Heaven and Earth

Heaven and Earth

Kathleen Eagle

September 2022 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-180-7

Our PriceUS$16.95
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Back Cover Copy

Katherine Fairfield and her missionary husband were traveling to Oregon Country to spread God's word to the natives, when the young minister was struck down by fever. Suddenly, Katherine was left alone to find her way there, as well as fulfil the promise she'd made to her husband—to complete his work. And she would do it…somehow. Lucky for her, help came…in the form of a man who needed some saving himself.

Metis trapper Jed West was starting to regret rescuing Katherine Fairfield. She tempted him like no female he'd ever known. But she was a missionary, not a woman. The trail was no place for someone like her. But the longer they travelled together—and the closer they became—the more he doubted he'd be able to let her go…

Author Bio:

Kathleen Eagle published her first book, a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award winner, with Silhouette Books in 1984. Since then she has published more than 50 books, including historical and contemporary, series and single title, earning her nearly every award in the industry. Her books have consistently appeared on regional and national bestseller lists, including the USA Today list and the New York Times extended bestseller list.


"Kathleen Eagle is a national treasure." -New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Eagle crafts very special stories." –New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz

"Kathleen Eagle is an author without peer." –New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag

"One of romance fiction's premier storytellers." –New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber

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Chapter One

Oregon Country (now southern Idaho)

September, 1846

IT WAS PAST the shady hours of morning. Katherine’s six-mule hitch pulled the hulking prairie schooner over a hard-packed trail and under a blazing sun. She missed her bonnet, but she couldn’t spare the effort it would cost her to search for it. Elbows braced against her thighs, she hunched over an aching belly, squinted against the glare, and gave the mules an unnecessary chuck of the reins. Six gray rumps lumbered along, six pairs of ears flicking at buzzing deer flies. The mules ignored her. They had settled upon a rhythm, and they stuck to their pace. Katherine knew her fate rested precariously on the backs of six of God’s most obstinate animals. The traces rattled, and the big wheels groaned, but the mules plodded steadily over rocks and wheel ruts, headed not for the end of the world, as their driver was, but for the end of the day.

Every jolt of the wagon aggravated the awful cramping in Katherine’s stomach. It was only dysentery; on this journey she’d seen enough, suffered enough of it to know it for what it was. There was no need to panic. She told herself the pain was only the Lord’s way of jabbing her in the side to keep her alert. Each jerk of the wagon meant one more miserable rock left behind the wheels. Every mile she put behind her was littered with obstacles she would not have to face again. The Lord was beside her, and her mission lay west, somewhere beneath the blinding yellow sun.

Another jolt, another gut-twisting pain. The call to serve gave her the privilege to make sacrifices, she reminded herself, and she tried desperately to believe that it was true. She wanted to welcome the joyful burden, just as Thomas had so often admonished. She recalled the sincerity in her young husband’s voice, the saintly sparkle in his eyes, and she rode out the cramp on the strength of his memory. In times of difficulty, surely memories were God-given.

"IT’S THE SUREST sign of God’s calling that any man could hope to receive, Katherine.” The light in Thomas’s eyes was mystical, but his news was far from what she’d hoped to hear. He joined her on the stiff-backed deacon’s bench in her mother’s parlor. "The Missionary Board was willing to overlook our youth and my lack of experience and approve my request. It must be more than just a vainglorious dream on my part. I know God truly wants me in Oregon Country.” He reached for her hand. "Wants us.

"But it’s so far away.”

She hoped she didn’t sound like a whiny old fishwife, but she, with her mind on wedding details and the role of a village minister’s wife, had convinced herself the Missionary Board would refuse his application for the very reasons Thomas had happily dismissed. Her dreams of a New England saltbox parsonage nestled in a stand of tall oaks with a small white church close by were fading ominously. She couldn’t imagine what to put in their place. "The journey would be long and dangerous, and once we got there, who knows what—”

"God knows, Katherine. And He has chosen us. Don’t you see? Perhaps our youth is the very reason.” He squeezed her hand, an action which only seemed to brighten the light in his eyes. "I have read Marcus Whitman’s letters to the Board, and I tell you, Katherine, the work is there for us, waiting for our hearts and hands. The Whitmans have paved the way.”

"But they won’t be traveling with us. Marcus Whitman is a doctor, and he has made the journey more than once. He knows the safest route. I would feel so much better if—”

"Trust in the Lord, my love. There was a first time for Dr. Whitman, too. And for his wife. Narcissa has proven the journey more than possible for a gentle woman. You’re also strong-willed, Katherine. When other girls would do nothing but needlework, you were always willing to hike the hills, take your turn at the oars when we fished, even bait your own fishhooks.” He laughed, and then his voice became lower, as if he were sharing a secret. "We won’t be alone, you know. We are never alone.”

"I know, Thomas. I’ve read, I’ve heard, I’ve prayed—I know it’s true.” She lowered her gaze to their clasped hands. She knew she was weak. But she believed in Thomas. "I wish my faith was as strong as yours,” she whispered.

"You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”

She shook her head as she turned her hand within his, putting them palm to palm. She had grown up believing that marrying Thomas was her destiny. She had loved him from the time they were eight years old and he had pressed a fistful of bright blue lupines in her hand and then disappeared around the corner of the schoolhouse. She couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t known that Thomas would become a minister and Katherine the minister’s wife. His dreams had always been her dreams.

"It’s just that the prospect of traveling all the way to Oregon Country—”

"Is a bit frightening for a woman as gentle as the one you have become.” His blue eyes reminded her of that first gift of flowers. Even then they had glistened with his love for her. "I promise to take good care of you and mind how we go. Our mission begins the day of our marriage.”

Katherine smiled. "Which can’t come soon enough.”

BUT IT HAD COME, and the memory was still vivid. The sun had warmed their late-November wedding day, and the glare off the snow that had covered the churchyard had been almost as brilliant as the reflection off the bright water of the Snake River. The winding river would take her where she wanted to go. Somewhere along its banks stood Fort Boise. From there the way to the Whitman Mission would be challenging, but surely feasible. She’d come this far.

A thin, spiritless groan quickened Katherine’s well-honed sense of guilt. She glanced back into the wagon box. The child was still with her, if barely. If Katherine had turned back to Fort Hall after the little caravan of white-bonneted prairie schooners had deserted her, she would not have had to travel quite so far on her own. But Nancy was weak, emaciated from the fever, and if she were going to die, it would happen before they reached either destination. Katherine was headed west, and she was not about to retrace any hard-won steps. With a fever-riddled wagon, she might be turned away from either outpost. In that case, she would stay on the road, she told herself. It was a straight and narrow path that led to Thomas’s vision.

The terrible pain screwed itself another quarter turn into the core of her stomach. Lord, it had never been like this before. There must have been some blessing in all this somewhere, but she needed Thomas to tell her what it was. He had seen God’s hand in everything. He’d been her intercessor, her interpreter and prophet, and he would continue to be. She would not let him go. His memory was the single bright spot in a journey more arduous than anything she imagined so many months ago....

"Cheer up, Mrs. Fairfield. You have just been spared the tedious job of washing our clothes.” The broad-brim of Thomas’s black hat hid his eyes but not his infectious smile.

"Mr. Fairfield, I am covered with dirt, every inch of my—” She lowered her voice a whole octave. "—me. And just this morning the promise of reaching fresh water today, of washing myself and even freshening a bit of laundry seemed almost too good to be true. I guess it was.”

The wagon rolled beneath them, its springless undercarriage thumping their backsides with the unforgiving wooden seat. As the dust began to settle, they glimpsed the last of a huge herd of buffalo ford the stream ahead of them. By twos and threes the laggards leaped to the far bank. The shaggy beasts had reached the ford well in advance of the wagons, and the herd would not be rushed. The human party had to wait its turn. Even from a safe distance they’d been breathing and eating the dust they knew had rendered the water almost unusable. There would be no clean clothes that day.

"Think of the feast of buffalo steak we shall have tonight, Katherine.” With his elbow, Thomas almost managed to chuck her drooping chin. "How many blessings can you expect in one day? It isn’t raining, is it?”

"No, we haven’t run into any rain this week,” she admitted.

"No wheels to coax out of the mud. And look at us. Glory be!” His tone was worthy of the pulpit. "Our clothes are dry!”

"But I feel dirty, Thomas. I’ve felt dirty for weeks, and what’s worse, I smell dirty.”

"Do you?” He made a show of sniffing her shoulder, and she could no longer suppress a giggle as she leaned away. "I cannot smell a thing.”

"Your nose doesn’t work properly anymore.” Katherine swatted her husband’s knee. "It’s poised above the odor of your own body, which is outreeked only by the mules.”

