Saturday, February 25, 2012

Two and Two Make a Family

After a delightful evening filled with good food and good company, Caroline and Lucinda are about to retire for the night when they hear a sneeze in the hydrangea bushes under the porch railing. They discover two children hiding there.
“We mean no harm ma'am, we were just looking for any scraps of food you might be throwing away” said the little boy who couldn't have been much more than 9 years old.
“Come out of there children. Where did you come from and what are you doing hiding in the bushes?”
Along with the boy, a little girl around 6 stepped out. They were both filthy dirty and shivering although it was a warm summer evening. Caroline and Lucinda hustled them into the house. They didn't wait for an explanation but started filling the bathtubs with warm soapy water. Caroline guided the boy to one room and took the girl by the hand into the other. She had a stack of clothing that tenants had left behind. Caroline always laundered the items and placed them in a safe place in case their owners ever came back for them. She was able to find a pair of pajamas that she thought would fit the boy and Lucinda found a nightgown of Cassandras that should fit just fine for the night.
The little girl was all but falling asleep in the warm water. Caroline washed her grimy hair, rinsed her off and wrapped her in a towel before putting on Cassandra's nightgown.
“What is your name, sweetheart”
There was no reply. Only the two big eyes staring at her. By that time the boy had emerged from the tub, clean from head to toe. Caroline wasn't accustomed to little boys but she imagined that they usually didn't get themselves this clean.
“She doesn't talk” said the boy.
The women took the children into the kitchen and started warming up the leftovers from the evening meal. They both devoured the plates of food. Caroline shivered at the thought of how long it had been since they had eaten. After they had finished eating, the little girl was barely able to keep her eyes open. Lucinda carried her up the stairs to one of the guest rooms.
“No, I have to stay with my sister. She will wake up and be afraid if I'm not there.”
Lucinda said she would sit in the room with her until he came upstairs but he would need to stay and talk to Miss Caroline before he came up to bed. Cassandra brought her favorite doll into the room to help comfort the little girl. Lucinda was proud of her daughter. That doll was the last thing given to her by her Papa and it was very special to her. The little girl woke up and looked around for her brother.
“Your brother is downstairs and will be here soon. Cassandra and I will keep you company until he comes.”
Cassandra was amazed that the little girl didn't speak.
“My Mama and I lived in New York City in a big building next to my grandfather. But, I didn't know he was my grandfather. But, he died. But, we came to Camden Corners. Camden Corners is a magic place. You will see. If you stay here you will be able to talk again. I just know it. Do you like the park? There is a big park by the water. Mr. Nick took Mama and me there. Maybe he can take you too. We will have fun.”
Cassandra went on and on. Lucinda would have stopped the little chatterbox but the girl seemed to be hanging on every word. She thought she saw a little glimmer in the child's eyes. She couldn't help but wonder what had gone on in this little girl's life that caused her to be unable to speak. Meanwhile the boy was sitting at the kitchen table with Caroline.
He said “My name is Kenny and my sister's name is Rebecca but I call her Becky.”
Caroline fixed him a tall glass of milk and a plate of cookies as he told her how he and his sister ended up hiding beneath her hydrangea bushes.
“We lived in Portersville with our Mama and Papa. Mama always sang songs to Becky and me but one day she stopped singing. Papa said she was very sick and it was hard for her to talk. She would smile at us and give us hugs but she didn't talk to us anymore and finally she went to sleep and didn't wake up.
Papa was so sad that he went to see Mr. Benson to get some medicine. He would bring the medicine home in a big jug and drink from the jug until he fell asleep. Papa cried a lot and didn't talk to us anymore except to tell us to be quiet. Becky liked to sing the songs that Mama sang to us but Papa told her to stop that singing or she would end up dead like our Mama. Becky stopped singing and stopped talking too. The doctor said Papa had too much medicine and he went to heaven to be with our Mama.
The Sheriff told us to gather our clothes that he was taking us to live with our Uncle Sven. Uncle Sven didn't have any children and told the Sheriff to take us to the orphanage that he didn't want his brother's brats around him. He said his brother was a drunken fool who married a frail, sickly young thing and his offspring would turn out to be the same. The Sheriff took us home with him that night and let us sleep in a big bed. He thought I was asleep but I heard him tell his wife that he was going to have to deliver us to the orphanage the next day. She said it was too bad we wouldn't be able to stay together.
