The Stranger at the Door (Part IV)

Ben understood Micah’s reluctance to leave his mother alone with a stranger, but Abigail rushed him out the door despite his arguments. She stood still as a statue waiting while her son sprinted down the lane. Minutes after the bus moved on down the country road, she came back to the house with tears clouding her vision.

“I’m sorry he’s giving you such a hard time. It’s confusing to him when he sees another man in his father’s clothes, taking his place at the table and doing the work his father used to do. Please be patient with him.”

Abigail seemed to understand the difficulties of the morning without his revisiting the issue. No need to distress her further. He’d never experienced more anger or lack of cooperation even from his stubborn father-in-law. The soft answer didn’t seem to work, nor did the firm reprimand he finally issued. The boy was determined to dislike Ben no matter how hard he worked or how much he longed to be his friend.

Ben hated to see Abby upset, but he didn’t know how to improve the situation without leaving the farm. “I should get to work. Tell me what to do first.”

“Since you’re still weak from the fever, perhaps we could shuck and shell the corn that Micah and I have already gathered.”

When Ben walked into the small shed overflowing with ears of dry corn, he wondered how he’d survive working in close proximity to the appealing woman. Even with her hair pulled back in a tight bun, his mind lingered on the way she looked earlier. Those flowing locks of golden hair wouldn’t disappear from his vision as he breathed in the scent of lilac surrounding her. Her presence alone seemed to sweeten the dusty corn crib. Abigail appeared clueless to the effect she had on him as she made herself comfortable on the floor and commenced shucking corn.

“Why don’t I work here alone. Surely you have chores to do in the house.”

Abigail continued to sit as if hesitant to leave. “Abigail, I assure you I know how to shuck corn and I also have sufficient strength to turn the crank on the sheller.”

Amid her spouting instructions, pointing to the burlap bags in the corner and the stool where he should sit, he grabbed her by the arms and lifted her from the floor. The surprised look she gave him gradually turned into a smile so tempting, he had to get away from her before he lost the ability to think straight. He took her by the elbow and carefully eased her out the door.

~~~

Leaving Ben to work alone had been difficult. Not that he needed her, but Abigail found herself wanting to be near him. Now that he smelled squeaky clean, she felt drawn to the person hidden beneath the thick layer of dirt and filth. Not only was he dashingly attractive, but he had an air of confidence coupled with sincere kindness. He seemed keen on many subjects and didn’t hesitate to express his opinion. She only wished her son could overcome his fears and see someone other than a foul-smelling hobo.

Abigail didn’t know when it happened, but as butterflies did a dance in her abdomen, she realized she had feelings for Ben Larsen. She’d been in love with her husband so long, she didn’t think anyone could ever take his place. Regardless, the man had moved from a stranger to someone capable of capturing her heart in a few short hours. If he could see the thoughts jumping around in her head, he’d consider her a crazy woman with no sense of propriety. What did it matter? She expected him to leave at the first opportunity. Where would she be then?

Unsettled thoughts continued to plague her throughout the morning as she sifted through the garden for overlooked vegetables and heated water to wash clothes. Both bedrooms overflowed with dirty laundry and she didn’t remember when the sheets had been changed. Before she knew it, the clock struck the noon hour and she hadn’t even started dinner. She’d have to come up with something in a hurry.

One o’clock had come and gone before Abigail went to the corn crib to get Ben. He was covered in dust from the shucks, but her heart leaped at the sight of him. Her attraction to the man was so powerful and sudden that she felt confused and frustrated. But, how would she make him love her back?

~~~

Ben looked up when he heard the squeak of the door. “Abby, how was your morning?” It was only natural to shorten her name; he’d done the same for Elizabeth. And Abby seemed perfect for someone who turned the most mundane jobs into pleasure. Besides, she made him smile.

“I was so busy, I almost forgot to cook dinner. That’s why I’m here. I guess you thought I planned on starving you. There’s a place to wash at the pump. I’ll put the food on the table.”

The sheets flapping in the breeze confirmed Abby’s busy morning. Ben looked at the position of the sun and wondered why the woman thought she was late for dinner. Another taste of the delicious leftover soup would’ve sufficed for a quick lunch, but as he neared the kitchen door and caught a whiff of the aroma coming from that “dinner,” he changed his mind. Regardless of the term, his stomach grumbled in approval.

