FIELDS OF BOUNTY by Lauraine Snelling
SERIES: Leah’s Garden #3
GENRE: Inspirational Historical Romance
PUBLISHER: Bethany House
RELEASE DATE: March 21, 2023
They must set aside their own plans and rely on their faith to bring their true destiny to light.
Lilac Nielsen’s dream has come true: handsome young Reverend Ethan Pritchard has finally noticed her. Yet she must balance this new courtship with the pursuit of another dream–the publication of her artwork in a New York paper. She has secretly been submitting a series of drawings under a pen name, and if anyone traces the drawings back to her and finds out where Lilac and her sisters settled, the entire Nielsen family could be in danger.
As their family farm expands and Lilac’s relationship with the reverend grows, it’s a time of new beginnings. But when a family crisis back in Ohio shakes the Nielsen sisters, can they continue to build the new life they’ve begun in Nebraska? And will Lilac be prepared for what God has in store for her future?
“A tender story. I know my readers will enjoy these stories and look forward to the books yet to come.”–TRACIE PETERSON, bestselling author of the Pictures of the Heart series
Late July 1867
That was certainly lovely,” Rev. Ethan Pritchard said. The four Nielsen sisters paused on the church steps, their instrument cases in hand. “Thank you, Reverend Pritchard.” They spoke as one, then looked at each other and laughed.
“You all harmonize so beautifully.” He shook hands with each of them. Lilac thought he held her hand a bit longer than the others. “I’m happy you will be playing for our statehood celebration. You know, I’ve organized the children into a little ensemble to play for the celebration as well. We can always use more music, don’t you think?”
“That’s very ambitious.” Lilac Nielsen, the youngest of the sisters, managed to keep from blurting out what she really thought. He had never led the schoolchildren for anything. How was he going to manage this? She glanced at her second-eldest sister, Del, who had taught school until she married RJ Easton. Del’s eyebrows raised, and a slight shrug gave her opinion.
The sisters moved on as the reverend turned to talk with another of his parishioners. Lilac and Lark set their instruments in the buggy RJ had purchased not long after he and Del mar- ried last spring. Today, he was riding Captain, his stallion and friend since their war years. He had said Captain wasn’t getting enough exercise.
Forsythia, wife of Dr. Brownsville and the first of the sisters to marry, gathered her flock of three together. The good doctor was out on a house call. They waved good-bye as Lilac, Lark, and Del climbed into the buggy.
“You know you could come out with us for Sunday dinner,” Lark invited.
“I know,” Forsythia said, “but Adam should be home soon, and I like having dinner ready when he comes. He left before dawn this morning.”
“See you later, then.” Lark flipped the reins for their team. They’d traded their oxen to a family driving west for their horses. Oxen did better on the trail than horses, and horses could pull a sickle bar mower fast enough to cut grass.
“I’ll go on ahead and check on Starbright,” RJ said before nudging Captain into a lope. Once out of town, Lark clucked the horses, Prince and Nell, to a trot. The breeze made the women smile. August heat managed to drag everyone down.
“We should have quite a group playing for the dance after the speech on Saturday,” Lilac said as she unpinned her wide- brimmed straw hat and laid it in her lap. She thought back to Rev. Pritchard. Had he really squeezed her hand a second time? And his smile. Could he possibly be interested in her? At one time, he’d been interested in Del until she told him she was not looking to pursue a relationship. Lilac had been forced to fight the demon of jealousy when Rev. Pritchard was seeking Del’s attention. And Del had seemed totally oblivious for a while.
At least that was all in the past. Del was now married and deeply in love with RJ. The two had not gotten along well back in the beginning—and that was remembering it mildly.
Lark turned to talk to Lilac in the back. “What are you planning for this afternoon?”
“Well, checking on Starbright so I am there when that foal decides to come. Pa didn’t let me be there when Starbright was born. He said it wasn’t proper.”
Del chuckled. “Ma used to say it was a good thing women have the babies, or the human race would have died out long ago. They think they are protecting us, like we are fragile and faint of heart.”
“And yet they send the men out to the barn when the women are in labor,” Lilac said.
“And how do you know so much of things you have no experience in yet?” Lark asked.
“Remember, I helped Forsythia and Adam on the trail when Alice Durham died in childbirth.” They quieted at the memory. “Besides, all one has to do is keep very quiet and observe when the ‘secret’ things are being discussed. The women forget you are there and . . .”
