As most children do, M. forgot her troubles as quickly as she discovered them. Since she would be scolded about her shoes inside the house, she ventured outside again. Walking across the lawn under the shade of the tall oaks that grew near the driveway, she made her way toward the tall hedge which separated her house from next door. The towering house behind her cast a shadow on the lawn, for it was nearing the evening. M. tried to wipe her shoes off on the grass, but it didn’t do much good. She crossed the stone path through the gardens and opened and closed the picket fence. The hedge was just ahead of her. And she heard Lucy Perkins on her tree swing.
Lucy and M. were the best of friends. They lived right next door to each other. The two of them thought alike, and they did everything together. Lucy had come there with her family from Georgia. She had the distinct southern accent to prove it. Up here, in Mount Rivers, Lucy said it was much cooler and much prettier. M. was glad she liked it here, because she had grown quite fond of Lucy as soon as she and her parents moved next door to her.
The neighborhood they lived in was exceptionally old. The tall, ornate Victorian houses stood nearly a quarter mile apart, since they all had room outside for gardens and green lawns. The neighborhood swarmed with tall, shady trees, and the clean roads were lined with solitary lamp posts. Since the houses were so far apart, it was awfully big, and M. sometimes wondered if she knew how far it went on for. The street which she and Lucy lived on was backed against the riverbank, shaded by the ancient oaks.
M. ran along the hedge on her side of the lawn. Lucy’s tree swing was down by the river bend, which was behind both of their houses. The river looked particularly beautiful today. Running down to the bend, she crossed into the Perkins’ lawn.
Lucy had a green dress on with pink bows on the shoulders. Her light brown hair was pulled back in dreadlock pigtails, tied off with pink ribbons. She always looked much nicer than M., whose frock was always stained in something she had gotten into. And her dull dark brown hair lay flat on her shoulders. Even when she tried to tie it back in a purple ribbon, it never looked pretty like Lucy’s.
But Lucy had never cared. They both loved each other dearly, without paying attention to their dressing differences. Lucy recognized M. as she slowed the swing to a stop. It was a wooden slab with two ropes tying it to the high branches in the tree.
M. and Lucy embraced each other, sat together near the river, and talked about things that were only interesting to the two. Unfortunately, they are so uninteresting to the common child of that time that I will not even mention the subjects. I will take this time to describe their surroundings.
The surface on which the girls sat on was a grassy ledge which, below it, there came a foot or so of wet sand. As most small beaches, this is where the river began its waters. The river stretched for miles, and one could hardly see the land opposite them. It was a beautiful sight to look at, but the girls had seen and enjoyed it long before this meeting. So they ignored and simply spoke to one another.
“Have you finished your essays for tomorrow?” Lucy asked.
“Must we talk about school?” M. groaned, giggling.
“Well…they’re due tomorrow,” Lucy continued. “I’ve already finished mine.”
M. did not reply.
“Well?” Lucy smiled. “Did you do them or didn’t you?”
“I haven’t started them,” M. said quietly.
“What?” Lucy gasped. “M. you’ll get a horrible grade!”
“I know,” M. stated bluntly, looking away and squinting at the horizon.
“But…” Lucy started, now confused, “don’t you want to get a good grade?”
“Of course I do,” M. replied. “But I did not know what to write about.”
“M.,” Lucy rolled her eyes. “If you would have listened to Ms. Watson, you would know. One was supposed to be on George Washington and the Revolution, another on Lewis and Clark, and the last one on Robert E. Lee.”
“Why would I want to write about someone who wasn’t even fighting on our side?” M. asked, puzzled. “It doesn’t make any sense. If I’m going to write about the accomplishments of someone, shouldn’t it be someone whose accomplishments should be mentioned?”
“M.!” Lucy interrupted. M. forgot.
“Sorry, Lu,” she said, remembering that Lucy was from Georgia. “I’m sure he was a gallant soldier.” She stopped there. She didn’t know what else to say.
“It’s alright,” Lucy smiled, and then she laughed. “It doesn’t really matter. I wasn’t born then—I don’t remember him.”
They both laughed. After they settled down (which was quite a long time), Lucy spoke again.
“But anyway, isn’t about what you think you should be writing. We have to turn it in tomorrow!”
“Yes,” M. agreed softly.
“Why haven’t you done it?” Lucy asked.
“I got so tired of sitting there trying to figure out what to write!” M. confessed. “My pencil just sat there—I could not think of anything!”
“Would you like me to help you?” Lucy offered.
“No,” M. replied. She didn’t need help. She could do it by herself. “I’ll do them tonight I suppose.”
“All of them?” Lucy gaped.
“I don’t have much of a choice,” M. remarked. This was true. And it was also true that M. had completely forgotten about the essays Lucy had mentioned ever since she had given up trying to write them, which was last week.
“Well…signal to me if you need my help, alright?” Lucy said. M. nodded. They had their own way of signaling to each other. Both girls had gotten a spiffy candle-lit lantern for their birthdays one year. Just like the Old North Tower signaled Paul Revere, M. and Lucy decided that if one need the other, the lantern would be lit in their windows. Unfortunately, they did not each have two lanterns. That would have been amazing.
“One if by land, two if by sea…”
M. didn’t know what they would use the “two if by sea” for. But it interested her nonetheless. See? She enjoyed history; she just did not enjoy writing long essays about it.
