Someday Is Here

Welcome to 2016 where

Someday Is Always right here!

Four Summer Days

A story of family love, loyalty, and survival,
 based on a story my grandmother told me
when I was a child.

 Over the years I heard more stories and pursued them  through genealogy. Finally, I went up the mountain on the rutted wagon road and stood where it all happened in 1876. Nothing remains but crumbling foundation bricks, a well, and the wind whispering through the black walnut trees.

~~~~~

“She heard what happened yesterday, Mamma. Hell, I reckon the whole county’s heard by now. Mamma, he could’ve killed you. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.”

“He didn’t.” Her voice died away. “He didn’t.”

“I could’ve killed him, and I’ll do it yet if. . .”

Her mouth dropped open, exposing gaps in her teeth left by the man’s fist. “No, Tom! You’re your Papa’s boy. Killin’s not in you.”

“Ginny’s ridin’ over this afternoon.” He stood up. “You need to listen to her.”

 Continue on to read about

The First Day - July 1, 1876.

Then

get the eBook here.


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AUTHOR’S NOTE

 

I wrote this story years ago before political correctness engulfed our society and being offended became a national sport. As I pause to consider before publishing, I realize some  readers will take offense because the two ex-slaves speak in the dialect of the day (1876). They will fail to see these two men for who they are: the unsung heroes of an era long past and an integral part of the new family sprung from the one which enslaved them. They will miss the mutual love and respect between the ex-slaves, Hoag and Sam, and Tom, the now-grown son of their ex-master, as well as Tom’s wife and children.

They will miss the entire story.

 I also wrote the dialogue of the other characters, those with minimal education and one with an intellectual disability, in the dialect they would have spoken in that day and time.  Dialogue turns words into pictures, but one must listen to and truly hear it. 

It is my hope the majority of those who read this book will listen,  hear, see each character for who he truly is, and come to love all of them as I have.


~~~~~~~~~~

The First Day

July 1, 1876

 

Even though it was still dark, the heat of the early July morning covered him like a blanket too heavy to push away. Clad only in a pair of thin cotton drawers, he lay sweating.

Beside him, his younger brother Cart snored softly, his feet moving back and forth as if trying to fit themselves into some elusive stirrups. Under an uncurtained window across the narrow room, his other brother Jem slept with one hand across his eyes. He considered the boy might be trying to shut out yesterday’s violence, but then Jem didn’t seem to care much about anything, good or bad, these days.

From the kitchen below came the familiar sounds of his mother getting breakfast. He didn’t know why she was up so early this morning. He and the boys would wait for breakfast. He listened, anticipating every move. There was the kindling going into the iron stove. Now she was setting the enamel coffeepot on the back of it. The sudden metallic thump of the heavy skillet banging clumsily against the edge of the stove made him sit up. Was the man back? But it was quiet. He lay down again, remembering other mornings.

When he was a little boy, mornings had been pleasant. His mother always sang as she got breakfast, her high, thin voice pausing briefly as the back door opened and closed. Then, he knew, his parents shared a quick kiss. In those days, his parents and his brothers and sisters never hesitated to show their affection for each other.

He’d heard people say how his parents’ marriage had been an unlikely match. His father was twice as old as his bride and had a motherless two-year-old daughter. But his mother had moved right in and started raising Virginia like she was her own. Then he, Hannah, Cart, and Jem had come along two years apart. He’d never thought of his father as old even when he fell over dead in the barn eleven years ago. The sight of his father’s body, twisted like Hannah’s rag doll and already turning dark, still haunted him.

They were provided for though. His father had a will leaving everything to his mother, and there were no debts. The court told her, when it convened in Hamilton six months later, that all she had to do was keep the farm going and pay the taxes every year. Hoag and Sam stayed on, even when they knew they were free. The farm was their home, too.

Things went well that first year. They missed their father, and their mother missed him most of all, but life went on pretty much as it had before. He and his brothers did the chores, and sometimes he helped Hoag and Sam plow. Hannah and Virginia tended the garden and worked in the house, and nothing much changed except their father wasn’t there anymore.