Lark chuckled, brightening the mood. “Ah, baby sister mine, you are wise beyond your years.” She looked ahead. “Uh-oh.” RJ and Captain raced toward them. She stopped the team as RJ pulled his horse alongside them so Lilac could easily swing up behind him.
“Starbright is down, and the foal is close to being born,” he said.
Lilac clung to his waist as they raced back home. She slid to the ground before Captain had fully stopped, then entered the dim sod barn. One-fourth of the barn was a large stall with Starbright on her side in the straw. She raised her head when Lilac gently let herself into the stall.
“Easy, girl, easy.” She sank down on her knees beside her mare’s head, softly murmuring and stroking her ears and neck. “You’re doing just fine.”
After a big push from Starbright, RJ announced the hooves were showing. “I can see the muzzle now. Easy girl, push hard. You’re nearly done.” Starbright panted, and with the next push, the foal slid out onto the straw. “Good girl.” He ripped the sack away from the foal’s head and wiped the mucus from the nos- trils. The foal snorted and shook her head.
“You did it, Starbright, you did it.” Lilac hugged her mare as she lay panting. Then with a mighty heave, Starbright straight- ened her front legs and stood, legs spraddled. Shaking her head, she turned to nose her baby. After cutting the cord, RJ scrubbed the mucus off the baby with handfuls of straw. The foal was already struggling to stand.
“Feisty little thing, isn’t she?” Lilac couldn’t quit grinning. She’d been hoping for a filly, and here she was, wobbling on spindly legs, all the while being licked by her dam, who made gentle sounds of encouragement. “Should I help her find the udder?”
“No, let them work it out.” RJ chuckled when the foal tried to take more steps and ended up back in the straw. She shook her head, as if in disgust. Starbright nosed her, softly nickering, and gave her a gentle nudge.
“You’d think this wasn’t her first foal, calm as she is.” Lilac beamed at RJ. “I was afraid she’d be high-strung and spooky, but we got here just in time to see the little one slipping into the world.”
“Do you have a name for her yet?”
Lilac shook her head. “I was thinking Starbright’s Beauty, but that’s not quite right.” She looked up to see Lark leaning on the half wall of the stall. “She didn’t really need us at all.”
Starbright nudged her daughter toward the dripping udder. When the baby smelled the milk, she latched on and started nursing, her little brush of a tail flipping from side to side.
“Is there warm water in the reservoir?” Lilac asked.
“Not any longer. I brought it for you to pour over the mash.” Lark held out a pail.
“Thank you. I mixed in some molasses to entice her.” Lilac poured some water over the mash waiting in the bucket and stirred it, then set it in front of Starbright. “Just think girl, you’re no longer a filly but now a mare. A mare with a beautiful baby.” She wished she had her pencil and tablet out here. She would have to draw from memory.
RJ took a pitchfork to clean the afterbirth and manure out of the stall, then forked in clean straw. Lark headed back to the house to start dinner. When the foal stopped nursing, she sank to the straw bed and was instantly asleep, flat on her side. Starbright nosed the pail of mash, while keeping her attention on her baby. She drank deeply of the bucket of water and hung her head over Lilac’s shoulder, heaving a big sigh as she did so. Lilac stroked her neck and nose and told her how wonderful she was, thanking both her and God for such a beautiful baby.
She looked up when she heard someone enter the barn.
“I have dinner on the table, and Del is almost here.” Lark spoke softly from the aisle, where she peeked over the half wall to see the newborn sleeping in the straw. She smiled at Lilac. “She is beautiful. She already nursed?”
Lilac nodded and let herself out of the stall. “I kept imagining all the horrible things that could happen, but it went slick as a snow slide.” Lilac locked her arm through her sister’s. “I can’t say thank you enough. Our Father is so gracious.”
Del met them at the house. “I brought the green beans we picked yesterday. They’re still hot enough to eat.” Del set her basket with a cooking pot in it on the table. She smiled at RJ as he walked in. “Everything’s all right?”
“Right as can be. For a first-time mare, Starbright performed like an old hand. When that little girl slid into this world, I wanted to sing and dance. As far as I know, that’s Captain’s first progeny, and between him and Starbright, they’ve created a beautiful baby.”
