Addie did not stay much longer. Ladd was detained by my father, who had returned with a cartload of merchandise. I was not sufficient entertainment alone, now that she had told me her dreadful news. So, on she went to the next locale to spread Cade’s report. Though she disliked unpleasantness, the report was news and Addie loved to be the bearer of news. Her brother Cade also loved to spread information and the town would hear it again from him. Though the story he told would always be a tad more refined than the one he told his sister, which she subsequently spread.
Without any more visitors, the day seemed to drag. Ladd was detained counting and assembling inventory until, at last, father released us both with our day’s wages.
We left the shop together, chatting as though nothing extraordinary had happened.
The town of Kennbridge was divided down the middle by the Glass River, which was named for the tranquility of the water. The eastern bank housed the various trades with most buildings serving as both shop and home. The western bank was home to the teacher, our family, and the residents who worked, but did not own, farms. We had the unique privilege of being a mercantile family who did not need to live in their shop. My father’s older brother had inherited the shop and so, when he married, my father built us a small cottage on the west bank. Alas, my uncle and his wife perished without heir. Father quit farm labour and began to work the shop. Rather than move our family, he turned the spare rooms into a storehouse. As such, we had the biggest stock of any country store.
Ladd, whose parents owned nothing but their east bank shack, walked home with me every day.
We espied Addie, her red gown making the weathered village look drab and colourless. I grabbed Ladd, and pulled him to a stop. We exchanged a look of consternation as we observed Addie.
She was, as we presumed she would be, spreading Cade’s news to everyone who wandered by. Her animated body language betrayed her repeated fear of the monster. However, with this particular listener, she hastened to the end and then curtseyed politely. As soon as she disengaged from the conversation, she spotted us and drew near. We waited for her.
“I suspect the whole town knows of the monster now,” Ladd commented as Addie formed a circle with us.
“I think I have sufficiently warned everyone,” Addie concluded.
“Including Tunic,” I stated the oddity that we had just observed. No one talked to Tunic.
“I figured someone should warn him as well,” Addie replied.
“That was thoughtful of you,” Ladd encouraged.
Addie shrugged as though it was no trouble. I eyed Ladd with a dangerous look.
“What was his response?” I inquired.
“He seemed disturbed by it, but he did not comment.”
“He never says anything,” a deep voice joined our conversation. I spun around to see Cade, who was lingering just behind my shoulder. I threw my arms around him and embraced him, unable to hide my glee.
“I missed you,” I said to him as I withdrew, admitting him to the circle. Ladd frowned at my affectionate greeting of Cade, no doubt jealous. It was not my fault that Cade and I had a more affectionate relationship.
“Glad you’re back,” Ladd managed to speak genially.
“I wish I could say I was glad to be back,” Cade chuckled. My eyes never left his deep brown orbs. Cade had perfect eyes.
“Don’t tease, brother.” Addie smacked his arm affectionately. “We know how terribly lonely those big cities are without our company.”
Cade chuckled, but made no comment. The success of Cade and Addie’s family was largely due to Cade’s travels. While on a supply trip, it had occurred to Cade that his father’s work was superior to that of the tradesmen in the city. Despite protests from his father, he packed twenty garments in their wagon to bring to town on his next trip. It was quite the gamble on Cade’s part, for if he failed to sell the garments then the family would be ill stocked for winter. Displaying the twenty garments, ten of superior quality and ten of affordable, Cade persuaded the city folk they could not pass up such fine workmanship. Miraculously, he sold all but three of the garments. Upon his return, Cade’s father had nearly fainted with the boon. It was rare for more than ten outfits to be sold in a year; most country folk owned no more than two sets of clothes. City folk, however, were prone to follow fashion and Cade had sold his father’s wares as though they were the latest. Since then, Rafferty (that was Cade and Addie’s father’s given name) had increased his production to ensure they had good stock to send with Cade when he went to the city for material.
However, that was not the end of Rafferty’s good fortune. His son had divined another clever plan after the success of the first. He convinced the makers of cloth to sell him their wares at a discounted rate. In exchange, they might say that Rafferty’s garments came from their supplies. The success of their advertising was not as effective as most hoped, but it was a matter of pride to see one’s cloth being used in a Rafferty gown. As such, Cade could practically declare how much he wanted to pay for cloth and in turn, sell the garment made from it for whatever profit he saw fit.
I had a hard time finding a fault with Cade. He was as wise as he was handsome.
