Monday, October 31, 2016


By Celia Jolley
A Long Short Story, Just for Fun Fiction

"Will you come with me to the mountains?
It will hurt at first until your feet are hardened.
Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows,
But will you come?"

C. S. Lewis

"In the Lord put I my trust:
how say ye to my soul,
Flee as a bird to your mountain?
"...The Lord is in his holy temple,
the Lord's throne is in heaven:
his eyelids try, the children of men."

Psalm 11
verses 1& 4

"Be quick about it, children.  We can only take what we can carry.  The landlord will be coming at any time to collect the rent we don't have.  Make sure you each have your quilt and coats.  It will be cold this time of year."

"How far will we go, mama?"  Jed asked with wide open eyes.

"We're goin' to the mountains, son.  You'll see them when they rise above the low hanging clouds."  Mama looked off for a moment as if picturing what was ahead.

"Can we take Samson, our cat?"  Lil' Squirt wanted to know.

"No, cats don't like train rides," their mother coaxed him.  "He wants to stay and catch all the mice that will move in here when we are gone.  He'll be just fine."  Mama spoke tenderly to her youngest, Lil' Squirt.  Nobody called him Jeremiah.  He would have to grow into that name.

"Will we be taking our dishes and pots and pans and rugs and curtains and..."  Essie wanted to know as she spun around looking everywhere about the room where they had just had their bowls of oatmeal without cream or sugar.   Her name was Esther, but no one had called her that since mother held her as a newborn and pronounced her Bible name.  Some names are just too big for little ones.  Essie hadn't yet grown into her born name yet either.

We will only take as much food as we can carry.  I've made several loaves of bread to take and eat on the train along with cheese and apples.  The cabin that my ma and pa left for us should have everything we need," Mama assured her. "Your grannie told everybody we were coming even afore we knew we would."

Their father had died.  With the Depression gripping everyone, hunger was real, jobs were nonexistent, but life begged to go on.  Mama was taking her little clan back to the mountains where she grew up.  There was no help to be had staying in the small mill town, still called that though the mill had closed.  At least in the mountains they could forage for sustenance.

"What will we eat when we get there?"  Jed was growing right out of his skinny ribs, always thinking about food. 

"We'll be eating trout, rabbits, and squirrels, turkeys, deer and whatever you can shoot or catch out of the river.  I'll be teaching you how to use the rifle that was your grandpap's, son.  That will become your main chore, putting food on the table.  In the springtime, we'll plant a garden so we can have a harvest.  We'll can and put away as much as we are able in the root cellar.  God willing, we might even get a cow, but I can't promise any such luxury.  We'll make do.  We always have.  God has promised to look out for the widows and orphans."

"Are we going to be hillbillies?" Essie worried.  Some of her friends had taunted her already.

Sarah who had always been Sarah since she was born, was the oldest of the other three.  It made her furious that so-called friends were making fun of her little sister.  "I want to be one of the mountain folk, Essie, someone who lives in God's beauty and eats off the land.  There's no shame to be had in that."

"It's one of the reasons I've packed your readers and slates.  You will still be learning though it may be at home if no school is close by.  I don't know if the community has had enough to pay a teacher.  Last I heard, the school was closed.  As long as you become a learned person, no one can call you a hillbilly, so hold your head up high, sweetheart.  You are a lovely young lady who will be learning the things I was taught when I was your age, how to sew, how to quilt, how to plant, how to can, how to milk a cow if someday we get a cow..."  their mother went on until Lil' Squirt interrupted.

"I want to milk a cow!" he exclaimed.

"I'm sure you'll learn as soon as we get one.  Hopefully, your Uncle Skinner has pa's cow and will be willing to give it back to us," she said.

"Is Uncle Skinner your uncle?"  Jed wanted to know.

"Yes, he is, and that makes him your great-uncle.  You can just call him Uncle Skinner when you meet him, though it's rare for him to come down the mountain.  He doesn't seek out much company," she added.

The way she was chewing on her lip, obviously meant that their ma wasn't too sure that her uncle was going to be much help to them, Sarah thought.  He was their only other living relative on her mother's side.  She knew her ma had reason to be nervous.

Their father's family had made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with them fearing that her ma would demand hand-outs.  Evidently every one of them were barely squeaking by in spite of the rumors that Grandpa Ebenezer had taken his money out of the bank before it collapsed and had it buried somewhere in his yard.  He wasn't willing to dig any up soon, not even for his forsaken grandkids.

But it was okay.  Their mama had backbone and knew how to survive in the mountains.  They were going to be alright.  She took refuge in the Lord and quoted parts of Psalm 11 to them daily.
She said it was the bread of heaven when their stomachs grumbled.  She sold all their furniture and belongings that they couldn't carry and got a pittance, enough for train tickets though.  Once they got to their stop, they would have to walk the miles to her homeplace back in the holler.  So, only clothes and blankets along with a little food and a few books and the Bible were all that was going with them. 

Sarah had laid most of her precious things aside.  Most every treasure she had she'd passed down to Essie anyway.  So she just picked up her book, "Pride and Prejudice," that Gil had given her for her seventeenth birthday and signed "from Gil with love," inside.   Not even her hope chest was going with them, though she took the pillow cases she had carefully embroidered.  She had given the rest to her best friend Ruth already. 

Ruth was hoping to catch Gil's eye when they moved.  It didn't hurt as much as Sarah thought it would when he seemed to have forgotten her already as soon as he found out they were leaving.   Some dreams were more about the dream than about the real person.  "The flesh may fail you," her mama was always warning her.  He did.    The funny thing was, her dreams never included any thought of a mountain boy and a cabin lost in the hills, and try as she may, she just never could imagine it.

"Maybe you can study enough to become a teacher for the little school," her mama had said.  But it would be hard to study without any books.  That was another dream that she never could picture.
The only book she could study now would be the Bible.  At least that was limitless in knowledge and understanding.

Sarah wrapped her things in her quilt and tied it up with one of her belts.  She had given Essie her small suitcase to use so it would be easier for her to carry. The boys had gunny sacks.  Their ma had the only other suitcase in the house, one that their Pa had used when he went to visit his father Ebenezer.   She would bundle their food in a flour sack to carry.  There never had been enough money for train tickets for the rest of them until now.  But this was no round trip ticket.  They were going one way, and that was it. 

Old Mr. Sharp, a deacon at their church, offered to drive them to the train station.  Ruth was there to wave them off, but no one else.  Lil' Squirt was squirming about the noise and steam of the train when it arrived, but Sarah kept a hand on his shoulder to steady him.  Jed  practically leaped up the steps as soon as the conductor pulled them down for the passengers.  Essie took a deep breath and faced the dragon, the iron beast of the train breathing smoke.  After hugging Ruth one last time,  Sarah did not look back but followed her mother's straight back.  She admired her gumption acting as if this was something they did everyday, walking away from the only life her little brood had known.

They wove past the car where a woman with a fur coat sat with her child.  Sarah thought of her mother's threadbare wool coat.  Their car was further back.  It was hard to walk the narrow aisle with their belongings bumping along.  However, the train wasn't very full since so few people could afford tickets during the Great Depression.

The younger ones all squeezed into a seat, not because there weren't empty ones available, but because the children wanted their mama.  Jed was hanging off the edge.  Sarah sat across the aisle and looked out the far window because she did not want to see if Ruth was still waving.  Her friend would hurry away and tell their other friends that Sarah was gone. Then, Sarah knew, she would flirt shamelessly with Gil every chance she got.  Ruth was welcome to him.  Without thinking, she wiped her hands against each other as if dusting them off.  Good riddance.  It was a wonder that her mother did not shake out her shoes like the men did in Bible times when they left a place where they were not welcomed.  It would be fitting.  People just got threatened protecting the little they had when a needy widow and children came near.

Sarah had just begun to settle in when Jed crawled over her to sit by the window. That gave her mother room enough for her to place the food where she could access it to calm nervous stomachs.  Sarah took the hard boiled egg without salt and slice of bread without butter that she offered.  They all passed around the one jug of water their mother had brought. 

The farm fields flew by.  Sarah had never imagined riding the train, and the speed actually thrilled her.  As they crossed a river on a train trestle, she felt a feather of fear tickle her stomach, but that was actually exciting.  Their mother had never allowed them to go to any carnivals, so this was the ride of her life.

She had trouble keeping Jed's head in from hanging out the window, but Sarah looked over to see that Lil' Squirt had climbed up onto ma's lap.  Essie was reading her book she had chosen to bring along, "Little Women," leaning up against her mother. 

Eventually,  the train slowed its pace as it wound around hills in its spiraling climb up into the mountains.  The clickety-clack began to sing a lullaby.  Since she had hardly slept the night before with trepidation not so much about leaving, but about facing the unknown, Sarah could hardly keep her eyes open.  Dusk was slowly pulling its own curtain down around them.   They would arrive just before dawn.  The conductor promised to wake them.

The heaving groan of the train and the blowing off of steam woke Sarah out of a deep dream.  In it, she was using some sort of typewriter and someone behind her that she could not see was laughing.  A man.  She had only seen a typewriter once before when a man was pecking away on it at the courthouse.  Perhaps the constant clicking noise of the train rocking on its tracks had made her think of that sound while she slept and dreamed. 

"Sarah, make sure no one has left anything behind," her mother ordered as she held a sleeping boy on her shoulder and her suitcase in the other with the flour sack of food under her arm.  Jed and Essie stumbled behind her wearing their quilts like robes.  Actually, Sarah wished she could 
too.  It was chilly.   The fall mountain air had a bite to it, a crisp one, that soon had her wide awake. 

"We'll wait here at the station until the sky grows a little lighter.  I don't want to begin the walk home in the glooming," Her mother said sinking down onto a bench outside the small building that serviced the train.  Essie leaned against her other side while Jed paced the platform full of curiosity.  Sarah braced herself against the station's stone walls for support taking deep breaths of air that was unlike any she had ever known

Her ma had said, "home."  Sarah wondered how long it would take her to think of it as home.  Birds were waking up the world with their mountain music.  But from somewhere in the far distance, she could hear a steady clicking, a tapping out a beat, the same beat as her dream.  There was only one light in a window in a cabin behind the small huddle of buildings called the town of Deer Creek.  Muddy streets held a blacksmith shop with a stable behind it where horses stood at the fence, their breath heavy with steam.  There was a small store, very small, and a few other buildings with a clapboard church at the far end.   

The daylight came a little later.  The sun had farther to climb to peek over the mountains here.  Finally it reached the summit and shone forth.  Her mother stood up and put Lil' Squirt down.  "You're going to have to walk now, son.  Mama can't carry you and our things.  She had grabbed up his gunny sack along with the flour sack.

"I can take one of those for you, mama," Sarah offered.  Her mother gave a grateful smile and helped each of the younger ones with their quilts so that they would not drag on the ground.

"Let's go," her mother said straightening as she followed a muddy track just wide enough for a wagon to part its way through the forest.   Her mama was unbowed by her load or the fact that she was coming back to her humble beginnings.  All her children followed like chicks to the hen.  Sarah took up the rear of the onward march.  She had to keep Jed from bolting after every little thing he spied through the trees.  He had so much energy it was like he had eaten a bowl full of springs for breakfast.

None of the children had ever met her mother's ma and pap.  Their grandparents had never come down out of the mountains, and they had never gone up.  Grandpap had been gone for awhile, but grannie had stayed on in her cabin as a widder woman.  The last letter their mother received said to not come, because her ma wasn't long for the world, but that the cabin would be shut up tight for them to come to when they needed a home.   Her grannie said that she had just had a dream of her Annie and the chil'en walking down the road towards their cabin.  The woman had no way of knowing that their own father had just died, but the dream did not include him, just their mama and her brood.  The letter said that Uncle Skinner was keeping the milk cow and a mule for them. 

Grannie went on to say that if he gave them any trouble, just remind him that you know about "the body," and he would cooperate then.  That part sent a chill down Sarah's back just thinking about it.  Of course their mama had not read that part aloud, but Sarah had seen the letter.  She came across it where it lay, left on the table when her mother was outside beating a rug.   Her grannie had added a few names to watch out for and who they could go to for assistance.  She said a man named Casey would do whatever he could to help them. The letter was a mystery of how she knew they were coming before they did.  But Sarah took to heart the names her grannie had warned them of and who would be good neighbors. 

As they walked, she could now and then see smoke rising above the trees from far off cabins, but none were in sight.  Neighbors was evidently a relative term in the mountains.   Jed and Essie were beginning to whine about carrying their scarce belongings.  Sarah was tempted to as well.  How could clothes be so heavy, she thought as she kept switching her bundle from one hand to the other?  She almost tossed her one and only book, but knew that one day Essie would be big enough to read it with enjoyment.    So she tramped on.  Finally, she took Essie's little suitcase from her when the poor girl had sat down in the middle of the road saying she couldn't take another step with her load.  Her mother's grateful eyes spoke volumes.  Jed soldiered on though he no longer looked into the woods, keeping his eyes only on each step in front of  him.   Finally, their little huddle of humanity veered off the main road and trudged down a path that the forest had done its best to reclaim. 

Suddenly, the trees threw back their limbs and a meadow was before them.  A small log cabin sat squat between the forest and the field.  A smaller one was off to the side with a corral, a barn.  A chicken was sill pecking in the yard like it owned the place.  For all intents and purposes, it did, until now.  Ma set her burdens down and she and Jed pulled off the boards that were nailed over the door with a "Do not inter," sign painted in white wash.  The nails gave way with a creak and a groan.  Then they entered the dark cabin, partially broken into two rooms, a kitchen and a great room. There was a loft above.  This was to be their new home.  Light peeked in as Jed pulled off one board after another from the three windows.  The sound of ripping nails sent chills down her back.

Jed had gotten his second wind.  He was primed to become a mountain boy.  It wasn't long before he was calling over his shoulder, "I hear a creek," and he was gone with a fishing pole he'd found in the barn before Ma could admonish him to be careful of snakes. 

There was one bed in the great room, and a ladder up to the loft with a hole to crawl through.  The children would all share the space.  There would be no privacy.  Sarah sighed, but thought, if my mama could do it growing up here, I can too.  She and Essie would share one rope bed and Jed and Lil' Squirt would get the other.  With a few whaps of her boot, the single window up in the eaves was as free as the others from being boarded up.  The boards fell noisily to the ground, but   Sarah drank in the view.  

