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Authors: Ruth Axtell Morren

Lilac Spring

BOOK: Lilac Spring
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“Lilac Spring
blooms with heartfelt yearning and genuine conflict as Cherish and Silas seek God’s will for their lives. Fascinating details about nineteenth-century shipbuilding are planted here and there, bringing an historical feel to this faith-filled romance.”

—Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of
Whence Came a Prince


“…the charm of the story lies in Morren’s ability to portray real passion between her characters.
Wild Rose
is not so much a romance as an old-fashioned love story.”


“…a beautiful, believable love relationship…Richly defined characters and settings enhance this meaningful novel.”

Romantic Times


“…inspires readers toward a deeper trust in the transforming power of God…. [Readers] will find in
Winter Is Past
a novel not to be put down and a new favorite author.”

Christian Retailing

“Ruth Axtell Morren writes with skill, sensitivity and great heart about the things that matter most…. Make room on your keeper shelf for a new favorite.”

—Susan Wiggs,
New York Times
bestselling author

“…faith journeys are so realistic all readers can benefit from the story. Highly recommended.”

CBA Marketplace


For the town of Cutler,
from where I drew my inspiration for
Lilac Spring.

My thanks also to the guys at
The Boat School
of Washington County Technical College in Eastport, who allowed me to ask many questions and observe them as they worked on their wooden boats.


Haven’s End
Maine, 1861

ou’re the new ’prentice, aren’t you?” Cherish asked the boy hunched over one of Papa’s drafting tables.

He twisted around, a startled look on his thin face, as if she’d caught him doing something wrong.

Cherish stepped through the doorway of the boat shop and approached the table, her rag doll, Annie, swinging back and forth from one hand.

The boy swiped the edge of his palm against the corner of his eye, watching her silently as she neared.

“Aren’t you?”

Staring at her through disconcertingly gray eyes, he finally answered, “Yes.”

“Why’re you crying?”


“Yes, you are. I can tell. Your eyes are all red.” It suddenly occurred to her that maybe, being a big boy, he didn’t want to admit to crying. She never minded crying; it usually made her
feel better afterward. The only problem was it usually followed a spanking.

“Whatcha’ doin’?” she asked curiously, peering beyond him to the drafting table.

“Nothin’. Just looking.”

“That’s Papa’s model.” She stood on tiptoe at the edge of the table, eyeing the wooden half-hull sliced in sections like a loaf of bread cut lengthwise.

She dragged another stool over to the table and climbed up on it. “I waited till Papa was down at the yard ’fore I came over this morning. It was a long time! Then I was ’fraid Mama wouldn’t let me walk over.” She smiled. “She thinks I’m outside playing with my kitty-cat.”

The boy said nothing.

“I cried yesterday,” she told him, settling Annie on her lap. “Mama sent me to my room.”

He continued eyeing her as if deciding whether she was friend or foe. He had nice eyes, she decided. Green-tinged gray, like a choppy sea. “What did you do?” he asked.

“I pulled kitty’s tail. I was trying to tie her to my dolly’s stroller, but she wouldn’t ’bey me.”

She could see the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips, and that made her glad.

“Kitty scratched me. See?” She pushed up her sleeve and showed him the bright red line running up her forearm.

“Papa never sends me to my room or spanks me. Mama says I’ll be spoiled if someone don’t spank me. Papa says I’m his little lady and should never be spanked.”

The two sat quietly for a few moments. The boy’s attention, she could see, had returned to the pieces of carved wood on the table. “Are you from far away?” she asked, shifting on the hard stool.

“Real far,” he murmured.

“Where?” she asked, finding it hard to picture anything beyond Haven’s End.

“Swan’s Island.”

“Swan’s Island,” she repeated in awe. Her mama had just read
her a story about a swan the night before. She imagined a beautiful island full of snowy-white swans.

“Do you have a mama and papa?” she asked when he said nothing more.

“Just a mama. Papa was lost at sea,” he added in a fierce tone, as if proud of the fact.

“That’s too bad.”

He sniffed, rubbing the back of his hand against his nose. His thick golden hair fell over his forehead as he bent over the smooth pieces of wood that fitted together in descending order.

“Are you your mama’s little gent’man now your papa’s gone to heaven?”

He scoffed. “I’m too big to be a little gentleman.”

“Are you going to be a gent’man when you grow up?” Papa said she was going to marry a gent’man when she grew up.

“Naw! I’m going to build boats.”

She smiled. “I am, too!”

He turned his head toward her as if seeing her for the first time. Instead of laughing at her the way Papa did whenever she told him, he looked interested. “You like boats?”

“I love boats!”

“Your father is going to teach me how to build boats.”

She nodded. She’d heard Papa talking about the ’prentice.

He focused on the model again, running his forefinger down the sheer of the gunwale. “Some day I’m going to design them, too,” he said softly, reverently. He seemed not to be talking to her, but to himself.

“Me, too,” she replied at once, wanting to bring his attention back to her, although she wasn’t quite sure what “design” meant. That was okay. If the new boy could do it, so could she.

“What’s your name?” she asked, taking a liking to him despite his aloofness. He was nice, not like those big bullies at the schoolhouse.


“I’m Cherish.”

“Cherish.” He turned his gray eyes on her again. “That’s a funny name.”

“It is not!”

He grinned, revealing even white teeth against the honey-hued skin of his face. “Do people call you Cherry?”

“No! My name is Cherish ’lizabeth Winslow.”

“Cherish Elizabeth Winslow,” he repeated. “That sounds too grown-up for you. How old are you, Cherry?”

she corrected, and held up her fingers. “I’m five and a half.”

He nodded.

“How old are you?”

His thin chest puffed out. “I’m twelve.”

She remembered his red-rimmed eyes. He hadn’t seemed so grown-up then. She looked down at her doll. “Here. You can have Annie. She’s good for wiping tears. See?” She picked up a limp rag arm and wiped her eyelid in pretend fashion. “I use her a lot.”

He frowned, forced to take the doll she’d thrust at him. Before he had a chance to do anything with it, they were interrupted by her father’s voice.

“Silas! What are you up to?”

Silas jumped down from the stool he’d been straddling. “Nothing, sir.”

“You’re not here to loaf but to learn a trade. Now, go stow your gear upstairs and report down at the yard.”

“Hello, Papa.” Cherish climbed down more slowly from the stool. “I was talking with Silas.”

Her father gave her cheek a soft pinch when she reached him. “Cherish, sweetheart, haven’t I told you more than once to stay out of Papa’s boat shop? This is a place for men.”

“I’m going to ’sign boats,” she told him, ignoring the scolding.

He chuckled, taking her by the hand and leading her toward the door. “You’re going to learn to be a lady and marry a handsome gentleman. Run on home now to Mama. Papa’ll see you at dinner.”

As he walked her to the door, she realized her other hand was empty and she remembered she’d given Annie away. She
gave one last, longing look toward the drafting table, but there was no sign of her doll. She remembered Silas’s hunched back and the sight of red-rimmed eyes and she shrugged away her sense of loss. He needed Annie more than she right now.

Chapter One

May 1875

herish paused on the threshold of the boat shop. The smell of cedar wood tickled her nostrils. She breathed deeply of its lemony, spicy fragrance and smiled. Home.

The rays of the late-afternoon sun pierced the tops of the ancient fir trees across the inlet and shone through the windows of the boat shop, picking up the dust motes and bringing a golden gleam to the wooden frames of the boat hulls laid upside down in various stages of construction. Her eyes didn’t linger on these; there’d be time enough to examine the works in progress. She was interested only in the shop’s lone occupant.

Silas stood at a worktable. Intent on his task, he leaned his wiry frame against a plane as he pushed it against a plank of wood. A curling cedar shaving emerged from the tool and dropped to the floor, a floor littered with a hundred others.

“Hello, Silas,” she said softly.

His eyelids rose and she was the focus of those gray eyes—the turbulent green-hued gray of a stormy sea.

“Cherish!” A smile broke out on his face, transforming it from a frown of intense concentration to an expression of boyish delight.

Cherish felt a slight easing of the tension that had been building with each mile she’d traveled closer to Haven’s End. After days across the Atlantic and a night up the coast from Boston, she’d finally arrived back at her home port.

She stood motionless a moment longer, wanting him to take a good look at her. The golden afternoon light shone on her. She knew the slate-blue of her gown complemented her complexion and eyes. She was glad she’d had the outfit made in Paris, just before her departure.

Every item was in place. She’d brushed and redressed her hair just before disembarking. She knew how to read men’s appreciation—she’d learned in the countless European capitals she’d visited in the past year. Now she wanted to read it in the only eyes that mattered.

He laid down his plane and took a step toward her. “We didn’t expect you until tomorrow. I would have come to meet you, but I knew your father would want to have you all to himself.”

“That’s all right. I’d rather say hello to you right here.” How she wanted to run to her childhood companion and throw herself into his arms. But suddenly she felt shy. She was no longer a girl in pigtails but a young lady he hadn’t seen in over two years. Oh, how desperately she wanted him to see the changes in her.

So with deliberate steps, those years of balancing a heavy tome on her head at the young ladies’ academy paying off, Cherish walked toward Silas. Her skirt rustled, from its ruched panels down to its pleated hem. She carried a small parasol in one hand, swinging it lightly to and fro as she neared him.

When they stood face-to-face, she stretched out her hands to him, still seeking that appreciation in his eyes. It was there…yet, was it?

“How did you get here?” he asked, smiling at her, his hands clasping hers. “Your father said you were sailing in tomorrow. Does he even know you’re here?”

