Summary: Sometimes, it’s the littlest things in the smallest places that make the biggest impact. To young Adam Cartwright, Galesburg, Ill. is just another stop on the long journey West, but this time his life will be changed forever.
Rating: K (Word count: 42,700)
A Stop Along the Way
Adam cringed as the wagon wheel jolted up from yet another rut in the long, winding road. His body ached and he shivered as he pulled the old afghan more tightly around him. He and his father, Ben Cartwright, had passed a sign and though he hadn’t had time to read it, Adam knew that the sign meant there was a town nearby. He’d waited expectantly as his father pulled up the horses to examine the sign. The small boy wanted nothing more than for his father to head into town where there was a chance of some real food and a soft bed. They’d been traveling without a glimpse of another human being for weeks, and Adam was weary of the dust and constant exposure to the elements. His father jumped down off the wagon and approached the sign, glancing occasionally in the direction Adam assumed the town to be in.
“Oh, it sure feels good to straighten up for a bit,” Ben said, stretching his hands above his head and giving his son a wink.
Adam looked at him through eyes that were dull, his cheeks felt hot, and his stomach was rumbling. “Pa, are we gonna stop here for a while? I sure would like to be able to straighten up for a bit too.”
Ben smiled though his son’s face and tone were serious. “Well, I think it would do us some good to rest up for a while. If I can find some work, I don’t know why we can’t stay in Galesburg.”
“Galesburg,” the boy repeated. “Is the ocean close by, Pa?”
Ben chuckled slightly as he climbed back up in the wagon. “No, Adam. You can rest assured there won’t be any gales in this town. Well, not the ocean kind anyway.”
Adam nodded and then rested his head against the back of the hard wooden seat. He tried not to flinch when his pa placed a cold hand against his cheeks.
“I’ll have to be sure and get you some medicine,” Ben said, clicking at the horses to get them moving.
Adam tried not to make a face at the mention of medicine. What he really wanted was some food. Something hot and filling. They had run out of beans three days ago, and the small game his pa managed to catch each day had made only a very thin soup, and now, even that was gone.
“Do you think we could maybe . . .” Adam hesitated watching his father’s face carefully. “Could we maybe get somethin’ to eat? My tummy’s rumbling something fierce.”
His pa’s eyes suddenly looked sad, and Adam turned away, sorry that he had asked, but he looked back in surprise when he felt his pa’s arm around his shoulders.
“I’ll get you something to eat, son. It may not be roast beef and apple pie, but it will fill you up, don’t you worry.”
For the first time all day, Adam gave his father a small smile. “Pie sure does sound good though, don’t it, Pa?”
“Doesn’t it,” Ben corrected.
Adam squinted up at his pa. “I was askin’ you.”
Ben gave his son’s shoulder a squeeze and laughed. “Yes, son, pie sounds good, but we’ll be thankful for whatever we can get, right?”
Adam nodded and then yawned. His eyelids were growing heavy and the next thing he knew, they were in the busy streets of a small town outside of a large building.
He sat up and took in a few of the small shops and buildings before his pa came around and talked to him.
“I want you to wait here for me,” Ben said. “I’m going to go inside and see if I can find out about some work.”
Adam watched as his father walked into the building and hoped he would be able to find a job. Normally, he would be wide-eyed and eager to get a look at a new place, but he was feeling achy and his throat hurt, so instead, he sat back and watched as people milled around on boardwalks busily going on about their day. No matter how many times they visited a town, Adam never got used to the sight of so many people all in one place.
He was almost asleep again when his pa came out, and Adam could tell by the pleased expression on his face that he had found work. He sat back once again when his pa told him he was going to see about getting some food, and watched as he crossed the street to a small mercantile. Adam could just barely see through the front glass window, but he caught sight of a tall blonde woman. When after several minutes his pa still wasn’t back, he started to grow worried. He was used to being left alone in the wagon and usually waited patiently, but his head was hot, his stomach was empty, and he wanted his pa.
He startled, a moment later, as a large man exited the building his pa had found a job in and the man staggered toward him. Adam’s heart started racing and he scooted to the other side of the wagon. His head was beginning to pound and he looked anxiously toward the store. What was taking Pa so long? Finally, he decided that he just couldn’t wait any longer and he climbed carefully out of the wagon. He looked up and down the street, watching for wagons before he crossed. In the last town they had been in, he’d seen a little dog get trampled by a couple of riders going to fast down the dusty streets, and the memory was still with him.
He was only a few feet from the store when he stopped and began fidgeting with his pockets. Pa had told him to wait in the wagon and he didn’t want to be in trouble. He was about to turn around and go back when he heard a soft, feminine voice. It sounded so pleasant and so soothing and his desire to meet the owner of the voice soon overruled his previous decision. He walked in and found his pa standing by the front door. His pa didn’t look too happy about his being out of the wagon, so he quickly explained that he wasn’t feeling well. Then he heard the voice again and turned toward a young woman. She was beautiful, with golden hair and large blue eyes, and her touch as she felt his forehead was soft and gentle.
“She’s just like an angel,” he thought.
The woman told his pa that he didn’t seem to be too sick and Adam instantly felt a little better. He wrinkled his nose slightly when she offered his pa some medicine, but he was pretty sure she hadn’t seen him. In Adam’s experience, many of the people they had met along the way were often gruff and impatient with him. Adam could never understand why some people said bad things about their wagon or clothes. Sometimes he even heard people say things about his pa. He didn’t always understand all of what they said, but he knew that they didn’t seem to like him very much.
Adam’s thoughts were interrupted as his pa led him out the door and across the street. He winced slightly as his pa lifted him into the wagon.
“Adam, I’m going to talk to a lady about a place to stay,” Ben said. “I want you to stay in the wagon this time, understand?”
Adam watched his pa until he lost sight of him around a corner and then pulled his afghan over his knees. A moment later, his attention was drawn to the sound of children playing, and he looked on as a group of children exited a small church at the end of the street. There were two boys about his size and he watched as one picked up a pinecone, turned to the other boy, and then held a finger to his lips. The two small boys ducked behind a bush and waited for a young girl, her hair in two long braids down her back, to walk past, then they pelted her with pinecones from behind. The girl whirled around, dropping a book she’d been carrying, and ran at the two boys. Adam giggled as the boys took off, the girl hot on their heels.
With the children now gone, he started to grow sleepy again, and he found himself turning toward the mercantile. The pretty woman was outside sweeping in front of the store, and Adam watched her until his eyes closed, even then her beautiful smile and soft hands stayed with him in his dreams.
Adam didn’t wake up again until the next morning when the slight sounds of his pa getting ready for the day roused him. He started to sit up, but found that his head still ached and the bed he was in was warm and cozy, so he settled for rolling over and watching his pa move around quietly. Finally, Ben was ready and he approached his son’s bed.
“Adam,” he said reaching out to smooth the hair from his son’s forehead. He smiled when he saw that Adam was awake. “Are you feeling better this morning, son?”
Adam thought for a minute and then shook his head.
“Oh,” Ben said and his face grew serious. “Well, I have to go to work, but there’s a very nice lady that runs this boarding house. Her name is Mrs. Miller and she likes children.” Ben tried smiling again, but Adam’s face remained grave. “She’s promised to look in on you, and she’s going to bring you up some tea and something to eat a little later on.”
Adam noticed that his pa was fidgeting some, and he knew he should try and say something so his pa wouldn’t feel bad, but he hated being left alone, and maybe if he acted sick enough, or sad enough his pa would stay. His hopes were dashed, however, when his pa continued.
“Adam, I’m sorry to leave you when you’re not feeling good, but I have to go to work. I want you to stay in bed today. I’ll try my very best to come back so that we can have lunch together, but you are not to leave this room without me. Do you understand?”
Adam nodded, trying bravely to hold back his tears. Ben reached out and gave Adam’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “You’re a brave boy,” he said. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Adam sniffed and his chin began to quiver, but it wasn’t until the door closed softly that he allowed his tears to fall. He cried himself to sleep, and the next time he woke up the sun was shining brightly into his room. He sat up and shivered a little. His throat was still scratchy but he was starting to feel hungry. He looked around the room, and smiled when he saw a tray sitting on a desk over in the corner. Slipping out of bed, he crossed the room, and was disappointed to see only a cup of tea and some dry toast on a small plate. Climbing up on the chair, he discovered a small crock with some sweet cream. He mixed it with the tea and once he dipped the toast, he found that it slid down his throat easily enough.
When he’d finished, he crossed over to the window. He frowned disapprovingly when he found that the window didn’t overlook the street. He figured their room must be in the back of the house as the view was of a thick growth of trees. He considered, for just a moment, getting dressed and exploring the woods, but his pa had not only told him to stay in the room, but also to stay in bed. Adam sighed as he trudged across the room and climbed back into his bed. He put his arms behind his head and spent the next few minutes pouting as he stared at the ceiling, but the pillow beneath his head was comfortable and warm and he found that he was still a little sleepy after all.
The shadows on the wall were fading fast when Adam finally opened his eyes. His head didn’t hurt at all, but his tummy was rumbling fiercely, and he quickly scrambled out of bed and rushed to the window. The sun was just starting to touch the tops of the trees and he realized with a sinking heart that it was long past lunchtime and his pa had not come back after all. He stood for a moment in his nightshirt that barely went to his knees, fighting against his tears when there was a light rap on the door. He quickly scrambled back to his bed, just in case it was his pa, and waited. He was surprised when the lady from the store poked her head in.
“Well, Adam, how are you feeling today? Is your throat getting better?” she asked.
He watched her curiously as she stepped inside the room and noticed that she was carrying a steaming bowl.
“My name is Inger, you remember me from yesterday? I came to visit Mrs. Miller and she told me your medicine was ready. I hope you don’t mind me bringing it to you.”
Inger gave him a warm smile and he found himself smiling in return, even if she was going to make him take medicine.
“No ma’am, I don’t mind,” he answered. “It was awful nice of you to give it to me.”
“Well, it’s my pleasure, young man” she answered. “I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”
She looked around the room and her eyes rested on a worn book near Adam’s bed. “Do you like books, Adam?” she asked as she spooned up some of her homemade concoction.
“Yes ma’am, I’m still learning how to say all the big words but, mostly, I can read real good now.” He paused and beamed proudly waiting for her reaction.
“I’m sure you’re a fine reader. You know I have many books over in the store; if you like I could bring some for you tomorrow. Sometimes a book can be good friend when you’re feeling lonely.”
“I sure would like that ma’am, but I’ll have to ask my pa first,” he answered excitedly.
“Of course, Adam, and if he does not object I will bring them over tomorrow afternoon. Now let’s get some of this medicine into you so you will be all better by then.” She started to hum as she spooned Adam’s medicine to him, and Adam cocked his head to the side, listening to her as a slow smile spread across his face.
“That’s pretty, ma’am. Your voice sounds real nice,” he admitted shyly.
“Do you like music?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am, me and Pa sing sometimes when we’re on the trail. Pa don’t sing much, but he knows lots of songs.” Adam paused for a moment and bit his lower lip. Her humming had reminded him of the music box stowed underneath his pa’s bed in a trunk.
“Pa says my mother used to sing,” he said as his eyes darted from Inger to the bed across the room. “And had a right pretty voice, too. He has a box that was my mothers. It plays music. I like to hear it, but he don’t play it much, it…it makes him kinda sad. Could you…Do you think you could maybe play it for me?” Adam squirmed uncomfortably a bit then looked up at Inger. She was looking at him tenderly.
“Of course, Adam. Where is it and I will play it for you?”
“It’s in that chest under the bed, ma’am.” He gestured toward the box as he answered.
Inger located the crate, carefully lifted the music box, and handed it to Adam. He hesitated for just a moment before he took the treasure from her, gently lifted the lid, and then sighed contentedly as the sweet melody began to fill the air. The young boy loved the music from this small box. He had only played it a few times because his pa didn’t want him touching it. Adam couldn’t understand why his father kept the box put away. He knew it was his mother’s, but his pa had never offered to play it for him. Adam grew nervous as he thought of his father and was just about to ask Inger to put the music box back when the door to his room flung open. Adam cringed and sank down into his blankets at the sight of his father’s angry face.
He was surprised when Inger stood up and immediately began to explain things. Ben pulled the music box away from her and shook it in Adam’s direction.
“You’re not to touch this, you hear?” he said, and Adam solemnly nodded his head. He was suddenly very glad for Inger’s presence. He knew if it weren’t for her his father would have had a lot more to say.
He continued to watch quietly as his father turned his angry countenance on Inger. It sounded to Adam like he was mad at her because she gave them medicine, but Inger didn’t get mad in return. In fact, she smiled and told his father that he should smile too so that he would look more handsome. Adam silently agreed with her. When his pa was angry he looked downright scary sometimes. His pa seemed a little confused and then Inger told him to come have dinner with her as soon as Adam fell asleep. Adam wanted to go too, but he knew better than to ask for anything right then. Inger left then and his father slowly turned toward him.
“She sure is a . . .” Adam began.
“I know, son,” his pa interrupted. “She’s a real nice lady.”
Adam finished his medicine and then his pa read to him from the Bible. He and his pa only had three books. The Bible, a reader for Adam, and a book that Adam had never been allowed to touch. He’d asked about it many times, but his father always answered that it was special and he wasn’t to touch it. Adam had only dared to do so one time when his father was busy working in a field one day. He’d carefully taken it out of the chest where the music box was kept and opened it up. The words were all too hard for him to read, so he had put it away quickly, but he wished his pa would change his mind and read it to him.
The next morning, Adam was again awakened by the sounds of his father preparing to leave.
“Pa, can I please go with you?” he asked sitting up quickly. “I’ll be real good, I promise.”
Ben sighed, and picking up his shoes, sat down on the edge of his son’s bed. “Adam, you can’t come with me. The place where I work doesn’t allow children and I have to work hard and fast all day.”
“Can I wait outside? You could park the wagon on the street and . . .”
Ben stopped Adam’s pleading by placing a hand on his head. “I’m sorry, son. You’re going to have to stay here. You’re still not fully recovered from being sick, and I don’t want you roaming around by yourself.”
Adam hung his head and his lower lip quivered. “Can I go out of the room if Mrs. Miller lets me?” he asked in one last desperate attempt.
“Only if she invites you. I don’t want you to ask her. She’s a busy woman and I don’t want her to have to worry about keeping an eye on you, understand?”
Adam nodded miserably. What he wanted was to throw himself at his father and beg him to stay, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. His father would still say no and then he would feel badly, too.
Ben stood up and pulled something out of his pocket. “Here, I got this for you yesterday,” he said, handing Adam a piece of chalk. I want you to practice your letters today and do some reading. When I get home tonight, we’ll go over it together.”
Adam held the piece of chalk carefully, it had been a while since he’d had any and he was excited to get started.
“Mrs. Miller will bring you some breakfast in a while. You remember what I said about asking her.”
“I will, Pa,” Adam replied and gave his father a wobbly smile before he headed out the door.
As the door closed, Adam gave a heavy sigh and set the chalk gently on the bedside table before rolling over and pulling the covers over his head. Once again, he allowed hot tears to fall as he went back to sleep. This time when Mrs. Miller came in with his tray, he woke up and poked a sleepy head out from under the covers.
“Good morning,” the woman said, giving him a warm smile.
Adam quickly sized her up and decided that he liked the short, plump woman. Her hair was curly and piled in a loose bun on top of her head. Her cheeks were rosy and her eyes seemed to sparkle with kindness.
“Your pa said that you’re feeling some better,” she said. “Perhaps you’d like to come down to the kitchen later and help me churn some butter?”
Adam couldn’t believe his ears, and he couldn’t stop a beaming smile from crossing his face. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
“All right then. I’ll be back to collect your tray in a little while. Can you get dressed by yourself?”
Adam’s face grew serious and he nodded solemnly. The woman chuckled and gave his cheek a little pat, then turned to leave.
Adam bounded out of bed and pulled his nightshirt off, then rummaged through their travel bag for his pants and shirt. He only had one of each, except for one set that his pa saved for special occasions. He put on his shirt and then struggled for a few minutes with the pants that were just a little too short and a little too tight, then he bounded over to the desk. Mrs. Miller had fixed him a more substantial breakfast this time and he gobbled down the eggs, toast, and piece of ham. He licked his lips and fingers and then, taking a quick look over his shoulder, picked up the plate and licked it clean as well. He discovered a small pitcher with fresh water and, pouring some into a small basin, he rinsed his hands and splashed some of the water onto his face.
He was all ready, but Mrs. Miller had said she would come get him so he made his bed and then, taking his book, he sat down and worked on the section he’d been practicing with his pa. He worked on the passage for quite a while but she still hadn’t come so he set it aside and, taking out his slate and the new chalk, he practiced his letters. He made sure to write small and hold the chalk carefully and when the slate was full, he wiped it off and started over. He worked diligently for a while, but it didn’t take long for him to become bored and since his father wasn’t there to scold him, he spent the next twenty minutes drawing pictures. Finally, the chalk got so short that he decided he’d better stop.
He paced around the room for a few minutes and then crossed over to the window. Standing on his tiptoes, he watched the birds and a few squirrels for a while, glancing over his shoulder at the door occasionally. He stepped away from the window when his legs began to ache and then he crossed to his father’s bed. An idea came to him and climbing up on the bigger bed he began to bounce. Slowly at first, not wanting to make too much noise, but soon he was bouncing so high he could almost touch the ceiling with the tips of his fingers. He got the idea to try and jump over to his bed and, taking a giant leap, he flew across the room. He didn’t quite make it and landed on his feet with a loud thud. He froze and looked toward the door, sure enough a moment later, he heard hurried footsteps in the hallway and his door flung open.
“Land sakes, are you all right, boy?” Mrs. Miller asked. “Did you fall?”
Adam hesitated for a moment and then slowly nodded his head.
“Poor, dear,” she said quickly crossing the room and stroking his head. “Are you all right?”
Adam ducked his head and his cheeks flushed slightly. He hadn’t exactly lied, but he knew he was pretty close to it. “I’m fine, ma’am, thank you,” he answered.
“Well, I was just coming up to get you. Do you still want to come help me in the kitchen?”
“Oh, yes,” Adam replied, wagging his head vigorously.
Mrs. Miller laughed and, taking the tray, she beckoned for Adam to follow her. This was the first time Adam had been outside of the small bedroom, and he looked up and down the long hallway. There were several other doors and he wondered if other people were staying here also. If there were, they were pretty quiet because he hadn’t heard a sound. There was a large room off to the right that was filled with cushioned chairs and what looked to be a piano. Adam couldn’t see past Mrs. Miller too well though and was soon ushered through a small door into a sizeable kitchen. Adam sniffed the air and was greeted with the scent of freshly baked bread and some kind of sweet spice. The kitchen was much warmer than his room and was filled everywhere he looked with good things to eat. He watched as Mrs. Miller went into the pantry and pulled out what looked to be a large wooden rocking horse.
“My husband made this for my children,” she said. “It’s full of cream, but I need somebody to rock it back and forth.”
A smile lit Adam’s face as he replied, “I’d be happy to, ma’am.”
Mrs. Miller grinned as she answered. “I thought you might.”
Adam spent the next half hour rocking back and forth on the horse, and watching as Mrs. Miller kept herself busy peeling vegetables and pounding bread dough. As she worked, she chattered happily, and it didn’t seem to bother her in the least whether Adam answered or not, but he liked the sound of her voice, even if he didn’t understand everything she was saying. Every once in a while, he would get to rocking too rough and Mrs. Miller would tell him kindly to “take it down to a trot.” After a while, Adam’s stomach began to growl and he stopped rocking to rub it.
“Well, I think it’s time for us two hard working folk to stop for some lunch, what do you think?”
Adam nodded in agreement and jumped down from his sloshy steed. He waited patiently as Mrs. Miller ladled some stew from a large pot on the back of the stove into bowls, and his dark eyes grew large when she placed the generous helping in front of him. It smelled so good and his mouth began to water as he took up a spoonful and blew away the steam. The stew was warm and filling and Mrs. Miller laughed when he scraped every last drop from his bowl. Getting up, the woman cut thick slices of bread and covered it with butter and jam. Adam decided right then and there that he would be perfectly happy if his pa decided they would live in this boarding house for the rest of their lives.
After the fine meal, despite his best intentions not to look sleepy, Adam yawned widely and rubbed at his eyes.
“Why don’t you go back upstairs and rest for a bit, dear.” Mrs. Miller said giving his little hand a pat.
Adam looked toward the kitchen door and turned back to her sadly. “Yes, ma’am,” he said almost in a whisper and slid down from his chair. He’d been having such a wonderful time with Mrs. Miller and the kitchen was so warm and cozy that he hated the idea of going back up to his stark room alone. Mrs. Miller must have sensed his hesitation because she stopped him.
“Adam,” she said. “I have a little cot in the pantry if you would rather lay down in there. It is a bit warmer.”
Adam looked up with eyes full of gratitude and nodded his head rapidly. He turned toward the pantry but then stopped and, running quickly over to the plump woman, he threw his little arms around her in a quick hug. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, then skipped into the pantry.
Adam curled up on the little cot and pulled the checkered blanket up over his ears. He could hear Mrs. Miller as she worked in the kitchen and the sound of her voice as she talked to herself slowly lulled him to sleep. It was also the sound of her voice that woke him a couple of hours later.
“Sweet heart,” she said softly, pushing his hair back from his eyes. “I have to go to the shop and I thought you might like to go with me.”
Adam sat up immediately, shivering for just a moment as his body worked to catch up with his mind. Mrs. Miller helped him to put on his shoes and a few minutes later, she and Adam made their way down the boardwalk, toward the small mercantile. About halfway there Adam heard the sound of children’s laughter coming from a nearby alley and he pulled back against Mrs. Miller’s hand to try and see.
“Come along, Adam. I can’t take too much time. I have to get supper in the oven.”
Adam had just managed to catch sight of the same two young boys he’d seen from the wagon on his first day. He wanted very much to go and join them, but he was grateful just to be out at all. Mrs. Miller let go of his hand when she reached the shop and Adam looked up at the sound of a merry bell jingling above the door as it was opened. He’d only stood in the entrance the first time he was here, but Mrs. Miller quickly charged across the room and Adam got a good look. To him the store seemed very large, stacked with boxes and big barrels. He noticed a few jars of candy over on a shelf and next to them a few toys. But the shelf above that is what caught his attention. It was a shelf full of books, and as Mrs. Miller browsed, he wandered over to get a better look. There was one in front that was very colorful, with a picture of a dog and a boy on the front cover. He wondered if it was a children’s story book. He and his pa had stayed with a couple on a farm once and the man had read his children a story from a book that was filled with nothing but stories written especially for little boys and girls. Adam had stood near the edge of the porch as the man read a story about a young girl and a wolf. He’d never gotten a chance to hear the ending though, because his father had found him a few moments later and he’d been in trouble for wandering off.
