Bridal Veil, Oregon
The simple word staring up at Jacob Garvey from the piece of white paper hit him so hard it nearly knocked him to his knees. He’d been afraid of something like this for weeks. The note tucked in the wooden box lying under the tree confirmed his fears.
Maybe this wasn’t what it seemed. Jacob turned the piece of paper over, hoping to find an explanation. His hand trembled as his gaze slid over the words printed in the bold handwriting.
Margaret. I’m leaving town this evening and not coming back. I want to marry you. I’ll come for your answer after work. If I find the word Yes, then I’ll meet you here after dark. Only bring what you need. I love you and can’t wait to make you my wife.
P.S. If I don’t find your reply, I’ll know you can’t go through with it.
A soft groan passed Jacob’s lips, and he rocked on his heels. His eyes returned to the answer written in his daughter’s clear script—willing it to change, willing it to disappear. Yes. Margaret was every¬thing to him and had filled the awful void after his dear wife died. His sweet girl deserved so much better. There had to be a way to protect her from her own immaturity.
Why did Margaret persist in seeing Nathaniel Cooper? To Jacob’s way of thinking, the man had no prospects and even less ambition. The Garvey family might not have much in the way of money, but they had history—their roots extended back to some of the hardy pioneers who helped settle this land.
What did that young man have? Hopeless dreams and no family—at least, none that Jacob knew of. A drifter with no prospects whom Margaret had met only a scant six months ago. From what he’d heard, Cooper jumped from one job to the next, with no thought for the future. He’d lasted less than a year here and was already moving on. Margaret could end up destitute if that ne’er-do-well wasn’t careful. Besides, she was only sixteen.
Jacob placed the paper back in the box and stood. He’d hide the box with the note inside until he was sure Margaret’s future was safe. When Nathaniel came back, he’d think she didn’t want to marry him and leave town. Jacob snapped the lid shut and hurried back down the trail, anxious to get home.
The gate hinges squealed when he pushed through into his yard. He paused with a glance at the house, praying Margaret hadn’t heard. Now, where to dump this box? Starting a fire might raise questions, with the forest so dry this time of year. His gaze lit on his shovel lying next to an unplanted rosebush bound in burlap. He’d prepared the hole but hadn’t unwrapped the roots or set the bush. He glanced at the box in his hand, then back at the hole.
Hurrying over to the small rosebed, he peered over his shoul¬der, praying Margaret wouldn’t offer to help. When no movement showed through the windows on the south side of the house, he bent to his task.
He withdrew a sharp knife from his pocket and cut away the bur¬lap from the roots of the rose, then wrapped a strip around the box and laid it aside. Quickly he enlarged the hole, creating a side pocket at the base, then slipped the box and its message into the cool grave. The rose took its place in the hole, then he tamped in the soil and watered the rose. Another glance at the house assured him of success. Margaret would never know. His daughter’s future was safe.
Four years later
Late May 1902
Margaret hurried to the two-story house set against the base of the tree-clad hill, anxiety dogging her steps. Papa had been tired when he’d left the house early this morning, but he’d been working at the mill long hours of late. Nothing to worry about, he’d assured her— he just needed the Sabbath to catch up on his rest, and he’d be right as rain. But she didn’t believe it. He looked peaked and moved as though weights were attached to his limbs. Best to keep an eye on him, in case he was coming down with the grippe.
“Papa? You home yet?” She flung off her sweater and dumped her books on a nearby table. She’d not meant to stay so long at the school, but little Mark James had thrown one of his temper tan¬trums and needed a talking to. Then the chores had to be done— the floor swept, the board erased, her desk straightened—all things that didn’t normally take much time, but Gertrude Graham had stopped by on her way home from the Company store and slowed her down further. Gertrude was a sweetie, but everyone in town knew her propensity for gossip ran as deep as the nearby Columbia River.
Margaret had at last made her excuses and headed home. Part of her hoped Papa had kept his promise to leave work early and rest, while the other part wanted to light the stove and get supper going before he arrived.
Dusk wouldn’t settle in for another hour or so, but she lit one lamp just the same, wanting a cheerful glow to penetrate the gloom when he made his way down the trail.
An hour later she glanced out the window again, hoping to see his familiar figure trudging up the path. Nothing. She dusted the flour from her hands and finished mixing the dough for the chicken and dumplings, then dropped globs of dough onto the steaming mix¬ture in the pan and covered the large cast-iron skillet with a domed lid. At least the house was warm. In a few minutes the dumplings would rise, filling the room with their fragrance. Her mouth watered at the thought, and her lips tipped up at the happiness that would light Papa’s eyes when he stepped through the door.
Just then the front door rattled, and her hand flew to her throat. Papa wouldn’t shake the door handle or knock; he’d stride in with his booming greeting and big smile. Margaret stood in the middle of the kitchen frozen by uncertainty—but only for a moment. Could it be a neighbor in need of help or one of the unsavory characters riding the railroad cars of late? Hobos had been increasing in number, and her father had warned her not to open the door to a stranger if he wasn’t home.
