"I declare," said Miss Petingill, laying down her work, "if them childre_on't beat all! What on airth _are_ they going to do now?"
Miss Petingill was sitting in the little room in the back building, which sh_lways had when she came to the Carr's for a week's mending and making over.
She was the dearest, funniest old woman who ever went out sewing by the day.
Her face was round, and somehow made you think of a very nice baked apple, i_as so criss-crossed, and lined by a thousand good-natured puckers. She wa_mall and wiry, and wore caps and a false front, which was just the color of _usty Newfoundland dog's back. Her eyes were dim, and she used spectacles; bu_or all that, she was an excellent worker. Every one liked Miss Petingil_hough Aunt Izzie _did_ once say that her tongue "was hung in the middle."
Aunt Izzie made this remark when she was in a temper, and was by no mean_repared to have Phil walk up at once and request Miss Petingill to "stick i_ut," which she obligingly did; while the rest of the children crowded t_ook. They couldn't see that it was different from other tongues, but Phill_ersisted in finding something curious about it; there must be, you know—sinc_t was hung in that queer way!
Wherever Miss Petingill went, all sorts of treasures went with her. Th_hildren liked to have her come, for it was as good as a fairy story, or th_ircus, to see her things unpacked. Miss Petingill was very much afraid o_urglars; she lay awake half the night listening for them and nothing on eart_ould have persuaded her to go anywhere, leaving behind what she called her
"Plate." This stately word meant six old teaspoons, very thin and bright an_harp, and a butter-knife, whose handle set forth that it was "A testimonia_f gratitude, for saving the life of Ithuriel Jobson, aged seven, on th_ccasion of his being attacked with quinsy sore throat." Miss Petingill wa_ery proud of her knife. It and the spoons travelled about in a little baske_hich hung on her arm, and was never allowed to be out of her sight, even whe_he family she was sewing for were the honestest people in the world.
Then, beside the plate-basket, Miss Petingill never stirred without Tom, he_ortoiseshell cat. Tom was a beauty, and knew his power; he ruled Mis_etingill with a rod of iron, and always sat in the rocking-chair when ther_as one. It was no matter where _she_ sat, Miss Petingill told people, bu_om was delicate, and must be made comfortable. A big family Bible always cam_oo, and a special red merino pin-cushion, and some "shade pictures" of ol_r. and Mrs. Petingill and Peter Petingill, who was drowned at sea; an_hotographs of Mrs. Porter, who used to be Marcia Petingill, and Mrs. Porter'_usband, and all the Porter children. Many little boxes and jars came also, and a long row of phials and bottles, filled with homemade physic and her_eas. Miss Petingill could not have slept without having them beside her, for, as she said, how did she know that she might not be "took sudden" wit_omething, and die for want of a little ginger-balsam or pennyroyal?
The Carr children always made so much noise, that it required somethin_nusual to make Miss Petingill drop her work, as she did now, and fly to th_indow. In fact there was a tremendous hubbub: hurrahs from Dorry, stamping o_eet, and a great outcry of shrill, glad voices. Looking down, Miss Petingil_aw the whole six—no, seven, for Cecy was there too—stream out of the wood- house door—which wasn't a door, but only a tall open arch—and rush noisil_cross the yard. Katy was at the head, bearing a large black bottle withou_ny cork in it, while the others carried in each hand what seemed to be _ookie.
"Katherine Carr! Kather- _ine_!" screamed Miss Petingill, tapping loudly o_he glass. "Don't you see that it's raining? you ought to be ashamed to le_our little brothers and sisters go out and get wet in such a way!" But nobod_eard her, and the children vanished into the shed, where nothing could b_een but a distant flapping of pantalettes and frilled trousers, going up wha_eemed to be a ladder, farther back in the shed. So, with a dissatisfie_luck, Miss Petingill drew back her head, perched the spectacles on her nose, and went to work again on Katy's plaid alpaca, which had two immense zigza_ents across the middle of the front breadth. Katy's frocks, strange to say, always tore exactly in that place!
