8. The Longest Day

Wednesday 22nd June 1853 – early morning
(Hannibal is 21 months old)
By Calico

“Cookie,” Hannibal said, disposing of the last of the yucky oatmeal by cunningly spilling the final couple of spoonfuls on his bib and the floor, while both his parents had their eyes elsewhere. No response. He glanced up – not used to his requests being ignored. “Cookie!” he explained, louder. His hand stretched for the annoyingly out of reach and supposedly concealed plate.

“What do you say, Hannibal?” prompted his father.

Huh? Was his father deaf or something?

“COOKIE!!” A pudgy finger indicated an empty bowl – the required precursor to the only element of breakfast actually worth eating.

“Cookie…what?”

Hannibal thought for a moment. A very – short – moment. “Cookie NOW!”

“No. Cookie – per..per…per…” Encouraging smile.

“Peas,” remembered Hannibal. Sheesh – he thought, taking his first crumbly bite – it was like you had to say it EVERY time!

“And…another spoonful… here it comes… here it comes…flying in…ooooohhh!” cooed Hannibal’s mother. “What a GOOD boy! What a CLEVER boy!”

Hannibal scowled at the baby on his mother’s lap, being fed on bread and milk.

Will Myers had called round real early this morning. So early, Hannibal had still been in his nightshirt. That was okay. Will did – sometimes – come round with Mister Myers. Not often, but sometimes. If they were helping his father and Mister Curry plant stuff. And – sometimes Hannibal’s father left real early – and said he was going over the Myers’ place to help. But, THIS morning, Will had brought his baby brother, George, over and – dark eyes glowered across the breakfast table – LEFT him here!

WHY, was beyond Hannibal.

His mother had started some explanation – all about Mrs. Williams needing to have a new baby and George’s mother helping out.
This made NO sense at all!
Surely, if Mrs. Williams needed a baby – and Mrs. Myers wanted to help out – Mrs. Myers SHOULD have given George to Mrs. Williams.
What was the point of leaving him here?
No one wanted him here!

“AND…another one…Ooooh…flying left…flying right… and – in it goes! Who’s a CLEVER boy?”

A brooding frown, as cookie was chewed. There was only ONE real clever boy in THIS room! And it sure wasn’t George Myers! He was just DUMB! HE, internally scathed Hannibal with the proper disdain for someone still in diapers, HE couldn’t even talk. Not so you could understand a word anyhow!

“Mamma…Mo’fer…MO’FER!!”

“Yes, Hannibal?” his mother smiled over.

“Miwk!”

Surely she should SEE when his tin mug was empty? He pushed it towards her.

“Miwk! Peas!” His father picked up the big jug, ready to pour. “NO!” forbade Hannibal. Another push of the mug towards his mother, toppling it. “You! Mo’fer! PEAS!” he commanded.

He had said ‘mother’ – like he was supposed to.
He had said ‘please’.
No excuses – come on, come on, come on!
A ‘nearly, nearly two’ year old face, wanting – no NEEDING – to get his own way, began to redden. A parental glance was exchanged.

“Tell you what, George,” said Alex, lifting the ‘not far off his first birthday’ baby off Sarah’s lap and hoisting him high, “…why don’t you and I go pump some water for Mrs. Heyes to wash up in?” Another hoist in the air. George crowed with laughter. He was set down and, Alex gave two plump little hands a couple of fingers to grip and toddled him – arms aloft – towards the door.

By now Hannibal’s mother had pulled her chair real close, lifted Hannibal onto her lap, set his mug upright, filled it, kissed his hair, wiped some of the oatmeal off his hands and face.
This was okay. He had his mother’s undivided attention – and, quite right too!
But…
Outraged eyes watched his father concentrating on George.

“No!” protested Hannibal. Were his parents deliberately missing the point? “NO!”

“Now, Hannibal,” said his mother. “I told you I have to look after George today. AND – you’re going to help, aren’t you? You can help a lot. Because…” she bent to whisper, “…George is still a bit of a baby…so, if he sees how well a BIG and CLEVER boy like you behaves – he’ll copy! A baby – like George – will ALWAYS want to copy a big boy like you!”

The bottom lip ceased to wobble. Yeah. Frowning. Yeah, but…
The bottom lip stayed OUT – just in case – while Hannibal considered the pros and cons.

Before his father and George could reach the door – George was SO slow trying to walk! Baby! – Hannibal heard voices in the yard.
Visitors!
Other concerns forgotten, Hannibal wriggled out of his mother’s lap and scampered to the window.

“Es’der!” he crowed. “…An’ – an’ Misda Cruy! An’ Nadanzaganbeff!”

