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Stay a Little Longer
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Format:ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
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One day, Charlotte befriends a stranger ill with influenza, a man who has taken refuge in an old cabin in the woods nearby. Although badly scarred by wounds suffered in the War, he is strong and slowly recovers. When he gradually takes on odd jobs around the house, Rachel accepts his help. She is drawn to him despite his disfigurement, and his voice is comforting, vaguely familiar . . .
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
After the Parade
The Edge of Town
A Gentle Giving
High on a Hill
Leaving Whiskey Bend
The Listening Sky
Love and Cherish
The Moon Looked Down
More than Memory
On Tall Pine Lake
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
Song of the Road
This Loving Land
Train from Marietta
A Week from Sunday
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Will You Still Be Mine?
Wind of Promise
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Grand Central Publishing
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First eBook Edition: April 2010
Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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Carlson, Minnesota—October 1926
RACHEL WATKINS wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand while absently moving a strand of her coal-black hair from her green-flecked brown eyes. Though the early October day carried the crisp chill of autumn, the inside of Will and Clara Wicker's small home blazed as if it were the hottest day of July; water boiled in a cast-iron pot on top of the wood-burning stove and candles flickered in every corner, their meager light sending faint shadows dancing across the walls.
"Oh, Rachel… it hurts…"
Clara Wicker lay on her back in the bed, one thin-boned hand spread across her enormous pregnant belly. All of the color had drained from her thin face except for the dark purple circles under her eyes and her bitten, red lips. Her blonde hair, slick with sweat, was drawn back from her face. Beads of moisture stood out on her forehead. Her eyes were closed tightly and her breathing was shallow. Not particularly pretty, Clara's face was now a mask of agony.
"It's to be expected," Rachel comforted her.
"Ohhh!" Clara answered, her cry almost a moan.
"It'll be over soon."
Gently, Rachel wiped the sweat from Clara's pain-chiseled face. Looking around her, she took inventory of all that she would need to bring the young woman's first child into the world; the extra sheets that had been prepared for the birthing, a nightdress, towels, clean rags, and a dented bucket for water. Everything was as ready as it could be.
"You sure you know what you're doin'…'bout birthin' and all?" Will Wicker asked from where he meekly stood at the head of his wife's bed, his voice little louder than a whisper. He nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the next, his small, dark eyes flickering back and forth from Clara to Rachel, never lingering for long. His filthy fingers, the fingernails caked with dirt, twitched uneasily as he rubbed one thin hand over the stubble of his bony jaw. His clothes hung loosely on his small frame, just as sweaty and soiled as the body they covered.
How did Clara allow this man to lie between her legs?
"I do," Rachel answered simply.
"Wouldn't it be better if your mother was here?" Will followed.
"I've already told you that she couldn't make it."
"But don't you think… that…" he stammered. "You know… given that…"
"There isn't time for this." Rachel took a deep breath, trying to settle her growing dislike for the man. From the moment she'd been summoned to the Wickers' ramshackle house at the far outskirts of town, she'd hoped that Will would simply accept that she was every bit as capable as Eliza Watkins of bringing a newborn child into the world. Instead, he'd eyed her warily from the moment she'd set foot in his home, as if she had come to harm instead of help. So far, he had contented himself with a few derogatory comments. She hoped that was the way it would remain.
"I'll need you to bring me the water when it's time," she told him.
"Don't worry 'bout me none," he answered. "Ain't no—"
Before Will could say another word, Clara moaned in pain as blood-tinged water gushed from between her legs and formed a puddle around her feet on the mattress.
Sensing Clara's panic, Rachel did her best to settle the pregnant woman. "Don't worry about the water," she said calmly. "We've got plenty of rags and oilskins to keep things dry. This happens to every woman when giving birth to her child." Covering Clara with another clean sheet, she grabbed a pair of rags and tucked them between the woman's legs to catch the remaining fluid.
