Chicken Little Jane
By Lily Munsell Ritchie
Publishers BARSE & HOPKINS New York, N. Y.—Newark, N. J.
Copyright, 1920 By Barse & Hopkins
Adventures of Chicken Little Jane
Printed in the United States of America
"To Olive F. Y. Dart, the kind friend who first encouraged me to write, I gratefully dedicate my first book."
I. Alice and the Siege of Acre 11 II. The Millinery Store 29 III. The Duck Creek Treasure 45 IV. Chicken Little Jane and Her Mother 65 V. The Back-Yard Furnace 78 VI. The Wedding 91 VII. Chicken Little Jane and Dick Harding Play Providence 108 VIII. Christmas and the Day After 131 IX. Chicken Little Jane's Gift 150 X. Skating 163 XI. Chicken Little Jane's Birthday 176 XII. Poor Ernest and Poor Marian 189 XIII. Forbidden Books and Candy Hearts 205 XIV. May Baskets 219 XV. Thunder and Gooseberry Bushes 234 XVI. Letters and a Surprise 249 XVII. Cousin May's Party 260 XVIII. The Children Go Exploring 272 XIX. Things Happen 286 XX. Off To the Ranch 298
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Until the water was dripping from noses and chins Frontispiece
Facing Page By way of reply Katy opened the book and began 20 Wiping his eyes as the puffs came thicker 80 "Give her this on the train and—please carry it carefully" 154
CHICKEN LITTLE JANE
ALICE AND THE SIEGE OF ACRE
"Chicken Little! Chick-en Lit-tle!"
The three little girls in the fence corner looked up but no one responded.
"Chicken Little Jane!" The voice was a trifle more insistent.
The little girl in the blue gingham dress and white frilled pinafore looked at her small hostess reproachfully.
"Why don't you answer, Jane?"
"'Cause I'll have to go in. She'll think I don't hear if I keep still."
"Ja-ane!—I want you!" The voice was several notes higher and betrayed irritation.
"She's getting mad," said the little girl in the pink dress and white frilled pinafore—sister to the blue dress. "You'd better go—she's leaning out the window and she'll see us in a minute." Katy Halford was facing the house and her facts agreed with what Jane Morton knew of her mother's ways.
She got to her feet reluctantly.
"Yes-m, I'm coming!" she yelled in a shrill treble. "You come, too, girls," she added in a lower tone. "Maybe she won't make me stay if I have company."
"All right—let's tell her about Alice." Katy jumped up quickly.
Gertie Halford followed suit.
The two small sisters were as like as possible in dress and as unlike in disposition. They were always immaculately starched and neat with their thick brown hair parted in front and braided into smooth tight braids ending in bows the exact shade of their dresses. These bows were a constant source of envy to Jane Morton, because they never seemed to drop off or hang by three hairs as her own invariably did.
Gertie Halford was a gentle little mouse of a girl with soft hazel eyes, who loved pretty things and hated anything rough or boisterous. Her sister Katy's gray eyes, on the contrary, were shrewd and keen, as was their small owner, who could be relied upon to take care of herself and have her own way on all occasions. The sisters were nine and eleven respectively, and Chicken Little not quite ten.
Jane Morton or Chicken Little Jane, as she had been nicknamed while a toddler, because she was always teasing for the story of "Chicken Little," was usually described as all eyes. Her slim, active legs, however, were also a very important part of her anatomy. But her eyes easily held the center of the stage—big and brown and wondering, they had a way of looking at you as if you were the only person about. Her straight brown hair was swept back from her face by a round rubber comb and tied atop her head with a ribbon for further security. Despite these precautions, it usually looked as if it needed brushing. Her clothes, too, were prone to accidents because of her habit of roosting on picket fences or tree branches. Today, however, she was almost as spick and span as Katy and Gertie. She had just been through the painful process of cleaning up after dinner.
The children burst into Mrs. Morton's bedroom without the ceremony of knocking, too intent upon the news they had to tell, to inquire what Mrs. Morton wanted.
"Say, Mother," Chicken Little began jerkily with what breath was left from running upstairs, "Alice says she used to live in this house when she was a little girl!"
Mrs. Morton paused in adjusting the folds of black lace around her plump shoulders and stared at her small daughter in astonishment.
"Alice—in this house—a servant-girl—nonsense! Dear me, I hope she isn't untruthful; she seemed so promising."
"But she says her father used to own this house—she says they weren't always poor, and she never 'spected to have to be a hired girl. Yes, and Katy says she remembers when the Fletchers lived here and they used to have a lot of company—didn't you, Katy?" Katy nodded importantly.
"Yes, Ma-am, my mother says it's a shame Alice has to go out to work. She says it would break her mother's heart, only she's dead and doesn't know it."
"And her father's dead, too," broke in Gertie, anxious to add her quota, "but she's got an uncle and aunt that ain't dead—they live a long way off in Cincinnati, but they're so stuck up they won't do anything for Alice."
"Well, never mind now, I'll investigate this some other time," Mrs. Morton replied absently, still fussing with her lace. Tiny beads of perspiration were standing out on her flushed face—she kept dabbing them away with her handkerchief.
It was a hot day for late September and Mrs. Morton found tight corsets and a close-fitting silk dress trials to Christian fortitude. But she was a resolute, dignified lady who knew her duty to her church and to society and did it, regardless of her own comfort or her family's.
"But, Mother, aren't you sorry for Alice?"
"My dear, I didn't call you in to talk about Alice. I want you to play quietly with your dolls this afternoon like little ladies. Remember to keep your dress clean, Chicken Little, you have to wear it again tomorrow afternoon. I don't want to come home and find it all stained and torn off the belt as I did yesterday. And don't forget to be polite to your guests. Kiss me good-by now, and run along."
The children, a little disappointed over the meager effect of their sensation, obediently filed out.
They collected the dolls and ensconced themselves under a spreading maple in the fence corner to play house, but dolls somehow seemed tame.
"I thought she'd be more s'prised," ventured Katy after a few moments, as the trio watched Mrs. Morton sweep down the front walk to the gate, the shimmering folds of her gray silk dragging behind her.
"My, I wish I had such a grand dress," said Gertie, changing the subject.
"Your mother's got a lot of dresses, hasn't she?"
"Yes, heaps, but I don't want any old silk dresses. I hate to be dressed up, you can't climb trees or nothing, and your mother always tells you to be a little lady. Bet I won't be a little lady when I grow up."
"Why, Chicken Little Jane, you'll have to be!"
"Sha'n't either—Mother says I'm the worst tomboy she ever saw and I'll disgrace my family if I don't look out. I don't care if I do—I think it's fun to be something different. Maybe I'll be a circus-rider." Jane swung her unfortunate doll about by one arm to emphasize her decision, and smiled defiantly.
Katy refused to be impressed.
"Pooh, you never saw a circus-rider—you said yesterday your mother'd never let you go to a circus. I've been to six, counting the one Uncle Sim took us to in the evening."
"I don't care, I've been to see the animals—and I just guess I did see circus-riders, too, in the parade!"
"Well, you'd have to dress up if you were a circus-rider 'cause they have lots of fussy skirts and spangles and things—only they aren't very clean most always. I saw one close to once. I'd rather have a lace shawl and a beautiful watch like your mother's," put in Gertie.
"I don't care, I like horses and I just hate dolls they're so pokey," retorted Jane recklessly, rather floored by so much wisdom. "Let's play our children are all taking a nap and go and get Ernest and do something lively."
Katy pricked up her ears at the mention of Ernest's name, having no brothers herself, she considered boys extremely interesting. She promptly threw her cherished Rowena under a heap of doll clothes, and was on her feet in an instant calling, "Come on."
Gentle little Gertie eyed her half undressed doll child ruefully.
"'Tisn't nice to leave them this way. You girls go on and I'll put Minnie's nighty on and tuck her in."
Chicken Little shoved both doll and doll clothes unceremoniously into the fence corner and was after Katy in a flash. Gertie lingered not only to tuck away her own doll but to rescue the neglected playthings of the others, and to put each doll child carefully to bed, with sundry croonings and caresses. Then she followed slowly to the house.
Katy and Jane were already having troubles of their own. Ernest, who was four years older than Jane, was deep in a book and deaf to all coaxing and persuasion on the part of his gypsy-sister and her friend. He was stretched on the floor in the embrasure of the dormer window, nursing his face in his hands, his near-sighted eyes fairly boring into the pages. He was a lanky, sober-faced boy with a trick of twisting a lock of hair as he read that resulted in its perpetually hanging down in his eyes to his great annoyance. The boy liked to be ship-shape and he made manful attempts to let it alone. He plastered it down with bay-rum till the family begged for mercy from the smell. It was even on record that he once went so far as to dab it with glue with painful consequences.
Today he was so absorbed that he had almost twisted the offending lock into a double bowknot and he heeded the children no more than flies. Finally Katy audaciously grabbed his book away, and he came to life with a growl.
"Here, drop that, infant, give me that book!"
He raised up on his elbow threateningly, but Katy, shaking her head saucily, flew out the door and down the staircase in a flutter of delicious fear.
Ernest got to his feet blusteringly.
"Mother said you kids were to keep out of my room and you can just go get that book for me or I'll tell her when she comes home."
He made a grab for his sister's arm, but she eluded him skilfully and darted after Katy, chanting maliciously: "Get it yourself—get it yourself—old cross patch!"
An exciting chase followed. Ernest tearing out the front door almost knocked over Gertie who was just coming in. He quickly righted her with a smile—he was fond of little Gertie who never bothered. The momentary delay gave the girls a start and Ernest saw Katy's flying skirts disappearing round the kitchen ell, with Chicken Little close behind her, as he turned the corner of the house.
Once at the back he found Chicken Little had sought sanctuary with Alice, the maid, who was sitting under a tree peeling peaches, but Katy had vanished.
"Which way'd she go, Alice?" Alice shook her head teasingly, at the same time glancing toward the kitchen door.
Ernest bolted in, but a swift search of the house revealed no Katy. Jane still clung to Alice clapping her hands derisively.
"Has she gone home?" he demanded.
Chicken Little shook her head.
"Am I hot or cold?"
"Hot! My, you're just burning!"
Gertie, who had followed, stared up into the branches overhead, but Ernest, gazing after, caught no glimpse of Katy's pink gingham or mischievous face.
"Bet you can't find her," jeered Jane; "boys aren't smart as girls if they are so stuck on themselves."
"Bet Alice hid her."
"Bet she didn't."
At this moment a whistle at the side gate interrupted them. Ernest trilled in answer and a moment later Carol Brown and Sherman Dart, Ernest's two sworn cronies, came round the corner with a whoop.
"You smarties can have the old book. Mother'll make you give it back tonight, anyway."
A chuckle overhead punctuated his sentence, and some fifteen feet above him, seated gracefully astride the comb of the low roof, Katy waved the book at him tantalizingly.
"Gee, how'd you get up there?"
By way of reply Katy opened the book at random and began to read:
"The third crusade which had opened so disastrously, was at last to be prosecuted with vigor. The eight days' truce was over and Philip of France again led the assault upon the walls of Acre. King Richard slowly convalescing was borne to the scene of conflict where——"
Here the boys interrupted with cat calls, and Ernest shied a green apple which Katy successfully dodged.
"How'd you get up?"
"For me to know and you to find out."
"Say, Alice, how'd she get up?"
"Oh, say, honest how did she?"
"The same way that Philip and Richard got into Acre."
"Yes, the man who fixed the eave troughs this morning left a ladder here. It's on the other side."
The three boys made a bolt to investigate and soon swarmed up on the roof with Jane close behind.
The old white house with its big front porch and green blinds was a notable one. Built upon a terrace, it stood several feet above the tree-shaded lawns about it. A group of old apple trees crowded close up to the windows at the side and rear. Both the western and southern gables were overhung with great wistaria vines, so old the stems were like huge cables and could easily bear a man's weight, as the children's grown brother Frank had already discovered. He had been locked out one night, and wishing to get in without disturbing the family, had quietly gone up the vines, hand-over-hand, to his own window.
The old house boasted many gables and more dormer windows, each bedroom having one or more. The children found these little nooks cosy places to play and read, indeed only a little less fascinating than the great rambling closets which were only partly enclosed and seemed to end, no one knew where, off under the roof. They had never been able to fully explore these—indeed their mother had not encouraged such voyages of discovery, because there were sundry narrow places, dark and dusty, where wriggling through in snake-fashion wrought havoc with their clothes.
The children were on the roof of the low kitchen, a kitchen that had apparently been an afterthought, for the roof sloped both ways like an inverted V and had no connection with the main roof.
"I tell you what, boys," said Ernest after they had explored it to their satisfaction, "let's play the 'Siege of Acre.' We could use this roof for the tower."
"Aren't enough of us!" objected Carol, a big, handsome boy with tight blond curls who was inclined to be lazy.
"Can't we play, too?" put in Chicken Little.
"Shucks, girls don't know how to fight."
"Don't be too sure of that," said Alice. "We girls used to play all sorts of games when I was a child."
"We'll have to divide up some way," said Sherm. "Ernest, let's you and me be Richard and Philip, and Carol can be the sultan and defend the place. And we could have the girls up here for the sultan's wives—he had a lot—they'd be out of the way."
"Not on your life," grunted Carol, disgusted at having all the girls put in his charge.
"It won't be bad, Carol, the garrison'll have to have a lot of provisions, and I'll give you some apples and cookies if you'll let the little girls play," Alice interposed tactfully.
"Cricky, Alice, you're a brick!"
"Gee, Alice, wish you lived at our house!" Carol and Sherm exclaimed in unison.
Alice Fletcher, a sturdy, intelligent-looking girl of twenty, was pleased at the boy's praise. "Thanks, my lords!" she replied, waving a peeling at them.
"Oh, well, I don't care if the girls'll keep out of the way," conceded Carol.
"Gertie can be the wives and me and Jane will be the soldiers. Carol will need somebody to help him," said ambitious Katy.
The preliminaries were soon arranged. Timid Gertie was safely stowed away where she could hold to the chimney if a sudden panic seized her, and the boys graciously posted Jane and Katy on the battlements, otherwise known as the comb of the roof, to man the engines and spy out the landscape. They kicked off their shoes, the better to cling, and pranced around stocking-footed regardless of possible parental displeasure.
Ernest and Sherman were just preparing to rush up the ladder armed with villainous-looking battle-axes made out of old lath, when Alice halted them.
"But you'll have to decide how to take the tower. If Carol tries to keep you off and knocks over the ladder you'll get hurt. Suppose you give him a switch and if he can touch you before you can get within two rounds of the top, you're dead, but if you can touch him, he'll have to surrender."
The opposing forces parleyed. The scaling party was rather dubious about tackling the sultan with only one scaling ladder, but they finally compromised on very short switches, so short in fact that Alice was worried lest the sultan should promptly take a header off the roof in his efforts to repel the invaders.
The attack began merrily. The boys swarmed up the ladder with blood-curdling yells of "Richard for England!" from Ernest and shriller cries of "France! France!" from Sherm, whose voice always trailed off into high C when he got excited.
The "sultan's wives" hugged the chimney in her excitement and Captain Jane promptly deserted the battlements and slid down to reinforce the sultan who certainly looked lonesome. There was much ducking and dodging and great flourishing of switches to the imminent risk of all concerned, for Chicken Little came down full force against the sultan in her frantic efforts to help, and Ernest, alias Richard, stepped on the King of France's royal fingers when forced to retreat from the sultan's spear.
It soon became apparent that the advantage lay with the defenders of Acre. The besieging monarchs withdrew down the ladder to hold a council of war, while the sultan's wives and troops—it was difficult to distinguish them—crowed triumphantly. They even did a little undignified taunting of the discomfited enemy.
Alice had been cheering the besiegers and now joined their counsels. After some whispering they divided forces, and King Richard climbed up the old apple tree at the corner of the house while King Philip led his forces up the scaling ladder again.
The sultan was at his wit's end, but finally left Captain Jane in command at the head of the ladder while he tried to repulse this flank movement. Captain Jane fought valiantly, and once more France was driven back. The sultan was equally successful. The cause of the Crusaders began to look dark, when suddenly the sultan detecting Captain Katy in the act of munching the cherished provisions, proposed a ten-minute truce, but the invaders with their weather eye on the self-same goodies, haughtily declined.
Again they whispered. Suddenly Alice clapped her hands and hurriedly explained. Immediately King Philip once more planted his scaling ladder, but his ally disappeared around the house.
The sultan sent his aide over to the other side of the roof to scout, but King Richard continued his march around the house and was soon hidden from the observers on the kitchen roof, by the angle of the main house.
Presently queer rasping noises were heard. The besieged craned their necks to see what was going on. The sultan became so curious and apprehensive about his rear that he almost let the King of France get up the ladder. The ominous sounds continued, bumping, scraping, tapping, punctuated by sundry exclamations and advice to "Be careful!" from Alice, who had followed the English forces.
Philip of France, so interested in the efforts of his British allies, forgot to attack and had several narrow escapes from being captured himself.
Finally, after one prolonged scrape accompanied by several grunts, the sturdy figure of Richard towered an instant on the roof of the main house six feet above, then with a whoop of triumph, cautiously dropped down among them amid the shrieks of the defenders.
Acre had fallen.
The vanquished garrison pressed round him, not to demand mercy, but to ask questions.
"How'd you get up there?" Chicken Little demanded.
"Bet Alice put you up to that," this from Carol.
"Should think you'd been scared to death!" whispered Gertie, still breathless with surprise.
"Pshaw, 'twas easy—just shinned up that wistaria vine on the gable, it's awful old and strong. I've climbed heaps of times before, but I wouldn't of thought of it, if Alice hadn't told me."
"My, wisht I could climb it!" said Katy fairly awestruck with admiration at such daring.
"Oh, you couldn't—you're just a girl, but I'll show you where I got up," said Ernest condescendingly. "Say, where's all the apples and cookies?"
The hint was sufficient and both besieged and besiegers, perched in various attitudes along the low roof like a flock of variegated chickens, were soon merrily celebrating the downfall of Acre.
It was thus that Mrs. Morton found them, coming around the house a few moments later in search of her offspring.
"Children! What are you doing?" she gasped in horrified tones. "Jane Morton, I thought I told you to play quietly. The idea of little girls climbing up on a roof. Put on your shoes this instant—all of you—and come down! Ernest, didn't you know better than to let your little sister go into such a dangerous place?"
Neither the valorous sultan, nor the doughty Crusaders were proof against this onslaught, and the visitors speedily retreated homewards while their crestfallen host and hostess went to bed to think over their sins. Chicken Little indeed started to say something about Alice having let them, but stopped suddenly, warned by a dig in the ribs from Ernest's elbow.
While the more favored members of the family were at supper that night, and Ernest was tossing restlessly and wondering if they were having apple dumplings, a small, warm hand reached up beside the bed and touched him.
"Hush, here's your book, Ern, and here's two slices of bread and jam, and some cheese and apple pie."
"Where in the Dickens did you——"
"Somebody poked a plate with it on inside my door a minute ago. We'd better eat it quick."
Ernest needed no urging.
"Do you suppose Frank brought it?"
"No," replied Chicken Little between mouthfuls, "I s'pose Alice."
THE MILLINERY STORE
Chicken Little was seated on the end of the kitchen table swinging her legs and watching Alice make pies.
