Rest and rehabilitation at home was restorative for the beleaguered Ellen. For weeks, she rested taking her meals when Cora prompted. Docile and fatigued, she only got out of bed for toileting. Cora bathed her at bedside for fear the bath would upset her, and dressed her in the filmy dressing gowns Miss Jessie sent from her shop. Her hair was still far too short to put up in the styles she favored, but with improved diet and care, it curled naturally in a fetching cap-like style around her face. Her weight was steadily coming down since she had little interest in food. Charles was relieved that she appeared not to have noticed her earlier heaviness.
He made a point to be home by six every evening to have dinner in her room with her. They’d share a glass or two of wine afterwards as he read to her. He felt as though his Ellen was coming back to him. The boys, seventeen and fourteen, made polite appearances and were on their best behavior in her company, before going on their way. Ellen made no mention of the girls. Charles decided to leave well-enough alone and let that problem wait.
The little girls, Charley, now nearly five and Ginny eight months, thrived at the farm in the company of Grandmother Geneva, Cousin Jean, and Josie. For her part, Geneva was glad of the chance to remain with Cousin Jean who appeared frail. Charley spent her days playing in the barn, climbing trees, and romping with the baby goats. She was in Heaven!
Bobby Harris, the son of Cousin Jean’s farm hand and Bessie, her help, had caught seventeen-year-old Josie’s eye. A tall, shy brown boy, he was always dreaming up a trip to the pond for fishing or swimming, anything to get time alone with sweet Josie, though they had to take Charley along as chaperone. Josie was a buxom girl with a glowing café-au-lait complexion. Both were innocent in their first love. Josie had never had the opportunity to have a beau. Her mother kept her on a short leash, hoping to protect her from an early pregnancy, which was how Josie came in the world.
One April day, Bobby came over to let them know the dewberries were ready for picking. Cousin Jean dug out big sun hats and overalls for protection, and borrowed a pair for Charley that Bobby’s younger brother had outgrown. They spent a wonderful morning in the berry patch, filling buckets and buckets with precious dewberries. Charley ate as many as she could hold, despite being told a bear or snake might have peed on them. Sunburned and exhausted, they picnicked in the shade before returning to the house with their harvest.
That’s when the trouble started. Geneva ran a bath for Charley, intending to bathe her and wipe her down for chiggers. Everything was fine till Geneva tried to put a dress on her afterwards. Charley insisted on putting the overalls back on, totally unconcerned that they were dirty and might be loaded with chiggers. She threw such a fit, Geneva let her play in her bloomers till it was time for her nap, reasoning she’d forget the overalls. She tossed the overalls in with the wash Bessie had in the wringer washer. The overalls were blowing in the hot breeze when Charley went looking for them. She pulled them off the line, dropping them in the dirt. Bessie and Geneva found her struggling to get the dirty overalls on. Bessie laughed and went to get her another pair of her boy’s worn overalls. Charley was delighted. This was the first interest Geneva had ever known her to show in clothes.
“Well, aren’t you a fine little farmer. You can wear those overalls as long as you are here, but your mama will have a fit if she sees you in them. Now, run play.” The women chuckled at Charley’s chubby little backside as she put on her straw farm hat and took off for the barn. “Charley, you leave those new puppies alone. Their mama might bite you!”
“I will, Granny. I’m going to drive the tractor!” Charley called over her shoulder. “Don’t get in my way. I might run over you.” Charley climbed on a tractor rusting in the barn lot. It hadn’t run in years, only serving as a source for parts for the new tractor, the twenty-year-old one. Charley enjoyed total freedom to use it for her “farming.”
“She’s just the cutest little thing, ain’t she?” said Cousin Jean. “Makes me think a lot of me at her age.”
“Yes, she is,” Geneva agreed.
“but I’m afraid there’s gonna be a lot of trouble between her and her