She looked out onto the horizon again. They saw the piece of land that lay about five miles from the river bank. It was small, and it had a red and white striped lighthouse on the coast. Mr. Jenkins lived down there. He kept the light burning in the lighthouse, as he lived in the little shack beside it.
“It must be romantic—living alone by the sea like that,” M. dreamily remarked.
“Huh?” Lucy followed her gaze to the lighthouse. “Oh. Yes, I wonder what it’s like to live alone like that. He must get lonely.”
“Perhaps…” M. pondered, “but—”
“MISS MIRANDA!” was suddenly heard from the other side of the hedge.
M. leapt up instantly. “I have to go,” she said. And she hurried back to the lawn on the other side.
It was Britta. Who else would be yelling at her like that? She looked intensely aggravated as she spotted M. dashing across the lawn to the kitchen door.
“What in heaven’s name are you running in that dress for?” she snapped. “Go on upstairs and get dressed for dinner—your grandmother is waiting!”
It took at least five minutes to scrub the dirt off of M.’s lace-ups. She had also slipped on her light blue dress, brushed her hair, and, with the help of Ella, had tied a pink satin ribbon in her hair. As Britta had said, her elderly grandmother was already sitting comfortingly at the dining table. Across from her was her cousin Genevieve, in her nice green dress. Rather awkwardly, M. came in and seated herself in the chair beside her haughty cousin.
The dining room was splendidly elegant. M. saw it every day, so she would not think to tell you anything about it. The long dining room table was decorated with an ornate tablecloth with jeweled paisley. The brilliant centerpiece held delicate artificial flowers with swans perched on the vase, with their wings spread out as if just about to take off. The rest of the room was somewhat empty, aside from massive picture frames with various famous people that M. never took notice of.
M.’s grandmother then called for Rosa, one of the kitchen servers. Thompson, the butler, was also standing at the door. Rosa brought in a lovely platter filled with roast turkey. Thompson arrived with a beautiful array of mashed potatoes and delicately placed vegetables and bread rolls. Rosa stood by with the water pitcher as she filled each glass placed on the table. M. also received a glass of milk.
Thompson came beside M. with a silver platter of turkey. Genevieve served herself first. Very delicately, she placed each slice on her plate, as she made it slide off of the serving fork. She did this about as fast as a snail would, as M. rightly deduced.
“Is she ever going to finish serving herself?” she thought impatiently. “What if she never finishes? What if it takes so long to serve herself, me and Grandmama will both starve! And we’ll never get anything to eat!”
Her grumbling stomach made it difficult to remain still. She watched her cousin with great perplexity and annoyance.
“Will you hurry up?” she blurted out. She clapped her hand over her mouth.
Genevieve gaped. “The nerve! Grandmama…” She stopped, for her grandmother was already narrowing her eyes.
“Very well, Miranda,” her grandmother said. Her grandmother turned to the butler as Genevieve finished serving herself, “Thompson, please, do skip Miss Miranda’s share tonight. I am afraid to think that she is not at all hungry.”
Before Thompson could nod, M. burst out, quite frightened by this remark, “Oh no, Grandmama! I—er—I was simply saying…that the food would get cold and positively revolting if she waited too long to eat it.”
Before her grandmother’s eyes could narrow, M. turned to see Thompson lowering the silver platter beside her plate. After M. had hastily and successfully served herself, Thompson snuck a wink at her as he advanced to her grandmother.
Much to her irritation, M. had to wait until everybody was served and everybody had their napkins in their lap, forks in the right place, and so on. Being in a wealthy family was hard getting used to. She didn’t say much at the table, though, because of her mistaken outburst from five minutes ago.
M. ate hastily. She was very hungry.
“Slow down, for heaven sake!” Genevieve snapped softly.
M. scowled and glanced at her grandmother, whose expression she couldn’t exactly read.
“Ladies may only take small bites,” she said as if cued.
M. lowered her fork slowly as she straightened her back.
“Miranda,” her grandmother’s voice deepened.
“Yes?” M. squeaked.
“What were you doing outside today?” she questioned, not looking up from her food.
“I was walking,” M. answered truthfully. “And I went to see Lucy.”
“The Perkins’ girl?” Genevieve asked, with interest on her face. “But are they not from the south?”
“The war’s over, in case you hibernated,” M. shot back. “Her dad wasn’t a slave trader—”
“That’s enough,” their grandmother said sternly as they glared at each other. “Miranda what happened to your shoes?”
M. looked down before her heart stopped. Yes, they looked clean.
“They’re clean,” she remarked.
“I saw them earlier when you were outside. Did you get them dirty?”
“I—” There was no point in arguing this. “Yes ma’am.”
“You know it is not proper for young ladies to soil their clothes,” her grandmother remarked coolly. “I do not want to see your shoes in that state again, nor your dress. Is that clear?”
“And school is tomorrow, is it not?” her grandmother continued.
“And you have all your assignments ready and due to turn in tomorrow?”
M. stopped and lowered her head.
“Well?” her grandmother persisted.
“She has three essays to write,” Genevieve blurted out. “And she hasn’t done any of them. And they’re due tomorrow.”
M. could have said a few things, but for the sake of her grandmother being in the room, she decided not to.
“You will write your essays tonight, Miranda,” her grandmother declared.
“Yes ma’am,” M. said.