If Miss Petingill's eyes could have reached a little farther, they would hav_een that it wasn't a ladder up which the children were climbing, but a tal_ooden post, with spikes driven into it about a foot apart. It required quit_ stride to get from one spike to the other; in fact the littler ones couldn'_ave managed it at all, had it not been for Clover and Cecy "boosting" ver_ard from below, while Katy, making a long arm, clawed from above. At las_hey were all safely up, and in the delightful retreat which I am about t_escribe:
Imagine a low, dark loft without any windows, and with only a very littl_ight coming in through the square hole in the floor, to which the spikey pos_ed. There was a strong smell of corn-cobs, though the corn had been take_way, a great deal of dust and spiderweb in the corners, and some wet spots o_he boards; for the roof always leaked a little in rainy weather.
This was the place, which for some reason I have never been able to find out, the Carr children preferred to any other on rainy Saturdays, when they coul_ot play out-doors, Aunt Izzie was as much puzzled at this fancy as I am. Whe_he was young (a vague, far-off time, which none of her nieces and nephew_elieved in much), she had never had any of these queer notions about gettin_ff into holes and corners, and poke-away places. Aunt Izzie would gladly hav_orbidden them to go the loft, but Dr. Carr had given his permission, so al_he could do was to invent stories about children who had broken their bone_n various dreadful ways, by climbing posts and ladders. But these storie_ade no impression on any of the children except little Phil, and the self- willed brood kept on their way, and climbed their spiked post as often as the_iked.
"What's in the bottle?" demanded Dorry, the minute he was fairly landed in th_oft.
"Don't be greedy," replied Katy, severely; "you will know when the time comes.
It is something _delicious_ , I can assure you.
"Now," she went on, having thus quenched Dorry, "all of you had better give m_our cookies to put away: if you don't, they'll be sure to be eaten up befor_he feast, and then you know there wouldn't be anything to make a feast of."
So all of them handed over their cookies. Dorry, who had begun on his as h_ame up the ladder, was a little unwilling, but he was too much in the habi_f minding Katy to dare to disobey. The big bottle was set in a corner, and _tack of cookies built up around it.
"That's right," proceeded Katy, who, as oldest and biggest, always took th_ead in their plays. "Now if we're fixed and ready to begin, the Fête (Kat_ronounced it _Feet_ ) can commence. The opening exercise will be 'A Traged_f the Alhambra,' by Miss Hall."
"No," cried Clover; "first 'The Blue Wizard, or Edwitha of the Hebrides,' yo_now, Katy."
"Didn't I tell you?" said Katy; "a dreadful accident has happened to that."
"Oh, what?" cried all the rest, for Edwitha was rather a favorite with th_amily. It was one of the many serial stories which Katy was forever writing, and was about a lady, a knight, a blue wizard, and a poodle named Bop. It ha_een going on so many months now, that everybody had forgotten the beginning, and nobody had any particular hope of living to hear the end, but still th_ews of its untimely fate was a shock.
"I'll tell you," said Katy. "Old Judge Kirby called this morning to see Aun_zzie; I was studying in the little room, but I saw him come in, and pull ou_he big chair and sit down, and I almost screamed out 'don't!'"
"Why?" cried the children.
"Don't you see? I had stuffed 'Edwitha' down between the back and the seat. I_as a _beau_ tiful hiding-place, for the seat goes back ever so far; bu_dwitha was such a fat bundle, and old Judge Kirby takes up so much room, tha_ was afraid there would be trouble. And sure enough, he had hardly droppe_own before there was a great crackling of paper, and he jumped up again an_alled out, 'Bless me! what is that?' And then he began poking, and poking, and just as he had poked out the whole bundle, and was putting on hi_pectacles to see what it was, Aunt Izzie came in."
"Well, what next?" cried the children, immensely tickled.
"Oh!" continued Katy, "Aunt Izzie put on her glasses too, and screwed up he_yes—you know the way she does, and she and the judge read a little bit of it; that part at the first, you remember, where Bop steals the blue-pills, and th_izard tries to throw him into the sea. You can't think how funny it was t_ear Aunt Izzie reading 'Edwitha' out loud—" and Katy went into convulsions a_he recollection "where she got to 'Oh Bop—my angel Bop—' I just rolled unde_he table, and stuffed the table-cover in my mouth to keep from screamin_ight out. By and by I heard her call Debby, and give her the papers, and say:
'Here is a mass of trash which I wish you to put at once into the kitche_ire.' And she told me afterward that she thought I would be in an insan_sylum before I was twenty. It was too bad," ended Katy half laughing and hal_rying, "to burn up the new chapter and all. But there's one good thing—sh_idn't find 'The Fairy of the Dry Goods Box,' that was stuffed farther back i_he seat.
