With their eldest son nearly to the age when he will be drafted into military service, Reinhardt and Lillian Vogt decide to immigrate to America, the land of liberty, with their three sons and Reinhardt's adopted brother, Eli. But when tragedy strikes during the voyage, Lillian and Eli are forced into an agreement neither desires. Determined to fulfill his obligation to Reinhardt, Eli plans to see Lillian and her sons safely settled on their Kansas homesteadand he's equally determined that the boys will be reared in the Mennonite faith. What he doesn't expect is his growing affection for Lillianand the deep desire to be part of a family.
About the Author
Kim Vogel Sawyer is the author of twelve novels, including several bestsellers. In her spare time, she enjoys drama, quilting, and calligraphy. She and her husband, Don, reside in central Kansas and have three daughters and six grandchildren.
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Fields of Grace
By Kim Vogel Sawyer
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2009 Kim Vogel Sawyer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMennonite village of Gnadenfeld in Molotschna Colony, Russia
Late May, 1872
Lillian Vogt wept against her husband's chest, using his striped nightshirt to muffle the sounds of her heartache. The boys, sleeping in the loft directly overhead, must not be disturbed. Lillian had held back any sign of regret or worry during Reinhardt's announcement of their plans at the dinner table. Somehow she'd found the strength to smile and assure their sons they were facing a grand adventure. But now, in the quiet of her bedroom, snug with Reinhardt in their familiar feather bed, the fear exploded into tears.
"Shh, Lillian." Reinhardt rubbed his palm up and down her spine. "You and I had already made the decision to go to America. So why this crying?"
With a gulp, Lillian pulled back to peer into Reinhardt's face. The flickering candlelight made him appear harsh and forbidding. She lowered her gaze and toyed with the edge of the white cotton sheet. "But on our own ... leaving behind our things ..." Fresh tears welled and spilled over. "I need time to prepare myself for this journey. Can we not wait for the explorers to come back with
a report of the land? It frightens me to think of going ahead ... without knowing what awaits us."
Reinhardtsighed, his breath stirring her loose curls. He tugged her beneath his chin and rested his cheek against her flaxen hair. "You know we cannot wait. It may be another year before the explorers return. Henrik will be eighteen in only three more months."
His ominous tone stilled Lillian's protests. Yet anger rolled through her, filling her chest so thoroughly her lungs resisted drawing a breath. Her family could remain right here in their little village were it not for broken promises. So often her people had suffered the consequences of broken promises. Had they not come to the steppes of Russia and tamed the land, building their farms and villages secure in the promise of practicing their Mennonite beliefs free of government involvement? Now leaders had decided not to honor their promises, and once more her people were forced to make agonizing choices.
But, truthfully, there was no choice. The mere idea of dear, scholarly Henrik with a gun in his hands sent shivers down Lillian's spine; the reality would be unconscionable. Of course they must go. But oh! How hard it would be to leave her home and all she cherished. Her own grandfather had helped found the prosperous village of Gnadenfeld. She had been born in this village, as had her three fine sons.
In her mind's eye, she pictured Henrik's first shaky steps, taken in the grassy yard beneath the flowering kruschkje tree. She crunched her brow. "Do pear trees grow in America?"
A gentle chuckle vibrated Reinhardt's chest. "I do not know, mienje Leefste."
Reinhardt was a good man who loved her, but he rarely called her his dearest. His doing so now warmed her, but it also prompted concern. For him to use such tender words, she knew his emotions must also run deep at the prospect of leaving their home.
"Just as Eli plans to take his wheat seed, we will take seeds with us and grow kruschkje if we cannot find them. Will you then feel more at home?"
Lillian feared it would take more than a pear tree in the yard for her to feel at home in America, but she decided not to burden Reinhardt with the thought. She twisted slightly to look into her husband's face. "Eli has agreed to come?"
"He did not even hesitate when I suggested it."
Although Lillian knew of Eli's devotion to Reinhardt after having been taken in by Reinhardt's family when he was orphaned as a small boy, the thought that he would abandon his thriving farm to travel to America puzzled her. "But he has no son to protect from military service."
"Nä, but he loves Henrik like a nephew. And he has farming skills that will help us survive until the others come and we can establish a village." A mirthless chuckle once more rumbled. "My skill at cobbling, no matter how masterful, will not put food on our table in the new land. Having Eli come, too, is en Säajen."
"A blessing ... yes ..." A bigger blessing would be if Eli were married. Then she would have a woman with whom to travel.
Reinhardt planted a kiss on the top of Lillian's head. "Go to sleep now, mienje Leefste. You will need rest to face the work of tomorrow. We must leave for Hamburg in only two more days."
Lillian rolled to her side and nestled into her pillow. But the images behind her closed lids of her beloved Gnadenfeld kept her awake far into the night.
* * *
Henrik stomped his feet against the hard-packed road with such force he wondered if the hand-sewn seams holding the soles to the kidskin vamp of his boot would burst. Every day for the past three months he had met Susie Friesen behind her father's butcher shop at the end of the school day. Despite his pleasure in studying, meeting Susie was usually the day's highlight. But not today.
