Authors: Mignon F. Ballard
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Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other, gold.
âGirl Scout Song
For Tommye and Jim, because you're gold
With thanks and appreciation to St. Martin's Hope Dellon and Silissa Kenney, for staying the path with Miss Dimple and Augusta, and to my agent, Laura Langlie, for her faith and friendship through the years.
Thanks also to my friend Lee Linn of The Ridge Books, for her valuable help and expertise.
“What are we going to do about supper?” Lily Moss asked, gazing longingly at the door that led to the kitchen.
“There's still plenty of that applesauce Odessa put up last month, and I suppose I could stir up some buckwheat cakes,” Phoebe Chadwick suggested. As proprietor of the rooming house, she was responsible for providing appetizing as well as nutritious meals for her guests, but that was becoming more and more of a challenge with all the rationing and shortages during what seemed like a never-ending war, and now their reliable cook, Odessa Kirby, was leaving them to care for an aging aunt.
Dimple Kilpatrick had grown up eating buckwheat cakes. She hadn't liked them then and she didn't like them now. And besides, hadn't Phoebe served them only a few days before? Still, she kept her objections to herself. Phoebe was a dear friend and she was doing the best she could under the circumstances. All of the boarders had been pitching in to help as much as possible, but with teaching duties taking up most of their time, it was difficult to plan and prepare affordable meals that would appeal to everyone. Why, just the other day she had stirred up a batch of her fiber-filled Victory Muffins, which were intended to inspire one to become healthy and patriotic, as well as regular. It seemed odd to her that no one seemed especially hungry that morning, as most of the muffins were left on the serving platter. She even thought she saw part of one crumbled underneath the bird feeder in the front yard, but, of course, that was
Annie Gardner tried not to think of Odessa's succulent baked chicken, her crispy fried fish and hush puppies, or her vegetable soup with golden-brown corn muffins. “How long does Odessa plan to be away?” she asked as she helped clear away the empty soup bowls from their midday meal. Because it was Saturday, they hadn't had to rush back to school and had taken their time over canned tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
The youngest of Phoebe's roomers, Annie was in her third year as a fourth-grade teacher at Elderberry Grammar School and had recently become engaged to Frazier Duncan, a young lieutenant currently serving somewhere in Franceâor at least that's where he was the last time she'd heard.
“I suppose we'll be without Odessa until her aunt Aurie is able to get about on her own,” Phoebe said. “Odessa said she had a nasty fall and had to have surgery on her hip. She's no spring chicken, you know, and these things take time to heal.”
Lucky Aunt Aurie!
Annie thought. All she had to do was lie up in bed while Odessa served her all the good things they would be missing out on.
And then she felt ashamed of herself for being so selfish. The poor woman was probably in pain, and would be helpless without Odessa's kind nurturing.â¦ Still, she
miss those heavenly desserts Odessa seemed to concoct out of practically nothing.
“We do have eggs,” Phoebe reminded them, “and I could grate a little cheese for an omelette.”
“Then I'll try my hand at biscuits again, if you'll let me.” A novice at cooking, Annie had burned the last batch so badly, they'd had to throw them out. “And this time I promise to watch them.” She shrugged. “I don't suppose there's any bacon?”
“We should have enough ration stamps if Shorty has any to sell,” Phoebe said, speaking of Shorty Skinner, the local butcher. “Half a pound will have to do, if he has it. We don't have enough stamps for more.”
“Virginia's holding a book for me at the library,” Miss Dimple said. “I'll stop by the butcher's on my way.” A great fan of mysteries, she was looking forward to reading John Dickson Carr's latest,
Till Death Do Us Part,
said to be a clever locked-room puzzle, and Miss Dimple enjoyed the challenge.
But lately, that was about the only thing she enjoyed. She was fond of her first-graders, as always, but had recently found herself lacking her usual enthusiasm for teaching and just about everything else. Dimple supposed it was because of the war, which seemed to define everything and everybody. Looking into the faces of her small charges, she often found herself thinking of others who had sat in those tiny green chairs years before: Peyton Hodges, who read so fast, the rest of the class had trouble keeping up. And she'd had to train herself to accommodate his natural inclination to write with his left hand. The young soldier had been killed the winter before in the Marshall Islands. And Chester Mote, with his big brown eyes and snaggle-toothed grin, had died when his plane ran out of gas during General Dolittle's bombing raid over Japan. Now, more recently, word had come that Dennis Chastain, who joined the marines early in the war, had been killed in September during the Battle of Peleliu in the Pacific. Tall and lanky, he had thrilled onlookers with his Tarzan-like antics in the trees on the playground, and was said to have been in great demand on the dance floor during high school years.
