ETHEL MORTON'S HOLIDAYS
BY MABELL S. C. SMITH
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO. CLEVELAND—NEW YORK
MADE IN U. S. A.
PRESS OF THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO. Cleveland
ETHEL MORTON'S HOLIDAYS
The big brown automobile gave three honks as it swung around the corner from Church Street. Roger Morton, raking leaves in the yard beside his house, threw down his rake and vaulted over the gate.
"Good afternoon, sir," he called to his grandfather, saluting, soldier fashion.
"Good afternoon, son. I stopped to tell you that those pumpkins are ready for you. If you'll hop in now we can go out and get them and I'll bring you back again."
"Good enough!" exclaimed Roger. "I'll tell Mother I'm going. She may have some message for Grandmother," and he vaulted back over the gate and dashed up the steps.
In a minute he was out again and climbing into the car.
"Where are the girls this afternoon?" inquired Mr. Emerson, as he threw in the clutch and started toward the outskirts of Rosemont where he had land enough to allow him to do a little farming.
"Helen and Ethel Brown have gone to the West Woods," replied Roger, accounting for his sisters. "Somebody told them that there was a wild grapevine there that still had yellow leaves bright enough for them to use for decorating tomorrow evening."
"I should be afraid last night's frost would have shriveled them. What are Ethel Blue and Dorothy up to?" asked Mr. Emerson.
Ethel Blue was Roger's cousin who had lived with the Mortons since her babyhood. Dorothy Smith was also his cousin. She and her mother lived in a cottage on Church Street.
"They must be over at Dorothy's working up schemes for tomorrow," Roger answered his grandfather's question. "I haven't seen them since luncheon."
"How many do you expect at your party?"
"Just two or three more besides the United Service Club. James Hancock won't be able to come, though. His leg isn't well enough yet."
"Pretty bad break?"
"He says it's bad enough to make him remember not to cut corners when he's driving a car. Any break is too bad in my humble opinion."
"In mine, too. How many in the Club? Ten?"
"Ten; yes, sir. There'll be nine of us tomorrow evening—Helen and the Ethels and Dorothy and Dicky and the two Watkinses and Margaret Hancock. She's going to spend the night with Dorothy."
"Anybody from school?"
"George Foster, the fellow who danced the minuet so well in our show; and Dr. Edward Watkins is coming out with Tom and Della."
"Isn't he rather old to come to a kids' party?"
"Of course he's loads older than we are—he's twenty-five—but he said he hadn't been to a Hallowe'en party for so long that he wanted to come, and Tom and Della said he put up such a plaintive wail that they asked if they might bring him."
"I suspect he hasn't forgotten how to play," chuckled Grandfather Emerson, speeding up as they entered the long, open stretch of road that ended almost at his own door. "Any idea what you're going to do?"
"Not much. Helen and Ethel Brown are the decoration committee and I'm the jack-o'-lantern committee, as you know, and Ethel Blue and Dorothy are thinking up things to do and we're all going to add suggestions. I think the girls had a note from Della this morning with an idea of some sort in it."
"You ought to get Burns's poem."
"We'll look it up when we get to the house. You may find some 'doings' you haven't heard of that you can revive for the occasion."
"We decided that whatever we did do, there were certain stunts we wouldn't do."
"Swap signs and take off gates and brilliant jokes of that sort."
"As a Service Club you couldn't very well crack jokes whose point lies in some one's discomfort, could you?"
"Those things have looked like dog mean tricks to me and not jokes at all ever since I saw an old woman at the upper end of Main Street trying to hang her gate last year the day after Hallowe'en."
"Too heavy for her?"
"I should say so. She couldn't do anything with it. I offered to help her, and she said, 'You might as well, for I suppose you had the fun of unhanging it last night'."
"A false accusation, I suppose."
"It happened to be that time, but I had done it before," confessed Roger, flushing.
"You never happened to see the result of it before."
"That's it. I just thought of the people's surprise when they waked up in the morning and found their gates gone. I never thought at all of the real pain and discomfort that it may have given a lot of them."
"Your Club may be doing a good service to all Rosemont if it proves that young people can have a good time without making the 'innocent bystander' pay for it."
"We're going to prove it; to ourselves, anyway," insisted Roger stoutly, as he leaped out of the car and took his grandfather's parcels into the house.
"The pumpkins are in the barn," Mr. Emerson called after him. "Go down there and pick them out when you've given those bundles to your grandmother."
The big yellow globes were loaded into the car—half a dozen of them—and Mr. Emerson drove back to the house. As he stopped at the side porch for a last word with his wife he gave a cry of recognition.
"Look who comes here!" he exclaimed.
"Helen and Ethel Brown," guessed Roger. "Don't they look like those soldiers we read about in 'Macbeth'—the fellows who marched along holding boughs in their hands so that it looked as if Birnamwood had come to Dunsinane."
"Roger is quoting Shakespeare about your personal appearance," laughed Mr. Emerson as he and his grandson relieved the girls of their burdens.
They sank down on the steps of the porch and panted.
"You're tired out," exclaimed their grandmother. "Roger, bring out that pitcher of lemonade you'll find in the dining-room. How far have you walked?"
"About a thousand miles, I should say," declared Helen. "We were bound we'd get out-of-door decorations if they were to be had, and they weren't to be had except by hunting."
"You're like me—I like to use out-of-door things as late as I can; there are so many months when you have to go to the greenhouse or to draw on your house plants."
"Ethel Blue and Dorothy have been educating the Club artistically. They've been pointing out how much color there is in the fields and the woods even after the bright autumn colors have gone by."
"That's quite true. Look at that meadow."
Mrs. Emerson waved her hand at the field across the road. On it sedges were waving, softly brown; tufts of mouse-gray goldenrod nodded before the breeze; chestnut-hued cat-tails stood guard in thick ranks, and a delicate Indian Summer haze blended all into a harmony of warm, dull shades.
"You found your grapevine," said Roger, pouring the lemonade for his weary sisters, and nodding toward a trail of handsome leaves, splendidly yellow.
"It took a hunt, though. What are you doing over here?"
"Getting the pumpkins Grandfather promised us."
"You're just in time to have a ride home," said Mr. Emerson.
"You're in no hurry, Father; let the girls rest a while," urged Mrs. Emerson. "Can't you make a jack-o'-lantern while you're waiting, Roger?"
"Yes, ma'am, I can turn you out a truly superior article in a wonderfully short time," bragged Roger.
"He really does make them very well," confirmed Helen, "but it's because he always has the benefit of our valuable advice."
"Here you are to give it if I need it," said Roger good naturedly. "We'll show Grandmother what our united efforts can do."
So the girls leaned back comfortably against the pillars at the sides of the steps and Mrs. Emerson sat in an arm chair at the top of the flight and Mr. Emerson sat in the car at the foot of the steps and Roger began his work.
"It'll be a wonder if I make anything but a failure with so many bosses," he complained.
"Keep your hand steady, old man," teased his grandfather. "Don't let your knife go through the side or you'll let out a crack of light where you don't mean to."
"Be sure your knife doesn't slip and cut your fingers," advised Mrs. Emerson.
"Save me the inside," begged Ethel Brown. "I'm going to try to make a pumpkin pie."
"Save the top for a hat," laughed Helen. "I'll trim it with brown ribbon and set a new style at school."
Roger dug away industriously under the spur of these remarks.
"Is this the first year you've had a Hallowe'en party?" Mrs. Emerson asked.
"We used to do a few little things when we were children," Helen answered; "but for the last few years we've been asked somewhere."
"And with all due respect to our hosts we did a lot of the stupidest and meanest things we ever got let in for," declared Roger. "I was telling Grandfather about some of them coming over."
"So we made up our minds that we'd celebrate as a club this year, and do whatever we wanted to. There's a lot more to a party than just the party," said Ethel Brown wisely.
Her grandmother nodded.
"You're right. The preparation is half the fun," she agreed. "And it's fun to have every part of it perfect—the decorations and the refreshments as well as whatever it is you do for your main amusement."
"That's what I think," said Helen. "I like to think that the house is going to be appropriately dressed for our Hallowe'en party just as much as we ourselves."
"Why doesn't your club give a series of holiday parties?" suggested Grandfather. "Make each one of them a really appropriate celebration and not just an ordinary party hung on the holiday as an excuse peg. I believe you could have some interesting times and do some good, too, so that it could honestly be brought within the scope of your Club's activities."
"We seem to have made a start at it without thinking much about it," said Roger. "The Club had a float, you know, in the Labor Day procession."
"I didn't know that!" exclaimed Mrs. Emerson.
"You were in New York for a day or two. Grandfather supplied the float! Why, we had just come back from Chautauqua a day or two before Labor Day, you know, and the first thing that happened was that a collector called to get a contribution from Mother to help out the Labor Day procession. I was there and I said I didn't believe in taxation without representation. He laughed and said, 'All right, come on. We'd be glad to have you in the procession'."
"You were rather disconcerted at that, I suspect," laughed Mrs. Emerson.
"Yes, I was, but I hated to take back water, so I said that I belonged to a club and that I supposed he was going to have all the clubs in Rosemont represented in some way. He said that was just what they wanted. They wanted every activity in the town to be shown in some shape or other."
"There wasn't time to call a meeting of the club," Helen took up the story, "so Roger and I came over and talked with Grandfather, and he lent us a hay rack and we dressed it up with boughs and got the carpenters to make some very large cut out letters—U. S. C.—two sets of them, so they could be read on both sides. They were painted white and stood up high among the green stuff and really looked very pretty. Everybody asked what it meant."
"I think it helped a lot when I went about asking for gifts for the Christmas Ship," said Roger. "Lots of people said, 'Oh, it's your club that had a float in the Labor Day parade'."
"If we should work up Grandfather's idea we might have a parade of our own another year," said Helen.
"Always co-operate with what already exists, if it's worthy," advised Mr. Emerson. "Don't get up opposition affairs unless there's a good reason for doing it."
"As there is for our Hallowe'en party," insisted Roger.
"I believe you're right there. There's no reason why you should enter into 'fool stunts' that are just 'fool stunts,' not worth while in any way and not even funny."
