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Title: Letty and the Twins
Author: Griffith, Helen Sherman
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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[Illustration: “I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT LIKE SOME CHOCOLATES”]



LETTY AND THE TWINS

BY

Helen Sherman Griffith

AUTHOR OF
  “LETTY OF THE CIRCUS” “LETTY’S NEW HOME”
  “LETTY’S SISTER” “LETTY’S TREASURE”
  “LETTY AT THE CONSERVATORY” “LETTY’S SPRINGTIME”
  “LETTY AND MISS GREY”

ILLUSTRATED BY FRANCES D. JONES

THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY

PHILADELPHIA MCMXVII



COPYRIGHT 1910 BY THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY



CONTENTS
    I—ARRIVING AT THE FARM
    II—SUNNYCREST
    III—A SPRAINED ANKLE
    IV—GREEN APPLES
    V—THE CIRCUS
    VI—LETTY
    VII—MRS. HARTWELL-JONES SEES PART OF THE CIRCUS
    VIII—JANE’S IDEA
    IX—HAPPY DAYS
    X—THISTLEDOWN
    XI—CHRISTOPHER GOES FOR THE MAIL
    XII—LETTY SINGS A LULLABY
    XIII—THE TULIP’S DREAM
    XIV—WHERE IS CHRISTOPHER?
    XV—LETTY’S FUTURE
    XVI—UNTYING THE APRON-STRINGS
    XVII—GOOD NEWS
    XVIII—A CABLEGRAM
    XIX—SYMPTOMS OF MEASLES
    XX—OLD SCENES AGAIN
    XXI—CONCLUSION

ILLUSTRATIONS

    “I thought you might like some chocolates”
    They giggled at everything the clown said
    Under a large tree in the garden
    “Don’t you worry, little girl”
    “Now look up at me”



INTRODUCTION

Those who have read “Letty of the Circus” will remember that Letty Grey
was a little city girl whose brother was a member of a troupe of
acrobats. When it became necessary to help her mother who was ill Letty
herself became a member of the troupe and joined them in their
performances at a summer resort. One day she bravely saved the lives of
two little children, Jane and Christopher, who were threatened by an
angry bear. This was the beginning of a warm friendship which is seen
ripening in the present book. Letty leaves the circus and finds a new
mother, and her sunny nature wins for her many friends. Something more
about her will be found in “Letty’s New Home,” “Letty’s Sister,”
“Letty’s Treasure,” “Letty’s Good Luck,” “Letty at the Conservatory,”
“Letty’s Springtime” and “Letty and Miss Grey.”



LETTY AND THE TWINS



CHAPTER I

ARRIVING AT THE FARM


“Oh, Kit, isn’t it just fun!” cried Jane, her rosy, chubby face beaming.
“How fast we are going!”

“Ho,” exclaimed Christopher, “it’s not so fast. Not so awfully fast, is
it, grandfather? I’d like to go about sixty miles an hour. That would be
going for you.”

“Oh, Kit!” breathed Jane in mingled awe and admiration.

Jane and Christopher—or Kit as he was generally called to distinguish
him from his father, whose name also was Christopher—were twins, and so
far along the course of their short lives had shared everything, from
peppermint drops to ideas. The stern fact that Christopher was a boy and
Jane a girl was just beginning faintly to dawn upon them—a state
demonstrated by Jane’s unqualified admiration of everything her brother
said and did, and by his occasional condescension of manner toward her.

Jane leaned back in her parlor car seat hugging her doll—a wonderful new
one with flaxen hair turned up with a comb and dressed “like a
lady”—quite content with the rate at which the train was speeding
through the green fields and villages; while Christopher bobbed about
from seat to seat, trying the view from each side of the train in turn
and wishing he could look out on both sides at once.

There were very few passengers in the parlor car, for it was early in
the season for summer visitors to go to the country. Besides the twins
and their grandparents there were only three other passengers: two
gentlemen who were very busy talking and paid no attention to any one
else, and a sweet-faced lady with gray hair who sat at the other end of
the car and who watched the children with great interest. She looked as
if she would like to make friends with them.

After a while she took a candy box out of her satchel and catching the
twins’ eyes, beckoned to them, holding out the open box. Christopher was
for bolting down the car aisle at once, but Jane caught him back and
whispered something to her grandmother, who looked up from her book,
exchanged smiles with the sweet-faced stranger, bowed and said “yes” to
Jane.

“I thought you might like some chocolates,” said the lady as the
children approached. “Won’t you sit down there opposite me?”

“Thank you,” said Jane politely, and the twins tucked themselves side by
side into the big chair. The lady’s sweet, interested manner and the
chocolates quickly put matters upon a friendly footing, and in two
minutes the children were prattling away as if they had known Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones (for that, she told them, was her name, watching out of
the corner of her eye as she pronounced it to see if it sounded familiar
to them) as if they had known her all their lives. Their own names, age
and family history were soon told.

“Our mother and father have gone to Europe for four months,” announced
Christopher importantly. “Father had to go on business and mother wanted
to go with him and so——”

“She did not want to go, Kit,” corrected Jane. “The doctor thought she
ought to.”

“Well, she did want to go. How could she help wanting to go to Europe?”
demanded Christopher triumphantly. “So she and father went, and we are
to spend the whole summer on the farm.”

“The whole summer,” repeated Jane, happily. But she swallowed hard as
she thought of her father and mother off in the middle of the ocean on a
big ship.

“It’s a real farm,” went on Christopher, “with cows and chickens and
pigs.”

“And horses and dogs and cats,” added Jane, the lump in her throat
already gone.

“Oh, they don’t count. You could have horses and dogs and cats without
having a farm,” said Christopher. “There are big fields where the men
plough and cut hay, and there must be dozens of cows,” he explained to
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones.

“And where is this wonderful farm?”

“It’s near Hammersmith. We drive there; miles and miles!”

“The farm is called ‘Sunnycrest,’” put in Jane eagerly, “because the
house—grandfather’s house—stands up on a hill. The farmhouse and stables
are down the hill across the dearest little creek, where they have a
dairy and make butter. Huldah lets me help sometimes. Huldah cooks for
grandmother but she lives at the farm, she and Josh.”

“Josh is grandfather’s ‘right-hand man,’ grandfather calls him. He
bosses the whole farm and he’s awfully nice.”

“It all sounds ‘awfully nice,’” said the gray-haired lady a little
wistfully. “I am going to Hammersmith, too, only I have to stay in the
village. Perhaps you will come to see me some time?”

“Yes’m,” said Jane politely. “If grandmother will let us.”

Grandmother herself joined them just then. She was afraid that the
children might be tiring their new friend. She and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
introduced themselves to each other and grandmother sat down in the
chair out of which the children, mindful of their manners, had tumbled.
They stood quietly in the aisle for a moment or two, but as grandmother
would not allow them to have any more chocolates and the conversation
promised to be quite “grown up,” they ran back to their own seats.

Presently the train slowed down and finally came to a stop beside a
long, dilapidated platform with a small, low wooden house. There were
several sets of tracks branching out from this platform in different
directions and on the platform was a group of people, standing about as
if waiting for a train.

“What’s the matter, grandfather?” asked Christopher a little
impatiently. “I thought this train wasn’t going to stop again until we
got to Hammersmith.”

The conductor, who was passing through the train, heard Christopher’s
question and stopped obligingly to explain.

“We have to wait for the Mount Pleasant train here at the Junction,
sonny,” he said. “It’s a bit late, but we won’t be delayed long. Them
people,” he added to grandfather, pointing through the window to the
group on the platform, “have been waiting for it ’most four hours.
They’re a circus troupe.”

A circus troupe! A traveling circus—how interesting! Jane and
Christopher pressed eagerly to the window and stared out at the small
knot of people. There was nothing remarkable about them except that they
all looked tired and a little anxious. Jane surveyed them thoughtfully.

“Poor people,” she said. “I’m sorry they have to stand there so long,
waiting. They look tired. And there’s a baby—oh, Kit!” She grasped her
brother suddenly by the sleeve, still peering out through the window.
“Oh, Kit, it is, it is!” she exclaimed excitedly. “It’s Letty!”

“Who, the baby is?” asked Christopher contemptuously. “Do stop clawing
me, Jane.”

“No, no, the girl holding the baby. Do look, Kit. Don’t you see her?”

Jane loosened her hold of Christopher’s sleeve to point out a child
standing a little apart from the waiting group. The girl was dressed in
a faded, clean frock of pink gingham and her glossy brown hair was
smoothly brushed and braided. Her face was turned away from the
children, but what they could see of it looked thin and sad. She carried
a jolly, restless, heavy baby in her arms who was crowing and holding
out its arms toward the locomotive. Christopher looked at the girl a
moment in hesitation.

“I don’t believe it’s Letty. But it does look some like her,” he added
doubtfully. “I wish she would turn around more so I could see her face
better.”

As if in answer to his wish the little girl did turn just then and
looked directly at the children. Perhaps she had felt the intentness of
Jane’s earnest gaze. At sight of the twins her face suddenly brightened
and she walked slowly down the platform toward the car in which they
were sitting.

“It is Letty!” exclaimed the twins together in great excitement, and
they commenced to nod and smile with all their might.

“Oh, grandfather, mayn’t we go to the platform to speak to her? We
haven’t seen her in three whole years!” cried Jane eagerly. “We thought
she was lost.”

“Speak to whom?” asked grandfather in great surprise, looking out of the
window over the children’s shoulders.

“Why, to Letty. See, there she is. She’s the little girl who saved our
lives from the bear. Hurry, before the train starts,” explained
Christopher, jumping up from his seat.

He and Jane rushed pell-mell down the aisle to the door, followed by Mr.
Baker.

“What is it? What has happened?” asked grandmother in some alarm,
looking up from her conversation with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. “What are
they going to see?”

“They say that the little girl is outside who saved their lives from the
attack of the mad bear that time at Willow Grove Park.”

“Really?” exclaimed grandmother much interested. “Then I should like to
talk to her, too.”

She rose from her seat, but paused to tell the story to Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones.

“It happened three years ago. My daughter-in-law had taken the children
to some sort of entertainment out at Willow Grove. A trained bear,
driven mad by the heat, they supposed, broke loose from its keeper and
charged the audience. Jane and Christopher were sitting in the very
front row and the bear was almost upon them when this little girl—one of
the performers, an acrobat, I think—jumped down from the stage and threw
a cover over the bear’s head so that he was blinded and his trainer
captured him easily enough.”

“What great presence of mind,” said Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. “I should like
to see the little girl, too.”

“Then let us step outside. My daughter did go to see them at once. The
child’s mother was quite a lady but in most reduced circumstances; and
she went again later, meaning to help them, but learned that the mother
had died and the little girl had been taken away by friends, she was
never able to find out where. If this is the child, I should like to do
something for her.”

In the meantime, Jane and Christopher had rushed to the door of the car,
their faces beaming with excitement and delight. The girl had
transferred the baby she was carrying hurriedly to its mother and stood
watching the door with an air of shy expectancy.

“Oh, Letty, Letty, to think that we have found you again!” exclaimed
Jane, kissing her heartily, while Christopher capered about them in
glee.

“Find me? Did you ever look for me?” asked the little girl, her face
lighting up with pleasure.

“Why, of course we did,” answered Christopher. “Didn’t we say we’d come
again? We got your address from the boarding-house at Willow Grove and
we went to see you—but you had gone away.”

“We were so sorry for you,” whispered Jane, slipping her hand into
Letty’s.

Poor Letty turned away to hide the tears that sprang to her eyes. She
was greatly changed, poor child, in those three years. Her face had lost
all its pretty roundness and her eyes seemed too large for the rest of
her face, they were so wide and sad.

“Have you been with the circus all this time?” asked Christopher with
great interest.

“Yes,” she answered sadly. “There hasn’t seemed anything else to do.
My—my brother Ben died too, last year,” she added with a little sob.

“Oh, I am so sorry—so, so sorry!” repeated Jane softly. “Poor Letty, I
wish you could come with us.”

“We’re going to the farm to spend the summer,” explained Christopher.
“Our grandfather’s farm. Don’t you remember we told you about it?”

“Indeed I do remember. How happy you both must be.”

“We are. And wouldn’t you like to come too?” asked Jane impulsively.

“Of course I should like it, if I could,” and Letty’s voice grew very
wistful.

Just then a long train, with bell jangling and escaping steam hissing,
rolled up to the opposite platform with a loud rumble. The waiting group
of people hastened to get on it.

“Letty, Letty!” called some one sharply. “Come at once.”

“Oh, Letty,” cried Jane, “must you go? Please don’t. We don’t want to
lose you again!”

“Letty, you’ll miss the train,” called a gruff masculine voice, and
added, “Hurry up, now,” in a tone not to be disobeyed.

The conductor of the waiting train, his eye on his watch, emphasized the
need of haste by shouting “All aboard” very peremptorily.

Letty stopped and kissed Jane and then bounded across the platform with
all her old grace and agility.

“Write to me. Please write to me!” shrieked Jane after her.

The twins waved their hands frantically as Letty turned for a farewell
nod, and watched the train pull out.

“We don’t even know where she’s gone,” wailed Jane. “We’ll never see her
again!”

Mrs. Baker stepped from the doorway of the parlor car, with Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones behind her.

“Has the little girl gone?” she asked regretfully. “I wanted to see
her.”

“She’s gone,” Jane replied disconsolately. “And we don’t even know
where.”

“Dear me, how very unsatisfactory,” sighed grandmother. “I should have
liked so much to do something for her.”

Then they all went back into the car again as their own train began to
move.

“From the fleeting glimpse I had of her, I should say that the child had
a rather unusual face,” remarked Mrs. Hartwell-Jones thoughtfully, as
the two ladies seated themselves again. “Can you tell me anything more
about her, Mrs. Baker?”

“Janey,” said grandmother later, when they were all making ready to
leave the train, “can’t you guess who Mrs. Hartwell-Jones really is?
Don’t you remember her name?”

Jane shook her head.

“Why, she is the lady who wrote that lovely book you got last Christmas,
of which you are so fond.”

“The ‘Jimmie-Boy’ book?” asked Jane in an awestruck voice. “But that is
by——” Opening her own miniature dress-suit case, of which she was
immensely proud, Jane got out the book in question and spelled out the
author’s name: “Mary C. Hartwell-Jones.”

“Exactly,” said grandmother with great satisfaction. “That is her whole
name, ‘Mary C. Hartwell-Jones.’ She has taken rooms in Mrs. Parsons’
house at Hammersmith for the whole summer, and she expects to write
another book!”

“Oh!” exclaimed Jane, much impressed. “And she asked us to come and see
her, grandmother.”

Jane stared hard at the lady with whom she had chattered so freely and
familiarly a short time before and whom she now regarded with the
greatest possible awe. Then, crossing to Christopher, she told him the
wonderful news. And from that time on Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was known to
the two children as “The lady who wrote books.”



CHAPTER II

SUNNYCREST


At Hammersmith a big, old-fashioned carryall stood beside the station
platform and behind it a light spring wagon, the two drivers standing
side by side on the platform, watching the descending passengers
anxiously. The older man was Joshua Adams, the head man on grandfather’s
farm. Grandmother always called him Joshua, but to every one else he was
Josh. His companion, Jo Perkins, a young stable boy familiarly known as
“Perk,” was new on the place since the twins’ last visit, and they did
not know him. They eyed him curiously as they shook hands heartily with
Joshua, who was an old and long-tried friend.

“My, my, you’ve growed sence I see ye,” exclaimed Joshua, standing the
children off and looking at them in mock amazement. “Most big enough to
be giants in a side-show.”

“Oh, shucks,” said Christopher, squirming with embarrassment. “Has Juno
got any new pups?”

“Well, you have growed, ’pon my word. Now I leave it to Miss Jane if you
haven’t. Hain’t you, Miss Jane? And you’re both of you dressed different
now, so ’t I can tell ye apart,” he added teasingly.

Of course Joshua had seen the children many times since the day
Christopher had been promoted to trousers, but he never lost a chance of
reminding the boy that he had passed through a petticoat period.

Perk felt a little bit out of this intimate party. He stood awkwardly in
the background, fingering his hat and winking gravely at Christopher
whenever he caught his eye. Grandfather bustled up presently, followed
by the station agent wheeling the trunks on a truck, which Perk
proceeded to pile on the wagon. Joshua untied the team and mounted to
the front seat of the big carriage.

“Where’s Nelly Gray?” asked Jane, missing the gray mare with the white
star on her forehead.

“Why, Nelly, she’s out to pastur’ for a while. Got a nail in her foot.”

“Oh, poor horsey! How it must have hurt! Did you get it out?”

“Why of course, greeney,” interposed Christopher knowingly, “else the
horse would have died, wouldn’t it, Josh?”

Jane climbed into the carriage and sat down opposite her grandparents,
but Christopher hung back.

“I want to go on the wagon. Mayn’t I, please?”

“Oh, yes,” consented grandfather good-naturedly, “if you promise to sit
still and not ask to drive.”

Christopher avoided Jane’s reproachful look and capered off joyfully.
Jane felt hurt at being deserted by her twin so soon, but she knew that
Christopher was anxious to make Perk’s acquaintance.

“I s’pose boys can’t help likin’ other boys a little,” she reflected
philosophically, and hugged her doll comfortably.

In spite of her nine years and her brother’s teasing, Jane persisted in
playing with dolls and had a large, well-beloved family.

“Say, I’m going to ride home with you,” announced Christopher, climbing
up on the high wagon seat. “Shall I hold the horse for you while you
strap on the trunks?”

“He’s hitched,” drawled Perk with a twinkle in his eye. “But I guess
’twon’t hurt if you want to hold the lines.”

“Oh, I didn’t notice that he was tied,” said Christopher, a bit
crestfallen, and feeling his youth. “I’d like to drive,” he added with
reviving spirit as Perk strapped on the last trunk and mounted to his
seat (swinging up over the wheel after the horse had started, to
Christopher’s keen envy), “but grandfather said I mustn’t ask. But I
could. A friend of my father’s has an automobile and he let me steer it
one day, oh, a long way.”

Perk was distinctly impressed by this statement and dropped some of the
patronage from his manner. Perk had never even seen an automobile.

As they drove down the length of the village street, Christopher was on
the lookout for changes. It was two years since he had visited in
Hammersmith, which left plenty of time for improvements. Each new
building or alteration had to be remarked upon to Perk, for
Christopher’s tongue would never stay quiet. Jane declared once that it
wagged in his sleep.

“I see somebody else has got the blacksmith’s forge. Mr. Parsons used to
run it.”

“Yes, but Mr. Parsons is too tony now to shoe horses. He makes wagons
an’ keeps summer boarders.”

“Hello, Jones has got a partner. My, but they used to have good
sarsaparilla there,” exclaimed Christopher, smacking his lips.

“They do still,” answered Perk, smacking his.

“I’ll treat you some time. I’m to have fifteen cents a week pocket money
all summer, an’ so’s Jane. Hi, there’s a new store. Say, it’s a dandy.”

“It’s a newspaper office up-stairs. Downstairs they have a store where
nothin’ costs more’n ten cents; and lots of things cost only five. Ain’t
that a queer sort of store?”

“Not so queer as I’ve seen. Why, they’ve got a store in the city where
everything costs ninety-nine cents. My mother’d never let me buy there,
but they had mighty pretty things in the windows. Painted plates and
things. Lots of people go there because they think it’s so much cheaper
than a dollar. Aren’t some people silly?”

They had turned out of the village by this time into the country road
which led to Sunnycrest.

“Do you play marbles?” asked Christopher, patting a bag of beloved
alleys in his trousers pocket.

“Naw—that’s a kid’s game,” said Perk contemptuously. He was feeling a
trifle sore over the fact that this boy, so much younger than he, had
ridden in an automobile and had seen a ninety-nine-cent store.

Christopher withdrew his hand suddenly from his pocket.

“Yes, isn’t it?” he agreed quickly. Then, lest Perk should have heard
the rattle of the marbles he said carelessly: “I play with Jane
sometimes—to amuse her. And there’s a boy lives in our street that
coaxes me to have a game with him once in a while. I do it to please him
’cause he’s lame, but it never seems fair to play for keeps with him.
He’s only eight and a half.”

Christopher hauled the bag of marbles out of his pocket and displayed
them indifferently, as if they were spoils. But all the time his heart
thumped guiltily at the white lie he was acting, for up to the present
moment he had loved the game of marbles and had looked upon it as a
manly sport.

“Gee, did you win all them? They’re beauties,” exclaimed Perk in
admiration, transferring the reins to one hand in order to examine the
different marbles.

“No, not exactly all,” admitted Christopher, “some I had. And some I
traded,” he added, thrusting the bag back into his pocket.

“Hum. Want to swap knives?”

Christopher’s heart sank. His father had presented him with a very
wonderful, five-bladed knife as a farewell gift. Christopher had not
even whittled with it yet. The idea of parting with it hurt. He drew it
from his pocket with mingled pride and concern. He did not want to
appear unmanly, but he was quite sure that Perk could have nothing half
so good to trade.

But Perk saw the value of the knife and was square enough to refuse to
take any advantages. He admired it even more extravagantly than he had
done the marbles.

“Of course you don’t want to swap something that was a present,” he
said. “’Twouldn’t be treating your daddy right.”

“You can borrow it whenever you want,” replied Christopher gratefully.

Presently Perk called Christopher’s attention to several flaming posters
that decorated the rail fences on either side of the road.

“There’s a circus comin’ to town next week,” he said. “Guess it’s going
to be a pretty good show.”

“Oh, what bully fun!” cried Christopher. “We know a little circus girl,”
and he told the story of Letty and the bear. Together they studied the
bills as they passed, comparing notes as to their opinion of the
different feats advertised and choosing which side-shows they would like
best to see.

This amiable conversation occupied them all the rest of the drive.

Sunnycrest was a big white house on the top of a ridge. In front, except
for a wide square of green lawn just before the house, the grounds
sloped so steeply that terraces had been made every few yards, and at
the bottom ran a delightful little brook. At the bottom of the hill were
the farmhouse, barn, chicken and cow-houses and, where the brook curved
and ran through a shallow, cemented basin, the spring-house and dairy.
Behind the house was a big orchard and beyond stretched fields of grain
and hay.

Christopher jumped down from the wagon almost before it stopped and
rushed into the kitchen where Jane’s bobbed head could be seen, topped
with a big pink bow. Huldah the cook was another old and very dear
friend of the children’s.

“Hullo, Huldah. Got any ginger cakes?” shouted Christopher. “My stomach
just aches for one of your spiced ginger cakes. Haven’t had one for two
years, you know.”

“I’m afraid your stomach will ache still more before you are through,”
mildly observed grandmother, who had followed him in.

But she did not forbid his eating the cakes, even though supper was
almost ready. That is one of the privileges of growing old enough to be
a grandmother.

The two horses had brought the carriage home at a much quicker rate than
the heavily loaded wagon could travel and Jane had already explored the
whole place in her quiet, energetic way. She had learned all the news
regarding live stock new and old and had petted all her favorites. Dora
the cat was specially friendly and Jane was convinced that the little
animal remembered her from her former visit, two years before.

“I think that’s quite remarkable in a cat, don’t you, grandmother?” she
said. “Now, if it was Juno, I shouldn’t be so surprised. Dogs always
remember people. But with cats, it’s different.”

There were no kittens at present, but Huldah described past families
with much detail. She had kept a written account of the color and name
of each kitten and its fate. Most of the kittens had been given away or
disposed of in their early infancy. Some, grown to cat-hood, disported
themselves about the stables with a serene indifference to the house
privileges of their mamma, and with a keen taste for rats—certainly not
inherited from her. Dora was far too aristocratic to care for any food
less appetizing than fresh milk and bits of cooked meat, cut into dainty
morsels.

Juno had four new puppies, dear little fuzzy balls of fur; and there
were two new calves—with such thin wabbly legs and big, scared eyes—in
the barnyard. Six patiently setting hens promised dozens of fluffy
chicks before long, and a brood of ducklings swam in the stable pond.

Jane had taken in all these marvels and her little brain was busy
choosing names for the new puppies while grandmother washed her face and
tidied her hair for supper.

She gave Christopher the news as they munched ginger cakes together.
Jane had not thought to ask for the cakes but when they came she ate
almost as many as Christopher.

“The pups are awfully cunning,” she said patronizingly. “And I know just
where Juno keeps them. I’ll take you to see them in the morning.”

“Huh, I can find them myself. I’m going now. And I choose to name two of
’em.”

“They’re all named; every single one. And you can’t go to see them now,
’cause supper’s ready.”

“Who named them, I’d like to know? If you did it don’t count, ’cause
it’s not fair to go and name all four, without asking me.”

“If you choose to go off with a strange boy, how can I ask you? Those
pups are three weeks old and they just had to be named. They’re real
nice names,” she added hastily, as Christopher made for the door.
“They——”

“Kit, Kit,” called his grandmother, “go up-stairs and wash your hands.
Supper is ready.”

“And waffles are no good when they have to stand,” added Huldah
meaningly.

This hint was enough to send Christopher at a flying leap up the front
stairs.

“I’ll show you the pups in the morning,” repeated Jane with exasperating
calmness, following and watching his hasty ablutions from the bath-room
door.

“Humph!” answered Christopher with ingratitude, as he splashed the water
resentfully. “I guess I can find the pups easy enough—if I want to see
’em. And I know something you don’t know. A circus is coming to town
next week, so there!”

“I did know it, but it’s not coming for two weeks. There’s a lovely
horseback rider in it and grandfather said perhaps he’d take us,”
replied Jane.

Then, carried away by the remembered charms of the circus posters, the
twins linked arms and ran down to supper, their slight disagreement
already forgotten.

Thus life settled down at Sunnycrest, happy and peaceful for the most
part; always interesting but with now and then a little cloud of
disappointment or regret overshadowing the sky of their sunny
content—which, alas, is apt to be the way in life at every age.

Jane was rather sorry that Jo Perkins had come to work on the farm. He
took Christopher away from her so often. To be sure there were a great
many things that they could do all together; hunt for eggs, feed the
chickens, milk the cows (for Jane and Christopher both learned to milk).
But when Perk took Christopher fishing, Jane was not invited to go.
Christopher soon developed into quite a sportsman, and begged his
grandfather for a gun—Jane turned pale when she heard the request—to
shoot some of the rabbits that ran so thick in the woods. But this
grandfather positively refused to allow, nor would he permit Perk to
carry a gun when Christopher was with him. So the two boys were obliged
to content their sporting taste with fishing-rods and angleworms.

Whenever she thought about it, Jane felt surprised and a bit hurt at
this ready abandonment of her by Christopher, but her own time was so
filled up before long that at times she hardly missed him. Her little
woman’s soul took as thriftily to household duties as the boy’s instinct
turned to sport. Huldah found her nimble fingers of real use in shelling
peas, beating eggs and sifting flour. Indeed, seldom had Huldah’s cake
been so light, for in her zeal Jane sifted and resifted the flour and
beat the eggs to such a stiffness that it seemed as if they would have
to be broken up to stir into the batter, Huldah said.

But grandmother did not encourage indoor work to any great extent, and
Jane spent many blissful hours in the orchard with her family of dolls,
always in sight of either grandmother’s or Huldah’s watchful eye. For
although the twins had reached the dignity of nine years, they were
seldom left to their own devices for long at a time. Grandfather and
grandmother felt their responsibility too strongly to take any risks,
for had they not promised the anxious parents across the sea to take the
best of care of these precious children?

Jane was a motherly little body and extended her care of the doll family
to Juno’s family as well and Juno got into the habit of carrying the
four fluffy balls of fur out to the orchard, where they all had merry
romps, rolling about together in the sun and shade.

But even with these diversions Jane might have grown lonely at times
during Christopher’s more frequent and longer absences with Perk and
Bill Carpenter, a village boy, had not a new game been suggested to her
by Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. Grandmother had called very promptly upon Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones at her boarding-place in the village. The “lady who wrote
books” had been so honestly disappointed that grandmother had not
brought the children too that Mrs. Baker promised to return with them
the very next day.

Jane was silent and a little awed, but Christopher was his usual
cheerful, talkative self—with secret anticipations of another candy box.
His hopes were not disappointed, for Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had planned for
their visit and a regular “party” was spread forth, ice-cream,
lady-fingers and chocolate drops all complete. Afterward she questioned
them about what they did all day, every day.

“I milk the cows,” said Christopher boastfully.

“I can milk too,” interposed Jane.

“And I go off in the fields with Perk. When grandfather can spare him
from the work we go fishing.”

“How splendid! And what do you do, Janey dear, when Kit is off with his
rod?”

“Oh, I help Huldah make cake, and play in the orchard.”

“The orchard! What a fairy-land! May I play with you there some day when
I come to Sunnycrest?”

“Oh, would you like to?” asked Jane with big eyes. “It would be
splendid!”

“We shall have a fairies’ ball and you shall be queen.”

“Oh, oh! And the grape-vine swing will do for a throne. But perhaps you
would rather be queen,” added Jane politely.

“No, I’ll be master of ceremonies.”

They had the game before many more days, and it opened up a new world to
Jane who thereafter queened it royally in fairy-land, with the dolls for
ladies of honor and the birds and butterflies her royal messengers. Her
faith in the real fairies was firm and deep-rooted, the most ardent
desire of her life being to see one. She never confided this hope to
Christopher and the new game was kept for her lonely hours when
Christopher was away with Jo Perkins or Bill Carpenter, with which
latter boy his intimacy was growing.



CHAPTER III

A SPRAINED ANKLE


Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was a great walker and took many long, long tramps
around the countryside. The villagers had got quite used to the
spectacle of the white-haired lady clad in a short skirt of stout tweed
and heavy laced boots. White hair is not always the accompaniment of
trembling fingers, black silk gowns and knitting.

But her habit of taking lonely walks brought about an accident that
might have been serious if it had not been for the twins’ love of
exploring.

Branching off the main road that led from Sunnycrest to the village was
a winding lane known as Birch Lane, which had a little story attached to
it. The road had been built long ago by a very rich man as the avenue
leading to his big country house. It was built below the level of the
ground with grassy terraces sloping up on each side, along the base of
which beautiful birch trees had been planted. But the rich man lost all
his money and became too poor to build his house. The lane was left
deserted and uncared-for, the graceful trees grew bent and gnarled and
some of them died; the grass terraces slipped and caved in until they
became only clay banks.

Jane and Christopher had often looked up the gloomy little roadway, now
no more than a mere cow-path, and asked many questions concerning it.
They both had a great longing to “explore” its depths, each for a
different reason. Jane was sure that the fairies danced there and felt a
breathless hope of one day catching them at it. Christopher, on the
other hand, thought it not unlikely that a stray wolf or even a bear
might be prowling around the tiny wilderness.

As the lane was only a mile distant from Sunnycrest, grandmother said
they might go on a voyage of discovery—“only you go on voyages in a
boat,” Christopher had corrected her—whenever Joshua could spare Jo
Perkins to go with them. Jane rebelled at this, for she was sure the
fairies would never appear before a great big boy of fourteen. But
grandmother was firm on this point; so the trio started off one sunny
afternoon, Jo Perkins carrying a basket containing quite a day’s
provisions “in case they might get hungry before supper-time,” Huldah
explained.

Christopher and Perk discussed fishing, rabbit-shooting and other manly
topics while Jane skipped along in silence, her big eyes shining and her
little mouth smiling at her thoughts.

“I shouldn’t be a single bit surprised to see some, even with Perk
along,” she whispered to herself. “The books say they dance at night in
the moonlight; but I am sure fairies must love the sunshine, it is so
bright and goldy—just like themselves. And I should think they’d feel
perfectly safe to dance in such an out-of-the-waysy place when most
people are taking naps.”

The lane was very quiet and very beautiful. The sun shone down through
the dancing leaves of the birch trees in flickering rays that might well
have been the gleam of a fleeing fairy; the white tree trunks glimmered
like pillars of silver. The silence was so great that to have it broken
by the growl of a bear or, indeed, the snarl of a tiger, would not have
been in the least astonishing or out of the way. But no such sound broke
the summer stillness.

Indeed, it looked as if the children were to have the whole length of
the deserted lane to themselves. They walked along the top of the bank,
alert and watchful for any adventure, Christopher chattering as usual,
Jane quiet and content.

“There ain’t much use in goin’ any farther,” said Jo Perkins at last.
“There’s only one more turnin’, an’ that comes out into Pete Hull’s cow
pasture. An’ this basket’s powerful heavy to lug so far. I say we help
make it a bit lighter by disposin’ of some of the contents,” he added in
a suggestive tone.

“Oh, Perk, please let us go just to the last turn, and then we’ll eat
our lunch,” coaxed Jane.

So they walked on for another three minutes until a sudden sweep of the
road showed them a broad space of golden sunshine and green grass. It
was there that the poor rich man’s house was to have stood, tall and
stately, with white columns and terraced gardens; alas, it was now only
a pasture for cows.

The wide field with the cows lazily browsing gave the children a homely,
comfortable sense of security. They felt that they had penetrated a
mysterious wild and were back again in civilization. Jo Perkins had
already begun to unpack the basket and Christopher was watching him with
his soul—or more literally his stomach—in his eyes, when Jane’s
attention was suddenly attracted by the flutter of something white down
in the lane below them. She knelt on the edge of the bank and peered
over, in breathless excitement. Was she to see a really-truly fairy at
last?

What she did see surprised her so that she almost lost her balance and
tumbled over the edge of the bank. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was seated on the
roots of an old birch tree, her back against the clay bank, the yellow
clay of which clung to her jacket when she leaned forward to catch
Jane’s eye. But she did not get up.

“Oh, you blessed child!” she called. “Never was I so thankful to see any
one in the whole of my life! I have sprained my ankle and cannot move a
step. The fairies must have sent you! I began to think I should have to
sit here forever and forever.”

At once there was a grand excitement. The three children, basket and
all, came tumbling down the bank to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s side, every
one talking and suggesting aid at once. After the first moment of flurry
Perk pocketed half a dozen doughnuts, to fortify him on the way, and
bolted for home at top speed to fetch help. Jane and Christopher busied
themselves in trying to make Mrs. Hartwell-Jones more comfortable. By
leaning on Christopher’s stalwart little shoulder she managed to get
upon one foot and move to a drier, sunnier spot where she sat upon
Jane’s jacket and leaned against Christopher’s—which arrangement the
twins insisted upon in spite of her protests.

“For you see you might get inflammation or something dreadful if you
catch cold in your hurt foot,” Jane explained in her most motherly
manner.

