A Wreath of Eternal Roses is a story I began to write but never finished. This is allegedly the first chapter, and the story is about a family of orphaned girls (that is a pretty gloomy part of the story)
It trickled down the leaves on the prickly hedgerow. It poured in torrents from the menacing, gray sky. It pounded at the roof, making a faint pattering sound coming from above, like an ominous flurry of dashing footsteps whirling around as if in a frenzy.
The rain was relentless as if came in sheets onto the abode with its maple trees all ‘round, and the rose bushes by the narrow walk to the stable were almost flattened by its intense downpour. Never did it once let up, and bequeath any relief that was continually being squelched by its persistency. Water dripped from the eaves above the porch and dripped onto the railing, giving anyone a wet hand who put their mind to running it along this porch balustrade.
The house was, in fact, a pleasant sight in the midst of this dismal deluge, for the foliage, though oppressed by the inexorable rain, was sprouting still, in an upright position, not willing to be dashed by this nature’s foe. The dwelling, a part wooden, part brick place, was white in some places and in others, maroonish red. Indeed, it was an old domicile, but nevertheless, a visitor would have been impressed by the comforting impression it emitted, and a warmth about its country-like surroundings that the certain sightseer would have immediately felt at home. From the drive that led to the stable and small, metal shack garage, a person on a casual stroll might have been able to catch a glimpse of a young girl, with long, russet-colored braids that hung against her plaid blouse, and one bronzed hand propping up her chin, as she leaned against the dripping banister, with large dark eyes that drank in the rainy day with immeasurable distaste. Her lips, set into a clear expression of gloom and disgruntlement, were pursed, and her brow contracted into a dark glower.
Another girl, who looked to be about a year younger, joined her, swinging out the screen door with a canter of jubilance, and a look on her face of evident satisfaction. When she caught sight of the lass with dangling braids, she scowled and moaned, “Oh Bess!—what a grouch you are! You’re ruining the day with your glowers and sulks. Certainly the ride didn’t mean that much to you!”
“It did!” the girl named “Bess” snapped irritably, not even looking at her new companion. Then, swinging around, the sighed, “You don’t know how much I anticipated the ride with Kate! All month I have wanted to go out on Mist! But rain! Rain!” she spat the word out, making it sound like a curse, and fought back tears of provocation, pulling at her braids in passionate fury.
It had been true, her younger sister knew. Bess had longed for this day for weeks. Kate, an older girl in a neighboring home who allowed Bess to ride on her horses, promised her this particular afternoon to the Sparrow Meadows for a ride with her. But, the rain however, impaired their plans, and now poor Bess was left to endure a day of agony, watching the very paramount that had destroyed her blissful afternoon pour down, increasing her petulant mood by the hour.
Olivia studied Bess’s face, contorted with sorrow, closely, and couldn’t help feel sorry for her, though she had been tormented with her sister’s malevolent demeanor. She stood by Bess awhile, before offering softly, “Perhaps next week Kate can go with you?”
“No,” Bess bitterly replied, “She’s leaving town next Monday. So no.”
Olivia made no more further attempts to sooth her sister’s anguished soul, and turned to go inside. Bess only gazed out into the bleary wetness of that noon, and finally turned to go inside, her feet dragging and her head down. The front hall was festooned with a braided rug on the wooden floor, a couple of framed pictures, some of them painted by the artistic Eleanor, whose slender hands and innovative mind could transform a plain sheet of paper into a piece of wonder. Bess stopped for a moment, gazing up at the piece of luminous ability; so delicate it was—so real and picturesque. The rose was touched at the edge of the tender petals with a soft shade of golden light, fading into a luscious hue of deep burgundy. The stem and its prickly thorns seemed almost real, and Bess thought for a moment that she could reach out and touch it, almost feeling a sharp spike in her finger.
Eleanor herself was nestled on an armchair in the living room at that very moment, an art pad in one hand and a sketching pencil in the other. Her fine white teeth were ponderously nibbling one end of the pencil, as with focused gray eyes, lashes on her fair cheeks, viewed her present work so contemplatively. Eleanor hailed the funereal Bess who trudged dolefully into the room with such a forlorn on her bronzed face that quiet, compassionate Eleanor instantly pitied her.
“Bessy,” (her nickname for her younger sister) Eleanor cried, “Oh Bessy! What is the matter? You look terribly miserable!” Laying aside her pad, she looked with such tender eyes upon her Bess that her sister instantly felt somewhat comforted, though she strongly repressed such sentiments. She truly relished, for some odd Bess-like reason, remaining in a fit of gloom.
Eleanor, however, crushed her sister’s reveled pessimism and appeased so affectionately that instantly Bess’s face brightened, “Oh! Are you disappointed about the rain and not being able to ride Mist? I’m truly sorry about that! I know you were looking forward to that.” Eleanor’s sympathy, entirely contrasting Olivia’s contempt for Bess’s obscurity, was so heartfelt that Bess begrudgingly mumbled:
“Well… I was. But I suppose I’m acting like a pouty child, so I won’t mope about any longer,” tears returned to her sorrel eyes again when she thought about dappled Mist standing in Kate’s stable, lonely and perhaps waiting for her to come and ride her, and she sighed, “Though I have longed for this day for a while.”
“It isn’t the end of the world,” Eleanor gently soothed, reaching out to pat Bess’s hand, who had neared where she sat dazedly, “I’m sure Kate will have you back again soon.”
Bess sighed again, and nodded, pushing back her tears and at long last her face brightened, and Eleanor was relieved that once again the cloud over her head had been at long last, lifted. She returned to her sketch, after watching young Bess wander into the hall, trying to keep her eyes of the window betraying the rain’s temporary absence. There it was. Dripping down the windows. Irritating. Bess reached the room she shared with Flo and Olivia. It had a bunk bed, and a trundle bed. Both had the same comforters; plaid crimson and teal. Olivia’s lower bunk had scattered magazines cluttering it, and Bess’s, who owned the top divan had a notepad and a book conveying her favorite history topic: U.S history. Flo’s bed was tidier than her fellow roommates. All of her possessions were neatly kept in a set of drawers beside her bed. On top of the small side-table beside the bunks was a small portrait of a dignified looking man, with thick brown hair and cool gray eyes, almost the same as Eleanor’s but with a sense of elderly wisdom in his.
With a small, dismal sigh, Bess stared into the man’s eyes, her heart aching, and her eyes throbbing with new unshed tears. Instead of letting them run down her cheeks, however, she rubbed them away, not willing to satisfy her family members with any traces of them.
“Dad,” she murmured, allowing her finger to softly touch the glass frame, almost cautiously, as she remembered the tall, charming, and wonderful man who had once lived in this house. His past presence was almost hauntingly sweet, as Bess recalled father full of laughter and jokes, tenderness and affection for all his girls and wife. Every evening, she remembered him swinging in through the side door, and he would dash over to Mama who had leaned over the stove, maybe cooking the nighttime meal, and he would pluck her up and twirl her around and around. Bess remembered his warm hug for each of them—all fourteen of his young girls would receive a heartfelt embrace. She would never forget those bright, jubilant times.
Now, they were gone. Gone with the rain, gone with the wind, gone with time that had drifted by, bringing with it sorrow and grief. Gone with it was both of them. Dad and Mama. Bess’s eyes turned to the picture next to Dad’s.
A beautiful woman with compassion vivid in every feature was shown in this one. Her thick flaxen hair, clear blue eyes and radiant smile described well her luminous personality that still could be visibly recalled in Bess’s mind. She remembered the loving mother who had comforted and encouraged all of her girls, never once speaking a harsh word, but her clever lessons and soft reprimands had guided her children while she had been on this earth with them. Now, however, they were left on their own. Now it was up to the oldest sister, Cynthia, to take on the tiresome, burdening role as mother of the Warren girls.
Bess’s thoughts turned back to that heartrending period—two years ago. She had only been ten-years-old, but the memory of the time still stung her heart like a poisonous fang in her breast.
Mama had been pregnant then. All of them were excited about the impending arrival of the new boy; the first boy in the Warren household. Bess remembered those last days—Mama had been so ecstatic and cheerful. Papa was coming home from Washington D.C., and they’d all be together when the new baby came. She had gone about the house, humming and doing her daily business, patting her swollen stomach with a look of quiet elation on her face. And then, all of a sudden, late one night; a warm March night it had been, Mama had gone into labor. Cynthia, who had her driver’s license by then, had whisked Mama to Worthington’s local hospital in no time at all, in the large van that all fourteen of them, and their mother fit into. Mama was laid into a hospital bed, but then the doctors had begun to say that something was wrong. Bess remembered observing with youthful curiosity as Cynthia and the other older sisters’ faces go pale when the nurse told them this in a low, plain voice.
“The baby is facing the wrong way, and something is choking it,” one particularly young nurse had informed them with a frown.
“What? What is it? Please!—can I see Mama?” Flo, at that time only seven, had cried, tugging on the nurse’s skirt.
“No, little girl. You can’t,” the nurse had returned sharply, and tears filled little Flo’s eyes, and she had buried her face in Cynthia’s bosom.
“Mama will be fine, Cynthia? Right?” she had cried.
“Yes, yes,” Cynthia murmured, but Bess had seen a look of anxiety in her light brown eyes, that were clouded till they almost looked sable.
And then, the next few minutes were ones that Bess would never forget till she died. A nurse had approached Cynthia, and pointed to a phone, saying, “Miss Warren—there’s someone on the phone for you.” He looked with pity upon all of them, and Bess wondered why, as she watched Cynthia pick up the phone, and murmured softly, “Hello?” Her face was still for a moment—calm, as she listened to the mysterious person on the other end of the line. Then large tears began to rush down her nose and cheeks. “What?” Cynthia had cried out, clutching the phone with such horror in her face that Celestine, the next oldest, had gasped, her sapphire colored eyes large and apprehensive.
“Cynthia, what is it? What?” Celestine had pleaded. Cynthia dazedly, looking numbed with sorrow, hung up, handed the phone back to the pitying nurse, and turned to the others, who all watched her with huge, glistening eyes, shaken by the oldest sister’s trauma.
“It’s Dad,” Cynthia quietly said. She looked Celestine straight in the eyes, then removed them and stared at the ground. Her voice shook with unleashed sobs, “D—Dad.” She repeated. She gazed at Flo and Olivia (the first set of twins), Bess, Eleanor, Daphne and Delia (the other set of twins), and Adriana with such grief in them that they all could say nothing but stare right back, their minds whirling with unspoken questions. Then she turned her eyes to the youngest two, Dixie and Rosie (or Rosalind), and finally to the last three sisters—Julia, Maria, and Natalie. They all returned the gawp with inquisitive expressions on their wan, pallid faces. Bess bunched in her fist a handful of her shirt, clenching it so tightly that she was afraid her bones would break. But her eyes never left Cynthia’s, who hadn’t any time to answer their questioning eyes verbally, since a nurse had rushed to her, and demanded, “Are you Miss Cynthia Warren?”
“Yes,” Cynthia had nearly choked, with a small nod.
The nurse reached out a hand and patted Cynthia’s. “I’m so sorry dearie,” she murmured with a shake of her head, and looked at the other girls. “I’m so sorry.”
Then, turning back to Cynthia, she drew her aside, and in a separate hall, the two spoke in low voices, and when the nurse told the eldest sister something, she suddenly burst into sobs. Celestine, now surrounded by the youngest sisters, slumped onto the chair, Rosie and Dixie climbing onto her lap, whimpering, “What is the matter Celia (their nickname for her)? What? What is it?”Celestine could only watch the weeping Cynthia with such fear in her eyes that even the littlest girls were perfectly aware that something was terribly amiss.
Bess heard Cynthia cry, “B—but how? How could this happen? When did Dad…” she began to sob again, and in Bess’s heart, she knew that something drastic had occurred, something that chiefly included Dad. A surge of grief flooded into her mind, and she felt suddenly numbed and petrified, unable to cry or talk. She could only stand there and watch her sisters’ turmoil escalate.
And then Bess caught another piece of Cynthia and the nurse’s conversation. “Your mother is breathing her last, dear. I’m sorry—I’m so, so sorry! Already her labor was becoming difficult and dangerous. But since your father… was killed… she has lost all strength. She was asking—begging for your father, and we felt it our duty to inform her…”
Cynthia quietly inquired, “May we see her?”
“Of course! Yes, yes! Get your sisters and I will show you to her room.”
Bess felt light-headed. Devastated. Stunned. Traumatized. She could only stand there, her throat suddenly dry. But she shed no tears. It seemed as if she had not the energy to wrench any from herself. Suddenly, all energy was drained from her.
One might understand if a ten-year-old girl was, in an instant, deprived of both parents. For anyone, it can be an overwhelming blow—to both body and spirit. Parents are the guides of their children, the comforters, and the advisors. To be taken suddenly from this world, and transported to distant heaven where God’s realm dwells is unfathomable, especially to a small girl, whose imagination was quite impressive; she was unable to comprehend how such a feat could be accomplished.
Now, upon hearing the words together—“Dad. Dead,” she was overcome with woe. Her entire being had been shaken to its foundation.
Cynthia beckoned her sisters to her, who all instantly flocked about, their pale faces plainly describing their questioning thoughts.
“Mama would like to see us. One last time, girls. Come,” she told them with staid calmness.
“One last time?” Celestine gasped, staring with tear-filled eyes at her older sister.
“Come,” Cynthia repeated. They did, and soon all fourteen girls were grouped inside the small hospital room where their mother lay, very insipid in the face, weak, and with a look of bitter-sweet grief on her calm face.
“Girls,” she breathed, her voice hoarse and just above a whisper. “My dearest girls!” she gave a weak smile, as her clouded blue eyes moved to each girl. For a brief moment, they fell upon Bess, who was bravely holding back tears now. Tears that had suddenly risen, threatening to spill down her cheeks and disgrace her. Dixie reached out her hands to Mama and let out a wild sob. Maria held her back, though.
But Mama beckoned feebly for her littlest child to come, who was at her side in an instant. “Oh Mama!” Dixie cried, tears running down her cheeks. “Mama! Don’t worry Mama! Soon we can all go home again! Don’t be sad Mama. Daddy will be here soon, and we can all be with the new baby boy. I always wanted a new little brother. And when he comes, we can all be a big family! A very big family,” she added this with a faint smile.
Mama closed her eyes for a moment, and then murmured, stroking Dixie’s soft blond curls, “Dixie…my dear Dixie…” she took the girl’s chubby hand in slender one, and squeezed it, and then wiped away the lass’s tears. “We shall be a big family. We shall. But you must be patient my Dixie. You can wait, can’t you?”
Dixie nodded vigorously, “I can wait Mama!” she exclaimed in her tiny, sweet voice.
“It might seem like a long time, Dixie, honey. But you can always remember that I am going to be with you. You may not see me, dear. But I will always be right by your side. All of your sides!” then, with glistening eyes, she looked right into Dixie’s and breathed, gravely, “Dixie, whenever you want to talk to me, you just kneel down beside your bed, and say, ‘dear God’… and you can tell him that you would like to speak to me…”
“Will he let me?” Rose queried, coming forward now, both girls not understanding fully what tragic words their mother spoke—what poignancy they retained.
“Of course,” Mother laughed imperceptibly. “And you shall see me again, remember that. I will be waiting for you girls.”
Then, calling forth Cynthia, she pressed her daughter’s hand in her own, and whispered, “Cynthia. You are such a caring girl. You are the oldest. I hate to… to leave. To leave you with such an enormous sorrow. And I do not wish to burden you, but I beg you—I beg you to promise. Do not let the family separate. Keep you girls all together. Promise me that you will serve in my place. Do as I would have done. Mother them. I know you are capable.” Cynthia choked a “Yes mother”, and then Mama called each of her children one by one to her, and whispered a special word of encouragement or sentence of love to them. When Bess was beckoned, she came with a rush, and planted a tender kiss on her mother’s blanched brow.
The next words which her mother spoke to her were ones that Bess always remembered. “Don’t forget—Bess, my sweet, adventurous girl. Don’t forget to pray to God. For he is the ultimate Father and Healer. And whenever you want to talk to me, as I told Dixie, pray. I am always listening and watching.”
Bess dropped to her knees and buried her brown head into Mama’s hand, trying with all her will to prevent any sobs or cries to escape her lips. “Oh Mama!” were the only words that managed to slip out, and then she back away, her mouth trembling, her eyes never leaving her mother’s face. Then the nurse ushered them out into the hall, where some of the girls sobbed and some sniffled. Rosie and Dixie’s eyes were fixed on their mother’s door, and the nurse who in vain tried to distract them, hurried away in utter distress when none would heed her comforts. Cynthia had gathered in her arms the two girls, whose cheeks were now the bottoms of teary streams, but she failed to comfort and quiet their sobs of understanding.
“Mama can’t go away!” Dixie had lamented dolefully, and Rosie whimpered, “Take me back in, Cynthia! Please! Take me back in to Mama!”
Then Dixie, with a stamp of her tiny foot, demanded with dark eyes turned to the nurse, “If you don’t take us back in, I’ll go in myself! Mama needs me!”
“Sweetie,” the nurse stooped and tried to lay a hand on Dixie’s shoulder, that heaved with resonant sobs, “I’m afraid that I can’t do that.”
“Why?” Dixie interposed obdurately, “Now! Mama needs me now!” she let out a piercing cry and wrenched away from Cynthia’s grasp, rushing for the door. Eleanor caught her by the arm and gently rebuked her.
“No Dixie,” she murmured, stroking the trembling girl’s hair, “No honey. We can’t.”
“Let me go!” Dixie screamed, unsuccessfully attempting to push Eleanor aside and storm into the room, where her mother’s corpse now lay.
“No,” Cynthia, her voice strained and full of quiet laments, firmly steered the writhing Dixie from the door and swept her towards the hospital exit. “Come girls. We must go home.”
Bess’s eyes blurred with tears, as she remembered the dismal day on which the funeral was set. A procession, headed by the fourteen sisters, all paired off into a single line, soberly marched to the local graveyard, where their grandparents had been buried, and now beckoned their daughter to their side in the grave. Some of the girls shed tears, and others did not. But inside, they all wept for their lost parents, though their father’s body had not yet been recovered from the accident he had perished in.
Bess turned away from the portraits of the deceased, her thoughts interrupted by the slam of a door from somewhere inside the house, and advanced to her own bedroom threshold, where she could peer out. Cynthia, her slicker glistening with beads of rain, stood at the kitchen side door, where she stomped off the mud from her boots, and shed her hood that shielded her arrangement of amber curls from the blustery day outside.
Bess watched her sister wearily slip from her coat, and sling into onto the rack by the laundry room door. Her gray eyes were full of lethargy, as, in a daze, she meandered to the living room’s void and slumped into an armchair.
Eleanor aroused from her seat on her chair and greeted the older sister with a convivial beam. “You’re home Cynthia,” she exclaimed, looking with observant eyes at her wilting sister.
“I am,” Cynthia sighed, leaning back her head and closed her eyes. “At last.” Her eyes fluttered open again and she queried softly, “Is Celestine or one of the other girls back?”
“No,” Eleanor countered, anxiously observing her sister’s weary expression, “They aren’t.”
“Dear me! I must fix supper now,” Cynthia moaned, raising herself from the armchair, and trudged to the kitchen. Eleanor tossed aside her drawing pad, which she had so lovingly held and, as Bess knew, had hurried through other tasks so she could simply sketch. Now she followed Cynthia ruefully into the kitchen, and offered, “I can if you would like, Cynthie.”
Cynthia, her face drained of any energy, thanked Eleanor, and gratefully sauntered down the hall, past Bess, only staring blankly ahead, and shut her bedroom door behind her. She worked night-shifts at the hospital, slept during the day when she could, but the younger girls were usually desiring her motherly guidance and hand to settle disputes, and fulfill favors. But, fifteen-year-old Adriana, who had just begun to attend the Worthington High School last year, had heated embers in her heart, and now it seemed that more than ever a flame would flare, and rebellion would strike up. Bess, though Adriana was her own sister and kin, felt indifferent to her, and detested the burdens of insurgence Adriana placed on Cynthia’s already weighted shoulders.
Adriana was moodily quiet, defensive about every little scrape or accusation made against her, and a practical “teenager” as she was scornfully called by Bess, Olivia and Flo behind her back. The second set of twins, Delia and Daphne, who were ten, adored Adriana for her style and flaunts, often tormenting the other three sisters with cruel remarks that Adriana knew how to have fun and Adriana was unfairly treated by everyone, especially by this particular trio of siblings. Because of this underlying friction between these two sets of threes, often, household arguments arose, quite violent with words and fierce retaliation. There were, as one might have guessed, wrongs on both sides. Adriana, Delia, and Daphne were culpable because of their outright attitudes of haughty pride and selfish, insubordinate desires. But Bess, Olivia and Flo were equally liable, for their accusing words and judgments of the opposing threesome were somewhat misguided. Their pointed fingers, disdainful eyes, and censorious lips caused the others to feel of the mediocre sort, superfluous and hopeless.
Adriana, with a sigh, laid aside her purse, and, with a sullen expression, fell onto the couch. Eleanor, her brow damp from steam from the stove, leaned over her and queried in a concerned tone of voice, “Do you need anything to drink Adriana? You look hot!”
“Aw, heck,” Adriana snapped, turning over on her side, away from Eleanor’s worried face, “I’m not hot. Why do you need to always bother me with all of your questions.” Today, she was particularly cross because she had been at her summer job, that Cynthia had arranged for her at their neighbor’s home. Mrs. Marsden, an elderly woman who lived in a neighboring home, owned a widespread garden, complete with plenty of weeds that need to be pulled. Cynthia, aware that Adriana was in need of a job because her lazy constitution must be conquered, proposed to Marsden the resentful candidate, and Marsden eagerly accepted.
“Oh yes! Those old weeds need to be gone, and I’m so glad you could spare me one of your sisters for the chore!” Mrs. Marsden had cried with a bright face.
When told of this arrangement, Adriana had protested fervently, but nevertheless, she was sent off the very next day, and set to work by the blissful Mrs. Marsden.
“You had no right to go and tell Mrs. Marsden that I’d do it! Why did you Cynthia? I had plans for this summer! I was going to have complete freedom…”
“You need work, not freedom, now, Adriana,” Cynthia had interrupted one of Adriana’s early protests.
“I see no reason to work,” was the curt response. “If it is one of your schemes to act like you’re my mother, Cynthia, then it won’t work! I shall not go labor for Mrs. Marsden! I will not!”
However, Adriana was sent to the neighbor’s garden, much to her disgust and resentment. This particular day, Marsden had tactfully assigned Ariana the less wet task of weeding, to tending to the greenhouse foliage. And hence, the young girl was kept inside the cold greenhouse watering, clipping, and arranging pots of carnations, lilies, roses, and many other flowers. This hadn’t particularly pleased Ariana, who had gotten drenched on the bike-ride down the road to and fro from Marsden’s to her own home.
Now she rested wearily on the sofa, rebellion at bay in her fiery heart. Her hand fell off the edge of the couch, and it was eagerly licked by the welcoming Mae whose tail wagged elatedly. Drawing her hand up quickly, Ariana sat up and glared at the golden-brown dog. “Go away, Mae!” she snapped, “You old…” Mae’s head lowered, and the creature moved pitifully away, a soft whine escaping her mouth.
Ariana let out an exasperated sigh, and flopped back down. “Oh!—stop your sulking, silly dog!” she mumbled, turning over on her shoulder, fighting back tears of provocation. Ariana raised her besmeared hands, and with another sigh of despondency, observed her nail stubs. How ugly her hands were!—she thought mournfully, shaking her head in dismal meditation. How Ariana envied her friends with their long, glamorous nails, and smooth, uncalloused hands. Hers were perfectly dreadful.
And to add onto Ariana’s goaded demeanor, Dixie and Rosie bustled in at that moment, the racket they stirred up the worst possible medicine. Dixie’s play-dress, its skirts swishing pleasantly and an irresistibly hilarious “rebel” cry rising from her throat, bounded around the couch. The aroused Mae followed, her offended air vanishing in an instant, and barked gleefully, much to Ariana’s dismay. Rosie, bearing her fine, regal, gymnastics ensemble, followed suit as well, her soft russet curls bouncing as she went, and her giggle to Ariana was quite “obnoxious.”
“Oh!” Ariana moaned to herself, holding a pillow to her head in evident disconcertion. The parade remained for several turbulent minutes more, till Dixie, the wild, fleeting ringleader, decided that another location would suit the show better. Away they flew into the playroom, where tidy childlike accommodations waited to see the spectacle proceed onward. Eleanor, her sleeves rolled up and her face moist with steam, leaned out to see them, and smiled genially to herself. How endearing those children were, it seemed to her. A deep, innermost feeling of gloom lifted from her soft heart, and she hummed along to the small girls’ songs that drifted into the room. The pleasantness soon faded, however, when Flo entered. Upon seeing Ariana sprawled out on the sofa, she goaded snidely, with a leer of contempt, “And what is her majesty doing, lounging so peacefully upon the sofa while we must go about so faithfully with our evening chores?”
Flo, her tact poor, had, in addition to her sore disdain for the older sister, such derided sentiments towards Ariana for a reason unknown to the others. Flo’s friend, Cara, had an older sister as well, and this sister, by the name of Maggie, attended Ariana’s school. Ariana had immediately become an icon among a semi-popular group at Worthington High, but when Maggie had attempted to belong in this particular clique, Ariana, along with several of the group’s other leading “members”, rejected her, much to Maggie’s humiliation. It had then turned into a heated feud between Maggie and Ariana, and it had spread to Cara, who hated Flo as well. So both Maggie and Cara had nothing to do with Flo or Ariana. And to make matters worse, Flo blamed Ariana for this scandalous blackmail. So, in fact, Flo’s more shallow resentment towards Ariana was regarded by Bess and Olivia as excessively passionate, though she had a deeper disparagement at heart.
Ariana now sat up, casting Flo a scornful look, and tossed her ecru tresses. “You haven’t been working in a stupid garden all day,” she retorted with flaming eyes.
“You deserve it,” Flo derided with a spiteful grin, “The rest of us are doing summer school, just to let you know. Besides, we don’t laze around moaning about fingernails and all your silly friends, like you do. I suppose this work is just catch for all the time you waste…”
Cynthia hurried into the room at that moment, and the two girls quieted, though the secret argument was far from over. It was a practical civil war in the Warren household that burned deep inside the hearts of conflicting sisters. Cynthia brightened, her weary face clearing, when she caught sight of the neatly set table and Eleanor laying out the meal of mashed potatoes, salad, and a steaming platter of fried chicken, which she could expertly make. “Thank you Eleanor!” Cynthia cried gratefully, sitting down in a dining chair.
Eleanor smiled and nodded, before she began spreading out fourteen dishes at fourteen places. Then she scurried off to inform Dixie and Rosie who were the official bearers of supper-is-ready news. It wasn’t long before the sisters came in, all of them having left a task or pastime to devour Eleanor’s flavorsome fare laid out for their use. Bess, with her brunette braids flying, practically sailed from her room to her place at the table, and was about to begin devouring the food at a ravenous pace, when Eleanor laid a cool hand on her arm, restraining Bess from consuming any further.
