She only needs to find her brother. He wants someone to take care of the unexpected doorstep baby. How can two wounded souls realize that their newfound family is God’s gift and purpose?
“We can only be certain of two things—God and what God helps us to do.”
Amanda has no one but her brother in the world. He decides to flee west to work in the mining during the Gold Rush and offer them a better future, but she loses track of him. With Lord’s guidance, she decides to search for him but finds herself in the most unexpected situation. In order for his boss to help her out, he needs something in return, a marriage of convenience. How can she refuse when he’s the only chance to find her brother?
Nathan abandoned his pastor’s life when he lost his daughter and wife. He works every day to the bone to forget his pain, but when he discovers an abandoned baby on his doorstep, he thinks God mocks him again. He needs someone to help him care for the baby, and this unanticipated woman seems the perfect solution. How can he accept the second-chance family the Lord gave him when he only knows how to keep his feelings sealed?
A common goal binds Amanda and Nathan. She wants to find her brother, and he needs to uncover the people responsible for his family’s death. How can they keep their trust in each other and God’s will when all the odds are against them?
Yellowbridge, Virginia, 1849
Amanda stood on the platform of the small station at Yellowbridge and waved at the train. Tears stung her eyes. Her arm began to ache as she waved until the train was a blur on the horizon, beyond hearing and beyond sight. She let her arm fall only when she could no longer see even the faintest speck that could remind her of it. The bellow of its passage was an echo now, and the breeze of its motion was a dusty whisper. Then she turned around.
The small town she had grown up in, dusty and quiet, stretched out before her. She could see the familiar street that led down to the road where the cottage stood, and then on to the church. She turned and walked down the street, feeling like she drifted through a dream. She felt that the town had suddenly become unfamiliar now that her brother had left it—the trading store with its green door, the church with its tall steeple somehow seemed foreign, though she had seen it every day since childhood She was nowhere, lost in the huge unfamiliarity of Kelvin no longer being in the same town where she’d been born. She’d never been apart from him, not once.
“Please, be safe.”
She drew a deep breath. Kelvin had undertaken the riskiest and most dangerous voyage she could imagine—the trip to Jamestown, to the harbor, was the easy part. Soon, he’d be embarking by ship to California—a voyage that could take months. She walked blindly, not able to think of anything besides the fact that her brother was on a train on his way to an unknown place. And he was going there to seek his fortune for them both.
The dusty street was empty—it was midday on a Monday, and everyone was either at work on the ranches or sleeping in the midday heat. There was nobody at the windows, nobody on the porches. Amanda barely noticed. She was lost in her own pain, in her own confusion.
The street where she lived was on her left, but Amanda didn’t walk in that direction. Somehow, the thought of going into the house repelled her, like the two ends of a magnet Kelvin had shown her. She felt pushed away from it—the horror of entering without him too stark for her.
She walked to the church and went inside.
The town of Yellowbridge was tiny—just a cluster of houses, a trading store, and the church, dusty and warm under the midday sunshine. The only reason it had a railway was to transport goods that were produced on the farms or it wouldn’t have had one at all. The church was small, too—just room for perhaps thirty people to gather, the wooden pews worn, and the floor scuffed at the entrance. Amanda walked to the front of the church, crossed herself and knelt by the altar to pray.
“Please, God,” she murmured. “Please keep Kelvin safe. I don’t care what happens. Nothing else is any bother to me at all. Just keep him safe.”
She was crying, a tear running from her hazel eyes down her cheek. She dried her face, stroking brown curls off her neck. Her finger traced the small scars there—a few small, ridged scars that were left by the pox. She had two on her face as well, near the temple. It was the reason she always wore her hair ringleted on her forehead and at the neck.
She pushed aside the memories of her childhood illness—it didn’t matter. She didn’t care what happened to her. She just needed for Kelvin to be safe. He had embarked on a voyage to California—one of the longest, hardest voyages. The ship would travel to Nicaragua, where the passengers would disembark, walk for three days through the jungle, and then try to attract the attention of a clipper sailing up the coast towards California to take them the rest of the way. Disease on the ships, peril in the jungle like wild animals and poisonous creatures, and shipwrecking were just some of the dangers.