Sidestepping a parked wagon, Henrik slipped between two mud-brick houses to proceed free of the watchful eyes of those on the dirt street. Everyone in the village seemed to stare and whisper, surely aware of his family's plans to leave Gnadenfeld ahead of the others. Even though his father had only informed them at their dinner table last night, news spread quickly. Had Susie already heard the whispers? Would she accept the news better than he had?
He reached the back door of the butcher shop with its attached living quarters and waited, as had become his routine, for Susie to appear. When Susie slipped out the planked back door a few minutes later, Henrik knew by the expression on her face that the rumors had found her ears.
In all their times of talking, not once had Henrik touched Susie-not to hold her hand or slide his fingers along the line of her jaw the way he itched to do. As a proper Mennonite girl, she had kept three feet of distance between them, and as a proper Mennonite boy he had not made untoward advances. But today it seemed natural for her to dash across the short expanse of grass and throw herself into his arms.
His pulse pounded like a blacksmith's hammer as he curled his arms around her and held tight. He asked, unnecessarily, "Weete dü?"
Her face against his chest, she nodded. He felt her shoulders heave in one silent sob. Yes, she knew. And she was no more pleased than he with the plans.
Henrik tipped his head slightly, grazing her warm hair with his cheek. The sparse whiskers that had only recently begun peppering his cheeks by midafternoon caught in her silky hair, pulling loose a few yellow strands. But Susie made no effort to remove herself from his embrace.
Henrik swallowed. How could Father expect him to leave? All he knew-and loved-could be found in Gnadenfeld. "I do not wish to go." He forced the words past the lump of agony that filled his throat.
Susie pulled back, nearly toppling him with the unexpected movement. Her blue eyes wide, she stared into his face. "But you must go! You cannot remain here and be forced into military service. My heart would break if you were hurt or ... killed."
The fear on Susie's face mirrored what Henrik had seen in his mother's eyes. Resentment choked him. Did no one have confidence in his ability to fend for himself? Slinking away seemed the coward's response. Henrik squared his shoulders, drawing in a deep breath. "I would not be killed. I can take care of myself."
Susie's fine brows dipped down. "You ... you would go? To war?"
Henrik turned his head to look across the neatly sown fields surrounding the village. The tenacious spirit that had allowed the Mennonites to carve the harsh steppes of Russia into flourishing farms resided within Henrik, too. Truthfully, he had no desire to use that tenacity in marching in military parade or aiming a weapon at a man who pointed one back at him, but pride-a pride his father had repeatedly tried to extinguish-kept him silent.
Susie's soft sigh brought his attention back to her. She twisted a few strands of her long hair around her finger and gazed at him with a mournful expression. "Even if you ... you chose to fight,
I ... I would still love you, Henrik." Before he could respond, she
spun and dashed into the mud-brick building. Henrik stood for long moments, staring after her. Although
he had suspected Susie carried deep feelings for him, he had not expected her to make a profession of love. They were young, after all-only seventeen. But in these times, with so much upheaval, maybe age didn't matter.
He took a slow backward step, his thoughts racing. If he were married, then he would be considered a man. Capable of making his own decisions. And he could choose to go, or stay. A band wrapped around his chest, constricting his breathing. Father might see his desire to wed as rebellion, and rebellion was instantly squashed. For a moment Henrik considered the certain argument that would ensue. Then he remembered Susie's sweet face, her sorrow-filled eyes, and her whispered proclamation that she loved him.
He would not leave her. He would not.
* * *
"You will go."
Lillian placed her hand over her husband's wrist, a silent request to temper his harsh tone.
Reinhardt shook her hand loose. "And I will listen to no more arguments."
Henrik set his jaw, and Lillian's heart ached as she met her oldest son's stony gaze. She understood his reluctance to leave his home. In her opinion, allowing him to voice his thoughts could do no harm, but she knew Reinhardt would never permit anything that hinted at defiance. So she offered her son a sympathetic look and said softly, "It is difficult, Henrik, I know, but things will work out. You will see."
Six-year-old Jakob sat up like an attentive little gopher. "We get to go on a big ship, Henrik! With sails that puff out like this." He filled his cheeks with air and held the breath.
Reinhardt tapped the top of Jakob's head. "Jo, jo, we know you are excited, but eat your supper before it gets cold."
Jakob blew out his breath in a noisy whoosh, flashed Henrik a grin, then spooned a bite of potatoes into his mouth.
Lillian smiled indulgently at Jakob. The child's sunny personality always brought a lift to her heart. Nothing-not even leaving their home and all they knew-could dampen Jakob's exuberance. She glanced at her middle son, Joseph. He sat silently, eating his meal with his head low. Did he see their move as an adventure, like Jakob, or did he resent being uprooted, like Henrik? She supposed she would never know. Joseph rarely shared his thoughts. Of her three sons, she knew Joseph the least, and as always a touch of sadness accompanied the realization.
