A DEAR LITTLE GIRL'S THANKSGIVING HOLIDAYS
The "Dear Little Girl" Series
A Dear Little Girl A Dear Little Girl at School A Dear Little Girl's Summer Holidays A Dear Little Girl's Thanksgiving Holidays
A DEAR LITTLE GIRL'S THANKSGIVING HOLIDAYS
Amy E. Blanchard
WHITMAN PUBLISHING CO. Racine, Wisconsin
Copyright 1912 by George W. Jacobs & Co.
Printed in 1924 by Western Printing & Lithographing Co. Racine, Wis.
Printed in U. S. A.
I THE INVITATION 9
II RELIANCE 30
III WHERE'S THE KEY? 50
IV A HEARTY DINNER 71
V THE RED BOOK 93
VI THE OLD HOUSE 113
VII THE MILL STREAM 134
VIII JETTY'S PARTY 154
IX THE ELDERFLOWERS 174
X WHAT BEN DID 196
XI FAREWELLS 215
XII HOW ARE YOU? 234
A DEAR LITTLE GIRL'S THANKSGIVING HOLIDAYS
"Any news, mother?" asked Edna one Friday afternoon when she came home from school.
"There's a letter from grandma," replied Mrs. Conway after kissing the lips held up to hers. "There isn't any real news in it, but there is an invitation."
"What kind of an invitation?"
"A Thanksgiving kind."
"Oh, mother, what do you mean?"
"I mean that grandma wants us all to spend an old-fashioned Thanksgiving with her; the kind she used to have when she was young. She says she and grandpa are both getting old and they may not be able to have the whole family there together again."
"And are we going?"
"Yes, I think so."
"The whole family?"
"I think perhaps you and I will go on a day or two ahead and let the others follow. Celia and the boys can come with your father, who probably could not get off till Wednesday afternoon. Grandma asks that I bring my baby with me."
"And that means me," returned Edna, hugging herself. "How long shall we stay, mother?"
"That depends upon several things which will have to be learned later, so I can't tell just yet."
Edna danced off to hunt up her brothers that she might tell them the news. She found them in their little workshop over the stable. Charlie was making a new box to put in his pigeon house and Frank was watching him. They had not seen their little sister since Monday for she and her sister Celia went to school in the city, remaining until the Friday afternoon of each week.
"Hello!" cried Charlie, looking up. "When did you come?"
"Oh, we've just come, only a few minutes ago, and what do you think is the news?"
"The Dutch have taken Holland," returned Charlie, hammering away at his box. "Just hand me that box of nails, Frank, won't you?"
"That's a silly answer," said Edna with contempt.
"Well, if it's news, how did you expect me to know it?"
"I didn't expect you to know it, only to guess."
"Well, I guessed," replied Charlie teasingly. "I suppose it's a foolish sort of thing; Uncle Justus has grown another hair in his eyebrows or your friend Dorothy has a new hat."
"It's nothing so unimportant," Edna continued; "for it concerns you boys, too, but if you don't want to know I'll go up to Dorothy's; she'll be interested even if she isn't going."
"Going? Where?" cried both boys.
"That's for me to know and for you to find out," retorted Edna, beginning to scramble down the ladder. Both boys darted after; Charlie swung himself down ahead of her to the floor below and was ready to grab her before she reached the last rung. Then there was much laughing, scrambling, tickling and protesting till at last Edna was compelled to give up her secret, ending triumphantly with: "And I'm going first with mother."
"Who said so?" questioned Charlie.
"Mother did. We are to go two or three days ahead of anyone else."
"Oh, well, I don't care," returned Charlie. "There wouldn't be any boys for me to play with anyhow."
"How many are coming for Thanksgiving?" asked Frank.
"I don't know exactly," Edna answered, "but I suppose all the aunts and cousins and uncles that can get there. Aunt Lucia and Uncle Bert and of course Aunt Alice and her boys, Ben and his brother. Ben will have to go, and I'm awfully glad; he's my favoritest cousin."
"How about Louis?"
"He is not any relation to grandma and grandpa Willis, is he?"
"I don't know; I never could get relations straight. I hope he isn't any kin to them and I am sorry he is to us, for he is a pill. You know he is, no matter what you say. Just look how he acted last summer. You needn't try to excuse him, for Dorothy told me all about it."
Edna could not deny facts, for it was quite true that her cousin Louis was not above blame in sundry instances, so she changed the subject by saying, "I think I'll go over to Dorothy's anyhow."
The boys did not try to detain her and she ran out along the road and up to the old-fashioned house where her friend Dorothy Evans lived. Dorothy was playing with her kitten out on the side porch. She had dressed the little creature in long clothes and was walking up and down singing to it as it lay contentedly in her arms, it's two gray paws sticking out from the sleeves of a little red sacque belonging to one of Dorothy's dolls.
"Doesn't Tiddlywinks look funny?" said Dorothy by way of greeting. "And isn't he good? I believe he likes to be dressed up, for he lies as still as anything. Of course, if he fussed and meowed, I would take off the things and let him go."
Edna touched the soft silvery paws gently. "I believe he does like it," she returned. "See, he shuts his eyes exactly as if he felt nice and cozy. Oh, Dorothy, guess what! We are all going to grandpa Willis's next week. We are all going for Thanksgiving, only mother and I are going first. Isn't that lovely?"
"Lovely for you, I suppose," replied Dorothy dejectedly, "but I shall miss you dreadfully."
"Oh, no, you won't, when you have Margaret and Nettie so near. Besides I shall not be gone long, not more than a week."
"Are there any girls there?" asked Dorothy, a little jealously.
"Not like us. There is a little girl, mother says, that grandma has taken in to help her and Amanda; Amanda is the woman who lives there and cooks and churns and does all sorts of things."
"Is it in the real country?"
"It is real country and yet it isn't, for it is a village. Grandpa has a farm, but just across the street is a store and the church is only a few steps away, and there are lots of neighbors; some have big places and some have little ones. Grandpa's isn't as big as the biggest nor as little as the littlest."
"Does he keep horses and cows and chickens and things?"
"Oh, my, yes, and ducks and turkeys and sheep."
"I should think it would be a pretty nice sort of place."
"It is lovely and I am always crazy about going there."
"But please don't stay too long this time," urged Dorothy.
"I'll have to stay till mother brings me back," returned Edna cheerfully. "I wish there were another kitten, Dorothy, so I could have a live doll, too."
"You might take the mother cat," Dorothy suggested; "she is very gentle and nice."
They went in search of Tiddlywinks' mother, but Madam Pittypat objected to being made a baby of, for, though she was gentle enough, she squirmed and twisted herself out of every garment they tried upon her, and, at the first opportunity, walked off in a most dignified manner, as though she would say: "Such a way to treat the mother of a family!"
So the two little girls concluded that they would free Tiddlywinks and turn him again into a kitten. They left him stretching himself and yawning lazily, as they trudged off to see their friend, Margaret McDonald, that they might tell her Edna's news.
The days sped by quickly until Tuesday came, when Edna and her mother were to start on their journey. Edna at first decided to take her doll Ada "because she is more used to traveling," she said, but at the last moment she changed her mind saying that Ada had been on so many journeys that she thought someone else should have a chance and, therefore, it was her new doll, Virginia, who was dressed for the trip. The previous year Edna had spent Thanksgiving Day with her Uncle Justus; this year it would be quite a different thing to sit at table with a whole company of cousins instead of dining alone with Uncle Justus.
It was a journey of three hours before the station of Mayville was reached, then a drive of four miles to Overlea lay before them. But there was grandpa himself waiting to help them off the train, to see that their trunks were safely stowed into the big farm wagon, and at last to tuck them snugly into the carriage which was to bear them to the white house set in behind a stately row of maples. These had lost their leaves, but a crimson oak still showed its red against the sky, and the vines clambering up the porch waved out scarlet banners to welcome the guests.
Grandma Willis was standing on the porch to greet them as they drew up before the door. Behind her stood Amanda and behind Amanda a little girl about twelve or thirteen. Behind the little girl trailed a cat and three kittens. At the sight of these Edna gave a squeal of delight. "New kittens, grandma? How lovely! I'm so glad," she cried.
Grandma smiled. "Well, give me a good hug and kiss first and then Reliance can let you take one of the kittens to hug."
"Who is Reliance? Is that what you call the mother-cat?"
"No, her name is Tippy. Reliance is the little girl who, we hope, is going to carry out the promise of her name."
Edna did not understand this latter speech but she smiled encouragingly at Reliance who smiled back at her. Then after the huggings and kissings were given to Mrs. Willis, Reliance picked up one of the kittens and held it out to Edna who cuddled it up to her and followed the others into the house.
It was a big old-fashioned place where the Willis family had lived for many generations. In the large living-room was a huge fireplace in which now a roaring fire crackled and leaped high. There was a small seat close to it and on this Edna settled herself.
"Here, here, aren't you going to stay a while?" cried grandpa who had given over the carriage into the hands of Ira, the hired man, and who had just come in.
"Why, of course we are going to stay," replied Edna.
"Then why don't you take off your things? Mother, isn't there any place they can lay their bonnets and coats? It seems to me there should be a bed or cupboard somewhere."
"Now, father," protested Mrs. Willis, "you know this house is big enough to hold the hats and coats of the entire family."
"Didn't know but you were house-cleaning and had every place turned upside down."
"Now, father," Mrs. Willis continued, "you know we've been days getting the house cleaned and that everything is in apple-pie order for Thanksgiving."
Grandpa gave Mrs. Conway a sly wink. "You'd think it ought to be in apple-pie order," he said, "by the way they have been tearing up the place. Couldn't find my papers, my sticks, my umbrella or anything when I wanted them. I am glad you all have come so you can help me hunt for them."
"Why, father, how you do go on," Mrs. Willis interposed. The old gentleman laughed. He was a great tease, as Edna well knew.
"Where shall we go to lay off our things, mother?" asked Mrs. Conway.
"Up to your own old room over the dining-room. Here, Reliance, take the kitten and you, Edna, can come along with your mother."
