Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Unexpected Company

The morning after the Labor Day celebration, Jamison went with Caroline to see Doc. He examined her and called them both into his office. Jamison was on the edge of his seat. Doc told him to relax. What he had to say was going to come as a shock to him and he didn't want him having a heart attack before Caroline gave birth to his child. The two faces looking back at him were white.
“That can't be Doc. I'm too old to have babies. I'm going to be a grandmother in just a few months.”
“That's it! Jamison said sternly “You will have a housekeeper, a maid and a butler if it will assure that you are healthy.”
By the time they left Doc's office the news was just beginning to sink in. The shock was wearing off and suddenly the two of them were dancing down the street.
“Jamison, do you have any idea how often I dreamed of having your baby? I didn't think it would be possible and here I am, expecting our own child. The family will be all together tonight and we will tell them the news. Becky and Cassandra will be excited about a baby. You saw how they were mesmerized by the Hightower cousins.”
Lucinda knew something was going on with her friends. It was natural they would be excited about Jamison's boys, Todd and Alex coming for a visit but there was something else that was making them giggle and smile at each other while they were preparing for the big celebration tonight. Lucinda knew Caroline would tell her in time but she was still very curious.
The boys arrived shortly before 4 o'clock. Jamison picked them up from the train station and brought them back to the now busy household. The boys gave Caroline big hugs and thanked her for putting that smile on their Dad's face. Jamison announced that Caroline was expecting a baby and everyone started hugging and kissing. Cassandra wanted to know when she and Becky could play with the baby. Kenny said he hoped it was a boy because they already had enough girls in the family. He liked having two big brothers though so if it was another girl it would be OK with him. Grace couldn't hold back the tears, she was so excited that she and her mother would be having babies the same age.
Lucinda was crying too just thinking about Caroline and Jamison's love story. Nick put his arm around Lucinda and hoped the day would come when they would have an announcement to make too. The ring he bought this morning was in his pocket. Lucinda said she loved him and he wasn't going to waste any more time.
Caroline looked around the room at all these wonderful faces and marveled at how her life had changed in such a short time. She had Lucinda to thank because without her intervention Jamison wouldn't have come to Camden Corners and she wouldn't be happier than she had ever been in her life. The tears were streaming down her cheeks too as she looked around at her home brimming with people and love. Caroline felt a tug on her sleeve. She looked down and saw Becky staring up at her.
“Mama” Becky said quietly. “Cassandra said I wouldn't die if I told you I love you”
Caroline only thought she couldn't be happier. These were the first words she had ever heard her new daughter speak.
“No Becky, you won't die”.
The tears were flowing as everyone rushed to Becky to listen to her sweet little voice. Cassandra was smiling in the background. She was getting tired of doing all the talking for both of them. Soon after, the girls went out to swing on the swings Jamison had hung from the oak tree in the back yard. Through the window, Caroline and Jamison could hear the two little voices singing happy tunes as they were swinging through the air.
Vicar Will and Kate were strolling leisurely passed the busy Bentley home. Will was the first to hear the little girls singing. He stopped to marvel at Becky singing her heart out. Kate's eyes filled with tears. She had worried about Becky since the first day Caroline brought her to school. Kate tried her best to coax the little girl into speaking. Kenny had told her how their father in his grief over the death of their mother let Becky believe she would be the next one to die if she continued speaking. Kate suspected Becky had been a chatterbox and her father was trying to quiet her as he drank himself into an early grave. Kate marveled at Becky's singing voice.
“Will, she sounds like an angel. Now is not the time to call attention to her singing ability but I will mention it to Principal Keys .”
Will wasn't paying too much attention to Kate. He had something else on his mind. He was determined tonight would be the night he asked Kate to be his wife. He bought the ring two months ago and never had the opportunity or the nerve to slip it on her finger. Even now he was afraid she would turn him down. He didn't want to face the heartbreak he knew he would suffer. As they strolled toward the beach, Kate was having her own thoughts. She had known for quite some time that Will purchased an engagement ring. She understood that he was shy with women and he was a busy man but this was getting ridiculous. Kate knew he loved her and she loved him. They weren't getting any younger and Kate wanted children. If he didn't propose tonight she would do the unthinkable and propose to him. What a scandal that would cause. She chuckled to herself as Will nervously walked beside her.
Without warning, a tree branch fell from a sycamore tree along the path barely missing the couple. Will gasped and wrapped his arms around Kate protecting her from the other branches that might be ready to fall. Will kept his arms around Kate. He looked up to the heavens and Kate heard him whisper
“Alright, I'll do it.”
His eyes wide, he looked at her lovely face gasping for breath he said
“Kate, will ah you ah be my ah wife?”
She replied “Yes Will I would be most happy to be your wife.”
He slipped the ring on her finger, took her in his arms and kissed her until she was the one gasping for breath. Will's shyness disappeared he was back to his old confident self and he told Kate how he had been afraid she would turn him.
“For a man of faith, you didn't have much faith in me Willard Duesenberry!”
He led her to a bench by the railroad tracks.
“How much time do you need to plan the wedding” he asked.
“How about Saturday morning” she replied. I will wire my family tomorrow morning and I'm sure they will be on the next train. Grandmother has been preparing for this day since I was 12 years old. I noticed she had her old wedding gown unpacked and was sprucing it up just the other day. I have always wanted to wear the gown she and my mother were both married in.”