"I'm… I'm sorry…" Clara struggled to say.
"There's nothing for you to be sorry about," Rachel said with a soft smile.
At a sudden rustling behind her, Rachel turned to find that Will had moved from the head of the bed and quickly shuffled over to the ramshackle home's lone window, as far away from his wife as he could get without going outside. The look on his face was one of utter revulsion and horror. Clearly, the sight of Clara's body preparing to give birth, readying itself to finish what had begun when Will had planted his seed inside her nine months earlier, had completely unsettled him.
"That there… that there…" he stuttered, "ain't… ain't right!"
"Will… Will… don't…" Clara struggled to say through the vicious waves of pain that washed over her, one shaking hand stretched toward her husband, desperately urging him to return to her side.
"I can't, Clara," he answered with a shake of his head. "I just can't."
A small cry escaped Clara's lips and the hand that she had offered to her husband was withdrawn, instead clenching into a tight fist that she pounded heavily on the mattress. Her head swung from side to side as she rode out a spasm that hurt so much her eyes, though still open, couldn't seem to focus on either of the faces around her.
"Help her!" Will shouted at Rachel.
"I'm doing all that I can," she answered as calmly as she could.
"Maybe Doc Clark is back," the man kept on. "Maybe he can do this!"
Clarence Clark was Carlson's new doctor, having recently arrived from the state college. For many years, the town simply made do without a full-time physician, relying instead on the folk knowledge that had been brought from the Old World, mostly a mixture of Norwegian and German home remedies. Though Dr. Clark was a young man in his early thirties, he had proven to be an excellent caregiver and was well respected. If not for an emergency in his wife's family that had taken him from town, he would have been where Rachel now sat.
"We don't need Dr. Clark's help," Rachel said, her eyes never leaving Clara.
"Then we should get your mother," he insisted. "She'll know what to do!"
"She can't help us," Rachel answered curtly.
"But she'd know—"
"We don't need her!"
Though Rachel had remained calm through Will Wicker's suggestion that she needed Clarence Clark's help, she bristled at the insinuation her mother was more capable than she. Before the doctor's arrival, Eliza Watkins had been the midwife for the birth of nearly every child in Carlson. Her opinion had been sought for every sort of illness or condition, even those outside of childbirth. But then Mason Tucker had gone off to war…
And everything had changed!
Nowadays, Eliza Watkins almost never left her room in the house she owned with her brother, Otis. She contented herself with fretting incessantly about those unfortunate enough to get too close, working herself into fits of worry. She agonized over the slightest sign of a cold, the hidden danger of a flight of stairs, or the tiniest of cuts. To combat these imaginary threats, she hid herself away. Even now, in Dr. Clark's absence, she couldn't bring herself to help. Instead, the burden once again fell to Rachel.
As a child, Rachel had never been her mother's favorite; that honor had always belonged to her older sister, Alice. Where Alice had been fawned over, eagerly encouraged to follow her dreams, Rachel had forever been second fiddle. When she'd been told what to do, there was no other expectation than for her to agree. Thankfully for the Wickers, she'd watched her mother deliver babies so many times that there was little that could surprise her. They were in safe hands. In the end, it seemed that everyone now depended upon her.
Her mother, her uncle Otis… and especially Charlotte.
"Look at me, Clara," Rachel encouraged.
Hesitantly, the pregnant woman's eyes fluttered open and stared into Rachel's face, not seeing her, but using her voice as a point on which to focus her mind while her muscles knotted and pulled. Her voice cracking, she answered, "It… it hurts, Will… Rachel…"
"It won't be long, Clara," Rachel soothed.
"Is she supposed to be hurtin' like this?" Will asked from the far corner, his voice finally returning after Rachel's rebuke. He looked at them over his shoulder, as if he couldn't bear to bring his full attention toward the bloody, unsettling sight. "It don't seem right."
