The Bluebird Books
MARY LOUISE AND JOSIE O'GORMAN
[Frontispiece] Josie gets a job as a maid.—Chapter XII
MARY LOUISE AND JOSIE O'GORMAN
EDITH VAN DYNE
Author of "Mary Louise", "Mary Louise in the Country", "Mary Louise Solves a Mystery", "Mary Louise and the Liberty Girls", "Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier", "Mary Louise at Dorfield", "Mary Louise Stands the Test"
Frontispiece by Harry W. Armstrong
The Reilly & Lee Co. Chicago
Printed in the United States of America
Copyright, 1922 by The Reilly & Britton Co. All Rights Reserved
Mary Louise and Josie O'Gorman
I MARY LOUISE MAKES AN INVESTMENT II THE BOARD ELECTS NEW MEMBERS III MARY LOUISE TELLS A STORY IV JOSIE DONS A HENNA WIG V BREAKFAST FOR TWO VI A SUCCESSFUL DISGUISE VII JOSIE GETS A JOB VIII PETER REFUSES NEW PARENTS IX JOSIE GETS HER BEARINGS X AT MISS DENTON'S DINNER TABLE XI JOSIE ENGAGES AN ASSISTANT XII CHESTER HUNT'S NEW MAID XIII A NEW BROOM SWEEPS CLEAN XIV JOSIE JUMPS HER JOB XV JOSIE VISITS INDIANA XVI JOSIE GETS A RIDE XVII HUSBAND AND WIFE XVIII CHESTER HUNT CONFESSES XIX A HAPPY REUNION
Mary Louise and Josie O'Gorman
CHAPTER I MARY LOUISE MAKES AN INVESTMENT
Mary Louise had stood the test of being rich and beloved, and envied by all the daughters of Dorfield; and then of being poor and bereft, pitied by all who had formerly envied her. Soon after the death of her grandfather, Colonel Hathaway, had come the news of her husband's shipwreck. Hope of Danny Dexter's survival was finally abandoned by his sorrowing little wife and his many friends. Colonel Hathaway's comfortable fortune had mysteriously disappeared and Mary Louise faced a future of poverty. With native pluck she arose to the occasion. In spite of her sad heart she showed a cheerful spirit. Joining forces with Josie O'Gorman and Elizabeth Wright in the quaint Higgledy-Piggledy Shop, she opened a millinery department and was soon swamped with orders for smart hats by the elite of Dorfield and old-fashioned bonnets for the ancient ladies who refused to wear hats. When Danny came back, not having gone to a watery grave after all, and the lost fortune was found, Mary Louise again stood the test of being rich and beloved.
"Nothing can spoil our Mary Louise," Josie O'Gorman declared, and Irene Macfarlane smiled from her wheel chair.
"That is because she is pure gold, through and through," said the lame girl as she deftly plied her needle in the cobwebby lace collar she was mending.
"We certainly shall miss her here at the Higgledy-Piggledy," put in Elizabeth Wright. "It doesn't seem like the same place with Mary Louise gone. I wonder what the old ladies who still wear bonnets will do now. There is no other milliner in Dorfield who can fashion an old-time bonnet like our Mary Louise. She did them as though she loved them and the old ladies for whom they were intended."
"Well, every old woman in town has had Mary Louise make her a bonnet 'exactly like Jane's and Susan's and Martha's and Matilda's'," laughed Josie, "and they don't change their bonnets oftener than every seven years, so we needn't worry about them just yet. Speaking of angels! Here she is!"
Mary Louise literally danced into the shop. Ever since Danny returned her feet seemed to have wings.
"I didn't know how miserable I had been until I had my present happiness with which to compare my former sorrow," she had told Josie O'Gorman shortly after Danny got back.
"You were too busy to be altogether unhappy," spake the wise Josie. "Being poor enough to have to make one's living is not so bad as it is cracked up to be. It was certainly a blessing in your case."
As we have said, Mary Louise danced into the shop. Then she breezed over and kissed the three friends in turn.
"It's sad no longer to be a partner here," she said, "but it is nice to be able to kiss all of you dear old girls. A business footing does not permit of the familiarity of embraces between partners. I've just got lots to tell all of you!"
"Fire away," commanded Josie, "but you must excuse me if I go on ironing the fine linen of the wealthy."
Among the many industries the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop boasted was that of laundering fine linen and laces. It was not known in Dorfield except by a select few that Josie O'Gorman was a detective in high standing with the chief, but everybody who had laces or linen too fine to trust to the doubtful ministrations of an ordinary laundress knew that the girl was a magician with suds and a flatiron. Josie declared washing and ironing helped her to work out knotty problems and there was nothing like having your arms in suds up to the elbows to give you an insight into who did what and why.
The girls settled themselves to listen to Mary Louise's news, whatever it was. Elizabeth Wright closed her typewriter on which she had been copying some manuscript for a budding author; Irene Macfarlane stuck her needle in the pin-cushion hanging from her tidy work-basket and folded the lace collar. Only Josie went on with her work, testing her electric iron with a professional sizzle.
"Well, you see it's this way," continued Mary Louise, settling herself on an antique Windsor chair that the Higgledy-Piggledies were trying to sell on commission. "Danny and I are going to have plenty of money to live on, with what he earns. I know how Danny feels about my being an heiress; not that he ever says a word about it, but he has a good job and there is a chance of steady advancement and I have decided to do something for somebody who needs it more than I do with all that gold Grandpa Jim left me and the old house which is too huge for Danny and me to live in, and too sad somehow for me just yet."
"I'm glad you feel that way about the house," put in Josie, shaking out another damask napkin. "It's a bully old house but too big for a young couple who don't need much room to be happy in."
"What is your plan, dear?" asked Irene, her sweet eyes misting a little. The thought of Mary Louise quitting the old house which was next to Uncle Peter Conant's, where Irene made her home, caused her to be sad.
"Danny and I are going into an apartment for the time being and later on will build a house more suitable to our needs. I am going to give the old home to the Children's Home Society and make an endowment with a part of my gold, so the society can begin operations at once in their new quarters. They have a miserable place now, with not near enough room."
"What a corking plan!" cried Josie. "I know of no charity that appeals to one as this business of getting homes for poor little waifs. It helps the poor little kiddies and it helps the childless persons who want to adopt them. I'm with you, Mrs. Danny Dexter!"
"And I! And I!" came in a chorus from Elizabeth and Irene.
"The old house is more fitted for an institution than a private home. The rooms are so huge, at least most of them are, and still it is homelike. Only think how lovely it will be for the children to have the pretty yard and old garden to play in. Dr. Weston, the dear old gentleman who is in charge of the home now, says there is so little room and so little money that they can't care for the children properly and the people who come to see about adopting them are afraid to take them sometimes because they don't look healthy enough."
"Poor little things!" murmured Irene.
"I'm wondering if your Uncle Peter and Aunt Hannah would mind having a children's home next door to them," Mary Louise asked.
"I'm sure they wouldn't," said Irene. "I heard Uncle Peter say only last night that he'd like to see the old place occupied again even if it were by noisy boarders, and you know Aunt Hannah loves company and she's so deaf that the noise the children make won't affect her in the least."
"And you?" asked Mary Louise. "How will you like it?"
"I want what you want, dear. You must call on me to help in any way I can."
"Indeed I will! We hope to make a very active society of this Children's Home. I have talked to Dr. Weston, but have not told him about making the endowment or giving the old house yet. I wanted to be sure it would not be a nuisance to Uncle Peter Conant. He and Aunt Hannah have been too good to me for me to go against their wishes."
"Set your mind at rest on that score," said Irene. "I can answer for them."
"I'll do any typing you need when you begin on the thing," suggested Elizabeth, "and I can look after the publicity end, too. The more persons who get interested in an enterprise like this the better for it."
"Indeed you are right. We will need more money than I can give, too. Yearly subscriptions will have to be solicited and the more publicity we get the better."
"I'll be chief detective for the society," laughed Josie, shaking out another napkin. "You may think that is a joke, but I tell you there are more shady mix-ups in a concern like that than in courts of law. I'll bet I'll be called on to trace parentage and establish property rights and relationships before the year is up."
"Nobody could do it better," smiled Mary Louise. "Now I am going to stop in and have a little talk with Uncle Peter Conant at his office and then I'm going around and tell dear old Dr. Weston that as far as I am concerned he can move his Children's Home to the Hathaway house tomorrow. That is, if Uncle Peter doesn't object." Josie offered to meet her at the Children's Home and Mary Louise gladly accepted.
Uncle Peter didn't object. To the contrary he seemed vastly pleased with the prospect of some young neighbors.
"'Twill do Hannah good and no doubt she will turn our house into a kind of annex. Go ahead, my dear, and invest your money in something where moth and rust will not corrupt and where thieves will not break through and steal."
"Oh, Uncle Peter, I am so glad to hear you say that. I haven't any blood kin to go to for advice and Danny always says for me to do exactly what I want to do, which is bad for my character. It might make me very conceited to have him always insist that I'm right just because I want to do something."
"Well, well! The young rascal is right," laughed Mr. Conant.
"But do you think Grandpa Jim would approve of what I am doing?"
"Surely he would. I haven't a doubt if you had not been in existence he would have done much the same sort of thing with his fortune. Jim Hathaway was a powerful charitable man."
Mary Louise then went to see Dr. Weston at his office in the dingy little building that housed the Children's Home Society. The old man slept on a bumpy couch in the corner of his office. He had been assigned a bedroom in the house, but the association had grown beyond its quarters and the devoted doctor had long ago given up his room as an overflow dormitory for the constantly increasing number of little children who were sent to the home to be kept there until some kind person saw fit to adopt them.
