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   Chapter 5 THE BACK YETT AJEE.

We Girls: a Home Story By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 23668

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Those who do not like common people need not read this chapter.

We had Delia Waite the next week. It happened well, in a sort of Box-and-Cox fashion; for Mrs. Van Alstyne went off with some friends to the Isles of Shoals, and Alice and Adelaide Marchbanks went with her; so that we knew we should see nothing of the two great families for a good many days; and when Leslie came, or the Haddens, we did not so much mind; besides, they knew that we were busy, and they did not expect any "coil" got up for them. Leslie came right up stairs, when she was alone; if Harry or Mr. Thayne were with her, one of us would take a wristband or a bit of ruffling, and go down. Somehow, if it happened to be Harry, Barbara was always tumultuously busy, and never offered to receive: but it always ended in Rosamond's making her. It seemed to be one of the things that people wait to be overcome in their objections to.

We always had a snug, cosey time when Delia was with us; we were all simple and busy, and the work was getting on; that was such an under-satisfaction; and Delia was having such a good time. She hardly ever failed to come to us when we wanted her; she could always make some arrangement.

Ruth was artful; she tucked in Lucilla Waters, after all; she said it would be such a nice chance to have her; she knew she would rather come when we were by ourselves, and especially when we had our work and patterns about. Lucilla brought a sack and an overskirt to make; she could hardly have been spared if she had had to bring mere idle work. She sewed in gathers upon the shirts for mother, while Delia cut out her pretty material in a style she had not seen. If we had had grasshopper parties all summer before, this was certainly a bee, and I think we all really liked it just as well as the other.

We had the comfort of mother's great, airy room, now, as we had never even realized it before. Everybody had a window to sit at; green-shaded with closed blinds for the most part; but that is so beautiful in summer, when the out-of-doors comes brimming in with scent and sound, and we know how glorious it is if we choose to open to it, and how glorious it is going to be when we do throw all wide in the cooling afternoon.

"How glad I am we have to have busy weeks sometimes!" said Ruth, stopping the little "common-sense" for an instant, while she tossed a long flouncing over her sewing-table. "I know now why people who never do their own work are obliged to go away from home for a change. It must be dreadfully same if they didn't. I like a book full of different stories!"

Lucilla Waters lives down in the heart of the town. So does Leslie Goldthwaite, to be sure; but then Mr. Goldthwaite's is one of the old, old-fashioned houses that were built when the town was country, and that has its great yard full of trees and flowers around it now; and Mrs. Waters lives in a block, flat-face to the street, with nothing pretty outside, and not very much in; for they have never been rich, the Waterses, and Mr. Waters died ten years ago, when Lucilla was a little child. Lucilla and her mother keep a little children's school; but it was vacation now, of course.

Lucilla is in Mrs. Ingleside's Bible-class; that is how Ruth, and then the rest of us, came to know her. Arctura Fish is another of Mrs. Ingleside's scholars. She is a poor girl, living at service,-or, rather, working in a family for board, clothing, and a little "schooling,"-the best of which last she gets on Sundays of Mrs. Ingleside,-until she shall have "learned how," and be "worth wages."

Arctura Fish is making herself up, slowly, after the pattern of Lucilla Waters. She would not undertake Leslie Goldthwaite or Helen Josselyn,-Mrs. Ingleside's younger sister, who stays with her so much,-or even our quiet Ruth. But Lucilla Waters comes just next. She can just reach up to her. She can see how she does up her hair, in something approaching the new way, leaning back behind her in the class and tracing out the twists between the questions; for Lucilla can only afford to use her own, and a few strands of harmless Berlin wool under it; she can't buy coils and braids and two-dollar rats, or intricacies ready made up at the-upholsterer's, I was going to say. So it is not a hopeless puzzle and an impracticable achievement to little Arctura Fish. It is wonderful how nice she has made herself look lately, and how many little ways she puts on, just like Lucilla's. She hasn't got beyond mere mechanical copying, yet; when she reaches to where Lucilla really is, she will take in differently.

Ruth gave up her little white room to Delia Waite, and went to sleep with Lucilla in the great, square east room.

Delia Waite thought a great deal of this; and it was wonderful how nobody could ever get a peep at the room when it looked as if anything in it had been used or touched. Ruth is pretty nice about it; but she cannot keep it so sacredly fair and pure as Delia did for her. Only one thing showed.

"I say," said Stephen, one morning, sliding by Ruth on the stair-rail as they came down to breakfast, "do you look after that piousosity, now, mornings?"

"No," said Ruth, laughing, "of course I can't."

"It's always whopped," said Stephen, sententiously.

Barbara got up some of her special cookery in these days. Not her very finest, out of Miss Leslie; she said that was too much like the fox and the crane, when Lucilla asked for the receipts. It wasn't fair to give a taste of things that we ourselves could only have for very best, and send people home to wish for them. But she made some of her "griddles trimmed with lace," as only Barbara's griddles were trimmed; the brown lightness running out at the edges into crisp filigree. And another time it was the flaky spider-cake, turned just as it blushed golden-tawny over the coals; and then it was breakfast potato, beaten almost frothy with one white-of-egg, a pretty good bit of butter, a few spoonfuls of top-of-the-milk, and seasoned plentifully with salt, and delicately with pepper,-the oven doing the rest, and turning it into a snowy soufflé.

Barbara said we had none of us a specialty; she knew better; only hers was a very womanly and old-fashioned, not to say kitcheny one; and would be quite at a discount when the grand co-operative kitchens should come into play; for who cares to put one's genius into the universal and indiscriminate mouth, or make potato-soufflés to be carried half a mile to the table?

Barbara delighted to "make company" of seamstress week; "it was so nice," she said, "to entertain somebody who thought 'chickings was 'evingly.'"

Rosamond liked that part of it; she enjoyed giving pleasure no less than any; but she had a secret misgiving that we were being very vulgarly comfortable in an underhand way. She would never, by any means, go off by herself to eat with her fingers.

Delia Waite said she never came to our house that she did not get some new ideas to carry home to Arabel.

Arabel Waite was fifty years old, or more; she was the oldest child of one marriage and Delia the youngest of another. All the Waites between them had dropped away,-out of the world, or into homes here and there of their own,-and Arabel and Delia were left together in the square, low, gambrel-roofed house over on the other hill, where the town ran up small.

Arabel Waite was an old dressmaker. She could make two skirts to a dress, one shorter, the other longer; and she could cut out the upper one by any new paper pattern; and she could make shell-trimmings and flutings and box-plaitings and flouncings, and sew them on exquisitely, even now, with her old eyes; but she never had adapted herself to the modern ideas of the corsage. She could not fit a bias to save her life; she could only stitch up a straight slant, and leave the rest to nature and fate. So all her people had the squarest of wooden fronts, and were preternaturally large around the waist. Delia sewed with her, abroad and at home,-abroad without her, also, as she was doing now for us. A pattern for a sleeve, or a cape, or a panier,-or a receipt for a tea-biscuit or a johnny-cake, was something to go home with rejoicing.

Arabel Waite and Delia could only use three rooms of the old house; the rest was blinded and shut up; the garret was given over to the squirrels, who came in from the great butternut-trees in the yard, and stowed away their rich provision under the eaves and away down between the walls, and grew fat there all winter, and frolicked like a troop of horse. We liked to hear Delia tell of their pranks, and of all the other queer, quaint things in their way of living. Everybody has a way of living; and if you can get into it, every one is as good as a story. It always seemed to us as if Delia brought with her the atmosphere of mysterious old houses, and old, old books stowed away in their by-places, and stories of the far past that had been lived there, and curious ancient garments done with long ago, and packed into trunks and bureaus in the dark, unused rooms, where there had been parties once, and weddings and funerals and children's games in nurseries; and strange fellowship of little wild things that strayed in now,-bees in summer, and squirrels in winter,-and brought the woods and fields with them under the old roof. Why, I think we should have missed it more than she would, if we had put her into some back room, and poked her sewing in at her, and left her to herself!