"We'd better move on now if Grandfather is to take us over and get back in time for his own dinner," said Roger.
"Come, girls, can you pile in all that shrubbery without breaking it? Put the pumpkins on the bottom of the car, Roger, and the jacks on top of them. Now be careful where you put your feet. Back in half an hour, Mother," and he started off with his laughing car load.
"You're as good as gold to come out and help these youngsters enjoy themselves," was Mrs. Morton's greeting to Edward Watkins when he appeared in the evening with Tom and Della.
"It's they who are as good as gold to let me come," he returned, smiling pleasantly. He was a handsome young man of about twenty-five, a doctor whose profession, as yet, did not make serious inroads on his time. "What are these people going to make us do first," he wondered as Roger began a distribution of colored bands.
"These are to tie your eyes with," he explained: "Yellow, you see; Hallowe'en color. The girls insist on my explaining all their fine points for fear they won't be appreciated," he said to the doctor.
"Quite right. I never should have thought about the color."
"Mother, this is George Foster," said Helen, welcoming a tall boy who was not a member of the U. S. C. but who had helped at the Club entertainment by taking part in the minuet. He shook hands with Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Smith and then submitted to having his eyes bandaged. He was followed by Gregory Patton, another high school lad, and to the great joy of everybody, James, after all, came on his crutches with Margaret.
"Now, then, my blindfolded friends," said Roger, "Grandfather tells me that it is the custom in Scotland where fairies and witches are very abundant, for the ceremony that we are about to perform to open every Hallowe'en party. He has it direct from Bobby Burns."
"Then it's right," came a smothered voice from beneath James' bandage.
"James is of Scottish descent and he confirms this statement, so we can go ahead and be perfectly sure that we're doing the correct thing. Of course, we all want to know the future and particularly whatever we can about the person we're going to marry, so that's what we're going to try to find out at the very start off."
"Take off my bandage," cried Dicky. "I know the perthon I'm going to marry."
A shout of laughter greeted this assertion from the six-year-old.
"Who is it, Dicky?" asked Helen, her arm around his shoulders.
"I'm going to marry Mary," he asserted stoutly.
There was a renewed peal at this, and Roger went on with his instructions.
"I'll lead you two by two to the kitchen door and then you'll go down the flight of steps and straight ahead for anywhere from ten to twenty steps. That will land you right in the middle of what the frost has left of the Morton garden. When you get there you'll 'pull kale'."
"Meaning?" inquired George Foster.
"Meaning that you'll feel about until you find a stalk of cabbage and pull it up."
"I don't like cabbage," complained Tom Watkins.
"You'll like this because it will give you a lot of information. If it's long or short or fat or thin your future husband or wife will correspond to it."
"That's the most unromantic thing I ever heard," exclaimed Margaret Hancock. "I certainly hope my future husband won't be as fat as a cabbage!"
"You can tell how great a fortune he's going to have—or she—by the amount of earth that clings to the stem."
"Watch me pull mine so g-e-n-t-l-y that not a grain of sand slips off," said Tom.
"If you've got courage enough to bite the stem you can find out with perfect accuracy whether your beloved will have a sweet disposition or the opposite."
"In any case he'd have a disposition like a cabbage," insisted Margaret, who did not like cabbage any more than Tom did.
"Ready?" Roger marshalled his little army. "Two by two. Doctor and Ethel Blue, Tom and Dorothy, James and Helen, George and Ethel Brown, Gregory and Margaret. Come on, Della," and he led the way through the kitchen where Mary and the cook were hugely entertained by the procession.
With cries and stumbling they went forth into the cabbage patch, where they all possessed themselves of stalks which they straightway brought in to the light of the jack-o'-lanterns to interpret.
"My lady love will be tall and slender—not to say thin," began Dr. Watkins. "I see no information here as to the color of her hair and eyes. Fate cruelly witholds these important facts. I regret to say that I wooed her so vigorously that I shook off any gold-pieces she may have had clinging about her so I can only be sure of the golden quality of her character which I have just discovered by biting it."
Amid general laughter they all began to read their fortunes. Tom announced that his beloved was so thin that she was really a candidate for the attentions of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and that he couldn't find out anything about her character because there wasn't enough of her to bite.
Margaret had pulled a stalk that fulfilled all her expectations as to size, for it was so short and fat that she could see no relation between it and anything human and threw it out of the window in disgust. The rest found themselves fitted out with a variety of possibilities.
"There doesn't seem to be a real tearing beauty among them all," sighed Roger. "That's what I'd set my heart on."
"What do you expect from a cabbage?" demanded Margaret scornfully.
"I want to know whether I'm going to marry a bachelor or a widower or not marry at all," cried Helen. "Let's try the 'three luggies' next."
"First cabbages, then 'luggies'," said Della "What are 'luggies'?"
"'Luggies' are saucers," explained Helen, while James brought a small table and Ethel Brown arranged three saucers upon it. "In one of them I put clear water, in another one, sandy water, and nothing at all in the third. Anybody ready to try? Come, Della."
Della came forward briskly, but hesitated when she found that she must be blindfolded.
"There isn't any trick about it?" she asked suspiciously. "I shouldn't like to have anything happen to that saucer of sandy water."
"It won't touch anything but your finger tips, and perhaps not those," Helen reassured her. "What you are to do is to dip the fingers of your left hand into one of these saucers. If it proves to be the one with the clear water you'll marry a bachelor; if it's the sandy one he'll be a widower, and if it's the empty one you'll be a spinster to your dying day."
"You have three tries," cried Ethel Blue, "and the saucers are changed after each trial, so you have to touch the same one twice to be sure you really know your fate. Are you ready?"
"I'm ready," and Della bravely though cautiously dipped the finger tips of her left hand into the bowl of sandy water.
A cheer greeted this result.
"A widower, a widower," they all cried.
Helen changed the position of the saucers and Della made another trial. This time the Fates booked her as a spinster.
"That's the least trouble of anything," decided roly poly Della who took life carelessly.
A third attempt proved that a widower was to be her future helpmate, for her fingers went into the sandy saucer for a second time.
"I only hope he won't be an oldy old widower," said Della thoughtfully. "I couldn't bear to think of marrying any one as old as Edward."
"I'll thank you to take notice that I haven't got a foot in the grave just yet, young woman," retorted her brother.
While some of the others tried their fate by the saucer method, the rest endeavored to learn their future occupations by means of pouring melted lead through the handle of a key. Roger brought in a tiny kettle of lead from the kitchen where Mary had heated it for them and set it down on a small table on a tea pot stand, so that the heat should not injure the wood. Taking a large key in his left hand he dipped a spoon into the lead with his right and poured the contents slowly through the ring at the end of the handle of the key into a bowl of cold water. The sudden chill stiffened the lead into curious shapes and from them those who were clever at translating were to discover what the future held for them in the way of occupation.
"Mine looks more like a spinning wheel than anything else," said Roger who had done it first so that the rest might see how it was accomplished.
"Perhaps that means that you'll be a manufacturer of cloth," suggested Margaret. "Mine looks more like a cabbage than anything else. You don't think it can mean that I shall have to devote myself to that husband I pulled out of the cabbage patch?"
"It may. Or it might mean that you'll be a gardener. Lots of women are going in for gardening now. By the time you're ready to start that may be a favored occupation for girls," said Dr. Watkins.
"Here are several things that we can do one at a time while the rest of us are doing something else," said Helen. "They have to be done alone or the spell won't work."
"Let's hear them," begged Gregory, while he and the others grouped themselves about the open fire in the living room and prepared to burn nuts.
"The first one, according to Burns, is to go alone to the kiln and put a clew of yarn in the kiln pot."
"What does that mean translated into Rosemont language?" demanded James.
"James the Scotsman asks for information! However, there's some excuse for him. Translated into Rosemont language it means that you go to the laundry and put a ball of yarn into the wash boiler."
"Easy so far."
"Take an end of the ball and begin to wind the yarn into a new ball. When you come near the end you'll find that something or some one will be holding it—"
"Roger, I'll bet!"
"You demand to know the name of your future wife and a hollow voice from out the wash boiler will tell you her name."
"I shan't try that one. There's too good a chance for Roger to put in some of his tricks. What's the next?"
"Take a candle and go to the Witches' Cave—that's the dining room—and stand in front of the looking glass that's on a little table in the corner, and eat an apple. The face of your future wife or husband will appear over your shoulder."
"I'll try that. I could stand a face that kept still, but to have an unknown creature pulling my yarn and bawling my wife's name would upset my nerves!"
"Here's the last one. Go into the garden just as we did to pull the kale. Over at the right hand side there's a stack of barley. It's really corn, but we've re-christened it for tonight. You measure it three times round with your arms and at the end of the third round your beloved will rush into them."
"If he proves to be my cabbage spouse you'll hear loud shrieks from little Margaret!" declared that young woman.
"Here are my nuts to burn," said Ethel Blue, putting two chestnuts side by side on the hearth. "One is Della and the other is Ethel Blue," and she tapped them in turn as she gave them their names.
"What's this for?" asked Della, hearing her name used.
"This is to see if you and I will always be friends. That right hand nut is you and the left hand is me—no, I." Conscientious Ethel Blue interrupted herself to correct her grammar. "If we burn cosily side by side we'll stay friends a long time, but if one of us jumps or burns up before the other, she'll be the one to break the friendship."
"I hope I shan't be the one," and both girls sat down on the rug to watch their namesakes closely.
"Here are Margaret and her cabbage man," laughed Tom. "This delicate, slender chestnut is Margaret and this big round one is Mr. Stalk of the Cabbage Patch. Now we'll see how that match is going to turn out."
Margaret laughed good naturedly with the rest and they watched this pair as well as the others.
"Roger and I had a squabble yesterday," admitted Ethel Brown. "Here is Roger and here is Ethel Brown. Let's see how we are going to get on in the future."
"Where is Roger really?" some one asked, but at that instant Ethel Blue's nut and Della's caught fire and burned steadily side by side without any demonstrations, and every one looking on was so absorbed in translating the meaning of the blaze that no one pursued the question.
That is, not until a shriek from the Witches' Cave rang through the house and sent them all flying to see who was in trouble. Dorothy was found coming out of the dining room, mirror in hand, and a strange tale on her lips.
"If there's any truth in this Hallowe'en prophecy," she said with trembling voice, "my future husband will be worse than Margaret's cabbage man. The face that looked over my shoulder was exactly like a jack-o'-lantern's."
"It was? Where's Roger?" Dr. Watkins demanded instantly, while James hobbled to the front door and announced that the jack had disappeared from the front porch.
"Did any one ask for Roger?" demanded a cool voice, and Roger was seen coming down stairs.
"Yes, sir, numerous people asked for Roger. How did you do it?"
"Do what? Has anything happened in my absence?"
"Not a thing has happened in your absence. Just tell us how you managed it."
"I know," guessed Helen. "He went outside and took the jack from the porch and carried it through the kitchen, into the dining room where it smiled over Dorothy's shoulder, and then he went into the kitchen again and up the back stairs. Wasn't that it, Roger?"
"Young woman, you are wiser than your years," was all that Roger would say.
While they were teasing him a shouting in the garden sent them all to the back windows and doors. In the dim light of the young moon two figures were seen wrestling. It was evidently a good natured struggle, for peals of laughter fell on the ears of the listeners. When one of them dragged the other toward the house the figures proved to be Tom Watkins and George Foster.
"I was measuring the barley stack," explained Tom breathlessly, "and just as I made the third round and was eagerly expecting my future bride to rush into my arms, something did rush into my arms, but I'll leave it to the opinion of the meeting whether this can be my future bride!" and he held at arm's length by the coat collar the laughing, squirming figure of George Foster.
It was unanimously agreed that George did not have the appearance of a bride, and then they went back to the hall to bob for apples. Roger spread a rubber blanket on the floor and drew the tub from its hiding place in the corner where it had been waiting its turn in the games.
While the boys were making these arrangements Dorothy and Helen were busily trying to dispose of the two ends of the same string which stretched from one mouth to the other with a tempting raisin tied in the middle to encourage them to effort. It was forbidden to use the hands and tongues proved not always reliable. Now Dorothy seemed ahead, now Helen. Finally the victory seemed about to be Helen's, when she laughed and lost several inches of string and Dorothy triumphantly devoured the prize.
When the girls turned to see what the boys were doing, Gregory and James were already bobbing for apples. One knelt at one side of the tub and the other at the other, and each had his eye, when it was not full of water, fixed on one of the apples that were bouncing busily about on the waves caused by their own motions.
"I speak for the red one," gasped Gregory.
"All right! I'll go for the greening," agreed James, and they puffed and sputtered, and were quite unable to fix their teeth in the sides of the slippery fruit until James drove his head right down to the bottom of the tub where he fastened upon the apple and came up dripping, but triumphant.
Stimulated by the applause that greeted James, Tom and Roger tossed in two apples and began a new contest.
"This isn't a girls' game is it?" murmured Helen as Tom won his apple by the same means that James had used.
"Not unless you're willing to forget your hair," replied Dr. Watkins.
"You can't forget it when it takes so long to dry it," Helen answered. "I'm content to let the boys have this entirely to themselves."
While the half drowned boys went up to Roger's room to dry their faces the girls prepared nut boats to set sail upon the same ocean that had floated the apples. They had cracked English walnuts carefully so that the two halves fell apart neatly, and in place of the meats they had packed a candle end tightly into each.
"We have the comfort of the apple even when we're defeated," said Gregory, coming down stairs, eating the fruit that he had not been able to capture without the use of his hands. "What have you got there?"
"Here's a boat apiece," explained Helen. "We must each put a tiny flag of some sort on it so that we can tell which is which."
"This way?" George asked. "I've put a pin through a scrap of corn husk and stuck it on to the end of this craft."
"That's right. We must find something different for each one. Mine is a black-alder berry. See how red and bright it is?"
It was not hard for each to find an emblem.
"Watch me hoist the admiral's flag at the mainmast," said Roger, but the match that he set up for a mast caught fire almost as soon as the candles were lighted in the miniature fleet. His flag fell overboard, however, and was not injured.
"See that?" he commented. "That just proves that the flag of the U. S. A. can never perish," and the others greeted his words with cheers.
It was a pretty sight—the whole fleet afloat, each bit of candle burning clearly and each little craft tossing on the waves that Dr. Watkins produced by gently tipping the tub.
"This is also an attempt to gain some knowledge of the future," said Helen. "We must watch these boats and see which ones stay close together and which go far apart, and whether any of them are shipwrecked, and which ones seem to have the smoothest voyage."
"Della's and mine are sticking together just the way our nuts did," cried Ethel Blue, and she slipped her hand into Della's and gave it a little squeeze.
After the loss of its mainmast at the very beginning Roger's craft had no more mishaps. It slid alongside of James's and together they bobbed gently across life's stormy seas.
"It looks as if you and I were going into partnership, old man," James interpreted their behavior.
The other boats seemed to need no especial companionship but floated on independently, only Gregory's coming to an untimely end from a heavy wave that washed over it and capsized it.
"I seem to hear a summons from the Witches' Cave," murmured Helen in an awed whisper as a sound like the wind whistling through pine trees fell on their ears, resolving itself as they listened into the words, "Come! Come! Come!"
Quietly they arose and tiptoed their way toward the dining room. They could only enter it by penetrating the thicket of boughs that barred the door. As they came nearer the voice retreated—"Almost as if it were going into the kitchen," whispered Margaret to Tom who happened to be next to her. The only light in the room came from a pan of alcohol and salt burning greenly in a corner and casting an unnatural hue over their faces. The black cats, their eyes touched with phosphorus, glared down from the plate rail.
Again the voice was heard:—"Gather, gather about the festal board."
"We must obey the witches," urged Helen, and they sat down in the chairs which they found placed at the table in just the right number. Into the dim room from the kitchen came two figures dressed in long black capes and pointed red hats and bearing each a dish heaped high with cakes of some sort.
"I just have to tell you what these are," said Ethel Brown in her natural voice as she and Ethel Blue marched around the table and placed one dish before Roger at one end and another before Helen at the other. "It's sowens."
"Sowens? What in the world are sowens?" everybody questioned.
"Grandfather told us that Burns says that sowens eaten with butter always make the Hallowe'en supper, so we looked up in the Century Dictionary how to make them and this is the result."
"Do you think they're safe?" inquired Della.
"There's a doctor here to take care of us if anything happens," laughed James. "I'm game. Give me a chance at them."
Roger and Helen began a distribution of the cakes.
"Sowens is—or are—good," decided Dr. Watkins, tasting his cake slowly, and pronouncing judgment on it after due deliberation.
"We tried them yesterday to make sure they were eatable by Americans, and we thought they were pretty good, smoking hot, with butter on them, just as Burns directed."
"Right. They are," agreed all the boys promptly, and the girls agreed with them, though they were not quite so enthusiastic in their expression of appreciation as the boys.
Baked apples, nuts and raisins, countless cookies of various lands and hot gingerbread made an appetizing meal. As it was coming to an end Helen rapped on the table.
"Please let me pretend this is a club meeting for a minute or two instead of a party. I want to tell the people here who aren't members of the U. S. C. what it is we are trying to do."
"We know," responded George. "You're working for the Christmas Ship. Didn't I dance in your minuet?"
"We are working for the Christmas Ship, but that is only one thing that the Club does."
"What do the initials mean?" asked Gregory.
"United Service Club. You see Father is in the Navy and Uncle Richard is in the Army so we have the United Service in the family. But that is just a family pun. The real purpose of the Club is to do some service for somebody whenever we can."
"Something on the Boy Scout idea of doing a kindness every day," nodded Dr. Watkins.
"Just now it's the Christmas Ship and after that sails we'll hunt up something else. Why I told you about it now is because we planned to go out in a few minutes and go up and down some of the streets, and—"
"Lift gates?" asked Gregory.
"No, not lift gates. That's the point. We couldn't very well be a service club and do mean things to people just for the fun of it."
"Oh, lifting gates isn't mean."
"Isn't it! I don't believe you'd find it enormously entertaining to hunt up your gate the next day and re-hang it, would you?"
Gregory admitted that perhaps it would not.
"So we're going out to play good fairies instead of bad ones, and if any of you knows anybody we can do a good turn to, please speak up."
"That's the best scheme I've heard in some time," said Edward Watkins admiringly. "Let's start. I'm all impatience to be a good fairy."
So they said "good-night" to Dicky, bundled into their coats and each one of the boys took a jack-o'-lantern to light the way. Roger also carried a kit that bulged with queer shapes, and the girls each had a parcel whose contents was not explained by the president.
"Lead the way, Roger," she commanded as they left the house.
"Church Street first," he answered.
"Church Street? I wonder if he's going to do Mother and me a good turn," giggled Dorothy.
It proved that he was not, for he passed the Smith cottage and went on until he came to the house in which lived the Misses Clark. Roger was taking care of their furnace, together with his mother's and his Aunt Louise's, in order to earn money for the expenses of the Club, and he had discovered that these old ladies were not very happy in spite of living in a comfortable house and apparently having everything they needed.
"These Misses Clark are lonely," he whispered as they gathered before the door. "They think nobody cares for them—and nobody does much, to tell the honest truth. So here's where we sing two songs for them," and without waiting for any possible objections he broke into "The Christmas Ship" which they all knew, and followed it with "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers."
"Not very appropriate, but they'll do," whispered Roger to Dr. Watkins, whose clear tenor supported him. Dorothy's sweet voice soared high, Tom's croak made a heavy background, and the more or less tuneful voices of the others added a hearty body of sound. There was no response from the house except that a corner of an upstairs curtain was drawn aside for an instant.
"They probably think they won't find anything left on their front porch when they come down in the morning. They've had Hallowe'en visits before, poor ladies," said Gregory as they tramped away.
The next visit was to a different part of the town. Here the girls left two of their bundles which proved to contain apples and cookies.
"I don't believe these people ever have a cent they can afford to spend on foolishness like this," Helen explained to Dr. Watkins, "but they aren't the sort of people you can give things to openly, so we thought we'd take this opportunity," and she smiled happily and went on behind Roger's leadership.
This time the visit was to the Atwoods, the old couple down by the bridge. Roger had been interested in them for a long time. They were not suffering, for a son supported them, but both were almost crippled with rheumatism and sometimes the old man found the little daily chores about the house hard to do, and often the old woman longed for a little amusement of which she was deprived because she could not go to visit her friends. It was here that Roger's kit came into play. He took from it several hatchets and distributed them to the boys.
"We're going to chop the gentleman's kindling and stack up the wood that's lying round here while the girls sing to the old people," he announced.
So the plan was carried out. The girls gathered about the doorstep, and, led by Dorothy, sang cradle songs and folk songs and a hymn or two, while the boys toiled away behind the house. Again there was no response.
"Probably they've gone to bed," guessed Ethel Brown.
"I imagine they're lying awake, though," said Ethel Blue softly.
It is an old adage that "many hands make light work," and it is equally true that they turn off a lot of it, so at the end of half an hour the old peoples' wood pile was in apple pie order and the yard was in a spick and span condition.
There were two more calls before the procession turned home and at both houses bundles of goodies were left for children who would not be apt to have them. On the way back to the house the U. S. C.'s came across the trail of a Hallowe'en party of the usual kind, and they pleased themselves mightily by hanging two gates which they found unhung, and by restoring to their proper places several signs which some village wit—"or witling," suggested Dr. Watkins—had misplaced.
The evening ended with the cutting of a cake in which was baked a ring.
"The one who gets the ring in his slice will be married first," announced Mrs. Morton, who had prepared the cake as a surprise for those who had been surprising others.
They cut it with the greatest care and slowly, one after the other. To the delight of all Dr. Watkins's slice proved to contain the ring.
"I rather imagine that's the most suitable arrangement the ring could have made," laughed Mrs. Smith.
"If one of these youngsters had found it, it would have meant that I'd have to wait a long time for my turn," he laughed back. "Wish me luck."
The first fortnight of November rushed by with the final preparations for the sailing of the Christmas Ship filling every moment of the time of the members of the United Service Club. When at last their three packing cases of gifts were expressed to Brooklyn, they drew a sigh of relief, but when the Jason actually left the pier they felt as if all purpose had been taken out of their lives.
This feeling did not linger with them long, however, for it was not many days later that there appeared at the Morton's a Red Cross nurse, invalided home from Belgium, bringing with her the Belgian baby which they had begged their teacher, Mademoiselle Millerand, who had joined the French Red Cross, to send them.
Truth to tell, the arrival of the baby was entirely unexpected. It had come about in this way. When the club went to bid farewell to Mademoiselle Millerand on the steamer they learned that she hoped to be sent to some hospital in Belgium. Ethel Blue, who had been reading a great deal about the suffering of the women and children in Belgium, cried, "Belgium! Oh, do send us a Belgian baby!" The rest had taken up the cry and James had had the discomfiture of being kissed by an enthusiastic French woman on the pier who was delighted with their warmheartedness.
At intervals they mentioned the Belgian baby, but quite as a joke and not at all as a possibility. So when the Red Cross nurse came with her tiny charge and told them how Mademoiselle Millerand had not been able to resist taking their offer seriously since it meant help and perhaps life itself for this little warworn child, they were thoroughly surprised.
Their surprise, however, did not prevent them from rising to meet the situation. Indeed, it would have been hard for any one to resist the appeal made by the pale little creature whose hands were too weak to do more than clutch faintly at a finger and whose eyes were too weary to smile.
Mrs. Morton took her to her arms and heart at once. So did all the members of the Club and it was when they gave a cheer for "Elisabeth of Belgium," that she made her first attempt at laughter. Mademoiselle had written that her name was Elisabeth and the nurse said that she called herself that, but, so far as her new friends could find out, that was the extent of her vocabulary. "Ayleesabet," she certainly was, but the remainder of her remarks were not only few but so uncertain that they could not tell whether she was trying to speak Flemish or French or a language of her own.
The nurse was obliged to return at once to New York, and the Mortons found themselves at nightfall in the position of having an unexpected guest for whom there was no provision. Even the wardrobe of the new member of the family was almost nothing, consisting of the garments she was wearing and an extra gingham dress which a woman in the steerage of the ship had taken from her own much larger child to give to the waif.
"Ayleesabet" ate her supper daintily, like one who has been so near the borderland of starvation that he cannot understand the uses of plenty, and then she went heavily to sleep in Ethel Blue's lap before the fire in the living room.
Aunt Louise and Dorothy came over from their cottage to join the conference.
"It is really a considerable problem," said Mrs. Morton thoughtfully. "These children here say they are going to attend to her clothing, and it's right they should, for she is the Club baby; but there are other questions that are serious. Where, for instance, is she going to sleep?"
A laugh rippled over the room as she asked the question, for the sleeping accommodations of the Morton house were regarded as a joke since the family was so large and the house was so small that a guest always meant a considerable process of rearrangement.
"It isn't any laughing matter, girls. She can have Dicky's old crib, of course, but where shall we put it?"
"It's perfectly clear to me," said Mrs. Smith, responding to an appealing glance from Dorothy, "that the baby must come to us. Dorothy and I have plenty of room in the cottage, and it would be a very great happiness to both of us—the greatest happiness that has come to me since—since—"
She hesitated and Dorothy knew that she was thinking about the baby brother who had died years ago.
"It does seem the best way," replied Mrs. Morton, "but—"
"'But me no buts'," quoted Mrs. Smith, smiling. "The baby's coming is equally sudden to all of us, only I happen to be a bit better prepared for an unexpected guest, because I have more space. Then Dorothy has been just as crazy as the other girls to have a 'Belgian baby,' and she shouted just as loudly as anybody at the pier—I heard her."
"Always excepting James," Ethel Brown reminded them and they all laughed, remembering James and his Gallic salute.
"Don't take her tonight, Aunt Louise," begged Ethel Blue. "Let us have her just one night. We can put Dicky's crib into our room between Ethel Brown's bed and mine."
It was finally decided that Elisabeth should not be taken to Dorothy's until the next day, but Mrs. Morton insisted on keeping her in her own room for the night.
"She has such a slight hold on life that she ought to have an experienced eye watching her for some time to come," she said.
All the girls assisted at the baby's going to bed ceremonies, and tall Helen felt a catch in her throat no less than Ethel Blue at sight of the wasted legs and arms and hollow chest.
"I wonder, now," said Aunt Louise when they had gone down stairs again, leaving Ethel Blue and Ethel Brown to sit in the next room until their own bedtime, so that the faintest whimper might not go unheard. "I wonder where we are going to find some one competent to take care of this baby. A child in such a condition needs more than ordinary care; she needs skilled care."
"Mary might have some relatives," Dorothy began, when Helen made a rushing suggestion.
"Why not go to the School of Mothercraft? You remember, it was at Chautauqua for the summer? And it's back in New York now. I've been meaning to ask you or Grandmother or Aunt Louise to take me there some Saturday, only we've been so busy with the Ship we didn't have time for anything else. You remember it?" she asked anxiously, for she had especial reasons for wanting her mother to remember the School of Mothercraft.
"Certainly I remember it, and I believe it will give us just what we want now. It's a new sort of school," she explained to Mrs. Smith. "The students are young women who are studying the science and art of home-making. They are working out home problems in a real home in which there are real children."
"Babies and all?"
"Babies and children of other sizes. I'm going to study there when I leave college. Mother says I may," cried Helen, delighted that her favorite school was on the point of proving its usefulness in her own family.
"Can you get mother helpers from there?"
"You can, and they're scientifically trained young women. Many of them are college graduates who are taking this as graduate work."
"Then I should say that the thing for us to do," said Mrs. Smith, "was to leave the baby in Mary's care tomorrow and go in to New York and see what we can find at the School of Mothercraft. Will the students be willing to break in on their course?"
"Perhaps not, but the Director of the school is sure to know of some of her former pupils who will be available. That was a brilliant idea of yours, Helen," and Helen sank back into her chair pleased at the gentle stroke of approval that went from her mother's hand to hers.
Dorothy and Mrs. Smith were just preparing to go home when the bell rang and Dr. Hancock was announced.
"James and Margaret came home with a wonderful tale of a foundling with big eyes," he said when, he had greeted everybody, "and I thought I'd better come over and have a look at her. I should judge she'd need pretty close watching for a long time."
"She will," assented Mrs. Morton, and told him of their plan to secure a helper from the School of Mothercraft.
"The very best thing you can do," the doctor agreed heartily. "I'm on the Advisory Board of the School with several other physicians and I don't know any institution I approve of more heartily."
"Ayleesabet" was found to be sleeping deeply, but her breathing was even and her skin properly moist and the physician was satisfied.
"I'll run over every day for a week or two," he promised. "We must make the little creature believe American air is the best tonic in the world."
If the U. S. C. had had its way every member would have gone with Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Smith when they made their trip of inquiry on the next day. As it was, they decided that it was of some importance that Helen should go with them, and so they went at a later hour than they had at first intended, so that she might join them.
"There's no recitation at the last period," she explained, "and I can make up the study hour in the evening."
When the news of the baby's arrival was telephoned to Mrs. Emerson she suggested a farther change of plan.
"Let me go, too," she said; "I'll call in the car for you and Louise and we'll pick up Helen at the schoolhouse and we shall travel so fast that it will make up for the later start."
Everybody thought that a capital suggestion, and Mrs. Emerson arrived half an hour early so that she might make the acquaintance of Elisabeth. The waif was not demonstrative but she was entirely friendly.
"She seems to have forgotten how to play, if she ever knew," said Mrs. Morton, "but we hope she'll learn soon."
"She sees so many new faces it's a wonder she doesn't howl continually," said Mary to whose kindly finger Elisabeth was clinging steadfastly as she gazed seriously into Mrs. Emerson's smiling face. Then for the second time since her arrival she smiled. It was a smile that brought tears to their eyes, so faint and sad was it, but it was a smile after all, and they all stood about, happy in her approval.
"You two have your own children and Father and I are all alone now," said Grandmother, wiping her eyes. "Let us have Elisabeth. We need her—and we should love her so."
"Oh!" cried both of the younger women in tones of such disappointment that Mrs. Emerson saw at once that if she wanted a nursling she must look for another, not Elisabeth of Belgium.
"After all, perhaps it is better for her," she admitted. "Here she will have the children and will grow up among young people. Are you ready?"
When they picked up Helen she had a request to make of her grandmother.
"I telephoned about the baby to Margaret at recess, just to tell her Elisabeth was well this morning, and she was awfully interested in the idea of the helper from the School of Mothercraft. She gets out of school earlier than we do—she'd be just home. I'm sure she wouldn't keep you waiting. And the house is only a step from the main street—can't we take her?"
So Margaret was added to the party that sped on to the ferry. To everybody's surprise, when they reached the New York end of the ferry Edward Watkins signalled the chauffeur to stop.
"Roger telephoned Tom and Della about the baby," he explained, "and about your coming in today and I thought perhaps I might do something to help. I don't want to intrude—"
"We're going to the School of Mothercraft," said Mrs. Morton, "and we'd be glad to have you go with us. I don't know that we shall need to call on your professional advice but if you can spare the time we'd like to have you."
"Unfortunately, time is the commodity I'm richest in," smiled the young doctor, taking the seat beside the chauffeur.
The ride up town was a pleasure to the girls who did not often come to the city, and then seldom had an opportunity to ride in any automobile but a taxi-cab. As soon as possible they swung in to Fifth Avenue, whose brilliant shop windows and swiftly moving traffic excited them. They were quite thrilled when they drew up before a pretty house, no different in appearance from any of its neighbors, except that an unobtrusive sign notified seekers that they had found the right place.
"It's a school to learn home-making in," Helen explained to Margaret in a low tone as they followed the elders up the steps, "so it ought to be in a real house and not a schoolhouse-y place."
Margaret nodded, for they were being ushered into a cheerful reception room, simply but attractively furnished. In a minute they were being greeted by the Director who remembered meeting at Chautauqua all of them except Edward, and she recalled other members of his family and especially the Watkins bull-dog, Cupid, who was a prominent figure in Chautauqua life.
Mrs. Morton explained their errand, and also the reasons that had brought so large a number of them to the School.
"We're a deputation representing several families and a club, all of which are interested in the baby, but I should like to have the young woman you select for us understand that we are going to rely on her knowledge and skill, and that she won't be called to account by a council of war every time she washes the baby's face."
The Director smiled.
"I quite understand," she said. "I think I know just the young woman you want. She finished her course here last May, and then she went with me to Chautauqua for the summer and helped me there with the work we did in measurements and in making out food schedules and so on for children whose mothers brought them to us for our advice. Miss Merriam—Gertrude Merriam is her name—is taking just one course here now, and I think she'll be willing to give it up and glad to undertake the care of a baby that needs such special attention as your little waif."
The whole party followed the Director upstairs and looked over with interest the scientifically appointed rooms. There was a kindergarten where those of the children in the house who were old enough, together with a few from outside, were taught in the morning hours. The nursery with its spotless white beds and furniture and its simple and appropriate pictures was as good to look at as a hospital ward, "and a lot pleasanter," said Dr. Watkins. Out of it opened a wee roof garden and there a few of the children dressed in thick coats and warm hoods were playing, while a sweet-faced young woman sitting on the floor seemed quite at home with them. She tried to rise as the Director's party came out unexpectedly on her. Her foot caught in her skirt and Dr. Watkins sprang forward to give her a helping hand.
"This is Miss Merriam of whom I was speaking," said the Director, introducing her. "Will you ask Miss Morgan to come out here with the children and will you join us in the study?" she asked.
Miss Merriam assented and when her successor arrived the flock went in again to see the children's dining-room and the arrangements made for doing special cooking for such of them as needed it.
"We try not to have elaborate equipment," explained the Director. "I want my young women to be able to work with what any mother provides for her home and not to be dependent on machines and utensils that are seldom found outside of hospitals. They are learning thoroughly the scientific side. Miss Merriam, who, I hope, will go to you, is a college graduate, and in college she studied biology and food values and ventilation and sanitation and such matters. Since she has been here she has reviewed all that work under the physicians who lecture here, and she has practised first aid and made a special study of infant requirements. You couldn't have any one better trained for what you need."
Dr. Watkins gave his chair to Miss Merriam when she came to join the conference, and asked Mrs. Morton by a motion of the eyebrows if he should withdraw. When her reply was negative he sat down again. Miss Merriam blushed as she faced the group but she was entirely at her ease. Mrs. Morton explained their need.
"A Belgian baby!" she cried. "And you want me to take care of her! Why, Mrs. Morton, there's nothing in the world I should like better. The poor little dud! When shall I go to you?"
"Just as soon as you can," replied Mrs. Morton. "We've left her today in charge of my little boy's old nurse, but as soon as you come we shall move her to my sister-in-law's."
Miss Merriam turned inquiringly to Mrs. Smith, who smiled in return.
"Mrs. Smith has only her daughter and herself in her family so she has more space in her house than I have."
"But it's just round the corner from us so we can see the baby every day," cried Helen.
"I can go to Rosemont early tomorrow morning," said Miss Merriam. "Tell me, please, how to reach there."
She glanced at Mrs. Morton, but Dr. Watkins answered her.
"If you'll allow me," he said; "I have an errand in Rosemont tomorrow and I'd be very glad to show you the way."
Miss Merriam's blue eyes rested on him questioningly.
"I'm an 'in-law' of the Club," he explained. "My brother and sister, Tom and Della, are devoted members of the U. S. C. and sometimes they let me join them."
"The doctor's bull-dog is an 'in-law,' too," laughed Mrs. Smith. "Don't you remember him at Chautauqua?"
"The dog with the perfectly extraordinary face? I do indeed remember him," and the inquiring blue eyes twinkled.
"He appeared in an entertainment that the Club gave a few weeks ago for the Christmas Ship and I think he received more applause than any other performer."
"I'm not surprised," exclaimed Miss Merriam. "Thank you, Dr. Watkins, I shall be glad of your help," and Edward had a comfortable feeling that he was accepted as a friend, though he was not quite sure whether it was on his own merits or because he had a share in the ownership of a dog with an extraordinary face.
He did not care which it was, however, when he called the next morning and found Miss Merriam waiting for him. She was well tailored and her handbag was all that it should be.
"I hate messy girls with messy handbags," he thought to himself after a sweeping glance had assured him that there was nothing "messy" about this Mothercraft girl. The blue eyes were serious this morning, but they had a laugh in them, too, when he told her of the way the Belgian baby was first called for, upon a young girl's impulse, and the reward James Hancock had received for his cordial joining in the cry.
"I'm going to like them all, every one of them," Miss Merriam said in the soft voice that was at the same time clear and firm.
"I'm sure they'll like you," responded Edward.
"I hope they will. I shall try to make them. But the baby will be a delight, any way."
At Rosemont, to Dr. Watkins's disappointment, they found Grandmother Emerson and the automobile waiting at the station. Edward bowed his farewell and went off upon his errand, and Mrs. Emerson and Miss Merriam drove to Mrs. Smith's where they found Elisabeth already installed in a sunny room out of which opened another for Miss Merriam. The arrangement had been made by Dorothy's moving into a smaller chamber over the front door.
"I don't mind it a bit," she declared to her mother, "and please don't say a word about it to Miss Merriam—she might feel badly."
So Gertrude Merriam accepted her room all unconsciously, and rejoiced in its brightness. The baby was lying before the window of her own room when Gertrude entered. It moved a listless hand as she knelt beside it.
"You little darling creature!" she exclaimed and Elisabeth gave her infrequent smile as if she knew that woman's love and science were going to work together for her.
ELISABETH MAKES FRIENDS
Under Miss Merriam's skilful care Elisabeth of Belgium slowly climbed the hill of health. She had grown so weak that she required to be treated like a child much younger than she really was. Miss Merriam gave her extremely nourishing food in small amounts and often; she made her rest hours as long as those of a baby of a year and her naps were always taken in the open air, where she lay warmly curled up in soft rugs like a little Eskimo. At night she and her care-taker slept on an upper porch where she drew deep draughts of fresh air far down into the depths of her tiny relaxed body.
"Ayleesabet"—everybody adopted her own pronunciation—was napping in Dicky's old perambulator on the porch of Dorothy's cottage one Saturday morning early in December. The Ethels, their coat collars turned up and rugs wrapping their knees, were keeping guard beside her. Both of them were alternately knitting and warming their fingers.
"When she wakes up we can roll her down the street a little way," said Ethel Blue.
"Did Miss Merriam say so?"
"Yes, she said we might keep her out until twelve."
"Are the Hancocks and Watkinses coming early to the Club meeting?"
"About half past two. The afternoons are so short now that they thought they'd better come early so it wouldn't be pitch black night when they got home."
"We ought to do some planning for Christmas this afternoon. There's a lot to think about."
"There's one Christmas gift I wish Aunt Marian would give us."
"What's that?" asked Ethel Brown expectantly for she had great faith in the ideas that Ethel Blue brought forth now and then.
"Don't you think it would be nice if she would let us have a visit from Katharine Jackson for one of our presents?"
Katharine Jackson was the daughter of an army officer stationed at Fort Edward in Buffalo. Her father and Ethel Blue's father had been in the same class at West Point and her mother had known Ethel Blue's mother who had died when she was a tiny baby. The two Ethels had had a week-end with Katharine the previous summer, going to Buffalo from Chautauqua for the purpose of spending a glorious Saturday at Niagara Falls.
"O-oh!" cried Ethel Brown, "that's one of the finest things you ever thought of! Let's speak to Mother as soon as we go home and write to Mrs. Jackson and Katharine this afternoon if she says 'yes'."
"I'm almost sure she will say 'yes'."
"So am I. If Katharine comes we can save all our Christmas festivities for the time she's here so there'll be plenty to entertain her."
"Ayleesabet is waking. Hullo, sweet lamb," and both girls leaned over the carriage, happy because their nursling condescended to smile on them when she opened her eyes. Miss Merriam brought out a cup of warm food when it was reported to her that her charge had finished her nap, and when the luncheon was consumed with evidences of satisfaction the Ethels took the carriage out on to the sidewalk. Elisabeth sat up, still sleepy-eyed and rosy from her nap, and gazed about her seriously at the road that was already becoming familiar.
"Oh, dear," sighed Ethel Blue under her breath, "there are the Misses Clark coming out of their house."
"I hope they aren't going to complain of Roger," Ethel Brown said, for Roger acted as furnace man for these elderly ladies who had gained for themselves a reputation of being ill-natured.
"It's too late to cross the street. They look as if they were coming expressly to speak to us. See, they haven't got their hats on."
It did indeed look as if the little procession was being waylaid, for the Misses Clark stood inside their gate waiting for the Ethels to come up.
"We saw you coming," they said when the carriage came near enough, "and we came out to see the baby. This is the Belgian baby?"
"Yes; this is Ayleesabet."
"Ayleesabet? Elisabeth, I suppose. Why do you call her that?"
"That's what she calls herself, and it seems to be the only word she remembers so we thought we'd let her hear it instead of giving her a new name."
"Ayleesabet," repeated the elder Miss Clark, coming through the gate. "Will you shake hands with me, Ayleesabet?"
She held out her hand to the solemn child who sat staring at her with unmoved expression. Ethel Blue hesitatingly began to explain that the baby did not yet know how to shake hands, when to their amazement Elisabeth extended a tiny mittened paw and laid it in Miss Clark's hand.
"The dear child!" exclaimed both women, and the elder flushed warmly as if the delicate contact had touched an intimate chord. She gave the mitten a pressure and held it, Elisabeth making no objection.
"Won't you bring her in to see us once in a while?" begged the younger Miss Clark. "We should like so much to have you. We've watched her go by with that charming looking young woman who takes care of her."
"Miss Merriam. She's from the School of Mothercraft," and Ethel Brown explained the work of the school.
"How fortunate you were to know about the school. It would have been anxious work for Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Smith if they had had full responsibility for such a feeble baby."
"We all love Miss Merriam," said Ethel Blue. "Say 'Gertrude,' Elisabeth," and Elisabeth obediently repeated "Gertrude" in her soft pipe, and looked about for the owner of the name.
"We'll bring her in to call on you," promised the Ethels, saying "Good-bye," and they went on feeling far more gently disposed toward their cross-patch neighbors than they ever had before. As for the "cross-patches," they looked after the carriage as long as it was in sight.
When the girls returned to Dorothy's they found Edward Watkins there.
"It's very nice of you to come out to see how the baby is getting along," said Ethel Brown, going in to the living room, while Ethel Blue helped Miss Merriam take Elisabeth out of the carriage.
"I mean to keep an eye on her," replied Edward gravely.
"You don't really have to do it if it isn't convenient, you know," returned Ethel. "Of course we appreciate it tremendously, but Dr. Hancock is nearer and he's been coming over quite regularly."
"I shan't try to compete with Dr. Hancock," promised Dr. Watkins; "but Elisabeth is the Club baby, you know, and Tom and Della are members so as their brother I feel almost a personal interest."
"It's lovely of you to feel so. I just didn't want you to be bothered," explained Ethel conscientiously.
When Miss Merriam brought the baby in he examined her carefully as one tiny hand after another was released from its mitten and one slender leg after the other emerged from the knitted trousers.
"She isn't what you'd call really fat yet, is she?" he commented.
"She's a porpoise compared with what she was at the beginning," insisted Ethel Blue stoutly. "Miss Merriam can tell you how many ounces she has gained."
"She's gained in happiness, any way," smiled the young physician as the baby murmured "Gertrude" and patted Gertrude's flushing cheek.
There was a full meeting of the United Service Club when Helen called it to order at a quarter of three and informed the members that it was high time for them to discuss what they were going to do as a club for Christmas.
"To tell the truth, I was awfully ashamed about our forgetting to do anything for anybody on Thanksgiving. It all came out right, because our 'show' for the Home went off well and the old ladies were pleased, but we didn't originate the idea and I feel as if we ought to make up for our forgetfulness by doing something extra at Christmas. Now who has any suggestions?"
"I'd like to know first," asked James, the treasurer, "just how we stand with regard to Elisabeth. I know we can't afford to pay Miss Merriam's salary; I am afraid we've got to call on the grownups for that—but we can do something and we must, and we ought to find out about it exactly."
"Mrs. Emerson is paying half Miss Merriam's salary," explained Dorothy.
"And Aunt Louise the other half," added Ethel Brown.
"I wrote to Father about Elisabeth," said Ethel Blue, "and he said he'd send us a hundred dollars a year for her. We could put it in the bank for her, he said, if we didn't need to use it for doctors' bills or anything else."
"Here's my pay from the Misses Clark; they forked over this morning," said Roger elegantly, as he in turn "forked over" a bill to James. "Madam President, may the treasurer report, please?"
"The treasurer will kindly tell us what there is at the Club's disposal," directed Helen.
"The treasurer is obliged to confess that there isn't very much," admitted James. "The Christmas Ship just about cleaned us out, and the cost of some of the material for costumes for 'Miles Standish' nearly used up what was left. This greenback of Roger's is the best looking thing I've seen for some days."
"I haven't paid my dues for December," confessed Ethel Blue. "Here they are."
It proved that one or two of the others were also delinquent, but even after all had paid there was a very small sum in hand compared with what they needed.
"There isn't any use getting gloomy over the situation," urged Helen. "If we haven't got the money, we haven't, that's all, and we must do the best we can without it. Mother and Aunt Louise will wait to be paid. It isn't as if we had been extravagant and run into debt. The baby came unexpectedly and had to be made comfortable right off. We can assume that responsibility and pay up when we are able. I don't think that we ought to let that interrupt any plans we have to make Christmas pleasant for anybody."
"I believe you're right," agreed Tom, "but I think we must limit ourselves somewhat."
"You'll be limited by the low state of the treasury, young man," growled James.
"Wait and hear me. I imagine that what the president has in mind for our Christmas work is doing something for the children in the Glen Point orphanage."
Helen and Margaret nodded.
"What do you say, then, if we decide to limit our Christmas work as a club to doing something for the orphanage and for Elisabeth? And I should like to suggest that no one of us gives a personal present that costs more than ten cents to any relative or friend. Then we can place in the club treasury whatever we had intended to spend more than that, and do the best we can with whatever amount that puts into James's hands for the Glen Point orphans and Elisabeth. Am I clear?" and he sank back in his chair in seeming exhaustion.
"You're very long-winded, Thomas," pronounced Roger, patting his friend on the shoulder, "but we get your idea. I second the motion, Madam President. We'll give ten cent presents to our relatives and friends and put all the rest of our stupendous fortunes into giving the orphans a good time and getting some duds for Ayleesabet or paying for what she has already."
The motion was carried unanimously, and each one of them handed to James a calculation of how much he would be able to contribute to the Christmas fund.
"It will come pretty near being ten cent presents for the orphans," James pronounced after some work with pencil and paper. "We can't give them anything that the wildest imagination could call handsome."
"There are plenty of people interested in the orphanage who give the children clothes and all their necessities, you know," Margaret reminded her brother. "Don't you remember when we talked this over before we said that what we'd do for them would be to give them some foolishnesses—just silly things that all children enjoy and that no one ever seems to think it worth while to give to youngsters in an institution."
"Will they have a tree?"
"Our church always sends a tree over there, but I must say it's a pretty lean tree," commented James. "It has pretty lights and a bag of candy apiece for the kids, and they stand around and sing carols before they're allowed to take a suck of the candy, and that's all there is to it."
"The Young Ladies' Guild has an awfully good time dressing it," testified Margaret.
"So did I winding up Dicky's mechanical toys last Christmas," said Roger rather shamefacedly. "I'm afraid the poor kid didn't get much of a look-in until I got tired of them."
"In view of these revelations, Madam President," began Tom, "I move that whatever we do for the orphans shall be something that they can join in themselves, and not just look at. Anybody got an idea?"
"Our minds have been so full of the Christmas Ship that it has squeezed everything else out, I'm afraid," admitted Della, with a delicate frown drawing her eyebrows.
"Why can't we continue to make the Christmas Ship useful somehow?" inquired Dorothy.
"I hardly know. Perhaps we could have our presents for the children in a Christmas Ship instead of on a tree."
"That's good. They'll have one tree anyway; this will be a novelty, and it can be made pretty."
"Can we get enough stuff to fill a ship?"
"Depends on the size of the ship."
"It wouldn't have to be full; just the deck could be heaped with parcels."
"And the rigging could be lighted."
"How can we ring in the children so they can have more of a part than singing carols?"
"Why not make them do the work themselves—the work of distributing the gifts?"
"I know," cried Helen. "Why not tell them about the real Christmas Ship and then tell them that they are to play that they all went over with it on its Christmas errand. We can dress up some of the boys as sailors—"
"Child, you don't realize what you're suggesting," exclaimed Margaret. "Do you know there are twenty or twenty-five boys there? We couldn't make all those costumes!"
"That's true," agreed Helen, dismayed. Her dismay soon turned to cheerfulness, however. "Why couldn't they wear an arm band marked SAILOR? They can use their imaginations to supply the rest of the costume."
"That would do well enough. And have another group of them marked LONGSHOREMAN."
"We can pick out the tallest boy to represent Commander Courtney and some of the others to be officers."
"You're giving all the work to the boys; what can the girls do?"
"Don't let's have any of them play orphan. That would come too near home. They won't follow the story too far. They'll be contented to distribute the gifts to each other."
"Here's where the girls can come in. The officers can bring the good ship into port, and the sailors can make a handsome showing along the side as she comes up to the pier, and the longshoremen can stagger ashore laden with big bundles. On the shore there can be groups of girls who will undo the large bundles and take out the small ones that they contain. Other groups of girls can go about giving out the presents."
"I'll bet they'll have such a good time playing the game they won't notice whether the presents are ten centers or fifties," shouted Roger. "I believe we've got the right notion."
