Hard Time Marrying Part 22

Posting second edition on Saturday since people have extra reading time.alice-at-church_uncle-bud-charter-membmissgrovImage of couple in farm wagon taken from internet.

 

Joe was up by four every morning, making sure the goats were milked and the stock tended before he headed over to Fred’s place every morning.  The two nannies competed for the first spot on the milking block, eager to get at their corn.  Pesky as goats were, It might be a good idea to keep them from now on.  Between these two, he got a more than a gallon of milk a day, plenty for drinking, cooking, butter-making  and even enough for Anya to make cheese.  He should have gotten goats a long time ago.  These two ate far less than the cow.

He worried leaving all the garden-work to Anya in her condition.  Though they hadn’t talked about her pregnancy yet, he knew from the quiet of her manner she was troubled.  He’d seen evidence of rape in the early days as he cared for her, and felt resignation as he noted her nausea and swelling breasts.  Their fragile union was born of need on both parts.  There had been no feeling beyond pity for her upon arrival.  In the first days, he’d just hoped she’d stay to help with the children, but came to take pleasure in her tender care of Sally, her growing love for Little Joe, and the way she made the life they all brought to his lonesome cabin.  After her hearing returned they’d begun talking a bit, he began to hope she’d soon warm to him, despite assertions she would leave.  As her thin body began to swell with pregnancy, she was lovely.  He began to look forward to a life with her and a houseful of children. After all, a baby was just a baby.  Little Joe and Sally had brought so much love into his lonely life. What was one more?

He was going to have to bring this up with Anya.  It occurred to him she might have avoided mentioning her pregnancy  thinking he’d hold it against her.  It was time to set her mind at ease. Maybe with this out of the way, they could get on with their lives.

Hard Time Marrying Part 21

Emma tapped on the door, explaining before she even got in. “I can’t stay.  Me and Rufus is on the way to town.  Nellie Mason told me your cow was dry, so I brung you some butter and two gallons of milk for the youguns.  If it turns before they finish it, you might have enough for a churning.  Can I bring you anything from town? ”

“Thank you, but no.  This milk and butter are sure welcome. Are you sure you cain’t set awhile?  I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee with a friend.  It gets mighty quiet with Joe gone all day.”  Anya longed for the comfort of a woman’s company.

“No, Rufus is a’waitin’ in the wagon.  I better get on, but I sure wish you’d ride over with Joe Saturday when he comes to help Rufus fix the windmill.  I could kill a chicken an’ make some dumplings.  We could have some good woman talk.”  Emma’s eyes crinkled.  “Is Joe proud about the baby?”

“Oh, I ain’t told him yet.  I been spottin’ some and I’m afeared I may not carry it.  I don’t want him to worry if they ain’t no need.”  Anya had no idea how that spilled out.

“”I’ve sorrowed over that.  I lost two between Martha and Melvin.  I’ll pray for you.”  She gave Anya a warm hug.

Tears sprung to Anya’s eyes at her friend’s kindness.  “I thank you, Emma.  I’d be proud to see you on Saturday.”

“That will be something to look forward to.  See you then.”  Anya followed Emma into the yard and waved as the Menlo’s wagon rattled off.

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 19

img_1599Upon Emma’s reference to pregnancy, Anya was so shocked she knocked her coffee over.  It ran off the table onto little Sally’s blonde curls.  Sally howled and both women jumped to see to her.  She wailed, but fortunately her face wasn’t even pink.  The next few minutes were full of mopping her up and changing her clothes.  By the time they’d finished, Rufus had stepped to the door and called Emma to go.  Anya composed herself enough to make her goodbyes, promising to ride over with Joe in a few days.

Sick with dread, Anya settled to rock Sally to sleep and consider Emma’s observation.        She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had the curse.  She hadn’t had to wash rags since she’d been here and didn’t know how long before that.  The abuse she’d endured before escaping and her confusion from her injuries had left her disoriented. The time had all run together.  It was true she’d put on a little weight, but pregnancy had never crossed her mind.  Her hand flew to her belly when she felt an undeniable swelling and her full breasts pushed against the bodice of the dress she’d taken from the store of things in the bundle Joe’s wife had brought with her.

Would this nightmare never end?  Just when it looked as though life might work out, this horror raised its head.  And all this after she’d insisted she wasn’t a whore!  Joe had already been saddled with two children from his dead wife and had tried to pass them off to the townspeople, only to be turned away.  She’d thought she’d never want to be a wife till this terrible turn and now realized a life with Joe and the children would have been precious.  Silent tears ran down her cheeks onto Sweet Sally’s sleepy head.

Joe and came in from outdoors to the tender sight of Anya rocking the baby in the light streaming through the window.  Little Joe ran to her for a hug.  Joe’s heart swelled with love for his family.  Life was turning around for him after all his years alone.

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 18

Apology  Got my stories out of sequence.  To catch up, please go back and read 17 a just posted.  Then move on to 17 b before you read this.  img_1597Anna flung the door open thinking Joe was coming in with milk and eggs.  A tall, thin woman in homespun holding a basket laughed at her surprise.  “I’m Emma, Rufus’s wife.  I was so proud to hear Joe had a new wife I didn’t wait for no invite.  When Rufus said he was coming over to see if Joe I clumb right up in the wagon.  I brung you some eggs, butter, and molasses for a welcome.  It’s gonna be good to have a woman close by to neighbor with. You got any coffee left?”

Though Anya would have hoped to avoid company, she warmed to Emma’s warmth and pulled out a chair from the table for her.  “Set yourself down.  I think the coffee’s still hot.”  She poured them both a cup and put a couple of biscuits on a plate to go with the butter and molasses.

Emma spread butter on a biscuit, ate it thoughtfully, and smiled.  “You make a mighty fine biscuit.  You gonna be a good wife to Joe.  They ain’t nothin’ like good cookin’ to keep a man happy.  I’m glad of it.  I always been partial to Joe.  He’s been alone too long.”

Sally toddled up to Anya’s knee, demanding her attention.  Anya gave her a sip of milk from a cup while she gathered her thoughts, not wanting to betray herself.  “Biscuits do please a man.  I’m proud you like mine.”

“Your baby looks just like you with that white hair and blue eyes.  Maybe Joe will lucky and the one comin’ will look like him.

Hard Time Marrying Part 17 b

buzzardThe spring rains didn’t let up for days, washing out any chance of getting to the Meadow Creek Revival.  The small creek near the house swelled till there was no question of fording.  Anya was devastated to know she’d be stuck a while longer, but Joe was relieved at the reprieve, having no idea how he’d manage.  For the next few weeks, they settled into a routine.  Joe tore a strip of the flannel and fashioned a sling so Anya could manage the baby as she worked.  She her strength and hearing improved every day, and she was putting on a little weight, something she’d never done.  As well as cooking and cleaning, she worked alongside Joe putting in a garden.  She felt better knowing Joe and the little ones would have something to eat after she was far way.  As they planted beans, squash, corn, cabbages, and spring onions, the boy tagged along, packing dirt over the seed as they planted.  With the baby on her back, she had to stop and rest often, but it was pleasant, hopeful work, the type she enjoyed.  She thought a few times of the fine crop they’d harvest till she remembered with a jolt, she wouldn’t be there.  One day, Joe stood and watched her for a while on his way back from the barn with another load of manure, thinking she and the children on his place was the finest sight he’d ever seen.  He strode back to the patch, telling her, “These young’uns has got to have a name.  We cain’t just keeping callin’ em The Boy and The Baby.  Even my barn cats has got a name.”  Anya kept right on with her planting, not bothering to answer. “Let’s call the boy Joe and the baby, Sally.”

As she was coming back from turning the chickens out to scratch one morning, she came around the barn to find Joe in conversation with a man on a horse.  She tried to duck out of sight, but the man waved and called out, “Howdy, Ma’am.”

“Anya, this is Rufus Menlo, our nearest neighbor.” Joe introduced her.

“Proud to meet you, ma’am.  The preacher told me Joe done got hitched to a widow-woman, but I didn’t expect to see such a purty one.  My woman is gonna be wantin’ to git over and meet you soon as she can.  She ain’t had a woman to talk to in a while and now there’s one on the next section.”  Anya didn’t bother to correct him.  “We don’t usually git much news around here, and now there’s a marrying and a killing, all in a few days.”  He continued without hesitation.  “My boy Melvin was out lookin’ for strays and saw buzzards circling and come over a rise to find a sorry sight.  The buzzards had already worked the man over, but Melvin could see his head bashed in.  He was a peddler and somebody must’a robbed him and stole his horse.  They was a woman’s things in his peddler’s cart. Melvin went for the sheriff, and he’s on the lookout for whoever might’of done ‘em in. Some drifters told the sheriff they’d seen him with a fancy woman a few days before.    He’s thinking some lowlife might’of knocked that peddler in the head and took off with the woman, or else the woman did the feller in, but it don’t really seem like something a woman could do, does it?  The sheriff’s on the lookout for any folk that don’t fit around here.”

At hearing his news, Anya retched and wiped her mouth on her skirt.    “I’m sorry ma’am.  I never thought of you being delicate.  Let me git on my way.  I’ll send my woman over to see you.”  Rufus kneed his horse and went on his way.