Dr. Weston's life had been dedicated to social work and now in his old age the thing which interested him most and to which he gave all his strength and time was the placing of unfortunate children in good homes. It was through his labor and influence the Children's Home Society had been established and struggled for existence. He was hampered in his work by an unwieldy board of women managers, but he realized the importance of having a large board, because the more persons interested the more money it was possible to raise for his pet charity. At the time of Mary Louise's call funds were very low, so low that it seemed as though the society might have to close its hospitable doors to the homeless waifs and the present inmates be parceled out to the various orphan asylums. The board was to meet that very day. Dr. Weston always dreaded a board meeting. There were some fine, noble women on his board, but also some interfering busy-bodies, who were always starting disagreeable discussions, such as how much sugar a little child should be allowed and how important it was that vanity should not be encouraged in the girls.
Business and finance were not Dr. Weston's strong points. His only idea was to gather in the little children and give them a home in the society until better homes could be found for them. He wanted to make the place as little like an institution as possible, but several members of the board were for unrelenting law and prison order.
The old man sat with his head in his hands worrying over the affairs of the home. He was aware of the fact that funds were low and needs were increasing. The home needed another nurse and a higher-priced cook, who would prepare the food with more care than the present slatternly incumbent. It needed several hospital wards, where children could be isolated when attacked by contagious diseases. The doctor had known his family, varying from thirty to fifty, all down at one time with bad colds, or coryza, as named by the medical profession, when isolating the first small cougher and sneezer might have saved all of the others.
"If only that young Mrs. Dexter, Jim Hathaway's granddaughter, would make us a small donation," he groaned. "No doubt she could well afford it, but young folks are mighty thoughtless. She seemed interested in the children but I fancy that will be all—just a sentimental interest and no more."
A tap on the door and Mary Louise entered as though in answer to his thoughts.
"I have come to see if I might help, Dr. Weston," she said simply.
CHAPTER II THE BOARD ELECTS NEW MEMBERS
As Mary Louise seated herself in Dr. Weston's shabby office Josie entered and was introduced.
"Miss O'Gorman is an especial friend of mine, Dr. Weston, and I have asked her to come here because she also is interested in your home."
"Fine! There can't be too many interested in my home," exclaimed the old man, a light coming in his eyes. "I say my home just because I am so interested in it, but it is in reality under the control of the board. You say you want to help some?" he asked with eagerness.
"Yes, sir! I have been thinking over the matter and have decided that this undertaking of all others appeals to me most and I should like to give my old home. You know the old Hathaway house, do you not?"
"Yes, yes!" There was excitement in Dr. Weston's tone.
"It is too big for me to live in and I think my grandfather would be glad to know that many little children are finding a temporary home there," said Mary Louise. "There is a great deal of furniture there, too, much of which would be suitable, and a lovely great yard and pretty garden where the kiddies can play."
"Oh, my dear, you make an old man very happy!"
"I want to make an endowment, too," Mary Louise continued, "enough with the subscriptions you already control to take care of the children as they should be taken care of."
The tears were rolling down Dr. Weston's cheeks, then he laughed. "What a bomb I can throw in the camp when the board meets this morning! I dreaded their coming but now—now—"
"Who is on your board?" asked Josie practically.
Dr. Weston began naming them over.
"Humph!" was all Josie said, but that "humph" was eloquent.
Many of the names were known to the girls. It was a varied list composed of good, bad and indifferent personalities, from the viewpoint of the social worker.
"Mrs. Opie is a fine open-hearted woman," said Josie, "and Mrs. McGraw is good nature itself and most generous. Mrs. Wright is a great worker and manager—" Josie shrugged her shoulders without finishing her sentence.
"Yes!" breathed Dr. Weston with an eloquent sigh. "A good woman, a good woman, but something of a—a—boss!"
"You mean Elizabeth's mother?" asked Mary Louise. "Grandpa Jim used to call her Kaiser Wright, but that was before we went into the war. He said she could be the head of an absolute monarchy and run all the affairs of state and see to it that the kitchen maids washed out the tea towels after every meal. She is on every charitable and club board in town and at the same time is a most strenuous housekeeper and has a hand in the making of the clothes of her entire family."
"A wonderful woman! A wonderful woman!" exclaimed Dr. Weston, but there was that in his tone that gave Mary Louise and Josie to understand that he was glad there were not many "wonderful women" on the board of the Children's Home Society.
"The board meets in a few minutes," continued the old man. "It is now beginning to assemble in the parlor. I hope you young ladies can remain until I can inform the ladies of the generous gift in store for our home. I am the sole and unworthy representative of my sex on the board."
"Of course we can wait," declared Josie. "Who is the president of your organization?"
"Mrs. Trescott is chairman but—"
"She doesn't stay in it?" laughed Josie.
"I won't say that," smiled the doctor. "Never tell tales out of the board. Ill return in a few moments. I can't tell you the happiness I feel in being able to inform these ladies of our good fortune."
The board was trying to get in session. The girls, waiting in the office, could hear a steady hum of conversation with an occasional sharp rap of the gavel when the president evidently had something to say herself.
"Sounds more like an afternoon tea than the deliberations of an august body," said Josie.
But at last the meeting was called to order, the minutes were read, the treasurer's report made and the various committees called on for a reckoning. All this was accomplished with much talk and many interruptions. The treasurer's report brought forth a groan. There was little money left in the treasury and much was needed in the way of equipment.
"I see nothing for it but to give up," said one lugubrious member. "Dorfield doesn't take enough interest to support the home and so there's an end of it."
"That would come under new business," suggested the president. "We must get through with what is on the carpet first," consulting a small book on parliamentary law.
"Well, there is no use in staying here if we are going to have to give up," spake the lugubrious one. "All of this talk is foolish if we are going to disband."
"Disband, nothing!" broke in Mrs. Wright, whose hands were busily employed knitting a sweater for one of her girls while her eyes were glancing from person to person. Her foot tapped constantly while her knitting needles flew. One felt that she was doing some kind of work with that tapping foot.
"Disband, indeed!" she whispered sibilantly. "We'll have a tag day and a rummage sale and I'll get up a dicker party and some theatricals. Disband, indeed!"
At last Dr. Weston was allowed to speak.
"Ladies," he said, "I mean Madame President, I have to report to the board—"
"Not another case of measles, I trust!" interrupted one.
"No, not a case of measles, but a case that I hope is going to prove quite as contagious—"
"Mumps, I'll be bound!"
"No, madame! We have had a gift for the home—"
"More old faded carpets and carved walnut furniture, I wager!"
Finally Dr. Weston was able to divulge to the board of managers that Mary Louise Burrows, Jim Hathaway's granddaughter, now Mrs. Danny Dexter, intended to hand over to them her grandfather's old home.
Mary Louise and Josie in the next room with the door closed were able to tell exactly the moment when the news was broken. Such a hubbub ensued that the doctor's voice was quite drowned out.
"And now, ladies," continued Dr. Weston, "since we have several vacancies on our board, I think we could not do better than to ask Mrs. Dexter to fill one of those vacancies and her friend Miss Josie O'Gorman one of the others."
There was much hemming and hawing at this proposition.
"Too young!" was the general verdict, but Dr. Weston declared that Mary Louise was not too young to give her property to the home, and then he hinted wisely of other things she might give. The astute old man was a good judge of human nature, especially human nature as exemplified by a board of women managers. He had held back the fact that Mary Louise also intended to endow the home. He was determined to have her put on the board first, and also her clever little friend, who had such a quiet way of hitting the nail on the head.
With the air of conferring on Mary Louise and Josie a tremendous favor they were finally elected to the board.
"But who is this Josie O'Gorman?" asked a smartly dressed woman, "and why? Isn't she a kind of a washerwoman?"
"Hush!" admonished another. "Don't you know she is in the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop with Elizabeth Wright?"
The secretary was requested to inform the two young women of the honor conferred upon them.
"They are in my office," said Dr. Weston, "and I might just step in and tell them myself."
"Oh, horrors!" cried one of the women. "Do you suppose they heard what we said?"
"I never said anything but that they were too young. Nobody could object to that."
"And I said board work might prove too arduous for them."
"And I said our board was too big as it was."
"I was for them all the time."
CHAPTER III MARY LOUISE TELLS A STORY
The members of the board need not have concerned themselves in regard to the waiting girls. Josie and Mary Louise had been fully occupied. At the moment that the hubbub had arisen, marking the time when Dr. Weston had made his announcement, there had been a sharp tap on the office door. Josie had opened the door and there had entered a woman and two children, a girl of eight and a boy of about six. The girl carried a badly wrapped bundle of clothes.
Mary Louise and Josie felt a keen interest in all three. The woman was young—under thirty. She was handsome, with raven black hair and well-cut features. Her face was pale and her eyes gloomy. She carried herself with a slow, lazy grace. The good lines of her tall figure asserted themselves in spite of the cheap, ill-fitting serge suit. Josie always noticed hands and feet, because she declared they were more difficult to disguise than any other portion of one's anatomy. One glance at the woman's ungloved hands made Josie wonder at the well-kept nails and dimpled knuckles.
"No horny-handed daughter of toil, at least," was her mental note. She then instinctively glanced at the woman's feet.
"Too well shod for the serge suit," was her verdict, "high arched triple A with French heels, about a five, which is small for a person of her height. She must be at least five feet, ten inches."
This inventory took Josie the fraction of a second, so quick was she to see and pigeon-hole her observations in her well-ordered brain.
The children had evidently been crying. The girl's eyes and nose were red and the boy at intervals gave a dry sob as though he had been through a storm of weeping and could with difficulty stop. They clung to each other as they would had they been drowning. The woman pushed them into the room. The children's clothes were the worse for wear, and untidy. Their faces were dirty and showed signs of grimy little knuckles having been dug into streaming eyes. The eyes of both children were blue, as blue as cornflowers, and their hair very light, the boy's curling in tight rings but the girl's straight and bobbed.
"I want to see the manager," said the woman in a well-modulated voice.
"Dr. Weston will be here in a few minutes," said Mary Louise. "Won't you sit down?"
The young woman sank into a chair. She paid no attention to the children, but Josie found them a seat on a bench by the window. The little girl lifted the boy to the bench and put her arm around his shoulders, drawing him close to her sisterly bosom.
"Quite warm today," said Josie to the woman.
Mary Louise could with difficulty keep from giggling. It was so foreign to Josie's character to discuss the weather.