I couldn't let Becky be alone without me. She would be so scared. After the Sheriff and his wife went to sleep, I woke Becky up and we started walking toward town. Becky was very tired and we stopped near Mr. Poulson's dairy farm. We slept in the barn and then the next morning we climbed into the wagon Mr. Poulson was filling with milk bottles to deliver to the general stores in all the nearby towns. His last stop was Camden Corners and we got off the wagon here and hid in the bushes.
“We won't bother you anymore after tonight, Miss Caroline. I can't let my sister go to the orphanage by herself. We will be on our way tomorrow, I promise.”
Caroline's heart was breaking that this sweet child was going to take care of his sister.
“You and Becky will not be going to an orphanage. You can stay here in this house until we figure out what to do.”
Caroline knew what she was going to do but didn't want to make any promises until she talked it over with Oscar Crowley. Kenny started yawning. Caroline walked him upstairs and tucked him in next to his sister.
“He said his sister would be afraid if she woke up and he wasn't there.” Caroline said tearfully.
She was determined that these children would never know fear again. She and Lucinda said goodnight to Kenny and the sleeping Becky. Cassandra had fallen asleep at the foot of the bed and Lucinda carried her into her own bed.
The next morning, Jamison was surprised to find two little faces staring at him as he entered the kitchen.
“Who have we here?”
“My name is Kenny sir and this is my sister, Becky.”
Caroline pulled Jamison aside and told him what Kenny had told her the night before. Jamison had a worried look on his face and Caroline was afraid for a second that he was going to tell her she had to turn the children over to the authorities.
She was happy when he said “They can't be sent to an orphanage. How do you feel about a ready made family?”
Lucinda stayed with the children while Jamison drove the carriage to Portersville. They picked up Oscar Crowley on the way and because it was such a pretty day, Nettie came along for the ride. Oscar had known Judge Herman Blake for a long time. He knew he was an honest man and recommended they stop to see him as soon as they arrived in Portersville. The judge was interested in the matter. He mentioned that he knew there was a small house on the outskirts of town but had no idea two children lived in that house. Sheriff Billings is a fine old gentleman but his memory has been failing him recently. He sent his assistant to fetch the sheriff. When he arrived in the office, Judge Blake asked him about the children.
“I seem to remember a couple of small children coming to the house the other day. Yes, I don't know where they went though. They weren't there yesterday when the wife went to fetch them for breakfast. Maybe their uncle changed his mind and decided to take them in after all.”
The Judge and his visitors rode out to talk with the children's Uncle Sven. He refused to open the door for them and told them if they bothered him again about those two rotten kids he'd greet them with his shotgun. Jamison had to hold Caroline back. He knew she was about to bop the old man on his head for saying such terrible things about those precious children.
The Judge was having temporary custody papers drawn up. The adoption would be final in a couple of months. Caroline and Jamison were grateful to the judge for his help and would he mind doing them one more favor? Would he marry them that afternoon. Judge Blake said he would be delighted and with Oscar and Nettie as their witnesses, he pronounced them husband and wife.
The ride back home to Camden Corners was a joyous one. Oscar had packed a bottle of champagne in a satchel and they drank a toast to the happy couple.
“This has all happened so quickly I haven't even had a chance to tell Grace about finding Jamison again and now we are married with a brother and sister for her.”
“We will stop by the hardware store and pick her up on the way home.”
“This calls for a celebration” said Nettie.
Grace was thrilled for her mother and had some news for her also. Not only was Caroline a new bride and a new mother, she was going to be a grandmother in just a few months.
Jamison and Caroline sat Kenny and Becky down on the sofa in the parlor while everyone was enjoying Caroline's lovely garden. Kenny couldn't believe his ears when he learned that he and Becky would be living with Mr. Jamison and Miss Caroline. He held Becky close and whispered that they would always be together now. Becky smiled and wrapped her arms around Caroline. Caroline wondered if life could get any better than this.

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