She shook her head slowly from side to side, smiling all the while. Did he see how ladylike she’d become since he’d last seen her? Did he notice her hair swept up under the stylish little hat perched atop the ringlets cascading behind her head?

“I took a steamer out of Boston a day early and caught a ride with Captain Stanley on the schooner
out of Eastport. I just arrived. My trunks are still down on the wharf,” she added, unable to restrain the laughter bubbling out of her.

His gray eyes were alight with amusement. How she’d missed that look! “Your father’s planning a big homecoming tomorrow.”

That’s precisely why I came a day early. I wanted to settle in quietly. Tomorrow I’ll be the dutiful daughter, but today…” Her glance strayed across the cluttered boat shop. “Today I want to savor just being home.”

He nodded, and she knew he understood. “Are you glad to see me?” she asked, her eyes searching his once again.

“Of course I’m glad. The place isn’t the same without Cherry underfoot. But you must have had a grand time—a tour of the Continent. I’m surprised you wanted to come back.”

She frowned. “Of course I wanted to come back. This is home.”
This is where you are.

“And you’ve come back quite the lady.”

How she’d dreamed of this moment, when at last he’d see her as a woman.

“Last time I saw you, you were still running around like a hoyden, banging up your fingers with hammer and nails, trailing after Henry to teach you everything about drafting.”

“Do I look like a hoyden now?” She let go of his hands and turned around slowly as she’d seen the mannequins do in the House of Worth off the rue de la Paix.

“You’re looking so grown-up I hardly recognized you.”

Cherish experienced a moment of disappointment at his tone. There was admiration, certainly, but nothing more.

Never mind, she thought, there was plenty of time. She was home for good this time.

“Your father will have a fit when he knows you traveled un
accompanied from Eastport.” He frowned. “Did you come up by yourself all the way from Boston?”

She put a finger to her lips. “Shh! There was an acquaintance of ours on board, so I was properly chaperoned. Anyway, I’m back, and that’s all that’s important. I wanted to say hello to you first, right here, just as when we first met.”

He grinned. “You came nosing around to meet the new apprentice and caught him sniveling with homesickness and trying his best to act grown-up.”

“You had a right to be homesick. You were only a boy.” She took her time examining him, looking for any changes during her two-year absence. His build was still slim and compact, but the lean frame was deceptive. Her glance strayed to his bare forearms. She remembered their corded muscles when they had pulled on a pair of oars across the harbor.

He was in a vest and rolled-up shirtsleeves, his collar undone. His deep blond hair, thick and straight, was pushed away from his face, a face tanned from his hours down below in the yard. He’d always been a serious boy, but now his face showed a deepened maturity.

“Do I pass inspection, Cherry?”

She rolled her eyes. “Haven’t I finally outgrown that silly nickname?”

He smiled wickedly. “What’s the matter? Remind you too much of the pesky brat you were?”

Before she could take offense, he said, “Europe seems to have agreed with you.”

It was about time he noticed. “It was wonderful. Are you glad to have me back?”

“Sure, though I expect you’re too refined for the boat shop.”

“Not at all.” She laid her parasol on a table, fighting the sense of letdown. Something was missing in his welcome. Stifling a sigh, Cherish turned her attention to the boat frames in the large room. “What are you working on?”

“Oh, just finishing up these dories for a Gloucester schooner. We’ve laid the keel on a schooner down in the yard, now the good weather’s come.”

She touched the wood he’d been planing. “I
going to be coming to the boat shop, you know.”

He eyed her sidelong. “Is your father aware of this?”

“Not yet. Not that I’ve ever hidden my intentions.”

Silas brought her a stool and got one for himself. “Why don’t you tell old Silas all about it.”

She felt on surer ground now. Silas was the only one who truly understood her yearning to be equally involved in the work at her father’s boat shop.

“Silas, I need your help.”

His mouth turned up on one side. “Already?”

She didn’t return his smile. “I didn’t come back to Haven’s End just to be courted by some gentleman from Hatsfield and get married.” She could feel her face coloring at the steady and attentive way he was listening to her. “I know that’s what Papa expects. I could have stayed in Boston with Cousin Penelope, if that were the case. Or even in Europe,” she added, thinking of the marriage proposals she’d refused.

“Your father would have been sorry to lose you to Boston or the Continent. Ever since your mother passed away, you’ve been the apple of his eye.”

She nodded, remembering that awful time when her mother had fallen ill. “Papa needn’t have worried that he’d lose me,” she continued more briskly. “I always meant to come back to Haven’s End, because I want to work here. In the business. I want to build boats, Silas, just like you. Has…has Papa done anything to replace Henry?” she asked, referring to her cousin, whom her father had hired around the time she’d been sent away to boarding school.

Silas shook his head.

