Glorious Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series)

BOOK: Glorious Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series)
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Also by
Debra
Holland

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2014 Debra Holland

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477826027

ISBN-10: 1477826025

 

Cover design by Delle Jacobs

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014908878

CHAPTER ONE

Cambridge, Massachusetts

May, 1895

J
oshua Norton sat at the dining room table with his deceased wife’s family at their house in Cambridge and wished he was anywhere in the world but here. He’d settle for returning to Uganda, even though he’d been longing to leave Africa for the last several years
. But he’d bear with the presence of his in-laws for his son’s sake. He glanced at nine-year-old Micah, who poked at his peas with his fork, frowning.

The gaslight from the sconces on the walls and the flames’ glow from the silver candelabra flickered over the circular table, covered in snowy linen and laden with enough food to save ten Baganda families from starvation.
The savory smell of roast turkey lingered in the air, making his stomach growl. Yet, he couldn’t help contrasting the sight to the simple meals of
ugali
or
matooke
his native parishioners would eat, if they were lucky enough to even have food to serve.

From time to time, a blustery gust of wind rattled the windows behind him. Even with a blaze
in the green-tiled fireplace to warm the cool evening, Joshua felt chilled to his toes. His old wool suit, which had proved to be too hot and heavy to wear in Africa, now wasn’t warm enough. The clerical collar he wore around his neck seemed like a tightening noose.

He glanced at Micah, who stared at the peas with undisguised loathing. The boy had been uprooted from all he knew—a life that had suited him. Spring weather was late in arriving this year, and earlier, his son had complained about the cold, about the damp air, and about the perpetually gray sky. The food served at his grandparents’ table would probably end up on Micah’s list of dislikes.

Micah wasn’t used to formal dinners. During the last year of his mother’s illness, the boy had eaten when he was hungry or taken meals with his best friend Kimu’s family.

Micah picked up a pea between his thumb and forefinger. He studied the tiny vegetable, as if considering what he could do besides eat it.

Joshua tapped Micah’s leg underneath the table and gave him the parental
behave yourself
eye in silent signal to stop playing with his food. He couldn’t give the boy a verbal warning because he couldn’t remember the word for pea in Hebrew, Latin, or Greek—the only languages permissible at the Maynard family dinner table.

Even the children were allowed to participate in mealtime conversations provided they spoke in one of the three languages, although an occasional utterance of German, French, Italian, Russian, or Spanish was also permitted. The use of an English word meant the loss of dessert. A second infraction meant immediate eviction from the table. While Micah might welcome banishment, their homecoming was uncomfortable enough without violating the family rules.

Joshua’s mother-in-law, Ruth Maynard, sitting at the foot of the table, reached over and put a restraining hand on Micah’s arm.
“Te, nec pisum,”
she said in Latin, using a far more gentle voice than when reprimanding
her own offspring.

Pisi.
That
was the word for pea.

The boy sent his father a resentful glance—one Micah’s grandmother, sitting on his other side—couldn’t see. But he obeyed her, forking the pea into his mouth.

Ruth nodded in approval, her steel-gray eyes soft. When she’d first laid eyes on Micah, Ruth had declared he looked just like his mother. Joshua’s formidable mother-in-law had blinked away tears for her deceased daughter, Esther, and had held herself all the more tightly coiled ever since.

She turned to address Joel, who was sitting on her other side, the second youngest of her eight children. The older three, with spouses in tow, had gathered tonight for the homecoming meal and were ranged around the large table.

As befitting the family of a clergyman, the Maynards were dressed simply in sober colors. Only the expensive fabrics and fine cut of their garments betrayed their wealth. Ruth was born into a family with money, and even with their many acts of charity, the women had plenty to spend on adornment. But at least they weren’t wearing gowns with those ridiculous puffed sleeves he’d seen since leaving Africa. And, thank goodness, the fashion for bustles had vanished. Joshua had thought it silly, how women carried around a beehive on their backsides.

The Maynards mostly ate in silence, methodically, as if they disliked the food—or each other. The patriarch, Abner Maynard, conducted a monologue in Latin on his view of the political situation—he was solidly behind President Cleveland’s position on the gold standard.

