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Sneak Peek, Chapter 1: The Eve of the Funeral

Here is your “sneak peek” at Chapter 1 of “Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness.” Unpublished copy, all rights reserved. (c)Beverly Scott

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Chapter 1: The Eve of the Funeral

“No, don’t leave.” Sam clawed at his blankets and croaked, “Stay with me. I need you here.”

I frowned. “I need to see if Patricia is awake.”

The last few weeks had been difficult. Sam had needed, no, demanded, that I stay beside him. I was weary of the struggle to care for him and still find time to meet the needs of all the children. He became agitated and irritated when he wanted something when I was busy with the baby or giving ten-year-old Charlie a reassuring hug. I patted his hand and tucked the blankets around him.

“Sam, I’ll be right back. I need to see if Patricia is awake.”

He clung to me so I sat back down to wait for him to doze off, listening for Patricia’s whimpers. Last night when I tried to sleep in the chair, Sam’s moans and cries startled me awake. When I thought how little time I had left with him, my whole body shook and my heart went cold. He was burning up, so I folded down the covers and mopped his brow with cool water. Later he was chilled and shivering, grabbing at the covers to try to get warm again.

Today, the sun had brought some warmth to the crisp cool air. I needed to breathe and Sam’s blankets needed to be aired out and the soiled bedding washed. He had dozed off again. Patricia was still napping.

Daniel hollered, “Water’s hot, Ma!” As I came outside with the bedding, I paused to smell the coolness before walking toward the tub, which sat in the middle of the yard on a large brown rock. That rock had been flattened and smoothed by the wind and rain of a thousand winters. Daniel, at sixteen the oldest of my children, was pouring hot water into the tub.

He smiled down at me. He’d shot up so in the last year and now stands so tall, I have to throw my head back to look up at him. I smiled at his lanky frame. How awkward he seemed suddenly, trying to get comfortable in his tall body and big feet.

I put my hands into the water. “Ah, feels good.” I began to wash the bedding and some of the boys’ shirts. “Daniel, will you and Joe wring these out and hang them up? They’ll dry quickly with the sun out. This air sucks moisture from everything.”

He nodded, grabbing the clothes to wring them out. He was my willing helper, taking over the chores that I could no longer do. I wondered if he was beginning to be resentful. He had his father’s quiet way and keen eye, noticing the slight expressions that flash in someone’s eyes or the movement of the brush that hid the jack rabbit he might bring home for dinner.

Daniel kept a lot to himself. I knew I would need to probe to find out how he was feeling, but I was too preoccupied to talk to him now. As I strode across the yard to return to Sam’s bedside, I thought about how thankful I was for Daniel’s calm and easy way with the little ones. He adored the baby. She quieted right down when he gathered her in his long arms to coo and tickle her. He guided and protected Petey, who is weak and small for a four-year-old after a long bout with rheumatic fever. But he was not so good with Joe and Charlie.

“Joe, come and help with the laundry,” Daniel yelled.

“Doin’ somethin’ else,” Joe hollered back.

“Dammit Joe, why are ya so difficult? Both of us need to help Ma. Not just me.”

“All right, I’m comin.’ But don’t yell at me.” Joe still resented Daniel ordering him around just like he did when he was four.

I paused at the door, hesitant to leave the cool fresh air. My eyes needed to adjust to the darkness. Although the lantern shed some light, I had to be careful. I put each foot on the narrow steps carved from the hard soil. I tended to lose my balance easily as I made my way into our underground home. And there was nothing for me to grab if I tripped.

Before going into the cave-like room in the back where Sam slept, I heard the whimpers and rustling of Patricia, waking up from her nap. Anxious to avoid disturbing Sam, I picked her up before she could cry.

“You’re such an easy baby,” I murmured to Patricia. “I’m so happy to have a girl after four boys.” She smiled up at me as if she was in on my secret. “You are such a pretty girl.” My love welled up and a tear dropped on her pale delicate face. Her dark eyes blinked with puzzlement. “I’m just lovin’ you,” I reassured her. As she nuzzled to find my left breast, I wondered how long my milk would last.

As I entered his room, filled with the stale smells of sweat, urine and sickness, Sam began mumbling again, then he cried out, “I won’t answer! I won’t answer. I am married…” His voice trailed off to a mumble again and I caught what sounded like my name, “Sarah Armstrong Martin.”

“What’s that about?” I wondered aloud.

I hobbled quickly toward the bed, a thin mattress we brought with us from Oklahoma, worried that it is close to the end. I pulled a quilt around Sam’s shoulders, held his hand and soothed his brow while I continued to nurse Patricia. He lay still now. Only his hands twitched occasionally. I studied him, listening to his labored breathing.

His body was small and frail under the blanket. His skin drooped from his jaw. His eyes have sunk into his face, which was lined with the ravages of constant pain. They fluttered open, looking at me in recognition for a moment. Then they closed, and with a release of breath, he was gone.

I sat quietly nursing Patricia, unable to move. My mind was empty. My heart ached. He was gone.

Finally, I got up to tell the children. After some tears, hugs and reassurance, I sent them all with Daniel into town for some supplies. I needed some time alone.

 

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