When they were seated at the table, Ben felt so blessed, he asked to say grace. Abby’s hand lay between them on the table and he captured it in his own without thinking. He waited in silence for a moment to refocus before clearing his throat. “Thank you, Lord, for Abby’s generous heart and for bringing me to this place. You’ve provided abundantly for us and we’re grateful. Guide our thoughts, words, and actions for the remainder of this day. Bless Micah at school and soften his heart toward me. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.”

As he released Abby’s hand, he heard her sniff and realized she was crying. “Abby, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, really. I’m just so grateful that God sent such a wonderful man to my door. Forgive me. Let’s eat before the food gets cold.”

Ben wanted to protest, but smiled instead and began filling his plate with the appetizing meal. He’d just started eating when he heard the distinct sounds of a model T coming up the lane. At the knock on the back door, Abby rose from the table. She looked at him with concern, probably thinking something had happened to Micah. “Reverend Wilson, come in. We were about to eat if you’d care to join us.”

“I’ve already had my dinner. Thank you. Perhaps a glass of sweet tea if you have some.”

Ben had stood cautiously when the man entered the room, waiting for an introduction. A feeling of unease swept over him when he noticed the minister taking his measure. For some reason, he felt guilty as if he didn’t belong.

Before he could do anything but squirm, Abby continued in her pretense of happiness. “Sweet tea it is, but first I’d like to introduce you to my visitor, Ben Larsen. He’s agreed to help Micah and me finish the harvest. Ben, this is our pastor and dear friend, Reverend Wilson.”

After they shook hands and were seated, the minister cleared his throat and addressed Abby. “Abigail, I’ll get right to the point. Micah went to school today and told everyone that his mother invited a hobo to live with them. He said he expected to find you dead when he returned home from school.”

“What am I going to do with that boy and his wild imagination?” If Abigail showed signs of concern before, she now looked about ready to faint.

“I’m afraid your son had the whole school in an uproar and the principal found it necessary to get me involved. I see you’re quite alive and well and your visitor seems like a nice man. What brings you to North Carolina, Mr. Larsen?”

“To tell you the truth, the last state I remembered was Tennessee. Until this moment, I didn’t realize I’d traveled that far. My wife passed a few months ago and my father-in-law no longer wanted me around. He blamed me for killing his daughter and I felt tempted to agree with him. Elizabeth died giving birth to our child who survived only a few hours longer than her mother.

“I’m not certain what more I could’ve done, but the grieving man forced me to leave his farm the day after the funeral. I was educated in Boston and took a teaching position in a school in rural Pennsylvania. When I fell in love with my wife, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to learn to farm, especially from a controlling man like Libby’s father. I didn’t have anything to call my own, not even a penny in my pocket when I left on foot working my way east. My last conscious thought was a prayer of surrender, asking God to give me the grace to forgive Libby’s father and allow me to die in peace.”

“How did you happen to come here, of all places?”

“That remains a mystery, sir. I believe God brought me. My last recollection was in a cold boxcar, sick with fever and chills. Last night, I came to my senses in this very kitchen. Mrs. Marlow has been more than kind to me, but I don’t wish to cause her any trouble. I’ll be on my way if you could give me a ride to the nearest main roadway.”

“You can’t leave us, Ben. You’re the answer to my prayer. We need you to help finish the harvest.” Abby began to cry. She looked at him with such longing, it made him realize how much he wished to stay.

The minister cleared his throat and addressed them both, “I see the problem, Abigail, but I also know this community. They won’t accept an unmarried man living here, even if he makes his bed in the barn. I have a suggestion that might seem unorthodox for two people who barely know each other, but it could be a solution. I believe you, Ben, when you say God led you here and I believe you, Abigail, when you say Ben is the answer to your prayer. Also, I’ve noticed that you seem to care for one another. You should marry as soon as possible.”

Ben gasped in shock before he glanced at Abby. When he realized her reaction, he looked back in disbelief. The woman was smiling as if she’d been presented a wonderful gift. As for him, he didn’t know how he felt. This would mean another farm to work without the benefit of ownership and no hope of ever finding his way back to his original plan. But what if his original plan wasn’t God’s plan? And, he couldn’t deny his feelings for the woman.

