One clear Saturday morning, Adam said, “I would like to go and visit the Ackerbys today, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Oh, I am sure they will be happy to see you,” Cara said, longing to visit with Ayla herself. She had so much to tell her about the wedding. In spite of it being a simple ceremony at the Kenleys’ home, she was excited about having a new dress. She had decided to go with the hoops, and she looked forward to being a fashionable bride.
“I thought we would all go,” he said, with a grin.
“Oh, I don’t think we should. That would be too much for Ayla, I am sure.”
“I don’t think so. We don’t have to stay long,” Adam said. “She would scold me if I show up without you.”
When Ayla found out that Cara almost did not go with Adam, she did scold them both. “I have been so lonely without you, Cara. I am so glad you came.”
Ayla was still confined to a bed, and she was pale. The baby was healthy, though. Philip and Ayla were both proud of Caleb.
“He is truly God’s gift to us,” Philip said. “I don’t know why God chose so long to bless us with a child, but he is truly the greatest blessing in my life, next to having a godly wife.”
Seeing their love for each other, and for their child, made Adam feel an even stronger love for Cara and her children. She, too, was the greatest blessing in his life, and he also felt blessed to be acquiring four new children along with their marriage.
“I have some news for you two,” Philip said. “We already have a convert. A waitress from one of the saloons I preached in has given her heart to the Lord, and is making a fresh start.”
“That is good news,” Adam said.
The thought crossed Cara’s mind that the waitress might have known Lem, might even have been one of his mistresses. However, if the woman was making a fresh start, then she needed to practice forgiveness towards her.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” she asked.
“Well, there is something. I recall you saying that you had a trunk full of dresses that you no longer wear,” Ayla said. “She came to the area last summer, with no family and very little to her name. We are helping her find work, and she needs some modest dresses.”
If she came last summer, then there was no way that the waitress could have known Lem. Cara felt somewhat better, and more generous towards the young woman.
“I do have some dresses that I wore before I was married. They are all out of fashion now.”
“They don’t have to be the latest style, as long as they are modest.”
“They are. My great aunt was insistent on it when the dressmaker would have cut the necklines lower.”
“Well, then, if you think you might have something that she could wear, that would be a way you could help her.”
“I’ll go through the trunks this week, and we’ll bring some things to you the next time we visit.”
When Cara washed on Monday morning, she was reminded that Ayla needed dresses for her new convert. After hanging the clothes on the line to freeze-dry, she took the girls upstairs to have a look in the trunks.
There were three trunks, as well as several crates. One of the trunks she had brought with her from the west, when her pa sent her to live with her grandmother. It held a few clothes and mementos from her childhood. The clothes were befitting a young schoolgirl. She had made over a couple of the dresses into frocks for the girls, but there were a few dresses still intact. She did not think the young waitress would be interested in any of those gowns.
A second trunk had belonged to her Aunt Bella, her father’s younger sister. Bella had died in childbirth when she was young. Gran had packed away her things in the trunk. They were household items, but nothing of significance to Cara.
The third trunk held the clothes that were made for her when she lived in Charleston, during the season that she had entered society. The skirts were wide and full, and she had worn numerous petticoats beneath them to make them billow out. The necklines were modest, compared to the dresses that had been in style during her social season. Her great-aunt had been a very religious woman, and strict about modesty.
They were lovely gowns, in a variety of pretty colors and expensive fabrics. “Whose dresses are these, Mama?” Charity asked, fingering a pale pink lawn.
“These were mine, Charity.” Cara laughed at her daughter’s surprise. “I wore them a long time ago.”
“They are pretty.”
“Pretty,” Rose repeated.
“Someday, you will wear pretty dresses like these, and go to dances,” Cara told them.
Cara realized that her daughter had never seen a dance. She rose, and held the dress up in front of her. “This is dancing, Charity.” She went through the motions of a waltz, twirling and swaying to a tune she recalled from her past.
“May I have this dance?” Adam said from the doorway.
Cara blushed, as she realized he had seen her silliness.
“You don’t have to stop dancing on my account.” Adam walked over to her, and held out his hand. “Shall we show them how it’s done?”
Cara set aside the dress, and slipped her hand into Adam’s. He led her in a waltz, and she stumbled a little. Embarrassed, she drew away, but he would not let her go.
“You did very well.”
“I’ve forgotten the steps.”
