Love Believeth All Things

Author: Barbara W.

Part/Chapter: Chapter 1

Summary: This story begins at the series cliffhanger. David has just

proposed to Christy with Dr. MacNeill standing near by.

Disclaimer: the LeSourd Family owns Catherine Marshall's beautiful story of

Christy. I am in no way seeking profit or credit for her story. I am

continuing the story of Christy for my own amusement only.

Love Believeth All Things

*Summer 1913*

The mid-afternoon light reflected off the tiny stone that lay nestled in the

soft blue box that Christy held cradled between her hands. As a child she

had dreamed of this day, the day her beloved would sweep her away and say,

"Christy Huddleston, will you marry me?" This was not the way it was

supposed to happen! She turned to look at David, how she loved him. He was

her friend, her confidante and a man of strong faith. She held his eyes, his

beautiful eyes filled with hope and dread, for only a moment before turning

to the other man in her life, Dr. Neil MacNeill. Over the whirl of her own

thoughts she heard him ride Charlie at a breakneck speed into the school yard

and pull up short at the site unfolding before him. She didn't even have to

look in his direction to know that he was there, but now she felt drawn to

him. The sun that glinted off the engagement ring also fell across his hair;

it reminded her of a sunset, all ablaze with oranges and reds. His eyes

caught hers for a moment and she tried to read his thoughts, just as he had

read hers on so many occasions. What was it she saw in his eyes? Did it

matter? Only moments before she had seen him embracing his wife, the roaring

of the creek they stood beside was nothing compared to the roaring inside her

head, as she realized what would never be. She loved Neil, she was sure of

it. He was her protector, her shoulder to lean on. She could not imagine

what her life would be without him. But did it matter that she loved him?

He had a wife, a wife who had left him and hurt him, but a wife, nonetheless.

"Christy." David moved closer to her and whispered her name. Why did he

have to show up now? Why couldn't Neil MacNeill stop confusing his Christy?

His Christy? Would she ever be his? "Please say yes."

Christy turned her attention from the man sitting stoically on his horse.

David's eyes pleaded with her as he slowly took her hand. "David, I would be

honored to be your wife."

"Oh, Christy!" David picked her up gently and swung her around, he planted

her securely back on her feet and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. "You

have made me the happiest man alive." David lifted the ring from its soft

blue nest and slipped it over the third finger on her left hand. "I love

you, Christy Huddleston."

"I love you too, David." Christy whispered. The sudden movement from

Charlie caused her to look again in Neil's direction as he galloped from the

school and out of her life. "I'm feeling kind of weak, from all the

excitement. I think I'd like to go rest for a bit. Can you handle the

children for the rest of the afternoon, David?"

"Of course, would you like me to walk with you?" David stared at her

intently. He had not missed the look that crossed her face as the good

doctor sped away from the mission school.

"No, I'll be fine." Christy turned from him and walked slowly to the mission

house. Even before she reached the solace of her room the tears began

running down her cheeks. What have I done? Please, God, let Dr. MacNeill

understand. Please let him understand that I didn't want to hurt him.

Please let me keep my promise to David and honor the love that you have given

us for one another. Her heart was so heavy that all she could do was

collapse wearily onto her bed and let the tears roll down her cheeks until

she finally fell into a restless sleep.

Chapter 2

Christy was awakened from her restless sleep by a knocking at her door.

Lifting herself from her pillow she dried her tears. "Come in."

"Miss Huddleston, how are you feeling?" Alice Henderson opened the door and

placed the tray that she was carrying on the bedside table. "We missed you

at supper. I have brought thee some."

"Thank you, Miss Alice." Even the rich smell of venison stew and fresh corn

bread could not tempt Christy. Only the smell of hot, sweet tea was able to

arouse her senses. Christy was surprised at how stiff she felt and how tired

she was. She poured herself a cup of the fragrant brew and sipped slowly.

"I would have an opportunity with thee." Miss Alice gazed intently at the

young girl that she had come to see as a daughter. The news of her accepting

David's proposal had been a shock, especially since Christy had taken to her

room shortly after and had slept until long past sundown. Despite everything

that had happened, with Margaret's sudden reappearance, she knew that both

Neil and Christy had feelings for each other. Even if they were unwilling

and unable to express them. "I understand that thee has accepted David's

proposal."

Christy subconsciously turned the ring that felt so heavy and awkward on her

hand. "Yes, Miss Alice, I have told David that I will marry him." Christy

attempted a weak smile. She didn't know why she could not find the happiness

that this moment should bring her. "Are you happy for us?"

"My happiness is unimportant. The question, Christy, is art thou happy?

A soon-to-be bride generally does not take to her bed just minutes after her

betrothal." Miss Alice intently studied the young woman's reaction. A

mixture of weariness and uncertainty lay behind her eyes. The eyes that were

usually so bright and luminous now appeared dull and tired.

"I am happy, Miss Alice, David is a wonderful man. What more could I hope

for?" Christy heard irritation rising in her voice. "He is a Godly man,

kind and gentle. He loves me so very much. I am sure that we will be very

happy together."

"Thee does not need to sing David Grantland's praises to me, child." Miss

Alice reached for the pretty china teapot on the bedside and replenished the

cup that Christy had been sipping from. "David is indeed a man of God. But

is he the man that God intended for Christy Huddleston?"

"Miss Alice, I don't understand." Christy sighed, her eyes focusing the

night sky that was visible from her bedroom window.

"I may be an old maid, Miss Huddleston. But I am not blind to thy heart.

Nor am I blind to the heart of Dr. MacNeill." The older woman stared intently

at the reaction that his name would bring from her. She was rewarded when

Christy's eyes met hers and the tears welled up in her blue eyes. Christy

had become what she had always hoped Margaret would have been to her. She

could not bear to see her make the same mistake that Margaret had made when

she married a man who was not God's choice.

"What does Dr. MacNeill have to do with my decision to marry David? Dr. MacNeill

is a married man." Christy was hurt and confused that Miss Alice had even

ventured to bring up his name. As much as Alice and Neil had been shocked to

see Margaret return from the dead, Christy had been equally shocked and

confused. Her feelings for the doctor had gone from dislike to irritation to

respect and finally to…what do I feel for Dr. MacNeill? Does what I feel for

him even matter? He's not free…he has a wife. A wife who happens to be ill

and happens to be her mentor's daughter.

"I am not asking thee to reconsider David's proposal. Nor am I asking thee

to consider Dr. MacNeill. As you say, he is still a married man, regardless of

the circumstances. I only wish for thy happiness, Miss Huddleston. I would

pray with thee, for guidance and peace, if thee would like." Miss Alice

stared compassionately at her young charge. She had promised her parents

that she would take good care of their daughter. She intended to keep that

promise in helping her to seek God's will in her life, regardless of its

outcome.

"Thank you." Christy reached for the woman's hands, rough and warm, they had

brought her comfort on so many occasions. She had always valued her time in

prayer with Miss Alice and her words of wisdom. Despite her objections to

the contrary, Christy did at times, place her on a pedestal, although Alice

objected strenuously.

"Heavenly Father, we thank thee for your love for us. I thank thee for

sending Christy here to our mission and for the love that she has for thy

children. Thy word tells us that love beareth all things and believeth all

things. Please give Christy thy peace and love and help her in the decisions

that thee has placed before her. In thy name we pray, amen." Alice heard

Christy's silent sobs and reached for her. She held her as she cried and

whispered her own fervent prayers to God. The peace that only the Comforter

can bring slipped into the room and embraced them both.

Long after Alice had left her room, Christy remained awake. She stared at

the moonlight shining softly in her window and down upon the diamond that she

absently toyed with. Imagining her life with David brought her great peace.

The hours that they would spend working with the mountain families to

continue bettering their lives was only part of it. Thank you Lord, for the

friendships that you have given me. I know that I was sent her to receive

even more than I have given. Her mind drifted to the times she had spent

with Fairlight, her best friend. How close they had become and how happy she

was that their friendship would continue to grow. A smile touched her lips

as she thought of her favorite member of the entire cove, baby Iris. It had

broken her heart to give that child away, but the joy on Iris' face in church

last Sunday as Opal held her little daughter, bouncing her gently on her hip,

only served to show her again that she had made the right decision. She

wasn't ready to marry David then, and the fear she felt knowing that little

baby almost died because of her unwillingness to forgive Opal caused a tear

to involuntarily slide down her cheek. Christy turned on her side and wiped

away the errant tear as she snuggled herself down under the covers and fell

into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter 3

The morning sun filtered through Christy's windows and fell softly upon her

face. Yawning and stretching she slipped into her bed shoes and robe and

stood watching the fire of sunrise light the mountains. Opening her windows

she breathed deep of the sweet air scented heavily with honeysuckle and

leaned against her window frame enjoying a few moments of peace with God.

The deep night's sleep had woken her not only to a sweet peace, but a joy at

the prospect of becoming Mrs. Christy Grantland. A sudden flurry of activity

caught her eye as she saw Dr. MacNeill's horse dash up the path and pull to a

stop in front of the mission. Their eyes locked briefly, intensely, as he

noticed her taking advantage of the morning view from her window. She drew

herself quickly back into the privacy of her room, her cheeks turning red at

being caught in her nightclothes. She dressed quickly in anticipation of

the doctor's early arrival at the mission. She was just pulling on her

shoes when Miss Alice knocked on her door.

"Miss Huddleston, may I come in." Her voice was heavy with emotion. Christy

opened the door to find the tears coursing down the older woman's face.

"Miss Alice, what is it? Is it Margaret? I saw Dr. MacNeill ride up."

Christy put her arms around her. She had never seen her in so much pain.

Alice could only shake her head yes; the tears were flowing so steadily that

words were choking her throat. Asking no more questions, Christy slipped her

tiny hand into her beloved friend's and followed her downstairs.

Dr. MacNeill was waiting there with Miss Alice's sorrel horse already

saddled and ready to ride. Alice lifted herself weakly into the saddle and

helped Christy up behind her. The three rode in silence at a break neck

speed down the trail toward the doctor's cabin. Christy knew that the ride

took only moments but the questions spinning in her mind made it seem like an

eternity. As soon as the trio arrived Dr. MacNeill lifted Christy down from

Alice's horse. Alice tossed her reins to her son-in-law and hurried into the

cabin, leaving Neil and Christy alone.

"Dr. MacNeill, why am I here? What's happened?" Christy was aware that his

hands still held her gently around the waist and she took a deliberate step

backwards.

"Didn't Miss Alice tell you?"

"No, she just asked me to come with her."

The doctor ran his fingers through his hair, holding the ends in his work

worn hand. "After I came to the school to see you yesterday I was

intercepted on my way back to my cabin. I spent the night in Raven's Gap

treating one of the McAdams boy's for a gunshot wound. I got back here at

first light. I found Margaret lying on the living room floor. She had

broken into my laboratory and taken a mixture of several of the drugs that I

had there. She's dead, Christy."

Christy's blue eyes held the doctors for a long moment. He took a step

closer and put his hands on her shoulders. What was she seeing there, in the

depths of his eyes? How come he can read my thoughts and I have no idea what

he is thinking or feeling? "I have to go to Miss Alice."

"Go, Christy. Do what you can for her. I've laid her out upstairs."

Christy brushed past him and ran up the stairs. He watched her go in and

gently closes the door. As he led the horses to his stable and unsaddled

them, he could hear the sounds of Alice's cries from his loft.

Christy climbed the stairs with trepidation, taking deep breaths as she went.

She could see the spot by the fireplace where Margaret had died and smell

the sickly sweet odor of vomit and the metallic smell of blood. She thought

of Dr. MacNeill in the early morning light cleaning up his wife and the

evidence of her death before he went for Alice. Christy's heart broke at the

site of Margaret, lying so still in her mother's arms. Alice was rocking her

gently to and fro and humming a lullaby. She slipped quietly down the

stairs, allowing them their moments alone. Glancing out the window she

watched the doctor walking slowly back toward the house. The weariness he

felt was evident in the slump of his shoulders. Christy busied herself by

making a fresh pot of coffee and praying. Unsure of where she would be most

useful, she set some more water to boil and found a bucket, soap and scrub

brush. Even though Neil had taken great pains to leave little evidence of

the blood and vomit he must have found her in, the smell was still strong.

Christy felt the bile rising in the back of her throat as she knelt down and

began scrubbing the floor around the fireplace. The scent of the lye soap

mingled with the sickly smell of death as she scrubbed. While she worked she

heard the sharp sound of an axe splitting wood at the back of the house.

The coffee boiled and Christy laid aside her work. She poured herself a cup

of coffee and one for the doctor and stepped out of the cabin.

"Neil, I've made some coffee."

"Thank you, Miss Huddleston. How's Alice?" He took the cup from her hand

and sipped heartily from it. He had brought her here to be a comfort to Miss

Alice, and yet she was also seeing to his needs. Her strength never ceased

to amaze him. Neil stopped and gave himself a mental shake, the ring on

Christy's left hand reminding him again that they were never to be more than

friends.

"She's holding Margaret, rocking her and humming. I thought it best to leave

them for a little bit." Christy cleared her throat, the scene in the cabin

threatening to cause her tears to flow again. "How are you?"

"I've mourned Margaret before. She died for me years ago." Neil looked away

from her as he spoke, down to the river that had taken his wife from him.

"She came back. Just yesterday you were embracing her. I thought, perhaps,

you and Margaret had decided to try again to save your marriage." Christy

laid her hand across his arm.

"Well, you thought wrong." Christy was surprised at the angry tone his voice

had taken. "What you saw was Margaret embracing me. I rejected her,

Christy. I turned my back on her when she told me…" His voice dropped off

suddenly and he stared intently into his coffee cup.

"When she told you?"

"Never mind. It's not important." His voice softened as he stared at the

small diamond resting on her left hand. "I'm sure that Alice will be ready

for some coffee by now. I have more wood to split and arrangements to make."

Christy rose slowly and watched him pick up his axe and return to the

woodpile. What did he want to tell me? Oh Lord, I need your strength.

Please give me the words to bring comfort to Miss Alice. Be with us now, she

will need her faith in you more than ever. Christy set herself to her task

and climbed the stairs before the tears threatened to spill down her cheeks

again. She knew that she could not mourn Margaret, a woman she had barely

known, a woman who caused so much pain to those she loved. But her very

heart ached for her mother, and her husband. Truth be told, it even ached

for Margaret. For all the love that she had thrown away, for the love of God

that she had never known.

Chapter 4

The day of the funeral had dawned rainy and gray. Christy stood with the

small gathering at the graveside with her hand holding tightly to Miss

Alice's. The rain had slackened to a drizzle and mingled with the tears that

Alice continued to cry. Christy had spent every moment possible with her

friend, trying to bring her a measure of comfort. David quietly read the

23rd Psalm as Jeb Spencer began throwing shovels of dirt onto the plain

wooden box that held Margaret's body. After a short prayer, David took up a

shovel and joined Jeb in his work while Fairlight and Christy led Alice away

from the slowly filling hole.

"Miss Alice, you must eat something. Come back to the mission, Fairlight has

dinner keeping hot on the stove." Christy laid her head gently against her

mentor's shoulder. "Please, you must eat something."

"Miz Christy's right. I understand your sorrowin'. But you gotta have

sumthin' to eat, Miz Alice. It won't do ya a lick o' good to come down

sick." Fairlight offered the older woman a faint smile.

"I thank thee, but I am not hungry. I should like to lie down." Miss Alice

stepped away from her friends. How could they possibly understand? She

appreciated their compassion, thanked God for it. "If either of you sees Dr.

MacNeill, will you please let him know that he was missed, today."

"Of course, Miss Alice." Christy tried hard to understand what he must have

been going through today, but she could not. She felt only anger, anger that

he wasn't here. If not for Margaret, then he could have at least shown

himself for Alice. Fairlight reached down and took Christy's hand as they

continued into the mission kitchen. Ruby Mae had graciously placed the

coffee on to boil before leaving for the Spencer cabin to spend the afternoon

with Zady watching over the children. The women poured themselves a cup and

began dishing up the afternoon meal for David and Jeb.

"Miz Christy," Fairlight began while stirring up a fresh batch of corn

muffins. "Miz Alice, she be hurtin' sumthin awful about Neil not attendin'

the buryin'."

"I don't understand it, myself. I haven't seen him since the morning that

Margaret died. Have you heard from him?" Christy tried to speak with

nonchalance, but she kept her eyes cast down at the stew in front of her.

"No'um and I am mighty worried. I get the feelin' he is moanin a broken

heart. Despite whats people are thinkin'." Fairlight glanced out of the

corner of her eyes at her dear friend. It was common knowledge in the cove

that Christy had accepted the preacher's proposal.

"Do you think that he still loved Margaret, and that's why he stayed away?"

Neil MacNeill never made any sense to her. That a person would love someone

and not attend the funeral was just ludicrous.

"Do ya remember, last fall when I was havin' them night terrors about bad

things a comin' to the cove? I've been seeing this here comin' too, for some

time now. I knowed that Mz. Margaret, she was comin' home. And I knowed

about you and the preacher, too. The preacher did me a right good turn,

helpin' me to understand the things I was seein' were a gift from God. But

seein don't make the understandin' any easier." Fairlight's voice was calm,

but inside her emotions were in turmoil. There was more that she wanted to

say, more she felt she needed to say, but she knew that now was not the time.

She breathed a silent prayer to God that she would be able to.

"Ladies," David stepped into the kitchen followed by Jeb after having washed

up following their grim task. He reached for coffee cups for them both and

waited while Christy filled them with the rich, fragrant brew. "How is Miss

Alice, doing?"

"She's gone to her cabin to lie down. I was going to give her a little while

and then take down some tea and some supper. Fairlight was kind enough to

bring her rabbit stew."

"Jeb, you are a lucky man, Fairlight is one fine cook. I hope that I can

convince your Fairlight to give Christy the recipe for that stew. I'd say

the only man luckier than you in this whole cove is me, Christy is going to

make one fine wife." David reached across the table and rested his hand on

Christy's arm. "I'm hoping that we will be able to have a proper engagement

party soon."

Jeb exchanged glances with Fairlight. He saw the look in her eyes, he could

read her heart as well as his own. Fairlight had been worried ever since

news reached her of Christy and David's engagement.

"David, we have just buried Miss Alice's daughter, I don't think anybody is

in the mood for parties." Christy pulled her hand away; she was shocked that

David could be so heartless as to talk about their happiness when so much

sorrow was in the house.

"Miz Christy, I've been thinkin' on payin' a visit to Dr. MacNeill. I was a

wonderin' if you'd go with me after school tomorrow?" Fairlight passed the

cornbread around the table as she served the stew. "Ifin' I know that man,

and I do, he hasn't had hisself a decent meal in a couple a days. I thought

I'd take him some fried chickin and corn bread." Fairlight did not miss the

furious glance that David cast her. He couldn't help but worry about the

sudden turn of events. He knew that Christy was his, promised by his ring

that she wore, but he didn't want her spending any time around MacNeill.

"Actually, Fairlight, I thought that Christy and I would go for a picnic

tomorrow after services. I think that she needs some time away." David

looked intently at Christy, hoping she wouldn't refuse him.

"David, I can go with Fairlight and still have a picnic with you." Christy

did not miss David's slightly irritated tone, and she challenged his sudden

desire to make decisions for her.

"All right. If you think that is best. Just let me know your plans. I need

to excuse myself, I still have a sermon to prepare." David rose from the

table and leaned down to kiss Christy's cheek. As he neared her ear he

whispered, "Remember Christy, you've made your choice." And slipped quickly

from the kitchen. A stunned Christy watched him leave.

Chapter 5

After services Christy met Fairlight on the church steps and together they

walked back towards the mission house and began preparing the noon meal they

had planned on taking to Dr. MacNeill. They walked in a comfortable silence,

enjoying the shade of the trees and a slight breeze off the mountains.

Christy was deep in thought about the last serious conversation she had

enjoyed with Fairlight. The questions that had originally troubled her now

brought her a gentle peace of mind. Who's your best friend? Who makes your

blood boil? Christy was beginning to understand that the real answer to

these questions was David. She was sure of it.

"Miz Christy," Fairlight's lilting voice was so quiet that Christy almost

didn't hear her. "I know that you told the preacher yes, but are ya really

sure? Sure down in your deepest heart so that ya are feelin' love all the

way down to yer toes? I'm not tryin' to intrude but ya just don't seem all

that happy. Not happy like ya usually are."

"Of course I'm sure, Fairlight. What more could I ask for in a husband than

David?" Christy smiled wearily. "I just don't understand why everybody

keeps asking me if I'm sure? David and I are a perfect match. Like you

said, He's my best friend…next to you of course. It's just that so much has

happened recently, it's a little hard to feel happy when Miss Alice is taking

Margaret's death so hard."

"I'm sorry, Miz Christy, I don't mean to be a questionin' your feelin's. But

more than anything I want you to be happy." Fairlight laid a comforting hand

on Christy's shoulder as Dr. MacNeill's cabin came into view.

Christy hesitated as they climbed the steps to the cabin, she couldn't help

but remember the horrible circumstances that had brought her here last time.

