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Hand To Hand
By Denise Tucker
|Edition: Trade Paperback|
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Ginny lay in her bed, wide awake and shivering.
It wasn't cold weather causing her to shake so badly beneath the thin, white sheets. Outside, it was a hot evening in early August, and the Virginia night air blowing in through her bedroom window was just as hot and humid and sticky as the Virginia day air had been. The awful summer heat made Ginny restless, and in protest, she angrily kicked the sheets off her skinny legs. She tried to settle down, but it was hard to be still while listening to the sounds that made her so afraid.
Stop it, she thought.
Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!
But it didn't stop.
The angry voice of her drunken father in the kitchen downstairs kept yelling and yelling, and the unhappy voice of her mother yelled back, then pleaded, then wept. And these recurring sounds shook Ginny's soul.
She pulled the feather pillow out from under her head and put it over her face, holding the ends over her ears. She knew that she couldn't fall sleep like this, but it usually made her feel better. Why couldn't she sleep through it like Willie and Bessie? Willie was her little brother, just turned four years old. He was the baby of the family and too young to understand. Besides, once Willie was asleep, he stayed that way till morning. Bessie, her younger sister, was eight years old, just two years younger than she, and old enough to understand what was going on downstairs in the kitchen. But there Bessie lay in the bunk above her, softly snoring away in peace.
This really made Ginny mad, and she was sorely tempted to stretch her leg upwards and kick the underside of Bessie's bed real hard. She had done this before. Slowly, she lifted her right foot up carefully towards the bunk above. At that precise moment, in Bessie's salvation, a small yellow kitten named Cornbread jumped up on Ginny's bed and proceeded to attack her exposed left elbow.
Ginny reached out and pulled the kitten up to her chest.
"Stop it!" she insisted. At least the kitten obeyed her wishes. Insulted as only a cat can be, Cornbread pranced haughtily across Ginny's chest and curled up into a tiny ball on the bed beside her. Ginny felt guilty for yelling at the innocent kitten, she reached out and began rubbing her behind the ears. The kitten closed her eyes in ecstasy and starting purring. It was a comforting sound.
She put the pillow back underneath her head and closed her eyes and tried to remember happier times, days when her Papa was well. Papa was a tobacco farmer, and their family lived on a small farm in rural Charlotte County, Virginia. They lived in a two-story white farmhouse that had a large open front porch and a screened-in back porch. Her earliest memories of Papa were sparkling summer evenings when she was four years old. Just before dinner, Mother would let her go out on the front porch swing and wait until she could see Papa walking down the road towards their house. Ginny would leap off the porch and run down the road to greet him as he returned from the tobacco fields.
Papa's hands would be stained brownish black, and his shirt would smell like tobacco leaves. She didn't mind the stains one bit, and she learned to like the funny smell of the tobacco. Papa would give her a big bear hug and then throw her up on his wide shoulders for a piggyback ride back to the house.
Another sweet memory came to Ginny's mind. It was that cold winter just before her little brother Willie was born, when it snowed and snowed and snowed. For many days school was cancelled, and Bessie and Ginny sat around the house after chores were done and complained there was nothing to do. Mother told Papa that she was sure that her children were going to die of cabin fever. That made Bessie scared. Bessie thought cabin fever must be like measles or scarlet fever, and she didn't like being sick.
One night, Papa and some of the neighbors decided to organize an evening sleigh riding party. The menfolk built a big roaring fire at the top of Hamner's Hill, and the grown-ups sat around the fire, drinking hot cider and talking happily while the children rode their wooden sleds down the steep embankment. Bessie's fears of being sick had came true that day. She had caught a bad cold playing outside without her mittens the day before, so Mother decided Bessie had to stay in with her.
That meant Ginny had Papa all to herself. Each time she got ready to ride, Papa would push her sled in a running start, and Ginny just squealed with fear and delight all the way down that snow-covered hill. Several times, Papa jumped on the back of the sled and rode down the hill with her. It was so much fun!
