In Sandra Dallas' novel A Quilt for Christmas, it is 1864 and Eliza Spooner's husband Will has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates, leaving her with their two children and in charge of their home and land. Eliza is confident that he will return home, and she helps pass the months making a special quilt to keep Will warm during his winter in the army. When the unthinkable happens, she takes in a woman and child who have been left alone and made vulnerable by the war, and she finds solace and camaraderie amongst the women of her quilting group. And when she is asked to help hide an escaped slave, she must decide for herself what is right, and who can she can count on to help her.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.40(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
SANDRA DALLAS is the author of thirteen novels, including Fallen Women, True Sisters, The Bride's House, Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale, Tallgrass and New Mercies. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
Christmas Eve, 1864
The postmaster handed Eliza the letter the day before Christmas. It had sat in the box for a week, waiting for her, he said. “I’d have sent it along, but nobody was going out your way. I figured you’d be in for the oranges. I set two aside for you, the best two.” The man operated the post office out of his general store.
The oranges were the reason Eliza had hitched old Sabra to the wagon and driven into town. She had a sack of corn in the back to trade, a steep price for two oranges, but it couldn’t be helped. There were no coins to be spent. Will had promised to send her his thirteen dollars a month pay, but so far, she’d received nothing.
“It’s from Will, is it not?” the postmaster asked, fingering the letter as if it were his own.
“It is.” Eliza snatched the missive, as if she feared the man would open and read it himself. Perhaps he had already, for the letter was not sealed with wax but merely folded into itself, forming its own envelope.
But the postmaster didn’t comment on the contents. “A nice Christmas present for you, then. I’ll fetch them oranges.”
Eliza nodded. The oranges were likely not the best ones at all but the culls, dull orange in color, shriveled, the juice half gone. But they were oranges, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. She had told the children there might not be oranges this year, what with the war. After all, oranges came from somewhere in the South, so maybe the storekeeper wouldn’t be able to get them. Davy and Luzena had said they understood, but she knew they would be disappointed. They had always had oranges at Christmas. When they were younger, Davy and Luzena would consume the fruit all at once, letting the juice run down their fingers, but now that they were older, they carefully savored each section so that the orange lasted the entire Christmas day. And they saved the peels for their mother to dry, then chop up for her cooking. Once Davy had cut his orange in half and scraped out the pulp with his teeth. Then he had fastened each half of the cleaned orange to the bottom of a bottle, where it dried hard into a cup. He’d hidden the cups a whole year, until the following Christmas, giving one to Luzena, the other to Eliza, who used it for her pins.
This year they would have the Christmas oranges after all, along with the divinity candy that Eliza had set aside when she made the batch for Will, had secreted it in a tin for a surprise. She would stew the rooster she had killed that morning and add potatoes and onions, mix in a few herbs she had collected and dried in the summer. And then she would surprise the children with the presents—a knife for Davy that Will had found on the road just before he left. Eliza had rubbed the rust from the knife, then polished it until it looked almost new. And there was a wooden doll for Luzena, although she was nearly too old for such a plaything. Will had carved the doll before he left for a soldier, and had given it to Eliza to hide. She’d made an indigo dress for the doll and wrapped it in a tiny quilt made from scraps left over from the Stars and Stripes quilt. Now, best of all, there would be Will’s letter to read. She wouldn’t open the letter until Christmas morning. They would read it before church.
As she left the store, the letter and the oranges safe in her basket, Eliza scanned the sky, thinking the three of them might not make it to church at all. The snow had threatened even before she set out for town, and she had worried that it might come quickly and make the driving difficult. But a snowstorm would not have kept her from the Christmas oranges.
The snow was coming fast, in flakes as big and as soft as the down in Will’s Christmas quilt. As she hurried to the wagon, Eliza wondered if he had received it. She smiled to think that Will would spend the night before Christmas wrapped in the down-filled quilt she had made for him. She wondered if he would rub his hand against his name and hers and know how much she had loved stitching them, how much she loved him. She climbed into the wagon and flicked the reins against Sabra’s back, and the horse started up, taking a quick step or two before settling into a walk. The horse was old, and Eliza was grateful the mare could pull the wagon at all.
As she slapped the reins against Sabra’s back a second time, she heard someone shout, “Eliza!” and reined in the horse. She turned to the voice, unsure in the snow who was speaking to her.
“It’s me, Missouri Ann Stark,” a young woman said, emerging from the store and coming up to the wagon. “I saw you in the post office. I guess you didn’t see me.” Missouri Ann was small and pretty, with green eyes and hair so pale it was almost the white of the snow. But her face was gray and gaunt.
“I ask you to forgive me. There was a letter from Will, and for just about a minute, I forgot where I was.” Eliza saw that her friend was clutching her own envelope. “Did you hear from Hugh, too? That would make Christmas all the better if we both got letters.”
Missouri Ann shook her head. “Hugh can’t write. Couldn’t.”
Eliza stared at the woman. “What do you mean, couldn’t?”
“Oh, Eliza, Hugh’s dead. I’m a widow woman.” She stopped, as if studying the words, and repeated them. “I’m a widow woman. I don’t have a husband no more.” She rubbed her shawl across her face, then steadied herself. “It says right here in this letter that Hugh’s killed hisself in the battle. They’s wrote he died. Here, I’ll read it to you. ‘Missus Stark, your husband was perfectly resigned to dying. His final words were, “I die for a worthy cause.” He died a-praising the Union and said for you not to worry because he was going to a better place.’”
“Do you believe it?” Eliza blurted out. She shouldn’t have asked such a thing, but those were not words Hugh Stark would have spoken. More likely in his final moments, he would have profaned the Lord as well as the Union Army for playing such a rotten trick on him as to let him pass over.
“No, but it’s nice they wrote it.” She looked up, her face damp, but whether the wetness came from tears or snow Eliza didn’t know. “Oh, Eliza, what’s to become of us?”
“I’m sorry, Missouri Ann. It isn’t fair the war’s taken our men. I suppose you and Nance will stay on with the Starks.” Eliza didn’t like the Starks. They were loud and foulmouthed and lived like hogs. Hugh’s brothers were too unpatriotic or too cowardly to join the army. After they married, Hugh and Missouri Ann had gone to housekeeping on their own place, but when Hugh joined up, he moved his wife and daughter in with his family. Eliza had called on her friend only once at the Stark farm, because she could sense Missouri Ann’s embarrassment at the way her husband’s family lived. They were lazy and stupid, without sense enough to put butter on bread. Eliza couldn’t think how they kept themselves, because nothing ever hatched on their farm.
“I can’t. I’m between a hawk and a buzzard. They won’t let me go, but I can’t stay. They treat me like chicken scratch, and with Hugh dead, his brothers likely … Only thing protected me was they knew Hugh’d womp them if they didn’t treat me right.”
“But they’re family. And surely they dote on Nance.” Missouri Ann’s daughter was not quite two. She was a pretty thing, with fine golden hair and hazel eyes.
“Not so’s you’d notice. Only Mother Stark does. The men blame me she’s not a boy.”
“So you’ll go back to your own people, then?”
“I can’t. When I married Hugh, my folks said I couldn’t never come home again.”
“But they didn’t mean it.”
“They did, all right. They wouldn’t take me in if it was snowing ice cakes and I was dressed naked.”
Eliza understood. Missouri Ann’s family was as judgmental as the Starks were mean.
“Oh, Eliza, I thought about it, ’course, thought what I’d do if Hugh got killed in the war, but never did I come up with a plan.”
Eliza got out of the wagon and put her arms around Missouri Ann. “Do you have to tell the Starks that Hugh’s dead? You could wait until you’ve found a place for you and Nance.”
“I wish I’d thought of that. But I told the postmaster what was in the letter, and you know how you can’t never trust him to keep a secret. Besides, Dad Stark gets the paper from Topeka every week where it lists the dead. He has me read it to him, for he can’t read, neither. And how am I going to just skip over Hugh’s name if it’s there?”
Missouri Ann tucked the letter into the bosom of her dress and wiped her face with her hands. “I guess I should be mourning Hugh instead of worrying about me and Nance, but I can’t help it. I got to think of us first. Mourning’s for rich folks.”
“Have you prayed?” Eliza said, and immediately regretted the words. When would Missouri Ann have prayed? She’d just received the letter. Besides, Missouri Ann hadn’t been in church for a long time. She wasn’t a praying woman.
“Me and the Lord ain’t too acquainted of late.”
“Maybe not, but surely someone at the church would find a place for you.”
“Maybe you forgot Nance came awful early, and there’s some that holds it against me, believes me to be a prodigal woman.”
Eliza did remember now, but the gossiping had been more about Missouri Ann fornicating with a Stark than about the early arrival of the baby. The baby had been the only explanation Eliza could think of for why Missouri Ann, that sweet girl, had married Hugh. She hadn’t wanted to have a briar-patch child, a bastard.
Missouri Ann looked Eliza square in the face and said, “I could come live with you.”
The new widow had been holding her breath, and now she said in a rush, “You got that hired man’s soddy out back of your house. I could work around the place to pay for lodging. And Nance won’t be no trouble. We wouldn’t be a burden to you.”
“But it’s a ramshackle house with a hole in the wall where the snow drifts in. That’s no fit place for a woman and child.”
“I’m a good fixer. You should have seen me at the Stark place, nailing up boards. I wanted it warm for Nance. I asked the boys, but they’re lazy as summer rain. They don’t do nothing and don’t start that till after dinner. The roof on that cabin is awful bad, and Mother Stark complained the rain was coming in on her bed and asked them to do something about it. So they went upstairs and moved the bed. That’s all the good they are, and her their mother, birthing and raising them. She was the only decent one in the lot.”
Eliza laughed despite herself. She wondered again why Missouri Ann had married into such a family, why she’d fallen in love with Hugh Stark. Maybe it had been his good looks and the slow way he smiled. He’d seemed truly taken with Missouri Ann, however, and might have been a better man than she’d given him credit for, although she wasn’t sure. And then she remembered that Hugh Stark’s widow was standing in front of her. “He was a good husband. I’m sorry about Hugh, Missouri Ann. Truly I am.”
Missouri Ann looked away. “Like I say, I can’t think about that now. I got to ponder what I’m going to do. I best have plans before the Starks find out about Hugh. They might expect me to marry Edison.”
The woman had said that last in such a low voice that Eliza had strained to hear her, and even then, she wasn’t sure she had heard right. “Marry Edison? Edison Stark? Hugh’s brother?”
Missouri Ann nodded.
“But why would you do that?”
“It might be I won’t have a choice. You don’t know the Starks, Eliza. Mother Stark said if anything happened to Hugh, I’d best get away fast, or it might be I’d never get another chance. She said it was too late for her, too late by thirty years, but I still had time. The Starks don’t want me, but they won’t let me go, neither.”
Had Hugh been like the rest of them? Eliza wondered. Had the sins of his father passed on to him? But Missouri Ann cared for him, so maybe he was different.
“Hugh was the best of them,” Missouri Ann said, as if she knew what Eliza was thinking. “He was a good man. I’ll raise Nance to think well of her father.” Then she added, “Maybe I could stay with old Aunt Grace. She needs someone to have a care for her.”
Old Aunt Grace was a slattern who lived in a shack in the woods and trapped wild animals, eating their flesh and selling their skins.
“No,” Eliza said, horrified. “You’ll move in with us.” She said it quickly, without much thought, but now she realized she had no choice but to take in Missouri Ann and Nance. What if Will had been killed and she and the children had had to leave the farm? Where would they have gone? “We would welcome you and Nance, Missouri Ann.”
Missouri Ann stared at Eliza. “You sure?”
Eliza said they would go and get Missouri Ann’s things right then, before the storm got worse.
“Cain’t. I’ll have to sneak away. I’ll walk to your place.”
“In this snow?” Eliza thought a moment, then said they could meet at church the following day.
Missouri Ann frowned. “Starks don’t go to church, even at Christmas.”
“Then you must tell them you are going to church for Nance’s sake,” Eliza said. “What about your belongings?”
“Ain’t got any,” Missouri Ann said.
* * *
As she rode behind the slow horse back to the farm, Eliza wondered what had happened to her friend in the past few years. She’d been shocked, of course, when Missouri Ann married Hugh Stark. He was a comely man with a smile that would have melted ice in midwinter, but there had been something about him that Eliza feared. Missouri Ann had been raised by a family of holy willies whose only joy was pointing out the sins of others. Eliza’s friend knew from an early age she was going to hell, so what did it matter if she broke a few of God’s laws, especially the one about fornication? But with a Stark! Missouri Ann was guileless and good. She could have done better. And then to be dumped at the Stark shanty when Hugh went off to war! Missouri Ann was a tough girl, but she had grown depressed, beaten down in the last months. Well, who wouldn’t be, living with a family like that? Eliza chided herself for not having been a better friend. Then she wondered if Missouri Ann had any friends at all or whether, like Eliza, they’d been discouraged from visiting.
Of course Eliza would let Missouri Ann and Nance live at the Spooner farm. She wondered that she had hesitated at all. Things would be tight. They would all have to be careful to make the food last through the winter. The harvest had been all right, although even with the help of men working on shares, they had had to leave some of the crops to rot. Eliza had tried to persuade Will to wait to join up until after the harvest was over, but he was anxious to kill the Rebels. He’d said she could manage, and she had, although not as well as if he’d been there.
