Toliver decided that two days had never felt so long as the Saturday and Sunday before Janeannie and the girls left for the market. A slavant he couldn’t remember seeing brought his lunch on Saturday. The rest of the day, Toliver spent putting together an order for Wurst that Joad had given him that morning. He moved as slowly as he could while still trying to appear focused and busy. He did his best to stay off of Joad’s radar and for the most part succeeded. Once or twice, Joad urged him to pick up his pace. Janeannie was absent from dinner Saturday night. No one knew why or were unwilling to talk about it.
Sunday, after the morning service, Joad spotted Wurst’s truck approaching. He smiled. He enjoyed talking to the casket maker, but hoped he wouldn’t ask to see Toliver’s progress with the carving. Axl exited the cab and sauntered to the open gate of the woodlot. Toliver felt both relieved and disappointed when he realized Wurst had not come this time. Trying to avoid trouble, Toliver handed Axl the pad where the bill of lading glowed from the screen. Axl methodically went through it and finally thumbed it and was ready to load. He hoisted two four by fours to his broad shoulders and turned so quickly that Toliver barely ducked out of the way.
“Hey, watch it there, big guy,” Toliver said.
“Hey,” Axl replied, a smug glint in his eye, “Be careful. Stay out of my way.
“I will do my very best.”
“Good,” Axl said as he started toward the truck. “Help me get this loaded and I’ll be out of here.”
Toliver turned to and only had to avoid being injured once more. A heavy plank on top of a pile of ten slid sideways as he loaded another board beside it. It crashed down, the sound magnified by the truck, and nearly caught Toliver’s hand. He’d been quick enough if barely; his right glove had been trapped at the fingertips and pulled from his hand.
“Watch it. You need to be careful, if you don’t want to get hurt,” Axl said, a crooked sneer marring the mock concern.
Toliver wasn’t sure what was going on, but he did his best to stay out of Axl’s way as they loaded the rest of the order in silence. Toliver felt abused and relieved when Axl finally climbed in the cab of the truck and drove away. At least there was only a little over and hour to go until he could find out how the trip had gone. That night at dinner he was surprised that the party had not returned yet, or, if they had, they were not at dinner. How could he find out? Even asking his seat-mates about it seemed dangerous. Dinner finished, Toliver joined others as they filed out of the hall. Looking back one last time, he saw the travelers approaching the family table. Unfortunately Toliver had reached the door and was moved out into the night before he could make eye contact.
The next day his lunch was brought by a woman he had been introduced to once before, Sara or Sally or Silly. Toliver remembered it started with an S. He smiled at her, but thought better of asking her about Janeannie when he saw the look in her eyes. He ate alone and in silence before he got busy stacking the new load of finished wood that had been delivered from the mill that morning. That night, as they entered the hall for dinner, murmured conversation cascaded to crescendo from the front to the back. It felt like a wave that had crashed upon a boulder and sent ripples back into the tide. Toliver had reached his usual table before the press of bodies had parted enough for him to see the cause of the commotion.
Jacobi, on the floor before the stage, sat alone on a chair between the raised family table and everyone else, his back to Toliver. His long, black vest, his servant’s livery, was gone and no dinner appeared to be forthcoming. Surprisingly Janeannie didn’t occupy the hot seat as he’d feared. She was seated at a table closer to the front. As Toliver started to sit at last, she caught his eye and gave a quick, sharp shake of her head, no. Then, she looked back to her table mates and joined their conversation as if there were no one else in the room. Toliver looked at the family table, unsure why, and discovered Rose staring at him with a conspirator’s smile. Willow, as usual, stared at her hands, while Joad stared at Willow.