Authors: Janette Oke
Books by Janette Oke
Return to Harmony
The Centurion’s Wife • The Hidden Flame
When Calls the Heart
When Comes the Spring
When Breaks the Dawn
When Hope Springs New
Beyond the Gathering Storm
When Tomorrow Comes
Love Comes Softly • Love’s Enduring Promise
Love’s Long Journey • Love’s Abiding Joy
Love’s Unending Legacy • Love’s Unfolding Dream
Love Takes Wing • Love Finds a Home
The Tender Years • A Searching Heart
A Quiet Strength • Like Gold Refined
EASONS OF THE
Once Upon a Summer • The Winds of Autumn
Winter Is Not Forever • Spring’s Gentle Promise
The Meeting Place • The Sacred Shore • The Birthright
The Distant Beacon • The Beloved Land
OMEN OF THE
The Calling of Emily Evans • Julia’s Last Hope
Roses for Mama • A Woman Named Damaris
They Called Her Mrs. Doc • The Measure of a Heart
A Bride for Donnigan • Heart of the Wilderness
Too Long a Stranger • The Bluebird and the Sparrow
A Gown of Spanish Lace • Drums of Change
with Davis Bunn
A Quiet Strength
Copyright © 1999
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
Cover Photograph by Mike Habermann
Unless otherwise identified, Scripture quotations are from the King James
Version of the Bible.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Printed in the United States of America
The Library of Congress has cataloged the original edition as follows:
Oke, Janette, 1935—
A quiet strength / Janette Oke.
p. cm. — (A prairie legacy ; 3)
ISBN 0–7642–2156–6 (pbk.)
I. Title. II. Series: Oke, Janette, 1935— Prairie legacy ; 3. PR9199.3.O38 Q54 1999
JANETTE OKE was born in Champion, Alberta, to a Canadian prairie farmer and his wife, and she grew up in a large family full of laughter and love. She is a graduate of Mountain View Bible College in Alberta, where she met her husband, Edward, and they were married in May of 1957. After pastoring churches in Indiana and Canada, the Okes spent some years in Calgary, where Edward served in several positions on college faculties while Janette continued her writing. She has written over four dozen novels for adults and children, and her book sales total nearly thirty million copies.
The Okes have three sons and one daughter, all married, and are enjoying their dozen grandchildren. Edward and Janette are active in their local church and make their home near Didsbury, Alberta.
to the memory
Jean Catherine Budd,
who completed her earthly journey on June 7, 1998.
We will not forget her
devotion, encouragement, and love of life.
Table of Contents
ather than bouncing from her bed the moment her eyes opened, Virginia took time for a long, leisurely stretch. It felt good to know that her day was not as full of responsibilities as many had been lately. It was her day off from her job at the post office.
Last night her mother had assured her that this Saturday held no special tasks that would need immediate attention. There were indeed the daily chores, but today, unlike so many other Saturdays, there would be more than ample time to do them.
Perhaps, she thought with a smile, she might even be able to talk her mother into a nice little visit to the farm to have tea with Grandma Marty. It had been some weeks since they had treated themselves to an afternoon of warm laughter and quiet chatting.
Virginia stirred. If such pleasures were included in the day’s plans, she needed to get going.
She rolled over onto her side and was about to step onto the braided rug when she heard quick footsteps down the hall. A tap at her door, and it was opened enough for her mother to poke her head around and announce, “Virginia, you have a caller.”
“Jonathan!” Virginia sprang from the bed, her face flushing with anticipation. She had been waiting impatiently for what seemed forever for Jonathan to return from his trip west.
But her mother was shaking her head, her expression serious. “No. Not Jonathan. It’s Jenny.”
Virginia stood absolutely still in the center of the room. She could not believe it. She hadn’t heard from her friend for months. Even Jenny’s own father did not receive much news from his daughter. “Jenny? Here?”
Belinda nodded. Virginia wondered why her mother looked so sad. During all those growing-up years, she had always been happy to see Jenny at their door.
“What is it?” Virginia asked, her voice faltering. “What’s wrong?”
Virginia saw the tears her mother tried to deny with a shake of her head. Belinda did not answer the question, just rummaged in her pocket for something with which to wipe her eyes.
“What is it, Mama?” Virginia persisted, crossing the room to confront her mother. “What’s wrong?”
Her mother fought to control her emotions. “I … I’m sorry. It’s just … just … she doesn’t look much like our Jenny anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s awfully thin and … so haggard looking. Like she’s already lived a lifetime. And she looks so bewildered and … and lost.”
