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Threads of Love
By Judith McCoy Miller
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 1997 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The sounds in the kitchen caused Delphinia to startle awake, and she immediately felt the dreadful taste of bile rise in her throat. Jumping from her bed, she ran to the washstand, removed the pitcher, and expelled the few remains of last night's supper into the chipped bowl. Looking into the small mirror that hung over the washstand, she was met by a ghostly likeness of herself. I can't bear this; I just can't, she thought as she rinsed her mouth and reached for a small linen towel to wipe her perspiring forehead. Making her way back to bed, she wrapped herself in a quilt and prayed that this was a bad dream.
"Oh please, dear Lord, let me go to sleep and wake up to my mama's laughter in the kitchen. Let this all be a horrible nightmare."
Instead, she heard her father's harsh command, "I hear ya awake in there, Delphinia. This ain't no day to be lazin' around. You get yourself dressed and do it now. You still got things to pack, and time's getting short."
"I know, Pa, but I'm feeling poorly. Maybe you'd better tell that man I won't be able to go with him. I'm sure he won't want some sickly girl," she replied in a feeble attempt to dissuade him.
She heard her father's heavy footsteps come across the kitchen floor toward her room, knowing that she had tested his patience too far. The bedroom door swung open, and he said in a strained voice, "Either you get yourself dressed, or you'll travel as you are."
"Yes, Pa," she answered, knowing her efforts to deter him had failed and that she would soon be leaving home.
Trying to keep her stomach in check, she donned a green gingham dress and quickly pinned her hair in place. Not giving much care to her appearance, she sat down on the bed and placed her remaining belongings into the old trunk. Her hands trembled as she picked up a frayed shawl, threw it around her shoulders, and lay back on the bed, willing herself to think of happier days.
The noise outside the house brought her back to the present. How long had she been lying there? The streaming rays of sunlight that patterned the room told her that it must be close to noon. Her heart began to pound, and immediately she began pressing down the gathers of her skirt in a slow, methodical motion. There was a loud knock at the heavy wooden door, followed by footsteps and the sound of voices. Minutes passed, and then she heard her father calling out her name. She picked up her bonnet and sat staring at it, unwilling to accept that the time of departure had arrived. Her father called out again, and she could hear the impatience in his voice. Knowing she dared not provoke him further, she compelled herself to rise from the bed and walk to the kitchen.
There, standing before her, was Jonathan Wilshire, the man who had bargained with Pa to take her away from the only home she had ever known. It was a certainty that she would dislike him. She had prayed and prayed about her predicament, but somehow God had not seen fit to eliminate this man from her life. She had begun praying that his horse would break a leg, and he would not arrive. But soon she was asking forgiveness for thinking in such an unkind manner. She briefly considered a plea to God that Mr. Wilshire get lost on the journey, but she knew that would not be a Christian prayer, for he had children at home that required his safe return. So, in desperation, she did as her mama had told her many times: "When you don't know for sure what to pray for, just turn it over to the Lord, for He knows your heart and will provide the best way." Fervent prayers had been uttered each night outlining the folly of the decision to send her west and requesting the Lord's assistance in finding a remedy. Although she was not sure what was best for her, she knew that leaving for Kansas with Mr. Wilshire would be a mistake. Given the amount of time she had spent in dissertation, she had been positive the Lord would agree and save her from this pending disaster.
Just look at what results that had produced! Here was Jonathan Wilshire, standing in her kitchen and looking fit as a fiddle, ready to take her to some farm in Kansas and turn her into a mama for his children. Where had her mother ever gotten the notion that praying like that would work?
Her heart had slowed down somewhat, and she began to feel outrage and frustration begin to take over. She stepped toward her father and had just begun to open her mouth and voice that anger when, sensing her wrath, he said, "Delphinia, this is Jonathan Wilshire, the gentlemen we have discussed."
Once again, her palms began pressing down the gathers in her skirt, and, looking directly at her father, she blurted out, "We never discussed Mr. Wilshire, Papa. You merely announced you were sending me away with him."
Delphinia could sense the discomfort she was causing for both men. Feeling she must press any advantage that could be gained, she continued with her tirade. "Papa, I've told you over and over that I don't want to leave you. It's been only a few months since Mama died, and I don't want to lose you, too ... and my home, Papa. Must I leave my home?" Tears had begun to roll down her cheeks and onto the pale green bodice of her frock. Her father stared at her in disbelief. She had never, in all of her seventeen years, questioned his decisions. Now, here she was, humiliating him in front of a total stranger. Not knowing if it was caused by anger or embarrassment, she watched as his short, thick neck and unshaven face quickly began to turn from deep tan to purplish red, clear to his receding hairline. Given the choices, she was hoping for embarrassment because her papa was not easy to contend with when angry. But as soon as their eyes met, she knew he was not only angry but that he had reached the "boilin' stage," as Mama used to call it. Well, so be it. He was sending her away, and she was going to tell him how she felt. After all, she had given God a chance to get things in order, and He had certainly missed the mark!
