AUTHOR OF "PATTY FAIRFIELD," "PATTY AT HOME," ETC.
MY LITTLE FRIEND
MURIEL DUNHAM PRATT
I. MARJORIE'S HOME
II. THE TRIP TO HASLEMERE
III. ON THE ROOF
IV. A PAPER-DOLL HOUSE
V. SOME INTERESTING LETTERS
VII. A BOAT-RIDE
VIII. A MEMORY BOOK
IX. THE FRONT STAIRS
X. A LONG DAY
XI. THE DUNNS
XII. THE BAZAAR
XIII. A BIRTHDAY
XIV. "BREEZY INN"
XV. THE BROKEN LADDER
XVIII. WELCOME GIFTS
XIX. THE OLD WELL
XX. AN EVENTFUL DAY
XXI. A FAREWELL TEA-PARTY
In the Maynards' side yard at Rockwell, a swingful of children was slowly swaying back and forth.
The swing was one of those big double wooden affairs that hold four people, so the Maynards just filled it comfortably.
It was a lovely soft summer day in the very beginning of June; the kind of day that makes anybody feel happy but a little bit subdued. The kind of day when the sky is so blue, and the air so clear, that everything seems dreamy and quiet.
But the Maynard children were little, if any, affected by the atmosphere, and though they did seem a trifle subdued, it was a most unusual state of things, and was brought about by reasons far more definite than sky or atmosphere.
Kingdon Maynard, the oldest of the four, and the only boy, was fourteen. These facts had long ago fixed his position as autocrat, dictator, and final court of appeal. Whatever King said, was law to the three girls, but as the boy was really a mild-mannered tyrant, no trouble ensued. Of late, though, he had begun to show a slight inclination to go off on expeditions with other boys, in which girls were not included. But this was accepted by his sisters as a natural course of events, for of course, if King did it, it must be all right.
Next to Kingdon in the swing sat the baby, Rosamond, who was five years old, and who was always called Rosy Posy. She held in her arms a good-sized white Teddy Bear, who was adorned with a large blue bow and whose name was Boffin. He was the child's inseparable companion, and, as he was greatly beloved by the other children, he was generally regarded as a member of the family.
On the opposite seat of the swing sat Kitty, who was nine years old, and who closely embraced her favorite doll, Arabella.
And by Kitty's side sat Marjorie, who was almost twelve, and who also held a pet, which, in her case, was a gray Persian kitten. This kitten was of a most amiable disposition, and was named Puff, because of its fluffy silver fur and fat little body.
Wherever Marjorie went, Puff was usually with her, and oftenest hung over her arm, looking more like a fur boa than a cat.
At the moment, however, Puff was curled up in Marjorie's lap, and was merely a nondescript ball of fur.
These, then, were the Maynards, and though their parents would have said they had four children, yet the children themselves always said, "We are seven," and insisted on considering the kitten, the doll, and the bear as members of the Maynard family.
Kingdon scorned pets, which the girls considered quite the right thing for a boy to do; and, anyway, Kingdon had enough to attend to, to keep the swing going.
"I 'most wish it wasn't my turn," said Marjorie, with a little sigh. "Of course I want to go for lots of reasons, but I'd love to be in Rockwell this summer, too."
"As you're not twins you can't very well be in two places at once," said her brother; "but you'll have a gay old time, Mops; there's the new boathouse, you know, since you were there."
"I haven't been there for three years," said Marjorie, "and I suppose there'll be lots of changes."
"I was there two years ago," said Kitty, "but Arabella has never been."
"I'se never been, eever," said Rosy Posy, wistfully, "and so Boffin hasn't, too. But we don't want to go, us wants to stay home wiv Muvver."
"And I say, Mops, look out for the Baltimore oriole," went on Kingdon. "He had a nest in the big white birch last year, and like as not he'll be there again."
"There was a red-headed woodpecker two years ago," said Kitty; "perhaps he'll be there this summer."
"I hope so," said Marjorie; "I'm going to take my big Bird book, and then I can tell them all."
It was the custom in the Maynard household for one of the children to go each summer to Grandma Sherwood's farm near Morristown. They took turns, but as Rosy Posy was so little she had not begun yet.
The children always enjoyed the vacation at Grandma's, but they were a chummy little crowd and dreaded the separation. This was the reason of their subdued and depressed air to-day.
It was Marjorie's turn, and she was to leave home the next morning. Mrs. Maynard was to accompany her on the journey, and then return, leaving Marjorie in the country for three months.
"I wonder how Puffy will like it," she said, as she picked up the kitten, and looked into its blue eyes.
"She'll be all right," said Kingdon, "if she doesn't fight with Grandma's cats. There were about a dozen there last year, and they may object to Puff's style of hair-dressing. Perhaps we'd better cut her hair before she starts."
"No, indeed!" cried Marjorie, "not a hair shall be touched, unless you'd like a lock to keep to remember her while she's gone."
"No, thank you," said King, loftily; "I don't carry bits of cat around in my pockets."
"I'd like a lock," said Kitty; "I'd tie it with a little blue ribbon, and keep it for a forget-me-not. And I'll give you a little curl of Arabella's, and you can keep that to remember her by."
"All right," said Marjorie; "and I'll take a lock of Boffin Bear's hair too. Then I'll have a memento of all the family, because I have pictures of all of you, you know."
With the Maynards to suggest was to act. So the four scrambled out of the swing, and ran to the house.
The Maynard house was a large square affair, with verandas all around. Not pretentious, but homelike and comfortable, and largely given over to the children's use. Though not often in the drawing- room, the four young Maynards frequently monopolized the large living-room, and were allowed free access to the library as well.
Also they had a general playroom and a nursery; and Kingdon had a small den or workroom for his own use, which was oftener than not invaded by the girls.
To the playroom they went, and Kingdon carefully cut small locks from the kitten, the doll, and the bear, and Marjorie neatly tied them with narrow blue ribbons. These mementoes the girls put away, and carefully treasured all through the summer.
Another Maynard custom was a farewell feast at dinner, the night before vacation began. Ordinarily, only the two older children dined with their parents, the other two having their tea in the nursery. But on this occasion, all were allowed at dinner, and the feast was made a special honor for the one who was going away. Gifts were made, as on a birthday, and festival dress was in order.
A little later, then, the four children presented themselves in the library, where their parents awaited them.
Mr. Maynard was a man of merry disposition and rollicking nature, and sometimes joined so heartily in the children's play that he seemed scarcely older than they.
Mrs. Maynard was more sedate, and was a loving mother, though not at all a fussy one. She was glad in many ways to have one of her children spend the summer each year with her mother, but it always saddened her when the time of departure came.
She put her arm around Marjorie, without a word, as the girl came into the room, for it had been three years since the two had been parted, and Mrs. Maynard felt a little sad at the thought of separation.
"Don't look like that, Mother," said Marjorie, "for if you do, I'll begin to feel weepy, and I won't go at all."
"Oh, yes, you will, Miss Midge," cried her father; "you'll go, and you'll stay all summer, and you'll have a perfectly beautiful time. And, then, the first of September I'll come flying up there to get you, and bring you home, and it'll be all over. Now, such a short vacation as that isn't worth worrying about, is it?"
"No," put in Kingdon, "and last year when I went there wasn't any sad good-by."
"That's because you're a boy," said his mother, smiling at him proudly; "tearful good-bys are only for girls and women."
"Yes," said Mr. Maynard, "they enjoy them, you know. Now, I think it is an occasion of rejoicing that Marjorie is to go to Grandma's and have a happy, jolly vacation. We can all write letters to her, and she will write a big budget of a family letter that we can all enjoy together."
"And Mopsy must wite me a little letter, all for my own sef," remarked Rosy Posy, "'cause I like to get letters all to me."
Baby Rosamond was dressed up for the occasion in a very frilly white frock, and being much impressed by the grandeur of staying up to dinner, she had solemnly seated herself in state on a big sofa, holding Boffin Bear in her arms. Her words, therefore, seemed to have more weight than when she was her everyday roly- poly self, tumbling about on the floor, and Marjorie at once promised that she should have some letters all to herself.
When dinner was announced, Mr. Maynard, with Marjorie, led the procession to the diningroom. They were followed by Mrs. Maynard and Rosamond, and after them came Kingdon and Kitty.
Kitty was a golden-haired little girl, quite in contrast to Marjorie, who had tangled masses of dark, curly hair and large, dark eyes. Her cheeks were round and rosy, and her little white teeth could almost always be seen, for merry Marjorie was laughing most of the time. To-night she wore one of her prettiest white dresses, and her dark curls were clustered at the top of her head into a big scarlet bow. The excitement of the occasion made her cheeks red and her eyes bright, and Mrs. Maynard looked at her pretty eldest daughter with a pardonable pride.
"Midge," she said, "there are just about a hundred things I ought to tell you before you go to Grandma's, but if I were to tell you now, you wouldn't remember one of them; so I have written them all down, and you must take the list with you, and read it every morning so that you may remember and obey the instructions."
Midge was one of the numerous nicknames by which Marjorie was called. Her tumbling, curly hair, which was everlastingly escaping from its ribbon, had gained for her the title of Mops or Mopsy. Midge and Midget had clung to her from babyhood, because she was an active and energetic child, and so quick of motion that she seemed to dart like a midge from place to place. She never did anything slowly. Whether it was an errand for her mother or a game of play, Midge always moved rapidly. Her tasks were always done in half the time it took the other children to do theirs; but in consequence of this haste, they were not always done as well or as thoroughly as could be desired.
This, her mother often told her, was her besetting sin, and Marjorie truly tried to correct it when she thought of it; but often she was too busy with the occupation in hand to remember the good instructions she had received.
"I'm glad you did that, Mother," she replied to her mother's remark, "for I really haven't time to study the list now. But I'll promise to read it over every morning at Grandma's, and honest and true, I'll try to be good."
"Of course you will," said her father, heartily; "you'll be the best little girl in the world, except the two you leave here behind you."
"Me's the bestest," calmly remarked Rosamond, who seemed especially satisfied with herself that evening.
"You are," agreed King; "you look good enough to eat, to-night."
Rosamond beamed happily, for she was not unused to flattering observations from the family. And, indeed, she was a delicious- looking morsel of humanity, as she sat in her high chair, and tried her best to "behave like a lady."
The table was decorated with June roses and daisies. The dinner included Marjorie's favorite dishes, and the dessert was strawberries and ice cream, which, Kitty declared, always made a party, anyway.
So with the general air of celebration, and Mr. Maynard's gay chatter and jokes, the little trace of sadness that threatened to appear was kept out of sight, and all through the summer Marjorie had only pleasant memories of her last evening at home.
After the dessert the waitress appeared again with a trayful of parcels, done up in the most fascinating way, in tissue paper and dainty ribbons.
This, too, was always a part of the farewell feast, and Marjorie gave a little sigh of satisfaction, as the well-filled tray was placed before her.
"That's mine! Open mine first!" cried Rosamond, as Marjorie picked up a good-sized bundle.
"Yes, that's Rosy Posy's," said her mother, laughing, "and she picked it out herself, because she thought it would please you. Open it first, Midge."
So Marjorie opened the package, and discovered a little clock, on the top of which was perched a brilliant red bird.
Rosamond clapped her hands in glee. "I knew you'd love it," she cried, "'cause it's a birdie, a yed birdie. And I finded it all mysef in the man's shop. Do you yike it, Mopsy?"
"Indeed I do," cried Marjorie; "it's just what I wanted. I shall keep it on my dressing-table at Grandma's, and then I'll know just when to get up every morning."
"Open mine next," said Kitty; "it's the square flat one, with the blue ribbon."
So Marjorie opened Kitty's present and it was a picture, beautifully framed to hang on the wall at Grandma's. The picture was of birds, two beautiful orioles on a branch. The colors were so bright, and so true to nature, that Marjorie exclaimed in delight:
"Now I shall have orioles there, anyway, whether there are real ones in the trees or not. It is lovely, Kitsie, and I don't see how you ever found such a beautiful bird picture."
Marjorie had always been fond of birds, and lately had begun studying them in earnest. Orioles were among her favorites, and so Kitty's picture was a truly welcome gift. King's present came next, and was a beautiful gold pen with a pearl holder.
"That," he explained, "is so you'll write to us often. For I know, Mops, your old penholder is broken, and it's silver, anyway. This is nicer, because it's no trouble to keep it clean and bright."
"That's so, King, and I'm delighted with this one. I shall write you a letter with it, first of all, and I'll tell you all about the farm."
Mrs. Maynard's gift was in a very small parcel, and when Marjorie opened it she found a dear little pearl ring.
"Oh, goody!" she cried. "I do love rings, and I never had one before! May I wear it always, Mother?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Maynard, smiling. "I don't approve of much jewelry for a little girl not yet twelve years old, but you may wear that."
Marjorie put it on her finger with great satisfaction, and Kitty looked at it lovingly.
"May I have one when I am twelve, Mother?" she asked.
"May I, may I?" chimed in Rosy Posy.
"Yes," said Mr. Maynard; "you girls may each have one just like Marjorie's when you are as old as she is now. That last parcel, Mops, is my present for you. I'm not sure that you can learn to use it, but perhaps you can, and if not I'll take it back and exchange it for something else."
Marjorie eagerly untied the wrappings of her father's gift, and found a little snapshot camera.
"Indeed I can learn to use it," she cried; "I took some pictures once with a camera that belonged to one of the girls at school, and they were all right. Thank you heaps and heaps, father dear; I'll send you pictures of everything on the place; from Grandma herself down to the littlest, weeniest, yellow chicken."
"Next year it will be my turn to go," said Kitty; "I hope I'll get as lovely presents as Mopsy has."
"You will," said Kingdon; "because last year mine were just as good, and so, of course, yours will be."
"I'm sure they will," said Kitty.
THE TRIP TO HASLEMERE
The next morning all was bustle and excitement.
Mr. Maynard stayed at home from business to escort the travellers to the train. The trunks were packed, and everything was in readiness for their departure. Marjorie herself, in a spick-and- span pink gingham dress, a tan-colored travelling cloak, and a broad-brimmed white straw hat, stood in the hall saying good-bye to the other children. She carried Puff in her arm, and the sleepy, indifferent kitten cared little whither she was going.
"Be sure," Kingdon was saying, "to plant the seeds I gave you in a sunny place, for if you don't they won't grow right."
"What are the seeds?" asked Marjorie.
"Never mind that," said her brother; "you just plant them in a warm, sunny bed, in good, rich soil, and then you wait and see what comes up. It's a surprise."
"All right, I'll do that, and I suppose Grandma will give me a lot of seeds besides; we always have gardens, you know."
"Be sure to write to me," said Kitty, "about Molly Moss. She's the one that lives in the next house but one to Grandma's. You've never seen her, but I saw her two years ago, and she's an awfully nice girl. You'll like her, I know."
"And what shall I remember to do for you, Rosy Posy?" asked Marjorie, as she kissed the baby good-bye.
"Don't know," responded the little one; "I've never been to Gamma's. Is they piggy-wigs there?"
"No," said Marjorie, laughing; "no piggy-wigs, but some nice ducks."
"All wite; b'ing me a duck."
"I will, if Grandma will give me one"; and then Marjorie was hurried down the steps by her father, and into the carriage, and away she went, with many a backward look at the three children who stood on the veranda waving good-byes to her.
The railroad trip to Morristown lasted about four hours, and Marjorie greatly enjoyed it. Mr. Maynard had put the two travellers into their chairs in the parlor car, and arranged their belongings for them. Marjorie had brought a book to read and a game to play, but with the novel attractions of the trip and the care of her kitten, she was not likely to have time hang heavily on her hands.
Mrs. Maynard read a magazine for a time, and then they were summoned to luncheon in the diningcar. Marjorie thought this great fun, for what is nicer than to be a hungry little girl of twelve, and to eat all sorts of good things, while flying swiftly along in a railroad train, and gazing out of the window at towns and cities rushing by?
Marjorie sat opposite her mother, and observed with great interest the other passengers about. Across the car was a little girl who seemed to be about her own age, and Marjorie greatly wished that they might become acquainted. Mrs. Maynard said that after luncheon she might go and speak to the little stranger if she chose, and Marjorie gladly did so.
"I wonder if you belong in my car," said Marjorie, by way of opening the conversation.
"I don't know," said the other child; "our seats are in the car just back of this."
"We are two cars back," said Marjorie, "but perhaps your mother will let you come into my car a while. I have my kitten with me."
"Where is it?" asked the other little girl.
"I had to leave it with the porter while we came to luncheon. Oh, she's the loveliest kitten you ever saw, and her name is Puff. What's your name?"
"My name is Stella Martin. What's yours?"
"My real name is Marjorie Maynard. But I'm almost always called Midge or Mops or some name like that. We all have nicknames at home; don't you?"
"No, because you see I haven't any brothers or sisters. Mother always calls me Stella."
"Well, let's go and ask her if you can't come into my car for a while. My mother will look after you, and then you can see the kitten."
After some courteous words of explanation between the two mothers, Stella was allowed to play with Marjorie for the rest of the journey.
Seated together in one of the big Pullman easy chairs, with the kitten cuddled between them, they rapidly made each other's acquaintance, and soon became good friends. They were not at all alike, for Stella Martin was a thin, pale child with a long braid of straight, light hair, and light blue eyes. She was timid, too, and absolutely devoid of Marjorie's impetuosity and daring. But they were both pleased at the discovery that they were to be near neighbors throughout the summer. Stella's home was next-door to Grandma Sherwood's, although, as both country places were so large, the houses were some distance apart.
Next beyond Stella's house, Marjorie remembered, was where Molly Moss lived, and so the outlook seemed to promise plenty of pleasant company.
About three o'clock in the afternoon the train reached Morristown, and springing out on the platform, Marjorie soon spied Grandma Sherwood's carriage there to meet them. Old Moses was still in charge of the horses, as he had been ever since Marjorie could remember, and in a moment she heard a hearty voice cry, "Oh, there you are!" and there was Uncle Steve waiting for them on the platform.
Uncle Steve was a great friend of Marjorie's, and she flew to greet him almost before he had time to welcome her mother. Then in a few moments the luggage was looked after, and they were all in the carriage, rolling away toward Haslemere.
Marjorie chatted away like a magpie, for she had many questions to ask Uncle Steve, and as she was looking out to renew acquaintance with old landmarks along the road, the drive to the house seemed very short, and soon they were turning in at the gate.
Haslemere was not a large, old-fashioned farm, but a fair-sized and well-kept country place. Grandma Sherwood, who had been a widow for many years, lived there with her son Stephen. It was like a farm, because there were chickens and ducks, and cows and horses, and also a large garden where fresh vegetables of all sorts were raised. But there were no grain fields or large pasture lands, or pigs or turkeys, such as belong to larger farms. The drive from the gate up to the house was a long avenue, shaded on both sides by beautiful old trees, and the wide expanse of lawn was kept as carefully mowed as if at a town house. There were flower beds in abundance, and among the trees and shrubbery were rustic seats and arbors, hammocks and swings, and a delightful tent where the children loved to play. Back of the house the land sloped down to the river, which was quite large enough for delightful boating and fishing.
The house was of that old-fashioned type which has two front doors and two halls, with large parlors between them, and wings on either side. A broad veranda ran across the front, and, turning both corners, ran along either side.
As they drove up to the house, Grandma Sherwood was on the piazza waiting for them. She was not a very old lady, that is, she was not of the white-haired, white-capped, and silver-spectacled variety. She was perhaps sixty years old, and seemed quite as energetic and enthusiastic as her daughter, if perhaps not quite so much so as her granddaughter.
