XI. Rachel
 

"Here she comes!" roared Mr. Tisbett. The townspeople, hurrying to Badgertown depot to see the train bearing the new little girl sent on by Mrs. Fisher to their parson's care, crowded up, Mr. and Mrs. Henderson smilingly in the center of the biggest group.

"Oh, husband, I do pity her so!" breathed the parson's wife. "Poor thing, she will be so shy and distressed!" The parson's heart gave a responsive thrill, as he craned his neck to peer here and there for their new charge. "She hasn't come. Oh, dear me!"--as a voice broke in at his elbow.

"I'm here." The words weren't much, to be sure, but the tone was wholly self- possessed, and when the parson whirled around, and Mrs. Henderson, who had been looking the other way, brought her gaze back, they saw a little girl in a dark brown suit, a brown hat under which fell smooth braids of black hair, who was regarding them with a pair of the keenest eyes they had either of them ever seen.

"Oh--oh--my child--" stammered Mr. Henderson, putting out a kind hand. "So you have come, Rachel?"

"Yes, I am Rachel," said the child, looking up into his face and laying her hand in the parson's big one; then she turned her full regard upon the minister's wife.

Mrs. Henderson was divided in her mind, for an instant, whether to kiss this self-possessed child, as she had fully arranged in her mind beforehand to do, or to let such a ceremony go by. But in a breathing space she had her arms about her, and was drawing her to her breast.

"Rachel, dear, I am so glad you have come to us."

Rachel glanced up sharply, heaved a big sigh, and when she lifted her head from Mrs. Henderson's neck, there was something bright that glistened in either eye; she brushed it off before any one could spy it, as the parson was saying:

"And now, where is your bag, child--er--Rachel, I mean?"

Rachel pointed to the end of the platform. "I'll go an' tell 'em to bring it here."

"No, no, child." The parson started briskly.

"Let us all go," said Mrs. Henderson kindly, gathering Rachel's hand up in one of hers. "Come, dear." So off they hurried, the platform's length, the farmers and their wives looking after them with the greatest interest.

"My, but ain't Mrs. Henderson glad to get a girl, though!"

"Yes, she sets by her a'ready."

"Sakes alive! I thought she was a poor child," exclaimed one woman, who was dreadfully disappointed to lose the anticipated object of charity.

"So she is," cried another--"as poor as Job's turkey, but Mr. King has dressed her up, you know, an' he's goin' to edicate her, too."

"Well, she'll pay for it, I reckon. My! she looks smart, even the back of her!"

And before very long, Rachel had been inducted into her room, a pretty little one under the eaves, neat as a pin in blue-and-white chintz covering, around which she had given a swift glance of approval. And now she was down in the parsonage kitchen, in a calico gown and checked apron; her own new brown ribbons having been taken off from her braids, rolled up carefully, and laid in the top drawer, the common, every-day ones taking their places.

Peletiah and Ezekiel were each in a corner of the kitchen, with their pale blue eyes riveted on her.

"Well, dear," Mrs. Henderson greeted her kindly, "you have changed your gown very quickly."

A tall, square-shouldered woman stalked in from the little entry.

"Oh, Jerusha," exclaimed Mrs. Henderson pleasantly, "this is the little girl that Mrs. Fisher sent us. Rachel, go up and speak to Miss Jerusha."

Rachel went over obediently and put out her hand, which the parson's sister didn't seem to see. Instead, she drew herself up stiffer than ever, and stared at the child.

"Ah, well, I hope she won't forget that she's very poor, and that you've taken her out of pity," said Miss Jerusha.

Rachel started back as if shot, and her black eyes flashed. "I ain't poor," she screamed. "I ain't goin' to be pitied."

"Yes, you are, too," declared Miss Jerusha, quite pleased at the effect of her words, and telling off each syllable by bringing one set of bony fingers down on the other emphatically; "in fact, you're a beggar, and my brother----"

"I ain't, ain't, ain't!" screamed Rachel shrilly, and, flinging herself on her face on the floor, she flapped her feet up and down and writhed in distress. "I want to go home!" she sobbed.

The boys, for once in their lives, actually started, and presently they were across the kitchen, to their mother, kneeling by Rachel's side.

"Don't let her go," they said together.

"She isn't going," said Mrs. Henderson, smoothing the shaking shoulders, but Rachel screamed on.

"Dear me!" The parson hurried in at the uproar, his glasses set up on his forehead where his nervous fingers had pushed them. "What is the matter?"