His father hitched George onto one hip and opened the door before a flustered Nathanial Curry could knock.

“Sarah,” Nathanial began at once, “…sure and you can look after the children for me? Alex, I need you to get right over to fetch Mrs. Myers – (ESTHER! Hannibal! Leave the sugar bowl!) – isn’t me darlin’ Lizzie after having started?”

“Mister Heyes,” said Zach, firmly, “…me an’ Nate have brung our rods…” Indeed – the two eldest Curry boys clutched short fishing rods. “…Because, TODAY – once he’d finished the wheat in the lower field …”

“Which was NEARLY done, anyhow…” put in Nate, adding as an afterthought, “Mornin’ Mister Heyes. G’mornin’, ma-am.”

“Pa was takin’ us fishin’…” Zach pressed on.

“Mrs. Myers is over at the Williams’ place – (Hannibal! Esther! Get down from there please!) – …” said Sarah. “…that’s why I’ve got George. Mrs. Williams sent Mary to fetch her at the crack of dawn. (Esther, Hannibal, please don’t open that – you’ll spill it.) SHE’S …”

“So, Nate an’ me – we thought…” pursued Zach, doggedly, “…if you hurried up an’ finished whadever YOU wan’ed to do today…”

“Misder Reyes,” whispered Beth, tugging his sleeve, “…Look!” A new hair ribbon was fluttered. “D’you fink – pweddy?”

“Hester Williams has started early too!” bleated Nathanial, worry furrowing his brow. The beginnings of annoyance. “For Pete’s Sake! – (Esther! Hannibal! Stop it!) – She’s not due till…”

“Misder Reyes…Look!”

“YOU COULD TAKE US FISHIN’!” finished Zach, delivering a firm yank to Alex’s other sleeve. Sheesh! What did a fella have to do to get a little attention round here!

“If that’s not puttin’ you out, Mister Heyes?” smiled Nate, hopefully.

“Will you two STOP whinin’ ‘bout FISHIN’?” exploded Nathanial.

“You PROMISED!” protested Zach. “You SAID…”

“For the LAST time! Your new brother or sister is comin’ early! That should be more excitin’ than any dang fishin’ trip!”

The two Curry boys exchanged a glance. Truth to tell, their excitement over a new brother was lukewarm at best. As for a new SISTER…Sheesh! Didn’t they have enough dang sisters?

“Sure and, the next time I hear the word – (Esther! Hannibal! You were told to LEAVE that!) – the next time I hear the word ‘fishin’’ – there’s going to be trouble! Is that CLEAR? Nate, wipe up that mess your sister’s made! Zach – sit down and SHUDDUP!”

George’s face had grown increasingly troubled at the tone of the conversation. He decided to make his feelings clear.
“Bwahhhhh!!!!” he explained.

“You SAID,” muttered Zach, shuffling – as slowly as he dared – to a chair.

“BWAHHHHH!!!” George clarified. Alex, quite reasonably, tried to hand him over. Hey! Where was Sarah?

“…Hester Williams was due the end of NEXT week,” protested Nathanial.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Uh huh,” sympathised Sarah, lacing her outdoor boots.

“Williams and Myers went to fetch the provisions from the Fort yesterday, ‘cos then we’d all be stocked up – and they’d both be back BEFORE the babies came…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Uh huh.” Sarah ignored Alex, still trying to dump a squalling baby on her and reached past him for her bonnet.

“She was due NEXT week …Sure an’ wasn’t Myra Myers’d goin’ to deliver …and you’d have the Williams twins and George…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Uh huh,” bonnet strings were tied, a spit strewn Alex was stepped around.

“Then the week AFTER…me darlin’ Lizzie was due…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“That’s right,” concurred Alex, once more offering a bawling, thrashing baby to his wife. A dimpled grin. “…Nathanial and I had our money on July 4th!”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“And wasn’t Mrs. Myers coming over? And weren’t you minding OUR children?” finished Nathanial. “We’d got it all planned! (For the LAST time – stop it, Esther! NATE! Why aren’t you mindin’ your sister?)”

Alex nodded, supportively. He may only be a bit player in this scheme – but, that definitely summed up the plan.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Uh huh?” Sarah swept her shawl round her shoulders. “Well, Nathanial! I don’t know what Elizabeth and Hester Williams think they are playing at! You and Eli had made a foolproof arrangement! Alex even sketched out a little diagram! AND – did your wives listen? No! Tchah! Women, huh? We truly are the weaker vessel. Can’t even follow a simple plan.” The door was opened.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

Nathanial opened his mouth to protest he did not exactly BLAME his darling Lizzie, realised his leg was being pulled and shut it again.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Now listen,” said Sarah, “…George needs to eat at 11.30 – and again at 4.00. The diapers are in that basket. He should nap for around 3 hours after noon…he’ll need his special blanket – it’s over there…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Try and get Hannibal and Esther to nap for a couple of hours after their lunch…but NOT more …or they’ll never go off at night…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“…Goin’?” cottoned on Hannibal. “Bye-bye!”