Joshua remembered discussions around the dinner table being much more stimulating. And he’d certainly contributed to his share of the conversation. Perhaps his two new brothers-in-law and his sister-in-law lacked the Maynards’ ability with foreign languages.

After nine years in Africa, Joshua had forgotten much of his previous knowledge of foreign tongues—except Swahili, of course, and couldn’t muster up the energy to converse with Abner, much less to try and dredge up enough Latin to string a sentence together.

Relieved that Micah’s pea crisis had been averted, Joshua took a bite of his mashed potatoes and enjoyed the butter-soaked goodness. He loved mashed potatoes—especially without gravy—but hadn’t eaten them for years, only the yams, which were a staple of the Baganda diet.

Micah picked up another pea.

Before Joshua could intervene, he watched his son set it on his spoon and flick the projectile across the table to smack the cheek of his youngest aunt. “Micah!” he reproved.

Twelve-year-old Mary Elizabeth let out a squawk. “Nasty boy!” she screeched, anger apparently driving her to forget the language rule. “How dare you!”

His mother-in-law looked askance at Joshua.

He searched for a suitable way to discipline his son. If he sent Micah to his room, the boy would learn to cause mischief to avoid meals he didn’t like.

Abner directed a reproving frown at his daughter. “Mary Elizabeth!”

“Why are you scolding me?” The girl pointed across the table at Micah. “He’s the one who did it.”

“You will leave the table this instant,” her father ordered in Greek.

Even Joshua could understand that much.

Annoyance showing on her face, Mary Elizabeth rose from the table, her long brown ringlets bouncing as she moved.

Micah’s eyes grew wide with apparent shock.

“Wait.” Abner glanced at his grandson and held up a hand, his stern expression softening. “Perhaps for tonight we need to relax our rules. Micah isn’t used to our ways. Have a seat, daughter.”

Eyebrows raised in surprise, Mary Elizabeth returned to her chair.

Joshua tapped the edge of Micah’s plate. With a burst of inspiration, he realized how he could communicate with his son. “Eat the rest,” he said in Swahili, directing a firm look at the boy.

Abner frowned. “We’ll converse in English.”

Joshua caught a quickly suppressed look of relief from one of his brothers-in-law, lending credence to his belief that the newer additions to the family might not be as fluent in the three languages as the Maynards.

Abner took a bite of mashed potatoes, then waved his fork at Joshua. “No need for that heathen tongue tonight. Swahili, isn’t it? A clever way to respect our language rules.”

Micah looked down, a blank expression on his face.

Joshua had seen that look all too often since they’d left Uganda. His heart ached at the boy’s unhappiness about leaving all he’d ever known. But even if Esther hadn’t died, they’d planned to send the boy back to America to attend school. His mother’s illness had only postponed their decision. Micah would have made the transition away from Africa sooner or later. . .and been miserable about it.

If only he’d allow me to comfort him.

Feeling guilty about his son, Joshua took another bite of his potatoes. But the meal had lost its flavor. He glanced around the room—once a welcome source of hospitality and belonging.

Twelve years ago, Joshua had been an awkward seminary student—a country boy fresh from a small Montana town, flattered to be taken under the tutelage of Reverend Abner Maynard, the dean of Trinity College. Joshua, as out of place as a chicken hatchling in a swan’s nest, had considered Reverend Maynard, well-known Biblical scholar, orator, and revered professor, the utmost authority in matters of doctrine and life philosophy.

He’d taken the man’s teachings and advice to heart. Joshua had studied so hard he’d mastered the classical languages and risen to the top of his class, not just because he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for higher
education, but to prove worthy of his mentor’s interest in him.

Dinners at the Maynard house had been both an anxious challenge and an exhilarating way to test his knowledge. The more adept Joshua had became at meeting Reverend Maynard’s high standards, the more he basked in the smiles and nods of approval from Esther Maynard, Abner’s eldest daughter. He’d taken pride—a reaction that in retrospect was unbecoming a future man of the cloth—in his ability to keep pace with the quick-witted and well-educated Maynards.

