Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 61

Chapter 61

The man I was staring at in horror put the little girl down and told her to go get her brother. All I could do was just stand there and force myself to remember how to breathe. A boy who would have been about Georgie’s age came jogging up and I started seeing spots. Georgie had had the exact same shaped ears and the same snub nose.

I did not like the buzzing that had begun in my head and I stepped back. “No. You ... you can't be. I buried you. You and Ma and Georgie and Gran. I buried you. I ...”

I took yet another step backwards and jumped when I ran into something that shouldn’t have been there. Turning I see what it was I found a man a bit older than the first that somehow looks even more like Da than the other apparition did. Not only is my head buzzing but now I’m seeing spots in front of my eyes and I can feel myself sliding to the ground. I would have gone all the way but the older man tries to grab me bringing out my survival instincts. I evade his hold but rather than be upset as I expected, my move elicits a strange response.

The second man looks at the first and says, “By God, she got out of that the same way Dred would have ... the exact move.”

I froze. My Da’s proper name was Dredward the same way mine was Felicia only most knew him by Dred. Snarling, falling back to my harshest Outlander feelings of self-preservation, I demand, “What do you know of my Da?!”

The Captain came forward and gently said, “Easy Fel. Do you remember long ago when I questioned you about where your father came from?”

Thinking back but only having a vague recollection of it I said, “I suppose.”

He took a step closer and then got between me and the men. “Well, I’ve had occasion to deal with the territory of Dover on occasion over the years – it lies a bit northeast from here – and found it extremely strange that you would know of the place. They aren’t what you would call friendly to strangers.

The older of the two men smiled and said, “Now now Rob, you’re being a bit harsh don’t ya think? We haven’t skinned a stranger in years.”

The young boy said, “Oh Uncle George, don’t say that, you’re gonna scare her.”

His father said, “She doesn’t look scared to me. A little too familiar with that Green River she’s fingering the hilt of if you want to know the truth.”

When I continued to just stare at the two of them the older man asked, “Aren’t you the least bit interested in finding out who we are?”

I snorted, “I figure you’ll eventually get around to telling me. Men are like that.”

A young woman I hadn’t seen stepped from behind some horses and started laughing. “Wow, you are just like Aunt Felicia, look like her too. Mother tells us stories of when they were all younger together and I I bet she was just like you. Mother said she was the terror of all the boys in the village.”

It took a bit of time for me to calm down but when Winnie came out and put her arm around me and said, “These are your family Dear … your father’s people” all I could do was stare.

The older of the two men was George McConnell, the eldest brother. There was an older sister and she was the one named Aunt Felicia. Then there was another sister named Sarah who was married and traveling with her husband while they surveyed some land far to the north. Then came my Da in line. The youngest was the man that had first startled me and his name was Winston … though he said, “I freely give you leave to call me Uncle Win as the only person that called me Winston was my mother and only when she was less than pleased about something.”

George said, “Which was most of the time.” A bellowing laugh followed that pronouncement though “Uncle Win” didn’t seem to mind and in fact seemed to relish the idea.

The young woman was George’s daughter and her name was June. She is the one that explained, “Everyone gets named after someone. There are a lot of Felicia’s in the family as you’ve no doubt realized. I’m named after mother’s side of the family. She said there was no way she was going to add yet another Felicia to the village roster.”

Still stunned by the idea that I had a family … a blood one … I said quietly as we sat on the porch eating snacks that Mrs. Wiley supplied, “I had a little brother. We called him Georgie.”

The older man looked choked up at the idea. “Dred and I … we … we didn’t part on the best of terms. I sided with father, tried to force him into working the surveyor teams when all he really wanted to do was make blades and the like. Can’t believe he’d … he’d name a son …”

I told the older man what my Da had told me. “Da said there once was a little boy who got stuck in a tree. His brother went up the tree but when he got there all he did was tell him how to climb down by himself. He cried for his brother to take him down but the older brother refused and insisted that the young boy do it himself. He said ‘Fel, I was that little boy and my brother George is the one that taught me how to climb down that tree. When I asked him why he said because he might not be around next time and he didn’t want to see me get hurt. He didn’t just teach me to climb down a tree that day, he set my feet on a different path, one of not having to rely on others to get me out of scrapes I would get into.’” I smiled at the memory for a moment then finished by telling him, “He went on to tell me that’s one of the reasons he taught me all the things he did, that he didn’t want me to rely on folks that might not always be there.”

