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What Katy Did Next(chapter2)

2006-08-22 19:13

  CHAPTER 2

  AN INVITATION

  It is a curious fact, and makes life very interesting, that generally speaking, none of us have any expectation that things are going to happen till the very moment when they do happen. We wake up some morning with no idea that a great happiness is at hand, and before night it has come, and all the world is changed for us; or we wake bright and cheerful, with never a guess that clouds of sorrow are lowering in our sky to put all the sunshine out for a while, and before noon all is dark. Nothing whispers of either the joy or the grief. No instinct bids us to delay or to hasten the opening of the letter or telegram, or the lifting of the latch of the door on which stands the messenger of good or ill. And because it may be, and often is, happy tidings that come, and joyful things which happen, each fresh day as it dawns upon us is like an unread story, full of possible interest and adventure, to be made ours as soon as we have cut the pages and begun to read.

  Nothing whispered to Katy Carr, as she sat at the window mending a long rent in Johnnie's school coat and saw Mrs Ashe come in at the side gate and ring the office bell, that the visit had any special significance for her. Mrs Ashe often did come to the office to consult Dr Carr. Amy might not be quite well, Katy thought, or there might be a letter with something about Walter in it, or perhaps matters had gone wrong at the house, where paperers and painters were still at work. So she went calmly on with her darning, drawing the `ravelling' with which her needle was threaded carefully in and out, and taking nice even stitches without one prophetic thrill or tremor; if only she could have looked through the two walls and two doors which separated the room in which she sat from the office, and heard what Mrs Ashe was saying, the school coat would have been thrown to the winds, and for all her tall stature and propriety she would have been skipping with delight and astonishment. For Mrs Ashe was asking papa to let her do the very thing of all others that she most longed to do; she was asking him to let Katy go with her to Europe!

  `I am not very well,' she told the doctor. `I got tired and run down while Walter was ill, and I don't seem to be able to throw it off as I hoped I should. I feel as if a change would do me good. Don't you think so yourself?'

  `Yes, I do,' Dr Carr admitted.

  `This idea of Europe is not altogether a new one, continued Mrs Ashe. `I have always meant to go some-time, and have put it off, partly because I dreaded going alone,' and didn't know anybody whom I exactly wanted to take with me. But if you will let me have Katy, Dr Carr, it will settle all my difficulties. Amy loves her dearly, and so do I; she is just the companion I need. If I have her with me, I shan't be afraid of anything. I do hope you will consent.'

  `How long do you mean to be away?' asked Dr Carr, divided between pleasure at these compliments to Katy and dismay at the idea of losing her.

  `About a year, I think. My plans are rather vague as yet. But my idea was to spend a few weeks in Scotland and England first - I have some cousins in London who will be good to us, and an old friend of mine married a gentleman who lives on the Isle of Wight; perhaps we might go there. Then we could cross over to France, and visit Paris and a few other places, and before it gets cold, go down to Nice, and from there to Italy. Katy would like to see Italy. Don't you think so?'

  `I dare say she would,' said Dr Carr, with a smile. `She would be a queer girl if she didn't.'

  `There is one reason why I thought Italy would be particularly pleasant this winter for me and for her too, went on Mrs Ashe, `and that is, because my brother will be there. He is a lieutenant in the navy, you know, and his ship, the Natchitoches, is one of the Mediterranean squadron. They will be in Naples by and by, and if we were there at the same time we should have Ned to go about with. He would take us to the receptions on the frigate, and everything, which would be a nice chance for Katy. Then towards spring I should like to go to Florence and Venice, and visit the Italian lakes and Switzerland in the early summer. But all this depends on your letting Katy go. If you decide against it, I shall give the whole thing up. But you won't decide against it' - coaxingly - you will be kinder than that. I will take the best possible care of her, and do all I can to make her happy, if only you will consent to lend her to me. I shall consider it such a favour. And it is to cost you nothing. You understand, Doctor, she is to be my guest all through. That is a point I want to make clear in the outset; for she goes for my sake, and I cannot take her on any other conditions. Now, Dr Carr, please, please! I am sure you won't deny me, when I have so set my heart upon having her.'

  Mrs Ashe was very pretty and persuasive, but still Dr Carr hesitated. To send Katy for a year's pleasuring in Europe was a thing that had never occurred to him as possible. The cost alone would have prevented it, for country doctors with six children are not apt to be rich men, even in the limited and old-fashioned construction of the word `wealth'. It seemed equally impossible to let her go at Mrs Ashes expense: at the same time, the chance was such a good one, and Mrs Ashe so much in earnest and so urgent, that it was difficult to refuse point blank. He finally consented to take time for consideration before making his decision.

  `I will talk it over with Katy,' he said. `The child ought to have a say in the matter; and whatever we decide, you must let me thank you in her name as well as my own for your great kindness in proposing it.'

  `Doctor, I'm not kind at all, and I don't want to be thanked. My desire to take Katy with me to Europe is purely selfish. I am a lonely person, she went on, `I have no mother or sister, and no cousins of my own age. My brother's profession keeps him at sea; I scarcely ever see him. I have no one but a couple of old aunts, too feeble in health to travel with me or to be counted on in case of any emergency. You see, I am a real case for pity.'

  Mrs Ashe spoke gaily, but her brown eyes were dim with tears as she ended her little appeal. Dr Carr, who was soft hearted where women were concerned, was touched. Perhaps his face showed it, for Mrs Ashe added in a more hopeful tone:

  `But I won't tease any more. I know you will not refuse me unless you think it right and necessary, and,' she continued mischievously, `I have great faith in Katy as an ally. I am pretty sure that she will say that she wants to go.

  And indeed Katy's cry of delight when the plan was proposed to her said that ficiently, without need of further explanation. To go to Europe for a year with Mrs Ashe and Amy seemed simply too delightful to be true. All the things she had heard about and read about - cathedrals, pictures, Alpine peaks, famous places, famous people - came rushing into her mind in a sort of bewildering tide as dazzling as it was overwhelming. Dr Carr's objections, his reluctance to part with her, melted before the radiance of her satisfaction. He had no idea that Katy would care so much about it. After all, it was a great chance - perhaps the only one of the sort that she would ever have. Mrs Ashe could well afford to give Katy this treat, he knew, and it was quite true what she said, that it was a favour to her as well as to Katy. This train of reasoning led to its natural results. Dr Carr began to waver in his mind.

  But, the first excitement over, Katy's second thoughts were more sober ones. How could Papa manage without her for a whole year? she asked herself. He would miss her, she well knew; and might not the charge of the house be too much for Clover? The preserves were almost all made, that was one comfort, but there were the winter clothes to be seen to; Dorry needed new flannels, Elsie's dresses must be altered for Johnnie; there were cucumbers to pickle, and the coal to order! A host of housewifely cares began to troop through Katy's mind; a little pucker came into her forehead, and a worried look across the face which had been so bright a few minutes before.

  Strange to say, it was that little pucker and the look of worry which decided Dr Carr.

  `She is only twenty-one,' he reflected, `hardly out of childhood. I don't want her to settle into an anxious drudging state, and lose her youth with caring for us all. She shall go; though how we are to manage without her I don't see. Little Clover will have to come to the fore, and show what sort of stuff there is in her.'

  `Little Clover' came gallantly `to the fore' when the first shock of the surprise was over, and she had relieved her mind with one long private cry over having to do without Katy for a year. Then she wiped her eyes, and began to revel unselfishly in the idea of her sister having so great a treat. Anything and everything seemed possible to secure it for her, and she made light of all Katy's many anxieties and apprehensions.

  `My dear child, I know a flannel undershirt when I see one, just as well as you do,' she declared. `Tucks in Johnnie's dress, forsooth! Why, of course. Ripping out a tuck doesn't require any superhuman ingenuity! Give me your scissors, and I'll show you at once. Quince marmalade? Debby can make that; hers is about as good as yours. And if it wasn't, what should we care, as long as you are ascending Mont Blanc, and hobnobbing with Michelangelo and the crowned heads of Europe? I'll make the spiced peaches! I'll order the kindling! And if there ever comes a time when I feel lost and can't manage without advice, I'll go across to Mrs Hall. Don't worry about us. We shall get on happily and easily; in fact, I shouldn't be surprised if I developed such a turn for housekeeping, that when you come back the family refused to change, and you had just to sit for the rest of your life and twirl your thumbs and watch me do it! Wouldn't that be fine?' and Clover laughed merrily. `So, Katy darling, cast that shadow from your brow, and look as a girl ought to look who's going to Europe. Why, if it were I who were going, I should simply stand on my head every moment of the time!'

  `Not a very convenient position for packing,' said Katy, smiling.

  `Yes it is, if you just turn your trunk upside down! `When I think of all the delightful things you are going to do I can hardly sit still. I love Mrs Ashe for inviting you.

  `So do I,' said Katy soberly. `It was the kindest thing. I can't think why she did it.'

  `Well, I can,' replied Clover, always ready to defend Katy even against herself. `She did it because she wanted you, and she wanted you because you are the dearest old thing in the world, and the nicest to have about. You needn't say you're not, for you are! Now, Katy, don't waste another thought on such miserable things as pickles and undershirts. We shall get along perfectly well, I do assure you. Just fix your mind instead on the dome of St Peter's, or try to fancy how you'll feel the first time you step into a gondola or see the Mediterranean. There will be a moment! I feel a forty-horse power of housekeeping developing within me; and what fun it will be to get your letters! We shall fetch out the encyclopaedia and the big atlas and the History of Modern Europe, and read all about everything you see and all the places you go to; it will be as good as a lesson in geography and history and political economy all combined, only a great deal more interesting! We shall stick out all over with knowledge before you come back, so this makes it a plain duty to go, if it were only for our sakes.' With these zealous promises, Katy was forced to be content. Indeed, contentment was not difficult with such a prospect of delight before her. When once her little anxieties had been laid aside, the idea of the coming journey grew in pleasantness every moment. Night after night she and papa and the children pored over maps and made out schemes for travel and sightseeing, every one of which was likely to be discarded as soon as the real journey began. But they didn't know that, and it made no real difference. Such schemes are the preliminary joys of travel, and it doesn't signify that they come to nothing after they have served their purpose.

  Katy learned a great deal while thus talking over what she was to see and do. She read every scrap she could lay her hands on which related to Rome or Florence or Venice or London. The driest details had a charm for her now that she was likely to see the real places. She went about with scraps of paper in her pocket, on which were written such things as these: `Forum. When built? By whom built? More than one?' `What does Cenacola mean?' `Cecilia Metella. Who was she?' `Find out about Saint Catherine of Sienna.' `Who was Beatrice Cenci?' How she wished that she had studied harder and more carefully before this wonderful chance came to her! People always wish this when they are starting for Europe, and they wish it more and more after they get there, and realize of what value exact ideas and information and a fuller knowledge of the foreign languages are to all travellers, and how they add to the charm of everything seen, and enhance the ease of everything done.

  All Burnet took an interest in Katy's plans, and almost everybody had some sort of advice or help, or some little gift, to offer. Old Mrs Worrett, who, though fatter than ever, still retained the power of locomotion, drove in from Conic Section in her roomy carry-all with a present of a rather obsolete copy of Murray's Guide, in faded red covers, which her father had used in his youth, and which she was sure Katy would find convenient; also a bottle of Brown's Jamaica Ginger, in case of seasickness. Debby's sister-in-law brought a bundle of dried chamomile for the same purpose. Someone had told her it was the `handiest thing in the world to take along with you on them steamboats'. Cecy sent a wonderful old-gold and scarlet contrivance to hang on the wall of the state room. There were pockets for watches, and pockets for medicines, and pockets for handkerchiefs and hair pins - in short, there were pockets for everything. There was a pin cushion with `Bon Voyage' in rows of shining pins, a bottle of eau de Cologne, a cake of soap, and a hammer and tacks to nail the whole up with. Mrs Hall's gift was a warm and very pretty woollen wrapper of dark blue flannel, with a pair of soft knitted slippers to match. Old Mr Worrett sent a note of advice, recommending Katy to take a quinine pill every day that she was away, never to stay out late, because the dews `over there' were said to be unwholesome, and on no account to drink a drop of water which had not been boiled.