"There's no need for you to go up, mother," said Mrs. Conway. "I have been there before, you know, and I think I can find the way." Then the two smiled wisely at one another.
But grandma would go and presently Edna found herself in a large room which looked out upon the west. Mrs. Conway stood still and gazed around her. "How natural it all seems," she said, "even to the pictures upon the walls. I went from this room a bride, Edna, and when I come back to it I feel not a day older. This is the same furniture, but this is a new carpet, mother, and new curtains, and the little cot you have put in for Edna, I suppose."
"Yes, there are some things that will not last a lifetime," answered Mrs. Willis, "and we must furbish up once in a while. I thought you would rather have Edna here with you than elsewhere, and at such a crowded time we have to stow away as we can. I have put another cot in my room for one of the other children and Celia is to go in with Becky."
While they were talking Ira brought up the trunks and Mrs. Conway commenced the task of unpacking, so very soon they were settled and ready for dinner, which was served in the big dining-room where was another open fireplace not quite so large as the first, but ample enough. Reliance waited upon the table and helped to clear away the dishes afterward.
"When you are through with your tasks, Reliance, you can take Edna out and show her the chickens and pigs and things," said grandma.
"Reliance is quite a recent addition to the family, isn't she?" said Mrs. Conway when the little maid went out.
"Yes," Mrs. Willis replied. "Amanda isn't as young as she was and we thought it would be a good thing to have someone here who could save her steps and who could be trained to take her place after a while. I think Reliance promises to be very capable in time."
While her mother talked to the grandparents, Edna walked softly around the room looking at the different things, the pictures, books and ornaments. There was a high mantel upon which stood a pair of Dresden vases and two quaint little figures. In the middle was a china house with a red door and vines over the windows. Edna had always admired it and was glad to see it still there. She stood looking at it for a long time. She liked to have her grandmother tell her its history. "That was brought to me by my grandfather when he returned from England," Mrs. Willis always said. "I was a little girl about six years old. Later he brought me those two China figures. He was a naval officer and that is his portrait you see hanging on the wall."
"I love the little house," remarked Edna, knowing that the next word would be: "You may play with it if you are very careful. It is one of my oldest treasures and I should be very grieved if it were broken."
The little house was then handed down and Edna examined it carefully. "It is so very pretty," she said, "that I should like to live in it. I would like to live in a house with a bright red door."
"I used to think that same thing when I was a little girl," her grandmother told her.
"I think maybe you'd better put it back so I won't break it," said Edna, carefully handing the treasure to her grandmother, "and then will you please tell me about the pictures?"
"The one over the mantel is called 'The Signing of the Declaration of Independence,' and that small framed affair by the chimney is a key to it, for it tells the names of the different men who figure in the picture."
"I will look at it some day and see if I can find out which is which," said Edna. "That is Napoleon Bonaparte over there; I know him."
"Yes; and that other is General Washington, whom, of course, you know."
"Oh, yes, of course; and I know that little girl, the black head over there; it is my great-great-grandmother."
"The silhouette, you mean? Yes, that is she, and she is the same one who did that sampler you see hanging between the windows. She was not so old as you when she did it."
Edna crossed the room and knelt on a chair in front of the sampler. It was dim with age, but she could discern a border of pink flowers with green leaves and letters worked in blue silk. She followed the letters with the tip of her finger, tracing them on the glass and at last spelling out the name of "Annabel Lisle, wrought in her seventh year."
"Poor little Annabel, how hard she must have worked," sighed Edna. "I am glad I don't have to do samplers."
"You might be worse employed," said her grandmother, smiling.
"Did you ever do a sampler?" asked Edna.
"Not a sampler like this one, but I learned to work in cross stitch. Do you remember the little stool in the living-room by the fireplace?"
"The one with roses on it that I was sitting on?"
"Yes; that I did when I was about your age, and the sofa pillow with the two doves on it I did when I was about Celia's age. I was very proud of it, I remember."
"May I go look at them?"
So Edna went into the next room and carefully examined the two pieces of work which now had a new importance in her eyes. A little girl about her age had done them long ago. She discovered, too, a queer-looking picture behind the door. It was of a lady leaning against an urn, a weeping-willow tree near by. The lady held a handkerchief in her hand and looked very sorrowful. Edna wondered why she seemed so sad. There were some words written below but they were too faint for her to decipher, and she determined to ask her grandmother about this picture which she had never noticed before. While she was still looking at it, Reliance came to the door to say, "I can go now; I've finished what I had to do." Edna turned with alacrity and the two went out together.
"How long have you lived here?" Edna asked her companion when they were outside.
"About six months," was the reply.
"Are you 'dopted?" came the next question.
"No, I'm bound."
Edna looked puzzled. "I don't know what that is. I know a girl that was a Friendless and she was 'dopted so now she has a mother and a beautiful home. Her name used to be Maggie Horn, but now it is Margaret McDonald. Is your name Reliance Willis?"
"No, it is Reliance Fairman, and it wasn't ever anything else. I was friendless, too, till Mrs. Willis took me."
"Oh, and did you live in a house with a lot of other Friendlesses?"
"No, I wasn't in an orphan asylum, if that's what you mean, but I reckon I would have had to go there or else to the almshouse."
"Oh!" This seemed even more dreadful to Edna and she looked at her companion with new interest, at the same time slipping her hand into the other's to show her sympathy. "Tell me about it," she said.
"Why, you see, my parents died. We lived about three miles from here, and your grandmother used to know my grandmother; they went to the same school, so when us children were left without any home or any money your grandmother said she would take me and keep me till I was of age, so they bound me."
"How many children were there?"
"Three boys and me. Two of the boys are with Mr. Lukens and the other is in a home; he is a little chap, only six. If he'd been bigger maybe your grandfather would have had him here, and perhaps he will come when he is big enough to be of any use."
"I think that would be very nice and I shall ask grandfather to be sure to take him. Do you like it here?"
"Oh, yes, I like it. Amanda is awful pernickity sometimes, but I just love your grandmother and it is a heap sight better than being hungry and cold."
"Would you have to stay supposing you didn't like it?" Edna was determined to get all the particulars.
"I suppose so; I'd have to stay till I was eighteen; I'm bound to do that."
Edna reflected. "I suppose that is what it means by being bound; you are just bound to stay. I wonder if anyone else was ever named Reliance," she went on, being much interested to hear something about so peculiar a name.
"My grandmother was, her that your grandmother knew."
"Oh, was she? Then you are named after your grandmother just as my sister Celia is named Cecelia after hers. Yours is a funny name, isn't it? I don't mean funny exactly, for I think it is quite pretty, but I never knew of anyone named that."
"I don't mind it when I get it all, but when my brothers called me Li I didn't like it. Your grandmother gives me the whole name, and I am glad she does; but she said they generally used to call my grandmother Lyley when she was a little girl."
"I think that is rather pretty, too, don't you?"
"Yes, but I like the whole name better."
"Then I will always call you by the whole name," Edna assured her. "Can you tell stories, Reliance?"
"Do you mean fibs or reading stories like—let's see—Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk?"
"Oh, I mean the Cinderella kind; I'd hate to think you told fibs."
"I can tell 'em, but I guess I don't care to. I know two or three of the other kind and Bible stories, some of them: Eli and Samuel, and David and Goliath, and all those."
"Do you go to school?"
"Half the year, but I guess I won't be going very much longer. I'll soon be going on fourteen; I'll stop when I'm fifteen."
"Oh, shall you? Then what will you do?"
"I'll learn to housekeep and cook, and to sew and all that. Mrs. Willis says it is more important for me to be educated in the useful things, that I'll get along better if I am, and I guess she is right. My mother couldn't cook worth a cent and she just hated it, so we didn't get very good vittles."
"Was it your mother's mother after whom you were named?"
"No, my father's mother. The Fairmans lived around here, but there ain't many of them left now. My father was an only child, and he married my mother out of town; she hadn't ever been used to the country. She used to work in a store and that's why she couldn't cook, you see."
Edna pondered over this information, wondering if everyone who worked in a store must necessarily turn out a poor cook.
"You ought just to see what's getting ready for Thanksgiving," said Reliance, changing the subject, "I never seen such a pile of stuff. It fair makes my mouth water to think of it; pies and cakes and doughnuts and jellies and I don't know what all. I guess there's as many as twenty or thirty coming, ain't there?"
"Let me see; I shall have to count. There will be Aunt Alice and her two boys, Ben and Willis, and Uncle Bert Willis with his five children and Aunt Lucia; that makes ten, and then there will be all of us, papa and mamma and us four children; that makes—let me see—" she counted hurriedly on her fingers. "How many did I say, Reliance? Ten? Oh, yes, and six make sixteen. Then there are the greats; great Aunt Emmeline and her brother, Wilbur Merrifield, and his daughter, Cousin Becky. Sixteen did I say? and three make nineteen. Oh, yes, Cousin Becky's sweetheart that she is going to marry soon; he is coming and he will make it just twenty. Counting grandpa and grandma there will be twenty-two, and counting you and Amanda there will be twenty-four to eat the goodies."
"You didn't count the two men, Ira and Jim," said Reliance; "they will eat here, too."
"Oh, yes, I forgot them. What a crowd, twenty-six people. If they cut a pie in six pieces it would take over four to go around once, wouldn't it?"
"I suppose we would be allowed a second piece on Thanksgiving Day," remarked Reliance, "though maybe with the other things no one would want it."
"How many kinds of pie will there be?" asked Edna.
"Three at least. I heard Amanda say that she would make the fillings to-day for pumpkin, lemon and apple; she has the crust all done. She has made the jelly, too; it's to be served with whipped cream. Your grandma was talking about having plum pudding, but Amanda said she didn't see the sense of having it when it wasn't Christmas, and there would be such lots of other things, all the nuts and apples and such things. There is going to be chicken pie, besides the turkeys and the oysters."
"Dear me," sighed Edna, "I am afraid I shall eat a great deal and be very uncomfortable. I was last year for a little while because I ate two Thanksgiving dinners. What did you do last year, Reliance?"
Reliance looked very sober. "We didn't have much of a Thanksgiving last year, for it was just before my mother died and she was ill then, so us children just had to get along the best we could. Somebody sent us in a pie and some jelly for mother and that is about all we had to be thankful for. I suppose it was much better than nothing. We ate all the pie at one meal. Billy said we might as well for it wouldn't last two days anyhow unless we had little bits of pieces, so each of us had a whole quarter. Billy tried to trap a rabbit or shoot a squirrel or something, but he hadn't enough shot and the rabbits didn't trap."
Secretly Edna was rather glad to hear this, even though it meant that the Fairmans went without meat for dinner. She walked along pondering over these facts and wondering which were to be preferred. She could not tell whether to be glad the squirrels and rabbits had escaped or to be sorry that the Fairmans could not have had game for Thanksgiving. It was rather a hard matter to settle, so finally she dismissed the subject and gave her attention to the pigs whose pen they now had reached. Edna did not think them very cleanly or attractive creatures, however, and was very soon ready to leave them that she might see the chickens and ducks which she found much more interesting.
The short November day was already so near its end that the fowls were thinking of going to roost, though the hour was not late, and after watching them take their supper, which Edna helped Reliance to distribute, the two girls went on to the garden, now robbed of most of its vegetables. There were a few tomatoes to be found on the vines; though celery, turnips and cabbages made a brave showing. Edna felt that she was quite a discoverer when she came across some tiny yellow tomatoes which the frost had not yet touched, and which she gathered in triumph to carry back to her mother.
"I know where there's a chestnut tree," announced Reliance suddenly.
"Oh, do let's find it," said Edna. "I will put the tomatoes in my handkerchief and carry them that way. We ought to gather all the chestnuts we can, for I know mighty well after the boys come there won't be a nut left." There was a rush down the hill to the big chestnut tree about whose roots lay the prickly burs which the frost had opened to show the shining brown nuts within.
"I don't see how we are going to carry them," said Edna after a while, when she had gathered together quite a little heap.
"I'll show you," Reliance told her, and began tying knots in the corners of the apron she wore. "There," she said, "that makes a very good bag, and what we can't carry that way we can leave and come back for to-morrow. We'd better take as many as we can, though, for to-morrow will be such a busy day I may not be able to come, and if we don't, the squirrels will get them all."
"I could come alone, now that I know the way," said Edna, "or maybe mamma would come with me."
"I suppose we'd better be going back," said Reliance when she lifted the improvised bag to her arm. "It is near to milking time and that means getting ready for supper."
"What do you do to get ready for supper?" asked Edna taking hold of one side of the bag.
"Oh, I set the table and go down to the spring-house for the butter and cream. I can skim milk now, but I couldn't at first, I got it all mixed up."
"Do you skim all the milk?"
"Oh, no, that we put on the table to drink is never skimmed. The skimmed milk goes to the pigs."
"Oh, does it? I think you feed your pigs pretty well. Are we going to watch them milk?"
"You can if you like; I've got to go right back."
"You don't help with the milking then?"
"No; Ira does it. Your grandpa says it is man's work, but Ira lets me do a little sometimes so I will learn."
"Aren't you afraid of the cows?"
"No, indeed, are you?"
"Kind of. They have such sharp horns sometimes," answered Edna by way of excusing her fear.
"Your grandpa's don't have; he keeps only dehorned cattle."
"What are they?"
"The kind that have had their horns taken off so they don't do any damage."
"I think maybe I wouldn't mind that kind so much," said Edna, after considering the matter for a moment. "If you don't mind, I think I would like to stop and see Ira milk."
Reliance said she didn't mind in the least and, therefore, she left the little girl at the bars of the stable yard which was quite as near as she wished to stand to the herd of cows gathered within.
"Want to come in and learn to milk?" asked Ira, looking up with a smile at the little red-capped figure.
"Oh, no, thank you," returned Edna hastily. "I'd rather watch you." She would really have like to try her hand if there had been but one cow, but when there were six, how could a young person be certain that one of the number would not turn and rend her? To be sure, they were much less fearsome without horns, but still they were too big and dreadful to be entirely trusted. So she stood watching the milk foam into the shining tin buckets and then she walked contentedly with Ira to where Amanda was waiting to strain the milk and put it away in the spring-house.
"Do you keep it out here all winter and doesn't it freeze?" asked Edna.
"In winter we keep it in the pantry up at the house. If it should turn cold suddenly now, we'd have to bring it in," Amanda told her, as she carefully lifted the earthen crocks into place. "There comes Reliance for the cream and butter," she went on. "Reliance, I'll carry up the milk and you come along with the rest. Don't tarry down here, and be sure you lock the spring-house door and fetch in the key." Then she went out leaving the two little girls behind.
Reliance carefully attended to her duties, Edna watching her admiringly. It must be a fine thing to be so big a girl as this, one who could be trusted to do work like a grown-up woman. "Let me carry something," she offered, when Reliance stepped up the stone steps and outside, carrying the butter in one hand and the pitcher of cream in the other.
"If you would lock the door and wouldn't mind taking the key along, I wouldn't have to set down these things," Reliance said.
Edna did as she was asked, standing tip-toe in order to turn the big key in the heavy door.
"When we get to the house you can hang the key on its nail behind the kitchen door," Reliance told her. "It is always kept there."
Edna swung the big key on her finger by its string and trotted along by the side of Reliance, asking many questions, and delighting to hear Reliance enlarge upon the all-important subject of the Thanksgiving festivities.
"We've got to get up good and early," Reliance remarked, "for there's a heap to be done, even if we are ahead with the baking. I expect to be up before daylight, myself, and I reckon Ira will be milking by candlelight," she added, as she entered the kitchen door. Mrs. Conway was in the kitchen talking to Amanda, and Edna hastened to show her little hoard of tomatoes. "We gathered a whole lot of chestnuts, too," she told her mother. "They were all on the ground down the hill behind the barn."
"I know the very tree," Mrs. Conway told her. "We must roast some in the ashes this evening. Come along, supper is ready and you must get yourself freshened up."
Edna followed along and, in the prospect of supper and then of roasting chestnuts, she forgot all about the spring-house key. This, by the way, was lying on the door-mat where she had dropped it. A little later on, it was picked up by Reliance and was slipped into the pocket of her gingham apron. "I won't remind her that she dropped it. Likely as not she forgot all about it," said Reliance to herself. "I ought not to have trusted it to as little a girl as she is."
It was not till after she was in bed that Edna remembered that she had ever had the key. Where had she put it? She had no recollection of it after she had swung it by its string upon her finger on the way to the house. "It must be on the kitchen table," she told herself. "I opened my handkerchief there to show mother the tomatoes." She sat up in bed wondering if she would better get up and go down, but she finally decided to wait till her mother should have come to bed and then confide in her.
However, try as she would, she could not keep awake. It had been an exciting and fatiguing day and she was in the land of dreams in a few minutes, not even having visions of keys, spring-houses or Thanksgiving dinners, but of the mother cat and her three kittens who were climbing chestnut trees and throwing down chestnuts to her.
WHERE'S THE KEY?
Very, very early in the morning Edna was awake. She was not used to farmyard sounds and could not tell if it were a lusty rooster, an insistent guinea-fowl or a gobbling turkey whose voice first reached her. But whichever it was, she was quite broad awake while it was yet dark. She lay still for a few minutes, with an uncertain feeling of something not very pleasant overshadowing her, then she remembered the key. "Oh, dear," she sighed, "if they can't get into the spring-house there will be no cream for breakfast and no butter, either. The key must be found."
She got up and softly crept to the window. A bright star hung low in the sky and there was the faintest hint of light along the eastern horizon. Presently Edna saw a lighted lantern bobbing around down by the stable and concluded that Ira must be up and that it was morning, or at least what meant morning to farmers. She stood watching the light grow in the east and finally decided that she would dress and be all ready by the time it was light enough to hunt for the lost key.
By now she could see well enough to find her clothes, but, fearing lest she should waken her mother, she determined to go to the bathroom at the end of the hall rather than use the wash-stand in the room where she was, so she gathered up her clothing in her arms, and went down the entry, made her toilet and crept down stairs. There was a light burning in the lower hallway, but it was dark all through the rest of the house and she was obliged to feel her way through the rooms. There was a noise of some one stirring in the pantry. She opened the door of the kitchen gently and peeped in. A lamp was burning on the table, but no key lay there. Edna tip-toed in quietly and felt on the nail where the key should hang, thrusting aside a gingham apron belonging to Reliance which hung just above its place, but the nail was empty and she was forced to believe she had dropped the key somewhere between the spring-house and the kitchen. She tip-toed out of the kitchen, turned the key of the outside door and closed it after her as noiselessly as possible, and in another moment was outside in the chill November air. It was rather fearsome to make one's way down dim paths where some wild creature might still be lurking after a night's raid from the woods near by, and she imagined all sorts of things. First, something stole softly by her and was off like a shot through the tall weeds growing beyond the fence; it was only a rabbit who was more frightened at Edna than she at it. Next, the bushes parted and a small white figure crept stealthily forth. The child's heart stood still and she stopped short. Then came a plaintive meow and she discovered one of the three kittens out on an adventuring tour. She picked up the little creature which purred contentedly as she snuggled it to her, continuing her way.
The garden left behind, there was the lane to be passed through, and here some real cause for fear in Edna's opinion, for the cows that Ira had just finished milking were coming through the bars he had let down. They stumbled along clumsily, following one another over the rail, and ambled on to another set of bars where they stood till Ira should let them through. At first, Edna did not realize that they were not making for the spot where she stood and she took to her heels, fleeing frantically back to the garden, banging the gate behind her and standing still waiting till the cows were through and the bars up again. Seeing the cows safely shut out from the lane she ventured forth again and followed Ira's lantern to the barn. Here she stood looking around and presently the beams from the lantern fell upon her little figure with the white kitten still clasped in her arms.
Ira looked up in surprise. "Hello!" he cried. "What's took you up so airly? Why, I jest got through milkin', and, doggone it, it ain't skeerce light yit."
"I know," said Edna, "but I had to get up early, you see, so as to find the key before breakfast."
