PHOEBE AND DELLY
Halfway through geometry, Phoebe remembered her book. She raised her hand. “Miss Edgecomb? I left something outside. May I go get it now?”
“Make haste. You tend to procrastinate on your arithmetic more often than necessary.”
Phoebe scurried out and looked on the bottom step, where she had been sitting. It wasn’t there. She looked over near the oak tree, where they had been playing. It wasn’t there. She even looked in the outhouse, although she was sure she hadn’t taken it in there. It wasn’t anywhere!
(Where can it be? It’s not mine. It belongs to Miss Genevieve! I’ve got to find it.)
Phoebe returned to the schoolroom. She looked in her desk. (No, it isn’t there. Where could it be?)
“Phoebe Johanson, is there a problem?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I was reading a book during recess, and now I can’t find it.”
“Class, Phoebe has misplaced her book … What is the name of the book, Phoebe?”
“It’s Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, but it’s not really mine. I borrowed it from the minister’s wife. I just have to find it!”
“Has anyone seen the book Phoebe was reading?”
Everyone looked at each other, but no one had an answer. They looked at her with sympathy and disappointment, except for Delly. She acted as if she hadn’t heard Miss Edgecomb at all.
The primary class resumed their recitation and the others went back to their work, but Phoebe couldn’t focus on her geometry at all. (Would Delly take her book? She shouldn’t think ill of anyone without proof, but it surely looked suspicious. She’d just have to find out after school.)
Phoebe tried hard to make her obtuse and acute angles fit into her circle graph, but they just wouldn’t cooperate. She gladly put her books and slate away when Miss Edgecomb gave the signal for the closing song and prayer.
When she finally got outside, Delly and her brothers were already half way down the hill. “Delly! Wait for me,” she called, but they never looked back.She looked all around the schoolhouse one more time, before heading home.
“I’m sorry about your book,” said Matthew as he fell in step beside her.
“Me, too…mostly because it’s not mine. I think I know where it is.”
“I think someone took it.”
Phoebe took a breath and almost told him, then stopped. “I don’t know for sure, so I better not say.” She thought of the Kittles’ house. There wasn’t much to be called pretty in that house. She didn’t remember any books.
Phoebe trudged step by step along the road, not seeing the geese overhead or the leaves turning red and yellow. She was thinking. She was glad she didn’t have to pass the parsonage on her way home from school. She certainly didn’t want to face Miss Genevieve right now, but she did wish they lived closer to the Kittles’ house. She had to get that book back! Maybe Maseppa needed more eggs or some other errand, so that she would have a good reason to run over to other side of town.
“Maseppa, I’m home! Do you need eggs from Missus Reynolds today? I feel like taking a walk."
Maseppa’s eyebrows puckered. “I did not plan to get eggs today, but we only have three more. You may go, if you come back before it gets dark.”
Phoebe remembered the noise in the pine woods and shuddered. “Yes, Ma’am. I’ll hurry.”
“You should not wear school clothes.”
“I’ll change,” hollered Phoebe as she ran upstairs, two steps at a time. She slipped on her everyday dress and tugged her shoes off. Grabbing a nickel from the money jar, she flew off the porch and into the path that connected the roads. She felt so free when she was barefoot in the woods. It was like being a deer or a squirrel, leaping and living among the trees.
Before she emerged from the other end of the path, she slowed to a walk. She’d go to Delly’s house first and then get the eggs. She heard crashing through the bushes behind her, and Butch wiggled with delight at catching up with her.
“Oh Butch, I’m not so sure you should come with me. I reckon I can’t do much about it now. You mind me, you hear?” He licked her face and bounced around in anticipation of an adventure.
As before, Phoebe could hear the Kittle's house before she saw it.
and Roster Jr. were shooting slingshots at a tin kettle. In between clangs,
they’d argue as to who made which dent. The hound noticed Phoebe first and
began barking and growling at Butch. Phoebe grabbed the scruff of
his neck and whispered, “Shhhh, Butch. Don’t mind him.”
Mister Kittle burst from the door with a shotgun in his hand. “What’s all the ruckus goin’ on out here?”
Phoebe gulped. “Good day, sir. I’ve come to see Delly.”
Just then the hound lunged at Butch, and he leapt up to meet the growling dog. Phoebe tried to grab him, but they were twisting and biting and tumbling, so that she couldn’t get close. Mister Kittle shot the gun in the air, and the hound ran off yelping.
“Now, what was you after, girl?”
“I’ve … I … is Delly home?”
“DELLY, there’s some’un to see you!” he hollered into the house. Soon she appeared beside him.
“Hello, Phoebe." Her eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here?”
“Um … I … do you know where my book is?”
“How should I know? It’s not my book.”
“No, it belongs to the minister’s wife. She let me read it. I thought maybe you knew what happened to it.”
Delly glanced at her father, then twisted her lips into a sneer. “You think I took it, don’t you?”
Mister Kittle’s eyes grew big and he raised his shoulders. “Are you calling my little girl a thief? Get out of here! Get off our property and take your dog with you. If I ever see your dog on our property again, I’ll shoot him!”
* * *
On Monday, it was pouring rain. Zeke drove Phoebe to school in the covered buggy that they usually used for Sundays. The gray clouds hung so low, you could hardly see the wind vane on the top of the barn. The cold rain blew in the sides, so they still got wet. She 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 Kittles tumble into the room. They all wore floppy leather hats, but those must not have been much protection against the blowing rain.
“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 over-sized shirt. “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 to Pop what the weather does. He makes us get out of 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, “Come, 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 soggy 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 looked up with squinted eyes, “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 their lessons were done and they could go home. She lifted the lid of her desk and froze.
There was the book. The red dye 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 and 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 back to see Delly staring at her. They held each other’s gaze for a few seconds. Phoebe smiled and there was the tiniest twitch at the corner of Delly’s lips.
Phoebe was glad that Zeke was there when school let out at three o’clock. She told Matthew to get ready while she went to ask Zeke something. He could see her waving her arms about pointing at the school and then the other direction. Zeke nodded and she ran back through the stinging raindrops.
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 looked away and 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 was whistling and didn’t seem to be paying attention to them.
“Phoebe, I wanted to read it so much. When you put it down, I just couldn’t help myself. I meant to give it back when I was done. I almost finished it."
Zeke dropped off the Kittles, and Delly waved goodbye to Phoebe. Phoebe felt so selfish and ungrateful. She used to think she was so deprived because she didn’t have a real family or any brothers or sisters. Seeing the Kittle's home made her realize how much Maseppa and Zeke loved her and took care of her. It made her so thankful for her own home.
“I’ve got lots of good things, don’t I?”
He smiled at her. “Yup. You’re doin’ right well.”