My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3 (25 page)

BOOK: My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3
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They stumbled back, the saw forgotten between them.

Toby doubled over and, with his palms to his thighs, dropped to a crouch, still panting. He rested an elbow on his knee and lowered his slick forehead into his hand.

Chest heaving, Gideon rubbed his shoulder against his temple. The fabric was wet when he pulled away. “I take it you’ve done that a time or two.” It was an understatement. Very much so.

“How many more trees to come down?”

“Changing the subject?”

“I didna change the subject. You did.”

At the surprise edge in Toby’s voice, Gideon let the matter fall. He moved five paces down the log, then set the blade into the wood. “This is the last one.” Spring had arrived, and he needed to get his trees in the ground quickly. He could finish clearing the rest of the land after that. He gripped the handle of the saw and waited for Toby to do the same.

Toby rose and dabbed at his face with his shirt. He clamped his broad hands around the handle. The blade sliced forward. Slower this time. As if both men had agreed to a momentary truce. They worked through most of the morning, and as much as he longed for one of Elsie’s cold sandwiches, Gideon forced himself to stay in the field. He had thirty-three holes to dig in the next few days, and spring wasn’t going to wait on him.

“You go on up.” Gideon tossed his head toward the house. “Don’t skip dinner over this. You’ve earned a break.”

“I’m fine.” Toby matched him stride for stride as Gideon went to fetch the wooden stakes he’d cut the night before by lantern light.

“Suit yourself.” He didn’t want the man doing him any favors. But there Toby was. At his side. The realization irked him to no end. “I’m serious.” Gideon halted and turned. “Don’t you have anything better to do? Don’t you have a friend or someone you can go … pray for?”

Toby half grinned. “No. Not at the moment.”

Gideon handed him a pair of stakes. “Follow me then.”

Using the rows he had disced, he mapped out where the trees would stand. Bending, Gideon tapped a stake into the ground. The earth was warm and soft. He glanced up to where Toby was walking. “No.” When the man turned, Gideon motioned him closer one row. “There.”

Toby pounded the stake into place and, eying where Gideon moved
next, followed until they stood in the same row again, far enough apart for the trees to grow broad and wide. “Here?” Toby asked.

“That’s the spot.”

Kneeling, Gideon pounded his own stake in. They worked without speaking much. The screen door slammed, and Gideon turned to see Lonnie walking to the chicken coop, Jacob waddling along beside her, his small hand tucked inside hers. Gideon turned back to see Toby watching them, the man’s face holding an expression that made Gideon nauseous.

The last stake was in Gideon’s hand, and he threw it at him. It clattered against Toby’s shoulder, snapping him back to attention. “I’m standing
right
here,” Gideon said, hands held out. The man was unbelievable.

Palms up peaceably, Toby turned back to work.

“Good grief. I can’t wait until this orchard is done.” Gideon glanced at the reverend. “You do realize you won’t be needed around here anymore.” Gideon grabbed up his hammer and jacket and strode toward the barn. He grumbled an invitation for Toby to follow. He needed to show him a few things before tomorrow.

“Does that mean you’ve heard from the courthouse?”

Gideon yanked open the barn door. “That’s none of your business.” He propped the door open, and Toby followed him inside.

“As ye wish.” Toby arched an eyebrow.

Fine. He had no secrets. Gideon ducked into his stall and pulled out the letter. He handed it to Toby. “If you’re so bloomin’ curious.”

Toby held it in his hand, making no move to open it.

Back in the stall, Gideon grabbed his pipe and pouch of tobacco. A thumb full of tobacco, and he stuffed it inside. Slipping the pipe between his lips, he reached for a match, his hands unsteady. Then he used the pipe to point toward the letter. “Read it.”

Slowly, Toby turned it over and pulled out the letter.

Watching him, Gideon struck the match and lit his pipe. The sweet scent of tobacco calmed him. He shook out the match. Toby folded the letter back in half. “That clear enough?” Gideon asked.

“Aye. Clear enough.” His eyes were bright.

Now that that was out of the way … Gideon moved to the workbench, where he’d spread the trees out by variety. Tonight, he’d soak them so they’d be ready to plant. He took a steadying breath before speaking. “Be careful of the roots,” he mumbled around his pipe. “They’re brittle.”

“Aye. I can see that.”

“All right, Mr. Observant. What next?”

“Are you always this way? Or is it just with me?”