It looked like they had entered the Garden.  Every shade and hue of green was thick in the forest with other trees on fire with fall foliage  She hoped they would all  choose only the good here and that God would protect them all from evil.  She took a deep breath and whispered, "Fear no evil."  Mama had drilled into them that they had to be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.  Sarah still wondered how that could be, but it was in the Bible, so she believed it.

Her mama was whistling.  It had been ages since she had heard the trill of a hymn from her ma's pursed lips.  She was happy to be home, so Sarah would be too, no matter what came.  Happiness had to begin and end here.  There was no other choice. 

For supper, they shared the two trout that Jed had caught and ate more from the loaves their mother had baked ahead.  Tightly closed tins of cornmeal and flour had been left with just a few weevils to be sifted out.  The rain barrel outside was brimming, and a well was handy.  Lil' Squirt had chased the hen until he found where she had hidden her stash of eggs.  Ma knew which ones were old and made Essie dig a hole to put the rotten ones into out in the garden.  Mama called a warning, "Whatever you do, don't break them.  They'd stink to high heaven!"  A few tomatoes were hanging on, the ones that were dangling higher than the hen could peck.  Still, they would have eggs for breakfast.  Stomachs would not growl so loudly at least for now.

"Ma, come show me how to shoot this thing," Jed said pointing his grandpap's gun out the door. 

"Put that down!  You always have to treat the gun as if it was loaded and ready to shoot, and I'm sure it is.  Tomorrow is soon enough.  Until then, don't touch it, don't even look at it, son."  Ma's word was the law.  It ruled.  Jed's puffed up shoulders sank as he handed it over. 

"I want to shoot it!" Lil' Squirt cried.

"Not 'till you are older, Squirt.  It has a kick to it that will knock you over and flip you backwards.  Jed'll have to be careful too," she warned putting it back up over the mantle.  "Eventually, I will teach each of you to shoot.  It's a survival skill needed here in the mountains."

Essie's eyes grew big, but Sarah smiled.  She would like nothing better than to be a sharpshooter.  If mama let her, she'd practice every day.

"Hallo the house," someone called.  "Put that gun away.  I'm yer kin."  It was Uncle Skinner squiring the milk cow into the yard with a calf skipping behind.  Lil'Squirt jumped off the porch running to hug the calf which kept kicking up its heels just out of his reach.   The cow seemed to know its way to the barn.

Ma stayed on the porch smiling.  "That didn't take long for word to reach you that we had come, Uncle Skinner."

"Just the mountain telephone.  It went from one ear to a mouth to another ear until it reached me.  "Casey was the one who saw you and your troop marching in here."

"Well, why didn't he show himself then and help us carry our luggage?" she laughed. 

Sarah had not heard her mama laugh in ever so long.  It even came deep from her belly.

"Come on children, and I'll introduce you to your Uncle Skinner.  They all lined up in stairstep fashion except for Lil'Squirt who was now romping with Uncle Skinner's hound dog.

Her uncle had taken off his hat and held it over his heart as their mother told him each of their names as well as their nicknames.  But the man's eyes settled on Sarah.

"Annie, yer goin' haft to watch after that one, he waved his hat towards her.  She's too pretty to last long up here.  The young bucks will be thicker than a swarm of bees all over these woods to get an eye-full of this here daughter of yers.  I don't have to tell you to be careful, especially of them McGreggors.   They're still nothin' but trouble and haven't learnt nothing.   I wouldn't let her out of my sight if I was you." 

He was serious and so was her ma.  Just seeing the man made her wonder about "the body."

"I know, Uncle Skinner.  And I know who to watch out for, but thanks for the warning," Do you want to come in for some coffee and a slice of bread.  Sorry there's no butter yet."

He shook his head.  "Nah, I better mosey on back home.  I'll keep your mule over the winter for ye since you ain't got no hay put up."

"Do you got any more of these at your place, Uncle Skinner?"  Lil' Squirt asked with his arms around the man's hound.

Uncle Skinner wove his fingers through his long beard fighting a smile and said, "None are at my place, youngin', but I'd wager one'll show up afore too long.  Just takes the right sort to court yer sister with a hint here and there, and some'un'll be bringing along one with a soft round belly soon enough.  That mayhap be the Vance boy or the Harper kid.  She might be safe 'nuf with one of them."  Then he narrowed his eyes and continued,  "Howsoever, whatever yer do, don't let her near that stranger in the cabin behind the store.  He pecks away at his machine at all hours and has near 'bout drove Perkins crazy.  The stranger says he's kin to Elmira Ivey.  She passed on pert near a year ago.    The sheriff was up here a while back to arrest LeRoy Hawkins for murdering his cousin while fighting over their moonshine, and he said that the man was up to his rights to be thar, so we all have just let it alone.  But I still don't trust him.  He ain't one of us."

"Thanks again, Uncle Skinner, but don't put the word out quite yet about anyone courting our Sarah.  None of us are ready for that just yet, especially her," her mother said looking over to where Sarah was still blushing as her great-uncle had talked over her as if she wasn't there."
"I won't give her leave to walk to the store unless her brother goes with her with the rifle."

"Just be wary of strangers."  This time the old man stared straight into Sarah's eyes making sure they connected before he nodded his head as if it was settled.  Then he walked off whistling for his dog to follow.

"Lil'  Squirt, don't you follow that dog.  You may not leave this yard, understood?"

"Yes, ma," he said kicking a dirt clod.  Then he was off to chase the poor hen again.  The boy needed a dog.

The very next day, ma kept her promise and taught Jed how to shoot.  His aim was still way off but he'd learn.  One thing for certain, he'd have a sore shoulder the next day.  Still Sarah begged her ma to allow her a turn.  She'd listened carefully to all her ma's instruction.

"Best hold it like this unless you want it to kick you like a mule, baby girl."  Her mama hadn't called her that in an age of Sundays, and here she was ready to shoot a rifle.  The sound echoed off into the hills.  At least Sarah came closer to the target than her little brother.

"When I do send you two to town, I'll need you to get lots more ammunition so you can practice.  We will be depending on you to be able to hit your mark if we are going to eat this winter," their mama said.

"Yes, ma'am," Sara and Jed chimed in unison while grinning.  It was still a game to them, not yet a struggle to bring down food for the family.

"I'm making a list and think it'd be best if you two go to town to the store tomorrow first thing.  Just tell Mr. Perkins you are Annie's kids, and he'll treat you fair.  He probably already will know who you are as soon as you step foot in his mercantile.  Word of our arrival has lit up these hills, I imagine."

"Do you want me to shoot if any of those young bucks come around Sarah," Jed teased.

"Don't even joke about it," their mama scowled.  Don't ever point a gun at a person, howsoever, unless you might have a need to shoot 'em.  I pray to God that will never happen, son.  Just carrying the weapon is a statement you are making.  You shouldn't have any trouble as long as you carry your rifle and don't go up to someone's place without hollering first like your Uncle Skinner did."

"Yes, ma'am," he said chastised.

"He can carry the rife on the way in, but I'm going to carry it on the way back while Jed handles most of the groceries," Sarah said in spite of her brother's groan.

"It'll build your muscles, son.  Next Spring we'll have the mule you can ride to town, and it will make the trip easier," their ma encouraged him.

The trip walking back to town was much more pleasant than the first time they walked home.  Sarah was only nervous about meeting new faces while Jed was jabbering about finding friends like they would somehow melt out of the woods to come greet him.  Sarah picked up pretty leaves as she walked, not to keep, but just to enjoy for the moment.

Once they entered the dusky store, Mr. Perkins spit his tobacco into a can with a ping and welcomed them.  "I heard tell you was here," the old man said.  "Fancy that.  It's a pity that your grannie never got to see you though.  She sure was proud of y'all just hearing about you from your letters.  I see you got your mama's beauty, young lady."

"Thank you, sir.  Here's the list of what mama needs," she added.  Jed was already looking at the display of ammunition.

"I'll get what yer need here, but have a look-see on the shelves jest so you know what all's here to tell your ma about," the storekeeper said.

Suddenly, a sound registered in Sarah's thoughts and realized it was a typewriter.  Jed just burst out, "What's that sound?  We heard it the morning we got here."

"It's that dad-burned stranger we got out back.  He about drives me crazy.  It's like having a woodpecker nest in my head.  Says he's a writer up here for inspire-run.  I wish it was for expirin' howsomever," he growled.

A shiver went up Sarah's back just thinking about her dream on the train.  Did she have the gift of dreams like her grannie had?  The pecking just made her more curious than ever in spite of Uncle Skinner's warning.  Then it stopped.

At the same time she felt the need to find the necessary and whispered in her brother's ear to have him ask the man where one was available.  She slipped out and went around back to find it.  Just as she was about to open the door, a man stepped out.  It froze her as still as a doe when a twig snaps.

He was tan with brown hair bleached a little by the sun, young-ish, not old-ish, and quite good looking, as handsome a man as Sarah'd ever laid eyes on.  She stood rooted to her spot with wide eyes staring.

The man seemed to be just as flabbergasted as she, but found his voice first after looking her up and down.  "I haven't seen you before.  Are you new here?  Excuse my manners.  I'm Henry Coleman.  I'd shake your hands, but my hands are dirty."

"I'm Sarah Robinson. We just came back to my mama's homeplace.   Are you the one with the typewriter?"  She couldn't help but be curious.

"Yes, that's me, the one driving every one as crazy as bats out of ...well, you know.  That's about as welcome as I get around here.  They let me alone, however, so it's peaceful enough for my liking."  He looked her over again, all of her, then stopped caught her eyes.  "There's all kinds of beauty here," he said as he quirked a smile that seemed radiant to Sarah causing her to blush furiously.

"Sarah, you be talking to that stranger out there?  Do I need to bring the rifle," Jed hollered.

"That's my brother.  Please excuse me," she whispered embarrassed by her brother and by having been caught needing to use the necessary as she stepped around him to open its door.  The man didn't move for a moment as she brushed passed him.

"No, please excuse me," he said as he finally stepped back.  It was nice to meet you Sarah.  That's more visiting than I've had in a month.  Folks here don't seem to want to talk to me much."

She only nodded then went in and latched the door hoping he wasn't still standing there when she came out.  It was too humiliating.  What an embarrassing way to meet the most interesting and handsomest man she'd ever seen.  She wanted to growl, but was afraid he'd hear her.  Mr. Coleman was standing on his porch, leaning up against a post.  He just waved as she walked back by.  Sarah nodded once in his direction, and scurried past before her brother came after her.

By the time they had their groceries boxed up, Sarah could hear the typewriter tapping again.  Her heart raced to its beat.  She felt the zing every time he pushed the lever to return the carriage.

Jed just paused to scratch his head before leaving and asked, "Is that feller going to teach school?"

Mr. Perkins mouth dropped open and a little tobacco drool dripped out of the corner running down his chin.  Now, nobody has put no mind to sech a thing.  We'll have to give it a little pondering," he said wiping the drip and spitting again.  His constant spitting was more irritating than the typewriter, Sarah thought as the brown streak rang when it hit the old coffee can on the floor.

Sarah could wonder all the way home about the stranger.  She wished she knew what he was writing.  Would she ever be bold enough to ask  But suddenly, a couple of young men stepped out of the trees and stood in the middle of the road.  Jed almost dropped their box of food.  Sarah swung the rifle around to make it more handy and narrowed her eyes.

They seemed to only want to gawk at her at first, then one fella said, "Would you lookie-here!  You must be Annie's brats we heard tell of."

That didn't rouse any response out of Sarah or Jed.  She just fingered the trigger.  All she'd have to do was raise the barrel.

The other young man seemed to get a little nervous and said, "We don't mean nothin' by it, do we Augustus.  Just trying to be friendly neighbors."

Jed spoke boldly, "What's your name then."

"We're the McGreggors from up Deer Creek," the first one swelled up like it was a boast. 

"Yeah, well, Uncle Skinner said to not pay you no mind."

Sarah cringed at her brother's English which was almost as bad as theirs.  "Nice to meet you two gentlemen, but we must be on our way."  They never moved but looked with lusty eyes as she had to walk around them.  She knew they were still looking at her until the road went around the next curve.

"I don't like them two," Jed declared.  "I don't like how they looked at you neither.  I wish I'd been aholding that rifle."

"They saw my finger twitching," Sarah said with a lift of her chin.  "But you can see why we have to carry it.  Those two looked like they were up to no good."

"Well, they better not come around our place.  That's all I got to say about it."

"Just be careful, Jed.  Don't start something.  It's best to walk away.  Angry words will only get you more tangled up," she advised.

"I reckon," he sighed.

Sarah realized she was no longer treating him like a little kid but as the young man he was growing into.  "I'm proud of you Jed.  You handled yourself just right back there."

'Ahh, thanks, sis.   But I'm still telling ma.  By the way, was you talking with the stranger back behind the store?"

"He was coming out as I was going into the necessary so he stopped and introduced himself.  It was rather embarrassing, to tell the truth.  His name is Henry Coleman.  He's a writer," she said as casually as she could.

Jed just grunted.   She could tell the box of groceries was heavy so she offered to switch with him at the turn-off.

"Are you sure," he said taking back the rifle.

"We're almost home.  You carried it most of the way."

She knew he wanted to run down the path ahead, but hung back to stay at her side as their ma had instructed him to do.  I was glad to have you around today, Jed."

He just grinned back at her.  "I saw that typewriter guy staring at you, but I won't tell our ma how you were looking back at him if you milk the cow tonight for me."  He ran off a little ahead laughing.

"You're a stinker, Jed, that's what.  But I'll be happy to do the milking tonight.  Her running into the stranger wasn't something she wanted to talk about at the supper table."

"Do you think Essie and Lil' Squirt caught any trout today?"  Jed asked looking at the sun shining straight over head.  It was noon time, and of course he was thinking about eating.

"I hope so.  We just have to make sure that Lil' Squirt doesn't ever try to go fishing without one of us.  He hasn't learned to swim yet, and we can't teach him 'till next summer," Sarah said.

"If not, maybe they caught some big frogs with nice fat legs for us."

Sarah shuttered just thinking about it.  Her mother had assured her and Essie that it would taste like chicken, but it wasn't something she was looking forward to seeing at their supper table.

Lil' Squirt saw them first and came a-running.  "Jed's here!  Sarah's here!" he cried out as if they'd been away on a long trip.  He hugged her legs.

"Careful, little brother.  I'm holding a heavy box for ma.  I'd best take it to her quickly."  Actually her arms felt like they were ready to give out.  She was never so glad to set it down on the table.

Jed was talking a blue streak, "And then Mr. Perkins took the money you sent, and I just had to put a little on the tab.  He said he knew you'd be good for it.  I explained we were waiting for daddy's insurance check, but that we didn't know if the company had gone bust or not."

"Goodness, Jed.  Be careful giving out all our business.  Most of the gossip around here sprouts from right there in the store."

"And Sarah and the stranger were using the necessary at the same time..." he went on.

"Jed Robinson, don't you talk such nonsense!" Sarah exclaimed.

"What's this?" her mother asked, but Jed wasn't done.

"And then we met a couple of McGreggor yahoos on the way home.  Sarah had to swing the rifle around so we could get past them."

"What!" her mother exclaimed while Sarah glared at her brother.

"It wasn't as bad as all that, though we didn't like the way they looked us over," Sarah said.

"You mean the way they looked you over good, Sarah," Jed said satisfied that he'd had his say.

"Well, you can certainly see why a young lady like you can't go anywhere unless Jed or I go with you with the rifle.  We have a lot of perfectly nice neighbors, but that clan is another story.  And as for you, Jed, don't be trespassing anywhere off our land 'cause you just might come across some folk's stills where they brew their moonshine, and then you'd be meeting the end of a rifle for sure and certain.  They don't take kindly to anybody knowing their business, so be careful son."

It reminded Sarah of the Scripture, "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  It certainly looked like they'd be learning that lesson up here in the mountains.

"Well, what's this about you meeting the stranger?"  Her mother looked at her in such a way that it left little wiggle room out of her fessing up.

"He's a nice man, Mr. Henry Coleman.  He's a writer, and lives back of the store in a little cabin, um, right near the necessary.  It was quite embarrassing to meet him that way, ma, him coming out and me going in.  That's all."  She blushed just thinking about it.

"And how old did you say he is?"

"I don't know, older than me, that's for sure," she said truthfully.

"So he's nice looking, is that it?"  Her mom saw right through her.

"Yes, ma," she hung her head.  "It isn't as if I went searching him out."

"I'm not blaming you.  But now you've met two far different kinds of men today, both equally dangerous, whether repulsive or charming.  Just guard your heart, like the Bible says," her mama patted her arm.  "Sounds as if you had plenty of excitement today."

"Yes ma'am." Then she changed the subject, "Did Essie and Lil' Squirt have any luck catching trout today?"

"Yes, they caught six.  We'll have plenty and not have to resort to frog legs just yet.  But we will eventually, darling," her mother laughed. 

It was such a sweet sound after all the worry of how they'd survive back where they came from.  That life seemed so far away now.  She didn't think Gilbert could hold a candle to the real man she met today.  She sighed as she helped put their dinner on the table, last night's leftover cornbread crumbled in milk.  But there was no use letting her thoughts wander away down that rabbit trail.  No sense at all.

Her ma called the kids in making them stop and wash at the basin set out on the porch. 

Essie was so proud of their fishing expedition that she talked all through lunch, of how she'd saved Lil' Squirt from falling in, how he even caught one of the fish all by himself, how they found good places for catching frogs...

"I asked Mr. Perkins if that stranger was going to be our teacher," Jed said before taking a big dripping bite of cornbread.

"Land sakes alive, Jed!  What did Mr. Perkins say?" 

Jed talked with his mouth full.  His dribble of milk down his chin was a site more pleasant than the storekeeper's tobacco drool had been.  "He said nobody had thought about such a thing, that it would take some considering."

"I doubt Mr. Coleman is here to teach, Jed,"  their mother said.

"It sounded like he was busy on his typewriter," Sarah added.  "You heard it Jed, how fast he was typing."

"Yeah, it's not as if I'm begging for school or nothing.  I was just curious since he probably has more education than anybody else around here."   

"You're probably right, son, but not everybody wants to be a teacher," ma responded.

Sarah was stirring her cornbread mush around thinking about what it would be like to have Mr. Coleman as a teacher.  But she figured she was probably done with school anyway, even if she didn't quite get her diploma.

"Are we goin' to church Sunday, mama?"  Essie wanted to know. 

"Goodness, Sunday has snuck up on us. hasn't it.  Yes, of course we will.  We'll go as long as the weather permits."

"Then we'll meet some of the good kind of neighbors, won't we," Jed asked hoping. 

"Yeah," Lil' Squirt said excitedly,"then I can play tag with some boys since the chicken isn't very good at it.  Whenever I tag her, she doesn't chase me back," he said with a pout.

Jed nearly snorted the milk out through his nose.  Essie giggled and Sarah tried hard to her laughter inside, but then it burst out spewing crumbs across the table.  Soon their mother joined in and it felt really good to be in their snug home together today.

Saturday night baths began a new routine.  The girls went first, then the dirtier boys had their turns as their mother, Essie and she dried their hair in front of the fireplace.  Mama had made sure that their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes were all washed and pressed.  It was obvious though the next morning that Jed had grown another inch and was sprouting right out of his clothes. 

Her mother sighed.  "I'd better get Jed a new pair of overalls and save the ones he has on for when Lil' Squirt can use them.  No use in letting Jed bust through the seams," she said with a sigh.  Everything cost money.  A tab at the store could run up mighty quick if they weren't careful and with no way to pay it back.

Folks were friendly, except some boys who circled Jed before a wrestling match earned him some respect.  Sarah chewed on her lip just watching.

"He'll come out all right."  It was the stranger who didn't seem so strange to her anymore.  He'd walked up right behind her.

"He always could hold his own.  I didn't know if you'd be at church today," she smiled glancing over her shoulder at him.  He came and stood beside her.

His eyes were dark brown with flecks like the center of a sunflower.  "I don't always make it, especially if I've been up all night writing.  I have to write when the muse hits me.  Falling asleep in church is frowned upon, you know."

"You'd be surprised at how many men fall asleep.  After being outside, Ma always said, it's hard for a man not used to sitting down to stay awake no matter how good the sermon." Most people were steering a wide circle around him, but her mother was making a beeline to them.  "Mama, I'd like you to meet Mr. Henry Coleman.  This is my mother, Mrs. Annie Robinson."

He shook her mother's hand looking her straight in the eye.  "It's a pleasure, ma'am."

"My children told me how they met you the other day.  It's rather unusual to have a typewriter in these hills.  I imagine you get a little of the evil eye look at times," she said.

He chuckled.  "You are right about that, Mrs. Robinson.  I seem to manage to ruffle some feathers sometimes.  I hope by talking to me that you won't be tainted." 

Her ma shrugged, "Small minds speak of small things.  Not much you can do about it.  But I grew up in these mountains and know that it would take you a lifetime before you could lose the "stranger" label even if your great aunt Ivey was from here.  Fortunately for my children and I, folks remember me from my growing up years and seem willing to accept us back.  Unless you came up to visit a lot with your auntie, you might as well not even try to fit in and just go about your business."

"You hit the nail on the head without mincing words, ma'am.  I appreciate you not dancing around the truth," he grinned.

"Well, the truth is, I can't afford for my daughter to be seen with you, sir.  Not because of your character, which I'm not questioning, mind you, but just because of the mountain ways of judging a person.  And I'd hate for my daughter to get off on the wrong foot around here, you understand." 

Sarah gasped, "Mama!" She was sure her cheeks were flaming from embarrassment and saw that Henry had lost his easy grin. 

"Ma'am, your daughter and I just happened to cross paths literally when she was in town.  I don't have any schemes on her.  In fact, I came up here to get away from all that, if you really want to know the truth.  You can rest easy, I assure you."

"Thank you for being understanding, sir.  Under different circumstances, I'd invite you over to have supper with us.  But being how things are at present, I think it would be unwise at this point," her mother went on.

"And who would you be inviting over for supper, if I may be so blunt?" Mr. Coleman looked her mama straight through.

Now it was her ma's turn to gasp.  "Why, I don't know, Mr. Coleman," she stammered.  "It would have to be someone who was satisfied eating beans and cornbread most likely.  Not even my Uncle Skinner is willing to come down out of the hills to sup at our table."

"I'm sure there's a whole pack of wolves salivating over there right now who wouldn't care what you served up as long as they could gaze at your daughter, if you don't mind me saying," he added pointing over her shoulder where there were more than a  few young men puffed up in their overalls and Sunday shirts with arms crossed glaring as Henry was speaking.

"Thank you for your warning, sir.  Have a good day."  Her mother hooked her arm with Sarah's and marched them away from the ravenous pack calling to her younger ones to join them.  

"Goodness, mama.  I've never been so embarrassed in my life!"  Sarah blinked back the tears. 

"I can see this is not going to be easy," her mother sighed.  I just hadn't thought to take on the whole pack of young men quite yet.  Perhaps it was a mistake to come in to church."

"I don't care a hoot about any of them, mama, so you won't have to repeat that warning again."  Sarah's voice was quivering now.

"Oh, darling, I'm sorry I upset you.  But I hope you'll see that it's for the best when that writer moves on.  I doubt he'll even stay the winter."  She handed Sarah her clean handkerchief watching as a group of older men approached them.

"Annie, it's good to see you again back where you belong," a man with a bushy red beard said.

"Thank you Mr. Horn.  We are thankful we have a place here."

"Well, to cut to the chase, we all was wondering if your gal there would hanker after teaching the young'uns who are running around here like rabbits.  We couldn't hardly pay much, mostly just some game or canned goods and sich.  We'd be pleased as punch even if all she would agree to do is to teach from from now till Christmas or the first big snow, whichever comes first." The man spit too near to Sarah's feet barely missing her skirt. 

"Lands sakes, Mr. Horn, this is a surprise.  Does the school have any spellers or books or anything?"

"We had a few lying around, but the roof leaked pretty bad and ruined most of what was inside the building after the last teacher left.  If she agreed, we promise to get the roof fixed right smart and ready."  He held his hand out to shake an agreement with her mother without so much as looking at Sarah.

Her mother huffed.  "You can't expect an answer quite yet, I'm sure.  If you call in a couple of days, we will pray about it and be willing to talk then."  She looked around the group and then glared each of the men in the eye.  There would be no young man allowed over the age of twelve, and then he must act the part of a gentleman at that.  I won't have my daughter subject to any big bullies.    And there won't be any more shinanigans allowed coming to and fro from our home.  No more McGreggors jumping out at them and blocking their way.  Is that clear?"

"Yes, Annie.  You sure haven't lost any of your starch," the spokesman Mr. Horn laughed heartily. 

"Good day, sirs.  Come see us Tuesday or Wednesday and we can talk more then."  Her mother had been easing them over to the church door as they spoke herding the young ones in.

Sarah only had time to cry, "Mama!" before they claimed their pew and the hymn was announced.

"We won't speak of this until we get home and the young ones are outside, Sarah," her mother whispered.  

Sarah glanced over her shoulder and saw Mr. Coleman looking her way.  He winked. Oh, my goodness gracious!  If she was the fainting type, Sarah thought, she'd be sprawled out on the floor right now.  Instead, she sang the old hymns then opened her Bible to the circuit  preacher's text.  Of course he chose the passage from I Timothy 4:12, "Let not man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."  If that wasn't what a good teacher was supposed to do, she didn't know what was.  She groaned.  It didn't sound like God was going to let her off the hook.  Her mind was spinning the rest of the sermon.  Her mother had to elbow her when it was time to stand for the closing hymn and prayer. 

She walked on ahead of the others to have more time to think.  She didn't want to teach, but it would put food on the table through what would prove to be a very lean winter otherwise.   Sarah sighed and resigned herself to do what was asked of her.  She wasn't a teacher and would have to be creative with just a few slates and fewer still books.

When Sarah sat down with her mother later, her mama looked sympathetically at her.  "I know this isn't what you really wanted, baby girl, but it seems to be God's providence to feed our family.  I might first ask for some grain and hay so we can bring the mule back from Uncle Skinner's.  That way you, Essie, and Jed can ride it to school and back.  That should help anyway."

"Yes it would.  I can't promise to be a very good teacher, ma.  I don't really know what I'll be doing," she said chewing on her nails. 

"Well, you probably have more education than anyone else here 'bouts, except for maybe the writer.   As a reward for their school work, maybe you could read "Little Women" to them a chapter at a time.  Rewards are always better than using the ruler, though you can't be afraid to use it if you have to.  You have always known how to keep the upper hand with your younger brothers and sister.  I've watched you, Sarah, and you have a way with children.  We'll pray about it, but as far as I can already see, it's an answer to this mother's prayer."  Her mama's eyes brimmed with tears.  "I have to admit, I was scared, Sarah.  I didn't know how we would survive."

"I'll do it, mama.  I wonder how many children will come?"  She worried her lip.

"No telling.  It probably will vary each day, especially when the rain sets in.  I'll need to make sure there's a stove and wood for the school.  Remind me of that when Mr. Horn comes back to talk turkey.  Now's the time to ask for things while they come a-begging," she added.  "I'll also have one of them ride up to Uncle Skinner's for the mule."

"Did you bring readers for Essie and Jed?"

"Yes, and even a beginning one for Lil' Squirt for when he gets a little older."

Well, that should cover most of the bases, though it would really help if there is a blackboard and chalk since there won't be enough slates to go around.   I could draw maps and work arithmetic problems on it then.   I'd just have to teach history from memory, teach them the presidents and about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  I don't know as much about World War I though.  Maybe someone will have newspapers we can use to keep up with the going's on in the world."

"We can ask Mr. Perkins.  He's the postmaster, the railroad agent, as well as the storekeeper.  He'd know if there are any available."

Her mother went on, "I'll need to get that new pair of overalls for Jed, but hopefully all your shoes will hold up this winter.  Riding the mule will save the shoes from wearing out so fast though," her mother thought aloud. 

Sarah considered her two serviceable dresses.  They would have to last awhile.  At least she had a warm coat.  "I'm afraid we'll need slickers when the rain starts," Sarah worried.

"I found some my daddy had stored in a bin in the barn," her mother said.  "I forgot to tell you.  They are so old, the rubber will be cracked, but it's better than nothing.  We'll get them out tomorrow to air."

