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The Chance Of A Sparrow

Book By: booksbyfay
Mystery and crime



This is book four of the Series of Amazing Gracie Mysteries.
Gracie Evans is tired of retirement. She's homesick and with a bout of spring fever she wishes to turn back the clock and live on her farm again just for a little while. When the renter asks Gracie to farm sit while his family is gone for a month, Gracie gets her wish, but she soon learns she should be careful what she wishes for. She finds a missing neighbor's clothes on her pond dam. That's just the beginning of bad luck for Gracie at the farm. To top it off, an old boyfriend keeps coming over and winds up staying for a meal. Gracie begins to fear the man is going to expect more than just food.


Submitted:Aug 15, 2008    Reads: 96    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Chapter 1
Aoooga! Aoooga! The times she heard that sound in the distance, it brought all sorts of speculation to Gracie Evans's imagination. Such as a beast captured in the African jungle that had been allowed to escape into the timbers of Iowa. Wandering out of the wilderness, Gracie thought the creature surely had found itself on the streets of Locked Rock. Warning of its approach, the beast was prepared to fight its way back to the jungle. Probably some weird animal's baby brought back years ago to the Moser Mansion along with other souvenirs from a safari by Molly Moser Lang's parents, Ned and Nora Moser.
The first time the beast bellowed right before her very eyes, Gracie discovered the noise belonged to a horn attached to a contraption called a horseless carriage. Being a lover of horses, Gracie took one hard look and decided such an apparatus should be looked upon with disdain, but some interest.
One morning, she watched from her rocker on the Moser Mansion Rest Home For Women front porch as the automobile's driver paraded his car down the street past her. Gracie willingly gave that horseless carriage credit for causing unlimited excitement which she was always ready for, seeing as how most days were incredibly dull in her neighborhood.
"Here comes that contraption Phillip Harris gets around in. He sure likes to announce his coming in that noisy machine. Look out! That's what I was waiting for. That horseless carriage always makes that popping racket until it gets wound up," Gracie claimed loudly in her coarse voice to her companion, Melinda Applegate. She flattened her hand on top her head as if to hold down her dark gray braids. She sped her rocker up to match her enthusiasm.
The cherry red, Vermont, touring car putted past the rest home and down Main Street. It slowed to a creep, jerked as if about to stall then proceeded smoothly again a few feet. Another jerk. Then a succession of small puffs of black smoke rolled out of the tailpipe in between a string of robust backfires. If that wasn't enough noise, Mr. Harris honked his horn in greeting to a man standing on the boardwalk in front of the Locked Rock Mercantile. The loud aooga, aooga blasted the area and proved to be the catalyst for chaos.
Dancing about, every one of the horses tied to the hitch racks nearest the automobile screamed high pitched whinnies. Each horse contributed to the next one's panic by rearing up, trying to break loose to get away from the noisy monster that was about to attack them.
"There goes Windy Smith's horse and buggy." Looking more upbeat than she had in weeks, Gracie clapped her hands. She turned to Melinda. The gentle, little woman shook her curly, gray head slowly with reproach in her soft, blue eyes. Gracie chose to ignore the look and turned back to watch what happened next.
Sensing freedom when the leather reins snapped, the bay gelding, his head high, ran down Main Street, pulling the careening buggy. Fueled by the crowd on the boardwalks as women screamed and men shouted runaway, he sped faster. The commotion brought more people pouring out of stores. Several men surrounded the horse. They waved their arms wildly and yelled whoa.
"That horse is too headstrong. I doubt they get him to stop that easy," surmised Gracie. She weaved from side to side in her rocker as though she was one of the people in the crowd, dodging the frightened horse.
Straightening in her rocker, Melinda gasped in fear at the goings on down on Main Street. Her curls bobbed as she put a hand over her mouth. "Oh dear, someone could have gotten hurt. That horse almost ran over those men."
Gracie gripped her rocker arms. Her dark brown eyes glinted as she watched the horse snort and buck, clearing a path.
"The first time Windy came to town with that horse pulling his buggy, I told him that setup would never work. That horse is too spirited. Windy gave me a what's a woman know look for my trouble. Wait until the next time I see him. I'll remind him what I said about that horse," declared Gracie, chuckling.
Melinda's hand slid from her mouth to the high necked, lacy collar of her white blouse. "Gracie, you should feel sorry for Mr. Smith what with ---- . Well, you know." With her voice softer than usual, Melinda started to admonish, but blushed. She was at a loss for words. Listening to the ruckus down the street, she gave up and turned her attention back to the excitement, afraid she would missed something.
"I've put up with that old man for years. He owns a farm next to mine. Windy's used to that club foot if that's what you mean," grumped Gracie, bluntly. "He was born with that left foot turned in over 60 years ago. No use for any of us to feel sorry for him now."