“Yes, darling!” A hug and cuddle was delivered. “Mother has to go out. But, you’ve got Father and Mister Curry to look after you and Esther to play with.…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Bye-bye,” repeated Hannibal, wriggling free. Esther was making a tent out of a sheet filched from the laundry basket – and she was doing it all WRONG! He trotted over to show her how.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

Sarah looked up at the two men, “…don’t bring the children back over to the Curry place until…” Subdued muttering. “…Beth took…and Esther took…A safety margin…” Brow wrinkling. Counting under her breath. “…Don’t bring them back until around five.”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Sarah!” protested Alex, as she once more failed to take his burden from him. “Can’t you stop George crying?”

“Yes, I can,” she confirmed. “However, what you MEANT to ask was ‘Will I stop George crying?’ No, I won’t. I have a baby to deliver. You’ll have to cope.”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“But…”
“But…”

Two masculine frowns. Two men stopped short. There were only four women within relatively easy reach of the Heyes and Curry farms. True enough, the womenfolk should sort out childcare between them. But, if two of them were in labour – and the other two acting as midwives…

Sarah turned to leave. A qualm struck her. She looked over her shoulder at the six small children.

“You two CAN cope?”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

Masculine affront. Certainly they COULD! That wasn’t the point!

“Of course we can cope!”
“Sure and – how hard can it be? I’m thinking it only takes a little order and method!”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Hmmm,” responded Sarah, non-commitally. “…Don’t bother cooking – cold meals will do fine. And, don’t try and…and DO anything. Just – keep everyone fed, watered and in one piece…”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

The prospective midwife blew a last kiss goodbye at a pair of dark eyes emerging from under a grubby sheet and left.

—oooOOOooo—

NINE HOURS TO GO…AND COUNTING…

Two pairs of chagrined masculine eyes met.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Sheesh! It’s not as if we’ve never watched a couple of children before, huh…for half an hour or so?”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Like you say, Nathanial – it only takes a little organisation…We’ve got about…” A glance at the clock. “…about nine hours to get through.”

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

A tawny head nodded and waited for more.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“So…what’s the plan?” Nathanial prompted. “(STOP waving that rod around Zach! Sure and you’ll have someone’s eye out! Beth, we all think your new ribbon is beautiful – but, for Pete’s sake stop pestering! Esther – STOP IT! NATE – go take that OFF your sister! Why aren’t you watching her?”)

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

“Er…” began Alex, inadequately. “You stop this crying – and I’ll start on a schedule…” Before Nathanial realised what was happening he was left – literally, not metaphorically – holding the baby.

“Hey!” he protested.

“BWAHhhhh …hic…gurgle…goo…” A freckled face was given an approving pat from a plump little hand. “Da bed!” approved George.

“Hey,” repeated a delighted Nathanial. This WAS easy!

“See if you can get him settled in the crib,” urged Alex. “Give him the blanket – he likes to suck it…”

Nathanial DID try to settle George.

“BWAHHHHH!!!”

He picked him up. Gurgling.

Down. “BWAHHHHH!!!” Up. Gurgle. Down. “BWAHHHHH!!!” Up. Gurgle. Passed him to Alex. “BWAHHHHH!!!” Took him back. Gurgle. Nathanial gave in and settled George on his hip.

“Right…that’s one thing sorted,” Alex accepted. “Nate, Zach – get the breakfast things washed …” Alex turned back to the table. “FOR PETE’S SAKE HANNIBAL WHAT THE SAM HILL ARE YOU AND ESTHER DOING?”

—oooOOOooo—

EIGHT HOURS TO GO…AND COUNTING…

“Thank you, Nate,” said Alex, as Nate hung up the dustpan and brush after what seemed the umpteenth ‘clean up that mess your sister made’ instruction. “Now – why don’t you and Zach, go play in the yard?”

Nathanial nodded approvingly. That would free some space for he and Alex to get properly organised.

A dark and a red head shot up. Playing outside! Hannibal and Esther scrambled to their feet.

“Can we go to the creek? Please, Pa,” asked Zach.
“We’ll stay close,” promised Nate. “We’ll stay at the bit you can see from the pump.”

The two little boys saw their Pa and Mister Heyes exchange a glance. They were going to say ‘Yes’. Nate kept his very best ‘sensible and reliable’ look on his face.

