Mary Catlett simply cannot believe her childhood friend sailed away on a British warship and vanished in Africa. In desperation, she takes a step that will change her life and call her lost love home. But will he arrive in time?
Newton’s odyssey takes him from the West Africa gold coast to the banks of Newfoundland to the heart of the Atlantic before he finds what he’s spent his entire life longing for: deliverance.
In an account that challenges popular myth, Schaub continues the Music of the Heart series with one of the greatest redemption stories of all time the story of Amazing Grace.
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The Longing Season (MUSIC OF THE HEART)
By Christine Schaub
Bethany House Publishers
Chapter OnePlantain Island, Sierra Leone January 1746 Twenty-six years earlier ...
Newton lay where he'd collapsed, his trembling hands clutching the rope, his cheek against the smooth wood.
In his mind's eye he saw them there-the Marines with their muskets, the officers in full-dress uniform with their swords. Through the roaring in his ears, he heard the six bells signaling the forenoon watch and the call for all hands to witness punishment.
The master-at-arms brought the charge of desertion against him, and Newton nearly choked on his rage. Desertion! He had no more deserted than enlisted! He'd simply left to find his father. If any man could gain his release from Navy conscription, it was John Newton Sr. Everyone was a little afraid of his father-a pompous and severe man with all the right connections and a distaste for injustice. The man always managed to get his way ... the son had been counting on that.
"Strip!" the captain commanded, and Newton never felt the quartermaster's hands on his back, never heard the fabric rip, so black was his rage and bitter his despair. Then all was suddenly, eerily silent, and he heard the unmistakable whisk of the cat slipping out of its red baize bag.
How many times had he stood with the other midshipmen at forenoon, watching the cat o' nine unfurl onto the deck, horrified and fascinated at once? How manytimes had he winced as the iron-studded tails flew through the air, connected with skin, and raked down a sailor's back? And how many times had he convinced himself that he could always talk his way out of this kind of punishment?
Too, too many times.
But this time he'd realized much too late that no amount of persuasion would stay the captain's hand. A war was on. Newton had taken his leave without permission and been caught on the road to Dartmouth. Now the captain was determined to make an example of him.
"Do your duty," the captain told the boatswain's mate. And Newton determined right then he would throw himself into the sea. He would suffer this final humiliation, but when they unbound him, he would put an end to his sorry life. And he would take one or two of these meddlesome sailors with him.
He looked up, defiant and eager to choose his victim, but found nothing there in the twilight-no sailors, no Marines, no ship. He lay on the sand, his hot face pressed against the cool planks of a small overturned boat, gripping the mooring rope, shaking from the fever. The scene that played over and over in his delirium was real. Close to a year had passed, but he had been flogged on board a man-of-war-he bore twelve cat's marks to prove it. He had stood and lurched toward the rail, but a bucket of salt water thrown across his lacerated back had sent him to his knees.
It was a memory too awful in its actuality to be a dream.
"Mr. Newton?" The slave they called Tome stepped into view and squatted beside him in the sand. "The princess say you are to come to her."
Newton would have snorted at that-the title the master's mistress used and the idea that he could actually walk across the island-if he had been capable of making any sound at all. As it was, he simply shook his head no.
"But you must come." Tome pried Newton's hand from the rope and slung it over his far shoulder. "She say she will have me whipped if I am back without you."
Newton felt himself hauled to his feet, the sudden change in position reinvigorating the blinding headache and muscle spasms he could manage only by lying perfectly still. Tome stood with him as his head lolled forward and he groaned in agony. Then a cup was pressed to his lips, and he smelled the wonderful fragrance of fresh water. He opened his mouth and savored the mouthful as he would the first glass of Christmas punch. He swallowed and took another mouthful, then another, and another. Then he opened his eyes and looked into the gentle face of Tome's island "wife"-a young, sturdy woman and holder of the cup. He opened his mouth for more, but she shook her head, tied the empty cup at her waist, and threw his other arm across her shoulders.
So this was how it would be. They would help or drag or carry him to their mistress. But he would go.
They started up the sloping beach, Newton trying to move his aching legs as they pulled him inland, around the dense coconut palms, and over the marshy ground. They did not rush, but neither did they tarry as they ushered him along, occasionally speaking to each other in their strange Krio language-a language Newton had just begun to learn when the fever had struck. They stopped for a moment, and the cup was again pressed to his lips. He drank and whispered, "Tenki ya." Thank you. He waited, hoping they would see he was just one of them-a slave to a cruel mistress on this miserable island ... a supplicant for a drink of water. The cup touched his lips again.
Then on they trudged, each step familiar to him from his earliest days here after he'd been discharged to the merchant ship Levant-days when he'd worked as a free man alongside a powerful English trader ... days, then months, filled with home building and rice planting, goods trading and slave selling. It was the Englishman's African mistress-the self-proclaimed "princess"-who'd eventually spoiled everything. Because Newton did not honor her status, he surmised, because he was a white man and confidant of her "husband," she'd developed a prejudice against him. She'd soon found her opportunity to exert her power when he'd become sick and missed the trader's trip up the Rio Nunez. She'd made him a slave.
And now the tyrant commanded him to her side.
Soon they were in sight of the village guards, the little bit of water and exercise doing much for Newton's condition so that when they gained admittance and crossed the threshold of the "princess'" mud house, he was able to stand without assistance.
There she sat-the great Pey Ey-trying to look imperious in near-royal dining splendor. Her dark fleshy skin gleamed under the candlelight as she lorded over the lavish table, shoveling large spoonfuls of rich food into her painted mouth, barely chewing before washing it all down with a deep red wine.
He hated rich food-hated the way fresh vegetables slumped in heavy cream sauces and joints of beef sat smothered in fatty stock. That kind of fare simply encouraged greed. Give him a slice of buttered toast dotted with oysters wrapped in a rasher of bacon and grilled to crisp perfection. Give him the skewer, and he would pierce her gluttonous heart.
A servant leaned close to the "princess," refilling her crystal wineglass, whispering in her ear. She squinted over at her intruder, perching delicate gold spectacles on her wide nose-spectacles everyone knew she did not need but considered essential to appearing "learned."
"Meester Newton," she said in her haughty island accent. "Why do you inseest on playing the poor, seeckly beggar, hmm?"
He knew from past experience that he was not expected-indeed, should make no attempt-to answer, that it gave her great pleasure to mock him in the presence of her servants ... that any rebuttal on his part would only earn him ill treatment. She sighed dramatically and beckoned to him, the fat of her upper arms wobbling and straining against the rows of shiny armlets that only enhanced her girth.
He did not think he had the strength to cross the room unaided, but he put one foot in front of the other, covering the short distance in a shuffle step, breathing heavily from the effort. When one of the many empty chairs was within reach, he made a grab for the high back, focusing on a strange spot on his tormentor's costume-an odd-shaped circle of gray out of sync with the intricate pattern of yellows and reds on her sari. He frowned.
She pounced on his expression. "You are very deesappointed you no longer share my table, Meester Newton?"
She is stupid, as well as fat, he thought. He missed sharing nothing with this bully.
She flicked her wrist over the exquisite silver and china. He followed the motion, taking in the enormous spread of food laid out in true European fashion, nearly swooning from the aromas that triggered his empty stomach to contract in sudden desperate need.
"You mees the lavish meals and conversation weeth my brother, no? You mees sparring weeth the Bombo keeng, yes?" She gestured to the chair he gripped. "Come. Seet. Speak to me." He did not move, so she picked up her half-empty plate and offered it to him. "I am feenished, so you may have eet."
The fever may have muddled his mind, but it did not escape him that she was offering him her scraps, as she would offer them to a dog. Part of him was outraged-he was no dog. Part of him was humbled, as a beggar wanting alms. And he watched as, astonishingly, his eager hand reached out of its own volition, it seemed, and grasped the china plate. But no sooner did she release it than the weight of the platter proved too much. He watched in detached dismay as it slipped from his hand, flipped, and bounced on the floor, sending every morsel of food into the rushes covering the packed dirt.
He dropped to his knees as Pey Ey cackled with glee. Tears sprang to his eyes as he tried to gather up the soggy mess. But it was in vain. Gone. The first meal offered him in days was gone.
He looked up, blinking back the tears, and caught a distorted glimpse of himself in an ornate mirror leaning against the far wall. He stared back in horror. Who was this emaciated, filthy man with the ragged hair and blistered skin? In the candlelight he scarcely recognized his face-weirdly pinched and sickly yellow under a rat's nest of beard. His cheekbones strained against his skin, and each dull eye was circled with a bluish tinge. Where was the hearty Englishman of twenty who walked with a sailor's swagger and ridiculed without remorse? What had this mad, mad career done to him? He wagged his head side to side. And why was the son of a wealthy shipowner kneeling at the feet of a cruel and contemptuous African whore?
Get up! What remained of his ego screamed at him. Get up!
"Get up." Her foot came from under the table and caught him in the ribs. He gasped with the effort it took to resist the blow and remain on his hands and knees. When he did not comply with her command, strong hands grasped his upper arms and hauled him to his feet.
Pey Ey shouted something in Krio, and he was dragged out of the house and back through the trees to the slave quarters. Once through the cabin door, his captors became more gentle. They carefully lowered him onto his mat, and a kind hand placed his head on the log that now served as his pillow.
