Amber Stockton is an author and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author and their baby daughter in beautiful Colorado Springs. They also have a vivacious Border Collie mix named Roxie. Amber has sold eight books to Barbour Publishing with more on the horizon. Other writing credits include writing articles for various publications, five short stories for Romancing the Christian Heart, and contributions to Grit for the Oyster and 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage. A born-again Christian since the age of seven, her faith in Christ has often sustained her through difficult experiences. She seeks to share that with others through her writing. Read more about her at her web site: www.amberstockton.com.
Hearts and Harvest
William's is a true riches to rags story...
Once members of Detroit's elite society, the Berringer family lost everything they had in the financial crash of 1893. From a life of influence and privilege, they now find themselves working a potato patch alongside immigrants and other destitute folk on borrowed land. William's resentment toward his current situation—and mostly toward God for allowing it—simmers barely beneath the surface. All it takes is one charitable visit to the fields from a lovely society darling to burst his façade of acceptance.
Annabelle Lawson, convicted by her pastor's admonishing words, begins delivering food and water to the workers on her father's donated land. But as she learns the stories of the people who work there, she becomes increasingly drawn to their plight. Especially that of the inscrutable William Berringer.
Can Annabelle and William overcome the stigma placed upon his family by a society that once embraced them? Will her parents remember their own meeting or forbid this budding romance altogether?
Here's an excerpt of Hearts and Harvest
"And remember," Pastor Owens saidspoke loud and clear as he concludedwrapped up his sermon. "We have placed boxes at the back by the doors for any donations you wish to make on behalf of those who are now farming the public lands in order to provide for their families."
Annabelle Lawson fixed her eyes on the pastor. His crisp, pressed purple robe with gold accents flowed in tandem with his motions as he made a sweeping gesture out over those gathered. The compassion in his light brown gaze only added to his youthful appearance, despite the traces of gray she caught at his temples.
He always looked out for those less fortunate, but never before had his plea compelled her to contribute like it had today.
"Some of you have donated pieces of your land for farming, and I know these families appreciate your generosity. But, for those who are unable to do that, you can contribute through the donation boxes. Every bit you give will go toward purchasing farming tools and equipment for these families."
Had Father been one of those the pastor mentioned as having donated land? They certainly had enough to spare. She'd ask him after the service ended.
"And now, go in peace and in the knowledge of our Heavenly Father's love."
With that, the assemblage stood, almost in unison, and Annabelle paused as individuals made their way en masse toward the back.
She clutched her handbag in one hand and held her Bible to her chest as she slipped from her family's pew after her parents and entered the center aisle. Her younger brother and sister followed. She stepped aside to let them pass, then glanced toward the front of the church at the elaborate décorfurnishings and ornate fixtures, from the hanging chandeliers to the brass candelabras. Marble tabletops sat on hand-carved wooden stands, and rich burgundy carpet adorned the steps as well as the floor of the elevated dais from where the pastor gave his sermon.
That was where the evidence of affluence ended. Annabelle observed the worn pews in great need of white-washing or a new coat of paint. It almost felt like a line divided the church from where the congregation sat and where the pastor stood. The people around her wore clothing in a wide variety of quality and style. Here, status didn't matter. Even the pastor, in all of his finery, possessed a welcoming personality that embraced everyone equally.
Annabelle again looked at the wide array of appearances in the attendees. How could her family and many who attended this church have so much when others who joined them had so little?
The financial crisis last year had struck in a random pattern. Thanks to the poor investment choices and risky building decisions by the railroad companies, financing had been lost and banks had run out of money. Both the rich and the poor had been affected. Young and old. Businessman and tradesman alike. Annabelle volunteered for one of Detroit's charity services, and her supervisor had recently confided to her that their stores and funds were either depleted or quite low. They had little to give to those in need.
This idea from Pastor Owens could help all of the city's charities. And in turn, the families could maintain their pride or self-respect as they farmed on their own without accepting handouts. Donations alone wouldn't help. It was a situationPaving the way for those who lost much to work that would bring fortune to all.