“Wade…Nade! Wade!”
“We’se comin’!” Two sticky faces, one dimpled, one freckled – beamed up at the older boys.

“Pffftttt! We ain’t takin’ you two!” scathed Zach.
“We don’t hafta – do we Pa?” pleaded Nate.

“Why.e.e.e.e.e…?”
“Why.e.e.e.e.e…?”

“’Cos,” explained Zach, “…you’re a pain in the butt …No! ‘Cos you’re two pains! One for each butt cheek!”

“Pa! Tell yim!”
“Fa’fer – tell yim!”
“Tell yim – sed ‘butt’!”
“Tell yim!”

Another paternal glance was exchanged. Nate’s shoulders drooped. He tried to wipe the ‘sensible and reliable’ look OFF his face. Too late. He was going to get lumbered.

“DON’T go down to the creek…”

“No Pa,” sighed Nate.

“Leave the door open. You’re to stay THIS side of the barn – so we can see you all the time…”

“Yes Mister Heyes.”

“And…WATCH them!”

“Yessir.” Nate took his small sister’s hand and let himself be dragged into the yard.

“Now we can’t DO nuthin’!” grumbled Zach. He glowered at Hannibal. “’S’all YOUR fault!”

“Pa,” Beth’s appealing blue eyes looked up.

“Yes, me darlin’?”

“If I’m real, real, REAL carefah – canna hol’ der baby?”

Beth was settled in Sarah’s rocking chair, with a couple of cushions to prop her up. George was tentatively handed over… Would he…? No! Gurgles. Coos. Very soft rocking from a beaming Beth. Another cushion to support George. Gentle reminders how careful she had to be…Nathanial pulled up a chair next to her – just in case. But…oh! Infant eyes were closing…Wow!
He was – he was asleep!
Beth was in seventh heaven. Happy sounds from the yard. Well, happy toddler sounds anyhow. A pair of cheerful two year olds could be seen pouring water from pitcher to bucket and back …A pair of gloomy little boys ‘watching’ them.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Alex.

Nathanial and Alex exchanged a smile. This was a piece of cake!

—oooOOOooo—

SEVEN HOURS AND FIFTY FIVE MINUTES TO GO…AND COUNTING

Alex looked around from the stove where he was experimenting with the premise ‘a watched pot – or should that be kettle? – never boils’.

“Is it me – or is it getting dark?” he frowned.

Two sets of paternal eyes looked through the open door and up to the sky. The heavens opened.

—oooOOOooo—

SEVEN HOURS AND FIFTY FOUR MINUTES TO GO…AND COUNTING

“In you go,” sighed Alex, ushering two wet boys and a bawling Esther back into the cabin. Hannibal, who needed to assert his two year old will at regular intervals had refused point blank to come in – and was protesting ‘Why? No! S’an’t! No! Why!’ as he struggled fruitlessly to escape the strong arms carrying him.

The door was closed.

George’s eyes blinked open. He decided to make his feelings at having his nap disturbed perfectly clear.
“Bwahhhh! BWAHHH!!” Nathanial hastened to lift the lustily kicking baby off Beth.

“No! Lemme keep him! Pa!” A three-year old lip wobbled at having her real life doll filched. Blue eyes filled – overflowed. “Bwahhh!” joined in Beth.

“If thou hast tears – prepare to shed them now,” gloomed Alex, as three toddlers and a baby filled the small room with howling sobs.

Crash!

“Nate! Get the dustpan – clear that up! And – why aren’t you watching your sister?”

—oooOOOooo—

SEVEN HOURS TO GO…AND COUNTING…

“Misder Reyes…”

“Just a minute, Beth,” said Hannibal’s father. Hannibal wriggled in a firm paternal grasp, while egg yolk was wiped off his face and bits of shattered shell picked out of his hair.

“Hurry yup!” he directed.

Sheesh! How long could it take to clean up two eggs? Well, Hannibal – already accurate with numbers up to ten – mentally corrected himself. FOUR eggs! Two being wiped off him. Two currently dripping onto Esther’s pinafore.

“…Let me finish cleaning Hannibal and Esther up,” smiled Hannibal’s father, “…then, you’ll have my full attention.”

“But…” shy little voice, “…Misder Reyes – I needs ouddows.”

“Er…Nathanial, NATHANIAL…”

“Huh? What?”

“Beth needs the outhouse!”

“Sure and – I thought you went yourself now, me darlin’?”

“Num’ two,” confided Beth. “Come wipe me…”

“Er…You know I can’t put George down, Alex…” A brief pause.

Beth jigged. “Pa! Misder Reyes! Now!”

