Authors: Patricia Hickman
“When you find yourself thinking of certain characters long after you’ve finished the book, you know the author has done her
job. Patricia Hickman has certainly ‘done her job’ in EARTHLY VOWS—the charming ending to a charming series.”
—Sylvia Bambola, author of
Return to Appleton
“Patricia Hickman’s EARTHLY VOWS, the finale to her popular Millwood Hollow series, presents a deeply emotional voyage into
human hearts—the good, the wandering, and the misguided. Truth shimmers in every phrase.”
—Lyn Cote, author of the Women of Ivy Manor series
“EARTHLY VOWS is the perfect ending to the Millwood Hollow series. Patricia Hickman’s spare, unvarnished prose is well suited
to her Depression-era tale.”
—Deanna Julie Dodson, author of
In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed
To Grace Surrendered
“Patty Hickman’s EARTHLY VOWS is a sepia portrait of life in the 1930s. Her characters step alive off the pages and walk straight
into your imagination.”
—Eric Wiggin, author of the Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm series
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 Patricia Hickman
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group USA
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
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The FaithWords name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group USA.
First eBook Edition: April 2009
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
A special thank-you to Jim Gabbert of the State Historical Society, for providing me with the facts about Oklahoma City, Ardmore,
and Norman during the 1930s.
Thanks to the Warner team for your faith and confidence in the Millwood Hollow series.
Thanks to my peers and the fantastic faculty at Queens University for your input and comments.
HE AIR WAS STIFLING HOT, INSULATED BY
the hard blue Oklahoma sky. The meeting in the campus president’s office convened beneath the shade of the oldest oak tree
on the Bible school campus. Jeb loosened his tie. The summer of 1936 was breaking all heat records. A student strummed a hymn
on an oversized guitar, not far from where Jeb stood with Jonathan Flauvert, the school’s president. It was agitating, but
he didn’t let on. It was hard to keep his composure, what with the heat. But Flauvert was long in description, and what he
had to say left Jeb stunned.
Abigail Coulter, his fiancée’s mother, arranged for all of them to meet two of Fern’s brothers and their wives for lunch,
to tell them of their engagement. That was all that had been made of the trip to Ardmore. Jeb did not tell Fern of the small
detail in Gracie’s letter from Cincinnati. There was no need. It was probably nothing.
His introduction to Jonathan Flauvert was through a mutual friend, his former mentor Reverend Philemon Gracie, the preacher
who penned the letter tucked in his coat pocket. Jonathan walked him into the shade of the oak that centered the Bible school
campus. “I won’t beat around the bush. Our church committee has read your letter of recommendation from Philemon Gracie. We
want to offer you a church here in Oklahoma.”
Jeb had not misread Gracie’s hint about a new pulpit opportunity. Maybe he should have mentioned it to Fern after all. But
if it amounted to nothing, then why trouble her?
Philemon retired a few years ago from the Church in the Dell in Nazareth. He was nursing an ulcer but kept close contact with
Jeb, whom he had trained to assume his post. When Jeb wrote and told him of their upcoming trip to Ardmore, Gracie must have
sent a letter of introduction at once to the dean of the school. “Gracie told me he was finagling a deal,” said Jeb. He was
astonished. “This is what he meant. My only scholastic background was gotten under his tutelage, Dr. Flauvert. Did he tell
you that?” he asked.
“Gracie is highly respected here on our campus. Your credentials are respectable.”
There was no harm in asking, so Jeb said, “I’d like to know more about the church, Reverend. The work in Nazareth has come
through a lot of fires, so to speak. But I’ll admit that the thought of a change has crossed my mind lately.” He and Fern
had known the best and worst of times at Church in the Dell. “My fiancée has settled in Nazareth. I don’t know what she’ll
“Your engagement is recent?”
“A few months,” said Jeb.
“I hear your fiancée is a connoisseur of antiquities,” said Reverend Flauvert. He was a short man with hair so blond that
the rest of him looked as pink as a salmon. He walked with toes out, black shoes worn at the heels, but polished.
Gracie evidently said more about Fern and him than he admitted. “She not only collects them, but reads every book in her library
and the town’s library,” said Jeb. “You’ve not seen a library like Fern’s. Fern buys books before she buys food.”
“Maybe a gift will help to soften her up.” The president smiled. “Fern sounds the intelligent type.” He opened a small box
that held a book, an old copy of
“You know her mother lives in Ardmore. Dad’s buried right on the family estate.” That didn’t mean she’d jump at the chance
to move back here. Her trips to Ardmore were slow in coming.
