Prologue-An offer Charles can't refuse

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.

I could hear the hooves as they drew nearer and my Pa was quick to rise from our supper table and see who had come to call. Before he opened the door he picked up the musket that is always at the ready and set to lean near the door of our small wooden house. I rose to peer through the curtains that cover the window overlooking our front porch.

"Come away, Izzy, and let me have a look," Emmett said, as he gently tugged at my elbow.

I was not able to see the visitors face. It was dusk and a halo of sunshine surrounded his head as he dismounted. He rode a tall black horse and his clothes were well made and too fine to be a farmer.

"Who is it , Emmett?" I asked, as I let him take his turn to peek.

"It's Mr. Cullen. I wonder what his business is with Pa," he said, then returned to the table and his supper.

Although Mr. Cullen is not a frequent visitor, it is not unusual for him to stop and speak to my father about the farm and current events. My father is a respected man in our small community. He is a man of few words, but his opinion holds sway and even a man of position like Mr. Cullen sees it's worth.

"Put Pa's plate by the hearth to keep warm, Izzy, he may be out there for a while if there's any news to be had," Emmett said.

My Pa rocked on the front porch for nearly an hour. Mr. Cullen left just as the sun began to set and Pa quietly entered. His expression was thoughtful and he said nothing as he returned to our plank board table. I quickly placed his unfinished plate in front of him and Emmett made an inquiry into the reason for our unexpected visit.

"Mr. Cullen has made an offer that I think I would be foolish not to accept," he said.

"What is it? Does it have to do with the farm ?" Emmett asked.

"No. This offer has to do with Izzy," he said, then both their heads turn my way.

I had taken a seat on the bench next to the hearth and began playing with the sling shot that Jacob had made for me. I looked at my father and brother without comprehension. Why would Mr. Cullen have reason to consider me? I am only a girl of thirteen years old and of no consequence to him.

"It has come to the attention of Mrs. Cullen that Izzy is being let run wild with Indians, wears Emmett's old britches instead of dresses, and knows more about hunting and fishing than she does about how to be a young lady." he said.

"That's all right, Pa, I don't want to be a lady, " I said.

I have no use for girly things of any kind. I love learning the things that girls aren't taught like shooting a musket and how to track wild animals. I love being outside helping Pa and Emmett on the farm. Most of all, I love exploring the forest with my best friend Jacob. He teaches me the ways of his people, the Iroquois, and how to survive in the wilderness. I don't want to be a lady. I want to be me.

"Now, Izzy, I have to think of what's best for you and your future. I have raised you as I have raised Emmett and been blessed for the joy of it, but like it or not you are a girl. You have not had the benefit of your mother's influence, God rest her soul. It would be selfish and unkind of me not to give you the opportunity to become the woman you can surely be. Mr. Cullen's daughter Alice is about your age and a governess has been employed to teach her the art of being a lady. He has generously offered to include you in her lessons," he said, then let out a thoughtful sigh.

"Oh Pa, please don't make me. I don't want to learn to sew and have a tea party. I want to be here with you and Emmett forever," I begged.

"Izzy, your going to grow up and when you do you'll want a husband and home of your own to tend to. Emmett is eighteen now and soon he will go courting and start a life of his own. I won't always be here to care for you.," he said.

"No Pa, I won't do it," I pouted.

"Yes, you will," he said. "You'll do it because your Pa wants you to and you'll do your best to make me proud."

"Yes sir," I said.

I laid aside my sling shot and went to clean up before bed. All I could think was that I didn't know how I would be able to make my father proud doing things girls do, especially with a family I barely know. The Cullen's are different. They live in a fine brick house on a large estate with barns and orchards and servants to do their chores. Their children want for nothing. I have seen them at church and find them too proud.

I put on my night dress and crawled into bed. I looked out my window at the moon and thought about my mother. She died birthing me and until that moment I had not felt the loss of her. My father and brother have loved me and taught me how to work a farm. I know when to plant and harvest. I can care for the animals. I can cook enough to keep us fed. I can read enough to know the Lords words. If my mother were alive she would teach me the things a grown woman should know.

I felt her loss that night as I cried myself to sleep.