Fairlight knocked on the door and a very tired looking Dr. MacNeill opened

the door and stared in surprise to see Christy. He chuckled to himself as

Fairlight grabbed Christy's hand and slipped inside.

"And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, ladies?" Neil stepped

backwards and closed the door behind the women.

"We just thought that you probably ain't had a good meal in a coupla days.

So we went ahead and brought ya some stew and hot cornbread." Fairlight

smiled brightly. "I even threw in a jar of my Jeb's sourwood honey."

"Well, you know I never turn down your honey, Fairlight. But I was down in

Low Gap most of the night." Dr. MacNeill cast a sideways glance at the

unusually quiet Christy.

"All the more reason you should eat, Doctor." Christy busied herself by

placing the stew on the stove to warm and adding a log to the glowing embers

inside the oven, she hated it when he stared at her like that. It made her

feel so..so..conspicuous.

"Christy, I'm gonna head down to the spring and fetch back some fresh water.

By the looks of you this mornin', Doctor, you could use a pot of coffee."

Fairlight did not miss the pleading look in Christy's eyes. She tossed her a

smile and slipped out the front door.

"So, I hope all is well in Low Gap, Dr. MacNeill?" Christy stirred at the

stew, almost viciously, in an attempt to keep her hands busy and her eyes

averted.

"Yes, Miss Huddleston. Just a minor problem that needed my attention." He

stepped up closer to the stove, the tiny stone on her hand catching the

sunlight as it filtered through the window. "So, how soon before I call you,

Mrs. Grantland?"

"David and I haven't set a date, with everything that has been going on."

She kept her back to him, but he could feel his intense hazel eyes staring at

her.

"I would have thought you would be in a hurry to make your plans."

"Oh, Miss Alice wanted me to give you a message. She said to tell you that

you were missed at your wife's funeral." Christy spoke in a rush, eager to

change the path that this conversation was taking.

"I told ya before, Miss Huddleston, Margaret was dead to me, a very long time

ago." Neil turned away from her and walked toward the mantel. He took down

his pipe and began filling the bowl.

"Funeral's aren't for the dead, Doctor, they are for the living. The least

you could have done was shown up for Miss Alice." Christy took the offensive

and turned to face him.

"Miss Alice's problems with her daughter were of her own making." His voice

rose slightly at Christy's challenge. "Besides, she had you there. And

David."

"But you are her son-in-law. How dare you blame Miss Alice for everything

that has happened."

"I'm not blaming Alice Henderson for anything." His voice continued to rise

in pitch as he ran his hand through his disheveled hair.

"Well that's what it sounds like, Doctor. Alice cares for you very much, she

really wanted you to be there." Christy folded her arms across her chest and

jutted out her chin defiantly. This is one time I am not backing down to

this man!

"What about you, Christy. Do you care for me?" Neil could have slapped

himself the moment he spoke those words.

"Of course, we're friends." Christy dropped her arms to her sides, suddenly

taken back by his question. "I know you must be hurting after what Margaret

did to you. I want to understand and help, but you are making it rather

difficult."

Neil took three rapid steps forward, so close to Christy that he could have

touched her. He looked down into her face, searching for something. He did

not expect the pity that he read in the depths of her eyes. "You have no

idea what that woman did to me, so don't try to pretend that you do! You

have no idea of what she took from me! I don't want your pity, Miss

Huddleston."

"I'm not pitying you, Doctor." She did not step away as she should have but

instead tilted her head upwards, taking his challenge. "I am simply trying

to be your friend. But friends typically do not shout at one another!" She

turned on her heel and stalked towards the door just in time to run into a

startled Fairlight coming back with a pail of water. Without a word Christy

stomped through the door and slammed it shut with all her might.

Christy was a ways down the trail when she heard Fairlight calling her. "Miz

Christy, I'm glad that I caught ya. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for any of this

to turn into an argument."

"It's not your fault, Fairlight. It's just.."Christy swiped at the hot angry

tears that were beginning to fall. "It's just…he makes me so mad, there's

times I could just slap his face! It just makes me know how glad that I am

to be marrying David. I can't stand fighting like this."

Fairlight led Christy over to a log on the side of the trail, and put her arm

around her, giving her a little shake. "It's awlright, Miz. Christy."

"I tried to help him, I tried to understand why he didn't come to Margaret's

funeral. All it did was make him angry, he accused me of pitying him."

Christy grabbed her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes, willing away the

tears.

"Are ya, pitying him?"

"No, if anything I am furious with him. He hurt Miss Alice so bad!"

"I guess you were right, the last time we spoke about Neil MacNeill you said

that he was the one that made your blood boil." Fairlight said with a gentle

grin and a laugh in her voice.

"That is not always a good thing, Fairlight." Christy smiled weakly and the

women continued on the path back to the mission.

Chapter 6

Christy went upstairs to the solace of her room at the mission house. She

smiled to herself as she rinsed away the remnant of tears. She sat down at

her dressing table and pulled down her hair, unbraided it and began brushing

it to a brilliant shine. I think I'll wear it down, that's how David likes

it best. She quickly pulled up the sides and tied them with a pretty bow.

David was waiting downstairs with Prince and a picnic basket in hand. After

one last look in the mirror, Christy hurried downstairs.

"Are you ready, Christy?" David smiled at her. He did not fail to notice

that she had taken her hair down. He loved it when her hair fell soft and

wavy around her shoulders.

"David, where's Theo?" Christy looked around for the stubborn mule she had

finally grown used to riding.

"I figured we'd make better time if we just rode Prince." David turned away

and mounted the beautiful horse. "Come on, you can ride behind me. Prince

won't care."

Christy stepped over to the porch stairs so that she could get her foot in

the saddle. She was glad that her mother had decided to send her a couple of

riding skirts last month. It was, to say the least, a challenge to ride a

horse in her regular dresses. David placed his warm hand gently in hers and

boosted her up behind him.

"Hang on tight, Christy." David smiled back at his fiancée as Christy

wrapped her arms tighter about him. "Are you ready?" David balanced the

picnic basket in front of him and held on to the reins with his free hand.

"I'm ready." Christy smiled and leaned her head against David's back.

They rode in silence a short ways up to a meadow that ran beside a small

tributary of the river. David climbed down and tied Prince tightly to a tree

before helping Christy.

"I love the way your hair smells like roses and the way it shines in the

afternoon light." David lifted her gently from the saddle and held her close

to him. "I see that you wore it down, just the way I like it."

"I…" Christy stammered as David gently placed his hand on her chin and lifted

her eyes to meet his.

"Christy, I know we haven't had much time, lately." David lowered his mouth

and claimed her lips, gently. He broke the sweet kiss after just a moment.

"I love you, with all of my heart." He pulled him into her again, kissing

her more insistently and deeper than she had ever been kissed before. This

time it was Christy who broke the kiss.

"David." Her breath caught in her throat and she stepped backwards out of

his arms.

"I know Christy, I just couldn't help myself. You have no idea how happy you

made me. I've been saving some terrific news for just the right time."

David took her hand and led her over to a shade tree where he spread out the

blanket he had brought. "Christy, I received a letter last week with some

terrific news. As you know my year here is almost up."

"Yes, David." Christy wasn't sure that she liked where this conversation was

going.

"And I am sure that with the circumstances, Dr. Ferrand would be happy to

find a replacement for you."

"David, what are you talking about a replacement? I love these children."

"I know, but this news is so good that it will change your mind." David

smile reminded her of a little boy on Christmas morning. "A friend of mine

from the seminary and I have been writing regularly to one another. You

remember me talking about Peter Adams?" Christy nodded her head, she did

remember. "He says that he is ready to get away from the city, and we have

discussed trading places. He loves to hunt and fish, and is much more suited

to this lifestyle than we are. Anyway, I received a letter last week. The

church and Dr. Ferrand are more than willing to let him come here and I will

take his position."

"David, I don't want to leave..." Christy's thoughts were a jumble.

David placed his finger gently over Christy's mouth to stop her protests.

"The best news is that the church is in Asheville. Think of it Christy,

you'll be going home!"

"This is my home, David." Christy pushed his fingers away from her lips. "I

thought you knew that."

"I have no intention of allowing our children to grow up in this God forsaken

place, with these people. What sort of values will they learn?" David was

confused and upset that Christy was not as happy as he expected her to be.

"Why do you think I left Asheville, David? I was tired of the teas and

receptions and all the gossip and backbiting. Those are not the kind of

values I want our children to learn."

"You'd rather expose them to people like Bird's Eye Taylor and the terrible

feuding, not to mention the disease that runs rampant? Maybe you could get

Bird's Eye to school them in the fine art of making moonshine?" David glared

at her incredulously.

"No, I don't want them to learn to feuding and moon shining. I want them to

learn that friendship, real friendship, and hard work are more important than

monetary gain." Christy stood up and backed away from David. How can he

claim to love me and yet know so little about me?

"Remember, Christy, a wife's place is at her husband's side. I love you."

David stepped toward her with pleading eyes.

"How can you say that you love me and then use a Bible verse to get your own

way?" Christy shot back angrily.

"I am not using the Bible to get my own way. God is very specific on

marriage and the wife's role in it. You do good work here, think of how much

good you can continue to do in Asheville?" David stepped forward and put his

hands on her shoulders, he lowered his head to claim her lips.

Christy pulled away. "David, if you think that I have any intentions of

returning to Asheville society, a life that I hated, then you don't know me

at all." Christy turned around and stalked away leaving a very stunned David

gawking after her. She hurried into the woods and back down the path toward

the mission. Her own thoughts whirling around inside her head making walking

nearly impossible with the hot tears that coursed down her cheeks for the

second time today. She stumbled quickly along the trail so caught up in her

own thoughts that she didn't see the horse in her path until she nearly

collided with it.

"Whoa, Charlie." Dr. MacNeill pulled up hard on the reins. "And where are

you off to in such a hurry, Miss Huddleston. You haven't had a lover's spat,

now have you?" He smiled down at her from the saddle.

"Dr. MacNeill, I am in no mood to spar with you again today, so if you'll

excuse me!" Christy looked up at him with fire in her eyes.

Neil was shocked by the anger in her voice. He jumped gracefully off

Charlie's back and down beside her. He could see deep into her blue eyes,

beyond the anger and into the hurt. He took her gently by the shoulders.

"Christy, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, Doctor. Now if you will please let go of me…" Christy tried to

pull away but Neil only tightened his grip.

"Christy, please?" He looked down at her blue eyes, so furious and in so

much pain. "I can read your thoughts almost as well as my own. Why are you

out here alone?"

They were interrupted by the sound of Prince crashing through the trees and

on to the trail just ahead of them. David pulled his horse up sharp and

glared at the scene before him. "Well, I see you have everything in hand,

here." His voice was laden with sarcasm and venom.

"David, I…" Christy looked over her shoulder, aware that Dr. MacNeill's hands

still rested gently on her shoulders.

"Don't explain, Christy. I really don't want to hear it. Margaret's little

suicide has worked out nicely for you, hasn't it Doctor? How long, Christy?

How long were you going to play this little charade of yours?" David

continued scanning the tender scene with disgust.

"Look here, Grantland." Neil stepped protectively between the large horse

and Christy. "I don't know what's happening here…"

"Save it, Doctor. I'm sure that Christy will be more than happy to explain

things to you." David turned his horse around and rode off leaving a stunned

Dr. MacNeill and a sobbing Christy.

"Christy." Neil spoke her name quietly as he turned back to face her.

"No, Neil." Christy turned and fled down the path.

Chapter 7

Christy ran with everything in her down the trail and away from Neil and

David. She could still hear Neil's voice, deep with concern, calling after

her. She didn't care. In one week her entire world had crumbled around her

and the man that she was engaged to marry had told her they were leaving the

cove. I won't do it, God. I don't want to leave here. I know what David

said about a wife standing beside her husband is true, but leaving the cove

can't possibly be your plan for me. Christy arrived at the top of God's Fist

and leaned wearily against a maple tree and closed her eyes. Lord, I know

that you are in all of this, even though I can't see you. Help me to know

where to go from here. Help me to keep my promises to David. Christy laid

her head back against the rough bark and allowed her eyes to close and her

tears slowly stopped as she drifted into a peaceful slumber.

"Christy, are you here?" The sound of Neil's voice caused her to stir in her

sleep.

"I'm here, Doctor." Christy turned to see him tethering Charlie to a near by

tree. "What is it?"

"Why so formal, love." Neil knelt down next to her and lifted her gently

into his arms. He stared deep into her eyes and she gently brushed the lock

of golden curl that had fallen across his forehead. Christy was shocked by

her own brazen behavior, but even more shocked when he tilted her chin to his

and brought his full lips down to…

"Miz Christy. Miz Christy." Fairlight's voice, heavy with concern, caused

Christy to stand up quickly banging her head on a low branch.

"I'm here, Fairlight." Christy looked around quickly while holding the sore

spot on the top of her head that had encountered the branch. I was dreaming,

it was a dream. She thought to herself and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

"Miz Christy, I was mighty worried about ya. Doc stopped by the cabin on his

way home. He asked me to see if I could find ya." Fairlight hugged her

friend, speaking in a rush.

"Why would Dr. MacNeill send you to find me?" Christy rubbed her head and

asked confused.

"That's what I wanted to ask ya. He seemed mighty worried over somethin'.

He said that he ran into ya on the trail and that your was powerful upset."

Fairlight took Christy's hand and they sat down to look out over the

mountains. "What's troublin' ya?"

"David and I had a terrible fight. He made arrangements with a friend of his

in Asheville to trade places. David wants us to move back to Asheville."

Christy hung her head as a fresh onslaught of tears poured down her checks.

"After we argued I walked off, back down the trail. I ran into Neil. He

realized how upset I was and he jumped off Charlie. He was trying to find

out what was wrong when David came down the trail. He found Neil standing

with his hands on my shoulders. I guess he assumed the worst because he said

some terrible things to us."

Fairlight held Christy close as she cried, she handed her a handkerchief and

spoke to her softly as she rocked her. "I've been frettin' over this, Miz

Christy. I've been havin' dreams about this for some time now and I've been

seekin' God everyday if'n I was supposed to tell ya what I see'd. But I

never had peace until this afternoon when Neil came ridin' up to the cabin."

Christy picked her head up from Fairlight's shoulder. "You've been having

dreams about me?"

"Mostly you, and the preacher. I dreamed of ya'll in Asheville in a fancy

house. You was wearin' a dress the like's of which I ain't never seen, it

was so beautiful. And ya was dancin' with David. He was all smiles but I

couldn't see your face at all. Everythin' was so perfect and beautiful and I

was findin' myself all caught up in the music. Finally, near the end of my

dream, David turned you around and I could see your face. I ain't never seen

a face so worn and sad. All the life was right outta ya and your eyes were

all red and streaked like from the cryin'. I haven't seen anythin' else

beyond that because Jeb always wakes me up and tells me that I was cryin'

somethin' awful. And I feel so sick inside I have to lay real still for a

long time afterward to stop to rollin' in my stomach." Fairlight pushed the

errant curls of hair away from Christy's bangs.

"Fairlight, I appreciate your concerns and I can't imagine a friend more dear

to me than you are. I know that you have had dreams before that seemed to

come true and I'm not saying that I doubt you. It's just that…" Christy

searched hard for the words to tell Fairlight that she wasn't sure she

believed her.

"I've doubted these dreams myself many times. I've even wondered if it was

the devil hisself sneakin' into my head and mixin' things up. I've spent an

awful lot of time talkin' to God about them, 'specially this one. But I got

a peace about this one that can only come from Him."

"What do I do now? I've made a promise to David." Christy twirled the ring

on her left hand, the symbol of that promise.

"Seems to me that David has got some part of the promisin' too. My Jeb,

we've been through a lot and have made a lot of hard choices. We've always

done our best to make those choices together, me, him and God. Did David

even give you a choice in this movin' he's plannin'?" Fairlight looked at

Christy, already knowing the answer to her question.

"No, he didn't." Christy managed a weak smile and hugged Fairlight. "Thank

you, for telling me and for coming to look for me. I really needed somebody."

The two women held hands as they walked down the trail as the summer sun

began sinking towards the horizon. They hugged and prayed together for

wisdom and understanding and each headed for home.

Christy spent the rest of her short walk home praying about the confrontation

that she knew was awaiting her. A peace that could only come from the Holy

Spirit slipped into the broken areas of her heart and spread like wild fire

inside her. She took one last deep breath to steal herself and stepped into

the parlor. David was waiting for her there, just as she knew he would be.

Chapter 8

"David." Christy spoke with renewed confidence. "David, we need to talk."

"About what?" David turned away from her and stared out the windows. "You

and Neil or you and me."

"Dr. MacNeill and I are just friends." Christy placed her hand upon his

shoulder to comfort him and to help him understand.

"I saw you with him on the path. He was holding you!" David shot back

accusingly as he pushed her hand off his shoulder.

"I almost ran into his horse. He stopped to see if I was all right. He saw

that I was crying." Christy stepped back at the anger that was reflected in

his eyes. Never had she seen him full of so much fury and it frightened her.

"You're mine, Christy. MacNeill has no right…"

"I'm what? Did you just say that I'm yours!" Christy stopped him in mid-

sentence. "Am I something that can be owned like a fine horse or a pretty

mantel piece? If you think that I am some prize to be won then you are sadly

mistaken!"

"Christy, I didn't mean it that way." David stepped closer to her; he could

see that he had definitely chosen the wrong words.

"Yes, David. I believe you did." Christy was seething now, her normally

soft blue eyes alight with the fury she felt inside. "I have no intention of

going to Asheville with you. I have no intention of spending my life playing

the dutiful preacher's wife in Asheville's social circles."

"Christy, please." David's heart fell deep into his chest as he realized

what she was saying.

"I'm sorry, but I can't be the wife you want." Christy slipped the ring that

felt so heavy on her left hand and held it out to him.

David turned his back on her and paced about the room for a moment before

returning to her. "It's MacNeill, isn't it? Your using Asheville as a

reason to break off our engagement so that you can run into his arms. Now

that Margaret is dead you can go after your precious doctor. I have news for

you, Christy Huddleston, you are every bit as cold and malicious as Margaret

was."

"This has nothing to do with Dr. MacNeill, why can't you see that? In the

past week you have tried to make every decision for me. I'm surprised you're

not telling me what to wear and what to think. I can't be that kind of wife

to you!" Christy was yelling as loud as she possibly could, she had

completely lost control of her temper. She was so taken aback and hurt that

David would compare her so closely to Margaret that she threw his ring at him

and ran up the stairs.

David leaned his head against the mantle and breathed heavily. He had

intended on begging Christy's forgiveness but the outcome of his intentions

laid at his feet in the form of her engagement ring. He was startled by the

sound of a throat clearing behind him.

"David." Miss Alice stepped up behind him and laid a gentle hand on his

shoulder. "I could not help but overhear thy conversation with Christy. I

hope thee will forgive me and allow me to pray with thee."

David straightened himself to his full height and turned to face her. "Well,

then. I guess you know what Neil and Christy have been doing today as well."

"I'm sorry, David, but I do not understand." Alice could see the hatefulness

emanating from David's piercing stare.

"Christy has broken our engagement so she can chase after your son-in-law who

has only been widowed for a week now!" David was shocked by the bitterness

in his words but he was not about to retract them now.

"I'm sure that thee is mistaken, David."

"I'm not, and I won't stay here and watch it happen. I have accepted a

position in Asheville beginning the first of October. I will be leaving

first thing tomorrow morning to visit my family and I won't be coming back.

My replacement will be here in two weeks, Dr. Ferrand has all the details."

David picked up Christy's ring and jammed it angrily into his pocket.

"David, please. Don't leave like this." Alice began to follow after him.

Her heart was aching for him. She knew that he had lied about Neil and

Christy spending the day together, she had spoken to Neil shortly after he

left the Spencer cabin. What she didn't know was why?

"It's over, Alice. And since you can accept this as my resignation, you are

not my superior anymore." With those words David stormed out of the mission

house and into his bunkhouse to begin packing.

Chapter 9

Christy awoke the next morning with a heavy heart. After her fight with

David she had spent the rest of the evening in her room. She had tried, in

vain, to pray; but the words just wouldn't come. She had finally settled

herself on her bed and opened her heart to God. She had cried out for his

love and forgiveness for her anger with David. She had cried out for his

love and warmth to embrace her, just like her loving father would. Christy

was not disappointed when she could almost feel the arms of her loving

heavenly Father wrap around her as she fell into the most peaceful sleep she

had since Margaret's funeral. Christy prayed for understanding and patience

for David as she stepped out of her bedroom and down the stairs for

breakfast. The clatter of pots and pans drew Christy to the kitchen where

Alice was cooking breakfast.

"Good morning, Miss Alice." Christy smiled hesitantly. "I'm sorry I slept

so late, can I help you with breakfast?"

"I thank thee, child. But I am nearly done." Miss Alice placed her arm

lovingly around Christy's shoulder. "I am concerned for thee. I could not

help but overhearing the conversation that thee had with David."

Christy laughed gently, in spite of her sadness. "Miss Alice, I would hardly

call that yelling match a conversation. Have you seen David this morning? I

would like to speak with him about last night."

Miss Alice led Christy gently over to the table and brought her a steaming

cup of coffee before joining her. "Why is it, does thee think, that hard

news always seem to be easier to swallow with hot coffee?"

"David's already gone, isn't he?" Christy felt the tears rising in her eyes

again as she stared at the dark brew in front of her.

"I spoke with David shortly after thy argument. He was very angry and I

encouraged him to pray with me. He informed me that he was leaving on the

first train to see his family in Boston." Miss Alice sipped heavily from the

cup in front of her. "This morning I knocked on his bunkhouse door to call

him for breakfast. I wanted a word with him before you joined us. He was

gone, Christy. He left a letter for thee, on his dresser."

"Oh, Miss Alice. I don't know what to do or what to say." Christy leaned

her head in her hands as she spoke. "David told me yesterday that we would

be leaving Cutter Gap and moving back to Asheville. I told him that I didn't

want to leave. That was the cause of this entire argument but I don't know

how to fix it, especially now that David is gone."

"Christy, I don't believe that Asheville was the entire cause of David's

anger. He told me to ask you about Dr. MacNeill and what the two of you were

doing yesterday." Alice raised her hand to silence the words of protest on

Christy's lips. "I know that thee was not with the doctor yesterday, because

I spoke with him at length shortly after he left the Spencer cabin. He asked

me to check on you when I returned to the mission. What I don't understand

is what David meant."

"After David and I argued in the meadow, I went storming off down the path

and nearly collided with Dr. MacNeill's horse. He made a remark about a

"lover's quarrel." When he saw that I had been crying he came over to me and

laid his hands on my shoulders, to see that I was all right. That is how

David found us." Christy hung her head and the anger and jealousy that had

raged in David's eyes. Tears ran freely down her cheeks and into her cooling

coffee cup and splattering the table. "David assumed the worst. I went

walking with Fairlight and when I returned to the mission David said that I

was just like…"

"Just like who, child?" Miss Alice probed gently as though she held

Christy's very heart in her hands.

"Miss Alice, I can't…I can't tell you this. It's not right." Christy knew

that Alice was still shaken by her beloved daughter's death. To hear that

David had compared Christy to Margaret would add salt to her already open

wounds.

"Just like Margaret?" Alice handed Christy her handkerchief and placed her

hand on Christy's shoulder. "Is that what he said to thee."

Christy could only nod her head yes. The memory of those hateful words

seemed to soak into her very soul. I could never be like Margaret. I could

never cause so much pain to those that I love. Or have I already? Am I

really as David says?

"Oh, Christy. Thee must know that David's words were spoken in anger. He

did not mean them and thee should not take them into thy heart." Alice spoke

in a rush; aware of the anguish that David's words had caused Christy.

"I am trying very hard not to, very hard. But I have hurt him, terribly."

Christy swiped at the tears on her face.

Alice stood up from the table and gathered her Bible from the table in the

parlor. She returned to Christy's side and held her hand gently as she

turned the worn pages. "Christy. I would like to share something with thee;

I hope it will not be a stumbling block to thee. "First Corinthians, chapter

13 tells us what Christian love is. In verse 5 it also makes sure that we

understand what love is not." Alice leaned her head over the Bible and read

verbatim the verses she knew in her heart. *"Love doth not behave itself

unseemly, seeketh not it's own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.*

This chapter goes on to tell us that we see through a glass darkly. We must

trust in the Heavenly Father to make things clear to us in his time. Forgive

me for saying so, but David's behavior towards thee was a perfect example of

verse 5."

"I understand that, Miss Alice. David made a mistake and spoke in anger but

that doesn't change the fact that I feel…I feel…" Christy debated within

herself how to finish her sentence. She decided on completely honesty.

"After I threw David's engagement ring at him I felt peace. Utter peace. I

was hurt and angry but a part of me felt like running into the yard and

turning cartwheels. I feel so ashamed."

"Thee accepted David's proposal rather suddenly. Didst thee seek God in the

matter before answering?"

"It just seemed so logical and so right. It never occurred to me that David

was not God's perfect plan for my life." Christy heard a gentle laughter

from her mentor and friend. She was appalled that Miss Alice could be

laughing at her.

"Oh, child. I am not laughing at thee." Alice read her thoughts and turned

Christy's face to meet her eyes. "Since when does God's plans for us follow

what we see as a logical path? Proverbs 12:15 tells us that *the way of a

fool is right in his own eyes.* Thee is not a fool Christy Huddleston. Wait

on God's logic and don't depend on your own. He has great things for thee."

With that Miss Alice stood from the table and laid her hand aside Christy's

cheek. "Seek faith."

"Thank you, Miss Alice." Christy turned to wash her tear stained face at the

pump before crossing the yard to begin the day.

Chapter 10

Christy stood on the schoolhouse porch and breathed in the sweet smell of

honeysuckle. In the morning light, the schoolhouse was awash with shadows, and

she could see her students coming in the distance. Although her heart was

still heavy the beauty of this late summer morning lifted her spirits.

Christy breathed a quiet prayer to God, thanking him for the beauty and it's

soothing effects on her soul.

"Mornin' Miz Christy." Ruby Mae's pleasant voice bounced joyfully off the

walls in the schoolhouse.

"Good Morning, Ruby Mae." Christy couldn't help but smile at her friend's

exuberance. "How was your weekend at the Spencer's?"

"I just had the best time, it shorely was a jollification of a time!"

Christy smiled as Ruby Mae took her seat as the other students began filling

their seats. She was glad that Ruby Mae had enjoyed her time with the

Spencer's. More importantly, she was glad that Ruby Mae wasn't around to

hear the horrible argument her and David had.

"Good morning." Christy looked lovingly at each of her students. Their

bright smiles lifted her heart. How could I even consider leaving these

wonderful children?

"Good mornin', Miz Christy." All of her students spoke in unison.

The students began their day as usual. The roll was called, the Pledge of

Allegiance said and Rob Allen read the daily Bible verse with Sam Houston

leading the class in a morning prayer. Christy opened her eyes and began the

day's lessons. The children were extremely attentive, despite the warm

weather and the day progressed smoothly until after the lunch recess.

Christy was just about to call the children back to their places when she saw

Dr. MacNeill approaching the schoolhouse.

"Good afternoon, Dr. MacNeill." Christy stood up quickly from her vantage

point on the steps. "To what do we owe your visit this afternoon?"

"Miss Huddleston, don't you remember asking me if I would be available to

teach a science class today?" Dr. MacNeill smiled at her, his hazel eyes

reflecting a hint of laughter.

"Of course, Dr. MacNeill. I'm sorry it must have completely slipped my

mind." Christy shook her self mentally, finally remembering the arrangements

with the doctor that had been made almost a month ago.

"If this is an inconvenient time, Miss Huddleston, we can make arrangements

for another day." Neil couldn't help but look at the schoolteacher's left

hand; he noticed that the diamond that had been there yesterday was no longer

present. He also noticed there was a hint of sadness in her eyes. He longed

to ask her about it. He longed to comfort her. He longed to tell her he was

sorry, or more correctly, that he wasn't sorry. Neil, you old fool, if she

felt about you in a romantic way she wouldn't have accepted the preacher's

proposal to begin with. Stop thinking about yourself and think about how

much Christy must be hurting!

"No, Doctor. I appreciate your time; I know that we are hard to fit into

your schedule. Today would be fine." Christy turned and walked up the aisle

of the school to make room for him at her desk. As she looked down at her

lesson plan she could see, written in her own neat script "Dr. MacNeill - 1

pm." She flushed at her mistake and her forgetfulness. "What will you be

teaching us today?"

"Well, I thought perhaps a class on First Aid would be in order. Just simple

things like splinting a broken bone and stopping bleeding. I have, of late,

seen some very nasty fractures that may have been made worse by moving the

person without some sort of splint." Dr. MacNeill smiled slightly at

Christy's nose wrinkling in reaction to the mention of injured people. She

had held up well at little Burl's surgery, but it was obvious to him that

nursing abilities were not her strongest asset.

"I think that would be a wonderful idea, Doctor." Christy recovered her

composure. The memories of the injuries she had seen in her short time in

the cove still haunted her dreams.

"Thank you, Miss Huddleston." Dr. MacNeill was always surprised by her

enthusiasm and strength. He loved these children, had brought many of them

into the world, he hated to admit that he loved teaching them as well. He

had fought with Christy when she asked him to come and teach. After his

first couple of lectures he always looked forward to her requests for his

presence in the classroom. It was fun to spend time with the children in a

way that didn't involve illness or injury. The children made him feel good.

Christy's appreciation and compliments on his lectures made him feel good.

More importantly, Christy's smile from the back of the classroom where she

stood while he taught warmed him and made him soar.

"I'll go get the children while you set up." Christy puzzled at the look in

his eyes. Their last two meetings had been anything but cordial. After

Margaret's funeral they had been at each other's throats. Now he was being

not only polite but pleasant as well.

The children ran joyfully into the classroom at the anticipation of an

afternoon spent under Dr. MacNeill's tutoring. Christy watched in awe as he

described and demonstrated how to recognize a possible broken bone and how to

apply a splint. The children took turns with the limited equipment available

bandaging one another. Mountie O'Teale smiled and her eyes shone with

delight as he congratulated her on the splint that she applied to his arm.

As he continued his lecture about stopping bleeding the time seemed to fly

and the children completely missed their afternoon recess.

"Miss Huddleston." Dr. MacNeill's voice snapped her out of the trance she

had slipped into you.

"Yes, Doctor?"

"It's 3:30, would you like to dismiss the children?" Neil smiled at her; he

chuckled to himself about her ability to slip away. He wondered where her

mind had been.

"I'm sorry, of course. Children, don't forget to practice your new spelling

words tonight. We will be taking a quiz over them on Wednesday. Have a good

day and be careful going home." At her words the children leaped from their

seats and ran for home.

"Thank you, doctor." Christy said as she gathered up materials from the

desks. "I can see how your lessons in First Aid will definitely benefit the

children and their families."

Dr. MacNeill leaned himself against her desk and pulled his pipe out of his

bag. He slowly and meticulously filled the bowl and put a match to it.

"Christy, I'm not very good at…"

"That's not true, Dr. MacNeill." Christy contradicted, stopping him in

mid-sentence. "You are a wonderful teacher and the children really enjoy

your classes."

"No, Christy. That's not what I'm talking about." Neil's words stopped her

short. "I'm not very good at apologizing, but I think I owe you one."

Christy stared at him silently as he stepped to join her behind his desk. He

sat his pipe gently on the edge while he continued. "When you and Fairlight

came to my cabin, you were the last person that I expected to see. You were

right, we are friends, and I shouldn't have yelled at you."

"You were hurting." Christy looked into his face; she could see that his

professional manner of only moments ago had dissolved into the Neil that she

so enjoyed spending time with.

"Yes, I was hurting, but not for the reasons you might expect. That's not

important. What is important is that I hurt you." Neil placed his hand

gently on her shoulder. "Then yesterday, when I found you on the trail I

hurt you again. It was foolish of me. I know that David was angry, seeing

us together. I would like to speak with him."

"You can't speak to David." Christy looked at the wall, as though she could

see straight through it and out to the empty bunkhouse. "He left this

morning on a train to Boston."

"When is he coming back?" Neil thought about Christy's empty ring finger.

"He's not coming back, Neil. We had a huge fight." Christy pushed back the

tears that threatened to fall.

"This is over me, isn't it?" Neil stepped away from her and paced the

platform. I was so foolish. I've ruined everything for her because of my

feelings toward her, feelings that I had no right to have. Christy

Huddleston has never been anything but kind to you and now this has happened.

"It's not because of you, although David was angry about yesterday. David

wanted to move back to Asheville, he accepted a position there. If it's

anybody's fault; it's mine. I was selfish, I told him I didn't want to leave

Cutter Gap." Christy gathered her things from the table, this conversation

was going much farther than she had intended. She wiped angrily at the tears

that had started to slip down her cheeks. "I have to go, they are expecting

me at the mission."

"Christy." Neil caught up to her in the aisle and laid a hand on her

shoulder to stop her. "I haven't been a very good friend, lately, but I hope

that what you said at my cabin still hold's true. I value our friendship and

I would hate to lose it. I am very sorry that you are hurting over David.

And forgive me, but I am glad that you are staying. You really are making a

difference here."

Christy was moved to fresh tears by his kind words. "Thank you, Neil, and

yes, we are still friends."

Neil stood on the porch of the schoolhouse and watched her hurry across the

yard to the mission house. She turned for just a moment before going inside,

even from a distance he could see her smile and it warmed him. He raised his

hand to her before mounting on Charlie and riding for his cabin.

Chapter 11

Christy couldn't help but smile as she entered the mission house. Despite

the sadness that she felt over David, she couldn't help but be happy that her

and Dr. MacNeill had enjoyed an argument free conversation. Christy took her

books and satchel up to her room and settled herself on her bed. The letter

that Miss Alice had given her from David had weighed heavy on her mind; the

hateful things that he had said to her still hurt her deeply. Christy wasn't

sure that she wanted to know what was in the letter. She held it in front of

her and turned it over and over in her hands. Lord, I'm not ready to deal

with what's in this letter.

"Miz Christy, supper's ready iffen your hungry?" Ruby Mae knocked gently at

her door before opening it. News traveled across the cove faster than

lightening across the cove, and Ruby Mae knew that David was gone. "That

there letter from the preacher? I'm powerful sorry about the preacher

leavin' ya and all."

Christy smiled ruefully and whispered a silent 'thank you' to God before

laying the letter aside on her bedside table. "Yes, Ruby Mae, it is. So

what did you make us for supper tonight?" Christy took this as an

opportunity to wait until a more peaceful and private time to read David's

letter. She loved Ruby Mae, but she really didn't care to share this with

the young girl.

"I made us a chickin', a right good one too."

Christy listened half-heartedly to the young girls speech about the supper

preparations. Gathered around the table with Miss Alice and Ruby Mae it was

hard not to notice that David's chair was empty. Christy was thankful

tonight for Ruby Mae's incessant chatter, it kept her from having to put

together a sentence. Immediately after supper dishes were finished she

returned to her room to take up her unread letter. She grabbed a shawl and

slipped out to her favorite spot by the pond. It was already growing dark,

but the moon had risen full spreading it's light over the mountains. She ran

her hand across David's neat script on the envelope; took a deep breath and

opened the letter.

Dear Christy,

By the time you read this letter I will be on my way to Boston. I realize

now that no matter how much I love you, you will never return those feelings.

Some day, when you grow up, perhaps you will realize what you lost. You

allowed your desire for another man to come between the marriage that God

ordained for us. I fear that this will cause you to have nothing but sorrow

in your life. I always thought you to be a Godly woman, but I know that I

was wrong in my thinking. I know that right now you are thinking that I am

being spiteful and hateful, but I am only telling you what you need to hear.

Your unwillingness to turn away from sin and seek God in the matter of moving

to Asheville is a heavy burden on my heart, as is your rejection of our

promise to one another. I will pray for you as you grow and mature.

Sincerely,

David

Christy sat stunned by the revelations in this letter. David's words were so

cruel and untrue. How was it possible that this was the same David that only

a few days ago was holding her hand and whispering his love for her in her

ears? With a combination of hurt and anger Christy crumpled the letter to

her chest and cried, rocking herself on the old log she sat on. The sound of

a twig snapping behind her caused her start, her heart lurching into her

throat.

"Christy, it's Neil." Neil stepped out of the shadows to show himself. He

could see by the pale look on her face that he had startled her.

"Spying on me, Doctor?" Christy took a deep breath to steady her nerves.

She hadn't quite forgotten the terror that Jarvis Tatum had caused her.

"No, I was just coming by to talk to Miss Alice and I saw you sitting out

here." Neil moved over to sit beside her. "And, I heard you crying. Why

were you crying, Christy?"

Christy was in no mood to discuss the letter or her feelings. She remained

quiet as the doctor leaned in closer to her. She pulled the letter back

under her shawl. "It's nothing, Dr. MacNeill. I am fine, really."

"Christy, please don't think that I am prying. I just can't bear to see you

cry. I know that David hurt you, believe me, I would love nothing more than

to get my hands around his skinny little neck." Neil felt her stiffen on the

log beside him at his suggestion of violence. He decided to change his

tactics; threatening bodily harm to David was not the way to help Christy.

"Please, Christy, we are friends, you can talk to me."

"Yes, Doctor, we are friends. But there are certain feelings that even

friends can't share." Her voice trembled and broke, how she wanted to spill

her heart and soul to him!

"I don't see why not. But I won't pressure you." He handed her his

handkerchief while he fought for control. He wanted so much to take her in

his arms and rock her against him that it was almost a physical pain. "Can I

walk you back to the mission? I still need to see Miss Alice and I don't

want to leave you out here alone. It has gotten rather dark." Standing up,

he offered her his hand.

Christy looked around her, stunned at the darkness that had fallen. The

brightness of the moon was hidden under a cloud and she shivered

unconsciously. "Thank you, Doctor." Christy put her hand into his and he

helped her into a standing position. She was surprised at how stiff her legs

had become and she wondered again just how long she had been sitting there.

She swayed slightly with the effort; this did not go unnoticed and Neil place

a steadying arm on her shoulder.

"Are you all right?" Neil gazed down into her eyes, which she held averted

from his gaze.

"I'm fine, Doctor, just a little stiff. I guess I have been sitting here

longer than I thought." She released his hand and stepped back slightly.

"Let's get you back to the house, I can feel the chill in the air." Neil

guided her gently towards the mission, making small talk. "It feels like it

will be an early fall."

"Yes, it's hard to believe that the harvest break is only 2 weeks away."

Christy smiled to herself and whispered a silent prayer thanking God for the

meaningless small talk. It made her feel better, more normal and helped her

to push away the ugliness of David's letter.

"How long will school be out for?" Neil could sense the change in Christy's

mood that their light banter was creating. Her strength and perseverance

never ceased to amaze him. Although he was still intently curious about her

tears, he knew that she would tell him in time.

"Six weeks. I think that should be enough time for the crops to be harvested

and the garden produce canned. I will be checking on the families to see if

they need more time. We have all winter for school. It is more difficult

for the children to travel, but the families need every pair of hands to get

the harvest in."

"I don't think that it will take six weeks, but I know that the families

appreciate the idea that you are arranging the school schedule around their

needs." Neil smiled down at her; she had learned so much in her time here.

"Well, the mission is throwing a harvest party when all of the work is done,

and I'd like the children to have some time with their families. Life can't

be all work and school. I have promised to come and help Opal with the

garden harvest and the canning."

"You're going to be helping Opal? How did you ever get her to agree to

that?" The surprise registered in his voice. "You know as well as I do

these people don't like to be beholdin'."

"Oh, no, I told it was me that would be beholding to her. In Asheville we

never learned to can produce. If we needed green beans we went to the market

to buy them. I just told her how much I wanted to learn to do it and if

she'd be willing to teach me I'd appreciate it." Christy smiled brightly

remembering her conversation with Opal McHone. With the boys busy with their

father in the fields, Opal would be on her own to harvest and can the garden.

Opal was pleased to know that she would be able to pay Christy back for all

that she had done for her. "Then when Opal and I were done with her garden,

I could easily come back to the mission and help Miss Alice with ours."

"Miss Huddleston, you amaze me." Neil laughed heartily throwing his head

back slightly. He could imagine in his head Christy's pleas to Opal to teach

her to can produce.

"How so, Doctor?" Christy had been pleased that God had given her the answer

that would allow her to help Opal with all of the work she had in front of

her. She was a little disappointed that Neil would laugh at her.

"I have known Opal McHone since we were children. If she thought for one

minute that this canning lesson was your way of helping her, she'd have

turned you down. Of course, I don't know how anybody could resist your

enthusiasm and eagerness to learn."

"Then you're not laughing at me." Christy stopped and turned to look at him.

"No, not at all. As you know, I was very skeptical when you first came here.

These people don't take to outsiders. But I have seen the good that you

have tried to do since you arrived, and in many cases you have succeeded.

Opal's garden is just further evidence of that." He turned to face her and

his heart stopped for just a moment at the contentment in her blue eyes. He

was slightly disappointed to see that they had arrived at the mission house

steps. He felt that he could go on talking to her like this all night.

"Well, here we are and I really need to have that talk with Miss Alice, so I

will let you go."

"Thanks for walking me back, and for making me feel better." Christy added

shyly.

"My pleasure, Miss Huddleston." Dr. MacNeill held the door for her and

allowed her to enter first. Miss Alice was sitting at the kitchen table

drinking tea and reading her Bible when they entered. "Miss Alice, if you

have a few moments, I would like to speak with you."

"Of course, Neil." Miss Alice looked up quickly, slightly startled to see

Neil at the mission and wanted to speak to her. "Would you like a cup of

coffee?"

"Yes, Miss Alice. A cup of coffee would be wonderful."

