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The Fire and the Ore by Olivia Hawker

The Fire and the Ore by Olivia Hawker PDF

Author: Olivia Hawker

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing


Publish Date: October 1, 2022


Pages: 393

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

The day was gray and cold, with a blustering wind that blew the rain in sheets up the empty road. Tamar sat primly on the carriage seat, just close enough to Thomas that she could hold the Hanway over both their heads, not close enough to touch him. Thomas was not her husband yet.

She could hear her own heart over the rain beating down on the umbrella and the hiss of the carriage wheels rolling through mud. This was the day she had waited for. The day she had suffered for, the reward she had left her home in England to claim—the promise for which she had walked more than a thousand miles, through the merciless heat of the summer prairie, through the fatal cold of the Rocky Mountains, through death itself to the land of Zion, the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

I could have wished for a fair day, she thought, glancing down at her pale-blue skirt. Rain had run off the edge of the Hanway to darken the hem of her fine new wool.

Tamar did her best to tuck the skirt closer to her ankles, under the shelter of the umbrella, and scolded herself for the disloyal wish. If the Lord had chosen rain for her wedding day, then so be it. The designs of the Almighty were often inscrutable to women and men. And Tamar had already made up her mind to trust in God, to go wherever He directed without question or complaint.

The carriage left the road and pulled onto the muddy lane of the Centerville meetinghouse. Thomas reined in his cart horse and climbed down, his age-worn boots splashing in a puddle. He tied the horse to a hitching post and offered his hand, helping Tamar descend from the seat. At the feel of his fingers clasped with her own, Tamar’s cheeks heated.

When she stood on solid ground—such as it was—she tried to withdraw her hand, but Thomas held it tightly, and with a small, secretive smile, she relaxed and allowed him to go on holding her. Why not, after all? Soon enough, they would be husband and wife. There was no shame in this act, no scandal. She repeated those words insistently in her mind as they made their way to the meetinghouse door, pressed close together under the Hanway.

Thomas opened the door for Tamar and took the umbrella, shaking it well before folding it closed. All the while, his eyes never left hers. She couldn’t seem to stop gazing at his rough, broad face in wonder and in love. She felt like a foolish girl, smitten and staring. She was foolish, and well did she know it.

“You look beautiful,” Thomas said, leading her down the meetinghouse aisle.

Tamar smoothed her free hand down the front of her skirt. She had made her wedding dress herself, of course. She’d bought the fine blue fabric with money Thomas had given her, and though she’d been obliged to make the garment in secrecy, sewing in her secluded bedroom by candlelight after the rest of the household had gone to sleep, she had treasured every moment of its making. Each tuck and stitch seemed to bind her love into tangible form. Someday she would pass the dress along to her own child—to a daughter with Thomas’s dark hair and proud stature, his American accent, his unwavering faith.

So clearly could Tamar see that future—the children she would bear, the many years of happiness to come—that she scarcely noticed the emptiness of the meetinghouse. She could have wished for a congregation of friends and family to witness her marriage, as fervently as she’d wished for a sunny day. Tamar allowed one pang of regret—what she wouldn’t have given to share this joy with her mother and her sisters! Despite her earnest efforts toward perfect faith and obedience, she couldn’t quite reconcile herself to the loneliness of this ceremony. She hadn’t been able to invite her mother or her two sisters to the blessed event. She wasn’t permitted even to tell them of her great happiness.

Resolutely, she cast that desire away, too. The Lord required a sacred silence from all who were called to walk this path. There would come a day—Thomas had told her—when nothing would be hidden, when all the world knew that the old religion had been restored to the Earth. On that blessed day, the silence would be broken, and all the world would know Tamar as Thomas’s wife.

I will fix my heart to that day, she told herself, pacing down the aisle at his side, as I once fixed my eyes to the horizon of the sea.

That gray, hostile, unchanging sea. On the voyage from London, there had been days—there had been weeks—when Tamar doubted. Yet faith had always found her again, and she knew that somewhere across the treacherous Atlantic, a new world was waiting, a new religion, a new life full of the love and joy that God promised.

And it had been true. She had suffered much—more than most women or men could bear. But she had believed in the Lord’s promise and found it at last in the valley called Deseret. She found Thomas Ricks—her love, her future, and in only a few moments more, her husband.