"Take one of these rags," Rachel told him, holding a swatch of cloth out for him, "and dip it into the water bucket, then use it to wipe the sweat from her brow."
"I—I can't," he said with a shake of his head.
"Stop asking questions and complaining about things you know nothing about. Clara and I need you to do this one simple thing," Rachel commanded, the fire in her heart momentarily bubbling to the surface. "We need to make her as comfortable as we can. Whining about how this looks isn't going to do her any good."
"I'm not whining," Will countered, succeeding only in reinforcing Rachel's accusation. Still, his resolve to stay away from his wife's side wavered. Slowly he made his way to where Rachel knelt, snatched the rag from her hand, and clumsily dunked it into the bucket. Making his way to the bed, he began absently to wipe it across Clara's blazing forehead.
"Just try to keep her cool," Rachel furthered.
"I'm here, Clara," Will softly reassured his wife.
"Oh, Will!" she exclaimed before another pain came and went as rivulets of water ran down her red cheeks.
"It won't be long now, Clara," Rachel said confidently. From her experience at her mother's side, she could see that the Wickers' new child would soon make his or her entry into the world. "If you need to holler right out and loud, don't you hold yourself back. Even if they hear you over in Cloverfield, you just rear back and shout. Take hold of the sheets and push when I tell you to. That's a good girl…"
Clara's body shook as agonizing contractions washed over her, leaving her with little control of her mind or her body. Her shouts rose in intensity, filling every space of the small home. Still, she did as Rachel told her, pushing her small body to expel its burden.
"Clara! It's coming!" Rachel shouted from the end of the bed. "I can see the top of its head!"
The pregnant woman's eyes opened wide. "Will!" she screamed.
"I'm here, darlin'," Will answered, his eyes searching his wife's face, his unease nearly completely forgotten. "You just keep pushin'… let it come. Don't hold yourself back from the hurtin'."
"Listen to him!" Rachel added.
Just as her mother had taught her many years before, Rachel let a sense of calmness wash over her; this was a time that required both a steady heart and hand. Everything about the birth of Clara Wicker's baby seemed normal, but any delivery could go wrong in an instant. Still, she knew that she would do anything in her power to make sure nothing happened to either mother or child. Placing the palm of her hand on the hardened mound of Clara's abdomen, she waited for another contraction.
"Ohhh… oh, it hurts!" Clara bellowed as heavy pain assailed her.
"Push, Clara! Push!" Rachel urged.
Clara did what she was told and her child arrived. The head came free and then, a mere blink of the eyes later, the shoulders. Rachel waited for the final push, then gathered the baby to her. She reached for the linen string, tied two heavy knots on the umbilical cord, and cut between the knots to sever the cord. The baby was covered in birth blood. She grabbed a towel and cleaned the child frantically, pressed by the realization that something was wrong; the tiny chest was not moving, the eyes were sealed shut.
"Rachel… I don't… I don't hear anything," Clara gasped.
"Is… is somethin' wrong?" Will added.
Refusing to become distracted, Rachel gave no answer, her mind racing over her mother's many lessons before alighting on the answer. Quickly, she hurried to the dented bucket of well water and plunged the newborn infant into the cold water up to its neck. She poked her finger into the child's mouth when it gasped. "Breathe!" she whispered fervently. "Breathe!"
"What's happenin'?" Will insisted, stepping away from his wife's side.
"Stay back!" Rachel barked. She knew that there were people who depended on her to do the right thing, to take care of what was precious to them and keep it safe. Her entire adulthood had been spent doing just that. She wouldn't fail now.
Suddenly the tiny chest heaved, and the little mouth opened and drew air into the lungs. The resulting scream was both fierce and tiny, but it sounded like the sweetest of church music to Rachel's ears.
"It's… it's not dead or nothin'?" Will asked cautiously.
"No, by God!" Rachel laughed. "Listen to that scream!"
