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Authors: Jeanne Birdsall

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BOOK: The Penderwicks in Spring
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“Sorry,” she said.

And then it happened—her sprite tried to sing. Batty clapped her hand over her mouth and hoped Ben hadn’t noticed.

He’d noticed. “What was that sound?”

“What sound?” is what Batty said, except that it sounded like
whu sohn
because her hand was still over her mouth.

“That sound you just made.”

“Maybe your stomach was growling.”

He stared at her suspiciously. His stomach hadn’t growled. “There it goes again!”

“Maybe it’s
my
stomach!”

She started to push him toward the door, but he resisted. “If it’s your stomach, why is your hand over your mouth?”

She took away her hand but kept her teeth clenched, just in case, and tried again to get him out of the room.

“Stop pushing me. I have to give you a message from Skye.”

Batty’s sprite disappeared, and Batty stopped shoving her brother.

“What message?”

“I’ll tell you, but you can’t cry.”

“Just tell me.”

“Jeffrey’s not coming this weekend.”

She sat down on her bed with a
thwump.
“Why?”

“Skye said he couldn’t because he wants to be her boyfriend and she doesn’t want to be his girlfriend.”

Batty was horrified. They’d already been through all this. A few years earlier Jeffrey had decided that Skye should be his girlfriend, and she told him he was an idiot. Then he fell for a girl named Margot at his school in Boston who turned out to actually be an idiot, obsessed with clothes and money, which Jeffrey finally realized, then came to his senses and swore he was done with romance and would now turn his life completely over to music. He’d even asked Mr. Penderwick for a Latin motto that would express just that.
Musica anima mea est.
“Music is my life.” So why was he starting up with love again? Was he turning into a boringly normal teenager?

“This is a disaster,” she said.

“Don’t cry.”

“Stop telling me not to cry. I’m not, anyway.” Or just a tiny little bit, because of the shock.

“But Skye said Jeffrey could come for her birthday, so he won’t disappear forever like Tommy did,” said Ben. “Okay, that’s all, so I’ll go now. And don’t push me out!”

Wiping her eyes, Batty realized that she shouldn’t have pushed him, singing sprite or no singing sprite. She didn’t like it when her older sisters tried to get rid of her.

“I’m sorry I did that,” she said.

But Ben had already left the room, head held high.

At one end of Gardam Street, halfway round a cul-de-sac, was the path into a forty-acre slice of paradise called Quigley Woods, a wild realm of trees, rocks, and water, and a favorite refuge for all the Penderwicks. Batty hadn’t yet gone there this spring—so not since Hound’s death—but she went now, needing to be alone and think.

Winter had more of a hold here than on the lawns of Gardam Street. Patches of snow stubbornly lingered in the shadows, far too many for Batty to stomp away. She broke into a run to warm herself up, racing under the still-barren trees. After a dip in the path and just before a low, crumbling stone wall, she turned off onto a path that led down to her favorite spot in the woods, chosen long ago with Hound. She had picked it for the ancient willow tree, both huge and graceful, and Hound, for the creek that ran under the willow’s vast canopy, where he could splash in the shallows while still keeping a watchful eye on Batty. But when she reached the willow, she found it already occupied by a male cardinal, furious with this human galumphing into his home.

“Please stay,” she said. “I’ve come to visit, that’s all.”

But the bird flew off, a red and unforgiving blur. Abandoned, Batty looked up through the bare willow branches to the soft blue sky. Maybe she shouldn’t have come here yet. Not until she’d stopped missing Hound so terribly.

She sat down and leaned against the willow, glad for its familiar support, and tossed a stick into the creek. Her dad had once told her that Hound wouldn’t want Batty to mourn for long, that he’d loved her too much to want her miserable. She asked her dad how he could be certain, and he said that years ago someone had told him that very thing, before she died.
“My mother, you mean,”
Batty said, and he answered yes.

It hadn’t helped.

