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The Covered Deep
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- Trade Paperback $19.99 $24.99 CAD
- ebook (Digital original) $14.99 $19.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 14, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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In memory of Hester Cropper and Paul Cole, two of the greatest storytellers who ever graced this earth. And dedicated with utmost respect to my father, Tim Cole. Thanks for teaching me that with God all things are possible. Also, to my grandmother, Minnie Cole. Your love and prayers have made all the difference.
Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.
Southern Ohio, 1877
At seventeen, most ladies of fashion expect to receive proposals. If they do not marry within a few years, they have a mortified sense of having lost time. Inevitably, they become an object of sympathy. The next few years are often a period of subdued vexation. During this time, the sweetness and contentment of the lady’s original character is impaired. As the unwholesome state of spinsterhood approaches, a lady finds herself soon to be restricted in social pleasures and more.
I am inclined to believe that with good temper, pleasing manners, and respectable connections, a lady need not despair. Herein are the facts: Between the ages of twenty to twenty-four, a lady has a 52 percent chance of marrying. Between the ages of twenty-five to thirty, her chances are 18 percent.
The book slipped from Bianca’s hands, the pages fainting on her bedroom desk. Words. Reminding her of all the ways she’d never fit in. She collapsed in the chair, her cotton dress limp against her. “When the sun rises tomorrow, my chances of marrying will drop thirty-four percent.” She breathed, in and out, slowly. “Spin—” The word felt like cod liver oil on her tongue.
“It doesn’t matter that my twenty-fifth birthday’s tomorrow.” She slid her hand underneath the desk and pressed the small, metal button. The secret slot popped open, sending a spray of dust over her sleeve. “When going into battle, planning is often the most important thing.” Saying the words calmed her, as did the feel of the hidden paper. She unfolded it and scanned the first few lines.
Soul mate must be
(1) a true believer in Jesus Christ
(2) devastatingly handsome, with a slightly wild look in his eyes
(3) brilliant and humorous like Mark Twain
(4) a foreigner, possibly a disgruntled duke
(5) able to quote Bible verses and Shakespeare
(6) a more than capable kisser
(7) adore me completely.
“Yes, well.” She drew her eyebrows together as she considered. “Perfectly reasonable I thin—”
“Bianca! You’d better be lacin’ up your boots.” Mama’s voice was a crescendo crack, the kind of noise one hears when alone in the woods and a big tree falls. “Girl, don’t you make me late.”
Bianca shoved the list back into its hiding place, but the secret door wouldn’t shut. She pushed harder. Nothing.
“Are you ready to go or not?” Mama rapped her knuckles on the door, like the battle march of a soldier’s drum.
“Coming.” Bianca stood and put her weight against the warped side of the drawer. “Just a moment.”
Mama jiggled the door handle. “I told Mr. Rutherford we’d be there by four o’clock. It is now precisely 3:09.”
A hairpin came loose, and a piece of Bianca’s dark auburn hair fell over her eyes. “Guts griping harpy!” The drawer slammed shut. The large bottle of ink tipped. A waterfall of black spread over her books, seeping into the pages like hungry poison.
“What is going on in there? Open this door.”
“I’ll be out momentarily.” Bianca fought to level her voice. “I’m just tidying things up.” Papers flew off the desk. Pens hit the floor.
She sent up a whispered prayer. “Oh, please, not my new books. Lord, don’t let all the pages be ruined.” She flipped though Inquire Within: Things Worth Knowing. The pages were soggy clumps and witching-hour black.
The floorboards in the hall groaned. Bianca heard the sound of a drawer opening. Mama was going for the keys.
The lock turned. The door hit the baseboard.
“What have you done to your hands?” Anger rippled in Mama’s blue eyes, as cold and distant as Pike Lake. “Child, look at the floor.”
Bianca dropped her gaze to the polished oak floor and then back to the ruined books. “I was clumsy . . . Daddy went all the way to Cincinnati for these books. My early birthday presents.”
“More books you don’t need.” She scowled at the ink-stained covers of Ancient Society and The Wreck of the Grosvenor: An Account of the Mutiny of the Crew and the Loss of the Ship When Trying to Make the Bermudas. “More money wasted on your fancies.” Mama took her by the shoulders. “You will see Mr. Rutherford today.”
