â€œThere, by the door. He just came in.â€
|Awakening Joy Series:Hands of Love, Book 1 By Mildred Colvin|
Hannah gazed at the tall, broad-shouldered young man standing inside the front doorway of the Finsterâ€™s roomy cabin. With his back straight and his head high, he gazed about the room where a dozen or so of her friends and neighbors celebrated Ada Finsterâ€™s seventeenth birthday.
Another boy arrived, bumping into him, causing no more effect than if heâ€™d walked into one of the sturdy trees of their Minnesota woods outside. Yet a third young man entered and stepped to the side.
â€œI donâ€™t know who he is.â€ Ada shrugged. â€œBut the ones behind are Paul and Joseph Sigler.â€
â€œI know them.â€
Adaâ€™s brother, Otto Finster, stepped closer to the two girls. â€œI heard the Siglers took their cousin in after his folks died in a fire. I should go welcome him and close the door before the house is swarming with insects.â€
Otto crossed the wide puncheon floor worn smooth by many feet and Mrs. Finsterâ€™s broom. While Otto pushed the heavy plank door closed, Paul Sigler introduced his cousin to others standing nearby.
From across the room, Hannah heard his name. Augustus Rohmeier. She released a breath, not realizing sheâ€™d been holding it. â€œThis is the man I will marry.â€
â€œWhat did you say?â€ Adaâ€™s blue eyes opened wide, and she stared at her friend.
Giving a self-conscious laugh, Hannah repeated what she felt deep in her heart. â€œI donâ€™t know how or when, but one day he will be my husband.â€
â€œOh, Hannah.â€ Ada brushed her friendâ€™s words aside. â€œI know you say things that come true sometimes, but thatâ€™s absurd. How can you want to marry a man you donâ€™t know? You donâ€™t even know his name.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not true. Didnâ€™t you hear Paul say it is Augustus? I only know what I feel. He will be mine, and Iâ€™ll call him Gus.â€
As she watched, her twin sister, Joanna, approached the group and smiled up at the stranger.
Paul Sigler stumbled over his words introducing them.
A flush of warmth rushed to Hannahâ€™s face. Less than ten minutes her senior, Joanna might look like her, but she didnâ€™t act like her. In truth, she might well be her opposite with her brazen ways and ability to twist Mama around her finger. The way she flirted with anyone who wore britches was shameful even though they seemed to enjoy her antics.
Joanna might have her choice of any young man in the community, only she couldnâ€™t seem to make up her mind. With her cheeks blushed pink from the dance that had just ended, she laughed at something Paul said, and Gus laughed with them while Hannahâ€™s heart twisted.
She would never act so carefree around boys. Making calf eyes and smiling so pretty. Her stomach soured at the sight of her sister batting her long lashes at the stranger.
Otto headed toward Hannah and Ada, a scowl on his face as if he, too, was disgusted with Joanna.
Hannah welcomed his presence and said, â€œI would like one of those little cakes your mother makes so well.â€
â€œArenâ€™t you going to go meet your future husband?â€ Adaâ€™s eyes sparkled in the lantern light.
Otto slipped his hand around Hannahâ€™s elbow. â€œDonâ€™t tease your friend, Ada. This may be your birthday party, but you should have better manners.â€
Ada lifted her eyes toward the ceiling. â€œOf course, sheâ€™s my friend and knows Iâ€™m only jesting.â€
Otto raised his eyebrows in an unspoken gesture of disbelief before turning to Hannah. â€œIâ€™ll escort you to the refreshment table. Iâ€™d like one of Mamaâ€™s cakes too. And maybe some more apple cider.â€
Hannah smiled at Otto. â€œJa, that would be good.â€
Either God spoke to her at times or she had unexplained premonitions. If only she knew where they came from. Sometimes it would be nice if she didnâ€™t have such strong feelings about things that hadnâ€™t happened yet, because not all her premonitions were happy ones. Even now, she felt uneasy. What if she was wrong? What if the young man with the golden skin and sun-bleached hair preferred Joanna?
She would not think of such a thing. She lifted a smile to Otto as they made their way past the others gathered around those still in front of the door. â€œI love having parties at your cabin. Even with so many here, thereâ€™s room for everyone. Your father must have known we would need a large room for our gatherings.â€
â€œI believe it was more Motherâ€™s idea.â€ Otto led Hannah to the end of the large open room where the kitchen table held an assortment of sweets and a large crock of cider. He filled a cup and handed it to her. â€œHere you go.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take some, too, Otto.â€ Ada had followed them. She put a hand on Hannahâ€™s arm. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Hannah. I didnâ€™t intend to be rude.â€
â€œThatâ€™s all right, Ada. I took noâ€”â€ Hannahâ€™s acceptance died on her lips as she looked over Adaâ€™s head into the handsomest blue eyes sheâ€™d ever seen. â€œoffense,â€ she managed to finish in a murmur.
