"Hmpf. Having a little adventure in the countryside, no doubt," scowled the woman. She had at least three chins, and gray hair curled out from under her bonnet. She grabbed Collin's hand, pulled him from the puddle, and ushered him briskly to a water trough where she scooped water out with a bucket and rinsed off his muddy clothes. "I don't approve of children shirking their chores, not at all," she said sternly. "But ... I'll not have children running around cold and wet -- or muddy -- either." She smiled. "Not when I could invite them inside where it's warm."
"Do you have food inside?" Collin asked as his stomach growled.
"There's porridge on the stove, and fresh bread, butter, and my very own berry preserves."
"It sounds wonderful," Morgan exclaimed. "We haven't eaten anything really good in at least a week."
"Oh, you poor dears. Can your parents not afford to purchase proper food or clothing for you?"
"We don't know where are parents are," Morgan said, feeling like she might cry at any moment.
"Come, children," said the woman sympathetically. She gathered them toward her like a hen would her chicks. "We'll have a proper breakfast and you may warm yourselves by the stove." She bustled them into the farmhouse and added, "My name is Prudence Smith."
Morgan smiled. The old woman reminded her of her grandmother. She even smelled like cinnamon and sugar.
Morgan, Collin, and Courtney introduced themselves as the woman steered them toward the hearth. Collin shivered and Morgan grinned. At least she wasn't the wet one this time around!
While Mrs. Smith sliced bread, Morgan looked at the room. She'd seen places like it once when she and her family visited some of the historical homes in Boston. Frilly white curtains hung at the windows, a few rocking chairs were placed around a braided rag rug, and a big wooden table with benches on either side sat near the hearth.
Instead of a roaring fire in the fireplace, there was a small blaze burning in the open, iron, box-like stove that sat on the brick hearth. Despite the morning chill and the storm brewing outside, the room was warm and comfortable.
Mrs. Smith put the sliced bread on the table. Into three wooden bowls she ladled something thick and steaming that came from a kettle hanging over the open fire.
"Wouldn't it save you time if you cooked that in the microwave?" Collin asked innocently.
Courtney elbowed her brother and frowned, as Mrs. Smith gave Collin a puzzled look. "I don't recollect hearing of any 'microwave.' But my husband recently purchased this newfangled iron stove. I must admit, I find it ever so much more efficient than cooking -- or heating -- in the fireplace alone." She sat the bowls on the table, and the children began to eat the porridge hungrily.
Outside, lightning streaked across the sky and thunder crackled. "Mercy!" she said, looking to the window. "This fire will certainly be appreciated this morning if that storm continues to build."
Morgan, Collin and Courtney turned to look, too. What they saw was a portly man quickly riding by the farm house window on a large gray horse. Sitting very stiff and straight in the saddle, he held on to his tri-cornered hat with one hand as the tails of his long black coat flew out behind him.
"Oh, dear," Prudence exclaimed. "There goes Mr. Franklin. I'll bet he's off chasing one of his storms again."