The morning had come, but the sun was not up quite yet. Callum was lying in the straw in the stable. He could hear the birds starting to sing outside and the horses were moving about in their stalls slightly. He opened his eyes and felt the warmth that was next to him, and then felt slight movement against him. He looked down in the dim light and saw the outline of Dustin curled up next to him, his left hand on Callum’s bare chest. Callum had his arm around Dustin’s shoulder and down the soft back, as they always went to sleep like this together. Callum turned his head a bit and kissed the soft brown hair that was next to his cheek.
Callum pulled back the blanket and took his arm out from under Dustin, trying not to wake him as he moved. Dustin stirred a little, and drew his legs up a bit. Callum smiled softly and put the blanket back. He stood up in the straw and stretched. He lowered his arms and looked about at his new bunkmates or rather stablemates. Tomlin and Holt were to his left and Owen was to his right, under a blanket covered window opening, they were all lying in straw piles of their own. Callum reached down and picked up his boots and slipped them on, one after the other and then picked up his shirt, pulling it over his head and letting it drop down him. He tucked it in the new pants that he wore, the ones that Dustin had picked out for him, brown in color. They were heavy and comfortable, made of a heavy cotton weave, not his uniform pants that were thinner and more flexible. Callum stepped quietly to the half door and looked back at his stablemates, smiled and opened the door.
He looked in the window of the kitchen and saw Martha at the stove, stoking it. Callum came in through the door. He closed the door softly and came over near her, making her jump a little. He chuckled softly and leaned over and kissed her forehead as she had put a hand over her heart and then slapped his upper arm.
“Scamp.” She said in a whisper and he chuckled again. “What are you doing up so early?”
“The rain stopped and the silence woke me. I also had a dream and couldn’t go back to sleep.” Callum said as he reached up for a cup on the shelf.
“Something troubles you, my boy, what is it?”
“Nothing that I can make sense of yet, but I will, in time.” Callum said as he poured coffee, “Would you like me to gather the eggs for you this morning?”
“I doubt seriously that the hens laid many with all of this weather that occurred.” She said, “No, I’ll go gather them. It will give me a chance to be outside for a bit.” She smiled.
“How was Henry last night?” Callum asked.
“I woke up and the little sneak was in my bed this morning. He didn’t make a sound at all. I had no idea he was there or for how long.”
“Perhaps I should take him out to the stable with us tonight.”
“You certainly will not take that child out of this house. The stable is fine for you sailors and grown men, but not that sweet little lad.” She whispered with her scolding tone.
“I seem to recall you telling me that it was bad practice for a little one to get into bed with those that are grown.” Callum said as he cocked his head at her.
“It is, and I did, but, it would be near the same with all you muscled ruffians out there. Lord knows what type of language he might hear as well.” She said shaking her head as she went for her egg basket, “What are you about today?”
“Owen said that most of the men in the village were going to meet at the livery if the rain had stopped. We will probably make a start on the house today, if it gets organized.”
“I’m sure it will, if you have a hand in it.” She said and walked back over to him, sliding her hands about his waist and putting her head to his chest giving him a hug, “Quintan, you have made me so very proud with what you are doing for them.”
“My dear, I am only doing what is necessary, not just for them, but for the community as a whole. As I said last night, they are valuable members of this community, and if anyone deserves to be helped, it surely is them, wouldn’t you agree?” She pulled back from him and looked up into his shining face, smiling at him.
“I do indeed, my boy, but as Owen said, you have done far too much.”
“What, with a little hard work and a little bit of money? That is nothing in the larger picture.” Callum said, “I have the time now and the means to show our neighbors what community is truly about. And I will revel in that fact when they all see what can happen when we can all come together to help one another in a time of need.”
“You speak as a politician. You know, they probably will make you Squire of this district for this very thing.”
“I certainly hope not. I find that just organizing this household is strenuous enough, I couldn’t imagine thousands under my eye.” Callum smiled. She slapped his arm again.
“Scamp.” She said and went to her basket and picked it up off the table and went to the door. He watched her for a minute through the window sipping his coffee and then heard something behind him. He turned and saw the girl standing there, blushing.
“Morning.” He said and smiled at her, “Would you care for some coffee?” She batted her eyes a bit and went toward the stove. He held up a hand, “Please, have a seat at the table. You’re a guest in this house, allow me.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.” She said and he cocked his head a bit toward her and lifted an eyebrow.
“Yes, you could.” He said and looked at her again, she stopped as he smiled softly, and then she went to the table and sat down, Callum reached up and took a cup down and set it on the stove, he poured and set the pot down, picking up the cup, he walked it over to her and set it on the table before her, his own cup in his hand. “The sugar is right there next to you.” Callum said as he pointed to the shelves on the wall. She reached over and picked it up. Callum went back to the stove and poured more for himself when Marlene came into the kitchen and stood near her daughter, looking at Callum. Callum saw her and smiled as he set the pot down.
“Morning, did you sleep well?” Callum asked as he turned toward her.
“Yes, thank you. The bed is most comfortable.”
“Yes, it is. When I’m at sea, I think about it quite a bit actually.” Callum sipped his coffee, and then saw something else. Henry walked around Marlene as he came into the kitchen, rubbing a little eye, seeing Callum standing there, he walked closer to him and looked up as he was still in his nightshirt and bare feet. Callum set his cup down and picked up his little charge, putting him up on his hips.
“And how are you this morning, my lad?” Callum asked.
“Sleepy.” The little voice said and then he yawned.
“It is still very early, you should be in bed.”
“I heard you.”
“Oh, did I wake you up?” Callum asked, getting a nod in reply. Callum pulled him close and gave him a hug, rocking him a bit as he did it, “I’m sorry, my lad, next time, I’ll be a bit more quiet, I promise.” Callum said and then kissed the top of the little head. Henry wrapped his little arms around Callum as best he could. “Let us go over and sit at the table, shall we?” Callum picked up his cup and walked it and Henry over and sat down at the table.
“Where is Martha?” Marlene asked.
“She is out gathering eggs, her morning ritual.” Callum smiled as he shifted a bit in his chair to make the little one comfortable on his lap. Callum looked down as he heard something growling, “Is someone hungry this morning?” Callum asked as he had a hand on the little back. Again he got another nod in reply, “It won’t be long now.” Callum smiled as the back door opened. Owen came in and closed it behind him. He put a hand on Callum’s shoulder as he was sitting near the door.
“Morning.” Callum said, looking up over his shoulder. “There is coffee on the stove, if you’d like.”
“Morning, yes, thank you.” Owen said as he stepped around the table, he went to his mother and kissed her on the cheek, “Morning, mother.”
“Morning, Owen. Did you sleep well?” She asked.
“Yes, I did, thank you. And you?”
“The bed is very comfortable indeed, better than the one we have at home.” She said with a smile.
“Good, is father awake yet?”
“No, he had a very bad night last night, thinking about everything that has happened.”
“That’s understandable, I suppose.” Owen said as he poured coffee for himself. He held up his cup for everyone to see, silently asking if they wanted more. Callum shook his head in reply. Owen came over to the table and sat down. “I think I’ll go into the village when I finish my coffee.”
“I’ll go with you.” Callum said. Henry pulled back his head and looked up.
“Can I go?”
