Excerpt for That Tender Light: An Owen Family Novella by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Book Description


How did the Owen Family Saga begin?


With a love story, of course, the most romantic love story of all: when Rod and Julia met.


God must have conspired with the angels to put Roderick Owen of Shenandoah County, Virginia, and Julia Helm, of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, in the same place on one magical day in Spring, 1840. All nature paused, as though holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen.


In this short novella, acclaimed author Marsha Ward tells the story of the Owen Family origins, describing in her delicate language the tender feelings of two people who need to find each other in a very small window of time.

That Tender Light


An Owen Family Novella


Marsha Ward


Published by WestWard Books

That Tender Light

Copyright 2017 Marsha Ward


Cover Design by Linda Boulanger

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief passages embodied in reviews and articles.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


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Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Thank You

Other Books by Marsha Ward

About the Author


Chapter 1


As she lay dying, Rod Owen's mother made him promise to find a good, Christian woman to marry.

“Mind that she be a church-goer, Roderick, or me and your pa and all the ghostly shades of the Yancey and Owen families, God bless 'em, will haunt you till kingdom come.”

Rod had sworn an oath to his mother and held her hand as the life went dark in her feisty eyes. Then, putting aside his deep grief, he bought her the finest funeral he could afford in 1838, and laid her to rest in the Mount Jackson, Virginia, cemetery beside his father, whose stone read, “Rulon Peter Owen, beloved husband and father,” along with his birth and death dates.

A year later, he could finally afford a matching stone for “Nellie Marie Yancey Owen, beloved wife and mother,” but had not yet found a church-going woman to marry.

Not that he hadn't tried.

He made his first attempt at courting with a fetching girl in Mount Jackson named Muriel Cathy, but he was too late. She only had eyes for the companion of his youth, Chester Bates, and soon married him. Rod could hardly refuse his friend's request that he attend him as his best man. He handed a circle of gold to Chester, and was obliged to observe as the man slipped the ring onto the girl's finger.

Once he had swallowed his pride and disappointment, Rod paid court for some weeks to Rebecca Penewit of Woodstock. The ride on horseback was long, and he wasn't sure how deep the girl's piety sunk into her heart, but she was comely, with yellow hair and blue eyes, much like his own. However, when he tasted the doughy, soggy apple pie she made especially for him, he ceased calling on her as soon as good manners would permit.

There had been other attempts, but he felt no lasting connection with any of the women.

Now, two years after his mother's passing, he rode along the Shenandoah Valley pike toward Front Royal, wondering how much leeway she would allow before she gathered the ghosts to disturb his sleep. He'd done his best to keep his promise, but with no kith or kin to help him on the increasingly prosperous farm outside Mount Jackson, he had little time to go a-courting.

Two days ago, Rod had received a letter from a wealthy young man named Madox who resided in Front Royal, asking him to come discuss a matter of business. A stranger looking at Rod’s homestead would say his business was farming, but he would not be completely correct. Above all else, his business was horses. He bred them, trained them, and sold them, and his reputation in the field was spotless. He had learned all he knew from his late father. Someday, he hoped to have sons to teach in the same way he had been taught. But before he could have sons, he must have a wife, and his lack of success in that search pressed dismally upon his soul.

There was no denying he was lonely. He certainly could use a wife around the farmstead, but he resisted the thought of installing just any woman into his home... or his bed. He had certain standards besides the one his mother had set, that she be a godly woman.

He knew now that he wanted a slim, raven-haired girl whose apple pie would please his palate, whose wit would spark his intellect, and whose form would weaken his knees and quicken his pulse all the days of his life. She also had to be God-fearing. He didn't know of such a female within a hundred miles of home.

Rod shook his head as he jogged along on the horse. For the present, he should concentrate on whatever business young Madox had for him. Perhaps when he had accomplished that task, he could widen his search for a fitting wife.

