Thursday, July 19, 2012
“I would be happy to meet Mr. Hanover. Our paths just don't seem to cross. I have wanted to tell him personally what a fine thing he is doing for the children. Not only does he guide them in the correct way to bring a piece of furniture to life again, his knowledge of history is vast. I'll just finish up some of this paperwork while you say hello to the children.”
Nettie and Oscar strolled through the villa greeting the children as they played. They knew many of them through previous visits. There were always new faces which was both happy and sad. Happy that these children had found a place where people really cared about them and sad because there weren't enough facilities like this.
“Hi Miss Nettie.”
“Hello Mr. Oscar.” The children all shouted at them on their walk.
“Are you reading us a story today Miss Nettie?”
“Maybe later this afternoon, dear.”
“Where are Leah and Alfie?”
“They are back with their mama and papa now. Isn't that wonderful?”
“Oh yes. That is so wonderful,” said a dark haired girl of around fourteen.
“Your name is Hattie, isn't that right?”
“Yes ma'am. I'm Hattie and my sister is Jessie. She isn't here right now. I have to be going, Miss Nettie. I hope I see you later.” Hattie ran off.
“Wasn't that strange, Oscar? Hattie seemed almost afraid of us. I wonder what she and her sister are up to?”
“You can always spot a child who is about to get into mischief. You have a gift, Nettie.” Oscar laughed.
“Yes, I think any teacher has a sixth sense about a child who is about to get into trouble. I like Hattie and Jessie. I'd guess they are close to 15 years old. I remember Evelyn saying they lived with a grandmother and when she died a year ago, there was nobody to take them in. They are twins who aren't identical but look enough alike to fool people. It makes me wonder where Jessie is at the moment.”
“There you two are. Shall we take my automobile? Oscar, when are you going to break down and buy yourself a horseless carriage?”
“Nothing wrong with my trusty horses. I see way too many people stopped on the road with those contraptions spitting and sputtering. Give me a couple of fine horses and a shiny carriage, and there's no stopping me.”
They arrived at the Green Hill Inn at precisely 12:30. Dudley was waiting for them in the vestibule. “Hello everyone. Mrs. Keys, I'm Dudley Hanover. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Evelyn Keys was even prettier in person. Dudley felt the color rise in his cheeks.
“Mr. Hanover, the pleasure is mine. I have been remiss in thanking you for all you have done for the children.”
“They are the ones who bring me joy. Those boys take such pride in their work and are open to learning all I have stored in this old head of mine.”
Evelyn's life had been filled with children since her husband passed away many years ago. It never occurred to her to become involved with another man. She found herself wondering what it would be like to have Dudley Hanover waiting for her at the end of a long day.
“Would you like to see the museum after lunch?”
“I certainly would,” said Oscar. “I had a glimpse of some of those enormous pieces of furniture the Clarke's had delivered. Poor Philip, he hadn't realized how big they all were until he tried to fit them in his rather small house.”
“His loss was certainly the museum's gain. The boys are working on the dining table now. We have four boys here today. My assistant, Mr. Harper, is overseeing them but they don't need any supervision. I think you will be amazed at how well they are doing.”
The foursome walked into the massive room. “Hello fellows, come say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Crowley.”
Three of the boys stood up and politely shook hands with the Crowleys. Evelyn was surprised the one boy didn't follow them. “Who is that over there? Ross, go see what is keeping that young man.”
“I think he's working on a very delicate corner, Miss Evelyn. Maybe we should let him be.”
“Alright. What's up? Who are you? Come over here right this minute.”
A familiar face peered out from behind the table. “Take your hat off, lad.”
The hat came off and long hair flowed from beneath.
“Jessica Farmer? Is that you? What in heaven's name are you doing here young lady?”
“I'm sorry Miss Evelyn. I so wanted to learn how to make the furniture pretty again. Mr. Dudley knows so much about these beautiful things. I didn't mean any harm.”
“Jessie, you know this class is for boys only. Did Hattie help you with your deception?”
“I made her help me, Miss Evelyn. Don't punish her, please.”
“I'm not going to punish anyone, dear. You know you can't be here. Especially alone with all these boys. Now take off those overalls and give them back to Mr. Hanover.”
“Golly, Miss Evelyn. Jessie is really a good worker. We fellows don't mind that she is with us. Please let her stay.”
“Ross, I'd love to let her stay but there are rules and I must follow all of the rules, not just the ones I like. I wish it could be different.”
“I'm so very sorry, Miss Evelyn. I had no idea Jess was a girl.”
“How would you know when she is dressed like a ruffian. The boys knew and they went along with the deception. We are the ones who owe you an apology,” Evelyn said.
“Boys, you get back to work and Jessica, change your clothes and meet us outside.” Evelyn snickered as she turned her back. “I'm sorry Dudley, those children do stick together.”