“You’ll remember them again.” She looked downcast, and he lifted her chin. “You are a beautiful lady, Cara Bancroft.”
Her face turned red, but his words pleased her. She noticed the children were watching them curiously, and she moved away from Adam. She knelt beside the trunk, and Adam sat down on the floor beside her.
“Are you looking for some clothes to give to the Ackerbys’ convert?”
“Yes, I am. These are outdated styles, but they are very pretty. Do you think she will like them?”
“I don’t know why not. These even rival Belinda’s for style and fashion.”
He regretted mentioning Belinda’s name when he saw the disappointment in Cara’s expression. Then she recovered, and smiled somewhat sadly. “I was in the height of fashion when I was in Charleston.”
“That hasn’t been so very long ago.”
“Almost seven years now, and four children, ago. That seems like a very long time.”
“I suppose it does.”
Cara started to put the dresses back, and discovered a pile of papers in the bottom of the trunk.
“I don’t remember putting these in there.”
“Maybe they’re your forgotten dance cards,” Adam said with a grin.
Cara smiled, but then her smile faded as she glanced through the papers. “They are letters, and they are addressed to Lem.”
“He put them in there, then.”
“He must have, at some point. I wonder who they’re from.”
The handwriting was decidedly feminine, Cara thought as she scanned the first letter. Then horror struck her as she realized it was from another woman, one who had loved Lem.
I have missed you greatly since you departed. I wonder at times how you could go and leave me, especially at such a time as this. I cry for you day and night, longing for the day when you will return to me.”
Adam’s voice broke into Cara’s thoughts. “They are from another woman.” Cara glanced at the signature at the bottom of the page. “Someone named Florence.”
“She must have been someone he met before he married you.”
Cara glanced through the rest of the letters. “They’re all from her.”
Adam saw the color leave Cara’s face, and he thought she might faint. He put his arm around her, supporting her. “Cara—”
“These were written after we were married,” she whispered. “All of them.”
Tears filled her eyes, and Adam drew her close, thinking of many names he could call Lem if he were here right now.
“Ma? Are you all right?” Remmie asked worriedly.
“Mama cry?” Rose said, sounding as if she might cry herself.
Cara drew in a shaky breath and wiped her tears with her apron. “I’m all right, children.” She was far from all right, but she would not break down in front of her children. She would not give even the memory of Lem the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
“Do you want me to carry the trunk down?” Adam asked quietly.
“Yes, please. We’ll take it to the Ackerbys the next time we’re in town.”
Cara gathered the letters and carried those downstairs, putting them in her bedroom. As she went through the rest of the day, the letters were at the back of her mind. She was curious, and also dreaded what she would find.
“Are you going to be all right?” Adam asked as he was leaving for the cabin later that evening.
“Yes, I will be. I’m not sure what I’ll find out, but I know God is here with me.”
Adam hugged her. “I’ll be praying for you as you read the letters.”
Adam left, and Cara brought the letters into the sitting room. She put the letters in order of their dates, beginning with the oldest date. The letter had arrived around the time of Remmie’s birth, when she and Lem had been married two months.
It’s been almost three months since you left, and I miss you every day. I think about you all the time, and long for the day when you will return to me.
I wish you had not had to leave, but I admire you so much for what you are doing. You are a wonderful man to go and care for your dying grandmother.”
The letter continued in much the same manner. It was obvious to Cara as she read it that this Florence believed Lem had left her to care for a dying grandmother that he loved. Whether Lem had lied, or there was some misunderstanding, was not clear from the letter.
Another letter, dated a few weeks later, again professed Florence’s love for Lem, and declared how much she missed him. Cara resented another woman speaking so freely of love for her husband. At the time that Florence had written these letters, Cara had thought Lem was in love with her, that he had come to the farm to marry her and make things right.
In the third letter, date four months after Remmie’s birth, Cara discovered some news that angered her to the point of tears.
“My Darling Lemuel,
Your son was born today. Healthy and very red, with a lot of light hair. I think he is going to look like you.
Cara could scarcely see the letter for the tears in her eyes. Lem had another child, with another woman. A child that had followed closely after the birth of her son with Lem.
She thought back to the circumstances surrounding her own pregnancy. Their courtship had been brief. When she discovered she was expecting a child, Cara had told Lem. Her aunt had disowned her, and she was going back to the farm, to her grandmother. Lem had been angry with her. The next thing she knew, he had left Charleston, and she had not heard from him again until five months later, when he showed up at the farm.