"Key? What key?"
"The key of the spring-house. Reliance gave it to me to carry and I was to have hung it up on a nail behind the kitchen door, and I forgot all about it till I was in bed. You see if it isn't found nobody can have any milk or cream for breakfast."
"Oh, I guess we could manage," returned Ira reassuringly. "Didn't drop it indoors, did you?"
"I don't think so. I looked in the kitchen as I came out and I didn't find it there. If it had been picked up, it would be on the nail, I should think."
"Most likely it would; it would be there sure if 'Mandy found it; she don't let nothin' stay out of place very long, I kin tell ye."
"As long as I didn't find it in the kitchen I thought I would come here because I saw you had a lantern, and it really isn't quite light enough to see very plainly, is it?"
"No, it ain't. Sun don't rise till somewheres around seven this time o' year. Well, you come with me and we'll work our way long the path from the spring-house and if we don't find the key we will go inside and inquire. I alwuz find it don't do no harm to ask questions, and that there key is bound to be somewheres betwixt this and the house."
He swung his lantern so its rays would shed a broad light along the way, and Edna pattered along just behind him, trying very hard to keep up with his long strides. When at last they reached the spring-house, he slackened his pace and began carefully to look to the right and to the left.
"You come right straight along, did you?" he questioned. "Didn't go cavortin' off nowheres pickin' weeds or chasin' cats, did you?"
"No, we came as straight as could be. Reliance had the butter and cream and we didn't stop once."
"Then I guess you likely dropped it inside, for I've sarched careful and I can't find it. Maybe when it comes real bright daylight you could look again, but I should advise askin' at the house next thing you do."
He led the way into the kitchen where Amanda was briskly stirring about. "Well," she began, "what's wanting? Well, I declare if there ain't Edna. What's got you up so early, missy? I guess you're like the rest of us, couldn't sleep for thinking of all that's to do for Thanksgiving."
"You ain't picked up the spring-house key nowheres about, have you?" asked Ira.
"Why, no. You had it?"
"No, I ain't, but sissy there says 'Liance gave it to her to carry and she ain't no notion of what she done with it, thought mebbe she might ha' drapped it in here. She got so worried over it she riz from her bed and come out to hunt it up, says she was afraid nobody couldn't get no breakfast because of her losing of it."
"I guess we won't suffer for breakfast," said Amanda, looking down kindly at the little girl. "I don't carry back the milk nights this time of year. Any that's left I just set in the pantry and there is what was left from supper this blessed minute; butter, too, and cream, plenty for breakfast. You just rest your mind on that score."
"But," said Edna, "you will want a whole lot of things for the Thanksgiving cooking and what will you do with them all locked up?"
Ira laughed. "'Twouldn't be such an awful job to lift the door from its hinges, and if a body was right spry he could climb in at the window after he'd prised it open and the things could be handed out. Besides we've got all the morning's milk and there'll be the night's milk and to-morrow's milk, so I don't see that we shan't get along first-rate. There is more than one way out of that trouble, ain't there, 'Mandy?"
"I should say so. Wait till the sun's real high and I guess we'll find the key fast enough," she said to Edna. "Now, you stay right here and don't go running about in the cold; you'll be down sick traipsing about in the wet grass, and then where will your Thanksgiving be?"
Thus warned, Edna was content to stay in the kitchen into which the morning light was beginning to creep and which was already warm from the big stove. In a few minutes, Reliance appeared from the next room where she had been setting the table. She was much astonished to learn that Edna had been down before her. "What in the world did you get up so soon for?" she asked.
"To find the key," Edna answered, and then told her all about the search, ending up with, "You haven't seen anything of it, have you, Reliance?"
Reliance's face broadened into a smile, as for answer she went behind the kitchen door and produced the key from its nail, holding it up to view.
"Why, where in the world did you get it?" inquired Edna in a tone of surprise. "It wasn't on the nail when I looked there for it a little while ago."
"You dropped it on the door-mat last evening," Reliance told her. "I found it there and slipped it into the pocket of my apron, and this morning when I went to get my apron, there it was so I just hung it up where it belonged."
"Well, I'm sure," said Amanda, "that's easily explained."
"Who'd ha' thought it," said Ira. "Well, that let's us out of another hunt. I won't have to wrastle with the door after all, will I?"
So, after all, Edna's early rising was unnecessary, but she did not feel sorry that she had had such an experience, and was content to sit and watch Amanda mould her biscuits and to help Reliance finish setting the table. Amanda insisted upon giving her a drink of buttermilk from the spring-house to which she despatched Reliance, advising Edna not to go this time. "You've had one tramp," she said, "and moreover you'll be starved by breakfast time if you don't have something to stay you."
The sausages were sizzling in the pan, and the griddle was ready for the buckwheat cakes when Mrs. Conway appeared. "Well, you did steal a march on us," she said to her little daughter. "How long have you been up? I didn't hear a sound. You must have been a veritable mouse to be so quiet."
"I've been up since before daylight," Edna told her. "I took my things into the bathroom so as not to disturb you; it was lovely and warm in there." Then again she repeated her story of the lost key.
"Reliance had the joke on her," said Amanda, "for she had the key all the time."
"Why didn't you tell me you had found it?" asked Edna a little reproachfully as she turned to Reliance, who had by this time returned from the spring-house.
"I thought you would forget all about it, and I didn't think it was worth while to mention. Besides," she added, "I ought to have carried the key myself anyway."
"You're right there," remarked Amanda. "It is your especial charge and you oughtn't to have let anyone else fetch it in. Moreover, you'd ought to have hung it up the minute you found it, and there it would have been when it was looked for."
"Oh, don't scold her," begged Edna. "It was all my fault, really."
Amanda smiled. "I don't see it just that way. Folks had ought to learn when they're young that in this house there's a place for everything, and everything should be in its place. I rather guess, though, that that special key won't get lost again right away."
Edna felt that she had brought this lecture upon Reliance and felt rather badly to have done so, but the prospect of buckwheat cakes soon drove her self-reproach away and she went in to say good morning to her grandparents, well satisfied with the world in general and content to look ahead rather than at what was now past and gone, and which could not be altered.
Before the day had far advanced, came the first of the arrivals, Aunt Alice Barker and her two boys, Ben and Willis. Ben and Edna were great chums, though he was the older of the two boys. Ben was alert, full of fun and ready to joke on every occasion, while Willis was rather shy and had not much to say to his little cousin, whom, by the way, he did not know so very well.
Edna would fain have spent the morning in the kitchen from which issued delectable odors, but Amanda had declared she wanted all the room there was, that she had scatted out the cats and dogs and she would have to scat out children, too, if they came bothering around. Therefore, to avoid this catastrophe, Edna took herself to a different part of the house, and was standing at one of the front windows when the carriage drove up.
"Oh, grandpa," she sang out, "here come Aunt Alice and her boys! Hurry! Hurry! or they will get here before we can be there to meet them."
Her grandfather threw down his newspaper and laid aside his spectacles. "Well, well," he said, "it takes the young eyes to find out who is coming. I didn't suppose Allie would be here till afternoon. What team have they. Why didn't they let us know so we could send for them!"
He followed Edna, who was already at the front door tugging at the bolt, then in another moment the two were out on the porch while yet the carriage was some yards away. Ben caught sight of them. "Hello!" he cried out. "Here we are, bag and baggage. Didn't expect us so soon, did you grandpa?"
"No, son, we didn't. How did you come to steal a march on us in this way?"
"The express was behind time so we caught it at the junction, instead of having to wait for the train we expected to take. It didn't seem worth while to telephone; in fact we didn't have time, so we just got this team from Mayville and here we are. How are you Pinky Blooms?" He darted at Edna, tousled her hair, picked her up and slung her over his shoulder as if she were a bag of meal, and dropped her on the top step of the porch, she laughing and protesting the while.
"Oh, Ben," she panted, "you are perfectly dreadful."
"Why, is that you, Edna?" said Ben in pretended surprise. "I thought you were my valise; it is too bad I made the mistake and dumped you down so unceremoniously."
Edna knew perfectly well how to take this so she picked herself up laughing, and started after Ben who leaped over the railing of the porch thus making his escape. By this time Mrs. Willis and Mrs. Conway had come out and the whole company went indoors, Ben the last to come, peeping in through a crack of the door, and then slinking in with a pretense of being afraid of Edna. An hour later, these two were tramping over the place, hand in hand, making all sorts of discoveries, leaving Willis deep in a book and the older people chatting cozily before the open fire.
Aunt Emmeline, Uncle Wilbur and Becky were the next to come, Becky being in a pout because her sweetheart had failed to make the train, and Aunt Emmeline fussing and arguing with her.
"You know, Becky, that he is coming, and I don't see what difference a couple of hours will make," she said as she gave her hand, to her sister, Mrs. Willis. "I am just telling Becky, Cecelia, that she is very foolish to make such a fuss because Howard is detained; he missed the train, you see, and can't arrive till the next comes in." She passed on into the house still talking, while Edna made her escape upstairs. She had not noticed the little girl, and Edna felt rather slighted.
However, this was all forgotten a little later when her own brothers and sister as well as her father were to be welcomed. You would suppose Edna had been parted from them for at least a year, so joyous were her greetings, and so much did she have to tell. She had scarcely unburdened herself of all her happenings, before in swarmed Uncle Bert and his family. There was so many of these that for a little while they seemed to fill the entire house, for, first appeared Aunt Lucia and after her the nurse carrying the baby, then Uncle Bert with little Herbert in his arms, and then Lulie and Allen and Ted. Cousin Becky's sweetheart, Howard Colby, came on the last train and ended the list of guests. What a houseful it was, to be sure, and what long, long tables in the dining-room. Reliance was not able to wait on everybody, and so Amanda's niece Fanny, took a hand, thus everyone was served.
Edna was rather shy of those cousins whom she had not seen for two or three years, and after supper preferred to stay close to her sister Celia and Ben, though her brothers were soon hob-nobbing with Allen and Ted, and were planning expeditions for the morrow. Ben told such a funny story about the lady by the willow tree, that Edna could never look at the picture again without laughing, but he had scarcely finished it before some one called out: "Bedtime for little folks!" and all the younger ones trooped off upstairs, grandma herself leading the way to see that each one was tucked in comfortably.