"We must do everything up nicely so they'll have fun opening the parcels," insisted Helen.
"Here's where James begins pasting again. Where's my pastepot, Dorothy?" inquired James who had done wonders in making boxes to contain the gifts that went in the real Ship.
"Here are all your arrangements in the corner, and I'll make you some paste right off," said Dorothy, pointing out the corner of the attic where a table held cardboard and flowered paper and scissors.
Unless there was some especial reason for a meeting elsewhere the Club always met in Dorothy's attic, where the afternoon sun streamed in cheerfully through the low windows. There the members could leave their unfinished work and it would not be disturbed, and the place had proved to be so great a comfort during the autumn months, that Mrs. Smith had had a radiator put in so that it was warm and snug for winter use. Electric lights had made it possible for them to work there occasionally during the evening and it was as cheerful an apartment as one would care to see, even though its furniture was made largely of boxes converted into useful articles by Dorothy's inventive genius.
"Some time during Christmas week we ought to cheer up the old couple by the bridge," urged Roger.
"The same people we chopped wood for?" asked Tom.
"The Atwoods—yes. It gets on my nerves to see them sitting there so dully, every day when I pass by on my way to school."
"We certainly won't forget them. We can do something that won't make any demand on our treasury, so Tom won't mind our adding them to our Christmas list."
"I dare say we'll think of others before we go much farther. What we need to do now is to decide on things to make for the Glen Pointers," and the talk went off into a discussion which proved to be merely a selection from what they had learned to do while they were making up their parcels for the real Christmas Ship. Now, with but a short time before Christmas, they chose articles that could be made quickly. The girls also decided on the candies that each should make to fill the boxes, and they made requisition on the treasury for the materials so that they could go to work at once upon the lasting kinds. Before the afternoon was over the attic resumed once more the busy look it had worn for so many weeks before the sailing of the Jason.
"Ethel Blue!" came a call up the attic stairs.
Ethel Blue ran down to see what her aunt wanted, and came back beaming, two letters in her hand.
"Here's a letter from Mrs. Jackson to Aunt Marian saying that Katharine may come to us for a fortnight, and another one from Katharine to me telling how crazy she is to come. Isn't it fine!"
Ethel threw her arm over Ethel Brown's shoulder and pulled her into the march that was the Mortons' expression of great pleasure: "One, two, three, back; one, two, three, back," around the attic.
"When is she coming?" asked Roger, who had never seen Katharine and so was able to endure calmly the prospect of her visit.
"Two days before Christmas—that's Wednesday in the afternoon."
"We'll ask grandmother to let us have the car to go and get her; it's so much more fun than the train," proposed Ethel Brown.
The attic rang with the Ethels' delight—at which they looked back afterwards with some wonder.
THE GOOD SHIP "JASON"
The Rosemont schools closed for the holidays at noon of the Wednesday before Christmas, so all the Mortons and Dorothy were free to avail themselves of Mrs. Emerson's offer of her car to bring Katharine from Hoboken. It was a pleasant custom of the family to regard any guests as belonging not to one or another member in particular but to all of them. All felt a responsibility for the guest's happiness and all shared in any amusement that he or she might give.
According to this custom, not the Ethels alone went to meet Katharine, but Helen and Roger and Dorothy, too. Mrs. Morton chaperoned them and Dicky was added for good measure. It was a sharp day and the Rosemont group were rosy with cold when they reached the station and lined themselves up on the platform just before the Buffalo train drew in. Katharine and the Jacksons' German maid, Gretchen, were among the first to get off.
"Gretchen is going to make a holiday visit, too," Katharine explained when she had greeted the Ethels, whom she knew, and had been introduced to the other members of the party.
Mrs. Morton and Roger instructed Gretchen how to reach Staten Island where her friends lived and then they got into the car and sped toward home.
Katharine did not seem so much at ease as she had done when she played hostess to the Ethels at Fort Edward. She was accustomed to meeting many people, but she was an only child and being plunged into a big family, all chattering at once, it seemed to her, caused her some embarrassment. In an effort not to show it she was not always happy in her remarks.
"Is this your car?" she asked.
"It's Grandmother Emerson's," replied Ethel Brown. "She lets us have it very often."
"I don't care for a touring car in cold weather. My grandmother has a limousine."
"We're glad to have a ride in any kind of car," responded Ethel Blue happily.
"Roger, get out that other rug for Katharine," directed Mrs. Morton, "she's chilly."
"Oh, no," demurred Katharine, now ashamed at having made a remark that seemed to reflect upon the comfort of her friends' automobile. "I'm used to a Ford, any way."
"I'm afraid you don't know much about cars if you do come from an automobile city," commented Roger dryly. "This car would make about three Fords—though I don't sneeze at a Ford myself. I'd be mighty glad if we had one, wouldn't you, Mother?"
Mrs. Morton shook her head at him, and he subsided, humming merrily,
He took four spools and an old tin can And called it a Ford and the strange thing ran.
The Ethels had not paid much attention to the conversation but nevertheless it had struck the wrong note and no one felt entirely at ease. They found themselves wondering whether their guest would find her room to her liking and they remembered uneasily that they had said "I guess she won't mind" this and that when they had left some of their belongings in the closet.
The Morton's house was not large and in order to accommodate a guest the Ethels moved upstairs into a tiny room in the attic, where they were to camp for the fortnight of Katharine's stay. They had thought it great fun, and were more than willing to endure the discomfort of crowded quarters for the sake of having the long-desired visit. Now, however, Ethel Brown murmured to Ethel Blue as they went into the house, "I'm glad we had one of the beds taken upstairs; it will give her more space," and Ethel Blue replied, "I believe we can hang our dancing school dresses in the east corner of the attic if we put a sheet around them."
Indeed, Ethel Blue made a point of running upstairs while Katharine was speaking to Dorothy in the living room and removing the dresses from the closet. She looked around the room with new sight. It had seemed pleasant and bright to her in the morning when she and Ethel Brown had added some last touches to the fresh muslin equipment of the bureau, but now she wished that they had had a perfectly new bureau cover, and she was sorry she had not asked Mary to give the window another cleaning although it had been washed only a few days before.
"Perhaps she won't notice," she murmured hopefully, but in her heart of hearts she was pretty sure she would.
Katharine made no comment, however, beyond lifted eyebrows when she noticed anything different from what she had been accustomed to in a house where there was a small family, and, in consequence, plenty of space. She unpacked her trunk and hung up her clothes with care and neatness which the Ethels admired. Ordinarily they would have praised her frankly for doing well what they sometimes failed to do well, but they had not yet recovered from the constraint that her remarks on the way home had thrown over them. It was not lessened when she mentioned that usually Gretchen did her unpacking for her.
"Mary would love to unpack for us," said Ethel Brown, "but if she did that we'd have to do some of her work, so we'd rather hang up our duds ourselves."
Katharine was greatly interested in the Club plans for the Glen Point orphans. She had lived in garrisons in the remote West and in or near large cities, but her experience never had placed her in a comparatively small town like Rosemont or Glen Point where people took a friendly interest in each other and in community institutions. She entered heartily into the final preparations for the imitation Christmas Ship and she and the girls forgot their mutual embarrassment in their work for some one else.
Roger went to Glen Point in the morning of the day before Christmas to meet the other Club boys and build the Ship in the hall of the orphanage. They worked there for several hours and lunched with James and Margaret at the Hancocks'. The rest of the Mortons and Katharine took over the parcels in the early afternoon in the car and arranged them on the deck as had been planned, and then all the young people came back together, for they were to have a part in the lighting of the Rosemont Christmas Tree.
The tree was a huge Norway spruce and it was set up in front of the high school which had a lawn before it large enough to hold a goodly crowd of observers. The choirs of all the churches had volunteered their services for the occasion. They were placed on a stand elevated above the crowd so that they could lead the singing and be heard at a distance.
Except for murmurs of admiration and a long-drawn breath of delight there was no sound from the throng. It was too beautiful for speech; the meaning was too laden with brotherly love and cheer for it to be mistaken. A sad-eyed girl smiled to herself and gazed with new hope in her face; a pickpocket took his hand out of his neighbor's bag that had opened like magic under his practised touch. Babies stretched out their arms to the glitter; grown men stared silently with unaccustomed tears wetting their eyes. The school children sang on and on, "Oh, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant;" then "Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King;" and "It came upon the midnight clear." The fresh young voices rang gloriously, strengthened by the more mature voices of the choirs.
The stars were coming out before the first person turned away, and all through the night watchers of the tree's resplendent glory were found by the patrolling policeman gazing, gazing, with thoughts of peace reflected on faces that had long been unknown to peace.
It was after six when the Emerson car whirled the U. S. C. back to the Mortons' for a dinner that had to be eaten hastily, for they were due at the Glen Point orphanage soon after seven so that all might be in order for the doors to be opened to the children at half past. Helen was always urging punctuality as Tom was commanding promptness.
"If we were small youngsters and had had to wait all day for our Christmas party we'd be wild at having it delayed a minute longer than necessary," the President insisted, and Tom added his usual exhortation, "Run the thing along briskly; don't let it drag. You can 'put over' lots of stupid stuff by rushing it on gayly, and a good 'stunt' may be good for nothing if it goes slowly."
"Helen and Tom can't say that they 'never sing the old, old songs,' can they?" laughed Ethel Brown. "The Club has never done anything yet that we haven't heard these same sweet strains from both of them."
"You're very likely to hear them again—my chant, any way," declared her sister firmly.
"It won't do us any harm," Ethel Brown yielded good-naturedly.
The boys had made the good ship Jason with some ingenuity. The matron had let them have a table, long and so old that the marks of boots upon it would do no harm. This was important for it was to be used as the forward deck. Because in the days of its youth it had been used in the dining room of the smaller children it was lower than an ordinary table. This made it just the right height, for the ship's rail was to rise above it, and if it had been higher the people on the floor could not have seen the deck comfortably.