When all had cleaned their plates, Lillian announced in a cheerful voice, "I have a surprise. I made pluma moos for dessert. Who would like some?"
Although the thick prune-based soup was a rare treat, only Jakob waved his hand in the air. "I want some, Mama! Me, please!"
Joseph pushed away from the table, the chair legs screeching against the planked floor. "I need to pack my clothes. Excuse me, please." He ambled to the staircase in the corner, his hands in the pockets of his trousers.
Henrik, too, rose. "I am going to take a walk."
Lillian flicked a worried glance toward Reinhardt. Would he demand that Henrik stay? Always Reinhardt insisted the boys ask permission rather than state their intentions. But this time Reinhardt merely nodded. Henrik strode out the front door.
Relieved that they had avoided a conflict, Lillian looked at Reinhardt. "No pluma moos for you? The cream will not keep-it needs to be eaten."
Reinhardt opened his mouth to answer, but a knock at the door interrupted. Lillian crossed to open it. Eli Bornholdt stood on the stoop with his hat in his hands. She offered him a warm smile. "Wellkom, Eli. Reinhardt and Jakob were just about to have some pluma moos. You have some, too."
There was no other man in the village whom Lillian would invite so casually to her table, but Eli was like family. His broad grin thanked her for the invitation, and he moved quickly to the table and seated himself. Lillian dished up bowls of the cool, fruit-laden soup and handed them around. Then, wiping her hands on her apron, she said, "You enjoy your treat. I am going to ..." She backed toward the door, waving her hand.
Eli and Reinhardt leaned forward and began talking about the trip, and she slipped out. Although Henrik had indicated he planned to go for a walk, she spotted him sitting on a bench at the edge of their little yard in the dappled shade of their kruschkje tree, which was now just beginning to throw off its blossoms and show the promise of fruit. Who would harvest their pears this year?
Turning her attention to her son, she linked her hands behind her and walked toward him with deliberately slow steps. If he desired to be alone, her unhurried approach would give him the chance to rise and flee. But he remained in his elbows-on-knees pose.
When she reached the bench, she pointed to the empty spot beside him with her brows raised high. He gave a slight nod, and she sat, resting her hands in her lap.
She sent him a sidelong look. "It will not be so bad, Henrik." How she wished she could smooth the creases from his youthful brow. But he was no longer a little boy to be placated. "And who knows? When the explorers return, maybe the Friesen family will also choose to make the journey to America, like so many other villagers."
Henrik jerked his head to face her. "How did you know I was speaking of Susie when I mentioned staying here to get married?"
A smile tugged at Lillian's lips. Ah, children-did they not realize a mother read much in her child's eyes? "I suspected. She is a fine girl, and I understand your fondness for her."
Henrik shifted to stare straight ahead. The evening sun, sliding toward the horizon, cast his face in a rosy glow. "The Friesen family has no sons. They have no reason to leave."
Lillian knew many of the families with sons coming of age planned to leave to escape the military service requirement. But other families were concerned about the Russian government's reforms that took away the control the Mennonites had always held over their own villages. Were the Friesens included in that number? She couldn't remember. "They might still come."
Henrik pinched his lips into a scowl. "Two years from now ..."
"Two years is not so long."
"But school! I want to finish school. I want to be a teacher, not a farmer. Father says we will all have to farm to survive."
Lillian experienced true remorse at the thought of Henrik working in fields rather than studying books. He had always been a thinker, and it seemed a shame to waste the gift of a good mind.
"And what if our villagers settle somewhere other than where Father takes us? How do we know we will find the same location that the explorers pick for the community?"
No assurances came to Lillian. She would not make promises that might not be kept. With a sigh, she admonished gently, "There is no sense in borrowing trouble, Henrik."
Henrik stood and fixed her with a look of betrayal. "You always take Father's side. I know you want to stay, too, but you will go because Father wants to go."
Lillian jumped to her feet and caught Henrik's hands. "I go because I want you safe."
"Safe." Henrik snorted. "Why does everyone think I am such a kjint that I cannot even serve in a military hospital without being harmed?"
She squeezed his hands. "No one thinks you are a child, Henrik. And I know the government officials say our young men can help in medical care rather than bear arms, but just being in the barracks with the Russian soldiers ... harm could come to you." Lillian's worries went beyond physical harm. What kind of influences might her son's young, impressionable mind encounter when away from home and the bounds of faith?
For long moments Henrik stood with his mouth clamped tight, staring across the shadowed yard. Finally he met her eyes. "But do you wish we could stay?"
"Jo." She swallowed the lump of longing that threatened to strangle her. "I wish we could stay. I love Gnadenfeld and our house, but wishing does not change the facts. If we stay, you-and eventually Joseph and Jakob-will be forced to serve in the army. Our God instructs us not to kill. We cannot support an organization whose purpose is to take lives. As hard as we find it, we must start over in a place where we can live freely, not bound by the rules of a government that has no respect for our beliefs."
Excerpted from Fields of Grace by Kim Vogel Sawyer Copyright © 2009 by Kim Vogel Sawyer. Excerpted by permission.
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