Christy should be thrilled when David, the handsome minister, proposes marriage. So why do thoughts of Dr. Neil MacNeill keep popping into her head? Before she can answer David, Christy is blinded in a terrible riding accident and all her dreams are threatened.
About the Author
Catherine Marshall, New York Times best-selling author of thirty books, is best known for her novel Christy. Based on the life of her mother, a teacher of mountain children in poverty-stricken Tennessee, Christy captured the hearts of millions and became apopular CBS television series. As her mother reminisced around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders.A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine's enduring career spanned four decades and six continents, and reached over 30 million readers.
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"Miz Christy! I got a question to ask you! And it's a matter of life and death — yours!"
Christy Huddleston paused near the edge of Big Spoon Pond. Creed Allen, a nine-year-old who was one of her students at the Cutter Gap Mission school, dashed toward her.
"What is it, Creed?" Christy called. "The Reverend Grantland and I were just about to go for a boat ride."
Creed came to a stop, panting. "I know. That's what I got to ask you about."
"Actually, Creed," David Grantland said with an impatient roll of his dark eyes, "I have something to ask Miss Christy too. Something very important."
Christy looked at David in surprise. Something in his expression sent a shiver of excitement mixed with uncertainty through her. Could it be ... ?
David had arranged this special evening so carefully. He'd told Christy to dress up, so she'd worn her favorite yellow dress and braided daisies in her sun-streaked hair. David was wearing his Sunday best, and his dark hair was slicked back. They'd had a dinner picnic.
David had brought hand-picked flowers and a homemade cake his sister, Ida, had made especially for the occasion. He'd even brought a candle along in case it got dark. The sun was just now beginning to sink, sending a golden sheen over the pond.
Creed tugged on Christy's arm. His freckled face was tight with worry. "Please, Miz Christy. I need to talk to you, in private. It's for your own good, I reckon."
"David," Christy said, "would you mind giving Creed and me a moment of privacy?"
David sighed loudly. "Creed, do you understand that Miss Christy and I are in the middle of ..." He hesitated, glancing at Christy. "Of ... an appointment?"
"Appointment?" Christy teased. "Is that what this is, David?"
"Shucks, Preacher," Creed said apologetically. "I didn't know you was appointin'. I just figgered you was sweetheartin'."
Christy stifled a giggle as David's cheeks turned as red as the setting sun. "Tell me, Creed," she said, taking the boy aside. "What brings you so far out of your way? What was it you wanted to know?"
"Well ..." Creed tugged at a ragged overall strap. "It's like this. Can you swim?"
"Yes, I can. But why do you ask?"
Creed lowered his voice to a whisper. "See, me and Sam Houston saw the preacher out here after school, practicin' his boatin'. Now, the preacher's mighty fine at speechifyin', don't get me wrong, but he ain't no boatin' man." Creed glanced at David, then hung his head sadly. "It was like watchin' a hound try to strum a banjo. Just 'cause he tries hard don't mean the Lord meant it to be so."
"Thank you, Creed, for your concern," Christy said, trying very hard not to smile. "But I promise I'll be fine."
"That's a mighty tippy ol' rowboat."
"We are not going to tip over, Creed."
Creed did not look at all convinced.
"Now, you run along," Christy said. "I'll see you on Monday at school."
David was waiting by the boat impatiently. "What was it Creed wanted?"
"He was concerned about my well-being."
"As it happens," David said with a smile, "so am I."
He held out his arm. Christy lifted her long dress and stepped into the little wooden rowboat that belonged to the mission. David gave the boat a gentle push and leapt aboard. The boat rocked back and forth like a huge cradle. He fumbled with the oars for a moment, then settled into an uneven back-and- forth motion.
Christy trailed her hand in the water. The pond was still cold, although the air was surprisingly warm for May. She had only been in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee for a few months, but already Christy had learned that the weather could be very unpredictable.
