What Katy Did at School/Chapter 13
"NLY seven days more to cross off," said Clover, drawing her pencil through one of the squares on the diagram pinned beside her looking-glass, "seven more, and then—oh, joy!—papa will be here, and we shall start for home."
She was interrupted by the entrance of Katy, holding a letter and looking pale and aggrieved.
"Oh, Clover," she cried, "just listen to this! Papa can't come for us. Isn't it too bad?" And she read:—
"Burnet, March 20.
"My dear Girls,—I find that it will not be possible for me to come for you next week, as I intended. Several people are severely ill, and old Mrs. Barlow struck down suddenly with paralysis, so I cannot leave. I am sorry, and so will you be; but there is no help for it. Fortunately, Mrs. Hall has just heard that some friends of hers are coming westward with their family, and she has written to ask them to take charge of you. The drawback to this plan is, that you will have to travel alone as far as Albany, where Mr. Peters (Mrs. Hall's friend) will meet you. I have written to ask Mr. Page to put you on the train, and under the care of the conductor, on Tuesday morning. I hope you will get through without embarrassment. Mr. Peters will be at the station in Albany to receive you; or, if any thing should hinder him, you are to drive at once to the Delavan House where they are staying. I enclose a check for your journey. If Dorry were five years older, I should send him after you.
"The children are most impatient to have you back. Miss Finch has been suddenly called away by the illness of her sister-in-law, so Elsie is keeping house till you return.
"God bless you, my dear daughters, and send you safe.
"Oh, dear!" said Clover, with her lip trembling, "now papa won't see Rosy."
"No," said Katy, "and Rosy and Louisa and the rest won't see him. That is the worst of all. I wanted them to so much. And just think how dismal it will be to travel with people we don't know. It's too, too bad, I declare."
"I do think old Mrs. Barlow might have put off being ill just one week longer," grumbled Clover. "It takes away half the pleasure of going home."
The girls might be excused for being cross, for this was a great disappointment. There was no help for it, however, as papa said. They could only sigh and submit. But the journey, to which they had looked forward so much, was no longer thought of as a pleasure, only a disagreeable necessity, something which must be endured in order that they might reach home.
Five, four, three days,—the last little square was crossed off, the last dinner was eaten, the last breakfast. There was much mourning over Katy and Clover among the girls who were to return for another year. Louisa and Ellen Gray were inconsolable; and Bella, with a very small pocket hand kerchief held tightly in her hand, clung to Katy every moment, crying, and declaring that she would not let her go. The last evening she followed her into No. 2 (where she was dreadfully in the way of the packing), and after various odd contortions and mysterious, half-spoken sentences, said:—
"Say, won't you tell if I tell you something?"
"What is it?" asked Katy, absently, as she folded and smoothed her best gown.
"Something," repeated Bella, wagging her head mysteriously, and looking more like a thievish squirrel than ever.
"Well, what is it? Tell me."
To Katy's surprise, Bella burst into a violent fit of crying.
"I'm real sorry I did it," she sobbed,—"real sorry! And now you'll never love me any more."
"Yes, I will. What is it? Do stop crying, Bella dear, and tell me," said Katy, alarmed at the violence of the sobs.
"It was for fun, really and truly it was. But I wanted some cake too," —protested Bella, sniffing very hard.
"And I didn't think anybody would know. Berry Searles doesn't care a bit for us little girls, only for big ones. And I knew if I said "Bella," he'd never give me the cake. So I said 'Miss Carr' instead."
"Bella, did you write that note?" inquired Katy, almost to much surprised to speak.
"Yes. And I tied a string to your blind, because I knew I could go in and draw it up when you were practising. But I didn't mean to do any harm; and when Mrs. Florence was so mad, and changed your room, I was real sorry," moaned Bella, digging her knuckles into her eyes.
"Won't you ever love me any more?" she demanded. Katy lifted her into her lap, and talked so tenderly and seriously that her contrition, which was only half genuine, became real; and she cried in good earnest when Katy kissed her in token of forgiveness.
"Of course you'll go at once to Mrs. Nipson," said Clover and Rose, when Katy imparted this surprising discovery.
"No, I think not. Why should I? It would only get poor little Bella into a dreadful scrape, and she's coming back again, you know. Mrs. Nipson does not believe that story now,—nobody does. We had 'lived it down,' just as I hope we should. That is much better than having it contradicted."
"I don't think so; and I should enjoy seeing that little wretch of a Bella well whipped," persisted Rose. But Katy was not to be shaken.
"To please me, promise that not a word shall be said about it," she urged; and, to please her, the girls consented.
I think Katy was right in saying that Mrs. Nipson no longer believed her guilty in the affair of the note. She had been very friendly to both the sisters of late; and when Clover carried in her album and asked for an autograph, she waxed quite sentimental and wrote, "I would not exchange the modest Clover for the most beautiful parterre, so bring it back, I pray thee, to your affectionate teacher, Marianne Nipson;" which effusion quite overwhelmed "the modest Clover," and called out the remark from Rose,—"Don't she wish she may get you!" Miss Jane said twice, "I shall miss you, Katy," a speech which, to quote Rose again, made Katy look as "surprised as Balaam." Rose herself was not coming back to school. She and the girls were half broken-hearted at parting. They lavished tears, kisses, promises of letters, and vows of eternal friendship. Neither of them, it was agreed, was ever to love anybody else so well. The final moment would have been almost too tragical, had it not been for a last bit of mischief on the part of Rose. It was after the stage was actually at the door, and she had her foot upon the step, that, struck by a happy thought, she rushed upstairs again, collected the girls, and, each taking a window, they tore down the cotton, flung open sashes, and startled Mrs. Nipson, who stood below, by the simultaneous waving therefrom of many white flags. Katy, who was already in the stage, had the full benefit of this performance. Always after that, when she thought of the Nunnery, her memory recalled this scene,—Mrs. Nipson in the door-way, Bella blubbering behind, and overhead the windows crowded with saucy girls, laughing and triumphantly flapping the long cotton strips which had for so many months obscured the daylight for them all.
At Springfield next morning she and Clover said good-by to Mr. Page and Lilly. The ride to Albany was easy and safe. With every mile their spirits rose. At last they were actually on the way home.
At Albany they looked anxiously about the crowded depot for "Mr. Peters." Nobody appeared at first, and they had time to grow nervous before they saw a gentle, careworn little man coming toward them in company with the conductor.
"I believe you are the young ladies I have come to meet," he said. "You must excuse my being late, I was detained by business. There is a great deal to do to move a family out West," he wiped his forehead in a dispirited way. Then he put the girls into a carriage, and gave the driver a direction.
"We'd better leave your baggage at the office as we pass," he said, "because we have to get off so early in the morning."
"The boat goes at six, but we ought to be on board by half-past five, so as to be well settled before she starts."
"The boat?" said Katy, opening her eyes.
"Yes. Erie Canal, you know. Our furniture goes that way, so we judged it best to do the same, and keep an eye on it ourselves. Never be separated from your property, if you can help it, that's my maxim. It's the Prairie Belle,—one of the finest boats on the Canal."
"When do we get to Buffalo?" asked Katy, with an uneasy recollection of having heard that canal boats travel slowly.
"Buffalo? Let me see. This is Tuesday,—Wednesday, Thursday,—well, if we're lucky we ought to be there Friday evening; so, if we're not too late to catch the night boat on the lake, you'll reach home Saturday afternoon."
Four days! The girls looked at each other with dismay too deep for words. Elsie was expecting them by Thursday at latest. What should they do?
"Telegraph," was the only answer that suggested itself. So Katy scribbled a despatch, "Coming by canal. Don't expect us till Saturday," which she begged Mr. Peters to send; and she and Clover agreed in whispers that it was dreadful, but they must bear it as patiently as they could.
Oh, the patience which is needed on a canal! The motion which is not so much motion as standing still! The crazy impulse to jump out and help the crawling boat along by pushing it from behind! How one grows to hate the slow, monotonous glide, the dull banks, and to envy every swift-moving thing in sight, each man on horseback, each bird flying through the air.
