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Crowning design, p.21
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       Crowning Design, p.21

           Leila Meacham
 
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  As if his head would ever swell over anything, he thought, especially when compared to his brother and sister. Nathan considered that everything about him—when he considered himself at all—was as ordinary as a loaf of bread. Except for his height and strong build and odd shade of blue-green eyes, nothing about him was of any remarkable notice. Sometimes, a little ruefully, he thought that when it came to him, he’d stood somewhere in the middle of the line when the good Lord passed out exceptional intellects, talent and abilities, personalities, and looks while Randolph and Lily had been at the head of it. He accepted his lot without rancor, for what good was a handsome face and winning personality for growing wheat and running a farm?

  Nathan was a good thirty yards from the first outbuildings before he noticed a coach and team of two horses tied to the hitching post in front of the white wood-framed house of his home. He could not place the pair of handsome Thoroughbreds and expensive Concord. No one that he knew in Gainesville owned horses and carriage of such distinction. He guessed the owner was a rich new suitor of Lily’s who’d ridden up from Denton or from Montague across the county line. She’d met several such swains a couple of months ago when the wealthiest woman in town, his mother’s godmother, had hosted a little coming-out party for his sister. Nathan puzzled why he’d shown up to court her during the school week at this late hour of the day. His father wouldn’t like that, not that he’d have much say in it. When it came to his sister, his mother had the last word, and she encouraged Lily’s rich suitors.

  Nathan had turned toward the barn when a head appeared above a window of the coach. It belonged to a middle-aged man who, upon seeing Nathan, quickly opened the door and hopped out. “I say there, me young man!” he called to Nathan. “Are ye the lad we’ve come to see?”

  An Irishman, sure enough, and obviously the driver of the carriage, Nathan thought. He automatically glanced behind him as though half expecting the man to have addressed someone else. Turning back his gaze, he called, “Me?”

  “Yes, you.”

  “I’m sure not.”

  “If ye are, ye’d best go inside. He doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

  “Who doesn’t like to be kept waiting?”

  “Me employer, Mr. Trevor Waverling.”

  “Never heard of him.” Nathan headed for the barn.

  “Wait! Wait!” the man cried, scrambling after him. “Ye must go inside, lad. Mr. Waverling won’t leave until ye do.” The driver had caught up with Nathan. “I’m cold and… me backside’s shakin’ hands with me belly. I ain’t eaten since breakfast,” he whined.

  Despite the man’s desperation and his natty cutaway coat, striped trousers, and stiff top hat befitting the driver of such a distinctive conveyance, Nathan thought him comical. He was not of particularly short stature, but his legs were not long enough for the rest of him. His rotund stomach seemed to rest on their trunks, no space between, and his ears and Irish red hair stuck out widely beneath the hat like a platform for a stovepipe. He reminded Nathan of a circus clown he’d once seen.

  “Well, that’s too bad,” Nathan said. “I’ve got to milk the cow.” He hurried on, curious of who Mr. Waverling was and the reason he wished to see him. If so, his father would have sent his farmhand to get him, and he must tend to Daisy.

  The driver ran back to the house and Nathan hurried to the barn. Before he reached it, he heard Randolph giving Daisy a smack. “Stay still, damn you!”

  “What are you doing?” Nathan exclaimed from the open door, surprised to see Randolph and Lily attempting to milk Daisy.

  “What does it look like?” Randolph snapped.

  “Get away from her,” Nathan ordered. “That’s my job.”

  “Let him do it,” Lily pleaded. “I can’t keep holding her leg back.”

  “We can’t,” Randolph said. “Dad said to send him to the house the minute he showed up.”

  His siblings often discussed him in the third person in his presence. Playing cards and board games, they’d talk about him as if he weren’t sitting across the table from them. “Wonder what card he has,” they’d say to each other. “Do you suppose he’ll get my king?”

  “Both of you get away from her,” Nathan commanded. “I’m not going anywhere until I milk Daisy. Easy, old girl,” he said, running a hand over the cow’s quivering flanks. “Nathan is here.”

  Daisy let out a long bawl, and his brother and sister backed away. When it came to farm matters, after their father, Nathan had the top say.

  “Who is Mr. Waverling, and why does he want to see me?” Nathan asked.

  Brother and sister looked at each other. “We don’t know,” they both piped together, Lily adding, “But he’s rich.”

  “We were sent out of the house when the man showed up,” Randolph said, “but Mother and Dad and the man are having a shouting match over you.”

  “Me?” Nathan pulled Daisy’s teats, taken aback. Who would have a shouting match over him? “That’s all you know?” he asked. Zak had come to take his position at his knee and was rewarded with a long arc of milk into his mouth.

  “That’s all we know, but we think… we think he’s come to take you away, Nathan,” Lily said. Small, dainty, she came behind her older brother and put her arms around him, leaning into his back protectively. “I’m worried,” she said in a small voice.

  “Me, too,” Randolph chimed in. “Are you in trouble? You haven’t done anything bad, have you, Nathan?”

  “Not that I know of,” Nathan said. Take him away? What was this?

  “What a silly thing to ask, Randolph,” Lily scolded. “Nathan never does anything bad.”

  “I know that, but I had to ask,” her brother said. “It’s just that the man is important. Mother nearly collapsed when she saw him. Daddy took charge and sent us out of the house immediately. Do you have any idea who he is?”

  “None,” Nathan said, puzzled. “Why should I?”

  “I don’t know. He seemed to know about you. And you look like him… a little.”

  Another presence had entered the barn. They all turned to see their father standing in the doorway. He cleared his throat. “Nathan,” he said, his voice heavy with sadness, “when the milkin’s done, you better come to the house. Randolph, you and Lily stay here.”

  “But I have homework,” Randolph protested.

  “It can wait,” Leon said as he turned to go. “Drink the milk for your supper.”

  The milking completed and Daisy back in her stall, Nathan left the barn, followed by the anxious gazes of his brother and sister. Dusk had completely fallen, cold and biting. His father had stopped halfway to the house to wait for him. Nathan noticed the circus clown had scrambled back into the carriage. “What’s going on, Dad?” he said.

  His father suddenly bent forward and pressed his hands to his face.

  “Dad! What in blazes—?” Was his father crying? “What’s the matter? What’s happened?”

  A tall figure stepped out of the house onto the porch. He paused, then came down the steps toward them, the light from the house at his back. He was richly dressed in an overcoat of fine wool and carried himself with an air of authority. He was a handsome man in a lean, wolfish sort of way, in his forties, Nathan guessed. “I am what’s happened,” he said.

  Nathan looked him up and down. “Who are you?” he demanded, the question bored into the man’s sea-green eyes, so like his own. He would not have dared, but he wanted to put his arm protectively around his father’s bent shoulders.

  “I am your father,” the man said.

 


 

  Leila Meacham, Crowning Design

 


 

 
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