Early spring 1860
Rebecca stood at the kitchen sink gazing out the window. She was in the midst of the big spring housecleaning they did every year. Lenore, Delilah, Susan, Dina, and Nancy from the Franklin house were up to their elbows in beating rugs, cleaning the chandeliers, scrubbing the floors and walls and all the other chores that got done only at specific times of the year.
They took a week at one house, then a week at the other. Last week they’d cleaned the Franklin house to the point that Eli joked he would have his dinner off the floor.
Rebecca continued with the lunch dishes. The others had gone back to work, and she took this quiet time to reminisce and muse over the happy path her life had taken five years earlier.
It had all started with a letter to a stranger. It had brought her immeasurable happiness.
She heard her husband’s boots as he walked down the back stairs. He’d gone to change out of his work shirt before lunch. After, he’d gone back upstairs to change into a clean one, Rebecca ruminated. There was still a very long half day still left to go. She didn’t expect that any of them would see their pillows before ten or eleven o’clock that night.
It amused her. When she’d been in domestic service she’d thought nothing of working until eleven o’clock most nights and waking the following morning at five.
After a year of that, she’d been promoted and had an extra day off each month which she could take in whatever increments she’d wanted. She thought she’d been given a luxurious gift, and she supposed that she had. Most servants had two Saturdays off each month, every Sunday morning for church, and every other Sunday afternoon.
Here Rebecca was the mistress of the house. But things were different in the west. Everybody chipped in, and the maids were a part of the family. They all worked side by side. Rebecca thought it was a wonderful way to live.
She dipped a sudsy plate into the rinse water and continued with her thoughts.
It had been four years since she’d married Seth. Four glorious years. Their little Bobby was growing like a weed. She shook her head when she considered that he was already two and a half years old. He was starting to talk, and the little one’s curiosity knew no bounds.
Seth’s boots continued through the short hall and into the kitchen.
Feeling saucy, Rebecca didn’t turn around but continued washing the dishes as if no one else was in the room.
In a moment she felt her husband’s arms snake around her waist. Her knees trembled, and she marveled. Her husband had an entirely pleasing effect on her as his hands rested on her growing round belly.
“How are my darling wife and child this afternoon?” He kissed her neck and whispered in her ear. She could feel her face flush.
“I love you too, Seth, my love.”
He stayed where he was as she continued with the dishes. She leaned back into him slightly, relishing the heat of his body against her back.
She rinsed the last plate and turned to him, messing up his blond hair, getting soap suds in it as she did so. She laughed and kissed him, her still wet hands finding the spot on the back of his neck that she loved.
Her breath left her, and she reluctantly pulled her lips from his. They stood together, arms wrapped around one another, locked in a timeless embrace.
Rebecca slowly removed her right hand and worked it down his arm and reached behind herself. She dipped her hand into the soapy water and brought it back around.
Seth suddenly released his arms and jumped back away from her. “A-ha! I felt you move your arm, heartless wench.”
Rebecca dissolved into a mass of laughs and giggles. “Foiled again!”
He pulled her to himself again and kissed her once more. “When is my son up from his nap, darling?”
“What time is it, love?”
Seth took out his watch from his vest pocket. “It’s just one.”
“He should be awake now, actually. He’ll be mighty happy to see his da in the middle of the day.”
“Well, I’d like to take him out today, darling.”
“How nice! And where will you go?”
“Well, I want to ask you first, but I think it’s time. I’d like to introduce young Robert to his great grandpa.
His namesake. I’d like to take him up to the graveyard. I want to take Eli as well. That is with your permission. I don’t think he’s too young to learn about Robert.”
“I think it’s a lovely idea, Seth. No, he’s not too young. Not at all.”
“I’m glad you approve.”
“Approve? I think it’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing the idea with me.
Bobby knows Delilah and Lenore. It’s time he starts learning about the others in your, um, our family.”
“I agree. And I’d like you to teach all of us of your mother, Moira. I want you to share the details of your childhood with me. When you’re ready, of course.”
It occurred to Rebecca that she rarely spoke of her mother or of her life in Ireland. There were few bright spots in a realm of memories where darkness and sorrow prevailed.