“Would you like to see it?” a soft voice asked from behind him.
Adam jumped and turned quickly. Inger was smiling at him as she reached past to take down the book.
“You may borrow it if you like,” she said.
Adam took the book and ran his hand gently over the smooth cover. The book was brand new and in his heart, he knew that his pa would not want him to take it. He was about to shake his head no when a thought occurred to him.
“Does it have a story about a girl and wolf in here?” he asked timidly.
“Why, yes,” Inger replied. “Have you heard these stories already? I have another in the back if you would rather take that one.”
“No, ma’am,” he answered. “I’ve only heard part of the wolf story, but none of the others. I would . . . I would really like to borrow it.”
“Of course,” Inger smiled.
As Adam took the book, he grinned. He couldn’t remember ever stopping in a place before that had so many nice people all living in one town. He remembered lots of places where there were mean people. People that had called he and his pa names. Sometimes they had thrown things, and once they had even been run out of town. But here was different. Here he had two women that were kind to him, and smiled at him, gave him good things to eat and books to read.
Inger turned her attention to Mrs. Miller then as the woman was ready to make her purchases, and a few moments later, Adam clung tightly to the book as they left the store. There was a breeze in the air and it felt cool and good against his face. As they walked, he heard a commotion across the street. His pa was in the alley behind the building where he worked, stacking some crates. Adam called out to him, but right then a buckboard rode down the street between them, drowning out the sound of his call. By the time it passed, his pa was gone, and even though he was with Mrs. Miller, he suddenly felt lonely.
He looked at the book in his arms and then up at the lady that was being so kind to him, and he decided he would give it all up to have his pa back again. Out on the trail, he and his pa were never separated, and most of the time he was able to stay nearby when his pa found work at some ranch or farm along the way, but never when they were in a town. Adam wished he hadn’t been feeling sick when they came across this one, otherwise he wouldn’t have encouraged his pa to stop here. He’d hardly seen his pa in two whole days and his missed him terribly.
When they got back to the boarding house, Mrs. Miller informed Adam that she was going to be very busy in the kitchen and suggested he take his book upstairs. She’d promised to come and get him when dinner was ready and so, while the book he carried was heavy, his heart was light as he made his way up the stairs. The room was a little cold so he quickly dove into his bed and pulled the blanket over his lap. Setting the book on top of the covers, he carefully opened to the first page. He nearly squealed with delight when his eyes fell upon a beautiful, illustrated picture. For the next hour, he turned each page carefully, stopping whenever he came to a picture and studying it intensely. He wasn’t even halfway through the book when he heard footsteps out in the hallway. He jerked his head up quickly and his heart began to race as he stuffed the book underneath the blanket. When Mrs. Miller walked in a moment later, he sighed with relief. He knew that his pa probably wouldn’t be mad at him, since Inger had offered to lend him the book, but he knew his father well enough to know that he would have to give it back, and he wasn’t ready to give it up just yet.
“Adam,” Mrs. Miller said. “I’ve got supper ready, and I thought you might like to eat in the kitchen with me instead of in the dining room with all the adults.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered as he hopped off the bed. “Isn’t my pa going to be here?”
“I’m afraid not, dear. You’re pa didn’t get in til late last night, and I’m sure that’s going to be his regular schedule.”
“What’s a regler shedull?” Adam asked.
Mrs. Miller laughed and cupped his chin with her hand. “It means he’ll be working late most of the time, lamb.”
Adam sighed. He’d been afraid of that.
“Don’t you fret now,” Mrs. Miller said as she led him down the hall. “I’ve fixed a real nice apple cobbler for desert, and afterwards you can finish churning that butter for me.”
Adam did his best to give the kind woman a smile, but suddenly he wasn’t feeling very hungry. He was aching to talk to his pa. They’d hardly said more than a few words to each other in the past couple of days, and Adam missed hearing the sound of his voice and the feeling of having his father’s arms wrapped around him as they sat in front of a campfire.
As Mrs. Miller put meat and potatoes on a plate for him, he let his mind wander back across the trails he and his father had traveled for so many years. They were a team, and Adam had never doubted the fact that his pa needed him just as much as he needed his pa. His pa always kept busy and he didn’t smile as much as Adam would have liked, but he always answered his questions, and he went out of his way to teach him things. Adam knew the names of more stars than he did birds and flowers, and he loved to sit and listen to his father read. Just about anything would do, from the Bible to an old copy of a newspaper from some town they passed through. His pa was also great at making up stories. Sometimes pa would start to tell a story of adventure on the high seas or of some small boy growing up on the cobble stone streets of Boston. Adam liked those stories best.
As Adam pushed the peas away from his potatoes, an idea came to him. He would try to learn as many of the stories in his new book as he could. That way, once they left, he would be able to tell his pa some stories for a change. Smiling to himself and feeling much better at the thought of his surprise, he quickly ate the rest of his dinner. The dessert was a special treat for him, and he took his time eating it, savoring each bite. He nearly forgot himself once, and picked up the bowl to lick it clean, but he caught sight of Mrs. Miller watching him and set it back down again with a sheepish grin.
With a satisfied belly, he climbed up on the rocking horse and began to rock it back and forth. He pretended that he was on a ship in the ocean during a storm and he was the captain. He got so caught up in his game that at one point, he fell off.
“Goodness, child, are you all right?” Mrs. Miller asked, scurrying over to him.
Adam giggled and looked up at her with rosy cheeks. “Guess I better keep it to a trot,” he answered, and Mrs. Miller laughed with him as she placed him back on the wooden steed.
Eventually, the sloshing sound stopped and Mrs. Miller said the butter was done churning. Adam jumped off and watched in fascination as she opened a little door on the side of the horse and scooped out the thick clumps of cream. She then added salt and put the butter into little molds.
“Well, Adam, all I have left is to tidy up and then I’m going to bed. I’m not as young as I used to be. It’s getting dark, so maybe you should head back upstairs. You’re pa should be back soon.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. He skipped his way to the kitchen door, but stopped and turned. “Thank you, ma’am, for letting me stay with you.”
“Oh, you,” Mrs. Miller said and waved her hands at him. “It was my pleasure, angel.”
Adam grinned and then bounded out the door and up the stairs. He burst into his room, eager to get started on his plan to learn as many stories as possible, and was glad to see that Mrs. Miller had lit a lantern for him. He quickly slipped out of his clothes and, rolling them into a ball, stuffed them in the travelling bag and pulled out his nightshirt. He slid it over his head and grunted when it got stuck across his bulging middle.
“Guess I ate too much,” he said to himself. He wondered if his pa would make enough money for him to get some new clothes. He hadn’t had a new nightshirt since his fourth birthday. A lady had traded his pa some repair work for her boy’s old clothes. Adam had worn through all the others long ago, and this nightshirt was now threadbare and too tight.
After he was satisfied that he was ready for bed, Adam slipped in between the sheets and pulled out his treasure. Opening it again to the first page, he spent a few minutes looking over the picture. Then, he turned to where he saw the number one at the top of a page full of words. He spent a good while wrestling with the words on the page. Most of them were unfamiliar to him and, except for a few of the little ones, he wasn’t able to make most of it out. He closed the book in frustration and, climbing down, he slid underneath the bed and pushed the book up against the far corner. He would have to start putting more effort into his reader so that he could understand the big words in his new book. He had just pulled himself out from under the bed and was patting his hair down when the door to their room opened.
“Pa,” he shouted happily and rushed across the room, grabbing his father’s leg.
“Shh,” Ben said. “We don’t want to wake the other borders.”
Adam’s face fell, but then his pa smiled and picked him up. Keeping his voice soft he asked. “And how is my big boy today?”
Adam beamed. “Just fine, Pa, I had a good day. Mrs. Miller let me come down to the kitchen. She asked me to,” Adam amended, “and I churned butter on a rocking horse and then we went to the store, and I saw the real nice lady.”
“Her name is Miss Inger, son,” Ben interrupted.
“Yes, Miss Inger,” Adam repeated, and for the next ten minutes he rattled on about his day while his pa changed out of his work clothes and got ready for bed.
Adam grew quiet when his pa laid down on the bed, then sliding off his own, he padded across the room.
“Pa,” he said quietly. “Are you asleep?”
“Yes, son,” his pa answered.
Adam slowly walked back to his bed and reluctantly climbed under the covers. His pa had hardly talked to him, he hadn’t read him a story, he hadn’t even turned off the lantern or said goodnight. Adam sat up and looked over at his father once more. His eyes were closed and he hadn’t moved. Tears rolled down the young boy’s cheeks as he lay down with his face to the wall. He wasn’t liking being in this town at all, and he decided that he would talk to his pa about leaving as soon as possible, even if his nightshirt was too short.
The next morning, Adam woke to the sound of birds singing and a slight breeze blowing his hair against his face. He rubbed his eyes and sat up slowly and saw that the window was open. Snapping his head toward his father’s bed, he jumped up when he found it empty. He fell back onto his bed, angry at the fact that he hadn’t even heard his pa leave that morning, and angry at his pa for not waking him to say goodbye.
He was debating whether or not to get dressed and go find his pa at work when the door to his room opened.
“Are you still asleep, boy?”
Adam sat up quickly, a broad smile on his face and then he ran into his father’s arms. “Pa, I thought you left.”
“I wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye, son. You know that.”
“Yeah,” Adam nodded and then clung to his father’s neck. “Are you leavin’ soon?”
Ben pulled the boy’s hands from around his neck and tossed him onto the bigger bed. “Nope,” he answered. “Today is Sunday and I have the whole day off. What do you think of that?”
“Really, Pa? What are we gonna do? Are we gonna go to church?”
“We certainly are, but first Mrs. Miller is getting together a big breakfast, so let’s get dressed.”
Adam quickly ran to his satchel and pulled out his special clothes. He spent a few minutes trying to smooth out the wrinkles and then started to change. It only took a few moments though before it became obvious that the clothes were not going to fit. Adam’s bony ankles were sticking out the bottom of the black pants he couldn’t button, and the shirt was twisted just under his arms with no hope of them fitting any further.
Ben turned and began laughing at the sight before him. “Well, son, I guess you’ll get to be a little more comfortable than the rest of us today.” Ben sighed as he helped Adam out of the clothes and then set them aside.
“It’s a good thing I found work when I did,” Ben said. “If I don’t get you some new clothes pretty soon, you’re going to have to walk around wrapped up in a blanket.”
Pa’s voice sounded so happy that Adam tried not to frown, but at this point he would much rather walk around in a blanket then have his pa go back to work.
“Pa, do you have to work again tomorrow?” he asked, his face solemn.
Ben turned and worked to hide a smile at his son’s forlorn expression. “Well, my goodness, such a long face for such a little fellow. I’ll tell you what,” he said picking Adam up and placing him on his knee. “Why don’t you and I just enjoy our day together and not waste any time worrying about tomorrow.” He chucked Adam under the chin and the boy giggled.
Adam looked all around him as they walked to church that morning. Pa had let him carry the Bible and he kept it tucked carefully under his arm. The day was already growing warm and Adam couldn’t wait for church to be over even if there were some things he liked about going. He loved to watch people and all the interesting things they did or the things they would say. He would store away all the unusual things he learned throughout the day and then he and his pa would talk over them. Adam had learned a long time ago that it was best to keep his questions to himself until his pa could answer them, as other people weren’t always appreciative of his comments.
As they approached the church steps, Ben picked the boy up to avoid him being knocked about by the crowd of people converging on the minister who was standing near the door. Adam looked the man over and decided that he didn’t look much like a minister. For one thing, he seemed much too young. Adam previous experiences with preachers had always been older men with gray hair and sometimes beards presiding over an old and many a time rundown establishment. These old men usually talked loudly and slowly and seemed to go on for ever and ever. This minister had brown hair and sparkling brown eyes and he smiled at each and every person that passed by him.
Adam watched as the minister reached out to shake his pa’s hand, and he gave a half smile when the young man ruffled his hair. Adam’s smile faded, however, when the minister told his pa about a special class for young children around the back.
“I know that sometimes it’s hard for these little ones to stay still,” the man said, giving Adam a wink.
Ben thanked the minister and then proceeded around the back of the building.
“Pa, do I have to go?” Adam asked.
Ben looked at Adam in surprise. “Don’t you want to?”
Adam shrugged and began to examine the small white button on the front of his shirt. “Well, some of the other kids . . . I mean . . . maybe they . . . “Adam’s voice faded and Ben pulled the boy’s hand away from his fiddling and looked him in the eye.
“Son, it doesn’t matter what a person looks like on the outside. We washed up, combed our hair, and made the clothes we have look as presentable as we could. Now, what’s important is that you hold your head up high, and be a good person.”
Adam nodded. He knew that already. His pa had told him many times, but he still couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious about the fact that he was wearing plain ordinary clothes, and worn ones at that. He didn’t say anything more to his pa though. He noticed the sad look that seemed to have come to pa’s eyes, and he wished he hadn’t said anything at all.
“Pa, you can put me down. I’ll go to the class.”
Ben set the boy down and waited as Adam made his way to where a small group of children were seating themselves on benches underneath a large willow tree. Adam stopped just before he reached the group and turned back to his pa and then, with a smile, he lifted his chin and sat down next a couple of boys sitting in the back row. The next time Adam turned around, his pa was gone, and he dropped his chin as he looked around. The two boys on his right were staring at him with curious green eyes. Eyes that, to Adam’s amazement, looked exactly alike. Adam couldn’t understand it, but the two boys seated next to him looked the same in every way. Their brown hair was combed neatly to the right side. The round faces, lightly freckled, even had a dimple on the same side when they smiled. Adam couldn’t help himself as he stared wide-eyed at the pair.
“My name’s Jericho,” the boy closest to him said. “This here is my brother Jacob. We’re twins.”
Adam blinked a couple of times as his head wagged back and forth between the two identical boys. “What’s twins?” he asked finally.
“It means we were born at the same time,” the other one answered. “Mostly. Jericho was born a little before me.”
“You both look the same,” Adam said, still baffled over what he was seeing.
“Yep, that’s the way it is with twins. We’re six. How old are you?” Jericho asked.
“I’m five. Was that your sister I saw you chasing the other day?” Adam asked.
“Nah, she’s not our sister,” Jacob answered. “Her name’s Hannah. We don’t like her. She tattles all the time.”
Adam couldn’t help but giggle a little bit. He thought it funny that they just spoke right out like that.
“Do you wanna go down to the creek with us after Sunday School?” Jericho invited.
Adam sucked in a breath. “I have to ask my pa,” he said excitedly, “but he’ll probably say yes.”
The twins gave him a smile and then all three boys turned their attention to the front. Adam was surprised and pleased to see Miss Inger approaching the class, followed by a young woman with long blonde hair that was tied back so it flowed loosely down past her shoulders. She had a nice face with big brown eyes and just a splash of freckles, like the twins sitting next to Adam.
“That’s our sister,” Jacob whispered, leaning over to Adam. “Her name is Bethany.”
Adam would have answered him but Miss Inger started talking then. She began the class by having all the students share their names since there were two new comers. Apparently a new family had recently moved to the area and Adam was pleased to know that he wasn’t the only one that was new, even if the other pupil was a quite a few years older than him and a girl to boot.
Miss Inger had everyone get quiet and then told them the story of a man that got swallowed by a great fish when he disobeyed God. Adam hardly moved a muscle as Miss Inger told the story. Her voice was light and animated and Adam hung on her every word. He’d heard his pa read this story out of the Bible before, but he’d never heard it explained the way Miss Inger did. When she told the story, it almost sounded like one of the made up stories his pa told from time to time. When the story was finished, Miss Inger told the children it was time to sing and she moved over so that Miss Bethany was in front of the class. Miss Bethany pulled out an instrument that Adam had never seen before. It was shaped sort of like the gourds he’d seen growing in gardens, only cut in half and it had a long neck with little brass knobs and six long strings that ran all the down the length of it. Adam watched in amazement as Miss Bethany placed her left hand on the neck and held down several strings, then strummed lightly across them with the fingers of her right hand. The sound was unlike any Adam had ever heard before, and he became so caught up in the sound of the music that he forgot to sing. Until Jericho elbowed him in the side, that is. Adam knew a few of the songs they sang and joined in shyly at first, but on the songs he didn’t know, he was content to just sit back and listen to the children sing as Miss Bethany played the strange instrument. Adam couldn’t wait for church to be over so that he could ask his pa about it.
In their years on the trail, he had seen many different types of instruments. Harmonicas, accordions, and even a piano once at a grand church in a large city they had stopped at about a year ago, but he’d never seen one quite like this before and the music stirred him as he listened. All too soon, class was over and the children quickly scattered. Adam’s two new friends beckoned him to go with them to the creek, but Adam hung back, partly to ask his pa’s permission, but mostly because he wanted to talk to Miss Inger. Jericho and Jacob gave him a shrug and then ran off to join some of the other children. Adam watched them go and then turned to ask Miss Inger about the instrument, but he was disappointed to see that she was gone.
“Adam,” Miss Bethany called. “The adults won’t be out for a little while yet. Most of the boys and girls like to play by the creek while they wait. Would you like to join them?”
Adam stood, a little unsure of himself for a moment. He wanted to join the other children, but getting his father’s permission to go somewhere had been ingrained in him for many years.
“It’s all right,” Bethany said, “I’ll go with you. I’m sure your father won’t mind, but if you’d rather not, then I suppose you could sit on the porch steps.”
Those words made Adam’s decision and he followed her down to the creek. It was bad enough trying to sit still inside when the preacher was talking let alone having to sit outside where he wouldn’t even be able to hear anything. The twins were delighted when he joined them and, after convincing Adam to take off his shoes, they spent the next ten minutes wading and splashing in the creek. Adam was suddenly very glad that he’d worn his old clothes after all. He knew his pa would never have allowed him to get his special ones wet.
After a few more minutes, Bethany called the children and told them it was time to get dried off and collect their things.
“Do you want to come home with us for lunch?” Jacob asked Adam as they sat, struggling to pull socks over their wet feet.
“Jacob,” Bethany exclaimed before Adam could answer. “You should ask permission before inviting guests over, and you know Peter already asked the Murphys over.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jacob said, and shrugged his shoulders as he looked at Adam. “Well, we could go over to your house for lunch then.”
Adam laughed as his new friend jumped up and quickly scooted out of his sister’s reach.
“I’m sorry, Adam,” Bethany said. “I guess my older brother and I need to work a little more on their manners.”
“My pa teaches me manners,” Adam said, feeling pleased with himself.
“That’s wonderful,” Bethany replied. “I’m so glad you have a pa to teach you those things. Jericho and Jacob don’t have a ma or pa, so they have to make due with me and my brother Peter trying to teach them.”
Adam’s face grew serious as he considered what Bethany had told him. He’d never known his mother, and the fact that these boys didn’t have one didn’t seem so unusual to him, but he had never even imagined not having a pa.
“Where’s your big brother?” he asked after a moment. Of all the questions floating around his mind, the simplest one is the one that emerged.
“Oh, you probably met him this morning. He’s the pastor. Everyone calls him Bro. Pete.”
Adam couldn’t keep his eyes from growing wide. He’d met many people during their travels, but never had he met a family quite like this one. No ma, no pa, two boys that were the same age and looked exactly alike. This town was full of interesting and kind people and he was beginning to like it, despite his earlier desires to leave.
Adam’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard his pa calling him and his face broke into a wide grin as he ran to his where his pa was standing.
Adam was delighted when, a few minutes later, he and his pa were headed over to the livery to saddle up their horse and go for a ride to a small lake just outside of town.
Ben let Adam guide the horse a good portion of the way, and Adam held the reins so tight his hands started to turn purple. He put all his powers of concentration toward guiding the older animal along a winding, sandy path. His tongue pushed against the side of his cheek as he concentrated and when his pa finally took the reins again, he fell back against him, exhausted. His pa laughed then and Adam reveled in the sound.
When they arrived at the lake, Ben lowered Adam to the ground and the small boy immediately ran to the water’s edge, then over to a large boulder that he quickly scrambled up. It was there that he saw something that caused his eyes to grow round. A short distance away, hanging from the bough of a large oak tree, was a wooden swing. Adam was delighted. He’d seen one, once before, when his pa had stopped in a small town to look for work. It had been over a year ago, and the last time he’d wandered off without permission. He’d watched from the seat of the wagon while three children took turns pushing each other high into the air, and he’d wanted to try it so badly. It had taken him a good deal of effort to climb out of the wagon with no assistance and he hadn’t even made it across the street yet, before his father came out of the store.
Adam shook his head back and forth, quickly erasing the rest of that particular memory and bounded back to his father’s side. “Pa, look. It’s a swing. Can I try it?”
“Well, I’ll be,” Ben answered. “You can try it,” he said and then reached out to grab Adam’s arm as the boy had already turned to run. “After we have lunch.”
Adam usually relished any opportunity to eat, especially when it was food his father hadn’t cooked, but this time he quickly wolfed down his ham sandwich and boiled eggs.
“Now, can I go,” he asked, and took off at the first nod of his pa’s head.
Adam wasted no time climbing up on the smooth flat board, but quickly found that swinging took a little more balance then he’d expected. It took him a couple of minutes to get himself situated and then he kicked and pulled on the thick rope, but to no avail.
He wouldn’t be deterred, however, and spent the next ten minutes struggling until he was almost to the point of tears. That was about the time his pa wandered over, and he stood next the huge trunk of the oak and leaned against it, folding his arms across his chest.
“Son, would you like me to show you how to do it?”
Adam frowned and looked down at his feet. He knew he was being stubborn, but he couldn’t help himself. He shook his head no, and then watched as his pa walked away shaking his head. With a renewed vengeance, he continued his vain efforts, and finally stopped as one of the tears pooling in his eyes splashed onto his pants. He sat there for a while and then looked up to see where his father was. His pa was sitting near the lake with his shoes off, peeling the leaves off a long rod. Adam bit his lip and then finally, with a loud sigh, he scooted off the swing and slowly walked over to his father.
He kept his head hung low as he approached. “Pa.”
Ben didn’t look up from his task as answered. “Yes.”
“Would you please show me how to swing?”
“Well, son, I’m afraid you’ve wasted a lot of time. Mrs. Miller is expecting us back in time for supper, so you’re going to have to decide. Would you rather swing or go fishing?”
Adam’s face fell and he swallowed hard. “I was being stubborn, huh, Pa?”
Ben reached out and pulled the boy down beside him. “Yes, you were, son. I’ve told you time and again, there is nothing wrong with asking for help.”
Adam remained silent as his father went back to preparing the fishing pole. He looked over at the swing and then out at the water, then scooted close to his pa’s side. “I guess I wanna go fishin’,” he said.
Ben smiled and handed him the pole to hold steady while he pulled some string from his pocket and tied it at the end. He then pulled out a small piece of folded paper where he kept fishhooks and a short while later, Adam was pulling a large bass from the water. The rest of the afternoon went swiftly and Adam forgot all about the swing, until they got up to leave. As his pa put the saddle back on the horse, Adam looked at it longingly.
