A SWEET LITTLE MAID
BY AMY E. BLANCHARD
Author of "Little Miss Oddity," "Little Miss Mouse," "Little Sister Anne," "Mistress May," etc.
NEW YORK HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1899, by GEORGE W. JACOBS & CO
MY DEAR LITTLE GODDAUGHTER AGNES BLANCHARD WILLIAMS I LOVINGLY DEDICATE THIS STORY OF ANOTHER SWEET LITTLE MAID
A. E. B.
I. DIMPLE AND BUBBLES 9 II. DOLLS 26 III. A QUARREL 44 IV. HOUSEBREAKERS 62 V. ROCK 81 VI. THE TEA-PARTY 97 VII. HOUSEKEEPERS 119 VIII. ADRIFT 139 IX. DOWN TOWN 158 X. THE PICNIC 177 XI. AN UNCLE AND A WEDDING 196
Dimple and Bubbles
"Is yuh asleep, Miss Dimple?"
"No," said Dimple, drowsily.
"Why, Bubbles," replied Dimple, "if you were asleep you wouldn't be talking."
"Folks talks in their sleep sometimes, Miss Dimple," answered Bubbles, opening her black eyes.
"Well, maybe they do, but your eyes are open now."
"I have heerd of people sleepin' with their eyes open," returned Bubbles, nothing abashed.
"O, Bubbles, I don't believe it; for that is how to go to sleep; mamma says, 'shut your eyes and go to sleep,' she never says, 'open your eyes and go to sleep;' so there!"
Bubbles sat thoughtfully looking at her toes, having nothing to say when Dimple brought her mamma into the question.
"I'll tell you what, Bubbles," said Dimple, after a moment's pause, rising from the long grass where the two had been sitting. "Let's play Indian. You make such a lovely Indian, just like a real one. I am almost afraid of you when you are painted up, and have feathers in your head."
Bubbles grinned at the compliment.
"I will be the white maiden to be captured," said Dimple, as Bubbles coolly proceeded to take off her frock, displaying a red flannel petticoat.
"I'll hunt up the feathers, and you get ready," Dimple went on. "And the shawl—we must have the striped shawl for a blanket," and, running into the house, she soon came out with a little striped shawl, and a handful of stiff feathers. The shawl was arranged over Bubbles' shoulders, and produced a fine effect, when the feathers were stuck in her head.
"Now if you could only have the hatchet. You go get it, Bubbles."
"I dassent," said Bubbles.
"Oh yes, you dare," Dimple said, coaxingly. "I'd go ask mamma, but it is so hot and I've been in the house once."
"'Deed, Miss Dimple"—Bubbles began.
"Don't you 'deed me. I tell you to go and I mean it. I'll send you to the orphan asylum, if you don't, and I wonder how you will like that; no more cakes, no more chicken and corn-bread for you, Miss Bubbles. Mush and milk, miss."
This dreadful threat had its desired effect, and Bubbles' bare black legs went scudding through the grass, and were back in a twinkling.
"Hyah it is," she said. "I was skeered, sho' 'nough."
"Oh well, you are a goose," said Dimple. "Who ever heard of an Indian being scared at a hatchet? Now I will go into the woodshed—that is my house, you know—and you must skulk softly along, and when you get to the door bang it open with the hatchet, and give a whoop."
So Dimple went in her house and shut the door, fearfully peeping through the cracks once in a while, as the terrible foe crept softly nearer and nearer, then with a terrific yell burst in.
"Please, Mr. Indian, don't scalp me."
"Ugh!" said the Indian.
"What shall I do?" said Dimple. "Make me take off my stockings and shoes, Bubbles. You know the captives must go barefooted."
"Ugh!" said the Indian, pointing to Dimple's feet.
"My shoes and stockings? Well, I will give them to you," and she quickly took them off. The Indian gravely tied them around his neck, and taking Dimple by the hand he led her forth in triumph.
But here a disaster followed, for the captive, thinking it her duty to struggle, knocked the hatchet out of the Indian's hand, and it fell with its edge on Dimple's little white foot, making a bad gash.
"Oh, you've killed me, sure enough," she cried. "Oh, you wicked, wicked thing!"
Poor Bubbles cried quite as hard as she, and begged not to be sent to the orphan asylum.
"Oh! your mother will whip me," she cried. "I 'spect I ought to be killed, but 'deed I didn't mean to, Miss Dimple; I wisht it had been my old black foot."
"I wish it had," sobbed Dimple. "Oh, I am bleeding all to nothing! Take me to mamma, Bubbles!"
Bubbles stooped down and, being a little larger and stronger, managed to carry her to the house.
Dimple's mamma was horrified when they appeared at her door. Bubbles in war-paint and feathers, carrying the little barefooted girl, from whose foot blood was dropping on the floor.
"What on earth is the matter? Oh, Dimple! Oh, Bubbles! What have you been doing?"
But Bubbles was so overcome by terror, and Dimples by the sight of the blood, that neither could explain till the foot was washed and bandaged.
Then poor Bubbles flung herself on the floor and begged not to be sent to the orphan asylum.
"You ridiculous child," said Dimple's mamma. "Of course you ought to be careful, but it is not your fault any more than Dimple's. She should not have sent you for the hatchet. I am very sorry for my little Dimple; it is not so very serious, but she will not be able to walk for several days. Next time you want to play Indian, do without a hatchet. Put on your frock, Bubbles, and go into the kitchen, for I'm sure I heard Sylvy call you."
Bubbles went meekly out and Dimple was soon asleep on the sofa.
Bubbles' real name was Barbara. She was the child of a former servant who went away, leaving her, when she was about five years old, with Mrs. Dallas; as the mother never came back, and no one could tell of her whereabouts, Bubbles gradually became a fixture in Dimple's home.
Dimple, when she was just beginning to talk, tried hard to say Barbara, but got no nearer to it than Bubbles, and Bubbles the little darkey was always called.
Dimple herself was called so from the deep dimple in one cheek. Every one knew her by her pet name, and most persons forgot that her name ever was Eleanor.
She and Bubbles were devoted comrades. Bubbles would cheerfully have let Dimple walk over her and never forgot to call her Miss Dimple, thereby expressing her willingness to serve her.
Dimple was the dearest little girl in the world, but considering Bubbles her special property, made her do pretty much as she pleased, and her most dreadful threat was to send her to the orphan asylum.
She had once said, "Mamma, if you hadn't let Bubbles stay here, where would you have sent her?"
"To the orphan asylum, I suppose," her mamma answered; and Bubbles, hearing it, was ever after in mortal terror of the place, for Dimple gave her a graphic description of it, telling her she would never have anything to eat but mush and milk.
Dimple's foot did not get well as fast as she expected, and the little girl found it rather tiresome to lie on a lounge all day, although her mamma read to her, and tried to amuse her. Bubbles, too, was as obedient a nurse as could be, and, because she had been the cause of the accident, considered it her first and only duty to wait on Dimple.
"Mamma," said Dimple, "for a colored girl, Bubbles is the nicest I ever saw; but indeed, I should like a white girl to play with, just for a change. Couldn't you get me one?"
"Perhaps so," said her mamma. "We will see what can be done."
"Good-bye, little girl," said her papa the next morning. "I am going away and will not be back till to-morrow. What shall I bring you? A new doll?"
"Oh, please, papa; and papa a white girl if you can get one that is real nice, something the same kind of girl that I am."
"A girl like you would be hard to find, I think," said he, laughing, "but I'll inquire around and see if there is one to be had."
Bubbles looked very sober all day, and rolled her eyes around at Dimple in such a reproachful way that finally she said:
"I know just what you think, Bubbles. You believe I am going to send you to the orphan asylum and get a white girl, but I am not at all. If I get a white girl I shall want you all the same, because you will have to wait on her too."
Bubbles' face lighted up, as she said,
"'Deed, cross my heart, Miss Dimple, I didn't fo' sure think yuh was gwine to send me off, but I tuck and thought yuh was conjurin' up somethin' agin me."
"Why, Bubbles, I wouldn't do such a thing, unless you were out and out bad. It has been such a long day," she said, turning to her mamma. "When will it be to-morrow?"
Mrs. Dallas drew up a little table, and Bubbles brought Dimple's best set of dishes, and with a clean cloth spread on first, the dishes were arranged. Then Bubbles brought in a little dish of chicken, a glass of jelly, light rolls, little cakes, a pitcher of milk, tea, sugar, and butter; and then Mrs. Dallas said,
"We will have our supper together, because papa is away, and Bubbles can wait on us here."
Bubbles had disappeared, but presently came back with a bunch of roses, which she put in the middle of the table.
"Why, Bubbles, that is quite fine," said Dimple, and she ate her supper with a relish; after which, the time seemed very short until to-morrow, for she was soon asleep.
"I believe this day is long too," she said, toward the afternoon of the next day. "When will papa come?"
"Not till six o'clock," replied her mamma. "You must try to be patient, for I think you will be very glad when he gets here. I have sent Bubbles for a book, and I will read to you, to pass the time away."
Six o'clock came at last, and soon after Dimple heard her papa's voice in the hall.
"Come right up," she heard him say.
"I do believe he has brought the white girl," she said, clasping her hands; and, to be sure, when he opened the door, some one was behind him.
"This is the nearest like you I could get," he said, and led forward some one in a grey frock and hat.
Dimple screamed, "Why, it is Florence. Oh! papa, you didn't say you were going to auntie's!"
"No. I wanted to surprise you," he replied. "And I thought your own cousin ought to be more like you than any one else."
"Well, I am delighted. You are sure to stay a long, long time, Florence. Take off your hat and sit right here," she said, moving up on the lounge. "I never had such a surprise."
"You forgot I promised a doll, too," said her papa, as he opened a package. "I thought Florence would like one, so I brought two, as near alike as if they were cousins," he added.
"Oh! you preciousest papa," said Dimple; "let me hug you all to pieces. I do think you are the most delightful man. I don't wonder mamma married you. When you go down please send Bubbles up here, so I can tell her I am almost glad she cut my foot, for it is worth it, to have Florence and a new doll too."
Bubbles came in beaming.
"Bubbles," cried Dimple, "see Florence and our new dolls,—and Bubbles, you shall have one of my old ones,—and Bubbles, when I grow up, you shall live with me always, because you cut my foot, and you must never, never think of the orphan asylum again.
"Now, tell me, Florence," she said, turning to her, "all about your coming. Didn't you have to get ready in a hurry?"
"Yes, indeed," replied Florence, "and, oh Dimple, I was so glad when uncle asked mamma and she said 'yes,' and she just packed up my things in a jiffy, and we stopped at papa's office, and said good-bye to him, and uncle bought me oranges and papers on the cars, and we didn't seem a bit long coming."
"Well, I am too glad," returned Dimple. "Won't we have fun with the dolls? O, Florence, do eat your supper up here with me instead of going downstairs."
"Of course," said Florence, "unless you would rather go down, for uncle said he would carry you."
"I know," said Dimple, "but it is more fun to have it up here with my tea-set, and Bubbles to wait on us."
So they had their tea upstairs, with the table set by the window, where the wistaria peeped in to look at them, and a little brown bird, quite envious, put his head on one side, and stood on the sill a full minute before he flew away.
"Oh! I think it is just lovely here," said Florence. "Ever so much nicer than at our house."
"Do you think so?" said Dimple, quite pleased. "You have a lovely house, though, Florence; it is four stories high, and has such beautiful things in it, and when you look out of the windows there is so much to see, carriages, and people all dressed up."
"Yes, and dirty old beggars and ragmen," said Florence, "and nasty, muddy streets."
They both laughed.
"What cunning little doylies," said Florence. "Who worked the little figures on them?"
"Mamma," said Dimple. "Aren't they sweet? She always sends them up with my supper, one over the milk pitcher, and one over the cake. Do you like lots of sugar in your tea, Florence?"
"Only two! Why I like three, and I believe I could take another; mamma says I have a sweet tooth, but I don't know where it is, for I have put my tongue on all of them and they all taste alike. Bubbles, go down and ask mamma if we mayn't have a little teensy-weensy bit more honey, we are both so hungry."
Bubbles took the little glass dish, and went off.
"I wish I had a Bubbles," said Florence. "We have a black man, but I think a little girl is ever so much nicer; then there is nurse, she takes us to walk; and then there is Kate, the cook, and Lena, the chambermaid, they are always fussing and quarreling. I get tired of so many."
"We only have Sylvy and Bubbles," said Dimple. "Sylvy is black too; she is real nice but she will get mad with Bubbles sometimes. Bubbles cleans knives, and runs errands, sets the table, wipes the dishes, and is a lot of help. You don't know how much she can do, and she learns something new every little while. Have some more honey, Florence, for that piece of bread. I never can come out even; sometimes I have to take more bread for the honey, and then more honey for the bread, till I do eat so much. Have you finished? I believe I have too."
"It is so nice here," said Florence, as they settled themselves after their tea, "just delicious. It is so much pleasanter to see green grass, and trees, and flowers, than brick walls, and pavements. Do you play out of doors much?"
"Yes, all day, nearly; but I haven't since my foot was hurt. I couldn't run about, and I should have to wait for some one to bring me in; then I always want to be close to mamma when anything is the matter with me. Are you that way?"
"Yes," said Florence. "Aren't mammas the best thing in the world? I hope mine doesn't miss me."
"Now, Florence, don't get homesick, for I shall be distressed if you do. Let's talk about the dolls. Here comes mamma. We will ask her what we can dress them in.
"Mamma, mamma, did you see our beauty dolls? Won't you get out your reserve bag to-morrow? I have looked over my piece box so much, and it would be perfectly splendid to have something I had never seen before."
"What is a reserve bag?" asked Florence.
"Why, you see," said Dimple, "mamma has a lot of bags, one for silk pieces, and one for white pieces, and one for pieces like our frocks, and so on, but the nicest is the one she keeps for occasions, like Christmas and birthdays and fairs, and there are the prettiest bits of velvet and silk in it. Mamma, bring out your reserve bag, that is a lovely blue-eyed mamma," said Dimple, coaxingly.
"You are very complimentary," said her mamma, laughing. "If you won't tease or worry me, to-morrow I will bring it out and you can each choose what you want."
"Oh! mamma, you are lovelier and more blue-eyed than ever," said Dimple, "let us both kiss you. We will be good as gold, won't we, Florence?"
"Yes, indeed," said she. "Auntie, you are lovely."
"I think if you don't go to bed," said Mrs. Dallas, "you will keep me awake all night with your flattery."
"Florence is to sleep with me, isn't she, mamma?"
"Certainly, and the sooner you go, the sooner it will be to-morrow."
"Well, we will go now. See me ride, Florence," said Dimple, as her mamma put her in a rocking-chair and pushed the chair along through the door into Dimple's little blue and white room.
It was a dear little room, and Dimple, with the help of Bubbles, took care of it all herself.
There was a white curtained window around which roses and honeysuckle grew, and threw their tendrils about in a such a reckless way, that one or two had made up their minds to live in the room instead of outdoors, and were climbing around the window sash.
A little brass bedstead, a mantel with a blue and white lambrequin, a blue and white toilet set, pretty pictures on the wall, and a small bookshelf, made a very cozy looking nest for a little girl, and so Florence thought, who had no room of her own, but slept with an older sister.
They were both tired, and even the delightful topic of dolls could not keep them awake very long, for a half hour later when the moon looked in on her way across the sky, she saw them both sound asleep, an auburn head on Florence's pillow, and a yellow one on Dimple's.
Florence and Dimple were on the back porch where it was always cool in the morning.
Bubbles was cleaning knives on the steps, the temptation to watch the dressing of the dolls being too great to keep her in the kitchen.
"I declare," said Dimple, "we haven't named them yet."
"That is so," returned Florence.
"You take first choice, then," said Dimple. "I shall have to think, for I've had a Rose and a Violet and a Lily, besides one named Victoria, and one Aurelia."
Florence sat still watching Bubbles briskly scouring her knives. "Dear me," she said, presently, "it's awfully hard. How do you suppose our mothers found names for us?"
"Oh! that was easy enough," answered Dimple. "I was named Eleanor after your mamma, and you were named Florence after mine; but, you see we are not sisters, so we can't do that. I'll tell you what let's do; you tell mamma the names you like best, and I will tell her those I like; then she can write them down and put them in a hat, and we will draw lots for them."
"That will be a good plan," said Florence. "She is coming now with the reserve bag."
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" they cried, as Mrs. Dallas shook out its contents.
"Let Florence choose first, dear," said she as Dimple began making dives at the fluttering ends of silk. "You may each have two pieces."
Dimple looked a little disappointed; being an only child she was used to first choice herself, but she yielded with a very good grace.
Florence finally chose a piece of maroon satin, and another of yellow brocaded velvet, while Dimple picked out a piece of silk with velvet stripes of a lovely pink, and another bit of blue silk brocade. "Mamma," whispered she, "give Bubbles a little piece, if she is black," and so the brightest bit of scarlet was picked out for Bubbles, who was made perfectly happy by it.
"Now, names," exclaimed Dimple, as the rest of the pieces were returned to the bag. "First Florence one and then I one. How many, Florence?"
"Four, I think. Ethel first, for me. No, you choose first, Dimple. I had first choice in the pieces."
"No, you're company."
Being company, Florence took her rights, and Ethel went down.
"Blanche, for me, mamma," said Dimple.
"And Celestine for me, auntie."
"Irene," said Dimple.
"Geraldine," said Florence.
"Adele," said Dimple.
"My last," said Florence. "Rubina."
"Oh, what a lovely name!" exclaimed Dimple. "If you don't draw it, I should like it, so I won't say any more till you have drawn."
The slips were shaken up in a hat, and Florence, with eyes shut, drew out Celestine.
"I am glad," she said. "I believe I like that best; it has a sort of a heavenly sound, and my doll is angelic."
"Well, mamma, I will take Rubina. You don't care, do you, Florence?"
"No, indeed. I am glad you like it."
"Now they are named, we will dress them."
"How are you going to dress yours, Dimple?"
"I think I'll have a skirt of the blue and a waist of the pink. No, the other way, will look best, because the velvet is thickest, the skirt of pink and the waist of blue."
"Well, I will have to make my doll's frock of all the same, with velvet trimming. Will that look well?"
"Lovely! What are you going to do with your piece, Bubbles?"
"Make a overskirt for Floridy Alabamy," said Bubbles, importantly.
"Who?" said Dimple, with her scissors ready to cut into the pink.
"Floridy Alabamy," said Bubbles, gravely.
"What a name!" shrieked Dimple, throwing back her head in a fit of laughter. "Florence, did you hear? Floridy Alabamy."
And the girls laughed till the tears ran down their cheeks.
"Bubbles, you are too ridiculous," said Dimple, while Bubbles pinned her bit of scarlet on her doll.
Just then Sylvy called her, and she ran off, holding her doll admiringly at arm's length.
"She will dress it just like a darkey. You see," said Dimple, "she has a purple dress on it now; think of that, with a scarlet overskirt; and I know she will make it a blue waist out of one of my old sash ribbons I gave her."
And sure enough, Floridy Alabamy did wear the three colors in triumph.
"Do you like big or little dolls best?" asked Florence.
"I don't know," said Dimple. "I think rather big or real little. Middle sizes are so hard to dress. They have to have such little fidgety sleeves and waists. I have two little dolls upstairs, and we can dress them up next. I believe one of them has an arm off, but it can be mended. How many dolls have you?"
"Four, now," answered Florence. "I had five, but Gertrude broke one. Gertrude is such a mischief, I have to keep all my things locked up. I hope to goodness they won't let her get at them while I'm away."
"Oh, you must make a traveling dress for your Celestine. I have a piece of grey linen that will just do."
By the time the dinner bell rang, both the dolls were dressed gorgeously.
"Aren't they lovely, papa?" said Dimple, as she hobbled out to meet him.
"Yes; they look like two butterflies," he said, lifting her up, doll and all.
"Are you having a good time, Florence? I hope Dimple hasn't pinched or scratched you yet."
"Why, papa," said Dimple, looking very much hurt. "Florence will think I am a regular little cat," but seeing a twinkle in his eyes, she knew he was only in fun, and was consoled by the kiss he gave her as he put her in her chair at the table.
There was a long afternoon before them, and, although Dimple could not walk very well with her bandaged foot, she managed to get down to her favorite place, under a big tree, where the grass was long and thick.
"Now we can play beautifully with our dolls, Florence," she said, "and have no one to disturb us, for Bubbles doesn't count. She has to be in the kitchen for a while anyhow."
They had not been out very long before Bubbles came running to them. "There is a lady and a boy in the house, Miss Dimple," she said, "and your mamma's a bringin' the boy out hyah."
"A boy!" said both the girls in horror.
"Think of it, Florence, a horrid boy! What will we do with him? I can't run, and boys despise dolls. As for talking, I never could talk to boys. They shut me up like a clam. I always feel as if they wanted to get away, and I believe they would if they could," said Dimple in a disgusted tone.
But, by this time, Mrs. Dallas had come up to them.
"This is Rock Hardy, girls," said she. "As Dimple is a little lame, I brought him out here, rather than take her in the house," and so saying, she left them. There was a deep silence after they had shaken hands; all looking rather bashful for a few minutes.
Finally Rock took courage to say, "What pretty dolls."
This was encouraging; Florence and Dimple exchanged pleased glances.
"Do you think they are pretty?" asked Dimple. "I thought boys hated dolls."
"I don't," said Rock. "I played with them myself for a long time, and I have one now, but I don't play with it because I like to read better."
"He is a nice boy," thought the girls.
"How funny," said Florence. "How came you to play with dolls?"
"Why, you see, I haven't any brothers and sisters. When I was a little fellow I used to get so lonely, that my mother dressed a boy doll for me, and I talked to it and pretended it was another boy."
"I haven't any brothers, or sisters either," said Dimple, "but Florence has. I have Bubbles, though. Everybody can't have a Bubbles; she is next best to a sister, or a cousin."
"Who is Bubbles?" asked Rock.
"She is the little colored girl you saw when you came out of the house; she has lived here ever since I was a baby; she is a year older than I am; her mother ran off and left her, and she is real nice to play with."
Dimple was fast getting over her embarrassment.
"Don't you go to school?" asked Rock.
"No, mamma has always taught me at home, but I am going next year. It is vacation now."
"Yes, I know," said Rock, "that is why we came here. We are going to stay for some time. I like to play with girls. Will you let me come and play with you sometimes?"
"Yes, indeed," said Dimple, in her warm-hearted way. "My foot is nearly well, and I can soon run about. I think I should like to play with a nice boy."
"I hope I'm a nice boy," said Rock, "but I don't know. I suppose everybody is mean sometimes."
"I think you look nice," said Dimple, honestly, looking at him from head to foot.
"Why don't you say something, Florence?"
Florence thus appealed to, could say nothing.
"Florence is my cousin," said Dimple. "She lives in Baltimore and she came here yesterday."
"Why, I live in Baltimore," said Rock. "What street do you live on, Florence?"
Florence told him, and they found it was in the next street to that on which Rock lived, so they all began to feel like old friends.
"If I had my scroll saw here, I could make you each a chair for your dolls," said Rock. "Maybe my mother will let me send for it. I will ask her."
"Oh, that would be lovely," said the girls.
"And I will lend you some of my books to read," said Dimple. "If you will please hand me that little cane, we will go in and you can choose them."
"Oh, thank you," said Rock. "I shall like to have them, for I like to read better than to do anything else."
They all went in and found Rock's mother and Mrs. Dallas in the parlor.
Dimple told her mamma what they had come for, and her mamma suggested her taking Rock into the library first, as he might find something there that he liked.
So Rock was taken to the bookcase, and found there a book of travels he had been wanting to read, so he bade them good-bye, with it under his arm, promising soon to come again.
Then Dimple and Florence returned to the garden where they had left a colony of grasshoppers imprisoned in a small house built for them out of bits of wood and bark.
"Baby Grasshopper has gone," said Florence, in dismay, as she peeped in to see the prisoners.
"I knew he would get out; he was so little," returned Dimple. "Let's set them all free, Florence. We'll pretend that they escaped in the night, or that peace has been declared."
"Or that a tornado blew down their prison."
"Yes, that will be the best. We'll blow real hard, and maybe it will come down."
So, with cheeks much puffed out they blew and blew, but without avail, and finally they picked up their hats and fanned the little bark structure so vigorously that it toppled over, and the grasshoppers escaped in every direction, the children laughing to see how quickly they disappeared.
They sat there in the grass wondering what to do next when Dimple exclaimed, "There comes papa with Mr. Coulter,—he's the carpenter, you know—I wonder what he is going to do. See, Mr. Coulter is measuring the ground, and papa is explaining something. I can tell by the way he keeps doing so, with his hand. He always does that when he is explaining. Help me up, Florence, and let's go over there and see what's going on. Papa must mean to have something built. I hope it isn't a fence. No, it can't be that, for it would be too near the other one. Isn't it funny to watch men talking? They do so many funny things. Mr. Coulter keeps nodding his head like a horse."
Florence laughed and they made their way over to where the two men stood. As soon as they were within speaking distance, Dimple began to put her questions. "Are you going to build something, papa? What is it? Please don't say it's a fence, or a—a pig-sty."
Mr. Coulter chuckled as he went on laying his foot-rule along the ground.
"I hope it won't turn into a pig-sty," Mr. Dallas replied, with a smile. "It won't unless little pigs get into it."
"Are you going to keep little pigs?" Dimple asked.
"I didn't say so."
"Oh, papa, you are so mystiferious. I wish you would tell us all about it. What are you going to build? Any sort of house?"
"Yes, one sort of house."
"What is it to be for?"
"Ah!" Dimple was quite satisfied. "I see. You need a new hen house. Isn't the old one big enough? To be sure we don't get very many eggs just now, for so many of the hens are sitting. Oh, I know, maybe you are going to build a place like Mr. Lind's, with a—what is that thing? A inkybator. Are you going to have one of those? and a brooder? Are you, papa?"
"I haven't decided exactly what is to be in it, just yet. I think we'll let mamma see to that—she knows best what is needed. You shall know all about it in good time. But, Dimple, I don't want you to worry Mr. Coulter with questions, and I want you two little girls to keep away from the building while the work is going on."
"Yes, uncle." Florence gave her promise promptly.
"Yes—papa—but—" Dimple was disappointed. She dearly liked to watch the workmen when they came on the place, and she felt this was a deprivation which seemed unnecessary. "Why, papa, can't we look at the workmen? We won't ask questions and bother them," she said.
"I think it is best that you shouldn't this time. Can't you trust papa? When the proper time comes I'll show you the whole thing, and explain it all. Meantime I want you to be an obedient little girl, and keep out of the way."
Dimple looked up wistfully.
"Won't you please your father by minding what he says?" continued Mr. Dallas.
"Yes, papa," replied Dimple, faintly, "I will be sure to mind, only I wish you could let me see the house going up. It is such fun to climb about over the boards and things."
"I know it is, and I know I'm requiring a great deal of you, but I think in the end you will see why," returned her father.
"Have we many little chicks to go in it. I mean will there be a great many?"
Mr. Dallas and Mr. Coulter glanced at each other and smiled; then Mr. Dallas said, "It might be a good plan to go to the barn and see how old Speckle is getting on. Her time is about up, so perhaps we'll find some little chicks. I'll carry you there on my back."
"And maybe we'll find some eggs," spoke up Florence, who dearly liked to hunt eggs. "We found two yesterday. Indeed, uncle, I think you do need more hens, for auntie said yesterday that she didn't get all the eggs she wanted."
They found old Speckle ready to be quite flustered when they took her off the nest, for they found that four little chicks were already hatched, and the shells of several other eggs were chipped.
Mr. Dallas gave the children each two of the little chicks to carry up to the house, that they might be kept safely till Speckle came off with the rest of the brood, and Bubbles, who had followed them, trotted along behind with her hands full of the eggs they were fortunate enough to find.
The new building was begun at once, and Dimple found it hard to keep away from it, but she resolutely stuck to her promise. One day, to be sure, she did not venture nearer than usual, but suddenly she exclaimed in a loud voice, "Get thee hence, satan!" and turning ran directly into Bubbles who, as usual, had followed her.
"What dat yuh call me, Miss Dimple," exclaimed Bubbles, in an aggrieved tone.
"You! Oh, I wasn't talking to you."
This seemed rather a lame excuse to Bubbles, since no one else was near. "Yass 'm, yuh is call me sumpin'," she insisted. "Dey ain't nobody else."
"There was somebody else," Dimple replied, with dignity. "And don't you contradict me. I reckon I know what I'm talking about better than you do."
This puzzled Bubbles, but it also silenced her, although she looked furtively around to see where Dimple's hidden acquaintance might be; that somebody else to whom she spoke so defiantly. "Hit's dat no 'count little niggah Jim, I'll be bound," she muttered, under her breath. "He done shy a stone at the de birds and dat mek Miss Dimple mad. She don't 'low nobody 'buse de birds." Thus settling the matter, she cheerfully smiled when Dimple gave her a glance, and Dimple laughed. Then she stood still.
"Bubbles," she said, "papa never said you mustn't go near that house, did he?"
"Well, just go peep in and tell me what it looks like. From the looks of the outside, I should say that it is nearly done. You peep in at the window."
Bubbles obeyed, and came back with the information. "Hit's got a flo' an' a stove."
"Ah!" Dimple pondered. "Oh yes, that's to keep the baby chicks warm, I suppose. I wish I could see for myself. Is that all, Bubbles?"
"I wish I hadn't told you to peep in," Dimple remarked, after a pause. "I don't believe it was quite honest for me to do it, and I'll have to be uncomfortable till I tell mamma or papa. You oughtn't to have peeped, Bubbles."
"Yuh tole me to."
"So I did, but—well, you shouldn't have done it, just the same."
Bubbles rolled her eyes reproachfully, and began to mutter.
"There, never mind. It wasn't your fault," Dimple confessed, hastily. But although Bubbles' countenance cleared, Dimple herself did not feel at ease till she had told her mother, which she did that night at bedtime.
"It was not right," her mother told her, "and was a bad example to Bubbles. That is where the trouble often comes in. Not so much in the actual wrong we do, but its effect upon others."
"I do want to see, so very much. Papa never made it so hard for me before."
"I know it, dear. I have realized very clearly all along how hard it must be for you, but I think when you do know you will be so pleased that you will forget this part of it. I am glad my little girlie was brave enough to tell of her asking Bubbles to peep."
And kissing her good-night, Mrs. Dallas left her little girl feeling comforted.
"Raining! Isn't that too bad?" said Florence, leaning on one elbow in bed, and looking out of the window.
"Hm, hm," said Dimple, sleepily, from her pillow.
Florence slipped out of bed and stood looking dolefully at the falling drops.
"What do you suppose the birds do, Dimple?" she asked, going up to her, and softly shaking her.
"Oh," said Dimple, now awake, and sitting up in bed, rubbing her eyes, "I suppose they get under the leaves just as we do under an umbrella, or they go under the eaves, and places like that. I have seen them lots of times. It is raining, isn't it, Florence?"
"I said so, long ago," answered Florence; "now we can't go out of doors to play, and it is so nice outdoors. I don't see the sense of its raining in summer."
"Why," returned Dimple, sitting down on the floor to put on her shoes and stockings, "that is the very time for it to rain, or everything would dry up."
"Well, I wish it didn't have to," said Florence, coming away from the window, and sitting on the floor too. "What color stockings do you like best, Dimple?"
"I don't know; black, I think. Don't you?"
"I believe I do. My! there is the breakfast bell, and we are only beginning to get dressed. You fasten my buttons, and I will fasten yours, Dimple, so we will get dressed in a hurry."
Their fingers flew, and they rushed down to breakfast two steps at a time.
"It was so dark this morning that we went to sleep again after you called us, mamma," explained Dimple.
"I will excuse you this time, but your breakfast is not as warm as it would have been earlier," said Mrs. Dallas, "and papa had to go away without his morning kiss."
"I am sorry," said Dimple. "Cold eggs aren't very good," she went on, pushing away her plate. "What can we do to-day, mamma?"
"What should you like to do?"
"I don't know," returned Dimple. "My feelings hurt me rainy days, and I don't know what I want."
Mrs. Dallas smiled, as she replied, "You might make paper dolls, they are good rainy day people; that would be one thing. Then you can paint."
"I haven't but one brush, and I have used up all the books and papers you gave me to paint in."
"I can find some more, perhaps, and you and Florence can take turn about with the paint brush."
Dimple looked as if that would not suit very well, and Florence seeing her look, felt a little hurt.
Paper dolls did not amuse them very long; and when Dimple was ready to color the pictures Mrs. Dallas had found for them, Florence declined absolutely to paint at all. So they both sat with their elbows on the window-sill, decidedly out of humor.
"Florence," said Dimple, presently, "I have an idea. Do you see that hogshead down there? It is running over."
"I see it," said Florence. "What of it; it isn't anything very wonderful."
"Well, you needn't be so disagreeable," said Dimple. "What I was going to say, is this; let's make paper boats, and put paper dolls in them. We can pretend the hogshead is Niagara Falls, and the water that runs down the gutter can be Niagara river."
"We will get sopping wet."
"Oh no, we won't; it isn't raining so awfully hard. I will put on my rubber waterproof, and you can put on mamma's. We can slip around there without any one seeing us, for mamma is busy on the other side of the house. Don't you think it would be fun?"
"Ye-es," said Florence, doubtfully.
"Let's hurry and make the boats then. Which paper dolls shall we take? The ugliest, I think, because they will all be drowned anyhow; and don't let's take any pretty frocks, because we can make dolls to fit the frocks when these are drowned."
With paper boats, dolls and waterproofs they stole softly down the front stairs, and shutting the door after them very gently, ran around the house to the hogshead. The roses were heavy with rain, and the honeysuckle shook big drops on them, as they ran by.
The boats went topsy-turvy over the falls, upsetting the dolls, who went careering down the stream, to the great delight of the children.
They played till the last boat load was lost beyond all hope, and then, with wet feet and streaming sleeves, they crept back to the house.
"Now, what shall we do? It was lots of fun, Dimple," said Florence, "but I know your mother will scold, when she sees how wet our feet are, and your foot just well too, and see my sleeves. If we change our clothes she will wonder and then—What shall we do?"
"I don't think it was a bit of harm," said Dimple, determined to brave it out, "but it won't do to keep these wet frocks on. I know. We will go up into the attic, take them off, and hang them up to dry; then we can dress up in other things. There are trunks and boxes full of clothes up there, and we can play something."
"So we can," exclaimed Florence. "That is a perfectly lovely plan. Do you think our clothes will dry before supper?"
"Of course," said Dimple; "anyhow it will be funny to put on trains and things. Come on."
They raced up to the garret, and were soon diving into the boxes and trunks of winter clothing that Mrs. Dallas had packed away.
"Here," said Dimple, on her knees before a trunk, "take this skirt of mamma's," and she dragged out a cashmere skirt. "Florence, see what is in those band-boxes, and get us each a bonnet, while I hunt for a shawl or coat, or something."
After much tumbling up of clothing, she found what she wanted, and they had taken off their frocks when they heard Mrs. Dallas calling,
"Children, where are you?"
Both were silent for a moment, and stood with quickly beating hearts.
After a second call, Dimple mustered up courage to answer, "Up here, mamma."
"In the garret."
"What are you doing?"
"Well, don't get into any mischief," came from the bottom of the stairs, and then Mrs. Dallas went off.
Presently there came another fright: a footstep on the stairs.
"Who is that?" asked Dimple, fearfully.
"Me," came the answer, as Bubbles' woolly head appeared.
"It is only Bubbles," said Dimple, much relieved. "Come up, Bubbles; we are dressing up, and you shall too; but if you dare to tell on us—off you go to the orphan asylum."
"I wouldn't tell fur nothin', Miss Dimple," said she, as Dimple threw her an old wrapper.
"I am going to be Lady Melrose, and Florence Lady Beckwith. You can be—Oh, Florence, let's dress Bubbles up in a coat and trousers, and have her for a footman."
"All right," said Florence, and shaking with laughter, Bubbles was attired in coat, trousers, and tall hat.
"Oh, she is too funny," said Florence, holding her sides. "Where is my bonnet?"
"That's mine," exclaimed Dimple, as Florence possessed herself of a bonnet with feathers in it.
"No, I chose this first," said Florence.
"Well, it's my mother's, I reckon, and I have the best right to it."
"Well, I'm company, and you're very impolite."
"I'm not," retorted Dimple, getting very red in the face.
"You are. I'd have my mother teach me how to behave, if I were you, Dimple Dallas."
"You horrid, red-headed thing!" cried Dimple, now thoroughly angry. "I'd like to know how you would look in a garnet velvet bonnet anyhow. You'd better take something that's not quite so near the color of your hair."
"My hair isn't red, it's auburn," said Florence, bursting into a sob, "and I'm not going to stay here another minute. I'm going straight home to my mother." And she tore off the clothes in which she had decked herself, leaving them in a heap on the floor. She snatched up her wet frock and ran downstairs.
Dimple sat quite still after Florence left her. She did not dare to go downstairs for fear of encountering her mother, and yet, suppose Florence should really mean to go home. How dreadful! She considered the question till she could bear it no longer, and, slowly putting on her own clothes, she crept downstairs, hoping as she went from room to room that she would find Florence. She even peeped cautiously in upon her mother, busy with her sewing, but no Florence was to be seen.
"Perhaps she has started to go home," Dimple said to herself, in real alarm. "Oh, dear, I hope there hasn't been any train along that she could take." She put on her hat, seized an umbrella from the rack, and sallied forth. It was still raining hard, and as she splashed along, the little girl was very miserable.
It was quite a walk to the railway station, and Dimple hurried her steps, fearing she might be too late to intercept her cousin. She entered the waiting-room of the station, and looked anxiously around. No Florence was there. Her heart sank and she turned to go. Florence had really meant what she said. And her aunt and cousins in Baltimore, what would they think of her? The tears began to roll down Dimple's cheeks as she looked up and down the long track. She did not know what to do next. It would be so dreadful to go home and tell her mother that she had driven her cousin away by her rudeness. She was about to turn toward home, when she bethought herself of making some inquiry about the trains; and she entered the waiting-room again.
Standing on tiptoe she asked the ticket agent. "When was the last train to Baltimore?"
"Next train leaves at 4:50," said the man, without looking up.
"Not the next train, but the last train. When did it go?"
"Last train!" the man glanced up. "Last train left at 2:15."
"Thank you." It was with a sense of relief that she heard him give the time. Florence had not left the house so long ago as that. It was now after four, and two hours had not elapsed since they were playing in the garret. So she went slowly out, but suddenly remembered that Florence was not at home. Where was she? Perhaps she was lost. She didn't know her way about very well, Dimple reflected, and she could easily have taken a wrong turn.
"I'll just have to look for her, that's all," thought Dimple; and the little feet pattered along in the rain, getting wetter and wetter each moment.
Up one street and down another went Dimple, but there was no sign of Florence, and the child's repentance grew stronger as she traveled on. Her imagination saw Florence in a dozen different plights, each one worse than the last. Accidents of various kinds, disasters of every possible nature, even the very improbable idea that she had been stolen by gypsies, rose to the child's mind, till, terror stricken, she flew along, scarcely knowing which way she went.
She was conscious of steadily pursuing footsteps behind her, but she did not turn to look until the feet came nearer and nearer and a soft plaintive voice called, "Oh, Miss Dimple, stop, please stop." Looking around, she saw that Bubbles had followed her.
It was a relief to see the familiar face, and Dimple forlornly dropped into her little maid's arms crying: "Oh, Bubbles! Oh, Bubbles, Florence is lost."
"No 'm, she ain't," replied Bubbles, with confidence.
"Oh, how do you know?"
"'Cause she come in de front do' jis' as I was gwine th'ough de yard. I never stopped to ast her nothin', fo' I seen yuh a kitin' down street, an' I put after yuh, lickety-split. All of a suddent I los' sight of yuh, an' I been a standin' on de cornah waitin' fo' yuh to come back. I know yuh 'bleedged to cross to git home, an' I been a waitin' fo' yuh."
"Oh Bubbles! Oh Bubbles! I'm so glad, but I'm so tired and so wet, and—oh dear—I'm afraid to tell mamma, and I'm so miserable. I never was so miserable."
Bubbles looked as sympathetic as the occasion required, and trotted along by Dimple's side, holding the umbrella over her, and trying to suggest all manner of comforting things.
"Hit'll all be ovah befo' yuh is twict married, Miss Dimple, and hit mought be wuss. S'posin' Miss Flo'ence was los' sho 'nough, den yuh might tek on. She safe an' soun'. Jes' yuh come in de back way, an' I'll git yuh some dry things. An' Sylvy won't say nothin'. I jes' know she wont, an' yuh can git dry by de kitchen fire. I reckon Miss Flo'ence mighty 'shamed o' herse'f, kickin' up all dis rumpus 'bout nothin'."
But Dimple shook her head. "It wasn't about nothing. I behaved just as mean as could be, and I'm the one to be ashamed. I'll go straight to mamma; it will be best, for she would find out anyhow, and besides, I'd feel a great deal worse if I deceived her about it."
Bubbles was not to be convinced that her beloved Miss Dimple was at all in the wrong, but Dimple would not change her mind, being in a state of great humility and penitence, and finally Bubbles gave up trying to dissuade her.
Florence had reached home long before. Indeed she had not gone very far before her anger cooled, although she was still very much hurt; but she concluded it would not be right to start off for her own home without a word to her aunt, who had been so kind to her. This thought added to her unhappiness, and she went to Dimple's room, throwing herself on the floor, crying bitterly.
The sound of her sobs brought Mrs. Dallas from the next room.
"Why, Florence," she said, seeing the little girl prone upon the floor. "What is the matter? Why have you taken off your frock?"
"Oh! auntie," sobbed Florence, "please let me go home; indeed, I can't stay."
"Are you homesick?" asked her aunt, as she took her up on her lap, and pushed back the damp hair from her face. "Poor little girl!"
A fresh burst of tears was the only answer.
"Where is Dimple?" asked Mrs. Dallas.
But Florence only cried the harder, and her aunt was forced to put her down with an uncomfortable sense of there being something wrong. She went directly up to the attic, but it was silent. Dimple was not there, neither was Bubbles, and no amount of search revealed them. She went back to Florence, who dried her tears and unburdened her heart, and then in her turn became alarmed about Dimple, since no amount of hunting disclosed her whereabouts.
Mrs. Dallas was, herself, becoming much worried, when the door slowly opened and a disheveled little figure stood before them, with soaking garments and sodden shoes.
For a moment Dimple stood, then ran forward and buried her head in her mother's lap.
"Mamma," she sobbed, "it was all on account of the weather. I coaxed Florence out to the hogshead, and then we got wet, and didn't know how to get out of it, and we went up into the attic, and I felt naughty all the time, and we got mad, and oh dear! I wish the sun would shine."
"I am afraid from all I hear, that you have been the one to set all this mischief astir," said her mother. "I thought I could trust my little girl. Think, Dimple, what a day's work. You have tempted your cousin to do wrong, first by going out in the wet, and again by meddling with the clothing upstairs; then you hurt her feelings, and quarreled with her, and now you blame the weather for it all, besides setting a bad example to Bubbles. Where have you been, my child?"
"Trying to find Florence, mamma. I walked and walked, and I was so worried, and—oh, mamma, I thought all sorts of dreadful things. I went to the station, Florence, and I found out there that you hadn't really gone home; then I thought you were lost, or that the cars had run over you, or the gypsies had stolen you, or that—oh I'm so miserable," she caught her breath, and shivered with cold and excitement.
Her mother was unfastening her wet garments. She felt that Dimple's naughtiness had brought its own punishment. "I think Florence has changed her mind about going home," she said, quietly.
Dimple raised a tear-stained face. "Oh, Florence, have you?" she exclaimed. "I'm so glad. I don't want you to think I don't love you, for I do. I love you dearly, dearly, Florence, and I think your hair is lovely."
This was too much for Florence's tender heart, and she sobbed out, "It was my fault too, Dimple. I said hateful things, and I couldn't forgive myself when I thought you had gone, I didn't know where. I had no business to scare you so. Please, Aunt Flo, kiss us and forgive us, and please, for my sake, don't scold Dimple."
Mrs. Dallas gathered the two little penitents into her loving arms. They were so truly sorry, and had suffered really more than they deserved. "I think Dimple sees her fault quite plainly, dear," Florence was told, "but I am afraid you will both be ill, and so I think I must put you to bed, not for punishment, but because you must be kept warm, and must have something hot to keep you from taking cold. Where is Bubbles, Dimple? Wasn't she with you?"
"Not all the time, mamma, but she came after me, and found me on the corner. Please don't punish her. She only went out because she wanted to find me."
"I understand that, and I know she did not mean to do wrong. She did what she felt to be her duty to you. I'll not scold her, nor punish her, daughter."
Dimple gave a sigh of relief, and pressed her wet cheek against her mother's. "Please kiss me, mamma," she whispered, "and then I'll know you forgive naughty me."
