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Treasures from Grandma's Attic
Grandma's Attic Series Book Four
By Arleta Richardson
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Arleta Richardson
All rights reserved.
My best friend, Sarah Jane, and I were walking home from school on a cold November afternoon.
"Do you realize, Mabel, that 1886 is almost over? Another year of nothing important ever happening is nearly gone."
"Well, we still have a good bit of life ahead of us," I replied.
"You don't know that," Sarah Jane said darkly. "We're thirteen and a half. We may already have lived nearly a third of our allotted time."
"The O'Dells live to be awfully old," I told her. "So, unless I get run down by a horse and buggy, I'll probably be around awhile."
We walked along in silence. Then suddenly Sarah Jane pulled me to the side of the road. "Here's the horse and buggy that could keep you from becoming an old lady," she kidded. We turned to see my pa coming down the road.
"Want to ride the rest of the way, girls?" he called. We clambered into the buggy, and Pa clucked to Nellie.
"What did you get in town?" I asked.
"Some things for the farm and a letter for your ma." Around the next bend, Pa slowed Nellie to a halt. "Your stop, Sarah Jane."
"Thanks, Mr. O'Dell." Sarah Jane jumped down. "I'll be over to study later, Mabel. 'Bye."
"Who's the letter from?" I asked Pa.
"Can't tell from the handwriting. We'll have to wait for Ma to tell us."
When Ma opened the letter, she looked puzzled. "This is from your cousin Agatha," she said to Pa. "Why didn't she address it to you, too?"
"If I know Aggie, she wants something," Pa declared. "And she figured you'd be more likely to listen to her sad story."
Ma read the letter and shook her head at Pa. "She just wants to come for Thanksgiving. Now aren't you ashamed of talking that way?"
"No, I'm not. That's what Aggie says she wants. You can be sure there's more there than meets the eye. Are you going to tell her to come ahead?"
"Why, of course!" Ma exclaimed. "If I were a widowed lady up in years, I'd want to be with family on Thanksgiving. Why shouldn't I tell her to come?"
Pa took his hat from the peg by the door and started for the barn, where my older brothers, Reuben and Roy, were already at work. "Don't say I didn't warn you," he remarked as he left.
"What did Pa warn you about?" I asked as soon as the door closed behind him. "What does Cousin Agatha want?"
"I don't believe Pa was talking to you," Ma replied. "You heard me say that she wants to come for Thanksgiving."
"Yes, but Pa said—"
"That's enough, Mabel. We won't discuss it further."
I watched silently as Ma sat down at the kitchen table and answered Cousin Agatha's letter.
Snow began to fall two days before the holiday, and Pa had to hitch up the sleigh to go into town and meet the train. "It will be just our misfortune to have a real blizzard and be snowed in with that woman for a week," he grumbled.
"Having Aggie here a few days won't hurt you," Ma said. "The way you carry on, you'd think she was coming to stay forever!"
Pa's look said he considered that a distinct possibility. As I helped Ma with the pies, I questioned her about Cousin Agatha.
"Has she been here before? I can't remember seeing her."
"I guess you were pretty small last time Agatha visited," Ma replied. "I expect she gets lonely in that big house in the city."
"What do you suppose she wants besides dinner?" I ventured.
"Friendly company," Ma snapped. "And we're going to give it to her."
When the pies were in the oven, I hung around the window, watching for the sleigh. It was nearly dark when I heard the bells on Nellie's harness ring out across the snow.
"They're coming, Ma," I called. Ma hurried to the door with the lamp held high over her head. The boys and I crowded behind her. Pa jumped down from the sleigh and turned to help Cousin Agatha.
"I don't need any assistance from you, James," a firm voice spoke. "I'm perfectly capable of leaving any conveyance under my own power."
"She talks like a book!" Roy whispered, and Reuben poked him. I watched in awe as a tall, unbending figure sailed into the kitchen.
"Well, Maryanne," she said, "it's good to see you." She removed her big hat, jabbed a long hat pin into it, and handed the hat to me. "You must be Mabel."
I nodded wordlessly.
"What's the matter? Can't you speak?" she boomed.
"Yes, ma'am." I gulped nervously.
"Then don't stand there bobbing your head like a monkey on a stick. People will think you have no sense. You can put that hat in my room."
I stared openmouthed at this unusual person until a gentle push from Ma sent me in the direction of the guest room.
After dinner and prayers, Pa rose with the intention of going to the barn.
"James!" Cousin Agatha's voice stopped him. "Surely you aren't going to do the chores by yourself with these two great hulking fellows sitting here, are you?"
The two great hulking fellows leaped for the door with a speed I didn't know they had.
"I should guess so," Cousin Agatha exclaimed with satisfaction. "If there's anything I can't abide, it's a lazy child."
As she spoke, Cousin Agatha pulled Ma's rocker to the stove and lowered herself into it. "This chair would be more comfortable if there were something to put my feet on," she said, "but I suppose one can't expect the amenities in a place like this."
I looked at Ma for some clue as to what amenities might mean. This was not a word we had encountered in our speller.