The horse's mane flapped as he kicked his hooves high to scatter the men chasing him. Tail stretched out, he raced around the corner at the end of the block. The careening buggy leaned sideways on one wheel for a moment, tilted over and collided with the ground. It disappeared from sight for a moment, obscured by the dusty fog that billowed up. At first, the buggy upset spurred the horse to try harder to escape, but dragging his bouncing, overturned burden though the potholes proved too much. The lathered up horse slowed down. Men surrounded him again. Cautiously, they walked closer. The horse flinched when human hands came near his head. His sides heaved. He danced nervously sideways while the men unhitched him from what had become dead weight.
"There's Windy. He knows when to show up, don't he? After his horse has been caught," snorted Gracie.
With his black, slouch hat cockeyed on his head, the slight, middle aged man, in faded blue overalls and a dirty, work shirt with a flash of red long handles at the neck, shuffled over to lead his skittish horse to a hitch rack.
A bunch of men surrounded the buggy, lifted and tugged on the frame until it landed on its wheels. It shuddered when it impacted with the hard earth. Some of the men grabbed the tongue and pulled. Others held the dilapidated buggy upright, because of its propensity to lean sideways. Once the lopsided, tattered buggy was out of the center of the street, the crowd disappeared back into the stores and the saloon, leaving Main Street deserted again.
"Thank goodness, no one was hurt," breathed Melinda. Patting her curls back into place, she relaxed back in her rocker.
Lacing her fingers together in her lap, Gracie sighed and slumped as if her very life had all of a sudden started oozing out of her. "Sure. That's a good thing."
She stared at her work worn hands for a moment, thinking about the past when she lived on her farm. It had been her settling down an unruly horse like Windy's. Back then, she had been smart enough not to hook a young, gelding horse like that to her buggy. A restless, dejected feeling weld up in her. She vigorously rubbed the rocker arm with her finger tips, looking at nothing in particular while tintypes of better times slid though her mind.
"Gracie, what's wrong with you? If you don't stop rubbing on your rocker arm, you'll wear a groove in the wood." Melinda's voice held concern.
It was a beautiful, spring, morning in June of 1904. The kind of day where everything comes alive, and people have a renewal of spirit after a long, hard winter. Gracie's nose picked up the freshness of the breeze, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the sweet scent of purple hyacinths. She opened her mouth to speak, but she didn't know what to say. No matter how unhappy she felt, she just didn't have it in her to express her feelings adequately to anyone not even Melinda.
Instead, she groused in a disagreeable tone, "I'm listening to the birds. Them sparrows ain't happy."
Melinda cocked her head toward the tree beside the porch. "What makes you say that? That's the way birds always sound."
"Them birds sound plain snippy. That's city birds for you. Best I remember, country birds don't sound that sharp," Gracie declared, frowning at her companion.
Melinda shook her head as she smiled at Gracie tentatively, not sure which way to answer without upsetting her friend.
Rocking back and forth gently for momentum, Gracie propelled herself to her feet. "I think I'll go for a walk."
Worried that her friend shouldn't be alone, Melinda asked, "Want me to go with you?"
Gracie paused then grumped, "No, I'm not fit company for myself let alone anyone else."
Slowly, with her hands clasped behind her back, she ambled along side the rest home and through the back yard with no particular place in mind to go. She stopped by the alabaster, angel statue with a four feet wing spread that set near the gazebo. The pan in the angel's hands did double duty. Full of water in warm weather and in the winter, the pan held corn for the birds. Gracie smiled slightly when she read a sign she hadn't seen before that dangled over the angel's arms. In shaky, black letters, the sign read, Bird Bath -- 10 cheeps -- No Refunds.
Her smile dried up. That sign had to be the doing of Orie Lang, Molly Moser Lang's new husband, and Shana, the ten year old Irish girl that lived with them. The couple adopted the child two months before. Shana came through the county seat on an orphan train. Now there were two mischief makers living in the mansion. What Orie didn't think of Shana did. From the looks of the scribbling, Shana must have painted the letters on the sign, but the idea was probably Orie's. With that young girl's sense of making a dime, Gracie was surprised Shana hadn't painted 10 cents instead of cheeps on the sign, turning the angel's pan into a wishing well. She must have reasoned that it wouldn't do her any good since the birds don't have money, and the amount of pedestrians crossing the rest home's back yard was next to nothing.
Gracie sighed. She didn't like changes happening around her or to her. The fact that the Langs adopted a child that was talkative, lively and always underfoot was unsettling to her. The once peaceful house with only women residents changed for the first time nine months before when the owner, Molly Moser, married a farmer, Orie Lang. Now the residents not only had a man living with them but a child to coexist with.
Restlessness, loneliness and uselessness welled up in Gracie all at the same time. She proceeded on her walk, not taking in anything around her. The wish was so strong in her at that moment to have the days back when she was fiercely independent. She reasoned that it must be the change in seasons that had something to do with the way she felt. Each time spring arrived, the same old upheaval happened to her feelings, but each year the morose she felt seemed more severe. Probably because to keep her mind off her present situation, she dwelled a lot on the past when she farmed the family farm. Going back in her mind gave her peace for a brief moment.
It seemed to her, the years when she lived those good memories had flown by way too fast. By the time Gracie reached her fifties, farming became too hard for her. As bad as she hated to do so, she finally made the decision to rent the farm and move to town to the rest home. It was the practical thing to do, and she had always been practical, along with being sharp as a tack. Gracie prided herself on that fact.
