Fiction Thursday: From Where the Sun Now Stands, Continued

Last Thursday I posted the opening of the Historical novel, set in 1880s Idaho, that I’m working on.
Here’s the next segment of From Where the Sun Now Stands:

By the time the rain let up, another day had passed. In the late morning, sun lit up the brightest blue sky I’d ever seen, above vast golden fields and shadow-cloaked mountains in the distance. The light breeze was warm but not uncomfortable. I still felt somewhat drained, but as soon as I was strong enough I’d begin work as Miss Kate’s assistant, teaching the Nez Perce women homemaking skills. They wore only blankets and short slips, hand sewn using bone needles. Yet Sue McBeth was determined to get all of them into proper Christian attire.
I’d unpacked and was busy laundering my things in the room’s basin. I wrung out a pale madder-colored bodice I’d worn on the journey. Mud stains had turned the fabric dingy. “Oh you poor thing,” I said, smoothing out the wrinkles. “I should have packed only brown dresses.”
A clatter startled me so that I dropped the wet bodice. Outside, angry voices rang out, female voices at that. I scooped up the garment and threw open the door. In the still-muddy yard, Sue and Kate McBeth stood shouting at each other, tight fists at their sides.
Sue was the taller, and seemed to take advantage of that fact as she loomed over the more diminutive Kate. “You are not qualified to teach the Gospel, Little Sister!”
Kate stood her ground, apparently not frightened. “My qualifications are every bit as good as yours, you overbearing, pompous . . .” Kate glanced my way. “And you’ve probably relegated this poor young girl to women’s work as well, haven’t you?”
I opened my mouth, then closed it.
Kate didn’t wait for her sister’s answer. “I repeat, Susannah McBeth, I refuse to spend all my days teaching women how to baste a skirt.” She crossed her arms. “I demand that we share the theological education of these people.”
From around the corner of the building, Enoch appeared, coming toward the two women. I hadn’t noticed him before. Maybe it was true that Indians could walk without making any sound.
Sue exploded like a volcano. “Silence!” Lowering her voice to a loud raspy whisper, she wagged her finger in her sister’s face. “Now see here, Kate. The presbytery has put me in charge of spiritual education. It’s the Lord’s will. Now if you are quite finished making a spectacle . . .”
Kate stepped back and made no attempt to keep her words private. “The Lord’s will, you say? Ha! What did St. Paul have to say about women teaching men? Tell me that, you dried up old hen!”
Sue McBeth gasped. She lashed out as if to slap Kate’s face, but once again Enoch the Indian intervened. He caught her arm and said, in perfect English, “Miss Sue, we have need of you in the hall.”
Kate’s chest heaved up and down and she set her hands on her hips. Her ash-blonde hair glistened with a few strands of gray, won no doubt from intense squabbles like this one. I thought I detected a gleam of mischief in her eye, as if she enjoyed a good fight.
Sue straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. “My presence is required, Little Sister.” She pointed at Kate. “But we will continue this conversation later.” Sue wheeled around and faced me, still gaping dumbly at the two. “And you, Miss Clark. Eavesdropping is unbecoming. Or did your mother not teach you any manners at all?” She gestured to Enoch, who had been staring at me for far too long. “Come along.” They walked toward the meeting hall, avoiding puddles as they went.
For a few more seconds, Kate stood, arms akimbo, shaking her head at her older sister’s back. She smoothed back a stray hair and came over to where I was. Her face was pleasant, with a wide smile that put me at ease. “Welcome to Lapwai,” she said and chuckled.
I was nervous but determined not to stutter. “I’m sure you know I’m Geraldine Clark, from Lawrence, Kansas.” I looked down at the bodice I held, my hands twisting it like a chicken’s neck.
“Goodness, you’re shaking,” she said, patting my shoulder. “Don’t worry, Sister’s bark is much worse than her bite.”
I forced myself to breathe. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. Really, I do have manners it’s just that I’ve never been away from home before and . . .” Before I could stop them, tears stung my cheeks. “I’m terribly sorry.” I held the bodice to my face.
Kate drew closer. She smelled of lavender, soothing and mild. “You poor thing,” she said gathering me in. “You must be homesick, but don’t worry—I’ve known your mother for many years. I promised I’d look after you.”
A pang of fear shot through my middle. “How do you know her?” Did she also know about Robert? About the scandal I’d caused? I gulped in ragged breaths and wiped my cheeks. The bodice would need washing again.
She held me at arm’s length. “Life here is anything but easy, Miss Clark, but God has a plan.”
I nodded. “Please call me Dinah.”
She smiled. “And you may call me Kate. Shall we go to my school room? I can’t wait to introduce you to the pupils.”
I held up my soiled bodice. “I was rinsing things in the basin, thinking I ought to have brought dirt-colored clothes.” I ventured a tight smile.
Kate picked up the folds of her own grayed cotton skirt. “Don’t worry, Dinah. Soon everything you own will be as lovely as this.” She let out a chortle and the stone weighing down my heart shifted. At least she was cheerful.
We talked and laughed all the way to the classroom. We passed Enoch, leaning against an alder tree, his black eyes shaded under his hat. I hopped over yet another muddy rut, careful not to get my heel stuck in the mire. Surely I imagined that the heathen stood there staring. My cheeks went up in flames before the rest of me understood. Enoch was staring at me.
When we were out of earshot, Kate leaned close and whispered, “That’s Enoch Pond, one of Sister’s brightest students. Says he’ll make a fine minister one day.”
I kept my gaze aimed straight ahead. “Minister?”
Kate laughed again. “Do you think we are only intent on civilizing these poor souls? They may be heathens but some are quite apt.”
“Now that you say so, what better thing to study than theology?” I was dying to turn and get a better look at Enoch’s odd, feathered hat, but I restrained myself. It is impolite to stare, even if the subject is a wild man.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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