Dinnertime at the Pelles farm. The family sat down to their meal of bread and cheese, said their prayers, and began to eat. As they ate, Martin laid out the next day’s chores.
“An’ Lukas, I’ll expect your help with Sic. She’s due to have her pups any day now, I want you to make sure she’s kept comfortable.”
“An’ now fer Joyce. Happy birthday, by the way, honey.”
“But since yer seventeen now … I think it’s time we had a talk about yer future, don’t ye think?”
“My future, Da?”
“Aye, aye … well, ye’ll be eighteen a year from now, an’ I’d like to know jest what ye plan on doin’ once that day comes.”
Joyce swallowed the crust of bread she had been chewing rather hastily. “I — plan?”
“Well, I know that ye and Berach had it worked out that ye were gonna marry when ye hit eighteen … however, since that don’t seem to be happenin’ … I was jest wonderin’ what else ye’d planned out in the meanwhile.”
“I …” Joyce put her plate down. “Well, there ain’t no one else — I mean, I haven’t had time to find another young man.”
“Are ye plannin’ on talkin’ to Berach again? He’s not a bad young man, ye know.”
“Not a bad young man?” Joyce called out — choking down her excess anger. “Da, he was sleepin’ with whores the minute I turned me back!”
“Joyce! Please,” Betsy interrupted, glancing significantly at Lukas.
“Don’t worry about me, Ma, I’ve heard the word before.”
“And ye don’t need to worry about Davy, he’s upstairs sleepin’.”
“Lukas, enough,” Martin said. “An’ Joyce, try to watch yer language, for yer ma’s sake if no one else’s.” He patted Betsy’s hand with a smile.
Joyce tried not to grind her teeth. “Da, no matter how I put it, it don’t change the fact that he was with another woman.”
“An’ no matter how that makes ye feel, ye have to admit that ye wouldn’t even know about it if Berach hadn’t been willing to stand by his mistake, so to speak,” Martin pointed out.
“Martin, try to put yerself in her shoes … I know I’d have been right upset if I’d been waitin’ all placid-like to marry you, only to find out that ye fathered a child on some — er — lady of ill repute, an’ expected me to raise her,” Betsy added.
“I’m puttin’ meself in her shoes, which is why I haven’t been over havin’ a chat with Berach, seein’ if he’d take Joyce despite her little display of temper,” Martin replied.
“What?” Joyce snapped.
“What?” Betsy asked.
Lukas merely applied himself to his bread, ducking his head low as if to avoid any sudden projectiles — which, given that he was seated next to Joyce, may have been more of a threat than any of them were willing to admit.
“But,” Martin continued, “I’m also puttin’ meself in his shoes … which is why I haven’t gone over there an’ let Berach know that this old soldier still remembers a trick or two, so ter speak.”
He watched Joyce’s face closely as he said that, and he saw — or thought he saw — a hint of a wince. A wince of concern for Berach? Or a wince because for Berach to be taught a rather painful lesson was exactly what Joyce wanted, and she didn’t want to have to admit it?
Well, at least Joyce was a proper young woman and, despite her threats about clipping shears, wasn’t too apt to use violence. After all, Berach, so far as anyone knew, still had his manhood, and if Joyce hadn’t snapped upon learning of the little lady of the night’s daughter, then she never would.
More to the point, Martin had used the clipping shears several times since that rather dramatic day, and he’d never discovered a bit of blood on them.
“Puttin’ yerself in yer shoes how, Da?” Joyce asked, a bit of an edge to her voice.
“Well, I’m jest thinkin’ — if I was in Berach’s shoes, and had, er, a bit of fun before my betrothed was of an age to wed … an’ that bit of fun had, er, unexpected results … well, what would I do about that? Would I be a man, like Berach is, an’ take the child in an’ raise her right … or would I just let her be trucked off to an orphanage an’ do my best never to think about the wee lass again?” Martin shook his head. “I’ve been thinkin’, like I say, an’ I have to admit … I’m not happy with what my answer would be. I don’t think I would have been half the man Berach is at his age … an’ I like to think,” he said, turning to Betsy with a smile and caressing her hand, “that I turned out to be a fair husband an’ father, despite that.”
Betsy smiled gently at him, and Martin caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.
“An’ if it still bothers you to be raisin’ someone else’s child fer them, think about it like this,” Martin added, turning back to Joyce without taking his hand from Betsy’s. “Would it be any different if Berach was a widower with a little girl to raise?”
“Maybe,” Joyce snarled. Martin watched her hand clench on the edge of her plate.
