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June 1887 – And to think I went my whole life without hearing this tale! No fair!
Mother invited Riley and me to supper tonight, and we gladly accepted. It saved me from having to make a meal, and it saved Riley from having to eat it. At the supper table there was plenty of food and conversation. Justin, Lucy, and their two little ones, Samuel James and Andrea Grace, came too, making the meal even more fun. I had little Susianna Mae Carter on my lap the whole time.
She was born in late January. I’m not sure where they got her name. It’s no relative on either side. But, leave it to Chad to not follow any kind of tradition. “I liked the name. So did Ellie.” End of story. Anyway, I hardly ever see her, so I greatly enjoyed holding her.
My family and I talked about one thing, then another. Plates grew empty, coffee cups drained. As Luisa brought out the apple pie, Chad asked me, “How is that lamb of yours, Andi?”
Sore subject. Riley and I exchanged glances and I smiled a little sheepishly. “All right, I reckon.” It was best if Chad did not hear the whole story about Jasper. It ended in tragedy, but big brother did not need to know all of Memory Creek’s secrets. Jasper was “all right” if you had a good imagination. But if someone wanted the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” then Jasper was not “all right” at all.” None of Chad’s business, actually.
Time to change the subject. Chad’s question brought to mind a question of my own, which I’d been dying to ask him. So I did. Right there at supper. “Chad, you told me a long time ago that you fed goat’s milk to a litter of kittens. Where’d you get a goat?”
Chad looked taken aback, like my question had come out of nowhere. To be honest, it had. Anything to steer him away from any tragic lamb stories. I didn’t feel like being told “I told you so” just then.
Justin winked at me and turned to Chad. “Yes, do tell her, Chad. It’s an interesting story.”
Chad scowled. “Easy for you to say.” He turned to me. “I don’t think I want to tell you that particular story, little sister.”
But my curiosity had been stirred up, and I simply had to know. “Please, Chad,” I begged.
He sighed. “C’mon, Chad,” Riley joined in. “I want to hear it too.” By then everyone’s attention had been drawn to Chad.
“Go on and tell them,” Mother said. “I’d like to hear the recount of it myself.” A smile was tugging at her lips.
Chad sighed again, but nodded. “I was nine years old,” he began. “I got a job working for a family that lived in Millerton. I’d ride over there every day after school, or all day Saturday, and help them with their livestock and chores, like chopping wood. I wanted some extra spending money, and the job wasn’t so hard.” He frowned. “That family had a nanny goat. She always followed me around, nudging and bleating. Mr. Jones said she liked me.” He shook his head. “She did not like any of the Jones family. And it was clear that they did not like her either. They didn’t treat her well. Sometimes kicking her. Some of the kids fed her terrible things just to prove that a goat eats anything. I was upset, and then the day came when I couldn’t bear it any longer. I threw a rope over her and brought her home.”
I gasped. Chad stole a goat!
He nodded then grinned at me. “I’m sure you’d have done the same thing.”
He’s right. I would have. Even though it would mean trouble. That’s how I always land in trouble, like when I determined to steal the horse Felicity was abusing and ride off on him. At the time I didn’t know she was whipping my own horse, Taffy, but–
“Go on,” Riley prodded. “What happened?”
“I hid the goat in an empty stall in the barn.” He gave me a pointed look. I’d hid Snowball, my lamb in exactly the same place after Sadie traded him for a cat. “I fed her hay and oats and managed to keep her a secret from the whole family. The Jones family didn’t even miss her. I found that out right away when I worked for them the next few days. They said they hoped she’d run off and gotten lost.”
“About three days after bringing the nanny home,” Chad continued, “she began to bleat and wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know what to do. She had plenty of hay, plenty of water and grain. ‘Shhh, shh,’ I told her, but nothing helped.”
Chad’s face grew red. “Sure enough, Father finally got wind of it. At first he thought it might be a sheep.” He grinned at me. I blushed. When I didn’t rise to his bait, Chad went on. “Father hightailed it into the barn to investigate. As soon as he saw that goat, and what condition she was in, he knew who was to blame. He about hit the ceiling. “He scolded me and warmed my backside. Mother said she hoped I’d learned my lesson.”
“What lesson?” I asked. “What condition was she in that got Father so riled?”
By now, Justin was laughing. I had no idea why. “You’ll see. Stop interrupting.”
I clamped my jaw shut and let Chad tell his story. “After I got what was coming to me, Father found a bucket, and he milked that goat.”
I burst into laughter.
“Not funny, little sister. I was nine, and we are not dairy farmers. The ranch hands took care of the couple of milk cows and I didn’t step foot in the milking shed. I didn’t ever think about cows or goats or full bags. No, sirree. I’m a cattle rancher.” He folded his arms across this chest and glared at me.
I stopped laughing.
“The nanny goat, of course, immediately stopped bleating and looked relieved. I thought it was over, but I was wrong. Father was busy working out the next part of my punishment. He had me take the nanny back to the Jones. He went along but had me do all the talking. I told Mr. Jones everything, returned the goat, and apologized. Mr. Jones forgave me. Then he offered me a deal. He said that if I felt so strongly about the nanny’s well-being, I could take her in exchange for the cash money I’d earned.”
By now, a dropping pin could have been heard around the table. Even the babies were still. I was all ears. That didn’t sound like such a good deal. I bet Chad would rather have the money. I was right.
“I wasn’t excited about that plan,” Chad said. “I’d worked hard and had my eye on a dandy new knife I’d seen at the general store. Father was even more reluctant. ‘Goats are as bad as sheep. Worse, maybe,’ he told me. ‘They have a knack for causing all sorts of trouble.’
“But how could I let that poor creature suffer at the hands of the uncaring Jones family? It was a tough decision for a cash-hungry nine-year-old, but I stuck out my hand and shook Mr. Jones’s hand. I would do it, even though it was a . . . goat. I would care for it and keep the nanny out of trouble while I found her a good home.”
“And you wouldn’t let me keep my lambs,” I hollered. “Neither time! Wish I’d known this story before. Father would have let me keep a lamb.”
Chad shook his head. “Not after the experience with the goat.” He scowled. “Are you going to let me finish the story or not?”
I nodded, still steaming that I hadn’t known this story beforehand. “I had the goat a couple more days when I found the litter of motherless kittens and set about handfeeding them the goat’s milk. The only good thing about the whole business,” he muttered.
I agreed wholeheartedly.
“Between the nanny—who chewed through the slats and crawled through the fences faster than I could repair them—”
“My roses were destroyed that year, by the way,” Mother reminded Chad.
Chad winced. Bet he got into hot water over that too. “Is it any wonder Father had had enough of animals and told me to get rid of those kittens.”
I gasped. “Father would never say such a thing about kittens!”
Chad smiled sheepishly. “He was just blowing off steam because he never followed up, and I kept feeding those babies. Six weeks is a long time to feed kittens with an eyedropper.” He shook his head. “Never again.”
“What happened to the goat when the kittens were old enough to eat real food?”
Chad smiled. “I ‘lost’ the nanny to Robbie Little one Saturday afternoon. It’s the one and time Father didn’t tan my hide for playing cards with that older boy. I reckon Father wanted to get rid of that goat any way he could. Gambling must have seemed like the lesser evil in his mind when he learned why the goat was gone. I couldn’t seem to get rid of Nanny any other way.”
He sighed and leaned back in his chair, as if remembering a sad tale. “I had a jim-dandy hand too. A full house, but I let Robbie win the goat with two pair.”
I laughed. No matter what, Chad did not like to lose. Not even as a boy. What a story! We were all wiping our eyes by the time it came to a close. Hmmm . . . I wonder what other stories Chad, Mitch, or even Justin have hidden up their sleeves.