"Delphinia," her father roared, "you will fetch the rest of your possessions immediately and place them in Mr. Wilshire's wagon. We've already loaded the other trunks. I'll hear no more of this nonsense. You know you're goin' along with Mr. Wilshire to look after his children. He's ready to pull out. Now mind your tongue, Girl, and do as you're told."
Eyes downcast and knowing that her fate was sealed, she quietly murmured, "Of course, Papa. I'll only be a minute."
Walking back to her room, Delphinia allowed herself one last look at the dwelling she had called home for all of her seventeen years. She entered her sparsely furnished bedroom for the last time, grabbed the handle on the side of her trunk, and pulled it into the kitchen.
Making her way toward the center of the kitchen, her father once again began with his issuance of instructions. "Now mind your manners, Sis. I've told Mr. Wilshire that you know your reading and writing and can teach his youngsters what schooling they need to know."
Turning to the stranger, he continued his diatribe, "She even knows how to work with her numbers, and so if there isn't a school nearby, she'll make a fine teacher for you."
He sounds like he's selling a bill of goods, Delphinia thought. Besides, all of her studies had been through her mama's efforts. Pa had always said it was a waste of time and had chided Ma for spending time on Delphinia's lessons. But her mother had stood firm and said it was important for both girls and boys to know how to read, write, and do their figures. When Pa would become too obstinate about the subject, Ma would smile sweetly and tell him that no child of hers would be raised not knowing how to read God's Word. Then Pa would continue. Now here he was, using that bit of education to get rid of her.
Her thoughts ran rampant, wondering what kind of bargain had been struck between her pa and this man. Delphinia was not told the particulars, and she knew her pa would never divulge all of the information to her. She knew he just wanted to be free of any responsibility. Ever since Mama had died, all he could talk about was his going to search for gold and how he would be rich and free of his worries. He had talked about it for years, but Mama had always managed to keep him levelheaded and made him realize that going in search of gold was not the way of life for a married man with a family.
Well, he was "free" now. Mama had died, and Delphinia was being shipped off with this stranger to some unknown place out West. Once again, she began to feel the tears well up in her eyes, but she made up her mind that she would not cry in front of her pa again. If he wanted to be rid of her, so be it. She had no choice in the matter.
Suddenly, she felt a hand reach across hers and heard Mr. Wilshire saying, "Here, I'll take that out to the wagon for you. You tell your pa good-bye, and we'll be on our way. I'll be waiting outside."
Delphinia glanced up. Her father's anger had diminished, and he looked as though he might feel a bit of remorse. "I'm sorry, Pa. I know I shouldn't have talked to you with such disrespect. Mama would be very unhappy with my behavior. But I don't think she'd be happy with yours either," she added. When he gave no response, she continued, "Don't you think she'd want us to be together, now that she's gone?"
"I suppose, Delphinia, your mama would think that. You gotta remember, though, your mama knew I was never one to stay in one place too long. I've been living in the same place for nigh onto twenty years now. I kept my bargain with your ma, and we never took off for the unknown lands farther west. But now I just have to go. There's nothing left here for me."
His words were like a knife in her heart. Was she really nothing to him? Could he think so little of her that it was more important to go searching for something he would probably never find?
"I've made proper arrangements for you, Girl, and I know you'll be well cared for. Mr. Wilshire has a nice homestead in Kansas and needs help. It's a good arrangement for all of us, and once I get settled, I'll let you know my whereabouts. It'll all work out for the best." He bent down, put an arm around her, and started leading her toward the door.
"What's to become of our home? Will I never see it again? You can't just go off and leave it." She pulled back and looked up at him. Her large, brown eyes were once again wet with tears.
"Now, never you mind; I've taken care of all of that. Mama and I had to borrow against this place when times was bad, and I'm just turning it back over to the bank. I got a little cash to get me going and what with ... Well, I've got enough to get set up when I hit the goldfields." Once again, he was moving her toward the door.
"Oh, Pa, I just don't think I can bear it," she murmured, reaching up and throwing her arms about his neck.
"Now, now, Girl, come along. It's all gonna be just fine...you'll see," he said, drawing her toward the wagon.
