PEGGY IN HER BLUE FROCK
BY ELIZA ORNE WHITE
ILLUSTRATED BY ALICE B PRESTON
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN CO.
BOSTON & NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY ELIZA ORNE WHITE
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO REPRODUCE THIS BOOK OR PARTS THEREOF IN ANY FORM
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TO MY YOUNG COUSINS
CORNELIA AND CAROL
I. THE MOVING 1 II. A CAT IN A STRANGE GARRET 7 III. WHY PEGGY WORE BLUE FROCKS 15 IV. PEGGY GOES FOR A YEAST-CAKE 25 V. AT CLARA'S HOUSE 38 VI. DIANA 46 VII. THE CANARY-BIRD 53 VIII. THE REWARD 62 IX. CHOOSING A KITTEN 67 X. THE WILD GARDEN 76 XI. THE GEOGRAPHY GAME 85 XII. HOW PEGGY SPENT HER MONEY 95 XIII. MRS. OWEN'S SURPRISE PARTY 104 XIV. A CHRISTMAS EGG 118 XV. THE GREAT STORM 126 XVI. GRANDMOTHER OWEN'S VISIT 141
PEGGY IN HER BLUE FROCK
Peggy, with flying yellow hair, was climbing the high stepladder in the library, getting down books for her mother to pack. She skipped up the stepladder as joyously as a kitten climbs a tree. Everything about Peggy seemed alive, from her gray eyes that met one's glance so fearlessly, to her small feet that danced about the room between her trips up and down the stepladder. Her skirts were very short, and her legs were very long and thin, so that she reminded one of a young colt kinking up its heels for a scamper about the pasture.
"Peggy, you will break your neck if you are not careful," said her grandmother. "And don't throw the books down in that way; see how carefully Alice puts them down."
Alice smiled at the compliment and showed her dimples. She was a pretty little thing with brown hair and big brown eyes. She was two years younger than her sister Peggy, and was as small for her age as Peggy was large for hers. She was taking the books from the lowest shelf, as she was afraid to climb the stepladder.
"I'll risk Peggy's neck," said her mother, as Peggy once more skipped up the stepladder.
This time she put the books down more carefully.
The family were moving from the large, old-fashioned house where the children had been born to a very small one, more than a mile farther from the village. Peggy and Alice were greatly interested in the moving. Their father's mother had come all the way from New York to help about it.
Their father had been a country doctor with a large practice and he had gone into the war to save the lives of others; but the hospital where he was at work had been shelled, and he had lost his own life. This had happened almost at the end of the war. It seemed to the children a long time since the war was over, and a very long time since their father had gone overseas.
Peggy and Alice had been very much overcome when they heard of their father's death, but now the world was very pleasant again. Another doctor was coming to town, to move into their roomy old house and take the practice which had been their father's.
Peggy looked out of the window at the garden. It looked its worst on this March day, for it was all patches of white and brown. There was not enough of the white snow for winter sports, nor was the brown earth ready for planting seeds. Peggy was glad there were children in the doctor's family because they would be sure to enjoy the croquet ground and the apple trees. How she should miss the apple trees! There was only one apple tree where they were going, but there was a cherry tree. Peggy's face brightened when she thought of the cherry tree. And they were to have a garden full of vegetables.
"Mary," said the children's grandmother to their mother, "I'll give you a year to try your experiment; and remember, if you don't succeed, my offer holds good. I'll always have a room in my small apartment for one of the children; and Peggy is old enough to get a great deal of good from a New York school."
Peggy looked as if nothing would induce her to leave her mother. Not that she disliked her grandmother. Peggy liked people of all ages. She did not like old ladies so well as people of her mother's age, because the younger ones were so much more active; and she liked children better still, for the same reason; and boys even better than girls, because they never expected you to play dolls with them. Peggy did not care for dolls as Alice did. When the world was so full of live things that scampered and frisked, or flew or crawled, why tie one's self down to make-believe people that could neither speak nor move? Pussy was much more interesting than any doll.
Peggy looked at the furniture, standing forlornly about in strange places. Her own mahogany bureau was downstairs. "It looks for all the world," said Peggy, "like a cat in a strange garret." She had read this phrase in a book the day before, and it took her fancy. And then she wondered how their own cat would feel in her new home. And there was not any garret in the tiny house where they were going.
The cat walked in just then, but seeing the confusion she fled upstairs. She was a gray pussy, with darker gray stripes, and a pronounced purr that was almost as cozy as the sound of a tea-kettle. She had a pleasant habit of having young families of kittens, two or three times a year. The only drawback was, the kittens had to be given away just as they got to the most interesting age. There were no kittens now, only pussy, whose whole name was Lady Jane Grey.
Their grandmother was making a list of the books, for some of the boxes were to go to her in New York, others to the Town Library, while many of them they were to keep themselves. All the medical books were to be left in their father's office for the new doctor to dispose of as he thought best.
"Do you know, mother, how many children the doctor has, and whether they are boys or girls?" Peggy asked.
"No, he just said 'children' in his letter."
"I hope there will be a girl, and that she will like to play with dolls," said Alice.
"But you've Clara, I don't see what more you want," said Peggy.
"But Clara is never here in the winter," said Alice.
That night, after the children had gone to bed, they began to talk about the doctor's family. It was the last night they were to spend in the old house, and they felt a little sad as they climbed into the mahogany four-poster bedstead, for the room looked desolate. The curtains had been packed, and all the furniture was gone except the bed.
"Anyway, we'll be sleeping on it to-morrow night," said Peggy. "We'll have Roxanna Bedpost with us just the same."
She looked at the lower bedpost at her right that she had christened by this name when she was a tiny child, because her mother had hung Peggy's blue sunbonnet on it.
"Shut up your eyes, Peggy, and see things," said Alice. "Perhaps you can see the children who are going to live here."
Peggy had a delightful way of seeing things that Alice could not see. She shut her eyes up and thought hard and then she opened them and looked at the opposite wall.
It seemed quite simple, but whenever Alice tried it she could see nothing. "Do you really see things, Peggy?" she once asked.
"I see them in my mind's eye," said Peggy.
"What do you see to-night, Peggy?" said Alice.
"I see two children, a boy and a girl; and they are picking red apples in our orchard."
"It's not March in my mind's eye. They are beautiful, big, red apples. The girl is a little bigger than you and a little smaller than me, so she's just right for both of us to play with, and her name is Matilda Ann."
"I don't think that is at all a pretty name."
"I did not say it was a pretty name; I just said her name was Matilda Ann."
"I hope it isn't."
"Well, what do you guess it is?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"You must guess something."
"Oh, well, Fanny."
"Fanny! That's a very stupid sort of name," said Peggy.
They were still talking about the possible names of the possible girl and boy when their mother came in to see if they were tucked up for the night.
"Are you still awake?" she asked. "I wonder what you do find to talk about when you see each other all day long."
A CAT IN A STRANGE GARRET
There were others who felt as if they were in a strange garret, after the moving, besides the cat. The children's mother was very homesick, for she was tired out; and she felt sad and lonely in the small house where her husband had never lived. The children did not mind so much, but it was strange, when they waked in the morning, to see the unfamiliar stretch of pasture from their window instead of the garden and the next house.
But Pussy minded it so much that she slipped out while the others were having their breakfast. They were all so busy that no one missed her until dinnertime, and then Peggy and Alice looked everywhere in the small house and they called "Lady Jane" many times, but no little furry, gray pussy answered.
Their grandmother had gone back to New York and their mother was too busy getting settled to hunt for the cat.
"She'll come back when she gets hungry," she said. "I want you children to help me unpack. See these nice drawers for the linen."
"I don't think they are half so nice as the linen closet in the other house," said Alice.
"Now, children," said their mother, "no one ever said this house was so nice as the large one where you were born, and we can't pretend life is so pleasant as if we had your father here with us; but we have a great deal to be thankful for. If we haven't much money, we have health and strength and each other. Your father said to me when he went away: 'Mary, if I don't come back, I don't want you and the children ever to forget me, but I want you to remember all the happy times we have had together, and to think how glad I'd be of all the happy times you'd have by yourselves.'"
The children got very much interested in arranging the linen in the drawers.
"Oh, Peggy, you are no housekeeper; the pillowcases don't go in that drawer," said her mother. "See how carefully Alice puts the towels in."
Alice smiled and showed her dimples, and Peggy stopped and gave Alice a hug.
"Things seem just to slide out of my hands," said Peggy; "and I can't remember which drawer the things go in."
There was a cupboard where Alice's dolls were to live, and it interested her greatly to get this apartment ready for them. So they all again forgot about Lady Jane Grey until supper-time. Their mother put bowls of milk on the table for the children, with plenty of bread and jam; and there was a big saucer of milk for Lady Jane, warmed just the way she liked it. Again they called her, but she did not come. Peggy made a trip down cellar, thinking she might have hidden there, and she hunted the house from top to bottom, but there was no dainty Lady Jane to be seen.
"She'll come back sometime," said their mother; but the children were not so sure of this.
It seemed sad to go to bed without knowing what fate had befallen Lady Jane; but their mother was sure she would come back that night.
In the morning Peggy ran downstairs eagerly before she was dressed.
"Has she come, mother?" she asked.
"Has who come?" said her mother, whose mind was on starting the kitchen fire.
"No, she hasn't come."
"And it is so wet," said Peggy, as she looked at the falling rain; "she'll get drenched without any rubbers or raincoat."
"You can be sure she is under shelter somewhere. A cat can always look out for herself."
"But, mother, I'm worried about her."
"I think," said Mrs. Owen, as she put the oatmeal into the double-boiler, "that she has gone back to her old home."
"But, mother dear, she couldn't like strange people better than she likes us!"
"Cats are strange creatures," said Mrs. Owen. "Run along and get dressed. After breakfast if the rain holds up you and Alice can run over to the Hortons' house and telephone to the Carters', to see if she is there. I shall be glad when we get our telephone in."
The rain did not stop, but the children were so persistent that after breakfast Mrs. Owen let them put on their rubbers and raincoats and run over to the Hortons' house. The house was up a long avenue of trees. On this March day there were no leaves on the trees, and the bare branches looked black against the gray sky as they were tossed about by the wind. There were patches of snow by the side of the road. It all looked very dismal, for the house was closed, as the family did not come back until June, and only the care-takers were living in the back part of the house. It was where Clara lived in the summer. She was the children's most intimate friend. She was a little more than a year younger than Peggy and about a year older than Alice. The children went around to the back door and asked if they could come in and telephone.
"It is something very important or we would not have come," said Peggy.
"I hope your mother isn't sick," said Mrs. Jones.
"No, it is about the cat."
"And you came out in all this rain about a cat?"
"She's as dear to us as if she was our child," said Alice.
"Well, I never!" said Mrs. Jones, as she led the way to the telephone room.
Peggy called up their old number. It made her a little homesick as she did so.
"Is Mrs. Carter there?" she asked as a shrill voice said "Hullo."
"It's a boy's voice," said Peggy. "There's one boy in the family. I'm glad of that."
She heard the boy call "Mother," and presently Mrs. Carter came to the telephone.
"Hullo," said Mrs. Carter, in a warm voice that Peggy liked.
"I'm Peggy Owen. Mother said I might come over and telephone you about the cat. She's lost—I mean the cat. We thought she might be at your house. She doesn't seem to like ours. Have you seen anything of a gray pussy with dark gray stripes?"
"I really don't know whether that one has been around or not. I'll ask them in the kitchen. We've been feeding a lot of stray cats."
"You didn't say enough about the way she looks. She may get her mixed with the gray tramp cat," said Alice, taking the telephone from Peggy.
"She's two shades of gray," she said to Mrs. Carter. "Such lovely dark stripes and then light ones; and there are thirteen stripes on her tail—first a dark and then a light, and so on; and her eyes are the shiniest things—most as bright as lights, only they are a kind of green; and she has a purr you can hear all across the room. Her name is Lady Jane, and she'll come for it."
Mrs. Carter came back to the telephone presently. "There has been a gray cat around," she said, "but she isn't here now. If she comes back I'll send one of the boys up with her."
"One of the boys," said Peggy to Alice, "so there must be two anyhow."
The day passed and nothing was heard of the cat, and once more the little girls had to go to bed with anxious hearts. It was still raining when the children waked up the next morning, and no pussy had yet appeared. They wanted to go back and hunt for her themselves, but it was too wet for so long a tramp, and, besides, Mrs. Owen was sure Mrs. Carter was too busy getting settled in her new house to want visitors.
"You don't seem a bit worried about Lady Jane, mother," said Peggy.
"I have a few other things to think about, and I am sure she is all right."
It was a three days' storm, and it was so wet on Sunday that they did not go to church or Sunday School. The day seemed very long. They helped their mother get dinner and they washed and wiped the inside dishes for her. They both liked to wash better than to wipe—it was such fun to splash the mop about in the soapy water.
"It is my turn to wash to-day," Alice reminded Peggy.
"But you are so slow," said Peggy. "I can do it a lot faster. However, it is your turn," she said, handing the mop to Alice with a little sigh.
It was toward the end of the afternoon and they were beginning to get tired of reading when the door bell rang.
"It is our first caller; go to the door, Peggy," said Mrs. Owen.
Alice followed Peggy as she ran to the door. As Peggy opened it, a sweep of wind and a swirl of rain came in. The wind was so strong it almost blew the door to. A freckled-faced boy with a pleasant smile and honest blue eyes was standing on the doorstep. Oh, joy! He had a basket in his hand.
"It's some rain," said the boy.
"Oh, have you got our cat in that basket?" Peggy asked.
"Now, what do you know about that!" said the boy. "Why should I know anything about your cat? Maybe I have cabbages in this basket."
"Cabbages wouldn't mew," said Peggy, as the occupant of the basket gave a long wail.
"It's our cat, I know her voice!" cried Alice in delight.
"Won't you come in and see mother?" Peggy asked, as the boy stepped inside the small entry and put his basket down.
"Can't stop." He had pulled his cap off politely when he came into the house, and Peggy saw that his hair was as yellow as her own. She wished hers might have been cropped as short.
"Oh, dear! what fun boys had! They could go out on the rainiest days."
The boy touched his cap and went quickly down the walk. Peggy's glance followed him regretfully. He was a big boy; he must be two years older than she was, just a nice size to play with.
"And we never asked him his name or if he had brothers and sisters," Alice said.
It was a lost opportunity and the children both regretted it, but they had been too much taken up with the return of Lady Jane to think of anything else at the moment. They had opened the basket and Lady Jane was purring about the place.
"You darling!" Alice cried as she stroked her gray striped coat. "You do like us best, don't you, after all?"
There was an odd expression in Lady Jane's green eyes. If she could have spoken, she would have said, "I like old friends, but I do like old places better still." And the very next morning she disappeared again.
WHY PEGGY WORE BLUE FROCKS
Early in April there came a very hot day, and this reminded Mrs. Owen that she must be looking over the children's summer dresses to see what new ones they would need, for it would take some time to make them, with all the other work she had to do. She went up into the large store-closet, which was all they had in the way of an attic, and she unpacked the trunk that held the dresses. There were only four of Peggy's, for she was very hard on her clothes, and she had stained or torn several of them. There were six of Alice's in excellent condition. They were a little short for her, but there were tucks that could be let down. Peggy had two white dresses, a pink one, and a plaid dress. She tried on one of the white dresses first and pranced about the room with it. Her legs looked longer than ever, for the skirt was several inches above her knees.
"You look just like a mushroom, Peggy," said Alice.
"Oh, dear! I didn't know I'd grown such a lot," said Peggy ruefully, "but you can let down the tucks, mother," she added hopefully.
"But there aren't any tucks. I let those down last summer."
"I guess I'll have to have that dress," said Alice joyously.
She was so fond of her sister that she liked Peggy's clothes better than her own.
"Oh, dear!" said Peggy. "I like it so much because it's smocked. But I hope I can wear the dotted muslin. That's my favorite dress."
But, alas, the dotted muslin was only half an inch longer than the cotton rep, and there were no tucks in that either.
Peggy skipped about the room again, and she tried to persuade her mother that it would be possible for her to wear the dress.
"I don't mind if it is rather short, mother," she said.
"I can't have you going around with skirts like a ballet dancer."
"But you could let the hem down, or put in insertion, or something," said Peggy.
"But the waist is too small for you, and the dress will be just right for Alice."
The pink dress and the plaid one were too small for Peggy, too, so Alice became the proud possessor of Peggy's frocks, which would fit her very well after tucks had been taken in them.
"I've three pink dresses now and four white ones and two plaids and a yellow," said Alice.
"And I've nothing at all," said Peggy.
"It's too bad," said Alice, "but yours will all be new."
The first chance Mrs. Owen had to go to the village she said she would buy the materials for Peggy's summer frocks.
"I've got to get something for working dresses for myself, too," she said.
She took the children with her, and they had a joyous time, for it was one of those sunshiny afternoons when everything was so gay and cheerful that it seemed to Peggy as if the whole world were smiling. The sun seemed positively to laugh, and the blue sky and the white clouds seemed almost as glad as he. Alice walked quietly along, taking hold of her mother's hand; but Peggy had to run along ahead of them every now and then. She wanted to dance and shout with the joy of it all.
"Oh, Mother, there's Mrs. Butler and her canary-bird," said Peggy, as they passed a small gray house. "Let's stop and make her a call."
"Not to-day," said Mrs. Owen. "We'll never get our shopping done if we stop to call on all the neighbors."
When they came to the smoothly finished stone wall in front of the Thorntons' large place, Peggy climbed up so she could have the pleasure of walking across it.
"Come, Alice," she said, helping her small sister up.
"Oh, children," said their mother in despair, "we shall never get downtown."
But they did get there at last, although they met several of their neighbors on the road, and Peggy stopped to caress a black pussy-cat and make friends with a yellow collie dog. The shop seemed very dark after the brightness of the spring sunshine outdoors. The saleswomen seemed sleepy and not at all interested in what they were selling. Peggy thought they probably did not live so far from the village; they could not have had such a joyous walk as they had had, or met so many friends.
"Oh, that beautiful collie dog! How lucky the Thorntons were to have him! And the black pussy was a darling, not half so beautiful, of course, as Lady Jane, but still, a darling." She sighed when she thought of Lady Jane.
She had slipped away again to her old home, and a few days later the same boy had brought her back in the same basket. The children had not seen him, for they were at school when he came, and their mother did not ask him how many children there were in the family. She had discovered, however, that his name was Christopher. They had kept Pussy in the house since then, hoping in this way to get her used to the place. But she seemed very anxious to get out, and in this April weather Peggy did not feel it quite kind to keep her indoors. She would not like it herself, and one should do as one would be done by.
Peggy's mother went to the back of the store, where there was a man behind the counter who seemed more alive than the girls. Peggy followed her mother, but Alice's attention had been caught by some doll carriages.
"I want you to show me something strong and serviceable for frocks for my little girl, who is very hard on her clothes," said Mrs. Owen.
Peggy hung her head. She wished her mother had not said that. The man did not look as if he ever could have been hard on his clothes, even when he was a small boy.
"This plaid is a great favorite," he said.
Mrs. Owen asked the price, and it was too high. "Why, it is double what it was before the war," she said.
Everything was either too expensive or too frail. Mrs. Owen bought some white materials for best dresses for Peggy, but there seemed to be nothing in the shop that would do for common.
"I am afraid I shall have to wait until later in the season," said Mrs. Owen. "I suppose you'll have new things in?"
"The new goods will be more expensive still."
Mrs. Owen sighed. There were drawbacks about having so little money. She had turned to leave the store when the man called after her:
"Mrs. Owen, I have something on the top shelf I think may suit you. It's strong as nails, and it's cheap. It's almost as strong as the stuff butcher's frocks are made of."
Peggy gave a little cry of pleasure when she saw it, for it was such a delicious color. It made her think of the sky when it was a deep blue. Mrs. Owen was attracted to it because it was dark enough not to soil easily. But Peggy did not think of this; she just thought what a pleasure it would be to be dressed in something so pretty. It was so cheap that Mrs. Owen could hardly believe her ears when the man told her the price.
"We got in a lot of the material before the prices went up," said he. "It is entirely out of fashion now. Nobody wants it."
Peggy and her mother cared nothing about the fashion; and indeed they seemed to set the fashion, whatever they wore.
"How many yards are there in the piece?" Mrs. Owen asked. He told her and she made a rapid calculation. "I'll take it all," she said.