Rubbing an itchy mosquito bite on the back of her hand, she stared at the small, red bump nestled between the brown spots and blue veins. It reminded her the worse change of all was, she had grown old in body. Not old by everyone's standards she supposed but past child bearing age. She knew she couldn't do hard, farm work anymore, but she just plain flat out missed living in the country. When she came to the rest home, she convinced herself she had nothing to look forward to for the rest of her life. She hated feeling this miserable and didn't have a clue what to do to make it better for herself.
Sparrows flitted in front of Gracie. Busily moving forward with the business of life, they dipped down in the yard to fill their beaks with grass clippings and flew back to build their nests. She watched them work. She wondered why it had to be that birds could have new families every year while humans only had one family in a lifetime if they were lucky. Even then when children grew up and left the nest, people aged alone. It didn't seem quite fair to folks that nasty, old sparrows had it better. Seemed them birds never had to be alone as long as they could build a nest and lay eggs that hatched. By grab, she couldn't do much about the set up of nature, but she felt like complaining to someone anyway.
A horse nickered. Molly's red horse, Patches, had his head stuck out the top door of the carriage house. He wanted attention. When she went for a walk, Gracie always stroked his nose and talked to him. She didn't have time now. On the far side of the carriage house, the outhouse door banged. Malachi hitched his pants higher and grabbed the hoe he had left propped against the wall. "Mornin', Miss Gracie," he greeted, nodding his fuzzy, snow white head at her. The old caretaker made his way back to the garden behind the carriage house, using his hoe as a walking stick.
Gracie came to the space in the hedge that bordered the Moser property on three sides. Perry Creek ran along the length of the property on the back side of the bushes. She headed for that soothing, trickling sound that reminded her of the Iowa River that ran though her farm. That old river would be the place to be this morning. Sitting on the bank in the shade of that old cottonwood tree, fishing for a mess of catfish.
She put her hand down gently on the footbridge's splintered, weather worn railing and peered over. Perry Creek was bank full from the spring rains. Tiny, silver minnows shimmered just under the water, darting about. Even the fish have somewhere to go, she thought miserably.
Across the street set the church, a simple, white building with a large, white cross atop a tall steeple. Touched by the morning sun, the bronze bell in the belfry glinted like a beacon beckoning her. With her eyes on the church, Gracie started past Maudie Brown's small, unpainted house. She tripped and staggered a few steps before she regained her balance. In the shaggy grass lay a small, wooden horse, three legged and nicked in places from the Brown brood's rough play. Irritated, she kicked the toy. Crossing that yard was as bad as traversing an obstacle course at the Locked Rock's Fourth of July games, but it was the shortcut to the church.
Tightening her grip on the railing, Gracie climbed the church steps. In the quiet, her black, high topped shoes caused a loud, hollow tap. She opened one of the double doors. The hinges groaned, echoing through the empty building. That sound was enough to reinforce her despair. Persistent irritation with everyone and everything that she had no power to change welled up in her. She felt as if she was drowning in a bottomless pit of depression, and she was helpless. She couldn't stop sinking to the bottom of a deep, black hole.
Gracie shut the door behind her as easily as she could to minimize the hinges groan. Before she proceeded up the aisle she looked around at this sacred building where continuous rituals of birth, life and death were celebrated. Normally, she stayed toward the back during Sunday service, but today, she had the whole church to herself. Best time to come was when she didn't have to worry about the greeters and hand shakers getting in her way.
Gracie marched down the aisle past the slick, dark pews and plopped down in the front row. That was as close as she could get. She intended to have a serious talk with God now that she had made up her mind to do so. Since he hadn't been paying much attention to her concerns lately, she wondered if it was because he had become hard of hearing over the years. She sympathized with him. If she felt old, think how old God must feel.
Gracie twisted to face the simple, unadorned cross above the pulpit. She smoothed her braids before she clasped her hands together and licked her lips. Inhaling deeply, she began, "God, I've had plenty of time to give some thought to how things work in life. Don't mean to complain, mind you." She paused a minute. It occurred to her, she should be truthful. After all, this was God she was talking to, and she figured he pretty much knew what she had on her mind before she even did.
"Well, that's not exactly right. I do mean to complain. That's why I'm here. In the short time it took you, I think you did a wham bang job, creating the world and all the creatures, but seems to me, you might have gotten in something of a hurry when you made them all in seven days. For instance, maybe you should have taken just a little more time to think about some way to improve on humans.
For instance, take sparrows. Lord, did you ever stop to think sparrows get a chance to have two families a year? That's ever year, mind you, but humans only get one chance in their life time. Take me. All my family's gone now. I didn't choose to marry and have younguns. Now that's not your fault. I made the choice to say no when my neighbor, Millard Sokal, ask me all those years ago. Now I'm sitting in a rest home with no family, wasting away the last of my days. Oh, I know there's not much you can do about it now that you have everything created, but I just wish you'd have thought to give us lonesome human beings the chance of the sparrows to have plenty of family so we wouldn't get so lonely. Well, that's all I got to say on the subject. Just wanted to get what I was thinking off my chest. Thank you for listening God. Amen."

