The Baby Farm

The Baby Farm
The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, Book 2

© Carol J. Larson 2013

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Winter is seven months pregnant and married… to the wrong man.  When it appears that her true love has abandoned her, she is forced to marry a brutal man, for it’s 1885, and her only choice is to marry someone, anyone, or give up her baby.  But once her daughter is born, her cruel husband sells the child to a baby farm. Outraged, Hannah attacks him only to be beaten and imprisoned. Now it is up to Claire Sargent and the girls of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice to plan a daring escape and spirit Hannah away to safety.  But once rescued, Hannah won’t leave… without her daughter. Claire and the girls of the Secret Society face their most daunting mission yet, for not only must they find the baby girl, they must steal her away.

St. Paul, Minnesota 1885


            The baby kicked inside Hannah Winter’s swollen belly. She reached down and gently put her hand over her stomach as if the touch would somehow bring comfort to the child, as she herself needed comforting. Her father scowled. Hannah withdrew her hand.

            Hannah felt sick. Heartsick. This was so wrong, so very wrong. Out of the corner of her eye she looked at the stranger standing beside her. He weaved drunkenly and seemed about to fall. Her father, Nathan Winter, grabbed the man’s arm and propped him up beside Hannah. The man belched. His rancid breath smelled of cheap whiskey, tobacco, and garlic. Hannah felt a wave of nausea wash over her. She turned her head away.

            The minister droned on and on. Hannah stopped listening. She didn’t want to hear his ramblings about God. She’d been bargaining with God for weeks now–pleading with Him to please bring Daniel back to her. She’d begged Him to intervene so she did not have to do this thing, promising her life if only He would help her. Well, so much for that. It seemed to Hannah everyone had forsaken her: God, Daniel, her parents.

            Hannah snapped back to attention when the man, Merrill Johnnsen, threw his arm around her shoulder and leered at her. “I willll,” he brayed. Drops of spittle landed on Hannah’s cheek.

            He swayed and leaned on her for support. He was a heavy man, towering over Hannah in his severely tailored suit, brocade waistcoat, and silk tie. Drooping eyes so pale blue they looked almost white were rimmed by red-orange eyelashes and topped by thick coarse eyebrows. His sparse red hair was parted in the middle and slicked back over his ears. A bushy mustache partially concealed a thin upper lip. Everything about the man seemed to be a variation of red: his hair, his florid complexion, and his big beefy hands.

            Hannah pushed him away. He swerved in the opposite direction and careened into her father. Winter hauled him upright.

            “Hey, watch it.” Johnnsen sneered at Hannah, puffing up with self-importance. “We won’t be having any of that, little missy. No sirree, once we’re hitched, there’ll be no pushing me away. No sirree. I’ll be your husband, and you’ll have to do whatever I want. And from the looks of you, you sure as hell know what that means.” He looked pointedly at her belly.

            The minister looked appalled.

            Nathan Winter patted Johnnsen on the back. “Now, now, Merrill, there is no need for that. I’m sure Hannah didn’t mean anything by it. You were probably too heavy leaning on her like that.” He glared at Hannah, his eyes flashing with anger.

            Johnnsen guffawed. “She’ll be plenty leaned on when I get her home—if’n you get my drift.” He winked at Hannah’s father and lurched once more in Hannah’s direction. A string of spit escaped from the corner of Johnnsen’s mouth and dribbled down his chin.

            “Get on with it,” Nathan Winter barked at the minister.

            The minister, his face a deep shade of scarlet, turned toward Hannah, cleared his throat and said, “Do you, Hannah Winter, take this man, Merrill Johnnsen, to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward…”

            Hannah stared at the minister. Her heart beat frantically. Her palms were sweaty. She couldn’t catch her breath. She took a step backward. Her mother quickly moved next to her. Her father stepped behind her and grabbed her arm. Merrill Johnnsen unsteadily planted his feet wide apart, crossed his arms across his chest, and glared at her.

            “…’til death do you part, according to God’s holy ordinance?” The minister paused. He raised his eyes from the Bible he held to look at Hannah.

            “I…I…” Hannah stammered. She felt the panic rise within her. Her breathing became more and more rapid. Her heart raced. The words “’til death do you part” kept repeating over and over in her head. This was real. This was forever. Oh Daniel, how could you desert me so? Where are you? Why didn’t you come back?

            Her father gripped her arm. He put his mouth next to her ear. “Say it, damn you. Say it.”

            Hannah began to shake uncontrollably. She jerked her arm and tried to break away. To run. Her father tightened his grip until the pain was almost too much to bear. Her mother grabbed her other arm. “Hannah, just say it and get it over with. Remember the baby. You must do it for your baby,” her mother whispered.

            “Yeah, do it for the baby.” Johnnsen’s lips curled into another sneer.

            Nathan Winter put his other hand on the back of Hannah’s neck and pressed. “Say it, say it. Now. Goddamn you, you’ve made your bed; now you’re going to lie in it.”