“She needs GO, Misd Cruy,” clarified Hannibal, ever helpful.

“Nate,” decided Mister Curry, “…take your sister to the outhouse.”

“Pa!” protested Nate.

“What?”

Nate wriggled. “I know I’m the oldes’…but…”

The two men exchanged a glance. Nate had a point. He might be the eldest and get the ‘eldest’s share’ of jobs, but…He was only six!

“I’ll go,” gave in Hannibal’s father. “WATCH these two! C’mon Beth…Lets try and dodge the raindrops! I’ll wait outside and you give me a shout when you need me, huh?” A small hand slipped into his and pulled him out of the door.

Nathanial, carrying a currently cheerful – though dang heavy – George, prepared to keep an eagle eye on Hannibal and Esther. He had been too polite to say – but it had been a pretty poor show on Alex’s part letting those eggs get thrown! How hard could watching two toddlers be?

Crash! Clatter! Smash!

Nathanial wheeled round. Two guilty little boys stood amidst the remains of two cups, two saucers and a large teapot. Lukewarm tea splattered them, the whitewashed walls and Sarah’s tablecloth.

“Sorry, Pa.”
“Sorry, Pa.”

“What the Sam Hill were you doing?”

“Nuthin’! Only sword fightin’,” offered Zach.

“Sword fighting?!”

“Well,” Nate produced a fishing rod from behind his back, “…I guess it was more – rod fightin’…”

Smash! Clatter! Crash!

Nathanial did another 180 degree turn.

“B’oke id!” observed Hannibal, climbing down from the chair and pointing at the shattered sugar bowl, knocked from a supposedly out of reach shelf. He dipped a wetted finger into the sugar and sucked. Yum! Esther, still standing on the chair, prepared to scramble down.

Clatter! Smash!

A two-year old elbow dislodged a vase of wildflowers onto the floor.

“Care Flul!” warned Hannibal, covering up the precious sugar.

Esther nodded, approvingly, at this wise safety precaution. A spat on palm was placed on the sugar and licked clean.

“B’oken!” she informed her Pa, indicating the vase. “B’oken, Pa!”

Nathanial revised his opinion on the question:
‘How hard could watching two toddlers be?’

—oooOOOooo—

SIX HOURS TO GO – AND COUNTING…

A very damp Hannibal watched his father wash the hair of a wriggling, protesting Esther.

“Stand STILL! I’m not hurting you!”

“PUWS!!!” Esther explained. “Ow!”

“You’se puwwin’!” concurred Hannibal. “Es’der don’ like puwwin’!”

“Ow!”

Hannibal tapped his father on the shoulder. “You’se puwwin!” he repeated, helpfully.

“Owwww! Stoppid!”

“If you stand STILL – it WON’T pull!”

Tap. Tap. “Far’fer! You’se puwwin…if’n…”

“I’m not deaf, Hannibal! If you hadn’t put this stuff IN her hair it wouldn’t BE getting pulled, would it? I thought I told you to get dry and get dressed.”

A towel was dropped in the bathtub. “Far’fer! D’opped dit! D’opped dit! Look! Look! D’opped dit! Look!”

“I’m not blind either, Hannibal! Leave it!”

“No! Hewpin’!” A wet towel smacked Alex in the face.

“I said, leave it!”

“Why?”

“Because – I say so!”

A scowling toddler threw a towel back into the water. Sheesh! All he was doing was helping! And – what thanks did he get?

A second scowling toddler, quick as a flame haired whip, scooped it out and threw it at him! The scowls disappeared – squeals of laughter. Hannibal couldn’t have that! Once more a wet towel was airborne!

“Right! That’s it! You two are in BIG trouble! No! No! You were ALREADY in big trouble! Now you’re in ENORMOUS trouble! You young lady!” A head was firmly turned to face a stern frown. “YOU are going to stand still!” A bottom lip began to wobble. “…And YOU young man…” Alex floundered. Hannibal was not tall enough to be sent to fetch another towel from the shelf. “YOU are going to sit down – RIGHT there! Sit down and put your hands on your head – and DON’T move until I say so!”

“F’oor’s wed!” protested Hannibal.

“I KNOW the floor’s wet! You two wet it! You’ll have to sit in a puddle won’t you! Sit down!”

“Why? No! S’an’t!”

“SIT DOWN!” snapped Alex.

A second lip began to wobble. Hannibal did as he was told.

“Hands on head!”

“Why? Shan’t! Why?” This was just – just dumb!

“You’re putting your hands on your head so you can’t do any more mischief! NOW!”

