FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS AND THEIR WINTER FUN
MABEL C. HAWLEY
AUTHOR OF "FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS AT BROOKSIDE FARM," "FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS AT OAK HILL SCHOOL," ETC.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Akron, Ohio New York
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Four Little Blossoms and Their Winter Fun
Made in the United States of America
I THE FIRST SNOW-STORM II BOBBY IS RESCUED III AUNT DOROTHY'S LOCKET IV WHEN THE BOBSLED UPSET V MEG IN TROUBLE VI THE ORANGE AND THE BLACK VII A BIRTHDAY PARTY VIII DOWN ON THE POND IX A NEW KIND OF JAM X WORKING FOR THE FAIR XI BOBBY'S MEANEST DAY XII BUILDING A SNOW MAN XIII THE TWINS HAVE A SECRET XIV LOST IN THE STORM XV GREAT PREPARATIONS XVI OVER THE CROSS ROAD XVII MR. MENDAM XVIII AT LAST THE FAIR
FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS AND THEIR WINTER FUN
THE FIRST SNOW-STORM
"Where's Mother?" Meg and Bobby Blossom demanded the moment they opened the front door.
It was the first question they always asked when they came home from school.
Twaddles, their little brother, looked up at them serenely from the sofa cushion on which he sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of the hall stairs.
"Mother and Aunt Polly went uptown," he informed his brother and sister. "They're going to bring us something nice. They promised."
Meg pulled off her hat and unbuttoned her coat.
"I'm starving," she announced. "It's awfully cold out. What are you doing anyway, Twaddles?"
"Sliding down the banisters," answered Twaddles calmly. "See, we spread down sofa cushions so 's we wouldn't hurt ourselves. It's Dot's turn now. Hi, Dot!" he ended in a shout.
"Here I come—look out!" With a swish of pink gingham skirt a small, plump little girl came flying down the banister to land luckily on a red satin sofa cushion ready to receive her.
"Well, I must say," announced Meg with dignity, "that's a fine way to do—using Mother's best sofa cushions! Where's Norah?"
"Gone to the movies," replied Dot, pushing the hair out of her eyes and smiling sunnily. "She waited till she saw you turn the corner, 'cause she said she wouldn't leave us alone."
Twaddles, who had been pressing his short nose against the glass in the door panel hoping to see his mother coming with the promised gift, suddenly wheeled and tried to stand on his head. That was Twaddles' way of expressing delight. "It's snowing!" he cried. "Little fine snowflakes, the kind that Daddy says always last. Oh, I hope we have coasting. I'll bet it snows all night."
"You said that Thanksgiving," retorted Bobby gloomily, "and it just snowed enough to cover the ground one night and melted 'fore we were up the next morning. And here it is January, and it hasn't snowed since."
"'Sides the sled is busted," agreed Twaddles mournfully, quite willing to be melancholy if some one would show him the way. "Even if it did snow, we couldn't have any fun without a sled."
"I guess we can mend it, maybe," interposed Meg cheerfully. "I'm going out and get some bread and peanut butter. Who wants some?"
They all did, it seemed, even Dot and Twaddles, who were too young to go to school, but who managed to have famous appetites as regularly as the older children. Mother Blossom allowed them to have what Norah called a "snack" every afternoon after school, and Meg was always careful to see that they ate only the things permitted and that no one dipped into the cake box.
"Look how white!" cried Dot, finishing her bread and butter first, and kneeling on a kitchen chair to see out of the window. "The ground is all covered already and you can see feetsteps."
"Footsteps," corrected Bobby, taking a last large bite of his lunch.
"Shoesteps," insisted Meg, closing the pantry door and putting away the bread.
"That isn't a shoestep," argued Bobby, pointing to a particularly clear and distinct print in the snow just outside the window.
"'Tis, too," scolded Meg. "That's where Sam went out to the garage."
"'Tisn't a shoestep, 'tisn't a shoestep!" chanted Bobby, bent on teasing.
Meg's fair face flushed. She was exasperated.
"What is it, then?" she snapped.
Bobby measured the distance to the hall door.
"A rubberstep!" he shouted triumphantly. "Sam wore his rubbers! Yah!"
"You think you're smart!" said Meg, half laughing and half frowning. "Just you wait, Bobby Blossom!"
She darted for him, but Bobby was too quick. He dashed out into the hall, Meg following, and Dot and Twaddles trailing after them. Shrieking and shouting, the four raced into the dining-room, tore twice around the table, then into the long living-room, where Meg managed to corner Bobby under the old-fashioned square piano.
They had forgotten to be angry by this time, and after she had tickled him till he begged for mercy—Bobby was extremely ticklish—they crawled out again, disheveled and panting, and were ready for something new.
"I'm going to get some snow," declared Dot, beginning to raise one of the windows.
"Don't! You'll freeze Mother's plants," warned Meg. "Dot Blossom, don't you dare open that window!"
For answer Dot gave a final push and the sash shot up and locked half way.
"Oh, it's love-ly!" cried Dot, leaning out and scooping up a handful of the beautiful, soft, white stuff. "Just like feathers, Meg."
"You'll be a feather if you don't come in," growled Bobby sternly. "Look out!"
Dot, leaning out further to sweep the sill clean, had slipped and was going headlong when Bobby grasped her skirts. He pulled her back, unhurt, except for a scratch on her nose from a bit of the vine clinging to the house wall and a ruffled disposition.
"You leave me alone!" she blazed. "You've hurt my knee."
"Want to fall on your head?" demanded Bobby, justly indignant. "All right, if that's the way you feel about it, I'll give you something to be mad about."
Before the surprised Dot could protest, he had seized her firmly around the neck and, holding her tightly (Bobby was very sturdy for his seven years), he proceeded to wash her face with a handful of snow he hastily scooped from the window sill. Dot was furious, but, though she struggled and squirmed, she could not get free.
"Now you'll be good," said Bobby, giving her a sounding kiss as he let her go, for he was very fond of his headstrong little sister. "Want your face washed, Twaddles?"
There was a sudden rush for the window and Meg and Twaddles and Dot armed themselves with handfuls of snow. Dot made for Twaddles, for she saw more chance of being able to capture him, and Bobby had designs on Meg.
"Glory be! Where to now?" Norah's cry came from the pantry as four pairs of stout shoes thundered through her kitchen and up the back stairs. Norah, if the children had stopped long enough to hear, would have told them that she had hurried home to start supper after seeing the "episode" of the serial picture she was interested in at the motion picture house.
Dot sounded like a husky young Indian as she hurled herself upon Twaddles in the center of Aunt Polly's carefully made bed in the guest-room and rubbed what was left of her handful of snow into his eyes and mouth.
"My, it's wet," he sputtered. "Let go, Dot! Ow! you're standing on my finger."
Meg had dashed into her mother's room, and, banging the door in Bobby's face, turned the key. She was safe!
Bobby had no intention of being defeated. When he heard the key turn in the door he looked about for a way to outwit Meg. He might be able to climb through the transom if he could get a ladder or a chair.
His own room was next to his mother's, and, turning in there to get a chair, he saw the window. It opened on the roof of the porch, as did the windows in his mother's room. What could be simpler than to walk along the roof of the porch, raise a window and get in? He could gather up more snow, too, as he went along, and just wouldn't he wash Meg's face for her!
"What you going to do?" asked Twaddles, as Bobby hoisted his window.
Dot and Twaddles, tiring of their own fracas, had come in search of Meg and Bobby.
"You wait and you'll see," answered Bobby mysteriously, putting one leg over the sill.
Dot and Twaddles crowded into the open window to watch him as he picked his way along. There was a linen closet between the two rooms, so Bobby had some space to cover before he came to the windows of the room where Meg was hiding.
"My goodness!" whispered that small girl to herself, parting the white curtains to look out as she heard footsteps on the porch roof. "He might fall; it's ever so slippery!"
It was slippery; in fact, the roof was much harder to walk on than Bobby had suspected. For one thing, the roof sloped, and he had to cling to the side of the house as he walked; then, too, the fine driving snow almost blinded him; and a third reason that made it hard going was the way the snow caked and clung to his shoes.
He had reached the window where Meg was waiting, so interested in watching him that she had forgotten why he was coming, and he stooped for a handful of fresh snow. Meg grinned cheerfully at him as he straightened up.
"I'll let you in," she called through the glass, beginning to push up the window.
Bobby reached out to get a good grip on the window frame, missed the ledge and lost his balance. His foot slipped as he threw out his arms to save himself.
BOBBY IS RESCUED
Before the frightened gaze of three pairs of eyes Bobby slid backward over the edge of the porch roof, out of sight.
"He'll be killed!" sobbed Meg, dashing for the door.
She unlocked it and fled down the hall, followed by Dot and Twaddles.
"What is it? What is it?" screamed Norah, as she caught a glimpse of Meg's white face from the dining-room where she was beginning to set the supper table. "Has anything happened to any of ye?"
Meg was already out of the front door. Norah caught up her red shawl and ran after her.
Norah had lived with the Blossoms ever since Bobby was a baby. He was now seven years old. There were four little Blossoms now, and never a dispute about the "baby of the family," for there were two of them! Dot and Twaddles were twins, you see. They were four years old, but liked to be considered older, as many of the younger children do.
If you have read the first book of this series, called "Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm," you already know many of their friends, and above all their Aunt Polly Hayward, who was their mother's older sister. Brookside Farm was Aunt Polly's home, and the four children spent a beautiful summer there with her and learned about farm life and were given a calf, "Carlotta," for their very own. This first book, too, explains about the real names of the four little Blossoms. Bobby was Robert Hayward Blossom, Meg's right name Margaret Alice, like her mother's, and Dot's, Dorothy Anna. Twaddles had a very nice name, too, Arthur Gifford Blossom, and no one ever knew why he was called Twaddles. It seemed to suit him, somehow.