“Here, sit down.  Let me get you some water.”  Joe steadied her to a chair at the table and poured her a glass of water.  “Drink this.  It ought to steady you a bit.”

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 16

Anya lay awake a long time thinking after Joe went to the barn and the kids slept, the baby snuggled up warm and sweet in the curve of her body.   In his rope bed near the fire, the boy cried out for his mama in his sleep and whimpered without waking.   Anya went to him, smoothed his hair and rubbed his back till he went back to sleep.  His warm little hand sought hers and she felt stirrings of pity for him, even though she tried not to.  She’d already lost the battle of staying detached from the little girl, and was beginning to wonder if she could take the poor motherless thing when she left though she saw the folly in that.  She had no friends, nowhere to go and no way to care for the child. Not only that, she might have killed the peddler.  The law was hard on a woman.  They might be looking to hang her right now. She needed to get far enough away to disappear in a sizable town. The baby would just hold her back. A woman alone would have a hard enough time providing for herself, even if she had nothing to hide. She had to get as far away as possible and seek work as a housekeeper or cook, since that was all she knew.  Having barely been to school, she couldn’t be a schoolmarm.  She’d had enough of men to know she’d never marry.  She needed to get to town where folks had enough money and house to need help. Her prospects were poor, but maybe when she got to Meadow Creek Church she’d meet up with somebody who could help get her on the road to something else.  It would break her heart, but there’s no way she could take the tiny girl.

Out in the barn, Joe was thinking his own gloomy thoughts.  He didn’t want Anya to go.  He started to hope she might stay and they could be a family.  Even though Anya hadn’t warmed to him, he’d gotten a little taste of family watching her doing for the baby and doing about the house.  It had been such a pleasure to come in last night and find supper laid out.  No one had done that for him since Ma died.  When Anya left, he and the boy manage, but who would do for the baby?  She was far too young to go around with him while he worked.

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 15

!fireplace-3She had supper ready when Joe and the boy came in.  She’d cooked beans on in a cast-iron pot hanging over the fire and baked cornbread and some sweet potatoes in the coals, pleasant work she was accustomed to.  Joe’s brows lifted when he saw supper and bowls and cups out on the table.  She crumbled cornbread in a cup and Joe poured buttermilk over it for the baby before lifting her to Anya’s lap.  They all fell to with an appetite. 

“My name is Anya, not Anna.  I’ll stay and earn my keep till I can manage, but I ain’t no whore.  Don’t come sniffing around me.  I don’t want to owe you nothing.  I’m gittin’ better so I can do for the baby and tend the house, but you need to keep the boy with you.”  She looked him fiercely in the eye.

Joe looked her and raised his voice.  “I’ll thank you to call me Joe.  Don’t you think I could’a already done hurt you if I’d wanted? I don’t want nothin’ more from you than you take care of yourself and the baby.”  He dropped his voice, speaking more to himself.  “I been getting along without a woman for a long time, but I ain’t fell so low I got to take up with a stringy, beat-up neck bone like you.”

Poor Joe was unaware her hearing had improved and was surprised to have a hot sweet potato hit him in the jaw.  “I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head,” she warned him through clinched jaws. 

“Yes, ma’am.”  He muttered.  “Beggin’ pardon, ma’am.  No call for me to be spiteful.  We are both in a pickle and battling ain’t gonna help.”

“You keep to your place and I’ll keep to mine till I can do better.”  The tension eased a bit now they understood each other.

They passed the evening watching the children at their play.  Joe had brought them a kitten from the barn.  The boy teased it with a bit of string, delighting the baby girl.  Joe and Anya caught themselves laughing at it a time or two.

“What’s the boy’s name?”  This was the first time it had occurred to her to ask.

“I don’t know.  I just been calling him boy.  His mama was sick when she got here and never told me nothing.  She died the next day.”  He stared into the fire.

“You mean these ain’t your young’uns?”  She was incredulous.

“No, I don’t know nuthin’ exceptin’ their mama up and died soon’s she got here.  I’d send ‘em back to her folk if I knew who they was.  She come with nuthin’ but my letter, a bundle of clothes, and these young’uns after I wrote off for a wife. I buried her out in the mesquite and tried to take the kids back to Talphus fer the town or the church to do for ‘em and them miserable bastards run me off like a scalded dog.  When I got back after doing chores that night, you was up in the house lookin’ at the baby.  I thought I’d done buried their mama alive.  It warn’t till just now the coyotes dug her body out of the grave till I knew you warn’t the woman I married.  Oh, Lordy.  I don’t know why I ain’t left well enough alone.”