"Annabelle, dear. Don't dawdle." Her mother's voice called to her from a few pews away. "Katie will have Sunday dinner ready by the time we get home. We haven't a moment to spare."
After a final glance around the haven the church provided, Annabelle made her way to the back. As she passed the boxes, her conscience pricked her rather soundly. Seeing the departing backs of her family, she knew she must hurry. Service had run later than normal. A full half -hour, in fact. Without further thought, she reached into her handbag and withdrew all of the coins she had. She dropped the money in the slotted box, and smiled at the sound of it joining the other money already donated. It wasn't much, but it felt good to help.
The sharp, yet soft, reprimand made Annabelle start. She looked up to see her mother peering around the door frame, an impatient expression on her face. If Mother had been standing inside, her foot no doubt would have been tapping against the stone floor. Felicity Lawson normally maintained a cool demeanor. But everyone had their limits.
No sense making Mother any more upset.
* * * * *
An hour later, the Lawson family gathered around the table. Annabelle picked at her plate while the rest of her family devoured the delicious fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, and stored vegetables from their garden. She didn't want to insult Katie, but she couldn't find much of an appetite.
She stared at how much food they had. Her thoughts wandered to those families going without today. Somehow, even Katie's best recipe failed to tempt her taste buds.
"What's the matter, Annabelle?" Her younger brother, Matthew, gave her a poke in the ribs, his voice taking on a taunting tone. "Trying to maintain your graceful figure so some poor, unsuspecting bloke will fall prey to your charms?"
"Matthew! That's enough."
Father's reprimand made her brother straighten in his chair and dip his chin. Brandt Lawson had mediated their little squabbles more times than Annabelle could count. Yet Matthew persisted. The rather tall rascal might be nearing eighteen, but at times, he acted like a ten-year-old.
"It's not me to whom you owe an apology."
"Sorry, Annabelle," he mumbled, not even bothering to look her way.
Annabelle pressed her lips together to hold back a grin, but Father caught her eye and winked. That made her struggle even harder. Father knew what it was like to have a younger brother. Uncle Charles always seemed to be looking for his next victim, and Father had told her he hadn't changed a bit since they were boys. It looked like Matthew inherited that streak of mischief from their uncle.
"Now, Annabelle," Father continued in a more congenial tone. "Is there something wrong with the food? Or do you have something else on your mind that's keeping you from eating?"
She set down her fork and reached for her water glass. After taking a drink, she lowered the glass and looked to her left where Father sat, waiting for an answer.
"It's not the food, Father. Katie should again be praised for her efforts."
"Then what is it, dear?"
Annabelle glanced at Mother from the corner of her eye. Matthew and their younger sister, Victoria, also waited expectantly. She hadn't meant to interrupt their meal. But now that she had their attention, she'd better take full advantage. Returning her gaze to Father, she attempted to formulate her conflicting thoughts into words.
"This morning. At church. Pastor Owens spoke of the families in need of assistance and mentioned the vacant plots of land being donated for farming use."
"Yes." Mother sighed. "It is difficult to see so many in such dire need. We, ourselves, aren't without feeling the effects of the crisis, but we fared much better than most, thanks to your father's well-spread investments." Mother looked down the table at Father, and the two shared a silent bond.
"Exactly," Annabelle continued. "And don't misunderstand me. I'm grateful that we were spared for the most part, but somehow, thanking God for our abundance feels wrong in light of those we know who have nothing."
"What do you propose we do about that, Annabelle?" Father steepled his fingers and rested his forearms on the edge of the table. "We can't exactly give everything we have in surplus and place ourselves on equal footing with them."
"Nor do I expect us to, Father. I merely wanted to say how inspired I was by Pastor Owens' sermon. The Bible commands us to help our neighbors, and what we do unto the least of them, we do as unto Christ."
Victoria leaned forward. "I put my coins in the box today, Annabelle. Did you?"
Annabelle looked across the table at her sister. Even at twelve, she possessed such a heart of gold.