When she and Papa walked home, he held her hand and pointed out some of the star constellations to her, like Orion and Little Pleides and the Big Dipper. She liked Orion best. Papa told her it was a strong prince wearing a sword in the sky and that he watched over small children and young animals. After that, whenever she looked up into the sky and saw Orion, she felt safe inside.
The sound of shattering china startled Ginny and interrupted her pleasant thoughts. Mother must have thrown a dish again. She only did that when she was very, very angry at Papa. Three dinner plates and one salad bowl had been lost since Christmas. Ginny moaned and pushed the edges of the pillow up against her ears.
She thought back to "The Parade." Well, that's what Mother called it. Papa's younger brother, Abraham, and his family lived up in Lynchburg, Virginia. He wrote Papa a nice letter, inviting Papa's whole family to come up to town for a visit on the Fourth of July. Since it was the beginning of a new century, the year 1900, the city had planned an extra special Independence Day parade.
The news of the trip thrilled the children. Ginny was anxious to see Lynchburg, the big city she had heard so much about. Lynchburg was a river town, built on seven large, steep hills right beside the James River. Bessie was excited to see her cousin Elizabeth, Uncle Abraham's only child. That was because Bessie and Elizabeth were the same age and both had blond hair. They liked to pretend they were twins separated at birth by a tragic accident. They never explained what the accident was, but Bessie assured Ginny it was very "tragical." Two-year-old Willie didn't quite understand what it meant to go to the big city, but Papa explained that he would get to take a long ride in Papa's big wagon. That was enough to make Willie happy.
Uncle Abraham had sent written directions for them to meet him and his family right downtown where the parade was going to be, but somehow Papa got lost riding around down there on those steep hilly streets. By accident, they ended up on the parade route just before the parade started. Mother was so embarrassed that she held her head down and put her hands over her face, but Papa proudly drove their wagon and horses right down Main Street, waving and smiling and tipping his hat to the people lined up on the curb. The people thought the parade had started, and they yelled and smiled and waved right back. Mother swore she would never set foot in Lynchburg again. Papa and Uncle Abraham thought it was great fun. Ginny thought so, too.
Through the feather pillow, Ginny could hear her Papa yelling and hitting the kitchen table now with his fist. If Papa would only go to sleep, she thought anxiously, things would be okay again in the morning.
Go to sleep, Papa.
Just go to sleep.
Ginny squeezed her eyes shut and thought of the best memory she had of Papa when he was feeling better. It was old Hiram Blankenship's funeral. Old Hiram was something of a legend in their community. He was a Civil War veteran, having survived several of the biggest and last battles of "The War." For some reason, people in Virginia didn't like calling it "The Civil War." "The War Between The States" was an awful lot to say in one breath, so folks just shortened it to "The War." If you starting talking about "The War," folks knew exactly which war you were talking about.
Mother said Old Hiram had his horse shot right out from under him but Old Hiram never got wounded. He was present at the surrender with General Lee at nearby Appomattox, and since he didn't have a horse, he had to walk home to Charlotte County.
He was a little man, not much taller than Mother, with a long white beard that reached below his waist. Mother said he used to tuck it under his belt when doing his carpentry work. Mother and Ginny were invited to lunch at his house once, and Old Hiram showed Ginny the old black boots he had worn in battle and the little prayer book which he swore protected him from the Yankee bullets. When Old Hiram died, the Widow Blankenship asked Papa to sing at the funeral.
Ginny could still clearly recall the images of that day in church as she sat in the second pew in her Sunday best. The minister's sister, Mabel Coffey, had come all the way down from Madison Heights to play the organ. At the end of the service, when the Reverend Coffey had finished his sermon, Papa stood up front next to a large wreath of red roses and sang "Amazing Grace." Ginny looked around and saw that a lot of people were crying while Papa was singing. Afterwards, she heard Mother say proudly to their neighbor, Mrs. Holt, that there wasn't a dry eye in the place when Papa sang.