Even if Hugh’s pay came through, there would be little money for necessities and none for extravagances such as more oranges. It was doubtful Missouri Ann would bring so much as a penny with her. But they would make it. Having another woman living on the place might help the loneliness she had felt since Will enlisted. And Eliza and the children would be safer with another adult there. She’d worried about safety ever since Davy found that tramp in the barn.
The cold had begun to seep into Eliza’s bones, and she tried to hurry the horse, but Sabra couldn’t be persuaded to pick up speed. Eliza hoped the Stark horse was faster, because she didn’t like to think about baby Nance out in the cold. She had glimpsed the child peering out of the window where Missouri Ann had left her when she came out of the store to hail Eliza. Then Eliza realized there hadn’t been another horse tied to the rail next to Sabra. Unless one of the Starks had driven her into town, which wasn’t likely, Missouri Ann had walked to the store, tramping through the snow with her baby. Now she would be hurrying back in her thin shawl, carrying the little one. Not for the first time did Eliza thank God for giving her such a good life, such a good husband.
* * *
Eliza did not tell the children about Missouri Ann and Nance for fear they might mention to someone at church that the two were moving to the Spooner farm. She heard Davy and Luzena get up early, giggling, tiptoeing to her bed to see if she was sleeping. Eliza kept her eyes closed until Luzena crawled into bed beside her and asked in a loud whisper, “Aren’t you awake, Mama?”
“Why, it’s early yet. Go back to bed. What possesses the two of you to rise so far from dawn?”
“It’s Christmas, Mama,” Davy told her.
“Why, so it is. I forgot.”
“You didn’t forget,” Luzena said. “There’s two oranges on the table that weren’t there last night.”
“I wonder where they came from,” Eliza said.
“From you!” Davy told her. “You said you couldn’t get them, but we knew you would.”
“There’s something else for you, from your father,” Eliza told them, pushing back the quilts and stepping into her shoes. “Why, son, you already built the fire.”
Davy shrugged. “Papa always did it before you got up. I guess I can now. That’s my Christmas present to you.”
Eliza dressed quickly and went to the pie safe, taking out the makings for breakfast. While she mixed the porridge in a black iron pot, which she hung on a crane over the fire, Davy cut slices of bread and put them on a fork to toast over the coals.
“What else? What else did Papa get us for Christmas?” Luzena asked, as she placed forks on the table. She removed a candle from a tin box—the candles were stored there so the mice wouldn’t gnaw them—then set the family Bible next to it.
“First, we thank the Lord,” Eliza said. The three bowed their heads, while Eliza gave thanks for their food and asked that Will be safely returned to them. When she was finished, she picked up the Bible to read the Christmas story, but the children fidgeted so that she decided the reading could wait. She told Luzena, “Fetch me my sewing basket.” The girl jumped up and returned with the basket. Eliza reached into its bottom, underneath a piece of fabric, and removed the doll. “Your papa made it,” she told Luzena, who shrieked at the sight of the wooden toy.
“It looks just like me,” she said, stroking the corn-silk hair that Eliza had attached to the doll’s head. “She has a dress like mine and a quilt like Papa’s.” Luzena sat down and began examining the doll’s clothes.
“And this is for you, Davy.” Eliza handed the knife to her son.
“Swell!” he said, fingering the blade.
Luzena looked up from her doll, then. “There’s nothing for you, Mama.”
“Oh yes there is. I have a letter from your father right here. I picked it up yesterday and decided to wait until Christmas Day to read it.” She stood and removed the letter from the mantel where she had placed it the night before, then slowly unfolded it, thinking that Will’s hands had been the last to touch the precious page. She pictured him in the candlelight of his tent or maybe perched on a rock in the winter sun, pencil in hand, thinking of her as he set down the words. She glanced at the salutation and read the first line to herself.
“Read it out loud,” Luzena demanded. She removed the doll’s white apron and ironed it between her fingers.
Eliza smiled at Davy and Luzena, then began to read.
December 5, 1864
My Beloved Eliza & children
Eliza’s voice caught, and she paused a moment to get control of herself. She had tried hard to keep the children from knowing how much she missed their father, how worried she was for his safety—and for their own future.
“What does he say?” Davy asked.
She began again.