Everything was going to be all right, his mother said morning and evening. They were going to be just fine. And for a while, until Micah Baker came back to Hamilton and married his mother, they were.

He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Cart snored on, and Jem didn’t move. That was good. He wanted some time alone with his mother before they came down and before the little girls woke up. He pulled on his pants and went downstairs in his bare feet, buttoning his shirt on the way.

“Mamma.”

She didn’t turn around from the stove.

“Mamma,” he said again.

She shook her head. “Don’t talk to me anymore, Tom. I can’t do what you want.”

“We can do it, Mamma. Uncle Jess said he’d help us.”

“This place belonged to your father. I can’t leave it.”

“It doesn’t belong to him anymore!” He brought his clinched fist down hard on the long wooden table. His mother shied away as if he’d hit her instead of the table.

“He meant for you and the boys to have it someday.”

“You think we’ll get it? He’ll see we never get an acre, and you know it. Mamma, we got to go. We got to.”

“I can’t.”

He closed his eyes as she turned around, but not before he glimpsed the blue-black bruise covering almost the whole right side of her face. She’d been pretty once, and maybe she still would be if she could smile and laugh like before. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard her sing while she worked.

“You and the boys go.”

“And leave you here?”

“Randolph and Ginny are here.”

“What can they do? What’ve they done?”

“You and the boys go on to Jess and Eliza. Maybe you could see to Hannah’s . . .”

“We won’t go without you and the girls.”

She turned the ham in the skillet. “Go call your brothers to eat.”

v   

After breakfast he rode over to his half-sister’s place. She’d married barely six months after the man came. Said she couldn’t live in the same house with him but wouldn’t say why. So she married his mother’s younger brother Randolph, a good steady man who’d taken a worn-out farm and turned it into one of the best places on the White River. They had three little boys now.

Ginny was nursing the baby when he came in. He paused at the door. “Mornin’.”

She smiled. “Sit yourself down, Tom. Coffee’s still hot.”

“Had my fill, thanks.” He sat at the end of the table, lowering his eyes while she shifted little Tom to her other breast.

His eyes drifted around the cheerful room. Randolph had even built a pump inside so his wife wouldn’t have to carry water from the well out back. He was always doing things to make her comfortable. Things like Tom’s father had done for his wife once.

“Haven’t seen the boys in a while,” Ginny said.

“They keep busy. Jem’s not goin’ back to school next year.”

“Well, he’s fifteen.”

“Papa would’ve sent him to school in Fayetteville. Jem’s smart.”

“Well.”

He looked around again, scrunching the brim of his straw hat against his knees. “I want us to go to Texas. Uncle Jess said he’d help us get a start there.”

Ginny sighed. “I heard what happened yesterday.”

“How?”

“Randolph saw Broome in town.”

Tom made a snorting sound through his nose. “If Broome hadn’t come along, I swear I’d of killed the. . .”

“Don’t talk like that, Tom,” she said sharply. “Don’t.”

He tightened his grip on the hat. “You should see her face.”

“Broome said he left.”

“Rode out like a king on that new stallion he bought with money that’s rightfully ours!”

“How’d it start?”

“He came home liquored up the night before. Mamma was up early to start the wash, and he said she was makin’ too much noise. When I came out of the barn, he was holdin’ her over the wash pot. I was scared to say anything, scared he’d let go and drop her in.”

“What’d you do?”

“Got around behind him and called him a name. When he turned around, Mamma got loose and ran in the house. He started for me, but then he saw I had the pitchfork. I kept on him ‘til I had him against the porch, and that’s when Broome rode up.”

“You wouldn’t have done it.”

“Yes, I would’ve.” He stood up and walked across the room and back, stopping in front of her. “We got to go, Ginny.”

“Randolph’ll give you the money for train fare. He’s said so before.”

“I got a little saved up from when I worked for Broome last year. But he made me give him part of it for room and board. By heaven, Ginny, room and board in my own home!”

“Shhh,” she soothed him. “I’ll talk to Randolph today.”

“Mamma says she won’t leave. Says the land was meant for the boys and me, but you know we’ll never get it. If I’d put him in his grave yesterday, some of his kin would’ve been at the door before breakfast tellin’ us to get out.”