That was not so long ago. But Papa got real sick last winter with the croup, and old Doc Davis had told him to drink a glass of whiskey each night before going to bed for his cough. Doc Davis said it would help him sleep. The doctor's cure worked. Papa slept well, and in no time, the cough went away. But the whiskey stayed. Papa continued to have one drink at night when he came home from the fields. Then it was two drinks. Then three. Then the fights with Mother started.
Ginny rolled over on her stomach in frustration and threw her pillow on the floor. Cornbread saw this as an opportunity to regain lost territory, and the kitten promptly rose and climbed up on Ginny's back. Ginny didn't move. Why fight the kitten? She felt helpless against her Papa's drinking, against what was happening downstairs. It felt good to just lay there with the whole world and that kitten on her shoulders and to feel quite sorry for herself.
Week after week, the family situation was getting worse. Most nights she lay in her bed like this, feeling guilty for not doing anything to help. But what could she do? Children were to be seen and not heard when it came to grown-up problems. But Ginny did reason initially that if she would do more around the house to help Mother, without being asked, things might get better. Unfortunately, Ginny soon saw that nothing she did seemed to make any difference.
The worst part of it all was she couldn't talk to anyone about it. Since Bessie was pretending that nothing was wrong, she could hardly talk about it, and Willie was too young to understand or help. And Ginny knew things like drinking and fighting were not talked about outside the house. Mother did not speak of it to friends or to Reverend Coffey. So neither would Ginny.
Suddenly, there was silence.
The absence of sound from downstairs made Ginny bolt upright in her bed and sent Cornbread flying in the air. The kitten yowled in protest, landed on the hard wood floor, and then scurried underneath the bed to hide.
The quiet woke Bessie up from her deep sleep, and she sprang down from her bunk bed and threw herself into the bewildered arms of her older sister.
"Ginny, what's happening?" she asked with her big blue eyes wide with fright.
"I don't know," whispered Ginny anxiously. She stared at her sister, straining to hear what was happening downstairs. But no more sounds came. Just silence.
Bessie reached for Ginny's hand and held it tight. The two girls held each other close and continued to listen, but no more sounds came from the downstairs kitchen. Now Ginny wished that her Papa would yell or that her Mother would cry. Any of the sounds that usually frightened her would be a comfort now. The seconds seemed like minutes. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
"We better go see," Bessie said finally. She slid out of Ginny's bed and waited for her sister to take the lead.
Ginny reluctantly got out of her bed, ashamed that her younger sister was braver than she was. She put her lips tightly together, determined to not be afraid in front of her younger sister, and more than anything else, she promised herself she would not cry.
The two girls stepped carefully into the dark hallway and slowly walked together towards the back stairs. The old wall clock ticked loudly, still the only sound in the house. Ginny led the way, slowly making her way down the narrow staircase and holding Bessie's hand tightly for security.
She was the first to see Mother lying on the kitchen floor. She was unconscious. Her black hair, which fell in long tresses below her waist, was lying across the floor in a wild tangled mess. There was a small amount of blood on her face. It was a horrible scene, but what really frightened Ginny was the blood stains that appeared on the bottom half of her mother's thin, white nightgown. Mother was eight months pregnant. Ginny knew instantly what those stains meant. The baby was starting to come.
Bessie screamed, "She dead!" and rushed angrily towards their father, who was standing motionless with a lost expression on his face. His blond hair was matted against his brow, which was wet with perspiration, and his cheeks and eyes were an ugly shade of red. The strong smell of whiskey reached Ginny's nose, and the smell made her feel sick. Papa held a half-empty bottle of whiskey in one hand. There was blood on his other hand.
Bessie reached her father and began hitting him in the stomach with her little fists, crying uncontrollably. His daughter's screams acted like a splash of cold water on his face, cutting through the alcohol's numbing effect on his brain, and Papa's face contorted into a look of painful comprehension and utter anguish. He reached down and grabbed Bessie's hands.
Protective, angry feelings welled up inside Ginny. She felt alert as a mother cat, waiting to see what Papa would do, afraid he would hurt Bessie for hitting him, and more than ready to attack him if he did. But her father stood frozen. More feelings rose up inside Ginny, moving her to action. It took all the courage and anger she possessed to decide what to do. But, at last, she would do something. And she would not cry!
With determination, she walked over to the back door and opened it.
"Get out," she said in a harsh low voice that surprised her. It sounded very grown up.
Papa turned and looked at Ginny, but Ginny didn't move nor did she speak to him again. She just continued to hold the door open with the powerful authority of an angry child. Her father paused to look down at Bessie and at his wife. Then, he haltingly walked over to the table, picked up his crumpled hat, and walked out the back door. Ginny slammed the door behind him.
Louella moaned, and both girls rushed over to their battered mother. Ginny ordered Bessie to go immediately to the linen closet and get washcloths and towels while she poured water into a basin. Together the girls knelt and washed Mother's bruised face and hands, and slowly the woman opened her eyes.
"William?" asked Mother.
"He's gone," answered Ginny bitterly.
A look of hurt crossed Mother's face. Her hand went over her bulging stomach, and her head jerked back in response to the wave of pain.
"The baby . . ."
Bessie looked up at her sister frantically.
"The baby's coming?" asked Bessie, her eyes widening with understanding.
Ginny frowned. Being a farm girl, Bessie was already aware of the basic facts of life, yet she was too young to be allowed to help deliver this baby. Ginny had been present at several births with Mother and essentially knew how it was done. But she knew she couldn't do it all by herself. She would need help. She sighed as she thought of the first and best choice of action. Doc Davis lived several miles away. She knew how to ride a horse, but she couldn't leave Bessie and Mother alone for that long. There was only one other option.
Ginny stood up and pulled Bessie up with her.
"You stay with Mother, Bessie, and don't let her get up. I'm going to get Mrs. Holt. She's close by and the best midwife in the county."
Bessie nodded her head obediently, and Ginny dashed up the stairs to her room to change her clothes. She hurriedly tore off her white nightgown and then rushed around the room, frantically looking for her blue flower-print dress. Where was it? It took her a few moments before she spotted the edge of it sticking out from underneath her bed. It must had fallen down there when she kicked off her covers earlier. She pulled it out and discovered Cornbread curled up in a comfortable ball on top of the dress.
"Off!" she ordered, as she tossed the kitten off the dress. The kitten responded to this action by pointing its tail high in the air, turning around in a circle twice, and then walking out of the girl's bedroom headed in the direction of little Willie's room. There she could sleep undisturbed.
As Ginny changed, fearful thoughts began racing inside her head. Would Mother live? Sometimes women died in childbirth. Ginny was aware of that. Mrs. Ramsey died in April giving birth to twin boys. What would happen to them if Mother died? Would Papa come back?
Did she even want Papa to come back?
Her eyes began to moisten, but Ginny wiped them quickly. Not now! She needed to be brave for Mother. She would not let herself cry until Mother was safe.
As she was putting her shoes on, someone abruptly entered her room. Ginny jumped up defensively, fearing perhaps her father had returned. Instead, a sleepy, four-year-old Willie walked into the room, dragging his tattered blanket behind him.
"Ginny, I thirsty," he whined. "I want a drink."
This was almost more than the ten-year-old girl could stand. She had been close to hysteria up till now, and the last thing she needed to do was worry about her little brother. Who would take care of him? She had to go get Mrs. Holt, and Bessie needed to stay with Mother. And Willie absolutely must not be allowed to see Mother in her condition downstairs.
Oddly enough, Willie's presence proved to be a gift, for it forced her to calm down. It made her stop worrying about the future in order to rationally think about what to do for her brother right this instant. The request for a drink was easily solved. There was a glass on her nightstand, and there was still fresh water in the washstand pitcher that she and Bessie used to wash their face and hands. That meant she didn't have to go downstairs for the drink. Ginny got the glass and poured a small amount of water in it for her brother. Willie took the glass and drank it all in several loud gulps. He handed the glass back to his sister and looked at her closely.
