The choir took seats and Reverend Sherwood began with an opening prayer and then his sermon. “Honor your father and mother,” he said.
I closed my eyes and clasped my hands in my lap. He’d been over the topic so many times, I had to wonder if he thought our town was full of rebellious kids. Truthfully, I didn’t know any, but maybe parents saw things different. It seemed like Pa was always on me lately, no matter how hard I worked.
While Reverend Sherwood’s voice rumbled on with examples of ungrateful children and what happened to those who disobeyed the Lord’s commandments, my mind wandered through the past few months, trying to pinpoint just when Pa started letting me know I was a slacker and needed to start pulling my weight. “I won’t be having my boy sitting idle or running with the likes of that Hogan hooligan.”
He was referring to Willie Hogan, Susan’s brother. He didn’t like the family, thought Willie’s father was shiftless because he just farmed. With Pa, if you didn’t have two or three jobs going, you weren’t working hard enough. But Pa hadn’t done more than badmouth them in passing until Miss Carstairs came along. Now that I thought of it, it wasn’t until after Pa’s blowup with Lucy and Delia that he came after me hard. The memory of that day played again in my mind, drowning out the sermon.
I’d been working in the livery stable, cleaning the stalls when Pa started yelling and cursing next door in the blacksmith shop. He’d stomped into the stable. “Saddle my horse,” he’d demanded.
I hurried to do as he said. “What’s happened, Pa?”
“That little slut’s back causing trouble.” He pushed me aside and tightened the saddle while I slipped the halter on Red.
Given his temper, I decided not to press him on who the “little slut” was. All I could think of was Susan, but it didn’t make sense for it to be her.
Pa mounted the horse and took off at a gallop, storming past Mr. DerryBerry, the schoolteacher who was boarding with us. He sidestepped to keep from getting run down.
Mr. Derryberry turned to me, his eyes round with alarm.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I mentioned your older sister had come to visit, and he became enraged. I had no idea there was bad blood between father and daughter.”
Mr. Derryberry could only mean Delia, and he couldn’t know she wasn’t truly Pa’s daughter. Pa blamed Delia for every bad thing that ever happened in our family: She was Ma’s bastard child, the one who ran away and worried Ma so much she went into labor early and both she and my baby brother died.
I ran to the back door to call Bob Clark, who divided his time between the blacksmith shop and the stable. “Something’s happened at home,” I told him. “Look out for things.”
I raced down the street. I figured I could run home faster than I could saddle a horse and then go. Mr. Derryberry ran beside me. Mrs. Collins had heard the commotion and drove her buckboard toward our place. I ran into the kitchen just as Pa grabbed Delia’s arm. Cursing her and calling her a guttersnipe, he shoved her across the room. She fell. Pa pulled back his booted foot to kick her.
Mrs. Collins shouted at him. “Hiram, stop!”
Mr. Derryberry gripped Pa’s shoulder. “Settle down. It’s not worth it.”
Pa shook him off, determined to kick Delia.
Two men burst through the door, one holding a pistol and the second a rifle.
“Don’t touch her,” the man with the pistol ordered.
Pa stopped and swiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Get her out. Get ‘em both out.”
Just like that, Pa had disowned Lucy, his own daughter, and sometimes I thought he would disown me, too, no matter how hard I tried to please him.
Pa nudged me with his elbow, bringing me back to the present.
“Stand up!” he ordered through gritted teeth, his voice low to keep others from hearing. He shoved a hymn book in my hand. “Number 140.”
I stood, opened the book, and mouthed the words.
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