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Authors: Belva Plain

Random Winds


“Belva Plain is a talented tale-spinner with an almost Dickensian ability to keep her stories going.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“ENGROSSING … Belva Plain knows how to sweep from one dramatic scene to another.”

Publishers Weekly


The New York Times

“A SUPERB STORYTELLER … a talent worth remembering.… Mrs. Plain’s novels are good stories well told.” —
The Star-Ledger
(Newark, N.J.)

“Belva Plain doesn’t know how
to write a bestseller.” —


The Washington Post

“Belva Plain writes with authority and integrity.”

San Francisco Chronicle



Published by
Dell Publishing
a division of Random
House, Inc.
1540 Broadway
New York, New York 10036

Copyright © 1980 by Bar-Nan Creations, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
For information address: Delacorte Press,
New York, New York.

The trademark Dell
is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

eISBN: 978-0-307-57506-7


To my children,
and to the memory of my parents


“For where there is love of man,
there is love of the art.”




On Adirondack lakes ice boomed and cracked. Grainy snow, melting at last, slid into the ditches along mired roads. Dr. Enoch Farrell drew his watch out of his vest pocket: he had made good time. Once past the Atkins’s farm the road flattened and there were only three easy, level miles to home. He drew the buggy’s curtains tighter against the sweeping rain that threatened his fine, polished bag. The best black calf it was, with brass fittings, the parting gift, along with a well-bound Gray’s
, of Dr. Hugh MacDonald, who had been his preceptor in Edinburgh. He never went anywhere without the
, although surely he must have memorized it by now! He never went out without his current reading either, for this hour trotting home at the end of the day was his best, perhaps his only, truly private time. And rummaging, he searched for
Bleak House
. To think that Dickens was dead these thirty years or more and now, in this first year of a new century, his work was as alive as if it had been written yesterday!

Things were heaped in the bag. Jean was always straightening it, but it never stayed that way. Opium, laudanum, stethoscope, Hop Bitters—fine stuff, good for any dozen ailments—no Dickens. He must have left it home. Damn, he was always forgetting things! If it weren’t for Jean … Well-matched they were: she so practical and precise, while he—could he dare think of himself as a leaven, bringing brightness and humor to the household?

So his thoughts ran.

Left now, and across the wooden bridge where the river, which had been iced over only last week, was running fast. The little mare began to speed, and there was home with its twin chimneys, front porch and two square office-rooms. Very nice! Nicer still when the mortgage should be
paid off, whenever that might be! It didn’t look imminent. A man could count himself lucky to keep abreast of the daily expenses: four children with another on the way.

Enoch climbed down in the barn, unhitched Dora and led her to the stall. A couple of hens, disturbed in their straw, rose squawking. The barn cat rubbed against his ankles while he covered the mare with a dry blanket. It gave a man a good feeling that even these poor, dependent creatures were safe and warm under his roof. And speaking of roofs, he ought to get that leak mended before it got much worse.

The children were halfway through supper. Alice, the baby, clattered on the high chair tray when she saw him.

“I thought you’d be even later in this weather,” Jean said. “Heavens, your cap’s wet through! Your knickers are soaked! Sit down, while I get the stew. I’ve kept it hot and there are biscuits, too.”

“Ah, those’ll hit the spot on a night like this.”

He washed his hands at the sink. A fine convenience it was, to have water running in the kitchen. Easy on the woman of the house and sanitary besides. He took his place at the head of the table, said grace and picked up his fork.

Jean’s hands rested on the apron beneath which lay her growing baby, in its seventh month. Her pink, anxious face was flushed from the kitchen’s heat. Four child-faces turned toward Enoch, mixed of his flesh and hers: her bright almond eyes in Enoch Junior and the baby, Alice; his temper and his laughter in May; her quickness, her reserve in Susan.

“Well, anything new happen around here today?” he inquired.

“Nothing much. Oh yes, Mrs. Baines came. She always manages to come when you’re out.”

“What’s the troubler?”

“Walter again. Sounds like the quinsy sore throat, the way he always gets.”

“I suppose I’d better hitch up and go back over there.”

“Indeed you’ll not, after the day you’ve had, and in this
rain! Besides, they never think to pay you. It’s always ‘next time, Doc.’ ”

Enoch sighed. “I know. But he tries, Jean. The man works awfully hard.”

“So do you.” She rose to put more stew on his plate and poured coffee. “I made brown Betty for dessert.” Then she added mischievously, “Anyway, I told her what to do for the throat.”

“You did what?”

“I told her what to do. I’ve heard you tell it often enough to know it by heart, haven’t I? Red flannel around the throat, goose grease on the chest, soak the feet in a tub of hot water, powdered mustard and camphor ice to keep the fever from cracking the lips. Right?”

“Dad! Dad! I did elevens and twelves in the multiplication tables today and I—”

“Enoch Junior,” Jean rebuked him, “you’re interrupting. And anyway, this is grown-ups’ time. You’re not supposed to talk at the table.”

“Let him talk, Jean. What’d you want to tell me, son?”

“I wanted you to hear my multiplication.”

“Tell you what. You go start your homework on the parlor table, and soon’s I finish my supper, I’ll join you. May and Susan, you’re excused, too.”

The room grew quiet Alice sucked on her bottle and Jean dished out the pudding. A coal fell softly in the stove.

“Had a nasty business today with Hettie Simpson,” Enoch remarked. “Did I tell you this would have been her eleventh? Just as well she miscarried, I suppose. Except she might have bled to death if I’d been much later getting there. I packed the uterus, but I’ll need to go back early in the morning. It worries me, she looked so white.”

“She can’t be more than thirty, can she?”

“Thirty-two, and looks nearer fifty.”

If she lives this time, he thought grimly, it’ll only happen again, unless the consumption gets her first. And Jim Simpson? Why, hell cry a bit and have another wife in a couple of months, some strapping girl of seventeen who’ll start a family for him all over again. Yet you couldn’t
blame a man. Who would do the work and look after the children if he didn’t marry in a hurry?

“You look so tired,” Jean said softly.

“I didn’t know how much till I sat down, I guess.”

She peered through the window into the dismal murk, out of which the wet tin roof of the shed glistened like dull silver. “This weather’s enough to exhaust a person. Seems as if spring’ll never come and it’ll never stop raining.”

When they went to bed the rain was still beating mournfully, persistently, upon the roof. For a long time Enoch lay awake, listening to the ominous beat.

In the morning they were astonished that the rain had not slackened. All through that second day it never varied in its determined steady fall, neither speeding up nor slowing down, just marching evenly, like soldiers’ stern and solemn feet.

And the third day.

Then came the north wind. It struck with fury and the night was loud with complaint. Water poured like a river through the gutters; the house shuddered. The rain swayed as the wind gusted and died, gusted and died. The roof was lifted from the toolshed, the torn wood screeching as it parted. From the tight house where his children were asleep, Enoch peered into the yard and saw that the chicken coop was holding. But he went back to bed with uneasy thoughts of planets rending, flung away from the sun.

Just after midnight, there was an almost imperceptible slowing of the rain. Alert ears could isolate the sound of individual drops, with a fraction of a pause between them: cessation, then a violent spurt, and another cessation. Finally came a startling stillness in which one heard, regular as a metronome, great drops plopping from the eaves and the shaken trees.

At last in the morning the sun came out with a burst of spangled light. Water stood in a pond two inches deep in the yard. Under the porch roof, soaked sparrows clustered, chirping through the daily family prayers. Jean had lit the Franklin stove, but the parlor was cold and Enoch hurried the prayers.

“The sun will soon draw all this water up,” he observed, closing the great Bible with a bang. The children wanted to know whether there would be school that day.

“Of course there will, but the road will be a mess. You’ll need your high galoshes,” Jean told them.

“I’ll try to get back early enough to do something about the toolshed roof,” Enoch said. “See if you can dry off the tools before they rust, will you?”

Jean packed the lunch boxes and tied May’s scarf, fastening it down with a large safety pin on the chest. May, like her father, always lost things.

“Now, Enoch Junior, mind you don’t run on ahead. It’s slippery wet I want you to help your sisters through the muddy spots so they don’t fall and dirty themselves.”

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