Marjorie sprang out of the carriage, and flew like a young whirlwind to her grandmother's arms, which were open to receive her.
"My dear child, how you have grown!"
"I knew you'd say that, Grandma," said Marjorie, laughing merrily, "and, indeed, I have grown since I was here last. Just think, that was three years ago! I'm almost twelve years old now."
"Well, you are a great girl; run in the house, and lay off your things, while I speak to your mother."
Marjorie danced into the house, flung her coat and gloves on the hall rack, and still holding her kitten, went on through to the kitchen, in search of Eliza the cook.
"The saints presarve us!" cried Eliza. "An' is it yersilf, Miss Midget! Why, ye're as big as a tellygraft pole, so ye are!"
"I know I am, Eliza, but you're just the same as ever; and just look at the kitten I have brought! Have you any here now?"
"Cats, is it? Indade we have, then! I'm thinkin' there do be a hundred dozen of thim; they're undher me feet continual! But what kind of a baste is thot ye have there? I niver saw such a woolly one!"
"This is a Persian kitten, Eliza, and her name is Puff. Isn't she pretty?"
"I'll not be sayin' she's purty, till I see how she doos be behavin'. Is she a good little cat, Miss Midget dear?"
"Good! Indeed she is a good kitty. And I wish you'd give her some milk, Eliza, while I run out to see the chickens. Is Carter out there?"
But without waiting for an answer, Marjorie was already flying down through the garden, and soon found Carter, the gardener, at his work.
"Hello, Carter!" she cried. "How are you this summer?"
"Welcome, Miss Midge! I'm glad to see you back," exclaimed the old gardener, who was very fond of the Maynard children.
"And I'm glad to be here, Carter; and I have some seeds to plant; will you help me plant them?"
"That I will. What are they?"
"I don't know; King gave them to me, but he wouldn't tell me what they were."
"Ah, the mischievous boy! Now, how can we tell where to plant them when we don't know if they'll come up lilies of the valley or elephant's ears?"
Marjorie laughed gayly. "It doesn't matter, Carter," she said; "let's stick them in some sunny place, and then, if they seem to be growing too high, we can transplant them."
"It's a wise little head you have, Miss; we'll do just that."
Humoring Marjorie's impatience, the good-natured gardener helped her plant the seeds in a sunny flowerbed, and raked the dirt neatly over them with an experienced touch.
"That looks lovely," said Marjorie, with a satisfied nod of approval; "now let's go and see the chickens."
This proved even more interesting than she had anticipated, for since her last visit an incubator had been purchased, and there were hundreds of little chickens of various sizes, in different compartments, to be looked at and admired.
"Aren't they darlings!" exclaimed Marjorie, as she watched the little yellow balls trying to balance themselves on slender little brown stems that hardly seemed as if they could be meant for legs. "Oh, Carter, I shall spend hours out here every day!"
"Do, Miss Midge; I'll be glad to have you, and the chickens won't mind it a bit."
"Now the horses," Marjorie went on, and off they went to the stables, where Moses had already unharnessed the carriage team, and put them in their stalls. Uncle Steve had a new saddle horse, which came in for a large share of admiration, and the old horse, Betsy, which Grandma Sherwood liked to drive herself, was also to be greeted.
Marjorie loved all animals, but after cats, horses were her favorites.
"Are there any ducks this year, Carter?" she inquired.
"Yes, Miss Midge, there is a duck-pond full of them; and you haven't seen the new boathouse that was built last year for Master Kingdon."
"No, but I want to see it; and oh, Carter, don't you think you could teach me to row?"
"I'm sure of it, Miss Midge; but I hear your grandmother calling you, and I think you'd better leave the boathouse to see to- morrow."
"All right; I think so too, Carter." And Marjorie ran back to the house, her broad-brimmed hat in one hand and her hair ribbon in the other, while her curls were, indeed, in a tangled mop.
ON THE ROOF
"Why, Mopsy Maynard," exclaimed her mother, as Marjorie danced into the house, smiling and dishevelled, "what a looking head! Please go straight to your room, and make yourself tidy before supper time."
"Yes, indeed, Mother, but just listen a minute! Uncle Steve has a new horse, a black one, and there are a hundred million little chickens, in the queerest kind of a thing, but I can't remember its name,—it's something like elevator."
"Incubator, perhaps," suggested her mother.
"Yes, that's it; and oh, Mother, it's so funny! Do come out and see it, won't you?"
"Not to-night, child; and now run up to your room and tie up your hair."
Marjorie danced upstairs, singing as she went, but when she reached the door of the room she was accustomed to use, she stopped her singing and stood in the doorway, stock-still with sheer bewilderment.
For somehow the room had been entirely transformed, and looked like a totally different apartment.
The room was in one of the wings of the house, and was large and square, with windows on two sides. But these had been ordinary windows, and now they were replaced by large, roomy bay windows, with glass doors that reached from floor to ceiling, and opened out on little balconies. In one of these bay windows was a dear little rocking-chair painted white, and a standard work-basket of dainty white and green wicker, completely furnished with sewing materials. In the other bay window was a dear little writing-desk of bird's-eye maple, and a wicker chair in front of it. The desk was open, and Marjorie could see all sorts of pens and pencils and paper in fascinating array.
But these were only a few of the surprises. The whole room had been redecorated, and the walls were papered with a design of yellow daffodils in little bunches tied with pale green ribbon. The woodwork was all painted white, and entirely around the room, at just about the height of Marjorie's chin, ran a broad white shelf. Of course this shelf stopped for the windows and doors, but the room was large, and there was a great deal of space left for the shelf. But it was the things on the shelf that attracted Marjorie's attention. One side of the room was devoted to books, and Marjorie quickly recognized many of her old favorites, and many new ones. On another side of the room the shelf was filled with flowers, some blooming gayly in pots, and some cut blossoms in vases of water. On a third side of the room the shelf held birds, and this sight nearly took Marjorie's breath away. Some were in gilt cages, a canary, a goldfinch, and another bird whose name Marjorie did not know. And some were stuffed birds of brilliant plumage, and mounted in most natural positions on twigs or branches, or perched upon an ivy vine which was trained along the wall. The fourth side was almost empty, and Marjorie knew at once that it was left so in order that she might have a place for such treasured belongings as she had brought with her.
"Well!" she exclaimed, although there was no one there to hear her. "Well, if this isn't the best ever!" She stood in the middle of the room, and turned slowly round and round, taking in by degrees the furnishings and adornment. All of the furniture was new, and the brass bed and dainty dressing-table seemed to Marjorie quite fit for any princess.
"Well!" she exclaimed again, and as she turned around this time she saw the older people watching her from the hall.
"Oh, Grandma Sherwood!" she cried, and running to the old lady, proceeded to hug her in a way that was more affectionate than comfortable.
"Do you like it?" asked Grandma, when she could catch her breath.
"Like it! It's the most beautiful, loveliest, sweetest room in the whole world! I love it! Did you do it all for me, Grandma?"
"Yes, Midget; that is, I fixed up the room, but for the shelf you must thank Uncle Steve. That is his idea entirely, and he superintended its putting up. You're to use it this year, and next year Kitty can have her dolls and toys on it, and then the year after, King can use it for his fishing-tackle and boyish traps. Though I suppose by that time Rosamond will be old enough to take her turn."
"Then I can't come again for four years," exclaimed Marjorie, with an expression of consternation on her face.
"Not unless you come two at a time," said Grandma; "and I doubt if your mother would consent to that."
"No, indeed," said Mrs. Maynard; "it's hard enough to lose one of the flock, without losing two."
"Well, I'll have a good time with it this summer, anyway," said Marjorie; "can't we unpack my trunk now, Mother, so I can put my pearl pen in my desk; and my clock, that Rosy Posy gave me, on the shelf; and hang up my bird picture on the wall?"
"Not just now," said her mother, "for it is nearly supper time, and you must transform yourself from a wild maid of the woods into a decorous little lady."
The transformation was accomplished, and it was not very long before a very neat and tidy Marjorie walked sedately downstairs to the dining-room. Her white dress was immaculate; a big white bow held the dark curls in place, and only the dancing eyes betrayed the fact that it was an effort to behave so demurely.
"Well, Midget," said Uncle Steve, as they were seated at the supper table, "does the old place look the same?"
"No, indeed, Uncle; there are lots of changes, but best of all is my beauty room. I never saw anything so lovely; I just want to stay up there all the time."
"I thought you'd like that shelf. Now you have room for all the thousand and one bits of rubbish that you accumulate through the summer."
"'Tisn't rubbish!" exclaimed Marjorie, indignantly; "it's dear little birds' nests, and queer kinds of rocks, and branches of strange trees and grasses and things."
"Well, I only meant it sounds to me like rubbish," said Uncle Steve, who loved to tease her about her enthusiasms.
But she only smiled good-naturedly, for she well knew that Uncle Steve was the very one who would take her for long walks in the woods, on purpose to gather this very "rubbish."
The next day Marjorie was up bright and early, quite ready for any pleasure that might offer itself.
Her mother went back home that day, and though Marjorie felt a little sad at parting, yet, after all, Grandma Sherwood's house was like a second home, and there was too much novelty and entertainment all about to allow time for feeling sad.
Moreover, Marjorie was of a merry, happy disposition. It was natural to her to make the best of everything, and even had she had reasons for being truly miserable, she would have tried to be happy in spite of them.
So she bade her mother good-by, and sent loving messages to all at home, and promised to write often.
"Remember," said her mother, as a parting injunction, "to read every morning the list I gave you, which includes all my commands for the summer. When I see you again I shall expect you to tell me that you obeyed them all."
"I will try," said Marjorie; "but if it is a long list I may forget some of them sometimes. You know, Mother, I AM forgetful."
"You are, indeed," said Mrs. Maynard, smiling; "but if you'll try I think you'll succeed, at least fairly well. Good-by now, dear; I must be off; and do you go at once to your room and read over the list so as to start the day right."