Hannah scarcely noticed Ada step to the side at Ottoâ€™s tug on her arm, but now she faced the stranger with no one between them. Voices and laughter in the background accompanied the fiddle sawing out Sugar in the Gourd. Couples danced at the other end of the room, their feet moving quickly to the tune. Nothing seemed real, for now she and the stranger were the only reality in the Finsterâ€™s home. The blue of his eyes and the warmth in his smile were for her alone.
â€œDid we already meet, or am I seeing double?â€ He glanced past her and back, his lips tilted in a most intriguing way.
â€œHereâ€™s the birthday girl you wanted to meet.â€ Hannahâ€™s brother, William, stepped between them, blocking her view. â€œGus Rohmier, this is Ada Finster. Weâ€™re celebrating her seventeenth birthday tonight.â€
The room dimmed as Hannah lost sight of Gus. She shifted to the side in time for Gus to turn his wide smile on her friend. Oh, if only she could stomp her foot, as sheâ€™d done when she was a child and Joanna took her precious china doll to replace her own sheâ€™d broken.
â€œHappy birthday, Miss Finster.â€ His low voice vibrated near Hannahâ€™s heart.
â€œThank you. Iâ€™m so glad you could come.â€ Ada curtseyed, her eyes downcast as if suddenly shy.
â€œAnd this is my sister, Hannah Zorn.â€ William motioned toward Hannah. â€œBelieve me when I say you arenâ€™t seeing double. My sisters may look alike, but they are very different.â€
Gus turned his smile on Hannah again. â€œIâ€™m pleased to meet you, Miss Zorn. I believe I was introduced to your twin sister earlier.â€
â€œIâ€™m pleased to meet you, too, Mr. Rohmier.â€ Hannah looked into his eyes as her world again brightened. She ignored his reference to Joanna, concentrating instead on slowing her pulse. His presence so close caused her heart to race.
The fiddle suddenly stopped and in the silence, Mr. Finster called out over the hum of voices in the large room. â€œGrab you a partner. Come on, letâ€™s go.â€
â€œThey are calling for another set.â€ William grinned at Ada. â€œI havenâ€™t danced with the birthday girl yet. Will you be my partner?â€
Otto set his cup of cider down and turned toward Hannah as Gus shifted in front of him. His sparkling eyes and big grin filled her vision. â€œIâ€™d be honored if youâ€™ll agree to be my partner, Miss Zorn.â€
She nodded as her breath caught in her throat. Yes, oh yes, she would be his partnerâ€”for life. She gladly hooked her hand around his offered elbow. They joined the square with William and Ada.
Hannahâ€™s feet flew to the music and the calls, but her heart pounded more from Gusâ€™s touch than from the exertion of the dance. After the set ended, they stepped back to catch their breath while the fiddle played a slower song similar to a waltz.
â€œThank you,â€ Gus said.
â€œYou are welcome. I enjoyedâ€”â€
â€œThere you are.â€ Joanna appeared beside Hannah, crowding her to the side as she turned a flirtatious smile on Gus. â€œI do believe Iâ€™ve danced with every man here except you.â€
â€œIs that right?â€ Gus looked from Hannah to Joanna. â€œYou two are quite a sight standing together. Forgive me if Iâ€™m too forward, but would you mind calling me Gus if I may use your given names? If I must call you both Miss Zorn, Iâ€™ll never be able to tell you apart.â€
Joanna giggled. â€œIâ€™d love to call you Gus. Please do call me Joanna.â€
â€œThank you. I will.â€ As he looked from her to Hannah, his eyebrows lifted as if in question.
Hannah inclined her head. â€œYes, please call me Hannah.â€
â€œNow, how about that dance?â€ Joanna shifted in front of her.
Hannah stepped to the side where she could see them both.
Gus looked toward the swaying couples a few feet away then back toward Joanna. â€œMaybe you will be my partner when another set is formed.â€
â€œI donâ€™t believe there will be another square formed. Weâ€™ll sing after this, so why wait?â€ Joannaâ€™s eyes widened and her head tilted.