Christy took this as her cue to leave and followed the stairs to her bedroom.

Neil watched her go, still concerned for her. Christy obviously felt some

better, but he wished that she would really open up and tell him everything.

He meant it when he told her he couldn't stand to see her crying. He

surmised correctly that her tears had something to do with the letter she had

stuffed into her pocket. Neil took a deep breath and joined Alice at the

table. He stared blankly at the cup, trying to prepare himself for their

conversation and the possible outcomes. He didn't even know where to begin.

"Now, Neil." Alice laid her hand gently on his, sensing his apprehension.

Only moments before she had been praying for Neil, that she would somehow be

able to ease the sorrow and anger that he must have over Margaret's death.

She mused silently to her self at the power that God has to move mountains.

Perhaps, Neil MacNeill was one of those mountains. "What can I do for thee?"

Chapter 12

"Alice, I don't know exactly where to begin." Neil stared into his coffee

cup and ran his fingers through his hair. "Christy said something the other

day, about the funeral."

"Thee was missed, Neil."

"Yes, and I wanted to apologize to you, for that." Neil wasn't a man used to

asking for anyone's pardon and it showed in the tenseness of his body and his

words.

"Apology accepted." Alice looked closely at him, trying to determine what it

was that Christy said that brought Neil to her like this. "But as we have

discussed in the past, Margaret left thee years ago. I can understand the

pain that thee must have endured, finding her the way thee did. But I have

the feeling this is about more than Margaret."

"Aye, it is. I am concerned for Miss Huddleston." Neil and Alice had

disagreed in the past about Christy, and the feelings that Alice had accused

him of having for the young teacher. He wasn't sure he should continue the

path this conversation was taking.

"What is thy concern for Christy?" Alice smiled slightly at his rather

formal use of her name. Their relationship had caused her a great deal of

pain, initially. So much pain that she had been unable to take it to God,

but time and the Holy Spirit had eased her sense of loss.

"Only a few short days ago she was engaged to marry the preacher. Suddenly

all that has changed and I am worried about her health as a result." Neil

decided that it was best to take a professional path, questioning her health,

mentally and physically.

"Oh, Neil. Don't be so high and mighty with me. I do not believe for a

moment that your concern for Christy and David's broken engagement has

anything to do with Christy's physical well-being." Miss Alice laughed

gently and laid her hand on Neil's and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I have

known for sometime that you have special feelings for her."

Neil choked slightly on the coffee that he was trying to swallow. This is

not the direction that this conversation was supposed to have gone. What in

the world do you think you are doing discussing personal feelings with your

dead wife's mother! "Alice, that is not my intention here. I care for

Christy; I am willing to admit that. The last time we had a conversation

about her, I told you that I would be honest if you were. Will you be

honest?"

Alice remembered her anger when she first began to recognize Neil's growing

relationship with Christy. At that time, Christy reminded her so much of

Margaret that she knew Neil must see the same things in her. Now Alice knew

that Christy was not truly like Margaret at all. Margaret thought only of

herself, without a care in the world to the lot of another's life. She had

seen Christy work selflessly at her side, and David's and Neil's, until the

exhaustion threatened to disable her. Yet she always seemed to reach into a

special reserve that only God could have given her and persevere until she

was no longer needed. "Yes, Neil. I am ready to be honest with thee about

Christy. The conversation that we had such a long time ago has weighed heavy

on my heart. I was angry, angry that thee could forget my daughter so

easily. Angry that when you were with Miss Huddleston, all memory of her and

her tragic death was swept from thy mind. Then when my Margaret came back to

Cutter Gap, I saw you bury your feelings for Christy deep inside you. Yet,

no matter how hard thee tried, they always seemed to surface. When she left

again, I could no longer be angry with you, for it was not thee who had

abandoned Margaret. I can see that now, and now that Margaret is truly gone,

it is time for thee to get on with thy life." Alice dabbed at her eyes as

thoughts of Margaret caused tears to well up in them. "Now that I have been

honest, I believe it is thy turn."

Neil was taken aback by her complete and total honesty. He knew that she

would be honest, but he did not expect her to be so open with him. He wasn't

sure what to say or where to begin. How much is too much? How far is too

far? Does my honesty with Alice matter? Christy would never look twice at a

man who rejects everything she believes about God and he could not change his

mind about religion just to please her. "I love her, Alice." The words were

out before he knew he had spoken them.

"I know that, Neil. I have seen thy heart in regards to Christy. God

revealed it to me and has helped me to understand that." Alice smiled at

him. "So what are thy plans now?"

"She accepted the proposal of the preacher." Neil knew that Christy and

David had argued, but that didn't mean that she didn't love him.

"Christy has since broken that engagement. She has cried over it, yes, but I

don't believe that her heart has been broken."

"It doesn't matter. I don't believe in God, Alice. You know that, Christy

knows that. And I won't pretend to believe just to court her. It would be a

lie, it would base our entire relationship on a lie just like mine and

Margaret's marriage." Neil stood up and paced around the room.

"Neil, thee has told me before that your parents were Godly people. Why is

it that you have rejected their teachings and chosen your own way?" Alice

worried that she was pushing too far. She knew that God had plans for Neil

MacNeill and she knew that plan included the God he had rejected.

"How can I believe in a God when I see so much death and hatred? I go to a

cabin to treat a sick child only to arrive after the child has died. If I

had only been sooner in arriving I might have prevented the death. The

parents only look at me with sad eyes, thank me for coming, and say that it

was 'God's will' that took their baby. How can God's will include the

needless death of a child? I don't understand that Alice, and I never will!"

Neil was irate and pacing. He stopped and put his hands on the table. "I

do not believe in a God that would allow his faithful to suffer! Look at

you, how you have suffered your daughter's death. Do you believe that is

God's will?"

"No, Dr. MacNeill, I don't believe that was God's will for my daughter, or

for me, or for you, for that matter. What I do believe is that God had a

plan, one that Margaret rejected. It was her choice to accept or reject and

she has paid for her choices in her life. I cannot bear the responsibility

for my daughter's life anymore than thee can. You tried to be a good husband

to her, and I acknowledge that fact. You should not and cannot use Margaret,

your parent's death, the death of children, or any other tragedy that has

befallen thee to reject your Creator. It is thy choice to push away the love

that has been offered you by the Father and not the circumstances. God

allows us to live in joy despite our circumstances, not because of them."

Neil was halted and taken aback by the strength of her words. He had seen

Alice Henderson endure hardship and tragedy and move on. But she didn't just

move on, she lived on…she lived in joy and peace and happiness. He had seen

it in Christy too, after the scarlet fever epidemic. He was sure that she

would collapse under the strain, but she never did. She stood on the

schoolhouse steps and thanked God for the lives He had spared and for His

guidance. It seemed to Neil that if God were truly involved the scarlet

fever would have never come. But it did come, and it wreaked havoc and

sorrow, and it killed Creed Allen. That boy was dead! The same boy that he

saw fishing in the creek not five hours ago had died in the scarlet fever

epidemic that was months ago. Neil had tried to rationalize that it was his

medicine, but he knew of no medicine that could restart a child's still, dead

heart.

Alice could sense his trepidation, his questions. They were written all over

his face. She prayed that God would help him to voice them, help him to

reach out to God, the only one that could truly show him what love was.

Without him reaching out for God he would never be able to reach out to

Christy. Alice knew that Christy loved Neil, even though she wasn't ready to

admit it. Alice also knew that any relationship was doomed without the hand

of God in it.

"Thank you, Alice. You've given me food for thought. I have to be going

now." Neil set down his cup and made a hasty retreat for the door. "Tell

Christy, that I am sorry about her and David."

"Neil, I thought you were being honest." Miss Alice smiled at him, a

teasingly motherly smile. Usually when she and Neil were speaking of God it

ended up in an all out war of words. This time he was truly thinking about

what she said, not just throwing it aside.

"All right, tell her that I am sorry David hurt her." Neil returned her

smile. It was a warm, friendly smile, one he did not usually receive from

his Quaker ex mother-in-law. It warmed him inside and made him feel more at

peace than he had been in a long time.

Chapter 13

Christmas Eve, 1913

Christmas had come to Cutter Gap in a whirl of snowflakes that painted the

ground a dazzling white. Christy gazed out her bedroom window and sighed in

a breath of deep contentment. The past months had been wonderful. The

harvest was a wonderful success that left the families of the Gap with enough

money and food to see them through until spring. The preacher assigned to

replace David, Peter Adams, was getting along famously here. Everybody

seemed to take to the tall, stocky man with a plethora of blond hair that

stood out from his head at different angles and rich brown eyes filled with

compassion. He had begun hunting with many of the men; even Neil and him had

spent some time at his favorite fishing spot. As Christy braided her long

brown hair into a single braid behind her back she mentally listed all of the

things she needed to do before tonight's 'jollification.'

"Good morning, Miss Alice." Christy greeted her friend warmly as she poured

herself a cup of coffee. "Can I help you with breakfast?"

"Good day, child. I would love to have thy company, if not thy assistance."

Miss Alice smiled briskly at her young friend. Christy had grown and matured

so much in the past few months.

Christy took up the skillet and began preparing scrambled eggs. She was

cracking several eggs into a platter when the rugged face of Neil MacNeill

watching the process intently startled her. "Doctor, you about scared the

life right out of me!"

"Good thing I'm a doctor then, isn't it Miss Huddleston." He flashed her a

playful smile and reached into the edge of the platter. "I seem to remember

saying that I prefer my eggshells later."

"Yes, you did, Doctor. I will be sure to take note of it." Christy flushed

as she remembered the 'burnt chicken incident', as they had taken to calling

it.

"What can we do for thee this fine morning, Neil." Miss Alice handed him a

steaming cup of coffee and he gladly accepted it.

"Pete asked me to come by and help dress out the turkeys we shot yesterday

for you ladies to cook." Neil's gaze fell intently on Christy as she mixed

the scrambled eggs. "He seems to think that some one in this house doesn't

do well at the site of blood. Do you know who that would be, Miss

Huddleston."

"Why, no. I don't know who that would be." She elbowed him gently.

"Perhaps, it's Ruby Mae?"

"Ruby Mae? Have you ever seen that girl skin a possum? She can strip it

down to the bare meat faster than anybody I've ever seen." Neil turned to

head toward the bunkhouse to find the preacher, laughing all the way.

"Doctor MacNeill is certainly in a Christmas mood this morning." Christy

laughed to Miss Alice as she scooped the eggs onto a serving platter. She

and Alice finished the breakfast preparations and called the men into

breakfast. Joining them this morning, aside from Neil, was Dan Scott, who

had also come to help dress the turkeys and prepare the mission.

"Miss Alice, Miss Christy. It sure is good to see you this morning." Dan

pulled out Alice's chair for her in a gentlemanly fashion while Neil did the

same for Christy.

"And it is good to see thee, Dan. It has been too long. Let us ask, in our

blessing this morning, that no one will have need of doctor!"

"Miss Alice, to that idea I will give a hearty 'amen.' Neil smiled and

settled his gaze on the teacher. "I was hoping that I would find someone who

would accompany me to the festivities this evening."

Christy didn't have time to answer as Pete began their breakfast blessing.

Christy glanced over her plate at Neil, hoping to catch his eye. To her

surprise, his head was bowed and his eyes were closed. When the prayer was

over, she was even more surprised to hear a gentle 'amen' in the deep brogue

that could only belong to him.

"So, Miss Huddleston, will you?" Neil asked her again between his eggs and

coffee.

"Will I what, Doctor?" Christy wasn't sure what Neil was up to. Surely it

would be something interesting, knowing him. In October he made a grand

entrance into the mission house on a Saturday afternoon and 'kidnapped' her.

He complained that she had been working too hard and needed a day off. They

spent the day hunting for colorful leaves and fall wildflowers.

"Allow me to escort you to the festivities this evening." Neil's voice

sounded calm, but inside he was a storm of emotions. The last few months had

been wonderful! He loved spending time with her; they took long walks and

talked. Occasionally they went fishing. Not only did he love her with all

his heart, she was quickly becoming his best friend. With the addition of

Pete to the mission, he found himself being drawn here. Pete and him were

becoming fast friends. He enjoyed their time together in the manly pursuits

of hunting and fishing. Although, if truth were to be told, he really

preferred Christy as a fishing partner, she was much nicer to look at. They

had occasionally discussed God and religion, but it never felt to Neil like a

sermon. Neil was quickly deciding that he liked the preacher much more than

he ever liked David.

"Yes, Doctor MacNeill. I would be pleased to attend tonight's festivities

with you." Christy flashed him her best smile. Her and Neil had grown so

close. They talked about everything together and she had even gone on some

of his more minor calls with him. She enjoyed their quite rides through the

mountains and spending time with some of the younger children in the Gap.

There was always some chore that she could help the mother's with, and it

helped her to really get to know the families, not just the children.

"Terrific." Neil said with a smile. "I will see you this evening then."

With that Neil joined the men out back of the shed to prepare the turkeys for

this evening's feast.

Miss Alice cast a knowing look between the young couple. Neil's willingness

to participate in this morning's blessing, even with a simple 'amen', did not

go unnoticed to her. She whispered an extra prayer that this Christmas they

would celebrate not only Christ's birth, but Neil's as well.

Chapter 14

Much to Christy's delight she had received her Christmas packages from her

parents yesterday. He mother had sent a lovely, and completely impractical,

light blue satin dress with lace at the throat and wrists. Christy had

originally viewed the fancy garment with distain, didn't her mother realize

the hardships these people faced. Her mood had lightened after reading the

note her mother included, "Dearest Christy, surely Cutter Gap can't be all

work and no play." Well, her mother was certainly right about that and

Christy was excited at the prospect of a new dress for this evening. Christy

decided to wear her hair down, her loose curls lying gracefully over her

shoulders; she tied it back with a royal blue ribbon. Christy decided that

she would push away her slight twinge of guilt at having so fine a dress when

other's would come in rags and have a good time tonight. Christy took one

last look in the mirror and hurried down stairs to help with the final

preparations.

"Lorda mercy, Miz Christy. If that ain't the purdiest dress I ever seen!"

Ruby Mae watched in awe as the satin skirts swished around her ankles while

she descended the staircase.

"Thank you, Ruby Mae."

"The Doc, he'll be bodacious thrilled to be a dancin' with ya tonight." Ruby

Mae continued to gush as her hands smoothed the imagined wrinkles in her own

well-worn dress.

"Ruby Mae, we are about the same size. Would you like to wear one of my

dresses tonight." Christy wanted to share her bounty with the young girl.

Christy had come to view Ruby Mae as a little sister.

"Really, Miz Christy, I couldn't do that, I wouldn't wanna be beholdin'."

Christy came down the stairs and grasped Ruby Mae's hands. "Ruby Mae, we are

friends, and friends can help each other and not be beholding, right?"

"I reckon they can." Ruby Mae hesitated, she so desperately wanted to wear a

beautiful dress and catch the eye of Rob Allen.

"I can even do up your hair for you, won't that be fun?" Christy was pleased

that Ida had taught Ruby Mae that a bath wouldn't kill you. Ruby Mae had

taken to regular baths and combing her hair nicely, but it was still a wild

mass of red flames.

"Then, come on. Let's go." Christy pulled the girl up the stairs before she

even had time to protest. Twenty minutes later, Ruby Mae appeared in the

parlor wearing a pale green shirtwaist and hunter green skirt. Her hair had

been braided and pulled up with green hair ribbons running through it. Both

Alice and Pete stopped and stared at the transformed young girl.

"Ruby Mae, how lovely thee looks tonight." Miss Alice exclaimed and gave a

knowing smile to Christy.

"Thank ya kindly, Miz Alice. It were all Miz Christy's doin'! I didn't even

feel this fine when Miz Ida dressed me all purty for Juliet." Ruby Mae

beamed at the attention.

"Ruby Mae, you'll save a dance for this old preacher, won't you?" Peter said

with a twinkle in his eyes.

"No'sir, I'm afraid that I'se be savin' all my dancin' for one boy." Ruby

Mae practically danced off the landing to watch out the window for Rob.

"Well, then, I have to say I am disappointed. What about you Miss

Huddleston, your looking lovely tonight yourself." Peter teased with Christy.

"Oh, Preachr', I wouldn't be countin' on no dances with Miz Christy either.

She gonna be powerful busy dancin' with the Doc!" Ruby Mae giggled nervously.

"Ruby Mae, Doctor MacNeill and I are just friends, you know that." Christy

reproached the young girl in her best teacher voice.

Thankfully, at that moment the guests began to arrive. The Spencer's were

the first to arrive, carrying two of Fairlight's best sweet potato pies and a

jar of honey. The Allen's followed next with pans of corn bread and Rob

slipped away to join Ruby Mae in conversation by the Christmas tree.

Finally, it seemed the whole cove was there, except Dr. MacNeill. Christy

stood waiting at the window hoping to catch a glimpse of his horse riding

into the yard.

"Waiting for me?" Neil slipped up behind her and whispered in her ear.

"No, not at all. I was waiting for Saint Nicholas, himself." Christy teased

back. "How is it you always manage to sneak up on me?"

"As I've said before, these eyes are trained for observation. What better

ways to take note of the lovely new dress your wearing that just happens to

be a perfect match for your eyes." Neil smiled down at her and took her hand.

"Thank you, Neil." Christy was pleased he had noticed the new dress.

"You're looking rather handsome yourself." He had obviously taken special

pains with his appearance tonight as well. Not only was he wearing his best

suit but he had gone to the trouble of wearing a tie as well.

"I understand that Fairlight has brought her sweet potato pies tonight."

Neil again smiled a beautiful smile that always seemed to stop Christy's

heart for a moment.

"She did, and I know just where they are hiding." Christy laughed, feeling

joyous and relaxed.

"Shall we find them, or do I have to beg?"

After the residents and guests of the mission house had eaten their fill, Jeb

tuned up his fiddle and announced the first dance. John Spencer joined in

with his harmonica and the jollification had officially begun. Neil and

Christy had danced several dances when the sweet strains of "Down in the

Valley" began. Neil pulled Christy closer to him as they waltzed ever so

slowly.

"I have always loved this song." Neil said softly to Christy as he

whirled her gently in the circle with the other dancers. As Christy and Neil

neared the fireplace mantle, the fiddle stopped. The other dancers turned

toward Christy and Neil, expectantly. During the dancing a piece of

Mistletoe had been hung up above the mantle.

"Oh, Miz Christy. You and Doc's done been stopped under the mistletoe."

Ruby Mae squealed with delight.

Neil gazed deep into Christy's eyes. He could see the nervousness and

embarrassment there, but he also saw something else. Was it willingness?

"It is tradition, lass?" His statement was more of a question.

"Did you know this was coming?" Christy could help but wonder what his

kisses would be like. She was shocked that this thought would even cross her

mind.

"I did." He smiled at her.

Neil pulled her even closer to him and he leaned his head down toward hers.

Christy felt her heart leap in her chest and roll over as his face neared

hers. Neil looked once more in her eyes, unspoken promises rolled in his

head. Very carefully he placed his lips against her cheek and held them

there for only a moment before pulling away.

"Ah, Doc. That twern't no kinda kiss." Tom McHone called out above the

noise.

"Aye, Tom, but it will have to do." The fiddle started again and Neil

couldn't help but smile at the look of confusion on Christy's face. "It will

have to do…for now." He whispered quietly in her ear before pulling her back

into the waltz.

Chapter 15

March 1914

Spring had come to Cutter Gap in a whirl of fresh snow and crocus flowers.

The snows had melted away from all but the highest peaks and the ice had

loosened its hold on the river, allowing it to run free and easy. Christy

also felt that she had been set free of the winter's icy grasp and watched with

childish joy as each new flower lifted it's petal's to the warmth offered by

the spring sun. School was out, again, for the families to begin preparing

their fields for seeding. Usually Christy was saddened by the school breaks,

but this time she was overjoyed by the break. There were so many things she

needed to accomplish before her weeklong trip to Asheville to visit her

family. Her first order of business, she declared to herself while she tied

a kerchief over her single braid, was to give the school a proper cleaning.

Armed with buckets and brushes and soap and mop, she strode out to the

schoolhouse like a warrior ready to do battle. She giggled to herself,

imagining sword in hand as she wiped out the evil scourge of the cobweb. The

morning fairly flew by her as she hummed her favorite tunes and practiced the

one's that Aunt Hattie had been teaching her. As she mopped the floor she

couldn't help but remember her and Neil dancing together on Christmas Eve.

What a wonderful time she had been blessed with. She waltzed with the mop

across the floor humming "Down in the Valley" remembering the gentle embrace

he held her in, the soft, ticklish words he whispered in her ear and his

warm, manly scent of horse, tobacco and saddle soap. So completely lost in

her daydream was she; that she didn't hear the creaking of the porch steps.

