Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Chapter Wednesday--Finding Rose


On his deathbed, Rose Sterling's father asks her to consider Miles Crandall as a suitor. Then Rose is sent to live with an uncle in Spring Creek, Montana, far from her carefree life with her family in Utah. Miles is returning to his hometown of Spring Creek to set up a medical practice, so Rose is certain her being sent there is a setup. Yet Miles doesn't seem interested in her, and after Rose falls ill in Montana, he seems content to act as her physician and friend. When Rose captures the attention of Miles's younger, flamboyant brother as well as the town sheriff, Miles retreats even further from any attempt at courtship.

Chapter One
The letter on the mantle ruined everything, and Rose couldn’t help glancing at it as she stirred the coals in the fire. It would be so easy for a draft to catch the edge of the paper and carry it into the flames. She sighed. It wouldn’t change anything, but if she kept herself busy, she could almost imagine things would always stay the same.

Turning back to her chores, Rose opened the oven door and smiled as the aroma of apple pie filled the kitchen. She put the pie on the sideboard and admired its golden, flaky crust before she began setting the table for dinner. It was her father’s birthday and she wanted the meal to be perfect, since it would probably be the last birthday in the family home. She stole one more look at the letter, then hurried back to the stove to stir the pot of stew.

All her work finally done, Rose went into the parlor and sat in her mother’s rocking chair. She gazed out the window and etched the winter scene into her mind. I should ask Carrie to draw a picture for me so I’ll never forget, she thought.

Movement down the lane caught Rose’s eye and she stopped rocking as she watched the person walking toward the house. At first she thought it was her brother, but then she decided the man was too tall. Also, Sean had a certain swagger to his walk that the stranger lacked. In fact, the man on the road almost seemed to be stumbling. Suddenly, he stopped and put down the black bag he carried, then stood with his head bowed. Rose’s curiosity grew when she realized he was studying a piece of paper. He shoved it back into his pocket and looked toward the house. After wiping his brow with the back of his arm, he reached down to pick up the bag. He tripped and almost went down in the snow.

Is he ill or drunk? Rose wondered. She had no idea what to do. Her mother and father were visiting with a new family in the ward, Carrie was out with friends, and Sean was off working for Brother Jensen. Rose didn’t expect any of them home for a while yet. She stood, went to the narrow window next to the front door, and pulled back the lace curtain a fraction of an inch to get a better view.

The man kept plodding forward, going slower with each step until he finally reached the wide porch that encircled the house. He approached the door and Rose heard his knuckles hit the solid wood. He rested his head on the doorframe and closed his eyes. If he opens his eyes now, he’ll see me, she thought. Rose stepped back from the window, letting the curtain fall from her fingers. She jumped as the man’s bag hit the porch with a thud. He straightened and knocked again, leaving the bag lying on the mat.

Rose watched for a moment. Whoever he was, she couldn’t leave him out in the bitter January cold. He didn’t know she was there, but she couldn’t live with herself if he really was ill. She took a deep breath and opened the door. The man must have heard her coming, because he had picked up the bag again and stepped away from the door.

“I’m sorry to bother you, miss,” he said.

“Can I help you?”

He switched the bag to his left hand and Rose noticed the tremor in his shoulders. “I’m looking for the Sterling farm.” With his free hand, he pulled the paper she had seen earlier from his pocket and held it out to her.

Rose took the note and opened it. Her brother’s handwriting spelled out directions to the farm from the train station in Logan. Whoever he was, Sean had sent him.

“Well, you’ve found it,” she said, still trying to decide what to do with the stranger. It certainly wasn’t proper to invite him in when there was no one else home. She wished she could get a better look at him. Her father always said you could tell a man’s character by his face, but the snowy scarf and hat hid most of the visitor’s features.

“Is Elder Sterling at home?” the man said as he leaned against the doorframe again. “If he’s not, I’ll just wait here on the porch.”

Rose shivered as the outside air worked its way around her ankles. Wondering what her mother would say if she let an ill man sit on the porch until someone else came home, Rose opened the door a little wider. “There’s no need for that. Come in and sit by the fire.”

The man nodded and stumbled through the door. Rose pointed to the kitchen and followed him as he hobbled toward the back of the house. They entered the kitchen and he stood as if unsure what to do. Rose pulled out a chair and gestured to it. “Let me take your coat.” She held out her hands and waited.

