Chapter Eleven

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After Marigold and I finished the next round of deliveries, she checked the small watch on a chain at her waist.

"Almost time to eat," she said, dusting the newest layer of snow from her sleeves and skirts and looking up at me. "Did you remember your lunch?"

"Actually, I forgot." I shrugged. I'd been in such a hurry to leave on time this morning I didn't bring the bread and fruit Mr. Best had offered.

"Then you must come eat something with me," she said. "At home."

My eyebrows rose. Her father had no use for me; he'd indicated as much clearly during our earlier encounter. "Are you certain? I don't want to cause any trouble."

Her laughter was a soft, musical sound. "No trouble at all. You can meet the rest of my family."

"Does your father have lunch with the family?"

"No, Father never has lunch." We trudged through the snow and left our wheelbarrows outside the back entrance to the Stationmaster's house, which was situated right beside the station.

Their home was a long, narrow building. It appeared to have had three rooms added on to one end at some point, to accommodate, I imagined, the Stationmaster's growing family.

"How long has your father been the Stationmaster at Wishing Cross?"

"Near as I can tell, he started here sometime in the year just before I was born."

"Near as you can tell?" I pressed gently, not wanting to scare her off but needing more information for things to begin making sense about this place, if they were ever going to.

"We're not the kind of family to talk much about the past," Marigold confided, shifting uneasily as she led me up the steps. "Take your boots off and leave them out here. This door is the back entrance to the kitchen, and Helen will take a strap to us if we dirty the floor."

I'd like to see her try that in front of me, I thought, but I said nothing. I only nodded and did as she asked. "Are you sure this is going to be all right?"

"It'll be fine," she encouraged me, tugging on my sleeve slightly. "Come on."

"About time you got here," Helen barked. "I've already fed the boys, Sam is back at work, and Joseph and Jeremiah are nearly finished with their soup. I have to get back to the ticket booth, you're going to have to do the washing up now."

"I don't mind," Marigold replied brightly. She indicated me, as I stood several paces behind her in my socks, coat still buttoned in case I needed to make a hasty retreat. "Helen, I hope you don't mind but I've brought a guest for lunch. Surely we have an extra bowl of soup to spare for our new neighbor, Mr. Wainwright?"

Helen's eyes bored through me. "Your father mentioned you were working with him today, and all the while the chores around here fall behind." She shook her head, took two bowls from a shelf and began to ladle them full of what appeared to be chicken soup.

"I'll catch up on chores, I promise. It's just Mr. Wilson asked and—"

"I'm aware of the situation, Marigold. Wash your hands and sit down."

"This way." Marigold led me to a corner basin with a pitcher beside. She tilted it, then nodded toward a bar of soap. "Go ahead, I'll pour the water for you."

I wet my hands in the first drops and then lathered them up, jolting as the water spilling from the pitcher froze my already cold hands. The soap rinsed away, and she handed me a towel.

"Thank you. May I?" I took hold of the pitcher handle with the towel, and she smiled.

We repeated the hand washing procedure with me pouring this time, before she took another clean towel and dried her hands with it.

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