Monday, November 28, 2016


A Christmas Story
by Celia Jolley

Ruthie felt the familiar stab of fear in the pit of her stomach upon boarding the riverboat. She soon talked herself out of it, yet the nausea remained.  Her aunt lingered below in the upper dinning hall chatting with army officers from their table while Ruthie's uncle had taken himself off to his room not feeling well. 

Her aunt had waved her gloved hand saying as he left the room, "Pfft, who could be seasick on this little bit of water?"

This left Ruthie free to stand on the upper deck alone inviting the cooling breeze to bring relief in the heat of the day.  She herself had felt sick to her stomach.  She tried lying down in her cabin, but only felt worse.  So here she stood taking deep gulps of air.

A cabin boy tapped her on the shoulder, "Miss, be you with Mr. Barlow's party?"

"Yes. Is there a problem?"  She felt her heart squeezing.  She'd had enough of problems and was on this trip to avoid more of the same.

"I'm afraid to report that the gentleman is terribly ill.  We have no physician on board and capt'n says we'll have to wait until we arrive in Nashville to be able to put him under one's care."  The cabin boy looked down and murmured,  "In the meanwhile, Capt'n says we are unable to see to his needs."

Ruthie paled.  "His wife is in the  upper dinning room with some officers.  You should call upon her.  I'm just his niece."

The young boy coughed into his hand, then said, "She say she can't be bothered and would see to him later.  But I don't believe he should be alone right now.  He is one sick puppy."

"Is he seasick?"  She asked hoping.

"No, miss.  I felt a fever, and he has the chills.  The poor man can't keep anything down neither.  I'll bring you water and towels you can use to cool him."

With that he left. Of course it wasn't the riverboat's responsibility to nurse her uncle.  But Ruthie felt furious with her aunt, and wished she had another choice than to be in her company.  She sighed.  As terrible as the thought of the future was, she had no other way out.

Ruthie knocked softly but entered without waiting for an answer.  Her uncle was groaning and roiling in his sheets.  She pulled her gloves off and felt his forehead.  The man was burning up.   The cabin boy brought in a bucket of water with a stack of towels.  Just then her uncle bent over the edge of the bed and made the noise of one heaving, but evidently there was nothing left in his stomach.

"Thank you.  Can you go tell my aunt that I need her immediate help, please?"  Ruthie was desperate.  She had never been in charge of one so ill.  Surely her aunt would know better what to do.

"Yes, miss.  I'll check back later."

She had to roll her uncle as she stripped off his coat and vest.  With her cheeks flaming, she also unbuttoned his shirt to be able to apply the dripping wet cooling towel.  Never had she seen a man's naked chest. Would her aunt be upset?  "Well, she should be the one here to take care of her husband," Ruthie muttered under her breath.

Still, her aunt did not come.  Her uncle was delirious and tossed restlessly.  She tried to give him a sip of water every time he seemed to have a fleeting moment of cognizance. 

"Delia, are you here, Delia?" he called as he cast his eyes about the room.

"She's coming." Ruthie hoped it wasn't a lie.  In spite of everything she had done, his fever kept rising.  She felt panicked. 

Finally her aunt stood at the threshold.  "Oh, dear, Harold.  You indeed do look ill, but it appears that Ruthie has it well in hand." Turning away, she said, "As soon as we disembark, I'll see to arranging a physician.  I only hope it is not catching.  I dare not risk it."  With that she was whisked away on the arm of an officer.

Ruthie got up off her knees where she had been busy wiping her dear uncle down and called out the door,  "Aunt Delia,  I need your help.  I can't do this alone!"

Her aunt never looked back and only tittered at something the man in a uniform said in her ear.

"Sorry, miss.  I did tell her you needed her."  The cabin boy said apologetically as he slipped in and exchanged the empty bucket with one full of  water.

"It's not your fault.  I don't know what else to do.  He seems to be getting worse!" She felt a sob on the verge of escaping. 

"I'll ask cook if he can make him some tea.  Once when I was sick, he made me a cup that helped."

"Thank you."  Tears began dripping down her cheeks when he left shutting the door behind him.  Ruthie  felt so very alone."

The captain himself arrived with a quick knock before striding in with the cup of tea.  "Here's the tea as requested.  Do you know what ails him, miss?  I hope I won't have to quarantine my entire riverboat when we dock.  That would be a great loss to me of time and money that I can't afford," he worried aloud pulling out a handkerchief to cover his nose due to the awful smell of dysentery which Ruthie had no idea how to deal with.

"I think perhaps it's cholera, but I truly have no knowledge of diseases," Ruthie worried.

"Shh." The captain looked over his shoulder closing the door.  "That can create  panic if there's a hint of an epidemic.  Was he ill before he came on board?  Are you aware of others with this illness?" he asked with a grimace.  She shook her head.  "I can't have hysteria if people hear that word uttered!"  He gripped her shoulder.  "Do not say cholera again!"  Then he backed up towards the door still covering his face.  "Well, we will only say he's ill, and see that he's taken to a doctor in Nashville.  These other stops are just in small bergs or where we load up on wood.  It will be three or four hours before we can get him off my boat."

The smell assaulting her was overwhelming causing her to throw up in between caring for her uncle.  "I'm sorry, Uncle Harold.  I wish you had a doctor to see to your needs instead of me." 
Unlike her aunt, however, she felt responsible to do what she could.

The cabin boy did not bother to knock, just stood in the doorway holding out more towels and setting a fresh bucket of water down inside the room.  "Capt'n says, when it gets dark, go to the back and toss those filthy towels overboard making sure to toss them far away from the lower decks.  I'll bring bricks  and twine you can wrap them around and tie to weigh  it down so they will sink.  Like I said, look out below first."

A couple passed by and were obviously perturbed by the reeking room as the lady covered her nose.

The cabin boy's eyes looked fearful.  He continued in a loud whisper,"I have to go.  Capt'n doesn't want anyone to know how sick he is."

The only time she left the room was to do as she was instructed.  First looking below making sure the deck was clear, Ruthie threw the bundle as far as she could and was satisfied to hear the plop in the river.

Turning around she found herself face to face with a young man who looked at her with his brow raised.  "Are you okay, miss?" 

Ruthie paused.  No she was not okay.  She must look a mess and smell terribly.  She longed for someone to come to her aid.  "I'm fine, sir.  It was kind of you to ask."

She hurried back to her uncle shutting the door.  His breathing was becoming more shallow and  his fever was unabated.  All she knew to do, she continued to do, to wash him with cool water and to try to lift his head to take a sip of water.  Lately, however, she had not been able to get him to drink. 

When the cabin boy next stuck his head in, she begged him, "Please tell my aunt that she must come.  I don't know how long he will last.  He is barely breathing."

"Capt'n said not to let anybody in, to quarantine off the room.  Perhaps I can get her to at least stand in the doorway to speak her last words to him, but I doubt he can hear her."

"Thank you, you've been a great help to me."

It seemed like forever, but her aunt finally stood outside the door.  "How is he?" She covered her nose with her handkerchief pulled from her sleeve.

"I don't think he'll make it, Aunt Delia.  I think you should say what you must to him."

"Harold," her voice cracked then an angry veil fell over her face as she continued on gnashing at the words, "I never wanted to come on this move. This is what we get.  I'm sorry you are sick, but you brought it on yourself.  You have left me no choice but to take care of myself."

With that the woman slammed the door.  Ruthie was stunned.  She gripped her uncle's hand.  "Don't take that to heart, Uncle Harold.  She's just upset that you are so ill."  She hoped he was too unconscious to hear those cruel words from his wife.  Ruthie could not imagine what their future would hold if he died.  Probably they would turn around and take the riverboat back to a train that could take them north again, back to her family who had rejected her, pushing her off on her dear uncle.

Ruthie could tell his end was near.  His breath only came in shallow spurts.  She quoted the 23rd Psalm and prayed aloud the ones that she'd been crying out in her heart.  "If it please you, Lord, heal your servant," she sobbed out.  "Oh, God, help Uncle Harold.  But if not, fit him for heaven to live with Thee there.  Please help us who are left behind to know what to do without him."

A quiet filled the room.  Her awareness of its meaning fell heavily upon her and shook her to the core.  He was gone.  Ruthie ran out and gripped the railing.  She gulped the night air shakily. 

"Are you still claiming to be fine, miss?"  It was the young man again. 

She turned her head and peered at him.  Seeing no mocking attitude, only sincerity, she shook her head.  "No, my uncle just passed away." 

"I'm truly sorrowful for you.  Is he the only one you are traveling with?" 

Ruthie shook her head saying, "I am not alone."

He quickly added, "I mean, is there someone I can notify for you in your grief?"

Ruthie, bit back her fury at her aunt and said as politely as she could, "You may tell the captain, if you would.  My aunt will be up at her leisure," she added bitterly. 

He looked at her puzzled.  "I'll be happy to do that for you."

"You may tell him I will be in my room, please," she added.  Ruthie realized only the cabin boy and this stranger had held out any ilk of human kindness.  As he hesitated to leave her, she smiled a little and said, "Thank you for your concern."

Ruthie forced herself to return to his room to cover her uncle with a clean sheet and bundle up the last of the messy linens to dispose of them the same as she had done earlier.  Looking down to the deck below, she saw her aunt leaning closely upon her officer's arm giggling.  After looking around, the man had the boldness to draw her closely to him and kiss her.  Ruthie gasped and stepped back.  Her heart was pounding.  Her aunt had never been one of her favorite kin, but she never imagined her to be a wanton woman.  Perhaps this was what her aunt had meant when she said that she would take care of herself. 

Once more she peered over the railing, she was relieved to find them gone.  Ruthie furiously heaved the sickroom's rags overboard and heard them hit the dark water with a thick splash. 

As she made her way to her cabin adjacent to her aunt and uncle's, the captain was there looking in where her uncle lay.  The young man was beside him. 

"Hmm.  You are to be commended for showing such care for your uncle, young lady.  However, I ask you again to keep quiet about this and quarantine yourself away from the rest of the passengers just in case you too come down with the sickness.  I'll have water brought for you to use and a supper as well.  I recommend you dispose of your contaminated clothing as well.  I'd hate to see a pretty thing like you stricken down."

"Thank you, sir."  It was hard for her to swallow down her grief and her anger at her aunt.  Ruthie would be glad to get rid of her clothes that held the sick room smell.

"When we arrive, I'll see to it that his body is taken to a nearby church. Protestant, correct?"

"Yes, but perhaps you should be telling this to my aunt."

