This is the fiftenth part of a fiction serial, in 890 words.
Daddy did the mannered thing, and invited the Ryans inside. Fortunately, they also had manners and declined, seeing as we were working. Mr Ryan walked around a bit with daddy, making polite noises about how well built our homestead was. When they had driven off, daddy told us what Ryan had said. “He’s living in town, renting rooms from Chisholm. Reckons he has no intention of living on the land here, but going to raise hogs he has bought from back east. Said he’s a book-keeper, at least was in New York. Hoping to get work at that once the settlement expands. Asked me to come build him a house when that happens. When the hogs get here, he has arranged for two negroes to manage them. S’pose they’ll have a shack or such.”
I had hoped we might get a break if they came inside to visit, and was also disappointed not to see more of the redhead. But it was back to the fence rails before we finished off the shelter for the horses by making the roof better.
We didn’t see the hogs get delivered, but we sure heard them. The squealing was coming from across the creek as they were unloaded. Within two days, we could smell them too. I went through the trees to look across the creek, but could only see the top of a tent in the distance. I guessed the negroes were going to have to wait for their shack.
Once the church was finished, Reverend Parker invited us to be guests of homour at the inaugural service. Daddy said we couldn’t rightly say no, so we wore our cleanest clothes and combed our hair. I wore my straw hat too, and Henry cleaned his boots with handfuls of grass. They had finally fixed the bell into its small tower just a few days before, but the reverend wouldn’t let them test it. He wanted to save that bell for Sunday. Daddy said I had done a good job with the benches They all looked the same length and width, and he had tried sitting on some, declaring them sturdy.
After the service, there was a party of sorts on the land behind the church. There was punch and beer to drink, and some cakes and pies to eat. Even though the the Irishman Shawn Ryan was almost certainly a Catholic, him and his family had been in church, and stayed on so he could mix with the men in the crowd, presumably trying to sell his services. I tried to catch the eye of his redhead daughter, but she stuck close to her ma. However, her big sister came over holding two pieces of pie, and offered me one. I gulped it down, as it was sure tasty. She nibbled at hers, sort of ladylike. When I nodded my thanks and walked away, she followed, catching up to stand by my side.
In that short walk, she talked like there was a prize for talking. Mr Ryan was her daddy, but Mrs Ryan was his second wife. The redhead girl’s name was Elizabeth, and she was her half-sister. She said her name was Maggie, Margaret in full, and she remembered my name was Phineas. I thought it was mighty strange that Maggie looked so much like a woman who wasn’t her ma, but said nothing. I put it down to the fact that they were both big-built. Every time I turned to listen to her, she gave me what daddy called ‘the big eyes’. Young as I was, there was no mistaking that.
When I asked about Elizabeth, she seemed vexed. “Don’t concern yourself with her. Pa is sending her to school back east in September. My Pa’s old aunt is paying for it, and she’s gonna live with her. She’s gonna be gone for years. But I ain’t going nowhere”. The implication of those last words wasn’t lost on me.
I could see a crowd gathered around my daddy and Henry. So I excused myself. As I started to walk away, she said something that stopped me. “I really love your accent, Phineas. Where are you from?” I swallowed hard, trying to think of somewhere that didn’t join the Confederacy where they might have something like my accent. “Maryland”. That seemed to satisfy her, and I walked off.
The men talking to daddy were all praising the work on the building of the church, and asking when he would be free to do jobs for them. He was shaking his head, telling them he was busy with promised work, and they started to offer more money if he moved them up the queue. Seemed like good house-builders were scarce down there. He had started to raise his hands to silence them, when there was a commotion out front of the church. People were standing in a line, and others heading there to see what it was.
It was a whole company of Union cavalry, fully-equipped, and with a supply wagon behind too. A man called out to the officer riding up front, and he stopped, raising his arm to slow the column. “It’s the injuns. Trouble up north, Sibley County. We have been sent to help the militia”.
When everyone started mumbling and murmuring, daddy took the opportunity for us to head home.