Crossing the room, Rachel placed the tiny bundle of flesh on a towel. She rubbed the baby briskly, moved its tiny arms and legs, then turned it over and rubbed its back until all of its skin had turned a healthy pink. He was both full and fit.
"You've got a beautiful baby boy," she told the new parents.
"I've… I've got me a son?" Will asked.
"Did you hear that, Clara?" he exclaimed, turning back to where his wife lay, utterly exhausted despite her beaming smile. "We got us a son! She said we done got us a son!"
"A son," Clara echoed.
Rachel continued to work the baby's tiny arms and legs, smiling happily when the little muscles responded. Little hands flayed the air, fingers fully outstretched. A cry of protest came from his mouth, and he opened large, beautiful blue eyes. Just as her mother had always told her, she knew that what she had witnessed was a living miracle.
Every child was just that… a miracle!
"Look at what we got there!" Will shouted from beside Rachel. Staring at his newborn son, his face lit up with a brightness she'd never seen before. "Just gander at them bright eyes! There ain't a better-lookin' boy that ever did come into this here world!"
"Let… let me see him," Clara said.
Rachel held a blanket to the fire and warmed it. Wrapping the baby, she cuddled him against her and carried him to his waiting mother. Kneeling beside Clara, she placed the baby in her arms. Clara gazed upon her new son with as much amazement as love.
"Has… has he got everything?" she asked anxiously. Her fingertips lightly stroked the fuzz of dark hair.
"Yep! He's got the right number! I counted!" Will exclaimed proudly as his eyes bounced from his wife to his son. "Ten fingers and ten toes to go along with 'em! Now all he needs hisself is to get a name."
"I thought… we'd already decided," Clara said. "You'd picked a name."
"I did," Will nodded. "If it's all right with you."
"Then his name is Walter." Will beamed brightly. "After my father."
Having never given birth to a child of her own, Rachel always marveled at how quickly women could recover from the ordeal of birth. After experiencing a pain the likes of which couldn't be adequately described, their recovery was nothing short of remarkable. She found herself amazed that Clara could so much as raise her head to look at her child. The color had begun to come back into her face and her eyes seemed a bit livelier. She looked exhausted, worn out, but the pain had disappeared.
What she was witnessing was the beginning of a new life, not just for Walter Wicker but his parents as well. From this day forward, they would go on together, their lives entwined; father, mother, and son. This was a time of happiness and joy, of hopes and dreams, expectations and even fears. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Just like nothing was ever the same for me!
Rachel turned away from the Wickers as the shadow of a frown crossed her face. Try as she might, she couldn't stop herself from thinking of what had happened eight years ago that very day. Memories of the day assaulted her from all sides. The entire time she had been inside the Wickers' home, she had been fighting a constant battle against her remembrances, though it was clear that the parallels were too close to avoid.
She knew all too well that the birth of a child was not always an occasion for joyous celebration. Sometimes, the beginning of one life can signal the end of another. When such a thing happens, it's up to the survivors to pick up the pieces, and that was what she'd been doing for the last eight years. Picking up the pieces.
RACHEL LEFT THE WICKERS with the promise she would return the next day to check on the baby. From the tiny house on the outskirts of Carlson, she headed home without any hurry, content to enjoy the beautiful day. High above, the mid-October sun shone down with pleasant warmth, enough to hold off the persistent fall chill carried on the breeze. Lazy wisps of clouds skirted the far edge of the horizon. All around her, the trees showed signs of the changing of the seasons: elms, oaks, and maples exploded in spectacular colors; brilliant reds, deep purples, and even burnt oranges.
The day is too beautiful for the trip I have to make, she mused.
Carlson sat to the northeast of the capital city of Minnesota, St. Paul, and its sister city of Minneapolis. Primarily a farming community, it was home to less than a thousand inhabitants. The tall, leafy cornstalks that had stretched skyward in the stiflingly humid heat of July had been almost completely harvested, families spending night and day reaping the fruits of their many labors. Farming was so essential to the town's well-being that school was suspended during the busiest days of the harvest.