The captain scraped his hand over the stubble on his chin then nodded saying, "I will," but he muttered under his breath, "if I can get her away from the officer long enough to speak to her, that is."

When he left, the young man who had asked about her well being still stood there by the railing circling his hat in his hands.  Ruthie actually saw him for the first time, his height, the rich dark color of his hair, his clear eyes, his polite smile.  Though he was not dressed as a gentleman, at least he was clean, cleaner than she was at present.  He inquired, "Will you be all right?"

"Yes, thank you kindly," she said again.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

She dropped her eyes where tears pooled.  "No thank you."

"I'll come back then and help carry your things down for you when we get to Nashville," he offered.

The thought that her uncle was not going to be there to see after their welfare, overwhelmed her.  "I don't...I don't know what we are going to do," she said to no one. 

He put a hand through his hair nervously before setting his hat back on, tipped it then left.

Ruthie just had time to clean up, change clothes and lay down before the dawn.  Soon the stacks blew noisily announcing their arrival.  She threw her things together quickly.  When she left her room, she saw her aunt standing outside of their adjoining rooms barking orders to the cabin boy.

"I said that I will make it worth your while, so do what you are told or I'll tell the captain."  Her aunt was ordering the young cabin boy to enter the stank of the sickroom to gather her things.  "I need his wallet out of his jacket there.  It's in his inner pocket.  And his watch.  And his cufflinks."  Then she saw Ruthie.

"They are taking the body to the nearest Methodist Church.  We will bury him there.  Come along," she ordered as the cabin boy dragged out her trunk after handing over the other things she requested.  Looking at the pittance she offered him, he stood and looked back at the stingy woman.

Ruthie stopped her aunt by putting her hand on her arm.  She could see her aunt cringe at her touch, but was emboldened to say, "Aunt, he was quite helpful to me as I cared for your husband in his final hours, not a pleasant task.  I suggest that he should be rewarded accordingly." 

"Watch yourself, missy," her aunt warned, but did give him another pittance.  He hurried away.  The officer shouldered Aunt Delia's trunk and led the way down the steps. 

The young man who had befriended her was there as he had offered and picked up her small trunk, "After you,"  he said smiling until Ruthie's shawl slipped and revealed what she had tried to hide.  When he noticed her condition for the first time. His eyes widened.  "I hope your husband arrives soon to assist you."

She sighed and said, "There is no such man," then hurried to follow her aunt.

The captain waited until all the passengers disembarked before bringing out her uncle's body on a stretcher.  A wagon was ready.  The officer helped her aunt up onto the buckboard seat, then went to load their trunks.  Ruthie was left to climb up unassisted. She glanced over her shoulder to watch the lieutenant  slide their trunks next to the body jarring it so that a hand slid out from under the sheet.  His curses burned her ears.  She looked away with a shiver and stared straight ahead.  Her aunt spoke not a word, just had a pained look on her face.

The service went quickly as soon as a coffin arrived.  The pastor was kind and prayed for both her and her aunt.

The officer cleared his throat.  "We, Mrs. Barlow and I, would like to request that you perform another service and marry us."

Ruthie couldn't stop herself and cried, "How could you?"

Her aunt narrowed her eyes.  "How else am I to survive?" she hissed low enough so the others could not hear. 

"But what about the baby?  You promised that you would raise my child!"

The lieutenant jerked his head around looking surprised out of his wits.

"Well, that was your uncle's idea, not mine.  Everything has changed now.  I will be leaving as this gentleman's wife as he has graciously offered for my hand in my dire circumstance.  You will have to see after yourself.  Perhaps the minister will know of somewhere for a wayward woman to go."

Ruthie paled and staggered back.

"Pastor, may we proceed?"  her aunt barely kept the civility in her voice.

The reverend looked back and forth between them and somehow managed to give Ruthie a compassionate look.  He waved his hand for them to proceed him away from the cemetery and back to the church.  The preacher took her arm and tucked it into the crook of his.  Noticing the young man for the first time where he hung back in the church yard.  The preacher said, "I'll be with you as soon as I'm finished here, Beau."

"Thank you, sir."

Ruthie wondered why that fellow seemed to be following her.  It would be terrifying, but the reverend seemed to know him.

The ceremony was even shorter than the funeral.  The officer paid the pastor then held her aunt's arm to leave.  When she followed the newlyweds out the church doors, her aunt paused and opened her reticular.  The woman pulled out a few bills and crushed them into Ruthie's hands. 

The young woman looked down and quickly counted them and cried in desperation, "But Aunt Delia!  This is not even enough for my return passage.  What of all my father's money he sent with you" 

"He gave it to your uncle, thus it is now mine to do with as I see fit."  With that, she turned and walked away.  The lieutenant pulled Ruthie's trunk out of the wagon and left it sitting in the dust at the side of the road.

"Aunt Delia!" Ruthie felt like an abandoned child.  The pastor patted her gently on her shoulder.  He took the money that the lieutenant had just paid him and gave it to her.

"I can't..." she began.

"Yes, you can," he said firmly as he closed her hand over the gift.

"Wait here.  I'll be back with you momentarily."  Then he waved the young man forward.  "What can I do for you, Beau?" 

"Well, you know, sir, I went upriver to beg help from our extended family for someone to come help us take care of our grandpa.  We can't leave him to go to work because in his condition he's a danger to himself."  He took his hat back off and turned it round and round in his hands.  "No one was willing to come, all with their excuses, so I came by here to see if you know of anyone we could hire to help my brother and I out."

The pastor loosened his collar with his finger looking away, then started.  He turned back to look between the two of them.

"What?" Beau asked nervously.  

"Perhaps God has already found a way for the both of you."

Ruthie had not been listening so perturbed over being deserted and trying grasp her situation, to think of a way ahead for herself.  Sadly she doubted her parents would send for her, at least not until her baby was delivered and given away to someone else's arms.   

But the strident tone in the young man's voice snagged her attention. He had raised his voice to say, "No, Pastor, that is, it would not be appropriate.  I'm surprised you would even suggest it."

Now they had her complete attention. 

"Well, do you need someone or not?  Haven't you been looking for sometime now?" the preacher asked.

"Yes, but..."

"It would be mutually helpful, would it not?"

She had no idea what they were talking about, but a chill ran down her spine when the pastor nodded her way and raised his eyebrow.

"But she's..."

"Yes, and she will need someone to look after her.  It's not as if she can go find another job in her condition."

Ruthie asked, "What are you talking about?"

The pastor calmly explained.  "Beau and his brother David have the responsibility of caring for their grandfather in his failing years.  It is making it difficult to leave him to go to work.  I was just suggesting to Beau here that perhaps it would be mutually beneficial, and certainly timely, what with both of you being here at the same time in need of help..."

Ruthie did not know what to think, but her legs were beginning to feel rubbery.  It all was so overwhelming. She sank to the church steps, put her head down in her arms, and broke out in sobs, loud messy ones, the ones she had been forcing down but could no longer hold back. 

The pastor put his hand kindly on her shoulder and offered her his handkerchief.  But the little square of ironed cotton could not begin to wipe away all her tears.   The one called Beau offered his up as well.  If she had felt deserted by God before, Ruthie was sure of it now.  He had not protected her before and it did appear that He had deserted her here.  She was alone in a strange land with no way backward or forward.  At least Ruth in the Bible, had her mother-in-law.  She had no one.

Beau turned his back and kicked at a stone running his hand through his hair.  He needed someone badly.  She needed a place.  But it would certainly cause tongues to wag.  Did he really care?  He prayed down deep in his soul, "But, Lord, she's a loose woman with child.  Surely you don't expect me to take her on?"  To the pastor he said, "What if I help and give her the rest of what she needs to return to her folks on the next steamboat?" 

They were discussing her as if she wasn't there.  She shuddered willing her weeping to cease.  Her breath stuttered before she could speak.  "I could send my father a telegram and ask when I notify him of my uncle's demise, but I'm not sure that they would welcome me back, at least not until the child is born.  I'm an embarrassment to them in their society."  Ruthie was wiping her tears on her sleeve.  "My aunt and uncle, you see,  were to adopt my baby and keep my condition away from prying eyes."

"Surely your parents would not abandon you here now that your aunt and uncle are gone,"  the young man replied.

She could only shrug, not hopeful when remembering her parents dismay and disgust at her situation. Even though it was not her fault, they still blamed her.  It was always the woman's fault in their eyes.

"I suppose my wife would be willing to put you up until you hear back from your parents, but Beau, I ask that you won't ignore God if this is His answer for the both of you.  So I want you to promise to pray about it."  The preacher did not seem one to be ignored.

"Yes, sir.  Evening miss."

"Beau?"  The preacher called out to the young man as he strode quicky away.  "I forgot to tell you that there was an incident while you were gone.  A fire, a small fire, that your brother found in time so that it did little damage.  But it is an indication that you must find someone to care for your grandpa very soon."

Beau ran his hand over his face and heaved a sigh.  "Thank you for telling me, sir.  I'll talk it over with David."

The pastor cleared his throat.  "Perhaps you should shoulder this yourself.  I don't think your brother is in a condition to make good decisions right now."

Beau groaned.  "So, he's been hanging out where he usually is found in the evening?  He promised to stay home with grandpa while I was gone."

"Sorry to tell you, but it is what it is.  Goodnight Beau, and don't forget to pray."

"Yes sir."  He swung up on his horse, but looked back to stare once more at Ruthie before riding away. 

"Well, young lady,  it appears you've found yourself in quite a predicament.  But have no fear.  God will never leave you nor forsake you.  I'm sure you are exhausted so let's go to the manse.  By the way,  are you feeling any, uh, symptoms by chance?"

Have no fear?   Ruth had nothing but fear.  But she knew he was asking if she might be coming down with whatever sickness her uncle had.  "I am fine, only weary, sir.  I will sleep in your barn if you are concerned for your family."

"Nonsense. Come along, dear.  We will wait until tomorrow to send your telegram."

Ruthie barely remembered eating a bowl of soup before falling into a bed and escaping into sleep.

The next morning she freshened up before entering the kitchen.  The pastor was drinking coffee, and his wife put a plate in front of her.  "Would you like coffee or a mug of milk, dear?"

"Just water, please.  It is very kind of you to take me in."  She made like she was bowing her head in prayer, but in truth was trying to gather courage to face the day.  Ruthie found herself ravenous and ate everything on her plate.  She only hoped it would not make her nauseous later.  She put her hand on her stomach which caught the pastor's wife eye.

"Ahh, so you are in the motherly way without a father in the picture.  Do I understand this correctly?"