My Beloved Eliza & children,
I take this opportunity to tell you I am well & hearty & that Enoch delivered your quilt this evening. I immediately put it to use, to the joy of my pards. It is as fine a quilt as ever was. The other soldiers envy my good fortune in having such a thoughtful wife. No one in camp has ever seen such a patriotic quilt. I am glad my name is on it, else it would be stole. There never was a wife as good as you.
Eliza paused to savor the compliments. She knew they would be followed with instructions, maybe criticisms, and they were.
Keep a good account of money matters, & do not be tempted to spend foolishly.
As if she would, Eliza thought.
It is said we will do battle with the Secesh tomorrow, & I expect we will whip them, for they are cowardly fools who do not deserve the name of men. I never detested a group of human beings so much. There is no man so wicked as one who holds another in bondage & I believe there is not a single Johnny Reb I could admire. I expect to dispatch a number of them to hell. I ask your prayers that we kill every last one of them.
I am glad you have finished the harvest. It should not have taxed you too much. Sell the excess, & keep the money in a safe place. I will be home in time for planting if we beat the G—d d——d Johnnies. Tell Davy I will get a Rebel for him.
The weather has turned cold. I thank you again for the quilt. I will think of you each night, dear wife, until we can sleep under it together. I pray the Lord will provide for you & our country.
Tell the children to have faith in God & love their mother. Keep in good spirits & all will be well.
Until I see you again, I hold you in my heart.
Your Affectionate Husband
William T. Spooner
Eliza held the letter over her own heart for a moment and shut her eyes to keep the tears from falling. It was the best letter she had ever received from Will. She suddenly thought of what Missouri Ann had told her, that her husband couldn’t write, and so she would have no final letter from him, no letters at all, in fact.
“Will Papa really kill a Rebel for me?” Davy asked. “I hate them as much as he does, maybe more, because they will try to kill him.”
“We don’t hate anyone,” Eliza replied, wishing Will had not been so outspoken in the letter.
“Well, I do. I hate the Secesh, and I hope Papa kills a peck of them!”
“It is Christmas Day, Davy, a day of love, not hate,” Eliza said. “Now go milk Bossie, and I’ll hitch Sabra to the wagon. We will go to church.”
“In the snow?”
“We’ll take the sleigh,” Eliza said, suddenly remembering the vehicle, and the children clapped their hands. She had forgotten about the sleigh, which Will had acquired the previous winter from an undertaker who was passing through. The man had learned the new art of embalming, which was being used to treat the Union dead—the wealthy ones, at any rate—and was going to Colorado to try his luck with the miners. “It’s terrible accidents they have in the mines. I can make the dead look like they’re only sleeping, fix them so’s they can be shipped back home. A body embalmed by me never turns black,” he had said. The man was from the South and thought the land west of the Missouri would be covered in snow, so he’d had a sleigh fitted up in Kansas City. But he had discovered the prairie was bare dirt, and so he’d traded the sleigh to Will for a rickety wagon.
The sleigh was a pretty thing, painted red with gold designs and EMBALMERS OF THE DEAD in black and gold letters on the side. Eliza had intended to paint out the words, but she hadn’t gotten around to it. Some might think it sacrilegious to ride to church with that lettering on the sleigh on Christmas Day, but she believed God enjoyed a laugh, even if some of the parishioners didn’t. Still, she would have to paint out the words before Easter. “Embalmers of the Dead” wouldn’t be funny on the day Jesus rose from the dead. But then, Easter was in the spring, too late for a sleigh ride.
“Davy, you do the milking quick now, while I hitch up the horse. Luzena, put bricks in the hearth. We’ll wrap them in blankets to keep our feet warm.”
“How will we keep our feet warm after church?” the girl asked, a reasonable question.
“We can sing hymns and stamp our feet as we drive back.”
“I’d rather sing ‘When Papa Comes Marching Home,’” Davy said. Eliza had taught the song to the children, substituting “Papa” for “Johnny.”
I would, too, Eliza thought, as she donned her cloak and headed for the barn.
The snow had stopped in the night, and the ground was covered with a foot of white. The sun glinted on it, making Eliza squint as she made her way to the barn. Perhaps she should put black under her eyes to keep the glare from hurting them. But she couldn’t arrive at church on Christmas Day looking like a raccoon.
On occasion, she was just a little vain. And with good reason. At thirty-three, she was still a beauty. Her black hair had only a few strands of white—like stars on a dark night, Will had told her. Despite the birth of Davy and Luzena and two babies afterward who hadn’t lived, she retained the figure she’d had on her wedding day fifteen years earlier. She was faithful about wearing her sunbonnet, so her face was still pale and unwrinkled, although her hands, she had to admit, were rough from hard work. She prided herself on her straight back, which made her look even taller than her five-foot-seven-inch height. She took a kind of perverse pride in being too tall to be fashionable. They were a couple who stood above the crowd, Will had observed, for he was near six feet himself.
