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We Girls: A Home Story by Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney

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Olivia and Adelaide to help and keep her at it. A nursery-girl was
trying to wrap up the younger children in all sorts of wrong things,
upside down.

"Take these children right over to my house," said Mrs. Hobart.
"Barbara Holabird! Come up here!"

"I don't know what to do first," said Mrs. Marchbanks, excitedly. "Mr.
Marchbanks has taken away his papers; but there's all the silver--and
the pictures--and everything! And the house will be full of men
directly!" She looked round the room nervously, and went and picked up
her braided "chignon" from the dressing-table. Mrs. Marchbanks could
"receive" splendidly; she had never thought what she should do at a
fire. She knew all the rules of the grammar of life; she had not
learned anything about the exceptions.

"Elijah! Come up here!" called Mrs. Hobart again, over the balusters.
And Elijah, Mrs. Hobart's Yankee man-servant, brought up on her
father's farm, clattered up stairs in his thick boots, that sounded on
the smooth oak as if a horse were coming.

Mrs. Marchbanks looked bewilderedly around her room again. "They'll
break everything!" she said, and took down a little Sevres cup from a

"There, Mrs. Marchbanks! You just go off with the children. I'll see
to things. Let me have your keys."

"They're all in my upper bureau-drawer," said Mrs. Marchbanks.
"Besides, there isn't much locked, except the silver. I wish Matilda
would come." Matilda is Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks. "The children can go
there, of course."

"It is too far," said Mrs. Hobart. "Go and make them go to bed in my
great front room. Then you'll feel easier, and can come back. You'll
want Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks's house for the rest of you, and plenty of
things besides."

While she was talking she had pulled the blankets and coverlet from
the bed, and spread them on the floor. Mrs. Marchbanks actually walked
down stairs with her chignon in one hand and the Sevres cup in the

"People _do_ do curious things at fires," said Mrs. Hobart, cool, and
noticing everything.

She had got the bureau-drawers emptied now into the blankets. Barbara
followed her lead, and they took all the clothing; from the closets
and wardrobe.

"Tie those up, Elijah. Carry them off to a safe place, and come back,
up here."

Then she went to the next room. From that to the next and the next,
she passed on, in like manner,--Barbara, and by this time the rest of
us, helping; stripping the beds, and making up huge bundles on the
floors of the contents of presses, drawers, and boxes.

"Clothes are the first thing," said she. "And this way, you are
pretty sure to pick up everything." Everything _was_ picked up, from
Mrs. Marchbanks's jewel-case and her silk dresses, to Mr. Marchbanks's
shaving brushes, and the children's socks that they had had pulled off
last night.

Elijah carried them all off, and piled them up in Mrs. Hobart's great
clean laundry-room to await orders. The men hailed him as he went and
came, to do this, or fetch that. "I'm doing _one_ thing," he answered.
"You keep to yourn."

"They're comin'," he said, as he returned after his third trip. "The
bells are ringin', an' they're a swarmin' up the hill,--two ingines,
an' a ruck o' boys an' men. Melindy, she's keepin' the laundry door
locked, an' a lettin' on me in."

Mrs. Marchbanks came hurrying back before the crowd. Some common,
ecstatic little boys, rushing foremost to the fire, hustled her on her
own lawn. She could hardly believe even yet in this inevitable
irruption of the Great Uninvited.

Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks and Maud met her and came in with her. Mr.
Marchbanks and Arthur had hastened round to the rear, where the other
gentlemen were still hard at work.

"Now," said Mrs. Hobart, as lightly and cheerily as if it had been the
putting together of a Christmas pudding, and she were ready for the
citron or the raisins,--"now--all that beautiful china!"

She had been here at one great, general party, and remembered the
china, although her party-call, like all her others, had been a
failure. Mrs. Marchbanks received a good many people in a grand,
occasional, wholesale civility, to whom she would not sacrifice any
fraction of her private hours.

Mrs. Hobart found her way by instinct to the china-closet,--the
china-room, more properly speaking. Mrs. Marchbanks rather followed
than led.

The shelves, laden with costly pottery, reached from floor to ceiling.
The polish and the colors flashed already in the fierce light of the
closely neighboring flames. Great drifts and clouds of smoke against
the windows were urging in and stifling the air. The first rush of
water from the engines beat against the walls.

"We must work awful quick now," said Mrs. Hobart. "But keep cool. We
ain't afire yet."

She gave Mrs. Marchbanks her own keys, which she had brought down
stairs. That lady opened her safe and took out her silver, which
Arthur Marchbanks and James Hobart received from her and carried away.