"You got your clothes on, Ginny. You going somewhere?"
She lovingly picked up her little brother and his blanket and carried him back to his room. "I'm going to Mrs. Holt's house, Willie. Bessie is terrible sick with a cough, and Mother needs me to go to Mrs. Holt's house for some medicine."
"Yes," lied Ginny sweetly. "She has a very bad cold."
"Can I give her a kiss and make her feel better?" he asked sincerely. Willie loved his sister and he loved giving kisses.
"Oh, no, 'cause then you might get sick and then Mother would have to give you some medicine," replied Ginny wisely.
Willie made a face. He was persuaded. Loving or not, he hated medicine.
"Why don't you give me Bessie's kiss, and I'll give it to her later," said Ginny as she tucked Willie back into his bed. Cornbread appeared, jumping up onto Willie's small bed, and snuggled herself down into the covers at Willie's feet.
Willie smiled and reached up and kissed Ginny gently on the cheek twice.
"One's for you," he said.
"You're a good boy, Willie. Now, go to sleep and sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams," answered Willie through a yawn.
Ginny stood for a few moments at his door until she could hear his breathing slow down into the quiet sounds of sleep. Thank goodness little children fall asleep almost instantly, she thought, closing the door securely.
Ginny lost no time in rushing back down to the kitchen. Bessie sat on the floor with Mother's head in her lap. Mother was awake and holding her daughter's hand.
"Mother, are you alright?" asked Ginny, kneeling beside her.
"Yes," said Mother weakly. "But the baby is coming tonight, Ginny. You must go and get help." Mother's request made Ginny feel good that she had made the right decision. Mother's face contorted with pain as another contraction gripped her bruised body. Ginny held her mother's hand tightly until the wave of pain stopped.
"I'm going now to Mrs. Holt's," assured Ginny.
"Hurry," said Louella. She turned her head and tried to smile at her oldest daughter.
* * *
She ran as fast as her thin legs could carry her. Gratefully, there was a bright full moon hovering overhead to light the way down the winding dirt road that stretched between their house and the Holt's neighboring farm. The Holt place was at least twice as big as their farm, which was a good thing seeing that the Holts had nine children. Fortunately for Mr. Plunkett Holt, six of those children were strong, healthy boys who could work the land alongside him. The Holt children were Josiah, Mary Susan, the twins Elijah and Embro, Eliza, Kathleen, Benjamin, Jeremiah, and Jacob.
It was about half a mile between the two houses, and the Holt's large white farmhouse lay hidden back in a thick patch of pine trees. To Ginny, it seemed like a castle, with a large round tower that Mother said was a turret built on one side. Eliza Holt, Ginny's best friend, had the round bedroom up in the turret, and sometimes the girls liked to pretend they were fairy-tale princesses locked inside some evil castle.
Ginny loved the Holts. Mr. Holt was a farmer like Papa, but he grew corn in his fields. He also had a big apple orchard, and Ginny and her family always helped them pick apples during the fall harvest. Ginny and Eliza loved to climb up the small apple trees, full of dark red fruit, and toss down apples to waiting hands and baskets below.
Like her husband, Mrs. Holt loved to garden, but her efforts centered on flowers and herbs. Once Mother said if God ever planted another Garden of Eden, he would put Mrs. Holt in charge of the roses.
Mrs. Holt's roses were the most beautiful part of their farm. They were everywhere. There were large white climbing roses growing on the brick gates at the main entrance to their property. At the side of the house, Mrs. Holt had her kitchen garden. It was a small square piece of land that Mr. Holt had set apart with a white picket fence. Inside, there were patches of tomatoes and green peppers and onions. There were buckets filled with different kinds of wild mint, and there were small patches of dill and oregano and thyme. Within her kitchen garden, Mrs. Holt planted large shrub roses in the four corners and more climbing roses along the sides of the fence. Ginny loved going there. It was wonderful to be surrounded by the smell of roses and peppermint. In the front, alongside a large porch that wrapped around both sides of the house, Mrs. Holt had planted her favorite roses. These roses only bloomed in the spring, but they had the strongest and sweetest scent.