"Good.  It looks like God is providing," Sarah smiled nervously.  Suddenly the thought of perhaps seeing the stranger every day tickled through her mind.  At least she'd hear him plugging away on his typewriter as they rode past on the mule.  Then she thought how embarrassing it would be to have her dress hiked up her legs riding into town on the way to school.  But there was no other way to fit all three of them on the creature than to ride astride.  Maybe she could stop just before they got to town and walk the rest of the way in.  Yes, that's what she would do, she decided.  After all, a teacher, even one up in the mountains, needed a bit of decorum. 

Sarah felt exhausted.  By the time they walked to church and back having met all kinds of folk, and with the excitement of being invited to be the new school teacher, she was ready for bed before the sun sank.  "Can we get the readers all out tomorrow so I can go over them, ma?"

"I can get them out now, if you like," her mother offered.

"No, thanks.  I'm too tired.  I think I'll go up to bed," she said.  She also wanted some time to pray.

"Don't worry about anything, baby girl.  My mama used to always say, 'The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.'  I can hear her voice even now." Her mother's smile had a little wistfulness to it.  Sarah wondered how on earth she'd been willing to walk away from her ma and pa and this home to follow her husband, Sarah's pa, down the mountain.  At least her parents had seemed happy, even if they never had very much. 

Thoughts of her daddy usually didn't trouble her, but tonight they did as she lay in bed watching the dusk hang the shadows in the loft.  He had loved his wife and his children and worked hard, but all it took was one bad mistake.  He'd gotten caught in the machinery at the mill.  First his shirt, then his arm--then her imagination was running away from her.  Sarah threw her arm over her eyes as if she could block out the image of her dad's last desperate moments screaming for help.  Tears fell then. 

She was sad for her mama.  Sad for Jed and Lil' Squirt to grow up without a man's example.  Then there was little Essie who had been his special joy.  He always said she reminded him of his little sister Esther who had died of diphtheria when she was young.  Her daddy would never be able to walk Sarah or Essie down the aisle.   Who was she kidding.   She had no prospects of walking down the aisle with any the young men from around here.  She didn't want to be one of those worn out young mamas she saw at church today with little ones hanging from every arm and leg, with one on the hip and always with one more on the way.  

Sarah decided to think about something else, like how, she wondered, what the stranger meant when he said he'd came up here to get away from all that.  What was "all that?" Was he running away from some girlfriend?  Hopefully, he did not leave a wife and little ones behind.  No wonder he kept to himself.  But if there was a lurid story there, Mr. Perkins would have niggled it out of him by now and run him off.  These desperate times of the Depression made people face difficult choices.  Perhaps his aunt's house was the only home he had left.  Yes, that must be it.  Maybe her ma was wrong.  Maybe he would stay through the winter.

The men came, agreed to their terms, and shook hands on it.  They would only be able to pay in trade goods, not hard cash.  But nobody hardly did that anymore anyway.  No matter, it would feed her brothers and sister this winter.  That's what was important. 

As soon as they brought the mule, she would take Jed into town to see what was left to work with in the leaky schoolhouse.  The men promised to have the roof fixed this week.  It was just an abandoned cabin, but at least it had a fireplace in it.  The men figured they'd have about twenty kids since the older boys would not be allowed to come.  By the age of thirteen, they'd be out hunting and fishing and chopping wood with the menfolk anyway to provide for their families.  A few of the older ones even hopped on the train chasing a rumor that a coal mine was hiring. 

Uncle Skinner rode in on the mule with his hound dog panting by his side.  "Hallo the house!"

"Good, you came, Uncle Skinner!  Come in for some coffee," her mother urged.

"Nah, too much to do."

Before they knew it, the long, lanky old man who was hardly stooped from his life in the mountains, swung down off the mule with ease and handed Lil' Squirt something from inside his coat.

"A puppy!  Mama, look!  Uncle Skinner brought me a dog!"

"Well, goodness sakes, Uncle Skinner.  I think this is the happiest day in his life," mama beamed.  "That's kindly of you."

"Ahh, I was just over at Sheldon's place and heard tell that old man Douglas had a litter from one of his good hunting dawgs.  I just had to swap him a couple of furs in trade, that's all.  It weren't nothin'."

"Well, if you take a look at that happy boy, you'd see it's really something.  He'll never forget this day when his Uncle Skinner brought him a dog," mama grinned.  "I'll  never forget when you brought me Queenie.  That dog helped me through some tough times."

"I know it did, darlin'.  You made us proud the way you came out on top of it all," he winked but had a sad look.  He whistled for his dog and walked away with his rifle slung over his shoulder.

"What tough times, mama?" Sarah asked, but her mama's lips tightened into a white line.  That meant she wouldn't say anything about it.

"I don't wish to speak of it now, Sarah," but all my memories here were not happy.  "Nevertheless, your pa swooped me up and took me down the mountain."

"Didn't you miss your ma and pa?" Sarah asked.

"Powerfully.  Sometimes it was like my chest caved in on my heart, but there was nothing to be done about it but write letters," her ma sighed.

"Tell me again how you met pa, mama?" Sarah begged.  Essie came over to listen too.

"Well, he was here as a surveyor for the railroad.  It hadn't been built yet, you see.  It was a very good job.  When that contract ran out though, he went to work in the mill.  Anyway, I guess I caught his eye, and when the time came for him to leave, he asked to take me with him.  I said 'yes,' and you know the rest."  She hugged both her girls at once.  "Your daddy was a very good man, and I loved him very much."

"I still miss him, mama," Sarah admitted.

"Me too," Essie sniffed.

"Of course, we all do.  But God has not left us nor forsaken us.  Look how He has provided a job for Sarah and a school, for you, Essie and Jed.  God is good," her mother said unfolding from the bench where they sat on the porch.  Rising up to do more chores, she pressed on her back needing to get a few kinks out first. 

Their ma had been chopping their firewood.  Jed and Sarah tried to help, but they just weren't as skilled as their ma was.  Sarah was afraid of what that sharp blade would do if she missed her swing, and the ax was almost taller than Jed.  They had needed a bigger stack of wood, that was for sure.  Then a man named Casey just showed up one day.  He worked up a sweat, but had the pile looking like a stack of hope before he left.  Ma acted shy around him, she noticed, hugging herself after taking him a sandwich or a cup of coffee, and shuffling her feet.  It wasn't often that ma looked nervous like that.  It was something to ponder.  The boys stuck to him like glue though, so much so that he had to tell them to back off when the chips started flying.  Jed was hardy to stack the wood after the man chopped it though.  It was a wonder.

"If you need anything, anything at all, Annie, you tell me.  There's no sense you and yours should do without now that you are back home where you belong," he'd said.  Then he held ma's hand like he didn't want to let it go. And surprise of all surprises, her mama actually blushed.

So back in the cabin making the cornbread and stirring the beans, Sarah fished by saying, "I like that Mr. Casey.  He seemed like a real God-send to me.  Do you remember him from before, ma?"

"Yes, he was my beau at one time.  But he went off to work in a coal mine to make some money, and that's when your father asked me to go away with him," she said softly.  Sarah saw tears glistening in her eyes.

"Does he have a family?" Sarah had the nerve to ask.

"No, he never married," was all her ma said, but her lips had that tight seal on them again that signaled she had no more to say about it.

Sarah tried to imagine her mother as a young woman here with two beaus after her.  She felt sorry for Casey who obviously held a torch for her mother all these years.  It made her think of all the "what-ifs."

"Watch what you're doing, darling.  You almost put too many scoops of cornmeal in the bowl," her mama jolted her out of her wandering thought. 

Another Sabbath went by, but without the circuit preacher taking his turn behind the pulpit, just a few gathered to sing hymns and listen to Scriptures being read.  That was all church was on the off-Sundays.  Her family had gone just because of the announcement that school would begin.  Normally, ma explained, they wouldn't always hike into town for worship unless the preacher was there.

Sarah met a few more of the children she would be teaching, some wearing ratty clothes, but clean.   Some were just plain filthy.  Sarah determined one of her subjects would be about hygiene.  There was nothing wrong with a little soap and water.  Soap wasn't free, as the saying went, but it wasn't expensive either.  She'd ask her ma for a bar to take for the kids to use. 

Her ma warned her, "My teachers would always stand at the door each day and check the children's heads for lice before they could go in.  It was embarrassing, but it kept the vermin in check that way and not spreading.  You might as well do that too.  Nothing's worse than having to take a fine-toothed comb to your long hair.   My ma would sometimes have to cut mine in order to make it easier to go after the nits."

"How awful!"  Sarah exclaimed.

"Well, that's why it might be better than someone spreading the louse.  Just tell them that is what their parents had to endure when they were in  school."

"Okay, mama.  I'll try.  Let's see, when I ring the hand-bell, the kids line up to come in; I check them; then I say a prayer and read a Scripture;  after that we stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance; we sing a couple of songs next; and then we begin the lessons.  Is that right?"

"Yes, perfect dear.  It's important to start the day right.  You might also want to tell them a Bible story after reading them their verses.  It's a shame there is no Sunday School like we had back in our old church.  But you can teach them just the same."

"Yes ma'am.  It sounds like a plan," and she smiled, still a little afraid, but now also a little excited.  When she had gone to town on the mule with Jed, she had found a blackboard of sorts, a painted over panel. 

The first day of school, they rode three to the mule until they got to the edge of town where Sarah dismounted and smoothed her skirts down.  When they got to the school, Jed led the mule down to the blacksmith's corral where he said they could keep it on school days.

A comfortable routine set in.  Most of the children were not past the first readers with only a couple in the second one.  Jed was the only one in the third.  Sarah kept everything else simple since there weren't too many who could read well.  But they were good listeners and licked up every little crumb of a story Sarah told them, whether it was a Bible story or a chapter from a book.  They used sticks for adding and subtraction for a hands-on lesson.  Jed was good at lighting a fire every day and keeping it fed.  The fireplace hardly heated the whole room, but it cut the chill anyway.

One morning out of the blue, a little blonde boy with straw-like hair asked, "What's that man doing making woodpecker noises in his cabin all the time?  Somebody said he's writing, but it don't make no sense how he can write that a way."

Sarah boldly said, "He's a writer.  He uses a typewriter."  She drew a crude picture on the chalkboard trying to explain how the little key hit the ribbon of ink and pounded the word onto the paper.  She could tell the little boy was still skeptical.

"No offense, teacher, but I still don't believe it.  We ain't never had such a thing up here in the mountains, and we don't need it either, my pa says.  I heard some of the older boys talking how they wanted to smash that thing and run him off," the boy volunteered.

The threat sent a chill down her back.  "There's nothing to be afraid of about a little machine.  Time was people were scared of the train. Perhaps we could invite Mr. Coleman to bring it in to show us how it works one day and to tell us about what he is writing."  Some of the little ones gasped as they had been steeped in superstitions.

"I heard he'll put the evil eye on us.  I don't think my ma and pa would want me to look at him," little James P. Jenkins said. 

"Well, it's alright to be careful of say, a fox.  You know at night when you hear the eerie sound of their high-pitched keening, it's enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck in the dark. But if you watch it, study it, see where its den is, you can learn a lot about one of God's interesting creatures and become that much wiser. The same goes for this man's writing machine.  Who's afraid of it?  No one raised their hand.  Good.  "We shouldn't let something scare us just because we haven't taken the time to understand it first."   She would ask Mr. Coleman to come in soon.  Maybe it would nip some of this threat in the bud.

As soon as school let out, Sarah left Essie playing with some friends on the playground while Jed went down the street to get their mule.  Sarah found herself knocking at the door where a whole lot of pecking was going on inside.  It stopped, and she heard a man's footsteps creak across the floor.

He was surprised to see her, that was sure.  "I'd invite you in, Miss Robinson, but I don't think that would be proper considering your mother's warning."

"No thank you, sir.  But I wanted to let you know that the children started talking about your typewriter that has everyone so curious.  I thought it might be good if you could carry it over one day and show them all how it works and perhaps talk a little about what you are writing."  Sarah took a deep breath and then went on,  "I must warn you also that the children revealed a threat that somebody wants to smash your machine and run you out of town.  Mr. Perkins is the only deputy around here to uphold the law, but I don't know how much use he'd be.  Anyway, I thought a little education might help to dispel the supersticious fear of the unknown, which is your typewriter in this instance."

Henry had crossed his arms and leaned against the doorpost.  He was quiet for a moment assessing the situation and looking her over.  Finally he said, "You are the brave one to come here in spite of everything.  It might be a risk to your teaching career to invite me to your school.  I'll have to give it some thought."  Then he gave a sly grin, "But you better run off before word gets around that you are at my door all by yourself.  These mountain people have eyes in the back of their heads.  Rumors will be swirling before you get home today."

"Well, alright.  Just think about it, okay?"  She looked back into his beautiful eyes and paused a moment before going down the stoop off his porch and back to where her brother and sister stood waiting at the schoolhouse.

The next morning, Sarah was in the middle of singing a hymn with the children, "This is my Father's World," when Henry burst through the door carrying his typewriter.  Children gasped and ran to huddle with their brothers and sisters looking fearful.

"Good morning, children.  I understand that some of you want to know how a typewriter works.  He sat it down on the plain table that served as her desk.  If you gather around, I'll show you.  Some of you brave ones might even type a few words on it, if you like.  Curiosity won over, and soon all the boys and girls were gathered around him looking bug-eyed at the machine.  He hit a few keys and showed them how the little metal arm reached up to hit the ribbon and transfer the letter onto the paper. 

Finally he asked, "Who wants to try it?"  Jed and Essie were some of the first.  Jed just used random letters while Essie wrote her name.

By then most of the children wanted turns.  Sarah made them form a line back around the benches where they sat.  After the last little one had his turn, the little tow-headed boy said, "Your turn teacher!"

Henry looked at her and smiled.  Then he pointed his hands as if to say, "Go ahead."  She tentatively hit a key, but it did not even reach the ribbon. "You have to hit it harder.  I know you got it in you, Miss Robinson.  Try again." 

She did and she wrote her name.  "There I did it," she beamed as if she'd just busted a bronc all by herself.  Henry laughed and the children joined in.  Finally, she pulled herself together and had the mind to ask, "So, Mr.Coleman,  can you tell us what you are writing?"

"Most certainly.  I have had success with a book I wrote being published, but lately the way the world is, there's not much money in books.  However, my publisher asked me to write a series that is being published in the Collier's magazine, something that would cheer a people hungry for good news, a story that would give them something to look forward to with more chapters in upcoming issues, something families could read  together.  Would you like to hear the first installment?  It came out just last week.  I can read it to you, if you like."

