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Title: Randy's Summer - A Story for Girls
Author: Brooks, Amy
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            Popular Stories
                             By AMY BROOKS.
              Each Beautifully Illustrated by the Author.

                            The Randy Books.
                   THREE VOLUMES READY. 12MO. CLOTH.
                  STRIKING COVER DESIGN BY THE AUTHOR.

               RANDY’S SUMMER. Price $1.00
               RANDY’S WINTER. Price 1.00
               RANDY AND HER FRIENDS. Price 80 cents, net


                          For Younger Readers.
                  A JOLLY CAT TALE. Large 12mo. Cloth.
                   Profusely Illustrated. Price $1.00
                   DOROTHY DAINTY. Large 12mo. Cloth.
         Cover Design by the Author. Set in large English type.
                          Price 80 cents, net



[Illustration: “With the Book upon her Lap, and one Arm around her
Little Sister” Page 24]



                             RANDY’S SUMMER

                           A STORY FOR GIRLS

                                   BY

                               AMY BROOKS

                    WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THE AUTHOR

                                 BOSTON
                      LEE AND SHEPARD, PUBLISHERS
                                  1902



                  Copyright, 1900, by Lee and Shepard.
                         _All Rights Reserved._
                            RANDY’S SUMMER.

                             Norwood Press
                  J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith
                          Norwood Mass. U.S.A.



                                CONTENTS

               CHAPTER                                  PAGE
                     I Randy and the Fairy Tales           1
                    II At the Brook                       16
                   III Randy at Church                    37
                    IV Prue’s Mishap                      52
                     V Helen Dayton’s Call                70
                    VI The Picnic                         88
                   VII Randy Outwits Jason Meade         111
                  VIII Tableaux                          124
                    IX Callers                           146
                     X The Apple-Bee                     173
                    XI An Unexpected Visitor             199
                   XII A Wedding Feast                   218



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

    “With the book upon her lap, and one arm
      around her little sister”                           Frontispiece

    Randy and Prue started for the brook                            23

    Prue counts the daisies on Miss Dayton’s hat                    46

    Randy carrying Prue in her arms                                 58

    On the way to the picnic                                        98

    “Nearer to the wall she crept”                                 115

    “There stood Randy as the demure little maid”                  139

    Prue and Tabby reading the Fairy Book                          170

    “‘Why don’t you send the little girl a letter?’”               191

    “At the head of a long table stood Helen Dayton”               225



RANDY’S SUMMER



CHAPTER I—RANDY AND THE FAIRY TALES


“Randy! Randy! where are you?” came in shrill, high-pitched tones from
the kitchen.

The girl on the wooden seat just outside the door neither moved nor
heeded, so engrossed in her book was she.

“Ran-dee!” This time there was a rising inflection on the last syllable.
Slowly the girl’s forefinger followed along the line which she was
reading. A quick step across the kitchen, and a tall, angular woman
appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on her blue-checked apron.

“Why, Randy Weston! Here I’ve been callin’ and callin’ to you, and
you’re right here at the door and never heard at all, I’ll warrant you.
What’s that you’re readin’?”

“Oh, mother, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you,” said Randy, her face still
aglow with the thought of the fascinating tale; “but the story was so
wonderful that I never knew you called me.”

“Must have been wonderful,” said Mrs. Weston, smiling. “What sort of a
book is it, and where did you get it?”

“Why, it’s the one I told you I found in the field back of the barn,”
said Randy. “It’s all about kings and queens, and princes and fairies,
and goblins, and oh, it’s just the most wonderful book you ever saw!”

“I hope it’s a _good_ book,” said Mrs. Weston, doubtfully; “it sounds
kind of outlandish, and I know one thing, I never have to call twice
when I give you ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ or Fox’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ to
read.”

“But, mother, just see the pictures! Here’s the one that shows when the
prince rode on the horse which was shod with golden shoes, and could run
faster than the wind!”

That was too much for practical Mrs. Weston.

“Look here, Randy, that’ll do! That shows what kind of a book it is. Who
ever heard of shoeing a horse with gold! Land knows it costs enough to
shoe them with iron; and as for running faster than the wind, why,
anybody’d know better. You give me the book till I ask your father what
he thinks of it. I’ll put it up on the mantel, back of the clock, and
show it to him to-night and see what he says.”

As Mrs. Weston usually meant what she said, Randy was forced to submit;
but she could not help thinking it a trial to have to do without the
wonderful book until her father should have time to read it.

“Now,” said Mrs. Weston, “come in and help me make these pies.”

“Oh, yes,” said the girl; while she thought, “What a change from the
prince’s castle to the hot kitchen and apple pies!” However, she was a
thoughtful girl, and seeing a tired look on her mother’s face, she took
a big yellow dish on her lap, and grasping a knife began to pare apples
as if her life depended upon it.

The first she pared rapidly and deftly, the next one took her a little
longer, and the sixth she held in one hand while the knife lay idly in
the other, as she gazed out of the window, wondering if the hot, sunny
road which led to the village could be at all like the high-road over
which the king’s huntsmen returned to the castle.

“Randy Weston! I thought you was parin’ apples! Bring the dish here and
we’ll finish them together. At that rate you wouldn’t get them done in a
month!”

Randy started. “Oh, dear! I meant to have peeled them in no time,” said
she.

“Well, never mind,” said her mother; “we’ll do them together, and then
you can get out the things for me to make the crust with.”

Soon the apples were pared, cored, and sliced, and away Randy hurried to
the closet, getting the sifter, sugar-bucket and rolling pin, the spice
box, and last of all, a lot of plates.

Running back to the closet she brought out the lard and began to grease
the plates in furious haste, so determined was she to show her mother
that she was really willing to be helpful. How she admired the deft
manner in which her mother rolled out the crust, stretched it over the
plate, and inserted her knuckles to make it fit the hollow of the dish.

Randy watched her as, balancing the crust-covered plate on her left
hand, she swept the knife which she held in her right swiftly around the
edge of the plate, trimming off the extra crust.

“I wish I could make pies as quick as you can,” said the girl, “and have
them turn out right every time, too.”

Mrs. Weston smiled at the compliment so earnestly expressed.

“Mebbe you can, when you’ve made as many as I have,” said she.

“Now get the broom, Randy, and sweep up the flour I spilled ’round the
table and put the apple peels in the bucket, while I commence to wash up
the cookin’ dishes.”

Randy got the broom and began to sweep vigorously. “I wonder,” thought
the girl, “if princesses have to bake pies, and wash dishes, and sweep
hot kitchens.” She could not remember of any mention being made of
either pies or kitchens in the fairy tales which she had been reading,
so she concluded that in those delightful days no such things existed.

“They _must_ have had pies,” she said to herself, “so p’r’aps they had
somebody to bake for them, same’s Mrs. Hodgkins has Sophrony Brown to
help her about the housework.

“Sophrony Brown doesn’t look ’s if she belonged in a castle, even to
stay in the kitchen, if it had one,” thought Randy. “Her hair’s red, and
so are her hands, and they’re awful big, too. Everybody in that splendid
book was handsome, and they all had little white hands and tiny feet,
too.” Here she stopped and took a long survey of her own feet, encased
in coarse, cowhide boots, with leather lacings.

“The shoes and slippers in the pictures,” mused Randy, “have beautiful
bows on the toes, and they have tiny little heels. I wonder how they
ever managed to walk on them.” So still she stood, looking down at her
shoes, the broom held listlessly in her hand, that her mother turned to
see where she had gone.

“Why, Randy Weston, what ails you? You’ve been mooning ’round all this
morning. You do try to help me real good, and then, first thing I know,
you’re miles away thinkin’ of something or other. I say, whatever ails
you?”

“Nothing,” said Randy, “I was only wondering about the fairy tales in
the book.”

“Well, more’n ever I think it can’t be a good kind o’ book to read, that
makes a good, sensible girl so took up with it that she can’t think of
anything else.”

“But if father says it’s all right, I can read it, can’t I?” said Randy.

“I suppose so,” said the tired woman. “Now go and find Prue. Like enough
she’s into something by this time.”

Little Prue had a positive talent for inventing mischief, and as Randy
hastened to the door to call her, she remembered that the little sister
had had at least an hour in which to play without supervision. “I do
hope,” said Randy, “that she hasn’t torn her dress or lost her sunbonnet
while I’ve been helping mother with the cooking. I’ll call first, and if
she don’t answer, then I’ll hunt for her.” So, standing in the doorway,
she called long and loudly.

Such a pretty picture Randy made, all the sweeter because she never
dreamed that she possessed the beauty of which she read in the fairy
book, and for which she so ardently longed.

The kitchen doorway was low, and up on one side grew scarlet runners,
which over the top clasped tendrils with the morning glories as they
clambered up the other side of the door-frame and half covered the
kitchen window.

The cool wind from across the meadow fanned Randy’s flushed cheeks, and
tossed back some short brown ringlets from her forehead, for Randy’s
hair would curl, as she said, “spite of anything.” She did her best with
brush and comb to make it lie smoothly, but the short ends flew back
every time, and curled and rippled in a manner which would have been the
envy of many a city girl who was a slave to “curlers.” Her hair was a
soft, light brown, and her eyes were large and gray, bright and
twinkling. She was quite tall for a girl of her age, just fifteen that
summer, and she stood as “straight as a birch,” her father said.

Her plain calico gown and coarse apron could not hide her trim figure;
and, judging by her small, shapely hands, and slender fingers, one would
say that with dainty boots instead of cowhides, her feet would be as
shapely as her hands. But Randy had never thought much about beauty or
personal adornment until the finding of the wonderful fairy book. She
had been dressed like the other children in that little country town,
and had never seen a fashion book or a stylishly dressed person in her
life. Mrs. Weston had taught her children to think that to be neat and
clean was to be well dressed, and certainly Randy and Prue were always
dressed in clean gowns and aprons, and stiff-starched sunbonnets. Yes,
Randy was more than pretty. Would she one day know it?

Long and patient calling brought no answering shout from little Prue, so
Randy snatched her sunbonnet from its peg on the wall, and started in
search of her. She looked in every place, both possible and impossible,
and she laughed as she thought of the funny scrapes the little sister
had gotten into. She thought of the day on which their aunt, Miss
Prudence Weston, had come to visit them, bringing three bags and as many
bundles, although she was to stay but a week.

She had always lived in a little town in one of the Western states, and
as that week’s stay was her first visit to her brother’s home, she was
really a stranger to Randy and Prue. The children had known only that
little Prue was her namesake, and that she was a person well-nigh
perfect.

“Your Aunt Prudence never did that,” was a remark so frequently
addressed to little Prue that that lively, mischievous little being
conceived a great dislike for so perfect a person; and, although she
dared not say so to either father or mother, she confessed it freely to
Randy when at night they lay in their little bed in the chamber under
the eaves.

“I think it would be just horrid to live in this house if Aunt Prudence
lived here too, don’t you, Randy?” said little Prue in a loud whisper.
“You’re good, Randy, and you know I love you, but you can be naughty and
Aunt Prudence can’t, that’s the difference.”

“Oh, hush!” Randy had said. “I most think it’s naughty not to like her.
We don’t know but may be she’s real nice if we knew her.”

“Don’t want to,” whispered Prue, “don’t want to, _ever_. If she staid
here I’d—I mean I’d—” but the tired little sister had gone fast asleep
and left Randy to wonder just what she would have done.

Immediately upon her arrival Miss Prudence had removed her wraps, and
had at once taken out her knitting from a voluminous pocket, saying to
the two staring children, as she peered at them over her glasses, “It’s
not right to waste time,” and as soon as they had made their escape to
the kitchen, naughty little Prue had said, “Randy Weston! If keeping
busy would make me look like that, I’d just do nothing forever and
ever.”

Funny little Prue! Aunt Prudence’s sharp eyes behind her spectacles, her
“false front,” and tall, angular figure, had strengthened the child’s
preconceived dislike. Then that day before their aunt had bidden adieu
to the Weston farm, Randy had caught Prue perched upon a chair, which
made her just high enough to see herself in the glass. On her head was
Miss Prudence’s best cap, on her saucy little nose the big,
old-fashioned spectacles, over which she peered at herself, saying, in
imitation of her aunt, “I never waste time, no, not a single minute.”

Randy had escaped to the barn where, on the hay, she had laughed until
she was tired; all the time feeling guilty, for she knew that, funny as
the sight had been, Prue had been very naughty. Prue was a little
captive in the house that afternoon, a great trial for her, and at night
her father had talked with her and told her that she must always be kind
to every one, especially to old people, and Prue had promised, at the
same time saying that, “if Aunt Prudence was always good, it was easier
for grown-up people to be good.”

Around the house and barn, down by the well, and, lastly, into the barn
went Randy, calling, “Prue! Prue! where are you?”

“Here!” called a little voice.

“Where?” shouted Randy.

“Up here!” came the answer, which appeared to come from the loft.

Up the ladder went Randy, and, once at the top, she espied a funny
little figure sitting on the hay. “Why, Prue,” said Randy, “what are you
doing up here? Why didn’t you come when I called?”

“I couldn’t,” said Prue; “I’m helping mother, and I’ve got to stay.
Mother said you could help her make pies, so I came up here and I’m
sitting on some eggs. The old hen’s left them, and mother said they’d
just got to be set on.”

“Oh, Prue!” said Randy, “you’d ought to know better. If you’ve smashed
them, won’t you be a sight?”

“I ain’t smashed them,” said the child; but upon Randy’s insisting, she
rose from the nest, only to show that not an egg remained whole, as her
pink calico dress plainly showed.

“Well, _I_ never got into such scrapes,” said Randy, for once out of
patience.

“Now, Randy,” said Prue, “don’t you talk that way; that’s just like Aunt
Prudence;” and that silenced Randy completely.

Randy’s first thought was a longing to shield Prue, but she knew that
her mother wished them always to come to her at once when any mischief
had been done, so, a forlorn little procession of two, they walked
toward the house.



CHAPTER II—AT THE BROOK


The next morning dawned bright and fair. Randy awoke and rubbed her
eyes. “I believe there was something that made me uncomfortable
yesterday. Wonder what it was?” thought she. “Don’t see what it could
have been,” mused the girl, half awake. “I helped mother with the baking
and swept the kitchen for her, because I knew I ought to, instead of
reading that fairy book. Then I hunted for Prue.—Oh, that’s it! mother
had to scold her, and that always makes me feel just awful.

“She was naughty, and seems ’s if she might know better than to get into
such queer scrapes, though she isn’t much more than a baby.”

Here Randy turned over and looked at her little sister, who was still
fast asleep. “How pretty she looks!” said Randy, half aloud. The
sleeping child stirred, and thrust one chubby arm and hand under her
short curls. She drew a long breath, which was half a sigh, her eyelids
quivered, opened, closed, then opened wide, and she stared at Randy,
who, leaning upon her elbow, was gazing at little Prue.

“Oh, Randy! what are you looking at and thinking of?” said Prue, half
laughing.

“I was just thinking,” said Randy, “that when you’re asleep you don’t
look as if you could ever be naughty.”

Prue stopped laughing, and, putting her arm around her sister’s neck,
she said, “Oh, Randy! I never mean to, and ’most always when I’m naughty
it’s when I’m trying to help. Don’t you know that time when I dropped
the platter and broke it all to smash? Mother put down the towel she was
wiping it with to look in the oven to see if the bread was burning. I
thought I’d s’prise you and mother, and show you I’d wiped the big
platter nice and dry. Just a minute before, mother said it was too big
for me to handle, and that just made me want to.”

“I know it,” said Randy, “I know you mean to be good, and I do believe
you can’t help doing funny things, you best little sister in all the
world,” and she kissed Prue, laughing at her at the same time. “Now, do
be good to-day, and, if you don’t do a naughty thing before dinner, I’ll
do something splendid. I’ll have to help mother this morning, and do a
lot of things. Then, of course, I’ll wipe the dinner dishes, and after
that you and I will go down to that shady place by the brook, and I’ll
tell you some of the stories I read in that book I found.”

“Oh, will you?” said Prue, “can you ’member them?”

“Yes, some of them; I can’t remember all of them yet,” said Randy.

“Why don’t you take the book and read them?” said Prue.

“Because,” said Randy, “father’s got to look it over and see if it’s a
good book first, mother says.”

“Why isn’t he ’fraid to read it, if p’r’aps, it isn’t good?” said the
child, with such a funny expression on her face that Randy, who really
did not know how to answer such a question, laughed, and said she
thought it must be time to dress.

Up sprang little Prue, and out upon the floor. “You dress me first,”
said she. So Randy put on the little one’s shoes and stockings, then,
piece by piece, her other little garments, all the time silently
admiring the round, dimpled arms, the roguish eyes, and tangle of short
curls, and the sweet little mouth, honestly believing that no girl in
all the world had so dear a little sister. Just as Randy turned to
button the little dress, Prue uttered a joyous cry, and darted over to
the window.

“Oh, come quick, quick!” she called. “See the butterfly almost coming in
our window.” And sure enough, when Randy reached the window, there he
was, a gorgeous fellow, with bright, golden wings, swinging up and down
over a fresh rose-colored morning-glory.

“Oh!” cried Prue, “isn’t it the handsomest butterfly you ever saw?”

“Yes, and look at the dewdrops on the pink morning-glory,” said
imaginative Randy; “I wonder if the necklace that the fairy queen wore
looked as bright as that? In the picture in the book it looks just like
strings and strings of beads.”

“I liked the beads and her dress, with a long train to it; but in the
picture she didn’t have a nice face ’t all,” said Prue, the young
critic.

“Oh, but she was bea-utiful,” said Randy. “She must have been, the story
said so,” but just here Randy’s raptures over the heroine of the fairy
tale were cut short by a loud call of “Randy! Randy! Prue! it’s time to
come downstairs!”

So Randy hurried on her own clothing, and Prue amused herself while
waiting by counting the buttons on Randy’s best gingham dress as it hung
on the first hook in the closet, and this is the way she half said and
half sung it:—

“Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer,—Randy, what’s a
lawyer? Your last button is a lawyer.”

“I don’t know,” said Randy; “ask father;” but when they had reached the
lowest stair and entered the kitchen Prue had forgotten her question and
asked another.

“Father,” she cried, “have you read the book yet? Are you going to let
Randy read it? the fairy book, I mean?”

“Two questions in one,” said Mr. Weston, laughing. “Why, yes, I guess
I’ll have to let her read it, if she wants to,” said he.

“Going to let Randy read those outlandish tales?” said Mrs. Weston
coming out of the closet with a pie in her hand, which she placed upon
the table. “Why there wasn’t a word of truth in them.”

“I know it,” said her husband, smiling, “but I didn’t see anything wrong
about them, and the yarns that are in the book are so big that no
sensible girl, like our Randy, would s’pose she was expected to believe
them a minute. I looked it over last night after I’d thought over that
piece of medder land of Jason Meade’s that he wants to swap for my
little pasture, and cal-lated ’bout what the bargain was worth. I just
took down that fairy book from behind the clock, and I thought I’d just
look it over to see if it was all right for Randy and Prue, and, if
you’d believe me, ’fore I knew it, I was ’most as interested as the
children was. As you say, there ain’t any sense in it, but it reads
kinder fine, I must say.”

Mrs. Weston laughed, and said that she was willing enough to let them
have it if the book was all right.

“Right enough,” rejoined her husband, “only kind of foolish,” and
smiling at the children’s eager faces he said kindly, “Read it if you
like, only don’t let it make you forget to help mother, Randy.”

[Illustration: Randy and Prue started for the Brook]

“Randy don’t often forget that,” said Mrs. Weston, at which unwonted bit
of praise, Randy flushed with delight.

Mrs. Weston was a hard-working woman who loved her husband and children
dearly, but so busy was she, that she forgot to say the encouraging
word, or give the bit of praise, justly won, which seems a reward to the
husband for his care and toil, and to the child for “being good.”

When the hot forenoon’s work was done, and the dinner dishes put away,
Randy and Prue started for the brook, Randy carrying the wonderful book
very carefully, and little Prue skipping along beside her. Across the
fields, behind the barn, into a bit of woodland went the children, and
there they found the brook, calm and placid in one place, rippling and
chattering in another. “Hark! hear it talk,” said Randy, but practical
little Prue said, “It only says ‘wobble, wobble, wobble,’ as it goes
over the stones, and I don’t call that talking.”

“Well, I do,” said Randy, “and I always wonder what it says.”

“How’ll you find out?” said Prue.

“Oh, Prue!” said Randy, “what makes you ask questions that nobody could
answer?”

“But somebody could,” said the child; “if it really says anything,
somebody, somewhere, would know what it means, now wouldn’t they,
Randy?”

“I do believe there is some one who could understand it.” Randy spoke so
earnestly that Prue stopped throwing pebbles at the water-spiders and
throwing her arms around Randy, she said, “Oh, Randy! don’t look that
way. When your eyes get big, and you just think and think, it makes me
lonesome. Do begin to read the fairy stories.”

So Randy roused herself from her dream about the brook, and sat down,
with Prue close beside her, on a rough plank which spanned the tiny
stream. There, with the book upon her lap, and one arm around her little
sister, she read the tales of wonder and enchantment, while the
sunlight, sifting through the leaves, touched her hair and made a halo
around the sweet face. Parts of the stories were too much for little
Prue to understand, but such of them as her small brain could take in
delighted her.

Randy read very well, although she had had but little schooling, and her
delight in the splendor which the stories described gave added
expression to her reading, and delighted little Prue exclaimed, “Oh,
Randy, you make it seem as if it was true!”

Randy laughed, well pleased with the compliment, and continued reading:
“‘And as soon as she heard the witch’s voice, she unbound her tresses.’”

“What’s ‘tresses’?” interrupted Prue.

“Why, hair,” explained Randy.

“Then, why didn’t they say ‘hair’?” said the child.

“Tresses sounds nicer,” answered Randy.

“I don’t know,” said Prue, doubtfully.

“Well, I do,” said Randy. “If my hair was long, I’d enough rather have
it called tresses.”

“I’ll call it tresses,” said obliging little Prue, “even if it isn’t
very long. Now, go on, Randy.”

So Randy continued: “‘She unbound her tresses, and they fell down twenty
ells, and the witch mounted up by them.’”

“Oh, my, my!” interrupted Prue, “your hair’s longer’n that!”

“Longer than what?” said the astonished Randy.

“Twenty ells,” said Prue. “When you showed me the other day how to print
a L, it wasn’t very big. Would twenty of ’em be so very much? Your hair
is most down to your waist, when I stretch the ends out so they don’t
curl.”

“O you funny child!” said Randy, half laughing, half impatient. “It
doesn’t mean that kind of ell. What’s the use of reading the stories?
You ask so many questions, I don’t believe you half hear them.”

“Oh, I do truly want to hear the stories, and if you’ll only read, I
won’t ask a question, ’less it’s something I can’t make out.”

Again Randy found the place, and for some time the story went on without
interruption. Once they paused to see the picture of the lovely girl in
the tower, then Randy went on:—

“‘The king’s son wished to ascend to her, and looked for a door in the
tower, but he could not find one. So he rode home, but the song which
she had sung had touched his heart so much that he went every day to the
forest and listened to it. As he thus stood one day behind a tree, he
saw the witch come up and heard her call out:—

  “‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
  Let down your hair.’

“‘Then Rapunzel let down her tresses, and the witch mounted up.’”

“Oh, Randy!” cried Prue, excitedly, “why, didn’t it ’most pull her head
off?”

Randy laughed. “O Prue, Prue!” she said, “I do believe you think of the
funniest questions to ask.”

“But, Randy, do you b’lieve it didn’t pull like everything?” And Prue’s
eyes were round with wonder.

“Oh!” said Randy, “don’t you know that father said we wouldn’t be
expected to believe the stories, only just enjoy them?” But the little
girl looked bewildered; so, closing the book, Randy sought other means
to amuse her. “Let’s play this is a beautiful bridge, this plank we’re
sitting on, and this brook, a great big river,” said Randy, “and we’re
princesses waiting for a prince to come and save us—I mean rescue us,”
she corrected.

Again little Prue showed her lack of imagination. “Save us from what?”
said she.

“Oh, dragons that live in this big, roaring river.”

“It don’t roar much,” said Prue, doubtfully; “but,” she added, “we can
play it does.”

Thus encouraged, Randy went on, giving her fancy full play. “And that
pretty green branch overhead, with sun on the leaves, that’s an arch of
flowers such as the princess rode under in another story.”

That was too much for Prue. “But, Randy!” she exclaimed, “there isn’t a
blossom on it. If we were princesses, Randy, I could love you just the
same, couldn’t I?” questioned Prue, looking up at her sister with eager
eyes.

“Of course you could,” said Randy, giving Prue a hug, who thus assured
began to hum a little tune, swinging her legs to keep time with her
singing. They made a pretty picture, Randy with her arm still about the
little sister, Prue nestling as close as possible to Randy, and in the
brook below a reflection showing the two children. Randy was looking off
as if for the coming of the prince, while little Prue, becoming drowsy,
laid her head against her sister.

Suddenly Prue started: “S’pose that’s the prince?” said she, as a low,
merry whistle sounded through the woods. Randy looked toward the
opening, then her laugh rang out. “Oh, Prue,” said she, “it’s ’Bijah
Bowstock, the deacon’s hired man, going after the cows. Just look at
him!” she added. And Prue looked.

Little enough like the prince in the fairy book looked he! An old straw
hat upon the back of his head, a blue “jumper,” and a pair of overalls
tucked into his boots, completed his costume. He did not see Randy and
Prue as he passed through the woods to a path far beyond the brook,
whisking off the blossoms with his switch as he went along.

“His clothes wasn’t the kind the prince wore in the picture, was they,
Randy?” said Prue, when ’Bijah was out of sight. “In the picture in the
fairy book they wear such long, long stockings way over their knees, and
hats with feathers in them, and everything,” said Prue, intending thus
to supply all the details of costume which she might possibly have
omitted.

Randy made no answer. Little Prue felt as many a grown person does, that
the clothes made the man; but Randy, thoughtful Randy, felt that, given
all the fine raiment, ’Bijah never could have even _looked_ the prince.

Little Prue edged her way along the plank on which they sat, and at last
succeeded in slipping off from the end of the board down to the edge of
the brook. There she found bits of bark which she freighted with moss,
and then floated them down the tiny stream.

The little crafts, aided by a gentle push, floated out into a placid
little pool just under Randy’s feet. For an instant they paused,
wavered, then turning about they flew over the miniature rapids, made
there by three small stones below the surface, then sailed around a bend
in the brook and disappeared behind a clump of brakes growing at the
foot of an alder.

Sometimes the tiny boats foundered, and the passengers were tipped out
into the stream, but little Prue found other bits of bark for the boats
and gaily loaded them with moss for more passengers.

“Look, Randy! Look!” screamed Prue, “there’s a fine new boat just under
your feet. The gray moss is mens, and the moss with the red tops is
womens. The red is their bonnets. Randy, Randy! why don’t you hear me
when I’m close to you?”

Randy shook herself and sat upright, laughing. “I did hear you,” she
said, “only I didn’t think to answer. I guess I was dreaming.”

“Well, don’t dream in the daytime!” said Prue; “I’ve sent lots and lots
of pretty boats down the stream, and I kept telling you to look, and now
I don’t believe you’ve seen one of them.”

“Oh, yes, I have,” said Randy, “only I was so busy thinking that I
didn’t say anything about them. Come, we’ll sail a few boats together,
and then I guess we’d better go home.”

Prue was delighted, and to reward Randy for agreeing to play with her,
she hunted with all her might for finer pieces of bark and choicer bits
of moss, and gay indeed was the little fleet with its red-capped crew
and passengers. Prue wandered off to find even finer mosses, and Randy
was trying to capture a big water-spider for a passenger for a piece of
birch bark, when Prue came rushing down the path, crying, “Look, Randy!
Look! Here’s old Mr. Plimpkins to sail in one of our boats.”

In her surprise Randy let the water-spider escape, and, turning about,
saw Prue quite alone, running toward her, laughing and holding out
something which she had in her hand.

“Prue Weston! what do you mean?” said Randy.

Old Mr. Plimpkins was a farmer who lived at the outskirts of the town,
but Prue had seen him at church, and she thought him the funniest man
she had ever seen.

He was nearly as broad as he was tall. Winter and summer, he habitually
wore very broad-brimmed hats, and he walked with a comical waddle,
because his legs were completely bowed. As if to attract attention to
these members, they were always encased in light, snuff-colored
trousers, while about his neck, hot weather or cold, was always wrapped
an immense red plaid cotton handkerchief.

As Prue came along, she handed out to Randy the object which she called
Mr. Plimpkins, and, sure enough, clutched tightly in the little hot
hand, was a bit of twig on which two stems bowed together until they
nearly touched. On it, for a broad-brimmed hat, she had stuck a round
green leaf.

“Oh, I think it must be naughty to laugh about him, even if he is
funny,” said Randy.

“But doesn’t it look like him?” persisted Prue, “besides, _you’re_
laughing, Randy, only not out loud.”

Indeed, Randy was laughing, so, without attempting to reprove the little
sister, she placed the bit of birch, which represented the old farmer,
on the bark, and watched Prue as she floated it down the stream. Then,
turning toward home, they walked along the path which led to the
entrance to the wood.

Prue sang all the way, and, seeing her happiness, Randy, sweet Randy,
felt rewarded for the afternoon given up to her little sister’s
amusement; but she felt that the reading of the fairy tales was not a
success. Clearly, the stories were beyond little Prue; for, at the
supper table, when there was a pause in the conversation, she described
the afternoon and Randy’s reading, much to Randy’s surprise and her
father’s amusement.

“Oh, father!” she exclaimed, “we’ve been down to the brook, sailing
boats, an’ Randy read me the beautifulest story! The girl’s name
was—I’ve forgotten what, but her hair comed down to the ground, and the
prince clumb up on it, and ’most pulled her head off, and the tower was
so small the old witch couldn’t live in it, and she cut her hair off,
and that’s all I can think of, ’cept the girl sang all the time, and the
prince could hear her, and we sat on the plank and waited for the prince
to come.”

All this she said in one breath. Her father laughed heartily at her
manner of telling the story, but Mrs. Weston said, “What on airth does
the child mean?” while Randy decided to read the stories to herself,
thereafter, and amuse Prue in another way.



CHAPTER III—RANDY AT CHURCH


“Come, Randy, come! It wants a quarter to ten, an’ you’d better hurry.”

“Yes, mother, I’m coming,” said Randy, pleasantly, and with redoubled
energy she reached for the middle button of her dress waist, which was
fastened at the back. This button was just too high for her left hand to
reach up to, and almost too low for her right hand to reach down to, but
at last she succeeded in crowding the refractory little button into its
buttonhole, and, flushed with the struggle, she stood before the tiny
looking-glass brushing a stray curling lock from her temple. The glass
was a poor one, and Randy’s reflection appeared to be making a most
unpleasant grimace at the real girl standing there. When she lifted her
chin, a flaw in the glass made one eye appear much larger than the
other, and when she bent her head, you would never have believed that
the little nose in the glass was a reproduction of Randy’s, so singular
was its contour. Truly, with such mirrors as the farm-house afforded,
Randy stood little chance of becoming vain.

“Come, Randy!” Randy started, took one more look at the stiff gingham
dress, then hastened down the stairs. At the door stood Mrs. Weston,
impatiently waiting for her, while little Prue patted the old cat and
told her that she “mustn’t be lonesome while they were all at church.”

Into the wagon they climbed, and away they started to the church. Their
progress was slow, for the old horse was far from a “racer” at any time,
and on Sunday Mr. Weston felt it to be wrong to more than walk the
horse; yet, even with such slow locomotion, they did at last reach the
church, and the old horse was duly ensconced in the carriage-shed to
dream away the forenoon.

The Westons had arrived a bit early, and Randy amused herself surveying
the few parishioners who had already come. In that country town the
neighbors were few and far between. The Westons’ nearest neighbor was
about a mile and a half distant, and so on Sundays it was quite a treat
to see so many people.

There were the Babson girls just a few pews in front of Randy. Randy
thought Belinda Babson very pretty, mainly because of her fine yellow
braids of straight hair. These braids lay down Belinda’s broad back,
falling quite below her waist.

Her sister Jemima’s braids were even thicker and longer; but then, Randy
reflected, Jemima’s braids were red.

There was Jotham Potts, whose black eyes always espied Randy at church
or school, but whose regard she did not at all value. True, on one hot
Sunday when Randy had found it well-nigh impossible to keep awake,
Jotham had reached over the top of the pew and dropped some big
peppermints in her lap. His intention was good, and Randy blushed and
was delighted, although her pleasure was partly spoiled by a snicker
from Phœbe Small, who longed to win Jotham’s admiration, but thus far
had failed to gain it. Randy had inspected every boy and girl in the
church and was just watching a big blue fly that was circling around a
web in the angle of the window, when a slight stir among the occupants
of the other pews caused Randy to look around and become delighted with
a sweet vision. With Farmer Gray and his wife came a number of ladies
and gentlemen; summer boarders who were to be at the Gray homestead a
number of weeks; but to Randy’s eyes, the young lady who took a seat
next to Mrs. Gray seemed a dream of beauty. She wore a simple white
muslin and a very large hat trimmed with daisies, but to the little
country maid the city girl’s costume was nothing short of magnificent.

It had always been Randy’s delight when the choir arose to sing, to
watch Miss Dobbs, the little woman who sang soprano, as she drew herself
up to her full height in a vain attempt to catch a glimpse of the page
of the hymn book, the other half of which was held by Silas Barnes, the
phenomenally tall tenor. Equally amusing was the tall, thin woman who
sang “second,” standing beside her cousin, John Hobson, who sang bass
with all his might. He was short, fat, and very dark, and his musical
efforts, which were mighty, caused a scowl upon his usually jovial
countenance, and a deal of perspiration as well.

But to-day when the choir arose, Randy had no eyes for any one but the
Grays’ lovely boarder, and she almost held her breath as she wondered if
the girl would sing.

The tall tenor touched his tuning fork, the choir sounded the chord,
then choir and congregation joined in singing the old missionary hymn,
“From Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” and round and full rang out the sweet
contralto voice of the tall, fair girl in white.

Randy was spellbound. She had never admired that hymn, but to-day it
sounded sweeter than anything she had ever heard. Little Prue looked at
the singer with round eyes, and as they sat down she clutched Randy’s
skirts and in a loud whisper said, “Oh, Randy, do you s’pose she is the
fairy princess?”

“Oh, hush!” said Randy, alarmed lest the young girl should hear the
child.

Did she hear her? She sat in the pew just in front of the Westons’, and
when Prue whispered her eager question, a faint suggestion of a smile
hovered about the lovely mouth, and a bright twinkle glimmered for an
instant in her beautiful eyes.

Just then Parson Spooner arose, gave out the text, and commenced one of
his long sermons. He was a good man, with a kindly word and smile for
every one, and all of his people were devoutly fond of him. The people
liked him, and he always had a pleasant chat with every child whom he
met, and most of them thought that he was “lots” nicer on week-days than
on Sundays. On week-days he talked with the boy whom he chanced to meet
with his fishing-rod over his shoulder, and laughingly wished him good
luck. Or, if it happened that the small owner of a home-made kite could
not make it fly, the genial parson had been known to tie a new bob
(usually a few weeds tied together) to the tail of the refractory kite,
and off it would sail to the delight of the small boy and his clerical
friend.

But on Sundays, his sermons, delivered in a drowsy sing-song, tried the
patience of his small parishioners. Prue and Randy settled down as if
for a long day of it, and Randy resolved that, however long the sermon
might be, she would not get sleepy; whereupon, she stretched her eyes to
their fullest extent, and stared at nothing so persistently, that Prue
became uneasy, and whispered, “What’s the matter, Randy? you look so
queer!”

“Nothing,” said Randy. “I just mean to keep my eyes open, that’s all.”

“They _are_ open, just monstrous!” said Prue, at which Randy could not
help laughing. As the little girl was not aware that she had said
anything that was at all funny, she thought Randy’s amusement quite out
of place, and sat quietly for a few moments, in injured silence.

Randy tried very hard to attend to the sermon, but in spite of good
intentions, her mind wandered from Parson Spooner’s flushed face, as he
proceeded to make his meaning clear by loud vocal efforts, and to
enforce his meaning by many thumps of his fat fist upon the pulpit
cushion.

Mrs. Brimblecom sat over by the window, slowly waving a palm-leaf fan to
and fro, and occasionally nudging her husband, to keep him awake. In
front of her, sat Joel Simpkins, his sandy hair brushed so carefully
that not one hair was awry, and just across the aisle, Janie Clifton
sat, in all the glory of a new pink calico. Janie’s black curls were
very pretty, and she knew it; and her bright, black eyes had been
pointedly praised in an alleged poem, which had appeared in the county
paper a few weeks before. It was entitled the “Black-eyed Coquette,” and
Janie felt sure that Joel had written it, in which case, its boldly
expressed flattery could have been meant for none other than herself.
Accordingly, she shook her curls, and occasionally looked at Joel, in a
manner which Randy considered shockingly bold, and she wondered if, at
eighteen, she could act like that. She decided that she could never be
so bold, not even if the object of her admiration looked like a prince.

She thought, too, that Joel was very ordinary; then she looked again at
the girl in the daisy-trimmed hat and white muslin gown, and fell to
wondering how fine and handsome a prince would have to be to gain her
favor.

“Probably there isn’t any one in these parts that would please her,”
thought Randy. “’Tisn’t only her clothes,” mused she, “it’s something
else that makes her different from the folks around here.”

All this time Prue had been unusually still, and Randy looked to see if
she was asleep. The little girl was very wide awake, and sat staring at
the large hat in front of her, her lips moving as if she were counting.
Prue’s manner of counting was something unique, and as Randy bent her
head to listen, she could hardly help laughing, for this is what she
heard:—

“One, two, four, five, two, six, ten, nine, two,—oh, Randy, there’s more
daisies on her hat than I can count. Are they truly daisies? If they
are, why don’t they wilt?”

“Hush-sh-sh,” said Randy. “Keep still and watch that big bumble bee
that’s just come in the window.”

[Illustration: Prue counts the Daisies on Miss Dayton’s Hat]

“Hear him bum,” said Prue, thus making Randy laugh again. She felt very
wicked, laughing in church, and knew that her father would not approve;
but how could she help laughing, for while she watched the bee, and
wondered where he would fly next, little Prue watched him, too, all the
time softly imitating his monotonous tune by saying under her breath,
“bum, bum, bum.”

The heat increased, and Prue looked out of the window at the green
branches moving in the breeze, and longed to be out there, too. At last
the bee tired of the church and flew out of the window, and just as
Randy was thinking that she could not bear the heat, Parson Spooner’s
sermon came to an end. He had become entangled in his own eloquence; and
seeing no way to extricate himself, or make his meaning clear, he
abruptly closed his sermon and suggested singing the Doxology.

After the service Mrs. Gray stopped to talk with Mrs. Weston, and then,
to the mingled delight and embarrassment of Randy and Prue, the
beautiful stranger turned, and, stooping, spoke to the little girl.

“How very good you have been,” said she, “to sit still this long, hot
morning. Do you know I had some candy in my pocket which I longed to
share with you, but I didn’t like to turn quite around, as I should have
had to, to give it to you. Let me give it to you now, and you and your
sister can enjoy it during the long ride home. See!” And from a pretty
chatelaine bag which hung from her belt, she took a small box of
bonbons. “If I give you this, will you give me a kiss?” And she stooped
and placed the gift in Prue’s eager little hands.

For an instant the child hesitated; then shyly she lifted her face, and
as the young girl stooped to take the kiss, Prue’s pudgy little arm went
around her neck.

Then, turning to Randy, she extended her hand in its dainty glove,
saying, “I have seen you and your sister many times when I have strolled
past your home, and once, when you were standing near the tall clump of
sunflowers, watching the bees, I was tempted to stop and chat with you
awhile.”

“Oh, I wish you had,” said Randy, so eagerly, that the girl laughed
merrily, saying, “Well, the next time I am out for a walk and am going
up the long hill, I will make you a little call.”

Just at that moment Mrs. Weston’s friendly chat with her neighbor came
to an end, and with her usual hasty manner she hurried the two children
out of the church and into the old wagon. Mr. Weston gathered up the
reins, and with a loud “g’lang” and a few jerks, the old horse seemed to
awaken from his forenoon’s nap in the carriage-shed and ambled a few
steps, then subsided into the habitual jog.

“Look, mother, just see what she gave me,” said Prue, swinging the tiny
package of bonbons before her mother’s eyes.

“What is it?” said her mother; “who gave it to you?”

“The princess,” said Prue, as plainly as she could, considering the size
of the bonbon which she was eating. Mrs. Weston looked puzzled, and
Randy, helping herself to a bit of the candy, explained:—

“It was that beautiful, tall girl with Mrs. Gray. She gave Prue the
candy for being good and keeping still this morning, and she’s coming to
see me soon’s ever she takes a walk past our house, and isn’t she the
handsomest person that ever lived?”

“Wal’, I don’t know as I noticed,” said Mrs. Weston.

“Why, how could you help seeing her?” said Randy, in amazement.

“Wal’, I s’pose I did see her, but I didn’t ’specially notice her, ’cept
that she was talkin’ to you children, for Mrs. Gray was tellin’ me a new
way to make cookies with two eggs instead of four, and I made her tell
me twice so’s I’d remember; two eggs is quite a savin’.” But this new
bit of economy was lost on Randy.

“Did Mrs. Gray tell you her name?” asked Randy, eagerly.

“Seems to me she said it was Dayton, or something like that, but I was
so took up with that two-egg rule for cookies that I didn’t notice.” So,
failing to interest her mother, Randy subsided.



CHAPTER IV—PRUE’S MISHAP


Down the long, dusty road trudged Randy and Prue one hot morning on
their way to the village store.

At every step the dust arose like smoke, then settled upon their shoes,
making a thick coating like that which whitened the blackberry vines
growing luxuriantly over the wall by the roadside.

Randy was far from pleased to be taking this long walk in the dust and
heat. She had been sitting upon the rough, wooden seat just outside the
kitchen door, reading the beloved fairy book, when her mother had
stepped briskly to the doorway, calling her back from fairyland
abruptly, saying: “Come, Randy, you must go down to the store after some
sugar. I’ve got my cookies ’bout half done and my sugar’s given out, so
you must put on your sunbonnet and take Prue, and go as quick as you
can. Ye needn’t run, only don’t waste time.”

“Oh, mother,” said Randy, “it’ll take me twice as long if I have to take
Prue, she’s so little, and she walks so slow.”

“I know it,” said Mrs. Weston, “but I’ve got lots to do while you’re
gone, and I can’t watch her and work at the same time; so you take her
’long o’ you, and I’ll know she’s all right.”

Randy took her sunbonnet from its peg on the wall and called little
Prue, who was playing in the sun. The child’s delight when told that she
might go to the store with Randy made the elder girl regret that she had
demurred when told that she must take her little sister with her.

Prue laughed with delight, and, thrusting her little sunburned hand into
Randy’s, she trudged along, scuffling her feet and laughing to see the
dust rise in little gray clouds.

At any other time Randy would have checked Prue, but that day her mind
was too much occupied with the heroine of the fairy tale to notice
Prue’s movements or comment upon them; but Prue was getting tired of
walking in silence, while Randy indulged herself in day-dreams.

“Why don’t you talk, Randy? You haven’t talked any since we started,”
said Prue.

“Oh, it’s too hot to talk,” answered Randy, and she once more relapsed
into silence.

Prue dropped Randy’s hand, and, leaving the road, she clambered upon the
wall to hunt among the dusty vines for blackberries. There were more
leaves than fruit, so the little girl, after finding a few small
berries, walked along upon the wall until she came to another lot of
vines, where she again searched for fruit.

While Prue looked for berries Randy was critically inspecting her own
and her little sister’s costume. How ugly they looked! The girl who, up
to that time, had never seen any one arrayed in anything more beautiful
than a print or gingham gown, varied by a long apron of blue-checked
cotton, or a dark, chocolate-colored calico, now looked with startling
dislike upon that style of apparel.

“Only think,” mused Randy, “if we wore white dresses and fine shoes, and
big hats, ’twouldn’t seem near as hot doing errands. Seems as though we
could sit still in meeting if we had on different clothes and—why, Prue,
what’s the matter?” cried Randy, in answer to a doleful wail from the
little sister.

“Oh, my foot, my foot!” screamed Prue; “it hurts drefful, and I can’t
get it out.”

“Let me see,” said Randy. “Hold still a minute; I can get it out, Prue,”
which, however, proved to be easier said than done. While walking upon
the wall the little foot had slipped between the stones and seemed
firmly fixed.

Randy worked gently and patiently, and at last the little foot was out
of prison. Prue insisted upon having her shoe and stocking taken off,
saying that her foot felt “awful big,” and sure enough it had become a
trifle swollen. Randy tried in every way to soothe her, assuring her
that it was but a short walk to the store, but Prue wailed dismally.

“Oh, I can’t walk, Randy, my foot aches just drefful, and I can’t have
any shoes on, ’cause my foot has grown big.”

Randy blamed herself for the mishap. “I ought to have been taking care
of Prue instead of thinking of fine clothes,” thought Randy. “It ought
to have been me that got hurt instead of little Prue. ’Twould have
served me right for being real silly, almost vain, I do believe.” And
thus she berated herself.

Poor, repentant Randy! Careless she had been, but surely not wicked. She
was utterly at a loss to know what to do. “Don’t you think you could
walk slowly, Prue, if I put my hands under your arms to help you?” she
asked coaxingly.

“Randy, how can I walk when this foot is most twice as big as my other
foot?” said Prue.

Randy thought a moment. Then she said: “There’s only one thing to do,
Prue. You can look right down the road and see the store from here. You
sit still where you are, and I’ll run and get the sugar; it won’t take
but a few minutes, and when I get back I’ll carry you home in my arms.
You can hold the sugar and I’ll carry you.”

Prue tried bravely to stop crying, and although she declared that her
foot felt “worser,” she promised to be patient until Randy should
return. The store was in the front part of a farm-house but a short
distance from where the two sat upon the wall, and Randy rushed off down
the road and in at the open door, in such evident haste that Silas
Barnes looked at the girl in amazement.

“In a kind of hurry, ain’t ye?” said he, as in his usual deliberate
manner he weighed the sugar.

“Yes, oh, yes,” answered Randy, as she almost snatched the bundle and
darted out of the door and ran up the road to where Prue sat upon the
wall, a most disconsolate little heap, trying very hard to be brave, but
sobbing in spite of all endeavor.

“Now, you carry the sugar—just think what a sweet bundle—and I’ll take
you. My arms are real strong, so I believe I can carry you easily.”

Prue hugged the parcel, and taking her little sister in her arms Randy
stepped out bravely toward home. It seemed to her that she could not
remember such intense heat as she that day experienced. They had taken
off their sunbonnets as they sat upon the wall, and in their haste they
had started for home, leaving them where they had dropped them, so that
their heads were unprotected from the scorching rays of the sun, which
was now directly overhead.

[Illustration: Randy carrying Prue in her Arms]

Many times Randy was obliged to set Prue upon the wall, just long enough
to rest her aching arms; then taking her again, she bravely trudged on
toward home.

Just as she concluded that her arms would surely break, she heard the
sound of wheels behind her, and looking over her shoulder she saw
Obadiah Gray’s old mare, Clover, jogging along and in the wagon the
beautiful young girl whom she had so much admired at church.

“There’s that pretty girl whom I saw in church last Sunday,” thought
Helen Dayton. “How much prettier she looks without that ugly sunbonnet.
Why, she has her little sister in her arms, and the little one is
crying. I’ll stop and speak to them.” Old Clover, always delighted to
stop, came to a standstill, and Randy looked up shyly at Helen’s
beautiful face.

“Are you not tired?” said Miss Dayton. “I see that you are carrying your
little sister.” Then, as she noticed the swollen foot, she said: “Oh,
how did she hurt her foot? Do let me take you home.”

Randy was only too glad to accept the invitation so sweetly given; so
Prue was gently lifted to a place beside Miss Dayton, and then Randy
clambered in, not only thankful for the ride, but positively charmed to
be with the lovely driver.

“Now, tell me,” said Helen, “how your little sister injured her foot.”
So Randy told her the whole story, and blamed herself more than she
deserved. “If I hadn’t been wishing that I had a big, beautiful hat
like”—but here Randy stopped abruptly, as she noticed, for the first
time, that Miss Dayton was wearing the very hat and dress which so
filled her mind that morning.

“What was the hat like? Anything like the one I am wearing this
morning?” asked Helen, sweetly.

“Well, yes, just like it,” admitted Randy, blushing.

“Did you so much admire my hat?” said Helen. “Well, who knows but that
on some fine day you may have one quite like it.”

When, at last, they had reached Randy’s home, both Prue and Randy had
become quite well acquainted with their new friend.

Mr. Weston had just come in from the field, in answer to a blast from
the dinner horn, and was as anxious as his wife when told that the
children had been gone two hours and a half. “I guess I’ll have to
harness up and go down to the store and see if they’re—sakes alive! Here
they be now, with that ’stonishing pretty boarder of Obadiah Gray’s,”
and Mr. Weston hastened down the walk to thank the young lady for her
kindness.

“I’m much ’bleeged to ye for bringing the children home; mother and I
was getting anxious. Randy, here, is going on fifteen, and pretty tall
of her age, but we still call them the children, and Randy, she’s
reliable; so, when she don’t appear at the right time, we know that
something’s up. Why, Prue, where’s your shoe and stocking?”

“Oh, father,” said Randy, “you won’t say I was reliable this time.”

“Now, Mr. Weston,” said Helen Dayton, “Randy blames herself for Prue’s
injured foot, but she has bravely carried her little sister up the long
hill from the store, and I think accuses herself too harshly.”

“Like enough,” said Randy’s father. “Randy’s conscience is all out of
proportion to her size.” Then, once more thanking Helen heartily for her
kindness, he took little Prue into his arms saying, kindly: “There,
there, little daughter, I wouldn’t cry any more. You’re home now, and
mother’ll know just how to fix your foot all right; and, Randy, ye may
have let yer thoughts wander, so to speak, but you didn’t make Prue hurt
her foot, and ye’ve more than made up fer it all by bein’ so truly
sorry, and tryin’ to bring her home. She’s a little girl, but she’s
solid for a girl of your size to carry. ‘Stead of blamin’ and accusin’
yourself, you just help mother to make Prue comfortable, and then you
amuse her with the fairy book, and, may be, she’ll forget how bad her
foot aches.”

“I’ll do it,” said Randy, delighted to think that she could in any way
be useful to her little sister, and so well did she amuse her that in
the middle of the sixth fairy tale Prue was sound asleep.

As soon as Mrs. Weston had seen the little foot, she had given it a bath
in hot water, bound securely about it a hot bandage, and told little
Prue that she must be quite still.

“I will, if Randy will read to me,” said Prue. So Randy read story after
story, until the little sister was asleep.

Randy sat beside her, intending to read to her again if she awoke, but
Prue had cried with the aching foot until she was very tired, so she
slept soundly. Once she stirred, and thrust her chubby hand under her
head, murmuring as she did so. Randy bent over her, to hear what she
said.

“The big stones squeezed my foot, so course it wasn’t my Randy did it,”
murmured Prue. “My Randy wouldn’t do such a thing to me. My Randy’s just
about right always and she—” but here her voice faltered and that which
commenced in a sentence ended in a sigh. A bright tear glistened in
Randy’s gray eyes. How lovingly little Prue held her above the
possibility of anything wrong.

“I must try hard to be as good as Prue thinks I am,” thought Randy, and,
bending, she kissed the little one ever so gently so as not to awaken
her; “for,” thought Randy, “while she sleeps she doesn’t know her foot
aches, and when she wakes I’ll read or do anything she wishes me to, to
amuse her.”

And Randy kept her promise. The injury, although not serious, was quite
painful, and Prue declared that Randy was “’most an angel,” so patient
and entertaining was she, reading the same story over and over again if
it chanced to please her.

In a few days Prue was able to be about, and Randy was every bit as
happy as her little sister, to see that the swelling had disappeared and
the wee foot back to its usual size. There was one story with which Prue
seemed the most pleased and which she wished oftenest to hear.

That was the story of the “Sleeping Beauty,” but it mattered not how
many times she heard it, she never could tell it straight.

One day Prue’s mother said that the little girl would be wise if she
rested her foot all the afternoon. “I’ll sit still on the ‘lunge,’” said
Prue, “if you’ll listen to a bea-utiful story called the ‘Sleeping
Beauty.’ I guess I can tell it ’most right; do you want to hear it,
mother?”

Now this was a trial to Mrs. Weston’s patience. She had glanced hastily
at a few pages of the fairy book and had declared it to be “clear
foolishness,” adding, “if it amuses Randy and Prue, I do’no as I care;
but it puzzles me how they can enjoy it.”

But, thinking to please her little daughter and make her willing to sit
still, she promised to listen attentively to Prue’s narrative, adding
under her breath, “I guess I can stand it for once, if it is foolish.”
So she handed the book to Prue, who declared that, although she couldn’t
read, she could tell the story better by looking at the pictures.

Mrs. Weston brought her sewing to the window nearest the lounge where
Prue sat as if enthroned, and the youthful entertainer commenced at once
to tell the story as she remembered it. As Randy afterward said with
stifled laughter, “If that is the best Prue could tell the story with
the pictures to help her, how much more could she have twisted it
without the book?”

“Once upon a time (they all commence that way),” said Prue, “there was a
little girl so be-autiful that folks ’most went crazy who saw her, an’
her father was tickled to see how handsome she was when she was a baby;
an’ one time when she was fifteen (that’s what Randy is)—no, I forgot,
when the baby, that’s the princess, you know, was a bein’
chris-chris-chris-tened, there was a lot of fairies that bringed her
presents, and one was mad because she didn’t be invited, and she did
something awful, but I’ve forgot what.

“Then the beautiful princess went to sleep a hun-dred years” (here
Prue’s eyes grew round with excitement), “and she grew older and older
every minute—no, no, she didn’t. I mean she didn’t grow older a’ tall.”

Here Randy turned hastily to gaze out of the window, and Prue,
fortunately, failed to notice her sister’s very evident effort to
conceal her amusement.

“Then everybody in the house—no, palace—went sound asleep and snored,
and they never waked up ’til the prince kissed them—oh, no, he only
kissed the princess. Mother, why do you s’pose he didn’t kiss anybody
but the princess? Shouldn’t you a thought he would?”

Without waiting for an answer, however, Prue babbled on.

“They was married and lived happy ever after, and all the folks waked
up, and the horses, and cows, and cats, and dogs, all wagged their tails
’cause they was awake too. Isn’t that a wonderful story?”

“I should say it was,” ejaculated practical Mrs. Weston. “Nothing less
than wonderful.”

Mrs. Weston folded the garment which she had been mending, and saying,
kindly, “That was a long story for a little girl to try to tell,” she
went out to the kitchen to make preparation for tea, leaving Prue still
looking at the pictures in the fairy book. Randy stole out to the
kitchen.

“Oh, mother,” she said, looking up wistfully, “I know you think it funny
that I can like fairy stories almost as well as Prue does; but, truly,
Prue does not tell them straight. They’re not true, of course, but they
do sound pretty when you read them straight through instead of ‘mixed
up’ as she gets them.”

“I know, of course,” said her mother, “that Prue has a funny way of
telling anything. If you enjoy the stories, I’m sure I don’t care, only
don’t ask me to read them. I want to read something that’s somewhat
probable,” and Randy was obliged to be satisfied with that.

Mrs. Weston’s mind was utterly void of imagination, and to read to her
of magic locks, of sleep which, lasting a hundred years, left the
sleeper youthful and beautiful, of wild wishes granted, of people turned
to stone, and back to life again, simply tried her patience and amused
her not at all.



CHAPTER V—HELEN DAYTON’S CALL


The sun shone in at the kitchen window and made a golden panel on the
floor.

“Looks like another hot day,” said Mrs. Weston, and she paused a moment
and looked out at the meadow, where the little brook sparkled in the
sun.

“Mother, are we very poor?” said Randy, irrelevantly.

Mrs. Weston wheeled around abruptly in her surprise, and promptly
dropped the dishcloth which she held in her hand. “There,” said she,
“look at that dishcloth; somebody’s comin’ sure as preachin’. I never
knew it to fail.”

“Oh, I do hope somebody will, if it’s Miss Dayton, if that’s her name,”
added Randy. “But you didn’t answer what I asked you,” said the girl.
“_Are_ we, mother?”

“Why, Randy, what’s in your mind? Lately you’ve been dreamin’ most of
the time, and askin’ queer questions between times. Are we what? Poor?
Why no, I do’no’s we be. Your father ain’t a rich man, but he’s
well-to-do. What put it in your head to ask me?”

“Nothing,” said Randy, “only I was wondering what the reason was that
all the folks in church yesterday looked so different from Mrs. Gray’s
boarders. Was it because they were poorer or was it some other reason?”

“Well,” said Mrs. Weston, as she took the towel from Randy’s listless
hands, and commenced energetically to finish wiping the dishes, “I guess
we’re as well fixed as any one around here; your father owes nobody
nothin’, and our farm’s one of the biggest and best in the town. I’ve
heard say that some city folks was rich, an’ I heard tell of other city
folks as wasn’t so well off as their clothes seemed to make them out;
and as to our lookin’ different, there ain’t any call to dress up any
more than what we do now. I tell you what, Randy, to be clean and neat
ought to satisfy any one.”

To this Randy could not agree, so she wisely said nothing. In her inmost
heart she knew that, were she the possessor of an immense hat loaded
with flowers, she would not have the courage to walk into church, the
cynosure of all eyes. On the other hand, a sunbonnet never had looked so
uncouth and unbecoming as now.

The dishes put away, the chickens fed, and a dozen other little chores
attended to, Randy was free to do as she liked; so off to the “best”
room she flew, eager to brighten it in any way which might suggest
itself. The best room was a front room, and the front door, although
seldom used, opened from it, showing a little garden in which grew boys’
love, larkspur, balsams, and, later in the season, marigolds.

But the front room and the front door were never used; and the little
path from the door-stone to the flower beds was overgrown with weeds,
years ago. The side door which led to the barn, the well, and the
woodpile was the proper one to use. So Randy did not open the door; it
never occurred to her to do so; but she drew up the green paper
curtains, and let in the sunlight, and, although the room was
scrupulously clean, she decided that the correct thing to do first was
to dust.

Between the front windows stood a little table with an oil-cloth cover,
dotted with red and green figures. Over the table, and quite too high
for any one to take a peep, hung a small, square looking-glass with a
broad, wooden frame.

Randy remembered having seen a huge asparagus plume over a mirror in the
parson’s sitting room on one gala occasion when the sewing-circle had
met there, and she had been permitted to be present with her mother.
Asparagus, then, would be quite the thing with which to decorate the
glass. The parson’s mirror had a gilt frame and a gorgeous landscape
above the glass, and Randy felt sure that the wooden frame needed the
decoration even more than the gilt one. The asparagus in place, Randy
stopped in the middle of the floor, duster in hand, to view the effect.
Her eyes wandered about the room, and this is what she saw.

On the opposite wall was a picture entitled “The Tree of Life,” on which
every known virtue hung pendant from the branches on one side, while
every evil of which man is guilty kept the balance on the other.

This picture always served to depress Randy. The tree was a sombre
green, and Randy espied Envy printed in large type on that side where
hung the sins, and she felt sure that a wee bit of envy had crept into
her heart on Sunday, and as she looked at the pictured tree she said,
under her breath: “Must have been vanity that made me almost hate my
sunbonnet. The parson preached a while ago on the sin of vanity.”

Poor Randy! To think it a sin to long with all her girlish heart for
pretty things! With a sigh she turned from the picture of the tree to
the one hanging upon the side wall. This was more cheerful—an ancient
fashion plate in which insipid-looking gentlemen, in white trousers and
long, blue coats, were smiling at some waxen-faced ladies whose
beruffled skirts were voluminously extended.

She rather admired this picture, mainly because the people in it, at
least, looked cheerful. Leaving the pictures, Randy let her eyes slowly
wander over the furnishings. As none of her neighbors or acquaintances
had carpets, the yellow painted floor seemed quite fine. The chairs were
also yellow, and as a crowning luxury, a green enamelled cloth lounge
stood in all its slippery grandeur against the wall, beside the door.

Randy liked the lounge, but wished it possible to sit upon it without
slipping. While she was wishing that she had some pretty thing in the
shape of an ornament for the table, her eyes wandered to the window,
where, looking out into the garden, she could see the tall spikes of
pink and blue larkspur waving in the breeze. A bright idea! Why not have
some flowers upon the table?

Away she ran to the kitchen closet, and there she inspected everything
on the shelves, so anxious was she to find something fine for her
flowers.

“Oh, that’s the thing,” said Randy, “if mother’ll let me have it.”
Appealed to, Mrs. Weston looked doubtful. “’Tain’t a vase,” said she,
“it’s my old white and blue spoon holder, an’ I do’no how it will look
in the best room.”

“But you’d be willing I should use it, wouldn’t you?” Randy asked
eagerly.

“Oh, I don’t mind your usin’ it; go put your posies in it an’ see how it
looks.”

Surprised and delighted that her mother should express the least
interest, Randy skipped out into the garden and came running back in a
few moments with a dozen long stalks of larkspur in her hands. She
filled the old spoon holder with water and crowded in the flowers, then
away she ran to the best room.

“Oh, mother,” she called, a minute later, “do come and see the room.”
Mrs. Weston stopped in the doorway.

“Wal’, I do declare,” she ejaculated, “I must say that does look pretty.
Why, Randy, you do have a real knack to fix it up so. Them flowers
brighten up the place wonderful, and that sparrowgrass just beats
anything.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you like it, mother! Would you put some on the mantel
if you were me?”

“I’d put some anywhere,” said her mother, wiping her eyes with the
corner of her apron. “I declare I’d actually forgotten how much the
blossoms cheer up the house. I used to bring them in when I was first
married, but ever sence I’ve been too busy to think of anything but
cookin’, sweepin’, sewin’, and mendin’ from Monday ’til Saturday; but,
Randy, if you’re a mind to, you may bring in a few blossoms once in a
while. It seems like the time when I used to fix up the house, and
myself too, for that matter.”

Mrs. Weston was a reserved woman, and Randy was amazed that her mother
should show so much feeling, and delighted that her efforts at
decoration were approved.

“I wish I had something to hang down from the mantel in some way. I
don’t know how to say it, but I know just how it ought to look.” A
moment Randy stood thinking with a queer little scowl over her eyes.
Then her face brightened, and out of the room she darted, then across
the yard to the old well around whose sides the wild morning glory
clambered. Lifting her skirt, she filled it with the long vines and
hurried back to the house.

She filled a small stone jar with water, carried it to the front room
and stood it in the centre of the mantel, and then proceeded to fill it
with long sprays of the morning glory. When all the vines were thus
disposed of, she inspected her work.

“There, you couldn’t have done better,” said her mother, and Randy felt
rewarded for her efforts. Then they turned to go back to the kitchen,
and there, in the doorway, stood Helen Dayton. Randy started.

“Forgive me for startling you, and also for coming in without knocking.
I was out for a walk, and coming up the hill I thought of your
invitation. I walked toward the house and was about to knock when this
little puss offered to lead me through the house to you.”

“I’m sure you’re welcome any time, Miss Dayton, and this girl of mine,”
laying her hand on Randy’s arm, “has been so eager to see you again I
do’no what would have become of her if you had waited long to come.”

Randy blushed, and Helen Dayton laughed and said that she was very glad
to be so welcome. Then she chatted pleasantly with Mrs. Weston “just as
if she had always known her,” as Randy afterward said.

While she was talking, a little book which lay upon Miss Dayton’s lap
fell to the floor and flew open, showing a page of bright little
sketches, and Randy and Prue stared at it in wonder. “My sketch book,”
said Miss Dayton. “I am not an artist, but I have a bit of talent and
have studied a little, and when I go out for a walk I jot down a part of
a birch tree, a few wild flowers, or some tall weeds beside an old wall.
Take the book and look at it if you like,” she added, as she caught the
eager look upon Randy’s face.

Gladly Randy picked up the little book. The drawings were not wonderful,
only rather clever, but to the country girl, who had never seen a
sketch, they were truly charming. Randy looked at each little picture at
least a dozen times, always telling Prue in a whisper that she must not
put her little fingers on them.

“However did you do them?” asked Randy. “I didn’t know that anybody ever
did such beautiful things.”

“Thank you for liking them,” said Helen; “but you must not call them
beautiful.”

“But,” said Randy, “that old mullein stalk looks just like a mullein,
and those birches look just ’s if you could strip the bark off.”

Helen laughed at Randy’s enthusiasm. “Sometime, when I come,” said she,
“I will make a sketch of your old well.”

“Our well!” said Randy, “would that look pretty in a picture?” Helen was
amused. “You shall see,” said she; “and now tell me who arranged the
flowers and vines so prettily?”

“I did,” said Randy; “I did it to please you,” and Randy, the sketch
book still in her hand, looked up into the lovely face.

Helen Dayton laid a gentle hand on Randy’s shoulder, saying sweetly,
“Thank you so much, but tell me why you so wished to please me?”

“Because you are the very loveliest girl I ever saw in this world,” and
then Randy blushed and looked down to cover her confusion.

“And because you are the princess,” chimed in Prue, who had been still
an unusually long time.

“The princess!” echoed Helen. “Whatever do you mean, dear? I am not a
princess,” and Randy hastened to explain. She told all about the fairy
book, and how on Sunday in church little Prue had felt sure that Miss
Dayton was the princess of the fairy tales.

“Well, of all things!” said Helen; “now I must assure you, little one,
that I am not a princess, only Helen Dayton of Boston.”

“But you look like one,” persisted the child, looking at her with round,
admiring eyes. Mrs. Weston had slipped from the room, while the children
entertained their visitor, and as she bustled about the kitchen, doing
many things, she murmured softly to herself, “Randy’s right, the girl
_is_ lovely.”

A pretty picture they made—the young girl and the two children—as they
sat in the best room, chatting now like old acquaintances. Helen had
taken little Prue upon her lap, where she sat looking admiringly up into
that young lady’s face, while Randy sat beside her on the floor, telling
her all her small confidences.

“Randy’s such a homely name,” she was saying. “’Tain’t so bad as
Jerushy, but it’s homely enough.”

“But that isn’t the whole name, is it? Isn’t it ‘Miranda’?” asked Helen.

“Why, yes,” said Randy, “and it sounds almost fine when you say it; but,
generally, it’s just Randy. And there’s Prue. Her name is Prudence,
after Aunt Prudence.”

“Who’s just horrid,” said Prue, so vehemently that Helen and Randy
laughed. After a pause Randy asked, abruptly, “If you belong in Boston,
how could you come here to board; Boston’s a city, my geography says so,
and this is just country.”

“That is just why I came here,” said Helen. “The spring found me very
tired, after a long, gay winter, and I came here to be quiet, and get
rested.”

“How funny!” said Randy. “I was wishing and wishing the other day that
it wasn’t always so quiet here, and the other night when father was
talking to Jason Meade about buying the big piece of meadow land, Mr.
Meade was saying that he was going to Boston for a spell—he’s been there
once—and he told about the streets full of people, and cars running all
day, and teams and everything; and I did wish things would fly around
here awhile.”

Randy paused for breath, and looking at the pretty, eager face, Helen
stooped, and touching the curly head ever so lightly with her lips she
said, “Dear Randy, I’ll try to stir things up a bit, and we will see if
we cannot have some pleasant times while I am here.”

“Oh, will you?” said Randy, eagerly.

“I never went anywhere ’cept to a sewing-circle once.”

“What will you do?” asked Prue.

“Oh, you shall see,” said Helen, laughingly. “We are planning a picnic
now,” said she, “and if we really have it, I’ll invite you, and you
shall go with me.”

“With you!” said Randy. “I’d love to, but I shouldn’t look fit,” and she
looked admiringly at Helen Dayton’s dainty outing suit, and glanced up
at the trim sailor hat perched upon her pretty head.

“Oh, you will look every bit fine enough with a shade hat—we shall all
wear broad-brimmed hats—and a clean gingham dress,” said Helen,
cheerily.

“But I’ve got nothing but sunbonnets,” said Randy, “’less father will
buy me one next time he takes eggs and vegetables to the village. I mean
to ask him to if that would be soon enough,” and she looked up eagerly
at Helen.

“Oh, yes, indeed,” said Helen, “we’ve planned to have it in about two
weeks.”

“I want to go, too,” said little Prue.

“Of course, dear, so you shall,” said Helen, “and now I must be going,
but I’ll tell you all about the picnic the next time we meet. Do you
know where Mrs. Gray lives, Randy?”

Randy laughed. “Of course I do,” said she.

“Well, when father brings home your new shade hat, and of course he
will, if you wish it so much, suppose you take a walk over to Mrs.
Gray’s and make a little call upon me, and when you come bring the new
hat with you; I shouldn’t wonder if I had something with which to trim
it.”

“Oh, I will, I will!” said Randy, eagerly, “and then you’ll tell me all
about the picnic.”

With sheer excitement little Prue was executing a funny little jig,
which reminded Helen to inquire for the injured foot.

“It’s all well. See!” and Prue hopped upon that one foot to assure her
that it was quite itself again.

“I should call that foot very well indeed,” said Helen. Then together
they walked out to the kitchen where, bidding good morning to Mrs.
Weston, Helen said that she had enjoyed her call, admired Randy’s
tasteful decoration, and asked if she might borrow Randy once in a
while.

“Why, yes, you may have Randy whenever I can spare her,” said Mrs.
Weston, “’though she seems so took up with you, and so delighted, that
when she comes home from a call on you I’m afraid she’ll about tread on
air.”

Helen laughed, and taking Randy’s hand they walked together as far as
the road where Randy, perched upon the wall, watched her new friend out
of sight.

Helen turned many times to wave her hand until a bend in the road hid
her from view. Then Randy walked slowly to the house, followed by Prue,
and as they walked they talked of nothing but Helen’s beauty and
sweetness and the wonderful picnic.



CHAPTER VI—THE PICNIC


Mr. Weston had gone to market two days after Helen Dayton’s call upon
Randy. He had laughed heartily at the description of the exact kind of
shade hat which Randy wished for, and as he drove off he continued to
laugh as Mrs. Weston called after him, “Remember, she wants a white hat;
don’t, for mercy’s sake, come home with a brown one.”

“And, father,” shrieked Randy, “remember to get a big one and one that
isn’t too coarse.”

“Yes, yes, land sakes! I b’lieve I’ll bring ye home a dozen to pick
from,” and the good man chuckled to himself—he had his own plan for
doing Randy’s errand. His eggs and vegetables disposed of, he turned to
start for home, when he ejaculated, “Bless me! if I didn’t most forgit
Randy’s hat.” Back into the store he went. “What have ye got for hats?”
said Mr. Weston. “My Randy’s set her mind on havin’ a fine shade hat for
the picnic, and nothin’ but a white one will do.”