"Yes, I did. Everything I had with me."
At times, Annabelle felt as if she came in second place to her sister where charity was concerned. Whatever her family did, Victoria was certain to be as involved as possible.
"But I feel we can do more. I just don't know what."
Silence fell upon the table, and her family all woretook on introspective expressions. Several moments passed. Finally, Father cleared his throat, and all eyes turned toward him.
"Well, I was going to wait until later to announce this, but I suppose now is as good a time as any."
He paused, and Annabelle turned her head to look at Mother, who nodded with a smile. They had done something. Now, she was anxious to find out what.
"Following our good mMayor's lead of sacrifice, I've put up that vacant plot we own on Marshall to be used for farming. It neighbors several other vacant plots that have also been donated. I gather it will bring about a sizeable profit for our city and those in need."
Annabelle clapped her hands and beamed a smile at him. "Oh, Father! That's wonderful. When I heard Pastor Owens this morning mention the need for land, I wanted to ask if we had any to give. When did you donate it? How much land is it? When will the workers arrive to start working? I want to be there to help in any way I can."
The deep sound of Father's chuckle rumbled from his end of the table. "Slow down, Annabelle. I only just spoke with the mayor last week. I daresay it will be another week or more before any families are assigned to our particular plot." He raised a hand, palm out, in her direction. "But I promise to notify you the moment I hear anything further."
"I want to help as well, Father."
"You will, Victoria. You will."
"Father," Matthew inserted, "didn't Mayor Pingree sell his thoroughbred horse and give the proceeds to the farming fund?"
Father nodded. "Yes, h. He did. Where did you hear about that?"
Matthew shrugged. "Oh, some of the young men at the copper refinery were talking about it the other day at work. I overheard one of them say it and wondered if they were exaggerating or not."
"It is true. And his act of goodwill encouraged many others to follow suit. Now, we have a substantial fund for farming equipment, and we should be able to provide these families with everything they need to get started."
Annabelle listened as Father continued to lay out what he knew would be the plan once the farming commenced. Just this morning, she had wanted to get involved and help. Little did she know then how close the opportunity would come to her own home. Now, she could fulfill God's commandment and at the same time feel satisfied in what she had to offer. Excitement built inside of her.
She could hardly wait to get started.
* * * * *
William Berringer trudged behind his father as they approached the barren plot of land that would become their place of work for several months, possibly even years. The abandoned factory building at the far edge of the land would house several families working this plot. He sighed. How in the world had something like this happened to them?
One day, they were're living a comfortable life with plenty to eat and had more than enough money to afford the finer things if they wanted them. The next, their stronghold had crumbled, they had lost their home, and the jobs he and his father held had been stripped away. All because of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing that set off a series of bank failures.
If it hadn't been for the bankruptcy of Philadelphia and Reading Railroad last year, concern over the economy might not have worsened. But it did, and people rushed to withdraw their money from banks. In no time at all, gold and silver reserves were depleted and the value of the dollar had decreased. Their lLife savings disappeared, and they couldn't meet their mortgage obligations. Everything they had invested was gone. William almost didn't want to blink for fear that something even more disastrous would occur.
"Well, here we are." His father gestured with a wide sweep of his arm. "Our source of income for as long as it takes until we can rebuild what we've lost."
And that could take years if they only had farming as an option. William sneered at the weed-covered ground. Gusts of wind stirred the loose dirt from a bare patch nearby and created a tiny swirl around them. Maybe he could get caught up in one and be taken far away from here. Far away from the gloomy prospect of what the financial crisis had done to him and his family.
"At least we know we aren't alone," his mother chimed in. Her forced cheerfulness was almost too much. "Many others—, friends and neighbors—, are suffering the same fate. If they can do this, so can we."
Father stepped close and wrapped his arm around his wife. "You are absolutely right, my dear. It might not be much, but our God has provided."
"God?" William couldn't help the derision that filled his voice. "You talk of God?" He swung out his arm in a sweeping gesture over the land in front of them. "Where was God when the crisis occurred? Where was Hhe when we were forced from our home? Where was Hhe when we lost everything?"
