CC0 image from Pxhere.com.
I am maintaining a balancing act this week – the project with Stephanie M. Hopkins, editing Dan Bush’s script/novel, finishing the first draft of my own work-in-progress, and – oh, yeah – the church! I have my usual duties as educator and communications director. And there’s also a room that we no longer use as a classroom that needs to get tidied up. So I’m a little short on time.
So today I’m giving you a peek at the The Good Community, the fifth novel in the Saint Maggie series. Remember, this is only a first draft so it is not exactly polished yet!
This scene takes place after Maggie and Emily have started a school for the children of color who live on Water Street. There is no school for them, the school board has proclaimed that it is not economical to provide a teacher and supplies for the small number of black children, and the town will not integrate its common school. In New Jersey at that time, some schools were integrated, and some were not.
Naturally, the Greybeal School of Practical Studies, the private school founded by Maggie, Emily and friends causes a bit of controversy. Hey, it’s a Saint Maggie story, controversy happens.
The scene revolves around a group of older boys who think it’s a good idea to harass the Water Street children on their way to school. What they don’t anticipate is the reaction of the man who is driving their wagon: Grandpa O’Reilly.
I usually use Scribd to put up long pieces of text from my work - but it is not working correctly at the moment - so I'm just cutting and pasting. Not as "professional" looking, but there you are. Technology is great. When it works.
On Tuesday morning, Grandpa took the wagon down to Water Street as usual to pick up the children. He no longer needed to shout to get them to come out of their houses. Rather, they ran willingly to the wagon and clambered aboard. The old man grinned at his passengers.
“And how are you this fine morning?”
A chorus of “We’re well, thank you,” greeted him.
Pleased, Grandpa O’Reilly shook the reins and Romeo began to the journey to Greybeal House.
They were traveling down Bell Avenue when a group of older boys leapt out of the woods at the side of the road and began to throw rotten eggs at the wagon. Romeo started and Grandpa struggled to control the horse as the children behind him shrieked.
“Go back to where you belong!” one boy shouted.
Another began calling the children names.
Yet another started beating on the wagon with a large branch he obviously had found in the woods.
“Dammit!” Grandpa shouted at the horse. “Whoa, Romeo! Whoa!”
The horse complied, if only for a moment, giving the old man the opportunity to reach under the seat. An egg splatted against his arm. “Dammit!”
“Go home! Go back to Ireland!”
“I am home, ya little git!” His fingers finally grasped the item he was seeking
One of the boys shook a badly made noose at them. “How about a taste of this?”
The students screamed.
Grandpa stood up, shouting, “Scare little children, will you? It’s time you had a scare of your own!” He brandished the thing he was holding in the air. It was a pistol.
“He’s got a gun! Run! He’s gonna kill us!”
Grandpa discharged the weapon into the air.
Screaming in panic, the boys raced back into the woods.
Flopping back onto the driver’s seat, Grandpa shook the reins. “Giddyap, Romeo! Giddyap!”
The horse took off with the children holding on to the wagon and each other for dear life.
When they arrived at Greybeal house, they were making such a racket that Maggie and the other women dashed into the yard. The noise of crying and screaming also brought Nate running from his workshop.
“Good heavens!” Maggie lifted a sobbing Magnolia Baldwin from the wagon. Then she got a good whiff of the child’s clothing. She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, my! What is that? Rotten eggs?”
Grandpa climbed gingerly down from the wagon. “Aye. A group of four young toughs attacked us on Bell Avenue near just before it meets Oak Street. Came outta the woods, they did. Throwing all manner of nasty things. I had to fire me pistol to chase ‘em off.”
“Grandpa! You didn’t hurt anyone…”
“No, daughter. I’d never do such a thing unless one of ‘em grabbed a child. I just wanted to scare ‘em. Nothing more.”
Nate was helping the women get the children off the wagon. “They have no right to attack children.”
“None whatsoever,” the old man agreed. “And you should have heard the language they used. Poor little things. Scared the life out of them.”
“We’ll clean them up,” Rosa said.
As she, Emily, Beth Benny, and Abigail began ushering them inside, Maggie heaved a weary sigh. “This was the last thing I wanted.”
“But it should have been the first thing you expected.” Nate took Romeo’s reins and turned to Grandpa. “Go on inside and wash up, O’Reilly. I’ll take care of all this.”
The old man nodded his thanks and disappeared inside.
Maggie followed Nate as he led the horse and wagon to the barn.
“What should we do?”
“I don’t know.” Nate began to unhitch Romeo from the wagon. “This poor fella’s still scared. Look at his eyes.”
“It terrified everyone.” She patted the horse’s neck. “I’ll bring you a nice lump of sugar later, Romeo.”
Nate led the animal into the barn to remove his harness and bridle and wipe him down. “We need to let Eli know trouble’s coming.”
It was so quiet and peaceful in the barn. Maggie leaned wearily against the stall. “Oh, Nate… Why does trouble always come to us?”
Nate suddenly began to chuckle. “Are you serious, Maggie? Time and again you, I, and the rest of this family walk around thinking we’re just like everybody else when we all know dang well that we’re not.”
She cast her eyes down at the barn’s dirt floor. “I realize we fly in the face of convention.” She lifted her head to meet her friend’s eyes. “But I never cease to be bruised by the hate. Why are people like that?”
“I don’t know. I think deep inside we’re all alike. Men and women can be as loving as Christ one moment and mean as the devil the next. Maybe people just don’t like to be shaken out of the things they always thought were true.”
“Does that apply to us, too?” Hands on hips, Maggie began to pace back and forth in front of Romeo’s stall. “Maybe we’re wrong, Nate. Maybe people are supposed to be divided and embattled forever. Maybe I should expect everyone to be ensnared in anger, resentment, and hate.”
Nate left Romeo and walked to her side. “Now, Maggie, you know what’s right and what’s wrong.”
“Yes, I do.” She looked up. “Love is right. Jesus taught it. Jesus lived it.”
“And you know what he said about the Kingdom of God.”
She smiled faintly. “It’s among us when we love. It’s as close as our next breath.”
“That’s right. Give me your hand.”
She held it out and Nate grasped it and put his other hand over hers. “We’re doing this together, as sister and brother. But, Maggie, this is what it’s like for my people. We take a step or two forward and get pushed back eight. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t walk into pain, disappointment, or fear.” He smiled. “But at the end of our walk… at the end of that walk we know we’ll find the hope and warm grace of God… and with it, equality and freedom.”
Maggie called up a smile. “Thank you.”
Hope you enjoyed it the sneak preview.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder