by Marsha Ward
Excerpt from Chapter One
As I made a half-circle at the end of the row, I pulled the horse to a halt, swept off my old hat, and wiped the trickles of sweat from my eyes with the back of my wrist. I ran my fingers through my dripping black hair to train it back from my eyes before I replaced my hat. Settling the shade once again on my head, my eyes caught a movement far up the road to my right. (Yikes! A big woopsie!)
Across the rows of fresh young corn stalks I saw the dust rising slowly into the air as two figures walked along the dry surface of the lane. I knew them for strangers by their dress, for no one in our area wore a black suit except on Sunday, and this was Tuesday.
Curiosity was part of my makeup, so I leaned on the plow a while, watching their progress and wondering about their errand. They saw me, and hopped the ditch to approach the fence as they came alongside my position.
At fifteen, I had reached nearly my full growth, and I wasn't beyond considering myself a man. I did as much as my father on the farm, except for the planning and the worrying, so I wasn't surprised when they hailed me as a man.
"Hello, Brother. Can you give us a drink?" the taller man called, indicating my water bucket under a nearby tree.
I wrapped the lines around the plow handles and strode to the fence. "Plenty, and welcome." I bent to shoo away a drinking yellowjacket, and lifted the pail to the top of the fence.
The taller man drank first, and I saw that he was older by three or four years than the shorter man. As they slaked their thirst, I wondered how long since they had tasted water, for they drank with great gusto, and an air of thankfulness.
Their suits were covered with the fine dust that abounded on our roads, but they seemed not to mind, giving all their thoughts to dipping water down their dusty throats.
While the shorter man drank, the taller one looked at me and smiled. "It's been a long, dusty walk. We're thankful for the water. I am Nathan Caldwell, and my companion is Matthew Long. We are ministers of the gospel, and would welcome the opportunity to preach in your neighborhood."
I stuck out my hand and pumped his. "My name is Elijah Marshall, and my pa will be glad to see you. He's a God-fearing man, and every man of the Lord is welcome in his house." I squinted up at the sun. "It's nearly dinner time. Come and eat with us."
Mr. Long grinned his acceptance as Mr. Caldwell nodded.
"Just follow the road to the first lane on the right," I directed them. "Tell my ma I sent you. I'll be along with the horse by and by."
They waved their thanks as I hauled the bucket off the fence and turned back to the plow. Old Tom still stood where I'd reined him in, flicking flies away with his tail and standing three-legged in the sun. His ears twitched at my approach, and I patted his flank before I unhitched him from the plow.
"Tom, boy, we've got company. Won't that make Ma's eyes dance!"