Ice Carnival, page 1
Copyright © 2010 by Janet Spaeth. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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St. Paul, Minnesota
Colorful leaves blew around Christal Everett’s feet in an autumn rainbow of russet and gold. A sudden gust of air shook the trees above her, and more leaves cascaded down over her head, a veritable storm of October-painted maple and oak.
This was her favorite time of year. The world seemed so alive, almost as if celebrating a last hurrah before the long, quiet sleep of a Minnesota winter laid its white blanket over the city.
The temperature had already dropped today. What had started as a nice, sunny fall day had turned colder, with a touch of winter-to-come in the wind that had begun to pick up.
She tightened her shawl around her. Silly of her to have left the house with such a light wrap, but the morning had been sun-kissed and warm.
The days were getting shorter, and she hurried her steps homeward as shadows darkened and stretched around her. Bit by bit the wonderful houses on Summit Avenue came alive with light from inside. Just around the corner was her home. She knew that by the time she got there, her mother would have a kettle of tea ready and welcoming words to warm her heart.
Christal turned at the milliner’s shop and squinted through the gathering wind toward her home. She’d dallied long enough as it was at the library, and it was time to get to work preparing dinner. Her mother had undoubtedly already started the roast.
She hurried along, her feet stirring the multicolored leaves that swirled around her shoes on the pavement. Being late seemed to be unavoidable with her, but there were so many wonderful books in the library, each one inviting her to explore its contents.
As she opened the door of her house, her mother’s cheerful voice called to her. “At the library again, I presume?”
“Guilty!” Christal draped her shawl over the peg in the entryway and rubbed her hands together as she followed the delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen. “Something smells wonderful in here. What can I do?”
Mother handed her a cutting board with a loaf of freshly baked bread on it. “Why don’t you cut this into slices while I finish setting the table. Did you hear that Dr. Bering is joining us later this evening?”
“I didn’t know, but I’m glad. Maybe he’ll play the piano for us!”
Alfred Bering had lived next door to them since they’d come to St. Paul. He was a mountain of a man, both literally and figuratively. He stood over six feet tall, and his love of cakes and breads had contributed to his substantial girth.
Yet he was a gentle giant. Hands the size of dinner plates had soothed the sick and cradled the newborn, and people came to him from all around St. Paul. He turned no one away, citing the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Once he had explained to Christal that not all debts were monetary, that we all owed each other something. He often claimed that in some manner or another, everyone paid him back in the Lord’s way.
The Everett family’s friendship with him was born of an early need and solidified with deep gratitude. He had been the one to see Christal through a bout with scarlet fever when she was ten and the continuing despair of rheumatic fever that had weakened her heart and kept her indoors, away from others her age.
Visits to church on Sunday mornings had been her sole outings, and books had become her friends, replacing those childhood acquaintances who had moved or drifted from her when she was ill. Dr. Bering’s encouragement of a walking routine to strengthen her heart had brought her back to health.
Her parents, especially her mother, still coddled her protectively. It wasn’t necessary, but it was easy to let them take care of her every need.
The sound of her father at the door drove away the remainder of her musings. “Papa!”
“None other!” Her father entered the kitchen and kissed his wife and then his daughter. “How did my lovelies spend their day?”
Christal’s parents smiled at each other. It was clear that even after all these years, the two were madly in love with each other. She could see it in the way they looked at each other, their gazes locking and holding just a moment longer than with other people.
That was the kind of love she wanted. Someday she would meet a man who would look at her the same way her father looked at her mother, but so far, aside from a few tentative looks from young men in the congregation, nothing had come her way.
She sighed. Today she’d read a new book at the library. It was a children’s book, but she’d been drawn by the gilded illustrations. The collection of fairy tales had taken her away from Minnesota and transported her to the land of imagination, where she had spent her afternoon.
They were charming little stories, but the fact was she lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, and there weren’t princes and castles, not here anyway.
“That bread isn’t going to slice itself,” her mother said, laughing as she took the cutting board from Christal, the loaf still intact. “Dreaming is good, but wait until after dinner, please!”
“I’m sorry,” Christal began. “I was just thinking about—”
“Hello, my dearest ones!” The grand pronouncement from the door interrupted her apology. Aunt Ruth swept in, her cerise-colored velvet dress reflecting the vivid hues of the trees outside the dining room window. Her deep black hair was piled high in a mass of curls, and elaborate earrings of garnet and pearls swung from her earlobes.
Aunt Ruth had her own apartment in the rambling house. It had been designed as maid quarters originally, but the Everetts had no maid. When Christal had become so terribly ill with rheumatic fever, Aunt Ruth had joined the Everett household to help out. She stayed, and for several years now they’d enjoyed her often-quirky style.
