It took not one but three days to settle Gid’s family into the cabin well enough that we could get back to preparing for winter. Everything was working well … almost everything.
“This isn’t necessary. Simply send Gid to find a trader caravan and buy what we need. Tad’s uncle cannot be too far away and he had goods he’d expected to unload in Riverside. You can trade some of your riches and save us all this work. That is what my father would do.”
I locked my teeth against what I wanted to say and prayed to God that He’d help me not shame Gid by giving into the temptation of tossing Vaniece into the cistern and leaving her there until she agreed to leave me in peace.
“Vaniece these aren’t my riches they belong to Gid and are heirlooms from his mother’s side of the family. And there is not the least bit of reason to pay good coin or barter for something that we can gather for free without even having to travel a day’s ride from the cabin. Coin should only be spent on that which you cannot make yourself.”
“Humphf,” she snapped. “Look at my hands! They’re dirty and cracked like a …” I knew something nasty was coming when she gave me a look. “Like the hands of a woman that came from the slave cages.”
It bothered me less and less as she resorted more and more to reminding me and every one of my beginnings in her attempts to put me in my place. “That would not be the case if you had listened to Lurna about putting balm on your hands. You do not see the other girls complaining of their hands and they are working at least as hard as you are.”
“I am a woman, not a girl … and a wife,” she added pointedly. “I should be sitting by my husband’s hearth.”
Beginning to lose patience I told her, “If you sat as much as you said was your duty to you’d soon be so wide no chair would hold you. Now stop delaying us. Lurna and Ned are waiting for more baskets of these acorns and we also need to finish harvesting the closest of the huckleberry and red currants patches so that we can begin harvesting blackberries and raspberries tomorrow. Tad and Ern said they found several areas that were ready to pick when they were hunting this morning.”
“Oh you …” She threw her basket down spilling what few acorns she had put inside it and said, “I’m not meant for this. My father did not raise me to be such a slattern.”
She’d made the mistake of drawing attention to herself this time and Jace stepped into the yard and snapped, “Then you should have gone with your father as you wanted.”
She began to pout and said, “You know I couldn’t. His new wife is a horror and said it was my duty to follow you.”
In anger he spit, “She’s only a horror because she refuses to take such a spoiled child as you back under your father’s roof; she knows she’d never be rid of you after that.”
Vaniece inhaled sharply and I could see that Jace’s words had truly hurt her. But rather than deal with it she pretended to faint. Lolly and I both moved out of the way and rather than fall gracefully into anyone’s arms she landed hard atop the acorns she’d just spilled. “Ow!”
“Teach you to play the drama queen,” Jace said from a safe distance. I swept Lolly and the other girls and little boys towards the back of the house with their baskets. If they were going to have words I’d give them privacy to do it with.
Later that night as I helped Gid to wash his back after a long day of cutting and stacking shocks of long grass for the animals’ winter fodder he said, “Heard Jace and Vaniece showed their backsides. Again.”
“I know that sound. When it is just the two of us I wish you to speak freely. Nothing you can say will upset me.”
I started scrubbing his hair to get rid of all of the chaff and dirt that had taken up residence on his head. It reminded me that I’d need more soapwort and it was already hard to find. Putting it on my long to do list I told Gid, “I only know what I see so I could be wrong but it appears that Vaniece needs to feel like she has value but Jace has grown tired of waiting for her to make herself valuable instead of expecting someone else to cause her to feel it.”
Gid gave a tired sigh and said, “That’s got to be the best explanation that takes the fewest words that I’ve heard yet … and makes the most sense.”
A little wickedly I said, “If I thought it would be helpful I’d dose her with red raspberry leaf, nettles, and red clover teas.” When Gid raised an eyebrow indicating he wanted to know why I explained, “They promote fertility. With a babe in her womb she might be inclined to fewer dramatics.”
Gid snorted, “Or not. So leave off your meddling for now. Jace and Vaniece will have to find their own way. We’ll try and not make it more difficult but I’ll not do the work for them either.” Then he grunted like an old bear and said, “Yeah, there. Right there. Scratch harder. I think I must’ve found a patch of rash weed with that last wagon load.”
“Then you don’t need scratching; you need some salve.”
I got a damp kiss before he said, “Scratching is more satisfying. Brings me some relief.”
I looked at his face and sure enough he was making what gram called a double-entendre. I shook my head at his play which only caused him to chuckle and make a grab for me. I escaped but only because there really was no time for it. The children were being put to bed and the grown brothers were going to meet in front of a fire in the Great Hall to discuss things like meat and fodder and what else needed to be done before the first snowflakes fell. Gid wanted me there so I could answer questions about the other supplies.