Mrs. Peters was a thin, anxious woman, who spent her life anticipating disasters of all sorts. She had her children with her, three little boys, and a teething baby; and such a load of bundles, and baskets, and brown paper parcels, that Katy and Clover privately wondered how she could possibly have got through the journey without their help. Willy, the eldest boy, was always begging leave to go ashore and ride the towing horses; Sammy, the second could only be kept quiet by means of crooked pins and fish-lines of blue yarn; while Paul, the youngest, was possessed with a curiosity as to the under side of the boat, which resulted in his dropping his new hat overboard five times in three days, Mr. Peters and the cabin-boy rowing back in a small boat each time to recover it. Mrs. Peters sat on deck with her baby in her lap, and was in a perpetual agony lest the locks should work wrongly, or the boys be drowned, or some one fail to notice the warning cry, "Bridge!" and have their heads carried off from their shoulders. Nobody did; but the poor lady suffered the anguish of ten accidents in dreading the one which never took place. The berths at night were small and cramped, restless children woke and cried, the cabins were close, the decks cold and windy. There was nothing to see, and nothing to do. Katy and Clover agreed that they never wanted to see a canal boat again.
They were very helpful to Mrs. Peters, amused the boys, and kept them out of mischief; and she told her husband that she really thought she shouldn't have lived through the journey if it hadn't been for the Miss Carrs, they were such kind girls, and so fond of children. But the three days were terribly long. At last they ended. Buffalo was reached in time for the lake boat; and once established on board, feeling the rapid motion, and knowing that each stroke of the paddles took them nearer home, the girls were rewarded for their long trial of patience.
At four o'clock the next afternoon Burnet was in sight. Long before they touched the wharf Clover discovered old Whitey and the carryall, and Alexander, waiting for them among the crowd of carriages. Standing on the edge of the dock appeared a well-known figure.
"Papa! papa!" she shrieked. It seemed as if the girls could not wait for the boat to stop, and the plank to be lowered. How delightful it was to feel papa again! Such a sense of home and comfort and shelter as came with his touch!
"I'll never go away from you again, never, never!" repeated Clover, keeping tight hold of his hand as they drove up the hill. Dr. Carr, as he gazed at his girls, was equally happy,—they were so bright, affectionate and loving. No, he could never spare them again, for the boarding-school or any thing else, he thought.
"You must be very tired," he said.
"Not a bit. I'm hardly ever tired now," replied Katy.
"Oh, dear! I forgot to thank Mr. Peters for taking care of us," said Clover.
"Never mind. I did it for you," answered her father.
"Oh, that baby!" she continued: "how glad I am that it has gone to Toledo, and I needn't hear it cry any more! Katy! Katy! there's home! We are at the gate!"
The girls looked eagerly out, but no children were visible. They hurried up the gravel path, under the locust boughs just beginning to bud. There, over the front door, was an arch of evergreens, with "Katy" and "Clover" upon it in scarlet letters; and as they reached the porch, the door flew open, and out poured the children in a tumultuous little crowd. They had been on the roof, looking through a spy-glass after the boat.
"We never knew you had come till we heard the gate," explained John and Dorry; while Elsie hugged Clover, and Phil, locking his arms round Katy's neck, took his feet off the floor, and swung them in and ecstasy of affection, until she begged for mercy.
"How you are grown! Dorry, you're as tall as I am! Elsie, darling, how well you look! Oh, isn't it delicious, delicious, delicious, to be at home again!" There was such a hubbub of endearments and explanations that Dr. Carr could hardly make himself heard.
"Clover, your waist has grown as small as a pin. You look just like the beautiful princess in Elsie's story," said Johnnie.
"Take the girls into the parlor," repeated Dr. Carr: "it is cold out here, with the door open."
"Take 'em upstairs! You don't know what is upstairs!" shouted Phil, whereupon Elsie frowned and shook her head at him.
