Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventy Five

written 29 November 2006

Nan was so glad to escape the boisterous festivities and retreat to her grandparents' house on the other side of the fence. Ava had asked for another container of cream for the teas, and a bit of butter for the cakes. The pantry was full to bursting with all the extra supplies laid in for the midwinter betrothal. Gilly's pantry had already been cleaned out of most of the sweets and treats, and there were still a couple hours before the party moved to the school house for the long dance.

Nan walked into her grandparents' front room, and stood for a moment in the warm silence. The fire on the hearth needed tending. She paused to pet the old cat, comfortably lolling on Ava's favorite chair.

The cat stretched and batted at her hand with its claws well hidden. The soft tap on her hand reminded her of something...

A dream.

She was standing in the middle of her mother's garden. She knew that's where she was from the pitch of the chickens' voices, and the warm, fertile smell of the garden rows in the sunlight.

High above, a bird called, and in the distance behind her, she heard Andy coming home from school. And she smiled. Andy made her laugh. She almost felt, sometimes, that she could actually see the things he described.

She bent down and picked up the basket of fruit she was taking into the house. The berries were ripe, and Mother was going to make a pie. She slipped one into her mouth, enjoying the tart pop as the skin split, revealing the sweet, juicy center.

She knew they were ripe when they gave just so as she touched them. Too soft, and they were mealy and not good for anything but eating right away. Too hard and they had no real flavor. Mother proudly said Nan could find better berries than any of the children in the village.

She started back toward the house, then paused and set the basket down again. A strange sound was coming from the direction of the well. A sort of -- was it crying?

She carefully felt her way along the paths until she located the sound. Then she dropped to her knees and sat a moment, feeling gently on the ground in the direction of the sound, moving slowly so as not to startle whoever -- or whatever -- was making the noise.

A soft pat on her hand caused her to stop and wait. A light voice whimpered, and she moved forward again, her hands seeking out the source. It was a small animal, that did not resist as she picked it up.

Carefully, she felt its paws, and found a small thorn between its toes. A swift move, the thorn was gone and the creature relaxed and started to purr.

She had been focused so intently on her mission that she hadn't heard the footsteps behind. "Well done, Nan," croaked a familiar voice...

Familiar why? Nan wondered. She shook her head and looked around the room. The light from the fire was dancing merrily around the room, and the cat was snoring. It was much later than she remembered, and she hurried to fetch the cream and butter.

The voice echoed in her head, "Well done, Nan," all the way home.

She reached her kitchen door, and turned, looking into the garden, thinking. How many times had she dreamt that rescue, how many times had she heard that voice, so familiar, yet unknown.

Opening the kitchen door to light and warmth, the laughter from the other room wafting in, her mother turned from the stove and smiled.

"We'll refill the creamers in here, dear, but please take the butter to Grammy in the other room," and she returned to humming as she stirred the puddings.

Nan slipped quietly into the front room, finding her grandmother standing near the long sideboard that had been set up before the windows. Freed of the butter, she picked up the cream pitchers and darted back to the kitchen before anyone saw her and tried to corral her.

She still felt a bit awkward around the villagers, some of whom continued to watch her curiously. Others tried to ignore her, which in many ways felt worse.

Esmeralda caught her eye just before the kitchen door, and followed her, nodding pleasantly to a talkative middle-aged woman Nan remembered was a distant cousin of Adam's.

Esmeralda sat down in a chair with groan and slipped off her shoes. "Too old for this, Gilly!" she complained, quickly adding, "The shoes, I mean -- I'll need a new pair before we do something like this again."

Gilly giggled, "Of course, Esmeralda, and perhaps Nan will find her wings by then, too!"

It was an old joke in the family, which referred to the ancient tales of the bird people -- but one which fell flat this evening, as all three realized the truth behind the legends.

Gilly paused, pulled the puddings off the stove and set them on trivets on the table. Tiredly, she sat for a moment with her forehead resting on her hands. Her cheeks were flushed from the steam she had been cooking the puddings in.

"I am not sure where that came from, Nan. Please forgive me."

"Mother, there is nothing to forgive. I will indeed find some wings, and probably sooner than our dear cousin agrees to purchase new shoes." She grinned impishly at Esmeralda as she reached for the last pitcher.

Esmeralda grinned back, "My dear, your daughter has her father's sense of humor!" She laughed,"Wicked child!" and tried to snag Nan's hair ribbon as the girl slipped back out of the room.

Gilly smiled wanly at the doctor, "I still worry about her, you know. She seems distant somehow, and tired, since the accident. She doesn't want us to know, but sometimes she has trouble breathing."

Esmeralda patted Gilly's hand, "I know dear, and I think we have something we can do, but it will take time. Still, she is thriving with your care, and learning so fast I will soon be hard pressed to teach!"

She slipped her feet back into the shoes and stood, picking up a pitcher of cream. "Now come, join the party for a while and let the puddings cool. Paul has been watching the door for you ever since you ducked out."