She slipped into the study with the coffee pot hot from the stove in one hand and an extra potholder in the other. Henry was staring out the window, his mind obviously far away. His large hands rested on the edge of the desk on either side of his closed ledger. Weathered hands that sun and wind and work had been unable to rob of a surprising tenderness of touch. And skill. How many times had he delighted one of the children by taking their offered chalk and slate and drawing an amazingly lifelike horse or cow or chicken?
He looked up and gave her a weak smile when she reached over him to refill is nearly empty coffee cup. She placed the extra potholder it on the corner of his desk and set the pot on it, then settled into the extra chair he kept on his side of the desk, the one that Grady or Morris Bailey so often pulled up to the desk to sit at his elbow and go over the books and learn what they needed to know to run a farm. She used the kitchen table to sit with their daughters to teach them how to run a household.
He picked up his cup and swiveled his chair towards her. “Thank you,” he said, then blew across the surface of his coffee and took a tentative sip.
“You look worried,” she said.
“I am,” he said as he took another sip. “I think, I pray, we won’t see too much high water here. It’s one thing to have the sloughs and bayous overflowing and water standing in the fields, but the River …”
Lines creased his face. His cheeks looked hollow. He was 43 years old. Together they had left kin and home behind. They had brought their five children with them and she had borne three more. His parents had joined them. Together they had built a new life here at Friendship, and now it was being threatened.
“I’ve been reading about all that flooding up and down the River. Will it reach us?”
“I don’t think so, Mother, but our crop, if we get one in, will be off this year,” he sighed.
“We’ll get by. We always do,” she said.
“With the Lord’s blessing and the sweat of our brows, we will.” He managed another smile, as weak as the first.
“Yes, with the Lord’s blessing,” she said.
She came and perched on the arm of his chair. He breathed deeply.
“You still smell of flour from this morning’s biscuits. Smells good,” he whispered and wrapped an arm around her to pull her close.
“And you smell like Pinaud,” she said rubbing the back of her fingers across his freshly shaved cheek. She laid her arm across his shoulders and leaned against him. He looked up at her.
“We will get through this too,” he said, this time with assurance, as if he drew strength just from their contact. “I love you so,” he whispered.
She laid the side of her head on the top of his. Noted absent-mindedly that his hair was thinning there and graying. She sighed. Well, hers was graying too. They were no longer young. She had been a few months short of nineteen when they had married, and that had been what? Twenty-two years ago now?
No, they were no longer young, but their love was still deep and passionate, as yet unfaded by years and familiarity. He still treated her with tenderness and a respect that bordered on the courtly at times. She wondered if that from growing up in a household with nothing but brothers and a father who expected them to help their mother and treat her with respect. Whatever the reason, it was good and comforting and dependable. She gave thanks for him every day in her prayers and asked the Lord to watch over him.
She held him even closer. “I love you, too. More than you know,” she said.
They sat holding each other without a word being said. Soft clattering sounds of Iola and the girls came from the kitchen, familiar sounds, comforting sounds. Just outside the window, a wren lit in the nandina and began singing its heart out as if the swollen rivers, broken levees, and rising waters were a world away. It was so peaceful here that it was hard to imagine the horrors that people were facing in the flooding areas.
She felt Henry swallow and he said, “I’m sending Morris Bailey down to see if he can find George and Annie and their children. Help them get up here.”
She leaned back and stared at him. He must have noted the concern on her face.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Morris Bailey will be fine. He won’t take chances. He’s steady. And he gets along with everybody.”
“I know all those things. But by himself?”
“Can’t be helped. I need Grady here. Besides, Morris Bailey’s a man, you know, twenty years old, almost as old as I was when you and I got married.” He tried to put a little lightness in his voice to ease her worry.
“I know you’re right, but I can’t help it. I’ll worry until he gets back.”
“I know you will,” he said. “I will too.”
She knew he would but knew she would worry more. And differently. She already had one child far away where the water was rising and now another was headed that way. He was right. They had grown children who could make sound decisions and care for themselves and even others, but they were still her children. Becky had said more than once that a mother never stops caring for her children. So had Grandma Bailey. Now she was learning just how true that was.
She kissed Henry on the top of his head as she rose. Picking up the coffee pot and pot holder, she turned to head back to the kitchen. Henry reached out and placed hi s large hand lightly on her forearm. He looked up at her with real concern on his face.
“Morris Bailey will be fine,” he said.
She looked into his steady, dark eyes. “I know he will,” she said, knowing that Henry was right. But she prayed for her son anyway.
Henry & Minnie playing in the snow, date unknown