A Boy at the Window
Excerpted from The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall Copyright © 2005 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.
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 side of the road. "Stop, Daddy! Maybe we can get directions."
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.
From the Hardcover edition.