The conversation was interrupted suddenly as the women saw Clara approaching with her little dog, Sammy. “What are you two talkin’ about?” was her blunt greeting as she arrived somewhat out of breath at the front porch. “Sammy, sit! Don’t you chase them chickens!” After scolding Sammy, she turned her sharp gaze back on Jennifer and Stella. Sammy sat down obediently and woofed now and then as he stared at the hen and her brood of chicks.
Stella replied, “Nothing in particular, Clara, dear. Just chatting about things while we string the beans.” She stood up and gave Clara a quick hug. “How nice of you to visit. The girls are fixing lunch, won’t you join us?”
“Well, ‘course I will.” Clara turned her keen eyes again toward Jennifer. “She sad on account o’ her brother bein’ dead? She don’t cry all that much!”
“What a thing to ask! Of course she’s sad, Clara!”
“Well, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. Jest seems ever time I look at ‘er she’s not carryin’ on all that much.”
“She’s just being very brave. And my, what a help she’s been to me with the children and all. Now why don’t we all go inside and see if that lunch is ready! Come on children, lunch time! Who wants to ring the bell for Seth?”
Jason and Marie both began to fuss, “I do, Mommy, I do!”
“Now, now, settle down, you can each have a turn.” She picked Jason up and held him while he pulled determinedly on the rope to the dinner bell and squealed in delight when the bell rang out. Putting him back on the porch, she picked up Marie and gave her a turn, after which they both ran laughing into the house.
Turning away from Clara’s scrutiny, Jennifer picked up Stevie and carried him into the house. She snuggled him tightly as her thoughts turned to the situation she and her brother found themselves caught up in. I really ought to be crying anyway! My brother’s hurt and our wagon and horses have been stolen. Lord, I don’t know just how troubled Russ is feeling about all this, but as for me, I sometimes feel so disheartened I nearly cannot take another breath. If not for the kindness of these dear folk, I don’t know what we would have done. Lord, this all hurts, but still I’m so thankful for Stella and this family, and for all You are doing to get us through this. She realized that somehow in spite of all her anxious thoughts and fears she still had an underlying sense of trust and even hope.
As Jennifer placed Stevie into his wooden high chair and tied a long piece of cloth around him to keep him from squirming out, she looked around at the spacious open room. It was very unlike the lacy interior of Clara’s small house. Rather, it was somewhat rugged and practical, yet invitingly comfortable and homey. She thought about how soundly she had slept the previous night in the large feather bed, and how ungrudgingly Dorinda had given up her own room, sharing a room with Sara Lynn so that Jennifer could have a place to sleep. They were all so friendly toward her that it was difficult to feel sad about anything for very long. Her sense of fear only came fully into focus when she thought about the west end boys. How surprised she was to learn that Stella was actually related to them! She washed Stevie’s little hands with a soapy cloth, and shortly they were all seated, bowing their heads in thanks for the meal.
When lunch was over Dorinda and Sara Lynn cleaned up the kitchen while Seth went back to resume work on the fence and the women set about to get the little ones to take their naps. Shortly all the little ones were asleep and even Clara was lying on the sofa snoring softly. Dorinda and Sara Lynn retreated to their room to read for a while and Stella and Jennifer quietly slipped out the front door to continue their conversation on the porch.
With a sigh, Stella began, “Did I tell you my father was the sheriff in town at that time?”