"And now," continued the mistress of ceremonies, "we will begin. Miss Hal_ill please rise."
"Miss Hall," much flustered at her fine name, got up with very red cheeks.
"It was once upon a time," she read, "Moonlight lay on the halls of th_lhambra, and the knight, striding impatiently down the passage, thought sh_ould never come."
"Who, the moon?" asked Clover.
"No, of course not," replied Cecy, "a lady he was in love with. The next vers_s going to tell about her, only you interrupted.
"She wore a turban of silver, with a jewelled crescent. As she stole down th_orregidor the beams struck it and it glittered like stars.
"'So you are come, Zuleika?'
"'Yes, my lord.'
"Just then a sound as of steel smote upon the ear, and Zuleika's mail-cla_ather rushed in. He drew his sword, so did the other. A moment more, and the_oth lay dead and stiff in the beams of the moon. Zuleika gave a loud shriek, and threw herself upon their bodies. She was dead, too! And so ends th_ragedy of the Alhambra."
"That's lovely," said Katy, drawing a long breath, "only very sad! Wha_eautiful stories you do write, Cecy! But I wish you wouldn't always kill th_eople. Why couldn't the knight have killed the father, and—no, I suppos_uleika wouldn't have married him then. Well, the father might have—oh, bother! why must anybody be killed, anyhow? why not have them fall on eac_ther's necks, and make up?"
"Why, Katy!" cried Cecy, "it wouldn't have been a tragedy then. You know th_ame was A _Tragedy_ of the Alhambra."
"Oh, well," said Katy, hurriedly, for Cecy's lips were beginning to pout, an_er fair, pinkish face to redden, as if she were about to cry; "perhaps i_was_ prettier to have them all die; only I thought, for a change, yo_now!—What a lovely word that was—. 'Corregidor'—what does it mean?"
"I don't know," replied Cecy, quite consoled. "It was in the 'Conquest o_ranada.' Something to walk over, I believe."
"The next," went on Katy, consulting her paper, "is 'Yap,' a Simple Poem, b_lover Carr."
All the children giggled, but Clover got up composedly, and recited th_ollowing verses:
> "Did you ever know Yap?
> The best little dog > Who e'er sat on lap > Or barked at a frog.
> "His eyes were like beads, > His tail like a mop, > And it waggled as if > It never would stop.
> "His hair was like silk > Of the glossiest sheen, > He always ate milk, > And once the cold-cream
> "Off the nursery bureau > (That line is too long!) > It made him quite ill, > So endeth my song.
> "For Yappy he died > Just two months ago, > And we oughtn't to sing > At a funeral, you know."
The "Poem" met with immense applause; all the children laughed, and shouted, and clapped, till the loft rang again. But Clover kept her face perfectly, an_at down as demure as ever, except that the little dimples came and went a_he corners of her mouth; dimples, partly natural, and partly, I regret t_ay, the result of a pointed slate-pencil, with which Clover was in the habi_f deepening them every day while she studied her lessons.
"Now," said Katy, after the noise had subsided, "now come 'Scripture Verses,'
by Miss Elsie and Joanna Carr. Hold up your head, Elsie, and speak distinctly; and oh, Johnnie, you _mustn't_ giggle in that way when it comes your turn!"
But Johnnie only giggled the harder at this appeal, keeping her hands ver_ight across her mouth, and peeping out over her fingers. Elsie, however, wa_olemn as a little judge, and with great dignity began:
> "An angel with a fiery sword, > Came to send Adam and Eve abroad > And as they journeyed through the skies > They took one look at Paradise.
> They thought of all the happy hours > Among the birds and fragrant bowers, > And Eve she wept, and Adam bawled, > And both together loudly squalled."
Dorry snickered at this, but sedate Clover hushed him.
"You mustn't," she said; "it's about the Bible, you know. Now John, it's you_urn."
But Johnnie would persist in holding her hands over her mouth, while her fa_ittle shoulders shook with laughter. At last, with a great effort, she pulle_er face straight, and speaking as fast as she possibly could, repeated, in _ort of burst:
"Balaam's donkey saw the Angel, And stopped short in fear.
Balaam didn't see the Angel, Which is very queer."
After which she took refuge again behind her fingers, while Elsie went on—
> "Elijah by the creek, > He by ravens fed, > Took from their horny beak > Pieces of meat and bread."
"Come, Johnnie," said Katy, but the incorrigible Johnnie was shaking again, and all they could make out was—
> "The bears came down, and ate———and ate."
These "Verses" were part of a grand project on which Clover and Elsie had bee_usy for more than a year. It was a sort of rearrangement of Scripture fo_nfant minds; and when it was finished, they meant to have it published, boun_n red, with daguerreotypes of the two authoresses on the cover. "The Youth'_oetical Bible" was to be the name of it. Papa, much tickled with the scrap_hich he overheard, proposed, instead, "The Trundle-Bed Book," as having bee_omposed principally in that spot, but Elsie and Clover were highly indignant, and would not listen to the idea for a moment.
After the "Scripture Verses," came Dorry's turn. He had been allowed to choos_or himself, which was unlucky, as his taste was peculiar, not to say gloomy.
On this occasion he had selected that cheerful hymn which begins—
> "Hark, from the tombs a doleful sound."
And he now began to recite it in a lugubrious voice and with great emphasis, smacking his lips, as it were, over such lines as—
> "Princes, this clay _shall_ be your bed, > In spite of all your towers."
The older children listened with a sort of fascinated horror, rather enjoyin_he cold chills which ran down their backs, and huddling close together, a_orry's hollow tones echoed from the dark corners of the loft. It was too muc_or Philly, however. At the close of the piece he was found to be in tears.
"I don't want to st-a-a-y up here and be groaned at," he sobbed.
"There, you bad boy!" cried Katy, all the more angry because she was consciou_f having enjoyed it herself, "that's what you do with your horrid hymns, frightening us to death and making Phil cry!" And she gave Dorry a littl_hake. He began to whimper, and as Phil was still sobbing, and Johnnie ha_egun to sob too, out of sympathy with the others, the _Feet_ in the Lof_eemed likely to come to a sad end.
"I'm goin' to tell Aunt Izzie that I don't like you," declared Dorry, puttin_ne leg through the opening in the floor.
"No, you aren't," said Katy, seizing him, "you are going to stay, becaus_now_ we are going to have the Feast! Do stop, Phil; and Johnnie, don't be _oose, but come and pass round the cookies."
The word "Feast" produced a speedy effect on the spirits of the party. Phi_heered at once, and Dorry changed his mind about going. The black bottle wa_olemnly set in the midst, and the cookies were handed about by Johnnie, wh_as now all smiles. The cookies had scalloped edges and caraway seeds inside, and were very nice. There were two apiece; and as the last was finished, Kat_ut her hand in her pocket, and amid great applause, produced the crownin_ddition to the repast—seven long, brown sticks of cinnamon.
"Isn't it fun?" she said. "Debby was real good-natured to-day, and let me pu_y own hand into the box, so I picked out the longest sticks there were. Now, Cecy, as you're company, you shall have the first drink out of the bottle."
The "something delicious" proved to be weak vinegar-and-water. It was quit_arm, but somehow, drank up there in the loft, and out of a bottle, it taste_ery nice. Beside, they didn't _call_ it vinegar-and-water—of course not!
Each child gave his or her swallow a different name, as if the bottle wer_ike Signor Blitz's and could pour out a dozen things at once. Clover calle_er share "Raspberry Shrub," Dorry christened his "Ginger Pop," while Cecy, who was romantic, took her three sips under the name of "Hydomel," which sh_xplained was something nice, made, she believed, of beeswax. The last dro_one, and the last bit of cinnamon crunched, the company came to order again, for the purpose of hearing Philly repeat his one piece,—
> "Little drops of water,"
which exciting poem he had said every Saturday as far back as they coul_emember. After that Katy declared the literary part of the "Feet" over, an_hey all fell to playing "Stagecoach," which, in spite of close quarters an_n occasional bump from the roof, was such good fun, that a general "Oh dear!"
welcomed the ringing of the tea-bell. I suppose cookies and vinegar had take_way their appetites, for none of them were hungry, and Dorry astonished Aun_zzie very much by eyeing the table in a disgusted way, and saying: "Pshaw!
_only_ plum sweatmeats and sponge cake and hot biscuit! I don't want an_upper."
"What ails the child? he must be sick," said Dr. Carr; but Katy explained.
"Oh no, Papa, it isn't that—only we've been having a feast in the loft."
"Did you have a good time?" asked Papa, while Aunt Izzie gave a dissatisfie_roan. And all the children answered at once: "Splendiferous!"