The Turners and the Tudors settled land grants given to them after the Revolutionary War, for services rendered. The grants were located in the hills west of Brattle Town, located on the Connecticut River. The Tudors had the much better land to clear, with several level sections. The Turners had the larger parcel, but it had ravines and ledges interspersed with smaller pieces of level land. The Turners were the more prolific, the family units having more offspring.
Over the centuries the parcels were divided again and yet again, as the male members grew up and needed homes of their own. In the 1990's, the land parcels owned by the original settlers, had been diminished. Timothy Tudor held one hundred acres and Buck Turner owned seventeen acres. These two friends were direct descendants of the original grantees.
The Tudor holdings still consisted of a set of buildings, about fifty acres of fields, with an equal amount in woodland. The Turner holding was just a cut-over timberlot adjacent to the back of the Tudor property. It had no access to a road or a deeded right-of-way and it was considered landlocked. Ma and Pa Turner lived in rented property in town after they sold the original farmhouse. In 1991 both passed away leaving the woodlot to seventeen-year-old Buck and his twin sister, Beauty.
Beauty was not only the girl's name, it also described her, for that was what she was--a beauty. Tim Tudor, same age, same class in school, sparked her and was successful. Madly in love, they were married when Tim and Beauty turned eighteen. They moved in with his parents on the family farm.
Buck and Tim were friends--sort of. They were always trying to one up each other and were able to do this on occasion. It started when Tim swapped a jackknife to Buck that was supposedly the finest knife ever made. Maybe it was at one time but at the time the swap was made it had a broken blade. A coon dog was traded to Tim, one he had always admired, but when delivered, had the colic and died three days later.
A shotgun to Buck--a beautiful firearm, but it had no firing pin and the company that made it was out of business. And then there was the '62 Chevy that Tim bought from Buck that ran perfectly, burned no oil and had no engine knocks. When Tim changed the oil, though, he found that Buck had loaded the crankcase with heavy gear oil to hide these defects. It was all in fun, and any resentment drifted away over a few beers and some laughter.
Joy reigned when Beauty informed Tim that they were going to have a baby in about eight months. Tim, the last of the Tudors, and Buck and Beauty, the last of the Turners, were ecstatic over the news that the joined bloodlines would be carried on. Tim and Buck celebrated the coming event by getting falling down drunk. Then came sadness and heartbreak into both boys' lives. Beauty, the love of Tim's life, died of pneumonia a month after the celebration. Tim had held his wife's hand through it all, finally realizing there was no hope and he was going to lose her.
Regaining consciousness for a few minutes, Beauty spoke. "Tim you have made me so happy every day we have been together. I am so sad to be leaving you, and I regret taking your son with me. Somehow, I know you will find happiness someday. I may even come to you in your dreams. Tell Buck goodbye for me." The fetus went with its mother into the grave. Buck was as devastated as Tim at the loss of his twin. Without family, he became a nomad, going from job to job around the country, just showing up to spend a few days with Tim.
Six months later Tim's dad died in a tractor accident on the farm and his mother followed her husband that same winter. Tim, the more settled of the two friends, took a job working in the office of a grocery store chain. His land was rented out to a farmer and the only use he made of the home place was to cut wood for the stove and have a place to sleep.
Lonely, Tim rarely went into the bedroom where he and Beauty had found such happiness together. The room was closed and avoided since her death almost two years ago. Tim moved a cot into the huge country kitchen and a comfortable overstuffed chair back into the corner where he could watch the TV perched on the sideboard. The bathroom was off the kitchen, so these two rooms were where Tim existed. The neighbors thought Tim was a bit eccentric and speculated on how long he could exist like this.
Buck showed up two years after Beauty's death and asked Tim to help him get an old travel trailer he had bought down across Tim's woodlot to his seventeen acres. Several trees had to be cut and it took a farmer's big tractor to haul it back to the secluded property. Tim was glad to oblige when his friend said he needed a place to call home and although it wasn't much, it was something. The trailer was set up near a spring in the only small clearing. A person could camp there for a short time and it suited the owner's lifestyle. When Buck walked into where his trailer was located, he didn't have to pass by Tim's house. Tim was seldom aware when he was around.
Eight o'clock one morning in early September, Tim opened his door to Buck. His brother-in-law had some papers in his hand. "Tim, you said one time if I ever wanted to sell that property of mine, you'd buy it. I'm ready to sell and I'll give you a deal. I want four thousand for it."
"Way too much Buck, I'll give you two thousand. How come you want to sell?"
"I got a job in Texas, but I have to get there soon or I'll lose it. Come on, you know the land is worth more than that."
"Not to me it isn't. It's cut-over and won't have any timber on it for years."
"Well it has the trailer on it. You can rent it out for a hunting camp."
"Maybe I can go twenty-five hundred, but no more."
"Tim, I need three thousand anyway. I'll tell you what. I have a bred heifer down there and she's got a young one by her side. I'll throw both in and all the tools laying around, if you give me another five hundred."
"What's the cow's name?" Tim was suspicious, wondering from past dealings if there really was an animal.
"Bertha. She ain't too pretty, but she's a shapely thing."
"How long before she calves?"
"I bred her two months ago. You figure it out. I'll have to sell her anyway 'cause I can't feed her through the winter."
"What am I going to do with an animal like that? I got no use for her. You sell her."
"But I must head for Texas if I'm going to have that job. Look, you buy her. She's easily worth two or three hundred more than the five. You can keep the extra."
"Three thousand. Well I guess so. You got the papers there? We'll get them recorded this morning and I'll give you the money. Buck, you better not be screwing me, or I'll come to Texas after you."
Tim was late for work, but still not trusting his late wife's brother, he wanted to see Buck off to Texas on the bus. The final words that were said, "You better go down to the trailer and feed your heifer tonight."
Tim ate when he got home and taking a rope and halter, he headed down through the woods to his new property. Not seeing the cow in the clearing, he walked around the trailer. There were no droppings and no hay. Sitting down on the step to the trailer he was thinking how Buck had done him in again.
Suddenly the door behind him opened and he felt something cold on his neck. "Okay mister, you better tell me what you're doing poking around. My husband will be back in about five minutes and he better not find you here. Don't turn around or I'll blow your head off." There was a woman behind him, speaking.
Tim sat perfectly still as he contemplated this new development. Sorting everything out in his mind he said, "I bet your name is Bertha, isn't it?" There was no answer. "You probably have a little kid here with you too, don't you?" Still no answer. "I also have a feeling you got knocked up about two months ago. Buck said he was the father."
This brought a gasp. He got up and turned around. The woman was still pointing the gun at him. "That gun wouldn't hurt me much unless you hit me with it. It won't shoot because it doesn't have a firing pin in it." Tears were beginning to run down the woman's face. Clutching the woman's leg, he could see a little girl of about four staring at him. She looked nearly scared to death.
Tim looked the woman over. Well she wasn't a pig anyway. Her hands and face were clean and he could see that she had brushed her hair although it did need washing. The little girl had a clean face too. God, it must be a chore to keep this clean with the absence of facilities.
Tim backed up and sat down on a log that was pulled close to the trailer. "Come out and sit. I think Buck pulled a fast one on me--you too for that matter. Let's decide what is best for you because you can't stay here. Buck is gone. He is on his way to Texas, and miles and miles from here by now."
"What do you mean? He goes away sometimes, but he always comes back. I don't even know where I am. What will we do?" There was disbelief and worry and despair.
Tim thought, "Damn Buck, he did it to me again. I'll never learn. I should have known he wouldn't have a cow down here in the woods."
This woman he was looking at was shapely. Buck was right about that. Then Tim could see what he meant when he said she wasn't pretty. She had a scar that traveled from her left eyebrow, down her neck and disappeared into the sweatshirt she had on. The red scar tissue was ugly. The woman must have gone through hell with the pain. It also gave her face an evil cast if you looked at her from the side.
"I hate my life. I wish I was dead. The first chance I get I'm going to kill myself."
"Look Bertha." Tim started to say something and then paused. When he continued, he said, "I hate the name Bertha. I had a mean old aunt by that name. She's dead. I'm going to rename you. I'm going to call you Bertie, or better yet, Miss Bertie. How's that?"
Confused, Miss Bertie looked at Tim. "You can't do that. You can't just rename someone."
"I can. You see, I paid Buck five hundred dollars for you and the kid and I suppose the one he put in you too. So, why can't I? Of course I thought I was buying a cow and a calf, but I don't know, maybe I would rather have you. Easier to care for, anyway."
Tim remembered what Buck had said about his animals being hungry. "Miss Bertie, have you had anything to eat today?" She shook her head no. "Okay I guess I will have to find something for you. I haven't got much at home except chocolate cake, but I think that would taste good about now. We have almost a mile walk through the woods and across the fields to my house. I'll carry the little girl when she gets tired. Do you want to take anything with you?"
"I've got nothing. All my clothes are in rags. But dirt, I have plenty of that. I have never been so filthy."
"It sounds like a bath is in order. That I can provide."
It was a silent walk. When the little one stumbled a couple of times, Tim paused and held out his arms. She hesitantly came towards him. She looked at her mother and when she saw it was okay, she let him pick her up. It was rough walking and the little one, gaining confidence in her transport, soon had a pair of little arms around his neck.
Coming out of the woods and into the late afternoon setting sun, was like walking into a new world and out of the darkness. The little girl felt it and when Tim asked what her name was, she said softly, "Ella."
"I like that name. Ella, Ella, I really like the name little Ella and I'm going to be saying it a lot." Ella squirmed with pleasure.
Miss Bertie came into the kitchen and paused as she looked around. It was definitely a man's abode. It wasn't filthy, but it was evident that housework was of a low priority. The cot was rumpled, but there was a stack of clean sheets on the table. There was a refrigerator in the corner and Miss Bertie glanced at it. Tim thought to himself, she must be really hungry. "All I have to feed you until I get something else is chocolate cake. That is what I'm eating this week and that is probably stale. You see, I buy something that hits my fancy and then I buy a lot of it. This week it is cake. It saves me from having to cook. It was bananas last week." Tim bustled around picking up papers as he explained his diet. Miss Bertie was staring at the man with his crazy habit of eating.
"There are three bedrooms in the other part of the house. Why don't you go pick one. I'll start the water heater so you can take a bath. I don't run it often, as I use the showers at work. Everything will smell musty because the house, with the exception of the kitchen, has been closed. There is another bath upstairs and you can use either one, I don't care.
"In one of the rooms you'll find a lot of women's clothes. Pick something to wear, if you want. You better hang whatever you pick in the bathroom while you bathe to get any wrinkles out and maybe tomorrow you can hang them out in the sun. I'll run into town and get some food. Just enough for a day or two until you decide if you want to stay or not. I bought you, but your shackles are pretty loose.
"If you decide to run away, there are a few hundred dollars over there in the cupboard in a jar. It is your choice, but where would you go? If you want to kill yourself, there are guns behind that door on your left. Don't do it in the house, I'd hate to have to clean up the mess." Tim paused, staring intently at Miss Bertie. "I wish you wouldn't. There is always hope for things to get better. That's why I haven't done it to myself when I get down. Now I'm going into town and get food. Is there anything you need that I can pick up for you?" He left Miss Bertie and Ella staring after him as he went out the door.
It was more than two hours later when Tim returned. He could see lights on in one of the upstairs' bedrooms. When he brought in his bags, though, both his guests (subjects, slaves, possessions, whatever) were in the kitchen. The grocery store wasn't the only store he had gone to, he went to WalMart* too. He handed little Ella a bag. Excited, she opened it to find a nightgown and a dress. There were also some little cotton panties he hoped would fit.
Tears came into Miss Bertie's eyes when she opened the bag he handed her. There were a half dozen pairs of cotton ones for her too. Also there were two comfort bra's--one size fits all. "A person can get along without underwear, but I don't know how. I hope things fit. We can go shopping when we have more time. You sit at the table. My wife used to like fried egg sandwiches with bacon and with the bread covered with lots of mayonnaise. We'll see if you like them too. I hope you like cold cereal for breakfast. After this I'll do better."
Ella was very tired and fell asleep at the table before her sandwich was finished. Miss Bertie put her to bed and returned to where Tim was sitting in the kitchen. "What now?" she asked.
"You might want to know a couple of things about me and why I may act strange. My wife, Beauty, died three years ago this winter. She was Buck's twin sister and we all grew up together. Her death hit Buck and me very hard, and maybe him harder than me, for they were very close. You probably found Buck a little odd, too. But it doesn't seem like he treated you very well. We can talk about that some other time. Tomorrow, I have to go to work. Maybe you could air out the rest of the house and make up a bed for me in one of the other bedrooms. I'll move out of the kitchen."
"What about me? Don't you want to know about me?"
"Sure, I'm curious, but it doesn't have to be tonight. If you don't plan on staying you don't have to tell me anything, because it won't matter that much. Otherwise you can tell me as we get to know each other better. I take it you have been married?" Tim made this a question.
"Yes, my husband died in the fire where I received these scars."
"Okay, you can tell me about that some other time, too. There is one thing I would like you to do. I want to see the extent of your scars? If you would strip for me, I would appreciate it. I won't ask you to do this again. If you stay and I still have the care of you, I need to know as much about you as I can."
"Fair enough." Miss Bertie stood and slowly disrobed. She didn't make it seductive at all. When she stood before Tim, he could see what looked like something hot had been placed on her naked body. The scar traveled from her eyebrow, down her face, skipped a section of her neck and then resumed at the shoulder. It also disfigured one breast horribly and continued all the way down her tummy, her hip, her thigh and ended on the outside of her knee.
"What caused the burn?"
"I was trapped under a burning two-by-four."
"Okay, you can put your robe back on. You will have to see a doctor sometime soon. I was afraid your injuries might cause some trouble with the baby. It shouldn't, although when your tummy starts to stretch, you will feel some discomfort. The only part of the scar that is worrisome is that on your face. That is most likely more mental than physical. The rest is hidden, so forget about it if you can. If it bothers you to go out in public, we will think of some way to make the scar less obvious."
"What kind of a person are you? No one has seen me naked since I was discharged from the hospital. Buck couldn't bear to look at me and hid me away for the last three months. When I told him I was pregnant, he couldn't face it and didn't know what to do. That's why I'm here and I'm beginning to think he did me a favor. I'm feeling sorry for you getting stuck with Buck's problem. You deserve better than me."
"We don't know yet do we? Maybe and maybe not." He paused before saying something more. "I apologize for asking you to disrobe. I am not a pervert or anything and I'm sorry if I caused you any embarrassment."
Tim went to bed feeling more alive than he had since Beauty died. God, the woman was exquisite. Sure, she had acquired a defect, but that only enhanced the beauty of the rest of her. Startled, he realized he had used the word "beauty" in a context other than in conjunction with his wife. An omen, perhaps?
Tim slept well, and rising went out to view the sun coming up in the east. This morning it seemed more brilliant than usual. When he came in he was met with smiles by both his charges. Ella spun around showing him her new dress. She then pulled it up and asked him to see her new panties. "Oh they feel so nice. I love them. Mama has new panties too. Mama show Mr. Tim your new panties. She said she loves hers also."
"Ella, big girls don't show big boys their panties. Your mom will tell you that someday." Tim could see Miss Bertie smiling as what might have become embarrassing was handled with ease.
Tim went shopping during his lunch hour. When he came home he had some more things. First he asked Ella if she had toys or anything to play with. She shook her head sadly and said no. He directed her out to the car and told her to open the door to the back seat. Out tumbled a ball of fuzzy fur. It was a puppy. "Ella, this little thing has lost his mother. You will have to mother him and play with him and in return he will protect you. You can even give him a name."
Miss Bertie looked at Tim. "You say you own us, but I think Ella owns you. A puppy, every kid wants a puppy. Did you have one when you were her age?" Tim nodded as he watched Ella getting her face licked while tumbling around on the ground.
Tim looked out at the clothesline and saw several dresses hanging on the line. Good, the one he was looking for was hanging there, blowing in the breeze. "Miss Bertie, would you put on the paisley dress? I would like to see you in it. I have something here that I hope matches the color."