“Not this time, my lad.” Callum said as he looked down at the bright face, “I need you to stay here and help Dustin with the horses. Can you do that?” Callum asked, getting another nod in reply, “That’s my lad.” Callum pulled him back to him again, patting the little back. He looked at Owen, who was smiling seeing Callum this way with the little one on his lap.
“Quintan Callum, with children. It is quite a sight.” Owen said as he reached out and touched the little one as well on the night shirt.
“You think so?”
“I do. The ship’s Captain holding a little one in his lap. It’s a good look for you and it fits.” Owen smiled and then picked up his cup. Martha opened the door and came in carrying the basket, then closed it behind her. Henry pulled his head back and smiled up at her.
“Morning everyone.” Martha said softly as she went to the dry sink counter. Henry shifted and got off Callum’s lap and walked over next to her. He stood close to her and then he reached up and pulled on her long skirt. Martha looked down seeing him there. She leaned down closer to him and he said something to her, she straightened and nodded toward him. Henry turned and went to the door. Callum looked at him as he came near.
“Where are you off to?” Callum asked.
“Outside.” Henry said softly and opened the door. Martha was watching and pointed toward the privy, Callum lifted his chin and then brought it back down in a long nod of understanding. Callum got up and went to the dry sink, putting his arm about her shoulders. He kissed her on the cheek, and then turned back toward the family at the table. Callum waited until Henry came back in and closed the door behind him. He walked toward Callum and he bent down and picked him up again.
“Henry, why don’t you go and get dressed while Aunt Martha makes breakfast. Then when Dustin comes in, you can go and help him with the horses, alright?” Callum asked, getting another nod in reply, “That’s my lad.” Callum said as he set Henry on the floor again. Owen got up from the table and came toward Callum and Martha setting his cup down on the counter. “Do you need anything done before we go into the village?” Callum asked Martha.
“No, there is plenty of wood and water in here already. Don’t you want breakfast, either of you?”
“No, I don’t.” Callum said.
“Thank you, my dear, but I would like to get an early start of it.” Owen said, “Thank you for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome.” She said to Owen and then looked at Callum, “I’ll keep an eye on the little lad. You want me to tell the others that you have gone?”
“Yes, if you would. I know that Dustin will remain here as we talked about it last night. He will let the horses graze, but needs to keep an eye on them. He knows that.” Callum smiled. She nodded as the two of them walked toward the parlor, Owen giving his mother a kiss on the cheek as they walked by her.
The walk into the village was nice for them even though it was rather muddy from the torrential rains of yesterday and last night, they slipped and slid a bit and would laugh now and then grabbing each other to keep from falling. The air was clean and crisp as the birds were singing. Callum walked close to Owen as they entered the village, now on the cobble. Hardly a soul was up and about at this time yet. The sun had been up less than hour now and was still low in the sky as they walked directly into its shining rays. Callum was sore from all of the chopping he did yesterday, but kept moving as they entered the square. There were voices that were in the distance that they heard and became clearer as they drew closer to the remains of the livery.
Owen walked in, feeling concerned about hearing people talking inside and Callum followed him, they saw a large group of men standing in the middle of what remained of the livery, surrounding the giant of a man, Wayne Daultry, the lumber millwright. He was talking to all of them, giving out a plan to get the great tree out of the livery along with all the debris. Owen walked up into the midst of the group standing next to the giant man. Daultry put a massive arm around Owen’s shoulder, making Callum think it would be like looking at he and Henry together side by side, making a comparison. Callum smiled at the sight and listened to the man speak. His deep voice made him easy to hear. The men started to get moving and carry out the instructions that were given, Callum waited as the giant man turned and looked down at Owen.
“Owen, I know that you and your father have much trouble with money right now and I mean no disrespect, as we have known each other for years. I will take the tree and will turn it into beams and other lumber and put it back into the house and the livery here. That will save you the cost for some material to make your repairs.”
“Thank you, Wayne,” Owen said as he looked up into the giant man’s face, “I appreciate what you are doing for us.”
“You have been there for me in the past, as your father has as well. Whatever I can do to help, know that it will be seen to.” The giant man smiled. He looked over and smiled at Callum, “Morning, Captain. How are your arms this morning after all that swinging?”
“I am rather on the achy side, truth be told. It has been quite some time that I have exerted like that.” Callum rolled his eyes, and the giant man chuckled loudly.
“You’re a good man, Captain, and very strong. I have never seen anyone chop away like that, not even myself. I learned many years ago to pace myself when chopping trees. You went at it with a fury all of its own.”
“I am certain it was only the moment that had taken me, I assure you.” Callum rolled his eyes again, and the giant man chuckled loudly again.
“Well I still say, you’re a good man, Captain.”
“Thank you.” Callum said and put his hand out, “Quintan.” The giant man looked at it and then took it.
“An honor.” Callum said.
“A friend.” The giant man almost purred. Callum bowed his head slightly and took his hand back.
“What would you like us to do?” Owen asked. The giant man turned and looked down at him.
“See to your house. I know Bockman will be here shortly. He and I are going to look at the tree that is still there. What you should do is make sure that nothing else is damaged from the rains. We’ll have this all cleared out in a while after the teams are brought over from the mill. And we’ll take care of your mares that are there.”
“Thank you,” Owen said as he looked at what he could see of the mares lying dead under the debris. His eyes welled at the sight of them, Callum stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder as he stood behind him. “They were so gentle. They were my best team.”
“I’m so sorry, Owen.” Callum said softly. Owen sniffled a bit and nodded his head, he pat the giant arm a couple of times that was close to him and then walked toward the house. Callum looked up into the sad face of the giant man. They nodded at one another and Callum followed Owen.
Tomlin opened his eyes and saw Holt was lying on half of him. Tomlin reached up and touched the soft skin of his lovers arm, sliding his fingers up and down slowly. Holt stirred and moved his hips against Tomlin’s and then opened his eyes. He smiled softly seeing Tomlin was next to him and Tomlin rolled his head toward him and smiled back. Holt lifted his head and kissed Tomlin and pulled away. Tomlin pulled him back to him and kissed him again with a bit more passion. Holt melted into it, but he knew they were not alone. That thought made Holt pull back.
“Let us get up.” Holt whispered. Tomlin looked at him with a pleading look to stay.
“He’s asleep. We can be quiet.” Tomlin whispered.
“Thomas, it’s not right. We will be alone soon enough. Come.” Holt whispered as well, reaching back behind him for the edge of the blanket.
“I need to feel you, Christian.”
“And you will, my love, soon enough.” Holt whispered, “But, we are not alone.”
“Morning.” Dustin said with his back to them. They were only a few feet apart from each other. Dustin rolled and pushed the blanket off him and stood, not looking at them. He picked up his shirt and pulled it over his head.
“Dustin, I didn’t know you were awake. I’m sorry if we,…”
“Thomas, it is quite alright, believe me. I feel the same as you do in the morning when Quintan and I are alone. I’ll go up to the house and give you some privacy.” Dustin said without looking at them.
“Dustin, we should be a bit more respectful, or I should say, I should be. I apologize for letting myself get carried away like that.”
“Thomas, think nothing of it.” Dustin said as he was putting on his shoes, “Take your time. I’ll be back in a bit to tend to the horses.” Dustin walked quickly toward the half door and went out, closing it behind him. Tomlin looked at Holt and frowned.
