“These young’uns is got scarlet fever. You ain’t leaving ‘em for this town to deal with. Jist take ‘em on back where you come from.” The sheriff steadfastly refused responsibility for the children.
“But they ain’t mine. I don’t even know their names.”
“Ya married their ma ago ain’t cha? Then they’s yourn! I hate it for ‘ya, but I ain’t gonna letcha leave ‘em here to sicken the whole town. We’ll getcha some provisions to help out, but that’s it. Ya got to git out’a town with them sick young’uns. Pull this wagon out to that mesquite tree ‘n I’ll git ‘cha some supplies.
Morosely, Joe waited on the edge of the sorry town as a wagon pulled up. Shouting at him to stay back, a gimpy old geezer rolled off a barrel of flour, putting a burlap bag of beans beside it, and piling a few cans of milk, a bolt of material, and a few paper wrapped parcels on top of it. He went on his way, leaving Joe to wrestle them into the wagon the best he could, stowing them so they wouldn’t crush the burning children.
Joe felt as low as he’d ever had, pulling up to his rough cabin. He knew nothing about children or the sick. Maybe these poor wretches wouldn’t suffer too long.
Their union had a bleak start. Shivering miserably on the depot platform in the freezing rain, the woman folded and refolded his tattered letter. Angered, he thought of driving on when he saw her cradling a small child and holding the hand of a grimy toddler, a few tattered bundles at her feet. In her letter, she’d not mentioned the little ones, though with all fairness, the marriage was only one of need on both parts. He hadn’t promised her anything either, so after hesitating, he was mollified by the thought that the little fellows served as proof she wasn’t barren. Hurriedly, married minutes later at the preacher’s house, he apologized for the weather as they shivered the two hours home in his open wagon and was surprised to learn the woman didn’t speak or understand English. Maybe that wasn’t so bad for a man accustomed to his own company.
Burning with fever by the time they got to his homestead, his unknown wife was dead by the next sundown, leaving him with little ones he had no taste for. Barely reaching his knee, they toddled mutely in perpetual soggy diapers, uttering gibberish only they understood. As soon as he could, he buried his quilt-wrapped wife and headed back to dusty Talphus, Texas to rid himself of burden of her orphaned little ones. The church or the town would have to do for them. Loading them in a snug in a bed of hay, wrapped in a ragged quilt, hay heaped over them. he pitied and grieved for them on the long trip back to town, knowing the hard life they faced. Stopping several times to make sure they were warmly covered, he was relieved to find them pink and warm.
He hardened his heart against them, knowing only too well the life they faced. He’d never known family, just been passed from hand to hand. He grieved knowing that was their lot, but deception had landed them with him and a lone-farmer could hardly be expected to shoulder the brats of a deadwoman he’d never even shared a bed with.