Like thousands of other towns in Minnesota, Carlson was situated on a lake. As she made her way toward Main Street, Rachel caught glimpses of Lake Carlson through the spaces between homes. Open where it butted up against the town, the far side of the lake was lined with majestic evergreen trees that sheltered wild game. Mallard ducks lowered themselves to the lake's glassy surface, their flight ending as they slid gently into the deep blue water. An abundance of catfish and walleye swam beneath the surface.
The sound of saws cutting through wood and nails being hammered came to Rachel's ears as she neared her family's boardinghouse. Carlson was clearly a town on the rise. New buildings seemed to spring up as readily as the corn that was the town's lifeblood. Passing Hamilton's Grocery, Abraham McLintock's barber shop, and Miller Livery reminded Rachel that while the rest of the community was enjoying prosperous times, her own life seemed stuck in the quagmire of decline.
Stopping in front of the post office window, Rachel took a good look at herself in the glass reflection. Coal-black hair, one of the features she was happy to have inherited from her mother, fell just below her narrow shoulders. Greenish-brown eyes looked back at her over high cheekbones, a petite button of a nose, and full lips. Her clothes certainly weren't the latest fashion sent north from Chicago, but her blue blouse and skirt fit her narrow waist and full bosom flatteringly. There was no shortage of bachelors in Carlson who entertained thoughts of taking her as a wife; but with all of her responsibilities, romance was the furthest thing from her mind.
"Afternoon, Rachel," a voice called from behind her.
Struggling mightily to find a smile to fix upon her face, Rachel turned to find Sophus Peterson leading a team of horses down the street, his wagon nearly overflowing with a load of enormous orange pumpkins being brought to market. One of her many suitors, he tipped his straw hat and gave her a wink before he walked past her.
"Not if it took a hundred years," she muttered under her breath and continued on her way.
The boardinghouse she called home sat just off Main Street and across from Carlson's train depot. Rachel stood in the road and stared up at the building her grandfather had built with his own two hands shortly after his arrival from Pennsylvania. He'd originally come to Carlson in the hope of tapping maple syrup from the thousands of trees in the area, but had ended up having about as much luck as if he'd tried to squeeze blood from turnips. He'd died fifteen years earlier with little more to show for his many labors than what he had when he first arrived; he left only the house as a legacy to his two children. Rachel's mother, Eliza, had decided to turn it into a boardinghouse when times began to get tough. Drifters and seasonal workers rented the four available rooms a week at a time, and the Watkinses had somehow managed to eke out a living.
The building had required but not received improvement in the years since her grandfather's passing. The exterior was in dire need of a new slathering of paint; what little remained from the last coat was chipped and weather-beaten, with several warped planks pulling free from the frame. One of the windows on the upper floor was cracked, a recent occurrence that would have to be fixed before winter. Even the sign that read BOARDERS WELCOME wasn't immune to decline; one of the bolts that secured the sign had come free, leaving half of the word WELCOME to hang listlessly in the breeze.
With every passing year, the number of boarders seemed to dwindle; on most days the family felt lucky to have a single room occupied. The only glimmer of hope had appeared years earlier when Rachel's sister, Alice, married Mason Tucker, whose father was at once the proprietor of the town bank and the wealthiest man in Carlson. Mason had promised to help care for his new bride's family, but then he had gone off to war and…
"Damn it all," Rachel swore.
A fluttering at one of the upper windows attracted her attention and she looked up just in time to see her mother's porcelain-white arm quickly withdraw from the sunlight. Rachel sighed. Most days, her mother did little more than sit at her window and watch the world go by without her, worrying all the while. Today appeared to be no different. Waiting for word of the Wickers, she was by now quite impatient. Rachel was certain to get a tongue-lashing when she went inside.
- On Sale
- Apr 30, 2010
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing