DOROTHY DAINTY AT THE MOUNTAINS
BY AMY BROOKS.
Each beautifully illustrated by the Author.
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RANDY'S SUMMER. RANDY'S WINTER. RANDY AND HER FRIENDS. RANDY AND PRUE. RANDY'S GOOD TIMES. RANDY'S LUCK. RANDY'S LOYALTY. RANDY'S PRINCE.
For Younger Readers.
DOROTHY DAINTY SERIES.
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DOROTHY DAINTY. DOROTHY'S PLAYMATES. DOROTHY DAINTY AT SCHOOL. DOROTHY DAINTY AT THE SHORE. DOROTHY DAINTY IN THE CITY. DOROTHY DAINTY AT HOME. DOROTHY DAINTY'S GAY TIMES. DOROTHY DAINTY IN THE COUNTRY. DOROTHY DAINTY'S WINTER. DOROTHY DAINTY AT THE MOUNTAINS. DOROTHY DAINTY'S HOLIDAYS. DOROTHY DAINTY'S VACATION. DOROTHY DAINTY'S VISIT. DOROTHY DAINTY AT CRESTVILLE.
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LITTLE SISTER PRUE. PRUE AT SCHOOL. PRUE'S PLAYMATES. PRUE'S MERRY TIMES. PRUE'S LITTLE FRIENDS. PRUE'S JOLLY WINTER.
A JOLLY CAT TALE. Large 12mo. Cloth. Profusely Illustrated. Price $1.00
DOROTHY DAINTY AT THE MOUNTAINS
AUTHOR OF "DOROTHY DAINTY SERIES," "THE RANDY BOOKS," "THE PRUE BOOKS," AND "A JOLLY CAT TALE"
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THE AUTHOR
BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
DOROTHY DAINTY TRADE-MARK Registered in U. S. Patent Office
Published, August, 1911
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
All Rights Reserved
DOROTHY DAINTY AT THE MOUNTAINS
Norwood Press Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U. S. A.
I. AT THE CLEVERTON 1
II. A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE 21
III. AN ENTERTAINMENT 42
IV. IN A BIRCH ARBOR 62
V. THE MOUNTAIN PARTY 81
VI. THE ECHO CAPTURED 101
VII. FLORETTA'S RETURN 122
VIII. AT THE FAIR 141
IX. FLOSSIE'S LETTER 162
X. A GIFT OF WILDFLOWERS 182
XI. ARABELLA MAKES A CALL 201
XII. A SERENADE 222
"Here! Here!" cried Dorothy, and echo answered, "Here,—ere!" (Page 4) Frontispiece
Often she looked back, as she sped over the road 32
"Oh, what a lovely, lovely story!" said Dorothy 66
With feet and hands she strove to loosen the tough, wiry vines 120
She took a few tripping steps, smiling at her reflection 176
She offered two cards to Floretta 210
DOROTHY DAINTY AT THE MOUNTAINS
AT THE CLEVERTON
THE great hotel on the crest of the hill was bathed in sunlight that poured from a rift in the clouds, as if sent for the sole purpose of showing the grand portico, the broad piazza, and the flag that floated gracefully on the summer breeze.
Its many windows seemed to be looking across the valley to opposite mountain peaks, and one could easily imagine that its wide, open doorway, smiled genially as if offering a welcome to all arriving guests.
Two little girls ran across the lawn, the one with flaxen curls, the other with sunny brown ringlets.
The fair-haired little girl had eyes as blue as the blue blossoms that she held in her hand, while her playmate's eyes were soft and brown, and told that her heart was loving and true.
The little blue-eyed girl was Dorothy Dainty, and the child who clasped her hand was her dearest friend, Nancy Ferris.
Nancy had no parents, and a few years before Dorothy's mamma had taken her under her care and protection, and she was being trained and educated as carefully as was Dorothy, the little daughter of the house.
They had come to the Hotel Cleverton to spend the summer, and the first few days of their stay, they had explored all the land that lay immediately around the hotel, and had found many beautiful spots, but one thing held their interest,—they loved the echo, and never tired of awakening it.
"Come!" cried Dorothy. "Run with me over to the white birches, and we'll shout, and listen!"
Mrs. Dainty had told them the story of Echo, the nymph, who for loving Pan and following him and calling to him had been changed into a huge rock on the mountainside, and forever compelled to mock each voice she heard.
The old legend of the nymph had caught their fancy, and often they paused in their play to shout, and listen to what seemed to them the voice of some fairy of the mountains.
Now they stood beside the birches, Dorothy with one arm around a white trunk, and Nancy near her. At their feet were countless bluebells, overhead the blue sky, while across and beyond the valley rose the mountain capped by white clouds that looked as soft as swan's-down.
"Here! Here!" cried Dorothy, and echo answered, "Here,—ere!"
"Listen!" cried Dorothy, clasping her hands, and laughing with delight. "It answers as if it was a truly voice that heard and replied.
"Nancy, I love you!" she cried, and again they plainly heard:—
They thought it great fun to shout and call, and hear their cries so cleverly repeated.
And now another child ran out from the great doorway, paused a moment as if looking for some one, then, seeing the two little figures near the clump of birches, stole softly near them.
On tiptoe, and with tread as soft and noiseless as a cat, she made her way over the short grass, until she was quite near them. Then, hiding behind a low bush, she watched them. How still she stood! For what was she waiting? Her bold eyes were full of mischief, as she whispered, "Oh, hurry up!"
Dorothy Dainty put her hands to her mouth, trumpet fashion, and called:
"Come and catch us!" and instantly the echo from the distant mountain and a shrill voice behind them, repeated:
"Come and catch us!"
"Oh, oh-o!" cried Dorothy, and Nancy ran to her, and threw her arms about her.
"You ought not to frighten Dorothy like that!" cried Nancy.
A saucy laugh answered her.
"Well, it isn't nice to be shrieked at, and you do it just like the echo, you know you do, and it's enough to frighten any one," said Nancy.
The little tease was not in the least abashed. She could imitate almost any sound that she had ever heard, and each success made her eager to repeat her efforts at mocking.
"I made old Mrs. Hermanton fly up out of her chair, and drop her ball of worsted and knitting-needles, when I shouted close to her ear."
"Why, Floretta!" cried Nancy.
Now you think that was horrid, but I tell you it was funny. She'd just been telling about her darling little lap-dog that died ten years ago, and she got out her handkerchief to cry, and put it up to her eyes.
"'Oh, if I only could hear his lovely bark again!' she said, and right behind her chair, I said:
"'Ki-yi! Yip! Yip!' and she jumped up much as a foot from her seat."
Nancy laughed. How could she help it? The old lady had told every man, woman, and child who sat upon the piazza, how much she had suffered in the loss of the dog.
One testy old gentleman who was troubled with gout, spoke rather plainly. "Madam," he said, "I've heard that story every day of this week, and all I can say is, I wish you had gout in your feet as I have, and you'd have no time to waste crying for a puppy!"
He certainly was hopelessly rude, but one must admit every day is far too often to be forced to listen to an uninteresting tale.
Floretta stood looking down at the toe of her shoe. She moved it from side to side along the grass for a moment, then she spoke again.
"You know old Mr. Cunningham has gout, and is awful cross?"
Dorothy and Nancy nodded. They did indeed know that.
"Well, he sat on the piazza and laughed when I scared Mrs. Hermanton, so I want to know if he'll think it's funny every time I do things. You know he puts one foot up on a chair, and every time any one touches that chair ever so little, he cries: 'Oh, oh, oh!' and holds on to his foot.
"The next time I'm near him, I'm going to make b'lieve hit my foot against something, and then I'll cry out, just 'zactly as he does:
"'Oh, oh, oh!' and I'll hold on to my foot," said Floretta.
"I know it's funny," said Dorothy, "but I don't think you ought to."
"Well, you needn't. P'raps you couldn't do it just like other folks, but I can, and I'm going to!" said Floretta.
She was a handsome child, but her boldness marred her beauty.
She was, indeed, a clever imitator, but she had been told so too often. Her mother constantly praised her cleverness, and unwise friends applauded her efforts, until Floretta acquired the idea that she must, on all occasions, mimic some one.
Sometimes those whom she mocked thought it clever, and laughed when they had thus been held up to derision.
At other times Floretta found that she had chosen the wrong person to mimic, and had received a sharp rebuke.
This taught her nothing, however.
She thought any one who did not enjoy her antics must be very ill-natured, while her silly mother considered that Floretta had been abused.
While Dorothy and Nancy were talking with Floretta, they were picking large bouquets of bluebells and a tiny white flower that grew as abundantly as the bluebells, and blossomed as freely.
It pleased her, for the moment, to gather some of the blossoms, and soon the three were too busy to talk, each trying to see which could gather the largest bouquet.
On the hotel piazza Mrs. Paxton sat, occupied with her embroidery, but not too busy to talk. She was never too busy to talk, if she could find any one to listen.
Near her sat two ladies who had just arrived, and old Mr. Cunningham, who frowned darkly at the magazine that he was trying to read.
It was not that the story displeased him that he frowned, but that he was bored with hearing what Mrs. Paxton was saying, mainly because she always said the same thing.
"You see, with our wealth and position, it is impossible that little Floretta should ever make any use of her talents for any purpose other than the amusement of her friends," she said.
One of the two ladies, whose fine face and sweet low voice bespoke refinement, looked fixedly at Mrs. Paxton, and wondered that any woman should be willing to boast so foolishly.
The other, whose garments told of a great love of display, seemed interested, and even impressed.
"What is her especial talent?" she asked, "I really should like to know. Is she musical?"
"O dear, yes," Mrs. Paxton hastened to reply; "she plays delightfully, and she has a voice that is really quite unusual for a child; she dances, too, but her greatest gift is her power of imitation. She has a sensitive nature that is open to impressions, and she sees the funny side of everything. She really is a wonderful little mimic. You must see her to appreciate her charm."
The quiet woman looked as if she thought this a doubtful accomplishment, but the one who had eagerly listened said:
"Where is she? I should be so pleased to see her. Not all children are so interesting. Many are dull."
"And lucky they are!" growled old Mr. Cunningham, under his breath, but the ladies did not hear that.
* * * * *
"I don't want these flowers now I've picked them," cried Floretta. "You can have them if you want them," she said, as she turned toward Dorothy.
"I can't hold any more than I have," said Dorothy, "but you could—"
"Then here they go!" cried Floretta, as she flung them broadcast, to lie and wilt in the sunlight.
