As she walked on she passed a cowfield, where about twenty lazy cows were munching grass. She grabbed a handful of grass from beside the wooden fence, reached over the fence, and gave it to a black cow who took it from her hand with its rough tongue. It tickled Kate, and she laughed.
Kate kept on walking down the path until she found yet another little dirt trail leading off to the side. She decided to take it. Tall trees and short bushes were on either side of the path. She even passed some blackberry bushes and took a few. They were sweet and delicious, but stained her hands with magenta juice. She continued down the trail until she heard a noise: rushing water. She stepped over to some shrubs with strangely big leaves and pushed them aside.
There it was: a brook. It was clear and pretty, with moss and plants edging it. Some trees hung over it and logs lay across it, making it a very pretty scene. She walked over a dipped her hands in the cool water, washing off the pink juice. She sat down on the wet moss, took off her stiff boots, and dipped her feet into the water. It felt so cool and refreshing. She was there for several minutes praying, thinking, and looking at all the beauty around her. I ought to keep visiting this pretty creek, she thought. Maybe I could bring my siblings out here one time. They would love it!
Suddenly she heard noises coming from the path she had walked down. It was a loud clatter and children talking. Then she saw ten children coming through the shrubs right toward her. They were all lightly tanned and wore simple, old dresses Kate assumed were for swimming. They stopped when they saw Kate and every one of them looked at her with a quizzical expression.
“What is your name?” a girl about eleven years old questioned. She had a bold and slightly defiant look, fiery brown eyes, and brown hair that was loosely tied by a ribbon. Several strands of hair fell from the ribbon to her face as the girl stared at Kate with thin, straight lips. Kate did not know if the girl what the girl was staring at her for. Maybe she was just showing her dominance among the small group. Kate had a strange feeling that the girl looked like someone she had seen, but could not think of who it was.
“I am Kate,” she answered.
“I am Ally,” the girl replied, extending her hand in a very important manner. Kate took it and was surprised at the girl’s strong handshake. “Where are you from?” the girl asked, obviously very curious.
“I live in town,” Kate answered. “I was just enjoying the pretty day.”
“We were going to swim. Do you want to?” Ally asked, a slight smirk crossing her face.
“Sure, swimming would be fun,” Kate answered, sensing that this girl had something that she was hiding.
“Well then, get her!” Ally called, a big, victorious look crossing her face. Kate was so shocked she could not even speak as the crowd of children rushed toward her, shoving her into the water. The cold water covered her, making her feel slightly numb. The chill and shock of the water make Kate feel as though she could not breathe. The ground underneath her was pebbly and the cold water rushed about her. Kate could not remember the last time she had been in a creek. She looked up at Ally with a completely shocked expression. Ally was chuckling and smiling broadly.
“You think it is funny?” Kate questioned, slightly upset, giving Ally a determined face much like her own.
“Oh, yes it is funny!” a little girl with a high voice replied for her. “We do this all the time, for fun!”
“We did not mean any harm,” said Ally, seeing that Kate was genuinely displeased. “You said you wanted to go swimming. Sorry if you did not like it.”
“All is forgiven,” Kate said, as she rose up from the cold water, climbed onto the muddy bank, and pushed Ally into the water. Ally looked up from the water with a huge smile, her brown hair now almost black and dripping wet from the water. Everyone, including Ally and Kate, burst out laughing and then they all jumped into the water to splash each other. The cold water droplets splashed against Kate’s face, making her close her eyes. She was not used to this kind of play at all.
Then one brown-haired boy smiled and stepped up onto the bank of the river. “Let’s do the log walk,” he said. “I will do it first.”
“Wait, wait,” another boy said. “We have to get the log wet and slippery first!” The children laughed and splashed a nearby log that spanned the creek.
“Now do it, Aaron,” Ally challenged, and smiled. By now, Kate had decided that these children were certainly unpredictable.
Aaron stepped onto the log, balancing carefully, sticking his arms out, and pursing his lips. He had gotten about halfway past the log when suddenly he slipped and splashed into the creek. “You try it, Ally,” he said, as he popped out of the water. “It is hard.”
Ally stepped up, competitiveness written all over her face. She took several steps across the log, then she started to wobble. Surprisingly she regained her balance and walked carefully the rest of the way. Everyone cheered.
“You try it,” the little girl said to Kate.
“No, I will not,” she said.
“You will not? It is fun to fall in the water,” Aaron said.
“No, not to me,” Kate said.
Then the children engaged in a roudy game of King-of-the-log, in which they would try to climb on the log and stay there, but the others would try to knock them off. Kate joined, them, and since she was bigger than them she usually had no trouble getting into the log. But the farm children were strong and would pull her off the slippery log quite easily. Kate would just smile. She had to admit it–she was having a lot of fun.
All of a sudden a loud voice stopped their play. “All ye children of the family Jackson–out!” the voice demanded. Ally, Aaron, and the little girl with a high voice jumped to the bank of the creek as a young woman came out of the thicket. Kate was genuinely surprised–it was the violinist from the soup kitchen. It did not take long for the violinist’s sharp eye to see Kate, as she and the other children climbed out of the creek too. “I know who you are,” she said certainly, a spark showing in her big brown eyes. Kate was not sure if she was trying to intimidate her or if she was just showing personality. Kate recalled this same unreadable expression on Ally, who she supposed was this young lady’s sister. What are these expressions meant to tell me? Kate wondered. “You were at the soup kitchen,” the young lady continued.
“Yes, I was,” Kate said, a bold look crossing her face as well. “And I heard you playing your violin. You play very well.”
“Thank you,” she said, then extended her hand in a businesslike manner, just as Ally had done. “I am Lina. nice to meet you.”
“And I am Kate,” Kate said, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you as well.”
“Where are you from?” Lina asked.
“I live on the north side of town,” Kate answered.
“Oh, my, aren’t your parents expecting you home?” Lina said, surprised she was not on her way home already since it was almost one o’clock in the afternoon.
“No, they are not,” Kate said. “I told them I would not be home for lunch.”
Lina’s expression turned into a big question mark. All of the children were confused too. “They are not expecting you home?” Lina repeated in wonder.
“No, they are not.”
“Well, if your parents are not expecting you home, then how about you come to our place to eat?” Lina proposed.
“Truly?” Kate said, very surprised.
“Yes, why not?” Lina said authoritatively. “Follow me.” They all walked together down the path for some time, then most of the children ran off to their homes, waving goodbye. Soon it was just Lina, Ally, Aaron, their little sister, and Kate. Lina lead the way up a hill to one of the pretty farmhouses that Kate had seen earlier on the way to the creek. It was white with red shutters and a white porch in the front. When they got to the porch, Kate saw a kitten walking past the front door.
“She is pretty,” Kate said, petting the little striped kitten. Lina looked kitten at the cat with a look of disdain. “Those cats everywhere here,” she said in a strange tone and hurried off into the house. As they followed her in, Ally told Kate quietly, “Lina can’t stand cats because she is allergic to them, but I think they are pretty.” She gave Kate a sweet smile, and Kate smiled back. She thought that Lina and Ally must not be as rough-and-tough as they showed themselves to be.
The kitchen was surprisingly noisy. Lina’s mother, a skinny, tall woman who had her hair up in a bun, stood by the stove stirring a soup that looked much like the soup Kate had helped make back at the soup kitchen. A young lady with thick, dark hair was setting plates around the table. She looked only a few years younger than Kate. Ally, Aaron, and their little sister went to their mother and told her excitedly about Kate. Lina’s mother looked over at Kate with an intrigued expression.
“You are Kate?” she said, walking toward her.
“Yes, ma’am, I am Kate.”
“The children me that your parents are not expecting you home, so Selina invited you here. Welcome.” So Selina is her full name, Kate thought.
“Thank you, Mrs.–”
“Jackson. It is a pleasure to have you with us today.”
“Thank you for the invitation, or should I thank Selina?” Kate added with a chuckle.
“I can’t stand the thought of anyone being hungry,” Lina said, walking over to Kate and Mrs. Jackson. “That is why I volunteer at the soup kitchen. Also, it gives me a chance to play my fiddle.”
“I was planning on buying something, I would not have gone hungry,” Kate assured. “Fiddle–is that what you call your violin?”
“Lots of people call their violins fiddles,” Lina said, surprised that Kate did not know that.
“Do you prefer me to call you Selina or Lina?” Kate asked.
“Whichever you prefer,” She said. Those words seemed strange coming from her, as Kate could already tell that she was very opinionated.
“Selina.” Kate decided. “I think that is so pretty.”
“Thank you,” Selina said in her mysterious tone. Selina was definitely intriguing to Kate–she could not figure out what she was going to say next.
Everyone started to sit down at the table. Another boy with dark brown hair and big brown eyes like the rest of the family had came into the house with a relatively short man Kate supposed was Mr. Jackson. It was obvious that they had been working, as they were both dirty. They went to the sink and washed their hands, then sat down with the rest of the family.
“Who is this?” Mr. Jackson said, looking at Kate. His brown hair was untidy and his graying facial hair was not long enough to be considered a beard.
“This is Kate,” said the little girl excitedly. “She was playing with us at the creek and Lina brought her home.”
“Ah, I see,” Mr. Jackson said. “I assume you have met everyone?”
“Almost everyone,” Kate said.
“I am Andrew, this is my wife Martha, you have met Selina, and this is Victoria, or Torie, and this is my son Andrew, and this is Ally, and Aaron, and Lydia,” Mr. Jackson said in his pleasant, deep voice, pointing at each one as he spoke. They all looked at her with cheerful, bright eyes, which would have normally made someone nervous, but Kate was used to many eyes looking at her.
“It is very nice to meet all of you,” Kate said, nodding properly.Then he said the blessing and Ally proceeded to give everyone a bowl of soup from the big pot. Kate was very hungry, but still did not forget her proper manners. She set her napkin on her lap, ate slowly, and blew carefully on her hot spoonfuls of soup.
“The food is very good, Mrs. Jackson,” she said, taking another slice of bread from the breadbasket Torie had set on the table.
“Oh, thank you,” Mrs. Jackson replied. The Jackson family all seemed so nice, but it was still so strange for Kate to not be with her family. Kate felt torn–half of her wanted to go and have more adventures and half of her wanted to go back at the palace and be with her brothers, sisters, mother, and her father. I will be home tonight, she told herself. She had left the palace, hoping to find a distraction from her problems, and it had worked a little too well.
The Jacksons talked happily among themselves as they ate. Ally and Aaron told of everything they had done at the creek while their older brother, Andrew, told of the work he and his father had done on the farm.
“I saw your cows in the backyard when I came,” Kate added to the conversation. “They are very nice looking.”
“You like cows?” Selina said.
“Yes, I do,” Kate answered.
“I just think they are stinky,” said Ally, crinkling her nose.
“So what if they are stinky?” Selina said to Ally in an opinionated tone. “I still do not see how you could not like the cows, they are funny!” Kate chuckled as she thought of how Selina liked cows and could not stand cats, Ally liked the cats but did not like the cows, and Kate liked both.
When lunch was over, Andrew, Aaron, and Mr. Jackson went outside to work again. The ladies cleaned the table and scrubbed dishes. “I can help,” Kate said.
“No, you are a guest, we will clean,” Mrs. Jackson said firmly, so Kate ended up sitting around as they did the work.
“I am going to go on a walk with Kate, Mama,” Selina said, once she had finished her chores.
“Fine, dear,” Mrs. Jackson said.
Selina turned to Kate. “Come on, Katy, let’s go see the cows.”
“Katy,” repeated Kate, and smiled as she followed Selina out of the door.
“You like that? Katy?” Selina asked as they walked over to the nearby cow field that was surrounded by a wooden fence. To Kate the cow field looked huge, but to Selina it looked small. Several brown and black cows wandered through the field.
“Yes, I like Katy,” Kate said as Selina opened the gate for her. The two of them wandered through the field, petting the cows as they chewed their cud.
“We have eighteen of them,” Selina said. “We used to have twenty, but two of them disappeared. We must have left the gate unlocked or something.”
“Interesting,” Kate muttered as they moved on to the next cow.
“Now listen, Katy,” Selina said abruptly. Kate looked at her. Her eyes were fiery again and her face half-questioning, half-competitive. Once again, Kate did not know what she was going to say.
“Who are your parents? Why were your parents not expecting you home? Who in the world gets permission to do nothing but play all day long? Everyone has chores,” Selina asked, her gaze level and voice mysterious. “What are you doing? Who are you?”
Kate felt her heart beating, and she wondered if she should tell. “Although my story seems strange, it is true. I have no chores and my parents let me go for the day,” Kate said firmly.
“But who are your parents?” Selina interrogated. She was not going to rest until she knew the answer.
“King Nicholas and Queen Alexis,” Kate said carefully.
A very surprised look came over Selina’s face, but after a brief pause, she continued as if Kate had said nothing. “Come on, let’s take a walk on the path right over there. It is really pretty.” The two of them walked to another gate at the other side of the field. Selina opened it, and they left the field. “Over there,” Selina said, pointing to the path’s opening not far away. Before long Kate and Selina were walking down the path with beautiful pines and oaks as their roof. The leaves on the trees and the pine needles that they walked on rustled, squirrels chattered, and birds called to each other. Selina and Kate listened closely to every single sound.
“It is beautiful is it not?” Selina said, her eyes looking more like twinkling stars then burning fires.
“Yes,” Kate said, smiling broadly.
“It sounds like music,” Selina said, closing her eyes and took a deep breath. “Do you hear that woodpecker?”
“Yes, I can. He must be near, because he is loud,” Kate mused.
“I heard that you father is sick,” Selina continued as they walked on, casting a knowing look at Kate.
“Yes,” Kate said, nodding solemnly.
“I’ve been praying for you,” Selina said. Kate looked at her with a surprised expression.
“Yes, I have,” Selina said, nodding. “I have been praying for your father and your whole family, and I will continue to.”
“Thank you,” Kate said, smiling at the thought. “It never occurred to me how many people are praying for us.”
“I am sure there are many,” Selina said, nodding wisely, then abruptly changed the subject. “Do you know any instruments?”
“I know the piano,” Kate said.
“And you already know that I play the fiddle–”
“Beautifully,” Kate added with a smile.
“Oh, I have practiced a lot,” Selina said. “That is what makes you get better.”
“How often do you go to the soup kitchen?” Kate asked, deciding to change the subject.
“I go four days a week,” Selina answered.
“Do you like it?” Kate continued.
“Oh, yes!” said Selina gladly, then started telling of many funny things that had happened at the soup kitchen. As it turned out, John had played his card trick on Selina before too, and she had screamed. Then Kate talked about the palace and her siblings. She enjoyed how Selina did not treat her differently because she was a princess, but talked to her like she was any random commoner.
The two new friends talked on and on until suddenly Kate broke the conversation with a sudden gasp of, “Wait, where is the trail?”
Selina spun in a circle and muttered, “We were just on it.”
“Where was the path supposed to lead?”
“It was supposed to lead to an old mine shaft. We must have passed it,” Selina said disappointedly.
“Oh, oh, us!” Kate said, putting her head in her hands. “We were chattering and paid no attention.”
“Do not worry, we will go right back to the path. We just have to backtrack the way we came,” Selina said, her determined look on her face again. Kate was not sure finding the path would be that easy, and as it turned out, she was right. For a long time the two girls tried desperately to find the path they had been on or anything familiar, but it seemed as though they had been paying no attention to their surroundings. They could not find the path.
“What are we to do?” Kate moaned. “We must have been off the path for a long time!”
“Do not give up,” Selina said, her face more determined than ever, her eyes flaming. “We will find the path, we just have to keep on looking.”
Many more minutes of vain searching ensued, leaving Kate even more flustered and Selina even more fiery and determined.
“Lina, what shall we do?” Kate said desperately.
Selina looked back at her with a hollow look, crouched down, and started sobbing. Kate was shocked to the core. Kate crouched down and put her arm around her friend.
“Here I am, supposed to be guiding you, the princess, and we get lost!” Selina said through her tears. “If anything happens to you, it is all my fault!”
“Now, Selina, you know that it is not all your fault,” Kate condoled. “Both of us were not paying attention. I told my parents I would be careful, and I was not. And who knows? Maybe the path is only five meters away from us right now!”
“You are starting to sound like myself,” Selina muttered, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Since you said the trail runs east-to-west, let’s keep on going south until we find it,” Kate suggested.
“Or maybe we should go north,” Selina said. “I do not even know.”
“We have already tried going north,” Kate said. “Let us try to go south now.”
“Okay,” Selina said, her face becoming determined again, but in a slightly different way. She looked up at the sun, shading her eyes, and said, “That way is south. Let’s go.”
They had walked only five minutes when all of a sudden they were at the edge of a clearing. In the clearing was some sort of encampment. A tall fence made of logs with pointed edges surrounded it. “What is this, Selina?” whisphered Kate.
“I do not know,” said Selina, with wide eyes. “If it was any regular soldier fort, we would know about it by now.”
“Should we go see, or should we hide?” Kate asked urgently.
“Let’s hide,” Selina said. “We have no idea what this place is and we have already been unwise once today. Let’s just wait.”
“But if we wait, that is more minutes away from our parents,” Kate said. “Maybe these people know the way home.”
“It will do no harm to wait and see who they are. It will not take long to see,” Selina insisted. Thus the friends waited. For many minutes the only noises they could hear were rustling leaves, birds, and their beating hearts.
Then they heard someone coming. Lina and Kate peeked over the bushes to get a better look. They saw two men, dressed like regular farmers, coming from the gate of the encampment, about fifteen meters from where the girls were hiding. A big, black, and seemingly angry dog trotted at their heels. They walked over to a stack of wood and each got a handful of wood.
“That calf going to make a good roast, is he not?” one of the men said. He was skinny with an orange shirt and overalls. “Hopefully his owners will not miss him.” Kate and Selina looked at each other with big eyes. Who are these men if they are not the owners?
“Ha! I am sure they will, but they will get over it,” the other said. He was taller and wore a blue shirt and overalls. Then he dropped his voice a little. “It is a wonder we have not been found out yet. Our woods camp is perfect.”
“It sure is!” said the other. The dog started to whine and sniff around on the ground. “Is something wrong, Rascal?” the man asked.
All of a sudden, the dog charged right toward Kate and Lina. Kate could not help stop a squeal as the dog barked, then bit into her dress. The two men came running towards them. “Oh, no!” Selina gasped. “God save us!” The girls tried to run away, but as the dog had his teeth stuck in Kate’s dress. Selina pulled at the dog, but with no avail.
“‘God save us’? Save you from what? From us?” the taller man said, reaching the girls. “We will not hurt you, we are nice people.”
“Oh, are you?” said Selina, her hands on her hips and her eyes glaring and firey. The dog finally let go of Kate’s dress and crouched down, staring at them, but Kate and Selina knew that the men would outrun them if they tried to escape now.
“Yes, we are. Come with us,” the other man said.
“No, we need to go home,” said Selina. “We are not out to visit your lovely fort. Could you give us directions?”
“Directions? To where?” the shorter man asked.
“Apple street,” Selina said.
“Sure, but you need to come with me first,” he insisted.
“No, I need to go home. Where is Apple street?”
“Come in the fort,” he said, grabbing Kate’s arm as the taller one grabbed Lina’s. The two girls tried to struggle and kick, but of course, they could not overpower the strong, rough men.
The men dragged them through the gate. Once inside, Selina and Kate could see a long, wooden building along the right side of the encampment and another smaller wooden building in the middle. Other than that, all they could see were many three-rail fences penning in animals. They were dragged to the little wooden building in the middle, where a white-whiskered man with a red and black plaid shirt, torn pants, and wide-brimmed hat sat smoking a pipe, his legs propped up on the rather large table in front of him. “Ah, who are these?” he asked, his tone hinting of both victory and true curiosity.
“I found them at the side of the woods, spying on us, sir,” the shorter man informed importantly. “Or should I say, Rascal found them.”
“Ah, well, my guests, be seated,” he said, sending out a puff of smoke. No wonder the place smells like smoke, Kate thought. Selina looked totally disgusted. Kate was about to sit down as she was told, but Selina’s loud voice stopped her.
“No, we are not sitting down, we are leaving to go home,” Selina stormed towards the doorway, but of course, the two men shoved her rudely back to the middle of the room. Did Selina really think she was going to escape? Kate thought.
“There is no use trying to leave quite yet, young lady,” the older man said. “For we have not even met yet. Tell me–what are your names?”
“Not saying,” Selina said.
“Come on, why should you not?” the old man prodded.
“I am not going to obey you, you kidnappers!” Selina yelled. Kate stood there, trying desperately to put in motion everything she had learned about self-control and wisdom. The worst part of it all was that she had already been unwise. She told her parents that she would be careful, she had not been careful, and now she was being held captive by these men. She felt like a bubble about to burst.
“Calm down, girls, I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. Then he turned to Kate. “Now you, what is your name?”
“Not saying.” Kate decided she would follow Selina’s example.
“Okay, you may not want to tell me your names, but I will tell you mine,” he continued. “I am the Old Whistler, and it is nice to have you visiting us.” What a ridiculous name, Kate thought.
“We are not visiting,” Selina countered.
“Yes, you are, Now tell me, why were you hiding in the woods?” he questioned.
“Because we did not know who you are and we were lost.” Selina said, refusing to look at the man.
“What did you hear when you were in the woods?” he continued. Selina hesitated for a minute, not knowing what she should disclose to him.
“You heard something that you do not want to tell me,” the Old Whistler surmised. “But you must tell me everything that you know.”
“We know how mean you are,” Kate suddenly found herself saying, not knowing what else to say.
“Oh, do you? Then I will ask you this: do you know what I do for a living?”
“No,” Selina said, sounding very upset.
“Richard,” he said, motioning to the taller man. “Put them in one of the pens. At least for now, until I decide what to do with them,” he said, putting his feet down and slapping his knees. “These two are only trouble, especially that one.” He pointed at Lina. The two angry girls were pulled out, dragged through the camp, and locked in a pen on the side opposite the gate. The pen was dirty, and the two girls were very upset.
“The authorities will hear about this,” Kate said angrily.
“We will see about that. The Old Whistler will find out what to do with you,” the man replied in a nasty tone.
The girls looked at the cows that they shared the pen with. Some were spotted; some were all black. Kate counted ten of them. Selina gasped. “This one is Lily!” she called, putting her hand on a white cow with brown spots. “She is our cow! One of the cows that disappeared! these people are thieves!”
“What are we to do?” moaned Kate, feeling nervous.
“If we climb over the fence, they will see us,” Selina said sadly, looking at the three-rung gate that separated them from the rest of the camp. But it was not even one more minute before Selina’s eyes lit up with inspiration. “Follow me,” she ordered.
Without further hesitation, Selina pushed Lily over to the fence. She set one foot firmly on Lily, set a hand on the tall wood-post fence, and then positioned her next foot and hand. She was standing on Lily!
Then, in one fluent motion, Selina swung up onto the high, wood-post fence, sitting between post-top points as if on a saddle. What is she going to do? Kate wondered.
Then suddenly Selina dropped from the eight-foot tall fence and landed with a thud on the other side. Kate gasped. “Oh, no,” she heard Selina say.
“Are you alright?” Kate asked frantically.
“Yes, I am alright, just do what I did,” Selina ordered.
“You mean drop from the fence?” Kate said. “You meant to do that?”
“Yes, I meant to,” Selina said, sounding slightly exasperated. “It was the only way. Now hurry before they see us!”
Kate took a deep breath, looked up at the tall fence whose sharp points seemed menacing, and mentally repeated Selina’s words, It is the only way. She pushed Lily against the fence and set one foot on her trembling back. “Stay still, Lily,” Kate whispered, setting both of her wobbly feet on Lily’s back and both of her hands of the fence. How will I get up onto the fence like Lina did? she wondered. Even on Lily’s back, she did not know how she would manage to jump up onto the fence. Selina did it with such ease, she thought.
Then she heard a small voice, “You can do it, Katy,” followed by a short gasp. Selina is counting on me, Kate thought, gathering all of her courage and leaping up to the fence.
“I did it!” she breathed quietly, amazed that her random, uneducated leap had actually worked. Now she was sitting on the fence just like Selina had. Then she looked down at the ground below her, where her friend lay in a heap, her face stressed.
“Selina, what is wrong? Kate said.
“Get off the fence, or they will see you! Drop!”
Kate looked down at the ground. It appeared so far away.
I do not have the courage, God, she prayed in her mind. Please help me. With that she closed her eyes and let herself fall, and fall, and fall. Her heart leaped uncontrollably. Just as it seemed that she would never stop falling, she landed, not on the ground, but on a living breathing person– on Selina.
She scrambled to her feet and looked down at her pale friend who looked like she was in pain.
“We need to hurry!” Kate called, being the pushy one for once. Kate grabbed Selina’s hand to pull her up.
“Don’t!” Lina yelled in a voice that shocked Kate so badly she felt like crying like a scared child. Selina leapt to her feet in a sudden jerk and dashed towards the woods, Kate right behind her. Surprisingly, Kate could keep up with Selina’s fast running. Maybe it was adrenaline. They thought they heard voices behind them, but were not sure if it was their imaginations or not. Once again they paid no attention to where they were going. They were already lost and their main priority was getting as far as they could from the encampment.
After many minutes, Kate stopped and gripped a cramp in her side, breathing heavily. “I think we can slow down a little now,” she panted.
“No, we can not,” Selina insisted, her voice surprisingly level for how pale and tired she looked. “What if they have horses and pursue us on horseback?”
“If they are on horseback hey would have already caught up with us,” Kate moaned. “They are obviously not chasing us any more.”
“Do not be so sure,” Selina said, gritting her teeth like she was in pain. “Maybe it is just taking them a while to find our trail. we must still hurry!” Kate looked at her ragged, pale friend and wondered how she could be wanting to go faster.
“I can not go faster,” Kate mumbled.
“‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’–now, come on!” Selina ordered. Then the two of them charged away. As she hurried after her, trying to ignore the pain in her side, Kate willed herself to believe that it was just a race, a harmless race, and she had to beat her friend–that was all. No captors, no falling from a fence, no being lost, none of it. Selina was very fast and it was all Kate could do to keep up with her.
Then suddenly Selina gave out a whoop, lifting her hands victoriously. “It’s the mine shaft! The old mine shaft!” she cheered. Kate stumbled up behind her, and sure enough, behind the trees was the mine shaft.
“The mine shaft,” she whispered absent-mindedly, leaning against a tree. “Oh, for a drink of water!”
“Yes, the mine shaft!” Selina called. “Now I know where we are; we are not lost!” Selina’s face was as radiant as it had been when she had stood on that crate at the soup kitchen playing her fiddle. “Soon we’ll be home Katy, and you will have you water.”
“Praise the Lord!” Kate called, lifting her eyes gratefully to heaven.
Lina seemed to be thinking of the song at the soup kitchen too, for she smiled at Kate and ran away singing.
I’ve been on this road for years
Hallelujah! I’m going home!
I’ve seen hardships trials and tears
Kate joined in.
Hallelujah! I’m going home!
I am going home!
No longer shall I roam
And I will sing with the angels that bright day
I am going home!
No more sorrow shall I feel
Every sickness it shall heal
I am going, going, going home!
The girls laughed and sang some more and they ran down the more-travelled path home, Selina leading both the running and singing. It did not seem like very long until they had run the whole way down the path and were crashing out of the woods towards the cow field. Then they saw Ally at the left side of the rectangular pasture, cupping her hands over her mouth and calling, “Lina!”
“I am over here!” Selina yelled, then grimaced and slumped to the ground, her face pale again.
“Lina?” Kate whispered.
