Amid Micah’s protest, Abigail ushered her son into the barn to finish the neglected chores. She couldn’t punish him; fear for his mother kept him glued to the porch. “I should’ve shot the stinkin’ man when he landed on top of you like that. Now you’re getting him all gussied up with some of Daddy’s clothes.”
“Daddy isn’t here, Micah, and I know you think it’s your place to protect me. But this time, you’ve got to trust me. I believe God sent Mr. Larsen so we wouldn’t have to leave the farm. We can’t continue working like we have since Daddy died. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.”
Micah muddled to himself as he stomped off to finish bedding down the mule and feeding Bessy. The cow’s milk had dried up, but she’d calve any day now. Soon they wouldn’t be forced to barter with the neighbors for milk and butter.
Abigail felt uneasy leaving the weak man in the tub alone, but after a bit, she’d send Micah to check on him. In the meantime, she’d pray for a miracle. She couldn’t wait weeks for her rescuer to recover, she needed him now.
First, she’d have to find a place for him to sleep. The loft wouldn’t work; he could barely walk, much less negotiate a steep ladder. Will’s workshop seemed the best possibility with the old woodstove he’d salvaged from a neighbor.
“Micah, we need to check on Mr. Larsen. I’ll wait out on the porch while you see if he’s dressed.”
Her son didn’t much like the idea, but did as she asked. Moments later, he stuck his head through the door, “Mom, he’s asleep in the tub.”
“What?” Abigail peeked in the window and sure enough, the man’s head drooped over his arm on the side of the tub. Thank God they arrived before he drowned. “Wake him up and hold the towel like I used to do for you.”
“You do it, Mama. I’m afraid of him.”
“Micah, you know very well that’s out of the question. You haven’t a choice. I’ll be right here if something should happen.”
Ben heard the whispering coming from the porch. He chuckled to himself, but waited to see if the boy would face his fears while wondering what the mother would do “if something should happen.” He was beginning to enjoy the scenario when the screen door slammed harder than normal and the boy stomped across the floor.
The mischievous side of Ben came flying out as he flicked water in the boy’s face. The reaction was not quite what he expected. “Mama, Mama, the hobo’s attacking me!”
Mama came running while Ben ducked as low in the tub as possible. “Micah, you scared me half to death. And you mister, get out of that tub and get dressed. . . err, after I leave.
The red-faced woman did a quick turnabout and headed toward the door while Ben nearly exploded to keep from roaring with laughter. He weakly lifted himself from the cooling water and reached for the towel she’d left on a chair. Dressing in record time, he opened the door to his distressed patrons.
Mrs. Marlowe seemed to be on her high horse. She had one hand on her hip and used the other as if it were a cattle probe to control her unruly subjects.”Okay, you two. Sit. Micah, please tell me why you thought Mr. Larsen was attacking you.”
The boy hung his head in shame while Ben debated how to rectify the situation. “Mrs. Marlowe, please forgive me, but it’s not Micah’s fault. I only wanted to lighten the mood a bit.”
“Just what did you do, Mr. Larsen?”
The anxious boy didn’t wait for Ben to answer, but jumped right in, “He scared me half to death. I thought he was asleep. He threw water in my face, Mama.”
The frustrated mother looked all around the floor and shook her head, “Well, he couldn’t have done much damage. There’s not a drop of water on this side and none on you. I believe our houseguest has a mischievous streak. No harm done, Micah. Go get the extra mattress from your room and we’ll put it on the floor in Daddy’s workshop. We have an early day tomorrow.”
As Ben surveyed the tidy room built into a corner of the barn and relaxed in the warmth of the freshly made fire, tears of gratitude trickled down his cheeks. At the thought of his benefactor, sympathy invaded his heart. The availability of adult male clothes suggested a recent loss. He began to understand why she looked past her fears and discomfort and welcomed the entrance of a potential strong back, albeit a stranger. Unbeknownst to her, he’d vowed never to set foot on a farm again. God, you certainly have a sense of humor.
The next morning at the first crow from the rooster, Ben was up and dressed. He knelt on the freshly swept floor and thanked God for the provision of this place despite his apprehensions. He didn’t know how long he’d stay, but the time he remained here, he was determined to earn his keep.
On a hook beside the door he found an old work jacket. The woman had thought of everything, including clean underwear and socks and sturdy boots that fit perfectly. He donned the warm coat and walked across the dew drenched grass while the rooster issued a final crow.
Ben knocked on the kitchen door and waited several minutes before a frazzled Mrs. Marlowe answered. The surprised look suggested she’d either forgotten him or didn’t expect his appearance at such an early hour. As his eyes roamed over her hurried attempt at dressing, he regretted her disregard for the rooster’s wake-up call. The buttons on her shirtwaist didn’t quite match their intended holes and her bare feet were missing their shoes. But her hair, oh my. It hung about her shoulders in soft blond waves giving her the appearance of the angel he’d labeled her from the beginning. He was in trouble and he knew it. Did she have to be so beautiful?
“Mr. Larsen, I know I said we had to get up early, but I expected you to rest, considering how sick you were when you arrived.”
“Good Morning, Mrs. Marlowe. Your hospitality has worked wonders. Though I remain slightly weak, I feel fine after a night of undisturbed rest on that soft mattress. I was warm for the first time in months. Now, I’m ready to start repaying my debt.”
The woman dismissed his intentions with the wave of her hand. “Never you mind the debt, but since we’ll be working together, you should call me Abigail.”
“Only if you call me Ben.”
“Come in, Ben, and have a cup of coffee while I get Micah up. We’ll eat breakfast after we pull some pumpkins.”
Abigail rushed past the hall mirror, but did an abrupt turn when the ghastly image flashed through her mind. No wonder the man stared at her with that look of bewilderment. Her frustration with the water incident had kept her from noticing how well he looked in her husband’s clothes. Heat spread through her body as her mind wondered far past the farm hand requested in her frantic prayer.
She anguished over the idea of being alone with Ben while Micah was in school. Unlike her fearful son who worried that the frail man would attack her, Abigail feared her own reaction to the handsome stranger. Despite his appealing good looks, in a few days, he’d be the able-bodied worker she requested and she’d be thankful for God’s provision.
Micah entered the kitchen rubbing his eyes and yawning dramatically, “I don’t know why I have to go to school today. I don’t feel so good.”
“You’d feel a whole lot better if you’d gone to bed on time. This is the last day before Thanksgiving break and we need to get a trailer of pumpkins out to the highway before you leave.”
“Perhaps that’s something Micah and I could do while you prepare breakfast?”
Abigail looked at Ben, surprised as he stood from the table and took his cup to the sink. “Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Like I said before, I feel fine. If your son shows me what to do, I’m pretty sure we can handle it.”
As Abigail watched Ben and Micah hitch up the mule to the wagon and head for the pumpkin patch, she felt Will’s presence and approval. It felt as if a weight had lifted from her shoulders as she stepped back and allowed her unexpected guest to relieve her of the responsibility. She hardly knew what to do first as she looked about her kitchen. Her eyes landed on the Bible neglected for days. Come away, Beloved and be with me.
With a heart filled with love and gratitude, Abigail poured herself a cup of coffee, reclaimed her dust covered book and sat in a chair at the table. For the first time in months, she felt at peace, with God and herself.
(To be continued.)