Ruthie blushed nervously and nodded her head.  The woman certainly was blunt. 

All the woman said shaking her head was, "Men!"

Ruthie was more comfortable with silence than with continuing the conversation, but not so the preacher's wife.

"Have you begun to gather or sew little things for the child yet?"

"No, ma'am.  Not yet."  It made Ruthie wonder how she could survive, not just her, but her baby.
"My aunt and uncle were to adopt my child, but now..."

"We will be praying that the Lord makes the way clear soon.  If you are unable to return home, at least there is the possibility of a position for you here, my husband informs me."

Goodness, this woman was nosey.  "I don't believe that is something that the young man is desirous of."

"Oh, but prayer has a way of  changing things.  Beau is a wonderful Christian fellow who works hard and has been taking care of his poor grandfather.  He certainly is in need of help."

"If you are finished, we can walk into town and send that telegram now."  The preacher was putting on his hat. 

Ruthie hurriedly stood up intending to take her dish to the sink but the pastor's wife waved her away.  "Go on now.  I'm sure you are anxious to hear back from your folks."

It was a pleasant morning.  Regardless of her future, birds still sang and the breeze still blew through the trees and clouds floated by.   Ruthie stopped in her tracks.  Was that the baby?  Did she just feet her baby move for the first time?  Her eyes were wide with wonder.

The pastor turned to look at her with her hand over her stomach.  "Are you alright young lady?"

"Yes, I think I just felt my baby."  It made a love swell in her heart like she'd never known.  One hand stayed on her belly while the other clutched her shawl.

They found the telegraph office and sent the message: Uncle Harold dead.  Aunt remarried.  Need money to return home."

They had just returned to the manse when a messenger ran to the door bringing a reply. "Stay there.  Will send money."  Ruthie read it over and over.  "Are you sure that is all?"

"Yes, miss." 

Ruthie began shaking.  The pastor put his hand on her arm.  "Don't worry dear.  God has a plan.  I will ride out to speak with Beau this morning."

She bit her lip unable to say anything without falling apart while crushing the telegram in her hand.  But as they stood at the parsonage threshold, they noticed a horse was tied up in front of the church.  Beau strode over to stand wringing his hat.

"Good morning Beau.  What brings you back so soon?"

He only glanced her way once then spoke to the pastor.  "I'm willing to have Miss Barlow come, if she will."  He refused to look her in the eye. My grandfather was out wandering lost in the woods when I got home.  It took me an hour to find him in the dark.  He can't be left."

The pastor said, "I'm sorry to hear that, son," but he had a funny smile playing on his lips.  "Let's go speak with my wife in the manse and tell her the situation, shall we."  He hurried on ahead leaving Ruthie behind to walk beside the man.

"I'm hoping you can see the way to help us, miss.  I don't know what else to do.  I can't leave him to go to work, and our crew can only work so long without me being there."

"My parents told me to stay here.  I can't go home." Just saying it aloud wrought an ache in her heart which felt  like it could never heal.

"I'm truly sorry for you, but perhaps God is providing for both of us just as the pastor said yesterday."

Upon entering the manse, they found the pastor and wife waiting in the parlor.  "Are you agreed that it is the best way forward for you to open your home to Miss Barlow, Beau?"

"Yes, sir."

"Are you agreed that this is the place God has provided for you, Miss Barlow?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well then, as you said, it is not proper to have an unmarried woman staying under the same roof as a bachelor.  So, the only thing to do is to marry."

"What!  Pastor you can't mean that!" Beau exclaimed.

Ruthie was speechless. 

"It seems the only path forward without bringing a stain upon your reputations."

"My reputation is clear, but..." then Beau looked over at her almost accusingly. 

"If you marry now, hers will be as clean as yours in the eyes of the community."  The pastor raised his eyebrows, and his fierce face was a challenge.  "Miss Barlow is not far along in her condition and is barely showing.  It might be enough to keep the gossips quiet if it remains unknown for a little while..."

"But sir, she's with child.  I don't know that I can do this.  I don't know about the father.  What if he shows up and demands her back."

"He won't." Ruthie found her voice.  "He worked a short while for my father in the stable.  I kept telling my father that I didn't like the way he looked at me, but he did not listen.  One afternoon, I went out to groom my horse and the foul man found me..."  She swallowed hard and closed her  eyes hating to bring back the memory of that despicable attack.  I did not tell my parents until I realized I was with child.  He was long gone by then.  Somehow, however, my parents blamed me."

Beau made fists until his knuckles were white and ground his teeth.  The pastor's wife had enveloped her in a warm hug patting her back.  When he looked up from his boots, he found the pastor was staring him down.  Beau ran his hand through his hair.  It was a huge decision.  He wondered how on earth, trying to do what was right taking care of his grandpa,
turned into this perdicatment?

When the pastor's wife released her and stepped back alongside him, he cleared his throat.  "Are we decided then?"

Ruthie looked up at the young man, and for the first time their gazes locked.  She could hardly breathe.  Was this to be her future, marriage to a complete stranger?

"Go ahead, pastor," Beau ground out.

The pastor had a smile quivering on his lips which kept breaking out before he could bite it back again.  "As we begin, I feel led to read a passage from Ruth."

Ruthie caught her breath in her chest and had trouble letting it out.  She was feeling light headed. Leaning slightly against him, she grabbed onto his arm, to ward off her dizziness.  He glanced down looking so surprised that she let go as if he were scorching her gloves. 

Her mind raced ahead to the part she knew from Ruth that said, "Intreat me not to leave thee,  or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."  But instead the reverend read...

"She...said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes,
that  thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?
And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me,
all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law"
--which in your case, Ruthie, was your uncle--
"and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity,
and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.
The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee
of the Lord God of Israel,
under whose wings thou art come to trust.
Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord;
for that thou hast comforted me,
and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid..."
(Ruth 2:10-13)

The preacher droned on, but Beau was still pondering this passage.  It was like the Lord reminded him of how she had taken care of her dying uncle all by herself.  It spoke well of her willingness to care for another even in a difficult situation.  Perhaps she would be the best to care for his grandfather.  The rest of the relationship would have to be on the back burner since all he cared about right now was his grandfather.  So he said his "I do."  But when the pastor started to say, "You may..." he shook his head glaring.  The preacher finished by declaring them man and wife.

However, as he rode out of the church yard with the young woman sitting in front of him on his horse he wasn't thinking about his grandfather at all.  His heart was doing strange things in his chest. 

"I'm sorry we were unable to bring your trunk today.   Neither one of us foresaw this coming, I'm sure.  I'll come back for it sometime this week, I promise. Uh, do you mind removing your hat.  I can hardly see over it."

She nodded untying the strings.  Her hair kept escaping flying back and tickling his nose.  He kept wiping it away and brushing it back down with the rest of her hair.  It was like gossamer. She smelled sweet, like some flower he could not identify.   It stirred him more than he had ever imagined, just by the way she felt in his arms as he held her close in the saddle.  He could not deny the way she just plain fit.

He decided he'd better say it before he got carried away.  "I know you did not plan to marry me when you woke up this morning, and me neither.   Just so you know, though we are married on paper, I won't hold you to anything...uh, well, marriage privileges.  I just need you to take care of my grandfather for now, and maybe do a little cooking.  And cleaning.  And laundering.  And mending.  You know, the wife things."

She found herself snorting, "Are you sure you didn't leave out polishing your boots for you or something?"

He laughed then, the tension broken.  "Sure, if you have time."

"What do you do, by the way?"

"We have a small logging operation.  We cut 'em down, then use our draft horses to skid them to the railroad where they are loaded and sent on to my uncle's mill .  My brother and I run this operation, but we have a whole crew who works with us.  Our grandfather added to his acres given him for fighting in the War of 1812 until he has acquired a healthy portion of woods."

"What exactly is wrong with your grandfather?"

"I don't know what the name would be for it, unless it's plain ol' senility.  Sometimes he seems fine, but in a blink of an eye, he's gone again.  We can't leave him alone around the stove and have to lock the door to keep him from escaping.  He moves pretty fast for an old guy." 

"I see."

"He's usually pretty nice, except when I have to tell him no.  Mostly I try to distract him by talking about the past, or ask him to tell me old hunting and fishing stories.  I think you'll get along fine."  Beau was quiet for a while and then added, "I saw the care you gave your uncle and was impressed.  That's why I married you, because of how you cared."  Then he quirked a grin and admitted softly under his breath, "It didn't hurt that you aren't hard to look at neither."

She said nothing.

Soon a hound dog ran out to greet them.  Ruthie could swear that the dog was grinning as it ran circles around the horse joyfully barking to greet his master.

Beau swung lithely down then helped her off his horse.  He turned her to face a man who looked like her new husband, only this man was a stockier version with more rough edges.  But right now he obviously was just slack-jawed shocked.

"What'd you bring home this time, Beau?"  He smirked looking her up and down and then glued his eyes to her stomach.

"This is Ruthie Hofer, my wife," Beau said in a forced steadiness.  He knelt and scratched his dog's ears.

David hooted and slapped his hat against his leg.  "So you were sneaking around after all and found a gal to..."

"Stop."  Beau stood ridgedly.  "Her kin died on the trip down on the steamboat  that we both arrived on yesterday.  She's left alone.  We need someone to take care of Gramps, and she needs someone to take care of her.  So the parson married us."

David stuttered barely stopping the swear words on his lips, "Confound it, Beau!  You didn't need to go so far as marrying her.  What'll we do with a baby 'round here?  Are you crazy?"

"We'll raise it up unto the Lord," Beau stated catching Ruthie glancing up at him.  He gently propelled her forward.  "I'll go introduce her to Grandpa first, then we can go find our crew and see how they've fared since I've been gone."

"This I've got to see," David chortled.  "There hasn't been a woman in that cabin for twenty years."

Beau led her to a large-ish log cabin that looked molded to the earth and woods around it.  He opened the door for her.

"Grandpa, I'm back.  I want to..." Beau stopped.  His grandpa had a knife out and was carving into the supper table with deep grooves.

"What are you doing, Gramps?"

"I was just..."  His grandfather then looked up confused dropping the knife.  "I don't rightly know, Beau."  Sitting there in his tattered Union Army jacket, he looked disoriented.

"It's okay, Gramps.  I want you to meet Miss Ruthie, my new wife."

"Well, hog-tie me to a moonbeam, if that don't beat all!"  Grandpa jumped up, caught Ruthie in a strong hug, trapping her arms to her side while swinging her around.  Beau kept them from toppling.  "It looks like you did alright for yourself, son.  You found yerself a pretty little thing."