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 14

She gathered the children next to the wall in bed with her with the fireplace poker hidden the quilts.  It wouldn’t be much protection from an ax or gun, but she might be able to put an eye out before he got to her.  Fatigued, she leaned against the wall so she wouldn’t be caught lying down when he burst in.  Though she was never aware of drifting off, the sound of the man trying the door awoke her just as the sun was rising.  Peeking out the window she saw he had put a pail of milk and basket of eggs on the step instead of bringing them in like he had every other morning.   “Come on out and git this for them kids.  They got to eat.” Jack trotted happily behind him as he headed to the barn.  When she was sure he was far enough away, she reached for the provisions.  Unable to lift the heavy milk bucket, she had to take it out a dipper full at a time and wasted a good bit trying to strain it into a pitcher.  Filling the baby’s bottle, and struggled to change the wriggling child’s malodorous diaper before finally giving up to let her run free.   The boy tipped a chair and banged his head trying to get an egg. The eggs crashed to the floor. The baby howled in unison with her brother, though he didn’t need any help. She burst into loud wails faced with the hopelessness of the situation.  Clearly, she couldn’t take care of even herself in her condition.  Desperate, she opened the door to the man’s banging.  If he’d wanted to kill them, he could have sneaked up on them in the night instead of bringing breakfast to the door.

“If you ain’t gonna be able to feed these young’uns, let me in so I can.”  She had no trouble understanding his shouted instructions.  He got straight to work, breaking up cold cornbread into warm milk, since the eggs were lost.  Gesturing for her to sit in a straight chair at the table, he handed her the baby girl propping her between Anya’s injured arm against the wall and raised his voice. “You feed this baby.  You need to earn your keep.  That other arm works fine.” 

While Anya fed the girl, she sneaked peeks at the man, trying not to get caught while he crumbled cornbread into the boy’s milk.  He made no effort to fix Anya’s meal, turning to hear and shouted.  “Now when you git your fill, clean this mess up.  I got too much to do to take care of youngun’s and an addled woman.”

Anya lost her fear as her face flamed with fury at the insult. “Addled!  I ain’t addled!  I’m jest kind’a deaf but I’m a’getting’ better!  And don’t go hollerin’ so loud at me.  I ain’t off!  You’d act addled too if you got cracked in the head.  At least I ain’t crazy enough to claim you’re my husband!  Just give me a few days more an’ I’ll be out of here.  I just gotta figure a way to take care of myself and git to a town.”

The damn holding back Joe’s frustration broke.  “I’ll be glad to see the last of you, but I got a crop to put in and cain’t take time to haul your sorry ass thirty miles to town. Me and these kids ain’t gonna starve on account of you!  You ain’t nothing to us!”  He didn’t even realize it was the first time he’d referred to himself and the kids as a unit. “The circuit preacher will be over to the Meadow Creek Church in two weeks for revival.  I’ll take you the twelve miles over there and some of them do-gooders from church can put you to work or git you to town.  It ain’t nothing to me what you do.”

“I ain’t staying here another night.” She spouted, slamming her open hand on the table.

“Suit yourself.  Talphus is thirty miles east and Meadowcreek Church is twelve miles northwest of here.  Them church folks will be gathering after spring planting.  Good riddance!  Come on Little Joe.  Now, you watch the baby out of the fire.  Me and Little Joe got work to do.”  He grabbed the little boy’s hand and slammed the door on the way out.

Hard Time Marrying Part 13

anya-and-baby

Anya had no idea of the horror behind Joe’s outburst as he tore into the cabin, though she knew plenty about the moods of men, none of it good.  She covered her head and cowered on the far side of the bed, expecting a beating or rape, the way men had most often dealt with her.  His previous kindnesses were forgotten in her shock.

“What’s going on here?  Who the Hell are you and how did you get here? I thought you were my wife! Who are these kids?”  He crossed the room shaking her by the shoulders as she waited for the blows to rain down. “

Despite her confusion, with him shouting directly into her face, there was no mistaking, “I THOUGHT YOU WERE MY WIFE!”

He was insane!  Bracing for what was sure to come next, she covered her head with her good arm.  God help me!  Distraught and overwrought he fled the cabin, slamming the door before the boy could get out behind him.

The boy wailed and tore at the door.  The baby cried and clung to her.  The shock of the man’s outburst cleared her confusion a bit.  She rushed to the door, and slid the wooden bar to lock the man out.  At least that would give her a moment to think.  She’d hoped to have a few more days to rest.  In her clouded mind, the baby girl had become the little sister she’d so loved. She to figure a way to get herself and the girl away.  The man might burn them in their beds tonight, but if they survived, she’d have to figure out a way to get them out of here in the morning.