“I spy with my little eye,” the fluting voice paused, then triumphantly proclaimed, “something beginning with C!”
The patter of rain on the tin roof, the hiss and crackle of the fire warming the room made soft music to the children’s game.
“Cupboard?” “Corner?” “Ceiling?” “Carpet?” “Cat?” All guesses were negated by shakes of shining curls.
In the silence while eyes searched the darkening room, Amanda glanced anxiously at the grandfather clock with its somnolent tick-tock. It was growing late. Arthur’s eyes followed hers.
“I know!” he jumped to his feet. “It’s clock, the grandfather clock!”
Little Allie shook her head again. “No, it’s not. Do you give up?” To nodding heads she added, “its seaweed!”
Amanda quelled the rising chorus. “Okay, you lot, just calm down.” To Allie she added, “Seaweed begins with S, not C. And where do you see seaweed in here?”
Tearfully the little girl pointed to a photograph on the mantle: children building sandcastles on a beach, and yes, a small mound of kelp. Antagonistic eyes followed the pointing finger, acknowledged the seaweed, and returned without favour to Allie. Anthony edged closer and put his arm around her shoulders.
“She’s too little to know,” he excused her. “She only starts school next year.”
Amanda bustled from her chair. “I think it’s time for supper. Amelia, will you and Angie set the table, please? Allie can help you. Anthony, the fire needs feeding. August, you and Angus can move the table a little closer to the warmth –there, no closer. Arthur, Arnold, you can help me in the kitchen.”
She moved briskly, anxious not to communicate her disquiet to the children. She stoked the kitchen stove and broke a dozen eggs into a bowl, handing Arnold a whisk. Arthur counted out the plates, cut the bread and began toasting at the open door of the hob. Glancing up at Amanda as she layered bacon in a large pan, he asked, “I wonder how much longer the parents will be?”
Three sets of parents, two from further afield, they had left the children with Amanda on the farm while they attended a funeral in a nearby town.
Amanda shrugged, keeping her voice level. “With this rain the river is probably up and they will have had to come the long way home. And they will have to travel slowly on these muddy roads. Mind the toast, Arthur, we don’t want burnt offerings!”
Supper was soon over, kitchen tidied and beds turned down. Only Arthur and Arnold still wore their day clothes. The group huddled around Amanda before the fire while she read tales of the Arabian Nights. But unease had settled on the group and their attention wandered. Allie broke the tension. Fetching the big Family Bible, she laid it on Amanda’s knees.
“Daddy always reads us a Psalm before we go to bed.”
Thankfully Amanda laid aside the Arabian Nights. “What about Psalm 121?”
“Oh, yes!” The children crowded close while she read the words of comfort and assurance. As she closed the book they started singing, led by Allie’s treble:
“I to the hills will lift mine eyes; from whence doth come mine aid? My safety cometh from the Lord, whom heav’n and earth hath made.”
The words of the old hymn faded, the children bowed their heads. With one exception they prayed for the safe return of their parents; Allie thanked God for keeping them safe.
The old house was quiet save for the rain on the roof and the crackling of the fire. Amanda, Arthur and Arnold sat in the glow, listening for a break in the enveloping quiet, glancing now and then at the clock. Amanda tended the kitchen stove. She had a large pot of soup keeping warm, the kettle constantly on the boil. The table was reset. They waited.
Arthur heard the voices first. He grabbed a lamp, running out onto the veranda. Bedraggled, soaked and muddy, the parents kicked off their shoes and flung their coats onto the bench by the door. Amanda and Arnold brought towels.
“Where’s the car?” Arthur questioned.
“Down by the stream.” His father’s voice was weary. We were stuck three times but now she’s really bogged. Have to get the tractor out tomorrow. Sorry to have you all worried.”
“Have a bowl of soup,” offered Amanda. “I’m sure you all want to get to bed. The others are long abed. Yes, Allie too.”
Aunt Alison sighed, content. “Thank you, Mandy. Our little quiet achiever.”
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