Fit for Freedom (part 37)
Home and Hearth
As Fit for Freedom comes down to the last few posts I’m thinking of new writing projects to work on. I have at least half a dozen ideas that range from just a sentence or two to several paragraphs of a synopsis.
I’m also thinking of features that some of you might want to see if I offered extras for paid subscribers. If you have any thoughts about that (what you would like to see more of, early access to certain posts, etc.), please let me know in the comments.
The golden glow of late afternoon settled heavily on the gentle slope that led down from the cabin that formed the center of the Freeman homestead to the rough trail that was the closest thing to a road for miles. There almost seemed to be a lull in the sounds of the woods and the fields that would soon give way to the distinctive, wild music of the evening and later the glorious display of countless stars.
Sophia was finishing up a batch of johnny cakes on the outdoor cooking fire. It wasn’t much, but it would supplement the two skinny rabbits that Isaac had brought in that morning. Returning to and restarting their farm was no small task, but they were up to it, Sophia told herself.
“How are those rabbits coming?” came Isaac’s voice from behind her.
She did not turn to look at him, and said, “The rabbits have been done for a while now. But don’t distract me unless you want these johnny cakes turned to soot. You know how quick they can burn!”
“That I do, that I do, my dear. I’ll go wash up then, but I’m mighty hungry.”
Sophia smiled to herself; she knew without even looking that a grin was spreading across her husband’s face. She hoped to make that grin last for days when they sat down to eat their humble meal. The Lord knew that Isaac needed a little nudge to lift his spirits.
All things considered, of course, Sophia believed that her husband was just about as cheerful as anyone could have expected. Their journey had ended only the night before, but there was no time to waste if the farm was going to be in any kind of shape for winter. His body could have done with some rest, but time would not allow it—nor would Isaac’s stubbornness and even a little lingering pride, although there was no one but her for miles around.
The last johnny cake was safely removed from the fire when Isaac sneaked up behind Sophia and put his arm around her waist. Spinning her around, he wrapped her in his arms and then kissed her with more emotion, almost, than any day Sophia could remember since their wedding day.
“What was that for?” she asked.
A smirk cracked his lips as he said, “Does a man need a particular reason to love his wife?” He winked as they filled their simple plates with their simple food.
The rabbits had not supplied an impressive amount of meat, but Sophia was rather pleased with the way they had turned out. Spices came very dear, making Miss Burwell’s gift that much more thoughtful and extravagant. If she was careful, Sophia thought, the supply she had ought to last them through winter at least.
Isaac devoured the food. He had a habit of talking with food in his mouth, but it seemed to Sophia that he hardly paused to breathe, let alone talk. He was sucking the last bit of meat off a leg bone almost before Sophia had a chance to taste her food.
Setting down her knife and wrinkling her brow, she asked, “I ‘spose they came out all right then?”
Snapping back to reality from wherever he had been, Isaac said, “They surely did, yes ma’am!”
He let out a hearty laugh from deep in his no-longer-empty belly, the kind of laugh that brought mirth to all those who heard it. Sophia felt rich beyond words to be the only one who could hear him at that moment. He seemed to enjoy the laugh just a little too much, however, and began to cough. Reaching for the pitcher, Isaac gulped down some water before recovering his breath.
“Can’t say that I ever ate rabbit that was good enough to near kill a man!”
He laughed again, but silently this time, shaking slightly and grinning, but making no sounds. Sophia returned to her own plate. Isaac watched her as she enjoyed her own cooking.
“The field is in pretty poor shape,” Isaac said after a while. “Not much point in trying to get anything in the ground this late, but I can at least save us some work next spring.”
“Can I help?”
Isaac shook his head. Even before, when he was at peak vigor and strength, he insisted on carrying the full load of the field work. True, Sophia was of limited help, but the little that she could relieve him of felt like much more. It was not that there was not ample work to do in and around the cabin, but running their little farm would take their all and she was eager to give it.
A breeze with the faintest touch of chill in it sprung up out of nowhere and then was gone in a moment.
“There will be more where that comes from, but not too soon, I hope,” Sophia mused.
Isaac grunted his agreement and stared into the fire which grew gradually brighter against the darkening backdrop of the nearby woods.
