Five Little Peppers and their Friends by Margaret Sidney
XIII. "she's Going To Stay Here Forever"
It was dreadful; and after she had said it, Rachel stood overwhelmed with distress. "Don't you tell your father." She whirled around and clutched Peletiah's sleeve.
"We must," he said; "he's the minister, and we have to tell him everything."
"Well, don't tell your mother, anyway," she begged anxiously.
"We must," said Peletiah again, "because we tell her everything, too."
"Then she'll send me back." Rachel, quite gone in despair, gave a loud cry and threw herself face downward on the grass, where she sobbed as if her heart would break.
This was so much worse than he had imagined, as any possible effect from his words, that Peletiah couldn't speak, but stood over her in silent misery. Seeing this, Ezekiel took matters into his own hands.
"I'm going to run after the funeral and get Ma to come home; she'll be at the top of the procession," and he moved off toward the gateway.
"Stop!" Rachel squealed; then she sprang to her feet. "Don't you stir a step, you!" she commanded.
"They're all hearing you," observed Peletiah, who, seeing Rachel upon her feet, found his spirits reviving, and he pointed to the line of buggies and chaises. "See 'em looking back; my father won't like it."
"Oh, dear me!" Rachel struggled with her sobs. "You shouldn't 'a' told me you had 'em. That ain't a funeral."
"It is, too," declared Peletiah; "it's Miss Bedlow's funeral, and my Pa is going to bury her."
"It ain't, either; an' that's a baker's cart," said Rachel, pointing to the departing hearse with scorn.
"Oh, oh, what a story!" exclaimed Ezekiel, who was just on the point of reproving his brother for contradicting, and he pointed his brown finger at her. "That's got Miss Bedlow in, and they're taking her to the burying-ground, and it's her funeral."
"Well, I don't want to go back to the city," said Rachel hastily, dismissing Miss Bedlow and her funeral and all discussion thereon summarily, and she dug the toe of her shoe into the gravel; "don't let your mother send me back."
"You said you wished you were back there," observed Peletiah severely, fixing his pale eyes on her distressed face, along which the tears were making little paths.
"Well, I don't care. I don't want to go. Don't let her!" She seized his arm and shook it smartly.
"You're shaking me!" said Peletiah, in astonishment.
"I know it, an' I'm goin' to," said Rachel, stamping her foot.
"You ain't going to shake my brother," declared Ezekiel loudly, "and we'll make you go back if you shake us," he added vindictively.
"Oh, dear, dear!" Rachel dropped Peletiah's arm, and she hid her face in her hands. "Don't make me go back," she wailed. "It's too dreadful there, for Mrs. Fisher won't have me if you send me away, 'n' Gran 'll get hold of me somehow-- she'll--she'll find me, I know she will," and she shivered all over.
"Who's Gran?" Peletiah drew quite near.
"She's Gran," said Rachel, shivering again. "Oh, dear! don't ask me; and she beat me dreadful, an'--" her voice broke.
"She beat you?" cried Peletiah.
"Awful," said Rachel, cramming her fingers into her mouth to keep from crying. "Oh, dear, dear! don't send me back."
Peletiah took two or three steps off, then came back.
"You may shake me if you want to," he said generously, "and you ain't going back."
"Well, she isn't going to shake me," said Ezekiel stoutly, "and my Ma will send her back if she shakes me, so there!"
"I hain't shook you yet," said Rachel, disclosing her black eyes between her fingers and viewing him with cold disdain.
"Well, you ain't going to," repeated Ezekiel, with decision.
"Her Gran beat her." Peletiah went over to his brother. "She beat Rachel." He kept repeating it, over and over; meanwhile Ezekiel moved about in confusion, digging the toes of his shoes into the gravel to hide it.
"Well, she ain't going to shake me," he said, but it was in a fainter voice, and he didn't look at Rachel's eyes.
"And you mustn't ask Mother to send her back," said Peletiah stubbornly.
"She ain't going to shake me." It was now so low that scarcely any one could hear it.
"And you mustn't ask Mother to send her back," said Peletiah again. "She's going to stay here just for ever and ever."
There was something in his tone that made Ezekiel hasten to say:
"Oh, I won't."
"And I won't shake you," said Rachel, flying out from behind her hands and up to him, "if you'll only let me stay here; just let me stay," she cried, hungrily.
"Well," said Ezekiel, with a great deal of condescension, "if you won't shake me, you may stay at our house."
So the children went back to the flat door-stone to talk it over, Peletiah saying:
"Maybe you can go to school with us next fall."
"Oh, my!" exclaimed Rachel, with wide eyes, and clasping her hands, "I've got to learn a lot first."
"Yes, my father's got to teach you first," said Peletiah.
"Where's he going to do it?" Rachel leaned over to get a comprehensive view of his face.
"In his study," answered Peletiah.
"That's where he writes his sermons in, that he preaches at people Sundays," said Ezekiel, finding it very pleasant to be communicative, now that he was quite sure the new girl would not shake him.
"Oh, how nice!" breathed Rachel. "That's scrumptious!"
"That's what?" asked Peletiah critically.
"Scrumptious. Haven't you ever heard that? Oh, what a nin--I mean, oh, how funny!"
"And it ain't nice at all to have my father teach you," said Peletiah, with very doleful ideas of that study.
"Why?" asked Rachel, with gathering dread.
"Oh, he makes you learn things," said Peletiah dismally, drawing a long sigh at the remembrance.
"But that's just what I want to do," cried Rachel, with sparkling eyes; "I'm goin' to learn an' learn, till I can't learn no more."
Peletiah was so occupied in edging off from her that he forgot to correct her speech.
"Yes, I'm goin' to learn," exclaimed Rachel, in a glad little shout, and, springing to her feet, she swung her arms over her head. "I'm goin' to read an' I'm goin' to write, an' then I can write a letter to my Phronsie."
She ended up with a cheese, plunging down on the grass and puffing out her gown like a small balloon.
"You can't do that," she said, nodding triumphantly up at the two boys.
"I don't want to," said Peletiah, sitting still on the door-stone.
"Well, you can't, anyway, 'cause you haven't got a frock. Well, now, let's play," and she hopped to her feet. "Come on. What'll it be?"
"I'll show you the brook," volunteered Ezekiel, getting up.
"What's a brook?" asked Rachel.
"Hoh--hoh!" Ezekiel really laughed, it was so funny. "She doesn't know what a brook is," he said, and he laughed again.
"Well, what is it?" demanded Rachel, laughing good-naturedly.
"I don't want to see any water," said Rachel, turning off disdainfully; "there's nothing pretty in that."
"But it's awfully pretty," said Peletiah; "it runs all down over the stones, and under the trees and----"
"Where is it?" cried Rachel, running up to him in great excitement. "Oh, take me to it."
"It's just back of the house," said Ezekiel; "I'll show you the way."
But Rachel, once directed, got there first, and was down on her knees on the bank, dabbling her hands in the purling little stream, half wild with delight.
And when the parson and his wife got home from Miss Bedlow's funeral, they found the three children there, perfectly absorbed in the labor of sailing boats of cabbage leaves, and guiding their uncertain craft in and out the shimmering pools and down through the tiny rapids. And they watched them unobserved.
"But I dread to-morrow, when I give her the first lesson," said the parson, as they stood unperceived in the shadow of the trees; "everything else is a splendid success."
"Let us hope the lessons will be, too, husband," said Mrs. Henderson, a happy light in her eyes.
"I hope so, but I'm afraid the child is all for play, and will be hard to teach," he said, with a sigh.
But on the morrow--well, the minister came out of his study when the lesson hour was over, with a flush on his face that betokened pleasure as well as hard work. And Rachel began to skip around for very joy. She was really to be a little student, Mr. Henderson had said. Not that Rachel really knew what that meant exactly, but the master was pleased, and that was enough, and all of a sudden, when she was putting up some dishes in the keeping-room closet, she began to sing.
Mrs. Henderson nearly dropped the dish she was wiping.
"Why, my child!" she exclaimed, then stopped, but Rachel didn't hear her, and sang on. It was a wild little thing that she had heard from the hand organs and the people singing it in the streets of the big city.
