Two years later
Henry found Alice sitting back on the rocking chair. The summer in Lime was especially hot and she found relief on the porch where she could catch the occasional summer breeze. It was towards the end of her first pregnancy, and she was extremely uncomfortable. For months she had carried on as if there wasn’t a child growing inside of her. Now, things were different; she was ready to give birth and the doctor said it was likely two weeks away.
“Sweetheart, we’ve been married for almost two years,” Alice said. “I’ve tried not to complain. I didn’t say a word when the roof leaked, it was alright that you forgot my birthday, but this is different. I feel like a cow, and I must look worse. I can’t recall what my toes look like and I’m tired. I’d sleep if I could but it’s hard to get comfortable with a boulder in my belly.”
“It’s about time you complain about something. It won’t be long, and the doctor said he sees no reason to believe we won’t have a healthy baby. I can make excuses for you at the celebration tonight,” Henry said as he rubbed Alice’s shoulders. “Everyone will understand.”
“No, I’m more thankful for your parents than anyone in Lime. I wouldn’t miss the celebration in their honor for anything. They have done more for this town than any couple. Your father was mayor. They took in at least a dozen people who lost their possessions on the far edge of town. That tornado didn’t touch the Campbell farm, but they jumped in and helped everyone in need. Your parents set an example for everyone who sets foot in Lime. They make sure people feel welcome. Besides, seeing friends will cheer me up for sure.”
“What can I do for you? Henry asked. “I’m feeling helpless and like a bad husband.”
Alice chuckled. “Are you serious? You cater to my every need and already helped me give birth once this year.”
Henry cocked his head.
She continued. “To my book, silly. That was its own kind of birth. You built this house with a writer’s room looking out on Answer Creek. It allowed me to come up with an idea for my book, and you left me alone to work through my creative process. As editor of the award-winning Gazette, you allowed me to suspend writing articles when I needed to. What’s more, you listen to every crazy idea I have and talk through everything with me. I thank God for you every day.’
Henry blushed. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you. Do you know that you look even more beautiful when you’re pregnant? We’re going to have to do this more often.”
“I guess that means we’re going to have a lot of wee ones. You should go into town and check on the progress of the setup. See how Daniel is doing since he’s handling the pig roast. I’d go, but you’d have to roll me, and I want to save my energy for tonight.”
“I guess I should, but I’m sure Daniel has it handled. Since we moved off the farm he has been doing a great job. He isn’t living in my shadow anymore and does more chores than I ever did,” Henry remarked.
“Now we have to find him a sweetheart. We did a pretty good job with Will and Mary,” she noted.
“I think we have enough projects for now. Let’s just focus on you and the baby for a while and save my brother’s love life for another time. You rest and if you want, later I’ll take you to the library because I know you have books to return and others to collect.”
Henry made it to the town square to check on the preparations for the Campbell celebration. It came about when a group of town leaders wanted a way to honor the most charitable family in Lime. They also wanted something happening in the middle of summer. There was the harvest festival, Christmas choir event, and spring fete. The two desires came together, and everyone was delighted, except John and Fannie Campbell. They didn’t see the need for folks to fuss over them and it was that kind of humility that made them special.
“I could smell that pig roasting when I stepped out my front door,” Henry remarked. “That’s saying a lot because I live a mile away.”
“This used to be your job so I’m merely carrying on the tradition,” Daniel said. “How’s my sister-in-law doing?”
“Amazing as always. She’s been working hard while carrying my firstborn. I look at her in awe and thank my lucky stars every day. Believe it or not, while Alice has so much going on she’s still looking for new projects. She wants to find you a gal,” Henry said.
“No need. Have you met Mr. Garrison’s niece, who’s recently come to town?”
Henry just laughed and slapped his brother on the back.
He saw Will working on a platform from where a speech would be given.
“How’d you get roped into doing this?” Henry asked Will.
“The mill is donating the wood to build this structure and Mr. Biggs was kind enough to donate my time. I was hoping for the day off but since Mary’s working, I might as well keep busy,” Will said.
“Are you any closer to making that pretty lady your wife?”
“I’m getting there but you don’t have to worry about a thing—I’m not letting this one get away.”
“Good man. Like me, you waited for the right one to come along. Alice and I have been wed for a couple of years and I recommend the married life.”
“Hello, gentlemen,” Mr. Campbell said as he walked up to his nephew and his son.
“Father, what are you doing here,” Henry asked. “Your help isn’t needed here today since it’s all about honoring you.”