The man could not conceal his surprise. "We only sell seven yards for a grown person and four would do for her."
"I know, but I am going to make two dresses for myself and she will need four. It is so much cheaper and stronger than any of the other wash materials that I shall make all her dresses out of the same piece. She won't mind having them all alike, will you, Peggy?"
"I'll like it; it's so pretty."
"Oh, please, mother, do make me one," Alice begged.
"I'm afraid you will have to be contented with the ten dresses you already have," said her mother. "For, as I will have six dresses to make for Peggy and two for myself, I think that will be all I can manage."
"Perhaps one of my dolls can have a dress out of it," Alice said hopefully.
"Yes, I'll cut out a dress for Belle, and I can teach you to make that so you can be sewing on it while I am making Peggy's frocks."
But it was some time before Peggy began to wear them, for it took her mother a long time to make them. The very next afternoon, after the dinner dishes were washed, Mrs. Owen got out the blue material and she cut out a dress for Peggy, and then a small one for Belle. Alice was learning to hem and she took as careful stitches as a grown-up person. Peggy was divided between wanting to do what the others were doing and hating to be tied down. She made frequent trips to the kitchen for a drink of water and to see how Lady Jane was getting on.
"You can overcast these sleeves, Peggy," her mother said later in the afternoon. "That is much easier than hemming."
"It's better than hemming," Peggy said, "because you can take such long spidery stitches. But I just hate sewing. I'm never going to sew when I grow up."
"But that is just the time you'll have to sew," said Alice.
"No, I'm going to be a writing lady."
"But they have to wear just as many frocks as other people," said Alice.
"I'll have them made for me. I'll get such a lot of money by my writings."
"You may be married and have to make clothes for your children," said her mother.
"I'll just have boys," said Peggy. "That would be much the best. Then I could climb trees with them and climb over the roofs of houses, and nobody could say, 'Peggy, you'll break your neck,' because I'd be their mother, so everything I did would be all right."
"Oh, Peggy, you haven't been putting your mind on your work," said her mother. "Pull out those last few stitches and do them over again, and think what you are doing and not how you will climb trees with your sons."
"I'll have all girls," said Alice. "Some will be dressed in pink and some in blue."
"And some in red and some in yellow, and some in purple and some in green," added Peggy, "and you'll be called the rainbow family. There, mother, is that any better?"
"A little better, but you don't seem to make any two stitches quite the same length."
Peggy suddenly flung down her work. "There's somebody at the back door," she said.
"It's the grocer's boy. You can go and get the things, only be sure not to let the cat out."
Peggy never quite knew how it happened. She did not mean to disobey her mother, but the afternoon was very pleasant and the kitchen was hot. It seemed cruel to keep a cat in the house. She held the door open and, while she was debating whether it would not be possible for her and the cat to take a walk together, Lady Jane slipped out. Something gray and fluffy seemed to fly along the grass and disappear under the fence. She had gone without waiting for their pleasant walk together. Instead they would have a mad race. Peggy liked the idea of a chase. It was much more exciting than overcasting seams.
Peggy and the pussy-cat had a wild race, and more than one person looked back to see why Peggy Owen, with flying yellow hair, was running at such speed cross-lots, through back yards, and climbing over fences. Suddenly Peggy was caught, as she was scrambling over a fence, by a piece of barbed wire. Her one remaining winter school frock was torn past mending. "Oh, dear, what will mother say?" said Peggy.
The skirt was almost torn from the waist, and Peggy felt like a beggar-maid as she crept home. "Only, everybody will know I am not a beggar-maid," thought Peggy. "They'll all say, 'What mischief has Peggy Owen been up to now?'"
And her mother did say something very much like it when she came in. "Peggy, what have you been doing now?" she asked.
"I was hunting for Lady Jane," she said breathlessly. "She slipped out of the kitchen door."
"Peggy, how could you be so careless?" said her mother. Then, as she noticed the confusion on Peggy's face, she said, "Did you let her out?"
"Not exactly," said Peggy. "I was thinking perhaps it would be nice for us to have a walk together, when she ran away."
"You don't deserve to have any new clothes," said her mother, as she looked at Peggy's torn frock.
"The blue ones will be stronger than this old thing," said Peggy.
PEGGY GOES FOR A YEAST-CAKE
"Dear me," said Mrs. Owen, one hot morning, a few days later, as she started to make bread, "this yeast-cake isn't fresh. What a shame! Peggy, you'll have to go down to the village and get me another."
Peggy was delighted at the chance for an errand. She never minded the heat, and she always liked to be out of doors better than in. It was Saturday morning so there was no school. This heat in April was very trying to Mrs. Owen and Alice.
"You'll have to change your dress if you go to the village," said Peggy's mother. "You can put on one of your blue frocks if you like."
So a few minutes later Peggy in her blue frock went out into the spring sunshine, a very happy little girl, with a small covered basket in her hand, for her mother had told her she might get half a dozen lemons and some sugar and a box of fancy crackers, so they could have some lemonade and crackers in the afternoon.
"Be sure you don't forget the yeast-cake," her mother said, "and don't stop to talk to any strange children, and don't call on any of the neighbors. Don't run, it is too hot, but don't waste any time on the road, for I want to get my bread started as soon as I can."
Peggy danced along the road in spite of the heat, for it was a happy thing to be alive. She had not gone far when she saw a boy coming out of a crossroad. It was Christopher Carter, and he too had a covered basket in his hand.
"Hullo!" said Peggy.
"Hullo!" said Christopher. He joined her as he spoke.
"What have you got in your basket?" Peggy asked with interest.
"Butter and eggs from the Miller farm. What have you got in yours?"
"Nothing. Mother's sent me to the grocery store to get some things."
"How's the cat?" he asked.
"She's all right, only we have to keep her shut up, for if we let her out she'd go straight to your house. I can't think why she likes you better than us."
"She gets lots of scraps of fish and meat, because we are such a big family; and then I suppose she likes her own old home, just as a person would."
"I know, but Alice is so crazy about her: Alice is my sister," she explained.
"My sister is just as crazy about her."
"So you've got a sister? I thought you had, and I guessed her name was Matilda Ann."
"Matilda Ann! What an awful name! What made you think her name was Matilda Ann?"
"I don't know. It just came into my head that her name was Matilda Ann."
"Well, it isn't."
"Alice guessed it was Fanny," Peggy hastened to add, hoping that the credit of the family might be restored.
"It isn't Fanny either. You could guess and guess and you'd never guess it. It's such an unusual name."
Peggy was full of interest. She guessed several uncommon names, but they were all of them wrong.
"What letter does it begin with?" she asked finally.
"It begins with a D."
"No, that's a very common name. I know lots of Dorothys."
"That isn't uncommon, either. I know two Dorises."
"That isn't uncommon, either. I know some Doras."
Peggy was amazed at the size of the acquaintance of this boy who had come from the city, and she was very envious. She wished she knew all those Dorothys and Dorises and Doras. She wanted to hear all about each one of them. But he did not want to take the trouble to tell her about them.
"Guess again," he said.
"I can't think of any more girls' names beginning with a D, except Dorcas, in the Bible."
"It isn't Dorcas."
"You'll have to tell me; I can't think of another thing."
"Her name is Diana."
"Diana! What a pretty name! Is she pretty?"
"She's all right," the boy said heartily; "only she isn't very strong; and she has to stay in bed a lot when she is sick, and the cat amused her. She came and would get on the bed and would curl down by her."
"She would? Mother would never let her go into our bedrooms."
Peggy was beginning to see why Lady Jane liked to live with the Carters. But she had a pang of jealousy when she thought of that adorable gray striped pussy, with her soft fur and her greenish eyes, curling down contentedly and giving her cheerful purr while she was stroked by another little girl.
"Is she the only sister you've got?" Peggy asked.
"Have you only one brother?"
"That's all. He's older than me. He's some brother," he added proudly. "He writes poetry."
"Poetry? I write it too," said Peggy; "only mine is just nursery rhymes to amuse Alice, about bees and hens and things."
"Tom is writing a poem about you."
"About me?" Peggy was deeply interested. "Can you say any of it?"
Christopher became very red and looked confused. "I can't remember it," he said.
"You must remember some of it."
She persisted until she wrung from him the confession that he could remember one line, and she teased and teased him to repeat it until he said, "All right, if you must hear it, I suppose you must: 'Peggy, Peggy, long and leggy.' It gets nicer as it goes on, but that's all I can remember."
Peggy looked down at her long legs thoughtfully. The poem was a distinct shock. She had never had one written to her before.
"If he's like most boys I guess he's longer and leggier than I am," she said.
"You are right there, he is."
"I'm glad I have long legs," said Peggy. "They are so useful when you are climbing trees."
Christopher looked at her with new interest. "Do you like to climb trees?" he asked.
"I just love to," said Peggy.
They were coming to the stone wall that enclosed the Thornton place. Peggy climbed up and began to walk across it. At one end was a pine tree, with convenient branches that she had often longed to climb. It looked very tall and symmetrical with its spreading green branches against the heavenly blue of the sky.
She could never quite remember whether it was she or Christopher who first suggested climbing the tree. But they hid their baskets on the other side of the wall, and presently she and Christopher were climbing quickly from branch to branch. Peggy had never had a more blissful time. She had often envied Lady Jane her power to scramble up trees with no mother at hand to tell her to come down, or to warn her against spoiling her frock. But now she envied nobody. It was too wonderful to be sitting in the topmost branches of that pine tree. But the thought of Lady Jane's furry garment made her look down at her less substantial frock, and, to her dismay, she saw a long streak on it. She put her hand down and it felt sticky.
"Oh, dear," she said, "I've got some of the pitch from the pine all over my dress! Oh, dear, what will mother say? She told me to be sure not to stop on the way, and not to talk to any strange children."
"I'm not a strange child," said Christopher. "She wouldn't mind your talking to me."
"Yes, but I have stopped on the way. I'll have to hurry," she said. "But, oh, dear, I'm afraid my dress is spoiled! Oh, what will mother say? I've only worn it one other time, and she's only got one more of these blue frocks finished."
"Only one more! How many are you going to have?"
"Four," said Peggy. She glanced up at him, and he looked as if he, too, would be hard on his clothes and would have some sympathy for her, so she added: "You see, it doesn't tear easily. The man in the shop said it was as strong as nails. I am always spoiling my things."
He looked down at the long smear with genuine concern. "If I hadn't come along it wouldn't have happened," he said. "I'll take you round to Aunt Betsy's. She's got stuff that takes out all kinds of spots. She's got them out for me."
"Is your Aunt Betsy the same as Clara's Aunt Betsy?" Peggy asked.
"My Aunt Betsy is father's aunt," he said. "That's the reason we came here to live. She told us your house was going to be sold and there wasn't any good doctor here any more."
They turned down a side street. "That's the house she lives in," he said, pointing to a small white cottage with green blinds.
"Oh, yes, I know her," said Peggy. "She's Miss Betsy Porter."
Aunt Betsy was in her pleasant kitchen taking something with a delicious, spicy smell out of the oven. She came to the door and asked the children to come in. She was tall and thin, with gray hair and dark eyes. Peggy thought of her as an old lady, but much more interesting than old ladies usually were. There always seemed to be something very nice in the way of food at her house, no matter at what time one arrived.
"Now you children must each have a piece of my gingerbread," she said. "I've just taken it out of the oven."
Miss Betsy Porter was deeply interested in the stain on Peggy's frock.
"That's a very enticing tree to climb," she said, when the children had told her the whole story. "I climbed it once when I was a little girl."
Peggy looked with wonder into the kindly face of Aunt Betsy, with its many lines. It seemed so impossible to think that she had ever been a little girl climbing trees.
"I've got some stuff here that will take that out," said Aunt Betsy, going to a cupboard in the other room. "It would be a great pity for you to spoil that pretty dress."
There was a jet-black cat curled up on the red bricks of the kitchen hearth. After the spots had been taken out, Peggy went over to make friends with the cat. It did not seem polite to eat and run when Miss Betsy had been so kind about taking the stain out of her dress, so Peggy stayed to make a call, after the gingerbread had been eaten. And she and Christopher told her all about Lady Jane Grey, and how she lived first at one house and then at the other. Finally, the striking of a clock made Peggy realize that the morning was slipping away.
"I guess I'll have to be going now," said Peggy, "for mother told me to hurry and not to stop on the way. Oh, dear, what did I do with my basket?"
"You didn't have any basket when you came in here," said Miss Betsy.
"We left our baskets behind the stone wall," said Christopher. "I forgot all about them. I'll run back and get them."
"I'll run, too," said Peggy. "I guess I can run as fast as you can."
"It's too hot a morning to run, children," Miss Betsy called after them.
But they were already some distance away. Christopher in his brown suit was a little ahead, but he was closely followed by Peggy in her blue frock, with her flying yellow hair, and her long, slim legs.
The children gathered up their baskets and Peggy started to go to the grocery store when her attention was caught by the melodious singing of Mrs. Butler's canary-bird. "He's crazy about being alive, just as I am," thought Peggy. "I wish I could sing like that."
"I must just go and say good-morning to Mrs. Butler. See, she's got the window open and the cage hanging there. Don't you wish you could sing like a canary-bird?"
"No, I don't. What strange things you do think up!"
"Well, I'd like to sing like one," said Peggy, "because it sounds so joyous, and there's never anything I can do to show how joyous I feel."
Mrs. Butler came to the open window, to speak to the children. She didn't look at all joyous, for she had been having rheumatism, but this warm day made her feel better.
"Won't you come in?" she asked. "I've just baked some gingerbread. You must be hungry. Come in and let me give you some."
Peggy was about to say that they had already had some gingerbread, but she had only had one piece, and it seemed to make her hungry for more. She knew she ought not to stop again, but the temptation was too great. So they went into Mrs. Butler's cool parlor. This time it was crisp, thin gingerbread. One could eat several pieces and it seemed nothing at all. And all the time, the canary-bird in the sunshine was singing his glad song, "Spring is coming, spring is really coming," he seemed to say, "and there will be daffodils out, and tulips and Mayflowers. And the days will grow longer and longer, and more and more sunshiny." A clock on the mantelpiece struck the half-hour. That was not a joyous sound.
"I guess I ought to be going," said Peggy. "Mother told me to hurry and not to stop on the way."
"Mother told me she was in a hurry for the butter and eggs," said Christopher. "I'll have to go right home."
Christopher left Peggy when they came to her old house, which was now his, and she felt a little pang of regret when she saw how pleasant it looked with its new coat of paint, behind the two horse-chestnut trees, which would soon be coming into blossom. At one of the upper windows she saw a boy who she was sure must be the poet, and she hurried by, very conscious of her long legs.
The grocery store was a place full of interest—there were such delightful things to be seen. There was a box full of oranges and another full of grapefruit, and a lady was buying some raisins. Peggy was sure her mother would like some raisins if she had only happened to remember about them, and it would be such a good chance to get some oranges and grapefruit. But she remembered that her mother had not liked it at all when she had brought back some oranges once that she had not been told to order, so she turned regretfully from the oranges and grapefruit to the lemons that were in another box.
"I'd like six lemons, please," she said to the clerk, "and two pounds of sugar and a box of Butter Thins."
"Is that all?" he asked.
"Yes," said Peggy. She never once thought of the yeast-cake, for so many exciting things had happened since she left home.
When she reached the house her mother said, "What have you been doing, Peggy? You are an hour and a half late. There is no use now in starting my bread before night."
It was then that Peggy remembered the yeast-cake. She turned red and looked very unhappy.
"Mother, I forgot all about the yeast-cake," she confessed miserably. "I remembered everything else."
"You remembered all the things you wanted yourself, but the one thing you were sent for, the only important thing, you forgot. I wonder what I can do to make you less careless. What is this smell? Why, it comes from your frock! Peggy, what mischief have you been in now?"
Peggy and her mother were intimate friends, and they shared each other's confidence, but Peggy had not intended to tell her about the frock until the next day. However, there was no escape now.
"Christopher and I climbed the pine tree, the one by the Thornton place, and I got pitch all over me, and I thought you'd be so discouraged that he took me to his Aunt Betsy's house and she got the spots out."
"I told you not to stop to talk to any children."
"You said 'strange children.' He wasn't 'strange.'"
When Mrs. Owen had heard the whole history of the morning, she said: "Now Peggy, I think you ought to be punished in some way. While you were out Mrs. Horton telephoned to say that she and Miss Rand and Clara had come up to spend part of the Easter vacation. She wants you and Alice to come over and play with Clara this afternoon. I think Alice had better go without you."
"Oh, mother," Alice protested, "that would be punishing Clara and me too."
"I think it would be too awful a punishment," said Peggy.
"Yes, I suppose it would," said Mrs. Owen thoughtfully. She was a very just mother, and Peggy always felt her punishments were deserved.
"I can't let it go and do nothing about it," said Mrs. Owen. "I tell you what I'll do. I'll go over to Mrs. Horton's with Alice and leave you to keep house, Peggy, until I come back. Old Michael may come with some seed catalogues. If he does you can keep him until I get back. As soon as I do, you can run right down for the yeast-cake, and this time I am sure you will not stop on the way. Then you can go to Clara's for what is left of the afternoon."
AT CLARA'S HOUSE
Peggy was walking up the long avenue that led to Clara's house. She had had a wonderful afternoon. "Only I haven't been punished at all," thought Peggy. This was because old Michael had arrived with his seed catalogues soon after her mother left, and, as he was one of her best friends, Peggy was very happy.
"Mother will be back soon," said Peggy. "Let's play that I am mother, and we'll look at all the pictures of flowers and vegetables and mark the ones I want, just as she does."
Old Michael was quite ready to play the game, only he said it might be confusing to her mother if they marked the catalogues; so Peggy got a sheet of her own best note-paper, with some children in colored frocks at the top of it.
"It's a pity to waste that good paper," said he.
"It's my own paper, Mr. Farrell," said Peggy, in a grown-up voice. "You forget that I am Mrs. Owen and can do as I please."
"Sure enough, ma'am, I did forget," he said as he looked at the small lady in her blue frock.
"Peonies, poppies, portulaca," said Peggy; "we'll have a lot of all of those, Mr. Farrell. And we'll have the poppies planted in a lovely ring."
"It was vegetables we were to talk about to-day, ma'am," said Mr. Farrell respectfully. "How many rows of string-beans do you want to start with, and how many butter-beans? And are you planning to have peas and corn and tomatoes?"
"Mother is planning to can things to sell," Peggy began. "Oh, dear, I forgot I was mother! I think a hundred rows of string-beans will be enough to start with, Mr. Farrell. I am afraid that is all my children can take care of. They are to help me with the garden. We haven't much money; and we have to earn some or Peggy may have to go to live with her grandmother, and I just couldn't stand that. I could not be separated from my child; and Peggy and Alice must always be together. Perhaps you can't understand this, Mr. Farrell, never having been a mother yourself. It is no laughing matter," she said, looking at old Michael reprovingly.
Her mother came a great deal too soon; and she did not approve of all of Peggy's suggestions about the garden. "Run along now, Peggy, and get the yeast-cake, and don't bother us any more," she said unfeelingly.
Surely no little girl had ever gone to the village and back so quickly as Peggy went. She resisted the temptation to get two yeast-cakes, for fear one might not be fresh, thinking it wiser to do exactly as her mother said.
And now, as she was walking between the rows of trees, she could hardly wait to see Clara. She had not seen her since Thanksgiving Day.
There were three men at work at the Hortons' place, raking leaves and uncovering the bushes in the rose garden. Peggy was glad they did not have so many people at work. It was much more fun doing a lot of the work one's self and talking things over with old Michael. Mrs. Horton was talking with the man in the rose garden. He looked cross as if he did not like to be interrupted. Mrs. Horton was short and plump, with beautifully fitting clothes, but she never looked half so nice, in spite of them, as Peggy's mother did in her oldest dresses, for Mrs. Owen carried her head as if she were the equal of any one in the land.
Mrs. Horton looked pleased when she saw Peggy. She shook hands with her and said how tall she had grown. Peggy was tired of hearing this. And then she told her that the children were up in the apple tree. "You can go right through the house and out at the other door," she said. "The path is too muddy. Miss Rand will let you in. We are camping out; we haven't brought any of the servants with us."
They only had the care-taker and her husband and these men on the place. If this was camping out, Peggy wondered what she and her mother and Alice were doing, with nobody but themselves to do anything, except old Michael or Mrs. Crozier for an occasional day.
Miss Rand opened the door for Peggy. She was a small, slim little thing, with big frightened eyes with red rims. She looked as if she had been crying. Peggy wondered what the trouble was. She felt sorry for her, so she gave her a kiss and a big hug and said how glad she was to see her. And Miss Rand smiled and her face looked as if the sun had come out. She was very nice-looking when she smiled.
"You are the same old Peggy," said Miss Rand, and Peggy was so grateful to her for not saying how tall she had grown that she stopped and told her all about Lady Jane and how she lived first at one house and then at the other; for Miss Rand had a heart for cats, and it was a trial to her that Mrs. Horton would never have one.
Speaking of Lady Jane, Peggy had an awful feeling that she had slipped out of the kitchen door when old Michael came in. "I didn't see her after he left when I went into the kitchen for a drink of water," said Peggy. "Wouldn't that be too bad?"
"It would be nice for Diana to have a little visit from her," said Miss Rand.
"Do you know Diana?"
"Yes, I used to teach in a school near where they lived. She came to school when she was well enough, and when she wasn't I gave her lessons at home. She is a dear child."
But Peggy was getting too impatient to see Clara to stop to hear more about Diana. So she went through the wide hall and out of the other door to the brick terrace and down the steps that led to the formal garden and the orchard beyond. A peacock was strutting about as if he owned the place. His tail looked so very beautiful that Peggy felt a little envious. "I wish people could wear ready-made clothes as lovely as his," she thought. "They are much nicer than my blue frocks, and they can never get spoiled."
She ran quickly along past the pool, where the water-lilies would blossom later on, to the orchard. In one of the nearest apple trees there was a platform built around it with a flight of steps leading up to it. It was what the children called the apple tree house. Here Clara and Alice were playing dolls. Peggy could seldom be induced to play dolls. She ran up the steps and made a dash for Clara. Clara, in a lilac frock, was sitting primly on one of the wooden chairs with which the platform was furnished. Her hair was a darker brown than Alice's, and her face had the pallor of the city child who has lived indoors all winter. She was rather a stiff little girl in her manners, and however glad she might feel inside at seeing Peggy again, she did not show it. She submitted to being kissed and hugged gravely as if she were taking a doctor's prescription, and she kissed Peggy's cheek with a gentle peck.
"Dear me, but you have grown a lot," said Clara.
"Well, I can't help it if I have," said Peggy.
She felt cross and a little hurt because Clara had not seemed any more glad to see her when she had been just crazy to see Clara. Miss Rand had been delighted to see her, and even Mrs. Horton had seemed more glad than Clara. Only the peacock and Clara had seemed proud. Perhaps Clara had been afraid Peggy would rumple her dress. It was a very lovely shimmery dress with smocking. Peggy liked dresses that were smocked. She seated herself on a branch of the apple tree and began to swing back and forth. She was never shy herself, so it did not occur to her that Clara was shy. There did not seem to be anything to say, and it seemed a long, long time, since Thanksgiving Day, when she had last seen Clara, and as if they would have to get acquainted all over again.
"Did you have a nice journey?" said Peggy.
"No, horrid! I'm always car-sick. Father's coming for us and we are going back in the automobile."
"That will be great fun," said Peggy.
"It will be better than the train," said Clara, "but it's a long ride, and I always get awfully tired."
"Do you?" said Peggy, swinging back and forth again.
"How long your legs are," said Clara.
Peggy stopped short in her swinging. "If you say anything about my legs I shall go crazy," she announced. Then she climbed as high in the apple tree as she could get and dared them to come and join her. "Come up into my house, you short-legged people," she called down. "I have a room in a tower and there are windows in it, and I can see all over the place. Come up here—why don't you come?"
"Don't be cross, Peggy," said Alice. "You know I am scared to, and Clara would spoil her dress if she climbed up there."
"What are dresses for if you can't climb trees in them?" Peggy called down.
"I wish I had a frock like yours, it is such a pretty color," said Clara, who always liked other people's things better than her own.
The compliment to her dress restored Peggy's good humor. She was very seldom cross, and she felt thoroughly ashamed of herself. So she condescended to play dolls with Clara and Alice, and there was no fun so great as to have Peggy play dolls. She put them through such adventures and made them have such narrow escapes that the little mothers were positively thrilled. So it was a very happy afternoon for every one, even for Miss Rand, who came out just before it was time for the children to go home, with a tray on which there was a pitcher of something nice and cold that tasted of orange, and some small doughnuts. Miss Rand sat down on an apple branch, which seat she preferred to a chair, and she sang for them, at Peggy's request, some Scotch songs, in a sweet contralto voice.
"It has been a nice afternoon," said Peggy, as she kissed Clara good-bye, and this time Clara gave her a most responsive kiss.
Peggy did not think of Lady Jane again until supper-time, when Mrs. Owen said to Alice, "I've warmed some milk for the cat. It is in the blue pitcher; you can turn it into her saucer."
Peggy kept very still. She hoped against hope that her furry little gray friend would come at the sound of her name. "I can't find her anywhere, mother," said Alice.
"I haven't seen her all the afternoon, now I think of it," said Mrs. Owen. "Did you see her, Peggy? Do you suppose she could have slipped out when Michael Farrell came in?"
"I am afraid she did, mother," said Peggy.
"Well, Peggy Owen," said Alice, "I never knew any one as careless as you are. You ought to be punished."
"You are not my mother," said Peggy.
"It is a very serious matter," and Alice gave a wise shake to her small head. "It is the second time you've let her get out."
"Well," said Mrs. Owen, "if she is so anxious to live at the other house and they want to keep her, suppose we let them have her? The other day when I called, Mrs. Carter told me how fond her little girl was of her, and the child hasn't been well."
"Give up Lady Jane!" cried Peggy in dismay.
"Mother, what are you thinking of!" said Alice. "She's one of the family. Would you give me up if I kept going back to the Carters'?"
"Certainly not; but that is entirely different."
"I love Lady Jane just as much as you love me, mother," said Alice.
"That is impossible. Don't talk such nonsense," said her mother.
It seemed an extreme statement, even to Peggy. "Do you love her as much as you love mother?" she asked.
Alice paused to consider.
"Don't ask her such a trying question, Peggy. She would probably find it a little less convenient to live without me than without the cat; but if you children care so much about her you can go and get her. It is too much to expect them to send her back again."
Mrs. Owen telephoned to Mrs. Carter and found that the cat had been spending the afternoon with them.
"I won't trouble you to send her back," said Mrs. Owen. "The children will go for her to-morrow afternoon."
The next day Peggy and Alice could hardly wait to finish their dinner, they were so eager to go for Lady Jane and get back in time to spend a long afternoon with Clara. As they came near the Carters' house, they saw Christopher just coming out of the gate.
"So you are going to take the cat back again?" he said disapprovingly, as he looked at the basket.
"She's our cat," Alice said sweetly, but very firmly.
Christopher looked down at Alice, who smiled up at him and showed her dimples.
"Yes, of course, she is your cat," he said; for nobody could resist Alice. "But it seems too bad to yank her out every time she comes back to her old place."
"We've had her a very long time," said Alice. "I can hardly remember anything before we had her."
"She must be a very old cat," said Christopher, laughing.
It seemed strange to ring the doorbell of their own old house. The front door was painted green now and it had a shiny brass knocker. The office door was green, too. It was sad not to see their dear father's name there any more. "Dr. T. H. Carter" seemed very unnatural. The grass was beginning to grow green, and the snowdrops and crocuses were in blossom by the front door. Mrs. Carter opened the door for them herself. She looked so pleasant that Peggy wanted to kiss her.
"I know you've come for Lady Jane," she said, glancing at the basket. "She's out calling this afternoon, but I'm sure she'll be in before long. While you are waiting for her you can go up and see Diana. She is expecting you. You can go upstairs; she is out on the piazza."
Everything seemed strange and yet familiar about the house. There was a new paper in the hall, and the floor and the stairs had been done over. They went out on the upper side piazza, which was glassed in, and here Diana was lying in a hammock that looked almost like a bed. Peggy loved Diana the moment she saw her. She had the same friendly face that Mrs. Carter had. Her hair was a sunshiny brown and so were her eyes, and her face, too, was a warm color, as if she had been out of doors a great deal. She had on a pale green wrapper with pink roses and green leaves embroidered on it. Peggy thought she had never seen anything so sweet in her life as Diana was, lying there in her green wrapper. She seemed a part of the pleasant springtime. Peggy noticed a copy of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" lying on the hammock. This was one of her favorite books, and she began to talk about it at once.
Alice's attention was caught by the sight of a flaxen-haired doll lying beside Diana in the hammock. "So you like dolls?" Alice said.
"I just love them," said Diana.
"So do I," said Alice.
And Peggy felt quite left out.
"What's her name?" Alice asked.
"That's my name."
"I named her for the 'Wonderland Alice.'"
"Oh, but now she must be my namesake. I'll be her aunt. She can call me 'Aunt Alice.'"
Peggy picked up "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" while Diana and Alice made friends over the doll.
"Doesn't your sister like to play dolls?" asked Diana.
"No," said Alice, "and I don't see why, for she makes up such exciting things when she does play. Yesterday when we played with Clara she had the dolls fly in an aeroplane, and she took them up into the highest branch of the apple tree."
"Oh, do play with us now," Diana begged.
So Peggy good-naturedly put down her book, and Alice, the doll, had never had so many exciting adventures in all her young life. They were so busy playing they did not any of them hear Lady Jane's quiet footsteps as she climbed the rose trellis. Peggy saw her first, a furry, gray ball, poised lightly on the piazza rail. Alice saw her give a spring through the open pane of glass and land on the hammock. She was giving her joyous tea-kettle purr, and, oh, it was too much to bear, she was actually licking Diana's hand.
"Darling pussy," said Diana. She held her lovingly against her shoulder, and stroked her gray back.
Alice could hardly bear it. "Lady Jane, I am here," she said.
But Lady Jane did not stir. Diana moved her into a more comfortable position, and she curled herself down for a nap.
Alice could bear it no longer. She went over, and, picking her up, she said, "You are going to stay with me."
But Lady Jane scratched Alice's hands in her desire to escape, and gave a flying leap back to the hammock.
Peggy almost decided to take her mother's advice and let Diana keep the cat. She seemed to love her so very much, and to have so much less to make her happy than they had. It must be hard to lie still instead of being able to frisk about wherever one pleased. And yet, Diana looked happy. She didn't see why; she knew she could not be happy if she had to keep still like that.
"I think we ought to be going now," said Peggy, "because we told Clara we'd come early. We might leave Lady Jane to make Diana a little visit." This seemed a good compromise.
"No," said Alice, with decision, "I want to take her back right off now."
So Peggy helped Alice put the struggling cat into the basket. They shut the cover down tight, paying no attention to Lady Jane's dismal mews.
"I wish you didn't have to go," said Diana, a little sadly. "Do come again soon, and perhaps you'll bring Lady Jane with you."
"We'll come again soon," said Peggy.
"Yes," said Alice; and in her own mind she thought, "We'll never, never bring Lady Jane."
Peggy and Alice had a very happy time the next few days playing with Clara. Their school had a vacation, too, so the children were able to spend long hours together, sometimes at one house and sometimes at the other. They liked better going to see Clara on account of the tree-house; and Clara liked better going to see them. She liked to come early and help to make the beds and do the dishes, for she was never allowed to help about the work at her own house, even now, when they were supposed to be camping out. The field behind the Owens' house, where the garden was to be, was a delightful place to play, and so was the little hill beyond.
The time passed only too quickly, and, at the end of the vacation, Clara was whisked back to New York with her father and mother and Miss Rand, this time in an automobile. The children missed her very much at first; and June, when she would be coming back again, seemed a long way off.
But they soon got interested in the children at school. Peggy liked school, and she was very fond of her teacher. On the way to school they passed Mrs. Butler's house. Peggy was always eager to stop and listen to the canary and have a little talk with Mrs. Butler, but Alice was always eager to go on for fear they would be late.
Sometimes they saw Mrs. Butler's daughter Flora, starting off for her work. She was in a milliner's store and wore the prettiest hats. Every time Peggy went by the milliner's window, she stopped to look at the hats. She had longed to have a new one for Easter, for her old brown straw looked so shabby. One day, when she was with her mother and Alice, she made them cross the street to look at a hat in the window that she wanted very much. It was a peanut straw with a ribbon of the same color around it, with long ends. The ribbon had a blue edge, just the color of Peggy's blue frocks.
"It does seem as if I'd got to have it," said Peggy. "Why should there be a hat with blue on it, just the color of my dresses, if it wasn't for me?"
"I wish I could get it for you, Peggy," said her mother. "When my ship comes in perhaps I will."
"When will it come in, mother?" Alice asked.
"I have not even got a ship—that's the worst of it. However, as we don't live at the seashore a garden is more useful. If we make the garden pay perhaps we can all have new hats."
"But they'll be winter hats if we wait for the garden, and I want the peanut straw," said Peggy.
Flora Butler, who was behind the counter, came to the door and spoke to them.
"How much is the peanut straw hat?" Peggy asked.
"Peggy, I have told you I can't get the hat for you," said her mother.
"It really is a bargain," said Miss Butler.
"It is a very pretty hat," said Mrs. Owen, "but I am spending more than I can afford on my garden."
"How's the canary?" Peggy asked.
"He is all right. He will give you a free concert any time you can stop to hear him."
"It seemed too bad he could not be free like the other birds," Peggy thought.
And then one day, as they were coming back from school, she saw the empty cage in the window, and Mrs. Butler, half distracted, was asking the school-children if any of them had seen her canary-bird. "I don't know what my husband will say when he comes back from the store for his dinner, and he finds it gone," she said. "He sets as much store by that canary as if it was a puppy."
The school-children stood about in an interested group.
"How did it get out?" Peggy asked.
"I was cleaning Sol's cage, as usual, and he was out in the room. The window was open a little at the top, same as I've had it before once or twice these spring days, and Sol never took notice. The worst of it is, my husband told me I hadn't orter keep it open, even a speck, while the bird was out of his cage. 'Sol can wriggle through the smallest kind of a crack,' says he; and it appears he was right. My, but he'll be angry! 'Marthy, it'll serve you right,' he'll say."
The children saw Mr. Butler coming down the street, just then, and they waited in fascinated silence to see what would happen next. One of the schoolboys, who always loved to make a sensation, called out as he passed, "Did you know your canary-bird is lost?"
"You don't expect I am going to swallow that yarn, Gilbert Lawson?" the old man said. "You'd better shut up. 'Taint the first of April."
"But it really and truly has flown away, Mr. Butler," said Peggy.
"Flown away! Did my old woman leave the window open? Marthy, didn't I tell you what would happen?" he said angrily as he vanished into the house. They could hear his voice raised louder and louder.
Peggy could see Mrs. Butler putting her handkerchief up to her eyes. "She's crying," said Peggy in an awed voice. "Oh, let's see if we can't find the canary-bird."
"Find it!" said Gilbert scornfully. "You might as well look for a needle in a haymow."
"Perhaps if we put the cage out he'd come back into it," said Peggy.
"Do you suppose anything clever enough to get out of prison would be fool enough to go back again?" said he. "Well, there seems to be nothing doing now and I guess I'll go home."
Gilbert and his brother Ralph and the other boys went toward the village, and so did the girls who lived in that direction. But Peggy and Alice and Anita Spaulding still lingered.
"I'm going to tell them that I'll come back as soon as dinner is over and find the bird for them," said Peggy. "I know I can find it."
"Oh, Peggy, maybe mother won't let you come," said Alice.
"She's a sensible mother; I know she'll let me come," said Peggy, as she ran up the steps.
Mrs. Butler came to the door. Her eyes looked very red and she still seemed quite upset.
"Oh, Mrs. Butler," said Peggy breathlessly, "I know I can find the canary-bird—I know I can. I'll come right straight back as soon as I've had my dinner."
Alice and Peggy ran home and Peggy explained breathlessly about the canary. "Mother dear, Mrs. Butler has lost Sol; and I know I can find him. So please give us our dinner quick."
"Who is Sol?" Mrs. Owen asked.
"The canary—I know I can find him. I can tell him by his song, and then I can climb up and put his cage in a tree and get him back into it."
"He won't come back once he's free: Gilbert says he won't," said Alice.
"Don't you pay any attention to what Gilbert says," said Peggy.
Mrs. Owen was very much interested. "Peggy is right," she said. "I once knew of a canary-bird that escaped and went back into his old cage. If you can only find him it is not impossible."
"There, I told you she was a sensible mother," said Peggy.
She could hardly wait to finish her dinner, and thought of going off without any dessert. But when she found it was rice pudding with raisins, she changed her mind. The two little girls went so fast to Mrs. Butler's it was almost like flying.
"We've come to find Sol," said Peggy.
Mr. Butler was just finishing his dinner. "I tell you what," he said, "I'll give five dollars to any one who'll bring back that canary-bird safe and sound."
Peggy and Alice went across the street and they ran along until they thought they had reached a spot that might appeal to Sol. This was the Thornton place, which was a bower of green with its partly open foliage.
"I'm sure he'll be here," said Peggy. "I'd come here if I were a canary. Oh, Alice, listen!" From somewhere, far, far above them, there came delicious trills and the joyous sound that Peggy longed to make herself. Nothing but a canary could sing like that. "Spring has come and I am free; and the world is too beautiful for anything," he seemed to say.
"It is Sol; I know his voice," Peggy cried. "It seems 'most too bad to put him in prison again—only I'm sure he'll be homesick when the dark night comes."
"And it might rain and get his feathers all draggled," said Alice.
"And perhaps the other birds would be horrid to him because he's so different," said Peggy. "Anyway, we've got to get him if we can. Look, Alice!" Far up at the top of the maple tree, the leaves of which were partly open, was a tiny golden ball, and from its throat came forth the glad spring song. "Stay and watch him, Alice, while I go over to Mrs. Butler's and get the cage."
Alice stood rooted to the spot, watching the little creature, like a yellow sunbeam among the green opening leaves. It seemed a long time before Peggy came back. Mrs. Butler was with her, creaking along heavily. She was carrying the cage.
"Of course, he won't come back now he's free," said Mrs. Butler. "Dear help us, but it's him that's singin'!" she said. "I thought you'd just mistaken a song sparrow for him." She looked up and saw her favorite in the tree-top.
Peggy took the cage out of Mrs. Butler's hand.
"I'll climb up," she said, "and I'll leave his house-door open, for he hasn't any latch-key."
"Well, if that isn't the limit," said Mrs. Butler with a laugh. "To think of Sol with a latch-key!"
"But I said he didn't have one," said Peggy.
Peggy, in her blue frock, climbed up into the maple tree, and her yellow hair looked almost as sunshiny as the canary. Mrs. Butler handed the cage up to her. There was some of the bird's favorite seed in the cage and water for him to drink.
"I guess he'll go home when he gets hungry," said Peggy.
Mrs. Butler kept laughing to herself and saying over and over, "He hasn't any latch-key; if that don't beat all."
Peggy scrambled down again, and they all stood waiting to see what would happen next; and nothing happened. It was very discouraging. Finally they sat down on the Thorntons' wall to rest.
"Oh, look!" Peggy cried in excitement.
The bird gave a few little hops along the branch and then fluttered down to a lower perch nearer the cage. The children's eyes grew big with excitement. Alice jumped down from the wall and ran nearer to the tree to get a better view. The noise she made startled the bird, and he flew on to a higher branch.
"There, Alice, see what you've done!" Peggy said.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear!"
They sat still for a long time, and after this Alice did not dare either to speak or move.
"Well, I guess I'll go home," said Mrs. Butler. "'A watched pot never boils.' Mebbe you'd like some refreshments as well as Sol. Don't you want to go home with me and get some lemonade and cake?"
But even this offer could not lure the children from the spot. Peggy was afraid to go off, even for a moment, for fear the canary would slip in for a meal and out again before she could close him in. The time passed slowly. After what seemed hours Mrs. Butler came back and brought them some cake and lemonade. It tasted very good, but they soon finished it, and Mrs. Butler went away with the empty dishes, shaking her fist at Sol.
"You are the most provoking bird," she said, "keeping everybody waiting, and you so small you could go in one's pocket, if only you hadn't wings."
Alice lost her patience before Peggy did. "We ought to be going home," she said. "Mother'll wonder what has become of us."
"All right, go home if you want to. I'm going to stick right here until he gets hungry and goes into his house."
"Perhaps I'll come back again," said Alice.
It seemed lonely after Alice had left her. Peggy was tired of keeping still. She took one run across the Thornton place, but this seemed to disturb the canary, so she flung herself down on the grass.
"I'll look away while I count a hundred," she said.
She counted a hundred and when she looked back, there was the canary in his cage, and she had not seen him go in. It was too provoking. She climbed up, breathless with excitement, and shut the door.
Mr. Butler was just coming back from his work as Peggy reached the gate of his house.
"I've got him," she called triumphantly.
"Bless my soul!" said the old man. "Have you been waiting for him all this time?"
"Yes," said Peggy
"What a patient little girl you are."
He put his hand in his trousers' pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. He looked them over until he came to a crisp, new, five-dollar bill which he handed to Peggy.
Peggy ran all the way home, with the five-dollar bill clasped in her hand. She had never once thought of the money while she was watching the canary. He was so beautiful, with his yellow feathers against the branches of the tree, with the blue sky above him, and his song was so wonderful, that she had not thought about any reward. But now that she had the money, she felt as if some one had given her a fortune, for she had never had so much money at once, in all her short life. Now she could get the hat, for it did not cost nearly five dollars; and there would be some money left to buy—what should she buy? Something for Alice and her mother.
"Oh, mother," she said, as she burst into the room, "I got him, and see what Mr. Butler gave me! Now I can get my new hat!"
"You don't mean to say you took money for doing a kindness?" said Mrs. Owen.
"He gave it to me," said Peggy.
"Yes, so I understood, but, my dear little girl, the Butlers haven't any more money than we have. They are poor people. Five dollars means a great deal to them."
"He seemed to want to give it to me," said Peggy.
"That was very kind, but you ought to have said, 'I didn't think of the reward. I shouldn't feel it right to be paid for doing a kindness. I am sure my mother wouldn't want me to keep the money.'"
"But I never thought about you. Truly, mother, you never once came into my head. And I did not think it was being paid. I thought it was kind of a thank-offering."
"Well, we'll take the money back as soon as supper is over," said Mrs. Owen.
Peggy ate her supper in silence. She was sure her mother could not know how much she wanted the new hat. And to think she felt so sure of having it, and then to have it snatched away was hard! And she was afraid Mr. Butler's feelings would be hurt; for she was sure he did not think of a reward, but a thank-offering.
After supper Mrs. Owen and the two children went down the street to Mrs. Butler's house. It was pleasant to see the canary-bird in his cage in the window. He was silent, as if he were tired out with the excitement of the day. Peggy felt tired, too, and she thought, "If I were only the kind of little girl who cried, I should cry now, because I am so disappointed about the hat."
Mrs. Butler's daughter Flora had just come in from the milliner's shop. She was wearing a pretty hat, with a wreath of wild roses around it.
"Well, Peggy, I hear you have found the most important member of the family," said Flora. "I'm sure they wouldn't take on half so bad if I was lost."
"I guess you could find your way home if you were lost," said Peggy.
They begged Mrs. Owen and the children to sit down and have supper with them.
"Thank you, but we have had our supper," said Mrs. Owen. "I only came down for a minute, just to say how good you were to give my little girl the five dollars, but I could not let her keep it. I don't want her to feel she is to be benefited in any other way when she does a kindness, except having the pleasure that comes from helping somebody."
"I thought I'd like to have the pleasure of helping somebody," said Mr. Butler. "I offered the reward, and she seemed real pleased to get it."
"Of course, she was pleased," said Peggy's mother. "But I am sure it was not the idea of the reward that started her out to find the canary. So, if you please, Mr. Butler,"—and Mrs. Owen handed him the five-dollar bill as she spoke,—"I'd rather you kept this. We've always been good friends and neighbors, and I am glad if my little girl has been able to help you, and sometime, I am sure, you and Mrs. Butler will be ready to help me."
Mrs. Butler had been watching Peggy's face. She saw she was sorry not to have the money, and she shrewdly guessed there was something she wanted very much that the five dollars would buy.
"I see just the way your ma feels," said Mrs. Butler, "but it does seem as if Sol might make you a little present. Can you think of anything you would like?"
"Yes," said Peggy promptly, "the hat in the milliner's window with the ribbon with the blue edge."
"My dear little girl—?" began Mrs. Owen.
"That is just the thing," said Mrs. Butler. "I'm sure Sol will be real pleased to give it to you."
Mrs. Owen was about to say it was too much of a present, but she looked at Peggy's shining eyes and then at Mrs. Butler's beaming face. Who was she to stand out against these two? If it were indeed more blessed to give than to receive, Mr. and Mrs. Butler were getting their reward.
So the next day a paper box arrived at the Owens' door for "Miss Peggy Owen, with the compliments and gratitude of her friend Sol."
Oh, joy of joys! It was the hat. Peggy tried it on, and it was even nicer than she had thought, for it was so light, and it had such a good brim. She went down that very afternoon to make a special call on Mrs. Butler and Sol; and the canary sang again his melodious song.
CHOOSING A KITTEN
Now the warm weather had come to stay, Mrs. Owen decided that it was cruel to keep Lady Jane in the house, besides being almost impossible. The children must take the risk. If she chose to live with the Carters, it could not be helped. Perhaps Diana needed her more than they did.
"But she is my cat," said Alice. "Can't I go and get her back whenever she goes there?"
"Yes, if you have the patience."
"I shall have the patience to go a hundred and seventy-five times," said Alice.
She and Peggy liked Diana, but whenever Mrs. Owen had suggested to her little girls that they should go to see her, they had always some good reason for not going. Mrs. Owen suspected it was on account of Lady Jane. It was awkward to meet Diana when they had locked Lady Jane up, knowing perfectly well that she preferred to live with Diana. Peggy thought it was not fair to take advantage of anything so small. But the cat was Alice's, not hers, as Alice reminded her. And then, one pleasant day, Lady Jane decided to set up housekeeping for good and all in her old home. Alice wanted to go down at once and bring her back. But Mrs. Owen insisted that she should be allowed to stay in the home of her choice for at least a week.
And before the week was up, Diana telephoned to Alice. "What do you think, Alice," she said, "Lady Jane has four teenty-tinety kittens—the darlingest, most cuddly things!"
"Oh, she does have such lovely children!" said Alice, with a pang of envy.
"They are in a wood-box out in the shed," said Diana. "At least it looks like a wood-box, but there isn't any wood in it."
"Yes, that is her old house," said Alice.
"Mother has put in an old piece of blanket so as to make them comfortable," said Diana.
"Has she really?" said Alice.
"Mother won't let us touch the kittens until they get their eyes open. She says in two weeks she hopes you and Peggy will come down and see them."
"Not for two weeks?" said Alice. "We always look at them a lot. I'd like her back before two weeks. That is too long a visit."
"Mother says it is bad for kittens to be handled. She says to forget all about them for two weeks."
"Ask her if she knows what color they are," said Peggy.
"Have you seen them?" Alice asked.
"Yes, mother let us look at them just once, and we each chose a kitten for ourselves."
"Do you mean to say she is going to let you keep them all?" Alice asked. "Mother never let us keep but two."
"We can keep them if you will let us have them," said Diana. "Of course we know she is your cat, but mother thought maybe your mother wouldn't want the bother of four kittens."
"You didn't ask her what color they are. Let me talk to her," said Peggy, and she seized the receiver. "It is Peggy talking now. What color are the kittens?"
"Tipsy is black with just a white tip to his tail, and Topsy is black with a white vest and four white paws, and Lady Janet is silvery gray, almost exactly like her mother, and Gretchen is gray and white with a gray chin."
"And your mother doesn't mind the bother of four kittens?" said Peggy.
"Mother," she said, as Mrs. Owen came into the room, "Lady Jane has four children, and Mrs. Carter is going to keep all of them if we'll let her."
"We shall want one ourselves so as to keep her contented," said Alice.
"My dear little girl," said her mother, "it would be cruel to move Lady Jane until the kittens are big enough to look out for themselves. I have a few things to do besides taking care of her and her family. If the Carters want her and she wants to stay, there is no use in fighting any longer."
"But she is my darling cat," said Alice, with tears in her eyes. "How would you feel, mother, if I decided I would rather live in my old house with the Carters than with you. Would you let me stay?"
"Certainly not, because you are not capable of judging what is best for yourself, and because I could not spare you, and neither would Mrs. Carter want to bring up another child. But if you were my pussy-cat, instead of my child, and you preferred to live with a little girl who was sick half the time, and had so few pleasures, and if you had four furry children, and the Carters wanted to keep them, I should be glad to have everybody happy."
"All but me, mother," said Alice, "and Peggy—she will miss Lady Jane."
"I am sure they will let you have one of the kittens," said Mrs. Owen. "In about two months you can have one of them."
"Not for two months?" said Peggy. "Oh, mother, think of a catless house for two months. It will be so desolate."
"But you can go and choose your kitten in two weeks," said Mrs. Owen, "and you can often go to see it."
It was a bright spring afternoon when Peggy and Alice went down to Diana's house to choose the kitten. They took along with them a great bunch of Mayflowers for Diana. They had picked them the afternoon before, when they had gone with their mother up to their camp on the hill. It was a rude little hut that their father had built. Later in the season, wild strawberries would grow on the place, and then would come raspberries, and afterwards blueberries and blackberries. Mrs. Owen was planning to make preserves for themselves, and for some of the neighbors. She looked over the ground with interest while the children frisked about and stopped from time to time to pick Mayflowers.
Diana was sitting up in bed when the children arrived. The bed was of mahogany and had four twisted posts. The white quilt had been turned back and a book and Diana's doll Alice were lying on the blanket. The sun came shining in through the two west windows. The room looked very fresh, with the new white paint and pale green walls.
"This used to be mother's room when we had the house," said Peggy. "It is much prettier now."
Diana was wearing her green kimono with the pink roses on it. "They gave me the best room because I'm sick so much," said Diana. "Wasn't it nice of them, when I am the youngest in the family?"
"I'd rather have the smallest room in the house, and be well," said Peggy.
She was sorry she had said it, for a shadow seemed to cross Diana's bright face. "Father expects I'll be well much sooner, now we live in the country," she said.
"Oh, what lovely Mayflowers!" she added, as Peggy dropped the big bunch down beside her. Diana picked it up and plunged her nose into it.
"Peggy and I picked them for you yesterday," said Alice. "We were up at our camp."
Diana listened with interest to the children's description of the place.
"There are pine woods around the camp," said Peggy, "and on the hillside and in the pasture such delicious berries; and later on we shall go up and pick them; we always do. We have to walk now, for we haven't a horse or automobile any more. But it is a nice walk and not so very long. Maybe your father will drive you up when you get better."
"I'd like to see it," said Diana.
Just then Mrs. Carter came into the room with a basket.
"Oh, have you brought the kittens?" Peggy asked.
"Yes, they are all here." She took out one kitten after another and put them all on the bed in front of Diana.
"Oh, what sweet things!" Alice cried. She put her hand on the black kitten with the white tip to his tail. "This is Tipsy, isn't it?" she asked.
"And I know this is Topsy," said Peggy, picking up the other black-and-white kitten.
"Oh, what a darling!" said Alice as she spied the gray-and-white kitten. "That must be Gretchen."
"Oh, see that one, Alice," and Peggy pointed to the silvery gray kitten that looked like a miniature Lady Jane. The children went into an ecstasy of delight over the four soft, furry little things that were so complete and yet small.
As Mrs. Carter was leaving the room, she said, "I'll come back in a few minutes, for I want to take them home before Lady Jane comes back from her afternoon walk. She'd be terribly worried if she found they were gone. So you'll have to choose your kitten quickly."
"Can we choose whatever one we want?" Peggy asked.
"Almost any one," said Diana. "We've each chosen for ourselves, but I'll let you choose mine if you want her; and I don't believe Tom would mind if you chose his. I'm not sure about Christopher—he's so decided."
"Well, anyway, I don't know which I like best," said Peggy.
"Well, I know which one I want," said Alice, and she picked up the silvery gray kitten. "I want Lady Janet, she's so like her mother, except she's a lighter color."
"That's Christopher's kitten," said Diana.
"Well, I don't care if it is," said Alice in her gentlest voice; "I want it. I think if I am so unfortunate as to lose my precious Lady Jane, I ought to have the child that's most like her."
"They are all sweet," said Peggy. "Which is the kitten that doesn't belong to anybody?"
"Let's take Topsy," said Peggy. "It would be a change to have a black-and-white kitten."
"It would not be a nice change," said Alice. "I'd like to go and find Christopher."
He came in while the kittens were still there. "Oh, Christopher," said Alice, "please I want Lady Janet. I want her very much because she's so like her mother. I know she's your kitten, but I want her very much, please, Christopher."
"I want her very much, too," said Christopher.
In spite of his pleasant smile, he had a determined face. He looked as if when his mind was made up he did not easily change it.
"You see, if I can't have Lady Jane I want Lady Janet," said Alice.
"Who says you can't have Lady Jane?" said Christopher. "You can have her back as soon as the kittens are old enough to look out for themselves."
"You know she won't stay with us," said Alice reproachfully.
"Well, I can't help that," said Christopher.
"Come, Alice," said Peggy, "we must be going now."
She turned and looked at Christopher. "If you are so mean as not to let my sister have the kitten she wants when Lady Jane is her cat, I shall never speak to you as long as I live. I think you are a selfish pig. You can keep all four kittens. There are plenty of kittens in town. Good-bye, Diana."
"Oh, don't go," said Diana, looking very much worried. "Christopher was only teasing her."
This was true, but Peggy was not sure of it. She thought Diana wanted to make peace.
"Peggy doesn't really mean it," Alice said. "Sometimes she gets angry, but she doesn't stay angry. Please, Christopher,"—and she looked at him beseechingly,—"I would like Lady Janet."
"She is my kitten," said Christopher, and Alice's face clouded, "but I will give her to you," he added.
THE WILD GARDEN
Meanwhile, as the kittens were growing, the garden was growing, too. Peggy thought it was strange that small furry things and plants and vegetables should change so much in a few weeks, while children did not seem to change at all.
The garden had been a delight from the very first, for they had found it so interesting to follow old Michael about with the horses, as he ploughed the field at the back of the house and got it ready for planting. It was still more exciting to watch their mother and the old gardener, as they planned where the different crops were to be. Mrs. Owen had made one of her blue frocks, which she wore, and Peggy had on one of hers, and Alice felt sorry not to be in uniform, but she made a nice bit of color in the landscape in a pink frock.
Next came the planting. They helped about this. It was such fun to pat the earth down after the seed had been put in. There were rows and rows of peas, and rows and rows of string-beans and shell-beans, and some corn and turnips and carrots, and, also, a great many tomato plants. Mrs. Owen was going to put up all the peas and beans and tomatoes that Mrs. Horton needed, as well as her jams and jellies. And she was going to put up vegetables, fruit, and berries for Mrs. Carter, also, as she had been too busy getting settled to have any time to start a garden this year. May was a joyous month. The planting was all done, and some bits of green were poking their heads above the ground.
In June Clara came back, and they had her to play with. They saw a great deal of Diana, too, for they made frequent trips to see how Lady Janet was getting on. One day Clara went with them, and she decided she must have Topsy just as soon as she was big enough to leave home. This would leave only two kittens for three children, but Diana said if Lady Jane was to be hers she would let Christopher have Gretchen.
If Peggy and Alice took pleasure in the garden behind the house, this was nothing compared with their delight in what they called the wild garden, on the hill. The strawberries were the first of the berries to be picked. There were not a great many of them, but as Mrs. Horton and Mrs. Carter both wanted wild strawberry preserves, Mrs. Owen thought it best to get what she could from her own land. So one glorious June day she and the children started for the hill, with their luncheon, and pails to pick the berries in. Alice picked as carefully as her mother did, although not so fast; but Peggy put soft berries in with the good ones, and some bits of leaves somehow got in with her berries.
"Peggy, look what you are doing," said her mother. "Those berries are over-ripe."
"I don't see what difference it makes, mother, so long as you are going to make strawberry jam. Oh, mother, look at that squirrel, he gave a skip from one branch to another. See what a bushy tail he has."
"Peggy, do attend to your work."
"Mother, you can't expect me to work all the time on such a sunshiny day. It is just as important to watch squirrels and birds."
"Well, perhaps it is for you, but not for me. I can't put up squirrels for my neighbors by the cold-pack process."
When it came to the preserving of the strawberries, Peggy and Alice were so interested that they went out into the kitchen so as to watch the whole process.
"Children, you mustn't eat any more of the strawberries," said their mother. "Remember, I am putting them up for other people."
"But, mother, you've got lots and lots of them," said Peggy. "I didn't know we picked so many."
"I had to buy a great many more to fill my orders," said Mrs. Owen, "and even now I shan't have as much wild strawberry preserve as Mrs. Horton and Mrs. Carter wanted; remember the strawberries represent just so much money."
"But, mother," said Peggy, "I think it would be so much nicer to keep the strawberry preserve for ourselves than to have the money. We can't eat that."
"Children, do keep out of this kitchen."
"Mother, I don't see why it is called the 'cold-pack' process, when you heat the jars," said Peggy.
"Oh, do run along, children; you might go down to Diana's and see how Lady Janet is getting along."
"She is getting quite big," said Alice. "Can we bring her home to-day?"
"Not to-day," said her mother firmly. "I must get this preserving done before she comes."
Picking raspberries was even more delightful than picking strawberries, because they were bigger, and there were so many more of them; but going for blueberries was the best of all, for there were such quantities of them in the pasture on the hill that one could get quarts and quarts. Indeed, there were so many that Mrs. Owen was glad of extra pickers. She proposed having a picnic and asking Miss Rand and Clara, and Diana and her brothers. Diana was much stronger now, and her father was going to take her to the picnic in his automobile. Mrs. Carter decided she would like to go, too, and so did her brother, who was staying with them for a few days. Diana thought that, next to her father, there was no other man in the whole world so delightful as her Uncle Joe. He was tall and slim and had friendly brown eyes, and such a kind face and merry smile that Peggy and Alice and Clara liked him the first moment they saw him.
The first moment had been the day Clara went for her kitten. He had put the struggling Topsy into the basket in such a nice way, and he talked to her as if she had been a person. "Topsy, you are going to a very good home," he said. "Miss Rand is one who understands people like you, and so does Clara. You will have the choicest food—lamb and fish, and all that you most desire, and you will be so well fed you will not have to live, like the Chinese, on mice."
Lady Janet was still living at the Carters' on account of the preserving, but she was getting so big she was to come to them very soon.
"If we wait until she gets much bigger, she will be running home just as her mother did," said Peggy.
The day of the picnic was a glorious one. Peggy called it a "blue day" because the sky was so blue. It was a deep blue, and there were great fleecy clouds floating about. The blueberries were the most wonderful blue, two shades, dark and light, with a shimmer to them, and Peggy's blue frock seemed a part of all the brightness of the day. Alice had on her yellow frock, and Diana was in green, and Clara in pink. It was almost too beautiful a day for them to stop and pick berries, Peggy thought; but that was what they had come for. Mrs. Owen said she would give a pint of preserved blueberries to the boy or girl who picked the first quart, provided they were carefully picked. So every one set to work to pick with a will.
Tom got his pail filled first, but as he was older than the other children, Diana said she thought Peggy ought to have the prize, because she had filled her quart pail almost as soon as Tom had; for Peggy, who was naturally quick, had been so anxious to come out ahead that she had not stopped to look at squirrels and birds. When Mrs. Owen examined the berries, however, she found some that were not ripe in Peggy's pail. Diana and Alice had both of them picked slowly, but carefully. Christopher had almost as many as Peggy, but his had to be gone over, and some unripe ones taken out. Clara had the fewest and poorest of all. She was not used to applying herself, and very soon she said she was tired and that the sun made her head ache; so Miss Rand said she could go into the little hut and rest. But this did not suit her, for she liked to be with the other children.
"I am going to give the prize to Diana," said Mrs. Owen, "as Tom won't take it, for she has picked carefully."
"Let's see who has picked the most," said Peggy, as she examined the pails. "Oh, mother has a lot more than anybody. Mother, you'll have to keep some for yourself, and Alice and I can help you eat them."