Marriage to Nolan Houston has brought deep contentment to Jasmine, and life at their horse farm on the outskirts of Lowell, Massachusetts, is both challenging and satisfying. The harmony they love is disrupted, however, when news of tragedy forces Jasmine and Nolan to uproot their family and travel south to manage the plantation of her childhood.
The reception they receive upon their arrival is anything but welcoming. Jasmine, however, is determined to uphold her anti-slavery beliefs and free the slaves laboring at The Willows. But when an explosive act destroys their plans, the lives of those they've promised to protect hang in the balance.
A CAPTIVATING BLEND OF HISTORY, DRAMA, AND INTRIGUE BY BESTSELLING AUTHORS TRACIE PETERSON AND JUDITH MILLER.
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Baker Publishing Group
September 29, 2005
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Excerpt from The Pattern of Her Heart by Judith Miller
Jasmine heard the sounds of an approaching horse and buggy from her upstairs room and quickly walked to the window overlooking the small circular driveway that fronted their home. Jarrod Forbes stepped down from the carriage, and she watched as he slowly surveyed his surroundings. Mr. Forbes had aged since she'd last seen him and now wore spectacles and carried a silver-tipped walking cane. His hair appeared more gray than black, and there was a surprising stoop to his shoulders. The lawyer had always held his head high and his shoulders squared. At least that's what her father had said about him. Jasmine had long thought Jarrod Forbes aloof and proud, though she didn't get that impression at the current time.
She heard the front door open and then Nolan's and McKinley's voices as they greeted their guest. Mr. Forbes had sent word of his arrival at the Merrimack House yesterday and asked to meet with them this morning. She knew McKinley would prefer the early morning meeting�"he disliked being pulled away from his work at the Corporation during business hours.
Bracing herself for what she was convinced would be bad news, Jasmine took a deep breath, pursed her lips, and slowly exhaled before descending the staircase. "Mr. Forbes," she greeted as she joined the gentlemen in Nolan's library. "I trust you had a pleasant journey."
She feared the lawyer's inability to meet her eyes didn't bode well for the discussion that would later ensue.
"My voyage was uneventful, thank you."
"Has my husband offered you refreshments?" she inquired.
Nolan nodded. "Yes. Martha will bring a tray shortly."
"Then I suppose we should all be seated," she said, suddenly feeling ill at ease standing in front of Nolan's oversized mahogany desk.
Mr. Forbes tugged on the hem of his vest and sat down opposite McKinley, his focus upon the wool carpet. He cleared his throat several times and repositioned his cane in varying stances until Jasmine finally jumped to her feet and removed it from his hand.
"I'll place this in the umbrella stand so you won't have to worry with it," she said without giving him opportunity to protest. "Now, why don't you tell us what brings you to Massachusetts."
Apparently her tone bore enough impatience to prod the man into action, since he immediately reached into his small leather case and withdrew a sheaf of papers.
"Perhaps I should sit near the desk so that I may arrange these documents," he said, finally looking at Jasmine.
"Of course. Let me assist you," she offered graciously.
Once the official-looking paper work was spread out on Nolan's desk, Forbes pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his perspiring forehead. "Your father entrusted me with the task of personally coming to meet with you. Unfortunately, I must begin by advising you that your father and my beloved friend went to be with the Lord on the sixteenth of June."
A loud roar filled Jasmine's ears, and she heard a scream. Was it her voice or had someone else shrieked? The room swirled. Nolan's face was above her, fading in and out, his voice calling her name. She willed her lips to move, yet they failed her.
Her eyelids fluttered open, and she could feel the dampness of a cool compress upon her forehead. She forced herself to focus upon Nolan's face.
"My dear! You gave me a fright," Nolan said as he continued to dab her forehead with the moist cloth.
"I do apologize, Mrs. Houston," Mr. Forbes said. "Forgive me for my lack of sensitivity. I should have better prepared you for the news."
The lawyer's words brought his earlier announcement rushing back to mind. Her father, dead for more than two months�"and she hadn't even known. All that time she had overlooked his lack of communication by thinking him busy with the plantation.
Nolan assisted her as she struggled to sit up on the floor and then move slowly to a chair.
"What happened to my father?" she asked.
The lawyer looked at Nolan, obviously seeking affirmation that he should speak. "You must tell her," Nolan said.
Jasmine gripped the chair arm. "Did he suffer terribly?"
"No more than the others," Forbes hedged.
"Others? Then there's been an epidemic?"