“Your mother made a couple of apple pies, of course. I was just dropping them off and seeing if I could lend a hand. I’ve never been one to sit on my hands when there’s work to be done. How’s that daughter-in-law of mine?”
“That seems to be the question of the day. She thinks she looks like a cow, and I disagree. If I’m wrong, she’s the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. Only a couple of more weeks and you’ll have your first grandchild.”
“I can’t wait,” Mr. Campbell commented.
“Neither can Alice,” Henry joked.
“The entire family is coming this evening, I assume,” Will said to Mr. Campbell.
“Yes. We’re thinking Eli is old enough that he won’t wander away. He promised to be on his best behavior, and he’ll do just about anything to see his favorite big brother. He misses you around the farm and just might be the most anxious one to see the new baby,” Mr. Campbell said.
“That I am aware of,” Henry commented. “He’s not going to be the youngest Campbell anymore. He still doesn’t understand why Mother doesn’t have another baby. I told him that those days were over for her, but he doesn’t quite get the concept of aging.”
“Does Alice know she’s getting a surprise today?” Will asked.
“No. She’ll be stunned to see her parents and I hope it doesn’t cause the baby to come early,” Henry joked. “Mr. and Mrs. Bayless came in yesterday and they’re in the guesthouse catching up on their sleep. I was not sure what to expect when I met them for the first time, but they couldn’t have been nicer. They’re so proud of Alice and Mr. Bayless jokingly told me that she’s his favorite child now. Nice folks. I think you’ll like them.”
Henry walked around the grove, and everything looked perfect. One of the young reporters for the Gazette was covering the event. It was nostalgic to see him roam around with pad and pencil in hand. Who knew when Henry was starting out that he’d be the editor of the Eastern Kansas Gazette? The reporter looked so young—or maybe, Henry figured, he was getting old. He smiled, shook his head, and started back home to take Alice to the library.
The new sign to the Jefferson Parker Memorial Library had been hung into place since Alice last visited. Will managed to get gold paint for the lettering and Mrs. Parker would have thought it was glorious.
Ida Parker’s son had come to load up her things and bring her back east. She had been confident Mary would shepherd the library into a new era and she had looked forward to living with family. Her ten-year-old grandson Jefferson had come with his father and he was the spitting image of his grandfather.
The night before she had planned to leave, she accepted visitors and nearly the entire town had come to wish her goodbye. Everyone was grateful for the contributions she made to Lime. She had a wonderful dinner with family and friends. Later that night, she died in her sleep. She had accomplished what she had set out to do and was ready to reunite with Jefferson. Ida Parker was buried next to her husband and her grave was tended to with care.
Alice walked in to find Mary doing what she did best, which was helping a visitor find just the right book.
“The new sign is fantastic. Will did a great job and Mrs. Parker would be proud,” Alice said as she moved slowly to greet Mary with an embrace.
“Thank you. I’m happy with the way it turned out. Why are you away from your property in your condition?” Mary asked as she pulled out a chair for Alice to sit on.
“I’m afraid if I stay in one place too long, I’ll never get up,” Alice joked. “Don’t worry—Henry brought me here and he is taking great care of me. It’s not like I’m the first woman to give birth, so everyone should relax. I can hardly believe this is the same structure it was two years ago.”
“It’s amazing what a little money will do. I didn’t even know what a grant was until Mr. Gallagher told me. All I had to do was apply but it was unlikely a small town like Lime would get noticed. Your article about Mrs. Parker did more to benefit the town of Lime than you expected,” Mary pointed out.
“That was in large part because of my father. He asked my permission, which I granted, to have it published in some East Coast newspapers. It found its way into Andrew Carnegie’s hands by coincidence.”
Mary nodded. “It reminded him of his childhood and how much the library meant to him. When I sent in a request he approved it. I don’t know who the heck he is but we sure benefitted from his generosity.”
Alice spent time selecting books that she could read while waiting for the baby. She figured that she wouldn’t be getting out much for the next two weeks. When the baby came, Alice predicted that she wouldn’t have much time at all to read. Her large stack was too much to carry so she waited for Henry to show up.
“What’s Henry up to?” Mary asked.
“He may have gone into the office but I’m not sure. He was secretive about it and should arrive soon to pick me up.”
“How is Ruth doing with three little ones?” Alice inquired. “I was going to visit today but figured I’d see her tonight.”
“She and Joseph are great. Little Larry gets all the attention he needs from Martha and Maggie. They think of him as a new doll. I know Ruth will be excited to see you tonight.”
“Are you and Will getting closer to saying I do?”
“I have no idea what’s taking him so long. Please have Henry give him a nudge because everyone in this town is having babies except me. I’m ready when he is,” an impatient Mary said.
“I’ll pass it on.” Alice chuckled because she remembered waiting for Henry to propose. It seemed to take forever.
As they were chatting, Henry walked in the door with a huge grin on his face. He always smiled but this one was bigger than usual. “Have the two of you had enough time to chat?”
“We have and we’ll see each other tonight,” Alice said as she showed Henry the pile of books she needed help with.
“I have a surprise for you in the wagon. It came in time for the birth of our baby,” Henry said cryptically.
“I told you the baby will sleep with us for the first year, so we don’t need a crib,” Alice insisted.
“It’s not a crib and I find it hard to believe Mary didn’t ruin the surprise because she knew,” Henry joked.
Mary smiled and rolled her eyes.
Alice went outside expecting to find a package waiting for her, but sitting in the wagon were her parents. She squealed with delight.
“This is the best surprise I’ve ever received and completely unexpected. How long has this been planned?” Alice asked.
Clara and George Bayless hopped down from the wagon and gave their beautiful daughter an embrace. There were a lot of tears.
“I insisted we be here to meet our grandchild,” Mrs. Bayless said. “The boys have given us precious grandchildren and they all lived close by. You’re halfway across the country so we decided to hop on a train. It’s been planned for a couple of months.”
“I also wanted to come so I could apologize in person,” Mr. Bayless said. “I tried to control your life and I was wrong to do so. We received the advance copy of your book, and it was beautiful. You’re the smartest Bayless—I mean, Campbell—now.”
They piled in the wagon and rode back to the house on Answer Creek. Her parents were impressed with the life Alice had created for herself and fell in love with Henry immediately. Alice had looked forward to reuniting with her parents and the results were more than she had hoped for.
Alice’s book told the story of a German immigrant who worked hard for his family. He succeeded against all odds, although he never had the time to pursue his real goals. He longed to be a writer. He left behind journals that allowed others to enjoy his story. It was based on her Grandpa Gus, of course. Alice felt like she had finally made his dreams come true.
Alice made it to the celebration, but she was sure to do very little moving beyond that night. The grey dress she wore was the only one that fit and was made special for her by Ruth. Alice wanted to burn it after she had the baby, but she was too practical to do that. There would be a lot more babies and the frock would be threadbare by the time she was done.
Ruth walked her way with Larry in her arms. “Hello, Alice. How are you doing?” she asked. “You’d better get used to feeling this way because I expect you to have at least as many children as me. I’m too old for more but you have a lot of years ahead of you.”
“This baby will be lucky. You taught me everything I need to know about being a mother. Is Mary with the girls?” Alice asked.
“No, she’s with Will. I take it you haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?” Alice asked.
“Will got down on one knee and asked Mary to be his wife,” Ruth said excitedly.
Alice went to find Mary to congratulate her. As she was walking through the crowd, she felt a sharp pain. Thankfully it left as quickly as it came but then another arrived. She bumped into Henry before she got to Mary.
“I think every person in Lime showed up tonight. I’m supposed to give a speech, but I was thinking, you’re the wordsmith in the family,” Henry started.
Alice tried to interrupt but he kept going.
“I can’t remember the last time I wrote an article. I love being the editor of the Gazette, but I haven’t even written anything down. Would you mind presenting the award?” Henry asked.
“I can’t, Henry.”
“I can’t do it because I’m about to have our baby. I need Ruth, Mary, and our mothers. I need to get home before I give birth right here,” Ruth said through twinges of pain.
Henry raced to the platform and called loudly for attention. “Mary, Ruth. Mother, and Mrs. Bayless; I need you to get my wife home. She’s having the baby.”
Mary pulled up and the others lifted Alice into the wagon. They raced to the house on Answer Creek and got her into bed. It took less than an hour for the baby to be born. Compared to the last days of pregnancy, Alice thought giving birth was easy. Ruth cleaned off the baby and Clara put the boy on Alice’s chest.
“Thank you all. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of women to help me through this,” Alice said. “Someone get Henry. I want to introduce him to his son.”
Mrs. Campbell called Henry in, and they left the new family alone.
“Henry, meet your son, Gus.” She looked down. “This is your daddy and he’s going to teach you how to be a good man,” Alice said through tears.
“He’s perfect and so are you. I love you, Alice, and I love Gus.”
“We love you too.”
It was the first of many children born to Henry and Alice. They had found the answers they needed in their home on the creek.