Christal helped her mother set out the dinner as Aunt Ruth and Papa discussed the weather, some events in the news, and preparations for a church gathering. “Dr. Bering is paying us a visit after dinner,” Mother said as she seated herself. “You’ll stay?”
Aunt Ruth patted the back of her flawlessly coiffed head. “Why, yes, I believe I will.”
Papa smiled. “That’s good. You are looking especially lovely, by the way.”
Aunt Ruth sat straighter in her chair. “I believe it’s time for you to ask the blessing, Matthew. Shall we bow our heads?”
Dinner sped by, as it always did, and Christal had just finished washing the last dish when she heard the awaited knock on the door. She wiped the plate, put it in the cupboard, and ran to the hallway.
Dr. Bering entered, accompanied by some windblown leaves, and she took his coat. “You’ll play the piano, I hope,” she said.
He laughed, a big rolling sound that poured from his round stomach. “Give my hands a chance to warm up, dear Christal. It’s getting quite brisk out there. Winter is definitely on its way.”
She hung his coat on the large wooden coatrack. It smelled of the smoke from many fireplaces, a sure sign of the deepening of fall.
He put his arm around her
“I’ve tried. You know that. But I just can’t seem to learn it.”
“Girl, you don’t give yourself a chance. You need to practice every day. You can’t play the piano until, well, until you actually play the piano.”
She nodded. What he said was true, but the fact was that she didn’t want to learn it at all. She wanted to be able to play the piano, to put her hands on the keys and have the wonderfully complex melodies flow forth just as they did when he played. She had no patience with the process of learning how to do it.
“Ruth!” Dr. Bering stopped and took Aunt Ruth’s hand, raising it but stopping just short of kissing it. Ever the gentleman, Christal thought.
They sat in the parlor, sipping cups of black tea. Even through the everyday chitchat that surrounded her, Christal could feel something momentous was about to occur. But from whom? And what would it be?
Finally Dr. Bering set his teacup aside. It looked like a child’s toy in his beefy hands. He cleared his throat and laced his fingers together across his vest and announced, “I have heard the most amazing news. St. Paul is going to have an ice carnival.”
“An ice carnival? Here?” her mother asked.
“Yes, indeed. It’s being planned for the first day of the new year.”
“Are they daft?” Aunt Ruth frowned. “That’s the worst time possible! Everyone will freeze to death!”
Papa nodded thoughtfully. “So he’s really going through with it, is he?”
“Who is?” Christal leaned forward, nearly toppling out of her chair in her excitement. An ice carnival!
Christal hadn’t met the St. Paul Dispatch’s publisher, but she had certainly heard his name.
Dr. Bering looked at them all over the top of his half-rimmed glasses. “It’s not totally official yet. Thompson and others are organizing a committee that will meet soon—November second to be exact—and things will get started. He’s got big plans for St. Paul.”
Aunt Ruth tsked. “Why on earth, though? What would have possessed such a normally intelligent man to do such a thing?”
Dr. Bering chuckled. “Rumor has it that he was prompted by a certain cheeky New York journalist who declared St. Paul uninhabitable during the winter months.”
Christal hugged herself happily. This was wonderful news! An ice carnival! What could it be? Her mind spun with the possibilities, all painted with the bright illustrations of the books she’d read.
“But there’s more. My nephew is coming to live with me.”
Only the sound of the grandfather clock penetrated the silence that followed his announcement. Then everyone spoke at once, flinging out question after question until Dr. Bering finally held up his hand.
“Wait! Here are the details. His name is Isaac. I’m importing him from Florida, to put some muscle on those arms and to thicken up that thin southern blood. By the time he’s spent a winter up north, he’ll be in fine shape. He’ll live with me, at least until he gets situated.”
“That’s wonderful!” Mrs. Everett said.
“He’s doing the last parts of his medical studies here,” Dr. Bering continued. “When he’s ready, he can join my practice.”
“What’s he like?” Christal asked. “Does he enjoy books?”
The corpulent physician laughed. “Right now he’s spending his time poring over medical tomes, but yes, he likes to read. You’ll get along well with him, Christal. He’s a bit shy, so he’ll benefit from your joyous approach to life.”
“His faith?” her father asked. “Of course, I’m interested in that.”
Dr. Bering nodded vigorously. “He loves the Lord. He was raised with that. You’ll find him a stalwart member of the congregation, Matthew. Now, might I play the piano for you? How about Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’?”
Christal closed her eyes as the melodic notes flowed from Dr. Bering’s fingertips. Life was always good, but now it seemed to be getting even better. An ice carnival. A new friend. And Beethoven.
Isaac Bering stood on the platform of the St. Paul train station and gazed around him. The trees were in full array, and the ground was strewn with shed leaves of vivid crimsons and golds, a regal array for the earth. It was stunning.