The children clapped and cheered and stomped their feet in excitement. Then he picked up the magazine that she'd hardly noticed when he'd placed on her desk. He began.  The children sat in hushed anticipation.

"Once there was a lovely woman who lived in the Smokies above where the clouds lay upon the mountain's shoulders like a stole..." 

Sarah hung on every word, but Jed's stare was sharp and poked her.  She raised an eyebrow and looked away  not wanting to miss a word. 

When he finished, he said, "To be continued..."

The children all said, "Ahh!"  It left them wanting more.

One brave little girl asked, "What 's a stole?"

Mr. Coleman chuckled.  "That's good.  When you don't know something, you should always ask. That's how you learn.  A stole is a scarf or fur collar of sorts, something that a lady puts around her neck usually for warmth.   That was a good question, sweetheart."

Just then Mr. Jenkins marched in and grabbed his son by the arm and jerked him out the door.  "No son of mine is goin' to be bewitched by a stranger, no-sir-ee!"

Henry only rolled his eyes.  Sarah coughed and said, "So children, now that you know what a typewriter does, maybe you can explain it to your parents.  And maybe, Mr. Coleman would be willing to read his story to any of the parents who would wish to heart it.  Remember, we can't be afraid.  Instead, we need to study something so that we can know what it is for ourselves."

Then the boys and girls clapped for the stranger who had just lost some of his fearful aura.

As he left, he whispered warmly in her ear.  "I hope this doesn't come back and bite you, Miss Robinson."

"Sarah," she said softly.  "My name is Sarah."

He nodded after looking straight into her eyes.  "Alright, Sarah it is, unless you are teaching.  And I'm Henry, just all the time Henry to you."    Then he left bearing his machine with his magazine issue tucked under his arm. 

As they rode the mule home Jed warned, "That took a lot of nerve, Sarah.  I hope the folks don't make a mountain out of a mole hill over this typing stranger."

"I really liked his story!  Didn't you, Sarah?"

"Yes, it makes you look forward to the next issue, which was his purpose in writing.  We all need something to look forward to."

"Well, it sounded to me like the woman in his story he was writing about was a lot like you, Sarah.  I'm jest saying..."

"Don't be ridiculous, Jed.  Mr. Coleman has been among society as a successful writer," she sniffed though secretly pleased that her brother would think that.

"Well, all I know is that we better pray that nobody carries out their threat to smash his typewriter.  The magazine publisher wouldn't be very happy then,"  Jed huffed.

"Poor, Mr. Coleman.  You don't really think that would happen, do you Sarah?"  Essie worried.

"I certainly hope not.  I hope the children will be able to explain it well enough to dispel the fear about something people had never seen before.  It's just a simple machine, one that every town uses for important purposes.  I wouldn't mind having one for myself someday," Sarah said.

"I'd guess you'd have to marry the stranger afore that would happen, sis," he said with a grin.

She tried to swat him over her shoulder but he ducked laughing.

"Well, we'll have a good story to tell ma over supper, won't we Essie!" Jed added with a grin.

"And you can keep some opinions to your self, young man," or I'll put a rotten egg under your pillow or something.

"You wouldn't dare," he laughed.  It would smell up the whole house."

"I'm just teasing, but don't try to embellish what happened today with any of your exaggerations, please Jed."

"I'll try to reign it in, but sometimes a fella has to give in to a creative impulse once in awhile," he said with a teasing look on his face when she turned around in the saddle.

"Just don't scare mama with any of your stories," she begged.

"Don't worry.  I'm the man of the house and I'll look after my family."  He waved the rifle over his head with one arm holding it up from where it was slung over his shoulder.

Sarah could only shake her head.  She did have a little niggling of fear that she'd opened a can of worms today. 

After listening to the children all talking over each other in excitement over the stranger's appearance at school, their mother calmed them down.  "I'm sure if it cause an uproar, we can invite the parents to the school and maybe let Mr. Coleman read the first installment of his story to them.  Then maybe they won't be so fearful."

"That's what I told the children.  Maybe you could tell Mr. Horn about that."

Just then someone was riding a horse in.  "Hallow, the house!"  It was Mr. Horn.  He looked pretty perturbed and came stomping in.  At least he had a couple of rabbits slung over his shoulder to help pay the teacher.  Ma handed them over to Jed, then offered the man a seat at the table.  At his  nod, she dished up a bowl of beans and a plate of cornbread.  That slowed him down and filled his belly to a more reasonable attitude.

"So, what's this I hear about the stranger showing up at school today, Miss Robinson?"

Sarah swallowed hard, but threw her shoulders back and addressed him adult to adult.  "We were just speaking about how nice it would be for the parents to come sometime to hear the story Mr.Coleman has written for 'Collier's Magazine.'   When some of the children brought it up wondering what the typewriter did, I invited Mr. Coleman to come show them and tell about what he has been writing.  So he did.  It just so happens that his story has recently been published."

"You may have gone a stretch too far, young lady," he warned with his bushy eyebrows drawn.

"That's why it might be a good idea to invite the parents to come listen to a reading of the story, I thought," her mother said.  "It was my idea to do that, Mr. Horn.  Sometimes people are too fearful over their own shadow."

"Well, I don't know.  Some people are up in arms already saying he gave their children the evil eye or that he bewitched them.  "It's gonna be a hard fire to put out, although it helps that Mr. Perkins says he already read it when he got the stranger's mail delivered. You know, that man cain't hep hisself to reading what's right there in front of his eyes though it takes him awhile to sound out all the words.  He said it was a safe enough story, kinda liked it in fact.  Now he's puffed up like a turkey about the stranger being his neighbor that's famous."

"How about tomorrow we send out invitations to come on Saturday to the school, at say, nine o'clock for a reading?  I want to hear it myself, Mr. Horn.  That is a very well-known and well-respected magazine that people all over this country read.  The publisher certainly wouldn't want to hear how we all have been mistreating one of their authors, now would we?  It sounds like his stories are to give people something to look forward to, and that's something that's in short supply during these hard times."

Well, maybe I can git Casey and a couple other men to ride around so folks will let their kids come back to school tomorrow, and we can put the word out about Saturday.   I guess I best not tarry any longer.  Thanks for the vittles, Annie.  And hey, little teacher, we'll git this sorted out soon enough."  The big man winked and left.

Mama gave a big sigh of relief.  "Well, we'll just have to pray that people see the sense in it all.  The enemy of our soul likes confusion, and there's plenty of them out there with dark souls ready to spread discontent."

"Wise as serpents, harmless as doves," Sarah said under her breath to herself.

"What's that?  Yes, that's right.  That's smack dab what we're in the middle of, baby girl.  This still doesn't give you permission to go talking to or hanging around that fancy magazine writer though.  I must admit, I am pretty awe-struck to think we have someone like that living amongst us."

"His story is really good, mama!" Essie said bouncing on her seat.  "I can't wait for the next issue."

"Wouldn't that be something if this town comes together each time to hear the story read to them?  I'll bet something like that's never happened before," Jed said.

Sometimes her brother amazed her being so insightful.  "I hope it turns out like that, Jed."

"Yeah, me too," he said, but his face didn't look too hopeful.

"I made a couple of loaves of cinnamon swirl bread for a treat.  I'd allow you to take one to Mr. Coleman as a thank you for sharing his story, no matter the outcome.  I want to spread goodwill," their ma said.

"I love cinnamon bread!  We haven't had it in ages!"  Essie exclaimed.  Her sunshine was what was needed to end the day with.

The next morning, a few of the children were missing, included Mr. Jenkin's son.  But she reminded the ones who were there of the Saturday reading.  Sarah certainly hoped she had not overstepped her bounds by setting this up before talking with Henry.   She'd deliver the loaf of bread after school and tell him.  The day seemed to drag on as she was anxious to talk with him about it.

He answered his door more quickly, and Essie held out the loaf of bread.  "Ma wanted us to give you this to thank you for coming to school and reading your story."

"In fact," Sarah cleared her throat nervously, "we've sort of arranged for parents to come hear it read again on Saturday morning.  Mr. Horn and others have been spreading the word to come." 

He watched as her worried look darted away as she smiled then lowered her voice.  "It seems that Mr. Perkins likes to read your magazine before he delivers it to you.  He told the others that he thought it was really good and now..." she lowered her voice to a whisper, "I hear he's puffed up like a toad about you being his close neighbor." 

Henry snorted, then laughed.  Essie giggled.  Then he went on to say, "I'd like you to read the story to them Saturday, Miss Robinson.  I think it would go over better if the teacher did the honors."

She shook her head, but whispered some more, "I guess it would be better than Mr. Perkins reading it and having to sound out so many words, like Mr. Horn said.  But you're the author, Henry.  I think you should read it."

"Some might still think I'm bewitching them or putting some kind of spell over them, especially if they get entranced by the story.  I'll bet that some of them have never heard a piece of fiction read before."

"Maybe you are right.  I'll consider it then.  Well, we need to get going.  Jed's brought us our mule.  Good evening, Henry."

"Good evening, to you too, Miss Sarah," he said softly.  "And you too, Miss Essie," and he winked at her.

As they rode home, Essie was silent for awhile.  Finally as they all three rode the mule out of town, she said, "I've never had a man wink at me before.  Was that alright?"

"Of course it is,"  Jed said.  Pa used to wink at us kids all the time. You were probably too little to remember it though."

Essie took a shuddering breath.  "I wish I remembered more of Daddy."

Sarah already had her arms wrapped around her little sister while riding the mule, but she gave her an extra squeeze.  "We all miss him, Essie."  She heard her little sister sniff and saw her use her arm to wipe away a few stray tears, then she seemed better.

Saturday morning, the school was crowded and tension practically crackled in the air.  But Mr. Horn opened up the meeting.

"Some of you were upset about the stranger coming to school the other day.  So. Mr. Coleman has agreed to letting you hear the story he wrote in the important magazine.  Mr. Perkins is right proud of this man now being among us.  It sounds more like it's an honor to have him here," he boasted as he pointed to Henry.

Someone yelled, "See!  He's got you under his spell now too!"  That outburst caused some rumblings, but Mr. Horn calmed them down. 

"What we are going to do is read this story that was put in the 'Collier's Magazine.'   I guess our little teacher has been chosen to read it to us."

Henry put a warm hand on her back to encourage her to step forward and read.  At first her voice warbled, then as she got into the story, it became stronger.  The room was silent.  Some people were on the edge of their seats.  When she was done, people began all talking at once.

"Why don't you finish it?  Why did you stop, Miss Robinson," one woman called out while holding her nursing baby close to her chest. 

"It comes out like chapters or pieces that will be published in the next few issues of the magazine.  It's to give people something to look forward to, the publisher said," she explained.

"Is it true or did he just make up a whopper trying to put one over on us?"

Sarah glanced over at Henry.  He was going to be no help as it was obvious to her that he could barely control his laughter.

"It's called fiction.  Stories are written to entertain us or encourage us or to teach us life lessons in pleasant ways.  Stories have been used throughout history.  Before they could be written down, they were shared around campfires and in meetings such as this.  Mr. Coleman is being paid to write stories to lift us up in hard times," she paused looking over at him hoping she'd said everything alright and was encouraged by his smile.

"But how come that woman he told about sounded a lot like you, Miss Robinson?  Is he going to put us in his stories?  Is that why he's here?  Will he be making fun of us, 'cause if he is..."

Henry spoke up, "I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I hope we can come together like this each time to hear another piece of the story.  There will be three more installments.  Then I'll be working on a new series.  As for the other, I respect my neighbors here as they are able to survive in some ways better than the people down in the bigger towns and cities.  They can't go hunt and put food on the table as easily as you do, or cut down logs and built tight homes and barns, or grow as large of gardens that will sustain their families.  I am benefited by the snug house my Aunt Ivey left me.  That's why I'm here.  I had some of my happiest memories from when my father brought us up here to visit.  I caught the biggest fish of my life right out there in Deer Creek with my mama's cousin Casey."  People whispered all over amazed that the stranger was related to one of the most well liked men in their community.  Henry went on, "My dad taught me how to duck hunt up here.  Aunt Ivey fixed them as best she could from what was let from my shotgun blast."  A few men chuckled.  "That's why I'm here.  I am privileged to be able to live where I want and just mail my story to the publishers."

Mr. Horn came up and said, "Are there any more questions?"

"But what about that tapping machine you pound on day and night?"

"I took the typewriter to show the students how it works.  I would be happy to bring it next time we meet so that I can show you as well."  He held up the magazine.  "As you can see, this is not handwritten.  It is printed out.  The typewriter is a way for a person to spell it out without having to hand write something.  My handwriting is so bad, that if my publisher had to try to read it, they'd never be able to use my stories.  Typing just makes the words easier to read.  I apologize if I've disturbed you with the noise.  It's just sometimes ideas come to me later at night, and I want to write them down when I think of them so I won't forget."

Mr. Perkins burst in the door.  "You all better come now.  Them McGreggor  boys are a-coming right now down the street with clubs shouting that they're going to bust that machine to pieces."

The men all rushed out and ma was barely able to clamp her hand on Jed to keep him from joining the fight. 

The McGreggor's raucous drunken boasts could easily be heard from inside the school.  Sarah leaned over and whispered to her mother, "Isn't it awful early for those men to be drunk?"

"They've probably been drinking all night.  It sounds like they are pretty liquored up alright.  I'm glad we have some good men to stand up for Mr. Coleman.  I'd hate to think what would have happened if we had not called this meeting to get their support."

Just then Uncle Skinner stepped in the door with his rifle ready to protect the women.  Everybody stay calm.  It will be over soon.  Your menfolk out there will soon have those ruffians dealt with.  Don't worry if you hear a gun shot or two.  No one's out to kill, at least our men aren't.  I can't answer for those hooligans."  And just like that, gun shots did erupt and women fell on the floor to protect their children.  Their mama held them tightly easing them down to sit on the floor as well. 

Finally, Casey stepped in looking over the group asking, "Is everybody alright in here?"  His eyes roved over the crowd but stopped when he saw their mother.  The man's color finally came back to his face."

"Did my man or any of our own get shot?" a woman wanted to know. 

"Mr. Horn just caught a bullet that grazed him, but didn't cause any real trouble.  The McGreggors aren't as lucky, but they probably will live.   Smithy's going to lock them up, and Grannie Holms is going to see what can be done to treat them after she patches up Mr. Horn.  Your menfolk will have to tell you the rest."

"No one else was hurt then, Sarah asked still worried about Henry."

"No, miss.  Everyone else is fine and his typing machine was not injured."

Uncle Skinner finally stepped aside and said, "It's safe now ladies.  Hope the rest of your day turns up turnips instead of poison ivy."

Right now it would be a draw which caused more excitement, the story Henry wrote or the drama in the street, Sarah thought.  She'd feel a lot better if she could see Henry though.  His magazine was still on her desk, so she picked it up intending to return it.

Her mother saw her and said, "I'm only going to get a couple of things at Mr. Perkin's store.  Go ahead and return that thing, then hurry and meet me back at the store.  Jed, you go with your sister with your rifle.  Essie and Squirt, you come with me."

"Ahh," Essie sighed.  "I wanted to see if Mr. Coleman was alright."

"Casey said he was, so you don't have to worry.  Let's go.  It looks like everybody has the same idea to do a little shopping while they're in town.  I'll stand in line and you can pick up the white thread and other things I need, Essie..." her mother was walking away.

Jed jerked his head towards Henry's.  She followed him, not wanting to meet any one's eyes right now.  Sarah was furious with those McGreggors.  Such ignorance!

When she finally saw him through his open door, he was showing Casey and another man his typewriter.  When he saw her he smiled and raised his eyebrows.  "Here's our brave school teacher.  She certainly knows how to stir things up, I'd say.  I bet she's brave enough to stare down a bear."  He was grinning.

Sarah was embarrassed and was glad to see Casey pull him to the side and speak with him. The other man was pecking away fascinated with the machine.  When Henry turned back to her, his face was all seriousness.  "Are you alright, Miss Robinson?  Jed? and your the rest of your family?"

"Yes, we are.  I was just returning your magazine, the one you so kindly shared with us.  Thank you.  We have to be going now," and she turned on her heel and walked out with her head held high.  Before she got to the store, Henry had grabbed her elbow.  "I'm sorry for making light of it all.  I know this is serious business, but I didn't know about the long-standing blood feud."

"I'm not aware of any feuds, Mr. Coleman," Sarah said starchly.

"Well, maybe I spoke out of turn.  It's just those McGreggors are trouble.  I'm glad you always carry a rifle.  Don't ever come to town by yourself, understand?" Henry seemed concerned.

"I thought it was you who was the target today, Mr. Coleman.  I'm glad it turned out alright, and the men were here to avoid the destruction of  your property and maybe worse," Sarah responded.
"Good day."

"You, too, miss."  He went back to speak to Casey some more.  Jed faded back to hang out with those men.

The store was full but at least the talk seemed to rock back and forth between awe of the stranger's story and anger at the McGreggors.  People treated her politely.  She noticed that the Jenkins were there today.  She hoped they'd let their boy come back to school.

Monday morning was a new week.  However, when they rode into town, Mr. Perkins came rushing out of the store, "Miss Robinson, Miss Robinson, I need your help!" 

"What's the matter, sir?"  That's when she saw the young woman step out in a beautiful sable coat with a fur collar to stand by a suitcase. 

"This lady says she's here to see Mr. Coleman, but he isn't here.  I believe he went duck hunting with Casey.  I don't quite know what to do with her. She got off the train in the dark and knocked on my door.  I figured since you're from down below, you'd know best."

Sarah was shocked.  Here she sat on a astride a mule in a plain, worn dress and he thought she'd know what to do with this high society lady?  But she slid off and came over.  "Hello,  you may come wait at the school, if you like, until Mr. Coleman returns," was all she could manage to say with the big lump in her throat.  This must be Henry's girlfriend.  She probably thought they were all a bunch of hillbillies.  Well, weren't they?  

"Thank you."  The lady was as white as a sheet.  She looked ill.  No wonder Mr. Perkins panicked.  

"You can follow me."  Sarah tried to walk with grace, but felt more like walking with her shoulders slumped and her head down.  Well, Henry had told her mother that he had no schemes on her, so why should she be surprised when a real lady showed up. 

Jed soon had a fire going and Sarah offered her the only chair, her chair, setting it close to the hearth.   At first the children were rowdy when they were lining up outside.  The Jenkins boy said, "Sat'day sure stirred up the best excitement 'round here since that traveling preacher came through handling them snakes!"  

But upon entering the classroom a hush fell.  As the children filed in, the woman mostly ignored them whereas they were shocked into almost reverence seeing her there as if a queen arrived suddenly out of nowhere.  Even Essie was star-struck.  Only Jed acted normal as if nothing was out of the ordinary.   Sarah's heart was racing, and it was all she could do to remember the routine schedule. 

When they got to the music, Sarah's voice cracked.  She could feel tears at the back of her throat.  So she chose to have only one song today.  It was as quiet as it ever had been in the classroom.  At least the Jenkins boy was back.  She smiled warmly at him as he ducked his head putting his tongue in his cheek.  A new little girl was there with eyes that looked like a cow's beautiful eyes when rolling frightened. 

As soon as the rest of the class was busy, Jed helping the 2nd reader students and Essie reading with the beginners, then Sarah called the girl up to find out if she had any prior education or if she needed to go back over all the lessons she'd already taught. 

"Excuse me, miss." Sarah's head shot up.  The young woman was looking a little green.  She must have gotten motion sickness from the train ride.  "Could you tell me where the necessary is?"

Essie jumped up.  "I'll show her."

Sarah noticed that when they returned, Essie was almost holding the poor woman up.  She sank into the chair putting her head into her hands.  Essie came up and whispered.  "She's sick.  I think she threw up."

Now Sarah was worried.  She hoped it wasn't anything contagious which would affect her students.  Sarah went over to her.  "Miss, would you rather go lie down at Mr. Coleman's until he returns?  I could have my sister stay with you for decorum's sake."

"Yes, thank you," she replied weakly.

"Essie, would you take the lady to Mr. Coleman's and stay with her.  If it's locked ask Mr. Perkins if he has a key.  On second thought, I'll send Jed along in case you have trouble getting in.  Jed?"

She whispered to him, and then said, "Come back as soon as she's settled, Jed, but Essie, you stay with Miss Simpson." 

By the time school was over, Essie was nervously pacing in front of Henry's house.  Loud voices could be heard clear down the street.  The children all looked walleyed at the stranger's house.  Sarah marched straight over there.  As she hurried up  the porch with Jed on her heels she heard Henry say, "But I told you, you can't stay here.  It just isn't done.  I don't know why you showed up like this, well I do, sort of, but I don't know what you expect me to do?"

"Marry me, Henry.  I don't have anywhere else to go.  Now I'm with child..."  Sarah turned her brother and sister away shoving them back down the steps, whispering, "Go get the mule, Jed.  Take Essie with you."

Sarah walked in without knocking.  Henry was sitting in his chair with his head in his hands and the woman was sitting on the edge of his bed.  "Do you need help, Mr. Coleman?"  It was the last thing she wanted to do, but neither did she want this woman to destroy his new-found place in the community.

Henry looked up at her as if she were a life preserver thrown to a drowning man.  "Sarah!  I don't know what to do with Miss Simpson.  She positively can't stay here with me, as you can imagine.  She refuses to go back on the train.  Maybe you can talk some sense into her."

"I told you, Henry, I can't go back.  No one will have me.  I'm desperate..." and the woman started sobbing.  Henry's eyes pleaded for Sarah to do something. 

"Miss, would you like to come home with us.  My ma would make a place for you until something else works out."

The woman ignored her and said in a breaking voice, "So you refuse me, Henry?  In this condition?  I thought you out of all people..."

"I can't Eloise.  I just can't.  I'm sorry.  I'll rent you a wagon, Sarah, if  you would drive her out to your place.  I know your mother is a kind and reasonable person.  Can you do it, Sarah?  Would you be willing to do that?  I could pay you a little for her upkeep until something else works out."

Sarah could only nod.  "I'll have to let my mother make the decision after today, but yes, I'll take her today."

Henry looked like a man released from prison, and hurried out taking Jed with him to get a rig.  The woman was quiet.  "Thank you, that is kind of you," the woman said flatly.  Now Sarah got a better look at her face.  She didn't look that much older than Sarah but was dressed like someone with money.  It was obvious the woman was in trouble.  If so, would Henry marry her when the circuit preacher came back by?  Sarah blinked back hot tears.  This was terrible, she thought!  She didn't know what mama would think about helping a woman in this condition, especially in front of innocent Essie. 

Jed sat holding the reigns while Henry threw the woman's  suitcase in the back, and then returned with a small trunk before helping her up.  "I'm sorry, Eloise, truly I am." She just sat with her back straight and looked like someone walking to her own execution. 

Sarah mounted the mule and pulled Essie up behind her.  It was a silent group who finally rode into their yard.  Her mother came out to the porch and Lil' Squirt came running and hollering.
The woman looked around with scared eyes.  "This is it?"

"Mother, I'd like to introduce you to Miss Eloise Simpson.  Miss Simpson, this is my mother, Mrs. Annie Robinson."

Her mother played along as if they had a fine lady come to stay uninvited all the time.  "Please come in, Miss Simpson.  You look weary.  There is a bed there beside the fire that you can make yourself comfortable in.  Supper will be ready in about an hour.  Essie, would you help Miss Simpson?  Jed, you can take her things in for her and find someplace to put them, and then keep Lil' Squirt quiet so our guest can rest.  Sarah, would you walk with me out to the barn?"

They were quiet until they walked out past the barn.  Finally her mother said, "Would you care to explain?"

Sarah took a deep breath.  She came in on the train to see Mr. Coleman, but he was off hunting with Mr. Casey.  So Mr. Perkins ran out and begged me to take her off his hands, and so I took her to the school with us.  But she was sick, so I had Essie take her over to lie down at Mr. Coleman's.  I didn't know what else to do.  I asked Essie to stay with her, but after school I heard Henry, I mean Mr. Coleman, arguing with her."  Sarah's voice cracked.  "I think she's in trouble, mama! And she was begging Mr. Coleman to marry her, but he's refused.  He asked me for help.  He seemed desperate.  She said she had no where else to go."

Mama's lips got that tight look and she said, "Of course.  We'll have to get to the bottom of this and see what's to be done.  I'll go into town with you tomorrow and leave Essie here with Lil' Squirt and Miss Simpson.  I'll have a talk with Mr. Coleman myself."

"He offered to give us a little money to help us out for her upkeep..." Sarah couldn't say any more.  Her heart was broken, and she still had to go in and face that woman.

"You did the right thing, Sarah.  A woman in trouble needs help.  It brings the Good Samaritan parable to mind. Sometimes life beats up and hurts a woman pretty badly.  She's sometimes left wounded.  If the church didn't help her, and her own people won't help, it might be up to us to be the Good Samaritan like our Lord taught us.  We may just be the innkeeper who takes care of her for awhile while Mr. Coleman provides for her care."

"But if she's with his child..." Sarah couldn't say it.

"Sometimes it's more complicated than that, baby girl." Her mother sighed.  "I didn't want you to know my story, but maybe now it's time.  Remember when Uncle Skinner said that I had survived some hard times?  I did.  If it wasn't for your father, I don't know what I would have done.  One of the McGreggors caught me out in the woods one time when I was your age and," she heaved a deep sigh, "and defiled me." 

"Oh, mama!  So that's why Mr. Carey said something to Henry about a long time feud.  He was talking about the McGreggors, wasn't he.  What horrible, horrible men!  Whatever did you do?"  Sarah didn't even try to stop the tears that flowed.

"I hadn't told a soul, but when I found out I was pregnant, Casey was gone away working, and I was so ashamed that I didn't want to tell him anyway.  I finally told my ma who told my pa and pa told Uncle Skinner.  He took care of it."

"You mean, "the body?"

"I'm afraid that's mountain justice.  There was no other law for a hundred miles.  No family worth their salt would allow their women to be attacked without taking care of the problem.  I'm not saying if it's right or wrong, that's just what happened.  Anyway, about that time your good daddy, started coming around, I tried to scare him away by telling him my story, but he said he wanted to take me away.  I let him.  I may not have loved him then since my heart was still with Casey, but I learned to love him.  He was so good to me.  Anyway, that's why I never came back. All that to say that sometimes a girl finds herself in trouble and needs some help.  I understand that.  It would be hard for me to turn her away.  But I will speak to Mr. Coleman about the responsible thing to do."

Sarah was still crying, for her mother, for Casey, for Miss Simpson, and for herself.  Suddenly she gasped, "You don't mean, please don't tell me that I am a McGreggor, mama!  Please, no!"

"Oh, darling, no!  I lost that baby.  Since there was no railroad yet, your daddy and I had to ride mules down off the mountain.  It was too much, evidently.  No, no, baby girl, you were your daddy's own darling."

"But do you think others might think I am, including the McGreggors?"

"No, I didn't have you until a couple of years later."

Sarah wiped her eyes.  Anything seemed better now that she got that cleared up. 

"Honey, I know you are disappointed with Mr. Coleman.  So am I.  I thought someone who could write that beautiful story, had a good heart.  But we can't jump to conclusions yet.  I'll wait until I hear Mr. Coleman's side before I decide what to do.  But now we have a guest who seems overwhelmed and is sick with her pregnancy."

"Yes, ma'am.  I'll do what I can to help you and to help her."

Her mama gave her a hug.



"Do you think Mr. Casey still loves you?"

Her mother gazed far off.  "I don't know.  Regardless, he is a good man, a very good man."

Mama shared her bed with their guest.  The poor woman spent a lot of time upchucking into a bucket while mama insisted she eat bread crusts and drink sips of water.  Essie would have her hands full with the woman and Lil' Squirt the next day when they left.  He looked woebegone to see his mama ride off.

Jed dropped their mother off at Mr. Coleman's, Sarah at the school, and then took the rig and the mule to the stable. Sarah wished she could be a mouse in the corner when her mother talked with Henry.  Or not.  Maybe she didn't want to know.  As they agreed, their ma took the mule home and Sarah and Jed walked home together rifle in hand.  Sarah was worried about her ma going alone without a weapon, but prayed God would protect her from the McGreggors. 

When she got to the house, Miss Simpson was sitting up at the table with a little color back in her cheeks and was actually smiling at her mother.  Sarah bit her lip trying hard not to be resentful.  Her mother gave her a squeeze when she got there.  She wondered why life had to be so difficult.  Now she had to put up with Henry's pregnant girlfriend in her home.  "Lord, it's too much!" her heart cried.