A jugful of soapy water was poured over Esther’s hair. The first lip stopped wobbling.
“Wahhhhh!! WAHHHHH!!! NOOO!! BWAAHHHHH! Wan’ Ma! MA!!!”

Hannibal’s lip wobbled harder. This wasn’t HIS fault! And if his father had been watching PROPERLY – he’d have seen! Esther started it! She had buttered his head! Stood to reason he had to do something back! His father was being mean to him! It wasn’t fair. It was…It was…

“Bwahhhhhh!! Mamma!! Mo’fer!! Bwahhhh!!”

“Nathanial! NATHANIAL!!”

“Huh? What?” said an annoyingly obtuse Irishman.

“Bwahhhh!!!”
“Mwwwwaaaaahhhh!!!”

“I could do with a hand here!”

“I’m keeping this one quiet …you know he squawks if I put him down.”

“Stoppid.d.d.d.d.d!! Puwi.i.i.i.i.n’!! No.o..o.o.o.o.o.!!!”
“Nod Fai.r.r.r.r.r..r!! S’an’t.t.t..t.t.!!”

“Do you think we’d notice ONE more squawkin’? Put him in the crib and get over here!”

Esther: “Bwahhhh!!!”
Hannibal: “Bwahhhh!!!”
George (from crib): “Bwahhhh!!!”

“I should have done her first …” despaired Alex, as Nathanial towelled dry a small boy, still protesting the gross injustice of life. “…Hannibal cleaned up easy…This d—- stuff has dried like glue! She’s got it all matted…it’s the curls…”

“Bwahhhhh!!! An’ an’….” Hannibal paused for a moment. “…You’se said nordy word! I’se tewin’!” came a self-righteous hiccough.

Nathanial looked from his squalling daughter to Alex. Esther’s lung-power was impressive and she sure hated tangles being combed. He leaned in. “What about cutting it out…” he suggested, “…it’d probably never even show.”

Scissors were fetched. One stickily tangled red curl – then another – hit the water-strewn floor. The remaining thatch was ruffled to hide the gaps.

“Tewin’ DAT, too,” decided Hannibal.

—oooOOOooo—

FIVE HOURS TO GO – AND COUNTING…

Nathanial wiped a glob of spat out mush off his face. Not for the first time. Not for the second time either.

“Come on, George,” he urged. “Sure and you’ve gotta eat.”

A stubborn pair of baby lips pressed tight together, a small head shied back from the offered spoon, as if from a snake.

“Sure and this is lovely!” pleaded Nathanial. “Mister Heyes made it – potato and carrot, mushed up with milk – because he said…” A glance was thrown at Alex, currently buttering crooked hunks of bread. “…it was a bit rich Mrs. Heyes saying HE couldn’t manage anything but cold meals given HER track record!”

Alex looked up, exasperated. REMINDING retentive children of a cross remark was just dumb!

Sure enough, Hannibal’s ears had pricked up.

“Yeard ‘im! Seddit!” he confirmed. Then, “Tewin’!”

“Just have a spoonful,” begged Nathanial. “Sure and we can’t tell your mother we let you starve, can we? Come on!”

“Icky!” explained Hannibal.

“Don’t listen to him, George,” said Nathanial, “It’s not icky! Look! I’m eating it! Yum!” He took a mouthful. Reacted. “Sheesh Alex! How d’you get this potato so waterlogged? Boil it for a month and a day?”

“Hey!” protested Alex.

“Tol’ dya!” smugged Hannibal.

“Hey! YOU can be quiet! You’re still in trouble!”

George took the initiative. A fistful of mush was thrown – surprisingly accurately – at the chef.

“Okay,” caved in Alex, scowling at grinning – though also carrot decorated – Nathanial. “You win! Give him a d— cookie!”

“Nordy word! Tewin’!” said Hannibal. Then, “Me! Cookie, peas!”

—oooOOOooo—

FOUR HOURS TO GO – AND COUNTING…

“I DID put the scissors away, so! Sure and I put them in that drawer!”

“You must have let him see you!”

“Huh?”

“You must NEVER let Hannibal see where you put something! Besides, it’s no good putting them in THAT drawer is it! They can REACH that dang drawer!”

“Sure and shouldn’t you be watching your dang magpie of a son anyhow!”

“I thought YOU were watching him! I was making sandwiches!” Deep breathing. “Besides – if YOU watched YOUR daughter – this would never have happened!”

“I thought it couldn’t happen anyhow! Weren’t we supposed to be having one of your precious plans!”

“When have I had a minute to DO a dang plan?!”

Esther and Hannibal chewed their jam sandwiches. Two small heads swivelled left and right, as they followed the argument.