Ruthie was dizzy and had to hold onto Beau's arm for a moment before the room stopped spinning.
"It's nice to meet you, sir."

"Sir? Nothing doing, just call me Gramps," and with that he threw back his head and cackled.  It was enough to make Beau grin.  David was barking a laugh right along with him.

Beau took her over to the kitchen area of the great room and showed her where the food stuffs were kept.  Then he bent down and whispered in her ear.  "I think we best hide the knives from Gramps for now else he'll carve up the whole cabin."

His closeness and warm breath on her neck made her shiver even though the cabin was hotter than a pancake on a griddle.  She felt beads of sweet on her forehead.  He went on speaking softly to her. "Sorry about the house being so warm.  We can't leave the door open in case he tries to run off."

"What time can I expect you home?"  She glanced over to a mantle clock that was ticking.

"It'll be after dark.  We work while we have light.  If it's easier, we can eat with the crew like we're used to doing and that way you'd only have to rustle up grub for just you and Gramps for now.   We rise so early that I don't expect you to get up to cook us breakfast neither.  We just grab a cup of coffee for the road and go eat at the cook's table with the rest of the men so I can line out the day while they're gathered.  Now Sunday's a different matter.  I'll look forward to seeing what you can cook for a real Sunday dinner for us," he said smiling like a kid looking forward to a Thanksgiving and Christmas feast all rolled into one.  But I'll come home earlier than usual tonight in time for supper just to make sure everything is going smoothly."

Ruthie did not want to tell him that she'd never cooked anything in her life.  Or cleaned.  Or washed.  Or sewed much more than what was held in an embroidery hoop.  That's what the servants had been for in her father's house.  Now she was confined to a primitive log cabin existence.  Yet, somehow, it was not as overwhelming as she thought it might be.  At least she had a few days to practice cooking for the patriarch. 

"Sounds fine."

"If you come up against trouble beyond what you are able to handle alone, ride in to the church and ask pastor for help.  I'll always try to leave you a mount at home.  But whatever you do, don't leave Gramps alone except in an extreme emergency."

"Yes, sir," she responded as if she was being lectured down to.

Beau quirked an eyebrow.  "You don't have to call me sir."

David teased, "Yes'm, call him, sweetheart, honey, sugar pie, but most of all jest call him for Sunday dinner!"

"Will you be alright if we leave now?  I'm anxious to get back to our logging site."

David snorted, "Don't worry, darlin', I'll make sure he makes it back in time for your wedding bed."

Ruthie felt her face flame.

"Stay out of it," Beau warned fiercely. 

Ignoring the remark and the remarker, she thought of a question and went over and asked something for Beau's ear alone.  Standing this close, she noticed he smelled of the woods.  "What do I do about...the outhouse?  Will he bolt if I let him outside?  Or does he use a chamber pot?"

Beau put his arm protectively around her as if to show his brother that she belonged to him.  But his was a gentle warmth.  "Maybe just watch for him to come straight back.  If he begins to wander,  grab his arm and ask him to tell you about the big bear he shot or the biggest  trout he caught or something like that and guide him back inside."

He was looking down as she looked up, and  it couldn't be denied that it was an intimate moment in a sense as if they truly were husband and wife taking leave of each other..  His hand slid down from her shoulders to around her waist, and he gave her a side hug.  "You'll do fine."  Then he slapped his hat back on and followed David out.  He poked his head back in and said, "Don't forget to latch the door.  We have the two bolt locks as well.  It at least slows him down if he gets it in his mind to escape."

She looked back at their grandfather.  He was sitting at the table running his fingers over the grooves he had just cut oblivious to what Beau was saying.

"I will.  And be careful," she added.

Beau looked surprised and smiled.  "It's been awhile since anyone has said that to me.  It's kind of nice.  I'll see you later, Mrs. Hofer."  He winked and was gone.

Ruthie went over and locked the door putting the heavy latch in place and using the metal deadbolt locks.  Then she went and opened the windows to try and get a cross breeze blowing in the stifling heat of the house.  Her home.

She wandered over to the kitchen area again looking in the cupboards.  She had no idea what to cook or how.  Their grandfather came up on her saying, "I'm hankering after some spoonbread to go with more of that ham.  You go out and gather the eggs and I'll get out the ingredients for our supper.  Well, lookie here, there's still some leftover beans in the pot on the stove. We can  have that first for our dinner while the other cooks for supper." 

Then the man grabbed her hands and felt her soft palms.  "Just as I thought.  You've just been a pampered little thing and probably haven't so much as stirred a wooden spoon, ain't so? 

Ruthie nodded wondering at his sudden awareness and alertness.

"Don't worry, little lady, I can teach you how to find your way around the kitchen."  He patted her as if in sympathy for a simpleton lacking basic skills.

"Thank you.  Do you want to come with me to the chicken pen?" Ruthie asked hopefully.

"Sure, I don't think David thought to feed them this morning."  He stood at the door looking confused.  "When did they add all these locks?  Are they worried about someone coming in or someone getting out?"

Ruthie was anxious about him escaping and stayed close to his heels once she unbolted the door.  He made a beeline to the chicken pen after grabbing the feed sack.  It caused a stir as the creatures fluttered a dance waiting for him to toss them grain.  Ruthie watched his every move trying to learn. 

"You get those nests and I'll get these," he said.  She watched how he slipped his hand under a hen and came out with an egg.  She braced herself to do the same.  The beady eyes watched her every move.  Just as she felt an egg in her grasp, the hen pecked her.  "Ouch!"  The egg dropped on the ground and broke.

Grandpa shouted with laughter causing the hens to squawk with feathers flying.  "You have to  sweet talk these ladies while you steal their eggs,"  then he proceeded to plop a fat hen in her arms.
She stroked her new feathered friend and decided to try again setting the hen back on her nest.

Ruth rubbed her hand then braved the next hen.  This time as she felt for eggs, she did talk to the hen who looked at her with its head cocked instead of attacking her with its sharp beak.  Finally the basket was full, and she followed him back to the house.   He put it down on the porch and pointed to the necessary.  "Be right back."

Ruthie gulped.  She followed him and waited hoping he wouldn't take off while she had her turn.  When he came out she asked, "Can you please take the eggs inside, Gramps?"

She heaved a sigh of relief when she saw him waiting on the porch when she came out with the slap of the door behind her, the one with the crescent carved in it.

Once inside, she quickly bolted the door.  Grandpa seemed nervous pacing around the room, cooking forgotten for now.  She washed the breakfast dishes left in the sink.  Next she sat at the table where a Bible lay.  "Would up like me to read some Scripture to you, Grandpa?"  Her grandparents had died either before she was born or when she was too young to remember.  It was the first time she had ever called anyone by that term.  It was going to take some getting used to before becoming comfortable saying it.

The man stopped and looked at her.  "What did you say your name was, missy?"

"Ruthie," she swallowed hard.  "Ruthie Hofer.  I'm married to Beau."

He beamed showing all his missing teeth, saying, "He's a lucky fella, alright.  You are a pretty little thing.  Sure, read me some of that Good Book."

The day was actually pleasant.  When he got hungry, he remembered what he wanted to cook.  As long as she looked over his shoulder, she figured it was okay for him to fiddle in the kitchen.  It would certainly be better than anything she could cook.  She tried to memorize his every move.  It was just when he put something in the oven and forgot it, that she would check it frequently until she figured it was done.  He made biscuits, and cornbread and spoonbread cooking up a storm.

The spoonbread was a new treat for her, and she savored it warm from the pan.  By the time the men came home, quite a spread had been prepared.  Beau entered not able to hide a wide smile as he sniffed the air.  "Somebody's been busy," he said as Grandpa only winked at her and put a finger to his lips. 

After the dishes were done, David eased out the door smirking at his brother as he pointedly glanced her direction saying, "Have a good night, you two lovebirds."

Ruthie was glad he was leaving as he left her feeling uncomfortable.  It seemed he had his own cabin back in the woods apiece. 

"You figure he's going to town again," Grandpa said shaking his head.

"Don't know how I can stop him.  Problem is, he doesn't always show up to work the next morning with his hang-overs," Beau grumbled.  "If he comes around here instead, he can work in the barn and take care of the horses, I guess."

Ruthie grimaced.  As much as she loved horses, the barn was not a place she wanted to go.  She got more nervous as the night wore on.  Grandpa had a nap earlier on what she assumed was his bed portioned off by a quilt.  There was only one other bed in a small room behind a closed door. 

"So you two seemed to be doing alright, Gramps," Beau smiled. 

Grandpa hoarsely whispered, "Who did you say she was, and what's her name?"

"She's my wife, Gramps.  Her name is Ruthie Hofer."

"You don't say!"  Then he broke out into that now familiar grin. "Well, aren't you the lucky fella.  She's a pretty little thing alright."

"She is at that," Beau answered with his head down, but she saw his neck turning red. 

Ruthie was tired but didn't know what the arrangements were.  She was growing more and more nervous as she waited to find out. 

"I'll head up to the loft.  You can take that bed and I'll make one up for me up there," Beau finally stood up yawning.

"What?  Shouldn't you be sharing the sheets?" Grandpa was suddenly more alert than they both could have wished. 

"Time enough for that later, Gramps.  It's been a long day and starts over again early in the morning." 

Grandpa just shuffled off to his bed shaking his head muttering,  "It sure ain't how newlyweds behaved back in my day..."

Beau came up and said softly,  "I hope you are a light sleeper because sometimes in the night he tends to try to wander off.  That's why I put the bell on the door at night.  And, thanks for everything, Ruthie.  Seems you are fitting in just fine."

"Thanks.  Goodnight, Beau."  It was the first time she had said his name and his eyes seemed to soften."

Just like he said, Ruthie woke in the dark and could hear his grandfather pacing around the house.  Something heavy was on her feet.  She almost panicked before she finally realized it was just the dog.  She stayed on the edge of sleep waiting for the bell on the door to ring.  It didn't.  Finally she fell into a deep sleep just as the dawn was poking its head in the window.  She never heard Beau leave taking the dog with him, but the finally the sound of the bell woke her.  she grabbed her shawl and rushed out.  The door was left wide open.  Running out, Ruthie saw Gramps in the chicken pen gathering eggs.  She went out to help.

After setting the basket down in the kitchen, he took her hands and felt her soft palms tsk-ing.  "Don't feel like you've had to do many chores in your life little lady.  That's okay.  I can help."

Ruthie quickly went in her new room and slipped her same dress back on.  It would most likely be Sunday before they could go back to town and collect her trunk.

