August 31, 2015
It’s a steamy ninety degrees out on BackPorch today and oh, did I mention humidity? A quick trek out to water the greenery and hangers left me red-cheeked and puffing—me and steamy don’t mix well you see. Yup, I’d say Sultry Summer is hanging on tight despite a taste of autumn just a couple days ago.
School has started in The Village. On the first day, Miss Winklesnout stood at the entrance of Big Rock Schoolhouse welcoming the children one-by-one as they skipped and scampered in from the woods and meadow grasses, everyone dressed in their finest—new knickers and freshly pressed shirts for the boys, colorful dresses and pinafores for the girls.
Tina stood beside Auntie Win—her name for her new adoptive mom—and smiled her greetings to the arrivals too, but not all was well.
You may recall that Tina’s family was tragically lost last autumn, she being the only survival of a terrible attack of some wild cats. After considerable investigation into the matter, and the conclusion that dear little Tina was indeed an orphan, the members of the School Board and some of the locals decided she would live with Miss Winklesnout permanently.
At first, the shock and upset of her situation left Tina merely grateful to be safe and well-taken care of. Miss Winklesnout was, after all, a gentle caring soul, but she was not Mama. Tina missed her home, her family—Mama, Papa, her sisters and baby brother too, but she kept the missing deep in her heart, afraid to express such thoughts for fear they’d be mistaken for unthankfulness.
She flowed through the days and weeks, intent on being helpful, willing for whatever was asked of her. Many of the towns-people commented on her politeness, and what a wonderful boon it was to Miss Winklesnout to have such a good little girl of her own now. Some even said such things directly to Tina. She just smiled and nodded assent.
In the wee hours of the days though, when she lay in her lovely new bunk, in her beautiful new room, with all the pretty hand-me-down dresses and things in her very own closet, she wept. Tears of anguish slipped out the sides of her eyes as she lay looking up at the ceiling, or over at the window where the pretty ruffled curtains wafted gently in the night breeze.
“I’m a NOT a good girl…!” she berated herself. “I’m a horrible little girl. I think about awful things even when I’m being obedient. And I want to say nasty things even as I smile and go about my chores. This is NOT my home! And Miss Winklesnout is NOT my mama… she’s not even my aunt!”
She sobbed into the pillow. “Oh Mama, Papa! Why did this have to happen to us? Why did you have to go away? Truly, will I never ever see you again?”
When morning came, she washed the tears away, got dressed and made her bed as usual. She helped Auntie Win with the breakfast dishes, did all her chores willingly and cheerfully, and as usual, never said a word about what was in her heart.
So it came as a complete surprise last week when she went missing.
Miss Winklesnout sent her on an errand to Underground Warehouse for a spool of web-thread and a bag of thistle-down for the quilt she was finishing for Tina’s bed.
“Don’t be long now, dear…” Auntie Win admonished gently. “I’ll be waiting for the thread as I’ve run out… so I can’t work on this…” she indicated the pretty pink cloud of fabric across the sofa, “…until you get back.”
“Yes, Auntie Win… I won’t be long.”
But noon-time came, no Tina. She’s probably met some school friends in the tunnel and the time has gotten away with her, the school marm reasoned.
The sun rose higher in the sky, still no Tina. Suppertime came, no Tina, and Miss Winklesnout was duly concerned.
She set out to trace the path Tina would’ve taken to get to Underground Warehouse, asking several along the way if they’d seen her. No one had.
At Sir Fivel’s shop, Miss Winklesnout poked her head in to inquire there. “No Ma’am…” he shook his head worriedly. “I haven’t seen Tina at all today and she would’ve had to pass right by here…” He rose to step outside the shop. “Perhaps we should ask some of the other shop owners if anyone has seen her. Maybe she’s visiting with some of the children at one of them.”
“That’s not like her though…” Miss Winklesnout commented. “She’s always so prompt and reliable… this is just not her way. She’s such a good little thing…”
Darkness fell. No sign of Tina. The Critter Crime Investigators were notified. Everyone knew it was possible that she’d been snatched by one of the enemies—goodness knows, there was always some lurking about.
“Go home, Miss Winklesnout, and leave the searching to us now…” Officer Daly urged. “You’re upset and weary now, but really there’s nothing more you can do out here. Leave the searching to us. For all you know, she may’ve come home already and she’s wondering where you are!”
Miss Winklesnout turned to leave, though her steps were heavy with sorrow. Sir Fivel saw her and hurried to catch up.
“Miss Winklesnout…” he called rather sharply. “Wait!” She waited.
“Let me escort you home, Ma’am. You shouldn’t be out after dark alone, and you don’t live far from me, so I’ll walk you to your door.”
“Thank you, Sir…” she accepted gratefully.
They were just about to the Milk Thistle Patch, just a scamper from Miss Winklesnout’s humble cottage, when they both noticed a lump of something light-colored just at the edge of the path.
“What’s that!?” the anxious lady exclaimed.
Sir Fivel bent to investigate. “It appears to be a bag of thistle-down…” he poked at it with his cane. “Yes, Ma’am! That’s what it is. How do you suppose it got there? Someone must’ve dropped it.”
“Ohhhhh no-o-o!” The school marm wailed.
“What Ma’am! What’s wrong!” He rushed back to her side.
“I sent Tina to Underground Warehouse for a bag of thistledown and some thread this morning! She’s has been there! And she came back. Something must’ve snatched her on the way home. Ohhhh! What will I do without my dear Tina!”
…To be continued.