It had not been Noah Pratt’s idea to bring the girl to New Riverton. His sister, Louisa, wrote Bessie Stark asking if there was work for Sophie at the boarding house. The letter said that the girl could cook, clean, sew, garden, split wood, clean fish, dress game, read and write, was of good temperament, chaste, and a devoted Christian.
“Is even half of this true?” Bessie snorted, as she waved in his face a piece of brown paper sack his sister had used for writing paper.
“I haven’t seen the girl since her Daddy died.” Noah replied. “She was young then, between baby and youngun.”
Bessie motioned for him to sit. Bessie poured coffee, settled herself as a hen prepares to lay an egg, then pushed the letter across the table towards Noah where it sat untouched. Bessie inhaled the air from the room, watching him sip the top off his coffee. Watching him fill the cup with her pecan honey and heavy cream. Watching him finally turn his attention to her, ready to listen.
“Seems to me her momma would need to keep that girl close with that brood she has by that good for nuthin drunk she took up with. Seems to me this girl Sophie should be married with her own house to keep. Aren’t there folks over in Millville who would want to hire this girl?
Says here if I do take her on, I should send your sister half the girl’s wages. Shame on your sister, Noah. Shame on her. Your sister was raised better than that.
Mr Stark, now resting in the bosom of Jesus, respected family Noah. Mr Stark did trade with your sister’s husband too. A fine man he was. Ran a good business. You know that Noah. Left your sister and her two children fixed for life. Writing on paper sacks. Wanting that girl’s money before it’s earned. ”
Noah nodded, savoring the last taste of the bitter coffee with the sweetness of honey and cream.
“I’ve decided to take this girl on, Noah. You have anything to say, say it now.”
She picked the letter back up, and thrust it deep into her apron pocket.
“I cud fetch her when I git the new sort lines from the foundry. Need them up and runnin before the season starts. Have to check with Capt Wren first. I’ll know in ah couple days Bess.”
“Thank you Noah. I will write on proper paper and let your sister know to expect you.”
Noah Pratt had lived at Starks Boarding House for seventeen years, had been her first boarder when Mr Stark had passed. Noah knew Bessie Stark didn’t want her questions answered. She did not want his opinion. She would not offer him a second cup of coffee. She wanted him to know that she smelled rot behind his sister’s words, and whatever happened next, he was tied to it by blood.