Bianca tried to pull away. “Little good it will do. I won’t marry someone who has the imagination of a butter churn. If he’s anything like his sermons, I’d die of boredom.”
The lines around Mama’s eyes deepened. “Your Aunt Sally says he can just look at a person and tell if they’re right with the Lord. Wouldn’t you want a man who has that kind of power?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Bianca said matter-of-factly. “That’s not something anyone can tell simply by looking at a person.” She waited for a reaction Mama didn’t give—a common ground they’d never had. “‘Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’”
Mama threw up her hands. “All your friends are married. Some have two babies by now. Either the man’s too dull or his profession is.” She looked her up and down. “As if you had a lot to offer.” Her gaze went to the many scattered books. “You’d rather read than do anything useful. Those men you read about in those novels of yours, there’s a reason they call it fiction.”
Bianca’s gaze went to the secret drawer in her desk. “I haven’t found my soul mate yet.” Her voice faltered, as if she’d said the words too many times. “I will not marry just because.”
“Soul mate.” Mama’s lips pinched. “Marriage is hard work. I’ve told you that before. It’s not some unending fairy tale where a man fulfills your every dream. It involves a great deal of will.” She chopped at the air with her hand. “You find a man who you can build a life with. Love comes later, after sacrifice has made it grow.”
“Is that what you and Daddy have? Is that why you’re both so . . . happy?” She knew she shouldn’t have said such things, but she let the words hang, suspended in the air like an ugly decoration that everyone ignored.
Mama’s forehead creased ever so slightly, then she walked to Bianca’s brass bed. “You really shouldn’t fold your quilt down like this. Always up, that’s what I say.”
“What’s wrong with the way I fold it?” Bianca’s voice rose, as did her ink-stained hands. “King Louis the sixteenth had his bed made this way at Versailles.”
“Oh, did he now?” Mama tucked the quilt under the mattress like she was killing something. “The only Versailles I know about is the one across the river in Kentucky. Your father continues to fill your head with such strange notions and strange people.” She punched down the feather pillows and made them flat. “I told him all them books would make you restless. Make you long for things you shouldn’t have.”
Bianca focused on the gray hair that painted Mama’s temples and alternated through the strands of red. Sadness washed over her, and all she could do was pity Mama. For the limited way that she thought. And the romance Daddy would have given her, if she’d been different. “I’m very thankful for the life I have here. It’s just that . . . I’m not so sure I’m meant to be here forever.” Bianca bit the corner of her lip. “Is it so wrong to want to see the world that God created? Is it so wrong to want to marry someone outside of this little town?”
“You ought to be content.” Mama opened the dresser and rearranged Bianca’s nightdresses. “You’ve always got to be different. Always got to be fancy.” She narrowed her eyes and seemed to have a revelation. “You’re a selfish girl, not proud of your heritage.” She shoved the dresser drawer. The bottles of honeysuckle wash clanked together. “You come from plain, good people. There is safety here, Bianca.”
“Do you know how much history is in Europe? Can you even comprehend how much I could learn? All those museums—”
“Are nothing but a collection of idols. Dens of sin glorifying the heathen nations.”
Bianca winced as if Mama had slapped her. “Do you know where your traveling preacher, Mr. Rutherford, gets his theology?”
“From God Almighty.”
“He’s affiliated with Victoria Woodhull. Remember when she ran for presidentess of the United States five years ago?” Bianca lowered her voice. “That woman has no respect for the marriage bed.”
Shock splashed over Mama’s features. “How dare you speak about such—”
“During the War of Rebellion she worked as a clairvoyant—a professional charlatan. She knew exactly what to say to get people’s money.” Bianca stepped across the faded rug, anger swelling like muddy water in the rain. “Who knows, maybe she even swindled our Ash—”
“Don’t say his name. Don’t you ever say that name.”
The air changed—a pulsing heat, suffocating. Bianca turned to the window.
Mama moved behind her, a constant shadow. “Every man I’ve chosen for you, you’ve turned away. You’re too high and mighty, that’s what you are.”
