Premise: When the orphan train comes through their town, feuding neighbors Cordelia Owens and Thaddeus Wilder each decide to adopt an orphan, but a slight problem soon arises near the end, when they’re the last adults left — and the last two children are brother and sister.
Southwest Oregon, 1868 — As she entered the church, Cordelia Owens’ gray eyes spotted a head full of shaggy graying brown hair almost immediately. She tilted her head and frowned. That wasn’t Thaddeus, was it?
When she passed by the man to sit in a pew a few spaces up on the other side of the aisle, his head turned and when dark brown eyes met hers, she sighed.
It was him. To say she was surprised to see the neighbor closest to her there was an understatement. Not that he wasn’t a churchgoing person–he was–but because today was the day the orphan train had come to their town.
Thaddeus didn’t like children. Come to think of it, he didn’t like a lot of people in general, especially her. Some days she wondered why he hadn’t moved from the seemingly-indestructible cabin across the creek from her.
Maybe he’s just attached to the old place, she thought. Still keeping a wary eye on him, she sat beside Almira Jones, who was brushing off the skirt of her calico dress and whispered, “What is Thad doing here?”
Almira furrowed her brow, a puzzled look in her hazel eyes. “Thaddeus Wilder? The hermit that everyone hardly sees?”
Cordelia nodded and Almira glanced over at Thaddeus. She turned back to Cordelia and shrugged.
As more townsfolk started to trickle in, they too gave Thaddeus curious looks, but no one bothered to ask him why he was there.
The children came in a few minutes later and Cordelia’s eyes caught two, a boy and girl, that stayed close to each other.
They must be brother and sister, she thought, noting both had the same dark hair, dark blue eyes, and the same nose.
The adoptions went smoothly, and before Cordelia knew it, she and Thaddeus were the only ones left sitting in the pews. Up at the front of the church, stood the last two children, eleven-year-old Amy Klassen and her brother, ten-year-old Josiah. They were the ones she had noticed earlier.
A few minutes of silence passed. Then Cordelia stood and announced she’d adopt the both of them–right at the same time Thaddeus said he’d adopt Josiah.
Startled, they looked at each other and narrowed their eyes. The children gave them curious glances and stepped back a bit.
Reverend Whitaker only sighed, rolled his green eyes, and sent a silent prayer heavenward.
Cordelia and Thaddeus were still having a stare-standoff when Reverend Whitaker cleared his throat. They broke eye contact and looked at him.
“Having them together is better than separating them,” Cordelia blurted before he had a chance to say anything. She looked back at Thaddeus. “You of all people should know that.”
He only glared at her, saying nothing.
“Yes, I understand,” Reverend Whitaker said. “However-”
“It’s not like they’ll be separated forever,” Thaddeus interrupted. “I do live across the creek from Cordelia. When the boy’s done with his chores, he can just go on over and spend time with his sister. Assuming she is his sister.”
The children nodded.
“That’s exactly what I was going to say,” Reverend Whitaker said. “He’s not entirely wrong, Mrs. Owens. The children will still see each other even if they’re in separate homes. And they can walk to school together too.”
Cordelia sighed. “I suppose you’re right,” she said. “I just thought it’d be easier if they lived in the same home.”
She watched as the children glanced at each other, then at her and Thaddeus. After everything was said and done, the children were split.
The ride home was mostly silent, with Amy keeping her blue eyes on her hands in her lap and Cordelia unsure of how to start up a conversation.
You should’ve fought harder for her brother, Cordelia told herself. She cleared her throat and asked, “Where are you from, Amy?”
“New York City.”
“Really? My sister lives there.”
“What’s her name? Maybe we know her!” Amy said, showing a little excitement. Cordelia smiled, glad the girl was starting to open up.
“Her name’s Rebecca Miller,” Cordelia replied. “Does that sound familiar to you?”
Amy thought a moment, then shook her head. “No, we don’t know her.”
“That’s too bad,” Cordelia said. “But on second thought, you’ll get to meet her anyway. She plans to visit in the spring, with her children. She has a little girl about your age. Maybe you two will become good friends. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Amy nodded. A few more minutes passed in silence. “Mrs. Owens,” Amy started. “How come Mr. Owens wasn’t with you at the church?”
“Mr. Owens died a few years before the war started,” Cordelia said. “In a mining accident.”
“Oh.” Amy had grown solemn at the mention of the war that had torn apart the country, and said in a quiet voice, “Our papa died in the war. Mama said it was somewhere in Virginia.” She turned to look ahead at the road, adding, “Mama died with our baby brother when he was born.”
Cordelia said nothing in reply and they remained silent for the rest of the way.
Almost as soon as Thaddeus and Josiah reached the one-room log cabin, a black and white dog came bounding up to them. Josiah’s dark blue eyes widened and he leaned back.
“Aw, Tucker’s not going to hurt you,” Thaddeus said, jumping down from the seat. “He’s just excited to meet someone new. Why, I bet you two will become best friends in no time.”
Josiah clambered down and skirted around the energetic dog, who ran in circles around him.
Thaddeus rammed into the cabin door with his shoulder to open it, almost causing it to split from its’ hinges. He stepped inside and looked back at Josiah, who was still dodging Tucker.
He whistled. “Tucker, come!”
The dog left Josiah and bounded up the steps into the cabin. Thaddeus looked back at Josiah. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
Josiah studied him with wide dark blue eyes, clutching the pillowcase with his few belongings to his chest.
“You’re not scared of me, are ya?”
Josiah shuffled his feet. Thaddeus sighed and went further in, leaving the door open.
After a few minutes, Josiah timidly walked up the steps and poked his head inside. Tucker spotted him again and once more bounded over with a happy bark.
Josiah reached out a hand and tentatively patted him on the head. Tucker jumped up and licked him, prompting a laugh.
© H.S. Killian 2018
(Critiques are welcome and appreciated!)