So Bess sat back, hungrily eyeing the victuals set before her, until the last Warren lass was seated at the long oak table in the maroon colored dining room. Had there been fourteen Warren boys, a guest might have been horrified by the condition of the table, at the ruthless hands of many young lads wildly demolishing the articles on their plates. But the fourteen Warren girls, country people though they were, were by no means tidier than thought of, and their home, including their oak table, was a picture of a model cleanliness(with the exception of their own personal bureaus of interest—only their beds were permitted to be unruly and disorderly if chosen.) Cynthia, as well as Celestine, made sure that even Dixie and Rosie used polite manners, and ate very carefully, so they wouldn’t cause much trouble for the one whose duty was to wipe the table clean each evening. And their dishes were individually rinsed and if there was no room in the dishwasher, they would scrub it clean themselves. Bess, and occasionally some of the other girls, would become lazy with this habit every so often, and would leave their dishes to be dutifully cleaned by another merciful sister.
Tonight they devoured their meal with passionate conviction, eager to reach the second helping, fearing that the fodder might be gone if they were too slow to finish with the first helping. Cynthia, in turn, questioned each girl about her day, and they all answered, some with detail, and some without. When she reached Ariana, this individual merely shrugged and resumed her eating.
But Cynthia was persistent, and she inquired, “Was Mrs. Marsden merciful, and did she let you work in her greenhouse?”
Ariana nodded slightly, but still said nothing. Her rebellious silence was slightly infuriating, but Cynthia maintained a cheerful calm. “Mrs. Marsden tells me that she will be receiving a new shipment of plants next week. What different ones does she…”
Ariana broke in, in a low, yet clearly sullen voice, “I don’t see why you have to always try talking about such dumb things,” she snapped, her head lowered. “Why can’t you understand that I’m tired and I don’t feel like talking?”
“Oh!” Cynthia was slightly taken aback, but still, she was getting used to Ariana’s varying moods, and shrugged, “I was just wondering about. I didn’t know you didn’t feel like talking,” she added the last part as innocently as she could, which only fed the fire in Ariana’s turbulent heart. But the younger girl didn’t say anything else, so she moved onto the next girl, who was Olivia.
“And what of you, Olivia?” Cynthia queried, relieved inwardly that she had managed to pass over Ariana without an eruption bursting forth, though it had been close to it.
Olivia blushed at the question, rather unexpectedly, and lowered her eyes to her plate, fumbling with a strand of hair. “Just went to visit Amy,” she quietly replied.
“Oh,” Cynthia nodded, not understanding why Olivia had become so jittery at the mention of that day. Only Eleanor, in her quiet way, eyed eleven-year-old Olivia with curiosity and knowingness. She had an inkling as to why her sister blushed and stammered. Amy Clyde, a girl who lived nearby, and who Olivia had just befriended, had instantly taken to the Warren child, and the two were now close to becoming best friends. The first time Amy invited Olivia to her nice brick home several avenues away, was a day Olivia would never forget. She had been greeted at the door by a young fellow of about thirteen, who was Amy’s older brother.
Olivia remembered watching him open the door, and look out to see a young girl standing on the front steps, shyly meddling with her shirt’s hem. She had found herself suddenly quite bashful and unwilling to speak, when in the presence of this boy, whose face resembled that of a charming imp, with sandy hair and inquisitive green eyes.
“Hello?” the boy had asked, leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe.
Olivia had been unable to speak for several moment, trying to collect her wits, and at last managed to utter, “I’ve come to see Amy… I—I’m her friend, you see.”
The boy leaned backwards, his long arms swinging him back inside, and Olivia heard his loud, rather adolescent voice call, “Amy! A—meeeeeeeeee!”
Then there was a thundering on the stairs, and Olivia recognized Amy’s voice exclaiming, “Oh! It must be Olivia Warren! Let her in Seth!”
Seth, the boy, swung the door open wide, and timidly, Olivia followed the sweep of his arm to the interior of the home, where she stood as Amy sprinted down the stairs.
“Olivia!” she cried, “I’m so glad you’re here! It was getting so boring! I was hoping that you’d be able to come!”
Olivia managed a smile, before glancing at Seth, who still lounged near the door, eying the two somewhat suspiciously.
Amy turned to him, and said with a toss of her red curls, “You don’t go teasing us or anything Seth! Just because mother is out doesn’t mean you can torment Olivia and I!”
“Aw shucks,” Seth laughed with a toss of his sandy hair, “Why would I want to go around with ya’ll? All you would do is play dolls or something!”
“We will not!” Amy scoffed, “We aren’t little, you know, Seth. Dolls are for babies.”
“You are babies,” Seth teased, but then grew serious, “You’d better not go out on your new scooter, Amy. Mother is gone…”
“Seth!” Amy sighed, and took Olivia’s hand in her own, “When will you stop being so bossy?” With that, she hurried away with Olivia hastily following.