I poured a warm, spicy brew I made from the wild grapes that had been gathered by some of the girls that afternoon into everyone’s mug and then made sure that Ned had a quilt across his lap before Gid finally bid me sit. “And not on the floor with the mutts and furballs. Up here with me,” he said patting a chair he’d pulled forward into the firelight.
I sat and then Gid looked around. All of the adults were there except for Vaniece who had gone to bed with a headache.
“She should be here,” Jace said apologetically. “It’s not fair for the rest if she doesn’t pull her weight.”
Calmly I told him, “She is not faking again if you are concerned about that. She’s cried herself into a real one this time.”
“Hah!” he muttered. “Then let it be a lesson to her and maybe she won’t do it again.”
Jace was coming to be very unhappy with his choice of bride. Perhaps there would have been no troubles, or at least fewer of them, had they stayed in Riverside but out here she was worse than a fish out of water. Gid chose that moment to steer the conversation back to its original purpose.
“I’ve looked at the smoke shed and unless we start filling it up now we’ll be battling with the cows for their feed before the winter is over.”
I patted his leg and said, “Perhaps not so bad as that but it would be better to hunt now in case the snow flies early.”
Morosely Gid replied, “With the way my luck’s running that is surely bound to happen.”
Two days earlier the plow handle had cracked and broken several metal fastenings. Jace was the best to repair it as he said, “Handles are just another type of rifle stock only they don’t need to be quite so pretty. I’ll set up the portable forge and see about mending the metal as well.” Finding a big enough piece of seasoned wood had turned out to be the biggest challenge but finally the repair was under way.
Tad said, “We filled up the last of those big clay pots with the loose grain and got it down below stairs.” He shuddered. “Not telling you your business Gid but something needs to be done down there. The armory is in good shape but most of the rest makes me feel like I’m in a forest of trees that is about to topple down on me.”
Gid nodded. “I know. Had planned on that this winter but it looks like …” He stopped and sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. I took a small flask from my pocket and then put a drop of its content where I brushed his hands away from. He inhaled deeply and began to relax.
“What’s that?” Lurna asked suspiciously, like I was dosing Gid with a drug stick.
Ned answered her instead of me and said, “I believe it is a called an aromatic. Certain scents have a calming effect and it would appear for Gid in particular it is enjoyable.”
I nodded and Gid said, “Yes. Don’t know why, just is. Yulee made me a pillow of the scent as well and I sleep better for it when I’ve had a long day.”
Lurna demanded, “Let me see.”
I handed her the small flask and she removed the stopper and cautiously sniffed. Slowly she replaced the stopper and handed it back. “Chamomile and cedarwood?” I nodded and she looked at me thoughtfully.
Gid said, “Enough about my megrims. Yulee? What do you expect more of for the rest of the harvesting season?”
I’d known he’d likely ask me so I was prepared with an answer. “We’ve still bushels of acorns to collect and store. The meal we can make from those will help piece out the other grains we need for flour. Lurna and Ned are supervising some of the youngest in getting them properly dried and cleaned and put where they won’t mold. Truly your Uncle Fid was a wonder for buying all of the clay pots.”
Gid snorted in humor. “What’s a wonder is that Uncle Fid survived the father of the girl he’d been sparking. It was her family that were clay workers and he nearly bankrupted the farm trying to bring her around and get her father’s approval. When it fell through he vowed never again and stuck to that til he died.”
Since that wasn’t the only story I’d heard of his uncle’s eccentricities I merely shook my head and continued on. “The huckleberries are still abundant and we’ve barely begun to pick the raspberries and blackberries up and down the drive but the red currants are finished. We’ve lost the battle with whatever was eating them before we could get to them.”
I shook my head. “I suspect birds and mulies.”
Lolly muttered, “As many as they’ve eaten they should be good and fat by now.” She was upset because she’d had a thicket all picked out only to go the next day and find it stripped of every last berry.
I smiled gently to try and dispel her disappointment and told her, “It happens. God sends the fruit to feed all of His creations, not just we human ones. Or perhaps he is feeding them up so that they can feed us better in the autumn.”
Gid asked, “What else?”
“For the rest of this month there is porcini and puffball mushrooms, Oregon grapes, and salal berries. We should gather elm leaves, linden leaves, and mallow to dry for teas as they are at their peak. Do you wish me to speak of next month?” At his nod I ran through the list in my head. “Milkweed pods will be ready for picking but I don’t want to take them all because some need to go to seed so I can harvest the fluff for batting to make you a winter coat. Then …”
“S’not me that needs a winter coat. I better not see you working on one for anyone else but you until I say otherwise. That thin cloak you have barely keeps the wind out now.”