Mrs. Dallas immediately consented, and when she left the room, two very contrite little girls cuddled up close to each other, and took without a murmur the hot herb tea which Mrs. Dallas brought to them. And the next morning when they woke, lo! the sun was shining, and not an ache nor a pain did either little girl feel to remind her of the dreary yesterday.
Despite all this unpleasant experience, it was only about a week later that Dimple and Florence came near getting into trouble again. This time, however, it was Florence who set the ball rolling. It was not exactly from a spirit of mischief, but because her fancy was appealed to, and because she did not see any harm in what she proposed.
The two little girls had been to take a note to Mrs. Hardy, and on their way home they passed a pretty house and grounds which greatly attracted Florence.
"Oh, do let us stop and look in," she said. "I think this is the very prettiest place here, don't you, Dimple?"
"Yes," was the reply, "I like it best. The grounds are so lovely. See those roses."
The two pressed their faces against the iron railing, and let their eyes wander over the lawn and to the garden beyond.
"How very quiet it is," Florence remarked, presently. "We can't hear a sound except the wind among the trees, and the robins singing. There doesn't seem to be a soul about. Who lives here, Dimple?"
"The Atkinsons. Mamma and papa know them."
"Are there any little children?"
"Not now; there used to be a little girl named Stella, but she died two years ago, and now there is only their eldest son living; he has just gone abroad with his mother. That is why it's so quiet. They are all away. You see the house is shut up."
"Ah, I wonder if they would mind if we went in and looked around. Do you think they would mind? I should love so to go and sit on that porch for a few minutes."
Dimple hesitated. She wasn't quite sure that it would be right for them to go in, especially when no one was at home.
"You know," Florence went on, "it would be just exactly the same as if we went there to call, and they should happen to be out. It won't hurt anybody or anything for us to walk around and look at the grounds."
At last Dimple consented. So they lifted the latch of the gate and shut it behind them very gingerly.
"Do you often come here?" asked Florence, when they had made their tour of the grounds and were sitting on the porch in the shadow of the vines.
"Not so very often, but I have been here with mamma when she came to call. I remember Stella very well. She died of diphtheria, and they have a lovely portrait of her. She was such a pretty little girl, and the portrait shows her with a great big dog she used to have."
"How I should like to see the portrait. Wouldn't it be nice if the door should suddenly open, and we could walk right in?"
Dimple laughed. "I'd be scared if that should happen. The house is beautiful inside. I never saw so many pretty things. Mrs. Atkinson's father was a naval officer, and she has curiosities from all over the world."
"I wish Mrs. Atkinson had said, 'Dimple, here are the keys, come in as often as you like while we are away; in fact, I wish you would try to come in and look around once in a while to see if everything is all right.'"
"Maybe she would have said that if she had thought of it," returned Dimple, "for she is always so nice and pleasant."
Florence cast wistful eyes up and down the side of the house; then she went out on the lawn, at the side, and looked up. "Dimple, come here," she called, and her cousin obeyed. "We could get in as easily as anything," said Florence. "See, that's a very easy tree to climb, and that long branch goes right over the upper porch. We could reach that; then we could go in by raising the window."
"If the window is not fastened down. Maybe there is some one in the house, after all. I shouldn't think they would leave it with no one ever to look after it. We might go around to the back door and see."
"Let's try climbing the tree anyhow. It will be easy enough to do that, and won't do a bit of harm. See, I'm going," and Florence put her foot against the rough bark, and swung herself up, reaching the porch without difficulty. But Dimple would not follow and her cousin climbed down again, not, however, as easily as she had gone up.
"It was nothing at all to do," she declared. "I think you might try it, Dimple. I'll tell you what we'll do: let's bring our dolls to-morrow, and go up there and play. I'm sure if I had a pretty place like this, I should be glad if two little girls, like us, could come and enjoy it. Ah, Dimple, you don't know how fine it is on that upper porch. It would be the finest place in the world to play in."
The idea took such possession of her that the next morning she broached the subject again.
"I'll ask mamma," said Dimple, at last consenting with this proviso. But Mrs. Dallas had gone out to spend the morning with a friend, and finally Florence's persuasions overcame Dimple's scruples, and with Celestine and Rubina they set forth.
At first Florence was contented to play on the corner porch, but the memory of the day before was too much for her, and she again climbed to the upper porch. "Do come up, Dimple," she coaxed. "You've no idea how fine it is, with the tree all around. It's just like a nest," and Dimple decided that she would try it too.
"Wait, we mustn't leave the dolls," Florence said. "I wish we had a piece of string. See if you can find a piece, Dimple."
After much searching Dimple hunted up an end of rope, which she found by the kitchen shed, and brought around. "Will this do?" she asked.
"Finely. Can you throw it so I can catch it?"
"I don't know. Maybe I could if I tied a stone to it. Don't let it hit you, Florence."
After several attempts the rope was landed, and when the dolls were fastened to it, they were drawn safely up, and then Dimple made her ascent successfully.
"It is nice," she declared. "Isn't it fun to be here, where no one can see us? I wonder if that window will open." She gave the shutters a little shake and lo! they offered no resistance, but opened easily, and, the latch being out of order, the window, too, yielded to their efforts, and before they knew it, they were inside.
"Now we're here, we might as well go through the house," said Florence. "And you can show me the portrait."
They proceeded stealthily through rooms whose furniture was swathed in sheets to keep away the dust. It all looked rather bare and desolate upstairs in the dim rooms, but it was better below, especially in the dining-room, where a big bay window let in a flood of light when the inside shutters were opened.
"Let's pretend it's our house, and keep house really," Florence exclaimed. "Here is a broom and a duster. I'll sweep and you can dust. Then if we can find some dishes, we'll set the table. I wish we had brought something to eat. Oh, Dimple, you haven't shown me the portrait yet; where is it?"
"In the library. Come, we'll go there now."
"My, but it's dark in here!" Florence exclaimed, as they entered the room. "Let us open the shutters a little so we can see the picture."
This they managed to do, shutting the window carefully.
"It seems dark still," Dimple remarked. "I wonder what makes this such a dark room." Just then they heard a mighty crash and both started, then clung to each other, whispering, "What's that?"
"It is thunder," said Dimple, when a second peal was heard. "Oh, how dark it is. Come, Florence; we must hurry. Open the window and shut the shutters as quick as you can and I'll go to the dining-room. We must leave everything as we found it."
"Don't leave me," Florence implored. "I can't bear to be alone when the lightning flashes so." And together they fastened the shutters and the windows, then ran to the porch, where they had left their dolls.
An angry gust was blowing the dust about furiously. The trees swayed and creaked, lashing their branches about in a very terrifying way. The thunder growled and muttered, while sharp flashes of lightning zigzagged across the sky almost incessantly.
"We would never dare to go down the tree while it is blowing so," said Florence, after they had surveyed the scene for a moment in silence.
"But it is beginning to rain. Oh, dear! What shall we do? It's coming down a perfect torrent. Come back, Florence; we'll have to go inside," cried Dimple. And snatching up their dolls, they retreated into the house in no enviable state of mind, between fear of the tempest and alarm at being obliged to stay alone where they were.
"We might as well make ourselves comfortable," Florence said at last. "Suppose we go down to the library or the dining-room. We can open the inside shutters, and it won't seem so gloomy. I'd rather see the lightning than stay up here in the dark."
"Oh, dear! I wish we hadn't come at all," sighed Dimple. "I wish we were safe at home. Mamma will be so worried, for she won't know where we are. I do wish we hadn't come."
Florence was very uncomfortable, but she tried to brave it out. "Anyhow," she said, "it's a great deal better than to be out in the storm. I am sure auntie will be very glad when she knows we were safe here, and it isn't as if you had come to a perfectly strange house. The Atkinsons are your friends, and they won't mind a bit our coming here for shelter. I know they won't. They'd be very hard-hearted if they did mind."
"Yes, I s'pose so," returned Dimple, somewhat comforted.
"Very likely your mamma isn't bothering at all about us," Florence went on. "She probably hasn't gone home herself, on account of the storm."
They had been conversing together at the top of the stairs, and now made their way to the dining-room, where, after opening the shutters, they stood looking out at the rain. The peals of thunder had died away into distant mutterings, but it was still raining hard.
"Somehow we always get into trouble when it rains," Dimple remarked.
"Don't let's talk about that," returned Florence. "See how the raindrops dance up and down. Little water fairies they are. Don't they look as if they were having a good time?"
"Yes; but I'm getting hungry. I wonder if it isn't most dinner time. Do you suppose it will rain all afternoon, Florence?"
"I don't know. If it holds up we'll have to run between the drops."
"But how can we get out? We could never climb down that sopping wet tree, and we would be very wicked to leave any part of the house down here unfastened. Some one might see us and try to get in."
They lapsed into a grave silence which was presently broken by a startled "What's that?" from Dimple. She heard a sound like the click of a key turning in a latch. They listened fearfully, as the sound was followed by the shutting of a door, and the noise of footsteps along the hall. The two girls looked at each other. "Let's hide," whispered Florence, but before they had decided what to do, a man was seen standing in the doorway. It was Mr. Atkinson.
"Well, well, well," he exclaimed, "where did you little girls come from? You came in out of the rain, I suppose, but how did you manage it? Why, Eleanor, is it you? I declare, I didn't know you. It is fortunate you managed to escape the storm; it was a hard one."
Dimple stood very much confused, her color coming and going, and her eyes very bright. But she summoned up courage to make the confession: "We did come in out of the rain, Mr. Atkinson, but no one let us in, and we didn't happen to come here on account of the storm."
"You didn't! Come here, then, and tell me about it." He drew her to his side and looked down at her very kindly.
She dropped her eyes and hung her head in confusion, but she went on, "We,—we thought it was so pretty here, and—and we thought you wouldn't mind if we came and brought our dolls and sat on the porch a little while; we didn't think you'd care if we were very good and didn't touch anything. Then it was so easy to climb the tree and get on the other porch, and when we got there,—why I wanted to show Florence the portrait of your little girl, and we did not have to force the shutter at all; it opened just as easy, and so did the window; and we went downstairs, and while we were looking at the portrait the storm came up and we were afraid to climb down the tree; it was blowing about so, and we didn't like to go out any other way and leave the windows downstairs unfastened. So—we stayed."
Mr. Atkinson listened quietly. "So you were housebreakers. Don't you know that's a prison offence? Burglary is a pretty serious crime." He looked very serious, and Dimple did not see the twinkle in his eyes. Her own grew round with horror.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Oh! we didn't mean—" The tears began to gather, and the child's lips quivered. She was overcome with dismay. "I am so sorry, so dreadfully sorry," she quavered.
Mr. Atkinson put his hand on her sunny head. "There, dear, never mind," he said, "you were a very innocent pair of housebreakers, and you are a very brave and honest little girl to tell me the truth about it, when you might easily have allowed me to think it happened another way. Of course, on general principles, it isn't right to break into any one's house, but I think you may have done me a good turn by letting me know about that weak place upstairs, and you may have prevented a real thief from breaking in. You see, I come down from the city every Saturday to look after things while my wife and son are away, and I am glad I happened to be here just now. Let us forget all about the unpleasant part of this, and make ourselves comfortable. You are my guests. Who is your little friend?"
"My cousin Florence."
"Ah, yes. I am glad to see you, Florence. Now don't you think it would be wise, Eleanor, if I were to speak to your father over the 'phone, and let him know you are safe?"
"Oh, yes, thank you. Is there a telephone in the house?"
"Yes, and I can call up your father at his office. You can speak to him yourself, if you like. What time does he go home to dinner?"
"About half-past one o'clock."
Mr. Atkinson consulted his watch. "We shall catch him, I think." And in a few minutes Dimple, listening, heard her father's voice in reply to Mr. Atkinson's "Hallo! is that you, Dallas?"
"Don't you want to speak to him yourself?" asked Mr. Atkinson, when he had told Mr. Dallas that Dimple and her cousin were safely housed. He lifted the little girl up so she could call her father. "I'm safe here, papa, and so is Florence," she said; "please tell mamma."
The answer came, "I will, daughter; I'm glad you are in good hands. I'll tell mamma to send Bubbles for you when it has stopped raining."
"Let them stay till I take them home," spoke up Mr. Atkinson. "I can take care of them, and it will be a great pleasure to have them here."
"Very well, if you like. I shall be satisfied to have them in such safe hands. Good-bye," came Mr. Dallas's parting words.
"Good-bye," and Mr. Atkinson hung up the receiver, and turned to his guests. "Now, young ladies, I suspect you are hungry. I am, for one. Suppose we see what we can find to eat." He took out his keys and unlocked the pantry door. The girls looked at each other. There were delightful possibilities before them.
"I'll forage in here," continued Mr. Atkinson, "while you set the table. You'll find dishes in there." And he pointed to a china-closet.
This was such an unexpected outcome of the morning's affair, that the two little girls retired behind the door and hugged each other, and then briskly went to work to set the table, upon which Mr. Atkinson placed various articles.
"I keep a lot of such truck in here," he told them. "So, in case I get hungry, I can find a bite to eat. Do you like sardines or canned salmon best?"
"Sardines!" exclaimed both the girls.
"That settles it. We haven't any ice, or we could have some lemonade. We'd better have chocolate. What do you say?"
"It would be very nice, but we have no fire."
"Fire enough. See here." He turned on the gas, and lighted a little stove over which the chocolate was made, condensed milk being at hand for use.
"Now, let me see. I've some ginger-snaps somewhere, and some marmalade. This is rather a mixed meal, I am thinking, but it will keep us from starving."
"I should think so," said Florence, surveying the table. "I think it is fine."
"And we can wash the dishes afterward. Will you let us?" asked Dimple.
"I shall be charmed to have you," Mr. Atkinson assured her. "It was one of the points upon which I felt uncertain. I confess to disliking, very much, that part of the business; and now you relieve my anxiety."
They made a merry meal of it, and became very well acquainted with their host before it was over. He told them funny stories and kept them laughing so that they were a long time getting their appetites satisfied, and as it had become much cooler, Bubbles appeared with wraps for them before they had finished with the dishes.
"We have had such a lovely, lovely time," said Dimple, as she raised a beaming face to Mr. Atkinson. "You know just what to do to make little girls have a good time, don't you?"
He stooped and kissed her. "I had a little girl once," he replied, gravely.
Dimple put her two arms closely around his neck. She felt so very, very sorry when she remembered pretty little Stella. "I'd like to be your little girl, if I had to be any one's but papa's and mamma's," she whispered.
"Thank you, dear child, I appreciate that. It is a very great compliment," he answered, slowly. "I want you two little girls to come over whenever you can. I am always here on Saturday afternoons. Will you come to see me often?"
"If mamma will let us. I'm afraid maybe she will not, because we were naughty about coming when we had no right to."
"Well, we'll see how we can manage it. I will tell your father about it, myself, or, better still, I will walk home with you, and you can tell your story to your mother, and let me beg pardon for you. How will that do?"
Dimple's eyes spoke her thanks, and she turned to Florence who answered with a satisfied smile.
And so by Mr. Atkinson's kind request the culprits were forgiven, and were promised that they should go again since Mr. Atkinson really wanted them. "And you must feel at liberty to play about the grounds all you choose," he told the girls. "They can run about, and sit on the porches and do as they please, so long as they do not trample the flower-beds, or get into any mischief," he said to Mrs. Dallas.
"We wouldn't hurt anything for the world," put in Florence and Dimple, eagerly. And they bade their good friend farewell, feeling very humble and thankful that matters had turned out so well for them.
"We don't deserve it, and I feel dreadfully ashamed of myself," said Florence, meekly.
"I think Mr. Atkinson put our heads in the fire," said Dimple, soberly.
"What do you mean?" her mother asked.
"Why, isn't that what the Bible says when any one does something very kind to you after you have been mean to him?"
Mrs. Dallas laughed. "You mean he heaped coals of fire on your head; that is the expression the Bible uses."
"It's a funny one," Dimple responded, thoughtfully. "Anyhow, mamma, I shall never, never try to break into any one's house again."
"I hope not."
"I really meant to ask you if we could go over there, mamma, but you had gone out. We were in a dreadful trouble for a while."
"Yes, I know, dear. One very little wrong beginning sometimes leads to a great deal of trouble; even grown people find that out."
"Do they? It always seems as if you must know everything, mamma."
She smiled and shook her head. Thus ended this incident, but neither Dimple nor Florence ever forgot it.
Florence and Dimple with Rubina and Celestine were on the back porch, when they heard some one whistle, and looking up they saw Rock coming around the corner of the house.
"Good-morning," said he, "I am glad you have your dolls here; I want to measure them."
"Why, are you a tailor?" asked Florence.
"No," he said, laughing, "only a cabinetmaker. I came over with a message from my mother to Mrs. Dallas, and a message from myself to yourselves."
"Have you given mamma her message?" asked Dimple.
"Yes," said he, "and mine is that I want you to come to tea with me to-morrow evening, you and Florence and the dolls."
"Oh, the dolls?"
"Yes, the dolls. I will come for you, if you like, at half-past four."
"Did mamma say we might go?"
"Yes, so it is all settled."
"Now," said Florence, "we must make the dolls new frocks. Do tell us, Rock, what they ought to wear."
Rock turned over the bits of stuff in Dimple's box. "White, I think," said he; "that dotted stuff is pretty."
"Oh, yes," said Dimple, "and I have plenty of that. We can trim them with this lace, Florence, and they will look so cool and nice. Now if mamma only had time to make hats for them!"
"I'll make them hats," said Rock.
"You! Whoever heard of boys making hats for dolls?"
"Did you never hear of a man-milliner?" asked Rock. "And men dressmakers? I have. You stay here. I am going to ask your mamma for something to make them of."
"Isn't he a funny boy, Florence?" said Dimple, as Rock disappeared; "but I think he is real nice. Just hand me the scissors, won't you? Which way does this go, so, or so?"
"So, like mine. Are you going to make a wide or a narrow hem?"
"Wide, if the stuff is long enough; it isn't so easy, but it looks nicer. I wonder if mamma will give us fresh ribbons for sashes for the dolls; it will set them off so."
"Here comes Rock," exclaimed Florence, "and what has he in his hand? An old bonnet, I declare."