To beguile the time of waiting for Jo Perkins’s return they lunched out
of Huldah’s generous basket and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones explained every
detail of her accident, in answer to Christopher’s rapid questions,
trying to identify for his satisfaction the exact root which had twisted
her foot, and even what she had been thinking about not to have noticed
the rough place. Jane listened with interest and sympathy but she said
nothing. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s impulsive words: “I believe the fairies
must have sent you” still rang in her ears. Had the fairies guided her
to that last turn? She shuddered as she thought that if Jo Perkins had
had his way they would have stopped short of that final bend and then
perhaps Mrs. Hartwell-Jones would have had to sit on and on through the
chilly evening and perhaps the night. Blessed fairies!

“If Letty had been with us to-day, she would have helped me watch for
the fairies,” she broke out suddenly.

“Did Letty believe in fairies?”

“Yes, she told me so. She said she loved fairy stories. I wish——” Jane
paused and her eyes grew wistful. “I wish Letty hadn’t had to go off in
such a hurry the other day. She looked so sad. You know her mother died
and she told me on the train platform that day that her brother had died
too. I don’t believe she has anybody now. And she didn’t even have time
to tell me where she was going.”

“Oh, she’ll turn up again; people always do,” declared Christopher
cheerfully. “I don’t see why you need be so sorry for Letty. It must be
jolly fun, belonging to a circus.”

“I wonder if she still has Punch and Judy. They were such cunning
ponies, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones.”

“I see that a circus is to visit Hammersmith before very long,” replied
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. “Do you suppose it could possibly be the one to
which your little friend belongs?”

“Oh, I wonder if it is! I hadn’t thought of that!” exclaimed Jane in
great excitement. “Oh, I wish—I hope it will be!”

When the carriage arrived—the big family carryall it was, with Joshua
driving, grandmother was in it. She would not hear of Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones’s taking the long, jolty drive to the village. She was to
come directly to Sunnycrest and there be nursed and cared for until her
foot was well again. By the most wonderful good luck Dr. Greene had
driven past the gate of Sunnycrest just as Jo Perkins delivered his
message, had been hailed, brought back and was at that moment waiting to
see the patient.

Joshua assisted Mrs. Hartwell-Jones carefully into the carriage, the
children tucked themselves and the hamper in, and they drove rapidly
away from the deserted lane, looking more mysterious than ever under the
lengthening shadows of the afternoon sun; left it to the bees and the
rabbits and—perhaps—to the fairies. Who knows?



CHAPTER IV

GREEN APPLES


“I have a piece of good news,” announced grandfather one afternoon a few
days later, as he came up on the front veranda. He had driven into the
village directly after the noon-day dinner and had just returned. “Where
is your grandmother?”

Then he stopped short and eyed the children keenly. They were each
sitting in a big chair, in attitudes too much doubled up for mere cozy
comfort, and they were neither of them talking—a fact sufficient in
itself to make one suspect that everything was not just as it should be.
They sprang up with assumed spryness at sound of grandfather’s voice.

“What’s the news? Tell us!” cried Christopher.

“Yes, do, please,” echoed Jane.

Grandfather thought they looked pale.

“Where is your grandmother?” he repeated.

“She is sitting with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones has a
headache.”

“Hum. And what have you two been doing, without any one to look after
you?”

“Playing, sir.”

“Playing where?”

A spasm crossed Jane’s face. She swallowed hard and began to talk very
fast.

“We’ve just been playing out in the orchard with my dolls—where I play
most every afternoon, grandfather. Juno brings her pups out there and——”
She swallowed hard again.

Christopher collapsed suddenly into the nearest chair and bent double
with a howl of pain. Jane began to cry.

“Playing in the orchard,” repeated grandfather gravely, looking at them
each in turn. “Oh, why didn’t I have Perk stay in from the fields to
look after you! Kit, how many green apples did you eat?”

“I don’t exactly know, sir,” came a small voice from the depths of a big
chair. “I lost count after the eighth but it wasn’t many more.”

“More than eight!”

It was grandfather’s turn to drop into a chair. The chair was not very
near so that he almost dropped on to the floor. But the twins were too
miserable to laugh.

“They weren’t very big,” moaned Christopher.

“That made them all the greener,” replied his grandfather grimly.

“I only ate six, grandfather,” put in Jane consolingly. “I felt as if
I’d had enough after three, but I couldn’t stop there, you know.”

In spite of his anxiety grandfather laughed. Then he got up to go in
search of grandmother. She appeared in the doorway just then, looking
very comfortable and cool in a fresh white dress.

“Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s head is better, children, and she would like to
see you up in her——” she began and stopped short.

“What is the matter with the children?” she cried, looking at them in
great alarm.

“Jane ate six green apples and Kit lost count after the eighth. Is there
anybody handy to send for the doctor?”

Grandmother looked dismayed, but faced the situation bravely.

“A drink of hot peppermint water will fix them, I think,” she said. “And
if that doesn’t castor oil will. Dr. Greene has been called to Westside
to take charge of a typhoid fever case and won’t be back to-night.”

After the children had been put to bed with warm, soothing drinks, and
had had hot milk toast for supper, sitting up in bed with their wrappers
on to eat it, Christopher suddenly bethought himself of grandfather’s
good news.

“He never told us what it was!” he wailed to Jane.

“I wonder how he guessed about the apples so soon?” speculated Jane in
reply. “I’ve played in the orchard ’most every day. I guess it was
because you were playing with me.”

“Mean-y! Trying to put the blame on me! It was because you looked so
queer and yellow, like biscuit dough.”

“I didn’t look any yellower than you. And I didn’t double up and howl,
so there,” retorted Jane, indignantly.

Christopher was silenced for a moment by this home-thrust. Then he
called triumphantly:

“I had a right to look yellower than you, ’cause I ate more apples. And
I think I know what the good news is. The circus is comin’ day after
to-morrow. I heard grandfather tell Mrs. Hartwell-Jones so.”

“Oh, Kit, how fine! Wouldn’t you just love to go?”

“We are going. Grandfather said we might when I first asked him.”

“Yes, I know, but perhaps he’ll change his mind now and not let us go,
to punish us for being naughty about the apples.”

“But he promised! He’ll have to keep his word.”

“He didn’t really promise. He just said he’d see.”

“Well, that means the same. He meant yes.”

“Then I wonder what he will do to punish us?”

“Nothing. He’ll forgive us. Grandfathers are different from fathers
about that.”

“But we’ve been naughty and deserve to be punished.”

“Well, isn’t it punishment enough, I’d like to know, to be put to bed in
broad daylight?” demanded Christopher, tossing impatiently.

Just then Huldah came up for the milk toast bowls. She stood in the
doorway between the children’s rooms and shook her head slowly as she
looked from one bed to the other.

“I’m disapp’inted in you,” she said coldly.

“Oh, come now, Huldah, don’t rub it in,” pleaded Christopher.

“And we are as sorry as we can be,” added Jane.

“Well, you’ll lose some good apple pies by it,” remarked Huldah
severely, picking up her tray. “Your grandfather was planning to have a
picnic on circus day, an’ I was makin’ out to bake some apple pies for
it—pies with lots of cinnamon—but apples’ll be scarce now, and we’ll
have to be savin’ of ’em.”

“Oh, Huldah, we didn’t eat as many as that!” cried Jane, her pain coming
back at the very idea.

“You must have eat ’most half a bushel between you.”

“My! Well, can’t you begin to be saving of them a little later in the
summer, when there’s other things to make pie out of?” wheedled
Christopher.

But Huldah shook her head and went away to her kitchen.

Jane lay thinking, soberly. She still felt weak and shaken after the
sharp pain she had suffered, and found her bed very comfortable.
Therefore she could not regard being put to bed so early as a
punishment. Neither did she think it right that naughty children should
go without punishment of some kind. It was not natural. It had never
happened in any of her story-books, nor had it occurred in her own small
experience, notwithstanding Christopher’s ideas about forgiving
grandfathers. It stood to reason then that she and Christopher, having
been naughty, must be punished. The most obvious punishment would be to
keep them home from the circus. Grandfather had not actually promised to
take them—nothing so solemn as “honest Injun” or “Cross my heart.” So
perhaps he would not think he was breaking his word by keeping them at
home.

Perhaps, if she and Christopher did something to show how sorry they
were, deprived themselves of something, grandfather would think that was
punishment enough. Soon the idea came to her.

“Kit,” she called, sitting up in bed, “are you asleep?”

“No, what you want?”

“Why, I think we ought—it seems to me—Huldah said we ate ’most half a
bushel of apples, Kit. That’s an awful lot.”

“It’s not so many when you think of all there are left on the trees.
It’s rubbish about Huldah’s having to save ’em. I know better ’n that.
She just said that to make us uncomfortable, the mean thing.”

“Well, it was a lot, anyhow, and I think we ought to give ’em back.”

“Give ’em back! How could we? What do you mean?”

Christopher tumbled out of bed, his curiosity roused and coming in,
huddled himself up on the foot of Jane’s cot.

“Why, don’t you think that your ’lowance an’ mine together ’d buy half a
bushel of apples?” asked Jane eagerly, quite carried away by her heroic
resolve.

“But I want my ’lowance to buy lemonade and peanuts with at the circus.”

“But maybe we can’t go to the circus.”

“Yes, we can. Grandfather promised.”

“No, he didn’t promise. He said ‘I’ll see.’ And now I guess he’ll keep
us home, ’less we do something to show him we’re sorry. If we buy half a
bushel of apples and give ’em to him in place of all those we ate, why,
don’t you see? Maybe he’ll think that, and the stomach ache we’ve had,
’ll be punishment enough, without giving up the circus.”

“The stomach ache was enough punishment for me. I promised him I’d never
eat any more green apples, and I won’t. But I want money to spend for
lemonade at the circus.”

“I guess I like lemonade as well as you do, greedy, but I’d rather go to
the circus without having it, than to miss the whole thing.”

“Well, so would I, silly. But do you honestly think grandfather would be
so mean?”

“It wouldn’t be mean. It would be only fair,” declared Jane stoutly.

“Well, we’ll see about it in the morning,” answered Christopher,
scuttling back to bed.

And that was all that Jane could get out of him, so that she went to
sleep with her conscience only half clear. Because of course her fifteen
cents would not do any good without Christopher’s. She knew enough about
the prices of things to be sure of that.

Grandfather and grandmother were so cold and formal at breakfast the
next morning, and avoided all mention of the circus so carefully that
Christopher was forced to decide that for once Jane was right and they
would better buy the half bushel of apples to show their repentance.
They longed to consult Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, but that would mean telling
the whole story, which they did not wish to do. Of course they did not
know that “the lady who wrote books” had already heard the story from
grandmother and had laughed over it until she cried.

After breakfast they held a hurried counsel and then ran out to the barn
to find out who was going to the village that day. It turned out that
Joshua himself was going, to have one of the horses shod. At first he
refused to take the twins with him, saying that they were in disgrace
and must remain quietly at home. It was only after they had explained
their errand (under the most binding promises of secrecy) that he
consented.

The ride into the village was interesting at all times, and now the
whole countryside, ablaze with red and yellow circus posters, made
driving between the decorated rail-fences most entertaining and lively.
Joshua stopped in front of each pictorial long enough for the children
to spell out the account of the wonders foretold and admire the gorgeous
pictures, and then took away most of the charm by saying regretfully,
each time they drove on:

“Just to think, you young ’uns might have seen all them things—if you
hadn’t stole an’ eat up your gran’pa’s apples.”

“Suppose it should be Letty’s circus!” exclaimed Jane. “See, Kit, in
that picture over there there are Shetland ponies. Oh, Kit, just suppose
it should be!”

“Well, you needn’t count on it,” replied Christopher practically. “There
are lots of trained Shetland ponies in the world beside Punch and Judy,
and we don’t know if Letty is with the circus that have Punch and Judy,
anyway. She may be jumping and tumbling again, like she was doing the
first time we saw her.”

The village reached at length, Joshua bundled the twins out
unceremoniously in front of the chief provision shop and bade them wait
there for his return. Christopher was disappointed. He had hoped for the
treat of watching the blacksmith at work. But Joshua had given him
plainly to understand from the first that this expedition was one of
business and not of pleasure, and he dared not complain.

The provision man was new in the village and did not know the twins. He
did not think such small children worth much attention and went on
arranging his baskets.

“Please, sir, how much are apples?” asked Christopher politely.

The man turned around, surprised by such a practical question and
answered:

“Forty cents a basket.”

“Oh,” cried Jane and Christopher together, “that’s too much!”

“It’s the market price,” said the man crossly.

“Oh, sir, we mean it’s too much for us to pay,” explained Jane
hurriedly.

“I dare say it is,” replied the man coolly and turned away to wait on
another customer.

The children stood listlessly at the corner, waiting for Joshua. Their
hearts were heavy with disappointment at the failure of their plan. Even
the thought that he would now have his money for peanuts at the circus
failed to console Christopher, who had screwed himself up to the heroic
point of self-denial.

Jane watched the people buying at the provision shop. They got all sorts
of things: some bought several kinds of vegetables and meat, which they
carried away in a basket; others bought small quantities, wrapped in
paper bags. Presently a woman bought a small bag of apples which
suggested to Jane that they might be able to do the same thing.

“Kit,” she said, “I think by a basket the man meant one of those great
big baskets. Surely they hold more than half a bushel?”

“Don’t know how much half a bushel is,” replied Christopher, toeing the
path with his boot.

“Well, I’m sure we didn’t eat as many as one of those basketfuls,
anyhow. Just look at the size of it.”

“We stuffed a lot of ’em.”

“Well, anyway, let’s get as many as our money’ll buy,” proposed Jane.
“We can buy any number ’cause I just saw a woman get some in a paper
bag. It’ll show grandfather we are sorry and want to pay back, and
perhaps Huldah was wrong about the half bushel.”

“Well, you’ll have to do the asking then,” said Christopher ungallantly.
“That man is horrid. He thinks we’re nothing but kids.”

They approached the provision man again, who happened at that moment not
to be occupied.

“How much—I mean, how many apples will thirty cents buy, please, sir?”
asked Jane.

“Half a bushel.”

The twins looked at each other in delight.

“We’ll take ’em,” they cried together, and Christopher drew the thirty
cents—two ten and two five cent pieces—from his trousers pocket.

They were very proud and excited all the way home. They hardly glanced
at the circus posters, so eager were they to reach Sunnycrest and
complete their sacrifice, and they kept urging Joshua to drive faster.
They took turns sitting on the basket of fruit, they were so afraid that
an apple might jostle out and be lost.

Grandfather, grandmother and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones were all sitting on the
veranda. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was able to limp downstairs once a day, by
the aid of one of grandfather’s canes. Jane and Christopher carried the
basket between them, up to the top of the steps. Christopher felt
suddenly sheepish and hung his head, but Jane, brave in the
consciousness of having done right, spoke up boldly:

“Grandfather, Huldah said we must have eaten ’most half a bushel of
apples yesterday, and she couldn’t make so many apple pies as she could
if we hadn’t eaten them, and we thought we ought to be punished for
taking the apples without leave, didn’t we, Kit, and we didn’t want to
be kept home from the circus, so we went to town with Josh and buyed—I
mean bought, these to make up.”

“And it took all of both our ’lowances,” added Christopher virtuously.

How the grown-ups laughed! But there were tears in grandmother’s eyes as
she thanked the twins and called Huldah to come and take the basket.

Later in the day, grandmother called Jane and Christopher into her own
room and gave them each fifteen cents.

“I want you to understand that I am not doing it because I think you did
not deserve the punishment of losing it,” she said seriously, “for it
was wrong to have eaten the apples, both because it endangered your
health to eat unripe fruit and because it is always a sin to take what
does not belong to one without asking. But I wish to reward, and so
encourage, the spirit you have both shown today of desiring to make
atonement for wrong. God bless you, my dears.”



CHAPTER V

THE CIRCUS


All was pleasant confusion and excitement at Sunnycrest, for it was
circus day! A wee cloud of disappointment dimmed the horizon of Jane’s
bliss when she learned that Mrs. Hartwell-Jones did not feel equal to
the effort of going. She was afraid she might tire or injure her lame
foot; and Jane was sorry, for she would have enjoyed sharing her
impressions with the sympathetic and understanding “lady who wrote
books.” Still, there would be the happiness of telling her all about it
afterward.

Grandmother offered to remain at home with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. But on
the other hand, she thought that she ought to go, in order to look after
the children. First, they were to watch the parade from the parlor
windows of the village hotel, by the invitation of the hotel proprietor,
Mr. Grubbs. Afterward there was to be a picnic dinner and then—the
circus! Grandmother really could not have stood the strain of remaining
at home and wondering whether the children had drunk too much lemonade
or fallen into a wild animal’s cage, and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones knew this
when she refused to let grandmother stay with her, or to change in any
way the household arrangements for her sake.

Joshua was to drive the big, three-seated wagon and Huldah went too, to
superintend the luncheon. Jo Perkins, having had permission to take a
day off (as indeed had all the farm-hands, for grandfather firmly
believed in the old saying that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull
boy”) had vanished with the dawn. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was left, together
with many instructions from grandmother, to the care of Mary the
housemaid, who said she didn’t care much for circuses anyway.

Christopher appropriated the seat of honor in front, beside Joshua, but
Jane did not mind. Tucked in contentedly between grandfather and
grandmother she was lost in a wonderful dream of the delights to come.
Huldah and the baskets had the back seat to themselves and there was
only just room for Huldah to squeeze in upon one corner of the seat
after everything had been stowed away, for Huldah, as has perhaps been
hinted before, was a “generous provider.”

The little town of Hammersmith presented a very different appearance
from its every-day sleepiness. The narrow sidewalks for its whole mile
length were packed with squirming, excited children and their no less
excited if quieter elders. The reason that children are so restless is
because they have not yet learned to soothe their nerves by wagging
their tongues instead of their arms and legs.

Farmers had come in from all the neighboring districts with their
families. A good many had given their workmen, too, a holiday, as
Grandfather Baker had his. Circuses did not come to Hammersmith very
often.

Grandfather, in spite of frowns and head-shakings from grandmother,
bought Jane and Christopher each a bag of roasted peanuts and another of
sticky pop-corn. Then he placed them side by side in an open window,
with due caution not to fall out. The children were absolutely happy.

“Oh, Kit, I’m so glad I’m alive!” half whispered Jane. “I don’t think
that even the sorts of things that happen in story-books could be nicer
than this. Aren’t you glad we bought the apples?”

“Oh, I guess so. But we’d have got to the circus anyhow. Grandfather
never would have kept us home.”

“No, I don’t believe he would,” acknowledged Jane. “He’d be too
generous. But we’d have deserved it, Kit, and I’d much rather be here
with things the way they are now. It’s comfortable to my insides
somewhere. Do you suppose the lady in the pink tights will be in the
percession?”

“She may be in the percession, but she won’t have on the pink tights.
She has to save them for the tent, where it’s nice and clean. Outdoors
they’d fade or get dusty, or she might fall off her horse into a puddle
and spoil ’em.”

“Oh, Kit, she’d never fall off her horse! She can ride too well. Just
think of the things she does in the pictures!”

“Huh! I know a boy at school that saw a lady fall off her horse—right in
the circus ring, too. It hurt her awfully. Broke her back or something.
Wish I’d seen it.”

“Oh, dear, I’m glad I wasn’t there,” exclaimed Jane, who had no thirst
for the horrible.

“Hullo, I guess they’re comin’,” cried Christopher. “See how the people
are yelling and clapping down by the post-office. I say, grandfather,
they’re coming, they’re coming! Hooray!”

Christopher tried to see his grandfather, not by turning around but by
looking out of his window, across the space of wall and in at the next
window where grandfather and grandmother were sitting. He lost his
balance, of course, and nothing but Jane’s sudden grasp at the loosest
part of his trousers, and the special providence that protects small
boys, saved him from tumbling down upon the crowd below. He lost both
his bags in a wild clutch at the window ledge and drew himself back,
sputtering and red-faced with disappointment. He looked down to watch a
group of small street urchins scrambling for their contents.

“Pshaw, Jane, why didn’t you catch the bags?” he exclaimed in disgust.

Then he straddled the window sill and forgot all about his lost goodies
in excitement, for the procession was really coming. It was not a very
wonderful display. Indeed, the grown-ups thought it rather melancholy.
There were half a dozen tired looking men on tired looking horses, half
a dozen others dressed up as Indians, also on horseback, several cages
of wild animals and a brassy brass band in a gilded chariot drawn by
four horses. This band headed the procession and was the grandest thing
in it except one other gilt chariot upon which a plump, pretty young
woman in a Diana sort of costume sat enthroned. She rode just behind the
wild-animal cages and Jane gazed after her enthralled until she passed
out of sight.

“I am sure she is the lady who wears the pink tights and does such
wonders on horseback,” she confided to Christopher. “Wasn’t she lovely?”

Then followed a long line of animal cages with closed sides. A man who
rode beside the driver on the first of these called out to the people
that the beasts within were too fierce and wild to stand the excitement
of having their cages opened on the sides so that people could see them.
The spectators had to guess as to what kind of animals were shut up in
these cages; the pictures painted on the outside were no guides, as each
represented a whole menagerie. An elephant followed, tired looking and
dejected, led by two men, and after them appeared a young girl, dressed
in a purple Roman toga, driving a pair of piebald Shetland ponies.

At sight of these ponies it was Jane’s turn almost to fall out of the
window in her excitement.

“Oh, Kit, grandmother, grandfather, it is Letty! It is, it is! And she’s
driving Punch and Judy. Mayn’t I call to her? Oh, mayn’t I?”

“Hush, Janey, not now,” replied Mrs. Baker, clutching the squirming,
excited child firmly around the waist. “We’ll arrange about it later.
Grandfather will see the manager of the circus.”

“Punch and Judy look as nice as ever,” commented Christopher with a
condescending air. “And Letty drives ’em well, too, you bet. But why is
she rigged up in that queer way? All that purple stuff slung over her
shoulder. I should think it would be in her way.”

“That’s the way people used to dress hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
Don’t you remember the picture of Ben Hur in the chariot race? Letty’s
dressed like that and she’s driving a sort of chariot, too.”

“Poor kind of a thing to ride in, I think. You can’t sit down,”
commented Christopher. “I like the little carriage better that she used
to drive.”

The heavy, closed wagons, painted red and gold, that are used to carry
the tents and luggage of a circus, now appeared in line. Upon the top of
every third or fourth wagon stood comic figures, men dressed in false
heads of exaggerated size, who nodded and danced and performed antics to
make the crowds laugh. A painted clown in a donkey cart, and a calliope
(so necessary to every circus parade) brought up the rear of the
procession. The calliope was playing “Wait till the Clouds Roll by,
Jennie” in a loud squawk, and the people along the street whistled the
tune as they shouted and exchanged jokes with the clown. It was not at
all an appropriate tune, for there was not a cloud in the sky. Indeed,
the light was almost too bright, for it revealed mercilessly all the
bare spots on the wagons where the scarlet paint and gilt had peeled
off; and it shone pitilessly upon the shabby trappings of the horses and
upon the anxious, tired faces of the performers. But the crowd was
neither particular nor critical and after cheering and whistling the
procession out of sight, it scattered gayly to hunt up families and
lunch baskets.

“Now then,” exclaimed Jane with great satisfaction, “we shall see Letty
again,” and she tucked her hand into her grandmother’s.

The circus tents were pitched in a wide field just outside the town and
grandfather selected the adjoining field, under a clump of trees and
beside a brook, for the picnic dinner. While Josh and Huldah were
unpacking the hampers Mr. and Mrs. Baker, with the twins, crossed to
where the circus people were grouped. The troupe had reached Hammersmith
rather late in the morning, only just in time to form for their parade,
so that the tents were just now being put up.

While grandfather went in search of the manager, grandmother and the
children stood watching this ceremony of tent pitching with absorbed
interest. Men ran here and there with coils of rope and long stakes
which they drove into the ground and then stood in a circle around a
broad sheet of canvas that lay spread on the ground. At a given word the
men tugged at their ropes and slowly a mountain of dingy yellow white
rose in their midst. It swelled and swayed and flapped and then took
shape. More tugging of ropes, more shouting, the last securing hammer on
a stake or two and lo, the circus tent was raised!

A second tent was erected over the animal wagons and vans which had been
arranged in a half circle and the horses removed. Then smaller tents
were put up and painted signs hung out to advertise different
side-shows.

“Where do you suppose all the queer people of the side-shows were while
the percession was going on? The bearded woman, the armless man and all
those?” whispered Jane to her brother.

“I don’t know. Maybe they were shut up inside of some of those closed
wagons.”

“Oh, I should think that would be lots of fun,” laughed Jane. “Making
people think you were some kind of a wild animal when really you were
something lots more wonderful.”

Presently grandfather reappeared, followed by Mr. Drake and Letty. Mrs.
Drake joined them, carrying her baby, who insisted upon Letty’s taking
him at once, and chuckling with delight in her arms.

“So you are the little girl who saved my precious grandchildren from the
dreadful bear?” said grandmother kindly, holding out her hand to Letty.
“I am very glad to see you at last, to thank you for your brave act.”

“Oh,” replied Letty, with a catch in her voice, “it seems like another
life when I did that. It happened so long ago and so much else has
happened since. I was very happy then,” and the tears she could not
control filled her sad brown eyes.

Jane looked at her in distress.

“Don’t cry, Letty,” she whispered, drawing her aside. “You never used to
cry. Aren’t they kind to you?”

“Oh, yes,” exclaimed Letty, drying her eyes quickly, as she saw Mrs.
Drake approaching, “they are very kind to me. But I—I don’t like being
in a circus.”

“Poor little girl,” murmured grandmother sympathetically.

Then Mrs. Drake joined them and grandfather went away with the manager
to buy tickets for the performance and then to look at a group of work
horses tied to stakes at the back of one of the smaller tents.

“May we see Punch and Judy?” asked Jane.

“Would I have time before dinner?” Letty inquired wistfully of Mrs.
Drake.

Mrs. Drake saw how eager Letty was to go with the children and
good-naturedly gave her consent, taking the heavy, unwilling baby again
into her own arms. The children ran off, leaving the two women standing
talking together.

“Tell me what you can about Letty, Mrs. Drake. We are very much
interested,” said grandmother and she explained who she was and why she
was so much interested in the little circus girl.

“I am very sorry for Letty, mem,” replied Mrs. Drake sadly. “Her
mother’s death was very hard on her, poor little thing, and then when
her brother was killed last year she could scarcely get over the shock.”

“Poor, poor child! But you have been very good to her, Mrs. Drake. She
spoke very affectionately of you just now.”

“She has been with us ever since her mother’s death, but I don’t know
what’s to become of her now,” and the good woman sighed. “I promised her
brother she should be to us like our own child, and so she has, up to
now.”

“And what is to happen now?” asked Mrs. Baker with sympathy.

“Oh, didn’t my husband tell you that we are giving up the circus? This
will be our last appearance; the circus breaks up to-night. Mr. Drake
has sold the menagerie and most of the troupe have got other positions.
We shall stay here two or three days, I think, until Mr. Drake sells
some of the work horses.”

“Have the Shetland ponies been sold?”

“Not yet. They’d be very nice for children to have as pets,” replied
Mrs. Drake quickly, with an eye to business.

Mrs. Baker smiled understandingly.

“I was not thinking of ourselves, but of a friend of mine,” she said
quietly. “But, Mrs. Drake, I want to ask you please to keep me posted
about Letty’s whereabouts. Here is my card with the address on it. In
the autumn I think I should like to place her in some good school where
she can study and be equipped for making her way in the world. I am sure
my daughter-in-law would be glad to have me do it in return for Letty’s
act of heroism in saving the children’s lives. My daughter did try to
find the child that same autumn after her mother’s death.”

“She was living with us, quite in the neighborhood. But I never thought
of leaving an address,” exclaimed Mrs. Drake in some dismay. “I should
hate to think I had stood in Letty’s way of getting settled in life.
Indeed, Mrs. Baker, she would repay any kindness shown her, no matter
for what reason,” she continued earnestly. “Her mother was a real lady
and always hoped her little girl could be properly brought up. She’s far
above such folk as us, mem,” she added humbly.

Indeed, Mrs. Baker’s idea was to begin doing something for Letty’s good
before the autumn, but this plan must be considered very seriously
before it could be carried out.

Letty and the twins came running back to them. Letty’s eyes were shining
and there was a pink glow in her thin cheeks. She looked more like her
old, bright, cheerful self than she had since her mother’s death. The
children were greatly excited.

“Oh, grandmother,” exclaimed Jane, “Letty says the Shetland ponies are
for sale and we thought——”

“We thought Mrs. Hartwell-Jones might want to buy ’em,” put in
Christopher.

“Don’t you remember, grandmother,” went on Jane, “how Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones said after she had sprained her ankle that she wished she
had a Bath chair and when Kit asked what that was she said it was a big
chair with wheels that they harnessed a pony to, to drive sick people
about. So I thought——”

“We thought Mrs. Hartwell-Jones might like to buy Punch and Judy,”
finished Christopher, taking advantage of Jane’s breathlessness to put
the climax to her tale.

Mrs. Baker smiled.

“Bless your hearts, children, I had thought of the very same thing. We
must talk it over with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. There is plenty of time.”

“And, grandmother, Josh came to tell us dinner is ready. Please, can’t
Letty come to the picnic with us?”

“There’s apple pie,” added Christopher.

Of course Huldah had made apple pie for the picnic. She would have felt
obliged to make those pies—with quantities of cinnamon—if she had had to
neglect her whole week’s baking to do it!

Mrs. Drake glanced at Letty’s eager, wistful face.

“You want to go, don’t you?” she said aside to her.

“Oh, yes, I would like to go, so much—if you can spare me, Mrs. Drake,”
replied Letty, trying to think of some one else before herself.

Grandmother overheard this unselfish little speech and it helped to
strengthen the resolve that was forming in her mind.

The picnic was a very jolly affair, and Letty felt that she had not
enjoyed herself so much since that happy summer, three long years
before—which she and her mother had spent out in the country near Willow
Grove. When everybody had eaten as much as he or she could possibly hold
(and Christopher a wee bit more) Letty won Huldah’s heart by insisting
upon helping with the tidying up.

“I always help Mrs. Drake, so please let me,” she said.

The twins asked leave to help too, and found it great fun to wash dishes
in the brook. The time passed by much more rapidly than any one realized
and Letty had to run off very hastily at length, in order to be ready in
time to take her place in the grand march at the opening of the circus
performance. It was agreed before she left that Mr. Baker should return
in the morning to see about Punch and Judy and he promised the twins to
bring them with him, that they might have another visit with Letty.

Soon it was time for every one who was to attend the circus to go inside
the tent. Grandfather gave Joshua tickets for Huldah and himself, and
then he and grandmother and the twins crossed the wide field again.

[Illustration: THEY GIGGLED AT EVERYTHING THE CLOWN SAID]

There was a great hubbub about the group of tents; men were calling out
the attractions of the side-shows, a band was playing and boys moved
about through the crowd with trays of peanuts and lemonade, shouting
their wares in shrill, loud voices.

All boys and girls who have been to a circus know exactly how Jane
and Christopher felt when they got inside that tent. It was not
the first circus they had been to, by any means, but that does
not make any difference; one always has that same furry creepiness
in the back of one’s neck, and the same swelled-up, lost breath,
wish-to-laugh-without-being-heard feeling.

They giggled at everything the clown said and did, clapped their hands
wildly when the trick elephant bowed and waltzed; and shut their eyes
tight—at least Jane did—when the “human fly” walked upside down on a
piece of boarding suspended from the top of the tent like a ceiling.

Christopher liked the Indians attacking the stage-coach best, and
wriggled rapturously at each blood-curdling war-whoop. But Jane was
faithful to her love of the lady in pink tights and watched her with
open eyes and open mouth, as she stood jauntily upright upon a
barebacked horse and sprang gracefully through paper-covered hoops.

“I wonder if Letty knows her,” she whispered to Christopher. “I mean to
ask to-morrow.”

But it was the Shetland ponies and their little trainer that held
grandmother’s attention. She watched Letty long and carefully, and said
something to grandfather in a voice too low for the children to hear.

That evening, after Jane and Christopher were tucked away in bed, the
grown-ups, Mr. and Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, had a long, long
talk together. It was all about Letty, or most of it, for the Shetland
ponies came in for a little share in the discussion.

Dear little Letty, if only she could have overheard that conversation
she would not have spent such a wakeful, unhappy night. She had passed
three very hard, sad years, but better days were in sight again. As her
mother had said, the little girl had the faculty of making friends.



CHAPTER VI

LETTY


Letty spent a restless night. At first she had been much excited by
seeing the twins again and looked forward to their return in the morning
with much impatience. Jane and Christopher had wanted her to go home
with them that afternoon, to let Mrs. Hartwell-Jones see the ponies and
settle the matter at once.

But Mr. Drake could not allow this for two reasons. To begin with, a
long country trip would be too much for the ponies, together with their
march in the procession and two performances. For there was to be
another performance of the circus in the evening, and Mr. Drake’s second
reason was that Letty might not get back in time for it if she went out
to Sunnycrest. Jane was disappointed, for she had not known about the
second performance, and was hoping to keep Letty overnight. But it was
settled that they should all return very early in the morning and to
that time Letty looked forward eagerly until all at once it came over
her that she had no cause for rejoicing.

“Of course I shall be awfully glad to see Jane and Christopher again,”
she told herself, lying wide awake and thoughtful on her cot in the
small tent in which she slept as guardian of the fat Drake baby, “but
after all what good will it do me? They will be here with me for a
little while and then will go away again, and I shall probably never see
them again. And they will probably take Punch and Judy, too. Oh, oh, I
am to lose my dear little friends and what will become of me?” And she
began to cry softly.

Poor little Letty! She had not had a happy life since her mother’s
death. It was not from lack of kindness, for Mrs. Drake in her quiet,
dull way, had been as kind as possible. And dear Ben had been her
splendid, good big brother, gay and kind and thoughtful to her always.

But everything had been so different. The winter after her mother’s
death had been a time of desolation to Letty.

Letty sat out on the front steps of the boarding-house where she lived
with Mrs. Drake whenever the weather permitted, or walked drearily about
the Square. She made no friends and had no pleasure except her Sunday
attendance at church, where the soft music and wonderful stained glass
windows never failed to soothe and comfort her. These stained glass
windows represented the only paintings she had ever seen. But it was the
music that comforted her most. She learned some of the hymns after a
while and ventured to join sometimes in a voice that had a surprising
quality in its untrained cadences.

The summer was easier to bear as the traveling about from place to place
brought diversion; and she loved her work with the ponies. But long
before the summer was over she had grown tired of the roving life and
was glad to be back in winter quarters again.

She was happier that second winter, for she had grown more resigned to
the loss of her mother and the dreadful, aching desire for her
mercifully had lessened. But the restless, moving life of the circus
grew more and more distasteful and after her brother’s death—by a
frightful accident—she felt that she could endure the life no longer.

But the poor child had no other home, no other friends, and stayed on
with the Drakes for want of another home. Her little friend, Emma
Haines, lived over in a small town in New Jersey, but her family were
too poor to take in and care for another child. The rich Miss Reese who,
together with her little cousin, Clara Markham, had been so kind to
Letty one winter, had passed out of her life completely, and even Mrs.
Goldberg, with the amusing parrot, had not been heard from since her
removal to California.

So Letty lived on, a sad, dull, monotonous life. She attended school in
the winters but was never happy there, as she was invariably behind her
classes and was too shy and sad to try to make friends among the other
scholars. Another baby came to Mrs. Drake, which proved a source of much
comfort to Letty. He was a big, jolly, lusty baby—the same she had been
holding in her arms when she had first caught sight of the twins at the
railway junction. And her happiest, or rather her least sad hours were
those she spent at church and in nursing Mrs. Drake’s baby.

And now, what did the future hold for her? Mr. Drake had met with losses
and failure in his business and the circus was broken up. What was to
become of her? Small wonder that Letty wept despairingly as she lay
awake in her little canvas bedroom.

But Jane and Christopher were all gay excitement and happy anticipation.

“I am sure Mrs. Hartwell-Jones means to buy the ponies,” Jane confided
to Christopher, “and I’m so glad, because, you see, sometimes she may
take us for rides.”

“And let me drive,” added Christopher.

And Mrs. Hartwell-Jones really did mean to buy the ponies. She asked
grandfather to attend to the matter for her when he returned to the
circus grounds to see about his own business; for grandfather had about
decided to buy one or two of Mr. Drake’s horses for work on the farm.
But Mr. Baker was too businesslike to buy without being sure of the sort
of horse he was getting, and arranged with Joshua to have Mr. Drake
drive or ride out such horses as grandfather thought of getting,
together with the Shetland ponies, to Sunnycrest, for Joshua’s
inspection and judgment.

The twins were in a whirl to get started and gave grandfather no peace
until the phaeton—a low, wide-seated vehicle with plenty of room for
three on the seat when two of them were only nine—was brought round.
There was an instant scramble for the outside place and a quarrel
threatened; but grandfather settled the whole matter by saying quietly:

“Ladies first, Kit, my boy. Janey shall have the outside place for the
first half of the way.”

They started off in high spirits, Jane quiet and absorbed, bending
enough to watch the revolving wheel crunch the bits of dust and dry
clay, lost in her own happy thoughts or listening to Christopher’s
chatter and storing up bits of knowledge. Christopher’s tongue was not
quiet a moment and he asked question after question.

It had always been like that with the twins from the time they had
learned to talk. Jane seldom asked questions, but Christopher must know
the meaning of everything that came to his notice. Not that Jane was
stupid because she did not ask questions. She generally listened to
Christopher’s continual “why” and learned from the answers given to him.
And very often she would speak out unexpectedly some piece of
information that surprised every one. Indeed, an uncle of the twins had
once said:

“Kit talks the most, but Jane says the most.”

“See that squirrel running across the road?” said grandfather. “Did you
see him, Janey? A pretty red one.”

“I could have shot him, if I’d had a gun,” boasted Christopher.

“Oh, Kit, that would have been mean! He wasn’t doing any one any harm.”

“How do you know he wasn’t? Perhaps he was doing something hateful to
some other animal. Animals do that, you know; they’re such beasts.”

“Well, anyway, you couldn’t have shot it; squirrels run so fast,”
replied Jane with satisfaction.

“I could have if I’d had any practice. When I get my gun I shall
practice on the rabbits. They’re no good, anyhow.”

“They are some good. They’re sweet, dear, gentle things and you just
shan’t hurt them.”

“They haven’t got as much sense as squirrels and they’re lots greedier.”

Then followed a discussion between the children concerning the habits of
squirrels, rabbits and other creatures of the forest, in which each
displayed a goodly stock of knowledge of natural history. Grandfather
chuckled proudly as he listened, but made no comment.

“Well, well, well,” he remarked, when the subject of red squirrels had
been exhausted and he thought he saw another “why” trembling on the tip
of Christopher’s tongue, “here we are, half-way to town and nobody has
yet offered to relieve me of the hard task of driving.”

There was instant strife for possession of the reins.

“Tut, tut, play fair. Kit, my boy, remember your manners. Ladies first.”
And grandfather handed the reins to triumphant Jane.

“Aw, she’s not a lady, she’s only a girl,” growled Christopher in
chagrin. “Anyhow, it’s my turn to sit on the outside. I’m sure it is,
and I’m going to have my turn. Move over, Jane, you needn’t think you
can have everything. She needn’t be a pig, just because she’s a lady,”
he added to his grandfather, who had laid a restraining hand upon his
sleeve. “Move over, you!”

“Grandfather didn’t say to. Don’t push so, you rude boy. Ow! You’ll make
me drop the lines.”

“Pig!”

“Rude-y!”

“Prude-y!”

“Grandfather, Kit——”

“Telltale!”

“I don’t care. You’re a rude, horrid boy,” said Jane, beginning to cry.

“And you are a stingy, tattling cry-baby. I just wish——”

“Children!” cried grandfather sternly. “I’m astonished! Why, do you
realize what you are saying to each other? Jane, give me those reins.
Christopher, stay quiet. I should not allow you to sit on the outside
now, for any consideration.”

The children succumbed meekly. When his grandfather called him
“Christopher” the boy felt doubly crushed. Jane’s tender little heart at
once began to ache. She felt that it had all been her fault. It was
Christopher’s turn to sit on the outside and there was no real reason
why she should have been given the privilege of driving first. She would
have liked to tell Christopher that she was sorry, to whisper to him to
make up. But she glanced at his face and saw that it would do no good to
speak for the present. Christopher was in the sulks and she knew that if
she apologized now he would only say “shucks” and shove her. Yet, if she
waited until he was amiable again, he probably would have forgotten all
about it and call her silly.

But she herself soon forgot the quarrel in the excitement of arriving at
the field again. Letty was not in sight and grandfather was engaged with
Mr. Drake, so the children went on a tour of investigation. They visited
the menagerie and stared at the blinking, sleepy looking animals for a
time and then went in search of the ponies, which they found stabled in
a small tent placarded as containing the marvelous fat lady and thinnest
living skeleton.

As they stood feeding grass to the ponies and chattering, Letty joined
them. She came up so softly over the thick turf that they did not know
she was there until she spoke.

“Do you think your grandmother’s friend will take the ponies?” she asked
slowly.

The twins turned, and stared. Letty’s eyes were swollen and red with
weeping and her lip trembled as she spoke of the sale of Punch and Judy.

“I guess you hate to give ’em up,” observed Christopher sympathetically.

“Is that why you’ve been crying so, Letty?” asked Jane.

“Not altogether, though I shall miss the ponies. But I have to go away,
and I haven’t anywhere to go.”

The sadness of this state of affairs touched the happy, well-cared for
twins faintly.

“I guess you’ll find another circus to go with,” comforted Christopher
cheerfully, after a little pause.

“Oh, I don’t want to go to another circus! I hate ’em!”

“Then why do you cry because you are leaving this one?” demanded
matter-of-fact Christopher.

“Because I haven’t any home. Oh, Jane, do you suppose your grandmother
knows of any one who wants a maid? I’d be willing to do anything to help
and have a home.” And the tears rushed to her eyes again.

“Do you mean to say you’d give up a circus to do housework!” ejaculated
Christopher in great astonishment.

“Oh, I should be so happy to! And maybe I should get time to study
some.”

Christopher stared. Here was a curiosity indeed; a girl who liked
housework and study better than traveling around with a circus!

“Mrs. Hartwell-Jones is staying at our house while her ankle gets well,”
put in Jane. “She will be awfully good to Punch and Judy.”

“Is she the lady that wants to buy them?” asked Letty.

“Yes,” answered Jane, “and she was on the train when we were coming to
Sunnycrest, and saw you. And oh, Letty, she writes books, lots and lots
of them.”

“But she’s awfully nice,” added Christopher reassuringly. “Not a bit
prosy or stuck up.”

Two red spots came into Letty’s cheeks.

“To think that you know somebody who writes books! Oh, how I wish I
could see her!” she exclaimed impulsively.

Jane stared thoughtfully for a moment at the ponies and then said
quickly:

“Oh, Kit, let’s ask grandfather if Letty mayn’t drive the ponies out to
Sunnycrest herself. Then she can see Mrs. Hartwell-Jones.”

“And we can show her the farm, too. That would be jolly,” agreed
Christopher. “I speak to ride with Letty in the chariot.”

Letty burst out laughing. She was feeling very much excited over the
children’s plan.

“I shouldn’t have to drive the chariot,” she said. “Mr. Drake still has
the little carriage I used to use at Willow Grove. Do you remember?”

“And I’ll ask grandmother about getting you a place,” said Jane
confidentially to Letty, with a little air of importance. “Perhaps
Huldah would like somebody to help her in the kitchen. It would be nice
if you could stay with us, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh, that would be too good to be true!” cried Letty, bursting into
tears again at the very thought of such happiness.

“Oh, shucks!” exclaimed Christopher, turning his back.

Crying always embarrassed him.



CHAPTER VII

MRS. HARTWELL-JONES SEES PART OF THE CIRCUS


Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had limped painfully down-stairs from her bright,
chintz-hung bedroom at Sunnycrest, to be in readiness for the two
o’clock dinner. She seated herself in one of the comfortable armchairs
on the veranda to await the return of Mr. Baker and the twins.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had found these days of her unexpected visit at
Sunnycrest very happy ones. She was often lonely, in spite of having her
brain so full of people. Book friends, even when you make them up
yourself, are not the same as real, living, loving people. If it were
not that she felt a little in the way, because of her helplessness, she
would have wished to stay longer. Her solitary two rooms in the village
did not appear very inviting when compared to the busy farm with its
constant movement of life and industry, its cheerful master and mistress
and above all, the sound of children’s voices in the house.

When Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was much younger, many years before the
beginning of this story, a very great sorrow had come into her life; her
husband and dear baby were taken from her by a dreadful accident, and
ever since her life had been sad and lonely, given up to trying to make
others happy and in learning to bear her grief bravely and patiently.
Since she no longer had a child of her own to care for, she set herself
the task of making other children happy by writing stories for them. She
was so successful in this that her readers were always begging for more,
and some of Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s most precious possessions were the
letters written to her by little children, to thank her for her stories.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was thinking of all these things as she sat on the
vine-covered veranda in the soft summer air, and perhaps was planning
another story, when she happened to look down the road. She looked hard
for a moment, then she got up suddenly and walking to the door as
quickly as her lame foot would allow, called to grandmother to come and
look, too.

A peculiar procession was turning in at the gate. First came
grandfather, driving alone in the phaeton. Following was a man on
horseback leading three other horses, splendid, strong looking animals;
and last of all a girl in a pink cotton dress driving a pair of Shetland
ponies harnessed to a tiny, low, old-fashioned basket-phaeton. Beside
her on the seat sat Jane like an exalted mouse, while behind, perched on
a miniature rumble, Christopher gyrated and squirmed ecstatically.

“It looks as if they had hired the circus to parade out here,” exclaimed
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones to grandmother, in great astonishment.

The cavalcade drew up at the front steps and grandfather handed the
reins to Joshua, who had seen the procession from the stable and had
come on a run, wondering if Mr. Baker had bought the whole circus.

“Now, children, ‘I choose to tell,’ as you say,” said grandfather as
Jane and Christopher began to babble in duet. “I thought it wiser, Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, to have you see the ponies for yourself before buying
them and also to have Joshua examine them to be sure they are sound.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones from the top of the steps, and
looked more closely at the ponies.

She also looked at Letty without seeming to, and then turned and said
something to grandmother in a low tone.

“This,” said grandfather, getting out of the phaeton and going to the
side of the pony carriage, “this is Miss Letty Grey, who knows all about
the ponies.”

“And isn’t the carriage great!” exclaimed Christopher, who could not
keep still another instant. “I thought Letty would have to drive her
chariot, and wouldn’t that have made a hullabaloo going through town!
But Mr. Drake had this carriage that Letty used to use in the parade
before they got the chariot. This is the one Letty used at Willow
Grove.”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones continued to look at the ponies, evidently thinking
deeply. Jane sat, still and eager, watching Mrs. Hartwell-Jones with
bright eyes. How she hoped she would buy the ponies, dear little Punch
and Judy. Presently she slipped out of the carriage and mounted the
veranda steps.

“They are so nice!” she whispered, tucking her hand into her
grandmother’s. “And Letty drove them because she wanted to see you, Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones. She wanted to see you because you write books.”

“Would you mind driving them up or down once or twice?” she asked Letty,
who had been fidgeting the reins, overcome with shyness.

Grandfather had gone with Joshua and Mr. Drake to the farmyard, for the
purpose of examining the other horses. Joshua was celebrated all over
the countryside for his knowledge of horses.

“What a nice face that child has!” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones to
grandmother as Letty guided the ponies at a slow trot around the drive,
Christopher still perched on the rumble. “Is she the little girl you
spoke to me about?”

“Yes,” replied grandmother. “She does not look like a circus girl, does
she?”

“She doesn’t want to be a circus girl any more,” spoke up Jane. “She
wants to find some work to do. She hasn’t any home. She wants to work.
And I told her,” she added importantly, “that I’d speak to you,
grandmother, to ask if you knew of anybody who needed a maid.”

“A maid!” echoed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, as if she had been given a new
thought. “A maid—and no home!” She turned to grandmother. “Why would I
not be the better one to carry out your plan, Mrs. Baker?”

Just then Letty drove up and stopped again. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones began to
ask her questions about the ponies; whether they were afraid of trains,
motor cars, or things like that.

“No, ma’am, they are very gentle,” replied Letty earnestly, overcoming
her awe of the “author-lady” in her anxiety to do justice to the ponies.
“They have so much sense and intelligence, from being taught things that
they always listen to reason.”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones smiled kindly.

“Their intelligence certainly has been cultivated,” she agreed, “but are
they practical? I mean, will they be content to go jogging peacefully
about country roads with a quiet old lady? They might miss the spangle
and sawdust of the circus, you know. Or if they heard a band play, they
might stand up on their hind legs, carriage and all, and begin to
waltz.”

Jane and Christopher shouted with laughter at that suggestion. Even
Letty laughed, and then reddened with embarrassment.

“I don’t believe they would do that,” she answered politely.

“If they’re anything like Letty, they’ll be glad to get away from the
circus,” added Christopher. “Isn’t Letty funny, not to like the circus?
I should think it would be bully—specially with such jolly little beasts
as Punch and Judy to show off.”

“Those are the ponies’ names, you know,” put in Jane. “They are twins,
grandmother, twin brother and sister, the same as Kit and me.”

It was grandmother’s and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s turn to laugh now. Then
there were a great many more questions to be asked about the ponies, and
everybody was so interested and excited that they forgot all about
dinner—even Christopher—until Huldah came out the second time to say
everything would be spoiled. Christopher was sent to the stable to fetch
Jo Perkins to look after the ponies and grandmother invited Letty to
stay for dinner.

“You must be very hungry,” said Jane, as she led Letty up-stairs to wash
her hands. “I am always starved when I’ve been to the village. Huldah
cooks awfully good dinners.”

It was impossible for any one to feel shy very long in that cheerful
household, and Letty soon began to enjoy herself very much, although she
was very quiet.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s mind was still busy over that new idea that Jane’s
speech had given her and she watched Letty very closely without seeming
to do so.

“She is a very sweet-mannered child,” she reflected. “I find it hard to
realize that she is only a little circus girl. She must have had a
wonderfully good mother. I must manage to have a long talk with her.”

After dinner the real business began. Joshua examined the ponies
carefully while the twins looked on with bated breath. Suppose Joshua
should find something wrong with those delightful, charming little
animals!

“But he couldn’t, oh, he couldn’t!” whispered Jane to herself over and
over.

And Joshua didn’t.

Then the price must be settled upon. As this subject did not interest
the children, and as they were forbidden to drive the ponies again
because they must be rested for the return trip to the circus field,
they carried Letty off to show her Juno’s puppies, the orchard, and
their treasures and playgrounds generally.

“If I’d a-thought the lady would surely take the ponies,” said Mr. Drake
when the transaction was satisfactorily concluded, “I’d a-druv over with
another horse, so’s Letty an’ me could of got back and I could of left
the ponies right now. But I guess my wife’ll be glad to have one more
good sight of ’em. It’s strange how fond we all are of them ponies, mem;
something like they was pet dogs. The little un,” pointing with his
thumb in the direction in which Letty had disappeared, “she’ll most cry
her eyes out, I guess. Poor little un, I’m afraid there’s a good many
troubles ahead o’ her.” And he shook his head regretfully. He had a kind
heart under his rough jacket.

“I was given to understand that the girl is to leave you?” said Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones thoughtfully. “Is she no relation at all to you or your
wife?”

