Authors: Jo Ann Ferguson
After the Storm
The Haven Trilogy, Book Three
Jo Ann Ferguson
For Tom and Sue Miele
who have helped more people
than they can even imagine
Thanks to Sheila Hogg for her help so I could get
the pronunciation of Gaelic words right
It makes such a difference
Nanny Goat Hill Road
Haven, Indiana, 1876
“Do I have to finish these carrots?”
Samuel Jennings looked up from the stove where he was dishing out food for himself. At the table, three red-haired children were waiting for his answer. He saw a smile twitching on the boy's face, but the two younger girls wore hopeful expressions.
Six months ago, he could not have imagined having three kids on the farm he had bought after he left Cincinnati. He had been quite content to live alone here. Yet, when he had heard about an orphan train coming to the village of Haven along the Ohio River, he had gone to look for a lad to help him with some of the farmwork.
Instead of one, he had returned to Nanny Goat Hill Road with three children. Ten-year-old Brendan Rafferty and his younger sisters, Megan and Lottie, had been willing to help, but the girls were so young there was little they could do other than weed the kitchen garden.
“I thought you liked carrots, Brendan,” Samuel said, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses, then reaching across the table to do the same for Lottie's smaller ones. He had not been certain if Delancy's General Store could order spectacles small enough for a child who would not celebrate her fourth birthday for another month.
“I thought I did, too.” Brendan toyed with the orange slices on his plate.
Megan piped up, “I like them.”
“No, you don't.” The boy flashed his sister a frown.
“No, I don't,” she said, looking down at his plate.
Samuel chuckled under his breath. Even after half a year here, the Rafferty children sometimes banded together to help each other as if they were still without a home. Other times they fought like puppies with a single bone.
“Do you like them or not, Megan?” he asked and watched as she grinned, revealing the spot where a pair of teeth had not yet grown back in.
“I do, but I don't want Brendan's.”
Lottie bounced in her chair and said, “I don't want mine neither. Dahi doesn't want'm neither.”
“I thought Dahi liked carrots,” he replied as he put the lid back on the pot. At first, he had been unsettled by Lottie's comments about a friend no one else could see, but now he was as accustomed to having this invisible Dahi around as he was to everything else about the children.
“I wanna give'm to Bunny.”
“Bunny?” Samuel sat at the head of the table. Now none of the children was looking at him. When Brendan scowled at his younger sister, Samuel hurried to say, “I suspect that's what I heard scratching in the larder earlier on my way in from the barn.”
“Brendan taught it!”
He tried not to laugh. The little girl always mixed up words when she was excited. “How did he
“In a box.” Lottie would not be subdued by anything as commonplace as a wrongly used word. “It's cute, Samuel. Me and Dahi like it a lot. All brown and fluffy, and it has big ears and the littlest tail andâ”
“And it needs some carrots for its supper,” he said, knowing the little girl could go on and on when she was so enthusiastic her green eyes sparkled like faceted emeralds. Leaning his elbows on the table, he smiled. “There are plenty of raw carrots in the root cellar. Your bunny will like them much better than cooked ones.”
“So we can keep it?” Megan's eyes, a shade bluer than her sister's, now glistened with anticipation.
“If you build a hutch for the rabbit out by the chicken coop. You can use a crate and put that unused piece of chicken wire in the barn around the box to give the rabbit a place to get some fresh air. That way it won't dig out or hop over.” He winked at Brendan. “Rabbits leave round, brown balls in their wake, so it needs to have its hutch moved often.”
As the children excitedly discussed how they would put together the rabbit's house, Samuel began to eat. He preferred having supper in the kitchen, using the dining room only for Sunday dinner. The vegetables fresh from the garden were a nice change from the dried-out ones they had eaten during the spring and early summer. Just the thing growing children needed.
He laughed silently. Now
was something his mother would have said. Somehow, he had become both father and mother to his kids. That was how he thought of them nowâhis kids. Whenever he heard someone mention them as “Samuel's children,” he was pleased. The children had adjusted well to their new lives far from the slums of New York City, much better than some of their other companions on the orphan train.
As he noted how carefully Megan cut her vegetables, he was curious as he had been so often. These children had nice table manners and spoke politely to all adults. Not what he had anticipated when he brought them to Nanny Goat Hill Road. He had heard how the street children could be as bold and rude as an attorney with an open-and-shut case.
The Rafferty children had taken to life on his small farm down the river from the village of Haven as if they had spent every day of their lives here. Funny how he found it difficult to recall the months before they came here. Now they were so much a part of his life he could not imagine them not being on the farm.
“Finish up your milk,” Samuel said when the chairs being pushed back on the uneven floor interrupted his thoughts. “You're going to need every bit of your energy to build that hutch.”
“I'm strong.” Brendan pulled up his sleeve and flexed his left arm. The merest hint of a muscle was visible.
Samuel squeezed it gently as he did each time Brendan asserted it had grown bigger. “Very good, but another helping of carrots would really help.”
