Wynne’s house was a small one, an odd-looking wooden structure that was taller than it was wide. Due to the tight spaces that were inevitable in a city completely hemmed in by huge, impenetrable stone walls, the buildings therein often had to be constructed quite creatively. In the case of Wynne’s house, there simply would not have been room for it to be built like a normal house because of the two neighboring houses that pressed in on it from both sides. So old Clay Blackthorne — Wynne’s great-grandfather — had decided to build upwards, ending up with a stalk-like, somber-looking dwelling with a tiny front porch only slightly larger than the kitchen table.
As Wynne approached the house, she saw her younger twin sisters, Marie and Leona, crouching by the foot of the front stairs playing with stray silky-furred cat that had wandered over. Leona looked up as Wynne came to the steps.
“Wynnie!” she said straightening up so that the cat jumped a foot in the air in an attempt to catch the strand of yarn she held in her hand. “Mama says she wants you to take the clothes in from the line and after that she wants you to help her in the kitchen.”
Wynne grunted and set the water pot down on the top step. “Why can’t you take the clothes down?” she asked Leona. Leona bent down and enticed the cat with the yarn.
“I’m not tall enough yet. I can barely reach the clothes and mama says they always drag on the ground when I carry them and get all dirty.”
Wynne sighed and lugged the pot up onto the porch and then entered through the front door.
The house had been swept and cleaned several times over the last week, but Wynne entered the hall, Little Tam, her youngest sibling, was sweeping the floor yet again. From the kitchen emanated sounds of clinking dishes and the crackle of the cooking fire.
Wynne headed in there, wordlessly put the pot on the kit-hen table, and then slipped back outdoors to retrieve the laundry from the line. After she had done that, she marched back inside, stowed the clothes all in their respective places, and then joined her mother in the kitchen again.
It was hot in there, as it was a fine, sunny day and the fire was still blazing in the fireplace. Over the flames hung a kettle and a pot, which was filled with hot water.
Wynne’s mother handed her a wooden bowl. In it were pods of green peas, fresh from the tiny garden they kept behind the house.
“Shell these,” said her mother irritably, and it was clear from her tone that she was still as angry as Wynne was. “And when you’re done you can chop up the carrots. I’m quite sure the letter said they would be here before dark, and there’s still so much to do until then.”
Wynne sat down at the table and began to shell the peas. As she worked, she watched a sparrow out the window pecking at something on the roof of their neighbor’s house. Clouds scudded across the bright blue sky while Wynne slowly became aw-are of a hangnail on her thumb which hurt every time she split a pod open. A minute later Marie and Leona entered the house and wandered into the kitchen. Marie grabbed a pod and popped it open to eat the sweet green peas inside.
“There’s a little cat out there,” said Leona to her mother. Wynne noticed a wily note in her voice that signified she was wheedling. “Can we bring him in?”
Wynne’s mother sighed and glanced back at Leona wearily as she washed dishes in a tub of water.
“No, Leona,” she said. “If we bring it in or feed it, it’s going to keep coming back.”
“So?” said Leona clearly considering this a bonus and not a problem of any sort.
Looking as though she were at her wits end she, scrubbed the plate she was cleaning still harder and said in an exhasperated voice, “Oh, just get out of the kitchen. Do whatever you want.”
Happily, the two twins skipped out of the room and Wynne heard the door clatter shut behind them.
Working in that kitchen was an endless task for Wynne that afternoon. As soon as she completed one task, her mother put her to another before she could so much as even announce that she was done. It grew quite hot, with the sun shining bright and warm through the windows and the fire heating the room to a nearly unbearable level. And as Wynne slaved at her work, she felt her brow was damp with perspiration. The worst part of it was not the heat, however, nor the labor, nor even the terrible misfortune that Wynne could not even enjoy the wonderful weather outside. The worst part by far was the dead stubborn silence that stood between them, impenetrable as the walls that surrounded the city. Scarcely a word passed between them unless it was her mother giving hasty instructions, or expressing her approval (or more often, it seemed to Wynne, her disapproval) of the work Wynne had done. There was constantly the crackle of the fire and the clink of cutlery, but never the sound of conversation, which only left Wynne to stew in her own dark thoughts.
But finally it was over. The sun had sunk down below the many buildings and it could only be supposed (though Wynne had never herself seen it) below the edge of the horizon beyond. A blessed coolness stole in through the open window as the sky above dimmed and the aroma of terrific cooked foods that Wynne had only ever eaten on special occasions wafted to her causing her stomach to growl. And then it was done, the kitchen was clean and Wynne’s mother was ordering her upstairs to wash up, dress and become presentable.
Wynne changed into the nicest of her three dresses and soon after was coming down the two flights of stairs, and there was a great bustle of persons moving about the house and Little Tam’s voice calling that Uncle Antony was here.