Looking out the window as she cleaned up the apple peels, she could see Ryan sitting by the gate, pretending to whittle while he waited for Papa to come home. She would ask him to make some pegs to put in the barn for hanging up the harnesses. That would please both him and Papa. Helen was not far behind but she didn’t see Effie. She’d have to make sure they did their homework. It was lucky she had finished school herself by the time Mama died. She wouldn’t have had time for the housework and homework too. If Papa wasn’t too tired and if he’d been able to get a paper, she would ask him to read it to them. He always embellished the articles to suit his fancy and kept them all in stitches.
“Hello, Helen. Didn’t Effie come home with you?”
“She stayed to help the teacher with some papers. So she said. I think she’s in love with him.” She threw her books on the table and began cutting a slice of bread. “Ryan,” she called out the window. “Would you fetch me the butter from the well please?” She settled down on the woodbox by the stove and contemplated the Secret Romance she was sure was brewing between the schoolmaster and her sister. She wondered if she would ever feel the way she suspected Effie of feeling. She decided not. None of the boys around here seemed civilized, much less attractive. They only wanted to get out of school as soon and as often as possible and get back to their farms. “I want someone who doesn’t even know what a farm is,” she thought out loud.
Yes, thought Liza to herself, and you’ll never be happy with the world as it is. “What homework did the teacher give you today?”
“He gave me three Algebra problems and wants an essay on one of the English poets by Friday. I think I’ll write about Keats.” She stuffed half a thick slice of bread in her mouth and reached for the loaf.
“That’s enough bread for now,” Liza said. “You’ll ruin your appetite for supper.”
“What’s for supper, Liza? Roast chicken?”
“You know we only have chicken on Sunday. And speaking of chickens, don’t forget you have to clean the chickenhouse today.”
“Ugh! I hate cleaning that old place. It’s smelly and dirty and the rooster always tries to peck me.”
“That’s why it needs cleaning. And you’re bigger than the rooster. If you like chicken for supper you’ve got to help take care of them. They don’t get on the table by magic and I just haven’t enough time. You have to help out. You’ll have to help out more, once I’ve gone to the Langdon’s.”
“I wish it were me going, Liza. They say Mr. Langdon has a whole room full of books. I’d work there for nothing if he let me read all the books.”
“Yes, and you’d never get any work done, just the reading. It might be fine to read all the time if we were wealthy, but we’re not and you can’t. Now put on your old dress and get started on the chickenhouse. Get it done today, before supper. Otherwise, you won’t get any pie.”
“You baked a pie? Liza, I love you! What kind?”
“Apple. It’s in the oven now.”
“I really do love you Liza. I’ll miss you and so will the others.” She went to her room to change.
And Papa will miss me most, thought Liza. The others don’t understand him like I do and he doesn’t know how to talk to children. He’s going to be lonely. So will I.
She sat down for the first time since breakfast and suddenly realized how tired she was. Tomorrow she had to do the washing, and the ironing the day after. On Friday she would finish the garden, then on Saturday she would clean the house and change the beds. After church, maybe she and Papa would have time to talk.
She felt sorry at leaving, but wasn’t sure if it was for him or for herself. She supposed she was setting out on her own life, but it didn’t feel like that. It was just one more thing she had to do because it had to be done. She was old enough to earn her keep and ought to do so. Maybe she would meet someone and get married someday. Maybe you’ll be an old maid, she told herself, always tending someone else’s children. Somehow, she didn’t think so.
Effie came through the door with Ryan and she saw Papa down the road talking with a neighbor. She stood up and began putting the week’s baking away. It was time to start making supper.