What Katy Did at School/Chapter 2
A NEW YEAR AND A NEW PLAN.
HEN summer lingers on into October, it often seems as if winter, anxious to catch a glimpse of her, hurries a little; and so people are cheated out of their autumn. It was so that year. Almost as soon as it ceased to be hot it began to be cold. The leaves, instead of drifting away in soft, dying colors, like sunset clouds, turned yellow all at once; and were whirled off the trees in a single gusty night, leaving every thing bare and desolate. Thanksgiving came; and before the smell of the turkey was fairly out of the house, it was time to hang up stockings and dress the Christmas tree. They had a tree that year in honor of Katy's being downstairs. Cecy, who had gone away to boarding-school, came home; and it was all delightful, except that the days flew too fast. Clover said it seemed to her very queer that there was so much less time than usual in the world. She couldn't imagine what had become of it: there used to be plenty. And she was certain that Dorry must have been tinkering all the clocks,—they struck so often.
It was just after New Year that Dr. Carr walked in one day with a letter in his hand, and remarked: "Mr. and Mrs. Page are coming to stay with us."
"Mr. and Mrs. Page," repeated Katy; "who are they, papa? Did I ever see them?"
"Once, when you were four years old, and Elsie a baby. Of course you don't remember it."
"But who are they, papa?"
"Mrs. Page was your dear mother's second cousin; and at one time she lived in your grandfather's family, and was like a sister to mamma and Uncle Charles. It is a good many years since I have seen her. Mr. Page is a railroad engineer. He is coming this way on business, and they will stop for a few days with us. Your Cousin Olivia writes that she is anxious to see all you children. Have every thing as nice as you can, Katy."
"Of course, I will. What day are the coming?"
"Thursday,—no, Friday," replied Dr. Carr, consulting the letter, "Friday evening, at half-past six. Order something substantial for tea that night, Katy. They'll be hungry after travelling."
Katy worked with a will for the next two days. Twenty times, at least, she went into the blue room to make sure that nothing was forgotten; repeating, as if it had been a lesson in geography: "Bath towels, face towels, matches, soap, candles, cologne, extra blanket, ink." A nice little fire was lighted in the bedroom on Friday afternoon, and a big, beautiful one in the parlor, which looked very pleasant with the lamp lit and Clover's geraniums and china roses in the window. The tea-table was set with the best linen and the pink-and-white china. Debby's muffins were very light. The crab-apple jelly came out of its mould clear and whole, and the cold chicken looked appetizing, with its green wreath of parsley. There was stewed potato, too, and, of course, oysters. Everybody in Burnet had oysters for tea when company was expected. They were counted a special treat; because they were rather dear, and could not always be procured. Burnet was a thousand miles from the sea, so the oysters were of the tin-can variety. The cans gave the oysters a curious taste,—tinny, or was it more like solder? At all events, Burnet people liked it, and always insisted that it was a striking improvement on the flavor which oysters have on their native shores. Every thing was as nice as could be, when Katy stood in the dining-room to take a last look at her arrangements; and she hoped papa would be pleased, and that mamma's cousin would think her a good housekeeper.
"I don't want to have on my other jacket," observed Phil, putting his head in at the door. "Need I? This is nice."
"Let me see," said Katy, gently turning him round. "Well, it does pretty well; but I think I'd rather you should put on the other, if you don't mind much. We want every thing as nice as possible, you know; because this is papa's company, and he hardly ever has any."
"Just one little sticky place isn't much," said Phil, rather gloomily, wetting his finger and rubbing at a shiny place on his sleeve. "Do you really think I'd better? Well, then, I will."
"That's a dear,"—kissing him. "Be quick, Philly, for it's almost time they were here. And please tell Dorry to make haste. It's ever so long since he went upstairs."
"Dorry's an awful prink," remarked Phil, confidentially. "He looks in the glass, and makes faces if he can't get his parting straight. I wouldn't care so much about my clothes for a good deal. It's like a girl. Jim Slack says a boy who shines his hair up like that, never'll get to be president, not if he lives a thousand years."
"Well," said Katy, laughing: "it's something to be clean, even if you can't be president." She was not at all alarmed by Dorry's recent reaction in favor of personal adornment. He came down pretty soon, very spick and span in his best suit, and asked her to fasten the blue ribbon under his collar, which she did most obligingly; though he was very particular as to the size of the bows and length of the ends, and made her tie and retie more than once. She had just arranged it to suit him when a carriage stopped. "There they are," she cried. "Run and open the door, Dorry."
Dorry did so; and Katy, following, found papa ushering in a tall gentleman, and a lady who was not tall, but whose Roman nose and long neck, and general air of style and fashion, made her look so. Katy bent quite over to be kissed; but for all that she felt small and young and unformed, as the eyes of mamma's cousin looked her over and over, and through and through, and Mrs. Page said,—
"Why, Philip! is it possible that this tall girl is one of yours? Dear me! how time flies! I was thinking of the little creatures I saw when I was here last. And this other great creature can't be Elsie? That mite of a baby! Impossible! I cannot realize it. I really cannot realize it in the least."
"Won't you come to the fire, Mrs. Page?" said Katy, rather timidly.
"Don't call me Mrs. Page, my dear. Call me Cousin Olivia." Then the new-comer rustled into the parlor, where Johnnie and Phil were waiting to be introduced; and again she remarked that she "couldn't realize it." I don't know why Mrs. Page's not realizing it should have made Katy uncomfortable; but it did.
Supper went off well. The guests ate and praised; and Dr. Carr looked pleased, and said: "We think Katy an excellent housekeeper for her age;" at which Katy blushed and was delighted, till she caught Mrs. Page's eyes fixed upon her, with a look of scrutiny and amusement, whereupon she felt awkward and ill at ease. It was so all the evening. Mamma's cousin was entertaining and bright, and told lively stories; but the children felt that she was watching them, and passing judgment on their ways. Children are very quick to suspect when older people hold within themselves these little private courts of inquiry, and they always resent it.
Next morning Mrs. Page sat by while Katy washed the breakfast things, fed the birds, and did various odd jobs about the room and house. "My dear," she said at last, "what a solemn girl you are! I should think from your face that you were at least five and thirty. Don't you ever laugh or frolic, like other girls of your age? Why, my Lilly, who is four months older than you, is a perfect child still; impulsive as a baby, bubbling over with fun from morning till night."
"I've been shut up a good deal," said Katy, trying to defend herself; "but I didn't know I was solemn."
"My dear, that's the very thing I complain of: you don't know it! You are altogether ahead of your age. It's very bad for you, in my opinion. All this housekeeping and care, for young girls like you and Clover, is wrong and unnatural. I don't like it; indeed I don't."
"Oh! housekeeping doesn't hurt me a bit," protested Katy, trying to smile. "We have lovely times; indeed we do, Cousin Olivia."
Cousin Olivia only pursed up her mouth, and repeated: "It's wrong, my dear. It's unnatural. It's not the thing for you. Depend upon it, it's not the thing."
This was unpleasant; but what was worse, had Katy known it, Mrs. Page attacked Dr. Carr upon the subject. He was quite troubled to learn that she considered Katy grave and careworn, and unlike what girls of her age should be. Katy caught him looking at her with a puzzled expression.
"What is it, dear papa? Do you want any thing?"
"No, child, nothing. What are you doing there? Mending the parlor curtain, eh? Can't old Mary attend to that, and give you a chance to frisk about with the other girls?"
"Papa! As if I wanted to frisk! I declare you're as bad as Cousin Olivia. She's always telling me that I ought to bubble over with mirth. I don't wish to bubble. I don't know how."
"I'm afraid you don't," said Dr. Carr, with an odd sigh, which set Katy to wondering. What should papa sigh for? Had she done any thing wrong? She began to rack her brains and memory as to whether it could be this or that; or, if not, what could it be? Such needless self-examination does no good. Katy looked more "solemn" than ever after it.
Altogether, Mrs. Page was not a favorite in the family. She had every intention of being kind to her cousin's children, "so dreadfully in want of a mother, poor things!" but she could not hide the fact that their ways puzzled and did not please her; and the children detected this, as children always will. She and Mr. Page were very polite. They praised the housekeeping, and the excellent order of every thing, and said there never were better children in the world than John and Dorry and Phil. But, through all, Katy perceived the hidden disapproval; and she couldn't help feeling glad when the visit ended, and they went away.
With their departure, matters went back to their old train, and Katy forgot her disagreeable feelings. Papa seemed a little grave and preoccupied; but doctors often are when they have had cases to think of, and nobody noticed it particularly, or remarked that several letters came from Mrs. Page and nothing was heard of their contents, except that "Cousin Olivia sent her love." So it was a shock, when one day papa called Katy into the study to tell her of a new plan. She knew at once that it was something important when she heard his voice: it sounded so grave. Beside, he said "My daughter,"—a phrase he never used except upon the most impressive occasions.
"My daughter," he began, "I want to talk to you about something which I have been thinking of. How would you and Clover like going away to school together?"
"To school? To Mrs. Knight's?"
"No, not to Mrs. Knight's. To a boarding-school at the East, where Lilly Page has been for two years. Didn't you hear Cousin Olivia speak of it when she was here?"
"I believe I did. But, papa, you won't really?"
"Yes, I think so," said Dr. Carr, gently. "Listen, Katy, and don't feel so badly, my dear child. I've thought the plan over carefully; and it seems to me a good one, though I hate to part from you. It is pretty much as your cousin says: these home-cares, which I can't take from you while you are at home, are making you old before your time. Heaven knows I don't want to turn you into a silly giggling miss; but I should like you to enjoy your youth while you have it, and not grow middle-aged before you are twenty."
"What is the name of the school?" asked Katy. Her voice sounded a good deal like a sob.
"The girls call it 'The Nunnery.' It is at Hillsover, on the Connecticut River, pretty far North. And the winters are pretty cold, I fancy; but the air is sure to be good and bracing. That is one thing which has inclined me to the plan. The climate is just what you need."
"Hillsover? Isn't there a college there too?"
"Yes: Arrowmouth College. I believe there is a1ways a college where there is a boarding-school; though why, I can't for the life of me imagine. That's neither here nor there, however. I'm not afraid of your getting into silly scrapes, as girls sometimes do."
"College scrapes? Why, how could I? We don't have any thing to do with the college, do we?" said Katy, opening her candid eyes with such a wondering stare that Dr. Carr laughed, as he patted her cheek and replied: "No, my dear, not a thing."
"The term opens the third week in April," he went on. "You must begin to get ready at once. Mrs. Hall has just fitted out Cecy: so she can tell you what you will need. You'd better consult her, to—morrow."
"But, papa," cried Katy, beginning to realize it, "what are you going to do? Elsie's a darling, but she's so very little. I don't see how you can possibly manage. I'm sure you'll miss us, and so will the children."
"I rather think we shall," said Dr. Carr, with a smile, which ended in a sigh; "but we shall do very well, Katy; never fear. Miss Finch will see to us."
"Miss Finch? Do you mean Mrs. Knight's sister-in-law?"
"Yes. Her mother died in the summer; so she has no particular home now, and is glad to come for a year and keep house for us. Mrs. Knight says she is a good manager; and I dare say she'll fill your place sufficiently well, as far as that goes. "We can't expect her to be you, you know: that would be unreasonable." And Dr. Carr put his arm round Kate, and kissed her so fondly that she was quite overcome and clung to him, crying,—
"O papa! don't make us go. I'll frisk, and be as young as I can, and not grow middle-aged or any thing disagreeable, if only you'll let us stay. Never mind what Cousin Olivia says; she doesn't know. Cousin Helen wouldn't say so, I'm sure."
"On the contrary, Helen thinks well of the plan; only she wishes the school were nearer." said Dr. Carr. "No, Katy, don't coax. My mind is made up. It will do you and Clover both good; and once you are settled at Hillsover, you'll be very happy, I hope."
When papa spoke in this decided tone, it was never any use to urge him. Katy knew this, and ceased her pleadings. She went to find Clover and tell her the news, and the two girls had a hearty cry together. A sort of "clearing-up shower" it turned out to be; for when once they had wiped their eyes, every thing looked brighter, and they began to see a pleasant side to the plan.
"The travelling part of it will be very nice," pronounced Clover. "We never went so far away from home before."
Elsie, who was still looking very woful, burst into tears afresh at this remark.
"Oh, don't, darling!" said Katy. "Think how pleasant it will be to send letters, and to get them from us. I shall write to you every Saturday. Run for the big atlas,—there's a dear, and let us see where we are going."
Elsie brought the atlas; and the three heads bent eagerly over it, as Clover traced the route of the journey with her forefinger. How exciting it looked! There was the railroad, twisting and curving over half-a-dozen States. The black dots which followed it were towns and villages, all of which they should see. By and by the road made a bend, and swept northward by the side of the Connecticut River and toward the hills. They had heard how beautiful the Connecticut valley is.
"Only think! we shall be close to it," remarked Clover; "and we shall see the hills. I suppose they are very high, a great deal higher than the hill at Bolton."