Just then old Miss Parrott's stately, ancestral coach drove up. The parson's wife hurried to the front door, which was seldom opened except for special company like the present.
"I heard," said Miss Parrott, as Mrs. Henderson ushered her in, "that you'd taken a little girl out of charity, and I want to see you and your husband about it."
"Will you come into his study, then?" said Mrs. Henderson. "Husband has gone out to work in his garden, and I will call him in."
Miss Parrott stepped into the apartment in stately fashion, her black silk gown crackling pleasantly as she walked, and seated herself very primly, as befitted her ancestry and bringing-up, in one of the stiff, high-backed chairs. And presently the parson, his garden clothes off and his best coat on, came in hurriedly to know his honored parishioner's bidding.
"I will come to the point at once," said Miss Parrott, with dignified precision, as he sat beside her, and she drew herself up stiffer yet, in the pleasing confidence that what she was about to say would strike both of her hearers as the most proper thing to do. "You have taken this little girl, I hear, to educate and bring up."
"For a time," said the minister, hurriedly.
"Very true, for a period of time," said Miss Parrott throwing her black-figured lace veil, worn by her mother before her, away from her face. "Well, now, Pastor, it is not appropriate for you to do this work, with your hands already overburdened. Neither should you bear the expense----"
"But I don't," cried Parson Henderson, guilty now of interrupting. "Mr. King pays me, and well, for teaching the little girl until she will be ready for the district school. You see, she has never been in a schoolroom in her life, and it would be cruel to put her with children of her own age, when she is so ignorant. But she is singularly bright, and I have the greatest hopes of her, madam, for she is far above and beyond most children in many ways."
But Miss Parrott hadn't come to hear all this, so she gave a stately bow.
"No doubt, Pastor, but I must say what is on my mind. It is that I have for some time wanted to do a bit of charity like this, and Providence now seems to point the way for it. I would like to take the child and do for her. Let her come to you here, for lessons, but let me bring her up in my house."
There was an awful pause. Parson Henderson looked at his wife, but said never a word, helplessly leaving it to her.
"Dear Miss Parrott," said Mrs. Henderson, and she so far forgot her fear of the stately, reserved parishioner as to lay her hand on the black-mitted one of the visitor, "we were given the care of the child by Mr. King, who rescued her from her terrible surroundings, and we couldn't possibly surrender this charge to another. But I will tell you what we might do, husband," and her eyes sought his face. "Rachel might go down now and then to spend the day with Miss Parrott. Oh, your beautiful house!" she broke off like a child in her enthusiasm. "I do so want her to be in it sometimes." She turned suddenly to the visitor.
Miss Parrott's old face glowed, and a smile lingered among the wrinkles.
"And she must pass the night occasionally," she said. There was a world of entreaty in her eyes. "I think so," said Mrs. Henderson, "but we must leave that to Rachel."
And Rachel, in the keeping-room closet, was trilling up and down some of the jigs her feet had kept time to when she, with the other tenement-house children, had run out to dance on the corner when the organ man came round, all unconscious of what was going on in the study.
"What's that?" cried Miss Parrott, starting. The conference was over and she was coming out of the pastor's study, to get into her ancestral carriage.
"That's Rachel singing," said Mrs. Henderson.
Old Miss Parrott gasped:
"Why, my dear Pastor, and Mrs. Henderson, can the child sing like that?"
"This is the first time she has tried it," said the parson, who had no ear for music and was sorely tried when expected to admire any specimens of it. "But I dare say she will do very well. She is a very teachable child."
"Very well!" repeated Miss Parrott quickly. "I should say so indeed. Well, I will send for the child on Saturday to pass the day and night with me, and then we shall see what we shall see."
With which enigmatical expression, she mounted her ancestral carriage; the solemn coachman, who had served considerably more than a generation in the family, gathered up the reins, and the coach rumbled off.
"Oh, what an awful old carriage!" exclaimed Rachel, running to the window. "It looks as if its bones would stick out."
"It hasn't got any bones," said Peletiah, viewing it with awe, "and she's awful rich, Miss Parrott is."
"I don't care," said Rachel, running back to her work and beginning to sing again, "her carriage is all bones, anyway."