The only thing that wasn't nice that week was Aunt Roderick coming over one morning in the very thick of our work, and Lucilla's too, walking straight up stairs, as aunts can, whether you want them or not, and standing astonished at the great goings-on.

"Well!" she exclaimed, with a strong falling inflection, "are any of you getting ready to be married?"

"Yes'm," said Barbara, gravely, handing her a chair. "All of us."

Then Barbara made rather an unnecessary parade of ribbon that she was quilling up, and of black lace that was to go each side of it upon a little round jacket for her blue silk dress, made of a piece laid away five years ago, when she first had it. The skirt was turned now, and the waist was gone.

While Aunt Roderick was there, she also took occasion to toss over, more or less, everything that lay about,-"to help her in her inventory," she said after she went away.

"Twelve new embroidered cambric handkerchiefs," repeated she, as she turned back from the stair-head, having seen Aunt Roderick down.

Barbara had once, in a severe fit of needle-industry, inspired by the discovery of two baby robes of linen cambric among mother's old treasures, and their bestowal upon her, turned them into these elegances, broadly hemmed with the finest machine stitch, and marked with beautiful great B's in the corners. She showed them, in her pride, to Mrs. Roderick; and we knew afterward what her abstract report had been, in Grandfather Holabird's hearing. Grandfather Holabird knew we did without a good many things; but he had an impression of us, from instances like these, that we were seized with sudden spasms of recklessness at times, and rushed into French embroideries and sets of jewelry. I believe he heard of mother's one handsome black silk, every time she wore it upon semiannual occasions, until he would have said that Mrs. Stephen had a new fifty-dollar dress every six months. This was one of our little family trials.

"I don't think Mrs. Roderick does it on purpose," Ruth would say. "I think there are two things that make her talk in that way. In the first place, she has got into the habit of carrying home all the news she can, and making it as big as possible, to amuse Mr. Holabird; and then she has to settle it over in her own mind, every once in a while,

that things must be pretty comfortable amongst us, down here, after all."

Ruth never dreamed of being satirical; it was a perfectly straightforward explanation; and it showed, she truly believed, two quite kind and considerate points in Aunt Roderick's character.

After the party came back from the Isles of Shoals, Mrs. Van Alstyne went down to Newport. The Marchbankses had other visitors,-people whom we did not know, and in whose way we were not thrown; the haute volée was sufficient to itself again, and we lived on a piece of our own life once more.

"It's rather nice to knit on straight," said Barbara; "without any widening or narrowing or counting of stitches. I like very well to come to a plain place."

Rosamond never liked the plain places quite so much; but she accommodated herself beautifully, and was just as nice as she could be. And the very best thing about Rose was, that she never put on anything, or left anything off, of her gentle ways and notions. She would have been ready at any time for the most delicate fancy-pattern that could be woven upon her plain places. That was one thing which mother taught us all.

"Your life will come to you; you need not run after it," she would say, if we ever got restless and began to think there was no way out of the family hedge. "Have everything in yourselves as it should be, and then you can take the chances as they arrive."

"Only we needn't put our bonnets on, and sit at the windows," Barbara once replied.

"No," said Mrs. Holabird; "and especially at the front windows. A great deal that is good-a great deal of the best-comes in at the back-doors."

Everybody, we thought, did not have a back-door to their life, as we did. They hardly seemed to know if they had one to their houses.

Our "back yett was ajee," now, at any rate.

Leslie Goldthwaite came in at it, though, just the same, and so did her cousin and Dakie. *

Otherwise, for two or three weeks, our chief variety was in sending for old Miss Trixie Spring to spend the day.

Miss Trixie Spring is a lively old lady, who, some threescore and five years ago, was christened "Beatrix." She plays backgammon in the twilights, with mother, and makes a table at whist, at once lively and severe, in the evenings, for father. At this whist-table, Barbara usually is the fourth. Rosamond gets sleepy over it, and Ruth-Miss Trixie says-"plays like a ninkum."

We always wanted Miss Trixie, somehow, to complete comfort, when we were especially comfortable by ourselves; when we had something particularly good for dinner, or found ourselves set cheerily down for a long day at quiet work, with everything early-nice about us; or when we were going to make something "contrive-y," "Swiss-family-Robinson-ish," that got us all together over it, in the hilarity of enterprise and the zeal of acquisition. Miss Trixie could appreciate homely cleverness; darning of carpets and covering of old furniture; she could darn a carpet herself, so as almost to improve upon-certainly to supplant-the original pattern. Yet she always had a fresh amazement for all our performances, as if nothing notable had ever been done before, and a personal delight in every one of our improvements, as if they had been her own. "We're just as cosey as we can be, already,-it isn't that; but we want somebody to tell us how cosey we are. Let's get Miss Trixie to-day," says Barbara.

Once was when the new drugget went down, at last, in the dining-room. It was tan-color, bound with crimson,-covering three square yards; and mother nailed it down with brass-headed tacks, right after breakfast, one cool morning. Then Katty washed up the dark floor-margin, and the table had its crimson-striped cloth on, and mother brought down the brown stuff for the new sofa-cover, and the great bunch of crimson braid to bind that with, and we drew up our camp-chairs and crickets, and got ready to be busy and jolly, and to have a brand-new piece of furniture before night.

Barbara had made peach-dumpling for dinner, and of course Aunt Trixie was the last and crowning suggestion. It was not far to send, and she was not long in coming, with her second-best cap pinned up in a handkerchief, and her knitting-work and her spectacles in her bag.

The Marchbankses never made sofa-covers of brown waterproof, nor had Miss Trixies to spend the day. That was because they had no back-door to their house.

I suppose you think there are a good many people in our story. There are; when we think it up there are ever so many people that have to do with our story every day; but we don't mean to tell you all their stories; so you can bear with the momentary introduction when you meet them in our brown room, or in our dining-room, of a morning, although we know very well also that passing introductions are going out of fashion.

We had Dakie Thayne's last visit that day, in the midst of the hammering and binding. Leslie and he came in with Ruth, when she came back from her hour with Reba Hadden. It was to bid us good by; his furlough was over, he was to return to West Point on Monday.

"Another two years' pull," he said. "Won't you all come to West Point next summer?"

"If we take the journey we think of," said Barbara, composedly,-"to the mountains and Montreal and Quebec; perhaps up the Saguenay; and then back, up Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson, on our way to Saratoga and Niagara. We might keep on to West Point first, and have a day or two there."

"Barbara," said mother, remonstratingly.

"Why? Don't we think of it? I'm sure I do. I've thought of it till I'm almost tired of it. I don't much believe we shall come, after all, Mr. Thayne."

"We shall miss you very much," said Mrs. Holabird, covering Barbara's nonsense.

"Our summer has stopped right in the middle," said Barbara, determined to talk.

"I shall hear about you all," said Dakie Thayne. "There's to be a Westover column in Leslie's news. I wish-" and there the cadet stopped.

Mother looked up at him with a pleasant inquiry.

"I was going to say, I wish there might be a Westover correspondent, to put in just a word or two, sometimes; but then I was afraid that would be impertinent. When a fellow has only eight weeks in the year of living, Mrs. Holabird, and all the rest is drill, you don't know how he hangs on to those eight weeks,-and how they hang on to him afterwards."

Mother looked so motherly at him then!

"We shall not forget you-Dakie," she said, using his first name for the first time. "You shall have a message from us now and then."

Dakie said, "Thank you," in a tone that responded to her "Dakie."

We all knew he liked Mrs. Holabird ever so much. Homes and mothers are beautiful things to boys who have had to do without them.

He shook hands with us all round, when he got up to go. He shook hands also with our old friend, Miss Trixie, whom he had never happened to see before. Then Rosamond went out with him and Leslie,-as it was our cordial, countrified fashion for somebody to do,-through the hall to the door. Ruth went as far as the stairs, on her way to her room to take off her things. She stood there, up two steps, as they were leaving.