“Maybe I could talk to her.”

“Would you try?”

“When Randolph comes in at noon, I’ll ask him to drive me over there.”

“Just in case he’s back, I’ll tie a cloth to the gate.”

She leaned over and laid the baby in the cradle and buttoned her dress. “All right.” She walked with him to the door, her hand resting on his arm. “You’re the one they all depend on now, Tom. Don’t do anything to make trouble for yourself.”

He bent to kiss the top of her head. “You’re a good woman, Ginny, like they say your mamma was a good woman.”

“Your mamma raised me.”

“She’s good, too. Too good for. . .”

“Go on now.” She gave him a small push.

He untied his horse, then paused with one foot in the stirrup. “Ginny, I been thinkin’ about Hannah lately. Did she ever talk to you? I know she was tore up when he ran Charlie Graby off, but I always figured they’d get back together.”

Ginny turned so her face was hidden in the shadow of the doorway. “It’s done now. You go on.”

v   

He couldn’t stop thinking about Hannah as he rode home. She’d known Charlie all her life, so nobody was surprised three years ago when she said they wanted to get married. She was just sixteen, but Ginny had been a year younger when Mamma gave permission for her to marry Randolph. The man hadn’t said anything about that, but he went crazy over Hannah and Charlie and swore he’d see Charlie dead first.

Charlie believed it, too. He rode over after dark one night and met Hannah in the barn and told her he was leaving. When Hannah came upstairs later, she was crying. The next day Elder Graby, Charlie’s father, told in town that Charlie had gone up North. He was still there.

Hannah never talked about him again. She never talked about much of anything again. A few months later, while Tom was off working for Levi Broome, she left. Mamma said she’d gone on the train to stay with Uncle Jess and Aunt Eliza in East Texas. Three months after that, she was dead. Typhoid, Uncle Jess wrote, but nobody else had it, which seemed strange to Tom.

While he was still a piece from the gate, he swept the yard with his eyes. The barn door was shut, and everything looked peaceful enough. Likely the man wouldn’t be back for a while. He’d gone off before. Two, three, four days at a time he’d stayed away, and they’d all been glad.

Cart came out on the porch as Tom tied his horse. “Where you been, Tom?”

“Over to Ginny’s.”

“Oh.”

“You feed the chickens?”

“Sure did.”

“Give ‘em plenty of water?”

“Sure did.”

“It’s hot weather now. Got to make sure there’s plenty of water for ‘em.”

“I did it, Tom.” Cart grinned and ran his hand through his curly brown hair. “I did it.”

Tom went up on the porch and patted his brother’s shoulder. “Good man, Cart. I can always depend on you. Where’s Jem?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think you could find him?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think you might like to try?”

Cart grinned again. “Sure, Tom, I’ll find him for you.”

Tom watched the boy’s awkward gait as he started off in the direction of the barn. Cart hadn’t walked until he was almost three. Papa had worked with him every night after supper, and they’d all clapped and hollered when Cart finally took his first steps.

v   

It was cooler in the hall. He could hear the little girls playing in the kitchen. They weren’t allowed in the parlor where he, Hannah, Cart, and Jem had played after supper every night. No one went in there much anymore, and the door was always kept closed. He opened it now and stood looking around. The drapes were drawn, and it was dark. But he could remember when a fire always burned in the fireplace and how Ginny and Hannah always loved taking turns bringing Papa a coal to light his pipe.

Mamma sat and tatted. That was her play after the day’s work was done. Sometimes Papa read aloud from the family Bible, a volume so big it filled his lap, or from the newspaper or a book he’d brought home from Graby’s General Store. Sometimes he listened to them read from their schoolbooks.

Tom shivered as the shadows licked at him. Backing out of the room, he went on to the kitchen and found his mother sitting at the table with the mending basket in her lap and her hands resting on its closed lid. On the floor beside her, Pet and Polly played contentedly with their rag dolls. They looked up when he came in.

“Where you been, Tom?” Polly’s grin appeared crooked because of the white scar snaking from her nose to the corner of her mouth. It had been there since the man knocked her off the porch because she was in his way.