"Such talk, coming from the minister’s wife.” The merriment in his eyes drew a smile that splintered the ring of grit around Katherine’s mouth. He laughed. "Think of this, Mrs. Fairfield. We shall have no trouble gathering these pilgrims at the river when we find a potable one.”

Katherine welcomed her pain when she remembered Thomas’s death. It seemed to bring him closer to her when she relived those last moments of his life. She longed to bring back that time so that she could say the things she should have said. Perhaps if she had done some small thing differently, he might have lived even a moment longer. She knew it to be a blasphemous thought, like conjuring the dead, but it came to her anyway. He had died before he had a chance to build a life. She had counted on him to be alive with her. She could have helped him. She would have been there by his side, ever doing her part. And more, she could have done more if he’d just given her more time. But he’d gone, and he’d left her behind. Breathless from the grip of another cramp, she remembered....

THE LIGHT IN Thomas’s eyes had taken on a strange glow. Katherine told herself it was the fever. It was a strain for him to keep her face in focus, but he was trying, and she wanted to believe his efforts were a sign of renewed strength.

To her horror he whispered, "I’m dying, Katherine.” She shook her head and uttered a raspy objection, but he insisted, "I am... yes, Katherine, I am... about to die.” He drew his unruly eyebrows down slightly as he measured each syllable and its meaning. "I am finished now, and with so little... accomplished.”

"That’s not true, Thomas.” Katherine daubed moisture over his dry lips with a soft cloth. What wasn’t true? That he was dying, or that he had accomplished little? Who was she to contradict him when she could not entertain either possibility, and he was struggling with truth beyond question? There were more possibilities. Possibilities were for the living, and as long as he still breathed....

"I don’t understand why.” His eyes were like two bits of glass, each shining out from the middle of a dark sinkhole. He searched her face. "Did He find me unworthy, Katherine? Am I lacking something that my... my resolve cannot possibly make up for?”

"You’re ill, Thomas. You’ll recover. I know you can re—”

"But I was so close,” he whispered. "All this time preparing. I was so certain of my....”

"You must fight this thing,” Katherine pleaded. "You must not leave me alone here. Together we are going to Oregon Country. Such possibilities there. You said it would be—”

"Yes. Do it for me, Katherine. Please.” Blinded by her tears, Katherine felt a pitifully feeble squeeze on her hand, while a more powerful one wrenched her heart. "Promise me you’ll build our church.”

"Oh, Thomas, you can’t—”

"Pray with me.” He closed his eyes. "Let me hear... sweet, gentle sound....”

Katherine had promised in her heart, even though she could not give him permission to leave her. She had prayed, just as she prayed for Nancy now. Let her live. Let her survive this. But Katherine cherished little hope for the child, and with that realization she entered into the vicious circle of berating herself for her lack of faith, mentally shoring herself up, renewing her commitment to the child who lay gravely ill in her wagon. For Nancy’s sake she had chosen to travel some appropriate distance behind by the rest of the wagon train. Out of sight but surely not out of mind.

At the sound of riders Katherine straightened her back and tamped down the pain, down into a deeper pocket inside her belly. Across the flat she could see five short-backed, stocky ponies loping abreast, each cutting its own swath through hock-high grass. Five bronze-skinned riders approached the wagon cautiously. The sunlight glossed their long black hair.

Katherine watched and waited while her mules kept to their dogged pace. In a race her heartbeat would have overtaken every hoofbeat, but she held tight to the reins and tried to stay calm. These were not the first savages she had encountered along the way. Had Thomas been sitting beside her, he would have looked forward to another blessing. Within moments he would have been smoking their pipe, and within the hour he would have offered the Bible.

Katherine fought the urge to vomit. The pain was very nearly overwhelming. If she had been able to think of a way, short of wailing, she would have asked these men for help. They were armed with bows and quivers filled with arrows, but their faces were not painted like those of the Sioux she had seen on the banks of the Platte. She tugged at the reins to halt the mules, and she faced the men, who slowed their mounts within a few yards of the wagon. It would be a mistake to show any sign of weakness to the two horsemen who circled the wagon slowly and approached from the rear. Katherine felt their eyes on her back just as Nancy offered a pathetic moan.

Casting a defiant look at the three men who stood quietly beside the mules, Katherine wrapped the reins around the brake and climbed over the driver’s seat. She glared at the two who peered through the back opening in the canvas.

