A Family Reconciled
"Hurry up, Abby!"
Abby's brunette head swung around as she responded to her friend's beckoning. "I'm coming, Mary. Just hold your horses for a minute. I want to look at this." Abby turned her attention back to the burly man at the booth in front of her. "You say this came all the way from China? How can I be sure?"
"Just look at it, miss, look at the detail. Have you ever seen anything like this made in the states?"
Abby examined the silk shawl closely. "I have seen some especially fine embroidery done by my own grandmother. Besides, why would you sell it for so cheap if you had to have it brought halfway around the world?"
"I have connections, miss, that enable me to sell this for less than you would usually have to pay. It is --"
"Worthless," Mary broke in, having appeared at Abby's side. "Is this what you are wasting your time looking at?"
"See here, young lady, my merchandise is not worthless," the man huffed, indignant.
"I saw half-a-dozen of this same shawl hanging in a cheap goods store in Houston, sir." Mary raised her eyebrows skeptically. "The clerk there said they were made in New York City."
"And you said it was an original!" It was Abby's turn to be indignant. "Good day, sir."
The girls headed off down the dusty street. "We are going to miss the show if we don't hurry, Abby," Mary fussed.
"I'm sorry, Mary, but this is the first time I've had money to spend at the fair, and I wanted to get something interesting."
"Well, that was definitely not worth your money."
"Where to from here?" Abby asked when they came to a crossway.
"This way," Mary declared. They wound their way through the booths and tents that made up the 1875 Milam County Fair. Flocks of people crowded the northern edge of their usually quiet town, filling the air with the sounds of laughter and talking. The afternoon sun blazed down from the wide Texas sky, baking both man and beast. Most of the fair-goers scarcely paid attention to the heat, however, since they were farmers and ranchers accustomed to working in the outdoors.
As they neared the ring where the stock was being shown, the young women passed by a photographer's wagon. The wagon caught Abby's eye. She had always wanted to sit for a portrait. "Wait a second, Mary."
"Now what?" Mary was becoming rather peeved with Abby's delays.
Abby gazed at the photographs displayed on a board next to the wagon. "He does nice work, doesn't he?"
Mary nodded. "So it seems. Do you want to sit for a picture or something?"
"I was thinking about it. Do you think I look all right to do so?"
Mary cocked her blond head as she inspected her friend's dress made of white poplin fabric adorned with tiny spray roses. "That's your Sunday dress, so it would be appropriate. You look fine."
"Then I want to come back as soon as the boys are done showing their bulls at the show."
"That's fine. Now let's get going."
"Okay." Abby was about to walk away from the photographer's wagon when she suddenly realized she recognized a person in one of the photographs on the board. "Oh! Oh!" Her hand flew to her mouth in shock.
Mary halted at the sound of Abby's exclamation. "Is something wrong?" Her brow furrowed when she realized Abby was beginning to tremble.
"Mary, look at this picture." Abby indicated the one on the top left corner of the board.
"It's a family. What is so unusual about that?"
"It's the man in the picture. I know him." Abby leaned forward to peer at the faces in the photograph. A husband and wife stared back at her. They were posed serenely on the porch of a modest farmhouse with their two young sons and a baby. "I do not recognize her. He must have met her somewhere else," Abby muttered to herself.
"I'm confused, Abby. Why are you so interested in this picture?"
"Because that's my brother, Mary."
"Your brother? How is that possible? Your brother just turned nineteen a month ago."
"No, Mary, not Alex. This is my older brother Samuel."
"Your older brother? Now I am very confused. No one in your family has ever mentioned another brother."
Abby sighed. "It's because we aren't allowed to talk about him. Not that I ever forgot him. He's the oldest, and I loved him so much when I was a little girl."
"How can you be sure that's him? It sounds like you haven't seen him in a long time."
"It's been twelve years, Mary, but I would never forget his face." Abby's blue eyes took in the picture wistfully. "I wonder where he is living?"
"Maybe the photographer would remember where he took this. You could ask him when we come back," Mary suggested.
"I want to ask him now."
"Why can't you wait?"
"What if by some odd chance he decides to leave while we are at the stock show? I'd never forgive myself for missing the chance to find Sam."
"I doubt the photographer would be going anywhere, but suit yourself." Mary shrugged.
"You could go on without me."
"No, I'll wait with you. My Ma would be mad at me if I went wandering around the fair by myself. Besides, I think Henry will be one of the last ones showing his animal."
"Well, Alex is one of the first, but I know he will forgive me if he knows why I missed it." Abby stepped around the wagon in search of the photographer. "I wonder where he is? Hello, is anyone here?" she called out.
A short, wiry man came out of the back of the wagon. "Can I help ya, miss?" he inquired, a trace of an Irish lilt in his voice.
"Are you the photographer?"
"That I am, miss. Mr. Tom Donnelly at your service." He gave a small bow. "Would ya like to sit for a picture?" He came down the short set of steps placed by the wagon.
"Yes, I would, though not right at this moment. I actually wished to ask you something concerning one of the pictures on your board."
"Oh? Which one, miss?" He walked over to the board with Abby.
"This one, sir."
"The one of the little family? Ah, that's one of my favorites. It turned out so well I asked them if I could put a copy of it on my board."
"Do you -- do you remember where you took that?"
"Well, let me think about that." Mr. Donnelly rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm. Ah! I remember, twas last summer, when I was over in Robertson County. Their farm was east of Calvert, it was."
"Do you recall their names?"
"Only the last name -- Dawson. Do ya know them or something, miss?"
"Yes," Abby said quietly. "Thank-you kindly, Mr. Donnelly. I shall be back in a little while to have my picture taken."
"Very well, miss. I'll be here."
"You were right, Abby," Mary whispered as they walked away. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm not going to mention it to anyone as of yet. Please don't mention it, either."
"Are you going to try to go see him?"
Abby pursed her lips, an expression of determination coming over her face. "If I can find a way to do it without Pa finding out, then yes. Sam's been cut off from our family for long enough. Now that I know where he is, I intend to do something to end this situation."
"If he's been separated from y'all for over ten years, I wonder why he is living so close by. Unless it is just coincidence."
"I doubt it, Mary. He never wanted things to be like this, not really." Abby suddenly felt a lump rising in her throat as she recalled the day Samuel left. "He said he'd always be nearby, even if we didn't know it."
"Can you tell me what happened?" Mary requested. "Unless, of course, you'd rather not speak of it."
"No, I'll tell you. It's been hidden for so long, and I'm tired of living like my brother never existed." Abby stopped in her stride. "We will have to miss the stock show, though. I wouldn't want to chance my Pa hearing me tell you any of this."
"All right, I think this may be more important." The girls strolled over to an area under some trees where people were picnicking. Finding a wooden bench under an old oak tree, they settled down onto it.
"My, it's dusty out here today," Mary remarked, brushing off her raspberry-pink calico skirt.
"It has been dry the last couple of weeks." Abby nodded, twisting her gloved hands together in her lap as she tried to decide how to start her story. Thinking back twelve years before brought many unpleasant memories to mind. That period had become like a distant dream over time, a painful era in her life that had faded into the past as happier things came into being. "You know we lived in Tennessee before we moved here back in '68."
"Of course. Greene County, right?"
"Yes. Well, the first seven years of my life were happy. I loved living there in the greenness of the mountain valley we called home. It was beautiful, you know. I loved fall-time the best, when all the trees lit up with orange and red and yellow and made the sides of the mountains look like they were on fire. I can still hear the sounds of the creek that ran by near the house." Abby closed her eyes for a moment. "Then the war came, and life changed forever. Friends and neighbors became enemies overnight. So many people lost everything, often at the hand of those they used sit down at the same table with or see every week on Sundays. It was awful."
"I guess it's hard for me to understand that, being from around here. Everyone was basically on the same side during the war."
"Most of the people around where we lived hated anyone who sided with the North, my Pa included. He turned his back on a friend he had had since childhood because the man sympathized with the Northern cause. This man didn't look too kindly on Pa for supporting the South, either, though."
"How does your brother fit into all of this?"
"As the war dragged on, we all figured Sam would join up once he turned eighteen. What none of us figured was that he would decide to join the Northern regiment they were raising in the area at the time." Abby gave a wry smile. "Honestly, even now I am unashamed to say that, no matter where my Pa's sympathies were placed. I hated the war, hated what it was doing to my family and friends. I just wanted it to be over so everyone would stop hurting each other." She took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "I was ten when Samuel left, and I'll never forget that day. Of all the people in this world, he was my favorite. I wanted to be wherever he was. He used to laugh and call me his 'little shadow'. It might haven driven some older brothers crazy to have one of their younger sisters follow them around like that, but not Sam. He was the kindest, gentlest, and bravest sort of fellow. He rescued an injured rabbit once and then gave it to me as a pet. On the other hand, he wasn't afraid to confront a mountain lion that tried to jump Pa while they were out hunting, and he was only fourteen at the time!" Abby boasted, then sighed. "I couldn't understand why Pa got so angry with Samuel when Sam said he was going to go fight for the Union. Sam had always been such a good son. Why should Pa tell him never to come back just because Samuel followed what he thought was right? At least, that's how I saw it as a young girl. I understand now that it was a bit more complicated than that, though I still think Pa should have welcomed Sam back after it was all over."
"But he didn't."
"No. I can still hear the fight they had. It was a cold day in January. I'd never seen Pa so angry in my life. He never got that angry before the war started." Abby dug at the dust with the pointed toe of her shoe. "Pa was yelling at Sam, telling him if he 'walked out that door and joined up with those Yankees, he'd better never show his face around there again'. Samuel was so calm, trying to reason with Pa, but Pa would have none of it. Finally, Samuel gave up, picked up his sack of belongings, and went out of the house. He kissed Ma, who had gone out on the porch to get away from the arguing, and started off across the valley." A tear slipped down Abby's cheek. "I -- I ran after him, begged him not to go away and leave us, leave me. He just hugged me real tight for a minute, then said 'Abby, I love you, but I've got to do this. I want this war to be over as much as you do. I know Pa said he never wants me to come back, and that hurts something awful'. I asked if he really thought Pa meant it. He said he knew Pa was serious about it. That set me crying, thinking that I would never see Sam again. He wiped my face and told me, 'I'll always be near, Abby, even if you don't know it. Pa may not welcome me back home, but I will never be far from you, I promise.' He kissed my head and left. I stood there in the snow long after he was gone from sight, praying with all my heart for God to bring him back."
"So you think he is living in Robertson County just to be near y'all?" Mary asked.
"Yes, I do. Samuel always kept his promises."
"Did he ever write home during the war?"
"Several times, but Pa burned every letter without opening it, save one. Pa was in Knoxville for a couple of days when it came. I think Ma couldn't stand it anymore, not knowing how Sam was. So she opened it and read it to us, then made us kids swear not to tell Pa. She still has that letter hidden in the bottom of her trunk." Abby pulled out her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. "We were never allowed to talk about Samuel when Pa was around, and when we moved here he forbade us to even mention him to anyone. 'I only have one son,' he said."
