CHAPTER ONE: Rosalind Bakes a Cake
Four years and four months later
Rosalind was happy. Not the kind of passionate, thrilling happy that can quickly turn into disappointment, but the calm happy that comes when life is steadily going along just the way it should. Three weeks earlier she’d started seventh grade at the middle school, which was turning out not to be as overwhelming as rumored, mostly because she and her best friend, Anna, shared all the same classes. And it was late September, and the leaves were on the verge of bursting into wild colors—Rosalind adored autumn. And it was a Friday afternoon, and although school was all right, who doesn’t like weekends better?
On top of all that, Aunt Claire was coming to visit for the weekend. Beloved Aunt Claire, whose only flaw was that she lived two hours away from the Penderwicks’ home in Cameron, Massachusetts. But she tried to make up for it by visiting often, and now she was arriving this evening. Rosalind had so many things to tell her, mostly about the family’s summer vacation, three wonderful weeks at a place called Arundel in the Berkshires. There had been many adventures with a boy named Jeffrey, and for a while Rosalind had thought that she might be in love with another boy—an older one—named Cagney, but that had come to nothing. Now Rosalind was determined to stay away from love and its confusions for many years, but still she wanted to talk it all over with her aunt.
There was lots to get done before Aunt Claire arrived—clean sheets on the bed, clean towels in the bathroom, and Rosalind wanted to bake a cake—but first she had to pick up her little sister Batty at Goldie’s Day Care. She did so every day on the walk home from school, and even that was part of her happiness. For this was the first year her father had given her the responsibility for her sisters after school and until he came home. Before now, there had always been a babysitter, one or another of the beautiful Bosna sisters, who lived down the street from the Penderwicks. And though the Bosnas had been good babysitters as well as beautiful, Rosalind considered herself much too old now—twelve years and eight months—for a babysitter.
The walk from Cameron Middle School to Goldie’s took ten minutes, and Rosalind was on her last minute now. She could see on the corner ahead of her the gray clapboard house, with its wide porch full of toys. And now she could see—she picked up her pace—a small girl alone on the steps. She had dark curls and was wearing a red sweater, and Rosalind ran the last several yards, scolding as she went.
“Batty, you’re supposed to stay inside until I get here,” she said. “You know that’s the rule.”
Batty threw her arms around Rosalind. “It’s okay, because Goldie’s watching me through the window.”
Rosalind looked up, and it was true. Goldie was at the window, waving and smiling. “Even so, I want you to stay inside from now on.”
“All right. But—” Batty held up a finger swathed in Band-Aids. “I just was dying to show you this. I cut myself during crafts.”
Rosalind caught up the finger and kissed it. “Did it hurt terribly?”
“Yes,” said Batty proudly. “I bled all over the clay and the other kids screamed.”
“That sounds exciting.” Rosalind helped Batty into her little blue backpack. “Now let’s go home and get ready for Aunt Claire.”
Most days the two sisters would linger on their walk home from Goldie’s—at the sassafras tree, with leaves shaped like mittens, and at the storm drain that flooded just the right amount when it rained, so you could splash through without getting water in your boots. Then there was the spotted dog who barked furiously but only wanted to be petted, and the cracks in the sidewalk that Batty had to jump over, and the brown house with flower gardens all around, and the telephone poles that sometimes had posters about missing cats and dogs. Batty always studied these carefully, wondering why people didn’t take better care of their pets.
But today, because of Aunt Claire’s visit, they hurried along, stopping only for Batty to move to safety a worm that had unwisely strayed onto the sidewalk, and soon they were turning the corner onto Gardam Street, where they lived. It was a quiet street, with only five houses on each side, and a cul-de-sac at the end. The Penderwick sisters had always lived there, and they knew and loved every inch of it, from one end to the other. Even when Rosalind was in a hurry, like today, she noted with satisfaction the tall maples that marched along the street—one in every front yard—and the rambling houses that were not so young anymore, but still comfortable and well cared for. And there was always someone waving hello. Today it was Mr. Corkhill, mowing his lawn, and Mrs. Geiger, driving by with a car full of groceries—and then Rosalind stopped waving back, for Batty had broken into a run.
“Come on, Rosalind!” cried Batty over her shoulder. “I hear him!”
This, too, was part of their everyday routine. Hound, the Penderwicks’ dog, always knew when Batty was almost home, and set up such a clamor he could be heard all up and down Gardam Street. So now both sisters were running, and in a moment, Rosalind was unlocking their front door, and Hound was throwing himself at Batty as though she’d been away for centuries instead of just the day.
Rosalind dragged Hound back into the house, with Batty dancing alongside in an ecstasy of reunion. Down the hall they all went, through the living room and into the kitchen—where Rosalind opened the back door and shoved the joyful tangle of child and dog into the backyard. She shut the door behind them and leaned against it to catch her breath. Soon Batty would need her afternoon snack, but for now Rosalind had a moment to herself. She could start on the cake, which she’d decided should be a pineapple upside-down one.
Humming happily, she took the family cookbook from its shelf. It had been a wedding gift to her parents, and was full of her mother’s penciled notes. Rosalind knew all the notes by heart, and even had her favorites, like the one next to candied sweet potatoes—An insult to potatoes everywhere. There was no note next to pineapple upside-down cake. Maybe if it was a great success, Rosalind would add her own. She did that sometimes.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall. Copyright © 2008 by Jeanne Birdsall. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.