Virginia was already hurrying to her closet to grab a skirt and blouse, then to the dresser for clean undergarments. She whirled about, ready to shoo her mother from the room with instructions for Jenny that she would be out just as soon as she dressed. But she stopped in midmotion to push thick brown hair from her face and look searchingly at her mother. Belinda obviously was deeply troubled. She had not seen Jenny for some time. Had not realized what Jenny’s choices and style of living were doing to her health. Her well-being. Certainly this was a shock.
Virginia crossed to her mother and placed hands on her shoulders. “It’s going to be all right, Mama,” she said, trying to bring confidence to her voice. “She’s here now. Don’t you see what that means? She hasn’t forgotten us after all. She has come home, Mama. We can help her now.”
Belinda blew her nose and managed a nod.
“We’ll put some meat on her bones.
“Did her father tell you she was coming?” Belinda interrupted.
Virginia shook her head. “I don’t think he knew, either. He was in the post office yesterday and never said a word.”
“Maybe she hasn’t been home.”
“You mean, maybe she came straight here?”
“I don’t know.”
Virginia glanced at the clock. There was no incoming train until later in the morning. How had Jenny arrived at their doorstep so early? Had she driven herself in a motorcar?
“How did she get here?” Virginia asked.
Belinda suddenly looked confused. “Why, I don’t know. She was just there on the back porch when I went to put crumbs out for the birds.”
“On the porch? You don’t think she was there all night, do you?” Virginia’s question ended in a gasp.
Belinda shook her head sorrowfully. “I certainly hope not. It was chilly last night. Oh my. I’d best get back and put some warm coffee into her.”
Belinda turned to leave and Virginia reached for her clothes.
“Tell her I’ll be right out.”
Belinda paused and faced her daughter once again. “She’s not alone, Virginia.” Her voice was nearly a whisper.
“No. She has a small child with her. I think the little one is ill. She looks peaked and thin.”
“Her baby?” Virginia whispered back. She had almost forgotten that Jenny had a child.
“Well, she’s not a baby anymore, but she is dreadfully tiny and pale … and awfully woebegone looking. Her little eyes are … are haunting.” Belinda looked like she would weep again.
“Tell her I’ll be right out,” Virginia repeated as she closed her door, then hastened to slip out of her nightie and into her clothing.
Virginia had quickly tried to prepare herself for the meeting with Jenny in the family kitchen. But even with her mother’s warning, she found it very difficult to hide her shock and concern. The pale, wasted figure sat half-propped on one of the straight-backed kitchen chairs, wordlessly and aimlessly toying with the handle on her cup.
Jenny did manage a wan smile. Virginia forced one in return. The kitchen clock sounded very loud in the otherwise silent kitchen as she fought for control of her voice. At last she managed to choke out, “Hello, Jenny.”
Jenny did not even answer, just nodded her head slightly. Virginia noted that the life seemed to have gone from Jenny’s green eyes, just as the vivid red had been lost from her hair.
“I haven’t seen you for a long time,” Virginia began, crossing to the table as she spoke. She frantically searched her mind for something to say that might bridge the huge gap looming between them. “How are you keeping? Have you …?”
But she stopped short. Anything she could think of sounded so inadequate.
Jenny slowly lifted the cup to her lips and took a long sip, as though sending a silent message: She would talk when—and if—she felt like talking. Virginia’s heart sank, but she nod? ded silently to herself and moved to the cupboard. Without further comment she opened the small door and drew a cup from a hook. Still not speaking she went to the stove and the coffeepot. Her hand felt shaky as she poured herself a cup and watched the fragrant steam waft upward. She was beginning to regain some kind of composure.
“Your mother was called outside,” the voice said in a gruff tone. “Woman next door wanted to show her roses or pansies or something. Said she’d be right back.”
Virginia nodded at Jenny’s first words. It was a start.
“Would you like a slice of raisin bread?” Virginia asked, feeling thankful that her voice sounded much more natural.
“Do you have oatmeal loaf?”
The request caught Virginia by surprise. “Never under? stood your fondness for the oatmeal loaf,” she said with a little smile, shaking her head. “It’s mealy and solid and without much taste.”
“That’s exactly why I like it. It’s mealy and solid. And it does too have taste,” Jenny shot back with a bit of the old fire in her voice.
Without knowing exactly why, Virginia found herself chuckling softly as she crossed to the pantry and the bread bin. Perhaps Jenny—the real Jenny—was somewhere inside there after all.
“Do you want jam?” she called from the confines of the small side room.
“The blackberry,” Jenny answered.
“I might have to go down to the cellar. I don’t think we have any up here.”
Jenny did not offer to change her mind. Virginia was not really surprised. Once Jenny had it in her head what she wanted, there was little one could do to alter it.
