Authors: Paula Reed
INTO HIS ARMS
By Paula Reed
INTO HIS ARMS
Copyright © 2012
All Rights Reserved.
NLA Digital Liaison Platform LLC
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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To my wonderful husband, Torin, for the love and encouragement; and to Beth, for her nautical expertise, but more for her friendship.
Small and elegant hands, roughened by work, turned the smooth ball of brown dough onto the flour-strewn table. It was with certain strength that they set to a practiced, rhythmic rocking—flatten, fold, turn, flatten, fold, turn. The yeasty smell of the dough mingled with the aroma of a hen simmering among herbs over the fire, and soft light filtered through the windows.
Faith Cooper worked the mixture with graceful determination. This was perhaps the most satisfying task she could perform when her mind was in turmoil. Her frustration flowed from her fingers and into the dough, allowing her to maintain the calm demeanor she had cultivated so carefully throughout her life. Generally, she was very good at it, the illusion of pious tranquility, but this time, merely keeping her hands busy and her face serene did not chase away the doubts in her head.
Aaron Jacobs was a fine choice, she told herself, squelching a sigh. He wasn’t a handsome man, but his face was pleasant enough. He was a good Christian with a successful wood mill. To be sure, marriage to him meant that she would live the rest of her life as she had lived it thus far, docile, obedient, unquestioning. If she felt it was a masquerade, what did she expect? Well she knew that very few men in Massachusetts would accept anything else from a wife.
It was time to stop dragging her heels and grow up. She was one year shy of a score and had already turned down four offers of marriage. George Mayfield and Roger Smith were wealthy, but older than she would wish in a mate. Josiah Wells was more of an age, but he had always been cruel as a boy. She doubted that, as a man, he was any different. Paul Geddes had no head for business. Aaron was a perfect husband by all reasonable standards.
A sharp rapping upon the door of her family’s clapboard house broke her gloomy contemplation, and for a moment, she was relieved for the distraction. Quickly, she dropped the ball of dough into a bowl and spread a cloth over the top to let it rise. Wiping her hands on the broad apron that covered her deep brown skirts and checking to be sure that her hair was neatly tucked into her linen cap, she answered the door with a smile that faltered, then froze. The somber clothes of her visitor could have belonged to any man in the village, but the formality of his dress and authority in his stance were unique.
“Reverend Williams!” Faith exclaimed. “You honor us. Were my parents expecting you? They’re in my father’s joinery if you will but wait a moment.”
The clergyman raised his hand in curt acknowledgement. He was well over two score in years, and singularly unremarkable in looks. Lank, graying, brown hair fell to his wide collar. His eyes, a nondescript shade of blue, scrutinized her carefully, lit with some emotion that she could not name, but that left her feeling slightly queasy.
“Nay, Miss Cooper, I would speak with you awhile first, if it is not a bad time.”
In truth, she had no wish to spend long in this man’s presence without the comfort of her parents. Whenever she encountered him at meeting or in the village, he regarded her too steadily. A slight smirk would pull at the corner of his lips, as though he knew some dark secret about her. Still, she could hardly refuse hospitality to her own minister.
Carefully arranging her features to affect a calmness she did not feel, she replied, “I have no pressing business. Will you come inside?”
In the three months that Owen Williams had held the position of minister in her Puritan village, he had yet to pay a mere social call on anyone. It was much discussed among their neighbors that he found ample opportunity to chastise his flock for the slightest transgressions. She had no doubt that his censure would at last be felt here, in her home, as well.
Still, the only sign of her apprehension was the slight wariness in her striking, aqua blue eyes. “I have tea warming by the fire, and I baked gingerbread just this morning. Would you take refreshment?”
“Aye, I would,” he replied.
Making no attempt at common pleasantries, he swept past Faith, who held the door open for him. With disdain, his eyes swept the immaculate keeping room. It was large, and the furniture sparse, though well made. One side held a spacious oak table and chairs as well as a cupboard and sideboard. The other held a bench and several high-backed wooden chairs in front of a generous hearth crafted of local stone. A small, leather-bound Bible sat open on the bench. Steep, narrow stairs led to the second level and the sleeping quarters. Those, too, spoke of the craftsmanship of the cabinetmaker who lived there.
Faith fetched sturdy earthenware dishes from the cupboard and served the offered refreshment, all the while acutely aware of his eyes on her.
“I’ll speak plainly, Miss Cooper,” the reverend began. “Aaron Jacobs tells me that he has spoken with your father about the possibility of taking you to wife.”
Faith brought her own cup of tea to the table and sat at the opposite end. “Aye, my father has spoken of it to me.”
“I am told other offers have been made for you.”
“Aye, that’s true.”