“All your fawd!” summed up Hannibal.
“No! Your’n!”
“Tisn’t!”
“T’is so!”
“Tisn’t!”
“T’is so!”

“Be quiet!” ordered Hannibal’s father.
“Shuddup!” agreed Esther’s Pa, in unison.

They stared at the children.

“Look on the bright side,” philosophised Hannibal’s father. “Those scissors were real sharp. They could have been hurt. We were lucky. At least hair grows back.”

“There’s a lot of truth in there,” acknowledged Esther’s Pa. “Sure and if we’d handed these two back a couple of fingers short, would we ever be hearing the last of it? Indeed and I’m thinking we would not!”

Hannibal’s father squatted down. “Listen, son,” he said, trying to sound as if he had not been in a real bad mood for – for NOTHING – all morning. Hannibal took another bite of his sandwich – which wasn’t EVEN cut right! He liked them diagonal! – and waited. What now? “You do know it was very naughty to cut Esther’s hair, don’t you?”

“Was’n! She wan’ed me to!”

Esther, crooked red spikes of hair poking at angles all over her head, one solitary long hank remaining above her left ear, nodded. She HAD wanted Hannibal to cut it! Long hair was nothing but trouble. Boys were lucky!

“Then, it was very naughty of BOTH of you.”

“You dunit firsd!” pointed out Esther, through a mouthful of jammy bread. “You’n Pa dunit!”

“Uh huh!” confirmed Hannibal. His father and Esther’s Pa had already cut off a bit of her hair. So, how naughty could it be? If it was naughty…“I’se tewin’!” he said. “I’se tewin’ mo’fer.”

“Me too,” agreed Esther. “I’se tewin’ Ma – I’fe fad …sch…sch… shishers!”

An (adult) glance was exchanged.
This wasn’t going too well.

—oooOOOooo—

THREE HOURS TO GO …AND COUNTING…

“The rain’s stopped!” exulted Alex. “Zach stop whining – you and Nate – get out of here!”

—oooOOOooo—

TWO HOURS AND FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES TO GO – AND COUNTING…

“Keep the cold flannel on it, Zach,” said Mister Curry.

“You’re going to have a real black eye there, son,” sympathised Hannibal’s father, taking the muddiest shirts he had ever seen from the two boys and dumping them in a brimming laundry basket.

“I thought I told you!” Mister Curry scolded Nate. “You could play in the yard – but NO sword fighting!”

“We didn’t!” protested Nate, the picture of outraged innocence.

“No!” chimed in Zach, one hand clutching a wet cloth to his purpling bruise. “…This time – they were lances!”

“Wos – wances?” asked Hannibal, keenly interested to see the promised black eye. Would it be – real black?

“You gallop towards each other on horses – well, pretend, y’know – an’ try an’ knock each other over as you pass – with a big stick,” summed up Nate.

Hannibal and Esther exchanged a happy glance. That sounded a real fun game!

Two sets of paternal shoulders drooped at the intelligent interest on their young children’s face.
This wasn’t going well – at all!

—oooOOOooo—

TWO HOURS TO GO …AND COUNTING…

Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Hannibal watched Mister Curry lower his nose repeatedly to George’s bottom.

“Oh for Pete’s sake! Not again!” he said. He looked at Hannibal’s father.

With a deep sigh and not for the first time, Alex dug a dime out of his pants pocket.

“Cawl id!” crowed Hannibal, before his father could get the words out.

Alex gave his son a rueful smile. “Like he said,” he told Nathanial, as the bright coin spun in the air.

—oooOOOooo—

ONE HOUR TO GO – AND COUNTING…

No. Sorry. Can’t be done. Some things are just too bad to write about.

—oooOOOooo—

JUST OVER AN HOUR LATER…BACK AT THE CURRY PLACE…

“He’s SO beautiful…”
“He’s GORGEOUS…”
“He’s big – isn’t he? I don’t think he IS early! We must have just been mistaken when we worked out the fourth of July!”
“And – sheesh! What a grip he’s got!”
“Sure and – he’s the spittin’ image of you, me darlin’ – me MOST darlin’ Lizzie…Isn’t he Alex?”
“Uh huh. Mind you, Nathanial – I reckon he’s got your chin! Like Nate. Aw…look at him yawn! He’s perfect!”
“Look! Look! He’s opening his eyes!”
“Aren’t they blue?!”
“Look at those curls! Gold as summer corn! He’s got your colouring Elizabeth!”
“Sure and – won’t he be breaking a few hearts when he’s older?”
“He’s smiling!”
“Jedediah! Jedediah! Look! Jedediah! Hello! I’m your Pa! I am! I’m your…” Nathanial’s voice became all gruff. He gulped. Sniffed. Rubbed his eyes. Sheesh – not again!

