A NEW LESSON TO LEARN
It was a long time before the children ceased to talk and laugh over that jolly evening. Dorry declared he wished there could be a Valentine's-Day every week.
"Don't you think St. Valentine would be tired of writing verses?" asked Katy. But she, too, had enjoyed the frolic, and the bright recollection helped her along through the rest of the long, cold winter.
Spring opened late that year, but the Summer, when it came, was a warm one. Katy felt the heat very much. She could not change her seat and follow the breeze about from window to window as other people could. The long burning days left her weak and parched. She hung her head, and seemed to wilt like the flowers in the garden-beds. Indeed she was worse off than they, for every evening Alexander gave them a watering with the hose, while nobody was able to bring a watering-pot and pour out what she needed—a shower of cold, fresh air.
It wasn't easy to be good-humored under these circumstances, and one could hardly have blamed Katy if she had sometimes forgotten her resolutions and been cross and fretful. But she didn't—not very often. Now and then bad days came, when she was discouraged and forlorn. But Katy's long year of schooling had taught her self-control, and, as a general thing, her discomforts were borne patiently. She could not help growing pale and thin however, and Papa saw with concern that, as the summer went on, she became too languid to read, or study, or sew, and just sat hour after hour, with folded hands, gazing wistfully out of the window.
He tried the experiment of taking her to drive. But the motion of the carriage, and the being lifted in and out, brought on so much pain, that Katy begged that he would not ask her to go again. So there was nothing to be done but wait for cooler weather. The summer dragged on, and all who loved Katy rejoiced when it was over.
When September came, with cool mornings and nights, and fresh breezes, smelling of pine woods, and hill-tops, all things seemed to revive, and Katy with them. She began to crochet and to read. After a while she collected her books again, and tried to study as Cousin Helen had advised. But so many idle weeks made it seem harder work than ever. One day she asked Papa to let her take French lessons.
"You see I'm forgetting all I knew," she said, "and Clover is going to begin this term, and I don't like that she should get so far ahead of me. Don't you think Mr. Bergèr would be willing to come here, Papa? He does go to houses sometimes."
"I think he would if we asked him," said Dr. Carr, pleased to see Katy waking up with something like life again.
So the arrangement was made. Mr. Bergèr came twice every week, and sat beside the big chair, correcting Katy's exercises and practising her in the verbs and pronunciation. He was a lively little old Frenchman, and knew how to make lesson-time pleasant.
"You take more pain than you used, Mademoiselle," he said one day; "if you go on so, you shall be my best scholar. And if to hurt the back make you study, it would be well that some other of my young ladies shall do the same."
Katy laughed. But in spite of Mr. Bergèr and his lessons, and in spite of her endeavors to keep cheerful and busy, this second winter was harder than the first. It is often so with sick people. There is a sort of excitement in being ill which helps along just at the beginning. But as months go on, and everything grows an old story, and one day follows another day, all just alike and all tiresome, courage is apt to flag and spirits to grow dull. Spring seemed a long, long way off whenever Katy thought about it.
"I wish something would happen," she often said to herself. And something was about to happen. But she little guessed what it was going to be.
"Katy!" said Clover, coming in one day in November, "do you know where the camphor is? Aunt Izzie has got such a headache."
"No," replied Katy, "I don't. Or—wait—Clover, it seems to me that Debby came for it the other day. Perhaps if you look in her room you'll find it."
"How very queer!" she soliloquized, when Clover was gone; "I never knew Aunt Izzie to have a headache before."
"How is Aunt Izzie?" she asked, when Papa came in at noon.
"Well, I don't know. She has some fever and a bad pain in her head. I have told her that she had better lie still, and not try to get up this evening. Old Mary will come in to undress you, Katy. You won't mind, will you, dear?"
"N-o!" said Katy, reluctantly. But she did mind. Aunt Izzie had grown used to her and her ways. Nobody else suited her so well.
"It seems so strange to have to explain just how every little thing is to be done," she remarked to Clover, rather petulantly.
It seemed stranger yet, when the next day, and the next, and the next after that passed, and still no Aunt Izzie came near her. Blessings brighten as they take their flight. Katy began to appreciate for the first time how much she had learned to rely on her aunt. She missed her dreadfully.
"When is Aunt Izzie going to get well?" she asked her father; "I want her so much."
"We all want her," said Dr. Carr, who looked disturbed and anxious.
"Is she very sick?" asked Katy, struck by the expression of his face.
"Pretty sick, I'm afraid," he replied. "I'm going to get a regular nurse to take care of her."
Aunt Izzie's attack proved to be typhoid fever. The doctors said that the house must be kept quiet, so John, and Dorry, and Phil were sent over to Mrs. Hall's to stay. Elsie and Clover were to have gone too, but they begged so hard, and made so many promises of good behavior, that finally Papa permitted them to remain. The dear little things stole about the house on tiptoe, as quietly as mice, whispering to each other, and waiting on Katy, who would have been lonely enough without them, for everybody else was absorbed in Aunt Izzie.
It was a confused, melancholy time. The three girls didn't know much about sickness, but Papa's grave face, and the hushed house, weighed upon their spirits, and they missed the children very much.
"Oh dear!" sighed Elsie. "How I wish Aunt Izzie would hurry and get well."
"We'll be real good to her when she does, won't we?" said Clover. "I never mean to leave my rubbers in the hat-stand any more, because she don't like to have me. And I shall pick up the croquet-balls and put them in the box every night."
"Yes," added Elsie, "so will I, when she gets well."
It never occurred to either of them that perhaps Aunt Izzie might not get well. Little people are apt to feel as if grown folks are so strong and so big, that nothing can possibly happen to them.
Katy was more anxious. Still she did not fairly realize the danger. So it came like a sudden and violent shock to her, when, one morning on waking up, she found old Mary crying quietly beside the bed, with her apron at her eyes. Aunt Izzie had died in the night!
All their kind, penitent thoughts of her; their resolutions to please—their plans for obeying her wishes and saving her trouble, were too late! For the first time, the three girls, sobbing in each other's arms, realized what a good friend Aunt Izzie had been to them. Her worrying ways were all forgotten now. They could only remember the many kind things she had done for them since they were little children. How they wished that they had never teased her, never said sharp words about her to each other! But it was no use to wish.
"What shall we do without Aunt Izzie?" thought Katy, as she cried herself to sleep that night. And the question came into her mind again and again, after the funeral was over and the little ones had come back from Mrs. Hall's, and things began to go on in their usual manner.
For several days she saw almost nothing of her father. Clover reported that he looked very tired and scarcely said a word.
"Did Papa eat any dinner?" asked Katy, one afternoon.
"Not much. He said he wasn't hungry. And Mrs. Jackson's boy came for him before we were through."
"Oh dear!" sighed Katy, "I do hope he isn't going to be sick. How it rains! Clovy, I wish you'd run down and get out his slippers and put them by the fire to warm. Oh, and ask Debby to make some cream-toast for tea! Papa likes cream-toast."
After tea, Dr. Carr came up stairs to sit a while in Katy's room. He often did so, but this was the first time since Aunt Izzie's death.
Katy studied his face anxiously. It seemed to her that it had grown older of late, and there was a sad look upon it, which made her heart ache. She longed to do something for him, but all she could do was to poke the fire bright, and then to possess herself of his hand, and stroke it gently with both hers. It wasn't much, to be sure, but I think Papa liked it.
"What have you been about all day?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing, much," said Katy. "I studied my French lesson this morning. And after school, Elsie and John brought in their patchwork, and we had a 'Bee.' That's all."
"I've been thinking how we are to manage about the housekeeping," said Dr. Carr. "Of course we shall have to get somebody to come and take charge. But it isn't easy to find just the right person. Mrs. Hall knows of a woman who might do, but she is out West, just now, and it will be a week or two before we can hear from her. Do you think you can get on as you are for a few days?"
"Oh, Papa!" cried Katy, in dismay, "must we have anybody?"
"Why, how did you suppose we were going to arrange it? Clover is much too young for a housekeeper. And beside, she is at school all day."
"I don't know—I hadn't thought about it," said Katy, in a perplexed tone.
But she did think about it—all that evening, and the first thing when she woke in the morning.
"Papa," she said, the next time she got him to herself, "I've been thinking over what you were saying last night, about getting somebody to keep the house, you know. And I wish you wouldn't. I wish you would let me try. Really and truly, I think I could manage."
"But how?" asked Dr. Carr, much surprised. "I really don't see. If you were well and strong, perhaps—but even then you would be pretty young for such a charge, Katy."
"I shall be fourteen in two weeks," said Katy, drawing herself up in her chair as straight as she could. "And if I were well, Papa, I should be going to school, you know, and then of course I couldn't. No, I'll tell you my plan. I've been thinking about it all day. Debby and Bridget have been with us so long, that they know all Aunt Izzie's ways, and they're such good women, that all they want is just to be told a little now and then. Now, why couldn't they come up to me when anything is wanted—just as well as to have me go down to them? Clover and old Mary will keep watch, you know, and see if anything is wrong. And you wouldn't mind if things were a little crooked just at first, would you? because, you know, I should be learning all the time. Do let me try! It will be real nice to have something to think about as I sit up here alone, so much better than having a stranger in the house who doesn't know the children or anything. I am sure it will make me happier. Please say 'Yes,' Papa, please do!"