"That poor child," answered Miss Jerusha, pointing a long finger over at the group in the middle of the kitchen, "is acting like Satan. I guess you'll repent, brother, ever bringing her here."

"'Twas Aunt Jerusha," declared Peletiah bluntly, "and I wish she'd go home."

"Hush, hush, dear," said his mother, looking up into his face.

There was an awful pause, the parson drew a long breath, then he turned to his sister.

"Jerusha," he said, "I wish you would go into the sitting-room, if you please."

"An' let you pet that beggar child," she exclaimed, in shrill scorn, but she stalked off.

Mr. Henderson went swiftly across the kitchen and knelt down by his wife.

"Rachel"--he put his hand on the little girl's head--"get directly up, my child!"

Rachel lifted her eyes, and peered about. "Has she gone--that dreadful, bad, old woman?"

"There is no one here but those who love you," said the minister. "Now, child, get directly up and sit in that chair." He indicated the one, and in a minute Rachel was perched on it, with streaming eyes. Peletiah, having started to get a towel, and in his trepidation presenting the dish-rag, the parson dried her tears on his own handkerchief.

"Now, then, that is better," he said, in satisfaction, as they all grouped around her chair.

"Rachel, there mustn't be anything of this sort--tears, I mean--again. That lady is my sister, and----"

"Your sister!" screamed Rachel, precipitating herself forward on her chair in imminent danger of falling on her nose, to gaze at him in amazement.

"Yes"--a dull red flush crept over the minister's face--"and--and whatever she says, Rachel, why, you are not to mind, child."

"She ain't a-goin' to sass me," declared Rachel stoutly.

"Well, I don't believe she will again; let us hope not," said Mr. Henderson, in a worried way. "However, you are not to cry; remember that, Rachel, whatever happens," he added firmly: "you are to be happy here; this is your home, and we all love you."

"You do?" said Rachel, much amazed, looking at them all. "Oh, well, then, I'll stay." And slipping down from her chair, she seized Mrs. Henderson's apron. "What'll I do? Mrs. Fisher told me how to wash dishes. May I do 'em?"

"Yes, and the boys shall wipe them," said Mrs. Henderson, and pretty soon there was a gay little bustle in the old kitchen, the parson staying away from the writing of the sermon to see it.

But Peletiah and Ezekiel were much too slow to suit Rachel, who got far ahead of them, so she flew to the drawer in the big table where she had seen them get the dish-towels, and, helping herself, she fell to work drying some of the big pile in the drainer in the sink.

"I don't see how you can go so fast," observed Peletiah, laboriously polishing up his plate.

"Well, I don't see how you can go so slow," retorted Rachel, with deft passes of the towel over the cup. "My! I sh'd think your elbows had gone to sleep."

"They haven't gone to sleep," said Peletiah, who was always literal; and setting down his plate, half-dried, on the table, he turned over one arm to investigate.

"Of course not, you little ninny," said Rachel lightly. "I didn't----"

"Rachel, Rachel!" said the parson's wife, over by the table. She was getting her material together for baking pies, and she now added gently, "We don't call each other names, you must remember that, child."

"Oh!" said Rachel. She stopped her busy towel a minute to think, then it flapped harder and faster, to make up for lost time.

"Well, go ahead," she said to Peletiah, "and wipe your plate."

So Peletiah, letting his elbows take care of themselves, picked up his plate and set to work on its surface again; and pretty soon the dishes were all declared done, the pan and mop washed out, and hung up.

"What'll I do next?" Rachel smoothed down her apron and stood before the baking- table, a boy on either side.

"Now, boys," said Mrs. Henderson, pausing in her work of rolling out the pie crust, "I think you had better take Rachel down to see Grandma Bascom. I've told her she's coming to-day, and she's quite impatient to see her. And, Rachel, you can tell her about Mrs. Fisher and Polly and the boys. And oh, Rachel, be sure to tell her about Phronsie; she does just love that child so!"

The parson's wife leaned on the rolling-pin, and a bright color came into her face.

"I'll tell her," said Rachel, a soft gleam in her eyes, and smoothing her apron.

"And, Peletiah, go into the buttery, and get that little pat of butter done up in a cloth, and give it to Grandma. I do wish my pies were baked"--and she fell to work again--"so I could send her one."

So Peletiah went into the buttery and got the pat of butter, and the three started off. The parson stepped away from the doorway into the entry, where he had been silently watching proceedings, and went over to the window.

