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Well, he's here," Thomas announced as he hoisted the box of groceries onto the kitchen table. "Thane said that Gus came into town almost bursting."
"Who's here?" asked Angela, reaching for the bag of sugar.
"The young Mr. Stratton. Don't even know his name. No one seems to know his name."
"Is he ... is he like his father?" asked Angela hesitantly.
Thomas laughed. "I haven't laid eyes on him myself, but from what folks are saying, he is pretty citified. Don't expect he'll last long out here."
"Thomas, don't be like the others and brand him bad before he even gets a chance to prove himself," Angela reprimanded gently.
Thomas moved to the corner stand and lifted a dipper of cold water. He drank long and deeply before he lowered the dipper. With a quick movement of his wrist, he splashed the remaining water into the blue basin and returned the dipper to the pail.
"You're right," he said seriously. "We need to give the fellow a chance." He reached out and ruffled Angela's hair as he headed for the door. "I'm going to be working on that last hay field. Send Derek out as soon as he has his chores done."
Angela nodded and lifted the salt and baking soda from the grocery box. Already her mind was rushing. Should she bake a chocolate cake or a batch of fudge brownies to take to the Strattons? She still felt it was a shame how folks were so willing to think ill of the young Mr. Stratton even before they knew him.
It was fudge brownies that Angela delivered to the Stratton household later in the day. She was not as timid when she stepped up to rap on the door as she had been when she made her first delivery to the big house. Over the weeks the little trip across the field to see Charlieor Gushad become a welcomed break in her routine.
She looked about her now before lifting her hand to the wooden door. Flowers were blooming in the bed to the right. She wondered who had the time or interest to plant flowers, and then quickly attributed them to Charlie. Charlie, though elderly and crippled, liked pretty things.
Angela knocked and waited, expecting Charlie to pop his head out the door. But the door was opened by a stranger. Angela blinked, then quickly stepped back and felt her face flushing.
She had never before seen anyone dressed quite like he was. His long tailored suit jacket with velvet lapels hung open over a matching vest. A gold chain stretched across his front from buttonhole to side pocket. A carefully knotted scarf at the throat of his stark-white stand-up collar added a softening touch to the otherwise stiff-looking attire. Softly striped trousers and highly polished boots were the last things Angela noticed before remembering her manners. Her eyes moved quickly back to the man's face.
His complexion was pale and looked baby soft, as though neither sun nor rain had ever touched it. And his hair seemed as though wind never tousled it. Every shining strand was carefully combed into place. Slight waves hinted at curliness, but Angela somehow was sure they were never allowed to get out of control.
He seemed so foreign to Angela that she felt confused. He did not belong to the world she was used to. She hardly knew how to address him. Her flush deepened.
"H-hello," she finally stammered. "I ... I am looking for Mr. Stratton."
The gentleman tipped his head slightly while Angela awkwardly tried to tuck in a strand of hair that danced playfully about her face in the afternoon breeze. She struggled to conceal her confusion.
Then the man offered a smilenot a friendly grin like Angela was used to receiving from Charlie but a soft, curving, and controlled smile.
"I do hope you are a neighbor," he said in a deep, resonant voice. "A close neighbor."
"I ... I'm Angela," she murmured and felt even more foolish. "I ... I expected Charlie"
"Charlie is busy."
"Oh, of course. Well, really I came to see Mr. Stratton and, well"
"I'm sorry," he said, kind but firm. "He really isn't up to visitors. He's quite ill."
"Oh, not that Mr. Stratton," Angela said quickly. "I mean ... the new Mr. Stratton." She knew she had said it all wrong. She tried again. "Mr. Stratton's son."
The door swung open to its full width, and the youthful gentleman stepped back and bid her enter with a wave of his hand. The smile had returned.
"That Mr. Stratton would be most pleased to see you." He motioned Angela into the hallway. "Won't you come into the parlor?"
Angela stumbled along in step.
"Please be seated," he continued. "I will have Gus prepare some coffeeor perhaps you prefer tea?"
