Helen held her breath anxiously and pressed a hand to her stomach, where butterflies were fluttering freely. She looked down at Katherine on her left, who squeezed her hand until her knuckles were white and smiled nervously. Helen then looked up at Sergeant Milo--Audrey--who was looking straight ahead, unwavering.
"Gee," thought Helen. "She's acting so stiff and military-like today." She was starting to wonder if the almost-friendly conversations she had with the Sergeant in the past day or two had even happened. Perhaps it had all been but a dream?
"Right here." Sergeant Milo's voice came clearly and suddenly. The car came to a halt and the girls looked out the window. They were far out in the country. A quaint, wooden yellow farmhouse sat in front of them. They could see an old rugged barn a little way back behind the house, and behind the barn, a field. There were no workers in the field, and Helen wondered why.
The three lingered there for a moment, standing side by side--Audrey Milo, Helen Cooper, and Katherine Cooper--a sort of unlikely trio. Helen couldn't help but wonder if perhaps, miles and miles away, Eleanor and Jamie were standing on the edge of a new adventure, a terrible but exciting adventure, staring at the place they would call "home" for a while.
|Eleanor Cooper--doesn't she look just like her mother?|
|Jamie Cooper--can you say, "adorable"? :)|
The Sergeant led the girls up four old white steps onto the wrap-around porch. A beautiful brown sheepdog was sitting under a porch swing, panting and trying to get some shade, as it was a exhaustingly hot day, and noon time at that. Katherine smiled at it.
The screen door was propped open, and regular door was wide open, too. A delightfully yummy smell was erupting from the house. Sergeant Milo rapped on the door frame three times and took up her careful military posture. Helen and Katherine exchanged anticipating glances and squeezed each other's hands. There was silence. The Sergeant rapped again on the door frame, twice this time.
An older woman, probably in her mid- or late-sixties, came scurrying to the door, apron around her waist and oven muffs on her hands. "So sorry, dearies, I didn't hear you. Come in, come in." She smiled warmly, welcomingly.
Sergeant Milo stepped into the house, Helen and Katherine behind her. It was stiflingly hot--but then again, Helen realized, they were in the kitchen, and this woman did appear to be cooking. Helen studied the woman. She was a bit plump, and red-faced at the moment. Her gray hair was pulled back into a low bun, and little bits of frazzled hair framed her face, where she wore glasses. She had a sweet, twangy country accent. You could just tell by looking at her that she was a farmer's wife--you could just tell.
"I was just taking an apple pie out of the oven while the men finish their lunch."
Oh, how Helen's taste buds soared at the thought of an apple pie. Now she recognized that yummy aroma.
"I'm sure they have left some lunch for you and the children," the woman was saying cheerily. Then she smiled and muttered, "Hopefully. You understand how men can be, most 'specially after a hard morning's work."
Sergeant Milo smiled. "Yes, of course. We do not need much to eat."
Helen chuckled to herself as she noticed Katherine shoot an astonished glance up to Sergeant Milo and exclaim, "Why, we haven't eaten since early this morning on the train, and then it was only a biscuit or two!"
Sergeant Milo gave her a look that said, "Be quiet" and Katherine stared at her shoes.
"Why, you little darlings, you simply must sit down for a bite! Come along, come along!" The woman hustled them into the next room, where a full table of men were just getting up from their meal.
"My, my, where's my manners? Suppose I introduce you all. Men, these be the folks I was telling you all about this morning. This is Sergeant Milo. She escorted the two children--their names are Helen and Katherine Cooper." She looked at the children. "Now, which of you is Helen and which of you is Katherine?"
"I'm Helen, ma'am. I'm thirteen years old, and this is my younger sister, Katherine. She's nine."
"Well, hello to you girls, and welcome to our house. My name is Thelma." she said with a smile. She gave a look to one man, whom Helen guessed to be her husband. He looked startled, then glanced at the girls.
"Oh, ahem, eh, my name is Herschel. Herschel McClellan. Welcome to our farm."
|Herschel McClellan in his old fire chief uniform...more about that later.|
"Nice to meet you, sir," replied Helen.
"Now, now, all of ya'll, shoo, shoo, and let the children eat. It's bad enough you didn't leave half a bowl of potatoes for them. Shoo!"
Katherine buried a giggle into Helen's shoulder. Helen smiled as the men picked up their hats and scurried out of the house. She thought she saw a smile come over the Sergeant's face, but it vanished almost as soon as it came.
"Now. Sit and eat."