Back Roads to Bliss (Saskatchewan Saga Book #6): A Novel (9 page)

BOOK: Back Roads to Bliss (Saskatchewan Saga Book #6): A Novel
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Their general comments were interrupted by a strange sound from the seated Parker. Turning as one man to their pastor, they were startled by the shock in the dark eyes raised to them.

“What is it, Parker? Something wrong?” Angus asked.

Parker Jones gripped the letter, obviously deeply affected by something in its pages. “Perhaps,” he said, “you should sit down again.”

Surprised, the men turned back to their seats and looked expectantly toward their spiritual leader and friend.

“Give me a moment,” Parker said in a faltering voice. “I have an idea this—” he indicated the letter, “might change everything.”

W
ithout a word, Parker’s board members seated themselves once again at the table, their eyes fixed on the face of their pastor. Not knowing the problem, yet sensing one, their kindly faces were anxious.

“What is it, Parker?” It was Brother Dinwoody who asked this time, but there was a question in all eyes.

A question and a dread. None of them had been immune from the miseries and agonies—often swift and deadly—that marked the life of the pioneer.

Even those who arrived with money and possessions—pianos, silver tea services, fine china, canaries in cages—were not exempt from brokenness. Even they knew the defeat of overwhelming despair, being driven out by drought, bankruptcy, hopelessness.

Most of them, however, came with nothing, except perhaps a change of clothing wrapped up in a bedroll and hoarding in their pocket the required ten-dollar filing fee that would put them on their own land. Holding on by their broken fingernails, surviving
grimly, if at all, working themselves to death—that was how it was.

They lived by the hard work of their hands, endured by the strength of their wills. They gritted their teeth against all odds—hunger, cold, disaster—and endured.

Death, capricious and merciless, was a stalker that followed each lonesome trekker across the prairie or into the heart of the bush; cemeteries were staked out before school lands.

Their experiences were the same; they knew what their neighbor was going through. And they were bonded as perhaps no generation had been before them or would be again.

Parker saw the instant concern in the work-worn faces of the men gathered at his table and felt a surge of warmth for each of them: Blystone Condon, who with Beatrice, his wife, had known better times, better ways, before giving it all up and coming west to live in a cabin and start over; Brother Dinwoody, a fussy little man, learning to overlook the inconsequential, concentrating on the overall need for survival; Herkimer Pinkard, that rare individual with the courage to be himself, keeping his corner of the world refreshed, and always greeted, wherever he went, with smiles. Herkimer took his good times along with him.

These three, and Angus—and Parker knew he could call on a dozen more, if need be, who would lay aside personal needs and problems in a heartbeat to come to his side—turned their attention on this one needing them, regardless of chores awaiting and a cold trip home through the gathering dusk.

Parker clutched the pages of his letter, crushing them in the intensity of the emotions that gripped him. “It’s my father—”

“Yes, laddie?” Angus, already sure of the answer, asked it anyway.

“The letter,” Parker said, “is from my mother. She’s written to tell me that my father . . . my father . . . has died.”

“Ah, laddie . . . Ah, Parker . . . I’m so sorry.”

Four pairs of hardened, callused hands stretched across the expanse of the oilcloth to touch Parker’s hand, his arm, his
shoulder, as gently as a mother. Or a father. Three voices murmured sympathy, comfort, consolation. Parker had the distinct feeling of being a tender sapling in the woods, tossed by winds, held straight and true by the sturdy trunks around it. Reaching for the sun. The Son.

“Let’s pray,” Angus said, and as one man they rose and came around the table. Three grizzly, rough, home-cut heads of hair bowed over their pastor’s bent head as they looked to the One who promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Each could personally testify to the truth of it; each could witness to the strength of the sustaining Presence.

“Thank you, my friends,” Parker managed through tears.

Still there was no rushing off. Seated again, they waited for Parker’s explanation, Parker’s decision. For had he not said this might change everything?

“My mother writes,” Parker said eventually, returning to the pages in his hands, running his eyes down them, “that it was sudden. His heart, apparently. It seems so odd . . .” Parker’s voice trailed off, and his eyes raised to stare off into space—a long, long way.

“Odd?” someone prompted. Sad, they might have expected, or painful, or grievous, but odd?

“So odd, that while I’ve been going about my work, talking, laughing, eating, doing all the normal things, my father has been in heaven. In heaven, and I didn’t know it.” Parker’s gaze lowered, and he looked at the men around him. “He was dead and buried, and I was living a happy, fulfilled life.”

Parker seemed to ponder for a moment or two; the men gave him time.

“So why should I,” he said, struggling with a new thought, “having heard about it now, go into a spasm of grief? I believe the Lord is showing me something here.” Parker was silent again.

“It’ll be something I’ll study on and pray about,” he said finally. “Perhaps it’s similar to what we read in Second Samuel 12:23 about King David, who prayed and fasted for the life of
his child but went back to normal living when the child died. ‘Wherefore should I fast?’ he asked those who questioned him about what they saw as a casual attitude. ‘Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.’”

“A blessed way to look at it,” Angus said thoughtfully. “I’m sure you’re reet.”

