she barely glanced over before she glimpsed the farmer's hand handing the boy a small sheet of paper from between the pages of his Bible. Dietrich immediately began to fold it. When he had succeeded in folding it thoroughly but making nothing that appeared like a bird, he looked up at the man, who took it and smoothed it out on his own Bible. Then he began with the first fold. He undid it and handed it back to Dietrich. As soon as Dietrich had copied it, the gentleman took it and proceeded with the next fold. Fold by fold, he guided Dietrich in producing his own paper creature.
When they were thoroughly engrossed in this endeavor, Mara let out a soft sigh and turned back to the sermon. Bless this man, whoever he was, for keeping Dietrich occupied. It was the first time she had been able to give her full attention to a sermon in a long time.
As soon as the minister dismissed the congregation, everyone stood and began to greet one another as they shuffled their way out of the cramped space between the pews. Gideon stood and eased the stiffness from his legs.
"May I have this, sir?"
He glanced down at the young boy looking up so earnestly at him. The first thing he noticed was the boy's accent. British? Not quite, he judged, although he'd heard an Englishman's accent only once.
"Of course you may, son." He resisted the urge to ruffle the boy's dark hair. The next instant, an elegant gloved hand was extended toward him. He raised startled eyes to the lady who had sat beside the boy during the service, and with whom he'd crossed glances a time or two.
He swallowed and quickly extended his own hand, feeling the heat rise in his face, unsure how to address such a fine lady as he remembered the words of praise Reverend Grayson had given her.
"Thank you, sir, for helping to keep my son quiet during the service."
She had a soft voice, very pleasing to the ear, and an American accent, unlike her son. His discomfort grew. Hadn't the preacher said she'd lived in Europe? "That's quite" He was forced to clear his throat when his voice came out like a frog's croak. "That's quite all right, ma'am."
She was a beautiful woman, with porcelain skin and dark hair combed neatly into a knot under her small bonnet. Her black outfit reminded him further of Reverend Grayson's words. A surge of compassion rose in his chest for the young widow with a boy to raise. He tried to remember what else the minister had said about her. Something about her being a musician or her husband one?
"Dietrich gets restless easily. It's very hard to keep him still during a church service."
Dietrich. The name sounded foreign. German? "That's natural," he said, wanting to reassure her. She seemed so out of place, like an exotic creature, in their small, rustic church. "I remember how it was when I was a tyke." He glanced down with a smile at the boy, who was pretending to fly the bird. "Young boys aren't supposed to be quiet and sit still, isn't that so?"
Dietrich stopped the paper bird in mid-flight and looked hesitantly from him to his mother as if not sure how to answer.
An awkward pause ensued. The lady gave a short, nervous-sounding laugh. "I apologize for the long introduction Reverend Grayson gave. It puts me at a disadvantage, I'm afraid."
He drew his eyebrows together, trying to fathom her meaning when she smiled a bit and said, "I'm sorry. I don't know whom I'm thanking."
"Ohyes, I beg your pardon." What a clodhopper she must think him, not even knowing how to introduce himself. "My name's Gideon Jakeman. I own a farm up the road a piece from Mrs. Blackstone." That's when he realized he was still holding her hand. His face flooded with color and he released her hand as if it were a live coal. "I'm sorry"
Her laughter sounded as sweet as a running brook in spring. "Not at all. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Jakeman."
At that moment, Mrs. Blackstone peered around Mrs. Keller. "What's keeping you, Mara? Really, we must be going. The roast will be dry as leather." As usual, Mrs. Blackstone sounded aggrieved. Gideon wondered what it must be like for the younger woman to dwell with the older widow who was known to be difficult.
"You know how crowded it gets at the entrance," she said with a sniff and a nod to Gideon before turning around and pushing her way forward.
"Yes. I shall be with you directly." By neither look nor tone did Mrs. Keller betray any displeasure. When she turned her large eyesblue, he noted, fringed in black lashesto him she smiled once more. "It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Jakeman." Her gaze strayed to his side and she waited as if expectantly. It took Gideon a few seconds to realize his daughter stood there. "Oh." He swallowed, realizing again how socially inept he was. He'd forgotten all about Lizzie. "This is my daughter, LizzieElizabeth," he amended. "But everyone calls her Lizzie. Elizabeth was her mother's name, but we called her Elsie" He stopped, realizing how confusing his introduction had become.
But Mrs. Keller didn't seem to notice. She was already extending her hand to his fourteen-year-old daughter with a warm smile. "How do you do, Lizzie?"