He closed his eyes. At least she had not ordered her servants to mimic him this time. At least they had not pelted him with limes as he'd staggered away. After the flogging on the Harwich, he thought he'd suffered cruelly at the hands of his shipmates-demoted, shunned, miserable in both flesh and spirit. But he had not been tormented. He had not been denied basic physical survival.
He closed his eyes, hoping to sleep but not dream, and saw Plymouth as he'd left it-the trees in spring leaf, the dockyard bustling with trade and shipbuilding, Mount Edgcumbe rising behind the city like a sentry. He'd stood on the deck of the Harwich that day and kept his eyes on the shoreline as they'd passed out of the sound and into the bay, then the Channel.
And before the shore had even faded from view, he'd been gripped with such a longing that he'd felt he would never breathe deeply again. For whilst his heart had certainly ached for the loss of hearth and home, it had been a sharper, more profound thing that had unexpectedly seized him. There was a time, long, long ago-before they'd taken his diseased mother out of the city, before she'd died that horrible death ... a time when the days were filled with love and poetry and contemplation. The last time he had ... belonged somewhere, to someone.
He thought he'd happened upon it again in a moment both fleeting and full of promise, in the home of his mother's last season ... in the home of Mary Catlett. Mary ... dear, sweet Mary of the ginger hair and blue, blue eyes, first a playful freckled girl, now a sparkling young woman. She'd made him think of a line from Virgil: "When I saw her, I was undone." She was the only element of innocence left in his depraved life, and he clung to the spirit of her memory, as he'd clung to his mother's skirt when she'd left him so many years ago.
Chatham ... Wapping ... Plymouth-all distant points of distant memories.
And here he now sprawled, neither sailor nor scholar, neither lover nor beloved, neither departing nor returning ... just a slave on an African island, burning with fever, desperate for a cup of water.
He would recover, he promised himself. He would steal food, if he must, and regain muscle, and then he would invoke lex talionis-retaliation. And when he escaped, he would make certain that no one on this godforsaken island would ever forget the name John Newton.
Chapter Twohatham, Kent January 1746
She hated good-byes.
They were rarely done well-the bidder proffering formal words of safety and good health and repressing emotions of either relief or sorrow at the parting; the leave-taker, his foot already in the stirrup, thinking less of what he was leaving and more of whence he came. Even with the best-laid plans, the parting seemed so abrupt and hurried, and within moments of the final wave and settling dust the regrets settled in.
Mary was listing her regrets as she watched the morning London-bound stage pull up to the coach office on High Street. Any moment now her brother would get on that stage. And she had not broached the topic with him-the topic only he knew still lay so heavily on her heart.
Last night, whilst Jack had regaled his friends with yet another tawdry tale of life as a junior monitor at boarding school, she had slipped out, unnoticed, searing into memory the sight and sound of her brother laughing with the Best boys. Almost the entire Christmas holiday had been filled with laughing-squeals from young George as Jack had carried him under his arm, room to room, as if George were a riding crop and not a wriggling three-year-old. She'd heard snickers from her father's den and chortles from her mother's kitchen. Only Elizabeth, feeling superior in her fifteen years to Jack's paltry fourteen, resisted the merriment.
Regret seemed misplaced in such a memory.
But here Mary sat, curled up in a heavy quilt on the window seat of her third-floor bedroom shortly before dawn, regretting. She gazed out at the dark winter sky, the oil lamps dotting the snow-covered street with pools of yellow light, illuminating the figures of night watchmen on patrol and travelers rushing toward the six-o'clock stage. From here, she would wordlessly ache and wish her brother a silent adieu.
She'd made a lot of wishes from this perch. The conversion of attic to living space had caused no amount of astonishment when she'd suggested it to her parents two years ago. Yes, she'd agreed, it was stuffy in the summer and frigid in the winter. But she simply loved the views from the dormer window. In the spring she pushed it open to let in the tangy ocean breezes. She could watch the far-off ships make their way into the harbor, the sails and flags flapping, the men gesturing and shouting to each other on the decks. In late fall she often watched the first snowflakes drift lazily by, saw the passersby glance up at the sky, heard them exclaim to each other, then hurry on. So much of life, so many smells and sounds, rode the wind to her little space.
Through this window she often imagined herself out on that sidewalk with her luggage, about to board the London stage ... or on the arm of a certain naval officer, en route to a nearby party. In the world beyond the window she was more than the eldest daughter of a customs officer-she was a boy with worldly options in profession and adventure, she was the lady of the house, she belonged to someone. Outside the window she was not a lonely young woman of seventeen.
The town clock struck quarter of six, interrupting her reverie. Jack had not appeared in front of the coach office. What was her brother up to?
"I miss you every day."
