Sunset Embrace(6)

By: Sandra Brown

During the noon break, when the train halted for both man and beast to rest, Ma climbed into the wagon to change the pad of cloth she had secured between Lydia's thighs.

"The bleedings not so bad. Your woman parts look like they're healin' fine, though you'll be sore for a few more days."

There was nothing crude about Ma's frankness, but it still embarrassed Lydia to have herself peered at that way. She was glad some sensibilities had remained intact considering where she had been living for the past ten years. Her mother must have ingrained some refinement in her before they had moved to the Russell farm. She knew most folks looked upon her as white trash by association. Nasty taunts had been flung in their direction whenever they went in to town, which mercifully wasn't often. Lydia hadn't understood all the words, but she learned to recognize and dread the insulting tone.

lime and again she had been embarrassed and had wanted to scream out that she and her mama weren't like the Russells. They were different. But who would have believed a dirty, ragged, barefoot girl? She had looked just as disreputable as the Russells, so she had been ridiculed too.

But apparently some people weren't so hasty to judge. The Langstons weren't. They hadn't minded her dirty, tattered clothes. They hadn't scorned her for having a baby without a husband. They had treated her like a respectable person.

She didn't feel respectable, but more than anything in the world, that's what she wanted to be. It might take years to shed the taint the Russells had smeared on her, but if she died trying, she would get rid of it.

During the day she met the Langston clan one by one. The two boys who had found her shyly ducked their heads into the wagon at their mothers introduction, "That there's my eldest, Jacob; but everybody calls him Bubba. The other one is Luke." "Thank you for helping me," Lydia said softly. No longer did she resent them for saving her life. Tilings didn't seem so dismal now that she was rid of her last reminder of Clancey.

The towheaded boys blushed to the roots of their pale hair and muttered, "You're welcome."

Anabeth was a gregarious and energetic twelve-year-old. There was also Marynell, Samuel, and Atlanta, with barely a year between them. The baby, Micah, was a strapping three-year-old.

Zeke, whipping the hat off his balding head, spoke to her late that evening from the end of the wagon. "Glad to have you here, Miss ... uh ... Lydia." He smiled and Lydia noted that he had only two teeth in the front of his mouth.

"I'm sony to put you to so much trouble."

"No trouble," he said dismissively.

"I'll get out of your way as soon as possible." She had no idea where she would go or what she would do, but she couldn't impose on this generous family who had so many mouths to feed already.

"Naw, now, you stop worryin' 'bout that. Git yourself fit and then well work somethin' out."

All the Langstons seemed to reflect that attitude. But Lydia wondered about the other members of the train. Surely there had been speculation on the girl who had been brought in after birthing a stillborn baby in the wilderness with no husband around. Ma had refused to admit even the kindest visitors who came to inquire about "the poor unfortunate girl," saying only that it looked like she was going to pull through and that they would be meeting her soon enough.

Lydia's first encounter with anyone on the wagon train other than a Langston came from a loud knocking on the slats of the wagon in the middle of the night. She sat bolt upright, clutching the sheet to her breasts, certain Clancey had risen from the dead and come after her.

"Easy, Lydia," Ma said, pressing her back down to the pillow.

"Ma Langston!" the impatient masculine voice called. A heavy fist thumped on the tailgate. "Ma, please. Are you in there?"

"Hellfire and damnation, what's all the hollerin' for?" Lydia heard Zeke's grumble from outside the wagon. He and the boys slept in bedrolls beneath it.

"Zeke, Victorias in labor. Could Ma come see to her?" The voice was husky, low, laced with anxiety. "She started feeling bad after supper. Its labor for sure, not just indigestion."

By this time Ma had crawled to the end of the waeon and shoved the canvas flaps aside. "Mr. Coleman? Is that you? You say your wife's in labor? I didn't think she. was due—"

"I didn't either. She's . . ." Lydia heard the stark terror that vibrated in the man's voice. "She's in agony. Will you come?"

"I'm on my way." Ma turned back into the wagon and reached for her boots, pulling them on quickly. "You rest quiet now," she said to Lydia calmly and in contrast to her brisk movements. "Anabeth will be right here. Shell come flying if you need me." She lifted a crocheted shawl over her bulky shoulders. "Seems another babe is 'bout to be born."