Dorothy's House Party
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Surely a man must be out of his mind to fasten such names on two such innocents! But they must be taken elsewhere. Deerhurst must not become a receptacle for all the cast-off burdens of humanity. I must go ask Bryan all he knows about the case,” said Mr. Seth, as soon as he had recovered his gravity.
But Dorothy nodded toward the great clock and with a frown he observed the hour. If they were to make ready for their long drive to church, yet be in time for the beginning of the service, they must be making ready, so he consented:
“I don’t suppose any great mischief can be done by their remaining here till we get back; but – ”
“Why not take them with us, Teacher?” asked Alfaretta. “We could take one in the lander with us.” Her tone was as complacent as if the vehicle in question were her own and her head was tossed as she waited for his reply.
But it was Dorothy who forestalled him and her decision was so sensible he did not oppose it:
“Beg pardon, Mr. Seth, but I think we would better take them. If we leave them they may get into mischief and the servants have enough to do without worrying with them. They’re so little we can tuck them into the big wagon with us and it won’t hurt even babies to go to church. But I wonder which is which! Now they’ve moved around and changed places I can’t tell which is Ananias and which Sapphira! Poor little kiddies, to be named after liars!”
“I know. This one has a kink in its hair the other one hasn’t. I think it was Sapphira. Or – was it Ananias? Baby, which are you?”
Neither child replied. They clung each to the other and stared at this too inquisitive Molly Breckenridge with the disconcerting stare of childhood, till she turned away and gathering a handful of biscuits from the table bade them sit down and eat. She forbade them to drop a single crumb and they were obedient even to absurdity.
A half-hour later the three vehicles were at the door and the happy guests made haste to take the places allotted them; the big wagon following last, with Luna smilingly, yet in a half-frightened clutch of Dorothy, sitting on the comfortable back seat. Mr. Seth had lifted her bodily into the wagon and she had submitted without realizing what was happening to her till the wagon began to move. Then she screamed, as if in terror, and hid her face on Dolly’s shoulder.
“Doan’ take he’. ’Peah’s lak she’s done afeered o’ ridin’. Nebah min’, Miss Do’thy. Some yo’ lads jes’ han’ he’ down to Dinah and she’ll be tooken’ ca’ ob, scusin’ dey is a big dinnah in de way an’ half de he’ps’ Sunday out. Han’ ’er down!”
However, without physical force this was not to be done. When Jim strove to lift her, as he might easily have done in his strong arms, she clung the closer to her little hostess and screamed afresh. So he gave up the attempt and turned his attention to the twins, the last arriving members of this famous House Party.
There was no reluctance about them – not the slightest.They were fairly dancing with impatience and Ananias – or was it Sapphira? – was already attempting to enter the “wagging” by way of climbing up the “nigh” horse’s leg, while her – or his – mate clung to the spokes of the forward wheel, wholly ready to be whirled around and around with its forward progress.
“Evidently, these babies aren’t afraid to ride!” cried Dorothy, laughing yet half-frightened over the little creatures’ boldness. “Please set them right on the bottom, between your knees and Littlejohn’s, Mr. Seth! Then they’ll be safe. And there, Luna dear, poor Luna, you see we’re off at last and – isn’t it just lovely?”
Luna made no more response than usual but her hidden face sank lower and more heavily upon Dorothy’s shoulder, till, presently, she was sound asleep. Then Mike Martin climbed back over the seats to the spot and deftly placed his own cushion behind the sleeper’s head. Dolly thanked him with a smile but wondered to see him stare at the sleeper’s face with that puzzled expression on his own. Then he scratched his head and asked in a whisper:
“Can you tell who she looks like? Terrible familiar, somehow, but can’t guess. Can you?”
Dorothy shook her head.
“No, I’ve never seen another like her. I hope I never will.”
“If we could think, we might find her folks and you could get rid of her,” continued the lad.