That first encounter with Seth had been, to Olivia, memorable, though she didn’t say anything to anyone. But she found him quite agreeable and fun after several more visits. Amy evidently thought him as a nuisance, but Olivia, who didn’t have a brother, enjoyed his company and boyish tastes for things. He liked to show her stunts he could perform on his skateboard, and Olivia always had a word of admiration for him. Amy often, however, managed to free herself and Olivia from Seth’s presence, insisting that he was so “annoying and strange” and other facts of sisterly distaste for brotherly taste. He was undaunted by her attempts, though, and Olivia often found herself with both Clyde children, who both reveled in her visits.
Eleanor had a clue of what could possibly be transpiring at the Clyde home, and a certain spark between two of the threesome. Once Seth had dropped by to deliver a message from Amy to Olivia, since he was already going by. Olivia had been sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through one of her favorite books, when suddenly Seth had knocked on the side-screen door, and popped his head in, with a grin, “Message from Amy!” he announced, glancing over at Eleanor who was sketching a ceramic bowl with several apples in it.
Olivia had started, and looked up at his dancing verdant eyes, and flushing slightly, stood and offered him a returning smile. “Thank you,” she murmured, before suddenly flashing to the kitchen. She produced a platter of oatmeal cookies, which she had bake earlier, and offered two to him. Boys, of course, are known for their everlasting ravenous stomachs, and Seth was no exception. He eagerly devoured both in a moment, and remarked benignly, “Those are real good Olivia! Did you make ‘em?”
Olivia nodded mutely, her face gone crimson, and dropped her eyes to the floor.
She looked up to meet Seth’s green eyes, and it seemed to the on-looking Eleanor that perhaps her entire being might go exclusively scarlet. Olivia composed herself, and managed a nonchalant smile, “Would you like some more?” she asked, holding out the plate generously, somewhat revived after her moment of dark introversion.
“Yes!” Seth eagerly scooped up another three, and said a polite thanks, before jogging out. He was soon back, though, and now his face was red, as he mumbled, “Oh! I forgot to give you the message.”
Olivia had been to Amy Clyde’s house this particular day, and now she tried to maintain serenity as she began to devour the remaining particles of food on her plate, without choking. Bess, who was next, hardly noticed, as the gloom once again returned when she recalled her utter disappointment of earlier.
Cynthia turned to her, casting one last glance at Olivia, before asking the same question as before.
“Fine, I guess,” Bess shrugged, gazing out the window at the yard and trees all around.
Cynthia prodded, “How fine?”
“The rain kept me from going to Kate’s,” Bess let out a woebegone sigh, and slid down in her chair, just managing to shove another forkful of potatoes into her mouth. Her grimace was somewhat pitiful, but something mixed with humor as well, and Cynthia asked, relieved at breakthrough in a cloud of darkness that had hung over the previous two, “And what would you have done at Kate’s?”
“Ridden Mist,” Bess replied briefly, looking with eyes full of fiery vengeance at the rain that continued to pour.
Cynthia shook her head, as she looked at the cloudburst as well, “That rain has been coming since this morning!” she commented, “I wonder if it’ll ever stop!”
Maria spoke up, “Probably will by tomorrow. I hope so, because the Worthington Church Event is scheduled for tomorrow!” She thoughtfully watched the dripping rain, pondering over tomorrow’s activities. She was a staff member at the local church, which the Warren family attended at, and she was involved in the children’s ministries there. A local church event was to be held the next afternoon—a fundraiser for Worthington Church, and she was among the supervisors organizing the affair. How Maria enjoyed spending time with the young children who all enjoyed her as well. She was always addressed by them as “Miss Maria”, and she knew all of their names (since Worthington Church wasn’t very large, given the fact that Worthington town itself was not heavily populated.)
There was one particular little girl named Jessie, whose mother and father had both died. For this reason, Maria felt a close tie between herself and Jessie. Jessie’s older brother, who Maria hadn’t met before, (since the child was taken to the church by her nanny, Miss Fletcher) never attended church. He, according to Miss Fletcher and Jessie, had given up on Jesus, since his parents had died, and was lost in a depression, refusing to attend the Worthington parish minister. From Jessie and Miss Fletcher’s accounts, Maria had decided that this brother must truly be a lost soul, a man who drank and did all of those evil worldly things, and decided that he must be some vague, non-Christian who was uncontrollable and rowdy. But, she told herself, she had never met him before, so who was she to judge him?
By now, all of the girls were looking out at the rain, rather wistfully, each of them pondering over their day, and what tomorrow would bring. The sweet summer scent of fresh roses and daffodils planted in Natalie’s garden could be detected in the air, the admonition of a summer full of life, questioning, and exuberance. And there was yet another thing promised as well. Years to come of unforeseen challenges, changes, and lessons to be learned.