“I’ll tell you what,” his pa said. “How about you and I come again next week and I’ll show you how to swing?”
Adam’s head swung up quickly to look at his pa. “Are we stayin’ that long?” he asked, fighting the panic that had suddenly overtaken him.
“Mr. McWhorter told me I could have the job for as long as I want it,” Ben answered. “And our wagon needs repair, you need new clothes—I could use a few things myself, we’ve got to stock up on our supplies, and I might even have enough left over for the two of us to get something special.”
“But, Pa, that will take a long time,” Adam said, losing the battle to keep the whine from his voice.
“Adam. The Good Lord has seen fit to give me a job when I needed one very much. Let’s try and be grateful, shall we?”
Adam knew that even though what his pa said sounded like a question, it was really an order, so he nodded miserably. His wonderful day was ruined with thoughts of spending tomorrow alone looming over him, and he was very quiet as they rode back into town. He helped his pa to brush down the horse and then, with fish in hand, they walked side by side toward the boarding house, but they both stopped at the sound of a feminine voice calling out.
“Oh, Mr. Cartwright,” Bethany called, hurrying up behind them. “I’m so glad I caught you. My name is Bethany. I assist Miss Inger in teaching the younger children during Sunday School.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Ben answered, tipping his hat.
“I’m also the local school teacher,” she continued. “There’s no school tomorrow and my little brothers were wondering if maybe Adam could spend the day with them tomorrow.”
Adam’s eyes lit up and he pulled on his father’s sleeve as he jumped up and down. Ben stilled him by placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Well, are you sure it won’t be any trouble? I . . .”
“Oh, no,” Bethany interrupted. “It seems my little brothers really took a shine to young Adam here, and he’s all they’ve talked about all day. You would really be doing me a favor.”
A few minutes later, it was a very different little boy that bounded into the kitchen of Mrs. Miller’s boarding house. Suddenly, staying in this town a few more weeks didn’t seem so bad after all.
Although studies were usually put away on Sundays, Adam’s pa went over his lessons with him. Adam had practiced and he was able to pass the page to his father’s satisfaction. Then, he took great delight in showing his pa how he could write out all the letters of the alphabet. Ben spent about a half hour going over some simple mathematical concepts. Adam was excited about learning to add and subtract and nearly busted a button when his father told him he was impressed with his work and that he was proud of him.
“Pa, do you think I could go to school with Jericho and Jacob on Tuesday?”
“I’m sorry, but we won’t be staying long enough to enroll you, and we don’t have any books or pencils for you. Besides, I think you’re still a little young for school.”
“Pa, I can be real still and quiet, and I could write with charcoal like we do on the trail.”
Ben smiled and ruffled his son’s hair. “And what happens when you get tired in the afternoon?” he asked, his voice low and teasing. “You’d probably fall right out of your chair, and lie snoring in the aisle.”
“Pa,” Adam said, not the least bit impressed with his father’s humor. “I would not.”
“Well, just the same. I think we better give your body a little more time to catch up with your mind. Now, instead of fretting about what you can’t have, why don’t you start looking forward to what you do have? Tomorrow, you get to spend the whole day with some new friends.”
Adam did smile then. “I’m glad, Pa. I don’t like being all alone when you go to work. Mrs. Miller was real nice to me, but she said she’s gonna be gone most of the time now, ‘cause she’s helpin’ some girl get married. Pa, how do you help a girl get married?”
“I think you mean she’s helping to plan a wedding, and there are a lot of things to do. Planning, and arranging, and sewing.”
Adam watched as his father’s voice faded, and his eyes took on that faraway look. “Pa, did you ever get married?”
Ben blinked in surprise as he stared at his son. “Of course, I did,” he answered. “I was married to your mother.”
“I thought so,” Adam replied, “but I wasn’t sure. Did you do a lot of planning, Pa?”
Ben pulled at his collar and, turning to his bed, began ferociously plumping up his pillow. “Adam, men don’t plan weddings. The women do . . . mostly. The men just . . . well, they attend, and they say their vows, and then . . . “
Adam waited until it became obvious his father wasn’t planning to finish. “And then what, Pa?”
“Well, and then . . . then the man and woman live together and the man works and the woman takes care of the house and . . . “
“But, Pa, why do people get married?”
“Because they love each other, and because they want to be with each other always . . .”
This time when his pa grew quiet, Adam did too. He didn’t know why, but suddenly his pa looked sad. Pa always looked sad when he asked about his mother, and for that reason, Adam didn’t often ask about her.
“Well, Pa . . .” Adam began.
“Ah, no more questions, young man, it’s time for you to go to sleep. Miss Bethany said she would come for you bright and early.”
Adam pushed his question to the back of his mind to pull out at another time, and changed into his nightshirt. He noticed his pa watching him as he struggled to pull the thin cotton shirt over his tummy, and Adam was glad when his pa chuckled. He decided to risk just one more question.
“Pa, will Miss Bethany be here before you leave?”
“No, I need to be at work before the sun is up.”
The corners of Adam’s mouth turned down as he climbed into bed. He’d had such a nice time with his pa that day, and he hated the idea of him going back to work. He rolled over on his side and looked forlornly across the room at his father. His pa smiled at him and, crossing the room, sat on the edge of Adam’s bed.
“Don’t go borrowing trouble from tomorrow, son. Just take one day at a time. I’m here right now, and I’ll read you a story if you like.”
Adam nodded, the sound of his father’s voice being just as soothing as the words that he spoke. It was to the gentle rhythm of that rich, deep voice rising and falling that Adam fell asleep.
Adam woke to a strange sound coming from outside, and he turned in his bed toward the window. It was dark outside, and he hadn’t heard his pa moving yet. Suddenly there was a bright flash and Adam sat up quickly as the sky put on a dazzling show of lights just outside his bedroom window. He glanced nervously toward his pa’s bed and noticed that it was much flatter than it should have been. He quickly climbed out of bed and ran to his father’s, but he was gone. Another bright flash, this time followed by the low rumbling of thunder had him diving under the covers on his father’s bed. He huddled fearfully underneath the blanket, only reaching out once to pull the pillow underneath with him. He’d always hated the thunder. The deep booming noise that sometimes cracked sharply scared him, and as much as he loved watching the brilliant colors and patterns of the lightening, it always gave him a nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach because he knew that thunder would be following soon after. Pa hated storms even more than Adam, but not for the same reasons. Adam knew that to his pa, a storm meant wind and rain, hard work, and many times, no fire to warm themselves or cook with at night. During those types of storms, they usually stayed underneath the wagon. His pa had told him it was safer and drier there. Adam decided it would work for a bed too, and in between the next flash and boom, he quickly dove under the bed, taking the blanket and pillow with him. He wished his pa was there, and he decided right then and there that he was going to try and convince his pa to leave this town as soon as he could.
Adam would have been quite content to stay under the bed all day if need be, but a short while later, someone opened the door to his room and a soft light spilled in from the hallway. He worried for a minute that it might be a ghost or a robber and so, huddled even deeper inside the blanket.
“Adam, are you here?” A soft voice called out, and Adam quickly scrambled out from under the bed and into the arms of Miss Inger.
“Oh, Adam, are you frightened?” she asked, holding him tightly.
Adam didn’t answer except to squeeze her even harder when another crashing sound pierced the air.
“All right,” Inger said, picking him up, blanket and all. “You will come with me.”
She said a few more things under her breath which Adam couldn’t hear, mostly because of the pounding rain and the loud crash of thunder. But after a very cold, wet, and noisy walk outside, Adam found himself inside the small store that Miss Inger owned. There was a small pot-bellied stove over in the corner that was spilling heat into the small mercantile. Inger set Adam down next to it, and he pulled the blanket tighter around him as she lit a couple of lanterns. Once the store was lit, Adam felt much better, even though the storm continued to rage outside. Dark clouds covered the sky, and Adam silently wondered if maybe it was still night time after all and all this was just a bad dream.
“Adam, Miss Bethany asked me to come and let you know that Jericho woke up this morning with a sore throat and a fever, so she didn’t think it would be a good idea for you to come and visit.”
Adam stood still, staring. He was glad he wasn’t alone anymore, but was feeling slightly embarrassed that he didn’t have any clothes.
“Are you warm enough now?” Inger asked him.
Adam nodded his head, but his chattering teeth gave him away. Inger went over to him and gently brushed the wet hair off his forehead.
“You need something to warm you up,” Inger said. “I suppose you haven’t had any breakfast yet?”
“You stay close to the stove and I’ll fix you up something.”
Inger turned to walk away when she suddenly stopped and spun around. “Oh goodness, Adam. We’ve forgotten your clothes.”
Adam blushed to the tips of his toes and looked down at the floor. He didn’t even look up when he heard Inger chuckle lightly and the swish of her skirt as she moved quickly about the room. When two high buttoned-top shoes stopped right in front of him, he finally looked up into the wonderful blue eyes of someone kind and compassionate.
“Why don’t you try these,” she asked, handing him a small bundle.
Adam reached for the clothes and his blanket dropped. He was suddenly extremely conscious of just how short and tight his nightshirt really was, and he quickly grabbed the blanket, pulling it up around him once again.
“I’ll uh . . . go and get your breakfast started while you change,” Inger said, and Adam waited anxiously for her to exit the room before allowing the blanket to fall once again. He slowly unwrapped the bundle and was delighted to see a soft red flannel shirt. It looked brand new and had shiny gold buttons that ran down the front, plus one on each cuff of the sleeves. He was a little puzzled with the next item of clothing. It looked like a pair of pants, but it had sort of a bib sewed onto the front of it and two long straps in the back. Adam had seen boys wearing such clothes once or twice before and he liked the idea of trying something new. Darting his eyes around the room, he saw that he was alone, but he took his clothes behind the stove just in case. He put on the shirt first and then grabbed the overalls. A few small, white articles fell onto the floor, and he felt himself turning red again when he realized she’d also provided him with a pair of drawers. Five minutes later, he was fully dressed with even new white socks peeking out from under the pants that were just a little too long. The new clothes felt good against his skin with nothing too tight or shabby, and when Inger walked in a few minutes later, carrying a tray full of hot steaming food, the young boy was all smiles.
“Well, don’t you look nice,” she said, seeing how proud the young boy looked.
“Thank you very much, ma’am,” he replied shyly. “I’ll be real careful and try not to get them dirty so you won’t have to wash them when I give them back.
Inger set the tray down on a small overturned wooden crate, and pulled up a small stool for Adam to sit on.
“Come and eat this while it is still warm,” she said waving Adam over. “Now that you’re dressed, I’m going to open up the store, although I don’t think there will be many customers on a day such as this.”
As if to emphasize her words, there was a bright flash of light followed by a loud crack of thunder. Adam stiffened and covered his ears with his hands. Inger was immediately at his side.
“There, there,” she said holding him close to her. “You mustn’t be afraid of the thunder. It can’t harm you.”
Adam relaxed slightly in her arms. She was soft and warm and with her beside him, he felt safe.
“Now, come on and eat your breakfast. I’ll just be right over behind the counter looking at the ledgers. You let me know if you need anything.”
Adam watched her as she crossed the room. She was wearing a full green skirt and a pretty white blouse. Her hair was pulled back in a loose bun and seemed to shimmer in the light of the lanterns. Adam thought she was one of the prettiest women he had ever seen. His tummy growled a moment later and he remembered the food that was in front of him. He was delighted to see a plate of scrambled eggs and there was also some toast, and a small tin cup with what looked like brown milk. He picked up the cup and sniffed at the contents. The cup was warm in his hands and the smell coming from it was sweet. He held it up to his mouth and poked just the tip of his tongue into it. The liquid was smooth and creamy and tasted like nothing he’d ever had before. He looked up when he heard Miss Inger laugh.
“It’s hot chocolate,” she said. “Do you like it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam replied vehemently and demonstrated his exuberance by downing the contents of the cup within seconds. Next, he scooped the eggs up into his toast and folded it over to eat like a sandwich. After he had cleaned his plate, he exhaled happily and picked up the tray.
“Where should I put this, ma’am?” he asked.
“I’ll take it,” Inger answered and crossing the room, took the tray.
Adam watched curiously as she took it into a small room off the side of the store. He stood by the open door and watched as she rinsed the dishes in a small sink. The room was small, but looked cozy and he wondered if this was where she lived. There was a bed in one corner and a small potbellied stove, counter, and sink. In the opposite corner there was a little round table and two wooden stools. A small braided rug decorated the floor and some soft blue curtains covered a window.
“Is this where you live?” Adam suddenly found himself asking.
“Oh no,” Inger answered. “My brother and I have a little house right next to the store. This room is where our workers sometimes sleep.”
“You have workers?”
“Well, we used to but that was before . . . before Papa died.”
“Your pa died?” Adam asked, feeling sad. He thought of his two new friends and wondered why so many people’s pas around here seemed to have died. He worried briefly about his own father.
“Adam,” Inger said, looking to him brightly. “I’ve just had a wonderful idea. How would like to be able to keep those new clothes?”
A smile instantly lit the boy’s face, but just as quickly it was extinguished. “I can’t do that, ma’am. My pa says we should always pay for things and . . .”
“And you shall,” she answered brightly. “Today would be a perfect day to organize the store and I could use your help. Then, you will have earned the clothes.”
“Is that the same as paying for ’em?” Adam asked, suddenly feeling hopeful.
Inger nodded and held out her hand. Adam accepted it and twenty minutes later, the two were surrounded by boxes, barrels, and crates as they pulled things off and away from the shelves. They carefully swept and dusted behind each item and then placed things back in a more organized fashion. As they worked, Inger talked to Adam, and he loved the sound of her voice.
Inger swept and mopped the floor and Adam wiped down the shelves. They worked together all morning. Adam had a ball sorting out buttons and ribbons, even candy and marbles. Inger had several large glass jars and allowed Adam to arrange things in rows by their color. Adam was just beginning to notice the gurgling in his stomach when Inger announced that it was time for a break and that they should make some lunch. Adam sighed happily and gave a satisfied smile. It had been a long time since his meals had been so hearty and so regular. He was very glad that he was able to get new clothes because with all the food he was eating, he was just sure he his own clothes weren’t going to fit for much longer. He followed Inger into the other room and sat quietly as he watched her cut thick slices of bread. Between them, she put a generous slice of ham and then set the sandwich on a plate. She put a handful of crackers and even a pickle on his plate and Adam dug in with the zeal of a mine worker coming off an eight hour shift.
“My, you have a good appetite,” Inger said with smile.
“Yes, ma’am. Pa says it’s important to take avanage of good food when I can.”
“Your pa is a wise man,” Inger answered.
After lunch, Adam started to feel sleepy, but he was determined to keep up his work. Inger must have sensed his exhaustion though, and suggested he take a minute to check over a few of the books she had on the shelves. She explained to Adam that he should check each page carefully to make sure there were no tears or bends. Adam made himself comfortable near the stove on top of his blanket and opened the first book in a pile Inger set next to him. Five minutes later, he was sound asleep and he never even noticed when Inger slipped the book from his hands or pulled the blanket up over his shoulders.
The next sound Adam heard was the front door of the shop slamming closed and he sat up quickly blinking the sleep from his eyes. A man stood near the door wearing a black slicker that was dripping water onto the floor.
“Well, Mr. McHorter, what can I do for you?” Inger asked, coming in from the back stock room.
McHorter’s gaze darted around the room and settled on the small boy with rosy cheeks wrapped in a blanket.
“Uh, I’ve come to see,” he started and his eyes kept flitting from Inger to Adam, “if you would do me the honor of allowing me to escort you on a picnic after church this Sunday?”
Adam watched Inger. If someone invited him on a picnic, he would be excited, but Inger did not look excited. In fact, Adam thought, she looked almost angry.
“I told you I didn’t think this Sunday would be good for me, Mr. McHorter. You shouldn’t have come out in this weather to ask me again.”
“Now, Inger. I figured you were just busy when you turned me down the other day. I’m giving you a chance to reconsider. I’ll have the hotel pack something extra special and we can even take a ride up into the hills if you’d like.”
Inger sighed and turned toward the counter. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. McHorter, but I’m afraid my answer is still no.”
“I don’t understand why you’re being so stubborn,” McHorter said, and something about his tone of voice caused Adam to look up in alarm.
Adam watched as the man strode toward Inger and, putting a hand on her shoulder, all but forced her to turn around. Inger gasped in surprise and Adam stood up quickly, watching wide-eyed as the man’s face grew serious.
“I’ve been patient,” he said. “But this playing hard to get is getting a little . . . well, frankly, old. Now, I’ll pick you up at one o’clock on Sunday afternoon.”
With that the man spun on his heels and headed for the door.
“Mr. McHorter,” Inger said, and Adam could tell now that she was truly angry. “I . . .”
But McHorter didn’t wait for her to answer and slammed the door behind him as he exited.
“Well,” Inger stated and, grabbing up the rag Adam had been using earlier, she began vigorously wiping down the counter. Moments later, she looked up and for the first time noticed the young boy still standing and watching her with concern in his eyes.
“Oh, Adam, I’m sorry we awakened you. Did you have a nice nap?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam answered crossing the room. “Miss Inger, did that man hurt you?”
“No, Adam, no, he didn’t hurt me. He just made me a little upset is all.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Well, he’s a man that likes to have things his way, and he doesn’t like to take no for an answer.”
Inger watched the little boy with his serious face who seemed to be mulling over her words. She laughed lightly then and all the strain evaporated from Adam’s face.
“Adam, will you be alright here for a little while? I should go check on Miss Bethany and I want to let your father know that you are here.”
Adam’s eyes darted to the large store front window behind Inger, and he couldn’t keep the worry out of his eyes.
“The thunder has stopped now,” Inger said, and crossing the room, she knelt in front of Adam and laid a hand on his slight shoulder. “I won’t go, if you you’re afraid,” she said.
Adam looked into her blue eyes and saw that she was sincere. His stomach twisted a little at her kind words. Words that he’d wished so many times before that his father would say.
“I’ll be just fine, ma’am. Thank you.”
“All right then,” Inger replied. “I won’t be too long and when I get back, you can help me get the bread ready to bake.”
Adam nodded and watched as Inger turned the sign from “open” to “closed”. She pulled on a wrap making sure to put it over her head before braving the rain. Adam’s smile faded as soon as the door was shut and he quickly sat down, wrapping himself in his blanket. He sat for a little while, listening to the hard rain as it continued to beat down on the roof. Inside, next to the warm stove, he was able to appreciate the torrent of rain. He thought back again to all the times when he and his pa had been out on the trail and they’d had to take shelter underneath their wagon. Sometimes, if the rain was real heavy, it would even flood underneath the wagon. During those times, his pa would pick him up and hold him in his lap. Adam would snuggle close trying to keep warm. Often times, the next day his pa’s nose would be red and he would begin sneezing and coughing. Adam had wished that he was able to keep him as warm and safe as his pa did for him. He’d told his pa that one time and Ben had assured him that he did his part by being still and brave.
After a little while Adam started to grow antsy and he decided to take a look around the little store. He really wanted to look some more at the book he’d started before he fell asleep. Miss Inger had chosen one with pictures of animals, and if Adam hadn’t been so tired, he could have spent hours looking at it. All the books had been replaced on the shelf though, and it was much too high for Adam to reach. He stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked around looking at all the different merchandise. There were all kinds of tools and a small barrel full of nails. Adam picked up a few, and spent several minutes pretending they were little swords and fought a duel until he accidently pricked the end of his finger. Tossing the nails back in the bucket, he sucked on the end of his finger until it stopped bleeding. He moved on to the bolts of fabric leaning up near the shelf that housed all the lace and thread. He ran his hands over the different bolts. One was a dark purple and when he touched it seemed as if it would melt between his fingers, like the snow did in the winter time. He brought the soft material up to his face and rubbed it against his cheek. When he grew tired of that, he turned again to the shelf full of books and looked up longingly. A sudden thought occurred to him and, running into the little room off the side of the store, he returned a moment later dragging one of the stools from the table across the floor. It was heavier than he figured and took him a while to get it over to the shelf. When he had it in place, he carefully climbed on top and stood up on the seat. His arm was just a little too short and he stood on his tip toes. Finally, after much stretching and grunting, his little hand closed over the edge of a book. He was just starting to pull it back when he realized too late that the shelf was a little wobbly. He let go of the book and grabbed for the teetering shelf, but not in time to stop the books from spilling over and crashing to the floor all around him. With a cry of alarm, he began to climb down and was halfway off the stool when the door to the shop opened. He looked up in horror as not only Miss Inger, but his pa as well, walked into the room.
“Adam, what in the world,” his pa said, crossing the room in a few long strides. He lifted the boy off the stool and, grabbing his shoulders, asked him again. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Adam couldn’t speak, his throat had suddenly gone dry and he struggled just to try and swallow. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he thought for sure they would spill over before Miss Inger interrupted.
“Oh, Ben. There’s no harm done,” she said, glancing at the books on the floor.
Ben turned from Adam and helped her to collect the books. After looking them over carefully it was confirmed that there had been no damage.
“I’m . . . I’m terribly sorry,” Ben said, then turned his dark eyes on his son.
Adam knew what was expected of him and he swallowed loudly as he stepped forward. “I’m sorry, Miss Inger. I was going to finish checking them for you, but I couldn’t reach. I didn’t know the shelf was wobbly.”
Adam couldn’t stop his tears from coming then, and he wiped a hand roughly across his cheek.
“It’s all right, Adam. I’ve been after my brother to fix that shelf for ages, and I know you didn’t mean any harm.”
“Just the same,” Ben interrupted. “You shouldn’t have been climbing up on that stool in the first place, young man.”
“Yes, sir,” Adam said, and wiped his eyes again.
“I appreciate you watching my son, Miss Borgstrom,” Ben said and then, taking Adam’s arm, he moved toward the door. It was then that he noticed for the first time the clothes his son was wearing. He looked to Inger in puzzlement.
“Oh,” she said, stepping forward. “I told Adam I would give him those clothes, in exchange for his working around the store.”
Ben opened his mouth to protest, but before he could begin, Inger held out a hand to stop him.
“I was wondering,” she continued, “if you would be willing to let Adam help me out regularly.”
Adam’s head shot up and his heart began racing. Here this woman should be angry with him for what he’d done, but instead she was asking if he could come again.
Again, Ben opened his mouth to speak, but Inger rushed on.
“Before you say no, I could use the help . . . and . . . and the company,” she admitted. “It gets lonely in the store sometimes, and I know Adam must be lonely up in that room.”
Adam could feel his father stiffen and he felt his heart sink.
“I mean,” Inger continued, “I have so many jobs that his little hands could do to make my load lighter. In exchange for his work, I would be happy to exchange goods from the store.”