"Run into the parlor and get the footstool, Mabel," Ma directed.
After Cousin Agatha was settled with her hands in her lap and her feet off the cold floor, I started the dishes.
"Maryanne, don't you think Mabel's dress is a mite too short?"
Startled, I looked down at my dress.
"No," Ma's calm voice replied. "She's only thirteen, you know. I don't want her to be grown up too soon."
"There is such a thing as modesty, you know." Cousin Agatha sniffed.
Pa and the boys returned just then, so Ma didn't answer. I steered an uneasy path around Cousin Agatha all evening. For the first time I could remember, I was glad when bedtime came.
The next day was Thanksgiving, and the house was filled with the aroma of good things to eat. From her rocker, Cousin Agatha offered suggestions as Ma scurried about the kitchen.
"Isn't it time to baste the turkey, Maryanne? I don't care for dry fowl.
"I see the boys running around out there with that mangy dog as though they had nothing to do. Shouldn't they be chopping wood or something?
"I should think Mabel could be helping you instead of reading a book. If there's one thing I can't abide—"
"Mabel will set the table when it's time," Ma put in. "Maybe you'd like to peel some potatoes?"
The horrified look on Cousin Agatha's face said she wouldn't consider it, so Ma withdrew her offer.
A bump on the door indicated that the "mangy dog" was tired of the cold. I laid down my book and let Pep in. He made straight for the stove and his rug.
"Mercy!" Cousin Agatha cried. "Do you let that—that animal in the kitchen?"
"Yes," Ma replied. "He's not a young dog any longer. He isn't any bother, and he does enjoy the heat."
"Humph." Agatha pulled her skirts around her. "I wouldn't allow any livestock in my kitchen. Can't think what earthly good a dog can be." She glared at Pep, who responded with a thump of his tail and a sigh of contentment.
"Dumb creature," Cousin Agatha muttered.
"Pep isn't dumb, Cousin Agatha," I said. "He's really the smartest dog I know."
"I was not referring to his intellect or lack of it," she told me. "Dumb indicates an inability to speak. You will have to concede that he is unable to carry on a conversation."
I was ready to dispute that, too, but Ma shook her head. Cousin Agatha continued to give Pep disparaging glances.
"Didn't you ever have any pets at your house, Cousin Agatha?" I asked.
"Pets? I should say not! Where in the Bible does it say that God made animals for man's playthings? They're meant to earn their keep, not sprawl out around the house absorbing heat."
"Oh, Pep works," I assured her. "He's been taking the cows out and bringing them back for years now."
Cousin Agatha was not impressed. She sat back in the rocker and eyed Pep with disfavor. "The one thing I can't abide, next to a lazy child, is a useless animal—and in the house!"
I began to look nervously at Ma, thinking she might send Pep to the barn to keep the peace. But she went on about her work, serenely ignoring Cousin Agatha's hints. I was glad when it was time to set the table.
After we had eaten, Pa took the Bible down from the cupboard and read our Thanksgiving chapter, Psalm 100. Then he prayed, thanking the Lord for Cousin Agatha and asking the Lord's blessing on her just as he did on the rest of us. When he had finished, Cousin Agatha spoke up.
"I believe that I will stay here until Christmas, James. Then, if I find it to my liking, I could sell the house in the city and continue on with you. Maryanne could use some help in teaching these children how to be useful."
In the stunned silence that followed, I looked at Pa and Ma to see how this news had affected them. Ma looked pale. Before Pa could open his mouth to answer, Cousin Agatha rose from the table. "I'll just go to my room for a bit of rest," she said. "We'll discuss this later."
When she had left, we gazed at each other helplessly.
"Is there anything in the Bible that tells you what to do now?" I asked Pa.
"Well, it says if we don't love our brother whom we can see, how can we love God whom we can't see? I think that probably applies to cousins as well."
"I'd love her better if I couldn't see her," Reuben declared. "We don't have to let her stay, do we, Pa?"
"No, we don't have to," Pa replied. "We could ask her to leave tomorrow as planned. But I'm not sure that would be right. What do you think, Ma?"
"I wouldn't want to live alone in the city," Ma said slowly. "I can see that she would prefer the company of a family. I suppose we should ask her to stay until Christmas."
"I think she already asked herself," Roy ventured. "But she did say if she found things to her liking ..."
We all looked at Roy. Pa said, "You're not planning something that wouldn't be to her liking, are you?"
"Oh, no, sir!" Roy quickly answered. "Not me."
Pa sighed. "I'm not sure I'd blame you. She's not an easy person to live with. We'll all have to be especially patient with her."
There wasn't much Thanksgiving atmosphere in the kitchen as we did the dishes.
"How can we possibly stand it for another whole month?" I moaned.
"The Lord only sends us one day at a time," Ma informed me. "Don't worry about more than that. When the other days arrive, you'll probably find out you worried about all the wrong things."
As soon as the work was finished, I put on my coat and walked over to Sarah Jane's.
"What will you do if she stays on after Christmas?" Sarah Jane asked.
