Riverlands Acres looked resplendent in the early morning sun. The gardens were covered in a light dew, and the scent of the earth and the flowers hung in the air like perfume.
Kathleen loved to walk in the gardens at that time, cutting fresh flowers for the house or pruning the roses.
There was a magical air about the place, the heat of the day not yet burning away the mist which hung about the larch trees, and through which Kathleen now made her way, humming to herself as she went.
She and Matthew had lived at Riverlands Acres for the past five years. In that time, they had brought the house back to life, restoring it inside and out, and turning the gardens into a productive farm and smallholding. They grew vegetables and kept cattle and pigs. There were stables, and Kathleen had become an expert rider.
Matthew worked hard, he had always worked hard, and it was his hard work that had led them to save the money to buy the dilapidated old house and transform it into their own. Kathleen still worked at the schoolhouse and played the piano at the church, but she had other responsibilities now, one of which was just running across the lawn toward her.
“Mother, mother, I couldn’t find you,” the little girl exclaimed, and Kathleen smiled, sweeping her up into her arms and kissing her.
“You know I like to come out into the gardens in the early morning, Isabelle, we have a big day ahead of us and I wanted a little peace and quiet,” Kathleen said, as she set Isabelle down and took her by the hand.
“Jeremiah woke me up,” Isabelle said, speaking of her brother who, at eight years old, was a boisterous little thing – especially early in the morning.
Isabelle was ten, a pretty little girl with long curly brown hair and deep green eyes. She took after her father, and as they approached the house, Matthew appeared on the terrace with a pot of coffee in his hand.
“She insisted on coming to find you. I told her you like your peace first thing in the morning,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
Kathleen smiled. She did not mind the interruption; besides, she had a lot to do that day. Reverend Clarke had decided that Riverlands Acres would be the perfect place to hold a fundraising drive for the church mission. They were to hold a bazaar that day on the lawns, and the whole of West Trails had been encouraged to attend. Jupiter Smythe was to read the newspapers and there would be a cake stall, ring toss, coconut shy, and all manner of entertainments.
“There won’t be much peace here today. My father arrives at nine o’clock to start setting up his stall. He and Annie are doing guess the weight of the cake. If it’s anything like our wedding cake then I’ll wager it’s at least ten pounds,” Kathleen said, smiling and shaking her head.
At that moment, Jeremiah appeared on the terrace. He was a golden-haired little boy with an ever-smiling face, and he grinned at his parents with wide blue eyes, as Isabelle went up to him and began playing the part of big sister.
“Now, Jeremiah, you need your hair combing,” she said.
It was her favorite game, and Kathleen smiled, watching as she proceeded to lead him to a chair on the terrace and sit him down ready to have his hair combed.
“You won’t ever get those curls out,” she said, and Isabelle looked up at her with an indignant look such as only little girls could give.
“He needs to look smart for our guests,” she said, and Kathleen laughed.
Just then, she heard the sounds of a schooner pulling up at the front of the house and leaving the children playing on the terrace, she and Matthew made their way through the hallway and out of the door at the front. Her father and Annie had just arrived, with the schooner loaded up with pieces of wood, and Annie clutching a large square shaped object, wrapped tightly in cloth.
“Is that the cake?” Kathleen asked, as Annie handed it down to her.
“That’s the cake,” she said, smiling and shaking her head.
“And no guessing until the bazaar is officially opened,” Carson said, climbing down from the prairie schooner and handing an envelope to Matthew.
“For me?” he asked, and Carson nodded.
“It looks like Ruby’s writing,” he replied.
Sure enough, the letter came from the convent in Biscoe, and Matthew read it out as they helped Carson and Annie to unload the schooner.
“She says she’s going to pay us a visit in the autumn, she sounds happy though,” he said, folding the letter.
“When doesn’t Ruby sound happy? She’s always happy,” Kathleen replied, smiling at Matthew, who nodded.
“I still wish she were closer. It’s a long way to Biscoe from here,” he said, taking up a piece of the stall to carry through to the gardens.
“Or maybe we’re a long way from her,” Kathleen replied.
“Well, we’re not going to move to North Carolina,” Matthew said, raising his eyebrows.
“Then Ruby’s always going to be a long way away. She’s made her choice, she’s happy, and so are we,” Kathleen replied.
Riverlands Acres was soon a hive of activity. Reverend Clarke arrived a short while later, accompanied by Stamper and Sunny, who were to set up the Punch and Judy show. Stamper and Annie now had a five-year-old son named Albert, and he came too, waving excitedly to Isabelle and Jeremiah, who had been waiting for him. Sunny had made the puppets and Stamper had been practicing his performance, much to Annie’s amusement.
“He keeps talking in that high-pitched voice and calling me ‘Judy,’ all the time,” she said, as she and Kathleen watched Stamper with his puppets.
“I’m sure Albert loves it,” Kathleen replied, as the three children played happily together on the grass.
“He thinks it’s wonderful that his papa has his own puppet show. I never thought I’d see Stamper so taken with having children, but he’s talking about having another,” Annie said, smiling at Kathleen, who laughed.
“Well, why not? You’re a wonderful mother, Annie,” she said, and Annie blushed.
“I try my best,” she said, just as a shout came from across the lawn.
“Mrs. Olson. Where can we put the tea tent?” Jim Sutcliff called out.