“Now, Joyce, I know ye want to pretend like it would –“
“I ain’t pretendin’, Da! It would be different if Berach had been married an’ had a baby, an’ then his wife died an’ he’d started courtin’ me after all that happened — it’d be a lot different! But if he’d been courtin’ me, and then he upped an’ married someone else, an’ she’d died and left him with a little girl, an’ then he came back beggin’ to me — no, I can’t say it’d be any different from what he’s doin’ now!” Joyce tore off a hunk of her bread and bit into it with enough force to make Martin want to wince — and he wasn’t even the one Joyce would want to take a piece out of! “An’ as far as him bein’ a man is concerned, if he was really a man, he’d have married that whore –“
“– wouldn’t he have? Made an honest woman of her?”
“Joyce, don’t be foolish,” Martin said, shaking his head. “If he’d have married that — er — woman, he an’ all of his children would have been the laughingstock of the kingdom fer generations. Even if they were his, which, o’course, no one would believe.”
“An’ his takin’ in the one girl is any better?”
” ‘Course it is. Folk will think he’s a better man now, an’ even if they look down on the little girl … well, they would have done that no matter what Berach did.”
“An’ that all means I should marry him?” Joyce looked away. “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice …”
Martin swallowed. “Now, Joyce, a young man with no other outlet relievin’ his — urges — with a willin’ lady … even if a bit o’ copper changes hands … is one thing; it’s another for a man to take another woman when he’s got … er … when he’s happily married.”
“An’ what is it if he’s married to a shrew?”
“LUKAS!” Betsy snapped, while Joyce swatted him on the back of the head, Lukas unfortunately not being quick enough to duck out of the way. “Yer sister is not a shrew!”
“Yet — ow!”
“Joyce, stop beatin’ up yer brother — Lukas, stop antagonizin’ yer sister. Wright almighty, but ye would think the two of you would grow up a bit!” Martin shook his head. “Anyway, gettin’ back to what I was sayin’ — Joyce, yer sure ye won’t be gettin’ back with Berach?”
Lukas looked primed to make a smart remark, but a pointed glare from Betsy silenced him.
“Then sweetheart — what are ye goin’ to do a year from now?”
“Ye have to do something,” Martin said, almost gently. “Ye don’t think ye’ll jest stay here for the rest of yer life — do ye?”
Joyce felt the blood begin to leave her face. “I … I …”
“Ye think about it,” Martin said. “Ye think nice an’ long an’ hard about it. An’ when ye’ve made a decision — yer ma an’ I will be ready to hear it.”
Betsy, however, did not look ready. Instead, she stared at her plate — saying nothing.
Later that night, however, as Joyce and Lukas were wrapping up the last of the evening’s chores, she had quite a bit to say. “Martin, what are ye thinkin’? Ye’re not gonna kick our girl to the street as soon as she turns eighteen!”
“Now, Betsy, love …”
“Don’t ye ‘Besty, love,’ me, I want some answers, sir!”
Martin sighed. “Betsy, listen to me. I’m not kickin’ Joyce anywhere, I’m jest tryin’ to kick some sense into her head, so ter speak.”
“What d’ye mean?”
“I mean that Berach is a good man, an’ if she don’t look sharp, she’s goin’ ter lose him.”
“She’s got every right to be hurt, Martin.”
“So she does. So she’s been, fer the past months an’ months. But it’s time for her to stop actin’ like a little girl, poutin’ because her toy got broken, an’ to grow up an’ be a woman. And a woman would realize that Berach is as good a man as she could ask fer.”
“Are ye sayin’ she can’t do no better?”
“If we were livin’ in some sort of city … or even jest a bigger kingdom … I’d say no, but Betsy, love, who else is there? Simon Chevaux — Wright forbid? Billy Thatcher, the seven-year-old?”
“Men we know even less about? Betsy, I don’t like it.”
“An’ I don’t like you tellin’ Joyce we’re gonna toss her out on her ear for her next birthday present!”
“If it makes ye feel better — I don’t wanna kick her anywhere. An’ I won’t,” he said firmly. “I will, however, make her think that … if only so she realize jest how good she had it with Berach, and fixes it up with him before it’s too late.”
Betsy sighed and shook her head. “I’m not sure this is the best way to do that.”
“Ah, but ye see, I am. And when was the last time I wasn’t right about somethin’ like this?” And he grinned a grin very like the one that had made her fall in love with him, back when she wasn’t much older than Joyce.
“I don’t know, Martin, an’ that’s a fact.” She sighed. “I jest hope this isn’t the first time.”