"Now," said Rock, "if you will tell me where I can get a basin of water, I will make the hats."
"I shall need water. Don't get up—Bubbles will get it for me," as Dimple was about to put down her work.
Bubbles brought the water, and Rock began to rip the straw bonnet to pieces; then he dampened it a little and sewed it into shape, once in a while dampening it more to give it the right turn. "Will you have a wide or a narrow brim?" he asked.
"Oh, just a between brim. Don't you say so, Florence? Isn't it going to be lovely? Did you ever?" as Rock handed her a cunning little straw hat.
"Now for the other one," said he, and he soon had that done too.
A little narrow ribbon and one or two flowers made the hats perfect.
"Oh, Rock, I wish you were my brother," sighed Dimple, as she held her doll off at arm's length to admire her. "Rubina, you are a darling! blue is so becoming to her."
"I almost wish I had trimmed mine with blue," said Florence, regretfully.
"Oh, I think pink is just as pretty," exclaimed Rock, "and it is nicer not to have them both alike."
"Now what are you making?" asked Dimple, as Rock went on sewing straw.
"Baskets, for the dolls?"
"Yes, for the dolls, or you either."
Dimple put her chin in her hands, and leaned on the arm of her chair to watch him.
"How clever you are," she said, "I wish you were my brother, really and truly, Rock."
"Well, we will pretend I am," said he. "What shall I put in your basket, sister?"
They all laughed.
"I don't think it will hold much, but Rubina can put her work in it. See, if I pin her arm up so, she can hold it nicely. There! I must go and show it to mamma. I'll tell her to adopt you," she called back, as she ran off.
"Now I must clear up my scraps," said Rock, as he put the finishing touches to the other basket.
"Mamma says I may gather you some flowers," said Dimple, coming out again with a pair of shears in her hand, "and she says you are a very nice boy, a very nice boy indeed."
Rock laughed. "She wouldn't think so sometimes," said he. "I don't believe she wants to change children with my mother."
"I hope she doesn't want to," said Dimple, then added quickly, "Not that I don't think your mother is real nice, Rock, but you know I am so used to mine, and she is so used to me."
"Of course," said Rock, laughing again. "I didn't mean they would change, or even think of it."
"Now let's get the flowers," said Dimple; "you are to choose just which you like best, Rock," she said, leading the way to the flower-beds. "The pansies are almost gone, but there are plenty of roses yet, and verbenas, and mignonette, and lots of things."
"Now, Rock," she said, as they went along the paths, "you are not choosing the prettiest ones at all. I believe you are picking out the mean ones on purpose; I am going to choose myself. You tell me, Florence, whenever you see a real pretty one."
Florence promised, and Rock looked on, secretly pleased that they had taken the matter into their own hands.
"What lovely ones you have chosen," he said, as Dimple gave the bunch into his hands. "Thank you so much."
"And thank you, so much," said the girls, "for the hats, and the baskets, and the invitation."
"You will be sure to be ready," he said, at the gate.
"Yes," they cried.
"At half-past four?"
"Good-bye sister; good-bye Florence; go in out of the sun."
"Good-bye, brother, keep in the shade."
Then they laughed and ran in.
"Mamma," cried Dimple. "Auntie," cried Florence, "where are you?"
"Upstairs," she answered.
Up they ran. "Aren't you glad Rock is such a nice boy? Did you know boys could be so nice?" asked Dimple.
"I knew they could be, if they would."
"What makes Rock so gentle and kind and good?"
"Well, you see he lost his father when he was a very little boy, and as he had no brothers or sisters, he has been almost constantly with his mother, who is a very gentle, sweet woman."
"He doesn't seem silly, like some boys, either," said Florence. "I know a boy, we call him 'sissy,' he is so like a girl, and he is always whining, and afraid of cold, and afraid of sun, and afraid of everything."
"I shouldn't like that kind of boy," Dimple said. "Mamma, I call Rock my brother, and he calls me sister."
"Do you?" said her mother, smiling. "Now it is nearly dinner time, and if I am not mistaken, two little girls have left their new dolls, and all their scraps and things out on the porch."
"So we have!" they exclaimed, and ran down to bring them in.
The dolls were laid away in state for the next day, and at the sound of the dinner bell, the girls went into dinner.
Since the arrival of Florence, Dimple had not cared so much for Bubbles' society, and sometimes objected to her joining in their plays; but Bubbles, by the gift of Floridy Alabamy, did not lack amusement, and could be seen almost any afternoon happy with her doll.
She was singing, "Oh Beurah lan', sweet Beurah lan'," when Florence called her.
"What are you singing, Bubbles?"
"Beurah lan'," answered she.
"What does she mean, Dimple?"
"Beulah land. She does get things so twisted. We are going down to the woodshed to play till mamma calls us. Bubbles, do you want to go?"
Of course Bubbles did, and off they all went.
The woodshed was at some distance from the house, out in a shady place. Sometimes the children took to the roof, which could be reached by a ladder, and it was the scene of many a bold adventure.
"What shall we play?" said one to another.
"Injun," suggested Bubbles.
"No Indian for me, since my foot was cut," said Dimple.
"Let's play house afire and climb from the roof by the ladder," said Florence.
"No. I tell you," said Dimple, "let's be cats and get on the roof and meow like they do at night."
They all laughed at this, but finally concluded to be birds, and build nests, but why they should take leaves in their mouths and climb up and down the ladder no mortal could tell, and indeed this proved too tedious a play, and they all sat on the roof to decide what should be done next.
Suddenly Dimple cried out, "What is that sticking out of your pocket, Bubbles?"
Bubbles quickly thrust whatever it was back into her pocket, and was about to get down from the roof, when Dimple held her.
"Pull it out, Florence," she cried. "I believe it is a piece of my dotted swiss."
And so it was. Bubbles had been consumed with envy ever since Rubina and Celestine had been dressed in white, and wanted her doll to look as well.
"You wicked girl! where did you get it?" asked Dimple, fiercely.
"You didn't. You've been stealing. You stole it from my box that I left on the porch yesterday. What were you going to do with it?"
"Make a frock for Floridy Alabamy."
"Why didn't you ask for something, instead of taking what didn't belong to you?"
Bubbles was silent.
"You told a story too, when you said you found it; you knew it was mine. Now you shall be punished."
"Don't send me to the orphan asylum," said Bubbles, beginning to cry.
"No, I promised mamma I wouldn't say that any more, but I shall do something. The idea of your doing such a thing. I really used to think you were nearly as nice as a white girl, Bubbles, but I never shall any more."
Bubbles cried harder than ever at this.
"What shall I do with her, Florence?"
"Take her doll away," suggested she.
"No! no! no! please, Miss Dimple, I'll never do so no mo'," cried Bubbles, "'deed an' 'deed, I won't. Don't take my doll away. Yuh can whup me, or anything, but don't tek my doll away," and she hugged it tightly, rocking herself to and fro.
Dimple thought a moment, and then she said, "I know, we will leave her here on the roof, and take the ladder away; then when mamma calls us to come in to dress we can put the ladder up again, and she can get down."
This was agreed upon, and Bubbles was left a lofty prisoner.
The girls concluded to play under the big tree, and became so interested, that when Mrs. Dallas called them, they forgot all about Bubbles, and went into the house without ever putting up the ladder.
"What am I to wear, mamma?" asked Dimple. "One of my white frocks, I suppose."
"Yes," said her mother.
"And Florence too? Yes, Florence, then we will all be in white, the dolls too. Mamma, may we carry our parasols?"
"I don't think you will need them. Now, girls, I will send papa for you at half-past eight. I hope you will be little ladies, both of you, because I particularly want Mrs. Hardy to be fond of you."
"Oh, we will, mamma," replied Dimple. "Why do you want Mrs. Hardy to like us?"
"I have two or three reasons. I will tell you when we have more time. Hurry, Florence, and put on your frock; it is nearly half-past four."
"I hear a carriage stopping," said Dimple, running to look out of the window. "Florence, Florence, do hurry; Rock and his mother are out there in a carriage; where are the dolls? Oh, here they are. No, I have yours," she exclaimed, excitedly. "Do, Florence, get your hat."
"Don't get so excited, Dimple," said her mamma. "There is no need of such a very great hurry as all that. I will go down and you can come. You have forgotten your handkerchief; it is there on the bureau."
"Oh Dimple, do get me a handkerchief too," said Florence, "I don't know what does make me so behindhand."
"Oh, please, just a wee drop, not too much."
"Cologne or violet water?"
"Which have you?"
"Then I will take the other. Now I'm ready. Do you suppose we are going anywhere? It is such a little way to drive only to the house."
"I don't know," returned Dimple. "We'll soon see."
"We thought it was so early," said Mrs. Hardy, "that we could take a short drive before tea, if these little girls would like it."
"Indeed we should," said they.
"Then help them in, Rock," and they were soon seated, driving off in great style, dolls and all.
Meanwhile, Bubbles sat on the roof, waiting for their return. As the time passed and they did not come, she made desperate efforts to get down, but there was no way. The tree that shaded the woodhouse was just too high to reach, and she crept to the edge of the roof, making up her mind to jump, but when she saw the distance her heart failed her, and she went back.