Chapter 1
Aoooga! Aoooga! The times she heard that sound in the distance, it brought all sorts of speculation to Gracie Evans's imagination. Such as a beast captured in the African jungle that had been allowed to escape into the timbers of Iowa. Wandering out of the wilderness, Gracie thought the creature surely had found itself on the streets of Locked Rock. Warning of its approach, the beast was prepared to fight its way back to the jungle. Probably some weird animal's baby brought back years ago to the Moser Mansion along with other souvenirs from a safari by Molly Moser Lang's parents, Ned and Nora Moser.
The first time the beast bellowed right before her very eyes, Gracie discovered the noise belonged to a horn attached to a contraption called a horseless carriage. Being a lover of horses, Gracie took one hard look and decided such an apparatus should be looked upon with disdain, but some interest.
One morning, she watched from her rocker on the Moser Mansion Rest Home For Women front porch as the automobile's driver paraded his car down the street past her. Gracie willingly gave that horseless carriage credit for causing unlimited excitement which she was always ready for, seeing as how most days were incredibly dull in her neighborhood.
"Here comes that contraption Phillip Harris gets around in. He sure likes to announce his coming in that noisy machine. Look out! That's what I was waiting for. That horseless carriage always makes that popping racket until it gets wound up," Gracie claimed loudly in her coarse voice to her companion, Melinda Applegate. She flattened her hand on top her head as if to hold down her dark gray braids. She sped her rocker up to match her enthusiasm.
The cherry red, Vermont, touring car putted past the rest home and down Main Street. It slowed to a creep, jerked as if about to stall then proceeded smoothly again a few feet. Another jerk. Then a succession of small puffs of black smoke rolled out of the tailpipe in between a string of robust backfires. If that wasn't enough noise, Mr. Harris honked his horn in greeting to a man standing on the boardwalk in front of the Locked Rock Mercantile. The loud aooga, aooga blasted the area and proved to be the catalyst for chaos.
Dancing about, every one of the horses tied to the hitch racks nearest the automobile screamed high pitched whinnies. Each horse contributed to the next one's panic by rearing up, trying to break loose to get away from the noisy monster that was about to attack them.
"There goes Windy Smith's horse and buggy." Looking more upbeat than she had in weeks, Gracie clapped her hands. She turned to Melinda. The gentle, little woman shook her curly, gray head slowly with reproach in her soft, blue eyes. Gracie chose to ignore the look and turned back to watch what happened next.
Sensing freedom when the leather reins snapped, the bay gelding, his head high, ran down Main Street, pulling the careening buggy. Fueled by the crowd on the boardwalks as women screamed and men shouted runaway, he sped faster. The commotion brought more people pouring out of stores. Several men surrounded the horse. They waved their arms wildly and yelled whoa.
"That horse is too headstrong. I doubt they get him to stop that easy," surmised Gracie. She weaved from side to side in her rocker as though she was one of the people in the crowd, dodging the frightened horse.
Straightening in her rocker, Melinda gasped in fear at the goings on down on Main Street. Her curls bobbed as she put a hand over her mouth. "Oh dear, someone could have gotten hurt. That horse almost ran over those men."
Gracie gripped her rocker arms. Her dark brown eyes glinted as she watched the horse snort and buck, clearing a path.
"The first time Windy came to town with that horse pulling his buggy, I told him that setup would never work. That horse is too spirited. Windy gave me a what's a woman know look for my trouble. Wait until the next time I see him. I'll remind him what I said about that horse," declared Gracie, chuckling.
Melinda's hand slid from her mouth to the high necked, lacy collar of her white blouse. "Gracie, you should feel sorry for Mr. Smith what with ---- . Well, you know." With her voice softer than usual, Melinda started to admonish, but blushed. She was at a loss for words. Listening to the ruckus down the street, she gave up and turned her attention back to the excitement, afraid she would missed something.
"I've put up with that old man for years. He owns a farm next to mine. Windy's used to that club foot if that's what you mean," grumped Gracie, bluntly. "He was born with that left foot turned in over 60 years ago. No use for any of us to feel sorry for him now."
The horse's mane flapped as he kicked his hooves high to scatter the men chasing him. Tail stretched out, he raced around the corner at the end of the block. The careening buggy leaned sideways on one wheel for a moment, tilted over and collided with the ground. It disappeared from sight for a moment, obscured by the dusty fog that billowed up. At first, the buggy upset spurred the horse to try harder to escape, but dragging his bouncing, overturned burden though the potholes proved too much. The lathered up horse slowed down. Men surrounded him again. Cautiously, they walked closer. The horse flinched when human hands came near his head. His sides heaved. He danced nervously sideways while the men unhitched him from what had become dead weight.
"There's Windy. He knows when to show up, don't he? After his horse has been caught," snorted Gracie.
With his black, slouch hat cockeyed on his head, the slight, middle aged man, in faded blue overalls and a dirty, work shirt with a flash of red long handles at the neck, shuffled over to lead his skittish horse to a hitch rack.