From far off, a mourning dove cooed its sweet, sad song. Beyond the pond, the mountains loomed — dark and vast, yet somehow comforting. David's oars sent red and gold ripples through the water.
"Sometimes I can't believe how beautiful it is here," Christy whispered. "Fairlight says it's like God's most perfect painting." Fairlight Spencer was Christy's closest friend in Cutter Gap.
David stopped rowing and stared intently at Christy. "Funny," he said softly, "sometimes I feel that way when I look at you, Christy." He reached into his pocket. "There's something I —" He pulled out a white envelope covered with delicate handwriting. "That's not what I was looking for," he muttered. "What did I do with that box?"
Christy cleared her throat nervously. Out here alone with David as the first faint stars began to glimmer, she felt very young and awkward. What if David really was planning on asking her to marry him? What would she say? She was only nineteen. And they'd only known each other a few months. Was she ready for such a life-changing commitment?
"Who's the letter from?" Christy asked.
"My mother," David said with a grin. "She's coming for a visit soon."
"That will be wonderful!" Christy exclaimed. "I can't wait to meet her."
"Don't be too sure." David gazed up at the darkening sky. "She's a little ... well, interfering. Especially since my father passed on a couple of years ago. She can be rather judgmental, I suppose. But she means well. You know what Ida's like."
Christy smiled. David's sister, Ida, was a stiff, no-nonsense type who took life very seriously.
"Mother's like Ida," David continued, "only she's more outspoken. And she has even higher standards."
"Standards?" Christy asked. "Such as?"
"Such as she thinks her only son should be preaching at a fine city church with velvet cushions on the pews. Not in a schoolhouse filled with people who spit tobacco during his sermons."
"My parents were the same way when I decided to come to Cutter Gap to teach," Christy recalled. "I tried to explain to them that I felt like I had a calling. That there was something I needed to do with my life."
"It's not just my work Mother's concerned about." He gave a soft laugh. "She even has a girl picked out for me."
"A girl?" Christy repeated.
"Delia Jane Manning," David said. He looked down at the water, as if he could see her image there. "Very prim, very well bred. Very boring too."
"Is she also very pretty?"
"Not to worry, Miss Huddleston. She couldn't hold a candle to you." He took a couple of quick strokes and the rowboat glided to the middle of the pond. It was dark now. The sliver of moon glimmered in the water like a lost smile.
"Did you have 'appointments' with this Miss Manning too?" Christy teased.
"Oh, we went to some social events together from time to time. Delia loves the opera, the ballet, the theater. And she's a wonderful equestrian."
"That reminds me," Christy said. "Tomorrow you promised me my first jumping lesson on Prince." Prince, the mission's proud black stallion, was a recent donation to the mission.
Christy gave a little shrug. "Of course, it won't exactly be like riding with your friend Miss Manning."
"Thank goodness for that," David said gently. He leaned closer and reached for Christy's hand. His fingers were trembling. Christy realized that she was trembling too.
"You know what my mother thinks?" David said. "She thinks I wasn't too happy here at the mission until you came along. She thinks maybe you're the reason I'm staying here."
Christy took a deep breath. "Am I?" she whispered.
David smiled. "What do you think?" He reached into his pocket again and withdrew a small velvet box. Carefully he opened it. "This," he said, "was my great-great-grandmother's." He held out the box. The diamonds caught the moonlight and turned it into a thousand stars.
"Christy," David said, his voice barely audible above the breeze, "may I have your hand —" He stopped suddenly. "No. Wait. This is all wrong. I keep looking into those blue eyes of yours and forgetting all my careful plans." He laughed sheepishly. "I'll bet I've practiced this a hundred times."
Christy felt a strange sensation overtaking her. Dread, fear, joy — what was it she was feeling? David was about to ask her to marry him! What should she say? Did she love David? Really love him? How did you know such a thing?
Fairlight had said love felt like your heart had sprouted wings. "It makes you all fluttery and light inside," she'd promised. Did Christy ever feel that way with David? Sometimes. On the other hand, she'd felt that way with Dr. MacNeill, too, and of course she didn't love him!
Still, there had been that night at the mission not so long ago. Doctor MacNeill had held her close when they were dancing. Her soaring feelings that evening were still a mystery to her. Most of the time, all she felt for Neil MacNeill was frustration. The man was so ornery.
At least with David there were no highs or lows. He was just a good, steady, reliable friend. Someone she could always count on. He made her feel safe and secure. He shared Christy's values. And she had to admit he was very charming, not to mention good looking. He was the kind of man Christy's mother would have called "a good catch." Wasn't he just the kind of man Christy wanted for a husband?
"David," Christy said. "I'm not sure —"
"Wait, wait," David said. He handed Christy the ring as he shifted his position. The boat began to rock. "I want to do this just right."
Awkwardly, he balanced on one knee. The boat seesawed, sending cold spray into Christy's face. As she wiped it away, Christy noticed a dark figure walking along the edge of the pond.
"Who could that be?"
"Hello!" came a familiar, deep voice.
"It's the doctor!" Christy cried.
David glanced over his shoulder. "Just my luck," he groaned. "Ignore him, Christy."
"I try to make a habit of it," she joked.
"I mean it. I have something important to say, and I intend to say it now, before I lose my nerve."
"Go ahead, David. I'm listening."
"Christy Rudd Huddleston ..." David swallowed. "May I have your hand in marr —"
"How's the fishing, you two?" the doctor called.
David's eyes widened in frustration. He clenched his fists, leapt up, and spun around. "Can't you see we're —" he began.
But just then the boat began to sway wildly, taking on water with each rock. Christy grabbed the sides of the rowboat. She watched David flail his arms as he tried to regain his balance. He looked so ridiculous that she began to laugh. And she kept laughing even as the boat rocked wildly from side to side.
Then suddenly the rowboat turned over, and she realized just how cold the water really was.CHAPTER 2
"Well, well," said Dr. MacNeill as Christy and David struggled onto the shore. "Seems a little chilly for a swim, all things considered."
"We did not intend to swim," David muttered as he pulled off a shoe and emptied it of water. "And we wouldn't have had to if you had just minded your own business!" He turned to Christy. "Are you all right?"
Christy plucked a wet daisy from her hair. Her beautiful dress hung like a wet blanket around her, and her hair lay plastered to her face. Realizing what a pitiful sight she must be, she laughed again.
"I'm fine, David, really I am. And you have to admit" — she exchanged a grin with the doctor — "it is kind of funny when you think about it!"
"Our perfect evening is ruined, the mission's rowboat is submerged, and my only suit is soggy. Forgive me if I fail to see the humor in this."
"Perhaps I can help," Dr. MacNeill offered. "You see, the humor came in right around the time you went flying —"
"What were you doing here, anyway?" David interrupted. "Why aren't you off somewhere healing the sick?"
"I was out for an evening walk, actually," the doctor said. "I ran into Creed Allen awhile back, over past Turkey Ridge. He said he was worried you weren't quite seaworthy. As it turned out, he was right. I thought you were probably trout fishing — not that you'd find anything this time of year. But Creed explained to me you were 'appointin'.'?"
David's mouth tightened into a line. The doctor smiled back with that charming, annoying half grin of his.
This wasn't the first time Christy had seen the doctor and David at each other's throats. More than one person had told Christy it was because both men were interested in her. But she knew that wasn't the only reason David and Neil didn't get along. David was a young man of God, anxious to change the world. The doctor, on the other hand, had no use for religion. He was older and more cynical. But despite that, he had a charming sense of humor. When Christy was unhappy or confused, she could always count on the doctor to lift her spirits.
She grinned at the two men. David was tall and lean, with dark hair and wide-set brown eyes. The doctor was a big, burly man. His hair was always messy, and his clothes were often wrinkled, as if he had better things to worry about. Most of the time he did. He was the only doctor in the remote mountain cove.
