Jane Stuart—just Jane, now and forevermore!—looked out the east window of her beloved Lantern Hill kitchen and gave a little gasp of dismay.
"Mummy," she said hurriedly, turning away from the sink, regardless of the dirty water dripping on her nice clean floor, "Wouldn't you like to go take a long walk? Down by the shore? Now?"
Mother looked up from the table where she was trying to mend a torn curtain. It had set Jane's teeth on edge to look at the uneven stitches and little puckers, but she bore with it bravely for Mother's sake. She knew, Jane did, what it was to want to contribute—and never be allowed to. So she said nothing about Mother's funny mistakes, even if she and Dad did look across the table at each other sometimes and quirk up their eyes in silent laughter.
"Why darling, whatever had gotten into you?"
"It's such a nice day," explained Jane with another frantic glance out the window. Was there enough time? "You haven't had much time on the Island—you shouldn't waste it"—
Mother rose and moved silently to the window. Her lips compressed tightly for a moment before she relaxed and laughed. "No good, my darling Jane. You must let me be brave and face things for myself. You can't protect me forever."
To anyone else, these words coming from a mother to a daughter might have sounded strange, but Jane, even though she wished Mummy would let her take care of it, was nonetheless proud of her.
So it was, when Irene Stuart knocked on Lantern Hill's front door, that mother and daughter greeted her together, with identical smiles.
"The Kennedy smile," Irene later told a friend. "I knew the moment I saw them that…well, poor Andrew…" she sighed. "His life won't be very comfortable from now on, I'm afraid. If only…"
To Mother's face, however, she was all smiles and sweetness. "Can this really be Robin? Dear, dear, lovey, how you've changed! Well, ten years, you know…and here is my own little Janie, all healthy again! You gave your darling old auntie quite a fright, you know, lovey. You look mostly recovered, but…" and she sighed.
"Won't you have some tea, Irene?" Mother asked calmly, while Jane went white with fury. How dare Aunt Irene insinuate that Mother looked old? Why, even Mrs. Jimmy John would have guessed she was Jane's older sister had she not known the truth. As for "Janie"—Jane swallowed something and moved to put Tipsy, her dancing teakettle, on.
"Well, Robin, I am glad you and 'Drew worked things out, though I was surprised he didn't say anything to me about it beforehand…he always used to tell me everything first…but times have changed, I suppose." She glanced at stony-faced Jane and changed to a more patronizing tone. "I always knew you would come around eventually…'Drew is just so impatient, always has been! He does expect those around him to be simply perfection, and refuses to believe that some of us aren't quite there…I told him you were just a child…but he wouldn't heed me." And she sighed. "I do hope things go better this time…but don't expect too much of him, lovey. He does carry a grudge forever…and he was very bitter, I can't deny that…of course, we can't really blame him, can we? After all, it was you who…"
"Sugar, Aunt Irene?" Jane interrupted blandly before she could sigh again. Aunt Irene could imply so much with a simple gust of air.
She was amused in an instant. "And she still wants to play at being housekeeper! You'll have to let your mother do some things, Janie, now. You mustn't expect to have your father all to yourself anymore…I know how you hate to share him…and you won't be able to have things all your own way, either." To mother, she said laughingly, "Jane here has always been the darlingest little thing…trying to take care of 'Drew and the house all by herself! So independent and secretive…wouldn't expect any help from me! I practically had to force it on her…the dear child."
Jane had gone from white to crimson, but Mother—dear Mother!—just put a loving arm around her. "She's going to teach me all her tricks, now. Though I don't expect I'll ever match her cooking skills. I've never tasted a pie as delectable as the raspberry pie she made for us last night."
That shot told—Aunt Irene was "noted" for her pies. She laughed again, but it sounded a little hard this time. "Oh lovey, don't worry about that! I'll be happy to bring over anything that you need. I know what men…'Drew…like to eat. Don't you fret about a thing, darlings. I'll be over here every day to help…fancy you two babies trying to run a house all by yourselves!"
Jane was herself again by now. Nothing…not even Aunt Irene…could floor Jane for long. "I took care of Dad all by myself for two summers, Aunt Irene."
"Of course you did, lovey," in her most patronizing tone.
Mother was a little pale herself, but she spoke in a calm voice. "I appreciate your offer, Irene, but I think it's time I start doing things myself—with Jane's help, of course. A wife ought to be able to take care of her own family, don't you think?"
" 'She looketh to the ways of her household,' " Jane murmured.
Aunt Irene was all hurt sweetness in an instant. "Of course, lovey, I never want to interfere…I just want to help…" she whisked out a ridiculous lacey handkerchief and applied it to her—Jane was certain—perfectly dry eyes. "Andrew's my only brother…he's all I have…now," she added pathetically. "But of course you don't want me…you never did like to share...Jane gets it from you, I expect…you always did have a dislike for me…I should have expected…"
Mother crumbled. "No, Irene, that's not it at all. Of course I don't want to steal Andrew from you. I didn't mean to push you away…you know you're welcome any time…" her voice trailed off helplessly.
"More tea, Aunt Irene?" Jane offered in a clear, hard voice.
Irene stood up heavily. "No, no thank you, dearie. I think I should be going…no, I've no hard feelings, Robin. I love 'Drew too much to hold a grudge against any of his…I understand…your mother…but I think it's best if I just go…"
She sighed all the way to her car. Jane stood next to Mother and watched her leave.
"With any luck, Mummy, she won't ever come back."
"Oh Jane, I didn't mean to offend her," Mother said piteously. "After all, Andrew is her only brother. Do you think I was too hard on her?"
"No," Jane said emphatically. "She's just trying to cause trouble, Mummy, as always. Don't let her."
But Mother didn't look convinced, and Jane went back to her dishes with a worried pucker in her forehead.