"I'll just die."
"I thought you were going to be a long-living O'Dell."
"I changed my mind," I retorted. "What would you do if you were in my place?"
"I'd probably make her life miserable so she'd want to leave."
"You know I couldn't get away with that. Pa believes that Christian love is the best solution."
"All right, then," Sarah Jane said with a shrug. "Love her to death."
As though to fulfill Pa's prediction, snow began to fall heavily that night. By morning we were snowed in.
"Snowed in?" Cousin Agatha repeated. "You mean unable to leave the house at all?"
"That's right," Pa replied. "This one is coming straight down from Canada."
Cousin Agatha looked troubled. "I don't like this. I don't like it at all."
"We'll be all right," Ma reassured her. "We have plenty of wood and all the food we need."
But Cousin Agatha was not to be reassured. I watched her stare into the fire and twist her handkerchief around her fingers. Why, she's frightened! I thought. This old lady had been directing things all her life, and here was something she couldn't control. Suddenly I felt sorry for her.
"Cousin Agatha," I said, "we have fun when we're snowed in. We play games and pop corn and tell stories. You'll enjoy it. I know you will!"
I ran over and put my arms around her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. She looked at me in surprise.
"That's the first time anyone has hugged me since I can remember," she said. "Do you really like me, Mabel?"
Right then I knew that I did like Cousin Agatha a whole lot. Behind her stern front was another person who needed to be loved and wanted.
"Oh, yes, Cousin Agatha," I replied. "I really do. You'll see what a good time we'll have together."
The smile that lit her face was bright enough to chase away any gloom that had settled over the kitchen. And deep down inside, I felt real good.CHAPTER 2
A New Friend
Sarah Jane and I were approaching the school yard one morning, talking about nothing in particular, when we both came to a dead stop. Straight ahead stood a new girl leaning against a tree, watching the other children play.
"Who do you think that is?" Sarah Jane asked. "I didn't know anyone new had moved in."
"I don't know," I said, "but she has the reddest hair I've ever seen. Do you suppose she has a temper to match?"
"I hope not," Sarah Jane replied. "I wouldn't want that much mad directed at me."
We walked over to greet her. "I'm Mabel," I said. "What's your name?"
"Mary Etta Rose Amanda Morgan."
Sarah Jane's mouth dropped open. "Four given names? Do you use all of them?"
"Just Mary. My mother didn't want to disappoint any of her sisters, so she named me after all of them! I hope we're going to be friends," she continued. "I don't know anyone here."
Our teacher, Miss Gibson, came out just then to ring the bell, and we all filed into the schoolhouse. Mary was welcomed and settled into a seat behind Sarah Jane and me. During study time, I felt a poke in my back.
"Who's that good-looking boy by the second window?" Mary whispered.
I looked to see who she meant. "That's my brother Roy," I whispered back.
"Your brother?" Mary squeaked, and Miss Gibson looked disapprovingly in our direction. No more was said until recess time. Then Mary took hold of my arm and drew me to the side of the school.
"I think we should be best friends, don't you?" she said. "We can have secrets from all the others."
"I've never had a secret from Sarah Jane," I blurted. "What would we want to keep from her?"
"For goodness' sake, Mabel!" Mary exclaimed. "Maybe it's time you got away from her. I could tell right away that Sarah Jane isn't as mature and interesting as you are. There are lots of things we could talk about that she wouldn't even understand."
This was a new idea to me, and I stared at Mary in fascination. Was I really mature and interesting?
"By the way," Mary went on, "how old is your brother?"
"He's almost fifteen," I replied. "Why?"
"I just wondered," she said with a shrug. "Does he have a girlfriend?"
"A girlfriend! Roy? He thinks the only thing girls are good for is to tease."
"Don't worry," Mary said. "He'll change his mind. Come on, let's get a drink of water."
She sauntered toward the well, and I tagged along after her. If she wanted the boys to notice her, she wasn't disappointed.
"They couldn't help but see her," Sarah Jane said to me on the way home. "Her hair stands out like a fire in a wood box. You'd better watch out, Mabel, or you'll get into trouble."
I stopped in my tracks and stared at her. "Me! What have I done to be in trouble?"
"Nothing yet, I guess. But if you're around Mary Etta Rose Amanda Morgan very much, she'll see to it that you do something."
"That's ridiculous!" I exclaimed. "All she said was that she wanted to be friends."
"And?" Sarah Jane prodded.
"She asked how old Roy was and if he had a girlfriend," I finished lamely.
"Aha!" Sarah Jane cried. "See there? She's trying to use you to get to your brother!"
"Nobody uses me for anything!" I shouted at her. "I think you're just jealous!"
I stomped away from Sarah Jane with my nose in the air. Then I turned and went back. "Why are we fighting over someone we don't even know?" I asked her. "Do you really think Mary would try to do that?"
Sarah Jane nodded. "I'm sure of it, Mabel. Something tells me that she's not up to any good. I just feel it in my bones."
Excerpted from Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson. Copyright © 2011 Arleta Richardson. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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