XII. Doings At The Parsonage
 

And in another minute Rachel was telling all about Mrs. Fisher and Polly and Phronsie--oh, and Joel and David--for Grandma kept interrupting and asking all sorts of questions, so that the news and messages were all tangled up together.

"Did Joel say he wanted pep'mints?" asked Grandma, in a lull.

"Oh, yes, he said yours were awful good, and he wished he had some of 'em," Rachel answered. She didn't dare take her mouth away from the cap-frill, and her feet ached dreadfully from standing still so long. But Grandma was as bright as a button, and hungry for every scrap of information.

"Land o' Goshen!" mourned Grandma, "how I wish he was comin' in now! an' I'd give him plenty." She sat still for a minute, lost in thought. Peletiah and Ezekiel had wandered off outside, where they sat under the lilac bushes, to rest after their unwonted exercise, so the hens, undisturbed, stepped over the sill of the kitchen door, and scratched and picked about to their hearts' content.

"I'll drive 'em out," said Rachel, delighted at the chance of action this would give her, and springing off.

"Take the broom," screamed Grandma after her, "and then hurry and come back and tell me some more."

So Rachel, wishing the duty could be an hour long, shooed and waved her broom wildly, and ran and raced, and the fat old hens tumbled over each other to get away. And then she came slowly back to Grandma's side, to go over again every bit she had told before. Until, looking up at the old clock on the shelf, she saw that it was one minute of twelve o'clock.

"Oh, my! I've got to go," she screamed in Grandma's ear, and without another word she dashed off and up to the lilac bushes. "Boys, come this minute." She held out both hands. "It's awful late."

"I know it," said Peletiah, with a very grieved face; "we've been waiting for you ever so long, and dinner's ready at home."

"Well, come now." She stuck her long arms out straight, and shook her fingers impatiently. "Oh, dear me--do hurry!"

"I ain't goin' to take hold of hands," declared Peletiah, edging off.

"Nor I, either," echoed Ezekiel.

"Oh, yes, you must." And without waiting for more words on the matter, Rachel seized a hand of each, and bore off the boys.

If they ran before, they flew now. But all the same they were late to dinner, and the parson and his wife and Miss Jerusha were all helped around, and had begun to eat.

"There, see what that new girl has done already," said Miss Jerusha sternly, laying down her knife and fork. "Peletiah and Ezekiel ain't ever late. Well, you'll see trouble enough with her, or I'll miss my guess."

Peletiah sank down on the upper step of the piazza, but Ezekiel crept into the kitchen, while Rachel pushed boldly up to Mrs. Henderson's chair.

"Oh, I'm awful sorry," she said. Her face was very flushed and her eyes glowed with the run.

"Ben gallivantin' off an' temptin' the boys to play," declared Miss Jerusha, with a shrewd nod of her brown front. "Oh, I know."

"We won't say any more about it now, dear," said Mrs. Henderson gently, at sight of the hot little face. "There, get into your chair, this one next to me. Where's Peletiah?"--looking about.

"Oh, I'm awful tired," wailed Ezekiel, slipping into his seat next to the parson, and he drew the back of his hand across his red face.

"Ben playing so hard," said Miss Jerusha disagreeably, "an' now you're all het up."

"I haven't played a single bit," declared Ezekiel stoutly, and with a very injured expression of countenance. "Oh, dear me, I am so tired!" stretching his legs under the table.

"Eat your dinner, my son," said the parson, putting a liberal portion on his plate.

"Oh, dear me!" Ezekiel essayed to, but laid down his spoon. "I don't want anything, I'm so tired."

Mrs. Henderson cast an anxious glance over at him.

"No need to worry," her husband telegraphed back, going quietly on with his own dinner. Rachel had begun on hers with hungry zest, but stopped suddenly, hopped out of her chair, and raced to the door.

"Rachel!" It wasn't a loud voice, but she found herself back again and looking into Mrs. Henderson's face.

"Sit down, dear; we do not leave the table in that way."

So Rachel slipped into her seat, feeling as if all the blood in her body were in her hot cheeks.

"Now, what is it?" The parson's wife took one of the brown hands working nervously under the tablecloth. "Tell me; don't be afraid," she said softly. But Miss Jerusha heard.

"Stuff and nonsense!" she exclaimed, with a sneer. "When I was a child, there was no such coddlin' goin' on, I can tell you."

"It's Peletiah," said Rachel. "Oh, dear me! he's out on the piazza, and he must be awfully hungry. Can't I make him come in?"

"No, sit still. Husband"--the parson's wife looked down the table--"excuse me a minute." She slipped out, and in another moment in she came, and Peletiah with her.

And then Mr. Henderson told such a funny story about a monkey he had read about only just that very morning, that Ezekiel forgot there ever was such a thing as tired legs, and even Peletiah had no thoughts for that dreadful run home from Grandma Bascom's.

As for Rachel, all idea of dinner flew at once out of her head. She laid down her knife and fork and leaned forward with sparkling eyes, to catch every word. Seeing which, Mrs. Henderson burst out laughing.

"I'm afraid you are making things worse, husband," she said, "for they won't eat any dinner at all now."

"I surely am," said the parson, with another laugh, "and I thought I was going to help so much," he added ruefully.

"How you can laugh," exclaimed Miss Jerusha sourly, at the good time in progress, and sitting quite stiffly, "I don't for my part see."

"Oh, well, if you'd laugh more, it would be better for all of us, Jerusha," said her brother good-naturedly.

"I ain't a-goin' to laugh," declared Miss Jerusha, "and it's a wicked, sinful shame to set such an example before those boys, like coddlin' up that girl for keepin' them off playin'. I never see such goin's on!"

"We haven't been playing," said Peletiah stoutly.

"I told her so," said Ezekiel fretfully, seeing that his father had no more monkey stories to offer, "but she keeps saying it just the same. I wish she'd go off and play," he added vindictively.

The idea of Miss Jerusha ever having played, made Rachel turn in her chair and regard her fixedly. Then she broke out into a laugh; it was such a merry peal that presently the boys joined in, and even the parson and his wife had hard work to keep their faces straight.

"Well, if I ever see such goin's on!" Miss Jerusha shoved back her chair and stalked out of the room.

"Did she ever play?" asked Rachel, when the door into the keeping-room had slammed.

"Why, yes, of course, child," said Mrs. Henderson, with a smile, "when she was a little girl."

"And was she ever a little girl?" persisted Rachel.

"Why, certainly. Now eat your dinner, Rachel."

Rachel picked up her knife and fork. When the two boys saw that she was ready to really begin on her meal, they set to on theirs.

"I'm awful hungry," announced Peletiah, when he had been working busily on his plateful.

The parson burst out into a laugh, like a boy.

"Hush, husband," warned Mrs. Henderson; "I'm afraid Jerusha will hear."

"I can't help it, Almira." His eyes were brimming with amusement. "Our boys are getting waked up already."

"I ain't asleep," declared Peletiah, looking up at his father in amazement; "I'm eating my dinner."

"So am I," announced Ezekiel wisely, and putting out his plate for another potato.

"So I see," said his father gravely. "Well, now we're all getting on very well," he added, in great satisfaction, with a glance around the table. "Good-bye; you must excuse me, wife; you know I must get over to the funeral early."

"Is old Miss Bedlow dead, Ma?" asked Peletiah, pausing in the act of getting some gravy to his mouth.

"Yes, dear. Take care, Peletiah, and pay attention to your dinner."

Peletiah set down the mouthful on his plate. "I hain't got to go, have I, Ma?" he asked, in trepidation.

"No, dear; now go on with your dinner, and don't say 'hain't.'"

"I'm glad I haven't got to go," observed Peletiah, with a long sigh of relief, and beginning on his dinner once more. "I don't like funerals."

"I do." Rachel bobbed her black head at him across the table, and her eyes roved excitedly. "I've seen lots an' lots of 'em in the city. They're fine, I tell you." She laid down her knife and fork again and waved her arms. "Oh, a string of carriages as long--an' the corpse is sometimes in a white box, and heaps of flowers. I like 'em next to the circus."

"There, there, Rachel, eat your dinner, child," broke in Mrs. Henderson quickly. "And, boys, don't talk any more. You must get through dinner, for I have to go to Miss Bedlow's by two o'clock," and she got out of her chair and began to clear the table.

So all that was to be heard now in the parsonage kitchen was the pleasant rattle of knives and forks, and the bustle of clearing up, and presently the children hopped out of their chairs and began to help Mrs. Henderson to set everything in order.

"I'm goin' to wash every single thing up," announced Rachel, hurrying for the mop.

"Can you, dear?" asked the parson's wife. She was very tired, and yet had the funeral of the old parishioner to attend. But the risk seemed great of allowing the new little girl to do up all the dinner dishes. "There are a great many of them, and some of them are big"--glancing doubtfully around the piles. "Are you sure you can manage them?"

"Why, yes," declared Rachel in scorn, "I can do 'em all just as easy!" She stopped to snap her fingers at the greasy plates, then ran over to get the big teakettle on the stove in a twinkling.

"Let Peletiah carry that for you," said Mrs. Henderson.

"He's so slow," said Rachel, but she stopped obediently.

"Rachel, there is one thing"--and the parson's wife came over and put her hand on the thin little shoulder--"we all help each other in this house, and we never talk against one."

"Oh," said Rachel.

Peletiah by this time had advanced on the teakettle, and, as soon as he could, he bore it off and solemnly poured a goodly supply of boiling-hot water into the waiting dishpan.

"Now you boys are to wipe the dishes for Rachel," said their mother, with an approving glance at the group.

"I'd rather," began Rachel, wrinkling up her face.

"So remember; and when you are through, and the kitchen is set up neatly, you may all play out of doors this afternoon, for lessons don't begin for you until to-morrow, Rachel. And now be good children."

"I don't like lessons," said Peletiah, when they were left alone.

"Don't you?" exclaimed Rachel, in astonishment, and resting her soapy hands on the edge of the dishpan.

"No, I don't," declared Peletiah, with great deliberation, "like them at all."

"Well, I shall, I know." Rachel twitched off her hands and slapped the mop down smartly among the cups in the hot water.

"Ow! you splashed me all over," exclaimed Ezekiel. "See there, now, Rachel." He stepped hack and held up his arm.

"Phoo! that's nothing," said Rachel.

"It hurt; it's hot," said Ezekiel, squirming about.

"Well, if you ain't a baby!" cried Rachel scornfully.

"My mother said we weren't to call names," observed Peletiah.

"Oh, my! I forgot that. But he is a baby," declared Rachel.

"My mother said we were not to call names," repeated Peletiah, exactly as if he hadn't made that remark before.

"Oh, dear me! how perfectly awful you--I mean I never saw such boys. Oh, my!"

"My mother said----"

"Yes, yes, I know," interrupted Rachel, splashing away for dear life; "well, now we must hurry and get these dishes done."

"And then we can go out and play," said Ezekiel, departing with the plate he was drying to a safe distance from the hot shower from Rachel's busy fingers.

"Yes. Oh, my, what fun! Let's hurry." And before the boys quite knew how, the dishes were all piled in the pantry, the dishpan and mop washed out and hung up to dry, and the crumbs swept from the kitchen floor.

"There," said Rachel, smoothing down her apron in great satisfaction, "now we can go out. Come on, I'm going to the corner to see that funeral go by."

"We can't," said Peletiah, trying his best to hurry after her. "Mother doesn't let us go out of the yard when she's away; and beside, there isn't any corner-- the road just goes round."

"Oh, bother!" Rachel whirled around and stamped her foot impatiently.

"And 'twill come past our house," contributed Ezekiel, gaining her side, "so let's sit on the doorstep till it comes."

"And you can tell us about the funerals you've seen in the city," suggested Peletiah, who had been thinking about them ever since.