Nolan furrowed his brow and took her hand in his own. "There's no need to hear all the details at once, my dear. You're already in a weakened state of mind."
"I'm not in a weakened state of mind, Nolan. I'm sad and frightened, and I need to know what has happened at The Willows."
"My wife has returned to her full capacity, Mr. Forbes. You may speak freely."
"Are you certain?" he inquired in a quivering voice.
"Yes!" Jasmine sat up straight to emphasize her forceful reply.
"The illness struck with a vengeance. It wasn't widespread, but where it did hit, the misery was tragic. Unfortunately, the area around your home was struck particularly hard."
Jasmine's eyes widened with sudden realization. "Our brother David and his wife?"
The old lawyer slowly moved his head back and forth. "Gone. Your brother Samuel as well."
"No!" she screamed. "Not our entire family."
Distress lined Mr. Forbes's face as he retrieved his handkerchief from his jacket pocket and began to once again daub his forehead. "I fear the news only gets more dreadful."
"I shall do my utmost to remain calm," Jasmine said.
"Your uncles and cousins ... there are few remaining and�""
She motioned for him to halt while she grappled for the fan she'd placed on a nearby table. Snapping open the hand-painted object, she began to wave it back and forth with a fervor that stirred the air for all of them. "Continue," she said, as though her behavior were quite normal.
"None of them survived, except for your distant cousin Levi Wainwright," he said in a nearly inaudible voice. "Oh yes, and Lydia, Franklin's daughter."
"That few? How could that be?" This time it was McKinley who interrupted.
"The plague hit hard in the area. How a small number can endure while others perish is a mystery to all of us�"~always is. I believe a few others survived�"relatives by marriage. Lydia's husband, Rupert, and one or two others. Rupert advised me Lydia is traveling abroad and not yet expected home. Of course, your distant cousin Levi always was a strange individual�"never did live on the plantation with his family. Had aspirations of becoming an artist and still travels a great deal�"usually only comes back south during the winter months. As I said, the area was hit particularly hard, and with most of the family congregated on adjoining plantations ..." His voice trailed off as though he'd lost the energy to continue.
Jasmine laid the fan on a marble-topped table and turned her full attention upon the lawyer. "I don't mean to appear unappreciative, especially since you've traveled all this distance, but why didn't you immediately send word back when we could have been of assistance to our father?"
"I was following his direction, Mrs. Houston. He forbade me from notifying either you or your brother. He feared you would contract the fever if you came to The Willows. He watched both Samuel and David die and said he wouldn't lose another child.
"He required me to give my word that I would not notify you until the outbreak had ended. In any event, you could not have come, for the entire area was under quarantine. I set sail as soon as I was notified that the quarantine would be lifted. Your father wanted me to personally deliver these papers and go over the details with you and McKinley."
McKinley pulled his chair closer to the desk. He seemed unnaturally calm. "What are these papers?"
"Your father's last will and testament and handwritten letters to each of you. Obviously, you must make decisions regarding the plantation and your slaves."
"Our slaves? Neither of us believes in slavery, Mr. Forbes. You may turn the survivors free as far as I'm concerned," Jasmine said.
"Don't speak so hastily, Mrs. Houston. There are many considerations that must be addressed before you determine exactly what is to be done with them."
"Go on, Mr. Forbes," McKinley said. "We're listening."
"There's a cotton crop that must be harvested. Someone needs to go to The Willows and take charge�"get the crop in first and then decide if you'll move back and take over the plantation." His final words were a near whisper.
McKinley appeared more stunned by Mr. Forbes's announcement about the crops than the death of their family members. "You want one of us to return and oversee the harvest? Why, that's preposterous! I can't leave Lowell or my position with the Corporation. My wife is due to have a child in a few months, and we're in the process of building a new home. Besides, I know nothing of harvesting a crop. Can't the overseer tend to the cotton?"
Mr. Forbes leaned back in his chair, the import of his task obviously weighing heavily upon him. He rubbed his temples and gazed at McKinley as though he were a child with an inadequate ability to understand the profundity of their circumstance.
"The overseer?" Jasmine inquired. But Mr. Forbes didn't need to answer. His expression revealed the answer.
"The overseer and two-thirds of the slaves are dead. I hired a man to act as overseer, but he can't possibly handle this situation. The plantation requires immediate attention by someone with more authority than a newly hired overseer. Under normal circumstances, that would be you, McKinley. However, your father drew his will giving his property to you and Jasmine in equal shares. He states in article three of his will that the two of you must come to an agreement as to how the plantation will be managed."
