Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Thirty Four

The story began at 9:05 pm on August 31

Supper that night was strangely subdued.

Doris kept looking in amazement at Nan, who was happily reaching for more of everything.

Finally, Gilly reminded her that just because she could see something, didn't mean she could simply grab it!

Paul entertained everyone with some rather naughty sea chanties... much to John and the twins' amazement and Gilly's embarrassment.

Cathy, Adam and Ava had elected to stay home, it having been a somewhat tiring day.

Long after Otto and Owain had returned to their apartment in the village, and John and Anna had retreated to the guest room, and the younger teens and children were fast asleep, Paul and Gilly remained in the kitchen, talking.

"Looks like Peter needs me starting day after tomorrow. I can run into the market tomorrow and get anything you need."

Gilly set the kettle on the stove and wiped up a spot of water before rust could form.

"Yes, I can write out a list in the morning, if you don't mind. Helena and I have a system for harvest time, and I know exactly what we will need."

Though their talk was on mundane matters, each had a heart and a head filled with strange questions and ideas.

The dog and the cat were unusually skittish, the cat kept tripping Gilly, the dog sat behind Paul everywhere he sat or stood.

Finally things were put in order and they retired to their room.

They slept fitfully that night, and awoke in the morning with great effort, though the sun was bright.

From the kitchen, the sounds of laughter and cooking.

From the yard came the sounds of the new day -- animals beginning to move about; bird singing in the trees.

Doris poked her head around the door, "Oh! you're finally up!" she teased, "Stay there..."

In no time, Nan and Polly came through the door, with tea and breakfast.

Paul tried to get up, but Polly put her arms on her hips as she had seen her mother do many times before, and gave a good approximation of the "Ava stare" that stopped him before he got even one foot on the floor.

Nan took the tray with its plates to her mother, and said, "I flipped them myself!"

Gilly beamed at her daughters, and Meg came through the door with the jug of syrup.

In no time, it seems, they were finished and Meg and Nan cleared the plates and left them to their morning ablutions.

Shortly after, Paul hitched up a horse to the farm wagon, and with Andy holding the reins, they headed to the village -- to pick up provisions for the harvest, to invite Esmeralda to supper.

Gilly and Anna, Polly and Meg, Doris and Nan spent the rest of the day between setting up the kitchen for large batches of cooking and getting the house in order again.

Gray, Olivia and Sarah were happily ensconced at their great-grandparents, with Cathy popping back and forth between the houses.

Otto and Owain were at the market early, setting up. They saw their father and brother drive up, and helped Andy down before moving the wagon to the far side of the market, where merchant carts and wagons were already being unloaded.

A few of the merchants looked quizzically at Paul; a comment here or there reached his ears and made them burn.

Finally, Andy heard a couple of the comments, and staunchly stood in front of Paul.

"If you have something to say to my father, then say it out loud like a Person instead of quietly like a rodent."

Otto and Owain, who were just coming around a corner, collapsed in laughter.

The merchant to whom the child's speech was directed felt the color drain from his face.

In astonishment, he looked again at Paul, who was trying his best to look stern.

An older woman from the back of the group that had gathered pushed forward. She put a hand on Andy's shoulder and peered at Paul's face.

Satisfied, she held out a hand in greeting, saying, "Welcome home, Paul the Orphan."

One by one, and in pairs, the merchants and vendors and workers came by and greeted Paul.

Before the morning was over, the entire village had found a reason to wander by the market.

Some merchants said it was their best day outside of the first market day in Spring that year.

Finally, the wandered away and the merchants began to pack up.

Leaving the horse and wagon with the twins, Paul and Andy walked to Esmeralda's. She alone, of all the villagers, had stayed away from the market.

The door to the shop was ajar.

Poking their heads in, they saw the ladder to the upper level. Paul asked Andy to wait by the door, and he walked around the counter.

The room was empty. Paul opened the door to the basement, and called down. There was no answer.

Concerned, Paul sent Andy back to the market to bring the twins with the wagon.

Then, he climbed the ladder to the upper level.

A book lay on the floor next to the table.

Paul bent to pick it up, and heard a ragged breathing from the bed.

Esmeralda lay there, feverishly reaching for something toward the window.

Paul followed her gaze, but saw nothing. Quickly, he wet a cloth from the jug of water on the table and wiped her brow.

She grasped his wrist and held it tight.

"Paul, my boy -- I knew you'd be here today. I saw... a bird."

She smiled and released his arm. He sat next to her.

"What is wrong, Esmeralda? What can I bring you?"

Otto poked his face up through the opening to let his father know they had arrived. Paul motioned him to come on up.

Esmeralda moved her head and looked at Otto. She smiled and glanced at Paul.

"I am tired, Paul. I waited for you to come. There is a book..."

She coughed and Paul helped her sit up while Otto filled a cup with water.

"We'll take you home, Esmeralda, Cathy and I can come manage the shop in the mornings, and you can rest."

She shook her head. "No, Paul, let me stay here. The trip is too long for me."

She gestured at Otto, "The boy can stay with me tonight. He knows how to make tea and fetch things. And Cathy can come in the morning."

"What I need most is sleep, and some of the fever tea. Do you remember which jar it is in?"

Paul smiled, remembering all the hours spent finding, drying, grinding and mixing the herbs for the tea.

He called down the ladder and Owain passed up the jar -- and a box of sweets that were good for the throat.

Finally Otto had what was needed, and Paul was satisfied that Esmeralda would be okay overnight, he took his leave. With a warning to Otto to seek help if the doctor took a turn for the worse, he kissed her gently on her forehead and climbed back down the ladder.

Paul and Andy dropped Owain off at his apartment, and headed for home.

Nan was concerned that the doctor was ill, and was ready to go right away with her casket of herbs... but Paul smiled comfortingly and assured her that no special recipes would be needed this time.

Gilly sent Meg over to let Cathy know her help would be needed in town in the morning; and Polly dashed across the fields to let Peter and Helena know that the twins would not be available for the harvest until at least after lunch.

Supper was again a quiet affair, but Sarah kept the family amused with her attempts to grasp a pile of mashed vegetables; and Olivia and Gray performed a duet of favorite nursery tunes.

It was not so late when they turned in, knowing that harvest days were long and tiring.

As the night sky passed overhead, the mountain seemed to bend and nod. Sleep tight, whispered the trees in a gentle wind.

And they slept.