“I’m sorry, Christian.”
“Don’t apologize to me, Thomas.” Holt said as he kissed Tomlin on the cheek, “He understands as he feels it as well. I think what bothers him is that Quintan is gone already.”
“What?” Tomlin asked and sat up, he looked over, “Owen is gone as well.” Tomlin threw back the blanket and got up, picking up his shirt, pulling it over his head, and tucked it in his pantlet. Holt stood and grabbed his own shirt and Tomlin looked at him, admiring his muscled body in the dim light. Tomlin put a hand on Holt’s wrist, stopping him from putting on the shirt.
“What is it?” Holt asked.
“I was just admiring you in this light. You seem to be more developed this morning, if that is possible.” Tomlin said softly. Holt looked down, seeing his tight chest and stomach, then smirked as he looked back at Tomlin. “You are so beautiful, Christian, you take my breath every time I look at you.”
“It is from all of the exertion that was done the past couple of days. I am a bit sore this morning, actually. I will need to do something else that is strenuous to work it out.” Holt smiled.
“Several things come to mind actually.” Tomlin smirked.
“I know what is on your mind, but love making will have to wait for a while.” Holt was still smiling as he put his shirt on, letting it drop over him, the v cut in the front of the shirt was deep and open and Tomlin could see the smooth chest was revealed under the drawstring weaving through the holes.
“Christian, do me a favor,” Tomlin said and Holt cocked his head as he tucked the shirt in,
“leave your shirt open so I may look at you all day as you are, as you are so beautiful.”
“As you wish.” Holt smiled and leaned forward, kissing Tomlin’s cheek. “You’re just as beautiful to me, Thomas.”
“I certainly don’t look like that.”
“No, you look better.” Holt smiled as he sat and started to put his new boots on. Holt stood and stamped his feet, one at a time on the straw and dirt floor of the stable, checking the feel of the new boots.
“Do they fit you?”
“Yes, thank you, they are a bit stiff but I know they will work out after a bit.” Holt smiled.
“I like them on you, I shall have to get a pair as well.” Tomlin smiled, “Remind me when we are in the village today.” Tomlin smiled, Holt nodded. They walked together to the half door of the stable and went, closing it behind them, and went up the path to the house. They came in the back door into the kitchen. Dustin was at the table with Henry in his lap, eating breakfast, the girls were seated on the back side of the table together on the bench, Mr. Muir at the other end, the older ladies were at the stove. Martha looked at them as they came in.
“Morning, gentlemen,” She smiled, “would you care for coffee?” They both nodded toward her and then to everyone else at the table. Holt held out a hand to have Tomlin sit at the table, as he stepped toward the women at the stove. Martha pulled two more cups and poured, handing them to him. She looked Holt up and down. “You are as pretty as the morning.” Martha said, making him blush. Marlene turned and looked him up and down and smiled as well. “You so remind me of my son with your looks.” Martha said softly. Holt was at a loss as to what to say in reply to her. All he could do was smile and bow his head slightly. He turned and walked to the table setting a cup down in front of Tomlin. Holt set his down and added a bit of sugar to his giving it a stir and then picked it up. He stepped back from the table and sipped it not looking at the table. The girl was eyeing him intensely. Dustin saw it out of the corner of his eye but didn’t make any motion about it. He focused back on Henry as they finished their breakfast.
Martha plated breakfast for Tomlin and Holt as Dustin put Henry on the floor and got up from the table, picking up their plates, he got out of her way as she set the plates down and went on to the dry sink. He came back and put a hand on Holt’s arm to guide him to the table. As Holt moved, Dustin turned and looked down at Henry.
“Ready, Henry?” Dustin asked, getting a nod in reply, “Alright then, let’s go.” Dustin looked at Martha as she was still right there, he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, my boy,” She said and looked down at Henry, “and you be careful, my lad.”
“I will.” Henry said and smiled. They walked out the door together.
Callum had looked around the house with Owen, going room to room that was damaged or destroyed. Water was dripping from everywhere, the branches of the giant tree that were inside the house, the roof edges that were ripped apart that clung to the water but now let it drip as the sun had come up higher in the sky.
“Owen? Are you in here?” The voice called out.
“Yes, in here.” Owen called back, “We’re in here.” Callum came up next to him and they waited a moment together as Bockman ducked under a branch and entered the room.
“Morning.” Bockman said.
“Morning.” Owen answered. Bockman could see the look on Owen’s face, the depression that he must be feeling showed as the house that he had grown up in was in this state of almost complete destruction now.
"Owen, let me assure you, all will be well, and very soon.” Bockman said as he came close to Owen and put his hands on Owen’s upper arms, clasping them firmly for a moment and then letting them go, “I spoke to several of the men yesterday after you left. We have all agreed that we will all help to put the house back to the way it was. We can do it rather quickly after we get the tree removed.” Bockman said, “But we must let everything dry out first, that should be only a day or two if the weather stays like it is now.” Owen listened to him carefully and nodded his head. “Where is your father?”
“He is still in my home, I would imagine. I understand he had a rather difficult night last night with all of this.” Callum said.
“I can understand that.” Bockman said, “Captain, I am wondering about what you asked of me yesterday when we spoke.”
“I have made it known to Owen and his family, they have accepted my offer, and it remains that anything that is required to make this right again will be taken care of.”
“That is very gracious of you, sir, but will not be necessary.” Bockman said looking at the both of them, “Perhaps I did not make my meaning clear, so let me begin again. As I said, I have talked to the other men, we all agreed that we will all work quickly to put this right for you and your family. There will be no cost involved other than what materials we might require. I know that Daultry is going to mill the timbers from the trees here and we can put them into the house. So there may not be much, other than possibly a new stove for the kitchen and a few other odds and ends.” Bockman said and Owen was wide eyed.
“There you have it, Owen,” Callum said, as he put a hand on his shoulder, “it is as I said last evening, you and your family are valuable members of this community of ours. They all think highly of you and your family.”
“That is very true, Captain. Owen and his father have helped many of us over the years, and in their time of need, we cannot turn our backs on them.” Bockman smiled. Tears welled in Owen’s eyes again. “We are all friends here. And there is another friend who wishes to do something for you and your family. He is waiting for you now, over at the mercantile.”
“Yes. Go over and see him, he will tell you all about it.” Bockman said, “I must talk with Daultry about the tree and its removal. I wanted to see you straight away.”
“I need to go to the mercantile as well.” Callum said, “Come, I will go with you.”
“Captain, may I have a word with you when you return, sir?”
“Certainly.” Callum said with a smile, leading Owen out of the house. They walked through the livery and saw the activity going on, the giant man directing men and the great tree was being lashed and ready for removal as it had been raised up and placed on other logs to roll it out. Callum noticed that the bodies of the mares had been removed thankfully. He guided Owen out not letting him linger and walked him toward the mercantile. The older man that owned it, Saunders, was waiting for them near the door, letting them in.
“Mr. Saunders, is it?” Callum asked, getting a nod back in reply, “I seem to have forgotten my manners and apologize as I did not properly introduce myself the other day, sir.” Callum said as he put out his hand, the older man taking it and giving it a firm grasp.
“I was remiss myself, Captain, in that fact. And now that I know who you truly are, I offer my apologies as well. I was simply overwhelmed when you and your group came in and started purchasing so many items all at once.”