"It's too much for you, a great deal too much," replied Dr. Carr. But it was not easy to resist Katy's "Please! Please!" and after a while it ended with—
"Well, darling, you may try, though I am doubtful as to the result of the experiment. I will tell Mrs. Hall to put off writing to Wisconsin for a month, and we will see.
"Poor child, anything to take her thoughts off herself!" he muttered, as he walked down stairs. "She'll be glad enough to give the thing up by the end of the month."
But Papa was mistaken. At the end of a month Katy was eager to go on. So he said,
"Very well—she might try it till Spring."
It was not such hard work as it sounds. Katy had plenty of quiet thinking-time for one thing. The children were at school all day, and few visitors came to interrupt her, so she could plan out her hours and keep to the plans. That is a great help to a housekeeper.
Then Aunt Izzie's regular, punctual ways were so well understood by the servants, that the house seemed almost to keep itself. As Katy had said, all Debby and Bridget needed was a little "telling" now and then.
As soon as breakfast was over, and the dishes were washed and put away, Debby would tie on a clean apron, and come up stairs for orders. At first Katy thought this great fun. But after ordering dinner a good many times, it began to grow tiresome. She never saw the dishes after they were cooked; and, being inexperienced, it seemed impossible to think of things enough to make a variety.
"Let me see—there is roast beef—leg of mutton—boiled chicken," she would say, counting on her fingers, "roast beef—leg of mutton—boiled chicken. Debby, you might roast the chickens. Dear!—I wish somebody would invent a new animal! Where all the things to eat are gone to, I can't imagine!"
Then Katy would send for every recipe-book in the house, and pore over them by the hour, till her appetite was as completely gone as if she had swallowed twenty dinners. Poor Debby learned to dread these books. She would stand by the door with her pleasant red face drawn up into a pucker, while Katy read aloud some impossible-sounding rule.
"This looks as if it were delicious, Debby, I wish you'd try it: Take a gallon of oysters, a pint of beef stock, sixteen soda crackers, the juice of two lemons, four cloves, a glass of white wine, a sprig of marjoram, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of bay, a sliced shalott—"
"Please, Miss Katy, what's them?"
"Oh, don't you know, Debby? It must be something quite common, for it's in almost all the recipes."
"No, Miss Katy, I never heard tell of it before. Miss Carr never gave me no shell-outs at all at all!"
"Dear me, how provoking!" Katy would cry, flapping over the leaves of her book; "then we must try something else."
Poor Debby! If she hadn't loved Katy so dearly, I think her patience must have given way. But she bore her trials meekly, except for an occasional grumble when alone with Bridget. Dr. Carr had to eat a great many queer things in those days. But he didn't mind, and as for the children, they enjoyed it. Dinner-time became quite exciting, when nobody could tell exactly what any dish on the table was made of. Dorry, who was a sort of Dr. Livingstone where strange articles of food were concerned, usually made the first experiment, and if he said that it was good, the rest followed suit.
After a while Katy grew wiser. She ceased teasing Debby to try new things, and the Carr family went back to plain roast and boiled, much to the advantage of all concerned. But then another series of experiments began. Katy got hold of a book upon "The Stomach," and was seized with a rage for wholesome food. She entreated Clover and the other children to give up sugar, and butter, and gravy, and pudding-sauce, and buckwheat cakes, and pies, and almost everything else that they particularly liked. Boiled rice seemed to her the most sensible dessert, and she kept the family on it until finally John and Dorry started a rebellion, and Dr. Carr was forced to interfere.
"My dear, you are overdoing it sadly," he said, as Katy opened her book and prepared to explain her views; "I am glad to have the children eat simple food—but really, boiled rice five times in a week is too much."
Katy sighed, but submitted. Later, as the Spring came on, she had a fit of over-anxiousness, and was always sending Clover down to ask Debby if her bread was not burning, or if she was sure that the pickles were not fermenting in their jars? She also fidgeted the children about wearing india-rubbers, and keeping on their coats, and behaved altogether as if the cares of the world were on her shoulders.
But all these were but the natural mistakes of a beginner. Katy was too much in earnest not to improve. Month by month she learned how to manage a little better, and a little better still. Matters went on more smoothly. Her cares ceased to fret her. Dr. Carr watching the increasing brightness of her face and manner, felt that the experiment was a success. Nothing more was said about "somebody else," and Katy, sitting up stairs in her big chair, held the threads of the house firmly in her hands.