Alex gave his friend yet another congratulatory pat on the back and discreetly handed the misty-eyed new father a spare handkerchief.

—oooOOOooo—

ABOUT FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER – WHEN THE FIRST EVER RECORDED INCIDENCE OF ‘KIDETTE’ FEVER HAS EASED…

Sarah and Elizabeth surveyed their children – now dressed in a rag-bag of swapped, borrowed and improvised clothes.

“There’s a lot of extra stuff in your laundry basket,” said Alex, apologetically. “Not counting the diapers – we filled two buckets with them!”

“Not a problem,” smiled Sarah, holding a now sleeping Hannibal. She guessed this meant he had NOT had a nap – and she would be up well before the crack of dawn. But again – not a problem.

“Sure and the boys were playing – lances,” explained Nathanial, tenderly cradling both his newborn son and little Beth – stroking tiny golden curls – as he watched Elizabeth kiss Zach’s black eye better. She did the same motherly magic for a good scrape on Nate’s knee.

“Boys will be boys,” accepted Elizabeth.

A throat was cleared. “I’m thinking you might have noticed something different about Esther…” began Nathanial, tentatively.

“I’ll tidy it up tomorrow,” soothed his wife. “It’ll grow back.”

“Sarah,” Alex’s turn for the tentative voice. “One or two things got broken…”

“So long as they weren’t bones – it matters not one whit,” he was assured. “And…” a fond smile, as she stroked the hair of her sleeping snitch, “…you are forgiven the cussing and shouting. You’re even forgiven for bad mouthing MY cooking when YOU don’t even know enough to cut sandwiches diagonally! Don’t worry – however much of a mess I’m going home to – the pair of you STILL did a wonderful job!”

The praised pair exchanged a wary glance. She hadn’t seen it yet!

Nathanial’s eyes rested on his wife.
“Sure and – having you up already is more than I hoped for, me darlin’ Lizzie.” He sniffed the air. “You’ve managed to do supper!” he exclaimed in admiring surprise. Admiring surprise – AND, hungry hope. Both men licked their lips. Bread, jam and mushed carrots was not their diet of choice.

“I’ve been up since about noon,” smiled Elizabeth. “Sarah said I should rest longer – but it was so dull just lying there – I thought I may as well rest in the chair and get on with the vegetables, while she laundered the birth bedding.

“Noon!” exclaimed Nathanial.

“Mmmm,” confirmed Sarah. She leaned over to tickle a tiny palm, “This gorgeous young man made his appearance less than forty minutes after I walked in.”

“But …but…me darlin’ Lizzie, you’d only just started to feel the pangs properly when I left…Sheesh! Ain’t no one that fast!” he crowed, proudly, at the sleeping bundle in his arms.

Contented silence. Mulling by the two men. Less contented silence.

“So, Sarah…” ventured Nathanial, “…you COULD have come back early?”

“Uh huh,” mused Alex. “Come to think of it, when we arrived, we found you both with your feet up – having a nice pot of tea. Dunking cookies fresh from the stove.” Just a hint of ‘accusatory’ in the tone, “WE’VE had a real hard day!”

“HARD doesn’t even come close,” confirmed Nathanial.

Sarah and Elizabeth exchanged a glance.

“Let’s get this straight,” began Sarah, chattily, “…you’re suggesting that compared to YOUR hard day, Elizabeth and I have not been pulling our weight.”

Alex shifted in his seat. Nathanial – keen not to disturb Beth and the baby – contented himself with a sheepish blink. Was that what they had suggested? Well – kinda – but…

“Elizabeth gave birth this morning,” said Sarah. “Gave birth to this fine, healthy – utterly gorgeous – baby. Fine and healthy means BIG! I think pushing out a ‘fine, healthy’ baby counts as a full day’s work, huh?”

“…And, Sarah …” broke in Elizabeth, “…not only DELIVERED a baby this morning – which in my opinion would count fully as ‘pulling her weight’ – she did all the washing afterwards. All laundered, mangled, ironed dry and folded away! And, believe me – there’s a LOT of washing after a delivery! I think THAT counts as a full day’s work!”

Two shame-faced nods, from two contrite husbands.

“He’s beautiful!” repeated Alex, stroking the roseleaf crumples of the sole of a tiny, tiny foot. “One of the best day’s work I’ve ever seen.”

“Sure and …he’s SO beautiful …I think the pair of you pulled your weight for a whole year,” ventured Nathanial, tickling a plump little cheek with one finger.

A pause.

“You will look after the children tomorrow though?”

—oooOOOooo—

THE END

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