Authors: Bette Lee Crosby
Tags: #General, #Fiction
The Twelfth Child
by Bette Lee Crosby
Michael G. Visconte
Copyright © 2012 by Bette Lee Crosby
ISBN # 978-0-9838879-6-6
BENT PINE PUBLISHING
Port Saint Lucie, FL
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This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental.
I am deeply thankful to the following people, all of whom helped me breathe life into this story: Our dear friends, Bruce and Marie Libby, for time spent sharing their stories and the reams of background research they provided. Leon Goolsby, for sharing his extensive knowledge of the Shenandoah Valley and Southern farm life. Lucille Schiavone, my first reader, and the truest advisor an author could hope to have. Fellow author Sunny Serafino, for reading every word of the manuscript and helping to push the stumbling blocks aside.
My sister, Geri Conway, for shared secrets, heartfelt support and never-ending encouragement. The ladies of the Analyze This Book Club, who month after month provide a wealth of warm stories and chilled wine.
And, my Mother, whose delightful Southern voice still echoes in my ear and provides an endless source of inspiration.
But, most of all, I thank my husband, Richard, for reasons too numerous to name.
Born – August, 1912
was barely thirteen years old when Mama died and left me and Will in the care of Papa, a man who’d think nothing of shoving a dose of castor oil down my throat just so he could watch my face turn inside out. “It’s good for what ails you,” he’d say; yet, I noticed he never gave Will the same big dose. Papa didn’t say it in precise words, but he made it clear enough he wouldn’t give two hoots if all the girl babies in Chestnut Ridge, Virginia, were in the graveyard along with Mama. Of course with him being a staunch Methodist, I don’t believe Papa was capable of taking a butcher knife and slicing off heads or anything; but he surely knew how to destroy people from the inside—a sliver of spirit, a piece of pride, a chunk of heart—until one day there’s nothing left but a walking around shell to do the cooking and laundry.
It’s a roundabout story, but Papa’s blind-sightedness is the very reason Destiny Fairchild may end up in the Women’s Correctional Facility—which is a fancy way of saying penitentiary. Everybody’s life could have been a whole lot different if Mama hadn’t died before she got a chance to set things right. She was the one to tell Papa there were two sides to every story and he should have the fairness of mind to hear them all the way through. Will, bless his heart, wasn’t the least bit like Papa; nonetheless, we’d get to scrapping over something—who was smarter, who slacked on their chores, who said what and who didn’t—and that’s when Mama stepped in. She’d make us sit at the kitchen table and tell both versions of how the tussle got started. After everything was all explained, she’d generally say we should be ashamed of ourselves, fussing over such a bit of nonsense when here we were twins, born of the same seed, a brother and sister, linked together for life. More often than not, she’d dole out a punishment that involved standing in opposite corners of the room and thinking things over for a while.
Unfortunately, Destiny didn’t have Mama to see to the fairness of things before they got out of hand; besides, in her case there were three sides, hers, Elliott’s and mine. Problem is, no one’s ever heard mine—not even Judge Kensington.
The Shenandoah Valley
n the spring of 1912, Livonia Lannigan’s body grew round and firm. Her breasts became heavy and her stomach swelled to a great size. She took to leaving the waistband buttons of her dresses unhooked but even so could barely fit into the clothes she had worn just one year ago. The cotton bodices pressed tight against her tender breasts and she worried that it might stifle the milk flow needed for the baby so she loosened them whenever she was alone. Last summer her ankles and feet had not swollen, now they throbbed and were thick and heavy as ham hocks. All of these discomforts were of no concern to Livonia as she was thankful for the size of her stomach, surely an indication that this baby was growing robust and healthy. When walking became painful she sat on the front porch, rocking back and forth so slowly that at times she appeared motionless. For hours on end she would remain that way, waiting to feel movement from the baby that would come in September. Every night she crouched down with her knees pressing against the hardwood floor and her hands folded across the rise of her stomach. “Please God,” she would pray, “help me to deliver a healthy son for William.”
Her first baby boy had died before he was christened or even named. The birth came two months early, on the second Wednesday in August—a day when William rode off to the Lexington Market long before the cock crowed. Livonia blamed no one but herself, for it was she who felt such a burning hunger for the cool breezes of the Rappahannock
River. It had been a brutal summer—almost no rain, the earth so dry that gritty dust rose from nothing more than the flutter of a bird’s wing, and a dark red sand settled into Livonia’s pores and stripped her hair of its luster. On that fateful day, her only intent was to cool herself; to sit beneath a shady oak tree and perhaps dangle her feet into the edge of the water. She saddled Whisper, a mare named for her gentleness, and rode out beyond the meadow. The animal moved along at an easy canter, slowing when she came to a dry stream bed or overgrown thicket, seemingly aware of the precious cargo she carried. No one could have known that a flock of wild turkeys would tear across the pathway and startle the poor mare so that without warning she’d rear up and throw the rider. Late that afternoon the animal returned home with an empty saddle; she stood there alongside the barn and waited.
William did not return from Lexington until almost nightfall. The much needed rain had started that afternoon and on three different occasions he was forced to climb from the wagon and walk the skittish horse through a flooded gully in the road. He was wet and weary when he arrived home and it angered him that Livonia had not lit a lamp in the window. He did not see the still-saddled mare until he pulled close by the barn. As he guided both animals into the barn, he wondered if Livonia would have been foolish enough to go riding in this weather; and a sense of dread settled over him as he hurried to the house calling out for his wife.
When William heard nothing but the sound of his own voice echoing back from the mountains, he took a lantern in his hand, folded an extra blanket beneath the mare’s saddle, and started across the meadow in search of his wife. The rain had washed away any trail she might have left, so William had to rely solely upon his understanding of Livonia’s nature to figure out which way she had traveled. He rode for three hours, calling her name out as he went, “Livonia, Livonia.” He finally came upon her lying in the mud of the narrow pathway and nearly unconscious; a bloody baby was locked in her arms. The baby’s eyes were closed and its tiny fingers curled into fists. When William lifted the dead baby and saw it was a boy, he let out a wail so mournful that folks say it echoed up and down Massanutten Ridge for days afterward.
William Lannigan was a man who worked from sunup ‘till sundown. He plowed and planted, harvested the crops and whatever produce he didn’t use to feed his family, he carted off to market in the back of a horse drawn wagon. He single-handedly loaded his bushel baskets of apples onto the wagon and traveled twenty-three miles back and forth to the Lexington Market. Even in the drought years when many Shenandoah Valley farmers abandoned the fruitless land, he stayed, worked the farm, and eked out a living for his family. When the orchards failed, he planted corn and beans and tomatoes. His father before him had done the same, only his father had three stropping sons to help with the labor. William, being the eldest, had inherited the farm. A farm he would one day pass down to his own eldest son. But last November William turned fifty-six; he was feeling the weight of a man who had fathered seven girl babies and two boys, three if you include the dead child of his fourth wife Livonia. Not one of his boys had lived to see five years of age. William had already made his decision—if Livonia failed to produce a healthy baby boy this time, he would burn the crops and let the land lay fallow for all eternity.
n the last week of August, when the temperature in the valley was at an all time high, Livonia noticed a red stain on her panties and flew into a panic. Not again, she thought. It was too early. She had another three or four weeks before her time.
It can’t happen to this baby, not this baby
she repeated over and over in her mind; all the while reminding herself how everything in the valley got dusted over with the gritty red sand that rose from the earth in the heat of summer. This time, she had done nothing to cause a miscarriage; she had weeded the garden and gathered eggs early in the morning then stayed indoors when the sun was at high noon. Twice a day she had sat in the rocker and done nothing but rest. She knew this was a healthy baby; she had felt him moving. When he kicked and squirmed beneath her skin, she soothed his restlessness with the gentle stroke of her hand and a whispered lullaby. This time Livonia had done nothing wrong.
She went to the bedroom and checked her panties against the red discoloration on her white smock but it was not the same. The smock had splotches of a reddish brown color, the panties were the color of watered down pig’s blood. Livonia went to the front porch and rang the large copper bell with a firm hand. The clang echoed through the mountains, loud and clear for almost five minutes. As she waited, Livonia sat down in the rocker and prayed.
That afternoon William rode across the valley and deep into Bear Trap Hollow. “Ruby, you’ve got to come now,” he cried out as he pounded his fist against the cabin door.