The aroma of something cooking with ham met the field workers when they
entered the kitchen. Ham and noodles, Phene told them, and dandelion greens
too. The table was set with Phene's usual flair. A white cloth and a
little green glass pitcher of violets graced the table today.
"Aren't they pretty!" Phene responded when Louisa admired the bouquet.
"I found 'em by the fence when we were looking for dandelion greens," Coad
The twins danced around their mother, clinging to her skirts.
"I helped pick 'em!" Nett said.
"Me, too!" Nell added.
"That was nice," Louisa said. "Sounds like you three were good workers
The kitchen was suddenly quiet, and Phene caught her mother's glance and
rolled her eyes.
"I didn't mean to hurt the baby duck!" Nell said in a meek little voice.
"She was bringing one of the ducklings to show me how it had grown. She had
it by the neck, and when she put her hand down to help herself up the step,
she squeezed the life out of it," Phene explained.
Nell hung her head and murmured, "Sorry!"
"It's dead," Coad said with finality. "We had a funeral for it and
it under the lilac bush."
"That was nice, Louisa said, "but what happened to your dress, Nett?" She
had just noticed that Nett's dress had a three-cornered tear on the sleeve
and two larger ones on the back of the skirt.
It was Nett's turn to hang her head while Phene told about Coad and Nett
playing Skin the Cat on the sweet apple tree in the orchard.
"I didn't tear my dress!" Coad broke in, turning all around to prove it.
"Nooooo," Phene said, in a tone that indicated that there was more to follow
Nett supplied the missing information. "She crawled in the cupboard when
Phene was cleaning, and when Phene had to move it, Coad shut her eyes and
snored, and wouldn't get out!"
"So I had to move it with her in it!" Phene finished disgustedly. Then, as
she stepped from the stove to the table with the bowl of noodles and ham,
she let out an exasperated gasp.
Louisa glanced in her direction and saw that someone had added a bunch of
cockleburrs to the violet bouquet.
"Bill!" Phene squealed, and, picking up the offending burrs, ran over to the
basin where her brothers were washing up and deposited them on his head.
Bill immediately responded by tossing a handful of water on his sister.
Phene tossed some back, getting more on Walter than Bill. Walter, with a
whoop, then joined in the melee, throwing water on both Bill and Phene.
"All right! Enough ! Enough!" Louisa said sternly, and marshaled everybody
to the table.
Bill solemnly took his place with the cockleburrs still in his hair. "Old
Frank has botts in his belly, and I've got cockleburrs in my hair. We can't
work in the field this afternoon, Ma," he said.
"We'll just see about that!" Louisa responded.
After the grace, Phene announced that Uncle Brice had stopped by with mail
from town. She paused, and with a casualness that didn't quite go with the
flush that had suddenly come to her cheeks, added, "there's an invitation
from Seth Barker for Bill and me to the Spring Ball in town at the armory
Saturday night, and a note from Seth's Aunt Frona inviting me to stay at her
house overnight. Seth says Bill can stay at his rooming house and he'll
bring us home Sunday afternoon if we can get to town Saturday. May we go,
"I'll have to think about it," Louisa said.
Seth Barker was a newcomer to the area, having come up from Missouri within
the past year to work in the bank. Louisa had known Seth's aunt, Frona
Lathrop, for years. She owned a millinery shop in Chariton, and she and her
late husband, Frank, who had been an officer in the bank, were among the
town's outstanding citizens.
Bill and Seth had become good friends, and on several occasions, Seth had
been out to the farm for a visit. Recently, Louisa had begun to suspect
that the reason for Seth's visits had more to do with Bill's sister Phene
than with Bill. Whatever the reason, Seth seemed to be a nice young man,
and Bill spoke very highly of him. Still....She wished there were some way
she could keep her little brood safely at home under her protection forever.
When dinner was finished, Louisa announced that Coad, the morning's chief
troublemaker, would go along to the field this afternoon.
"Maybe you can work off some of that mischief," Louisa said, realizing that
for tomboy Coad this was not punishment, but at least it would take a little
of the load from Phene.
The troublemaker grinned sheepishly.
When the field hands had left, Phene, grateful to be relieved of the
responsibility of one little sister, enticed the twins to curl up on their
mother's featherbed with their dolls while she told them a story. With a
little luck, they would fall asleep, and she would be able to take care of
some business relevant to Saturday night's ball without curious little
sisters with tattle-tale tongues.
Of course Ma hadn't given her consent to going yet, but Phene was quite sure
that she would. It just took patience. It had been that way ever since she
had been old enough to go to parties. Fortunately, having a big brother for
an escort helped. Phene and Bill had gained some renown because of their
dancing ability and were invited to all the neighborhood parties, as well as
to town functions.
Suggesting that Nett and Nell close their eyes "so you can see the story
better," Phene quietly launched into an embellished version of "The Little
Red Hen." By the time the wheat was ready to be taken to the mill, Nell was
fast asleep, and Nett was too far gone to care what happened next. Phene
tiptoed out of the room and hurried up the stairs to the room she shared
with her sisters.
To be continued. . . Chapter 2; part 3 -- Her mission.
Shared by Bill Tuttle
April 30, 2008