At the end of the table was tied the mast—a broom stick with electric light wires strung with tiny bulbs going from its top to the deck. This electrical display was a contribution from Roger who had asked his grandfather to give it to him for his Christmas gift and had requested that he might have it in time for him to lend it to the Jason. It was run by a storage battery hidden in a box that was safely bestowed under the deck. Aft of the mainmast were two kitchen chairs placed side by side to give the craft the needed length.
The outside of the boat was made by stretching a double length of war-gray cambric from the bow—two hammock stretchers fastened to the end of the table—along the deck, past the chairs and across their end. The cloth was raised a trifle above the deck by laths nailed on to the edge of the table. The name, "Jason," in black letters, was pinned along the bow.
"It isn't a striking likeness of a boat," confessed Roger, "but any intelligent person would be able to guess what it was meant to be."
When the children and a few other people who had begged to be allowed to come entered the hall they found the ship lighted and with its deck piled high with wooden boxes and parcels of good size. The members of the U. S. C. were gathered beside the ship. When all had entered Helen, as president of the Club, mounted one of the chairs which represented the after part of the boat and told the story of the real ship Jason.
"Children from all over the United States sent Christmas gifts to the European children who otherwise would not have any because of the war. Tonight we are going to pretend that we are all sailing on the Jason to carry the gifts to Europe. We've all got to help—every one of us. First of all we want a captain. I think that boy over there near the door will be the captain, because he's the tallest boy I see here."
Embarrassed but pleased the tall boy came forward and Della fastened on his arm a band marked CAPTAIN. Following instructions he mounted the chair from which Helen descended. Two under officers were chosen in the same way, and the Ethels raised them to the ranks of first and second lieutenants by the simple method of fastening on suitable arm bands.
"Now we want some sailors," cried Roger, and he selected ten other boys, who were all rapidly adorned with SAILOR bands by the U. S. C. gifts. The ship was about as full as she could be now, with her officers standing, one on the deck and the others on the two chairs, and the sailors manning the rail. Everybody was beginning to enjoy the game by this time, and the faces that looked out over the gray cambric sides of the Jason were beaming with eagerness to find out what was coming next, while the children who had not yet been assigned to any task were equally curious to find out how they were to help.
"Now we're on the pier at the Bush Terminal at Brooklyn," explained Tom. "Look out there; don't get in the way of the ropes," and he pushed the crowd back from the imaginary ropes, and whistled a shrill call on his fingers.
"See, she's moving! She's starting!" cried Ethel Blue. "Wave your handkerchief! Wave it!" she directed the children near her, who fell into the spirit of the pretense and gave the Christmas Ship a noisy send-off.
"Now we'll all turn our backs while the ship is crossing the Atlantic," directed James.
It required only a minute for the boat to make the crossing, and when the onlookers turned about after this trip of unparalleled swiftness they were told that now they were not Americans any longer; they were English people at Devonport gathered to watch the arrival of the Jason and to help unload the presents sent to the children of England and Belgium.
"I want some longshoremen to help unload these boxes," said Helen, "and a set of sorters and a set of distributors. Who'll volunteer as longshoremen?"
There was a quick response, and this group exhausted all the boys. They were designated by arm bands each marked LONGSHOREMAN. Then she called for girls for the other two detachments and divided them into two sections, one marked SORTERS and the other DISTRIBUTORS.
Under Roger's direction a chair, turned over on its face, made a sloping gangplank down which the bundles could be slid.
"Have your lieutenants place their men around the deck and on each side of this plank," he instructed the captain. "Then order a few longshoremen to go aboard and hand the bundles from one to another and slide them down the plank to the men on the pier who will take them over to the sorters. You," he called to the girls, "you stay at that side of the room and open these large parcels when they are brought to you, and you read what it says on the packages and make two piles, one of those marked 'Boy' and the other of those marked 'Girl'. Then there are bundles marked with the children's names. Give them out. See that everybody has one package marked with his name and one package just marked 'Boy' or 'Girl'."
The Ethels had proposed this arrangement so that all the children should feel that the distribution of gifts had been made by chance. The parcels bearing the children's names were filled with candy and goodies and were all alike.
"Didn't I tell you they'd like foolishnesses!" she said to Helen in an undertone. "Look at those boys with jumping jacks. They love them!"
"See those youngsters with those silly twirling things Tom made," said Della. "He's right about the charm of those little flat objects. They'll twirl them by the hour I really believe."
All the gifts were of the simplest sort. There were the Danish twins that Ethel Blue had made for the real Ship—little worsted elves fastened together by a cord; and rubber balls covered with crocheting to make them softer; dolls, small and inexpensive, but each with an outfit of clothes that would take off; a stuffed kitten or two; several baskets, each with a roll of ribbon in it.
"They can fit them up for work baskets afterwards, if they want to," said Margaret, "but I'm not going to suggest sewing to these youngsters who have to do it every day of their lives whether they want to or not."
There were various kinds of candy in boxes covered with bright colored and flowered paper, for James had outdone himself in developing new pasting ideas. There were cookies, too, and tiny fruit cakes.
The faces of the Club members were as joyous as the faces of the children as they looked about them and saw evidences of the success of their plan. If they needed confirmation it was given them by the matron.
"I've never seen them so happy," she said. "I can't thank you enough for giving them this pleasure."
"It was lovely," approved Katharine. "I'm so glad you let me help."
It was still early when the merry party reached home, but Mrs. Morton bundled them off to bed promptly.
"You've all made a sacrifice to Dicky's Christmas habits," she explained. "He's been in bed for hours and he's preparing to get up long before dawn, so we all might as well go to bed ourselves or we'll be exhausted by this time tomorrow night."
"Hang your stocking on your outside door knob, Katharine," cried the Ethels. "We have Santa Claus trained to look there for it in this house."
Mrs. Morton's prophecy was fulfilled. It was still black night when Dicky roused from his bed and sent a "Merry Christmas" ringing through the house. There was no response to his first cry, but, undaunted, he uttered a second. To this there came a faint "Merry Christmas" from the top story where the Ethels were snuggled under the roof, and another from Helen's room beside his own. Katharine said nothing and not a word came from Roger, though there was a sound of heavy, regular breathing through his door.
"Let's put on our wrappers and go down stairs into Katharine's room," suggested Ethel Brown.
"It's lots too early. Let's wait a while," replied Ethel Blue, so they lay still for another hour in spite of increasing sounds of ecstasy from Dicky. After all they decided to follow the usual family custom and take their stockings into the living room before breakfast instead of going to Katharine's room. As they passed her door they knocked on it and begged her to hurry so that they could all begin the opening at once. She said that she was up and would soon join them, but it proved to be fully three quarters of an hour before she appeared.
All the Mortons except Dicky had waited for her before opening their bundles.
"We thought you would excuse Dicky for not waiting; it's rather hard on a small boy to have such tantalizing parcels right before him and not attack them," apologized Mrs. Morton.
Katharine looked somewhat embarrassed to find that she had been the cause of so long a delay but she offered no excuse.
"Let's all look at our stockings first," said Ethel Brown, and every hand dived in and brought out candy, nuts, raisins, an apple, an orange, dates and figs and candy animals.
There were gifts among the goodies, or instructions where to find them. Roger discovered a pocket book that had been his desire for a long time, and a card that advised him to look under the desk in the library and see what was waiting for him. He dashed off in a high state of curiosity and came back whooping, with a typewriter in his arms.
"Aren't Grandfather and Grandmother the best ever!" he exclaimed rapturously, and he paid no further attention to his other gifts or to those of the rest of the family while he hunted out a small table and arranged the machine for immediate action.
Helen's chief presents were a ring with a small pearl, from her grandmother and a set of Stevenson from her grandfather. The Ethels had each a tennis racquet and each a desk of a size suitable for their bedroom.
"They'll go one on each side of the window," exclaimed Ethel Brown, while Ethel Blue at once began to store away in hers the supply of stationery that came with it.
Katharine's gifts were quite as numerous as the Mortons', for her mother had forwarded to Mrs. Morton's care all those of suitable size that came to Buffalo for her. She opened one after another: books, hair ribbons, a pair of silk stockings for dancing school, a tiny silver watch on a long chain. Mr. and Mrs. Emerson had added to her store a racquet like the Ethels'.
More numerous than those of any of the others were Dicky's presents, and they were varied, indeed. A velocipede was his grandfather's offering and was received with shouts of delight. Blocks of a new sort occupied him when his mother stopped his travels on three wheels. A train of cars made its way under Katharine's feet and nearly threw her down, to her intense disgust, and a pair of roller skates brought Dicky himself in her way so often that she spoke to him more sharply than he had ever been spoken to in his life. He drew away and stared at her solemnly.
"You're a cross girl," he announced after a disconcerting pause, and Katharine flushed deeply at the accusation, realizing that it was not polite to rebuke your hostess's brother and regretting her hasty speech.
"Are you good for a long walk?" Roger asked Katharine after breakfast.
Katharine said she was.
"Then help me do up these things for Grandfather and Grandmother and we'll be off," and he threw down a handful of red paper and green ribbon and ran to get the shears.
Roger and Helen together had given Grandfather Emerson a whole desk set, Roger hammering the metal and Helen providing and making up the pad and roller blotter and ink bottle. It was a handsome set. The blotter was green and the Ethels had made a string basket out of which came the end of a ball of green twine, and a set of filing envelopes, neatly arranged in a portfolio of heavy green cardboard.
All of the family had helped make the Chautauqua scrapbook that was Mrs. Emerson's principal gift from her grandchildren. Helen had written the story of their summer at Chautauqua, Roger had typed it on a typewriter at school, and the others had chosen and pasted the pictures that illustrated it. Ethel Blue had added an occasional drawing of her own when their kodaks gave out or they were unable to find anything in old magazines that would answer their purpose, and the effect was excellent. Katharine looked it over with the greatest interest.
"Here you are, all of you, going over from Westfield to Chautauqua in the trolley," she exclaimed, for she had made the same trip herself.
"And here are the chief officers of Chautauqua Institution—Bishop Vincent and some of the others."
"And here's the Spelling Match—my, that Amphitheatre is an enormous place!"
"This is the hydro-aeroplane that we flew in, Ethel Brown and I."
"These are different buildings on the grounds—I recognize them. This is a splendid present," complimented Katharine.