The school bell rang, but Teddy Barnes wanted to finish the story. Marco Polo was riding a camel through the foreboding canyons of inland China. A group of horsemen in vibrant red robes appeared on the horizon.
“Don’t run!” the teacher called, as the other children quickly fled the one room schoolhouse, breaking out into the sunshine.
“The reading will keep until Monday,” the teacher said, placing her hand on Teddy’s shoulder.
She had always been kind to him, lending books and answering questions. Teddy never would have been so bold with his own mother.
Reluctantly he closed the history textbook. Teddy had formally started grade three, but was already listening in on the sixth-grade lessons. Many of the children found taking lessons in a one room schoolhouse distracting, but not Teddy Barnes. He could never learn enough. Gathering his pencil and scribbler, Teddy headed for the door. He was a tall, good-looking boy with a shock of black hair and had the slightest hint of a stoop. Mother was continually telling
him to straighten up, but Teddy didn’t like towering above the other kids, preferring instead to blend in.
Bill yelled from the baseball diamond, “You’re on my team!”
The boys were picking sides for a quick pickup game of pickup baseball. Bill MacMillan was Teddy’s best friend. He was a self-confident boy, the youngest of six sisters, all of whom fawned over him. Summer freckles spanned Bill’s nose and cheeks, while a wide variety of patches covered the knees of his trousers. Most of Teddy’s classmates wore mended clothing. There wasn’t any money for anything new since the Depression began, so everyone had to make do.
“You’re pitching!” Bill called.
Teddy set his books under the tree and slowly trotted up to the mound. Bill squatted behind home plate, giving Teddy the fastball sign. Teddy nodded and knuckled the ball while Rusty Little sneered, swinging his hips.
“Whatcha waiting for, an invitation?” Rusty called, the bat slightly loosened in his grip, showing off a bit for the girls watching the game.
Seeing Rusty’s distraction, Teddy took the opportunity and threw. The ball flew over the plate. Rusty swung as the ball whumped into Bill’s mitt.
“Strike!” called the ump.
“I wasn’t ready!” Rusty yelled.
“Too slow,” Bill replied, tossing the ball back to Teddy.
Rusty scowled and scuffled, digging his shiny Buster Browns into the loose dirt. He was the only kid in the school who ever had new clothes, a fact he seemed to resent. Teddy looked for the sweet spot. He’d been playing ball since he could remember, even though Mother thought
the league was a waste of time. Rusty glared at the pitcher’s mound as Teddy’s eyes crinkled in the sun. The ball flew again and Rusty swung as the ball magically dropped over the plate. “Strike two!” the ump called.
“Come on!” Rusty bellowed, as Bill smiled behind his mitt. “Get on with it!” Teddy pitched, when Rusty suddenly stepped into the path of the ball, determined to bunt, but the throw was too fast. The ball ricocheted off the worn wood, bouncing up to strike Rusty square in the chin. He staggered backwards grabbing his face.
“You did that on purpose!” Rusty yelled.
“No I didn’t,” Teddy replied, “I’m sorry, are you okay?”
Bill turned to call the next batter to the plate, when Rusty furiously bolted towards the mound, hurling the bat as hard as he could. Teddy quickly stepped out of the way, but Rusty was right behind the bat, and on Teddy in an instant, fists beating wildly, as both boys hit the ground.
“Get off me! It was an accident!” Teddy yelled, bucking so hard that he flipped Rusty off. Rusty took another swipe, but Teddy leapt on top, easily pinning him down. “Fight chicken!” Rusty spat.
The other kids were running towards the mound.
Several girls yelled, “Fight! Fight!”
Bill was there in seconds, egging Teddy on.
“Give him a poke,” Bill cried out, but Teddy didn’t budge.
He held Rusty down in the dust, pinning his arms to either side. The teacher burst out of the school house, running across the yard calling for the children to disperse. “It wasn’t Teddy’s fault. It was Rusty who started it,” Bill said.
The other children clamoured in agreement. Angrily the teacher pulled Rusty to his feet, dragging him by the ear towards the schoolhouse.
