Authors: Jeanne Birdsall
“Fun? No.” Mr. Penderwick took off his jacket and threw it onto a chair—just what he was always telling his daughters not to do. “It seems that I have another date.”
“So you liked her, Daddy?” asked Jane.
He looked at her with suspicion. “Liked whom?”
ever you have the date with, of course,” said Skye, stepping hard on Jane’s foot. “Which is who, by the way?”
“Anna’s skating coach,” said Rosalind. “Named Lara.”
“My goodness!” Skye tried to look amazed. “Who would have thought of her?”
Mr. Penderwick took his jacket from the chair, then threw it down again. “Yes, who would have thought of the skating coach? Certainly not I. We were casually chatting as I was waiting for Anna, who was heaven knows where, when this Lara mentioned how much she liked classical music, and I agreed. Then she told me she had tickets for Bach this Thursday, and I politely said that she was lucky to have them, and then she asked me to go with her, and I, pathetic soul that I am, couldn’t figure out how to refuse.”
“But you truly do like classical music,” said Rosalind.
“Yes, but I truly don’t understand how this woman knew enough about me even to ask. Anna couldn’t have said anything—no, no, no, never mind. What a distrustful old father I’ve become.”
“No, Daddy, you’re not,” said Skye.
“Old or distrustful?” He managed a smile.
If guilt had a color—say, purple—the Penderwick sisters would have turned so purple that it dripped off them and spread its way through the house, turning everything purple, upstairs and down. It was a terrible moment, and when everyone gathered in Rosalind’s room a little later, they agreed that they had never loved their father more.
“And yet we torment him,” said Skye.
“Should we stop?” asked Jane, for whom “torment” was almost as bad a word as “torture.”
“We must have the courage to follow the Save-Daddy Plan,” insisted Rosalind. “It’s for his own good. It really is.”
“I have courage, Rosalind,” said Batty. “But I hate that lady with the rabbit coat and boots.”
Batty started to cry, for she did love rabbits so, and some of her sisters felt like crying, too, because they felt like low, unworthy daughters, and then they all slunk away, each to be alone with her misery.
Funty and the Bug Man
ATTY HAD FINALLY DISCOVERED
how to fit all her stuffed animals into the red wagon. Sedgewick the horse had to be upside down, and Funty the blue elephant had to sit on Ursula the bear’s lap, but Batty figured they didn’t mind—a trip to the backyard in a wagon is always better than being stuck inside on the bed, even if you aren’t comfortable.
Of course, getting the wagon and all the animals to the backyard meant many trips up and down the steps, for everyone had to go back up to Batty’s room again each evening—none of them would have gotten a good night’s sleep without Batty nearby—and since Hound had to go up and down the steps with her each time, naturally there was a lot of noise made in the process, especially when Hound let go of his side of the wagon, and it clattered down the last six steps.
And, of course, lots of noise can make it difficult for people to do their Latin homework. But still, why would people frown and call other people the noisiest little sister who had ever lived and hurt their feelings very much?
Batty didn’t know why. Her Rosalind, that most patient of older sisters, had never done it before. Even after Batty settled the animals in the wagon and pulled it to the other side of the yard, away from the kitchen window—Rosalind was working on her homework in the kitchen—and wiped away some tears, she still couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it had something to do with Daddy’s date with the horrible skating lady.
“That date is tonight,” she told Hound. “But I’m not mad at you about it. Promise you’ll never be mad at me because of dates, okay?”
As Hound never got angry at Batty for any reason, this was an easy promise to make. But he went further than that, licking away the last of her tears and butting her stomach with his big head until she laughed. When she’d laughed, she felt better and looked around for something to do. While she was looking around, she heard a voice coming from beyond the forsythia hedge.
“Duck,” said the voice. It was that baby Ben, and he was in his backyard.
“Say ‘Mommy.’” And Iantha was with him.
“Say ‘I am a bubba bubba boy.’”
Batty was pleased. All the spying she’d done on the new neighbors’ yard, and they’d never actually been there. Here was a chance to spy on real people rather than grass and trees.
She whispered to Hound, “We’re secret agents now.”
They tiptoed to the forsythia border and lowered themselves quietly to the ground. Through the bottom branches of the bushes they could see the feet of the neighbors: little baby feet in red sneakers, zigzagging tipsily around the yard, and grown-up lady feet in white sneakers, following behind.
“Duck, duck, duck!” Ben was calling happily, his feet zigging and zagging even faster.
“Oh, Mr. Silliness,” laughed his mother, and kept on chasing.
Batty thought that Iantha had a nice voice and an even nicer laugh. It was hard to tell about Ben’s voice, since he only kept saying “duck.”
Now the little red sneakers stumbled, and suddenly there was an entire Ben in view. Batty pulled herself and Hound back a bit, but before the baby could notice them his mother had scooped him off the ground.
“Oh, dear, are you hurt, my Ben, my pumpkin, my lumpkin, darling Ben?”
Batty caught her breath. Yes, it was a truly extranice voice.
“My pumpkin, my lumpkin, darling Batty,” she whispered to herself.
Ben, not hurt at all, was soon wriggling out of his mother’s arms, and then all the feet disappeared and the voices stopped, and Batty knew that they’d gone back into their house.
“My pumpkin, my lumpkin,
Batty.” This time she made her voice lower, so that it would sound more like Iantha’s voice. She must have done it well, because Hound nuzzled her joyfully, and then she pounced on him, and they wrestled around the yard until they knocked the red wagon over and all the animals tumbled out. And then there was putting them back in, which was fun, and altogether, it was turning out to be an okay afternoon, even if Rosalind had scolded her for being noisy.
Then the afternoon got even better, for Jane arrived.
She told Batty, “I need your help.”
Batty slipped the last animal—Mona the turtle—into the wagon and stood straight and tall. No one ever asked her for help. “I can help you.”
“I’m writing—I mean, actually, Skye is writing—a play called
Sisters and Sacrifice,
and I thought you could act out the parts with me. Just so I can see how it reads, so that we can tell Skye.”
Batty knew about plays. Rosalind and Tommy had been in one about a man who became evil when he drank a magic potion—Batty remembered this because she’d refused to drink anything but water for a week afterward. But she was much older now, and knew the difference between plays and real life. She liked the idea of being in one. “Can I wear a costume?”
“You don’t need a costume. It’s just a read-through.”
But Batty had been impressed with the fake black beard Tommy had worn in his play, and refused to go any further without a costume, and she was sure that Hound wanted one, too. So Jane went back into the house and came out again with towels she’d taken from the bathroom.
Jane draped towels on her own and Batty’s heads—saying they were ceremonial wigs—and plopped a third onto Hound’s head. Hound, not in the mood for a ceremonial wig, dashed around the yard until the towel fell off and he could rip it to shreds. By then Jane had started reading from the script.
Long ago in the land of the Aztecs, there was great worry. The rain had not come for many months, and without the rain, the maize didn’t grow, and without the maize, the people starved.
Okay, Batty, you’re one of the chorus now. Say:
Alas, alas, alas, my people are starving.
“Alas, alas, alas, my people are starving.”
“Too many ‘alas’es.” Jane made a note in her notebook, then read on.
“So the powerful priests knew that the gods must be angry with the people.
Now you say:
Alas, alas, the gods are angry.”
“Alas, alas, the gods are angry.”
“There was only one thing that would soothe the gods’ anger.”
Jane struck a dramatic pose.
said Batty, striking the same pose. This was even better than secret agents.
“Good!” said Jane. “Now you’re going to be a different character, named Rainbow. Your sister, Grass Flower, has been chosen to be sacrificed to the gods, but you’re too nice to let that happen, and besides, the man you love happens to love Grass Flower instead, which breaks your heart, and you don’t want to live anymore. So you say:
Sister, because Coyote loves you more, I will take your place in the ceremony.
Sister, because Coyote
—I forget the rest.”
“Loves you more, I will take your place in the ceremony.”
“The ceremony where the maidens’ hearts get cut out.” Jane put down her notebook. “I wish you could read.”
“I can read. I read
Little Brown Bear Won’t Take a Nap!
to Rosalind last night.”
“You memorized that. It’s not the same thing. How about if I just read both parts and you tell me if you like it. Rainbow speaks first.” Jane folded her arms across her chest and looked noble.
“Sister, because Coyote loves you more, I will take your place in the ceremony.”
Hound bounded up, the last shreds of towel dangling from his mouth.
“Look, Hound,” said Batty. “Jane is acting.”
Jane turned to face in the opposite direction. “Okay, now I’m Grass Flower.
Rainbow, I cannot let you give your life for me.
Now I’m Rainbow again, shedding a quiet tear.”
“You mean you’re crying?”
“Yes, quietly. And I say:
What good is my life, now that I know Coyote loves you, Grass Flower?
