"Working hard," he commented one evening, "suits me better than laying around being lazy." He streached his corded arms out comfortably and placed his hands behind his head, smiling happily at the Drewry's. His eyes wandered from face to face: Mrs. Drewry, her kindly face creased with lines, both from care and smiling, was adorned with the brown hair that now shown mostly silver; Sophia, who's quick sense of humor kept them all laughing, even in the hardest times; James, his mouse colored hair topping a visage repleat with serious gray eyes; Samuel, an undergrown boy with a sweet face; Meredith, her blue eyes holding a somewhat troubled look; Janet, a pigtail limpy laying on the table as she absently stirred her food around in the dish. These were the people he loved, lived for, and would die for.
Harry's glance drifted back to Meredith's face. She smiled back at his semi-quizzical look and immediately refocused her attention on her meal.
As the dawn was just beginning to hint at its existance, Harry was pattering around before starting his daily routine. The moon was still up and a few stars peeked out of the lightening sky. Normally the rest of the family stayed snug in bed for another hour or so. This morning however, as Harry fumbled over the fire in preparation to cook his breakfast, he felt a presence near his right shoulder. As the fire blazed up cheerfully, he reached for the iron skillet and put his hand down over someone elses.
"Let me do it," she said.
In the shadows, Harry smiled gently, "I can fix my own breakfast, Meredith. You don't have to."
"I want to," she responded unmovingly.
"Alright." Harry relinquished his claim on the pan and moved over. As Meredith cracked the usual three eggs into the skillet, he inquired, "What are you doing up so early?"
"Oh, I was awake and I didn't feel like I could go back to sleep." She said it lightly, but with a something struck a dissonant chord in Harry, so he pressed further.
"Meredith, what's bothering you? Ever since that appendectomy of mine you've been looking kind of funny. Is it because Daniel appears to have abandoned you? I saw him yesterday and asked if he was ever going to come back and see us...he said 'sometime'."
Meredith flipped the eggs over deftly. "There's nothing wrong." That was all she would say.
Harry decided to wait and press her further some other time--something clearly was wrong. Meredith may not have been as constantly cheerful as Sophia, who could only be squashed occasionally and for short periods of time, but she certainly wasn't given to moodiness. No...something was on her mind.
Harry scarfed down the eggs and a hunk of cornbread, grabbed his hat off it's peg, and in the act of placing it on his head paused and asked Meredith if she would like to check traps with him. She had never gone with him before and indeed had not shown much interest in it, so he was suprised when she said yes. As she stuffed her raveling braids into a snood, Harry gather his things. These consisted of his game bags--a couple of old gurney sacks, a strong stick, and his knife. He checked the blade as he asked, "Ready?" She nodded and they set out as the stars quickly faded and the sky lightened.
"Keep a step or so behind me," he warned as they reached the edge of the area where he laid his traps. "I don't want you to step on any unsprung traps."
Meredith obediently dropped back a pace, but still collided with his broad back when he stopped suddenly. "Easy now!" he laughed. "I guess I should have warned you I stop abruptly."
"I should have been paying more attention," she rejoined, her voice conveying that she too was finding it funny.
She peered around him and saw nothing but trees and leaves in the dim light. Harry was poking around in the leaves with his stick and without warning as sharp crack rang out. Meredith jumped and grabbed Harry's arm. She started to laugh somewhat shakily after Harry screwed his head around and gave her a funny look.
Harry freed the end of his stick from the trap and moved off again, saying, "Sorry I scared you; they can be pretty noisy when they spring."
"Why do you spring and uncover them?" she wanted to know as the moved along. She had never paid much attention while he was instructing James on traps or she would have known the answer already.
Harry streached and yawned cavernously before answering, "So innocent, unsuspecting, possibly barefoot people don't end up with mangled feet."
"Oh. Yes. Yes of course, I probably could have figured that out myself..." She felt rather silly now.
"Oh, probably," Harry agreed as he moved off again, "but then again, the sun's not even up yet and your brain still has some fog in it. At least," he added with a grin, "if you're anything like me. I don't get my brain to work at full capacity until it's daylight."
Here he stopped to trip another trap and they continued to drift through the wood; rather randomly Meredith thought. Harry kept up a steady patter of small talk, loosening Meredith's tongue. He grinned wryly to himself as she began to elucidate on various embroidery stitches--not that she had done any for the last four years, she added rather wistfully. She was unaware that all six traps had been sprung--not having caught anything--and now she was just talking as Harry leaned against an old oak.
Harry pounced as Meredith's voice became wistful. "Do I detect a note of longing? Longing for the days when these hands were white and soft, not sunburned and calloused?"
He had taken Meredith's hands as he spoke and now held them on his open palms, looking from the small hands so capable at many tasks to their owner. She was completely surprised by this turn of affairs.
"N-no," she said slowly. "I should like someday to do embroidery work again, but no. I am not longing to go back in time. I'm...I'm..." she paused.
"Yes?" Harry prodded, still holding her hands in his as though they were a specimen of some sort.
Meredith looked down at her toes and wiggled them slightly in the leaves. As though she had made up her mind, she threw her head back, gripped Harry's hands tightly and taking a step forward so she could see his face better, exclaimed passionately, "I'm not looking back, Harry! What good would it do me? No. Rather I'm looking forward. I'm longing for the future, but..."
She stopped short and suddenly ripped her hands away and went charging off in the growing daylight.
"Good gracious!" exjaculated the young man. "What a fool I've been!" However, one listening would not have said that he sounded at least one bit sorry. Indeed, they would have been right, for Harry's heart was singing. He had caught enough from the girls eyes, attitude, and words to tell him what was wrong with her. If it hadn't been time for him to head to the Harvey's he would have chased her down and made her admit that she didn't care two pins for Daniel in comparison.
"It's a good thing the traps are all sprung," he mused practically as he exited the woods and dropped the gurneys and stick by the barn door on his way to work.
To be continued...