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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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“Before
they come searching, we should go in.
 
I’d
planned to make it an early night, anyway.
 
Fishing expedition tomorrow, you know.”
 
He felt momentarily unbalanced, disoriented.

Without
rising, she turned her face up to him, so that it was cast in the light once
more.
 
There was puzzled look in her
eyes, as though she sensed his confusion.
 
“You’re really going fishing?
 
I
thought your mother said you’d never been fishing before.”

“I haven’t,
sadly.
 
It will be a grand new adventure,
I’m sure.
 
And I want to get to know the
other fellows while I have this chance.”
 
He stood in the doorway, waiting.
 
When she made no move, he held out a hand.
 
“Peg, you can’t stay out here alone.
 
Come inside and have a little fun.”

She
stood, tossed back her hair and arched her brows, ignoring his outstretched
hand.
 
“Maybe I don’t feel like fun
tonight.
 
I think I’ll go find Dad.
 
He may be ready to go home by now.”
 

 

Chapter Five

 

His
night was disturbed by odd dreams, including one of swimming in freezing water
and being attacked by a school of tiny singing fish, furious with him for
having hooked their mother.
 
When he
struggled to consciousness, the inevitable morning giggles were passing his door,
followed by other voices, low and slightly annoyed, progressing more slowly down
the hallway.

“I
suppose, but you can’t expect me to like it.
 
Really, Father, can’t the housekeeper manage them?”

“Hannah
doesn’t drive, Jack.
 
Your aunt feels
strongly there should be someone here with the little ones who can drive in
case of an emergency.
 
You’re our only
option.
 
And I would appreciate it if you
wiped that sullen expression off your face.”
 

Simple
enough to put two and two together.
 
Jack was to be left behind with the younger
children while the men went to the river and the ladies traveled to Dublin for
a day of shopping.
 
After much hashing
and rehashing of the plan, which would take most of the adults away from the
farm, Hannah and her teenaged daughter had been recruited to mind the children.
Obviously an oversight had been discovered at the last minute.
 
Considering that already this week one of the
boys had required sutures in an eyebrow after running headlong into the garden
gate and the youngest of the girls had suffered an upset stomach necessitating
a trip to the chemist in town, having some means of transportation seemed
logical.

Kendall
stared at the ceiling, reluctant to leave the comfort of his bed for what was sure
to be a slow line to the bathroom.
 
Down
the hallway, a small stampede passed, accompanied by shouted threats involving
rotten eggs.
 
He threw off the covers,
bracing for another morning among the Shannons.

When he
joined the queue it was only four deep and he fell silently in place behind
Jack, whose red face suggested he was still nursing his grievance.

“I
suppose you could go ahead of me.
 
I’m
not in any hurry now.”
 
No mistaking the
disappointment simmering behind the terse words.
 
Kendall felt a rush of sympathy, much as he
would for one of the children who’d lost a treasured toy.

“Why’s
that?”

“Turns
out I’m to stay here today.
 
Old Hannah
doesn’t know how to drive and apparently we’re expecting an emergency.”
 
He pushed his shoulder into the nearest door
jamb, setting his jaw against further comment.

It took
less than a second to recognize the opportunity.
 
Winning Jack’s favor would be worth far more
than sitting completely out of his element on a river bank all day.
 
“I could stay.
 
I’m not much of a sportsman anyway.
 
And I can drive, in the event
that were
called for.
 
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’d much prefer the fishing, wouldn’t
you?”

Jack’s
face turned a different shade of red, as a blush of pleasure spread up his
cheeks.
 
“I’d say!
 
Of course, we’ll have to clear it with Aunt
Addie.
 
You’re sure you wouldn’t mind too
terribly?”

“Not
at all.
 
I need some time to practice and as long as
no one breaks a leg or swallows a pebble, things should be pretty calm around
here.”
 
He stifled a grunt at the force
of Jack’s clap across his shoulders.
 
“You’ll catch enough fish for the two of us, I’m sure.”

 

By the
time everyone had eaten, dressed and piled into their respective vehicles,
Kendall was feeling quite pleased with himself.
 
The men had largely ignored his absence, but the ladies had fawned over
him for his sacrifice.
 
He anticipated a
couple of hours alone with his violin as he watched Hannah’s daughter lead the
children into the sunny garden with assorted balls and jumping ropes in
hand.
 

“What
are you doing here?
 
Why aren’t you going
fishing?”
 
He barely avoided colliding
with Peg when he turned back to the kitchen.

“Good
lord!
 
What are
you
doing here?”

“I
asked first.”

“I
stayed behind for emergency support.”
 
He
grinned.
 
This morning, Peg looked very
much a child, dressed in pale blue shorts and shirt, her braids tied with
matching ribbons.

“What?”

“In
case someone should get sick or hurt, the mothers in the family decided there
should be someone who could drive them to the nearest hospital.
 
I volunteered.
 
Now you.
 
Why didn’t you go shopping with the ladies?”

“I have
a perfectly good dress, if I decide to go to the party at all.
 
And I told Hannah last night I would stay to
help with the kids.
 
I thought it might
actually be quieter here than following everyone around Dublin all day.”
 
She started toward the door, her eyes on one
of the boys who
was
already scrambling up a tree at
the edge of the garden.
 
“Crazy kids.
 
They
keep trying to get a look at the babies in that bird’s nest.
 
Good thing it’s too high for any of them to
climb.”

He
debated following her outside.
 
“I think,
before something happens that requires my attention, I’ll try to get in a
little practice.
 
You’ll fetch me the
moment one of them tumbles off the roof, won’t you?”