"Think so?" answered the woman shortly.
"Not so warm as it was yesterday, but still a little unseasonable," persisted Josie. "I find a suit quite warm, but then, what is one to wear?"
Mary Louise listened in amazement. Josie talking weather and clothes! She had reduced the problem of dress to a science and having done so dismissed the matter from her mind. As for the weather, she had frequently declared that all weather was good if one just accepted it.
"Clothes are getting a little cheaper than they were last spring," she chattered on, "almost pre-war prices at Temple & Sweet's this week. Charming georgette blouses for a mere song and shoes at a great bargain if one wears a narrow last."
The woman was plainly interested.
"Temple & Sweet's?" she murmured, and her glance instinctively fell on her own well-turned arch and narrow toe.
Suddenly the little boy's sobs got the better of him and he wept convulsively. His sister hugged him more closely and with the hem of her skirt wiped his eyes. She shook her own tow head and her blue eyes snapped dangerously as the woman said roughly: "Stop your bawling!"
"Peter, dear, please!" she whispered, but Peter could not stop. Mary Louise went over and sat on the bench by the children.
"You mustn't cry, my boy," she said gently. "Whatever troubles you I am sure will come out right. Look out of the window at that robin. Isn't he busy? Do you know what he is doing? He is building his nest. There is his wife. She is going to help him. What a good little wife she is! She thinks it is better to help because her husband is always stopping and singing. There he goes now! A cunning little teasing song the robin sings. I love to hear him in the spring. He always sounds so gay and cheery. Do you know what will happen when they get the nest built?"
"Wha-at?" sobbed the boy. The tears had ceased and the sobs were almost under control.
"The little wife bird will lay four beautiful eggs. They will be a greenish blue, the blue that people call robin's egg blue. And then she will stay patiently on her nest for many days keeping those eggs nice and warm, only leaving her nest for something to eat and a drink of water and when she is off, her husband, if he can stop singing long enough, will keep the eggs warm for her, and by and by the pretty blue shells will crack and inside them will be the most ridiculous-looking little creatures you ever saw, all mouth at first, with no feathers at all, and those mouths will always be stretched wide open like this," and Mary Louise stretched her pretty mouth as wide as nature would allow. The boy laughed and his sister smiled contentedly.
Mary Louise resumed, in her pleasant voice:
"Then such a business! Mother and Father Robin will be working every minute of daylight to try and fill those hungry mouths. Poor little worms will be afraid to show their noses or their tails because there will be a robin ready to peck them up and carry them off to their babies. Those little birds will eat so much that by and by they will begin to grow feathers and they will be pretty and fluffy and two of them will take after their father and have very red breasts and two of them will take after their mother and have just a delicate shade of red on their breasts. And after those little birds get all covered with feathers and their wings begin to grow strong Father Robin will say to Mother Robin, 'See here, my dear, it is time these young rascals learned how to fly and to grub for themselves.' That will make Mother Robin sad, because she hates for her babies to grow up and have to leave her."
"O—h!" in a long-drawn sigh from the little girl. "Do you think she feels that way? How wonderful?"
"Of course she does; at least she will," smiled Mary Louise.
"Go on!" commanded Peter. "Polly, don't interrupt! Will they leave their nice house—I mean nest?"
Josie silently noted the speech of the children. "From the South!" was her verdict. "Soft slurred r's and the way the boy says house would give them away."
"Yes," continued Mary Louise, "some pleasant morning in June, perhaps, they will awaken very early and their mother and father will get busy catching the early worm for their breakfast. You see, nobody must ever try to do anything very important, like learning to fly, on an empty stomach."
"That's what I been a-tellin' Polly; but go on, please."
"Then, when they are all fed and full and happy, Mother Robin balances herself on the side of the nest and spreads her wings and says 'Now, children, watch me!' and she floats down to the ground."
"From away up in the tree tops?"
"No, not so high up, because you see robins build in high bushes and hedges, but it will seem very far to the little birds, as high as the top of trees and even church steeples would seem to you."
"But if my mother would say, 'Come on, Peter, and jump off the church steeple, I'm a-gonter do it. I wouldn't feel 'fraid—not a mite, not if my mo—" But he could not finish the word mother. A realization of something came over him and again his lip trembled and he seemed on the verge of more tears and sobs.
"And then the little birds," continued Mary Louise quickly, trying to keep the tears from her own sweet eyes, "they will look over the edge of the nest and see their mother hopping around on the soft green grass, and maybe they will see her catch a nice fat wiggly worm and, wonder of wonders! and horror of horrors! instead of flying back to the nest to give it to one of her babies she will gobble it up her own self. That won't be because she is a greedy mother, but just to let them realize that if they get down on the grass they can find plenty of delicious worms for themselves. Then Father Robin will tell them they are all little cry-babies not to jump up and fly from the nest, and one by one the little baby birds will make up their minds and before you know it all four will be down in the grass by their mother. Then, goodness gracious me! what a busy day they will have! The little birds are very plump, because their mother and father have worked so hard to keep them well fed and they have never taken any exercise before except with their mouths, and their little wings seem so weak and their little tummies are so fat and so full, but they try and try and by dusk they have almost learned. At any rate they are able to flutter back into the bush where their old nest is, not that they ever expect to get back in their nest. They would no more try to do that than a great big grown-up man would want to get back in the little cradle in which his mother had rocked him when he was a baby."
The biography of the robins was finished just as Dr. Weston came in to announce to Mary Louise and Josie that they had been elected to the board of governors of the Children's Home Society.
"Oh, but—" faltered Mary Louise.
"No buts at all, Mary Louise," insisted Josie. "Of course you must serve because you are interested and I'll serve too just to keep you in countenance."
"I think this lady wishes to speak with you, Dr. Weston."
The old man had been so full of his news that he had for the moment overlooked the other occupants of his office. He now turned courteously to the woman who stood up as though she had about finished her business and was ready to leave.
"If you are the manager then I can go," she asserted. "I want to leave these two children with you."
"Not so fast, madam!" said Dr. Weston. "We don't take little children offhand this way. We must find out who they are, why they are here, who is placing them here, all about their parentage—many things, in fact. I shall ask you to be seated, madam, for a few moments while I conduct these young ladies to the board, which is now in session."
The woman resumed her seat, a sullen expression on her handsome face. Dr. Weston drew the girls into the parlor, carefully closed the door and then, with a graceful little speech, courtly and kindly, he presented the new members.
"We think it is splendid that you will give the house to us," said one to Mary Louise, who was smiling happily.
"When can we get in?" asked another.
"We can't afford to move," spake the treasurer.
"Well, we can't afford to stay here, either," snapped Mrs. Wright. "We'll just raise the money by hook or crook."
"I—I—will give some money along with the house," faltered Mary Louise. "It isn't very much, but if $50,000 would help any I can give that much."
The board was not noted for its sense of humor, but even it realized how absurd it was for this slip of a girl to be so modest with her fifty thousand dollars, and was it enough? The board burst into laughter. Dr. Weston looked as though he might burst with pride and happiness.
"To whom must I make the check?" asked Mary Louise simply, as though making checks for fifty thousand dollars was no more than paying one's gas bill.
"To the treasurer," answered the president, with a gasp.
"No, no, not to me! I would be afraid to carry around such a check." But the treasurer was overruled and Mary Louise proceeded to make out a check there and then. Her fortune had been left to her in cash owing to her grandfather's being unbalanced many months before his death and having converted all of his securities into gold, which he had hid away.
"I'll have the deeds to the house made over to the Children's Home Society as soon as Mr. Conant, my lawyer, can manage it," said Mary Louise.
There being no further business before the board it was joyfully and noisily adjourned by the smiling but flustered president.
"Now I must go interview the woman with the two little children," Dr. Weston said to Josie and Mary Louise.
"I must see the children again," declared Mary Louise. "Poor lambs!" But when the door leading to the office was opened the room was found empty. The woman and two children had disappeared.
CHAPTER IV JOSIE DONS A HENNA WIG
"Believe me, there's something shady about that woman!" said Josie to Mary Louise. "She was ready enough to leave the kids until Dr. Weston told her she would have to produce some kind of information about them. That is what scared her off."
"Dear little children," said Mary Louise sadly. "I wonder if she is their mother."
"Of course not! There wasn't a trace of resemblance."
"I know she was a decided brunette and the children were blue-eyed and tow-headed," Mary Louise remembered.
"Color isn't such a proof as line and certain tricks of pose and motion. They had not one single thing in common with the woman and then she was plainly indifferent to them and they were a little in awe of her. That happens sometimes with a mother, but if she is indifferent to her children she usually tries to hide it and makes a show of affection with strangers. And children just have to love their mothers a little bit and it was easy to see those poor kiddies actually hated her. I watched the girl, Polly, and when the woman told the boy to stop bawling Polly had a look in her blue eyes that suggested a desire to bite and scratch and kick or even use a hatchet if one were handy. I think I'll look those people up."
"But how, Josie?"
"There are ways," smiled Josie. "You see, I am kind of self-elected detective for the Children's Home Society and my work has begun already. It is not merely to look after the children in the home but those who might, could, would or should be in the home."
"Well, I hope you can find out something. I'd like to know about my poor little Peter. What a precious boy he is!"
That forenoon Josie happened, as if by chance, into the department store of Temple & Sweet's. First she gave a cursory glance at the bargain counters where georgette blouses were being tossed about by eager shoppers like corks on the restless sea. She then looked in at the shoe department. Seeing nothing there to interest her she made her way to a lunch counter in the basement and satisfied her healthy appetite with a club sandwich and a cup of chocolate. All the time she kept her eye on the shoppers who passed back and forth. After her luncheon she again visited the pile of rumpled blouses, much diminished, and again made her way to the shoe department. Evidently she saw something there that interested her keenly. She hurried to the dressing room and in a moment emerged looking strangely unlike the Josie her friends knew. Her sandy hair was completely covered by a henna wig, bobbed and crimped. Her sedate sailor hat was cocked at a rakish angle and draped with a much-ornamented veil, and mirabile dictu! a lipstick had been freely and relentlessly applied to her honest mouth and her cheeks were touched up with a paint of purplish hue. Her sober Norfolk jacket was as much disguised as its wearer by a silly lace frill pinned around the neck and down the front.
