15 Minute Challenge – Day 6: Giving Breanna a Backbone

One significant flaw I think I have mentioned before is how quickly Elizabeth’s mother went from being weak, conciliatory, and non-confrontational to speaking her mind and ordering people around. Granted, I know from experience that it can happen to even meek people when the occasion is right, but to turn around so completely seemed inconsistent with her character.

So the question becomes, what changed outside of their circumstances and her anger? Something had to push her – to convince her it was all right to speak up for herself, to tell her children what to do, and to lead her family. And that something,, it seemed most likely, would have probably been her new, very strong friend who knew how to teach children discipline and respect and had no probably telling other people’s children either. Since I have no more than that to say about the scene I finished writing, I’ll get out of my comfort zone and let you read part of the very rough scene I jotted out in my 15 minutes.

“You had a daughter named Anne?” asked Breanna in a softer tone.

“That we did.” Joan looked with some affection toward Breanna’s Anne, who was seated some distance away, playing quietly with her doll, a thin wisp of black hair falling out of her carefully braided hair. “She was a pretty little thing. Blonde as the wheat in a field, unlike your little Anne. She would have been 5 years old this year. But that is neither here nor there.” She hurried on briskly, pulling herself from an almost-reverie. “Fact is, it is a hard life. There are no guarantees outside of God bein’ there for you through thick and thin. We lost two children on a perfectly safe farm in Illinois, a farm that was beginning to fail. We might as well take out chances out here to try and get a better life for our family. That’s what yer husband wants fer you all, ain’t it? A better life?”

Breanna couldn’t quite bring herself to respond. To say yes would be to almost say it was all right for Mark to have dragged them away from their home. To say no would be a lie. Whether it was his fault in the first place or not, it was indeed what he wanted for them out here. So she said nothing, but leaned over the venison stew. 

Joan’s shrewd glance at her spoke volumes. There was an awkward silence before Joan spoke quietly. “Admitting he’s doin’ his best for you now doesn’t mean what he did in the past was all right. But you can’t change it by bein’ bitter and dismissive.”

Breanna bit back a sudden sharp remark that it was none of her business. She was the one who had brought up reasons for being on the trail, and she had no call to be rude to her only friend.

“Thank you.” She said instead, rather stiffly. “Now, then. Let’s see if we can’t get your oldest girl to actually help some.” Joan moved on cheerfully and quickly. “Elizabeth! Come tend the cornbread!”

It took some minutes for Elizabeth to actually appear from the back of the wagon, an irritable look on her face.

“You ready for this?” Joan looked at Breanna.

“Ready for what?

“For instructing your daughter on helpin’ out.”
“Oh – I  – I don’t know. She looks rather – tired.”

“She doesn’t look tired, she looks angry. She is as angry as you are at being out here, the difference bein’ you are taking responsibility and doin’ what has to be done and she is letting everyone else do the work – which I suspect she is used to from back home.”

Breanna didn’t have to answer the assumption for Joan to know it was true.

“Anyway – I have my own family to tend to, Breanna, and you have yours. I will not be here all the time and you need to get a little backbone and learn to teach your daughters what respect is. They have just as much duty to be out here working as you have.”

“But – I don’t – I don’t know –“

“How? You stand up straight, you remember you are her mother, you are responsible for her upbringing, and you do not want her acting the way she does now when she has her own family to tend to. You and and yer mister are responsible for how Elizabeth behaves and kowtowing to her every time she throws her little temper tantrums ain’t doing no one any good, least of all her.”

By this time Elizabeth’s slow saunter had brought her near enough the fire that Breanna did not feel comfortable arguing any longer. Her daughter stopped and looked at her silently, her lifted chin defying her to actually give any orders. Breanna glanced towards Joan, who answered with an encouraging nod.

“Ahem. Elizabeth – Mrs. Winters must get back to her own dinner now. Please see to the cornbread.”

“I think not.” Disdain dripped from her daughter’s voice. “It is hardly my place, nor do I have any knowledge of the method of cornbread cooking.” Elizabeth half glanced towards Joan, almost simultaneously with her mother, both expecting the woman to speak up about respect and doing her job the way she had every time previously. But Joan remained silent, leaning studiously over the fire to add more wood. After an embarrassed silence, Breanna cleared her throat again and continued in a strained tone.

“Then. You will need to learn, Elizabeth. It is high time for you to start pulling your weight around here. I cannot be expected to do all the work, and nor can Mrs. Winters.”
“I cannot be expected to do the work either, Mother. If Father wanted dinner, perhaps he should have brought servants with us, or, perhaps even allowed us to remain in our home.” Elizabeth icily turned to go, sure she had, as usual, silenced her mother with her concise insults.

Breanna shot a desperate glance towards Joan, who returned her look with meaningful eyes and pursed lips.

Elizabeth!” In her desperation to get the word out, it came much more sharply than intended. But it did the trick. Elizabeth stopped and half turned in surprise.

“Elizabeth.” Breanna continued in a slightly softer, but just as determined voice. “You will return here immediately and ask Mrs. Winters politely to show you how to cook cornbread, or you will . . .will . . . assist her father and brother in caring for the oxen.” It was the only thing that came to mind as an alternative. 

Elizabeth’s lip curled and her brow furled as she looked at her mother in disbelief. Breanna swallowed and set a stern expression on her face, trying to look as if she meant every word she said. Elizabeth slowly turned back around and stepped to Mrs. Winters, casting Breanna one more half derisive, half uncertain glance before she said rigidly, “Mrs. Winters, would you be so kind as to  . . . show me how to . . . do that.”

Joan allowed a small smirk to play about her lips. “I would be delighted, Miss Johnson.” She cast Breanna an approving look above Elizabeth’s dark head.

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