Because of the pine trees, Ginny couldn't see the house until she was practically at the front gate, but the smell of the white roses on the gates greeted her and gave her the assurance that she had arrived at her destination. As she ran down the drive leading to the house, she was relieved to see light shining out from several of the downstairs windows. The Holts were still awake.
As Ginny approached the large house, she realized that the Holts were more than just awake. They must be entertaining company, for the sound of Mr. Holt's fiddle floated out upon the hot night air, and Ginny heard the happy sounds of singing and laughing and dancing when she reached the front porch.
She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes!
She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes!
Ginny bolted up the front porch steps and began pounding furiously on the screen door. The singing and fiddle playing stopped immediately, and a surprised looking Mr. Holt soon peered out through the screen door. Ginny liked Mr. Holt. He was a plain man, tall and thin with grey hair and soft green eyes, and he had such a nice laugh. Sometimes he took time to play at the fairy-tale games with her and Eliza. He liked playing the part of the fire-breathing dragon.
"Virginia St. John!" he exclaimed with a whistle, opening the screen door and motioning for Ginny to step inside. "What in blue blazes are you doing out this time of night, child. Do your folks know where you are?"
Ginny grabbed Mr. Holt with both of her hands and shook him fervently. "Mr. Holt, you got to help us. Mother is having her baby! Now!" shouted Ginny. "Doc Davis is too far away. We need Mrs. Holt. Hurry!"
Mr. Holt smiled in understanding and patted Ginny on the back. "Now, now, don't fret so, child. Babies are born every day! I should know. Nine were born here in this very house. That's nothing too serious for a pretty girl like yourself to worry about . . ."
"We got to hurry, Mr. Holt," interrupted Ginny, "Mother isn't well. She needs help! She's . . ."
Before Ginny could explain further and before Mr. Holt could respond, Ann Holt breezed into the hallway from the back kitchen, carrying a large tray filled with several bowls of hot peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream. Besides Mother, Ginny thought Ann Holt was just about the prettiest woman in all of Charlotte County. She was tall and slender like her husband, but her hair hadn't turned grey yet like Mr. Holt's hair and beard had done. She had the most beautiful dark auburn hair that Ginny had ever seen.
Ann Holt stood there, holding her heavy tray, and stared at Ginny in amazement.
"Virginia dear, what's all this commotion about? What are you doing here late at night like this? Where's your Pa?"
Mr. Holt answered the first part of his wife's question before Ginny could reply.
"It seems Mrs. St. John is having her baby tonight, Mrs. Holt, and Virginia has come to ask for your help."
"Mother said to hurry," added Ginny quickly, hoping to move Mrs. Holt into action.
Instead, Mrs. Holt put down the tray and put her hands on her hips and continued to stare at the child.
"And where's your Pa?" she asked with a frown.
A terrible feeling suddenly came over Ginny. Her only concern had been getting help for Mother. Not until this moment did she realize she would have to explain what had happened. She looked around and discovered that there were several other people now standing in the doorway of the living room watching her. She recognized the three eldest Holt boys, Elijah, Embro, and Josiah. Josiah was almost eighteen, and he worked full time in the corn fields with his father. He was supposed to get married next Christmas to Sarah Simpson. Embro and Elijah were thirteen years old, and they loved horses. The Holts raised horses to sell, and it seemed that the twins were destined to take over this part of their father's estate. Mary Susan, the Holt's sixteen-year-old daughter, was also there, standing between the twins. She had often babysat Ginny and Bessie when they were little girls.
There was an older couple and two teenage girls standing there that Ginny did not know. She found it hard to speak in front of all these people.
"Papa's . . . Papa's gone," Ginny stammered.
Mr. and Mrs. Holt continued to look at her for further explanation. Why should she feel bad for Papa? She was still angry at him. What he did was wrong. Yet something deep inside her now wanted to hide the truth, to protect him. But she had to tell. Besides, once they saw Mother, they would know anyway.