Back to the shoe department Josie hurried and flopped herself down by a young woman who was busily engaged in trying on several styles of bargain pumps. Her slender, high-arched foot was just the kind for the shoes advertised as greatly reduced. It was the woman of the morning, but she, too, was much changed—so much so that Josie herself might not have recognized her had she not been looking for and expecting a change. The dress she wore was no longer a cheap blue serge but a handsome tricolette, richly trimmed according to the prevailing mode. Her hat was plainly a Paris model in strong contrast to the battered, flower-trimmed thing she had worn in the morning. She also had been using a lip-stick and an extra touch of color was on her cheeks.
"Such sweet shoes!" ventured Josie in a mincing tone quite in keeping with her henna wig and lace ruffle. "My, you have a pretty arch!"
The young woman smiled encouragement, while the admiring shoe clerk tried on a smart brown suede pump.
"I have been trying to get my arch up," continued Josie, sticking out her own well-shod little foot. Josie had very pretty feet and they were one weakness. She always wore a sensible shoe, but it must be of the best material and nobby cut.
"What do you advise?" she asked the clerk. "But maybe you can tell me," she said, addressing the young woman by her side. "Your foot is so wonderful."
The woman was evidently pleased and flattered.
"Oh, thanks awfully," she drawled.
"I wonder if you dance much," continued Josie. "I bet you could do barefoot dancing with such a foot as that. Now could you? Ain't her foot a wonder?" to the clerk.
"I never saw a prettier," was his verdict.
"Well, I do dance," she confessed. "In fact, dancing is my profession. I'm not working right now but expect to get back on the road immediately."
"How thrilling!" cried Josie. Josie's intimates had often wondered at her histrionic powers when she pretended to be stupid, which was her usual way of disarming persons who might have been suspicious of her. She had found out much about those archvillains Felix and Hortense Markle by an assumption of supreme dullness. But no one of her acquaintances had ever seen Josie assume the role of a skittish, dressed-up miss, painted and brazen, talkative and impertinent.
"I'm just dying to go on the stage," she continued. "I get awful tired of pounding out a living on the typewriter. I'd a sight rather make a living with my toes than with my fingers."
The young woman bought the brown suede pumps and also a pair of black ones similar to them. She had already selected several pairs of oxfords and walking boots.
"You have to be mighty particular with your feet when you have to show them," she said, Josie's expansiveness having had its influence on her indifference. "I never can wear old shoes. They are simply ruination to one's feet. As for cheap shoes—never! Of course, these are bargains merely because they are a bit shop-worn."
"Shall I send these, lady?" asked the clerk.
"Ye-es—No! I had better take them with me. Wrap them up in as small a package as possible."
Josie noticed a fat roll of greenbacks as the woman paid for her purchases. Then, the large package under her arm, she walked off with a slow, lazy, long-limbed grace. In spite of the conversation she had held with Josie and the clerk she neglected any word of farewell.
"What can I show you, miss?" the clerk asked Josie.
"Nothing today, thank you! I reckon I'm due at my job. I'll be in another day. Good-by!" and Josie was off on her quest. She followed the woman from a safe distance up one street for several blocks and around a corner. She went in the front door of a cheap boarding house not far from the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop. From the fact that she did not ring the bell, but merely walked in, Josie gathered that there she was making her temporary home. The place was frankly third-class, with a large sign stating that boarders were wanted by the day or week. On the porch were young women coifed according to the latest and most extreme bushiness and young men with their feet on the railing, socks and toothpicks much in evidence.
Josie noted the address: 126 East Centre Street. She also noted the odors that exuded from the basement dining room.
"A veritable Todgers'," she said to herself. Dickens was Josie's favorite author and she could usually find a parallel from him to suit every case. "All the greens that were ever cooked there were evergreens and flourished in immortal strength," she quoted. "A funny hole for my lady of the high arches to choose to live in. And those kiddies—who and why are they? Anyhow, I'm going to keep my eye on the bunch of them."
Josie reported what she had discovered to Mary Louise, who was duly impressed by her friend's cleverness.
"Not a bit of it," said Josie, repudiating anything more than just an ordinary amount of knowledge of human nature. "I saw from the woman's shoes that she thought something of her feet and the way she walked and those very feet made me feel somehow she was accustomed walking on the stage. I told her about the sale at Temple & Sweet's, feeling almost sure the lure of bargain shoes would prove strong. There she was to be sure and she had a big wad of money, which makes me think she is doing those little kids dirt, not to have them better dressed. They were not even clean and so ragged it was pathetic. They are more folksy than she is, too. Something about their accent made me feel it. She had a well-modulated voice, but that is because she is evidently an actress as well as dancer; but there is something in her mode of speech that made me feel she was not exactly the same class as the children with her. She is some 'beaut,' though. You should see her in her glad rags."
Mary Louise spent a busy afternoon with her lawyer, Mr. Peter Conant, going over her affairs and having him look into the necessary deeds for the transfer of her old house to the Children's Home Society.
"And what does your young husband say to all of this giving away of good money and land?" asked Uncle Peter.
"Danny thinks it is exactly as it should be. He takes a kind of pride in being able to support me himself and he didn't have any too soft and easy a childhood, so he is anxious to help some little ones to happiness."
"Well, he is a good lad, a good lad," said Uncle Peter, "and I wish Jim Hathaway could have done something like this in his lifetime, but he was too busy trying to lay up treasures for you, my dear."
"I think sometimes he knew I'd do it and he was so unselfish he wanted me to have all the fun of it instead of having it himself. I am not depriving myself of anything to speak of. We have plenty left to buy us a nice little home and a large amount to spare besides, and Danny is making a very good salary." And Mary Louise hurried off to be home in time to see that the little new maid had everything in the way of food exactly right for her beloved young husband.
CHAPTER V BREAKFAST FOR TWO
The Higgledy-Piggledy Shop was fortunate in having so many partners or near-partners, for Josie O'Gorman was destined to be very busy for many days in looking into the mystery of Peter and Polly and the handsome young woman of the arches. Elizabeth Wright, with the assistance of Irene Macfarlane, was capable of managing the shop alone, with the exception of the fine laundering, and that perforce must wait for Josie's leisure.
On the day following the discovery of the whereabouts of the young woman and the children, Josie was called to the telephone by Dr. Weston. Mary Louise had informed the old man of Josie's real profession, the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop being a mere by-product of the business of being a trained detective, and of her willingness to serve the Children's Home in the latter capacity whenever they needed her.
"Miss O'Gorman, if you are not too busy I am in great need of your services," Dr. Weston said. "I have a feeling the matter is urgent."
"I'll be right over," was Josie's brisk reply.
"Thank goodness I haven't begun on those lace collars," she said to Elizabeth. "Lace should be washed and ironed at one sitting. You can expect me when you see me, dear. Irene will come in and help keep shop and if you get up against it call on Mary Louise or one of the other girls. So long!"
She found Dr. Weston somewhat perturbed.
"It is those same children who were here yesterday, Miss O'Gorman. They came back this morning without the woman; just walked in announcing they had come to stay and seemed to think we were expecting them. They said the young woman, whom they call Cousin Dink, had sent them. I have tried to question them, but their answers are confused and contradictory. I felt that perhaps it was better to wait for you and see what you could find out."
"You will keep them, will you not?"
"I don't know. We will if I can do as I want you know the board—"
"Yes, I know the board," said Josie with, a smile.
"Sometimes they are great on rules and regulations, and one of our rules is that we must know where the children come from and who they are so we can hand over a record to the persons who are desirous of adopting them."
"I guess that is a pretty good rule, but it should work both ways. I must say I think the ones who do the adopting should have better recommendations than the poor kiddies. If they don't like the children they can bring them back, but the poor babies have to stay put whether they like the adopters or not. Where would these children go if you can't keep them?"
"The poorhouse, I think! You see, the orphan asylums are run by churches and usually take only the children whose parents were of their religious convictions. These children are too old for a foundling's home. But I do hope we may be allowed to keep them here."
Josie found the children in the parlor, huddled together on the sofa, a forlorn pair. At their feet was the same bumpy bundle of clothes.
"We comed back," the boy said. "Where is the story-telling lady? The reason we comed back was because I thought she'd be here, too. Cousin Dink told us she'd be here."
"Well, so she will," said Josie. "Where is Cousin Dink?" she asked Polly.
"I don't know and I don't care one bit," said Polly, without meaning to be pert but simply declaring the truth.
"But did she not bring you here?"
"No ma'm! She yanked us out of bed this morning and made us dress just as fast as we could and then she pulled us out in the street—"
"Did you have no breakfast?"
"I had a pickle and Peter had a cream puff she forgot to eat last night. I was awful 'fraid it might give him the tummy ache because cream puffs are mighty poor breakfast eatin's, 'specially when they are left-overs, but Peter has powerful tough insides. I believe he can eat almost anything."
"And how about you? Doesn't a pickle for breakfast make you feel kind of queer?"
"Oh, my insides are even better than Peter's. The pickle was just the thing because it kept me from wanting anything else."
"Well, I tell you what we are going to do: we are going around the corner to a nice little place and have some breakfast. You can just leave your bundle here," she said, as Polly stooped to pick up the untidy parcel.
"It's right important, because it's all Peter an' me's got," said Polly.
"Dr. Weston will take care of it for you. Now come along, because cream puffs and pickles need something to keep them company." As they passed through the office Josie told Dr. Weston where they were going.
"Bless my soul! I never thought of asking them if they were hungry. Well, come back as soon as you finish and we will see what can be done."
"If you don't mind my making a suggestion, I think the wisest thing to do in this case would be to telephone Mary Louise and let her tackle the board. They could hardly refuse her anything just now."
