Posts : 834
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 45
|Subject: The Invitation Fri Aug 30, 2013 10:04 pm|| |
The dark-haired figure did not stir.
“Han? Please wake up.” The blond-haired, younger boy gently shook the elder, the heat radiating to his hands through the bedclothes. Ringlets fell onto his face, his voice soft and pleading. “Han?”
“Uhh! What, Jed?” Hannibal moaned and sighed as his dark eyes opened; he peered at his cousin. Then, raising himself on his elbows, he immediately fell back to the pillow as the nausea hit him.
Jed’s voice cracked as he fought back tears. “Han, are ya gonna be okay?”
The older boy again gazed at the eight-year-old, so innocent, yet worldly-wise in some ways. He spoke barely above a whisper, “Of course I’m gonna be okay, silly. Whato do ya think?”
“I don’t know…”
A hand on the younger boy’s shoulder interrupted his vigil. “Now, Jed, you know you’re not supposed to be here longer than a few minutes. Hannibal needs his rest, and we don’t want you getting sick, do we?”
Blue eyes looked from the prone ten-year-old to the kindly, older countenance. “No, ma’am.”
“Then come downstairs. I’ve got some fresh-baked cookies and milk waiting for you.” With that, she tugged gently at Jed’s arm, but met resistance. She knelt by his side, the understanding hazel eyes trying to look into his soul. “Jed, you really need to leave now. You can see Hannibal after he gets some sleep.”
“But I just wanna stay with him in case he needs anything.” The voice choked.
The younger boy turned back to the bed as the older one spoke, the voice still weak, but with more authority.
“You’re gonna have to do as you’re told. How can I get better if I’m worrying about ya?”
Ringlets downcast, the younger boy wiped a few tears with his sleeve, as he tried his best to show a brave front. “Okay, Han.”
Hannibal gave a lopsided smile and nod in reply.
The gray-haired woman arranged the covers around the older boy. “Now, Hannibal, you get some rest. I’ll take good care of Jed.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you,” Han replied tiredly as he drifted off.
Jed sat at the kitchen table, absent-mindedly dunking cookies which broke off and fell into the glass of milk in front of him. He looked at the woman lifting a pan from the oven. “Mrs. Thornton, is Han gonna die?”
She froze momentarily at the question, before putting the pan down and turning to face the boy. “Jed, why would you ever think something like that?”
“Because…” his voice trailed off as he stared earnestly at her, pursing his lips as he again fought emotions he would rather not have her see.
“Oh, honey, he’s going to be all right.”
“You promise?” he asked as the tears freely flowed.
Mrs. Thornton bundled him in her arms as the realization hit. The boys had just lost their families, and she and her husband, the local doctor, had taken them in for the time being, until the authorities could sort things out. She was doing her best to keep the boys occupied, and they were doing as well as could be expected, until Hannibal had fallen ill several days before. Jed was anxious, mournful, and the older woman began to worry about him.
As she held the boy close, she recalled the last conversation she had had with her husband about their young charges.
“Garrett, they’ve seen so much. They need to be children.”
“Yes, dear, they have, and it’s terrible. But they’ve grown years in the last weeks, especially Hannibal.”
“Emily, we’ve been over this. We’re too old to have two rambunctious boys about. Maybe one, but separating them would be the worst thing we could do.”
Indeed, one would be fine, perhaps. They had known the families, and the boys – cousins – were especially close. Now, the two were all the family the other had.
A sniff at her waist interrupted her reverie. She looked down into upcast blue eyes, which closed as a yawn escaped.
“Jed, why don’t you take a nap? When you wake up, we can visit Hannibal again.”
The ringlets bounced as the boy nodded.
She led him to a settee in the parlor, where he wordlessly lay down and let her cover him with a quilt. Before long, he dozed off.
Two days later, Jed sat by Hannibal’s bedside, a checkerboard on a tray between them. The older boy sat propped against a myriad of pillows, which seemed to swallow him. He fidgeted to stay straight, knocking some of the checkers off the board.
“Han, you’re ruinin’ the game.”
“Sorry, Jed, just tryin’ to get comfortable.”
“Ya look comfortable enough.”
“I am, sorta, just keep slippin’.”
After Jed rearranged the checkers, he regarded his cousin thoughtfully. Han seemed better, but still somewhat weak. The fever had abated, but his stomach still bothered him, and Dr. Thornton ordered continued bed rest. However, Jed was now able to visit for longer periods, and Han was grateful for the company.
“Han, do you like it here?”
“It’s okay. The Thorntons are nice enough. Why?”
“Do ya think we could stay?”
“I don’t know, Jed. That’s up to the judge. We don’t even know if they want to keep us.”
“But they’re doin’ it now.” Jed sounded hopeful.
“Yeah, but…” Hannibal wasn’t sure he wanted to share what he had overheard with the younger boy.
“Nothin’. It’s just not up to us, is all.” Hannibal turned his attention back to the game. “Let’s see, I think it’s my move.”
Jed paid the game no mind. “But, where else would we go?”
