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Another sample from my new novel, Red Run Farm.

AT THE LAWYER’S OFFICE:

Kate squeezed her arms in tighter to her sides as the lawyer went through with all the “bequeaths” and “hereinafters.” What the bad news boiled down to was that Mama’s total inheritance for herself and four children amounted to a ninety-seven-acre farm worth about 5,000 dollars with a 7,000 dollar mortgage on it, some assorted livestock and thirty-eight dollars and fifty cents in cash.

“To my son, Hobart…” the lawyer intoned and Katie blinked, caught off guard by the use of Scamp’s proper name instead of the one he’d been given at five months of age when he’d begun propelling himself along on hands and knees at top speed, causing Papa to exclaim, “Look at that fellow scamper.” Scamp he’d been ever since and lived up to the name, happiest when he was flying along on a bike, a wagon, a scooter or anything that had wheels and promised speed.

“To my son, Hobart,” the lawyer repeated, “I hereby bequeath my tools, my fly-fishing gear and Grandfather Archer’s gold watch.”

When Mr. Claggett got around to announcing Roo’s inheritance, Katie was better prepared to hear his name called as Reuben. “To Reuben, my Indian arrowhead collection and genuine Bowie knife. To Katherine I leave my signed photograph of Thomas Alva Edison and a silver spoon from the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair with a picture of the transportation building engraved on the bowl of it.”

Papa left Lillie—Lillian—a souvenir silver dollar from the same worlds’ fair as my spoon and the books he used to read to them at bedtime. Kate wished he had left her “Idylls of the King,” but Lillie got that one, too.

After Lawyer Claggett finished reading the rest of the bad news, he took a long time folding the papers. Finally he shoved back his chair and came out from behind the desk, moving his tall, craggy frame toward where they stood clustered around Mama, partly to shield her from the evil that had befallen them, partly looking to her for their own salvation.  Claggett reached to touch Mama’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Amanda,” he said. “I only wish Roy could have done better by you.”

Mama murmured, “You mustn’t judge Roy harshly, Mr. Claggett. He was sure Archer’s Miracle Mixture would make us rich.”

At that, Aunt Clara Livingston snapped, “So why didn’t the fool write down how he made the stuff?”

Mama’s chin stiffened as she turned to face her sister. “Roy wasn’t taking any chance of having his formula stolen. He was keeping it safe in his head until he was ready to patent it.”

“And where does that leave his great formula now—blown up and scattered over half of Baltimore County.”

Lawyer Claggett stepped in quickly to change the subject. “Now, Amanda, if there’s anything I can do…anything at all…don’t hesitate…”

Aunt Clara Livingston wasn’t finished. “If I told Roy once, I told him a hundred times – ‘Roy, there’s no way you can provide for a family on those piddling experiments.’”

That was more than Kate could bear. She started up out of her seat. “Aunt Clara….”

Before she could say anything more, Mama’s hand on her arm hushed her.

Aunt Clara Livingston plowed right on. “In spite of all that, Amanda, I hope it will never be said of me that I shirk my Christian duties.  Since Harvey and I have not been blessed with children of our own, we are willing to take little Lillie and raise her as our own. That way you will have one less mouth to feed.”

At that, Mama faced up to Aunt Clara Livingston with more spunk than she’d shown since Papa died.  “Clara, you are a thousand times more likely to be elected President of the United States than you are to get your hands on any one of my children. We may be temporarily without funds, but we will never ever be so poor as to break up our family.”

Aunt Clara Livingston snatched up her black purse and stuck her beak even higher in the air. “In that case, Amanda, I certainly hope you’re not expecting any sort of help from me.” With that final dictate, she stomped out of the room, the smell of mothballs trailing behind.

Kate felt proud of Mama, and judging by the grin Lawyer Claggett was trying to conceal, he was tickled, too.  After Aunt Clara Livingston had gone, after they’d stood around for a moment longer as if there might be something more, something that would take away the harsh truth of their situation, Kate began herding her brothers and sister toward the door.

Lawyer Claggett grasped Mama’s arm for a minute. “The farm, Amanda,” he said. “You might want to think about….”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but Kate knew what he was thinking and a red cloud of anger passed over her. Papa might be gone and all his dreams for the future exploded along with that last batch of Archer’s Miracle Mixture, but no one—no one—was going to take Red Run Farm away from them.

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