Listening to Abner’s discourse, Joshua wondered if he’d always been blind to his father-in-law’s pompous self-assurance, or if the man had changed in the intervening years since Joshua had been away as a missionary.
Perhaps both.

Or maybe I’m the one who’s changed.

Now Joshua felt the Maynards’ rigidity, the sanctimonious attitude, their prejudice, tighten around him like a cage, and he didn’t want to be here. He wanted to take his son and flee to the blue skies of Montana, to the warmth and openness of his own family.

“Micah, I’m sure you’re glad to be in America,” said Joel, the sibling who looked most like Esther. “You can come with me tomorrow. I’ll introduce you to some of the younger boys so you’ll make friends right away.”

“That’s kind of you,” Joshua said, glancing at his son.

Micah scowled at Joel. “I already have friends. I don’t need more.”

Ruth raised her eyebrows at Joshua. “I wasn’t aware there were other white families in the area of your parish in Uganda.”

“There weren’t.” Joshua’s stomach tightened. He tried to think how he could protect Micah from their disapproval. But short of grabbing up his son and racing out of the house with him never to return, there was no way to avoid the Maynards’ judgment.

Micah set down his fork. “Kimu is Baganda,” he explained. “He’s my
best
friend.”

Shocked silence descended on the room.

Ruth’s eyebrows rose even higher, creating furrows across her brow. “Surely, you didn’t become friends. . .best friends. . .with a
native
?”

“Of course, he did,” Joshua said in the mildest tone he could manage. “There was no one else for him to play with.”

“Play,” Abner frowned. “He had his studies. If he must play, Micah could do so quietly at home.”

Joshua clenched his fist around his napkin. “Why should Micah be denied the companionship of other children?”

“Well, of course, he should interact with the natives to some extent,” Abner agreed with a short nod. “Set a good example. Teach them the proper way of the Lord.”

Micah scowled. “They
know
the way of the Lord!” He pushed back from the table so hard the chair legs thumped on the floor. He rose and ran out of the room. The sound of his footsteps faded.

Abner directed another frown at Joshua. “You must take Micah in hand.”

“I know that, and I will.” Joshua was torn between going after his son and defending him. “However, you all need to take into consideration that Micah has lost his mother and has been taken from everything he knew and loved.”

Ruth sighed. “If you hadn’t allowed him to become best friends with a native, he wouldn’t be reacting in this manner.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Joshua said, forcing the words through clenched teeth. “Nursing Esther meant I was constantly at her side. And she was too sick to bear with Micah for more than a few minutes. While I continued Sunday service, all my other duties to my parishioners suffered from neglect, as did my translation efforts, as did my time with my son. The natives loved Micah, and I was
grateful
for their care of him.”

The maid entered with the dessert tray. Her appearance with a towering chocolate cake broke the awkward silence that had followed his impassioned declaration. As the maid cut the cake and pass around the plates, Joshua tried to rein in his feelings.

As disturbed as he was by the Maynards’ reactions, Joshua had spared them the full truth—how Esther refused to have a native servant attend her, even though she hadn’t wanted her husband’s help, either. But they’d had no other option. In the last months before she died, Esther had even rejected her child. Micah received more nurturing from the native women than he had from his own mother.

When the cake was set in front of him, Joshua looked up at the maid. “Thank you,” he murmured. “And when you’re finished here, please take one up to my son.”

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Joshua, you shouldn’t spoil Micah,” Ruth scolded. “He’s the one who left the dinner table.”

“I think Micah might feel as if he’d been driven from the dinner table,” Joshua said in a matter-of-fact tone, digging his fork into the cake. “You are all strangers to him. Strangers passing judgment, as if the natives, the people he loves, are less than those who are white.” His gaze traveled around the table. He noted the shocked and disapproving expressions. “We don’t hold with such beliefs.”

No one spoke.

“As Micah makes friends here—” Joshua spoke into the heavy silence “—he will naturally let go of his attachment to his Ugandan friends. There’s no need to drive him to it.” He gave Abner a stiff smile. “And when he grows up, if he chooses, Micah will make a superb missionary because he will already know the language and the customs of the Baganda.”

Abner nodded. “There is that,” he agreed.

BOOK: Glorious Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series)
4.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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