Friday, August 31, 2018

Knit Chat

I've crocheted many fingerless gloves over the years, but I no longer crochet. It's too hard on my thumbs. However, knitted fingerless gloves are even prettier, so I'm giving those a try. I finished this first pair, loosely copied from a pattern called "Elf Clobber." What a strange name!

I can't tell you what a royal pain they were. I pulled out and reknitted more than once. Plus, making the first one is fun and creative, and making the second is boring repetition, haha! It's finicky work, this kind of knitting.

I have a lovely book of knitting patterns and decided to incorporate one of its patterns into my next pair. 

I also wanted to get rid of the cumbersome seam that is necessary when a glove is knitted on straight needles -- basically a flat garment -- and then is sewn into a tube for a glove (or a sock, for that matter). How does one avoid the seam?

One knits a tube. A set of double-pointed needles works for this, but I've found them to be a pain in the neck, likely to slide out of my knitting and clatter to the floor, leaving me with 13 loose free stitches flailing in the air! I found this video by Suzanne showing how to knit "tubular" using two sets of circular needles:
She's a good teacher. I'd never made a gusset before, the triangular-shaped thumb portion that gives such a nice fit.

I chose a little picot border pattern for the bottom of the glove around the wrist:
I did two of these picot borders (one for each glove) first, on straight needles. I picked up 34 stitches from one of them, onto a pair of circular needles.

So ... with two size 8 circular needles and some pretty yarn, I set off on this knitting adventure! (Yikes!)
 Shiny, silky yarn.
 I don't have the skill yet to incorporate yarn overs or cables or anything fancier than knits and purls, using these circulars in such tight quarters.
 I used one of my toe rings as a stitch marker.

You see below that I finished the gusset. I'll put it onto some scrap yarn while I finish the hand.
This has taken hours and hours so far. There's no way that the sale of these gloves would ever pay me for the labor of making them -- and I haven't finished the first one yet! But I enjoy the challenge, and they'll be pretty (I hope). 

The thunder is rumbling and crackling outside, the leaves are turning over, the air is darkening. We haven't had rain in about four days, so I won't complain. A good day for knitting, I think!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Less of Beauty

The state of marriage
 fills up the numbers of the elect,
 and hath in it the labor of love,
 and the delicacies of friendship,
 the blessing of society,
 and the union of hands and hearts;
 it hath in it less of beauty,
 but more of safety,
 than the single life;
 it hath more care, but less danger;
 it is more merry, and more sad;
 it is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys;
 it lies under more burdens,
 but is supported by all the strengths
 of love and charity,
 and those burdens are delightful.

 Marriage is the mother of the world,
 and preserves kingdoms,
 and fills cities, churches,
 and heaven itself.

~Bishop Jeremy Taylor
17th Century

Image result for elderly couple in love

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ten Days at Federal Hill: Chapter Twelve

(To read previous chapters of Ten Days at Federal Hill, please click on the page tab just under the banner photo above.)

Chapter Twelve: Plans in the Attic

The attic room was silent for a moment before Julia leapt to her feet. She moved in front of Edward, blocking Abe’s view. “None of your business,” she said to her brother. “Get out.” She strode to the door, shoving past Cecil, and began to push it shut.

Abe jumped to his feet and pushed back on the door. Two years older than his sister, and significantly stronger, he kept her from closing the door. “I’m telling Mom!” Abe said.

Julia’s thin face appeared in the narrow opening, and she grunted as she pushed against the door. “Telling her what?” she hissed at her brother. Her eyes were slits and her mouth turned down.

Abe leaned forward, meeting her eye to eye. “That there’s a strange kid here. That you’re hiding him. That you’re trying to help him escape to some other creepy place!”

Julia’s face fell. How much had Abe heard? She balled her fists against the door and pounded on it once. “You’re the creeper, Abe! Listening outside doors!” And she would’ve slammed it in his face, if Cecil hadn’t stopped her.

“Hey … hey! You two! Calm down.” He whispered in Julia’s ear, “It’s okay.” Cecil opened the door again. “Abe, come in. Seems like you heard most of what we had to say anyway.” He looked at Carla quizzically. Just how much had Abe heard? “Maybe you can help us.” He led Abe over to their circle on the floor. The bare wooden floor was now scuffed with dust from all their moving around. The room had grown warm and stuffy under the August sun as the morning wore on. Cecil said, “This is Edward, a new friend. We met him this morning … uh … when we were playing outside.”

Abe squeezed between Carla and Cecil and sat down in the circle. He studied Edward. Both the boys had dark hair and large, dark brown eyes. Edward’s eyes were defensive, hiding his thoughts. Abe’s were bold, and although he wore clean clothes how, his face, hair, and hands still bore all the marks of filth and poverty. As the children squatted on the floor in a larger circle the dust swirled gently again and sifted through the air.

“I’ve never seen you before,” Abe said to Edward. “Where do you live?”

Edward cut a glance at Cecil, who rescued the moment.

“Uh, Abe, we were in the middle of finishing a game, a … uh … house game. We’re imagining where the secret passages or hidden openings or trap doors might be in this house.” He smiled at Abe. “Edward lives in an old house too, and we were comparing notes, kind of. What do you think?” he asked his cousin. “Does this house have secrets like that?”

Abe scowled, but he answered. “Of course – that’s easy. The assembly room. It’s the most interesting room.” He smirked. “I’ve spent lots of time in there, even though we’re not supposed to.” He looked at Julia. “I know every corner of that room.”

“Just because it’s interesting to you doesn’t mean it has secret passages,” she retorted. She sat with her thin legs pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them.

Abe looked down at his hands and began fiddling with his shoe laces. “I’ve found stuff in there,” he said. “I’ve been reading the books this summer when Julia wasn’t around and the boys wouldn’t let me go with them.” He glanced at Julia, a look that showed he’d noticed the many hours she’d been gone. Then he looked at Cecil. “There’s not just boring old books. There are diaries from people who used to live here.”

“Yeah. I found one of those too,” Carla added. “And a whole book of newspaper clippings. There was a story about a lost ....”

But Abe interrupted her. “I bet you don’t know,” he continued, looking at his sister, “that there are hidden panels in there, along the walls.”

“What?!” Cecil and Julia exclaimed at once.

Abe stretched his legs out and studied Edward. “They don’t go anywhere. They’re not … tunnels, or anything.” He paused, looking around. “Just little empty holes.” He stood up. The dust flew up into the air. Carla coughed. “Want to see?”

“Not yet,” said Cecil. “We don’t want the others to horn in on our fun, do we?”

“Well ...” said Abe. “I guess not. But ….”

“And plus, if your mom found us, she’d make us leave the room,” Carla added. She rocked a little, forward and backward, as she sat with her feet pulled up under her. Managing Abe would be trickier than she’d thought.

“And if the boys found us, they’d probably tell us to leave too,” Julia noted. She didn’t look at her brother, but she traced curling lines into the dust on the floor with her finger. Edward sat silent, watching the interaction of the cousins. He was amazed at their confidence, how they challenged each other.

“Well, when then?” Abe asked.

Cecil smiled. “Middle of the night, of course! When all the best things happen.” He chuckled. “Unless you’re scared ….”

Abe laughed, and the noise was so loud it echoed in the room. “Scared? Of what?” Abe sighed. “This is kind of boring,” he said. He glanced at Edward, who hadn’t said one word since Abe entered the room. At that moment, both Abe’s and Edward’s stomachs lurched and growled. Edward had not eaten in over a day. Abe was already hungry for lunch and tired of the chatter. He jumped up and stood over them. “I’m hungry. Anybody coming?”

“Yeah,” Cecil said. “Right behind you!” he added as Abe left the room. “Save me some ham!” he hollered for effect.

Edward lay back on the floor and let out a huge sigh. His stomach rumbled loudly again.

“You’re hungry,” Julia and Cecil said at the same time.

“That was tricky,” Carla said. She let out a long sigh and looked at Edward. “If anybody else finds out about you,” she said softly, “especially the grown-ups, then you’ll never get to Lucie’s house. You’ll never see the other kids again.” She wanted to make him understand. “You won’t be allowed to stay here either. They’ll take you away somewhere else, to live with strangers.”

“They can’t make me,” Edward stated. “I’ll run away. I’m really good at running away.”

Cecil and Carla both knew what they had to do. “We must find a way to Lucie’s house, right away,” she said to her brother.

Julia was the next to stand up. “I have to get his clothes out of the laundry room before mom finds them. I’ll take them ...” she paused, “… to the, uh, yeah, to the clerk’s office. Nobody goes there except me.” She looked at Edward. “As a matter of fact, that would be a great place for Edward to stay, if we could just get him there.”

“That old building?” Carla asked.

“What old building?” Cecil asked. “What are you talking about?”

Julia ignored his question. “Yeah!” she replied, growing excited. “Like I said, nobody goes there. And there’s a room upstairs that would be perfect for him to hide in.”

Carla stood up now, excited. “Julia, the hole by the chimney! He could hide in there if anybody did come in!” she added.

“Sure! We can sneak him stuff from the kitchen. It’ll be easy!”

“Nothing about this,” Cecil interjected, “will be easy.”

The children heard footsteps below, and then mounting the stairs. “Julia!” came her mother’s voice.

“It’s lunch. We gotta go,” Julia said.

They told Edward to stay there, that they would return soon and bring him food, and find a place to hide him. Then the three cousins descended the attic stairs. But Edward did not stay there. Bored in the empty room and desperate for something to eat, he crept down the attic hallway and into each tiny room along the way, peering through each window, examining the lay of the land outside. He studied the towering cedar tree, the complex boxwood garden, the clerk’s office, the driveway and the distant county road. He could hear the older boys hollering in a barn in the distance and the sputtering sounds of an old truck engine. From one window he spied the edge of the lake with its murky red water. As the family’s voices grew louder in the kitchen and the smells of lunch wafted through the house to him, his stomach turned over and rumbled louder than before. He sat on the floor and gazed at the back yard with his hands on the windowsill. From the edge of the boxwoods a stooped figure emerged, hunched over, creeping with hands nearly to the ground. It moved stealthily, its head jerking back and forth, watching for danger. Almost on all fours, it moved quickly from shrub to tree to hedge across the open space behind the kitchen, and slithered at last under the old porch on the clerk’s office, unseen by anybody but the boy looking from the attic window. Edward frowned and left the room.

(To keep reading the next chapter, please click here.)

[Ten Days at Federal Hill is copyrighted in its entirety by the author, M.K. Christiansen.]

Friday, August 24, 2018

Weather Change

Two days ago I noticed a slight shift in the morning feel outside. Just a little cooler, a little less humidity. This morning the change was more noticeable. Knowing my herb beds were in urgent need of tending, I gathered my grimy yard gloves, trowel, and clippers, and attacked the weeds.

 So much tidier!
I left a little patch of parsley and grass in the middle because quite a few of these fellows were grazing there. Google tells me they are swallowtails ... I think.

The yarn I combed/spun/dyed myself never did sell at the market (I wasn't surprised), so I pondered what to make with it. Finally I opted for a little rustic beanie hat. I added a pin. This one is for me.

I liked it so well that I made another one to sell.

All that knitting got me back in the seasonal knitting mood, so last night I moved on to a new project: a pair of fancy hand-warmers. Here's the beginning:
I attempted small cables for the very first time. Old doggie ... new trick! I'm rather making it up as I go. I was inspired by this pair from Pinterest:
fingerless mitts (knit and crochet combo) - FREE pattern from Ravelry - these are some of the nicest I have seen

I forgot to show you two books I found at the thrift store on Monday.
This is a solid, 1967 edition of The Hobbit. All our paperbacks are dry and crumbling from decades of use. And the Thirkell book was a surprise at a thrift store! I love her books, set in Trollope's Barsetshire about 75 years later.

The air is so fine outside I threw open the doors and windows. Thank you, Lord, for a weather change!

I was going to sign off then, but I forgot to tell you one more thing. In the spring, we turned off our central AC/heat unit (about 30 years old), and instead used a small window AC unit for the summer.
Our house is 1111 square feet, so cooling it is not too much of a challenge. The 10-foot ceilings help. Two small bedrooms we keep closed off much of the time, so this single unit was up to the task. It's not a cheap-o unit; Adam did his research, and it cost about $350, but he figured it would quickly pay for itself, and he's right. Both our July and our August electricity bills are exactly halved from last year. Those two months alone are a savings of about $250, so the little AC unit will pay for itself this year, I hope. 

That's all from this little house to your little house! Happy Autumn (well ... almost)!!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tea Sympathy

The friendly kettle boils the water
Only as the flames grow hotter.
"It sings!" we say, but we are wrong,
For screaming best describes its song.
And while we sip our humble brew,
Who amongst us says, "Thank you,"
Unto the kettle, singed below,
Who waits again, the flames to know.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Creativity for Mental Health

I read recently (somewhere ... who knows where) that doing something creative helps one's mental health. I find that when my mind is less anxious, less stressed, I'm more able to do creative things. I'm feeling a bit better, and I returned to some of my old creative pursuits!

I painted. It's not finished, of course, but I love this quote that Susan Branch often puts on her blog.

I wove. This will be a shawl. Over half-way done.

I made a batch of lavender soap. I'm nearly out! Soap has been selling well at the market this month. I think people feel hot and sweaty and want a nice shower.

Yesterday I made a batch of insect-repellent lotion bars at the request of three customers who all report how well they work! That's encouraging.
I finished sewing two more flax seed-filled comfy pouches.
I also read an article saying that we are happier when we hug -- when we have loving physical contact with other humans (or, maybe a dog or cat would do in a pinch?). I sometimes feel badly for those who aren't often touched by someone else, the elderly or widowed, even just regular single people. People in nursing homes or hospitals too. They may be touched by medical personnel, but that's not quite the same. When you're given a long, loving hug, doesn't it make you feel better, body and soul? I've been trying to give more hugs since I read that article.

If I sold all those products I made in the photos above, it would bring in about $240. That's sales, not profits, of course. I sometimes contemplate whether it is worth all the work, and I do think it is because I also enjoy making these things. I get a bit weary of the soaps and lotions now because they're not as creative to me; they don't require any new ideas. I enjoy making new products.

I almost made a batch of cookies this afternoon, but didn't quite get around to it. That'll be on the agenda for tomorrow. Focus on your Happiness Health, friends! It's important. Go give somebody a nice hug!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Ten Days at Federal Hill: Chapter Eleven

(To read previous chapters of Ten Days at Federal Hill, please click on the page tab above, directly below the banner photo.)

Chapter Eleven: Abe

Velma Christopher had bigger concerns than some children’s muddy clothes. Grandmother Julia was unwell. She’d taken to her bed late Sunday afternoon while Velma was gone, weak and confused. This morning when her daughter-in-law had tried to rouse her, the old woman moaned, cried, and covered her head with the sheet. She had been this way before a few times, Velma remembered, and it lasted only a few days. But she needed constant attention. She was deeply depressed and fell into dark moods where no one seemed to be able to reach her. Velma pulled a chair beside the old lady’s bed and touched her gently on the shoulder.

“Grandma, it’s Velma.”

There was no response. There was never any response when she was like this.

“Just rest, Grandma. I’ll go get some breakfast for you and bring it up here. Maybe biscuits? I know you like biscuits. Tea?” She rubbed Grandmother Julia’s shoulder and tenderly traced her hairline, putting a few stray gray hairs into place behind her ear. Tracks of dried tears etched the older woman’s face. “I’ll bring Toby and Shamrock up too. They can keep you company on the bed.” Velma absently brushed a hand over the floral bedspread, sprinkled with roses, daises, and poppies. The dogs had spent many hours on this bed. This was the secret to helping Grandmother Julia recover – the dogs. Nothing reached her, nothing moved her and helped her regain her old self, like those two dogs. Velma felt a young hand on her arm.

“Mom, I’ll go get them.” It was Abe.

“Thank you, Abe! That’s a big help. You know how she loves the dogs. I’ll stay here until you come back.” She looked into her dark brown eyes. “How come you’re not outside playing with the big boys?”

“They sent me back. They’re working on the old truck.”

“Mmm.” His mother nodded. “Why not play with Julia and the cousins? I think they’re inside.”

His face soured. “Yeah. No … they’re doing their own thing. I didn’t get asked.”

She frowned at him and tousled his dark brown hair. “Abe! I’m surprised at you!” But she didn’t pursue it. “Okay, go get the pups. Hurry on, now!”

In a few minutes he returned with Shamrock in his arms and Toby trailing at his heels. Quick as a flash, Toby was in Grandmother Julia’s bed, standing guard beside her. Abe set Shamrock down on the bedspread. The cocker spaniel scooted up and curled behind the old woman’s knees. Soon she was rhythmically licking her paw.

“That’s better,” Velma said. “Now, I’ll go get her some breakfast, which she won’t eat. Will you stay until I get back?”

Abe nodded. He tucked his feet under him in the lumpy, upholstered chair, and watched his grandmother. In the stillness of the house her quiet breathing filled the room. Sometimes she whispered quietly and then cried a little. He heard his mother in the kitchen and the clinking of dishes and silverware. He knew she would return carrying the old wooden tray with a bowl of steaming oatmeal, buttered biscuits, a cup of hot tea, and a few strawberries. He listened again and could barely hear the voices from the attic. They were laughing, talking, sharing secrets, excluding him without thinking about it. He stroked Shamrock’s soft fur. Julia was the youngest, but somehow he was the one always left out.

His mother returned just as he knew she would. She persuaded one spoonful of oatmeal past the old woman’s lips, but then his grandmother withdrew even more, curling up and hugging the blanket to her chest. She tucked her head down and pursed her lips.

“She won’t eat,” Velma said. She sighed. Then they both heard an eruption of laughter from the attic. She looked at her youngest son. A cloud seemed to have darkened his face.

“Why don’t you go up there and just try?” she asked.

He frowned. “I’d rather stay here with you.”

“You and I both know that’s not true.” She placed the tray on a table. “Have you actually asked them?”

He shook his head. He wouldn’t look at her.

“Then go,” she said. “Don’t do the grumpy thing if you haven’t even asked.”

Abe shuffled out of the room and down the hall. He was suddenly quite grumpy. He hated his sister and resented his cousins. Then he heard them laugh again. It wasn’t fair they were having so much fun and he was so miserable! Abe went quietly up the steep attic stairs, turned down the low hallway tucked into the top of the house, and listened outside the door of the small end room where they were sat in a circle on the floor. He could not see them, but he could hear their voices. Cecil was telling a story about a house he’d been to, and Julia was bragging about crawling through a tunnel, and then Abe heard a voice he did not recognize, a boy’s voice. They were calling him Edward.

“That’s what the patch of cloth says,” Julia told him. “It might be your name.”

“All the other kids have names now,” Carla added. “Real names. Lucie let them pick them out.”

“I’d like to meet this Lucie, if she’s as nice as you say.”

Cecil laughed. “As nice as ….” He and Carla looked at each other. How could they communicate to him how different life was at Lucie’s house? Cecil began. He told Edward about his friends, about their lives now, the peace and safety there, the freedom to play games and ride horses and swim when they liked. Carla described the beautiful gardens and comfortable bedrooms, and Lucie’s wonderful meals. These concepts were lost on him.

“Edward, you really can’t know what it’s like until you go there,” Cecil finished.

“Then take me there. I’m not afraid!”

The four children sat in a tight circle on the floor. Carla spoke first. “Okay, we have to think about this house we’re in. If there’s a corresponding Federal Hill in Lucie’s world -”

“I never heard her mention it,” Cecil interrupted.

“Well, if there is, we have to think of the most likely ways to get there from here.”

“Why do you think there are three copies of each house?” Julia asked.

“Because Lucie always talked about them that way,” Cecil answered. “Actually, she talked about them as if the three were really one house – her house, our house, the workhouse. Just three radically different versions of one house. They were all laid out the same. The rooms and halls and … and dimensions were the same.”

Julia nodded. “Okay. So let’s assume my house has a sister house in Lucie’s world ….”

“A sister house. I like that!” Carla said.

“A sister house. It might or might not have the kitchen wing and the rooms above it, because those were added later,” Julia said. “Basically we’re talking about the big dining room, the entrance hall, the assembly room, and my parents’ bedroom. This nursery was added too.”

Carla interrupted. “Somehow I don’t think it would be smaller in Lucie’s world. Nothing seems smaller there. Everything seems bigger, more impressive.”

“How ‘bout these attic rooms,” Cecil said. “They’d be in the other houses. They’re old.”

“Yeah,” Julia answered. “Old and very dusty.” She swiped a finger slowly across the floor and blew a cloud of dust into the dim air. “Tell me,” and she looked at her cousins, “what are the different ways y’all traveled from your house to Lucie’s house?”

But she didn’t hear their answer. Instead, a thundering sneeze came from just outside the door.

“What?!” Cecil exclaimed. He raced to the door, yanked it open, and found his young cousin crouched outside. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here!” Abe belted out. “Just in case you’ve forgotten!” Then he craned his neck and looked around Cecil’s legs, peering at Edward. “And who exactly is that?”

(To continue reading the next chapter, please click here.)

[Ten Days at Federal Hill in its entirety is copyrighted by the author, M.K. Christiansen.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Beasts Are Very Wise

The beasts are very wise,
Their mouths are clean of lies ; 
They talk one to the other, 
Bullock to bullock's brother,
Resting after their labors,
Each in stall with his neighbours. 
But man with goad and whip, 
Breaks up their fellowship,
Shouts in their silky ears 
Filling their souls with fears. 
When he has tilled the land 
He says, 'They understand.'
But the beasts in stall together, 
Freed from yoke and tether, 
Say, as the torn flanks smoke,
'Nay, 'twas the whip that spoke.' 

I heard this poem by Rudyard Kipling when I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. A member of their reading group, a little boy, read it aloud at their meeting.

Ned is one of our beasts. He loaned his black collar to Baby, and like most girlfriends, she kept his clothes. Finally Adam found an old pink collar somewhere on the farm. We think Ned is manly enough to wear pink well.
 This morning I went to let my chickens out of the coop, and this little girl didn't come out -- meaning, she didn't go into the coop last night. Meaning something probably ate her for lunch yesterday.
I hadn't yet given her a name.
 The smaller chick is still around. These things happen when you keep chickens.

Adam continues his gingerbread cookie trials. He thinks he's finally mastered it!
 He finally rejected the Williamsburg cookie recipe; he instead opted for a gingerbread cake batter, and added just enough flour to make a wet cookie. Perfect! They were delicious. He took them to share around at the blood drive on Friday.
Inside of the cookie:
 He feeds me such delicious dinners. Here are Mexican fried tacos: meat and cheese on the inside, pan fried and drained, with guacamole and tomatoes and lettuce.
Do you like that Kipling poem? It makes one think, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ten Days at Federal Hill: Chapter Ten

(If you'd like to read previous chapters, please click on the page tab, Ten Days at Federal Hill, just under the banner photo above.)

Chapter Ten: Edward

All the children squealed and a general ruckus erupted from the alcove in Julia’s room. Above this din a woman’s voice pealed out.

“Children! What is going on in here?!”

Aunt Velma sailed into the room, her arms flung overhead. Her curly red hair bounced and her eyes flashed. She marched to the alcove and yanked back the curtain.

“My word! What a noise!” She glared at Julia. “Why weren’t you at breakfast?” Then she saw the state of the children’s clothes. Her jaw dropped but she found no words to express her dissatisfaction. “Have you been out rolling in the mud this early in the morning? Look at your clothes!”

As all children obediently do, the three of them looked down at themselves. They were covered with cobwebs and red clay. Julia’s bed was a frightful mess. The children’s shoes, caked with filth, had spread grime and muck on books, toys, pillow, blankets, windowsill, and curtain. Julia could hear a rumble under her bottom as she sat on the sill. Ten was pushing on it, and she was gently pushing back.
Both girls began laughing and giggling loudly to cover up the noise from the tunnel.

“Sorry, Mom!” Julia bellowed. “We’re just … we’re ….”

Cecil rescued her. “We’re … in a silly mood. A really silly mood!” And Cecil laughed an unnatural cackle. Both girls stared at him.

“Well!” Aunt Velma retorted. “I want quieter children, cleaner children, and --” here she turned to Julia – “children who eat breakfast when I cook it!” And quick as she came, she stomped from the room.

The children all collapsed in relief. Julia held her head in her hands. “That was so close! I’ve been gone almost 24 hours. She might’ve found out!”

“She ought to know!” Carla hissed through clenched teeth. “I’m sick of being in this kind of danger without any adults helping us! I can’t do it anymore!” She fell onto Julia’s pillow in tears.

“Carla, we do have grown-ups helping us,” Cecil said quietly. “We’ve had Lucie and Mrs. Lambert, and --”

“Who?” Julia asked.

“Nothing,” Cecil answered her. “Besides, we’re done with this situation. You don’t have to go back to that house. There’s no kids there. We’re done ….”

Knock. Knock knock.

“We’re – done – we’re ….”

Knock knock knock. KNOCK!

Julia felt the banging rumbling under her. “We have to let him in.”

“We have to keep him secret,” Cecil said.

Carla sat up. “We have to find a place to put him!” she said. “Ever think of that?”

At last Julia scooted off the windowsill, and the children raised the wooden seat and brought Ten into the alcove. He was dirtier than they were. Cecil slipped to his room and retrieved some ill-fitting clothes for the boy. Cecil was quite a bit chubbier than Ten, who was rather a good bit taller. While Aunt Velma tended to Grandmother Julia, who was still feeling unwell, they sneaked Ten to the bathroom to get clean. To avoid Frances, who might reclaim her bedroom at any moment, the children climbed the second, narrow set of stairs into the attic, where several small servants’ rooms used decades before still lay under a coating of heavy dust. The children chose a room at the end of the narrow, dark hall with its low, sloping ceiling. Panels of sunlight slanted across the floor from the vent in the gable end of the room, and motes of dust floated around them as they sat cross-legged on the floor. The sloping roof encased them like a cave.

Cecil began. “First of all, I want everybody to know what’s going on here, what Carla and I know. Ten,” here he turned to the boy, “Carla and I have been to your world before, to the workhouse. Do you remember? Last year? Some of the children left?”

Ten nodded. “Yeah. I wasn’t there. Fen had traded me off to a farm, but I kept runnin’ off, so she brought me back to be under her thumb. When I got back, I heard about you and these girls.”

“The other girl is our sister, Connie. She’s not here right now. She’s sick.”

Julia watched the boys, mystified. “Wait. Wait! Are you telling me that you and Carla met him before, or ...” she shook her head as if to clear it, “or kids like him, somewhere else, some other world?”

“Yeah,” Carla whispered. “We rescued them. Fourteen of them.”

“Fifteen,” added Cecil. “Don’t forget the baby.”

“Fifteen,” Carla agreed.

The boy Ten squirmed and made a gruff noise. “Rescued? Is that what you call it?”

Cecil and Carla turned to him. He fixed his eyes on them.

“Those kids disappeared. They never came back. Their brothers and sisters and friends were left alone!” He kept his voice low, but there was anger in it.

Carla regained courage to defend herself. “We were willing to bring everybody! We begged them to come.”

“Come where? They didn’t know where you were taking them!”

“We were taking them here!” Cecil rejoined.

“What’s so good about here?” Ten asked.

Cecil became exasperated. “Oh … I dunno! Food maybe? Safety? People who love you? Not sleeping on a hard floor in rags and being afraid of being beaten and made to work until your hands bleed! Not being afraid of every adult in your life!”

Ten sneered slightly. “Oh, like that screaming woman before? You seemed pretty nervous about her.”

Julia stood up. “Hey! That’s my mom!” She glared down at Ten. He looked up at her, then at the other two. His tight face slackened and his eyes dimmed.

Quietly he asked, “What’s a mom?”

