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Lanetta J.


Where Forever Begins


A Simple Love Story

Apart from recorded historical fact, this is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to events or persons, living or dead, is entirely

Copyright © 2006 by Lanetta J. Sprott

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any

form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and
retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the

Photograph by Barbara Nunn

Printed in the United States of America

Available through


The notice arrived the week before Christmas.

After Jane dismissed her scholars for the holiday break, she walked
into the storefront and found her father frowning at a letter he held in his
“Daddy, what’s the matter? Is something wrong?”
“I received this today from the government people,” he said,
handing her the paper. “They’re questioning the excise tax I’ve paid.”
The stiff white document, read in part:
—You, or your representative, must appear in the Boston office within forty-five
days from the date of this notice—
“I’m certain it’s only a random request, a routine procedure. All of
your records are in order. There’ll be no problem.”
The concerned look on William’s face remained and the crease
deepened between his brows.
“If you prefer, I’ll attend as your representative. I’m sure my
scholars will enjoy another break so soon after the holidays. I can give
them an assignment to occupy the time away from their desks.”

“Oh dear, thank you,” William sighed with relief. “I didn’t know
how I’d manage such a meeting without your mother. I knew I couldn’t
close the store, and I didn’t want to ask you.”
“It’s all right.” Jane wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She
kissed him on the cheek and looked straight into his brown eyes. “I can
manage and the children will be fine.”
Once the decision was final, Jane posted a card:

December 16, 1876

My Dearest Martha,
I will be traveling to Boston on business the last
week of January. May I impose and stay with you? Would
your father mind? It would be good to see you again.
Merry Christmas, my dear friend.
Affectionately yours, Jane Dodson

Martha’s telegram arrived within a week:

Of Course. Cannot wait.
In mid-January, the community’s pastor visited the store. While
gathering extra supplies he mentioned to William, “If the weather holds,
the girls and I are going to take advantage and visit Mother.”
“I do hope it continues,” William said. “Jane must be in Boston by
the end of the month.”
“She’s more than welcome to ride with us as far as Salem.”
“Thank you. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the offer. I’ll let her know.”
After service the following Sunday, Jane and Pastor Cox confirmed
the travel arrangements. They would leave in one week.
Early the following day Pastor Cox sent a telegram to his mother:
Arrival 29th. Will take Miss Dodson to Salem Inn.
And, he received a response a few days before their departure.
On Friday, Pastor Cox stood outside the classroom as the bell rang
marking the end of the day and week. He listened while the
schoolmistress reviewed the assignments and all said their goodbyes.
The Cox children were among the first to pass through the door.
Jacob immediately asked, “Daddy, may I buy a stick of candy?”
“You all may have one,” he announced. “Wait for me at the counter
and mind your manners with Mr. Dodson. I need to speak with your
“Good afternoon Pastor,” Jane said, standing from her desk. She
took a deep breath. She had overheard his conversation with the children
and had never known him to buy them candy. Perhaps his plans

changed, the thoughts flooded her mind, something has come up. He
would not be traveling, and the sugared treats must be a peace offering
for the children.
“Good afternoon. I have some news I would like to share with you,”
he said.
Jane braced and tried to smile. She began to prepare herself for
riding the entire trip on the stagecoach. It was something she had put in
the back of her mind. The stage companies crowded passengers inside
the coaches, and as a rule, she’d end up in the middle. She’d felt relieved
when she thought the ride to Boston would mean going only half way in
discomfort. Jane remembered the cramped conditions that caused
stiffness after only a few minutes. She stretched her back, her body
feeling restricted already.
“I received a telegram from my mother,” Pastor Cox began. “She’s
offered you lodging for the night. No need for you to stay at the Salem
After a few seconds, Jane realized what he said. Relieved about the
ride, nonetheless she began to protest. “Your mother has been ill, I
wouldn’t want to impose.”
“I assure you, Mother wouldn’t offer if she didn’t feel up to it. It
will please her. You two haven’t had much opportunity to visit.”
“Well then, I am honored.”
“It’s settled. We will pick you up Monday morning.”
“I’ll be ready. Thank you again. I’ll see you at church Sunday.”
Jane sat at her desk and let out a thankful sigh as the pastor closed
the door behind him.
Traveling to Boston during the last week of January was a risky
venture for anyone. The winter had been unseasonably warm, however.
Without the usual blinding snowstorms that could leave several feet of
snow, it appeared winter had forgotten the area.
Jane appreciated the chance to share the family carriage with Pastor
Cox, Lauren, and Mary. It was always a pleasure to be in their company.
The girls were among the first of Jane’s scholars, and she had recently
started teaching the pastor’s son, Jacob. His youngest son, Aaron, who
had just begun to crawl, would have a few more years before beginning
his lessons.
The trip to Salem was quiet at times. During a break in
conversation, Jane reflected on the day she had first met the Cox family
three and a half years ago. She remembered it as if it had happened the
day before.
She’d returned from seminary on a Wednesday, in the middle of
August. The opportunity to meet the new neighbors had not happened

