Read The Shining Badge Online

Authors: Gilbert Morris

The Shining Badge (7 page)

“I . . . I don’t have any money,” Jenny said simply.

“Neither do I.” Dixon grinned suddenly. “Maybe you can make me a chocolate pie. We’ll call it square.”

Jenny smiled at him and made a pretty picture in his eyes, though she did not know it. “I can only make squash pie.”

“Squash pie? I never heard of it, but you do it. That’ll be payment enough.”

****

Lewis had not stopped pacing the floor for what seemed like hours. Clint had tried several times to get him to sit down, but it never lasted. Finally Clint said, “You might as well calm down, Lewis. This may take a long time.”

Lewis, ordinarily the mildest of men and very fond of Clint, suddenly struck out. “Wait until you’re in a mess like this! We’ll see how you handle it!”

Jenny came to stand beside her father. She patted his arm and said, “It’s not a mess. It’s a baby. Now, you sit down. I’ll bring some coffee.”

Jenny left, and the two men sat down in the living room, Lewis twisting anxiously in his seat. Hannah came in once and tried to calm her father, but it seemed impossible. Jenny came back and, glancing at the clock, saw that she had been back for two hours. Dr. Peturis had come out twice, each time saying that things were going “pretty well.” On the last time he had said, “She’s a little older than most mothers, but she’s strong.”

Jenny sat down beside her father and tried to take his mind off of Missouri Ann. She related what she had seen at Noah Valentine’s and then went on to tell of her visit at the sheriff’s office.

“Those three are pretty sorry,” Clint said. “There’s going to be an election in a few weeks, but no one’s running against Conroy. One man started to run, but then he dropped out. My guess is Conroy’s cronies threatened him.”

“Maybe someone else will run,” Jenny offered.

“I doubt it. Nobody can beat Conroy.”

“Why not, Clint?” Hannah asked.

“Because there’s money behind him. Nobody really knows what’s going on, but the big money in this county is all behind Conroy. The men I talk to think it’s got somethin’ to do with bootleggin’ in the county. They know Conroy will wink at it. There’s big money to be had.”

“I didn’t know there was that much money in this county,” Lewis said, making an effort to concentrate.

“The way I hear it the moonshine operation has gotten big here. A lot of booze going up north, and if Conroy gets in office, it’ll be bigger yet.”

At that instant Dr. Peturis came out. Lewis jumped to his feet and cried, “How is she, Doctor?”

“You’ve got a boy, Mr. Winslow. A fine boy.”

“How’s my wife?”

“She’s doing well. She had a hard time, but—”

At that moment the door opened, and Nurse Sweeting said, “Doctor, come quick!”

Peturis whirled and rushed back down the hall and into the bedroom, and Lewis would have followed him, but Clint held his arm. “Hang on, Lewis.”

“Well, what could be wrong?”

Jenny and Hannah tried to calm him, but Lewis was pale and sat down as if his legs would no longer support him.

The waiting seemed intolerable. The clock ticking on the mantel was the loudest sound in the room.

Finally Peturis came out again, and leaping up, Lewis ran to him as if he would grab him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Is my wife all right?”

“She’s fine. Doing wonderfully well.”

“And how’s the baby?”

Peturis reached into his pocket and pulled out a cheroot. Everyone watched as he extracted a kitchen match, struck it on his fingernail, and lit it. When he had it glowing comfortably, he blew a smoke ring and then grinned broadly. “They’re fine.”

“They!” Lewis blinked with shock and glanced wildly around at the others. “They? You mean they’re twins? There are two of them?”

“No,” Peturis looked at his cigar and chuckled deep in his chest. “There’s
three
of them. Three fine boys. Congratulations, Winslow.” The laugh grew broader, and he shook his head. “Looks like you’re not going to have a great deal of spare time in the future.”

Lewis stood there and could not speak for a moment. Finally he swallowed hard and said, “Three of them?”

“That’s right. You’d better start thinking up some new names,” Peturis said, grinning. Then he took Lewis’s arm. “Come on. You can go see these new boys of yours.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Three Are Better Than One

The end of May had come, and as Jenny took down diapers from the clothesline, she wondered what life had been like before the onslaught of babies had struck the Winslow home. The breeze filled the diapers, puffing them up into rounded shapes, and they flapped like white flags along the line strung from the house to the towering walnut tree in the front yard. Jenny filled the clothesbasket and turned to see Hannah, who had come out with another load of wet diapers.

“There’s no end to it, is there?” Hannah shook her head ruefully.

“I think having one baby would be easier after seeing how hard three are.”

“Even naming them was hard,” Hannah replied as she removed a clothespin from her mouth and pinned one corner of a diaper to the line. As she clipped the other one, she added, “They had struggled so hard to choose one name for a boy and then all of a sudden they had to pick two more.”

Indeed, this had been one of the many problems the triplets had brought. Lewis and Missouri had settled on the name Michael if the baby was a boy, but when they were suddenly faced with naming two others, they chose Samuel, Missouri’s father’s name, for one but were stumped for a third name. Then, the day after their birth, Hannah had a dream in which she proclaimed the Lord had given her a name for the boy. “His name is Temple.”

“Temple?” Lewis said. “I never heard of a man called Temple.”

“Well, I have,” Missouri said. “Sam Houston had a son, and his name was Temple. Temple Houston. I think it’s a beautiful name.”

Lewis stared at the three boys lined up on the bed and laughed. “Michael, Samuel, and Temple. Michael, I suppose, will always be the oldest by about thirty minutes.”

“God is going to use these boys. I just know He is,” Missouri Ann had sighed.

Now Hannah and Jenny finished hanging the laundry and then went back inside. Missouri was sitting in the rocking chair, nursing Temple. She looked up and frowned. “I need to be doing some of the work.”

“You’re doing exactly the kind of work you’re supposed to do. You nurse those babies, and we’ll take care of the diapers,” Jenny said, smiling.

Missouri cuddled the infant in her arms and stroked his hair, which was a beautiful auburn color. “I’ve always been embarrassed by being so big, but God knew what He was doing. Only a giantess could nurse all three of these fellows.”

Hannah laughed and began to fold diapers as Missouri continued to speak. “It’s a miracle. Every time I think about it, I just can hardly keep from crying. Here a year ago I was living by myself out in that old house, no husband, my two children grown and gone, and now look at me. Right in the middle of the finest family in the world.” She hugged Temple and whispered endearments to him, then suddenly looked over and said, “Hannah, you’ll be having your own baby.”

The words struck against Hannah with almost a physical force. Her face grew slightly pale, and she whispered, “How could you know that?”

“The Lord just whispered to me that you’re going to have a boy, and he’s going to be a great servant of God.”

“Is that right, Hannah?” Jenny asked with astonishment. “You’re really expecting?”

“I . . . I haven’t been sure, but I think so.”

“You can be sure of it. The Lord don’t make no mistakes,” Missouri said, smiling. “Have you told Clint yet?”

“No, I wanted to wait until I was absolutely sure.”

“Well, I think if Missouri says it’s so, why don’t you go tell him?” Jenny grinned.

“All right, I will.” Hannah got up but stopped as she reached the doorway. Turning around, with wonder in her eyes, she whispered, “After what I went through in New York, I never thought I’d have a husband, much less a child, but God is good.”

She turned and left the room, and Jenny said, “She’ll be a wonderful mother—just like you, Ma.”

****

“Hand me that screwdriver, would you, Lewis?”

“This one?” Lewis picked up a screwdriver and handed it to Clint. The two of them were putting new rings in the truck. Kat was hovering over them offering her help but was actually more in the way than anything else. She wore the usual ragged overalls and was barefooted, and a smudge of black grease marked her forehead.

“You’ve got grease all over your head,” Lewis said. “Come here.” Pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, he carefully wiped the girl’s forehead, then squeezed her and gave her a kiss.

Kat was a youngster who held nothing back, saying anything that came to her mind. Lewis knew this, but still he was shocked when she looked at him directly with her gray-green eyes and asked, “Daddy, are you going to love me any less with all those boys around?”

“What a question! Of course not.”

“But if you’ve got more children to love, you’ll have to divide your love up,” Kat said. “It’s like a pie. If you got one pie, and you’ve got four people to eat it, you cut four slices. But if there are five or six, you have to make the slices smaller.
So you can’t love me as much because you have to give some of your love to Temple and Sam and Michael.”

“What an idea!” Lewis said. He reached over and pulled the girl into his arms, knowing her desire for affection. He thought for a moment, trying to find a way to put it that would assure her of the very deep love he had for this youngest daughter of his. “Love isn’t like a pie. It’s just the opposite. True enough with a pie you’ve only got so much to give away, but with love the more you give away, the more you have.”

“Is that right?”

“It’s absolutely right, and I want you to always give it away. For if you keep it, it spoils and goes bad, like milk that’s not used.”

Kat pondered this for what seemed like a long time. Both of the men were watching her, fascinated by the processes of her mind. She was the brightest and most inquisitive youngster either of them had ever seen, and finally she sighed and smiled brilliantly. “I’m glad you told me, Daddy. Now I won’t have to worry about that.”

“Why, of course not. We all have those boys to love, and you’re going to have a fine time helping raise them.”

“I will too! Ma’s going to let me change a diaper pretty soon.”

“That’s quite an honor.” Lewis made a face at Clint.

“Come on, Daddy, let’s go hunting. You promised me you’d take me.”

“I’ve got to help Clint with this.”

Clint said quickly. “I’m about finished up here. You might as well take her while it’s daylight, Lewis.”

“All right. We’ll do it. Come along, Kat.”

The two left and Clint watched them go, conscious, as always, of the miracle of family. He had been alone for so long in his own life that he had known nothing of family love, but the Winslows had shown him the wonder of it. And after he had married Hannah, he felt closer to the Winslows than ever.

He watched for a moment as father and daughter left the
house, the dog bounding along at their heels. Lewis was carrying the shotgun, and Clint could hear Kat begging to be allowed to carry it and Lewis denying her the privilege.

“Where are those two going?”

Clint turned, surprised, and saw that Hannah had come out.

“They’re going out to scare squirrels. I think they’re pretty safe, though. I’ve never figured out how Lewis could be a war hero when he can’t hit the side of a barn except with a shotgun.” He stood up, stretched, and asked, “How’s Missouri?”

“She’s doing fine.”

“She’s a wonderful woman. I’ve never known anybody quite like her.”

“She’s not the woman I would’ve thought Daddy would have fallen in love with, but they make a perfect match.”

Clint reached over, pulled the rag out, and wiped the grease from his hand, then came over to pull her into his arms. “No more perfect than we are,” he smiled. He kissed her and then shook his head. “Every day I wake up thinking the dream will be over and I’ll be back on the road or in a jail somewhere. And here I am with the prettiest wife in the whole world and the sweetest.”

Hannah had done without male appreciation most of her life. As a young woman, she had had a bad experience with a man and then had lived the life of a recluse, avoiding all men for years. But she had always longed for such words as this, and now life seemed to glow within her, and she reached up and put her hand on his cheek. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“We’re going to have a baby, Clint.”

Clint stood staring at her and shook his head as if he hadn’t heard, and then he saw the smile on her face. He let out a whoop. “A baby! Well, glory to God!” He put his arms around her but very gently instead of roughly as he usually did.

He hugged her, and then he stepped back and took her hands. “I hope it’s a girl just like you.”

Humor bubbled up and mixed with joy in Hannah, and she laughed aloud. “Maybe it’ll be triplets.”

“Wait a minute, now,” Clint said, pretending to be alarmed. “That’s too much of a good thing. Tell you what. Let’s start out slow and just have one little girl. Then if we like her, we’ll have a boy. And come to think of it, I have three young ones to practice on now. So by the time our baby gets here, I’ll know all about it.”

Hannah leaned into his arms again, laid her face against his chest, and hugged him fiercely. She felt a joy that only a woman can know who has long been hungry for love and has finally found it.

****

Clay Varek looked up from the floor he was mopping, sniffed, and with a groan, wheeled and ran to the stove. The stew was boiling over, and when he touched the pot handle, he burned his hand. Quickly he grabbed a towel and picked up the pot. The stew dribbled onto the stove and sent an odor of burned meat throughout the kitchen.

“Blast it!” He put it down on the tile trivet and began to clean up the mess, scraping the excess from the top of the cook stove. The smell permeated the kitchen, and wiping his hands with disgust, he picked up the coffeepot and poured some coffee into a white cup with a missing handle. Sitting down, he stared across the room and thought for a moment about how much better the place looked. He had taken the house without seeing it because the rent had been cheap, but when he had seen it, he understood why. It had been uninhabited for years and had a terrible odor. It had been used and misused by visiting tramps, and most of the windows were broken out and animals had taken up residence inside.

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