Saturday, May 06, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Ch. 6

With her belly nice and full and with all of her guests gone, Halona decided to take a ride into town. Although she usually visited the orphanage every other Sunday and called at least twice a week, she had a hankering for more honest-to-good fun with people that appreciated her. If anyone in town appreciated the things Halona did, it was those wonderful orphans she sponsored. Not to forget the fact that they helped the country heiress with her plaguing loneliness.

Halona started the orphanage right after her father passed, when she was first besieged by a sudden onset of extreme loneliness. Not only did she feel like an orphan herself at the time, she was also deeply disturbed by the plight of the children on the orphan train that regularly passed through their town.

Though some orphaned children were taken in by caring relatives or neighbors when their parents met with illness or accidents, a great many wasn’t. In large eastern cities all those parentless children proved to be a big problem.

To solve their orphan problem, these cities regularly uprooted the children and transported them by train to Midwest states. The westbound train brought thousands of orphans to rural communities like Miskito. Once there, the farm families came to the station to look the children over. Many childless couples received children this way. Families that had lost children due to misfortune found solace this way as well by adopting foster kids.

That was all fine and well for the children that found loving homes after such a long frightening trip across country. But for those that didn’t, and eventually ended up in indentured servitude in some faraway place, life became even more miserable. Older boys, who were strong enough for the fields, were worked like grown men from sunup to sundown. Older girls were required to help farm women with endless chores and often were subjected to lecherous men.

When Halona got wind of the orphans’ plight through a sermon that was preached at her church, she decided to do something about it. Now when the orphan train stopped in their town, it seldom left with a single child on it. Halona either found a caring home for them through the adoption services at the orphanage she started or she housed them right there at the facility in Miskito until they were old enough to take care of themselves.

Sonny was one of the first orphans to stay at The Miskito Orphanage. He was sixteen at the time and so ready for a new life after experiencing homelessness and extreme hunger in New York. Halona tried to help the lad any way she could and when he turned eighteen, she gave him his first real job.

Speaking of Sonny, he was the first one to greet Halona when she walked into the front door of the three-story orphanage. “Hey, M…M…Miss Halona. What b…b…brings you this way today?” the nineteen-year-old asked with a smile. Sonny had a slight stuttering problem, but for the most part could be easily understood.

Halona smiled affectionately at the brown-haired young man. “You for one. I wanted to see how that leg was doing.”

Sonny steadied the wooden crutches under his armpits and lifted his bandaged foot up just a bit from the shiny hardwood floor. “D…D…Doc says it’s doing fine. Not too much pain today, either. I should be as good as new by summer’s end.” His smile faded. “S…Sorry I won’t be there to help with the harvest though.”

Halona ruffled his hair like an older sister would to a young brother. “Let me worry about the harvest. You just worry about getting better, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sonny replied without even the hint of a stutter as his smile quickly returned. How could it not return when he had such an understanding boss lady?

Not only had Halona allowed him to continue living at the orphanage even though he’d passed the eighteen year mark, she also insisted on paying him two-thirds of his regular wages despite the fact that he won’t be able to return to work for months. She even bought Sonny a set of adventure books to read in order to help pass the time away.

“Good. Now where are those kids of ours? It seems a mite too quiet around here if you ask me.” Halona looked around the foyer and staircase area in search of the twenty kids that she sponsored. They were usually going up and down the carpeted stairs for something or the other all day until their 8pm bedtime.

“M…M…Mrs. Cable took them all out back to work off some of their energy before bath and bed time. It’s s…summer time and everybody got ants in their pants,” Sonny replied. If his foot wasn’t busted up, he would be out there with them, too. Despite his injured limb and the fact that he was now an honorary orphan mentor, Sonny hadn’t lost his youthful zest for life. Besides, he loved the game of baseball.

“Well, come on, man. Let’s go outside and join the fun,” Halona said with an excited wave of the hand. She loved baseball, too. She even loved the more juvenile games like Andy-over, hide and seek, keep away, and kick the can.

“Yes, ma’am.” A smiling Sonny couldn’t move those crutches fast enough.