“Yes, I can understand that, we seem to have that effect on everyone as if we were a large army.” Callum smiled. The older man smiled and turned his attention to Owen now.
“Owen, I cannot tell you how bad I feel that this has happened to you and your family. Your parents must be devastated by all of this. Bockman has come to me and told me that everyone is going to help and make repairs. I wish to help as well, but I have not the skills to do the actual work. Instead I wish to offer my help in another way. I am sending out an order today in the post to have a new stove brought for the house. I hope it will arrive in a few days’ time, if not earlier. I will see that it given over to Bockman and his workers to be installed in the house for your mother.”
“Mr. Saunders, I don’t know what to say.” Owen replied softly, his eyes welling again.
“Say nothing, my lad, as I know already what you are thinking. You know that your father and I have been friends for many, many years and he has freighted for me many times for nothing. I owe him several times over, and for that, I wish to do this.” The older man said, “If there is anything else that you require, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“You overwhelm me.” Owen said, letting a tear drop.
“It is much to take in right now, I know, as I’m certain that it is all still fresh in your mind with this tragedy that has happened yesterday.”
“Thank you.” Owen said, and tried not to sob, “Will you excuse me, I need a moment.” Owen said and walked to the door and went out. Callum stood with the older man and then looked at him.
“A very gracious thing you have done, sir.” Callum said softly.
“Not as gracious as you are being, Captain.” The older man said, “I have also been told that you have the entire family within your home. I am certain that you are very overcrowded as I have visited your home in the past when your mother was living. I know the house well, and its small size.”
“Yes, we are a bit confined,” Callum gave him a slight smile, “but sailors are used to crowded quarters aboard ship. Mrs. Muir has made mention of something, and I am certain that you will know of what I speak.” Callum said and the older man cocked his head a bit, “There is a bed that is in the house, in my room upstairs.”
“Yes, the newer one, the one that is very thick and filled with goose down.”
“You know of it?”
“Of course, as I put it there.” The older man smiled.
“Your mother, a few years ago, came to me here and asked me about a new bed for her son that would hopefully return home one day. She asked that it be very deep and very warm for those cold winter nights as she knew that there was no comfort aboard ship for her son. She wished that when he did return home that he be treated to a warmth that he might have possibly never had before in his life.”
“My mother asked for that?” Callum asked in almost a whisper.
“Yes, my boy. And now you have returned home as she knew you would.” The older man smiled.
“I wish I could remember more of her.”
“She was a wonderful woman. I could go on and on about her, but I am sure that your aunt has told you of most things.”
“Thank you, Mr. Saunders.” Callum said and then cleared his throat, fighting back against the flood of emotion he was feeling at this moment, “I wish to have a bed as such be made available for Mr. and Mrs. Muir, if that is possible, the very same.”
“It is indeed. I will send a request for one in the post today.”
“Thank you. I wish to settle with you for yesterday as well.”
“That is not necessary.”
“It is to me, sir. It will weigh heavily on me if it is not taken care of.”
“Your mother was that way as well. She would not leave a debt out for very long.”
“Perhaps one day, we could have another discussion of my mother. You seem to have known her very well.”
“She was a great lady, and was a good friend to my wife as well. Your mother was with her when my wife’s passing came.” The older man said and was saddened by the memory.
“It was many years ago.” The older man said as he looked down at the floor.
Tomlin and Holt walked toward the village, seeing the tracks in the mud that Callum and Owen had made on their way in before them. They laughed together as they slipped a few times as well and held onto each other to keep balance. They finally reached the cobble portion of the village and they stamped their feet to get rid of the mud on their boots and shoes. They came closer to the square and saw people out and about now as the morning proceeded. The sun felt good as it lifted higher in the sky.
“I must see about sending a letter in the next day or so.” Holt said, and Tomlin looked at him.
“Yes, to the bank to draw funds. I don’t think there is a bank near here.”
“You have funds?”
“I do.” Holt stopped and looked at Tomlin with a puzzled look on his face, “You think I am a pauper, Thomas?”
“No, I just never gave it much thought. I meant nothing by it when I asked that.” Tomlin had a look on his face that made Holt chuckle. “What?”
“There is a considerable amount to be had actually from my mother.”
“I wasn’t aware of that.”
“My father does not control everything about me, even though he tries.” Holt said, the thought of his father made him angry all of a sudden, “I wish to pay for my own way.”
“Christian, what is mine, is also yours.”
“I appreciate that thought, Thomas, and you have done so much in providing for me already, what with the clothes that you have purchased, these boots, but I feel that,…”
“Christian, do not concern yourself with it, I rather enjoyed purchasing those things for you, it gave me a wonderful feeling to do that. Besides, we couldn’t have you walking about in your bed clothes and robe, now could we?”
“In that, Thomas, I would think you would rather see me that way all of the time, if you could.” Holt said and smiled softly. Tomlin stepped closer to him.
“No, my love, if I had my way, you would never wear nothing at all.” Tomlin said, lifting an eyebrow.
“I was right, you are a fiend.”
“Only about you.” Tomlin said as he looked into Holt’s soft eyes, “I wish I could take you right now.”
“Later perhaps, calm yourself.”
“It is difficult when I look at you.” Tomlin smiled. Holt returned his smile and looked beyond him.
“There, I see Quintan and Owen.” Holt said and nodded in their direction. Tomlin turned and looked. “I wonder if there is something wrong.” Holt said softly.
“Poor Owen, I saw the look in his eye last night when we were in the stable, he is a lonely soul.”
“I saw it as well.” Holt said as they walked toward them, “Perhaps he will find someone someday.”
“I can only hope he will, and be as fortunate as I am.” Tomlin said softly as they came near them. Callum looked up and saw them and smiled at them.
“Morning.” They all said to each other.
“You two left early this morning.” Tomlin said, “Are we to help this morning?”
“I certainly hope so. After yesterday, I feel I need to do something strenuous to get rid of the stiffness I have in me.” Holt smiled. Owen looked at him, and smiled faintly, “Owen, are you alright this morning?”
“Several things have happened and it has overwhelmed him slightly, I’m sure.” Callum said as he put a hand on Owen’s shoulder.
“Is there anything we might do?” Tomlin asked, looking concerned.
“Too much has been done already.” Owen said softly, “I must go and speak to my parents about all of it. I will return shortly.” Owen said and walked off, heading toward Callum’s Cross. The three watched him walk away with his head down going across the square.
“Is he alright, Quintan?” Holt asked.
“He will be, but it will take time for him. He is very proud.”
“What has happened?” Tomlin asked.
“The community has gathered together. Bockman and Daultry and their workers are not going to take wages or anything for helping them. The owner of the mercantile, Saunders, is providing the stove for the house and charging nothing for it. Owen is very proud as I said, and with that pride, he is having trouble accepting everything that all are doing for them.”
“Like the money you gave him the other day, him not wanting to accept it.”
“Yes.” Callum said softly.
“Quintan, I can see something is troubling you too.” Tomlin said, “What is it?”
“I have learned some things about my mother’s past that I had no idea of. I will have to speak to Martha about it later. It has given me much to think about.”
“Will you be alright?” Tomlin asked, touching Callum’s arm. Callum turned and looked at him and gave a faint smile.