Sophia hesitated to come around to the topic she most wanted to discuss. Instead she asked, “When do you think we’ll hear about the peace council?”
“That?” Isaac asked, a note of surprise in his voice. It was not that Sophia never took an interest in such things, but when she had other more pressing tasks in front of her, Isaac knew well enough that concerns of the wider world were always the first to be evicted from her mind.
“Well, I figure that’s probably hard to say. They hadn’t even started by the time we crossed the river. Could take days to do all that talking. Johnson’s trading post is the closest to us . . . and it’s usually a week or more before they get fresh news from Louisville. Why do you ask?”
Sophia sopped up some of the juices with the last bit of her last johnny cake. “Oh, I don’t know. The thought just popped into my head.”
They sat together, digesting their food, listening to the crackling of the fire and the natural cacophony of croaks and chirps and whistles that would fade away with the heat of summer. It was several minutes before Sophia broke the silence.
“I suppose you’re right about my helping in the fields, now that I think about it” she began again, observing her husband’s gaze and finding it distant. “And if old Mother Thornbush were here, well she’d give me a tongue lashing up one side and down the other that I would never forget, that’s for sure.
Mother Thornbush had been the closest thing that their folks had had to a midwife all those years ago. The middle-aged but vivacious woman had been given the closely circumscribed freedom to go from huge plantations to small farms and houses, ushering new life into the world. On occasion she was even known to be invited into the houses of some of the poorer white families in the area if no one else could come.
Sophia did not think the hint was terribly subtle, but Isaac still seemed to be somewhere else in his mind. She rested her hand on her stomach and then cleared her throat. Isaac returned to his proper time and place.
“What’s that you say, dear one?”
“I was just saying that if Mother Thornbush was to find me working the field in my . . . present condition, she’d be liable to throw a fit, don’t you think?”
“Mother Thornbush?” Isaac said with a confused look on his face. “But she . . .”
Understanding came gradually and then all that once as Isaac exclaimed, “You mean . . . a baby!”
Sophia smiled harder than she had in months, perhaps ever. “Yes,” she said, and Isaac was by her side in an instant.
“Well, I mean, are you sure?”
“As sure as anyone can be about these things. I’m no Mother Thornbush, but all the signs are there.”
“This is . . .” Isaac began, before being struck speechless.
It was the happiest Sophia had seen her husband in a long time. Not only that, but the news seemed to breathe new life into him. The way he had sprung up and rushed to her side, the way he then paced back and forth by the fire with a look of sheer joy mixed with confusion, made him look like a much younger man, the way he had looked and sounded and moved when they first met.
Isaac stopped in his tracks and turned toward Sophia. He looked directly into her eyes as his own seemed to be welling up with tears. In a gesture that seemed to say “I am so full of joy that I cannot find the words to say,” he held out his palms and shook his head gently before turning his eyes to the darkening sky.
Sophia looked up also and saw that the first few stars had just begun to dot the heavenly deep blue that was slowly creeping overhead from east to west. Her gaze returned to earth when Isaac began to sing.
From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator's praise arise;
Let the Redeemer's name be sung
Through ev'ry land by ev'ry tongue.
She had heard him sing on many occasions before; it had become almost as much a part of their little farm as the birds and the trees. Neither was it the best or loudest of his singing, yet there was somehow still more feeling in it, a passion different in kind from anything she had seen in her husband before.
Picking up the words of the psalmist that Mr. Watts had set to music, words she had come to know so well, they joined their voices in harmony for the second verse.
Eternal are Thy mercies Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word;
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore
Till suns shall rise and set no more.
Sophia walked over to where Isaac seemed to be rooted to the ground and they embraced. She dampened the breast of his shirt with her tears and found that she too was so overcome with emotion that the faculty of speech seemed to have abandoned her. But it made no difference in that moment. The love that they had for one another, the love that they had even then for their child who had yet to enter the world, and the love they had for the Creator and Redeemer who had brought them through it all, could not be reduced to mere words in any case. “Charity never faileth,” the apostle had written. That night Sophia understood better what that meant and she did not think it was something she would ever forget.
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