Eliza had always known she would marry him. They had grown up together, had both attended the little school at the bottom of the hill of his grandparents’ farm in Ohio. It was assumed by their families, too, that they would marry. What no one assumed was that the couple would leave Ohio for Kansas. But Will was restless among so much family. Although Eliza was content to stay with her people, Will had wanted to try for Oregon. Then a friend told him of the vast prairies west of the Missouri just waiting to be broken by a plow. So the two had headed for Kansas. If Kansas didn’t suit, they could go to Oregon later on. But although Eliza had missed the lushness of Ohio and its pretty white buildings set on shady streets, Will had loved the rolling hills and golden prairie and announced they were home.
Life hadn’t been easy, especially at first. They had lived in a house made of strips of sod, and there had been rattlesnakes—and Indians. At first, Eliza had been terrified of the red men. One day, when Will was in the fields, three Indian men had ridden up to the soddy. She had been outside with the children, baking in the outdoor oven that Will had constructed for her. The Indians rode between her and the house, and there was no way she could reach it, to barricade herself inside with the children.
So swallowing her fright, she removed a pan of cornbread from the oven and boldly took it to the men. “Cornbread,” she cried, as if the Indians were deaf. “Help yourselves.” She held up the pan, and the three Indians scooped out the cornbread with their hands, stuffing it into their mouths.
“Ko-fee,” one of them said. He pointed to the soddy and dismounted.
Walking slowly with the children hanging on to her skirts, she went inside with the Indian and picked up the pot with the remains of the morning coffee. She usually made plenty in the morning so that she could reheat it for dinner. “Cold,” she said, as she poured the coffee into a tin cup. “Cold coffee.”
“Cold ko-fee,” the Indian said. He drank it down, and Eliza refilled the cup. “Cold ko-fee good.” He handed the cup to the second Indian. As they left, one of the men took a tiny scrap of fabric from his braided hair and dropped it on the ground at Eliza’s feet. It was a beautiful shade of indigo, and Eliza had kept it for years, until she incorporated it into the Stars and Stripes Quilt.
“You did the right thing,” Will told her later that day. “They’re friendlies. No need to be afraid of them. Why, you see, he gave you a present. He must know you like to quilt.”
The Indians returned from time to time, asking for “cold ko-fee good.” Once they were accompanied by an Indian woman, who looked at Eliza shyly, silently, then peered inside the soddy and stared in wonder. She glanced up at the ceiling, at the quilt frame Will had made and suspended from the ceiling on ropes so that Eliza could lower it in the evenings to sew. There had been no room in the house to set up a quilt frame, so Will had come up with the idea of hanging it high up.
Eliza lowered the frame, then removed the old piece of muslin that she used to cover her quilt so that dirt from the ceiling didn’t fall onto it. The Indian woman ran her hand over the fabrics, pointing at the different colors, as Eliza named them in English.
The Indian woman was silent until Eliza pointed to a bright red fabric. “Red,” she said.
“Red,” the woman repeated, the first word she had spoken since she’d arrived.
On impulse, Eliza removed a swatch of the fabric from her sewing basket and handed it to the Indian. “For you,” she said.
“For you,” the woman repeated solemnly.
They had lived in the soddy until Will built the two-story log house with a board floor, and now the old place was the hired man’s cabin—or had been in the years they had had enough money to hire a man. That was where Missouri Ann and Nance would live. It would take a little fixing, but when that was done, the soddy would be tight and cozy. Of course, Missouri Ann and Nance were welcome to live in the big house with Eliza and the children, but Eliza had a feeling that her friend would rather be by herself. Missouri Ann had lived with the Starks long enough to value her privacy.
Eliza smiled as she rode out of the barn in the sleigh. Luzena ran from the house with the hot bricks wrapped in an old quilt and placed them on the floor of the sleigh. Then Davy emerged from the milk house and climbed in so that Eliza had a child on either side of her.
As she flicked the reins on Sabra’s back and the old horse started off, Eliza told the children that she had another surprise.
“What?” the two asked together.
“It’s a secret until after church,” she replied, then wondered if she should have kept silent. Maybe Missouri Ann wouldn’t show up.
Copyright © 2014 by Sandra Dallas