"Mama?” The voice mimicked the whisper of dry leaves. Death’s harbinger. "Water....”

The two men exchanged words as Katherine focused on transferring water from canteen to spoon with trembling hands. In the periphery, the men behind the wagon were there, then gone, but she heard more discussion. It didn’t matter what was said. Katherine devoted herself now to spooning water between the child’s parched lips.

"Here it is, little one,” she whispered. "Try not to cast it up.”

Outside the wagon’s canvas walls, five horses trotted away. Clearly, the men saw what Katherine refused to give full credence. This time might be different. This one was the essence of innocence. She might be small enough to slip past death’s notice.

Pale, thin eyelids fluttered. "Katherine?” The little girl tried to swallow. Katherine wished she knew how to make the child’s throat work for her. "Can you put me with my daddy?”

"Oh, Nancy, your daddy—”

"In a deep hole,” Nancy said. "Not like Mama.”

"Don’t worry about that, child. I won’t let anything....”

Another promise.

Why must the dying extract one last ragged promise from those they were leaving behind? Didn’t they know a guilt-ridden survivor would agree to any pledge? Katherine shuddered as she recalled the journey’s first martyr. A bolt of lightning, a sudden stampede, and Nancy’s father had been laid to rest in Nebraska ground. There had been time for a proper grave then, with a suitable service and heartfelt grief. But secret promises could easily be made in the light of boundless hope.

All that had changed when, one by one, they had begun taking sick. Thomas had been first. Then Mr. Masters. Tommy Nigel. Then Trudy Masters, Mrs. Corkindale, and Nancy’s mother, Lydia Baskin. The terrible pestilence had turned the once amicable group of travelers into a grim train of terrified individuals, each of whom had privately vowed to save himself and his family at all costs.

And the cost had been high. The dying were shunned, and the dead were hastily dispatched into shallow graves. In the end they had risked their immortal souls for another earthbound day. Katherine was certain those who had abandoned two living human beings in this wilderness would carry the burden on their consciences for the rest of their lives. Beyond that, only God knew what they would face.

Katherine had told them she understood. She agreed with their plan, for they had to hurry on. Too much time had been lost. They had to cross the mountains before winter set in. Katherine was surely a saint, they’d said, burying her husband so bravely, then taking the sick woman and child into her wagon. Unfortunately, she lagged behind the rest of the party. She was forced to stop too often to care for her passengers. She would find help at Fort Boise, they’d said. She wished them godspeed, and they wished her the same. There were tears in Mrs. Mueller’s eyes, and Jane Simms had started to embrace her, but Jane’s husband had prevented the contact. Katherine understood. They had to keep their distance and preserve their health.

"Katherine?” Katherine touched the child’s hot face. "Are you sick, Katherine?”

"No, dear, I’m fine.” She wondered how Nancy had even that much awareness left. "I’m going to take care of you, and you’ll be fine, too.”

Another promise. Was it a sin to lie to a dying child?

"Don’t let those... wolf dogs get me like they did—”

"I won’t.”

And another. They weren’t completely empty if you tried, were they? But, Lord, how could she remember them all, much less keep them?

By late afternoon the pain had become Katherine, and Katherine had become the pain. It tore at her insides, while everything around her became disjointed. She had the fever, too. She knew she did. The six pairs of pointed gray ears bobbed up and down in front of her. The river undulated in and out of focus like the viper for which it was named. Heat pressed down on Katherine’s head, rose from the earth beneath her, and closed in from all sides. Harnesses clacked and clinked, wheels creaked, and hooves clumped. Separate sounds spun within the toy top that was her head. She felt trapped, as if she’d been locked up with some cloying stench in the confines of a steamer trunk.

Katherine wasn’t sure when she had stopped the wagon or how she had climbed down from the seat, but she knew the wagon was still close by. It would wait while she went to the river’s edge and gathered the coolness against her face, breathed the freshness into her body. She stood high above the water. It shimmered in the sunlight, teasing her. So close one minute, so far below her the next. Her stomach was still rolling, like the wheels of the wagon over the rutted trail.

She sank to her knees and experienced, disjointedly, the sensations of vomiting and watching herself vomit, both at once. Her observer-self chided her retching-self, ordered her to hold up her head, pull herself together, and get back on the straight and narrow path. But the path wasn’t straight. It surged and shuddered, then pitched her headlong into a slough of her own making

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