With Mr. Wilshire's help, Delphinia made her way up onto the seat of the buckboard, and, without looking back, she raised her hand in a small, waving gesture to her pa.
Mr. Wilshire slapped the reins, and the horses moved out.CHAPTER 2
A wave of panic began to take over Delphinia. Here she was, on her way to who knew where, with a man she did not even know, and her pa thought it was just fine. And to think she had prayed so fervently about this! God must have been extremely busy when she issued her petitions, because she was absolutely sure that this could not be His plan for her life. Anyone could see this was a mistake. After all, she was only seventeen, and she could see the folly of this situation. And God was ... Well, nobody knew how old God was, but He was certainly well over seventeen. Surely He would get her out of this mess. There must be some rescue in store for her. That was it! God had already planned her deliverance from Jonathan Wilshire!
Feeling somewhat comforted by the thought, Delphinia realized she hadn't even gotten a good look at Mr. Wilshire since his arrival. She didn't want to talk to him just now, but she was curious. Cautiously she glanced over his way, only to be met by two of the bluest eyes she had ever seen, and they were staring directly into hers.
She was so startled that she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Why would you need to come all the way to Illinois to find someone to care for your children?"
He did not answer but let out the deepest laugh she had ever heard.
"Just why is that such a funny question?" she countered.
"Well," he slowly answered, "I've not had a line of ladies waiting at my front door whom I'd consider suitable to meet the needs of my homestead."
Delphinia was not quite sure what that meant, but she knew she did not want to pursue the matter further, at least for now. "Why are we traveling to Kansas with a wagon train? Wouldn't it be quicker and easier to travel by train?" she queried, not sure which would be worse: an arduous trip by wagon train or arriving in Kansas quickly.
"You're right. It would be faster by train, and that had been my intention. I arrived in Illinois a couple days before I was to fetch you, and I was staying in town, planning to secure you shortly before our train would depart for Kansas. But, the day I arrived in Cherryvale, a group of folks from the wagon train were also in town. Their wagon master had become ill and wasn't able to continue his duties. Of course, they need to keep moving, or the snows will stop them in the mountains," he explained.
"What does that have to do with us returning by train?" she interrupted, having expected a simple answer.
"They weren't able to find anyone to help them. The hotel owner heard of their plight and related it to me. I believe God puts us in certain places at certain times for a purpose," he continued. "The folks on this wagon train are good people with a need. I can fulfill that need by leading them as far as Kansas. I've talked with the wagon master, and he thinks he'll be able to take over by then ... probably before."
"But what if the wagon master isn't well by the time we reach Kansas? What if he dies?" she asked. "Then what?"
"Well, I don't believe either of those things will happen. But if they should, I've talked with folks on the wagon train and explained I can go on no farther. They'll either have to winter in Kansas or find someone else to lead them the rest of the way. They're willing to put their trust in God that this will work, and so am I," he responded.
She was trusting in God also but not for the same things as Jonathan Wilshire.
"I'll be needing to pick up our supplies," he stated, pulling the horses to a halt in front of the general store, "so if there's anything you think you might be wanting for the journey, better get on down and come in with me."
"Oh, I'll just trust your judgment, Mr. Wilshire, as I've certainly never purchased supplies for a long journey and wouldn't have any idea what you might be needing," she stated rather smugly. He needn't think he was getting someone here in Illinois who was all that suitable either! Besides, she hadn't fibbed, for she didn't have the faintest idea what might be needed on such a journey.
Delphinia watched him jump down from the wagon, and she could not help but admire his strength and size. Her pa was not a small man, but Mr. Wilshire was quite tall, and his shoulders were remarkably broad. She had never seen a man quite so large. Now that she thought about it, he was somewhat intimidating in his size. Why haven't I noticed that before? She wondered. She was surprised she hadn't been frightened by him but then he had been sitting down in the wagon before she had actually taken notice of him. Well, she determined, I'll not be afraid of anyone, and that includes this giant of a man.
A loud voice roused her from her thoughts. "Phiney, Phiney, are you sleeping up there?" Delphinia looked down in horror at Mr. Wilshire standing beside the wagon.
"You weren't speaking to me, were you, Mr. Wilshire?" she inquired.
"Of course I was," he stated, wondering who else she thought he might be talking to. "I was asking if you'd be wanting to choose some cloth to make a few dresses and britches for the children. They have a good selection here ... better than the general store back home. Besides, we'll probably not go into Council Grove going back."
She stared at him, dumbfounded. "No, wait. What was it you were calling me?"
Excerpted from Threads of Love by Judith McCoy Miller. Copyright © 1997 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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