He looked like he wanted to argue, but the man finally slid his arms out of the sleeves and handed the coat to her. His woolen cap and scarf followed. As he removed the snow-encrusted outerwear, Rose realized he was much younger than she had first thought. She caught a glimpse of brown hair as she took the clothing and hung it to dry on the hook next to the stove. When she turned back to him, she caught him studying her. She felt herself blush and busied herself stirring the stew. It would be at least another half hour until her parents came home, and until then, she had to entertain her guest somehow. I wish Sean would have given us some warning. That’s just like him to think a surprise would be fun.

“May I ask your name?” she said.

“Dr. Miles Crandall.” He extended his hand and started to rise, but then he gave up the effort and sank back into the chair. “You must be Rose.”

She smoothed her apron and smiled. She’d heard of Dr. Crandall many times. Sean wrote often of the young man who was attending school in the East to train as a doctor. The family had followed his conversion and the growing friendship between the two men for more than a year. Relieved that the man wasn’t truly a stranger, Rose took a glass from the cupboard, poured some water from the ceramic pitcher her mother kept on the counter, and handed the glass to him. She could only imagine the things Sean had told his friend about her. Surely they included stories of her following him and his friends everywhere, and all the trouble she used to get into.
“You don’t look well, Dr. Crandall.”

“Just cold. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold.”

“Papa says there’s a blizzard all across the country and he’s never heard of such low temperatures.” Rose pushed a stray curl away from her forehead.

“Of course I chose to do my traveling during a severe cold snap,” Dr. Crandall said with a wry grin. “The man at the station assured me it wasn’t a long walk to your place, and I guess in regular weather it’s not.”

“It’s almost two miles!” Rose put her hands on her hips. “Of all the addle-headed . . .” She turned, shaking her head, and put another log on the fire.

Dr. Crandall put the empty glass on the table. “I’m afraid I’m not at my best, but I don’t think ‘addle-headed’ is quite fair.”

Rose put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean you. I was referring to the station master, and I probably shouldn’t even have said that.” Her cheeks burned and she sighed. Now that’s the way to make a good impression—talking ill of someone and then blushing every time Dr. Crandall looks at you.

He seemed unaware of her discomfort. “If you’ll let me sit by the fire for a few minutes until I get some feeling back in my feet, I’ll make my way back to town and find a room for the night.” He stood, swaying slightly. “Just tell your brother I’m in Logan . . .”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Rose refilled his glass. “Sit right there and I’ll make up a bed for you. The rest of the family should be home for supper soon, and you’re welcome to stay and share a meal with us.” She studied her guest. His cinnamon-colored hair curled around the collar of his shirt, and his eyes nearly matched his hair. Broad shoulders trembled as his body adjusted to the warm air in the kitchen. She realized how closely her guest was watching her in return, but she couldn’t tear her gaze away from his.

Finally, he closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair. “Thank you.” The words came as a whisper.

Rose watched him for another moment, then went to the parlor and took her mother’s knitted throw from the back of the rocking chair. It wasn’t like she’d never seen a handsome man before, but something about this man had captured her interest—probably the result of finally meeting the subject of so many of her brother’s stories. It was ridiculous to be so taken in by the good looks of a stranger, so Rose tried to change the direction of her thoughts. Returning to the kitchen, she went to the man in the rocking chair. “Brother Crandall, wrap this around you.”
He opened his eyes and reached for the blanket. She handed it to him and helped arrange it around his shoulders, being careful not to let her fingers accidentally brush against his.

“You really should take off your shoes so your feet can warm up properly.” Without waiting for a response, she knelt at his feet and began undoing the laces on one of his shoes. He jerked his foot away from her. The sudden motion caused her to lose her balance and she tumbled to the floor, surrounded by a tangle of skirts. He leaned forward, extending his hand, but then quickly withdrew it as she glared at him.

“Sorry,” he said quietly. “I can do that.” He avoided her eyes as he removed his shoes and wet socks and put them near the fire.

Rose waited for the briefest of moments, wondering if he would offer his hand to her again, but Dr. Crandall simply wrapped the blanket back around his shoulders and stared into the flickering flames. How rude! she thought. She picked herself up off the floor, stumbling when the heel of her shoe caught on the hem on her skirt. Someone ought to teach him some manners. She felt the heat rising in her cheeks again.

“I’ll go make up a room for you,” she mumbled, avoiding his eyes. Then she hurried out of the kitchen.

