Wednesday, November 23, 2005


The following is the first chapter of my novel, The Tender Heart, published by Heartsong Presents of Barbour Publishing in 2003. It won Third Place in the 2004 Barclay Gold Contest and was a finalist in the 2004 Golden Quill Awards. The Tender Heart was inspired by my visit to Manatee Park Historical Village in Bradenton, Florida. As I looked at the old settler's house-- a "cracker gothic cottage"--I saw a young woman standing on the porch wearing a tattered dress. And I felt a fit of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings as well as Janette Oke and Catherine Marshall coming on me. The girl I saw became Sebbie in The Tender Heart!

I've had lots of reader comments about The Tender Heart. Here are a few:

"I just finished reading the first 100 pages of The Tender Heart and find it very gripping, filled with interesting plots, with surprises that held my attention. I stopped reading it only to write you. Kristy, or should I say, Grace? Your work is tops and my mind goes back to the days of Grace Livingston Hill days. Grace had talent, and so do you! This book is on par with any of her books."

"I never thought I would compare anyone else's writing to Janette Oke but you are just as good and I mean it sincerely."

"When I started reading
The Tender Heart, I could hardly put it down, as it captivated my interest from the first line!"

"The tension in
The Tender Heart builds gently and believably, lessons are truly learned, and the 'black moment' comes a mere five pages from the end. Well done, Kristy! I look forward to learning what happens to Kit, Bertie, and 'the girlies.'"

"Just finished reading
The Tender Heart. I was unable, or unwilling, to put it down before finishing reading it. This book would make a great Christian movie!"

Here's my first chapter. (Note: the paragraphing format isn't working properly. Thanks for your forbearance.)

The Tender Heart
Kristy Dykes
A wishful mother…an obedient daughter…a doubting suitor…a love that prevailed.


“Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Central Florida, 1888

For the first time, Sebbie Hanford left herself out of the count as she prepared breakfast for her mother and four sisters. The level of oatmeal in the tin canister was simply too low.
“One for Mama,” she said, carefully measuring the scoop and dropping the oatmeal into the pot on the range. “One for Kit. One for Bertie. And one-and-a-half for Ophelia and Cecilia between them.”
Stirring the watery porridge, she stared out the window at the vast stretch of Florida pastureland with its understory of wiregrass and palmettos, dawn’s pink and coral aura holding her spellbound.
She looked down at the pot, fretting about their hard times. “Thank the Lord all six of us are females,” she whispered, remembering her father’s voracious appetite, then feeling a lump form in her throat even though it had been five years since his passing.
As she calculated how thin she would have to cut the small loaf of bread to get six slices, her glance flitted to the shelves on the wall, and she knew without checking that the canisters were empty of flour and sugar and coffee.
She dumped the last of the tea leaves into the boiling water on the back of the range and stirred the oatmeal again. Last year, they had sold the final portion of their ranch, Happy Acres, except for the parcel the house sat on. But the money from the land sale was long gone. If her sister Kit could get them a turkey or a deer every now and then, and they could keep raising a few vegetables, maybe, just maybe, they could make it a few more months. Then what?
“I can get all the squirrels you could want,” Kit had told them over and over. “They make a good stew. Calvin Williams said so. Or you can fry them. His family eats squirrels all the time--when they’re not eating frog legs.”
“No-o-o-o,” her other sister Bertie had wailed. “You can’t shoot a squirrel.” Once, Bertie had caught and tamed a squirrel and carried it in her skirt pocket until it got loose and the black and white barn cat devoured it.
“We are not eating squirrels,” Mama said every time Kit offered. “Just because we live in the wilds of Florida doesn’t mean we’re going to act wild. There are some things I simply won’t allow.”
Standing by the stove, Sebbie smiled at her five-year-old sister Cecilia as she skipped into the kitchen. She was thankful for the thought-brightening sight of the precocious little tyke.
“We wish you a merry Cwis-mas,” Cecilia sang, her words a lisp through her snaggletooth grin.
“We wish you a merry Christmas,” Sebbie sang along.
Sebbie's mother rushed into the room, fastening the top button at her collar as she sang too. “We wish you a merry Christmas--and a happy new year.” She looked into the pot on the range. “Is it almost done, Sebbie? I need to leave before long. Mrs. Adams said I could display our quilts in her boarding house only if I arrive before the space fills up.”
"I'm hoping you do a brisk business with the Northerners today, Mama.”
“I'm hoping so, too, dear. I’m praying I’ll sell so many quilts, I’ll be able to replenish our staples and buy feed for Princess and Brownie, enough to last us at least a month.”
“We wish you a merry Cwis-mas,” Cecilia sang again.
Mrs. Hanford bent and stroked Cecilia’s cheek. “Why are we singing about Christmas, girlie? It’s three months away.”
"If I start early enough,” Cecilia said, “maybe my Cwis-mas wish will come true. What’s your Cwis-mas wish, Thebbie?” she lisped.
Sebbie looked down into Cecilia’s cornflower blue eyes. If only my eyes harbored the same hope that I see in yours, Cecilia. “What’s my Christmas wish?” she repeated. “Plenty of food and clothes for you, and Ophelia, and Kit, and Bertie.” She ran her finger into one of Cecilia’s flax-colored curls that bobbed with every turn of her head. “And a sense of well-being and security.” What they sorely lacked.
“I want a doll for Cwis-mas,” Cecilia said.
A shadow crossed Mrs. Hanford’s face. Then she seemed to rally, her fingers zigzagging across Cecilia’s back. “Go wash up, girlie. Breakfast is almost ready. And be sure to awaken Ophelia. I’m surprised she’s not in here too. You twins always do everything in pairs.”
“I woked up first this time.” Cecilia dawdled through the door, her blanket trailing behind her.
“You woke, not woked,” Mrs. Hanford called after her as she joined Sebbie in setting the table. “And tell Bertie breakfast is ready." The steady clink of spoons and knives were the only sound in the quiet kitchen. "My Christmas wish puts legs and feet on your Christmas wish, Sebbie, and walks it right into fruition.”
“What’s your Christmas wish, Mama?”
Her mother didn’t answer, just kept on with her work at the table.
“Mama, I asked you. What’s your Christmas wish?”
“I wish you would marry a well-to-do man and take us out of our penury.” Mrs. Hanford blurted out the wish, as if it was hard for her to say and she wanted to be done with it.
“Goodness me, what a preposterous thing to wish.”
"It’’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor one,” Mrs. Hanford said, hurriedly again.
“Even if I agreed, where would I meet such a man?”