"Oh, it was too bad to throw them away," said Dorothy. "I was going to say, if you didn't care for them, perhaps Mrs. Hermanton might like them. She said she liked wild flowers and used to pick them, but her rheumatism won't let her pick them now."
"Pooh! I wouldn't have bothered to take them back to her," Floretta replied; and turning about, she ran back to the hotel.
"Come here, Floretta!" said Mrs. Paxton. "This lady wishes to see you."
Usually Floretta when asked to do anything, preferred to do something else.
This time, thinking that she saw an opportunity for a lark, she went promptly and paused beside her mother's chair.
"This is Mrs. Dayne, Floretta. Mrs. Dayne, this is my little daughter."
Floretta looked up and smiled, but said nothing. She had never been taught that she must reply courteously when spoken to.
Her pretty face pleased Mrs. Dayne, who was much the same sort of woman that Mrs. Paxton was. She wished that Floretta could be induced to perform.
Induced! She was already wondering if she would have a chance to show off.
The opportunity came soon, and she was delighted.
Mr. Cunningham had become drowsy, and his magazine dropped to the piazza floor.
In stooping to recover it, he hurt his gouty foot, and cried out.
"Oh, oh-o!" he cried, and like an echo, "Oh, oh-o!" cried Floretta, catching hold of her own foot and hopping wildly about.
Of course Mrs. Paxton laughed gaily, as if Floretta had done a very smart thing, while Mrs. Dayne, who was as silly a woman as Mrs. Paxton, joined in the merriment, thus hoping to gain favor with her new friend.
Mr. Cunningham, without a word, took his magazine and, limping painfully, left the piazza, and went indoors.
Mrs. Vinton, an odd expression on her fine face, took her parasol from the chair where it lay, and went for a walk down the path toward the birches. She was disgusted with Mrs. Paxton, Floretta, and Mrs. Dayne, although she felt that the little girl was least of all at fault.
She was only an untaught, untrained child, to be pitied rather than blamed. She knew that they would think her very unkind if she did not seem to approve of Floretta, and she could not laugh at cruelty.
The child was indeed a clever imitator, but the fact remained that it was cruel to mock an outcry caused by pain.
Dorothy and Nancy were coming toward her, on their way toward the hotel, their hands filled with blossoms, faces bright and smiling.
They greeted her gaily, and Dorothy offered her some of the flowers.
"I'll give half to you, and half to mamma," said Dorothy. "I mean, I will if you'd like to have them."
"It is a sweet gift, and I shall enjoy them in my room," Mrs. Vinton said. "I have a lovely vase that is worthy to hold such beautiful blossoms."
"I'll divide mine between Aunt Charlotte and Mrs. Hermanton," said Nancy.
"You both like to give," said Mrs. Vinton.
"Oh, yes!" they cried together, and as she left them, Dorothy said:
"Isn't she a sweet, lovely lady?"
"Yes, and I like to hear her talk, her voice always sounds so pleasant."
Mrs. Vinton, as she walked along the little path, her flowers in her hand, thought of Dorothy and Nancy.
"They are two dear little girls," she said, "and add to the charm of this lovely place."
"Would you dare to give Mr. Cunningham some bluebells for his buttonhole?" said Nancy. "I'd like to, but I wouldn't dare."
"I don't know," Dorothy said. "I'd like to, too, and he 'most always has a rosebud, but sometimes he doesn't. When we get back, if he's on the piazza, and hasn't a bud in his buttonhole, I'll try to dare to offer him some of these blossoms."
Dear little Dorothy! She wondered if she would be rewarded with a frown!
Floretta and her mother were not there, neither was Mrs. Dayne, but in a shady corner sat Mr. Cunningham.
Nancy ran in to take her flowers to Aunt Charlotte and Mrs. Hermanton.
Dorothy hesitated. She would have been even more timid, had she known how recently he had been offended.
He looked up from his book, frowned, then smiled and nodded pleasantly.
He had thought that Floretta had returned, and was pleasantly surprised to see Dorothy, instead.
Softly she crossed the piazza until she stood beside him.
"May I give you a few of these bluebells for your buttonhole?" she said. "They're only wild flowers, but they're pretty ones," she added, fearing that, after all, he might not care for them.
"Why, thank you, my dear. I surely would like them, especially as they are offered me by a real little lady."
He placed the cluster that she offered him in his lapel, as he spoke, and looked to Dorothy for approval.
"They are wild flowers, truly," he said, "but I think they are quite as attractive as the buds I have been wearing," and Dorothy was glad that she had offered them.
A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE
THREE weeks had passed, and as nearly every day had been fair, the guests at the Cleverton had lived out of doors, appearing at the hotel at meal-time, and at night.
Other wild flowers beside the bluebells were blossoming gaily, peeping up from the grass as if offering a welcome to all who looked at them; and even great rocks and ledges held tiny blossoming plants in their crevices.
The pony, Romeo, had come to the mountains with the family, and seemed to enjoy the outing.
Every morning Dorothy and Nancy went for a drive, and Romeo tossed his mane, and pranced as if to show his delight.
One morning the pony was standing at the porch, waiting for his little mistress, who soon came running down the stairs.
Floretta was standing in the hall, spinning a top.
A sign on the wall plainly stated that children must not play in the hall, but that did not disturb Floretta.
Deftly she wound the string, and the great top fell to the floor, where it hummed and spun as rapidly as if a boy's hand had flung it.
She picked it up, and again wound it, this time throwing it with even greater force.
"Look! Look!" she cried. "I b'lieve it spins faster every time I throw it!"
Dorothy looked over the baluster at the humming top, but said nothing.
She knew that Floretta had seen the notice; indeed a number of the children had stood in the hall when it had been tacked up.
Looking up at Dorothy, Floretta noticed the whip in her hand.
"Riding?" she asked.
"Yes, for a little while," said Dorothy. "It's a lovely morning, and I mean to see how quickly Romeo will take me to the 'Spring.'"
"I wouldn't care to ride horseback," said Floretta, rudely.
"You won't care to spin tops in this hall if Matson catches you," cried a shrill voice, from an upper hall.
"Pooh! I'm not afraid of Matson," Floretta said, boldly, looking up at the boy who had tried to frighten her.
"Oh, aren't you?" said the boy in a teasing voice. "Well, he manages this hotel, and he'll make you stop if he catches you!"
"You stop, Jack Tiverton!" cried Floretta.
"You'll be the one to stop!" said Jack, with a loud laugh.
Dorothy crossed the hall, stepping around Floretta, who stood exactly in the way.
Looking back, she saw Floretta show the tip of her tongue to Jack, while Jack, not to be outdone, made a most outrageous face.
"I wish they weren't so horrid!" Dorothy said to herself, as she left the hall.
Having mounted Romeo, with the groom's aid, she rode off down the lovely, shady road, the man on his horse, following at a respectful distance.
She touched the pony lightly with her whip, and he responded by breaking into a gentle gallop.
Dorothy's bright curls flew back from her flushed face, and she laughed as she flew over the road.
The groom watched her admiringly, and marvelled that so small a girl could be such a perfect little equestrienne.
The ride had brightened her eyes, and she always looked smaller than she really was when mounted upon Romeo.
He was a handsome animal, with flowing mane and tail, and the groom spoke truthfully when he muttered:
"Them two makes a high-bred pair. Miss Dorothy is a girl 'ristycrat, an' the little hoss is a hoss 'ristycrat, if ever there was one."
The groom had been in the service of the Dainty family but a few months, but in that time he had become devoted to the little daughter of the house. All the servants loved Dorothy, and were almost as fond of Nancy Ferris.
The young groom had heard Nancy's story, and he felt a deep interest in the little girl, who once had been a waif.
Now, his pleasant face wore a smile as he followed Dorothy, and saw how firmly the little figure stuck to the saddle, and rode as if girl and pony were one and inseparable.
They reached the "Spring," a spot whose beauty drew all travellers to it, and artists lingered there to paint, and thus perpetuate its charm.
Romeo looked down at the clear stream that reflected his figure so perfectly.
"He wants a drink," said Dorothy; "lead him to a good place, Thomas, please."
He helped her to dismount, and then led the pony to a shady spot where he could drink, and enjoy the cool, clear water.
Dorothy at once commenced to gather some of the lovely wild flowers that grew near the water's edge, but farther up the stream.
"These are different from any that I've ever found here," she thought.
Her hands were nearly filled with the lovely blossoms, and she was reaching out to grasp an especially pretty one, when a strangely familiar voice, just behind her, said:
"I think I see some one I've often seen before!"
Dorothy turned, and a little cry of surprise and pleasure escaped her lips.
There were Mrs. Barnet and dear little Flossie coming toward her, while very near her was the owner of the voice, Flossie's handsome, merry-hearted Uncle Harry! Just behind him was his lovely young wife, and the baby in charge of a maid.
"Oh, I am glad, so glad to see you!" cried Dorothy. "And Flossie Barnet, did you know you were coming up here, when I said 'good-by' to you and Molly Merton at Merrivale?"
"I didn't know surely, but I almost knew," Flossie admitted, "but Uncle Harry said, 'Don't tell 'til you know,' and I didn't truly know until after you were gone."
"Well, it's fine to have you here," said Dorothy, "but I do truly b'lieve it's almost nicer to be surprised, and have you;" and she threw her arm around Flossie, as she walked beside her.
Tall, handsome Uncle Harry thought he saw a chance for a bit of a joke.
"I wonder why some one isn't surprised to see me?" he said.
"Oh, I am," said Dorothy, "and glad, too."
"Well, thank you," said Uncle Harry; then with a face that he tried to make sad, he said:
"But I know you aren't as glad as you were to see Flossie, because,—you didn't put your arm around my waist!"
He had tried to look very glum, but his blue eyes were laughing.
Big, handsome Uncle Harry could not look woebegone, and the two little girls laughed at his attempt.
"The barge is taking our party over to the 'Cleverton,' and I see you have the pony, Dorothy," said Uncle Harry. "Will you run a race with the barge?"
"Oh, yes, yes!" cried Dorothy, "and Romeo will come in ahead!"
"If he does," said Uncle Harry, "I'll surely decorate him with a blue ribbon!"
With many a laugh and jest, and much guessing as to which would be the winner, the merry party clambered into the barge; Dorothy mounted Romeo, and they were off over the road, on the way to the hotel.
The horses, like the average barge horses, were not beauties, but they saw the pony rush forward, and they made an effort at speed. They plunged forward, at what, to them, seemed a reckless pace, but the fine, handsome Romeo shot past them, his nostrils dilated, and his eyes bright with excitement. Dorothy's gay laugh rang out as she passed them, and Uncle Harry, as he looked after the flying figure, exclaimed:
"The little fairy! I believe no other child could ride so fearlessly as that!"
Often she looked back, as she sped over the road. Try as they would, the old horses could not overtake her.
As soon as the barge appeared in sight between the trees, she touched Romeo lightly with her whip-stock, and then she laughed gaily as he plunged forward, the old barge rattling along far behind.
She did not permit Romeo to again slacken his pace, and thus arrived at the Cleverton before the barge was in sight, so slow had been its progress.
"Oh, Nancy!" she cried, "Who do you think has come?"
"Who has come?" Nancy asked. "Where are they?"
"I mean you can't guess who is coming, and there they come now, Nancy, just look!"
Nancy did look, saw the barge swinging around the curve of the road, saw a tiny handkerchief waving, and then a sweet little face looked out to smile at her.
"Oh, it's Flossie Barnet!" cried Nancy, joyfully, "and her mamma, and,—why, yes it is! It's Flossie's Uncle Harry!"
He heard the cry, and heard the welcome in her voice.
"Yes, it's Flossie's Uncle Harry, and all the other little girls' Uncle Harry who care to claim him for an uncle," he said, with a laugh, as he lifted his little niece down from the barge.
"Oh, I'm so glad he came, too," said Dorothy, upon hearing which, he turned and lifting his hat, bowed, thus acknowledging the compliment that she had paid him. His eyes twinkled with pleasure, for he loved children, and he valued their regard. He was a big, manly fellow, with a warm heart, as loving, and as merry as that of a child.
The Barnet party added much to the pleasure of little events and entertainments at the Hotel Cleverton. Flossie became, at once, a favorite with the other children, and her charming mother was deservedly popular with all.
Uncle Harry, who possessed a fine voice, willingly sang whenever a musical program was arranged for an evening, while his lovely young wife, who was an accomplished pianist, played his accompaniments, or rendered solos, thus generously adding to the pleasure of the other guests.
* * * * *
"I tell you what it is," said old Mr. Cunningham, "that big bank of clouds hanging over that mountain means rain, and plenty of it, I believe."
"I think you are right," said Uncle Harry, "and if we do have a three days' rain, as we sometimes do, we shall have to use every effort to keep things humming, and so forget the storm."
They had been sitting on the piazza, and talking of the days of uninterrupted sunshine that they had enjoyed, when, in a few minutes, the blue sky had been hidden, as if by a thin, pearly veil, while hanging over the mountain was the mass of leaden clouds that had seemed to prophesy rain.
"Oh, I don't want it to rain," wailed Floretta, who stood near them, her pretty face puckered into a most unpleasant frown.
"I'm afraid the weather can't be arranged especially for you," said Mr. Cunningham.
He, like all the guests, was very tired of the child who was either whining, or boisterously, rudely gay. Just at this point, Mrs. Paxton came out on the piazza, a small note-book and pencil in her hand.
She hastened toward the two gentlemen, and smiled as if she were conferring a favor.
"With the chance of a stormy evening, we are trying to arrange a program that will give us a pleasant evening indoors," she said. "I am sure you will help me."
She had smiled at both, and old Mr. Cunningham, who heartily disliked her, was only too glad to reply.
"I'm not musical, madam," he said, "but I'll whistle 'Hail Columbia' for you, if you will promise not to reprimand me if I get off the key."
"Dear, dear!" she cried. "You are always so amusing. One never knows if you are joking, or serious."
"It would be very serious, and no joke, I assure you, if you were actually obliged to listen to my whistling," was the curt reply, and he turned once more to scan the sky and the distant mountains.
Uncle Harry, of course, agreed to sing, his wife promised to play, and Mrs. Paxton moved toward where Mrs. Dainty and her companion, Aunt Charlotte, were sitting, with Dorothy and Nancy near them.
"Will your little daughter sing for us this evening?" she asked. "We are eager to have quite a fine program."
"Dorothy shall sing for you, surely," Mrs. Dainty said, "and Nancy, I am sure, will give a little solo."
"Oh, does Nancy sing or play?" Mrs. Paxton asked, in surprise, for thus far Nancy had not exhibited her talent, whatever it might be.
"She will give you a solo that shall be neither singing nor playing," Mrs. Dainty replied, with a quiet smile.
"How very interesting!" said Mrs. Paxton. She had invited Dorothy to sing because other guests had expressed the wish to hear her.
Here was a second child with talent of some kind! Well, Floretta's imitations of other people would certainly eclipse the efforts of the other little girls! Mrs. Paxton's sole idea in arranging the entertainment was for the purpose of showing Floretta's mimicry.
A small figure paused a moment in the doorway, then stepped back, and peeped out, scanning the groups upon the piazza.
"She isn't there!" he whispered. "She's backed out, an' she said she'd do it!"
He drew back into the shadow, and waited, hoping that when he looked again he might see her.
A second peep at the guests on the piazza showed that Floretta was not among them.
"She didn't try to do it!" he muttered.
He held something in his hand, which he kept behind his back.
He was about to peep again when a light hand touched his shoulder.
He turned, and there stood Floretta, looking prettier than usual in her short white frock, white shoes, and pink hair ribbons.
"Did you get one?" whispered Jack.
"Look!" said Floretta, and from behind her back she produced a long corn-cob. "I took mine from the table at noon, when ma wasn't looking, and ran from the dining-room, and hid it in our room," said Floretta. "How did you get yours?"
"I asked the head waiter to get mine for me," said Jack, "and he acted as if he thought me a ninny. He gave it to me all the same, and asked what I was up to. I didn't tell him, though."
They giggled softly.
"Ready?" whispered Jack, softly.
"Yes," whispered Floretta, and then, with corn-cobs held to their mouths, and their fingers working as if playing upon flutes, they marched out on to the piazza, loudly singing, "Hail Columbia."
Some of the guests laughed, none so loudly as Mrs. Paxton, who declared that it taxed her intellect to imagine what put such outrageously funny notions into children's heads.
"I can answer that, madam, and without trying very hard, either. It's Satan, madam, Satan, who from watching their actions, takes them to be his near relatives," said Mr. Cunningham.
Meanwhile the little procession of two, encouraged by the laughter, marched in and out between the groups of guests, until unlucky Floretta let her corn-cob slip from her fingers, the moist, sticky thing falling upon the light silk skirt of a lady who sat near Mrs. Paxton.
"There, there, Floretta, never mind," said Mrs. Paxton; then turning to the wearer of the gown, she said, "I don't think it will stain it in the least. Children will be children, and must have their fun!"
MRS. PAXTON had laughed at what she chose to call the "funny" antics of Floretta and Jack, but in truth, she had been very angry.
She swept from the piazza, Floretta, firmly grasped, walking beside her. Jack Tiverton's mother took him to her room, where she could talk to him, without fear of interruption.
Floretta sat on a low divan, sullen and obstinate.
For twenty minutes she had listened, while her mother had told what a disrespectful thing she had done.
"I don't see how it was not respectful," grumbled Floretta, "we were just having a little fun."
"And it was fun at my expense," said Mrs. Paxton. "I was annoyed, just when I was making plans for a fine entertainment, to have you and that boy parade out on to the piazza with those old corn-cobs, singing, or rather howling, like young savages!"
This, and much more Floretta was forced to listen to, but during the remainder of the scolding, she did not speak, or reply in any way.
She was still very sullen when her mother left the room, and no one saw her until she appeared in the dining-room at dinner.
She tasted one dish after another, but managed to eat but little dinner. She wished her mother to think that the scolding had made her ill.
It proved to be wasted effort. Mrs. Paxton had been so interested in what Mrs. Dayne was saying that she had not noticed that Floretta let the various courses go untasted.
She had hoped to worry her mother, but had only punished herself!
She was very hungry when they left the table, and also very angry.
"I might just as well have eaten my dinner," she muttered, "she never noticed that I didn't."
When the hour arrived that had been set for the concert, every guest was present, and all were talking and laughing gaily, and very glad that an evening's amusement had been provided.
Outside, the rain was descending in torrents, while a cold wind whistled around the corners, as if demanding admittance.
Indoors the heavy red hangings were drawn over the lace draperies, great logs blazed in the fireplaces, while over all softly shaded lights gave an air of cozy comfort that made one feel sheltered and safe from the storm.
A group of ladies sat chatting together, and one, a recent arrival, was saying that she had understood that children were not permitted as guests at the Cleverton.
"There are only a few children here," Mrs. Vinton said, "and some of them are charming."
"While others are not?" questioned the stranger, with an odd smile.
"I'd rather not say just that," Mrs. Vinton said, "but I will say that Mrs. Dainty's little daughter, and Dorothy's little friend, Nancy, and Flossie Barnet, are three of the sweetest children I have ever met. My stay here is brighter and far pleasanter because they are also here."
"Dorothy Dainty is an unusually fine singer for a child," another lady said, "and she is to sing for us to-night. I believe Nancy Ferris is to do something, but I do not know what. Does any one know if Nancy sings?"
"I've not the least idea what her talent is," said a pleasant-voiced matron, "but she is such a bright, interesting child that I feel sure that whatever she is able to do at all, she will do exceedingly well."
"Aunt Vera is to play a solo for the first number," said little Flossie Barnet, to a lady who sat near her.
"That is delightful," said the lady, "and what are you to do?"
"Oh, I'll listen, and listen," said Flossie, "and then, I'll clap to show how much I liked what the people did."
"And your friend Dorothy is to sing," said the lady, "do you know what Nancy does?"
"Oh, yes, I do!" cried Flossie, "and she does it so lovely, you'll wonder how she could! I'm not to tell what she'll do, none of us are to tell. You'll see when she does it!"
"Dear little girl, you seem quite as happy as if you were to be a soloist," said the lady.
"Why, yes," said Flossie, "for when the other little girls do pretty things, I see them, but I couldn't see myself do anything!"
"Oh, you sweet, funny little girl," the pleasant-faced lady said, as she drew Flossie closer, "I never knew so dear a child."
"Dorothy and Nancy are dear," said Flossie, "and oh, you haven't seen Molly Merton! She's another one of my little friends, and she's always lovely to play with. We're always together when I'm at home at Merrivale."
Before the lady could express regret that she did not know Molly, the orchestra began the opening chords of an overture.
The musicians gave an afternoon and evening concert daily, throughout the season, but to-night their numbers were to be interspersed with solos given by the guests.
The orchestra was generously applauded, and then a slender figure in a gown of soft, pink satin seated itself at the piano, and with light touch and brilliant execution, played a rondo that delighted all.
In response to repeated applause, she played the "Caprice Hongroise," which aroused wild enthusiasm.
She smiled, and bowed gracefully in acknowledgment, then turning toward her husband, who now stood beside her, took from his hand the duplicate of the song that he was to sing. She always played his accompaniments.
How full of music was his rare voice, how like the tones of a silver trumpet when he sang "A Song of the Sea," how tender his tones when for a second number, he sang an "Italian Love Song!"
"Didn't he sing fine, just fine?" Flossie asked, eagerly.
"Indeed he did," the lady replied, "I never heard a more excellent voice."
"Well, he's my own Uncle Harry!" said Flossie, a world of love and pride in her voice.
A young girl played a serenade on the guitar, and a member of the orchestra played a waltz for violin, and both were encored.
Those who were to perform were in a small room awaiting their turn. They were laughing and chatting while they waited, and all, save a little girl, who kept apart from the others, seemed bright and happy. Her eyes were dull, and her red lips pouting. It was Floretta Paxton, and she was watching Nancy Ferris, noticing every detail of her costume, and looking as unpleasant as possible.
Nancy wore a frock of white gauze, thickly strewn with tiny gold spangles. Her girdle was white satin, her slippers were white, and she wore a cluster of pink rosebuds in her hair.
"What's she going to do?" Floretta asked in a fretful voice, but Mrs. Paxton, who stood beside her, could not tell her that. She knew no more of Nancy's talent than Floretta did.
Floretta had been angry in the afternoon; she had foolishly refused dinner, and was very hungry; she was made more angry because hers was not the first number on the program, and now, here was Nancy Ferris wearing a beautiful frock that far outshone her own!
She was wearing a simple pink muslin, and had felt that she was finely dressed, until Nancy appeared.
The satin girdle, the white slippers, and the spangles were more than she could forgive.
"What's she going to do?" she asked again, more fretfully than before.
"I don't know," Mrs. Paxton said.
"Well, I won't do a thing 'til I do know!" said Floretta.
Silly little girl! Always a jealous child, she now thought that Nancy might be another impersonator or imitator, and she was nearly wild.
The orchestra was now playing a dreamy waltz. Nancy's foot tapped the measure. Her eyes were brighter.
"What is she going to do?" whispered Floretta.
The tall man, who had been announcing the numbers, now swung aside the portiere, and Nancy slipped from her chair, ran out upon the stage, and then,—oh, the fairy motion of her arms, the lightness with which, on the tips of her toes, she flew across the stage!
With her finger-tips she lifted the hem of her skirt, and courtesied low, then away in a dreamy whirl she sped, turning to look over her shoulder, and laugh at the faces that showed greatest surprise.
On swept the strains of sweetest music, and little Nancy, carried away with love of the music, danced more charmingly than ever before.
Aunt Charlotte and Mrs. Dainty watched her flying figure, and often as they had seen her, they knew that she was excelling herself.
"Nancy, Nancy, dear child!" murmured Aunt Charlotte.
Now, with her feet crossed, and still on the tips of her toes she whirled like a top, did the graceful rocking step, swayed like a flower in the wind, whirled about again, courtesied once more, and laughing like a merry, dark-eyed sprite, ran back into the little waiting-room.
Oh, what thunders of applause greeted her, yet she sat quietly chatting with a lady who stood near her!
Again and again they seemed to be begging that the little dancer might return.
"I'll bow to them," said Nancy, and she ran out to do so.
"Once more, once more!" cried an eager voice, and then more clapping, and even a few shrill whistles from some very young men begged her to respond.
She extended her arms for a second, then whirling rapidly, she repeated the last half of the dance, courtesied again, and when she ran back to the little room, Dorothy embraced her tenderly.
"Oh, Nancy darling!" she cried, "you never danced finer. Do you know how pleased every one is?"
"I danced to please and surprise them," said Nancy. "I do love to see people look happy. They couldn't remember how hard it was raining while I was whirling and dancing for them."
Floretta, now more unhappy than before, turned so that she might not see Nancy, nor note the shimmer of her spangles.
Mrs. Paxton, who had been talking with a friend, now turned toward Floretta.
"Come!" she said, "now run out, and do your very best, Floretta."
"I'm not going out!" said Floretta.
"What an idea!" cried Mrs. Paxton. "Of course you'll run out, and show every one how cute you are. Why, I planned this entertainment just to give you a chance to show off!"
"And made me the last one on the whole list!" snarled Floretta.
"Come, come!" cried her mother, "every one couldn't be first. I thought I'd have the others perform first, and then you could show who was the smartest! Come! They're just wild to see what you can do, and they're waiting."
"They'll have to wait!" hissed Floretta, like a cross little cat.
It was no use to urge, plead, or insist. Floretta was stubborn, and when once she had determined what she would, or would not do, nothing could move her.
Prayers and threats were equally useless.
Dorothy sang very sweetly, and was cordially received.
Uncle Harry and his wife sang a charming duet that delighted all, the orchestra played a military caprice, and then the remainder of the evening was spent in a little, informal dance.
All was light, laughter, and music, and there were two kinds of music that gladdened their hearts,—the sweet music of the violins, and the still sweeter melody of happy voices!
Silly little Floretta had ruined the evening for no one save her own jealous little self.
Because she could not be the first on the program, she would not appear at all, although, at heart, she longed to show her really clever mimicry. Later, after having sulked during the early part of the evening, she refused to join the dancers, and ran away to her room, angry, very angry with every one save the one person who was really at fault,—herself.
Her efforts at imitating would surely have amused, and would, doubtless, have been well received. She was rather a graceful dancer, in any of the ordinary ballroom dances, and she thus might have joined the other children when the concert was over. She had needlessly spent a most unhappy evening.
Now, in her room, she heard the strains of the orchestra, and for the first time realized how foolish she had been.
"I had a chance, and I lost it," she sobbed, but her tears were not tears of grieving. They were angry tears, and the droll part of it was that while she alone was at fault, she was angry with every one but herself.
For a few moments she lay, her face hidden in her pillow. Then, she turned over into a more comfortable position, and softly she whispered, "I'll do enough to-morrow to make up!"
She did not say what she intended to do, but the idea evidently pleased her, for she laughed through her tears.
She sprang from her bed, found a box of bonbons that her mother had won as a prize in an afternoon whist party the day before, and crept back into bed. When she had eaten nearly all of the candy, she sat up and in the softly shaded light, looked at the box with its few remaining bits of candy. She was wondering where she could hide it.
"Ma will surely notice the empty box, or anyway, I've made it almost empty," she said. "She might not miss it if I hid it!"
She had never been taught to be honest, so whenever she did a naughty thing, her first thought was to hide, or cover up the act. She never felt regret.
No one ever heard her gently say, "I'm sorry."
Softly she crept from her bed, and made her way across the floor to the dressing-case.
She put the box upon the floor, and pushed it well under it, and wholly out of sight.
"There!" she whispered. "That's all right. I would have finished the candy, but I didn't want the whole of it. I ate the best of it. The others weren't very nice."
Down in the long parlor the guests were no longer dancing.
They were resting, and listening to a lovely barcarolle played softly by the orchestra.
Flossie, clinging to Uncle Harry's hand, drew him toward the window.
"Look!" she said, as she parted the curtains. "It isn't raining now, and the moon is coming out. It will be pleasant to-morrow! And it has been lovely in here to-night."
"Dear little Flossie, dear little niece, it was your cheery, loving nature that led us to give your name to our baby. She has two fine names, she is Beatrice Florence. The first is Vera's mother's name, the second, dear, is yours."
IN A BIRCH ARBOR
THE storm had cleared the air, no mist veiled the mountains, the sunlight lay everywhere, gilding valley and stream.
Many of the guests had started early in the morning for a trip to a distant mountain from the summit of which a delightful view might be enjoyed.
They were to ride over in the barge to the base of the mountain, have a picnic lunch under the trees, and then climb the rugged path up the mountain side.
It would occupy half the day and it would be afternoon before the barge would return with its merry, tired party.
Floretta Paxton and Jack Tiverton were usually in sight, or, as they were always noisy, within hearing might be nearer the truth, but they had gone over to a spot that the children called "The Pool," a bit of water not much larger than a big puddle.
It existed only after a heavy rain, but near its edge the slender birches grew, and their silvery white trunks and the bright, blue sky were clearly reflected on its surface.
Jack had decided to launch his toy boat there, and, as Floretta had hemmed the tiny sails, he had felt obliged to listen to her coaxing, and permit her to go with him.
"I'll let you christen her," he had said, in a moment of generosity, and then regretted it.
Floretta's idea of a christening ceremony was very elaborate, while Jack thought that shouting the vessel's name, and shoving it into the water was all that was necessary.
Nancy was helping Aunt Charlotte, so when Dorothy ran out to the piazza, she found it deserted, and she stood looking in surprise at the rocking chairs and hammocks that were swaying in the wind.
"Every one has gone somewhere," she thought; "didn't any one stay at home?"
She stood for a moment in the doorway, wondering what to do. Suddenly her face brightened, and she clapped her hands.
"The very thing!" she said, and she turned and hastened to her room to find her latest gift.
It was a beautiful book of fairy tales, and although it had been given her over a week ago, she had read but a few of the stories. Mrs. Dainty had sent to the city for the book, and ever since the day of its arrival Dorothy had been wild to read it.
Something had been planned for each sunny day, and as the weather had continued fair, the book had been opened but a few times, and then for only a brief glance at the tales or the illustrations.
Mrs. Dainty had gone to the village, a ride of about an hour from the hotel, and Aunt Charlotte was still occupied with her letters.
Nancy was sealing and stamping the envelopes, as Dorothy passed the door.
"I'm going over to the little 'birch arbor,'" she said. "I'm taking my new fairy book for company."
"I'll come, too, just as soon as I've finished these envelopes," said Nancy, and she began to work faster.
The "birch arbor" was not an actual arbor, but it was a lovely spot, and the birches were exceptionally fine. Nancy and Dorothy had often been there together, and they had given it the name.
A tiny mountain brook ran through it, and it was a lovely spot in which to enjoy legends or fairy tales.
In a few moments Dorothy had reached the place, and when she had seated herself, she opened the book where a fine picture showed the prince, whose father had given him three wishes as his only inheritance, and then had sent him out to seek his fortune.
Twice she had commenced to read the story, and had been obliged to lay it aside. Now, with only the bees and the butterflies hovering about her, she read the fascinating tale.
It proved to be even more charming than she had expected.
The prince was tall, and dark, and handsome, and his heart was so good and true, that Dorothy felt that he richly deserved the beautiful princess whom he finally won.
Her eyes sparkled as she read of the great court wedding.
"And the lovely princess looked more beautiful than ever in her wedding gown of cloth of gold, thickly set with diamonds, and her crown of diamonds and sapphires."
"Oh what a lovely, lovely story!" said Dorothy, as she turned the page.
"Tiny princes carried her train, and as the happy pair reached the palace gates, and were about to enter the royal coach, the blare of trumpets sounded, as the guards in blue and gold played a gay fanfare."
"Toot! Toot! Toot!"
Dorothy sprang to her feet.
It was as if those silver-toned trumpets had sounded close beside her. A moment more, and a huge automobile appeared from behind the trees and shrubbery, and slackening its speed, came, at last, to a standstill, and an old lady leaned out to question her.
"Are we going in the right direction, my dear, to reach the Hotel Cleverton?"
Dorothy walked toward the car, and looked up into the hard, old face.
"This little road is right," said Dorothy, "but the broad road that leads out of this one is not so rough, and it is a little shorter."
"There, Minturn, I said plainly that I believed we could get there quicker some other way!"
"You are sure about the Cleverton?" the old lady asked. "You know where it is?"
"I'm staying there with mamma, and that truly is the right way," said Dorothy, her soft eyes looking up into the hard, old face.
"I guess I can trust you," the old lady said, not smiling, but looking a bit less stern.
"Now, Minturn, we'll try to reach the hotel, sometime before dark!" she said curtly.
Puffing and whirring the big automobile started off up the road, the old lady sitting stern and erect, as if she thought her driver needed watching, and she was determined to keep a sharp eye upon him.
"Why, how queer!" said Dorothy. "She didn't even say 'good-bye,' or 'good-morning.' Perhaps she was very tired, and forgot,"—then after a moment she added, "but my beautiful mamma never forgets."
She went back to the pretty spot where she had been reading, and sitting down, opened the book, but she could not keep her mind upon the stories. The strange face of the old lady seemed to look at her from the printed page.
How small and sharp her eyes had been, and how she asked the same question again and again. Did she doubt the answer given her?
All these, and many more questions puzzled Dorothy, and with the open book lying upon her lap, she looked off where the sunlight lay upon the grass.
She was still sitting thus when a merry voice aroused her, and she turned to see Nancy running toward her.
"Oh, Dorothy!" she cried. "You ought to have been up at the hotel just a few moments ago. A new guest came, and she was so cross, it must be that she didn't want to come. But if she truly didn't want to, then why did she?"
"Why, Nancy, who wouldn't think it fine to come up here to the mountains, and stay at the Cleverton?" said Dorothy in surprise.
"Well, you wouldn't have thought the old lady was glad to be there, if you'd seen her," said Nancy.
"Oh, was it an old lady that you were talking about?" Dorothy asked quickly.
"Yes, and you ought to have seen her eyes snap when she scolded her chauffeur. She told him she might have arrived an hour before just as well as not, and she kept right on scolding to herself, all the way up to the piazza, and, Dorothy, she looked so cross, I wouldn't wonder if she was scolding up in her room now!"
"She must be the same one that was here just a little while ago," Dorothy said, "and she asked me to tell her the nearest way to the Cleverton. When I told her, she made the man rush off over the road, and she was scolding him when they left here. Perhaps she was tired, and will feel pleasanter when she has rested."
"Perhaps," agreed Nancy, "but I know Aunt Charlotte and your mamma don't act that way when they are tired."
Dorothy could not dispute that, and soon the two little girls were enjoying the fairy book together.
"Now, this is the story I've just been reading," said Dorothy, "and this is the picture of the prince. Isn't he handsome?"
"Oh, yes," said Nancy, "and doesn't he look like Flossie's Uncle Harry?"
"Why, he does, truly," cried Dorothy. "I'll show the picture to Flossie, and I'm sure she'll say it looks ever so much like him."
"Oh, she will," agreed Nancy.
"Why, it would look exactly like him, if he only had a cap with plumes," said Dorothy.
Uncle Harry, coming briskly up the path, was just in time to hear the last few words.
"I'm very curious to know who it is who needs a cap with plumes," he said.
"Oh, who knew you were right here to hear it?" said Dorothy.
"Oh, was it a state secret?" he asked. "Well, now it's a pity I heard it, but as it happens I did, I think I must ask for the rest of the secret."
"Oh, would you tell?" Dorothy asked, turning to Nancy, but before she could reply, Uncle Harry spoke.
"I'm really too curious," he said, "so I think I'll threaten to sit on this stump, until you tell me the secret, and let me tell you two little friends, that I've a secret; it's a nice one, too, but,—" he paused to watch the effect of his words.
"But—But—" they cried.
"But,—" said Uncle Harry, "I wouldn't tell mine first!"
Wag that he was, he could not resist the temptation to tease just a bit.
Dorothy took the pretty book, and opening it at the page that showed the picture of the prince, she said, "We only said the brave prince looked like you, no, I mean you look like him, and we said you'd look just like him if you had a cap with plumes."
Uncle Harry appeared to study the picture very carefully. After a moment, he said:
"That's a fine compliment, but there's one thing about it that worries me, so I'll have to ask about it.
"In this picture the prince wears a blue blouse and a pair of green shoes, a pink cap with white plumes, gray hose, and crimson trunks. Now, if I should decide to purchase a pink cap with white plumes, would you expect me to come out arrayed in all those colors? I really feel that the costume is a bit, just a bit too gay."
"Oh, we'll not ask you to be quite as gay as that," said Dorothy, "and we'll promise one thing. We won't even ask you to buy a pink cap if you'll tell us your secret now."
He laughed gaily.
"Perhaps I really ought to keep it a little longer. How would it do if I should tell you my secret some time next week?" he asked.
"Oh, no, no!" they cried, "tell it now!"
"Well, then, there's to be a fair 'way down in the village, a real country fair, and I'm intending to hire a barge, and take all of the very young ladies over with me to see the fun. I mean ladies as young as you, and Nancy, and Flossie. I shall invite all the wee ladies that are stopping at the hotel, and I shall take all who accept."
He looked into their bright faces, and laughed when Dorothy said:
"As if any little girl wouldn't accept!"
"You mustn't expect it to be a grand affair. It will be, as I said, a real old-fashioned country fair, but there will be a jolly ride over there, and the return trip, and I fancy you will enjoy it all," he said, "and I shall have the delight of giving pleasure."
A friend who had been looking for Uncle Harry, now appeared on the winding path, a clump of large trees having hidden his approach.
The two young men started off for a long tramp, and Dorothy and Nancy walked slowly back to the hotel.
"The prince did look like Uncle Harry," said Nancy, "and the picture of the naughty old fairy that enchanted the sleeping beauty, looks like the lady that came this morning, and was so very cross."
"Then that is the same one who stopped to ask the way, for she looked just like that. I'll always think, every time I look at her, that she's the black fairy."
And when they ran up on to the piazza, there sat the very person whom they had been speaking of, looking somewhat cooler with her long travelling cloak removed.
Her black gown was of some thin material, and just as the two little girls ran up on to the piazza, she dropped the large, black fan that she had been wielding.
Nancy, who was nearer to her than Dorothy, picked up the fan for her. Without a smile, she took the fan, and they heard some slight sound. Possibly it might have been a softly murmured word of thanks, but it did not sound like it.
"She seems very strange," said Dorothy, "but perhaps she's still tired."
She was always unwilling to say that any one was wilfully rude or disagreeable.
And now Aunt Charlotte, with Mrs. Dainty, came out to enjoy the fine air, and Dorothy and Nancy ran to them to tell them of the treat that Uncle Harry had in store for them.
"It's only a few days to wait, and isn't he kind to take us?" said Dorothy.
"He is indeed," said Mrs. Dainty, "and I hope all his little friends will be very thoughtful, and make him just as little trouble as possible. He takes quite a care in inviting so many children."
"Oh, all the children love him, and there isn't one who would want to be any bother, unless it was Floretta," said Dorothy, "and perhaps she'll be having such a nice time, she won't think to be naughty."
Mrs. Dainty smiled at this view of it. She could not help thinking that Floretta never needed time to think in order to be disagreeable, but she did not say so.
Aunt Charlotte Grayson, seeing the stranger sitting alone, paused near her chair to say a friendly word.
She remained but few moments, however, because the woman seemed not inclined to talk.
Aunt Charlotte well knew that the stranger was not courteous, but she tried to think, as Dorothy had, that fatigue, after a long journey, made her eager for silence and rest.
THE MOUNTAIN PARTY
AS the days flew by, the stranger became a bit more friendly, conversing sometimes with Mrs. Dainty and Aunt Charlotte, but often, far more often, with Mrs. Paxton.
It was not that she sought to become acquainted with Floretta's mother; it was, rather, that Mrs. Paxton seemed determined to force the friendship.
"Her name is Fenton, Mrs. Fenton, and isn't it odd, my name was Fenton before I married. Floretta's middle name is Fenton. I really feel almost as if I were related to her, because of the name," declared Mrs. Paxton one morning, whereupon Mrs. Fenton, coming out on to the piazza, remarked:
Mrs. Paxton blushed and hesitated, then recovering herself, she said:
"I was just telling these ladies of my friendly feeling for you."
"Oh, indeed!" Mrs. Fenton repeated, as she sank into a large rocker, and looked off across the valley to the distant mountains.
After a few moments she seemed to have lost interest in the view, and, taking up a small embroidery frame, commenced to ply her needle as if she were eager to finish the pretty doily.
Two little figures came slowly up the path to the piazza. They were returning from the christening of the little boat.
"What is wrong, Jack? You don't look very happy," said Mrs. Tiverton.
"He wanted me to christen his boat, but he wouldn't give it my name!" said Floretta, before Jack could reply.
"She thought just because she hemmed the sails I'd name it the Floretta, but I wouldn't, so I shoved it into the water myself, and shouted Carlotta. That's the name of a girl that goes to my school, and I like her."
"You say Floretta hemmed your sails," said Mrs. Tiverton.
"Well, I thanked her for that, and I let her go to the launching, and I let her christen it, but I don't see that I need name it for her," said Jack, stoutly.
Mrs. Fenton had not heeded what the children were saying. One might have fancied that she did not hear, although both Floretta and Jack stood quite near her chair.
A large spool that she had wound with colored silk slipped from her lap, and rolled toward Floretta.
"Pick it up, dear," Mrs. Paxton said.
"Don't want to," said Floretta.
Mrs. Fenton stooped, and recovered the spool, and, taking her embroidery frame in her hand, left the piazza, and mounted the stairs to her room.
"Why were you so rude?" said Mrs. Paxton, but Floretta, perching upon the low railing, began softly humming "Yankee Doodle."
Jack Tiverton, espying a boy that he knew, whistled loudly, and then, as the other boy turned, ran after him, the two whooping and shouting like savages.
"It is almost lunch time, Jack!" Mrs. Tiverton cried, and the boy turned, and waved his hand to show that he heard her.
"Boys aren't apt to forget meal time," muttered old Mr. Cunningham behind his paper.
True enough, Jack returned in ample time, and was the first at the table.
Early in the afternoon Dorothy and Nancy went out for a drive with Romeo.
It was one of those sunny days that tempt nearly every one to ride or walk.
The mountain roads were rather lonely, and Mrs. Dainty insisted that whether Dorothy were riding Romeo, or driving in the phaeton, the groom must ride at a little distance behind her.
There were the lovely, slender birches on either side of the roads, there were patches of bright green moss upon which the sunlight rested, there were blackberry vines and woodbine wreathing the low stone walls, and here and there a mullein raised its stately head from its base of velvet leaves.
Oh, it seemed like an enchanted country, where new beauties were to be found on either hand!
"Look!" cried Dorothy, "close beside that mullein is an evening primrose, and their blossoms are the same color."
Then a tiny chipmunk sprang upon the wall, sat erect, and watched them for a moment, then ran up the trunk of a slender tree, where from a low branch he watched until they had passed. Then back to the wall he sprang, where he chattered as if scolding the little girls who had disturbed his solitude. It may be that, instead, he was talking to himself, and telling what charming little girls they were.
A long way from the hotel they passed Jack Tiverton, with a number of other boys who were staying at a hotel a few miles distant from the Cleverton.
They were all somewhat larger than Jack, and he thought it fine to be with them.
He had met them at a ball game three weeks before, and he had been very busy holding their acquaintance ever since.
"We're going to catch the echo, and keep it, too!" shouted Jack.
"It's mocking you now," said Dorothy, with a laugh.
"I know it," said Jack, "but we'll catch it, and fasten it so it can't get away."
"How will you fasten an echo?" Nancy asked, turning, and looking over her shoulder as the little phaeton sped past.
"Trust us to find a way!" cried Jack, and the others laughed as if they already knew exactly how to do it.
They left the road, and, vaulting over the wall, crossed the open field, singing a gay, rollicking song as they went.
"They just say they're going hunting for the echo," said Dorothy, "and they say it for fun, but I wonder where they are going, and what they truly are going to do."
The groom, riding nearer, touched his hat.
"Please, Miss Dorothy, I heard the lads saying that there's an old house over near that mountain, where a hermit lived years ago, and they're off to find it if they can."
"Then why didn't they say so, instead of telling such a tale about catching the echo?" Dorothy asked.
"They were saying that they wanted to find the hut, and hunt in it, and around it ter find things the old fellow may have hidden. They feared you or Miss Nancy might tell some other lad. They're wanting it all to themselves."
Having told this bit of information, the groom allowed the carriage to pass him, and once more rode behind it.
The two little girls talked of the long tramp that the boys would have before they would find the hermit's hut.
"And perhaps they won't find it at all, after all their hunting," said Nancy.
"Well, I hope they will," said Dorothy, "because it's so horrid to hunt and hunt, for nothing."
"Oh, look!" she cried a moment later. "See the lovely mosses! Let's take some back to mamma and Aunt Charlotte."
They were, indeed, beautiful. There was green moss that looked like velvet, and gray moss formed like tiny cups with scarlet edges, and other moss tipped with red.
On an old stump they found shell-like fungus, some a creamy white, others white, with soft brown markings.
Oh, a fine collection of rarely beautiful mosses and lichens they gathered, and heaped on the bottom of the phaeton.
Romeo turned his head to watch them as if he wondered when they would have gathered enough.
"Oh, we do keep you standing, dear, don't we?" Dorothy said, patting his neck as she spoke.
"Oh, you needn't look for sugar," she said, laughing, "for I haven't any with me, but we'll get you some fresh clover."
With Nancy's help she soon had a fine bunch of pink clover for Romeo, and he seemed quite as pleased as if it had been the cubes that he so often enjoyed.
* * * * *
When the party of boys had left the road to cross the fields that lay between them, and the forest at the foot of the mountain, they had believed that they knew exactly how to go to reach the hermit's hut.
The old hermit had been dead for years, but every season the summer guests at the hotels and farmhouses searched all around the deserted hut, expecting to find some relic to take home and label as a bit of the hermit's property.
The boys supposed that they had the woods to themselves, and that they would be uninterrupted in their search of the place.
They did not know that the mountain climbers had taken the same direction, intending, before they enjoyed their lunch beneath the trees, to stop at the old, deserted house.
Mrs. Paxton and little Floretta had worked more persistently than any others of the party, and Mrs. Paxton had found a small, brass button.
The others had laughed at the prize, asking her if she intended to keep it as a souvenir.
"Certainly," said Mrs. Paxton. "I'm sure this brass button must have belonged on some old coat that the hermit wore!"
"Perhaps in his youth, before he came up here to live, he may have been a janitor," said a young man, with a saucy laugh.
"Or a brakeman," suggested another.
Mrs. Paxton pretended not to hear their teasing, and though the prize that she had found had been only a valueless thing, she kept it.
Floretta was very eager to stay, and continue to peep into cracks in the floor and walls, and to poke with a stick under the doorsill, and in the soft earth around the hut.
The older members of the party knew that if they were to ascend the mountain, see the view, and descend before twilight, they must start at once.
As soon as their picnic lunch had been enjoyed they commenced to climb the rugged mountain path.
It was very steep and rough, and it had been said that no children should be allowed in the party.
Mrs. Paxton had insisted that her small daughter was a wonderful little climber, who was quite equal to the demands of a long tramp.
Floretta had wished to remain at the hut, but as she could not do that, she proceeded to make herself as unpleasant as possible, by complaining every step of the way, until one young man voiced the feeling of the entire party.
"This is a horrid, rough old path, and I'm tired. I wish I'd stayed at home!" said Floretta.
"I wish so, too!" said the young man, and several of the party, too polite to say it, at heart, agreed with him.
Floretta's was the only gloomy face, however. The others tramped gaily onward, singing snatches of song, and laughing as they stepped upon rolling stones, or tripped over long, gnarled roots that rose above the surface, as if especially designed to catch lagging feet.
"All day upon the hills We've chased the chamois far, But deeper joy now thrills Beneath the evening star."
The youth sang gaily, and several of his friends joined him in singing the old song.
Arrived at the summit they rested, enjoyed the view, laughed and joked about their weariness, and made many wild guesses as to how long it would take them to make the descent and drive back to the hotel.
"It will be three o'clock before we reach the Cleverton," said one.
"Nonsense!" cried another, "this is really called a mountain by courtesy. It's only a big hill. I say we shall be on the piazza, and wondering what we can do next, as early as half-past two."
"It's more likely to be half-past three!" declared another, and when all felt sufficiently rested, they commenced the descent.
Floretta refused to keep closely beside her mother, insisting upon clinging to another member of the party, to whom she had taken a fancy.
The party was a large one, much larger, indeed, than had at first been planned, and while half of the number were guests at the Cleverton, the others were from the Merlington, a hotel situated nearer the village, and from several large farmhouses that entertained summer boarders.
The guests from the Cleverton had kept closely together during the trip, while those from the Merlington had done the same.
They had reached the foot of the mountain, and were tramping along a path that ran nearly parallel to that on which the hermit's house stood.
Floretta saw the boys, near the house, and also saw that Jack Tiverton was with them.
Without a word, she left the lady to whose arm she had been clinging, and making her way along behind bushes and underbrush, she managed to sneak in at the door of the hut, without having been seen by the party of boys.
The lady, with whom she had been walking, supposed that she had run back to join her mother, while Mrs. Paxton felt quite undisturbed, because she believed that her little girl was still clinging to the arm of the lady with whom she had chosen to walk.
It had required two barges to convey the party, and now they found them waiting, the horses a bit impatient to be off.
The guests from the Merlington clambered into the first barge, and they with a few of the farmhouse party filled it to overflowing, some of the men being obliged to ride homeward, seated upon the steps. Meanwhile the Cleverton people were forced to wait until the barge for their party drove up.
The first barge had started, and was rolling along, and a chorus of college songs was wafted back on the breeze, while handkerchiefs fluttered as the gay passengers laughed at the crowd that had not yet started.
Mrs. Paxton paused with her foot on the step, and looked back.
"Why, where's Floretta?" she asked.
"In the first barge," cried a voice in reply.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Why, certainly," said the other, "she's with that tall, fine-looking lady from the Merlington. She'll be home before you are."
The second barge was soon filled and on its way. The horses were less fresh than those of the first barge, and seemed determined to lag. Indeed, they required constant urging to keep them from dropping into a slow walk.
"Those other fellows ahead of us started some lively college songs," said a disgusted passenger, "and they're actually out of sight now; but the way these nags are poking I couldn't think of anything to sing that would be slow enough to be appropriate."
And while one barge was going over the road at a lively rate of speed, and the other jogging along at a snail's pace, Floretta, at the hut, was having a most exciting time.
Once inside the place, she had crouched beneath a window to learn, if possible, what the boys were talking about.
She had wanted to remain there when the party had started for the mountain path, and she had been very impatient during the long tramp. She cared nothing for the view, and determined, on the return, to stop, if only for a few moments, at the hut.
THE ECHO CAPTURED
FLORETTA had intended to hunt for treasure, hoping to get something more valuable than the brass button that her mother had found.
She was not at all afraid of Jack Tiverton, but of those larger boys she was not quite sure.
As she knelt beneath the window she could hear only the voices of the boys that were nearest to the hut, and hearing only parts of their conversation, she could not understand what the first speaker expected to find.
"If I find it, I'll put it where it will be safe," he said.
There was a pause, and then a voice more distant replied.
She did not hear what it said, but she did hear the answer made by the boy who had first spoken.
"If the ghost of the old hermit was in the hut, it might hear you."
"Yes, and what would he say about your hunting for things that may have belonged to him?" said another, with a teasing laugh.
"Oh, I'm not afraid," was the careless answer.
"You're not?" jeered a laughing voice.
"I think we've poked around out here long enough without finding anything," said Jack Tiverton, "let's hunt inside the house."
"Wait a minute," called a boy who had not yet spoken, "just till I've looked into this hollow tree trunk."
"And then what?" asked a merry voice.
"Then hunt in the house, of course!" was the curt reply.
Floretta thought she saw a chance for fun.
Softly, yet quickly, she crept up the rickety little stairway, built close against the wall, and leading to the tiny loft.
The loft was really little more than a space beneath the roof where the old hermit might have stored a few provisions. She could not stand, or even sit, erect, and she crouched upon the bit of dusty flooring.
She was none too soon, for in a few seconds the boys rushed in, and then began a discussion as to whether it would be safe to take a plank up from the floor to look beneath it for hidden treasure.
"You oughtn't to do that," said Jack Tiverton, "somebody might arrest you, or all of us, if folks found out we did it."
"Arrest us for spoiling a floor in this old hut!" cried an older boy. "I wonder you don't think the old hermit might holler if he heard us pull up a plank!"
"Well," said Jack stoutly, "you'd be as scared as I would if he did holler!"
"You're a small boy, Jack, and easily scared," was the taunting reply.
"Well, pull up a plank, and see what happens. I dare you to!" cried Jack.
"Here goes then!" said the older boy, and catching hold of a plank that had rotted at one end, he pulled it up.
"Oh, let it alone!" groaned a boy in a farther corner of the room, in an attempt to imitate an old voice.
"Oh, let it alone!" came in exactly the same voice from the loft.
Sidney Cumston, the big boy, who had laughed at little Jack Tiverton, dropped the plank, and turned pale, while not a boy spoke or moved.
"Come, come!" said Sidney, when he caught his breath, "we're a precious pack of sillies! Help me lift this big board, will you?"
"Will you?" came from the loft, in the very manner in which he had said it.
Again he dropped the plank.
"What does it mean?" cried Sidney.
"Mean?" came his last word repeated.
The boys were now thoroughly frightened.
"Come!" cried Sidney, "let's leave here!"
"Here!" came a repetition of his last word, and big as he was, he had turned to run, when a faint ripple of smothered laughter came down from the loft.
Immediately Sidney's pale face flushed red. It flashed through his mind that these younger boys had seen that he was frightened.
He had been laughed at by the owner of the voice that had mocked him, and the boys would never stop laughing.
Quickly he mounted the steps, and roughly he dragged little Floretta from her hiding place, half carrying her down the stairway, because it was too narrow for two to descend.
"So you thought it was funny, just funny to mock us, did you?" he asked, when they reached the floor.
Floretta was not laughing now.
She was sullen, and at the same time frightened.
What would they do to her?
They crowded around her, frowning and making all sorts of wild suggestions as to what should be done with her.
"Keep her mocking till she's got enough of it!" cried one.
"Put her back in the loft, and leave her there! She seemed to like there," said another.
The big boy, whose hand was still on her shoulder, was more angry than either of the others.
He was a bully, always ready to torment some one smaller than himself.
He had reason to be provoked with Floretta, and the fact that she was only a little girl, made no impression upon him.
He would as willingly punish a girl, as a boy, and the fact that his captive was smaller than he, only proved that the task would be an easy one.
"You think it's smart to imitate, and it is. P'raps you think you're the echo that's over in the mountain!" he sneered.
She made no answer. She was crying now.
"Say! Let her off!" cried Jack Tiverton. "She's only a girl!"
The smallest boy in the crowd, he saw Sidney's cowardice.
"Oh, are you sweet on Floretta?" jeered Sidney.
Jack drew back abashed. He did not like Floretta at all, but he did think it mean for a big boy to frighten so small a girl.
"I ain't going to hurt you," said Sidney, "but I'm going to give you a chance to play echo, till you're tired of it. I guess you'll get enough of it before you get through!
"Come, fellows! Get some good long pieces of wild grape-vine! I'll fasten Miss Echo where she can shout all day, and nobody'll stop her!"
"I won't go with you!" screamed Floretta, who had found her voice, "You sha'n't tie me!"
"Oh, is that so?" said Sidney, in a teasing tone. "We'll tie you so you can't get away!"
She pulled back.
"No, you don't!" said Sidney, grasping her arm with a firmer hold.
"Now, walk right along, or these other fellows will help me carry you!" he added, and Floretta thought best to walk.
"Where'll you take her?" asked one.
"Right there," said Sidney. "That rock is just covered with vines that cling fast to it. Hurry, now! Pull down some long, strong pieces! Here, you scratch like a cat! Stop that!"
Floretta, half wild to get away, was attacking his hand in the manner of a little wild animal.
"Let me go, then!" she screamed.
"Not much!" cried Sidney, and with the help of another boy, he dragged her, screaming and kicking, all the way, until they reached the rocky ledge.
"There, now! Hold on! You're showing too much temper!" cried a stout lad who was helping to bind her.
"I won't stay! You sha'n't tie me!" she screamed, but without replying, they drew the tough vines closer about her, lashing her into such a network of stems and stout vines that it would be impossible for her to escape.
"There!" cried Sidney, when he felt sure that she was securely made a little prisoner, "You can shout till you're tired, and if you want to mock any one, you can mock yourself! Good-afternoon, Miss Echo!"
He lifted his cap, with elaborate courtesy, and marched off whistling:
"The Girl I Left Behind Me."
They did not look back. Sidney marched boldly away, believing that he had done a very smart thing, but the other boys felt less comfortable.
They had been angry with her, and they had wished to see her punished, but they could not help thinking that she was a little girl, and they were leaving her alone in the woods!
Jack Tiverton was, by far, the most uneasy.
He was the smallest of the party, and, while he had asked Sidney to let Floretta go, he had known it was useless to do more.
The eight other boys were stronger than he, and any attempt upon his part to free her would be worse than useless. They would not listen, but instead, would pounce upon him.
The other boys talked, laughed, and whistled, to imply that they were not thinking of what they had done, but all the way back to the Cleverton, little Jack was wondering what he could do.
He dared not go straight to Floretta's mother, and tell her of her little girl's plight.
He knew if he did that, the boys would soon learn who had played "tell-tale," and then,—what would they do to him?
And yet, he was determined, in some way, to help Floretta.
How could he let a little girl stay out there in the woods all night?
Of course some one, walking through the woods might find her, but if no one happened to?
Jack knew that the risk was too great. It was just before he reached the Cleverton, that he thought of the best way that he could do it.
He would write a note to Mrs. Paxton. He would drop that note into the mail box that hung at the side door. The letters were always distributed at four, and Sidney Cumston, who had a fine watch, had just said that it was three. He left the boys at the entrance to the Merlington, and hurried on that he might have plenty of time for his note.
Mrs. Tiverton was out driving with a friend, and Jack had quite a hunt before he could find pencil or paper for his note.
At last he found a blank book, and with a pencil he wrote this note.
"Deer Mrs. Paxton:—
"Yor litle girl is tied up in the woods opsite the hermits hut. You better go get her real quick or somethin may happen too her.
He folded it, and, in place of the envelope that he could not find, he tied around it a bit of string that he found in his pocket.
Boldly he addressed it, in very large letters, and sneaking down the stairway, and around on the piazza toward the side door, watched his chance, and slipped it into the mail box.
There was much excitement on the front piazza, because the guests had arrived in the barge but a few moments before, and Mrs. Paxton had given a maid a generous "tip" to go over to the Merlington, and bring Floretta back with her.
"She returned with the party that came from the Merlington, and I don't wish her to remain there. I want her to come right back to me," said Mrs. Paxton.
"Very well, ma'am," the maid had replied, and with the coins in her hand, had started off at once toward the other hotel.
When little Jack Tiverton ran around to the front piazza, the maid had just returned.
"If you please, Mrs. Paxton, your little girl isn't over to the Merlington, and hasn't been there, and a lady that was with the party that came home from the mountain trip, says the child wasn't in their barge at all. I asked her if she was sure, and she said, she couldn't help being sure, because there wasn't any child in their barge."
Of course excitement reigned supreme. Mrs. Paxton seemed half wild, and every one shared her anxiety.
The fact that Floretta was not a favorite made no difference. No one liked to think of a little girl out there alone on the mountain path, or in the woods, especially as it was already late afternoon.
"What a dreadful thing!" cried Mrs. Paxton, wringing her hands, and walking up and down the piazza.
"Who will go with me? I cannot go alone, and where, where shall we look first? Who saw her last?"
At this moment a man-servant came out from the hall with a tray of letters that he began to distribute.
"One for you, Mrs. Paxton," said the man, as he touched her arm gently.
"Oh, I can't think of letters now," she said, but something about the note seemed so unusual that she looked at it.
She drew off the string that had been loosely tied, and read the hastily scrawled lines.
She screamed, and Aunt Charlotte, who was standing near her, put her arm around her and supported her, or she would have fallen.
Many of those who gathered around Mrs. Paxton were inclined to think the note a hoax, but Mrs. Dainty, coming forward, lifted her handsome head, and looking at the men who were lounging comfortably in the large rockers, or sitting upon the piazza railing, spoke the word that spurred them to action.
"Is it safe to guess that this is a joke? True, it is written in a boyish hand, and while it may be a boy's joke, may it not be a boy's means of telling us what has actually happened? I would not, were I a man, take the responsibility or chance, of leaving Floretta out there, because I would go to the place, and thus learn, not guess, if this information be true."
She had scarcely finished speaking when a number of men rose, and one, who chose to lead the party, lifted his hat to Mrs. Dainty, saying:
"We are off, madam. We only needed an inspiration to move us to endeavor."
She bowed and smiled, as she said:
"One thing I ask of you. Go as quickly as possible, for the sake of the frightened child, and the anxious mother."
"In all possible haste," was the quick reply, and she turned to offer what comfort she might to the woman who seemed nearly distracted.
* * * * *
And all this time, what had been happening in the wood? For a long time Floretta had cried, screamed, and shouted, hoping that the boys would come back and release her.
