John's son Vincent was a big help in the building of the house, just as he was out at sea, and because of this they would soon be able to move out of the rooms they let at Hannah Crosby's house. But Isaac, the younger boy, who had just turned ten, was not quite so helpful. He meant to be, but he was still a child, and he'd recently found a baby blackbird that kept him busy. Too busy for other chores, it seemed. First, he'd had to feed the motherless creature every hour with crushed worms and johnnycake crumbs, then he'd had to drip water into the bird's beak from the tip of his finger. He'd started to hum to the blackbird, as if it were a real baby. He'd started to talk to it when he thought no one could overhear.
"Wild creatures belong in the wild," Coral Hadley told her son. All the same, she had difficulty denying Isaac anything. Why, she let the boy smuggle his pet into the rooms they let at the Crosbys' boarding house, where he kept the blackbird in a wooden box beside his bed.
The real joy of the house they were building, as much for John as for anyone, was that it was, indeed, a farm. They would have cows and horses to consider, rather than halibut and bluefish; predictable beasts at long last, and a large and glorious and predictable meadow as well. Rather than the cruel ocean, there would be fences, and a barn, and a deep cistern of cold well water, the only water John's boys would need or know, save for the pond at the rear of the property, where damselflies glided above the mallows in spring. John Hadley had begun to talk about milk cows and crops. He'd become fascinated with turnips, how hardy they were, how easy to grow, even in sandy soil. In town, people laughed at him. John Hadley knew this, and he didn't care. He'd traveled far enough in his lifetime. Once, he'd been gone to the island of Nevis all summer long with the Crosbys on their sloop; he'd brought Coral back an emerald, he'd thought then that was what she wanted most in the world. But she'd told him to sell it and buy land. She knew that was what he wanted.
Coral was a good woman, and John was a handsome man, tall, with dark hair and darker eyes, a Cornishman, as tough as men from Cornwall always were. All the same, he didn't have too much pride to herd sheep, or clean out a stable, or plant corn and turnips, though it meant a long-term battle with brambles and nettle. Still, his was a town of fishermen; much as soldiers who can never leave their country once they've buried their own in the earth, so here it was the North Atlantic that called to them, a graveyard for sure, but home just as certainly. And John was still one of them, at least for the present time. If a man in these parts needed to earn enough to buy fences and cows and turnips, he knew where he had to go. It would only be from May to July, John figured, and that would be the end of it, especially if he was helped by his two strong sons.
They moved into the house in April, a pale calm day when the buds on the lilacs their neighbors had planted as a welcome were just about to unfold. The house was finished enough to sleep in; there was a fireplace where Coral could cook, and the rest would come eventually. Quite suddenly, John and Coral felt as though time was unlimited, that it was among the things that would never be in short supply.
"That's where the horses will be," John Hadley told Coral. They were looking out over the field that belonged to them, thanks to those years John had spent at sea and the emerald they'd sold. "I'll name one Charger. I had a horse called that when I was young."
Coral laughed to think of him young. She saw her boys headed for the pond. The blackbird chick rode on Isaac's shoulder and flapped his wings. It was their first day, the beginning of everything. Their belongings were still in crates.
Excerpted from Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman Copyright© 2004 by Alice Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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