Voices in the Walls 16

Chapter two, continued

She squeezed my shoulder and laughed. It was a sound full of compassion and understanding, and there was surprising strength in her hand. In that moment, she won my heart.

Aunt Rachel put Sarah to work frying bacon. When Sarah wanted to know why the servants didn’t cook, Rachel told her that there were no servants in her house. Sarah was working up to pout again, but we didn’t stay to see it.

Aunt Rachel had a two wheeled handcart that she used to move heavy things around the yard. She showed it to me, then walked out to the crossroads and helped me load Sarah’s trunks on board, shaking her head in amazement. I explained how Sarah had lived in one boarding school after another, with no real place to call home. These trunks were her home and her security.

Aunt Rachel listened. She said, “I understand. I don’t like to criticize Thomas because I know he’s your father, but he should have done better by her.”

“He did the best he could!” I replied heatedly.

She said, “Perhaps,” but she wasn’t convinced.

When we got back to the house it was filled with the smell of burned bacon. Rachel said, “Go pick one trunk to take up to your room. Then Matthew will put the rest in the barn until later.”

“I don’t want my trunks in some old barn,” Sarah snapped.

Rachel did not respond to Sarah’s tone of voice. She just said, “Fine. They can stay on the cart, but if it rains this afternoon . . .”

“I want them in my room!”

“All right. When you finish eating, you can carry them up.”

I thought poor Sarah was going to explode. She crossed her arms with offended dignity and said, “You can’t possibly think that I am going to carry my own trunks.”

Rachel lifted the overcooked bacon onto a plate and began breaking eggs into the grease. Over her shoulder, she said, “Who is going to carry them up, then?”

Aunt Rachel busied herself around the kitchen while Sarah thought about it. By the time she had heated a half loaf of bread and put it on the table along with eggs, bacon, jam, and butter, Sarah was ready to say, “I’m sorry, Aunt Rachel.”

Rachel said, “No one expects you to carry your own trunks, because you aren’t big enough. Matthew and I will carry your things up, but not now. Matthew is as tired as you are. I can see it in his eyes. So as soon as you eat, go choose one trunk, like I said, and we will put the cart with the rest of the out of the rain. This evening, after your brother has rested, he and I will take your trunks up.”

“Thank you, Aunt Rachel,” Sarah said, but I wasn’t sure if she was really thankful or not.

Rachel was not through. She sat down and faced Sarah directly. “Sarah,” she said, “I don’t expect you to carry your trunks up because you are too little, but I will expect you to work as long as you stay in my house. I don’t have any servants here. I live alone, cook my own meals, wash my own clothes, and raise my own food. You are welcome to stay here, but it is going to take more work to keep a house going with three people in it than it does for one. You two are going to have to do the extra work. There just isn’t anyone else here to do it.”

Sarah didn’t answer. She turned back to her food with a look that would have curdled milk. Aunt Rachel didn’t seem to mind. I decided then and there that I wouldn’t worry about Sarah as long as our aunt was there to keep her in line.

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