Then, when she knew that they must be too far away to hear her, she tore at the clasping bonds, trying in every way to free herself. With feet and hands she strove to loosen the tough, wiry vines, kicking and trampling with her restless feet, beating and bending with her little hands, until they were torn and bleeding, and the tormenting vines seemed only to hold her with a firmer grasp, as if to prove how useless was her struggle.
She had cried until she could cry no more, and the sturdy vines had cut and bruised her.
So firmly was she bound that she could not sink to the grass to rest, and she had only the hard, rocky ledge to lean against.
How still the woodland seemed! Sometimes a twig would snap, or a buzzing insect would pause, as if to look at her, but no one came to set her free.
She waited for a moment to regain her breath, and then again she fought and struggled with those tough, sturdy vines.
She tried to wrench them apart, to break, to tear them from her, but they only yielded enough to bend, and then snap back into the very place that she had pushed them from.
Not a vine broke, not a stem gave way, and she set her lips tightly for yet greater effort!
AT a far corner of the piazza sat Dorothy, her eyes terrified, and her cheeks pale. Nancy, close beside her, wound her arms about her, and sought, in every way, to comfort her.
"They'll find her soon, Dorothy, so don't you be frightened," she whispered. "They'll surely find her soon."
Dear little Nancy knew, better than any of Dorothy's other friends could have known, how ready was her sympathy, how kind and loving was her heart.
She had not loved Floretta, but with Dorothy, that did not count. It was the dreadful fear that something had happened to a little girl, who, so recently had been at play with them,—ah, that was what grieved sweet Dorothy.
She was thinking of what Mrs. Dainty had said to Aunt Charlotte when the mountain trip was first talked of.
"I think the long tramp is a rougher form of amusement than I can well endure. I should be so weary long before it was time to return, that I should derive but little pleasure from the trip. There is another thought in connection with the picnic," she continued, "and that is an element of danger. Not great danger perhaps, but such that I would not join the party, nor would I permit Dorothy, or Nancy to do so. One gentleman who was talking of the mountain path that they have chosen, spoke of the great danger to the climbers from small, rolling stones, and from places where the earth seems to crumble near the edge of the narrow foot-path. A careless step might lead to a fall that would mean, I hardly dare to say what!"
Dorothy and Nancy had been wishing to join the party, but upon hearing this, they lost all interest in it, and had cheerfully taken the drive behind gentle Romeo, instead. Now, as Dorothy sat with Nancy's arms about her, she was glad that they had not been permitted to go, and she heartily wished that Floretta had remained at the Cleverton.
"Had she rolled from the path, and fallen, fallen,—"
Dorothy covered her eyes with her hands, as if she almost saw the little girl falling, down, down to the ravine so far below the path, and was trying to shut out the picture. Nancy, still striving to quiet her fear, heard some one telling what the scribbled note had said.
"Oh, Dorothy!" she whispered, eagerly, "Floretta is just where they know how to find her, and they've promised to hurry, and bring her back."
"Are you sure?" Dorothy asked.
"Yes, sure!" said Nancy.
Then Nancy climbed into the big chair beside her, and the two little girls sat, each tightly clasping the other's hands, while they waited and watched for the first glimpse of the men who should return, bringing Floretta with them.
Mrs. Dainty and Aunt Charlotte remained with Mrs. Paxton, who seemed to have lost all control of herself.
One moment she would cry as if her heart would break, and then she would spring up, threatening to follow the direction that the men had taken, and try to reach the woods, thus to sooner see her little girl.
At last, after what seemed endless waiting, but was actually only an hour, some one espied the men in the distance, and cried out:
"They're coming! They're coming!"
"Have they got Floretta? Oh, have they found her?" shrieked Mrs. Paxton.
"We can't see from here," said the one who had spoken, and the mother rushed forward, shading her eyes with her hand, and straining to catch the first glimpse of her child.
She would have rushed down the road to meet them, but Mrs. Dainty held her back. She had seen that they were carrying Floretta, and she thought, in case the child were injured, the mother would far better save her strength.
Two of the men had clasped their hands to form an "arm-chair," and thus they brought to the piazza, a very limp, tired Floretta, whose vivacity was all gone, and whose face bore the trace of desperate weeping, while her arms and hands were covered with cuts and bruises, and her little frock was torn and tattered by her struggle with the tough and tightly knotted vines.
She lay back against the shoulder of one man who supported her, and looked as if her strength were spent.
She changed on the instant that they set her on her feet.
Rushing to her mother, she permitted her to clasp her for a moment to her breast, then turning to the group that gathered around her, she cried fiercely:
"Look! See my hands! See my arms! See the scratches, where I tried to get away, and it was Sidney Cumston who tied me! He did it, but the other boys let him. Not one tried to hinder him except Jack Tiverton, the littlest one of them all. He tried to make them let me go, but they wouldn't. Oh, somebody punish all but Jack! He tried, but he couldn't help me."
She was hysterical, and sank to the floor of the piazza, sobbing, and crying, before her mother could catch her.
She scrambled to her feet, and was clasped in her mother's arms.
Old Mr. Cunningham surprised every one by speaking most kindly to her. She had so often tormented him that it seemed generous that he should offer a bit of comfort.
"I don't think we shall let those young rascals escape without a sharp reprimand, and if I was to venture a guess about it, I should say that little Jack, after all, managed to help you, Floretta," he said.
She turned in surprise to look at the old face, that now looked so kindly at her.
"Come out here, Jack," said the old gentleman, "didn't you write the note that sent us searching for this little girl?"
"Yes, sir," said Jack, "and I wrote it 'cause I thought the other big fellows were mean, but if they find out I told, they'll—"
"No, they won't," said Mr. Cunningham. "You're no 'tell-tale.' You did just right, and the men here will stand by you. Those big boys were the cowards to torment a little girl. You're the best boy up here in the mountains."
"Three cheers for young Tiverton!" shouted some one, and in the midst of the excitement, Mrs. Paxton, with her little daughter, slipped away to their room, after having thanked little Jack for his valuable assistance.
Meanwhile old Mr. Cunningham had been searching in this pocket and that for something which he seemed most anxious to find.
"Ah, I knew I had it! Come here, Jack!"
Blushing and diffident, Jack walked over to the big rocker.
"'Tisn't much, boy, but I think you ought to have a medal. Here's a silver dollar I've been keeping for a pocket piece. I'll give it to you for a medal, for being brave enough to tell what you knew ought to be told. That's not tale-bearing, and as you were afraid to tell, for fear of those big bullies, it was a brave act. You're a lad that knows what to do, when to do, and then does it!"
"Hurrah for Jack Tiverton!" some one cried again, and this time they were given with a will.
Mrs. Tiverton, returning from a long drive, wondered what all the excitement meant, and why they were cheering her little son.
Jack, with his silver dollar tightly clasped, hung his head, and looked as if overpowered by his conspicuous position.
Dorothy, now bright and happy, since Floretta was safe, saw that Jack hesitated.
"Oh, Mrs. Tiverton," she said, "Jack has been truly the best boy in the world, but he can't speak just now. When he tells you what he's done, you won't wonder why they cheered him!"
Mrs. Barnet and Flossie, with Uncle Harry and his wife, now arrived in their big automobile from a three-days' trip that they had been enjoying.
Of course Dorothy and Nancy tried to tell Flossie all about Floretta and Jack, and they were both so excited that Flossie got a very twisted idea of the affair.
Uncle Harry, not dreaming that the matter was at all serious, turned, after greeting the children, to enter the house.
"Oh, Uncle Harry!" cried Flossie, "you ought to hear about it. There were ever so many big boys, and only one little girl, and they tied her so she couldn't get away, and Jack wrote a note, and when they found her,—"
"Now, Flossie, dear, I'm perfectly willing to be scared half out of my wits, but I must know what I'm being scared about. You're getting me so mixed up that I've not the least idea what this is all about. Have you?" he asked.
"Oh, no," said Flossie, "I don't half understand it, but it does sound so frightful, that I'm so scared, I need to have you be scared, too."
"Well, then," Uncle Harry replied, "if it will help you to know it, I'll admit that my teeth are chattering, and shivers are running up and down my spine!
"I thought at first that it was the draft across this piazza, but perhaps, after all, it was caused by what you were telling me."
When, at last, he had heard the story, he was full of disgust that any boy, and his friends, should have been guilty of such a contemptible act, and his sympathy for the little girl was deep and sincere.
"She will need rest and quiet to-morrow," he said, "and you three little friends will be kind, I think, if you stay rather closely here, and help, in some quiet way, to amuse her."
"We will," said Dorothy, "I'll let her read my new fairy book if she'd like to. She could lie in the hammock, and do that."
"I'll keep the hammock swinging," said Nancy.
"And I'll give her my new box of candy I just brought home," said Flossie.
"That's right," said Uncle Harry, "and for your sweet promises of kindness toward the child who has suffered so much to-day I'll remind you that on day after to-morrow I shall give myself the pleasure of taking you all to the fair. I promise you a fine time."
He turned to look over his shoulder, and laugh at their wild little cries of delight.
He was anticipating the pleasure quite as much as they.
* * * * *
Dorothy, Nancy, and Flossie kept the promise that they had made, and Floretta fully enjoyed their kindness. She seemed unusually gentle, and Mrs. Paxton thanked them for so sweetly helping to amuse her, and thus make her willing to spend the day quietly.
The day set for the visit to the village fair dawned bright and sunny, a light breeze making it just cool enough to be delightful.
The barge was waiting for its gay little passengers.
The children stood with impatient feet on the piazza, waiting for their host, merry, handsome Uncle Harry.
At last a firm tread caused them to turn, and there he was, looking gayer than ever, a picture of health, strength, and kindliness, and clad in a most becoming outing suit of light gray serge.
The blue of his tie was not bluer than his fine eyes, and no one could have glanced at him without knowing that he possessed a generous, loving nature, a kind and merry heart.
"Come, little friends!" he cried. "Is every young lady that I invited here?" he added, looking anxiously lest some child be late, and thus by chance, be left behind.
"Every one is here!" said Flossie. "I know because I've counted."
"Then we'll start at once, unless some one would rather wait 'til to-morrow?" he said, his eyes twinkling.
"Oh, no! No!" they cried. "We just couldn't wait!"
"In that case we'll go now!" he said, with a droll expression, as if he started at once, merely as an accommodation.
"Why, Uncle Harry! You're only joking," cried Flossie. "You wouldn't be willing to wait until to-morrow. I heard you tell Aunt Vera to hurry and find your tie, because you were in such a rush to start!"