A HEARTY DINNER
It would be quite a task if one were to try to compute the number of buckwheat cakes consumed at the long tables the next morning, and there might have been more but that Charlie stopped Frank in the act of helping himself to a further supply by saying: "Look here, son, if you keep on eating cakes you won't give your Thanksgiving dinner any show at all. I'm thinking about that turkey."
This remark was passed down the table and had the effect of bringing the breakfast to a conclusion. The boys scampered off out of doors to scour the place for nuts or to dive into unfrequented woodsy places, while the girls gathered around the crowing baby, in high good-humor with herself and the world at large. Then the nurse bore baby off and Edna turned to her mother for advice.
"What can I do, mother?" she asked.
"Why, let me see. Your Aunt Alice and I are going to help your grandma to arrange the tables, after a while. We shall want a lot of decorations besides the roses your Uncle Bert brought. Suppose you little girls constitute yourselves an order of flower girls with Celia at your head, and go out to find whatever may do for the tables."
"There are some chrysanthemums, little yellow ones, and there are a few white ones, too; I saw them yesterday down by the fence."
"They will do nicely; we will have those and anything else that will be pretty for the table or the rooms."
"Shall we ask Lulie to go with us?" whispered Edna.
"Certainly I would. She isn't quite so old as you, but she is the only other little girl here, and it would be very rude and unkind to leave her out."
"You ask her," continued Edna in a low tone.
For answer Mrs. Conway smiled over at Lulie. "Don't you want to be a flower girl?" she asked; "Celia, I propose that you take these two little girls in tow and go on an expedition to gather flowers to deck the tables and the house, I know you will enjoy it."
"Indeed I shall," replied Celia. "Come on, girls, let's see what we can find." And the three sallied forth to discover what might be of use.
An hour later they came back laden with small branches of scarlet oak, with graceful weeds, with the little buttony chrysanthemums, and with actually a few late roses which had braved the frost and were showing pale faces in a sheltered corner when the girls came upon them. By this time, the three cousins were well acquainted, the two younger the best friends possible, so that when dinner was really ready they were quite happy at being allowed to sit side by side.
It would fill a whole chapter if I were to tell you about all the good things on that table. Grandpa carved a huge brown turkey at one end, while Uncle Bert carved an equally huge and brown one at the other end. Grandma served the flakiest of noble chicken-pies at her side of the table, while Aunt Alice served an oyster-pie of the same proportions and quite as delicious. The boys, not in the least disturbed by the memory of the buckwheat cakes, were ready with full-sized appetites, while the girls, after their scramble in search of decorations, had no reason to complain of not being hungry. To Cousin Becky's lot fell one of the wishbones, and to Edna's joy she had the other. Cousin Becky put hers up over the front door after dinner, and it was the strangest thing in the world that Mr. Howard Colby should be the first to come in afterward. Edna decided to save hers till it was entirely dry.
"What are you going to do with it then?" asked Lulie.
"I haven't quite decided. I shall take it home, and maybe I'll pull it with Dorothy or maybe I will make a pen-wiper of it for a Christmas gift. I might give it to Ben."
"I never heard of wishbone pen-wipers," said Lulie. "Are they very hard to make?"
"Not so very, if you have anyone to help you with the sealing-wax head. Celia could help me with that. You make a head, you know, and then the wishbone has two legs and you dress it up so it is a pen-wiper." This was not a very clear description, but Lulie was satisfied, especially as at that moment Ben came to them and said that everyone was going to play games, in order that their dinners might properly digest.
"Everybody?" inquired Lulie. "The grandparents, too?"
"Of course," Ben told her. "We are going to begin with something easy, like forfeits, and work up to the real snappy ones after."
"What are the snappy ones?" asked Edna.
"Oh, things like Hide-and-Seek and lively things that will keep us on the jump."
The two little girls followed Ben into the next room and before long everyone was trying to escape from grandpa who was as eager for a game of Blind Man's Buff as anybody, and who at last caught Becky, who in turn caught Howard Colby because he didn't try to get out of her way. This ended that game, but everybody was so warmed up to the fun that when it was proposed to carry on a game of Hide and Seek out of doors all agreed, and Edna was so convulsed with laughter to see her dignified, great-uncle Wilbur crouching behind a wood-pile and peeping fearfully over the top that she forgot to hide herself properly and was discovered by Ben in a moment.
"You're no good at all at hiding," Ben told her. "Anybody could have found you with half an eye."
"Oh, I don't care," replied Edna; "I'll have just as much fun finding out some one else," and she it was who made straight for Uncle Wilbur's wood-pile to which he had returned with the fond belief of its serving as good a turn a second time.
It was not so very long before the older persons declared that they had had enough of it. The men returned to the house to have a smoke and the ladies to chat around the fire. As for the children, it was quite too much to expect them to go in while there was a twinkle of daylight left, and, as Amanda expressed it, "They took the place." The girls did not roam far from the house but the boys wandered much further afield, bringing caps and pockets full of nuts, and clothes full of burs and stick-tights, even Ben brought back a hoard of persimmons touched by the frost and as sweet as honey.
He poured these out on a flat stone near which Edna was standing. "Come here, Edna," he said, "let's divvy up. I'll give you half; you can take what you don't eat to your mother and I'll take what I don't eat to my mother."
Edna squatted down by the stone and began delicately to nibble at the fruit which still bore its soft purple bloom. "I don't believe I shall eat very many," she said, "for my dinner is still lasting, and there will be supper before I am ready for it. We are not going to have a real, regular set-the-table supper, because grandma thinks Amanda and Reliance should have some holiday, too, but we are going to have sandwiches and cakes and nuts and apples and cider and a whole lot of things; something like a party you know. Aren't you going to eat any of your persimmons, Ben?"
"No, that coming supper party sounds too seductive; I'll wait so that I can do it justice."
"What did you see out in the woods?" asked Edna.
"Foxy grape-vines and bare trees," he answered promptly.
"Do you mean b-e-a-r trees or b-a-r-e trees?"
"Which ever you like; I've no doubt there were both kinds."
"Oh, Ben," Edna glanced around fearfully, "do you really think there are bears around here?"
"I know there are, sometimes." He drew down his mouth in a way which made Edna suspect a joke.
"When is the sometimes?" she asked suspiciously.
"When they have a circus at Mayville."
"Oh, you Ben Barker, you are the worst," cried Edna roguishly pulling his nose.
"Here, here," he exclaimed, "look out, it might come off like the fox's tail."
"Don't you know the story of 'Reynard, the Fox'? It is in one of those big, red books that lie on that claw-footed table in the living-room."
"Here, in this house?"
"Yea, verily. You don't mean to say you have never read those books! Why, there is not a year since I was eight years old that I haven't pored over them. Every time I have been here, and that is at least once a year, I go for those books, I'd advise you to make their acquaintance."
"You tell me the story; then I won't have to read it."
"No, my child, I shall not allow you to neglect your opportunities through any weakness on my part. Read it for yourself, and thereafter, the red book will be one of your prized memories of 'Overlea.'"
"Then tell me again about the lady and the willow tree," begged Edna; "that was so funny."
Ben laughed. "I am afraid I don't remember that so well as I do the fox story, but maybe I will think of some more about her. Come, it is time to go in. They may be eating those chicken or turkey sandwiches this very minute."
Hanging on his arm, Edna skipped along to the house to find that it was quite too early to think of sandwiches, though the lamps were lighted in all but the living-room where a cheerful fire made the place light enough. Around the fire sat grandma, Aunt Emmeline, Aunt Alice and Mrs. Conway. Aunt Lucia was upstairs with the babies. Uncle Wilbur was taking a nap, and grandpa and Uncle Bert were out looking after the stock, as Ira and the other man had been allowed a holiday. Over in the corner of the sofa sat Cousin Becky and her lover talking in low tones.
"Dear me," said grandma, as the children all trooped in, "we must have a light; these little folks may not like to sit in the dark."
"This is the best kind of light," declared Ben, "and the very time for telling tales. Let's all sit around the fire and have a good time. We'll begin with the oldest and so on down to the youngest If we don't have time to go all the way down the line, we'll stop when we're hungry. How's that, grandma? Do you like the plan?"
"It is just as the others say, my dear," she answered.
"It's a lovely plan, Ben," said Mrs. Conway. "You will have to begin, mother, and Aunt Emmeline can come next."
"Oh, dear," protested that lady, "I never was one for telling tales; you will have to count me out."
"I am sure if I can, you can," grandma assured her. "What shall it be about, children?"
"Oh, about when you were a little girl," cried Edna.
"About the time the horse ran away with you," spoke up the boys.
"About your first ball please," begged Celia.
Grandma laughed. "Just listen to them. They have heard all those things dozens of times. I'll tell you what we will do. I will tell about the runaway horse, that belongs to the time when I was a little girl, and Emmeline shall tell about her first ball, and I can remind her if she forgets anything. I remember her first ball even better than my first, for it was at hers I met your grandfather."
This was all so satisfactory that there was not a murmur of dissent, and grandma began: "It was when I was about ten years old that I went one day with my father to the nearest village. He was driving a pair of spirited horses, and on our way home a parcel we were bringing home, fell out of the buggy. My father stopped the horses and ran back to pick up the parcel, but before he could get to the buggy, the horses took fright at a piece of paper blowing along the road in front of them and off they started, full tilt, down the road. In vain my father cried, 'Hey, there! Whoa, Barney! Whoa Pet!' on they went faster and faster. I managed to hold on to the reins but my young hands were not strong enough to control the wild creatures, and I thought every minute would be my last, for up hill and down dale we went at such a pace I had never known. Over a stump would jounce the buggy, and I would nearly pitch out. Around the last curve they went with a swing which I thought would land me on my back or my head, but I managed to keep my seat and at last saw the open gate of our own lane before me. Would the horses go through without hitting a gate post? Would they run into a fence or over a pile of stones at one side? My heart was in my mouth. I jerked the reins in a vain attempt to guide them, but on they went, pell-mell, making straight for the open gate. Presently I saw some one rush from the house and then another person come flying from the stables. Just before we reached the gate, it was flung to with a bang. The horses pranced, swung a little to one side and stopped short, and I heard some one say, 'So, Barney, so Pet!' I didn't know what happened next but the first thing I knew I was lying on the lounge in the sitting-room, my mother bending over me, and holding a bottle of salts to my nose, 'Oh, dear, oh, dear,' my mother was crying, 'another minute and the child might have been killed.'"