She bowed her head in fervent prayer.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
When she looked up, she could see the image of Christ on the cross through the misty tears in front of her eyes. His face swam before her, his eyes tortured but infinitely compassionate. He seemed to be smiling at her.
Amanda looked up at Him, her spirit lifting. She felt less alone, seeing Him there. He would protect Kelvin; she didn’t doubt that for an instant. The expression on His carven features, so sad, yet so serene, seemed to be reminding her that He was there for her, too; that it was not selfish to wish for protection for herself too.
She drew a deep breath. She’d not thought about herself—not since Kelvin came to her, his brown eyes shining with the need to change his life. He had not smelled of whiskey and that had made her want to weep in itself—he’d been sober and completely himself.
“The goldfields in California,” he’d said to her, eyes bright. “That’s where I can find a job. And not just any job—maybe I can get rich, too.” He’d showed her a newspaper, the date from two days before, the black print dark and the scent of the fresh ink sharp with its characteristic tang.
“It’s so far, though, brother,” Amanda had said. California sounded like it was on the other side of the world, the one or two times that anyone had mentioned it near to her. And when Kelvin showed her in Mrs. Conway’s map book from next door, she’d gasped out loud. It really did seem to be on the other side of the world. He couldn’t go all that way. It wasn’t safe.
He’d explained to her about the shipping passage, how the journey would partly be taken by foot across a narrow strip of land in the Gulf of Mexico, and she had been even more worried. But Kelvin believed he could go there and get rich. And the hope that brought was worth more than the three hundred dollars the shipping passage cost.
“Papa would think it was right,” Kelvin had said when they had drawn almost the entirety of the legacy they had from their parents from the bank. Amanda nodded.
“You’re right,” she said.
Their parents would have wanted Kelvin to do his best to provide for the family. Kelvin said that often, and he was determined to do that, and somewhere deep within, Amanda had understood that this was what drove him to the hard drink and the taverns. The pressure on his then-fourteen-year-old shoulders, the demand of suddenly caring for his little sister, of providing for a family, had been too much for his mind, which had already been broken by the loss of his father and mother. She knew, without him having to tell her, that the need to be a man and to step into his father’s shoes, combined with the fact that he’d never mourned for their parents—he just thrown himself endlessly and determinedly into his work—had led him to use the drink to numb the pain inside.
She wished she could have helped him more, but at the time of the loss she had been a small, terrified child, too young even to understand what had happened.
She looked up at the figure of Christ, where he hung above her. He had borne so much. Was it not as it should be for ordinary men and women to bear a lot, too?
But Christ Himself came to Earth to relieve our suffering. That was why He died.
Confusion swept over her and she was almost relieved when she heard the door open at the back of the church. A hesitant step echoed in the nave. Amanda looked round to see her friend, Margaret, coming down to the front of the building. She walked hesitantly because she couldn’t see. Since birth, Margaret had been unable to see, and she was now eighteen. Her step was surprisingly sure for all that, and she paused at the altar.
“Amanda,” her friend turned to where she was still kneeling. Amanda stood, taking the young woman’s long, thin fingers in her own. They felt cool and delicate, the skin like satin. “I hoped you were still here.”
“How did you know where I was?” Amanda asked. She hadn’t known herself that she was going to pray today.
Margaret smiled. Her eyes were open, but it was clear that she couldn’t see, the gaze unfocused. They were blue like sky, like the opal necklace that their neighbor, Mrs. Conway, wore.
“Mama said she saw you going to church when she was cleaning the terrace.”
“Oh,” Amanda murmured and felt a smile lift her lips. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. She cast one more glance up at Christ. He might have sent Margaret to her, knowing she needed comfort.
“Shall we pray together?” Margaret asked.
“Please,” Amanda said.
She held her friend’s hand while Margaret knelt, and together they said the Lord’s Prayer. Amanda felt comfort settle on her like a warm coverlet with each word. Thy Will be done.
Was this His Will, that Kelvin goes to California?
Surely it was, or it couldn’t have happened.
Margaret turned to her as they solemnly said, “Amen.” She looked at Amanda, her pale eyes unfocused but her smile gentle.
“Kelvin is in good hands,” she said.
Amanda blinked, nodding. “He is,” she replied in a whisper. He walked with God, and she knew that the Lord would shield him and guide his path. She whispered her favorite verse under her breath.