Angela had never been in the parlor before. Her eyes studied it now, going from the gold damask of the sofa and chairs to the rich mahogany of the piano. She wanted to just stand and look, but the man beside her seemed to be asking her something. She turned her attention back to him and shook her head slightly.
"I ... I'm sorry," she murmured.
"Tea or coffee?" he repeated.
"I ... I think tea, please," she managed to answer and then remembered the pan in her hands. "I ... I've brought some baking," she said. "To sort of welcome the other Mr. Stratton to the communityas a neighbor, you know." She thrust the pan out toward the stranger.
She had never been so flustered before. Was this young man Mr. Stratton's lawyer? Maybe he had accompanied the son here. If only he would stop looking at her. If only Charlie would make an appearance.
"Please," the young man said again. "Won't you have a chair. I'll only be a minute." As soon as Angela had taken the seat he offered, he left, baking in hand.
Angela arranged her skirts carefully and wiped her palms on her pocket handkerchief. Before she could turn her attention back to the identity of the stranger and to her intriguing surroundings, she heard footsteps in the hall and turned to see Charlie enter the room. She could have hugged him. He crossed to her and took her trembling hand.
"Are you ill, girlie?" he asked, noticing her flushed face and clammy fingers.
"Oh, Charlie," she admitted, "I have just made such a fool of myself. I came over here to ... sort of welcome Mr. Stratton's son with some baking, and I expected you or Gus to open the door and it ... it quite threw me when this total stranger was standing there, and I've been babbling like a silly schoolgirl ever since."
Charlie gave Angela a quizzical look. Then his hand tightened. "He threw ya, did he?" he asked, and Angela detected annoyance in his voice.
"Oh, it wasn't that. I mean, he was most polite," she hurried on. "It was just that I expected you or Gus ... or maybe even Mr. Stratton's son, but"
"Angela," said Charlie, giving her hand a bit of a shake, "that was Mr. Stratton's son."
Angela looked at Charlie with wide eyes, unable to believe that he was serious. She wasn't sure what she had expectedperhaps just a younger version of the older, with a gloomy, weathered face, dusty boots, and a buckskin jacket.
"But ... but he is so young!"
Charlie nodded again.
"He's not much older than Thomas!" exclaimed Angela.
"A little," said Charlie.
"But I thought ... I mean, I expected ... well, someone quite different."
"I apologize that I took so long," said a cultured voice from the doorway. "I couldn't find Gus so I had to make the tea myself. I do hope" Then the young man spotted Charlie. "Oh, Charlie ..." he said and let the words hang.
"Gus is with your father," Charlie explained, then turned back to Angela. "I'll try to get over one of these evenings," he said, giving her hand a final squeeze. Angela nodded and watched him leave the room.
"Cream and sugar?" asked her young host after a few moments of awkward silence.
"No thank you, neither," Angela managed to reply, and then she took charge of herself. I need not be flustered, she informed herself. My mama taught me to be a lady, so I will act like one. Angela willed her racing heart and trembling hands to be quiet. Soon she sat at tea in the big parlor as though she had done so for many years.
"I must offer my apology," she said shyly. "I did not realize that Mr. Stratton's son would be so young; therefore I did not realize who you were when you opened the door."
He answered with a playful smile, as proper and controlled as his laugh had been.
"I do hope you have not been disappointed," he said.
Angela was quite shocked when she realized she had fluttered her eyelashes in response.
"Now, you must tell me about yourself," he invited engagingly. "You are Angela. Do you have a last name, Angela?"
She laughed lightly and looked fully at the young man before her. "My, I did appear like a simpleton, didn't I?" she admitted, and then hurried on. "My name is Angela Peterson."
"And you live... ?"
Angela was beginning to relax and decided to allow herself to enjoy the afternoon tea.
"I could say, 'just over the stubble field,' " she replied, "but I guess it would be more proper to say, 'on the farm adjoining your land to the left.' Well, one of the farms on the left. I realize that your land stretches far enough to border several farms on each side."
He accepted the acknowledgment of the Stratton wealth with a slight smile and a nod of his head.
"And you are the angel of mercy who has been bearing sustenance to Charlie and Gus since the illness of my father."