"I cannot imagine being told not to talk about one of my brothers or sister." Mary frowned. "You've just got to do something, Abby. This is wrong."
"It is, and to be honest, I think Pa knows it. He's too stubborn to admit it, though. Plus, we didn't know where Sam was all this time."
"Well, now you do."
"I wonder if Alex could come up with some reason to ride over to Robertson County. That way I could tag along and no one would think much of it."
"It might work," Mary agreed. "If not, then maybe I could think of something."
"Thanks, Mary." Abby smiled at her. "In the meantime, please don't say anything to anyone."
"I promise not to."
"Okay, I want to go have my picture taken now. Are my eyes all puffy from crying?"
"No, you didn't cry enough to make that happen."
Abby went back to the photographer's wagon to sit for a photograph. Her mother gushed over the picture later in the day when Abby showed it to her. "Ah, it is a good likeness of you, Abby. You look so lovely." She patted Abby's cheek. "Now, if only I could find you a young man who agrees with me."
"Ma," Abby blushed, embarrassed. "It'll happen in good time. I'm not ready to give up teaching yet."
"I still say the sooner you marry, the better. Your sister Sarah already has two children, and she's not two years older than you."
"I know, Ma."
"Well, come along, we shouldn't keep your Pa waiting." Abby followed her mother over to the family wagon. Her younger sister, Alice, was already in the back of the wagon.
"Pa will be along in a minute," Alice informed them.
Alex came around from the other side of the wagon with his horse. "Where were you this afternoon?" he whispered to Abby when he got closer to her. "I got first prize, and you weren't there to see it." A hurt look flashed in his blue eyes.
"I am sorry, Alex," Abby whispered back. "I was going to be there, but something very important came up." Alex's face showed his skepticism. "I know you don't believe me, but you will when I tell you later."
"All right -- your reason better be good." Alex hopped up onto his horse.
"Whatchy'all whispering about?" Alice leaned over the side of the wagon. "Anything I need to know?"
"No, Alice, nothing that concerns you right now," Abby replied. "And stop leaning over the side like that; you're going to fall out and break your head." Abby climbed into the back of the wagon with Alice. She had decided not to mention Sam to Alice for the time being. Alice tended to be on the chatty side and Abby was afraid she'd accidentally say something in front of their Pa. Besides, Alice had only been four when Samuel left, and she hardly remembered him.
"Are we all ready?" Abby's Pa's booming voice sounded from next to the wagon.
"Yes, dear, we are all ready," Mrs. Dawson confirmed.
"Then let's be going." Mr. Dawson hoisted his tall, muscular frame onto the wagon seat next to his wife. "Git-ap," he ordered the two bay horses hitched to the vehicle. The wagon lurched forward, heading towards the Dawson's ranch south-east of town.
Several hours later, with the chores done and the supper over, Abby wandered out to the corral where Alex stood leaning against the fence. She rested her arms on the top rail and stared off into the distance. The last rays of the sun were coloring the horizon with vivid hues of red and pink. Abby bit her lip, trying to determine how to tell Alex about what had happened that afternoon. She knew he still wasn't very happy with her. "Did you get a good price for the bull?"
"Better than I ever would have thought."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I'm thinking of saving most of it to buy my own place in a year or two. That way when I decide to settle down I'll already have a place ready for a family."
"So what was so all-fired important today that you up and disappeared?" Alex asked.
"You know I had my picture taken."
"Yes -- was that it?"
"Oh, goodness, no, Alex, I would never have missed the stock show for something that trivial." Abby shifted from one foot to the other and then turned her head to look up at his face. "Alex, I think I know where Samuel is."
Alex whipped his head around in surprise, his eyes huge. "What? How?"
"The photographer. He had a board that had pictures he had taken tacked onto it. One of the photographs was of a family, and the man in the picture was the spitting image of Sam, just older now. I asked the photographer if he remembered the people's names or where they lived, and he said their last name was Dawson and they lived over in Robertson County," Abby explained, hardly taking a breath as she spoke.
Alex tried to take in the torrent of words. He stood silently for a minute, thinking. "Did he say where in Robertson?"
"East of Calvert."
"You want to go over there, don't you?"
"Yes, very much so. I need your help, though. We need to think of a good reason to go to Calvert without Pa."
Alex sighed, bending his lanky frame forward to rest his dark-haired head on his arms. When he finally brought his head up, he said, "Well, Pa has been talking about taking some of that bottom-land and changing it from pasture to a cotton-field. There was a fellow from Calvert he talked to a few weeks back who told him he'd come help Pa figure out what he needed to do to get that all set up for planting next spring. I could maybe talk Pa into letting me go in his stead to set something up with this fellow."
"That's a pretty long shot," Abby shook her head. "I can't see Pa sending you when he'd probably want to go himself."
"Well, the truth is, I'm the one that gave Pa the whole idea about the cotton anyway. There are some pretty good-sized farms growing it over that way, so it wouldn't hurt for me to go take a look at them," Alex reasoned, rubbing his chin between his thumb and forefinger.
"What could I say to convince him to let me go with you, though?"
"You have enough money for the train fare to get over there?"
"I think so."
"If Pa doesn't have to pay for your ticket, I don't see why he would object to you going."
"When are you going to ask him?" Abby inquired eagerly.
"In the next day or two. Just don't act too interested until he tells me 'yes', though," Alex warned her. "He'll start wondering what's so interesting in Calvert."
"You're right. I won't say anything about going with you until he makes a decision. In the meantime, I'll be praying my heart out that we can go. It's time we saw Sam again."
"Yes, it is."
Abby prayed and waited with bated breath all that week while her father mulled over Alex's suggestion. It wasn't until the following Saturday that Mr. Dawson gave his answer. They had just sat down to supper when he brought up the subject.
"So, Alex, do you still want to go to Calvert for me?" Mr. Dawson queried as he dug into his mashed potatoes.
"Yes, Pa," Alex nodded.
"All right, then." Mr. Dawson's neatly-trimmed dark brown beard moved up and down as he spoke. "I can spare you for a couple of days at the end of next week. You can go then."
"Pa," Abby began cautiously, "would you mind if I went with Alex?"
"I suppose not, as long as your mother can spare your help."
"I'm sure I could," Mrs. Dawson said. "Abby can go and keep an eye on Alex, to make sure no scheming female takes him down the wrong track."
Mr. Dawson raised his dark eyebrows. "I would like to think my son knows better than that in the first place --"
"Of course I do, Pa," Alex interjected.
" -- though it would not hurt to let Abigail go for that reason, just the same."
"Can I go too if Abby is going, Pa?" Alice pleaded.
"I assume Abby intends to pay for her own train ticket," Mr. Dawson replied. Abby nodded. Mr. Dawson continued,"I am only paying for Alex's because it is for business."
"Aw." Alice made a slight pouting face, then blew back a stray piece of her honey-blond hair that had fallen in her eyes.
"Alice," Mrs. Dawson scolded.
"Your mother needs at least one of you to be here to help around the house, Alice," Mr. Dawson added in a tone that indicated all discussion on the matter was closed.
The following Thursday Mr. Dawson drove Abby and Alex down to the nearest town with a railroad station. They boarded a train headed northeast into the next county, changing trains once to go into the northern part of Robertson County on a different line.
"First things first," Alex declared upon their arrival in Calvert. "I'm going to go see Mr. Martin this afternoon about helping us with the cotton. If I get all of that taken care of today, we'll be able to try to find Sam's place tomorrow."
"That sounds good to me," answered Abby.
The siblings walked down the street to a boarding house that the station master had told them was reputable and acquired lodgings for their stay. Abby remained at the boarding house while Alex went off to see Mr. Martin. She tried to occupy herself by chit-chatting with some of the other boarders in the parlor, but found herself distracted by her desire to know whether Alex's business would be completed that day. Abby's desire was satisfied when Alex strode into the boarding house with a big grin on his face shortly before suppertime that evening.
"Well, everything is all set with Mr. Martin, so we can go looking for Samuel first thing in the morning," Alex announced.
Abby clasped her hand together with delight. "I won't sleep a wink tonight for thinking about tomorrow."
Abby did manage to get some sleep that night, however. She arose at dawn, as did Alex. After breakfasting with the other boarding house guests, the twosome headed off to the local livery stable to get a horse and buggy.
"Where do you think we should go to first to start asking if anyone knows Sam?" Alex asked Abby as he sat down next to her on the buggy seat.
"I'd start at the post office. Almost everyone goes there. If that doesn't work, we could try the general store."
"This is all assuming that they actually come to Calvert for mail and supplies."
"I don't see why they wouldn't. The photographer said they lived east of here, and any other town located in this part of the county would be a longer drive away," Abby pointed out to him.
"Always very logical, aren't you, Abby. All right, let's start asking." Alex guided the chestnut mare drawing their vehicle to the local post office. Abby hopped down and went inside while Alex waited in the carriage. Several minutes later she came out with an air of victory about her.
"The postmaster knew exactly of whom I spoke the moment I asked him if he knew a Samuel Dawson," Abby said, taking hold of Alex's hand to get into the buggy.
"Good. So which way do we go from here?"
"He said to go to Main Street, then turn onto a road named Oak Avenue and head east. Oak Avenue is near the general store."
"He said it's about four, maybe four-and-a-half miles down the road. We will come to a side road at that point that will have a marker saying "Dawson". We go down that side road, which will take us around one hill then up another to Samuel's place."
"This seems so easy. To think he's been this close by and we never knew it."
"I think it's sad," Abby remarked. "But, we shall be sad no more. Today begins a new era for the Dawson family, one that includes Samuel and his family."
"I just hope Pa will agree with you on that," Alex said grimly as he turned the horse to go back the way they had come.
Abby could hardly stand the anticipation as they drove out of the town. If she had had control of the reigns, she would have been urging the horse on to at least a good trot. Alex had more self-control at the moment, though, and kept the animal going at a steady walk. The sun was riding high when they arrived at the side road of which the postmaster had spoken.
"This is it!" Abby exclaimed, grabbing Alex's arm in excitement. She put her hand to her cheek a second later. "Oh, dear, a thought just occurred to me."
"What if Samuel isn't happy to see us?"
"Don't worry, Abby. If Samuel is anything like he was twelve years ago, he will be more than happy to see us today," Alex assured his sister.
"I hope you're right."
The side road meandered around a tall, steep-sided hill and then went up a lower, flat-topped hill. At the top of the low hill was a neat little farmhouse with a porch attached to the front of it. Beyond the house stood a barn, corral, chicken coop, and smoke house. Laundry flapped on the clothesline in the light breeze blowing across the landscape. Several chickens scratched about in the farmyard, clucking away amongst themselves. A tall, slender woman with auburn hair stepped out onto the porch as the buggy came to a halt in front of the house. The woman carried a toddler on her hip, and two young boys followed cautiously behind her.