“For I am the Way, the Truth and the Light, and whosoever believeth in Me shall not die, but have life.”
Kelvin was safe.
“Come on,” Margaret said gently. “Let’s go to the house. Mama made an apple pie and there’s only the three of us to eat it.”
Amanda blinked again, wanting to cry. She hadn’t even thought about herself and how she was going to survive. She had been helping part-time at the inn, washing dishes, to make a living when Kelvin lost his job on the farm, but it only covered bread and tea and there was wood and oil and soap and so many other things to buy. Without the savings, she didn’t know where to begin.
She remembered that Christ would help her find a way. He had already sent her comfort in the form of Margaret, and apple pie.
The Lord would work in His mysterious ways in the coming months to provide for her.
Yellowbridge, Virginia, 1849
The kitchen was quiet, the kettle just where it usually was, the table with its small tablemat where Amanda could put a pot of tea or the frying pan when she lifted it from the stove. The window with its peeling paint looked out as it always did onto the distant hills, the landscape a shimmering haze of late-summer browns and greens around it. The window was shut, and the only air came from the door through which Amanda had just come.
She sat down at the kitchen table.
“He still hasn’t written.”
She drew a deep breath. Kelvin had embarked on the voyage in spring. It was late summer now, meaning he’d been away four months. The journey—she’d talked to everyone she could think of who might know—didn’t take more than a month and a half, and she knew he’d got there safely, because he’d written once.
Where was he? Her mind raced as she stood and moved toward the stove to put the kettle on. The small tin of tea she’d purchased from the trading store was in the cupboard, and she took out a teaspoon of the precious leaves to add to the water when the kettle had heated. A cup of tea was what she needed.
She had been feeling sick with worry for the past two weeks. The silence from California was becoming unbearable. Somewhere in her heart, she felt it wasn’t right. Kelvin had run into trouble; she just knew it. She had seen him with the whiskey, seen how he got into fights and quarrels. She couldn’t shake the idea that something bad had happened to him and it tormented her. At night she prayed, yet every morning, she woke up damp with sweat.
She couldn’t shake the idea that, somewhere out there, he needed her. He had looked after her; but she had looked after him, too. She had understood him and there was nobody out there to understand him. He needed her and she was failing him.
The sound of the kettle, a high-pitched hiss, made her feel restless, her heart thudding against her ribs. She stood, going through to her bedchamber. The one letter Kelvin had sent was there, and with it he’d sent some money. He said he’d earned his first wage and he was sending part of it back.
She lifted the paper from the drawer by her bed and read the letter again.
It was marked with an address, which was good. Pollock Pine, California.
Amanda put the letter in her pocket and went back to the kitchen. The kettle had boiled, and she added the leaves to the water, waiting until the tea became stronger.
She had bread for lunch, and some cheese. It wasn’t much—she needed to purchase some more flour from the trading store, but she hadn’t seemed to have time to get there, what with the work washing dishes and the cleaning and cooking, she never seemed to have enough time. Her stock of money was running out, too. The job she had washing dishes covered the essentials, but no more than that. She shut her eyes, head and stomach aching with worry.
“God will provide,” she said firmly to herself, almost annoyed. Her faith was the most important thing to her, and she was not going to lose it. Only her faith could bring her through this time of worry and fear, and she would not let doubt undermine it.
Doubt was the Devil’s work.
She poured some tea and sat at the table, sipping it and thinking. The taste of the tea was sweet and strong, making her feel calm enough to think.
Kelvin had reached Californian shores safely. He was somewhere in California, and he had clearly found employment at a mine, or why would he have a wage? At the time that he had sent that letter, which was three months ago, he had been safe. He’d sounded hopeful and he was clearly prospering, since he’d sent a whole ten dollars.
Where was he now? Why haven’t I heard anything from him?
She tried so hard to be positive. Kelvin had got to California, and that was good. She focused on all the possibilities that were good, but the bad ones kept on creeping into her mind, no matter how hard she tried to push them away. That demon, doubt, kept feeding her the most awful scenarios. Kelvin was in prison. Kelvin was in poverty. Kelvin was dead. All of them were possible because she knew him. She knew how he was when the whiskey took him, and she knew he was all alone there. Without her to help him.
“It’s my fault. He would never have gone there without me.”
