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We Girls: a Home Story By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 26467

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"That was a nice party," said Miss Pennington, walking home with Leslie and Doctor John Hautayne, behind the Inglesides. "What made it so nice?"

"You, very much," said Leslie, straightforwardly.

"I didn't begin it," said Miss Elizabeth. "No; that wasn't it. It was a step out, somehow Out of the treadmill. I got tired of parties long ago, before I was old. They were all alike. The only difference was that in one house the staircase went up on the right side of the hall, and in another on the left,-now and then, perhaps, at the back; and when you came down again, the lady near the drawing-room door might be Mrs. Hendee one night and Mrs. Marchbanks another; but after that it was all the same. And O, how I did get to hate ice-cream!"

"This was a party of 'nexts,'" said Leslie, "instead of a selfsame."

"What a good time Miss Waters had-quietly! You could see it in her face. A pretty face!" Miss Elizabeth spoke in a lower tone, for Lucilla was just before the Inglesides, with Helen and Pen Pennington. "She works too hard, though. I wish she came out more."

"The 'nexts' have to get tired of books and mending-baskets, while the firsts are getting tired of ice-creams," replied Leslie. "Dear Miss Pennington, there are ever so many nexts, and people don't think anything about it!"

"So there are," said Miss Elizabeth, quietly. "People are very stupid. They don't know what will freshen themselves up. They think the trouble is with the confectionery, and so they try macaroon and pistachio instead of lemon and vanilla. Fresh people are better than fresh flavors. But I think we had everything fresh to-night. What a beautiful old home-y house it is!"

"And what a home-y family!" said Doctor John Hautayne.

"We have an old home-y house," said Miss Pennington, suddenly, "with landscape-papered walls and cosey, deep windows and big chimneys. And we don't half use it. Doctor Hautayne, I mean to have a party! Will you stay and come to it?"

"Any time within my two months' leave," replied Doctor Hautayne, "and with very great pleasure."

"So she will have it before very long," said Leslie, telling us about the talk the next day.

It! Well, when Miss Pennington took up a thing she did take it up! That does not come in here, though,-any more of it.

The Penningtons are very proud people. They have not a very great deal of money, like the Haddens, and they are not foremost in everything like the Marchbankses; somehow they do not seem to care to take the trouble for that; but they are so established; it is a family like an old tree, that is past its green branching time, and makes little spread or summer show, but whose roots reach out away underneath, and grasp more ground than all the rest put together.

They live in an old house that is just like them. It has not a new-fashioned thing about it. The walls are square, plain brick, painted gray; and there is a low, broad porch in front, and then terraces, flagged with gray stone and bordered with flower-beds at each side and below. They have peacocks and guinea-hens, and more roses and lilies and larkspurs and foxgloves and narcissus than flowers of any newer sort; and there are great bushes of box and southernwood, that smell sweet as you go by.

Old General Pennington had been in the army all his life. He was a captain at Lundy's Lane, and got a wound there which gave him a stiff elbow ever after; and his oldest son was killed in Mexico, just after he had been brevetted Major. There is a Major Pennington now,-the younger brother,-out at Fort Vancouver; and he is Pen's father. When her mother died, away out there, he had to send her home. The Penningtons are just as proud as the stars and stripes themselves; and their glory is off the selfsame piece.

They made very much of Dakie Thayne when he was here, in their quiet, retired way; and they had always been polite and cordial to the Inglesides.

One morning, a little while after our party, mother was making an apple-pudding for dinner, when Madam Pennington and Miss Elizabeth drove round to the door.

Ruth was out at her lessons; Barbara was busy helping Mrs. Holabird. Rosamond went to the door, and let them into the brown room.

"Mother will be sorry to keep you waiting, but she will come directly. She is just in the middle of an apple-pudding."

Rosamond said it with as much simple grace of pride as if she had had to say, "Mother is busy at her modelling, and cannot leave her clay till she has damped and covered it." Her nice perception went to the very farther-most; it discerned the real best to be made of things, the best that was ready made, and put that forth.

"And I know," said Madam Pennington, "that an apple-pudding must not be left in the middle. I wonder if she would let an old woman who has lived in barracks come to her where she is?"

Rosamond's tact was superlative. She did not say, "I will go and see"; she got right up and said, "I am sure she will; please come this way," and opened the door, with a sublime confidence, full and without warning, upon the scene of operations.

