Dorothy's House Party
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However, neither screams nor obstreperous kicks availed to prolong that delectable ride, and presently the little ones found themselves back in the grasp of a bevy of girls who made a human fence about them, and so hedged them in to safety.
“Lads, I must leave you to see our girls safe home. Do so immediately the performance is over and it must be nearly now. This poor old chap is ill and bemused by his rough handling. I’m going to take him to a hospital I know and have him cared for. I’ll go down to Deerhurst as soon as I can but don’t wait for me. Come, friend. Let us go;” and linking his strong arm within the weak one of the man, scarce older yet so much frailer than he, he walked quietly away, the fanatic unresisting and obedient.
With the Master’s departure the glamour faded from the “Show”; and at Helena’s suggestion the whole party promptly made their exit.
“It’s a wise move, too, Helena. We can catch the five o’clock train down and it won’t be crowded, as the later one will be. I fancy we’ve all had about all the circus we want – this time. Anybody got a rope?” said Herbert.
“What in the world do you want of a rope?” asked his sister.
“I think if we could tie these irrepressibles together we could better keep track of them.”
There were some regretful looks backward to that fascinating tent, when the older lads had marshalled their party outwards, with no difficulty now in passing the obstructing stile; but there were no objections raised, and the homeward trip began. But they had scarcely cleared the grounds when Molly Martin paused to ask:
“Where’s Jane Potter?”
“Oh! hang Jane Potter! Is she lost again?” asked Danny Smith. Then with a happy thought, adding: “I’ll go back and look for her!” In this way hoping for a second glimpse of the fairy-land he had been forced to leave.
Whereupon, his brother reminded him that he had no ticket, and no fellow gets in twice on one. Besides, that girl isn’t – Hmm.
“She’s probably lingered to study biology or – or something about animals,” observed Monty. “Any way, we can afford to risk Jane Potter. Like enough we shall find her sitting on the piazza writing her impressions of a circus when we get home.”
They did. She had early tired of the entertainment and had been one of the first to leave the tent after the accident to it. Once outside, she had met a mountain neighbor and had begged a ride home in his wagon. Jane was one to be careful of Jane and rather thoughtless of others, yet in the main a very good and proper maiden.
But if they did not delay on account of Jane they were compelled to do so by the twins.
“These children are as slippery as eels,” said Molly, who had never touched an eel. “I’ll lend my ‘son’ to anybody wants him, for awhile. I’d – I’d as lief as not!” she finished, quoting an expression familiar to Alfy.
“And I’ll lend ’Phira!” added Dorothy.
She had tried to lead the little one and still keep her arm about Luna, who by general consent was always left to her charge.
“All right.Give her here!” said Frazer; while Herbert whistled for a waiting stage to approach. But as it drew near and the girls began to clamber in, preparatory to their ride stationwards, Ananias jerked himself free and springing to one side the road began a series of would-be somersaults. It was an effort on his part to follow Herbert’s instructions – with doubtful success. Of course, what brother did sister must do, and Sapphira promptly emulated her twin.
“Oh! the mud! Just look at them! How can we ever take them in that stage with us?” asked Mabel Bruce, in disgust.
But the happy youngsters paid no attention to her. Having completed what Herbert had taught them to call their “stunt” they now approached their instructor and demanded:
“Candy, what you promised!”
“All right. Driver, we’ll stop at the first confectioner’s we pass and I’ll fill them up.”
“But, Herbert, you should not. Don’t you remember how ill they were from Molly’s supply? And I do say, if you led them into this scrape, getting themselves in such a mess, you’ll have to ride in front and keep them with you.”
Herbert made a wry face. He was always extremely careful in his dress and his sister’s just suggestion wasn’t pleasant. However, he made the best of it and no further untoward incident marked that day’s outing.
Arrived at home they found Jane calmly reading, as has been told, and no other one about except old Ephraim, who had not unfastened the doors for “jes one l’il gal,” but now threw them wide for the “House Party.” Then he retreated to the kitchen, where Dorothy found him stirring about in a vain attempt to get supper – a function out of his line.
“Now, Ephy, dear, you can’t do that, you know! You’re a blessed old blunderer, but one doesn’t boil water for tea in a leaky coffee-pot! Wait! I’ll tell you! I’ll call the girls and we’ll make a ‘bee’ of it and get the supper ourselves, before Aunt Malinda and Dinah and the rest get back. They’ll be sure to stay till the last – ”
“Till the ‘last man is hung’!” finished Alfaretta, with prompt inelegance.
“Oh! I’m just starving!” wailed a boyish voice, and Monty rushed in.
“So are we all, so are we all!” cried others and the kitchen rang with the youthful, merry voices.
Ephraim scratched his gray wool and tried to look stern, but Dorothy’s “Ephy, dear!” had gone straight to his simple heart, so lately wounded and sorrowful. After all, the world wasn’t such a dark place, even if he had missed the circus, now that all these chatterers were treating him just as of old. They were so happy, themselves, that their happiness overflowed upon him.
Cried Jim Barlow, laying a friendly hand on the black man’s shoulder:
“Come on, Ephy, boy! If the girls are going to make a ‘bee,’ and get supper for all hands – including the cook – let’s match them by doing the chores for the men. The ‘help’ have done a lot for us, these days, and it’s fair we do a hand’s-turn for them now! Come on, all! Monty, you shall throw down fodder for the cattle – it’s all you’re equal to. Some of us will milk, some take care of the horses, everybody must do something, and I appoint Danny Smith to be story-teller-in-chief, and describe that circus so plain that Ephraim can see it without the worry of going!”
“Hip, hip, hooray! Let’s make a lark of it!” echoed Herbert, now forgetful of his good clothes and eager only to bear his part with the rest.
“Well, before we begin, let’s get the twins each a bowl of bread and milk and tie them in their chairs, just as Dinah does when they bother. They mustn’t touch that candy till afterward, though I don’t know how Herbert ever kept it from them so long,” said Molly Breckenridge, adjusting a kitchen apron to her short figure by tucking it into her belt.
“I know! I sat on it!” called back the lad and disappeared barnwards.
Luna was placed in her corner and given a bowl like the twins, and the girls set to work, even Jane Potter asking to help.
“What all shall we cook? I can make fudges,” said Molly.
“Fudges are all right – you may make some, but I want something better than sweets. Helena, you’re the oldest, you begin. Suggest – then follow your suggestions. Fortunately we’ve a pretty big range to work on and Ephraim can make a fire if he can’t make tea. It’s burning fine. Hurry up, Helena, and speak, else Alfaretta will explode. She’s impatient enough,” urged Dorothy.
“Once – I made angel food,” said Helena, rather timidly. “It didn’t turn out a real success, but I think that was because I didn’t use eggs enough.”
“How many did you use?”
“Try a dozen and a half. There’s a basket of them yonder in the storeroom and everybody must wait on everybody’s self. Else we’ll never get through. I’ll light up, it’s getting dark already,” answered Dorothy who, as hostess, was naturally considered director of affairs.
“Well, Alfy! What will you do?”
“I can fry chicken to beat the Dutch!”
“Hope you can,” laughed Helena. “I’m not fond of Dutch cookery, I’ve tried it abroad. They put vinegar in everything.”
“But where will you get chicken to fry?”
“There’s a whole slew of them in the ice-box, all ready fixed to cook. I suppose Aunt Malinda won’t like it, to have me take them, if she’s planned them for some other time, but there’s plenty more chickens in the world. Come along, Jane Potter, and get a pan of potatoes to peel. That’s the sitting-downest job there is. Molly Martin, you can make nice raised – I mean bakin’-powder biscuit – there’s the flour barrel. Don’t waste any time. Everybody fly around sharp and do her level best!”
After all it was Alfaretta who took charge, and under her capable direction every girl was presently busy at work.
“I’m going to make pies. Two lemons, two punkins, two apples. That ought to be enough to go around; only they’ll all want the lemon ones. ‘Christ Church,’ Teacher told me when I made him one once. Said ’twas the pastry cook at Christ Church College, in England, ’t first thought them out. I can make ’em good, too. What you goin’ to make, yourself, Dorothy Calvert?”
“I reckon – pop-overs. Mother Martha used to make them lovely. They’re nothing but eggs and flour and – and – I’ll have to think. Oh! I know. There’s an old recipe book in the cupboard, though I don’t believe Malinda can read a word in it. She just spreads it out on the table, important like, and pretends she follows its rules, but often I’ve seen it was upside down. Do you know how she makes jelly?”
“No, nor don’t want to. We ain’t makin’ jelly to-night, and do for goodness’ sake get to work!” cried Alfaretta, imparting energy to all by her own activity. “Ma says I’m a born cook and I’m going to prove it, to-night, though I don’t expect to cook for a living. Jane Potter, you ought to know better than peel them ’tatoes so thick. ‘Many littles make a mickle,’ I mean a lot of potato skins make a potato – Oh! bother, do right, that’s all. Just because Mrs. Calvert she’s a rich ’ristocratic, ’tain’t no reason we should waste her substance on the pigs.”
Jane did not retort, but it was noticeable that thereafter she kept her eyes more closely on her work and not dreamily upon the floor. Presently, from out that roomy kitchen rose a medley of odors that floated even to the workers out of doors; each odor most appetizing and distinct to the particular taste of one or another of the lads.
“That’s fried chicken! Glad they had sense enough to give us something hearty,” said Monty, smacking his lips.
Herbert sniffed, then advised: “I’ll warrant you that Helena will try angel cake. If she does, don’t any of you touch it; or if you think that isn’t polite and will hurt her feelings, why take a piece and leave it lie beside your plate. Wonder if they’ll ever get the supper ready, anyhow.”
“Afraid it’ll be just ‘anyhow,’” wailed Monty. “Those girls can’t cook worth a cent.”
“Don’t you think that, sir. Our up-mountain girls are no fools. I hope Alfaretta Babcock will make pies, I’ve et ’em to picnics and they’re prime,” said Mike Martin, loyally.
“Well, I only hope they don’t keep us too long. I begin to feel as if I could eat hay with the cattle.”
After all, the young cooks were fairly successful, and the delay not very great. Most of them were well trained helpers at home, even Dorothy had been such; but this time she had failed.
“Three times I’ve made those things just exactly like the rule – only four times as much – and those miserable pop-overs just will not pop! We might as well call the boys and give them what there is. And – ”
At this moment Dorothy withdrew her head from a careful scrutiny of the oven, and – screamed! The next instant she had darted forward to the imposing figure framed in the doorway and thrown her arms about it, crying:
“O, Aunt Betty, Aunt Betty! I’m a bad, careless girl, but I love you and I’m so glad, so glad you’ve come!”