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Authors: Jillian Hart,Victoria Bylin

In a Mother’s Arms (9 page)

BOOK: In a Mother’s Arms
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He sank heavily into the nearest chair. The bumps hadn’t disappeared. They were still there, proof of his illness. He’d never had scarlet fever. He’d been around patients suffering from it since medical school. Why now? Why tonight? His head thrummed too painfully to think anymore.

“Girls, I want you to go straight to Mrs. Finley’s room and wake her. You stay there. Have Abner come to me right away. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir.” Wide-eyed, the twins froze for one moment, perhaps sensing his fear before they broke into a run, clattering down the hall and up the stairs.

If he had been paying better attention, if he hadn’t been so enamored with Molly, he might have caught this earlier.
Before
he had exposed his daughters. Heartsick in more ways than he could count, he lowered his head, clasped his hands and prayed.

Chapter Nine

“R
umor has it you’ve been spending time with our local doctor.” Aunt Ida’s nimble fingers plucked at the weeds among the green beans in the pleasant evening light. “Is it merely a rumor, or is there more to the story?”

Days had passed since she had driven away from Sam. She had returned to her empty home, tucked away her devastation and gone on with her obligations. One of them was right here, helping out her extended family, which she intended to do as if Sunday evening had never happened. As if Sam Frost had never admitted that he didn’t love her.

Hardly a simple thing. She ignored the sting behind her eyes and the hollow feeling within her and tugged a dandelion seedling from among the little lettuce plants.

What did she say to Aunt Ida? The woman was patiently waiting for an answer.

“I’m certain the rumor is much more interesting than the truth.” She patted the earth back into place and used the hand trowel to uproot a thistle start. “I met Sam’s daughters when their cow ran away and decided to visit me.”

“Those girls are as cute as buttons.” Ida wisely did not ask anymore about the rumors she had heard. “Molly, when the Good Lord closes a door, He always opens a window. The trouble comes when we forget to believe in the window.”

Just how much had Aunt Ida guessed? She tossed the thistle and the dandelion into the waste bucket. “It’s over now, and it’s for the best. I’ve had a marriage without love. I don’t want another.”

“Yes, the greatest is love.” Aunt Ida stopped weeding to study her a moment. “I know you well enough to wonder why you’re here, as calm as could be. Helping with the bread baking and the cleaning and washing little Graham’s diapers.”

“Why? Where else would I be?” Speaking of the baby, Molly could see mother and child as they walked in front of the windows, crossing through the parlor. Cousin Noelle looked blissful as she cradled her son, just as it should be. She was happy for her cousin. She would not think of the family she could have had. The man she still loved. “I’m here to help. It’s why I have the shanty to call home.”

“That’s not what I meant, child.” She took off her gardening gloves. “Surely you heard about the doctor? About the illness?”

“No. Are the girls sick? Are they all right?” Alarm
shot through her. She loved those children. If anything happened to them—

“No, dear, it’s not the twins.”

Not the twins? Her brain stuck on those words, as if unable to move past them, because then that would mean—

“Doc Frost came down with scarlet fever. Don’t know when. I only heard it in church this morning. His case must not be severe if you’re here. That’s all I meant.”

“Scarlet fever?” The trowel dropped from her fingers. Scarlet fever. Now her mind couldn’t move past that terrible thought. She tore off her gardening gloves, suddenly unable to draw in enough air. No. Not Sam. It couldn’t be. Aunt Ida had to be wrong. “Surely he’s been ill with that before. He’s a doctor.”

“Molly.” The older woman left her weeding, stepped over the baby beans and into the potato row. Her hands were gnarled from age but warm with love as they cradled Molly’s face. “This morning at my Ladies’ Aid meeting, we said a prayer for his recovery.”

Then it was true. The strength seeped from her bones. The thought of Sam lying in bed suffering—She closed off that image. It was one she couldn’t stand. She reached out in prayer.
Watch over him, Lord. Please spare him. Please see him safely through.