Silas Barnes reached under his counter and brought forth a dozen straw
hats, which lie spread out for Mr. Weston to select from.

“Wal’, that beats all! Randy and her mother told me just how it ought to
look, but I don’t see any difference in ’em, do you, Barnes?”

“Why, yes,” replied the genial storekeeper, “that one’s twice as fine as
the other, an’ it’s worth twice as much.”

“Wal’, I guess it’s ’bout good enough for Randy, then, and I’ll take
it.”

When her father returned that night Randy met him at the door, and with
a little cry of delight took the parcel which he handed her, and she
could not find words to express her pleasure when the fresh, white hat
lay before her on the table.

“Dear me! Ye might have had one before, if it delights ye so,” said her
mother; “I didn’t think of it before, because most every girl here wears
a sunbonnet.”

“Well, I’ve got it now,” said Randy, “and to-morrow I’ll go over to Miss
Dayton’s and she’ll trim it for me; she said she would.” On the
following day, true to her promise, Helen gave Randy a cordial welcome,
and trimmed the hat with some gay ribbons which, although not new, were
very pretty, and to Randy seemed nothing short of gorgeous.

On the day of the picnic no happier heart than Randy Weston’s beat fast
with anticipation; and with Prue’s hand held tightly in her own she
started, as they had planned, for Mrs. Gray’s house to join Helen.

“Don’t forget to take care of Prue,” called her mother.

“I won’t forget,” answered Randy.

Mr. Weston stepped back into the house after watching the children until
a bend in the road concealed them from view, and sat down for a moment
before going out to the field. “I tell ye what, mother,” said he, “I
mean those girls shall have a chance. I’d no idee what a difference
there was between a hat and a sunbunnit. I say, why don’t you have a new
bunnit yourself, mother? You were every bit as pretty as our Randy when
you were young, and I b’lieve you’d look a good deal the same now, with
a little fixin’. Just see the difference in Randy with a bran’ new hat!
When we was a-payin’ off the mortgage we had to scrimp; but now, I think
ye might have a few duds, once in a while.”

He stopped, expecting a rebuff, and was surprised when his wife turned
with a sweet smile and said, “I b’lieve I will have just a few things.”

“Ye can have what ye want,” was the hearty rejoinder, “and we’ll go to
the village next week and do some shoppin’,” and with a jolly whistle he
started for the barn.

When they arrived at Mrs. Gray’s, the children were surprised to find
almost every man, woman, and child who had been invited to the picnic
already there, and, as they were all talking at once, it was impossible
to understand what any one person was saying.

Very conscious of her new hat was Randy, and she longed to find Helen
that she might talk with her. She knew that any one with whom she
stopped to speak would mention her new finery, so she only nodded
pleasantly to the girls whom she passed, and walked toward the house,
hoping there to find Helen. Helen saw her and came out to meet her; but
as Randy passed the Babson girls, she heard Phœbe Small say to them:
“Look at Randy Weston! Isn’t she getting fine!”

“Dunno how fine she is,” responded Belinda Babson; “but I don’t see as
she need walk right by us, just because she’s got a new hat.”

Poor Randy! She had not the least idea of being vain or silly. “Why need
the girls spoil the fun of my having a new hat,” said she, and a hot
flush crept up on her cheek, but soon Helen’s merry chatter caused Randy
to forget Phœbe’s unkindness, and she was laughing and talking as gayly
as Helen herself.

Miss Dobbs, the little soprano of the choir, hearing Randy’s laugh,
turned and smiled, an unusual thing for her to do, saying: “How are ye,
Randy? That’s a dreadful pretty hat.”

“I like it,” said Randy, simply, although her eyes showed her delight
that some one should approve of it. “Miss Dayton trimmed it for me;
didn’t she do it lovely?” continued Randy, anxious that her new friend
should have all the glory which belonged to her for her millinery skill.

“Umph!” ejaculated Miss Dobbs, “they do say you’re pretty int’mit with
Miss Dayton, considering she’s from the city.” Randy moved away, pleased
with the compliment for her hat, but hurt by the last remark.
“‘Considering she’s from the city,’” thought Randy. “Anybody’d think I
asked her to be pleasant to me. Why, I wouldn’t have dared to. She
wanted to be nice, and I was glad enough to let her,” and she brushed
away a tear and forced back a sob which rose in her throat.

Just then something happened to cheer Randy and give her a wee bit of
triumph.

Phœbe Small moved toward Randy and fastening her small eyes
disapprovingly upon the offending hat, she was about to speak, when,
without noticing Phœbe at all, Jotham Potts walked awkwardly up to
Randy, and, standing upon one foot, then shifting to the other, he said:
“Morning, Randy! Be you going to walk to the picnic or ride? Because,”
he continued, “I told father I’d like to have you ride with us, seein’s
we have a spare seat, and he said he’d be pleased to have your company.
Will ye come, Randy? I do wish ye would.”

“I’d like to, and thank you,” answered Randy, sweetly, with a blush and
a glance at Phœbe Small, who pretended not to have heard, “but I
promised to go in Mr. Gray’s team with Miss Dayton, so I’ll have to.”

“I wish ye was goin’ with us, but as ye can’t, I’ll see ye at the
picnic,” said Jotham, and he turned to get into his father’s wagon;
then, stepping back to where Randy was standing, he blushed, and from
his pocket produced a little package.

“Here, Randy,” he said, “I brought this a purpose for you to enjoy
durin’ the ride, so I guess I’ll give it to ye now.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Randy, “how good you are,” and that so completely
overcame Jotham that he retired in confusion. By this time the party was
about ready to start. The choir had decided to go in the first wagon and
enliven the way by singing, and were still discussing as to a selection
from their scant repertoire.

“Ye needn’t ask me to join ye,” said Silas Barnes, “and sing
‘Chany,’”—he meant China—“for I don’t think that’s gay enough for a
picnic.”

Miss Hobson suggested that they might please Mr. Barnes by singing
“Yankee Doodle.” This was meant to suggest that Silas Barnes was too
frivolous, but he did not, apparently, feel injured, as he laughingly
answered that he would “rather be patriotic than mournful, and he reely
guessed they’d better settle upon ‘Yankee Doodle,’ as Miss Hobson
suggested.”

On one end of the door-stone old Mrs. Perkins had just convinced her
neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, that it was just the right time of the year to
gather ‘pennyroyal’ and mouse-ear, and so have them a-drying, and Mrs.
Buffum had gathered the six little Buffums under her wing by uttering
this awful threat:—

“Johnny! Johnny Buffum! do you and Hitty want to go to the picnic?
Katie! do you and Jack and Sophy and Ann want to stay at home? Well,
then, come here, or the first thing you’ll know the wagons’ll go without
ye!”

From all directions the six young Buffums rushed and crowded closely
around their mother. Stay at home from their first picnic? Never!

At last every one had arrived, and they lost no time in clambering into
the waiting wagons; then away they jogged toward the grove.

Farmer Gray had taken his wife and Helen Dayton, Randy and little Prue
in one wagon, and had told his other boarders that they were welcome to
fill his two remaining wagons, allotting places as they chose.

The wagon with the choir had started first, and Randy and Helen could
still faintly hear the stirring strains of “Yankee Doodle.” Randy sat
with sparkling eyes, enjoying the ride as she had never enjoyed one
before. Had she not a fine new hat? Was she not beside the beautiful
Miss Dayton? and had not Jotham, to the envy of the other girls, given
her a package purchased expressly for her?

“What you got in your bundle what Jotham gave you, Randy?” asked Prue.
“Will you let me see?”

“Yes, do let us see,” said Helen Dayton; “I know it must be something
nice.”

So Randy untied the package and found a lot of huge pink and white
peppermints, which Prue at once commenced to help her eat. Helen
pronounced them to be very nice, but as she never liked peppermints,
politely excused herself from eating them by saying that she must save
her appetite for the spread at the picnic.

Along the dusty road they jogged, Randy never minding the heat, Helen
feeling it intensely, even with the protection of her dainty ruffled
parasol. Sometimes they rode under overhanging boughs which made long,
cool shadows across the road, then over a sunny, dusty stretch with only
a fringe of daisies by the roadside and a chain of hazy blue hills in
the distance.

[Illustration: On the Way to the Picnic]

The occupants of one wagon would chat merrily with those in the wagon
behind them; and so, with sunny and shady roads, with laughter and song,
they at last reached the grove.

The horses were unharnessed and tethered with a rope long enough to
permit them to graze. The baskets of lunch were all placed in one large
wagon which stood in the shade of a huge tree. Then intimate friends and
neighbors formed little groups and sat under the trees and chatted
together, delighted to have this little outing. The children played
hide-and-seek behind the tree trunks, and those farmers who had left
their work to enjoy the holiday talked over their crops, their cattle,
and the price of produce when disposed of at the village store.

The Babson girls were each trying in an awkward fashion to win favor in
the eyes of Reuben Jenks, who Phœbe Small declared “had a hull basketful
of maple sugar stored away under the seat of his father’s wagon.”

When Reuben had spoken of the picnic his mother, who was, to express it
mildly, a frugal woman, had said that she, for one, didn’t approve of
picnics. “Folks eat four times as much at a picnic as they do at home,
and ain’t no better satisfied,” she declared; but after much urging she
consented to go, saying: “A lot of maple sugar’ll be all I’ll take.
Sweets take away folks’ appetites, and folks that eat my maple sugar
won’t want much else.”

But try as they would, neither Belinda’s nor Jemima’s blandishments
brought forward any of the desired sugar. Now Reuben liked the girls
well enough, and his boyish vanity was pleased by their evident liking
for his society. He was a generous little fellow and would gladly have
treated his friends, but his mother’s eyes were upon him, and he said
afterward, he “just didn’t dare.”

Jotham Potts, hearing Helen say that she liked water cresses, gallantly
offered to go and find some, assuring her that he knew just where they
grew.

Helen, Randy, and Prue sat under a large tree, and Helen promised, since
Randy was so charmed with fairy tales, to tell some which she knew they
had never heard. She told them tales from Grimm’s wonderful book,
pleasantly answering Prue’s funny questions regarding them. When she
related the story of the “Gold Children,” little Prue’s eyes dilated
with wonder.

“It’s just beautiful,” said Randy.

“If they were clear, solid gold how could they move or stir?” asked
Prue.

Helen laughed, and patted the little girl’s cheek as she said: “Dear
little girl, you mustn’t ask questions which have no answers. Remember
the fairy tales are not true, only amusing.”

Having told story after story, Helen became a bit weary, and she
proposed that the children should gather a few flowers, saying that she
would twine them into a lovely wreath for Prue’s curly head.

Off went the children to search for the finest blossoms to heap in
Helen’s lap. Soon little Prue hastened back with three large daisies and
a buttercup, asking if they were quite enough to make a wreath. “No,
indeed,” said Helen, “I must have ever so many more.”

Away ran Prue, shouting to the children, “Miss Dayton says it takes a
nawful lot more.” Soon other children came running to Helen with little
hands full of buttercups and daisies, until she cried, “Enough, more
than enough!” and commenced the weaving of the wreath.

The children watched her dainty fingers, as with airy grace they
fashioned it, and when she twined the ends of the garland together, and
placed the finished wreath upon Prue’s head, their delight knew no
bounds.

“Oh, Miss Dayton, you can do anything, can’t you?” said Belinda Babson.

“Oh, no, indeed!” said Helen, “there are many, many things which I
cannot do.”

Then they spread the table-cloth upon the grass, and “put the picnic on
it,” as Prue said. Prue’s idea of a picnic was a lunch out of doors, and
until the luncheon made its appearance, she felt that the picnic had not
even commenced. Then suddenly clapping her chubby hands, and dancing in
a manner which threatened to dislodge her flower crown, she said, “May I
wear this wreath while I eat my lunch?”

“Oh, do,” said Helen, “it is really very becoming.”

Every one seemed anxious that Helen should sit as guest of honor at the
spread, so, with children on either side, she took her place, and deftly
put each one present at ease with her bright, pleasant conversation; now
saying a kind word to old Mrs. Dewing, that she might not feel
neglected, or laughing lightly at Farmer Morse’s clumsy wit, noticing
Randy’s gentle manner with her little sister, and at the same time, with
ready tact, seeming unmindful of the practised hand with which Jack
Marden handled his pie with his knife.

So with laughter and gay chatter the lunch was eaten and cleared away,
and some one proposed some games.

“Let’s play ‘On the green carpet,’” said Phœbe Small, and a chorus of
voices echoed: “Oh, yes! Let’s play that first;” so, joining hands, they
sang the old tune as they danced about Helen, whom they insisted should
first stand in the centre.

  “And choose the one
  That you love best,”

sang the children.

“I choose Randy,” said Helen, much to Randy’s delight.

  “Give her a kiss and send her away,
  And tell her you’ll call another day,”

sang the gay little troop, and Helen stooped, and taking Randy’s sweet
face between her hands she kissed her and slipped from the ring. Around
and about Randy they circled, and then she must choose. She longed to
choose Helen, and turned toward her, but Helen said, “We must not keep
choosing each other, Randy, because it is more fun to change about,” so
Randy turned with a puzzled face, wondering whom to choose. Seeing the
little sister’s eager face, she decided at once. “I choose you, pussy,”
said she.

Into the ring sprang Prue. “Oh, Randy,” said the child, “you did love me
best, didn’t you?”

“Of course,” said Randy; “but now we know, Prue, that you love me best,
you choose the one you love next best, because that’s the way to play
it;” so, wondering much whom the child would favor, Randy left her in
the circle. But it did not take dear little Prue a great while to
decide.

“Next to Randy, I guess I like you, Jotham, so I choose you,” said the
child. Every one laughed except Jotham, who, seeing the little girl’s
lip quiver, said awkwardly, yet very kindly, “You’re a nice little girl,
Prue, and I’m real proud to have you choose me;” at which Prue’s spirits
rose, and, turning with one little hand in Jotham’s, she said: “You
needn’t have laughed if I did choose a big boy. He’s very nice, and
’most always gives Randy candy, and she gives some to me.”

This so amused every one that they commenced to pet Prue, and, much to
Jotham’s delight, the game ended, for he felt that he could have chosen
none but Randy as his favorite among his friends, and he realized that
this would have been a trying ordeal for his diffidence.

Many games they played that sunny afternoon, and so fast flew the hours
that every one was surprised when Deacon Turnbull pulled out his great,
old-fashioned “timepiece” and declared that it “wanted a quarter to six,
and that they ought to be hitchin’ up and startin’ toward home.”

So the baskets and pails were packed into the wagons, the horses
harnessed, and the merry, tired party started homeward.

Some of the picnickers were jolly, singing as they went along, others
were too tired to sing; but all were unanimous in voting the picnic a
success, many declaring that it was just wonderful how Miss Dayton
planned it, and that they didn’t know when they’d had such a good time.
The ride with Helen was delightful to the two children, Randy looking
admiringly at Helen all the way and talking little. She was really too
happy for conversation.

Not so with little Prue. She sat between Helen and Randy, and all the
way home her chatter was interspersed with snatches of the songs which
had been a part of their games.

  “‘On the green carpet here we stand,
  Take your true love by the hand,
  Give her a kiss and send her away,
  And tell her—’

“That’s just the best picnic I ever saw, wasn’t it, Randy?”

Before Randy could answer, out rang the childish treble again:—

  “‘Sailor in er boat when the tide runs high,
  Sailor in er boat when the tide runs high,
  Sailor in er boat when the tide runs high,
  Waiting for a pretty girl to—’

“Oh, Miss Dayton, don’t you think Jotham’s ’most as nice as a prince? I
do,” said Prue, without waiting for an answer, although she looked up in
Miss Dayton’s face expectantly.

Helen took Prue’s little dimpled hand in her own as she said: “All
princes are not good, although many of them are very, very good indeed.
Jotham has a good face, and I am sure when I really know him I shall
like him very much. If he grows to be a good, brave, true man, that is
worth much more than being a prince.”

“Yes’m,” said Prue, not quite catching Helen’s meaning, yet vaguely
understanding that Jotham was fully appreciated. Prue’s curly head
swayed a little, like a tired flower; and Helen, slipping her arm around
her, drew her toward her, and soon the little girl’s head lay against
her new friend.

Still she sang, although drowsily:—

  “‘Oh, what a beautiful choice you’ve made,
  Don’t you wish you’d longer stayed?’”

The last line was drawled out so slowly that Randy said, “Oh, wake up,
Prue, you’re asleep.”

“I guess I ain’t sleepy, but my eyes feel ’s if—” she was now really
asleep just as they reached Farmer Gray’s door.

Mr. Weston was waiting in the dooryard with his own team to take the
children home, and, after an exchange of remarks with Mr. Gray regarding
the weather and bluff, but hearty thanks to Miss Dayton for the
children’s day of pleasure, he took little Prue in his arms, and,
placing her in Randy’s lap, gathered up the reins, and with a resounding
“g’lang there” the old mare ambled toward home.

Mrs. Weston was at the door when they arrived. “Well, Randy,” said she,
smiling.

“Oh, mother!” cried Randy, “it was just splendid, and we had such good
times all day.”

“What! Prue asleep?”

“No,” said little Prue, “I ain’t asleep, but my eyes feel funny, and we
had gingerbread and peppermints, and cold sausage and lemonade, and ‘On
the—green—carpet,’ and I chose Jotham, and I had a wreath and some maple
sugar, and it was all made of daisies and butter—cups—and—and,” but here
she lost the thread of her story, and was carried upstairs and put in
her bed.



CHAPTER VII—RANDY OUTWITS JASON MEADE


The day after the picnic was a busy one for Mrs. Weston, and Randy,
eager to be helpful, was really a fine assistant. She washed all the
dishes, allowing little Prue to wipe the spoons, knives, and forks
because they would not break if dropped, then she thoroughly cleansed
the milk cans and put them just outside the door to dry in the bright
sunlight.

“Now, mother, what do you suppose I’m going to do next?” said Randy.

“I don’t know,” said her mother, “but ye have worked this morning like
all possessed.”

“Well,” said Randy, “I’m just going to bring in towels and aprons from
the line and sprinkle and iron them, so’s you can sit down awhile after
dinner.”

Mrs. Weston looked at the bright, flushed face a moment, then said: “I
do declare, Randy, you’re a real help. There ain’t a better daughter in
this town, if I do say it.”

“Oh, mother,” said Randy, “I’d ’most work my fingers off just to hear
you say that. I help you because I love you, though somehow I never ’til
now could say it.”

Mrs. Weston wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron, then, turning to
Randy, she kissed her, saying: “Why, Randy, it does me good to hear you
say it, and, child, ye must know I’m all bound up in you and Prue. We
busy folks sometimes forget to show how much we really feel.”

“I mean,” said Randy, “to make you and father happy, always; sometimes I
forget to help, but always I mean to.”

“I know ye do,” said her mother.

Randy moved about the kitchen with a subtle sense of exhilaration. Her
mother had always been kind and good, but to have her speak of her
affection and say a word of approval for her helpfulness, what more
could be needed to make a young girl happy? thought Randy.

She sang little snatches of melody while she cleared the dinner table,
and grasped the first leisure moment to steal out under the apple tree,
thence toward the brook to the old stone wall. A large stone had toppled
from the wall, and Randy sat down upon it to rest. She had intended to
make a little call upon Miss Dayton, to talk over the events of the
picnic, and to hear what her new friend had to tell her; for Helen had
hinted that she had another good time planned, and she promised to tell
Randy all about it when next they met.

Tall alders grew luxuriantly almost the entire length of the wall, which
served as a fence for one side of the pasture; and Randy, a bit tired
with the forenoon’s work, easily fell into one of her day-dreams, when
she was aroused by hearing voices behind the alders. There seemed to be
two voices, and Randy heard them mention her father’s name. She was an
honest girl who, under ordinary circumstances, would have scorned to
listen; but something in the tone of the speaker’s voice seemed
distinctly unfriendly when he spoke of her father, and Randy seemed,
against her will, riveted to the spot and obliged to listen. She must
have taken her place on the big stone when the conversation was well
under way, but the sound of her own footsteps, while unheard by the
earnest talkers, had prevented her from hearing their voices. She was
invisible to them as they were to her, separated as they were by the
alders.

“Now, I’ve tried and tried ’til I’m tired er tryin’ to sell Mr. Weston
that piece er medder land er mine, ’n’ it would a been sold long ago if
I hadn’t been bound to swap land instead er taking cash.”

“Yes, but I don’t see the great pint er not takin’ cash ef he’s fool
enough to pay it,” said the second voice.

[Illustration: “Nearer to the Wall she crept”]

“I don’t s’pose ye do, ’til I tell ye. Ye haven’t been here fer years,
’n’ only come yisterday, an’ ef you was anybody under the sun but my own
brother, I wouldn’t tell ye now.”

How Randy’s heart beat! Surely, it was right to listen now. If any one
meant to do her father harm, she must know it and warn him. Nearer to
the wall she crept, with a stealth which she was unaware she possessed,
and she tried to hush her breathing which came quick and hard.

“Just listen to this, Jim. My wife’s just got back from a visit to her
folks, I forgit the name of the town, ’though it’s on my tongue’s end
this minute, and while she was there she heard say that they’re goin’ to
run a railroad through this part of the town, next summer, jest a sort
er branch road from the one that goes through the centre, and my wife
never let on that she was much interested; but she asked ’nough
questions, kinder keerful like, and she found that ef they _do_ build
the road, and she says the folks down that way say they do really mean
to, it’ll be straight across that little bit er rocky field, back er
Weston’s barn. Now, I argy that Weston’s got money _’nough_, and I mean
ter keep at him ’til he agrees ter swap that ’ere little pesky, rocky
field er his’n fer my piece er medder land. The more I urge him the less
he seems ter want ter swap, an’ I even offered to throw in a good young
steer to boot, an’ all the satisfaction I could git out er him was,
‘Wal’, I dunno what makes yer so anxious fer that little piece er land
er mine.’

“He don’t know nothin’ ’bout the railroad yet, but there’s no knowin’
how soon he will. My wife’s naggin’ me to make him swap, but I’d like to
see her try to hurry Weston when he don’t intend to hurry; but I tell ye
now, ef that ’ere road _does_ run through his field, I mean ter own it
_fust_, an’ I’m goin’ up ter night ter talk him inter it.”

Randy now realized that the speaker’s voice was no other than Jason
Meade’s. She was but fifteen, but she knew that if her father yielded to
his neighbor’s urging, it would in some way mean loss to him. All
thought of her call upon Helen vanished, and in its place lay a great
fear that she might be seen before she could get away from her hiding
place and rush home.

She was a bit cramped with her crouching pose behind the wall. Slowly
she arose to her feet, glided along upon the grass, lest her footsteps
should be heard, and, once in the grove, she sprang across the brook,
dashed through the fields, up the path, and into the kitchen door, where
she dropped upon a chair and tried to speak.

“Why, Randy Weston! whatever ails ye? Ye look ’s if ye’d seen a ghost.
Why, father,” as the girl did not speak, “jest come look at Randy. She’s
been runnin’ ’til she’s clean tuckered out, ’n’ can’t seem to speak.”

Mr. Weston came hastening in from the well with a pail of water, which
he set down when he saw Randy.

“Why, Randy, child, what—”

“Oh, father,—the little rocky field behind the barn,—don’t sell it,
don’t swap it; the railroad’s going through it; and oh, father, that’s
why Jason Meade wants to make you swap it. It’s going to be worth lots
and lots of money; he can’t _make_ you swap it, can he, father?” and in
her anxiety she sprang up and put her hands upon her father’s shoulders.

“There, there, Randy, you’ve done your father a good turn this time,
sure enough, ef it’s true. Sit down and tell me where ye heard all
this.”