Uncle George’s eyes were suspiciously bright and he lost his voice for a bit. June asked me, “What else did your father tell you?”

“Oh this and that.” I repeated a few of the stories that I’d grown up hearing and my relatives would add bits and pieces that I’d never known about.

After one such story I told them “He’d tell me tales but sometimes the stories made him sad. He didn’t regret finding his own life but he regretted having to leave his family behind to do it.”

Uncle Win nodded and said, “Dred always had a mind of his own.” He sighed. “Rob told us … how Dred died. Do you think you are up to telling us yourself?”

So I did and somehow, while it hurt as it always did, this time it was like Da was there with me and giving me the strength to share what had to be told.”

Cor had followed me back from the spring but he stayed to the side of the crowd of people on the porch, letting me handle how much I wanted to get to know my family although he insisted on telling how I’d fought in the battle … even saying he was proud of all that I had accomplished then and on the estate when he wasn’t around. It surprised me when he said it and something began ticking that I had thought had stopped for the last time. He was also honest about how I’d been treated unfairly and that he was sorry for the misunderstanding that had put me in the position I was in.

Towards the evening Uncle George said, “Well, if there was any doubt in the beginning there’s now none. You’re definitely a McConnell, the daughter of my brother we thought lost to us forever. And even though he no longer walks this earth, you’re still here and I want you to know as I’m sure the rest of the family does, that you have a place with us and a free to come live with us should that be your choice.”

I was stunned. I’d never given serious thought to finding my father’s family. To me they were simply a legend, ground in truth but forever out of my reach. And then when I least expect it they show up … and then not only that do they accept me, they tell me I have a place with them. It was a lot to take in. It was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to say … and then suddenly, as if my Da was whispering in my ear, I did.

With as much dignity as I could muster I told them all, “I would like to visit one day but for now what I want isn't as important as what I’ve committed to here. You tell me my father was always one to do things his way and if nothing else I have always been my father’s daughter." To no one and everyone I said, “My place is here. I won't abandon Corman.” In my mind I thought, let them make of that what they will.

While many people seemed disappointed and a couple seemed stunned my Uncle George smiled and said, “I’ll hold you to that visit now … an one or more of us may just be back around before you know it to bring our sister who is not going to be willing to believe it until she sees for herself the face of her namesake. As a matter of fact, though we’ll need to be back on the road tomorrow to meet up with the convoy we are traveling with, I’d like June to sketch you out so we can take your likeness with us.”

My family and I talked late into the night and then while I’d only just found out about their existence it was a wrench to watch them leave the next day.

Winnie asked me as they rode away, “Are you sure Fel? It isn’t too late.”

I shook my head. “No. My Da told plenty of stories of his family and he did love and miss them but the reason he left is because they were forever trying to order his life for him. He wasn’t a person to take to that. To be himself he had to leave and roam far away from their influence. And while I know I like these people who are my Da’s family, they were already telling me what I’d do if I came to live with them, how my life would be ordered and how I would fit in.” I shook my head again. “I reckon I’ve got enough meddlesome people around here. I don’t need to go find more that are even worse.”

She’s hugged my neck and seemed to understand what I wasn’t saying. Mrs. Wiley and Jonah beamed and I had to peel Topher off of me so that he wouldn’t be late for his chores. “Yers not leaving me!” he said happily.

“Of course not,” I replied. “I’ve still got enough to teach you that should keep you busy for quite a while yet. And when I do go to visit, assuming you want to, you can come with me and we’ll both see a bit more of the world.”

That seemed to satisfy him and he left with a kick in his heels that cause the mule he was riding to give me a disgruntled look as if to say, “Did you need to wind him up quite this much?”

The rest of the day people kept coming by like they couldn’t believe I was still around. They kept getting underfoot but for some reason I didn’t mind. It was nice to know that people were happy I’d chosen to stay. But after the late hour the night before and the excitement of trying to get on with my life during the day, I was ready to go see my pillow as soon as dinner was done. As tired as I was thought there was still much to do before I could seek my rest.