"Good morning," the woman greeted them. "Can I help y'all?"
"Good morning," Abby returned the pleasantry. "Would you be Mrs. Dawson?"
"Yes, I'm Mrs. Dawson."
"We came here to see you and your husband," Abby informed her. "We think your husband is a long-lost brother of ours."
Mrs. Dawson's jaw dropped slightly. Abby wondered if she had approached the subject a bit too abruptly. She was about to speak again when Mrs. Dawson broke her silence.
"My husband is in the barn. Give me a minute and I'll have one of my boys go fetch him." Mrs. Dawson turned to the taller of the two boys on the porch. "Seth, go tell your Pa there's folks here to see him."
"Yes, Ma." The boy scrambled down the front steps and around the house.
Alex and Abby stepped out of the buggy and stood next to it. "My name is Abby Dawson," Abby introduced herself to Mrs. Dawson. "This is my brother Alex Dawson."
"My name is Caroline. I'm pleased to finally meet you," she said softly, coming down from the porch.
"Samuel told you about us, then?" Abby asked.
"Many times. I never thought I'd see the day when two of you would actually come driving up into my yard, though."
Seth came back to report to his mother. "He's coming, Ma."
A moment later a tall man who looked like a broader version of Alex strode around the corner into the front yard. "Mornin', folks. What can I do for you?"
"Hello, Sam," Abby said in a low voice, barely able to breathe for the emotion rising in her chest.
Samuel stopped as if he had struck by lightning. He stared at the two young people before him, then shook his head as if to clear it. "Abigail? And -- and Alex? Is that really you?"
"Yes, big brother, it's me. I'm just your size now."
"Oh, Lord God, is it true? Have You really brought my family to me?" Samuel seemed overwhelmed. Abby was the first to move, walking over to Samuel and wrapping her arms around him. He slowly hugged her in return. When he did so, her control finally gave way and she began to sob against his shoulder.
"Hey, now," he said gently after a minute, drawing back to look at her face. "The last time I saw you, you were crying. It's time for a smile now."
Abby tried to smile at him through her tears. She noticed his eyes were glistening as he spoke to her.
"My 'little shadow' isn't so little anymore."
"No, I'm all grown up, and I missed you every second of the last twelve years." Abby wiped her face with her hand.
"As I missed all of you." He turned his attention to Alex, who had joined them. "You've changed even more than Abby, little brother."
Alex shook the hand that Samuel held out to him, then said, "After this many years, I think a hug would be perfectly manly."
Samuel chuckled. "I think so, too." He grabbed Alex in a bear hug for a few seconds. "Have you met my family here?" Samuel inquired upon stepping back from Alex.
"Caroline introduced herself, but we haven't met the children yet," Abby said.
"Please, come meet them," Samuel urged, taking them over to his wife and children. He put his hand on the older boy's head. "This here is my oldest, Seth Alexander, and this one here," he indicated the younger boy, "is Robert Thomas. The little gal Caroline's holding is Nancy Abigail."
Abby smiled at and greeted each of the children. "You named the younger two after Pa and Ma."
"And Grandpa Tom and you. Seth is Caroline's Pa's name, and, of course, Alexander is for Alex here."
Alex shook his head. "You never forgot us, did you?"
"Never. How could I? Just because Pa told me I couldn't come back didn't mean I had to stop loving our family." Samuel shrugged. "I didn't come home after the war, but I did live a few miles away from you all, over the mountain. When I got wind that Pa was fixing to move to Texas, I decided to come here also. I settled here near Calvert because I wasn't sure what Pa would do if he found me living too close to him. That, anyway, and the fact I met this pretty lady here in Calvert and decided to marry her." Samuel gave his wife an loving glance. "How did you all find me?"
Abby told Samuel and his family the story of her meeting the photographer at the fair. "Some may have called it chance, but I call it the Sovereign Hand of God. Only He could have made this happen."
"I agree." Samuel cleared his throat nervously. "Does -- does Pa know you're here?"
"No," Abby sighed. "We decided it would be better to find out for sure it really was you before saying anything to him. I think it would be better if you came to him, by the way. He probably wouldn't come here."
"No, probably not." Samuel's face became grim. "My pride wants him to come to me," he confessed, "but maybe it's time for me to take that first step towards him. I've debated with myself for years as to whether I ought to just go and talk to Pa. I guess part of me was too proud and hurt to do it; the other part was afraid he'd turn his back on me again."
"I don't think he will, Sam," Alex commented. "He may put on at first like he's going to when you first show up, but underneath his bluster he's changed in some ways. I have a feeling he might actually want to see you now."
"Ma surely does," Abby said. "I see her crying every now and then, staring off into the distance towards Tennessee, as if she could will you to come to her by her tears."
Samuel closed his eyes, stricken at the thought of his mother grieving over him. "That does it, I'm going."
"When?" Abby asked, anticipation lighting up her blue eyes.
"As soon as I can make arrangements. I want to bring Caroline and the kids with me." Samuel motioned towards the house. "Why don't you all come in for a while? I'd like to hear more about the family. You haven't told me about Sarah or Alice yet."
"We wouldn't want to keep you from your work -- " Alex began to object.
Samuel put up his hand. "I wasn't doing anything that can't wait."
"Besides, we'll be having lunch soon," Caroline added. "Y'all are welcome to stay and eat with us."
