Pride versus Reason
If Virginia Dekker had made an enemy of Bertha Barnett on that eventful day in early September, it could be said that Bertha Barnett made an enemy of the whole community, with the exception of a few.
Of course, Gabrielle Scott being a preacher man and viewing himself as a pillar of their new community had resolved to not pass judgement on Bertha’s rash behaviour. As the settlement’s doctor, Joe Paddington had refrain from putting forth his opinion, preferring to avail his medical services to whomever needed them.
As for the other members of the community? Well there was plenty for them to say.
The first day of school for the new settlement had turned out to be a more pivotal day than anyone could ever have imagined. The new community rallied around the Dekker family, galvanizing an alliance amongst the settlers that would hold up for years to come and have a long lasting impact on the community for both the good and the bad.
By the next morning when Virginia Dekker had knocked politely but with staunch determination on the door of Barnett’s Trading Post, there wasn’t a man, woman or even child who wasn’t standing behind her watching.
A defiant Bertha Barnett opened the door, clear signs of fatigue etched across the young woman’s features, for everyone in the entire settlement had heard the constant squeals of young Wes’s cries for most of the night.
It was obvious that the child was acutely feeling Ming’s absence and making his mother suffer his pain tenfold.
Ming Ho took an involuntary step forward but was brought up short with the murderous look in Bertha’s eyes and the fierceness of her voice.
“You stay away from my boy, or I swear when Barry gets back I’ll have him flog you.”
A collective gasp rippled through the settlers, each one horrified in their own way that Bertha would think of such a thing.
“That won’t be necessary, Bertha,” Joe Paddington spoke up, “the girl is only concerned for the child. We all know that you had a tough night.”
The doctor’s attempt at defusing the already tense situation failed the moment everyone saw Bertha turn her upper lip into a snarl.
“We know whose fault that is.”
“Why don’t we stop all this and get down to business?” Virginia demanded, “here is your money and a document for you to sign.”
Bertha’s eyes flashed. “I’m not signing anything.”
“It’s just a letter stating that Virginia Dekker has given you a said sum of money in return for Ming,” Reverend Scott explained. He stepped forward and took the piece of paper from Virginia.
“I said, I’m not signing anything,” Bertha repeated. “Besides, it can’t be legal.”
“As legal as you buying the girl from her uncle,” Virginia said, pointing out the obvious.
“It won’t hold up in court.”
“Whether that is true or not,” Reverend Scott said, “or whether you sign the document or not, the whole settlement will bare witness of the transaction. Virginia, please give Bertha the money.”
Enraged Bertha refused. “I won’t take it. This atrocity is not taking place. Ming is still my property.”
Having anticipated this turn of events the community had already devised a solution.
“Zachariah,” Doc Paddington announced. He held out his hand.
Zachariah Kyler handed the doctor a metal box with a lid.
Taking the box, the doctor stepped up to the door of Barnett’s Trading Post and accepted the hammer and nails that Nash Hewett handed him. A few seconds later the metal box was nailed to the door and the doctor having finished his task, stepped back.
Virginia then stepped over to the box, lifted the metal lid and slipped the money wrapped in brown paper and tied with a piece of twine into the metal box.
Stepping away from the door, she turned back to Bertha and said in a serious tone. “The money you named for Ming’s freedom has been delivered. Whether you accept it or not is of course your prerogative but everyone has seen me do so.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Bertha refuted bitterly. “You can come back in the night and take the money.”
Virginia’s eyes shot fire, but she said nothing as she stepped down the Trading Post steps.
“No one will take your money, Mrs. Barnett,” Reverend Scott assured. He handed the unsigned document back to Virginia. “No one except you.”
One of the other unspoken decisions the settlement had decided was that the Dekker’s Bathhouse would be built as quickly as humanly possible.
It was common knowledge the tremendous amount of money Virginia had given to Bertha, and everyone in the settlement worried that Bertha and her selfishness had put Virginia’s family financial future in jeopardy.
Therefore it was settled without one word passing between any of the many settlers that everyone would put their support behind Virginia and help out in any way that they could. Getting the bathhouse up and running was the first step.
As Deanna Scott headed off to school with the children, the men poured over Nash Hewett’s designs and before the school triangle rang off in the distance that school was about to begin the sounds of hewing axes, saw blades and hammers echoed through the valley.
By the end of the week the bathhouse had really taken shape. A foundation of cut lumber was laid and the drainage system set in place. Three of the four outer walls were erected along with a set of stairs rising up to the front, back and side doors of the establishment. A wooden boardwalk of hewn planks was nailed the entire length of the building and the biggest fireplace the community had seen yet was completed.
The Reverend Scott’s Sunday morning church service was a welcomed respite after a long hard week. Everyone in the community putting in every available hour of sunlight in an attempt to do their own chores before and after they’d all worked on the Dekker’s bathhouse.
Very little had been seen of Bertha which to everyone’s relief was just fine, considering that no one had softened their feelings towards her during the passing days.
In fact, for some a decided resentment had begun to fester.
When Bertha finally emerged from the Trading Post and plunked herself and little Wes down on a blanket moments before the church service was to begin it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Bertha looked bedraggled, her clothes unkempt and her hair dishevelled. For no one had seen her hauling water to the Trading Post nor had they seen her washing clothes down by the river.
Little Wes’s tiny face was dirty, his clothes stained with smatterings of encrusted food and spit up, and the state of his nappy in dire need of changing.
Noses wrinkled and frowns ensued and after a rather brief church service, Bertha’s gluttonous behaviour became apparent as she made a dash for the sawhorses where the men had set up planks so that the women could lay out the community’s Sunday church meal.
Wolfing down large portions of fish, baked goods and chunks of the rabbit Caleb Lund had captured the day before, Bertha made a spectacle of herself as she stuffed her pockets full with biscuits and muffins before fleeing back to the Trading Post, little Wes wailing in his mother’s arms the whole time.
©Mountain View Valley by Janet Merritt