Such hungry children! First Josie ordered oatmeal and cream; then toast and scrambled eggs; and topped it all off with pancakes and maple syrup. She noticed that although the children were almost starving their table manners were good.
"Gently reared!" she said to herself.
"My, but it's been a long time since—" began Polly, and then stopped short.
"Nothing! I was just—just—" The little girl faltered and was silent.
"All right, honey, don't you tell me a thing you don't want to tell me," said Josie kindly, "but you must remember that I am your friend and if you need me—"
"We do need you and I do want to tell you—but—but—"
"Now, Polly, you 'member what Cousin Dink said," broke in Peter, with his mouth full of pancakes.
"Yes, and you remember what Mother said about talking with your mouth full," admonished Polly.
"Yes, but she just said people would think we were po' whites if we had bad manners and would blame her. An' you 'member Dink said if we talked 'bout things bad men would git us."
"Well, no bad men are going to get you while I am around, I can tell you that," declared Josie stoutly.
"Not even p'licemen?"
"Not even policemen! They are my friends and they are your friends, too. Their business is to look after little children."
Josie smiled her friendly smile.
"Well, Cousin Dink was skeered to death of p'licemen an' she was a great deal bigger'n you."
"Was she really? What did she think policemen would do to her?" asked Josie.
"Your mother wasn't afraid of policemen, was she?"
"No'm, my mother was jes' 'fraid of mice an' snakes."
"Your mother isn't with you, is she?"
"No'm, she—I reckon she's dead—me'n Polly ain't quite sure. Sometimes when we begs to go home Cousin Dink says she is dead an' th' ain't no home to go to an' sometimes when Polly an' me can't stop cryin' Cousin Dink says if we stop an' are real good some day she might take us back to our mother."
"Cousin Dink is a born liar, so we don't know what to think," spoke Polly coolly.
"Is she really?" questioned Josie cautiously. "I hope you and Peter don't tell lies."
"We don't know how to very well because we were not born that way, but Cousin Dink has taught us right smart. You get out of lots of trouble if you can lie easy like Cousin Dink."
Josie felt satisfied now that she would be able by degrees to extract their story from the children. "There is nothing like a pleasantly full stomach to make one talk," she said to herself. "I had a feeling pancakes would turn the trick. Dr. Weston was trying to get something out of them when the poor little creatures were too hungry to expand."
"Who is Cousin Dink? Is she your mother's cousin?"
"She ain't 'zactly our cousin—that is, she told me so one time when she got so mad with me 'cause I chopped off my hair. That was two or three days ago. I couldn't get the tangles out and she wouldn't try, but just pulled the comb through as though she liked to hurt me, so I just up and cut it off with one slash. She said, 'God knows I'm glad you are no blood relation to me, you abominable brat!' I was so glad to near for sure that she wasn't a really truly cousin that I didn't mind a bit being called an abominable brat. Cousin Dink is always talking about God—not praying or loving him, but saying 'God knows!' and 'God is my witness!' and sometimes even worse things, but Peter and I never say the things she says because we know our mother wouldn't like it."
"Have you always known your Cousin Dink?"
"Oh, no indeed! We never saw her until the day she came and brought us away."
"Away from your mother and father?"
"No, just away from home! You see, our father went to fight in the war. That was a long time ago, so long ago that Peter can't remember him, but he tries to. He can remember the porridge bowl with rabbits on it that Father gave him. He gave me one, too, with chickens on it. And he can 'most remember how Father used to tell us to eat up all the cream out of the bottom so the poor rabbits and chickens could breathe. I was not as old as Peter is now when he went away and Peter wasn't but two. And after he was gone Mother used to cry a lot but she never did let people see her, that is, no people but me, but she worked so hard knitting and making bandages and things that she got sick. And after she got sick she cried all the time and didn't mind who saw her."
"Where was your home?"
"Don't tell her! Don't tell her, Polly!" cried Peter. "Don't you remember what she said 'bout our never telling that? She said a p'liceman as big as the giant Jack killed would git us—an' he would gouge out our eyes an' then he would go an' take Mother to jail an' maybe he'd even hang her by the neck until she was dead."
"Has your mother done anything wicked that a policeman would do such a thing to her?" asked Josie patiently and gently.
"Our mother do anything wicked!" exclaimed Polly. "Why she was the goodest person in all the world."
"Don't you know policemen never do anything to good people. They don't do anything to bad people either but arrest them and then the judge decides what is to be done to them. The policemen are really good, kind men, as a rule."
"I believe Cousin Dink was lying, anyhow," declared Polly stoutly. "How could a policeman get our mother if our mother was already dead? I wish I knew whether our mother was dead or not. I believe she must be or she would not let us be traveling around with Cousin Dink, eating cream puffs and pickles for breakfast. Mother was powerful particular about what we ate for breakfast."
"I can find out whether or not your mother is dead if you will only tell me what your name is and where you lived before you were taken off by Cousin Dink," said Josie.
"You are sure they won't get me if I tell," whispered Polly. "Cousin Dink told me I must tell everybody that my mother and father were dead and that I loved her like a sister or aunt. She didn't want to be old enough to be a mother. She said I must forget where I lived before she carried us off. Sometimes I do almost forget it because it seems so long ago."
"You got as far as the time your mother cried all the time," suggested Josie. "What happened then?"
"Uncle Chester came back to Atlanta and said she must go to a hospital and he wouldn't let any of her friends see her. He wouldn't let us see her, either."
"And who is Uncle Chester? Is he your mother's brother or your father's?" asked Josie, making a mental note of the little girl's slip concerning Atlanta.
"Oh, he isn't either, at least, not a really and truly brother. He always called our father Brother Stephen, but his name is Chester Hunt and father's name was Stephen Waller."
"You say your father's name was Stephen Waller. Do you think he is dead?"
"I think so sometimes and sometimes I don't. I don't know what to think. If he is alive why didn't he come back to Mother and if he is dead why didn't Mother know it for sure? When the war got over we thought he was coming home and Mother stopped crying and soldiers kept on coming back and Daddy wasn't with them. And she wrote letters to the President and everybody and nobody seemed to be able to tell her much of anything about Daddy. One time after a big fight he was missing and still some of the men in his regiment say they saw him alive but they don't seem to know just where. And it was all so mixed up and Mother got awful sick and then Uncle Chester came."
"Didn't your mother have any brothers or sisters or any relations of her own?"
"No, ma'm, she never did have any and her mother and father died when she was little and she was brought up in France in a convent 'cept'n she wasn't a Catholic."
"Did you live in a house in Atlanta or an apartment?"
"We had a great big house and three automobiles and a whole lot of servants. Cousin Dink says I am lying when I say that because she wants people to think we are poor little orphans that she had to support. I know her tricks."
"What was your address in Atlanta?"
"Oh, gee! I've let out Atlanta and I reckon I might as well tell the address."
Josie wrote it down. She could trust herself to remember any name, but she was more careful with numbers.
"You don't know where they took your mother? To what sanitarium?"
"No, they never told me and when I asked Uncle Chester he pretended at first he didn't hear and then when I kept on asking him he told me to shut my mouth. Uncle Chester had always been nice to us but then he got as sour as pickles."
CHAPTER VI A SUCCESSFUL DISGUISE
When Josie and her little friends reached the Children's Home they found Mary Louise waiting for them.
"It is all right," she whispered to Josie. "Dr. Weston and I have had the whole board on the line one by one and we have talked them into letting the poor kiddies stay. It is against the rules of the board to take children who can give no credentials but all the same we have worked it. Poor lambs, where else can they go? If Danny and I had not moved into such a tiny flat we might have taken them, but as it is—"
"As it is you and Danny had better be by yourselves awhile," asserted Josie. "You had better interest yourself in the institution and in children in general and not particularize too much. Poor Danny has had a hard enough time to deserve a little honeymooning period before he adopts a lot of orphans."
Although she was so independent, Josie had a strong feeling of sentiment and was essentially feminine in spite of her rather boyish attire. She was a firm believer in what she called "old-fashioned love." Danny Dexter had no better friend than the girl detective, and nobody had understood better or sympathized more in the trials Danny had endured the first few months of his married life than did Josie O'Gorman.
Peter was delighted at again seeing the "story-telling lady." "I was wondering about the robins all night," he said. "That was one reason I stopped crying when Cousin Dink told us we must come here. You see, Cousin Dink used to tell me if we didn't behave she would put us in a 'sylum and that folks in 'sylums didn't give you nothin' to eat but calf neck an' sheep's tails an' sour bread an' scorched oatmeal. Somehow, when we saw you yesterday an' you tol' me about the robins I thought Cousin Dink might have been tellin' one of her whoppers."
By degrees Josie got from the little waifs as much of their story as they could remember. Polly thought they had been with Cousin Dink for about a year. She had taken them from place to place, sometimes stopping in small villages, sometimes in great cities, but never for more than a few weeks anywhere.
Cousin Dink semed to be a relation of Chester Hunt, and Chester Hunt, as near as Josie could make out, was either a half-brother or stepbrother to Stephen Waller, the father of the children. Stephen Waller evidently was among those missing in one of the battles in the Great War. The mother was perhaps crazed by grief and uncertainty. Why the children should have been put in charge of such a person as Cousin Dink remained a mystery that Josie O'Gorman was determined to solve. Why she should have left them for the Children's Home Society to take care of and where she had flitted in the meantime were other questions Josie was determined to have answered. It was a case that appealed to her detective instincts.
As was her habit, she took her story to Captain Charlie Lonsdale, chief of police, and asked his advice. He listened carefully to all her points.
"Sounds shady, very shady. Evidently this Dink is a bad 'un, but who is employing you on this case?"
"Nobody. I'm just on my own, but I can't sit still and see two clever little kids done out of home and mother and maybe a fortune just because nobody makes it his business to dig out the evidence. I'd like to travel a little, anyhow, so I'm going on a trip to Atlanta and see for myself who these Wallers are and what this Chester Hunt is doing and if the father is really dead. Sooner or later somebody is going to want to know and your Aunt Josie is going to have that information when it is called for."