Miss Dimple tucked the required ration books into her worn purple handbag, patted her lavender hat into place, and stepped into the bright October afternoon, determined to find
encouraging in this day. At least the weather was cooperating, she thought, as the sky was so blue it almost hurt her eyes, and the large oaks on Katherine Street canopied the sidewalks in a patchwork of crimson and gold. Dimple Kilpatrick took a deep breath and straightened, walking quickly and with purpose, as was her custom. But today her purpose evaded her.
What was the matter with her? Why, this wouldn't do at all!
This, too, shall pass, she reminded herself. You have a job to do, Dimple; now get on with it! Miss Dimple had never doubted the importance of her work. The children under her care deserved the best she could offer, but lately, she felt that hadn't been enough. If only she would hear from Henry. Her brother had been eight and she fourteen when their mother died, and Dimple had taken on the duties of rearing him in her stead. Henry Kilpatrick had become a fine man and a skilled engineer, as well as a loving and supportive brother, and she was proud of the job he was doing at the Bell Bomber Plant in nearby Marietta, Georgia. Although he seldom spoke of his work, she knew it was important to the war effort. Lately, however, Henry had become distant and uncommunicative, almost to the point of being rude, and it was most unlike him. She had received a brief note from her brother a few months before, but nothing since, and he had ignored her recent letters. Dimple missed their occasional visits, missed the warmth and understanding the two of them shared. Of course she had Phoebe and her fellow teachers at the boardinghouse, and she could always rely on her friend Virginia Balliew, the sole librarian at the town's quaint log cabin library. Perhaps, she thought, if things were quiet at the cabin today, the two might have a chance to talk. Dimple disliked unloading her troubles on anyone, but this time she couldn't ignore the need.
Collecting the half pound of bacon at Shorty Skinner's sawdust-smelling shop, Dimple stopped briefly to exchange pleasantries with Jo Carr, whose daughter Charlie taught the third grade in the room opposite from hers, and hurried across the street to the small park, where the library nestled in the shade of glossy magnolias and a sandy pathway circled the fountain, where lazy goldfish swam.
As a rule, the cabin with its wisteria-shaded porch had a calming effect on Dimple and the cares of the day fell away, at least for a while, when she stepped inside the door. For a few precious minutes, she could browse among the books, lose herself in another place, another time, and become immersed in an experience far removed from Elderberry, Georgia, and a war that seemed to go on forever.
The afternoon sunlight cast its enchanting autumn spell across the cabin porch, pooling between rocking chairs and a couple of Boston ferns, and at first Dimple thought it was only a shadow she saw. And then it moved.
The woman stood with her back to the diamond-paned window, her hands clutching a large paper bag, and looked as if she wished she could become a part of the building itself. She wore a dark green skirt and tailored white blouse, with a gray sweater thrown about her shoulders. Her light brown hair curled beneath a knitted beret of dark red and gray.
Miss Dimple smiled. “Good afternoon,” she said. “Lovely weather to be out-of-doors.”
The woman nodded but didn't speak. Perhaps she had been to the library and was waiting for someone to come for her, but she didn't seem to have a book in her hand. Dimple had never seen her before.
“Is she still there?”
Virginia whispered as soon as Dimple closed the door behind her.
“If you mean the woman with the paper bag, then
Why? Is there a problem?”
Virginia shook her head and frowned. “WellÂ â¦ no, but she's been out there all afternoon. I asked her if she'd like to come inside, but she said she only wanted to sit on the porch for a while.”
Miss Dimple stepped over Cattus, the library cat, stretched out on a braided rug by the fireplace, although there was no fire this afternoon. “She seems to be waiting for someone, andÂ â¦ wellÂ â¦ I have a feeling something might be wrong.”
Virginia smiled. “Oh, you would! You and your mysteries. But she does seem a bit odd. Tell you what, let's give her a while, and if she's still there in half an hour, we'll try and get to the bottom of this.” She frowned. “Is something wrong, Dimple? You look a little down in the dumps today.”