“Is Papa giving you more to do now that Henry has left?” As soon as Henry had reached his majority, he had accepted a job at a larger shipyard in Boston.

“My job’s the same as it’s always been.”

She frowned. “Papa doesn’t need to replace Cousin Henry. He has you. You’re much more talented than Henry ever could be. I’m sure that’s why Papa hasn’t found a replacement for him.”

When he made no comment, she went on. “My time wasn’t completely wasted those years at the young ladies’ academy in Massachusetts.” She smiled at him conspiratorially. “All that pin money Papa sent me—most of it went for lessons. I learned as much as I could pay for about naval architecture.”

She leaned forward eagerly, placing a hand on his forearm. “I’ll teach you everything I know. But I’ll need your help, Silas. Papa will fight me on this. Do you believe I can work with you here?”

She held her breath as he remained silent. Would he laugh at her ambitions the way her father did?

“I don’t think my opinion holds much weight with your father, but for whatever it’s worth, I’m on your side.”

“But will you think I’m just a nuisance hanging around here in the shop? Or do you think I can earn an honest day’s pay?”

“After the time you spent with Henry, I know you’re just as capable as he of drawing up a floor mold.”

“Thank you, Silas.” Slowly she removed her hand from his arm and offered it to him. He took it in his and they shook on it as if they’d just come to a momentous agreement.


Silas scraped at his jaw with the razor’s edge. He would have preferred many times over to have stayed down at the yard working on the schooner in the stocks, but he knew Cherish would be hurt if he didn’t attend her homecoming party. She’d made him promise to be there.

He bent over the basin and washed the shaving soap off his face, wetting the front part of his hair in the process. He patted his face dry before taking up a comb and doing his best to flatten the damp hair as he looked at himself in the small square of mirror hung on the wall above his washbasin.

His blond hair looked dark and slicked back now, but he knew it would fall back against his forehead as soon as he was out the door. He turned away from the mirror and took up the clean white shirt folded in the chest of drawers. Mrs. Sullivan, Cherish’s aunt, insisted on doing his laundry, ironing and mending his clothes—“keeping him in clothes”—as she called
it, the way she’d done since he’d first come to the Winslows as a boy. She said he was family to her and she wouldn’t do less for him than for her own boy, Henry.

As he unbuttoned the starched shirt and slipped it on, he marveled at how grown-up Cherish had become in the time she’d been away. She’d been away before—off to boarding school during her secondary school years, but home during holidays and summers, always coming around to the shop as soon as she arrived. But he hadn’t seen her in over two years, between the year at an exclusive girls’ academy near Boston, followed by another year on the Continent accompanying a wealthy distant cousin.

Silas hadn’t expected her to come straight to the boat shop. It must be a testimony to her dedication to boatbuilding that a year in Europe had not diminished it.

He put on his gray trousers, his only good pair, and knotted a string tie under the collar of his shirt. Last of all, he pulled on the dark blue sack coat, which had seen quite a few summers already. Glancing into the small mirror one last time, with another unsuccessful attempt at smoothing back the wave that fell forward, he headed toward the door.

A short walk brought him to the Winslow residence, a large Victorian house set high on a bluff. A veranda ran all along the front, with turrets at each end. The house overlooked the inlet, and from its height one could catch a glimpse of the village farther down the road at the mouth of the harbor.

Arriving at the house, Silas ignored the invitation of the wide-open front door and headed on up the drive to the kitchen entrance he’d been using since he was a lad.

The screen door banged shut behind him as he left the sunshine and entered the dimmer kitchen. Celia, the kitchen maid, greeted him and sent him toward the front, telling him that Cherish had been asking for him.

He walked down the corridor, the noise of people having a good time growing louder with each step. The party was in full swing in the large front room overlooking the veranda. He clearly distinguished Cherish’s voice among the crowd of people.

He stood still, watching her. Once again he had to gaze in wonder at the transformation in her. Not that she hadn’t always been a pretty girl, but now she looked so much like a lady. She wore—He searched for an adequate word.
didn’t seem to describe the concoction she wore. It was nothing like the simple schoolgirl dresses and pinafores he’d been accustomed to seeing her in. This gown sported bright blue polka dots on a white background. The skirt was all gathered up in the back and cascaded down in folds like a waterfall. A wide blue sash draped over one side. The rest of the skirt seemed to be all ruffles and pleats. The bodice was the complete opposite, molded tightly to reveal a tiny waist and hourglass figure.

As soon as she spotted him, she headed straight toward him.

“Silas, there you are!” Cherish reached out both her hands to his and gave him a wide, welcoming smile. Her dark brown hair was also dressed very differently from the pigtails or ponytail she used to favor. Now it was pulled back, showing a wide creamy forehead, and fell from the top of her head in ringlets. Little dangling earrings shook each time she moved, bringing his attention to her soft pearly earlobes.

BOOK: Lilac Spring
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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