Gideon pulled the pipe from his lips. “Pretty much just you.” Especially in this moment. He tried not to think of the letter. Or what it said.

The hope it must have given Toby.

“I don’t expect you to like me, but I’m going to see this through. I want to help you. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way. Maybe you think I’m just here for Lonnie. But I want to help you.”

“I don’t need your help. And I certainly don’t want it.”

“That’s fine. I still made a promise to Jebediah.”

Gideon couldn’t argue with that. “Just don’t think it makes you welcome.”

Brown eyes hard, Toby stared at him a moment. “What time would you like me to come back tomorrow?”

Crossing his arms, Gideon leaned against the workbench. “I’ll start at sunrise. Come whenever you want.”

“Sunrise. I’ll be here.” Toby turned and was gone.

Another draw on his pipe and Gideon beat it against the back of his hand before tossing it on a shelf. Knowing supper would soon be ready, he strode up to the house. Settling down on the porch steps, he waited for
Lonnie or Elsie to appear with a plate as they usually did. But when the door opened, Lonnie slipped out empty handed. She crouched beside him, her skirt brushing his hand.

“Would you like to come inside?” Her eyes were bright.

“Are you serious?”

“I asked Jebediah … just this once. I thought it would be nice for you to tuck Jacob in.” She winked. “For Jacob’s sake, of course.”

A half smile formed. “For Jacob’s sake. Jebediah said I could?”

“He did.” She motioned for him to follow her into the house. “He even said you might as well join us for supper.” Her expression was warm. “Just this once, of course.”

“Just this once.” He grinned.

Sitting beside Lonnie, Gideon ate his supper but was too distracted by her face in the candlelight to truly taste his food. And when Elsie reached for his empty plate, he offered to help get Jacob ready for bed.

After wiping Jacob’s cheeks clean with her napkin, Lonnie lifted him from his chair and into Gideon’s hands. He pressed Jacob to his chest and carried the boy up the stairs. He sat him on the bed as Lonnie directed. She followed behind, a pitcher of warm water in her hand. She filled the washbasin and looked on as Gideon gently tugged Jacob’s sweater over his head.

Lonnie pushed his filthy clothes aside. “Tomorrow’s wash day.” A strand of hair fell in front of her face. She brushed it away.

Gideon forgot what he was supposed to be doing.

She dipped a clean rag in the basin and lifted it. Water trickled into the bowl and dripped down her arm. Several drops hit the floor.

Knowing he shouldn’t be in the room, Gideon swallowed.

Not with Lonnie. Not when they were alone.

She slid the rag under Jacob’s chin. Gideon knelt in front of his son,
trying to focus on the task at hand. He tickled the bottoms of Jacob’s bare feet, and Lonnie smoothed her rag over his laughing belly. When Jacob was wiped clean, she draped his nightshirt over his head. She stepped back as Gideon wiggled the boy’s arms through, finally pushing each button into place.

Gideon lifted Jacob from the bed and turned as Lonnie tugged the quilt back from the low cradle. Gideon lowered his son, and as if on cue, the boy flipped onto his tummy and buried his cheek into the feather pillow.

Their fingers touched as they each pulled his quilt higher.

Lonnie drew her hand away and offered Gideon a soft, sad smile.

“Mind if I sit with him for a while?”

“He’d like that.” She rose, and the folds of her skirt fell around her ankles in perfect silence. She blew out one of the two candles before slipping soundlessly out the door.

Turning his attention to his son, Gideon ran his thumb along Jacob’s limp arm, pausing at the dimple in his soft elbow. He smoothed his hand over his son’s small back and felt his steady breathing beneath his palm. The tiny chest rose and fell with a sigh. Gideon leaned his weight on the cradle and, resting his head on his arm, watched Jacob sleep. After several more minutes Gideon rose, went down the stairs, and with a good-night for Jebediah and Elsie, gathered up his folded shirt Lonnie had set out for him. He spoke his thanks, and she offered him a soft nod, then he walked back to the barn.

Inside, he sank on his blanket and, resting the shirt at his side, lowered his head to the makeshift bed. He flicked at a piece of straw, tearing it in two before tossing the pieces aside. Exhausted, Gideon knew there was nothing left to do but try to get some sleep. He could have an early start tomorrow. Get some work done before Toby showed up.