“I’m sending you home with a note,” she said.
Rusty didn’t reply. He looked darkly over his shoulder at Teddy who simply brushed himself off and turned away.
“Why do you always let him get away with stuff like that?” Bill asked, his shoes tied around his neck by their mismatched laces, books casually tucked under one arm. The boys had decided to follow the stream home. It was still warm enough to walk barefoot and the skin of their feet, hardened from working shoeless in the fields all summer, felt good splashing through the shallow water.
“Dad always says there’s no good in fighting,” Teddy said, picking up a flat stone to skip across the water.
None of the Barnes men believed in violence
“The kids’ll say you’re yellow,” Bill protested.
“I don’t care,” Teddy replied, picking up his pace again.
There was no use talking to his friend about fighting, so Bill switched to another favourite topic.
“We got a whole bunch of new lambs in. You want to come see them?” Bill asked. “Sure.,” Teddy smiled.
He didn’t really care to see the animals, but Teddy didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings. While Bill loved to farm, Teddy didn’t couldn’t bear to think about living out his days on the land any more than he liked to fight. He knew it was wicked and ungrateful. Likely the
sort of thought that could send him straight to hell for not honouring his mother and father, but no matter how many times he desperately prayed to God to make him want to be a farmer, all he ever thought of were ways to escape. So far, the only avenue was books. History books that transported him worlds away from gathering eggs, milking cows, mending fences, mucking out stalls and filling silos to magical places anywhere else on earth.
A horn honked. The boys looked towards the concession road in the distance. A pickup truck with slatted wood siding was speeding towards them, billows of dust trailing behind. Bill waved his hand and Mooney replied with another short honk of the horn. Mooney Shantz drove around the region picking up crates of eggs from farmers and then sold them to the grader in town. Mother did a lot of business with Mooney, but privately said he couldn’t be trusted. A few times he’d shortchanged her, claiming that some of the eggs were broken.
“They weren’t broken before they got in your truck,” Mother had replied, hands clamped onto her hips.
At that, Mooney usually reached into his pocket and fished out another penny or two, grumbling about how hard it was to make an honest living.
Now his old truck screeched to a halt by the side of the road, and Mooney leaped out of the cab.
“It’s your Mother,” Mooney gasped, hands on his knees and bent over almost double to catch his breath. “The baby’s come.”
Chapter Two: The Christening
The CN train shot through the cornfields heading west as the purser took Ed Barnes’s ticket. Since the market crash, he could ill afford the fare. The government promised that with Black Monday things had hit bottom and would soon right themselves, but they had only gotten worse. Banks were going bust. People were being tossed out of their houses. Jobs had all but dried up, and even Ed’s scholarships were being hard hit, yet he knew enough to be grateful for what he had. Other young men and women had nothing to hope for, their dreams on indefinite hold; but Ed’s future was still bright. He just had to make do for right now, and the great minds that ran the world economy would figure things out. Ed had no interest in the business of politics. All he wanted to do was teach history.
Ed had yet to meet Teddy or Charlie’s wife Elizabeth. He’d missed the wedding and Teddy’s birth using the excuse of exams, but he loved Charlie and there was no acceptable reason for missing his niece’s christening. While he’d never formally met his nephew, they’d established a regular correspondence. Teddy was growing into a bright young fellow who mentioned nothing about farming and wrote solely about the world of ideas.
The whistle sounded as the wheels struck the open metal tracks covering the bridge. Ed could see the wide expanse of the Grand River churning below. Armies of trees, their branches clenched together in tight balls of brilliant orange, red and gold, reached up, punching out of the ground. He was home.
Ed hitched a ride with Mooney, who talked non-stop about how the weather was upsetting the hens, thereby making the eggs puny.
“Thanks for the lift,” Ed said, hopping out of the cab.
Ed looked around at his old homestead. Even with the economy bad, the farm looked prosperous. The house was especially fine. Charlie’s new wife certainly knew how to stretch a penny. Charlie claimed she was Scottish to the core. Ed knocked on the door.
Nobody answered. Should he open it? This was his childhood home, even if both of their parents were dead. Ed poked his head inside.
“Hello?” Ed called.
His voice volleyed. Nobody was home. The house still looked the same as when he was a boy, filled with the furniture and light fixtures his grandparents had brought over from Scotland. The only thing different was the paint and wallpaper. The parlour was flooded with cheerful yellow daffodils and the hallways were awash in dusty pink roses. As Ed entered the house, he felt as if he was swallowed by a spring bouquet.
Smiling at the joy the colours brought to the house, Ed snatched an apple out of a bowl, figuring he might as well go up to his room and get some reading done. They were likely out making last-minute arrangements for the baptism and would return eventually. The more work he got done now, the more time he’d have getting acquainted with his nephew and new baby niece.
But there would be no working in his old room. Gone were his books, sports pennants and even the old blue beanie he’d worn all frosh week. Every trace of him had been washed away and replaced by the presence of a little girl. Scratching his head, he realized that of course, the baby would be taking over his old room. He hadn’t thought of it before and always assumed he’d have a place in the family house, but naturally they’d move him out and his niece in.
Ed walked back down the hall. The door to his parent’s room stood slightly ajar. He poked his head inside and was surprised to find a woman fast asleep on the bed, with a little girl sitting wide awake beside her. Quietly, Ed tiptoed in
The baby gurgled. She was an alert little creature with cerulean eyes and Charlie’s bright red hair. When Ed brought his finger to his lips, attempting to shush her, the baby gurgled again. He twiddled his thumb in her face, and she reached out to grab it.
“Ssh,” he whispered. “I’m your Uncle Ed.”
The woman stirred, bringing her hand up to the side of her face to brush away a stray lock of long black hair. A green and white gingham sundress twisted around her hips and her arms were lightly tanned from the sun. Ed stepped back. It was the woman from the dance at the Normal School. Ed couldn’t stop staring at her, until suddenly she opened her eyes.
“Hannibal!” she exclaimed, sitting straight up, thoroughly shocked. She quickly pulled down her dress, snatching the child. “Leave my baby be!”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m Charlie’s brother.”
“Haven’t you seen a picture of me?”
That was just like Charlie, not leaving memories lying around. After his parents passed, Charlie had removed most of the family photos and Bessie never asked to see them. “Please leave,” Bessie said, trying to fight down the rising panic, clutching Bette tightly to her bosom.
“I would never hurt you,” Ed replied. “Or the baby.”
Rather than sensing danger, the baby started to coo and giggle.
“Who are you?” Bessie asked again, anger beginning to overwhelm fear. “You ruined my life and now you’re back to destroy my family?”
“My name is Ed. Edward Barnes. Surely Charlie told you about me. I’m a PhD student in Toronto. I told you at the dance.
“Before you left me in the lurch.”
Logic’s wheels turned in Bessie’s mind. She knew that Charlie had a younger brother Ed who’d left for university years ago, but she never connected his Ed, with her Edward. How stupid she’d been.
“I didn’t leave you anywhere. I found out where you were staying. I went there. The landlady said that you’d packed your things and returned home. She wouldn’t tell me where home was.”
So he had come round to find her. He still looked the same. Better maybe. Ed. What a normal name that one was. Hannibal was better than that. His manner irritated her. What had seemed charming, now seemed uppity.
“Mother!” a boy called, running up the stairs. “Is he here?”
“Yes,” Bessie replied as Teddy appeared in the doorway.
“I’m Teddy!” the boy exclaimed, thrusting his hand out to grab his uncle’s. “I’m Uncle Ed.”
Ed had never known a boy with such a firm, honest grip. He liked his face immediately. “You can talk about that later. Why don’t you show your uncle where he’s sleeping,” Bessie said.
“She’s a pretty girl Bessie,” Ed said. “What’s her name?”
“Elizabeth,” Bessie replied, pausing to chuck the baby under the chin.
“I call her Bette for short,” Teddy said.
“As in making a bet?” Ed asked with a crooked smile.
Bessie kissed her daughter.
“Even at this age, she a surer thing than you,” she replied as they left.
That’s where Teddy got his colouring, Bessie thought. And his build.
She had always assumed it came from her side of the family. Why didn’t Charlie tell her? Why didn’t she ask? Bessie knew one thing for certain. Ed wasn’t going to be staying for very long.
Ed sat on the extra bed in Teddy’s room, pretending to listen, but all he could think about was Bessie. What a horrible piece of luck. He’d never forgotten her, no matter how many girls he asked out. Those eyes. The way she felt in his arms. Nobody else had come close. Ed hadn’t lied. He’d written the head of the Normal School trying to find out where she was teaching, but there was no Elizabeth Hunter listed. He’d bought a road map, borrowed a car and driven around the London area asking in every small town and school he came upon if they knew her. It occupied every weekend of his life for a good year, but he never found Elizabeth Hunter. She wasn’t registered as teaching anywhere in the province. She had vanished. Eventually he gave up, but he never forgot her.
“Dinner!” Bessie called up from the kitchen.
“Are you interested in Marco Polo?” Teddy asked, putting aside his text on the Italian adventurer.
“Antiquities are more my field, but yes, Polo was instrumental in opening important trade routes,” Ed replied.
He ruffled Teddy’s hair. The boy had a pleasant, intelligent demeanor. Bessie had done a good job with her son. That much was clear.
The family was sitting around the kitchen table having scalloped potatoes and ham. Charlie had insisted on something special in honour of his brother coming all the way from Toronto.
“How are people in the city doing?” Charlie asked.
“Bad,” Uncle Ed said. “Out here you can grow your own food to eat and you’ve got a cow for milk and wood for heat. The city people don’t have that. There’s a lot of begging started.”
“I wouldn’t beg no matter how hungry I was,” Bessie said, ladling another spoonful of potatoes onto Charlie’s plate. “I think the Prime Minister is right. I think they’re looking for a handout. Lord knows we can’t afford to be giving money away in times like these. We need somebody keeping an eye on the purse strings of the country”
“I imagine you wouldn’t know what you’d do unless you were in the situation,” Charlie replied.
He’d never gone hungry before, but Charlie was starting to feel the pinch in his wallet, and his gut said it was going to get a whole lot worse before it got any better. He wasn’t even sure how they were going to afford seed for next year.
“How are things at school?’ he asked his brother.
“Times are hard there too,” Ed replied.
Bessie looked up from her place across the table. “We don’t have any money,” she said. “Bessie,” Charlie said, shocked that his wife would be so direct.
“If he needs money we just don’t have it,” Bessie replied. “I have to tell the truth.” Teddy looked over at his father. Why was Mother being so mean to Uncle Ed? “I don’t mean to be rude, but this farm can only generate enough income for one family, and since you made your choice years ago to move to the city and take on all that studying, you can hardly go changing your mind now,” Bessie said. “More ham? she asked. “Please,” Ed replied, extending his plate. “I don’t need your money. I’ve got my scholarships to see me through, and when I graduate, I’ll get a job.“
A slice of pink meat slid off the knife onto his plate.
“This place is half Ed’s too,” Charlie said.
“He hasn’t farmed it. He hasn’t wanted to have anything to do with it and he can’t come back when things are bad wanting his share,” Bessie said.
“I was just explaining the way things are to Teddy,” Ed said, slowly chewing his ham. “I don’t have anything to worry about. By the time I’m finished, this whole mess will be over.” “That’s what people say, but then they find their back up against the wall, then they’re home, cap in hand,” Bessie said, cutting herself a piece of meat. “I just think that it’s important that we discuss these things. We can’t sweep them under the rug,” Bessie replied, taking a bite. “Bessie!” Charlie repeated, a whole lot louder this time.
Teddy looked around the table. What was going on?
“Don’t worry about it,” Ed replied. “Your wife is right. There’s not enough to go around right now and she should be thinking of her family.”
“But you’re family too Uncle Ed,” Teddy said.
“Theodore!” Bessie said. “You don’t speak until you’re spoken to.”
