Julia's Last Hope

By: Janette Oke

Chapter One

The Unexpected

No one in the household was prepared for the news. Julia Harrigan was in the east parlor, her back turned to the warm rays of the Saturday morning sun. It promised to be another delightful spring day. She hummed softly as her hands worked a dainty hem in a new tablecloth and smiled as the smooth fabric, fine linen imported from England, slipped through her fingers. She did love fine things.

From the dining room came the contented sound of Hettie’s low, rich singing as she cleared away the remains of the morning breakfast.

A gentle squeaking sound coming from the porch told Julia that her two daughters were seated in the double porch swing. She imagined their yellow-gold hair reflecting the morning sun, their wide, frilly skirts fanned out across the whiteness of the painted seat. Then the swing became silent, and Julia heard footsteps cross the veranda as the girls moved on to some other activity, chattering as they went.

Again Julia smiled. Life was good. God had certainly blessed them.

“Papa was wrong,” she whispered, giving the needle an extra thrust for emphasis. “John Harrigan can support me in the manner to which I am accustomed.”

Julia almost chuckled at the thought of her father’s concern. She looked about her. The east parlor walls were papered with soft yellow roses, the furniture was white wicker, padded liberally and covered with yellow chintz. Everything about the room spoke of comfort and a family of means.

Beyond the doors, rich walnut furniture highlighted the dining room. Deep, skillfully patterned carpet covered the floor, and fine china graced the table.

The large, bright entrance hall featured a winding staircase that led to comfortable and homey bedrooms above. Pastoral pictures, gentle in expression and presenting a sense of harmony and peace, lined the hallway.

In fact, everything about the house spoke of quietness and calm. Julia had always dreamed of having a home that would convey to her family and guests strong feelings of tranquillity. Knowing this, John gave her every opportunity to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home.

Raised in the East and educated in a fine school, Julia had been brought up to be a woman of gentle spirit. But when she met the young John Harrigan, a rugged westerner, she did not hesitate to make her choice known. Even her father was amazed at the way she put her dainty foot down.

“I want to marry him,” she insisted.

“Think, girl!” her father roared. “You are used to finery and ease. Do you think this rough woodsman will be able to provide it for you?”

“I really don’t care,” she responded. “Surely there is more to life than tea parties and silk dresses.”

“Yes, there is more to life. There is poverty and need and hungry, unkempt children. But I do not wish it for an offspring of mine.”

She pleaded then. “Oh, Papa. Please—I beg of you, don’t send him away. I would rather have little with this man by my side than a fine mansion and someone I don’t love.”

In the end her father gave in, though reluctantly.

“I am thankful that your dear mama isn’t alive to see you leave for that godforsaken wasteland,” he whispered as he kissed her goodbye after the wedding ceremony. “She would never forgive me.” His heavy sigh told Julia that he suffered because of her going.

“Come and see us someday, Papa,” she pleaded. “I will write to you as soon as we are settled.” And she kissed his cheek where the tears had left dampness.

So she and John moved West, settling in a remote village tucked in the Rocky Mountains. John took a job as overseer in a large lumber mill.

Julia stopped her needlework to concentrate on those early years of marriage. They had been difficult, requiring both her and John to make many adjustments. Thinking back, she was glad her father had not made a trip west to visit them at the time.

Then their lives took an unexpected turn. John’s uncle came to them in need. Born and raised in the wilds, Uncle George was a salty, rough man, crude in his manners, and Julia felt uneasy around him. But he was John’s kin, and when he took ill, Julia suggested he move into the spare room in the small house they rented.

By the time he died, Julia had changed her mind about Uncle George. At his simple funeral service she cried harder than any of the other mourners. She would miss him, she knew. She had learned to love him in the time that she had waited on him.

“You mustn’t weep so,” John cautioned as he placed his arm around her shoulders. “You must be extra careful.”

Julia looked at her increasing waistline. Not wishing to harm their unborn child, she stopped her crying, straightened her shoulders, and blew her nose in her linen handkerchief.

“I will miss him,” she said softly. “He really had a special sweetness about him.”

“I never thought I’d hear you call Uncle George sweet,” John teased. “Salty was the word you used to use for him. Remember how uncomfortable his quick, sharp tongue used to make you?” John pulled Julia into his arms. “But Uncle George surprised us, didn’t he? Underneath all that, he had a sweet spirit. We both will miss him.”

And then the unexpected. The old trapper, miner, lumberman, prospector, somehow, somewhere, had hit pay dirt. Stashed away in a local bank was a large sum of money from a gold strike. No one knew about it until after his death, when John and Julia learned that he had left it all to them “as thanks for all you have done in caring for and loving a grouchy old man.”

Julia cried again. John was less emotional about the windfall. He set to work immediately to build Julia the kind of home he felt she wanted and deserved.

