Seemed everybody was talking about Aunt Perdie today. Truth was, plenty of Aunt Perdie stories floated around the mountains. She hadn’t ever married. Said nobody ever came calling to ask her, but if they had, she might just have said no. Leastways once she got past normal marrying age. By then she couldn’t see the purpose in sharing a cabin that wasn’t all that big with some man who’d want her to do things his way. Not when she was happy doing things her way.
Would that be how Tansy ended up? An old lady in a lonesome cabin after spurning whatever marriage prospects might have come knocking on her door? Youngsters then might be sharing Aunt Tansy stories. Could be they already were talking about that crazy book woman, even if they were glad to see her coming. The thought made her laugh out loud.
At Aunt Perdie’s, Tansy tied Shadrach to a handy tree, then climbed up the steps to bang on the cabin door. Aunt Perdie didn’t have a porch, just a little slab of roof over the top step.
She was ready to knock again when the door creaked open. “Well, if it ain’t the book woman. I’d done about give you out.” The woman had a quilt draped around her shoulders. She stretched up to her full five-foot height to stare at Tansy. “You bring me a book?”
“That’s why I’m here.” Tansy smiled at the woman.
She didn’t worry about Aunt Perdie not smiling back. It was anybody’s guess what mood the old lady might be in. Sometimes calm as a pond at dawn. Other times ready to frown at everything. Not often smiling. She’d asked her mother how old Aunt Perdie was, but Ma just shook her head and said as far as she knew, Aunt Perdie never told anybody her age.
When Aunt Perdie didn’t move back from the door, Tansy asked, “Are you gonna let me in?”
“I reckon as how I have to.” Aunt Perdie opened the door wider. “You ain’t likely to go away less’n I do.”
The same as not knowing her age, nobody knew how Aunt Perdie got by. She did some quilting if folks needed it, but most mountain women did their own stitching. Now and again she whittled out figures of things nobody could name but that Mr. Beatty at the General Store in Booneville sold to tourists passing through now and again. Mostly her neighbor from down the way, Hanley Scroggins, saw to it that Aunt Perdie had firewood and some food in her cupboard.
Tansy’s pa had made the trek over to Aunt Perdie’s now and again to do what he could for her. But as far as Tansy knew, nobody else claimed kin with her, as though they feared ending up responsible for her.
With Pa gone, Tansy supposed it was up to her to make sure somebody saw to the old woman’s needs. She looked around the dark cabin. The windows were covered over with wood planks that kept the wind out. But the place was nearly as cold as the schoolhouse had been. A little flame struggled in the fireplace to keep from going out.
“You shouldn’t let your fire die down like that in this weather, Aunt Perdie.”
“It’s burning some. Figured I’d best save a little wood back and not use it all at once.” She pulled the quilt closer around her. “Need me to fetch you a quilt? You ain’t looking so warm yourself.”
“I’m nigh on frozen, but no need getting me a quilt. I can’t stay long,” Tansy said. “Are you running low on wood?”
“I didn’t get none brung in afore this weather came up, and I guess poor Hanley must have come down sick. He was coughing some last time he was up this way. I give him some of the tonic I made up last fall.” She sighed. “I’m hopin’ it didn’t kill him dead. I drunk some of it and I’m still upright.”
A black cat jumped down off the bed in the corner and came to wrap her body around Tansy’s legs. “Looks like Prissy’s feeling friendly.” Tansy reached down to stroke the cat.
“Best watch out. She sometimes pulls that trick when she’s wanting to slash out at you. She can be a right smart ornery, but she’s good at keeping a body’s toes warm if’n she’ll curl up on them.”
Tansy pulled her hand away. Aunt Perdie was right about the cat. She could go from purring to swiping with her claws in an instant. Something like her owner. She looked in the box where Aunt Perdie kept her wood next to the kitchen door. Two little sticks were all that was there.
She picked them up and handed them to Aunt Perdie. “Here, put this on your fire and I’ll go dig some wood out of the snow for you.”
“Well, if you have to be warm.” Aunt Perdie shook her head, but she took the wood over to lay it on the fire. “What you find is liable to be too wet to burn.”
