The snow had been falling for close to six months. Each day seemed to drag on, no matter how much cooking or cleaning needed to be done at the Pontipee cabin. Sometimes it felt like it was never going to end and that spring would never arrive.
Martha peeped out of the window each morning to see if there was any sign of change, maybe a droplet falling off an icicle somewhere or a stray blade of grass popping out of the thick layer of snow covering the farm yard outside. Every morning she looked out for any hope that she could get off of this wretched farm and back to her family. This morning was like every other since she had been kidnapped. Nothing but snow, again.
She humphed, got dressed for the day and tied her light brown curls back into a ponytail. Another day of cleaning, snow, cooking, reading and sewing. She had even run out of ideas for cruel pranks to play on the Pontipee brothers. There were only so many buckets of cold water she could dump on their heads and she didn't want to waste any more molasses by dripping it into their boots while they bathed. After she put morphine in Daniel's beer last month, Millie gently asked her to give him a bit of peace. Martha realised she had certainly acted immaturely and was determined to just torment Daniel further with silence. This was considerably more heart breaking for him, as the other girls were slowly dropping their guard and warming themselves to the six brothers. Martha would have none of that nonsense. It escaped her as to why her friends could be remotely friendly with those animals. No, she swore she would not fall for any of their charms - especially Daniel.
Martha wasted no more energy thinking of him and rather focused on helping Millie in preparing for childbirth, for she was getting rounder by the day. Caring for mothers and their babies was something Martha loved dearly. Having been the eldest of 5 children, she was no stranger to taking care of little ones and her mother was a midwife back in town. While most of Martha's friends had attended the birth of a sibling or a cousin at some stage in their life, Martha had accompanied her mother on countless occasions. She had found her purpose in assisting new life into the world. Her mother always told her she had a knack for it, and the temperament to boot. Martha was practical, calm yet tireless. She was able to take control in most situations. She was organised and never afraid to speak her mind but also proud, always on to follow propriety. While some found her character a lot to handle, and hard to live with at times, none would change it for the world. While the girls had their moments of bickering, Martha would try to bring them all back together so they could make it through their rough patch. You could count on Martha to be comforting and strong at the birth of a new baby. You could count on Martha for an honest opinion and to make sure everything was taken care of. She was the girl you saw organising quilting bees or church events and the first one with a hot dinner ready for those in need. She was in no rush to get married, even though her Pa wanted to see her settle down and to start thinking of having her own babies. Joe Miller, Harry Steeple and lots of fellows around these parts had been calling on her long before she met Daniel at the barn raising. She would accept them gracefully but often found that they took no interest in what she had to say. She had a feeling they found her countenance overbearing, but they put up with it in hopes of gaining a wife. To Martha, this made them even less appealing.
After breakfast, Martha insisted that Millie have a moment to have her growing belly measured. She lay Millie down on her bed and began her examination.
"You're looking bigger, Millie. I'm certain everything is going the way it should be."
"Do you have an idea of how much longer we'll have to wait to meet this little one? I'm being kicked day and night!" laughed Millie.
"You said it yourself, we have to be patient. But your measurements are looking like another 6 weeks or so. My mother says you never know with first babies, they like to stay cosy for a little longer."
"Six weeks...so I guess we're in April now. I lose track of the days so quickly..."Millie said, gently patting her belly and looking ready for a nap. She lay back on her pillows and closed her eyes.
"April, indeed! You'd never guess it up here!" scoffed Martha. It was true; all the days seemed to just fade in and out up here in the heavy snow with no change in sight. March and April were usually joyous months for Martha and the girls back in town as the change in weather meant bright dresses, flowers, dances and Easter picnics in the sunshine. How Martha longed to be back at home, enjoying the warmth and celebrating the season. She wondered if they all had missed Easter altogether in their indifference and checked the small paper calendar that sat on Millie's dressing table. A smile crossed her face as she noticed that Easter was actually coming in just in a few days. At last, something to keep their spirits up, something that meant spring would have to come soon.
She rallied the girls, and excited them with ideas of activities and preparation for Easter Sunday. The girls began to read through the Gospel of Luke in Millie's Bible in anticipation of Good Friday, when they all took time for private reflection. Between their chores and sewing they would make greeting cards with encouraging scriptures for one another with the spare paper and ink. Martha balked as she saw Dorcas and Ruth deliver some to their boys in the barn on the Saturday evening; she thought it unlikely that those brutes would ever appreciate the meaning behind these special few days.
It was now Easter Sunday, Liza and Alice began dying and painting eggs while Millie sang hymns from her rocking chair as she knit. They had to make do with smoked ham for their celebration meal, as there was no sign of any lambs yet. Sarah's idea to spread out the table cloth on the floor and pretend they were at their Easter picnic made each of them smile as they ate, this simple pleasure kept their mind off being away from their own families for a while. Martha wanted to keep them all cheery, so she volunteered to hide the dyed eggs for the others to find. She knew the boys would be out doing their jobs around the farm at this time of the day so she went to hide them in the barn.
