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Chapter 5 In the loft

  • "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!"