I don’t know why I looked to Tunic; I suppose I felt someone watching me. Cade had followed my gaze and commented, “I think Tunic wants to join us,” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “If he does, it’s your fault Addie.”
“What!” Addie whined.
“You talked to him just now,” Cade accused.
“I figured he had just as much of a right to know,” Addie defended herself.
Though he was definitely out of earshot, I saw in Tunic’s eyes that he knew he was being disapproved of. Although I had no reason to hold a grudge against Tunic, I didn’t want to shush Cade. I turned away, not wanting to bear Tunic’s expression anymore.
As I stared at the ground, Tunic evidently made up his mind to leave. The others commented as such, and I tried to erase Tunic’s saddened expression from my mind. Undoubtedly, Cade would spend the next few minutes reminding us how inferior Tunic was.
“I cannot comprehend why he continues to wear that tunic,” Cade mocked as the object of his scorn disappeared behind the bakery. “Of course, if he ever changed it, I don’t know what we would call him. I don’t suppose he has a name.”
“Bramwell,” Ladd piped in.
“What?” Cade snapped.
“His name is Bramwell,” Ladd repeated. I flashed a look of confusion to Ladd. He shrugged and replied, “My parents asked his grandpa before the man died.”
“Not that it matters,” Cade scoffed. “He’s too good to talk to anyone.”
“I’ve never heard him say anything at all,” Addie added. She was always quick to latch on and enhance her brother’s enthusiasm.
“Maybe he’s a mute,” Cade chuckled.
It had never occurred to me that perhaps Tunic couldn’t speak. My estimation of the man suddenly altered considerably. I had not the time to sort it out before Cade returned to his mockery.
“Mute or not, it does not excuse the tunic. Were he blind, I suppose I could forgive him.”
Okay, perhaps Cade had a fault. For some reason, he took personal offense to those who refused his father’s services. Were an elderly lady to mend her own shawl, she was ascertained to be lacking sense. Were a mother to stitch a pair of stockings for her newborn, she was deemed inferior. And Tunic, who had never purchased from Rafferty’s shop, was declared a menace.
I would never say it, but I thought Tunic’s garb handsomer than the new style Cade had insisted was being made in the cities. And there really was nothing wrong with Tunic making his own clothes. As far as we could tell, Tunic did most things on his own. He only came to town to pick up the things he could not gather locally. But I suppose I am prejudiced since he contributed to my family’s livelihood.
“I don’t have time to hear another rant about Tunic,” Ladd scowled. “Nari, are you coming with me?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Good seeing you Cade,” I offered as Ladd led me away.
“What occupation do you have scheduled for this evening?” I inquired of Ladd as we departed. He had not mentioned he had plans.
“Nothing,” Ladd replied. “I simply desired to flee Cade. He has no right speaking about Tunic that way. We don’t even know that fellow.”
I didn’t comment. I didn’t want to be appearing to side with Ladd over Cade.
Ladd grabbed my hand, pulling me to a stop. “How can you do that!” he scowled.
At once, I was infuriated by the familiarity in his touch. I snatched my hand away from him. “How can I do what?” I snapped back.
“You tell me you cannot stand those who ignore suffering, yet you remain silent as Cade spouts venom about Tunic.”
I staggered back. I had not thought of it that way! But my pride would not let Ladd know he was right. Not after the way he had grabbed me and scolded me. He could have been polite about it. He didn’t have to pretend to be so superior! If he wanted to be hurtful, I could hurt him worse. “This isn’t about Tunic,” I accused. “This is about you being jealous of Cade.” I hated the words as soon as they left my lips.
It was Ladd’s turn to be taken aback. “What does that mean?”
I wanted to hold back my tongue, but I couldn’t. I had already committed myself to this. “You are jealous because I prefer him to you. You know that if he were to ask me to marry him, I wouldn’t hesitate.”
I stabbed him deeply. Ladd had asked me to be his bride two years previous. I made him wait a week before telling him I thought I was too young to decide. He had been waiting since, for me to give an answer.
I suppose Ladd had known this was always going to be my answer and had prepared himself accordingly because although his eyes reddened, he did not let a drop fall. “Thank you for communicating that so clearly,” he replied more calmly than I would have thought possible. The hurt in his tone proceeded to shred my insides. “But this is not about us; this is about the treatment of Tunic…” He was going to say more, but he didn’t.
I refused to move as he made his way home. I don’t think I moved for half an hour… until I was sure he would be home and I could pass by unnoticed.