“Are you all right, Molly?”

“Yes.” She had to be. “What about the girls?”

“As far as I know they’re fine. Kathleen Finley was at the meeting and she said they were showing no symptoms. I believe they are all staying at a hotel.”

“Then who is caring for Sam?” She wasn’t aware of the tears on her face. Only the fear that she would never see him again. The man she loved. The man who had proposed to her, offering her everything he had—family, marriage, home, hearth and children—everything except his heart. Scarlet fever was a serious illness. If she lost him. If he died with the way things were between them—

“I have to go.” She bounded to her feet, in a dither, panic thick in her blood. The sun was setting. It was all she could think. Time was running out.

“Then go, dear. I’ll finish here. Go to him, this man you love.”

She thanked her aunt and ran for the barn amid the darkening shadows.

 

He was caught in shadows. They clung to him like smoke, blotting out everything. He couldn’t see the trees or the sky or one single color. Where were the girls? He worried about his daughters. Were they lost, too? Feverish, he tossed and turned, searching for them. The smoke thinned, and he was able to see them, running merrily through gray fields. But he was still worried. He couldn’t stop searching. There was someone else lost in the shadows.

A cool cloth brushed against his brow, dabbing blessed relief against his fever. He wasn’t sure if he opened his eyes or if it was part of the dream. A beautiful woman gazed down at him, her rich golden hair down in braids, her sculpted oval face wan with exhaustion, and her eyes the most beautiful blue he had ever
seen. Perhaps because of the love he saw there, pure and true, as sincere as a Shakespearean sonnet.

It seemed to him the shadows disappeared. The smoke released its hold on him and slinked away. The world around him became fuzzy. He lifted his head from the pillow, trying to see more. He recognized the blurry shape of the bedside lamp, and his four-poster bed. The opened curtains let in a blinding splash of sunlight. Had the sky ever been that clear? The grass so green? He could not remember noticing before.

“Lie back, Sam.” The tone of her voice was his most cherished sound. He drank in the notes of it. He hadn’t realized how much he would miss her gentle alto.

He let her push him into the pillows, the effort to lift his head had exhausted him. He panted, his body trembling with weakness. “You’re here.”

“Yes, I had to help.” Sadness dimmed her like a candle in a harsh wind. “The doctor from Newberry says you are going to be all right. The worst has passed.”

“Good to know.” It didn’t feel past. He hated he was too weak to do more than lay his hand on hers. The simple touch enriched him. She was the reason for the color in his life. She was the reason to believe in love again. “You came.”

“I had to. The way we left things—” Regret marked her pretty features. She shrugged her slender shoulders, a gesture of helplessness or maybe, just maybe, despair. “Abner needed help tending you.”

Yes, he saw her clearly. This time without the shadows of his experience and the smoke of his fears. He wrapped his fingers through hers, holding on tight.
“There’s something I didn’t tell you before. When I asked you to marry me.”

“Sam, I nearly lost you.” Tears pooled in her eyes. “But for the life of me I cannot marry without—”

“—love,” he finished for her. His throat hurt, his head pounded, he could barely breathe. But he had to say this. He did not want to close his eyes and become lost in the shadows again. He did not want to live without her. He wasn’t afraid anymore. A woman who would sit by his side through the illness that had taken her daughter and her loved ones was someone who would stay beside him forever.

“I love you, Molly,” he rasped. “I have loved you all along. I will love you through all the days of our life together if you let me. If only you will—”

“—marry you?” She finished his thought, his question. A single tear rolled down her soft cheek. “I’ll only do it for love.”

“For love,” he agreed. He closed his eyes with a smile on his face and love in his heart.

Epilogue

One year later.

M
olly McKaslin Frost felt watched as she sat in her cushioned rocking chair in the sunny parlor with her latest book in hand. She paused in the middle of Edward’s offer of marriage to Elinor and looked around for the cause of the disruption.

A cow with a white blaze down her face poked her head further across the sill, reaching as far as she could with her tongue. Her gentle brown eyes focused on the half-eaten apple crisp on the end table just out of reach.