Jacob, his little brother, looked up at all three of them in silence. He moved his gaze from one to another, curiosity and uncertainty reflected in his eyes.
"God is right where He's always been, my boy," Father replied. "With us." Daniel Berringer was nothing if not forthright and stalwart. He led their family with a strength and determination William admired and hoped to have himself one day.
But that strength wasn't what he wanted right now. He wanted answers. He wanted solutions. He wanted a guarantee that this new lot in life would turn out to be a prosperous venture, and that they could return to the life they once knew before too long. From what he could see, the likelihood of that seemed as distant as the grouping of various land plots that stretched out to the north and west of the city.
"Well, if God's been right here all along, then He wanted this to happen to us. And if that's the case, I want to know why."
Lucille Berringer came and placed a gentle hand on William's shoulder. "Sometimes, William, we aren't able to ask why. We simply must obey and do the best with what we've been given."
William fought hard not to shrug off his mother's touch. She meant well, but he wasn't in the mood for comfort. "I thought we had done the best we could. Before all of this happened. Father and I had good jobs in finance and industry and had established what we thought was a rather solid family business. I was also looking to expand into manufacturing with some of Thomas Edison's ventures. We worked hard and remained faithful with the fruits of our labors. Was it not good enough to suit God?"
"That's enough, William!" Father's voice took on a hard edge, one William knew brooked no argument.
Jacob's eyes widened, and William regretted his previous words. The last thing he wanted to do was cause Jacob to become bitter. His brother didn't deserve this, either. At least he was young, though. He had his whole life ahead of him. William, on the other hand, had been making plans to move from apprenticeship to management when the crisis struck. He should be furthering his own career right now. He should be courting young ladies and thinking about starting his own family.
Father clenched his fists at his side, then relaxed them. "I realize how difficult this is for you. It's difficult for all of us. We have all lost a great deal. But I will not have you allowing your anger at the situation to poison the hope we have, thanks to a generous donor who has given us this land. There are many others who have not been as fortunate; some who even now are headed west with nothing left here in the city." A sigh, full of acceptance, blew forth from his lips. "You would do well to remember that."
William lowered his head. Father was right. His best friend growing up had done just that. Unable to see any hope in Detroit or any of the areas nearby, Ben's family had packed up and headed west toward Seattle or Portland. Others went to Denver or Salt Lake City or even San Francisco. Anywhere but here. For a moment, William wished his family had followed. But, no guarantees existed there, either. So, for now, at least they had a roof over their heads—drafty and run-down though it was—and the opportunity to grow food. He might as well make the best of it.
"I'm sorry, Father. I know we're not the only ones who are suffering. I'll try not to be so negative."
Father's expression softened, and relief spread across his face. "Thank you."
Mother gave his shoulder a squeeze before once again stepping to her husband's side. William looked down at Jacob and smiled. The lad put his hand in William's and grinned. William reached out and tousled his brother's hair. At least they hadn't lost each other. Other families he knew hadn't been as fortunate.
* * * * *
William had been working in this field for more thanover six hours. The overhead sun beat down upon his back, and sweat made his shirt stick to his skin.
He lowered his hoe to the ground and leaned his full weight on the farm tool. Reaching into his back pocket, he grabbed his handkerchief and swiped it across his brow then down his face. Without the benefit of a looking glass, he had no idea if he managed to rid himself of the dirt and grime or not. But it had to be far better than he looked a moment before.
Then he saw her.
A brown-haired young woman moving from worker to worker and carrying a pail of water with a dipper. Perfect. The last thing he wanted was another benevolent society member reminding him of where he'd been before the panic and all that he'd lost. Fresh water sounded good. He just didn't want it to come from someone like her. Yet, here she was, headed in their direction.
William glanced down at Jacob, who worked alongside him. At least for his brother's sake, he'd remain cordial. But, he didn't have to like it.
You can purchase Hearts and Harvest from CBD and Heartsong Presents.
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