Gramps had begun carving off some salt pork to fry in the pan.  He proceeded to crack almost a dozen eggs into the grease when that was cooked.  "The boys will soon be here to eat.  They sure can pack it in," he laughed.  "Then we'll go out to the woods."

Ruthie went over and locked the door.  She'd already forgotten.  "Tell me about your favorite horse you've ever had, Gramps."  That sidetracked him while they ate and she did the dishes.  She put aside the extra scrambled eggs to eat for their mid-day meal. 

The dark had long kept them company before she heard Beau ride up.  Men's voices could be heard in the yard.  He was probably saying something to David who must have showed up to work after all.   Ruthie jumped up to unlock the door.  She surprised herself at how glad she was to see Beau when he came in.  He also seemed to reflect her gladness.  "How was your day, Mrs. Hofer?"  he asked with a tired smile.

"We got along just fine.  And you?"

"We're catching up on some of the slacking that happened while I was gone.  Any day that no one is hurt is a good day, like Gramps always says, huh, Gramps."

"He nodded.  You have to get out of the way of a falling tree, 'cause it sure 'nuf won't get out of your way."

Ruthie's eyes got big.  "Is it really dangerous, logging, I mean?"

"Anytime you work with nature, you have to respect it.  Mankind is small potatoes on her turf," Gramps said.

"We try to always be alert and work hard to avoid accidents.  But every once in a long while, something happens," Beau added.

"Oh."  Then she asked,   "Did David show up to work today?"

"He came wandering in mid-day.  If he wasn't my brother, I'd fire him.  He sets a bad example to the rest of the crew.  I warn them that if they ever pull anything like he does, they'll be fired at the first infraction.  It's too dangerous for someone on the crew to be nursing a hang-over, or worse, sipping on the bottle at work."

Gramps just shook his head.  "I don't know how two boys raised the same turned out so different."

Then he caught sight of her again.  "She sure is a pretty little thing, Beau.  Who did you say she was?"

"She's my wife, Gramps.  Her name is Ruthie."  Beau gave her a half-hearted smile. 

At bedtime she quietly spoke to him, "Perhaps you ought to wake me before you leave in the morning so I can lock the door after you.  After listening half the night to him wandering the cabin, I finally fell so sound asleep that I didn't wake up until he went out to gather the eggs."

Beau put his hand on her arm.  It's heat felt like it could leave an imprint upon her sleeve.  All he said was.  "You are probably right. You have no idea how grateful I am that you are here with him.  Well, goodnight, Ruthie."  Again, his eyes sought hers making sure they met.

She blinked her eyes to break his gaze.  "Goodnight, Beau."  Each went to their own beds.  As tired as she was, she lay there awhile feeling her babe move as swiftly as a fish that was there and then gone again hidden in the depths.

Beau, shook her awake before the dawn.  "Want to come lock the door after I leave?"  It was a moment before the shock of having a man by her bed wore off, and she remembered who he was.

"Yes, thanks,"  As soon as he stepped out, she jumped up and grabbed her shawl..  Ruthie was just in time to see him leaving shutting the door behind him.  It made her glad that Sunday was coming so that she would have Beau around to visit with instead of just his grandfather.  As sweet as the man was, it was hard to know if the old gentleman would be found living in the present or lost in the fog of the past.

Friday night, Beau was uneasy when he got home.  Gramps asked him, "You worried about
your brother, son?"

"He's getting worse, always saying surly things, disrespecting me in front of the men, and..." he looked over at her.  "Never mind."

Ruthie had the feeling that David had said something about her by the way Beau's jaw was clenched.  She knew from the sick feeling in her stomach that even though he was her brother-in-law, he was not to be trusted.  He gave her the willies. 

The next night, Beau had lugged in the copper tub into her room and filled it for her with warm water for a Saturday night bath.  "Gramps and I will have ours out in the barn in the morning before church."

Sunday they all slept in a little.  The dog woke her when it jumped down off her bed and padded off.  Ruthie's parents had never allowed her to have a pet.  She was becoming quite fond of this sweet hound. 

At breakfast, Beau caught her feeding the dog under the table and teased, "If you keep spoiling her like that, I won't be able to get her to leave you to go to the woods with me any more."  Then he got more serious.  "Maybe I should leave her with you for protection and help in case you need to search for..." and he nodded towards his gramps.

"Whatever you think," she said, rubbing the dog's soft ear between her fingers. 

Ruthie only had the dress she'd worn all week to put back on.  It would have to do until they brought her trunk home.  She tried to fix her hair as best she could. So many hair pins had been lost that she feared it would fall down before church was out.  All she could think about was what people would say when they found out that Beau had married her, especially since her condition was harder to hide. 

Once ready for church she was greeted with, "Ain't you a pretty little thing.  What'd you say your name was, darlin'?"

It only made her smile.  "Good morning, Gramps.  I'm Ruthie, Beau's wife."

"Ain't you the lucky fella," he said punching Beau in the arm.  It sloshed the coffee he was trying to drink.  "Yep," he said grinning back at Ruthie.  "I am."

"Beau, do you think it would be too forward of me to go to the manse first so I can change into a cleaner dress from my trunk before church?" 

He looked down at her and said, "You look fine to me, but if that's what you want, sure thing."  Then the rest of the ride to church in the buckboard was a quiet one with Ruthie smashed between the two men.

"Where'd you say we're going, Beau?" Gramps asked again.

"To church."

"Oh, that's right, it's the Sabbath."  Then he looked down at her and said, "What'd you say your name was little miss?"

"Ruthie.  I'm Beau's wife."

"It's been awhile since we had a little lady in our pew, Beau!"

"Yes, sir.  I can't hardly remember when Grandma was still with us."

"Now that was one fine woman," Gramps said as left them to wander memory lane.

It felt so good to wear a fresh dress, but Ruthie tried hard to hang her long shawl protectively over her stomach to cover her pregnancy.  It was enough of a shock for the parishioners to find them married, but the other would be unspeakable.  The hard, jealous looks of some of the young women were difficult enough.  It was obvious that Beau had more than one admirer among them--but why not?--and they weren't happy at all to find him no longer available.  Ruthie kept one hand tightly clinching her shawl around her middle, not letting go for a second even in the late summer heat. 

Nevertheless, she joined in with both men singing as she sat sandwiched in between them in the pew.  Beau had a pleasant voice that surprised her as he held the songbook for her.  It was as smooth and pretty as a brook bubbling over the river rocks.  Gramps, couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  However, that didn't deter him from singing gustily. 

After church, she stayed as close as a shadow to Beau holding onto his arm.  They greeted the pastor who said, "I'm sure glad you were able to come by the parsonage to pick up your wife's trunk." 

"Yes, thank you, pastor.  I was pleased to have something else to wear, that's a fact," she smiled at him.  Beau seemed surprised as if he had not noticed her wearing the same dress every day.  "Back home, I would have changed dresses at least twice a day, and now I've been wearing this one for days," she sighed.  "So yes, I'm really looking forward to having my trunk again."

"I guess I should have come in earlier, Ruthie.  Sorry about that," Beau said.  He rubbed his neck which had turned red.

The pastor chuckled then said in a conspiratorial whisper, "It might take you a little longer to catch on to a wife's perspective since the marriage landed so suddenly in your lap, so to speak.  But as my wife likes to say, 'It takes years to train a man.'"  He winked at Ruthie.

A few women tried to pull her away from the arm she was clutching to so tightly, but Ruthie was not about to let go of her protector.  "Nice to meet you," was all she would nod and say, then turned away to scan the line of wagons to find Gramps.

"Beau, he looks lost.  Look over there," she urged.  When she pointed, her shawl slipped revealing her belly where her dress was beginning to pull tightly.  She heard a gasp but ignored it as whispers began.  "I think we need to go now." 

He hurried her over, helped her climb into their wagon, then went to find his grandfather who was looking so confused while standing in the midst of all the wagons which were pulling out.

"Over here, Gramps.  Our wagon is over here.  Do you recognize our horse, Patch?"

The elderly gentleman seemed so relieved when Beau latched onto his arm.  "This way," Beau said gently. 

Ruthie tried not to look up, not wanting to catch anyone else's eye.  It might be best to stay home with Gramps for awhile, so as not to bring shame upon her husband for her condition. 

When they got home she suddenly realized, "Dinner!  I forgot to put on something for dinner.  I am so sorry!"

"Well, since Gramps made biscuits for breakfast, maybe we could have pancakes now, while a roast or ham is cooking for supper later," Beau suggested.

She felt sick to her stomach.  Gramps had not yet taught her how to make a roast or even how to make pancakes.  They had been living on biscuits and eggs and cornbread, ham and beans all week.  Beau would certainly know how inept she was at this wife thing now.  All she was good for was being a watchdog to his grandfather.

"I can make the pancakes while you choose what you want for us to cook for supper out of the smokehouse, Beau," Gramps said.

"Sure."  Then he whispered in her ear.  "Keep an eye on him while he cooks.  I worry about him around a fire."

"Of course," she answered relieved to have her job as just an overseer of what he was doing.  This time she would learn by observing how to make pancakes."

At least the simple meal was warm in their stomachs while the venison roast was filling the house with good smells.  But their meal was interrupted by a horse and rider outside. 

Beau looked out the window.  "It's Abe from the telegraph office.  I wonder what this is about?"
He opened the door before the man could knock.

"There's a telegram here for a Ruth Barlow."

Ruthie stood up so suddenly that her chair fell over backwards before she could catch it.  "That's me.  I mean, that was my name before I married Mr. Hofer here."  Her hands were shaking as she took it. Then she handed it to Beau, "You read it, please." 

"Your aunt passed on.  Her husband too.  Cholera.  It says the army will send her funds to your bank as next of kin when directed.  Condolences."

Ruthie couldn't believe her ears.  Aunt Delia was dead?  Her new husband also?  She had no idea how she had not contracted the deadly disease while it took the others' lives.  Was she still susceptible to coming down with it? What about her baby?  What about Beau and Gramps?  That thought brought tears to her eyes, not the shock of her aunt's death.

Beau stood with his arm around her.  She turned to him burying her face in his chest as sobs began.  Finally she looked up with tears in her eyes and choked out, "I don't want to give you and Gramps and my baby the sickness.  Can I still be contagious?"

He was hugging her as she clung to him.  "No, sweetheart.  We would have showed symptoms by now.  The Lord was good to us."  It shook him more than he thought possible the idea that the disease could have easily taken his new wife and the baby.  It made a constriction around his heart that squeezed painfully." 

"Can you send a reply to have it sent to my bank, please?"  Beau asked.  He paid the messenger who quickly left.  They followed the man out to his horse.