"Look out—you'll get your stockings black off the stove," warned Alice lifting a pie from the oven.
"I wisht I didn't always have to wear white stockings—they're such a nuisance."
"They are hard to keep clean. But the nice families always make their children wear white, I notice. I don't see why black wouldn't look just as well with black shoes—especially for school."
"Grace Dart has two clean pairs every day. Did you wear white stockings when you were a little girl, Alice?"
"In summer—in winter we had heavy knitted ones, red and white or blue and white striped. Mother used to knit them."
"Did your mother die when you were a weenty girl?"
"No, I was fifteen when she went. Father died five years before. It was grieving about him, and the hard work and going hungry that killed Mother before her time. She'd be living now if we'd had our rights."
Chicken Little puckered her brow for a moment trying to think this out.
"What was the matter with the rights? Did somebody take them?"
Alice laughed till she showed her dimples.
"You funny dear! Yes, took them away from us. I am afraid I can't make you understand, Jane. It was our property—money and this house and some bank stock that we lost. My father went to the war and left all his business in the hands of his partner, a man named Gassett. Father fought in the war two years till he was badly wounded and had to come home. Some day I'll show you a piece of a Confederate flag he helped capture. He was never himself again and Mr. Gassett ran everything. Father said just before he died that he was thankful he at least had the home and some bank stock to leave us—but he didn't have even that it seems. We couldn't find any bank stock certificates and Mr. Gassett had a big mortgage on the house—so he got it, too. Mother said she was sure Father had paid off that mortgage two years after he went into partnership with Gassett—but, pshaw, you can't understand all this!"
"I can, too, I'm very quick. I heard Mother tell Mrs. Halford so and she said I had the strongest will she ever saw in a child!" Chicken Little was indignant.
Alice smiled but went on fluting the edge of an apple pie with a fork.
"Please tell me some more, Alice. Did your mother get awful hungry? Was that why you brought us some supper?"
"How do you know I brought you any supper?"
"'Cause. It was you—wasn't it, Alice?"
"Yes, Jane, and I expect your mother would be very angry with me if she knew. But I can't bear to have anybody go hungry since Mother—and I know how it feels myself—there's Katy whistling, you'd better run along."
Katy's smooth brown head appeared above the high board fence on her side of the alley that divided the Morton and Halford places. Chicken Little promptly mounted the top of their fence by the aid of a convenient wood pile.
Few days passed in which the children did not visit across the alley. They were not permitted to go outside their own yards without leave, but no embargo had been placed upon the fences. So they sweetened the days when permission to visit was denied by consoling each other across the alley. The result of this conference sent Chicken Little scurrying in to her mother.
Mrs. Morton sat by one of the long French windows with a small writing desk on her lap, busily writing a letter.
"Um—n—yes—what did you say?"
"May I have ten cents, Mother? We're going to start a millinery store and you can get a lot of the loveliest little roses and forget-me-nots down to Mrs. Smith's for ten cents. They fall off the wreaths you know. Grace Dart has promised to buy a hat and Katy's Cousin Mary said maybe she would, and it's Saturday and we can work all day—say, will you, Mother?"
"Dear, dear, what's all this? A millinery store? You and Katy and Gertie, I suppose. Well, I don't know but that would be a nice way to help teach you to sew. You must comb your hair again and put on a clean white apron before you go downtown—and don't go anywhere but Mrs. Smith's. By the way, have you finished your practicing?"
Chicken Little wriggled painfully before she reluctantly shook her head.
"Well, do your hour first, then you may have the money."
"Oh, Mother, couldn't I practice after dinner—the girls are waiting for me?"
"Duty before pleasure, little daughter, go finish your hour and I'll hunt up some bits of tulle and ribbon for you myself."
"Oh, will you, Mother? Goody, goody! May I go tell the girls? I'll come straight back."
"Yes, but don't get so excited. Little ladies should learn to be more composed—and don't stand on one foot. Come here—the top button of your dress is unfastened." Jane submitted to the buttoning process then flew off to tell the others, who were already setting up shop in the fence corner.
"Oh, Jane," they chorused the moment she came in sight, "Mother gave us the loveliest yellow satin and some pink flowers and lace, too!"
"Yes, and I found six chicken feathers that'll be grand for turbans," broke in Gertie.
Chicken Little flung herself breathless upon the grass and explained between gasps.
"If it wasn't for that horrid practicing!" she finished.
"Never mind," said Katy, "Gertie can be fixing the store and I'll start right in on a hat. It'll take a lot of work I tell you—we're going to charge ten cents a hat."
Chicken Little started reluctantly back to the house and still more reluctantly settled down on the old green-velvet piano stool to practice. There was not much music in her soul, and sitting still at anything was torture. She squirmed even when she read, and her brother Frank said she got into sixty-nine different positions by actual count during the sermon one Sunday. He had made her a standing offer of ten cents whenever she could sit perfectly still for five minutes, but so far his money was safe.
The moon-faced clock on the opposite wall ticked monotonously and Chicken Little's small fingers thumped stiffly at the five-finger exercises while she painfully counted aloud, partly to get the time and partly for company.
At the end of ten minutes she looked up at the clock in despair—surely it must have stopped! But no, the big pendulum was swinging faithfully to and fro. She tried scales, then she went back to exercises. She squirmed and wriggled and counted the big white medallions in the crimson body-brussels carpet. These medallions were her especial admiration, for each was bordered with elaborate curlicues, and contained a gorgeous basket of woolen flowers, the like of which never bloomed in any garden, temperate or tropical. There were fifteen of these across the room and twenty-five lengthwise.
The lace curtains were floral, too. She occupied five minutes trying for the hundredth time to decide, whether a delicate lace bloom with the circumference of a holly-hock was intended for a lily or a rose. The old steel engraving of General Washington's household hanging over the piano helped on a few moments more. The colored servant back of the general's chair had a fascination for her even greater than Martha Washington's mob cap and lace mitts. But, alas, even with the aid of these diversions she had only worried through twenty-five minutes.
Then she had an inspiration. "Grimm's Fairy Tales" lay on the sofa open face downward where she had left it half an hour before. She propped the book on the music rack and started in once more on the exercises. The exercises, however, refused to combine with reading—the discords were painful even to Jane's ears so she tried scales which worked like a charm. Mechanically her hands rippled up and down the keys while her fancy fluttered off after "Snow White" and "Rose Red." And the big clock was so neglected that it was five minutes past the hour before she thought to look at it again.
"Finished your hour, Daughter? Did you practice faithfully?"
Chicken Little considered a moment before replying.
"I didn't play the exercises much," she said doubtfully.
"Well, you did the scales very nicely."
Again Chicken Little paused.
Her conscience was pricking. On the chair beside her mother was a glowing pile of odd ribbons and old artificial flowers and her mother's kindness suddenly made the child realize that the Grimm hadn't been quite fair—she did not like the feeling of not playing fair. She twisted the handle of the door trying to muster up courage to confess, but Mrs. Morton was in a hurry to finish her letters.
"Run along now. Here are some things for you and here's the dime. I am busy, dear."
And Chicken Little feeling that the Fates had excused her, flew off joyfully to join the girls.
The fence corner was swept and garnished. An old lumber pile and several soap boxes had been pressed into service for shelves and counters and were artistically covered with an old lace curtain. Gertie was just putting a vase of real flowers on a table as a finishing touch, when Jane came up.
"Um-m, isn't that too sweet for anything, and see what I've got!"
"Look at this! It's most done," Katy held up an adorable creation of white tulle and pink rosebuds which her nimble fingers had almost completed.
She dispatched Gertie and Chicken Little to Mrs. Smith's for more flowers while she trimmed away industriously. It was a very happy Saturday. The fame of it spread throughout the neighborhood and the three little girls were kept busy snipping and fussing with the tiny headgear. Katy had natural style and taste and some of the little hats were really charming.
The boys dropped over once or twice to see what was going on. Finally, they were so fired by this business enterprise that they started a lemonade stand just outside the front gate, having painfully secured a capital of five lemons by dint of much coaxing of mothers and maids.
Their venture could hardly be called a success. They sold one glass for five cents, then Carol, who was always awkward, upset the whole pitcherful. The ice melted out of the second, and no customers appearing, the boys were drinking it up themselves, when Sherman gallantly proposed to treat the little girls. The supply was getting low by this time, but they carried over one rather skimpy and distressingly seedy glass to be divided among the three.
The young ladies were too grateful for this unexpected attention to be critical. Besides their exchequer was filling up beautifully.
"How much did you make? We've got thirty cents already," said Katy.
"Gee, how'd you make such a lot?" Sherm looked impressed.
"Say, lend us a quarter, won't you?" urged Carol.
"Not much we won't, but I'll tell you. If you'll take this hat down to Cousin May's we'll give you five cents, 'cause Mother won't let us go so far by ourselves. And I'm afraid she'll change her mind about taking it if we wait till Monday at school."
The boys dickered a while and reckoned up the number of blocks their weary feet would have to travel. Carol insisted that seven cents was none too much for the effort, but Katy was a good business woman and was firm in sticking to her first offer.
The lads finally agreed to take it on their way to the ball game, but this small errand raised a veritable tempest in the little company before it was finally settled.
The tiny package was carefully wrapped and the boys carried it with due respect and delivered it into May Allen's hands. They duly pocketed not only the ten cents in payment but another as well, for May was so delighted with the hat and the elegant manner in which it had been delivered, that she sent an order, with payment in advance, for another bonnet.
All would have been well but for the seductions of a certain ice-cream parlor where candy, apples and cigars were temptingly displayed in a window, draped genteely with a fly-specked lace lambrequin.