Will was surprised and happy to find that Kate didn't want to wait before they were husband and wife. He was dreaming of the life they would share together when the 6:29 from Harrisburg was slowing down as it approached the train station. Kate and Will were stunned when they saw what appeared to be two young boys jump from between the cars. The conductor was shaking his fist as they struggled to stand up and run. Will was too quick for the boys and he stopped them in their tracks.
“Well, well, what have we here? A couple of hardened criminals stowing away on the train?”
Kate rushed over to the boys afraid they had been hurt.
“What a foolish thing to do” she scolded them. “You both could have been seriously hurt or even killed jumping from the train like that”.
The older boy looked defiantly at Kate.
“Mind your own business lady”.
Will was ready to pop him on the head for speaking so disrespectfully to his intended but he controlled himself and continued to hold the two by their collars.
“What are your names and why were you on that train? Did you run away from home? Your parents will be worried about you.”
“My name is Billy and this is my friend Butch. We always ride the train but this is the first time that stupid conductor caught us. We don't have parents and we don't need them. We're old enough to take care of ourselves”.
Kate had never heard such a thing. Everyone had parents. Maybe not the best parents but parents just the same.
“How old are you Billy?”
“I'm 18 and old enough to be on my own and so is Butch.”
“You look more like 12” Will replied.
“We're small for our age. Now let us go or I'll have you arrested”
“I don't think you really want to call the sheriff now do you, he might wonder why the conductor chased you off the train.”
Kate spoke up “Listen boys, why don't you come to Will's house with us. My grandmother is there and she was cooking up a storm when we left an hour ago. She has two chickens in the oven, potatoes and corn and a big pumpkin pie for dessert. You can clean up and have supper with us before anybody calls the sheriff.”
Butch, who hadn't said anything until that moment piped in “Come on Billy, lets go eat. I'm hungry.”
Billy's mouth was watering at the mention of such a tempting meal. “OK but we leave right after we eat”.
The foursome walked towards the church and Will's house. The boys had forgotten about the small satchel Billy lost beside the tracks as he was jumping off the train.
Alma Schrum was happy to have extra mouths to feed but insisted these two ragamuffins clean themselves up before sitting down at her table. Alma filled the tub and told them they had better use a lot of soap because if they had a speck of dirt on them she would be in to scrub them down herself. Melvin Tanner, who was a frequent guest at the Duesenberry household, chuckled as he watched the boys scramble to the waiting tub and close the curtain tightly.
Meanwhile, the Vicar deposited their filthy clothes in a pile outside the back door and rode his bicycle to the Burke home to borrow some clothes in the boys sizes. Between the Burkes and Mackenzies, every size of children's clothing was available. He brought home everything from outerwear to underwear and even nice warm pajamas. He had the feeling these would be the first clean clothes those two young boys had ever worn.
With all the commotion going on, Alma hadn't noticed the sparkling ring on Kate's finger. Kate nonchalantly held her hand out while setting the table. Alma almost dropped the bowl of freshly mashed potatoes as she hugged her granddaughter tightly. She had known Will's intentions for quite some time and was almost ready to get down on one knee herself if he didn't pop the question. Will came through the door and she wrapped her ample arms around him welcoming him to the family. Her eyes were filled with happy tears as the boys entered the dining room shiny clean from head to toe with their hair slicked back and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Alma was impressed that even the dirt under their fingernails was gone. Will was sure they had scrapped off a couple of layers of skin. Everyone sat around the big table and two little hands stretched out to grab a piece of chicken.
“Whoa boys, in this house we thank God for His many blessings”. Will said as he folded his hands in front of him and bowed his head.
The boys followed his lead and Billy wondered who this God person was and where was he? He'd just have to wonder about that later because now it was time to eat and he didn't think he could wait another minute.
Melvin was reminded of the first time he and Cody shared a meal. He watched as the boys ate until they could eat no more. They didn't know where their next meal would be coming from and they weren't about to stop while they still had room in their bellies for another bite.
While the women were cleaning up after dinner, the men and boys took a seat in the parlor. Will picked up his old family bible and started reading aloud from it. “In the beginning....” Billy's eyes were as wide as saucers as he heard the words Will was reading. Accustomed to reading these passages to a young audience, Will added his own twists to the scripture to make it more easily understood. Butch was attentive but Billy seemed to hang on every word. He was very curious about God and couldn't understand how he could be all around him and Billy couldn't see him. Will knew he wouldn't be able to teach Billy what faith was, he would have to discover it by himself.
The boys were getting very sleepy and Will and Melvin helped them upstairs with Kate and Alma following to tuck them in. Neither boy had any recollection of being in such a soft comfortable bed or of having anyone cover them up with fresh smelling quilts and give them little hugs as they told them to sleep well. As they lay there in the darkness, Butch sleepily said
“Billy, I like it here, don't you?”
“Yeah Butch, I like it here too.” Billy was thinking about God. If he could create heaven and earth, maybe talking Will and Kate into letting them stay here one more day wouldn't be too hard a task for Him.
Meanwhile in the parlor, Will was asking Kate how she felt about a ready made family. Kate was thinking the same thing.
“Will, we can't let those boys go back to roaming the streets. Let's talk to the Crowleys first thing tomorrow. We have to find a way to keep them here with us.”
Alma was beaming, she was going to be a great grandmother. Melvin squeezed her hand as he thought of what fun it would be to take the boys fishing just like he had done with Cody and his own son so many times.

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