The penderwicks a summer.., p.1
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A Boy at the Window
FOR A LONG TIME AFTER THAT SUMMER, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye.
Who knew which was right? But it was true that the beach house they usually rented had been sold at the last minute, and the Penderwicks were suddenly without summer plans. Mr. Penderwick called everywhere, but Cape Cod was booked solid, and his daughters were starting to think they would be spending their whole vacation at home in Cameron, Massachusetts. Not that they didn't love Cameron, but what is summer without a trip to somewhere special? Then, out of the blue, Mr. Penderwick heard through a friend of a friend about a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains. It had plenty of bedrooms and a big fenced-in pen for a dog—perfect for big, black, clumsy, lovable Hound Penderwick—and it was available to be rented for three weeks in August. Mr. Penderwick snatched it up, sight unseen.
He didn't know what he was getting us into, Batty would say. Rosalind always said, It's too bad Mommy never saw Arundel—she would have loved the gardens. And Jane would say, There are much better gardens in heaven. And Mommy will never have to bump into Mrs. Tifton in heaven, Skye added to make her sisters laugh. And laugh they would, and the talk would move on to other things, until the next time someone remembered Arundel.
But all that is in the future. When our story begins, Batty is still only four years old. Rosalind is twelve, Skye eleven, and Jane ten. They're in their car with Mr. Penderwick and Hound. The family is on the way to Arundel and, unfortunately, they're lost.
“It's Batty's fault,” said Skye.
“It is not,” said Batty.
“Of course it is,” said Skye. “We wouldn't be lost if Hound hadn't eaten the map, and Hound wouldn't have eaten the map if you hadn't hidden your sandwich in it.”
“Maybe it's fate that Hound ate the map. Maybe we'll discover something wonderful while we're lost,” said Jane.
“We'll discover that when I'm in the backseat for too long with my younger sisters, I go insane and murder them,” said Skye.
“Steady, troops,” said Mr. Penderwick. “Rosalind, how about a game?”
“Let's do I Went to the Zoo and I Saw,” said Rosalind. “I went to the zoo and I saw an anteater. Jane?”
“I went to the zoo and I saw an anteater and a buffalo,” said Jane.
Batty was between Jane and Skye, so it was her turn next. “I went to the zoo and I saw an anteater, a buffalo, and a cangaroo.”
“Kangaroo starts with a k, not a c,” said Skye.
“It does not. It starts with a c, like cat,” said Batty.
“Just take your turn, Skye,” said Rosalind.
“There's no point in playing if we don't do it right.”
Rosalind, who was sitting in the front seat with Mr. Penderwick, turned around and gave Skye her oldest-sister glare. It wouldn't do much, Rosalind knew. After all, Skye was only one year younger than she was. But it might quiet her long enough for Rosalind to concentrate on where they were going. They really were badly lost. This trip should have taken an hour and a half, and already they'd been on the road for three. Rosalind looked over at her father in the driver's seat. His glasses were slipping down his nose and he was humming his favorite Beethoven symphony, the one about spring. Rosalind knew this meant he was thinking about plants—he was a professor of botany—instead of about his driving.
“Daddy,” she said, “what do you remember about the map?”
“We're supposed to go past a little town called Framley, then make a few turns and look for number eleven Stafford Street.”
“Didn't we see Framley a while ago? And look,” she said, pointing out the window. “We've been past those cows before.”
“Good eyes, Rosy,” he said. “But weren't we going in the other direction last time? Maybe this way will do the trick.”
“No, because all we saw along here were more cow fields, remember?”
“Oh, yes.” Mr. Penderwick stopped the car, turned it around, and went back the other way.
“We need to find someone who can give us directions,” said Rosalind.
“We need to find a helicopter that can airlift us out of here,” said Skye. “And keep your stupid wings to yourself!” She was talking to Batty, who, as always, was wearing her beloved orange-and-black butterfly wings.
“They're not stupid,” said Batty.
“Woof,” said Hound from his place among the boxes and suitcases in the very back of the car. He took Batty's side in every discussion.
“Lost and weary, the brave explorers and their faithful beast argued among themselves. Only Sabrina Starr remained calm,” said Jane. Sabrina Starr was the heroine of books that Jane wrote. She rescued things. In the first book, it was a cricket. Then came Sabrina Starr Rescues a Baby Sparrow, Sabrina Starr Rescues a Turtle, and, most recently, Sabrina Starr Rescues a Groundhog. Rosalind knew that Jane was looking for ideas on what Sabrina should rescue next. Skye had suggested a man-eating crocodile, who would devour the heroine and put an end to the series, but the rest of the family had shouted her down. They enjoyed Jane's books.
