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   Chapter 8 HALLOWEEN.

We Girls: a Home Story By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 26332

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Breakfast was late the next morning. It had been nearly two o'clock when father had come home. He told us that grandfather was better; that it was what the doctor called a premonitory attack; that he might have another and more serious one any day, or that he might live on for years without a repetition. For the present he was to be kept as easy and quiet as possible, and gradually allowed to resume his old habits as his strength permitted.

Mother came back in a few days more; Aunt Radford also was better. The family fell into the old ways again, and it was as if no change had threatened. Father told mother, however, something of importance that grandfather had said to him that afternoon, before he was taken ill. He had been on the point of showing him something which he looked for among his papers, just before the wind whirled them out of his hands. He had almost said he would complete and give it to him at once; and then, when they were interrupted, he had just put everything up again, and they had walked over home together. Then there had been the excitement of the gale, and grandfather had insisted upon going to the barns himself to see that all was made properly fast, and had come back all out of breath, and had been taken with that ill turn in the midst of the storm.

The paper he was going to show to father was an unwitnessed deed of gift. He had thought of securing to us this home, by giving it in trust to father for his wife and children.

"I helped John into his New York business," he said, "by investing money in it that he has had the use of, at moderate interest, ever since; and Roderick and his wife have had their home with me. None of my boys ever paid me any board. I sha'n't make a will; the law gives things where they belong; there's nothing but this that wants evening; and so I've been thinking about it. What you do with your share of my other property when you get it is no concern of mine as I know of; but I should like to give you something in such a shape that it couldn't go for old debts. I never undertook to shoulder any of them; what little I've done was done for you. I wrote out the paper myself; I never go to lawyers. I suppose it would stand clear enough for honest comprehension,-and Roderick and John are both honest,-if I left it as it is; but perhaps I'd as well take it some day to Squire Hadden, and swear to it, and then hand it over to you. I'll see about it."

That was what grandfather had said; mother told us all about it; there were no secret committees in our domestic congress; all was done in open house; we knew all the hopes and the perplexities, only they came round to us in due order of hearing. But father had not really seen the paper, after all; and after grandfather got well, he never mentioned it again all that winter. The wonder was that he had mentioned it at all.

"He forgets a good many things, since his sickness," father said, "unless something comes up to remind him. But there is the paper; he must come across that."

"He may change his mind," said mother, "even when he does recollect. We can be sure of nothing."

But we grew more fond than ever of the old, sunshiny house. In October Harry Goldthwaite went away again on a year's cruise.

Rosamond had a letter from Mrs. Van Alstyne, from New York. She folded it up after she had read it, and did not tell us anything about it. She answered it next day; and it was a month later when one night up stairs she began something she had to say about our winter shopping with,-

"If I had gone to New York-" and there she stopped, as if she had accidentally said what she did not intend.

"If you had gone to New York! Why! When?" cried Barbara. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing," Rosamond answered, in a vexed way. "Mrs. Van Alstyne asked me, that is all. Of course I couldn't."

"Of course you're just a glorious old noblesse oblige-d! Why didn't you say something? You might have gone perhaps. We could all have helped. I'd have lent you-that garnet and white silk!"

Rosamond would not say anything more, and she would scarcely be kissed.

After all, she had co-operated more than any of us. Rose was always the daughter who objected and then did. I have often thought that young man in Scripture ought to have been a woman. It is more a woman's way.

The maples were in their gold and vermilion now, and the round masses of the ash were shining brown; we filled the vases with their leaves, and pressed away more in all the big books we could confiscate, and hunted frosted ferns in the wood-edge, and had beautiful pine blazes morning and evening in the brown room, and began to think how pleasant, for many cosey things, the winter was going to be, out here at Westover.

"How nicely we could keep Halloween," said Ruth, "round this great open chimney! What a row of nuts we could burn!"

"So we will," said Rosamond. "We'll ask the girls. Mayn't we, mother?"

"To tea?"

"No. Only to the fun,-and some supper. We can have that all ready in the other room."

"They'll see the cooking-stove."

"They won't know it, when they do," said Barbara.

"We might have the table in the front room," suggested Ruth.