***

Miles listened to the tapping of Rose’s feet as she hurried up the stairs. Her steps were brisk and businesslike, and Miles knew he’d offended her. She’s just as beautiful as Sean said. Miles didn’t often have much to say to the fairer sex, and Rose was no exception. As he had watched her, all sorts of brilliant snippets of conversation had danced just out of reach of his tongue. Instead he’d only managed the briefest of comments and then proceeded to dump her on the floor. Then he couldn’t even gather enough composure to help her up. He sighed and propped up his feet by the fire, wincing at the burning sensation as they regained their feeling. At least he was out of the cold. He wrapped the blanket around his shoulders again, then slid the chair a little closer to the warmth. I hope I make a better impression on the rest of the family, he thought as he began drifting off to sleep.

“Well, hello,” a voice said.

Miles woke to see an older man tilting his head and scrutinizing him. Miles stood quickly, the blanket slipping to the floor.

Rose rushed down the stairs and into the room. “Papa, Mama, this is Sean’s friend, Doctor Miles Crandall.”

Maggie Sterling clapped her hands together. “Good heavens. What a surprise!”

Miles stepped forward, holding his hand out. “Brother and Sister Sterling. I’m so glad to finally meet you.”

Rose propelled herself to action, taking her father’s coat and hanging it on the hook by the door. She was grateful her parents had returned home and could entertain their guest. Since she had set the table earlier, there was nothing to do but wait for the others to arrive. She melted back into a corner, hoping to observe without having to be part of the conversation. It gave her the opportunity to watch the young doctor without being too obvious.

“Brother Crandall, today is my husband’s birthday. You’ve arrived just in time for a party.” Maggie went to the stove and stirred the stew, smiling at Rose as she did. “It smells delicious, dear.”

Peter Sterling pulled a chair close to the fire and motioned for Miles to sit back down. “Sean didn’t tell us you were coming.”

“He didn’t know. It was kind of a last-minute decision.” Miles sat and retrieved the blanket from the floor.

“Sean will be pleased you came.” Peter patted Miles’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here. We’ve heard so much about you.”

“Once I get back to Montana and take over Doctor McTavish’s practice, I won’t be getting back to Utah for a long time. I wanted to visit with Sean and meet the family he’s told me so much about. I also thought I would take the opportunity to go to the temple while I’m here.”

The older man nodded his head. “It’s a fine plan and we’re glad to have you.”

“Of course you will stay here.” Maggie put a crock of butter on the table and started slicing a loaf of bread.

“I hate to be an imposition. I had planned on taking a room in town.”

Peter laughed. “Good luck with that, young man. My wife would be mighty offended if you turned down her hospitality. Unless I’m mistaken, Rose has already aired out the guest room.”
Both men looked at Rose and she nodded.

“We’ll pick up your trunk tomorrow,” Rose’s father said, ending the discussion.

“Thank you.” Miles allowed the briefest of smiles to tug at his lips. “I wasn’t relishing the idea of another walk in the cold.”

The outside door swung open and Carrie blew in, with Sean right on her heels. She stopped short when she saw Miles, and a slow grin spread across her face. Sean gave her a slight push. “Keep going so I can get this door shut.”

Carrie giggled and stepped out of her brother’s way. Sean stomped his feet, sending snow flying from his boots. He twisted the scarf from his neck and finally looked up.

“Miles!” In three long strides he reached his friend and grabbed him in a bear hug.

Miles stepped back and shook Sean’s hand. “Just thought I’d pop in for a visit, Elder Sterling.”
“Enough of that. I’m just Sean now. No need for such formality.”

*****

Miles intrigued her. He had relaxed a little when Sean arrived, but he still seemed somber and reserved. Occasionally when Sean laughed, Rose caught the smallest glimpse of a grin from Miles. She found herself imagining what his face looked like with a real smile rather than the pained curve of his lips that only briefly changed his expression.

Her brother always had a ready joke on the end of his tongue and saw the world as an adventure, but Miles acted much more serious and even managed to keep a straight face as Sean told the family about ending up on the wrong side of a skittish horse earlier that day. Rose wondered how the two men had ever become such good friends. They were complete opposites.

“Well, I’m hungry and it smells wonderful,” Peter said when Sean finished his story. He took his seat at the head of the table and motioned for the rest of the family to join him.

Sean gestured for Miles to sit next to Carrie. Rose groaned inwardly. She would have to sit across from their guest for the entire meal. She tried not to remember her unceremonious dumping on the floor and was grateful he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else. When she smiled at him and took her chair, he gave her a slight nod, then bowed his head to wait for the blessing on the meal. As soon as her father finished the prayer, Miles looked up and turned his attention to Carrie and Sean. Rose rolled her eyes. She could ignore him as well as he could ignore her. For a brief moment, she almost wished she had let him sit out in the cold a while longer.

