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Kate’s first day on the farm was ending in a far more subdued manner than it had begun. After the spectacle of the morning she had only reluctantly crept downstairs when sheer hunger had forced her to, and she was pleased to see that neither of her brothers had anything to say to her about the morning’s events; their father had clearly forbidden it, although for several days afterward Jake couldn’t resist sneaking up behind her and shouting “Indians!” just to startle her.
While her father and the boys had eagerly gone out with Sam to inspect their new property, Kate had remained in the house the entire day, claiming that the fatigue of travel had not yet disappeared. This was only a slight exaggeration; she truly had felt a bit tired and a walking tour of the farm in the humid afternoon hadn’t appealed to her in the slightest.
There was more to it than that, of course. After making such a fool of herself in front of Sam this morning, there was no way that she was going to put herself anywhere near him for the time being. There would be plenty of time to become familiar with the farm once the image of a barefoot Kate wrapped in a sheet had faded from Sam’s memory.
Instead, she had spent the day getting to know the staff and unpacking her things with Becky’s help. The girl was much quieter in the light of day; Kate attributed her chattiness of the previous night to nerves, for as she spent more time with Kate, she curiously became more subdued and less expressive, her face a mask that exuded only a pinched look, as if she were constantly nervous about making some mistake. Still, she was far closer to Kate’s age than either the cook or the housekeeper—only three years younger, in fact—and just for that reason easier to talk to. Kate had spent the day quizzing her on the farm, Mineral Point and Wisconsin in general, and although she went no further than the porch, by the end of the day she’d learned as much about her new home as the men had on their tour.
She’d also learned about the small cabin perched atop the hill. It had originally been built by Sam’s father, Becky had said, with the permission of Kate’s uncle. What a time that must have been back in the old days, she thought, and a smile came to her lips as she imagined the farm twenty years earlier, when the cabin was home to a toddler Sam, his Indian mother and his English father. It was a sweet image; much nicer than the one that had sprung into her mind when Becky had continued speaking about Sam.
“His father died several years ago,” Becky had said. “He had a riding accident and never recovered. And then Sam’s mother passed on last October.”
“Sam’s mother died last year?” Saying the words, even about somebody else, stung Kate. It was hard to believe that the young man with the warm smile was concealing such a deep loss.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough time around here lately,” Becky said. “That’s why we’re all so happy you’re here.” In spite of what she said, the pinched look on her face gave her a little divot between the eyes, and her smile was more sad than happy.
Kate had been in a melancholy mood ever since then. Her brothers and father excitedly recounted their tour of the property over dinner, not even noticing that she let the conversation flow over her without really taking part, and she retired early to her bedroom.
She spent some time fruitlessly trying to write to Laura before getting into bed. Between the grueling train ride and her embarrassing first day on the farm, there wasn’t much that she felt like including in a letter, and the lure of a good night’s rest was too strong to resist for long. As soon as she lay down, however, she realized that her mind was still too active to let her sleep despite the fatigue that filled her body.
Kate rolled over in bed and glanced out the window toward Sam’s cabin up the hill, where a slight glow could be seen through the window. It was hard to rid her mind of the loss that Sam had endured—the loss that they both had endured, in fact. And he had lost two parents. How horrible. Even though she hardly knew him at all, even though he was just a farm boy who worked for her family, she couldn’t help but feel that they were bound somehow by this most painful of losses.
Still, enough lingering on unpleasant thoughts, she thought as she reached for the book on the nightstand. It was a slim volume of poetry that a friend from Boston had written and given her as a going-away gift; she had tried to read it on the train but had found the verse dreadfully boring. After a few pages she saw that it had not improved since then. Kate replaced the book and let out a long sigh.
A flicker at the corner of her eye drew her attention back to the window, and she realized that Sam’s cabin was now dark. Kate rolled out of bed and went to the window, kneeling on the floor and resting her arms on the sill. So quiet. So different. In Boston there had always been someone in the street, there had always been some window lighted, always something happening somewhere. Here there was nothing but trees and corn, the leaves softly swaying in the night wind and moonlight, as if the hills before her were waves on the ocean. Prairie waves.
Kate searched the darkness for the outline of the cabin, now only a bump on the hill that blended into the blackness surrounding it. There was something about it that just didn’t sit right with her. A young man—an orphan, really—all alone up there in a tiny house. Farm boy or no, it just wasn’t right for people to go through life without family around. It violated the natural order of things. The staff had said that Bill had treated Sam more like a son than an employee, and now even this second father was gone from him.
Then I shall try to treat him like a brother, Kate thought. And with that, she extinguished her lamp and returned to bed, thinking no more about it as sleep finally rushed in and overcame her.