He spared no expense. By the time the home was ready for occupancy the money was exhausted, but Julia was the mistress of a fine manor, the only one in town that had indoor plumbing and a generator to supply electricity.

By the time they moved into the house their family had increased. The child they had looked forward to turned out to be a girl with a twin sister. Julia was ecstatic. Having been an only child, she could think of no greater gift to give a child than a sibling playmate.

“They will be kindred spirits,” she bubbled. “It will be great fun to watch them grow. Do you think they will be alike?”

John looked at his sleeping daughters. One baby stirred—the one they had named Felicity. In her sleep she moved a small fist and managed to get it to her mouth. She slurped and smacked awkwardly, frowning in frustration when her hand slipped from her lips.

The other baby, Jennifer, slept peacefully.

“I’m guessing they will be different,” John answered, smiling down on their precious newborns. “Look at them. They are already showing their different personalities.”

“I think I will like it that way better, don’t you? It would seem rather eerie raising two of the same person—so to speak. Oh, John, do you think we will be good parents to them?”

“With God’s help, we will figure out how to raise them,” John assured his lovely wife.

The years passed quickly in the big white house. The small lumber town changed very little. A few people came and went, depending on the prosperity of the mill; but most of the people in Calder Springs had lived there for many years.

The Harrigans’ morning routine seldom varied. John left the house to go to work at six-fifteen and returned after the mill whistle blew at five-thirty in the afternoon.

Julia never considered living anywhere else. She grew accustomed to the sights and sounds of the small town. The sharp, stinging wind off the icy mountain slopes in winter, the heavy mist curtain of autumn, the fine tints of green as spring slowly spread over the hillsides, the hum and bustle of the summer morning, the lingering acrid smell of the smoke stacks all year long.

John had picked a suitable site for their manor. It was close enough to town so Julia could easily walk on a nice day, yet far enough from the dust and clamor to give her the peace and tranquillity she loved.

There wasn’t much entertainment in town, but Julia had never needed outside excitement or activity to make her happy. Julia and John were heavily involved in their church, and that, plus a few community and social events, was enough for both of them.

Julia held a simple but deep faith. Never had John met anyone with the strong personal commitment to God that Julia possessed. She was like a child in her trust of the Savior. John’s pride in her was evident in his eyes and in the way he smiled at her.

The community developed a proprietary attitude toward the Harrigans, as though the family in the fine house belonged to the town. Their gentility added refinement to the whole settlement. “The Harrigans live just over yonder,” folks would boast to any newcomer who would listen. “Hardly a stone’s throw from our door. Such a fine family, the Harrigans. Such a proper lady she is—but totally without airs. Greets you on the street like any ordinary soul. Even has ladies in for tea. Fine folk.”

Some may have envied Julia Harrigan her fine lace curtains and thick rich carpets, but there was no malice toward her. Julia did not flaunt her finery, and no one could have accused her of snobbery.

Julia rethreaded her needle and snipped off the fine cord with a click of her teeth. “Oh my,” she whispered. “I forgot again.”

John had warned her about snipping the thread with her teeth, afraid that she might damage them. Julia always intended to use her scissors, but she usually forgot until too late.

She wriggled in her seat, impatient at herself, and let her eyes move to the window. It was a lovely day. She should take the girls shopping.

Before Julia had time to lay aside the piece of linen, she heard a step in the hall. Her eyes filled with curiosity, then alarm, for she recognized the footsteps as John’s—and John should be at the mill.

Julia’s eyes traveled to the wall clock. Twenty minutes to eight. What could have happened to bring John home at such an hour? Letting the tablecloth fall to the chaise lounge beside her, Julia started to stand. But before she could get to her feet, John was in the room.

Julia took one look at him and fear pierced her.

“John! Are you ill?”

He stared at her blankly, making her wonder if he had heard her question. Then he shook his head slowly as he groped for the back of the chair.

Julia looked at his ashen face. She wished to go to him but her body wouldn’t move.

He was still shaking his head.

“No. No, I’m fine,” John said, but his voice did nothing to put Julia at ease.

“Then why are you home—at this time of the morning?” Julia probed.

“They sent us home. All of us. They called a special meeting this morning. For everyone. They made an announcement. Then they sent us all home.”

Nothing he said made any sense to Julia. She fumbled to touch the linen. Perhaps the feel of it would make the world real again.

John raised a hand to smooth his dark brown hair.

He looks tired, Julia suddenly noticed, and wondered why she hadn’t seen it before. He needs a break. He’s been working too hard. Just as she was about to suggest it, John raised his head and looked directly at her. Julia saw a plea for understanding in his eyes when he finally broke the news.

“They announced this morning that the mill is closing.”

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