So Randy, having regained her breath, told her anxious listeners the
tale, beginning with her intended call upon Miss Dayton; how she
strolled through the grove and across the brook, and sat down to rest
upon the big stone by the wall, with the great alders behind her; how
she had, at first sound of the voices, tried not to listen, and, on
hearing an unfriendly voice mention her father’s name, she had, although
afraid of detection, crept close to the wall, to hear if the men really
meant to harm him.

Then she had told all that she had heard, word for word, finishing with,
“And, father, he _can’t_ make you swap, can he? he seemed so
determined.”

Then Mr. Weston did a very unusual thing. Putting his arm around Randy,
he drew her down upon his knee, where she had not sat since she was a
little girl like Prue, and as he looked at her, with just a suspicion of
moisture in his kind, blue eyes, he said, “Mother, we’ve got a girl to
be proud of.”

“And to be thankful for,” said Mrs. Weston.

“Amen!” said Randy’s father, and he added, “Always be as brave and quick
to do what’s right, Randy, as you have been to-day, even forgetting your
own pleasure, and I will trust you anywhere.”

Here little Prue, who had been awed into silence by the earnestness of
the conversation, found her tongue once more, and piped in with, “Why,
pa, my big sister Randy’s been good again. How can she be always good?”

They all laughed, and Randy, catching little Prue and giving her a tight
hug, said: “I know who’s got the best little sister in all the world. I
have, just as sure as your name is Prudence.”

“I like you to love me lots, Randy dear, but don’t you call me anything
but Prue. ‘Prudence’ makes me think of Aunt Prudence, and she looked all
so,” and here Prue drew down her wee mouth, and puckered up her fair
little forehead and brows into such a scowling imitation of Aunt
Prudence, that even her father, who did not at all approve, could not
help smiling at the dimpled copy of that lady’s unpleasant face.

Soon Mrs. Weston had tea ready, and the family had but just finished the
evening meal when a loud tap at the door announced some neighbor’s
arrival. Mr. Weston looked at his wife, with a twinkle in his eye, as he
arose to answer the knock.

“Well, well, Jason, come in, come in!” Thus Mr. Weston welcomed his
crafty neighbor.

“How are ye, Square Weston? I thought I’d jist drop in an’ see if you’d
made up yer mind about that piece er land er mine.”

“Well, yes, I hev,” said Mr. Weston, looking his neighbor squarely in
the face; “I told ye, a month ago, I’d give ye two hundred dollars in
cash fer that big medder of yourn.”

“I know it, I know you did; but the thing is, I’ve took a reel fancy to
that little rocky pasture er yourn, and I feel ’s if I’d lots rather
have it, little as it is, than the cash, ’f you’ll believe me.”

Jason Meade sat back in his chair with the bland air of a man who had
done a good deed in praising his neighbor’s property.

Mrs. Weston came out of the closet where she had been placing the dishes
and stood by her husband’s chair, anxiously awaiting his answer. She
knew his generous nature, but she believed that this time he would be
firm.

Randy, who after tea had taken the fairy book to the table to read, now
leaned forward with parted lips.

Slowly Mr. Weston turned toward his neighbor, and a faint smile played
about his lips as he said, “I’ll tell ye, Jason, I jist thought that
while it ain’t so very val’able now, I’ve ’bout decided to keep it, for
when the railroad comes clean through it, I’m thinkin’ I’ll be reel
pleased to think it’s my property.”

Jason Meade’s mouth opened to its widest extent, and to say that he was
amazed, astonished, or surprised, would be expressing it very mildly
indeed. He cleared his throat and blinked once or twice, then, as no
suitable remark seemed to suggest itself he arose, and pushing back his
chair, he said “he’d reely have to go as he’d got an arrant to do at
Mrs. Gray’s.” He sheepishly made his way toward the door, and mumbling
something about the weather, he dejectedly stalked out with the air of a
disappointed man.

“Why, father,” said Randy, “he didn’t even ask you how you knew about
the railroad.”

Mr. Weston laughed as he said: “I guess he didn’t care how I knew. That
I knew at all was what worried him.”



CHAPTER VIII—TABLEAUX


One morning Miss Dayton sent a little hastily written note to Mrs.
Weston, saying that she was planning another entertainment which she
believed would be as enjoyable as the picnic had been, and asking if
Randy might come over and help her make some preparations for the event.

Mrs. Weston read the note, then re-read it to Randy.

“Oh, may I go, could you spare me?” said Randy, eagerly.

“Why, yes indeed,” said her mother; “there is less than usual to do
to-day, and nothing at all after dinner. Fly ’round and get cleared up,
and you can put on your clean red and white gingham and your new hat and
go over early.”

“Fly ’round!” Randy did fly, and by two o’clock she was off down the
road, walking as fast as her feet and her enthusiasm would take her.

What could Miss Dayton be planning, thought Randy, as she hastened
toward the farm-house where Helen was staying.

Helen saw her coming and opened the door, smiling at Randy’s questioning
face, which expressed a world of interest in Helen’s scheme, whatever it
might be.

“Come right in, take off your hat, and sit down and I will tell you all
about my plan for an evening’s pleasure. You know I promised when I
first met you that I would try to make this summer just a bit gay during
my stay here. Now I believe we shall all enjoy an evening of tableaux,”
but here Helen was obliged to pause and explain just what tableaux were,
“and,” she continued, “I think that any one of the large girls who
attended the picnic, and a few of the little ones, will make a very nice
set of pictures.”

“Oh, I should think it would be lovely, but,” Randy added doubtfully,
“what could we wear that would be nice enough for pictures or tab—”

“Tableaux,” said Helen.

“Yes, tableaux,” said Randy.

“I will agree to furnish the costumes,” said Miss Dayton; “they will not
have to be very fine to look extremely pretty in the frame. Mr. Gray has
made me a fine frame which you and I will cover with evergreen. Then
Mrs. Gray has two bracket lamps which we will fasten to the back of the
frame to light up the pictures, and I have a lot of odds and ends of
pretty things in my trunks which will be sufficiently bright and gay for
costumes. Now let us go at once to the barn and decorate the frame.”

Mr. Gray’s man, Roger, had just brought in an immense load of evergreen.
Randy was all eagerness to help, and together they worked all the
afternoon.

When she left for home the frame was thickly covered. There was
evergreen and asparagus over the pictures in the “best room” where they
were to exhibit to the townspeople their tableaux, and Randy had seen
her costume which Helen had designed.

Miss Dayton was an ardent admirer of Greuze, and she possessed many
photographic reproductions of his paintings. She also owned a number of
photographs of Sir Joshua Reynold’s portraits of beautiful women and
children, and knowing the bareness of the walls in the average New
England farm-house, she had brought these pictures with her to decorate
her room during her stay. She intended to copy these beautiful pictures
in the list of tableaux which she arranged.

Randy was spellbound when she saw the photographs. “Oh, Miss Dayton,”
cried she, “do you really think any of us will do?”

“Why, yes indeed,” laughed Helen, “I have you all selected now. You are
to be the girl with the broken pitcher in the painting by Greuze. Would
you like to see your costume?”

“I guess I should like to,” answered Randy, excitedly clapping her
hands; so Helen showed her a waist with large, loose sleeves, a kerchief
or scarf, and a wide ribbon “to tie up her bonny brown hair.”

Randy went home in a fever of excitement. Think of a girl of fifteen who
had never witnessed an entertainment of any kind, and you will
understand with what delight she looked forward to an evening of
tableaux in which she would take part.

Miss Dayton called upon those girls who she thought would like to pose
for the tableaux, and every one was invited to be present.

The girls, both large and small, were delighted, and their elders were
quite as pleased with the promise of an evening’s enjoyment, and every
invitation was enthusiastically accepted. Mrs. Gray’s attic proved a
perfect treasure room. She generously offered the contents of all the
old trunks to Helen, saying, “If you see anything which you can make use
of, I shall be truly glad.” Mrs. Gray had been a city girl, and had
spent the greater part of her married life there, and she brought to the
farm-house many trunks containing faded finery, which, while far too
good to be thrown away, were of but little use in that small country
town. Helen chose those things which she could best utilize and carried
them down to the front room, where she deposited them behind an
improvised screen.

Randy thought the evening would never come; so did little Prue, for she,
too, was to be one of the “tab things,” as she called them. She could
not remember the word “tableaux.”

But the evening did arrive, and with it all the girls whom Helen had
drilled for the proper posing, all of the boys who were curious to see
the girls “fixed up for pictures,” as Reuben Jenks had expressed it, and
all of the farmers and their wives, who were nearly as excited as the
young people.

Mrs. Gray and Helen received the friends and neighbors as they arrived,
showing them the photographs on the walls and telling them that the
girls, correctly dressed, would look very much like pictures when seen
in the frame.

The frame was in place with a dark background behind it, and stretching
from either side of the frame to the side walls of the room were some
old brocatelle curtains which Helen had found in Mrs. Gray’s attic.
These curtained spaces served as dressing rooms.

Besides the tableaux Helen had planned quite a little programme, and
although much drilling had been necessary, each performer was perfect in
her part.

Jotham Potts had, after much urging, agreed to read the programme, and
Helen had promised to contribute a song, and a piano solo which should
be the opening number.

The hum of conversation rose loud and cheery, and so lively did it
become that it was impossible to hear a completed sentence.

“They say your Phœbe’s goin’ to be a dreadful pretty picture to-night.”

“What’s she goin’ to—”

“Wal’, I dunno, seems Miss Dayton thinks our Jotham has a good voice, so
she asked him to read the—I forgit what you call it, but anyhow I
guess—”

“Yes, Miss Dayton says my hair is auburn and not red, and she says—”

“Why, ef here isn’t Mis’ Weston’s little Prue!”

“Yes’m, I’m going to be one of the tab things, and sing a little tune
what Miss Dayton learned—no, taught me,” said the little girl, very
proud to think that she had remembered the correction.

“Well, I think she’s real nice to come up here and plan such good
times,” but here Helen tapped upon the piano, and the conversation
ceased so abruptly that one might think that the audience held its
breath.

The girls rushed behind the curtains on either side of the frame, and
Jotham Potts, clearing his throat, read the first number for the
evening.

Helen had drilled him in pronouncing those names which he found
difficult, and very clearly he read,—

“Our first number will be a piano solo by Miss Dayton, entitled, ‘Marche
Militaire.’”

Mr. Potts nudged his wife, saying, in a loud whisper, “Our Jotham did
that just like a city feller, didn’t he?” His wife ejaculated “Sh—,” but
she smiled and nodded, for she was of the same opinion.

Helen in her white muslin looked very beautiful, as she took her seat at
the piano. That piano was the only one in town, and the only one that
many of the audience had ever heard. Helen was a good musician, and the
piece, grand in itself, rang out brilliantly, to the great delight of
every one present, and many were the words of praise which reached her
ears when she arose. One voice, bolder than the others, said, “That’s
what I call great; just one more piece, Miss Dayton, ef it ain’t asking
too much.”

This was an honest if unceremonious encore, so Helen seated herself once
more, and for those simple country people played a brilliant polacca.

“Wal’, ’twas all I could do to keep from dancin’, I dew declare,” said
old Deacon Turnbull, which made every one laugh, as the deacon was a
very dignified old man.

Helen rose and saying, “Now, Jotham,” she stepped behind the curtains.
“Our next number,” announced Jotham, “will be a tableau as nearly as
possible like the painting entitled ‘The Age of Innocence.’”

“That’s it over there,” said Mrs. Buffum to her husband, pointing at the
photograph on the wall, and every one looked that way. When the curtain
was drawn aside, there was chubby little Hitty Buffum, her hands clasped
upon her breast, a wee bit of a smile on her parted lips—a very good
counterpart of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s picture.

“Oh! oh my! She looks just like it. Isn’t she cunnin’?” and similar
remarks greeted the little girl in the first tableau. She had done her
very best for Miss Dayton. Then the curtain swung across the frame and
Jotham announced, “The next number will be a song by little Miss
Weston.”

“I didn’t know as the Weston children could sing, did you?” queried one
neighbor, but there was no time for an answer, for little Prue had taken
her place on the improvised platform, and Helen was playing a little
prelude.

Mrs. Weston laid her hand upon her husband’s arm. Would Prue, her little
Prue, get through the song without faltering? She need not have feared.
Out rang the childish treble in the song which Miss Dayton had taught
her. How fresh and clear the little voice sounded!

  “Sometimes I am a daisy bloom,
  I make believe ’tis true,
  I play that all I ever eat
  Is early morning dew.

  “Sometimes I am a butterfly,—
  Just see my gauzy wings!
  Sometimes I play I am a bird,
  Who only sits and sings.

  “But always I am mama’s girl,
  And papa’s girlie, too,
  And next to them I love the best,
  I love each one of you.”

Putting up her dimpled hands she daintily kissed her finger tips, made a
very cunning little bow, and tripped back to Miss Dayton, saying, “Did I
do it nice?”

“Just splendid, little Prue,” said Jotham.

“Couldn’t have been better,” said old Mrs. Green.

Then Prue crept up on her father’s lap to see “all the other tabs,” she
said.

“The ‘Chapeau Blanc,’ which Miss Dayton says means the White Hat,”
announced Jotham. This time the curtain swept aside to disclose Phœbe
Small’s little face beneath a hat with white gauzy ruffles upon the
brim, and a feather held in place by a knot of blue ribbon. A pearly
kerchief about the shoulders was most becoming to Phœbe, whose usually
expressionless face looked almost piquant under the saucy white hat and
feather.

“Don’t she look like a photograph?” whispered Mrs. Small, “and a good
deal nicer, if I do say it as shouldn’t,” and Mrs. Small looked around
with a sniff at those present who possibly thought their daughters
prettier.

Now, Phœbe’s principal defects were an abundance of freckles, and an
absence of character in her small face; but the costume was becoming,
and the freckles not apparent in the light in which she was posed; so
her heart was delighted with words of commendation, and she hoped that
Jotham Potts had seen her tableau.

As a matter of fact, Jotham had not seen her; for, having announced that
number, he had sat down and waited for Miss Dayton to appear. The next
number on the programme was his, and now Helen stepped from behind the
curtain to announce it.

“We will now listen to a solo by Jotham Potts.”

“Oh! oo! oo! Does your Jotham sing?” asked Mrs. Brimblecom of Mrs.
Potts.

“Why, no; leastways I never heard him,” said Jotham’s mother, with a
twinkle in her eyes, for did she not know of Jotham’s evenings spent in
practising this very solo with Miss Dayton’s accompaniment?

Randy had said one day to Helen, “You’d ought to hear Jotham Potts
whistle. He does it just splendid. It sounds just like the brook
rippling.”

When Helen made her plans for the entertainment, she invited him to give
a whistling solo.

“Oh, I’d do anything to ’blige you, Miss Dayton, but who’d want to hear
me whistle?” said Jotham.

Then Helen told the boy how many people gave whistling solos in the
city, with a piano accompaniment, and Jotham consented to “jest try it”
with the piano.

After announcing the number, Helen seated herself, and played a pretty
little prelude, and then Jotham commenced to whistle a simple piece
which Helen played, called “The Alpine Echo,” in which there was an
imitation of an Alpine horn, followed by echoing notes an octave higher.

Jotham was, indeed, a charming whistler, and as his courage rose, his
notes sounded true and flutelike, making the song and echoes, the piano
ever aiding him, until with a final thrill and flourish he finished his
solo, and, blushing and bowing, retired.

The little assembly was much excited and there were repeated calls for
one more whistling solo, and cries of “fine,” and “that beats all,” and
“whistle just once more, Jotham.” So Helen resumed her seat at the
piano, and this time Jotham whistled a medley in which were heard “The
Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

[Illustration: “There stood Randy as the Demure little Maid”]

“Hooray for Jotham and Miss Dayton, I say!” shouted Reuben Jenks, and
everybody cheered.

Jotham was very happy over his musical success, and with a beaming face
he announced, “Our next tableau is a copy of the large photograph on the
right wall called ‘The Broken Pitcher,’ by Greuze.”

This time the curtain drew aside and there stood Randy, sweet Randy, as
the demure little maid with the broken pitcher hanging to her wrist, her
beautiful hair loosely bound, and her large gray eyes looking out at one
for all the world like the Greuze model.

“Isn’t she lovely, mother?” said Jotham, who had stolen out in front of
the frame in order to make sure of seeing this tableau.

“Well, I must say, she is,” said Mrs. Potts. “She’s always a pretty
girl, but I do declare to-night she’s nothin’ short of handsome.”

“So I say,” said Jotham, and even Randy’s parents were surprised at her
beauty. The tableau was recalled, and this time Randy blushed most
becomingly because of the encore.

“Oh, do see my Randy!” called little Prue, who had been nodding when the
tableau was first shown, and awoke with a start to see her dear Randy
looking out from the frame.

“The next number will be a solo by Katie Buffum.” Immediately wee Katie
was in position. She was not diffident in the least, and clasping her
chubby hands she at once piped up with cheery voice:—

  “Once there was a little mouse
  No bigger than my fumb;
  He crept into my pocket,
  Where he hunted for a crumb.

  “I put my finger in there,
  Just to see what there was in it;
  But the little mouse was naughty,
  And he bit me in a minute.”

This solo, so cunningly sung by the pudgy little mite, “brought down the
house,” and little Katie and her family were delighted with the praise
which she received. Still the little girl stood upon the platform until
the audience began to think that she wished to sing another verse.

“Go on, Katie,” called her brother Jack, “what yer waiting for?”

“I forgot somefin and I dunno what. Oh, yes, I do. It’s dis,” and,
making a comical little bow, this very conscientious little soloist left
the platform, feeling that now her performance was complete.

Every one laughed and gave Katie more praise, and she curled up in her
mother’s lap, feeling her wee self to be a very successful singer.

“We will now look at a tableau called ‘Titian’s Daughter,’” announced
Jotham.

Away flew the curtain and Jemima Babson stood in the fine pose, copying
to perfection the engraving of that subject. Jemima was resplendent.

“Oh! oh!” ejaculated every one. A glint of bright light shone in her
eyes. She had liked that picture better than any which Miss Dayton had
shown the girls when they had called for the first rehearsal, and was
delighted when Helen chose it for her tableau.

Next came her sister Belinda as the “Magdalene.” Belinda always wore her
yellow hair in braids, but to-night it shone like rippling gold over her
shoulders. With her blue eyes uplifted, and the shimmering mass of
yellow hair, who could believe that the “Magdalene” was Belinda Babson,
the girl who climbed every apple tree in her father’s orchard, and
laughed at chance passers-by from the highest branches.

“A solo by Miss Dayton will close the entertainment.”

Helen had sung at church with the congregation, but until to-night no
one, not even Randy, had heard her sing a solo.

Ah, how sweet and clear sounded her voice as, looking across at old
Sandy McLeod, she sang “The Bluebells of Scotland.”

The proverbial pin could have been heard had it been dropped. As the
last notes ceased, old Sandy arose, and, stoutly thumping on the floor
with his cane, shouted, “Well, noo, that’s bonny, say I, Sandy McLeod.”

“That’s so,” said little Reuben Jenks, under his breath, for he sat
quite near old Sandy and was a bit afraid of him. The old Scotchman
owned a large farm on the outskirts of the town and was reported to have
a deal of money, which most people said he never spent. He lived alone
and was said to be rather crusty.

One day, when out for a walk, Helen, in passing his door, saw old Sandy
sitting on his door-stone, trying to thread a needle. Helen paused for a
moment, saying kindly, “Please let me thread it for you.”

The old man scowled and hesitated, then surrendered the needle. Helen
threaded it; then, after a few pleasant words, resumed her walk.

The old fellow mumbled something, possibly thanks, and ever after that
morning pulled off his cap to Helen when he met her.

Mrs. Gray laughed when Helen said she intended to invite him to the
entertainment, saying that he would never come. He came, however, very
promptly, and it was for him she sang the old Scotch ballad.

“Now,” said Helen, “let us all sing, ‘Should Auld Acquaintance be
Forgot,’” and with a will they sang it, old Sandy joining in the chorus.

It was now quite late, but good old Parson Spooner rose and proposed
three cheers for the young lady who had planned such a beautiful
entertainment. They were given heartily, and then every one crowded
around Helen to clasp her hand and thank her again, and of all the merry
party no one was happier than she.

Turning to Mrs. Gray, after the last guest had departed, Helen said, “I
have often helped to entertain, with some success, but in the city one
does not always feel the thanks so enthusiastically expressed to be
sincere, but who could doubt the genuineness of the kind words spoken
to-night?”



CHAPTER IX—CALLERS


“Randy, wake up!”

“Yes, oh yes, in a minute,” Randy answered, drowsily.

“No, now, Randy, wake up now! I want to talk about those tab things what
we had last night,” and two little soft arms wound their way about
sleepy Randy’s neck.

Randy rubbed her eyes, laughing as she said, “Do call them tableaux,
Prue, can’t you remember that? Tableaux, Prue, say so.”

“Tabby-lows!” shouted Prue. “How’s that?”

“Better,” said Randy, still laughing.

“Well, whatever you call ’em, yours was the prettiest, Randy dear, the
very prettiest, and Jotham said so, too, so of course it’s true,” said
little Prue, who had been sitting up in bed in order to see her sister’s
face when she repeated the compliment.

“Now, Prue,” said Randy, “did he say that because you asked him?”

“Why, no,” said the child, whose smiling face now assumed an injured
expression. “He didn’t say it to me ’tall. He said it to his mother; I
heard him, and she said she thought so, too, I heard her; she sat just
behind us. Now, Randy Weston, I thought it was real nice to tell you,
and that’s what I waked you up for.”

“It’s all very nice,” Randy answered, “that you liked my picture best;
and do you know, little sister, I would rather have you pleased than
almost any one, next to father and mother.”

“Why?” questioned the little girl, in genuine surprise.

“Because,” said her sister, “you’re a little girl who means just what
she says.”

“Yes, I do mean it, Randy dear; you did look just the best of any one,
but you’d ought to seen Jotham,” she continued, “he meant it, too. He
meant it just _tremenjous_!”

“Well, Jotham’s kind, too,” said Randy; then, with a happy little sigh,
she turned a smiling face to little Prue as she said, “’most every one’s
good, I do believe.”

“Not near as good as you, Randy,” said Prue, thoughtfully; but, she
added, brightening, “I mean to be good all day, ’cause why do you
s’pose, Randy? ’Cause I had such a good time last night.”

“That’s a good reason,” said Randy. Soon Randy proposed dressing, and at
the breakfast table Prue resumed the conversation with which she had
awakened Randy.

All agreed that it had been just a lovely evening, but the little girl
was not quite satisfied.

“Well, now, we did have a splendid time,” said she, “but I want you to
say my Randy was just the best of all.”

“Why, of course, we say so,” said her father, laughing; “but who sang a
nice little song?”

“Oh, I ’most forgot, I sang a little tune and so did Katie Buffum.”

“So you did, so you did,” said her father, “and your mother and I
thought you little girls did your parts well.”

“I think they all did wonderful,” said Mrs. Weston. “I was jest proud of
my girls, and my neighbors’ children, too. I do declare, I believe Miss
Dayton can do anything. Last evening jest did me good. Well, this won’t
do for me,” she added, “there’s a sight to do to-day.”

“We’ll help,” said Randy and Prue together.

“I guess I’ll have to have you help me, Randy, if you’re a mind to.”

“Me too, me too,” cried Prue.

So Randy filled a large pan with hot water and Prue armed herself with a
long towel, and the two commenced work as if their lives depended upon
it.

Mrs. Weston was an energetic woman and soon her pies were made and
baked, and standing to cool upon the table. The children had worked
bravely all the forenoon, Randy doing a great deal to be helpful, and
Prue assisting in many small things. Randy was just thinking that she
would surely scorch if she remained in the hot kitchen another minute,
when such an interesting thing happened.