Amanda stood and walked to the window trying desperately to find a moment of peace. She could see the distant hills and the farmlands in between, the grass browning under the fierce summer’s heat. The rocks were hazed with heat, and she stared out, letting her sight blur as she contemplated the scene.
Her stomach growled as she went back to the table. She was hungry. She went to the cupboard. There was enough bread for today, but if she was going to eat tomorrow, she’d need to purchase flour at the trading store. She went upstairs to get her purse.
She jumped, startled, at a knock at the door.
“Who’s there?” she called.
A familiar voice called back, “It’s Margaret. I have some buns; Mother and I baked earlier today.”
“Oh!” Amanda grinned as she opened the door. The prospect of both buns and company raised her spirits, at least temporarily.
Margaret walked into the house slowly. Amanda followed her, a bright grin on her face.
“Thank you so much! I am grateful.” The Lord did have a wonderful way of providing, she thought, seeing her friend reach the table and carefully place a wrapped parcel onto it.
“It’s really nothing,” Margaret said gently. She breathed in. “Any chance of some tea?”
Amanda giggled. “Of course! I just brewed a pot. Please, come and sit down.” She pulled back a chair for Margaret, helping her to sit down, and then went to the counter where the kettle stood. She poured a cup of tea for her friend and guided her hand to the handle, where she grasped and sipped it.
“It’s a fine day,” Margaret commented as she drank her tea. Amanda immediately cut and buttered the buns, the fragrant, sugary scent filling the kitchen and making her stomach ache. She couldn’t wait and bite into the warm, buttery goodness.
“It is. Thank you so much for dropping in.”
“It’s nothing, Amanda,” Margaret said kindly. “I wanted to call on you, and we had some buns to share, so I thought, well, that’s a grand excuse” She chuckled.
Amanda laughed; it was good to see her. Margaret was a particular sort of person—she had innate wisdom. She found that she longed to be able to talk to her, needing guidance right now.
She wondered what she could ask her friend and, after a moment or two, she came up with a question.
“Margaret,” she murmured, “what should someone do if they doubt a lot? Well, not a lot. But let’s say someone was experiencing a challenge to their faith.”
“Doubt is the friend of uncertainty, and certainty drives it out,” her answer was instant. Amanda blinked.
“Um, well…mayhap,” she said.
Margaret grinned. “Sorry. It’s true, though. Doubt is a strange thing. So often, we want to be certain of everything. We can only be certain of two things—God and what God helps us to do.” Confidence infused her gentle voice like a nip of warm brandy on a frigid winter evening.
Amanda frowned. She poured herself more tea and added more to Margaret’s cup. She wanted to talk more, to continue this conversation. She thought about what Margaret had said. Should she do something, then? What could she do?
“What if you don’t know what to do?” Amanda asked after a moment. “How can you be certain of what God helps you to do, when you don’t really know what that must be?”
Margaret nodded. “I suppose then all one can do is ask Him. He knows for certain whatever we must do to live a good and blessed life.”
“I know,” Amanda said quietly. “I do pray, but so far, the answers are confusing. All I can think of is that I don’t know enough to act. I don’t know what to do.”
“What is this matter, if I can ask?” Margaret asked after a moment.
“I’m worried for Kelvin,” Amanda said, voice tight with tears She saw Margaret tilt her head, clearly thinking.
“You haven’t heard for some months, is that right?”
“For four months,” Amanda said instantly. “I don’t know what to do. I know that he reached California, but I don’t know what happened after that. I keep on imagining the worst. I can’t bear it. I don’t even want to go out of the door in case I miss the postman bringing a letter.” She started crying, tears running down her cheeks. Until she started to talk about it, she hadn’t realized how terribly the anxiety had been crippling her, making her barely able to sleep at night.
“Shh,” Margaret soothed, running her hand over the table, feeling for Amanda’s own. Amanda felt her long, soft fingers wrap her hand and hold it, the touch deeply comforting. She shut her eyes a moment, letting the reassurance of her friend’s touch calm her.
They sat quietly for a moment. Amanda calmed down, her tears drying into a sniffling cough.
Margaret cleared her throat. “You’re worried because you looked after him for so many years. You’re worried that it’s still your job.”
Amanda tensed. She knew in part that Margaret was right, but on the other hand, she didn’t believe that.
