Monday, January 10, 2011

As Blue As Her Mamma's Eyes

Today is Monday and as I do every week I post an excerpt of the novel I am working on. I love getting all of the feedback and ideas from other authors in the ether. You all have been extremely generous with your advice and encouragement. Personal Blogfest Mondays - Yay!

I've been working on something new this time...well, not entirely new, it IS a romance -- but this time the story takes place in 1812, in a frontier town.  I have to admit that I truly am loving all the research involved in writing an historical novel.

This is Chapter One of The Prodigal's Bride...

Missouri Territory, Arkansas County
Roundtree Creek - December 2, 1812

     No word in three weeks. 
     Jessa’s heart thrummed with worry. Rising early to complete her errands in town, she sat outside the cabin on the small porch step and leaned over the Bible nestled on her lap. She tilted her face toward the pale morning sun hoping for a breath of warmth on her cheeks. The bracing winter air turned Jessa’s prayers into vapor as they left her lips in a silent whisper. 
     Opening her eyes, she peered out across the open field to the creek that bore her family’s name. Squinting to see through the crisp air with watering eyes, she held her breath in the hopes of seeing movement, anything, across the water.  The stillness hit her in the chest like a physical blow.
     Where are you Papa?
     Finished with her morning devotions, Jessa stood to scrape the cabin window chipping at the crystal frost with shivering hands.  Last night’s cold snap still lingered in the iced-over window and slush in the water barrel outside.  Eager to get the day started, Jessa paced the small porch. The woodpile to the right of the door looked painfully small. They’d had much more, this time last year. Her young brother, recovering from a bad cold, still slept inside and Jessa wouldn’t allow him to chop wood in his weakened state. Her father’s decision to make one last hunting trip before the storms came seemed like a wise decision at the time. It felt like so long ago that he’d set out with their neighbor from down the creek to hunt deer.
     Grabbing some wood, Jessa slipped back into the cabin, pushing the Z-braced door carefully closed. She looked over at her sleeping brother, James, as he lay curled up against the raised hearth. The rock stacked chimney, build with her father’s hands, was still warm from the dying fire. The blue stones from the nearby creek always reminded Jessa of her mother’s eyes.  Jessa wondered if she'd find a love like her parents out here in the woods and mountains. Was love too much of a luxury on the frontier?
     She tossed the wood on the glowing embers and sat down next to the warmth on her father’s rocking chair. It creaked and James’s eyes fluttered open.
     “Hey, sis,” he moaned. Stretching his scraggly limbs, he smiled at Jessa and hugged himself. “It’s cold.”
     “Don’t worry, James, I have more wood for tonight.” Jessa stabbed at the log with a metal poker. “We’ll be fine.” She hoped her worry didn’t betray her calm expression.
     James eyed her with the same pale eyes they shared with their father. “You look worried.”
     Jessa smiled. At eleven, he was very much like their father; down to the way he cocked his head to the side when he considered something curious. She, on the other hand, looked like her mother. Her hair fell in long, dark red waves to her waist when she combed it. The boys at school used to pull her braids and call her ‘carrot head’. She sighed when she thought of those days before mama got sick, when all her worries were about names at school.
     “I’m not concerned, James. I just miss him, that’s all.” Jessa’s voice cracked despite her efforts to be strong for James. She rubbed her palms on her pale blue skirts and tried to sound brave. “Nothing to worry yourself about.”
     His face pulled into a frown. “I miss him too, Jessa, but we’ll be glad when he returns.” James’s face lit up. “Maybe he’ll bring back so much meat we have to have a feast!”
     Jessa chuckled and ruffled his hair. “Maybe.”
     James kicked off the covers and stood with his hands at his hips looking at the window. “Is there snow?”
     “Not yet,” Jessa stood, walked to the row of hooks beside the door, and pulled on a pale blue cloak. “But I’ll bet we’ll have some for sure for Christmas, it’s that cold out there.”
     James grinned. “Snow for Christmas?” His face fell. “Aw, that’s weeks away.”
     Jessa’s stomach flopped. Just three weeks to finish her present to James. Poppa usually made him a toy out of wood, but this year with him being gone…Jessa forced a smile to her lips. “Get yourself ready, James, we’re heading into town today, remember?”
     James pulled his gaze from the frosty window back towards her. “Can we stop by the mill?”
     Jessa sighed. The saw mill sat in the middle of town, well out of their way. Still, James had always been fascinated with the way all the gears seemed to work together by themselves. 
     “Sure, but we better get going. It’ll take us a couple of hours to get there and back. We don’t want to be walking in the woods at night now, do we?”
