MoboReader> Literature > We Girls: a Home Story

   Chapter 7 SPRINKLES AND GUSTS.

We Girls: a Home Story By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 21554

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Mrs. Dunikin used to bring them in, almost all of them, and leave them heaped up in the large round basket. Then there was the second-sized basket, into which they would all go comfortably when they were folded up.

One Monday night we went down as usual; some of us came in,-for we had been playing croquet until into the twilight, and the Haddens had just gone away, so we were later than usual at our laundry work. Leslie and Harry went round with Rosamond to the front door; Ruth slipped in at the back, and mother came down when she found that Rosamond had not been released. Barbara finished setting the tea-table, which she had a way of doing in a whiff, put on the sweet loaf upon the white trencher, and the dish of raspberry jam and the little silver-wire basket of crisp sugar-cakes, and then there was nothing but the tea, which stood ready for drawing in the small Japanese pot. Tea was nothing to get, ever.

"Mother, go back again! You tired old darling, Ruth and I are going to do these!" and Barbara plunged in among the "blossoms."

That was what we called the fresh, sweet-smelling white things. There are a great many pretty pieces of life, if you only know about them. Hay-making is one; and rose-gathering is one; and sprinkling and folding a great basket full of white clothes right out of the grass and the air and the sunshine is one.

Mother went off,-chiefly to see that Leslie and Harry were kept to tea, I believe. She knew how to compensate, in her lovely little underhand way, with Barbara.

Barbara pinned up her muslin sleeves to the shoulder, shook out a little ruffled short-skirt and put it on for an apron, took one end of the long white ironing-table that stood across the window, pushed the water-basin into the middle, and began with the shirts and the starched things. Ruth, opposite, was making the soft underclothing into little white rolls.

Barbara dampened and smoothed and stretched; she almost ironed with her fingers, Mrs. Dunikin said. She patted and evened, laid collars and cuffs one above another with a sprinkle of drops, just from her finger-ends, between, and then gave a towel a nice equal shower with a corn-whisk that she used for the large things, and rolled them up in it, hard and fast, with a thump of her round pretty fist upon the middle before she laid it by. It was a clever little process to watch; and her arms were white in the twilight. Girls can't do all the possible pretty manoeuvres in the German or out at croquet, if they only once knew it. They do find it out in a one-sided sort of way: and then they run to private theatricals. But the real every-day scenes are just as nice, only they must have their audiences in ones and twos; perhaps not always any audience at all.

Of a sudden Ruth became aware of an audience of one.

Upon the balcony, leaning over the rail, looking right down into the nearest kitchen window and over Barbara's shoulder, stood Harry Goldthwaite. He shook his head at Ruth, and she held her peace.

Barbara began to sing. She never sang to the piano,-only about her work. She made up little snatches, piecemeal, of various things, and put them to any sort of words. This time it was to her own,-her poem.

"I wrote some little books;

I said some little says;

I preached a little pre-e-each;

I lit a little blaze;

I made-things-pleasant-in one-little-place."

She ran down a most contented little trip, with repeats and returns, in a G-octave, for the last line. Then she rolled up a bundle of shirts in a square pillow-case, gave it its accolade, and pressed it down into the basket.

"How do you suppose, Ruth, we shall manage the town-meetings? Do you believe they will be as nice as this? Where shall we get our little inspirations, after we have come out of all our corners?"

"We won't do it," said Ruth, quietly, shaking out one of mother's nightcaps, and speaking under the disadvantage of her private knowledge.

"I think they ought to let us vote just once," said Barbara; "to say whether we ever would again. I believe we're in danger of being put upon now, if we never were before."

"It isn't fair," said Ruth, with her eyes up out of the window at Harry, who made noiseless motion of clapping his hands. How could she tell what Barbara would say next, or how she would like it when she knew?

"Of course it isn't," said Barbara, intent upon the gathers of a white cambric waist of Rosamond's. "I wonder, Ruth, if we shall have to read all those Pub. Doc.s that father gets. You see women will make awful hard work of it, if they once do go at it; they are so used to doing every-little-thing"; and she picked out the neck-edging, and smoothed the hem between the buttons.

"We shall have to take vows, and devote ourselves to it," Barbara went on, as if she were possessed. "There will have to be 'Sisters of Polity.' Not that I ever will. I don't feel a vocation. I'd rather be a Polly-put-the-kettle-on all the days of my life."

"Mr. Goldthwaite!" said Ruth.

"May I?" asked Harry, as if he had just come, leaning down over the rail, and speaking to Barbara, who faced about with a jump.

She knew by his look; he could not keep in the fun.

"'May you'? When you have, already!"

"O no, I haven't! I mean, come down? Into the one-pleasant-little-place, and help?"

"You don't know the way," Barbara said, stolidly, turning back again, and folding up the waist.

"Don't I? Which,-to come down, or to help?" and Harry flung himself over the rail, clasped one hand and wrist around a copper water-pipe that ran down there, reached the other to something-above the window,-the mere pediment, I believe,-and swung his feet lightly to the sill beneath. Then he dropped himself and sat down, close by Barbara's elbow.

"You'll get sprinkled," said she, flourishing the corn-whisk over a table-cloth.

"I dare say. Or patted, or punched, or something. I knew I took the risk of all that when I came down amongst it. But it looked nice. I couldn't help it, and I don't care!"

Barbara was thinking of two things,-how long he had been there, and what in the world she had said besides what she remembered; and-how she should get off her rough-dried apron.

"Which do you want,-napkins or pillow-cases?" and he came round to the basket, and began to pull out.

"Napkins," says Barbara.

The napkins were underneath, and mixed up; while he stooped and fumbled, she had the ruffled petticoat off over her head. She gave it a shower in such a hurry, that as Harry came up with the napkins, he did get a drift of it in his face.

"That won't do," said Barbara, quite shocked, and tossing the whisk aside. "There are too many of us."

She began on the napkins, sprinkling with her fingers. Harry spread up a pile on his part, dipping also into the bowl. "I used to do it when I was a little boy," he said.

Ruth took the pillow-cases, and so they came to the last. They stretched the sheets across the table, and all three had a hand in smoothing and showering.

"Why, I wish it weren't all done," says Harry, turning over three clothes-pins in the bottom of the basket, while Barbara buttoned her sleeves. "Where does this go? What a nice place this is!" looking round the clean kitchen, growing shadowy in the evening light. "I think your house is full of nice places."

"Are you nearly ready, girls?" came in mother's voice from above.

"Yes, ma'am," Harry answered back, in an excessively cheery way. "We're coming"; and up the stairs all three came together, greatly to Mrs. Holabird's astonishment.

"You never know where help is coming from when you're trying to do your duty," said Barbara, in a high-moral way. "Prince Percinet, Mrs. Holabird."

"Miss Polly-put-" began Harry Goldthwaite, brimming up with a half-diffident mischief. But Barbara walked round to her place at the table with a very great dignity.

People think that young folks can only have properly arranged and elaborately provided good times; with Germania band pieces, and bouquets and ribbons for the German, and oysters and salmon-salad and sweatmeat-and-spun-sugar "chignons"; at least, commerce games and bewitching little prizes. Yet when lives just touch each other naturally, as it were,-dip into each other's little interests and doings, and take them as they are, what a multiplication-table of opportunities it opens up! You may happen upon a good time any minute, then. Neighborhoods used to go on in that simple fashion; life used to be "co-operative."

Mother said something like that after Leslie and Harry had gone away.

"Only you can't get them into it again," objected Rosamond. "It's a case of Humpty Dumpty. The world will go on."

"One world will," said Barbara. "But the world is manifold. You can set up any kind of a monad you like, and a world will shape itself round it. You've just got to live your own way, and everything that belongs to it will be sure to join on. You'll have a world before you know it. I think myself that's what the Ark means, and Mount Ararat, and the Noachian-don't they call it?-new foundation. That's the way they got up New England, anyhow."

"Barbara, what flights you take!"

"Do I? Well, we have to. The world lives up nineteen flights now, you know, besides the old broken-down and buried ones."

It was a few days after that, that the news came to mother of Aunt Radford's illness, and she had to go up to Oxenham. Father went with her, but he came back the same night. Mother had made up her mind to stay a week. And so we had to keep house without her.

One afternoon Grandfather Holabird came down. I don't know why, but if ever mother did happen to be out of the way, it seemed as if he took the time to talk over special affairs with father. Yet he thought everything of "Mrs. Stephen," too, and he quite relied upon her judgment and influence. But I think old men do often feel as if they had got their sons back again, quite to themselves, when the Mrs. Stephens or the Mrs. Johns leave them alone for a little.

At any rate, Grandfather Holabird sat with father on the north piazza, out of the way of the strong south-wind; and he had out a big wallet, and a great many papers, and he stayed and stayed, from just after dinner-time till almost the middle of the afternoon, so that father did not go down to his office at all; and when old Mr. Holabird went home at last, he walked over with him. Just after they had gone Leslie Goldthwaite and Harry stopped, "for a minute only," they said; for the south-wind had brought up clouds, and there was rain threatening. That was how we all happened to be just as we were that night of the September gale; for it was the September gale of last year that was coming.

The wind

had been queer, in gusts, all day; yet the weather had been soft and mild. We had opened windows for the pleasant air, and shut them again in a hurry when the papers blew about, and the pictures swung to and fro against the walls. Once that afternoon, somebody had left doors open through the brown room and the dining-room, where a window was thrown up, as we could have it there where the three were all on one side. Ruth was coming down stairs, and saw grandfather's papers give a whirl out of his lap and across the piazza floor upon the gravel. If she had not sprung so quickly and gathered them all up for him, some of them might have blown quite away, and led father a chase after them over the hill. After that, old Mr. Holabird put them up in his wallet again, and when they had talked a few minutes more they went off together to the old house.

It was wonderful how that wind and rain did come up. The few minutes that Harry and Leslie stopped with us, and then the few more they took to consider whether it would do for Leslie to try to walk home, just settled it that nobody could stir until there should be some sort of lull or holding up.

Out of the far southerly hills came the blast, rending and crashing; the first swirls of rain that flung themselves against our windows seemed as if they might have rushed ten miles, horizontally, before they got a chance to drop; the trees bent down and sprang again, and lashed the air to and fro; chips and leaves and fragments of all strange sorts took the wonderful opportunity and went soaring aloft and onward in a false, plebeian triumph.

The rain came harder, in great streams; but it all went by in white, wavy drifts; it seemed to rain from south to north across the country,-not to fall from heaven to earth; we wondered if it would fall anywhere. It beat against the house; that stood up in its way; it rained straight in at the window-sills and under the doors; we ran about the house with cloths and sponges to sop it up from cushions and carpets.

"I say, Mrs. Housekeeper!" called out Stephen from above, "look out for father's dressing-room! It's all afloat,-hair-brushes out on voyages of discovery, and a horrid little kelpie sculling round on a hat-box!"

Father's dressing-room was a windowed closet, in the corner space beside the deep, old-fashioned chimney. It had hooks and shelves in one end, and a round shaving-stand and a chair in the other. We had to pull down all his clothes and pile them upon chairs, and stop up the window with an old blanket. A pane was cracked, and the wind, although its force was slanted here, had blown it in, and the fine driven spray was dashed across, diagonally, into the very farthest corner.

In the room a gentle cascade descended beside the chimney, and a picture had to be taken down. Down stairs the dining-room sofa, standing across a window, got a little lake in the middle of it before we knew. The side door blew open with a bang, and hats, coats, and shawls went scurrying from their pegs, through sitting-room and hall, like a flight of scared, living things. We were like a little garrison in a great fort, besieged at all points at once. We had to bolt doors,-latches were nothing,-and bar shutters. And when we could pause indoors, what a froth and whirl we had to gaze out at!

The grass, all along the fields, was white, prostrate; swept fiercely one way; every blade stretched out helpless upon its green face. The little pear-trees, heavy with fruit, lay prone in literal "windrows." The great ashes and walnuts twisted and writhed, and had their branches stripped upward of their leaves, as a child might draw a head of blossoming grass between his thumb and finger. The beautiful elms were in a wild agony; their graceful little bough-tips were all snapped off and whirled away upon the blast, leaving them in a ragged blight. A great silver poplar went over by the fence, carrying the posts and palings with it, and upturned a huge mass of roots and earth, that had silently cemented itself for half a century beneath the sward. Up and down, between Grandfather Holabird's home-field and ours, fallen locusts and wild cherry-trees made an abatis. Over and through all swept the smiting, powdery, seething storm of waters; the air was like a sea, tossing and foaming; we could only see through it by snatches, to cry out that this and that had happened. Down below us, the roof was lifted from a barn, and crumpled up in a heap half a furlong off, against some rocks; and the hay was flying in great locks through the air.

It began to grow dark. We put a bright, steady light in the brown room, to shine through the south window, and show father that we were all right; directly after a lamp was set in Grandfather Holabird's north porch. This little telegraphy was all we could manage; we were as far apart as if the Atlantic were between us.

"Will they be frightened about you at home?" asked Ruth of Leslie.

"I think not. They will know we should go in somewhere, and that there would be no way of getting out again. People must be caught everywhere, just as it happens, to-night."

"It's just the jolliest turn-up!" cried Stephen, who had been in an ecstasy all the time. "Let's make molasses-candy, and sit up all night!"

Between eight and nine we had some tea. The wind had lulled a little from its hurricane force; the rain had stopped.

"It had all been blown to Canada, by this time," Harry Goldthwaite said. "That rain never stopped anywhere short, except at the walls and windows."

True enough, next morning, when we went out, the grass was actually dry.

It was nearly ten when Stephen went to the south window and put his hands up each side of his face against the glass, and cried out that there was a lantern coming over from grandfather's. Then we all went and looked.

It came slowly; once or twice it stopped; and once it moved down hill at right angles quite a long way. "That is where the trees are down," we said. But presently it took an unobstructed diagonal, and came steadily on to the long piazza steps, and up to the side door that opened upon the little passage to the dining-room.

We thought it was father, of course, and we all hurried to the door to let him in, and at the same time to make it nearly impossible that he should enter at all. But it was Grandfather Holabird's man, Robert.

"The old gentleman has been taken bad," he said. "Mr. Stephen wants to know if you're all comfortable, and he won't come till Mr. Holabird's better. I've got to go to the town for the doctor."

"On foot, Robert?"

"Sure. There's no other way. I take it there's many a good winter's firing of wood down across the road atwixt here and there. There ain't much knowing where you can get along."

"But what is it?"

"We mustn't keep him," urged Barbara.

"No, I ain't goin' to be kep'. 'T won't do. I donno what it is. It's a kind of a turn. He's comin' partly out of it; but it's bad. He had a kind of a warnin' once before. It's his head. They're afraid it's appalectic, or paralettic, or sunthin'."

Robert looked very sober. He quite passed by the wonder of the gale, that another time would have stirred him to most lively speech. Robert "thought a good deal," as he expressed it, of Grandfather Holabird.

Harry Goldthwaite came through the brown room with his hat in his hand. How he ever found it we could not tell.

"I'll go with him," he said. "You won't be afraid now, will you, Barbara? I'm very sorry about Mr. Holabird."

He shook hands with Barbara,-it chanced that she stood nearest,-bade us all good night, and went away. We turned back silently into the brown room.

We were all quite hushed from our late excitement. What strange things were happening to-night!

All in a moment something so solemn and important was put into our minds. An event that,-never talked about, and thought of as little, I suppose, as such a one ever was in any family like ours,-had yet always loomed vaguely afar, as what should come some time, and would bring changes when it came, was suddenly impending.

Grandfather might be going to die.

And yet what was there for us to do but to go quietly back into the brown room and sit down?

There was nothing to say even. There never is anything to say about the greatest things. People can only name the bare, grand, awful fact, and say, "It was tremendous," or "startling," or "magnificent," or "terrible," or "sad." How little we could really say about the gale, even now that it was over! We could repeat that this and that tree were blown down, and such a barn or house unroofed; but we could not get the real wonder of it-the thing that moved us to try to talk it over-into any words.

"He seemed so well this afternoon," said Rosamond.

"I don't think he was quite well," said Ruth. "His hands trembled so when he was folding up his papers; and he was very slow."

"O, men always are with their fingers. I don't think that was anything," said Barbara. "But I think he seemed rather nervous when he came over. And he would not sit in the house, though the wind was coming up then. He said he liked the air; and he and father got the shaker chairs up there by the front door; and he sat and pinched his knees together to make a lap to hold his papers; it was as much as he could manage; no wonder his hands trembled."

"I wonder what they were talking about," said Rosamond.

"I'm glad Uncle Stephen went home with him," said Ruth.

"I wonder if we shall have this house to live in if grandfather should die," said Stephen, suddenly. It could not have been his first thought; he had sat soberly silent a good while.

"O Stevie! don't let's think anything about that!" said Ruth; and nobody else answered at all.

We sent Stephen off to bed, and we girls sat round the fire, which we had made up in the great open fireplace, till twelve o'clock; then we all went up stairs, leaving the side door unfastened. Ruth brought some pillows and comfortables into Rosamond and Barbara's room, made up a couch for herself on the box-sofa, and gave her little white one to Leslie. We kept the door open between. We could see the light in grandfather's northwest chamber; and the lamp was still burning in the porch below. We could not possibly know anything; whether Robert had got back, and the doctor had come,-whether he was better or worse,-whether father would come home to-night. We could only guess.

"O Leslie, it is so good you are here!" we said.

There was something eerie in the night, in the wreck and confusion of the storm, in our loneliness without father and mother, and in the possible awfulness and change that were so near,-over there in Grandfather Holabird's lighted room.

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