“Does Spring never come in these parts?” Ern complained.
I heard Gid answer, “It comes but only when it’s ready to. You can’t rush it.”
Ern snorted. “I would have thought by now that you’d be eager for it to get here so that you could have your place back to yourself.”
“I admit it’s been a bit tight but you’d be worse back in town. And I’ll say as well that having the extra hands to build the new barn and fix a few other things around here has been appreciated too. What’s wrong?” Gid had a snicker in his voice when he asked, “Farm life don’t suit you?”
“Aw, it’s not that I don’t appreciate it here but months and months of it …” I heard him shuffle his feet. “I miss townlife. I was always happy to get home from a barter run. Sure we worked but then when work was done there were places to go … different people to see. The only girls out here are either taken or m’ sister … and don’t you laugh either.”
“I’m not laughing Ern,” Gid said. He wasn’t laughing … but you could still here the smile in his voice. “You looking to settle down already? Have some wild jackthumpers of your own?”
“Do I look crazy?! I just wanna have a little fun before I’m too old to enjoy it.”
“Better not let Lurna hear about that fun you’re wanting. That time she found out about Tad and I going over to …”
Ern chuckled then groaned. “S’not fair that you’ve had your fun … and now have Yulee on top of it.”
“Yulee isn’t like those girls Ern and I better never …”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa Gid. I didn’t say she was. I might have wondered in the beginning but I got smart pretty fast. ‘Sides … you wanted her and that was good enough for me. It was only Tad that had a burr in his tail and he’s done gotten over that completely.” Both were quiet before Ern said, “Wish Jace coulda got what you have. Doesn’t seem … I don’t know … right somehow. He’s the oldest and Father fit him for the part.”
Gid was silent except for the sound that his knife made where he was running it over the sharpening stone. Then he stopped and said, “I’ve tried to keep my nose out of it and you know why.”
“The Vaniece stuff.”
“Yeah. And the … the distance that’s gotten between me and Lurna. Jace was always more like Father than any of us but in this instance it hasn’t helped him any. He always had good luck with woman Father did … even when he and Mother decided to set each other aside it wasn’t nasty and I can just remember her bringing me to Father’s wedding party when he married Lurna and her wishing them many happies and even dancing with Father for old time sake to show there was no hard feelings. When I got older Father told me a lot of people never understood that but I think it was her way of trying to … trying to say thanks for what they did have and no hard feelings for what they didn’t wind up getting.”
“Could you do that for Yulee?”
“I swear by the all I know that I’ll kill the man that tries to take her from me. That answer your question?”
“Sure does … but you can turn them death eyes off me. I’d never do you like that. Besides, Yulee scares me. She knows too many ways to kill a body, bring it back, and kill it again. She’s too deep. No thankee. When it comes time all I want is a nice simple girl that knows how to make a good brew and cook well enough she don’t poison me.”
“Brew more important than food?”
“I’d rather eat burnt food at every meal than have to drink a single mug of bad brew.”
Gid chuckled because anyone listening knew that was the absolute truth. Ern would live on brew if he could get away with doing it.
Ern sighed again.
“What are you sighing for this time? Not a thing you can do to make the snow stop falling or clear the roads.”
“I know it. Just …”
“If we get back to Riverside you think Jace is going to set Vaniece aside?”
“How should I know?”
“Well … what do you think is going to happen?”
“One, it isn’t our business and two, I doubt Verna would sign off on the papers once she hears what happened. And you know Vaniece’s father is going to want to know if for no other reason than to push off any guilt he might feel for not taking her back when she wanted to go back to his hearth.”
Both men started sharpening knives again but eventually Ern said, “Do you think he would if he could?”
“What do you keep asking me for? Why don’t you go ask Jace?”
“’Cause he already feels so bad, I don’t want to make it worse. But …”
“But me no buts. I swear this family is always in each other’s business. Just leave it alone and give it some time.”
“But … you know … Jace is a man and if … well … if Vaniece ain’t able to be a wife …”
I heard something tossed in the general direction that Ern’s voice had come from. “What did you do that for?” he yelped.
“To shut you up. Look, Yulee said that Vaniece might not be as gone as she sometimes seems.”
“You mean she might be fooling?!”
“No. She thinks that Vaniece needs time to heal. She may not be exactly who she was before but you can see that with Yulee making her practice walking and doing stuff with her hands that she isn’t as clumsy as she was even a week ago.”
“She don’t talk much.”
“Yulee didn’t talk much at first either. Remember? She still don’t talk as much as you lot. When you do leave I’m afraid the cabin is going to fall because there’s not all your hot air keeping it up.”
“Aw … we ain’t that bad.”
“Tell that to my ears. I swear if that herd of wild jackthumpers upstairs don’t tone it down a bit I’m gonna be deaf as an old man come Spring.”
Ern chuckled. “You won’t know what to do when we leave.”
Disgruntled Gid muttered, “Oh yes I will. I’ll chase Yulee from the attic to the armory and not have to worry about little eyes peeking at what we’re doing that’s what.”
Ern laughed again and then they were off on the subject of all of the furs and hides Gid had gathered and if there would be a market for them in the Spring while everyone was recovering from the raiders or if he’d have to hold onto them until the Fall barter run.
I shouldn’t have stood listening as long as I did but I’d been desperate for some respite from the “wild jackthumpers” myself and had hidden in the room with all the baskets of dishes. Gid and Ern finally finished and left and I returned above stairs by going up the other staircase.
I’d just come out of using the privy closet to discover Vaniece had been looking for me. “Yooo-lee.”
“Cannn … we talk? N … n … not h … here.”
It was an unusual request and curiosity if nothing else had me putting off what I had intended on doing. “Of course.”
She led me up to her bedroom. It was slow but she insisted on walking on her own. When we got to her room she pointed to two chairs and we both sat.
“H … h … how mmmm … much … better?”
“How much better what?”
“Me. Getting b … better.”
“You’ve gotten a great deal better than you were.”
“No,” she said impatiently. “Me, how m … m … much b b better to g g get?”
“Oh,” I said finally understanding. Cautiously I answered, “Vaniece … I don’t know. You’re a lot better than I expected you to get at first. But … I can’t honestly tell you how much better you will get.”
The sound she made wasn’t quite a whimper or cry but it was one of distress. I leaned over and put my arm around her. “If you push yourself too hard that’s not good either. Slow and steady.”
“T … t … too s s s slow. Jjjjjjj-ace n … n … n … needs a real wo – wo- woman.”
Concerned I asked, “Did he say something?”
She shook her head. “W w want him.”
“Want him. What him to what?”
“No. I … w wa want him. M mmmm mine. Bbbbbbb …” She stopped and bunched her fists. In frustration she picked up a small pillow that she had been sewing to strengthen her hand/eye coordination and threw it across the room.
“Hey now!” Jace snapped stepping into the room. “Stop pushing her so hard. Can’t you see she’s had enough?!”
Vaniece slapped her hand down on the arm of the chair. “No! Nnnnot ha-ard enough. F ff faster. Y ooooo deserve b … b … better faster. Bbb … better wife. Not m … m … me.”
I stood up and backed away. I looked at Jace. “Don’t mess this up.” Then I left the room to go look for Gid.