“Do the girls know where you are?” Molly set down her book and held the plate for the cow. Two slurps and the dessert disappeared. Sukie licked her lips and gave a moo, presumably a bovine word of thanks.

“Sukie! There you are!”

“Bad Sukie! You got away again.”

Molly set the plate aside just as the twins rode into
sight on their pony. Trigger sniffed the air, apparently unhappy he was a few seconds too late for the apple crisp. Love filled her up until she glowed as she studied her daughters. Penelope wore a blue calico dress and Prudence wore green. Happy, the girls waved at her.

“Ma! Can we get more apple crisp?”

“We’re preparing the fort for a siege.”

“Then it’s important you have adequate dessert. I’ll bring some out to the garden gate.”

“Thank you!” The twins chimed in unison. Prudence grabbed Sukie’s halter lead, Penelope snapped the reins and they rode off together, her little band of soldiers.

In the kitchen, Mrs. Finley looked up from her church paper. “The pot roast ought to be done soon. I suppose I should put on the potatoes.”

“If you want to wait a few minutes, I’ll be free to help you.” She quickly found two plates, choosing ones that had already been chipped on previous fort sieges, and sliced into the apple crisp pan. As she worked, she could hear the girls through the open window.

“Pa! Pa! You’re home.”

“Surprise. Having a second doctor around these parts sure does help.” Sam sounded chipper, as if his rounds had gone well.

A lot was going well these days. They had married last June, and every day of their marriage had been bliss. True love made the difference, for it was the kind of love that endured.

She hopped outside into the lilac-scented air. She felt weightless as she bounded down the garden path. When
Sam came into sight, her heart soared, her soul uplifted. Her husband was home. “Hello, handsome.”

“Howdy, pretty lady.” He tipped his Stetson in greeting. “Any chance that apple crisp is for me?”

“It’s for us, Pa!”

“Us and Sukie and Trigger.”

The twins thanked her for the dessert and rode off, bouncing on the pony’s broad back. Sukie followed happily, tail swishing.

“Come here, beautiful. I missed you.” He unlatched the garden gate and held out one hand.

“I missed you, too.” She laid her fingers against his broad palm, and the connection that sparked between them was pure loving sweetness. Just as in all the books, this was her ever after, her storybook ending. She let her husband draw her into his strong arms and hold her against his iron chest. She savored the comfort and joy. She tipped her face up to look at him, this man of her dreams.

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” He brushed a kiss to the tip of her nose.

“Not lately, no. This morning, yes. After lunch, yes. But not since.”

“I’m remiss.” Tenderly, he kissed her, sweet and slow. “I love you, Molly.”

“I love you.” She went up on tiptoe to kiss his chin. What an amazing man. His love had changed her life. He had given her his heart and his daughters. He had made her a wife and a mother again. He had given her more happiness than she could hold. God was truly gracious indeed. “I think we are going to be very happy forever.”

“I think so, too, my love.” He kissed her again, as gently as any romantic hero.

My love. She held him tight, savoring the sweetness and the joy.

 

Dear Reader,

When I was asked to write for a Mother’s Day anthology, I was delighted. I had been safekeeping Molly’s story in one of my notebooks for a special occasion. And I knew this was my opportunity to dust off the notebook, flip through the pages and step into the shoes of a young widow bowed by hardship and loss, and walk with her from her sadness to great joy. The thing I love most about Molly is her ability to see the bright side of things: beauty in a dark storm, a kindred soul in a lonely widower, and the ability to love even in the aftermath of unbearable loss. Now that is faith. Hers is a mother’s heart without a child to love. I thought it just that she find not only a man with a good heart to love, but worthy children, as well. I hope you adore the twins as much as I do, along with Sukie, the cow, who was modeled after my childhood pet calf, Juice.

Thank you for choosing
Finally a Family
.

Wishing you the best of blessings,

BOOK: In a Mother’s Arms
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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