Mary looked over her shoulder at Jack, leaning against the doorframe as if he had all the time in the world, smiling and so handsome in his dark traveling boots and cloak. She smirked back at him.
"You do not."
"But I do!" And his eyes twinkled with mischief. "I miss besting you at cards, and besting you at whistling, and besting you on that lame mare you spoil. The Bedford boys are much, much more of a challenge."
She tossed him what she hoped was a truly priggish look.
He smiled all the way to his eyes, then his mouth softened, and he cocked his head slightly. "Why will you not say good-bye to me, Mary?"
She turned back to the window. "'Parting is such sweet sorrow ...'"
Excerpted from The Longing Season (MUSIC OF THE HEART) by Christine Schaub Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bottom line...I enjoyed this book. However, after getting to know Mary Catlett so well and then not seeing their relationship develop (because the book was essentially over by then) was a bit of a bummer. I understand the focus of the book was on 'longing,' but come on, us romance lovers want to see what happens when they finally get the person they've been longing for! On the other hand, I was impressed with how well the author showed John Newton's life while he was still living as an infidel. Sometimes the content was PG rated (but I liked that point because it gave me--the reader--a better sense of the character's view of the world) so I wouldn't want a bit of that content changed. John Newton was truly wretched and I think the author was very effective in communicating that point. The scene where he was in the midst of that horrible storm and he started to remember what people told him about God...and how he thought he was going to die, was very effective. But then he FINALLY sees Mary after all that time, and that's it! I wanted to scream 'wahhhh' over that point. I really liked Mary and actually hoped she'd end up with the Viscount Alexander Todd because he was such a fabulous man who loved the Lord. It made me sad when the Viscount finally realized she would never love him until her affections toward the missing sailor John Newton resolved. I wonder if Mary would've married the Viscount if she'd known what John had been doing in the Ivory Coast prior to returning to England. I wish the story would have either left out Mary altogether, or showed at least one chapter of their reunion after he returned to England. That would've made it a five star story, but since that didn't happen, I'm ranking it lower. It was an excellent read otherwise.
Amazing Grace is one of my favorite all time hymns. Almost everyone knows this tune whether you are a Christian or not. My favorite version is when it is played by bagpipes. I think I had once heard an Adventures in Odyssey episode that described the story of John Newton (as they did with Horatio Spafford's song). So when I started reading this book about how the inspiration for this song was written I was intrigued. The book was chock full of historical information which I love. The characters are multi dimensional and Mary is a strong character, helping out with the doctor which was uncommon during that time period. Newton's story is harsh as with anything about slavery usually is. I especially found the scene where he I find it interesting that the couple's relationship prior to Newton's leaving was brief and chaste, yet there is a very deep relationship between the two. I really liked the flashback scenes that showed how they first met. The only thing I didn't like was that, even though I knew it was going to happen, was that just when Mary was finally ready to move on, John comes back. I was a bit miffed because Alex was so good to her and was there when she needed someone, while instead she pines away for someone she hasn't seen in years. And then the long lost guy ends up winning, while nice guy is left all alone. Other than that I really enjoyed reading this book. I was surprised to learn that Newton didn't write the last line the song. Ironically I usually only remember the first and last verses when I sing this song. This book is a great prologue to the movie Amazing Grace (starring Ioan Gruffudd and Albert Finney as John Newton) that is coming out in a few weeks. In fact when I first heard about the movie, I immediately thought about this book. While the movie focuses more on William Wilberforce's character, this book is a prequel to get you into the mood for the movie. I definitely enjoyed reading this book and am looking forward to going back to read her first novel, Finding Anna which focuses on another of my favorite hymns.
In 1746, Mary Catlett worries about her beloved John Newton, son of a merchant ship captain, who abruptly stopped writing her. She checks the papers for any news about the HMS Harwich, the ship he sails on, as part of the naval war with Spain, but finds nothing, which she knows no news is good news and thanks God for that much. John has left the Navy on a personal quest though his superior officers claim he deserted. He has traveled to Sierra Leone where he was held prisoner while recovering from injuries and across the ocean to Newfoundland with the classics as his guide and a belief that God treats him like a poor Job. On the other hand tossing a Hail Mary she gratefully prays to the Lord that he welcome John in his tent even as she must follow the fate her family has in mind for her unless a miracle occurs. --- The latest Music of the Heart saga (see FINDING ANNA, the novelization behind 'It Is Well With My Soul') is a terrific telling of Amazing Grace, a great redemption tale as John learns what matters in life is not vengeance but instead faith in the Lord¿s plan and the love of family. The fabulous story line will please fans of Christian inspirationals as much as second chance historical romance readers. Christine Schaub provides fans with another delightful biographical hymn writer novelization this time of the author of Amazing Grace. --- Harriet Klausner