McKinley reached for the document. "Does he prohibit the sale?"
"No, there's no such prohibition. Upon the deaths of David and Samuel, your father rewrote his will. He knew neither of you would have any desire to operate the plantation, nor did he wish to force you into such a situation. However, in his letter he does ask that the crop be harvested if at all possible. Surely you must admit that permitting the crop to sit in the fields and rot would be improvident. Your father would abhor such inaction. On his behalf, I would plead for one of you to come back to The Willows and attend to matters immediately. The cotton will not wait indefinitely."
Nolan brushed a lock of hair off his forehead and shook his head. "There is no easy answer to this dilemma. Even if Jasmine or McKinley agreed to go and oversee the harvest, how could it be accomplished with so few workers?"
Jasmine gave him a tender smile. Workers. He couldn't even bring himself to say they'd be using slaves if they brought in the crop.
"Unaffected plantations in Louisiana are willing to hire out some of their slaves, and several plantations are planning to take advantage of the offer. The plantations nearby that suffered a large number of deaths have discussed the possibility of sharing their slaves. They would work one week at one plantation and the next week at another. Of course, you have to hope you don't get the week when it rains," he said with a halfhearted smile.
Jasmine fidgeted with her hands, overwhelmed by all she'd been told. It was impossible to imagine that most of her family had perished. But it was equally hard to make a choice about what should be done. "It's obvious we can't come to an immediate decision, Mr. Forbes. We need time to discuss the matter more fully before coming to a conclusion."
"Of course, of course. I didn't expect you to give me your answer today. I know there is much to digest, but you must remember the crop will be ready for harvest by the time you make the journey. You dare not tarry for too long."
"I presume arrangements were made ... properly made ... for my family," Jasmine said, suddenly changing the subject.
"Of course. Your father saw to those who went before him and left instructions with me for the remaining deaths, including his."
"That sounds very much like Father." Jasmine knew her father would have thought of everyone else, even if it took his last ounce of strength.
I'll leave these papers with you to peruse, and if you have questions, you know where to reach me. Otherwise, I'll await your decision." Mr. Forbes used the arms of the chair to steady himself as he began to stand.
"A moment, Mr. Forbes," McKinley said, waving for the man to remain seated. "Has any of this information been reported to the Boston Associates? Undoubtedly they need to know the state of affairs among those men with whom they have contracts. The mills are dependent upon receiving the anticipated cotton shipments."
Forbes nodded in agreement. "I understand. I talked with no one prior to coming here. My first obligation was to your father and the promise I made him. However, I am prepared to speak with the Associates prior to my departure, or you may report on my behalf if you desire."
"I believe they would appreciate hearing from you directly," McKinley replied. "I'll talk with Matthew Cheever, and we'll arrange a meeting as quickly as possible."
"Since I plan to depart for Boston once you've made a decision regarding The Willows, could we possibly meet in Boston? My ship sails for Mississippi in ten days and I had planned to spend the remainder of my time in the city. I promised to bring my wife some finery, and it may take me a few days to complete my shopping," he added with an exhausted smile.
"I'm confident we can accommodate you. We can send a telegraph, and once we receive word regarding the time and date, I'll notify you."
"Good enough," Mr. Forbes said, once again struggling to stand.
"Let me retrieve your cane, Mr. Forbes, and I'll see you to the door," Jasmine offered.
"No. You remain seated, Mrs. Houston. You've had more to contend with this day than I."
"Indeed, my dear. You remain seated," Nolan said as he took the older man by one arm. "I'll accompany Mr. Forbes."
Mr. Forbes leaned heavily upon his cane as Nolan escorted him across the thick wool carpet. Jasmine waited until she heard the tapping of his cane upon the wooden floor in the hallway before turning her attention to McKinley.
"Do you want to return home and discuss this matter with Violet�"or perhaps fetch her and we can all take our noonday meal together?" Jasmine asked.
He shook his head. "No. I can tell you, sister, that I'll not even entertain the notion of returning to The Willows and bringing in a cotton crop. If you want to do so, then that is all well and good, but I say we should immediately sell the place."
"That may prove more difficult than you think," Nolan said as he strode back into the room.
"How so? The Willows turns a handsome profit. There ought to be any number of investors willing to purchase such a plantation."