"All right," said Rachel, seeing she was not to lose sight of the parade she so dearly loved. "Whoopity--la!" She flung herself down on the long, flat doorstone, and whipped her gown neatly away on either side. "I'm goin' to sit in the middle."

The boys, very much pleased at this arrangement, which they would never have thought of suggesting, sat down sedately in their places and folded their hands in their laps.

"Now tell about those funerals," said Peletiah.

"Well, let me think," said Rachel, reflecting; "you see, I've seen so many. Hmm! Oh, I know!" She jumped so suddenly that she came near precipitating Ezekiel, who was leaning forward to attain a better view of her face, off into the middle of the peony bed.

"Take care!" Rachel twitched him back into his place. "Yes, I'm goin' to tell you about one perfectly splendid funeral I see just----"

"You mustn't say 'see,'" corrected Peletiah, with disapproval. He was fairly longing for the recital, but it would never do to let such a slip in conversation pass.

"Well, what shall I say, then?" cried Rachel pertly, and not at all pleased at the interruption.

"You must say 'saw.'"

"I didn't saw it; you can't saw a thing," she declared contemptuously. "You've got to see it, or else you can't say you did. So there, Pel--Pel--whatever your name is."

"My name is Peletiah," he said solemnly,

"Peletiah--oh. dear me!" Rachel put her face between her two hands and began to giggle.

"Tell about the funeral," said Ezekiel, twitching her sleeve.

"And you must say 'saw,'" reiterated Peletiah.

"I can't; 'tain't right, an' I ain't a-goin' to say 'saw' to please you, so there, now!" declared Rachel, bringing up her head and setting her mouth obstinately.

"Then I ain't going to sit here," said Peletiah, getting off from the door- stone, "because my mother wouldn't like it; she always makes me say 'saw.'"

"Does she?" cried Rachel, a little red spot coming on either cheek. "Does she, Pele--Pele--say, does she?"

"Yes, she does," said Peletiah, moving off slowly.

"Well, then, I'll say it. Came back and sit down; I'll say it. Saw, saw, saw. There, now"--as Peletiah, very much delighted, settled back into his place. "Well, you know this was a great big-bug who was buried, and----"

"A big bug!" exclaimed Peletiah, terribly disappointed. "I don't want to hear of any bugs; tell about a funeral," he commanded loudly.

"I am tellin' you; keep still an' you'll hear it. Well, he was a gre--at big- bug, an'----"

"Who was?" cried Ezekiel, dreadfully puzzled.

"This man who was to be buried--this one I'm tellin' you of. Do keep still, an' you'll hear if you don't stop me every minute."

"You said it was a bug," said Peletiah, in loud disapproval, on the further side.

"Well, so he was," declared Rachel, turning around to him. "Some men are big- bugs, an' some men are only little mean ones. But this one I'm tellin' you about was, oh, an awful big one," and she spread her arms with a generous sweep to indicate his importance.

"Men aren't ever bugs," said Peletiah decidedly.

"Oh, yes, they are."

"No, they ain't," he declared obstinately.

"My mother says we mustn't contradict," put in Ezekiel, with a reproving glance at him across Rachel's lap.

Peletiah unfolded his hands in extreme distress, but he couldn't say that men were bugs, so he sat still.

"Anyway, they are in the city, where I lived," said Rachel, "so never mind. Well, this funeral was just too splendid for anythin'. In the first place there was----"

"Oh, it's coming," cried Ezekiel, pricking up his ears. "Miss Bedlow's funeral's coming."

Rachel gave a jump that carried her off from the door-stone and quite a piece down the box-bordered path. She was hanging over the gate when the boys came up.

"Where?" she said. "I don't see any."

A small, black, high-topped wagon went by, the old horse at a jog trot, and after it came a two-seated rockaway, and after that a carryall, and around the curve in the road appeared more vehicles of the same patterns, tapering off to a line of chaises and gigs.

"Why, that's the funeral," said Peletiah, in solemn enjoyment, and pointing a finger at it; "it's going by now."

"What!" exclaimed Rachel, horribly disappointed. Then she flew away from the gate and turned her back on it all. "I wish I was back in the city!" she said.