A bunch of men surrounded the buggy, lifted and tugged on the frame until it landed on its wheels. It shuddered when it impacted with the hard earth. Some of the men grabbed the tongue and pulled. Others held the dilapidated buggy upright, because of its propensity to lean sideways. Once the lopsided, tattered buggy was out of the center of the street, the crowd disappeared back into the stores and the saloon, leaving Main Street deserted again.
"Thank goodness, no one was hurt," breathed Melinda. Patting her curls back into place, she relaxed back in her rocker.
Lacing her fingers together in her lap, Gracie sighed and slumped as if her very life had all of a sudden started oozing out of her. "Sure. That's a good thing."
She stared at her work worn hands for a moment, thinking about the past when she lived on her farm. It had been her settling down an unruly horse like Windy's. Back then, she had been smart enough not to hook a young, gelding horse like that to her buggy. A restless, dejected feeling weld up in her. She vigorously rubbed the rocker arm with her finger tips, looking at nothing in particular while tintypes of better times slid though her mind.
"Gracie, what's wrong with you? If you don't stop rubbing on your rocker arm, you'll wear a groove in the wood." Melinda's voice held concern.
It was a beautiful, spring, morning in June of 1904. The kind of day where everything comes alive, and people have a renewal of spirit after a long, hard winter. Gracie's nose picked up the freshness of the breeze, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the sweet scent of purple hyacinths. She opened her mouth to speak, but she didn't know what to say. No matter how unhappy she felt, she just didn't have it in her to express her feelings adequately to anyone not even Melinda.
Instead, she groused in a disagreeable tone, "I'm listening to the birds. Them sparrows ain't happy."
Melinda cocked her head toward the tree beside the porch. "What makes you say that? That's the way birds always sound."
"Them birds sound plain snippy. That's city birds for you. Best I remember, country birds don't sound that sharp," Gracie declared, frowning at her companion.
Melinda shook her head as she smiled at Gracie tentatively, not sure which way to answer without upsetting her friend.
Rocking back and forth gently for momentum, Gracie propelled herself to her feet. "I think I'll go for a walk."
Worried that her friend shouldn't be alone, Melinda asked, "Want me to go with you?"
Gracie paused then grumped, "No, I'm not fit company for myself let alone anyone else."
Slowly, with her hands clasped behind her back, she ambled along side the rest home and through the back yard with no particular place in mind to go. She stopped by the alabaster, angel statue with a four feet wing spread that set near the gazebo. The pan in the angel's hands did double duty. Full of water in warm weather and in the winter, the pan held corn for the birds. Gracie smiled slightly when she read a sign she hadn't seen before that dangled over the angel's arms. In shaky, black letters, the sign read, Bird Bath -- 10 cheeps -- No Refunds.
Her smile dried up. That sign had to be the doing of Orie Lang, Molly Moser Lang's new husband, and Shana, the ten year old Irish girl that lived with them. The couple adopted the child two months before. Shana came through the county seat on an orphan train. Now there were two mischief makers living in the mansion. What Orie didn't think of Shana did. From the looks of the scribbling, Shana must have painted the letters on the sign, but the idea was probably Orie's. With that young girl's sense of making a dime, Gracie was surprised Shana hadn't painted 10 cents instead of cheeps on the sign, turning the angel's pan into a wishing well. She must have reasoned that it wouldn't do her any good since the birds don't have money, and the amount of pedestrians crossing the rest home's back yard was next to nothing.
Gracie sighed. She didn't like changes happening around her or to her. The fact that the Langs adopted a child that was talkative, lively and always underfoot was unsettling to her. The once peaceful house with only women residents changed for the first time nine months before when the owner, Molly Moser, married a farmer, Orie Lang. Now the residents not only had a man living with them but a child to coexist with.
Restlessness, loneliness and uselessness welled up in Gracie all at the same time. She proceeded on her walk, not taking in anything around her. The wish was so strong in her at that moment to have the days back when she was fiercely independent. She reasoned that it must be the change in seasons that had something to do with the way she felt. Each time spring arrived, the same old upheaval happened to her feelings, but each year the morose she felt seemed more severe. Probably because to keep her mind off her present situation, she dwelled a lot on the past when she farmed the family farm. Going back in her mind gave her peace for a brief moment.
It seemed to her, the years when she lived those good memories had flown by way too fast. By the time Gracie reached her fifties, farming became too hard for her. As bad as she hated to do so, she finally made the decision to rent the farm and move to town to the rest home. It was the practical thing to do, and she had always been practical, along with being sharp as a tack. Gracie prided herself on that fact.
Rubbing an itchy mosquito bite on the back of her hand, she stared at the small, red bump nestled between the brown spots and blue veins. It reminded her the worse change of all was, she had grown old in body. Not old by everyone's standards she supposed but past child bearing age. She knew she couldn't do hard, farm work anymore, but she just plain flat out missed living in the country. When she came to the rest home, she convinced herself she had nothing to look forward to for the rest of her life. She hated feeling this miserable and didn't have a clue what to do to make it better for herself.