“I don’t know as I’m so anxious to be rid of her. I do believe she’s happy – happier than when she came – and – Look out! If the wagon goes over another thank-ye-ma-am and you’re still standing up you’ll likely be pitched over into the road. My! But the horses are in fine fettle this morning!”
A fresh jolt made Mike cling fast to escape the accident she suggested and he returned to his place, riding on the uncushioned seat as cheerfully as any knight errant of old. Dorothy was his ideal of a girl. She had taught him the difference between bravery and bullying and she had been his inspiration in the task to which he had pledged himself – to be a peacemaker on the mountain. Once, her coolness and courage had saved his life, and on that day he had promised to fulfil her desire, to bridge the enmity between south-side and north-side. His methods had not always been such as Dorothy would have approved but the result was satisfactory. In school and out of it, peace prevailed on the “Heights,” and Mike Martin was a nobler boy himself because of his efforts to make others noble.
There was a little stir of excitement in the small country church when Seth Winters and his following of young folks entered it, and by mere force of numbers so impressing the ushers that the very front pews were vacated in their behalf, although the farrier protested against this. However, he wasn’t sorry to have his company all together, and motioned Dorothy into the same pew with himself, and to a place directly under the pulpit. Into this, also, they led the still drowsy Luna, Dorothy gently settling her in the corner with her head resting upon the pew’s back, and here she slept on during most of the service. Here, also, they settled the twins, but could not avoid seeing the curious and amused glances cast upon this odd pair as they trotted up the aisle in Dorothy’s wake.
“Two peas in a pod,” whispered one farmer’s wife to her seat neighbor.
“Where’d they pick up two such little owls? They’re all eyes and solemn as the parson himself, but them ridiculous clothes! My heart! What won’t fashionable folks do next, to make their youngsters look different from ours!” returned the other. Nobody guessed that the funny little creatures were an accidental addition to the House Party; and after the strangers were settled nobody was further concerned with them.
The service began and duly proceeded. The singing was congregational and in it all the young people joined, making the familiar hymns seem uncommonly beautiful to the hearers; and it was not till the sermon was well under way that anything unusual happened to divert attention. Then there came a soft yet heavy patter on the uncarpeted aisle and two black animals stalked majestically forward and seated themselves upon their haunches directly beneath the pulpit. With an air of profound interest they fixed their eyes upon the speaker therein and, for an instant, disconcerted even that self-possessed orator.
“Ponce and Peter! Aunt Betty’s Great Danes! However has this happened!” thought poor Dorothy, unable quite to control a smile yet wofully anxious lest the dogs should create a disturbance. However, nothing happened. The Danes might have been regular worshipers in the place for all notice was accorded them by the well trained congregation; and after they were tired of watching the minister the animals quietly stretched themselves to sleep.
Their movement and the prodigious yawn of one had bad results. The twins had been having their own peaceful naps upon the kneeling bench at Mr. Seth’s feet, but, now, with the suddenness native to them, awoke, discovered the dogs, and leaped out of the pew into the aisle. There they flung themselves upon the dogs with shrieks of delight. It was as if they had found old friends and playmates – as later developments proved to be true.
Poor Mr. Winters stared in consternation. He detested a scene but saw one imminent; and how to get both dogs and babies out of that sacred place without great trouble he could not guess. But Dorothy put her hand on his arm and gently patted it. She, too, was frightened but she trusted the animals’ instincts; she was right. After a moment’s sniffing of the twins, they quietly lay down again and the twins did likewise! and though they did not go to sleep again they behaved well enough, until growing impassioned with his own eloquence the speaker lifted his voice loudly and imploringly.
That was a sound they knew. Up sprang one and shouted: “Amen!” and up sprang the other and echoed him!
The minister flushed, stammered, and valiantly went on; but he never reached the climax of that sermon. Those continually interrupting groans and “Amens!” uttered in that childish treble, were too much for him. A suppressed titter ran over the whole congregation, in which all the Deerhurst party joined though they strove not to do so; and amid that subdued mirth the clergyman brought his discourse to a sudden end.