The Blossoms, Father and Mother Blossom and the four children, lived in a town called Oak Hill, where Father Blossom owned a large foundry at one end of the town. Meg and Bobby, of course, went to school. You may have read the book before this one, called "Four Little Blossoms at Oak Hill School," which tells about the troubles Bobby encountered and how he came safely through them, and of how the twins were so eager to go to school that they finally did in spite of the fact that they were only four years old. If you read that book you will remember that Aunt Polly came down to visit Mother Blossom over Thanksgiving and went to the school exercises to hear Meg and Bobby recite. She stayed for Christmas, too. And finally, because every one loved her very much and because she had no little people of her own at Brookside, she yielded to the persuasion of Father and Mother Blossom and promised to spend the rest of the winter in Oak Hill.
Besides Norah, there lived with the Blossoms Sam Layton, who ran Father Blossom's car and did all the outside work about the place; Philip, a very intelligent and amiable dog, and Annabel Lee, an affectionate and much beloved cat. Dear me, Twaddles had some rabbits, too. He would want you to know those. And now that you are properly introduced, let us go and see what happened to Bobby.
Meg fell down every one of the front steps in her anxiety to reach her brother, and Norah alone saved the twins from a like fall. They tumbled into her and the three held each other up. At least that is the way Twaddles explained it.
"Bobby! Oh, Bobby, are you dead?" wailed Meg, looking, for some inexplicable reason, toward the porch roof. Of course Bobby couldn't be up there when he had fallen off.
"Of course I'm not dead," the indignant voice of Bobby assured her. "I'm all right, not hurt a bit. But I'm stuck in this old bush."
He had had the good fortune, for he might have been seriously hurt if he had struck the ground, to tumble into a large bush planted a short distance from the porch. This bush had not been trimmed for years, and new shoots had grown up and mingled with the old branches until it was very tough and tangled and strong. Plunged in the middle of this sturdy old friend, was Bobby.
"Why don't ye come out?" demanded Norah, relieved to find that he was not hurt. "I left the teakettle boiling over to come and see if ye were killed."
"I can't get out," said Bobby, struggling. "Lend us a hand, can't you, Twaddles?"
Bobby had fallen with enough force to wedge himself tightly into the heart of the bush, and indeed it was no easy matter to dislodge him. Norah took one hand and Meg the other, and they tugged and pulled till Norah was afraid they might pull him out in pieces.
"Where's Sam?" panted Meg. "He could bend down some of the branches."
"Sam," said Norah, "has gone to meet your father with the car."
"Here comes Mother!" shouted Twaddles, as a familiar figure came up the path. "Oh, Mother, Bobby's stuck!"
Mother Blossom was used to "most anything." She said so often. The four little Blossoms had heard her. So now, though Aunt Polly gasped to see the front door wide open and the hall light streaming out over the snow, three children dancing about in the cold with no wraps on and a fourth nearly buried in a tall bush, Mother Blossom merely put down the two or three bundles she carried, leaned her weight against the bush and directed Norah how to bend down other branches. Then, holding on to his mother's arm, Bobby crawled out.
"Run in, every one of you, before you take cold," commanded Mother Blossom quickly. "What have you been doing? Dot looks as though she had been through a mill."
Sweeping them before her, Mother Blossom soon had them marshaled into the house. Aunt Polly closed the door and Norah flew to her neglected kitchen. It was dark outside by this time, and the steadily falling snow had spread a thick carpet on the ground.
"Did you bring us something?" asked Dot expectantly, her hair-ribbon over one eye and both pockets torn from her apron.
"Did you bring us something?" inquired Twaddles, shaking Mother Blossom's packages to try to find out what was in them.
"Did you bring us something?" said Meg and Bobby together, each holding out a hand for overshoes.
Mother Blossom gave hers to Bobby, and Aunt Polly handed hers to Meg, to be put away in the hall closet under the stairs. Just as Meg closed the door of the closet the doorbell rang.
"There's the boy now," announced Mother Blossom. "He's bringing you the something nice I promised."
The boy from Gobert's, the hardware store uptown, probably had never received a more enthusiastic welcome in his life than that he experienced at the Blossom house. Four children flung open the door for him and fell upon him crying: "Where is it? Who's it for? Let me see it!"
He was a tall, thin boy, with a wide, cheerful grin, and four children pouncing upon him at once could not shake his self-possession.
"Got two sleds," he said impressively. "Mrs. Blossom said to send 'em right up. Where do you want them?"
"Put them down there on the rug," directed Mother Blossom, smiling. "Don't you want to come in and get warm, Ted?"
"No thanks," replied Ted, putting on his cap, again. "Want to hustle right home to supper. Looks like a big storm."
He stamped down the steps into the snow, and Meg closed the hall door.
"Two sleds!" Twaddles was round-eyed with admiration. "Now I won't have to wait all afternoon for my turn."
"Unwrap them," said Mother Blossom. "They're just alike, one for the girls, and one for you and Bobby. Aunt Polly bought one as her gift."
Aunt Polly had gone upstairs to take off her hat, but the shouts of excitement brought her back quickly.
"Flexible flyers!" cried Bobby. "Oh, Mother, can't we go out to-night?"
"Mercy, no," answered Mother Blossom. "To-morrow's Saturday, and you'll have plenty of time to play in the snow. Hurry now, and get ready for supper. I shouldn't want Daddy to come home and find his family looking like wild Indians."
It was too much to expect that the children could think or talk anything but sleds and snow that evening, and many were the anxious peeps taken through the living-room windows after supper to see how deep the feathery stuff was.
"Still snowing," reported Sam, as he brought in a great armful of wood for the fireplace. "Looks like real winter at last."
Mother Blossom was mending the twins' mittens, for their thumbs had a way of coming through, no matter how often she knitted them new pairs or darned the old.
"I'm going upstairs to hunt my muffler," said Meg. "I think I left it in the bureau drawer, but I'd better look."
Father Blossom laughed.
"You all evidently plan to start out right after breakfast, don't you?" he teased them. "Where is the best coasting, Bobby?"
"On Wayne Place hill," replied Bobby. "My, I'm anxious to let Fred Baldwin see the new sled."
Aunt Polly folded up her embroidery.
"I'll go upstairs with you, Meg," she said. "I've something I want to show you. Come into my room after you find your scarf."
As they went upstairs they met Twaddles coming down, carrying the cat, Annabel Lee, in his arms.
"Going to give her a ride on the sled—just in the hall," he informed them. "If she gets used to sleds in the house, maybe she'll like to take a ride outdoors. Philip could pull her."
Aunt Polly was doubtful about Annabel Lee's feelings toward sleds, but Twaddles was sure she would learn to like coasting.
AUNT DOROTHY'S LOCKET
"Aunt Polly?" Meg tapped lightly on her aunt's door.
"Yes, dear, come in," called Aunt Polly. "You found your muffler? That's good. Come over here and see this."
Aunt Polly was seated before her open trunk, a little white box on her knees. Meg came and stood beside her.
"This was your great-great Aunt Dorothy's," said Aunt Polly, opening the little box.
It was lined with blue velvet and on the velvet lay a little gold locket.
"Oh, how pretty!" exclaimed Meg.
The locket was round and set with tiny blue stones that formed three forget-me-not flowers. In the center of each flower sparkled a tiny diamond.
"The blue stones are turquoises," explained Aunt Polly. "Great Aunt Dorothy wore her locket on a bit of black velvet, but I bought this chain for you. Do you like it, dear?"
"Is it for me?" asked the surprised Meg. "For me, Auntie? Can I wear it to school and show it to the girls? Oh! can I?"
"It is for you," Aunt Polly assured her small niece, kissing her. "But, honey, you must be careful of it. Wear it to school one day, if you want to, and then keep it for special times. You see, you must save it for your little girl."
"My little girl?" echoed Meg, wonderingly. "Why?"
"Because," explained Aunt Polly seriously, "this locket has always been handed down to the oldest daughter. Great-great Aunt Dorothy gave it to her daughter, and she gave it to her oldest daughter and so on. Some might say I should give it to Dot, because she is named for great Aunt Dorothy, but you are the oldest daughter. I had it instead of your mother for that reason. And as I have no daughter, it goes to you."
Meg ran downstairs to show her gift, and the sleds were forgotten while the children crowded around to examine the pretty locket.
"You must be very careful of it, Daughter," said Father Blossom. "You know you've lost two or three trinkets. This is the kind of thing you can't replace if you lose it."
"I'll be careful," promised Meg, clasping the fine gold chain around her neck again and dancing off to the kitchen to show her treasure to Norah.
The next morning it had stopped snowing, but there was, as Sam remarked, "enough and to spare" of snow for coasting. The minute breakfast was over the four little Blossoms, warmly bundled up, were out with their sleds.
Wayne Place hill was a famous coasting hill, and all kinds of children with all kinds of sleds were on hand to enjoy the first real sledding of the winter.
"Trade with you, Bobby," called a freckle-faced boy, dragging an old tin tray.
"Won't trade," he called back. "But you can go down with me."
So the freckle-faced boy, whose name was Palmer Davis, took turns coasting downhill on his tray, which he managed very skilfully, and going down with Bobby on the brand-new sled.
Bobby taught Meg how to steer, and he usually pulled Twaddles up the hill, while Meg gave Dot an extra ride. They coasted the whole morning and went back for the afternoon.
"I'd never get tired," declared Twaddles, as they were starring home. "I could go sledding all my life!"
"I never get tired, either," announced Dot, from the sled where she was comfortably tucked on and being pulled along by patient Meg.
"That's 'cause you're too young to work," said Meg bluntly, giving the rope such a sudden pull that Dot nearly went over backward.
"She isn't too young," cried Twaddles, who always disliked any allusion to age; he and Dot wanted to be thought just as old as Bobby and Meg. "Hi, Meg, listen! I'm telling you——"
Twaddles twisted around to catch Meg's attention and fell over into a snow drift that lined the edge of the walk. When he had been fished out and brushed off, he had forgotten what he had meant to tell.
Sunday it snowed more, and a high wind whirled the flakes about till the older folk shook their heads and began to talk about a blizzard. However, by Monday morning the wind had died down and the snow had stopped, though the sun refused to shine.
"Sam says it's awful cold," said Norah, bringing in the hot cakes for breakfast. "He's got the walks cleaned off, but maybe the children shouldn't go to school."
"Nonsense!" said Mother Blossom briskly. "Meg and Bobby both have rubber boots and warm mittens and coats. A little cold won't hurt them."
"And sledding after school, Mother?" urged Twaddles. "Dot and I have rubber boots, too."
"And in summer we can't go coasting," said the practical Dot.
"That's so, you can't," laughed Father Blossom, kissing her as he hurried out to the waiting car to go to his office. "Waiting for warm weather for coasting is a pretty poor way to spend one's time."
Meg wore her locket to school, and long before the noon hour every girl had heard about great-great Aunt Dorothy, had tried on the locket, and had wished she had one exactly like it.
"Wouldn't it be awful if you lost it!" said Hester Scott. "Then your little girl never could have a locket."
"But I'm not going to lose it," insisted Meg. "Mother says I have to take it off as soon as I come home from school. Then I'll wear it Sundays and birthdays and when we have company."
Many of the children had brought their lunch, and Meg and Bobby had theirs with them. Mother Blossom thought they should be saved the walk home at noon when the deep snow made walking difficult. The afternoon period rather dragged, though Miss Mason, the teacher, read them stories about the frozen North and their geography lesson was all about the home of the polar bear.
"My, I was tired of listening," confided Bobby, hurrying home with Meg at half-past three. "What do we care what polar bears do when we've got snow all ready to use ourselves?"
"Feels like more, doesn't it?" said the scarlet-cheeked Meg, trotting along in her rubber boots, her blue eyes shining with anticipated fun. "Can't I steer good now, Bobby?"
"'Deed you can," returned Bobby. "You steer better than most girls. There the twins are out with the sleds."
Dot and Twaddles, rubber-booted and snugly tied into mufflers and coats, greeted the arrival of the other two with a shout.
"Sam says it will snow more to-night," reported Twaddles gleefully. "Maybe it will be as high as the house, Bobby."
"And maybe it won't," said Bobby practically. "Where's Mother?"
Meg and Bobby went into the house to leave their lunch boxes and tell Mother Blossom they were at home.
"Be sure and take off the locket, Meg," called her mother, as Meg went up to her room to get a clean handkerchief.
"Meg!" shouted Bobby, "where's my bearskin cap?"
This cap was an old one Father Blossom had worn on hunting trips when a young man. It was several sizes too large for Bobby, and made him look like a British Grenadier, but he thought it was the finest cap in the world. He liked to wear it when playing in the snow because it was warm.
"It's in the blue box on your closet shelf," answered Meg. She was an orderly little sister, and the boys counted on her help to remind them where they had left their things.
"Meg!" This time the call came from Norah, who was putting away clean sheets in the linen closet. "Down on the kitchen table I left four drop cakes—one apiece for ye. Your mother said 'twas all right."
"Meg! Bobby! Hurry up!" shrieked the twins.
Bobby crammed his cap on his head and dashed down the front stairs. Meg seized her clean handkerchief, ran to the kitchen and got the cakes and went out by way of the back door.
"Thought you were never coming," grumbled Twaddles. "Cake, Meg?"
"One for you. One for Dot," said Meg dividing, and giving Bobby his. "Now aren't you sorry you were cross?"
"He wasn't," Dot assured her; the twins had a way of standing up for each other. "He was just afraid the others would use up all the snow 'fore we got there."
Really, there didn't seem to be much danger of that. Wayne Place hill was alive with coasters when the four little Blossoms reached it. The snow was still deep and soft on the sides, and packed hard and smooth in the center of the road.
"Here comes a bob!" cried Bobby, as the children began their walk up. "Look how she goes! Dave Saunders is steering."
The big sled shot past them, filled with high-school boys and girls.
"Ours is just as nice," said sunny-tempered Meg, catching Twaddles in a wistful stare.
WHEN THE BOBSLED UPSET
"Our sleds are ever so much nicer," declared Bobby sturdily. "Bobs are no fun, Twaddles. You can't see a thing 'less you're steering. Come on now; we're going down."
Bobby took his place on the sled, Twaddles grasped the belt of his coat tightly, and Meg pushed. Away they went!
"Hurry up, Dot," cried Meg excitedly. "Let's get down before they start to walk up."
"Can you steer it?" asked Dot cautiously.
"What a question!" Meg was indignant. "Didn't I steer it all day Saturday, silly?"
But Dot, for some reason, did not want to coast. To tell the truth, Meg had narrowly missed a tree Saturday afternoon, and after that Dot had shut her eyes tight every time they went down the hill.
"You go too fast," she complained now.
Meg looked at her little sister, genuinely surprised.
"Why, you have to go fast," she said. "You can't stop the sled after you get to going. And if you did all the others would run into you. Come on, Dot, you'll like it after the first ride."
By this time Bobby and Twaddles, rosy and panting, had reached the top of the hill.
"The snow's packed fine," said Bobby enthusiastically. "What are you waiting for, Meg? Feet cold?"
"No, they're warm enough," answered Meg, absently stamping her feet in the snow to prove it. "Dot's afraid."
"I am not!" cried Dot indignantly. "I just said Meg went too fast."
"And she wanted to know if I could steer," said Meg scornfully. "There's nothing to steering, is there, Bobby?"
"Well, of course, you have to be careful," answered Bobby. "Suppose I take Dot down? Want to go with me?"
"All right," said Bobby. "Meg, you'll give Twaddles a coast or two, won't you? If he kicks you in the back just shove your elbow into him."
Twaddles looked abashed. He had a habit, when excited, of kicking with his sharp little right foot, and Bobby strongly objected to being punched in the back when he was centering all his mind on the steering bars of his sled.
Dot settled herself comfortably behind Bobby and glanced back at Meg uncertainly.
"You don't mind, do you, Meg?" she asked timidly.
"Mind?" echoed Meg. "Oh, no, of course not. Silly Dot!"
Meg, Father Blossom had once said, saved a good many minutes that other people wasted in grumbling or envying or being cross. Meg seldom had mean little feelings.
"One, two, three—go!" shouted Dave Saunders suddenly.
A whole fleet of little sleds with shrieking youngsters on them shot down the hill.
"Gee!" cried Twaddles, forgetting and using his right foot vigorously. "Gee, isn't this fun!"
"There, did I steer to suit you?" asked Bobby of Dot, as he ran gently into a sloping snow bank and the sled stopped.
"It was lovely," sighed Dot. "Do it again, Bobby."
"All right," agreed Bobby. "You stay on, Dot, and we'll give you a ride back. But Twaddles, you walk."
"I should think he'd better," declared Meg severely. "Kicking me in the back like that!"
Twaddles was sure that he would remember the next time, and Meg forgave him.
At the top of the hill they lined up again, and Bobby found Tim Roon and Charlie Black on one side of him.
"Packs good, doesn't it?" said Tim affably.
During the fall and winter Tim and Charlie had occasioned a good deal of trouble for Bobby in one way or another, and he was not at all desirous of having much to do with them. In school, especially, they had landed him in a sad scrape, and Meg, too, had had to endure their teasing. Still, coasting was another matter.
"Have you been here long?" asked Bobby, as Dot tucked in her skirts and Twaddles planted himself behind Meg. "Why didn't you come to school?"
"Didn't want to," grinned Tim. "Charlie and I coasted all the morning, 'cept once when we saw old Hornbeck's buggy and horse coming. Had the whole hill to ourselves."
Dave Saunders shouted, and Meg and Bobby started. Down, down, they flew, Meg's small hands steering capably, Twaddles' right foot prodding her as enthusiastically as ever. Dot clung a little tighter to Bobby and gasped with cold air and delight.
They were almost at the end of the coast when a loud roar of laughter made them look back. A few rods behind, Tim and Charlie had upset, Tim falling head over heels into the snow at the side of the road and Charlie tumbling almost directly into the path of a coming sled. The boy steering, however, managed to swing out and avoid the limp and flattened Charles.
"Some spill," commented Bobby, using the slang he was learning in the school yard and putting out his foot as a brake, bringing his own sled to a standstill. "I'll bet that torn piece of runner caught on something."
They stood for a moment watching Charlie crawl out of the road and Tim scrambling out of the snow. Then they walked slowly up the hill for a last grand coast.
"'Cause it's getting dark," said Meg, "and Mother said we must come in at five o'clock. Let's ask Dave what time it is."
"Twenty minutes to five," said Dave, when they asked him. "Want to go down on the bob?"
"Oh, Bobby, can we?" Meg clapped her hands with delight. "I've never been on one. Come on, let's."
"What'll we do with our sleds?" asked Bobby doubtfully.
"Let Hester and me coast down on 'em, and then we'll keep 'em at the big tree till you come," suggested Palmer Davis.
Palmer had been using his tin tray cheerfully all the afternoon, but he did wish for a sled like Bobby's. If Bobby consented to his plan, he would have at least one good ride.
"All right, take 'em," said Bobby, giving his sled to Palmer.
Meg handed hers over to Hester Scott, who likewise had none of her own and had to watch her friends coasting, or hang on wherever there was room. She and Palmer immediately started down the hill on the borrowed sleds.
"Now pile on, kids," ordered Dave cheerfully. "Here, Dot, you and Meg will just fit in here between Rose and Louise. Bobby, get in here by Harold Cross. And, for goodness' sake, keep a tight grip on Twaddles. If he falls off we can't stop to pick him up. All set?"
This was to be the last trip of the bobsled before supper, and Dave packed on his passengers with extra care, desirous that they should each one have a final perfect trip. He was to steer, and took his place after the others were on. He sat before Rose Bacon, a pretty girl with dark eyes and a scarlet cap, and her cousin Louise Lathrop. Back of Louise sat Meg and Dot. Bobby and Twaddles were almost at the end of the load.
"Yah! yah! bet you upset!" taunted Tim Roon, who had watched enviously as Dave arranged his passengers.
"You keep still!" shouted the boys on the big sled. "All ready, Dave!"
With a sudden rush, the bobsled started. Dot clutched Meg frantically, and even Twaddles was startled. They had no idea it would seem so "different." The wind almost took their breath away, but they still had enough to scream with. You've noticed, haven't you, how every one on a bobsled just naturally screams when it is flying down a steep hill? It is partly the fun and partly the excitement, we suspect.
Laughing and shouting, they whizzed on, till, just as Dave was ready to shout to Fred Graves, the last boy, to put out his foot and Meg had a confused glimpse of the big tree they were passing where Palmer and Hester waited for them, something happened. The bobsled upset!
No one was hurt, though for a moment it was quite impossible to sort out the arms and legs and wildly waving feet and decide to whom they belonged. The boys were up first, and soon had the girls on their feet, some of them speechless from laughter. The four little Blossoms came up smiling, and though Dot had a scratch on her finger from a nail in some one's shoe, it was trifling and did not bother her.
"All right? Everybody accounted for?" asked Dave, like the good general he was. "All right then. Now I say we'd better streak it for home. I've got some good stiff Latin to study to-night."
"What's the matter, Meg?" asked Bobby suddenly.
Meg's eyes were frightened, and she was feeling around the neck of her dress. She had unbuttoned her coat and opened her gray muffler.
"My gold locket!" she gasped. "I've lost it!"
She began to cry.
"Lost something?" asked one of the older girls kindly. "What was it? Don't cry, Meg, we'll help you find it."
"It was her Aunt Dorothy locket," explained Dot, for Meg was already on her knees brushing the snow away. "Mother said she should take it off, and now it's gone."
MEG IN TROUBLE
"I did mean to take it off," protested Meg, frantically digging in the snow about the bobsled. "I went upstairs to put it in the box, and then Norah called me about the cakes. Oh, dear, what will Mother say?"
The news soon spread among the others that little Meg Blossom had lost her gold locket, and all the boys and girls turned to with a will to help her search for it. They looked up the road a way, because some thought the locket might have flown off before the sled upset; they hunted over every inch of the ground where they had been spilled out, for Dave was sure it must be there. But though they looked in possible and impossible places, no sign of the dainty gold locket with the turquoise forget-me-nots and the diamond dewdrops in their centers could the children find.
"Half-past five," announced Dave presently. "Awfully sorry, Meg, but your locket must be lost in the snow. It's too dark and too late to hunt any more now. You run along home and don't worry; maybe you'll get another one next Christmas."
"He doesn't know that this was great Aunt Dorothy's," said Meg sadly.
A very solemn little procession turned in at the Blossom front gate, for Dot and Twaddles were depressed, too. Bobby was towing both sleds and looked as sober as a judge.
"How late you are!" Aunt Polly, reading by the fireplace in the living-room, called to them as she heard the front door open. "Your mother began to worry about you. Is the coasting good?"
"Yes, I guess so," answered Bobby vaguely.
Twaddles sat down on the floor to pull off his rubber boots.
"Meg lost her locket!" he announced, seeing no reason why bad news should be concealed, especially when he was not to blame for it.
Mother Blossom came downstairs just in time to hear this.
"Meg lost her locket!" she repeated. "Not great Aunt Dorothy's? Oh, Meg, and I told you not to wear it out coasting!"
Poor Meg's tears came faster.
"I did mean to take it off," she sobbed. "An' then Norah called me and the twins were in a hurry, and Bobby wanted his cap, and I forgot about the locket. My darling little gold locket!"
Aunt Polly had come out into the hall, and now Father Blossom opened the front door to find Mother Blossom sitting on the last stair-step, Meg crying in her lap, and the rest of the family standing about with serious faces.
"Hello, anything happened?" he asked anxiously. "Is Meg sick?"
"She lost her locket," answered Dot.
"Well, well, that's too bad," said Father Blossom sympathetically. "Don't cry like that, Daughter. No locket is worth all those tears."
"Mother," confided Twaddles impartially, "is scolding her."
"Twaddles Blossom, march upstairs and get ready for supper," said Mother Blossom, half sternly, half smilingly. "I'm not scolding Meg. I want her to realize, though, that forgetting is a poor excuse, and that no matter how sorry we are after something has happened it is too late to do the right thing then."
"I'm so hungry," declared Dot, who couldn't bear to see Meg in trouble. "Couldn't we eat pretty soon?"
Mother Blossom went upstairs with Meg and helped her bathe her eyes, and at supper every one was careful not to mention the lost locket. Meg wasn't scolded any more, but every time she saw the empty blue velvet box in her bureau drawer she was reminded of her carelessness. Aunt Polly said nothing at all, but Meg wondered if she was sorry she had given it to such a heedless girl. Meg thought a good deal about the many "oldest daughters" who had kept the locket safely for her.
"We'll go and look for it after school," Bobby promised the next day; and though they did, they found no trace of it.
That night it snowed again, and Sam and Philip—Philip always assisted at cleaning the walks—had their work to do over again.
"Sleigh bells!" exclaimed Bobby, as the children were in the hall putting on their things for the walk to school. "Some one's calling."
He ran to look out of the dining-room window.
"Mother, it's the feed-store man," he shouted. "He's got a sleigh. Can we go?"
Mother Blossom stepped to the door. The "feed-store man" was Mr. Wright, and the four little Blossoms knew him very well.
"Morning!" They heard him greet Mother Blossom. "Nice winter weather we're having. Anybody going to school this morning? I'm driving around that way."
Meg and Bobby danced out on the front porch.
"Take us?" they cried excitedly. "We're all ready."
"Sure, I'll take you," was the hearty response. "Send Dot and Twaddles along, too. I'm going to the station and back, and I'll drop you at the school house and take them on with me. I'll have them back inside an hour, Mrs. Blossom."
Mother Blossom said Dot and Twaddles could go, and in another minute they were climbing into the sleigh, which was a low box wagon on runners, drawn by two lively bay horses.
The twins sat down cozily in the straw that covered the floor on the sleigh, but Bobby rode up on the seat with Mr. Wright, and Meg did, too. She usually did everything Bobby did.
"Had any snowball fights yet?" asked Mr. Wright, his breath coming out of his mouth like white smoke.
"No. We've been coasting," replied Bobby, "but we haven't had a snowball fight. Miss Wright won't let you throw snowballs near the school. She's afraid you'll break a window."
Miss Wright, the vice-principal of the Oak Hill primary school, was the feed-store man's cousin.
"That so?" he asked interestedly. "Well, now, I'll have to speak to Cousin Lelia. When I was a boy and went to school we had regular snowball fights. Built forts, you know, and chose a captain for each side and had real exciting times. You tell her you won't throw toward the school, and I shouldn't be a bit surprised if she let you build forts in the school yard and have a good battle."
"The snow's fine there," said Meg, catching Mr. Wright's enthusiasm. "It hasn't been touched since the first storm, only where the janitor dug out the walks. I'd love to have a snowball fight."
"Girls don't snowball fight, do they?" Bobby was quite scandalized, and appealed to Mr. Wright.
"Well, now, I don't believe they did when we were boys," admitted the feed-store man slowly. "But times have changed, you know. I should say that the side that lets girls have a place stands the best chance of winning this snowball fight you're planning."
"Can we stay?" begged Twaddles and Dot, who had overheard.
"I should say not!" declared Bobby crushingly. Meg might win her point, but he hoped he could still handle the twins. "You go straight home. And you can tell Mother, if we don't come in early, that we're having a snowball fight at school."
"You always have all the fun," grumbled Dot. "Why can't we stay a little while?"
"They'll have to say lessons right up to recess time, before they can even roll a snowball," Mr. Wright comforted the twins, driving the sleigh up to the curb before the school-house yard. "You and I are going to have a nice little ride while they're pegging away at their books. How's that?"
Dot and Twaddles were cheered by this thought, and they were able to see Meg and Bobby and the lunch-boxes go up the school walk without another protest.
"You go and ask her now," suggested Meg, as she and Bobby went into the hall. "Go on, Bobby. Ask her if we can have a fight right after school."
Bobby stood a little in awe of Miss Wright, the vice-principal, but the vision of snow forts, and perhaps himself as one of the captains, decided him.
"All right, I will," he said recklessly. "You wait for me, Meg. It's only quarter of."
Bobby hurried down the hall to the door marked "Office" and opened it. Miss Wright was nowhere in sight. There was no one in the office, and the clock ticked very loudly indeed.
"I'll wait a little," thought Bobby. "She has to come back to ring the assembly bells."
He studied the complicated system of bells that sounded the signals in each classroom for a minute, and suddenly the telephone rang shrilly. It startled him, and he jumped. He looked about uneasily. The bell kept ringing.
"I s'pose I'd better answer it," he said aloud, doubtfully.
"Hello!" he called, taking down the receiver.
"Hello," answered a strange voice. "Take this message, please. Miss Wright has a severe cold and will not be in to-day. Have Miss Garrett take charge of the assembly. That's all, thank you. Good-by."
Bobby blinked. Whoever had telephoned had spoken so quickly that he had had no chance to say a word.
THE ORANGE AND THE BLACK
Bobby put the receiver back, and at that moment the door opened and Mr. Carter walked into the office.
Mr. Carter was the principal of the primary and grammar schools, but usually spent most of his time at the grammar school. Bobby had been afraid of him once, but that was before he had learned to know him.
"Good morning, Bobby," said Mr. Carter pleasantly. "Has Miss Wright come in yet?"
"No, Mr. Carter. Some one telephoned," answered Bobby slowly, anxious to get the message delivered correctly. "She said Miss Wright had a solemn cold and wouldn't be in this morning."
"What kind of cold did you say?" asked Mr. Carter curiously. "Solemn? What kind of complaint is that?"
Bobby looked perplexed. He thought for a moment.
"Oh!" He had remembered. "It wasn't a solemn cold; it was a severe cold."
"That sounds more like it," said the principal smiling. "Was that all, Bobby?"
"She wants Miss Garrett to take charge of the assembly and she said that's all thank you good-by," repeated Bobby glibly, just as the speaker had rattled it off to him over the telephone.
"All right," agreed Mr. Carter. "I might as well stay the day out here. Let's see, it's about time for the assembly bell, isn't it?"
Bobby had almost forgotten what he had come to the office for. As Mr. Carter moved toward the bells, he recollected.
"I was going to ask Miss Wright," he hurried to say. "Could we—do you think we could, have a snowball fight out in the yard after school? With forts and everything? We wouldn't break any windows."
"I don't see any reason why you shouldn't have a snowball fight," said Mr. Carter promptly. "Remember about the windows and don't aim at any of the girls, and you should have no trouble."
"I guess the girls will be in it," said Bobby sadly. "My sister Meg wants to play, and I s'pose half the girls in school will want to come in."
Mr. Carter laughed, but offered no advice or sympathy, as he pressed the signal for the assembly. Girls, Bobby thought, joining the patient Meg in the hall, always managed to have their way; a fellow might as well give up to them from the first.
After assembly came lessons, and, finally, recess.
"Go out into the fresh air," ordered Miss Mason, who taught the room Meg and Bobby were in. "It isn't cold out—not too cold. No, Frances, you can't stay in and draw."
Miss Mason believed in fresh air, and she usually drove her class out into the yard, no matter what the weather, telling them that exercise would keep them warm. Those who tried to stay in the warm schoolroom were invariably disappointed, for Miss Mason opened every window as wide as it would go and let in the fresh cold air.
"Come on, Frances," called Meg from the doorway. "We're going to play something new."
Frances Smith followed Meg reluctantly, but when she heard about the snowball fight, she was immediately interested.
"Mr. Carter said we could," announced Bobby to the boys. "We must remember and aim away from the windows and not hit the girls. Let's begin to build the forts now."
"We'll have to have a general," said Tim Roon quickly. "I'll be general of the Americans."
"Huh," retorted Bobby. "What do you think the other side is going to be? My men are Americans, too."
"Who said you were a general?" jeered Tim.
"Well, he is," replied Palmer Davis heatedly. "Isn't he, fellows? I guess Bobby proposed this. Come on, who wants to be on Bobby's side?"
"I do," cried Meg instantly.
"So do I," said Frances Smith.
"Girls!" Tim Roon's tone was one of deepest disgust. "For goodness' sake, who ever heard of girls being in a snowball fight?"
"Well, we're going to be in this one," Meg assured him with spirit.
"You can't," said Tim.
"Can, too," insisted Meg. "We don't want to fight on your side, anyway."
The bell rang before they had this settled, and when Mr. Carter stopped Bobby in the hall to ask him how the plans were going, Bobby had to confess that they had done little beyond dispute over the names for the sides and whether the girls should be allowed to play.
"It's the girls' school, after all, as much as it is yours," said Mr. Carter thoughtfully. "Some of them, I imagine, will prefer to look on from the windows; but, if I were you, I would be glad to have those who want to play on your side."
"But Tim can't be American," insisted Bobby. "We won't be any other country."
"Then choose colors," suggested Mr. Carter, "Why not Black and Orange?"
Mr. Carter, you see, was a Princeton man, and he thought those colors very beautiful, as indeed they are.
Bobby overtook Tim Roon on the stairs and asked him about the colors.
"I'll be general of the Orange side," decided Tim promptly.
Tim never thought to ask any one his opinion. He always took what he wanted for himself and did not bother to consult the wishes of others.
"Then I'll be the Black," said Bobby. "We'll have to do a lot of work this noon to get ready. I'm glad we brought our lunch."
Tim's head was so full of snowball fights that he missed outright in spelling, and Bobby was discovered drawing a plan of a fort when he should have been studying his geography lesson.
"There," said Miss Mason when the noon bell rang, "now do try to get this wonderful fight out of your minds by the time the one o'clock bell sounds. And don't let me hear of any one going without his lunch to play in the snow. Eat first, and then play."
Bobby looked a little guilty. He had planned to hurry out and start the building of his fort and eat his lunch as he worked. He sat down with Meg and bolted the good sandwiches Norah had packed, very much as Philip sometimes ate his dinner. But then this was an exceptional occasion. Bobby didn't usually forget his manners.
"Come on, fellows!" called Tim, as the children streamed out into the yard. "Choose your sides—hurry up!"
As they chose their sides, Tim found, to his disgust, that he would have to have some girls under him. These were mostly sisters of the boys who lived in Tim's neighborhood, and though he had often pulled their braids and otherwise teased them, still they felt that for the honor of their home streets they were bound to fight on Tim's side.
After every one was enrolled on the Black's side or on that of the Orange, they set to work to build the forts. Such scrambling for snow! Such frantic scouring of corners for drifts from which to pack the walls! And mercy, such screaming and shouting! No game was ever played without a noisy chorus, and this was the most exciting game the Oak Hill children had found in a long time.
"Well, how is it going?" asked Miss Mason, as they came up, damp and rosy, in answer to the noon bell. "I watched you from the window for a few moments, but I couldn't tell what you were building."
Couldn't tell what they were building! If that wasn't like a woman! For a second Bobby was completely discouraged, and then he thought that of course Miss Mason couldn't be expected to know. She probably had no idea what a really good snow fight was.
"We were making forts," he explained. "Tim's is down by the gate and mine is under the chestnut tree. We've got a lot of ammunition made, too."
School was out at three o'clock, and a good many of the teachers came upstairs to Miss Mason's room to watch the fight from her windows. Only first and second grade pupils were supposed to take part, but the third and fourth grade children seemed naturally to drift in the direction of the piled up snowballs.
"We'll help you make 'em," they offered.
"That's fair enough," said Mr. Carter, who was to be referee. "You fourth graders help the first, and the third grade can be a reserve force for the second."
When enough snowballs were ready to begin with, the general of the Blacks retired behind the white walls of his fort and the forces of the Orange did the same. Mr. Carter blew shrilly on his whistle, and the battle raged.
Whenever a head popped up over the wall of either fort, whiz! a snowball would be flung toward it. Sometimes the head ducked, sometimes it was caught fairly.
"Gee, don't they sting!" Palmer Davis danced about, holding one hand to his ear. "Just you let me have a whack at 'em!"
The girls were aiming furiously, if blindly. And though Meg closed her eyes tight every time she threw a snowball, Bobby reported that several of her shots had hit a victim. Thanks to the good work of the fourth grade pupils, the supply of ammunition held out well.
Suddenly Bobby, who was standing on a little snow mound that raised him slightly above the wall, received a snowball squarely in the eye. He cried out with the pain, though he tried to smother the sound with his hand over his mouth.
"That was dipped in water and packed!" said Palmer angrily, picking up the ball and examining it. "That's no fair. Mr. Carter said packed snowballs weren't to be used. Let's see your eye, Bobby. Is it swelling?"
"Don't say anything," begged Bobby, letting Palmer inspect his eye, which was rapidly swelling. "Mr. Carter would stop the fight if he heard about the ball."
A BIRTHDAY PARTY
Palmer knew this to be true, for Mr. Carter had expressly said that at the first sign of unfair play the battle would be called off. He made few rules for his pupils, but those he did make were never to be lightly broken.
"I'll bet that Tim Roon threw it!" stormed Meg. "You wait!"
Meg was very quick to think and to act, and the sight of her favorite brother, one blue eye almost closed, roused her to strong measures.
"Come on, and rush 'em!" she cried, her little arms waving like windmills. "Don't stand here, throwing balls. Let's capture their old fort!"
For an instant they stared at her, and then, the idea appealing, the whole Black army poured over the side of the fort, and charged on the enemy, shrieking wildly. Bobby, who could barely see where he was going, was swept along with the rest.
Upstairs in the schoolhouse, the teachers looked at each other in surprise, and Mr. Carter was equally astonished.
"Surrender!" shouted Meg, the first to leap the wall of the Orange fort.
The Orange army simply backed. It was very funny to see them. They had not expected an open attack, and they were too taken by surprise to guard their piles of ammunition. As the opposing forces climbed their wall they dumbly gave way and moved back, back, till, with a cry of joy, the Black fighters swooped upon the orderly mounds of snowballs. With their ammunition gone, of course the Oranges could do nothing less than give in.
Mr. Carter came up laughing.
"Well, Tim, that was a surprise attack for fair, wasn't it?" he asked pleasantly. "I think we'll have to say the Black side won. Congratulations, Bobby. And now, Generals, shake hands, and the biggest fight in Oak Hill school history will be over."
Tim put out his lip stubbornly.
"I didn't know it was fair to play like that," he argued sourly. "We could have taken their fort easy, if you'd said that was the way to play. 'Sides Meg Blossom put 'em to it. Bobby hadn't a thing to do with that."
"Yes, Meg did," said Bobby hurriedly, trying to edge out of the crowd. "She really won the war."
"Just one moment," Mr. Carter spoke coolly, and yet there was an odd little snap in his voice that made every boy and girl turn toward him. "Look at me, please, Bobby. What happened to your eye?"
"Oh, gee," mumbled Bobby unhappily. He had hoped to get away unnoticed. "I guess—I guess a snowball hit it."
"A packed ball, probably dipped in water first," announced Mr. Carter, gently touching the poor sore eye. "Tim, do you know anything about such a ball?"
"No, I don't," said Tim hastily. "Nobody can say our side packed balls."
"No one can prove your side threw a packed ball," corrected the principal pointedly. "Still, it is hardly likely that Bobby's men would have hit their own general with a frozen ball. I don't intend to try to find out any more, Tim. But I'm sorry that in every game there must always be some one who doesn't play fair."
Mr. Carter said that Bobby should go home at once and let his mother put something on his eye. It was a real victory for the Black's side, he announced firmly. And Bobby, going home with Meg, his handkerchief tied over his puffy eye, felt like a real general, wounded, tired, but successful and happy.
Mother Blossom always knew what to do for the little hurts, and she bandaged Bobby's eye and listened to the account of the snow fight with great interest.
"Meg, Meg!" Dot's voice sounded from the front hall, as Mother Blossom finished tying a soft handkerchief around Bobby's head to hold the eye-pad in place. "Is Meg home yet?"
Dot appeared in the doorway of Mother Blossom's room.
"What's the matter with Bobby?" she asked.
Bobby explained, but Dot was too excited to pay much attention to the story of the fight. She had other matters on her mind.
"Meg, you've got a letter," she announced. "We all have. Only Twaddles and I opened ours."
"A letter!" repeated Meg, delighted. "Who wrote it?"
"Give Bobby his," directed Mother Blossom. "Open them, dears. That is the only sure way to know what is inside."
Meg and Bobby tore open the square pink envelopes together, but Meg read hers first.
"Marion Green's going to give a birthday party!" she exclaimed. "Isn't that fun! I can wear my white dress. What'll we take her, Mother?"
Mother Blossom said that they would think up something nice before the day for the party came, and then they heard Father Blossom come in, and down the four little Blossoms rushed to tell him about the snow battle and the party.
"I'm glad," announced Dot with a great deal of satisfaction at the supper table that night, "there's something in this town they don't say Twaddles and I are too young to go to!"
Everybody laughed, and Father Blossom said that Dot shouldn't worry about her age, for she was growing older every year.
Marion Green's party was the next Saturday afternoon, and Mother Blossom and Aunt Polly helped the children to get dressed.
"If I only had my locket," sighed Meg. "It would look so pretty with this white dress. Oh, dear! I wish I had remembered about taking it off."
Bobby and Meg had hunted often after school for the locket, but though they were sure they had been over every inch of ground where Meg had coasted, they could not find the pretty ornament.
"Don't sigh for things gone," said Aunt Polly, giving Meg a kiss. "We all know you will be more careful another time, dear. Now I'm sure you look very nice. And, as your grandmother used to say, 'behave as well as you look.'"
Meg wore a white dress with blue sash and hair-ribbons, and Dot was all in pink—dress, ribbons and socks.
"I hope," remarked Twaddles, as they started for Marion's house, "that the ice-cream will be chocolate."
"I don't think you should think about what you're going to get to eat," reproved Meg primly, feeling very much the older sister because she was wearing gloves, kid ones. "It's colder, isn't it?"
It really was very cold, and the four little Blossoms were glad when they reached Marion's house.
"The party's going on," observed Dot, as they went up the steps. She was seized with a sudden fit of shyness, and pressed close to Meg.
Meg and Bobby were experienced in the matter of parties, and they knew you went upstairs to take off your things and then came down to present your birthday present.
"See my new locket and chain," said Ruth Ellis, a little girl Meg knew, who was fluffing out her hair-ribbon before the glass in Marion's mother's room where the girls were told to leave their wraps. "My uncle gave it to me."
Poor Meg remembered her lost locket again. She thought it much prettier than Ruth's, and she would have been so glad to have it around her neck to show the other girls.
The four little Blossoms met in the hall and went down together. They had brought Marion a knitting set, two ivory needles with sterling silver tops, which folded into a neat leather case, and Marion, who was a famous little knitter, was delighted.
All the presents were put on the center table after they were opened and admired, and then the children played games till Mrs. Green announced that there was something in the dining-room to interest them.
"Gee, it is chocolate," whispered Twaddles shrilly, as the plates of ice-cream followed the sandwiches.
The cake was white with eight pink candles, and if anything looks prettier or tastes better than chocolate ice-cream and white cake, do tell me what it is.
"Now we can fish," remarked Marion, as they left the table.
Back of the wide deep sofa in the parlor, Marion's mother had fixed a "fish pond," and now she gave each guest a rod and line with a hook at the end, and told them all to try their luck.
Twaddles fished first. His hook mysteriously caught something right away, and he drew up a tissue paper parcel that proved to contain a little glass jar of candy sticks. Twaddles liked them very much.
Meg caught a pretty silk handkerchief, and Dot found a soap bubble set on the end of her line. Bobby's catch was a box of water-color paints.
After every child had fished and caught something, it was five o'clock and the party was over. They said good-by to Marion and her mother, and told them they had had the nicest time, which was certainly true.
"My, but isn't it cold!" exclaimed Mrs. Green, as she held open the door for a group of the party guests to go out. "We'll have skating next week if this weather keeps up."
The four little Blossoms hurried home, for the cold nipped their noses and the tips of Meg's fingers in her spandy new kid gloves.
"I like a party," said Dot suddenly, running to keep up with Bobby, "where you get presents, too."
Father Blossom opened the door for them, and they were glad to see the fire blazing cheerily in the living-room.
"Well, well, how did the party go?" asked Father, pulling off Meg's gloves for her, and drawing her into his lap. "Presents, too? Why, Twaddles, I thought this was Marion's birthday."
Twaddles unscrewed the top of his candy jar and offered Father Blossom a green-colored stick.
"We took Marion a present," he explained serenely. "But I guess her mother thought it wasn't fair for her to get 'em all. Everybody fished for something, Daddy."
DOWN ON THE POND
"A penny for your thoughts, Daughter," said Father Blossom presently.
Meg's lip quivered.
"I want my locket!" she sobbed, hiding her face against her father's shoulder. "All the girls have lockets and mine was nicer than any of them."
"Yes, it was," agreed Dot judicially, from her seat on the rug before the fire. "It had such a cunning snap."
"I don't care about the snap," retorted Meg, sitting up and drying her eyes on Father's nice big white handkerchief. "The forget-me-nots were so lovely and besides it was great Aunt Dorothy's."
Father Blossom now proposed a plan.
"I'll advertise for your locket, Meg," he said. "We'll offer a reward, and perhaps some one will find it. At any rate, it will encourage them to look for it. Right after supper we'll get pencil and paper and write out an advertisement for the Oak Hill Herald."
Father Blossom did not really believe that offering a reward for the lost locket would bring it back. He thought likely that it was buried under the deep snow beyond the sight of every one. But he knew that Meg would feel better if she thought that everything possible was being done to recover the pretty trinket.
After supper that night they wrote an advertisement, describing the locket, telling where it was lost, and offering ten dollars reward to the person who should bring it back. This advertisement was printed for three weeks in the Oak Hill paper, but though a number of people who read it did go out and scuffle about a bit in the snow on Wayne Place hill, partly in the hope of earning the reward, partly with a good-natured wish to help Meg, no one found the locket. The Blossom family were forced to conclude that it was gone forever.
The Monday afternoon following the party Meg and Bobby came rushing home from school with great news.
"Mother! Mother!" they shouted, flinging down lunch boxes and books in the hall and tearing upstairs like small cyclones. "Oh, Mother!"
Mother Blossom, sewing in Aunt Polly's room, looked up at them and laughed.
"Is there a fire?" she asked calmly.
Bobby was almost out of breath, but he still had a bit left to tell the news.
"They've swept off Blake's pond!" he gasped. "Everybody's going skating. The ice is great, Mother. Just like glass."
"Where are our skates? Can we go?" chimed in Meg. "It isn't a bit cold, Mother."
"Just cold enough to skate, I suppose," smiled Mother Blossom. "Well, of course you can't miss the first skating of the season. But I don't believe they want such little folks on the pond, dear. Some of the big boys will be likely to skate right over you."
"We'll keep near the edge," promised Bobby. "Come on, Meg. Where are our skates?"
Meg and Bobby had double runner skates, which are very good to learn on, and they had used them only once or twice because the winter before there had been practically no skating. Mother Blossom said the skates were in a dark green flannel bag, hanging in the hall closet, and the children tumbled downstairs to find them. You would have thought that they were afraid the ice would melt, if they didn't hurry.
Presently Mother Blossom and Aunt Polly heard sounds of argument.
"You can't go," cried Bobby. "You're too little."
"You haven't any skates," said Meg crossly.
"Mind your own business," shouted Twaddles, apparently making a rush at some one, for there was the sound of a scuffle and then a wail from Dot.
Mother Blossom dropped her sewing and went out into the hall.
"Children!" she cried warningly, leaning over the railing.
"Oh, Mother!" Bobby's voice was filled with protest. "The twins want to go skating!"
"Can't we, Mother?" said Dot eagerly, looking up at her mother imploringly. "Bobby and Meg always have all the fun. Can't we go?"
"They're too little," insisted Meg. "They haven't any skates, either. And Dot will get her feet cold and want to come home right away."
"Won't either," scolded Dot. "I am too going! Can't I, Mother?"
"Well, suppose you go till four o'clock," proposed Mother Blossom, who could always see both sides of a question. "If Bobby and Meg do not get cold, they may stay till half-past four. And you'll have to promise to do as Bobby says, twinnies, and keep out of the path of older boys and girls. You mustn't spoil good fun for other people who really know how to skate."
"I suppose you might as well tag along," conceded Bobby rather ungraciously. "Nobody let us go skating when we were only four years old, did they, Meg?"
"No, they didn't," agreed Meg.
"Next year we're going to have skates," announced Twaddles importantly. "Daddy said so."
Before they reached the pond, however, all ill feelings were forgotten, and the sight of the glassy oval, well-filled with skaters, completely restored the four little Blossoms to their usual good humor.
"Whee!" cried Dot, skipping with excitement. "Look how smooth! Let's make a slide, Twaddles."
Meg and Bobby sat comfortably down in a snowbank to put on their skates, and as they were working with the straps, Dave Saunders glided up.
"You kids want to keep out of the center of the pond," he advised them, not unkindly. "All the high school folks are out to-day, and when a string of them join hands the line goes almost across the pond. If you once slip, you're likely to be stepped on."
Meg and Bobby promised to stay near the outside edges of the pond, and Dave skated off with long, even steps that carried him away from them swiftly.
"It looks so easy," sighed Meg, standing up on her skates and wobbling a little. "I wish I could skate the way Dave can."
"Well, we have to practice," said Bobby sensibly. "Daddy says if you keep at it, by and by you find you're a good skater. Come on, Meg, let's take hold of hands."
Twaddles and Dot stood watching their brother and sister skate for a few minutes, and wished that they, too, had skates. Then they wisely decided to have as much fun as they could without.
"Smooth the snow down on this bank," suggested Twaddles, "and we can play it's a toboggan slide. I wish we had brought the sled."
Dot helped him to smooth down the snow, and then they joined hands and tried the first slide. It was rather rough in spots, but a good slide for all of that, with a thrilling break at the end where they fell from the bank down on to the ice.
"Let me slide, too?" asked Ruth Ellis, coming up to them after the twins had been enjoying their slide for a few minutes.
Of course they were glad to have company, and in a short time a number of the younger children who had no skates were enjoying the slide. Some of the girls were afraid of the tumble at the end, but Dot, who had always done everything Twaddles did, thought that was the best part of the fun.
Meg and Bobby skated back to them now and then to see that they were all right, and Bobby took off his skates once to try the slide while Twaddles tried to use the skates. They were too large for him, and a fall on the ice dulled his interest. He decided he would rather slide.
"They're going to have a big bonfire to-night," reported Bobby, on one of his trips back to the twins. "Things to eat—oh, everything! I wish Mother would let us stay up to skate."
"She won't, though," said Twaddles absently.
He was busy with a sled Marion Green had loaned him. Marion had tired of playing with her sled, and Twaddles had exhausted all the thrill of sliding down his slide on his feet. He wanted to play toboggan-riding, and when Marion offered him her sled he accepted gratefully.
"You'd better not try that," said Bobby seriously, watching Twaddles carefully drag the sled into the position he wanted. "Look out, Twaddles—you're foolish. How are you going to stop it when you get down on the ice?"
Twaddles, seated on the sled, looked down the glistening slide to the clear ice below the bank.
"With my foot, of course," he said carelessly. "It's just as easy. You watch."
Bobby watched, and so did Meg. So did a dozen of the children who had been playing on the slide. They saw Twaddles start himself with a little forward push, skim down the slide like a bird, take the jump at the end of the bank, and shoot out into the pond among the skaters.
"I knew he'd make a mess of it," groaned Bobby.
Twaddles apparently had forgotten all about using his foot. His sled swept across the ice, crashed into a skater, and Twaddles was sent flying in the opposite direction. The sled brought up against a tree on the other side of the pond, but Twaddles continued to skim over the pond directly toward a patch of thin ice.
His cry, as he broke through, was heard by every one on the pond.
"He'll be drowned!" wailed Meg. "Oh, Bobby, hurry!"
"He can't drown in that water. It isn't deep," said a man, skating past them and stopping to, reassure Meg. "Come on, youngster, you and I can get him out."
Bobby put his hand into that of the stranger and was pulled along rapidly toward the spot where the howling Twaddles stood in icy water up to his knees.
A NEW KIND OF JAM
As the man said, there was no danger that Twaddles would be drowned. Cold and wet and miserable, he certainly was, but the stranger rescued him easily, stretching out a long, thin arm across the ice and lifting the boy bodily out of the water, over the thin ice, and on to thick, firm foothold.
"There, there, you're just as good as ever," he assured the shivering Twaddles. "You want to run home as fast as you can go and get into dry shoes and stockings, and then you won't ever know you fell into the pond. Scoot, now!"
But Twaddles delayed.
"Is it—is it—four o'clock?" he asked, his teeth chattering. "Mother said we could stay out till four o'clock."
"It's five minutes after four," announced the stranger, consulting his watch. "You'll have to run every step of the way to make up for lost time. Run!"
Dot, of course, would run with Twaddles, and Meg and Bobby promised to return the sled to Marion. They had to walk all the way around the pond to get it for her.
"I fell in," said Twaddles beamingly, when he and Dot reached home.
Mother and Aunt Polly rubbed him dry and had him in dry stockings and sandals in a hurry, and then Aunt Polly and Dot decided to walk uptown and match some wool for the sweater auntie was finishing. Twaddles wanted to go, but Mother Blossom decided he had done enough for that day and had better stay at home with her.
"What are you doing, Mother?" asked Twaddles, watching her curiously, after his sister and aunt had gone down the walk. "Could I do that?"
"Now, Twaddles, you've seen me fill my fountain pen hundreds of times," answered Mother Blossom patiently. "You always ask me that, and you know I can't have you spilling ink all over my desk. Run away and find something pleasant to do till I finish this letter, and then we'll toast marshmallows over the fire."
Twaddles set out to amuse himself. He wished he had Philip to play with, but the dog was out in the garage and Twaddles had been forbidden to make the journey through the snow in his sandals. To be sure there was Annabel Lee, but the cat was in a sleepy mood and refused to wake up sufficiently to be amusing.
"Oh, dear," sighed Twaddles. "There's nothing to do. I wonder where Norah is?"
He scuttled down to the kitchen, which was in beautiful order, but no Norah was in sight She was up in her room changing her dress, but Twaddles did not know that.
"I'm hungry!" he decided, opening the pantry door. "Skating always gives you such an appetite."
He had heard some one say this.
As in most pantries, the favorite place for the Blossom cake box was on the highest shelf. Why this was so, puzzled Twaddles, as it has puzzled many other small boys and girls.
"I should think Norah might leave it down low," he grumbled, dragging a chair into the pantry with some difficulty and proceeding to climb into it.
By stretching, he managed to get his fingers on the cake box lid and pull it down. He opened it.
The box was perfectly empty.
"Why, the idea!" sputtered the outraged Twaddles, who felt distinctly cheated. "I wonder if Mother knows we haven't any cake. I'd better go and tell her."
But he didn't—not right away. For there were other boxes on the various shelves, and Twaddles felt it was his duty to peep into these to see what he could find. He was disappointed in most of them because they held such uninteresting things as rice and barley and coffee, nothing that a starving person could eat with any pleasure.
Then at last he thought he had found something he could eat. It was in a smooth, round glass jar with a screw lid and was a clear jelly-like substance that looked as though it might be marmalade or honey or some kind of jam.
He opened the jar without trouble and sniffed at the contents. It smelled very good indeed. Twaddles plunged in an investigating finger.
The jam stuck to his finger. Still, Twaddles could not get enough off to taste, and he had liberally covered all the other fingers on that hand before he pulled away from the jar.
"That certainly is funny jam," he puzzled, trying to scrape his fingers clean with the other hand.
"Twaddles!" called Mother Blossom. "Oh, Twaddles, where are you? Aren't you going to help me toast marshmallows?"
Twaddles backed out of the pantry, into Norah who had come downstairs, freshly gowned, to start her supper.
"Glory be!" she ejaculated. "Twaddles, what have you been up to now? If you've been messing in my pantry, I'll tell your mother. What's that all over your hands?"
"Jam," said Twaddles meekly.
Norah eyed him with suspicion.
"There's no jam there," she said. "Come over here to the light where I can see ye."
Norah took Twaddles' wrists in her hands gingerly, for he was a very sticky child, and turned his hands over to examine them.
"Jam, is it!" she snorted indignantly. "You just go and show yourself to your mother. See what she says about the jam. I declare, you can't keep a thing from the young ones in this house!"
Twaddles was glad to escape from the kitchen before Norah should discover the many things out of place in her pantry, and he went into the living-room, carefully holding out his gummy hands before him, to find his mother.
"Now, Mother," he began hesitatingly, "I was real hungry, so I thought I'd eat a little piece of cake. I knew you wouldn't mind."
"I didn't know we had any cake in the house," said Mother Blossom, in surprise.
"We haven't," explained Twaddles hastily. "So then I thought bread and jam would be nice. But I never saw such funny jam; I can't get it off."
Then, as Norah had exclaimed, Mother Blossom cried: "What in the world have you been into, Twaddles?"
She looked at his sticky fingers and then burst out laughing.
"My dear child," she said seriously, "I'm afraid you've found Daddy's pot of glue!"
And that is just what Twaddles had been into, and a fine time he and Mother had getting the sticky stuff off his fingers. It took them so long, using hot water and sand soap, that Mother Blossom declared they could not toast marshmallows that afternoon, and then Twaddles was sorry he had not waited.
"Such a lot of fuss about a little glue," he complained to himself, for Father Blossom scolded when he came home and found half of his glue wasted and he said that Twaddles should have no dessert for his supper; and Norah was very cross because she had to give her pantry an extra scrubbing, Twaddles having managed to track the floor with glue. "I have bad luck all the time," sighed poor Twaddles, blaming every one but the one small boy who was responsible for the bad luck.
"Daddy," said Bobby that evening, "I'd like to earn some money."
"Yes, Son?" answered Father Blossom encouragingly. "What do you want money for?"
"I heard Miss Mason saying to Miss Wright to-day at noon that Mrs. Jordan and her son are having an awful hard winter," explained Bobby. "Folks want to send Paul to a home, but Mrs. Jordan won't let 'em. She wants to go out doing day's work. But she's too old. Miss Mason says old people are so heady."
Father Blossom smiled.
"I think almost any mother, old or young, would fight to keep her son from being placed in a home," he said gently. "Do you want to earn money for the Jordans, Bobby?"
"Yes, sir," replied Bobby sturdily. "If you'd lend me the snow shovel, Daddy, Palmer Davis and I figured out we could earn a lot shoveling walks."
"Oh, no, Daddy," interposed Mother Blossom from the piano where she was helping Meg with her music lesson and yet listening to the conversation between Bobby and his father. "He's too little for that heavy work, isn't he?"
"I can, too," argued Bobby heatedly. "Can't I have the shovel, Daddy? Mother's always afraid I'm going to hurt myself. I'm not a girl."
"Well, Mother happens to be right," said Father Blossom firmly. "You and Palmer are altogether too little to try shoveling snow from walks; it's packed now and is work for a grown boy or man. If you had a shovel of your own, I shouldn't consent to any such scheme for earning money."
"There are other ways, Bobby," Mother Blossom assured him brightly. "I'm sure the other children will want to help when they hear about the Jordans. Why don't you, and some of the boys and girls in your class, give a little fair? We'll all help, won't we, Daddy?"
"But I don't know how to give a fair," objected Bobby.
WORKING FOR THE FAIR
"I do," said Meg, turning around on the piano bench. "You have tables, and on 'em things to sell, and everybody comes. Where could we have the fair, Mother?"
"I think here in the house," answered Mother Blossom thoughtfully. "We live near enough to the center of town for people to get here easily."
"But how do you have a fair?" persisted Bobby. "Where do we get things to sell? Can we do it all ourselves?"
"Certainly you can," declared Father Blossom. "You want the money to be your own gift, so you boys and girls must do the work. We older folk will help with advice. Mother can tell you all about it. Her church society gives two fairs every year."
Mother Blossom smiled as Bobby looked at her expectantly.
"You want to know how we do it?" she asked. "Well, first we choose our committees and plan the tables. There is usually a refreshment table; a table for fancy work, aprons, bags, and pretty handkerchiefs; if the fair is held in summer, we have a flower table; then a grab-bag table for the little people. After we plan how many tables we will have, the committees set out to collect the things to be sold. They go to the baker and ask for cake donations; and to ladies and ask them to bake cakes; they ask other ladies to make aprons and bags; Mr. Barber, the grocer, usually gives us something for the canned goods table. You see, the idea is to ask people to give all these things and then whatever they are sold for can go outright to the purpose for which the fair is held."
"Like new carpets for the church," put in Meg wisely.
"Yes, new carpets for the church, or new books for the Sunday-school library," agreed Mother Blossom. "Your fair will be for the Jordans, and the money you raise will help them through the winter."
Bobby was silent a long time, puzzling over the idea of a fair. Before his bed hour came he had decided that perhaps that was the best way to raise money, and anyway he would talk it over with the boys at school.
"I've been thinking," announced Mother Blossom at the breakfast table the next morning. "As our living-room isn't very large, I think three tables will be all we can comfortably arrange. As an extra attraction for the fair, why don't you give a little play?"
"A stuffed animal play," suggested Aunt Polly mysteriously. "If the children like the idea, don't you say another word. I'll make the costumes and drill them."
A stuffed animal play and a fair sounded delightfully exciting, and when Bobby mentioned his plans to a group of close friends at recess he found them most responsive.
"There's nothing much to do 'round now," said Palmer Davis. "I'm dead tired coasting every day. I'd like to help Mrs. Jordan."
Mrs. Jordan was an old woman who lived in a tumbled-down house. She had a crippled son, and had supported herself, since the death of her husband, by going out to work by the day. As she had always worked faithfully and never complained, Oak Hill people really did not know that this winter she had had a hard time to get enough to eat and coal enough to burn. Her son was unable to earn anything, and Miss Mason, for whom Mrs. Jordan washed, had thought that it would be a kindness to put him in a home where he would be well taken care of at no expense to his mother.
"I'll not hear of it!" declared Mrs. Jordan angrily, when the teacher mentioned this plan to her. "He's going to live at home with me as long as I have a roof to cover us."
Miss Mason, who, like many kind-hearted people, did not like her well meant offers to be refused, had told Mrs. Jordan plainly that she was ungrateful, and that she need not bother to come for the wash any more. So the poor old woman, who counted on this dollar and a half weekly, was deprived of that money. In Oak Hill so many housewives did their own work that there was not a great deal of extra work to be had.
Two or three of the boys backed out when Bobby explained that they must ask people for the things to be sold at their fair. But enough promised to go with him after school that afternoon to make it worth while to go on with the planning.
"Aunt Polly and Mother and Norah have promised to fix the 'freshment table," explained Bobby. "We're going to sell ice-cream and lemonade and cake. And Meg and Dot and the girls are going to get the things for the fancy work table. So we only have to get enough for one table."
"What kind of table?" asked Bertrand Ashe practically.
"All kinds I guess," returned Bobby. "Let's go to all the stores. And, oh, yes, we're going to rehearse the stuffed animal play to-night. Aunt Polly says as many as can, come over to our house."
After school that afternoon Bobby and his committee started out to get the things to sell at their fair. Now, no one likes to ask for things, perhaps, but Father Blossom had explained that it was very different when one is asking for something for some one else and not for one's own gain or pleasure.
"When you go into a store, remember that you are doing something for poor Paul Jordan and think bow you would feel if you were poor and lame," he had said to Bobby. "When you ask Mr. Barber for something from his shelves you're not asking for Bobby Blossom, but for Paul. That will make asking easy for you."
The first store the boys went into was the hardware store. Mr. Gobert, the proprietor, came forward when he saw the six boys.
"Want your skates sharpened?" he asked cheerfully.
The committee looked hopefully at Bobby. He had promised to "ask first."
"We're going to have a fair," gulped Bobby, his cheeks red, but his blue eyes looking at Mr. Gobert squarely. "It's for Paul Jordan and his mother. And we thought maybe you'd give us something we could sell."
"For that lame Jordan and his mother?" repeated Mr. Gobert. "Do you mean to tell me they need help? Is Mrs. Jordan sick?"
"She has rheumatism in her hands," said Bobby earnestly. "And she's so old and slow lots of folks don't have her wash any more. She's chopped down all the fence to build a fire with. And she doesn't want to put Paul in a home."
"Well, well," Mr. Gobert stared at Bobby thoughtfully. "So you're going to help her out by giving a fair, are you? Where's it going to be? Can I come?"
"At our house. Three weeks from Saturday," answered Bobby, wishing his committee would back him up with a few words and not stand by with their mouths and eyes so wide open. "We're going to have a play, too."
"I'm busy Saturday afternoons," said Mr. Gobert regretfully, "but I'll send Mrs. Gobert up to buy something. Now I wonder what I have you would like? How about a couple of nice penknives?"
Bobby thought knives would be very good indeed, and Mr. Gobert led them over to the case where all the penknives were displayed and let the boys choose any two they wanted. On his advice they chose a pearl-handled knife for a woman and a stag-handle which would please a boy or a man.
"Stop in at Hampton's," said Mr. Gobert when they thanked him warmly, the knives neatly wrapped and safe in Bobby's reefer pocket. "He ought to have something nice for you."
Mr. Hampton kept the stationery store, and when he heard about the fair he promptly gave the committee two boxes of writing paper, a pad of bright new blotters, and a bottle each of red, white, and blue ink. "To be patriotic," he said.
"They all want to know what it's for, then they're all right," said Bobby, as the boys hurried along to another shop. "Talking takes a lot of time, though."
The boys were really surprised to find how interested people were, and how generous. The grocer gave them six glasses of bright red jelly which, he said, would make their table look pretty as well as sell readily. The baker promised them a plate of tarts the morning of the fair. Steve Broadwell, the druggist, and a special friend of Bobby's, not only gave them three fascinating little weather-houses, with an old man and woman to pop in and out as it rained or the sun shone, and two jars of library paste, but told Bobby that he would save some bottles of cologne for Meg's table. The jeweler gave them four small compasses. Even kind Doctor Maynard, whom they met driving his car out toward the country, when he learned what they were doing, promised them a dollar as his admission to the fair "whether I get a chance to come or not."
"I'll bet we had better luck than the girls," boasted Palmer, as they started for their homes. "And we have more places to go to next week. What kind of play is it going to be, Bobby? Can we all be in it?"
"Aunt Polly said as many as wanted to could," replied Bobby. "She calls it a stuffed animal play. I don't know what that is, but Aunt Polly is lots of fun."
The boys promised to be over "right after supper," and Bobby ran in to find his family and tell them his afternoon experiences. He had to wait a few moments, because Meg and Dot were busy telling what had happened to them.
"We've got ever so many things," bubbled Meg enthusiastically. "The drygoods store gave us yards of ribbon; and Miss Stebbins said she had six pin-cushions she didn't want." (Miss Stebbins kept a small fancy-work store in the town.) "We saw Miss Florence, and she is going to dress two dolls for us. And we've got belt buckles, and sachets, and bags, and aprons, and, oh, ever so many things."
"Mr. Broadwell says to tell you he is saving some cologne for you," reported Bobby. "Say, isn't getting ready for a fair fun? And the boys are coming over to-night to see about the play, Aunt Polly."
"I'm all ready for you," said Aunt Polly capably.
BOBBY'S MEANEST DAY
Four boys and four girls rang the Blossom door-bell that night after supper, eager to take part in the stuffed animal play. With the four little Blossoms, that made twelve children, a most convenient number, Aunt Polly said.
"I'll show you what we're going to do," she promised them, beckoning to Twaddles and Dot to follow her. "Since the twins will have to go to bed in half an hour, we'll let them be the first demonstrators."
Aunt Polly and the twins went out of the room, and in three minutes there pranced back the cunningest little bear you ever saw. He wobbled about on his four legs, opened a red flannel mouth and yawned, shook hands with the delighted boys and girls and behaved altogether as a well-brought-up bear should.
"Let me do it!" shouted the other boys and girls. "Let me! Let me!"
The bear was unbuttoned down his back by smiling Aunt Polly, and the flushed and triumphant twins stepped out.
"Didn't we do it right?" they demanded happily. "Isn't it fun? But you can't be a bear—Aunt Polly said so. There's only one of everything."
Then Aunt Polly, who had cut out and stitched the white muslin case for the bear and painted his nose and lined his red flannel mouth, explained that for every two children there could be an animal. The play would be an animal play. They would act and talk as people would, only the actors would be lions and tigers and other animals.
"Choose what you would like to be to-night, and I will measure you and start work on the cases," she said. "And if you do not tell outsiders what kind of an animal you are going to be, that will double the fun."
So the other children, long after the twins had gone reluctantly up to bed, paired off and argued about their choice of an animal and changed their minds and finally decided. Then they were measured by Aunt Polly, and it was announced that three rehearsals a week would be held till the Saturday set for the fair. Mother Blossom brought in a plate of cookies and a basket of apples, and after these were eaten it was time to go home.
With all the preparations for the play and fair, school went on as usual. The children sometimes thought that it might be interrupted for a week or two without loss to any one, but the school committee never took kindly to this idea. They were sure that nothing in the wide world could be of more importance than regular attendance at school.