“Wait until Robbie sees her.” Del’s eyes lit up. “Talk about singing and dancing, he will add screaming and jumping.” She poured warm water in a wash basin and set it on the bench. A towel hooked over a peg in the sod wall would finish the job.
RJ and Lilac scrubbed their hands and up their arms. Lilac looked down at her dress and shook her head. “I should have changed clothes.”
Her two sisters nodded. “Would have been a good idea,” Lark commented with her tongue pushing against her cheek. “Oh well, we’ll soak it, and let the sun bleach out the stains. Probably won’t be fit for church, but who’s got time to think of a mere dress when such an exciting event is going on?” Lark hugged Lilac around the shoulders. “Sit, everyone. I’m starved, and I didn’t even do any of the real work.”
They said grace and passed the bowls of new potatoes and green beans, along with a platter of fried rabbit, thanks to Lilac’s snares. The salad of two kinds of lettuce and sliced green onions with a dressing of sugar, cream, and vinegar made everyone sigh with delight.
“Fresh from the garden—makes me feel like the richest woman on earth.” Lark glanced around before dishing the last of the lettuce on her plate.
“Don’t forget we have the remaining strawberries on the pound cake,” Del reminded them. “I even got the cream to whip just right.” She looked up to catch the proud smile from her husband. “Hard to believe we have all this bounty, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “But I happen to know of all the hard work you sisters have put into this place.”
That night, the coyotes’ singing woke Lilac and Lark. Scamp howled from the doorway. Lilac slipped out of bed and slid her feet into her boots. “Going out to check on Starbright,” she said, Scamp following at her side.
The moon was so bright she could see her shadow. No wonder they’re singing tonight, she thought. “Scamp.” She called the dog back. “You stay right here with me. We’ll sleep in the barn. Those varmints smell the new foal, and I’m not taking a chance on one of them getting in here.” In her heart, she knew that was next to impossible, but it was as good an excuse as any to check on her baby. She closed the door behind her and lifted her lantern at the stall door, not holding it too close for fear of disturbing them. She could see Starbright and hear the foal nursing. Ordering Scamp to stay in the aisle, she hung her lantern safely on a hook and entered the birthing stall before blowing out the light.
Peace settled around Lilac’s shoulders like a blanket as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Making herself comfortable in the corner, she locked her wrists over her bent knees and heaved a sigh. She should go back to bed. The wheat field was beginning to shade from green to gold, and morning would come soon with a whole list of work needing to be done. She would prefer to draw the foal sliding into the world. She’d only managed a couple of quick sketches that afternoon. . . .
Lilac jerked awake, shaking her head. A ruckus was coming from the chicken coop, and Scamp was barking. Lilac leaped to her feet. Starbright snorted and shook.
“Easy, Starbright, easy girl,” she whispered as she felt her way to the stall door. Shutting it behind her, Lilac snatched up the lantern and tore out the barn door.
Lark met her at the chicken coop. Lilac opened the door, and Lark, shotgun ready, stepped inside. Relighting the lantern, Lilac held it up for them to see. “Oh no.”
Feathers fluttered down from the perches. Two hens lay dead on the floor, but the rest of the chickens were settling back down. “Weasel,” Lark huffed. “How in blazes did that varmint get in here?” She picked up the dead birds. “Let’s bleed and dress these and leave ’em in a bucket of cold water.”
They skinned the birds at the outside table since the water in the reservoir wasn’t hot enough to pluck feathers. When they gutted the chickens, they found that one of the birds had an egg to be laid in the morning, along with yolks of various sizes of future eggs. “Probably our best layers, blasted critter,” Lark muttered as she set the pot with cold water in the kitchen sink. “Too late to go back to bed.”
“I’d never go back to sleep anyhow.” Lilac yawned and stretched her arms above her head. “Guess I better set weasel traps. Haven’t tried that before.”
“Do you have small enough traps?”
“A couple. Little Bear gave them to me. I wonder where to set them.” Lilac laid shavings in the stove with some starter and added kindling to the coals left from the night before. She blew gently on a tendril of smoke so a bright orange flame licked at the shavings. After adding small pieces of wood, she set the stove lids back in place, then cranked open the draft and brushed off her hands.
Lark filled the coffeepot with water, added the grounds, and set the granite pot on the burner. She inserted larger pieces of wood into the crackling blaze and greeted Del, who was coming in the door from the path to her house.
“You two are sure up early.”