He squatted down and held out his arms. “Out and about.” Polly’s arms went around his neck. She looked like Hannah. Pet was a smaller version of the man, but he’d always tried not to see it. The girls were five, the same age as Ginny’s middle boy, but without his happy smile.

There’d been two baby girls before them, both born dead, and his mother had almost died, too. It had been the man’s fault. The first time, he kicked over the churn, and when Mamma went to pick it up, he grabbed the paddle and punched her hard in the belly. The baby came that night, three months before its time.

 Then maybe two years later, the man rode into the yard on his newest horse bought with the money from the last cotton they’d ginned. Tom watched helplessly from the porch as the man rode straight for his mother, waving his pistol and firing into the air. The horse knocked her down, then reared and plunged, its hooves tearing the flesh of her arms as she tried to cover herself. The baby she was carrying was born a week later. It was dead, too.

Tom would never forget the day Pet and Polly were born just about a year after that. It was in the dead of winter, and the man sent Cart, Jem, and him out early in the morning to bring up the cattle because it looked like snow. It came an ice storm instead, and by the time they got back, they were frozen to their saddles.

The man was gone, but Doc Free was there. Hannah was huddled on the floor near the stairs, her hands over her ears to shut out the sounds coming from the bedroom off the kitchen. Tom sent Cart and Jem to the parlor and told them to close the door. “When did she start?”

“Right after you left.” Hannah twisted away from him and buried her face between his knees. “She’s gonna die this time, Tom! I know it!”

“Anybody else in there?”

“Miz Crumley came with Doc.”

He opened the bedroom door without knocking. “Get outta here!” Doc Free hollered. “Don’t need you!”

He stepped inside anyway, closing the door behind him. “Need to know what’s happenin’.”

The doctor didn’t glance up. “She’s birthin’, that’s what!”

“She gonna be all right?”

“The devil if I know! Get on outta here!”

He looked at his mother thrashing wildly on the bed. “Can’t you do somethin’ for her?”

“I’m doin’ all I can. You know that.” The doctor slumped wearily. “Go on now, son. You don’t need to be here.” Tom hadn’t gotten out the door when his mother began to scream again.

He fixed some cornbread and fried bacon for their supper, but no one was hungry. The door muffled the sounds from the bedroom, but it didn’t shut them out completely. Later the boys fell asleep on the rag rug by the fireplace in the parlor, and Hannah nodded off in the rocking chair. But Tom stood by the door and waited.

It was almost morning before Miz Crumley came to tell them they had twin sisters. “How’s Mamma?”

The woman shook her head. “Had a hard time of it. A real hard time.”

“Is she all right?”

“She can’t feed those babies. I’ll send Paralee over to wet-nurse them. Time hers was weaned anyway.”

“What can I do?”

Miz Crumley looked straight at him. “Keep that no-good Micah Baker outta her bed!”

v   

The twins changed his mother. Even after five years, she wasn’t strong. The man came back and announced that if she couldn’t make anything but females, she wasn’t much use. If it hadn’t been for Doc and Miz Crumley, who came in regularly, the man would’ve had her up working way too soon. Tom didn’t think the man was afraid of them exactly, but he didn’t argue with them either.

Micah took to sleeping in the lean-to off the kitchen after that. Whether or not he ever went into the bedroom, Tom didn’t know for sure, but at least there hadn’t been any more babies.

Tom was fond of the girls in spite of who their father was. They were quiet children who scattered like frightened rabbits whenever they heard their father’s heavy footsteps. He yelled at them for no reason and cursed them just for being there. They tried to stay out of his way, but their spindly little legs often bore the marks of his belt. Just touching them unexpectedly could make them cringe.

He, Hannah, and the boys tried to make things better for them when they could. Sometimes he thought maybe they looked on him as their papa instead of the man. He kissed them now and told them to go play on the back porch. Then he took the mending basket out of his mother’s lap and set it on the table. “Mamma.”

She squeezed her eyes shut. “Don’t devil me anymore.”

“Mamma, I’m not devilin’ you. I only want to make things better for you. For all of us.”