Neil watched in rapt fascination at her impromptu waltz across the

schoolhouse floor. He smiled to himself as he recognized the tune she

hummed. Lord how I love her. I would give anything… He stopped suddenly,

was he praying, did he know how to pray, and did he have the right? Neil

smiled to himself, praying didn't seem so bad; actually, it felt very, very

good. He felt warmth spread across him and he was comforted by it. Is this

what Christy feels when she talks to God? What was it his mother used to say

to him about his desire to take care of people? "God knows the desires of

your heart." Was it pure chance those doctor's had found his cabin and chose

him to guide them on their hunting trip? Could it be there was something or

someone in control of his life? Well, God, I'm not sure I believe that you

are up there, but if you are I don't have the right to ask for anything. But

if it's true, and you know the desire of my heart? Neil paused in his

prayer, shocked at the flood of peace and comfort that came from seemingly

nowhere, he felt something tiny and wonderful, like a crocus bulb pushing

it's way through the soil, opening up the most secret place of his heart. He

quickly slipped around the corner of the door and leaned his back against the

wall. His breath caught in his throat at the shear power and love he felt

course through his body. He looked up into the sky, half afraid of a

lightening bolt coursing through the sky down to strike him dead and half

afraid that he would see an angel standing near him. He shook his head at

the weight of the experience, so heavy that he felt he might buckle his knees

and fall to the ground and so light that he felt he could take wing. A tear

rolled slowly down his cheek and he didn't move to stop it. God, maybe

Christy is right, maybe you are there. If you are real and if you are

involved in my life; show me. I may be wrong to ask you to prove your

existence, but I don't know any other way.

Christy stepped outside to empty her mop bucket and ran right into the chest

of Dr. MacNeill. Startled, she lost her balance managing the heavy bucket.

He wrapped his arms around her to steady her, locking her in a gentle embrace.

"Neil! What are you doing lurking around out here?" Surprising herself she

didn't immediately pull away, somehow she felt like she belonged here.

Neil bent down and took the heavy bucket from her, he slipped his hand into

hers and led her to the side of the schoolyard and emptied the soapy, dirty

water. "I was just stopping by to see if you might join me for a walk on

this beautiful spring day."

"My goodness, what brought on your cheery mood today!" Christy smiled at

him, teasing him. The usually brooding doctor had actually been in a very

good mood for months.

"In the spring a young man's fancy turns to…" He paused as he quoted the

often spoken saying.

"Yes, Doctor?" Christy smiled up at him questioningly.

"In the spring a young man's fancy turns to fried chicken, Miss Huddleston."

Neil smiled down at her, his eyes displaying that a meal was the last thing

on his mind. "I was hoping that a walk might tempt you to ask me to stay for

dinner."

"Well, of course." Christy felt somewhat disappointed but she wasn't sure

why. Or maybe she did? Maybe she wanted his words to reflect what her eyes

did? "You are always welcome to dinner."

"To dinner, Miss Huddleston?" Neil questioned her playfully and stepped

towards her. A million scenes were playing across his mind, each with a

different outcome. Do I dare? Neil leaned in closer, his face only inches

from hers. He looked into her eyes and saw no resistance. The desires of my

heart, he whispered to himself.

"Doc MacNeill, Doc MacNeill!" Christy stepped back and Neil let loose of her

hand as John Spencer came running down the trail as though his life depended

on it.

"What is it, John?" Neil ran to meet him and placed a steady hand on John's

shoulder.

"It's Zady." He was breathing hard doing his best to speak calmly, his chest

aching from the exertion. "Bad accident…at the cabin."

"I'll saddle Prince and take John back home." Christy ran down and grabbed

John's hand and they ran to the barn. Neil grabbed Charlie's reins and

mounted the horse in a leap and raced down the trail toward the Spencer cabin.

Christy and John ran into the barn and began saddling Prince. With the doctor

safely on the trail, John crumbled at Christy's feet and began to weep.

"John, come one, I need you to mount up." Christy shook him slightly and

hugged him fiercely.

"Miz Christy, Zady…she's all mangled. She's dyin', Miz Christy." John wept

against her shoulder and trembled as they both whispered prayers to God.

Chapter 16

Jeb Spencer, pacing nervously on the porch, met Neil at the door; Neil

noticed immediately the tears that were running down his cheeks. "How bad is

it, Jeb?"

"We's been clearin' our land out in the back lot, tryin' to get some extra

crop space. A boulder dislodged and…." He couldn't go on, he sank onto the

porch steps, and his body unable to bear the scene his mind was replaying.

Neil made his way into the cabin. He immediately noticed the pots of water

set to boil on the stove. Fairlight was obviously thinking ahead. In a

moment he stood at Zady's bedside. His stomach lurched in protest at the

horribly deformed body of the little girl. The bones in her right leg had

been broken in several places and stuck out at odd angles, piercing the

tender skin. It will have to come off; I can't fix that, the doctor thought

silently to himself. Her left leg was only slightly less damaged, but

salvageable. He lifted up her shirt, noticing the swelling and rigidity of

her abdomen. "Fairlight, I need you to lay a fresh sheet out on the table.

Is that water boiling for me?" He spoke as he took her vital signs.

Thankfully the young girl was unconscious and not in any pain, he thought to

himself, if there is anything in this situation to be thankful for.

"Yes." Was Fairlight's only response as she moved quickly to do his bidding.

Christy arrived with John, just as the doctor was setting his instruments to

boil. She rushed into the cabin, saw the flurry of activity and began

rolling up her own sleeves.

"How bad?" She questioned shortly as she began washing her hands.

"I'm gonna need your help, Christy, it's very bad." Neil cast a sideways

glance at her hoping she could do this.

Christy continued preparing Zady for the surgery. Her first look at the

young girl now a tangle of broken bones and torn flesh almost sent her

running for the outhouse. Stealing herself to the task ahead she whispered a

prayer and continued.

The pair worked quickly while the rest of the family waited on the front

porch. Entering her abdomen smoothly and quickly he was shocked she was

still breathing. There was so much blood and so much damage. Her spleen had

ruptured; the broken ribs had lacerated her liver. Zady's lower bowel had

been torn in to and spread it's disease carrying contents throughout the rest

of her abdomen. Christy and Neil were silent as they worked. Despite

Christy's terror, she felt a presence in the room, following her instinct she

handed Neil instruments that he didn't even ask for; and somehow, every

instrument was exactly what he needed. In two hours he had stopped the

bleeding and cleaned her abdominal cavity. He then began the arduous task of

removing her right leg. He didn't bother with the left leg, it was a clean

break to the lower leg, and he could set it when she was stronger. Christy

cleaned up in silence, while Neil monitored his patient, now tucked gently in

her own bed. Christy went out onto the porch, to join the Spencer's. She

held Fairlight's hand and waited for Neil to return with news. The family

bowed their heads together, praying, that somehow God would spare their

daughter. They prayed even more for strength if the Almighty chose not to.

"Jeb, Fairlight." Neil stepped out onto the porch and lit his pipe. His

mind was turmoil and his heart was weeping. "You may go in and sit with her

now. She is still alive, I don't know how. I've done all that I can."

"She's in God's hands, Doc. We thank ya' for doin' your best." Jeb laid his

hand on Neil's shoulders. He reached down and took his wife's hands in his

own and led her and the children to begin the deathwatch.

"She won't make it, Christy." Neil whispered to her when they were alone.

"I know, Neil. Somehow I know." Christy laid her head against his shoulder

but she did not weep. The presence she had felt through the surgery was

still real and tangible around her.

"You were remarkable." He spoke distantly as he puffed on his pipe. "How

did you know to pass me the right instruments without me even speaking to

you?" His curiosity was over flowing, he had never seen anyone more capable,

except Alice.

"You won't believe me." Christy lifted her head and shook it slightly.

"There was a presence in the room, it seemed to guide my hands, and yours."

"I believe you, Christy." He did believe her. He had felt something too.

Something remarkable; but it didn't change the fact that Zady was going to

die.

"Doc, Miz Christy. Zady's awake." John stepped out onto the porch and the pair

dashed to her side. Much to Neil's dismay her vital signs were stabilizing,

though still not good.

"Mama." Zady spoke in a whisper.

"I'm here child, I'm here." Fairlight smothered her daughter's hair away

from her face.

"Have you ever seen an angel?" Zady questioned, a sweet light in her eyes

that spread to her face.

"No child, I haven't." Fairlight looked at the Doctor, questions looming in

her eyes.

"I hurt, mama, so bad. But I see an angel." Zady's voice was excited,

despite the hoarseness of it.

"What does the angel want, love?" Tears streamed down Fairlight's cheeks.

"He wants me to take his hand, he's so purty and light." Zady was staring at

something unseen. "I hurt mama."

"You go on, child." Fairlight spoke in a whisper, tears running down her

face, coating her collar. "Take his hand."

"I love you and Daddy and the others. But I hurt mama, I don't wanna hurt no

more." Zady's words were sad but her countenance glowed.

"Take his hand, child…we love you too. Go on, you won't hurt anymore." Jeb

laid his hand over his wife and daughters.

"No, Zady." Neil stepped up beside her, his voice a whisper. Christy caught

him by the arm. Tears flowed down her face.

"Let her, Neil. It's the presence, it was an angel." Christy whispered in

his ear.

"It's time, Neil." Fairlight smiled at him, a smile filled with love and joy.

Zady reached out her hand to the wall that to her did not exist. "Mama,

Daddy. I don't hurt no more." Zady cried out with joy in her face and her

breathing stopped.

Neil stepped forward prepared to do what ever he could to stop this, to bring

her back. He was restrained about the shoulders by Jeb gentle hands on him.

"She's be gone, Neil." A strange happiness emanated from him. "Thank God

that she could see her angel coming to take my Zady on ta heaven. She ain't

sufferin' no more."

Neil was in disbelief at the joy in the room. He tore himself from them and

out into the path. He ran blindly into the woods until he was exhausted. He

fell to his knees and raised his fist to heaven. "How dare you! How dare

you! Is this punishment! Is this your way of showing me you are real!"

Only hours ago he had begun to believe in Christy's God, that his love and

gentleness could be real. Now he believed that there was a God. A harsh and

uncaring creature bent on the destruction of those who believed in Him most.

"I reject you. I will spend the rest of my life fighting you, fighting the

death you bring. Strike me down, great almighty!" He spoke with sarcasm.

"Strike me down and show me the power that you supposedly wield over us!"

Neil curled up into a ball and cried. He had true faith that God would

answer this prayer.

Chapter 17

Jeb and John spent the rest of the day working on a coffin for their beloved

Zady while Christy and Fairlight prepared the body. Despite the moroseness

of the situation and the tragedy that had occurred, the diligent work was

lightened with joy. Joy that Zady was out of pain, joy that she had seen the

angel come for her and joy that everyone in the room knew the angel was

there. Christy lovingly braided Zady's long dark hair and tied the end with

her own hair ribbon while Fairlight washed and dressed her and put her in her

best dress wrapped in one of Fairlight's beautiful quilts.

"I can't thank ya enough, Miz Christy, for bein' here to holp me with this."

Fairlight hugged her friend closely as they looked at the empty shell that

was the oldest Spencer girl.

"It's my pleasure, Fairlight. I can't tell you how sorry I am that this has

happened." Christy brushed away a few errant tears.

"I'm sorrowin' a heap at the loss of my daughter. She was a joy and comfort

to me, to be assured. But I'se also happy, happy that the Lord saw fit for

me to tell her I loved her one more time and that he sent his angel to gather

my baby." There was a joy in Fairlight's eyes and softness in her voice like

none that Christy had ever seen before. It brought her comfort and it

brought her peace.

Neil returned to his cabin and threw his saddlebags on the table. He had

grabbed a jug of moonshine and pulled out the cork, throwing it violently

into the fireplace. He allowed all of the pain and anguish of the day to be

pushed away from his heart and mind as the sweet brew filled his stomach and

made his body feel warm. Thankful for the peace the illegal liquor brought

him, he continued to empty the jug until the room became blurry around him

and he had swallowed the last drop. Staggering his way up the stairs he laid

down on his bed pulled the coverlet over him and sank into grateful oblivion.

He didn't want to think, he didn't want to feel and he didn't want to

remember.

"Doc MacNeill, Doc MacNeill" he could hear his voice being called over and

over. "Ya gotta wake up and talk ta me, Doc."

"Zady, what is it child." Neil turned slightly in his bed, he was surprised

that he hadn't heard the door open and close, she must have entered so

softly. Now, fully awake, he sat up on the bed and stared at her. His mind

recollecting the events of the day, he shook his clouded brain. "Zady? It

can't be?"

"It is Doc, it's me all right." Zady stepped closer to him so he could see

her in the light that shone through his window. "I'se be needin' to talk to

ya."

Neil trembled visibly. He didn't believe in spirits of the dead returning,

he didn't believe in the stories of the haints that were rumored to roam the

cove. "What is it, child?"

"You be sorrowin' somethin' terrible over my dyin' and all, and I didn't want

you to be sad. I'se come to tell ya that God heard your prayin' about the

desires of your heart and he wants them ta come true." Zady smiled at him

and a glow seemed to come from all around her. "He also heard ya prayin' all

angry like about my dyin' and that it were some kinda punishment, but it

ain't true. He loves ya somethin' powerful, Doc."

His trembling had become panic and Neil pulled himself into a tight ball at

the head of the bed. "The moonshine, he whispered to himself, it has to be

the moonshine. Zady is dead, she couldn't possibly be hear or know what I

said to God."

"Naw, Doc. It ain't the moonshine you drank." Zady laughed at him sweetly.

"God knows all your thoughts, and he said that I could come to ya to tell ya."

"Tell me what, Zady." Neil was curious, surely this had to be the moonshine,

he'd have to ask Bird's Eye what he put in that batch.

"That God, he loves ya, loves ya so much. He has plans for you, and for Miz

Christy, but I can't tell ya none o' them. And that ya shouldn't be

sorrowin' about my death. I'm glad to be in heaven, I wouldn't come back for

nuthin'. This here place is a far site more beautiful than even the cove.

So don't ya be sorrowin' none for me. Ya promise?"

"Yes, Zady. I promise." Neil looked at her, she seemed so real, so flesh

and bone, but the last time he had seen Zady her body had been broken and he

had removed her leg.

Neil sat up in bed so fast that he banged his head on the headboard, clearing

some of the mush that his brain had become. It was a dream, just a dream he

sighed to himself, shaking. He lay awake wondering.

Fairlight heard her daughter's gentle call and sat up in bed immediately.

"I'm here Zady."

"Mama! I came here to tell ya that ya have gotta go see Doc, he's a sorrow'

somethin' awful about my passin'." Zady spoke with urgency.

"I will child, first thing in the mornin'." Fairlight was accustomed to

having visions, and she listened intently to her daughter that had died only

hours earlier.

"No mama, now!" Zady was adamant. "I been there, he will need to talk to

ya." Zady spoke with wisdom beyond what she had in her earthly life. "And

mama, I can't wait for you to see what heaven is like, this here place is a

far site more beautiful than even the cove."

Fairlight sat up in bed; she smiled joyously at the vision that she believed

God had seen fit to give her. She jumped out of bed, dressed and walked

toward the doctor's cabin even though the sun was just beginning to rise.

"Doc MacNeill, it's me, Fairlight." Fairlight pounded on the door. A very

stunned Neil opened it and stared at her.

"Fairlight, is everything all right?"

"Yes, it is. My Zady, she come to me in my dreams just now." Fairlight

spoke hesitantly awaiting her friend's reaction. "She said that you'd be

needin' to see me."

"Fairlight, I'm sorry, I don't believe in dreams." Neil squirmed where he

stood and averted his eyes. Was it possible that Zady was not a dream? No,

it had to be a dream, brought on by the sadness of her death.

"Ya need to be believin' in this dream, Neil MacNeill!" Fairlight was stern

in the sweet motherly way that Neil so enjoyed about her and their

friendship. "Just like ya need to be believin' in my Zady's angel."

"Fairlight." He spoke hesitantly, he knew that she place great store by her

dreams and he didn't want to hurt her. There was a perfectly logical and

scientific explanation for what Zady saw, but how would he explain it. "When

a person dies, the brain is deprived of oxygen." He paused to see that she

understood him. "That causes people to see things that aren't there. Do you

see what I am saying?"

"All I can see is that you are wantin' to use your book larnin' to push aside

the gift that the Almighty done see fit to give us." Fairlight's words were

harsh, but the gentle touch of her hands on his told him that she wanted him

to believe, to trust in God, and to understand things with his heart.

"The gift, Fairlight? How can you believe that God cares for you and your

family and then allows a boulder to roll down a hillside and crush your

daughter?" Neil was becoming furious and he paced trying to keep his anger

inside.

"I don't know why God see'd fit to take Zady. But I don't reckon that the

knowin' the why and where for would make the grievin' any less hard."

Fairlight stepped in front of his pacing to stop him in his tracks. "But the

angel comin' to take my Zady, and her bein' awake when it happened. Then my

baby a comin' ta me tonight. That be the gift, Neil!"

Her hands on his upper arms shook him gently. Neil was shocked to see the

sweet glow that seemed to radiate from her very soul. His eyes seemed to be

turned inside his own heart, there was no light there, only dark and cold and

barren. Neil was moved to tears of his own, only where hers seemed to

reflect her peace, his were a mirror of the darkness he harbored. "How can

you be so happy? How can you know that Zady wasn't just a dream? She seemed

so happy and her body was whole and she seemed to glow from within, just like

you are now. How can you be so sure?"

"Neil, how do you be knowin' what Zady looked like in my dream?" Fairlight

was taken aback.

Neil knew that he had said to much, that now he would have to tell her the

truth about Zady's visit. Maybe Fairlight could answer his questions. "I

had a dream about Zady too. She told me not to be sad and that..." Neil

paused and was almost knocked over with surprise when Fairlight finished with

him. "This here place is a far site more beautiful than even the cove."

Doctor MacNeill and Fairlight stared at one another in silence. A million

questions raced around in his head and he could feel his heart being squeezed

with desire to know what had happened to him tonight.

Fairlight could see the confusion in his eyes and almost read the whirl of

thoughts. She prayed silently to God to open his heart to the hearin'…Lord,

I knows that you be the one answer to all a his questions. Please let me

have the words.

Neil could feel the warmth and peace attempting to enter his heart and mind.

Is she praying for me, God? She must be, because this is how I felt when I

tried to pray. He remembered the prayer that he had spoken in anger to her

God, the God… Strike me down and show me the power that you supposedly wield

over us! He knew somehow, that God would answer that prayer, but this is not

what he expected. He had to admit that he had been struck down, not with the

anger that God should have used against him, but with the gentle spirit of

Fairlight. It wasn't the anger and vengeance that Neil had expected to see,

but love that seemed to come from heaven. Unconditional, all consuming and

all forgiving love that Fairlight's eyes were reflecting to him. Somehow he

understood that this love did not come from her at all. Is this the power

that you intend to show me as an answer to my prayer? I don't deserve it; I

should be dead where I stand. Please help me to believe, God. Neil's prayer

slipped into his soul and up to the loving Father, he could feel the despair

and self hatred begin to release, somehow, someway. So wondrous was the

feeling that the prayer left his heart and became real on his lips. "Please,

God, help me to believe! Fairlight, show me how to believe!" Neil slipped

to his knees in front of the fireplace and Fairlight knelt beside him,

thanking God that both of their prayers were being answered.

Chapter 18

Fairlight and Neil spent the rest of the night praying and talking in turn.

Fairlight could see the changes in his physical appearance reflecting his

heart. The deep lines on his face seemed to soften and his eyes began to

radiate the inner warmth that could only come from the love of God.

"Fairlight, I believe now and I accept Christ into my life, but I still have

a question." Neil asked her pensively. "The people in these mountains

believe in a harsh God who punishes them for their wrong doings. My parents,

your family, Christy and Alice believe in a loving Father. How can he be

both?"

"Neil, I remember your daddy, he was a real good man. If you was hungry and

ya asked him for somethin' ta eat, he gave it to ya. Now what ya may have

been a hopin' for butterscotch candy but what he give to ya was bread and

cheese. The bread and cheese were better for ya. God, he be the same as a

good daddy, he gives us what we need and what is good fer us." Fairlight

stood up and began making some coffee as she continued. "I don't know why

God see'd fit to take my Zady, but the Bible says that we see through a glass

darkly. I asked Miz Christy about the meanin' of that. She said that it's

kinda like my starry lookout. When it gets dirty I can't see the sky so

clear. I gotta go clean it up to see better. I reckon the workin's of God

are the same way. We gotta ask God to make things more clear like for us and

ta realize that things that happen are for my good. Ta do that we just gotta

trust him."

"How do I learn to trust?" Neil remembered his mother reading about the dark

glass, Fairlight's words were very clear to him but how one learned to trust

in something he couldn't see.

"I remember when your pa taught ya and me to fish in the river. Ya had to

walk out there with him and ya didn't want to fall down and get sweeped away.

So he stood behind ya and held tight to ya shoulder while you cast out. Ya

weren't worried about fallin' and just fished. God is like a really good pa,

he ain't gonna let ya fall and by trustin' in him ya can just fish!"