She reached for the heavy wooden rolling pin resting on the painted countertop Papa had built and gripped it tight. “Who’s there?” She took a step toward the door in the nearby living room.
No reply. The knob moved again but this time with less energy. What in the world? She gripped her makeshift weapon tighter and crept to the door.
A quick twist of the round metal knob and a jerk of the door brought her face-to-face with Papa slumped against the doorjamb, his head lolled to the side. Margaret dropped the pin, and it clattered to the floor. She grasped his shoulders and gave him a small shake. “Papa? Are you sick? Papa!” She ran her gaze over his body, trying to find any sign of what might be wrong.
A low groan escaped his pale mouth, and his head rolled like a broken-necked doll. His eyes opened, and he raised a shaking hand. “Not. Feeling well. Help me. Inside.”
She slipped her arm around his waist and tried to support his sagging weight, stumbling as his feet barely cleared the threshold. Somehow she managed to half carry, half drag him to the worn couch against a nearby wall. He settled down with a groan and started to shake. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead, and his breath came in shallow gasps.
“What’s wrong, Papa? Where does it hurt? Should I go for Doc Albert?”
Margaret leaned over her prone father and clutched his hand, willing her own to stop trembling.
His eyes fluttered open, and the stark pain in them revealed the effort it took to speak. “Chest. Hurts. Shoulder. Jaw. It’s bad. No time.”
“Hush, Papa. You’ve been working too hard, that’s all. Let me go for the doc.”
He gripped her hand with a sense of urgency and persisted. “No time. You need…to listen.”
“No. Don’t talk, just rest. You’ll be fine.” She bit her lip, wanting to race down the path to the doctor’s home a quarter mile away but was terrified to leave him alone. Instead she lifted the knitted afghan off the back of the couch, spread it over his shaking form, and smoothed back his hair.
A movement outside the window caught her attention, and she squeezed his hand. “Hold on, Papa. I’ll be right back.”
She flew to the door and jerked it open in time to see eight-year-old Harry Waters swinging up the path with a fishing pole over his shoulder. “Harry?”
The boy halted midstride and turned toward her. “Yes, Miss Garvey? You need somethin’?”
“Yes. Run as fast as you can and get Doc Albert. Tell him my father is ill, and we need him to come. Hurry!”
The black hair flopped on his forehead as he nodded in assent. “Yes, ma’am.” A flick of his wrist tossed the pole into the nearby brush and the boy was off, racing along the path on the shortcut back to¬ward town.
Margaret rushed inside and sank to her knees next to her father. She drew in a deep breath, suddenly frightened by his face drained of color and his tightly closed eyes. “Papa? Are you awake?”
There was a slight movement of his head. Then something resem¬bling a frown crossed his face, but it could have been a spasm of pain. “Sorry, Beth.” His pet name for her slipped out as his eyes struggled to open. “Forgive me.”
“Shh, it’s all right, Papa. There’s nothing to forgive. Rest now.”
“No. Shouldn’t have done it,” he panted. “Tried. To fix it. Forgive me.” The words trailed off, but his imploring eyes didn’t leave her face.
“Of course I forgive you. Hang on, Papa. Doc Albert will be here any minute.”
A deep sigh escaped, and his eyes closed again. Margaret grasped his hand tighter and prayed. God couldn’t let her father die. She wouldn’t allow it. Mama had died twelve years ago, and her grand¬father just last year. Between that and losing Nathaniel… That was enough for one person to bear. Papa had the grippe. He’d be back on his feet soon, laughing and teasing about her temper matching her auburn hair and living up to Mama’s Irish heritage.
That moment her father’s body convulsed. The muscles around his mouth tightened, then suddenly relaxed, and the already weak fingers grew limp in her hand.
“Papa?” She gently disengaged her grip and stroked his forehead. “Papa, can you hear me?”
He lay still with not even a twitch of his eyelids.
Panic sucked the breath from Margaret’s lungs, leaving her dizzy and faint. She shook her head, drew a deep breath, and forced the reaction away. No time for foolishness. Papa needed her strong.
She drew close to his face, praying for movement, hoping for another breath. “Papa. You can’t leave me alone.” Asob tore at her throat and slipped out in spite of her effort to quell it. “I need you, Papa. Please, please stay with me.” She lifted a shaking hand and pat¬ted his cheek, hoping and praying he’d respond.
All of a sudden, realization struck her with its deadly truth, and she moaned. Frantically she searched for some sign of life—breath¬ing—a flicker of his eyelids. But there was nothing. Papa was gone. He’d never smile or tease her again. Never enjoy the meal she’d pre¬pared or sit in a church pew beside her on Sunday mornings.
How could she stand it? What would she do now? Oh, why had God seen fit to take him when he was still young and she had no one else in her life? She dropped her head on his shoulder and sobs welled up from a place so deep, a place terrified of the pain and lone¬liness she knew would come. Just like it had with Mother. Just like it had with Grandpa. And just like it had with Nathaniel. No. She’d not wallow in that now.
A knock sounded at the door, and the knob turned. She only vaguely felt gentle hands stroking her hair and a strong arm wrap¬ping around her shoulders, drawing her away from the still figure on the couch.