On a bitter December day in 1784, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of blacksmith Liege Lee in York County, Pennsylvania. Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship quickly and move west. But because he is a fast worker and a superb craftsman, Liege endeavors to keep him in York by appealing to an old tradition: the apprentice shall marry one of his master's beautiful daughters.
In York County, Pennsylvania in December 1784, Eden Lee, nineteen was filled with dread as her Papa had announced it was high time she married. Liege Lee, his wife, Louise and their two daughters, Eden and Eslpeth, twenty-one lived together at the family homestead. The trade guild had just sent a letter promising Liege another apprentice. The man was a Scot and trained in his home country before being bound to an American Master in Philadelphia. The war had ended and the Scot has been at a forge manned with a dozen apprentices in the heart of the city. His master has died and he is looking for a position in the west to finish his training and was being well recommended. The Scot wasn’t originally due to arrive until the Spring but according to the letter he would be arriving now at December’s end. Louise was shocked beyond belief for it meant he’d be arriving any day now. Papa wasn’t happy and glared at Elspeth longer than Eden for a very good reason. She was pregnant and due any day now. Papa knew she was his wayward daughter. Liege worried, he had plans for his wayward daughter and he couldn’t have his plans breached by the arrival of the apprentice before the baby.
Liege explained in his gruff manor that if the apprentice arrived before the baby, the jig would be up and he would marry Eden instead of Elspeth. If he arrived after the baby, he would marry Elspeth. Louise understood this all too well as years before, Papa was apprenticed to her father, a master gunsmith, and she’d been part and parcel of the contract. Although, Louise loved someone else, tradition held sway as it was a time-honoured practice that apprentices married into their master’s family. Times were changing but Liege was hanging onto tradition.
Every eligible suitor in the entire county had already been into their blacksmith shop to beg, barter, or pay for the ironworks turned out by Liege, none of them had yet passed his approval or they themselves couldn’t abide the thought of having Liege as their father-in-law.
It suddenly dawned on Louise, to ask this man’s name and it was Silas Ballantyne. The sample of his work that accompanied the letter was a copper lantern, three-sided with a large hanging loop. The hinged lid bore a pierced scrolling pattern with every line elegantly worked and when lit, the lantern’s mirrored back reflected twice the light. Liege was ecstatic as he recognized this Scot was a city smith – a master engraver! However, Eden worried that even though Silas Ballantyne appeared to be an extremely talented smith, would be stay once he began to work for her father? Liege’s track record at keeping apprentices wasn’t stellar. Being Eden was nineteen and Elspeth twenty-one, they wanted the girls married off. Eden didn’t want to be married to anyone, she had her own plans and prayed the baby arrived before the apprentice. For now, Eden was keeping her secret – secret!
Silas Ballantyne was on his way carrying his tools, a violin, and a vision. He had travelled almost 50 miles in two days with only 30 more to York County. If he pushed hard he’d arrive tomorrow but his gelding was acting a little sore-footed, and the snow was coming down quite thickly. Seeing a light in the distance, Silas pulled into the post, flipped some money for the stable-hand to take care of his lame horse and headed inside for a bite to eat. The proprietor sat down to eat with Silas and asked where he was headed. When Silas told him he was apprenticed in York County, the man asked: “You wouldn’t be bound for Liege Lee’s would you?” He then asked how long until Silas would be a master tradesman himself and Silas replied: “A year or less.” The proprietor told Silas he hoped he was a praying man because: “You shall need a prayer or two before your time with Lee’s is through.” The proprietor filled Silas in on the fact that there were two daughters, a younger brother and the mistress of the house, Louise Lee. Silas indicated he wanted: “No distractions, no romantic entanglements, and simply wanted to complete his apprenticeship.” Now his main concern was the Lee’s and the situation he was walking into.
Silas set out again the following morning, with this horse Horatio, no longer lame to eat up the last 30 miles. As he rode he thought about all the proprietor had told him and Liege Lee sounded like a tyrant of a blacksmith and found himself fighting anxiety. Soon enough he had located Liege Lee’s property.
For the past 3 hours, Elspeth had been labouring in their parent’s bedroom. Eden listened to the usual sounds and noises of pain and weariness. Eden was ticked-off about how long Elspeth would continue to keep weaving deceit and selfishness into the fabric of their lives. How long would Papa and Mama allow it? Finally the babe was born.
Silas Ballantyne arrived at the door and introduced himself to Eden. What bad timing, Silas and the new baby arriving at the same time! During dinner, Eden noticed Silas’s thumbs and realized they’d been branded! It suddenly dawned on Eden that the Scot now belonged to her and not Elspeth. However, Eden felt once Liege began his bullying, Silas Ballantyne would likely leave as the other apprentices did and then she’d never see him again.
Elspeth couldn’t wait to meet Silas so she quickly dressed and ducked outside to the smith shop before her mother caught her. She was still to be in bed after just having given birth the evening before. Entering the shop, Elspeth introduced herself and immediately began to show Silas around the shop. As the eldest daughter it was up to her to learn the trade and keep the ledgers. Suddenly Liege entered the shop and wasn’t happy at finding Elspeth there, he immediately sent her back into the house with her mother. Once gone he told Silas: “Pray you never have such a daughter. That one should be in breeches…she has a keen knowledge of the trade…the apprentices I’ve had can’t hold a candle to her. We’ll see if you far any better.”
Silas was finding Liege to be quite an insensitive, loud-mouthed brut and his every instinct told him to flee which he would hopefully be able to do come autumn with the fulfillment of his contract, if he could last that long.
Elspeth treated Eden like a personal slave, someone to wipe her feet on and boss around. I felt so sorry for Eden throughout the story for she is truly a sensitive, caring, and deeply compassionate woman.
Eden and Silas have been meeting on the stairwell to Silas’s room. Eden was thirsting for knowledge from the Bible as her father forbade them from attending church. Silas would write a scripture verse on a small piece of paper for Eden to memorize and she held fast to these small indulgences for they meant the world to her.
This story continues to move forward with many exciting elements. What happens is going to take you through a myriad of emotions from utter glee to utter sadness and heartbreak.
LOVE’S RECKONING is truly an epic novel of power, faith, and forgiveness and I’ll be highly recommending this one to all my friends. Book #2 will be out in the fall of 2013.
"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".