“You didn’t hear the hen-house debacle?” Lilac asked.
“No, I guess not.” She noticed the chickens in the sink. “Uh- oh, weasel again?”
“Better known as an escape artist. We’re trying to figure out how that thing gets in.” Lilac stepped outside. “Come see the sunrise.”
Streaks of carmine, orange, and pink painted the clouds. The three watched as the sun gilded the horizon, then seemed to leap into the azure sky.
“RJ gone to work already?” Lilac asked.
Del heaved a sigh. “He said to tell you he’ll stop by tonight to check on the new baby. They’re working on a storage building out by the railroad tracks, now that they can get lumber more easily. He’s talking about taking a crew to Lincoln once the storehouse is done.”
“They’d go back and forth each day?” Lark asked. “No, come home on Fridays.”
“You don’t sound happy about that,” Lark observed.
“I’m not. I was hoping he’d find plenty of building to do around here.”
The aroma of boiling coffee announced it would soon be ready. “Have you had breakfast?” Lilac asked.
Del shook her head. “It’s RJ’s Monday breakfast with his team at the boardinghouse. He’s hoping to get the town to commit to the livery also, now that they have a blacksmith coming to Salton.”
Lark poured three cups of coffee, and they took them along with bread and cheese to the outside table. Scamp greeted them, eyeing the food.
“You’ll get yours so no begging.” At the command in Lark’s voice, the cattle dog took his place under the end of the table. They sat down on the benches, and Lilac offered grace. “Thank you, Lord, for this glorious day, for the food we have, and for making sure Starbright’s foal was born so easily—and healthy, amen.”
“And that we didn’t lose more chickens,” Lark added.
“Oh, I should let them out.” Lilac stepped back over the bench. “Be right back.”
“I brought the mail. Forgot to give it to you yesterday.” Del laid a packet on the table. “What do you and Anders keep writing so much about, Lilac?” She laid one envelope on top. “You two keeping a secret?”
Lilac pretended not to hear and kept heading for the chicken coop, but her heart pattered hard as she opened the chicken- coop door, letting the birds mosey out into their yard to enjoy the sunshine and bugs. Could that letter from Anders be what she was waiting for?
The envelope taunted her while the sisters ate, drawing her gaze to the middle of the table, her breakfast settling oddly with the flutter in her stomach. As soon as Lark and Del began carrying the dishes into the house, Lilac snatched up the letter and hurried around the corner of the soddy with it. Pausing beneath the extending branches of the young cottonwood tree, she tore open the seal. The envelope was thin, probably too thin, but maybe, just maybe . . .
She withdrew the single folded sheet of paper, plus another scrap with a brief note from Anders. It merely read, Next time, little sister. Don’t give up.
The flutter in her middle sank like a rock. Lilac swallowed hard, drew a breath, and unfolded the letter.
We regret to inform you that your series of sketches does not meet our current needs for publication.
Just a short, scrawled rejection. Much like all the others.
Her head pounded dully. Lilac stuffed the letter back into the envelope and sank to the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest. Another for the rubbish pile. She crossed her arms atop her knees and leaned her head on them for a moment. Was she entirely foolish to think the drawings she’d been laboring over ever since they started west would hold interest for anyone outside her family? Let alone actually bring in any income.
After she privately shared the idea with him when he’d visited last summer, Anders had sent her work to a half-dozen publications. Being in Ohio, and a man, he was better positioned to make the submissions—and she didn’t want her sisters to know, unless she received good news. Their sympathetic excitement— and disappointment—would only make it harder.
The replies, or rather rejections, had trickled in over the past several months. They only had one more publication to hear from now. At least this rejection had been polite, unlike another that had scorned her artwork as mere “scribblings of cattle rumps and wagon ruts.” Her cheeks still burned at the memory. Lilac lifted her head with a sigh. Well. Maybe no Eastern papers would want her work, at least not yet, but that didn’t mean she’d stop drawing. Not now, not ever.
As Anders said, she wouldn’t give up. It wasn’t the Nielsen way.
Lauraine Snelling, Fields of Bounty
Bethany House Publishing, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2023. Used by permission.
Other Books in This Series
Lauraine Snelling (www.laurainesnelling.com) is the award-winning author of more than 100 books, fiction and nonfiction, for adults and young adults. Her books have sold more than five million copies. She and her husband make their home in Tehachapi, California.
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