He smiled. â€œI only participate in the square, as I believe itâ€™s more exercise than dance.â€
â€œDo you also think the fiddle is an instrument of the devil?â€ Laughter twinkled in Joannaâ€™s eyes. â€œBut I assume not since you have danced to it tonight.â€
â€œIâ€™ve heard it called the devilâ€™s box and many say the devil rides the fiddle bow, but Iâ€™m more for believing fiddle music mixed with whiskey is the true culprit. Didnâ€™t God give the gift of music in the beginning while the Bible teaches us to avoid spirits?â€
â€œOh, Mr. Finster would never allow whiskey within the walls of his home, so thereâ€™s nothing to worry about there.â€ Joanna laughed as she turned from the serious talk. â€œBut we will be singing soon. Will you be my partner for that?â€
If Hannahâ€™s heart had not hung so heavy in her chest, her sisterâ€™s boldness might have embarrassed her. Instead, she stood dumb and watched Joanna hold Gusâ€™s arm and laugh up at him as they moved away.
Her eyes burned. Her sister would defeat her just like she always had. Something deep in her heart had stirred when Gus first stepped through the doorway. Something that meant they were to be together. It was as if his soul had reached out and touched hers. When she held his arm, thereâ€™d been a connection. When he held her hand, he was hers. Sheâ€™d always believe it and never let it go.
She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. Lord Jesus, I come in humble gratitude for all Thou hast given me. For the gift to feel so strongly things that Thou impress upon my heart. I pray now that what I sensed when I first saw Gus Rohmeier will be true and will be fulfilled. In Jesus nameâ€” Oh, if it be Thy will. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.
Watching Joanna cling to Gus and smile up at him as they stood on the opposite side of the dancers stung Hannahâ€™s nerves. She turned away, her gaze landing on Otto. He was watching too. Something pensive in his expression touched her. But why? Had he wanted to dance? She crossed to where he stood alone, leaning against the wall.
â€œWhy arenâ€™t you dancing?â€ She forced a smile as if she didnâ€™t mind her sister being with the man she planned to marry. â€œArenâ€™t there enough young ladies to go around?â€
His eyes lit up. â€œThere is now. Would you like to dance?â€
â€œNo, thank you. I donâ€™t believe Iâ€™ll be dancing that sort of dance anymore.â€ Hannah watched the couples shuffle around the floor. What was wrong about what they were doing? Some preachers denounced dancing as the devilâ€™s handiwork. Thankfully, their own pastor accepted square dancing. He didnâ€™t approve of any other, though. In fact, if he knew, he might take Mr. Finster to task for not putting a stop to it tonight. But then, the fiddler drew his bow across the strings one last time, and no one danced.
â€œLetâ€™s sing now.â€ Someone called out and a chorus of agreement followed.
â€œWill you sit with me?â€ Otto offered his arm. â€œIâ€™d be glad to escort the prettiest girl here to the singing.â€
Hannah couldnâ€™t help laughing at his nonsense. Sheâ€™d never be the prettiest as long as Joanna was nearby. Only their family and close friends could tell them apart, but Hannahâ€™s serious nature made her no more than a shell of her carefree sister. Sheâ€™d known for a long time and didnâ€™t really care. Like every other young man here tonight, Otto probably fancied himself in love with Joanna. Too bad her sister was too busy having fun to tie herself to one man. Then Hannah might have a chance with Gus.
She took Ottoâ€™s offered arm. â€œIâ€™d be glad to sit by you. Weâ€™ve been friends all our lives, so surely you can tolerate hearing my voice for a few songs.â€
â€œI could listen to your voice all evening, Hannah.â€ Otto patted her hand as they joined the others who were forming a circle on the floor.
They started with several popular songs, the fiddle joining in on some but not all. Of course, Barbara Allen was one of the first sung. After ballads, such as Fair and Tender Ladies, John Riley, and Two Sisters, they sang Amazing Grace and many other hymns.
Hannah watched longingly across the circle where her sister sat next to Gus.
He looked up and smiled once, but mostly he entered into the singing with enthusiasm and sang the hymns as if he meant every word.
He was hers. No matter if her sister had snagged his attention for the moment. Her premonitions always proved true.
Well â€¦ almost always.
Early the next morning, Hannah stepped out their back door into the beginning of another balmy spring day. She lifted her face toward the rising sun and closed her eyes, letting its warmth and light bathe over her. At times such as this, she felt a presence that must be God. Often when she tried to pray, she didnâ€™t know what words to use, and God seemed so distant. But here, with Godâ€™s handiwork all around, His presence seemed more real.
â€œThank You, Lord God Almighty! All my praise and honor is Thine. Bless this day with Thy will in everything we do. And please, if itâ€™s all right with You, make Gus Rohmier mine. Amen.â€ Her face warmed at that last request. Surely, Gus was already hersâ€”well, almost. Memories of the first moment sheâ€™d seen him in the Finsterâ€™s open doorway caused her heart to race.
