Two large carriages ascended a narrow dirt road leading up a tall hill. Their drivers looked only half awake, each occasionally moving a hand just enough to keep the horses motivated to continue. The wheels creaked and snapped, the hooves clopped and clapped, and a light breeze shifted a thick knot of pines that surrounded the road. From the front carriage came the sounds of weeping and a soft shushing. A small and pudgy hand occasionally extended from the doorway of the second carriage, each time pointing at a tree or rock, after which a stream of giggles and high-pitched laughter followed.
At the top of the path stood a wide and tall house. It was two stories of cracked white paint and sun-bleached boards. Two enormous oak trees, one on each side of the central doorway, hid most of the windows facing the road. An aged man sat beneath one of the trees, fanning himself with an old brochure. He had trouble shifting his large bulk enough to bring himself to his feet as he noticed the approaching visitors. The air was cool and dry, yet the seat of his slacks and back of his thick linen shirt were dark with sweat. He waved and smiled, turning his face into a mass of wrinkles. One of the carriage drivers looked to the large man for a moment before turning back to the horses. The man stood and watched as the two transports were pulled under the shade of the oaks and stopped.
From the weeping carriage stepped a middle-aged woman. Her brown hair was pulled back tightly, tied into a knot just above her neck. She wore a flowing brown Sunday dress, its edges lines with tiny white frills. She glanced at the man before looking up at the building. The drivers hopped off of their perches and began unloading boxes from the back of the carriages.
“These are the last of them, straight off the train,” she said, then looked back to the large man, squinting. “You are to introduce them to the others. Give them each a bed. Three have a small bag of personal effects. Put the things in the back, with all the rest. Is Sarah left yet?” The man nodded, his attention on the small figures exiting the carriages.
“Very well,” the woman said. She turned around and watched as four children stepped barefooted into the shade of the oaks, each looking around with mouths slightly agape. One was a girl, no older than eleven, her eyes puffy and red. She pushed the palm of one hand across her lightly freckled cheeks as the other tried to tame strands of sandy-blonde hair. There was a boy near her, with a narrow chin, dark and sunken eyes, and two large front teeth that protruded slightly from beneath his upper lip. Near the other carriage were two much younger children, each close to six years old, both boys with rounded faces that looked the same. They clung to one another as they first stepped outside, peering around nervously before one puckered his lips, put a finger in his nose and shouted “big chicken.” They both laughed for some time.
“I must be going now,” the woman said. The drivers returned to their seats. “If you have anything more, send word in the morning.” She looked at the boxes that the drivers had unloaded. “These should last through the week. It’s all we could gather. It should be enough.”
“I getting more help? This is four more I can’t alway watch you know. I can do oh all right but I need more help most time.” The woman sighed.
“We have gone over this at the town meeting. Most stay busy tending to their own families, and we can’t compensate anyone who comes here. We do expect Mrs. Timmons and Ms. Landsmith to start coming to see to cooking and clothes twice a week. I will see what else can be done.”
“Just I don’t want them to be hurt, Miss Delila,” the man said, nodding to himself. He focused his light green eyes on the back of the woman’s head, though she didn’t turn around. “Some of them is real rascals you must know, but I do what I can with this.”
“Do what you can,” she said. “This is all they have now. These last four they gathered from up in Summersville. It’s very grim there, you should know. They need to be safe.” The four children made their way to the woman.
“This the place?” the girl said, sniffing.
“This is your home now,” Delila said. “You will have friends here, and people to watch over you. We may even have a teacher for you soon.” The woman made a smile with her mouth and set her hand on the young girl’s head. “You behave yourselves. I will visit occasionally. Mr. Walter here will show you in.” The children looked over the towering figure of the man. He nodded his head widely.
“I am pleased to meet you. You can call me Walter or James, whichever suits you more. I prefer Walter but some of the others do not.” The girl looked back up to Delila, but the woman was already making her way to a carriage. One of the twins pointed at Walter and exclaimed, “hello watermelon.” The other repeated the words, and again they laughed.