"The drawing-room!" cried Rosamond. "That would be a make-shift. Who ever heard of having supper there? No; we'll have both rooms open, and a bright fire in each, and one up in mother's room for them to take off their things. And there'll be the piano, and the stereoscope, and the games, in the parlor. We'll begin in there, and out here we'll have the fortune tricks and the nuts later; and then the supper, bravely and comfortably, in the dining-room, where it belongs. If they get frightened at anything, they can go home; I'm going to new cover that screen, though, mother; And I'll tell you what with,-that piece of goldy-brown damask up in the cedar-trunk. And I'll put an arabesque of crimson braid around it for a border, and the room will be all goldy-brown and crimson then, and nobody will stop to think which is brocade and which is waterproof. They'll be sitting on the waterproof, you know, and have the brocade to look at. It's just old enough to seem as if it had always been standing round somewhere."

"It will be just the kind of party for us to have," said Barbara.

"They couldn't have it up there, if they tried. It would be sure to be Marchbanksy."

Rosamond smiled contentedly. She was beginning to recognize her own special opportunities. She was quite conscious of her own tact in utilizing them.

But then came the intricate questions of who? and who not?

"Not everybody, of course," said Rose, "That would be a confusion. Just the neighbors,-right around here."

"That takes in the Hobarts, and leaves out Leslie Goldthwaite," said Ruth, quietly.

"O, Leslie will be at the Haddens', or here," replied Rosamond. "Grace Hobart is nice," she went on; "if only she wouldn't be 'real' nice!"

"That is just the word for her, though," said Ruth. "The Hobarts are real."

Rosamond's face gathered over. It was not easy to reconcile things. She liked them all, each in their way. If they would only all come, and like each other.

"What is it, Rose?" said Barbara, teasing. "Your brows are knit,-your nose is crocheted,-and your mouth is-tatted! I shall have to come and ravel you out."

"I'm thinking; that is all."

"How to build the fence?"

"What fence?"

"That fence round the pond,-the old puzzle. There was once a pond, and four men came and built four little houses round it,-close to the water. Then four other men came and built four big houses, exactly behind the first ones. They wanted the pond all to themselves; but the little people were nearest to it; how could they build the fence, you know? They had to squirm it awfully! You see the plain, insignificant people are so apt to be nearest the good time!"

"I like to satisfy everybody."

"You won't,-with a squirm-fence!"

If it had not been for Ruth, we should have gone on just as innocently as possible, and invited them-Marchbankses and all-to our Halloween frolic. But Ruth was such a little news-picker, with her music lessons! She had five scholars now; beside Lily and Reba, there were Elsie Hobart and little Frank Hendee, and Pen Pennington, a girl of her own age, who had come all the way from Fort Vancouver, over the Pacific Railroad, to live here with her grandmother. Between the four houses, Ruth heard everything.

All Saints' Day fell on Monday; the Sunday made double hallowing, Barbara said; and Saturday was the "E'en." We did not mean to invite until Wednesday; on Tuesday Ruth came home and told us that Olivia and Adelaide Marchbanks were getting up a Halloween themselves, and that the Haddens were asked already; and that Lily and Reba were in transports because they were to be allowed to go.

"Did you say anything?" asked Rosamond.

"Yes. I suppose I ought not; but Elinor was in the room, and I spoke before I thought."

"What did you tell her?"

"I only said it was such a pity; that you meant to ask them all. And Elinor said it would be so nice here. If it were anybody else, we might try to arrange something."

But how could we meddle with the Marchbankses? With Olivia and Adelaide, of all the Marchbankses? We could not take it for granted that they meant to ask us. There was no such thing as suggesting a compromise. Rosamond looked high and splendid, and said not another word.

In the afternoon of Wednesday Adelaide and Maud Marchbanks rode by, homeward, on their beautiful little brown, long-tailed Morgans.

"They don't mean to," said Barbara. "If they did, they would have stopped."

"Perhaps they will send a note to-morrow," said Ruth.

"Do you think I am waiting, in hopes?" asked Rosamond, in her clearest, quietest tones.

Pretty soon she came in with her hat on. "I am going over to invite the Hobarts," she said.

"That will settle it, whatever happens," said Barbara.

"Yes," said Rosamond; and she walked out.

The Hobarts were "ever so much obliged to us; and they would certainly come." Mrs. Hobart lent Rosamond an old English book of "Holiday Sports and Observances," with ten pages of Halloween charms in it.

From the Hobarts' house she walked on into Z--, and asked Leslie Goldthwaite and Helen Josselyn, begging Mrs. Ingleside to come too, if she would; the doctor would call for them, of course, and should have his supper; but it was to be a girl-party in the early evening.

Leslie was not at home; Rosamond gave the message to her mother. Then she met Lucilla Waters in the street.

"I was just thinking of you," she said. She did not say, "coming to you," for truly, in her mind, she had not decided it. But seeing her gentle, refined face, pale always with the life that had little frolic in it, she spoke right out to that, without deciding.

"We want you at our Halloween party on Saturday. Will you come? You will have Helen and the Inglesides to come with, and perhaps Leslie."

Rosamond, even while delivering her message to Mrs. Goldthwaite for Leslie, had seen an unopened note lying upon the table, addressed to her in the sharp, tall hand of Olivia Marchbanks.

She stopped in at the Haddens, told them how sorry she had been to find they were promised; asked if it were any use to go to the Hendees'; and when Elinor said, "But you will be sure to be asked to the Marchbankses yourselves," replied, "It is a pity they should come together, but we had quite made up our minds to have this little frolic, and we have begun, too, you see."

Then she did go to the Hendees', although it was dark; and Maria Hendee, who seldom went out to parties, promised to come. "They would divide," she said. "Fanny might go to Olivia's. Holiday-keeping was different from other invites. One might take liberties."

Now the Hendees were people who could take liberties, if anybody. Last of all, Rosamond went in and asked Pen Pennington.

It was Thursday, just at dusk, when Adelaide Marchbanks walked over, at last, and proffered her invitation.

"You had better all come to us," she said, graciously. "It is a pity to divide. We want the same people, of course,-the Hendees, and the Haddens, and Leslie." She hardly attempted to disguise that we ourselves were an afterthought.

Rosamond told her, very sweetly, that we were obliged, but that she was afraid it was quite too late; we had asked others; the Hobarts, and the Inglesides; one or two whom Adelaide did not know,-Helen Josselyn, and Lucilla Waters; the parties would not interfere much, after all.

Rosamond took up, as it were, a little sceptre of her own, from that moment.

Leslie Goldthwaite had been away for three days, staying with her friend, Mrs. Frank Scherman, in Boston. She had found Olivia's note, of Monday evening, when she returned; also, she heard of Rosamond's verbal invitation. Leslie was very bright about these things. She saw in a moment how it had been. Her mother told her what Rosamond had said of who were coming,-the Hobarts and Helen; the rest were not then asked.

Olivia did not like it very well,-that reply of Leslie's. S

he showed it to Jeannie Hadden; that was how we came to know of it.

"Please forgive me," the note ran, "if I accept Rosamond's invitation for the very reason that might seem to oblige me to decline it. I see you have two days' advantage of her, and she will no doubt lose some of the girls by that. I really heard hers first. I wish very much it were possible to have both pleasures."

That was being terribly true and independent with West Z--. "But Leslie Goldthwaite," Barbara said, "always was as brave as a little bumble-bee!"

How it had come over Rosamond, though, we could not quite understand. It was not pique, or rivalry; there was no excitement about it; it seemed to be a pure, spirited dignity of her own, which she all at once, quietly and of course, asserted.

Mother said something about it to her Saturday morning, when she was beating up Italian cream, and Rosamond was cutting chicken for the salad. The cakes and the jellies had been made the day before.

"You have done this, Rosamond, in a very right and neighborly way, but it isn't exactly your old way. How came you not to mind?"

Rosamond did not discuss the matter; she only smiled and said, "I think, mother, I'm growing very proud and self-sufficient, since we've had real, through-and-through ways of our own."

It was the difference between "somewhere" and "betwixt and between."

Miss Elizabeth Pennington came in while we were putting candles in the bronze branches, and Ruth was laying an artistic fire in the wide chimney. Ruth could make a picture with her crossed and balanced sticks, sloping the firm-built pile backward to the two great, solid logs behind,-a picture which it only needed the touch of flame to finish and perfect. Then the dazzling fire-wreaths curled and clasped through and about it all, filling the spaces with a rushing splendor, and reaching up their vivid spires above its compact body to an outline of complete live beauty. Ruth's fires satisfied you to look at: and they never tumbled down.

She rose up with a little brown, crooked stick in one hand, to speak to Miss Pennington.

"Don't mind me," said the lady. "Go on, please, 'biggin' your castle.' That will be a pretty sight to see, when it lights up."

Ruth liked crooked sticks; they held fast by each other, and they made pretty curves and openings. So she went on, laying them deftly.

"I should like to be here to-night," said Miss Elizabeth, still looking at the fire-pile. "Would you let an old maid in?"

"Miss Pennington! Would you come?"

"I took it in my head to want to. That was why I came over. Are you going to play snap-dragon? I wondered if you had thought of that."

"We don't know about it," said Ruth. "Anything, that is, except the name."

"That is just what I thought possible. Nobody knows those old games nowadays. May I come and bring a great dragon-bowl with me, and superintend that part? Mother got her fate out of a snap-dragon, and we have the identical bowl. We always used to bring it out at Christmas, when we were all at home."

"O Miss Pennington! How perfectly lovely! How good you are!"

"Well, I'm glad you take it so. I was afraid it was terribly meddlesome. But the fancy-or the memory-seized me."

How wonderfully our Halloween party was turning out!

And the turning-out is almost the best part of anything; the time when things are getting together, in the beautiful prosperous way they will take, now and then, even in this vexed world.

There was our lovely little supper-table all ready. People who have servants enough, high-trained, to do these things while they are entertaining in the drawing-room, don't have half the pleasure, after all, that we do, in setting out hours beforehand, and putting the last touches and taking the final satisfaction before we go to dress.

The cake, with the ring in it, was in the middle; for we had put together all the fateful and pretty customs we could think of, from whatever holiday; there were mother's Italian creams, and amber and garnet wine jellies; there were sponge and lady-cake, and the little macaroons and cocoas that Barbara had the secret of; and the salad, of spring chickens and our own splendid celery, was ready in the cold room, with its bowl of delicious dressing to be poured over it at the last; and the scalloped oysters were in the pantry; Ruth was to put them into the oven again when the time came, and mother would pin the white napkins around the dishes, and set them on; and nobody was to worry or get tired with having the whole to think of; and yet the whole would be done, to the very lighting of the candles, which Stephen had spoken for, by this beautiful, organized co-operation of ours. Truly it is a charming thing,-all to itself, in a family!

To be sure, we had coffee and bread and butter and cold ham for dinner that day; and we took our tea "standed round," as Barbara said; and the dishes were put away in the covered sink; we knew where we could shirk righteously and in good order, when we could not accomplish everything; but there was neither huddle nor hurry; we were as quiet and comfortable as we could be. Even Rosamond was satisfied with the very manner; to be composed is always to be elegant. Anybody might have come in and lunched with us; anybody might have shared that easy, chatty cup of tea.

The front parlor did not amount to much, after all, pleasant and pretty as it was for the first receiving; we were all too eager for the real business of the evening. It was bright and warm with the wood-fire and the lights; and the white curtains, nearly filling up three of its walls, made it very festal-looking. There was the open piano, and Ruth played a little; there was the stereoscope, and some of the girls looked over the new views of Catskill and the Hudson that Dakie Thayne had given us; there was the table with cards, and we played one game of Old Maid, in which the Old Maid got lost mysteriously into the drawer, and everybody was married; and then Miss Pennington appeared at the door, with her man-servant behind her, and there was an end. She took the big bowl, pinned over with a great damask napkin, out of the man's hands, and went off privately with Barbara into the dining-room.

"This is the Snap," she said, unfastening the cover, and producing from within a paper parcel. "And that," holding up a little white bottle, "is the Dragon." And Barbara set all away in the dresser until after supper. Then we got together, without further ceremony, in the brown room.

We hung wedding-rings-we had mother's, and Miss Elizabeth had brought over Madam Pennington's-by hairs, and held them inside tumblers; and they vibrated with our quickening pulses, and swung and swung, until they rung out fairy chimes of destiny against the sides. We floated needles in a great basin of water, and gave them names, and watched them turn and swim and draw together,-some point to point, some heads and points, some joined cosily side to side, while some drifted to the margin and clung there all alone, and some got tears in their eyes, or an interfering jostle, and went down. We melted lead and poured it into water; and it took strange shapes; of spears and masts and stars; and some all went to money; and one was a queer little bottle and pills, and one was pencils and artists' tubes, and-really-a little palette with a hole in it.

And then came the chestnut-roasting, before the bright red coals. Each girl put down a pair; and I dare say most of them put down some little secret, girlish thought with it. The ripest nuts burned steadiest and surest, of course; but how could we tell these until we tried? Some little crack, or unseen worm-hole, would keep one still, while its companion would pop off, away from it; some would take flight together, and land in like manner, without ever parting company; these were to go some long way off; some never moved from where they began, but burned up, stupidly and peaceably, side by side. Some snapped into the fire. Some went off into corners. Some glowed beautiful, and some burned black, and some got covered up with ashes.

Barbara's pair were ominously still for a time, when all at once the larger gave a sort of unwilling lurch, without popping, and rolled off a little way, right in toward the blaze.

"Gone to a warmer climate," whispered Leslie, like a tease. And then crack! the warmer climate, or something else, sent him back again, with a real bound, just as Barbara's gave a gentle little snap, and they both dropped quietly down against the fender together.

"What made that jump back, I wonder?" said Pen Pennington.

"O, it wasn't more than half cracked when it went away," said Stephen, looking on.

Who would be bold enough to try the looking-glass? To go out alone with it into the dark field, walking backward, saying the rhyme to the stars which if there had been a moon ought by right to have been said to her:-

"Round and round, O stars so fair!

Ye travel, and search out everywhere.

I pray you, sweet stars, now show to me,

This night, who my future husband shall be!"

Somehow, we put it upon Leslie. She was the oldest; we made that the reason.

"I wouldn't do it for anything!" said Sarah Hobart. "I heard of a girl who tried it once, and saw a shroud!"

But Leslie was full of fun that evening, and ready to do anything. She took the little mirror that Ruth brought her from up stairs, put on a shawl, and we all went to the front door with her, to see her off.

"Round the piazza, and down the bank," said Barbara, "and backward all the way."

So Leslie backed out at the door, and we shut it upon her. The instant after, we heard a great laugh. Off the piazza, she had stepped backward, directly against two gentlemen coming in.

Doctor Ingleside was one, coming to get his supper; the other was a friend of his, just arrived in Z--. "Doctor John Hautayne," he said, introducing him by his full name.

We knew why. He was proud of it. Doctor John Hautayne was the army surgeon who had been with him in the Wilderness, and had ridden a stray horse across a battle-field, in his shirt-sleeves, right in front of a Rebel battery, to get to some wounded on the other side. And the Rebel gunners, holding their halyards, stood still and shouted.

It put an end to the tricks, except the snap-dragon.

We had not thought how late it was; but mother and Ruth had remembered the oysters.

Doctor John Hautayne took Leslie out to supper. We saw him look at her with a funny, twinkling curiosity, as he stood there with her in the full light; and we all thought we had never seen Leslie look prettier in all her life.

After supper, Miss Pennington lighted up her Dragon, and threw in her snaps. A very little brandy, and a bowl full of blaze.

Maria Hendee "snapped" first, and got a preserved date.

"Ancient and honorable," said Miss Pennington, laughing.

Then Pen Pennington tried, and got nothing.

"You thought of your own fingers," said her aunt.

"A fig for my fortune!" cried Barbara, holding up her trophy.

"It came from the Mediterranean," said Mrs. Ingleside, over her shoulder into her ear; and the ear burned.

Ruth got a sugared almond.

"Only a kernel," said the merry doctor's wife, again.

The doctor himself tried, and seized a slip of candied flag.

"Warm-hearted and useful, that is all," said Mrs. Ingleside.

"And tolerably pungent," said the doctor.

Doctor Hautayne drew forth-angelica.

Most of them were too timid or irresolute to grasp anything.

"That's the analogy," said Miss Pennington. "One must take the risk of getting scorched. It is 'the woman who dares,' after all."

It was great fun, though.

Mother cut the cake. That was the last sport of the evening.

If I should tell you who got the ring, you would think it really meant something. And the year is not out yet, you see.

But there was no doubt of one thing,-that our Halloween at Westover was a famous little party.

* * *

"How do you all feel about it?" asked Barbara, sitting down on the hearth in the brown room, before the embers, and throwing the nuts she had picked up about the carpet into the coals.

We had carried the supper-dishes away into the out-room, and set them on a great spare table that we kept there. "The room is as good as the girl," said Barbara. It is a comfort to put by things, with a clear conscience, to a more rested time. We should let them be over the Sunday; Monday morning would be all china and soapsuds; then there would be a nice, freshly arrayed dresser, from top to bottom, and we should have had both a party and a piece of fall cleaning.

"How do you feel about it?"

"I feel as if we had had a real own party, ourselves," said Ruth; "not as if 'the girls' had come and had a party here. There wasn't anybody to show us how!"

"Except Miss Pennington. And wasn't it bewitchinating of her to come? Nobody can say now-"

"What do you say it for, then?" interrupted Rosamond. "It was very nice of Miss Pennington, and kind, considering it was a young party. Otherwise, why shouldn't she?"

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