Ben stood still for several minutes, and Adam dared to look up at his face. He was relieved to see that he didn’t look angry, but he didn’t look happy either.
“I . . . I don’t know,” Ben said finally. “I’ll have to think about it. I’ll let you know tomorrow, if you’re still willing then.”
“I will be,” Inger said and gave him a winning smile.
Ben tipped his hat and again started for the door, but Adam pulled back. “The blanket,” he said and quickly rushed across the room to collect it.”
Five minutes later, he and his father were up in there room at the boarding house and as Ben changed out of his wet clothes Adam stood next to his bed silently. Finally, Ben looked up and noticed the boy watching him nervously.
He gave him a warm smile and held out his hand to him. “Don’t worry, son, you’re not in any trouble, but I want you to remember this next time you’re tempted to do something like that again. There are some things that you need help with and it’s better to wait and ask for help, do you understand.”
Adam nodded, “Yes, sir. Pa, won’t you let me work for Miss Inger. She’s a real nice lady, and she’s got lots of work for me to do?”
“I don’t know, son,” his pa answered and then pulled off his shoes. “It seems to me that watching you would add extra work for her.”
“I promise I’ll be good Pa. I’ll ask for help if I need it, and I’ll work real hard.”
Ben stared at his young son for a while, and Adam held his breath as he waited.
“I’ll tell you what, son. I think I’m going to go back over to the store and talk to Miss Borgstrom. You wait here and when I get back, we’ll see about getting some dinner.”
“Okay, pa,” Adam replied.
Adam watched his father walk out the door, and he hoped that things would go well. He really liked Miss Inger and he hated staying alone. Besides, she had offered him clothes and other merchandise from the store. Adam was excited about the prospect of being able to help his pa. As much as he liked the people he had met here, he still couldn’t wait to leave. As long as he could remember, it had just been him and his pa and they were hardly ever separated. Here, he hardly ever saw him. Adam looked around the room and decided to go over his reader. His pa hadn’t had a chance to start the next page with him yet, but he thought he might be able to sound out a lot of the words on his own. He took his time looking at the letters and pronouncing each sound. He even tried putting some of the sounds together, but without his pa there to help him, most of the words didn’t seem to make any sense. He continually glanced up at the door, and as time passed he grew more and more anxious. After a while, he set the book aside and took out his small blackboard and piece of chalk. He didn’t have much left and as much as he knew he should use it to practice his letters, he couldn’t resist trying to draw one of the animals he’d seen in the book. He was pretty sure it was some kind of monkey. He’d seen one once when he and his pa were travelling. They had come across a small circus that had a loose wagon wheel. His pa had offered to help and while they worked, a nice man had led Adam around and showed him some of the marvels of their circus. Adam had been fascinated by a monkey named Chip and the man had allowed him to feed it some sliced apples and carrots. The men from the circus had been grateful and they had travelled in the same direction most of the day. Adam was sad when they finally parted ways, and he still remembered the way the little monkey had waved goodbye to him.
Adam’s face was screwed up in concentration a short while later when he heard footsteps in the hallway. He quickly began to erase his drawing and had just finished when his pa walked in.
“That’s my boy,” Pa said.
Adam smiled, although he knew that his pa wouldn’t be quite so pleased if he knew what Adam had been working on. He jumped down off the bed and ran to his pa.
“Did you talk to Miss Inger?” he asked.
Adam beamed when his father gave a laugh and hugged him. “I sure did, son.”
Ben grew quiet after that and Adam studied his face. His pa had a sort of faraway expression, but there was a smile on his face.
“Pa,” Adam said, bringing his father back from wherever his mind had been wandering.
“She’s a real nice lady, isn’t she?”
Ben laughed again. “She sure is son, and we’ve decided that Miss Inger will come pick you up in the morning and bring you to the store to help her.”
“Yippee,” Adam shouted. He was about to say more but his father’s hand over his mouth muffled his words.
“Adam, you need to keep your voice down. We don’t want to disturb our neighbors.”
Adam lowered his voice but his enthusiasm remained high. “Thanks, Pa.”
“I want you to do a good job, son, with whatever she asks you to do, and you had better be on your best behavior, you hear me?”
Adam nodded solemnly. “I will, Pa. I’ll work real hard and do everything she tells me.”
Ben took Adam’s chin and looked him square in the eye. “Of course you will,” he said but then smiled. “You’re a Cartwright, aren’t you?”
“All right, son. I think we have some time, before Mrs. Miller gets supper ready, to work on your lessons, and I picked up another piece of chalk while I was at the store.”
He held it out to Adam but then pulled it away when the boy reached for it.
“This one is only for lessons, young man. If you want to draw pictures, you can use up what’s left of the other one, but this one is only for practicing your letters and numbers.”
Adam blushed and wondered if maybe his pa had guessed at what he’d been drawing.
“Now, let me get a look at your new clothes,” Ben said, setting him on the ground.
“My shirts red, Pa, and see all the buttons?”
Adam held out his arms, shaking them to show off the buttons on the end of his sleeve.
For the next hour, father and son sat on the bed and worked on Adam’s reader, as well as some more with his numbers. Then, Ben took out the Bible and read to him for a while. Adam listened quietly for a bit and then realized that his pa was reading the exact story that he had learned about in Sunday school. That reminded him of his two new friends and he thought of them. He hoped that Jericho wasn’t real sick. Thinking of the twins made him remember school and how he wished he could go. He briefly thought about asking his pa, again, to be allowed to attend, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Once his pa said no, he rarely changed his mind, and when he did, he generally came to that decision on his own.
The young boy was startled back to the present by his father’s voice. “Yes, sir?”
“I was asking what you learned from what I’ve just read, but I see you haven’t been paying attention.”
Adam shrank under his father’s stern gaze. “Sorry, Pa, but this is the lesson I learned in Sunday school and it made me think of Miss Bethany. Jericho is sick.”
“Yes,” Ben answered. “Miss Inger told me. Well, since you already went over this lesson, we won’t do it again tonight, but I expect you to pay attention next time.”
“I will, Pa.”
Ben and Adam went down to dinner then and later that night, as Adam fell asleep, he smiled happily at the thought of where he would spend the next day.
Adam’s pa woke him up the next morning so that he would have time to get dressed and eat some breakfast before Miss Inger came to get him. Ben had arranged with Mrs. Miller for Adam to take a small lunch with him, since he wouldn’t be eating at the boarding house.
Adam was waiting with a lunch pail in hand when Miss Inger rapped on the door a short time later.
“I see you’re all ready,” she said. “Shall we go?”
The rest of the week passed quickly for Adam and he couldn’t remember ever having so much fun before. Miss Inger always had something interesting for him to do, and she let him look through books as much as he liked. She always closed the shop so that they could eat lunch together, and while Adam had his own, she almost always had some little treat for him. Besides not having to be alone during the day, Adam was starting to notice something else happening. His pa would come to pick him up at the end of each day, and each time he stayed just a little bit longer. He and Miss Inger would talk and laugh, and Adam would watch as a happy feeling came over him. He was beginning to wonder, he was beginning to dream, and he was beginning to feel happier than he had ever felt before.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear and Adam couldn’t wait to begin the day. His pa seemed just as anxious as Adam felt, but that didn’t cause him to move any faster. As a matter of fact, Adam was sure he had never seen his pa move more slowly. He’d paid Mrs. Miller ten cents to wash all their clothes, and he spent a lot of time smoothing out the wrinkles. The night before, he had made Adam take a bath and then he took one, too. Then, with scissors borrowed from Mrs. Miller, he had cut both of their hair. Adam watched impatiently as his pa spent a good deal of time in front of the small mirror over the dresser. He combed his hair back then to the side then pulled it all forward then back again. Finally, he seemed satisfied with the way it laid and then he shaved. He took his time going over every inch and corner. Adam normally liked watching his pa shave and he would move his mouth and pull faces in imitation of his father, but today he was anxious to get to church.
He hadn’t seen his new friends all week and not only that, after church he and his pa were going on another picnic. Only this time, his pa had invited Miss Inger to join them. Adam hadn’t been able to believe it when he’d heard his pa ask her. Never before had his pa ever invited a woman to do something with them, and Adam couldn’t be happier when she accepted the invitation.
“Pa, can we go now?” Adam asked, trying to keep the whine from his voice.
From the look his pa gave him, he realized that he probably hadn’t succeeded too well.
“Young man, we’ll go when I’m ready and you pushing me isn’t going to make me go any faster.”
Adam sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. He kicked his legs back and forth and then stopped, bringing his feet up so that he could admire his new shoes. Miss Inger had given him a pair of shoes on Friday in exchange for his help throughout the week, and Adam was as proud as a peacock. The new shoes had come just in time as his old ones were beginning to pinch him something awful. He’d been putting off telling his pa about it, and now he wouldn’t have to. His pa still kept his old clothes. He wanted to have them in case something happened to the ones Adam had now. Ben was ready to go just as Adam was beginning to grow anxious again, and the two left together.
As they approached the church yard, Adam heard a shout and looked up to see the twins waving him over to the creek. He started to run in their direction when his father’s hand grabbed his arm.
“Not so fast, Adam,” he said. “I don’t want you playing near the creek before church starts. You’ll have time afterwards for that.”
Adam frowned slightly but answered with a “yes, sir.” As he walked toward the benches around back, the two boys came running up to him.
“Don’t you want to play?” the one he was pretty sure was Jacob asked.
“My pa says I can’t until after church.”
Jericho shrugged. “Our brother said the same thing, but once the grownups get inside they don’t check.”
Adam looked at his friend in surprise for a moment, and then came to the conclusion that having a brother in charge of you must be different than having a pa.
“I better wait,” Adam answered and the two boys settled on either side of him.
“It’s too bad you couldn’t come over on Monday,” Jacob said. “Jericho was sick for three days. My brother had to be the teacher so Bethany could stay home with him.”
Adam gathered from the boys frown and tone of voice that that was not considered a good situation.
“Don’t you like your brother?” he asked.
“Oh, sure,” Jericho answered. “He’s just not as nice as Bethany, specially when he’s in charge at school. He’s real bossy and strict.”
Adam wasn’t sure what bossy meant, but he was familiar with the term strict. Still he would have loved the opportunity to go to school, even if the teacher wasn’t the nicest person in the world.
“Do you want to come over after church?” Jacob asked.
“Can’t,” Adam answered. “My pa and I are goin’ fishin’ and having a picnic at the lake.”
“Could we go with you?” Jericho asked, his eyes shining.
Adam thought that was a splendid idea, but before he could answer, Miss Bethany marched up behind them.
“Jericho, what have I told you about inviting yourself without asking me or your brother first?”
Jericho sighed loudly and asked. “Well, can I then?”
“No, you may not. In the first place, it would be up to Mr. Cartwright to invite you and in the second place, you know that we’re going over to the Anderson’s after church.”
Adam couldn’t help but giggle when both boys groaned loudly.
“Boys you better straighten up if you know what’s good for you. Just think what kind of example you’re setting for Adam here.”
The boys looked at Adam and he gave them a smile.
To Adam’s credit, he tried very hard to concentrate on the Sunday School lesson. It was actually one of his favorite stories about a man that was thrown into a den of hungry lions, but two things prevented him for catching more than a few phrases here and there, and both of those things were seated next to him. Adam had discovered shortly after the lesson started that his two young friends had come prepared to amuse themselves and had their pockets stuffed full of all kinds of wonderful trinkets. Things had started out slowly, with Jericho pulling out a handful of sour balls. He gave Adam and Jacob three each. Adam had started to put them in his pocket when he noticed that both boys had already popped theirs into the mouths. Looking toward Miss Inger, he decided that since he was in the back it would be safe to eat them. The candy was wonderful and he sucked on it for a good long while. He had just finished swallowing it when Jacob pulled some string out of his pocket. He gave some to the boys and for a little while they amused themselves by tying knots. Adam was a little fearful at first. His father had always taught him that church was a place where he needed to sit still and pay attention, but he figured surely if the pastor’s own brothers were allowed to amuse themselves that it would be okay for him too. When they grew bored with the string, Jacob took it back and then from his other pocket, he pulled a good sized frog. Adam’s eyes grew large when the boy very quietly set it on the bench in front of him—right next to Hannah. He sat ramrod straight, waiting for the frog to jump, but for the moment, the animal seemed content to merely sit on the bench. After a while, Adam began to wonder if it was actually listening to the story. Adam could sense Jacob growing antsy next to him and wasn’t surprised when the boy reached out and began to very discreetly flick at the frog. A moment later, he got the desired response and the frog jumped, but this frog, it turned out, had very long legs and instead of jumping just a little ahead, it jumped clear over the top of the head of a boy in front of Hannah and right into the lap of a cute little girl in pigtails. The young girl screamed, which caused the two girls on either side of her to scream as well, and within moments, chaos erupted. Adam was surprised when Miss Bethany was the one to finally grab the frog and march it down to the creek. With the frog gone, Miss Inger was able to quiet the girls, and the three boys in the back row sat so still after that that you would almost think they were three statues instead of boys.
Adam’s stomach twisted itself in knots when Miss Bethany, upon coming back, made him scoot over so that she could sit in between him and Jacob. Anything more the twins might have brought remained in their pockets and although there were no more disturbances, Adam was still so nervous that he couldn’t concentrate on the lesson. When the lesson was over Miss Inger called Miss Bethany to the front to lead them in some songs and Adam’s heart sank when instead of moving to the side, she stood and walked toward them.
“Come with me, please,” she said quietly, and all three boys stood up and followed her a little distance from the rest of the group.
“Whose frog was it?” she asked.
Adam and Jericho’s eyes automatically darted to Jacob, but neither boy would purposely give him away.
“All right, if you won’t answer me, then I shall talk to all three of you.”
Three sets of eyes were glued to the young woman’s face. “Sunday school is for children, not for frogs,” she said. “I hope that this is the last time I will need to remind you of this. Now go sit down, and I want to see each of you on your best behavior.”
By the time Adam got back to his seat, his heart was beating normally again. His only experience with getting a talking to had been from his father and he’d never gotten off so easy before. For some reason though, the thought of disappointing Miss Inger made him sit up straighter than if he’d just gotten through one of his father’s stern lectures. There were no more disturbances from the back row, and as soon as the class was dismissed, the boys took off for the creek. Adam copied the other boys and quickly tossed his shoes and socks aside, then rolling up his pant legs, the boys waded and splashed. Even with as much fun as he was having, Adam’s eyes kept darting toward the front door of the church. He was anxious to leave on their picnic. Mrs. Miller had promised him that she would fry up any fish he caught in a special batter and Adam couldn’t wait to get going. Finally, the doors opened and the adults came out. Adam ran to his shoes and plopped down on the grass to pull on his socks. He glanced up and noticed that his father was looking all around. He was about to call out when his father started walking toward the benches where his class was held. It seemed that he’d been looking for Miss Inger. Inger met Ben halfway and the two began to talk. For a minute, Adam grew worried that maybe she was telling his father about the disruption, but they both seemed to be smiling and by the time he had his shoes on, he could hear his pa laughing.
A while later, Adam sat on a large smooth rock a little ways down the shore from where his pa was talking to Miss Inger. Miss Inger had packed a lunch for them instead of Mrs. Miller and Adam was glad. He thoroughly enjoyed Mrs. Miller’s cooking, but the things Inger made were always so much better, especially her desserts. They had walked to the lake and since a lady was with them they hadn’t gone nearly as far as he and his pa had the week before. The whole way there, Inger and his pa talked and Adam listened, and by the time they got to the lake, he was starting to feel a little left out. Any resentment he had vanished a moment later, though, when Miss Inger noticed the swing that Adam had tried the week before.
“Adam, would you like to swing for a little while after we eat?” she asked. “I’ll push you if you like.”
Adam’s head bobbed up and down so fast that it took a minute for his vision to settle once he’d stopped. His pa laughed and then together, they spread a colorful blanket Miss Inger had brought on the ground. Adam ate quickly until he got to the dessert. That he took his time eating, but once they were done, Miss Inger took him to the swing and pushed him for quite a while. His father had watched them with a smile on his face until he finally came over and joined them. He came up behind Adam and gave him a mighty push. Adam squealed with delight as he flew so high in the air that he was sure he must be flying. His pa gave him two more pushes before stopping the swing, and then spent the next few minutes teaching him how to pump his legs back and forth to make it go by himself. Then, he and Inger left him to practice. Adam had a hard time at first, but after a while, he was able to make the swing go. It wasn’t until he heard a splash coming from out on the water that he remembered that he was supposed to be catching fish. He jumped off the swing and ran to where his pole was resting against a tree, grabbing it along with an empty can that his pa had brought along. He found a muddy spot near the bank where he dug for worms, and when he had five large fat, squirmy ones he decided it was enough and that’s when he’d settled himself on the rock. Ben had been teaching Adam about fishing and hunting since before he could talk and the young boy knew to be quiet and still so as not to scare the fish. His only movement was the occasional glance over his shoulder to check on his pa. Each time, he was glad to see that his pa looked happy. Adam had caught two fish before he started to get sleepy, and his head began to nod. He hadn’t realized that he’d fallen asleep until the sound of angry voices woke him up.
Adam stood up quickly, leaving his pole lying on the ground. It was a man Adam had never seen before. He looked a little bit like Miss Inger, with blonde hair and blue eyes but at the moment, those eyes were snapping fire and so were Inger’s, for that matter. It sounded like the man was mad because Miss Inger was with his pa and Adam frowned as he clenched his small fists at his side. The man continued to shout and point and make angry gestures until finally, Adam’s pa stood also. His pa seemed a little confused and tried to calm the man down. Adam thought about going to stand by his pa, but then the man turned and stormed off. Miss Inger and his pa sank down onto the ground after that, but Adam could no longer hear what they were saying. After a few minutes, it seemed that things were all right and he once again picked up his pole. Pulling it out of the water to check, he realized that his bait was gone. As he set about rebaiting his hook, he thought about the man. He was pretty sure he’d heard Miss Inger call him Gunner and he wondered if the man had guns and might come back. Adam wasn’t too worried about himself, and he knew his pa was good fighter, but he did worry for Miss Inger. Adam had just finished putting a squirming worm on his hook when he heard someone come up beside him.
“Mind if I join you, son?” Ben asked.
Adam looked up and smiled. He was glad that Miss Inger had come along, but he did miss the time alone with his pa.
Ben sat down next to his him and for a little while, they both just looked out at the water silently. Questions were swirling through Adam’s mind, but he wasn’t sure if he should voice them or not.
“Adam, do you have any questions?” his father asked after a while.
“Pa, who was that man, and why was he so mad?”
Ben chuckled and ruffled his son’s hair. “I thought you might be wondering. That man’s name is Gunnar Borgstrom and he is Miss Inger’s brother.”
Adam screwed up his face in puzzlement. “Why was he yelling, Pa?”
“Well, son, I think Gunnar wanted his sister to spend time with someone else today.”
Adam looked over the where Miss Inger still sat. She gave him a smile and Adam grinned. “But she wanted to stay with us instead?” he asked.
Adam decided that he liked Miss Inger even more then he had already.
A few minutes later, Adam caught another fish and his pa told him it was time for them to go. Adam hated to leave, but he was anxious to get his fish back to Mrs. Miller.
The older woman was glad to see them return, but she seemed a little worried too. Adam stood quietly as she told his pa that she needed to speak with him. Adam listened as she informed them that she had received word from her family that her sister was ill. Mrs. Miller dabbed at her eyes as she told Ben that in two weeks, she would be packing up and leaving. McHorter had offered to buy the boarding house, but he had plans to turn it into a different kind of establishment, so in two weeks, Adam and his pa would have to find another place to live. Adam grew excited for a moment at the possibility that they would be leaving soon, but then he remembered the fun day he had just spent with Miss Inger and that he still hadn’t been able to spend much time with his two new friends. Ben was kind and explained that he understood, offered his condolences, and then steered Adam up the stairs.
“Pa,” Adam asked once the bedroom door was shut. “Are we gonna be moving on soon?”
Ben sighed and sat down on the side of the bed, he suddenly looked very weary. “I’m not sure, son. I had hoped to stay on here for quite a while. The wagon still needs repairs done and we haven’t been able to stock up on supplies for a long time.
Adam pursed his lips and his eyes sank to the floor. “Where will we live, Pa?”
Adam’s head shot back up when he heard his father chuckled lightly. “Always the worrier, aren’t you, son?”
He held out his arms and Adam gladly sank into them.
“Adam, all we can do is the best we can at the moment. Right now we have a warm dry room, we’re together, and we’ve had a wonderful day. Let’s not waste any of that by fretting about tomorrow, okay?”
Adam nodded his head, bouncing against his father’s broad chest. When he was sitting like this, on his pa’s knees, with his arms wrapped securely around him and the sound of his voice calm and comforting, it was easy not to worry.
Adam and Ben worked on his lessons until it was time for supper. Mrs. Miller had prepared a special one just for them in the kitchen, and just like she’d promised, she breaded the fish Adam had caught and fried them in butter. Adam thought he had never tasted fish so good before, and he wished that he could go fishing every day.
Later that night as Adam lay in bed, his mind was still buzzing. He wasn’t the least bit tired, and he wanted to talk, but his pa had already turned out the lamp. Finally, he decided to ask just one question.
“It’s time to go to sleep, son.”
“Can I just ask one question?”
“You just did?”
Adam grew quiet for a moment and then heard his father chuckle, so he tried again. “Pa, next week, can we ask Jericho and Jacob to go to the lake with us?”
Adam was remembering how Miss Bethany had told her brother that he needed to be invited by Adam’s pa, and not just ask himself over.
“I’ll have to think about it,” Ben answered.
Adam waited for more, but realized that was all he was likely to get that evening. He hated it when his pa said he would think about something. Usually the answer ended up being no when that happened. Adam thought about his friends and tried to come up with a way to visit them. He still wanted to be able to go to school. He wondered if maybe the boys could ever miss a day and come and help him at the store. Adam would love to be able to show them his jobs and all the trinkets that the store contained. He decided he would ask Miss Inger about it tomorrow. She was always willing to answer his questions. Another thought occurred to Adam and he chewed the inside of his lip for a moment as he debated whether to speak again or not.
“Pa,” he said finally.
“Adam, close your eyes and go to sleep.”
Adam sighed and turned over onto his side. He didn’t understand why he had to go to sleep when he wasn’t even tired, and with that thought in mind, he was soon snoring softly.
The next morning, Adam woke to the sound of rain once again. It wasn’t a harsh storm like the last time, just a gentle pattering of raindrops as they hit the roof and window panes. Adam sat up quickly and looked over to his father’s bed. He was relieved, but a little surprised to see that his father was still in bed. Lately, it seemed that his pa was up and gone by the time Adam woke. He slipped quietly from his bed and trotted over to the window. When he was inside, looking out at it, the rain was really something wonderful, and the smell of dampness was pleasant to his nose. Adam crossed the room again, made up his bed, then pulled out his clothes and slipped them on. Since his pa wasn’t awake to notice, he shoved his nightshirt under his pillow instead of folding it and putting it away. His tummy was rumbling and he thought about going downstairs to see if Mrs. Miller had breakfast ready. He had just placed his hand on the doorknob when his pa began to stir.