"Who was it shut the gate?" asked Allen eagerly.
"Amanda's mother, who was living with us at that time."
"And who caught the horses?" queried Ted.
"Jim Doughty, who was our hired man."
"Weren't you nearly frightened to death?" Lulie put the question.
"Very nearly, and so was my father. He was as pale as a ghost when he got home. He had to walk all the way, and said he thought he should never get there. The country wasn't as thickly settled as it is now, and there were no houses between us and the spot where the horses took fright."
"Where is the place you lived?" asked Allen.
"About five miles from here."
"I should like to see it," said the boy musingly. "I suppose those horses are dead. I'd like to see horses that could run like that."
"They would be somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty-five or seventy years old by this time," said grandma with a smile, "and the oldest horse I ever knew was forty."
"Gee! but that was old," remarked Frank. "Whose was it, grandma? Yours?"
"No, my grandfather's. Her name was Dolly, and she took my grandparents to church every Sunday for many years, up to a little while before she died. Now, Emmeline, let's hear about the ball."
"It was just a ball," began Aunt Emmeline.
"The County Ball," put in grandma. "They always have one every year at Fair time. Emmeline was sixteen and I was eighteen. Now go on, Emmeline."
"I wore white tarlatan trimmed with forget-me-nots," said Aunt Emmeline, "and I danced my first dance with Steve Hardesty." She paused and gave a little sigh. "He took me into supper, too, poor Steve." Grandma leaned over and laid her hand softly on her sister's. "It is such a long time, such a very long time ago," she said softly.
Aunt Emmeline smiled a little sadly. "Yes, a long time," she repeated. "You wore, what was it you wore, Cecelia?"
"I wore pink tarlatan trimmed with rosebuds and a wreath of them in my hair. The skirt was caught up with bunches of the little buds and green leaves, and I thought it the prettiest dress I ever saw."
"It was a great ball," Aunt Emmeline went on, brightening. "I danced every set, and so did you, Cecelia."
"And how everyone did talk because I danced so many with Ben Willis whom I had met for the first time that night. He would see me home, you remember, although Uncle Phil and Cousin Dick were both there to look after us; we were staying at our uncle's, my dears. It was during the early days of the war, and there was much talk of what would happen next and who would be going off to join the army, you remember."
"It was not till two years after, that Steve went," said Aunt Emmeline wistfully.
"Tell us about Steve," spoke up Frank. "Did he become a soldier?"
Celia shook her head warningly at her little brother, for she knew Aunt Emmeline's story, and of how her young lover was killed in battle, but Aunt Emmeline did not hesitate to answer. "Yes, he went, but he never came back."
Silence fell upon the little group for a moment till Aunt Emmeline herself broke it by saying, "Do you remember, Cecelia, how angry you were with Polly Parker because she copied your dress, and how you were going to have yours trimmed with daisies, and changed all that at the last moment? I can see you now, ripping off those inoffensive daisies and flinging them on the floor."
Grandma laughed. "Well, after all, hers wasn't a bit like mine, for it was a different shade of pink and wasn't made the same way. Yes, I was furious, I remember, because it wasn't the first time Polly had copied my things; she had a way of doing it."
"Here comes grandpa," announced Herbert who did not find all this talk of dress and balls very interesting.
The entrance of grandpa and Uncle Bert broke up the party by the fire, for soon the sandwiches and other things were brought in, then came songs and games till, before anyone realized it, bedtime came and Thanksgiving Day was over.
THE RED BOOK
Whether it was the search for the key in the chill of the early morning, or whether it was that she ate too heartily of grandma's good things, certain it was that when Edna waked up the morning after Thanksgiving, she felt very listless and miserable. Her father was already up and dressed, and her mother was making her toilet when the little girl turned over and watched her with heavy eyes.
"Well, little girl," said Mrs. Conway, "it seems to me that it is time for you to get up."
Edna gave a long sigh, closed her eyes, but presently found the courage to make an effort towards rising. She threw aside the covers, slipped her feet into her red worsted slippers, and then sat on the side of her cot in so dejected an attitude that her mother noticed it. "What," she said, "are you so very sleepy still? I suspect you are tired out from yesterday's doings."
"My head aches and there are cold creeps running up and down my back," Edna told her.
Her mother came nearer, and laid her cool hand on the throbbing temples. "Your head is hot," she declared. "I am afraid you have taken cold. Cuddle back under the covers and I will bring or send your breakfast up to you."
"I don't think I want any breakfast," said Edna, snuggling down with a grateful feeling for the warmth and quiet.
"Not want any breakfast? Then you certainly aren't well. When waffles and fried chicken cannot tempt you, I know something is wrong."
Mrs. Conway went on with the finishing touches to her dress and hair while Edna dozed, but half conscious of what was going on around her. She did not hear her mother leave the room, and did not know how long it was before she heard Celia's voice saying: "Mother says you'd better try to drink this."
"This" was a cup of hot milk of which Edna tried to take a few sips and then lay back on her pillow. "I don't want it," she said.
"Poor little sister," said Celia commiseratingly. "It is too bad you don't feel well. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"No, thank you," replied Edna weakly.
"Mother is coming up in a minute," Celia went on. "Uncle Bert and all of them are going this morning, but as soon as they are off she will come up to see how you are."
"Is everyone going?" asked Edna languidly.
"No, not this morning. Uncle Bert and his family take the morning train because they have the furthest to go, and Aunt Lucia wants to get home with the children before dark. Uncle Wilbur, Aunt Emmeline and all those are going on the afternoon train. Father thinks he must get back to-day, too."
Edna made no answer, but closed her eyes again drowsily.
"I'll set the milk down here," Celia went on, "and maybe you will feel like drinking some more of it after a little while."
She set the cup on a chair by Edna's bedside and stole softly out of the room, leaving her sister to fall into another doze from which she was awakened by hearing a timid voice say: "Excuse me. I hope you are not asleep, but I want to say good-bye," and turning over, Edna saw her little Cousin Lulie.
"Oh, are you going?" came from the little girl in bed.
"Yes, we are all ready. I am so sorry you are sick. I like you so much and I wish you would come to our house some day."
Edna was too polite not to make some effort of appreciation, so she sat up and held out her little hot hand. "Oh, thank you," she answered; "I should love to come, and I wish you could come to see us. Ask Uncle Bert to bring you real soon."
"Mother said I had better not kiss you," remarked Lulie honestly, "for I might take your cold, but I have folded up a kiss in this piece of paper and I will put it here so you can get it when I am gone."
Edna smiled at this and liked Lulie all the better for the fancy. "I won't forget it," she said earnestly. "I will send you one when I get well, but you'd better not take a feverish one with you. Good-bye, and say good-bye to all the others."
"They would have come, too," Lulie informed her, "but mother thought one of us was enough when you had a headache, and that I could bring all the good-byes for the others. Now I must go. Get well soon." And she was off leaving Edna with a consciousness of it's being a wise decree which prevented more visitors, for her headache was so much the worse for having had but one.
She lay very still wishing the noises below would cease, the running back and forth, the shutting of doors, the calling of the boys to one another and the crying of the baby. But last of all she heard the carriage wheels on the gravel, and then it was suddenly silent. The boys had all gone off to play, and the only sounds were occasional footsteps on the stair, the stirring of the kitchen fire, and outside, the distant "Caw! Caw!" of the crows in the trees. For a long time she was very quiet. Once her mother came to the door and peeped in, but, seeing no movement, believed the child asleep, but later she came in and Edna opened her eyes to see her standing by her bedside.
"Poor little lass," said her mother, "you're not feeling well at all, are you? I am afraid you have a little fever. I will give you something that I hope will make you feel better."
"Not any nasty medicine," begged Edna.
"No, only some tiny tablets that you can swallow right down with a little water." She went to the bureau and found the little phial she was in search of. After shaking out a few pellets in her hand, she brought them to Edna with a glass of water and the child took the dose obediently, for she knew these small tablets of old.
"Now," Mrs. Conway went on, "I will cover you up warm, and you must try to get to sleep. Grandma is trying to keep the house quiet and Ben has taken off the boys. I am going to tidy up the room and stay here with you for awhile. There, now; you will be more comfortable that way," and under her mother's loving touches Edna felt happier already and in a short time fell into a sound sleep from which she awakened feeling brighter. Her mother was sitting by the window crocheting where the sun was streaming in.
Edna sat up and pushed back the hair from her face. Her mother noticed the movement. "Well, dearie," she said, "you have had a nice nap and I hope you feel ever so much better."
"Yes, I think I do," said the child a little doubtfully.
"That wasn't a very enthusiastic voice. You can't be sure about it?"
"Yes, I can. I do feel a great deal better."
"And as if you would like a little something to eat?"
"Why—what could I eat?"
"How would some milk toast and a soft-boiled egg do?"
"I like milk toast pretty well, but I don't believe I want the egg."
"Not when it will be freshly laid this morning?"
"I couldn't have it fried, I suppose?"
"Better not. I'll tell you what I will do; I will go down and ask grandma what she thinks would be best for you. Would you like to sit up in bed? I can put something over your shoulders and prop you up with pillows, or how would you like to get into my bed? There is more room and you can look out of the window. I will bundle you up and carry you over."
"I'd like that," returned Edna in a satisfied tone; it was always a treat to get into mother's bed.
Mrs. Conway turned down the covers of her own bed, slipped Edna into her flannel wrapper, threw a shawl around her and carried her across the room to deposit her in the big bed. "There," she said, "you can keep your wrapper on till you get quite warm. Let me put this pillow behind your back. That's it. Now, then, how do you like the change?"
