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   Chapter 2 A SPASM OF ORDER

Gypsy Breynton By Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Characters: 17795

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"I can't help it," said Gypsy, after supper; "I can't possibly help it, and it's no use for me to try."

"If you cannot help it," replied Mrs. Breynton, quietly, "then it is no fault of yours, but in every way a suitable and praiseworthy condition of things that you should keep your room looking as I would be ashamed to have a servant's room look, in my house. People are never to blame for what they can't help."

"Oh, there it is again!" said Gypsy, with the least bit of a blush, "you always stop me right off with that, on every subject, from saying my prayers down to threading a needle."

"Your mother was trained in the new-school theology, and she applies her principles to things terrestrial as well as things celestial," observed her father, with an amused smile.

"Yes, sir," said Gypsy, without the least idea what he was talking about.

"Besides," added Mrs. Breynton, finishing, as she spoke, the long darn in Gypsy's dress, "I think people who give right up at little difficulties, on the theory that they can't help it, are--"

"Oh, I know that too!"

"What?"

"Cowards."

"Exactly."

"I hate cowards," said Gypsy, in a little flash, and then stood with her back half turned, her eyes fixed on the carpet, as if she were puzzling out a proposition in Euclid, somewhere hidden in its brown oak-leaves.

"Take a chair, and sit by the window and think of it," remarked Tom, in his most aggravating tone.

"That's precisely what I intend to do, sir," said Gypsy; and was as good as her word. She went up-stairs and shut her door, and, what was remarkable, nobody saw anything more of her. What was still more remarkable, nobody heard anything of her. For a little while it was perfectly still overhead.

"I hope she isn't crying," said Mr. Breynton, who was always afraid Gypsy was doing something she ought not to do, and who was in about such a state of continual astonishment over the little nut-brown romp that had been making such commotion in his quiet home for twelve years, as a respectable middle-aged and kind-hearted oyster might be, if a lively young toad were shut up in his shell.

"Catch her!" said the more appreciative Tom; "I don't believe she cries four times a year. That's the best part of Gyp.; with all her faults, there's none of your girl's nonsense about her."

Another person in the room, who had listened to the conversation, went off at this period into a sudden fit of curiosity concerning Gypsy, and started up-stairs to find her. This was Master Winthrop Breynton, familiarly and disrespectfully known as Winnie. A word must be said as to this young person; for, whatever he may be in the eyes of other people, he was of considerable importance in his own. He had several distinguishing characteristics, as is apt to be the case with gentlemen of his age and experience. One was that he was five lengthy and important years of age; of which impressive fact his friends, relatives, and chance acquaintances, were informed at every possible and impossible opportunity. Another was, that there were always, at least, half a dozen buttons off from his jacket, at all times and places, though his long-suffering mother lived in her work-basket. A third, lay in the fact that he never walked. He trotted, he cantered, he galloped; he progressed in jerks, in jumps, in somersets; he crawled up-stairs like a little Scotch plaid spider, on "all fours;" he came down stairs on the banisters, the balance of power lying between his steel buttons and the smooth varnish of the mahogany. On several memorable occasions, he has narrowly escaped pitching head first into the hall lamp. His favorite method of locomotion, however, consisted in a series of thumps, beginning with a gentle tread, and increasing in impetus by mathematical progression till it ended in a thunder-clap. A long hall to him was bliss unalloyed; the bare garret floor a dream of delight, and the plank walk in the woodshed an ecstasy. Still a fourth peculiarity was a pleasing habit when matters went contrary to his expressed wishes, of throwing himself full length upon the floor without any warning whatsoever, squirming around in his clothes, and crying at the top of his lungs. Added to this is the fact that, for some unaccountable reason, Winnie's eyes were so blue, and Winnie's laugh so funny, and Winnie's hands were so pink and little, that somehow or other Winnie didn't get half the scoldings he deserved. But who is there of us that does, for that matter?

Well, Winnie it was who stamped across the hall, and crawled up-stairs hand over hand, and stamped across the upper entry, and pounded on Gypsy's door, and burst it open, and slammed in with one of Winnie's inimitable shouts.

"Oh Winnie!"

"I say, father wants to know if--"

"Just see what you've done!"

Winnie stopped short, in considerable astonishment. Gypsy was sitting on the floor beside one of her bureau drawers which she had pulled out of its place. That drawer was a sight well worth seeing, by the way; but of that presently. Gypsy had taken out of it a little box (without a cover, like all Gypsy's boxes) filled with beadwork,-collars, cuffs, nets, and bracelets, all tumbled in together, and as much as a handful of loose beads of every size, color, and description, thrown down on the bottom. Gypsy was sorting these beads, and this was what had kept her so still. Now Winnie, in slamming into the room after his usual style, had stepped directly into the box, crushed its pasteboard flat, and scattered the unlucky beads to all four points of the compass.

Gypsy sat for about half a minute watching the stream of crimson and blue and black and silver and gold, that was rolling away under the bed and the chair and the table, her face a perfect little thunder-cloud. Then she took hold of Winnie's shoulder, without any remarks, and-shook him.