"We don't want to impose," Abby said as they all made their way into the house.
"You're not imposing, Abby," Samuel declared emphatically. "You're family, and we want you to stay."
"All right, if you insist," Abby relented.
"We do," Caroline replied.
Abby and Alex laughed and talked with Sam and Caroline for nearly two hours. Little Nancy decided that she liked Abby and crawled into Abby's lap after lunch.
"We should let you get back to your work now," remarked Abby after a lull in the conversation.
"If you're determined to head out, I won't keep you." Samuel laughed. "You were always one to do exactly what you set your mind to, Abby. Doesn't surprise me that you decided to teach school like you wanted to despite Ma being so keen on you getting hitched. I'll bet you're a good teacher, too, seeing that you seem to have natural way with young'uns." Samuel nodded his head towards the toddler perched in Abby's lap.
Abby glanced down at the little girl. "She's fallen asleep, hasn't she?"
"Yes, she has," Caroline came over to get her daughter. "Here, I'll take her. It's time for her nap anyway."
Abby kissed the child's soft auburn curls, then handed her off to her mother. Nancy barely stirred as Caroline took her off to a bedroom to lay her down. When Caroline came back, Abby and Alex stood. "Well, thank-you so much for lunch," Abby said. "I hope to see you all again real soon."
"Yes, thank-you," Alex echoed. "I'll be looking forward to your coming."
"Thank-you both for caring enough to come searching for us here." Samuel spoke in a solemn voice. "This meant so much to me. Forgive me for not trying to communicate with you all these years."
Abby embraced her brother. "You're forgiven, Sam, though I never thought you to blame in the first place. I want to put the ugliness of the past behind us now. It's a new day for the Dawson family, one where we love each other and forgive all wrongs."
"You're right." Samuel gave her a peck on the cheek before reaching over to shake Alex's hand in a farewell gesture. "I'll write you all to let you know when I'm coming. Trust me, it will be soon."
"I'll be counting the days," Abby said, then gave Caroline a hug. "I am so glad to have met you, Caroline. I hope this is the beginning of many happy meetings between us."
"As do I," Caroline smiled.
Abby and Alex bid the boys good-bye also, giving them hugs and telling them how happy they were to have met the two youngsters. Samuel and Caroline then saw Abby and Alex out to the buggy. Abby turned around in the seat to wave until her brother and his family were obscured from sight by the curvature of the road. She and Alex passed the time it took to drive back to town speculating as to what their Pa's reaction would be when Samuel came to visit.
"Well, even if he gets mad at first, I'm praying he'll change his mind in the end," Alex said in summary as they pulled up to the boarding house.
"Me too. The hardest part for me will be not saying anything about all of this until Sam and Caroline come." Abby declared as she stepped down from the vehicle. "You taking this back now?"
"Might as well. Then I won't have to worry about it in the morning. I'll be back shortly."
"All right." Abby went into the boarding house and up to her room. She decided the present seemed like a good time to start praying for her family's reunion with Samuel.
Abby and Alex traveled home the next morning. For the next two weeks, Abby eagerly awaited the arrival of a letter from Samuel. The only person she confided in concerning the upcoming arrival of her brother was her friend Mary. Finally, at the end of the second week, Alex returned from a trip into town with a letter. He had stuffed it in his shirt so as to avoid questions, and showed it to Abby out in the barn after supper.
"So they are coming next Saturday," Abby breathed ecstatically. "This week is going to seem very long indeed."
"It surely will," Alex concurred. "The hard part will be making sure that Pa's here."
Abby put a hand on Alex's arm. "Oh, I just realized something."
"Next Saturday is Pa's birthday, so everyone, including Sarah's family, will be here."
"Do you think Sam did that on purpose?"
"I don't know, but it surely worked out well for us."
Abby hopped right out of bed the following Saturday morning just as the first golden rays of the sun warmed the prairie skyline. She was too full of joy over the prospect of seeing Samuel again to sleep a moment longer than that. Having dressed quickly, she went into the kitchen to start the coffee and make her Pa's favorite breakfast, biscuits and gravy.
Mrs. Dawson came into the kitchen fifteen minutes later. "Mornin', Ma," Abby sang out as she sprinkled some salt and baking soda into the flour she had put in the big mixing bowl on the kitchen work-table.
"My, you're a chipper one this morning," Mrs. Dawson commented with a small yawn.
"It's a day on which we ought to be cheerful," Abby said, adding lard to the flour mixture and working it in with her fingers.
"I suppose we ought to for your Pa's sake." Mrs. Dawson went over to the stove to start the gravy. "There's some buttermilk chilling down in the well. Use that since that's what your Pa likes best in his biscuits."
Most of the day went by like a day normally did on the ranch. Abby helped her mother start Mr. Dawson's birthday dinner late that afternoon. She and Alex had figured Samuel would most likely arrive about half-an-hour before suppertime, and as that time drew near Abby could not help looking out the front window every five minutes. She almost dropped the plate that was in her hands when she heard the sound of a wagon in the front yard. Abby rushed over to the window to get a better view of the arriving vehicle.
"Who's there, dear?" Mrs. Dawson asked from her spot at the work-table.
"It's just Sarah and Jake with the kids," Abby replied, returning to finish setting the wide kitchen table.
"They're a little early. Oh, well, they can visit for a while until supper is ready." Mrs. Dawson shot a suspicious glance over at Abby when she saw Abby's face turned towards the window again. "I declare, Abigail, are you expecting someone you haven't told me about? The way you keep looking out that window, you'd think the governor was coming."