If her calculations were correct, Lem had met someone else, someone named Florence, only a few weeks after he left Charleston. Or maybe he had known Florence before Cara, and Cara had only been a diversion. If the child was truly Lem’s, he had left the other woman in her time of need and came to the farm. He had married Cara, possibly knowing another woman carried his child. If he had not known it when he married her, he had discovered it a few months later, when he received this letter from Florence.
Perhaps, Cara told herself, Lem had not known of the other woman’s pregnancy when he married her. Maybe he had truly loved her, and this other woman had been a mistake. One that he put behind him when he married her. She did not know if he had ever written letters back to this Florence. It was not clear from her letters whether he had corresponded with her. One thing was clear, however, that Lem had not been a gentleman. He had wooed and courted Cara, and left her in her time of need. And he had done the same thing a few months later, to someone else.
The fact that he had lied to Florence, and said he was going to take care of his dying grandmother, made Cara livid. It had been her grandmother’s farm to which he had come, not his own. He had not come to care for her grandmother, but he had come to marry her. He had not told the truth to this other woman, who apparently still pined for him after he left.
She could scarcely stand to read another letter, but she made herself go on. It was obvious from the letters that Florence had thought Lem would sell the farm and return to her. It was also obvious that Lem had never answered any of the letters. Florence’s letters grew very angry about Lem’s lack of response, and the letters stopped a year after they started. Apparently, Florence had given up on Lem, and had gone on with her life without him.
It hurt that she had not been special to Lem. After he left her in Charleston, alone and frightened, he found someone new. Early in her marriage, she had thought Lem loved her. As time went on, she learned of his infidelity, and the love she had felt for Lem had faded away. She wondered why he had ever married her, but she suspected he married her to get the farm. Had he promised Florence that he would sell the farm and send for her, as the letters had said? Had that been his intention all along?
Cara was glad, then, that she had not given in to Lem’s demands to sell. She and the children would have been left homeless, while Lem went off with someone else. Instead, they had fought bitterly over the farm for four years, and in the end, she had won. She still had the farm.
After a restless night, Cara rose and fed the baby, then set about fixing breakfast. Adam came in, and he looked concerned.
“How are you doing?” he asked as he came forward and hugged her.
“I’m all right,” she said, and Adam knew she was lying.
“You didn’t deserve to live with Lem’s lies and unfaithfulness. You are worth far more than the way he treated you.”
Cara’s lip trembled, and tears filled her eyes. “Thank you for saying that, Adam. But even so, I married him, and I stayed with him, even after I learned he was unfaithful.”
“Did you have a choice?”
“I suppose one always has a choice. Doc said many times that if I needed anything, he would help me out.”
Adam put his hand on her shoulder. “You know you didn’t have a choice, Cara. If you had left Lem, you would have lost the farm.”
“And he would have won. I think that’s why I stayed, because the farm meant so much to me.”
Adam did not want to ask about the letters. He sat down, and they quietly began their breakfast. Cara was the first one to break the silence.
“She gave birth to Lem’s child.”
“I’m sorry. That must hurt, to know that.”
“It does. I thought he loved me, but after he left me in Charleston, he found someone else. Her son was born a few months after Remmie.”
“And her letters were asking him to come back?”
“She thought he would sell the farm and send for her. She also thought it was his grandmother’s farm, and he let her believe that.”
“How many letters were there?”
“There were a dozen or so. They stopped coming a year after they started. I guess she realized Lem was not going back, and she gave up.”
“Did Lem ever write to her?”
Cara shook her head. “No, it’s obvious that he didn’t. I guess there’s some comfort in knowing that.”
Little footsteps sounded across the floor and the children came into the kitchen. Cara fixed their plates, and the subject of the letters was dropped.
It was never far from Adam’s mind, however, and he went out of his way to be loving and gentle with Cara. She seemed so sad and downhearted, where she had been happy just a few days before. He felt her pain as if it was his own. He wished there was some way to make up for all of Lem’s wrongdoing.
A few days after they found the letters, Adam awakened to a cold surprise.
The roof of the cabin had collapsed, and snow was pouring into the cabin, and onto his bed. He jumped up with a shout. He lit the lantern, and saw that half of the roof was now sitting on the floor of the cabin. He looked up through a gaping hole at the black sky.