"Come here, Almira." He held out his hand.

She dropped her rolling-pin and ran over to his side. He drew her to him.

"See, dear," he said.

Rachel and the two boys were proceeding over the greensward leading down the road. She had one on either side; and, wonder of wonders, they were all hand in hand.

"We're going to see your Gran," said Rachel, a very sober expression settling over her thin little face.

"What?" said Peletiah.

"Your Gran; that's what your mother said."

"Oh, no, she didn't," contradicted Peletiah; "we are going to Grandma Bascom's."

"Well, that's the same thing," said Rachel; "she's your Gran, isn't she?"

"She's Grandma Bascom," repeated Peletiah stolidly.

"Oh, dear me! of course! But she's your Gran, isn't she?"--her tongue fairly aching to call him "ninny" again.

"No, she isn't; she isn't any one's Gran--she's just Grandma Bascom."

"Oh!" said Rachel. Perhaps it wasn't so very bad as she feared. She would wait and see.

"She's dreadfully deaf," remarked Peletiah.

"What's that?"

"She can't hear unless you scream."

Rachel burst into a loud laugh, but it was very musical; and before they knew it, although they were very much astonished, the two boys were laughing, too, though they hadn't the least idea at what.

"I'm glad of it," announced Rachel, when she had gotten through. "I love to scream. Sometimes it seems as if I'd die if I couldn't. Don't you?"

"No, I don't," said Peletiah, "ever feel so."

"Don't you?" Rachel leaned over to peer into Ezekiel's face.

"No, I don't, either," he said.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Rachel, catching her breath. "Well, let's run." And before either boy knew what was going to happen, she was hauling them along at such a mad pace as they had never before in all their lives indulged in.

The butter-pat slipped out of Peletiah's hand, gone on the wind, and landed on the roadside grass.

"Wasn't that a good one!" cried Rachel, her eyes shining, as she brought up suddenly. "Oh, my! ain't things sweet, though!"--wrinkling up her nose in delight.

"I lost the butter-pat," observed Peletiah, when he could get his breath.

"I never see anything so beautiful," Rachel was saying, over and over. Then she flung herself flat on the grass, and buried her nose in it, smelling it hungrily. "Oh, my!"

"I lost the butter-pat," observed Peletiah again, and standing over her.

"And I'm a-goin' to live here," declared Rachel, in a transport, and wriggling in the sweet clover, "if I'm good. I'm goin' to be good all the time. Yes, sir!"

"I lost the butter-pat," repeated Peletiah.

"Butter-pat?" Rachel caught the last words and sprang to her feet.

"Oh, yes, I forgot; we must hurry with the butter-pat. Come on!" and she whirled around on Peletiah. "Why, where--?" as she saw his empty hands.

"I lost the butter-pat," said Peletiah. "I've been telling you so."

"No, you haven't," contradicted Rachel flatly.

"Yes, I have," said Peletiah stolidly.

"No such thing." Rachel squared up to him, her black eyes flashing. "You haven't said a single word, you bad, wicked boy."

"Yes, I have," repeated Peletiah, ready to say it over for all time; "I've told you so a great many times."

Rachel looked at him, and put up both hands. The only thing proper to do under such circumstances was to shake him smartly, but it seemed so like attacking a granite post, and besides, he was the minister's son, and she was going to be good, else they must send her away (so Mrs. Fisher had said), so her arms flopped down to her side, and hung there dismally. And she burst out:

"Where did you lose it, you nin--? I mean--oh, dear me!--where, I say?"-- frowning impatiently.

"Back there," said Peletiah, pointing down the road. "You pulled me along so, it flew out of my hand."

Rachel set her teeth together hard.

"Come on!"

She seized a hand of each boy, Ezekiel being a silent spectator all the time; and if they went fast before, this time, in retracing their steps, it might be called flying, till a little spot on the roadside grass showed the object of their search. Peletiah's breath was gone entirely by this time, and he sank down by its side without a word, his brother following suit.

"I shall carry it now," announced Rachel, gathering up the little pat, safe in its white cloth. "My! 'tain't hurt a bit" She brushed off a few marauding ants. "Come on, now!"

Peletiah struggled to his feet and gasped, "I shall carry it," and put out his hands.

"No such thing." Rachel held the butter-pat firmly in her slender, brown hand. "My! you ain't fit to carry no butter-pats--let 'em drop out of your hands. Come on!"