Neil remembered that day and how afraid he had been. He had just learned to

swim and wasn't very good at it. In his mind's eye he could see them,

standing in the current, his father's hand on his shoulder as he guided the

fly across the water. His mind turned to Christy, how he had done the same

with her. He could see the trust in her eyes as he held her back against him

and showed her the joys of fishing. There was no way he would have let her

slip or fall. He was always ready in case she needed his help. He wasn't

just taking care of her because she was there, but because he loved her. His

heart filled with the knowledge that the power that God wields is in his

absolute love, not in punishment. Neil felt tears slip down his cheeks

again. "Thank you, Fairlight. I think that I am beginning to understand.

Just yesterday I was so angry at God, I yelled and cursed him."

"I think it's fine and fittin' to tell God when ya are angry and what is

botherin' ya. He knows what's in yer heart anyhow, so by tellin' him He can

really help ya. I was just tellin' Him last night how much I'se hurtin' how

angry I was that the rains we done had caused that boulder to slip loose and

that it just didn't seem fair that He'd take my Zady." Fairlight remembered

her pleas to God to take away the hurt and anger. "But I remembered that God

had some plannin' goin' on that I didn't know nuthin' about. That the

understandin' couldn't make the sorrowin' any easier. I just had to see that

somethin' good comes even outta somethin' terrible."

"I'm sorry, Fairlight, but I can't see the good in Zady's death." Neil still

struggled, his scientific mind fighting with what was a tragedy and where the

good could be found.

"Now don't be takin' this the wrong way, but I'se seein' some good already."

Fairlight poured him a cup of coffee and touched his hand. "You comin' to

see the love of God and the savin' that Jesus has givin' ya is a heap of joy!"

Neil was taken a back for a moment. What was she saying? Did God take Zady

just so he would find God? "You don't think.."

"No, Neil. God didn't take my Zady to make you see the truth. I've had my

dreams about you comin' to the fold and I've had me dreams about the good

God's got planned for ya." Fairlight's heart was full as she thought about

them. "God knows about the desires of your heart, he's a lovin' father that

wants only good for ya."

Neil and Fairlight were both interrupted by a knock at the door. Opening the

door he found Christy, tears running down her face and shivering slightly in

the chill of the early spring morning. He ushered her in beside the fire,

fear clutching his heart and sat her down on a chair and wrapped a blanket

around her. "Christy, please tell me what's wrong." He rubbed her arms

trying to warm her.

"I'm okay, just cold." Christy unclenched her chattering teeth. She was so

excited to get to Neil's cabin that she hadn't thought to grab a warmer wrap.

She looked in Fairlight's eyes and saw the look of peace and joy.

Fairlight's presence here in the cabin only confirmed her feelings that she

had to come immediately. Fairlight handed her a cup of coffee and she warmed

her hands on it before taking a sip.

"What in the blue blazes are you doing running around without a proper coat."

His words were soft, his eyes smiled at her and she could see the

transformation that had occurred despite his worry over her health.

"I was praying this morning and reading my Bible like I always do when I

first get up." Christy explained in a rush with the enthusiasm in her voice

that always made Neil smile. "You came on my heart so hard and I felt that I

needed to be with you, right now. That I needed to talk to you this very

minute. I was so excited that I guess I forgot how cold the mountain

mornings are."

Fairlight smiled and slipped out the door. She knew that Neil had many

things to tell Christy and didn't want to be in the way. Her prayers were

lifted up to God as she walked home and she danced down the path in the

woods, her body unable to contain the joy in her heart. As she turned in a

circle on the path she lifted her hands to God and cried out loud to the tree

tops and to the heavens, "Thank ya for the joy, thank ya for letting me see

the good! Thank ya for your lovin' me and fer showin' Neil yer love fer him.

Mostly, thank ya for the lovin' that Christy and Neil are havin' for

eachother!" With a giggle and a skip she bounced as if on air all the way

home. She was seeing the knowing that God had given her played out before

her eyes. The words of the twenty-third Psalm ran through her head and her

heart, for truly her cup was overflowing.

Once Christy was warmer Neil sat on the hearth and took her hand gently. He

stared into her eyes; they were so full of love and concern. He told her

about the amazing events of the morning, how Zady had come to him in a dream

and how Fairlight had seen the same dream. He told her how he had knelt down

and released his heart and soul to God and of the peace and comfort he felt.

That he was trying to learn to trust God and how he truly and wholly

believed. "Then, while Fairlight and I were talking I started thinking about

you. No sooner did I wish that you were here; you walked through the door.

When you said that you were praying and just had to come, I knew. I suddenly

understood so much. I knew that God had sent you here just because I wanted

to tell you and see you." He was speaking in a rush not thinking about the

words but just about the feelings. "Fairlight said that God knew the desires

of my heart and then the person that I love most in the world was standing at

my door." Neil stopped suddenly, in his joy he realized that he had perhaps

opened more of his heart than he had intended. Surely he should not have

said that he loved her, he chastised himself, he waited looked down and

intently studied his boots waiting for her to reject or accept his statement.

The silence was maddening to him and it seemed to last forever. Suddenly he

was nearly knocked over by her leap from the chair as she wrapped her arms

around his shoulders and cried against his chest.

"Oh, Neil. I have prayed and prayed that you would find God. God does know

the desire of the heart, he has just answered two of mine in a single

sentence." She revealed in the feeling of his arm laying protectively about

her shoulders.

Neil wasn't sure how to take this. Did she think that his statement of love

was about friendship? Were her only prayers regarding him about his

salvation? There were too many unanswered questions for him not to ask the

most important one, he pulled away from her slightly and lifted her chin so

he could see her eyes. "What were your desires?"

"That you would find God in your heart and believe in him." Christy brushed

the lock of hair away that had fallen against his forehead. "And that you

might possibly love me as much as I love you. Did you really mean it when

you said that I was the person you loved most in the world?"

Once again Neil felt tears spilling from his eyes. He felt his heart swell

and burst with all of the love inside of him. "Yes, Christy. I love you,

I've loved you since I first met you." He brushed his lips across her

forehead as he spoke. "I want you to be…" He wanted to say wife, but

somehow he just didn't feel that it was time. "I want to be more than your

friend. I want to court you. Please say yes."

Christy heard the hesitation in his question. Did he want to say something

more and then change his mind? She didn't care, not now. "Yes, Neil." She

looked up into his eyes and saw the love there, not just his love for her but

also the love he had found for God.

Neil pulled her closer to him again and gazed down into her tear filled eyes,

searching for acceptance, searching for permission. He found it full and

rich and more real than he had ever dreamed or wished. He brought his hand

to her cheek and ran his thumb slowly across her lips. Caressing her cheek

he gently brought his lips to hers and paused just above them where he could

see every aspect of her eyes. "Please say yes." He whispered. Christy's

voice caught in her throat and she was unable to answer. The realization

that he loved and respected her so deeply that he wouldn't kiss her without

her approval caused her heart to flip over and stop. "Yes." She whispered.

"Yes." He brought his lips to meet hers and their hearts soared. He held

them for only a moment before he pulled away and wrapped her in his arms and

held her close. He laid his chin gently on her head and breathed in the

scent of roses on her hair. Tears of joy ran down his cheeks as he prayed

with all of his heart: Thank you, Father. Make me worthy, show me the way,

I want to be a Godly man worthy of her love. I need your help to know what

to do to honor this gift you have given me.

Chapter 19

Christy rode in front of Neil on the way back to the mission house. She

leaned comfortably against his broad chest and breathed deep of the morning

air. Her mind turned to the fast approaching spring and the fact that God's

plan of renewal was present everywhere. Her sadness at the terrible death of

Zady Spencer was lessened by the peace and comfort that only a loving Father

could bring.

"Look, Christy. Alice must be back from Low Gap." Neil pointed to the fact

that her horse was in the stable.

"Oh, Neil. She has no idea about Zady." Christy thought about the terrible

news they would have to tell her. She was also reminded of all the good

things that had happened since then. Christy spotted her standing in the

dogtrot outside the bunkhouse and called to her. "Miss Alice!" Neil lifted

her down from the horse and held her hand for just a moment before releasing

her.

"Miss Huddleston, Dr. MacNeill." Alice was surprised to see them out so

early in the morning.

"Alice." Neil greeted her warmly and held his hand out to her and shook it.

Alice was taken slightly off guard by the sudden warmth between them. She

also noticed a marked change in his physical appearance even though his

clothes disheveled and he had not shaved yet.

"Christy, Neil, has something happened?" Alice could see the sadness in

Christy's face, but there was something more there too.

The trio moved into the kitchen and poured cups of coffee before sitting at

the table. Christy was the first to speak. "Miss Alice, there has been a

terrible accident and Zady Spencer was killed yesterday. The spring rains

that we have been having loosened a boulder from the hill near the field on

Jeb's property. They were out clearing the area to prepare for planting when

it became dislodged and rolled down the hill." Christy's voice cracked and

she couldn't continue.

"It struck her." Neil placed his hand protectively over Christy's to bring

her comfort. "Her legs were crushed and so was her abdomen. We did all we

could, but there was just too much damage."

"How are the Spencer's doing?" Miss Alice wiped at her eyes with her

handkerchief.

"That is the amazing thing." Neil smiled at her and she couldn't help but

notice that there was a change in his heart. "She was conscious when she

died. She said that she could see the angel beside her bed. She said that

the angel wanted her to take his hand. When she did all pain left her face

and her body and she was carried to heaven."

Now Alice knew that something more had happened. "Neil, did you believe her?"

"I didn't at the time, but I do now. Alice, this may not be the time to tell

you this, but I have watched you and Christy and Pete very closely of late.

Pete and I have talked a lot about God. I have wanted what you have; I began

to believe that God existed. Last night, Fairlight and I both dreamed of

Zady. She said the same things to both of us and Fairlight came over to my

cabin in the middle of the night to talk to me about it. I have found God,

very real and I have asked Him to forgive me for my sins and make me a man of

God." Neil's voice was filled with joy at the very idea that God loved him

that much.

"Neil, this was the perfect time for thee to tell me of thy new faith."

Alice placed her hand on his cheek.

"If you don't need me, I need to go and see the Spencer's and visit a couple

of patients." Neil squeezed Alice's hand, without letting go he stepped over

to her and gave her a gentle hug. "Before I go, can we pray?" He asked

shyly, he was beginning to really like talking to God about things.

They bowed their heads and Alice led them in a prayer of thanksgiving and

asked for peace and comfort for Zady's family and for them all. Neil smiled

to himself because he knew that just as God had heard and answered his prayer

of anger yesterday, he would answer this one as well.

"Neil." Alice called to him as he stepped out the door. "I would like an

opportunity with thee."

"Yes." Neil turned and for the first time her wanting an opportunity did not

fill him with dread.

"More has happened with thee, and with Christy." Alice smiled as she

continued. "We have fought over this in the past, but I wanted to say that I

am filled with joy for you, and her."

"Thank you, Alice. I can't tell you how much that means." Neil saw

acceptance and love for him in her eyes and he marveled again at the goodness

of God. "I have told Christy that I love her, and she says she feels the

same. I have asked if it would be all right if we were to court. She said

yes. I would like your blessings on this, I respect your opinion and if you

feel that this is wrong…"

Alice stopped Neil, raising her hand to silence him. "Of course you have my

blessings. I would ask thee for thy forgiveness for the way that I behaved

when I saw the feelings that thee had for her. You may, however, feel free

to use the mission phone to ask her family."

"Thank you again, Alice. Yes, I would be obliged to use the phone to call

her parents." With that he moved down the steps and onto Charlie's back.

"And Neil." Alice called after him. "We expect to see thee for supper

tonight."

"Sounds wonderful!" He reined Charlie around and headed for the Spencer

cabin.

Neil spent his time on the road talking to God. He meant what he had prayed

when he wanted to know what to do to honor the love that he had for Christy,

and to be worthy. Memories of the failure in his first marriage flooded over

them and Neil saw it in a new light. The marriage never should have

happened. More importantly he was shown that the physical relationship that

he had with Margaret before their marriage was wrong. Thank you, Father.

Thank you for letting me understand and for forgiving me. I don't want to

marry Christy unless that is what you want. I failed so much the first time.

I promise, Father, that if it is your will that Christy and I be together I

will not allow physical desire to ruin the gift you have given me.

"What is the desire of your heart, son?" The voice was so real to Neil that

he turned around in the saddle and searched for the speaker.

"A life with Christy." Neil answered honestly and out loud. He remembered

his mother talking about the still, small voice that spoke to her when she

prayed.

"Can you not see my hand in it? I have sent her to you this morning and she

returned her love for you." The voice came again and Neil realized that it

was coming from inside his own heart. "She is the one I chose for you at the

creation of the universe, just as I made Eve for Adam."

"Thank you, Father. I don't feel as though I have the right to ask for

anything and yet you give me all that I have ever wanted or hoped for. I

make a vow before you that I will be to her what a Christian man should be

and I will treat her with respect and see her as a gift from you." Neil

spoke allowed, he figured that since he believed he was hearing God in the

flesh, he should speak to him as though he were riding beside him. "Riding

beside me. Please, Father, ride beside me today and lead me in my work. I

don't want to fight against your plans anymore."

Chapter 20

June 1914

The past months had flown by for Christy and Neil. They spent as much time

as they could together and, of course, picnics after services on Sunday.

Neil had been faithful to attend services as long as he wasn't out on a call.

His friendship with Pete had grown and they often spent hours together,

reading the Bible, praying or just talking about the blessings of God. Neil

became such a regular at the mission that if someone needed him they often

came to the mission first.

Just as Neil had prayed for guidance, Christy had been seeking God for ways

to help her help him. Christy had discovered that God had slowly been giving

her the means to truly be a helpmate to Neil. Christy laughed when she

thought of the burnt chicken and the poorly chosen phrase she had used last

summer. It amazed her to think that the word helpmate was not so wrong after

all. Both Alice and Neil had been teaching her to act as an assistant to

Neil in surgery and on call. The couple of times she had gone with him to do

appendectomy's she had discovered that she was actually enjoying the fact

that she could help. Neil had begun to pray before each surgery. When the

patient was prepared and the instruments laid out he would place his hand of

the person and pray with them for God's assistance. Once Christy had

administered the ether, which she had finally learned to tolerate much to her

relief, he would always wink at her across the table and mouth 'I love you'

before asking her for the scalpel. Surgery was much quicker and more

efficient with both of them working together.

Neil watched her as she washed vegetables in the basin on the dogtrot. The

afternoon sun played shadow and light across her hair and the delicate plains

of her face. He once again fought the urge to take her in his arms and kiss

her passionately and deeply with all of the love he had inside for her. They

had spoken some about David and how he seemed to never want to talk to

Christy, but just kiss and hold hands. He could definitely understand

David's desire to kiss her, but he like to talk to her and share so much

more. He had kept his vow these many months and had limited himself to hand

holding and sweet, gentle kisses that lasted only a moment. There were times

that he could feel Christy's frustration as well as his own, but it was more

important to him to hold her forever as his wife than to steal passionate

kisses for an hour or so. He had spent hours in prayer, asking God for his

timing. He finally felt that the gift that God had given him was finally

coming to fruition, the engagement ring nestled in it's box tucked safely in

his breast pocket.

"Christy." Neil asked nervously. He was sure that she would say yes, but he

wanted to do it just right. He walked up behind her and planted a gentle

kiss on her lips.

"Neil." Christy felt him pull back, all to soon in her opinion. She greatly

respected the fact that he was so gentle in his affections and so cautious

with his kisses, but she couldn't help but want more. "To what do I owe the

honor?"

"Would you walk with me to our log?" Neil and Christy had a favorite log by

the pond. Neil like it because it was in full view of the mission windows,

so even though they were alone, they were easily seen. He was, after all,

only a man, he reasoned to himself. It was also a beautiful spot.

"Of course, I'd love to." Christy took the towel that he offered and dried

her hands. After she set it aside, he offered her his hand and she slipped

her small one comfortingly inside it.

Instead of heading toward the log, he took her up the steps to the gazebo.

There he had laid out a table full of food and plates set for two. To her

surprise she also found burnt chicken and blueberry cobbler. She looked up

at him in surprise, their eyes met and they both laughed. "Neil, what is

going on here?"

"Well, love, we once had a conversation and a dance at my cabin . We never

quite finished that conversation, if you have the time, I'd like to finish

now." Neil smiled at her sweetly but his eyes danced with a question. He

turned away and started the music. It was the exact same song they had

danced to briefly by the river. "May I have this dance, Miss Huddleston?"

"Of course, Dr. MacNeill." She giggled as he slipped his arm around her and

they danced silently for a while. When the song ended he led her to a chair

and pulled it out for her and then knelt in front of her holding her hands.

"Christy." His voice broke slightly with nervousness and anticipation. He

began again. "Christy, you once told me that I needed a help mate. I could

not have agreed with you more. I was crushed when you mentioned Dan Scott,

because I loved you even then. I have prayed over and over asking for God's

timing and I feel that I can finally ask you this question. Love, I care for

you so much, when a day goes by and I don't see you and talk to you I feel

that it was somehow wasted. I want to protect you and honor you. I want to

spend my life with you. I believe that you and I were created for one

another just as God created Eve for Adam and Adam for Eve. I spoke to your

father and mother on the phone last night and.."

"Yes, Neil." Christy answered him, tears of joy reflected in her eyes.

"Yes, what, Christy?" Neil's breathe caught in his throat.

"I have been praying too, Neil. The desires of our hearts are the same. I

want to be your wife, more than anything else in the world." Christy put her

hand to his face and followed by putting her lips to his.

"Really, your sure?" Neil pulled her to carefully to her feet and wrapped

his arms around her. She snuggled against his chest, the sound of his rapid

heartbeat filling her ears.

"Yes! Can I ask you a question?" She said with her head resting against his

shoulder. She felt his nod his affirmation, not trusting himself to speak.

"It the little box in your pocket for me?" She spoke with a giggle.

"I almost forgot!" Neil spoke quickly as he stepped away and opened his

pocket removing a small box covered in maroon velvet softer than anything

Christy had ever felt. He opened it to reveal a small, perfectly formed

pearl with a small filigree heart on both sides. "Do you like it?"

"Oh, Neil!" She cried as she looked at the dainty ring. "It's beautiful!"

"I chose a pearl because I want you always to remember that you are of great

worth to me, the most precious gift that God has given me next to his love

and forgiveness. Since you answered before I asked I'd like to try again."

He joked lovingly and bent down before her on one knee. "Christy Huddleston,

will you marry me?"

"Neil MacNeill, I would be honored to be your wife. Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Christy smiled so radiantly that Neil's hands shook slightly as he slipped

the ring onto her finger. Christy couldn't help but notice that this time,

with this ring, her heart was light and her soul was immersed in joy.

Chapter 21

No one at the mission was surprised that evening to hear that Neil had asked

Christy to marry him. In fact, the response was one of relief. Alice hugged

both Neil and Christy both and expressed her joy. Pete was pleased but by no

means surprised, he and Neil had discussed the responsibilities of a Godly

husband many times.

"So how soon do we prepare to go to Asheville, love?" Neil smiled at Christy

over his dinner plate. Ruby Mae had decided to give her possum recipes a

rest and had actually made a very nice chicken dish.

"Why would we go to Asheville?" Christy asked all eyes were focused on her.

"Christy, what I'm asking is when should we get married?" He had assumed

that the wedding would be in Asheville.

"Ah, Miz Christy, you ain't gonna go and get married in Asheville, are ya.

We could just have the purtiest and most bodacious weddin' right here!" Ruby

Mae never considered that she might not get to attend the wedding.

Christy quieted her. "No, Ruby Mae, I think I would like to have the wedding

here. This is my home know and these people are my family. Is that all

right, Neil?"

"Of course it's all right!" Neil beamed. "I had just assumed that you would

want to be in Asheville."

"No, I don't see why my parents can't come here. Would you mind, Miss Alice

if they stayed at the mission?" Christy hadn't thought of the extra work

boarders and a wedding would bring.

"I would be overjoyed to host thy parents and thy wedding." She placed her

hand over hers to reassure her.

"Well, Pete, I guess we should ask you. Would you be willing to perform the

wedding?" He laughed knowing full well what the answer would be.

"Most definitely! I would be honored that you and Miss Christy will be the first

knot I tie in Cutter Gap." Pete reached his hand across the table and shook

Neil's with vigor.

"Well, now we have a place, so how about a date?" Neil wanted to marry her

this very minute, but he knew that it was not proper.

"How about August 15th, that is a Saturday and should work out great. The

children are out of school for two weeks for a summer break and we can have a

week to prepare and a week for…" Christy hesitated, how should she say this

in a polite manner? "For ourselves."

Nobody at the table missed her sudden hesitation, including Ruby Mae. "Miz

Christy, don'cha mean a week for the honeymoonin'?" Being raised in the Gap

Ruby Mae did not understand that young girls in Asheville didn't speak that

way, ever.

"Ruby Mae." Alice did not miss the bright flush on her cheeks and decided to

rescue her from further questions. "Would thee help me to clear the table

and then serve the coffee?"

"Yes, ma'am." Ruby Mae knew she had done something wrong, but she wasn't

sure what.