Mrs. Hobart herself went up the step-ladder that stood there before
the shelves, and began to hand down piles of plates, and heavy single
pieces. "Keep folks out, Elijah," she ordered to her man.

We all helped. There were a good many of us by this time,--Olivia, and
Adelaide, and the servant-girls released from below, besides the other
Marchbankses, and the Hobarts, and people who came in, until Elijah
stopped them. He shut the heavy walnut doors that led from
drawing-room and library to the hall, and turned the great keys in
their polished locks. Then he stood by the garden entrance in the
sheltered side-angle, through which we passed with our burdens, and
defended that against invasion. There was now such an absolute order
among ourselves that the moral force of it repressed the excitement
without that might else have rushed in and overborne us.

"You jest keep back; it's all right here," Elijah would say,
deliberately and authoritatively, holding the door against unlicensed
comers; and boys and men stood back as they might have done outside
the shine and splendor and privilege of an entertainment.

It lasted till we got well through; till we had gone, one by one, down
the field, across to our house, the short way, back and forth, leaving
the china, pile after pile, safe in our cellar-kitchen.

Meanwhile, without our thinking of it, Barbara had been locked out
upon the stairs. Mother had found a tall Fayal clothes-basket, and had
collected in it, carefully, little pictures and precious things that
could be easily moved, and might be as easily lost or destroyed.
Barbara mounted guard over this, watching for a right person to whom
to deliver it.

Standing there, like Casabianca, rough men rushed by her to get up to
the roof. The hall was filling with a crowd, mostly of the curious,
untrustworthy sort, for the work just then lay elsewhere.

So Barbara held by, only drawing back with the basket, into an angle
of the wide landing. Nobody must seize it heedlessly; things were only
laid in lightly, for careful handling. In it were children s
photographs, taken in days that they had grown away from; little
treasures of art and remembrance, picked up in foreign travel, or
gifts of friends; all sorts of priceless odds and ends that people
have about a house, never thinking what would become of them in a
night like this. So Barbara stood by.

Suddenly somebody, just come, and springing in at the open door, heard
his name.

"Harry! Help me with this!" And Harry Goldthwaite pushed aside two men
at the foot of the staircase, lifted up a small boy and swung him over
the baluster, and ran up to the landing.

"Take hold of it with me," said Barbara, hurriedly. "It is valuable.
We must carry it ourselves. Don't let anybody touch it. Over to Mrs.

"Hendee!" called out Harry to Mark Hendee, who appeared below. "Keep
those people off, will you? Make way!" And so they two took the big
basket steadily by the ears, and went away with it together. The first
we knew about it was when, on their way back, they came down upon our
line of march toward Elijah's door.

Beyond this, there was no order to chronicle. So far, it seems longer
in the telling than it did in the doing. We had to work "awful quick,"
as Mrs. Hobart said. But the nice and hazardous work was all done.
Even the press that held the table-napery was emptied to the last
napkin, and all was safe.

Now the hall doors were thrown open; wagons were driven up to the
entrances, and loaded with everything that came first, as things are
ordinarily "saved" at a fire. These were taken over to Mrs. Lewis
Marchbanks's. Books and pictures, furniture, bedding, carpets;
quantities were carried away, and quantities were piled up on the
lawn. The men-servants came and looked after these; they had done all
they could elsewhere; they left the work to the firemen now, and there
was little hope of saving the house. The window-frames were smoking,
and the panes were cracking with the heat, and fire was running along
the piazza roofs before we left the building. The water was giving

After that we had to stand and see it burn. The wells and cisterns
were dry, and the engines stood helpless.

The stable roofs fell in with a crash, and the flames reared up as
from a great red crater and whirlpool of fire. They lashed forth and
seized upon charred walls and timbers that were ready, without their
touch, to spring into live combustion. The whole southwest front of
the mansion was overswept with almost instant sheets of fire. Fire
poured in at the casements; through the wide, airy halls; up and into
the rooms where we had stood a little while before; where, a little
before that, the children had been safe asleep in their nursery beds.

Mrs. Marchbanks, like any other burnt-out woman, had gone to the home
that offered to her,--her sister-in-law's; Olivia and Adelaide were
going to the Haddens; the children were at Mrs. Hobart's; the things
that, in their rich and beautiful arrangement, had made _home_, as
well as enshrined the Marchbanks family in their sacredness of
elegance, were only miscellaneous "loads" now, transported and
discharged in haste, or heaped up confusedly to await removal. And the
sleek servants, to whom, doubtless, it had seemed that their Rome
could never fall, were suddenly, as much as any common Bridgets and
Patricks, "out of a place."