"I shall carry it," declared Peletiah doggedly, and bringing his pale eyes to bear on her face, while he stood still in his tracks.

"I hope you may get it," cried Rachel triumphantly. "I never see such a boy. Come on, I say." She held out her hand with authority.

"My mother said I was to carry the butter-pat, and I shall carry it," said Peletiah, putting out one hand for it, and the other behind his back.

Rachel wrinkled her brows and thought a minute.

"So she did," she said. Then she set the butter-pat in Peletiah's hand, and pinched his thumb down over it. "There, hold on to it," she said, "or you'll lose it again. Now, come on!"

The way back was conducted on slower lines, as Rachel had an anxious oversight lest the butter-pat should again be taken off on the wind, so that Peletiah and Ezekiel had a chance to recover their breath, with some degree of composure, by the time they turned down the lane to Grandma Bascom's. There she was, sitting in her big chintz-covered chair, resting after the morning's work, as they found on entering the little old kitchen.

Rachel's eyes had been getting bigger and bigger, though she had said nothing tip to this time; but when they rested on the old lady's face, under the big, frilled cap, she burst out sharply:

"Is that your Gran?"

"She isn't my Gran," replied Peletiah.

"No, she isn't," echoed Ezekiel.

"Well, is she Gran?" demanded Rachel impatiently--"anybody's Gran--just Gran? Say, is she?"

"No, she isn't Gran," said Peletiah, shaking his head of stiff, light hair.

"Oh, dear me! you said so," cried Rachel, in a high, disappointed key. "Oh, dear, dear, dear! I wish she was." And, terribly afraid she was going to cry, she marched off to the little-paned window, and twisted her fingers into knots.

"She's Grandma," said Ezekiel, walking over to her and peering around her side.

"Oh, then she is," cried Rachel, springing around. "Say"--she seized his jacket- -"she's my Gran, an'----"

"Grandma, I said," repeated Ezekiel.

"Yes, yes, Grandma; well, she's mine."

"She's all our Grandma," said Ezekiel decidedly.

"Yes, yes, but she's mine, too," declared Rachel, bobbing her head decidedly. "She shall be my Gran--Grandma. I shall just take her, so there!"

"You musn't take her away," said Ezekiel, in alarm.

"I ain't goin' to; I don't want to. I'm goin' to live here always an' forever," declared Rachel firmly.

Ezekiel smiled at that in great satisfaction, and the matter being settled, Rachel skipped over to the old lady's chair, and looked steadily down into the wrinkled face.

"Go out and put the butter-pat somewhere," she said to Peletiah, who still held it in his hand, waiting to present it.

"I must give it to Grandma," he said; "my mother told me to."

"Well, you can't while she's asleep," said Rachel quickly, "so you put it somewhere--anywhere--and when she wakes up, why, you can give it to her. Do hurry--and you go and help him."

So the two boys walked off to find a place in the buttery, and quick as lightning Rachel leaned over and set a kiss on the wrinkled old cheek. If Grandma couldn't hear, she was very quick at feeling,

"Why!" She stirred uneasily in her chair, and opened her eyes.

"Who is this?" she asked, staring at the strange little girl, for although the parson's wife had told her all about the new member of the family to come that day, Grandma was so bewildered by being suddenly aroused from her sleep, she had forgotten all about it. "Hey, who is it?"

Peletiah, not having had time to put down the butter-pat, now came up and presented it with all due formality.

"But who is this little gal?" asked Grandma, as he set the butter-pat in the middle of the checked apron over her lap.

"She's Rachel," said Peletiah.

"Eh? What?" Grandma held a shaking hand behind her ear. "Speak a little louder, Peletiah; you know I'm a-growin' hard o' hearin', just a grain."

"Rachel," shouted Peletiah, as he stood still in his tracks in front of her.

"Ain't well! Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Grandma, in a tone of great concern. "What a pity!" and she turned and regarded the stranger with anxiety.

"Oh, dear me! You get away, Peletiah," commanded Rachel, brushing him aside. So Peletiah, very glad to be released, moved off, and Rachel, putting her mouth to the nodding cap-border, said very distinctly:

"Mrs. Fisher sent me to live at the minister's; I'm Rachel."

"Oh, my land o' Goshen!" exclaimed Grandma Bascom, lifting both hands in delight. "Why, I can hear you splendid. You see, I'm only a grain deaf. An' so you're that little gal. Well, I'm glad you've come, you pretty creeter, you!"