“Why, I never thought about it. I feel as if Mam knows little Bobby. I feel her with me sometimes, Seth. She hasn’t left me. I think she’s protected me always. I think it was my mother who helped me escaped from Tony York when he kidnapped me. My mother knew you would come to me and rescue me.”
“She must have been a strong woman.”
“She was. She raised me alone. My da died, he was killed, when I was no more that Bobby’s age. She loved my father very much. She never remarried in spite of the fact that she never lost her looks or her mind. She held true to her faith and that and me were all she needed. I wish everyday that she was here, in person, with us.”
“I wish the same, darling.”
“Until I start telling Bobby about Mam, I’m very happy you’re going to let him know about Robert. He was such a kind man.”
Seth grinned and raised his eyebrows. “You think so?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. He was tough, but no one can deny that he was kind.”
“You’re right. He was kind. Everything he did was, in his way, in the better interests of those he loved. Even when he practically forced, no he actually did force, Wiley to keep me in jail that time.
“He didn’t know you were enroute to Michaelson. I’d wanted to surprise him. I wanted to show him that I was worthy of being the next to run the farm.”
“Which you then turned around and made into a double ranch along with your father’s land.”
“But there I was in jail. And when I saw you for the first time, I thought I’d just about die.”
“I knew you weren’t the criminal the sheriff and his deputy made you out to be.”
“And I’m forever grateful you didn’t listen when Wiley told you I might take after my father and leave you one day.” Seth laughed.
“He was figuring things out. I never held it against him because he actually was genuinely thinking of me. I’d had little of that since I’d been in America. But here we are today, my love. And everything has worked out. Tony York went to Italy as promised, and I had a letter from his mother just last week that he’s gotten married to an Italian countess or something of the sort. She said he’s very happy.”
“Which makes me happy as I never have to worry about him coming to Michaelson ever again.”
He took Rebecca’s hand and kissed it.
“Here’s Mam and Da!” Dina entered the kitchen holding Bobby’s hand.
“Mam!” The little boy ran to his mother and threw himself at her legs hugging himself against her skirt.
Rebecca laughed. “How would you like to go with Da, Bobby? Da and Granddaddy?”
He nodded his head with great seriousness, his large green eyes turning to his father.
Seth scooped the boy up in his arms. “How would you like to ride with me on Corky, Bobby.”
“Yes, please.” Bobby smiled and clapped his hands.
Seth leaned toward Rebecca and kissed her. “We’ll be back for supper.”
“Take this, love.” Rebecca handed him a hamper that contained clean diapers, a small blanket, a bonnet, and a bottle of milk and some sweet biscuits.
“He’s had a snack in the nursery, ma’am.” Dina smiled at the little one.
“Thank you, Dina.”
“So give Dina and Mammy a kiss, Bobby.”
Seth took the boy first to Dina and then Rebecca took his little face in her hands and kissed him on the end of his nose.
“We’ll be back for supper.” He kissed Rebecca again, nodded to Dina, and went out by the side door.
Ten minutes later, Rebecca watched as the two loves of her life rode across the prairie in their new buggy.
Seth drove to the Franklin side of the ranch. Clouds had rolled in, and he was glad he had the covered buggy. Bobby sat beside him on the seat, the boy’s curious eyes took in the land and sky and clouds.
The wind began to whip up a bit. Seth decided that maybe a trip to the family graveyard should wait. It was no use getting soaked. He could tell his son about Robert Franklin in the home the man had lived the better part of his life in. Yes. That was the better idea. The graveyard could wait until another time. Tonight would be for telling stories and answering any questions the boy might have.
They pulled up to the front of the house. Lenore and Delilah were sitting on the porch. The quilt frame had been set up, and the ladies were taking advantage of the daylight to get as much of the quilt done as possible.
Seth hopped down from the buggy and lifted his son as well. He carried the tyke as they approached the porch.
“You two had best hurry. You see those clouds up yonder?” He pointed to the sky.
“Clouds.” Bobby copied his father and pointed up and the ladies laughed and left their seats to welcome the baby.
Seth handed him to Lenore. “Where’s Eli?”
“He’s inside. He was just getting his boots back on after soaking his feet. He says it allows him to work longer.”
“Well, work is over for the day. Today Eli and I are going to discuss Robert with my little man here.”
