Friday, August 8, 2014

Chapter 11


Gid had his head in his hands growling.  “I’m going to skin the lot of you and string your carcasses in the trees!” he yelled. 

“But where’s your clothes Gid?  And why’d you roar at us and throw your boots?  We just came to say good morning.” 

“Yeah Gid. How come?”   

“Isn’t the hay scratchy without your pants on?  That’s no way to play in it; it’ll cut yer bum ter ribbons.” 

“Don’t be stupid, they weren’t playing … they were cuddling like Jace and Vaniece do when they think no one’s looking but we see ‘em all the time.  They’re as bad as the house cats.” 

“I’m not stupid.  You’re stupid.” 

“No you are.” 

“Not me … you!” 

“C’mon Gid.  Hurry up.  Show us what’s in the wagon.” 

“No.  Tell us a story!” 

“A story!  A story!” 

“Did you bring us anything?” 

“Yeah!!  Did you?!” 

Gid had finally had enough.  “Argh!  SCRAM!  And shut the blasted … Grrrrrrr!” 

It was like being attacked by a herd of wild jackthumpers; a rude beginning to an already overcast day.  I knew that if I had charge of the cook fire the first thing I would have done was start a large pot of morning brew and start pouring it down people’s throats.  Gid looked at me and sighed, “Armor yourself up.  They’ll do everything in their power to bedevil you if they think you’re weak and even if they learn you’re not.” 

Swallowing away the worry his words brought I asked, “What do you wish of me today?” 

“I wish we could have just one day to lie abed in privacy before getting back on the road but considering there’s no bed to lie about in, and the terrors are already up and moving, that’s not going to happen,” he answered as he refused to turn his head while I dressed and in fact made it a harder task by “helping.” 

“Very well, since you cannot have that what else do you desire?” 

He grinned when I finally managed to get everything where it belonged and my bodice tied despite his so-called help rather than because of it and said, “One of these days I’ll manage to fluster you.” 

“Hmm,” I responded noncommittally, refusing to admit that he already did. 

“First we’ll need to wade in and try and get a bite of the morning meal before the locusts inhale it all.  From there it will be to the wagon and then to add it to the inventory of the goods I’ve already set aside.  It needs be done quickly as possible as I need to head to the market.  Are you game?”  I nodded and we stepped out into the courtyard. 

It was hard to get anywhere near the kitchen there were so many bodies milling about. Jace and Tad were deep in conversation. A disgruntled Ern came by grimacing while looking down into the mug he carried.

Gid asked him, "What's up?"

"Ma is in a mood and has abandoned her post. I'd duck out if I was you. Seems you're ta blame. Unfortunately Vaniece tried ta help by putting her hand to making the brew this morning." Ern shuddered dramatically.

It was getting rowdier with discontent by the moment. I wondered if this was a test like Miz Lana had tried but then decided it didn't matter. Gid, Ern, and Tad had not eaten much the day before and they all looked weary eyed and hollow cheeked beneath their bristle. They needed sustenance.  They needed brew.  And not necessarily in that order.  But the only way to get it for them was to feed all of the children who were acting as wild as young mustangs. I girded my loins and waded in.

When I finally reached the kitchen I found Vaniece having what Mam would have called the vapors, an old term for a feminine version of a tantrum due to seeming to feel the need of some extra attention.  I ignored her tears as they flooded the table and turned to a girl near my age that stood looking calmer than most of the others. "What was on the menu?"

"Hash," she answered pointing to a pile of potatoes, onions, and peppers.

After a moment of thought I asked, "Which of the boys can be trusted with the big knives?"

"I wouldn't trust none of them as far as I could throw them but I suppose if you want the ones that won't start a sword fight with the big pig stickers that'd be Shem, Hank and Hiram."

"Get them please," I requested as I set about doing what I could to rescue the brew by thinning it with a bit of water so that it wasn’t as thick as brick mud and then adding a little sweetening and cream from the churn that sat waiting to be taken care of.

When the named boys climbed over their siblings to reach the kitchen they said, "Lolly said ya wanted us to do some skinnin'."

"Not skinning, chopping."

The shook their heads and started to back out.  "Cooking be wimmens work."

"Then I guess you do not wish to eat."

That stopped them.  "Huh?"

"Until all of those potatoes are chopped I cannot start cooking. I was told you three were mature enough for the big knives but ..."

One of the twins said, "Ah, so that be your game. Ye think ye can jest boss us cause Gid be bedding ya."

"I do not wish to
… er …
boss you. I am trying to serve your family. However, I cannot chop all of this and get it cooked up by myself unless you are willing to wait until after the noonday meal to eat it. By then you will be working at what chores Jace sets for you and he might not be in the finest of moods himself all for the lack of me finding someone strong enough and mature enough to mind the large chopping knives."

The three put their heads together then the one who had spoken before sighed dramatically and said, "Well since it is fer Jace and since the others er just as liable to chop their fingers as the potatoes I reckon we can do it jest this once."

While the boys chopped the potatoes in a way that revealed that regardless of their drama play they’d done it more than a few times before, I started a fire under the large sheet of metal that reminded me of the cook top the Sisters used at the orphanage. While the metal surface heated I chopped the peppers and onions. Soon enough the hash was frying in piles big enough to feed a militia unit and Ern had come by once again and pronounced the brew drinkable. "Not as good as ye did it on Miz Lana's fire but passable." I nodded and then he added, "Gid says he'll be in directly to make sure the savages don't add you on the menu."