“Yes, once I have sorted it out, yes.” Callum said, “Now, I must see Bockman, he said he needed to talk to me about something.”
“There are some things we need to take care of ourselves at the mercantile and then there are some things that Martha asked us to pick up for her.” Tomlin said. Callum looked at them.
“Do you require money?” Callum asked.
“No.” Tomlin smiled, “It was actually a bit of an argument with her over that point. She said that she had money for the house and we said we could take care of it, as we feel it is only right and fair.”
“Oh dear,” Callum said with wide eyes, “I suppose I will have to smooth feathers later.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Tomlin said.
“And why is that?” Callum asked.
“You tell him, Christian.” Tomlin said as he looked at Holt. Callum looked at him as well.
“I, uh…well…” Holt stammered with wide eyes.
“Christian?” Callum asked cocking his head a little.
“He smoothed her over with a kiss on the cheek and a slight hug. She melted at his touch.” Tomlin said, looking at Callum.
“I see,” Callum said as he crossed his arms over his chest. Holt shook his head, and had sad eyes, “Her son, my cousin. She has remarked to me more than once that you look very much like him. She misses him terribly as he died a number of years ago and when she looks at you, she is comforted. From now on, I think I will send you in first to smooth things over with her if I have any misunderstandings with her.” Callum smiled.
“Are you thinking I would be the sacrificial lamb, Quintan?” Holt asked.
“Do you think she would treat you as such?”
“I doubt it.” Holt said softly.
“You have your answer then.” Callum smiled even wider, “I’ll catch up with you in a bit.” Callum said and turned toward the livery. Tomlin and Holt watched him walk away before they turned for the mercantile.
Dustin was leading the stallion about letting him graze in the tall wet grass down near the stone fence that divided the property with the neighbor. Dustin would look up now and then and see Henry was walking in front of the three mares as they gently moved along behind the little one, staying near him but not too close. Henry was smiling and seemed to be very happy to Dustin and would wave at Dustin when they saw each other making Dustin smile and wave back.
Owen had come around the house to the back door and had watched Dustin and Henry for a couple of minutes as he had stood on the flagstone. He went to the door and came inside seeing everyone there, gathered around the table, talking to one another. They had seen him out there and waited for him. He asked to speak to his parents, alone, and asked that they come outside. They got up from the table and went out with him. Martha went to the dry sink and was cleaning things up as she watched the three of them talking.
Dustin was watching them as well as Henry came closer to him, the mares walked away but stayed nearby and continued their grazing. Henry came close to Dustin and took his hand, and reached out and touched the stallion with his other on the stallion’s leg. The stallion snorted softly at the touch and kept grazing.
Martha watched as Owen was explaining the events of this morning, and Marlene hung her head and shook it. Clyde put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and she again hid her face in his shirt the same way it happened last night. The two men just looked at one another as Clyde was gently patting her back. Owen hung his head as well.
The girls got up from the table and came over next to Martha and stood next to her. Martha put an arm around Callista’s shoulders. They looked at one another for a moment and then went back to watching what was silently going on outside with the three. Owen turned and looked in at them and gave a slight smile and then turned away.
Dustin could clearly see something else was wrong, but also knew they needed a private moment. He did not want to interrupt in the least, he would wait until they approached him. Dustin looked down at Henry and smiled at him softly.
“Can I ride him?” Henry asked.
“I don’t think so, Henry.” Dustin said, “This poor horse had a really hard time yesterday. You remember how you felt scared?” Dustin asked and got a nod in reply, “Well he was really scared yesterday too. Christian said it was really hard for him, so we need to wait to ride him, maybe in a few days when he feels better.”
“Okay.” Henry said and looked up at the stallion.
“If you want, you can ride the mare later when we put him back in the stable, how about that?”
“Okay.” Henry said and gave a bright smile. Dustin smiled back and then looked up toward the house. Owen was coming down toward them now. Dustin watched him, thinking to himself that Owen’s world had completely fallen apart around him and could only guess at what he felt right now. Owen came up and stopped near Dustin, looking at the stallion.
“Good morning, Owen.” Dustin said, Henry looking up at him as well.
“Morning.” Owen had a hollow look to him, empty and beaten. Dustin had never seen him like this. Owen always seemed so strong to Dustin, a true rock, like nothing ever bothered him, taking everything in stride as it came, but now it was different. “I wanted to thank you for all the care you’re giving them. You are doing a wonderful job.”
“They make it easy. They know they are being cared for, and they just wait patiently for it to happen.” Dustin said. “Owen, is there anything else I can do?” Dustin asked and Owen’s eyes welled. He lowered his head the tears dropped from them. Dustin stepped forward and put an arm around his shoulders, holding him. Owen sobbed silently and Henry stepped closer as well. “Oh, Owen,” Dustin said softly, “I know it will be alright soon. Trust in that.”
“I do, Dustin, I do. I should be happy with everything that everyone is doing for us, but it tears at me so, that we can’t even help ourselves.”
“I know, I see that within you. You’re prideful, like Quintan. It will drive to madness if you let it. Believe me, I have seen some of his madness before because of it. You need to learn that there are others in this world that are here simply to help. You need to learn to accept that help as we all need it from time to time, all of us. It took me many years to finally accept that fact after much hardship and pain in my life.” Dustin said softly. Owen pulled back with red swollen wet eyes and looked at him.
“How did you ever become so wise for being so young?”
“I had wonderful teachers. The men I serve with aboard ship know all about life’s lessons. I listened to them, finally. They have all taught me so much.”
“This little one is very fortunate to have you in his life now.” Owen said looking down at Henry.
“I think you’re wrong in that.” Dustin said as he looked down at Henry, smiling at him, and then looked back at Owen, who had a surprised look on his face, “I’m the fortunate one. He has given me a direction and a focus now.”
“I see.” Owen said softly.
“And in that, I know I will always be loved.”
“You are a wonderful soul, Dustin.” Owen said and gave him a tight hug. Owen pulled back as he felt a pull on his pant leg. Owen looked down at the little face, he smiled and reached down and picked him, putting the little one up on his hip, “And you are wonderful as well, Henry.” Owen smiled and stuck a finger into his little ribs making him laugh and squirm a bit. Owen laughed, and Dustin beamed.
“You looked sad.” Henry said to Owen.
“I am, Henry. Very sad, but I am trying not to be.” Owen said, giving the little one a smile. “How about later today when the grass dries out, I let you ride him.”
“Dustin said to wait.” Henry said.
“I think he will be fine if it is just you on him.” Owen said.
“Really?” Henry asked with wide eyes.
“Okay.” Henry said and wiggled a little. Owen put him down.
Callum walked up to the open portion of the house, seeing Bockman and Daultry looking the tree over, Bockman was standing up on a portion of the floor and Daultry was standing on wall debris below, for once someone was taller than he. Callum could not get over his sheer size. Bockman saw Callum standing close and turned to him.
“Captain.” Bockman said.
“Please, Mr. Bockman, do not let me interrupt you gentlemen. You have more important things to discuss.”
“We were just about finished actually. I wanted to assure you, sir, that as soon as we are done here with the repairs to the house, I will continue to work on your additions. That’s what I wished to talk to you about.”
“Mr. Bockman, I know that you are good for your word, sir, and I know you will continue with my home as time permits. I need no reassurance in that, my good man.” Callum smiled. “How many men are going to be working to rebuild this?”