“More reason to bring it in so it can dry out a little.”
Tansy went outside before Aunt Perdie could voice any more complaints. The woodpile beside the back door looked mighty low, but Tansy dug some chunks out of it and carried them in to the woodbox. It took several trips to fill it up. By then her fingers felt like they might break if she bent them. She pulled off her gloves and held her hands out toward the fire that was flickering a little more heat out into the room. Aunt Perdie sat in the rocking chair next to the fireplace.
“Did you pick out a book?” Tansy asked.
“Didn’t see much need in it, but since you come all this way, I figured I might as well make your trip worth it.” She held the book in her hand. “Picked this one because it has big print. My eyes ain’t as good as they used to be.”
“You can read, can’t you, Aunt Perdie?”
“Course I can. You don’t think I’m ignorant, do you?” Aunt Perdie didn’t wait for Tansy to answer. “My pa could read. He was right prideful about that and so he made sure us young’uns could do the same.”
“Did you have many brothers and sisters?”
“I was in the middle. There was seven of us. Some passed on young. Others took off somewhere and we never hear’d from them agin.” She rocked up and back. “I was all that was left to take care of Ma once the Lord called Pa home. But then I had to bury her too. It ain’t all that good burying your folks.” She looked up at Tansy. “You give up one of your brothers, didn’t you?”
“Robbie. A couple of years back.” Tears still poked at her eyes when she thought about it.
Aunt Perdie nodded. “Hard when they’s so young. Your pa, he told me about the boy going on. He weren’t easy with it, but I reckon it’s hard to be easy with something like that.”
Tansy turned away from talking about Pa. “I’ll note you borrowed that one then.” She looked at the table with an empty plate on it as she pulled on her gloves. “You got anything to eat for supper?”
“Don’t you be fretting over me, Tansy girl. I’ve been doing for myself and gettin’ along fine for long years afore you were even born. I reckon I can make it a few more days on my own.” She waved Tansy away. “Now you git on out of here toward home. Night will be comin’ on early.”
“The snow will keep it light.”
“Not so much less’n the clouds give way to the moon.”
Tansy considered giving the old lady a hug, but she figured she’d be some like her cat and more apt to scratch at her than to appreciate the hug. “I’ll come by in a few days and see how things are going with you.”
“Don’t trouble yourself. I’ll be fine.” She rocked back and forth a couple of times. “Good of you to come bringing them books.”
“It’s my job.”
“Yep. And now you know where the door is at.”
That was Aunt Perdie. Nothing to do but smile and head outside.
As she rode away from Aunt Perdie’s cabin, she thought about the books she’d given out that day and the ones she’d gathered back in. She hoped she’d have a few minutes to sit by the fire and read a chapter or two out of one of them before time for bed.
(c) Ann H. Gabhart, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021. Used by permission.
Kentucky packhorse librarian Tansy Calhoun doesn’t mind the rough trails and long hours as she serves her Appalachian mountain community during the Great Depression. Yet she longs to find love like the heroines in her books. When a charming writer comes to town, she thinks she might have found it–or is the perfect man actually closer than she thinks?
Perdita Sweet has called these mountains home for so long she’s nearly as rocky as the soil around her small cabin. Long ago she thought she could love, but when the object of her affection up and married someone else, she stopped giving too much of herself away to others.
As is so often the case, it’s easier to see what’s best for others than to see what’s best for oneself, and Perdita knows who Tansy should choose. But why would anyone listen to the romantic advice of an old spinster?
Saddle up for a heartfelt story of love–love of family, love of place, and the love of a lifetime–from bestselling author Ann H. Gabhart.
About Ann H. Gabhart
Ann H. Gabhart started writing when she was ten and has been writing ever since. Her first published writings were personal experience pieces, youth stories, and poems in church periodicals such as HomeLife. Her first novel, a historical romance about the settling of Kentucky, was published by Warner Books in 1978. Since then, she’s published numerous books for both adults and young adults. Ann lives on a farm in Kentucky not far from where she was born.