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   Chapter 4 NEXT THINGS.

We Girls: a Home Story By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 20957

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Rosamond's ship-coil party was a great success. It resolved itself into Rosamond's party, although Barbara had had the first thought of it; for Rosamond quietly took the management of all that was to be delicately and gracefully arranged, and to have the true tone of high propriety.

Barbara made the little white rolls; Rosamond and Ruth beat up the cake; mother attended to the boiling of the tongues, and, when it was time, to the making of the delicious coffee; all together we gave all sorts of pleasant touches to the brown room, and set the round table (the old cover could be "shied" out of sight now, as Stephen said, and replaced with the white glistening damask for the tea) in the corner between the southwest windows that opened upon the broad piazza.

The table was bright with pretty silver-not too much-and best glass and delicate porcelain with a tiny thread of gold; and the rolls and the thin strips of tongue cut lengthwise, so rich and tender that a fork could manage them, and the large raspberries, black and red and white, were upon plates and dishes of real Indian, white and golden brown.

The wide sashes were thrown up, and there were light chairs outside; Mrs. Holabird would give the guests tea and coffee, and Ruth and Barbara would sit in the window-seats and do the waiting, back and forth, and Dakie Thayne and Harry Goldthwaite would help.

Katty held her office as a sinecure that day; looked on admiringly, forgot half her regular work, felt as if she had somehow done wonders without realizing the process, and pronounced that it was "no throuble at ahl to have company."

But before the tea was the new game.

It was a bold stroke for us Holabirds. Originating was usually done higher up; as the Papal Council gives forth new spiritual inventions for the joyful acceptance of believers, who may by no means invent in their turn and offer to the Council. One could hardly tell how it would fall out,-whether the Haddens and the Marchbankses would take to it, or whether it would drop right there.

"They may 'take it off your hands, my dear,'" suggested the remorseless Barbara. Somebody had offered to do that once for Mrs. Holabird, when her husband had had an interest in a ship in the Baltic trade, and some furs had come home, richer than we had quite expected.

Rose was loftily silent; she would not have said that to her very self; but she had her little quiet instincts of holding on,-through Harry Goldthwaite, chiefly; it was his novelty.

Does this seem very bare worldly scheming among young girls who should simply have been having a good time? We should not tell you if we did not know; it begins right there among them, in just such things as these; and our day and our life are full of it.

The Marchbanks set had a way of taking things off people's hands, as soon as they were proved worth while. People like the Holabirds could not be taking this pains every day; making their cakes and their coffee, and setting their tea-table in their parlor; putting aside all that was shabby or inadequate, for a few special hours, and turning all the family resources upon a point, to serve an occasion. But if anything new or bright were so produced that could be transplanted, it was so easy to receive it among the established and every-day elegances of a freer living, give it a wider introduction, and so adopt and repeat and centralize it that the originators should fairly forget they had ever begun it. And why would not this be honor enough? Invention must always pass over to the capital that can handle it.

The new game charmed them all. The girls had the best of it, for the young men always gathered up the rings and brought them to each in turn. It was very pretty to receive both hands full of the gayly wreathed and knotted hoops, to hold them slidden along one arm like garlands, to pass them lightly from hand to hand again, and to toss them one by one through the air with a motion of more or less inevitable grace; and the excitement of hope or of success grew with each succeeding trial.

They could not help liking it, even the most fastidious; they might venture upon liking it, for it was a game with an origin and references. It was an officers' game, on board great naval ships; it had proper and sufficient antecedents. It would do.

By the time they stopped playing in the twilight, and went up the wide end steps upon the deep, open platform, where coffee and biscuits began to be fragrant, Rosamond knew that her party was as nice as if it had been anybody's else whoever; that they were all having as genuinely good a time as if they had not come "westover" to get it.

And everybody does like a delicious tea, such as is far more sure and very different from hands like Mrs. Holabird's and her daughters, than from those of a city confectioner and the most professed of private cooks.

It all went off and ended in a glory,-the glory of the sun pouring great backward floods of light and color all up to the summer zenith, and of the softly falling and changing shade, and the slow forth-coming of the stars: and Ruth gave them music, and by and by they had a little German, out there on the long, wide esplanade. It was the one magnificence of their house,-this high, spacious terrace; Rosamond was thankful every day that Grandfather Holabird had to build the wood-house under it.

After this, Westover began to grow to be more of a centre than our home, cheery and full of girl-life as it was, had ever been able to become before.