Vaniece had finally left off her tears and she and a couple of other older girls were making what I knew were called tortillas. They are a staple bread in this area and Old Annie and I had learned to make them shortly after Aunt married Wash and brought us this side of the peaks. What did surprise me was that instead of using dishes the girls came and scooped some of the hash into each tortilla and then handed them out, oldest first and downwards.

First Jace then Tad then Gid then Ern but after that I lost track. After the men and older boys had been served a tray was carried out by Vaniece which I suspected was for the women. When she didn't return I heard one of the older girls mutter, "Typical" before she began handing out food to the older girls and the younger children who were practically going mad at that point.

After everyone had been served I was cleaning the sheet of metal when I saw two boys running off around the house giggling and I realized that they had taken the last bit of hash that I had set aside for my own breakfast. I didn't make the scene that those standing around seemed to be eager to see. It wasn't the first meal that I had been denied and though I was hungry I knew it wouldn't kill me.
 

A moment later Gid found me cleaning my hands and said, “I should have thought.  Did you hurt it again?”  I blinked at him and he explained, “Your hand, did you knock it about and hurt it again.” 

I shook my head but he turned my hand and looked it over despite my answer.  “And did you eat?” 

“Hmm.” 

Glancing around suspiciously and catching guilty looks on a few faces Gid shook his head.  “We’ll get you something at the market.” 

I pulled my hand away, uncomfortable with the public touching and told him, “There’s no need.” 

He snapped, “There’s need if I say there is.  That fat ol’ hag may have worked you to death on starvation rations but I’ll not have it any longer.  Understand?” 

I just blinked at him.  “Did … did you not get any brew this morning?” 

I heard several young girls giggle from the bushes which caused Gid to turn around and growl at them sending them screaming into the house.  Gid snorted but his temper had been diverted.  As a matter of fact I barely got the dregs of the pot once Tad and Jace heard from Ern that you’d fixed it up and made it drinkable.”  He looked around and said, “Leave the rest of this to the girls; Lurna does.  There’s some kind of schedule about that tells them whose turn it is.  Come with me to the wagon, I’ve got something to show you.” 

I followed him dutifully, two steps behind but he insisted on pulling me up beside him and then kept his arm there causing a few to snicker and whisper behind their hand as we passed by.  Then I heard a bell being rung off in the village and the children of all ages scrambled and seemed to run about manically and then completely disappear. 

I looked around at the suddenly empty courtyard and Gid smiled cynically at the expression that must have been on my face.  “The bell calls them to school and work.  Lurna’s eldest brother oversees the village’s educational system and can be a hard taskmaster.  If you aren’t on time he gives you tallies and so many tallies equal a strap across the backside … in public … and it doesn’t matter whether you’re girl-flavored or boy-flavored.  Not even these sprats are so stubborn that it takes more than one strapping to get the point across.  At least it’ll afford us a moment of peace.” 

Without warning he pulled me behind an overgrown bush and kissed me and put his hands in places he seemed fond of putting them when I least expected it.  He pulled back and smiled, “Now that makes up for missing my mug of brew this morn.” 

All I could do was look at his throat and lick my lips.  “Ah Yulee … don’t do too much of that or I’ll be yanking you behind every bush and finding every corner to pull you around between here and the market.”  I didn’t say a word but whatever he saw on my face made him chuckle and snag another kiss. 

He let me walk the rest of the way to the wagon without his hands upon me but I swear I could feel his eyes looking and touching me in places that were just as disconcerting had he been using his hands.  We finally reached our destination. 

“It looks some emptier doesn’t it?” he asked while looking at the wagon. 

I nodded. 

“That’ll be remedied before the day is out but first come here.”  I walked to the back of the wagon and he climbed in and then he helped me up being careful not to tug on my hand that was burned but healing.  “Look here.  I’d forgotten about it until Jace mentioned it this morning.” 

What he asked me to look at was a painted, wooden chest of some size.  He opened the lid and the smell of cedar drifted out.  “It was my mother’s.  It has been sitting up in the eaves of the attic since she died.  Ern and Tad and even Jace helped me to bring it down.  I suppose Father tucked it there to keep it safe and out of the way.  He had a letter inside that said I was to take it should I ever set up my own house.” 

I kneeled down and touched the fabric on top but then quickly pulled my hand away.  Gid asked, “What’s wrong?” 

Quietly I told him, “My hands aren’t fit to touch such nice things.” 

He squatted beside me and said, “Aw, that’s just sheets for bedding.  Below that there’s two feather pillows though the ticking needs mending and below that some other household goods.  Means we won’t have to spend near what I expected at the market.” 

Suddenly I realized that I’d moved around so much I’d forgotten how much it took to live in just one spot.  “What all do you need for your house?” 

He shook his head.  “More a cabin than a house and it isn’t mine.” 

I looked at him in confusion.  He rested his forehead on mine and said, “I needed a woman to make it a home so that makes it ours, not mine.” 

His words surprised me so much I lost my balance and fell from my haunches to my rump.  “Oh.” 

He ran his hand down my arm.  “You’ll see Yulee.  It won’t be like it was before.  We’ll both get out from under what’s been riding us so hard.  We’ll work of course, but we’ll be able to breathe while we’re doing it.”  My face felt strange.  I put my hand up to try and work out what was different and realized my lips were trying to remember how to smile.


 

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