Captain Lonsdale smiled. "The real spirit of a detective, my child, is to be interested in every mystery whether it is your business or not. I give you all honor because of it. But tell me, who is to defray expenses? One can't live on curiosity."
"Almost!" laughed Josie. "But this time Mary Louise is to help me out. I am going to take a holiday, I tell you, and go on a trip for my health, so why shouldn't I pay for my own jaunt?"
"No reason at all. I wish I had a few like you on the force. My men are afraid to take a taxi when it is of paramount importance to get to a spot in a hurry. Afraid somebody won't reimburse them."
"That's not their fault," declared Josie. "I fancy they have families to support and maybe the city is slow to recognize their expense accounts. I have nobody to support but myself and I would pay out my whole income just for the satisfaction of getting ahead of some crook. This Cousin Dink is the limit for selfishness and impertinence. You haven't advised me yet."
"Tell me first what your plans are?"
"Well, first I'm going to find out all I can here in Dorfield about this woman. I'm thinking of staying a few days in that greasy Todgers to get on to her all I can from the standpoint of her fellow boarders."
"Good! Then what?"
"Then I'll go on to Atlanta and see what I can see."
"Will you be traveling for your health ostensibly?"
"No indeed! I'm going to get a job as saleslady for some kind of household novelty, house-to-house canvass."
"Good. What next?"
"When I find out all I want to know I'll come back and tell you about it."
"Any other advice to offer?" asked Josie, trying to hide a sly little smile. One of her quiet jokes was that Captain Lonsdale always labored under the impression that he gave her advice. Of course, his habit was to applaud her decision, but the kindly police officer really thought Josie's plans of campaign originated with him. She always came to him and he always backed her up. She declared the moral support he gave her was better than the good advice he thought he gave her.
"Nothing else," replied the kind chief. "But don't run any risks. A man like this Chester Hunt and a woman like this Dink person are often capable of any crime to attain their ends."
"I'll be careful," said Josie, "but I can't promise not to run risks. I don't see what fun there is in the business without some few risks."
"Bless me, child, you are surely your father's own daughter! Pity you weren't a son!"
"Pity nothing!" answered Josie hotly. "You have plenty of sons on your police force. I should think you'd be glad of an occasional daughter. Slater is a son of somebody and didn't he let the Markles get off? Don't talk to me about sons!"
"All right, daughter, never again!" grinned the chief.
From the police station Josie went back to the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop. She found Elizabeth Wright and Irene attending to business, which was flourishing.
"We are missing you a lot, but I fancy we can manage," said Elizabeth. "The laundry work is not urgent and if it does become so we shall have to turn it down. I'd do it if I could but I'm the bummest ever."
"Just tell them I'm off on a trip for my health," suggested Josie. "You can call it lungs or heart or just plain head if you'd rather, but I've got to be away for many days." She then told the girls all the complications concerning the children who had recently been gent to the home. "Keep your eyes and ears open for me, but your mouths shut, please. You two girls might pick up a lot to help me out. Now I must transform the plain Josie into a giddy miss after a job selling household and jewel novelties."
"Have you got the job?" laughed Irene.
"No, but I'm going to fix up so pretty and talk so silly I'll be sure to get it. There is an ad in the morning paper for canvassers for southern cities."
"Why do you go after that kind of job?" asked Elizabeth.
"Because nobody can pick up so much information concerning neighbors as a canvasser."
Josie disappeared into her sleeping compartment, packed her suitcase, and in half an hour emerged a changed being. The henna wig again served its turn and her countenance was so made up that her best friends had difficulty in recognizing her. Mary Louise, who came in at that moment, almost had hysterics when the same old Josie spoke from behind that painted mask.
"I wish I didn't have such a blob of a nose," she said ruefully. "There is mighty little to be done with a nose like mine unless I have paraffin injected under the skin right on top. Of course, I could make it up for the stage from the outside, but not for close inspection. Are my skirts too short for decency?"
Josie grimaced comically at her friends.
"No shorter than some we see, but to think of our Josie looking like that!" gasped Irene. "Let's see you walk."
Josie minced off with a good deal of hip movement according to the fashion of the day.
"I'd like to wear run-down heels, but I can't afford to ruin my feet. I have a pair of fancy blue and gray shoes I got at a second-hand shop and I'll put those on for dress occasions, but I'll have to wear my own decently sensible shoes when I am at work. I am going to be in town for a few days yet, but won't be staying here but at a swell third-class boarding house on Centre Street. If I should come in here and you have customers do you think you can keep straight faces?"
"We'll try!" giggled the partners.
"Here comes somebody now," cried Elizabeth. "You'd better hide!"
But there was no time to hide. The visitors turned out to be Mrs. Wright and a Mrs. Hasbrook, a rich woman who had recently moved to Dorfield, and according to Mrs. Wright's custom she had been among the first to call on the newcomer and now had her in tow telling her where to buy and what to buy. She had conducted her to the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop as a place where her fine damask could be laundered well. Mrs. Wright had recovered from her mortification over Elizabeth's engaging in this strange occupation and now that the shop was proving so successful and so fashionable she was not only reconciled but very proud of her daughter's connection with it and she took every opportunity to come to the shop and to bring others there.
"Where is Miss O'Gorman?" demanded Mrs. Wright. "I want Mrs. Hasbrook to talk with her concerning this work."
"She is not in," faltered Elizabeth.
"Not in! I saw her come in not half an hour ago. Mrs. Hasbrook was having a shampoo just across the street and I certainly saw Miss O'Gorman enter the building and I have not seen her depart."
Elizabeth looked hopeless under this relentless questioning of her determined parent. She turned to Josie for help. Josie arose to the occasion with such spirit that Mary Louise and Irene were taken completely off their guard and almost exploded with laughter. With a lisping drawl and a voice none of her friends had ever heard before Josie said:
"You were going to show me one of those vanity boxes. Miss O'Gorman told me you had some for seven dollars. I met her at the corner about five minutes ago."
"Oh, you did?" asked Mrs. Wright. "Well, I fancy I must have looked another way for a moment." She glanced curiously at Josie, who returned her stare with the utmost composure.
Elizabeth opened a drawer of vanity boxes and Josie crossed the room to inspect them with an exaggerated walk which reminded Mary Louise of a movie vamp. Again she was moved to laughter and had to pretend to sneeze.
"I am afraid you have caught cold," said Mrs. Wright. "You must take five grains of aspirin and go to bed. Follow it up with a dose of aromatic spirits of ammonia and let your diet be light."
Mary Louise listened politely and Josie made her escape with her suitcase without purchasing the vanity box.
CHAPTER VII JOSIE GETS A JOB
When Josie left the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop, after having hoodwinked Mrs. Wright, she made her way to a small hotel much favored by traveling men. It was the address given by a man who wished to employ a number of young women to travel in the South to introduce a line of household articles as well as some jewel novelties.
"What experience have you had?" the man asked her.
"Plenty of it," Josie answered with assurance. "I tell you, mister, I can sell anything from a baby's rattle to a tombstone. You can ask the girls who run the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop here in Dorfield. Ever hear of them?"
"Well, I have a letter here from Miss Josie O'Gorman, who is chief cook and bottle washer 'round there and she will tell you that I am a winner. I tell you Mrs. Danny Dexter and Miss O'Gorman think old Sally Blossom is a peacherino."
The man took the letter, which was written on Higgledy-Piggledy paper and in Josie's best handwriting. In it the cleverness of Miss Sally Blossom was lauded to the skies. Josie blushed through her paint as he read it aloud.
"To think of my having the nerve to say all that about myself!" flashed through her mind. "But I bet it lands me my job."
It did. Since she was the first to apply she was given her choice of a field of operations and she chose Atlanta. She gave her address as 126 East Centre and made an engagement with the man to see him the next day to receive instructions and literature concerning her wares. Samples were to be sent to her at Atlanta.
"Now, having given my address as 126 East Centre, I must hurry over there and apply for board," said Josie to herself as she left the hotel.
The group gathered on the porch at 126 East Centre was the same as it had been on the day that Josie had tracked the elusive Dink to her lair. The young men were tilted back in their chairs at the same angle, and the young women were equally taken up with their ear puffs and frizzes. The clientele of 126 was an ever-changing one, but the class characteristics were stationary.
Josie tripped up the steps, assuming a kind of nonchalance as she calmly viewed the loafing boarders. They in turn gazed at her, some with interest and some with open disdain. With the boarders at 126 one must prove herself down to their standards before being accepted into their social order.
"Stuck up!" declared one young woman—the one with the most extreme ear puffs of all, the shortest skirt and the highest heels.
"Oh, I don't know," objected a man, removing the toothpick from his mouth and his gaudily socked feet from the railing. "I think she's some cutey."
A snicker of derision answered this sally.
"With them unstylish low heels? I guess you ain't got below her henna bob," snapped the girl, arching her instep and poking out her near-silk clad foot with its high-heeled, dirty, white kid pump.
Josie pulled the bell. It was the old-fashioned kind that must be pulled not pushed. When it was in working order a pull would set a wire in motion through the length of the house to the back entry and there a bell attached to the wire would start such a jangling that someone would come to the front door. This happened when the bell was in order, which was seldom the case at 126. When Josie gave a tug, which was vigorous and somewhat vicious from the embarrassment she could but feel at the overheard remarks, the bell handle with a coil of broken wire spring came limply away, and it was nothing but Josie's training that kept her ever on the alert that saved her from falling backwards.
"April fool!" called a grinning youth from the porch.
Josie laughed good-naturedly at her prospective fellow-boarder.
"Anyhow I know how not to get in," she said.
"'Tain't any trouble to get in this joint," ventured a woman. "There's more goin' than comin'. I'll never send a dog here."
"Oh, 'tain't so bad considering the H. C. of L.," put in a middle-aged man in a very tight Shepherd's plaid suit. "Mrs. Pete feeds us the best she can for the mon."
"Oh, you're sweet on Mrs. Pete," laugheed the youth who had called "April fool" to Josie.
"Is Mrs. Pete at home?" asked Josie, glad to know the name of her future landlady.
"Sure she's home! Just open the door and walk in. Follow your nose— there's cabbage to-day so it's easy—right down the hall until you come to some steps. Then fall down the steps to the dining room. If Mrs. Pete ain't there she's in the kitchen next to it."
Josie thanked the youth and followed his advice. She found everything as he had told her she would, even to Mrs. Pete in the kitchen. She was hardly prepared for the knock-down odors which greeted her nostrils as she fell down the steps, nor was she prepared for the appearance of Mrs. Pete.
Josie's first thought was: "How does the woman ever get down those narrow stairs?" but she realized afterwards that she was of the soft type of fat that could be squeezed into any space. She was bursting from a tight kimono, a garment usually the loosest of all apparel, but Mrs. Pete's arms quite filled the flowing sleeves and although it was drawn tightly around her huge hips the fronts refused to meet but took on the slant of a cutaway coat. There was no expression to her face. It was simply fat. Her eyes looked like raisins in a bun and her mouth had almost disappeared. One tooth projected as though nature had decided that would be the only way to save the mouth from being entirely submerged. Her nose would have been lost had it not been for a wart. She moved lightly and easily, reminding Josie of a balloon with not enough gas in it to soar aloft. She wore a black wig at a rakish angle and a string of huge pink beads were lost and found in the folds of fat of her neck.
"Well?" she questioned Josie in a voice that sounded as though she were speaking down an empty hogshead.
"I want a room and board," said Josie.
"How many in a room?"
"I'd like one to myself."
"Humph! You'll have to pay for it then."
Josie expressed her willingness and they soon came to terms.
"It's a room a professional lady has just left, her and two children. I don't usually take children but she engaged the room without letting on there were any kids. She didn't take her meals here regular so I never saw them much. Lord knows what the little things ate because she never brought them down to what few dinners she got here. I'm so fleshy like I never get up on the top floor. Here, Betty, you Betty! Come show this lady the room on the top floor, the one Miss Dingus just left," she called to a slouchy colored girl who was washing dishes at the sink.
"Dinner at half past one," boomed the landlady to Josie's back as she followed Betty up the narrow stairs.
"I ain't ter say cleaned up that there top floor room yit," confessed the maid, "but I'll try ter git it in fust rate fix befo' come night time."
"Oh, that's all right," said Josie. "You just give me some clean sheets and a clean pillow case and I won't mind the rest at all."
The room was large, the third floor back, with windows overlooking dingy back yards. Its disorder was astonishing.
"I didn't know it wa' quite so stirred up as this," exclaimed the girl. "These here, folks ain't many er 'em got no raisin'. They ought ter git bo'd an' lodgin' in a pig pen. I's kinder fussed ter be a showin' you sich a spot. Well," she added philosophically: "What kin you expect from a hog but a grunt?"
"Never mind, Betty," she said, giving the girl a quarter. "I can manage very well. You go on and finish your dishes and I will make up the bed myself if you get the bed linen."
Betty looked at Josie curiously.
"Say, miss, you belies yo' looks. You got the 'pearance er these here folks but you ain't got they ways. I been wuckin' in this here bo'din house fer three years an' I ain't never had a one of them give me mo'n a dime at a time unless'n it wa' ter git me not to tell Mrs. Pete 'bout some devilment or other they done got in."
Josie had not thought it necessary to be other than herself before the colored maid but she took herself severely to task for lowering her guard, even with anyone seemingly so unimportant as Betty.
"Father used to say that small things were the stumbling blocks of some of the biggest detectives," she said to herself. "I'll try to do better."
The grateful Betty returned immediately with clean sheets and pillow slips and one small towel. She then departed to finish her dishwashing.
As soon as she was alone Josie, first taking the precaution of locking the door, began a search in the dirty grate for any papers that might prove of importance to the matter in hand.
The grate was piled high with old torn letters and some had been dumped in without even being mutilated. A match had evidently been applied to the mass of papers but had only charred the corners of the envelopes.
"Oh what a careless Cousin Dink! Now we will see what we can find," whispered Josie.
The girl worked quickly and methodically, sorting out the letters and putting them in neat packets and snapping rubber bands around them. She examined the seemingly worthless accumulation of advertisements and circulars, saving the envelopes wherever the date and postoffice stamp were legible. Every scrap of paper in the heaped fireplace was carefully scrutinized. What she deemed worthless was finally put back, care being taken to pull the mass apart so that the grate seemed to be as full as before.
"That Betty is too noticing to be careless," Josie reflected.
She then sat down by the window and began piecing together the letters Cousin Dink had taken the trouble to tear up.
"She had a reason for tearing up some and not bothering about others."
The ones that were mutilated were all in the same handwriting. Fortunately for Josie's patience they were not torn in very small pieces. Fitting them together was not a difficult task for one so alert and quick fingered as our little detective. In several instances the letter had been torn and the pieces all put back in the envelope. That made plain sailing indeed for the puzzle worker.
These letters that so especially interested our Josie were signed in various ways but always with the same flourish of the pen: "Yours always, C. H." "Lovingly, Ches." "Hastily, C." Several were signed: "Chester Hunt." The letters were a strange mixture of love and business. They commenced sometimes "Dear Coz:" sometimes "My own Dink:" or "My own dear girl:" Always, while they were more or less affectionate, Josie could read between the lines that this Chester Hunt could command Cousin Dink to do as he chose. Whether he controlled her by affection or whether by some other force it was hard to say. Sometimes his tone was frankly impatient but he usually ended up such epistles with repeated assurances of affection. Through the correspondence Josie traced much in regard to Peter and Polly. There was one telegram in which this Chester Hunt had summoned the woman to Atlanta. That was dated about a year before.
"Come—I need you—C. H." That was all.
"That must have been when she went and got the poor kids," Josie decided. "But there is one thing that is worrying me: why should this Dink have saved all these letters up to this time, and after having saved them so carefully, why now should she have torn them up and evidently attempted to destroy them?"
The letters had followed the woman to many places, now a small town in Louisiana, now Dallas, Texas, then St. Paul, Minnesota and so on. Sometimes they were addressed to Miss E. Dingus, sometimes Margery Dubois; sometimes Hester Broughton. Sometimes they were sent to a street number, but often to General Delivery. Mention was often made of the children and usually in rather impatient terms. The following are extracts from the letters:
"Don't let the brats worry you but you had better not let anything happen to them."
"Get a doctor if the pests are sick, because we don't want investigations."
"If they keep on insisting on going back to their mother just tell them she is dead."
"Caution them not to tell anything about themselves and if need be intimidate them. Polly can remember too much."
"Keep up and don't get too tired of your job. There will be an end of it sometime and you will receive your reward."
"Of course I mean to marry you as soon as I can arrange our affairs. It is important to go carefully for a while. Don't let the kids know there is any possibility of our marrying. Be sure and burn all of my letters."
"M. W. is safe behind bars. S. W.'s will has been probated, it being certain now that he is dead. I am sole executor and guardian of the children in case his wife should pass away without a will. She will I am sure."
"The infamous wretch!" exclaimed Josie,
In many of the letters there was a response to a plea for money and more money. "I send you all I can spare. Don't let the brats spend so much. They have been spoiled by too much indulgence already."
"Humph! Pickle and cream puffs for breakfast!" stormed Josie. "Mr. Chester Hunt I certainly hope to make you squirm. But I wish I could find out why Dink gave up the kiddies and why she destroyed her more-or-less love letters."
Every torn letter was pieced together and the contents mastered before Josie heard the dinner bell. The other communications appeared to be of little value—letters from theatrical persons from different parts of the country and a few from some man who signed himself "Mike." The letters from Mike, Josie put in a packet to themselves. "She may have another man on the string," she mused. "Mike may be our trump card, the joker."
All of Mike's letters were addressed to Margery Dubois. They were badly spelled and written in a labored handwriting but Josie felt that Mike was a worthy fellow. Reading character by means of chirography had been one of Detective O'Gorman's hobbies and Josie had taken up the science to some extent. As Josie perused these epistles she gathered that Mike had been Margery Dubois's dancing partner. Evidently they had been on the vaudeville stage together.
"Not love letters at all," Josie decided. "When he says he misses her so much, can't get along without her, he means he wants her to act with him again."
The last one was from Chicago. In it he made an urgent appeal to his former partner to join him there. "A big thing if you can come in a day or so. Plenty of tin and three-night stands in big towns. No barnstorming bizness in this job." This letter was signed Mike Brady and the Chicago address was given.
"That's where she has gone," decided Josie.
By the time the great gong in the basement clanged forth its summons to dinner Josie had grasped the contents of most of the letters found in the grate, had tied them in neat packages and had them carefully stowed away in her suitcase, the suitcase locked and the key in her pocket.
CHAPTER VIII PETER REFUSES NEW PARENTS
The Children's Home Society moved to the old Hathaway house as soon as possible after Mary Louise signed the deed making over the property to the society. The new quarters were well suited to the needs of the Children's Home, large airy rooms with long porches and a delightful yard and garden where the little tots could play.
"I don't want to leave Mr. and Mrs. Robin before they hatch out their fambly," moaned Peter. "Looks like we can't never stay put, can we, Polly?"
"But the big house is much nicer, Peter dear," comforted Polly. "It kinder reminds me of where we lived one time with Mother and Daddy. That had a yard to it and lots of sweet violets bordering the walks. I wish you could remember the violets, Peter."
"I wish I could. Sometimes I 'most can—but don't you ever forget 'em, Polly. You keep on talking about 'em and maybe sometime I can 'member too the way I can the porridge bowls. I won't never forget our mother. I'm sure glad you didn't never let Cousin Dink know we had her picture, hers and Daddy's."
"Not me! That old Dink wouldn't have let me keep them. I haven't ever showed them to anybody but that nice Miss Josie girl. She is safe I believe and she wouldn't ever let Cousin Dink nor anybody know. She is going to have them framed and let us hang them up in our room. I like being here lots better than traveling 'round with old Cousin Dink, don't you, Peter!"