“I told you I can’t go.”

“Ginny said Randolph’ll give us the money for the train.”

“You shouldn’t be talkin’ to Ginny.”

“She heard what happened yesterday, Mamma. Hell, I reckon the whole county’s heard by now. Mamma, he could’ve killed you. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.”

“He didn’t.” Her voice died away. “He didn’t.”

“I could’ve killed him, and I’ll do it yet if. . .”

Her mouth dropped open, exposing gaps in her teeth left by the man’s fist. “No, Tom! You’re your Papa’s boy. Killin’s not in you.”

“Ginny’s ridin’ over this afternoon.” He stood up. “You need to listen to her.”

v   

Tom spotted Cart coming up from the barn when he got outside. “Jem’s down by the sheep pens,” Cart hollered.

“What’s he doin’ down there?”

“You better go see.”

Tom found his youngest brother sprawled on his stomach in the grass with an empty bottle clutched in his hand.

“Jem!”

The boy rolled over and scowled. “Leave me ‘lone, Tom.”

Tom took the bottle out of his brother’s hand. “Where’d you get this?”

“Outta his saddlebag.”

“You could’ve taken somethin’ better if you’d a mind to steal from him. Like money.”

“Wanted that.”

“Why?”

“Don’t know.” Jem rolled over again and belched loudly.

Tom grabbed the boy by the seat of his pants, hauled him to his feet, and gave him a shove.

“Where we goin’?”

“Gonna drown you.”

“Aw, Tom, you never take a drink b’fore?”

“No, I never did, and you had more’n a drink.”

“Bottle wasn’t full.”

He herded the boy ahead of him toward the creek. “Git!”

Afterwards, they sat and dried off under the ancient oak tree where they’d played as children.

“Sorry, Tom.” Jem pulled on his socks.

“You oughtta be.”

“I didn’t go to do it. I just saw that bottle and took it. I. . .”

“I told Mamma last night that I want us to pack up and go out to Uncle Jess,” Tom interrupted. “You can go back to school. Might have to wait a year, but I promise you’ll go back and even to college somewhere later. I’ll earn the money for you.”

Jem’s head fell forward. “It don’t matter.”

“It matters. You’re the smart one, Jem. You work hard at your lessons. You deserve to go.”

“Doc Free let me sew up Pete Esker’s arm a few weeks ago. He ripped it on a nail buildin’ a new corral, and I was over to Cauley’s when they came lookin’ for Doc. Bettie Cauley had the fever. Doc was showin’ me how to make a poultice to draw it out. So we went on over to Pete’s, and Doc asked me if I wanted to sew up the arm, and I said sure. So he showed me how, and I did.” He chewed his lip. “Said I did good, Tom. Real good.”

“You wanna be a doctor?”

“Reckon I do.”

“Then you’ll be one.”

Jem’s mood changed again. “No, I won’t. I’ll rot on this place for the rest of my life. We all will.”

“Not if we go like I want to. But I got to depend on you, Jem. You can’t be off down to the sheep pens drinkin’ when I need you.”

“I won’t do it again, Tom, I swear.”

“Randolph’ll give us the train fare. Ginny’s comin’ over to talk to Mamma this afternoon.”

“How’ll we get away without. . .”

“We’ll just pack up and go ‘fore he gets back.”

“We can’t take everythin’.”

“Just our own stuff. We’ll take Papa’s trunk over to Randolph and Ginny to keep until we can get it. The rest’ll just have to stay.”

“He’ll sell it off and pocket every penny.”

“Let him. He’s got it anyway.”

“How’d he do that, Tom? How’d he just come back to town a year after Papa died and get this place away from us? And why did Mamma ever marry him anyway?”

“To hold onto the farm, I guess.”

“But how’d he get it? Papa left a will. You said he did. You said everythin’ was Mamma’s.”

“I don’t know, Jem. I tried to see it at the courthouse in Hamilton a few months ago, but they wouldn’t let me. Then I tried to look at the deed for this place, and they wouldn’t let me see that either.”

“His father owns Hamilton, that’s why. The Bakers take what they want around here.”

Tom shrugged. “I wrote the judge, too, but I haven’t heard anything back.”

