“Oh M.!” Lucy gasped as they sat by the riverbank.
With their lace-ups off and their feet wading in the shallow river water, the two girls walked along the sand strip. M. had just told Lucy all about the night before, and also about that morning. Genevieve had her horrible outburst with M. that morning. Her grandmother had also punished her with no dessert and no after school projects or events for an entire month.
“Wasn’t it awful to watch, M?” Lucy questioned considerately.
“Well it’s not my fault that the violinist plays with his eyes closed,” M retorted, thinking mainly about the flustered violinist that had started it all. “Besides, look at the bright side: since that Alexander was there, and saw how much of a horrid creature I was, he might not marry Genevieve after all!”
This delighted M very much.
“But M.,” Lucy persisted. “Why’d you do it?”
M. was tired of explaining this, but she was passionate about it, so she did not hesitate to reiterate.
“I could not stand to hear Mrs. Bolton talk about Ella that way! Ella is the best maid in the world! Mrs. Bolton doesn’t know anything about her! Why was she so…so… Why did she hate her so much? Ella has never done anything to her!”
Lucy shrugged. “I don’t know,” she confessed.
“I mean, if it was an old family feud or something…”
“Like Romeo and Juliet?” Lucy suggested.
“Yes!” M. exclaimed. She stopped for a moment, “…except there isn’t a Romeo—just two Juliets.”
“But I don’t think there is an argument between them…” Lucy commented.
“Precisely my point!” M. cried.
“And remember that one time you and I walked from your house to the Christmas play?” Lucy said in realization. “Ella escorted us there. She said she couldn’t come in with us, but that she would pick us up. And Christopher was there at the front when we arrived—” M. scowled “—and he began making fun of Ella?” Lucy finished. “Do you remember that, M.?”
“I do!” M. replied, suddenly remembering. “So it’s not just Mrs. Bolton…it’s Christopher and Alexander too!”
“Alexander too?” Lucy questioned, her eyes wide.
“Yes,” M. announced. “That was when Grandmama told him about Ella going to college.”
(She had told Lucy all the goings-on previously, and Lucy had a hard time keeping up with all that was said).
Lucy was silent for a time. They were both in deep thought.
“You don’t think…” she began slowly. “It could be because…we have whiter skin…”
“Why in the world would that be a reason?” M. retorted.
“Well, Ella is the only maid in your house that is darker than everybody else. The Boltons’ don’t have any maids like her. And both of our families do.”
M. remembered one of the Perkins’ maids, Prissy. She was shorter and stouter than Ella, but she was cheerful and outgoing. She was a wonderful maid, as she helped in the kitchen. When Lucy and M. would ask for a snack, she would find something for them to eat. Ella and Prissy knew each other well, though they rarely saw each other. For some reason, they never really tried to see each other.
One time Lucy and M. tried to get them in the same place so they could see each other (since M. thought they must have missed each other terribly). With Lucy telling Prissy there was an emergency, and with M. telling Ella the same, both maids came out onto the lawn. But when they found out it was all a scheme, they scolded the girls, hardly looked at each other in their realization and recovery, and hurried back into the houses.
“Now Miss Miranda don’t you go tellin’ stories on me,” Ella had said later that day when M. asked about it. “You knew it was down-right wrong to tell me you was in some sort of trouble, when you wasn’t. Don’t you go doin’ that, unda-stand?”
“But Ella—” M. had tried.
“I ain’t gonna listen anymore now, you hear?” And that was that.
Lucy reported almost the same exact thing.
“I ain’t one to be tampered with, Lucy Perkins!” Prissy declared in her shrill voice, stirring the stew on the stove. “You knows I gots too much on my hands in this here kitchen—too much at least without you goin’ on tellin’ me you’s in trouble!”
It was confusing say the least. But M. had never asked her grandmother. She never thought it would come to something like this—Mrs. Bolton bringing tears to dear Ella’s eyes. M. was infuriated just thinking about it! Ella had always been there for her to get her out of trouble. She was like another mother…since her real one was gone. Her grandmother was always wonderful and loving, and M. loved her dearly. But…but Ella was special. Ella was like her best friend, even though she was so many years older! She had known her all her life. Ella took care of her in her grandmother’s house even when M. first came to live there. Genevieve too—Ella had taken care of Genevieve. Now, it seemed like M. was the only one who remembered this. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew that she could never live without Ella. M. was so thankful for her, and she couldn’t stand Mrs. Bolton speaking about her like that.
But the real question was: Why did Mrs. Bolton not like Ella? And why did Ella have such a knowing look on her face when she put M. to bed last night? Why weren’t Prissy and Ella ever together? And why did would no one tell them?
I suppose that was more than one real question. But it was all the same to the girls.