Do you enjoy captivating fiction? Then you’ll love The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series by my friend, award-winning author Susan G. Mathis. Set in the beautiful Thousand Islands in upstate New York (her childhood stomping ground), Susan skillfully weaves historical fact with intriguing story. I’ve invited her to share about her latest Christmas novella.

By Susan G. Mathis

In my sixth Gilded Age story, Reagan’s Reward, it’s 1912. Reagan Kennedy assumes the position of governess to the Bernheim family’s twin nephews, Jacob and Joseph, and her life at Cherry Island’s Casa Blanca becomes frustratingly complicated. Serving a Jewish family when she is a Gentile and tending to the mischievous eight-year-old boys will yield challenges galore.

Daniel Lovitz, the island’s caretaker and boatman, tries to help the alluring Reagan make sense of her new world. But she calls into question his own faith background and forces him to face the hurts of his past. In this excerpt, Reagan experiences a Jewish dinner, the Shabbat.

Mrs. Bernheim lit the candles and waved her hands over them three times, apparently saying a silent prayer. Then Mr. Bernheim stood and began, “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, you are the author of peace…” He went on to talk about the holiness of the Sabbath, the candles driving out the darkness and lighting our way.

Everyone joined him with an “amen” and Reagan felt God’s gentle presence fill the room as Mrs. Bernheim sat. Then, Mr. Bernheim surprised her by going over to the twins, laying his hands on the boys’ heads, and praying for each one of them before breaking into a song of blessing.

Reagan’s eyes stung with tears, but she blinked them back. Never had she seen Mr. Bernheim so loving and tender. She looked at the boys who sat unusually still and quiet and Mr. Bernheim returned to his seat.

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” Mr. Bernheim took a sip of a crystal goblet of wine and passed it to his wife. Reagan watched her hand it to Jacob who took a gulp and handed it to her. She took a sip and passed it to Joseph. He took a large swallow then returned it to his uncle. He leaned over to Reagan and whispered, “That was the Kiddush.”

Next, the butler brought a bowl of water with a towel hung over his arm. From Mr. and Mrs. Bernheim, to Reagan, to the boys, each washed their hands and dried them. Mr. Bernheim prayed for their clean hands.

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” The missus repeated this prayer and so did Jacob. Was she to repeat the prayer too? She did, and Joseph followed. Jacob whispered, “That was the Hamotzi.”

Two loaves of bread sat on the table covered with intricately tatted cloths. Mrs. Bernheim ceremoniously removed both cloths, and each of them tore off a piece of the bread and ate in silence. How interesting to have only bread for dinner!

Yet just as she was thinking that, the butler set a large, silver bowl before them. He removed the cover and proceeded to ladle a golden chicken soup into bowls and place them before each of them.

When dinner was finished, the butler removed the bowls and set small plates before each of them. Jacob leaned in and whispered, “It’s honey cake. I just know it.”

Sure enough, the butler presented a golden bundt. He cut the cake and served it. Almonds and raisins made it a most delightful treat, and the missus allowed the boys to have a second piece.

Mr. Bernheim cleared his throat. “Jacob and Joseph, remember that tomorrow is a day of rest. No wild boy nonsense.”

Later in the story, I reveal…the rest of the story. Here’s the unfolding:

“I’d like to understand Shabbat better. The prayers. The symbolism. It’s so beautiful.”

Jacob started. “The candles show us when God created light. The wine gives us joy.”

“And we wash our hands before we lift them up to God,” Joseph added.

Daniel interjected. “Very good. And what of the bread?”

“The Challah? It’s braided like this.” Joseph folded his arms. “When your arms are folded, you can’t work, and the Shabbat is a day for resting.”

“And there are two loaves ’cuz God gave a double portion of manna on Fridays, and the lacy covers are the dew that the Israelites saw before the manna appeared.” Jacob grinned.

“Really? That’s so amazing.” Reagan smiled. “Goodness! Such beautiful ways to remember God. Thank you, boys. I shall forever remember that you were the ones who enlightened me.”

Reagan turned to Daniel. “I can’t help but see Jesus in all of it. He said He was the light of the world and the Bread of Life. He took the cup of wine and said, ‘this is My blood of the covenant.’ Can you not see how Jesus fulfills all this?”

(Books by Susan G. Mathis include Devyn’s Dilemma and Katelyn’s Choice—the first two books of her Thousand Islands Gilded Age series; The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy; Christmas Charity; and Sara’s Surprise. Her books have won numerous awards, including the Illumination Book Award, the American Fiction Award and the Indie Excellence Book Award. Visit www.SusanGMathis.com/fiction.)

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