“How comes it, then, that you are nigh onto twenty and still unwed?” He took a bite of gingerbread and made a face of tight displeasure. “A bit dry,” he commented.
Faith ground her teeth at his criticism, one implied, the other direct, but gave no outward sign of her indignation. If it was her marital status that bothered him, she had just resolved that problem in her own mind.
“My parents would have me happy in my union. None of the others suited me, but I have decided that Goodman Jacobs and I are an acceptable match.”
A pinched smirk flickered across his features before they resumed their stern scowl. “None
you? You find Goodman Jacobs
? I see you are a finicky miss then. What kind of father is it who lets his daughter make such a weighty decision for herself, and what kind of daughter does not seek to please her parents?”
Faith ducked her head in a manner suggesting meek deference, though ‘twas another thought altogether that caused her to shield her face. Well she knew that her eyes were the very mirrors of her thoughts, and at the moment, she was furious that the minister would so grievously overstep his place.
“My father is a good man and a strict parent, Reverend,” she protested. “He would not hesitate to admonish me for contrariness or arrogance. I assure you, had my parents shown some preference in my choice, I would have submitted to their will. It is only, as I said, that they wished for my happiness.”
“I heard what you said. Do not be impertinent, girl!”
Anger flushed Faith’s cheeks, and she again dropped her gaze to the table, hoping that he did not see. Later, when she recounted this tale to her parents, she would have no shameful outbursts to confess. Striving to be ever the mistress of her emotions, she murmured, “Forgive me, Reverend, I meant no disrespect.”
“This pretense works on these simple villagers, Miss Cooper, but you will find that I am not so easily gulled. Your neighbors think you as pious as you are comely, when ‘tis clear you are prideful and vain. Still, you cast your eyes down and flutter your lashes and they mistake your affectations for divine grace.”
His attack left the girl speechless. ‘Twas true, no others had guessed at the temper she masked in her meek manners. And her faith in the austere theology of her church was, of late, riddled with doubt, but she did her best to hide these flaws and live as an upright Christian.
Though her conscience pricked her for the deception, she protested. “I—I know not what you speak of. I am an industrious and obedient daughter. And truly, I have refused the others only because I thought our characters would not suit in marriage.”
character might not! You think yourself too fair for the others who would offer to be your husband. You seek a young man, one ill prepared to enforce the dutiful obedience you obviously refuse to accept as your place.”
Faith tightened her fingers around her heavy clay cup. “I assure you, Reverend, I shall strive to be a dutiful Christian wife.” But even to her own ears, the words lacked conviction. The minister only snorted in disbelief, and with rather more sharpness than she intended, she said, “I do not understand what I have done to so displease you. Do you not wish me to marry Aaron Jacobs?”
Relief flooded her when her parents chose that moment to open the door and greet their visitor. Her father, Jonathan, was a solid man. His dark blond hair, streaked with silver, brushed his shoulders. His wife, Naomi, was the source of Faith’s delicate features. Like Faith, she kept her hair neatly contained in her linen coif and wore a serviceable gown of dark wool covered by a wide apron.
The minister dismissed Faith with an imperious wave. “Goodman and Goodwife Cooper, I would have a word with you. Your obstinate daughter’s presence is not required.”
Both Faith and Naomi gasped at the minister’s blatantly rude comment, and a glimmer of indignation crossed Jonathan’s face.
“Obstinate, Reverend?” he asked. “I must confess, you bewilder me. Our Faith has ever been a most biddable girl. It seems you have yet to meet any young person in our village who meets with your approval.”
“You are lax in this village,” Williams replied. “But no matter, I see no evil here that cannot be set quickly to rights.”
It was clear by the look upon his face that Faith’s father did not relish the conversation to come. In a tight voice he commanded, “Faith, your brothers are in the joinery. Our young David has done a fine job helping with the cradle for your unborn niece or nephew. He and Noah would have you see it, I’m sure.”
She dropped her gaze and curtsied, but her deference seemed only to annoy the reverend, who gave her a skeptical glare. Once outside, she hesitated a moment. Faith seldom disobeyed her parents, but urgent curiosity got the better of her, and she lingered at the window, watching and listening through the glass.
“I bid you welcome to our humble home, Reverend Williams,” her mother began. “I apologize if our Faith offended you in some way. Was there some disagreement?”
“To be sure, this is no idle visit, Goodwife Cooper. Indeed I am here because I have concerns about your daughter.”
“Pray tell, what concerns are those?” her father asked. “I have heard nothing but good report of her in our village.”
“She is sorely led astray, I tell you, and may well lead others down her crooked path.”
“Have you heard some vile rumor? Whatever it is, I assure you, our Faith is a pure and pious girl. Surely it is a misunderstanding.”
“Is it a misunderstanding that she has turned her nose up at every covenanted Christian man who would be her husband?”