It was a little shake, and, if it had been given in good temper, would not have struck Winnie as anything but a pleasant joke. But he knew, from Gypsy's face, it was no joke; and, feeling his dignity insulted, down he went flat upon the floor with a scream and a jerk that sent two fresh buttons flying off from his jacket.

Mrs. Breynton ran up-stairs in a great hurry.

"What's the matter, Gypsy?"

"She sh-sh-shooked me-the old thing!" sobbed Winnie.

"He broke my box and lost all my beads, and I've got them all to pick up just as I was trying to put my room in order, and so I was mad," said Gypsy, frankly.

"Winnie, you may go down stairs," said Mrs. Breynton, "you must learn to be more careful with Gypsy's things."

Winnie slid down on the banisters, and Mrs. Breynton shut the door.

"What are you trying to do, Gypsy?"

"Pick up my room," said Gypsy.

"But what had that to do with stringing the beads?"

"Why, I-don't know exactly. I took out my drawer to fix it up, and my beads were all in a muss, and so I thought I'd sort them, and then I forgot."

"I see several things in the room that want putting in order before a little box of beads," said Mrs. Breynton, with a smile that was half amused, half sorrowful. Gypsy cast a deprecating glance around the room, and into her mother's face.

"Oh, I did mean to shut the wardrobe door, and I thought I'd taken the broom down stairs as much as could be, but that everlasting Tom had to go and-- Oh dear! did you ever see anything so funny in all your life?" And Gypsy looked at the image, and broke into one of her rippling laughs.

"It is really a serious matter, Gypsy," said Mrs. Breynton, looking somewhat troubled at the laugh.

"I know it," said Gypsy, sobering down, "and I came up-stairs on purpose to put everything to rights, and then I was going to live like other people, and keep my stockings darned, and-then I had to go head first into a box of beads, and that was the end of me. It's always so."

"You know, Gypsy, it is one of the signs of a lady to keep one's room in order; I've told you so many times."

"I know it," said Gypsy, forlornly; "don't you remember when I was a little bit of a thing, my telling you that I guessed God made a mistake when he made me, and put in some ginger-beer somehow, that was always going off? It's pretty much so; the cork's always coming out at the wrong time."

"Well," said Mrs. Breynton, with a smile, "I'm glad you're trying afresh to hammer it in. Pick up the beads, and tear down the image, and go to work with a little system. You'll be surprised to find how fast the room will come to order."

"I think," she added, as she shut the door, "that it was hardly worth while to--"

"To shake Winnie?" interrupted Gypsy, demurely. "No, not at all; I ought to have known better."

Mrs. Breynton did not offer to help Gypsy in the task which bade fair to be no easy one, of putting her room in order; but, with a few encouraging words, she went down sta

irs and left her. It would have been far easier for her to have gone to work and done the thing herself, than to see Gypsy's face so clouded and discouraged. But she knew it would be the ruin of Gypsy. Her only chance of overcoming her natural thoughtlessness, and acquiring the habits of a lady, lay in the persistent doing over and over again, by her own unaided patience, these very things that came so hard to her. Gypsy understood this perfectly, and had the good sense to think her mother was just right about it. It was not want of training, that gave Gypsy her careless fashion of looking after things. Mrs. Breynton was a wise, as well as a loving mother, and had done everything in the way of punishment, reproof, warning, persuasion, and argument, that mothers can do for the faults of children. Nor was it for want of a good example, Mrs. Breynton was the very pink of neatness. It was a natural kink in Gypsy, that was as hard to get out as a knot in an apple-tree, and which depended entirely on the child's own will for its eradication. This disorder in her room and about her toilet was only one development of it, and by no means a fixed or continued one. Gypsy could be, and half the time she was, as orderly and lady-like as anybody. She did everything by fits and starts. As Tom said, she was "always on the jump." If her dress didn't happen to be torn and her room dusty, why, she had a turn of forgetting everything. If she didn't forget, she was always getting hurt. If it wasn't that, she lost her temper every five minutes. Or else she was making terrible blunders, and hurting people's feelings; something was always the matter; and some one was always on the qui vive, wondering what Gypsy was going to do next.

Yet, in spite of it all, the person who did not love Gypsy Breynton (provided he knew her) was not to be found in Yorkbury. Whether there was any reason for this, you can judge for yourself as the story goes on.

After her mother had gone down, Gypsy went to work in earnest. She picked up the beads, and put them back into the drawer which she left upon the floor. Then she attacked Tom's image. It took her fully fifteen minutes merely to get the thing to pieces, for the true boy-fashion in which it was tied, pinned, sewed, and nailed together, would have been a puzzle to any feminine mind. She would have called Tom up to help her, but she was just a little bit too proud.

The broom she put out in the entry the first thing; then, remembering that that was not systematic, she carried it down stairs and hung it on its nail. The shoes and the dresses, the cape and the cloak, the tippet and the hat, she put in their places; the torn apron and the unmended stockings she tumbled into her basket, then went back and folded them up neatly; she also made a journey into the woodshed expressly to put the hatchet where it belonged, on the chopping-block. By this time it was quite dark, but she lighted a lamp, and went at it afresh. Winnie came up to the entry door, and, at a respectful distance, told her they were "popping" corn down stairs; but she shook her head, and proceeded with her dusting like a hero. Tom whistled for her up the chimney-flue; but she only gave a little thump on the floor, and said she was busy.