Hound barked. Apparently he didn’t approve of Coyote letting two sisters fall in love with him at once.
“There’s lots more,” said Jane. “But how do you like it so far?”
“I’ve been thinking about the sacrifice scene. Of course I can’t have the priest carve out any maidens’ hearts for real, but I thought I could have them behind a sheet so that all the audience can see are scary-looking shadows, then afterward the priest could jump out from behind the sheet holding the heart dripping with blood while he did a ritual dance.”
Jane picked a leaf off the oak tree to represent a dripping heart, and did a convincing ritual dance full of writhing and stomping. Batty and Hound joined in and added much to the terror of the scene.
“The priests will cut out the hearts of only the unimportant maidens,” said Jane when she had to take a rest from stomping. “I can’t—I mean, Skye can’t let Rainbow get sacrificed, since she’s the heroine of the play. I’m sure that Coyote will try to rescue her, but Grass Flower will cling to his arm, begging him not to risk his own life. So I thought of lightning. Maybe a big bolt of it could break the altar in half right before Rainbow’s heart is cut out.”
“Lightning!” Batty gave one last writhe, then fell dead to the ground, struck by lightning.
“Yes, of course! The priests could be killed by the lightning, too. Brilliant!” Jane started scribbling on the script and soon had a gone-away look on her face that Batty had seen a hundred times before. She leapt up and stomped a few more times, but halfheartedly, for Jane didn’t notice and indeed was soon wandering back toward the house, muttering about lightning.
Batty turned to Hound. “I wish we could be in a play, don’t you?”
Hound dragged the towel from her head and chewed a big hole in one corner. He was willing to be in a play only if he didn’t have to wear a costume.
“Well, then, what do you want to do now?” Batty peeked through the forsythia, but Iantha and Ben had not reappeared, so being secret agents again was out. She thought, then turned back to Hound. “We could go on a date.”
Going on a date was a new game for Batty and Hound, and Batty threw herself into the preparations. She tucked in her shirt and wiped the dirt from her knees, for she was to be her father, and he wouldn’t go on a date looking like a slob. Then she tried to wrap the towel around Hound’s shoulders, for he was to be the awful skating coach in her rabbit coat. But Hound would rather eat the towel than wear it, so Batty decided that Funty would be the awful skating coach.
“And you can drive the car,” she told Hound.
The red wagon would be the car. Batty took out all the animals but Funty and lined them up carefully along the forsythia hedge. Using the remains of one of the towels, she tied Hound’s collar to the wagon handle, climbed into the wagon next to Funty, and made loud and enthusiastic engine noises, which Hound rightly interpreted to mean that he should start pulling the wagon.
He discovered that pulling the wagon was more fun than standing still. Then he discovered that pulling it faster was even more fun, and that the faster he pulled, the more fun he had, until he was dashing wildly around the backyard, the wagon careening behind him, with Batty screeching for him to stop and Funty hanging on for dear life.
Soon Hound was going so fast that the backyard was too small for him, and—“STOP, HOUND, PLEASE STOP!”—there they all went, flying around the garage and toward Gardam Street, and Batty in her panic saw that a green car was coming. When at the last moment Hound screeched to a halt, the wagon turned over and Batty tumbled safely onto the grass. But in a flash she was up and running, for poor Funty had tumbled out, too, and had kept rolling, and there he went, rolling into the street, and Batty was screaming, and Hound was barking—
Then there came the sound of squealing tires, and Batty saw—oh, what joy!—the green car stopping inches from Funty. She raced out to scoop him up and tell him he was her dearest and that she promised to take better care of him for ever and ever, and when she was sure that Funty was over his terrible shock, she knew that she had to thank the driver of the car.
If anything was scarier than Funty almost getting run over, it was having to thank a stranger. However, motherhood gave Batty courage, and she marched bravely around to the driver’s window. But when she got there, her courage deserted her, for the driver was not just a stranger. He was an extra-strange stranger, and Batty ran back into the house without speaking to him. She didn’t stop running until she was upstairs and telling Jane all about it.
“Extra-strange how?” asked Jane.
“He wore a hat pulled way down and also these big black sunglasses.”
Jane made circles with her fingers and held them up to her eyes. “Big like this?”
“No, much bigger.” The man’s glasses had reminded Batty of something. Then she remembered—it was a drawing of a giant fly she’d seen in one of Rosalind’s schoolbooks. “Big like a bug’s eyes. Jane, maybe they weren’t glasses at all! Maybe he was a Bug Man!”
“I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing.”