Hannibal made his move, the dark eyes coming to rest on the blue-eyed gaze of the younger boy. “I’m not sure, Jed.” He hesitated for a moment, but Jed would have to know sometime. “Maybe an orphanage.”
Jed’s nose wrinkled as if deep in thought for a moment. “What’s an or..panage?”
Hannibal patiently explained, “Orphange. That’s where orphans live.”
The older boy sighed. “What we are now – orphans.”
Jed’s eyes grew wide. “Oh. Ya mean when kids have no folks no more.”
Hannibal swallowed hard. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“Han, I don’t wanna go anywhere else.”
“I know, Jed, but… We’ll just have to do what they tell us. We don’t really have any say in the matter.”
“Because. Now it’s your turn, so move.”
Jed wrinkled his nose again, almost defiantly. “Okay, but it’s not fair.”
“I suppose not, but it’s the way it is.” Hannibal yawned.
“Yeah. I think I’m gonna rest a spell. Why don’t you see if Mrs. Thornton needs some help?”
Jed frowned, his voice now quieter. “Okay. Just wish you’d get better.”
“I am gettin’ better. Doc Thornton says so.”
Jed gathered up the board and the checkers, putting them in a pouch. “Night, Han.”
Hannibal watched the younger boy leave the room. “I’ll see ya later, Jed.”
Jed descended the stairs slowly, lost in thought. Things were confused in his mind. It had only been a few weeks since that awful day, but it seemed so long ago now. He missed his family, and Han’s. Doc Thornton had found them wandering on the road and taken them home. And there they remained.
He knew Doc had spoken with the judge and the sheriff a few times, but that was always in the parlor, while Mrs. Thornton kept the boys busy with her in the kitchen. She was a good cook, but sometimes he just didn’t feel like eating. But the Thorntons did take good care of them, and they were warm, and safe, and all. He shrugged and headed to the kitchen. Not finding Mrs. Thornton there, he wandered around the first floor and found her at her writing table in the parlor.
She looked up as he entered. “Hello, Jed!”
“Hi.” He took a position at her side. Stacked neatly on the corner of the desk sat several other already written notes and envelopes. “What’re you writin’?”
She regarded the towheaded youngster with a smile. “These are invitations to a tea I’m having for some of the ladies in town next week.”
“It’s like a party, perhaps, but not really. I mean, we’re not celebrating anything.”
Jed wrinkled his nose as he had when Hannibal told him about the orphanage. There were a lot of things to learn in the world. “Really? But I thought ya only sent invitations for a party.”
“Well, you do send invitations for a party, but they’re used properly for any type of occasion. I’m having the ladies over for tea, so it’s more of a get together, something we do every now and then, but not on a regular basis. Do you understand?”
“I think so. My ma only wrote invitations for birthday parties a few times, but we didn’t have many of those. There were too many of us, so we usually just had our own party at home…” Jed’s voice dropped off as the memory came rushing back. He stared at the floor.
Mrs. Thornton lifted the boy’s chin. “I’m just about done here. Would you take these to the ladies’ homes for me? They’re all in town. Then when you come back, we’ll have some pie.”
Jed grinned, his eyes dancing. “You mean, all by myself?”
Emily Thornton laughed. “Yes, all by yourself.”
“Okay,” he said eagerly.
“All right. By the time you wash up and get your jacket, I’ll be finished and you can go. I want a handsome, nicely scrubbed young man delivering my invitations.”
Jed beamed. “Yes, ma’am!”
She laughed as he ran off.
Jed went to each address and politely knocked on doors and safely delivered the envelopes. The ladies he saw told him what a fine young man he was and how well he represented Mrs. Thornton. Indeed, some noted how proud she must be of him. Jed thought those were just about the nicest things anyone ever said to him, and he saw how delighted each woman had been to receive her invitation. They all told him they would attend the tea and asked him to pass the message on to Mrs. Thornton, but they would, of course, follow up with the written response, as it was the only proper thing to do.
Later that afternoon, with Hannibal still resting and Mrs. Thornton in the kitchen preparing supper, Jed sat at the writing desk in the parlor. He took a sheet of paper and carefully inked the pen. He wrote, his hand much larger and messier than Mrs. Thornton’s delicate script, but he did his eight-year-old best. Then, reading it over and satisfied he had not made too many mistakes, he printed on an envelope and slipped the sheet inside. Not wanting to make a mess with the sealing wax, he folded the flap inside the envelope and tucked it inside his shirt. Leaving the desk as neat as he had found it, he wandered into the kitchen.
“Mrs. Thornton, I forgot to deliver one of the invitations, so I’m going to do it now.”
The older woman regarded him with a smile. “You’re very conscientious, Jed. I do appreciate that.”
“Conschien…? Thank you, Mrs. Thornton!” With that, he rushed for the door.
“Now, young man, be right back because supper will be ready in a few minutes.”
She laughed as she heard a distant “Yes, ma'am,” just before the door slammed.
Once the boys had gone to bed, Emily and Garrett Thornton sat around their kitchen table with the sheriff and the judge, papers scattered about.
The judge spoke, “From everything I’ve seen and what I know of them, those boys are generally well-behaved. But young’uns like that, without their folks to guide them, often turn out troublesome. I think it best to send them to the home, where they’ll have people to keep them in line.”
