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Almost from the first, Farell and his younger sister were inseparable. Because Farell constantly got teased at school about his stuttering, Percy decided to teach him his lessons at home. Mindy, who always wanted to be with her adored brother, sat in on the lessons, and in no time, Percy recognized how bright the little girl was. She had no trouble keeping up with Farell. She was also imaginative and soon began making up little stories, and when she learned her letters, she began writing her stories down in her copy book.
Mindy was far from being a bookworm, however. Even though she preferred the company of the quiet, thoughtful Farell, she was full of energy and had a high-spirited, adventurous personality. Whenever Farell was confined to the house with a cold, Mindy would try to tag along after her two other brothers, who would try to get rid of her by challenging her to perform some hazardous feat. Fiercely competitive, Mindy took any dare until a broken arm, several sprains, bruises, and cuts brought down their father's wrath and their gentle mother's firm reprimand. "You must be kind to your little sister. Remember she's a girl," Percy would admonish while, behind her mother's skirt, Mindy would make faces, stick out her tongue, and waggle her fingers at her brothers.
By the time she was ten, Mindy could give as good as she took, and Tom and Eph regarded her warily. Small and wiry, she could outrun them if they took off after her. Fearful of the punishment they might incur if their sister really got hurt, they avoided actual confrontations.
The summer she was twelve things changed. The family had gathered at the McClaren's, as usual, to celebrate the Fourth of July and, of course, Mindy's birthday. The relatives arrived a few days beforehand from the outlying farms and small towns, and none came empty-handed. Laden with fruits, baked goods, casserole dishes, and delicacies, which were their individual specialties, they came bringing with them an assortment of offspring as well. Mindy and several of her cousins were playing outside in Jacob McClaren's large backyard while the women gathered in the big kitchen. Preparations for the plentiful meal were in full swing. The sound of the egg beater, cream whisker, and batter spoon were heard along with the lively chatter.
Suddenly Aunt Jen gasped, "Law sakes, will you look at that girl?"
"What in the world?" exclaimed Aunt Sassy, joining her at the window.
"My word, now she's hanging by her knees," gasped Grandma Howard, pulling back the starched, checked curtain so she could see better.
"I declare, Percy, you're going to have to do something about that Mindy. She's growing up as wild as a March hare. If you don't watch it, she'll become a regular hoyden."
Jen turned and eyed her niece sternly.
Percy calmly took another stitch in the table runner she was embroidering. "What do you suggest I do?"
"Well, something and soon," Jen sounded exasperated. "Certainly, Jacob can."
Percy shook her head slightly. "Mindy's her Papa's pet." She sighed. "He thinks anything she does is either entertaining or amazing."
"If she were my daughter," began Jen, but Sassy interrupted her.
"Well, she isn't, Jen. And we best not offer advice."
Ignoring her sister's rebuke, Jen persisted, "Have you and Jacob discussed sending Mindy to Oakmere Academy? They're known for turning girls into young ladies of refinement."
Again Percy shook her head. "I doubt Jacob would send Mindy away. He'd miss her too much."
"Even for her own good?" Jen frowned. "Maybe, I should talk to Jacob. After all I'm the oldest in our family." Jen's mouth folded into a determined line.
"Please, don't spoil his holiday by getting him all stirred up," Percy begged. "Remember, it's also Mindy's birthday."
"She'll be twelve, won't she? That's time to make plans. After all she'll be sixteen 'fore you know it. Time to think of making a suitable marriage."
"You sure make time fly, Jen," Sassy laughed.
Jen gave her a sharp look. "Well, it's the truth. Before you know it, children are grown up and on their own. If you don't guide them, heavens knows how they'd turn out!"
"'Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it,'" quoted Sassy.
"Exactly," nodded Jen, unaware of the irony in her sister's tone.
Percy calmly threaded her needle with a strand of red floss and did not comment. She knew her husband. Their only daughter and youngest child was the proverbial "apple of his eye." He would not easily agree to sending her off to boarding school although Oakmere Academy was only thirty miles from Woodhaven and near Philadelphia where many of the Howard relatives had settled.
Endearing pictures of the two of them together passed through her mind. The tall man and the little red-headed girl hand-in-hand when Mindy was first learning to walk, Jacob keeping his long strides short for her tiny steps. Later, Mindy would sit in Jacob's lap while he read to her; later still, with their heads bent over the globe Jacob had bought to show her the world, he would patiently explain to her about oceans, mountains, and plains.
"I want to see all these places!" the little girl would exclaim.
Jacob would assure her, "You can, you will, darlin'. You can travel or do anything your li'l heart desires."
He would take her with him when he went fishing. She would trail behind him carrying his creel. Jacob would shoulder his rod and the small fishing pole he made for her. They would spend the whole day together at the river.
No, Percy couldn't imagine Jacob thinking it a good thing for Mindy to go to Oakmere Academy to be made into a proper lady.
The subject was dropped for the moment as one of the husbands strolled into the kitchen and the conversation became general.