“But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” Mrs. Hanford quoted from the Bible, her hand raised in the air like a parson, her finger pointed heavenward. “We have a need, and the Holy Book promised that God would provide.” She wiggled her eyebrows up and down, like Papa had always done.
Sebbie was certain her mother was funning with her. Well, she would give her the satisfaction of joshing a little longer, and she continued pouring milk into the glasses, not saying a word. She thought about what her mother had said. I wish you would marry a well-to-do man and take us out of our penury. It didn't matter to Sebbie if the man she married had wealth or not. To her way of thinking, there were only three things that counted. One, he must love God. Two, he must love her. Three, he must love her family as his own.
“With the winter visitors streaming in from the North--” Mrs. Hanford leaned over the table and placed a spoon beside a bowl “--there are many ways you can meet a rich man, Sebbie.”
“You aren’t funning, are you?”
“If you married a well-to-doer, think what you could give the girlies. A proper raising like I had, with social invitations...and an excellent education. Maybe you could even provide them with travels abroad if you married well enough.”
Sebbie was aghast, could feel her eyes widening. Her mother was indeed serious.
“Your papa and I had such high hopes and dreams. He and I came to Florida to prosper, and we decided that our children, when God sent them, were going to have all the advantages. But it didn’t work out that way...”
Mrs. Hanford gripped the back of the chair and looked across the table, her gaze fixed on the far wall. “My father must’ve known how difficult it would be to start up a ranch in Florida. I’ll never forget the day your papa announced he was bringing me here. My father called Jed ‘Wanderlust Jedediah.’ He pleaded with us not to come. But Jed had it in his heart.”
Mrs. Hanford was gripping the chair so hard, her knuckles were white. “We didn’t listen to my father about coming here. I don’t mean to put pressure on you, Sebbie, but I implore you to heed what I’m saying. I have the advantage of looking back after years and years of adversities--one after another. Years of hard living...and...hard dying. You don’t have’re young...and…and I want the best for you. Do as I say, not as I do, as the old saying goes. My life...transeat in exemplum.”
“Let it become an example,” Sebbie whispered soberly, the milk pitcher tilted in mid air, her thoughts far away from her task.
“Yes. An example.” In two strides, Mrs. Hanford was beside Sebbie, holding her by the shoulders, looking intently into her eyes, slowly shaking her head back and forth. “You are our only hope. Kit’s too rough and wild, and Bertie’s not much better." She paused and drew in a breath. "They remind me so of your papa. The twins are going to be as beautiful as you when they grow up, and I hope as genteel. But by then, it’ll be too late. They need their chance now.”
Tears misted Mrs. Hanford’s eyes, and her bottom lip trembled. “Please, dear, heed what I’m saying,” she choked out. “Marry well, so you can help us.”
"Isn't there anybody in your family who could come to our aid, Mama?"
Mrs. Hanford shook her head, slow-like. "I received the same amount of inheritance as my six sisters. You know that. That's all I was due, and that's all there was--"
"Yes, and Papa invested the money in the ranch…" Sebbie's words trailed off as the familiar ache grew inside her.
"On a whole herd of cattle—"
"--that was killed by the cattle blight…"
Mrs. Hanford nodded gravely. "I'm sure you'll make a wise decision, Sebbie, when the time comes." She turned and dashed across the room, mumbling over her shoulder something about making sure Kit and Bertie were loading the wagon, that it was nearly time to go.
“Oh Mama, what are you asking of me?” Sebbie’s words seemed to echo in the empty kitchen as she walked back to the stove, her footsteps leaden. She stood there, leaning against the wall to steady herself, trying to take in the magnitude of her mother’s words.
Transeat in exemplum, her mother had said. Latin for ‘Let my life be an example.’
She felt a knot in the pit of her stomach.
Marry well, her mother had said.
Like a dam bursting, a scripture flooded Sebbie's mind. Honour thy father and thy mother. The words struck her with such force, her hands shook as she dished up the hot oatmeal.
Could she honour her mother in this situation? She had always been an obedient daughter, one who didn’t hesitate to do her mother’s bidding. But could she do what her mother was asking now? Marry a well-to-do man in order to help her family?
Sebbie smiled and playfully whopped the wooden spoon on the wall in a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm. “Only if God sends a man…riding up out of the blue."
Late in the afternoon, Griffin Parks followed along behind the wagon of a certain widow lady, Mrs. Hanford. He was looking forward to a hot meal and a restful night’s sleep, what she had promised him when the proprietor of the boarding house told him her rooms were full.
For a year he had been living on a cattle ranch, sleeping on a narrow bed in a bunkhouse--or a bedroll under the stars. The prospect of a comfortable mattress tonight was appealing.