Sparrows flitted in front of Gracie. Busily moving forward with the business of life, they dipped down in the yard to fill their beaks with grass clippings and flew back to build their nests. She watched them work. She wondered why it had to be that birds could have new families every year while humans only had one family in a lifetime if they were lucky. Even then when children grew up and left the nest, people aged alone. It didn't seem quite fair to folks that nasty, old sparrows had it better. Seemed them birds never had to be alone as long as they could build a nest and lay eggs that hatched. By grab, she couldn't do much about the set up of nature, but she felt like complaining to someone anyway.
A horse nickered. Molly's red horse, Patches, had his head stuck out the top door of the carriage house. He wanted attention. When she went for a walk, Gracie always stroked his nose and talked to him. She didn't have time now. On the far side of the carriage house, the outhouse door banged. Malachi hitched his pants higher and grabbed the hoe he had left propped against the wall. "Mornin', Miss Gracie," he greeted, nodding his fuzzy, snow white head at her. The old caretaker made his way back to the garden behind the carriage house, using his hoe as a walking stick.
Gracie came to the space in the hedge that bordered the Moser property on three sides. Perry Creek ran along the length of the property on the back side of the bushes. She headed for that soothing, trickling sound that reminded her of the Iowa River that ran though her farm. That old river would be the place to be this morning. Sitting on the bank in the shade of that old cottonwood tree, fishing for a mess of catfish.
She put her hand down gently on the footbridge's splintered, weather worn railing and peered over. Perry Creek was bank full from the spring rains. Tiny, silver minnows shimmered just under the water, darting about. Even the fish have somewhere to go, she thought miserably.
Across the street set the church, a simple, white building with a large, white cross atop a tall steeple. Touched by the morning sun, the bronze bell in the belfry glinted like a beacon beckoning her. With her eyes on the church, Gracie started past Maudie Brown's small, unpainted house. She tripped and staggered a few steps before she regained her balance. In the shaggy grass lay a small, wooden horse, three legged and nicked in places from the Brown brood's rough play. Irritated, she kicked the toy. Crossing that yard was as bad as traversing an obstacle course at the Locked Rock's Fourth of July games, but it was the shortcut to the church.
Tightening her grip on the railing, Gracie climbed the church steps. In the quiet, her black, high topped shoes caused a loud, hollow tap. She opened one of the double doors. The hinges groaned, echoing through the empty building. That sound was enough to reinforce her despair. Persistent irritation with everyone and everything that she had no power to change welled up in her. She felt as if she was drowning in a bottomless pit of depression, and she was helpless. She couldn't stop sinking to the bottom of a deep, black hole.
Gracie shut the door behind her as easily as she could to minimize the hinges groan. Before she proceeded up the aisle she looked around at this sacred building where continuous rituals of birth, life and death were celebrated. Normally, she stayed toward the back during Sunday service, but today, she had the whole church to herself. Best time to come was when she didn't have to worry about the greeters and hand shakers getting in her way.
Gracie marched down the aisle past the slick, dark pews and plopped down in the front row. That was as close as she could get. She intended to have a serious talk with God now that she had made up her mind to do so. Since he hadn't been paying much attention to her concerns lately, she wondered if it was because he had become hard of hearing over the years. She sympathized with him. If she felt old, think how old God must feel.
Gracie twisted to face the simple, unadorned cross above the pulpit. She smoothed her braids before she clasped her hands together and licked her lips. Inhaling deeply, she began, "God, I've had plenty of time to give some thought to how things work in life. Don't mean to complain, mind you." She paused a minute. It occurred to her, she should be truthful. After all, this was God she was talking to, and she figured he pretty much knew what she had on her mind before she even did.
"Well, that's not exactly right. I do mean to complain. That's why I'm here. In the short time it took you, I think you did a wham bang job, creating the world and all the creatures, but seems to me, you might have gotten in something of a hurry when you made them all in seven days. For instance, maybe you should have taken just a little more time to think about some way to improve on humans.
For instance, take sparrows. Lord, did you ever stop to think sparrows get a chance to have two families a year? That's ever year, mind you, but humans only get one chance in their life time. Take me. All my family's gone now. I didn't choose to marry and have younguns. Now that's not your fault. I made the choice to say no when my neighbor, Millard Sokal, ask me all those years ago. Now I'm sitting in a rest home with no family, wasting away the last of my days. Oh, I know there's not much you can do about it now that you have everything created, but I just wish you'd have thought to give us lonesome human beings the chance of the sparrows to have plenty of family so we wouldn't get so lonely. Well, that's all I got to say on the subject. Just wanted to get what I was thinking off my chest. Thank you for listening God. Amen."

Chapter 1
Aoooga! Aoooga! The times she heard that sound in the distance, it brought all sorts of speculation to Gracie Evans's imagination. Such as a beast captured in the African jungle that had been allowed to escape into the timbers of Iowa. Wandering out of the wilderness, Gracie thought the creature surely had found itself on the streets of Locked Rock. Warning of its approach, the beast was prepared to fight its way back to the jungle. Probably some weird animal's baby brought back years ago to the Moser Mansion along with other souvenirs from a safari by Molly Moser Lang's parents, Ned and Nora Moser.
