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Chapter Four

Hastening to the Borough

I glanced back at Father to see if he recognized my curiosity. He was looking away toward the house. I peered deeper into the logs to see if I could align the dimensions of what lay below. But to no avail. I could see that whatever was there was highly polished and quite ornate.

“I haven’t all day, boy,” Father said jokingly. “Let us return to the house before I am too old to bear these logs.” I quickly gathered a few more logs, still enchanted by the glimmering reflection being cast in my eyes. What was it that held my attention so fondly?

“What is it, Joshua?” Father asked. He caught me staring.

“Oh, it is nothing, Father.” I said hurriedly and rushed out the door; and because my thoughts were still being addressed by whatever it was that lay beneath the woodpile, I tripped over a tree root and fell to the ground scattering the pile of wood I was carrying in my arms. Father stood with a slight smile and then followed, “Your walking skills are failing you, dear boy. It’s a good thing that your wits were about you while up in the tree a few moments ago!” He put his pile down and stooped over to help me to my feet. “The time is at hand when we must remain focused and sure-footed,” he said kindly while brushing the dust from my shirt, “Any surprises we face must be met with thoughtfulness and agility.” He put his arm around me. This action reassured me that his jesting was not meant to be cruel, nor was his instruction an opportunity to belittle me, but his words held a tone which suggested he was familiar with the reason for my sudden clumsiness. Did he know what I had discovered in the woodshed?

“There are many more devious creatures than these tree roots that would seek to have you stumble and fall,” he added. “Now run along,” he said patting my back, “and see to it that this kindling ends up in the stockpile.”

“I’m sorry for my clumsiness, Father,”

“Nevermind,” he answered, “for you are uninjured and strong. Now continue onward and complete the task at hand.”

“Quite right,” I said with a bit more confidence. I gathered up the remaining pieces that were scattered and continued to the porch, still thinking about what it was that I had seen. I knelt down to place the wood in the box near the door and looked up to see Father walking back to the woodshed. He was closing the door when he noticed my observance. He gave me a quick wink and fastened the door latch. I smiled back and went inside.

Mother and Madeline were inside washing their hands in the basin. Madeline was singing a song while she scrubbed. Every now and then, Mother would join in, but Madeline would insist that she could do it alone. It must have been that Mother was teaching her a song. I walked through to sit at the table. Throwing my arms up behind my head, I sat contemplating the woodshed. What was it that rested below the pile? Is it something that Father had put there and was keeping in secret? I had been to the woodshed many times, not only to gather wood, but to fill it when the pile was nearly bare. Never before had I seen anything peculiar.

Father came in the front door and sat down at the end of the table. “What shall we be eating for breakfast, dear wife?” he asked.

“Nothing, until you wash those filthy mitts,” she said with a grin. Father got up, kissed her on the cheek and bumped her away from the wash basin. She pushed him gently with one hand and brushed Madeline to the table with the other.

“Breakfast is already on the table and waiting,” she said pointing to a bowl of vegetables and a plate of warm libins. “Hopefully, the cakes are still warm.” (For those of you unfamiliar with the food in our fair province, libins are small wheat cakes, usually filled with tortleberries and topped with honey sauce.) I could see that the cakes were still steaming from below the cloth.

Father asked me to lead the prayer of thanksgiving, and so I did. Afterward, Mother began serving the libins while Father scooped the vegetables.

“Will you gather together the Assembly today?” Mother asked.

“I believe I must,” Father continued, “I should leave for the Borough after the breakfast meal.”

“May I go with you to the Borough, Father?” I asked with a mouthful of food.

“Not this time, lad.”

“But I really do want to go with you.”

“Yes, I suppose you do. And I’m certain that your sister would like to travel to the Borough as well. But this is not a holiday visit. I must make haste and not find distraction.”

“We won’t be a bother. I promise.”

“So now it’s ‘we’ is it?”

“I mean, I won’t be a bother. Madeline may stay home.”

“That’s not fair!” Madeline huffed, “I want to go, too!”

“Neither of you will be visiting the Borough, today,” Father said swiftly calling an end to the discussion. “I will undoubtedly need to go back again at a later date. Then you may attend with me. Besides, Joshua and Madeline, there are things you need to do today while I am away.” I assumed that he was speaking of my daily chores (which today included nothing more than straightening my room and stripping our beds for the wash). These tasks certainly would not take all day. In fact, I could have my duties fulfilled before he filled his packs and saddled the horse. It was quite a curious thought that I should stay behind for such little responsibility.

After breakfast, Father began to gather his things. Madeline and I rushed to our chores. Once we had finished, we asked Mother if anything else was required of us. She lamented that she didn’t have anything else for us to do, but before she could finish her sentence, we ran out to Father and caught him just as he was mounting his horse.

“Please take us with you, Father,” Madeline whined as she looked up at him from his boots. I stood back a few paces with the hope that Madeline’s saddened tone would move Father to change his mind.

“My word is final. As I said, you will be very busy today.”

“But what else have we to do today?” I asked as he turned the horse away and began to trot down the path. “Our tasks are completed and the day is but for whatever fancies us.” Pulling the reins and turning the horse back toward us, Father stopped for a moment to think. Scratching his head he announced, “Joshua, you are to take my axe and chop down the Liput tree behind the woodshed. You’ll see that I have already chopped some of its branches.” Once again, he paused for moment before continuing, “And Madeline is to help you stack whatever logs you prepare. It isn’t a very large tree, so the task will leave time for you to hatchet the smaller branches for kindling.”

“But that will spend the remainder of the day,” I complained (but of course not to loudly for Father to hear and become angry).

“Without doubt it will take some time,” he said, “and when you are finished, be sure to put the new wood into the back of the woodshed.” With those words he gave the same wink he had offered earlier in the morning.

“Oh yes,” I thought, “the woodshed.” At that moment, as far as I was concerned, Father had won the argument.

“But, Father!” was all that Madeline could speak before I put my hand over her mouth.

“We shall do as we are told, sister.”

“Off with you, then,” he said as he galloped away, “and remember to be agile with the axe and to finish the task at hand!”

“I will,” I called back. “We will,” I whispered in Madeline’s ear as she mumbled under the grip of my palm. For with Father’s departure, we would have excuse to rummage through the woodshed, and we would be quite safe from distraction, even if Mother were to question our activities. She did not like us to play near the woodshed for fear that it would topple over and bury us. Understandably so for the building itself was leaning heavily to the south. It was only a matter of time before the foundation would surely fracture through and the structure would fall. Father knew that Mother held such reservations and yet he assigned us to such a task. I didn’t question his logic since I could see the opportunity at hand quite clearly. With our new responsibility, there would be plenty of time today for exploring the mysteries hidden among the logs in the woodshed.