There was a loud oomph in the backseat. Rosalind glanced around to make sure violence hadn't broken out, but it was only Batty struggling with her car seat—she was trying to twist herself backward to see Hound. Jane was jotting in her favorite blue notebook. So they were both all right. But Skye was blowing out her cheeks and imitating a fish, which meant she was even more bored than Rosalind had feared. They'd better find this cottage soon.
Then Rosalind spotted the truck pulled over by the si
Mr. Penderwick pulled over and Rosalind got out of the car. She now saw that the truck had TOMATOES painted in large letters on each of its doors. Next to the truck was a wooden table piled high with fat red tomatoes and, behind the table, an old man wearing worn blue jeans and a green shirt with HARRY'S TOMATOES embroidered across the pocket.
“Tomatoes?” he asked.
“Ask if they're magic tomatoes,” Rosalind heard. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Skye hauling Jane back in through the car window.
“My younger sisters,” said Rosalind apologetically to the old man.
“Had six of 'em myself.”
Rosalind tried to imagine having six younger sisters, but she kept coming up with each of her sisters turned into twins. She shuddered and said, “Your tomatoes look delicious, but what I really need is directions. We're looking for number eleven Stafford Street.”
“I don't know about any Arundel. We're supposed to be renting a cottage at that address.”
“That's Arundel, Mrs. Tifton's place. Beautiful woman. Snooty as all get-out, too.”
“You'll be fine. There are a couple of nice surprises over there. You're going to have to keep that blond one under control, though,” he said, nodding toward the car, where Skye and Jane were now leaning out of the window together, listening. Muffled complaints could be heard from Batty, who was being squashed.
“Why me?” called Skye.
The man winked at Rosalind. “I can always spot the troublemakers. I was one myself. Now, tell your dad to go down this road a little ways, take the first left, then a quick right, and look for number eleven.”
“Thank you,” said Rosalind, and turned to go.
“Hold on a minute.” He plopped a half-dozen tomatoes into a paper bag. “Take these.”
“Oh, I can't,” said Rosalind.
“Sure you can. Tell your dad they're a present from Harry.” He handed Rosalind the bag. “And one last thing, young lady. You and your sisters better stay clear of Mrs. Tifton's gardens. She's touchy about those gardens. Enjoy the tomatoes!”
Rosalind got back into the car with her bag of tomatoes. “Did you hear him?”
“Straight, then left, then right, then look for number eleven,” said Mr. Penderwick, starting up the car.
“What's this Arundel he was talking about?” said Skye.
“And who's Mrs. Tifton?” said Jane.
“Hound needs to go to the bathroom,” said Batty.
“Soon, honey,” said Rosalind. “Daddy, here—go left.”
A few moments later, they were turning onto Stafford Street, and then suddenly Mr. Penderwick stopped the car in the middle of the road and everyone stared in amazement. What had the family expected from a rental cottage? A cozy little tumbledown house with a few pots of geraniums in the front yard. Even Harry the Tomato Man's news hadn't changed that. If anyone had thought about it at all, they had figured snooty Mrs. Tifton lived in a cottage next to theirs and grew vegetables in carefully guarded garden plots.
That's not what they saw. What they saw were two tall, elegant stone pillars, with NUMBER ELEVEN carved across one and ARUNDEL across the other. Beyond the pillars was a lane winding off into the distance, with double rows of tall poplars on either side. And past the poplars was a beautifully tended lawn dotted with graceful trees. There was no house in sight.
“Holy bananas,” said Skye.
“Cottages don't have front yards like this,” said Rosalind. “Daddy, are you sure you remembered the right address?”
“Pretty sure,” said Mr. Penderwick.
He turned the car and started slowly down the lane, which wandered on and on, until the Penderwicks thought they would never reach the end. But finally there was one last curve, the poplar trees ended, and Rosalind's fears were realized. “Daddy, that's not a cottage.”
“No, I agree. That's a mansion.”
And so it was, a huge mansion crouching in the middle of formal gardens. Built from gray stone, it was covered with towers, balconies, terraces, and turrets that jutted every which way. And the gardens! There were fountains and flowering hedges and marble statues, and that was just in the part the Penderwicks could see from the lane.
“The exhausted travelers saw before them a dwelling fit for kings. Cair Paravel! El Dorado! Camelot!” said Jane.
“Too bad we're not kings,” said Skye.
“We're still lost,” said Rosalind, discouraged.
“Buck up, Rosy,” said Mr. Penderwick. “Here comes someone we can ask.”
A tall teenage boy pushing a wheelbarrow had appeared from behind a large statue of Cupid and Venus. Mr. Penderwick rolled down his car window, but before he could call out to the boy, a familiar gagging noise came from the very back of the car.
“Hound's going to barf!” shrieked Batty.
The sisters knew the drill. In a flash they flew out and around to the back of the car and dragged poor Hound over to the side of the lane. He threw up on Jane's sneakers.
“Oh, Hound, how could you?” moaned Jane, looking down at her yellow high-tops, but Hound had already wandered off to inspect a bush.
“This isn't as bad as the time he ate pizza out of the garbage can,” said Skye.
Batty crouched down to inspect the mess. “There's the map,” she said, pointing.
“Don't touch it!” Rosalind exclaimed. “And, Jane, stop shaking your sneakers. You're splashing it around. Stand still, everyone, until I get back.” She ran over to the car for paper towels.
The teenager with the wheelbarrow had come over to the driveway, and Mr. Penderwick had gotten out of the car and was talking to him. “I see there's some Linnaea borealis here along the drive. Odd place for it. But I'm particularly interested in Cypripedium arietinum, if you know of any good places to hunt for it. It likes swampy land, some shade….”
Rosalind ducked her head into the back of the car and rooted around among the luggage. Her father was talking in Latin about plants, which meant he was happy. She hoped he remembered to ask the boy about directions, too. He looked nice, that boy. Eighteen or maybe nineteen years old, with light brown hair sticking out from under a Red Sox baseball cap. Rosalind peered around the car and sneaked a look at the boy's hands. Her best friend, Anna, always said that you could tell a lot about people from their hands. The boy was wearing gardening gloves.
The paper towels were behind Mr. Penderwick's computer and under a soccer ball. Rosalind grabbed a bunch and rushed back to her sisters. Jane and Skye were piling leaves on top of Hound's barf.
“Remember when he ate that lemon cream pie off the Geigers' picnic table? He really puked that time,” said Skye.
“What about when he stole a whole meat loaf out of the refrigerator? He was sick for two days,” said Jane.
“Shh,” said Rosalind, wiping Jane's sneakers clean. Mr. Penderwick and that boy were walking over.
“Girls, this is Cagney,” said Mr. Penderwick.
“Hi,” said Cagney, with a big smile. He slipped off his gloves and stuck them in his jeans pocket. Rosalind looked hard at his hands, but they were just regular old hands to her. She wished Anna were there.
“Cagney, these four are my pride and joy. The one with blond hair is my second daughter, Skye—”
“Blue Skye, blue eyes,” said Skye, opening wide her blue eyes to demonstrate.
“That's how you can remember which one she is,” said Jane. “Blue eyes and straight blond hair. The rest of us have identical brown eyes and dark curly hair. People get me and Rosalind mixed up all the time.”
“They do not. I'm much taller than you are,” said Rosalind, painfully aware that not only was she holding vomity paper towels, she was wearing her shirt with Wildwood Elementary School across the front. Why had she worn it? She didn't want people to think she was still in elementary school. She was going to start seventh grade in September.
“Yes, well, the tall one is Rosalind, my oldest, the short one is Jane, and—” Mr. Penderwick looked around him.
“Over there,” said Jane, pointing to the orange -and-black wings sticking out from behind a tree.
“And that's Batty, the shy one. Now, troops, good news. This is the right place after all. Cagney's the gardener here at Arundel Hall—that's what this mansion is called—and he's been expecting us. Our cottage is at the back of the estate grounds.”
“It used to be the guest cottage for the main house,” said Cagney. “Back in the days when General and Mrs. Framley were alive. It's quieter here now with Mrs. Tifton in charge.”
“Mrs. Tifton!” exclaimed Jane, and would have said more if Rosalind had not dug an elbow into her ribs.
“Okay, girls, let's be off,” said Mr. Penderwick. “And Cagney, let's have that talk about the native flora sometime soon.”
“Yes, I'd like that,” said Cagney. “Now, to get to the cottage, take the driveway up there on the left, and follow it past the carriage house and into the formal gardens. You'll see the sunken garden to your left and the Greek pavilion to the right, and then you'll drive through the boundary hedge. The cottage is a few hundred more yards along. It's yellow. You can't miss it. And the key is under the mat.”
Rosalind rounded up Batty, Skye fetched Hound, and soon everyone was in the car ready to go, except for Jane. She was standing in the driveway, staring up at Arundel Hall.
Rosalind leaned out the window. “Jane, come on.”
Jane reluctantly turned away from the mansion. “I thought I saw a boy in that window up there. He was looking down at us.”
Skye leaned across Batty, flattening her, and looked out Jane's window. “Where?”
“Up there,” said Jane, pointing. “Top row, on the right.”
“No one's there,” said Skye.
“Get off me,” said Batty.
Skye settled back into her own seat. “You imagined him, Jane.”
“Maybe. I don't think so,” said Jane. “But whether I did or not, he's given me a good idea.”