It was his compliment to her, but for just a moment her breath caught in her throat. A distant memory had been awakened of a little girl with silvery pigtails flying in the wind, running toward the outstretched arms of a man with hair of the same color. He was a tall man, with broad shoulders and strong arms, and as he swept up the girl and enfolded her against his chest, she heard her father's words, "And how is my angel?"
Yes, she thought, Father used to call me that. I had forgotten. Angela fought to return to the present so she might give the proper response to the young man before her.
The Petersons played the memory game again. Angela could hardly wait for her turn so she could tell them her memory of her father's pet name for her.
As usual, Sara was given the first turn. "I 'memberrememberI remember ..." she said, her brow puckered in deep concentration; then her eyes brightened. "I remember when Papa took me to the circus and bought me lots of treats and showed me big elephants and walking bears and"
"Sara," cut in Louise. "You never went to the circus."
"I did, too," argued Sara, her lower lip beginning to protrude.
"You did not," insisted Louise before anyone else could comment. "There was never a circus here to go to."
"Louise is right," said Angela slowly. "You must have had a dream."
Louise wasn't as gracious to her young sister as Angela had been. "That's a lie," she condemned Sara. "We aren't ever to tell lies."
Sara's pouting lip began to tremble; then a flood of tears followed. "Well, I can't 'member any more," she sobbed. "Everyone has more to talk about than me."
Angela took the small girl into her arms and soothed her. "Shh," she whispered. "It's okay. That's why we are playing the game, remember? So those of us who have more memories can share them with you. Shh."
At last Sara was quieted, and Angela knew that it was her turn to make a statement.
"But Louise is right. You must never tell stories as truths if they are not. Papa and Mama would never tolerate tales of any kind. You must remember that in the future."
With that understanding, the game went on.
"I remember," said Louise, "when Papa brought a whole big box of apples home from town and he let me have one to eateven before Mama made pie or sauce or anything. It was yummy."
Even Sara laughed as Louise rolled her eyes and rubbed her tummy.
It was Derek's turn. His contributions had been a bit more open recently, his comments a bit lengthier. But both Thomas and Angela knew he was still a troubled boy.
"I remember ..." began Derek, and then a frown creased his brow. He swallowed hard, seeming determined to go on. "I remember ... the ... the day Mama died."
Angela caught her breath. Thomas moved as though to reach out a hand to his young brother, then quickly withdrew it. "Yes?" he prompted.
"I remember I brought her a bird shelljust a little blue one. It was in two pieces. The baby had already hatched ... but I knew she would like to see it."
He stopped and swallowed again. His eyes did not lift from his empty dinner plate.
"I ... I tiptoed into her bedroomI thought she might be asleep. Then I ... I touched her hand."
There was a pause again, and Angela feared that Derek might not be able to go on.
"It was cold," he managed after some time. "I ... I whispered to her, but she didn't open her eyes. Then I shook her ... just a little bit."
The room was chilled and quiet. Not a person moved. Not an eye lifted from their brother's pale face.
"Then I ... I shook her harderand she still didn't wake up. I started to get scared. I shook her again. Then I started to cry, and then ... then Mrs. Barrows opened the door and looked at me, and she frowned at me and said, 'Your Mama is gone, boy. Mustn't cry, now. You're a big boy,' and I ran past her and I ran and ran until I was out of breath and"
Tears were now falling freely down Derek's cheeks. Thomas reached for him, pulled him close, and held him. Angela, through tears of her own, quietly led the two young girls, also weeping, out of the kitchen. As she left, she could hear Thomas's gentle voice. "That's right. Go ahead and cry. Just cry it all out. I never heard Papa say that a man couldn't cry when he had good reason."
From the tremor in Thomas's voice, Angela knew he was shedding tears of his own.
"Oh, God," she prayed, "help poor little Derek. Wash his memory of this ... this terrible hurt and touch his soul with your healing. Might he be freed from the past now and be able to go on."
Roses for Mama (JANETTE OKE CLASSICS FOR GIRLS) by Janette Oke
Copyright © 2002, Janette Oke
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.