"Papa was drunk and had a fight with Mother," she muttered, with her head down. "He hit her and hurt her real bad, and Papa left. I . . . I made him leave."
Mr. and Mrs. Holt exchanged knowing glances and said nothing at first. This made Ginny relax a little. Then Mr. Holt knelt down in front of Ginny and put his hands on her small shoulders. "It's okay, child, I think we understand now. You don't have to say another word. And don't you worry one little bit. We'll see to it that your mother is well taken care of."
Ann Holt removed her apron and excused herself from her company, explaining that she needed to go upstairs to get her midwifery things. As she left, Mr. Holt took Ginny by the hand and led her into the living room where the other people were gathered.
"Virginia, there are some folks here I'd like for you to meet. Virginia St. John, this is my sister Susanna Johnson and her husband Stephan and their two daughters Sophia and Martha. They are visiting us this week from Richmond." The older couple advanced and held out their hands in greeting.
Once the introductions were made, Mr. Holt took matters firmly in hand.
"Elijah, Embro, Louella St. John is . . . in need of a doctor immediately. I want the two of you to saddle up your horses and ride over to Doc Davis' place as fast as you can. Tell him it's an emergency. Bring him over to the St. John place as fast as you can."
Elijah and Embro agreed and left the room quickly. Ginny felt better already knowing they were going after Doc Davis. Both young men were excellent riders, and she knew that Embro's red horse, Cinnamon, was said to be the fastest in the county.
"Susanna," asked Mr. Holt, "would you mind staying here with Virginia and our children? I'd like to take Stephan with me. Mrs. St. John has two small children that I think ought to stay here overnight. I'll take Stephan along to bring them back here promptly."
"I'll be happy to care for the children," said Mrs. Johnson warmly. "I'll just sit up with my knitting till Mr. Johnson brings them 'round."
"We'll sit up with you, Mother," said one of the teenage girls.
"Thank you, Sophia. You and Martha and Virginia can help me get a place ready in little Jacob's room for those two youngsters to sleep in."
"We can put Virginia in Eliza's room," suggested Mary Susan.
Ginny did not like what she was hearing. She didn't want to stay here and help Mrs. Johnson and her daughters. She grabbed Mr. Holt's hand and shook it in protest.
"Mr. Holt, I don't want to stay here. I want to go with you. I want to help Mrs. Holt with Mother's new baby."
Mr. Holt shook his head decidedly. "Virginia, I don't think so. You've been through so much already, child. I think it's better for you to stay here with Mrs. Johnson. We'll take good care of your Mother. You'll see."
But Ginny wouldn't be easily swayed.
"Mr. Holt, I saw what Papa did to Mother, and I was the one who threw him out of the house. I'm not going to stay here now and be tended! I want to be with Mother. She needs me."
Ginny thought she could see those kind green eyes of Mr. Holt get a little misty. He looked at her for a long moment and then relented.
"Alright, missy, you can go. But stay right here with the Johnsons while I go get the horses hitched up to the wagon. Josiah, will you give me a hand in the stable?"
Mr. Holt and Josiah left the room together, leaving Ginny alone with the others. She took a deep breath. Mother, she thought, help is coming. Hold on, Mother, for just a little bit longer.
Mrs. Johnson came over and put a reassuring arm around the girl.
"Don't worry, Virginia. Everything is going to be fine."
Against her will, Ginny turned and put her arms around this woman. She had been brave beyond her years for the last hour. She had faced her father and his sickness. She had seen her sweet mother abused and in pain. She had deceived her little brother and had told the terrible truth to these strangers.
From this night on, Ginny would have to be an adult in her family, to help Mother with running the house and with raising the children. Tonight, her childhood ended. But just for a few moments more, she wanted to feel like a child again.
Ginny closed her eyes and leaned her face on Mrs. Johnson's sturdy shoulder and cried.
Copyright © 1996 by Denise Tucker