Martha ventured outside the cabin towards the big doors of the bar. She smelled the cow manure, wood smoke and earthy grains of the stock feed as she entered and was happy to know that those Pontipees were living rough, as they deserved. She found a few good spots to hide the eggs before she heard a pained bleat from a goat in a corner pen. Concerned, she went to see if the poor thing was alright. She watched as it scrambled around restlessly, then it fell to its knees and rolled to one side, letting out another cry. She could tell it was a doe by her udders, which were looking quite enlarged. Upon closer inspection, she could see that her belly was also swollen and something long and sticky was trailing from her backside. Martha realised this goat was going to be a mother very soon. The small, soft snout of a baby goat started to emerge, followed by its eyes and the rest of its head. The mother goat bleated, her body heaved quickly. Although she had only ever seen women give birth, her instincts were telling her something wasn't quite right. She was about to fetch Millie for assistance when the barn doors creaked open. It was Daniel, tall and handsome, and Martha's pulse quickened. He looked surprised to see her, but a smile formed on his face, causing the ends of his blonde moustache to curl upwards. "More tricks, Martha? It's been a while!"
She lifted her chin and locked her eyes on him; this was not the time for jokes. "I think this goat is about to give birth, but she doesn't look happy."
Daniel strode over to the pen to inspect. "This here's Tilda. You're right; she has a kid on the way. I reckon she might need some help." He jumped over the side of the pen, took off his jacket and flung it over the post. He rolled up his sleeves and knelt down to view the baby goat. He gave the mother pat and addressed her, "Couldn't wait til spring huh, Tilda?"Martha watched him as he gently stroked her sides and helped her up onto her feet. The mother-to- be struggled a little and began to look even more distressed. Daniel seemed so calm.
"Well, what are you waitin' fer? Come on in here and hold her still at the front." he directed.
"You-you want me to help? I don't know anything about goats!" Martha argued.
"You're a midwife, ain't ya? Tilda's just like any other mama. Ain't nothing my Martha can't handle," he said with a cheeky wink.
Martha rolled her eyes as he chortled; she lifted her skirts and calmly lowered herself into the pen. She held Tilda firmly, but stroked her neck to keep her calm.
"You see, the baby's legs should've come right on out with its head. So, we'll need to move a few things back and around so he can come out safe and sound. I just need you to keep her still while she stands so I can help the kid. Ok, Martha?" he hopped back over the side of the pen and found some thin bits of rope, Heaven knows what he'll be doing with that, thought Martha.
"All right. Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she asked.
"I've been birthing sheep and goats ever since I could talk, she's in good hands." He hopped back into the pen and set himself up for the delivery. "'Specially now as I have you here to help."
His blue eyes twinkled as he looked on up at her, and she knew she could trust him on this. Martha didn't want to let this mother down, so she stayed focused and paid attention to what Daniel needed to get the baby out safely.
Daniel moved quickly and calmly. He looped a circle of the thin rope over the ears of the kid for retrieval, and then gently started to push it back into his mother's womb. A few twists and a few manoeuvres later, Daniel had the kid in the right position in order to lift out both its front legs and head. Daniel instructed her to lay the doe back down onto her side onto a soft bed of hay.
"Now we let Tilda do the rest." He went to go wash his mucous covered arms by the basin in the corner.
Martha crouched down and watched curiously as Tilly pushed out the black furred kid, no more bleating or quick breathing. The doe had an air of quiet relief as the kid finally fell out onto the straw, sticky and reeking of afterbirth. It took to its shaky legs and stumbled to find the familiar warmth and heartbeat of its mother. The furry pair nuzzled each other, and then the kid started searching for its first taste of milk. Martha was overwhelmed with joy at this picture of new life. Just like any other mama, she thought. She smiled and smiled, not noticing that Daniel had re-joined her and was watching closely over her shoulder. "Well, what do you know? Our first baby of the season. What do you wanna call him?" he said with a hushed tone. "He's all yours. An Easter gift."
Martha looked up and beamed at Daniel. "Really?"
"You bet." He nodded.
"Well, thank you. That's very kind of you." Another grin formed on Daniel's face and she couldn't help but grin back. "I always liked the name Louie. Good for a goat, do you suppose?"
"I reckon that's just fine."
Their eyes met for a moment, and Martha felt the same flutters in her stomach she felt that day at the barn raising when a gentleman in a purple shirt offered his help with a wide, shining smile.
"You really remembered I'm a midwife?" she asked, astounded that he knew anything about her at all.
"I sure do. You told me when we met. I remember everything you told me, like you were still doing your training with your ma. I don't think you need it though, you look pretty smart about it if you ask me."
To her own surprise, she blushed at the compliment.
"Well, I suppose I better go back. The girls will be wondering where I've been. I was supposed to be hiding these eggs for a hunt."
"Martha, please don't go yet." He reached out and took her hand. "I have been trying to tell ya all this time how sorry I am. Each time I try, you go and throw snow balls at me or something like that. Would you please stay and just talk with me for a while?"
"I really have to go," she started. She did not want the girls to know she had been unchaperoned for such a long time.
"Please Martha, you gotta believe me. I'm sorry. " he pulled her closer, one hand brushed her waist and unexpectedly she did not flinch. She couldn't help but be drawn in by his sincerity. All of her anger and frustration of the past six months melted away as he squeezed her hand. She could really understand that he was sorry for what he had done and that he cared for her deeply. And with a quick kiss, she forgave him.
With a twirl of her skirt, and half a smile, she strode back to the cabin.
_Thank you for reading! Let's face it – nobody cares about Martha and Daniel so I thought it might be nice to give them a little spotlight. I hope you enjoyed it, I would love to know what you think!
Have a blessed Easter!