Sophia did alright at school. Nothing exceptional, but she was good at reading and writing, and liked to hear about history too. But as she got older, her main interest started to be about Teacher White’s son, John. He was called Jack by everyone, and was almost four years older than Sophia. By the time she was almost fifteen, Jack had already gone away to study at college. He hadn’t made no promises, but everyone knew they were sweet on each other. He wrote her letters, telling her how he wanted to be a newspaperman like his grandfather back in Rochester, and she sat and read them after dinner, over and over. She quit school not long after her birthday, and stayed home to help Susan, and to learn the kind of things women do.
After he got back, he helped his pa around the school, but he was restless to return to Rochester. Then one night, Sophia told her ma that he had kissed her and asked her to marry him. It had been on the fourth of July celebration organised that year of ninety, when Sophia was seventeen. Susan told her to tell Jack to come talk to me, and ask permission just like I had done with Walter. He came out on the next Sunday, with his pa. He asked me to let him have my girl for his wife, and told me he was fixing to go back to Rochester, and work on his grandpa’s newspaper. I asked him to wait until Sophia was eighteen, but Teacher White told me the old man was ill, and wanted to train Jack on what to do before he died. I said I would think about it.
When I spoke to Susan that night Sophia was already up in her room crying, sure that Jack would leave without her. Angela had taken her up some food and sat with her, but told us she wouldn’t stop sobbing. Susan said there was nothing for it but to let her go, and we should arrange the wedding real soon. “He’s a good man, Phin. Not just tall and handsome, but real clever too. And he will have his own newspaper”. She had no idea just how far away Rochester was, even though she knew Henry had come all that way with his pa, years earlier. She had even asked Henry if he knew of the White family, but of course he remembered very little about his past.
Reverend Parker was too old and senseless to do any preaching and marrying by then, so the new preacher married my Sophia and Jack. There wasn’t even time for much of a celebration, just a family meal in one of the good hotels. Joe White was going to take them the short journey to the train at Newton, as the local railroad only took stock and goods, not people. As they drove off in Joe’s buggy, Sophia didn’t even turn and wave. I reckoned I would never see her again.
And I never did.
In the fall of ninety-one, the twins came to tell me they were quitting, and setting up on their own over in Delano. I paid them off and shook their hands, then got Henry to give them a ride into town in the wagon. When he got back, Henry asked me if I was going to take on some more men. I shook my head. “Don’t reckon so, Henry. We have been working hard for a long time now. I need to take some time off, finish off the house properly, and maybe do some easy small jobs for regular customers. We have a lot put by, and it will be nice not to to be under all that pressure now”. Henry smiled.”I could take down Walter’s old cabin. Nobody’s using it now, and it would make more space”. I shook my head again. “Reckon not, Henry. Don’t seem right, with the memory of Mary and Walter and all. We can use it for storage for now”.
The next year when the snow had gone, we were working on the roof of the house when the big ladder slipped away and Henry fell with it. He said he was alright, dusted himself off and smiled. But he wasn’t standing straight, so Susan made me take him in the buggy to see the doctor. Frazer had a partner now, a young man from Chicago who had bought into the firm, and he examined Henry. Doctor O’Connor was up with all the latest medical advances, and soon came to a conclusion. “You have broken your back, I’m afraid, one of the bones high up, near your neck. That’s why your shoulder hurts so much, and why you can’t stand straight”. Henry looked at me, and I asked O’Connor. “Can you fix him, Doc? I can pay if he needs surgery”.
The serious man rubbed his chin. “Well, they might operate on him, but he would have to go back east, to one of the best hospitals. Even so, an operation there might just leave him paralyzed. I wouldn’t recommend it”. He turned to Henry. “Best thing you can do at your age is to rest. No more heavy work, and definitely no ladders or carrying”. When he had gone, Henry spoke to me seriously.
“Before we go home, we need to find us a good lawyer”.