"I will," said Marjorie, and as soon as she had waved a last good- by, and the carriage had disappeared from view, she ran to her room, and sitting down at her pretty desk, unfolded the list her mother had given her.
To her great surprise, instead of the long list she had expected to find, there were only two items. The first was, "Keep your hands clean, and your hair tidy"; and the other read, "Obey Grandma implicitly."
"Well," thought Marjorie to herself, "I can easily manage those two! And yet," she thought further, with a little sigh, "they're awfully hard ones. My hands just WON'T keep clean, and my hair ribbon is forever coming off! And of course I MEAN to obey Grandma always; but sometimes she's awful strict, and sometimes I forget what she told me."
But with a firm resolve in her heart to do her best, Marjorie went downstairs, and went out to play in the garden.
Some time later she saw a girl of about her own age coming down the path toward her. She was a strange-looking child, with a very white face, snapping black eyes, and straight wiry black hair, braided in two little braids, which stood out straight from her head.
"Are you Marjorie?" she said, in a thin, piping voice. "I'm Molly Moss, and I've come to play with you. I used to know Kitty."
"Yes," said Marjorie, pleasantly, "I'm Marjorie, and I'm Kitty's sister. I'm glad you came. Is that your kitten?"
"Yes," said Molly, as she held up a very small black kitten, which was indeed an insignificant specimen compared to the Persian beauty hanging over Marjorie's arm.
"It's a dear kitten," Molly went on. "Her name is Blackberry. Don't you like her?"
"Yes," said Marjorie, a little doubtfully; "perhaps she can be company for Puff. This is my Puff." Marjorie held up her cat, but the two animals showed very little interest in one another.
"Let's put them to sleep somewhere," said Molly, "and then go and play in the loft."
The kittens were soon deposited in the warm kitchen, and the two girls ran back to the barn for a good play. Marjorie had already begun to like Molly, though she seemed rather queer at first, but after they had climbed the ladder to the warm sweet-smelling hay- loft, they grew better acquainted, and were soon chattering away like old friends.
Molly was not at all like Stella Martin. Far from being timid, she was recklessly daring, and very ingenious in the devising of mischief.
"I'll tell you what, Mopsy," she said, having already adopted Marjorie's nickname, "let's climb out of the window, that skylight window, I mean, onto the roof of the barn, and slide down. It's a lovely long slide."
"We'll slide off!" exclaimed Marjorie, aghast at this proposition.
"Oh, no, we won't; there's a ledge at the edge of the roof, and your heels catch that, and that stops you. You CAN'T go any further."
"How do you get back?"
"Why, scramble back up the roof, you know. Come on, it's lots of fun."
"I don't believe Grandma would like it," said Marjorie, a little doubtfully.
"Oh, pshaw, you're afraid; there's no danger. Come on and try it, anyhow."
Now Marjorie did not like to be called afraid, for she really had very little fear in her disposition. So she said: "Well, I'll go up the ladder and look out, and if it looks dangerous I won't do it."
"Not a bit of danger," declared Molly. "I'll go up first." Agile as a sprite, Molly quickly skipped up the ladder, and opened the trap-door in the barn roof. Sticking her head up through, she soon drew her thin little body up after it and called to Marjorie to follow. Marjorie was a much heavier child, but she sturdily climbed the ladder, and then with some difficulty clambered out on the roof.
"Isn't it gay?" cried Molly, and exhilarated by the lofty height, the novel position, and the excitement of the moment, Marjorie thought it was.
"Now," went on Molly, by way of instruction, "sit down beside me right here at the top. Hang on with your hands until I count three and then let go, and we'll slide straight down the roof."
Marjorie obeyed directions, and sat waiting with a delightful feeling of expectancy.
"One, two, three!" counted Molly, and at the last word the two girls let go their grasp and slid.
Swiftly and lightly the slender little Molly slid to the gutter of the eaves of the roof, caught by her heels, and stopped suddenly, leaning against the slanted roof, comfortably at her ease.
Not so Marjorie. She came swiftly down, and, all unaccustomed to motion of this sort, her feet struck the gutter, her solid little body bounced up into the air, and instead of falling backward again, she gave a frightened convulsive movement, and fell headlong to the ground.
Quick as a flash, Molly, when she saw what had happened, scrambled back up the roof with a wonderful agility, and let herself down through the skylight, and down the ladder like lightning. She rushed out of the barn, to where Marjorie lay, and reached her before Carter did, though he came running at the first sounds of Marjorie's screams.
"I'm not hurt much," said Marjorie, trying to be brave; "if you'll help me, Carter, I think I can walk to the house."
"Walk nothin'," growled Carter; "it's Miss Mischief you are for sure! I thought you had outgrown your wild ways, but you're just as bad as ever! What'll your grandma say?"
Molly stood by, decidedly scared. She didn't know how badly Marjorie was hurt, and she longed to comfort her, and tell her how sorry she was that she had urged her to this mischief, but Carter gave her no opportunity to speak. Indeed, it was all she could do to keep up with the gardener's long strides, as he carried Marjorie to the house. But Molly was no coward, and she bravely determined to go to the house with them, and confess to Mrs. Sherwood that she was to blame for the accident.
But when they reached the door, and Grandma Sherwood came out to meet them, she was so anxious and worried about Marjorie that she paid little attention to Molly's efforts at explanation.
"What are you trying to say, child?" she asked hastily of Molly, who was stammering out an incoherent speech. "Well, never mind; whatever you have to say, I don't want to hear it now. You run right straight home; and if you want to come over to-morrow to see how Marjorie is, you may, but I can't have you bothering around here now. So run home."
And Molly ran home.
A PAPER-DOLL HOUSE
The result of Marjorie's fall from the roof was a sprained ankle. It wasn't a bad sprain, but the doctor said she must stay in bed for several days.
"But I don't mind very much," said Marjorie, who persisted in looking on the bright side of everything, "for it will give me a chance to enjoy this beautiful room better. But, Grandma, I can't quite make out whether I was disobedient or not. You never told me not to slide down the roof, did you?"
"No, Marjorie; but your common-sense ought to have told you that. I should have forbidden it if I had thought there was the slightest danger of your doing such a thing. You really ought to have known better."
Grandma's tone was severe, for though she was sorry for the child she felt that Marjorie had done wrong, and ought to be reproved.
Marjorie's brow wrinkled in her efforts to think out the matter.
"Grandma," she said, "then must I obey every rule that you would make if you thought of it, and how shall I know what they are?"
Grandma smiled. "As I tell you Midget, you must use your common- sense and reason in such matters. If you make mistakes the experience will help you to learn; but I am sure a child twelve years old ought to know better than to slide down a steep barn roof. But I suppose Molly put you up to it, and so it wasn't your fault exactly."
"Molly did suggest it, Grandma, but that doesn't make her the one to blame, for I didn't have to do as she said, did I?"
"No, Midge; and Molly has behaved very nicely about it. She came over here, and confessed that she had been the ringleader in the mischief, and said she was sorry for it. So you were both to blame, but I think it has taught you a lesson, and I don't believe you'll ever cut up that particular trick again. But you certainly needn't be punished for it, for I think the consequences of having to stay in bed for nearly a week will be punishment enough. So now we're through with that part of the subject, and I'm going to do all I can to make your imprisonment as easy for you as possible."
It was in the early morning that this conversation had taken place, and Grandma had brought a basin of fresh, cool water and bathed the little girl's face and hands, and had brushed out her curls and tied them up with a pretty pink bow.
Then Jane came with a dainty tray, containing just the things Marjorie liked best for breakfast, and adorned with a spray of fresh roses. Grandma drew a table to the bedside and piled pillows behind Marjorie's back until she was quite comfortable.
"I feel like a queen, Grandma," she said; "if this is what you call punishment I don't mind it a bit."
"That's all very well for one day, but wait until you have been here four or five days. You'll get tired of playing queen by that time."
"Well, it's fun now, anyway," said Marjorie, as she ate strawberries and cream with great relish.
After breakfast Jane tidied up the room, and Marjorie, arrayed in a little pink kimono, prepared to spend the day in bed. Grandma brought her books to read and writing materials to write letters home, and Marjorie assured her that she could occupy herself pleasantly.
So Grandma went away and left her alone. The first thing Marjorie did was to write a letter to her mother, telling her all about the accident. She had thought she would write a letter to each of the children at home, but she discovered to her surprise that it wasn't very easy to write sitting up in bed. Her arms became cramped, and as she could not move her injured ankle her whole body grew stiff and uncomfortable. So she decided to read. After she had read what seemed a long time, she found that that, too, was difficult under the circumstances. With a little sigh she turned herself as well as she could and looked at the clock. To her amazement, only an hour had elapsed since Grandma left her, and for the first time the little girl realized what it meant to be deprived of the free use of her limbs.
"Only ten o'clock," she thought to herself; "and dinner isn't until one!"
Not that Marjorie was hungry, but like all the invalids she looked forward to meal-times as a pleasant diversion.
But about this time Grandma reappeared to say that Molly had come over to see her.
Marjorie was delighted, and welcomed Molly gladly.
"I'm awful sorry," the little visitor began, "that I made you slide down the roof."
"You didn't make me do it," said Marjorie, "it was my fault quite as much as yours; and, anyway, it isn't a very bad sprain. I'll be out again in a few days, and then we can play some more. But we'll keep down on the ground,—we can't fall off of that."
"I thought you might like to play some games this morning," Molly suggested, "so I brought over my jackstraws and my Parcheesi board."
"Splendid!" cried Marjorie, delighted to have new entertainment.
In a few moments Molly had whisked things about, and arranged the jackstraws on a small table near the bed. But Marjorie could not reach them very well, so Molly changed her plan.
"I'll fix it," she said, and laying the Parcheesi board on the bed, she climbed up herself, and sitting cross-legged like a little Turk, she tossed the jackstraws out on the flat board, and the game began in earnest.
