Hamm twisted the final screw, and with a smile, stood back to look at the trim little cottage, fixed up and freshly white-washed with shutters the color of Bethany’s rosy lips. In the garden, sunlight played across her golden hair as she bent her head to the baby cuddled in its sling. Over her shoulder, sky-blue eyes stared straight at Hamm as if to say – it’s time.
Hamm was slow-thinking and thick-tongued. His wit sharp as a sledgehammer. But even so, he knew when things were ripe. Neighbors no longer flung words like ‘bastard’ or ‘whoreson’ over the stone fence. And no one’d dared call Bethany an unseemly thing all summer, least ways not where Hamm could hear. Other things had shifted, too. There were no more screaming nightmares, no quaking fears or hushed panting sobs in the night. More often than not, gentle lullabies now spilled from the girl’s smiling lips.
Whatever foolish lad it was did this to her, Hamm knew it wasn’t Bethany’s fault. She weren’t one of those girls who twisted her skirt at drunkards or bedded down in the hay with the Mayor’s boy. No, it had been a malevolent deed. He was sure. And if Hamm ever discovered who done it – well, he just hoped his Christian charity didn’t desert him in that hour, though even money said it would.
His Pappy had always said a man would reap what he sowed. So Hamm had sowed this ground with honest intentions: sweat to prove his worth, tenderness to garner trust, and what scant coin he had to prove generosity. He showered the two of them with love, simple and coarse as it was. And now a full set of seasons had turned since that rainy night he found her, trembling and sodden on the road. As he sowed, now he would reap.
Before his courage failed, Hamm dropped to one knee before her between the lines of strawberries and tomatoes. His large hand dug clumsily in the pocket of his overalls for Mum's gold circlet of promise as his eyes found Bethany’s smile over her son’s wee head. The baby had been right – it was harvest time, indeed.