God will not make me suffer for long under the yoke of this secret. Until He tells me and Thomas both that we may reveal the truth, we shall bear this burden with joyful hearts, knowing we do the work of Heaven.

Brother Joseph Young, Centerville’s bishop, was waiting for them at the simple pinewood altar.

“Sister Loader,” the bishop said, smiling with all the warmth of a cloudless day. “You blessed woman, coming to this sacred calling with a righteous and loving heart.”

Tamar didn’t know how to answer. Her cheeks heated at the praise, and she lowered her face shyly.

Brother Young invited the bride and groom to join hands. They turned to face one another, and Tamar glanced up at Thomas. He was beaming at her with such love that for one dizzy, ecstatic moment, she felt as if the very substance of herself was coming apart, dissolving in the honey-sweet warmth of his adoration.

I would melt into you, she said silently to Thomas, and gratefully.

Let her very soul assimilate his. What else was a marriage for—even one as unusual as this?

Just as Brother Young opened his mouth to begin reciting the ceremony, the door to the meetinghouse groaned. Tamar glanced down the aisle in surprise. Two young girls entered the building, both wet through.

They must be Thomas’s relations, Tamar thought. Nieces or cousins, come to witness the ceremony.

She felt a surge of gratitude. Now that there would be a few more souls to celebrate with, perhaps this would feel like a proper wedding after all.

The elder of the two girls stopped in her tracks, staring at the altar. A chill of caution ran through Tamar. There was something strange about the girl’s face—something unusual about her eyes—but there was no mistaking her expression of dismay. And anger. She told the younger girl to sit in one of the pews, then looked at Tamar and Thomas again, red-faced, her features pinched with rage.

Thomas cleared his throat, a small and awkward sound. “Here she is, Brother Young,” he said hesitantly. “The other girl I told you about.”

“Other girl, indeed,” the stranger said. “I’d like to know exactly what’s going on here, Mr. Ricks. I turn up for my own wedding only to find the groom making his vows to another bride!”

The breath left Tamar’s body. Her hands loosened in Thomas’s grip, but he was still holding on to her. He wouldn’t let her go.

“I—I don’t understand,” Tamar finally stammered.

The girl came storming up the aisle, snarling like a dog with its hackles raised. Tamar could smell the wetness of her hair and dress, a feral, animal stench.

The girl raged at them both. “This man—this cad—told me to come to the church on this very day and he would make me his wife. Did you forget which girl you’d promised yourself to, Tom Ricks?”

At once, Thomas released one of Tamar’s hands and reached out for the stranger. She stepped back, scornful of his touch. Tamar wanted to jerk her own hand from his grip, but she was numb—weak and numb, disconnected from this dreadful scene as if she were watching herself on a stage. As if this were all some terrible pantomime.

“I should have realized,” Thomas said. “Of course, you don’t understand the custom, Jane. You’ve never been to church, as far as I’ve seen—and even most who count themselves among the fold have yet to learn of the Blessing of Jacob.”

The girl barked out some disbelieving reply. Tamar never heard it. Her head was spinning.

“This is our custom.” Thomas’s voice came to Tamar as if from the far end of an alley, distant and thin. “It has become so ordinary to us—to the men, at any rate—I never thought to ask myself whether you’d already heard. Whether you’d be unpleasantly surprised . . .”

Brother Young spoke up. “If the lady doesn’t like the thought of being involved in such an arrangement, then I can’t proceed, Brother Ricks. Not with her, anyhow. Sister Loader has already given her consent.”

Tamar shook herself out of her daze. Whatever this meant—whatever new trial the Lord had devised—she was determined to go forward, unwavering. Her faith had brought her this far. She wouldn’t fail God’s test now, at the very threshold of happiness.

“Yes,” Tamar said. “I will marry you, Thomas. I’ve made up my mind. No force on Earth or in Heaven can dissuade me.”

Thomas looked sheepishly at the rain-soaked girl. “I’m sorry, Jane. I should have prepared you for what you would see—what it would mean to marry me. Of course, if you’d rather not, I understand. As Brother Young said, no one will compel you. You may still have my charity, if you wish. But you must keep this a secret. It’s a sacred covenant, you see. We don’t discuss the practice with those who aren’t already called to the work. Do you understand?”