“We just need to get inside,” she commanded curtly, so the two exhausted girls stumbled towards the house, and towards Ally.
“That must have been some long walk, Lina,” Ally said, then caught a good look of her raggedy sister. “Lina, what happened?”
“Let’s just say it this way, sister,” Lina said in a strange sort of low voice. “Always, I repeat, always, pay attention to where you are going when you take a walk.”
“What happened?” Ally reiterated.
“Let us get inside first, so that we can tell everyone,” Selina said quietly, suddenly so unlike her usual, loud self.
Ally ran ahead to the house, with Kate and Selina lagging behind. Soon they were in the kitchen, surrounded by Selina’s family.
“What happened?” Aaron called.
“Lina, what is wrong?” her mother cried, spinning around and gasping at the sight of her pale daughter. The large table was set with bread, jam, and all else. Victoria came out of a room nearby and stared at them with large eyes.
“I sprained my wrist,” said Selina glumly, setting her hand on the table.
“That is why you yelled at me!” Kate reflected, grimacing in empathy as she remembered pulling on the sprained wrist.
“What happened?” Ally fairly screamed. “Tell us!”
“This is what happened,” Selina began as her mother bandaged her wrist, and from the beginning to the end told of all that had befallen them in the woods. Many gasps followed as the family listened to the narrative.
“Oh, my goodness,” said Mrs. Jackson, patting her daughter’s hand. “Oh, thank the Lord that you are safe!” Then she looked up at Kate. “I suppose you will be going home.”
“Not when we have a table of food in front of her,” said Mr. Jackson, who had come in during Selina’s long tale. “See how her eyes look longingly at the food? If it is fine with your parents, of course.”
“I can stay for supper, then go home,” Kate said.
“Good, then let us eat,” Mr. Jackson. They sat down at the already-set table to eat. During the blessing, Mr. Jackson made sure to thank God for Selina and Kate’s safety. Kate almost cried, she was so tired, hungry, and glad to be safe. Kate almost forgot her manners she was so hungry. Venison strips, applesauce, vegetables, and bread with butter filled their appetites as Selina and Kate told in more details of their adventure.
“These men need to be stopped,” said Mr. Jackson, shaking his head.
“I am going to report it to the authorities in the morning,” said Kate.
“Do you need Selina to be there with you?” Mr. Jackson asked.
“I do not believe I will,” Kate replied.
“Will you be back sometime soon, Kate?” Lydia asked in her high voice. “Will you play with us at the creek again?”
“Yes, I will be back sometime,” Kate said, nodding. “And I shall bring my siblings to play too.”
“That will be fun!” cheered Lydia.
After supper was over, Kate hurried to leave, waving goodbye to everyone and thanking everyone for their hospitality. “Do come visit us again soon, dear,” Mrs. Jackson said.
“I will,” said Kate smiling. She stepped out onto the porch and walked away, petting one of the cats as she went. As she stepped down the few steps slowly, looking up at the bright stars above. It was dark enough that she could see them now. She had only walked down the hill for a few seconds when she heard a voice. “Bye, Katy.” She looked behind her to see Selina come up and set her hand on her shoulder. “You have been a true friend today,” she said quietly.
“As have you,” Kate said. “I will tell my father of all their crimes and they will be thrown in jail for sure.”
Selina smiled. “Good.”
“I will be back,” Kate determined. “And you must teach me the fiddle.”
“That would delight me greatly, but–” Selina paused and looked down at her wrist with a truly disturbed face, then said sadly, “I can not play my fiddle now!”
“Oh, oh, it will heal, Lina!’ Kate said, trying to comfort her friend. “But however did you manage to hide your sprained wrist like that? You were singing, running, and everything.”
“I sing to distract myself from the pain. It always works,” Selina said. “I love music so much, and it would be my honor to teach you fiddle when I get better.”
“You will have to come and visit me at the palace sometime soon.”
Selina laughed. “That would be fun.”
“Yes, it shall be,” said Kate. “Maybe I can see you at the soup kitchen sometime soon.”
“That would be great. Thank God it is my left hand that got sprained, not my right, so I can still do most things, like chores at the soup kitchen. And hopefully you can come to my place or the creek sometimes too,” Selina called, waving as she stepped up onto the bottom porch step. “Goodbye, Katy!”
“Goodbye, Selina. I will write to you,” Kate called back, as she walked down the hill into the dark night. “Thank you for everything!”
Kate walked down the path, deep in thought. The last rays of sunlight shone around each simple, white-painted farmhouse like an incandescent crown. She walked all the way back down the dirt street to the main street she had been on before. All the shops on the street were closed for the night. Very few people were still out, and those that were seemed intent on going home, as Kate was. Kate thought of all of the things she had done that day and all the stories she would have to tell her siblings.
