04. April 2013 · Comments Off on From The Quivera Trail – Chapter 22 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West · Tags: , ,

(From the work in progress:Chapter 22 – Daughters and Sons. Isobel Becker, staying in Liesel and Hansi Richter’s San Antonio mansion. has just given birth. Her husband Dolph is in the Palo Duro country at the new ranch property, coping with the threat from a clan of rustlers, the deadly Whitmire family.)

Isobel drifted up from the grey depths to just below the surface of wakefulness, aware of the sound of a woman’s voice, a sweet cracked voice, singing in words that she didn’t understand … because she was so tired. She would have gone all the way up, opened her eyes and came awake, but for the awareness that her body pained her – or that it would, if she came entirely awake. So she lay quiet, soothed by the song and the voice, content to float in the grey world and keep the knowledge that she ached in every bone at a distance. Gradually, she became aware that she was alone in her body again; that the almost incessant twitch and flutter of the baby within her belly had ceased. This both saddened her – for now she felt quite empty and alone – but also relieved her immensely, as this meant that the birthing was done. The last thing she could recall was someone lowering a gauze tea-strainer over her mouth and nose and a sickly-sweet odor, which mercifully wiped out the sight of the heavy-set bearded man in shirtsleeves, standing at the foot of the bed brandishing a heavy, gleaming metal instrument . . . and telling Aunt Richter to have it boiled. The man also had blood on his hands and wrists, and Isobel knew without a possibility of doubt that it was her own blood.
But it was over now, and Isobel listened drowsily to the woman singing and was comforted. She floated a little farther away from the surface, covering herself like a cozy quilt with the grey unthinkingness, and when she floated up again the woman was no longer singing – but the bedroom was flooded with the golden light of late afternoon. No – no longer could she pull that blissful greyness around herself; her mouth tasted like a cast iron pot boiled dry and she was aware of an urgent need to use the chamber pot. She opened her eyes; yes, she was still lying in the bed of that room which Aunt Richter had allocated to her, with a smaller one adjacent which Aunt Richter had seen fitted out as a nursery. There was someone standing by the window, watching the sunset; Anna Vining. Isobel must have made a sound, because Anna turned around; she had a baby in her arms, a bundle swathed all in white, and too large to be Anna’s own little daughter.
“Ah… you are awake at last,” Anna observed without any surprise. “How do you feel? I need not ask, but it is considered courteous to do so. Three times have I done this … although not for two at once. I assume the discomfort was not doubled.”
“Two?” Isobel croaked. Well, Dr. Herff had said something about twins, once Aunt Richter had suggested the possibility.
“Twin girls,” Anna answered. “You would like to see them, I think. They are very well. This one was born first … see where Dr. Herff’s patent forceps made a little bruise on her forehead?” She brought the child to Isobel’s bedside. “The other is not marked … but Mama said we should tie colored ribbons on their wrists, so that we may learn to tell them apart.” Isobel sat up, wincing as she did so. Below her belly, she felt that she had been ripped into tattered rags of flesh. Anna laid the baby in her lap, and capably settled some pillows behind her so that she could rest against them. Isobel and the infant regarded each other with no particular sentiments at all. Her daughter was a pink-faced mite with a wide-open, unfocused blue gaze, regarding Isobel solemnly over a pink fist balled against its mouth. There was a narrow length of yellow ribbon tied around her wrist, and a faint blue bruise in the center of her forehead. Anna went to a cradle at the foot of the bed and bent over it, drawing out another white-wrapped baby; this one was not awake, but sleeping with brief pale eyebrows drawn in an accusing scowl. Anna laid the second baby next to Isobel on the bed, where it stirred and then settled into sleep again. This one had a pink ribbon. “They have been fed. Mama engaged a wet-nurse for them, one of Dr. Herff’s recommending. What had you thought to name them?”
“In my last letter to my husband, we had agreed; a boy should have our father’s names, a girl our mother’s.”
“So … a name for each.” Anna sounded pleased. “Auntie Magda would like that. Her name in English is Margaret, which would honor my husband’s mother also. What is your mother’s name, then?”
“Caroline,” Isobel answered. “I think the oldest should be Margaret … and this one should be Caroline.” It must have been a trick of the light, or of familial blood, but the sleeping infant’s unformed features looked so like Lady Caroline when she was most displeased with her youngest daughter. Isobel hoped that wouldn’t prove to be an omen. It was bad enough knowing that her mother was unhappy with her; having her daughter similarly disproving would be unendurably horrible.

“I should write to my husband,” Isobel ventured at last. Anna answered briskly, “Yes – about what you have named them. Papa sent a messenger to him once they were safely delivered. Dolph will be most pleased, I am certain. Children of his own instead of dogs, or those orphan boys … and that pleases Auntie Magda.”
“I hope he will be happy with the news.” Isobel looked at the faces of her children and wondered why she felt so … bleak. Empty, as if she could not feel any emotions at all. These were her children, mothers were supposed to love their children dearly … was there yet something else wrong with her that she didn’t?
“Of course – he will be overjoyed.” Anna answered. Well, at least she was acting if everything were perfectly straight-forward, and nothing at all was wrong with Isobel’s cool reaction to hers’ and Dolph’s children. “You look tired, still. When you have had enough of admiring your daughters, I will return them to their cradle, and tell Mama and Aunt Magda that you are awake. Doubtless, they will want to pay a call, hein?”
“Yes,” Isobel agreed. It was too much trouble not to. She wished that Anna would just take away the children now. She wanted to wrap that grey unthinkingness around her, and sleep and sleep, to dream of the blue sky over the steep carved canyons of the Palo Duro, or of hunting in the green hills around Acton … anywhere but here, any time but now. Eventually Anna took the babies back, laying them each in the cradle with a casual familiarity which Isobel only hoped she could manage in time. They were so tiny, as helpless as puppies – and so fragile!
“I go downstairs,” Anna announced. “To tell Mama and Auntie Magda that you are awake – do you wish to see them, or would you rather rest more?”
“I need to … wash …” Isobel answered, miserably, having made the unfortunate discovery that the necessary rag was saturated. Without turning a hair, Anna pointed out where the fresh rags were, and brought out a clean nightgown. There was something bracing about her very matter-of-factness, but Isobel was quite relieved when Anna said, “Ten minutes … I can only restrain Mama for that long.”
Isobel couldn’t think of anything other than to thank her for her consideration, and then to wonder if Anna didn’t think she was responding to kindness by being rude. There were moments when she didn’t know how to talk to her husbands’ relatives, even the ones who spoke English well. More »