In a few weeks, he would be living in these parts permanently. With the inheritance he would soon collect on his trip up North, he intended to purchase a cattle ranch twenty miles due south of this part of the state.
As his horse Marco Polo trotted down the dusty road, his mind drifted. He wasn’t sitting in the saddle, swaying with the clip-clopping movement of a horse, bound for a widow woman’s house and a tasty dinner.
No, it was a year ago, and he was at a debutantes’ ball in Philadelphia, at the urging of his socialite mother, looking over a sea of satin, his heart almost stopping when he saw a particular young lady with captivating gold-brown eyes.
Miss Drucinda Hearst, belle tournure from New York City, stood out from the crowd with her plaisanterie and esprit. On previous occasions when he had chatted with her, she had been snide to him, rude even, displaying behavior far beneath her polished cultivation.
At those previous social events, he had felt like retorting, My parents are thoroughbreds like yours are, Miss Hearst. Haven’t you heard what the famous stage humorist said? In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who are his parents?
Instead of making the retort, however, he had summoned his inner reserves, made his perfunctory bow, and backed away from her.
As he looked over the young beauties at the debutante ball, he had decided he would make no more overtures to Miss Drucinda Hearst. He wasn’t a lunkhead. He knew when a lady had drawn the curtain between them.
When he felt a tugging on his elbow, he looked down and was surprised to see a familiar captivating gold-brown pair of eyes coquettishly staring up at him.
“What a delight,” she purred, “to see you here, Mr. Parks.”
“A pleasure to see you, Miss Hearst.” Acting like the gentleman that he was, he put aside his qualms and decided to converse with her. For close to an hour, the beautiful Miss Hearst clung to him, promenading around the ballroom on his arm, apparently proud to be with him, and him, her.
“I’m going to the ladies’ refreshment chamber, Mr. Parks,” she cooed after a long while, her dark lashes fluttering. “You’ll await me, won’t you?”
“Your wish is my command.” He said the gentlemanly words with a slight bow. After she flounced away, her skirts swishing, he found a seat on a silk sofa in the conversation area.
Three fresh-faced young ladies approached him and curtsied, chatted for long moments with him, then swept away. Two more did the same. Each time he stood out of courtesy, then sat back down.
Fiddling with his sapphire cuff jewelry, he hummed the song the orchestra was playing.
“That’s Mr. Parks,” an elderly woman’s voice said from behind him, where chairs were plenteous. “Next year, when he reaches his twenty-fifth birthday, he’ll inherit his grandfather’s vast holdings--”
“I already know about it, Gladene. And so does everybody else who’s here tonight. The word's leaked out. When his ship comes in, he’ll be as rich as Croesus. He’ll make some young debutante a mighty fine catch.”
Griffin jumped to his feet and made long strides across the ballroom. So that’s why you’re pursuing me like a hound after a fox, Miss Hearst. And that’s why the other hounds came sniffing.
He collected his overcoat and gloves and dashed down the steps of the massive mansion. You want me for what I can give you, Miss Hearst, not for who I am.
At the street corner, he hailed a chaise, sickened by the conniving, by her, by them all.
He would get away from this den of deceivers.
He would follow his dream and go to Florida.
He would learn the cattle business like he had been contemplating, and then he would purchase a ranch…
Now, as he followed behind Mrs. Hanford’s wagon in sunny central Florida, he carefully guided Marco Polo around a cavernous rut, confident that he would soon be an independently wealthy rancher. He would have the wherewithall to survive droughts and disease, and he would restock his cattle, over and over if necessary. One day, in the not too distant future, he would be shipping boatloads of longhorns out of Punta Gorda and down to the lucrative markets in Cuba.
“Easy boy,” he whispered, leaning down and patting Marco Polo on the neck. He remembered the other momentous decision he had made the night of the debutantes’ ball.
I will tell no one about my station in life. For a whole year, not one of the cowboys he had bunked with or ridden beside had found out about his prestigious family background or his forthcoming wealth.
And he intended to keep it that way.
Last week, his twenty-fifth birthday had come and gone unnoticed. Soon, he would be moving permanently to the land of sunshine, ah, sweet sunshine...


At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as you don't tell anybody, I will admit to you that this skydiving, repelling, risk-taking, author wannabe just read a chapter of a Christian romance. Excellent work. I see it. I'm there. What a gift!
Bill Rinehart

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks, Bill. Appreciate those great comments from you--a very gifted, creative person. God bless you in your writing. And ministry. I'm impressed with all you've accomplished for the Kingdom, and ARE accomplishing.


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