“It will be about twenty or more, sir.”
“When are you starting?”
“As the sun is now starting to dry things out, we will remove this tree shortly and begin to clear the area.” Daultry said in his deep voice. “The livery should be cleared soon.”
“Yes, I saw the large team of horses dragging that monstrous tree out.” Callum said. “Most impressive to say the least. I would like to offer my services as well, Mr. Bockman in lending a hand with repairs. I have a little knowledge in building with making repairs aboard ship.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Bockman said, but looked a bit nervous to Callum.
“Is something wrong, Mr. Bockman?”
“Well, sir, I…”
“Let me guess, I’m not skilled enough as a carpenter perhaps?” Callum gave him a slight smile, knowing that Bockman did not wish to insult him.
“Mr. Bockman, please, say no more,” Callum said as he held up his hand, “I understand completely. You wish to have your skilled tradesmen to help do this. I take no insult in that, I assure you.”
“You understand, sir?”
“I do, however, I would ask that you take me up my offer to assist you with the addition on my home.” Callum smiled and Bockman eased a bit.
“That I will, sir, in that there can be no question.”
“Good, then we have an agreement.” Callum nodded, Bockman bowed his head slightly. Callum looked up at the giant man next to him, “Are you going to turn me away as well, if I have an axe in my hands?”
“Perish the thought,” Daultry said, “after seeing the way you were yesterday. I might even offer you a position at the mill as a tree faller.” The giant face opened wide with a smile, “You can certainly set to this one with your axe. I won’t stop you.”
“Well, as sore as I am, I may not last very long.” Callum chuckled. Daultry laughed and then reached out and put his fingers around the muscle of Callum’s bicep, squeezing it a couple of times.
“It does feel tight.” He grinned.
“You have no idea.” Callum said and rolled his eyes.
Tomlin and Holt walked up the path to the house, but Holt suggested they go around to the back door with the tub that they carried between them, not to track the mud and wet into the front of the house. Tomlin agreed with a nod and they went around, going by one of the kitchen windows over the dry sink, seeing all inside the kitchen, a flurry of activity about the table and stove, the women and girls working.
They walked up on the flagstone with the tub and went to the back door, setting it down. Dustin was coming up the path with Owen and Henry. Tomlin and Holt looked at them, both noting that Owen seemed a little better in his expression now. Tomlin and Holt picked up the cloth sacks that were in the tub and went in through the back door with them in their hands.
“Where would you like them, my lady?” Holt asked and Martha turned round from the counter.
“Just put them there on the bench for me. I’ll tend to them later, thank you.” She smiled at Holt, who bowed his head slightly. He and Tomlin put them on the bench and went to the door again, going out. Dustin, Owen, and Henry were waiting by the tub on the flagstone.
“Did you see Quintan?” Dustin asked them. They both nodded.
“He said that Bockman wanted to speak to him and left us at the mercantile.” Tomlin said.
“I need to speak to him about the stable.” Dustin said.
“What is wrong with the stable?” Holt asked.
“We need more feed hay soon and straw. Owen and I were cleaning it up just now and noticing it. There is little bedding left for us now. And, if there is another storm, we were discussing shutters rather than the blankets that we are using for the window openings.” Dustin said.
“That might be a better idea with the shutters actually.” Tomlin said, “Like the ones in the Great Cabin onboard Dover.”
“I was thinking the same thing, but not quite as fancy.” Dustin smiled briefly, “We are going to go to the village and see him. I think we can take care of the shutters ourselves and don’t have to wait for Bockman or his workers.”
“Yes, I think we could, you’re right.” Tomlin said, “I saw some tools in the stable in the far corner just yesterday when we were down there putting the horses in.” Dustin nodded his head in reply.
“We will need hinges of some type. Owen said they are at the mercantile.” Dustin said.
“Alright. Would you like us to accompany you?” Tomlin asked.
“No, you have already been. Owen wishes to go back and see what is going on.” Dustin said.
“My father should be there as well.” Owen said.
“He did not pass us in the square or on the road when we were coming back.” Tomlin said.
“He might have been there already while you were in the mercantile.” Owen said.
“Perhaps.” Tomlin said, then looked at Dustin, “Be careful if you’re taking the little one, it is very muddy on the road and quite slippery.”
“I will, thank you, Thomas. Owen can give me a hand with him as well.” Dustin smiled seeing Tomlin concerned about the boy. Dustin shifted his eyes to Holt and lifted an eyebrow briefly for a moment. Holt saw the look and gave a brief half smile, thinking about their talk yesterday in the stable about children. Dustin looked down and bent toward the little one, “Go tell Aunt Martha we are going into the village now, and that you’re going with us.” Henry nodded and went in through the door.
“I think I shall split the rest of this wood.” Holt said, looking at all of the rounds, “I need to work out this stiffness in my arms.”
“I’m sure, she’ll appreciate that.” Dustin said. “Quintan had made mention of getting more as well.”
“Yes, it is ordered with Saunders at the mercantile.” Owen said, “He makes the order with the mill for it.” Dustin nodded his understanding as Henry walked out of the house closing the door.
“Did she say anything else to you?” Dustin asked, Henry nodded, “What?”
“To stay out of the way.” Henry said softly, looking a little sad. Dustin smiled, taking Henry’s little hand.
“Don’t worry, I am going to do that as well.” Dustin smiled at him. He, Henry, and Owen started to walk around the house going off toward the village.
Holt and Tomlin took out the other items they had purchased from the mercantile from the tub, Holt setting them on the flagstone as Tomlin went off toward the stable, carrying some things, including his new boots. Holt took the new metal tub and carried it to the end of the flagstone, setting it near the pump, leaning it against the corner of the house. He picked up the broad axe that was near the stack of rounds and looked it over. He saw a stone that was there and picked it up and began to sharpen the blade with it, sliding it along the edge over and over. After quite a few strokes of the stone, he checked the blade and was happy with it. He set it down and picked up a round and placed it on the block.
He started with a swing into it, splitting it in half, the pieces falling to the flagstone. He bent and picked up a half and set it on the block and split again, starting to make it smaller and smaller, stove size. He left everything lay where it fell and went after another full round, placing it on the block and then started to split it as well. He could feel the burn starting in his arms and back as he kept swinging and splitting, it was making him feel better as the stiffness he had felt this morning was now going away. He also started to feel a sweat building up. He sunk the broad axe and reached down and pulled his shirt out of his pants and pulled it off over his head as the sun was now up and shining on him, this beautiful spring morning.
Tomlin came back up the path and looked over at the beautiful sight of his lover, half naked, swinging the axe, splitting wood, the muscle flexing in his arms and tight chest and back. Tomlin just watched him for a minute and slowly moved as he watched to the rest of the items on the flagstone. He picked them up as Holt was now glistening with a sheen of sweat on his body as wood was splitting and falling to the flagstone, Holt would stop, pick up more, place it on the block and go back to swinging. The pile about the block was growing as he kept working. Tomlin looked up and into the kitchen window and saw that three of the four women inside were watching Holt split. Tomlin smiled wider thinking that they may look at him, his beauty, but it was Tomlin that would enjoy him. Tomlin picked up the last of the items and went back down the path to the stable.