They might have transplanted the game,-they did take slips from it,-and we might not always have had tickets to our own play; but they could not transplant Harry Goldthwaite and Dakie Thayne. They would come over, nearly every day, at morning or evening, and practise "coil," or make some other plan or errand; and so there came to be always something going on at the Holabirds', and if the other girls wanted it, they had to come where it was.

Mrs. Van Alstyne came often; Rosamond grew very intimate with her.

Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks did say, one day, that she thought "the Holabirds were slightly mistaking their position"; but the remark did not come round, westover, till long afterward, and meanwhile the position remained the same.

It was right in the midst of all this that Ruth astonished the family again, one evening.

"I wish," she said, suddenly, just as if she were not suggesting something utterly incongruous and disastrous, "that we could ask Lucilla Waters up here for a little visit."

The girls had a way, in Z--, of spending two or three days together at each other's houses, neighbors though they were, within easy reach, and seeing each other almost constantly. Leslie Goldthwaite came up to the Haddens', or they went down to the Goldthwaites'. The Haddens would stay over night at the Marchbanks', and on through the next day, and over night again. There were, indeed, three recognized degrees of intimacy: that which took tea,-that which came in of a morning and stayed to lunch,-and that which was kept over night without plan or ceremony. It had never been very easy for us Holabirds to do such things without plan; of all things, nearly, in the world, it seemed to us sometimes beautiful and desirable to be able to live just so as that we might.

"I wish," said Ruth, "that we could have Lucilla Waters here."

"My gracious!" cried Rosamond, startled into a soft explosion. "What for?"

"Why, I think she'd like it," answered Ruth.

"Well, I suppose Arctura Fish might 'like it' too," responded Rose, in a deadly quiet way now, that was the extreme of sarcasm.

Ruth looked puzzled; as if she really considered what Rosamond suggested, not having thought of it before, and not quite knowing how to dispose of the thought since she had got it.

Dakie Thayne was there; he sat holding some gold-colored wool for Mrs. Holabird to wind; she was giving herself the luxury of some pretty knitting,-making a bright little sofa affghan. Ruth had forgotten him at the instant, speaking out of a quiet pause and her own intent thought.

She made up her mind presently,-partly at least,-and spoke again. "I don't believe," she said, "that it would be the next thing for Arctura Fish."

Dakie Thayne's eyebrows went up, just that half perceptible line or two. "Do you think people ought always to have the next thing?" he asked.

"It seems to me it must be somebody's fault if they don't," replied Ruth.

"It is a long waiting sometimes to get the next thing," said Dakie Thayne. "Army men find that out. They grow gray getting it."

"That's where only one can have it at a time," said Ruth. "These things are different."

"'Next things' interfere occasionally," said Barbara. "Next things up, and next things down."

"I don't know," said Rose, serenely unconscious and impersonal. "I suppose people wouldn't naturally-it can't be meant they should-walk right away from their own opportunities."

Ruth laughed,-not aloud, only a little single breath, over her work.

Dakie Thayne leaned back.

"What,-if you please,-Miss Ruth?"

"I was thinking of the opportunities down," Ruth answered.

It was several days after this that the young party drifted together again, on the Westover lawn. A plan was discussed. Mrs. Van Alstyne had walked over with Olivia and Adelaide Marchbanks, and it was she who suggested it.

"Why don't you have regular practisings," said she, "and then a meeting, for this and the archery you wanted to get up, and games for a prize? They would do nicely together."

Olivia Marchbanks drew up a little. She had not meant to launch the project here. Everything need not begin at Westover all at once.

But Dakie Thayne broke in.

"Did you think of that?" said he. "It's a capital idea."

"Ideas are rather apt to be that," said Adelaide Marchbanks. "It is the carrying out, you see."

"Isn't it pretty nearly carried out already? It is only to organize what we are doing as it is."

"But the minute you do organize! You don't know how difficult it is in a place like this. A dozen of us are not enough, and as soon as you go beyond, there gets to be too much of it. One doesn't know where to stop."

"Or to skip?" asked Harry Goldthwaite, in such a purely bright, good-natured way that no one could take it amiss.

"Well, yes, to skip," said Adelaide. "Of course that's it. You don't go straight on, you know, house by house,

when you ask people,-down the hill and into the town."

"We talked it over," said Olivia. "And we got as far as the Hobarts." There Olivia stopped. That was where they had stopped before.