Teddy hung his head. “I’m sorry Mother,” he replied.
“I honestly don’t need your money,” Ed said. “Can we talk about something else?” he asked.
“Fine idea,” Bessie replied.
“Have you met any nice young ladies?” Charlie asked, trying to bring a bit of levity back into the conversation.
Ed shook his head. “Too busy with school. And as Bessie so rightly pointed out, I don’t have the money for courting.”
A silence fell over the table. Bessie was considering Ed’s revelation that there’d been no women in his life. How long had that been true? Teddy was too frightened of Mother’s mood to initiate any conversation and Charlie just felt flat. How could his wife embarrass him like that? Ed was his brother and had a stake in the place as well.
The two men were out in the barn. Charlie gave Teddy the night off from milking the cows so he could have some time with his brother. It was a rare opportunity to speak frankly. “I apologize for Bessie,” Charlie said, looking into the foamy pail of milk. “Nothing to worry about,” Ed replied.
Ed wondered if he should talk to Charlie about knowing his wife, but how to start? Bessie clearly hated him and any chance Ed had had with her was gone. It would only confuse matters.
Ed glanced around. The old paddock still looked the same. “I’m sorry for not making the wedding,” Ed said.
“You were busy,” Charlie replied.
Ed nodded, wandering over to the pen that housed a large male boar. What if Ed had attended the wedding? Could he have stopped it? Charlie and Bessie had been married nine years so she hadn’t been waiting around for him, as he had for her. Besides, she seemed so changed from the happy, spirited young woman he’d danced with. Life on the farm had hardened her. Was it his fault? He didn’t need to know and he refused to let himself worry. The past was dead. As far as Ed was concerned, he’d left the farm behind the day he stepped on the train for school. Charlie and Bessie could have it all. He had another destiny to fulfill.
The boar was staring at Ed. What went on behind those perfectly round, little red eyes? Charlie told him the hog’s name was Laddie and that he’d bought him for stud. The boar had an evil disposition and fought any other pigs Charlie tried to bring into the barn. “Here Laddie,” Ed said, chucking a few carrots into the trough.
The boar stuck his snout in, banging his tusks against the concrete, quickly snuffling up the food.
“How’s school?” Charlie asked.
Ed started to explain his thesis, but could see that Charlie wasn’t listening. His older brother didn’t really care about anything other than the price of seed, weather reports, cattle futures or Massey Ferguson tractors. Ed’s fascination with antiquity, in particular Hannibal, meant nothing to Charlie. He was proud of his little brother’s accomplishments, but didn’t care
to know too much about them. To be fair to Charlie, Ed didn’t care to know too much about
Charlie either. They loved one another in an abstract dutiful fashion, the way that brothers should, but their passions ran in opposing directions.
The next morning the family sat in the front row of the United Church in downtown Galt. The church bells rang as the congregation filed into the nave, quickly taking their seats. The ladies, all wearing hats, veils and white gloves, made certain their children sat up straight in the oak pews and minded their manners. Any child who talked out in church would most surely be punished. Teddy glanced over the church program while Charlie nodded to a friend in the row behind. Bessie was trying to look nonchalant, but very curious as to who was in attendance that day and who wasn’t.
Every so often her head craned and swiveled taking in the congregants. The church bells ceased to ring, signaling the service was about to begin. Ed looked over at his niece. Bette was dressed in a fussy baptismal gown that Bessie’s grandmother brought with her from Scotland. Bessie had bleached it and starched it until the dress was a brilliant white. Ed wondered if all the starch was scratching the baby’s skin, but he had to admit that Bette was an angel.
Ed desperately wanted to loosen the tie around his neck. It was too tight, and making him hot, but he didn’t dare so much as budge in God’s house. Every time he walked into a church all of Ed’s grand ideas about Nietzsche and God being dead dropped away like deserting troops in the face of an invincible enemy. Ed felt naked and vulnerable. Much as he had as child, sitting through Bible classes and listening to his grandmother assail him with threats from the scriptures. Ed dropped his head, as much in an attempt to avoid notice as to pray.
“All rise,” the organist said, and the congregation rose on mass, holding their hymnals high.
The familiar strains of “Guide Me Oh, Thy Great Jehovah” began. Ed started to sing as the choir appeared from the back of the nave, streaming up the centre aisle, followed by the minister in his long black vestments. Teddy listened closely to the words he was singing.
“Guide me, O, thou great Jehovah/ Pilgrim through this barren land;/I am weak, but thou art mighty, Hold me with thy powerful hand;/Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more; Feed me till I want no more.”
What did the words mean? People in the world were starving. Teddy had learned that in school. And now the trouble had come to Canada as well. It was hard to understand what the words meant, but Teddy knew he was never to doubt God. He was meant to sing to His glory with all of his soul, so Teddy cast his hesitation aside and joined Mother mid verse.
They couldn’t have chosen a finer hymn to welcome her daughter into the family of Christ. This song was the stuff of Bessie’s parents’ lives, the creed she believed in to the marrow of her being. She sang in a loud, clear soprano, from her heart all the way through the roof, past the tower, up to God.
Bessie knew that God was always with her. He was her strength and her shield, and she would do anything to defend Him. The Lord’s gospel was the map Bessie followed. Whatever the Lord decreed, she would always comply.
Bessie was standing in the far corner of the church basement, holding court with the baby in her arms, while the other ladies admired what a fine child Bette was. The usual array of cookies was more meager than usual, due to the high cost of sugar. A large cluster of children lay waste to the sweets in minutes. While Bessie’s mouth was exhorting the joys of raising children, her eyes were on Ed. Two of the county’s chief busybodies were about to pounce.
Mrs. Little was a tall, stout woman with the bearing of a person who got what she wanted. Even though it was too warm for furs, a fox piece wrapped itself around her pale wide neck, the fox’s teeth appearing to bite into the tail. Its eyes had been replaced with bright green beads. Mrs. Little’s son Rusty sulked around the punch bowl, drinking more than his fair share, as Mrs. Moffat, Mrs. Little’s constant companion, stood nervously beside her.
Lily Moffat was the Barnes’ neighbour, but she spent her free time with Mrs. Little. Charlie was fond of Lily Moffat, who he thought to be a kind soul, and claimed the only reason she jaunted around with Mrs. Little was to escape Mr. Moffat. Adam Moffat was one of the meanest buggers in the county. He was cheap and treated his wife like chattel. A habit that hadn’t gotten any better since Mrs. Moffat hadn’t been able to bear him children. “You are the brother are you not?” Mrs. Little asked.
Carefully, Ed set down his cup of coffee, extending his hand to Mrs. Little. “Yes I am,” Ed replied. “Edward Barnes. And you are?” he asked, feigning ignorance. This could be fun.
Mrs. Little was a considerable force in the township. As president of the Women’s Institute, she held significant sway. A bad word from Mrs. Little could seriously impair a woman’s standing in the community, therefore everyone treaded carefully.
Mrs. Little harrumphed, annoyed to have to introduce herself. Mrs. Moffat thrust a gloved hand into Ed’s.
“And I’m Mrs. Moffat,” she replied.”
Mrs. Moffat was an attractive woman in her early 40s and had likely been a beauty in her youth. Wearing a brown pleated skirt with a puffed-sleeved, camel blouse, Mrs. Moffat was of
medium height with light brown hair, large brown eyes and fine features. Her nervous feet moved back and forth, keeping her hands busy with an embroidered linen handkerchief. “Maybe you remember me,” she replied.
“Of course,” Ed replied. “You’re our neighbours. I know how much Bessie appreciates the occasional use of your phone.”
Mrs. Moffat was pleased.
“How’s your husband?” he asked.
Mrs. Moffat’s smile slipped.
“Yes, where is Mr. Moffat?” Mrs. Little asked.
Mrs. Moffat, put on the spot yet again by an absentee husband who refused to attend church regularly, quickly changed the topic.
“You’re the historian, aren’t you?” she asked.