The benediction spoken there was a rush for the door, in which the Great Danes and the twins led; riotously tumbling over one another, barking and squealing, while the outpouring congregation stepped aside to give them way.
Happy-hearted Seth Winters had rarely felt so annoyed or mortified, while Dorothy’s face was scarlet even though her lips twitched with laughter. These two lingered in their places till the clergyman descended from his pulpit and prepared to leave the church. Then they advanced and offered what apologies they could; the farrier relating in few words the story of the morning and disclaiming any knowledge as to the identity of the twins or how the dogs had been set loose.
“Don’t mention it. Of course, I could see that it was accidental, and it isn’t of the slightest consequence. Doubtless I had preached as long as was good for my hearers and – I wish you good morning,” said the minister, smiling but rather hastily moving away.
Mr. Winters also bowed and followed his party out of doors. But he wasn’t smiling, not in the least; and it was a timid touch Dorothy laid upon his arm as she came to the big wagon to take her place for the drive home. He looked down at her, and at sight of tears in her eyes, his anger melted.
“There, there, child, don’t fret! It was one of those unavoidable annoyances that really amount to nothing yet are so hard to bear. Here, let me swing you up. But we must get rid of those youngsters! Sabbath day or not I shall make it my business so to do at the earliest possible moment. By the way, where are they now?”
For a moment nobody could say, though the Deerhurst wagons waited while the lads searched and all the regular congregation departed to their homes. Then called Mabel from her seat of honor in the landau:
“Dolly Doodles, whilst we’re waiting we might as well eat our lunch.”
For once Mabel’s greediness served her neighbors a good purpose. Mr. Seth promptly replied, with something like a wink in Dorothy’s direction:
“Couldn’t do better. There’s the church well, too, a famous one, from which to quench our thirst. There’s an old saying that ‘Meal time brings all rogues home’ and likely the presence of food may attract our little runaways. Indeed, I’ve half a mind to leave them behind, any way. ‘Pass them on’ to the world at large as that old man ‘passed them on’ to us.”
To this there was protest from every side, even Alfaretta declaring she had never heard of such a heartless thing! But she need not have feared, and Dorothy certainly did not. She knew the big heart of her old friend too well; and producing the basket of sandwiches she went about offering them to all.
Nobody declined although Monty triumphantly exclaimed:
“We haven’t any right to be so hungry for an hour yet, ’cause if the dogs hadn’t come to church we’d have been kept in that much longer.” Then still munching a sandwich he set about to bring water for all, in the one tin dipper that hung by the well, the other lads relieving him from time to time.
They were all so merry, so innocently happy under the great trees which bordered the church grounds, that the Master grew happy, too, watching and listening to them and forgot the untoward incident of the service; even forgot, for a moment, that either twins or dogs existed. Then, after both fruit and sandwich baskets had been wholly emptied and all had declared they wanted no more water, the cavalcade prepared to move; Dorothy begging:
“Can Luna and I sit on the front seat, with Littlejohn driving, going back? See, she’s no longer afraid and I always do love to ride close to the horses.”
“Very well. Here goes then,” answered Mr. Seth gently lifting Luna – wholly unresisting now and placidly smiling – to the place desired while Dolly swiftly sprang after. Then the others seated themselves and Ephraim cracked his whip, the landau leading as befitted its grandeur.
Then there were shrieks for delay. From Molly Breckenridge at first, echoed by piping little tongues as the lost “twinses” came into sight. Over the stone wall bordering the road leaped Ponce and Peter, dripping wet and shaking their great bodies vigorously, the while they yelped and barked in sheer delight. Behind them Ananias and Sapphira, equally wet, equally noisy, equally rapturous, and beginning at once to climb into the richly cushioned landau as fast as their funny little legs would permit.
Then came another shriek as, rather than let her beautiful clothes be smirched by contact with the drenched children, Mabel Bruce drew her skirts about her, gave one headlong leap to the ground, and fell prone.