"Oh, I like it," Edna assured her. "And my head is much better."
"I think you'd better stay in bed, however, for we want to break up that cold. There is no better way to do it than to keep you in bed for to-day at least. Now I will go down and interview grandma."
She left the room, and Edna heard her talking to some one in the entry. Then the door opened and grandma herself came in. "Good morning, dear child," she said. "I wanted to come up before, but it seemed best to keep you quiet. I am so glad to hear that you are feeling better, but you must be careful not to take more cold. Would you like to have Serena to keep you company?"
"Oh, I should like her very much," returned Edna.
Her grandmother left the room returning presently with an old-fashioned doll which had been hers when she was a little girl. The doll was dressed in the fashion of sixty years ago and was quite a different creature from Edna's Virginia. She always liked Serena in spite of her black corkscrew curls and staring blue eyes. Whenever she visited Overlea, Serena was given to her to play with, as a special privilege. Her grandma knew that Edna was careful, but she would not have brought out this relic of her childhood for everyone. "I will put this little shawl around her before you take her, for she has been in a cooler room, and it might chill you to touch her," said grandma, as she wound a small worsted shawl over Serena's blue silk frock. "I will put her on the bed there right by you and then I will go down to see if Amanda has anything that is fit for a little invalid to eat." She kissed the top of Edna's head and went out leaving her to Serena's company.
It was not long before Edna heard some one coming slowly up the stair, then there was a pause before the door, next a knock and second pause before Edna's "Come in" was answered by Reliance who carefully bore a tray on which stood several covered dishes.
"I asked Mrs. Willis to please let me bring this up," said Reliance. "I am so sorry you are sick, I am dreadfully afraid you took cold hunting that key."
"Oh, I don't suppose it was that," Edna tried to reassure her. "I might have taken cold yesterday, for I got so warm running when we were playing Hide-and-Seek. Oh, how lovely, Reliance, you have brought up grandma's dear little dishes that were given her when she was a little girl. I love those little dishes with the flowers on them."
"You're to eat this first," said Reliance, uncovering a small tureen in which some delicious chicken broth was steaming. "There is toast to go with it. Then if you feel as if you wanted any more, there is a little piece of cold turkey and some jelly."
But in spite of her belief that she could eat every bit of what was before her, Edna could do no more than manage the broth and one piece of toast, Reliance watching her solicitously while she ate. "You're not very peckish, are you?" she said. "Well, anyhow I am glad this didn't come on before you had your Thanksgiving; it would have been dreadful if it had happened yesterday."
"I am glad, too," returned Edna. "What time is it, Reliance?"
"It's most dinner time. As soon as the boys come in, it will be ready. I'll take back the tray, but I have to go awful careful, for I would sooner break my leg than these dishes." She bore off the tray as Edna snuggled back against her pillows, holding one of Serena's kid hands in hers in order that she might feel less alone. She was not left long to Serena's sole company, however, for first came her father to say good-bye, then Aunt Emmeline stopped at the door, and behind her, Cousin Becky and Uncle Wilbur, all ready with sympathy and good wishes. A little later, she heard the carriage drive off which should take all these to the train. There was silence for a time which finally was interrupted by a tap at the door.
"Come in," called Edna.
The door opened, and in walked Ben with a large red book under his arm. "Hello, you little old scalawag," he said. "What in the world did you go and do this for?"
"I couldn't help it," said Edna apologetically.
"You poor, little, old kitten, of course you couldn't. Well, I have brought you up Mr. Fox, and I wanted to tell you that the lady by the willow has had another accident; she dropped her last chocolate marshmallow and the dog stepped on it. Of course, that wasn't as bad as the first, but when you have only one handkerchief it is pretty hard to have to cry it twice full of tears. Fortunately, hers has had a chance to dry between whiles."
Edna smiled. It was good to have Ben come in with his nonsense. "Hasn't she found her eyelash yet?"
"No, and it was a wet one which is awfully hard to find unless it is raining; it is hard enough then, goodness knows. How did you stand all the racket this morning? If a noisy noise annoys an oyster, how much of a noisy noise does it take to annoy Pinky Blooms? That sounds like a problem in mental arithmetic, but it isn't. Shall I read to you a little?"
"About Reynard, the Fox, shall it be?"
"Oh, yes. I do so want to know how he lost his tail."
"Then, here goes," said Ben, as he opened the big, red book. Edna settled herself back against the pillows and Ben began the story, while Edna was so interested that she forgot all about her headache. He finished the tale before he put the book down. "How do you like it?" he asked.
"It is perfectly fine. Are there other stories in that book?"
"Yes, some mighty good ones. Here, do you want to see the pictures? They are funny and old-fashioned, but they are pretty good for all that." He laid the book across Edna's knees and showed her the illustrations relating to Reynard, the Fox, all of which interested her vastly.
"I am so glad I know about this book," she said as she came to the last page. "I always thought it was only for grown-ups, and never even looked at it. Will you read me some more to-morrow?"
"Sorry I can't, ducky dear, for I am off by the morning train to a football game which I can't miss."
"Oh, I forgot about that. Are the boys going, too?"
"Yes, and Celia. We are all going back together. There is something on at the Evanses Saturday night, and Celia wouldn't miss that."
"Neither would you," said Edna slyly.
"You're a mean, horrid, little girl," said Ben in a high, little voice. "I'm just going to take my book and go home, so I am."
"It isn't your book; it is grandma's."
"I don't care if it is; I'm not going to play with you, and I will slap your doll real hard."
"Do you mean Serena? She isn't my doll; she is grandma's. Her name is Serena, don't you remember? I've known her ever since I was a little, little thing."
"And what are you now but a little, little thing, I should like to know."
"I'm bigger than Lulie Willis, but I'm not big enough to go to Agnes's party Saturday night." She spoke somewhat soberly, for she did want to be there.
"Oh, never mind," said Ben, with an air of comforting her, "I shall be there and I am as big as two of you."
"I don't see how that makes it any better," said Edna, after searching her mind for a reason why it should be of any comfort to her.
"Oh, yes it does," returned Ben, "for if I were only as big as you I shouldn't be there either."
"As if that helped it."
"Oh, yes it does, for, you see, they will have a lot of good things and I can eat enough for you and me both, I am sure," he added triumphantly. "That is an excellent argument. If a thing can be done for two persons instead of one, it makes all the difference in the world."
Edna put her head back against the pillows. Ben was too much for her when he took that stand.
"There," said the lad contritely, "I'm making your head worse by my foolishness. Are you tired? Is there anything I can do for you? Would you like one of the kittens?"
"Oh, yes, Ben, I would. They are so comforting and cozy. I am glad you thought of that."
"Shall I leave the red book or take it down?"
"Leave it, please; I might like to look at it after a while."
So Ben went off, returning directly with one of the kittens which he deposited on the bed and which presently cuddled close to the child. Then Ben left her, Serena by her side and the kitten purring contentedly in her arms.
THE OLD HOUSE
Although Edna was much better the next day, it was thought prudent to keep her indoors. All the guests departed with the exception of her mother, her Aunt Alice and her own self, the house resumed its ordinary quiet and seemed rather an empty place after its throng of Thanksgiving visitors.
"You'd better make up your mind to stay another week, daughter," said grandma to Edna's mother. "This child isn't fit to be out, and won't be for two or three days."
"Oh, I think she will be able to go by Monday," replied Mrs. Conway. "I shouldn't like to keep her out of school so long."
"Her health is of much more importance than school," grandma went on. "She is always well up in her studies, isn't she? You remember that I didn't have the usual visit last summer, and as Alice is going to stay we could all have a nice cozy time together."
"But how would things go on at home without me?"
"Plenty well enough. I am sure Lizzie can take care of Henry and the boys."
"I am not so sure about the boys, though I suppose Henry could get along very well, and Celia is in town all through the week."
"Why couldn't Charlie and Frank stay with the Porter boys till we get back?" piped up Edna from her stool by the fire. "You know, mother, that Mrs. Porter has asked and asked them, for her boys have already stayed weeks with us in the summer."
"Ye-es, I know," returned Mrs. Conway, a little doubtfully.
"I am sure that is an excellent plan," said grandma, beaming at Edna over her knitting. "Edna will be all the better for a week here, and indeed for a longer time."
"Oh, we couldn't stay longer than next Saturday at the very outside," put in Mrs. Conway hastily. "I'd love to stay, mother dear, but you know a housekeeper cannot be too long away, especially when she has not arranged beforehand to do so."
Grandma nodded at Edna. "We'll consider it settled that you are to stay for another week. Let's have it all arranged, daughter. Call up long distance and let Henry know."
"I promised him, anyhow, that I would let him know to-day how Edna was getting along. He was afraid when he went away that she might be in for a serious illness. I shall be glad to let him know she is better."
"And he will be so glad to hear that, he won't mind your telling him you will stay longer," remarked grandma with a little laugh.
Mrs. Conway went to the telephone and soon it was settled that they were to remain. "I don't know what Uncle Justus will say," Mrs. Conway observed when she reentered the room. "He will think I am a very injudicious mother to keep you out of school so long."
"Not if you tell him I was sick," returned Edna, who secretly rather enjoyed the prospect of making such an announcement. Like most children, she liked the importance which an illness gave to her small self.
Saturday was an indoors day spent with Serena, Virginia and the big, red book. Sunday, too, Edna was shut in except for the few minutes she was allowed to walk up and down the porch in the sun. She was well wrapped up for this event, and was charged not to put foot on the damp ground.
It had been rather a lonesome morning, with everyone at church except Amanda, but the little girl stood it pretty well. She read aloud to an audience consisting of the two dolls and the three kittens, she sang hymns, in rather a husky voice to be sure, and she stood at the window a long time watching the people pass by on their way to and from church.