The first time the beast bellowed right before her very eyes, Gracie discovered the noise belonged to a horn attached to a contraption called a horseless carriage. Being a lover of horses, Gracie took one hard look and decided such an apparatus should be looked upon with disdain, but some interest.
One morning, she watched from her rocker on the Moser Mansion Rest Home For Women front porch as the automobile's driver paraded his car down the street past her. Gracie willingly gave that horseless carriage credit for causing unlimited excitement which she was always ready for, seeing as how most days were incredibly dull in her neighborhood.
"Here comes that contraption Phillip Harris gets around in. He sure likes to announce his coming in that noisy machine. Look out! That's what I was waiting for. That horseless carriage always makes that popping racket until it gets wound up," Gracie claimed loudly in her coarse voice to her companion, Melinda Applegate. She flattened her hand on top her head as if to hold down her dark gray braids. She sped her rocker up to match her enthusiasm.
The cherry red, Vermont, touring car putted past the rest home and down Main Street. It slowed to a creep, jerked as if about to stall then proceeded smoothly again a few feet. Another jerk. Then a succession of small puffs of black smoke rolled out of the tailpipe in between a string of robust backfires. If that wasn't enough noise, Mr. Harris honked his horn in greeting to a man standing on the boardwalk in front of the Locked Rock Mercantile. The loud aooga, aooga blasted the area and proved to be the catalyst for chaos.
Dancing about, every one of the horses tied to the hitch racks nearest the automobile screamed high pitched whinnies. Each horse contributed to the next one's panic by rearing up, trying to break loose to get away from the noisy monster that was about to attack them.
"There goes Windy Smith's horse and buggy." Looking more upbeat than she had in weeks, Gracie clapped her hands. She turned to Melinda. The gentle, little woman shook her curly, gray head slowly with reproach in her soft, blue eyes. Gracie chose to ignore the look and turned back to watch what happened next.
Sensing freedom when the leather reins snapped, the bay gelding, his head high, ran down Main Street, pulling the careening buggy. Fueled by the crowd on the boardwalks as women screamed and men shouted runaway, he sped faster. The commotion brought more people pouring out of stores. Several men surrounded the horse. They waved their arms wildly and yelled whoa.
"That horse is too headstrong. I doubt they get him to stop that easy," surmised Gracie. She weaved from side to side in her rocker as though she was one of the people in the crowd, dodging the frightened horse.
Straightening in her rocker, Melinda gasped in fear at the goings on down on Main Street. Her curls bobbed as she put a hand over her mouth. "Oh dear, someone could have gotten hurt. That horse almost ran over those men."
Gracie gripped her rocker arms. Her dark brown eyes glinted as she watched the horse snort and buck, clearing a path.
"The first time Windy came to town with that horse pulling his buggy, I told him that setup would never work. That horse is too spirited. Windy gave me a what's a woman know look for my trouble. Wait until the next time I see him. I'll remind him what I said about that horse," declared Gracie, chuckling.
Melinda's hand slid from her mouth to the high necked, lacy collar of her white blouse. "Gracie, you should feel sorry for Mr. Smith what with ---- . Well, you know." With her voice softer than usual, Melinda started to admonish, but blushed. She was at a loss for words. Listening to the ruckus down the street, she gave up and turned her attention back to the excitement, afraid she would missed something.
"I've put up with that old man for years. He owns a farm next to mine. Windy's used to that club foot if that's what you mean," grumped Gracie, bluntly. "He was born with that left foot turned in over 60 years ago. No use for any of us to feel sorry for him now."
The horse's mane flapped as he kicked his hooves high to scatter the men chasing him. Tail stretched out, he raced around the corner at the end of the block. The careening buggy leaned sideways on one wheel for a moment, tilted over and collided with the ground. It disappeared from sight for a moment, obscured by the dusty fog that billowed up. At first, the buggy upset spurred the horse to try harder to escape, but dragging his bouncing, overturned burden though the potholes proved too much. The lathered up horse slowed down. Men surrounded him again. Cautiously, they walked closer. The horse flinched when human hands came near his head. His sides heaved. He danced nervously sideways while the men unhitched him from what had become dead weight.
"There's Windy. He knows when to show up, don't he? After his horse has been caught," snorted Gracie.
With his black, slouch hat cockeyed on his head, the slight, middle aged man, in faded blue overalls and a dirty, work shirt with a flash of red long handles at the neck, shuffled over to lead his skittish horse to a hitch rack.
A bunch of men surrounded the buggy, lifted and tugged on the frame until it landed on its wheels. It shuddered when it impacted with the hard earth. Some of the men grabbed the tongue and pulled. Others held the dilapidated buggy upright, because of its propensity to lean sideways. Once the lopsided, tattered buggy was out of the center of the street, the crowd disappeared back into the stores and the saloon, leaving Main Street deserted again.
"Thank goodness, no one was hurt," breathed Melinda. Patting her curls back into place, she relaxed back in her rocker.