"O yes, the Hobarts; they would be sure to like it," said Leslie Goldthwaite, quick and pleased.

"Her ups and downs are just like yours," said Dakie Thayne to Ruth Holabird.

It made Ruth very glad to be told she was at all like Leslie; it gave her an especially quick pulse of pleasure to have Dakie Thayne say so. She knew he thought there was hardly any one like Leslie Goldthwaite.

"O, they won't exactly do, you know!" said Adelaide Marchbanks, with an air of high free-masonry.

"Won't do what?" asked Cadet Thayne, obtusely.

"Suit," replied Olivia, concisely, looking straight forward without any air at all.

"Really, we have tried it since they came," said Adelaide, "though what people come for is the question, I think, when there isn't anything particular to bring them except the neighborhood, and then it has to be Christian charity in the neighborhood that didn't ask them to pick them up. Mamma called, after a while; and Mrs. Hobart said she hoped she would come often, and let the girls run in and be sociable! And Grace Hobart says 'she hasn't got tired of croquet,-she likes it real well!' They're that sort of people, Mr. Thayne."

"Oh! that's very bad," said Dakie Thayne, with grave conclusiveness.

"The Haddens had them one night, when we were going to play commerce. When we asked them up to the table, they held right back, awfully stiff, and couldn't find anything else to say than,-out quite loud, across everything,-'O no! they couldn't play commerce; they never did; father thought it was just like any gambling game!'"

"Plucky, anyhow," said Harry Goldthwaite.

"I don't think they meant to be rude," said Elinor Hadden. "I think they really felt badly; and that was why it blurted right out so. They didn't know what to say."

"Evidently," said Olivia. "And one doesn't want to be astonished in that way very often."

"I shouldn't mind having them," said Elinor, good-naturedly. "They are kind-hearted people, and they would feel hurt to be left out."

"That is just what stopped us," said Adelaide. "That is just what the neighborhood is getting to be,-full of people that you don't know what to do with."

"I don't see why we need to go out of our own set," said Olivia.

"O dear! O dear!"

It broke from Ruth involuntarily. Then she colored up, as they all turned round upon her; but she was excited, and Ruth's excitements made her forget that she was Ruth, sometimes, for a moment. It had been growing in her, from the beginning of the conversation; and now she caught her breath, and felt her eyes light up. She turned her face to Leslie Goldthwaite; but although she spoke low she spoke somehow clearly, even more than she meant, so that they all heard.

"What if the angels had said that before they came down to Bethlehem!"

Then she knew by the hush that she had astonished them, and she grew frightened; but she stood just so, and would not let her look shrink; for she still felt just as she did when the words came.

Mrs. Van Alstyne broke the pause with a good-natured laugh.

"We can't go quite back to that, every time," she said. "And we don't quite set up to be angels. Come,-try one more round."

And with some of the hoops still hanging upon her arm, she turned to pick up the others. Harry Goldthwaite of course sprang forward to do it for her; and presently she was tossing them with her peculiar grace, till the stake was all wreathed with them from bottom to top, the last hoop hanging itself upon the golden ball; a touch more dexterous and consummate, it seemed, than if it had fairly slidden over upon the rest.

Rosamond knew what a cunning and friendly turn it was; if it had not been for Mrs. Van Alstyne, Ruth's speech would have broken up the party. As it was, the game began again, and they stayed an hour longer.

Not all of them; for as soon as they were fairly engaged, Ruth said to Leslie Goldthwaite, "I must go now; I ought to have gone before. Reba will be waiting for me. Just tell them, if they ask."

But Leslie and the cadet walked away with her; slowly, across the grounds, so that she thought they were going back from the gate; but they kept on up over the hill.

"Was it very shocking?" asked Ruth, troubled in her mind. "I could not help it; but I was frightened to death the next minute."

"About as frightened as the man is who stands to his gun in the front," said Dakie Thayne. "You never flinched."

"They would have thought it was from what I had said," Ruth answered. "And that was another thing from the saying."

"You had something to say, Leslie. It was just on the corner of your lip. I saw it."

"Yes; but Ruth said it all in one flash. It would have spoiled it if I had spoken then."

"I'm always sorry for people who don't know how," said Ruth. "I'm sure I don't know how myself so often."

"That is just it," said Leslie. "Why shouldn't these girls come up? And how will they ever, unless somebody overlooks? They would find out these mistakes in a little while, just as they find out fashions: picking up the right things from people who do know how. It is a kind of leaven, like greater good. And how can we stand anywhere in the lump, and say it shall not spread to the next particle?"