“You aren't angry with them or me then?”
“No, of course not. I think it's wonderful that Jessie wants to learn a trade. I wish I didn't have to be the one to discourage her. As headmistress of the villa, I can't allow a young lady to be in the presence of only males. The state, or the people in charge, think females should be satisfied learning to sew and knit and take care of household chores. Heaven forbid we would like to learn skills to build a house or even repair a table leg. I'm sorry, I don't mean to let my frustration show.”
“Don't be silly, I like a feisty woman. In fact, Miss Evelyn, I like you very much. Would you care to have dinner with me this evening? Maybe we will be able to figure out a way Jessie can continue her work with me.”
“Are you thinking what I'm thinking Oscar?”
“If you are thinking about Josie Blackburn then we are on the same wavelength, my dear.”
Evelyn spoke up. “Josie Blackburn. She would be perfect for the job.” She explained to Dudley. “Josie bought a cottage by the lake. She was in the process of remodeling it when she met and married Reggie Blackburn. He has helped her along the way but she had so much of it done before that. I wonder if she would be interested in sitting in on some of your lessons, Dudley? She could act as guardian to Jessica.”
“I will call her as soon as I get back to my office. Dudley, I will fill you in at dinner tonight. If we are still on?”
“That will be fine, I'll stop by the villa at 6:30 if that isn't too early. Oscar and Nettie, would you like to join us?”
“We will leave you two lovebirds on your own this evening,” Oscar said as Nettie told him to stop his teasing. “We are dining with the Prestons and Cooper children.”
“That's right,” said Nettie, “Gladys asked that you join us. I'll tell her you are otherwise engaged for the evening. I did promise the children a story or two. Dudley, it has been a pleasure. I hope Evelyn and Josie are able to work something out.”
Jessica came out of the back room. Her hair was brushed and she was wearing a dress. She handed Dudley the overalls. “I'm very sorry, Mr. Hanover. I won't sneak in here with the boys again.” The disappointment on her face tore at Dudley's heartstrings.
“Jessica, you are a very talented young lady. I hope our paths will cross again in the very near future.”
Dudley shook Evelyn's hand. Ross and his friends snickered. They were tempted to voice their observation about a budding romance but decided they'd better not press their luck with Miss Evelyn.
Nettie was reading to the younger children. Oscar was playing catch with some of the boys on the playground. Evelyn came out of her office. “Josie has said she would love to accompany Jessica to Mr. Hanover's. She is excited at the prospect of learning to renovate furniture. It seems Jonas Fulbright has been helping her with just that. She is going to ask if Jonas can tag along too. She is sure he will want to. Come with me when you are finished here, Nettie. I can't wait to share the news with Jessica.”
Nettie found it difficult to concentrate on the children's story. Her mind was swirling. She was happy when she saw Oscar walk through the doors. Evelyn was telling him about Josie. He smiled his biggest smile and walked over to his wife.
“That's all for now children. Why don't you run outside and play until suppertime.”
“Oscar are we thinking the same thing again?”
“I think so dear, it's time we had a couple of teenage girls in our home.”
“How much easier it would be if Josie had a riding companion on her way to Greensboro a couple of times a week for the lessons. It would be such a long ride by herself with baby Jonathan to care for. Oscar, are you sure? Do you think Jessica and Hattie would want to live in our home?”
“Evelyn, what do you think?”
“You two have just made this day perfect. I thought the twins would be a happy addition to your family even before you arrived this morning. I'll go get them so we can all share the good news.”
Evelyn walked into the room Jessie and Hattie shared with two other girls. “Come with me ladies, Mr. & Mrs. Crowley would like to speak with you.”
Hattie held her sister's hand as she whispered, “I hope Miss Nettie isn't so mad at us that we have to leave here. Jessie, do you think we are on our way to the orphanage?”
“I won't let them take you there Hattie. It was all my fault. I should never have pretended to be a boy.”
Nettie could see the girls were shaking as they entered Miss Evelyn's office. “What is wrong, girls? We just wanted to talk to you.”
“Miss Nettie, please don't send Hattie to the orphanage. She doesn't deserve to be punished for what I did.”
“If Jessica goes, then I will go too. She will be lonely without me there.”
“What is all this talk about an orphanage?” said Miss Evelyn. “Mr. & Mrs. Crowley want to adopt you and take you home to Camden Corners with them.”
“You want to adopt both of us? Not just Hattie?” cried Jessica.
“We want you both. We wouldn't dream of separating you. I hope you will like our home. Some of your friends from the villa are living with other families in town. We also have a surprise for you Jessie.” Nettie told her about the plan for her to continue her lessons with Mr. Hanover.
Both girls threw their arms around Nettie and Oscar. “This is the happiest day of our whole lives,” exclaimed Hattie as she brushed away her tears.