Not that there would be any permanent difference; it was only the
story and attitude of a night. The power was still behind; the
"Tailor" would sew things over again directly. Mrs. Roger Marchbanks
would be comparatively composed and in order, at Mrs. Lewis's,
in a few days,--receiving her friends, who would hurry to make
"fire-calls," as they would to make party or engagement or other
special occasion visits; the cordons would be stretched again; not one
of the crowd of people who went freely in and out of her burning rooms
that night, and worked hardest, saving her library and her pictures
and her carpets, would come up in cool blood and ring her door-bell
now; the sanctity and the dignity would be as unprofanable as ever.

It was about four in the morning--the fire still burning--when Mrs.
Holabird went round upon the out-skirts of the groups of lookers-on,
to find and gather together her own flock. Rosamond and Ruth stood in
a safe corner with the Haddens. Where was Barbara?

Down against the close trunks of a cluster of linden-trees had been
thrown cushions and carpets and some bundles of heavy curtains, and
the like. Coming up behind, Mrs. Holabird saw, sitting upon this heap,
two persons. She knew Barbara's hat, with its white gull's breast; but
somebody had wrapped her up in a great crimson table-cover, with a
bullion fringe. Somebody was Harry Goldthwaite, sitting there beside
her; Barbara, with only her head visible, was behaving, out here in
this unconventional place and time, with a tranquillity and composure
which of late had been apparently impossible to her in parlors.


"What will Mrs. Marchbanks do with Mrs. Hobart after this, I wonder?"
Mrs. Holabird heard Harry say.

"She'll give her a sort of brevet," replied Barbara. "For gallant and
meritorious services. It will be, 'Our friend Mrs. Hobart; a near
neighbor of ours; she was with us all that terrible night of the fire,
you know.' It will be a great honor; but it won't be a full

Harry laughed.

"Queer things happen when you are with us," said Barbara. "First,
there was the whirlwind, last year,--and now the fire."

"After the whirlwind and the fire--" said Harry.

"I wasn't thinking of the Old Testament," interrupted Barbara.

"Came a still, small voice," persisted Harry. "If I'm wicked, Barbara,
I can't help it. You put it into my head."

"I don't see any wickedness," answered Barbara, quickly. "That was the
voice of the Lord. I suppose it is always coming."

"Then, Barbara--"

Then Mrs. Holabird walked away again.

The next day--_that_ day, after our eleven o'clock breakfast--Harry
came back, and was at Westover all day long.

Barbara got up into mother's room at evening, alone with her. She
brought a cricket, and came and sat down beside her, and put her cheek
upon her knee.

"Mother," she said, softly, "I don't see but you'll have to get me
ready, and let me go."

"My dear child! When? What do you mean?"

"Right off. Harry is under orders, you know. And they may hardly
ever be so nice again. And--if we _are_ going through the world
together--mightn't we as well begin to go?"

"Why, Barbara, you take my breath away! But then you always do! What
is it?"

"It's the Katahdin, fitting out at New York to join the European
squadron. Commander Shapleigh is a great friend of Harry's; his wife
and daughter are in New York, going out, by Southampton steamer, when
the frigate leaves, to meet him there. They would take me, he says;
and--that's what Harry wants, mother. There'll be a little while
first,--as much, perhaps, as we should ever have."

"Barbara, my darling! But you've nothing ready!"

"No, I suppose not. I never do have. Everything is an emergency with
me; but I always emerge! I can get things in London," she added.
"Everybody does."

The end of it was that Mrs. Holabird had to catch her breath again, as
mothers do; and that Barbara is getting ready to be married just as
she does everything else.

Rose has some nice things--laid away, new; she always has; and mother
has unsuspected treasures; and we all had new silk dresses for
Leslie's wedding, and Ruth had a bright idea about that.

"I'm as tall as either of you, now," she said; "and we girls are all
of a size, as near as can be, mother and all; and we'll just wear the
dresses once more, you see, and then put them right into Barbara's
trunk. They'll be all the bonnier and luckier for her, I know. We can
get others any time."

We laughed at her at first; but we came round afterward to think that
it was a good plan. Rosamond's silk was a lovely violet, and Ruth's
was blue; Barbara's own was pearly gray; we were glad, now, that no
two of us had dressed alike. The violet and the gray had been chosen
because of our having worn quiet black-and-white all summer for
grandfather. We had never worn crape; or what is called "deep"
mourning. "You shall never do that," said mother, "till the deep
mourning comes. Then you will choose for yourselves."

We have had more time than we expected. There has been some beautiful
delay or other about machinery,--the Katahdin's, that is; and
Commander Shapleigh has been ever so kind. Harry has been back and
forth to New York two or three times. Once he took Stephen with him;
Steve stayed at Uncle John's; but he was down at the yard, and on
board ships, and got acquainted with some midshipmen; and he has quite
made up his mind to try to get in at the Naval Academy as soon as he
is old enough, and to be a navy officer himself.

We are comfortable at home; not hurried after all. We are determined
not to be; last days are too precious,

"Don't let's be all taken up with 'things,'" says Barbara. "I can
_buy_ 'things' any time. But now,--I want you!"

Aunt Roderick's present helped wonderfully. It was magnanimous of her;
it was coals of fire. We should have believed she was inspired,--or
possessed,--but that Ruth went down to Boston with her.

There came home, in a box, two days after, from Jordan and Marsh's,
the loveliest "suit," all made and finished, of brown poplin. To think
of Aunt Roderick's getting anything _made_, at an "establishment"! But
Ruth says she put her principles into her unpickable pocket, and just
took her porte-monnaie in her hand.

Bracelets and pocket-handkerchiefs have come from New York; all the
"girls" here in Westover have given presents of ornaments, or little
things to wear; they know there is no housekeeping to provide for.
Barbara says her trousseau "flies together"; she just has to sit and
look at it.

She has begged that old garnet and white silk, though, at last, from
mother. Ruth saw her fold it up and put it, the very first thing, into
the bottom of her new trunk. She patted it down gently, and gave it a
little stroke, just as she pats and strokes mother herself sometimes.

"_All_ new things are only dreary," she says. "I must have some of the

"I should just like to know one thing,--if I might," said Rosamond,
deferentially, after we had begun to go to bed one evening. She was
sitting in her white night-dress, on the box-sofa, with her shoe
in her hand. "I should just like to know what made you behave so
beforehand, Barbara?"

"I was in a buzz," said Barbara. "And it _was_ beforehand. I suppose I
knew it was coming,--like a thunderstorm."

"You came pretty near securing that it _shouldn't_ come," said
Rosamond, "after all."

"I couldn't help that; it wasn't my part of the affair."

"You might have just kept quiet, as you were before," said Rose.

"Wait and see," said Barbara, concisely. "People shouldn't come
bringing things in their hands. It's just like going down stairs to
get these presents. The very minute I see a corner of one of those
white paper parcels, don't I begin to look every way, and say all
sorts of things in a hurry? Wouldn't I like to turn my back and run
off if I could? Why don't they put them under the sofa, or behind the
door, I wonder?"

"After all--" began Rosamond, still with the questioning inflection.

"After all--" said Barbara, "there was the fire. That, luckily, was
something else!"

"Does there always have to be a fire?" asked Ruth, laughing.

"Wait and see," repeated Barbara. "Perhaps you'll have an earthquake."

We have time for talks. We take up every little chink of time to have
each other in. We want each other in all sorts of ways; we never
wanted each other so, or _had_ each other so, before.

Delia Waite is here, and there is some needful stitching going on; but
the minutes are alongside the stitches, they are not eaten up; there
are minutes everywhere. We have got a great deal of life into a little
while; and--we have finished up our Home Story, to the very present

* * * * *

Who finishes it? Who tells it?

Well,--"the kettle began it." Mrs. Peerybingle--pretty much--finished
it. That is, the story began itself, then Ruth discovered that it was
beginning, and began, first, to put it down. Then Ruth grew busy, and
she wouldn't always have told quite enough of the Ruthy part; and Mrs.
Holabird got hold of it, as she gets hold of everything, and she would
not let it suffer a "solution of continuity." Then, partly, she
observed; and partly we told tales, and recollected and reminded; and
partly, here and there, we rushed in,--especially I, Barbara,--and did
little bits ourselves; and so it came to be a "Song o' Sixpence," and
at least four Holabirds were "singing in the pie."

Do you think it is--sarcastically--a "pretty dish to set before the
king"? Have we shown up our friends and neighbors too plainly? There
is one comfort; nobody knows exactly where "Z----" is; and there are
friends and neighbors everywhere.

I am sure nobody can complain, if I don't. This last part--the
Barbarous part--is a continual breach of confidence. I have a great
mind, now, not to respect anything myself; not even that cadet button,
made into a pin, which Ruth wears so shyly. To be sure, Mrs. Hautayne
has one too; she and Ruth are the only two girls whom Dakie Thayne
considers _worth_ a button; but Leslie is an old, old friend; older
than Dakie in years, so that it could never have been like Ruth with
her; and she never was a bit shy about it either. Besides--

Well, you cannot have any more than there is. The story is told as far
as we--or anybody--has gone. You must let the world go round the sun
again, a time or two; everything has not come to pass yet--even with
"We Girls."


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