After they had departed to the kitchen the conversation resumed and planning

was begun in earnest. Christy planned to call her parents to tell them of

their plans. Neil had already gotten permission to marry Christy, but he

wasn't sure how they would feel about a mountain wedding.

"Now, have you two thought about the vows?" Pete asked each of them. "We

can use the standard ones or you can write your own."

Neil and Christy stared at each other across the table, in their minds each

was thinking about the vows they would make. They answered almost in unison,

"We'd like to write our own." With that the wedding plans continued on into

the evening and almost all the planning was done when Christy called her

parents.

"Hi, Daddy." Christy practically squealed with delight at the sound of her

father's voice. "Yes, Daddy, I said yes! I need to talk to you and mom

about the wedding." It was frustrating for Neil only hearing the one side of

the conversation with the long pauses in between. "The date is August 15th,

it's a Saturday… Yes, mother, I know it is only eight weeks away…. No,

mother, I don't think it is too soon…. We booked the church tonight, so it's

not a problem…. No, that's what I want to tell you about. We are getting

married here in Cutter Gap…. No, mother I don't want to be married in

Asheville…. Because I am a different person than I was when I left home,

this is my home now and it is Neil's home… No, mother, it was my idea. You

can come up early and help decorate the church and make final plans… Miss

Alice said that you would be welcome at the mission, we have plenty of

room…You will? You really don't mind? Thank you, I was afraid you would be

angry but I really want a simple wedding." Neil breathed a sigh of relief

and walked away from the phone. He was just sure that her parents would not

appreciate the idea of their little girl getting married in Cutter Gap,

that's why he suggested Asheville right from the start. He should have known

that Christy would have wanted the wedding here. Lord, let this be a lesson

to me never to assume anything when it comes to my Christy.

"I have to go. I love you both and I will see you on the sixth of August.

Oh, mother, before you go, will you pick me out a wedding dress. Something

very simple and plain, I don't want anything fancy…. Thanks, I love you."

Christy hung up the phone and rushed to Neil's arms. "Well, it looks like we

are having a wedding on the 15th of August."

He kissed her gently and then picked her up and turned her around. "I love

you very much, Christy Rudd Huddleston MacNeill."

Chapter 22

Early August 1914

News of the coming wedding spread like wildfire across the cove. Unbeknownst

to Christy and Neil their budding romance had been the talk of the cove for

nearly a year. Everybody was excited that their doctor and their

schoolteacher were getting married. The women had joined into the

festivities and had taken on the chore of providing the wedding feast while

the men offered to hunt the game for it. Planned on the menu was fresh

venison and turkey, thankfully, Ruby Mae had been denied her chance to make

Possum Surprise for the cove by the ease of obtaining tastier fare. The

crops were growing splendidly and the game had been abundant this year and

the people of the cove were all well fed. Christy's biggest surprise had

come when she attended the weekly women's sewing circle. Miss Alice had gone

unexpectedly to El Pano and purchased several yards of fabric, her wedding

gift to the couple, and the women were busily sewing quilt patches at their

homes. She was moved to tears as the women spread the quilt on the rack

ready for all the women to finish the quilting together.

"I didn't know you were working on a new quilt!" Christy exclaimed as she

brought out the tray of tea and cakes for the women to enjoy.

"Miz Christy, you ain't awares that when a gal member of the cove be getting

married that we'uns have a quiltin'?" Mary Allen questioned her.

"No, Mary, I wasn't. What is a quilting?" Christy had never heard of a

quilting and wasn't exactly sure what that implied.

"Well, ma'am, a quiltin' is where we'uns all get together and make ya a quilt

for yer new home." Mary shook her head slightly; she loved Miz Christy and

had never forgotten what she had done for her Little Burl. She was surprised

that with all of her fancy book learning and city education that the city

women didn't do this for their new married gals.

"This is for me!" Christy held her hand to her chest, touched that the

women of the cove would go to such trouble. She knew how busy their lives

were, they must have been working on this for days to have it so nearly

completed. "This is just too much."

"Now, Miz Christy, you don't be worryin' about it. In fact, you can help

us." Fairlight patted the chair next to her. In exchange for the reading

lessons that Fairlight would be forever beholdin' for she had offered to

teach Christy how to quilt. Christy had leapt at the chance to learn this

beautiful art.

"It just that it seems like so much. Neil and I have plenty of things, I

can't help but think that some family here is more in need than us." Christy

looked around at the women, she knew one of them could use this fine, warm

quilt and yet they were making it just for her and Neil.

"Miz Christy." Aunt Hattie chimed in with her soft, sweet voice. She spoke

with so much love that the tears flowed down Christy's cheeks. "When you

come to this here cove you was a flatlander. We don't take to kindly to

outsiders and I spect that you know that. But you done a right good job,

teachin' our young'uns. As your intendeds only kin in these here parts I

feel that it be my time to speak on this. I remember my quiltin' and I knows

that you have seen the double weddin' ring quilt layin' across my bed. Well,

that's what this one here is, it's called a double weddin' ring. We make

them for the gal children in the cove upon their bethrothin'. Ya got a kind

and givin' heart and ain't a one of us here thinks on you as an outlander no

more." Christy could see the other women in the circle nodding in

affirmation. "I never got the chance to attend the quiltin' for my girl

child, but I'se right proud to be makin' this for ya and to be a callin' ya

my kin."

Christy stood up from her place and wrapped her arms around her Aunt Hattie.

"We don't think of you as an outlander any more," her words rung in her ears

and filled her heart. "Thank you, Aunt Hattie. And all of you." Christy

sat back down and took up her needle.

"Besides, Miz Christy, you ain't seen properly wed until this here be on your

bed on your weddin' night." Ruby Mae blushed as she smiled slyly at her

teacher and beloved friend.

"That's right, Miz Christy, you gotta have this here quilt on yer bed at the

shivaree." Fairlight smiled knowingly at Christy's blank and confused

expression.

"Shivaree?" Christy questioned, she thought that she had learned all of the

mountain customs, but the quilting and the shivaree were new to her.

"Don't ya'll have shivaree's in Asheville? Why that's the best part of the

whole jollification!" Ruby Mae asked in surprise.

"No, Ruby Mae, we don't." Christy was completely unaware of the smiles of

the women around the quilt rack.

"Well, Miz Christy, after the marryin' and the dancin' all the married women

in the cove take ye upstairs and once yer all ready like the men bring yer

husband and then ya'll is properly wed." Ruby Mae was giggling and very

joyous that she was getting to teach her teacher all about the shivaree. "I

just can't wait to be shivarred."

Christy was stunned speechless and her mouth hung open. Before she had a

chance to respond she heard hoof beats in the yard and she turned to see Neil

tying his horse up the porch.

"Good morning, ladies." Neil spoke to the group as he walked up the steps

and placed a gentle kiss on his Aunt Hattie's weathered cheek. "Aunt Hattie,

I see that you ladies are doing a beautiful job on the quilt."

"Now, Neil. You know you ain't supposed to be seein' this before the weddin'

night!" Aunt Hattie poked him in the ribs and laughed. "You just go on

outta here."

"Yes, ma'am." He said with mock shame. "Can I be stealing my bride to be

for a few moments?" He took Christy's hand and led her away from the group

and they walked down toward the pond. "I suppose you're angry with me for

not explaining this custom to you."

"No, Neil, I think it is a beautiful custom." Christy slipped her hand into

his as they walked. "There's only one thing that I am confused about."

"The shivaree?" Neil looked at her with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

"Yes. Ruby Mae said that the women take me upstairs and then the men bring

you. But I don't exactly understand to what purpose." Christy averted her

eyes as she felt a blush come up her cheeks, surely it didn't mean how it

sounded.

"Well, it is a custom older than our presence here in the cove." Neil could

see her embarrassment. "I'm sorry, love, I should have thought. We've had

some of this discussion before, remember when I said that these people were

born knowing."

"Of course I remember. I just didn't think that…" Christy was getting very

nervous.

"Hush, love. He lifted her chin to where he could see her eyes and gently

placed a kiss on her lips. "Your parents will be here tomorrow and I'm sure

your mother can answer all of your questions. Or, you could ask the doctor."

Again his eyes were wicked and his smile mischievous.

"I think I would rather ask my mother, but thank you for suggesting the

doctor." He was teasing her, she knew, but somehow it made her feel better,

more relaxed. "Now what did you really want to ask me about?"

"Ah, yes. I spoke to Jeb and he said he would be happy to loan me his wagon.

I thought we could go pick up your parents together. I hope you don't mind,

but Rob Allen has another story to mail off for one of his writing contests

so I invited him to go with us." Neil knew that he could have easily given

the letter to Ben Pentland, but it didn't seem right that he and Christy

should be alone and unchaperoned all the way to El Pano, he had, after all

made a promise to God.

"Yes, Neil. That would be wonderful. Perhaps Rob will read us his story on

the way." Christy glanced at him curiously. They had spent time alone

before their courtship, but it seemed that now he always wanted to avoid that

situation. It confused her but in reality she was honored by the care that

he was taking with her reputation. It made her feel truly respected and very

loved, she was reminded of the chivalry of the knights in the storybooks she

loved so much as a young girl. "Are you coming for supper tonight?"

"I wish I could, I have some calls to make and I have got to talk to Dan

about some patients." Neil traced the outline of her face with his finger.

"Dan has truly been a God sent. He is going to cover all the calls during

your parent's stay and our week after the wedding. I will, however, accept a

breakfast invitation, if you'd like to offer one before we head to El Pano."

"In that case, doctor, I would love for you to join us for breakfast."

Christy reached up one her toes and kissed him gently before they walked back

to the mission.

Chapter 23

August 6, 1914

Christy, Neil and Rob had enjoyed an uneventful ride to El Pano arriving

early to pick up her parents. Christy had spoken to Alice last evening, and

Alice had confessed that she purchased the materials necessary for the quilt.

Christy was so pleased at the lovely quilt she decided to go ahead and pick

up some cloth for Ruby Mae. It would be a little while before her and Rob

was old enough to marry, but Ruby Mae had confessed to her that they were now

officially courting. Normally, it was the family's responsibility to provide

the materials, but since Ruby Mae lived at the mission Christy figured it

would be all right to act on behalf of her family. She had secured the

carefully wrapped package in the wagon just as the train whistle was sounding

loud and shrill.

"They're here!" Christy grabbed Neil's hand and drug him excitedly across

the platform.

"Darlin', I know that you're excited but if you don't let up on my hand a

little I am going to be in a cast for the wedding." Neil winced in fake pain

and shook his hand.

"I'm sorry." Christy smiled up at him; she knew he wasn't really hurt just

playing with her. Neil bent down and laid a kiss on the bridge of her nose.

Christy scanned the crowd anxiously. This was the day they were supposed to

arrive but that didn't mean that she could be definite they were on the

train. She spotted her father helping her mother down from the train steps

and onto the platform. "Daddy!" She called as she rushed headlong into the

small crowd to greet them dragging Neil with her.

"There's my baby!" He grabbed Christy in a bear hug and held out his hand to

Neil. "How are you doing, Dr. MacNeill."

"I'm fine, Mr. Huddleston, how was your trip?" Neil replied with warm

formality.

"Don't you think it's time to drop the formality? This time next week we

will all be related." Christy teased the two men and then turned to hug and

kiss her mother. "Oh, mom, I am so glad to see you."

"Hello, dear. You should see all of the wonderful things we brought from

Asheville. Why presents have been arriving for you and Dr. MacNeill ever

since your engagement was announced." Mrs. Huddleston allowed her proper

society attitude toward openly displaying emotions to drop for a moment as

she hugged her daughter back.

A large stack of crates and trunks was standing near by and at first Neil and

Rob weren't sure if it would all go in the wagon, but it did. As it turned

out there were four crates and two trunks full of wedding and shower gifts.

Christy was overcome by the presence of so much wealth that she felt

embarrassed. She dearly hoped that some of the gifts were practical and

would be of use in a mountain community. On the way home Mr. and Mrs.

Huddleston sat on the wagon seat with Neil and Christy and Rob sat on trunks

behind them. Christy told her father about Rob's stories and Rob was pleased

as Mr. Huddleston read story after story from Rob's tablet that he had

carried with him.

"These are fine stories, son. Very well written. Have you had any luck

publishing them yet?" He said as he flipped through the pages of the worn

tablet.

"No, sir. But I have been sending them into those story writin' contests

they have in the paper." Rob shook his head. He was trying very hard to

learn to speak with the proper grammar that Miss Christy had been teaching

him.

"Rob, that's not the way to get your stories published. Christy, why haven't

you sent me some of Rob's work before, you know I have some friends are

magazine publishers?"

"Oh, Daddy, I never thought of that!" Christy couldn't believe she hadn't

thought to ask her father about Rob's stories.

"Mr. Huddleston, sir. I couldn't be askin' you to do that, now. I just

couldn't be beholdin' to you." Rob wanted so badly to get a story published,

but he just couldn't take charity.

"Hold on there, son." He gave a smile and slight wink to Christy, he had

read in her letters of how these people won't take charity, even in the form

of friendship. "I'm not talking about charity, no sir, I'm talking about a

business deal."

"What sorta deal, sir?" Rob questioned curiously, he wasn't sure if he could

trust Mr. Huddleston, of course, Miss Christy was his daughter and he didn't

think she would allow anything bad to happen.

"Well, a good writer needs somebody to look after his business, so that

nobody can cheat him. So what I am proposing is this. What you need is a

lawyer, and I just happen to be one. We can draw up a contract; I'll take a

couple of your stories and show them to some publisher friends of mine. If

you get lucky, and they decide to buy them for publication, they will pay you

cash money. I'll collect that money and send it straight to you in care of

the mission. A good short story can bring a writer as much as five or ten

dollars."

"It sounds real good, Mr. Huddleston, but what do you get?" It did sound

good to Rob but it still sounded like charity.

"I get a percentage of the cash money they pay you. My usual fee is one

percent. That means for every dollar they pay you I get one penny." Christy

was beaming at her father's words. She knew his fee was much higher than a

mere penny on the dollar.

"What if you can't sell my stories, then how am I to pay you?" One penny for

each dollar he earned sure seemed fine to him, but how would he pay the Mr.

Huddleston if he couldn't sell any stories.

"That's the great part, Rob. You see, sometimes lawyers get paid just for

being there for his client, and sometimes they only get paid for the work

that they do. You'd be my client but you'd only have to pay me if I was able

to sell a story for you." Mr. Huddleston hoped that Rob wouldn't see through

his charade. Christy wanted so bad to help these families he hoped that he

could get involved with helping just one. "Now, when a magazine publishes an

author's story you also get a free copy of the magazine that it is in. So

along with the money I'd be sending you the magazine with your story in it."

"Sounds right fine to me." Rob was getting excited, he was hoping beyond

hope that this might just work. He couldn't fathom what some cash money

would mean to his family.

"Now, we'll need to do the contracts. I can prepare those and you can stop

at the mission say Monday or Tuesday. Bring along your father, cause I know

he'll be wanting to discuss this business deal." Then he had another

brilliant thought. "Neil, would you be willing to act on Rob's behalf and

come along too. We want to make sure that everybody's comfortable with this

deal."

"I'd be happy to, sir." Neil couldn't wipe the silly grin on his face. He

had read Rob's stories, and they were good. He had no doubt that with Mr.

Huddleston's influence in Asheville that he couldn't orchestrate a story of

two. "Rob, I think you should give Mr. Huddleston that story you wrote about

your brother that Christy showed me, 'The Hero of the Allen Clan' and I think

you should include the one of 'The Bonny Prince Charlie.'"

"I reckon those would be good one's to start with. I'm beholdin' to you Mr.

Huddleston." Rob reached out his hand to seal the bargain.

"Now, Rob, it's me that is beholding to you. It will be a good business

venture for me. You'll have all the rights to your own stories and if other

magazines or newspapers decide to do reprints of your stories in their

articles they'll have to pay you for those too."

Christy reached up and squeezed her father's hand. She dearly hoped that by

Christmas her father would be able to sell one or two of his stories and Rob

could help his family through the hard winter months.

"Now, when you come we'll have to talk about the advance you'll have coming

to you." He stepped out on a limb, hoping that Rob wouldn't realize that

there was no such thing as pre-payment for an unpublished story.

"What's an advance?" Rob's question caused Mr. Huddleston to breathe a sigh

of relief.

"Well, I pay you a small amount of cash for the right and privilege of seeing

to your copy writes."

"How much cash?" Rob was really excited now; this deal was getting better

and better all the time.

"Five dollars. You'll get that if you and your father decide to sign the

contract."

Rob wasn't sure how he got paid for work he hadn't done but he really didn't

know anything about this lawyer business. He figured that it must be done

that way. "That would be fine, Mr. Huddleston, just fine." Five dollars;

just kept ringing over and over in his head. He just couldn't wait to get

home and Neil dropped him off on his way to the mission house.

"We'll see you and your father on Monday, son."

"Yes, sir, you rightly will!" Rob ran up the porch steps to his cabin and

they could still hear his excited words as they pulled away down the road to

the mission.

"Daddy, do you think you can get his stories published!" Christy asked

excitedly.

"Well, I am good friends with the owner of the Asheville paper and he owes me

a couple of favors. I know I can get at least two a year published if they

are as well done as the ones he just shown me."

Neil laughed heartily. "Now I know where Christy gets her enthusiasm! Last

fall she spent four days working in a one of the families gardens and canning

the produce because she convinced her that she would be obliged to learn how

to can vegetables."

"Now, Neil, this is all above board." Mr. Huddleston laughed. "We just have

to convince Mr. Allen of that."

"Oh, we will, I just know we will." Christy squeezed both of her parent's

hands tightly. "Thank you, thank you for everything!"

Chapter 24

Christy and her mother sat in her room as Christy opened crate after crate of

wedding presents. Some were completely frivolous, like the crystal oil lamps

and other's were quite useful like the towels and sheets. Christy had a

question on her tongue that just had to be answered and she just didn't know

how to go about it. She understood the role of a married woman, mostly, but

nobody had ever told her what to expect on her wedding night. Unfortunately,

Christy's mother wasn't exactly eager to discuss these things but Christy

hoped that now, with her wedding only days away, she would be willing.

"Mother, can I ask you a question?" Christy began.

"Of course you can darling." Her mother set aside the lace tablecloth she

was admiring and turned all of her attention on her daughter.

"I'm very nervous about something. I was hoping that you could help."

Christy didn't know exactly how to broach the subject. "I want to be a good

wife to Neil, just like you are to daddy. Can you tell me what I should do

on my wedding night? We have never talked about it."

"Christy Huddleston, it is quite improper for us to discuss these things."

Mrs. Huddleston was shocked. She, of course, remembered her own nervousness

on her wedding night but her mother's advice was right.

"Mother, I'm a grown woman and about to be a wife. Why is it improper?"

Christy cried in frustration.

"Because, it is. Properly brought up young ladies don't think about such

things." She turned before her daughter could see the flush rising on her

cheeks. Was it the depravity of this place that led her young daughter to

ask such questions? "I will tell you what my mother told me. Just let your

husband lead you and everything will be fine."

"Yes, I understand that, but it doesn't answer my questions." Christy was

becoming frustrated. "My wedding is tomorrow, it seems proper to me that I

understand."

"Christy, I really do not plan on telling you anything more. You will be

fine!" Mrs. Huddleston walked swiftly to the door. "I suggest you

concentrate on the rest of the wedding plans and leave the wedding night to

Doctor MacNeill. I feel like some tea, can I offer you some?"

Christy turned her head away in shame. There were so many questions that she

needed answered, even the most vague information would have been welcome.

How could she be the kind of wife that she wanted to be if she didn't

understand the most intimate parts of marriage? "No, thank you. I think I

will just rest awhile."

"Christy." Her mother placed her hand gently on her shoulder. "It really is

nothing to worry about."

Christy turned her face into the pillow as she heard her mother leave and

began to cry. The thought had crossed her mind to ask Neil, but she just

couldn't bear to. If he had only known how truly innocent she was the day

that he had joked about her idea to teach hygiene classes. 'The do's and

don'ts of mountain lovemaking' he had said with a wicked smile. "How can I

understand the do's when I don't even know the don'ts?" She spoke quietly to

herself. She stood up and began to pace the room. "Mother won't tell me, I

would die of embarrassment if I asked Neil, Miss Alice had to run to Raven's

Gap to help deliver a baby. Fairlight!" She said excitedly. "I can go talk

to Fairlight." Christy grabbed her shawl and slipped quietly from the

mission house.

Christy walked up to the cabin and took a deep breath trying to find her

courage. Even though Fairlight was her best friend she was still unsure of

how to ask and what to say, or if Fairlight would think that she was being

silly and childish.

"Miz Christy." Fairlight was hanging out wash when she saw her friend

approach. Christy noticed the finished double wedding ring quilt hanging on

the line. "What can I do fer ya today?"

"I just needed to take a walk. The quilt is just beautiful!" Christy tried

to feel calm as she ran her hand across it. "Do you have time to walk with

me? I kind of need to talk about something."