In the afternoon, her grandfather took his two daughters to see some relative, Reliance went off to Sunday school, and Edna was left alone with her grandmother who told her stories and sang, to the accompaniment of the melodeon she had used when a little girl. Edna enjoyed this performance very much, but after a while grandma was tired of an instrument that skipped notes and wheezed like an old horse, so they went back to the big chair by the open fire. Grandma continued the singing, rocking Edna in her arms till the child fell fast asleep, the drowsy hum of the tea-kettle, hanging on the crane, helping to make a lullaby. When she woke up it was nearly dark. She heard her mother's voice in the hall and realized that the long Sabbath day was nearly over.
This was the last shut-in day, for the weather was clear and bracing, and, well wrapped up, Edna was able to enjoy it. Reliance always joined her when the work was done in the afternoon, and she led her to the acquaintance of two or three other little girls: Alcinda Hewlett, the daughter of the postmaster, Reba Manning, the minister's daughter, and Esther Ann Taber who lived just across the way. These three were playing with Reliance and Edna in front of Esther Ann's one day when suddenly Esther spoke up: "I know where there is an empty house and anyone can go into it who wants to."
"Where is it?" asked Reba, with interest.
"Down past old Sam Titus's. Don't you know that brown house back there by the orchard?"
"Oh, but it is haunted," cried Alcinda.
"Nonsense, it couldn't be," put in Reba. "My father says there aren't such things as haunted houses, and he ought to know."
The word of such high authority as the minister could not be gainsaid, though the suggestion gave the girls rather a creepy feeling.
"I'll dare you all to go in there with me," spoke up Esther Ann.
"Oh, Esther Ann, dast we?" said Alcinda.
"Why not? Nobody lives there, and I don't believe anyone owns it, for there is never a person goes in or out, even to do spring cleaning. I heard my mother say that two old ladies lived there, sisters, and they didn't speak to one another for years; that was long ago and since they died nobody knows who the place belongs to, for it isn't ever lived in."
"Like that place where we go to gather chestnuts," spoke up Reba. "Anybody can go there and get all they want. My father said I could go, and that it was all right, and he knows."
"Of course he does," agreed Esther Ann. "Come, who is going with me?"
"I'd as soon go as not," Reliance was the first to speak.
"How do you get in?" asked Alcinda, a little doubtfully.
"Walk in, goosey. Just open the door and walk in."
"Isn't the door locked?"
"The back door isn't, I tried it one day," replied Esther Ann.
"Why didn't you go in then?" asked Alcinda.
"Well, I was all by myself, and—and—I thought it would be nicer to have some one with me; it always is when you want to explore."
This seemed a perfectly reasonable answer, and the others were reassured, moreover, to a company of five, nothing was likely to happen, they thought, and the spirit of adventure was high in the breast of more than one.
"We'd better start right along," suggested Reliance, "for I have to be back, and Edna mustn't stay out after dark."
"Then, come along, all that want to go," cried Esther Ann, taking the lead.
Off they started down the wide street bordered by maples, now shorn of their leaves, but furnishing a carpet of yellow underfoot, past the church, the store, the schoolhouse and on to the old brown house sitting back behind an orchard of gnarled, crooked apple trees. The place was all grown up with weeds, though here and there were signs of a former garden. Up the rotting pillars of the porch a woodbine still clambered, and around the door, lilac bushes kept their green.
Though she had come thus far without mishap, Alcinda's courage suddenly failed her and she turned and ran.
"'Fraid cat! 'Fraid cat!" called Esther Ann after her.
This had the effect of arresting Alcinda in her flight and she stood still.
"Come on," cried Esther Ann.
"I don't want to," called back Alcinda. "I'll wait out here for you."
"You don't know what you're missing," Esther Ann called back, trying once more to persuade her.
"I'll wait for you here," repeated Alcinda taking up her position on the horse block by the gate.
"All right," responded Esther Ann, and opened the door which gave easily as she turned the knob.
The four little girls found themselves in a dingy kitchen whose belongings remained as they had been left years before. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling; dust was everywhere. The stove rusty and falling to pieces, still held one or two pots and pans. There was crockery on the dresser, and a lamp on the table.
Esther Ann led the way to the next room. "I don't think this one is a bit interesting," she made the remark as she penetrated further.
"Do you think we ought to go?" whispered Edna to Reliance, as these two lagged a little in the rear.
"Why not? Anyone can come in if it belongs to no one, and they say it doesn't belong to a soul. Nobody lives here and why haven't we a right as well as the rest of the world?"
This argument satisfied Edna and she followed along through the deserted rooms, catching sight of a moth-eaten cover here, a bunch of withered flowers there. Books, long untouched, lay half open on a table in one room, the bed was still unmade in another, and everything was confusion.
"Isn't it lovely and spooky?" said Esther Ann, tingling with excitement. "I'm going to see what is in those bureau drawers."
She darted toward an old-fashioned bureau which stood in the room, flopped down on her knees, and drew out the lower drawer. "Oh, girls," she cried, "look here."
The others gathered around her to see boxes in which were the treasures of a forgotten owner,—strings of beads, half-worn white kid gloves, a fan with ivory sticks, combs, and ornaments of various kinds.
"Let's each take something home to her mother," proposed Esther Ann. "I speak for the fan."
"Oh, Esther, do you dare?" asked Reba.
"Why not? They don't belong to anyone," came back the old argument.
"Some one else will most likely take them if we don't," remarked Reliance conclusively.
This satisfied the less venturesome, and they all sat down on the floor to make a selection. Reba chose a quaint, silver buckle, Reliance selected a mother-of-pearl card-case, Edna decided upon a tortoise-shell comb.
"Wasn't it lovely that we should find them?" said Esther Ann enthusiastically. "It will be so nice to be able to take home presents. I am glad no one else found them before we did."
"I wonder how long the back door has been opened," said Reba. "Has it always been?"
"I don't know. I never tried it till the other day," Esther Ann told her.
After rummaging a little further and discovering frocks and coats of unfamiliar cut hanging in the closets and wardrobes, and coming upon mouldy slippers, and queer-looking hats in other places, they concluded they must go. Alcinda had wearied of waiting and had gone off long before, therefore, the four, after shutting the door behind them, took their way through the leaf-strewn path to the gate, then up the street to their respective homes.
"Don't you think Mrs. Willis will be pleased with the card-case?" asked Reliance, as they were entering the gate at Overlea.
"I'm sure she will. She can use it when she goes to the city to see Uncle Bert, and I know mother will like this comb," returned Edna.
Reliance had no time to present her gift at that moment for Amanda called her to come at once to attend to her duties, remarking that she was late, but Edna hunted up her mother who was upstairs. "Oh, mother, mother," she cried, entering the room where her mother was, "see what I have for you. Isn't it pretty?"
Her mother looked up from the letter she was writing. "What is it, dear? Why, Edna, what a beautiful comb. Where did you get it?"
"I found it," replied Edna in an assured tone. "We all found lovely things." Then she launched forth upon an account of the afternoon's adventures.
Her mother listened attentively, and when the child had finished her tale, she drew her close to her side, kissing the little, eager face, and saying, "Dear child, I am afraid you have made a mistake. The things were not for you little girls to take."
"But mother, they didn't belong to anyone. They have been there for years and years, and nobody wants them."
"They would have to belong to some one, dear child. We will ask grandma about the house and whose property it is. Let us go find her."
They hunted up Mrs. Willis who listened interestedly to what they had to tell. "The old Topham house," she said when they had finished. "It belonged to two sisters, Miss Nancy and Miss Tabitha Topham. These two lived together for years, but finally they quarreled and each vowed that she would never speak to the other. They died within a few weeks of one another and there were no nearer heirs than distant cousins who have never troubled themselves to look after the place. Old Nathan Holcomb was the nearest neighbor and he used to keep things pretty well secured, but since his death the place has been going to rack and ruin more and more each year. There is some fine, old furniture there and it is a wonder everything in the house has not been stolen before now, but as the place has the reputation of being haunted it has been more or less avoided. I never heard of its being open to the public and I shall speak to some one who will see that it is made secure. Even if it is not valued by the present owners, it should not be left for tramps or any chance vagrant to make use of."
Edna looked down at the comb which she still held in her hand. "What must I do about this?" she asked.
"You must take it back to-morrow and restore it to its place," her mother told her. "I am perfectly sure that not one of you little girls dreamed that she had no right to take the things, but nevertheless they were not yours, and I am very certain that the other mothers will say the same thing."
"Reliance has a lovely card-case," said Edna, regretfully. "She was going to give it to you, grandma."
Mrs. Willis smiled. "I appreciate the spirit, but she must not be allowed to keep it, my dear."
Edna's face sobered. She felt much crestfallen. She wondered what Reba's father would say.
She did not have long to wait to find this out for after supper came two young callers who sidled in with rather shamefaced expressions. "Suppose you take Reba and Esther Ann into the dining-room for a little while," suggested grandma encouragingly. "Little folks like to chatter about their own affairs, I well know."
Edna shot her grandma a grateful look and soon was closeted with the little girls. "Oh, Edna, what did your mother say?" began Esther Ann.
"She said I must take back the comb, because I had no right to take it."
"That's just what my mother said," returned Esther Ann.
"My father said it's dishonest," put in Reba, "I mean dishonest to keep it. He knew we didn't mean to steal."
"Oh, Reba, don't say such a dreadful word," said Edna in distress.
"It would be stealing, you know, if we were to keep the things," continued Reba bluntly. "My father says you couldn't call it by any other name, and that to break into a house is burglary."
This sounded even more dreadful, though Esther Ann relieved the speech of its effect by saying: "But we didn't break in; we just opened the door and walked in. There wouldn't have been anyone to answer if we had knocked."
"That makes me feel kind of shivery," remarked Edna. "I would rather not go back, but I suppose we shall have to."
"Yes, we shall have to," Reba made the statement determinedly.
Therefore, it was with anything but an adventurous spirit that the four little girls went on their errand the next afternoon. There was no poking into nooks and corners this time, but straight to the bureau went they. Solemnly was each article returned to the box from which it was taken. Silently they tip-toed down the dusty stairs and through the silent rooms to the outer air where each drew a sigh of relief. Esther Ann was the first to speak. "There, that's done," she said. "I don't ever want to go there again."