Again Parker Jones’s eyes gazed off as at some unseen horizon, some distant shore. It was almost with a start he came to himself, looked around almost blankly for a moment, and then said, “There’s not much more to say except that my mother needs me now. Not only for comfort and strength but to advise her in the matter of my father’s business. He was in the building trade and had a partner. There will be certain affairs to work out—whether the partner buys the business, what my mother is paid, and so on. Though this is a fine man, someone needs to be there to protect my mother’s interests, perhaps just to shield her from the headache of it all.”

“You have no brothers, I recall?” someone said.

“No brothers. One sister, and she’s an invalid. Rather, she was injured in a fall as a child and has never been strong since. Not strong enough to marry, at any rate, or have a family of her own. She and my mother will have each other. But they need me at this time.”

“Of course . . . we see your point . . . that’s understandable.” The voices chimed in with approval, with patience, with concern.

“My mother asks me to come,” Parker pursued, as though needing to persuade his listeners. Perhaps he needed to settle his own turmoil of spirit. After all, he had a job, a calling. And there was Molly—

Molly. There had been a time, not long ago, when he had been unsure of his future, had struggled with his “call.” Faced with the opportunity to leave Bliss for a teaching assignment in a Bible college in the East and broaching the subject to Molly, Parker discovered that she believed her future, for the time being, was here among the people of Bliss. Thankfully there had
been an eventual positive solution to his uncertainties; God had clearly convinced him of his call to the ministry of the gospel of Christ and to a pastorate in the bush country of Saskatchewan.

What would Molly’s reaction be to another delay, to more uncertainty concerning their longed-for life together?

Parker looked at Angus and indicated the letter. “I’ll need to talk to Molly, Angus, break the news to her myself, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course, laddie. I’ll say nothing. But won’t you come along wi’ me? Just put on your coat and ride over wi’ me to the hoose. Then, after a good supper, ye can talk wi’ Molly.”

Angus’s suggestion was a good one. After all, Parker had no rig of his own, and with no barn as yet, it was impossible, in winter, to keep a horse. The roast in the oven would keep.

“I need the evening to myself, I believe. To think about it, pray about it, come to some peace about it, before I talk to her. But I can’t see any way I can get out of going to be with my mother.” Parker Jones was caught in a loving web—Molly, or Mother?

“And we’ll all pray with you,” was the last assurance of the men who now donned their outer garments and proceeded out to their rigs, heading home and leaving Parker Jones standing in the doorway, more alone than ever, it seemed to their sympathetic eyes.

Adonijah Dinwoody and Bly Condon, married men, separately and perhaps wisely came to the decision to say nothing to their wives tonight. Separated by miles of snow and ice from their nearest neighbors, still they had no confidence in keeping anything secret in the bush. How news got around was often a wonder and a marvel—yet get around it did. “A little bird told me,” might indeed be the mysterious method of transportation, and were there not the ubiquitous chickadees at this season when most feathered creatures had wisely flown away? Perhaps the partridge’s drumming, like the Indians’ drum, signaled more than was known; perhaps the owl’s hoot, disembodied in the night, passed the news from house to house. At any rate, the men wisely decided to delay passing on the bit of news that
would have caused a ripple of excitement in each shuttered home and given food for thought and speculation: What would Parker do? What would Molly do?

Tomorrow would be time enough to stir the pot of excitement and interest. Even in the face of a wife’s hungry quest for news, Brother Dinwoody and Bly Condon determined to withhold the pastor’s news. Molly should be the first to know, and she should hear it from Parker Jones himself.

Shutting the door, returning to the fireside, and picking up his mother’s letter to read it again, Parker realized there was no reason for immediate action. He would write his mother and assure her he was coming. Then when the chinook came and the roads opened, it would be time to leave for Ontario and the town where he had been born and raised. His mother, he noted with a faint smile—for she knew his circumstances—would send the money needed for his transportation.

Parker breathed easier for the moment as the pressure for immediate action regarding his time of departure was lightened. His pressure regarding talking to Molly? Heavy indeed. If her longing was anything like his, and he believed it was, it would be a bitter blow to hear she would need to wait—again.

Rising, he laid aside the letter and went about supper preparations, blessing the dear ladies of the Morrison household for the simple meal ready in his oven. Taking the hot pads in hand, Parker turned toward the roasting pan and was struck—suddenly and for no reason that he could see—by the realization that his concern had been all for his mother, Molly, himself. But there was the church and his responsibility to it.

God had called him to Bliss. Until God indicated a change of plans, Bliss would remain his field of ministry. If the board agreed, he’d ask for a leave of absence, coming back to the pulpit and parish of Bliss. But there was no one available to take his place during his absence, which, he could foresee, might be a period of six months or so.

There was only one thing to do: The board would need to write the eastern school for an interim pastor.

A
ye,” the burly blacksmith confirmed, no doubt prompted by the blank faces of the young couple before him. “Ye knew not the law, I can see that. Many dinna. They coom dancin’ in here, thinkin’ we’re going to say a few words ower them, an’ they’ll live happily ever after. And then they find oot about the required residency.”

The man sighed massively, his wide shoulders heaving. He shook his head, looking at Allison and Stephen with sad, baggy eyes. Condemning eyes, blaming eyes.
Here I am
, they said without words,
ready, willin’, and able, and ye’ve got me here for naethin ’
. Perhaps he hoped for some remuneration in spite of the failed wedding plans.

BOOK: Back Roads to Bliss (Saskatchewan Saga Book #6): A Novel
7.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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