I washed a basin of underthings and hung them to dry by in the corner of the room. I washed my hair because it had gotten full of prickles when I’d had to dig a nest of kittens out of a clump of bushes to save them from a snake that had gone in after them. Then a few more things here and there and before I knew it, the hour was much later than I had meant to be up and about.

I had drawn down my covers and had just put my foot on my bed stool when there was a knock at the cabin door. Thinking that the only thing that would bring someone to my door at such a late hour was an emergency I ran over and opened the door without looking first.

It was Cor and he was standing there looking like a lost pup. I didn’t know what to say and just stood there in shock looking at him. Finally he mumbled, "I ... I can't sleep."

Blinking in surprise I told him, “I wouldn't be able to sleep standing out in the damp and chill either.”

He continued to just stand there looking lost, neither going nor coming. Finally I took his hand and drew him in. He continued to seem like he was only half in this world so I led him to the rocker by the fire where he finally sat. I sat in the chair and stared at the fire with him. Finally I’m beyond wondering and turn to ask him what he’s doing here only he is asleep.

All I can do is cover him with the bear skin so he won’t catch a fever and go climb into my own bed. In no time I was asleep as well but right before dawn I waken to the feel of him laying the bear skin back over me and then creeping from the cabin quietly.

I wasn’t sure what to make of his night time visit. I would have asked but I didn’t see him at all that day. I thought perhaps he was avoiding me until Jonah mentioned that he’d gone to inspect the roof on one of the grain silos at the rice production facility. He didn’t even make it back for dinner so I decided to let it go. He’d seemed half asleep and I thought perhaps he was now ashamed of what he’d done.

But I was no sooner ready for bed than there was a familiar knock at the cabin door. This time I opened it with more caution but that only seemed to make him stand there even longer and say even less. Again I took his hand and he came willingly enough and sat in the rocker. As soon as he was there he seemed to ease and then go to sleep. All I could do was shake my head at his strange behavior.

This continued for a week and I began to suspect that Cor was simply trying to replicate the normalcy we’d once managed to create. I decided if it brought him comfort and made him feel closer to Francine somehow that who was I to stop him. He did seem like he was more relaxed as the days passed, even Winnie remarked upon it, wondering what he was doing that was different. I certainly wasn’t about to enlighten her.

At the end of the week I expected him to go back to sleeping at his house but I have to admit it was nice to be reminded of the old days when we were more at ease in each other’s company. I refused to hope for much more than that. Perhaps it is helping him to come to terms with Francine’s loss.

But I got the biggest shock of my life when I was listlessly getting ready for bed on the eighth night when there was the familiar knock on the door. I was so surprised I almost didn’t answer it. But then I heard the scratch of his boots on the grit just outside the door and I ran over and threw it open.

This time he came in on his own but wandered around a bit before settling into the rocker. I sat in the chair beside him but time stretched and he didn’t go to sleep. Finally I found the courage to ask him, “Cor, why?”

Quietly he asked, “Does it bother you that I prefer it here?”

Honestly I tell him, “No. But you can't be resting well sitting up in that rocker. “

He just looks at me so I shrug and go to bed as always but then he gets up from the rocker, banks the fire and comes to stand by the edge of the bed. I move over and he silently climbs in and it was like it was before. He lies there stiffly for a moment and then slides into sleep but he always slips away before dawn.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Every night he comes. In fact tonight he didn’t even make a pretense of roaming around the room. I twisted my foot when the stool I’d been balancing on to reach a new braid of onions had tipped from in under me. Tonight he came earlier than he normally did and silently insisted on soaking my food and then wrapping it in a long cloth. Then he carried me to the bed without me asking and climbed in beside me. He was hardly stiff at all and then with a great sigh was asleep.

I wonder. Does he do this for me or for himself or is it something else entirely? If I could be sure he wouldn’t suddenly change again I think I could relax as easily as he has begun to. We still don’t talk much about anything except estate matters but he’s begun to ask me what I think of some plans he has for the future. Tonight he did the strangest thing of all. After we had settled in the bed he reached over and pulled my braid above the covers. I have no idea why. It was such a strange and simple thing but I don’t want to read more into it than what is there.

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