“Kelvin doesn’t need looking after! Kelvin is big and strong—he’s my elder brother and he’s the strongest boy in Yellowbridge,” the words came from her before she was aware of what she was saying. She’d always said that. When a child of the neighbors had tormented her, teasing her, she had told her that. She felt Margaret grip her hand gently.
“I know he is,” Margaret said kindly. “But you are used to being the solution for him. You always tried to help, tried to think of ways to improve things. You don’t need to be the solution, Amanda. You can help him, of course. But you don’t need to be the one to solve everything.”
Amanda let out a sigh. Oddly, those words were comforting. She had always tried to be the one to help—she’d had to be when their parents died, and he had done the same. Knowing the difference between helping and being the solution was a change within her.
“I agree,” Amanda said after a long moment. “At least, I can see what you’re saying, even if it doesn’t make much sense right now. But he still needs help. He could be in jail for all I know. Who will help him out there?” Her heart raced, throat tight with emotion and all her weeks of worry.
“Somebody might,” Margaret said carefully. “He’s a good man and many people might want to help him. But of course, you’re worried. Of course, you want to know where he is.”
“I need to know,” Amanda said simply. Besides anything else—whether she was trying to be the solution or not, whether she had to rush off to help or not—she needed to know for herself.
Margaret was quiet for a while. After a minute or two, she spoke. “You could try going to California.”
Amanda gaped at her. When she had been so mired in her worry, she had sometimes imagined doing that, but she’d always dismissed the thought instantly. Could she really help Kelvin if she did that? What if he was in some mortal danger; could she really be useful to him, or just a burden? Of course, she’d imagined turning up and rescuing him, but now – thinking about what Margaret said about the solution—her mindset was a little different. She wasn’t imagining rushing in to rescue him anymore. She had always been there to rescue him when he was in trouble because of the drink, but now, she was seeing this as an adventure. Still, the stubborn fears and doubts clung, making her push Margaret’s quiet advice back.
“How could I go there?” she demanded. “And what could I do? If Kelvin’s in prison, I can’t get him out. If he’s sick, I can’t heal him.” Those were her biggest fears. She imagined him in a bar brawl, or maybe drinking himself sick. She had been there to help him when he was here.
“Yes. That’s true,” Margaret interrupted. “But you’d be there. It’s not so much about helping Kelvin right now as about helping you. Would you like to go to California?”
Amanda shut her eyes. She breathed in the smell of the kitchen and tried to think. Her heart was pounding, thudding inside her. She felt a strange joy blossom there. She was terrified, but she was also oddly excited. It was a strange, new feeling, like nothing she’d ever experienced.
“Margaret,” she paused, reached for her tea and then put it on the saucer again, “I think I should pray,” she said at last.
“Well, then.” Margaret grinned. “We should pray.”
Amanda shut her eyes. In the silence in her mind, she brought her question to God. Should I go to California, she beseeched Him, is it the path I should follow?
She sat with the question and, as she did so, she felt a strange warmth in her chest.
She felt a sureness settle on her, and, in her mind, she seemed to see water, and a golden shore. A boat formed in her imagination, and she could see it moving across the water. Her terror shifted as she watched the boat, the horror of imagining getting onto something like that replaced with calm and a sense of purpose. The only time she’d seen the sea was in the postcard of Jamestown, but the place she could see looked like that.
She opened her eyes and felt elation flood through her. Somehow, she had received an answer.
“I think I know,” she said. She could hear the excitement in her own voice. “I think I feel like this is what I should be doing, that this is the journey I am meant to take.”
Margaret raised a thin eyebrow. She seemed unperturbed by Amanda’s sudden elation. “Well, then,” she said. “I reckon we should talk to the bank. Mama and Papa could help pay for your ticket if you need it.”
“Margaret!” Amanda wrapped her arms around her, holding her tight. “You can’t be so kind to me! I think there is enough for a cheap ticket on the steamship. I will have to talk to him. But I can’t believe I’m doing this!” She could hear how shrill her voice was, how the elation was so plain in her words. She felt as if her heart was floating, drifting above the sea of her pain.
She had been so helpless and so sad and now she felt sure that she was being called to another world—a terrifying, utterly new and unfathomed place, but a new world, and one where there was such considerable possibility.
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