Bianca focused on the oak tree outside and the branches straining against the wind. The tree swing drifted backward and the seat lifted—as if a ghost child sat there, enthralled with the way the dust swirled and mingled with the clouds.
Bianca took a deep breath to try to alleviate the crushing weight in her chest. “I’m sorry you think that about me, Mama.”
“I think I’ll go see Mr. Rutherford by myself today.” Mama licked her finger and rubbed the ink smudge on Bianca’s cheek. “I’m sure he’s going to give me some very good advice. And regardless of what you think, he would make you a good husband.”
Bianca kept her gaze on the tree swing.
“There, now.” Mama ran her hand down Bianca’s back. “I hope you’ll be more agreeable when I return.”
And then Mama was gone.
Bianca didn’t know how long she stood by the window. The old clock on the bookshelf ticked on, not caring that her marriage prospects were slipping away as quickly as the fading afternoon light. “Help me, God. Forgive me for the way I spoke to Mama. I believe You gave me these desires. Make something of them or take them away.”
A movement caught her eye from outside. Daddy crouched alongside the bushes by the potato shoots in the garden.
Relief flooded her. She opened the window.
Daddy held up his thumb and Bianca returned the sign. “Mama’s about to go to town,” she whispered. “For a while, I think.”
“Good.” Daddy gave her a grin full of conspiracy, hiked his leg over the windowsill, and climbed into the room. “Because I know she wouldn’t approve, as usual.” He shook a folded newspaper between them and then sat. His mustache turned upward, just as his lips did, but then it fell. “Here, now, have you been crying?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Bianca tried to give him a convincing smile. “What do you have?”
“What happened at your desk?” He scanned the puddles of ink. “Reenacting the ink massacre of sixty-three?”
“Your enthusiasm for reading is incomparable, daughter. Perhaps next time a less cataclysmic approach? Now, to the point.” He slapped the newspaper. “I’ve been waiting for this advertisement for a long time.”
“Have you?” Bianca reached for it, but he snatched it away. “What’s it about?”
“Guess.” He wiggled his thick, brown eyebrows. “This advertisement happens to come from a very old place.”
“Old?” She felt her smile growing.
“Yes. This country has a large affinity for tea and a certain queen whose name starts with the letter V.”
Bianca widened her eyes. “Surely not. England?”
“Ah, you’ve guessed it. Clever girl. But I suppose I made it too easy for you? No matter.” He tapped the edge of the newspaper on her mason jar of foreign coins. “It’s time to acknowledge the corn.”
“You’re giving up? Just like that?” Bianca placed her hand on her hip. “You normally have me guessing for a straight fifteen minutes, at least.”
“Yes, well . . . You’ve had me catawamptiously chawed up of late.” He twisted the corner of his mustache. “Ever since your theory on the moving stones in the old Shawnee Forest. I’ll place your triumph there.”
Bianca curtsied, hand over heart. Her voice took on the tone of a seasoned actress. “Thank you.”
“I may be able to redeem myself soon, have no fear.” He handed her the newspaper.
Sir Adrian Hartwith, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Brazen Crown; Attached to Societies Musical, Societies Medical, Societies Philosophical, Societies Sociological, and Societies General Benevolent throughout Europe, wishes to announce a contest of the most venerable kind.
Being a seeker himself, Sir Adrian wishes for those who seek to join him on an expedition to the Holy Land. Four personages will be chosen to walk where the Lord walked, stand on the exact spot where He was crucified, and hear the music of almost nineteen hundred years ago.
If chosen, all expenses will be paid. Furthermore, £300 will be awarded to the contestants who complete the journey.
To be considered, compose an essay highlighting your interests, personal goals, religious beliefs, and a regret from your past. Begin the first sentence by choosing words for this acronym: T F S L A H B T T H S E B T I S.
The winners will be notified by post on or before the 1st of June. If applicable, tickets for transportation to London will be included. The fortunate party will depart London the 5th of August by ship.
“Three hundred pounds!” Bianca looked over the advertisement again. “Daddy, how much is that in American currency?”
“Close to five hundred dollars, I’d say.”