Delilah clasped her hands in front of her heart. “How nice. Oh, Seth, I’m so glad you’ve thought of doing that. I was so fearful we were never going to speak of my dear husband again unless Bobby might ask about him. When that sort of thing happens then the children are afraid to ask because no one has ever said anything. Do you know what I mean?”
Lenore put her hand on Delilah’s arm. “Never fear, Mama. Seth has it all figured out. Little Bobby will know all the members of his family. Even if they’re not sitting with us at supper.”
“Thank you, Seth.” Delilah kissed Bobby on the cheek and put him down. “Go to your da, sweetie.”
Seth caught the boy’s hand and walked with him inside the house and into the parlor where Eli was doing a little reading before heading back out to the range.
“Well, well, well. Who do we have here?”
“Grandpa.” The boy tore his hand from Seth’s and ran to Eli. He scampered up into the man’s lap.
“I want to share stories of his great grandfather with him, Pa. I want him to understand the importance of family. I want him to know about those who have gone ahead to God’s kingdom. I want Bobby to know Robert.”
Eli chuckled. “You sure about that, Seth?”
“Pa! I understand now what Grandpa was doing my whole life, but especially after you left Ma and me.”
“He was trying to make you tough, son. He was trying to be a father in my place. I resented him for years because of it. I’m only thankful I had the opportunity to make things right with him before he passed. I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to make it right with you and Rebecca.” He gazed at his grandson in his lap. “To think I could have missed this.”
“I don’t think Grandpa would have let that happen, Pa.”
“You’re most likely right.”
“You remember when I was in jail? That last time?”
“I do. I came back because John Irons wrote me that you were in deeper trouble than you’d ever been in before.”
“It wasn’t John Irons who wrote you.”
“What do you mean? Of course it was. I still have the letter. I can prove to you it’s in his script.”
“In his script yes, but Grandpa dictated that letter to John.”
“Is that so? And how do you know that?”
“He told Rebecca. I don’t know how it came to light, but it did. He begged her not to tell me or anyone, and she promised. She didn’t tell me until a few months after he’d passed.”
“Grandpa saw the light fading in Ma’s eyes. He saw me either biting off more than I could chew with the ranches or getting into trouble in town. He tried to help me the best way he knew how. He tried to help you. He knew you wouldn’t read a letter from him. So, he asked John for the favor. And the secret. He wanted to help on many fronts.”
“I’d say he succeeded. Between him and Rebecca, our family was saved. I know my grandson. I am friends withyou, my only child. And I was given the opportunity to have a relationship with Robert that was devoid of animosity at the end. The way we were before I foolishly left Michaelson.”
“Rebecca and Grandpa had an unusual way about them. They really understood each other. And that’s how they were able to save our family.”
Eli nodded. “Yes, that’s absolutely right.” He tousled little Bobby’s hair.
“And please don’t think that Rebecca or I could ever forget what you did, Pa.”
“Me? I didn’t do anything. Everything was due to your mother. She accepted me back into her life with open arms. She still loved me. It was almost as if I’d never left. I didn’t know such love existed . And I know I will never leave your mother again. Not until God calls me home. Lightning doesn’t strike three times.”
“I suppose you have a point. If Ma hadn’t accepted you back, then you wouldn’t necessarily have gone to New Haven to find Rebecca. But you did go. You talked her into coming back. That and nothing else could have brought us back together.”
“Well, then, we all played our parts to perfection because all I can say, Seth, is that I‘ve never been this happy in my life. Maybe the first two years with you and your mother. When we were newly married, and you were just a little one like Bobby here. I was very happy. But then I became afraid I might be missing something.
“Not women, mind you. I had no use for pretty flights of fancy. I never stopped loving your mother. But I didn’t want to be, what I viewed then as, tied down. I needed to be free. Little did I know I was free already. I thought I couldn’t be free, be myself, with a family in tow. How wrong I was. And how fortunate I am that your mother still loves me,”
“I expect to take full advantage of the many blessings that come from being part of such a loving family, Seth.”
“Our family is my greatest joy, Pa. Because of everything that’s happened in the last few years I’m entirely determined to live my life making sure to allow each day with my family to be better than the day before. I intend to make my time with all of you count as if it is the most valuable of gifts. Because it is. And it’s my promise to God and my promise to myself that I will never turn away from any of you. Not ever.