Then Julia turned to her cousins and asked, “Been hiding any more secrets?”

The room was quiet until Cecil spoke again. “Ten, we’re glad you’re here. We hope we can show you a little of how we live. I don’t have a clue how you can stay here though. Julia’s parents will want to know where you come from, and I honestly don’t know how we can tell them. Plus,” and he looked at Carla for agreement, “the place you really should go isn’t this house … or this world … it’s a different one.”

Julia gasped. “Another one?!”

Carla interrupted. “It’s a house better than this one, with the kindest grown-up you could ever meet. Her name’s Lucie. All the other children from the workhouse are there already. That’s where they really moved to.” She looked keenly at him. “And they are very happy. We’ve visited them there.”

“Well, I’d like to go visit them too,” Ten said.

“Ten,” Cecil broke in, “it’s not that easy. We don’t know how to travel to Lucie’s house from here, from Julia’s home. Carla and I live far away, and it’s from our house that we know how to get to Lucie’s.” Ten looked confused and disappointed. “It’s complicated. I’m sorry.”

“So, what are we supposed to do with him now?” Julia asked. It was the obvious question, but one no one else wanted to ask. “If he can’t stay here, where does he go?” No one answered. All the children looked at each other. The silence became heavy.

Finally Cecil asked, “How far is it from the house where you were sleeping, to the workhouse? It must take you days – even weeks – to walk that far. Did you see people on the way? Are there other houses, other adults, in your world?”

Ten studied Cecil’s face, looking for some meaning there. “Days? Weeks? Are you kiddin’? At a quick pace, I walk from the workhouse to the empty house all night, from sunset to sunrise.” He paused. “How long is that?”

Cecil whistled low. “That’s ten hours maybe.” He stared at Carla. “That’s not possible. From our house to Federal Hill – that’s Georgia to Virginia. That’s a full day’s drive in the car on the interstate.” He turned back to Ten. “Are you sure?”

“’Course I’m sure! I walked it, didn’t I?”

“I wish we could talk to Lucie,” Carla moaned. “She could answer so many of our questions. She could tell us just what to do!”

Cecil nodded, and then held his bent head in his hands. He rubbed his crew cut above his ears because he was thinking hard. Carla and Julia knew to wait while he was thinking this way.

“What we need to do,” said Cecil at last, “is find out how to reach Lucie’s world from here. If there were three versions of our house, there must be three versions of Federal Hill.” His voice rose. “There’s a Federal Hill house in Lucie’s world. That’s the house we need to find. That’s the next thing we need to figure out!”

Carla shook her head. “No. The next thing I want to find out is who that creature was that chased me down the tunnel. The woman with the bulging eyes.”

No one answered her, but Ten nearly said something, and then pursed his lips. Cecil and Julia wondered if she’d imagined it all, in her terror of the tunnel. Finally Julia said, “Well, the next thing I’m gonna do is wash Ten’s clothes while I can.” She held out her hand. “Give ‘em over. I can smell them from here.”

“Watcha gonna do to ‘em?” Ten asked as he put the bundle in her arms.

“I’ll put them in water and soap and get the dirt and smell out of them.”

He jumped up and grabbed the clothes back from her. “Hang on! I gotta get somethin’ first!” And the boy rifled through a tattered pocket on the pair of pants he’d given her. His grimy hand clutched a frayed piece of cloth.

“What’s that?” Carla asked.

“Nothin’,” he replied. “It’s just somethin’ I’ve had a long time. Long as I can remember. Some little piece of cloth from the clothes I wore before, when I was a young’un. It’s a pretty little thing.” He smiled and handed it to Carla. She thought it was the first time she’d seen him smile. “It’s the only precious thing I got. I don’t know what it is, rightly. Just swirly things in thread.” He glance at Julia and added, “Like the little papers you left me before.”

Carla looked down at the patch of fabric in her palm, a scrap from a child’s sweater, or maybe a bib. On it, embroidered in cursive script, was the name “Edward.”

(To continue on to the next chapter, please click here.)

[Ten Days at Federal Hill is copyrighted in its entirety by the author, M.K. Christiansen.]