"If you hadn't come along, this night would have been perfect," David seethed. "I had it all planned —"
"Planned?" the doctor interrupted. "Not much planning is needed for a fishing expedition this time of year." Hewinked at Christy. "I doubt anything was taking the bait. Or should I say anyone?"
Suddenly, Christy gasped. "Oh, no!" she cried. "No!" She grabbed David's arm. "David! The ring! Your great-great-grandmother's diamond ring! I must have dropped it!"
David closed his eyes. He took a deep breath before he spoke. At last he put his arm around Christy's shoulders. "Don't worry," he said wearily. "We'll find it."
"I don't know how. Somehow, it'll turn up. Come on. I'll take you back to the mission house. You'll catch your death out here." With one last glare at Dr. MacNeill, he led Christy away.
As they left, Christy could hear the doctor chuckling behind them. "Diamond ring, eh?" he said. "Strangest bait I ever heard of. Whatever happened to worms?"
* * *
Christy sat on the mission steps the next morning. A dozen children were gathered around her. It was Saturday, and usually the children would have been helping their parents with chores. But word had spread quickly about the reverend's lost diamond ring. Ruby Mae Morrison, a talkative thirteen-year- old who lived at the mission house, had seen to that.
"For sure and certain one of us can find it," Creed vowed. "And the boat, too, like as not."
"That pond's pretty deep, isn't it?" Christy asked doubtfully.
"Nope," said Sam Houston Holcombe, a blond-haired nine-year-old. "Deepest part's maybe seven, eight feet tops."
"Trouble is the muddy bottom," Ruby Mae said, curlinga finger around a lock of red hair thoughtfully. "That ring could be buried. It's soft down there, and squishy-like."
"We'll go a-divin'!" Creed exclaimed. "It's purt near summer warm today."
"Well, be very careful," Christy warned. "I don't want anyone who can't swim well going near the water." She paused. "Tell you what. I'll give a reward to the person who finds that ring."
"W-what's a re-ward, Teacher?" asked Mountie O'Teale. The shy ten-year- old was overcoming a speech problem with Christy's help.
"It's a present, in a way. A gift for doing something. How about my copy of Huckleberry Finn?"
"That would make a right smart re-ward," said Orter Ball, Mountie's older brother. "Even if'n we can't read it all."
"I'll help you with the hard parts," Christy said.
Creed nudged Sam Houston. "Race ya," he said, and a moment later the whole group was rushing for the pond.
Behind Christy, the front door of the mission house opened and Miss Alice Henderson joined her on the porch. "Beautiful morning, isn't it, Miss Alice?" Christy said.
Alice Henderson was a Quaker mission worker from Pennsylvania who had helped start the mission school. She was loved and respected in Cutter Gap and the communities around it. She had a calm, gentle way about her, but she was strong as the old oaks in the mission yard.
"There's an old saying," Miss Alice said, patting Christy on the shoulder. "'There are no accidents.'"
"What do you mean?" Christy asked.
"Losing David's ring that way." Miss Alice gave a knowing smile. "Perhaps it wasn't entirely an accident?"
"Of course it was! David rocked the boat, and it overturned, and that was that."
Miss Alice walked down the steps and examined the buds on a forsythia bush. "I wonder," she said softly, "what you planned to say to David, if you hadn't been so rudely interrupted?"
"Well," Christy said, "I would have told him I was very flattered, and that I care for him very deeply, and —" She met Miss Alice's deep-set eyes. "And I'd love to stay and talk, Miss Alice, but I have a riding lesson planned. David's teaching me to take Prince over jumps."
"I'll let you off the hook, then," Miss Alice said as Christy started for the pasture. "Just be careful, Christy. Don't take on more than you're ready for."
Christy paused. "Are you talking about riding? Or my romantic life?"
"Both." Miss Alice smiled. "As dangerous as riding can be, romance can be far more painful."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Proposal"
Copyright © 1995 Marshall-LeSourd, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Gilead Publishing.
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