“Well, you’re up early,” Pa said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
“I must have gone to bed too early last night,” Adam replied and then ducked his head as his father raised an eyebrow at him.
Adam waited patiently as his father got ready and then was delighted when the two of them headed down to breakfast together.
Mrs. Miller had prepared oatmeal that morning, and Adam tried not to make a face when she placed the bowl in front of him. Out on the trail there were two things they ate a lot of and those were beans and oatmeal. While Adam didn’t mind beans too much, he really disliked oatmeal. He turned his eyes toward his father, a pleading look on his face, but his father’s quick shake of the head and stern gaze let him know he wouldn’t be finding any sympathy from that corner. He despairingly picked up his spoon and jammed it into the middle of the mush just as Mrs. Miller was settting a few more crocks on the table.
“Well, thank you, Mrs. Miller,” his pa said.
Adam beamed as his father added a spoonful of brown sugar and some cream to his hot cereal, and then dug in feeling much better.
Ben ate quickly and Mrs. Miller offered to let Adam stay with her in the kitchen until Miss Inger came to pick him up.
Adam suddenly found he had a lump in his throat when he tried to say goodbye, and as he watched his pa head out the door, he was ready to leave this place all over again. He wasn’t hungry anymore and after a few minutes of stirring around his food, Mrs. Miller took the bowl and gave him the job of wiping the dishes dry.
As they worked, Adam kept glancing toward the kitchen door. He was starting to think Miss Inger would never come when finally there was a knock. He smiled and hopped off the stool near the sink as Mrs. Miller rushed to answer the door. Both she and Adam were surprised to see the pastor standing there.
“Hello, Mrs. Miller,” he greeted, stepping in from the rain. “It seems Miss Inger is feeling a bit,” he stopped and chuckled as he looked out the window, “a bit under the weather this morning. She’s sent word that Adam should probably stay away today.” Adam felt his heart sink at the prospect of spending the day alone up in his room. He knew that Mrs. Miller had plans for the day and he wouldn’t even be able to spend time with her in the kitchen. He was blinking tears from his eyes when the pastor continued. “My brothers have just been aching to spend some time with young Adam and I thought that maybe he could come home with me for the day.”
“You mean to school?” Adam spoke up excitedly.
“Well, no,” the pastor said, “but I’ve convinced their teacher that it wouldn’t hurt for them to miss a day.”
Adam grinned as the young pastor gave Mrs. Miller a wink.
“Well, I don’t know what his father would think.”
Adam’s heart began to flutter as Mrs. Miller stood in indecision. “I suppose you could always stop by and ask him,” the woman said finally and Adam exhaled loudly.
“I’ll do that,” the pastor said, holding out a hand for Adam. Adam quickly darted across the room and took the man’s hand. Not only was he going to be able to spend the day with his friends, but he might also get to see his pa and where he worked for a few minutes.
Mrs. Miller made sure Adam was as bundled up as his worn jacket would allow and then sent him out the door with a small lunch pail in hand. As it turned out, when they arrived at his father’s place of work, the pastor told him to wait outside. Adam gave the man a puzzled expression and the pastor quickly told him that children weren’t allowed inside. Adam was even more confused by that. He wondered just what sort of place his father worked in that didn’t allow children, and he decided that he would ask his pa about it that evening.
A few minutes, later both the pastor and his pa stepped outside and Ben took Adam aside.
“Son, I want you to be on your best behavior. This man may be your friend’s brother, but he’s also a man of God.”
“I’ll be good, Pa,” Adam promised and after giving his father a quick hug, he and Bro. Pete continued on toward a little house in back of the church. Adam had seen it before, but he hadn’t realized that it was where his friends lived. It was a pretty small house, especially sitting next to a barn that seemed to be about double its size. When they entered the house, Adam found himself flanked on both sides by two eager young boys shouting their excitement over his arrival.
“Come on,” Jericho said and, throwing open the door, began to drag him back out.
“Hold it,” the pastor called and all three boys turned. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“We’re gonna go play in the barn,” Jacob answered.
The pastor stood straight and folded his arms across his chest. “I suppose that’s all right,” he said after eyeing them for a minute. “You remember the rules, don’t you?”
Adam listened as both boys sighed in weary resignation and nodded their heads. “Stay away from the tools,” Jericho said, “and no jumping out of the loft.”
“Right,” the pastor said. “Now, I’m going to be very busy today preparing my sermon, but I’ll be right inside if you need me. You boys be sure to look out for your friend.”
The twins shouted their agreement as they ran from the house, Adam in tow, and headed for the huge barn. When they got inside, Adam stood gaping for several minutes. He’d never in all his life seen such a large barn. There were enough stalls to house a herd of horses and the loft was huge, running the entire length of the building and wrapping around so that you could walk all the way around the structure from up above. There were ropes and pulleys and giant beams that crisscrossed at all angles. On the ground floor toward the back of the barn was a section that was set up to look like a workshop. There were two anvils and crates and barrels, saws, and sledgehammers and all sorts of exciting tools.
“Come on, Adam,” Jacob said, and began to climb a set of stairs up toward the loft. Adam hesitated for just a moment. He wasn’t afraid of heights, but the loft was a long way up. He didn’t have a chance to back out though because Jericho was right behind him practically pushing him up the ladder. Once at the top, Adam took a look around. There were several bales of both hay and straw stacked throughout the long walkway, but they looked to be pretty old. The boys followed the walkway until they had gone all the way around and found themselves back where they started.
“Pretty neat, huh,” Jericho said.
Adam nodded his head, slightly out of breath. His cheeks were rosy, partly from the damp cold air and partly from exertion.
The boys continued to run around the upper story of the barn for most of the morning. They played games of hide and seek which worked splendidly in all the piles of straw lying around plus stacks of hay along with old empty barrels. Then the boys introduced Adam to a new game in which one of them played the villain and the other two tried to capture the first. This game was intricate in detail and they spent much more time going over the rules than actually playing the game.
Several hours later, the boys grew hungry and climbed down from the loft. They stampeded their way back into the parsonage where they discovered the pastor deeply engrossed behind a pile of papers and books.
“We’re hungry,” Jacob announced loudly, startling the man.
“What . . . what time is it?” He looked up at the clock and seemed surprised that it was well after noon.
“Well, go ahead and eat then,” he said. “I’m not hungry just yet.”
Adam was a little surprised at this behavior. He wasn’t used to being left on his own, but it seemed that his two comrades were and so he followed them into the small kitchen. Jacob immediately shoved a stool over to the counter and scrambled up to the counter top. He then rummaged through a cupboard and handed down anything that looked interesting. After an assortment of food had been placed on the table, Jacob hopped down and the boys filled a plate. Adam chose bread and butter with jam, some applesauce, and a large piece of cherry cobbler. The three boys finished eating and Adam was sure that if he ate another bite his stomach would burst. He was starting to feel a little sleepy, but he wasn’t about to admit that to his friends, whose own energy seemed boundless.
Without so much as a goodbye to the man still buried in the corner, the three boys took off across the yard again into the old barn. Once inside, Jacob turned and told them it was time to play a new game. Both Jericho and Adam waited expectantly as he explained the rules to them. The rules were really quite simple. Jacob would tell them to do something and they then had to do it. If they refused or failed to accomplish the task, then they would then have to perform a penalty task.
“I learned this one from the big boys at school,” Jacob told them excitedly. “It’s lots of fun.”
Jericho still seemed excited, but Adam was beginning to feel apprehensive. He had a feeling that his father wouldn’t approve of the fact that he was spending so much time unsupervised, and something told him that the game they were about to play was going to end up with trouble.
“Jericho, you have to go first,” Jacob said, “since you’re older than Adam.”
Jericho nodded and then waited for his assignment. Jacob rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling and tapped his chin as he concentrated.
“Okay, here’s what you gotta do.”
The next half hour went smoothly with the boys doing everything from fetching certain objects to performing small feats of physical attribution, but as the game progressed the boys grew braver in their demands and in their desire to compete. Finally, Jericho gave the dare for Jacob to jump from the loft onto a pile of hay down below. It was the first time during the game that one of the boys had hesitated and Adam, feeling very glad that it wasn’t his turn, looked sympathetically at Jacob.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” the boy said, “but only if you help me make a real big pile of hay.”
The other two boys agreed and, grabbing up rakes and a shovel, began to make up a monstrous pile of hay in the center of the barn. After a while, Jericho declared it big enough and he and Adam sat back and waited as Jacob climbed up into the loft. Adam watched as the boy crossed to where he thought the best jumping point would be and gulped at just how high up his friend seemed to be.
“Hurry up,” Jericho shouted.
Adam watched as Jacob started to back away from the edge. He thought he had changed his mind, but the boy was just giving himself room for a running jump. And jump he did. It was a spectacular display of arms and legs flailing in all directions, but the boy managed to hit the pile dead center and landed easily before rolling down to the main floor. He and the other boys were all laughing hysterically by the time he got up and began brushing the straw from his hair, and then he turned to Adam. Suddenly, Adam wasn’t laughing anymore. It was his turn to perform a dare and he had an idea what Jacob was planning on giving him.
“Okay,” Jacob said, “it’s your turn and you have to jump too, but not from where I did. You have to jump from the other side.”
Adam’s gaze shot to the other side of the barn and he felt the little hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The jump from that side was quite a bit farther than the one Jacob had just made.
“Ah, come on,” Jericho said, “you can’t make him jump that far, he’s just a little kid.”
Adam felt himself bristle at that comment and was about to speak up when Jacob did instead.
“He ain’t afraid, are ya Adam?”
Both boys looked to Adam and he shook his head vehemently before turning toward the ladder.
“See, he ain’t afraid,” Jacob said. “Just ’cause you are doesn’t mean he is.”
“I ain’t afraid,” Jericho retorted.
Adam turned back to the brothers as their argument grew more and more heated and the next thing he knew, he was being shoved aside as Jericho climbed the ladder, determined to prove his brother wrong. Adam watched in panic as the boy raced around the loft to the other side of the barn. His eyes darted to Jacob, but the young boy was watching smugly. With Jericho now standing near the edge, the jump looked even farther and Adam began to really worry.
“Don’t worry,” Jacob whispered to him. “He’ll be too chicken.”
But to Jericho’s credit and, unfortunately, his undoing, the young boy had the heart of lion and a moment later took a flying leap toward the pile. He probably would have been fine except for the fact that he hit the side of pile instead of the center and at an odd angle. Adam watched in horror as the boy fell backwards and then tumbled to the floor. When his small body finally stopped rolling, with the help of a solid crate, he screamed out in pain. Jacob was frozen to the spot, but Adam quickly ran to the boy’s side. Jericho was shrieking wildly and holding his arm close to his body. It was the bloody cut above Jericho’s forehead that really scared Adam, however, and he ran quickly from the barn to the parsonage.
It was two very sorry boys that sat quietly at the kitchen table a short time later as the doctor worked on Jericho. The pastor had sent Jacob to fetch the doctor who had an office attached to his home just a few doors down from the mercantile, and then had carried Jericho into the house and brought him into one of the bedrooms. Adam and Jacob sat, silently cringing each time their young playmate cried out. They weren’t sure exactly what had happened to Jericho or what the doctor was doing, but they knew there had been a lot of blood, and that the boy was in a great deal of pain.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, the doctor came out and washed his hands. Adam noticed the blood that covered the man’s hands and felt his stomach beginning to rebel inside of him. He quickly turned away and soon the sick feeling passed.
“Well,” the doctor said a moment later, walking toward them. “Just what were you boys doing that caused Jericho to break his arm?”
Adam looked over to Jacob and he noticed that his friend’s face had gone completely pale. The boy looked to Adam pleadingly as tears filled his eyes. Adam decided it would be better to just keep silent and became suddenly very interested in the toes of his shoes. The doctor continued to stand in front of them for a few more minutes and then, with a heavy sigh, walked across the room to collect his bag.
“Jacob,” Peter said and both boys’ heads shot up. They hadn’t heard him come into the room. “You didn’t answer the doctor, but you will answer me. Were you boys jumping from the loft?”
Jacob shook his head vehemently, and Adam’s eyes grew large. He understood being afraid, but Jacob had lied. Adam had very little experience with deceit, but the few times he had practiced it, things had not gone very well in his favor.
“Jacob, go to your room please,” Peter said, and as the boy jumped up to do as he was told, Peter fixed his eyes on Adam.
Adam suddenly wished that he were just about anywhere else in the world except for right there. Jacob had put him in a terrible position and he wasn’t sure how to handle it. He didn’t want to tell on his friend, but he didn’t want to lie either, and he was pretty sure that he was going to be in some trouble of his own before this whole thing was over. Before Adam got the chance to decide, the front door flew open and Bethany came running in out of breath.
“What happened?” she asked. “Why is the doctor here?”
Her eyes quickly scanned the room and, not seeing either of her younger brothers, her face drained of all color and her hand flew to her mouth.
“It’s okay, Bethany,” Peter said, crossing over to her. “There was an accident in the barn and Jericho broke his arm. The doctor has already set it and . . .”
That was as far as he got before Bethany took off toward the room Jericho was in. “I leave you alone for one day . . . ” were the last words anyone heard her say before she closed the door behind her.
“And on that note, I think I’ll take my leave,” the doctor said chuckling.
Peter offered to walk the doctor out and Adam was left alone in the room for what seemed like ages. He could here Bethany’s soft voice as she talked to Jericho, and even though the words weren’t meant for him, the sound was comforting. He was just starting to become fidgety when Peter came in from outside almost at the same time Bethany exited the bedroom and quietly shut the door.
“He’s asleep,” she told Peter.
Peter nodded as he reached for two cups and began to pour each of them some coffee. “The doctor gave him something for the pain. He said it would make him pretty sleepy.”
Bethany accepted the cup and held it in her hands, staring at the liquid for a long while. Finally, she looked up and her eyes met Adam’s. Adam immediately dropped his head, and he felt bad when he heard Bethany sigh.
“I’m going to talk to Jacob,” she said. Adam risked looking up and she met his gaze. Adam had expected her to look angry but instead, she looked sad.
After she left the room, Peter sat down at the small table, and Adam wished that he could get up. He was getting very tired of sitting, but he didn’t dare move yet. His eyes darted upward when Peter spoke.
“Did you jump out of the loft?”
Adam hesitated for just a moment and then slowly shook his head. “Well, thank God for that,” the pastor said with relief in his voice. “I’m sorry,” he said then and Adam looked at him in confusion. “I shouldn’t have left you boys alone. I was busy and . . . well, I knew better. I’m sorry you were frightened.”
“That’s okay,” Adam said almost in a whisper. He was feeling so guilty now that he wished the floor would open up and swallow him, and as much as he was dreading his father finding out about what had happened, he wished he would hurry up and come get him.
Peter stood up a few minutes later, set a plate of cookies in front of Adam, and then poured him a glass of milk. Adam took two cookies and had just finished the first one when Bethany came back into the room. Adam saw her give Peter a slight nod and then Peter went into Jericho’s room and shut the door.
“Adam, I’m going to bring in some wood from outside. Would you like to help me?” she asked.
Adam nodded; he had a feeling he didn’t want to be inside the house just then anyway. It felt good for him to stretch his legs, and he and Miss Bethany walked for quite a while picking up small sticks. Adam had noticed a pile of cut wood near the door, but he was enjoying the walk so he didn’t mention it.
After a while, they unloaded their bundles and went back into the house. Peter was sitting near the fireplace, but there was still no sign of Jacob. Adam wanted to go and talk to him, but he knew that it was probably in his best interest to remain silent at this point. He sat down at the kitchen table again and watched while Miss Bethany worked on peeling potatoes and other vegetables into a big pot. She had just finished adding seasonings and was setting the lid on top when a cry sounded from Jericho’s room. She was gone in a flash, and Adam winced as he heard his friend crying when the door was opened.
He was really beginning to get tired now and his eyelids felt heavy, but he struggled to stay awake. He was startled a moment later when there was a knock on the front door. The knock must have startled Peter also, because he stood up suddenly and dropped the book he’d been reading. Adam was at once both relieved and terrified when he heard his father’s voice as the preacher opened the door to let him inside. Ben looked around and seemed surprised to see Adam sitting all by himself at the little table, and then there was another cry from Jericho. The preacher was quick to explain after that, and Adam listened quietly. It appeared that Jacob had told the truth when Bethany talked to him and admitted that he and his brother had both jumped from the loft. Adam wondered if his friend had mentioned the fact that he was going to jump before Jericho stopped him. Adam listened intently as Peter told his father the extent of Jericho’s injuries. Apparently the boy had broken his arm in two places and one of the bones had actually cut through his skin. Adam realized that that was why the doctor’s hands had been covered in blood. Aside from the break, which had been set, he had also hit his head pretty hard, and the doctor was worried about a concussion. Adam wasn’t sure what that was, but he knew that Jericho had to be woken up every so often or he might not wake up again at all. Ben had remained mostly quiet during the exchange only asking a question once in a while, then he thanked the minister, said he was sorry for what had happened, and held out his hand to Adam.
Adam couldn’t remember ever feeling so grateful to escape a place before and as he and his pa walked back toward the boarding house, he took comfort in the feel of his father’s large hand wrapped securely around his own.
It wasn’t until they were in the hallway, heading toward their room that Adam began to worry for his own sake.
He ran over in his mind all the events that had led up to Jericho’s tragedy and really couldn’t pinpoint anything he’d done that would get him in trouble, but that didn’t stop his stomach from filling with butterflies as his father closed the door to their room and then told him to take a seat on the bed. Ben pulled a small chair from the corner over and sat in front of his young son.
“I want you to tell me what happened,” he said.
Adam studied the face before him. Normally he could easily tell the mood his father was in by his expressions, but this time there were mixed signals being sent. His brow was bent as if in disapproval, but the corners of his mouth were turned down as if he was sad, and then his eyes seemed both frightened and condemning at the same time. Adam looked down at his hands, but remembered quickly that his father would want him to look him in the eye.
Slowly Adam recounted the events as well as he remembered them and when he’d finished, he watched his father cautiously.
“Son, there were several things you did wrong today,” he said and Adam felt his heart sink.
He waited quietly for his father to tell him what he’d done, but instead his father asked him. “Why don’t you see if you can think about what some of those things might be?”
Adam was surprised and for a few minutes sat in silence, but then he began to think. One thing he knew for sure and that was that he’d been going to jump.
“Well,” he started and then had to clear his throat as he found it had suddenly gone dry. He swallowed loudly and then continued. “I was going to jump before Jericho stopped me, and I knew that the pastor told us not to.”
Ben nodded and then asked another question. “Why were you going to jump?”
“Jacob and Jericho thought I was too afraid and they were making fun of me,” Adam said. “Are you going to punish me, Pa?”
“Did you do something I should punish you for?”
Adam blinked a couple of times in confusion. “I was going to,” he answered finally.
“Son, there are enough problems in life just dealing with the things we do. I don’t make it a practice to punish you for something you might have done. Who’s to say that you wouldn’t have changed your mind once you were in the loft?”
Adam wasn’t quite sure he agreed with his father’s reasoning, but he was intelligent enough to go with it for now.
“Adam, I think what you did wrong in the first place was not speaking up right away. When your friends wanted to do something wrong, and you knew it was wrong, you should have said something about it right then.”
Adam hung his head. He knew that was true.
“Now, son, I know you don’t want to be a snitch and I wouldn’t encourage you to be one, but I’m telling you this now. If you know that someone is doing something dangerous that might end up with them or someone else getting hurt, you need to speak up, and if they aren’t willing to listen to you then you go and tell someone that will stop them right away. Do you understand that?”
Adam nodded solemnly and fought to keep his tears from spilling over. He wasn’t feeling good about the fact that his two friends were now suffering when he could have done something to prevent it.
“There’s something else I want you to remember, son,” Ben continued reaching out to lift the boy’s chin. “You aren’t responsible for the wrong things other people do. We should always try to help when we can, but you aren’t accountable for their actions. Do you understand what I mean?”
Adam shook his head and sniffed.
“What that means is that each of us is responsible for what we do. Jericho chose to disobey and make that jump and now he is suffering the consequences. Jacob also chose to disobey and I’m sure he has consequences to face also.”
Adam nodded remembering the sounds of his friend’s muffled crying coming from the other room.
“And,” Ben kept on, “you chose not to speak up so now you’re feeling badly. Those are your consequences.”
Adam understood what his father was saying, and despite the unpleasant feeling of guilt, he still felt like he’d rather deal with that than what his two friends were going through.
“All right,” Ben said standing up and replacing the chair. “I’m going to see about our dinner for tonight. While I’m gone, I want you to think about what I’ve said.”
Adam nodded and when his father was gone he let out a deep breath of air and fell back onto the bed. The events of the day were repeating themselves over and over in his mind, but even remembering the sounds of Jericho’s screams wasn’t enough to keep him awake.
The next thing he knew, his pa was gently shaking his shoulder and telling him it was time to go and eat. Adam sat up quickly, glad that he hadn’t slept through until morning. His stomach was rumbling fiercely as he hopped off the bed and followed his father down the hallway. He was surprised when his pa turned toward the dining room rather than the kitchen, and was even more surprised when he saw that, along with a few of the other borders, the pastor was also there along with Jacob.
Adam followed his father around the table and sat next to his friend. He slid him a small smile and was glad to see it returned. Although Jacob’s cheeks were red and his eyes were puffy, the young boy seemed to be feeling much better than the last time Adam had seen him.
The men around the table talked loudly as the meal progressed, and Adam and Jacob were able to talk to each other quietly back and forth. Adam found out that Miss Bethany had stayed with Jericho and that as soon as Mrs. Miller had heard the news, she had raced over and offered to feed the rest of the family. It turned out that Peter also wanted Jacob to apologize to Adam. The boys finished eating long before the men at the table and Adam quietly waited until his pa excused him. He asked for permission for Jacob to join him and the two boys raced to his room. Jacob informed Adam that Jericho was feeling pretty bad, but that he would live and the doctor had even promised that he would have a scar left over from the event. Adam wasn’t sure why Jacob thought that was such a good thing, but he smiled anyway.
Jacob also complained about the treatment he had received quite literally at the hands of his brother. By the time the boy finished his tale, Adam was half convinced that he’d had a worse time of it than Jericho. Adam showed Jacob around the little boarding house room and showed him his reader. Adam was pleased to know that Jacob was in the same book and only just a few pages ahead of Adam.
“I wish my pa would let me go to school,” Adam said with a sigh.
“Yeah, it is a lot of fun,” Jacob said. “But only during recess. During school, you have to sit real quiet and you can’t talk. You just have to work on lessons and sums all the time.”