Bianca’s mouth gaped open. “With such money, you wouldn’t have to work at the shoe factory anymore.” Excitement wove through her body like the beginnings of a summer storm. “We could traipse around the world like gypsies. Drink chocolate in Paris. See the ruins of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus and afterward, walk where the Great Apostle proclaimed the Living God.”
“Indeed.” He looked at her poignantly. “Such a thing could be accomplished.”
All the conversations they’d had over the years echoed like bells. “Do you think it’s a genuine offer?”
“Of course it is,” he said without reservation. “This advertisement cost Sir Adrian a fortune. Why would he go to such lengths for a farce?”
Bianca touched the indentation of the black, printed words and furrowed her brow. So many dreams had been lost already. So many times Daddy had tried to make things different for them and failed. “How did you know to expect this advertisement? This is the Columbus Dispatch.”
Daddy cleared his throat. “A gentleman I associate with delivered it to me.”
Bianca narrowed her eyes. “Daddy, did you go up to Raven Rock again?”
Daddy sat straighter in the chair and crossed his arms. “My dear, the Brotherhood of the Shrouded Tree can hardly meet in your mama’s parlor.”
“If Mama found out . . .” She shook her finger at him. “You’re going to get yourself killed. The path up that hill isn’t safe.”
“Ah, but Bianca, the view.” Daddy smiled, that old, winsome smile. The one he saved for summers that slipped away too soon. The one he smiled when he sat on their porch and he was lonely, always just before she joined him to listen to the pound of the rain and watch the white streams of water falling from the tin eaves.
Bianca knew what words would come next, so she said them for him. “You like to see the river winding like a silver snake through the hills. To be in the place where Daniel Boone escaped the Indians by taking a daring leap from the rock, into the mist and onto a tree.”
Daddy nodded as if she’d said the truest thing in the world. “In such a place, a man believes he might be more. Troubles can be hung on the limbs and left there for the golden eagles to carry away.”
Bianca closed her eyes and could almost see it—Daddy and his deep-thinking friends sitting high above Portsmouth as the sun set, the steamboats looking like toys slipping away on the white sliver of river.
Daddy’s voice was gentle, the timbres of all their tomorrows. “When I first got wind of this contest, it sounded perfect for you, but of course I was leery. After all, how could I send my only daughter across the perilous sea?”
Bianca studied the intensity in his eyes. “Me? You want me to make an attempt?”
“I’ve thought about this quite a lot, Bianca. And I’ve prayed. Every time I get the same answer—you ought to try.” His expression was conflicted, as if he couldn’t believe the words he’d just spoken. “For months I’ve been writing letters, checking references, and asking questions about Sir Adrian. I have a stack of replies hidden in the smokehouse. Would you like to see them?”
“Of course. But Daddy, you ought to go.” Bianca thought of Mama, and as much as she wanted to drift into the air and never see this place again, she thought of all the ways it would break Mama’s heart. “Couldn’t someone take your place at the factory while you were away? Surely Mr. Selby knows how hard you’ve worked. Your ideas alone have improved—”
“Listen to you. You’ve already assumed my entry would be a winner.”
“And why do you think it wouldn’t be?”
“Oh, your love for me is far too biased, Bianca. I can’t do everything, you know. I get a day here and there for my efforts, but I can assure you, Mr. Selby is not that lenient. There’s a string of men in line for my position.”
“Well, how am I to go if you don’t? Assuming that I win, how would it be proper for me to travel all that way alone?”
“I could go with you as far as New York Harbor. Sir Adrian is wealthy enough; he could no doubt supply a chaperone. In fact, I would insist upon it. However, I’m sure traveling alone is the last thing on your mind.” He gave her a fatherly stare. “I know about your excursions to the woods outside of town.”
Bianca raised the newspaper to hide her face. It would not do to let him see her smile.
“Did you see anything interesting out at the Indian mounds?”
“Just a few artifacts. You wouldn’t be interested.”
He pushed the newspaper down. “Wouldn’t I?”
“Pots, fragments of bone.” Bianca leaned forward. “And a ceremonial pipe. The earth was worn away from that last gully washer. I didn’t touch anything, of course.”
A slow smile spread across his face. “Afraid of Indian spirit revenge?”