“Well, I’ll be!” he said aloud. “What am I supposed to do now?”
He dressed quickly, shivering in the freezing cold temperature. It was the middle of the night, and he did not want to disturb Cara in the house. He decided that the barn would be warm enough. He made a bed on the straw with the quilts, and tried to sleep. Although he dozed off, he awakened several times, uncomfortable and cold. It was a relief when it was time to rise and do his chores.
The light of the kitchen had never been as welcoming as it was that morning. When he walked into the house, it felt warm and inviting. The smile on Cara’s face warmed his heart, also.
“You’ll never guess what happened.”
“What?” Cara looked concerned. “Has something happened with one of the animals?”
Adam shook his head. “No, not with the animals,” he reassured her. “The roof of the cabin collapsed.”
“It fell on me in the night.”
“Were you hurt?”
“No, I wasn’t, fortunately. Just cold, with the snow dumped on me.”
She looked worried. “What did you do, sleep there anyway?”
“I slept in the barn.”
“Oh, Adam, that must have been cold. You should have come to the house.”
“I thought about it, but I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“I wouldn’t have minded.”
Even as Cara said the words, she blushed. Having Adam come to the house in the middle of the night might have stirred up emotions she was trying to keep at bay.
A look at Adam showed he was thinking the same thing. Silence fell between them, and Adam sat down at the table. Cara brought the plate of hotcakes and sausage over to him, and then sat down, also.
“Maybe this is a sign,” Adam said thoughtfully.
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe this is telling us that we ought to get married sooner.”
His words made Cara uncomfortable. How could a roof caving in be a sign that they ought to get married?
Adam answered her unspoken question. “I can’t sleep in the cabin anymore, and the barn is too cold.”
“And you can’t sleep in the house, since we’re not married,” Cara said as the realization hit her.
“That’s right. If we get married, I could move in, and we could be a family.”
The children came into the kitchen, and Hope cried. Cara went to get the baby, and her thoughts focused on marriage to Adam. She knew it was what she wanted, more than anything, to be his wife. She wanted the children to know him as their father. She knew she could trust Adam to be faithful to her and yet—
The letters from Florence had brought to surface the pain of Lem’s infidelity. She had felt angry lately, anger with Lem and with the woman who had loved him. She tried to pray, and tried to forgive, but peace eluded her. How could she marry Adam when she was filled with anger? It wouldn’t be fair to him, to start their marriage off that way.
Besides, she was still nursing Hope, and it was important to her that she wait until after she weaned the baby to start her new life with Adam. Then, she would feel that the past was completely behind her, and she could make a fresh start.
Adam was talking with the children when she walked into the kitchen, telling them something that made them laugh. He reached out for Hope, and she passed the baby into his arms. His eyes held questions, and hope, and she did not want to disappoint him.
“I’m not sure this is good timing for me, Adam.” Her quiet voice seemed to dash his hopes. She refilled his coffee cup, and hers, and sat down.
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I’ve been very angry lately.” The children looked at her in concern, but she felt that she had to explain. “Those letters stirred up the anger that I felt in the past, and I haven’t been able to get past it.”
“Maybe marriage would help you forget the past.”
“Maybe it would.” At the look of hope in his eyes, she added quickly, “But I don’t think I’m ready to take that chance.”
He looked angry now. His hands still held Hope gently, but there was a look of fire in his eyes.
“You still don’t trust me, do you?”
“I do trust you, Adam. I know you would never be unfaithful to me.”
“Do you know that, Cara? Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t want you to have any doubts about me, Cara. I know the commandment about not committing adultery. I’m a Christian, Cara, and I would never break that commandment. Besides, I love you. That isn’t going to change.”
“Ma?” Remmie said with a worried look in his eyes.
“Maybe we should talk about this later,” Cara said.
“I don’t think talking about it later is going to change anything. Is it?” Her silent answer seemed to anger him more. “When are you going to realize that I’m not like Lem, Cara? I will never be like him.”
Hope started to cry, upset with Adam’s angry voice. Adam passed her across the table to Cara. Charity began to cry, also. Even Remmie’s lower lip trembled.
“I would never do anything that would hurt you or the children, Cara. You need to learn to trust me.”
Adam bundled into his coat and boots. “Can I go with you, Adam?” Remmie asked.