Her sixteen-year-old sister pulled out all the charm, tossing an auburn braid from her shoulder and beaming at Miles. But even though he was unfailingly polite to Carrie, Rose could see Miles wasn’t really interested. It didn’t matter. He would only stay for a few days and then return to Montana, and neither she nor Carrie would see him again. In the meantime, she had enough things to keep her busy without wasting her thoughts on her brother’s friend.

The meal passed quickly as everyone listened to Sean and Miles share stories of Boston and of their common acquaintances. When everyone’s soup bowl was empty, Rose stood to get the pie from the sideboard, but her father waved her back to her seat. Several times throughout the meal, she had noticed him put his spoon down as if he had something to say, then pick it up again and continue picking at his food without a word. It had to be about the letter. I wish he would save whatever it is he has to say until Miles is gone, she thought.

“Before we get to the pie, I have news about our plans to go to Canada,” Peter finally announced, patting Maggie’s hand. She nodded and he continued.

Rose held her breath. Maybe he would finally abandon the idea. She looked at her father and noticed how hollow his cheeks had become since Christmas. He had always been a big man, but lately he seemed to be shrinking in on himself. He tired easily and Rose noticed he hardly ate at all. When Rose had asked her mother if anything was wrong, her concerns were brushed aside with, “He just feels the weight of his calling as bishop.” Rose didn’t believe her, and even as she watched her father preside over the meal, she knew it was something more than that.

She listened closely as he continued, “Brother Hansen has agreed to buy most of the cattle, and I may have a buyer for the farm. Everything seems to be falling into place for us to leave in the spring.”

Rose blinked back the tears and looked again at the letter on the mantle. There would be no turning back once the farm sold. If we move to Canada, maybe his health will improve. The silly thought hovered in her head before being banished. No one goes north for their health. She sighed.

“Canada?”

Everyone looked at Miles. Rose waited to hear how he would react to the news. Not that it mattered; he had just met the family, and her father had his mind made up.

“That’s right.” Sean leaned back in his chair. “If you had shown up much later, we wouldn’t have been here at all.”

Peter Sterling sat a little straighter. “I received a letter from the prophet, calling our family to Canada to help build the irrigation canals. The Church has a contract to fill, and we are going to help do it.”

“But you have such a wonderful life for your family here.”

Rose could almost like Miles for that statement. At his puzzled look, she remembered he hadn’t grown up with stories of pioneers who left everything for religious freedom. But even though Rose believed President Snow was a prophet, she didn’t understand the need to leave. Granny, her father’s mother, had abandoned Nauvoo with hardly anything as her home burned behind her. But we’re safe and happy here. Isn’t that how the Lord wants us to live? She tipped her head and stared at her lap, willing the subject to change quickly.

“After we received the letter, Maggie and I spent many nights on our knees praying about it. We know it is right for our family—” he paused “—all of our family.” He looked at Rose.

She turned from her father’s silent lecture and stood to get the pie. How can he make us give up everything? she thought as she dished up the pieces. The plate she placed in front of her father landed with more force than she intended, and the fork rattled and fell to the table as she took her hand away. Her mother gave her a withering look.

“Rose doesn’t want to go.” Carrie glared at her older sister, then turned her charm on Miles. “I think it will be an adventure. We’ll have to go right through Montana, won’t we?”

“You will,” Miles said as he finished a bite of pie. He put down his fork. “Canada’s beautiful country. I’ve driven cattle up there with my pa and brothers.”

“Maybe we can stop and visit your family on our way.” Carrie lowered her eyes and blushed.
Miles raised his eyebrows and turned back to his pie. The conversation continued, though Rose didn’t hear much of it. She tried to be excited about the journey, but she didn’t want to leave Utah. Why have we fought so hard to build such a good life, only to be told we have to start over again? The letter had explained that there were few towns, only areas marked for towns. She would go from Logan with its beautiful homes and schools to a place where people were still living in tents. All her friends and dreams would remain behind. She looked around at her family. She could only think of one thing that could make it possible for her to stay, but she knew her father would never approve.

Rose’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of plates being stacked, and she looked up to find Miles watching her. “It was a fine meal.” As she had guessed, his smile transformed his face and made him breathtakingly handsome. Only now she was the one who couldn’t smile back.

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