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Under the Green Hillby Laura L. Sullivan
“Oh dear,” said Phyllida Ash as she read the telegram. Even in these days of telephones and e-mail, the only messages that reach the Rookery are hand-delivered by a sly-faced young man who pads down quiet paths from the nearby town of Gladysmere. “They want to come here, Sander. On the first of May. Oh, this will never do at all!”
She ran her free hand distractedly through short, thick curls that in some lights were almost lavender. Though she had, even at her great age, a brusque force to her movements, there was something about the way her fingers lingered at the ends of her curls that hinted shed once been a coquette. Lysander stifled a grunt as he pushed himself up with a stout, gnarled cane and crossed the garden kitchen to put an arm around his wife of sixty years.
“Why now?” she moaned, leaning into him. “Of all the years, of all the times, why does she pick the most dangerous to send her children here?”
Lysander Ash took up the telegram and scanned lines written in the age-old truncated style. Dear Aunt Uncle Ash, stop. “Aunt and uncle, hogwash! Great-aunt and -uncle, maybe. . . .”
“One more ‘great, I think.”
“Be that as it may.” He read aloud: “Urgent favor needed, stop. Fever rampant in States, stop. Can you take children for summer, interrogative. Awfully grateful, stop. Arriving May One, stop. Rowan, Meg, Priscilla, James, stop. Do they think we dont even know their names?”
“Well, weve never seen them. Weve never seen any of them, not since Chlorinda left.”
“Your sister wasnt able to take on her responsibilities,” Lysander began hotly.
“Now, dont open old wounds,” his wife said, with a reproach so gentle it was obvious shed been repeating it for many years. When people have lived together for six decades, and played as children in the years before that, many of their conversations go by rote, and often entire arguments can take place with a brief glance.
“Four generations living across the ocean, and those children so far removed from whats in their blood. And now they want to traipse across the ocean just in time to get themselves captured or glamoured or torn to shreds!”
“Its not as bad as all that,” she said, wondering, as she frequently did, whether he became deliberately contrary just to force her into an opposing tack. Shed been dead against the childrens coming the moment she read the telegram, but now, in the face of Lysanders opposition—it was her family, after all—she was almost reconciled to their arrival. “We can take precautions. . . . Theyll be all right if we keep them on the grounds. The house and gardens will be enough for them, and theres nothing that can hurt them there. It will be safer than staying where theres fever. A lot of children are leaving the States, Ive heard, or going off to the mountains. Im ashamed I didnt think to invite them here. Why, our house could hold a hundred children, with no danger to anyone! What harm could four come to?”
“Four children here, at Midsummer, on a seventh year? Even the villagers hide their children at the teind times.”
“Theyll be fine,” she assured him, squeezing his hand. “Bran will look after them. Oh!” She gave a little gasp. “Someone has to tell Bran.” She looked worried, perhaps even a bit frightened.
Lysander turned away from her abruptly to poke the low fire that burned winter and summer. “Well, its not going to be me.” After all, he had to put his foot down somewhere.
Excerpted from Under the Green Hill by Laura L. Sullivan
Copyright © 2010 by Laura L. Sullivan
Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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