XX. The Cooking Club
 

"Oh, my goodness me!" Alexia gave a jump, then ran for the closet.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, standing quite still in the middle of the room, the lightning flash and the sudden peal of thunder coming without warning.

"Oh, I'm scared to death," cried Alexia, burrowing frantically; "come in here, Polly Pepper. Are you killed?" she screamed.

"No," said Polly, "and I don't believe there'll be another as bad."

"Oh, come in here. Ooh!" cried Alexia, in muffled accents, as she huddled up against the clothes.

"Oh, Polly!" It was Miss Rhys: her embroidery, cast aside at the sudden storm- burst, was dragging behind her, and she was wringing her hands. "Did you ever see anything so dreadful?"

"I don't believe there'll be another as bad," said Polly again, finding nothing more of consolation to offer.

"And where is Alexia?" And without waiting for an answer, Miss Rhys paced nervously up and down the room, still wringing her hands. "And of course there will be more; there, there it comes," and she ran, the embroidery-piece still hanging to her gown, into the closet.

"Oh, Aunt," cried Alexia, with a squeal, "you scared me 'most to death; I thought I was struck!"

"Why, are you here, Alexia?" gasped Miss Rhys, when she could recover herself enough to speak. "Well, this is truly a dreadful storm," and she clutched her with shaking fingers.

"Yes, I am here," said Alexia. "Don't pinch so, Aunt--ow! My arm is all black and blue, I know it is."

"It's no time to think of such little things, Alexia," replied her aunt severely; "it may kill us both."

"Well, that's no reason I should be all pinched to death," grumbled Alexia, forgetting the thunderstorm in her present discomfort and edging off as well as she could. "The closet is dreadfully small, Aunt."

"It's quite large enough, I'm sure, to protect us," said Miss Rhys, hanging tightly to her with trembling fingers. "Dear me! any minute may be our last."

"Well, I'm not going to be smothered to death," declared Alexia, struggling to work her way past her aunt.

"Alexia!" exclaimed her aunt.

"I'm going after Polly." Alexia out in the middle of the room flung her arm around Polly. "Oh, misery!--where?" as a vivid flash seemed to hop right in the window. "Oh, Polly, come!" She clutched her wildly.

"Where?" said Polly. "We can't get away from it, Alexia; it's just everywhere."

"Oh, I don't care--anywhere--in the coal-scoop," cried Alexia, frantically dragging her along. "I shall just die, Polly Pepper, and here you stand like a stick."

"Well, there's just no use in running," said Polly, but seeing Alexia's distress she suffered herself to be led, and downstairs the two girls sped, and into the landlady's room, the first door to stand ajar.

"I'm coming in," announced Alexia, without ceremony, "for I'm scared to death," and she dragged Polly Pepper after her. "Did you ever see such a thunderstorm, Mrs. Cummings?"

"It is pretty bad," a voice answered. It wasn't Mrs. Cummings, as she had hurried to oversee the maid close the windows through the house, but another of the boarders, who, like Alexia, had selected this apartment for a refuge.

"Oh, dear me!" Alexia sank down upon the sofa, being careful not to relinquish her hold of Polly, and dragged a cushion over her face. "Is that you, Mr. Filbert"--bringing out one eye to stare at him.

"I think so," said Mr. Filbert, a little thin old man sitting over in the corner and leaning forward over his cane. He spoke cautiously, as if not quite sure. "Yes, it is a bad storm," he repeated decidedly. "Where is your aunt?"

"She's up in the closet," said Alexia, pulling the sofa-cushion over her own and Polly's face as well. "There, we can't see it at any rate, if we are going to be killed."

"Up in the closet?" repeated Mr. Filbert.

"Yes. Oh, Polly, do you suppose it's lightening and thundering now?"--as the two girls cuddled up closer together on the roomy old sofa, the cushion crowded up over eyes and ears.

"I suppose so," said Polly, very much wishing she could say "No."

"Oh, dear me! I'm smothered to death," grumbled Alexia, "and I'm so hot"-- wriggling discontentedly.

"So am I," said Polly.

"What did you say? Your aunt was in the closet?" little old Mr. Filbert was asking; and receiving no reply, he kept on.

"Oh, do hear him," whispered Alexia, back of the sofa-cushion; "he is so tiresome, asking the same thing over and over."

"Well, do answer him," said Polly.

"I have, once," said Alexia.

"Is your aunt in the closet, did you say?" Mr. Filbert kept on, with the impression that a reply would soon be coming if he only held up the conversation at his end of it.

Alexia dashed down the sofa-cushion with a nervous hand. "I can't breathe; let's get out, Polly," and she flew up, to sit quite straight. "Yes, my aunt is up in the closet, Mr. Filbert. Whee! Oh, I am so scared, Polly Pepper!"