They had a jolly time and followed the jackstraws with a game of Parcheesi.
Then Jane came up with some freshly baked cookies and two glasses of milk.
"Why, how the time has flown!" cried Marjorie, "it's half-past eleven, and it doesn't seem as if you'd been here more than five minutes, Molly."
"I didn't think it was so late, either," and then the two girls did full justice to the little luncheon, while the all-useful Parcheesi board served as a table.
"Now," said Marjorie, when the last crumbs had disappeared, "let's mix up the two games. The jackstraws will be people, and your family can live in that corner of the Parcheesi board, and mine will live in this. The other two corners will be strangers' houses, and the red counters can live in one and the blue counters in the other. This place in the middle will be a park, and these dice can be deer in the park."
"Oh, what fun!" cried Molly, who was not as ingenious as Marjorie at making up games, but who was appreciative enough to enter into the spirit of it at once.
They became so absorbed in this new sort of play that again the time flew and it was dinner-time before they knew it.
Grandma did not invite Molly to stay to dinner, for she thought Marjorie ought to rest, but she asked the little neighbor to come again the next morning and continue their game.
After dinner Grandma darkened the room and left Marjorie to rest by herself, and the result of this was a long and refreshing nap.
When she awoke, Grandma appeared again with fresh water and towels, and her afternoon toilet was made. Marjorie laughed to think that dressing for afternoon meant only putting on a different kimono, for dresses were not to be thought of with a sprained ankle.
And then Uncle Steve came in.
Uncle Steve was always like a ray of sunshine, but he seemed especially bright and cheery just now.
"Well, Midget Mops," he said, "you have cut up a pretty trick, haven't you? Here, just as I wanted to take you driving, and walking in the woods, and boating, and fishing, and perhaps ballooning, and airshipping, and maybe skating, here you go and get yourself laid up so you can't do anything but eat and sleep! You're a nice Midget, you are! What's the use of having an Uncle Steve if you can't play with him?"
"Just you wait," cried Marjorie; "I'm not going to be in bed more than a few days, and I'm going to stay here all summer. There'll be plenty of time for your fishing and skating yet."
"But unless I get you pretty soon, I'll pine away with grief. And everybody out on the farm is lonesome for you. The horses, Ned and Dick, had made up their minds to take you on long drives along the mountain roads where the wild flowers bloom. They can't understand why you don't come out, and they stand in their stalls weeping, with great tears rolling down their cheeks."
Marjorie laughed gayly at Uncle Steve's foolery, and said: "If they're weeping so you'd better take them some of my pocket handkerchiefs."
"Too small," said Uncle Steve, scornfully; "one of your little handkerchiefs would get lost in Dick's eye or Ned's ear. And old Betsy is weeping for you too. Really, you'll have to get around soon, or those three horses will run away, I fear."
"What about the cow; does she miss me?" asked Marjorie, gravely, though her eyes were twinkling.
"The cow!" exclaimed Uncle Steve. "She stands by the fence with her head on the top rail, and moos so loud that I should think you could hear her yourself. She calls 'Mopsy, Mopsy, Moo,' from morning till night. And the chickens! Well, the incubator is full of desolate chickens. They won't eat their meal, and they just peep mournfully, and stretch their little wings trying to fly to you."
"And the dogs?" prompted Marjorie.
"Oh, the dogs—they howl and yowl and growl all the time. I think I'll have to bring the whole crowd of animals up here. They're so anxious to see you."
"Do, Uncle Steve. I'd be glad to see them, and I'm sure they'd behave nicely."
"I think so. The cow could sit in that little rocking-chair, and the three horses could sit on the couch, side by side. And then we could all have afternoon tea."
Marjorie shook with laughter at the thought of the cow sitting up and drinking afternoon tea, until Uncle Steve declared that if she laughed so hard she'd sprain her other ankle. So he said he would read to her, and selecting a book of fairy tales, he read aloud all the rest of the afternoon. It was delightful to hear Uncle Steve read, for he would stop now and then to discuss the story, or he would put in some funny little jokes of his own, and he made it all so amusing and entertaining that the afternoon flew by as if on wings.
Then Jane came again with the pretty tray of supper, and after that Grandma and Marjorie had a nice little twilight talk, and then the little girl was tucked up for the night, and soon fell asleep.
When she woke the next morning and lay quietly in bed thinking over of the events of the day before, she came to the conclusion that everybody had been very kind to her, but that she couldn't expect so much attention every day. So she made up her mind that when she had to spend hours alone, she would try to be good and patient and not trouble Grandma more than she could help.
Then she thought of the written list her mother had given her. She smiled to think how easy it was now to keep those commands. "Of course," she thought, "I can keep my hands clean and my hair tidy here, for Grandma looks after that herself; and, of course, I can't help obeying her while I'm here, for she doesn't command me to do anything, and I couldn't do it if she did."
Molly came again that morning, and as Grandma had asked her to stay to dinner with Marjorie, the girls prepared for a good morning's play.
It was astonishing how many lovely things there were to play, even when one of the players couldn't move about.
Molly had brought over her paper-doll's house, and as it was quite different from anything Marjorie had ever seen before, she wondered if she couldn't make one for herself, and so double the fun of the game.
Grandma was consulted, but it was Uncle Steve who brought them the necessary materials to carry out their plan.
A paper-doll's house is quite different from the other kind of a doll's house, and Molly's was made of a large blankbook.
So Uncle Steve brought a blankbook almost exactly like it for Marjorie, and then he brought her scissors, and paste, and several catalogues which had come from the great shops in the city. He brought, too, a pile of magazines and papers, which were crammed full of illustrated advertisements.
The two little girls set busily to work, and soon they had cut out a quantity of chairs, tables, beds, and furniture of all sorts from the pictured pages.
These they pasted in the book. Each page was a room, and in the room were arranged appropriate furniture and ornaments.
The parlor had beautiful and elaborate furniture, rugs, pictures, bric-a-brac, and even lace curtains at the windows. The library had beautiful bookcases, writing-desk, reading-table and a lamp, easy-chairs, and everything that belongs in a well-ordered library.
The dining-room was fully furnished, and the kitchen contained everything necessary to the satisfaction of the most exacting cook.
The bedrooms were beautiful with dainty brass beds, chintz-covered furniture, and dressing-tables fitted out with all sorts of toilet equipments.
All of these things were found in the catalogues and the magazine advertisements; and in addition to the rooms mentioned, there were halls, a nursery, playroom, and pleasant verandas fitted up with hammocks and porch furniture.
Of course it required some imagination to think that these rooms were in the shape of a house, and not just leaves of a book, but both Midge and Molly had plenty of imagination, and besides it was very practical fun to cut out the things, and arrange them in their places. Sometimes it was necessary to use a pencil to draw in any necessary article that might be missing; but usually everything desired could be found, from potted palms to a baby carriage.
Marjorie grew absorbed in the work, for she dearly loved to make things, and her ingenuity suggested many improvements on Molly's original house.
SOME INTERESTING LETTERS
The family for the paper-doll house was selected from the catalogues that illustrate ready-made clothing. Beautiful gentlemen were cut out, dressed in the most approved fashions for men. Charming ladies with trailing skirts and elaborate hats were found in plenty. And children of all ages were so numerous in the prints that it was almost difficult to make a selection. Then, too, extra hats and wraps and parasols were cut out, which could be neatly put away in the cupboards and wardrobes which were in the house. For Marjorie had discovered that by pasting only the edges of the wardrobe and carefully cutting the doors apart, they could be made to open and shut beautifully.
Uncle Steve became very much interested in these wonderful houses, and ransacked his own library for pictures to be cut up.
Indeed, so elaborate did the houses grow to be, Molly's being greatly enlarged and improved, that they could not be finished in one morning.
But Grandma was not willing to let Marjorie work steadily at this occupation all day, and after dinner Molly was sent home, and the paper dolls put away until the next day.
"But I'm not ill, Grandma," said Marjorie; "just having a sprained ankle doesn't make me a really, truly invalid."
"No, but you must rest, or you will get ill. Fever may set in, and if you get over-excited with your play, and have no exercise, you may be in bed longer than you think for. Besides, I think I remember having heard something about implicit obedience, and so I expect it now as well as when you're up on your two feet."
"I don't think I can help obeying," said Marjorie, roguishly, "for I can't very well do anything else. But I suppose you mean obey without fretting; so I will, for you are a dear, good Grandma and awfully kind to me."
With a parting pat on her shoulder, Grandma left the little girl for her afternoon nap, and Marjorie would have been surprised at herself had she known how quickly she fell asleep.
Uncle Steve made it a habit to entertain her during the later hours of each afternoon, and, although they were already great chums, his gayety and kindness made Marjorie more than ever devoted to her uncle.
This afternoon he came in with a handful of letters.
"These are all for you," he said; "it is astonishing what a large correspondence you have."
Marjorie was amazed. She took the budget of letters her uncle handed her and counted five. They were all duly stamped, and all were postmarked, but the postmarks all read Haslemere.
"How funny!" exclaimed Marjorie; "I didn't know there was a post office at Haslemere."
"You didn't!" exclaimed Uncle Steve; "why, there certainly is. Do you mean to say that you don't know that there's a little post office in the lowest branch of that old maple-tree down by the brook?"
"You mean just where the path turns to go to the garden?"
"That's the very spot. Only this morning I was walking by there, and I saw a small post office in the tree. There was a key in the door of it, and being curious, I opened it, and looked in. There I saw five letters for you, and as you're not walking much this summer, I thought I'd bring them to you. I brought the key, too."
As he finished speaking, Uncle Steve drew from his pocket a little bright key hung on a blue ribbon, which he gravely presented to Marjorie. Her eyes danced as she took it, for she now believed there was really a post office there, though it was sometimes difficult to distinguish Uncle Steve's nonsense from the truth.
