After the tea but before the supper . . .
Perhaps it takes only a little determination to change the course of one’s life, for here on this very page I declared my yearning for novelty and already have I tripped across it! It came about in this manner: I went to the kitchen earlier, to borrow a needle from Mrs. Goodhand, as mine had jumped into a crack in the ?oor and hidden there. I heard Elizabeth’s cross voice as I entered, and thought at once to leave, but was seen already and could not depart naturally.
"Why must I go?" she complained. "I came only to fetch the soap for my mother. Mrs. Rattle is so peculiar! She speaks recklessly, as if to test me, and she’s never grateful in the least for our donations."
"We are being good neighbours," said Mrs. Goodhand, reproving her niece. "I have baked the loaves and they await delivery."
"Why need it be me?" asked Elizabeth as she noticed me in the doorway. "As long as the bread is delivered, why should Mable not be the do-gooder today?"
I was instantly of two minds. I had no wish to perform a task that Elizabeth found distasteful, but I could hear my mother’s voice imploring me to "be always quick in doing what is right for others."
"Is there an errand you would have done, Mrs. Goodhand?" I asked, ignoring Elizabeth’s smirk of satisfaction. Mrs. Goodhand sighed and wiped her hands upon her apron front.
"There is, Mable, though I do not approve of Elizabeth’s reluctance." She explained there is a widow lady of little means, living a mile off toward the town. Mrs. Goodhand makes to her a gift of corn bread every Sunday, though the other women of the church are not so openhanded.
"Because she’s mad," said Elizabeth. "Perfectly loony. And she does not go to church."
"Not mad, I think," said Mrs. Goodhand. "But nor is she wholesome."
I felt a shiver climb my spine.
"There is nothing to fear." Mrs. Goodhand saw me flinch and patted my arm. "She will not eat you. That is why you are bringing bread." She used one of her few smiles and sent me to fetch my shawl. I took the bundle and went the way I was pointed, wondering at whom I should find. I expected a withered crone crouching behind brambles, waving a hawthorn cane and muttering dreadful maledictions.
Think, then, of my surprise when the door of a cottage called Silver Lining was opened by a woman only a few years older than Viola, perhaps five and twenty. She wore a most extraordinary ensemble — her skirt coming only to her knees, with wide trousers underneath, gathered tight at the ankles. She wore slippers on her feet coloured the deepest red, as though she’d been wading in blood. She looked like the illustration of a Persian genie in a book, and not at all like a widow lady in a farm cottage in Ontario. It was her dark hair, unconfined and hanging loose about her face, that made me recollect the bicycle rider we had passed on our first night in Sellerton. This must be she!
"Did you think you were arriving at an exhibit, my dear?" she asked, raising one eyebrow high. "Or have you some purpose here other than to stare?"
Excerpted from Mable Riley by Marthe Jocelyn. Copyright © 2004 by Marthe Jocelyn. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.