Jane said nothing for a long moment. Her breath was coming hard and fast. Her eyes seemed to have lost their focus—especially the right, which, as Tamar now saw, wandered and tipped in toward the girl’s nose. It gave her a helpless air, so much in contrast to her obvious anger that for a moment Tamar pitied her. Then the girl spun suddenly and ran from the meetinghouse. The younger—the child who’d been watching silently from the pews—scrambled out on Jane’s heels.

When the girls had vanished and the meetinghouse door slammed shut, Tamar finally found the strength to pull her hand from Thomas’s grip.

“I’m sorry,” he said rather weakly.

She struggled to keep her voice neutral and calm. She wanted to wail with pain. “Who is she, exactly?”

“An outsider,” Thomas said. “No Mormon. She’d been living with her stepfather in the foothills, but he’s gone now, and the poor girl is alone—both of them. They’re orphans, Tamar. I offered my help, but Jane would have none of it. She’s too proud for charity. The only way she would allow me to help her was if I agreed to marry her. And I thought, since I’d already been called to the Principle—”

Tamar realized her jaw was aching. Deliberately, she unclenched it. “Why did you never mention this girl to me? Why did you hide her when you knew I’d agreed—”

“You must believe me,” Thomas pleaded. “I never intended to hide Jane. I would never hide anything from you.”

He put out a trembling hand as if to touch her face. Tamar stepped back, out of his reach.

“I’ve been so busy with the Legion,” Thomas said, “training the men, preparing for what’s to come. Jane meant nothing to me—nothing except Christian charity. That’s why I never thought to speak of her. I’ll care for the girl, as God directs me, but I don’t love her, Tamar. Not the way I love you.”

She swallowed her tears. A sudden realization crowded into her mind, stifling every other thought, even the sting of Thomas’s crass, unthinking humiliation. Quietly, she said, “You haven’t told Tabitha. About us. About this marriage.”

Thomas sighed in surrender. He shook his head, unable to meet her eye.

“You promised! You said you would prepare Tabitha for what was to come.”

“I said I would tell Tabitha that I intended to take you as my second wife when the Lord decreed the time was right.”

Tamar waited. Silence stretched between them, broken only by the pounding of rain on the roof.

Thomas added weakly, “The Lord never decreed it.”

Tamar pressed a fist to her mouth, biting her knuckle. She squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn’t look at Thomas any longer, nor the bishop, nor the empty, expectant meetinghouse. She liked Tabitha Ricks. Perhaps she even loved Thomas’s first wife. Tabitha had been a friend to Tamar since she’d first come to Salt Lake Valley.

I might learn to hide this marriage from my mother and sisters, she thought, but how can I keep this secret from Tabitha?

It was too much to ask. Tamar wasn’t strong enough to bear the weight, the shame, the danger.

And yet she wouldn’t abandon Thomas at the altar, no matter how richly he deserved it. God had brought her from England to Deseret, promising with every painful step that a great reward waited in the valley. Here she was to find a love beyond all reckoning, beyond any she’d dreamed of in her comfortable life in London.

I was brave enough to walk the handcart trail, she told herself. Now God requires only a little courage more, only a few more steps, and I’ll have what I’ve long sought.

The door crashed open once more. Tamar jumped, clutching at the collar of her dress, but it was only the bedraggled girls.

She watched as Jane made her sister sit in the pew again. Then she marched back up the aisle, her face pale and resolute. She stepped up beside Tamar and faced Thomas, unflinching, across the altar.

“I won’t let you go back on our deal,” Jane said. “You will marry me, Tom Ricks. You’ll keep your word to me and my sister. And I’ll see to it that I get what’s due to a wife—every scrap and crumb of my due.”

Jane turned her piercing eyes on Tamar. The girl said nothing, but Tamar could read the mistrust in her expression, a dislike bordering on hate. She withered under the girl’s stare.

“Give the ceremony,” Jane said to Brother Young. “I’ll say my part. Tom must make his vows to me in God’s sight, and let his soul be damned if he goes back on his word.”

Tamar drew herself up, though her body was quaking. Her very soul seemed to tremble.

“And I,” she said. “I will take my vow. And Thomas shall take his.”

Let him answer to God if he breaks his word, she thought with a grim pang of satisfaction. Let him answer to God for all of this.

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