Lacing her fingers together in her lap, Gracie sighed and slumped as if her very life had all of a sudden started oozing out of her. "Sure. That's a good thing."
She stared at her work worn hands for a moment, thinking about the past when she lived on her farm. It had been her settling down an unruly horse like Windy's. Back then, she had been smart enough not to hook a young, gelding horse like that to her buggy. A restless, dejected feeling weld up in her. She vigorously rubbed the rocker arm with her finger tips, looking at nothing in particular while tintypes of better times slid though her mind.
"Gracie, what's wrong with you? If you don't stop rubbing on your rocker arm, you'll wear a groove in the wood." Melinda's voice held concern.
It was a beautiful, spring, morning in June of 1904. The kind of day where everything comes alive, and people have a renewal of spirit after a long, hard winter. Gracie's nose picked up the freshness of the breeze, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the sweet scent of purple hyacinths. She opened her mouth to speak, but she didn't know what to say. No matter how unhappy she felt, she just didn't have it in her to express her feelings adequately to anyone not even Melinda.
Instead, she groused in a disagreeable tone, "I'm listening to the birds. Them sparrows ain't happy."
Melinda cocked her head toward the tree beside the porch. "What makes you say that? That's the way birds always sound."
"Them birds sound plain snippy. That's city birds for you. Best I remember, country birds don't sound that sharp," Gracie declared, frowning at her companion.
Melinda shook her head as she smiled at Gracie tentatively, not sure which way to answer without upsetting her friend.
Rocking back and forth gently for momentum, Gracie propelled herself to her feet. "I think I'll go for a walk."
Worried that her friend shouldn't be alone, Melinda asked, "Want me to go with you?"
Gracie paused then grumped, "No, I'm not fit company for myself let alone anyone else."
Slowly, with her hands clasped behind her back, she ambled along side the rest home and through the back yard with no particular place in mind to go. She stopped by the alabaster, angel statue with a four feet wing spread that set near the gazebo. The pan in the angel's hands did double duty. Full of water in warm weather and in the winter, the pan held corn for the birds. Gracie smiled slightly when she read a sign she hadn't seen before that dangled over the angel's arms. In shaky, black letters, the sign read, Bird Bath -- 10 cheeps -- No Refunds.
Her smile dried up. That sign had to be the doing of Orie Lang, Molly Moser Lang's new husband, and Shana, the ten year old Irish girl that lived with them. The couple adopted the child two months before. Shana came through the county seat on an orphan train. Now there were two mischief makers living in the mansion. What Orie didn't think of Shana did. From the looks of the scribbling, Shana must have painted the letters on the sign, but the idea was probably Orie's. With that young girl's sense of making a dime, Gracie was surprised Shana hadn't painted 10 cents instead of cheeps on the sign, turning the angel's pan into a wishing well. She must have reasoned that it wouldn't do her any good since the birds don't have money, and the amount of pedestrians crossing the rest home's back yard was next to nothing.
Gracie sighed. She didn't like changes happening around her or to her. The fact that the Langs adopted a child that was talkative, lively and always underfoot was unsettling to her. The once peaceful house with only women residents changed for the first time nine months before when the owner, Molly Moser, married a farmer, Orie Lang. Now the residents not only had a man living with them but a child to coexist with.
Restlessness, loneliness and uselessness welled up in Gracie all at the same time. She proceeded on her walk, not taking in anything around her. The wish was so strong in her at that moment to have the days back when she was fiercely independent. She reasoned that it must be the change in seasons that had something to do with the way she felt. Each time spring arrived, the same old upheaval happened to her feelings, but each year the morose she felt seemed more severe. Probably because to keep her mind off her present situation, she dwelled a lot on the past when she farmed the family farm. Going back in her mind gave her peace for a brief moment.
It seemed to her, the years when she lived those good memories had flown by way too fast. By the time Gracie reached her fifties, farming became too hard for her. As bad as she hated to do so, she finally made the decision to rent the farm and move to town to the rest home. It was the practical thing to do, and she had always been practical, along with being sharp as a tack. Gracie prided herself on that fact.
Rubbing an itchy mosquito bite on the back of her hand, she stared at the small, red bump nestled between the brown spots and blue veins. It reminded her the worse change of all was, she had grown old in body. Not old by everyone's standards she supposed but past child bearing age. She knew she couldn't do hard, farm work anymore, but she just plain flat out missed living in the country. When she came to the rest home, she convinced herself she had nothing to look forward to for the rest of her life. She hated feeling this miserable and didn't have a clue what to do to make it better for herself.
Sparrows flitted in front of Gracie. Busily moving forward with the business of life, they dipped down in the yard to fill their beaks with grass clippings and flew back to build their nests. She watched them work. She wondered why it had to be that birds could have new families every year while humans only had one family in a lifetime if they were lucky. Even then when children grew up and left the nest, people aged alone. It didn't seem quite fair to folks that nasty, old sparrows had it better. Seemed them birds never had to be alone as long as they could build a nest and lay eggs that hatched. By grab, she couldn't do much about the s




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