"Now I'm more than ever anxious to get well," she cried, "and go out to see that post office."
"Oh, no," said Uncle Steve, shaking his head; "you don't care about post offices and walks in the woods, and drives through the country. You'd rather slide down an old barn roof, and then lie in bed for a week."
"Catch me doing it again," said Marjorie, shaking her head decidedly; "and now, Uncle, suppose we open these letters."
"Why, that wouldn't be a bad idea. Here's a paper-cutter. Let's open one at a time, they'll last longer. Suppose you read this one first."
Marjorie opened the first letter, and quickly turned the page to see the signature.
"Why, Uncle Steve," she cried, "this is signed Ned and Dick! I didn't know horses could write letters."
"There are a great many things, my child, that you don't know yet. And so Ned and Dick have written to you! Now that's very kind of them. Read me what they say."
In great glee, Marjorie read aloud:
"DEAR MARJORIE: It is too bad For you to act this way; Just think what fun we might have had Out driving every day.
"We could have gone to Blossom Banks, Or Maple Grove instead; But no, you had to cut up pranks That landed you in bed!
"We hope you'll soon be well again, And get downstairs right quick; And we will all go driving then. Your true friends,
NED AND DICK."
"Well, I do declare," said Uncle Steve, "I always said they were intelligent horses, but this is the first time I've ever heard of their writing a letter. They must be very fond of you, Marjorie."
Marjorie's eyes twinkled. She well knew Uncle Steve had written the letter himself, but she was always ready to carry out her part of a joke, so she replied:
"Yes, I think they must be fond of me, and I think I know somebody else who is, too. But it was nice of Ned and Dick to write and let me know that they hadn't forgotten me. And as soon as I can get downstairs, I shall be delighted to go driving with them. Where is Blossom Banks, Uncle?"
"Oh, it's a lovely place, a sort of picnic ground; there are several grassy banks, and blossoms grow all over them. They slope right down to the river; but, of course, you wouldn't think them nearly so nice as a sloping barn roof."
Marjorie knew she must stand teasing from Uncle Steve, but his smile was so good-natured, and he was such a dear old uncle anyway, that she didn't mind it very much.
"Suppose I read another letter," she said, quite ready to turn the subject.
"Do; open that one with the typewritten address. I wonder who could have written that! Perhaps the cow; she's very agile on the typewriter."
The mental picture of the cow using the typewriter produced such hilarity that it was a few moments before the letter was opened.
"It IS from the cow!" exclaimed Marjorie, "and she does write beautifully on the machine. I don't see a single error."
"Read it out, Midge; I always love to hear letters from cows."
So Marjorie read the cow's note:
"Mopsy Midge, come out to play; I've waited for you all the day. In the Garden and by the brook, All day for you I vainly look. With anxious brow and gaze intense I lean against the old rail fence, And moo and moo, and moo, and moo, In hopes I may be heard by you. And if I were not so forlorn, I think I'd try to blow my horn. Oh, come back, Midget, come back now, And cheer your lonely, waiting
"Now, that's a first-class letter," declared Uncle Steve. "I always thought that cow was a poet. She looks so romantic when she gazes out over the bars. You ought to be pleased, Marjorie, that you have such loving friends at Haslemere."
"Pleased! I'm tickled to death! I never had letters that I liked so well. And just think, I have three left yet that I haven't opened. I wonder who they can be from."
"When you wonder a thing like that, it always seems to me a good idea to open them and find out."
"I just do believe I will! Why, this one," and Marjorie hastily tore open another letter, "this one, Uncle, is from old Bet!"
"Betsy! That old horse! Well, she must have put on her spectacles to see to write it. But I suppose when she saw Ned and Dick writing, she didn't want them to get ahead of her, so she went to work too. Well, do read it, I'm surely interested to hear old Betsy's letter."
"Listen then," said Marjorie:
"DEAR LITTLE MIDGE:
I'm lonesome here, Without your merry smiles to cheer. I mope around the livelong day, And scarcely care to munch my hay. I am so doleful and so sad, I really do feel awful bad! Oh hurry, Midge, and come back soon; Perhaps to-morrow afternoon. And then my woe I will forget, And smile again.
Your lonesome BET"
"Well, she is an affectionate old thing," said Uncle Steve; "and truly, Midget, I thought she was feeling lonesome this morning. She didn't seem to care to eat anything, and she never smiled at me at all."
"She's a good old horse, Uncle, but I don't like her as much as I do Ned and Dick. But don't ever tell Betsy this, for I wouldn't hurt her feelings for anything."
"Oh, yes, just because Ned and Dick are spirited, fast horses you like them better than poor, old Betsy, who used to haul you around when you were a baby."
"Oh, I like her well enough; and, anyway, I think a heap more of her now, since she wrote me such an affectionate letter. Now, Uncle, if you'll believe it, this next one is from the chickens! Would you have believed that little bits of yellow chickens, in an incubator, could write a nice, clear letter like this? I do think it's wonderful! Just listen to it:
Why Are you away? We weep and cry All through the day.
"Oh, come back quick, Dear Mopsy Mop! Then each small chick Will gayly hop.
"We'll chirp with glee, No more we'll weep; Each chickadee Will loudly peep."
"Well, that's certainly fine, Midget, for such little chickens. If it were the old hen, now, I wouldn't be so surprised, for I see her scratching on the ground every day. I suppose she's practising her writing lesson, but I never yet have been able to read the queer marks she makes. But these little yellow chickadees write plainly enough, and I do think they are wonderfully clever."
"Yes, and isn't it funny that they can rhyme so well, too?"
"It is, indeed. I always said those Plymouth Rocks were the smartest chickens of all, but I never suspected they could write poetry."
"And now, Uncle, I've only one left." Marjorie looked regretfully at the last letter, wishing there were a dozen more. "But I can keep them and read them over and over again, I like them so much. I'd answer them, but I don't believe those animals read as well as they write."
"No," said Uncle Steve, wagging his head sagely, "I don't believe they do. Well, read your last one, Mops, and let's see who wrote it."
"Why, Uncle, it's from the dogs! It's signed 'Nero and Tray and Rover'! Weren't they just darling to write to me! I believe I miss the dogs more than anything else, because I can have Puffy up here with me."
Marjorie paused long enough to cuddle the little heap of grey fur that lay on the counterpane beside her, and then proceeded to read the letter:
"Dear Mopsy Midget, We're in a fidget, Because we cannot find you; We want to know How you could go And leave your dogs behind you!
"We bark and howl, And snarl and yowl, And growl the whole day long; You are not here, And, Mopsy dear, We fear there's something wrong!
"We haven't heard; Oh, send us word Whatever is the matter! Oh, hurry up And cheer each pup With laughter and gay chatter."
"That's a very nice letter," said Marjorie, as she folded it up and returned it to its envelope. "And I do think the animals at Haslemere are the most intelligent I have ever known. Uncle, I'm going to send these letters all down home for King and Kitty to read, and then they can send them back to me, for I'm going to keep them all my life."
"I'll tell you a better plan than that, Midget. If you want the children to read them, I'll make copies of them for you to send home. And then I'll tell you what you might do, if you like. When I go downtown I'll buy you a great big scrapbook, and then you can paste these letters in, and as the summer goes on, you can paste in all sorts of things; pressed leaves or flowers, pictures and letters, and souvenirs of all sorts. Won't that be nice?"
"Uncle Steve, it will be perfectly lovely! You do have the splendidest ideas! Will you get the book to-morrow?"
"Yes, Miss Impatience, I will."
And that night, Marjorie fell asleep while thinking of all the lovely things she could collect to put in the book, which Uncle Steve had told her she must call her Memory Book.
The days of Marjorie's imprisonment went by pleasantly enough. Every morning Molly would come over, and they played with their paper-doll houses. These houses continually grew in size and beauty. Each girl added a second book, which represented grounds and gardens. There were fountains, and flowerbeds and trees and shrubs, which they cut from florists' catalogues; other pages were barns and stables, and chicken-coops, all filled with most beautiful specimens of the animals that belonged in them. There were vegetable gardens and grape arbors and greenhouses, for Uncle Steve had become so interested in this game that he brought the children wonderful additions to their collections.
It was quite as much fun to arrange the houses and grounds as it was to play with them, and each new idea was hailed with shrieks of delight.
Molly often grew so excited that she upset the paste-pot, and her scraps and cuttings flew far and wide, but good-natured Jane was always ready to clear up after the children. Jane had been with Mrs. Sherwood for many years, and Marjorie was her favorite of all the grandchildren, and she was never too tired to wait upon her. She, too, hunted up old books and papers that might contain some contributions to the paper-doll houses. But afternoons were always devoted to rest, until four or five o'clock, when Uncle Steve came to pay his daily visit.
One afternoon he came in with a fresh budget of letters.
"Letters!" exclaimed Marjorie. "Goody! I haven't had any letters for two days. Please give them to me, Uncle, and please give me a paper-cutter."
"Midge," said Uncle Steve, "if you think these are letters, you're very much mistaken. They're not."
"What are they, then?" asked Marjorie, greatly mystified, for they certainly looked like letters, and were sealed and stamped.
"As I've often told you, it's a good plan to open them and see."
Laughing in anticipation at what she knew must be some new joke of Uncle Steve's, Marjorie cut the envelopes open.
The first contained, instead of a sheet of paper, a small slip, on which was written:
"If you think this a letter, you're much mistook; It's only a promise of a New Book!"
"Well," said Marjorie, "that's just as good as a letter, for if you promise me a book, I know I'll get it. Oh, Uncle, you are such a duck! Now I'll read the next one."
The next one was a similar slip, and said:
"This isn't a letter, though like one it seems; It's only a promise of Chocolate Creams!"
"Oh!" cried Marjorie, ecstatically, "this is just too much fun for anything! Do you mean real chocolate creams, Uncle?"
"Oh, these are only promises. Very likely they don't mean anything."
"YOUR promises do; you've never broken one yet. Now I'll read another:
"This isn't a letter, dear Marjorie Mops, It's only a promise of Peppermint Drops!"
"Every one is nicer than the last! And now for the very last one of all!"
Marjorie cut open the fourth envelope, and read:
"Dear Mopsy Midget, this isn't a letter; It's only a promise of something much better!"
"Why, it doesn't say what!" exclaimed Midge, but even as she spoke, Jane came into the room bringing a tray.
She set it on the table at Marjorie's bedside, and Marjorie gave a scream of delight when she saw a cut-glass bowl heaped high with pink ice cream.
"Oh, Uncle Steve!" she cried, "the ice cream is the 'something better,' I know it is, and those other parcels are the other three promises! Can I open them now?"
Almost without waiting for her question to be answered, Marjorie tore off papers and strings, and found, as she fully expected, a box of chocolate creams, a box of peppermint drops, and a lovely new story book.
Then Grandma came in to their tea party and they all ate the ice cream, and Marjorie declared it was the loveliest afternoon tea she had ever attended.
Even Puff was allowed to have a small saucer of the ice cream, for she was a very dainty kitten, and her table manners were quite those of polite society.
But the next afternoon Uncle Steve was obliged to go to town, and Marjorie felt quite disconsolate at the loss of the jolly afternoon hour.
But kind-hearted Grandma planned a pleasure for her, and told her she would invite both Stella Martin and Molly to come to tea with Marjorie from four till five.
Marjorie had not seen Stella since the day they came up together on the train, and the little girls were glad to meet again. Stella and Molly were about as different as two children could be, for while Molly was headstrong, energetic, and mischievous, Stella was timid, quiet, and demure.
Both Marjorie and Molly were very quick in their actions, but Stella was naturally slow and deliberate. When they played games, Stella took as long to make her move as Molly and Midge together. This made them a little impatient, but Stella only opened her big blue eyes in wonder and said, "I can't do things any faster." So they soon tired of playing games, and showed Stella their paper- dolls' houses. Here they were the surprised ones, for Stella was an adept at paper dolls and knew how to draw and cut out lovely dolls, and told Marjorie that if she had a paintbox she could paint them.
"I wish you would come over some other day, Stella, and do it," said Midge; "for I know Uncle Steve will get me a paint-box if I ask him to, and a lot of brushes, and then we can all paint. Oh, we'll have lots of fun, won't we?"
"Yes, thank you," said Stella, sedately.
Marjorie giggled outright. "It seems so funny," she said, by way of explanation, "to have you say 'yes, thank you' to us children; I only say it to grown people; don't you, Molly?"
"I don't say it at all," confessed Molly; "I mean to, but I 'most always forget. It's awful hard for me to remember manners. But it seems to come natural to Stella."
Stella looked at her, but said nothing. She was a very quiet child, and somehow she exasperated Marjorie. Perhaps she would not have done so had they all been out of doors, playing together, but she sat on a chair by Marjorie's bedside with her hands folded in her lap, and her whole attitude so prim that Marjorie couldn't help thinking to herself that she'd like to stick a pin in her. Of course she wouldn't have done it, really, but Marjorie had a riotous vein of mischief in her, and had little use for excessive quietness of demeanor, except when the company of grown-ups demanded it.
But Stella seemed not at all conscious that her conduct was different from the others, and she smiled mildly at their rollicking fun, and agreed quietly to their eager enthusiasms.
At last Jane came in with the tea-tray, and the sight of the crackers and milk, the strawberries and little cakes, created a pleasant diversion.
Stella sat still in her chair, while Marjorie braced herself up on her pillows, and Molly, who was sitting on the bed, bounced up and down with glee.
Marjorie was getting much better now, so that she could sit upright and preside over the feast. She served the strawberries for her guests, and poured milk for them from the glass pitcher.
Molly and Marjorie enjoyed the good things, as they always enjoyed everything, but Stella seemed indifferent even to the delights of strawberries and cream.
She sat holding a plate in one hand, and a glass of milk in the other, and showed about as much animation as a marble statue. Even her glance was roving out of the window, and somehow the whole effect of the child was too much for Marjorie's spirit of mischief.
Suddenly, and in a loud voice, she said to Stella, "BOO!"
This, in itself, was not frightful, but coming so unexpectedly it startled Stella, and she involuntarily jumped, and her glass and plate fell to the floor with a crash; and strawberries, cakes, and milk fell in a scattered and somewhat unpleasant disarray.
Marjorie was horrified at what she had done, but Stella's face, as she viewed the catastrophe, was so comical that Marjorie went off into peals of laughter. Molly joined in this, and the two girls laughed until the bed shook.
Frightened and nervous at the whole affair, Stella began to cry. And curiously enough, Stella's method of weeping was as noisy as her usual manner was quiet. She cried with such loud, heart- rending sobs that the other girls were frightened into quietness again, until they caught sight of Stella's open mouth and tightly- closed but streaming eyes, when hilarity overtook them again.
Into this distracting scene, came Grandma. She stood looking in amazement at the three children and the debris on the floor.
At first Mrs. Sherwood naturally thought it an accident due to Stella's carelessness, but Marjorie instantly confessed.
"It's my fault, Grandma," she said; "I scared Stella, and she couldn't help dropping her things."
"You are a naughty girl, Mischief," said Grandma, as she tried to comfort the weeping Stella. "I thought you would at least be polite to your little guests, or I shouldn't have given you this tea party."
"I'm awfully sorry," said Marjorie, contritely; "please forgive me, Stella, but honestly I didn't think it would scare you so. What would YOU do, Molly, if I said 'boo' to you?"
"I'd say 'boo yourself'!" returned Molly, promptly.
"I know you would," said Marjorie, "but you see Stella's different, and I ought to have remembered the difference. Don't cry, Stella; truly I'm sorry! Don't cry, and I'll give you my—my paper-doll's house."
This was generous on Marjorie's part, for just then her paper- doll's house was her dearest treasure.
But Stella rose to the occasion.
"I w-wont t-take it," she said, still sobbing, though trying hard to control herself; "it wasn't your fault, Marjorie; I oughtn't to have been so silly as to be scared b-because you said b-boo!"
By this time Jane had removed all evidences of the accident, and except for a few stains on Stella's frock, everything was in order.
But Stella, though she had quite forgiven Marjorie, was upset by the whole affair, and wanted to go home.
So Grandma declared she would take the child home herself and apologize to Mrs. Martin for Marjorie's rudeness.
"It was rude, Marjorie," she said, as she went away; "and I think Molly must go home now, and leave you to do a little thinking about your conduct to your other guest."
So Marjorie was left alone to think, and half an hour later Grandma returned.
"That was a naughty trick, Marjorie, and I think you ought to be punished for it."
"But, Grandma," argued Miss Mischief, "I wasn't disobedient; you never told me not to say boo to anybody."
"But I told you, dear, that you must use your common-sense; and you must have known that to startle Stella by a sudden scream at her was enough to make her drop whatever she was holding."
"Grandma, I 'spect I was mischievous; but truly, she did look so stiff and pudgy, I just HAD to make her jump."
"I know what you mean, Midge; and you have a natural love of mischief, but you must try to overcome it. I want you to grow up polite and kind, and remember those two words mean almost exactly the same thing. You knew it wasn't kind to make Stella jump, even if it hadn't caused her to upset things."
"No, I know it wasn't, Grandma, and I'm sorry now. But I'll tell you what: whenever Stella comes over here again, I'll try to be SPECIALLY kind to her, to make up for saying boo!"
Great was the rejoicing of the whole household when at last Marjorie was able to come downstairs once more.
Uncle Steve assisted her down. He didn't carry her, for he said she was far too much of a heavyweight for any such performance as that, but he supported her on one side, and with a banister rail on the other she managed beautifully.
And, anyway, her ankle was just about as well as ever. The doctor had not allowed the active child to come downstairs until there was little if any danger that an imprudence on her part might injure her again.
It was Saturday afternoon, and though she could not be allowed to walk about the place until the following week, yet Uncle Steve took her for a long, lovely drive behind Ned and Dick, and then brought her back to another jolly little surprise.
This was found in a certain sheltered corner of one of the long verandas. It was so built that it was almost like a cosy, little square room; and climbing vines formed a pleasant screen from the bright sunlight. To it Uncle Steve had brought a set of wicker furniture: dear little chairs and a table and a settee, all painted green. Then there was a green-and-white hammock swung at just the right height, and containing two or three fat, jolly- looking, green pillows, in the midst of which Puff had chosen to curl herself up for a nap.
There was a little bamboo bookcase, with a few books and papers, and a large box covered with Japanese matting, which had a hinged lid, and was lovely to keep things in. There was a rug on the floor, and Japanese lanterns hung from the ceiling, all in tones of green and white and silver.
Marjorie unceremoniously dislodged Puff from her comfortable position, and flung herself into the hammock instead.
"Uncle Steve!" she exclaimed, grabbing that gentleman tightly round the neck as he leaned over her to adjust her pillows, "you are the best man in the whole world, and I think you ought to be President! If you do any more of these lovely things for me I shall just—just SUFFOCATE with joy. What makes you so good to me, anyhow?"
"Oh, because you're such a little saint, and never do anything naughty or mischievous!"
"That's a splendid reason," cried Marjorie, quite appreciating the joke, "and, truly, Uncle Steve,—don't you tell,—it's a great secret: but I AM going to try to be more dignified and solemn."
This seemed to strike Uncle Steve as being very funny, for he sat down on the little wicker settee and laughed heartily.
"Well, you may as well begin now, then; and put on your most dignified and pompous manner, as you lie there in that hammock, for I'm going to read to you until tea-time."
"Goody, goody!" cried Marjorie, bobbing up her curly head, and moving about excitedly. "Please, Uncle, read from that new book you brought me last night. I'll get it!"
"That's a nice, dignified manner, that is! Your Serene Highness will please calm yourself, and stay just where you are. I shall select the book to read from, and I shall do the reading. All you have to do is to lie still and listen."
So Marjorie obeyed, and, of course, Uncle Steve picked out the very book she wanted, and read to her delightfully for an hour or more.
Marjorie's porch, as it came to be called, proved to be a favorite resort all summer long for the family and for any guests who came to the house. Marjorie herself almost lived in it for the first few days after she came downstairs, but at last the doctor pronounced her ankle entirely well, and said she might "start out to find some fresh mischief."
So the next morning, directly after breakfast, she announced her intention of going down to see the boathouse.
"Just think," she exclaimed, "I have never seen it yet, and King told me to go down there the very first thing."
"I suppose you'll come back half-drowned," said Grandma, "but as you seem unable to learn anything, except by mistakes, go ahead. But, Marjorie, do try not to do some absurd thing, and then say that I haven't forbidden it! I don't forbid you to go in the boat, if Carter goes with you, but I do forbid you to go alone. Will you remember that?"
"Yes, Grandma, truly I will," said Marjorie, with such a seraphic smile that her grandmother kissed her at once.
"Then run along and have a good time; and don't jump off the dock or anything foolish."
"I won't," cried Marjorie, gayly; and then she went dancing down the path to the garden. Carter was in the greenhouse potting some plants.
"Carter," said Marjorie, putting her head in at the door, "are you very busy?"
"Busy, indeed! I have enough work here with these pesky plants to keep me steady at it till summer after next. Busy, is it? I'm so busy that the bees and the ants is idle beside me. Busy? Well, I AM busy!"
But as the good-natured old man watched Marjorie's face, and saw the look of disappointment settling upon it, he said: "But what matters that? If so be, Miss Midget, I can do anything for you, you've only to command."
"Well, Carter, I thought this morning I'd like to go down to see the boathouse; and I thought, perhaps,—maybe, if you weren't busy, you might take me for a little row in the boat. Just a little row, you know—not very far."
It would have taken a harder heart than Carter's to withstand the pleading tones and the expectant little face; and the gardener set down his flower-pots, and laid down his trowel at once.
"Did your grandmother say you could go, Miss Midget?"
"She said I could go if you went with me."
"Then it's with ye I go, and we'll start at once."
Marjorie danced along by the side of the old man as he walked more slowly down the garden path, when suddenly a new idea came into her head.
"Oh, Carter," she cried, "have my seeds come up yet? And what are the flowers? Let's go and look at them."
"Come up yet, is it? No, indeed, they've scarcely settled themselves down in the earth yet."
"I wish they would come up, I want to see what they'll be. Let's go and look at the place where we planted them, Carter."
So they turned aside to the flowerbed where the precious seeds had been planted, but not even Marjorie's sharp eyes could detect the tiniest green sprout. With an impatient little sigh she turned away, and as they continued down toward the boathouse, Marjorie heard somebody calling, and Molly Moss came flying up to her, all out of breath.
"We were so afraid we wouldn't catch you," she exclaimed, "for your Grandma said you had gone out in the boat."
"We haven't yet," answered Marjorie, "but we're just going. Oh, Carter, can we take Molly, too?"
"And Stella," added Molly. "She's coming along behind."
Sure enough, Stella was just appearing round the corner of the house, and walking as sedately as if on her way to church.
"Hurry up, Stella," called Marjorie. "Can we all go, Carter?"
"Yes, if yees'll set still in the boat and if the other little lady gets here before afternoon. She's the nice, quiet child, but you two are a pair of rascally babies, and I don't know whether it's safe to go on the water with ye. I'm thinkin' I'll take little Miss Stella, and leave ye two behind."
"I don't think you will, Carter," said Marjorie, not at all alarmed by the old man's threat. "I think you'll take all three of us, and we'll sit as still as mice, won't we, Molly?"
"Yes," said Molly; "can we take off our shoes and stockings and hang our feet over the sides of the boat?"
"Oh, yes," cried Marjorie, "that will be lots of fun!"
"Indeed you'll do nothing of the sort," and Carter's honest old face showed that he felt great anxiety concerning his madcap charges. "Ye must promise to sit still, and not move hand or foot, or I'll go back to my work and leave yees on shore."
This awful suggestion brought about promises of strictly good behavior, and as Stella had arrived, the party proceeded to the boathouse.
Stella was mildly pleased at the prospect of a row, and walked demurely by Carter's side, while the other two ran on ahead and reached the boathouse first.
As the door was locked, and they could not open it, Marjorie, who was all impatience to see the boat, proposed that they climb in the window. Molly needed no second invitation, and easily slipped through the little square window, and Marjorie, with a trifle more difficulty, wriggled her own plump little body through after.
As the window was not on the side of the boathouse toward which Carter was approaching, he did not see the performance, and so when he and Stella reach the boathouse a few moments later, they could see nothing at all of the other two girls.
"Merciful powers!" he exclaimed. "Whatever has become of them two witches?"
"Where can they be?" cried Stella, clasping her hands, and opening her eyes wide in alarm.
Old Carter was genuinely frightened. "Miss Marjorie!" he called, loudly. "Miss Molly! Where be ye?"
Meanwhile, the two girls inside the boathouse had carefully scrambled down into the boat and sat quietly on the stern seat. There was a strong breeze blowing, and as the boat swayed up and down on the rippling water, its keel grating against the post to which it was tied, and the doors and windows being tightly shut, they did not hear Carter's voice. They really had no intention of frightening the old man, and supposed he would open the door in a moment.
But Carter's mind was so filled with the thought that the children had fallen into the water that it didn't occur to him to open the boathouse. He went to the edge of the pier, which was a narrow affair, consisting only of two wooden planks and a single hand rail, and gazed anxiously down into the water.
This gave Stella a firm conviction that the girls were drowned, and without another word she began to cry in her own noisy and tumultuous fashion. Poor Carter, already at his wits' end, had small patience with any additional worry.
"Keep still, Miss Stella," he commanded; "it's enough to have two children on me hands drowned without another one raising a hullabaloo. And it's a queer thing, too, if them wicked little rats is drownded, why they don't come up to the surface! My stars! Whatever will the Missus say? But, havin' disappeared so mortal quick, there's no place they can be but under the water. I'll get a boat-hook, and perhaps I can save 'em yet."
Trembling with excitement and bewildered with anxiety, so that he scarcely knew what he did, the old man fitted the key in the lock. He flung open the boathouse door and faced the two children, who sat quietly and with smiling faces in the boat.
"Well, if ye don't beat all! Good land, Miss Marjorie, whatever did ye give me such a scare for? Sure I thought ye was drownded, and I was jest goin' to fish ye up with a boat-hook! My, but you two are terrors! And how did ye get in now? Through the keyhole, I suppose."
"Why, no, Carter," exclaimed Marjorie, who was really surprised at the old man's evident excitement; "we were in a hurry, and the door was locked, so we just stepped in through the window."
"Stepped in through the window, is it? And if the window had been locked ye'd have jest stepped in through the chimley! And if the chimley had been locked, ye'd have stepped into the water, and ducked under, and come up through the floor! When ye're in a hurry, ye stop for nothin', Miss Midget."
The old man's relief at finding the children safe was so great that he was really talking a string of nonsense to hide his feelings.
But Stella, though she realized the girls were all right, could not control her own emotions so easily, and was still crying vociferously.
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed Molly, "what IS the matter with Stella? Doesn't she want to go boating?"
"Why—yes," sobbed Stella, "b-but I thought you two were drowned."
"Well, we're not!" cried Marjorie, gayly. "So cheer up, Stella, and come along."
Leaving the two girls, as they were already seated, in the stern of the boat, Carter carefully tucked Stella into the bow seat, and then took his own place on the middle thwart. This arrangement enabled him to keep his eye on the two mischievous madcaps, and he had no fear that Stella would cut up any tricks behind his back.
He could not reprove the mischief-makers, for they had done nothing really wrong, but he looked at them grimly as he rowed out into the stream.
"Oh," exclaimed Marjorie, "isn't this just too lovely for anything! Please, Carter, mayn't we just put our hands in the water if we keep our feet in the boat?"
"No," growled Carter; "you'll be wantin' to put your heads in next. Now do set still, like the nice young lady behind me."
Anxious to be good, Marjorie gave a little sigh and folded her hands in her lap, while Molly did likewise.
Carter's eyes twinkled as he looked at the two little martyrs, and his heart relented.
"Ye may just dangle your fingers in the water, if ye want to," he said, "but ye must be careful not to wobble the boat."
The children promised, and then gave themselves up to the delight of holding their hands in the water and feeling the soft ripples run through their fingers.
The row down the river was perfect. The balmy June day, with its clear air and blue sky, the swift, steady motion of the boat impelled by Carter's long, strong strokes, and the soothing sensation of the rushing water subdued even the high spirits of Midge and Molly into a sort of gentle, tranquil happiness.
A MEMORY BOOK
With a few deft strokes Carter brought the boat to land on a long, smooth, shelving beach. A crunch of the keel on the pebbles, and then the boat was half its length on shore. Stella, in the bow, grasped the sides of the boat tightly with both hands, as if the shore were more dangerous than the water. Carter stepped out, and drew the boat well up on land, and assisted the girls out.
Stella stepped out gingerly, as if afraid of soiling her dainty boots; but Midge and Molly, with a hop, skip, and jump, bounded out on the beach and danced round in glee.
"I do believe," cried Marjorie, "that this is Blossom Banks! For there are three banks, one after another, just covered with wild flowers. And as true as I live there's a scarlet tanager on that bush! Don't startle him, Stella."
Molly laughed at the idea of Stella startling anything, and softly the girls crept nearer to the beautiful red bird, but in a moment he spread his black-tipped wings and flew away.
"It is Blossom Banks, Miss Midge," said Carter, who now came up to the girls, and who was carrying a mysterious-looking basket. He had secured the boat, and seemed about to climb the banks.