     “Do you think we’ll see a wolf?” James looked at her wide-eyed. “Like Poppa did last winter? Remember we heard their howling out back?”
     “I remember,” Jessa said quietly. “And I hope not.”
Gathering a couple of carrots, some bread, and her last chunk of cheese, Jessa folded them into a cloth and stuffed the bundle into her basket. They’d need to eat on the way back.
     “I’ll be right back,” James said and raced off toward the ladder at the back of the cabin that led up to the loft.
     She heard him rummage through his things overhead. Wondering what he was doing, she shifted from foot to foot while waiting. The feel of the few coins in her pouch made her heart fall. What would they do when even that ran out? Jessa blinked back tears. Tucking her hair into her bonnet, she whispered a silent prayer.
     Lord, please help me to trust you.
     “I’m ready!” James shouted and clamored down ladder, stopping to jump from a high rung before Jessa could protest. He landed with a thud on the plank floor sending dust flying through the air.
     “James Matthew Roundtree!” Jessa shouted. “Don’t you dare fall and break your arm while Poppa is away.”
     James froze, his eyes wide. “I – I’m sorry, Jessa.”
Sighing, Jessa managed a smile and reached out to brush his bangs from his face. 
     “I’m sorry, James. You just scared me, that’s all.”
     “I’ll be more careful, Jessa,” James said solemnly. “At least until Poppa comes home.”
     His impish smirk that came with the latter part of his promise forced a chuckle out of Jessa.
     “Well as long as you wait until then.”
     “I promise.” James nodded, pushing whatever was in his hand into his back pocket.
     Jessa raised an eyebrow but let it go. “We better get going.”
     They walked together down the south trail toward town, their footsteps the only sound in the woods. The early morning sunlight filtered through the maple and oak branches dancing shadows on their path. James skipped beside her, never really able to simply walk; he bounced and leapt over ruts in the trail.
     Up ahead, James stopped short. “Hey, what’s that?”
     Jessa squinted at the black form in the weeds up ahead. “I haven’t the slightest.”
     As they neared the figure, Jessa’s stomach fluttered with anxiety.             The form looked large, like a sleeping dog. Her hand went out to James, stopping him by the shoulder.
     “Don’t touch it.”
     James strained forward, the lump just a few yards away. “I just wanna take a quick look at it.” He pulled from her grasp and ran toward it, freezing just a foot from the pile of black fur. “Jessa!”
     Heart ramming in her chest, Jessa hiked her skirts, running along the dirt path to get to James. “What? What is it?”
     James looked over at her with an ashen face. “It’s a man. A dead man.”
     Jessa reached James, pulling him back from the form. “What?”
     She didn’t wait for an answer. Leaning over James, she peered at the man wrapped in beaver furs lying in a heap by the side of the path. His long beard and dark brows hid most of his face and his crumpled body tangled with the long weeds obscuring his height. An angry wound tore a ragged path along his exposed shoulder.
     Jessa pulled James back with her as she eased past the form. Fear swirled through her as her eyes darted to the woods beyond the path.
     Picking up a stick from the path, James reached forward and poked the man in the side.
Jessa gasped. “Stay away, James,” she hissed.
     James wiggled out of her arms and turned to her. A nervous smile pulled at his flushed cheeks. “Why are we whispering if he’s dead?”
     Jessa blinked and then shrugged. “I guess we don’t have to.”
     “What do you think happened to him?” James asked as he gave the man a final poke for good measure.
     Blindingly fast, the stranger’s hand shot out catching the stick before James delivered another jab.
     Jessa screamed and yanked James away.
     The man moved, moaning into the ground. “Help me,” he rasped.
Finding her wits, she pulled James further down the path. “Hurry, James, we need to go and get help!”
     “But – ” James started.
     “Now, James,” Jessa shot back. “Let’s go!”

That is all for now.  I hope you all enjoyed a sneak peak at my WIP. I look forward to your comments. Until next time...Go Write.

Photograph by Jonas John


Roland D. Yeomans said...

You really ensnared me with the brushstrokes of your descriptions. I felt the winter chill, the worry, the anxiety that perhaps her father would not return.

Life in the early 1800's was so precarious and fragile ... much like it is now but in a different way. Bravo, Raquel.

Was she reading the parable of the Good Samaritan that morning? We, in protected civilization, forget how brave that Samaritan was ... feigning injury was one way thieves lured victims into their clutches in those days. Have a great Monday, Roland

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

1812? Wow, I bet that did take some research!

Erin MacPherson said...

This is really great... I loved the imagery at the beginning... I could almost feel the cold air and how it related to the worry/anxiety she was feeling. Great job!