"She'll be struck there quicker 'n any other place she could pick out," declared the little old gentleman positively.

Alexia hopped off from the sofa and ran on anxious feet to his chair.

"What did yon say, Mr. Filbert? and how do you know?" she cried, all in one breath.

"The chimney closets always catch the lightning first," said Mr. Filbert cheerfully; "you see, it----"

Alexia dashed off, ran through the hall and up to her own room. "Aunt, Aunt," she cried, thrusting her head into the closet, "you'll be struck in there, Mr. Filbert says so. Come out, Aunt."

There was no response, and Alexia, now in mortal terror, plunged into the closet.

"Come, Aunt. Oh, my!" as a clap of thunder sent her plunging in headlong. "Why, where--" for grope as she might, clear up to the end, among the clothes and the shoe-bag, no Miss Rhys was to be found.

"Oh, dear, dear!" Alexia began to whimper, feeling all around the floor with terror-stricken fingers. "Aunt, where are you? Oh, she's been struck and she's dead, I know she is! Polly Pepper," she screamed, tumbling out of the closet to rush to the head of the stairs, "come up and help me find Aunt."

"Alexia!" Miss Rhys, concluding not to be left alone in the closet when the two girls ran downstairs, had hurried out after them, and now appeared from the hall corner where she had crouched. "Don't scream so."

"Oh, Aunt!" cried Alexia, throwing her arms around her, "you haven't been struck, have you? Oh, do say you haven't."

"Why, of course not; don't you see I'm here?" said Miss Rhys. "There, child, take care, you're mussing my lace collar," and she edged off from the nervous fingers. "We'll go downstairs, I think, and stay with Mrs. Cummings."

"If you're really sure you are not struck," said Alexia, eying her askance, as if in considerable doubt, "we'll go; and Polly Pepper is there and that tiresome old Mr. Filbert."

"If Polly is there, she must stay to luncheon," said Miss Rhys, gathering up her skirts and preparing to descend the stairs.

"Oh, how fine!" exclaimed Alexia, hopping after, losing sight of the thunderstorm in the delight of having Polly Pepper to herself for so many hours. "Oh, Aunt, what's that tagging after you?"--catching sight of the piece of embroidery dangling from her aunt's long figure.

"I see nothing," said Miss Rhys, turning around with her head over her shoulder.

"Well, do stand still, Aunt," cried Alexia, "a minute."

"What is it?" Miss Rhys kept saying, trying to see for herself.

"Your centerpiece--oh, dear me!" Alexia by this time had it free, and burst into a laugh as she held it up.

"Well, now, I expect I have dragged off my green floss," exclaimed her aunt, in irritation. "I am quite sure of it."

"Well, 'twould be in the closet," said Alexia, who didn't relish offering to go back, "'twon't hurt it to stay there a little while."

"I must find it," said Miss Rhys decidedly. And Alexia, wild to go down to tell Polly Pepper she was to stay to luncheon, flew over the stairs, leaving her aunt to get her green floss as she could.

"But I can't," said Polly, when Alexia had hugged her and danced around her to her heart's content; "I must go home."

"Why, Polly Pepper, you can't ever go in this awful rain."

"It isn't going to rain much more," said Polly, running over to the window to flatten her face against the pane.

"You'll be struck if you do that." Little Mr. Filbert looked after her in disapproval. "The window is the worst place in a thunderstorm; you see, it----"

"Oh, that's what you said about the chimney closet," said Alexia, in scorn, "and there can't be two places that are the worst."

"Oh, Alexia," said Polly, looking back from the window.

"Well, he's so tiresome," said Alexia, putting her arm around her and gazing out of the window; "that's just the way he goes on at the table every single day. Oh, see it rain, Polly Pepper!"

"It's slackening," said Polly, peering up at the drops, that really were beginning to fall with little spaces between. "And Mamsie will send for me soon, I guess."

"Oh, well, it will begin again most likely," said Alexia. "I hope this thunderstorm will last till ever so late this afternoon."

"Oh, Alexia Rhys!" cried Polly, in great distress, and whirling away from the window, "don't wish that. Why, I must get home."

"Well, I do," said Alexia, bobbing her light hair till the fluffs settled over her forehead, "for then you'd stay. You haven't been over here in ever and ever so long, Polly Pepper," she said, in an injured voice, "and I've got so very much to talk with you about."

"Well, let's talk now, then," said Polly, with a sigh, yet feeling quite sure that she would soon be sent for to go home.

"Come over to the sofa then," said Alexia, So they ran over, and together settled as far back into the corner as they could, pushing up one of the cushions comfortably behind them.

"Well, now, you begin," said Polly.

"Oh, no--you," said Alexia, having no notion of doing the talking, for it was always great fun to listen to Polly Pepper.

