As the church service ended Abby grew anxious about the coming event in the churchyard. She followed the closely packed crowd to the side door, all the while looking for her friends, and feeling lost and alone. People were getting hot and irritated in the bottleneck at the exit. Suddenly Abby felt a tug on her shirt from behind, and turned to see Glenda carrying Tiny. “Oh am I happy to see you,” said Glenda in a low tone. “I promised to stick close to Ellen now that she’s running for trustee and has to… figure out what to say to people. She needs help. And Tiny and Kayla will get bored.”
“We want to explore,” announced Tiny. “Kayla and Lucy and I want to see everything!”
Abby was delighted. Tiny’s plan suited her perfectly. Glenda joined Ellen at the crowded tables of food and coffee, where Sammy, Stephanie, and Ellie were rushing to serve Sammy’s usual food. Abby and Tiny walked over toward the Birdwatchers’ Path sign. They waited in the open under the dazzling sunlight, giving anyone the opportunity to join them. Ellen immediately sent Kayla running toward them across the grass. Tom Winkle and Lucy approached more slowly. Tom said, “Lucy tells me you’re going to give the children a tour today. ‘An explore,’ she calls it.”
“That’s right,” replied Abby, pleased that she could offer something positive to this – from her point of view – extremely stressful event.
“Now you might not be aware…” said Tom with his gentle voice, “that some of Lucy and Tiny’s friends have been talking about you all week. They see each other every day at the pre-school, and at Sunday School as well. Is it true you’re going to be running activities at the pre-school?” Tom smiled, creating a feeling of calm and confidence in Abby, like the steadying influence of a benevolent grandfather.
“Well, I’m only volunteering three days a week to start with,” Abby said. From the corner of her eye she saw a large group heading her way.
“Ah, here they come,” Tom announced. “The whole class.” He waved to them and said, “Please join us!” Four young children and a mix of adults arrived. Abby was introduced to Jane, Nancy, Franklyn, Ned, and the parents. The children immediately clustered together, all talking at once. They clearly had a plan of what they wanted to do. Abby heard the words, ‘secret place,’ several times. Tom was trying to explain the situation to the parents.
And to make things still more complicated, the bishop was walking toward them across the lawn. He had exchanged his elaborate outfit for dark pants, shirt, and hat. Abby immediately knew who he was, but many in the group did not recognize him. He introduced himself to each person in a mild-mannered way, going down on one knee to shake hands with each child. Soon the bishop and the parents were discussing the Sunday School and their various connections to the church. The children quickly became bored and began to pester Abby. The bishop observed the situation and said, “Please go ahead, we’ll wait here for you.”
And in a moment Abby and her following moved down the path into the cool shadows. They walked softly to the wall and turned left into the wild area. Tiny was pointing up the little path to the cave of vines. She looked to Abby for an okay signal, and then led them to the cave entrance. The children gathered around, examining the interior. Lucy stooped down and crawled on hands and knees to the far end of the cave. Meanwhile Abby and the other children all crowded inside. “It’s like the cave-house!” proclaimed Tiny. “It’s our house here at the church.”
“Look how much we can spy,” said Lucy, looking through the vines at the adults on the lawn. Abby replied: “I’ve got an idea. Instead of looking for people, let’s look for animals. I’ve seen about ten kinds of birds here, and heard an owl. And I saw a rabbit come out onto the grass. But animals are usually very quiet, and we won’t see them unless we are quiet too.”
“Emily says Dawn can see all animals and people,” Tiny told them, referring to her imaginary characters.
“I’ve seen a rabbit,” said Franklyn. “And in the swamp we saw a heron, and three deer from a distance.” Jane announced: “Lots of times I’ve seen vultures and raccoons when we visit my uncle.” In a low voice, almost a whisper, Nancy said, “Twice I saw a rat. In River City.” All were silent for a few minutes, and then Ned whispered, “There’s a cardinal.” The beautiful red bird jumped from one tiny branch or vine to another, only ten feet away. Then a group of sparrows began to fuss in another direction. And high above the crows gave their rough call from the tops of the maple trees.
“We should bring snacks here,” said Lucy. “We have a dining room nearby, at the secret entrance.”
“Would it be all right for us to see that?” asked Ned in a very timid voice, as if he greatly feared that the answer would be ‘No’.
“Of course!” replied Abby. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Let’s get food and bring it back here!” exclaimed Tiny. The whole group agreed in excitement, and immediately scrambled out of the cave and followed Abby up the path.