Adam thought that sounded pretty good to him, but he didn’t want to argue with his friend. Jacob started growing bored after a few minutes and Adam looked around the room frantically for something else to amuse his friend with. His eyes came to rest on the small trunk where the music box was, but something told him he would be better off not even mentioning it to the energetic boy next to him. Instead, he took off his shoes and encouraged Jacob to do the same thing and soon they were both jumping on the beds. Adam even scooted his small bed away from the wall toward the center of the room and they hopped back and forth between the two. When Jacob jumped really high, he was just able to touch the ceiling with the tips of his fingers, but when Adam tried, it threw him off balance and he landed with a hard thud on the floor. That ended their game and their visit when a moment later, his father burst through the door. He took one look around the room and then pointed a long finger toward the open door.
“Jacob, I think your brother is ready to go now, and you,” he said turning his finger toward Adam, “had better have this cleaned up by the time I get back up here.”
Both boys answered with a contrite “yes, sir” and Adam quickly went to work before the bedroom door had even closed. He had just finished placing the last small blanket at the end of his pa’s bed when the door opened again. Ben crossed the room and picked Adam up looking the boy in the eyes.
“I’m starting to see why Peter had his hands so full today,” he said.
Adam wasn’t quite sure what his pa meant, but he could tell by the twinkle in his pa’s eyes that he wasn’t really mad and he smiled as he wrapped his small arms around his pa’s neck.
“Pa,” Adam said, “am I going to be able to stay with Miss Inger again tomorrow?”
“Yes, son,” Ben answered. “Mrs. Miller said that Miss Inger is feeling much better, but keep in mind that I don’t want to hear of any more mischief happening that involves you, understand?”
Adam nodded happily as he bounced over to retrieve his nightshirt from under his pillow. He quickly glanced across the room at his pa and saw him frowning.
“I’ll put it away next time, Pa,” Adam said sheepishly.
“See that you do.”
Adam had more questions, but he sensed that he had already pushed past what was safe for that evening.
The next day, Adam was helping Miss Inger in the store. One of the locals owned a huge orchard and had just brought her in half a dozen barrels of apples. Miss Inger was having Adam choose the biggest and reddest and polish them up for her to put on display in front of the store. Adam was only half way through with the chore, when he saw his father crossing the street. He jumped up in excitement until he saw his father’s face. Adam had seen his pa angry before, and he knew that his pa was pretty close to furious right then. He stepped up onto the porch and told Adam they were leaving, NOW! Adam jumped up quickly and started to follow his father. He heard Miss Inger come out on the porch as they strode swiftly away and call after them. He looked up at his father, but his face only seemed to become harder and he took Adam’s arm and hurried him along even faster. Adam couldn’t understand why his father was so angry nor why he hadn’t even bothered to tell Miss Inger they were leaving and had ignored her when she called. Once they reached the boarding house, they quickly crossed the hall and Ben began pulling things out from under the bed.
“Adam, pack your things. We’re leaving,” he said.
Adam stood rooted to the spot for a moment. He had wanted to leave so many times, but now it just didn’t feel right, at least not this way.
“Adam, right now, boy.”
Adam moved then, he knew that tone of voice and it wasn’t one that tolerated delay. Adam swallowed his tears as he crossed the room and began to pack.
“Change into your old clothes,” his father told him and Adam whirled around in surprise.
“But, pa . . .”
Ben stopped and gave Adam a look that sent a cold shiver down the boy’s spine, and he quickly dug for his clothes and changed. His father took the new clothes as he handed him his shoes that were too small. “Put these on.” Adam looked down and sniffed as he complied. His father hesitated again, but this time when he spoke his voice was a little softer.
“I’ll get you some new ones . . . as soon as I can,” he said. “I have to go and get the wagon. You wait here.”
As soon as his father left the room, Adam’s tears began to fall. They were going on the road again, and he would have to leave his new friends, his new clothes, and Miss Inger. Wiping a sleeve across his nose, he ducked under the bed. He had intended to hide for a bit, but he saw the book Miss Inger had let him borrow still shoved way back in the corner. He had forgotten about it until now. He hadn’t been left alone in the room since that first day, so he hadn’t had an opportunity to read it yet. Adam took the book and opened it again. He gazed longingly at the pictures and felt his tears start to well up again. Suddenly, the idea to keep the book stole over him, at first he pushed the notion away, but the more he thought about it, the more he was reluctant to part with it. Not so much because he craved to know the stories inside, but because Miss Inger had been the one to give it to him. Adam slid out from under the bed, clutching the book tightly and darting his eyes toward the door. He listened for a moment. He didn’t hear anyone coming, and with a pounding heart, he ran to his satchel and shoved the book to the bottom underneath his clothes. He was just pulling his hand out of the bag when he heard the footsteps and he whirled around as his father entered the room, his eyes wide.
“Adam take your bag down to the wagon,” Pa said, not even noticing the frightened look on Adam’s face, “then wait for me there. I have to pay Mrs. Miller and then we’ll go.”
With a heavy heart, the small boy walked out the door and down the steps. He walked slowly, hoping that he might run into Mrs. Miller himself and be able to say goodbye, but the woman was nowhere to be seen. As Adam approached the wagon, he was delighted to see Miss Inger coming up the boardwalk.
“Adam, what’s happening?” she asked, her voice sounding worried.
“Pa says we’re leaving,” the boy answered sadly.
“Right now?” she asked in shock.
Adam nodded miserably and Inger reached out to give him a hug. “You wait here,” she said. “I want to go and talk with your father.”
Adam leaned heavily against the wagon wheel as Miss Inger entered the house. He hoped and even prayed that she might be able to persuade his pa to stay a little while longer, and maybe even to let him keep his new clothes. His old shoes were already biting into his tender flesh and his toes were aching from being cramped. He hadn’t waited very long when Miss Inger came back out of the house. She stood near the door for a moment and Adam could see tears streaming down her face. He quickly ran to her, but she just laid a hand tenderly on his head for a moment and then walked away. Adam ran back to their room. He paused for a moment when he saw the door to their room open and his pa just standing there, but then he entered.
“Pa, why was Miss Inger crying?”
At first his pa said he didn’t know and Adam was even more confused, but then his pa stopped and a decided look came over his face.
“Yes, I do know, wait here.”
Adam hated waiting. He wanted to know what was going on, but with the mood his father was in he was too afraid to follow. He waited until he began to grow restless. His feet were aching and he decided he had to risk his father’s wrath or not be able to walk. He had just finished taking his shoes off when his father entered the room. Adam was startled and immediately began trying to explain why he’d taken them off, but then his father laughed deeply and Adam looked up puzzled. It was then that Adam noticed Miss Inger standing behind his pa and she was also smiling and laughing. Ben reached down and picked the boy up. Adam wasn’t sure why everyone was suddenly so happy, but he couldn’t help but smile too.
“Adam,” Ben said. “How would like for Miss Inger to come with us when we leave?”
Adam stared at his father in disbelief. It had never even occurred to him that someone might be able to come with them on their journey, and of all the people in the world, Miss Inger would have been his first choice, aside from maybe Jacob and Jericho. The boy beamed.
“You mean it, Pa?” he asked.
“Yes, I mean it, son. I’ve asked Miss Inger to marry me and she’s said yes.”
Adam turned his shining eyes to the young woman who now had tears in her own. “You’re gonna marry my pa?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
Inger took one of his small hands and held it up to her cheek as she nodded.
Adam reached out his other hand toward Inger and she took the boy in her arms. “Oh, Adam,” she said. “I’m so happy that you want me along.”
Ben placed a hand on the boy’s back and then said, “Well, son, I guess we better unpack.”
“Oh boy,” Adam shouted. “But, Pa, can I please have the old shoes back. These ones are too tight.”
A week later, Adam was more excited than he could ever remember being before. His pa was going to allow him to attend a big celebration in the Town Hall. Adam had never been to anything even remotely close to it before. The biggest gathering he could ever remember being at was a church dinner about a year ago when he and his pa had been invited for a special dinner celebrating the pastor and his wife’s anniversary. Adam was so excited throughout the day. Miss Inger seemed to sense this and after he’d broken his second glass mason jar for the day, she gave him the much safer task of sorting ribbons. Adam was in the middle of untangling a bright green yarn from a pale blue ribbon when Miss Bethany entered the store with her two younger brothers. Miss Bethany went to the counter and gave Miss Inger her list and as the two women talked, the twins immediately ran to Adam.
“Watcha doin?” Jacob asked, reaching into one of the baskets and taking out the roll of brown ribbon Adam had just finished rolling.
“Careful,” Adam said, but not in time to stop the young boy from unraveling the whole spool.
Adam sighed as he bent to pick it up. “I’m sortin’ the ribbons and yarns and stuff for Miss Inger,” Adam said.
“Watcha doin’ that for?” Jericho asked seeming very unimpressed. “Only girls mess around with stuff like that.”
Adam could feel his cheeks growing warm and he suddenly became self-conscious. “Well, I’m just doin’ it ’cause it’s my job,” he said.
Thankfully, the twins were easily distracted, and a moment later they were oohing and ahhing over a large jar of marbles.
“Bethany,” Jacob called across the store, “can we get some marbles?”
“Jacob, don’t interrupt,” she answered without even turning around, “and yes, you may each choose five.”
Jacob turned back, smiling and grabbed a large handful from the jar. Adam cringed as several fell to the floor and rolled in different directions. By the time he got back from rescuing those, there were more than he could count scattered across the room. He was about to start retrieving them when Jericho invited him to help them choose their colors. Adam was more than happy to help and was soon in a deep discussion over whether the red swirled marbles were preferable to the blue speckled ones when Miss Bethany told the boys it was time to go. A few minutes later, the store was empty again and only a dozen marbles on the floor, several rolls of unrolled thread, and a few crushed crackers gave evidence to the fact that anyone had been there. Adam looked around forlornly and then raised his big brown eyes to Inger and shrugged helplessly. Inger laughed merrily as she came around the counter.
“Don’t look so upset, Adam. I’ll help you clean up.”
In a few minutes, the store was back in order and Adam went back to sorting ribbons. The job was really endless as the huge basket full of assorted colors and sizes sat on the bottom shelf right in reach of small fingers. Adam wondered that Miss Inger never seemed upset when some little toddler or young girl would come and mix them up. In fact, it seemed that Adam was the only one ever upset. Adam had about a fourth of the basket sorted when Miss Inger surprised him by announcing it was time they stop for lunch. Adam jumped up, just then realizing how empty his stomach had gotten since breakfast. He quickly ran behind the counter and grabbed the little stool he used to stand on and turned over the sign on the door to say closed for lunch. Then he hopped down and skipped to the small side room where Miss Inger was preparing them nice, thick chicken sandwiches. Adam sat at the table and Miss Inger handed him a glass of milk and some crackers.
“Adam, are you excited about the festival tonight?” Inger asked.
Adam’s mouth was full of sandwich, but he shook his head rapidly. His pa always seemed happy whenever Inger was around and, truth be told, he enjoyed seeing the two of them together. There were many times throughout his life that Adam would see young children with both their father and mother and a part of him would ache, wondering what it would be like to have a mother and to go home to the same house every night and wake up in the same bed. Having Inger with them was giving him a small sample of what most children had.
After they finished their lunch, Inger asked Adam if he would like to read for her. It had become a daily ritual for him to read to her for a while after lunch and much to his consternation, he found that he fell asleep every time. He would wake up a while later and find that she had laid him on the small bed and he would listen for a few minutes as she worked around the store humming or talking softly with a customer.
Adam nodded happily and ran to get the book they had been reading. He had trouble with most of the words, but he was getting better and better at the smaller ones, and Inger helped him work his way through many of the more difficult ones. Adam was so excited and couldn’t wait to show his pa how much better he was doing on Sunday. Since his father had started working they had set aside Sunday evenings to work on his lessons. His pa tried to give him enough to work on to keep him busy throughout the week, and since Adam was spending his days with Inger, he wasn’t finishing the lessons nearly as fast as he used to.
Right now, they were in the middle of a story about a young boy tending a flock of sheep, and whenever he would get bored, he would pull a prank on the nearby townspeople and call out that a wolf was attacking. The boy had just done it again for the third time when Adam had stopped reading the day before and he was anxious to see how the townspeople would react this time. Adam had only gotten through two sentences, however, before he felt his eyelids getting heavy, and the next thing he knew, it was several hours later when he finally woke up. He climbed out of bed and stumbled groggily into the shop.
Inger laughed at the sight of his hair sticking up at odd angles and she quickly smoothed it down with one of the combs she had on display. Then she told Adam that he could choose a snack. Adam chose a bright red apple and sat outside while he ate it. He always ate his snack outside in front of the store, because every once in a while he would catch sight of his pa across the street. He would jump up and down and call his pa excitedly. Sometimes his pa would hear and turn to wave, but most of the time it was too noisy for him to hear the small boy’s cries. When Adam finished his apple he wandered back into the store and asked Miss Inger what she would like for him to do next.
“Well, my goodness, Adam. You’re such a good worker that I don’t have many jobs left for you.”
Adam looked around the room in search of a job for himself. His eyes landed on the basket of ribbons, but unless asked to, he would rather not work on those again. His eyes spotted the broom then and he asked if he could sweep. Inger thought about it for a minute but then told him that she was afraid the broom was just a little bit too big for him to handle. She handed Adam a rag instead and asked if he would dust, so the boy spent a good deal of time prancing around the room moving dust from one object to the next.
Adam slowed down considerably when he got to the huge jar of marbles, and as he gazed longingly at the small round pieces of glass, he polished the lid slowly. He startled a moment later when Miss Inger came up behind him.
“Adam would you like some marbles of your own?” she asked.
Adam’s eyes lit up and nodded his head. She told him that she was sure all the work he’d done for her entitled him to at least ten, and Adam spent the rest of his day choosing, changing his mind, and then choosing all over again.
A few hours later, Adam looked up from where he’d spent a good deal of time shining his new shoes for the dance, but that was growing tedious and he turned to where his father was finishing up his shaving. He gave a soft sigh and then ducked his head when his pa turned.
“I’m almost ready, son.”
Adam smiled and jumped up from where he’d been sitting on the floor. He slid into his comfortable black shoes and was glad once again that the old ones had finally been disposed of. There was no danger now that he would ever have to wear them again.
True to his word, Ben was ready five minutes later and father and son walked hand in hand to the town hall where the festival was being held. When they entered the door, Adam could only stop and stare in wide-eyed wonder. The large room had been decorated with all manner of ribbons and banners. There were bowls and vases full of fragrant flowers and across the room against the far wall were tables and tables full of good things to eat.
Ben was not much of a cook, but Miss Inger had promised to bring enough for all of them. His pa had wanted to pick her up and escort her to the hall, but she was part of the decorating committee and had arranged to meet them there instead. Adam was finally able to take his eyes away from the food when Miss Inger walked up to them. She was dressed in a pretty pink dress, with white lace on the end of short, puffy sleeves and Adam could see as she walked that she was wearing white high top buttoned shoes. Her long, full skirt swished methodically across the floor as she approached and Adam was certain that she was the prettiest woman in the whole room. He glanced up at his father and noted with satisfaction the large smile that had come over his face. Ben took Inger’s arm and together they crossed the room to where a large assortment of chairs had been arranged for the guests.
Adam stood quietly while his pa talked to Inger, but finally he decided that he just couldn’t wait any longer and gave a small tug to his father’s jacket sleeve. Ben turned and then laughed at the imploring look on his son’s face.
“All right, boy. Let’s say we go find something to put in that never ending pit of yours.”
Inger joined in the laughter as Adam headed straight for the dessert table, but he was stopped short as his father reached out and caught his arm. He tried not to make a face when his pa pointed a long finger toward several dishes of vegetables. With one last longing look at the desserts, Adam gave up his plate to Inger who helped him make his choices. She ended up being much more generous than Adam knew his pa would have been, and she even allowed him to pour gravy all over his vegetables, and when Ben promised him that he could have his pick of desserts as long as he cleaned his plate, he dug in with gusto.
Ben had to stop the young boy from literally licking his plate clean and then, with a playful swat, sent him in the direction of desserts. After much deliberation, Adam chose a piece of peach pie and some small cookies that smelled like lemon. By the time he finished, he was stuffed and happily sat back for a few minutes while his Pa and Miss Inger continued to talk. Adam had never seen his pa so happy and every once in a while the man would throw back his head and laugh. The young boy looked admiringly at Inger, with her bright blue eyes and soft pink cheeks. Her hair was piled loosely on top of her head and several ringlets of hair curled around her face. Adam thought surely she must be an angel, not just for her beauty but for what she had done for his pa. Adam scooted a little closer to her and beamed when she placed a hand on his knee.
Adam would probably have been content to stay close to his father and Miss Inger the rest of the night had he not caught sight of Miss Bethany and her brother entering with the twins. The two boys immediately spotted Adam and began to wave him over. Adam asked his pa if he could join them, and after being given strict instructions on his behavior, he was allowed to go. Jericho proudly showed Adam his cast and Adam gave the appropriate response by admiring it to the fullest. Miss Bethany steered the boys to a seat near his father and the three took up filling each other in on all that had happened since they had last seen each other. Miss Bethany and Peter brought their plates over and handed the twins theirs. Ben happily announced their engagement and, although Miss Bethany exclaimed over and over how happy she was for Miss Inger, there were still tears in her eyes. Adam wondered just how she could be happy and cry all at the same time, but he decided that would be a question to ask his father later. The twins were just polishing off their slices of cherry pie when a group of men gathered on a small platform and began to tune instruments. Adam listened in amazement to the cacophony of noise that filled the room, but a few minutes later the men were playing in rhythm and Adam watched as several men began to clear the center of the room. Tables and chairs were lined against the walls and, a few moments later, couples throughout the room were joined hand in hand in the center ready to dance; Adam’s pa and Miss Inger among them. A tall man with shaggy brown hair and just a hint of whiskers came over and asked if Miss Bethany would like to join him, and the three boys giggled as she curtsied and took his hand.
Peter had his hands full keeping the three energetic young boys busy and finally decided to let them play marbles as long as they stayed close to the wall.
After the dancing, the men and women circled the seats around the platform and there were several presentations and performances. Bro. Pete gave a short sermon and asked God to bless all the townspeople as they enjoyed the summer months. Several women recited poems and one man with a great big stomach got up and recited a portion of a book that Adam wasn’t familiar with. He leaned over to whisper to his pa about it, but Pa told him to wait until later. After that, Miss Bethany got up and had the school children perform several recitations and a song. Adam laughed at his two friends who sang with so much enthusiasm that they drowned out all the other children. It didn’t seem to matter to them in the least that they were off key. After the presentations, it was time to disperse and Adam helped, along with the other children, to pick up any garbage and to carry dishes out for the ladies. Soon the hall was clear and Adam looked back as father held his hand. It seemed so empty now.
They walked Miss Inger home and by the time she said goodnight and closed her door Adam was dragging. It had been a long day and he was tired. His steps continued to slow until Ben finally reached down and picked him up, and by the time they got back to the boarding house, Adam was sound asleep.
The next day was Sunday and Adam couldn’t wait to get to church. He had won several marbles in the game last night and Jacob and Jericho had promised that they would play again today as long as they had time. Adam had a feeling his pa wouldn’t be too pleased about being more excited to play marbles then to learn his Bible lesson, so he kept that part to himself.
Mrs. Miller, still in a festive mood from the night before, had prepared a special breakfast of blueberry pancakes. It was Adam’s first time eating them and they met strongly with his approval. He ate so many that by the time he hopped down off his chair, the button on his pants popped open. His pa laughed as Adam blushed, and then they left for church. The day was sunny and bright and Adam could tell that it was going to get very hot before too long. He was already starting to sweat a little by the time they arrived in the churchyard and as soon as his pa went into the church, Adam took off his neck tie and unbuttoned his collar button. He spotted Jacob and Jericho underneath the shade of a willow tree having some sort of heated discussion and he quickly joined them.
“Adam, do you think someone could climb to the top of that tree?” Jericho asked as soon as Adam was close enough to hear.
Adam looked up to where the boy was pointing. There was one particular pine tree that grew straight and Adam was sure that it could probably touch the clouds had there been any. He shrugged. “Maybe,” he answered.
“See, I told ya,” Jacob told his brother. “And I’m gonna climb it someday just to prove it to ya.”
“You are not,” Jericho argued. “You’re too chicken and Peter would take the skin off your back if he even knew you were thinkin’ of it.”
Adam couldn’t help but grin as the boys continued their banter. These two brothers were a never ending source of amusement for him, and knowledge. He’d learned whole lot of things his pa had never bothered to tell him since he’d met these two.
Before the boys had finished their argument, Miss Inger called the children and Adam listened, despite the two wigglers beside him, with rapt attention. Most of the time his pa asked him questions about what he’d learned and last week he’d spent more time playing with his companions than listening. Pa had had a few words to say about that and so Adam was determined to pay better attention this time.
When the lesson was over, Miss Bethany pulled out her guitar again and Adam had no trouble participating during the singing. He loved music and was fascinated with the instrument. After the singing the children scattered, but Adam held back for a moment.
“Miss Bethany,” he said.
She turned to him and smiled. “Yes, Adam.”
“What kind of instrument is that?” he asked, pointing to where the object was leaning against a tree.
“It’s called a guitar,” she answered. “Would you like to see how it works?”
Adam’s eyes shone as he nodded his head and Miss Bethany took up the instrument. She showed him how the pins up at the top turned the strings and how you could get different sounds by tightening or loosening them. Then she showed him how holding some of the strings down in a certain order made a pleasant sound when she strummed them with her other hand. Adam was about to ask if he could try it when his friends began calling for him. He thanked Miss Bethany and then ran to where several older boys had also joined the twins in a game of marbles. Adam took up his place in between the twins and pulled out his marbles. He had thirteen all together now with the ones Inger had given him and the ones he’d won last night. His collection was still very small though, compared to the other boys in the group, and he decided to just watch at first. He ended up being very glad that he had waited because two of the older boys were very good and had soon completely wiped out Jacob, and Jericho only had two left. The boys ended up leaving in defeat and Adam felt so badly for Jacob that he gave him the three back that he had won the night before.
After that, Jacob felt much better and the boys headed for the creek. Adam pulled off his shoes and socks and then rolled up his pants before wading into the ankle deep water, but Jacob and Jericho took no such precautions and within moments were soaked. The boys soon ceased their splashing when they realized that just a little further down in a place where the creek had filled in a hole and the water was calm, there were a whole bunch of tadpoles. They spent the next ten minutes collecting them in a jar that Jericho just happened to have, but then Adam heard his father calling.
“Ah, I have to go,” Adam said, not at all happy about the fact.
“Can’t you stay just a little longer?” Jacob asked. “Just pretend you didn’t hear him.”
Adam shook his head without hesitation. He’d tried that a few times in the past and found out that his father had a painful way of suddenly improving his hearing.