“Give her the book first, just in case.” Flauvert was sober, much like Gracie. “Allow me to walk you out to your automobile,”
he said. He opened up the book and showed him the title page and the scrawled ink beneath the title. He kept pushing his eyeglasses
up the bridge of his nose. “There’s another matter, a matter of a dinner party Friday night. My wife, Rachel, has no use for
parties. One of the parishioners is a businessman in Oklahoma City and he and his wife throw lavish dinner parties. When the
Oakleys heard of you, they wanted you in their pulpit on Sunday. They insisted that you come into the city Friday evening
and bring your Fern.”
Jeb was reluctant. Fern would wonder why they were attending a party with strangers. “Can you tell me more about the Oakleys?”
“Somehow my name made it onto the dinner lists when I became the school president. I always believed that if Henry and Marion
Oakley saw the smallness of the school, they’d drop me. But they have, and they didn’t,” said Flauvert. “When this Depression
hit, the school would have floundered had it not been for people like the Oakleys. So when their invitation arrived, Rachel
felt some culture in Oklahoma City might soften you and your fiancée to the idea of moving.” He held out the invitation.
She’d raise objections. Fern could not be rushed. “Fern’s always saying that I need a better suit for special occasions.”
“My suit is fifteen years old. But we’re clergymen. It’s expected, it’s expected.” He kept talking as he walked Jeb out to
Fern’s car. “Gracie mentioned that you have three children. Are you a widower?”
“I take care of three kids not my own. The Welbys were abandoned and took up with me in Nazareth. Angel is the oldest and
she has a younger brother and sister, Willie and Ida May. They’re back at the house with Fern’s mother. She’s quite taken
with them, especially Ida May.”
“So you and Fern will come with a ready-made family. That’s a challenge for a newlywed couple.”
“To tell you the truth, I tried to find the Welby kids’ family, but it never worked out. I held off proposing to Fern, thinking
someday we’d be free to marry.” He tucked the party invitation into a pocket. “She said yes anyway.”
“Fern sounds special.”
“There’s no woman like Fern. In my old skirt-chasing days, I never met anyone with Fern’s character. I’m lucky she’ll have
“That copy of
belonged to our daughter, Ellie. She died of typhoid.”
“It’s a twice-blessed gift, Jon. Are you sure your wife wants to part with it?”
“When I told Rachel about you, that you might come and shepherd our city flock, she wanted you to have it.” Flauvert handed
the box to Jeb, a small, lidded container covered with violet fabric.
“That was one of Rachel’s old jewelry boxes. She keeps a lot of Ellie’s things tucked in all kinds of places.”
“Fern will be grateful, Reverend Flauvert. Would it be a good idea to bring Fern by to meet you?”
“Rachel’s hosting a luncheon tomorrow at our place for the faculty. Nothing fancy, but two of our domestics will be preparing
a banquet. I’d love it if you dropped in with Fern. Join us for lunch and I’ll give her the details of the city church. First
Community is the name.”
He couldn’t let Flauvert be the one to spring things on Fern. Who was he kidding? Hadn’t she mentioned more than once how
happy she was to leave Oklahoma behind? She was the teacher who’d brought the Stanton School in Nazareth up to her higher
standards. She attacked it like a missionary. Several towns benefited from Stanton’s ability to thrive in a Depression.
“You’ll pass our little house on your way back into Ardmore. Redbud House is in the middle of a pecan grove on your right
before you take Moor Road back into town.” Flauvert opened the car door for Jeb. “Best pecans in the county, by the way, grow
in that grove.” Jeb read the school’s history in a pamphlet. The president’s house was a new work some of the college students
started a few years back, before the Depression hit. So when they found that grove on school property, they decided to build
the house right smack in the middle of the pecan trees. He wrote down the time and address and handed it to Jeb. “The faculty
reception is a modest gathering, good food. I’ll introduce you around.”
Fern would come to a reception. “I’ll bring her by tomorrow.”
“Nazareth has taken its toll on you, Jeb. That’s why we came to Ardmore, so you could take some time off. No other reason
than that.” Fern buttoned up the laundered shirts brought in from the clothesline by her mother’s housemaid.
“So many churches have floundered under the weight of this Depression. Think what we could do to help,” said Jeb.
Fern lifted a half-dozen shirts by the coat hanger crooks.
The maid appeared. “Miss Coulter, I’ll take care of the wash.” She took the shirts out of Fern’s hands.
“I’m making myself useful, Myrna. Heaven knows why my mother continues to knock around in this big old place all alone.”
The maid smiled and then left them alone in Fern’s bedroom.
“Did you tell him you would take the Oklahoma City church? Or that you might? What exactly did you say?” She was as irritable
as he had seen her.
“Only that we would drop by tomorrow to discuss the matter further.”
She folded her arms. “Did you want to tell him that you would do it?”
There was the word that she always managed to slip into the conversation, “want.” Jeb sat on the edge of her bed, the one
she slept in as a girl.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Jeb. You’re scaring me.”