Then we bowed our heads while Peggy's father asked the blessing. Even little Anna bowed her head, but I saw her peeking.
Mrs. Stoltz served us oatmeal and honey, as Peggy had promised. The cream was thick and golden, still warm from the cow.
"Did you milk the cow, Jacob?" I asked, feeling shy.
"Sure, Jake milks," Mr. Stoltz said.
To my surprise, Jacob began to make a rhythmic sound: not the shoooda, shoooda of the millstone, not the song of the horses, but a psssss, psssss that he repeated again and again. Anna giggled.
"Enough, boy," his father said sternly. Then to me he explained, "That d be the sound of the milk into the pail."
Peggy helped her mother wash the dishes, after, but they wouldn't let me, though I offered. Instead I played at the table with Anna. I folded and rolled the napkins into dolls, and we walked them around and made them say hello and goodbye to each other, with bows and curtsies that made the little girl laugh. She climbed down from her chair after a moment, ran off into another room, and came back carrying her own doll to show me. It was sewn of rags, with hair made from yarn and two buttons on it for eyes. I could tell it had been loved. Parts were worn and frayed from holding and, even as she showed me, Anna put her thumb into her mouth and began to stroke the doll in the way little ones do when they are tired. Then she giggled again and set the doll aside in her father's chair.
Mr. Stoltz and Jacob, with his cap firmly back in place, had gone back outside. "We ' ll water your horses," Mr. Stoltz had said, and I was glad that Jacob would be caring for Jed and Dahlia, who knew him well by now.
Peggy showed me around the little house: the parlor, with its stiff chairs and worn rug. Back home, in town, we used our parlor every night, sitting there to read, or sometimes Mother played the piano. Gram played Patience in the parlor, and the fire crackled in the fireplace on chilly nights. But this room was cold and unused. The kitchen was the warmth of the Stoltz farmhouse.
Jacob slept in a tiny room behind the kitchen, and upstairs were two cold bedrooms, one that Peggy and Nellie had shared—it was Anna ' s now—and the other where their parents slept. I shivered and Peggy laughed. "It ' s spring now," she pointed out. "In winter it ' s really cold! But see? The comforters are stuffed with down. They're warm enough."
I felt the softness of the down-filled bedding. The rooms were dark, their walls bare of decoration, and the floors were splintery wide boards. No rugs; no flowered wallpaper; no silver-backed brush and comb.
"Where is the bathroom?" I whispered.
Peggy pointed through the window to the privy behind the house.
"Peg," her mother said as we passed through the kitchen on our way outdoors, "Floyd Lehman asked when you was to be at home. You want I should tell him? There's a telephone at the Fosters now, and they d call him to it."
Peggy blushed and said no. It was the first I knew that she had an admirer.
When we went outdoors, the spring air was warmer now than the early morning had been. Birds sang, and flowers were coming into bud, curled pink and white. A chipmunk ran across a stone wall and jerked its tail before disappearing into a chink. Anna trotted behind us as Peggy walked with me down to see the creek.
The water was deep. It moved past, swirling and foaming lazily around the rocks. Peggy held tight to Anna's hand as the little girl leaned forward curiously to see. We threw in some pebbles and watched the circles they made. A familiar-looking dog, brown with a white face, appeared, running toward us through some nearby tall grass, and Peggy stroked its head and spoke to it.
"It's Jacob s dog," she said, but I knew it already. The white-faced dog with floppy ears always sat by our stable and waited when Jacob was there, and then followed him when he left.
"He raised it from a puppy," Peggy explained. "Its mother died when she had a litter, and all the pups died but this one. We didn't even know for a long time. Jacob hid it in the barn and fed it cow's milk, dipping a rag in so the puppy could suck. Pa said he probably had to do it ten times a day, to keep the pup alive."
I looked down at the dog. It was sitting, now, in the grass beside Anna. Its tail wagged and it looked back at me with huge dark eyes.
"Does it have a name?"
Peggy chuckled. "Jacob don't name things," she said. "We all just call it Pup."
"Good Pup," Anna said solemnly, and patted the dog's back.
"Go find Jake!" Peggy said to the dog, and immediately it rose and trotted toward the barn. We followed. "I ' ll show you the animals," Peggy said.
"Lambs!" Anna announced. She ran ahead.
"Yes, there are new lambs. They always come at the end of winter. And there's a calf."
I followed Peggy into the cool darkness of the barn. For a moment it seemed silent inside, but then I began to hear the stirring of animals: the thump of shifting feet, the swish of a tail, the deep breath of living creatures. A sudden snorting grumble nearby startled me, and Peggy laughed when I jumped in surprise. She pointed to a penned area near the barn door, and I saw the huge pig, with its whiskery face, inside.
In another pen, lambs stood quietly next to their thick, silent mothers.
One mother had two little ones; I pointed and whispered, "Twins," to Peggy. But she shook her head.
"Sometimes they do have twins," she said. "But these aren't. The small one? Its ma wouldn't take it when it was born. Sometimes that happens. The ma just turns away and wants nothing of it. And the lamb would die, too, with no ma to suckle it.
"But Jacob took this one and put it with this ma, since she had milk for her own, and coaxed her till she would feed it with the other. And now she does. See?"
As I watched, the smaller lamb nudged at the mother with its head and searched under her until it found milk.