“I’ll see you on Saturday,” he said as he left the creek and began wiping his feet on the grass.
Once his shoes and socks were on, he ran to where his pa was waiting.
“Young man, where is your necktie?” his pa asked when he drew near, and Adam quickly felt his pockets.
He pulled out the long black string and then looked up sheepishly.
“Sorry, Pa,” he said. “It was so hot.”
Ben held out his hands for the string and then put it in his pocket. “It is pretty hot at that,” he said pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his brow. “I’ll tell you what. Miss Inger can’t join us today, why don’t you and I go get our old clothes on, pick up the horse, and we’ll ride way around the other side of the lake and go swimming for a bit?”
Adam grabbed his pa’s hand as he jumped up and down. “Oh boy,” he said. “Can we invite Jacob and Jericho?” he asked.
Ben considered for a minute and then told Adam it was fine. Adam quickly ran back to the boys and within minutes, it was arranged that Ben would pick them up in an hour.
A while later, the boys were undressed and in the water, almost before Ben had the horses tied up. They twins had ridden their own—an old red quarter horse mare that had been in the family longer than Peter. The water was just the right temperature for them to dive in and for the next two hours, the boys rotated from splashing up to their waists to building mud houses on the shore. Ben tread the water while the boys played and after a while he called Adam out to him. He picked Adam up and pulled him out to where the water was over his head. Adam wasn’t afraid in the least. His father had started teaching him to swim last summer and it had been great fun. Adam kicked his legs and paddled his arms as his father held him out flat, and every once in a while he would let go.
That was the only time Adam would begin to panic and after a moment of flailing around he would begin to sink, but his pa was always right there to grab him and help him try again. Adam would have kept going much longer, but Jacob begged for a turn. Jericho looked on in misery as his brother and Adam took turns. He had to keep his cast out of the water and so far wasn’t doing such a great job at it.
Finally, Ben grew tired and left the boys to continue their games while he fished. Jericho joined him shortly after that and then Jacob and finally Adam. The boys giggled and squirmed so much that they never did catch any fish, but Adam didn’t mind. Mrs. Miller had told him that she was making pot roast for supper and that was Adam’s favorite. He’d been a little worried that if they brought home fish, she might change her mind and serve those instead.
All three of the boys eyelids’ were drooping and their heads were bobbing by the time Ben dropped the twins off, and Adam was asleep before Ben returned their own horse to the stable. The young boy woke up some time later in his bed. His socks and shoes had been pulled off and he lay still for a moment enjoying the breeze coming from the open window. When he did finally roll over and sit up, he saw that his pa was sitting on his own bed reading. Adam slid quietly to the floor and in a minute was snuggled up against his father.
“Pa, watcha readin’?” he asked.
His pa showed him the cover and told him it was a book that taught boys how to behave like gentlemen.
Adam had never seen it before and asked his pa where he got it from. As he suspected, his pa had borrowed it from Inger.
Adam hopped down from the bed, feeling his stomach starting to rumble. He hoped it would be time to eat soon, but when his pa pulled out his reader he knew it was going to be a while longer. Adam had done so well practicing with Inger in the store that he passed the next three pages in a row. He beamed as his father praised his efforts and then they set aside the book and worked on his sums for a while. When they’d finished, Adam hopped down and waited while his pa put the books away. He told Adam to collect his clothes so they could bring them down to Mrs. Miller, as the woman was going to do the washing the next day. Adam pulled out his satchel, and without thinking, dumped the contents on the floor. He was horrified when he heard a loud bang and the book Miss Inger had lent him lay face down on the floor. He took a step back, his eyes wide when his father turned around. Ben reached over and picked up the book.
“Where did you get this, son?” he asked in a voice that Adam dreaded hearing.
“I . . . Miss Inger let me borrow it.”
“Why is it in your satchel?”
Adam had forgotten that he’d decided to take the book when he’d been sure his father was leaving. He knew that his pa would consider that stealing and what the consequences would be, but a sudden thought occurred to him.
“Pa, I put it there when we were leavin’. I wanted to have somethin’ to remind me of Miss Inger.”
Ben sighed loudly and Adam gulped, taking a step back from him. “Pa, remember you said that there were too many things that I do wrong to punish me for things I might have done. I didn’t steal the book Pa. I’m still just borrowin’ it.”
It was a small chance, but it was the only one he had, so Adam tried his luck. He was pretty sure his luck had run out when his pa turned and sat on the bed, then motioned for Adam to come over to him. Adam felt his throat go dry when his pa picked him up, but instead of ending up over his pa’s knees, he found himself sitting on top of them.
“You, young man, are too smart for your own good.”
Adam didn’t feel safe smiling just yet, so he waited quietly.
“I’m not going to punish you,” his father said, and Adam felt his heart begin to beat normally again. “But I think you know that what you did was wrong.”
Adam nodded and tried to hang his head, but his pa caught him by the chin. “I want you to return the book tomorrow and you’ll not be allowed to borrow anything again without my permission. It seems you’re not quite ready for the responsibility.”
Adam almost wished his pa had just spanked him. He hated it when pa was disappointed in him and a few minutes later, when they went down to dinner, he wasn’t nearly as hungry as he’d been before. After supper, his pa surprised him by suggesting they go sit on the porch together. Mrs. Miller had a swing and they sat for a while looking up at the stairs. Finally, Adam could take the silence no longer and a tear rolled down his cheek as he looked up at his father.
“Pa,” he said timidly, “I’m sorry.”
Ben laid an arm across his shoulders and pulled his son close to him. “I’m glad to hear that son. A person should be sorry when they’ve done something wrong.”
“Pa, I’m not just sorry ’cause of that,” Adam said, pulling away from his father so that he could look into his eyes. “I’m sorry too that you’re mad at me.”
Ben smiled softly. “I’m not mad at you son. I think you made a wrong decision, but it’s one I don’t think you’ll make again, do you?”
Adam shook his head and crawled into his pa’s lap. Adam began asking him about the different stars, wanting to know their names. Sometimes, his pa knew a particular story to go along with one of the stars and Adam would often fish around until his pa caught on to what he was really wanting. That night though, Ben called it quits early and they made their way up the stairs.
The next morning, Adam woke up glad to see that his pa hadn’t left yet. He didn’t remember until he jumped out of bed a few minutes later that his pa was going to be working at Miss Inger’s store now. Adam had been listening when Miss Inger suggested that Ben run the store so that she could get things ready for their wedding. Adam had wondered what was going to happen to the store once they left for the west again, but he hadn’t wanted to interrupt.
Adam remembered to grab the book on his way out the door and, after a quick breakfast, he and his pa made their way to the small mercantile. Miss Inger smiled brightly when they entered, but Adam had a hard time returning the smile. He knew he had to give the book back, but he didn’t know if his pa expected him to confess that he’d planned on keeping it. His pa stood by the door and gave him a little shove. Adam felt the heat enter his face as he crossed to where Miss Inger was now waiting with a puzzled expression on her face. He held the book out to her and she seemed surprised to see it.
“My pa said I should give this back to you.” When she still seemed puzzled he continued. “Pa says I’m not to borrow things without asking anymore.” Miss Inger nodded her head as she accepted the book and Adam looked over his shoulder at his pa. Ben gave him a wink and Adam breathed a sigh of relief, he wasn’t going to have to confess after all. No more was said about the book, at least that Adam knew of, and the rest of the morning was spent with Miss Inger showing his pa around the store. Adam was proud of the knowledge he had gained and was more than pleased when Miss Inger let him show his pa where many of the goods were stocked. Ben, having quite a bit of knowledge about running this sort of business, was ready to be left on his own before noon, and Miss Inger bade them both farewell.
“Well, son, what shall we do first?” Ben asked, patting the young boy on the head.
Adam looked around the store until his gaze settled on the mop and broom toward the back.
“I could sweep behind the barrels, Pa,” Adam said and Ben nodded in agreement.
Adam watched as his pa took the oldest broom with a cracked handle and broke it off. He then sanded the end until it was smooth and handed it to Adam. The boy was delighted to have a broom just right for his size and he and his pa spent a while sweeping. Before long, a few customers came in and Ben moved away to help them. Adam had finished up the last of the sweeping by the time those customers had gone and was about to ask for another chore when a man came in.
“Got supplies around back,” he said.
Ben introduced himself and then went to help the man unload the supplies into the storeroom. When that was done, Ben crossed to the main door and turned the sign to say closed. He took off the apron he had worn across his waist and smiled at Adam, until he saw the boy’s frown.
“What is it, son?”
“Miss Inger always lets me turn the sign,” he said, pointing toward the little wooden board.
Ben chuckled and turned it to say open again. Adam’s frown turned to a grin as he sprinted across the room, but just then a group of young ladies walked in. Adam turned in consternation and then Ben really did laugh.
Ten minutes later, the girls were still rummaging through hair ribbons and spools of thread and Ben was leaning against the counter with both elbows, his head resting on his upturned palms. Adam had pulled his little stool to stand beside his father and was leaning in copycat fashion. The little boy’s stomach rumbled a minute later and he let out a soft sigh. Ben turned his gaze on his son.
“You just had to have things your way,” he said.
Adam rotated his eyes up to meet his pa’s and shrugged. Finally the girls were done, having left Adam a mess that would keep him busy for days and then he dragged his stool over to turn the sign. Adam showed his pa the little room off the side and they sat at the small table where Ben unpacked the lunch Mrs. Miller had packed. Adam missed Miss Inger’s food, but he knew better than to complain. It turned out that Mrs. Miller had been generous that day, though, and they each had a piece of apple pie to finish up their meal. After that, Ben told Adam to lie down for a while. Adam moved to comply but cast his father a longing glance.
“What is it this time?”
“Miss Inger always lets me read her a story,” he said.
Adam waited as his pa went into the next room and then returned with a book in hand. Adam was delighted to see that it was the book he’d been forced to return.
“How about I read to you this time?” his pa asked and Adam agreed happily.
The young boy lay back against the soft quilt and put his hands behind his head.
“Is there any particular story you want to hear?”
Adam nodded. “The one with the wolf,” he answered.
Ben chuckled and Adam wondered if he remembered the time Adam had been listening in on that story. When his pa started reading right where he’d been interrupted, he knew that his pa had remembered. Adam listened attentively, only missing the very end when his eyes finally grew too heavy for him to keep open.
A loud bang caused Adam to sit up with a start and he rubbed his eyes and then stretched his arms above his head. Sliding off the bed, he peeked his head into the main room. A woman was there yelling at his pa and waving some red material around in the air. Adam watched wide-eyed as she shoved the fabric into his chest and demanded a refund. Adam could see his pa’s face turning red and his eyes were fairly crackling. Adam instinctively took a step back, even though the anger was not being aimed toward him. He expected an explosion, and was surprised when his pa just took a deep breath and then in a calm voice began to ask the woman some questions. Adam had fully intended on watching the full exchange, but some movement near the door caught his attention.
For the first time, he noticed a young girl that had curly brown ringlets hanging out of a blue cotton bonnet. She motioned for Adam to come to her, but Adam just darted his eyes toward his pa and shook his head. The little girl stamped a petite foot and pointed to the spot in front of her. Adam hid his giggle behind a small hand and shook his head again. This time, he motioned for the girl to come to him and, after giving the woman at the counter a quick glance, she quickly crossed the room.
Adam stood back so she could enter the room.
“What’s your name?” the girl asked.
Adam held out his hand as he introduced himself, but the girl only stared at it for a minute before she began to have a look around.
“I’ve never been back here,” she said as she crossed to the two small cupboards the room contained and began rummaging through them. Adam was surprised at her boldness, but the girl was older than him and Adam didn’t feel right saying anything.
“What’s your name?” he asked after she’d closed the cupboards with some disgust at their lack of interesting objects.
“Hannah,” she answered with a toss of her head. “Where does that door lead to?” she asked pointing to a door near the small stove.
“Out back,” Adam answered.
Hannah crossed the room and opened the door. “You wanna come out and play with me?” she asked. “We could play hide and seek with all the boxes and things in the alley.”
Adam looked toward the door, but she interrupted him before had a chance to reply. “Oh, mother will keep him busy for a while yet,” she said. “Come on.”
She held out her hand to him then and smiled and Adam was surprised at just how pretty she looked. Her eyes were a light brown that reminded him of the color of cinnamon. With one last look toward the door, he followed her outside. For a while, they had a wonderful time taking turns seeking and then hiding until Adam found such a good hiding place that the young girl couldn’t find him. Then, she loudly called for him and told him the game was over. Adam came out to her, fully intending to declare himself the winner but before he could speak, Adam heard voices he recognized coming from just outside the alley. Ignoring the girl’s questions, he ran to the end of the alley, straight into Jacob and Jericho.
“Hey, Adam,” Jacob said. “Bethany sent us to get some crackers and milk for Peter. His stomach is upset. Watcha doin’ in the alley?”
Adam turned and pointed to the girl that was swiftly approaching. When he turned again, he saw his two friends making a face. Jericho lightly elbowed him in the side and leaned into whisper. “What are you doin’ with her?
“We were playin’ hide and seek,” Adam answered with a shrug.
“With a girl?” Jacob taunted.
“With Hannah?” Jericho added.
“That’s right, he was playing with me,” Hannah answered and stuck out her tongue. Adam laughed at the antic, but his two friends were not amused.
“Bethany said we could get some more marbles,” Jacob said, purposely turning his back to Hannah.
Adam watched as the girl put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot again. “Do you want to help us choose?” his friend continued.
Before Adam had a chance to answer, the twins had each grabbed one of his arms and pulled him toward the store. He didn’t even think of the fact that he was going through the front door until he was standing inside and his pa frowned at him in puzzlement.
Luckily for Adam, Hannah’s mother was still a ways off from letting him off the hook. Adam crossed the room with his friends and opened the large jar full of colorful marbles. He helped the boys each choose three and then they went to pay for them.
“And don’t think I’ll ever come back here again,” the woman exploded just before she turned on her heels and stalked out the door.
Adam saw her grab Hannah’s arm and pull her along. He couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for the girl.
“Well, and what can I do for you boys?” Ben asked leaning across the counter.
“We need some crackers and milk,” Jacob said, handing over a small empty pail. While Ben ladled the milk, the boys set their marbles on the counter and kept themselves amused replacing them each time they rolled off.
“Mr. Cartwright, can Adam come home with us?” Jericho asked after they’d finished handing over their coins.
“Not today, son. I’m afraid Adam has some explaining to do.”
Adam shrank in his shoes as his father sent him a stern gaze. His friend’s tossed him a sympathetic glance and then headed out the door on the run.
“Well,” Ben said, coming around the counter and folding his arms across his chest.
“I’m sorry, Pa, that girl came in and asked if I wanted to play hide and seek with her. I didn’t go past the store.”
Adam knew that excuse wouldn’t get him very far and a few minutes later he found himself sitting on the bed in the side room with orders to stay there until it was time to go. Adam sighed and flopped back onto the bed. He wasn’t looking forward to spending all that time alone with nothing to do, but he knew he’d gotten off easy. If they’d been out on the trail and he’d wandered off, things would not have ended so peacefully.
He was never more glad to hear Miss Inger’s voice follow the jingling of the bell above the door a short while later, and soon after that, his pa came in and told him they were leaving. Adam tried to keep his face looking repentant, but he was so glad to be out of that room that he couldn’t help but skip just a little bit as they made their way outside.
It turned out that Miss Inger had come back early to close the store. Bro. Peter and Miss Bethany had invited the engaged couple, along with Adam of course, to have supper with them. Adam and Ben went to the boarding house first to get ready, and while there, Ben gave Adam a stern lecture on proper behavior. Adam figured it wasn’t necessary as he planned to stay far away from trouble for a while. He’d been pressing his luck quite a bit as of late and he could sense that it had just about run out. He listened dutifully though and answered respectfully in all the right places and they were soon headed toward the small church. Adam was so anxious that Ben finally agreed to let him run ahead. Jericho and Jacob were waiting in the yard, bouncing up and down in excitement at their friend’s arrival and within moments, they were all inside the old barn.
The boys stayed on the ground level as Peter had forbidden his brothers to go up into the loft without an adult presence.
“Besides that,” Jacob said. “Jericho can’t climb good with that cast on his arm.”
Adam figured that was probably true and the boys contented themselves with a rousing game of chase until they were called in to eat. Miss Inger had already been there waiting when Adam and Ben arrived, and she had helped to prepare the meal.
Adam’s eyes grew large at the sight of the plump goose that was set on the table a few moments later, and from his friends’ exclamations, it was apparent that they were equally impressed.
“Is that the one you shot yesterday?” Jericho asked his brother with undisguised admiration.
Peter blushed slightly as all the attention turned to him and he answered with a humble. “God blessed me.”
“Yes, with excellent aim,” Ben said and everyone laughed.
It turned out to be quite a feast with mashed potatoes, Adam’s favorite, yams, string beans, fresh baked bread and berry pie for dessert. After the meal was eaten and the table had been cleared, the boys wanted to go back outside to play, but Peter told them to wait a minute. Then he poured each of the adults a drink in a small glass while the boys were given mugs full of milk and held it up in a toast to the engaged couple. Everyone cheered and drank their cups dry, and Ben and Inger thanked the Pastor by asking him to officiate at the wedding. Adam wasn’t sure what officiate meant, but he gathered that there was going to be a wedding at the church.
The boys bolted out of doors after that, and still being somewhat full, they settled under the shade of a tree near the porch and played marbles. Adam was careful, exact, and took his time, and he ended up winning three more marbles to add to his collection without losing any of his own. Jericho persuaded him to trade six of his smaller marbles for an aggie and Adam now had what he needed to begin his own game should he ever wish to do so.
A short time later, the adults all came out and sat on the porch and Adam was delighted when Peter took out an old rope and showed the boys how two of them could twirl while one person jumped. Miss Bethany strummed her guitar and the boys played until the sun started to turn the sky a dusky pink and then Ben called that it was time for them to go.
The next day went by quickly, and though Adam worked, he also kept his pa entertained with his recitation of everything that he and his friends had done the night before. It was getting close to closing time before Miss Inger came back to the store. Adam ran to her and, taking her hand, dragged her over to the basket that he had spent most of the day in front of. For the first time since he’d started helping around the store, it was completely organized. All the balls and spools had been rolled and Adam had sorted them by colors. The boy beamed under her praise and then, taking his hand, she crossed to where Ben was balancing the ledger for the day. Adam listened as she asked his pa, once again, to invite Gunnar to have dinner with them. Before the engagement, Ben had had several dinners with Miss Inger, but Adam was always in bed by then. Now they ate most meals together, but Gunnar had stopped coming. Adam wasn’t sure exactly why, but he had overheard enough to know that Miss Inger’s brother wasn’t happy about her marrying his father.
Truth be told, Adam was glad that he had stopped coming. He was a little afraid of Gunnar. Adam had never seen him smile and the few times he’d heard him speak, he’d been saying mean things to Miss Inger. Ben agreed to try and Miss Inger offered to take Adam home with her.
“I need someone to stir the batter for my cake,” she said.
Adam saw the wink his pa gave her, but that didn’t stop him from bouncing up and down in excitement. Adam skipped alongside Inger as they headed toward her home.
It wasn’t until much later that evening that things started to go wrong. Adam was sitting on the couch looking through a book when there was a knock at the door. It was a man bringing Miss Inger’s brother home. Someone had beaten him badly and Adam jumped in surprise at the sight of him. Gunnar never even opened his eyes when they carried him to the next room. Adam wondered what could have happened and then he heard a man talking to Miss Inger. Adam sat down again in shock when the man said that his pa had been the one to hurt Gunnar. His heart began to beat in his chest so fiercely that he almost couldn’t hear what was being said anymore. He’d seen his pa fight a man before, but it had always been to protect himself or something that was theirs from someone that was bad. Adam just couldn’t believe that his father would have a reason to hurt Gunnar, but the man, who Adam understood was a policeman, said that his pa should be punished and should be in jail. Adam felt tears spring into his eyes at these words and he wanted to run over and shove that policeman right out of the house. He stayed still as Miss Inger sent the man away. She turned toward him and Adam thought he could see tears in her eyes too.
“Adam, you should lie down now,” she said as she crossed to him.
“Miss Inger, that man, he said . . . is my pa bad,”
Miss Inger hurried to assure him that his pa was not bad, but Adam knew that she thought he’d done a bad thing. Adam wished his pa were there so that he could talk to him. It was a long time later when his pa finally did come. Adam hadn’t been able to fall asleep, but had rolled over to face the couch so that Miss Inger wouldn’t see his tears fall. His pa sounded upset, and as much as he wanted to run to him, Adam was also afraid, so he pretended to be asleep. He sat up quickly though when his pa and Miss Inger went into the room where Gunnar was sleeping. Adam wished he would wake up, and then maybe he could explain that his pa hadn’t meant to do something bad. Adam couldn’t hear what was being said, but he knew from the tone of the voices that they were upset. He got up quietly and crept to the door. It was still open a crack and he peered in. Miss Inger was sitting on the bed crying and his pa looked so upset. He turned his head toward Gunnar and a small plea escaped his lips.
“Please, God,” he whispered. “Please make him wake up.”
For a moment, Adam thought that his pa was going to leave and then suddenly Miss Inger cried out. Gunnar had woken up. The room grew quiet as his pa and Miss Inger listened to him speak and Adam strained his ears so that he could hear also. He almost shouted for joy when Gunnar said that it wasn’t his pa who had hurt him, but Mr. McHorter. Adam’s brow wrinkled and he pounded a little fist against his leg. He made up his mind right then and there that he hated Mr. McHorter.
A moment later, Miss Inger told his pa that Gunnar needed to get some rest and together they walked toward the door. Adam quickly ran for the couch and dove under the afghan. He peeked out just a bit though when they came into the room. His pa was looking at Miss Inger and smiling and she was smiling back at his pa. Adam gave a soft sigh and a few minutes later he was sound asleep.
When he woke up, he was surprised to find that he was in his little bed at the boarding house. He shot up quickly when he saw that his pa’s bed was already made up and he was nowhere to be seen. He jumped out of bed and ran for the bedroom door, flinging it open, giving a small cry when he saw his pa coming walking down the hallway toward him.
“Adam, what is it?” Ben asked, running the last few steps to scoop up his son.
Adam buried his head in his pa’s shoulder and began to sob. His pa quickly walked back to their room and after he’d shut the door, he sat down on the bed and sat Adam on his lap.
“Son, what is it? Why are you crying?”
His pa rubbed his back as he talked softly and Adam soon calmed down. “Pa, I thought you left me,” he said, his tone slightly condemning.
“Adam, even if I had, I would have come back, you know that.”