Sherman suggested they get a dime changed and expend their nickel for the sweets. Once inside, the sight of sundry acquaintances eating alluring pyramids of creamy coolness confronted them. The boys had been standing around at Brown's field watching the ball game. It was hot and dusty and their mouths watered. Carol had ten cents of his own. By using their nickel and the remaining fifteen cents they could each have a dish. Ernest hesitated about this borrowing, but the boys said they could pay it back. Ernest was sure he had that much in his toy bank at home, and the other boys were positive they could shake it through the slit if they tried hard enough.
So the tempter won and the trust money was speedily converted into ice-cream. The ice-cream once down the transaction began to take on a different phase. The boys plodded home rather silently.
Sherman voiced the first doubt.
"Say, Ern, are you sure you've got enough?"
Ern was wondering himself if he had.
"I guess we'd better go in the side gate and get it out before the girls see us," he replied.
The boys slipped in the side gate in a manner so noiseless that it might almost be called sneaking. On up to Ernest's room they filed and hastily secured the bank.
Alas, no rattle of coin repaid them. Absent-minded Ernest had entirely forgotten that his father had taken the contents to the savings bank for him the preceding month, and that he had not been able to save up anything since.
The boys looked at each other.
"Maybe Mother'll lend me fifteen cents," said Ernest after a pause.
A speedy search of the house revealed the sad fact that Mother was not at home.
The boys' faces fell. They someway did not care to meet the little girls. Ernest twisted his scalp lock in deep thought.
"Say, I'll cut home and ask Sister Sue for it," volunteered Sherm, who didn't have red hair and freckles for nothing. "She'll almost always help a fellow out."
The boys watched impatiently. Fifteen minutes passed. They could see from the window that the little girls were all on the front fence watching for their return.
"How'll Sherm ever get in?" asked Carol gloomily.
"He won't! They've seen him now, I bet. Watch them all running. Sherm must be trying to make it in the back way. Gee, they've got him!"
Sherm shook off his pursuer's clinging fingers. His longer legs soon distanced them enough for him to dash up the stairs and shoot into the room ahead of them. Ernest promptly shut the door and bolted it.
Sherm dropped panting into a chair, shaking his head.
"Sue wasn't there, and Mother didn't have any small change and said I'd had more spending money than was good for me anyhow."
The little girls began to pound vigorously on the door.
"We might tell them we lost it," suggested Carol desperately.
"No, we won't!" retorted Ernest. "I'm not that kind, thank you, to spend the kids' money and then lie about it! Nope, we're up against it and we'll have to take our medicine," Ernest marched straight to the door and flung it open.
"What you boys up to?"
"Where's our money?"
"Did you get the hat to her all right?"
The little girls stood in an accusing half-circle and fired their questions in a broadside.
Ernest put the facts as diplomatically as possible. Sherman and Carol backed him up manfully, promising to pay back with the very first money they could get their hands on.
For an instant the children were stunned. Ernest remembered the look of sorrowful amazement on his little sister's face long after the whipping his father gave him for the offense had been forgotten. Chicken Little adored Ernest and he knew it.
She didn't say a word. She just looked. Gertie started to cry, but Katy flared up and turned red as a little turkey cock.
"I think that's the meanest thing I ever knew anybody to do—it's just plain stealing, so it is! I'm going right straight to tell your mother, Ernest Morton—I hear her coming!"
Chicken Little tried to stop her, but Katy was half way down the staircase before she reached the head. A moment later they heard her shrill little voice and the grieved tones of Mrs. Morton in response.
Presently Mrs. Morton came puffing up the stairs. The boys fidgetted uneasily. Ernest began twisting his scalp lock again and Carol hitched up his suspenders to keep up his courage. He alone was guiltless of taking the money, but it did not occur to him to desert his companions in distress. As for Sherm, his face got so red by the time Mrs. Morton's step sounded outside the door, that his freckles looked like the brown seeds on a strawberry.
Mrs. Morton entered majestic and angry; her black lace shawl slipping from her shoulders unnoticed in her haste.
"Boys, what is this I hear?" The inquiry that followed was long remembered by all concerned. Chicken Little did not utter one word till her mother declared it her painful duty to tell their father. Then she plucked her mother's dress and whispered: "Please don't, Mother, I'll pay it back for him out of my share from the store, he's awful 'shamed."
Mrs. Morton smiled at the troubled little face.
"No," she said firmly, "these boys have done very wrong, and Ernest, at least, must be punished."
The next morning at Sunday School Carol asked Sherman rather shame-facedly: "Get a licking?"
"Yep, did you?"
"Nope, but I can't play on the nine for a week."
They both fell upon Ernest as he slid soberly into his seat a moment later.
"You bet—good and plenty! Father made me cut three switches and he didn't waste any. But I could stand Father's lickings if Mother wouldn't pray over me."
Carol looked shocked at Ernest's irreverence but Sherm grinned sympathetically.
"Mother makes me read a chapter in the Bible—but she most always gives me a doughnut or something when I've finished."
There was no opportunity for further conversation. Miss Rice, their Sunday School teacher fluttered in at this moment and tactfully seated herself between Sherm and Ernest. After the teacher stood up to begin the lesson, Ernest nudged Sherm.
"Say, want to tell you something when we get out. S-h-h, teacher's looking now!"
On the way home Ernest unburdened himself.
"You know Chicken Little's crazy to go hazel-nutting. S'pose we take the kids Saturday—to kind of—oh, you know—make up!"
What Ernest said was not exactly clear but the boys understood.
"They couldn't walk to Duck Creek," objected Sherm.
"Maybe Frank would drive us. Perhaps you could get Sue to go too. Mother'd let Jane go sure if she went."
The boys agreed to think it over and to keep it for a surprise for the little girls.
THE DUCK CREEK TREASURE
Sundays always dragged in the Morton household. Dr. and Mrs. Morton, like many other excellent people of their day, believed in the saving grace of "Thou shalt not!" The list of things the children couldn't do on Sunday was much longer than the list of coulds.
On this particular Sunday Ernest was specially aggrieved because his mother had sternly deprived him of "The Last of the Mohicans" as being unsuitable for Sabbath reading, offering him a painfully instructive volume from the Sunday School library in its place.
He relieved his feelings to Chicken Little.
"I bet if I ever grow up I'll do what I please on Sunday! I think when a fellow goes to their old church and Sunday School he might be let alone for the rest of the day. Think I'm going to read that dope?—all the chaps with any life in them get expelled or go to the penitentiary and the rest are old goody-goody tattle-tales you wouldn't be caught dead with! Guess they're 'fraid if they got a real live boy in a book he'd bust the covers off!"
Ernest's disgust was so real it was painful. Jane sympathized acutely.
"The 'Elsie Books' aren't so bad only I guess Mother'd spank me if I talked to her the way Elsie does to her father."
"Can't play with the boys—can't read—can't go for a tramp—can't even get my lessons for tomorrow."
Ernest flung himself on the old haircloth sofa and groaned.
Chicken Little looked out of the window wistfully. It was a glorious September day. The fragrance of ripening grapes from the long arbor outside floated in temptingly; the maples were already showing gleams of red and yellow and the soft air was fairly calling to a frolic. Beyond the two high board fences that bounded the Alley separating their yard from the Halford place, she knew her two small playmates were happy out in the sunshine. Mrs. Halford's views on Sunday keeping were not so rigid.
Chicken Little sighed, then suddenly brightened. "Katy and Gertie haven't got a brother anyhow!" she said half aloud, balancing advantages.
"Who you talking to?" Ernest raised himself on his elbow to find out.
"Nobody—I was just a thinking."
"Must be hard work. Say, Sis, I know something you don't know. No, I'm not going to tell—it's a secret. Bet you'll be tickled to death when you find out—here, look out!"
Ernest flung his arm up in defense as Jane threw herself joyfully upon him.
"Ernest Morton, you mean thing—tell me this minute or I'll tickle you."
"Pooh, you couldn't tickle a fly. Think you're smart, don't you? I'm going to tell you next Saturday and not one second sooner so you don't need to tease."
"Next Saturday? Is it a picnic? Am I going?"
"Sha'n't tell you what it is, but you're going."
"Goody! Are Katy and Gertie going?"
Ernest saw that she was getting perilously near the facts and considered.
"Tell you next Saturday," he replied tantalizingly.
"Please, Ernest, just tell me that."
"Nope, little girls shouldn't be so curious."
"Say, Ernest, if I'll get you a cooky will you?"
"You can't. Mother said if we didn't leave that cooky jar alone she'd punish us—besides Alice hid them."
"I don't care. I've got six."
"Where in—how'd you get them?—hook them?"
"I did not, Ernest Morton. Mother says we can eat all we want when Alice bakes, and I didn't want very many 'cause my throat was sore so I just put some away."
"Cricky, wouldn't Mother be mad if she caught you? Where did you put them? Well, I'll tell you about Katy and Gertie for four cookies."
"Old Greedy, I'll give you three if you'll tell all about it."
"No you don't, you promised you'd bring me two if I told about the girls. Get them quick, I'm hungry."
"All right, if you'll promise to stay right there till I come back."
"You're grinning. Promise honor bright."
"Hope to die?"
"Oh, yep, trot along."
Chicken Little, relenting, was back in three minutes with the entire cache of cookies, which she religiously divided and the children munched contentedly while Chicken Little speculated as to what the wonderful excursion could be. With feminine persistence she wormed a few more facts from Ernest.
"Carol and Sherm going?"
The cookies had limbered up Ernest's tongue.
"Yep," he answered, but suddenly remembered himself when his small sister began to giggle.
"Bet we're going hazel-nutting. Ernest, tell me."
"Sha'n't tell you another thing and you might as well let up."
"If I can get you off the sofa will you?"
The old haircloth sofa had been a famous battle ground between the children for the past two years, and many a frolic they had had on its slippery length. Ernest would entrench himself firmly in its depths and Chicken Little would tug at arms or legs or head indiscriminately in an effort to dislodge him. She not infrequently succeeded, for while he was much the stronger, the old sofa was so slippery it was difficult to cling to it.
Chicken Little did not wait for an answer now. She made a grab at his head which he defended vigorously. A sharp tussle ensued. She got his legs on the floor twice, but he still clung to the back with his hands.
"Huh, girls are no good!" he ejaculated breathlessly.
Chicken Little's only reply was a dash at the clinging hands.
"No you don't!"
But he spoke too soon. Chicken Little pried one hand loose and throwing her weight on the other arm before he could recover his hold, rolled him triumphantly off on the floor.
"Anyway, I didn't promise to tell," he crowed.
Saturday morning was a testimonial to the weather man's good nature. It was glorious with a little frosty tang to the air and a belt of blue haze over the distant woods.
Sister Sue couldn't go, but Mrs. Morton generously permitted Alice to supply her place, and Frank Morton was to take them out to Duck Creek some three miles away and call for them again after office hours in the afternoon. The children were wild with excitement. Alice had fried chicken before breakfast, and there had been such hunting for bags and baskets that Frank said if they filled half of them, the horses wouldn't be able to drag the crowd and their plunder home.
The old carriage fairly bristled with heads and waving arms as they drove off. Chicken Little sat squeezed in with Katy, Sherm and Carol on the back seat uncomfortable but happy. Even timid Gertie chattered in her excitement.
The youngsters had dressed up especially for the occasion. Sherm was resplendent in a scarlet and white baseball cap that set off his red hair to advantage. Ernest took his straw hat because he said it shaded his eyes, and much reading had made his eyes sensitive. Katy and Gertie, just alike, were trim in blue gingham with smart little blue bows on their flying pig-tails. And Jane was brown, hair, eyes, and tanned skin as well as her dress, with a red coat like a frosted sumach leaf on top. Carol felt quite grown up in an old hunting jacket of his father's. He had stuck two homemade arrows in his belt as a final touch.
Duck Creek was ablaze with autumn leaves and the hazel thickets were full of the tempting gray-brown clusters, though the nuts themselves when cracked seemed a trifle green.
"They don't taste like the hazel nuts you buy," said Katy.
"'Cause they're not dry yet, Goosie." This from Sherman.
"Bet you never picked a hazel nut before!" put in Ernest.
"Well, I've been hickory-nutting three times, and I guess you've never seen Niagara Falls and I have!" boasted Katy by way of keeping her self-respect.
The children worked busily all morning only stopping now and then to chase the squirrels who came scolding the intruders for taking their winter stores. By noon Alice declared they had more nuts than they could stow away in the old carriage, if they hoped to get in themselves.
Sherm and Gertie found a tempting persimmon tree and there were some wry-looking faces till Alice showed them how to find the fruit the frost had sweetened. After that the persimmons became immensely popular, and dresses and jackets alike were liberally stained with the mushy orange pulp to which samples of the picnic dinner were added later. They spread their feast out in the sunshine, using the sacks of nuts for seats, and waging war on intrusive ants and whole colonies of welcoming flies.
"I don't see what the Lord made so many flies for," said Sherm disgustedly fishing one daintily out of the butter by the tips of its wings.
"My, they are thick!" said Alice. "Cover up the cake, Chicken Little."
"What shall we do now?" inquired Carol relaxing after the hard labor of eating three pieces of chicken, two hard-boiled eggs, a generous wedge of pie, and two chunks of cake.
"Do?—I should think you'd need a rest, Carol," Alice replied slyly. She had been mentally thanking her stars she didn't have to cook for Carol very often.
"I say we hunt that old cave," suggested Sherm.
"Huh, Frank says he used to hunt for that confounded old cave when he was a boy till he wore out enough shoe leather to have one dug."
"I don't care—my father says there used to be one somewhere along here, but he guesses the mouth must have got covered up when Duck Creek changed its course. You know the creek used to flow on the other side of the island there. But when they had that tarnation big freshet about twenty years ago, it cut through this side too and made the island."
"Yes, I remember hearing my father tell about that flood—it was before the war," said Alice with interest. "A lot of people got drowned and they say some of the Seventh Day Adventists thought the end of the world had come."
"Maybe the cave got washed out," hazarded Carol who was beginning to feel that Alice's advice to rest sounded good. He felt sleepy.
"Couldn't have—Father said it was quite a ways up the bank. Said he explored it once when he was a boy. He talks about coming out to hunt for it himself, but he won't," explained Sherm.
"There's a lot about a big cave in Kentucky in our Geography," put in Katy who hated to be left out of anything.
"Yep—the Mammoth," said Ernest. "Well, come on, Sherm, let's us have a try at it."
"Let us go, too, Ern," piped Chicken Little.
"No you don't—you'd get all tired out and want to come back."
Chicken Little opened her mouth to protest but Alice interposed.
"We will think up something nice to do here. We might hunt for it over on that wooded bank. Nobody seems to know where it was—it's just as likely to be one place as another."
"We might find some bitter-sweet berries. Mother said she wished we'd bring her some if we saw any." Gertie was getting to her feet stiffly, her legs cramped from being doubled under her.
"Yes," added Katy, "she wants some sumach leaves, too. You boys can just go off by yourselves. I bet we have the most fun."
Carol had pillowed his curly head on a bag of nuts and was deaf to the other boy's urging to "Come Along." He was fast asleep before they were fairly out of sight.
Alice said they'd leave him as a guard for the nuts and wraps. She set off with the little girls in the opposite direction from that taken by the boys.
"Wouldn't it be fun if we could find the cave?" exclaimed Chicken Little, who had been studying over the glorious possibility for several minutes.
"Why, yes, you might find an Aladdin's lamp there," replied Alice teasingly.
Jane was not to be discouraged. "We might find something. Let's play we do anyway. What'd you like to find, Katy?"
"I'd like to find all those silver spoons and watches the burglars stole from the Jones' and Gassetts' last month. Then we'd get the twenty-five dollars reward and I could buy a lot of things."
"Those things are probably up in Chicago in some pawn shop long before this, Katy. It's only in stories that burglars hide things in caves."
"Well, they might," insisted Katy.
"Yes, the moon might be made of green cheese—but it isn't," returned Alice.
"Well, anyway, we can play we find the things," said Chicken Little.
Gertie surprised them all by saying: "I'd like to find a weenty teenty bear cub."
"Gertie Halford, whatever would you do with a bear cub? You'd be scared to death of it." Katy looked at her sister in scornful amazement.
"I'd like to find those stock certificates Father lost," said Alice. "Perhaps we'll find them tied round your bear's neck, Gertie."
This absurdity made the children laugh as they toiled through the underbrush, which was getting dense, planning merrily. They wandered and explored for about half an hour up and down the bank, finding nothing but a few haw-berries, some sumach leaves, and a pocket full of acorns which Gertie was taking back to Carol to carve into dishes, for her. Carol was an expert with his knife.
Chicken Little had a big scratch on her arm from a thorn bush, and Katy a long tear in her blue gingham dress, which greatly annoyed her.
"Let's go back to Carol—this isn't any fun," she complained.
But Alice had just spied something that interested her.
"I bet I know what we can find that you'll all like," she said. "Wild grapes! I see a big vine over on that tree by the rocks. It's in a perfect thicket and there may be some left."
It was difficult forcing their way through the bushes. They were almost tempted to give up but Alice was sure she smelled grapes and Chicken Little and Katy were eager to carry back some booty to make the boys curious.
So they plodded on getting so many scratches and slaps from overhanging branches and interlacing bushes that they made a joke of them.
"Mr. Bush, if you catch my hair again, I'll break a piece out of you," and Chicken Little gave the offending bush such a shove that it promptly rebounded, grazing her cheek.
"Never mind," said Alice. "I've got my thirteenth scratch and my hair's almost down. I won't have a hair-pin left by the time we get out of this."
"I guess Mother will feel bad about my dress, but maybe she won't mind so much if we take her some wild grapes. She hasn't had any this year. Oh, bother these burrs!" and Katy stooped down to pick a bunch from her shoe strings and several scattered ones from her white stockings already profusely streaked with green and brown stains.
Gertie bringing up the rear of the little procession was too busy defending her head and face against briars and brush to say anything.
Alice crashed through a particularly matted growth of bushes and gave a shout of triumph. "Here we are, children, and there are grapes—scads of them!"
They found themselves under a low spreading oak that was fairly canopied with huge wild grape vines that hung almost to the ground on three sides, forming a big tent. The grapes were plentiful and the fragrance delicious. But, alas, these were like the grapes the fox found sour, most of them hung high above their reach.
"What a shame—if only the boys were here they might climb!" said Alice disgusted.
"I can climb if you'll boost me, Alice," Chicken Little volunteered quickly.
Alice was surveying the tempting fruit thoughtfully.
"I don't believe you could reach them if you did, Chicken Little. See, you'd have to go clear out on the ends of the branches. Perhaps if we'd go up on the hill above—it's pretty steep here—we could reach some. It will be hard to get through—there's a perfect rat's nest of vines and bushes."
Chicken Little was already crawling under the overhanging vines. She soon shouted a discovery.
"Say, somebody's cut a little path here through the bushes. Come on—it's easy after you get through a little ways."
The others followed and sure enough there was a faintly worn path leading off up the hill side. Some of the densest undergrowth had been trimmed a little to permit a fairly easy passage.
"How queer!" Alice exclaimed. "Somebody's been here right lately. Funny they didn't take the grapes—they're dead ripe."
"Whoever came here last crawled right in under those vines." Katy's sharp eyes had noticed how the weeds had been crushed down by some heavy body and that some of the vines were broken.
"You're right—they have—dear me, I hope it isn't a tramp!" Alice replied, a little anxious. "Anyway he wasn't here today because—see those leaves he broke off are dead."