Dustin, Owen and Henry made their way into the village and came to the livery. They stood inside the tall doors and Dustin looked up, seeing the roof was mostly gone from above, having been destroyed. It hadn’t seemed to be as bad yesterday when the storm was raging as the great tree was filling most of the massive opening, but now with it being gone, it seemed that the building itself was so small with so much of it missing. Dustin looked over at Owen, who must have been thinking the same thing, as he had that hollow look on his face again. Dustin was holding Henry’s little hand. Owen stepped away from them, going into what was left of the livery ahead of them. Dustin looked left through the open walls, the one section that Callum had kicked out, and the other portion destroyed when the great tree came down, seeing men moving about out there and draft horses snorting, and the sounds of ropes groaning from going taut and the rattle of chains. The sounds of chopping could be heard as well. Dustin followed Owen toward the sounds, leading Henry by the hand.
Owen stepped through the livery and saw the house, the other great tree resting inside the open walls of the house. He saw men working, pulling branches and could hear chopping, then seeing the glint of axe blades in the sunlight, and he felt powerless to do anything as so many were about. Owen looked to his right and saw his father standing there, alone, shrunken. Owen stepped toward him and their eyes locked on one another.
Dustin led Henry through the livery and stopped, staying far back from the house and the activity of those that were working so hard, and he felt that he should try and help, if he could, then Dustin saw Callum, up in the tree, swinging the axe that he had in his hands, treating the tree like an enemy, going at it hard, throwing large chunks of wood with every other swing.
Dustin knelt down beside Henry, putting an arm around the little waist, pulling the boy to him and pointed toward Callum.
“See there?” Dustin said, “There is Quintan. He is working very hard, isn’t he?” Dustin asked, Henry nodded, and “We should stay out of the way and just watch for a bit. Maybe he’ll look up and see us.” Dustin was knelt down and balanced carefully, Henry sat on Dustin’s bent knee and watched silently, Dustin leaned closer to Henry’s ear, “Remember this Henry, remember this for the rest of your life, all these men working together like this to help our friends when they need it most.”
“Will he stop?”
“Quintan? When he is through, yes, or he drops from being worn out.” Dustin said.
“He is probably close to that right now, I would say.” The deep voice said from behind Dustin, Dustin looking up over his shoulder, his eyes going more than wide at the sight of the giant man who was there. Dustin moved Henry off his knee and stood up, turning to see him. The giant man looked down at him, and then Henry turned and saw him as well, backing up a few steps. “And who might you be?” The giant man asked. Dustin gulped hard.
“I am Dustin Perkins.”
“Ah, you’re the friend to Quintan.” The giant man smiled, Dustin could only nod, still with bugged eyes, “And this must be the boy that he talked about, his son.”
“Uh, yes…I suppose he would call him that,” Dustin said, “pardon my staring, sir, I have never seen anyone as big as you in my life.” Dustin said softly, the giant man chuckled.
“Worry not, I am told that all of the time.” He said and put out a hand. Dustin instinctively put out his as well, the giant hand swallowed it when it closed, giving a firm grip, “Wayne Daultry, I’m the lumber millwright.”
“A pleasure to meet you, sir, Quintan made mention of you last evening, but he didn’t say enough.” Dustin said, still with bugged eyes, he pointed back behind him, “This is Henry.” Dustin said and took his hand back. The giant man knelt down and put out his hand toward the little one. Henry looked scared, but the giant face smiled wide in reassurance. Dustin reached over and put a hand on the little shoulder and gently guided Henry forward. Henry looked at the giant hand and took only the index finger and wrapped his small fingers around it, as much as he could. The giant man chuckled again.
“Hello there, Henry.” He said in his deep voice and the little fingers let him go. The giant man looked into Dustin’s face for a moment as they were almost near eye to eye when this man was knelt down. “Have you come to see Quintan?”
“Yes, I needed to speak with him, but I see that he is working very hard.”
“He has been doing that. I have never seen anyone work the way he does, giving it his all like that. He has many of the other men running, just trying to keep up with him.”
“He has always been driven in that way, once he sets his mind to it, there is no stopping him.” Dustin said as he looked at his wonderful man atop the great tree, still swinging and sending chucks flying through the air.
“Is he this way aboard ship?”
“My heavens, no,” Dustin said, looking up at the giant man, “he’s worse.” Dustin said and then smiled, the giant man laughed out loud. Dustin laughed as well.
“Well, let me stop him before his heart pumps itself out of his chest.” The giant man stepped forward away from Dustin and Henry. Henry pulled on Dustin’s pant leg once, Dustin looked down and bent over.
“He’s scary.” Henry whispered.
“He’s just big. He seems like a very nice man.” Dustin whispered back.
“Quintan! There is someone who needs to speak with you!” The giant man said deep and loud. Dustin went wide eyed again hearing him. Callum looked over and stopped chopping. He walked down the trunk of the great tree and climbed down. He handed his axe over to another man and walked toward Dustin and Henry, seeing them there. Henry was all smiles as he came close.
“Hello, my lads.” Callum said, sweat pouring off his brow. He used his sleeve to wipe it off as Henry stepped forward to meet him. Callum reached down and picked him up, putting him on his hip. He tickled Henry once as he came close to Dustin, Henry was giggling and squirming. “Dustin, is anything wrong at the house?”
“No, we came into the village with Owen. I wanted to ask your opinion on a couple of matters and then to speak to you of a few other things.”
“Certainly, I could use a bit of a break.” Callum smiled at Dustin, and then looked at Daultry towering next to him, “If this task master will allow one.” Callum smiled. Daultry chuckled.
“It will be near an hour before the others can clear out what you have cut, Quintan. I would say that you have more than earned a break.”
“Thank you, my large friend.” Callum said up at him, he looked at Dustin, smiling wide, “And now, what was it you needed to talk to me of?”
“You made mention of having to get more wood for the stove,” Dustin said, Callum nodded, “also I noticed that there are not enough blankets for all to be had at the house. I heard Owen’s teeth chattering last night in the stable.” Dustin smiled, Callum smiled as well, “and I had another thought as well, possibly we should think of shutters on the stable, rather than the old blankets that we are currently using, in case there is another rain that might come. The mercantile has hinges, Owen has said, and between the group of us with the tools that are there at the stable, we could build them easily, if you agree.”
“My,…” Callum said, still smiling at Dustin, then looked up at Daultry, “this is what happens when I leave home for a bit. Ideas abound.” Callum looked back at Dustin, “By all means, if you think it would be better, then let’s do so. I hope we don’t have another storm such as yesterday in the near future, but with shutters up and in place, the horses might appreciate that far more. As far as the wood goes, I thought we had enough for a while?”
“Christian is splitting all of the rounds as we speak and is stacking it, with Thomas, I would assume, but I would hate to near run out with all that are there with us.”
“I agree.” Callum said, “you always to seem to ahead of it.”
“There is a reason for that now, and he sits on your hip.” Dustin said. Callum looked over and down at his little charge and smiled at him.
“Yes, he is worth it, isn’t he?”
“Indeed he is.” Dustin said, “And I almost forgot, we will need more straw as we used it all for the horses this morning in cleaning their stalls.”
“Well, let’s go over to the mercantile and see about you hinges first.” Callum said and looked up at his large friend, “Can you do without me for a bit?”