“I suggest you spend a few days praying about this, and Ben, you should try to make friends with Micah. I’m afraid the boy sees you as “a no good tramp.”

Reverend Wilson grinned as he stood to leave. “I don’t envy you, son. You’ve got your work cut out for you.”

~~~

Abby ran into Ben’s arms the moment she heard the car crank outside. She had to stand on tiptoes to reach behind his neck, but as her head cradled against his heart, she heard its rapid beat mimicking her own. She knew he was attracted to her, but she wanted more. She’d make him fall in love with her and the sooner the better. It was the perfect answer and she planned to nag him until he agreed.

Abby didn’t have long to wait. Ben wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a tight embrace. Any reservations he had seemed to dissolve with the feel of her pressing close to his heart. Her tears wet his shirt as he pulled her tighter. When he didn’t say anything, she leaned away enough to read his expression. Ben took her face in his hands and kissed her tentatively at first, but then with a passion so raw, she couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t understand how this happened so fast, but I do love you. Marry me, Abby.”

~~~

God’s plan for Abby and Ben seemed to be taking longer than Ben originally thought. He’d insisted they wait to marry until Micah gave his blessing. At times, it seemed an impossible hurdle. They looked like any other couple when they attended church on Sunday and Ben marveled at the patience of the minister who seemed anxious to perform the ceremony. Micah’s attitude hadn’t improved and if anyone noticed, he made certain they knew how he felt.

At the close of the service, the principal of the school came forward and introduced himself. “I understand you are to be married soon, Mr. Larsen.”

Ben didn’t quite know where the conversation was headed but felt the need to affirm the inquiry. “That’s right. We’re just waiting for a few problems to resolve. Thank you for your interest.”

“Perhaps, I could help. We have a teacher recovering from surgery and will be out a few weeks. I understand you are a trained teacher. Would you consider filling in for her? It would require that you stay in town, but I have an extra bedroom you could use.”

The principal gave Ben an understanding, no-nonsense look that didn’t leave room for argument. Ben saw the wisdom in the offer and moved to town that afternoon amid a fury of protests from Abby. Micah smiled for the first time in days, but his delight disappeared when he walked into his classroom the next morning and saw the man who’d replaced his teacher. Ben didn’t know who felt more disappointment.

After only one day, Micah did an amazing about-face. He first accepted the authority of Mr. Larsen in his classroom, but liking him took a few more hours. Ben saw him squirming in his seat as he watched the reaction of his classmates. Ben knew he had a gift for teaching–he could make even Greek mythology come alive with drama and activity. By the end of the day, he and Micah were amicable toward one another. It took a bit longer to secure permission to marry his mother.

~~~

While Ben lived in town, Abigail missed him. The days were long and the nights even longer. Micah came home from school describing his adventures with Mr. Larsen. She couldn’t believe the effect Ben had on her son. Within a few days, he’d become irreplaceable to both of them. She looked forward to every Saturday when he walked the seven miles to be with her and relieve them of some of the heavy work.

On Sundays, he sat with them in church and drove their wagon home. Ben called it his “courtin’ time.” After dinner, they sat on the porch swing and planned their future. They read the Bible together and marveled at the miracle they’d become. Their long walks down to the pond often included a picnic supper. But the best moments for Abby were the passionate kisses Ben gave her when they were alone.

The Sunday following Ben’s return to the farm, Micah walked his mother down the aisle to meet the handsome man who had so easily captured her heart. Abigail felt she would burst with love and gratitude when she looked into his eyes. Ben smiled at her, looking adoringly handsome in her deceased husband’s best suit. Her humble man never complained about anything, including the hand-me-down clothes he wore on his wedding day.

When Abigail reached the front of the church, her son took her shaking hand and placed it in the one Ben held out to her. The romantic man pressed a light kiss to her fingers and tucked them near his heart. With a look of love, he whispered, “My beautiful bride.”

Though his arrival remained a mystery, Abigail would always be thankful that she heard the feeble knock of the stranger at her door. Now that she’d opened her home, her world, and her heart to Ben, she longed for the moment they’d become one.

The End

Wishing Everyone a Blessed Thanksgiving!

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