“Me and Dahiâ” began Lottie.
“Dahi and I,” he corrected gently.
The littler girl giggled, then said,
“Dahi and I
are real strong, too.” She held up her pudgy arm, which had been shockingly thin when she first arrived in Haven.
Squeezing it as he had Brendan's, Samuel complimented Lottie on how well she was growing. He glanced at Megan, but she did not move. Maybe he had been fooling himself when he believed the children had acclimated themselves completely to this new life. Brendan had for the most part, because he had come to Haven with his best friend, Sean O'Dell. Lottie had, which was no surprise, considering her age. Megan was the most sensitive of the three, the one who always tried to make sure the other two were happy. It was almost as if she wanted to replace their mother, constantly worrying if they were warm enough or if they could see when they went to meetings at the Grange Hall in Haven.
He wanted Megan to remember she was a child. It was an uneasy compromise at best, a rope he had to cross with caution so he did not tear away the tenuous connections he had made with her. Most of the time he was successful, but he had to take care with every word he spoke. Otherwise, he might bring on again the endless bouts of tears she had cried during her first two weeks at Nanny Goat Hill Farm. Then, only her brother and sister had been able to comfort her. Samuel's attempts at solace had made the situation worse.
As the children cleaned their plates and emptied their glasses, Samuel called after them not to let the door slam â¦ a warning that had become as automatic as breathing. He chuckled. The children were not the only ones who had had to adjust and discover how to live this new life.
Glancing out the window while he washed the dishes and dried them before stacking them on the shelves he had raised just enough to keep Lottie from breaking even more glasses, he saw the trio was concentrating on their project. He was not sure where the rabbit was, but he suspected Brendan would have made sure it could not escape. The lad had an eye for detail that impressed Samuel, and Brendan could argue logically about anything.
All the skills a good attorney needed.
Samuel wrung out the dishcloth and dumped the dirty water. There were other skills an attorney needed, as he knew so well. He smiled. He did not miss the work he had left behind in Cincinnati when he came here. Petty differences and arguing about property rights once had intrigued him. No longer.
He picked up the newspaper that had arrived in Haven this morning. He ignored the rest of the mail, including the letter with a return address of Jennings & Taylor. It had been sitting there for more than two weeks, but he was not curious enough to open it. He was not even intrigued why his former law partner had not changed the name of the practice when Samuel left. That answer was simple. Theo expected him to give up here and return to Cincinnati. The last letter from Theo had been filled with questions of why Samuel wanted to live such a spartan life on a river-bottom farm, and didn't Samuel know he was wasting his education among cows and corn? Theo had not been satisfied with his answers, so Samuel saw no reason to go through another explanation. Eventually Theo would realize he needed to look for another partner.
He carried the newspaper into the small front parlor. The farmhouse had six rooms on the first floor. A kitchen, his bedroom, a guest room, and at the front, the dining room and a double parlor separated by a pair of pocket doors. Those doors always remained closed, because he preferred the cozy front parlor, with bookshelves covering two walls and its eclectic collection of furnishings.
Smiling, Samuel sat in a chair covered with the same blue paisley fabric as the sofa. Another chair's dark blue brocade was now half-hidden beneath a crocheted blanket that hid the stains left by spilled ice cream and pie. This parlor was filled with so many happy memories. When he had bought the farmhouse and the acreage around it, he had shipped his favorite furniture from Cincinnati to use along with the pieces left behind by the previous owners, who had decided to head west. A pair of Regency marble-topped square tables were set on either side of the sofa. Atop one was a gold clock with a charger and a Roman chariot that had come from France. Over the slant-topped desk in the corner, a barometer offered an excellent tool for predicting the weather. The children particularly enjoyed checking it each day, and Megan was already showing a real interest in how it worked.
He looked out the window but could not see the children. He heard their voices through the front door, so he settled back to read. Before the children entered his life, he had enjoyed the newspaper with supper every night. Now he was kept busy making sure they ate as they should and that they washed up before going to bed in the two bedrooms under the rafters at the top of the stairs.
He flipped through the first pages, for the news was old by the time it arrived. Gossip and the telegraph brought news faster to Haven than the postal service could deliver the
down the river from Cincinnati.
Hearing a yelp from outside, Samuel put the newspaper under his arm and went out onto the porch. It took him only a moment to calm Lottie and remind Brendan to let his little sister help as much as she could.
“But don't let her use the hammer,” Samuel added quietly as Lottie skipped away.
“Or the nail.” Brendan now wore the very superior smile befitting an older brother. “She drops it as soon as I start to swing the hammer.”
“Maybe each of you should hold both the hammer and the nail for yourselves.” He thought of smashed fingers and tears. “That way, if any fingers are hit, they'll be your own.”
“Girls shouldn't use hammers anyhow.”
He laughed. “Where did you get that idea?”
“I can't believe Sean said something like that. Even if he'd felt that way before he came to Haven, he would have learned differently as soon as he came to live with Emma and work at the store. She uses a hammer whenever she needs to.”