Up the well-trodden path to the kitchen door came Mrs. Hodgkins, “the
best woman in town and the newsiest,” as Silas Barnes had described her.

The children were always delighted to see her coming, as a call from
Mrs. Hodgkins meant numberless scraps of gossip, and in a small country
town where neighbors are few and far between, anything in the shape of
news is welcome.

Laboriously the good woman stepped from door-stone to threshold, and
voluminously filling the wooden rocker which Mrs. Weston offered her,
she fanned herself with her handkerchief, ejaculating between gasps for
breath, “Lor’ me! How hot it is! Ef I ever get my breath again, I’ll try
ter talk a spell.” But it would have been something greater than
shortness of breath that could have completely silenced Mrs. Hodgkins. A
few energetic movements of the palm-leaf fan which Randy offered her, a
few moments of jerky rocking in the old wooden rocker, and she was ready
to begin.

“Well there, Mis’ Weston, I b’lieve I can talk now,” said she. “Joel was
goin’ over to the barn raisin’, an’ I told him I didn’t care nothin’
’bout seein’ it; but ef he’d a mind to drive me as fur as your house,
I’d call in an’ look at yer a spell, ’n’ I can’t spare the time to talk
’n’ not do somethin’ at the same time,” and she drew from a capacious
bag an old woollen stocking, saying, “I thought I’d bring my knittin’
along and p’haps git this stockin’ footed down while I was talkin’.”

“Why, that’s a woollen stocking,” said little Prue.

“Lor’ yes, child, it’s one of Joel’s winter stockin’s. I was up attic
yesterday huntin’ over my rag bag, ’n’ I came across a lot of his old
winter stockin’s that I’d ’bout decided to throw away, ’n’ I says to
myself, ‘Sophrony Hodgkins, that’s downright wasteful,’ ’n’ I’ve just
set myself a task to foot ’em down ’fore winter.” Her needles clicked
furiously, and she knit around several times before she spoke again.
With her brows contracted she worked until she felt sure that her
knitting was “straightened out,” then she paused for a chat.

“Did you know,” she commenced, “that Phœbe Small was a beggin’ an’ a
teasin’ her pa to send her to boardin’ school? Well, she is, ’n’ none of
the girls could find out what put it in her head ter want ter go ’til
Jemima Babson teased it out of her. Seems at the picnic Miss Dayton, in
some story she was tellin’ the children, let out that she went away from
home ter school, ’n’ Phœbe got the idee that ter go away ter school
would jest be the makin’ of her. Jemima don’t care what she says, an’
she up an’ told Phœbe that it ‘would take more ’n boardin’ school to
make her as sweet as Miss Dayton,’ all of which was true, but not ter
Phœbe’s likin’.”

“_Is_ she going to boarding school?” asked Randy.

“Land, no! Her ma told her to wait ’til she’d learned all there was ter
learn at our deestric’ school ’fore she talked ’bout goin’ anywhere
else; and that ’bout finished it.”

Here Mrs. Hodgkins, who had said all this without stopping, paused to
take breath. “I shouldn’t like my girls to be away at boardin’ school,”
said Mrs. Weston, “and I think Mrs. Small would feel ’bout as I do.”

“An’ there’s Mrs. Buffum,” continued Mrs. Hodgkins, “with all her
children, ’n’ she says they’ve got to be where she can see ter them, an’
git their larnin’ ter home, and now I’ll tell yer the joke. It seems
Miss Dayton laughed when she heard about it, for she wasn’t at boardin’
school at all; she was at school, and was boardin’ at a big hotel with
her aunt, ’n’ the hotel was near the school. But there, ye know Phœbe
Small never gits anything more ’n half right.

“But I’ll tell ye somethin’ worth tellin’. Old Sandy McLeod’s comin’ to
meetin’!”

“You don’t say!” ejaculated Mrs. Weston, lifting her hands, and letting
them fall upon her lap, thereby showing the surprise which Mrs. Hodgkins
thought this piece of news deserved.

“Well, you see, it was this way,” continued the bearer of this pleasant
bit of gossip; “it commenced with Miss Dayton’s doin’ a few little
things fer him. Nobody b’lieved fer a minute that he’d come to Mrs.
Gray’s, to the entertainment; but Miss Dayton asked him in her pretty
way, and he hadn’t the heart ter refuse ter come, ’n’ he had such a nice
evenin’, and heard her sing that Scotch song, and all, ’n’ he says now
he’s made a great mistake stayin’ off by himself so long. An’ he’s been
to Parson Spooner and, ef you’ll believe it, hired a whole pew, sayin’
he could well afford to; en’ he says that as there’s only one in his
family, any one that wants ter can sit in his pew, any time.

“He says he always went ter church, though he calls it ‘kirk,’ or
something like that, when he was a young man and lived in Scotland; an’
he says, rain or shine, we’ll see him in his place every Sunday, after
this. When somebody asked him what made him think of goin’ ter church
again, he drew that great rough hand of his across his eyes, and jist
said, ‘It’s all the doin’ of that lass,’ meanin’ Miss Dayton. And let me
tell yer somethin’ queerer than that! Did ye notice old Nathan Lawton
the other night?

“My! how his eyes twinkled when the children were singin’. Ye know he’s
dreadful fond of children; but ye know, too, ef ye know anything, that
he’s tighter ’n the bark of a tree. Well, Miss Dayton heard say what a
bad room fer heatin’ that schoolroom was, and how the little buildin’
was kind er fer off fer most of the children.

“Wal’, after we’d seen all the pictures, or what yer call ’ems, and
she’d sung her song so sweetly, old Nathan spoke ter her, an’ thanked
her for the pleasant evenin’, sayin’ he’d do most anythin’ ter obleege
her, in return, as ye might say, fer his enjoyment; and I had ter laugh
softly ter myself when she put her little white hand on his arm and said
she thought nothin’ would please her so much as ter think, when she went
home, that the children here would start ter school in a comfortable,
warm room, ’specially ef it could be one that was handy for them all;
and she asked him, as one of the see-lect-men, ter manage it some way.

“He just took one look at the smilin’ face lookin’ up at him, and then
and there offered the use of that front room of his’n, and promised ter
keep it roastin’ warm all winter, from his own woodpile. His house is
just about the handiest ter every one of any house in town, and I do say
that was a han’some offer.

“Any other folks might have asked him ’til they got tired askin’; but he
couldn’t refuse her, ’n’ I don’t wonder. She’s just done us a world of
good this summer, ’n’ in such an easy, pretty way that we’ve just
enjoyed it.

“And now I’ve come ter what fetched me here ter day. Mrs. Gray said ter
me that Miss Dayton never went to an apple-bee; and I was thinkin’ she
got up that picnic, and that splendid evenin’ with the music,”—“and tab
things,” said Prue,—“an’ I’ve been thinkin’ it’s ’bout time we got up
somethin’ fer her,” said good Mrs. Hodgkins, and she beamed upon Mrs.
Weston and Randy as she waited for their approval.

“I think so too,” said Randy and her mother together; “but do you think
that she would enjoy an apple-bee?”

“Well, we couldn’t get up anything fine,” said Mrs. Hodgkins; “but they
do say that our apple-bees are ’bout the best that they have anywhere
’round here.”

Mrs. Weston thought a moment, then said: “Our house is the biggest in
the neighborhood, an’ Miss Dayton has been so kind to Randy and Prue
that I’ll say we’ll have the apple-bee here, and I think we’ll try extry
hard to make it a pleasant one. I’m real glad you thought of it, Mrs.
Hodgkins. I think we’ll all enjoy it, an’ if Miss Dayton does, that’s
all we’ll ask for.”

“Well, ef here ain’t Joel,” said Mrs. Hodgkins, “an’ I’ll have ter be
goin’; but I’ll come over an’ help ye git ready for the apple-bee, so
good-by ’til I see ye again,” and she hastily took her departure,
puffing down the walk like a small engine, and clambering into the wagon
beside her husband. “Good-by, I’ll be over ter help ye,” she cried,
looking back; then they jogged off down the road.

Randy and her mother turned from the doorway and walked back into the
kitchen. “Look at that clock, Randy!” exclaimed Mrs. Weston; “I guess
it’ll be a funny dinner to-day,” and she commenced to make hasty
preparations for the noon meal.

Mr. Weston laughed good-naturedly when he heard of the forenoon caller,
and in consequence the “picked-up dinner.” “Lots of folks haven’t as
good a dinner as this, mother,” said he, “and I must say, I’m glad she
came in ter talk ter ye and so make ye stop workin’ a spell. Where is
Prue?”

Sure enough, the little girl who was always eager to tell a part of any
happening was, for once, not in evidence. So busy had Randy and her
mother been, preparing the dinner, that Prue had not been missed.

“She went out when Mrs. Hodgkins went, don’t you remember, mother?” said
Randy. “She ran down the path, waving her hand and saying good-by when
they drove away.”

“Well, Randy, run out and find her, and tell her ter come in ter dinner.
Dear me! I hope she hasn’t got inter some scrape. She’s been out of
sight long enough fer anything.” Out rushed Randy, calling loudly,
“Prue! Prue! where are you?”

“I’m right here, and I’m very busy,” came an answering shout from behind
the house.

Around the house ran Randy, and such a funny sight she saw!

“Why, Prue Weston, you naughty girl!” said Randy in dismay.

“I ain’t naughty,” said the child.

“You are, too,” responded Randy, “to plague kitty like that. You just
take her out of that rain-water tub this minute! If she wasn’t the best
old cat in the world, she would have scratched you well for ducking her
like that.”

Prue tried to lift pussy out, and Randy ran to help her.

Poor pussy! If Randy had been a few minutes later, she must surely have
been drowned, for, just as Randy arrived, Prue was holding Tabby’s head
under water “to let it soak,” she said.

“What ever made you do such a thing?” questioned Randy, when the cat was
once more on dry land; “don’t you know that in a few minutes more you
would have drowned her?”

“Drowned!” said Prue in a horrified whisper, “drowned, did you say,
Randy?”

“Why, of course,” said Randy, impatiently; “don’t you _know_ she’d drown
with her head under water?”

“Why, Randy, that’s awful!” said Prue. “I didn’t mean to hurt Tabby. I
only meant to help her. She comed down from the field what’s been burned
over, and she was all smutty, and I thought I’d give her a good washing;
so I put her in the tub, but the smut sticked awful, and I thought I’d
soak her and p’rhaps she’d wash easier; and, Randy, whatever you say,
she _isn’t_ drowned one mite. Just see her washing herself dry in the
sun.”

“Oh, Prue, Prue!” said Randy, “what shall I do with you? You do the
queerest things! Go tell Tabby you’re sorry this minute. If kitty had
died, just think how you’d felt.”

“Now, don’t you make me cry, Randy,” said Prue, “’cause you know I love
Tabby, and I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

The cat was an unusually placid animal, or she never would have
permitted a little girl to do such a thing. Prue had always used her for
a doll, dressing her up in all sorts of things, and sometimes dragging
her about in a wooden box which she called a “carriage.” This alleged
vehicle was an old soap box, beautifully padded with a woollen shawl. It
had neither wheels nor springs, and as little Prue dragged it along, it
thumped over twigs and stones with the most surprising jolts. Pussy,
however, seemed to have a species of lethargy, for she slept through it
all; so Prue insisted that she liked the ride. The family declared the
cat to be absolutely without vim; but that deficiency in her make-up
made her a delightful plaything for Prue.

After dinner Mrs. Weston talked long and seriously with her little
daughter, telling her that as pussy was so gentle and willing to be
played with, she ought to be very kind to her and never do anything that
Tabby would not like.

“But I wanted Tabby to be clean in time for the folks to see her when we
have the apple-bee,” said Prue.

“Oh, she’ll be clean as clean can be by that time,” said her mother,
smiling. “She’ll have a whole week to wash in. I think that when you
wish to do something to kitty different from what you’ve done before,
you’d better come and ask me first.”

“I will,” said the little girl, promptly, and Mrs. Weston knew that
pussy was safe from any new torment, for Prue always kept her word, and
she loved Tabby dearly.

Early in the afternoon, as Mrs. Weston sat by the window mending,
another wagon stopped at the door; and this time a tall, angular woman
came up the path with nervous haste. The door was open, and without
waiting to knock, the caller walked in and seated herself.

“There, I guess you’re s’prised to see me, Mis’ Weston, but I jest had
ter come.”

“Well, I am surprised,” responded Mrs. Weston; “but I’m just as pleased
ter see ye. Take off yer bunnit.”

“I’ll take it off jest ter show it ter ye,” said Mrs. Jenks. “I thought
I’d had a change of heart years an’ years ago, but I guess I’ve jest got
it now.”

“Do tell! Why, Mrs. Jenks, how ye talk,” and in blank amazement Mrs.
Weston stopped mending, the stocking, however, still drawn over her
hand.

“Well, ye might as well stop mendin’ an’ listen, fer I’ve come ter tell
ye quite a story. It all began with this bunnit. I stepped over ter Mis’
Gray’s one mornin’ of an arrant, an’ I chanced to say something about
not havin’ a decent bunnit fer Sunday, an’ I said I had a bunnit I’d
bought down ter Barnses and quite a lot of old ribbon that was plenty
good enough to trim it with; but, says I, I’ve no more idee how to trim
it than a cat. Miss Dayton was just comin’ in the door with a lot of
wild flowers and green stuff, and she offered, so sweetly, to call over
in the afternoon and jest tack the ribbons on fer me that, some way, I
had ter let her do it.

“Well, she came over and I got out my ribbon—it was that I had on a blue
dress of mine once—and she sat down to trim it. It took some time, and
to this day I don’t know how it came about, but the first thing I knew
she was a-makin’ me see how much better it was to give rather than
receive. Now I’ve been pretty ‘near’ and savin’, but I never meant ter
be mean; but she led me to talk of the time when Reuben was little, and
’fore I knew it I was tellin’ that girl how I used to leave my work jist
ter look at him in the old wooden cradle. I told her what I’d most
forgot myself: how I could never let him lay there, but jest had ter
take him up and hug him jest a minute an’ then go on with my work. I’ve
never meant ter be hard with the boy, but p’r’aps I forgit sometimes
that he’s pretty young still.

“Well, Miss Dayton looked up from the bows she was makin’ pretty, and
says she, ‘Reuben’s a nice little fellow, and I think, if you were to
try it, you’d find he liked petting still. I’ve talked with him many
times since I’ve been here, and I find that his one idea seems to be to
grow up as fast as possible so as to be able to help father and mother.’

“I tell ye, Mis’ Weston, I was all took back to find a sweet young girl
who was ’most a stranger to us had learned my boy’s good traits ’fore I
had. Well, when Reuben came in jist ’fore supper-time with his jacket
with a big tear in it, I was jist ready ter say somethin’. He took the
jacket off and hung it on my chair ter be mended; and layin’ his hand on
my shoulder, he said, ‘I wish I didn’t get my things tore quite so
often, mother, but this time I couldn’t help it.’

“It took lots er resolution, but I jest kissed him on his forehead, and
the s’prised look on his face made me realize how long it had been sence
I’d kissed him before.

“‘Reuben,’ says I, ‘no matter what I say when I speak hasty, just
remember that yer mother thinks the world of ye!’

“‘F you’ll believe me, that boy flew at me, and puttin’ his arms round
my neck he said, ‘Why, mother, a minute ago I was awful sorry, and now
I’m almost glad I tore my jacket.’

“‘So be I,’ says I, and then we both laughed, but we were jest as near
cryin’, and I tell you, Mis’ Weston, I ain’t never goin’ ter have such a
distance, so to speak, between my boy and me as there has been; I guess
we understand each other now.”

“Well, I don’t know when I’ve heard any better news,” said Mrs. Weston,
taking off her glasses and slowly wiping them. “I think pretty well of
little Reuben, and I b’lieve, properly encouraged, he’ll make a good
man.”

“Well, now, it beats all how Miss Dayton does things,” said Mrs. Jenks.
“Some folks would have blundered about it in a way that would have made
me mad, but to this day, I do say, I don’t know how she done it. And
look at that bunnit,” continued enthusiastic Mrs. Jenks, “didn’t she
make them bows pretty? I declare, there ain’t a prettier bunnit in the
meetin’-house than that.”

“’Tis pretty,” assented Mrs. Weston; “just as pretty as it can be.”

“So I say,” said Mrs. Jenks, “and now this mornin’ I met Mis’ Hodgkins
and her husband. ‘They’d just come from here,’ they said, ‘and,’ says
Mis’ Hodgkins, ‘we’re goin’ ter have the first apple-bee ter Mis’
Weston’s and,’ says she, sorter smilin’, ‘I ain’t sure’s you’ll be very
anxious ter help, but we’re all goin’ ter do our part ter help make a
grand time fer Miss Dayton;’ and says I, ‘If it’s fer Miss Dayton, I’ll
agree to contribute anything you like toward the supper, and I’ll go
right over now an’ tell Mis’ Weston so.’ My, but didn’t she look at me!
I laughed ter myself, an’ I said right out loud, as I drove off,
‘Matilda Jenks, this is the last time any one will have a chance ter
call ye stingy.’

“I commenced this mornin’ by givin’ Reuben a lot of maple sugar to treat
the boys with, and I tell you Miss Dayton’s ’bout right, it does feel
good to give. We’ve been prospered, and from this time forth I ain’t
goin’ ter be foolish with this world’s goods; but I _vow_ I won’t be
mean; so I’ve come ter say that if there’s anythin’ I can offer ter help
make the bee a success, jest say the word an’ you shall have it.”

“Mrs. Jenks,” said Mrs. Weston, kindly, “I always said ye hadn’t but one
fault, and now you’ve overcome that, seems to me you’re pretty near
perfect.”

“I guess there’s room fer improvement,” said Mrs. Jenks, grasping her
friend’s extended hand, “but I’ve started in the right direction. Now, I
must be goin’, and remember I’ll do anything ter help along that bee.”

Mrs. Weston promised to remember, and as rapidly as she came Matilda
Jenks strode down the path and drove away.

A few minutes later Randy came running in at the door. “Oh, mother,”
said she, “I ran out to look for Prue again, while Mrs. Jenks was
talking, and, mother, she’s doing the cunningest thing. She’s playing
read. She’s lying on the grass back of the house, with the fairy book in
front of her. She’s making b’lieve read to Tabby. Do come and see her.”

Softly they made their way around the house and, sure enough, there lay
Prue, the wonderful fairy book before her, her elbows on the book, and
her chin in her hands. Soon they were near enough to hear what she was
reading, and yet not to be observed.

[Illustration: Prue and Tabby reading the Fairy Book]

“Now, Tabby,” she was saying, “you _mustn’t_ go to sleep when I’m
reading to you. Now you listen: The princess—that’s Miss Dayton,
Tabby—is very beautiful, and so I know there must be a prince,
somewhere, that she knows; ’cause, Tabby, in the fairy tales the
princesses always has princes; and, Tabby, I’ll tell you truly, Miss
Dayton is prettier than any picture in this book. And, Tabby, she loves
little girls and big girls, like my Randy, and she loves big womens and
old womens and old mens, like Sandy McLeod; and, Tabby, I b’lieve, I
most b’lieve she loves you, and I’m going to ask her.

“She prob’ly does love you; she seems to love everybody. This isn’t all
in the book, Tabby, but what I tell you that isn’t in the book is true.
I’m most glad the fairy stories ain’t true; for if things did happen
like what’s in the book, maybe you’d turn into a frog, and then, Tabby,
I couldn’t hug you.”

Here Tabby rubbed her head against Prue’s little arm. “There,” said the
child, “you _knew_ what I said, didn’t you?” and she sprang up, catching
Tabby in her arms to “love her,” as she called it.

“Oh, did you hear me reading to my kitty?” shouted Prue, as she caught
sight of her smiling audience.

“We heard ye, and I guess some of it was full as pretty as what was in
the book,” said Mrs. Weston, and together the three wended their way
back to the house, followed by Tabby.



CHAPTER X—THE APPLE-BEE


The apple-bee was to occur on Thursday evening, and Mrs. Weston and
Randy, with little Prue for “errand boy,” had been busily employed in
preparation for the delightful event. Prue made a fine little page, so
delighted was she to be useful.

“Bring me the yellow mixin’ bowl, Prue,” called Mrs. Weston. Into the
closet darted Prue, and over to the table with the big bowl she
hastened. “Now what shall I do to help the apple-bee?” said she.

“Perhaps the apple-bee would like to have you pull all the stems off
these raisins,” said her mother, laughing. So Prue sat down upon the
large braided rug near the door and began to stem the raisins with all
her might. Soon Mrs. Hodgkins arrived and imperiously ordered her
husband to “lug in that crock from the wagon.”

“For mercy’s sake!” ejaculated Mrs. Weston, “whatever have you got
there?” as, puffing and blowing, Joel Hodgkins landed an immense stone
crock upon the kitchen table.

“Well, I’ll tell ye,” said Mrs. Hodgkins; “I know this is no donation
party, but I had this big crock er doughnuts, and I says, says I,
‘Somebody will eat ’em ef I take ’em over,’ so here they be.”

“Sophrony wouldn’t think she was takin’ part in the bee if some of her
prize doughnuts wasn’t in the treat.”

Every one laughed at Joel Hodgkins’s speech, and the doughnuts were very
kindly received.

“We all know that your doughnuts are the best in town,” said Mrs.
Weston, “and I guess everybody’ll be glad to have one, I’m sure—” but
the remark was left incomplete as she hastened to the door to admit Mrs.
Jenks.

“How are ye, Mrs. Weston? I had Reuben drive me over, and I’ve brought a
lot of those big red apples, ef ye don’t mind havin’ ’em. Reuben an’ I
have rubbed and polished ’em ’til they shine like everything. I thought
maybe they’d make the table look pretty,” and she flushed as she offered
this first contribution of her life.

“They will look handsome,” said Mrs. Weston. “I declare it was real
thoughtful in you to bring them. Why, for goodness’ sake! How many did
ye bring?” as Reuben arrived with basket after basket, which he placed
in a row upon the table, and then commenced to make another row upon the
swing table on the opposite side of the room.

“I’ve no idee how many there is,” said Mrs. Jenks. “Reuben an’ I
commenced rubbin’ and polishin’ ’em right after breakfast, and we never
stopped rubbin’ ’til we was ready to start. Then we packed in the
baskets, and here we be.”

Meanwhile the neighbors had removed bonnets and shawls, and three
energetic housekeepers, with the help of Randy and little Prue,
succeeded in “keeping things moving,” as Mrs. Jenks had expressed it.

Suddenly, Jotham Potts’s dark face peeped in at the door, with, “Say,
Mrs. Weston, I’m a master hand at chopping, so any time I can help, just
give me a chopping knife and tray, and I’ll work like a major.”

“I’ll bear ye in mind, and call ye when I want ye,” answered Mrs.
Weston, and Prue rushed to the door to offer him a handful of raisins,
saying, “I give them to you, Jotham, ’cause you’re the biggest and the
nicest boy I know.”

“Thank you, pussy. Hey! where are you now?” and he swung the child
lightly up on his shoulder.

“May I go with Jotham ’stead of picking any more raisins?”

“Yes, run along,” said her mother, glad to have her in the care of some
one whom she could trust to keep her out of mischief.

So busily did every one work that by Wednesday night the cooking for the
spread was completed. Old and young had helped with a will to make the
evening a success, and at last Thursday arrived, although Prue confided
to Randy that she “b’lieved it never would.”

When the final decorations for the apple-bee were in place, everything
needed for the sumptuous spread ready, there was absolutely nothing to
do but wait patiently for the evening to come.

The apples were to be cut, cored, and strung in the kitchen, the spread
was to be in the “settin’ room,” and all the rooms were decorated so
gayly that they appeared festive indeed. Randy had decorated the “best
room,” making it gay with branches of autumn leaves, in gorgeous colors,
and sprays of scarlet privet berries.