"O, how nice!" said Miss Elizabeth; and Madam Pennington walked forward into the sunshine, holding her hand out to Mrs. Holabird, and smiling all the way from her smooth old forehead down to the "seventh beauty" of her dimple-cleft and placid chin.

"Why, this is really coming to see people!" she said.

Mrs. Holabird's white hand did not even want dusting; she just laid down the bright little chopper with which she was reducing her flour and butter to a golden powder, and took Madam Pennington's nicely gloved fingers into her own, without a breath of apology. Apology! It was very meek of her not to look at all set up.

Barbara rose from her chair with a red ringlet of apple-paring hanging down against her white apron, and seated herself again at her work when the visitors had taken the two opposite corners of the deep, cushioned sofa.

The red cloth was folded back across the end of the dining-table, and at the other end were mother's white board and rolling-pin, the pudding-cloth wrung into a twist out of the scald, and waiting upon a plate, and a pitcher of cold water with ice tinkling against its sides. Mother sat with the deal bowl in her lap, turning and mincing with the few last strokes the light, delicate dust of the pastry. The sunshine-work and sunshine always go so blessedly together-poured in, and filled the room up with life and glory.

"Why, this is the pleasantest room in all your house!" said Miss Elizabeth.

"That is just what Ruth said it would be when we turned it into a kitchen," said Barbara.

"You don't mean that this is really your kitchen!"

"I don't think we are quite sure what it is," replied Barbara, laughing. "We either dine in our kitchen or kitch in our dining-room; and I don't believe we have found out yet which it is!"

"You are wonderful people!"

"You ought to have belonged to the army, and lived in quarters," said Mrs. Pennington. "Only you would have made your rooms so bewitching you would have been always getting turned out."

"Turned out?"

"Yes; by the ranking family. That is the way they do. The major turns out the captain, and the colonel the major. There's no rest for the sole of your foot till you're a general."

Mrs. Holabird set her bowl on the table, and poured in the ice-water. Then the golden dust, turned and cut lightly by the chopper, gathered into a tender, mellow mass, and she lifted it out upon the board. She shook out the scalded cloth, spread it upon the emptied bowl, sprinkled it snowy-thick with flour, rolled out the crust with a free quick movement, and laid it on, into the curve of the basin. Barbara brought the apples, cut up in white fresh slices, and slid them into the round. Mrs. Holabird folded over the edges, gathered up the linen cloth in her hands, tied it tightly with a string, and Barbara disappeared with it behind the damask screen, where a puff of steam went up in a minute that told the pudding was in. Then Mrs. Holabird went into the pantry-closet and washed her hands, that never really came to need more than a finger-bowl could do for them, and Barbara carried after her the board and its etceteras, and the red cloth was drawn on again, and there was nothing, but a low, comfortable bubble in the chimney-corner to tell of house-wifery or dinner.

"I wish it had lasted longer," said Miss Elizabeth. "I am afraid I shall feel like company again now."

"I am ashamed to tell you what I came for," said Madam Pennington. "It was to ask about a girl. Can I do anything with Winny Lafferty?"

"I wish you could," said Mrs. Holabird, benevolently.

"She needs doing with" said Barbara.

"Your having her would be different from our doing so," said Mrs. Holabird. "I often think that one of the tangles in the girl-question is the mistake of taking the rawest specimens into families that keep but one. With your Lucy, it might be the very making of Winny to go to you."

"The 'next' for her, as Ruth would say," said Barbara.

"Yes. The least little thing that comes next is better than a world full of wisdom away off beyond. There is too much in 'general housework' for one ignorant, inexperienced brain to take in. What should we think of a government that gave out its 'general field-work' so?"

"There won't be any Lucys long," said Madam Pennington, with a sigh. "What are homes coming to?"

"Back to homes, I hope, from houses divided against themselves into parlors and kitchens," said mother, earnestly. "If I should tell you all I think about it, you would say it was visionary, I am afraid. But I believe we have got to go back to first principles; and then the Lucys will grow again."

"Modern establishments are not homes truly," said Madam Pennington.

"We shall call them by their names, as the French do, if we go on," said mother,-"hotels."

"And how are we to stop, or help it? The enemy has got possession. Irishocracy is a despotism in the land."

"Only," said mother, in her sweetest, most heartfelt way, "by learning how true it is that one must be chief to really serve; that it takes the highest to do perfect ministering; that the brightest grace and the most beautiful culture must come to bear upon this little, every-day living, which is all that the world works for after all. The whole heaven is made that just the daily bread for human souls may come down out of it. Only the Lord God can pour this room full of little waves of sunshine, and make a still, sweet morning in the earth."