“No, mem, none at all. Her big brother Ben was our prize tight-rope
walker. A wonder, he was. But he fell an’ broke his neck; dreadful
accident, mem. It happened only last summer. The little un took on
dreadful. She always lived with her big brother; all her folks are dead
and she hasn’t any friends but us. Folk ain’t very cordial to circus
folk and their kin, for some reason, though you couldn’t find a nicer
spoken child than Miss Letty there. After the accident we kept her on
with us. She’s most astonishin’ helpful. My wife she sets great store by
her, but Letty don’t seem to care for the rovin’ life. I guess she won’t
mind parting company, ’cept for bein’ sorry to leave my wife an’ the
kid. But it’s powerful uncertain what’s to become of her. My wife’ll do
the best she can for her when we get to the city.”

“I was thinking,” said Mrs. Hartwell-Jones slowly, “that perhaps I could
find a position for the girl. But I should like to talk to your wife
first.”

“Yes’m?” replied the man hopefully. “I guess my wife could suit you all
right about Letty’s character, mem. We’d like first-rate to see Letty
get a good place of some sort, where she was treated kind and not worked
too hard.”

“Mr. Baker,” said Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, turning to grandfather, “I’d like
to ask a favor of you. Might Joshua drive the phaeton into the
village—to where Mr. Drake has his tents—to bring me home? I think I
should like to take a drive behind my new ponies to see how I am going
to like them and the little carriage.” For the basket-phaeton had been
bought, too.

Grandfather was only too delighted to put any carriage at all at Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones’s disposal, and word was sent to Joshua at once, while
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones limped into the house to consult with grandmother.

When Jane and Christopher learned that Letty was to drive Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones into the village in the pony carriage they were very
eager to go too, of course, but grandmother said no, they might not go.
They would make too big a load in the pony carriage for so long a drive,
and would crowd Mrs. Hartwell-Jones too much in the phaeton coming back.
Christopher had a dozen or more arguments and different arrangements by
which he and Jane could dispose of themselves for the excursion.

“I could drive the ponies, Jane could sit in the rumble and Letty could
squeeze in between Josh and Mr. Drake in the phaeton,” he exclaimed, in
a positive tone, as if no possible fault or objection could be found to
so excellent an arrangement.

But grandmother was firm. The fact was that Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had
confided her plan to grandmother and in order to think of carrying it
out that lady required to have a long talk alone with Letty and with
Mrs. Drake, the wife of the circus manager.

The “lady who wrote books” felt very hard hearted as she was helped
carefully into the low pony carriage, at thus leaving Jane and
Christopher behind. They took such a long, affectionate farewell of the
ponies and Letty, and stared so wistfully at the little rumble! But she
comforted herself with the thought that if her plan worked out properly,
the children would have many opportunities during the summer for long
drives and games.



CHAPTER VIII

JANE’S IDEA


Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty were very silent at first as they drove
along. Letty was quite overcome with shyness and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones was
considering what it was best to say first. She was very anxious to have
a long talk with Letty, which was the reason why she had not wished Jane
and Christopher to come too. For Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s plan was nothing
more nor less than to take Letty herself, to act as little errand girl
and companion during the summer; then in the autumn when she returned to
the city, to put the child in school and enable her to grow up
well-taught and fitted to take her place in the working world. But there
were a great many things to be thought about and talked over first.

“My dear, tell me something about yourself, will you?” she asked gently,
after the gate had been passed and the ponies were trotting sedately
over the smooth country road toward the village.

“About myself!” exclaimed Letty in astonishment. “Why, there isn’t
anything to tell. I’m just Letty Grey.”

“How long have you been with Mr. and Mrs. Drake?”

“Three years this fall. My brother——” She stopped a moment to swallow
hard and then went bravely on: “My brother was with the circus. He
performed on the tight rope. Then after he fell and—and died, Mrs. Drake
said I might stay on and help round. I had nowhere else to go. I am fond
of Punch and Judy, and Mrs. Drake was always kind to me, but——”

“But what, dear child?”

“I hate a circus!”

“You poor child! Tell me how you happened to join a circus in the first
place. Tell me more about it all. When did your parents die and where
was your home when they were living?”

“In Philadelphia. But my father died when I was a tiny baby. I don’t
remember him at all. We were very poor and my mother was not strong. My
brother Ben was only sixteen years old when father died—he was fourteen
years older than I. He ran errands at a theatre, ‘call boy’ I think it
was called, and mother took in sewing. After a while Ben learned how to
do tumbling from a man who had an act at the theatre and taught me how
to spring up and balance on his head. Mr. Goldberg engaged us for his
little theatre at Willow Grove. He was a very kind manager and used to
give me big boxes of candy. But mother never liked my doing it. She was
glad when, about the middle of the summer, a trained bear that had
performed in the theatre went mad or something from the heat and they
had to take him away; then Mr. Drake brought Punch and Judy and offered
to teach me how to put them through their tricks instead of the trained
bear. Mother was much happier because I did not have to jump with Ben
any more.

“It was a very happy summer!” And Letty sighed. “It was the last my
mother ever lived,” she added in a low, choked voice.

“When did it happen, dear little child, and how old were you?” asked
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones softly.

“It was that next fall. I—I was hardly ten years old. Mrs. Drake was
with us. She lived in the neighborhood and—and afterward she took me
with her. I have been with her ever since,” and Letty sighed again.

“You poor, forlorn child!” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones tenderly. “What
a melancholy life you have had!”

“Only since—since I lost my mother,” replied Letty quickly. “I was very
happy before that.”

“Have you ever been to school?”

“Not very much. My mother taught me until she was not strong enough and
then I went to school.”

“Did you like it?”

“No, ma’am. Not a bit. The other girls were horrid to me and wouldn’t
make friends. At least the girls my own age wouldn’t. They said I was
only a little circus girl. I wasn’t as far along in my lessons as they
were, either, and had to go into a class with real little girls who
thought I was stupid and made fun of me until I read aloud to them. Then
they liked me better.

“But that was before mother died. After that I couldn’t bear to go to
school any more that winter.”

“You poor, motherless little girl!” cried Mrs. Hartwell-Jones again,
with a catch in her own voice. “And was there no joy—no spot of color in
all that dull, dreary time?”

“Ben was always good to me. He was very busy at the theatre all winter,
but whenever he could spare the time he took me for walks. Once he took
me to a concert. A lady sang, oh, so beautifully!

“And there was the church music, too. I loved it there; it was a very
big church with beautiful stained glass windows. The organ hummed so
grandly and little boys in white gowns and voices like angels sang. Oh,
it was wonderful!”

“I see you are fond of music,” observed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, glancing
with pleased surprise at the little girl’s flushed cheeks and shining
eyes.

“Oh, so fond!” replied Letty eagerly.

Then she stopped, seized with a new fit of shyness. How had it come
about that she should be chattering so freely all this time to the great
lady of whom she had felt in such awe an hour before; the writer of
books! Somehow she had forgotten all about her greatness and riches; she
had felt only the loving kindness and sympathy of her manner.

Ever since her mother’s death Letty had had an odd, tight feeling around
her heart; as if it had been tucked into a case that was too small for
it. When Ben died the case had grown smaller and tighter until it cut
like a metal band. She had never been able to talk to any one of her
grief until something in Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s manner had appealed to
the trustfulness of the sensitive, lonely child. And her heart felt less
swollen and sore after she had spoken.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones asked no more questions for a time, and Letty went
over in her mind her day’s experience; the gay, happy children, the big,
sunny farmhouse with its green lawns and orchard and last, but not
least, the good dinner and general homey feeling.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s thoughts were busy too, and all that Letty had
told her made her the more decided to take the girl from her present
surroundings. But she said nothing to Letty. She would wait until she
had had her talk, as she had determined, with Mrs. Drake.

In the meantime the twins, left at home at Sunnycrest, felt a bit flat.

“I’m glad Mrs. Hartwell-Jones has bought the ponies,” said Jane, idly
swinging on the gate. “’Cause she’ll take us driving with them lots of
times, I think.”

“It’s lucky Josh found ’em all right,” responded Christopher. “He knows
a lot about horses, Josh does, and he might have found something wrong.”

“Oh, he couldn’t have been so mean as to say anything was wrong about
’em. He just couldn’t help loving the cunning little things.”

“It isn’t a question of loving,” retorted Christopher grandly. “It’s a
question of spavins or—or heaves, or heart disease. Those are horse’s
diseases, you know.”

“They aren’t all horse’s diseases. People can have some of ’em.
Leastways, nurse said Norah Flannigan had heart disease and that was
what made her eyes stick out, like a frog’s.”

“What did her eyes sticking out have to do with it?”

“Why, greeny, don’t you know that when people have heart disease their
eyes always bulge? It’s a symptom. I asked mother and she said so. But
who I’m sorry for is Letty,” she went on hastily. She saw that
Christopher was about to question further about this most interesting
symptom of heart trouble and she did not wish to betray the fact that
she had come to the end of her knowledge.

“What are you sorry for Letty for? Has she got heart disease?”

“No, but she hasn’t any home.”

“Well, but she’s got a circus to belong to and that’s lots more
exciting.”

“But she doesn’t like a circus. She said so. She doesn’t like traveling
around and living in a tent. And now that Punch and Judy are gone from
the circus she won’t have anything to do. I wish grandmother had let her
stay here to help Huldah.”

“So do I,” replied Christopher cruelly. “’Cause then she’d be around to
play dolls with you and I could get off more to go with the boys.”

“If you want to play with the boys, why don’t you go?” said Jane
loftily. “I’m sure I don’t want your company if you don’t want to stay.”

Just then she spied something enveloped in a cloud of dust coming up the
road, and her tone changed.

“Kit Baker, who’s that?”

“Huh?” asked Christopher, glancing at the approaching dust cloud with
pretended surprise. “Oh, that’s just Bill Carpenter coming out to see
the pups. Grandfather said I might give him one. And we’re going to talk
baseball too a bit. The fellows want me on the nine. You needn’t go
away, though; there’s no secret,” he added politely, as Jane climbed
down off the gate.

The dust cloud had by this time revolved upon them and disclosed a
small, freckled boy on a big bicycle. Jane gave her brother one hurt,
angry look, turned her back and without a word ran into the house.

“What’s the matter?” called grandmother, catching sight of the red,
scowling face as Jane passed the sitting-room door.

“Oh, nothing,” answered Jane carelessly, turning and entering the room.
“Kit’s got a boy out there, so I thought I’d come in and see if Huldah
wanted me to help her.”

Grandmother peered out the window at the backs of two boys disappearing
around the corner of the house in the direction of the stable.

“I don’t believe Huldah is in the kitchen, dear,” she said, “but perhaps
you would like to sit with me for a little while? I have some pretty
bits of silk put away that I have been saving up for you to make a
doll’s quilt. I thought they might come in useful when you and I were
sitting together over a bit of sewing.”

This suggestion made Jane feel very grown up—almost like a lady come in
to spend the afternoon. The sulky frown smoothed itself out at once.
Grandmother directed her where to find the box of silks, threaded her
needle and advised in a most interested way about the choice of colors.

Jane seated herself in a low rocking-chair beside an open window and
felt very important indeed as she snipped squares of silk and sewed them
together. She forgave her brother his preference for boys, she forgot to
be curious as to which puppy Billy Carpenter might choose. She even
forgot, in the general grown-upness of the occasion, that she did not
like sewing. And crowning joy, when Huldah brought a tea tray in at five
o’clock, grandmother poured her out a cup of tea—with plenty of hot
water, to be sure—from her own teapot. Jane pretended that there were
other guests present, taking tea, too. This game added to her dignity
and it also accounted, most conveniently, for the rapid disappearance of
the cakes and cookies.

“Grandmother,” said Jane, feeling quite grown up enough to discuss any
subject, “I was so sorry for Letty.”

“Yes, poor little child. It is hard to be motherless.”

“She asked me if I thought there was any chance of her getting a place
around here. I thought perhaps you might like to take her to help
Huldah.”

Mrs. Baker did not answer for a few moments, but bent silently over her
knitting. Then she said:

“Janey, dear, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones did not wish anything said about it
until the question was settled, one way or the other, but I am going to
see if you can keep a secret.”

“Oh, grandmother, dear, of course I can! Oh, what is it?” cried Jane
eagerly, jumping up and spilling the whole box of silk scraps out upon
the floor.

“She thinks of taking Letty—that is, if Mrs. Drake can answer
satisfactorily all the questions that must be asked—to wait on her this
summer; and then in the fall to put her at some good school where she
will be taught how to earn her own living when she grows up.”

“Oh, grandmother, how perfectly perfect! And can’t Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
stay here with us all summer, instead of going back to Mr. Parsons’
house in the village?”

“I shall keep her, certainly, as long as she will stay, Janey dear. But
do you see how wonderful all this is going to be for Letty? Now, she is
a homeless little girl, with nowhere to go in the wide, wide world; but
if Mrs. Hartwell-Jones takes her she will be housed and cared for and
protected. It is a fearful thing to be a little girl alone in the world,
Janey.”

“Yes, grandmother,” replied Jane solemnly. “And wouldn’t it be a
surprise if Letty should turn out to be a relation of Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones’s? It would be like one of her own stories, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it certainly would be wonderful. But there is not much likelihood
of that, dear. There are a great many Joneses in the world.”

“Yes, it seems to be a very popular name. But, grandmother, when shall
we know surely, if Letty is coming back?”

“I think it is pretty certain,” replied grandmother with a smile. “Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones had about made up her mind before she started, and Mrs.
Drake will not have very much to say against Letty, if we are to believe
Mr. Drake’s account. The child will be a great help to Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, with her lame ankle.”

Jane was gathering up the scattered scraps of bright colored silk.

“I think I won’t sew any more just now, grandmother, if you will ’scuse
me. I want to go out to the gate and watch for them to come back.”

Outside the sitting-room door she met the boys. Her superiority in
having been confided a secret made her very amiable, and when she saw
that Billy Carpenter carried a puppy, she forgot her injury in examining
the ball of fur to decide which puppy it was. But she kept one eye on
the gate and presently tumbled the puppy back in to Billy’s arms and ran
off toward the driveway with a shout.

Bill was not expecting the burden at that moment and the fat puppy fell
yelping to the ground. But Jane did not turn round.

“What in the world!” ejaculated Christopher, who had never before seen
Jane deaf to cries of distress.

“Perhaps she feels bad about your giving away the pup,” suggested Billy,
picking up the whining little beast.

The two boys bent over the puppy to see if its fall had injured it and
neither of them noticed the approach of the pony carriage, again being
driven, to Jane’s unspeakable joy, by Letty.



CHAPTER IX

HAPPY DAYS


The arrival of Letty at Sunnycrest was the herald of many happy days. Of
course Mrs. Hartwell-Jones gave grandmother all the particulars of her
interview with Mrs. Drake, but the mere fact that Letty was there
satisfied the twins; they carried her off to the orchard, completely
contented at the new turn events had taken.

“Here’s where we play fairies,” said Jane, leading the way to the
orchard. “This is Titania’s throne—this mound with the grapevine twisted
into a seat. Kit made it for me. Isn’t he clever? He plays with me, too;
sometimes he’s Oberon and sometimes he’s Puck. He’s funniest when he’s
Puck.”

“I said something to Bill Carpenter about Puck to-day, and he thought I
meant a funny paper,” exclaimed Christopher scornfully. “Just fancy not
knowing about Puck!”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” said Letty shyly, her face getting very red
at the thought of these children knowing so much more than she did. “Was
he a fairy?”

“Oh, yes, and there’s a play about him in the house. Will you read us
the story?”

“Some time,” replied Letty hesitatingly, doubtful if she could read well
enough. She had not progressed very much in her lessons during these
past three years.

“Do you know any stories?” asked Jane, settling herself comfortably upon
Titania’a throne.

“I—I make up stories sometimes to myself and—and songs.”

“Oh, do you sing?” put in Christopher. “What sort of songs? Sing us one,
that’s a good girl.”

“I only know two or three songs with tunes to them. I’ll sing them for
you some time, but not now. I must go see if Mrs. Hartwell-Jones needs
me.”

“Everything Mrs. Drake could tell me was satisfactory,” Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones was saying to grandmother. “Letty’s mother, it seems,
must have been a very unusual woman, a ‘real lady’ Mrs. Drake called
her.”

“I remember my daughter-in-law said the same thing,” put in grandmother.

“The son was fond of his little sister but careless of her and too fond
of his own good times. The Drakes have kept her on with them since her
brother’s death out of pure kindness of heart. Mrs. Drake said she
thought of trying to get Letty a place as nursemaid when they went back
to the city; she is so fond of children and so patient and good to Mrs.
Drake’s baby. You should have seen how Letty cried and hugged that baby
when we came away.”

“How sad it would have been,” said grandmother, “to have cast that poor
child upon the world at her age.”

“What a mercy it is that your dear little Janey gave me my idea. In the
past I have done what I could for charity, as every one does; that is, I
have given sums of money to different hospitals and all that. But I have
always wanted to have some personal work to do, and now I have it, in
bringing up this poor orphaned child.”

“And you will grow fond of her, too,” added grandmother. “She has such a
sweet face and such nice, thoughtful ways.”

“I think I am fond of her already; fond and interested.”

“Have you any plans?”

“I suppose I shall send her to boarding-school in the autumn. But the
poor child is woefully behind her years in knowledge. I shall write to
the city for books and set her a daily task at once.

“And now about my visit to you, dear Mrs. Baker. It is very kind of you
to take Letty in as well as me, and those great ponies too. But I must
not impose upon your hospitality too long. As soon as arrangements can
be made, Letty and I must return to the village. Now that I have a
willing pair of little feet to wait upon me and run my errands I shall
get on nicely. We stopped on the way home this afternoon at Mr. Parsons’
and bespoke a room for Letty. Mr. Parsons thinks he can make room for
the ponies in his stable.”

