What Katy Did at School/Chapter 11
CTOBER was a delightful month, clear and sparkling; but early in November the weather changed, and became very cold. Thick frosts fell, every leaf vanished from the woods, in the gardens only blackened stalks remained to show where once the summer flowers had been. In spite of the stove outside the door, No. 2 began to be chilly; more than once Katy found her tooth-brush stiff with ice in the morning. It was a fore-taste of the what the winter was to be, and the girls shivered at the prospect.
Toward the end of November Miss Jane caught a heavy cold. Unsparing of herself as of others, she went on hearing her classes as usual; and nobody paid much attention to her hoarseness and flushed cheeks, until she grew so much worse that she was forced to go to bed. There she stayed for nearly four weeks. It made a great change in the school; and the girls found it such a relief to have her sharp voice and eyes taken away that I am afraid they were rather glad of her illness than otherwise.
Katy shared in this feeling of relief. She did not like Miss Jane; it was pleasant not to have to see her or hear of her. But as day after day passed, and still she continued ill, Katy's conscience began to prick. One night she lay awake a long time, and heard Miss Jane coughing violently. Katy feared she was very sick, and wondered who took care of her all night and all day. None of the girls went near her. The servants were always busy. And Mrs. Nipson, who did not love Miss Jane, was busy too.
In the morning, while studying and practising, Katy caught herself thinking over this question. At last she asked Miss Marsh,—
"How is Miss Jane to-day?"
"About the same. She is not dangerously ill, the doctor says; but she coughs a great deal, and has some fever."
"Is anybody sitting with her?"
"Oh, no! there's no need of any one. Susan answers the bell, and she has her medicine on the table within reach."
It sounded forlorn enough. Katy had lived in a sick-room so long herself that she knew just how dreary it is for an invalid to be left alone with "medicine within reach," and some one to answer a bell. She began to feel sorry for Miss Jane, and almost without intending it went down the entry, and tapped at her door. The "Come in!" sounded very faint; and Miss Jane as she lay in bed looked weak and dismal, and quite unlike the sharp, terrible person whom the girls feared so much. She was amazed at the sight of Katy, and made a feeble attempt to hold up her head and speak as usual.
"What is it, Miss Carr?"
"I only came to see how you are," said Katy, abashed at her own daring, "You coughed so much last night that I was afraid you were worse. Isn't there something I could do for you?"
"Thank you," said Miss Jane, "you are very kind." Think of Miss Jane's thanking anybody, and calling anybody kind!
"I should be very glad. Isn't there any thing?" repeated Katy, encouraged.
"Well, I don't know: you might put another stick of wood on the fire," said Miss Jane, in an ungracious tone. Katy did so; and seeing that the iron cup on top of the stove was empty, she poured some water into it. Then she took a look about the room. Books and papers were scattered over the table; clean clothes from the wash lay on the chairs; nothing was in its place; and Katy, who knew how particular Miss Jane was on the subject of order, guessed at the discomfort which this untidy state of affairs must have caused her.
"Wouldn't you like to have me put these away?" she asked, touching the pile of clothes.
Miss Jane sighed impatiently, but she did not say no; so Katy, taking silence for consent, opened the drawers, and laid the clothes inside, guessing at the right places with a sort of instinct, and making as little noise and bustle as possible. Next she moved quietly to the table, where she sorted and arranged the papers, piled up the books, and put the pens and pencils in a small tray which stood there for the purpose. Lastly she began to dust the table with her pocket handkerchief, which proceeding roused Miss Jane at once.
"Don't," she said, "there is a duster in the cupboard."
Katy could not help smiling, but she found the duster, and proceeded to put the rest of the room into nice order, laying a fresh towel over the bedside table, and arranging watch, medicine, and spoon within reach. Miss Jane lay and watched her. I think she was as much surprised at herself for permitting all this, as Katy was at being permitted to do it. Sick people often consent because they feel too weak to object. After all, it was comfortable to have some one come in and straighten the things which for ten days past had vexed her neat eyes with their untidiness.
Lastly, smoothing the quilt, Katy asked if Miss Jane wouldn't like to have her pillow shaken up?
"I don't care," was the answer. It sounded discouraging; but Katy boldly seized the pillow, beat, smoothed, and put it again in place. Then she went out of the room as noiselessly as she could, Miss Jane never saying, "Thank you," or seeming to observe whether she went or stayed.
Rose Red and Clover could hardly believe their ears when told where she had been. They stared at her as people stare at Van Amburgh when he comes safely out of the lion's den.
"My stars!" exclaimed Rose, drawing a long breath. "You didn't really? And she hasn't bitten your head off!"
"Not a bit," said Katy, laughing. "What's more, I'm going again."
She was as good as her word. After that she went to see Miss Jane very often. Almost always there was some little thing which she could do, the fire needed mending, or the pitcher to be filled with ice-water, or Miss Jane wanted the blinds opened or shut. Gradually she grew used to seeing Katy about the room. One morning she actually allowed her to brush her hair; and Katy's touch was so light and pleasant that afterwards Miss Jane begged her to do it every day.
"What makes you such a good nurse?" she asked one afternoon, rather abruptly.
"Being sick myself," replied Katy, gently. Then in answer to farther questioning, she told of her four years' illness, and her life upstairs, keeping house and studying lessons all alone by herself. Miss Jane did not say any thing when she got through; but Katy fancied she looked at her in a new and kinder way.
So time went on till Christmas. It fell on a Friday that year, which shortened the holidays by a day, and disappointed many of the girls. Only a few went home, the rest were left to pass the time as best they might till Monday, when lessons were to begin again.
"It isn't much like merry Christmas," sighed Clover to herself, as she looked up at the uncottoned space at the top of the window, and saw great snow-flakes wildly whirling by. No. 2 felt cold and dreary, and she was glad to exchange it for the school-room, round whose warm stove a cluster of girls was huddling. Everybody was in bad spirits; there was a tendency to talk about home, and the nice time which people were having there, and the very bad time they themselves were having at the Nunnery.
"Isn't it mis-e-ra-ble? I shall cry all night, I know I shall, I am so homesick," gulped Lilly, who had taken possession of her roommate's shoulder and was weeping ostentatiously.
"I declare, you're just Mrs. Gummidge in 'David Copperfield' over again," said Rose. "You recollect her, girls, don't you? When the porridge was burnt, you know,—'All of us felt the disappointment, but Mrs. Gummidge felt it the most.' Isn't Lilly a real Mrs. Gummidge, girls?"
The observation changed Lilly's tears into anger. "You're as hateful and as horrid as you can be, Rose Red," she exclaimed angrily. Then she flew out of the room, and shut the door behind her with a bang.
"There! she's gone upstairs to be mad," said Louisa Agnew.
"I don't care if she has," replied Rose, who was in a perverse mood.
"I wish you hadn't said that, Rosy," whispered Clover. "Lilly really felt badly."
"Well, what if she did? So do I feel badly, and you, and the rest of us. Lilly hasn't taken out a patent for bad feelings, which nobody must infringe. What business has she to make us feel badder, by setting up to be so much worse than the rest of the world?"
Clover said nothing, but went on with a book she was reading. In less than ten minutes, Rose, whose sun seldom stayed long behind a cloud, was at her elbow, dimpling and coaxing.
"I forgive you," she whispered, giving Clover's arm a little pinch.
"For being in the right. About Lilly, I mean. I was rather hateful to her, I confess. Never mind. When she comes downstairs, I'll make up. She's a crocodile, if ever there was one; but, as she's your cousin, I'll be good to her. Kiss me quick to prove that you're not vexed."
"Vexed indeed!" said Clover, kissing the middle of the pink cheek. "I wonder if anybody ever stayed vexed with you for ten minutes together, You Rosy-Posy you?"
"Bless you, yes! Miss Jane, for example. She hates me like poison, and all the time. Well, what of it? I know she's sick, but I 'can't tell a lie, pa,' on that account. Where's Katy?"
"Gone in to see her, I believe."
"One of these days," prophesied Rose, solemnly, "she'll go into that room, and she'll never come out again! Miss Jane is getting back into biting condition. I advise Katy to be careful. What's that noise? Sleigh-bells, I declare! Girls,"—mounting a desk, and peeping out of the window,—"somebody's got a big box,—a big one! Here's old Joyce at the door, with his sledge. Now who do you suppose it is?"
"It's for me. I'm sure it's for me," cried half a dozen voices.
"Bella, my love, peep over the balusters, and see if you can't see the name," cried Louisa; and Bella, nothing loath, departed at once on this congenial errand.
"No, I can't," she reported, coming back from the hall. "The name's tipped up against the wall. There's two boxes! One is big, and one is little!"
"Oh, who can they be for?" clamored the girls. Half the school expected boxes, and had been watching the storm all day, with a dreadful fear that it would block the roads, and delay the expected treasures.
At this moment Mrs. Nipson came in.
"There will be the usual study-hour this evening," she announced. "All of you will prepare lessons for Monday morning. Miss Carr, come her for a moment, if you please."
Clover, wondering, followed her into the entry.
"A parcel has arrived for you, and a box," said Mrs. Nipson. "I presume that they contain articles for Christmas. I will have the nails removed, and both of them placed in you room this evening, but I expect you to refrain from examining them until to-morrow. The vacation does not open until after study-hour to-night, and it will then be too late for you to begin."
"Very well, ma'am," said Clover, demurely. But the minute Mrs. Nipson's back was turned, she gave a jump, and rushed into the school-room.
"O girls," she cried, "what do you think? Both the boxes are for Katy and me!"
"Both!" cried a disappointed chorus.
"Yes, both. Nipson said so. I'm so sorry for you. But isn't it nice for us? We've never had a box from home before, you know; and I didn't think we should, it's so far off. It's too lovely! But I do hope yours will come to-night."
Clover's voice was so sympathizing, for all its glee, that nobody could help being glad with her.
"You little darling!" said Louisa, giving her a hug. "I'm rejoiced that the box is yours. The rest of us are always getting them, and you and Katy never had a thing before. I hope it's a nice one!"
"Oh, it's sure to be nice! It's from home, you know," responded Clover, with a happy smile. Then she left the room to find Katy, and tell the wonderful news.
Study-hour seemed unusually long that night. The minute it was over, the sisters ran to No. 2. There stood the boxes, a big wooden one, with all the nails taken out of the lid, and a small paper one, carefully tied up and sealed. It was almost more than the girls could do to obey orders and not peep.
"I feel something hard," announced Clover, inserting a finger-top under the lid.
"Oh, do you?" cried Katy. Then, making an heroic effort, she jumped into the bed.
"It's the only way," she said, "you'd better come too, Clovy. Blow the candle out and let's get to sleep as fast as we can, so as to make morning come quicker."
Katy dreamed of home that night. Perhaps it was that which made her wake so early. It was not five o'clock, and the room was perfectly dark. She did not like to disturb Clover, so she lay perfectly still, for hours as it seemed, till a faint gray dawn crept in, and revealed the outlines of the big box standing by the window. Then she could wait no longer, but crept out of bed, crossed the floor on tip-toe, and raising the lid a little put in her hand. Something crumby and sugary met it, and when she drew it out, there, fitting on her finger like a ring, was a round cake with a hole in the middle of it.
"Oh! it's one of Debby's jumbles!" she exclaimed.
"Where? What are you doing? Give me one too!" cried Clover, starting up. Katy rummaged till she found another, then, half frozen, she ran back to bed; and the two lay nibbling the jumbles, and talking about home, till dawn deepened into daylight, and morning was fairly come.
Breakfast was half an hour later than usual, which was comfortable. As soon as it was over, the girls proceeded to unpack their box. The day was so cold that they wrapped themselves in shawls, and Clover put on a hood and thick gloves. Rose Red, passing the door, burst out laughing, and recommended that she should add india rubbers and an umbrella.
"Come in," cried the sisters,—"come in, and help us open our box."
"Oh, by the way, you have a box, haven't you?" said Rose, who was perfectly aware of the important fact, and had presented herself with the hope of being asked to look on. "Thank you, but perhaps I would better come some other time. I shall be in your way."
"You humbug!" said Clover, while Katy seized Rose and pulled her into the room. "There, sit on the bed, you ridiculous goose, and put on my gray cloak. How can you be so absurd as to say you won't? You know we want you, and you know you came on purpose!"
"Did I? Well, perhaps I did," laughed Rose. Then Katy lifted off the lid and set it against the door. It was an exciting moment.
"Just look here!" cried Katy.
The top of the box was mostly taken up with four square paper boxes, round which parcels of all shapes and sized were wedged and fitted. The whole was a miracle of packing. It had taken Miss Finch three mornings, with assistance from old Mary, and much advice from Elsie, to do it so beautifully.
Each box held a different kind of cake. One was of jumbles, another of ginger-snaps, a third of crullers, and the fourth contained a big square loaf of frosted plum-cake, with a circle of sugar almonds set in the frosting. How the trio exclaimed at this!
"I never imagined any thing so nice," declared Rose, with her mouth full of jumble. "As for those snaps, they're simply perfect. What can be in all those fascinating bundles? Do hurry and open one, Katy."
Dear little Elsie! The first two bundles opened were hers, a white hood for Katy, and a blue one for Clover, both of her own knitting, and so nicely done. The girls were enchanted.
"How she has improved!" said Katy. "She knits better than either of us, Clover."
"There never was such a clever little darling!" responded Clover, and they patted the hoods, tried them on before the glass, and spent so much time in admiring them that Rose grew impatient.
"I declare," she cried, "it isn't any of my funeral, I know; but if you don't open another parcel soon, I shall certainly fall to myself. It seems as if, what with cold and curiosity, I couldn't wait."
"Very well," said Katy, laying aside her hood, with one final glance. "Take out a bundle, Clover. It's your turn."
Clover's bundle was for herself, "Evangeline," in blue and gold; and pretty soon "Golden Legend," in the same binding, appeared for Katy. Both these were from Dorry. Next came a couple of round packages of exactly the same size. These proved to be ink-stands, covered with Russia leather: one marked, "Katy from Johnnie," and the other, "Clover from Phil." It was evident that the children had done their shopping together, for presently two long narrow parcels revealed the carved pen-handles, precisely alike; and these were labelled, "Katy from Phil," and "Clover from Johnnie."
What fun it was opening those bundles! The girls made a long business of it, taking out but one at a time, exclaiming, admiring, and exhibiting to Rose, before they began upon another. They laughed, they joked, but I do not think it would have taken much to make either of them cry. It was almost too tender a pleasure, these proofs of loving remembrance from the little one; and each separate article seemed full of the very look and feel of home.
"What can this be?" said Katy, as she unrolled a paper and disclosed a pretty round box. She opened. Nothing was visible but pink cotton wool. Katy peeped beneath, and gave a cry.
"O Clovy! Such a lovely thing! It's from papa,—of course it's from papa. How could he? It's a great deal too pretty."
The "lovely thing" was a long slender chain for Katy's watch, worked in fine yellow gold. Clover admired it extremely; and her joy knew no bounds when farther search revealed another box with a precisely similar chain for herself. It was too much. The girls fairly cried with pleasure.
"There never was such a papa in the world!" they said.
"Yes, there is. Mine is just as good," declared Rose, twinkling away a little tear-drop from her own eyes. "Now don't cry, honeys. Your papa's an angel, there's no doubt about it. I never saw such pretty chains in my life,—never. As for the children, they're little ducks. You certainly are a wonderful family. Katy, I'm dying to know what is in the blue parcel."
The blue parcel was from Cecy, and contained a pretty blue ribbon for Clover. There was a pink one also, with a pink ribbon for Katy. Everybody had thought of the girls. Old Mary sent them each a yard measure; Miss Finch, a thread-case, stocked with differently colored cottons. Alexander had cracked a bag full of hickory nuts.
"Did you ever?" said, Rose, when this last was produced. "What a thing it is to be popular! Mrs. Hall? Who's Mrs. Hall?" as Clover unwrapped a tiny carved easel.
"She's Cecy's mother," explained Clover. "Wasn't she kind to send me this, Katy? And here's Cecy's photograph in a little frame for you."
Never was such a wonderful box. It appeared to have no bottom whatever. Under the presents were parcels of figs, prunes, almonds, raisins, candy; under those, apples and pears. There seemed no end to the surprises.
At last all were out.