"What do you suppose he went in there for?" demanded Katy.
"I'm sure I can't imagine—to hide maybe," Alice looked puzzled.
"Oh, maybe he was the burglar—maybe he hid the things under there—I'm going to find out," and before Alice could stop her, Chicken Little was disappearing under the vines again.
"O-h—Oh! I'm 'fraid! Oh, Alice, don't let her!" Gertie flew to the protection of Alice's skirts in terror and Katy edged nearer to her side.
"Don't Chicken Little—don't—come back—there might be snakes under there." Alice was worried herself.
The mention of snakes brought Katy with a scream to cling to her arm, but Jane was not to be daunted. They could hear her puffing and breaking off twigs as she progressed. Suddenly there was a complete silence and Alice's heart jumped with fear lest something had happened to the child.
"Jane," she called anxiously.
"I'm here, Alice, but there's something funny—there's a great big hole in between some rocks—only I can't see much, 'cause there's so many vines and it's dark."
"Oh, do you s'pose it's a bear den? Oh, I want my mother!" Gertie began to whimper.
"Shut up, silly, there aren't any bears 'round here!" said Katy unfeelingly. "It's a woodchuck hole most likely."
"I wonder if it could be that cave," said Alice. "You wait here, girls, I'm going in there too."
Alice fought her way in to Chicken Little's side. Sure enough there was a dark hole about two feet high.
Jane encouraged by Alice's presence was for exploring at once, but Alice caught her dress determinedly.
"Don't you dare, Jane Morton, it wouldn't be safe—there might be snakes—you can't tell what's in there. I believe whoever came in here went into that hole—see, here's two foot prints. I think we'd better get out of this."
Alice made Chicken Little precede her back to the spot where Katy and Gertie were waiting.
The Halford girls were thoroughly frightened and clamored to go home. Alice hesitated.
"I hate not to get some of those grapes after all our trouble. I don't believe there's anybody round here now and there hasn't been a wild animal seen on Duck Creek for years."
"I could reach those over there if you'd hold me up, Alice," said Chicken Little.
"Pooh, I can get some by myself," said Katy reassured by Alice's words.
"Well, let's fill this old apron anyhow, it won't hurt it." Alice had worn an old apron to protect herself against the muss of the lunch and had forgotten to take it off.
They all set to work, but the apron proved capacious and before it was half loaded, they heard a shrill whistle below them and Carol's voice calling:
"Hello there—where have you got to?"
An answering call soon brought him to the tree.
"Whew, aren't they beauties?" he gloated, surprised.
"How'd you find us?" inquired Katy.
"Trailed you by your tracks—woke up and found everybody vamoosed and I knew it was no good going after the boys and——" he was not allowed to finish.
"Oh, Carol, we've found the cave!" Chicken Little's voice was shrill with importance.
"Honest to goodness?" Carol looked incredulous.
"Cross my heart," affirmed Katy promptly though she hadn't so much as had a glimpse of the mysterious hole.
"Under there—I'll show you," Jane made a dive for the vines but Alice caught her arm.
"You are not going in there again."
"Show me—I'll go." Carol was eager with excitement.
"Got any matches, Carol?"
"No, but Ern has a pocket full."
"I tell you—the boys must be coming back by this time. You go meet them while we finish picking these grapes and when they come we'll explore the thing. Cut some big sticks and bring them along, Carol." Alice had hardly finished speaking before Carol was off.
Fifteen minutes later the boys were heard hallooing below them. They came swarming through the thicket excited and breathless.
"Bully for Chicken Little Jane!" cheered Sherm when they got the facts. "Here, Carol, give me your knife and I'll hack away some of these vines."
The boys cleared a way in a jiffy, letting in a stream of light at the same time so they could see more of the hole.
"I bet you 'tis!"
"Geewhillikens, I wonder how big it is!"
"Alice says somebody has been in there—they have too—see there!"
"Here boys, go slow. Light a match and throw it in and see how much you can see," Alice counselled.
The match illuminated only a little way and a lone chipmunk darted out. It was certainly a cave but apparently empty as they heard no further movement.
The boys tied a half dozen matches on the end of a stick and thrust it in. This improvised torch worked beautifully. The cave was only a small affair about three feet one way and five the other—not high enough for Carol to stand upright. It was so hung with cobwebs they could not see into the corners clearly. The floor was partly covered with dead leaves that had drifted in and were fast decaying into mold.
As their eyes penetrated the dimness, three of the children gave a yell in unison.
"There's something over in that corner!"
The something proved to be a market basket covered with an old gunny-sack.
Ernest insisted on going after it. Satisfied that the cave contained nothing else they rushed their trophy out to the light and examined its contents. It yielded a regular pirate treasure.
"What under the sun?" Alice opened eyes and mouth in blank amazement. "Children, sure as you're born, we've found that stolen silver!"
The basket was speedily emptied. One silver sugar bowl, four dozen spoons, two silver goblets, a watch and some small pieces of jewelry were revealed, besides a package of official looking papers.
"There's Mrs. Jones' pin. I remember they advertised one big pearl set round with ten little ones. But what do you suppose these papers are?" Carol and Alice were busy untying them.
"Well, 'pon my soul!—do you suppose we are bewitched?—they've got my father's name on them. Pinch me and see if I'm dreaming." Alice looked at the papers in a daze, Ernest and Carol staring over her shoulder.
"They're some sort of legal papers 'cause they've got those big red seals on them."
"It is your father's name—Donald Fletcher. We'll take them home to Father—he'll know what they are," said Ernest.
"Yes, that would be best and we must be getting back. Frank will be waiting for us."
CHICKEN LITTLE JANE AND HER MOTHER
Family prayers were hardly decently over the morning after the picnic before Jane Morton climbed into her father's lap armed with a fine tooth comb and a stiff hair brush.
"I'm going to comb your hair," she announced ingratiatingly.
Dr. Morton dearly loved to have his shaggy curly head brushed, and scratched with the fine comb, and it was Jane's office to be comber-in-chief—a duty she was prone to shirk if she could.
"What are you after, Humbug—a new doll?"
"No," she replied in an injured tone. "I just wanted to know what a cestificut is."
"A cestificut—those kind of papers we found in the cave."
"Oh, a certificate. Why Chicken Little a certificate—I don't know whether I can make you understand. There are several kind of certificates, but those were bank certificates."
Chicken Little looked decidedly puzzled.
"Those pieces of paper showed that Alice's father once owned part of the National Bank here."
"Doesn't he own it now?"
"Mr. Fletcher is dead, as you know, and the question is whether they belong to Alice as her father's heir. That is what we were talking about last night. But don't bother your small head about such things."
Jane combed away industriously for several minutes giving him sundry pats and smoothing his forehead deftly.
"Alice says if they was really hers she could sell them and go to school and be like other people. I think Alice is like other people now—don't you?"
"Alice—like other people?" Dr. Morton had been lost in the depths of his newspaper. "Alice is all right—a very worthy girl—but I doubt if she has any more chance of getting hold of that bank stock than the man in the moon. The papers were evidently stolen from Gassett's house along with the silver. It does look queer that they are still in Donald Fletcher's name, but people are mighty careless sometimes about business affairs—though it isn't like Gassett—he looks out for his own pretty carefully."
"Is there anything you could do about it, Father?" asked Mrs. Morton who had come in and overheard this last remark. "Alice seems very much wrought up and I promised her I would speak to you."
"Why, I told her last night if I were in her place I'd just hold on to the papers and see if Gassett inquires for them and if he does, make him prove his right to them. It's up to him to show they are his."
"Are they very valuable?"
"Yes, they are worth about five thousand dollars. It would be a windfall for Alice, all right."
Mrs. Morton considered.
"Well, I don't know what a girl in her position would do with that much money if she had it." Mrs. Morton was English and very firm in the belief that class distinctions were a part of the Divine plan.
"Chicken Little here says she'd go to school," Dr. Morton replied.
"Go to school! Why, Alice is twenty. Well, I think she'd better be content in the station to which the Lord has called her, myself," said Mrs. Morton dismissing the subject easily.
Chicken Little had been listening to her elders with the liveliest interest. She could not quite understand it all but she had done her best. Hurt by her mother's indifferent tone, she burst out indignantly:
"The Lord didn't put Alice in any station—she hasn't been on a train since her mother died. She told me so and she wants to go to school just awful."
"That will do, Jane; you don't know what you are talking about. I didn't mean a railroad station—I meant that if the Lord intended Alice to be a servant she should try to be contented." Mrs. Morton spoke severely, pursing her lips up tight in a little way she had when annoyed.
But Jane was not to be suppressed.
"Yes, but it wasn't the Lord—it was Mr. Gassett's stealing their money. Alice said it would make her mother cry right up in Heaven if she knew she was a hired girl. And I just know the Lord wouldn't do such a thing!"
"Steady, steady—don't get so excited, Chicken Little Jane," soothed her father, amused at the tempest. "Alice has one staunch friend evidently. Here are some peppermints—you can go and divide with Alice to even up for her hard luck. If we find anything can be done about that money, I'll promise to help her. Will that content you, little daughter?"
Jane gave her father a grateful hug and departed to give Alice a decidedly garbled account of what Dr. Morton was going to do.
"Bless the child's kind heart," said the doctor, looking after her tenderly.
"You do spoil that child dreadfully, Father, the idea of her mixing up in a business matter like this. I'm afraid I've let her see too much of Alice, but she is an excellent servant."
"Alice is a treasure, Mother, and she isn't hurting Jane any—that is plain to be seen. Let them alone—the friendship is good for both of them."
Chicken Little came home from school a few days later, bursting with news.