“Zachariah Baker probably owns him, too.”

“I dunno. You okay now, Jem? We gotta get back up to the house and make some plans.”          

They walked up from the creek in silence. Just in sight of the house, Tom stopped. “Jem, I been thinkin’ ‘bout Hannah. Don’t it seem peculiar to you she just up and left? Or that she didn’t go to Charlie instead of Uncle Jess and Aunt Eliza? You were here when she went.”

“Don’t ask me, Tom. I don’t know nuthin’.”

“Well, what’d she say?”

“Didn’t say. Just packed her satchel and left.”

“How’d she get to the train?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, she didn’t walk all the way to Hamilton.”

“She left walkin’.”

“Did Mamma try to stop her?”

“No. Why’re you askin’ all these questions now? It’s been three years. Hannah’s dead.”

“I just been thinkin’ about her.”

“I don’t want to think about her. Papa either. They’re gone. Sometimes I think they’re better off than we are.”

Tom frowned. “Don’t talk that way. Papa used to say life’s a gift.”

“I don’t even remember him.”

“Well, you got to think about him to remember him.” Tom patted his brother’s shoulder. “I’m dependin’ on you now, Jem.”

v   

The conversation in the kitchen that afternoon was as useless as the one that morning. “I think it’s the thing to do, Sue,” Randolph said finally. “I really do.”

“I do, too, Mamma,” Ginny said. “It’ll be right lonesome without you and the children, but I think it’s the best thing for all of you.”

“We should’ve done it a long time ago.” Tom said from the floor where he was playing with Little Tom.

Randolph frowned at him and shook his head. “Sue, it won’t stretch me to give you the money for the train and some to boot. You can pay it back if it’ll make you feel better.”

“It took Harkness a lifetime to build up this place.”

“And it took Micah Baker a year to tear it down!” Tom jumped up. “Look around, Mamma. We got only about a third of the stock we used to have. He ran off  Sam and Hoag, and the boys and I can’t plow and plant this whole place by ourselves. We do well to get enough winter feed for what stock we got, and what little cotton we gin, he sells off and takes the money.”

“Mamma, you’ve got a few days anyway,” Ginny said, leaning forward to take her stepmother’s hands. “Randolph’ll help you get some things over to our place to store. He won’t come there. Just take your own belongings, and later Tom and the boys can come back for the rest.”

“I just can’t do it.”

Randolph stood up. “I’ll drop it, Sue, but you can let me know if you change your mind.” He motioned to Tom, and they walked out on the porch. “Let it alone for a while.”

Tom jerked around and slammed his fist into one of the posts. “He’s killing her! He’s killing us all!”

Randolph nodded. “I know it.”

“Why’d she do it, Randolph? Why’d she ever marry him? How’d he get his hands on this place?”

“It was Zachariah Baker, I expect. He always wanted it, borderin’ his land and all.”

“But it was ours. Papa’s will. . .”

“Papers can be fixed.”

“Did you ever see ‘em?”

“I heard he did it and then told Micah he’d need to marry Sue to make it stick.”

“But she had to know what he was. The whole county knew. Why’d she stay?”

“What was she gonna do with five mouths to feed and no place to go?”

“Ginny left quick enough.”

“We knew we were goin’ to get married. We were just waitin’ ‘til I got a little ahead, that’s all. But when she said. . .” He stopped and looked around nervously.

“What’d she say, Randolph?”

“Nuthin’. Just that she knew things weren’t gonna be good over here.”

“Is that all?”

Randolph stepped into the house again. “Ginny! Ginny, we don’t want to be too late gettin’ home.”

Pet and Polly trailed them to the wagon. “Take us with you, Sister,” Polly begged.

“We’ll be real good,” Pet wheedled.

Ginny hugged and kissed them. “You’re real good little girls,” she said. “Mamma, why don’t you let ‘em come for a while?”

Tom took his mother’s arm. “Let ‘em go, Mamma. You need a rest.”

His mother pressed her fingers against her eyes. “I don’t care. They can go if you’ve a mind to take ‘em, Ginny.”