Mother and Madam Pennington looked at each other with soulful eyes.

"'We girls,'" began mother again, smiling,-"for that is the way the children count me in,-said to each other, when we first tried this new plan, that we would make an art-kitchen. We meant we would have things nice and pretty for our common work; but there is something behind that,-the something that 'makes the meanest task divine,'-the spiritual correspondence of it. When we are educated up to that I think life and society will be somewhat different. I think we shall not always stop short at the drawing-room, and pretend at each other on the surface of things. I think the time may come when young girls and single women will be as willing, and think it as honorable, to go into homes which they need, and which need them, and give the best that they have grown to into the commonwealth of them, as they are willing now to educate and try for public places. And it will seem to them as great and beautiful a thing to do. They won't be buried, either. When they take the work up, and glorify it, it will glorify them. We don't know yet what households might be, if now we have got the wheels so perfected, we would put the living spirit into the wheels. They are the motive power; homes are the primary meetings. They would be little kingdoms, of great might! I wish women would be content with their mainspring work, and not want to go out and point the time upon the dial!"

Mother never would have made so long a speech, but that beautiful old Mrs. Pennington was answering her back all the time out of her eyes. There was such a magnetism between them for the moment, that she scarcely knew she was saying it all. The color came up in their cheeks, and they were young and splendid, both of them. We thought it was as good a Woman's Convention as if there had been two thousand of them instead of two. And when some of the things out of the closets get up on the house-tops, maybe it will prove so.

Madam Pennington leaned over and kissed mother when she took her hand at going away. And then Miss Elizabeth spoke out suddenly,-

"I have not done my errand yet, Mrs. Holabird. Mother has taken up all the time. I want to have some nexts. Your girls know what I mean; and I want them to take hold and help. They are going to be 'next Thursdays,' and to begin this very coming Thursday of all. I shall give primary invitations only,-and my primaries are to find secondaries. No household is to represent merely itself; one or two, or more, from one family are to bring always one or two, or more, from somewhere else. I am going to try if one l

ittle bit of social life cannot be exogenous; and if it can, what the branching-out will come to. I think we want sapwood as well as heartwood to keep us green. If anybody doesn't quite understand, refer to 'How Plants Grow-Gray.'"

She went off, leaving us that to think of.

Two days after she looked in again, and said more. "Besides that, every primary or season invitation imposes a condition. Each member is to provide one practical answer to 'What next?' 'Next Thursday' is always to be in charge of somebody. You may do what you like, or can, with it. I'll manage the first myself. After that I wash my hands."

Out of it grew fourteen incomparable Thursday evenings. Pretty much all we can do about them is to tell that they were; we should want fourteen new numbers to write their full history. It was like Mr. Hale's lovely "Ten Times One is Ten." They all came from that one blessed little Halloween party of ours. It means something that there is such a thing as the multiplication-table; doesn't it? You can't help yourself if you start a unit, good or bad. The Garden of Eden, and the Ark, and the Loaves and Fishes, and the Hundred and Forty-four Thousand sealed in their foreheads, tell of it, all through the Bible, from first to last. "Multiply!" was the very next, inevitable commandment, after the "Let there be!"

It was such a thing as had never rolled up, or branched out, though, in Westover before. The Marchbankses did not know what to make of it. People got in who had never belonged. There they were, though, in the stately old Pennington house, that was never thrown open for nothing; and when they were once there you really could not tell the difference; unless, indeed, it were that the old, middle wood was the deadest, just as it is in the trees; and that the life was in the new sap and the green rind.

Lucilla Waters invented charades; and Helen Josselyn acted them, as charades had never been acted on West Hill until now. When it came to the Hobarts' "Next Thursday" they gave us "Dissolving Views,"-every successive queer fashion that had come up resplendent and gone down grotesque in these last thirty years. Mrs. Hobart had no end of old relics,-bandbaskets packed full of venerable bonnets, that in their close gradation of change seemed like one individual Indur passing through a metempsychosis of millinery; nests of old hats that were odder than the bonnets; swallow-tailed coats; broad-skirted blue ones with brass buttons; baby waists and basquines; leg-of-mutton sleeves, balloons, and military; collars inch-wide and collars ell-wide with ruffles rayonnantes; gathers and gores, tunnel-skirts, and barrel-skirts and paniers. She made monstrous paper dickeys, and high black stocks, and great bundling neckcloths; the very pocket-handkerchiefs were as ridiculous as anything, from the waiter-napkin size of good stout cambric to a quarter-dollar bit of a middle with a cataract of "chandelier" lace about it. She could tell everybody how to do their hair, from "flat curls" and "scallops" down or up to frizzes and chignons; and after we had all filed in slowly, one by one, and filled up the room, I don't think there ever could have been a funnier evening!

We had musical nights, and readings. We had a "Mutual Friend" Thursday; that was Mrs. Ingleside's. Rosamond was the Boofer Lady; Barbara was Lavvy the Irrepressible; and Miss Pennington herself was Mrs. Wilfer; Mr. and Mrs. Hobart were the Boffins; and Doctor Ingleside, with a wooden leg strapped on, dropped into poetry in the light of a friend; Maria Hendee came in twisting up her back hair, as Pleasant Riderhood,-Maria Hendee's back hair was splendid; Leslie looked very sweet and quiet as Lizzie Hexam, and she brought with her for her secondary that night the very, real little doll's dressmaker herself,-Maddy Freeman, who has carved brackets, and painted lovely book-racks and easels and vases and portfolios for almost everybody's parlors, and yet never gets into them herself.

Leslie would not have asked her to be Jennie Wren, because she really has a lame foot; but when they told her about it, she said right off, "O, how I wish I could be that!" She has not only the lame foot, but the wonderful "golden bower" of sunshiny hair too; and she knows the doll's dressmaker by heart; she says she expects to find her some time, if ever she goes to England-or to heaven. Truly she was up to the "tricks and the manners" of the occasion; nobody entered into it with more self-abandonment than she; she was so completely Jennie Wren that no one-at the moment-thought of her in any other character, or remembered their rules of behaving according to the square of the distance. She "took patterns" of Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks's trimmings to her very face; she readied up behind Mrs. Linceford, and measured the festoon of her panier. There was no reason why she should be afraid or abashed; Maddy Freeman is a little lady, only she is poor, and a genius. She stepped right out of Dickens's story, not into it, as the rest of us did; neither did she even seem to step consciously into the grand Pennington house; all she did as to that was to go "up here," or "over there," and "be dead," as fresh, new-world delights attracted her. Lizzie Hexam went too; they belonged together; and T'other Governor would insist on following after them, and being comfortably dead also, though Society was behind him, and the Veneerings and the Podsnaps looking on. Mrs. Ingleside did not provide any Podsnaps or Veneerings; she said they would be there.

Now Eugene Wrayburn was Doctor John Hautayne; for this was only our fourth evening. Nobody had anything to say about parts, except the person whose "next" it was; people had simply to take what they were helped to.

We began to be a little suspicious of Doctor Hautayne; to wonder about his "what next." Leslie behaved as if she had always known him; I believe it seemed to her as if she always had; some lives meet in a way like that.

It did not end with parties, Miss Pennington's exogenous experiment. She did not mean it should. A great deal that was glad and comfortable came of it to many persons. Miss Elizabeth asked Maddy Freeman to "come up and be dead" whenever she felt like it; she goes there every week now, to copy pictures, and get rare little bits for her designs out of the Penningtons' great portfolios of engravings and drawings of ancient ornamentations; and half the time they keep her to luncheon or to tea. Lucilla Waters knows them now as well as we do; and she is taking German lessons with Pen Pennington.

It really seems as if the "nexts" would grow on so that at last it would only be our old "set" that would be in any danger of getting left out. "Society is like a coral island after all," says Leslie Goldthwaite. "It isn't a rock of the Old Silurian."

It was a memorable winter to us in many ways,-that last winter of the nineteenth century's seventh decade.

One day-everything has to be one day, and all in a minute, when it does come, however many days lead up to it-Doctor Ingleside came in and told us the news. He had been up to see Grandfather Holabird; grandfather was not quite well.

They told him at home, the doctor said, not to stop anywhere; he knew what they meant by that, but he didn't care; it was as much his news as anybody's, and why should he be kept down to pills and plasters?

Leslie was going to marry Doctor John Hautayne.

Well! It was splendid news, and we had somehow expected it. And yet-"only think!" That was all we could say; that is a true thing people do say to each other, in the face of a great, beautiful fact. Take it in; shut your door upon it; and-think! It is something that belongs to heart and soul.

We counted up; it was only seven weeks.