until the following Sunday morning. The day promised to be a good one.
Not only was it her twentieth birthday, but she was home after being
away for three years.
Jane and her sister, Lydia, and their parents rode in the open
carriage, all dressed in their Sunday’s best. A large picnic basket sat
between the sisters. The previous afternoon, the three women had
prepared the full meal now packed in the woven carrier.
While Jane peeled potatoes for frying, her sister had explained,
“Since the arrival of the new pastor, the community has celebrated with a
feast after each service. We prepare enough for our own family, then
place it all out with the others for a sampling of everything.”
“What a wonderful idea. I didn’t realize the church building was
large enough to put out food and house people, too.”
Lydia and Mildred exchanged glances. Jane noticed their nod.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“We haven’t told you. We thought it best to wait until you came
home, not in a letter,” Mildred said.
Jane looked at her mother. “Told me what?”
“About the church building. The community is building a new one.
It’s much bigger than the old, with stained glass windows and a tall
steeple. It will have a ringing chamber with six bells. We’re all excited
about it.”
“I like the quaintness of the old one,” Jane said. “I remember Daddy
telling me about when he and Uncle Daniel were youngsters. Sometimes
they hid out in the attic during service. After he told me, I would sit and
listen, trying to hear whether anyone caused the rafters to squeak.” Jane
laughed at the memory while scraping the potato peelings into the bucket
for the chickens. “Will it be a reception hall now?”
Mildred hesitated, “I’m afraid not.”
During the ride to church, Jane brought the subject up again. “You
never mentioned, what are they going to do with the old church?”
Lydia’s smile faded. “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but the old
church burnt down.”
Jane didn’t blink, didn’t move. Large tears welled up in her eyes.
“No one was hurt,” Lydia continued. Then they topped a hill and
her smile returned. As she squeezed Jane’s hand, she pointed to the
northeast. “Look. See the cross towering above the treetops? That’s our
new church.”
William directed the horse off the main road and through the
clearing toward the old church grounds. Jane saw the spot where the
small church once stood and her heart tightened. Then she studied the
new building. She liked that it was closer to the cliff than the original and

realized the windows will capture the rising sun, casting brilliant colors
through the glass within the sanctuary. As she looked around at the
gathering of people, she couldn’t help notice the community’s gladness
of heart.
Mildred had brought along the largest quilt they owned so the
family could sit together. Jane returned her attention to her family in time
to help spread it out near the grove of birch trees. Once settled, a dark-
haired man with bronzed skin walked up to the edge of the quilt. He
smiled as he nodded general greetings to the family. Mildred introduced
“Jane, this is Mr. Samuel Cox, the Pastor’s cousin.”
“How do you do?” Jane asked.
From the corner of her eye she caught the immediate glow on her
sister’s face.
Samuel bowed, tipped his hat, and replied, “Very well, thank you.”
Jane caught the quick wink he sent Lydia before walking away.
“Do you know him well, Lydia?”
“Later,” Lydia whispered while waving her finger before her lips.
The slight summer breeze with the scent of wintergreen was most
refreshing. Suddenly, the smell of freshly cut wood drifted near. Jane
glanced at the new church’s construction surrounded by large elm and
birch trees. Ah, the cleared setting is a perfect place for the Lord’s house,
she marveled.
Right before the service began, three children ran up and sat on
Jane’s lap. Though fitting was hard for them all, they managed, and her
heart swelled with the warm greeting.
“Hello. You’re new. I’m Lauren. I’m six.”
“My name is Mary. I am three and eleven twelfths.”
“Good morning, ladies,” Jane said with a laugh as she adjusted the
small bodies on her crossed legs. She brushed the blonde hair out of the
small boy’s eyes and asked, “Who are you?”
A whispered voice said, “Jacob.”
She whispered back, “How old are you Mr. Jacob? Can you show
me with your fingers?”
After a few minutes of coaxing, he held up two little fingers.
“Good job,” Jane said, giving him a warm hug.
“Are you our new teacher?” Lauren asked.
“Yes. I am Miss Dodson.”
A woman approached and called out, “Come along children the
service is about to start.” The youngsters scrambled to their feet.
“Yes, Mama,” Lauren answered.
“You must be Lydia’s sister,” the lady said, holding out her hand.

“Welcome home. I’m Hannah Cox. I hope the children weren’t bothering
Jane stood to shake her hand. “Hello. Yes, I’m Jane. Thank you.
The children are delightful.”
“We are the neighbors who share West Pond. We’ll talk later,”
Hannah said, then rushed to add, “The pastor gets grumpy if the service
doesn’t start on time.” With a wink, she shooed the children over to their
own quilt.
Hannah Cox impressed Jane. She seemed full of energy and
enthusiasm. The usual pastor’s wife was so timid and reserved; talking
on a personal level had always been difficult. Jane had never known the
given name of a minister’s wife before.
The service began and Jane was delighted Pastor Cox did not
scream the “fire and brimstone” she’d often heard as a child. His sermon
was calming, precise, and determined: “Trust in God. Give to the Lord
your concerns, place them in His care, and let them go.” Unlike any
pastor Jane had known, he focused on heaven rather than hell, grace
rather than fear.
She looked around and observed the others. The congregation
responded to his teachings as well. It seemed as if life in Magnolia had
begun to blossom like the surrounding birch trees in the spring. While
she’d been at the seminary, a fresh breeze had swept through and life in
the community had renewed itself. She took a deep breath and thanked
the Lord she was home.
When the service was over, everyone brought out the baskets from
their carriages. They constructed makeshift serving tables using boards
across saw horses. Women and children eagerly placed the food on every
space available. Once the pastor offered thanks for the bounty before
them, the celebration began.
As Jane helped the Cox children with their plates, she noticed Lydia
talking and laughing in secret with a group of young women. She
wondered aloud, “What’s going on?” and made a mental note to corner
Lydia once she settled her new little friends. However, before she had a
chance, their father called for everyone’s attention with the loud rapping
of a knife against a cast iron lid.
William stepped up on the new church steps. Once the crowd fell
into the requested silence, he began speaking in a bleak tone. “Well
friends, Mr. Samuel Cox has asked for Lydia’s hand in marriage.” After
a teasing pause, he continued, “I told him ‘Yes’.”
Cheers, congratulations, and excitement filled the air around the
family. The community hadn’t seen a wedding ceremony in a long time.
As Lydia and Samuel strolled off, the women crowded around Mildred