            Hannah felt the tears well up, hot and urgent, but she wasn’t going to let Merrill Johnnsen see her cry. She wasn’t going to let any of them see her cry. She was defeated. In 1885, in St. Paul, Minnesota, she would never be allowed to keep the baby, alone and unwed. She knew that. Her mother was right–she must do this for her baby. Hers and Daniel’s baby. It was the only thing she had left of Daniel. That and the memories.

            Hannah shot a furious look at her father. “Let me go. You’re hurting me.”

            “Not until you start acting sensibly.”

            “Fine.” Hannah sighed.

            “’Ata boy, Nathan ol’ buddy. Show ‘er who’s boss,” Johnnsen crowed.

            Hannah ignored him. She turned to the minister. “Please begin again.” Hannah squared her shoulders and stood up straight. Her father relaxed his grip but did not let go.

            “Will you, Hannah Winter, take this man, Merrill Johnnsen, to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, 'til death do you part, according to God’s holy ordinance?”

            At the word “obey” Hannah shot Merrill Johnnsen a defiant look. Its meaning was not lost on him. His face suffused bright purple, and the bushy eyebrows and thin lips drew into a deep and stormy frown.

            “I will,” Hannah said calmly, but her eyes showed a hint of triumph for she’d managed to wipe the smirk off of Johnnsen’s face.

            The rest of the service was just a blur to Hannah. She was vaguely aware of Johnnsen forcing a ring onto her finger. She barely glanced at it. She was forced back to attention, though, when Johnnsen grabbed her, forced her mouth open and stuck his tongue halfway down her throat. She nearly gagged. When he turned away to shake hands with her father, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

            “Less have a drink on it,” Johnnsen proposed.

            The men walked over to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the ornate parlor. Nathan Winter poured a large scotch into a crystal glass and handed it to Johnnsen. He then poured one for himself and the minister.

            The Winter home was in a wealthy neighborhood perched on a cliff just below the great mansions of the very rich on Summit Hill. Indeed, Nathan Winter had shamelessly copied the stone and marble mansion of a railroad magnate just a few blocks away. The Winter home was smaller and made of an inferior grade of stone, but it conveyed the desired message nevertheless: here dwelled an up and coming man, a prosperous man, a man of wealth and learning. Above all else, Nathan Winter and his wife Elsa coveted a place among the high society of St. Paul, along with a grand home on Summit Avenue. They were almost there, almost within reach of achieving their goal. Nothing was going to get in their way–most certainly not a pregnant, unwed daughter.

            The parlor, with its blue velvet and gold-trimmed settee, mirrors framed in gold and lush carpets was designed to impress if ever the Winters got the chance to entice one of the upper crust to visit their home. But on this day, there were no flowers, no ribbons and bows, and no decoration of any kind to show a wedding had just taken place.

            As for the bride, Hannah wore a plain drab gray dress let out to accommodate her expanding waist. Her breasts strained against the jet buttons marching down the front of the dress. A single ruffle of lace around the neck provided the only touch of elegance. No white dress and veil for her, for they symbolized purity. Virginity. No, it wouldn’t do at all. Even the grayest of outfits, though, could not disguise the fact Hannah Winter was a lovely girl. Her rich auburn hair, upswept into a chignon, framed a delicate heart-shaped face with flawless skin and luminous deep blue eyes. The soft roundness of pregnancy only enhanced her slim figure.

            Hannah watched the men from across the room. Johnnsen kept draining his glass, and her father kept refilling it. Johnnsen could barely stand, and that suited Hannah just fine–the drunker, the better.

            “Jus’ make sure it’s a boy. You promised me a boy.” Johnnsen poked his finger at Nathan Winter’s chest. “Been married to two barren women, and not a one of 'em could give me a boy, the bitches. Was glad when they died. Now this little filly…” He nodded in Hannah’s direction. “She’s a breeder, that she is, and I better be getting me a boy.”

            Hannah’s father fidgeted with his tie and tugged on his cufflinks. “Don’t worry, Merrill, our family breeds boys. Why, Hannah was the first girl to come along in generations. It’ll be a boy, mark my words.”

            “Better be,” Johnnsen said. “Hey, you owe me some money. That was the deal. I marry the little slut, and you give me some money.”

            Nathan Winter took an envelope from his coat pocket and handed it to him.

            “Thas right. Pay up.” Johnnsen stuffed the envelope inside his jacket.

            The minister looked acutely embarrassed. “Well, then, I’ll just be going.” He shook hands with Nathan and Merrill, and then walked over to Hannah. “May the Lord bless you, Hannah, in your new life.” He held out his hand. Hannah looked away. “Yes, well…” He turned and was gone.

            Johnnsen staggered over to Hannah. “Lesss go, old wifey of mine.” He burst into raucous laughter.

            Hannah gave him a disdainful look. In the marble floored entry, she threw a cape over her shoulders and followed him out the door to a buggy and driver waiting in the cobblestone street. Her father had hired the buggy to take them to Johnnsen’s home. Johnnsen neither possessed a rig nor a horse nor the means to hire one.

            It was late March, and the air smelled ripe with the promise of growth, of life renewed after the long, cold winter. Hannah Winter Johnnsen barely noticed. Her life held not the promise of renewal, but of despair, for she was seventeen years old, seven months pregnant and seventy minutes married–to the wrong man.

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