"Oh, I -- " Abigail's answer was cut short when she caught sight of another wagon pulling into the yard. "Ma, you need to come outside with me."
"Right now? I need to get this fried chicken going."
"Yes, Ma, right now."
"Oh, very well." Mrs. Dawson wiped her hands on her apron as she followed her daughter towards the front door. They had barely stepped onto the porch when Abby saw her sister Sarah's hands fly to her face in astonishment over the sight of the man who had just climbed down from the second wagon.
"Samuel!" Sarah cried. She rushed over to him and threw her arms around his neck. Sarah's husband Jake appeared rather taken aback by the manner in which his wife greeted the tall stranger. He stood motionless, staring at the scene unfolding before him.
"Dear Lord Almighty, can it really be?" Abby heard her mother whisper next to her.
"Yes, Ma, it is him." Abby took Mrs. Dawson's hand and led her gently across the yard to Samuel.
"Hello, Ma," Samuel said. Sarah backed away from him so their mother could come closer.
"Oh, thank-you, Jesus, it's my boy, finally come home to me after all these years," Mrs. Dawson broke down and wept. She held out her arms to Samuel and he embraced her. "Who's this you got here with you?" Mrs. Dawson asked when they finally parted.
"Ma, I'd like you to meet my wife and kids." Samuel proceeded to introduce Caroline and their children to Mrs. Dawson and Sarah. Sarah then introduced Jake, who had finally gotten over his bewilderment enough to come closer to the group, and their son and daughter.
"Why, Abby, aren't you going to hug your brother?" Mrs. Dawson queried. "I would expect you of all people to be excited to see him again."
"I have a confession to make, Ma," Abby said. "I already knew they were coming today. When Alex and I went to Calvert a few weeks back, we went to see Sam and Caroline. I had found out they were living over that way, and decided it was high time we were all together once more."
"Ah, you two, what am I to do with you?" Mrs. Dawson clicked her tongue.
"Thank them, Ma," Sarah replied. "They did something that needed to be done."
"That is true, very true."
"What's going on out here?" a voice called from the porch.
Abby turned around to see Alice standing there, a befuddled expression on her face. Alice had been out in the barn milking the cow up until then. "I didn't know we were having extra company," Alice remarked.
Samuel moved forward. "Why, is this little Alice? You were barely past my waist when I last saw you."
Alice stood blinking incredulously at the man addressing her. "Sam? Is that you?"
"Yes, little darlin', it is."
Alice bounded down the two porch steps and into her brother's arms. After hugging Alice, Samuel asked, "Where's Pa and Alex?"
"They're out mending fences," Abby informed him. "I imagine they should be heading in soon, though."
"I saw them way off across the field, driving this way," Alice stated.
"I wonder what Pa will say," Samuel remarked to Mrs. Dawson.
"If he has the sense, he ought to take your appearing as the gift that it is. Seems especially appropriate, it being his birthday and all."
"I decided to come today for that very reason," admitted Samuel. He shuffled his feet restlessly, as if the tension of waiting for his father's arrival was beginning to weigh on him.
"We could go in, you know," Sarah suggested, being the practical oldest sister that she was.
"Yes, let's; I need to get supper finished," Mrs. Dawson said.
The whole family moved into the house, and most of them found a place to settle in the big front sitting area. Sarah went into the kitchen to help Mrs. Dawson, while Abby recruited Alice to assist her in squeezing in extra places around the table. The family members conversed back and forth between the kitchen and the sitting area, exchanging stories of some of the events of the intervening years since they had all been together.
"So, why haven't y'all seen each other in twelve years?" Sarah's husband Jack asked innocently.
A pall of silence fell over the house. Sarah finally responded to Jack's question. "It's a long, sad story, dear, which I will tell you in full later. You will understand in part why when Pa gets here."
Almost as if on cue, the sound of heavy boots came from the back steps. The back door swung open and in strode Mr. Dawson, with Alex right behind him. "Is everyone here, Nancy?" Mr. Dawson asked Mrs. Dawson. "Where did the extra wagon tied in the yard come from?"
"You have a special set of visitors here for your birthday, Robert," Mrs. Dawson answered softly.
"Who?" Mr. Dawson turned his attention to the sitting area. Samuel had risen from his chair when Mr. Dawson had entered, and now Mr. Dawson realized who was standing there in his house.
"Hello, Pa. I've come to see you," Samuel cautiously began.
"So I see. And who told you that you could come here? In fact, how did you even know where to find me?" A scowl covered Mr. Dawson's bearded face.
"None of that matters, Pa. What matters is that it is time to put the past behind us and move on as a family. I've got three children here who need to know their other set of grandparents."
"Move on? You expect me to just forget how you turned your back on this family in favor of our enemies?" Mr. Dawson growled. "You are mistaken. There are some things that are not so easily pardoned!" Mr. Dawson turned to Mrs. Dawson. "Nancy, I am going out to the barn. When I get back, I want that man out of my house and on his way. Do you hear me?"
"Good." Without saying anything else, Mr. Dawson stormed out the back door and slammed it behind him.
Abby was furious. How could he do that to his own son, a son he hasn't seen for years? she fumed to herself. She plunked the flatware she had in her hand onto the table with a clatter. "Don't you go anywhere yet, Sam," she ordered. Abby marched towards the back door.
"Abigail, what do you think you're going to do?" Mrs. Dawson asked nervously.