A thought suddenly made him have a sinking thought in the pit of his stomach.  "Will this mean...I mean, would this perhaps mean that you will leave now that you will be more than adequately provided for?"

Ruthie opened her mouth and could not find words to fill it.  She finally managed to strangle out, "Do you want me to go?  I thought I was your wife."

"NO!" Beau did not mean to yell.  "No, of course not.  I don't want you to go.  You are my wife and I am happy with our arrangement."  That wasn't what he wanted to say.  He wasn't satisfied with the arrangement at all and was sorry ever since he rode out of the church yard holding her close to him on his horse and had proposed such a flimsy business agreement.  He wanted to have a true marriage, not just have a nanny for his grandfather.  Swallowing hard, Beau bravely forcing his thoughts into words.

"It's just that, I hope with time you will want more than the arrangement we had made.  I just wasn't sure if you were happy with it, just watching over Gramps, or if you ever thought about being married more than just on a piece of paper."  He felt himself turning what he figured was about the same shade of red as her face had become. 

"I think in time, it will become evident that we care for one another, enough know..." she stammered. 

"I hope so.  You are a pretty little thing, as Gramps is fond of saying.  But I want you to know I think so too.  I have ever since I first laid eyes on you, the first time on the riverboat.  Why else do you think I was always hovering outside your room?"

"Really?" Her eyes grew so wide it was as if  the fringe of her dark lashes were a curtain opening to reveal her heart.

He grinned.  "I cannot lie, Mrs. Hofer."  He figured he was in for a pound as much as a penny, so he leaned in and kissed her with a bare brush of lips.

Her eyes somehow grew even larger. 

For having just received a telegram about the demise of her relative, grinning like a fool was totally inappropriate.  But he couldn't help it.  When he had held her in his arms while she cried, it had made him never want to let her go.  The rest of the afternoon, she refused to look at him, only speaking to his grandfather.  So later when it was bedtime, he turned her around and gave her a little more of a kiss.  Was it just him, or had her knees actually almost buckled?

The next morning when he was leaving for work and went in to wake her as she had invited him to do, he stood there for too long studying her beauty while she slept.  Then he tried waking her with a kiss.  Her eyes fluttered open and her lips parted in surprise.  He couldn't resist and kissed her more thoroughly.  It couldn't be inappropriate, could it, since they were married?  Only if she refused him, which she didn't.  He was tempted to forget work and stay home like this and see how willing she would be. 

Suddenly she pushed him away.  "Aren't you supposed to be going to work?"  She scooted away from him on her bed.

"I'm the boss.  I could stay here awhile," he smiled with his eyebrows raised in a question.

"I think your crew needs you," she said pulling her quilt up to her chin.

He sighed.  "I'll be home tonight."  He winked and left.  His blood was pumping so hard he felt that he needed to ride hard.  He hurried and saddled one of his draft horses while leading the other behind him.  Never had he looked so forward to coming home before.  He couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

But Ruthie chewed her lips nervously.  She didn't know if she was ready.  Sometimes when she closed her eyes, she could still feel her attacker overpowering her.  Beau wasn't her enemy.  She knew that.  His touch was gentle, not the fierce grip of the man she had been helpless to fight against.  Her husband smelled of the woods, nothing like the stench of the man who had caught her unawares that day months ago now.  Still, her stomach churned.  "Oh, Lord, help me!"

That night, when he came in, he tried to give her a kiss, but she turned away.  He stood there watching her move to sit before the fire, bending over to pet the hound totally ignoring him. Beau sighed.  He had to be more patient, but good gravy, did he have to be jealous of the dog?  If he thought it was hard before, now since he had a taste of her kisses, it was going to take all his self-control.  This crazy kind of being married was so much harder than he'd ever imagined.  He ran his hand threw his hair and went back outside to the barn. 

He cleaned the stalls, curried the horses and oiled the harnesses every night now only going in to fall exhausted into his bed.  He avoided looking at her, and she, him.  They hardly spoke.  Gramps looked confusedly between them.  One night he followed him out to the barn. 

"What's the matter between you two anyways?  You aren't acting like the man I raised you to be, son."

"It's the kind of man my wife wants me to be, Gramps.  Out of sight, out of mind," he grumbled.

"That's ridiculous.  Unless you committed a crime against women, there has to be  a way to win her over.  Have you ever thought about courting her?"

"I wish it was that simple.  Someone hurt her really badly one time, but I'm the one who's paying.  She wants nothing to do with me."

Gramps was in an usually lucid state.  "There has to be something you can do to earn her trust, son."

"I'd wager that her heart was crushed clear down to her soul so that only God can heal it.  Just pray for her, Gramps."  Beau's jaws were so tightly clinched he might be spitting out his teeth soon. 

"Nothing's impossible with God.  She's a pretty little thing.  What did you say her name was?"

He'd lost him once again.  "Her name is Ruthie, Gramps."  Then he spit out the word in disgust, "My wife. "

"You're a lucky man, son.  Don't forget it."  He watched his grandfather return to the warmth of the cabin.

Ruthie felt horrible for driving her husband out of his home every night.  It was getting much colder, and it wasn't fair to him.  It wasn't what she had hoped.  Nevertheless, it was her own doing by making it plain that she didn't want a more intimate kind of relationship.  Fortunately, her baby was more active now swelling her belly helping her feel not so alone.  But soon, she would no longer fit into any of her clothes.  While Beau was out in the barn, she kept her hand on her stomach feeling her baby kicking.  Would Beau resent being her child's father? 

After another week of straining in her clothes, Ruthie stopped him as he stood on the threshold after supper on his way to the barn. 

"Beau?" He looked up.  It was the first time they had looked at each other in over a month.  She felt so ashamed.  "I hate to say anything, but I have to confess that not only did I not know how to cook, but I don't know how to sew either.  I'm afraid, I have outgrown my dresses."

His eyes dropped to her stomach and his eyebrows furled in consternation.  "I didn't realize...I mean, I'm sorry that I wasn't paying attention..."

"It's not your fault.  It's mine.  I'd like to try to be more attentive to you as well, Beau," she whispered.  I just have to take it slowly.  I guess I got scared, you know, when you..." she cleared her throat.  Your gramps and I would like to have more of your company though."

"No, I pressured you too much is all.  I'm sorry.  I'll try to be more patient," he said.  "As far as clothes, I don't know if they have any ready made dresses for your condition or not.  I can ask the pastor's wife when I go into church tomorrow though.  She'll know.  I guess that means you haven't been able to prepare any little things for the baby either.  How much longer do you have?"  He rubbed the back of his neck.  This wasn't a conversation he had anticipated having. 

"Maybe she'd be willing to come out sometime to teach me how to do the simplest things like hem diapers or something.  It's embarrassing to admit how few things I know how to do.  It makes me feel worthless.  My boarding school education certainly did not prepare me to live this  life or how to be a mother."

"I'm sorry that I can't provide you with the kind of help you were used to," he blurted out almost in a sneer.

"No, that was not meant as a criticism of you, but of me.  High society is ridiculously out of touch with how most people live.   I'm ashamed of my upbringing."

"No, you shouldn't say that, Ruthie.  It was just the life you were born into."

"Well, I've been shown more care here than all those years in my parent's home, except maybe by my nanny.  She offered me the love my parents did not provide.  Anyway, if it wasn't for you and Gramps, I don't know where I would be."  She was wiping tears from her cheeks.  Ruthie wondered if being pregnant made her more emotional, because she felt on the fringe of a good cry most days.

"I guess I took it for granted the kind of loving home Gramps and Grandma gave to David and me after we lost our folks.  We were too little to remember our parents though."  Beau looked over at his grandfather who seemed to be following their conversation closely.  "Have I told you lately how much I appreciate you for taking us in, Gramps?  I can't imagine any better of a home to grow up in."

"Well, you were good boys.  How's your brother doing.  He doesn't stop by any more."

"He's not doing so well.  I've had to ask him to leave the job site a couple of times lately.  I think I'll have to let him go soon.  Maybe if he went to work for Uncle Frank, he'd straighten him out."

"A sawmill's not a safe place for a drunk either.  He'd like as not get his arm caught in the buzz saw.  But I wouldn't blame you if you sent him down the river.  This is still my property, last I checked, so I can kick him off of it if I want.  So you have my blessing, son.  Do what you have to do."  Gramps walked away shaking his head sadly muttering, "David, David, what have you come to?"

The next day while Beau went by himself to church, she found Gramps up in the loft.  Ruthie carefully climbed the ladder to check on him and found him sorting through things in a trunk under the eaves.

"Look here, missy!  I found some of David and Beau's baby clothes their ma made them.  Would you look at this little bitty quilt she made." He held up a small patchwork quilt.   "And what do you know, here's a cookbook.  I don't guess that I've looked in this trunk of their mother's ever before.  I just drug it up here and forgot about it.  Come see, missy.  Maybe you'll find a thing or two else you can use.  They're not doing a bit of good sitting here locked away up here in a trunk."

Ruthie's curiosity was pricked.  But as she gingerly climbed the rest of the way up the ladder, she gazed about catching her breath at the sight of what must be Beau's bed, just a pile of furs and a quilt.  She felt her heart crumble.  "Poor man.  What a terrible wife I am!" she whispered.

If that wasn't enough to make her cry, the stack of precious baby things did her in.  Their mother was so much better at being a mother than she'd ever be, that she felt thoroughly ashamed of herself.  The tears dripped down her cheeks."  Gramps was busy carrying the pile of baby things down the ladder not seeing her tears.  There wasn't much else, except their mother's family Bible, a hand mirror, and what must have been her wedding dress with a yellowed veil. 

Ruthie went over and placed the Bible on her husband's bed wiping her tears off with her sleeve.  In the dim light she saw where family names were written with birth dates, dates of death and of marriages.  She hoped Beau would someday think enough of their marriage to put her name beside his in this Bible.  She knelt by his bed and prayed, "Dear Father in heaven, I pray you will make me into the kind of helpmate my husband needs and a godly loving mother."  She swallowed hard and asked one more thing.  "Help me not to hold the father's sins upon this child I'm carrying but to give him or her all the love it deserves.  And help Beau love the child as well.  In Jesus name, Amen." 

Climbing down the ladder was proving to be a more difficult task than going up had been as her skirt kept getting in the way of stepping down the rungs.   She was half-way down when she felt her foot slipping off the rung.  Before she could cry out, a strong arm caught her and lifted her the rest of the way down.