The creak of a wagon and jingle of the harness alerted Hannah to company. She peered around the corner of the house toward the front as Otto Finster brought his wagon to a stop. He hopped down and ran beyond her sight to the front door, yet his voice drifted to her hearing. â€œGood morning, Joanna. I have some extra time and thought I might offer you a ride to school.â€
â€œWhy, thank you, Mr. Finster, but I believe Iâ€™ll walk this morning.â€ Joannaâ€™s voice floated on the air, carrying a hint of irritation in spite of her polite words. How unusual of her to turn down male attention.
Hannah stayed hidden behind the house and watched as Joanna set off down the road while Otto stood to the side staring after her. Obviously, he was smitten by her sister like most of the young men in the area seemed to be. Otto should have better sense, but he obviously didnâ€™t. She hated to see her good friendâ€™s heart broken, but thatâ€™s exactly what love for Joanna would cause.
Hannah sighed and turned away. She had work to do, and her first job was to milk the cow. Much as she hated certain chores, milking was a normally pleasant task. Much nicer than sitting in class. She had something to be thankful for. She didnâ€™t have to teach school as her sister did. If Otto wanted to chase after Joanna, let him. She didnâ€™t care. Not at all.
Her hand froze on the pasture gate as the spark of an idea took form. What a wonderful thought! If Otto captured Joannaâ€™s attention, she would leave Gus alone, and Hannah could win his heart. Ja! She laughed at the thought. Surely there was some way she could encourage Joanna to accept Ottoâ€™s advances.
Her laughter faded as she looked out on an empty field. Now where had that cow gone? â€œGuernie, where are you?â€ She cupped her hands around her mouth. â€œGuernie! Guernie!â€
Hannah swung around as the sound came from the house. There stood Guernie near the side of the house with her head lowered.
â€œWhat are you doing there?â€ Hannah backed out and hooked the gate. Hmm, had it been hooked when she went through? Sheâ€™d been so distracted by Joanna and Otto, she hadnâ€™t noticed. She headed toward Guernie with the lead-rope in hand. â€œYouâ€™re always so eager to be milked. Whatâ€™s got your attention over here? Isnâ€™t the grass good enough in the field now so you have to come andâ€”â€
Guernieâ€™s big pink tongue rubbed along the lower log of the house.
â€œYou arenâ€™t eating grass.â€ Hannah hooked the rope to the ring on the cowâ€™s halter. â€œYou silly cow. Youâ€™re licking the house. Why would you do such a thing? Look, youâ€™ve knocked the chinking loose.â€
She led the cow to the barn then set to work milking her. Geurnie had knocked pieces off leaving places large enough for a snake to crawl through. A shiver ran down Hannahâ€™s back. Better to think of something more pleasant.
Gus Rohmeier. Such a nice strong name, just like the man who carried it. Hannah leaned her head into Guernieâ€™s flank and sighed. The splat of milk hitting the wooden bucket as it filled relaxed her. Her future husband was handsome, strong but gentle. He would be a good husband, a good father. Warmth spread through her cheeks. Would Papa give his permission for her to marry before Joanna? As if ten minutes really made her the oldest! But that was Papa for you. All the more reason for her to help Otto win her sisterâ€™s heart.
When the bucket was full and she couldnâ€™t squeeze another drop from the cow, she let her out the back door of the barn then closed it. As she carried the milk to the house, she made sure the gate was latched. Guernie had done enough damage to the house for one day.
Papa was working in the far field. Sheâ€™d have to remember to tell him tonight what the cow had done. She strained the milk on the back porch. After storing the fresh milk in the cellar where it would stay cool, she took the cream sheâ€™d been saving and poured it in the butter churn. Today, she would replenish their dwindling supply.
After settling on the back steps, Hannah began the long, tedious task of churning. While the paddle stirred the cream, her thoughts turned to Gus as they had continually since the night before. She couldnâ€™t get the image of the handsome man from her mind. As if she would want to. Laughter bubbled in her heart.
Did he feel the same about her as she did him? If he was indeed the Siglerâ€™s cousin, would he stay long? She needed to find a way to see him again. But how?
Male voices grew louder, intruding on her musings. â€œSure, I donâ€™t mind at all. Wonâ€™t take but a minute to grab it. We can catch a ride with Otto out to the site.â€
â€œIâ€™m grateful for your help.â€
Hannahâ€™s breath hitched in her throat at the sound of the voice that followed her brotherâ€™s. Her head jerked up as her hands flew to her hair, smoothing her braid in place at the nape of her neck. Why were they here? Well, not to see me. Still, her hands trembled, and she made no pretense to churn as they stepped around the side of the house.
A smile touched Gusâ€™s lips as his gaze turned her way. â€œWell, hello, Miss Hannah.â€
â€œHello.â€ Why must she blush so easily? She lowered her lashes then looked at her brother. â€œWilliam, why are you here? First Otto and now you. I thought youâ€™d already gone to work.â€
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