"Why, I thought you said you had ever so much to talk over," said Polly.

"So I have," said Alexia coolly, "we always do have; you know we do, Polly. Well, now begin."

"But it's your place to begin first," said Polly decidedly, "because you said you had something to talk over. So what is it, Alexia?"

"Well--" Alexia drew a long breath, cudgeling her brains, then burst out, "We must think of something new to do now, Polly, since the garden party is over."

"I know," said Polly. "How I wish we could get up something else, for our fancy work is all done! Oh, wasn't it just gorgeous, Alexia"--with a comfortable little wriggle.

"I should say it was," cried Alexia, "and didn't it sell, though!--and everybody wished there was more, except my horrible old shawl."

"Why, Alexia Rhys!" Polly poked up her head where she had been nestling it on Alexia's shoulder. "You know Mrs. Sterling sent for the shawl and gave five dollars for it."

"Oh, that was because she knew it was so ugly that no one else would buy it," said Alexia composedly. "Well, I don't care, so long as it's sold. I was just tired to death of that old thing, Polly; I don't want to ever see another shawl."

"Well, we shan't have another fair in a long while, I suppose," said Polly, with a sigh, and laying her head down again.

"Not till next summer," said Alexia; "then, says I, for a garden party! You know your grandpapa said he'd give you another, just as nice a one, then."

"But that's a whole year." said Polly disconsolately; "heigh-ho, it's so very long to wait! Well, I suppose we must think of something else to do now."

"Just for us girls," said Alexia.

"I don't know," said Polly slowly, looking up at her; "we ought to let the boys come in."

"Oh, not those horrid boys," said Alexia impatiently; "they're forever hanging around, and I like, once in a while, to have something by ourselves."

"But it seems too bad to leave them out," said Polly soberly.

"Well, it would do them good to be left out sometimes," declared Alexia: "they're so high and mighty, I'd just dearly love to take them down, and say, 'Boys, you can't come into this.'" She tossed her fluffy hair till the long, light braids flew out triumphantly.

"Why can't we have a cooking club?" suggested Polly, after a minute of hard thinking.

"Ugh!" Alexia twisted up her face. "Oh, that's horrid," she said, with another grimace. "Do you mean, learn to make things on the kitchen range?"

"Yes, and on the chafing-dish," said Polly, flying up to sit straight. "Oh, it would be elegant, Alexia!" she cried, with glowing cheeks.

"Well, I can't learn," said Alexia, "so that's some small comfort, for I'm in a boarding-house, and I guess the cook here would fly in a fit to see me come into the kitchen."

"But you can come to our house and learn with me," said Polly, clasping her hands, "and we'll make perfectly splendid things; just think, Alexia."

"What things?" asked Alexia doubtfully.

"Oh, little biscuits," said Polly, going back in her mind to the delights of baking-day in the little brown house; "cunning little ones, you know; you can't think how perfectly elegant we used to make them, Alexia."

"Oh, you had everything elegant in your little brown house," said Alexia, twisting enviously in her corner. "Joel's never tired of telling of it. And to think I wasn't there! Oh, dear me! I wish you would talk about it."

"Well, you can try now to make some biscuits. I'll show you how," said Polly eagerly.

"And Polly--oh, goody!--now don't you see we won't have to ask the boys to join this? A cooking club--the very idea!" Alexia hopped off from the sofa, and stood in front of Polly, clasping her hands.

"Why, yes we will," cried Polly, hopping off too, and speaking very decidedly; "the boys will like it just as much as we do."

"The boys like a cooking club!" screamed Alexia, standing quite still.

"Yes, indeed," said Polly. "Why, Jasper used to like our baking-days in the little brown house, you know he did, Alexia, like everything."

"Oh, dear! yes, I know," said Alexia reluctantly.

"And beside, even if they don't make things, why, they can come to our suppers, for we must of course get up some, of things we've learned to make. Oh, it will be such fun, Alexia!" Polly sighed and clasped her hands.

"And I'll learn to make your cunning little biscuits," declared Alexia suddenly, quite as if she had proposed the plan and pushed it along from the very beginning, "and do let's have a club supper soon," she begged.

"There's a carriage coming," announced little Mr. Filbert, from his chair in the corner.

"Oh, it's for me, I know," cried Polly, springing to the window. "Yes, Mamsie has sent for me, Alexia. I knew she would!"

"Oh, dear me!" grumbled Alexia, awfully disappointed and racing after her. "Why, you can't ever go in all this rain, Polly Pepper."

Polly burst out into a laugh. "Just look there," She pointed to the patches of light in the sky gradually growing bigger and brighter. "It doesn't rain a single drop! And, oh, Alexia, look, look--the rainbow!"