***

Julia Helm wiped the streaming tears off her cheeks, then climbed up onto the wooden spring seat of the farm wagon weathered almost white. Her brother Jonathan's firm hand on her elbow steadied her somewhat, but the overwhelming sadness that had brought the tears remained. She looked at the stone house in the faint light before full dawn, the wooden barn with its wide doors, the early spring fields smelling of molding corn stalks. Why this sadness? I'll see Cumberland County again in two months.

Jonathan handed her the small wooden box containing her recipe collection, and she clutched it to her breast. She pulled her brown wool cloak more tightly around her shoulders and wrenched her gaze from the house. Couldn't she simply tell Jonathan she had changed her mind? Tell her brother to unhitch the team of gray horses while she ran back inside the house and into her small, cozy room to curl up in the comfort of Papa's upholstered chair? Cousin Camilla didn't really need her help to prepare for the wedding. Her cousin’s father, Uncle Phillip, had plenty of sla— servants who could help. Besides, Virginia was so far away from Pennsylvania. The trip would take two weeks! Two weeks of travel behind the rumps of the big horses, being jostled and jolted until her young bones could hardly stand to travel another yard, let alone another mile. And all for what? Camilla's gratitude? The chance to see Aunt Susannah again?

The wagon groaned and creaked as Jonathan climbed into the wagon seat on the other side, then leaned over to tuck the brown woolen blanket covering her lap under her far knee. “Mind you tell me if you get cold,” he said, and grinned at her like a crazy man, his breath clouding around his ruddy face underneath his knitted cap as he lifted the leather lines.

Jonathan loves adventure. Why can't I work up enthusiasm like his?

It was no use. Julia knew she was a homebody. She liked being a homebody. She enjoyed cooking and cleaning and doing for her older brother, creating a calm household for the pair of them, orphans since their father's death three years before. Fortunately, no one had come around when Papa died to tell her that twelve was too tender an age for her to be doing all the work around the house while Jonathan kept the farm going and hired himself out to earn the cash money they needed. He had ten years of age on her, so folks must have figured he could care for himself and his little sister, too.

The horses moved briskly in the chilly morning, trotting along the half-frozen road toward Haldeman's Town. True to her anticipation, the wheels caught every bump and chuckhole in the road, transferring the harsh movement up the axle to the wagon's frame and then to the seat. Even the leaf springs between the wagon box and the seat could not prevent the jolts from acting on her thin posterior. Perhaps if she had a nice cushion of fat on her behind like that of old Mrs. Curry, this trip would not be so distressing.

“Spring is on its way. Can't you smell it?” Jonathan asked.

Julia took a sniff, but didn't think there was anything in the common smells of the farm that indicated a change of seasons. “I don't know what you smell,” she said with a shake of her head. “I smell the corn stalks moldering and the horse droppings you just ran the wheels through on purpose to annoy me, but I don't smell spring.”

“Ah, is your nose too dainty to pick up the breath of new life?”

Jonathan would tease her about her small nose. Tears welled in her eyes again. It was no use asking him to quit. That would only make him find something worse to tease her about. She gripped her recipe box and ran the contents through her mind as she blinked away the tears.

Hash. Flannel cakes. Notes on roasting fowl. Directions for making Indian pudding. Boiled beans. Rabbit stew. Which spice went well with which dish. Apple pie cloaked in the delicate lard pastry Aunt Susannah taught me to make two summers ago. Ginger snap cookies. Now that was her best dish. Jonathan didn't joke about her cookies. She would have to make them for Aunt Susannah and Uncle Phillip the first chance she got. Maybe even for the wedding guests. She envisioned tons and tons of ginger snaps, crispy brown circles heaped on silver trays passed around to the guests by servants dressed in white coats that contrasted with their dark skin.

Would Uncle Phillip ever free his slaves?

She doubted it. Uncle Phillip was a pleasant man, but he seemed oblivious to the evil of owning men and women, and even little children. Julia shuddered. The new preacher was quite an abo- abolish- no, abolitionist. His recent sermons had dwelt on the wretched lives of those descended from captured Africans, and the need to make Southerners see the evil of their slave-holding ways.

Does that mean Uncle Phillip is evil?


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