Folding his arms in front of him, he rolled over on his side and faced
the pile of white folds. Gideon rose to his elbow and lifted the shirt to his face. He inhaled the sweet scent of soap.
Lonnie
. He sat up and, setting the shirt in his lap, unfolded it until he felt the rough, raised bump of her perfect stitches. Yearning flooded him, and he forced himself to set the shirt aside, reaching instead for the pair of books on his makeshift nightstand. He started to open the novel, thinking to maybe get a few more pages read before his eyelids grew heavy, but instead he set the Bible in his lap and opened it to nowhere in particular.

It fell open to a storm. A group of fishermen in a boat during a tempest. Gideon could feel the wind. Feel the rain. He read about Peter, how he could be so confident and sure in his faith one moment, following the Lord onto the water, only to start sinking a moment later because of his lack of faith the next. Baffled, Gideon ran fingertips across his forehead.

Then his hand stilled, for in a way, the story hit closer to home than he liked.

He read the words again. “Wherefore didst thou doubt?”

“Easier said than done.” Cheek resting against his fist, Gideon muttered to himself, “So what should he have done?” He shook his head, wishing he knew the answer. Toby would know. He probably had a whole sermon on it. Gideon closed the small black book and tossed it beside him in the straw. He glanced around his stall a moment.

Reaching back over his shoulder, he tugged his work shirt over his head and threw it aside. He slid the clean shirt on. Lonnie’s essence surrounded him. Not bothering to button it, he crossed his arms over his chest and lay back on the straw. With his eyes closed, he tried to imagine what life would be like without Toby McKee.

Thirty-One

Lonnie pressed the wide, flat basket to her hip. Her skirts dragged in the mud, moistening the already dirty hem of her work dress. She fumbled with the frosty gate latch. Though puddles still covered the farm and a cluster of clouds hung overhead, the sound of birdsong reminded her that the first buds of spring were not far behind. The garden was all but empty, but soon seeds would be scattered about, poked through the warm soil. Lonnie picked her way to the far corner, where the hearty swiss chard grew against the pickets.

Morning’s frost was still etched over the lanky green leaves, and she plucked the largest ones and laid them in her basket. When she had gathered enough to fill Elsie’s pot, she propped the basket on her hip and hurried across the yard.

When she glanced across the freshly plowed field, her steps slowed. Gideon and Toby, shovels in hand, each worked a few paces away from the other. Neither one looked up from his work, so Lonnie simply took in the sight. The threads of her heart pulling toward the nearest man in countless ways, toward the farther in so many others. A droplet of rain struck her arm. She glanced at the darkening sky, and knowing she hadn’t the time
to give another moment to her yearnings, Lonnie clutched her dark skirt and scurried into the house.

Elsie looked up from her steaming pot and dumped a board full of diced potatoes into the boiling water, sending droplets over the edge, where they sizzled and hissed on the hot iron. “We’ll add the chard last.”

“I’ll get it ready for you.” Lonnie set the basket aside, then carefully rinsed each leaf.

Addie slid down from her chair, abandoning a slate scrawled with tiny letters. “Can I help you?”

“Of course. Finish up your lesson, and you can fetch your apron.” Lonnie laid the damp chard on the cutting board. “Is Jacob still sleeping?” she asked Elsie.

“I checked on him a few minutes ago, and he didn’t look like he’d be wakin’ anytime soon.” Elsie rolled the dark leaves into a tight bundle and made quick, thin slices with her large knife. Holding the board over the pot, Elsie scraped the blade across, and the chard tumbled into the bubbling soup.

Lonnie didn’t realize she’d glanced out the window again until Elsie spoke. Several droplets of rain struck the glass.

“I can make a soup all by myself, Lonnie.” Elsie winked. “You go on out. Get yourself out of the house. Go see what those boys are up to.” Elsie motioned out the window. “That man sure as shootin’ ain’t plantin’ that for Jebediah or me.”

Lonnie understood the weight of her words. The future lived in every step of Gideon’s boots across that land. It breathed with every turn of the soil. It was the future he was planting, even though he might never be a part of it. That kind of love humbled her, carrying her out the door and into the growing mist.

Draping her shawl about her shoulders, she glanced up at the gray sky. Hurrying on, she spotted Toby. Alone. He stabbed a shovel into the earth, pounded it with his boot, and tossed the dark soil aside. He glanced up when she approached.

BOOK: My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3
7.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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