Dakie Thayne said good by again to Rosamond, at the door, as was natural; and then he came quite back, and said it last of all, once more, to little Ruth upon the stairs. He certainly did hate to go away and leave us all.

"That is a very remarkable pretty-behaved young man," said Miss Trixie, when we all picked up our breadths of waterproof, and got in behind them again.

"The world is a desert, and the sand has got into my eyes," said Barbara, who had hushed up ever since mother had said "Dakie." When anybody came close to mother, Barbara was touched. I think her love for mother is more like a son's than a daughter's, in the sort of chivalry it has with it.

* * *

It was curious how suddenly our little accession of social importance had come on, and wonderful how quickly it had subsided; more curious and wonderful still, how entirely it seemed to stay subsided.

We had plenty to do, though; we did not miss anything; only we had quite taken up with another set of things. This was the way it was with us; we had things we must take up; we could not have spared time to lead society for a long while together.

Aunt Roderick claimed us, too, in our leisure hours, just then; she had a niece come to stay with her; and we had to go over to the "old house" and spend afternoons, and ask Aunt Roderick and Miss Bragdowne in to tea with us. Aunt Roderick always expected this sort of attention; and yet she had a way with her as if we ought not to try to afford things, looked scrutinizingly at the quality of our cake and preserves, and seemed to eat our bread and butter with consideration.

It helped Rosamond very much, though, over the transition. We, also, had had private occupation.

"There had been family company at grandfather's," she told Jeannie Hadden, one morning. "We had been very much engaged among ourselves. We had hardly seen anything of the other girls for two or three weeks."

Barbara sat at the round table, where Stephen had been doing his geometry last night, twirling a pair of pencil compasses about on a sheet of paper, while this was saying. She lifted up her eyes a little, cornerwise, without moving her head, and gave a twinkle of mischief over at mother and Ruth. When Jeannie was gone, she kept on silently, a few minutes, with her diagrams. Then she said, in her funniest, repressed way,-

"I can see a little how it must be; but I suppose I ought to understand the differential calculus to compute it. Circles are wonderful things; and the science of curves holds almost everything. Rose, when do you think we shall get round again?"

She held up her bit of paper as she spoke, scrawled over with intersecting circles and arcs and ellipses, against whose curves and circumferences she had written names: Marchbanks, Hadden, Goldthwaite, Holabird.

"It's a mere question of centre and radius," she said. "You may be big enough to take in the whole of them, or you may only cut in at the sides. You may be just tangent for a minute, and then go off into space on your own account. You may have your centre barely inside of a great ring, and yet reach pretty well out of it for a good part; you must be small to be taken quite in by anybody's!"

"It doesn't illustrate," said Rose, coolly. "Orbits don't snarl up in that fashion."

"Geometry does," said Barbara. "I told you I couldn't work it all out. But I suppose there's a Q.E.D. at the end of it somewhere."

* * *

Two or three days after something new happened; an old thing happened freshly, rather,-which also had to do with our orbit and its eccentricities. Barbara, as usual, discovered and announced it.

"I should think any kind of an astronomer might be mad!" she exclaimed. "Periods and distances are bad enough; but then come the perturbations! Here's one. We're used to it, to be sure; but we never know exactly where it may come in. The girl we live with has formed other views for herself, and is going off at a tangent. What is the reason we can't keep a satellite,-planet, I mean?"

"Barbara!" said mother, anxiously, "don't be absurd!"

"Well, what shall I be? We're all out of a place again." And she sat down resignedly on a very low cricket, in the middle of the room.

"I'll tell you what we'll do, mother," said Ruth, coming round. "I've thought of it this good while. We'll co-operate!"

"She's glad of it! She's been waiting for a chance! I believe she put the luminary up to it! Ruth, you're a brick-moon!"

* Harry Goldthwaite is Leslie's cousin, and Mr. Aaron Goldthwaite's ward. I do not believe we have ever thought to put this in before.

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