The Babson girls had had a bright idea in regard to trimming the
“settin’ room.”

“What’s the reason we can’t tie the corn husks together at the tip ends,
and keep on tying ’til we get enough to go around the room, and then
hang up the long string of ears and husks just above the pictures?”
queried Belinda Babson.

“Oh, Belinda!” screamed Randy, “that’s such a bright idea, what ever
made you think of it?”

“I just did think of it, that’s all,” said Belinda, much pleased that
her design for decoration met with approval. So the girls rushed out to
the barn to find Mr. Weston and ask permission to use the corn.

“Land, yes,” he said when approached, “use anything within reach, I say,
so long as it helps to make the house look pooty;” so, laughing gayly,
the girls filled their aprons with corn, and running to the house
commenced, in furious haste, to tie the husks together.

All the young friends had called that morning in a body to offer their
help to Randy, and she had most gladly accepted it.

While the girls were tying the corn husks, Jotham Potts and Reuben Jenks
were making themselves very useful, for by this time the girls had
discovered that it required a great many ears of corn with which to
garland or festoon the room. The boys brought the corn in wheelbarrow
loads and then offered to help do the tying.

“Oh, boys couldn’t do this,” said Phœbe Small, who was much piqued to
see that whenever Jotham sat down to rest, he sat near Randy.

“That’s one of your pleasant speeches, Phœbe,” said Reuben Jenks, before
his friend Jotham could reply; whereat Phœbe tied a hard knot in a corn
husk with such unnecessary vim that it broke.

Reuben laughed slyly; and Randy with her usual kindness, appearing not
to notice the tilt, praised Phœbe’s pretty arrangement of red and yellow
ears, and thus smoothed “ruffled feathers.”

Jotham looked at Randy with real admiration. “I b’lieve she always does
the right thing,” thought the boy; so Phœbe’s spite only strengthened
the admiration of Randy’s young cavalier.

“I think I’ve got a first-rate notion for decorating,” said Jotham, “and
if you’ll let me and Reuben do it I tell you we can make that front walk
as light as day, and as handsome as a picture for to-night, Randy,” and
Jotham looked at the girl with eyes that sparkled with enthusiasm.

“Of course I’ll let you do it, if it’s fine,” said Randy.

“Now you needn’t ask questions, for it’s a secret; and Reuben an’ me’ll
do it, without telling anybody but your pa,” said Jotham, and out rushed
the boys to hold a whispered conclave on the back stairs.

“My, won’t that be prime!” ejaculated Reuben, amazed at the brilliancy
of Jotham’s plan, and proud to be taken into a secret by a boy three
years older than himself.

Mr. Weston laughed long and loudly when the boys unfolded their plan,
and declared that he’d do his part of it now. Accordingly, he soon
appeared in the path which led from the road to the door, and began to
drive long stakes into the ground on either side of the walk.

“What are you doing, father?” called Randy.

“Drivin’ stakes, ain’t I?” he responded, and with that she was obliged
to be contented. The boys were out of sight, and the girls wondered what
they were doing; but when at night a line of brilliant lights glowed on
each side of the walk, they willingly declared the decoration a success.

Mr. Weston had driven the stakes quite near together and every one was
capped with a jack-o’-lantern made from a great golden pumpkin, so that,
from road to doorway, a line of grinning goblins served to give a
flaming welcome.

At last everything was in readiness and the guests began to arrive.
Reuben’s mother had listened with much interest to the boy’s scheme, and
had insisted on donating all the pumpkins required.

And now the wagons began to arrive, and great praise was bestowed upon
the boys for their novel lighting of the walk. The pumpkins made very
fine lamps, and one giant of its kind, fastened high above the door,
smiled broadly upon each new arrival.

Team after team drove up to the door, and shouts and laughter rang out
on the crisp evening air as the guests first saw the gleaming lantern
rows.

At last nearly every one had arrived, and the rooms were bright with
happy faces. In one corner a group of old ladies were chatting about the
bees and huskings which they had enjoyed in their youth.

The farmers and their wives were buzzing away over the latest bit of
village gossip, the women telling it as they “b’lieved it was,” and the
men using convincing arguments to show that they had heard it “straight”
at the store at the four corners.

Girls and boys tried to out-talk each other, and everywhere the children
ran in and out, playing “hide-and-seek” behind the sturdy forms of their
elders.

Helen had coaxed Randy to refrain from brushing back every curling lock,
telling her that her hair was made to curl; and thus convinced, Randy
appeared at the bee with a soft fluff of her light brown hair making a
halo about her face.

“I must say Miss Dayton’s right; I like the looks of it,” said Mrs.
Weston, when Randy appeared before her with her hair dressed in the
manner which Miss Dayton had suggested; so with much impatience Randy
waited to see the look of approval on Helen’s face when she should
arrive. And others were looking for Helen in whose honor this festival
was planned.

At last a resounding “Whoa! Be still, can’t ye?” announced the arrival
of old Sandy McLeod, and great was the surprise when, as Randy opened
the door, Helen—smiling, radiant Helen—came in, saying, “Good evening,
friends,” and followed by her ancient cavalier, old Sandy.

“The lass is late because too many lads wanted to bring her,” said
Sandy, his old eyes twinkling.

“That is true,” said Helen, laughing, “too many lads, so I gave my
choice to the eldest. Now for my bundle,” and stepping out into the
centre of the room Sandy showed, for the first time, that he held a
large parcel.

“I have a little surprise for you, dear friends,” said Helen; “I wished
to offer my mite toward the evening’s pleasure, so I will ask Mrs.
Weston to allow Mr. McLeod—”

“Call me Sandy, lass,” said the old man, gently.

“To allow Sandy,” corrected the girl, “to place this box on the centre
of the supper table, to be opened when we are all seated around the
spread.”

So the big box held its place of honor, and great was the curiosity
concerning it.

The children now commenced to play “the needle’s eye,” an old game
popular among the country children, which is very similar to “London
Bridge.”

  “The needle’s eye it doth comply
  With the thread which runs so true.
  It has caught many a very fine lass,
  And now it has caught you.”

Little Hitty Buffum found herself a prisoner. However, she was soon
kissed and released, and through the arch formed by clasped hands and
uplifted arms trooped the children, keeping time to the sing-song chant
of the queer verse. They saw nothing funny in the verse, however, and
played the game with great enthusiasm.

Meanwhile the apples were being pared by industrious hands and soon the
“stringing” began. Merrily the work went on with jokes and lively
chatter, and before it seemed possible the task was completed.

The boys now gathered up the parings, carried them away, and once more
the room was in order.

“Now, friends,” said Randy’s father, “let’s all have supper.” No one
waited for a second invitation, and a cheery, happy party made a
complete circle around the long table. What a spread that was! Hot baked
beans and brown bread, mince pies, pumpkin pies, gingerbread and
doughnuts, nuts and apples, made a “treat for a king,” said old Sandy
McLeod.

“Now, Mr. Weston,” said Helen, “please open my box;” and when the cover
was removed a chorus of “Ohs” and “Ahs” greeted the sight disclosed.
Helen had sent to Boston for an immense box of bonbons, and to those
simple country people, who knew naught but home-made confections, the
rose and violet tinted dainties looked like a fairy gift. But if they
were unacquainted with such candies, it took a fabulously short time to
learn to like them, and soon the bottom of the box appeared.

Happy Helen, to have given so much pleasure! And now the table which had
been so bountifully spread was beginning to look bare, for everybody had
had a most excellent appetite, and had done full justice to the meal.
The chairs were pushed back and old Sandy asked to have a bit of music.
“The little lassies who sang the other night, canna they sing?” said he,
looking kindly at Prue and Katie, who were playing “bean porridge hot”
together.

“Ain’t any pi-ano here,” said Katie.

“Never mind that,” said Helen; “I think if you and Prue sing the little
songs which you sang the other evening so sweetly, Sandy will, in
return, make some music for you.”

“That I will,” responded the old man, heartily; “but there’s naught so
blithe as the sound of a bairnie’s voice.”

So wee Katie was mounted upon a chair, in lieu of a platform, and she
sang the little solo, “Once there was a little mouse,” giving all the
verses, and even remembering to make a little bow as Helen had taught
her. Indeed, she bowed so vigorously that she barely escaped losing her
balance. Then she hopped down, and little Prue sprang up in her place,
singing, “Sometimes I am a daisy bloom,” just as she had sung it at Mrs.
Gray’s on the evening of the tableaux. When she had finished the last
lines,

  “And next to those I love the best
  I love each one of you,”

she kissed her little finger tips to her admiring audience, as Helen had
taught her to do.

Every one applauded, and old Sandy called the children to him, saying,
“I’ll make the music for ye now, I wad na hae the heart to refuse,” and
rising hastily he left the room. Every one was surprised at this abrupt
movement and wondered if the childish voice had moved him too deeply,
awakening the memories of his Scottish home and friends.

Silent he had ever been in regard to home and kindred, answering
questions in a manner which invited no further queries; but since
Helen’s stay in the village he had warmed wonderfully toward his
neighbors, and seemed quite unlike the silent old man whom they had
known.

But while they were wondering about his absence, Sandy reappeared. What
a change! Arrayed in all the bravery of a Scottish chieftain, old Sandy
stood before them, a picture indeed.

Over a kilt of tartan he wore the red coat and plaid, and on his head,
crowning his white locks, sat a genuine Scotch “bonnet,” with an eagle
feather black as night. In his hands he carried the bagpipes, and while
the children stared, open-mouthed, Sandy commenced to play. “Scots Wha
Hae” rang out with a wonderful skirl, followed by “Bonnie Prince
Charlie,” “Jock o’ Hazeldean,” and a half dozen more, until old Nathan
Lawton declared that there was no keeping still with such music, and
when at his request the pipes commenced to play a rollicking reel, old
Nathan remarked that he used to cut “pigeon wings” and he guessed he
could now, took his position in the centre of the floor, and proceeded
to cut them in a wonderful manner.

If the children were delighted, so were their elders, for was this not a
treat of which they had not dreamed? and, best of all, two old people
who had been so cold and forbidding now were warmed and charmed into a
friendly feeling with all their neighbors.

When Sandy and Nathan Lawton stopped to rest and regain their breath,
the young people crowded around them to thank them and to examine the
fine Scotch costume which Sandy wore.

“That’s a pretty dress and jacket,” said little Prue, admiringly, “and
you’ve got such a long sash, too.”

The child’s admiration for his costume pleased the old man, and it was
of small consequence to him that she called his kilt a dress. Lifting
Prue upon his knee, he stroked her short fair curls, telling her how
like the little lass she was who used to be his playmate in bonnie
Scotland.

[Illustration: “‘Why don’t you send the Little Girl a Letter?’”]

“Is she big as me?” asked the little girl, all unmindful that Sandy’s
child mate had had many years in which to grow.

A moment the old man hesitated, then, very gently, he told the child
upon his knee of that other child away in bonnie Scotland; told her that
when his little mate was a child, he had been a child too; that he had
known her all his young life; that she had grown old as he had, and
now—but here he paused, and practical little Prue, looking up at him,
asked, “Is it far to Scotland?” Sandy told her that it was very far
indeed.

“Too far to send letters?” was the next question.

“No,” he assured her; “it was not as far as that.”

“Then why don’t you send the little girl a letter?” questioned Prue.

Those who had heard the question were fearful that the old Scotchman
would be displeased.

For a moment a look of amazement rested on Sandy’s face as he stared at
the innocent questioner; then, as with an effort, he said, “I will,
little lass, I will.”

“I would,” said little Prue, “and tell her there’s another little girl,
what you know, sends her love to her, will you, Sandy?”

“Bless the bairn! Ye hae mair wisdom than ye ken;” adding under his
breath, “a deal mair wisdom than Sandy McLeod.”

It was Helen, who, while walking by his house, had heard Sandy playing
the pipes ever so softly, and looking in, had seen him playing, and, at
the same time, looking lovingly at the old Scotch costume as it lay
spread out upon the wooden chest in which it was usually kept. She had
coaxed a part of his story from him that day, and he had declared he
felt better for the telling.

The costume was one which his father had worn as chief of his clan when
Sandy was a young man. There had been a dispute in which he and his
father had been equally obstinate.

When the old man died, Sandy had left Scotland, taking with him the suit
of tartan, the bagpipes, and, dearer than all, a letter in which his
father forgave him for his part in the dispute. Further than this he
refused to talk, saying nothing whatever as to living kinsmen or
friends.

Having told a part of his story to Helen, to which she listened with
ready interest and sympathy, it needed but a hit of judicious coaxing to
get him to promise to play at the apple-bee.

And now the gayety, which had lulled while every one had listened to the
music, revived, and each one present seemed to be trying his best to
out-talk his neighbor.

“Isn’t Miss Dayton’s blue dress the very handsomest dress you ever saw?”
said Jemima Babson.

“Yes, and isn’t she the handsomest person you ever saw in _any_ dress?”
said Phœbe Small, looking sharply at Randy, who was looking unusually
pretty with her hair dressed to show its curls and ripples.

“Miss Dayton’s splendid, we all know that,” said Jotham, blushing
furiously; “but it don’t make it out that Randy Weston isn’t amazing
pretty.”

And here another voice chimed in, “Did yer ever taste anything like that
candy in yer life?”

“It was just splendid, and I do b’lieve—”

“Have ye noticed Mrs. Jenks? I do declare, she’s as much different from
what she used ter be as possible. Why, she sent them fine apples, and
gave the hull of them pumpkins, and—”

Just at this point Mrs. Buffum ejaculated, “Well, as I live! ef it ain’t
half-past ten o’clock,” and she commenced at once to collect her brood.
All were loath to leave the joyous scene, but the lateness of the hour
made it imperative. Some one proposed a song before saying good night,
and soon old and young voices chimed sweetly together as they sang:—

  “All the year round, all the year round,
  What are the seasons to you or to me?
  Summer may go, bleak winds may blow,
  Roses crown winter if cheery we be.
  Sounds of the glad spring, pleasures the birds bring,
  These live in loving hearts where’er they’re found;
  Sweet is the May time, sweet is the hay time,
  So sweet are loving lips, all the year round.”

“Hooray for the apple-bee! Hooray for Miss Dayton!” shouted Reuben
Jenks, “Hooray for the bagpipes and the dance!” Every one cheered, and
Jotham, laughing at his friend’s enthusiasm, shouted, “Hooray for every
one and everything!” and they even cheered that; so, laughing and
cheering, with lively chatter and snatches of song, wraps were donned
and good nights said.

After the last guest had departed, Randy turned from the doorway, and
going back into the house she sat down opposite her father, a happy
smile upon her lips.

“Well, Randy,” said her father, kindly, as he saw she had something to
say.

“Oh, father,” she said, “doesn’t it make you happy to see every one
having a good time?”

“Yes, indeed, it does,” said father and mother together.

“I mean to try always to make people happy,” said Randy.

“So do I,” said little Prue; “but now let’s go to bed.”

Randy laughed, and saying, “You’ve done bravely, Prue, to keep your eyes
open to-night,” led her little sister up the stairs to their tiny
chamber, where soon they were fast asleep.

The Babson girls talked until after midnight over the evening’s
entertainment, declaring it to be the “very greatest bee they ever went
to.”

Phœbe Small, having no sister to talk it over with, kept the candle
burning until late that night, while she wrote in her diary a lengthy
description of the event. Phœbe had heard her mother tell of keeping a
diary when she was young, so, of course, Phœbe, who ardently admired her
mother, immediately commenced to keep one.

Old Sandy McLeod, as he gallantly helped Helen Dayton to alight at Mrs.
Gray’s door, thanked her over and over again for the pleasure she had
given him in allowing him to be her escort, telling her that he was glad
enough that she had urged him to play the pipes, since the music had
given such pleasure; adding, “Old Nathan and old Sandy hae’ na been the
best of friends and neighbors, but to-night we hae shaken hands an’
we’re to be friends forever.”

“Oh, I’m so glad,” said Helen.

“And ane thing mair, lass,” he interrupted, “about that letter the
little lass was talking of, I’ll write it to-night!”

“It is late, now,” said Helen.

“None too late to write. I’ll do it to-night and sen’ it to-morrow, as
sure as I’m Sandy McLeod.”

True to his word, Sandy sat at his table until late into the night,
writing a long, long letter. The candle flickered as his hand moved back
and forth across the pages.

Many times he paused while writing, and with his head resting upon his
hand, he seemed to be thinking how best to express himself, so that his
message might find favor with his old friend and playmate.

At last, apparently, the letter was completed satisfactorily; for as the
old man arose from the table, a faint smile flitted across his face.

Crossing the room to the old chest by the window, he fumbled about until
he brought from its depths a little package; then, walking to the table,
he placed the tiny parcel between the folded pages of the letter, put
the letter into its envelope, and with utmost care addressed it, reading
the address over three times to make sure that it was correct. Under his
pillow he placed the letter, saying, “With the light o’ day I’ll start
ye on the journey.” And of all the merry party who laughed and sang away
the hours at the apple-bee, not one possessed a happier heart than
Sandy.

And Helen murmured, softly, as she lay half awake and half asleep,
“Every one was happy to-night.”



CHAPTER XI—AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR


The sun rose in golden splendor one morning to find that a curtain of
purple haze prevented his sunship from showing all his dazzling glory.

It was indeed a typical October morning in New England. For a time the
haze prevailed, holding her own bravely against the sun, who struggled
for supremacy; but at last he rose triumphant, the mist softly melting
away beneath his warm rays.

How fair and tall the slender birches looked as the bright rays gilded
their white trunks! How cool and deep the little pool which reflected
the birches and brakes which overhung its edge; and far away across the
field a great black crow flew, cawing as he winged his way, then perched
upon a slender twig which swayed beneath his weight. Tiny sparrows
twittered and chirped as they hopped about among the dried weeds,
searching among the seed vessels for a possible breakfast.

Truly, all things were beautiful that morning; and Randy, from her
chamber window, looked out upon the lovely scene, and on her face a
smile and tear appeared,—a smile on the sweet lips in memory of the
summer’s pleasure; a tear at the thought of Helen’s departure.

“It has been the nicest summer I have ever known,” mused Randy, softly.
“Everything has looked prettier since she taught me how to look at
things. How sweetly she thanked me for the rose I cut for her without
spilling one of the dewdrops. ’Twas only a little thing, yet she thanked
me as if the dewdrops were diamonds. Why, she just made me wild to find
something to give to every one, if giving made such pleasure. I remember
that I said I often wished I had more to give, and she showed me, oh, so
plainly, that a smile or a pleasant word was worth the giving that I
felt at once as if I were rich; for any one can say a pleasant word and
all of us can smile. Oh, she’s done us ‘a world of good,’ as the
parson’s wife said.”

While Randy dreamed at her window, Helen stood in the doorway at Mrs.
Gray’s, and she, too, was thinking of the summer so happily spent.

Soon she would be at home, and in a few months the winter season would
bring a round of social engagements.

Why had the days so quietly spent seemed so charming? What was the
secret of their charm? Happy she had been,—very, very happy,—and so
swiftly had the weeks sped that it seemed impossible that October had
arrived. She had chosen to spend the summer, contrary to her usual
custom, in a little country village, with no other thought than that in
such a place she could be sure of rest and quiet.

She was a girl of generous impulses, and after becoming acquainted with
the people of the neighborhood of the Gray homestead, many an
opportunity for a gracious word or a generous action presented itself.
How gently and with what ready tact she had made herself a friend to
young and old, was proven by the genuine regret manifested whenever her
departure was mentioned.

Helen had a host of friends of whom to take leave, and all were charmed
and gladdened to hear that they would see her sweet face again sometime
during the winter. She had called to see old Sandy once more before her
departure, and he had had a wonderful bit of news to tell.

The letter which he had written after his return from the apple-bee he
had posted early on the following morning. It was addressed to Miss
Margaret McLean, and Sandy explained that, as her father had been a
prominent manufacturer in the little Scottish town in which they had
lived for years, holding large business interests and owning a number of
mills which bore his name, the daughter, his only child, must be well
known there; so he had trusted that the letter, written after so many
years’ delay, might be promptly delivered.

Strangely enough, it had never occurred to Sandy to wonder if his old
playmate were still living. To his great joy, an answer to the letter
came sooner than he had expected. She was still waiting for him, she
said, as she had ever waited, hoping that the time would come when he
would forgive her for teasing him,—it had been but a girlish freak,—and
tell her that he loved her as of old.

Her father had lost much of his money before he died, but she had a “bit
of property,” she said, and she had sold her little cottage and would
leave on the next steamer for America. She would bring with her a little
Scotch lass, an orphan whom she had befriended and trained to be a
little maid-servant; and, insisting that Sandy should meet her and go at
once to some kirk to be married, she closed her letter with love to
Sandy and a blessing for Helen and the wee lass, Prue. To Helen’s
congratulations he would only say, “It’s your doing, lass, yours and the
bairnie’s.”

Sandy confided to Helen that he had been afraid that Margaret might
doubt that he and the Sandy McLeod of her youth were one and the same;
but, he added: “I had a proof, I had a proof, lass! I had a lock o’ her
bonnie hair tied wi’ a knot o’ blue ribbon. I knew she’d na forget
gi’en’ it to me, and I put it in the letter.”

“That was clever,” said Helen.

“An’ she said she’d bring it back wi’ her when she sailed for America,”
added the old Scotchman, joyously; and Helen left him happy in the
thought that although her farewell saddened him, there soon would be a
dearer friend to greet him.

Farmer Gray had driven to the village early that morning, and when he
returned he greeted Helen cheerily, at the same time handing her a
letter, saying, “I hope it is full of good news, Miss Dayton.”

It proved to be a letter from her aunt, urging Helen to start at once
for home, as an uncle who had not seen her since she was a very little
girl was making a short stay in Boston, and wished very much to see his
niece before he returned to his home in a western city.

“I am proud of you, Helen, as you know,” wrote the dear old lady, “and I
so earnestly wish Robert to see you that I wish you would start as soon
as you receive this letter.”

Helen left for Boston early that morning, asking Mrs. Gray to tell Randy
that she would write to her as soon as she reached home. Helen’s
departure was only a day earlier than she had intended, yet she
regretted to leave in such haste. She had wished to bid Randy and dear
little Prue an affectionate good-by and reiterate her promise of a
flying visit sometime during the winter months.

As she sat looking out of the car window and watched the little town
receding, she thought of Randy’s sweet face, and like a vision it
appeared before her with grieved eyes and quivering lips, just as she
knew the girl would look when Mrs. Gray told her of her friend’s
departure. Then a bright thought occurred to her, and a happy smile
played about her lips.

Opening her little bag she took from it a block of paper, such as she
had used for memoranda, and with a pencil she commenced a note to Randy.
She would obtain an envelope and stamp as soon as she reached Boston.
Helen possessed a merry wit, and leaf after leaf of the little block she
filled with a breezy account of her journey. She described at length the
man with three immense leather bags, who tried in vain to walk down the
aisle with all that baggage, and was at last compelled to make three
separate trips; the old lady with a box containing a cat which mewed
dismally all the way; the woman with four children, who seemed to have
an endless supply of lunches, yet cried for more; the boy peddling prize
candy, and any number of small happenings.

The writing served to make the long ride less tedious, and she knew that
the letter would make Randy smile through her tears.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When Randy and Prue appeared at breakfast time they were amazed to find
Aunt Prudence at the table.

“Why, when did you come?” questioned Prue, abruptly, staring at her aunt
as if that lady had been an apparition instead of a very tangible
reality.

“I came last night, after you children was in bed,” said Aunt Prudence,
“and I guess your father was ’bout as s’prised as you be.”

“Wal’, I guess I was,” said Mr. Weston. “Ye was the last person I
expected to see when I stopped near the depot to talk with neighbor
Gray, but I was jest as glad to see ye as ef ye’d sent word ye was
comin’.”