"Mrs. Gassett came out to the gate when I was going by this morning and said she heard we had found some papers along with the silver, and she said they'd lost some and maybe they was theirs. I just told her there was some papers with big red things on them but they belonged to Alice's father and Alice was awful glad to find them 'cause her——"
"Chicken Little Jane, you didn't go tell all that to Mrs. Gassett!" Ernest interrupted with the horrified surprise of one who is far removed from such childish blunders.
Chicken Little looked from Ernest to her father piteously.
"You didn't say I wasn't to tell, Papa."
"No dear, I knew with six children in possession of a secret, it was no use trying to keep it. There is no harm done, Chicken Little. What did Mrs. Gassett say?"
"She just said 'Humph' real mad and she turned her old fat back and waddled off to the house. My, I'm glad I am not fat like her."
"Didn't say thank you for finding her silver, eh?" asked Dr. Morton.
"Catch Sister Gassett saying thank you," put in Frank Morton. "They say she's a worse old skinflint than her husband. I've been told the Gassett girls don't get enough to eat let alone decent clothes."
"Come Frank," said his mother reprovingly. "You forget that the Gassetts are members of our church."
"Didn't I say Sister Gassett, Mother?" asked Frank with a twinkle in his eye.
Mrs. Morton was not blessed with a keen sense of humor and she reproved once more.
"Yes, but it isn't quite fitting for you to call an older person Sister, especially when you are not a church member yourself."
Frank subsided with a shy glance at his father.
Ernest seized the opportunity to impart his budget, though with a mouth rather too full of beefsteak and potatoes to make his words intelligible.
"Carol says—(swallow)—that old Gassett tackled him—(swallow)——"
Dr. and Mrs. Morton started in together, but Mrs. Morton finished.
"Don't try to talk with your mouth full."
Ernest hurriedly disposed of his food and resumed.
"Carol says old Gassett tackled him about those stock certificates and he just told him we didn't find any papers with his name on. If we had, we'd have returned them along with the silver."
"That was a mighty smart-Alecky speech," said his father. "Carol should learn to be more respectful to his elders."
"I don't see what this younger generation is coming to," said Mrs. Morton plaintively. "I can't see where children learn such bad manners."
"Probably corrupted by their elder brothers, Mother dear," retorted Frank. "But, changing the subject, I am curious to see what Gassett will do."
"Yes, I am curious about his first move myself. Perhaps, he'll come up here and demand the papers of Mother or maybe he'll send a lawyer."
"Well, for my part I think the sensible thing to do would be to send him the papers and stop all this fuss," Mrs. Morton replied.
"Why, Mother!" Ernest started up indignantly.
"You forget, Mother, that those papers happen to be worth five thousand dollars," said Frank, lifting his eyebrows.
Jane looked from the boys to her mother in horrified amazement.
"They are Alice's papers, Mother, so there!"
"We don't know whether they are Alice's or not, my dear, and little girls should be seen and not heard."
"But they've got Alice's father's name on them!" Jane's mental crater was seething and no snubbing could keep it from boiling over. "I just guess you wouldn't like it if somebody took something that belonged to your little girl."
"She's got you there, Mother," said Dr. Morton, laughing. "Come on, Frank, we must be getting downtown."
* * * * *
If Mrs. Morton was still English in her ideas, Chicken Little was intensely American, and while Mrs. Morton was a most loving and conscientious mother, she could never understand her rebellious small daughter. Many unpleasant scenes occurred in her effort to bring up the child in the ways of her forefathers.
Chicken Little was an athletic child before the days when it was proper for little girls to be athletic, and Mrs. Morton mourned greatly over her tomboy propensities. She did her best to overcome these by crowding the child's playtime full of all the little womanly arts possible. But her efforts, if praiseworthy, were hardly successful, especially her attempts to teach her to sew.
These lessons usually began Saturday morning.
"Chicken Little, when you finish your practicing, I want you to come to my room and do a square of your patchwork. You know I let you off last Saturday to go nutting."
"Oh, Mother, please, the boys are making a little furnace out in the back yard and they said we girls might help them roast apples and potatoes—and Alice is going to let us have some doughnuts. And please, Mother, don't make me do that nasty old patchwork."
"But, child, you must learn to sew. I should think you would enjoy that pretty patchwork—I got those bright silk scraps on purpose to please you. Why my mother made a shirt for her father when she was no older than you, and you can't take five stitches neatly. Besides, I don't think it is good for little girls to play with the boys so much. It teaches them to be rough—girls should be little ladies."
Mrs. Morton pursed her lips in the prim little expression that was Jane's despair.
The child's eyes flashed rebelliously.
"I don't want to be a little lady!" she said sullenly. "Mrs. Halford likes to have Katy and Gertie play with the boys 'cause they haven't got any brothers and she thinks it's good for them—so there!"
"I don't care—I don't see why boys should have all the fun! You let Ernest do most everything he wants to—and you won't let me do hardly anything—and I don't think it's a bit fair—and I just hate this old patchwork!" Chicken Little flung herself down on the floor in a tempest of wrath.
Mrs. Morton's usually placid face became severe.
"Get up this minute and come here!"
Chicken Little reluctantly obeyed.
"Child, do you want to be a perfect little know-nothing? I am grieved and pained that my only little daughter has such ideas. I can't see where you get them. Katy and Gertie both sew very nicely for their ages and——"
"Yes," interrupted the child between sobs, "but their mother lets them learn on rainy days and in the summer when it's too hot to play out doors. She doesn't keep them in all morning on Saturday!"
"You have all afternoon to play."
"But we can't roast apples—the boys are going to the ball game—and they're building the furnace right now and I want to see them. Katy and Gertie are up on the alley fence calling me. Oh! Mother, can't I go? Please, please, Mother!"
Mrs. Morton looked perplexed for a moment, then straightened herself resolutely.
"No, daughter, you have been a very rebellious little girl. I can't encourage such conduct. But if you will practice your hour faithfully, I'll let you put off the sewing till two o'clock this afternoon—on condition that you promise to sit down without making any fuss and finish that square today. Bring it here and let me see if you are doing it right."
Jane fidgeted and looked at her mother uneasily.
"I don't know 'zackly where it is," she objected.
"Go hunt it."
Chicken Little went slowly, evidently oppressed by thought.
She returned in about three minutes with three much mussed pieces of silk sewn together, from which dangled a needle by a remarkably long and dirty silk thread.
Her mother examined it with disfavor.
"Where are your other pieces?" she inquired sternly.
Chicken Little answered in a most ladylike small voice.
"I—I used them."
"Used them?—what for?"
"Silk ravellings?—what on earth do you mean?"
"We keep them in our Geographies and Grace Dart had the most colors—and you wouldn't give me any old ribbons—so I used them."
"Jane Morton, what are you talking about?"
"Jane Morton" looked out the window and squirmed uneasily. "I just told you," she said pettishly.
"Bring your Geography here!"
Chicken Little obeyed and Mrs. Morton hastily opened it. About every third page revealed cloud-like fluffs of silk ravellings in all the colors of the rainbow. The entire Geography was so occupied as an album for these delectable bits of color that it was difficult to see how it could be used for study purposes.
"Well, I never!" Mrs. Morton regarded all ejaculations as unladylike, but the occasion seemed to require emphasis.
"Where did you get all these?—and what do you want them for?"
"'Cause all the girls have them. I took some of the pieces left from the millinery store——"
"And I cut some weenty bits of my hair ribbons and I traded for some of the mixy ones—and the quilt pieces."
Chicken Little shut her lips tight with an air of finality.
"Go get your hair-ribbons."
Chicken Little obeyed slowly.
The ribbons were shortened anywhere from one inch to a quarter of a yard. Some looked as if she had taken the ribbon and left the "weenty" piece.
Mrs. Morton's face was a study. For a moment she seemed to be struck speechless. It was only a moment.
"Your ribbons are ruined—I never saw such a child! You knew better than that and you shall be punished severely. Go right to your practising now and I'll think this matter over. But—you cannot help the boys with the furnace."
"But you promised, Mother."
"I don't care if I did; you've been a very naughty little girl and——"
"But you promised and you'll be telling a wrong story your ownself if you don't let me. And you never told me I couldn't cut pieces off my hair-ribbons—and I asked you for some old ones and you said: 'Run along and don't bother'." Chicken Little faced her mother flushed and defiant.
Mrs. Morton's face was equally red with exasperation. The child's logic was not easy to gainsay.
"Very well," she said with asperity, "you may go after your practicing, as I said, but you will be punished later. You understand—later!"
THE BACK-YARD FURNACE
It was in a more chastened frame of mind, that Chicken Little joined the others in the back yard after her practice hour was over. She had spent so much of the hour wondering what her mother was going to do to her, that the hour had really slipped away rather quickly.
The three boys had the brick part of the furnace all done when she appeared. They were carefully fitting into place the rusty piece of stove-pipe which was the crowning glory of the structure. Katy and Gertie were seated on an old barrel turned over on its side, watching the process. They made room for Chicken Little between them.
Ernest got to his feet after the stove-pipe was snugly set with a grunt of satisfaction.
"Frank said we'd better wait for half an hour before we started a fire to let the mortar dry. The sun's pretty hot. Maybe it won't take quite so long today."
"Let's play tag while we wait," suggested Katy.
"Bet I can roll you girls off that barrel," said Sherm with mischief in his eye.
"Bet you can't."
"I'll help you, Sherm."
"No you don't, Ernest—Sherm said he could—he's got to do it alone."
Chicken Little perked up at the prospect of a tussle. "I'll sit the other way, Katy. You and Gertie brace your feet against the ground—just as hard. Move the barrel a little and I can put mine against the chopping logs; there that's fine."
Sherm was about fifteen feet away and he made a dash to stop these preparations. But the little girls were planted firmly before he could interfere.
He was a stout lad but he found the rolling process more difficult than he had imagined. The other boys hovered around eager to take a hand and offering unasked suggestions.
"Lift up one end—that'll heave them off."