"Ma, I love Pa, but this has gone on long enough. He's hurting everyone, including himself, and I won't stand by and watch it happen anymore." Abby opened the door and went down the steps. She heard someone following behind her.
"I'm going with you," Alex declared. "I helped bring Sam here."
"All right. Start praying, Alex, because only God is going to be able to get through to Pa concerning this matter."
Alex nodded as they continued on to the barn. They found their father furiously pounding away on a horseshoe in the small smithy shed behind the barn.
Abby cleared her throat forcefully to get his attention. "Pa -- "
"Whatever you have to say, Abigail, I have no interest in hearing. He should never have come here, and that is final." Mr. Dawson shoved the shoe back into the fire.
"Is it, Pa?" Abby asked, not easily deterred. "Please, I have something to say concerning all of this, not in disrespect to you, but because I love and respect you."
Mr. Dawson worked the bellows for the fire for several seconds without replying. He finally stopped and said with a gesture of his hand in her direction, "Very well, say your piece, but do not expect me to change my mind."
"Pa, it was Alex and I that found Samuel and asked him to come here --"
"So you two are the culprits. I should have guessed it."
Abby sighed in frustration. "Pa, if trying to bring reconciliation between you and Sam is a crime, then I shall gladly be the perpetrator of that crime. You are holding a grudge against him for following his conscience years ago instead of appeasing you. Are you going to hold that against him forever?"
"He was wrong."
"To you, he was. I am not saying you have to agree with his decision," Abby told him. "Pa, the war ended ten years ago, at least in this country. Yet, in this family, it is still going on today. I want it to be over."
Mr. Dawson did not respond, but merely began pounding away at the horseshoe once more.
"Pa," Abby said. "Sam is ready to end it. Why can't you?"
Mr. Dawson still worked in silence.
Abby plunged ahead. "Pa, we go to church every Sunday, and have family devotions every morning. We hear it preached and read in the Bible over and over to love and forgive one another. Why doesn't that apply in this situation? Wouldn't the Lord want you to forgive your own son? The Lord Jesus has forgiven us of much, and we are to forgive as He has."
Mr. Dawson froze in mid-swing. He slowly lowered the hammer to his side and looked over at Abby and Alex.
"I believe Sam has forgiven you, too, Pa. I don't think he ever stopped loving you, not for a minute."
"Do you also think that is so?" Mr. Dawson directed this question towards Alex.
"Yes, Pa, I do," Alex confirmed Abby's statement. "Please welcome Sam back, Pa."
Mr. Dawson took in a deep breath, then let it out gradually. "Go on back to the house, please. I will come in a few minutes."
"Yes, sir," they both said.
"What do you think he's going to do?" Alex whispered to Abby as they went back to the wood-frame house.
"I don't know yet, Alex, but I have a feeling that whatever it is, it will be a good thing."
Mrs. Dawson's manner was anxious when the siblings came into the kitchen. "Well, what happened?"
"He's coming back shortly, Ma," replied Abby.
Samuel stood up over in the sitting area. "Should we go?"
Abby shook her head. "No, Sam, you need to stay."
Ten minutes ticked by, with the uneasy air in the house growing as the hands of the clock on the fireplace mantel progressed forward.
"Maybe he has changed his mind -- " Mrs. Dawson began to say when Mr. Dawson reappeared through the back door.
Everyone was tense as he wordlessly walked over to Samuel, who had once again stood. Mr. Dawson put out a work-hardened hand to Samuel. "Welcome home, son."
Samuel gingerly reached for his father's hand. He seemed unsure as to whether he should believe what he was hearing.
Mr. Dawson shook Samuel's hand hardily. Still clasping Samuel's hand, he said, "Please forgive me, Samuel, for shutting you out all these years. I was hurt and angry with you twelve years ago, and what I have done since then has been very wrong. The Lord has shown me that quite clearly." Mr. Dawson glanced about the room. "I wronged all of you, in fact. Please forgive your poor, foolish father."
"I forgive you, Pa." Samuel's voice broke. "Please forgive me for hurting you as I did, and for not trying myself to be reconciled to you during all those years."
"Given my reaction to seeing you today, I can hardly blame you for not trying," Mr. Dawson stated sadly. "I do forgive you, though. Can we begin anew, now?"
"Yes, Pa, I'd like that very much."
Mr. Dawson exchanged the handshake for an embrace. When he stepped back, Abby caught sight of a few tears flowing from the corners of his eyes. She knew then that her father had been deeply moved in his heart, for he was not a man easily given to crying.
"Pa, I'd like you to meet my wife and your grandchildren." Samuel presented his family to his father. When he came to little Nancy, she smiled shyly up at Mr. Dawson, then held out her arms to him.
"Do you want grandpa to hold you?" Caroline asked the child.
"Yes," Nancy answered in her toddler lisp.
Mr. Dawson took the girl up into his arms. She touched his beard curiously, then said, "Pa-Pa."
Everyone smiled affectionately at the tender moment between Mr. Dawson and his granddaughter. "Well, supper is ready," Mrs. Dawson proclaimed, "so let's all gather 'round the table and give thanks for all the good things the Lord has done for us today."
The family crowded around the table for the meal. Mr. Dawson offered up a prayer full of thankfulness for his family -- his whole family -- and the many blessings they had received. Samuel tacked on his own prayer at the end, thanking God for his father and asking a blessing on Mr. Dawson for his birthday. Abby's heart was bursting with joy as the final "amen" was spoken. She gazed about the table at each face, silently giving thanks to the Lord herself that they were all together and happy once again.
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