She wondered what Hound would have made of this singing business. He hadn’t been a particularly musical dog, showing no preference for Mozart or Motown, Beyoncé or Beethoven, if he’d ever even noticed the difference. Jeffrey had called him the perfect audience, since he would wag his tail for anything Batty played on the piano, even deliberate discord. She tried to picture him there in front of her, already wet from his first dip in the creek, his tongue hanging out with excitement, his brown eyes warm with love.

“I wish I hadn’t let you die.” She said it to the creek and the trees and the sky and the bird that had flown away, so there came no answer. Never an answer.

She had so been looking forward to seeing Jeffrey, to singing for him. Oh, now she was about to cry
again. Except—except that Hound had never wasted time feeling sorry for himself, and Batty shouldn’t, either.

She watched the creek, the sun glancing off the water, and listened to its gentle plashing.

Maybe this wasn’t a disaster with Skye and Jeffrey. If Skye had said he could come in two weeks for her birthday, she must be counting on the boyfriendgirlfriend stuff to blow over pretty quickly. And since Skye’s birthday was eight days before Batty’s, there would still be time for Jeffrey to help plan the Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert.

“I’ll just have to wait a little longer,” she said. “I can do that.”

And while she waited, she could start learning about this voice Mrs. Grunfeld had discovered. After all,
Musica anima mea est
was Batty’s motto, too.

She stood up, planting her feet firmly on the ground, sheltered under her willow tree. What was it that Mrs. Grunfeld had said?
“Open yourself to the music.”
All right. Two deep breaths.

Batty started to sing.

S
EVEN
,
NINE
,
MAYBE TEN SONGS LATER
—Batty had lost count—she was wandering back through Quigley Woods, stunned with joy. It had come to her, this happiness, during the third song, “Here Comes the Sun,” when for just one instant she’d heard her voice as if it belonged to someone else. A voice that soared out across the creek and up through the willow branches, so rich and glorious it lured back the red cardinal, astonished by this phenomenon, a human who sang as beautifully as a bird.

It wasn’t that Batty hadn’t believed Mrs. Grunfeld about her voice. While the orchid in the daisy field had seemed like an exaggeration, Batty had understood that she could sing well. But this was different. Mrs. Grunfeld hadn’t exaggerated. This voice—the one Batty had heard there in the woods—was indeed
an orchid, and a great gift, one that she would need to take care of. No belting, for example.

What a lucky girl she was!

Close to the edge of the woods now, she stepped off the path to sit on a fallen log. There were practical considerations to explore before she broke back into the real world of Gardam Street. Like the training Mrs. Grunfeld had mentioned. Yes, Batty wanted singing lessons—she was certain of that now. And she wanted them from the person who had brought on this magic—Mrs. Grunfeld.

But lessons cost money. Batty knew that she could go to her parents for the money—tell them about Mrs. Grunfeld, then sing for them—and that they would figure out a way to pay for the lessons. But that would mean giving up the surprise of the Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert, and Batty didn’t want to do that, now less than ever. Besides, she was too proud to ask for more money, not with the new car and her sisters’ college fees, not to mention the
immoderatae
grocery bills. For a moment, Batty considered giving up her piano lessons, exchanging one kind of lesson for another, but no, she couldn’t do that. The piano was too important to her, voice or no voice.

She would have to earn the money for voice lessons on her own. Which meant launching her Penderwick Willing to Work business not when she became a teenager, not when she’d grown out of her shyness, but now, immediately.

She got up and leapt back onto the path and
headed home. First, she had to apologize properly to Ben for being so rude to him—she was too happy to have anyone angry with her. Then she’d get started on PWTW. Maybe she’d ask Ben to help with the details. He loved coming up with ideas, and as long as Rafael wasn’t there to encourage the wackier parts of his imagination, sometimes the ideas were decent.

When she burst into the house, Iantha called out from the living room. “Is that you, Battikins?”

Batty smoothed down her hair in an attempt to look less exuberant, and went in. Iantha was sitting cross-legged on the floor, using pins to mark the hem of the dress Jane was wearing, one that Jane had made herself. It was cotton, sprigged with tiny yellow and orange flowers, not particularly stylish but individual, a dress that an author might wear.