Doc Thornton looked up from a paper he had just read. “But, Judge, you’re sending them to a home for waywards. Those boys aren’t wayward by any means. What about a home where they’ll be with other well-behaved children?”
The judge sighed. “Doc, I’d like to do that, but all the orphanages are full. The home for waywards is the only one with room.”
Emily Thornton could keep quiet no longer. “Judge, if it weren’t for Garrett’s and my being on in years, we’d keep them ourselves, and happily so. But, a home for waywards? Why take a chance turning two such nice children into hooligans. Some of the boys there are rough.”
The judge regarded her with mournful eyes. “Emily, if there was anything more I could do, I would. But the war’s taken a toll around these parts, and there are too many children than we know what to do with. There’s even talk of an orphan train, loading up children from here to go further west. Have some of the older boys fill in for the men who’ve gone off to war. Hannibal might fit that, but Jed’s too young, and I know you don’t want them separated. I’m afraid the home for waywards is the best I can do if no one will take them on.”
The Thorntons exchanged a rueful look, before Doc spoke. “All right, Judge, if that’s the best you can do. At least they’ll stay together.”
After a few more minutes of discussion, the judge handed Doc some papers, and the couple saw the men out.
The following morning, Hannibal joined Jed and the Thorntons at the breakfast table. Not quite having regained his appetite, he nonetheless was glad to be out of bed. He managed a few spoonfuls of mush, while Jed wolfed down flapjacks and ham, with two glasses of milk.
“Jed, don’t be such a hog!”
Jed looked up, surprised. “I’m not bein’ a hog, Han. I’m just enjoyin’ my breakfast.”
Hannibal scowled back. “Well, there is such a thing as manners, ya know!”
“Now, that’s enough, you two,” Mrs. Thornton scolded. Getting her young charges’ attention, she smiled. “Jed’s fine, Hannibal, but it is nice to see you feeling better, and eating. You’ll be back to your old self in no time.”
Jed beamed, while the older boy pursed his lips and gave his younger cousin a look. “Yes, ma’am.”
Dr. Thornton rose and pecked his wife on the cheek. “Have a good day, dear. I have some rounds to make. And you boys mind. We’ll have a talk after dinner.”
The boys rose and replied in unison, “Yes, sir.”
As her husband left, Mrs. Thornton addressed the boys, “Now, I’ll meet you two in the parlor in a few minutes to do some lessons with you. Then, Hannibal will have to rest, and Jed and I will see about lunch.”
That afternoon, while Hannibal napped, Jed went outside, allegedly to play, but sneaked quietly around the house to the window with the best vantage point to Emily Thornton’s writing table. Knowing she planned to spend some time there, he peered inside to watch.
He saw her enter the room and sit down, her eyes fixed on something in front of her. She picked up an envelope and regarded it for a few seconds, then opened it and unfolded a sheet of paper. She read the missive several times before refolding the page and returning it to the envelope. Jed saw her cover her face with her hands, and thought she looked sad. Tearing up, he stared for another minute, and ran off.
Hannibal and the Thorntons were beside themselves with worry as supper time approached, and Jed had not returned. The boy with the ravenous appetite hardly ever missed a meal, but he appeared just as Doc was about to fetch the sheriff. Questioning the mournful youngster only elicited repeated tearful apologies.
Since he could no longer put it off, Dr. Thornton was joined by his wife as he sat the boys down to speak to them that evening, as he had promised he would. “Boys, I have to tell you something important…”
Hannibal interrupted him. “That’s okay, Doc. We really do appreciate all you and Mrs. Thornton have done for us. I know the Judge signed the papers for the home. I overheard you talking about it a couple times, and I sorta mentioned it to Jed, so he knows, too. Don’t worry, we’ll be okay… We have to leave tomorrow, don’t we?”
Dr. Thornton regarded the young man, who had obviously done a lot of growing up the last few weeks. Indeed, they both had. Too much so for ones so young, he thought ruefully. “Yes, son, I’m sorry. I really am. I wish it could be different. If Emily and I were twenty years younger…”
“Don’t worry. Like I said, we’ll be fine, and maybe we can visit ya sometime,” Hannibal added, hoping it might come to pass. “We’d probably better get to bed so we can be ready tomorrow.”
Eyes downcast, Jed stared at the floor. One might have called him melancholy; he would have just said sad. He stood to follow Hannibal upstairs. Stopping, he turned to address Emily Thornton. “It’s okay. I guess somebody has to say no.” Sniffling and with tears streaming, he bid them good night.
The couple sat stunned for several minutes. Finally, Doc asked, “What did Jed mean about saying no?”
She bit her lip. Unable to speak, she pulled an envelope from her pocket and handed it to her husband.
The envelope, in childish scrawl, said, “Mrs. Thornton.” He opened it and removed a sheet, which was in the same hand. It read,
You an Doc r invited ta take me an Han as yor sons. We wood like ta liv wih you. Can you anser real soon? I hope you’ll say yes, like all the ladys did for the tea.
Very truely yors,