"That's not what Forbes tells me. He just said there are two plantations that have been on the market for over a year now and still have no buyers. Additionally, he tells me that because the fever devastated the area around Lorman, it will prove more difficult to find a purchaser until the fear of a repeat epidemic dies down."
McKinley stood up and began pacing back and forth between the settee and Nolan's oversized desk, his shuffling feet brushing the carpet nap first in one direction and then the other. "This is indeed a fine predicament," he said while raking his fingers through his thick hair. "We can't even properly mourn the loss of our family because of a cotton crop. I say we let it rot in the fields. What difference does harvesting the cotton make if we're going to sell the plantation anyway?"
"Not a very fitting tribute to our father or our brothers, do you think? We should at least honor Father's final request, McKinley."
"Surely he realized what he was asking would be impossible for either of us to accomplish," her brother argued.
Leaning slightly forward, Jasmine watched as her brother paced in front of her. McKinley had always been the sensitive male member in their family, yet suddenly he appeared cold and indifferent. She'd never seen him so detached and aloof. His behavior was as disturbing as the decision they must make. Surely he didn't truly believe they should sit back and permit the crop to lay waste.
"Nothing is impossible if we trust in the Lord and maintain a proper perspective. Perhaps Violet would be willing to remain in Lowell with her parents while you traveled with Nolan and me to The Willows. With three of us, we could conduct the necessary business more rapidly. You or Nolan could oversee the crop, and I could attend to putting the house in order to place it for sale and help with the bookwork," she suggested hopefully.
"Did you not hear me? There is no way I can travel to Mississippi. I'll not leave Violet with her parents when our child is due to be born in December. You know she's frightened something will go wrong again."
Jasmine nodded. Violet had suffered the loss of a stillborn child early in her marriage, and it had nearly incapacitated her throughout this pregnancy. Even though she'd subsequently given birth to one healthy child, the thought of another stillborn baby loomed in her mind, and she was convinced she would have difficulty once again.
"I thought Violet appeared happy and relaxed at Alice Ann's party. Only two months ago, she wouldn't have considered such an outing. You could at least ask her, McKinley. She likely relies upon her mother more than you for consolation at this juncture, don't you think?"
"How would you feel if Nolan left you in such a circumstance, Jasmine? Would you think it his duty to hurry off to harvest a cotton crop, or would you believe he should remain at home with you? I'd venture to say you would not bid him farewell without an argument. Violet's condition aside, I must see to my position with the Corporation. I cannot merely walk in and say I'll be back once I've harvested the cotton and sold my father's plantation. No, Jasmine. If one of us is to go to the South, it will be you, for I'll not be bullied or shamed into going."
"Is that what you think? That I'm trying to bully or shame you? Go home to your wife and your position at the Corporation, McKinley. Your primary concern appears to rest with the Corporation rather than the plantation," she said in a soft yet resigned voice. "I'll manage things in Mississippi without your assistance. However, I'll not seek your permission for the decisions I make. If you plan to wash your hands of this matter, then I expect you to sign over your right of authority so I may transact business without your signature. Otherwise, I'll be hampered at every turn as I wait upon the paper work being shuffled back and forth between Mississippi and Massachusetts."
McKinley leaned against Nolan's desk in a half sitting, half standing position. "You want me to sign over my portion of the inheritance? Is that what you're asking? Because I won't do that�"I won't."
Her eyes filled with sadness as she met his piercing eyes. "I don't want your inheritance, McKinley�"I want your help. But please understand that although you've refused your assistance, I would never consider taking your inheritance. Father intended it for you, and you shall have half of whatever remains when all is said and done. All I've asked is that you sign over your authority so that I can conduct business without the necessity of your signature."
"I'll ask Mr. Forbes to draw up a paper in the morning." His voice was cold.
"Until today, I hadn't realized how much you've changed, McKinley. I fear your position with the Corporation has begun to harden you. Please don't lose your kind heart and generous spirit. We've lost the rest of our family�"we mustn't lose each other."
"You're right, of course." His voice cracked with emotion as she embraced him. "I'm sorry, but I just cannot accompany you. Please forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive," she whispered.
* * *
Later that night Jasmine sat alone brushing out her long brown hair. She looked at herself in the mirror with each stroke. She couldn't comprehend that her father had died. She couldn't make it real in her mind.
"I suppose I won't fully believe it until I see The Willows and his grave," she murmured.
"Did you say something?" Nolan asked as he came into the room.
She sighed and put down the brush. "I can't believe they are gone."