"Of course, just let me hollar at Jeb to let him know we're goin'."

Fairlight eyed Christy suspiciously, something was definitely bothering her.

The two women started down the trail in silence, each lost in their own

thoughts. They settled onto a patch of rocks at one of the most beautiful

spots that Fairlight had shown Christy.

"What's troublin' ya, Miz Christy?" Fairlight's gentle touch on her hands

caused the young girl to burst into tears.

"Oh, Fairlight." She sobbed. "I just don't know what to do. I tried

talking to my mother but she just says not to worry that Neil will know what

to do. I can't talk to Neil because I'd be too embarrassed, I thought you

might help me."

Fairlight hugged Christy tight and rocked her. "What is it, honey?"

"I'm afraid of my wedding night." Christy's confession made the tears come

even harder.

"Every woman is nervous about her weddin' night. I remember mine, I was so

scared when that door opened and the men pushed Jeb inside. I thought I

would faint dead away from the shakin I had inside." Fairlight smoothed the

hair out of Christy's face. "I'll tell you what you want to know."

"You will? Oh, thank you, Fairlight." Christy hugged her friend again and

felt some of the nervousness begin to fade. The two women sat by the river

and talked about what to expect. By the time they parted ways an hour later

Christy felt somewhat better. Fairlight had answered all the questions that

Christy had been brave enough to ask and some that she didn't. Christy felt

better prepared to face tomorrow.

Chapter 25

Christy sat on 'their' log and stared out across the pond. She needed a few

minutes of peace to drain away the tension of wedding preparations. Her

heart was filled with joy but her head was awhirl. Her conversation this

morning with Fairlight had brought her some comfort, but she couldn't help

but be a little afraid. This time tomorrow night, I will be a married woman.

The thought both thrilled her and terrified her. What if I can't do this?

Oh Lord, I want so much to be a good wife. Please help me.

"Christy, who are you hiding from out here?" Neil sat down beside her and

gently took her hand and kissed it.

"Mother." She laughed slightly.

"She's been pretty busy with all of the preparations. You ever wish that we

had just eloped?" Neil knew that Christy's mother had been trying to bring a

piece of Asheville to Cutter Gap. They had had several disagreements over

what the wedding would be.

"Sometimes, but not really. I do wish that I could have just spent the day

fly fishing with you." Christy looked up into his eyes, how she loved

getting lost in them.

"Your mother is not the only problem, is it?" Neil could see the hesitancy

in her eyes. "What else, love?"

"I'm just nervous, that's all." Christy knew that lying to him did no good.

She always marveled that he seemed to know exactly what she was thinking.

Her hopes were that a half-truth would suffice.

"Christy, you know I love you." Neil took a deep calming breath. "If your

not ready for this, if you are unsure in any way…"

"Neil, no, it's not that. I love you so much, you are the greatest joy and

miracle that God has ever given me." Christy quieted his fears, she didn't

mean for him to think that she was unsure about the wedding.

"Then what is it, honey? You know that you can tell me anything. Remember

our promise, no secrets between us." Neil turned her head slightly so that

he could see her face.

"Yes, I know, Neil. But…" Christy struggled within herself. He was her

rock and protector; they had come through so much already. It was only right

that she open the most secret places in her heart to him. "I'm not afraid of

marrying you, I…"

"Christy, is this about the wedding night?" Neil felt a small stirring

inside of him, is it possible that Christy was sharing the same fears that he

was?

Christy could feel the heat raging into her face. "Young lady," Christy

could hear her mother's voice ringing in her ears. "This is not a proper

topic of conversation!" Did it matter that it seemed inappropriate? Christy

was scared, just terrified that she wouldn't be a proper wife. That she

would disappoint Neil in this way. It would be wrong of her to break her

promise to Neil of 'no secrets' by keeping this from him, no matter how

indecorous the topic. Christy felt Neil's hand squeeze hers gently. It was

a sign to her of his understanding.

"Oh, Neil! I'm sorry, but I am just scared. I tried to talk to mother about

it, but she wouldn't answer any of my questions. Fairlight was more help,

but every time I think that I might disappoint you it makes me feel so sick

to my stomach. I want to be a good wife to you." Christy cried and pulled

away from him slightly, nervous about his reaction to her words.

Neil felt her stiffen and the slight leaning of away from his touch. He

moved closer to her, giving her his acceptance of her fears. Taking his

handkerchief out of his pocket, he lifted her face and wiped away her tears.

"Christy, would it make you feel better to know that I am scared, too?"

"You're scared?" Incredulously she raised her eyes to his and saw the truth

of his statement and her own fears reflected in his eyes.

"Yes, I am. When Margaret and I met, she was not…" Neil searched for

delicate words that would not embarrass her. "She was not, innocent, like

you are. In fact, Margaret and I had our wedding night before our wedding.

Now that God has made Himself so real in my life, I realize how wrong that

was. I swore to God that if he ever gave me another chance at marriage, I

would honor the gift that He gave me and not let physical desires ruin it."

"Is that why you have always been so…gentlemanly, towards me?" Christy could

see the light of God in this conversation they were having. How foolish she

felt to have hidden her heart from her beloved and God. Even in her prayers

Christy couldn't express herself because she felt ashamed. Neil's words made

her see that there was nothing shameful in their conduct and there would be

no shame in their wedding night.

"It is. And God has shown me some wonderful things. What did Fairlight tell

you, if you don't mind my asking?" Neil wasn't sure how far to go with the

conversation. Depending on Fairlight's comments, he may not be able to

reveal his own revelation from God until a later time.

Christy continued to blush, but forged ahead. She could feel God opening her

heart to these things and she knew that she had to share her heart.

"Fairlight told me not to worry too much. She said that everyone wonders

about the wedding night, and that it must be doubly hard for me, since I was

raised in Asheville and not Cutter Gap. She told me to let love guide me and

I would be just fine. Then we talked about some of the finer details."

"Finer details, love?" Neil smiled, as Christy blushed clear to the roots

over her hair.

"That it would hurt a little and that I would have some…" Christy couldn't

go on and she couldn't look at him. It was all just too much.

Neil would have to remember to thank Fairlight, he knew now without a shadow

of a doubt that he could reveal what God had shown him. "When I was in

prayer the other morning, I was discussing this with God. He showed me that

marriage, the physical act of the first time, was a blood covenant between a

husband and wife. It is a promise to each other to stay true and keep only to

one another for the rest of our lives. We both know that I was married

before and the pain of Margaret's infidelity was something that God had to

take from me, because I couldn't have forgiven her on my own. I never sought

out 'company' after Margaret left me and I believed her to be dead. I thank

God everyday that he has given me the opportunity to start again. Mostly, I

thank God that you will truly and completely belong to me, in the sense of

the physical part of marriage. It will be the most wonderful gift that I

have ever been given and part of my fears have been that it will cause you a

moment's pain. I have never, ever wanted to cause you pain." Neil allowed

the tears that had been pooling in his eyes to slip down his cheeks. Christy

could feel them drop gently on her neck as he whispered to her. "But I

promise you, Christy, we will go slow and take our time. No rush, no hurry.

If all we do on our wedding night is hold each other until morning I will be

completely satisfied."

"Oh, Neil." Christy hugged him about the neck and laid her head against his

shoulder. "Fairlight told me to trust you and your love for me. She said

that I shouldn't be afraid to enjoy the physical part of marriage and that it

was very pleasant. Now to know that you are also nervous and that you

understand, it has helped to take away so much of my fear. Please forgive me

for forgetting to trust you and tell you what is in my heart and mind."

"My love, there is nothing to forgive." Neil held her gently around the

shoulders. He moved one hand to her cheek to brush away the stray tears that

lingered there. Christy lifted her lips to his and he covered them with his

own. He knew that she had enjoyed the gentle kisses that he had bestowed on

her. For the first time, Neil allowed his passion for her to show in his

kisses. Gently he encouraged her to part her lips on his and to allow him to

kiss her deeply and thoroughly. Christy felt the blood rush to her head like

never before at this new sensation he was giving her. Stars seemed to

explode in her head as he kissed her not once, but three times before he

pulled away. It was the first time Neil had allowed himself to kiss her with

so much passion and feeling. He wanted so badly to alleviate her fears and

show her the pleasure they would share as man and wife. His heart began to

race as she relaxed and returned his kisses with exuberance. He looked down

at her not sure what her beautiful blue eyes would show him shining softly in

the moonlight.

"Neil?" Christy asked, still shaking from the depth and promise his kiss had

shown her. She smiled up at him playfully, feeling abundantly loved and

thoroughly overcome. "Will you kiss me like that again?"

Neil leaned back, overjoyed at her response. He laughed with a deep richness

that could only be born of the love that God had given him. "Yes, love, but

not until after the wedding."

Holding hands they left the pond and walked back to the mission house in

comfortable silence. On the porch he kissed her gently on the lips, as a

gentleman should. When they pulled away Christy was in awe of the brilliant

smile that spread across her beloved's face, crinkling his brow.

"Neil, why are you smiling like that?" Christy laughed with him, her fears

now gone.

"Because, my love, the next time I kiss you we will be husband and wife."

With a boyish laugh he picked her up and swirled her around in the air before

placing her carefully on the ground. He stole a quick kiss before mounting

on Charlie and riding back to his cabin.

Chapter 26

August 15th, 1914

Despite all of the nerves of the final preparations, Christy felt calm and at

peace as she stood at the back of the church. The dress her mother wouldn't

let her see until just an hour ago was perfect. It was a simple cut dress of

white organza with a delicate lace overdress. Tiny seed pearls accented the

stiff, upright collar and the cuffs at her wrist. The sleeves were tight at

the wrist but were softly billowy from the shoulder to the elbow. In her

hand was a bouquet of late blooming wild flowers. Fairlight had picked

daisies and painstakingly made a daisy chain for her to wear in her hair that

fell loose and long to her tiny waist. It was their special remembrance of

Zady on this special day. She smiled at her father as Aunt Hattie began to

sing, 'Oh Perfect Love.'

Neil could see her standing at the back of the church and his heart stopped.

She was so beautiful, so precious. The tears that sprang from his eyes were

the physical manifestation of the prayer of thankfulness that his heart was

screaming out to God. His hand was steady as he received the gift of

Christy's hand from her father and they turned to stand before Pete to recite

their vows.

"Dear friends, we have come here to day to join…" Pete began in his plain

speaking way that everybody in the Cove loved and appreciated.

Neil was hardly aware of what was being said. He was taking in every detail

of his bride. The way the afternoon light coming in the window was causing

the highlights in her hair to show rich brown and reds and gold. The

softness of her hands in his and how tiny they were compared to his.

"Neil and Christy have chosen to write their own vows. So I will ask Neil to

speak his first." Pete's voice brought Neil back to focus on the vows he had

written. He had debated and changed and rewrote. He had prayed for the

words to tell Christy how much he loved her and what she meant to him.

"Christy, my love, we have traveled a long road to where we stand today. I

know there are many roads ahead of us, some of them easy and some of them

difficult. I promise that no matter what the road we are on or the season of

our life that I will stand beside you. I promise to love you and care for

you whether we are rich or poor, sick or well. God calls husbands to love

their wife's as Christ loved the church and his people. I will ask everyday

that He keep that in my heart and teach me how. And everyday I will thank

Him that he has our hearts to each other so that we can learn in one

another's embrace." Neil breathed a sigh of relief, he wasn't sure if mere

words could express his heart.

Now it was Christy's turn, and she wiped her eyes and attempted to clear her

throat. Neil's statements about God helping him to be her husband had moved

her to the point where she could hardly speak. "My dearest Neil, I have

waited for so long to give my heart to you as your wife. I promise to stand

beside you in good times and in bad and to uphold you and trust you in all

things. I promise to never leave you and to cling only to you until the end

of our time on earth. You have been my best friend, my protector and my

deepest love and I promise to be the same to you."

Neil squeezed Christy's hands. He knew that the statements about never

leaving him had been a result of the heartaches he had suffered over

Margaret. He loved her for that, that she could look into his very heart and

recognize his concerns and fears.

Pete picked the rings up from the small pillow that Burl Allen held; he spoke

as he held the rings in his hands. "Neil and Christy have chosen to have a

scripture reference engraved inside their rings. It is often called the love

chapter and many of you know First Corinthians 13. This chapter tells us that

nothing we do is more important than love. It tells us that love stays the

test of time; love is kind and does not envy. Love doesn't allow us to put

ourselves over another person or boast. Love doesn't seek after it's own

purposes. Most importantly it tells us that love bears all things, hopes all

things, endures all things and that love believes all things. It is my

belief that the reference that Christy and Neil have chosen for the inside of

their rings will remind them to rejoice together, grieve together, hope

together and dream together." Pete handed each of them their rings. "As you

place the ring on your beloved's hand, remember that it is a sign to all of

those who see it that your hearts are forever intertwined, your lives are

connected. Let it be a reminder to yourself that love is a circle, never

ending and in constant growth and renewal."

Neil held her hand gently as he slipped the gold circlet on her finger.

"With this ring, I thee wed." He whispered to her. Christy then repeated

his actions and statements and they turned to face Pete.

"By the power vested in me I know pronounce you man and wife. Neil, you may

kiss your bride."

Neil lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the wedding ring that he had

placed there only moments ago. Ever so slowly he lowered his lips to hers.

He kissed the tear that was sliding silently down her cheek before moving to

her lips. He claimed them as his own and with them he claimed her heart and

soul, more importantly he gave his to her in return. After a brief and

gentle kiss he pulled back slightly before claiming her lips in a more

passionate kiss. He could have gone on kissing her like this for the rest of

his life, but the whoops and hollers from the men in the crowd brought him to

his senses and he again pulled away. He brushed his hand ever so carefully

and caught the remaining tears on her face. He would never forget the love

in her eyes that was reflecting his own.

"I know present to you Doctor and Mrs. Neil MacNeill. What God has ordained

let no one try to separate."

Chapter 27

Christy and Neil stood in a group of friends that was ever changing as people

came to and went. They were both touched by the outpouring of love from

these people. Mountain people weren't known for openly displaying their

affection and appreciation, but today was different. Over and over again

they were approached by someone who said, "Doc…Missus…I can't thank ye

enough fer the time." Wedding gift after wedding gift was pressed into their

hands. Apple butter, honey, corn meal and other useful items were laid on a

table beside the newlyweds. Neil held her tight to his side with his arm

around her waist and she laid her head on his shoulder with their hands

linked.

"Hey, there you love birds!" Jeb called out raucously across the yard. "Come

on and start the dancin' fer us. They'll be time fer all that later!"

Christy blushed bright red as Neil led her into the area of the yard that had

been set aside for dancing.

"What tune you be wantin' to hear, Doc?" Jeb asked as he poised the bow

above his fiddle.

"Down in the Valley, if you would please, Jeb." Neil asked without even

looking in his direction. His eyes were focused only on Christy. "I'll

never forget the first time I tried so hard to draw your attention for a

dance. Do you remember the party that Bird's Eye crashed?"

"I remember." Christy smiled at him; Alice had used her rifle to destroy the

jug that Mr. Taylor had been brandishing to the crowd.

"I followed you all across the yard, trying to get a moment with you so that

I could ask you to dance." Neil turned her gently in a wide circle, his

voice laced with nostalgia.

The song ended and before they could start again Neil felt a tap on his

shoulder. It was Christy's father. "Son, do you think I could have a dance

with my daughter today?"

"Of course. Just don't keep her too long." Neil kissed Christy's cheek and

passed her hand to her father.

"Daddy!" Christy hugged him tightly. "Thank you for everything."

"My little baby is all grown up." He hugged her back and tears glistened in

his eyes as they began their dance. "Neil is a good man."

"How is mother holding up, I haven't even had the chance to speak with her?"

Christy scanned the crowd for her mother was standing very near to Alice and

Dan Scott.

"It's always hard on a mother seeing her baby get married." Her father

sighed wistfully.

"And on a father, too." Christy reached up and kissed his cheek.

The dancing continued into the late afternoon. A beautiful table full of

food was served buffet style and Neil and Christy had cut the wedding cake.

Everything was perfect, Christy sighed to herself as she and Neil continued

dancing. Neither of them was aware of the flurry of activity around them or

of the Spencer wagon, decorated in wild flowers, pull close to the

celebration.

Fairlight, Opal McHone, Mary Allen and Swannie O'Teale moved into the

dwindling circle of dancers and caught Christy in a gentle grasp.

"Doc, we'uns come to take yer bride off." Mary stated with an official tone in

her voice.

"It be time, Christy, you gotta come with us!" Fairlight smiled at her

friend, winked and grabbed her hand.

Christy's blush was so bright and noticeable that all of the men started to

whoop and holler. A group of men gathered around Neil and started slapping

him on the back and laugh. "Where are ya taking her, Fairlight?" Neil

played along with the game. After their talk last night Christy had decided

that she wanted to participate in the shivaree.

"My man knows where we'll be a hidin' he'll bring ya along shortly."

Fairlight laughed and hugged Christy's waist.

"Oh, Missus Christy, can't I come along, please?" Ruby Mae joined the crowd

of women hustling her into the wagon bed full of straw covered with a fresh

blanket.

"Ruby Mae, you go on back and start the cleanin' up." Opal chastised her

gently. "This here shivareein' it be for the married gals."

As the wagon pulled away Miss Alice was standing next to a thoroughly shocked

Mrs. Huddleston. "Miss Henderson, where are they taking my daughter?" Alice

smiled slightly, the less than proper comments that the men were making in

their small circle becoming louder.

"They are celebrating an old mountain custom called the Shivaree, Mrs.

Huddleston." She put her arm around the woman and began leading her into the

mission house. "Would thee like a cup of tea? I will be happy to explain it

to thee."

The women arrived at the doctor's cabin that had not missed the women's

decorative touches. Woven vines of flowers had been painstakingly interlaced

across the porch and bowls of more flowers were on the tables in the cabin.

The women led Christy upstairs where her trunks were waiting to be unpacked.

The double wedding ring quilt and a set of the new sheets from Asheville

graced the bed. Opal and Mary stayed downstairs and put a kettle on to boil

while Fairlight helped Christy out of her wedding gown and into the new

nightdress that Christy's mother had brought in the bundles from Asheville.

"Are ya nervous, honey?" Fairlight asked as she removed the daisy chain from

Christy's and began to brush her hair.

"A little." Christy smiled and she felt herself shiver just a bit despite

the warmth of the room. "Mostly I'm nervous about all the people that will

be here!"

Fairlight laughed. "Is that what's botherin' ya. Now don't you think on

that! The women folk generally drag their men off after about fifteen

minutes! Everybody'll be on their way home in no time at all."

"Really, Fairlight!" Christy turned in her seat to look at her friend.

"Sure we do. No newly married gal I ever see'd had a passel of people

hangin' around after the shivareein'." Fairlight laid her hand gently on her

friend's shoulder. Opal and Mary knocked and came into the bedroom with cups

of hot tea. Despite Christy's fear over what the shivaree would entail she

was pleased to discover that this part was nothing more than women sitting

around, talking and enjoying a cup of tea together. It relaxed her.

All too soon the men could be heard stomping up the steps to the cabin. Mary

took the tray down to the kitchen and Opal and Fairlight stood by Christy

dressed in her nightgown and covered modestly with a dressing gown tied at

the waist. Jeb and Dan Scott proceeded up the stairs holding Neil's arms in

between them.

Jeb knocked loudly on the door. "You wimmin' folk ready!" He looked down at

the group of men waiting at the bottom of the stairs and winked.

"We's ready!" Fairlight called out. As maid of honor and best man their

most important roll was to orchestrate the shivaree.

Jeb stepped into the room and stood on the opposite side of the bed from

Christy, Fairlight and Opal. Fairlight kissed Christy's cheek and Opal

squeezed her hand before they all left the room and closed the door softly

behind them. Christy and Neil stared at one another from opposite sides of

the bed for a moment before Neil stepped around and took her in her arms.

Already the noisy shouts of the men could be heard leaving the cabin and

moving down the path.

"I love you, Mrs. MacNeill." He whispered into her ear as he held her close.

"I love you, too." She said reaching up and lying a gently kiss on his neck

just above his collar.

"Can I ask you a favor, love?" Neil pulled away and looked deep into her

eyes.

"Of course."

"Can I please take of this darn tie now?" He spoke in mock pain and winked

at her. Christy laughed and brought her hands up to help him loosen his tie.

"Now can I ask you for a favor?" Christy felt safe and at peace as she

rested in his arms. All of her fear and doubt about the wedding night was

slowly ebbing away.

"Of course, love. Anything." Neil smiled down at her. The last guests were

gone and they were finally completely alone.

"Would you keep your promise to me." Christy smiled coyly at him.

"Which one? I've made a lot of them today." Neil allowed himself to play

with her soft hair that sat in soft waves across her shoulders. "And I fully

intend to keep all of them."

"Would you kiss me like you did last night?" Christy stood on tiptoe and

laced her hands around his neck.

"With pleasure, Mrs. MacNeill. With Pleasure."

THE END!