Ed noticed Bessie glance their way. He knew his sister-in-law had aspirations to be named secretary of the Women’s Institute. Teddy told him that his mother had been stumping to gather support for a nomination. She’d plied the ladies with her homemade cake and pies, flattered their children, admired their sewing and complimented the look of their husband’s fine fields. Teddy claimed his mother felt confident in the nomination, as long as nothing went wrong. Ed thought back to dinner when she’d accused him of putting the mooch on the family.
“Yes I am,” Ed replied, inwardly delighted when he noticed Bessie squirm. She was fighting the urge to charge over and find out what was going on, but she couldn’t afford to interrupt her daughter’s introduction to the growing bevy of church ladies. “Are you interested in history?’ he asked.
“My yes,” Mrs. Moffat replied.
“I should say so,” Mrs. Little added. “Why if you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going,” she added.
“Most wise,” Mrs. Moffat said.
“Indeed,” Mrs. Little replied, turning to Ed. “You should speak to the Institute.” Ed smiled, waving at Bessie, who couldn’t contain herself a moment longer and disengaging herself from the ladies, quickly made her way through the crowd. What was Ed up to?
“I would enjoy that,” Ed said. “The ladies want me to come and speak at your club,” he said, just as Bessie arrived with Bette in her arms.
The baby was looking fussy.
“Oh really,” Bessie replied. “That’s unfortunate, because Ed is returning to school later today.”
“Maybe I could stay another week,” Ed said. “What an opportunity. To speak to young, hungry minds.”
Mrs. Little and Mrs. Moffat were both chuffed by the compliment. Bette let out a wail at the sight of the fox wrapped around Mrs. Little’s neck.
“We wouldn’t want you to miss any of your coursework Ed,” Bessie added. “Bette, be still,” she said, bouncing the infant on her hip.
Mrs. Little was always showing off that stupid fur piece. She’d likely be wearing it in the summer.
“What are they teaching these days?” Mrs. Moffat asked.
“Communism,” Ed replied.
Bessie blanched. The other women looked alarmed.
“Surely they’re not encouraging that kind of thing,” Mrs. Little said.
“It’s sweeping Europe,” Ed replied. “Only a question of time before it sets down here.” “There’s talk of riots,” Mrs. Moffat said. “The Prime Minister is taking very firm action. I read it in The Daily Record.”
“As he should,” Bessie replied. “I really don’t want that kind of political talk around the baby. Where’s Charlie?” she asked, suddenly keen to leave.
Charlie was chatting with a group of farmers across the room. She signaled that it was time to get going. He nodded.
“Very nice to see you Mrs. Moffat, Mrs. Little, but I really should get the baby home for her nap. If you don’t keep them on a firm schedule there’s no abiding them,” she said. “I’m sure that you know what’s best for your children,” Mrs. Little replied. Mrs. Moffat nodded to Bessie and Ed, as Charlie tapped Teddy on the shoulder and they all headed for the door.
“Let me carry the baby,” Ed said, extending his arms. “It’ll give you a break.” Bessie was tired. Bette was a heavy child. She handed him the girl.
“Why did you feel the need to mention that?” Bessie asked.
“Mention what?” Ed innocently replied.
“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about,” Bessie said, quietly repeating, “Communism.”
“People are interested in communism Bessie and just because you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean it’s going away,” Ed replied.
“I won’t have to have it in my house,” Bessie said.
They met up with Charlie and Teddy under the plaster archway.
“Hey Uncle Ed, do you want to go down to the stream?” Teddy asked.
“We’re going to drop your uncle off at the station after lunch,” Bessie replied. “But Mother,” Teddy said, obviously disappointed. “His train isn’t until later.” “We don’t want him missing it. Your uncle is a very important man and he has important things to do in the city,” Bessie said, as Charlie held open the door.
“Your mother is right,” Charlie replied. “We’ll all have a big lunch and then see your uncle off. And Ed’ll be back before you know it,” he added.
Teddy smiled hopefully, but Bessie had already determined that her brother-in-law wouldn’t return for a long, long time.