Mrs. Weston also hastened to assure her that her unexpected arrival was
a pleasant surprise, but the children could not say a word. Prue was
filled with a dread of Aunt Prudence’s sharp eyes, which would be sure
to detect any sign of plotted mischief; and Randy, knowing Prue’s
intense dislike of supervision, realized that careful watching,
amounting almost to strategy, would be necessary to keep the little girl
from vexing Aunt Prudence, thereby actually showing her how intensely
she disliked her.

Although the morning hours were fully occupied, Randy was aware of a
subtle sense of change in Aunt Prudence. She looked as angular and
austere as before, but her voice seemed less shrill, and her sharp eyes
behind her glasses looked out with a softened light.

“Perhaps we didn’t really know her before,” said Randy to Prue.

“P’r’aps maybe we didn’t,” answered Prue. “She calls me Prudence same’s
she did before, but she says it diffe’nt.”

“That’s it,” said Randy, “her voice is pleasanter.”

“And her eyes isn’t always looking at me, so I don’t darest to move,”
said Prue.

Randy turned away quickly, that Prue need not see her laughing. The idea
that any one could prevent her little sister from indulging in almost
perpetual motion, seemed utterly funny to her.

Half an hour later Randy chanced to hear Prue talking to Tabby, just
under the kitchen window.

“Now, Tabby,” she was saying, “if you lie real still while I drag you
’round, you’ll get a lovely ride and nobody’ll ever know it; but if you
squirm and act naughty, I’ll put the basket right back in Aunt
Prudence’s room, and I won’t give you any ride at all.”

Randy waited to hear no more, for upon looking out over the wide
window-sill she espied naughty little Prue dragging Miss Prudence’s best
cap basket around the dooryard. She had made Tabby lie in the basket,
then pressing down the cover she had fastened the little straw loop and
thus locked Tabby into a very close carriage. Out rushed Randy, to
rescue Tabby and the pretty basket at the same time.

“What makes you think to do such naughty things, Prue Weston?” said
indignant Randy; “don’t you know you’re plaguing Tabby and Aunt Prudence
at the same time?”

“Tabby likes to ride,” asserted Prue, “and I don’t care if I do plague—”
but the mischievous little elf did not finish the sentence, for on
looking up, there stood Aunt Prudence in the doorway.

Randy’s face was suffused with hot blushes, and Prue, naughty little
Prue, looked completely abashed.

Aunt Prudence was the first to speak. “Bring my basket to me,” said she,
abruptly, but not unkindly.

Slowly Prue unfastened the cover of the pretty, round cap basket, and
with even more moderation Tabby stepped out, stopping to yawn and
stretch while her hind legs were still in the basket.

Prue stooped and energetically lifted her out upon the ground. Randy
watched Aunt Prudence while Prue walked very slowly toward her, the
forefinger of her left hand in her mouth, while with the right hand she
reluctantly handed the basket to its owner.

Did Aunt Prudence smile? Randy thought she espied a twinkle in the sharp
eyes behind the glasses.

“Now,” said Aunt Prudence, “s’pose you come into my room while I show
you something worth looking at.”

Into the house, slowly following Aunt Prudence, went Prue and Randy,
filled with mingled curiosity and dread of the thing which they were
soon to see.

Aunt Prudence bent over her little hair-covered trunk, lifting aside
this parcel and that until, oh, could it be true, a cunning little
wooden cradle, painted bright red, made Prue utter a shrill cry of
delight.

“Oh! oh! is it for me?” cried Prue. “Oh, I am so sorry I was naughty!”

Aunt Prudence put the cradle into Prue’s chubby hands, who at once held
it up for Randy to admire.

“It’s a beauty,” said Randy. “Oh, Prue, you’d ought to be good now.”

“I will,” said Prue; then, turning to Aunt Prudence, she said, “I guess
I almost love you now, and I won’t ever plague you.”

“Well, I guess my basket ain’t hurt much this time; but don’t borry it
again, child. I guess the cradle will ’bout fit Tabby.”

“Oh, I do b’lieve it will! I’ll go and ‘medjure’ her in it,” said Prue,
and away she scampered in search of her kitty.

Left alone with her aunt, Randy hesitated a moment, then venturing a
step nearer, she said, “I think you were very good to give the pretty
cradle to Prue just when she’d been so naughty; but,” added Randy, as
usual anxious to shield her little sister, “she isn’t always naughty,
and now I’m ’most sure she’ll try to please you.” She looked up
wistfully, hoping for a kindly word for Prue whom she loved so dearly.

“Children will be children,” said Aunt Prudence, with a grim smile. “I
guess she’s no wuss’n the average.”

“Father says you never had days of being naughty when you were a little
girl, so I should think Prue’d seem extra naughty to you,” said Randy,
slowly moving the toe of her shoe back and forth along the cracks in the
floor. As she glanced shyly at her aunt, hoping for one more consoling
word in regard to Prue, she was much surprised and relieved to see Aunt
Prudence actually smiling.

“I guess your father’s forgot about the time I threw his hat down the
well to see if it would float.”

“Did _you_ do that?” asked Randy, in surprise.

“Yes,” said Aunt Prudence, “and what’s more, I did it on purpose to
plague him. He was goin’ fishin’, and I wanted to go, too. He said girls
wus no good at fishin’ and went to the shed to get his rod and line,
whistlin’ in a way that provoked me. His hat was on the grass near where
I was standing, and, quick as a flash, I snatched it up and threw it
down the well, thinkin’ it would delay his fishin’ trip for one while.
It didn’t, though. He went bare-headed; and soon’s ’twas found out what
I’d done, I got punished for spoilin’ his hat. Yes, your father
remembers my good days, an’ it’s just like him to forget that I ever had
naughty ones. But, Randy,” she said abruptly, “ye don’t ask if I brought
anything in my trunk for you.”

“Why, I never thought of it,” said Randy.

“Like enough,” said Aunt Prudence; “it seems to me ye nearly always
think of somebody besides yourself, Randy. I must say, I approve of ye.
Yer father, every time he writes me, has something ter tell of you
children; and now you jest help me unpack my trunk, an’ I’ll show ye
something that, ef I ain’t mistaken, will please ye mightily.”

“Indeed, I’ll help you. I’ll like to,” said Randy, and soon the contents
of the trunk were spread upon the bed. Those garments which could be
hung up were placed upon hooks in the closet, and other articles were
neatly folded in the bureau drawers. One puffy-looking package remained;
this Aunt Prudence placed in Randy’s hands, saying, “There, Randy,
there’s the material for making some Christmas presents; and if it makes
ye happy, I’ll be glad of it.”

Very eagerly Randy untied the parcel, and uttered a little cry of
delight when the open wrapping disclosed some beautiful colored worsteds
of various hues.

“I’ll teach ye ter knit while I’m here,” said Aunt Prudence. “And now
the evenings are beginning to be cool, ye might begin ter make a pretty
little shawl for yer mother out of that deep red worsted; I guess
there’s enough of it. That blue yarn will make some mittens for little
Prudence, and the rest of it ye can do what ye like with.”

Randy’s delight knew no bounds, and she could hardly wait to hunt for
needles and have her first lesson in knitting.

That night, in their little chamber under the eaves, the children talked
of Aunt Prudence.

“I always said Aunt Prudence might be nice, if we really knew her,” said
Randy.

“Yes,” said Prue, “you said that when she was here before, I ’member it;
but, Randy,” she added, “that was when I was a little girl.”

Randy stifled a laugh, “Why, Prue, what are you now?” said she.

“Now, Randy, you do know you medjured me last Saturday, and you said I’d
growed most a inch.”

“Well, so you have,” said Randy, gently, “and it’s likely you’ll grow a
lot more this winter.”

“Course I will,” said Prue, “and, oh, Randy, mustn’t Aunt Prudence have
growed awful fast when she was a little girl? Just think how big she is
now! She’s growed good awful fast, too, Randy,” she continued, “for she
wouldn’t have gived me that little cradle for anything the last time she
was here, would she, Randy?”

Randy ignored this question.

“We ought to be going to sleep, Prue,” she said; “but I’ll tell you
something first: I mean to be just as nice to Aunt Prudence as I can,
while she stays here.”

“So do I,” said little Prue. “I told her to-day when her needle plagued
her, I told her I’d fred all her needles when she was sewing, and you’d
never guess what she said, Randy. She said I was a good little girl,—she
did, truly.”

The patter of raindrops on the roof soon lulled the children to sleep,
and in their dreams Aunt Prudence figured as the Goddess of Plenty,
distributing gifts with lavish hands.



CHAPTER XII—A WEDDING FEAST


Sunday morning Randy and Prue were early at church, and as they leaned
back against the pew, in expectation of one of Parson Spooner’s long
sermons, Randy put her hand in her pocket and lovingly caressed a square
envelope which she had placed there before starting for church.

“Got any candy in your pocket, Randy?” eagerly questioned Prue, as she
leaned toward her sister. Randy shook her head.

“Didn’t Jotham give you some when he speaked to you at the door?” she
asked in such a loud whisper that Randy ejaculated “sh-sh,” and again
shook her head.

“Then what’s in your pocket?” persisted Prue.

Randy drew Helen’s precious letter from her pocket, showing just enough
of the envelope to satisfy Prue’s curiosity. Then the little girl took a
hymn book from the rack, and with her wee forefinger commenced to point
out, and at the same time name those letters which she knew. She found
every O upon the page, then every S, and Randy thought best to let her
thus amuse herself as, at least, she was quiet—a most unusual thing.

Helen had mailed the letter at once upon reaching Boston, and Mr. Weston
had brought it from the village on the following day and placed it in
Randy’s hand as she sat listening to Mrs. Gray, who had called to
deliver Helen’s message.

“A letter for me, father?” questioned Randy in surprise. “Why, who’s it
from?”

Mr. Weston laughed. “Shouldn’t wonder if ye had to open it to find out,
Randy,” said he.

Randy opened it and laughed with delight when she found it was from
Helen. She had read it three times and had taken it to church with her,
because she said she “just couldn’t leave it at home.”

So Sunday morning Randy kept her mind upon the sermon, and her hand upon
the letter. The sermon had been less lengthy than usual, and when the
good old pastor had closed the Bible, he removed his spectacles; and as
he slowly wiped them, he said: “Dear friends, I have a notice to give
to-day, or perhaps I should say an invitation, and there could be no
better time or place for what I have to say.

“A quiet wedding ceremony took place at a little church in New York
City, the contracting parties being our friend and neighbor, Mr. Sandy
McLeod,—or, as the papers have it, Alexander McLeod,—and Miss Margaret
McLean of Scotland, an old playmate and friend, from whom our friend has
been separated many years. I have received a delightful letter from him
in which I am asked to make this announcement, and to say that they will
be at home on Wednesday evening. They extend an invitation to all the
good people of this town to be present, and an especially urgent request
that all the children be there.”

What a stir that announcement made! What a great event!

Sandy’s farm was one of the finest in the neighborhood, and his house
the largest and most substantial in the place; but Helen and Parson
Spooner were the only people who had ever entered it, save Sandy himself
and the men who worked for him.

Fabulous tales the men had told of the fine things which the house
contained; so curiosity was rife regarding it, and now every one, even
the little ones of the parish, were bidden welcome.

After church Randy stopped a moment to speak to the Babson girls and
Phœbe Small, to tell them of the letter from Helen, promising to read it
to them if they would call on Monday afternoon.

The girls promised, saying, “You can read us the letter, and then we’ll
talk over the party, or whatever it is to be, at Sandy McLeod’s.”

Promptly, on Monday afternoon, the girls arrived, and the letter was
produced and read. How they laughed at Helen’s bright description of the
events of her homeward journey. Phœbe Small felt that in receiving the
letter Randy had been especially favored. A little twinge of jealousy
caused her to part her lips to make a sharp little speech; but,
remembering a promise to Helen, and her own resolution, she said
pleasantly, “You must have been pleased to receive it, Randy; I’m glad
she wrote it to you.”

It was so unlike her usual remarks that the Babson girls looked at each
other; but Randy slipped her arm around Phœbe as they stood by the
window, and Phœbe felt rewarded.

They talked earnestly over the event of Wednesday evening, and all were
enthusiastically expectant.

As the afternoon waned, the girls took leave of Randy, looking back as
they went down the road to call to her, “We’ll see you Wednesday night.”

Wednesday proved to be a lovely day, and the evening sky was bright with
stars, the air cold and crisp when the merry party drove up to Sandy’s
door. As no one wished to be the first to arrive, a large party met at
Mrs. Weston’s house and together they drove to the McLeod farm.

The large house was ablaze with lights, and as the teams stopped, the
door was opened wide and a cheery voice shouted, “It’s glad we are to
see ye, friends, come in, come in,” and Sandy led the way proudly to a
silver-haired little woman, who stood waiting to greet her husband’s
friends and neighbors.

Such a sweet-faced little woman, who had a gentle, gracious word for
every new friend, and a kiss for each one of the children.

When Sandy brought Prue to her, saying, “This is the little lass,
Margaret, wha said ‘write the letter,’” she took the child upon her lap
and put her arms about her, saying, “Bless the bairn, will ye come
sometimes to see me? it wad gae me much pleasure.”

“Oh, yes, I will come,” answered Prue, “if I may bring Randy. She’s my
big sister, and there’s no one like her anywhere.”

Prue was assured that Randy would be more than welcome. Every one was
charmed with the gentle little Scotch woman, who seemed equally pleased
with her new friends.

They sometimes found it a bit difficult to understand her. Sandy had
been so long in America, and had tried so earnestly to be like his
neighbors, that he expressed himself in very good English, with here and
there a bit of his old dialect appearing. His wife, however, had lived
in a little town some miles distant from the city, and used many words
which, while in common use in the Scottish village, were utterly unknown
to her new friends. But her manner could not be misunderstood. It was
unmistakably the manner of a gentle, lovely character, bearing good-will
to all.

[Illustration: “At the Head of a Long Table stood Helen Dayton”]

The hum of conversation rose to a din as the young people laughed and
chatted. All had been admiring the furnishings, which were indeed
charming. There were some quaint old chairs which had belonged to
Sandy’s father; a large family portrait hung on the wall above the
fireplace; some beautiful old candlesticks in which bright tapers
burned; and the evident delight of their guests charmed Sandy and his
dear old wife.

“Now, friends,” said Sandy, stepping forward, “ye ha’ all seen my
Margaret, noo will ye walk this way and I’ll gie ye another surprise,”
and he led the way to the end of the parlor, where he opened a door, and
there at the head of a long table, spread with a feast such as no one in
the village had ever seen, stood Helen Dayton.

With a sharp cry of delight Randy ran to greet her, and was folded in
Helen’s arms. Then every one crowded about Miss Dayton, and many were
the questions with which she was plied.

“I cannot answer all these questions,” she said with a merry laugh; “but
I’ll tell you how I happened to be here again so soon. I hastened home,
as many of you know, to see my Uncle Robert, who was to be in Boston but
a few days, and on the day of his departure for the West I received the
glad news of the wedding in a most delightful letter, which also
contained a cordial invitation for me to be present and surprise you all
to-night.”

“We’re glad enough to see you again,” said Jotham Potts, and a chorus of
voices echoed the boy’s frank speech.

Then the feast began. Such a treat it was to Sandy’s neighbors and
friends. The children were fairly wild with excitement. A giant wedding
cake graced the centre of the table, and the beautiful frosting, with
its garlands of flowers and little sugar cupids, delighted the children,
who thought it the finest thing which they had ever seen.

A huge platter of roast turkey on one end of the table, and one of roast
goose on the other, proved very tempting; and a chicken pie with its
fluted crust was not to be ignored.

When these were removed, Sandy filled their places with huge fancy
baskets of fruit; and still the candles burned and flickered, and the
hum of merry voices filled the old house with gladness. At a late hour
the happy party left, the neighbors, one and all, wishing the dear old
couple every blessing, and promising to be as neighborly as their busy
lives would permit.

To Randy, Helen said: “I shall not run away this time without saying
good-by. I will come to-morrow and spend a little time with you, and
then you may go with me to the village, where I must take the train for
home.”

Bright and early on the following day, Randy was up, singing as she
moved about the kitchen, as usual, trying to help.

“She’s coming to-day, she’s coming to-day,” sang Prue, as she skipped
about the room, and Randy’s heart joined gladly in the song.

At that very moment Helen was coming up the walk, and as she tapped
lightly at the door, Prue ran to let her in.

How bright she looked in her cloth gown and trim jacket, her feather
collar and bewitching hat. She took off her wraps, as Mrs. Weston
suggested, and sat down to chat with Randy.

“What is the news?” said Helen. “What has happened during my absence,
Randy?”

“Very little has happened,” said Randy, “only a few things. School is to
open next week; that’s a week earlier than last year, and Mr. Lawton
says he’ll keep his best room warm enough for us if it takes his whole
woodpile.”

“And I’m going to school,” said Prue, and she looked at Helen as if she
expected to see that young lady stunned by such an announcement.

“I’m going to study reading and rifm-tic,” she added, hoping to produce
even more of an impression.

Helen and Randy laughed, “I hope they will reserve ‘rifm-tic,’” said
Helen, “until a little later.”

“When there is snow,” said Randy, “we can coast on our sled down to Mr.
Lawton’s house, without stopping; and although I’m pretty tall this
winter, I think I shall coast just as I did last season, only this year
Prue will sit behind me.”

“And Jotham ’most always drags her home, so she don’t have to walk ’t
all,” said Prue, anxious to tell all the particulars.

“Randy is fortunate to have such an accommodating friend,” said Helen,
“and now I have something to tell you. I have been helping my aunt to
make some plans for the winter, and I have really found three days at
the Christmas holidays for which I have made no engagements, and, if it
will please you, Randy, I will give those days to you.”

Mrs. Weston paused in her work to say, “We shall all be pleased to have
you with us, and Randy will be wild until you come.”

Helen had taken leave of Sandy and his wife at their home, so when
Randy’s father brought the old horse and wagon to the door, she said
good-by to Mrs. Weston and little Prue, and with Randy and her father
rode to the depot at the centre.

They arrived just a few moments before the train was due, and Helen and
Randy walked up and down the platform, talking earnestly over the
promised visit and the winter schooldays so soon to commence.

“I shall think of you every day,” said Randy, “and I mean to study so
hard this winter that some day, when I write, I shall be able to tell
you that I am at the head of my class.”

“That is right,” said Helen; “ambition and hard work will accomplish
wonders.”

Just then the whistle sounded, and soon the train came around the curve
and stopped at the little station.

Very gently Helen kissed Randy, saying, “Remember I shall soon be here
again.”

Then the train started, and through her tears Randy saw Helen’s
beautiful, smiling face at the window. When the last car was out of
sight, Randy turned toward her father a face which was a combination of
smiles and tears.

“Well, Randy,” said he, “which is it, laughing or crying?”

“Both,” said Randy, “crying because I am sorry to have her go, and
smiling because I know just when she will come again. And, now, father,
I am going to tell you something. I mean to be the best scholar in
school this year. I’d like to be able to talk and write as well as Miss
Dayton does. I don’t suppose I could do that, but I will come as near as
I can,” and Randy looked to her father for his approval.

“That’s right, Randy, that’s right,” said her father, heartily, “and
now, I’ll tell _you_ something. Sandy McLeod says that if Nathan Lawton
gives the use of his best room for a schoolroom to the children, he
isn’t going to have Nathan outdo him, so he’s offered a prize of a
five-dollar gold piece to be given to the best scholar at the school
this winter. I am glad that you spoke your mind before you knew about
the prize. I’m willing you should try for it, but I’m glad to know that
you intended to study before you had any idea of a prize to be won.”

“I’ll make myself a good scholar,” said Randy, “and I’ll get the prize,
too.” Randy never forgot that morning.

Years after, the scene, in all its completeness, would rise before her
with a perfection of detail that would for a moment startle her; the old
mare leisurely crawling up the road toward home; the stone walls along
the sides of the road, still covered with blackberry vines, their
foliage russet-colored against the cold gray stones, and their thorny
stems red in the October sunshine.

Across the roads the fields were dry and dun-colored, but in places the
grass was still green, and over all the bright blue sky with its
floating clouds. Birds twittered in the tree-tops or flew in swirling
lines above the sunny fields, and everywhere, although the trees were
bare and the flowers gone, a feeling of gladness and cheer seemed
present.

Randy turned to speak to her father and found that he was looking
curiously at her. “Oh, father,” said she, “I was just thinking that it
seems as if everything was glad for some reason this morning. I don’t
know how to tell you just how I feel, but the sky seems so bright, the
birds are singing, and when I looked at you I thought that you looked
glad too.”

“Well, Randy, I see just what you mean. It is bright and glad and sunny
to-day, and as to my looking glad, I think I ought to. I’ve got your
mother, and Prue, and you, Randy, and I’ve got something more to be
thankful for—something to be thankful to _you_ for.”

“Thankful to _me_!” gasped Randy, in amazement.

“Yes, Randy, yes. I got a letter last night. Ye know I went down to the
centre after supper, and I didn’t get home ’til after you and Prue was
in bed. Well, I wasn’t expecting to hear from anybody, special, and I
never opened the letter ’til I’d put the cat out and fastened up. Then I
thought of the letter and sat down at the table to read it. Yer mother
was puttin’ the last stitches into a stockin’ she was mendin’ when I
came to a place in the letter that made me hop. Mother came, and looking
over my shoulder read the line I put my finger on.

“Randy, do ye remember that day last summer when ye listened at the
roadside to what Jason Meade was sayin’ ’bout makin’ me sell my pasture
land to him? Do yer rec’lect how ye run ’til ye was ’bout beat out to
reach me ’fore he could, and how ye begged me not to sell?”

“Why, yes,” said Randy; then in sudden fear, “he didn’t make you, did
he, father?”

The girl’s wide open eyes looked anxiously up into his face as she
grasped his arm and waited for an answer.

“Make me! Well, I guess not! Randy, that letter was from the big
railroad company, and, val’ble as I thought the land would be, they’ve
offered me more’n I ever dreamed of. I shan’t be what city folks would
call wealthy, but I’ll be ’stonishin’ well off. Your mother and I will
be able to take things a little easier; and, Randy, you shall have all
the schoolin’ ye want, and so shall little Prue. I’d ’bout made up my
mind to let Meade have that land, he seemed to have set his mind on it;
and I b’lieve I should have let him have it, ef you had gone on ter Mis’
Gray’s and stopped to tea with Miss Dayton, as you intended. But for you
my land would have been in Jason Meade’s hands, and I might ’a’ whistled
fer it. You gave up your pleasure to do the right thing at the right
time; as I said that day, I’ve got a daughter to be thankful for.”

“Oh, father,” said Randy, “it seemed a little thing to do, but I was so
anxious to reach you in time that I forgot everything else, even Miss
Dayton and the tea at Mrs. Gray’s.”

“Well, ye did yer duty, Randy, even when ye feared the men would find ye
listening and be angry. Always be brave to do right, as ye did that
time, and ye’ll make a fine woman.”

Small wonder that Randy remembered that morning’s ride! The bright
sunlight of her father’s commendation seemed to outshine nature’s
sunshine. The thought that she had been instrumental in bringing good
fortune to her parents, who had toiled early and late, filled Randy’s
heart with a gladness which she would have found difficult to describe.

Mr. Weston accepted the company’s offer for his land, and with their
good fortune he and his wife seemed to have regained a bit of their
youth; and they were never happier than when making plans for Randy and
Prue or lending a helping hand to some friend or neighbor less fortunate
than themselves.

Randy still indulges in day-dreams which, at present, are filled with
anticipations of schooldays so near at hand, and the winter’s pleasures
which the boys and girls of the village are already planning; and when
next we meet Randy and Prue, it will be in “Randy’s Winter.”



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