  From Cousin Helen came a delightful travelling bag, light and strong at once, and fitted up with all manner of nice little conveniences. Miss Inches sent a History of Europe in five fat volumes, which was so heavy that it had to be left at home. In fact, a good many of Katy's presents had to be left at home, including a bronze paper weight in the shape of a griffin, a large pair of brass screw candlesticks, and an ormolu ink-stand with a pen rest attached, which weighed at least a pound and a half. These Katy laid aside to enjoy after her return. Mrs Ashe and Cousin Helen had both warned her of the inconvenient consequences of weight in baggage, and by their advice she limited herself to a single trunk of moderate size, besides a little flat valise for use in her state room.

  Clover's gift was a set of blank books for notes, journals, and so on. In one of these Katy made out a list of `Things I must see', `Things I must do', `Things I would like to see', `Things I would like to do'. Another she devoted to various shopping addresses which had been given her; for though she did not expect to do any shopping herself, she thought Mrs Ashe might find them useful. Katy's ideas were still so simple and unworldly, and her experience of life so small, that it had not occurred to her how very tantalizing it might be to stand in front of shop windows full of delightful things and not be able to buy any of them. She was accordingly over-powered with surprise, gratitude, and the sense of sudden wealth, when, about a week before the start, her father gave her three little thin strips of paper, which he told her were circular notes, and worth a hundred dollars apiece. He also gave her five English sovereigns.

  `Those are for immediate use,' he said. `Put the notes away carefully, and don't lose them. You had better have them cashed one at a time as you require them. Mrs Ashe will explain how. You will need a gown or so before you come back, and you'll want to buy some photographs and so on, and there will be fees - `

  `But, Papa,' protested Katy, opening wide her candid eyes, `I didn't expect you to give me any money, and I'm afraid you are giving me too much. Do you think you can afford it? Really and truly, I don't want to buy things. I shall see everything, you know, and that's enough.'

  Her father only laughed.

  `You'll be wiser and greedier before the year is out, my dear,' he replied. `Three hundred dollars won't go far, as you'll find. But it's all I can spare, and I trust you to keep within it, and not come home with any long bills for me to pay.'

  `Papa! I should think not!' cried Katy, with unsophisticated horror.

  One very interesting thing was to happen before they sailed, the thought of which helped both Katy and Clover through the last hard days, when the preparations were nearly complete and the family had leisure to feel dull and out of spirits. Katy was to make Rose Red a visit.

  Rose had by no means been idle during the three years and a half which had elapsed since they all parted at Hillsover, and since which time the girls had not seen her. In fact, she had made more out of the time than any of the rest of them, for she had been engaged for eighteen months, had married, and was now keeping house near Boston with a little Rose of her own, who, she wrote to Clover, was a perfect angel, and more delicious than words could say! Mrs Ashe had taken passage in the Spartacus, sailing from Boston, and it was arranged that Katy should spend the last two days before sailing with Rose, while Mrs Ashe and Amy visited an old aunt in Hingham. To see Rose in her own home, and Rose's husband, and Rose's baby, was only next in interest to seeing Europe. None of the changes in her lot seemed to have changed her particularly, to judge by the letter she sent in reply to Katy's announcing her plans, and her letter ran as follows:

  Longwood, 20 September My Dearest Child,

  Your note made me dance with delight. I stood on my head, waving my heels wildly to the breeze, till Deniston thought I must be taken suddenly mad; but when I explained he did the same. It is too enchanting, the whole of it. I put it at the head of all the nice things that ever happened, except my baby. Write the moment you get this by what train you expect to reach Boston, and when you roll into the station you will behold two forms, one tall and stalwart, the other short and fatsome, waiting for you. They will be those of Deniston and myself. Deniston is not beautiful, but he is good, and he is prepared to adore you. The baby is both good and beautiful, and you will adore her. I am neither; but you know all about me, and I always did adore you and always shall. I am going out this moment to the butcher's to order a calf fatted for your special delight; and he shall be slain and made into cutlets the moment I hear from you. My funny little house, which is quite a dear line house too, assumes a new interest in my eyes from the fact that you so-soon are to see it. It is somewhat queer, as you might know my house would be, but I think you will like it.

  I saw Silvery Mary the other day and told her you were coming. She is the same mouse as ever. I shall ask her and some of the other girls to come out to lunch on one of your days. Goodbye, with a hundred and fifty kisses to Clovy and the rest.

  Your loving

  Rose Red.

  `She never signs herself Browne, I observe,' said Clover, as she finished the letter.

  `Oh, Rose Red Browne would sound too funny! Rose Red she must stay till the end of the chapter; no other name could suit her half so well, and I can't imagine her being called anything else. What fun it will be to see her and little Rose!'

  `And Deniston Browne,' put in Clover.

  `Somehow I find it rather hard to take in the fact that there is a Deniston Browne,' observed Katy.

  `It will be easier after you have seen him, perhaps.

  The last day came, as last days will. Katy's trunk, most carefully and exactly packed by the united efforts of the family, stood in the hall, locked and strapped, not to be opened again till the party reached London. This fact gave it a certain awful interest in the eyes of Phil and Johnnie, and even Elsie gazed upon it with respect. The little valise was also ready, and Dorry, the neat-handed, had painted a red star on both ends of both it and the trunk, that they might be easily picked from among a heap of luggage. He now proceeded to prepare and paste on two square cards, labelled respectively, `Hold' and `State room'. Mrs Hall had told them that this was the correct thing to do.

  Mrs Ashe had been full of business likewise in putting her house to rights for a family who had rented it for the time of her absence, and Katy and Clover had taken a good many hours from their own preparations to help her. All was done at last, and one bright morning in October, Katy stood on the wharf with her family about her, and a lump in her throat which made it difficult to speak to any of them. She stood so very still, and said so very little, that a bystander not acquainted with the circumstances might have dubbed her `unfeeling', while the fact was that she was feeling too much!

  The first bell rang. Katy kissed everybody quietly and went on board with her father. Her parting from him, hardest of all, took place in the midst of a crowd of people; then he had to leave her, and as the wheels began to revolve she went out on the side deck to have a last glimpse of the home faces. There they were: Elsie crying tumultuously, with her head on papa's coat-sleeve; John laughing, or trying to laugh, with big tears running down her cheeks the while; and brave little Clover waving he handkerchief encouragingly, but with a very sober look on her face. Katy's heart went out to the little group with a sudden passion of regret and yearning. Why had she said she would go? What was all Europe in comparison with what she was leaving? Life was so short, how could she take a whole year out of it to spend away from the people she loved best? If it had been left to her to choose, I think she would have flown back to the shore there and then, and given up the journey. I also think she would have been heartily sorry a little later, had she done so.

  But it was not left for her to choose. Already the throb of the engines was growing more regular, and the distance widening between the great boat and the wharf. Gradually the dear faces faded into distance, and after watching till the flutter of Clover's handkerchief became an undistinguishable speck, Katy went to the cabin with a heavy heart. But there were Mrs Ashe and Amy, inclined to be homesick also and in need of cheering, and Katy, as she tried to brighten them, gradually grew bright herself and recovered her hopeful spirits. The sun shone, the lake was a beautiful, dazzling blue, and Katy said to herself: `After all, a year is not very long, and how happy I am going to be!'

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