It was like walking into a labyrinth to dispose of the contents of that table-cloth. How to put away the pencils and the rubber, when the drawing-box was lost; how to collect all the cookey-crumbs and wandering needles, that slipped out of your finger as fast as you took hold of them; where on earth to put those torn geography leaves, that wouldn't stay in the book, and couldn't be thrown away; where was the cork to the inkstand? and how should she hang up the riding-whip, with the string gone? These were questions that might well puzzle a more systematic mind than Gypsy's. However, in due time, the room was restored to an order that was delightful to see,-for, if Gypsy made up her mind to a thing, she could do it thoroughly and skilfully,-and she returned to the bureau drawer. This drawer was a fair specimen of the rest of Gypsy's drawers, shelves, and cupboards, and their name was Legion. Moreover, it was an "upper drawer," and where is the girl that does not know what a delicate science is involved in the rearranging of these upper drawers? So many laces, and half-worn collars that don't belong there, are always getting in; loose coppers have such a way of accumulating in the crevices; all your wandering pins and hair-pins make it a rendezvous by a species of free-masonry utterly inexplicable; then your little boxes fit in so tightly, and never have room to open, and are always getting their covers caught when you shut the drawer, and, when you try to keep them down, you pinch your fingers so.

Please to imagine, O orderly readers! who keep every pin in its proper place, the worst looking upper drawer that your horrified eyes ever beheld, and you will have some idea of this drawer of Gypsy's.

There were boxes large, and boxes small, boxes round, square, and oblong; boxes with covers (only two), and boxes without; handkerchiefs, under-sleeves, collars,-both clean and soiled,-laces and ribbons, and bows and nets; purses and old gloves, a piece of soap, a pile of letters, scratched and scattering jewelry, a piece of dried cake, several fans all covered with dust, and nobody knew what not, in the lower strata, out of sight.

Gypsy sat and looked at it for about two minutes in utter despair. Then she just turned the whole thing bottom upwards in a great heap on the floor, and began to investigate matters, with her cheeks very red.

Presently, the family down stairs heard a little scream. Winnie stamped up to see what was the matter.

"Why, I've found my grammar!" said Gypsy. "It's the one in marble covers I lost ever-ever so long ago, and had to get a new one. It was right down at the bottom of the drawer!"

Pretty soon there was another little scream, and Gypsy called down the chimney:

"Tom Breynton! What do you think? I've found that dollar bill of yours you thought I'd burnt up."

After awhile there came still another scream, a pretty loud one this time. Mrs. Breynton came up to see what had happened.

"I've cut my hand," said Gypsy, faintly; "there was a great heap of broken glass in my drawer!"

"Broken glass!"

"Yes, I'm sure I don't know how it came there; I guess I was going to frame a picture."

Mrs. Breynton bound up her finger, and went down again. She was no more than fairly seated before there came from up-stairs, not a scream, but one of the merriest laughs that ever was heard.

"What is to pay, now?" called Tom, from the entry.

"Oh, dear!" gasped Gypsy; "it's too funny for anything! If here isn't the carving-knife we scolded Patty for losing last winter, and-Oh, Tom, just look here!-my stick of peanut candy, that I thought I'd eaten up, all stuck on to my lace under-sleeves!"

It was past Gypsy's bed-time when the upper drawer was fairly in order and put back in its place. Three others remained to go through the same process, as well as wardrobe shelves innumerable. Gypsy, with her characteristic impulsiveness, would have sat up till twelve o'clock to complete the work, but her mother said "No" very decidedly, and so it must wait till to-morrow.

Tom came in just as everything was done, and Gypsy had drawn a long breath and stood up to look, with great satisfaction, all around her pleasant, orderly room.

"Well done! I say, Gypsy, what a jewel you are when you're a mind to be."

"Of course, I am. Have you just found it out?"

"Well, you know you're a diamond, decidedly in the rough, as a general thing. You need cutting down and polishing."

"And you to polish me? Well, I like the looks of this room, anyhow. It is nice to have things somewhere where you won't trip over them when you walk across the room-only if somebody else would pick 'em up for me."

"How long do you suppose it will last?" asked Tom, with an air of great superiority.

"Tom," said Gypsy, solemnly; "that's a serious question."

"It might last forever if you have a mind to have it,-come now, Gyp., why not?"

"That's a long time," said Gypsy, shaking her head; "I wouldn't trust myself two inches. To-morrow I shall be in a hurry to go to school; then I shall be in a hurry to go to dinner; then I shall be in a terrible hurry to get off with Sarah Rowe, and so it goes. However, I'll see. I feel, to-night, precisely as if I should never want to take a single pin out of those little black squares I've put them into on the cushion."

Gypsy found herself in a hurry the next day and the next, and is likely to, to the end of her life, I am afraid. But she seemed to have taken a little gasp of order, and for a long time no one had any complaint to make of Gypsy's room or Gypsy's toilet.

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