"Now," said Katy, "let's throw back the apples and pears, and then I want you to help divide the other things, and make some packages for the girls. They are all disappointed not to have their boxes. I should like to have them share ours. Wouldn't you, Clover?"
"Yes, indeed. I was just going to propose it."
So Clover cut twenty-nine squares of white paper, Rose and Katy sorted and divided, and pretty soon ginger-snaps and almonds and sugar-plums were walking down all the entries, and a gladsome crunching showed that the girls had found pleasant employment. None of the snowed-up boxes got through till Monday, so except for Katy and Clover the school would have had no Christmas treat at all.
They carried Mrs. Nipson a large slice of cake, and a basket full of the beautiful red apples. All the teachers were remembered, and the servants. The S. S. U. C. was convened and feasted; and as for Rose, Louisa, and other special cronies, dainties were heaped upon them with such unsparing hand that they finally remonstrated.
"You're giving everything away. You'll have none left for yourselves."
"Yes, we shall,—plenty," said Clover. "O Rosy! here's such a splendid pear! You must have this."
"No! no!" protested Rose; but Clover forced it into her pocket.
"The Carrs' Box" was always quoted in the Nunnery afterward, as an example of what papas and mammas could accomplish, when they were of the right sort, and really wanted to make school-girls happy. Distributing their treasures kept Katy and Clover so busy that it was not until after dinner that they found time to open the smaller box. When they did so, they were sorry for the delay. The box was full of flowers, roses, geranium-leaves, heliotrope, beautiful red and white carnations, all so bedded in cotton that the frost had not touched them. But they looked chilled, and Katy hastened to put them in warm water, which she had been told was the best way to revive drooping flowers.
Cousin Helen had sent them; and underneath, sewed to the box, that they might not shake about and do mischief, were two flat parcels wrapped in tissue paper, and tied with white ribbon, in Cousin Helen's, dainty way. They were glove-cases, of quilted silk, delicately scented, one white, and one lilac; and to each was pinned a loving note, wishing the girls a Merry Christmas.
"How awfully good people are!" said Clover. "I do think we ought to be the best girls in the world."
Last of all, Katy made a choice little selection from her stores, a splendid apple, a couple of fine pears, a handful of raisins and figs, and, with a few of the freshest flowers in a wine-glass, she went down the Row and tapped at Miss Jane's door.
Miss Jane was sitting up for the first time, wrapped in a shawl, and looking very thin and pale. Katy, who had almost ceased to be afraid of her, went in cheerily.
"We've had a delicious box from home, Miss Jane, full of all sorts of things. It has been such fun unpacking it! I've brought you an apple, some pears, and this little bunch of flowers. Wasn't it a nice Christmas for us?"
"Yes," said Miss Jane, "very nice indeed. I heard some one saying in the entry that you had a box. Thank you," as Katy set the basket and glass on the table. "Those flowers are very sweet. I wish you a Merry Christmas, I'm sure."
This was much from Miss Jane, who couldn't help speaking shortly, even when she was pleased. Katy withdrew in high glee.
But that night, just before bed-time, something happened so surprising that Katy, telling Clover of it afterward, said she half fancied that she must have dreamed it all. It was about eight o'clock in the evening: she was passing down Quaker Row, and Miss Jane called and asked her to come in. Miss Jane's cheeks were flushed, and she spoke fast, as if she had resolved to say something, and thought the sooner it was over the better.
"Miss Carr," she began, "I wish to tell you that I made up my mind some time since that we did you an injustice last term. It is not your attentions to me during my illness which have changed my opinion,—that was done before I fell ill. It is your general conduct, and the good influence which I have seen you exert over other girls, which convinced me that we must have been wrong about you. That is all. I thought you might like to hear me say this, and I shall say the same to Mrs. Nipson."
"Thank you," said Katy, "you don't know how glad I am!" She half thought she would kiss Miss Jane, but somehow it didn't seem possible; so she shook hands very heartily instead, and flew to her room, feeling as if her feet were wings.
"It seems too good to be true. I want to cry, I am so happy," she told Clover. "What a lovely day this has been!"
And of all that she had received, I think Katy considered this explanation with Miss Jane as her very best Christmas box.