“We shall be very sorry to see you go,” replied Mrs. Baker regretfully,
“but I dare say you will feel freer and more undisturbed in your own
rooms. The children will miss you.”

“I hope they will come in to see me often—every day, if they wish. We
shall have little tea-parties in my sitting-room or down under the
trees. And I trust you will come too, to drink tea with me.”

So matters were arranged; much to the children’s disappointment at
first, but when they understood the extent of Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s
invitations to them, they were frankly delighted. They did not like the
idea of losing Letty and the ponies, but the prospect of almost daily
tea-parties made them look forward almost with eagerness to the time of
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s return to her own rooms in the village.

Jane was filled with rapture at the idea of more fairy plays, for Letty
had entered into the game of dolls as eagerly and interestedly as Jane
herself, her vivid imagination making the dainty waxen creatures seem
all but alive. Christopher, for his part, rejoiced secretly over the
chances these visits promised of going to the village and continuing his
intimacy with Billy Carpenter.

Billy and half a dozen other village boys were trying to get up a
baseball nine, and Christopher and Jo Perkins had both been invited to
join. Billy Carpenter came out to Sunnycrest nearly every afternoon on
his bicycle, and he and Jo Perkins and Christopher had great times
practicing pitching and batting down in the long meadow.

Grandmother looked on at this new friendship of Christopher’s with some
surprise and a little uneasiness. Until the present time, the twins had
been inseparable, sharing their pleasures and enjoying the same games.
Jane was hurt sometimes by Christopher’s desertion, but she was too busy
and happy to feel badly for long, and after Letty came she was quite
reconciled to Christopher’s new friends.

Letty was a delightful playfellow, always ready for whatever game Jane
was pleased to suggest, and as Mrs. Hartwell-Jones demanded very little
of her new companion’s time, she was able to devote herself to Jane.
Every morning Letty drove Mrs. Hartwell-Jones out in the pony carriage,
Jane and Christopher taking turns in the little seat behind; then there
was an hour’s work over arithmetic and reading. After that the two
little girls might amuse themselves as they pleased.

Huldah enjoyed having them in the kitchen. Letty soon proved to be more
of a helper than Jane herself, and was so genuinely interested in the
art of cooking that Huldah good-naturedly offered to give her a few
practical lessons.

It was while these cooking lessons were going on that Jane generally
wrote her letters to her mother. It was a positive rule that the twins
were to write either to their father or mother at least once a week. It
may sound hard to say that this had to be made a rule but if you, my
dears, are like most children, you will understand how difficult it is
to find time to write letters even to those you love best in the world.
But Jane rather liked it when she got started—if there was some one at
hand to help with the spelling and the letters need not be long. Before
sailing on the big steamer, Mrs. Baker, Jr., had given each of her
children a little writing-case containing paper, envelopes, a box for
pens and pencils, a tiny compartment for stamps and an ink-bottle, all
complete. It was the first time Jane had ever been allowed to write with
ink, and that added to the importance of her weekly letter-writing.

So while Huldah and Letty talked busily over recipes—“three cups of
sifted flour; the whites of four eggs beaten stiff; two even
teaspoonfuls of baking-powder” and other mysteries, Jane toiled away
over her foreign correspondence. Jane loved her mother dearly and missed
her—at times—more than any one guessed. As it was her joy when they were
all at home to pour out into mother’s sympathetic ears all the little
details of each day’s happiness, so now she told, in shorter form but
with as faithful accuracy, the events of Sunnycrest. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s
accident, the finding of her by the twins and her coming to Sunnycrest,
had all been told in a previous letter. Now there was the account of
the circus and the finding of Letty to relate, and when the crooked,
blotty little letter reached Mrs. Christopher Baker, Jr., in Berlin, I
am sure she was touched by the story of the orphaned circus girl who
had been given a home by a kind, generous woman. And, mother-like, her
heart must have glowed with pride at the thought that her little
girl’s sympathy and love for a fellow creature had spoken the word
which brought Letty a reward for her act of heroism long ago.

Letty was supremely happy. She was hardly old enough to realize all that
she had been saved from, but the joy of being well fed and cared for
filled her cup of happiness to overflowing. This change in her
circumstances did not make the child selfish and lazy, as it might have
affected some natures, easily spoiled by comfort; but more eager and
willing to serve those who had been so kind to her. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
and grandmother agreed that there was no fear of being disappointed in
Letty’s disposition, and the “lady who wrote books” found Mrs. Baker’s
prophecy already coming true. She was growing fond of Letty.

[Illustration: UNDER A LARGE TREE IN THE GARDEN]

“I find myself looking forward quite eagerly to my return to the city in
the autumn,” she said to grandmother. “Letty will need some clothes
before she goes to school, of course, and it will be such a pleasure to
buy them. It has been so long since I have had any one to buy clothes
for,” she added, the tears coming to her eyes. “I dare confess now, Mrs.
Baker, how much I have envied you Janey and Kit this summer.”

“They are dear children,” agreed grandmother with a sigh, “but they are
growing up so fast! Until this year they were always ‘the children.’ Now
Jane is a girl and Kit a boy.” Grandmother paused a moment as if she
wished to say something more, but she was afraid of boring her visitor
by discussing the children too much and changed the subject.

It happened that the afternoon of the day before that set for the return
of Letty and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones to the village was very hot, and all
the grown-ups had retired to their own rooms to lie down. The children
were told to stay quietly in the shade until the sun was lower, and
Letty agreed to tell them stories. So they settled themselves under a
large tree in the garden close to the house and, as it happened, just
underneath Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s window.

Letty began with “Jack the Giant Killer,” which she had read in one of
Jane’s old books, but found that she was listened to with only polite
interest.

“I think Jack ought to have saved the giant’s wife before he cut down
the beanstalk,” said Christopher disgustedly, when the story was ended,
“after she had treated him so kindly and all. It was a shame to leave
her up there without any way of getting down.”

“She was the fairy, you goose,” exclaimed Jane, “who first told Jack
that all the giant’s treasure belonged to his mother, and so she could
easily get down, because fairies can go anywhere.”

“Don’t you know any other stories, Letty?” asked Christopher. “New
ones?”

“Make up one!” urged Jane. “You know you said you did sometimes.”

“But they aren’t really stories; I mean not long ones. They’re just
little thoughts about the birds and flowers and things talking. But I
will try to tell you a story I read once, that I love dearly. It was a
story in a magazine that a girl lent me at school, and I loved it so
that I read it over and over again. I think I know it by heart and I’ll
tell it to you if you think it will interest you. It’s not exactly a
boy’s story,” she added apologetically, looking at Christopher.

“Oh, never mind, fire away,” answered Christopher grandly.

Christopher was very comfortable, sprawled on his back in the shade, and
was ready to be amused by anything except a nursery tale.

“Well, then, here is the story. It is called ‘Thistledown.’”

“‘Thistledown,’” repeated Christopher, “that’s a funny name.”

“Thistledown was the fairy’s name, and you’ll see what he got for being
naughty and mischievous. Well——”

“Before you begin, Letty,” broke in Jane, “please make Kit promise one
thing—that he won’t interrupt.”

“Huh, I’d like to know who was the first to interrupt,” mocked
Christopher.

“I didn’t interrupt. The story hadn’t begun yet. Make him promise,
Letty, do.”

“I don’t see why I have to promise.”

“Because it spoils a story so, Kit. Please promise. Letty’s going to
recite the story, just as we do our poetry at school, and she might
forget something if she had to stop in the middle. Besides, explanations
cut up a story so. Come on, say you won’t interrupt, like a good boy. I
know you won’t if you only promise.”

“Well, I’ll not interrupt if you don’t,” conceded Christopher. “Go on,
Letty, let’s hear what happened to Thistledown.”



CHAPTER X

THISTLEDOWN


“Well,” commenced Letty cheerfully, “it began like this:

“Thistledown was a roguish elf and, I am afraid, rather a selfish little
fellow. The sight of good examples did not make him want to be useful or
helpful at all. Indeed, nothing could make him work except to threaten
to take away his liberty. For Thistledown prized his liberty dearly. Not
from the high, noble motives of honor and self-respect that are the
reasons why most people insist upon having their rights, but because to
Thistledown his liberty meant his happiness. It meant nice long, warm
hours in which to float idly about the great sunshiny world with never a
thought or care in his feather-brained head.

“He was not a bothersome elf, as idle folk are so apt to be. He was too
lazy to tease—except to give an occasional passing tickle to the long nose
of some serious old gnome bent over his work, when Thistledown’s merry
laugh at the goblin’s sneeze and start of surprise was so jolly that the
gnome had to laugh too, and so no cross words were spoken.

“The breezes were Thistledown’s best friends. They were as lazy and
careless as himself, and the kindred spirits got on splendidly together.
The breezes would carry him on long, swift rides astride their backs, or
float with him lazily along over sweet-smelling fields of flowers.
Sometimes they would dip him in the brook, but Thistledown did not mind
that, for he shed water like a duck and the little plunge served finely
to cool him off on hot summer days.

“But lazy folk are bound to be punished sooner or later, for it is not
right to be lazy, and everything that is not right in the world is sure
to be punished some time or other. And so it happened—but I am going to
let Thistledown tell his story in his own way. (Yes, Kit, that is just
the way it was in the magazine.)

“One day as Thistledown was floating over a field of daisies, he spied a
spot of yellow among the flowers that was very much larger than any of
the daisy centres, and much shinier and softer. Too lazy to wonder what
the new kind of blossom could be, but thinking that it looked like a
snug, silky place for a nap, he dropped down upon it. Immediately his
downy wings became mixed up in a soft tangle of long golden threads that
curled and twined about in a distressfully confusing way, all around
him.

“Thistledown became frightened, but the more he struggled to free
himself the more tangled he became in the golden mesh. At last he saw
approaching him what he knew to be a person’s hand and his little heart
sank within him as he felt this new prison closing about him. The touch
of the small hand was very gentle so that not one of Thistledown’s
feathers was crushed. But he was very much frightened nevertheless, poor
little fellow, and closed his eyes tight for a minute.

“When he dared to open them again he found himself being surveyed very
seriously by a pair of big blue eyes.

“‘Now, sir,’ said the little girl (I am sure you have guessed before now
that Thistledown’s golden prison was a little girl’s curls), ‘Now, sir,’
she said, ‘before I let you go, you must tell me a story, please.’

“She was a very polite little girl and although she knew that she held
Thistledown in her power and that he simply had to do whatever she told
him to, whether he wanted to or not, still she said ‘sir’ and ‘please’
when she asked for her story, for she was a very polite little girl.

“The politeness pleased Thistledown—as nice manners always do please
every one—but his little wits could not think of anything like a story.

“‘I’m afraid I don’t know any story,’ he replied, trying to be as polite
as the little girl.

“‘Oh, yes, you do. You’re sure to,’ she declared, with a grave little
nod of her head. ‘Tell me about your ad-ven-tures!’

“This was a very big word for such a little girl, but she got it out
quite correctly. Besides, she knew very well what the word meant,
because she had seen it so often on the back of a book on her sister’s
book-shelf. ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’

“Thistledown squirmed and wriggled and began to grow warm and cross.

“‘I don’t know any stories. And I never had any adventures—except once,’
he added, remembering something all at once.

“‘Oh, please do tell me about it,’ coaxed the little girl.

“She looked so pretty, and besides, she held him so firmly, that
Thistledown saw that the sooner he told his story the sooner he would be
free, so he began at once:

“‘It happened so long ago that I may forget parts, but I’ll tell it the
best I know how. I was flying home from a party one afternoon and as it
was almost dark I was in a good deal of a hurry. Pretty soon, down at
the edge of a field of tall grasses, I saw an old firefly poking about
as if he were looking for something. I stopped to see what was the
matter, for it was too dark to hope to find anything, and the old
firefly’s lantern gave out hardly any light at all.

“‘I supposed his light was dim because the old fellow was too lazy to
make it shine brighter. I had seen the gnomes blowing up their forge
fires with a pair of bellows to make them burn brighter and I supposed
the firefly’s lantern worked the same way. So I got behind the old
fellow as he stooped to look under a clump of violet leaves, and I gave
a quick, sharp little blow—pouf—like that, at his lantern. But what do
you suppose happened? It went out!

“‘I was terribly surprised and a bit frightened, for that horrid old
firefly thought that I had done it on purpose. He whirled around before
I could spread my wings, and caught hold of me.

“‘“You wicked, wicked little sprite!” he exclaimed, almost squeezing the
breath out of me. “How dared you, oh, how dared you!”

“‘I never dreamed he could move so fast and I was too surprised to get
out of his way. If you have ever had a firefly on your hand you know how
sticky their legs feel. Well, the old firefly held me by all his legs,
squeezing me tight and mussing my party feathers. Lifting me off the
ground, he flew away with me, scolding all the while.

“‘“You are a vicious little vagabond,” he said. I don’t know what he
meant, but those are the very words he used and I know they meant
something disagreeable. He thought I had blown out his light, just for
mischief. “But you shall be punished for it,” he went on. “I’ll see to
it. I shall take you to the King himself!”

“‘I grew more and more frightened. His voice was so very cross and he
clutched me so tight. Then, too, we were flying along through the dark
over fields I had never visited before. I have always been afraid in the
dark’ (here the little girl nodded her head understandingly and looked
about her at the bright sunshine gratefully). ‘And the grasses rustled
so queerly. I began to be afraid that they, too, meant to do me harm.

“‘At last, after we had been flying for what seemed to me to be hours,
we reached a sort of open place, all bare and cold looking, with high
rocks all about it. There were thousands of fireflies inside this place,
all with their lanterns brightly burning. On one side a great many flies
were bunched together to light a kind of throne, and on this throne sat
the King and Queen of the Fireflies. My heart was in my mouth as my
captor carried me across to them, for the King was ever so much bigger
than any of the other fireflies and I did not know what he might do to
punish me.

“‘There were two or three other fireflies talking to the King, but they
all stopped and moved aside when they saw the old firefly coming up with
his lantern gone out, and carrying me.

“‘“Why, what’s this, what’s this?” asked the King in a surprised voice
as the fly sank down, all out of breath, at the foot of the throne.

“‘“Oh, Your Majesty,“ he gasped, as soon as he could get breath enough
to speak, “I was hunting for corn-flowers down in the big meadow, trying
to find enough honey to finish my supper before it grew too dark, for
you know I am growing old and my light was giving out.”

“‘“Yes, yes, I know,” replied the King kindly. “We have all felt very
sorry about it. And I am greatly shocked to see that it has now gone out
altogether.”

“‘“Ah, but hear how that happened, Your Majesty. I was hunting about,
very busy and never dreaming of the dreadful thing that was to happen,
when this little creature”—he did not call me a vicious little vagabond
to the King, but his voice sounded as if he would like to—“stole up
behind me and blew out my light!”

“‘Everybody exclaimed at this and crowded about the old firefly to tell
him how sorry they were. I was sorry too, as sorry as I could be, for I
had not known that the firefly’s light was dim because he was growing
old. I had not meant any harm, but rather to help him. I tried to
explain this to the fireflies but no one would listen when I talked
about the gnomes and their forge fires. I thought the Queen was
listening, for she kept looking at me; but she did not say anything.

“‘The King ordered me off to prison, and appointed the old fly, whose
light I had blown out, to be my keeper. There were two other guards to
the prison too, and it was horrid. My prison was a long, narrow crack in
one of the brown rocks and I don’t know how long a time I spent there.
It seemed like years. At the back, very cold and dark indeed, was my
bed. The front looked down on the open space which, I learned, was
called the throne glade, and one could see everything that went on. But
the two keepers always sat one on each side of the door, and the old fly
in the middle so that I could not see out. If the King went by, or
anything interesting happened, I would try to peep over their shoulders,
but the guards scolded me so and made such unkind remarks that I was
ready to cry.

“‘It was a dreadful time. I was getting thinner, for I was not used to
living in the dark and I did not like the things they gave me to eat. My
wings were getting so weak from not being used that I began to be afraid
they would never hold me up again.

“‘The only thing that was at all pleasant was a visit from the Queen.
She was very kind and said that she had heard what I said about not
meaning to injure the old fly, but that I must understand that almost as
much harm and sorrow happened in the world through “not meaning to” as
from real naughtiness. She said that it is always dangerous to meddle
with things we don’t know about and most dangerous of all to meddle with
fire. And I promised her that I would never do it again.

“‘The keepers were a little more kind to me after the Queen’s visit and
I tried to show the old firefly, whose lamp I had blown out, that I was
sorry. I was hoping that the Queen would send some one to set me free,
but she did not and it was very lonely. I began to be afraid I should
have to stay in that gloomy prison all the rest of my life.

“‘Then, one day, a young firefly came bustling up to the prison in great
excitement. The King and Queen had been invited to a big party given by
the June beetles, and all the fireflies were asked to go along to help
light up the party. The June beetle’s country was pretty far off and the
fireflies would have to start early in the afternoon to reach it before
dark. Every single one of them was to go except my old keeper, who was
left to guard me.

“‘“Of course I would not be wanted anyhow,” I heard him say crossly.
“I’m of no use without my lantern.”

“‘I was very sorry that the poor old fly had to stay behind and miss the
party, but I realized that my chance had come to escape. So, every day,
while the three guards sat in the doorway, busy watching what went on
below and talking about the party, I stayed in the dark corner beside my
bed and exercised my wings by lifting myself up to the ceiling and down
again on them, to bring back the strength.