Before too long, the brick palace came in view. A guard gave her a curious lookas she slipped around to the back of the palace, where, after a moment’s hesitation, slipped in through the back door again.
“Who is there?” Kate heard, and saw a servant woman with a lamp coming down the stairs towards her.
“It is I, Princess Katherine,” she answered.
One shine of the lamp towards Katherine’s face was all that the servant needed to be sure that it was the princess. She stepped to the side and let Kate up the stairs.
She hurried to her room and took off the dog-bitten dress and the cloth that had, amazingly, stayed on her head the whole time. She changed to an elegant evening dress, combed her hair and pinned it. When she looked good enough, she walked briskly down the hall to Father’s room and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” she heard her sister Martina call.
“It is Katherine,” she answered.
“Come on in,” she heard her mother say, so she quietly opened the door and stepped in.
“Katherine,” said her father, looking up at her from his overstuffed chair. His eyes looked brighter and his smile wider than had been the day before. “You finally came.”
“Yes sir, I am sorry for being out so late,” Katherine said, curtsying and sitting down. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, I am feeling quite better,” he said. “The doctors came today and said that I have improved greatly.”
“Oh, praise the Lord!” she said, and smiled. “I am so glad.”
“You look tired, dear,” Mother said. She and Martina sat in a more simple, wooden chairs like the one at Katherine’s table.
“So what all did you do?” Father asked, with bright, interested eyes, as if he was a child ready for a story.
“Might I call the others first?” asked Katherine. “They all must hear.”
“Okay, go call them,” he said. Soon all of Katherine’s four sisters and four brothers were gathered in Father and Mother’s room, and she told them of all she had done. They listened with interest as she told of the soup kitchen and of the shucking race, and as she told of her adventures at the creek.
“I want to take all of you out there sometime,” Kate said happily.
“That would be fun!” said nine-year-old Ania, with eyes as bright as Father’s.
Then Katherine told of the Jacksons and how they had offered her dinner.
“That was very kind of them,” said Mother.
“Yes, indeed,” she agreed, and continued. “Then Selina and I decided to take a walk.” Katherine swallowed and flushed a little, not wanting to say what she had to say next.
“Mother, you told me to be careful, and I was not!” she cried suddenly, tears in her eyes. “As we walked, we talked, and paid no attention to what was around us.”
“Not paying attention is not so terrible,” Mother said thoughtfully.
“But I was not careful, and I paid for it,” Kate said, telling of all that had befallen her at the encampment. Many gasps ensued. “I was so scared, but we found the mine shaft, and from there Selina knew our way home. We came back to the Jackson farm and ate supper, then I came home,” she finished. “Oh, Mother, will you forgive me for my carelessness?” she burst at the end.
“Yes, daughter, I forgive you,” she said very matronly, placing her hand lovingly on Kate’s shoulder and looking at her straight in the eye with her own shiny blue eyes. “But Katherine, this shows you, me, and your father that the city is not as safe for seventeen-year-olds as we thought it was.”
Kate let some tears fall, even though all of her siblings were watching. “I know, I was foolish!”
“No, Katherine, I would not call it foolish. You were not trying to be careless, you just did not pay attention to your surroundings. I believe you know much more about being careful now and have learned your lesson, but nonetheless, just in case you still have trouble being careful, you must have one of your siblings with you at all times when you go out into the town, and you may not go on adventures into any new sections of the city or woods without someone strong like Joseph.” Mother glanced over at her eldest son and then continued. “Only go places you know, like the soup kitchen or anywhere else on Main Street, the Jackson farm, or the creek, from now on, dear. Let us put the past behind us, knowing that you are forgiven for the inattention on your part, and move onward, making sure nothing like that happens again.”
“Oh, thank you, Mother,” Katherine said eagerly. “Yes, I have learned my lesson and will be more careful now.” Then she looked at Father, who had a very stern expression.
“Those scoundrels will be caught for certain,” said Father. “I will send soldiers out there tomorrow.”
“Thank you Father,” she said.
“Now go and get some sleep, everyone. It is late,” Father said.
“Yes, sir,” the children said, and after bidding each other, and Mother and Father, good night, they left to their rooms.
“Katherine,” said Father as Katherine walked out. “I had no idea such rustlers existed here. Thank God you are safe.”
“Yes, thank God,” she said, smiling. “And I am so glad that you are feeling better, Father.”
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed,” quoted Mother. “Because his compassions fail not.”
Father and Katherine joined in. “They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
With that Katherine retired to her room and changed into her nightgown. She set down her candle on the bedstand and looked out the window at the stars, thinking of the compassions of the Lord. I have learned a lot today, she thought. And by the grace of God, I will not forget any of it. With that she said her prayers, blew the candle out, and went to sleep.