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HOME > Short Stories > Half-A-Dozen Housekeepers > CHAPTER II—IN THE FIRELIGHT
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TWO hours later you might have seen the old pung drawn by Mr. Allen’s Jerry, with Bell and Alice Forsaith on the seat, and four laughing, rosy-cheeked girls warmly tucked in buffalo robes on the bottom. Even the sober old sun, who had been under a cloud that day, poked his head out to see the fun, and became so interested that, in spite of himself, he forgot his determination not to shine, and did his duty all the afternoon.

When the girls opened the door and saw Bell’s preparations,—the cozy sitting-room, with dining-table in the bay-window, three sofas in a row, so that on snowy days they might extend their lazy lengths thereon, and finally a fir-covered barrel of Nodhead and Baldwin apples in one corner,—there arose bursts of happy laughter and ecstatic cheers loud enough to shock the neighbors, who seldom laughed and never cheered.

“I know it’s an original idea to have an apple-barrel in your parlor corner,” said Bell; “but the common-sense of it will be seen by every thoughtful mind. Our forces will consume a peck a day, and life is too short to spend it in galloping up and down cellar constantly for apples.”

“Bell Winship, you are an inhospitable creature,” exclaimed Lilia Porter. “Here I am, calmly seated on a coal-hod with my hat on, while you are talking so fast that you can’t get time to show us our apartments. Shelter before food, say I!”

“Apartments!” sniffed Bell, in mock dudgeon. “You are very grand in your ideas! Behold your camp, your wigwam, your tent, your quarters!” and she threw open the door of the large chamber and waved the party dramatically in that direction.

“Bell, you will yet be Presidentess of these United States,” cried Edith Lambert. “Any girl who can devise two such happy combinations as an apple-barrel in a parlor corner and three beds in a row, ought to be given a chair of state.”

“Might a poor worm inquire, Bell,” asked Patty, “why those croquet mallets and balls are laid out in file round the beds?”

“Why, those are for protection, you goose, supposing anybody should come in the piazza window at night, and we had nothing to kill him with!”

“Yes, and supposing he should take one of the mallets and pound us all to a jelly to begin with?” Patty retorted, being of a practical mind.

“That would be rather embarrassing,” answered Bell, with a reflective shudder; “I hadn’t thought of it.”

“What could one poor man do against five girls banging him with croquet mallets, while the sixth was running to alarm the neighbors?” asked Alice, “and to put an end to the discussion I suggest that the cooks start supper;” whereupon she threw herself into an arm-chair, and put up a pair of small, stout boots on the fender.

The unfortunate couple referred to exchanged looks of unmitigated discouragement.

“I have my opinion of a girl who will mention supper before she has been in the house an hour,” said the head cook.

“Josie, I foresee that they are going to make galley-slaves of us if they can. However,” turning again to Alice, “it isn’t to be supper, but dinner. The meals at this house are to be thus and so: Breakfast at 9 a.m., luncheon at 12 m., dinner at 5 p.m., refreshments at various times betwixt and between, and all affairs pertaining to eatables are to be completely under the control of the chefs, Mesdemoiselles Winship and Fenton. We cannot have you ‘suggesting’ dinner at all hours, Miss Forsaith. If time hangs heavy on your hands, occupy it in your own branches of housework.”

“If we are to be ruled over in this way, life will not be worth living,” cried Patty Weld, in comical despair. “I dare say we shall be half starved as the days go on, but do give us something good to begin on, Bluebell!”

Judging from the scene at the table an hour later, it would not have made much difference whether the repast was sumptuous or not, so formidable were the appetites, and such the merriment.

“Oh, dear,” sighed Bell, dismally, to the assistant cook, “I will throw off all disguise and say that this family is a surprise and a disappointment to me. When a person cooks twenty-seven potatoes, with the reasonable expectation of having half left to fry, and sees a solitary one left in the dish, with all its lovely companions both faded and gone, she is naturally disheartened. Any way, we have finished for to-night, so the Dish Brigade can marshal its forces. We will take our one potato into the kitchen, Jo, and see if we can make it enough for breakfast. Look in the corner bookcase; bring Mrs. Whitney’s ‘Just How,’ Marion Harland’s ‘Cook Book,’ ‘The Young Housekeeper’s Friend,’ and ‘The Bride’s Manual.’”

At nine o’clock that evening Uncle Harry passed through the garden, and noticing a pair of open shutters, peeped in at the back window of the sitting-room, thinking he had never seen a more charming or attractive picture. Pretty Edith Lambert was curled up in an armchair near the astral lamp, her face resting on her two rosy palms, and her eyes bent over “Little Women.” Bluebell, her bright hair bobbed in a funny sort of twist, from which two or three venturesome and rebellious curls were straying out, and her high-necked blue apron still on over her dark dress, was humming soft little songs at the piano. Roguish Jo was sitting flat on the hearth, her bright cheeks flushed rosier under the warm occupation of corn popping, and her dark hair falling loosely round her face, while Patty Weld with her shy, demure face, was beside her on a hassock, knitting a “fascinator” out of white wool. These two, so thoroughly unlike, were never to be seen apart; indeed, they were so inseparable as to be dubbed the “Scissors” or “Tongs” by their friends. Alice and Lilia were quarreling briskly over a game of cribbage, Lilia’s animated expression and ringing laugh contrasting forcibly with the calm face of her antagonist. Alice was never known to be excited over anything. It was she who carried off all the dignity and took the part of presiding goddess of the party. The girls all adored her for her beauty and superior age; for she had attained the enviable pinnacle of “sweet sixteen.”

“Come,” said Jo, breaking the silence, “let us have refreshments, then a good quiet talk together, then muster the Hair-Brushing Brigade, and go to bed. I think I have corn enough; I’ve popped and popped and popped as no one ever popped before, and till popping has ceased to be fun.”

“Pop on, pop ever; the more you give us, Jo, the more popular you’ll be,” laughed Bell.

“She is a veritable ‘pop-in-J,’ isn’t she?” cried Lilia.

“Now Lilia,” said Edith, “let us get the apples and nuts, and we’ll sit in a ring on the floor, and eat. I shan’t crack the almonds; the girl that hath her teeth, I say, is no girl, if with her teeth she cannot crack an almond. Lilia, you’re not a bit of assistance; you’ve tied up the end of the nut-bag in a hard knot, upset the apple-dish, put the tablecloth on crooked, and—oh, dear—now you’ve stepped in the pop-corn,” as Lilia, trying desperately to cross the room without knocking something over, as usual, had hit the corn-pan in her airy flight. “You have such a genius for stepping into half-a-dozen things at once, I think you must be web-footed.”

“Well, that’s possible,” retorted the unfortunate Lilia; “I’ve often been told I was a duck of a girl, and this proves it.”

“Do you realize, girls,” said Edith, after a while, “that we shall all be visited by ghosts and visions to-night, if we don’t terminate this repast? I’ll put away the dishes, Bell, if you’ll move the sofas up to the fire, so that we can have our good-night chat.”

So, speedily, six warm dressing-sacques were slipped on, and then, the lamps being turned out, in the ruddy glow of the firelight, the brown, the yellow, and the dark hair was taken down, and the housekeepers, braiding it up for the night, talked and dreamed and built their castles in the air, as all young things are wont to do.

“Girls, dear old girls,” said Alice, softly, breaking an unusual silence of two minutes; “isn’t this cosy and sweet and friendly beyond anything? How thankful we ought to be for the happy lives God gives us! We have been put into this beautiful world and taken care of so wisely and kindly every day; yet we don’t often speak, or even think, about it.”

“It is trouble, sometimes, more than happiness, that leads us into thinking about God’s care and goodness,” said Edith, “although it’s very strange that it should. Before my mother’s death I was just a little baby playing with letter-blocks, and all at once, after that, I began to make the letters into words and spell out things for myself.”

“What a perfect heathen I am,” burst out Jo. “I can’t feel any of these things any more than if I were a Chinaman. Or, perhaps, it is as Edith says, I am still playing with blocks, although I cannot eve............
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