"They think it was pushing of them, to come here to live at all," said Ruth.

"Well, we're all pushing, if we're good for anything," said Leslie. "Why mayn't they push, if they don't crowd out anybody else? It seems to me that the wrong sort of pushing is pushing down."

"Only there would be no end to it," said Dakie Thayne, "would there? There are coarse, vulgar people always, who are wanting to get in just for the sake of being in. What are the nice ones to do?"

"Just be nice, I think," said Leslie. "Nicer with those people than with anybody else even. If there weren't any difficulty made about it,-if there weren't any keeping out,-they would tire of the niceness probably sooner than anything. I don't suppose it is the fence that keeps out weeds."

"You are just like Mrs. Ingleside," said Ruth, walking closer to Leslie as she spoke.

"And Mrs. Ingleside is like Miss Craydocke: and-I didn't suppose I should ever find many more of them, but they're counting up," said Dakie Thayne. "There's a pretty good piece of the world salted, after all."

"If there really is any best society," pursued Leslie, "it seems to me it ought to be, not for keeping people out, but for getting everybody in as fast as it can, like the kingdom of heaven."

"Ah, but that is kingdom come," said Dakie Thayne.

It seemed as if the question of "things next" was to arise continually, in fresh shapes, just now, when things next for the Holabirds were nearer next than ever before.

"We must have Delia Waite again soon, if we can get her," said mother, one morning, when we were all quietly sitting in her room, and she was cutting out some shirts for Stephen. "All our changes and interruptions have put back the sewing so lately."

"We ought not to have been idle so much," said Barbara. "We've been a family of grasshoppers all summer."

"Well, the grasshopping has done you all good. I'm not sorry for it," said Mrs. Holabird. "Only we must have Delia for a week now, and be busy."

"If Delia Waite didn't have to come to our table!" said Rosamond.

"Why don't you try the girl Mrs. Hadden has, mother? She goes right into the kitchen with the other servants."

"I don't believe our 'other servants' would know what to do with her," said Barbara. "There's always such a crowd in our kitchen."

"Barbara, you're a plague!"

"Yes. I'm the thorn in the flesh in this family, lest it should be exalted above measure; and like Saint Paul, I magnify mine office."

"In the way we live," said Mrs. Holabird, "it is really more convenient to let a seamstress come right to table with us; and besides, you know what I think about it. It is a little breath of life to a girl like that; she gets something that we can give as well as not, and that helps her up. It comes naturally, as it cannot come with 'other servants.' She sits with us all day; her work is among ladies, and with them; she gets something so far, even in the midst of measuring and gorings, that common housemaids cannot get; why shouldn't she be with us when we can leave off talk of measures and gores, and get what Ruth calls the 'very next'? Delia Waite is too nice a girl to be put into the kitchen to eat with Katty, in her 'crowd.'"

"But it seems to set us down; it seems common in us to be so ready to be familiar with common people. More in us, because we do live plainly. If Mrs. Hadden or Mrs. Marchbanks did it, it might seem kind without the common. I think they ought to begin such things."

"But then if they don't? Very likely it would be far more inconvenient for them; and not the same good either, because it would be, or seem, a condescension. We are the 'very next,' and we must be content to be the step we are."

"It's the other thing with us,-con-ascension,-isn't it, mother? A step up for somebody, and no step down for anybody. Mrs. Ingleside does it," Ruth added.

"O, Mrs. Ingleside does all sorts of things. She has that sort of position. It's as independent as the other. High moral and high social can do anything. It's the betwixt and between that must be careful."

"What a miserably negative set we are, in such a positive state of the world!" cried Barbara. "Except Ruth's music, there isn't a specialty among us; we haven't any views; we're on the mean-spirited side of the Woman Question; 'all woman, and no question,' as mother says; we shall never preach, nor speech, nor leech; we can't be magnificent, and we won't be common! I don't see what is to become of us, unless-and I wonder if maybe that isn't it?-we just do two or three rather right things in a no-particular sort of a way."

"Barbara, how nice you are!" cried Ruth.

"No. I'm a thorn. Don't touch me."

"We never have company when we are having sewing done," said Mrs. Holabird. "We can always manage that."

"I don't want to play Box and Cox," said Rosamond.

"That's the beauty of you, Rosa Mundi!" said Barbara, warmly. "You don't want to play anything. That's where you'll come out sun-clear and diamond bright!"

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