Adam sniffed and started to wipe his sleeve across his nose, but Ben caught his arm and then, pulling out a handkerchief, helped the boy to blow his nose. “I was afraid, Pa,” he continued. “You were gone last night, and a man came and said you hurt Gunnar. I knew you didn’t do it, but you didn’t come back for a long time. Miss Inger said you did a bad thing. I thought you were going to leave me with her.”
Tears started to roll down the young boy’s cheeks again, and Ben took his chin gently between his fingers and tilted Adam’s head to look up at him.
“Adam, listen to me. I would never ever leave you. What happened yesterday was a misunderstanding. Inger and I have worked it all out now though. She isn’t angry anymore and neither am I.”
“Are you mad at Mr. McHorter?” Adam asked.
His pa looked a little surprised at that question and then chuckled slightly. “I guess you were listening,” he said. Adam nodded not feeling in the least guilty.
“Mr. McHorter is the one who did a bad thing, Pa. Is he going to be punished?”
“If I had my way, he would be,” Ben answered. “But it’s going to be up to Gunnar, whether or not he wants to bring charges against McHorter.”
Adam wasn’t sure what charges meant, but he decided he would ask about that later. For right now, he was content to just feel safe in his father’s arms. “Pa, you promise you’ll never leave me?”
His pa hugged him close as he answered. “Son, I promise you I’ll do my best to be there for you anytime you need me.”
Adam turned and wrapped his arms around his pa and then he giggled as his pa tickled his stomach.
“Come on,” Pa said, setting him on the floor. “We’ve got to pack up and then get this room cleaned up.
Adam looked up in surprise. “Are we headin’ out, Pa?” he asked.
“Not just yet, but we’re going to move into that little room off the side of the store until Inger and I get married. Gunnar sold the store and so we’re going to help Miss Inger get everything cleared out.”
“Pa, when are you gettin’ married?”
“On Saturday, son, don’t you remember?”
Adam remembered, but he wanted to make sure. “Pa, when you get married, that means Miss Inger will come to live with us, right?”
His pa nodded as he started collecting their things.
“Do you think she’ll like livin’ with us?”
“I hope so, son.”
“Pa, if Miss Inger lives with us, will she be doin’ the cookin’?”
“Adam, Inger is going to live with us, and yes, I’m sure she’ll do the cooking.”
Adam caught the look his pa was giving him and decided to make any further comments on cooking another time.
“Pa, if Miss Inger lives with us and she does the cookin’ does that mean . . . does it mean that . . . “
“Adam,” Ben stopped and turned his attention to his young son. “Miss Inger IS going to live with us, and do the cooking, and . . . she will be your mother. Do you know what that means, son?”
Adam returned his pa’s gaze. “It means she’ll love me, just as if . . . as if I was her own son.”
Ben nodded and Adam wondered why his pa’s eyes were suddenly watery. “I think she already does, son.”
It didn’t take them much time to pack their meager belongings and Adam carried things down the hall while his pa straightened up the room. Mrs. Miller was there to see them off and told Ben that she couldn’t wait for the wedding and asked if he wanted Adam to stay with her while they were on their honeymoon.
Ben looked startled at this request and turned his eyes on Adam seeming to study him for a moment. “Well, Mrs. Miller, I’m not sure,” he answered. “I don’t know exactly what our plans are yet. I’ll talk to Inger and let you know.”
“Pa, what’s she talkin’ about?” Adam asked as they walked with arms laden toward the store.
“Well, son, when people get married they usually go away for a few days to spend some time alone with each other. It’s called a honeymoon.”
“Are you and Miss Inger goin’ to the moon, Pa?”
Ben laughed. “No, not the moon, son, but we probably will spend a few days away.”
As much as Adam liked Mrs. Miller, he hoped that he wouldn’t have to stay with her. He had a much better idea.
“Can I stay with Jacob and Jericho?” he asked.
Ben huffed as he bent down to grab a bag that he’d dropped. “Adam, I’m not sure. Let’s just get settled in the store for now and we’ll talk about it later.”
Adam sighed and then had to scurry to keep up with his pa’s long strides. Miss Inger was waiting for them in the store when they got there and she held the door open for them.
“Oh, Ben, do you need some help?”
“This is it,” he called back from the room where he had dumped his awkward load on the bed.
Adam copied his pa’s antics and ceremoniously unloaded his bundles onto the floor and then slid to the floor panting for breath.
Ben laughed and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Come on, mister,” Pa said. “Our work has just begun.”
Adam gave an exaggerated moan and then laughed when his pa picked him up tossing him over his shoulder.
Once outside, his pa swung him to the ground again and they headed for the livery. “Pa, is the wagon all fixed up now?” Adam asked.
“You’ll see in just a minute.”
A few minutes later, Adam was climbing in, out, and over the wagon giving it a thorough once over. He was very satisfied with the improvements. Two of their old worn out wheels had been replaced with brand new ones and the other two had been repaired so expertly that they looked almost new as well. The canvass had been cleaned, sewed, stretched over the top, and it fluttered in the breeze looking crisp and white. Adam thought the best part of all the repairs were the new springs under the driver seat. And he had a wonderful time on the way back to Miss Inger’s store bouncing in rhythm with the wagons movements rather than being jostled around. The inside of the wagon had also been cleaned up a good deal and it looked very empty to Adam.
“Pa, are we gonna get more supplies before we leave?”
“We sure are, son, this old wagon is going to get pretty full before we’re done. Inger has quite a few things she wants to bring along and we’re taking as many supplies from the store as we can carry.”
Adam’s eyes grew round at the mention of items from the store, but his father quickly squelched any ideas that he had.
“No, you may not bring that big jar of marbles.”
Adam slid down in his seat and sulked for a moment, not that he’d actually thought he’d be able to take the marbles, but pouting was expected. He sat up again as they pulled behind the store. Adam was excited to see what kinds of supplies they would be bringing along and he wanted to stay close by so that he could give some input. He soon found that his input was neither required nor appreciated when his pa sent him away with orders to dust something, anything. Miss Inger laughed at the face he made, but Adam wasn’t amused. His pa had always asked his opinion before, but today he only seemed to be interested in what Miss Inger said.
The next day was going to be the wedding and Adam could hardly get to sleep: he was so excited. He didn’t really understand much of what it was all about. He knew that Miss Inger and he and his pa were all going to be wearing brand new clothes and that everyone coming would be dressed up real fine. His pa had told him that Bro. Peter was going to perform the wedding. Adam wondered if it would be anything like the one time he’d seen a man perform magic tricks. Somehow, he doubted it though. Mrs. Miller was making a giant cake for afterwards and she had let Adam decide on what flavor it should be. He chose chocolate, although Mrs. Miller said only the inside could be chocolate. The outside had to be white, but it was going to have little flowers all over it. What Adam was most excited about was being able to stay with Jacob and Jericho. For the first time in his life, he was going to be staying somewhere overnight without his pa. Ben had told him that he and Miss Inger would be gone for three days. Adam was more excited about the prospect of staying with his friends for those three days than about the fact that Inger would be living with them from now on. He was happier than he could ever remember being, but at the same time he was a little sad at the thought of leaving this town, and especially his friends.
The day of the wedding, Adam woke extra early. It was so early that the sun wasn’t even up yet, but somehow he knew it wasn’t far off. He slipped out of his blankets and padded quietly over to his pa’s bed and, pulling back the quilt, slid in beside him. His pa barely moved and Adam just enjoyed lying beside him, listening to his soft breathing. A part of him sensed that his relationship with his pa was going to change. He wasn’t afraid of it, but he was afraid that he would miss the way things were. He wondered if Pa would still read to him at night or if he would be too busy like the last couple of nights. He wondered if he would be able to ask his pa all his questions or if he would be preoccupied talking to Miss Inger. He wondered if his pa would still love him as much or if Miss Inger would take up too much of it. Adam fell asleep again with these worries rolling around inside his head, and the next time he woke up, it was to his father lifting him.
“Son, did you have a bad dream?”
Adam stretched and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “No sir, I just wanted to be next to you for a little while.”
Ben seemed to sense that his boy was needing something and so he held him close for a few minutes. “Son, you know that I love you just as much today as I have since the day you were born, don’t you?”
Adam turned to look into his father’s eyes and nodded.
“And you know that just because I’m marrying Inger doesn’t mean I’ll love you any less. My heart has plenty of room for both of you.”
Adam nodded again. He looked down and began to fiddle with the buttons on his father’s nightshirt. “Pa, will you still read to me, and let me ask you questions?”
Ben chuckled and after giving Adam a tight squeeze, set him down on the floor. “Son, I think that you’ll find having Inger with us will be better than you could ever imagine. Not only will I still have time for all those things, but you’ll have Inger to do things with as well.”
Adam opened his eyes in surprise at this statement. He hadn’t thought of that. “You mean when you’re drivin’, she could read to me?”
Ben laughed. “That’s the spirit, and I hope she’ll read to both of us.”
That was enough to drive any further worries Adam may have had from his mind, and the rest of the morning was spent with a smile on his face. After breakfast, he and his pa took a bath. Adam wouldn’t have minded except for some of the soap got in his eyes when his pa washed his hair. And his eyes were so red that his reflection made it look as if he’d been crying. That’s exactly what Mrs. Miller thought when she arrived, and for a long while, she called him lamb and poor dear and even gave him a tart that was meant for the wedding supper.
Ben helped Adam to dress and then Miss Bethany was there to take him so that his pa could finish getting ready.
Adam mostly sat and waited once they got to the parsonage, however, because Bethany had her hands full trying to get the twins to sit still long enough to get their good clothes on. Finally, all three boys were dressed and Miss Bethany told them they could play in the bedroom with every kind of threat, short of lynching, should they get their clothes dirty or wrinkled. The boys decided to play jacks and so a short while later, only their knees needed to be dusted when it was time to go to the church. Adam had never been to church on any day besides Sunday before, and he wondered if it would look any different. He was shocked at just how different it was when they walked in. The little room had been decorated in all manner of green vines, and pretty shrubs and colorful sweet smelling bouquets of flowers were scattered everywhere. It seemed to Adam as if every candle in the entire town had been brought to the church and even though it was daylight, the hundreds of candles glimmered and shone. Adam was separated from his friends then and brought to a little room off the side that he had never seen before. He was glad when he got inside to see that his pa was there. Gunnar was also there and Adam couldn’t believe how much different he looked in a dusty brown suit with striped shirt and black string tie. The man gave him a wink and Adam gave him one back as he bounded across the room to his pa’s side.
“Pa, did you see the cake?” Adam asked, his eyes fairly sparkling.
“Yes, I did, son,” was all Adam was able to get out of his pa before Bro. Pete came in and called for him. Ben gave Adam a pat on the chin as he walked out and Adam saw him take a deep breath and straighten his tie. Adam heard music begin to play then from the organ and it was a song he’d never heard before. He thought it was real pretty and waited quietly just listening until a young girl beckoned for him to come. Adam hadn’t been the least bit nervous up til then. Many different people had gone over with him what to expect. He was to walk down the aisle where his pa and Miss Inger would be waiting and, when asked for it, he was to produce the ring his pa had slipped in his pocket. Now, as he looked around the room at all the faces staring at him, he was suddenly very self-conscious. He could feel his cheeks flaming and he swallowed hard as he began to walk forward. For just a split second, he panicked as he wondered whether or not he still had the ring. He slipped his hand into his pocket and breathed a sigh of relief as his fingers clasped over the thin band. His heart was pounding as he made his way toward the center, but then he looked past the people to his pa standing so tall and looking proud and Miss Inger was holding his hand smiling, and every trace of nervousness vanished away. He was filled with an overwhelming sense of happiness. The two people standing up in front were his, and for the first time in his young life, he felt what it was like to not just be him and pa, but to be a family.
When the wedding was over, Miss Bethany took charge of Adam, making sure he got enough to eat. Adam enjoyed seeing his pa cut the cake and Miss Inger insisted he take the first bite. After everyone had finished eating, his pa took him up and gave him a big hug, telling him to be sure and be good. Miss Inger gave him a kiss on the cheek and a few minutes later, they rode away in a buggy that Gunnar had rented for them. Adam was a little sad to see them go, but Jacob and Jericho soon had his mind on other things. The boys played and ran and shouted until they were shooed down to the creek so that the church and grounds could be cleaned up. Adam copied the boys and left his jacket, shoes, and all other unessential clothing in a heap on the ground and they spent the next hour collecting crawdads. Jacob had dumped out the last bit of lemonade from one of the pitchers and the boys put the crustaceans they collected inside of that. Soon Peter called them though, and Miss Bethany, having no desire to cook up the little critters, ordered them to be released. The boys dawdled as long as they could and then they all headed for the parish. Miss Bethany insisted that since it had been a long day, they all lay down quietly for a while. She told them they didn’t have to fall asleep, but they had to be still and a few minutes later, all three boys were sleeping soundly. They woke up a while later to the sound and smells of bacon frying and Adam sat up looking around him. Jericho was still curled up in a little ball sleeping, but Jacob was just heading out of the room. Adam quickly scooted down from the bed and followed him to the kitchen.
“Well, boys, since we all just woke up,” Miss Bethany laughed, “I thought it would be appropriate if we had some breakfast.”
“For dinner?” Jacob squeaked.
Jericho joined them a few minutes later and the boys feasted on pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, and fried potatoes. After they’d eaten, Miss Bethany told them they could go play in the barn and that they would have some leftover cake later that night. She reminded them again to stay out of the loft and the three boys took off. Once inside the barn, it was decided to play hide and seek and for hours they hid and searched, and screamed and giggled. Peter came out to the barn eventually and told the boys it was time to come back to the house. They were disappointed and dragged their feet until they approached the porch and saw that Miss Bethany was busy grinding the handle of an old ice cream maker.
The next few days were filled with memories that Adam carried with him for years. Hot lazy summer days filled with wading in creeks, playing tag in the long sweet grass, going for walks around the lake and eating watermelon straight from the garden.
The day finally came when Adam’s pa came back and for the first time, that night the three of them all slept together under one roof. The next day was the last day they would spend in Galesburg and Adam was filled with conflicting emotions. He was almost as excited as his pa to get back on the road, but for once, what he was leaving behind pulled harder at his heart then what lay ahead.
Adam woke early the next morning from where he’d been sleeping on Miss Inger’s couch. He got up quietly and crept into the room where he knew his father was sleeping. He opened the door very quietly and heard the low voices as his pa and Inger talked. He wanted to go in, but was unsure of himself. He was about to close the door when Inger turned and noticed him.
“Oh, Adam, won’t you join us?” she asked reaching out a hand toward him.
Adam rewarded her with a dimpled smile and ran around the bed to his pa’s side.
“Well, son, did you sleep well?”
Adam nodded and snuggled down under the covers near his father. He watched Inger curiously from the safety of his father’s arms. As much as he loved her and as glad as he was to have her living with them, he suddenly felt a little shy.
“What would you like for breakfast today?” Inger asked as she sat up and pulled a robe around her shoulders.
Now food was something Adam felt safe talking about. “Ham,” he said and Inger nodded.
“Then ham it is.”
Ben called after her that some eggs to go with it would be nice and then turned to his son with a smile.
“Adam, you don’t have to call her Miss Inger anymore. Now that we’re married she’s your mother, and if you want to you, can call her that.”
Adam looked down as he toyed with a loose thread on the blanket. “Do I have to?”
Ben looked a little surprised but answered calmly. “No, son, you can just call her Inger if you want to.”
Adam nodded. Having a mother was still all very new to him and just a little overwhelming.
When they finished breakfast, Adam went with his pa to the store one last time. After today, it would belong to Mr. McHorter and that thought made Adam a little sad. A few days before the wedding, Gunnar had come into the store and Adam had listened as he explained that he had decided not to press charges against McHorter. He said that he was planning to leave shortly after Ben left and didn’t want to be tied up with legal matters. Adam wanted to ask what that meant, but then he would have had to give away the fact that he’d been eavesdropping so he remained quiet. Gunnar had mentioned something about having his own plans for McHorter and Adam had been startled when his pa had suddenly reached out and grabbed Gunnar’s arm.
“Don’t do it,” he’d said, looking almost pleadingly into Gunnar’s eyes. “You sister is so happy right now. Allow her the chance to say goodbye to her home . . . to you in peace.”
Gunnar had looked angry at first and Adam wondered if he was going to strike his father, but then he had sighed and, putting a hand on Ben’s shoulder, slowly nodded his head.
“All right, for my sister,” he said.
He’d turned to go after that, but at the door he’d stopped and winked at Adam. It was the first time he’d ever paid any attention to the small boy and Adam couldn’t help but smile back.
When they entered the store, Adam was overwhelmed with the sense of emptiness. The shelves were bare and all the barrels, and boxes, and crates had been cleared out. Many of them were now loaded onto their wagon. Adam walked around in imitation of his father, checking things over and making sure nothing was amiss. There was only one more crate in the storeroom and that was filled with a special set of dishes that had belonged to Inger’s mother. Ben picked it up and then turned to Adam. “Well, son, this place has been good to us. It gave us things we needed, a home, and a . . .”
“Mother,” Adam finished for him.
Ben smiled and they walked toward the door. Just as they were about to leave, Adam caught something glimmering out of the corner of his eye. He went to investigate and discovered a little red marble. He showed it to his pa and Ben agreed he could keep it. Adam put the prized possession into his pocket, and as they walked away, he turned one last time to look at the small store and, feeling the marble in his pocket, he almost felt as if the store had given him one last gift.
After they left the store, the rest of the day was spent helping Miss Inger with her house. It turned out that Bro. Peter had offered to buy it. The little parsonage they were in was getting awfully cramped and Miss Inger had been thrilled to know that her dear friend would be living in her home. Inger felt much better about the fact that she had to leave so much behind knowing that it would be going to a loving family. Adam spent the day toting and fetching, dusting and packing then unpacking then repacking with his pa. When his father remained patient and never grew cross or irritated, Adam realized just how much of a difference having Inger with them had made. His pa seemed almost happy about the fact that she continually changed her mind, only to change it back again a short time later.
At one point, it was Adam and not Ben that threw his hands up in despair and then plunked down on a nearby rock letting his head fall wearily into his hands. Ben had laughed uproariously at his son’s exasperation and had comforted him with the words that it was a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and a man’s duty to comply. The sound of his father’s laughter was enough to cheer the boy again and before much longer, the wagon was packed and ready for travel.
Gunnar had shown up just as they were about to head for the parsonage with two big beautiful horses. He had traded in all the stock and the few farm animals they owned for the two draft horses and a riding horse of his own. He’d handed the reins to Ben gruffly and said that his own horses would have to be added to the bargain before it was complete. Ben was baffled and for a few moments could do nothing but rotate his gaze between Gunnar and the two fine animals, but finally he did speak his thanks and clapped Gunnar on the shoulder. Gunnar had merely shrugged saying he would see them off the next day and turned and left. When Adam looked up, he noticed tears in Inger’s eyes. His pa put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a light squeeze.
“I’m going to miss him,” she whispered.
A short while later, they were at the parsonage where Adam immediately found himself being spirited away by his two friends. They went to the barn and the boys took Adam behind one of the old haystacks and, reaching into a little hollowed out place, pulled out a small gift. It was wrapped in brown crinkled paper and Adam started wide-eyed when they handed it to him.
“We’ve been workin’ for the church,” Jacob said.
“Yeah, we’ve been pullin’ weeds and sweepin’ for ages so’s we could buy you a goin’ away gift,” Jericho piped up.
Adam took the gift and excitedly tore open the paper. There was a plain brown box inside, but when he lifted the lid, he nearly screeched with excitement. He dropped the box and paper at his feet as he held up the beautiful, shiny pocket knife. It was blue and on one end it had a two tiny letters painted onto it in silver.
“Those are for your name,” Jacob announced proudly. “A and C for Adam Cartwright.”
Adam’s eyes shone as he carefully opened the blade and examined it. His eyes immediately began scanning the ground for a stick to try it out on. The boys all took turns trying out the knife before Adam folded it up again and ran to find his pa. Ben seemed as surprised and pleased as Adam had been and looked over the gift carefully.
“This is a fine knife, son,” he said.
Adam suddenly wished that he had something to give the two boys, but he hadn’t even thought of getting them a gift. An idea came to him and, after a few minutes, he asked the boys if they wanted to play a game of marbles. Adam had built up quite a little collection since the first time he’d played, but this time he didn’t put quite as much effort into the game as he usually did. When both Jacob and Jericho walked away with seven of his best marbles between them, Adam merely smiled and he pocketed the rest. He would never tell them that he’d let them win, and in his own way he’d given them a better gift than if he’d just handed over the marbles.
Supper that night was a regular feast and Miss Bethany had made Adam’s favorite. Everybody, including Adam, praised her on the finest pot roast they’d ever eaten and they all finished up the meal with large slices of berry pie. The berries were ones that the boys had picked during one of their afternoon adventures. After supper, Miss Bethany took out her guitar and everyone sat around and sang songs. Adam had learned many of them during his travels and his voice sang out strong and clear. After the singing, Miss Bethany shocked everyone by handing over her guitar to Ben.
“I want you to have it,” she said. “To remember this night and all of the people you shared it with.”
Ben had tried to refuse, but Peter joined in. “Each time you play it, think of us and know that we’ll be thinking of you and praying for you.”
Finally, the time came for them to go and Adam said goodbye to his two friends. All three of them held up bravely until there was some distance between them. Ben had picked Adam up to carry him and the young boy looked back for one last glimpse of Jacob and Jericho. Peter had Jacob up on his shoulders and the boy was still waving, but Jericho had turned and buried his face in his sister’s skirt. Adam could hold back his own tears no longer and, laying his head on his pa’s shoulder, he cried. Inger took hold of his hand and Ben rubbed his back as they walked and by the time they got to the house, Adam was asleep.
The next morning came early, and they had the last of their supplies loaded before the sun was even up. Mrs. Miller surprised them by showing up with a hot breakfast for them a few minutes later.
“I knew your dishes would be packed and I wanted to see the boy one more time before you left,” she’d said.
When they finished eating, Mrs. Miller packed up the dishes and Adam gave her a big hug. She handed him a little crock and told him it was some of the butter he had churned for her. Adam smiled and handed the crock to Inger. As soon as Mrs. Miller left, Ben declared that it was time for them to be on their way. Inger didn’t seem to mind leaving her home, but she insisted that Ben stop at the store one last time.
“The store is where all my happiest memories are,” she said. Adam stayed by her side as she walked through each room, and in each one she would stop and tell him some little story that had happened in that room. When at last she was ready, Ben opened the door to the store and the little bell above jingled for them. Inger stopped and held a hand up to her mouth. Adam saw tears glimmering in her eyes and for one terrifying moment, he thought she might change her mind and not go with them after all, but then Ben took her arm and Inger reached for Adam’s hand and together they walked out the door, leaving behind old heartaches and years of loneliness, but taking with them all the happy memories and the joys and security of a loving family.
Written for Nanowrimo 2012. Many many thanks to my most amazing and incredibly patient beta reader :0)
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