"1 hope so," laughed Dr. Carr, who came into the room just then. The hill at Bolton was one of his favorite jokes. When mamma first came to Burnet, she had paid a visit to some friends at Bolton; and one day, when they were all out walking, they asked her if she felt strong enough to go to the top of the hill. Mamma was used to hills, so she said yes, and walked on, very glad to find that there was a hill in that flat country, but wondering a little why they did not see it. At last she asked where it was, and, behold, they had just reached the top! The slope had been so gradual that she had never found out that they were going uphill at all. Dr. Carr had told this story to the children, but had never been able to make them see the joke very clearly. In fact, when Clover went to Bolton, she was quite struck with the hill: it was so much higher than the sandbank which bordered the lake at Burnet.
There was a great deal to do to make the girls ready for school by the third week in April. Mrs. Hall was very kind, and her advice was sensible; though, except for Dr. Carr, the girls would hardly have had furs and flannels enough for so cold a place as Hillsover. Every thing for winter as well as for summer had to be thought of; for it had been arranged that the girls should not come home for the autumn vacation, but should spend it with Mrs. Page. This was the hardest thing about the plan. Katy begged very hard for Christmas; but when she learned that it would take three days to come and three to go, and that the holidays lasted less than a week, she saw it was of no use, and gave up the idea, while Elsie tried to comfort herself by planning a Christmas-box. The preparations kept them so busy that there was no time for any thing else. Mrs. Hall was always wanting them to go with her to shops, or Miss Petingill demanding that they should try on linings; and so the days flew by. At last all was ready. The nice half-dozens of pretty underclothes came home from the sewing-machine woman's, and were done up by Bridget, who dropped many a tear into the bluing water, at the thought of the young ladies going away. Mrs. Hall, who was a good packer, put the things into the new trunks. Everybody gave the girls presents, as if they had been brides starting on a wedding journey.
Papa's was a watch for each. They were not new, but the girls thought them beautiful. Katy's had belonged to her mother. It was large and old-fashioned, with a finely wrought case. Clover's, which had been her grandmother's, was larger still. It had a quaint ornament on the back,—a sort of true-love knot, done in gold of different tints. The girls were excessively pleased with these watches. They wore them with guard—chains of black watered ribbon, and every other minute they looked to see what the time was.
Elsie had been in papa's confidence, so her presents were watch-cases, embroidered on perforated paper. Johnnie gave Katy a case of pencils, and Clover a pen-knife with a pearl handle. Dorry and Phil clubbed to buy a box of note-paper and envelopes, which the girls were requested to divide between them. Miss Petingill contributed a bottle of ginger balsam, and a box of opodeldoc salve, to be used in case of possible chilblains. Old Mary's offering was a couple of needle-hooks, full of bright sharp needles.
"I wouldn't give you scissors," she said; "but you can't cut love—or, for the matter of that, any thing else—with a. needle."
Miss Finch, the new housekeeper, arrived a few days before they started: so Katy had time to take her over the house and explain all the different things she wanted done and not done, to secure papa's comfort and the children's. Miss Finch was meek and gentle. She seemed glad of a comfortable home. And Katy felt that she would be kind to the boys, and not fret Debby, and drive her into marrying Alexander and going away,—an event which Aunt lzzie had been used to predict. Now that all was settled, she and Clover found themselves looking forward to the change with pleasure. There was something new and interesting about it which excited their imaginations.
The last evening was a melancholy one. Elsie had been too much absorbed in the preparations to realize her loss; but, when it came to locking the trunks, her courage gave way altogether. She was in such a state of affliction that everybody else became afflicted too; and there is no knowing what would have happened, had not a parcel arrived by express and distracted their attention. The parcel was from Cousin Helen, whose things, like herself, had a knack of coming at the moment when most wanted. It contained two pretty silk umbrellas,— one brown, and one dark-green, with Katy's initials on one handle and Clover's on the other. Opening these treasures, and exclaiming over them, helped the family through the evening wonderfully; and next morning there was such a bustle of getting off that nobody had time to cry.
After the last kisses had been given, and Philly, who had climbed on the horse-block, was clamoring for "one more,—just one more," Dr. Carr, looking at the sober faces, was struck by a bright idea and, calling Alexander, told him to hurry old Whitey into the carryall, and drive the children down to Willett's Point, that they might wave their handkerchiefs to the boat as she went by. This suggestion worked like a charm on the spirits of the party. Phil began to caper, and Elsie and John ran in to get their hats. Half an hour later, when the boat rounded the point, there stood the little crew, radiant with smiles, fluttering their handkerchiefs and kissing their hands as cheerfully as possible. It was a pleasant last look to the two who stood beside papa on the deck; and, as they waved back their greetings to the little ones, and then looked forward across the blue water to the unknown places they were going to see, Katy and Clover felt that the new life opened well, and promised to be very interesting indeed.