Chapter Forty Three

The Forrest Farm

Tuesday, May 11, 7:39 a.m.


“You can pout all you want, Jackson,” Lenora Forrest said as she scraped the cold grease from the skillet into an old tin, “but I told you I need you to go with Myra into town.”

Jackson leaned against the door frame, looking out through the window pane of the kitchen door. He watched as his father and Hercules trod off into the woods, rifles pointed downward resting in the crooks of their arms. The sun slanted through the trees. Their backs and legs caught the slashes of light as they slipped away into dense shadow.

“I swear, boy, you act as if I beat you,” Lenora said, looking self-consciously to Silas, who was gathering the scraps of their breakfast in a pail. “I apologize for his mooning about, Silas. He gets so worked up about doing them grown-up things.”

“I reckon I remember what it was like to be a boy,” he replied with a polite smile. He looked to Jackson, “Listen here, Jackson, you, me and Herc will go out tomorrow and hunt a little—if it’s alright with your Ma—and you can show us how good a marksman you are then.”

After having been roughly treated by Silas their first few encounters, Jackson was a bit leery and gave him a suspicious eyeing.

“Why, Mister Silas, I don’t suppose you had much of a childhood if you were put into a uniform so young. It really is sad,” Lenora offered. She looked to her son. “Some youngsters do not appreciate their easy lives. Jackson, you should be grateful you are not growing up in a time of war.”

Jackson mumbled, “At least then I’d get to shoot something,” but when asked by his mother what he had said, he sheepishly replied, “Nothing, Momma.”

Silas took a moment to invent a way to come to the boy’s aid without stepping in the way of Lenora’s motherhood. “Times were different, for sure, but to be wholly truthful, I was not raised in such a fine house with such a good family. I suspect if I had not volunteered, I would have found an even more tragic way to spend my youth.”

“More tragic than killing other men?” she asked. “I cannot imagine a worse thing.”

“No disrespect, Ma’am, but I volunteered, I was not forced to fight,” he spoke softly and respectfully, “and what I came from was setting out to be a whole lot worse than going off to get shot at all day long. I envy young Jackson here in his solid upbringing and I compliment you on giving him such a fine start.”

Jackson was stunned at a grown man claiming to envy him, while Lenora stood frozen over the counter with a towel in mid-wipe. She was overwhelmed by his sorrowful tale, his quiet laments, and his earnest compliments of her life. She recalled her distaste of this man and his friend just yesterday, but now she wanted to walk over and give him a motherly embrace.

The floorboards above creaked and Myra descended the stairs with a tray of soiled dishware. “The patient sure has her appetite back!” She clinked the dishes together as she set the tray on the counter.

“Did she eat it all?” Lenora asked, inspecting the remains. “What about Francis? Has she taken anything?”

“She sat up and had a few spoonfuls of the broth, but she would not take but one of the medicine.”

“The stubbornness rising up in her about her medication may be a good sign in itself,” Lenora sighed. She dismantled the contents of the tray. “You and Jackson better get a’moving. Doctor Holloway may be going off on his house calls before long. You know he has lunch with Widow Higgins at the boarding house every day and he likes to have the day open if they decide to take a stroll later.”

The two women exchanged chortles at the gossip. Silas shrugged his shoulders to ask Jackson what this meant. Jackson rolled his eyes and shook his head, for he did not know nor care about the snickers and chatter.

“Aside from getting whatever Emma needs, remember to ask him how much it would cost to get Francis in hospital in St. Louis,” Lenora reminded the children. “He said he would look into it.”

Silas set aside his work and dug through his pockets. “I need to give you some money for—”

“You keep your money,” Lenora said, waving him off. “We have an arrangement with the doctor and he will be paid, don’t you worry.”

“But Emma is my charge—well, Hercules and my charge—and we intend to pay whatever debts we incur.”

“You can take care of the doctor later, and,” she chided, “any debt you have to us will be repaid by Hercules helping with the tobacco planting and you giving me some of them recipes you got up in that head of yours.”

Silas laughed and agreed to the terms with a handshake to the matron of the Forrest Clan.

“I think I may go on up and sit with Emma a spell,” Silas said as he made his way to the stairs.

“Mister Silas? She said she would rather not have visitors just yet.” Myra said, barely containing her delight at having to deliver the news.

Downcast and stunned, Silas asked, “Why? Hercules had just been up to see her before he went off.”

Myra’s sympathy was feeble. “I hoped to not have to get too specific, but she expressly voiced her aversion to seeing you. She said Mister Hercules is welcome, but . . .”

“Why, what in the world have I done to her?”

Myra swept beside Silas as she headed for the door and whispered, “Perhaps she saw us at the table last night and she thinks you fancy me and not her.”

He turned, confounded. His open mouth followed her. Jackson grabbed his rifle from beside the door and Myra snatched her bonnet from the counter. Silas stood, blinking idiotically as the two Forrest children walked outside. Myra smiled slyly at him as she backed out and drew the door shut.

Silas in fact did know what he had done to Emma, and it was not the innocent rendezvous with Myra that had hurt her. He had spurned her in her time of illness—when she needed a familiar face to smile at her. His face. Though they had only met days ago, he knew as well as she did that they forged a friendship—maybe something more—but Emma must be aware of him distancing himself in silent judgment when he found she was with child. He had no way to find out what she knew or how she felt, for she denied him solace as he had denied her.

Sensing his dilemma and dejection, Lenora patted him lightly on the shoulder. “When I take up her lunch, I will put in a solid word for you. Perhaps if you make her something very special, it may oil the hinges, so to speak.”

Aside from a heaping platter full of begging and groveling, Silas knew of no recipe to fix his misdeed, for he knew he was guilty on every charge.

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