I swallowed but said nothing. I know he didn’t mean to make his wishes known so roughly, he was just tired. Finally I started again. “It … it shall be as you say.” I blinked and then went back to the list in my head. “All that is growing in the hedge rows should be finished out such as the wild grapes, huckleberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, buffalo berries, and chokecherries. The stream side elderberries should be ready for harvest and the patches of highbush cranberries should as well. We should make a stock of teas and brews from the rose hips, chamomile, linden flowers, licorice, mints and dandelion roots that will need to be dug and dried. The Oregon grapes should continue to produce and the wild plum trees are already bent and heavy with unripe fruit so the crop should be phenomenal if no wind storm comes along to take the harvest from us. The ground cherries will ripen next month as well. And I believe the children learned their lesson about eating little green apples from Hiram and Hank’s experience so we shouldn’t have to pull them out of the crabapple trees again.”
Ern, Tad, and Jace all snickered and even Ned and Lurna tried to hide smiles. Lolly didn’t bother and laughed out loud saying, “Serves them right.” Gid on the other hand glowered. “Fine for the lot of you to find the joke but they broke three stout limbs that will take several seasons to replace. You’ll go back to your lives in town and Yulee and I will have to do without what those limbs could have produced.”
That sobered everyone’s outlook. Tad asked, “Will that be the end of the harvests or is there something beyond?”
I looked at him surprised. “God provides something every month if you know where to look.” Then I shook my head and said, “I did not mean to say … um …”
Tad smiled and said, “Don’t be so worried. If our sister Heather was here I’d already be wearing my ears for a necklace for asking a foolish question.”
Tad has finally gotten over his heartbreak and I can see why Gid is fond of him; he always tries to smooth the road for others to travel on. “Thank you but I don’t want to sound so … so know-it-all. The truth is month after next, the old month of October, will be the last true harvest month though there will be a few things here and there that can be used during the snow time if we become desperate. But if the winter is bad the animals will need the wild forage even more than we do.”
With that sobering thought we all trundled off to our sleeping quarters. Everyone was happy to see Ned doing so much better but Lurna still hovered a bit. Gid no sooner closed our door when he spun me around and asked huskily, “Now where were we?”
I shook my head. “You’re in a silly mood.”
“Mmmm. I’ll show you what mood I’m in.” I could see he was in the mood for a chase so I gave him one and then let him catch me before he could tire of his funning. Afterwards we lay in bed. I was nearly asleep when I heard him mutter, “I was a fool to be jealous of Jace. Look at the poor fellow now. Tad and I are well out of it.”
“Hope is not lost. Vaniece just needs to find her way … and Jace needs to let her instead of …” I stopped.
“Instead of what?”
“It’s not my place to say.”
“I’m making it your place.”
I thought for a moment before answering carefully. “Vaniece is spoilt, I don’t think anyone can deny it, but I don’t think she is bad; just silly and vain and used to more attention than is good for her. But part of it is that Jace has gone from fawning over her to treating her with so much contempt she … I don’t think she can understand it. Not won’t but can’t. She spends so much time with her hurt with no reason to come out of it that … that it leaves no space or time for her to see anything else.”
“Vaniece is not a child. She needs to pull her weight.”
I nodded and my braids rasped against his chest. “Yes but she’s never … never been trained if I’m understanding. The responsibilities of a family are large. Mam used to say it is why children come into the world in such small packages and with so much give to them; it is so their parents can learn and grow as they do without ruining them.” I turned in his arms and laid my head on his shoulder. “Even without children this … this being so responsible is a large task. I … I was scared all the time with Jubal and in the end nothing … nothing I did could save him.” Gid wrapped me securely when he felt my shudder. “I barely survived it and a good part of me died that night and stayed dead ‘til you made me see that life … that life can be worth living again, not just surviving out of duty. All of that and I still was well-trained by my family and the Sisters and Brothers of the church. I try and put myself in Vaniece’s place and I imagine what she must be feeling and it isn’t envy or jealousy but fear and confusion no matter how she might act. Nothing and no one in her life led her to believe this would be her lot, prepared her for the role life would hand her. She was over protected from realities. Her Papa may love her but he did her no favors.”
Gid said, “This is all women speak. Talk to Lurna, about it. Mayhap she’ll know how best to handle it.”
I nodded but as we finally drifted off to sleep I admitted that the last thing I wanted to do was to give Lurna any other reason to think that I was interfering in her family.