“Excuse me,” Kathleen said, and she hurried off to help.
Soon, the laws of Riverlands Acres were covered in stalls and tents, with townspeople milling about, and excitement building. Many of the children from the schoolhouse had arrived, and they were eager for the Punch and Judy show to begin.
“This seemed like a good idea at the time,” Matthew whispered to Kathleen, a smile coming over his face as they stood together on the terrace surveying the scene before them.
“It brings the community together. We have this big old house, and I want people to see it, to feel that it’s theirs, too,” Kathleen said, just as Reverend Clarke called for order.
“Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, it’s my great pleasure to welcome you to Riverlands Acres for our first annual church mission,” he began.
“Annual?” Matthew exclaimed.
“I might have suggested we could make it an annual event,” Kathleen replied, blushing, as she and Matthew looked on.
“And we’re very grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Olson for allowing us the use of their wonderful gardens. Riverlands Acres was once a place in ruins, but together they’re brought it back to life and we thank them for their kind invitation. Now, without further ado, it gives me very great pleasure to declare this bazaar, open!” he said, and there was a round of applause, before the townspeople rushed to the stalls and entertainments.
Kathleen was kept busy all afternoon, and it delighted her to see Riverlands Acres come so alive. Isabelle and Jeremiah sat with Albert, transfixed by the Punch and Judy show, a performance that everyone agreed was quite remarkable.
“I might not have my second man for long,” Carson said, as Stamper appeared from behind the puppet theatre to take a bow.
“Why? Do you think Stamper’s planning a full-time change of job?” Kathleen asked, laughing and shaking her head.
“Well, he’s pretty good at it,” her father replied, as Mr. Punch gave a final bow.
The cake stall was sold out, and the last prizes on the ring toss had been won. The townspeople were beginning to drift away, thanking Kathleen and Matthew for a wonderful afternoon.
“Look at all the money we’ve made. We can do some real good with this,” Reverend Clarke said, as he sat down to count the takings with Alfred Rulletti.
“How much do you think we’ve made, Reverend?” Kathleen asked, and Reverend Clarke thought for a moment.
“I’d say we have three hundred dollars here, and that’s a lot for a town like West Trails. I’m already looking forward to next year,” he said, looking up at Kathleen and Matthew with a smile.
When the last of the stalls had been packed away, and they had said goodbye to Reverend Clarke, and the others, Kathleen, Matthew, and the children made their way inside. Sunny was staying for dinner, and they sat down at the table in the kitchen where Kathleen had prepared a meal for them.
Despite the size of the house, they did not have a cook or maid, only a woman from the town who came in a few times a week to help Kathleen with the children. That was how they liked it, to be a family and see to their own needs themselves. It had been a long day, and Kathleen was tired, but there was one more piece of good news to share before the day was done.
“What a lovely day it’s been. It’s so nice to see the whole town turn out for a special event,” Sunny said, as she sat with Jeremiah on her knee.
Sunny had never married, she always said she was too busy being a schoolteacher to find romance. Yet she doted on Isabelle and Jeremiah and was Godmother to them both.
“It’ll take weeks for the lawn to recover,” Matthew said, glancing out of the window across the gardens.
“It’ll grow back, besides, wasn’t it worth it to raise all that money for the church?” Kathleen said, placing a pan of fried chicken on the table.
“Maybe next year just pass the collection plate around twice,” Matthew said, winking at her.
She knew he was only teasing her, and they sat down to eat, with Jeremiah insisting on saying Grace.
“There was another reason we wanted you to stay for dinner, Sunny,” Kathleen said, when the last of the chicken had been finished and the plates were piled up to wash.
“Don’t tell me you’re not coming to teach anymore, there’s not a child in this town – and a few grown-ups, too – that doesn’t love your singing lessons. The older ones still talk about it,” Sunny said, but Kathleen shook her head.
“It’s not that, no, it’s a surprise we’ve kept from everyone, even my father doesn’t know yet,” she said, and Sunny looked at her with a smile.
“You don’t mean…” she said, putting her hand on Jeremiah’s head, and Kathleen nodded.
“We’re having another baby. Only Doctor Ballard knows at the moment, but we wanted you to be the first to know. It wasn’t expected, but I was feeling sick a few days in a row. I went to see him and well…” she said, and Sunny clapped her hands together in delight.
“Oh, Kathleen, I’m so excited for you, a little baby brother or sister for these two. Did you hear that?” she said, turning to Isabelle, who nodded.
“Mother told me, but I had to keep it a secret,” she said, and Sunny laughed.
“And you did it very well, I didn’t have an inkling about it. How long until it’s due?” she asked, and Kathleen glanced at Matthew, who smiled.
“Only a few months,” she said, taking Sunny’s hand and squeezing it.
They had been keeping the secret long enough, and now it was time to share the happy news with everyone. Kathleen had been content with two children, Isabelle and Jeremiah having brought untold joy into her life. But the thought of another child made her feel that all was now complete.
She had a loving family, she had her faith, and she had Matthew. It was all she had ever dreamed of, though it had come about in a most unusual way. Her life had always contained surprises, and now she was ready to put her trust in God again and know that the future would be bright.
“We can’t wait,” Matthew said, and Kathleen slipped her hand into his, looking up at him with a smile.
“It’s another adventure waiting to happen,” she replied.
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