"You said roll, Sherm Dart!" squealed Katy as she felt the barrel gently rising under her.
"That's right, Sherm, you did," put in Ernest who was usually fair.
Sherm disgustedly lowered the barrel, rubbing his hands together preparatory to another shove.
The little girls gloated.
"H-m-m—wasn't so easy as you thought it would be—was it?" jeered Chicken Little.
"You can't do it, Smarty," Katy shied a chip at him.
Gertie kicked her heels against the barrel in glee and said nothing.
"Before I'd let the girls get ahead of me!" Carol and Ernest joined in the chorus of derision.
"Sherm Dart beaten by the girls!"
Sherm gritted his teeth and settled down to business. He pulled—he pushed—he jerked, but the little maids succeeded in maintaining some sort of balance. He couldn't get the barrel over. Finally he had a happy thought. He also braced both feet against the chopping log and giving a sudden shove with all his strength sent the barrel over and the little girls sprawling in all directions at the same time.
There was a chorus of protests from Chicken Little and Katy, but Ernest and Carol acting as umpires declared that Sherm had kept his contract. Furthermore, the boys were eager to light the furnace, dry or not.
To Chicken Little was granted the proud privilege of touching the match to the heaped-up fuel. It took five matches to do the work and when the paper and kindling finally caught, the smoke showed a disposition to pour out the door into their faces instead of puffing decorously up the chimney.
"I don't see what ails the old thing," said Sherman, wiping his eyes and backing off as the puffs came thicker.
"Bet there's a crack some place near the top that spoils the draught." Ernest was a student and strong on reasons.
"Holy smoke! I should say so," reported Sherman, investigating. "Look at the top where the pipe goes in, you could put both hands down through the hole. Carol Brown, I thought you undertook to plaster this darned thing!"
"Well, I daubed on two bucketsful of the stuff—maybe you think it was fun to fill in all those cracks. I can't help it if you fellows left half acre spaces between the bricks so it falls through!" complained Carol, who did not love work.
"Half acre nothing, your stuff was too thin and didn't stick! Here—gimme your bucket."
Sherm stalked off disgustedly and was soon back with a gloriously messy batch of clay which he dashed painstakingly into the crack and into sundry other cracks that his keen eyes discovered.
"When you're doing a job, you might as well learn to do it right—it saves time in the long run," he lectured with an absurd imitation of his father's manner.
"Quit your preaching!" growled Carol.
"Alee samee, Sherm did the business, Carol," retorted Ernest. "Gee, it's going with a whoop!"
And the furnace certainly proved the force of Sherman's words, for the fire crackled merrily.
The children watched it, fascinated, waiting till the embers should be ready for the apples and potatoes.
Katy had a bright idea. "Say, Jane, get your dishes and I'll ask Mother if I can bring over our little table and we'll have a sure enough tea party."
"Oh, shucks, we don't want any doll parties!" said Ernest.
"'Twon't be a doll party—it'll be a people's party," protested Jane.
"Maybe Mother'd give me some spice cakes. She's making some," suggested Gertie tactfully.
Carol, who was a bit of a glutton, pricked up his ears.
"Let the kids have their duds if they want them. It won't spoil the goodies."
"Oh, well, I don't care what they have, but I'm not going to eat from their old doll things," said Sherm, who prided himself upon being above childish things.
"Nobody wants you to, you old cross patch, but you will, won't you, Carol? And I bet Ernest and Sherm'll want to when they see what we've got," and Katy bustled off with fire in her eye, resolved to produce a spread that should make the boys' mouths water.
She dispatched Chicken Little for the dishes with instructions to beg Alice for something for the feast, while she and Gertie foraged at home.
Mrs. Halford was a jolly little woman who readily entered into the child's scheme.
The boys were set to tending the roasting apples and potatoes, and the little girls spread their tiny table daintily with a big towel for a tablecloth and rosebud china about as big as a minute.
One untoward accident occurred before the spread was ready and came near wrecking the whole plan. While the girls were off after more food a plate of tempting cookies disappeared bodily from the table, plate and all, and loud and wrathful were the laments.
"You mean things—you've got to put those cookies right back!"
"You sha'n't have a single bite if you don't!"
The boys grinned sheepishly. The cookies resting joyfully in their barbarian young stomachs could not very well be restored.
"I'll tell Mother on you," put in Chicken Little as a last threat.
"Tattle-tale, much good it'll do you. Here's your old plate, and we've eaten the cookies. Trot along for the rest of your stuff—we won't take any more," said Ernest.
"Well, you boys can't have but one doughnut apiece, now." Katy tossed her head indignantly.
However Katy herself was the first to suggest dividing her second doughnut with the boys when the time came.
Ernest and Sherm had begun to treat the doll's table idea with more respect as one after another tid-bit appeared. Quince preserves settled the matter for Sherm, and Ernest's last objection to doll parties vanished when Alice appeared with a custard pie.
Alice, who had heard Chicken Little's complaint about the way the boys were behaving, found time to linger till the little party was well started to the great improvement of the lads' manners.
"It is customary, Carol, to serve the ladies first," she admonished when Carol made a dive for a coveted dainty ahead of the others.
And when the sugar mysteriously disappeared into Ernest's pocket, she picked up the pie without comment and started for the house. The sugar was immediately restored and order reigned during the rest of the meal. The boys appreciated the girls' truck the more because their own cooking had hardly been a success. The potatoes were half done and the apples tasted alarmingly of ashes. The moment the last morsel had vanished the boys cleared out for the ball field and the little girls looked longingly after them, as they surveyed the messy dishes.
"Let's leave them and go swing," suggested Katy.
Chicken Little sighed.
"Mother'd never let me use them again if I didn't clean them up and put them away."
"Well," said Katy, "I'll take my things home, but I don't think I ought to help you wash yours."
"Why, Katy Halford, you asked me to use them!"
"Never mind, Jane, I'll help you. Katy can just go off if she wants to. 'Twon't take long and I love to wipe," said peacemaker Gertie avoiding a storm.
Katy thought better of deserting and the work was soon done in their very best manner, which, however, did not include washing the inside of the very sticky sugar bowl or gathering up the remains of the impossible potatoes. But Alice saved the day by attending to these small details and Chicken Little was free to worry over the hated patchwork.
"Wisht I could stay out here in the sun for always," she sighed.
"Huh, I don't. There wouldn't be any coasting or skating or candy pulls or——"
"Well, I wisht there wasn't any sewing."
"You don't either. Where'd you get any dresses or hats, Jane Morton?" retorted practical Katy.
"Feathers might be nice," put in Gertie, who loved birds.
"Well, I shouldn't want my clothes fastened on so I couldn't get them off at night," announced Katy decidedly. "And if you were a bird you couldn't read books or play dolls."
"Well," Chicken Little replied unwilling to concede the point entirely, "snakes can slip their skins right off—my father said so—and I don't see why birds couldn't—anyway, I wish little girls didn't have to learn to sew, so there!"
"I don't mind sewing but I hate arithmetic," said Gertie.
"Pshaw, 'rithmetic's easy."
"Bet you wouldn't say so if you saw our problems for Monday!"
"Let's see them."
"Say, Jane, I'll help you with your patchwork if you'll help me with my arithmetic."
"I don't know whether Mother'd let me."
"Ask her if you can't bring it over to our house."
Chicken Little had reasons of her own for being dubious about asking further favors. She did not, however, wish to confide these reasons to her friends.
"I know she won't let me."
"Well, ask her."
Chicken Little shook her head.
"Go on, Jane," Katy insisted.
But Chicken Little was obstinate.
"Why won't you?"
"'Cause she's mad," she confessed finally.
But the Fates favored her. When she went into the house in much fear of the promised punishment, she found her mother had gone out for the afternoon leaving some new patchwork cut out for her. Alice readily gave her permission to take it over to Halford's.
Chicken Little joyfully gathered up her pieces and needle and thread, but instead of running back to the girls, she went to the window looking out into the tree tops thoughtfully. She stood there thinking for several minutes, her brown eyes sober and her forehead puckered into a firm little line. Finally she shook her head and exclaimed regretfully:
"I guess it wouldn't be fair!"
Then she walked soberly back to the girls.
"Mother's gone and Alice says I can, but—but—I guess I oughtn't to, Gertie. I promised Mother I'd do it, you see. But I'll help you with your examples."
"You could do it over at our house yourself."
"Yes, but I think Mother 'spected me to stay at home and she let me off this morning. I guess I won't."
And she was deaf to further argument.
The child squared herself sturdily as the other children climbed the back fence, then walked straight into the house, carefully washed her hands—which would greatly have astonished her mother could she have seen her—and settled herself doggedly down to the patchwork.
The stitches were pretty straggly when her mother came to examine them that evening, but they had been faithfully and painstakingly set with much pricking of awkward little fingers. Her mother conceded somewhat grudgingly that she had worked pretty well.
"I trust you realize how very naughty you have been to destroy your pretty silk pieces and your beautiful hair ribbons," she added.
Chicken Little opened her mouth to retort, but thought better of it and closed it again. Many of the hair ribbons in question had been on the ragged edge and beautiful was a little strong—but discretion was sometimes the better part. She kept her big eyes intently on her mother's face. Her fingers were picking nervously at her apron strings. Mrs. Morton felt that she was making an impression on the child and tried to live up to it.
"I want you to ask your Heavenly Father tonight to forgive you for being so naughty. I have decided to punish you by keeping you at home and not letting you play with Katy and Gertie for a week."
Chicken Little had been perfectly willing to ask God to forgive her for she felt rather mean about spoiling the hair ribbons herself, but this awful sentence of separation from the girls decidedly lessened her penitence.... She didn't think the hair ribbons were worth it. Her brown eyes flashed for an instant but she didn't say anything. Presently, supposing her mother had finished, she started to walk away.