Tom packed all their clothes in a clean feed sack and put it in the back of the wagon, then lifted them up behind the wagon seat and kissed them. “Be sweet babies. I’ll be over in a day or two.”

Randolph flipped the reins, and the horses started forward. “Take it easy, Tom,” he called. Ginny turned and waved, but Pet and Polly, bouncing happily on the feed sack, didn’t even look back.

“Come on in the house and sit, Mamma,” Tom said. “Nuthin’ to do right now. I’ll fix supper after chores.”

In the kitchen, his mother dropped down in the rocking chair and put her head back and closed her eyes. She’s beaten, Tom thought. Beaten down and worn out. It came to him then that she couldn’t decide anything, whether to go or stay. It was up to him.

He brought her a cup of water from the stone crock by the door. “You just sit. I’m goin’ upstairs.”

He found Jem lying on his bed with a book.  Cart sat on the floor playing with the marbles Tom had bought him last Christmas. Looking at him, you knew somehow that what was inside his head didn’t fit with what was outside. He was a handsome boy, tall, broad-shouldered, and strong. Seventeen by the records in the family Bible, but his mind wasn’t. Doc Free said he hadn’t breathed for a while after he was born. Said he’d never be right.

But Cart was all right. He got along. Everyone understood about him and made allowances. Everyone except the man. He beat the boy for no reason at all and called him a dummy and a fool, until one day Cart knew somehow he was bigger and stronger and just took the riding crop right out of the man’s hands and broke it in two. After that, the man left him alone.

The man never hit Jem, but he called him a titty-baby because he liked books and not hunting. For the most part, Jem ignored him. Tom envied his brother the ability to take himself out of the world at will.

But the man left Tom alone, acted like he wasn’t even there most of the time, and sometimes the boy wondered why. It was plain the man didn’t like him. Tom figured it was just as plain to the man  he felt the same way.

“The girls went home with Ginny,” he said, pausing in the doorway. “I’m goin’ upstairs and look at some things.”

Cart looked up and grinned. Nothing ever got him down for long. “Want me to go with you, Tom?”

“Maybe later.”

Jem turned a page in his book. “You gonna get Papa’s trunk down?”

“I might.”

“I’ll come help you.”

“Later.”

Tom picked up the lamp from the table by his bed and went to the end of the hall where the stairs continued up to the attic spanning half the house.

 On rainy days, he and Hannah came up here to play. While she dressed up in her grandmother’s clothes, he handled the old guns and powder horn belonging to his grandfather. It was fun to pretend he was with Daniel Boone coming west, like in the stories Papa told. Once Papa let him try shooting a glass jar off the fence with one of the guns that still worked. When he finally grazed it on the third try, Papa said he was a pretty good shot for eight years old.

Papa was always telling him he was good at something. He told Jem the same thing and also Cart. Tom remembered how patient his father was with Cart, and how he’d told the rest of them that Cart needed them in a special way.

It was so hot in the attic Tom could hardly breathe. He opened the two windows facing the front, but no air stirred anywhere.

Lighting the lamp, he set it as far away from him as he could, then lifted the lid off his father’s trunk. The scent of pipe tobacco cut him like an ax. “Papa,” he whispered. “Oh, Papa.”

Everything in the trunk was as it had been the day he helped Mamma pack it and haul it up here. It would be the first thing to go to Ginny’s. She’d taken her mother’s trunk when she married. ‘Course she didn’t remember her mother, but Mamma made Papa talk to her at least once.

“I know I raised her,” Mamma said, “but she’s a right to know about her own blood.” They forgot he was in the kitchen, curled up behind the stove with Junie, his new puppy, so he heard every word.

 “My brothers married and moved off, but I was the oldest, and I stayed to take care of Mamma,” Papa began. “When she died, I was all of forty years old. The next year I met Annie. She was older, too, married three years and widowed twelve with no children. She was glad enough to leave her brother’s house and come to mine.”

“Was she pretty, Papa?” Ginny asked.

“Pretty as you are. Always laughing.”

“Like you are,” Mamma said.

“We never thought to have children, old as we were,” Papa went on. “We’d been married ten years when you came.”

“Were you happy to see me, Papa?”

“We were both happy, Ginny. I put you in your mother’s arms myself.”

“You named me for her, too, didn’t you?”

“Annie Virginia for your mamma and her mamma.”

“Why’d she die, Papa?”

There was a long silence in the kitchen, and Tom peeped around the stove just as his mother lifted Ginny into her lap. “It just happened, Ginny. Sometimes a woman’s too old to have a baby.”

Tom watched Ginny rub his mother’s belly. She was carrying Jem then. “Are you too old, Mamma?”

“Not yet.”

“I’m sorry she died, Papa,” Ginny said.

 “When you say your prayers, you ask God to tell her I’m takin’ real good care of you,” Mamma said. “And that I love you very much.”

Not long after that, Mamma went upstairs and got one of Annie’s dresses out of her trunk and made a dress and a bonnet for Ginny. “When you wear it,” he heard her tell Ginny, “you’ll think your mamma’s arms are huggin’ you.”

The sound of the catch snapping, as he closed the trunk, was like a gunshot in the quiet, airless loft. He hesitated over the trunks belonging to his grandparents, his papa’s mother and father. They’d have to stay, bad as he hated it. His mamma’s parents had died before he was born, and what she had of theirs, she kept downstairs. Maybe some of that could go with them.

He called to Cart and Jem from the top of the stairs. “We’re gonna take Papa’s trunk as far as our room now. Tonight, when Mamma’s asleep, we’ll carry it out to the barn and put it in the wagon, and I’ll drive it over to Ginny’s tomorrow.”

“What about the other things?” Jem asked.

“They’ll have to stay for now.”

“He’s liable to burn this place down when he finds out. . .”

“Let him.”

Cart’s face fell.  “I don’t want it burned up, Tom. I don’t want our house burned up.”

Tom patted him. “It’s okay, Cart. Jem was just talkin’. Everything’s gonna be all right.”

They carried the trunk down to the second floor and pushed it against the wall at the head of Jem’s bed so it wasn’t in plain sight. Cart sat down with his marbles again, his worries forgotten. Jem motioned Tom into the hall. “Hannah’s things are up there, too, what she didn’t take with her.”

“How do you know?”

 “I put ‘em there the day after she left. Mamma told me to.”

“Show me where they are.”

The brothers went back to the attic. “Over there,” Jem said, pointing at the alcove that fit the corner of the porch. “Wasn’t any box. I had to put ‘em in a bag, but I wrapped ‘em good first.”

Dust flew up Tom’s nose as he hoisted the bag over his shoulder. He coughed, then hit the bag a couple of times, and this time the dust made a cloud around his head. “Jehosephat!”

“Papa used to say that.” Jem picked up the lamp. “Papa didn’t curse, did he, Tom? Like he does all the time.”

“Papa said what came out of a man’s mouth told  what was in his soul. No, he didn’t curse.”

“I heard him cursin’ at Sam and Hoag the day before they up and left.”

“Wasn’t the first time. Reckon they’d had enough.”

“They didn’t want to leave us.”

“They couldn’t stay the way things were, Jem. If one of ‘em had ever hit him, even takin’ up for us, well, they weren’t slaves anymore, but you know what woulda happened.”

“Papa didn’t beat ‘em even when they were. He never beat anybody.”

“Papa didn’t like ownin’ slaves anyway. Said men were men, black or white, and weren’t meant to be bought and sold.”

“Well, why’d he have ‘em then?”

“Most of their families, belonged to his daddy. Reckon they were better off with Papa than being sold off somewhere.”

“Papa was too old to fight in the War, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but Randolph went, remember?”

“I think so. Didn’t settle anythin’, did it? The War, I mean.”

“I don’t reckon so. Still lots of bad feelin’ around here about it and the Yankees comin’ down and doin’ what they did.”

“They didn’t come here, did they?”

“I useta see ‘em on the road sometimes, and some watered their horses here once and took some chickens, but that’s all.”

“Did he fight in the war?”

“I reckon he did, but I bet he never fought for anythin’ but himself. Come on, Jem, it’s too hot to stand around talkin’ up here.”

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