and Jane. Immediately they began planning the arrangements, occupying

their conversation during the remaining afternoon. The men gathered at
the boat dock to discuss fishing and farming while watching the children
who swam in the ocean.
Once home, Lydia and Jane escaped to the backyard. The two
women sat alone in the swing, shaded by the large magnolia tree. Their
special place to have sister-only talks, it offered a quiet location for Jane
to learn all of the details.
“Tell me everything.”
Lydia took a deep breath. “I’ll start at the beginning.”
“A wonderful place to start,” Jane said, laughing.
“It’s chilling how everything works out for a reason. Remember last
spring, my letter telling you the Larson family moved to Chicago and I
lost my job? About the same time, Pastor Cox bought the Millers place
next door.”
“Mother wrote me the new pastor and family moved in, but didn’t
give me any details.”
“A colleague inherited the farm and wanted to sell it. The pastor
purchased it, sight unseen, and moved his family from Salem.”
“Oh my. Before I left for Springfield, the main house and out
buildings needed repair desperately. I would hate to think what two years
of sitting idle did to the property.”
“It was horrible,” Lydia confirmed. “Hannah was overwhelmed with
everything. Besides the main house, they had to rebuild the barn, repair
fences, put in a garden, purchase livestock, and help with the new church
“Only the two of them? To do all the work?”
“After two weeks, Hannah suggested they ask for his cousin’s
Jane noticed Lydia’s mouth began to curve into an unconscious
“I had offered to watch the children while they worked on the
various chores and was there when Samuel first arrived.”
“What an honorable man, for him to drop everything and come
“It was. Samuel did not hesitate when he received the telegram
Pastor sent and arrived shortly afterwards. He closed up his cabinetry
shop and came, but even with his help, the renovations still took
“How did the old church burn? Neither you nor Mother explained
what happened.”
“Well. A few months before Pastor arrived, Mr. Wilson’s youngest

son accidentally knocked over a lit lamp. It landed in the seat of a bench.
You know how dry the wood can get. Bless his heart, before the child
could react, the entire pew was burning.”
Jane gasped.
“The evening prayer gathering was over and only a handful
remained behind to clean up. They tried to extinguish the flames, but it
was futile.”
“Praise the Lord no one was hurt.”
“So true. Pastor Hawthorne had retired, and the deacons alternated
weeks giving the sermons while waiting for the new pastor. Few people
attended. Then the fire brought everyone back again. We all banded
together to remove the rubble and start building the new church. When
Pastor Cox and then Samuel arrived they divided their time between the
homestead renovations and the church.”
“How did you and Samuel ever have a chance to visit? It sounds as
if he was extremely busy.”
“Oh he was, and continues to be. I’ve been taking care of the
children every day and preparing meals for the entire family. He and I
have managed to share moments.” Lydia’s fair complexion began to
darken, almost matching her auburn hair.
“I am so happy for you!” Jane exclaimed.
“I realize the short courtship may cause some concern, but I don’t
share the doubts. His compassion, character, and wit fill my waking
hours and nightly dreams. I’m twenty-five. The same as Hannah, and
Samuel is the only man ever to come close to my heart.”
Yes, etched in her mind forever was the day Jane met the Cox

The travelers arrived in Salem at dusk. Pastor Cox directed the

carriage to the front gate of his mother’s home. The empty-handed girls
were off and running to the front door, leaving the luggage for Jane and
the pastor to carry inside. Excited to be at their MeMa’s, the children
raced to see who would be the first to pull the bell; the winner cheered
and both laughed. Their grandmother opened the door and the three
hugged each other at once. When finished, the girls ran past her and into
the house to find Boots, the cat.
Mrs. Cox called out, “Welcome home,” as she walked out to the
carriage to greet her son and his guest.
“Hello, Mother. Goodness, what are you doing out here without
your overcoat?” Pastor Cox wrapped his long arms around her. “Don’t
you realize it is cold out here?”
She received his arms and responded softly, “Having you home

warms my soul.”
“Mother, do you remember Miss Jane Dodson? Lydia’s sister?”
“Of course, we met at Samuel and Lydia’s wedding. How are you?
Did you have an enjoyable trip?”
“Yes. Thank you. It’s good to see you again,” Jane said as she
shook Mrs. Cox’s extended hand.
“Mother, let’s go inside where it’s warm. Then you and Miss
Dodson can visit.”
Early the following morning, Pastor Cox drove Jane to meet the
stagecoach. She was a solemn passenger during the short distance to the
“Are you worried about your meeting with the government people?”
“Not too much,” she answered softly.
“Then what concerns you?”
“I’m worried how I will react when I see Martha.”