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Walk by Faith, the second book the Saint Maggie Series, starts not with a bang but with a fire. And this sets the pace for the rest of the book, which moves quickly, jumping from scene to scene as it follows the principle characters from Blaineton to Gettysburg, to battlefields, and to Eli's sister's home.
Here's how the book's beginning reads:
She stood watching the flames lick upward. The air outside was bitterly cold as snow fell thick from a starless sky. And yet the heat coming from the house was strong – strong enough to make her sweat even though she was in the middle of the square.
Maggie Smith clutched her adopted son, Bob as if she was afraid the fire would shoot out and snatch him from her arms.
How did this horrible thing happen? Bewildered and strangely numb, she could only stand and watch as the Second Street Boarding House was swallowed up.
Standing beside Maggie and cradling her young son Natey, was Emily Johnson. For years, she and Maggie had stood side by side as they worked, laughed, and cried – something the town did not understand because they were different colors. How could a white woman and a black woman be friends? But the answer, incomprehensible to many, was that they found union in their similarities and understanding in their differences.
The acrid smoke burned Maggie’s eyes. She wiped at them with a hand and sighed. Ever since the war started, she and her two daughters had found themselves in their pre-1860 existence. Lydia’s husband, Edgar and Frankie’s beau, Patrick had both enlisted, and Maggie’s husband Eli, owner and editor of the town’s newspaper, the Blaineton Gazette, had left to report on the war. He took his reporter/photographer Chester Carson with him, leaving Maggie to edit and print the paper on her own. She now relied on Grandpa O’Reilly to help with the printing press. Sixteen-year-old Frankie who was teaching at the town school also assisted with writing and editing the Gazette.
Maggie and her girls had made their own way in the time between her first husband, John Blaine’s death in 1850 and her 1860 marriage to Eli. This time, however, they found themselves working in a boarding house nearly devoid of men. The war had taken most of them, with the exception of Grandpa O’Reilly, who was too old to enlist, and Emily’s husband Nate, who was a man of color. Nate had become eligible for service by an act of Congress in July of 1862. He wanted to join the fight, but so far, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, formed in January 1863, was the only black regiment. Nate was hoping New Jersey would create a black regiment of its own.
The departure of most of Maggie’s boarders had an economic impact, too. The Second Street rooming house now struggled to bring in a modest income. It was kept afloat by Nate’s job at the Beatty Carriage Manufactory, the Gazette, Frankie’s salary as a teacher, and Lydia’s income as Dr. Lightner’s assistant. New boarder Matilda had started taking in mending to help out. Survival was not easy, not that it ever was.
“And now this,” Maggie whispered, as the roaring, powerful flames devoured the only thing that truly had belonged to her.
And now this. It leads the boarding house family to relocate twice.
The first is to Maggie's brother's house, which is a mansion and has plenty of room for everyone. But then Eli arrives on the scene with a plan to move everyone to his family's old house in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Maggie resists the idea, but Eli prevails, something that starts the first crack in their relationship.
Now, Maggie must do something she has never done before: find her way, and her family's way, in a new place.
But is this new place safe?
No. Of course not. It's Gettysburg. I know that, and you know that.
But Maggie does not. And neither does Eli.
More about Walk by Faith in upcoming posts.
Have a good evening, friends! And remember to be kind,
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder