Saturday, July 14, 2012
A Family Again
A Family Again
“Miss Nettie, how long before Mama and Papa get here?”
“Not too much longer Leah, we will go to the train station in a little while. I know how excited you are to see them.”
“I am excited about them coming here but I don't want to go back to England with them. I wish they could live here in Camden Corners with us. I like living with you and Mr. Oscar. You are more fun than any of our nannies. You always play with us. Our nannies just watch us and make us do our lessons. I like having Iris and Cassandra and Becky to play with.”
“I want to stay here too, Miss Nettie. Mr. Oscar said maybe we could come for a visit next summer and he will teach me how to catch a fish.”
“Now children, I don't want you to talk like that when your mama and papa come today. If they heard you say things like that you would hurt their feelings. It's been so long since you have seen your own house, I'm sure you will be happy to be home when you sail back to England.”
“I don't want to go home on a boat either,” said Alfie. “They are cold and dirty and there are mean people on boats.”
“Oh darlin' child, not when you go home. You will have a big room with comfortable beds. You will have fancy suppers and music and dancing. It will be much better than it was when you came here.” Nettie was worried about this reunion. She knew the children missed their parents but they were so happy here. They had friends. She had the feeling they never had anyone to play with in England. She couldn't bear the thought of them being all alone again. It was such a different life for them there.
It was two days before Thanksgiving. Nettie was hoping the Clarkes would stay on for a few days. She wanted to get to know them and also wanted to keep Leah and Alfie with her for as long as possible. She and Oscar were going to miss those sweet children. They had brought so much liveliness into their home. She wiped away a tear from her cheek. She felt the way she did when she was teaching school. She would become attached to the youngsters in her class and then the school year would end and she would have to say goodbye to them as they moved to another grade. There was always another group of children to take their place but Nettie knew there would never be another Leah and Alfie.
“Time to leave for the train station,” called out Oscar. He was trying to hide his emotions too but Nettie saw right through him.
The train slowed and came to a stop. Minerva and Philip Clarke were the first passengers off the train. They both came running and embraced their waiting children.
“My babies, I am so happy to see you. Papa and I missed you so much,” she held onto the children as though she was afraid to let them go. “You must be the Crowleys. How can we ever thank you for caring for our children?”
“I'm Nettie, Mrs. Clarke. This is my husband, Oscar. Leah and Alfie are delightful children. It has been a pleasure to have them in our lives if only for a short time.”
Minerva and Philip both embraced the older couple. It was obvious Philip was uncomfortable showing emotion but it was difficult to remain aloof under the circumstances.
“Mama wait until you see our home. We have a big bright room with fluffy quilts on our beds. The room next door to ours is for you and Papa. Miss Trudy makes our supper for us. She is very nice and gives us hugs all the time. We go to a big church every Sunday and sing songs and then Alfie and I go to the basement with the other children and learn all about Jesus. Oh Mama, I hope we can go on Sunday. I want you to meet all my friends. There is Iris and Cassandra and Becky and oh so many more. Please Mama may we go? Alfie and I don't want to take a boat back to the castle.” Leah put her hand over her mouth. She wasn't suppose to say that, it just slipped out.
“Leah! Miss Nettie told you not to hurt Mama and Papa's feelings. You shouldn't say you don't want to go back to England.”
Minerva looked surprised. “It sounds like the children are very happy here in Camden Corners. Most children would love living in a castle.”
“I'm sure they will be fine, Mrs. Clarke. They were alone and frightened for several weeks. It took a while for them to feel safe in our home and I'm sure they will be happy when they are back in England again. Children adapt quickly to their environment.”
Nettie's voice was reassuring. Minerva didn't like to admit it but she felt nervous around her own children. She could tell the Crowleys had formed a special relationship with them.
Leah and Alfie took their parents' hands and guided them up the stairs to show them the room they were so proud of. It was bright and airy and had a cheerful look about it even on a chilly November day. The curtains were light in color and pulled back to let the sun shine in. This room was so much more inviting than their rooms back home with the dark damask draperies at the windows. Leah showed her mother her many new dresses.
“Oh Mrs. Crowley, you have invested so much in our children. Please give Philip an accounting of the money you have spent and we will reimburse you before we leave.”
“Don't worry about that, Mrs. Clarke. Cassie Nichols is our local seamstress. She charges very little for children's clothing. I wish you would call me Nettie.”
“Thank you Nettie and please call me Minerva. I can see you have treated our children as if they were your own. They are very happy here.”
“Mama come see your room. It is right next to ours.” It was another beautiful room with a view of a meadow from the window.
“Do I see grapevines in the distance?” asked Philip. “I would like to explore those further. I have tried my hand at growing grapes for wine.”
“Lou Rossi is always more than happy to show off his son's work. Tomorrow we will have him give us a tour of the vineyard and the winery. I think you will be impressed. Tell me Philip, are you a fisherman?”
“No Oscar, with the exception of the time I spend with the grapes, I stay inside most of the time. I enjoy reading. I'm afraid I haven't taken the time with my children as you and your wife have. Minerva is always getting after me to get my nose out of my books. I'm beginning to wonder if she doesn't have a point.”
“You and Minerva must have been doing something right. Nettie and I have enjoyed having your children here more than you can know. This old house will be very quiet when they leave.”
“We will need to know more about what was happening to them while they were away from us. Detective Rowntree told us of the murder of Miss Bridget and her intended. I am sorry the children saw such horror. Minerva and I were pleasantly surprised when we saw our children again. We never expected them to be so well adjusted after witnessing what they did.”
“They don't talk about either incident very often. When they do it is in such a detached manner, I'm not sure they comprehend it. Nettie and I will be able to fill you in on everything that has happened while the children have been with us. They were extremely quiet at first. It seems they were told their mother would suffer the same fate as Miss Bridget if they told anyone about the kidnapping. It took them some time to trust us and once they did, we were able to find you and your wife.”
“You must have thought we were cold-hearted for not reporting our children missing for so long.”
“I cannot judge you Philip. I may have done exactly as you did if anything of that nature happened to any member of my family. We all have our way of handling any given situation in our lives. You did what you thought was best.”
“I'm not much of a God fearing man, Oscar. However, I found myself on my knees many times a day begging that my children were safe. Now I know those prayers were answered. The Lord brought them to you and Nettie.” Philip wiped away a telltale tear as Oscar embraced him.
“Shall we join the ladies in the parlor. I think we could both use a little nip of Irish Whiskey.”
“You are a man after my own heart, Oscar. I'll wager Minerva wouldn't mind a little taste of it herself.”
The children were on the floor putting a puzzle together as the adults sipped their Irish whiskey. Oscar reminded the Clarkes that Thanksgiving was just two days away.
“I hope you won't be uncomfortable celebrating the holiday with us. We are expecting a rather large gathering. Our plans were made before the children came to us. We don't want to offend you.”
“I have read about the American Thanksgiving and I think it's a fabulous idea. I know Minerva and I have much to be thankful for and we would be happy to be included in your celebration.”
“Oh Mama, Miss Nettie is going to help us make turkey decorations for the table. Would you like to help too?”
“I would like that very much, Leah. You will have to show me how to make a turkey.”
The next day was a very busy one. Oscar had purchased two large turkeys. Nettie thought they might need three but they didn't have any extra room in the ovens for more. The pumpkin and apple pies were cooling on the windowsill. After a while, Trudy shooed everyone out of her kitchen. She'd had as much help as she could tolerate for one morning.
Nettie suggested Minerva and the children take a tour of the town. Minerva loved all the shops and meeting the people. Iris was with her mother in the bakery. Minerva was very interested in the story of how Iris became a member of the Taylor family. Becky entered the bakery with Caroline and Lucy. Becky was another orphan who was given a loving home. The general store was bustling with activity and people buying last minute items for their dinner. Minerva found herself wishing she could stay in Camden Corners for a very long time. She realized her life had been very lonely in the castle.
It was a cool but sunny day. The children asked if they could stop at the park before going back home.
Nettie and Minerva sat down on the bench. “Are you alright Minerva, you look preoccupied?”
“I'm fine Nettie, I was thinking how I am going to miss Camden Corners even though we have been here less than 24 hours. I can understand why the children want to stay here instead of going back to that dreary old castle.
“I was barely 16 when I married Philip. He came to our village unexpectedly one day. It was announced he was there to find himself a wife. Our eyes met and he pointed to me. I fell in love with him at that moment and even though my parents objected, I agreed to marry him. I had no idea he lived in a castle with almost no contact with the outside world. At first it didn't matter to me because I was so in love. After the children were born, I think I just accepted my life would exist in the castle. Philip had spent his days inside the castle walls. His only interest outside were the grapes growing on the vine. He would tend to them and then come back to his reading. This is the longest time he has been away. I can sense a change in him. I think he may even be enjoying himself. I know he is enjoying meeting the people here in Camden Corners just as I am.”
“My dear, life has a way of changing right before our eyes. Just a few short years ago I was living in Greensboro alone in the house I grew up in. My dearest friend moved to Camden Corners and one day I got on the train and moved here myself. I met Oscar Crowley the very next day and fell in love with him the moment we met. We were married in the chapel just outside of town and I have never been happier. Greensboro is a very nice town with some nice people but there is something special about Camden Corners. I would like it if you stayed as long as possible.”
“We couldn't impose on you. It was one thing for the children to stay here but that would be four extra people.”
“Nonsense. That's what guest rooms are for. Please let your living arrangements be the last thing you worry about.”
Minerva looked up and saw her husband in the distance. He was throwing a horseshoe and laughing. She had never seen him so happy and relaxed. She looked toward the playground and her children were laughing and playing with other children. She didn't know how she would convince Philip to change everything about the way they were living but she knew then and there that somehow she would find a way.