July 13, 2012

Another Award-Winning Novel

Maggie's Journey released in October of last year. In May of this year, it received the Selah Award for Historical Novels. A true blessing from God.

In case you missed this novel, book one in my McKenna's Daughter's series, here's part of the first chapter.


But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace.
Galatians 1:15
Prologue
September 1867
On the Oregon Trail

Florence Caine huddled near the campfire outside their wagon, one of over thirty that were circled for the night. Winter rode the winds that had been blasting them for the last few days. Their destination couldn’t come soon enough to suit her.

She brushed her skirt with the palms of both hands trying to get rid of the ever-present dirt. Why did I ever agree to Joshua’s plan? If she’d known all the dangers they would face along the way, he would have had to make this journey without her … if he kept insisting on going. Her husband’s adventurous spirit had first drawn her to him, but she would have been happy to stay in Little Rock, Arkansas, until they were old and gray. Instead, she finally yielded to his fairy-tale vision—a new start in the West. The words had sounded romantic at the time, but their brilliance had dulled in her memory.

Florence rubbed her chapped hands, trying to help the warmth to go deeper. Her bones ached with the cold. After months of traveling the plains through scorching heat and choking clouds of dust, she had welcomed the cooler temperatures when they crossed the Rocky Mountains. That respite was the only thing she liked about the treacherous route they had to take. Because of the steep trail that often disappeared among the rocks and tree roots, they had dumped many items the men thought weren’t essential.

Huh. As if men understood the desires of a woman’s heart and what brought her comfort. The tinkling and crashing of her precious bone china from England breaking into a million pieces as the crate tumbled down the hill still haunted her dreams.

Florence kept many of her favorite things when they traveled from Little Rock to Independence, Missouri, where the wagon trains started their journeys. She had struggled with what to sell to lighten the load before they left. The one piece of furniture she’d been allowed to keep, her grandmother’s small rosewood secretary desk, had probably been used as wood to stoke some other traveler’s fire out there on the prairie where trees were so widely scattered. When they had to dump the treasure, a piece of her heart went with it. She’d twisted on the wagon seat and gazed at the forlorn piece until it was just a speck on the empty horizon. Joshua had promised there would be other secretaries, but that didn’t matter anymore. She squeezed her eyes tight, trying to force the pictures out of her mind. Regrets attacked her like the plague.
More than the journey sapped her strength. She doubted there would be the proverbial pot of gold at the end of their travels. No promised land for her, because what she really wanted, a child of her own, wouldn’t be found in the greener pastures of the untamed wilderness.

Clutching her arms tightly across her chest, she forced her thoughts even farther back, all the way to Arkansas. Their white house with the green shutters nestled between tall trees that sheltered them from the summer heat and kept the cold winds at bay. She remembered the times the two of them had sat before the fire—she knitting or sewing while Joshua read aloud to her from one of their favorite books. Or he might be poring over one of the many newspapers he often brought home after work. Now for so many months, they hadn’t heard any news except whatever they could glean at the infrequent stops along the Oregon Trail or from the few riders who passed the wagon train. Sometimes the men stopped to share a meal and spin yarns for the ones on the journey.

She had no idea how much of their information was even true. But the men hung on to their every word. Loneliness for family and the desire to know what was going on back East ate at her.
A shiver swept from the top of Florence’s head and didn’t miss a single part of her body on its way to her feet. Even with multiple layers of woolen hosiery, her toes felt like ice. She’d often worried that one of them would break off if she stubbed it. She yearned for the snug house where never a single cold breeze seeped inside. Would she ever feel warm again?

She glanced around the clearing, hoping Joshua would soon return to their campsite. If not, dinner would be overcooked or cold. Sick of stew that had been made from rabbits or squirrels these last two weeks, she longed for fried chicken or a good pot roast with plenty of fresh vegetables. At least the wagon master assured them they were no more than a three-days’ journey from Oregon City. Taking a deep breath, she decided she could last three more days. But not one minute more.

Strong arms slid around her waist. Florence jumped, then leaned back against her husband’s solid chest. His warmth surrounded her, and she breathed deeply of his unique musky scent mixed with the freshness of the outdoors.

“What were you thinking about?” Joshua’s breath gave her neck a delicious tickle.

“That our journey will soon be over.”

She could hardly wait to be in a real house with privacy. She had never felt comfortable knowing that people in nearby wagons could hear most of what went on in theirs, and she knew more than she ever wanted to know about some of the families on the train. She moved slightly away from him, but missed the warmth he exuded. Suddenly an inexplicable sense of oppression or impending disaster gave her more of a chill than the cold wind. This time the shivers shook her whole body.

He turned her in his arms, gently held her against his chest, then propped his chin on top of her head. “I know how hard this has been on you, Flory.”

He didn’t often use the pet name he gave her while they courted. The familiarity warmed her heart for a moment.

“You’re just skin and bones, but soon we’ll be in the promised land, and I’ll make sure you have everything you’ve ever wanted.”

Words spoken with such conviction that they almost melted her heart … almost, but the strange cold dread wouldn’t depart.

She pulled away and stared up into his eyes, basking in the intense love shining in them. “You’re all I’ve ever wanted.” That wasn’t exactly true, but she wouldn’t mention their inability to conceive a child. No use bringing that hurt to his eyes. “So what did Overton have to say to the men tonight?”

“Not all the men were there. Angus McKenna wasn’t. Neither was the doctor.”

A stab of jealousy jolted through her as she realized this could mean only one thing. Lenora McKenna was in labor. Florence stuffed her feelings of inadequacy and envy deep inside and tried to replace them with concern for Lenora. The poor woman had ridden on a pallet in the back of the McKenna wagon for about three weeks. She was actually the reason they took the easier, but longer, Barlow Cutoff instead of crossing the Dalles. The wagon train wouldn’t continue on to Ft. Vancouver as originally planned. But the wagon master assured them plenty of land awaited near Oregon City. No one but her minded the change. At least, no one complained, and she didn’t voice her feelings about prolonging her time on the hard wagon seat. No use letting anyone else know how she really felt. No one would care.

“Should I go see if I can help?” Florence really didn’t want to, but she didn’t want Joshua to see the ugly side of her personality. She didn’t want him to think less of her.

Thunder’s deep rumble in the clouds hovering low above the wagon bounced against the surrounding mountains and back. Lightning shot jagged fingers above them, raising the hairs on her arms. She had never liked storms, even from the inside of their house. Out here in the open was far worse.

Joshua hugged her close again. “I think a couple of the women who’ve … had children … are there with the doctor.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “No need for you to go. The wagon would be too crowded.”

He didn’t mean the words to hurt her, but her greatest shame was her inability to give him children. She had watched Joshua as he enjoyed interacting with the various youngsters on the wagon train. He really had a way with them, and they often gathered around him when they were camped, listening intently while he regaled them with wild tales.

He had told her it didn’t matter to him that they didn’t have children, but that inability mattered to her … more than anything else in the world. What kind of woman am I? Ten years of marriage should have brought several babies into their family. Every other couple they knew had several by the time they had been married as long as she and Joshua.

She slid from his arms and bent to stir the bubbling stew, hoping he wouldn’t notice how his words bothered her. Without turning her head, she gritted her teeth. “Hungry?”

Lena Nelson Dooley

1 comment:

Janet Chester Bly said...

Lena: Enjoyed reading this chapter sample. Congrats on your award!
Blessings,
Janet