“Ha!” Papa scoffed. “A gentleman wouldn’t wait until the eve of our departure to say he can only come up with half the remaining payment. If you’d even told us a week ago, I could have sold farm tools and furniture to help make up the difference.”
“We can’t cry over spilt milk. Do you want my money, or don’t you?”
I looked at Catherine. If we didn’t have enough money to immigrate, what would become of us? She put a finger to her lips before I could ask.
“You know very well that we’re leaving tomorrow,” said Papa. “We’ve already paid our passage to America. I need that money to make a new life for my family.”
“Then I’ll require your signature, here.”
“My oldest daughter, Catherine, is staying in Denmark. She won’t be leaving for her aunt’s until noon tomorrow.” Papa still sounded angry. “Don’t take possession of the property until the following morn.”
“Are we ’Mericans now?” asked Ana as I led them outside and toward the barn.
“Nej, princess.” I knelt and hugged my baby sister. “It will take a long time to get to America.” I blinked moisture from my eyes and stood gazing around the inner courtyard. Would I ever feel at home anywhere else? “The Lord will take care of us,” I assured my sisters. Though I didn’t feel sure.
“Ja, ja. I overheard Papa talking with him.” I ladled the milk and poured it through several layers of cheesecloth and into the jar. “Will we have enough money?” My heart leapt with hope that something would happen to keep me and Jens together. Perhaps we’d have to stay another year. By then Jens might ask to marry me.
“This is not your worry.” Mama frowned. “The Lord has blessed us sufficiently,” she said, and then her eyes gleamed with inspiration. “Go to the Andersdatters’s. They’ve always admired our butter churn. If they come right away, we will sell it to them for a song.”
I nodded and gulped back my dread. SofrinaAndersdatter and I had fought each other for Jens’s attentions since I was ten. When we became old enough to join the young person’s guild, our rivalry continued, each hoping for Jens as our partner for the year. He had been my partner this year. I clasped my hands, worrying my palms together. Now, only months later, I was leaving him.
I could do it no longer.
At this very moment, the areas of my heart safeguarding my three loves—family, religion, and Jens—crashed together. They waged a war that could not be won without pain. Lots of it. Keeping my feelings secret had not spared me one speck of grief. If I left without seeing Jens, he would never know how I felt. And worse, I would never know how he felt about me, not really. Did he care? Would he have proposed?
With the pleading whisper and the catch in his voice, shivers ran up my neck. I glanced into his eyes, taking in the deep blue with flecks of gold and how they shimmered—and how strands of sandy blond hair lay across his forehead—his nose, so straight—his lips so perfect and eager for mine. His face broadened into a brief smile as he leaned forward, his kiss soft.
I glanced down. A family of adders rested over and around my legs—their venomous tongues licking the air, hissing at my movement.
A scream rose to the tip of my tongue, but before it escaped, a voice whispered over me, “Be calm.” It felt like a warm glass of milk, calming my soul. I offered a prayer of thankfulness. Screaming would have only gotten me bit—and there were plenty of fangs for biting. If I didn’t remain calm, I’d die before the sun went down. Instead, I continued praying for my safety.
My jaw clenched. My eyes squeezed shut. I held still, barely daring to breathe as they started moving across me, probably looking for a nice rock to sun on as they were known to do. I watched them slither over my legs, the hair on my arms and neck prickling as they moved away and into the rushes.