Bianca raised an eyebrow. “‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”
“I wonder if I shall ever pass a day without hearing you quote Shakespeare. Here now, you’re getting me off the subject.” He stood and paced the room. “If you win this contest, as soon as you reach London you’ll be with Sir Adrian’s party. That will grant you a great deal of protection.”
“But we don’t know anything about him. He could be a complete lunatic.” Even as she said the words, she was drawn to this stranger. A noble. The thought of meeting such a man—of being in London and the Holy Land—some things glittered too bright to be strung into words. And this advertisement . . . Here was a door to ten thousand possibilities.
“The man’s a genuine blue blood, to the manor born. He has more than enough credentials to testify of his good character.”
The creak of the front door hinges sounded through the house.
“Mama must have forgotten something.” Bianca fought the urge to throw the newspaper under the bed. It was only a paper with some printed words. How dangerous could it be?
Daddy hurried back to the window and climbed outside. “What are you standing around about? Has the spit and vinegar gone out of you all of a sudden? Don’t you have an acronym to ponder?”
Bianca clutched the newspaper to her chest and felt a strange sensation. It felt like hope. “Yes . . . It would seem I do.”
Fog from the Ohio River seeped through the Bottoms like a wispy mourning veil. Errant clouds slid across the moon, casting shadows upon the long grass and the soggy ground. Bianca curled her toes until cool mud squished between them.
Daddy peeked over the cattails, lifted the lantern, and hunched back down. “Sure enough, it’s a big one.” He cocked his head toward the pond. “You ready?”
Bianca nodded and picked up a makeshift spear. Rusty nails and twine held the metal to the wood. “Should I use the four-pronged or the three?”
“I’d use the four. You’ll have a much better chance of success.” Bianca grabbed the four-pronged spear with both hands and moved to stand. Daddy’s hand shot out and gripped her arm. “Don’t forget—fast and hard, just like a tribeswoman in the Amazon.”
“I . . . am a tribeswoman . . . in the Amazon.” To her ears it was like a life-altering mantra. She tucked the edge of her skirt tighter into her belt. The wet fabric looped between her legs and clung as scandalous as pantaloons. Mud painted her calves like hippopotamus beauty cream. In the reflection of the moon on the water, her hair resembled a lopsided corn pone and clung to her face in the humidity.
Daddy chuckled and covered his mouth.
“Just what is so funny?”
“I was thinking that you do rather resemble an Amazonian at this moment. Your mama would kill me.”
Bianca tilted her head, causing more hair to fall from the loose pins. “I suppose it’s a good thing someone told Mama I was canning tomatoes at Aunt Sally’s.”
“A stroke of genius.”
Bianca bit back her smile and rose a little higher.
The buzz of the cicadas increased. An owl hooted just beyond the still, dark trees. Daddy raised the lantern. The bullfrog’s eyes were glowing orbs in the darkness, stunned by the light. “Steady now.”
Bianca wrapped her fingers around the rugged wood until her knuckles turned white.
She waded deeper, wet grass tangling around her ankles.
“Now. Spear that undeserving croaker!”
Bianca jumped and shoved the spear down like a bona fide man. A great splash arced above her, drenching the rest of her clothes. Pieces of lily pad and mud slid down her face. She blinked. “Did I get it?”
Daddy wiped pond water from his eyes. “I don’t know, dear, you have to pick up the pole and see.”
Bianca held the spear aloft. The frog’s arms grasped and twitched. “I did it!”
“By Jove, you did.”
The frog’s slick, green skin glinted in the light of the moon. Its golden eyes were still captured in Daddy’s lantern light. Bianca frowned.
“Are you going to cut its legs off when we get back to the house? It’s one thing cooking it when I’ve brought it to you. Quite another when you’ve killed it yourself.”
Bianca stood straighter and waded to the bank, pushing the lily pads aside. “If I can kill a chicken I think I can handle a bullfrog. Opossums might be a different matter.”
Daddy held out his hand and smiled. “Let’s take a break. You’ve done well.” He tossed the frog into the basket and laid down her spear. “Shall we listen to the crickets play us a song?”
“I’d like that.” Bianca sat down on a rock, hugged her knees, and studied a moonbeam that shifted to a patch of jewelweed.
- On Sale
- Oct 14, 2014
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Worthy Books