~~<<>>~~

Having returned Cimarron back to the livery an hour ago after that long, yet very interesting fishing trip with Sheriff Birch, Adam decided to take a leisurely walk around town. It had gotten even cooler outside now, making it perfect weather for a good stretch of the legs.

Adam chose to walk along the back streets of the small town instead of along Main Street. Any city could make a place look good from the front. The real test of a township was how well it maintained its alleys and byways.

So far, Miskito had passed every other test Adam could come up with. The buildings and homes were well-maintained, the people were genuinely friendly to strangers, and although racial tension did exist, it was not openly practiced. Plus, besides often being outnumbered by the non-whites around them, most Miskito whites were willing to accept people for what they could do rather than where their ancestors came from.

The only problems Adam could find with the town lie in the fact that it didn’t have a fire department, library, or equitable newspaper. Its current publication leaned more towards gossip than news and was only published on a weekly basis.

Adam also thought it a problem that the people of Miskito seemed to rely too heavily upon the generosity of the Ackermans. Whenever a new idea came up at the popular eatery he frequented, a petition to Halona was usually mentioned soon thereafter. And yet none of them ever mentioned inviting her to their homes for dinner or extended tokens of gratitude for what her family had already done for their town.

Halfway down the back of Main Street, Adam realized that Miskito had passed the clean city test as well. The backs of the buildings were just as neat as the fronts. The only exception was the orphanage two buildings away. And even that wasn’t untidy with refuse. Instead it was littered with children, about twenty in all.

To Adam’s amazement, Halona Ackerman was also in the orphanage’s backyard, and playing a rowdy game of baseball no less. She was dressed in her usual casual wear of denims, flannel shirt, and leather moccasins. Her hair was loose and flowing deliciously free as she ran around the bases after hitting a homerun for the young man on the crutches. And the healthy blush on Halona’s cheeks could not be bought in any store or ordered from any catalog. That kind of blush came from having good, old honest fun.

This woman is truly something else, Adam mused with a secret smile as he took a side street and made his way back to his hotel. He’d seen all he needed to see of Miskito today.

~~<<>>~~

Adam showed up at the vast Ackerman farmland bright and early on Monday morning. Not only had he barely gotten any sleep last night, he had to force himself to wait until just before daybreak to leave the hotel. The cause of this unrest? Adam had been overly anxious to see Halona again. The clean version of Halona, even if it did come in men’s trousers.

Hearing the dogs bark outside for the briefest of moments, Halona swiftly put on her other boot, left her royal-blue decorated bedroom and made her way to the front door. Enroute she grabbed her handy rifle from its usual resting place on the shelf to the right of the front door.

Halona never went to the door without some form of protection these days. Especially with all the strange things that had been happening around her farm lately. Either someone was trying to sabotage this year’s harvest or make her too scared to stay on her own property. Neither would work if Halona Ackerman had anything to say about it.

Peeking through the window shade of the parlor, Halona saw none other than the auburn-haired man from yesterday. He was getting off of a brown speckled horse with the finesse of a born and raised country boy.

Halona waited until he was coming up the stairs before she gingerly opened the door. And even then she allowed only enough room for her rifle to squeeze through, pointing it directly at the man’s chest. No matter how handsome this man was, if he was up to no good, then he was going to be shot…today.

“State your business,” Halona gruffed out. And why did those blasted dogs stop barking? she mused, silently noting how docile her animals were behaving around the man’s feet.

Halona had never known for Aponi, Elan, and Jacy to get so quiet so soon in the presence of a stranger. The only people they didn’t continuously bark at were those they knew, with the exception of her uncle. Halona’s dogs had never liked Uncle Eamon even when they were puppies. If the truth be known, she didn’t really like her uncle all that much, either.

What a welcome, Adam mused as he held both hands high in the air and followed the barrel of the rifle to its owner’s face. If only the sun was higher in the sky than he could really see how beautiful she looked in full light.

Adam fought not to grin at the fire blazing in Halona’s dark suspicious eyes. No doubt this unique lady would be just as fiery in other areas of her life. He planned to find out one day.