He came to her and put his hands upon her shoulders. Bending low, he kissed her cheek. "I cannot imagine a more difficult day for you, and yet you bore it with such grace. It is hard to even imagine one's entire family wiped out in a matter of weeks."
"I've seen epidemics like that before. There was one when I was a little girl," Jasmine remembered. "I think I was nearly six. I remember many of the older people dying, yet no one on our plantation seemed to get sick. At least I don't remember there being sickness." She turned and stood. "There is always something to worry about. I think of how close we came to losing Alice Ann. I worry every time one of the children starts sniffling."
"But you cannot live in fear."
Tears welled in her eyes. "No. I know the truth of that. Still ... I'm afraid."
He pulled her into his arms. "Cast your cares upon the Lord."
"I'm trying to," she whispered, allowing his embrace to reassure and comfort her. "I'm trying."
* * *
Reverend Chamberlain snapped open his pocket watch and glanced down at the time. The Ladies' Aid Society would be in the midst of their meeting, but if he entered the church quietly, he could be in and out without being observed. At least that was his plan. He silently chastised himself for leaving his sermon notes at the church when he'd attended last night's meeting. If he hadn't had to go searching for Reggie at the last minute, he wouldn't have laid them down.
No sense blaming the child for her inquisitive nature, he decided. At her age, he, too, would have been off exploring the nooks and crannies of the church. However, he had become concerned when, after a good ten minutes of searching, he'd not located his daughter and been required to enlist the aid of several church members. After another period of searching, Mr. Emory had located Reggie in a narrow crawl space off one end of the sanctuary. Of course, Reggie hadn't understood all the excitement. After all, she had followed her father's instructions and had remained inside the church. On their way home, Justin attempted to explain his concerns but had finally given up.
Reggie was correct; she hadn't disobeyed. Next time he would have to issue more explicit instructions, he decided as he carefully opened the church door and tiptoed across the wooden floor of the vestibule.
He could hear the muffled voices of the women drifting from inside the sanctuary. From the sound of the animated voices, he doubted their meeting would soon be over, and he exhaled a sigh of relief. He took another step toward his small office but stopped short. Had he heard someone utter his daughter's name?
As surreptitiously as a cat stalking its prey, Justin padded back to the sanctuary doors and placed one ear against the cool, hard wood.
"Well, I can't tell you the depth of my irritation when Rachel came home from town and told me she'd seen the preacher's daughter going door to door selling cakes and pies," Nancy Sanders proclaimed.
"Our cakes and pies?" another woman asked in a sharp voice.
"Well, of course, our cakes and pies. Do you think the preacher or that wretched child can bake?"
"She's not wretched, Nancy. Unkempt, perhaps, but I believe she's surely a sweet little girl underneath it all. You need to remember that she hasn't had the advantages of your Rachel. Growing up without a mother's influence and training has surely been difficult for the girl�"and her father."
Justin couldn't determine who made the comment, but his lips curved slightly upward. At least not all of them considered Reggie to be wretched.
"Well, he certainly doesn't appear interested in doing anything to help the girl. He brushes off every attempt that Rachel and I, as well as these other ladies, have made to assist him," Mrs. Sanders responded. "And now he's permitting the child to venture about town selling the pastries we baked for them."
"She even attempted to sell some of them to Mrs. Whidden at the mercantile. When Mrs. Whidden questioned her, the child stated Elinor Brighton had made the suggestion."
"Do you suppose she's set her cap for the preacher and fears that her baked goods can't compare to ours?" Nancy Sanders inquired.
"Elinor? She's no more interested in finding a husband than I am," another woman replied.
"You're already married, Nettie," someone said.
"Exactly my point. I'm not looking for a husband, and neither is Elinor Brighton. She's been twice widowed and has hardened her heart against such matters."
"I say the entire situation is pitiable and a poor reflection upon the church," one of the women commented.
"Indeed! My husband tells me they had to drag the girl out of a crawl space she was hiding in last night during the deacons' meeting."
Was that Martha Emory speaking? It sounded like her shrill voice, and Harry Emory had been the one to locate Reggie the preceding night.
"There's little doubt the child needs a woman's hand. She has come to a point in her life when she needs to be turned down the proper path. I'm sure she has no idea how to properly fashion her hair or put needle to cloth. What's to become of her when the time comes for her to find a suitable spouse? There isn't a man alive who desires a wife who can't keep a proper house."
"Absolutely! Can you imagine a girl such as Reggie attempting to act as hostess for her father a few years from now? Why, the girl will have absolutely no idea how to handle herself in proper society. Watching her these past few weeks has been a painful experience," another woman commented.