“Not this time, Remmie.” Remmie looked hurt by Adam’s sharp tone, and Adam’s voice softened. “It’s cold out today, and I don’t want you to catch cold.”
“Will you be coming back for dinner?”
Adam hesitated, and then nodded. “Of course I will, Remmie.”
Adam’s frustration level was high as he left the house. Cara said she loved him, and wanted to marry him. Yet, her reaction to his suggestion that they get married right away left him in doubt as to her feelings.
It was obvious that while she might love him, she was not ready to be his wife. She had agreed to be married in March, and he wondered if she was going to change her mind.
He wasn’t going to change his. When he and Cara had argued, his first instinct had been to run off, but Remmie’s innocent question had stopped him. He knew that was the way it had been with Lem. Whenever Cara and Lem had a fight, he had run off into town, and returned drunk.
He wasn’t a drinker, but running off because they did not agree on something was not the way he wanted to act. Doing so would only add to Cara’s doubts about his love. He wanted Cara to believe him, and wondered what he could do to prove his love for her.
He went down to the cabin and retrieved his personal belongings and clothes. For now, he put them in the barn. The damage to the cabin was beyond repair. The cabin was old, and weak. The cave-in had not only damaged the roof, but the walls were leaning in. They could also cave in at any time, and the cabin would be a dangerous place. It was just as well that it was wintertime and the children could not be running about.
Without the cabin, he had nowhere to go. The barn was too cold, and he could not stay in the house with Cara unless they were married. He guessed he would have to swallow his pride and move back home until the wedding, that is, if his parents didn’t mind. If Cara still did not want to move up their wedding date, then he would go over to his ma’s after dinner and ask if he might come home. He did not have much choice in the matter.
When Adam left the house in an angry mood, Cara’s emotions were in turmoil. During her marriage, whenever she and Lem fought about something, Lem had left in a rage. She wondered if Adam was going to be the same way. She was somewhat comforted by his promise to come back for dinner, and she knew he would never return drunk, not like Lem. And he would never take his anger out on her and the children.
She didn’t like disagreeing with Adam, and she did not like to have him angry with her. Her reasons for not wanting to get married right away had nothing to do with Adam, himself. She had tried to tell him that, but he hadn’t understood. He thought she didn’t trust him. How could she make him understand that it was not about him?
Adam had been patient with her for wanting to wait until the end of March for their wedding. Now, he was in a hurry to get married, because he no longer had a place to sleep. It made sense to get married so they could be together, at least to Adam. Cara felt like he was rushing her, and she didn’t want to start her marriage out that way. And with the hurt that the letters to Lem had caused, she did not feel like she could be a loving wife. Even the end of March now felt like it was too soon to remarry, but she would not change the wedding to a later date.
Nor to an earlier one, she felt with conviction. She needed time to get over her anger towards Lem. But if Adam was angry with her, perhaps he would have second thoughts about marrying her at all.
Cara’s stomach felt like it was tied up in knots. She waited in nervous anticipation for Adam to come in, and worried about what she would say when he did. If he did come in.
By mid-morning, Adam’s anger towards Cara had dissipated. Sure, he was disappointed that they would not be getting married right away, but he had known she wanted to wait. It wasn’t right to push her, and it hadn’t been right to get angry and shout, either.
His stomach told him when it was time to go into the house for dinner. He went reluctantly, worrying about how Cara would greet him. Was she still hurt by his abrupt departure? Was she angry with him for leaving?
He opened the door of the lean-to and took off his coat and boots. As he walked into the warm kitchen, he saw Cara standing beside the stove. She looked up as he came in, and he saw the worried look in her eyes.
They both spoke at the same time. Adam came forward and took Cara’s hands in his. “You first,” he said.
“If you want to get married right away, we can,” she told him softly.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
When she did not answer immediately, he knew. She was only saying that because she knew it was what he wanted.
“I’m trying to rush you, and I know that’s not what you want. We’ll get married in March, like we planned.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Her quiet question caught him off-guard. He decided to turn his answer into a joke. “I’d get married today if that’s what you wanted. Then I wouldn’t have to spend another night in the barn.”
His answer worked to lighten the mood. Cara was smiling at him. Adam leaned forward and captured her lips in a tender kiss. When he lifted his head, he saw a desire in her eyes that matched his own. It was six weeks before their planned wedding, but that seemed like a very long time.