The parlor was gay with daffodils and hyacinths, and vases of blue violets, which smelt delightfully. Cecy had helped to arrange them, Elsie said. And just at that moment Cecy herself came in. Her hair was arranged in a sort of pin-cushion of puffs, with a row of curls on top, where no curls used to grow, and her appearance generally was very fine and fashionable; but she was the same affectionate Cecy as ever, and hugged the girls, and danced round them as she used to do at twelve. She had waited until they had had time to kiss once all round, she said, and then she really couldn't wait any longer.
"Now come upstairs," suggested Elsie, when Clover had warmed her feet, and the flowers had been admired, and everybody had said ten times over how nice it was to have the girls back, and the girls had replied that it was just as nice to come back.
So they all went upstairs, Elsie leading the way.
"Where are you going?" cried Katy: "that's the Blue Room." But Elsie did not pause.
"You see," she explained, with the door-knob in her hand, "papa and I thought you ought to have a bigger room now, because you are grown-up young ladies! So we have fixed this for you, and your old one is going to be the spare room instead." Then she threw the door open, and led the girls in.
"See, Katy," she said, "this is your bureau, and this is Clover's. And look what nice drawers papa has had put in the closet,—two for you, and two for her. Aren't they convenient? Don't you like it? And isn't it a great deal pleasanter than the old room?"
"Oh, a great deal," cried the girls. "It is delightful, every thing about it." All Katy's old treasures had been transferred from her old quarters to this. There was her cushioned chair, her table, her bookshelf, the pictures from the walls. There were some new things too, —a blue carpet, blue paper on the walls, window curtains of fresh chintz; and Elsie had made a tasteful pin-cushion for each bureau, and Johnnie crocheted mats for the wash-stand. Altogether, it was as pretty a bower as two sisters just grown into ladies could desire.
"What are those lovely things hanging on either side of the bed?" asked Clover.
They were two illuminated texts, sent as a "welcome home," by Cousin Helen. One was a morning text, and other an evening text, Elsie explained. The evening text, which bore the words, "I will lay me down to sleep, and take my rest, for it is thou, Lord, only who makest me dwell in safety," was painted in soft purples and grays, and among the poppies and silver lilies which wreathed it appeared a cunning little downy bird, fast asleep, with his head under his wing. The morning text, "When I awake, I am still with Thee," was in bright colors, scarlet and blue and gold, and had a frame of rose garlands and wide-awake-looking butterflies and humming-birds. The girls thought they had never seen any thing so pretty.
Such a gay supper as they had that night! Katy would not take her old place at the tea-tray. She wanted to know how Elsie looked as housekeeper, she said. So she sat on one side of papa, and Clover on the other, and Elsie poured the tea, with a mixture of delight and dignity which was worth seeing.
"I'll begin to-morrow," said Katy.
And with that morrow, when she came out of her pretty room and took her place once more as manager of the household, her grown-up life may be said to have begun. So it is time that I should cease to write about her. Grown-up lives may be very interesting, but they have no rightful place in a child's book. If little girls will forget to be little, and take it upon them to become young ladies, they must bear the consequences, one of which is, that we can follow their fortunes no longer.
I wrote these last words sitting in the same green meadow where the first words of "What Katy Did" were written. A year had passed, but a cardinal-flower which seemed the same stood looking at itself in the brook, and from the bulrush-bed sounded tiny voices. My little goggle-eyed friends were discussing Katy and her conduct, as they did then, but with less spirit; for one voice came seldom and faintly, while the other, bold and defiant as ever, repeated over and over again, "Katy didn't! Katy didn't! She didn't, didn't, didn't"
"Katy did!" sounded faintly from the farther rush.
"She didn't, she didn't," chirped the undaunted partisan. Silence followed. His opponent was either convinced or tired of the discussion.
"Katy didn't." The words repeated themselves in my mind as I walked homeward. How much room for "Didn'ts" there is in the world, I thought. What an important part they play! And how glad I am that, with all her own and other people's doings, so many of these very "Didn'ts" were included among the things which my Katy did at School!
Cambridge: Press of John Wilson & Son.