"I should say so. I hope nobody won't want to 'dopt us. They say folks is all time 'doptin' children from here. That's what the nurse told me when she washed my face and hands. She says, 'If you don't be clean nobody won't want to 'dopt you,' so I'm gonter be as dirty as ever I can be."
"Oh, Peter, what would Mother say? It would be real nice to be 'dopted if we could get 'dopted together."
"Oh, but they couldn't take me without you," and Peter began to weep. "Let's both of us have dirty faces all the time so nobody won't want us."
"No, let's both of us have clean faces all the time so somebody will want both of us. I'm mighty sorry I cut my hair off so jiggly. When it grows out I'm going to see if I can't save up some money and get a permanent wave so's I'll look lovely and everybody that comes to the home will say, 'Who is that charming child? I'll take her and her dear little brother too and well be a happy family.' Now wouldn't that be nice, Peter dear?"
"That 'pends on who it is. Supposin' it was a person like Cousin Dink that comed along an' took us away an' then knocked us around an' wouldn't let us stay put; I'm thinkin' about stayin' put for a while."
The two little waifs had many conversations similar to the foregoing. They soon fitted themselves into the life of the home. Peter was a general favorite because of his engaging manner and sweet confiding nature, while Polly made herself so useful in helping to care for the babies with which the home swarmed that the nurses declared they did not know what they would do without her. She was a motherly child and, having taken care of Peter so much during her mother's illness and after the wanderings with Cousin Dink began, she was well able to nurse the little ones.
"There's something about little babies that makes me happy all over and makes me want to cry too," she said to one of the nurses, holding to her bosom a little pink mummy-like bundle, a recent addition to the home. "I hope some nice kind lady is going to want this little baby child and she will grow up and never know she's 'dopted. Being 'dopted isn't so bad if you don't ever know it. Peter don't want ever to be 'dopted because he thinks somebody like Cousin Dink might get him. I hope they will just let me go on living here and by and by I can be a real sure-enough nurse and wash all the little babies and Peter can grow up and be a policeman or something. Peter used to be afraid of policemen but ever since Miss Josie told him what nice men they were and one time introduced him to a big cop on the corner and Peter shook hands with him, he's been thinking policemen are the finest things going and he wants to be one worse than anything. Peter could be a big policeman and could bring all the little homeless babies here and I could wash them clean and curl their hair and get them ready to be 'dopted."
One day shortly after they had moved to the Hathaway house a ringing of the front door bell heralded the advent of callers. Since callers often meant would-be adopters of infants it was natural for manager and nurses to wish to make as good a showing as possible. A lady and a gentleman were ushered into the parlor. Dr. Weston congratulated himself that everything was in such good order and that he could testify to the good health and disposition of so many of his charges.
"I am thinking of adopting a little boy," spoke the lady, an exceedingly prim little person with a determined chin. "My husband wants a boy, although I should really prefer a girl."
The husband, a sad-eyed man with a humorous twitch to his mouth, looked a bit astonished at this statement. He had been laboring under the idea that it was just the other way around—that he preferred a girl and his wife a boy—but it made very little difference. She was going to have what she wanted, even to the extent of making him pretend he wanted what she wanted.
"An infant, I presume, madam?" said Dr. Weston.
"No, not at all! I'd prefer a little boy who has cut his teeth and can talk. Of course I'd like him to have curls, and to come from a nice family, and to be perfectly sound and healthy, and to have no bad habits—such as eating plastering or having adenoids. I want a bright, attractive child with a sweet disposition so that I can raise him up for the ministry."
"Um-hum!" mused Dr. Weston. "I'll see what we have to offer in the way of angels. There are some children playing in the yard now, madam. Perhaps you and your husband would like to go have a look at them. The infants are on the southern porch in their cribs but the little ones who can toddle we keep out in the yard all we can."
The garden of the old Hathaway house again was the background for a picturesque scene. In the same spot where Hortense Markle had so cleverly staged Mary Louise's out door wedding not so many months before, ten little children from two years up to six were playing happily in a sand pile, recently donated to the home by Mrs. Peter Conant with shovels and buckets enough to go around and a few to spare for possible additions.
Peter Waller was evidently the chief engineer of the sand pile and the other children looked to him for inspiration, whether it were turning out whole spice cakes by packing down the sand in buckets and adroitly inverting them or excavating marvelous tunnels that one could actually see through.
"Now this is a tunnel," he said. "I know 'cause I've been through a whole lot of tunnels. Haven't I Polly?" calling to his sister who was patiently nursing a child with a bumped knee on a bench near by.
"Yes!" answered Polly, "but don't be too show-offy."
Peter disregarded this sisterly rebuke.
"Well, anyhow it is and I have. And this is a chu-chu track."
"Chu-chu track!" echoed his admirers who didn't at all mind his showing off.
"And when the chu-chu train goes in the tunnel it is all dark, as dark as dark, and the engine makes a rumblin' noise and the cars get all full of smoke. But you mustn't git scairt—nobody mustn't git scairt 'cause God is there in that tunnel same as he is on dry land and God loves you—"
"Dod loves us! Dod loves us!" cried a wee tot jumping up and down in the sand in a kind of ecstasy of emotion and the other babies took up the refrain and in a moment all of the sand diggers were shouting in glee but with absolutely no conception of what it all meant: "Dod loves us! Dod loves us!"
They were unconscious of the onlookers. Dr. Weston and the lady and gentleman stood close by hearing Peter's lecture and witnessing the sudden wave of emotion that took the children.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed the lady. "What a darling boy that is—the one who preached the sermon. I want him! Oh, how I want him! I could raise him to be a preacher, I am sure; and look at his curls!"
"He has only been with us a short time," said Dr. Weston, "so short a time that we should prefer keeping him until we find out more about him. He was left here with his sister under rather unusual circumstances."
"I don't care what the circumstances were, I want him. I will have him or none at all."
Dr. Weston glanced at the lady's determined chin and had a feeling she was going to get what she wanted.
"We have thought it advisable not to separate the two children," he continued in a soothing voice. "They have been through various vicissitudes together and a separation would hardly be right. There is his sister over there on the bench with the little child in her lap. Polly is a nice child, helpful and motherly and extremely intelligent."
"But her hair doesn't curl," objected the lady. "I would never adopt a girl whose hair doesn't curl. She would be a nuisance instead of a pleasure."
"Ah really!" from Dr. Weston.
The children were still unconscious of their audience. Peter was widening the tunnel at one end and at the other the eager babies were crowding together, peering through at the youthful civil engineer.
"Ith He in there?" queried one.
"Cose He's in here," announced Peter. "He's everywhere in the world— but He won't git you. He'll just be good to you an' love you an' maybe give you candy, 'cept'n I'd rather have pancakes."
"He shall have them!" cried the eager lady. "He shall have all he wants! Little boy," she asked, impulsively leaning over Peter, who had seated himself in the sand the better to proceed with his excavating, "dear little boy, wouldn't you like to come and live with me and be my little boy?"
Peter looked up startled and distressed. Polly dropped the child with the bumped knee and flew to Peter's side.
"I'll be so good to you and love you as though I were your own mother. You can have a pony to ride and a bicycle and skates—"
"Gee whilikins!" exclaimed Peter.
"I will adopt you—"
"'Dopt me! No you won't! I didn't know you meant to 'dopt me. Me'n Polly ain't ever gonter git 'dopted. We's gonter jes' live along here till we gits growed up an' maybe our mother won't be dead an' will come find us. Me'n Polly has to be together all the time," an expression of agony on his face. "Don't we, Polly?"
"Yes, yes, Peter darling!"
"Well you would hardly stand in your brother's light," spoke the lady a bit sharply. "It would certainly be to his advantage to come and live with me and my husband. He would take our name and be brought up exactly as though he were our own."
"But his own name is a good name," spoke Polly, holding her cropped head proudly. "Peter Waller is a very fine name. I have heard my mother say so often."
"Oh, you have! Well it is no better than Peter Thraves would be. My name is Mrs. Thraves, child."
The little girl was not a bit impressed.
"And mine is Miss Mary Washington Waller, Polly for short," spoke Polly, her head still up.
There was a look of breeding about the child and at the same time a hint of battle in her blue eye and her firm little mouth. Dr. Weston could not help smiling at Miss Mary Washington Waller.
"I am going to adopt your brother because I have taken such a fancy to him. He is so sweet and pious and I am going to raise him to be a preacher."
With that Peter set up such a yell as had never been heard before in the Hathaway garden. He flung himself in Polly's arms and burst into a storm of tears.
"I ain't gonter be no preacher! I—I am gonter be a p'liceman. I don't want to be 'dopted. That's what I git for lettin' you wash my face, Polly." He picked up a handful of dirt and smeared it over his face. With the help of the tears it was very effective. "I'm jest as bad as bad can be. I know a whole string of cuss words an' I can say them as fast as now-I-lay-me. Doggone, devil, deuce, dam, da—"
"Oh, Peter!" gasped Polly, putting her hand over her brother's mouth.
"Don't you stop me, Polly," sputtered Peter. "I ain't near done."
Mrs. Thraves turned away in disgust.
"I fancy it would be more satisfactory if we adopted an infant," she said to Dr. Weston, who was almost bursting with pent-up laughter. "Perhaps a little girl would be less apt to turn out badly. Boys are so deceptive. To think of that angel face! Such language!"
Mr. Thraves stood for a moment looking wistfully at Polly and Peter, who still clung to each other. Polly was drying Peter's tears and endeavoring to clean his dirty face, while she admonished him gently.
"Peter, you were so naughty. What will good Dr. Weston think of such a bad boy?"
"He won't think a thing. He wouldn't like to be 'dopted hisself when his mother might come alive any time an' he'd be gone off with his name changed an' everything. Why don't she be a preacher herself if she wants a preacher so bad? Why didn't she go marry a preacher an' have a whole lot of preacher chilluns? Say, Polly, please don't be mad of me. Did you know I was such a pretty cusser? I made up that cussin' all to once. It was just as easy as anything. I kinder s'prised myself."