Justin's jaw tightened as he listened to the women discussing his only child�"the daughter he dearly loved and cherished beyond his wildest expectations. Their words cut like a knife, and a part of him longed to rush through the doors and tell them all that he cared little what they thought�"that their scathing words were of no consequence to him or his daughter. Perhaps a good sermon on gossip and maligning others would be in order.
Yet, as Justin crept back to his office, he knew at least a portion of what he'd heard was correct. Reggie did need a woman's guidance in her life. He should have realized his failure to provide someone to teach Reggie social graces would lead to disastrous results. Without a sound, he closed the door behind him and settled into the oak spindle-backed chair.
"What do I do, Lord? I don't want a wife, but the child needs a woman's hand in her life. Who among these women could help my Reggie?" he whispered into the silent room.
He stared out the office window at the grassy side yard, where the parishioners occasionally gathered for summertime picnics and festivities, and hoped he'd be given a divine answer to his query. This was one problem Justin didn't want to solve on his own, for if he knew nothing else, he knew his daughter. She would resist.
The sound of clattering footsteps and Reggie's voice startled Justin from his silent reverie.
"Guess what happened!" she shouted, her arms flapping up and down like an agitated chicken as she skidded to a halt in front of his desk.
Justin surveyed his young daughter. Her hair was unkempt, her clothing was soiled, and dirt smudged her forehead and both cheeks. He assessed the child as though she were a stranger and knew he needed an answer to his prayer�"immediately.
"Did you hear me, Father? Guess what happened?"
"What?" he asked, forcing himself back to the present.
Reggie plopped down in the one remaining chair and folded her arms across her chest. "Spencer is leaving. His grandpa and uncles died, and now his family has to go somewhere down south to pick and hoe cotton. Isn't that terrible? I wouldn't want to hoe cotton. Do you think Spencer could come and live with us? I don't want him to leave. He and Moses are the only friends I have in Lowell." She sat up straighter. "I told him we'd come and talk to his mother and see if she'd let him stay with us. What do you think? He wouldn't eat too much, and he doesn't get into trouble very often. Do you think we could?" she asked, her questions tumbling out in rapid succession.
"No, Reggie, we couldn't do such a thing. First of all, Spencer's parents are not going to leave him in Lowell if they're moving down south; second, I don't think Spencer or any other member of their family will be hoeing cotton; and third, we aren't going to go and talk to Mr. and Mrs. Houston. I am truly sorry your friend must leave, but this is none of our business."
"But, Father, I promised."
"You should have come and talked to me prior to making such promises," he admonished quietly.
She tucked one leg beneath her and wrinkled her nose. "Won't you at least talk to his mother?"
"Put your leg down, Reggie. That's a very unladylike position," he instructed. "If Mrs. Houston wishes to discuss Spencer's future with me, I'm quite sure she'll stop by the house."
"Why does it matter if I sit like a lady? You never cared before."
"Well, I should have. I've gone far too long without correcting your behavior."
She frowned and jumped up from the chair. "I'm going home," she announced, darting from the room and headlong into Mrs. Sanders, who was standing directly outside Justin's office with the other members of the Ladies' Aid Society.
"Why, Regina, how pleasant to see you. Have you been enjoying the cake Rachel baked for you and your father?"
Reggie hesitated for only a moment. "We didn't eat it. I sold it instead."
Mrs. Sanders gasped, obviously taken aback by the girl's forthright reply.
"I got twenty-five cents," she proudly announced. "Mr. Parker was going to give me only ten cents until I told him it was for the church benevolence fund, so he decided to give me an extra fifteen cents."
"You lied to him?" Mrs. Sanders directed a condemnatory glare into the preacher's office.
"No, Mrs. Sanders, she did not lie. She has donated all of the money toward the benevolence fund. Quite frankly, I thought it a better idea than letting the desserts go uneaten," Justin said. "After all, we are only two people and you all had been so very generous with your gifts."
With a downward glance, Mrs. Sanders sputtered an apology to the preacher and then busied herself searching her reticule for some unknown object.
"I thank you for your words of regret, Mrs. Sanders, but I believe it's Regina, not I, that you've affronted," Justin said as he took hold of his daughter and gently moved her until she was standing directly in front of him. With his hands resting upon Reggie's shoulders, Justin met Mrs. Sanders's embarrassed gaze. "I'm certain you'd like to offer Reggie your apology."