“Do you want the bread toasted?” Virginia asked, putting the oatmeal loaf on the table.
“Yes. Toasted,” Jenny answered as Virginia turned toward the cellar door.
“Why don’t you cut the slices while—”
“I’ll wait,” Jenny said abruptly, and she took another long drink from the coffee cup.
It did not take Virginia long to collect the blackberry jam. Soon her light step was again echoing on the wooden boards of the cellar stairs.
What is happening here?
she asked herself as she climbed.
Jenny is here. But why And why is she so sickly looking? So frail? Like she has suffered a long illness or been through some terrible ordeal. What is going on in Jenny’s life? How can I best help her?
But now was not the time for questions. Jenny was waiting for toasted oatmeal bread and blackberry jam. Perhaps after she had been fortified with some nourishment, she would feel more like talking. Virginia certainly hoped so. It was going to be very difficult to be patient as she waited for her old friend to be ready to talk.
“How’s your father?” Virginia tentatively asked as she sliced the oatmeal bread. Certainly that was an easy topic that wouldn’t offend Jenny.
“I dunno,” responded Jenny. “You’re more up on that than I am.”
Virginia stared in surprise. “You haven’t seen him yet? When did you get in?”
“Last night’s train.”
“Last night? Where did you …?” Virginia bit back the rest of the question. “How many slices of toast do you want?” she asked instead, putting two into the toaster.
Jenny did not hesitate. “Make quite a few. We’re hungry.”
At the word “we,” Virginia’s head swiveled and her eyes scanned the kitchen. Her mother had spoken of Jenny’s child, but she had totally forgotten. The only chair occupied was the one Jenny was in. Virginia noted that it was the same chair Jenny had always selected in her visits to the Simpson house? hold. Virginia let her eyes travel farther around the room and there, tucked off in a corner, looking even more frail and pitiful than her mother, sat a tiny child with one thumb secured in her mouth. As Virginia’s eyes met the uncertain eyes of the little one, the youngster seemed to shrink into a tighter unit, her eyelids quickly coming down. Virginia felt her heart stir in quiet response as she watched the little girl obviously attempting to block herself away from the view of this stranger.
Virginia turned back to Jenny. Had both of them been ill? As her mother had said, the child certainly did not look healthy.
Virginia’s fingers fumbled as she lifted out the first slices of toast and added two more to the toaster. “I’ll … I’ll scramble up some eggs,” she heard herself saying.
“She doesn’t like eggs,” Jenny answered in a halfhearted way.
“No. No porridge.”
“What can I …?”
“The toast. She’s used to toast.”
“The oatmeal bread?”
“She’s never had oatmeal bread, but if I tell her to eat it, she’ll eat it.”
The words sounded harsh. Hard. They added more questions with no answers to Virginia’s troubled thoughts.
There was silence in the kitchen as Virginia moved about setting the table and preparing the simple repast. Occasionally she heard soft sucking as the small thumb in the corner was more vigorously attacked. Jenny did not stir in her chair or speak. Virginia, thankful the toast was ready, placed it on the table along with the butter and jam and a glass of milk for the little one. She refilled Jenny’s coffee cup and poured another for herself.
Jenny turned to the chair in the corner. “Come” was all she said.
The child slid from the seat and obediently moved forward, but the uncertainty did not leave her pale eyes. Virginia felt sure that she would have closed them tightly to hide from the world had she been able to find her way without them.
As the girl climbed into the chair indicated by her mother, Virginia bowed her head and began her table blessing. “Dear Lord …” But she stumbled over the next words. How should she pray? Other than being thankful for the food set before them, she did not know how to express her thoughts and feelings, even to her Lord. It was a rather scrambled prayer, she felt, as she said, “Amen.”
I wish Mother would get back
, she found herself thinking as she passed the toast to Jenny and moved the jam closer. Their neighbor Mrs. Withers often had something new in her garden to show off, but it was taking far too long this morning.
Jenny generously spread the bread slice with butter, then the blackberry jam, broke it, took a bite, and then passed a portion to the child. The little girl took it with no change of expression, but it was not long before the piece was in her mouth. Virginia had never seen food disappear so quickly. Jenny was also eating as though she hadn’t had a meal for some time. Without comment, Virginia buttered another slice, put on the jam, broke it, and placed it on the child’s plate. She slipped from the table to cut more slices from the oatmeal loaf. She had a feeling that more toast would be needed.
Virginia found the silence to be uncomfortable, but she knew that she should not attempt conversation before Jenny was ready. At length she ventured, “I … I don’t think I know your little girl’s name.”
“Mindy,” Jenny answered around the bite of toast.
“Mindy Anne, but we never bother with the Anne.”