The two children came trudging down the lane in apple canning time, when the first goldenrods were blooming and the wild asters large in bud. They looked, when she first saw them, out the kitchen window, like children who were coming home from school, for each of them was carrying a bag in which might have been their books. Like Charles and James, she thought, like Alice and Maggie – but the time when those four had trudged the lane on their daily trips to school was in the distant past. Now they had children of their own who made their way to school.
She turned back to the stove to stir the cooking apples, for which the wide-mouthed jars stood waiting on the table, then once more looked out the kitchen window. The two of them were closer now and she could see that the boy was the older of the two – ten, perhaps, and the girl no more than eight.
They might be going past, she thought, although that did not seem too likely, for the lane led to this farm and to nowhere else.
The turned off the lane before they reached the barn and came sturdily trudging up the path that led to the house. There was no hesitation in them; they knew where they were going.
She stepped to the screen door of the kitchen as they came onto the porch and they stopped before the door and stood looking up at her.
The boy said: ‘You are our grandma. Papa said we were to say at once that you were our grandma.’
‘But that’s not…,’ she said, and stopped. She had been about to say that it was impossible that she was not their grandma. And, looking down into the sober, childish faces, she was glad that she had not said the words.
‘I am Ellen,’ said the girl, in a piping voice.
‘Why, that is strange,’ the woman said. ‘That is my name, too.’
The boy said, ‘My name is Paul.’
She pushed open the door for them and they came in, standing silently
in the kitchen, looking all about them as if they’d never seen a kitchen.
‘It’s just like Papa said,’ said Ellen. ‘There’s the stove and the churn and…’
The boy interrupted her. ‘Our name is Forbes,’ he said.
This time the woman couldn’t stop herself. ‘Why, that’s impossible,’ she said. ‘That is our name, too.’
The boy nodded solemnly. ‘Yes, we knew it was.’
‘Perhaps,’ the woman said, ‘you’d like some milk and cookies.’
‘Cookies!’ Ellen squealed, delighted.
‘We don’t want to be any trouble,’ said the boy. ‘Papa said we were to be no trouble.’
‘He said we should be good,’ piped Ellen.
‘I am sure you will be,’ said the woman, ‘and you are no trouble.’
In a little while, she thought, she’d get it straightened out.
She went to the stove and set the kettle with the cooking apples to one side, where they would simmer slowly.
‘Sit down at the table,’ she said. ‘I’ll get the milk and cookies.’
She glanced at the clock, ticking on the shelf. Four o’clock, almost. In just a little while the men would come in from the fields. Jackson Forbes would know what to do about this; he had always known.
They climbed up on two chairs and sat there solemnly, staring all about them, at the ticking clock, at the wood stove with the fire glow showing through its draft, at the wood piled in the wood box, at the butter churn standing in the corner.
They set their bags on the floor beside them, and they were strange bags, she noticed. They were made of heavy cloth or canvas, but there were no drawstrings or no straps to fasten them. But they were closed, she saw, despite no straps or strings.
‘Do you have some stamps?’ asked Ellen.
‘Stamps?’ asked Mrs Forbes.