"Dear, why don't you come with me to get the cream from the springhouse. I'll need another bucket of water before I can finish supper anyway."  Why couldn't her mother just say, come with me so I can tell you of Mr. Coleman's illegitimate child on the way.

"Yes, ma'am."  Sarah drug her feet though.  Her arms felt as heavy as the day they walked in here with the bags full of their only possessions loading them down.

Her mother said quietly, "Have a seat, dear," and pointed to a large rock in the shade of the barn.
"Well, they both told me the baby is not his."

Sarah jerked her head up, "What!"

"She said, Mr. Coleman, oh for goodness sake, if we are so involved in his business, I might as well call him Henry too.  Well, anyway, she said Henry is the truest friend she has after everyone else abandoned her, even the father of her baby.  Miss Simpson's father kicked her out and she had no where else to go.  One of Henry's acquaintances had a little to much to drink that night, you see, and took advantage of the young woman.  Henry said he heard her protesting, and always felt badly for not intervening.  He said he also had too much to drink and wasn't thinking very straight, but it was no excuse. He confessed that it was the last time he drank alcohol.  But back to Miss Simpson.  Yes, she did beg Henry to marry her.  He does feel sorry for her and responsible in some way for what happened to her, but he is going to write to the father of the baby and see if he can get him to come to his senses.  In the meanwhile, I have agreed to provide her a place to stay for now, and he will provide a little support.  Do you have any questions or anything to say about the matter?"

"Is Mr. Perkins going to spread gossip about us, mama?"

Henry said he has already spoken to Mr. Perkins and asked for him to keep it under his hat for the woman's sake. He fills badly because if they hadn't been arguing so loudly, the storekeeper might  have been none the wiser.  But as it is, it remains to be seen if Mr. Perkins truly can keep his mouth closed.  Henry has offered to write him into his next story if he does."

Sarah laughed letting out all her tension.  "Oh, mama.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?" 

'I know, darling.  It's why we have to stay prayed up.  I'm having a little bit of a ticklish situation trying to explain to Essie why the woman is here.  She overheard too much on Henry's porch as well, but is still in enough of innocence to not understand it all.  She just knows that the woman is sick, asked Henry to marry her, but when he refused, she came to stay with us for awhile.  That's all.  Now Jed is a different story.  That boy is pretty perceptive, so I'll have to have a talk with him before long, I'm sure."

" Sometimes Jed amazes me, mama.  He is so smart, too smart for his own good," Sarah said.

They settled in to a new routine that worked around their guest.  Often now, the rain fell and they were a soggy mess by the time they reached the schoolhouse.  At least Casey had stopped by with a haunch of venison and even Henry had sent home the ducks he had shot.  Mr. Horn hung a wild pig he had shot in the smoke house.  Sometimes children came to school offering a canned jar of green beans or preserves.  Once, the Jenkins boy brought in a jar of pickled pig's feet.  It was all Sarah could do not to throw up.  She gave him the best smile she could manage and thanked him.

One time when Sarah was returning a newspaper that Henry had loaned her to teach current events from, she found he wasn't home, but the door was unlocked.  As she went in to leave the paper on his desk, the typewriter tempted her.  It had a blank sheet of paper in it.  Sarah had boldly typed, "Hello," when a man chuckled behind her.  She jumped, but shivered as it was exactly like her dream.

"Don't let me stop you.  Go ahead and write a story.  I'd love to read it!" Henry teased her.

Sarah felt the heat of her embarrassment flaming her face.  "I'm sorry.  I was just returning your newspaper, and fell into temptation."

Henry burst out laughing.  Finally he said, "If that's the worst temptation you ever fall into, darling, you'll go to the front of the line at the Pearly Gates."  But after their eyes collided, he frowned and said,  "You shouldn't be in here though.  There's things a lot more tempting than typewriter keys, young lady."

Sarah didn't know whether to be insulted or forewarned or both.  She was a little confused though.  She supposed that would be because Henry Coleman was a man of the world while she was just a country girl.   Anyway, she slapped his paper down and walked out primly. 

Suddenly she thought of how she was dressed and how Miss Simpson looked even in her simplest gowns, and felt shame.  Why would she ever dream that Henry would look twice at her.  She was a school teacher and probably always be the school teacher even into her old maidhood. 

Saturday morning, she felt the need to get away and be by herself.  Three adults and three children could make the cabin feel mighty crowded sometimes.  So she walked down along Deer Creek crunching through the drifts of brown leaves.  All of a sudden, she was grabbed from behind and a stinking hand was clamped over her mouth.  She tried to scream, but it only came out as grunts.  Sarah bit, kicked, scratched and pinched, but her captor never let go as he drug her into the trees.   All she could do was pray, "keep me from evil."   A rifle crack echoed and ricocheted off a branch near by.  Whoever had her dropped to his knees taken her down with him.

"Let her go, McGreggor.  I'll give you to the count of ten to run for your life!"  It was Henry. 

But before he could begin counting, McGreggor swung her around as a shield and put a gun to her head.  "No, I'll give you to the count of ten to run for your life, Coleman.  You need to go back where you come from before you get hurt.  This feud has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with McGreggor blood buried somewhere on this place.  So I come to get what's due me, Annie's gal, I figure."

Another shot rang out and the man slumped down lifeless.  Sarah landed on the ground beside him.  Casey stepped out of the woods asking.  "Miss Robinson, are you alright?  Did he hurt you?"

Henry had pulled her away and was letting her sob as he held onto her tightly.  She shook her head.  "I think we came just in time, Casey.  Thank you for saving her.  I'm not a good enough shot to have tried what you just did." 

"You can go on and take her back to her mama," Casey said.  "I'll drag this body up."

Henry lifted her up and carried her like a baby.  "Thank God, Casey was here, darling," Henry whispered and kissed her forehead."

Annie swarmed like a bee between Sarah who sat with her head in one of her hands still trembling, as Henry held tightly to her other hand under the table rubbing his thumb over and over the back of it.  But when her mother saw Casey outside, she ran to him and embraced him, Henry noticed.  When Casey came in, he pulled Annie into a quick hug, then sat across from them. Essie, Jed, and even Lil' Squirt stared wide-eyed at their sister while Eloise looked white as a sheet.  

"Perkins will have to ask the railroad men to get a telegram out to let the sheriff know what happened," Casey stated.

"Will they put you under arrest, Casey?"  Lil' Squirt wanted to know with his voice cracking.

"No, he's a hero.  He saved my life, little brother!" Sarah gasped. 

Mama went around and put her hands on Casey's shoulders.  "No one's going to get in trouble for protecting your sister right here on our own property, baby boy.  Mr. Coleman is a witness.  He got the first shot off, I understand, but Casey finished it when McGreggor threatened Sarah's life.  Now he can't bother us anymore."

Just then a lone horseman rode up to the yard.  "I'm looking for Miss Simpson.  Is this the right place?  And is that a dead body out here?  Am I safe to come closer?"

Eloise squealed and jumped up crying, "It's him!  He came!"  She ran out and hugged the porch post waiting to see what the man had to say.

Everyone else followed her out.  Henry kept his arm around Sarah's waist just in case she might faint  at the sight of McGreggor's body draped over the mule which was stepping nervously about.

Jed walked past the stranger and grabbed up the lifeless head by its hair and said, "Yep, that's him.  You got the right McGreggor, Casey."

"Jed Robinson, you get over here right now!" her mother scolded.  "We have company," she said lamely.

Daniel Massey put out his hand out to Casey's until he saw the blood, so he shook Henry's hand instead.  "Looks like I arrived in the middle of something.  Is everyone alright?  And you, Miss Simpson?  You look a little pale."  Just then the woman fainted. 

Ma barely broke her fall.  Mr. Massey and Henry, perhaps you can carry Miss Simpson in and place her on the bed.  I'm afraid the day has been too much for her, really too much for us all."

"I got her Henry."  With that Mr. Massey swooped up Eloise and took her inside.  They all followed still a bit stunned from all the chain of events. 

"Say, Jed," Casey said, "I dropped three ducks back there along the river.  Do you think you and Lil' Squirt can go find them for us before the critters in the woods find them first?"

"Yes sir," the boys were quick to answer.

"Essie, I would like you to go gather eggs.  I think the hen is hiding them again in the trees behind the cabin."

"But mama!"  After a stern look from her mother, Essie also left.

"Well, Mr. Massey, "What are your intentions with Miss Simpson," Casey said glancing over his shoulder while washing the blood off his hands at the sink basin.

Eloise was just fluttering her eyes open again.

"Most honorable, sir."  Mr. Massey was still beside Miss Simpson holding her hand. "I intend to marry her as I should have right from the start.  I am deeply sorry, Eloise, for all the pain I caused you.  I hope you can forgive me, and..." the man swallowed hard, "and marry me?"

"Yes, Daniel.  I will marry you."  She kept her eyes down demurely but kept sneaking glances up at the man who finally arrived.  Better late than never.

"The circuit preacher will be here Sunday and can perform the ceremony," ma informed him matter of factly.

"Well, there's something I've waited a lot of years to set right, but..."  Casey came and took mama's hands in his saying, "there's something I wanted to do from the start many years ago.  It's just that you were gone by the time I made it back home to ask you.  Annie Robinson, will you marry me?"

Henry was still standing beside her when Casey said his piece.  Sarah was nothing but grateful to the man who would always look out for her mama.  "Say, yes, mama, please!  Sarah encouraged and felt Henry's arm tighten around her.

Essie ran in and dropped an egg on the floor, "Please, please, mama!  I want Mr. Casey for a daddy!"

Their mama just shone with joy as she said, "Finally, I get a chance to say yes to my first love.  Yes, Casey, I'll marry you Sunday while we got the preacher busy anyway."

The shy man didn't hold back and kissed their mama but good.  Sarah wondered if he had been coming around while they were at school practicing that kiss cause they sure made it look easy.  She wondered what it would feel like to be kissed like that.

Daniel and Eloise were not near as starry-eyed as the older couple in love.  Henry let go of Sarah as if she suddenly might put her claws in him.    It was too much talk of marriage for him.  He refused to look at Sarah. 

"I hate to break up the happy party, but I'll take the body in to Perkins, Casey.  It looks like you'll be busy here for awhile."

"No, I'd better go with you.  I wouldn't want you to be jumped by any other McGreggors hiding in the woods.  But hopefully, this will be the end of the feud.  We got the bad egg of the bunch.  The rest just followed him 'cause he had the biggest bark and bite.  Sorry, Mr. Massey, but you better come with us too.  Mrs. Robinson's just plumb run out of room and can't put you up for the night.  You'll have to wait to see your bride tomorrow morning at church."  With that, Casey kissed Annie again with a look of promise while Henry looked everywhere but at Sarah. 

"Keep your rifle handy, Annie, jest in case," Casey advised. 

Jed and Lil' Squirt were walking up as Essie came running out shouting, "Guess what!  Mama's marrying Mr. Casey!"

Jed threw his hat up in the air shouting, "Woo hoo!"  startling the mule already spooked from the body tied across its back.  The men barely caught the reigns in time.  Lil' Squirt ran around the yard laughing while his puppy barked at his heels. 

Sarah didn't even go out to see them leave.  Happiness came in pairs, and that just left her out.  Mama and Casey, then Eloise and Daniel.  At least Casey would keep a roof over their heads.  It was no longer mostly her responsibility to provide for her mother any more.  A load was lifted, while another load fell down crushing her heart.

But Eloise came in gushing, "Can you believe it!  Oh, my!  He's going to marry me!  I can leave now, and he'll take me home.  I don't think I can take much more of this mountain life like went on here today with wicked men being shot dead almost right here in the yard!"

Sarah gave her a quick hug, "Congratulations, Eloise.  I'm happy for you." then she slipped out and stood behind the house with her back up against the logs where no one could see her.  All she had wanted was some time alone, then she was attacked.  Now, she was fearful of leaving the yard.  Her legs were still rubbery just thinking about it.  But even worse, Henry suddenly acted like she had the leprosy spots of marriage on her after he had been so solicitous to her earlier.  He was just a gentleman, but not her gentleman.  He had made that quite evident.  She swallowed down a shuddering breath.  No more tears.  They did not change anything. 

At least she could be happy for her mama.  They had waited after all these years, to find that love had lasted.  Mama had been loved twice.  Sarah had never been loved once and probably wouldn't be.  She heard her mama calling, but she just kept her eyes closed sinking down to sit on the ground and stayed there.  The fall afternoon sun had feebly tried to keep her warm, but a chill was settling in.  Still she sat motionless almost in a daze.   

She could barely hear snatches of her mama and Eloise talking about what dresses they would wear for their weddings.  Eloise was insisting on her mama having one of hers.  Water was heating already for the Saturday night baths in preparation for a very special Sunday on the morrow.  She could hear Essie singing, "Froggie Went a Courting," as she plucked the feathers off the ducks.  They would be Sunday dinner tomorrow.  Tonight's usual beans and cornbread were already made.  Mama would pop the cornbread in the oven half an hour before it was time to eat.  No one needed her right now, so she still sat.  The cold was creeping in.

Lil' Squirt was still chasing his puppy in circles laughing at its bark, and Jed was whistling happily while milking the cow in the barn.  The hen came closer pecking, not even realizing Sarah was sitting right there.  A mockingbird was singing its heart out.  Everyone was happy, except her. 
By the time mama's voice sounded worried, Sarah got up stiffly and was shaking with the cold.  It was dusk and supper was on the table.

"Sarah, I thought you'd gone upstairs for a nap!  What are you doing out her in the dark and cold?"  mama scolded. 

But still talk swirled around her all excited about the weddings as they sat at the supper table..  Essie wanted to help ma make a cake tonight.  Eloise wanted to let out some stiches on the dress she had chosen to wear since her changing body was making it tight in spots.  It was hard to miss her little baby bump now.  Only Jed kept darting worried glances at her.  As soon as supper dishes were done, the boys went out to the barn so the womenfolk could have their baths.

"Sarah, come out to the barn with me for awhile since ma and Miss Simpson will be having the first baths," Jed said in a no-nonsense voice.

"Alright," she grabbed a shawl and padded after the boys.  Lil' Squirt was busy jumping from the hay while Jed grabbed her over and drug her in the opposite corner. 