“Sure.
 
Play by a window, so I can hear you.”
 
She turned back with a teasing smile.
 
“I’ll see if you’re good enough to be
famous.”

Collecting
his violin from his room, he returned to the first floor, deciding a spot by
the window in the rear parlor might be just the thing.
 
Nothing too distracting here, although he
doubted Peg would be able to hear him over the noise in the garden.

He lost
himself for a time with Brahms, enjoying the calming sense of oneness with his
instrument and the music.
 
It took some
time for the clamor of voices to disturb his concentration.
 
In fact his pulse seemed to respond before he
recognized something was happening outside.

When he
reached the garden gate, the unknown started his heart pounding in earnest.
 
Instinct, he assumed, had set off an alarm
before his eyes could absorb the sight.
 
Beneath the tree, the children were gathered in a ragged circle, gazing
up into the branches.
 
He caught a flash
of blue, and was able to make out long legs wrapped around a limb some distance
from the trunk.
 
Without thinking, he
shouted “Peg!” and sprinted across the low flower beds toward the grassy border
of the garden.
 

From
high above, her voice, muted and a trifle shaky, answered.
 
“Don’t yell!
 
You’ll scare the mother bird.”

From
the jumbled commentary of the children he learned that one of the baby birds
had fallen from the nest as a result of someone—several names were bandied
about accusingly—jostling the branches.
 
Peg was returning it to the nest, while the mother bird hovered anxiously
overhead observing the procedure.

“Peg,
please be careful!
 
Are you sure that
branch will hold your weight?”

She
took a second to glance down.
 
“It sure
wouldn’t hold Seamus.”
 
The children
laughed, while Seamus, the stout lad whose greeting had bruised his shoulder
the first night, tucked his head and blushed.
 

He
watched her reach into the pocket of her blouse, gently drawing out a handful
of downy feathers.
 
With a cautious nod
to the bird above her head, she stretched her arm upward.
 
“There.
 
You’re safe now, little guy.
 
We’re sorry to have upset you, Mother.
 
Aren’t we?”
 
This last was
pointedly directed to the mob below, which responded with a chorus of contrite
murmurs.
 

“Now
come down from there before you break your silly neck!”
 

In no
more than the blink of an eye after he’d uttered those reckless words, the bird
dove toward the nest with a cry that sounded anything but grateful.
 
Horrified, he watched as Peg dodged the
assault, attempting to maintain her balance.
 
With a muffled shriek, she dropped in agonizing slow motion, arms and
legs extended in a ludicrously elegant pose, to the ground.
 
He shoved aside a child or two to reach out,
as though he might break her fall, but by the time he skidded to the far side
of the tree, she was flat on her back on the grass, her face white and a look
of surprise in her wide eyes.
 

“Peg,
oh my God,
are
you all right?”
 
Stupid question, he told himself, as he knelt
beside her.
 
She closed her eyes and he
saw with the clarity of panic that she wasn’t breathing.
 
“Peg!”
 

A gasp,
the most beautiful sound he could imagine, burst forth as she opened her eyes
and struggled for air.
 
“You’ve just had
the wind knocked out of you.”
 
His voice
sounded absurdly calm and rational over the drumbeat of his heart.
 
“Lie still.
 
Does anything hurt?”
 

She
took another wheezing breath.
 
“My ankle.”
 
If
possible, her face blanched a shade whiter.
 

Following
her pointing finger down her left leg, he drew his own gasp.
 
“Right.”
 
He cringed at the angle of her foot, the toe
pointing east rather than north.
 
His
next words were foolish, he knew, but the first to come to mind.
 
“Just a little twist.
 
Some ice should fix you right up.”
 
On the heels of that inanity, he shouted at
the top of his voice for Hannah.

Chaos
ensued.
 
Very quickly, Kendall
acknowledged this was far from his finest hour.
 
He barked at the encroaching children, barely stifling the stream of oaths
rising in his throat.
 
He growled at
Hannah’s daughter, who had apparently wandered from her post for a nap by the
garden wall, and now hung on the edge of the crowd wearing a scowl of drowsy
confusion.
 
When Hannah finally shuffled
up clicking her tongue, he demanded to know what had taken her so long.

“I was
ringing the doctor.
 
Soon as I saw her
fall, I knew we’d
be wanting
him here quick as
possible.
 
Surgery’s closed this morning,
it being Thursday, but his house is just up the road a mile or so.
 
He’s on his way.”
 
Her calm perversely exacerbated his panic.

“What
do we do in the meantime?
 
She can’t just
lie here on the ground!”
 
Through it all,
Peg had not stirred, keeping her eyes tightly closed.
 
Only the vice-like grip on his hand assured
him she was conscious.

“Best
not to move her before the doc has a look.”
 
Leaning over, Hannah said softly, “
Hold
on
there, darlin’.
 
We’ll have you patched
up soon enough.”

Abandoning
hope of any further action, he turned his focus to Peg.
 
Resting his free hand on her forehead, he
asked hoarsely, “Does it hurt horribly?”

She
wrinkled her nose, which brought a lump to his throat.
 
“Yes.
 
But if you’d stop yelling, it might not hurt as bad.”
 
Opening her eyes at last, she stared up at
him, her pupils dilated and tears clinging to her lashes.
 
“I’m sorry.
 
I thought I could do it.”

He felt
his own tears well.
 
“No, I’m sorry.
 
But you could have been killed, you silly
girl.
 
Are you sure nothing else
hurts?
 
What about your neck, or your
back?
 
Ribs?”
 
His brain generated a series of further horrors
as he gazed down the still length of her body.

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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