“I may not, but seeing the other men huffing and puffing to catch up with what you have done, I’m certain they can.” Daultry laughed. Callum chuckled and walked away with Dustin, carrying Henry on his hip still.
Holt was splitting the last round on the block, the sweat was running down him in beads to the waistband of his pants. He made his last swing, splitting the last piece as Tomlin was leaning against the wall of the house just admiring him in the morning sun, loving every moment of seeing the tight muscle as it flexed and moved in the soft smooth skin. Tomlin let out a silent sigh as Holt set the broad axe down. Tomlin looked over his shoulder as he heard the back door open behind him. The girl stepped out, holding a large cloth in her hand. Tomlin smiled at her, as she tried to look around him to see Holt. She held out the cloth to Tomlin and he took it.
“Thank you,” He said softly to her, and he turned toward Holt, carrying it out in his hand. He came beside Holt and handed it to him, “You seem to have admirers.” Tomlin whispered and nodded toward her. Holt leaned forward as he was wiping his face off and looked around Tomlin, she blushed and stepped back into the house. Holt looked in the window and the two older women started back to what they had been doing with kneading dough. Holt smiled at Tomlin.
“Are they the only ones I wonder?” Holt asked as he wiped his chest with the cloth. Tomlin growled in his throat. “Something tells me not.”
“I could watch you do this all day long. But now I feel that we have to stack all of it that you have split.”
“That would be part of it as well, yes.” Holt smiled, handing Tomlin back the cloth, “Would you dry my back for me?”
“Would you let me do something else to you?”
“Not here, Thomas, and certainly not right now. I will have to wash myself later so I do not stink up the straw tonight, or I might have to sleep outside the stable.” Holt smiled, Tomlin shook his head.
“It matters not what you think you smell like to me, Christian, I would take you anyway I could get you. If that means sleeping out in the open with you, then I am certainly up for it.”
“I’m certain you’re up for a number of other things as well, Thomas.” Holt said as Tomlin dried his back.
“You are a tease, Christian Holt, a devil and a tease.” Tomlin said as he threw the towel covering Holt’s entire head. Holt chuckled from under it.
Callum set Henry down as they walked out of the livery. Callum pointed over to the mercantile, and gave Henry a pat on the shoulder, letting him run ahead of them as Dustin and Callum went along behind him, walking. Henry reached the mercantile and waited for them as they came toward him and the little arm went around a post of the covered walkway near the door. Henry looked and saw other boys running around the square watching them as they yelled and laughed now and then. Dustin looked over and saw what Henry was looking at as Dustin walked with Callum. Callum looked and saw it as well, then smiled.
“Henry, maybe some of those lads will be at that school I was telling you about the other day.” Callum said as he stood in front of the little one.
“Yes, maybe they will.” Dustin said watching the other boys for a moment and then looked back at Henry, “Maybe we can find out where they live and you could meet them.” The little one looked scared for a moment, “I know what you’re thinking Henry, and I don’t think you have to worry about anything. They won’t try and take anything from you, they don’t have to. Remember, you have a home now and people who love you. Those boys have the same thing, I’m sure.”
“Yes, I’m sure of it.” Dustin said as he came next to him, “Come on, let’s go inside.” Dustin said, leading Henry along. Callum stood there and just watched Dustin, the way he was with the boy and it filled his heart with love for them both. Callum followed behind them into the mercantile.
“Mr. Saunders,” Callum said to the older man, “you remember Mr. Perkins from the other day?”
“Yes, how do you do, sir?” The older man asked. Dustin smiled back at him, with Henry standing there. “I see you have the young lad with you as well. Good morning, young master.”
“Hello.” Henry said, still nervous about shopkeepers.
“What may I do for you gentlemen?”
“We are in need of hinges for shutters for our stable.” Dustin said, “Owen said that you had them here.”
“I have several different types of hinges for shutters, would you care to follow me?” The older man said, turning. They followed him and were led over to cabinet. The older man showed them hinges that he thought would work. Dustin looked them over and picked out enough for the four window openings of the stable. Callum suggested some more tools might be in order as well for the building of them, a saw, hammers, a chisel as well. The older man asked about nails, showing them some cut nails to put the shutters together. Dustin thought some shorter ones would be fine and took them as well. Things were tallied and paid for, the older man provided a sack to put everything in for them, Dustin slung the heavy sack over his good shoulder and set off toward the door, thanking Saunders for everything. Callum lingered for a moment and asked if he had sent the requests they had spoken of earlier and he was told it was done. Callum thanked him again and took his hand and went to the door.
Outside, on the covered walk of the mercantile, Henry was petting a dog, a scruffy looking animal with very sad eyes. Dustin stood there just watching the two together, Callum came out of the mercantile and saw it happening in front of him and rolled his eyes. He walked up beside Dustin and cleared his throat.
“And what is this?” Callum asked.
“I am not certain, but when I came out, I found them like this.” Dustin said softly.
“I wonder who he belongs to.”
“I would say he belongs to your son.” Dustin said, giving Callum a side glance.
“According to your very giant friend, the millwright, your little one there was named as your son.”
“I never said that.” Callum said with a shocked look.
“Well, he assumes he is.”
“I spoke of the two of you, yes, I will not deny that, but I never said…now wait just a moment, would that be so bad?” Callum asked.
“Only if his mother were to show up and take up your arm.” Dustin said.
“I think we need to talk about this.”
“What is there to talk about?” Dustin asked, “You made a decision, I was not there, and now here we are.”
“You’re bothered by this?” Callum asked.
“Not in the least.” Dustin said, and looked at Callum, “You could not have consulted me before you made a decision about him. I understand that, and as I said to Owen earlier, Henry has given me a new focus in all of this. I see what you see in him, and I agree, he needed to be saved from his plight, and I for one agree with you in that, and I know that Martha shares in it as well, but know this, Quintan, he is not me, no more than I am him, regardless of how much we may look alike. He deserves to be loved for his own merit in this life, and you should not think for a single moment that you are making up for what has happened to me. He deserves to become your son, as much as if you’d fathered him yourself. He loves you more than you know. I see it in his eyes when he looks at you, it is as plain as the nose on your face.” Dustin turned and looked at Henry and then walked up next to him, “Let’s go home, Henry.” Dustin reached out a hand and the little one took it. They walked away together hand in hand, Callum leaned against the post and just watched them. The dog was sitting at Callum’s feet and then walked off the step and started to follow behind them by quite a few paces taking his time. Callum just shook his head.
“Are you alright, Quintan?” Owen asked as he walked up next to him.
“I just realized that I may be the most fortunate man on the face of the earth.” Callum said. They both watched Dustin and Henry walk across the square on their way toward home, the dog following them slowly as they walked on.
“Who does that dog belong to?” Owen asked.
“Apparently Henry.” Callum said as he looked over at Owen. Owen looked at him and smirked.
“I don’t know about you being fortunate. Martha will probably skin you because of the dog. Your fortune may have run out.” Owen said. Callum reached a hand up and put it Owen’s shoulder.
“I would have to tell you, my friend, you are very mistaken. You see that young man that is walking with my son? He is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
“In that, I would have to agree with you.” Owen smiled.
“And as far as the dog, I’m sure Henry can sweet talk her into it. Come, let us go and buy some straw. I want a lot as I am very sore and tired and feel the need for comfort tonight.” Callum said, the two walking away together toward the mill.