"So, is it the McGreggors, or Mama's wedding, or is it Henry that's got you all kerfuddled?  He demanded.

She sighed, "Maybe all three.  When he grabbed me from behind, it was enough to scare three lifetimes out of me.  And then the suddenness of first Henry, then Casey showing up overwhelmed me with gratitude.  Then, of all times, Eloise's man rides up," she chuckled cynically.  "I am so very happy for Mama and Casey, for all of us.  Just to think they loved each other long before we were ever thought of..."

"And..." Jed waited.

"And, Henry didn't even say goodbye to me after all that happened."

Jed chuckled, "I've never seen a man so worried about catching cooties in my life!  I think the wedding talk was just too much for him.  He's running scared."

She looked down at him with her eyes narrowed, "What do you mean?"

"He's in love with you, silly," Jed grinned.  "Everybody knows it.  That's why all the other young bucks have hung back."

"And the moon's made of green cheese," she said unable to keep a sneer out of her voice.  "And what makes you such an expert anyway?"

"I had a crush on Eliza Franklin last year, but we had to move before I got a chance to ask her to wait for me to marry her."

He made her smile at least.  "You're too silly, Jed.  But thanks.  You're a good brother."

"I wish I could have been the one who put a bullet through that worthless McGreggor though.  If any of those others so much as look at you, I'm going to shoot them between the eyes," he growled.

"You'll do no such thing, Jed Robinson!  Don't even talk like that.  We have to let the feud die.  At least mama has Casey to protect her now."

"And you've got me to protect you, Sarah.  As bad a shot as I am, I'm still better than Henry Coleman.  You're lucky he didn't accidently shoot you today, you know."

Sarah didn't want to hear his name or think about him anymore.  "I better get inside.  It'll be my turn to take a bath after Mama and Eloise.  But thanks for being a good brother, Jed."

She saw Lil' Squirt had fallen asleep with the puppy on the hay.  She'd have to give him his bath in the morning.  Sarah carried him in trying to ignore the giggles of the soon to be brides.  The boy was almost getting too big for this anymore she thought as she struggled to carry him up the ladder.  She snuggled him a moment before putting him under the covers and tucking him in. 

She went down and took her turn in the tepid water washing her hair but using a pitcher of cold, clean water to rinse it with.  Sarah didn't linger, though she wished she could wash away the feeling of those hands that had gripped her earlier today.  She sat by the fire beside her mama and Eloise as they all tried to dry their hair while Essie took her bath. 

"You're quiet tonight, dear.  You had a terrible ordeal today.  I'm sorry I got so caught up by Casey's surprise proposal, that I haven't really talked to you.  Are you going to be alright, baby girl?"

"At least we had the day end on some happier thoughts," she said forcing herself to smile.  "That helps."  Then she choked back a sob.  "I'm sorry no one came to your rescue so long ago, mama.  I'm so glad you have Casey to look after you now.  But for the time being, I'd rather be a snake than a dove," she admitted.  "I feel mean enough to strike if someone threatened me or my family.  If someone every grabbed Essie..."

Her mama brushed back Sarah's hair from her face.  "Don't borrow troubles that may never come, sweetheart.  The Bible says we have enough for each day.  I'm just purely thankful that God led Henry and Casey there at just the right time."

"You'll be next to get married, Sarah, just you wait..."

Sarah put up her hand.  "I can't talk about it now."  She went up the ladder to the loft.  She'd just have to go to bed with wet hair.  She never heard Essie crawl in beside her.

She woke up sneezing feeling chilled to the bone.  Her eyes were glazed over a little.  It must be the cold she was getting.  "Oh, no!  It was mama's wedding day and she still had to give Squirt his bath."  She hurried over to the ladder realizing all the others were already downstairs.  The Squirt was happily playing in the bath in front of the fire.  Her mama was buzzing as fast as bees wings getting everything done, the ducks put to roast, the cake iced, braiding Essie's hair just so.

"Ahh choo!" Sarah sneezed.

"Oh, dear.  You're sick!  Do you feel up to going today?  Casey's going to bring a wagon to haul us all in so we don't have to walk to church.  It looks like the rain is going to hold back at least."  Her mother didn't wait for an answer.   Of course, she was going.  Her mother was getting married today.

Eloise was a bundle of nerves crying and throwing up in turns.  Sarah did her buttons up her back with shaky fingers.

Essie called, "Hurry, Sarah!  You're the only one not ready!"

Sarah saw that her hair had dried all frizzy and out of control.  After she put on her best dress, she just tied it back with a ribbon.  That was that.  She climbed down the ladder only to find them all in the wagon waiting.

"Sorry," and she sneezed again.  Sarah had not even remembered to bring her handkerchief.  Jed gave her his.  Mama always insisted on putting one in her little brother's pocket when she did their Sunday laundry.  It was something she'd always done for their daddy.  Sarah wondered if she'd do that for Casey too.  They looked like they belonged together sitting there on the buckboard seat with her mama's arm threaded through his strong one.  Miss Simpson was the one looking ill though.  Sarah hoped she'd be able to get through the ceremony without throwing up. 

Sarah was shivering and couldn't get warm.  Jed looked at her concerned.  "Are you sick, Sarah?" he asked.

"I guess so.  I don't feel very well."
He felt her head then.  "You're burning up, sis!"

"Shush, I don't want to ruin ma's wedding.  Please don't say anything."

"Okay, but I'm going to tell Mr. Horn after the ceremony that you can't teach school tomorrow," he said as if he was her father.

"When did you get so old, Jed," she grinned  before sneezing again and then barked a cough.

"Who coughed?"  Mama jerked around.

"It's Sarah, Mama.  I think she's getting sick," Essie said looking worried.


"I'll be okay, Mama.  Don't worry."

With one intense look, she turned back around.  "I want to know if you get worse.  We'd just about decided to ask Uncle Skinner's to come stay with you all Casey and I spend a few days alone up at his place, but if you're sick..."

"I said I'll be fine, Mama.  Don't worry."  But she coughed again trying to muffle it in her sleeve.  Her teeth were chattering now.  When Jed and Essie looked at her, she put her finger up to her lips giving them her sternest glare to keep them quiet.

Sarah hardly remembered the ceremony.  The church was abuzz with two weddings and the McGreggor shooting.  Sarah managed to slip out and climb in the back of the wagon to curl up in a ball where she shivered and fell in and out of sleep.  That's where Henry found her.

"Sarah?  Jed said you were out here, but didn't feel well.."  One look at her and he climbed in beside her.  "You're burning up."

With that he gathered her up in his arms and stalked down the street to his house.  After turning the knob, he kicked the door open and laid her on the bed in his one room cabin.  Jed was on his heels. 

"How bad is she?" her brother asked.

"I need you to go get Grannie Holms.  Your sister's pretty sick."

Jed took off at a dead run, but it took Grannie Holms awhile to hobble back with her bag of healing herbs.

Uncle Skinner had come too.  "I need water boiled to make my bark tea.  Then I'll need you gentlemen out so I can make her a chest plaster."

"Do I need to get her mother, Grannie," Uncle Skinner asked.

She looked up at him with pressed lips and drooping red eyelids.  "I'm sorry, but it might be best, Skinner.  I think the shock of yesterday with that bad business with McGreggor, then catching a chill has let this fever run ahead of itself.  Normally, it wouldn't be too much of concern, but..." Jed ran out to catch his mama before she left with her new husband.

Somebody loaned him a horse so he could catch the newlyweds since he had already missed them. 

Sarah didn't remember much except waking to find Henry holding her hand.  She jerked it away, shocked.  'What are you doing by my bed, Henry.  Go away!"

"She has no idea that she's in your bed, Mr. Coleman or has been calling out fer you.  She's just got her modest self's ire up finding a fella holding her hand whilst she's abed," Grannie soothed him as he raked nervous fingers through his hair. 

Her mother slept on a pallet on the floor.  Casey had taken the other children home to wait. Jed tried to refuse to leave his sister, and it was the first battle he took on against his new Pa.  Ma finally put her foot down.  "There's no room, Jed, not even for another pallet on the floor.  Besides your other brother and sister need you.  They're worried too."  He finally begrudgingly gave in. 

When Sarah finally woke up, she had no idea where she was.  Grannie Holmes was bending over her, then her mother was stroking back her hair.

"Where am I, Mama?" she spoke hoarsely.

"You're at Henry's, baby girl.  You've been terribly sick."

"What!  I don't want to be here.  I want to go home!" 

"It's okay.  We'll take you home when you are a little stronger."

"Did you get married, Mama?"

"You don't remember? Yes, we sure did, but I haven't had a chance as to so much as kiss my new husband," her mama laughed almost giddy with relief that Sarah was going to be alright.

"And Eloise and that man?"

"Yes, dear.  And they are gone."

"Was it a nightmare, or did Casey really shoot that horrible McGreggor?

"Yes, he did, darling.  But you're safe now.  Everything's going to be just fine."

"Where's Henry.  I shouldn't be in his bed."  She tried to sit up.

"Mr. Perkins has let him stay with him for a time.  There's nothing to worry about."

"What about the school?" 

"It will be there when you're better."

The door was thrown open and a cold wind blew in slamming the door back.  Grannie Holmes clucked her tongue.  "Come in a shut the door, Mr. Coleman.  Your Miss Robinson has finally taken a turn for the better, but we don't want a set back now do we?

"No, ma'am." 

He stood over her looking terrible with a creased brow and his hair sticking up all over.  "Sarah?  Are you feeling better?"

"I suppose I do and hope to be out of your cabin soon."  She refused to look him in the eye.  "I'm sorry for running you out of your home."  Then she looked up startled.  "Did Mr. Perkins let you take your typewriter to his house?"

Henry laughed.  "Yes, he did.  He allowed the woodpecker to nest in his home, believe it or not.  I try not to pound away when he's asleep, but it's hard."

Sarah smiled a little, then coughed.  Her ribs were so sore! She closed her eyes feeling oh so weary. 

"I'll let you rest, Sarah," but he couldn't help but trail his hand down her cheek as Grannie Holmes was across the room.  "You sure know how to make a man brush up on his praying skills," he whispered.

"Thank you."  But she refused to look at him though. 

Her mother just shrugged her shoulders.  "Maybe after Grannie goes home for a well-deserved rest and I ride out to check on the other children, could you sit with her for a bit."

"Of course."

"Mama!  That wouldn't be appropriate."

"Darling, we're a little beyond that.  Henry has been a main support.  We're just so thankful to God for preserving your life.  It was touch and go for awhile."

A tear slipped out of the side of her eye, but she didn't open her eyes.

After they left, it got very quiet.   But she felt Henry's gentle touch stroking her face.   He cleared his throat.  "I know this is probably too soon to speak with you, but after almost losing you, first when McGreggor grabbed you, then since you were so ill and close to death, it's made a lot of things more clear to me.  I realized how much you mean to me, Sarah.  I'll admit I got spooked the other day when Daniel showed up, and then Casey proposed to your mother because I thought I'd never marry.  I'll be the first to confess, I'm not worthy of you, Sarah.  I'm not pure like you, but I've been doing a lot of praying."

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins..." Sarah quoted.

Henry finished, "and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  I know.  I've been trying to grasp that.  But please, I've been trying to think of what I would say to you when I got the chance.  I've had to think about what is important in my life.  I can't promise that I won't have to go to the city from time to time, but I've decided this is where I want to be, with you, Sarah."

"Henry, no." She finally looked at him alarmed.  "You have great things ahead of you.  You are a talented author.  The mountains can't hold you here.  I can't, I just can't.  As soon as you go back to your life in the city and mingle with your old friends and the beautiful women there..."

He chuckled.  "You have no idea how beautiful you are, Sarah.  I have never met any woman more lovely than you.  I left that life and that lifestyle for a purpose, sweetheart.  It was sucking me down to such a low level that shamed me.   I never want to go back there.  My life is here, and I want it to be with you.  Will you have me, Sarah?"

"I'm just a hillbilly, Henry.  A nobody.  I don't even have a high school diploma.  I have two dresses to my name and ride a mule."

He threw back his head and  laughed in relief and delight.  "Oh, Sarah,  do you think I care about any of that?  Besides, I've never told anyone, but my first book did quite well before the Depression hit, and I have sufficient savings in my father's safe for us.  I might even be able to buy you a new dress or two.  What do you want?  A horse?  A buggy?  It's yours."

Sarah propped herself up on her elbows, "No!  I'm not asking you for anything!"  Then she sank down.  "If I confess that I have fallen in love with you, it was when I thought that you were a penniless writer living in a one-room cabin you inherited from your Aunt Ivey.  I always thought perhaps it was the only place you had to live."

He laughed some more.  "Oh, Sarah, I love you.  I do.  I'm not a rich man, but neither am I poor.  But I am a man starving for your love, my dear."  He bent over and gently kissed her.  "I dare not kiss you more while you are so weak, but  I hope we may marry as quickly as your mother and Casey did, at least as soon as you are strong enough."

"But what if I want it in writing?  What if I want a proposal typed up as proof, so I won't think I've dreamt it up?  What if I want to hold it in my pea-picking hands."

"You'll have it as soon as I run next door to grab my typewriter.  It might be short and sweet like, "Marry me!" Or "I love you, Sarah!"  Or,  "Please become Mrs. Henry Coleman A.S.A.P."

Sarah, giggled.  "That'll do. Then I might have to type back my answer, Y-E-S," and she heard his laughter behind her.  It was better than a dream.


*I often have no idea where my stories come from, but this one was inspired by some books I've read lately that took place in Appalachia.  On our recent trip back to that region, driving around a town in the hills that wasn't even on a map, and forced to take a detour, we came across a plaque on a gate that said a well-known author lived there who wrote her books in about this time period.  Since some of my roots are from there, I find it fascinating.  I indeed know of a relative who survived the Great Depression better than most because he buried his money in his yard.  But  the skeletons in my closet sometimes rattle.  My great-great grandpa had his stills in those hills.  In fact he was accused of attempted murder, probably in a conflict over his moonshine.  A couple of generations before that, my great-great-great-great grandpa was accused of violating a woman in the Cumberland mountains.  (Be sure your sins will find you out!)  When liquor dominates a family, often times poverty follows as well as a lack of decency.  But God can redeem lives and those blessings can be passed down through generations.  If you enjoyed this or any of my other blogs, feel free to share them.