"What do you think you are doing?  You have no business climbing up there in your condition!"  Beau must have just come home from church in time to catch her, thank the Lord, but he was angry.

"I'm sorry.  Gramps wanted to show me some things."

"Gramps?" Beau turned to his grandfather who was holding up a baby's nightshirt.

"Come see, Beau.  These are things that your mother made for you and your brother.  Somehow I remembered that these things might still be in that trunk under the eaves.  Sure enough, would you look at this pile!"

Beau was speechless.  "Are they still any good?"  He turned to her.  "Can you use these?"

"They look fine to me, Beau. Even more special because your mother made them.  Are you sure you won't mind if I use them for the baby?"

"Why would I mind?  The baby will need these and more."  He held a little plain bonnet.

"Well, you know, because the baby isn't yours."

He dropped the baby things to tip her face up so she had to look him in the eye.   Let's get one thing straight once and for all.  This will be my baby.  I have agreed to raise it as my own.  That's all there is to it.  Understood?"

He looked from her eyes to her lips and dropped his hand to glance away.  She put her hand to his face and stood on her tiptoes and placed a timid kiss on his lips.  "Thank you," she whispered blushing.

He about fell over the chair he'd been sitting on as his brows raised.  Then he smiled like he hadn't for months and saw her lips tipping up as well.   He caught up her hand and kissed her soft palm.

"What's this?" he teased.  "Are you getting calluses?" 

She laughed.  "I'm trying."  But then tears gathered in her lashes.  "There's so much more I need to learn though to be a good wife and mother."

He pulled her into his arms and said, "You are doing just fine.  You will be a great little mother.  The preacher's wife said she'd bring a couple of her most trusted friends to have a little sewing party Friday morning, if that's okay with you.  She promises that they are not gossips.  By then she's hoping to have rounded up some dresses more fitting for you condition as well."  He pulled away enough to look into her eyes.  "You have nothing to be ashamed of."

He stepped back leaving her to hug herself upon losing his warmth.

"Do I smell a roast cooking?"

She smiled.  "Gramps helped me make an apple pie too.  I'll put it in to bake after the roast is done.  And look!"  She held up a cookbook.  "Gramps found this in your mother's trunk.  I hope I can follow theses recipes to learn how to cook a few other things than he has shown me so far."

"You're a fast learner, Ruthie.  We haven't starved yet," he grinned.

He was being gracious after all the burnt offerings and hard lumps she'd put before him these past weeks.  "I think there's room for improvement, wouldn't you say?"

He teased back, "My lips are sealed in case I incriminate myself by saying the wrong thing."

But he pulled her onto his lap as they looked through the pile of baby items together.  As embarrassed as she was, Ruthie stayed and didn't jump up as her nerves tempted her to do.  She just kept telling herself, it's okay, we're married."  Besides, this was a very special moment handling the tiny things his mother had fashioned.  That night he did not go out to the barn at all.

Ruthie was so nervous about hosting the ladies Friday morning that she lost her breakfast.  Gramps kept asking, "Who did you say was coming over?" and "Why are they coming here?"

The cookies she had attempted by following the instructions in the recipe book were burnt on the bottom, but she scraped them off as best she could.  The ladies brought a light lunch with them that they all enjoyed after putting away their needles.  A small pile of diapers, was the result of their combined effort, not fancy, but necessary.

When she brought out the things  Gramps found in her husband's mother's trunk, they "oohed" and "ahhed," sincerely moved.  By the time they left, Ruthie felt like she had made friends.  No one asked her about when she was due or about the quick vows they had exchanged.  They indeed were good Christians extending grace to her. 

She went into her room after they left and tried on each of the three dresses they had loaned her.  Ruthie sighed.  It felt so much better not to be squeezed into her clothes.  She wore a calico with a pretty print.  Gramps noticed right away.  "Aren't you a pretty little thing," he said.  She conceded that if he had to keep repeating something, that it was as good a thing to say as any.  She shouldn't complain that the compliment was always ready on his lips.

But when Beau came home, he did not notice and stormed past her to stop in front of his grandfather.  "I had to do it, Gramps.  I had to fire David today and told him to pack up and leave.  I don't know if he'll go to Uncle Frank's or not.  I hope he has the decency to stop and tell you good-bye first, but I doubt he will.  He was pretty mad."

Gramps gripped the arms of his chair a little tighter before standing in front of  Beau.  "You did the right thing.  He'll never change as long as we coddle him.  Hopefully, he'll learn from some hard knocks and turn his life back around.  We can only pray and put him in God's hands now, son."

"You're right, Gramps.  I've felt responsible for him for so long, that it's hard to let go.  I keep second guessing what I've done, wondering if I could have done something different, but the fats hit the fire now.  He was pretty mad."

"I bet.  Did I ever tell you that I kicked your Uncle Frank out once and sent him packing?"  Beau stopped his pacing and turned to his grandfather.  "No, I thought I'd heard all your stories, but somehow you must have skipped that one."

"Well, it was so painful, that neither of us wanted to talk about it.  He had disrespected me for the last time, even had stolen some money from the company till. I caught him red-handed.  We pert near came to blows.  Instead, he joined up with a wagon train to Oregon.  He got as far as Fort Bridger before he decided to turn back around and come home, that is after he healed up from an Indian arrow he took in the shoulder.  Somehow, life back here suddenly looked better than before.  But that's why I enlisted and insisted that he stay home to keep the business going.  The army needed all those railroad ties we were putting out.  I tried to keep your dad home too, but the stubborn man ran off anyway.  I always wished it had been me, not him to die for the cause.  But God knows His own mind, not me.  I guess we'll weather this trouble with your brother somehow too."

"Thanks for telling me Gramps."  It was then he turned and noticed what his wife was wearing.  "Aren't you a pretty thing." He winked as he quoted his grandfather.  He grabbed her hand away from the sink and twirled her around.  "I bet this is a bit more comfortable than wearing your other dresses."

"You can't imagine," she sighed.

He threw back his head and laughed.  "No, you're right about that.  I can't imagine!"  They all joined in the merriment.  It was a wave of fresh air after the earlier conversation about David.

"Do you want to come to church with me tomorrow, Ruthie?"  He asked but didn't pressure her.

"I met some very nice women today, but I'm not sure I'm ready to meet the other prying eyes, if it's all the same to you.  Gramps can go with you, if he likes though."

"Sure.  I miss going to church," his grandfather admitted. 

"Sounds good."  The rest of the evening passed nicely, but it was as if one ear was listening for the sound of David's horse riding in to tell his grandfather goodbye. 

That night, Ruthie allowed a quick kiss goodnight.  She almost wished it was more remembering how good his arms had felt around her when she fell off the ladder, and when he had pulled her onto his lap as they looked at the baby items.  At least she was making a little bit of progress."

She almost went with them the next morning but chickened out at the last minute. 

"Keep the rifle with you and remember what I taught you about using it.  Maybe you should keep the dog inside with you as well," Beau warned when leaving.

"I'll be alright.  Don't worry," she smiled.  Tell my friends thank you again, especially the pastor's wife."

He stole a quick kiss before mounting up beside his grandfather.  They'd decided to ride in instead of taking the buckboard.  She stood there waving as they left.

It was too quiet.  Ruthie wasn't used to staying all by herself.  Every little sound was amplified.  Gramps had always been with her before.  She hurried and barred the door.  But as soon as she settled in with a pile of flannel diapers waiting to be hemmed, she hummed a hymn and relaxed pulling the needle in and out.  Her thoughts were on her baby wondering again what it was going to be like to be a mother. 

When the dog whined and scratched at the door, Ruthie let her out not bothering to lock it since the silly thing would want to be let right back in.  The hound had become quite happy to lie in front of the fire for most of the time these days.  When she heard the dog bark once, it was a different sound than usual, not like when it chased after a rabbit or something.  Ruthie laid aside her sewing and rose to go to look out the door, but it jerked open before she got there.  It was David.

"You just missed them.  They left to go to church a little while ago," she said nervously backing up away from him.  He reeked of liquor so much she almost wretched.

"I saw them leave. Didn't come to see them anyhow.  I came to see you and get my kiss before I left town.  My fool brother has stolen my right to be here, you know.  It ain't right getting Gramps on his side against me.  Besides, you can't fool me, even if you've fooled my brother with your innocence act.  You know how to kiss a fella good, I'd wager.  I'm not as gullible as Beau 'cause I know a girl doesn't get in your condition by accident.  You must have been fooling around with some guy back where you come from.  So I figured, I'd get me at least a taste before I left, figured my brother owed me at least that much..."

He had her backing up until she was caught up against the table.  Ruthie froze almost in a stupor of fear.  It was like it was a repeat of the attack she'd suffered in the barn.  But as he grabbed her face to kiss her, she suddenly turned into a wildcat, clawing, kicking, biting.  The dog ran in the house baying and latched onto David's leg trying to pull him off.  He kicked the hound across the room hard swearing and grabbed her hands, forcing her again against the table even harder.  She spat in his face.  He let go of one of her hands and slapped her.  Ruthie saw stars for a minute.  The dog returned attacking.  Neither of them heard the sound of the horses riding up.  Beau bolted across the room and punched his brother so hard he flew back landing on top of the poor dog who had not let go of his leg.  It was mayhem as Ruthie screamed, the dog growled lunging again and again as the brothers fought in a tangle of fists, arms and legs on the floor.

At the deafening sound of a rifle going off in the cabin, all else ceased.  Gramps stood there pointing it at David and growled in a threatening manner, "Get out of here, David, and don't show yer face again.  You're no longer welcome here.  If you do, I'll call the law on your worthless tail.  Now git!"

David stood up, blood dripping from his nose, and was limping from the dog bite,  He picked up his hat slapping it against his leg.  He glared angrily at her and stomped out.  She felt a curtain of blackness closing in on her sight.  She was going to faint, but Beau caught her. 

"Are you alright sweetheart?  Did he hurt you?"  He gazed over the side of her face where a hand print was already bruising.  He felt down her arms until he saw the bruises forming on her wrists.  Then he put his hand on her stomach.  "Are you okay?  Is our baby okay?"

She nodded too scared to cry.  " did you know to come back?"

"My horse threw a shoe.  I guess it was God's way of turning us back around," Beau said.

"I wish I could take a horse whip to that boy.." Gramps shuffled off disappearing behind his quilt.  They heard his bed creak.

Beau threw caution to the wind and began kissing her, first her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks, then finally her lips .  Tightening his hold,  he never wanted  to let her go.  He didn't quite know when it happened, but realized Ruthie was kissing him back.  He finally pulled away and ran his fingers gently down her face where the bruise was becoming darker by the minute.  "I am so sorry, sweetheart.  I knew David was going down the wrong path, but I never expected him to do anything like this."

