I've been tackling the big job of editing the sequel to A Home for Phoebe. I wrote the rough draft for NaNoWriMo about 5 years ago, and now it's time to polish it up. I hope you enjoy this excerpt of Phoebe making friends with someone who really needs one.
(Background: Phoebe had borrowed a book from the minister's wife. She set it down on the school step at recess time. When the bell rang, it was gone! Phoebe knows books are valuable and wonders how she will be able to buy another one to replace it.
The Kittles, a poor and wild family, have moved into the community. Delly Kittle doesn't seem to want to make friends with anyone. Phoebe suspects she took the book, but she's not sure.)
DELLY AND THE MISSING BOOK
It was raining when Phoebe woke up on Monday morning. Zeke drove her to school in the covered buggy that they usually only used for Sundays. The gray clouds hung so low, you could hardly see the rooster wind vane on the top of the barn. The cold rain blew in the sides, so they still got wet. They waved good-bye to Zeke and raced up the school steps.
The air in the coat room smelled musty and damp. Slick mud covered the floor boards. The pot-bellied stove was pumping out as much heat as it could to the circle of shivering children. Miss Edgecomb tapped her ruler on her desk and everyone scattered to their desks. Phoebe noticed that none of the Kittles were there.
The rain pelted the window panes and roof making it hard to hear anyone read or recite. The warm stove made the room feel safe and cozy from the fierce rainstorm outside. Phoebe’s eyes felt heavy and she couldn’t concentrate on travels of Magellan. Just as she felt her head nod, the back door banged open and a scuffle of feet could be heard.
Everyone turned to see the Kittle children tumble into the room. They all wore floppy leather hats, but those must not have been much protection against the blowing rain. They tromped and sloshed and dripped to their various seats.
“My goodness!” said Miss Edgecomb. “Did you children walk all the way from your house in this rain? I didn’t think you’d come today.” She helped Roster Junior remove an oversized shirt and stood him near the stove. “Take off your wet coats and sweaters and stand near the stove. You must be freezing. Why didn’t you just stay home today?”
“Well, tell you father that if the weather is blustery, you may stay home.”
“I’ll tell him,” said
Stafford, “but it don’t matter the weather to
Pop. He don't want us in the house when he’s sleepin’.”
“Hush!” whispered Delly.
“Well, at least you can get dried off now. Hang your things on my chair here, and stand near the stove to get warm.”
Miss Edgecomb tried to get Delly to take off her sweater, but she clutched the front even tighter. Giving up, Miss Edgecomb said, “Alright children, let’s get back to our studies. Will the second class come up to the front for their spelling lesson?”
Phoebe tried to return to the history of Magellan, but she kept looking at Delly and
and Roster Junior huddled around the stove. (What kind of father would make his
children walk to school on a day like this?) She caught the eye of Delly, who
looked quickly away. Phoebe noticed that her sweater looked square, like there
was something underneath it.
After the spelling lesson, Miss Edgecomb looked at her watch that hung on a chain around her neck. “Phoebe, would please help the younger girls to the outhouse and then fetch their lunch pails to eat in here? We’ll have to have our recess inside today.”
Stella and Jemmy needed their coats and bonnets to face the blowing storm just to go a few feet to the outhouse. They each grabbed one of Phoebe’s hands and squealed with glee as she raced with them across the sloggy yard. The wind whistled through the cracks and even up the hole. No one liked to dilly-dally in the outhouse, but especially on a day like today.
Even though the storm meant being trapped indoors all day, there was an air of excitement and adventure. Children scurried up and down between the desks. Some of the boys began leap-frogging over them until Miss Edgecomb promised a sing time. She also decided to allow them to sit with their friends, instead of the normal assigned spots. Stella and Jemmy pulled Phoebe to sit with them, and Phoebe squished next to the little girls. She looked around the room and noticed Delly sitting alone.
“I’ll sit with you another time,” she told the little girls. “I promise.”
She stood near Delly’s desk. “Would you like me to sit with you?”
Delly squinted up at her. “Why would I want that? Maybe I like being alone.”
Phoebe stared at her. Her eyes stung and her throat felt tight. Her breath came fast and hard. She turned on her heel and plopped in the bench at her desk. (Grrrr . . . That Delly can be so . . . so . . . difficult! Doesn’t she recognize when someone is trying to be nice?)
Phoebe ate the bread and cheese and apple pie that Maseppa had packed for her, but it tasted bland and dry. She loved to sing, but today she just didn’t feel like it. She’d be glad when Zeke came to pick her up. She lifted the lid of her desk and froze.
There was the book! The red coloring from the binding was spreading to her papers. One edge looked smeared, like mud had been wiped off. She glanced over at Delly, but she was bent over her desk with intense concentration. She peeked at Phoebe then looked back at her work.
Miss Edgecomb was collecting papers from the third class on the other side of the room. Phoebe took the book and walked quickly to the coat room. She wrapped it in her shawl and put it under her lunch pail. Just as she was slipping back into her desk, she heard Miss Edgecomb. “Phoebe Johanson, please sit down and resume your studies.”
“Yes, Miss Edgecomb.”
The schoolroom returned to the normal sounds of papers and books and chalk. Phoebe glanced over at Delly, who was staring at her. They held each other’s gaze for a few seconds. Phoebe gave her a small smile, and there was a little twitch at the corner of Delly’s lips.
Phoebe was glad that Zeke was there when school let out at three o’clock. She had to ask him something. She ran back through the stinging raindrops. “Delly,
and Roster, you don’t have to walk home. Zeke said he’d take you home. We’ll
have to squish up, but that’s alright. We’ll stay warmer that way.”
The boys sat on the floor of the buggy, while Delly and Phoebe squeezed in the seat next to Zeke.
Delly whispered, “How come you didn’t tell on me about the book?”
“I don’t know. I guess I felt sorry for you, being all wet and all.”
“My pop got angry somethin’ fierce when he found me readin’ instead of fixin’ some coffee for him, this mornin’.” She rubbed her hand on her shoulder. “He threw the book outside in the rain and told us to get out of there and go to school.”
“Really? That’s awful!”
“He’s like that lots of times.”
Phoebe glanced to her left to see if Zeke was listening. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to them.
Stafford and Roster Jr.
were asking him about Ol’ Sam.
“Phoebe, I wanted to read it so much. When you put it down, I just couldn’t help myself. I was meanin' to give it back when I was done, and I almost finished it." Delly smiled. "Which girl did you like best?"
“I liked Jo.”
“I did too!” Her smile turned down with the memory of the condition of it now. “I’m sorry it got all wet and muddy. I tried to dry it off. It’s ruined, isn’t it?”
Phoebe sighed. “It probably is. I can’t give it back to Missus Thompson like that.”
“What are you goin’ to do?”
“I don’t know. I suppose I’ll have to get another one like it for her.”
Delly’s eyes got big. “Buy one? How much do books cost?”
“I think they cost about fifty cents.”
“Fifty whole cents?”
Phoebe sighed. “Yeah, I wanted to buy one in the new bookstore called Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It cost fifty cents.” She looked at Delly. “Do you have any money?”
“Me? No, I had a penny once. I had to give it to Mama, though, to buy some medicine for Sammy.”
Zeke dropped off the Kittles, and Delly waved goodbye to Phoebe. Phoebe felt so selfish and ungrateful. She thought she was so deprived because she didn’t have a real family or any brothers or sisters. It made her realize how much Maseppa and Zeke loved her and took care of her. It made her so thankful for her home and the life she had.
“I’ve got lots of good things don’t I?”
He smiled at her. “Yup. You’re doin’ right well.”
~ ~ ~
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