“My name is Adam Thorpe and I came looking for a job, ma’am,” Adam said with a dashing smile. He certainly looked prepared for field work in his sturdy denims, black work boots, and gray flannel shirt.

Little did Halona know, but Adam was just as prepared on the inside for outdoor labor. Not only had he read up on a farmer’s life in countless books before ever coming to Miskito, he also had those four summers on an English farm to fall back on. While in boarding school, the headmistress had repeatedly invited Adam to her family’s farm in England upon realizing that he had no real family to speak of. Adam had enjoyed those summers with the now deceased Mrs. Blair and they would always be fond memories for him.

At the man’s perfect smile, Halona’s jaw dropped, a fluttering began in her stomach and she actually felt lightheaded for a moment. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision and to refocus her thoughts.

“Come again?” Halona wanted to make sure she’d heard correctly since her ears might be acting just as strange as the rest of her body right now.

“I said, I came for a job. I’m new in town and I need to find work if I’m going to stay in town,” Adam said, telling a half-truth. As a lawyer, he was good at only revealing what was necessary to win a case.

Adam actually had enough money to live off of via the monthly stipend he received from his father. Yet that was only while he was in this town. The life (rent and other necessities) he had in New York still needed to be maintained from afar and he wasn’t about to go into his savings to do it. That money was already spoken for.

“But you’re too pretty to work on a farm,” Halona suddenly blurted out. I can’t believe I just said that, she mused, wanting to slap some sense in her own self for that outburst.

Adam chuckled, unaware that the sound of his deep voice was sending ripples of delight up and down Halona’s spine. “I could say the same for you, too, ma’am. If you pardon my candor.”

“Wh…what I meant to say was, you don’t appear to be a man acquainted with hard labor,” she replied, starting to sound like Sonny. Except Halona’s stuttering derived purely from the awkwardness of being so close to such a handsome man.

“Oh, what would make you say that?” Adam’s smile was adorably lop-sided now as he leaned against the doorframe. He appeared to have no fear of being shot now, despite the rifle still pointing at his chest.

“Your nails are too clean, your hands too smooth, and those fine clothes I saw you in after church yesterday just reeks of big city life.” Uh-oh, did I just let him know that he was memorable to me? Halona mused, wondering if she should just kick herself now and not wait until later. At least that would be better than the way she kept putting her foot in her mouth at present.

Adam looked pleased that he’d made such a lasting impression on Halona. Very pleased. “I am from the city. New York City to be exact, but I came out west to have a change of pace. My clothes from yesterday reflected my old life. The clothes I have on today reflect the new life I desire. If you’ll just give me a chance, ma’am, you’ll find me to be a hard worker, a person to catch on quick to things, and someone who really wants to put his hands to the plow and not look back.”

Adam could have received an award for that speech, especially after throwing in a bit of the Bible at the end there. But weren’t the best lies the ones with the truth mixed in with them?

Halona slowly lowered her rifle to her side. Her face remained neutral, not giving any of her emotions away even though there were plenty of them present. “You talk mighty pretty as well. I’ll give you a one week try-out, starting today. If I find that you can’t keep up by Friday, I’ll issue your wages and your walking papers at the same time. Okay?”

“Okay.” Adam released a low sigh of relief.

“Oh yeah, one other thing. On this farm all people are equal and should be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of their color or gender. If you don’t like it, then you can just leave now and never come back,” Halona said, speaking in a frank voice.

“I have no problems with people that are different from me,” Adam replied, relaying the whole truth in that statement. He just hadn’t had much success with others accepting the differences in him. At least the few that knew about the differences in him.

“Good, then we’ll be starting on the east end of the property in thirty minutes. Be sure to bring a hat to shield you from the sun. And Marilu has some ointment to keep that fair skin of yours from burning,” Halona concluded, before promptly closing the front door in his face. There was nothing else to say here. Especially since they both needed to finish getting ready for work.

Taking no offense to having the door practically slammed in his face, Adam walked off the porch with an even wider smile on his lips. Even his steps were lighter as he made his way back to his horse. The first part of Adam’s new plan had gone well and he was ecstatic about it.

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

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