“Yes, it’s me,” Batty answered. “You look nice in that dress, Jane.”

“Thank you. I even designed it, believe it or not,” said Jane. “Wow, you look really happy. What’s happened?”

“Nothing.” Batty tried looking less happy. This voice secret was going to be difficult to keep.

“Turn, Jane,” said Iantha, and stuck a few more pins into Jane’s hem. “Batty, you do know that Jeffrey’s not coming, right?”

“Ben told me. I’m very upset.” She tried to look like it.

“But you look happy.” Jane was looking at her with what their father called her “writer’s gimlet eye.”

Batty pinched her own leg to make her face look unhappy. If Jane decided that Batty’s emotions would make for good research, she’d be relentless in trying to figure out what they were.

“Jane, turn,” said Iantha. “And stop trying to make Batty look not happy. Happy is good. And Jeffrey and Skye will work it out somehow.”

“They have to, don’t they?” said Jane. “Skye can’t banish someone who belongs to all of us.”

“Right, and turn again. Batty, do you want to come car-shopping? We’re leaving soon.”

“No, thanks. I have—things to do.” She started out of the room. “Do you know where Ben is?”

“Outside digging up rocks.”

Batty went through the house, picking up a pad of paper and a pen as she went, and out the back door, where she found Ben attacking a new spot. He’d already dug up three interesting rocks, making himself filthy once again.

“I’m sorry about before,” she told him.

“I know it was you making that noise,” he said. “And it wasn’t your stomach.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t regular humming, like you usually do. It was like a fire engine siren. And then you pushed me.”

“I was very rude, and I’m
sorry.
Good grief, Ben, please stop being mad.”

He picked up one of his rocks and inspected it carefully. “I guess I could.”

“You could? Because I have something to tell you.”
Batty waited—he seemed to be listening. “I have to figure out how to make money.”

Ben wasn’t sure how he felt about this. If Batty started making money, he and Lydia would be the only non-earners in the family. This was not a way he wanted to be linked with Lydia.

“Why? Are you going to help pay for the new car?”

“No, I need money for music stuff.” She hoped he wouldn’t ask what kind of music stuff, but he was still thinking about the car.

“Maybe you could pay for a tire.” Ben thought it would be fun to own one of the tires on the new car. He could paint his name on the side. BEN BEN BEN BEN, rolling around and around.

“Not even for a tire.”

“Oh. Well,
how
are you going to make money?”

“I’ll have a business called Penderwick Willing to Work.”

“But what kind of work?”

This was the problem, she told him, figuring out what work an almost eleven-year-old could do. Batty wished she was learning work skills at school, instead of clouds and exponents. Fixing shoes, for example, might not be a bad job. And she wouldn’t have to talk to strangers, except when they brought her the shoes. Even then, she wouldn’t have to look at their faces—just their feet.

But Ben, as she’d hoped, wanted to help, and Batty put the pen and paper to use. Across the top she
wrote
PWTW (Penderwick Willing to Work)
and then two ideas that had come to her as she ran home. She was proud of them—
Light Cleaning (Dusting, etc.)
and
Light Lawn Work (Weeding)
—but knew they were only a weak beginning.

“It’s going to be a neighborhood odd-jobs business,” she said, “and this is all I’ve got so far. I can’t do carpentry or plumbing. I’m not sure I even know how to weed. But I can’t have an entire business based on dusting.”

“Nick and Tommy used to cut lawns,” said Ben. “When Nick comes home, he could teach you how.”

“There’s no point, since I’m too young to use the lawn mower.” The family rule was that you had to be twelve. Less chance of losing toes that way.

“Well, then, maybe when Tommy’s home for the summer, you could follow along behind him and pick up the grass he’s cut.” Ben pictured bonding with Tommy over hard labor, having long discussions about basketball and Nick. He could do it if Batty didn’t want to.

BOOK: The Penderwicks in Spring
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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