"As if that were the whole of it!" said Doctor Ingleside. "As if the Lord didn't know! As if they hadn't been living on, to just this meeting-place! She knows his life, and the sort of it, though she has never been in it with him before; that is, we'll concede that, for the sake of argument, though I'm not so sure about it; and he has come right here into hers. They are fair, open, pleasant ways, both of them; and here, from the joining, they can both look back and take in, each the other's; and beyond they just run into one, you see, as foreordained, and there's no other way for them to go."

Nobody knew it but ourselves that next night,-Thursday. Doctor Hautayne read beautiful things from the Brownings at Miss Pennington's that evening; it was his turn to provide; but for us,-we looked into new depths in Leslie's serene, clear, woman eyes, and we felt the intenser something in his face and voice, and the wonder was that everybody could not see how quite another thing than any merely written poetry was really "next" that night for Leslie and for John Hautayne.

That was in December; it was the first of March when Grandfather Holabird died.

At about Christmas-time mother had taken a bad cold. We could not let her get up in the mornings to help before breakfast; the winter work was growing hard; there were two or three fires to manage besides the furnace, which father attended to; and although our "chore-man" came and split up kindlings and filled the wood-boxes, yet we were all pretty well tired out, sometimes, just with keeping warm. We began to begin to say things to each other which nobody actually finished. "If mother doesn't get better," and "If this cold weather keeps on," and "Are we going to co-operate ourselves to death, do you think?" from Barbara, at last.

Nobody said, "We shall have to get a girl again." Nobody wanted to do that; and everybody had a secret feeling of Aunt Roderick, and her prophecy that we "shouldn't hold out long." But we were crippled and reduced; Ruth had as much as ever she could do, with the short days and her music.

"I begin to believe it was easy enough for Grant to say 'all summer,'" said Barbara; "but this is Valley Forge." The kitchen fire wouldn't burn, and the thermometer was down to 3° above. Mother was worrying up stairs, we knew, because we would not let her come down until it was warm and her coffee was ready.

That very afternoon Stephen came in from school with a word for the hour.

"The Stilkings are going to move right off to New Jersey," said he. "Jim Stilking told me so. The doctor says his father can't stay here."

"Arctura Fish won't go," said Rosamond, instantly.

"Arctura Fish is as neat as a pin, and as smart as a steel trap," said Barbara, regardless of elegance; "and-since nobody else will ever dare to give in-I believe Arctura Fish is the very next thing, now, for us!"

"It isn't giving in; it is going on," said Mrs. Holabird.

It certainly was not going back.

"We have got through ploughing-time, and now comes seed-time, and then harvest," said Barbara. "We shall raise, upon a bit of renovated earth, the first millennial specimen,-see if we don't!-of what was supposed to be an extinct flora,-the Domestica antediluviana."

Arctura Fish came to us.

If you once get a new dress, or a new dictionary, or a new convenience of any kind, did you never notice that you immediately have occasions which prove that you couldn't have lived another minute without it? We could not have spared Arctura a single day, after that, all winter. Mother gave up, and was ill for a fortnight. Stephen twisted his foot skating, and was laid up with a sprained ankle.

And then, in February, grandfather was taken with that last fatal attack, and some of us had to be with Aunt Roderick nearly all the time during the three weeks that he lived.

When they came to look through the papers there was no will found, of any kind; neither was that deed of gift.

Aunt Trixie was the only one out of the family who knew anything about it. She had been the "family bosom," Barbara said, ever since she cuddled us up in our baby blankets, and told us "this little pig, and that little pig," while she warmed our toes.

"Don't tell me!" said Aunt Trixie. Aunt Trixie never liked the Roderick Holabirds.

We tried not to think about it, but it was not comfortable. It was, indeed, a very serious anxiety and trouble that began, in consequence, to force itself upon us.

After the bright, gay nights had come weary, vexing days. And the worst was a vague shadow of family distrust and annoyance. Nobody thought any real harm, nobody disbelieved or suspected; but there it was. We could not think how such a declared determination and act of Grandfather Holabird should have come to nothing. Uncle and Aunt Roderick "could not see what we could expect about it; there was nothing to show; and there were John and John's children; it was not for any one or two to settle."

Only Ruth said "we were all good people, and meant right; it must all come right, somehow."

But father made up his mind that we could not afford to keep the place. He should pay his debts, now, the first thing. What was left must do for us; the house must go into the estate.

It was fixed, though, that we should stay there for the summer,-until affairs were settled.

"It's a dumb shame!" said Aunt Trixie.

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