He shivered as wind whirled around his ears and leaves scrabbled across his feet. His uncle had warned him about the weather, and Isaac was, indeed, wearing his thickest coat, but the autumn air had a chill in it that told him he’d need something much more—and soon.
What had he gotten himself into? Momentary panic overtook him. He could have—should have—stayed in the safety of Florida, where the winds were warm and leaves, for the most part, stayed on the trees. Except for his uncle, he knew no one here, and even at that, Uncle Alfred was somewhat of an unknown. They knew each other primarily through correspondence. He wasn’t even sure he’d recognize him.
But when Uncle Alfred had offered his home, and even more, to bring Isaac into his practice, he’d jumped at the chance eagerly. He could adapt to Minnesota. Others lived here and prospered.
He’d spent most of his life in the South, in medical school in Tallahassee and growing up in Key West, but he was up to the challenge of trying life in the North. He’d give it the best chance possible.
He straightened his backbone and stood straighter, and promptly raised his collar as the chilly wind poked icy tendrils down his neck.
A good heavy coat, a pair of fleecy gloves, sturdy overshoes, a woolly hat and muffler, and he’d be set. He could deal with a little cold.
He recognized his uncle, who hadn’t changed much in the years since they’d seen each other. Uncle Alfred wrapped him in a bear hug, burying Isaac’s face in the front of his jacket, which smelled of leather and wood smoke.
“It’s good to see you,” his uncle boomed. “Let’s get your trunks and take you to the house so we can start to get you settled. How was your trip?”
Isaac couldn’t stop looking at his surroundings. Never had he thought that St. Paul would be this much of a city. It was tucked away in the frozen north, after all. But St. Paul was big—bigger actually than anything he’d seen, except Chicago.
People bustled around him in an unceasing stream of humanity, like ants in an oversized anthill. Everyone seemed so busy and so sure of where they were going. If only he had their confidence.
Uncle Alfred’s steady stream of words flowed over him in a meaningless cascade. If he could have slept on the train, he might be able to make sense of this, but the back-and-forth sway and the constant ricketa-ricketa of the wheels on the track, which had lulled his fellow passengers to sleep, had only served to keep him awake. He’d had mere sporadic snatches of sleep for the entire trip.
And he was cold.
“Are you all right, son?” His uncle looked at him in concern. “You look downright blue. Are you warm enough?”
Isaac nodded, clutching his arms to his chest in a feeble attempt at sustaining what bodily warmth he had. “Most of these people,” he said, motioning to the pedestrians beside them, “are wearing only the lightest jackets. How do they do it?”
Uncle Alfred smiled. “I’m not going to give you the usual Minnesota patter about how it builds character, although I suspect it might, but the fact is that we’re used to it. For us, this is simply a late autumn day. It will snow soon, maybe even next week, but to be honest with you, we tend to draw out the last moments of the waning season.”
“People keep their houses warm, though, don’t they?”
His uncle laughed. “Absolutely. We’ll get you back to the house and put a cup of hot tea in your hands, and you’ll feel better. Let’s get going.”
Uncle Alfred had hired a man to drive them and help with Isaac’s baggage.
Again, doubt assailed him. Had he done the right thing?
He’d taken it as his personal crusade since starting medical school to build the strength he’d need to be a good doctor. He’d been studying his Bible nightly, drawing from the powerful words of the Lord. One verse from Philippians had become his personal motto, and he repeated it at bedtime and each morning: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Soon they were seated in Uncle Alfred’s home, and, true to his word, his uncle had placed a large cup of black tea in Isaac’s hands. He sat down across from his nephew and smiled.
“Excuse me if I study you for just a moment. I’ve been waiting for this, you see. Ever since your father told me that you were doing well at your medical studies but that you needed some practical experience, I prayed for this to come to pass.” His uncle’s voice was gentle, and in that moment, Isaac understood why the doctor was so loved by his patients. “If you decide it’s not right for you, please come to me. Let’s talk about it.”
“Thank you, Uncle.” Isaac took a swallow of the tea and promptly choked as the hot liquid scalded his throat.
Uncle Alfred handed him his handkerchief and chuckled. “Our air is too cold and our tea is too hot.”
Whatever doubts had been attacking him before vanished like rain clouds in the afternoon sun. His uncle’s good humor would make this a pleasant time indeed.
A knock on the door interrupted them, and Dr. Bering ushered in a group of people. “Isaac, I’d like you to meet some good friends of mine, the Everetts.”
He rose to his feet to greet them as Uncle Alfred began the introductions. The minister and his wife, his sister, and his daughter—when she looked at him, her lips curved into a contagious smile. Her deep blue eyes were lit with happiness as she shook his hand.
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