She needed to keep her eyes glued to his, not wanting to see his brother's face when she closed her eyes.  "I think I'll be alright.  But, she gently touched his own bruises on his face from the fight with his brother.  "Looks like you're going to have quite the shiner," she said. Then fingering the buttons on his shirt, she asked, "Would you mind staying with me tonight in case I get scared?"

He picked her up and carried her into her room.  "Maybe you'd better lie down now.  You've had quite a shock."

When he gently laid her down, she grabbed his shirt.  Stay with me, Beau.  I need you."

"Let me go lock the front door and check on the dog and Gramps.  Then I'll be right back here to stay with you."  He paused at the door,  "Just wondering, why wasn't the front door locked?"

"The dog wanted out.  He must have heard David coming when I didn't.  I just figured she'd want to come right back in..."

He came back to kiss her forehead.  "I'm not blaming you.  None of this is your fault.  I never should have left you knowing David was as angry as he was.  I just never suspected..."

"It's not your fault either, Beau.  Don't go blaming yourself.  Just come back and hold me."

He was happy to comply, after checking on everything else including his grandfather who was sawing logs.  He even shut the bedroom door and stretched out beside his wife on the bed.

"Beau?" she whispered. 

"Yeah?" He was transfixed stroking her hair away from her face.

"I was thinking.  I don't want to be married, you know..."  She felt him stiffen beside her.  "I mean, not just on paper.  I want to belong to you like I'm supposed to and you to me.  I don't think I'm pleasing you or God even by letting fear hold me back."

"The last thing I want you to be is afraid of me, darling."  After that, there just wasn't too much to say.  She found she wasn't afraid of him at all.

In spite of the visual reminder from their bruises, the terrible incident was behind them.  Ruthie had never been so happy.  Beau couldn't wait to come home every night even arriving early enough to eat supper with them..  He loved holding her on his lap and letting her guide his hand to feel where the baby was kicking her.

"How much time before this one decides to join us?" He asked one evening.

"When the pastor's wife was here, I asked her to help me figure it out.  She said, the baby will come close to Christmas."

"That'll be quite the Christmas present, I'd say," Gramps laughed. 

He wasn't doing nearly as well since the incident.  It was like it had taken its toll on him.  It was as if the foot he kept in their world was slipping.  Ruthie had to watch him more closely than ever.  It seemed he was always trying to get out mumbling that he had to go find him.

"Who do you need to find, Gramps?" she asked one day. 

He stared at her with a far away look and said, "David.  I've lost David."

She had cried when she'd told Beau that night. 

"He had to go, Ruthie.   It had been weeks since he'd even come by to see Gramps as it was.  We lost him long before he left here on his horse.  I don't want to tell him, but my Uncle Frank wrote me that David had showed up at his place, but was too drunk for him to hire him on.  He doesn't know where he is now."

"I'm sorry, Beau.  I know you still love him.  He's your brother."

"And your parents are still your parents.  You still love them, but sometimes, distance is better."  Every time he thought about how they had abandoned their own daughter he got angry.  Then God would remind him that if it hadn't been for that, Ruthie wouldn't be his wife right now.

"Gramps tried to get out again today.  He'd just worked the last deadbolt free when I caught him and asked him to show me the rabbit pelt he was working to make a winter hat for our baby.  We need to leave the bell on the door all the time now.  It's too cold to lose him out in the woods."

They both were quiet remembering the last time they had lost him.  It had been a Sunday afternoon and they'd all laid down for a nap.  Ruthie seemed to need a nap more often now with her pregnancy.  But Gramps had gotten up and escaped while they were still sleeping.  They did not find him until just before dusk.  Fortunately, the hound started barking to let them know she'd found him.  He'd traveled at least a mile away from their cabin and was wet and cold.

Even though these were busy times in the woods, Beau tried to be home earlier than usual.  Ruthie knew he was worried he'd come home and find his grandfather lost out in the dark.  She would not allow herself to nap at all anymore.

One afternoon when Ruthie came out of the necessary, Gramps was gone.  She called and looked everywhere frantically, even up in the loft and in the barn.  Finally, she wrote Beau a quick note and told him which direction she'd gone to look and asked him to look in the other if they weren't back yet. Ruthie hoped he'd find him at David's old cabin like he'd found him once before, but she wasn't sure if she knew how to get there herself.

Out in the barn she heaved the saddle over the horses back, but felt a catch in her abdomen.  Ruthie took a deep breath, then continued to cinch the saddle and check the stirrups.  It was already so cold that she went back inside to grab a couple of blankets to tie behind the saddle.  A cold wind was kicking up.  She'd need the rifle too to signal if she found him.  "Come on girl.  Fetch Gramps," she called to the hound.

Ruthie followed the dog's meanderings and almost lost confidence in its ability to track, when she saw a button torn from his old Union Army jacket lying in the frosted mud.  She pulled her cloak around her more tightly.  It was like near freezing! 

"Go find him, girl!"  Her teeth were chattering, and so she kicked her horse to pick up the pace.  Just then she felt a trickle down her leg.  "What in the world?" she said out loud.  The wet only made made her legs that much colder.  She ignored it, but wondered if this had anything to do with her pregnancy.  She knew next to nothing about what to expect with a birthing without her mother here to tell her.  She'd been too embarrassed to ask the preacher's wife.

But as she shivered and searched for more sign that Gramps had passed this way, a pain grabbed her worse than the dull back ache she'd had all day.  This was lower down where she'd once heard that birth pains were felt.  They were turning into such vice-like grips that Ruthie didn't know how much longer she could stay in the saddle.  She had to find shelter. 

She yelled, "Go home dog!"  Now of all times, she wondered why they had never named the hound.  But the dog refused to go back and Ruthie feared she didn't know the way back herself.  So she groaned and bent over in the saddle.  Just when she didn't think she could go on any longer, the dog gave a burst of barks then took off.

Ruthie kicked her horse to follow barely holding on.  Tears were freezing on her cheeks.  She was so cold that she wished she could untie a blanket from behind her, but knew she'd never be able to hold on to it and the horse too.  Finally, the dog was leaping up barking happily.  There was Gramps standing in a small meadow in front of a crude animal shed made of small logs.  It looked like the wind could blow it over, but Ruthie didn't care.

"Gramps!"  But then she screamed in a wilder way.  When the worst pain yet subsided, she handed him the rifle and said, "Shoot this in the air to let Beau know that we found you." 

"Why, are you lost, missy?"

"Yes, I aMM!" It hadn't been a minute before another agonizing pain had hit her.  "Gramps,  I'm going to have my baby.  Here.  By myself.  With you.  Oh, God, help me, PLEASE!"  She half slid, half fell off the horse.  He helped her to walk slumped over to collapse on a pile of musty hay.
"Can you untie those blankets and bring them in here?"

"Don't worry, darlin', I delivered every one of my four children since there wasn't another woman in a twenty mile radius.  And that's not counting all the calves, foals, and lambs I've helped to birth.  Here, you lay on this one and pull this one up to warm you."

Worse than the pain was the panic Ruthie felt being out here with Gramps all alone.  Even if he knew what he was doing right now, she didn't know how long he'd be in his right senses to help her.  But soon, the pain carried her farther away from worry and more into a place all its own.

"I'm just going to build us a little fire so I can heat my knife to get it ready to help when the time comes," the old man said as he dug matches out of one pocket while fingering his knife in his belt.''

"What!  What are you doing?" she hollered more scared than she'd ever been in her life, and she'd been scared plenty already in her seventeen years.

"The knife has to be heated so it's clean to cut the umbilical cord after the baby is delivered.  Nothing to worry about little missy.   Besides, a fire would feel good about now.  Where's that man of yours?  I can't believe he let you ride out here all by yourself in your condition.  What was he thinking?  What were you thinking?"

Ruthie found herself growling worse than the hound had in its fight against David.  Grhh.  She didn't want to think about him right now.

"Gramps.  Shoot the gun again.  Maybe Beau will hear it this time."

"Let me feed the fire a little more.  Good, the wind's blowing it away from the barn, so hopefully no sparks will catch it on fire."

"What!  Oh Lord help me!"

The birth pains had been unrelenting the last long while, but it was changing and she felt the need to push.  "Gramps.  It's coming.  I have to push!"

"Good, good.  You are doing good darlin'.  Don't mind me, but I need to see how it's looking down there."

At this point she would dance naked before the Ark of the Covenant with King David and she wouldn't care as long as she could get this over with.  Forget modesty!

"That's right, wait now, wait.  The next time you feel the urge, take a deep breath and hold it while you push for all your worth.  Then a quick breath and do it again until the need stops for a moment.  Then do it all again.  Ready?  Here we go..." 

She hung on his every word, concentrating on pushing.  A few gasps, then she began again. 

"I see the head.  It won't be long now, sugar.  You're almost there.  Okay, get ready and push.  Don't stop.  Keep pushing, there!" 

Ruthie felt the release as Gramps handed up the baby to place on her chest after the infant gave  a lusty cry.  She didn't even notice his knife as he cut the cord.  Her eyes were full of the baby in her arms.

"Best get that baby next to your skin, darlin.'  I'm  going to rip your slip so we can swaddle her in something.  There, get that dress unbuttoned and put her next to you where you can nurse her."


"Sure, didn't you notice?  You got yourself a fine baby girl.   What did you say her name was, missy?  She sure is a pretty little thing."

"Gramps!  Ruthie!"  Beau rode up and jumped off his horse to run into their shelter only to take a giant step back.  "What on earth?"

"Congratulations, you've got a wee bitty girl, Beau.  Your wife did jest fine, fine indeed."

"Out here?  Why are you both out here instead of at home?  I've been searching everywhere for you, but heard the rifle and saw the smoke from your fire just now and...a girl?"

The moon slipped out from behind a cloud and the frost everywhere glistened like snow.  His wife was lying on a blanket in a mound of hay with a tiny thing nestled against her breast.  Beau crept up, knelt down and looked with wonder at their infant, then into his wife's eyes.  She couldn't have found more favor in his eyes with this gift of a child than if he had been given all the gold in the world, he thought as he breathed a prayer thanking God for this new life and his wife.

Gramps threw back his head and laughed.  "Merry Christmas, you two!  A babe has once again been born in a stable on Christmas Eve.  I guess we just needed a special reminder of how we've found grace in His eyes."

And so, her name was Grace,  Grace Noelle.





No comments:

Post a Comment