“‘At last the day of the party arrived and every single firefly had gone
except my old keeper and me. We sat side by side in the doorway and
watched the sun go down. I really think the old fly was as unhappy to
have me sit in the doorway as he had been to miss the party. But he
could not fill up the whole doorway by himself, although he crowded me a
great deal, nor could he forbid me to stay there, so I sat and looked
down at the throne glade and tried to see where the opening was that led
back to the world.

“‘It always got dark early in this place and as soon as the sun had set,
the old fly got up and said I must go to bed. I got up without saying
anything and he turned around and started back toward my bed, thinking
that I was following right behind. You remember that his light was out
and he could not see.

“‘But I did not lose a second of time. The instant his back was turned I
spread my wings and flew down into the throne glade. My poor wings were
so weak that I almost fell, but they soon got stronger as I skimmed
through the fresh air. The old fly did not miss me at first, and I had
time to get out through the narrow opening of the glade before he
realized what had happened and started to follow me.

“‘My wings grew stronger every minute, and I was oh, so happy to be free
and on my way back to my own dear, sunshiny world again, that I did not
feel a bit frightened when presently I heard the blind old fly coming
after me. He was oh, so cross! He could not see me at all and could only
tell where I was by the rustle of my wings. But although he was older
than I he was stronger and could fly faster. I heard him coming closer
and closer. What if I should be captured again! I should die, I knew!

“‘On I flew, faster and faster, and at last I found myself again in the
field of high grasses near the edge of which I had first seen the old
fly. The noises and darkness of the grasses had frightened me then, but
now they seemed like home to me. I was too tired to fly another inch, so
I just dropped down, right into the middle of a clump of grasses.

“‘It was now much too dark to see anything and the grasses made such a
rustle in the wind that the old firefly did not miss the sound of my
wings at first and had flown quite some distance ahead before he
realized that I was not in front of him any longer. Then, how angry he
was! He knew that I must be hiding somewhere near by, and he went
bumping back and forth over the field, hitting his poor head against
stalks and getting crosser every minute. He flew quite close to me two
or three times and I held my breath for fear he would pounce upon me.
But after a long, long time he gave up hunting for me and flew angrily
away.

“‘And not any too soon, either, for the moon came out presently and
shone so bright that he could have seen me down in the clump of grasses
at once. I waited until I was quite sure that he was out of sight and
would not come back, then I sprang up and flew home as fast as my poor
weak wings would carry me. And you may be sure that I have kept out of
the way of fireflies ever since.’

“Thistledown stopped talking, quite out of breath and tired with his
long story.

“‘It was a very interesting story,’ said the little girl, ‘and I thank
you very much for telling it to me. And I’ll remember, too, what the
Queen of the Fireflies told you about not meddling,’ she added
thoughtfully.

“Then the little girl stood up, still holding Thistledown gently in her
chubby hand.

“‘I am going to do what you did to the firefly—only I hope it won’t hurt
you,’ she said. ‘Get behind you and say pouf—like that,’ and puffing out
her rosy cheeks, she sent Thistledown sailing merrily away through the
warm, sunshiny air.”

Letty ended her story with a little laugh.

“I feel as out of breath as Thistledown did, when he had finished his
adventure,” she laughed.

“Ho!” ejaculated Christopher, who had nearly burst in his effort to keep
his promise not to interrupt. “He couldn’t have blown out the old
firefly’s lamp. They’re not made that way. They’re a part of the
firefly—the light they make, I mean. The person who wrote that story did
not know very much about beetles and things.”

The curtains parted in an up-stairs window and a smiling face looked
down upon them.

“I know who wrote the story, Kit,” called Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. “Can you
guess?” she asked merrily.

Letty looked up with her face all aglow, enlightened by Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones’s expression.

“Oh, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones,” she exclaimed, “you don’t mean to say that
you wrote it!”

“Yes,” laughed the lady gayly. “I wrote it ever so many years ago. How
wonderfully you remembered it, my dear.”

“I loved it,” replied Letty simply. “But I should never have believed it
then if any one had told me that some day I should know the writer,” and
she sighed happily.

“I’ll write another one some time—just for you and Janey,” promised Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones. “And now wouldn’t you children like to drive Punch and
Judy into the village to carry some of my things to Mr. Parsons’ house?”

The twins jumped up with a whoop. They were always delighted to go for a
drive in the pony carriage.



CHAPTER XI

CHRISTOPHER GOES FOR THE MAIL


When Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty drove away from Sunnycrest in the
pony carriage, amid a general waving of pocket handkerchiefs and shouts
of farewell, everybody looked at everybody else rather blankly, as if
something had happened and nobody was quite sure just what it was.

“Mrs. Hartwell-Jones said that we had done so much to brighten her
life,” grandmother told grandfather, when they were talking it all over
on the veranda that afternoon. “But it seems to be the other way on. It
is she who has done us all good. We shall all miss her and Letty, each
for different reasons. I enjoyed my talks with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and
the children were perfectly happy with Letty.”

“We shall all of us miss Letty,” agreed grandfather.

“Yes, Jane is disconsolate and Huldah declares that her cake will never
be so good again.”

It really was wonderful how quickly Letty had filled a place in the
simple home life, and how happy she had been. No word or look had ever
reminded her that she was a poor little outcast; every one had welcomed
her with loving kindness.

“Grandmother,” Jane had said one evening when she was saying her
prayers, very soon after Letty’s arrival, “I think Letty must be ‘our
sister in heaven.’ You know the Bible says that everybody is brother and
sister in heaven and that is what Letty must be to us.” And as such Jane
had taken her into her loving child’s heart.

Letty was sorry to leave Sunnycrest; it was so lovely, so quiet and
peaceful. But she loved and admired Mrs. Hartwell-Jones so extremely
that she would have been glad to go anywhere with her. There were
lessons to be studied every day, to prepare for the glorious prospect of
school in the autumn, and little drives to take about the countryside.
Then it was understood, before Mrs. Hartwell-Jones left Sunnycrest, that
the twins were to come into the village nearly every afternoon for a
tea-party, and grandmother was to come with them as often as she could.

And the very next day after Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s departure, Jane
proposed a visit. Grandmother thought it too soon, but Jane and
Christopher were urgent.

“I think we ought to go, to see if Mrs. Hartwell-Jones got home all
right and how her lame foot is,” remarked Jane in a grown-up tone.
“Don’t you think it would be polite, grandmother?”

“And maybe she’ll have some jolly little apple turnovers, like she gave
us once,” added Christopher.

So grandmother gave her consent; Joshua brought round the comfortable
big carryall and grandmother and the twins got in, Jane carrying Sally,
dressed in her best. Christopher got on the front seat with Joshua, to
discuss the prospect of Jo Perkins being allowed enough time off to join
the baseball nine. Christopher had counted on seeing Billy Carpenter in
the village. Billy lived next door to Mr. Parsons, but he was nowhere to
be seen, nor answered Christopher’s shrill whistle.

“I’m going on up to the post-office with Josh,” said Christopher as his
grandmother and Jane descended. “I’ll be back before you get started on
the party.”

“You will have to walk back, Kit,” replied his grandmother. “Joshua is
going to have the horses shod.”

“Oh, I don’t mind a little walk like that,” answered Christopher
loftily. “Besides, if Bill’s there he’ll probably give me a lift back on
the step of his bicycle.”

Christopher thought it likely that Billy Carpenter was at the
post-office helping his father with the letters, and that by going on
there he would not only see his chum but would miss all the “how do you
do’s” and small talk at Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s, arriving in time for the
real pleasure of the occasion—the tea-party.

Jane stood still a moment at the gate and watched the carriage drive off
a bit regretfully. She knew that Christopher wanted to see Billy
Carpenter and she felt a little forlorn.

“We won’t have the party until you get back, Kit,” she called after him.
Then she turned to her grandmother, her lip quivering a little. “Do you
suppose Kit likes that Carpenter boy better than me, grandmother?”

“Of course not, Janey, dear, but—boys will be boys, you know, and girls
girls.”

“But Kit didn’t use to care for boys.”

“Well, he’s getting older,” replied grandmother vaguely.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones must have been expecting company, for little Anna
Parsons ran out of the front door to meet them, and led them around the
corner of the house, where a wide, shady expanse of velvety lawn invited
rest. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones sat in an easy chair placed on a rug, and
other chairs were grouped nearby, while the sight of a low,
white-covered table would have done Christopher’s heart good, it was so
loaded down with goodies.

“Where is Kit?” was Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s first question, echoed by
Letty.

Grandmother explained that he had gone for the mail and would be back
directly. Then she sat down beside Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and discussed the
question of boys in general and Kit in particular, while Letty told the
story of “Thistledown” over again for Anna Parsons’ benefit, the
children taking frequent peeps at Mrs. Hartwell-Jones in the meantime
and wondering how she could have thought it all out. After which she
told parts of “Prince Pietro,” a story she and her little neighbor Emma
Haines had been very fond of, and she wondered if Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
had written that, too.

In the meanwhile Christopher drove merrily on with Joshua to the
post-office, at the other end of the village, his tongue wagging at its
usual nimble rate. As they reached the post-office he gave a sudden
shrill whistle that made Joshua put his hand over the ear nearest to
Christopher’s mouth.

“For the land’s sake!” he exclaimed. “Do you want to make me plumb deaf,
boy?”

An answering whistle, followed by a whoop, sounded from inside the
building and Billy Carpenter darted out.

“Hi, Bill, bring the mail with you,” called Joshua. “Here you, Kit, you
go in and get it, and get Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s too. You might as well
take hers to her, as you’re going right back there.”

“Not right back,” objected Christopher, scrambling down over the front
wheel.

“Yes, right back,” repeated Joshua sternly, as the horses started to go
on. “Mind you go directly back to your grandma and the girls,” he called
over his shoulder, right into the listening ear of Billy Carpenter.

“Huh!” jeered that youth, “here comes the boy that’s tied to a girl’s
apron-strings! Howdy, Miss Kitty.”

Christopher was ready to cry with mortification, but his pride held him
steady.

“They’re going to have a tea-party at the author-lady’s, and they’re
waitin’ for me,” he announced grandly. “You know in the city we fellows
have to be polite to the ladies.”

“We’re polite to the ladies too,” answered Billy sullenly. It always
made him angry when Christopher made remarks which suggested that city
ways were superior to those of the country.

“Oh, I dare say you are,” admitted Christopher graciously, “but it’s
different in the city, you know. Say, are you going home? Let’s walk
back together. Wait till I get the mail and I’ll treat to sour balls.”

In addition to his light duties as postmaster of the little village, Mr.
Carpenter sold knitting worsted and sweeties kept in glass jars.
Christopher, with the manner of a millionaire, pulled the last five-cent
piece of his week’s “’lowance” out of his pocket, handed it over the
counter and received in return ten large, semi-transparent yellow sugar
balls, striped in red, and done up in a paper bag.

“Here’s another of those pesky special delivery letters for the
author-lady at Mr. Parsons’, Bill,” said Mr. Carpenter as he handed out
a thick budget; “you’d better take it along with the others. Now run
along, both of you, for I’m busy.”

“The author-lady must be awful rich, by the way she spends money on
postage stamps,” observed Billy, as the boys strolled along the village
street, each with one of the big red and yellow balls of sweet stuff
tucked comfortably in his cheek. “She buys dad out sometimes. And she
gets stacks and stacks of letters. I wonder what they’re all about?”

He surveyed the bundle he carried with a good deal of curiosity.

“Oh, people who write books always get lots of letters; from magazine
editors, asking for stories and all that sort of thing,” replied
Christopher airily. “And they pay big prices for stories, so of course
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones is rich. Say, Letty was telling us a story the other
day—it was an awfully hot day and there wasn’t anything else to do so I
lay on the grass and couldn’t help hearing what the girls were talking
about—well, Letty told this story that she had read once years before at
school and what do you suppose? Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had written it. She
hollered down to us about it out of her bedroom window when Letty’d got
through. Funny, wasn’t it? And she said she’d write another story some
time, just for the girls. They were immensely tickled.”

“You have pretty good times, don’t you?” said Billy enviously. “I guess
you won’t care to play with us boys much.”

“Oh, yes, I do,” exclaimed Christopher hastily. “I’ve got a fine scheme
that I wanted to talk to you about to-day. Let’s you and Perk and me go
off on a lark some time together. We’ll go into the woods.
Grandmother’ll give us a lunch and we’ll build a fire to cook potatoes.
Maybe we can catch some fish to fry.”

“Oh, say, that would be great!” exclaimed Billy enthusiastically. “Let’s
go to-morrow!”

“Well, I don’t know about to-morrow. I was going to ask grandfather to
let us have a horse and wagon, and we’ll have to wait till one can be
spared from the farm work. But we’ll go soon.”

“Can you swim?” asked Billy suddenly.

“No, not exactly,” confessed Christopher reluctantly. “I had some
lessons at a swimming school in town, but somehow I couldn’t seem to get
just the hang of it by myself.”

“Oh, well, if you’ve got a start Perk an’ I’ll soon teach you,” Billy
promised patronizingly. “I know of a bully swimming hole, safe as
anything.”

“I don’t know whether grandfather would let me go in swimming,” said
Christopher slowly, feeling that the expedition was growing more serious
than he had intended. Yet he found it unbearable to have Billy think him
lacking in any manly sport. “But if it’s a perfectly safe place I guess
he’ll say——”

“Oh, pshaw, what do you want to tell him for? I guess your grandfather
doesn’t want you to be a sissy-boy, does he?”

“Of course not!” answered Christopher indignantly.

“Well, then, he must want you to learn to swim. If you should just go
home some fine afternoon and say, ‘Gran’pa, I know how to swim,’ why,
he’d be as pleased as—as a pup.”

“But I do know how—almost—already,” boasted Christopher.

They discussed the new plan with great gusto. Billy was for making a
huge mystery out of it all, like the meeting of some secret society. He
proposed smuggling a luncheon out of the Carpenter and Baker pantries
and to keep the spot they were to visit a secret. But Christopher did
not see the charm of this. He preferred to tell straight out that the
three boys wished to go on a picnic. He knew that he would have a much
better time if he “had it out” plainly with Jane, instead of slipping
away from her, and that Huldah would certainly put up a much better
lunch—if she were asked politely—than he and Billy could ever get
together by stealth. The swimming was the only part of the programme he
did not care to discuss openly.

“Well, we’ll do it as soon as we can,” he concluded, as they reached Mr.
Parsons’ gate. “I’ll send you word by Perk when he comes in for the
mail, or mebbe you’d better ride out to the farm on your bike and we’ll
talk it over.”

“All right,” replied Billy, lingering a moment as Christopher walked up
the path. “I can go any time. I don’t have to scheme to get away from
the girls.”

With which parting thrust he vaulted the fence into his own garden. He
would have liked to be invited to the tea-party, too, but Christopher
never dreamed of suggesting such a thing. He believed that Billy was
laughing at him for joining the girls and his cheeks grew very red. He
stopped and for a moment was tempted to turn back and sit on the fence
with Bill, and talk of swimming, baseball and other manly topics until
his grandmother was ready to go home. But just then he looked around—he
had reached the corner of the house—and caught sight of the
white-covered table, loaded with goodies. He went on.



CHAPTER XII

LETTY SINGS A LULLABY


After the lemonade had all been drunk and most of the cakes eaten—for
not even Christopher’s best efforts could quite empty the many
plates—Letty offered to go back to her storytelling. She sat down on the
grass with her back against a tree trunk and the twins curled themselves
up contentedly on each side. Little Anna Parsons sat silent at her feet.

“Why are your stories always about people or fairies who sing
beautifully?” asked Christopher unexpectedly, after Letty had related
two or three tales of her own invention. “Do you sing, Letty?”

“I should like to. Oh, how I should like to!” sighed Letty, clasping her
hands.

“Sing something to us now,” commanded Jane.

“I only know one or two songs,” replied Letty shyly, “and they are old
songs. I think you children must know them already. I was never taught
to sing,” she added quickly.

“Neither were we, except in Sunday-school, but we’ll sing for you, if
you like,” said Christopher politely. “Sit up, Jane, and we’ll give her
‘Onward, Christian Soldiers.’”

“I think Letty’d like ‘There’s a Work for Me and a Work for You’
better,” objected Jane. “Her stories always have something about doing
things in them.”

“Well, don’t the Christian Soldiers do things? They conquer the world
and all that sort of thing. I like that song because you can make such a
jolly lot of noise over it. It’s a regular shouter.”

“Boys always like to make a noise,” said Jane to Letty with an
apologetic air. “But they are not the nicest kind of songs. I like
lullabies and such things. Letty, don’t you know a lullaby? I guess you
used to have to sing them to Mrs. Drake’s baby, didn’t you?”

Tears filled Letty’s eyes at the memory Jane’s words called up, of the
cuddly, drowsy baby she had hushed to sleep so often.

“Yes, I used to sing Mrs. Drake’s baby to sleep. Shall I sing you that
song?” she asked.

Once, on the memorable occasion of which she had told Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, Letty’s brother had taken her to a concert. One of the
songs was DeKoven’s “Winter Lullaby.” The soft, crooning cadence of the
song had thrilled Letty’s heart and she had listened with rapture. The
song had been repeated in response to an encore and so, by careful
attention, she had managed to memorize the words of the two verses. She
sang it now to the children and as she began, grandmother and Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones suddenly ceased their talk and sat listening.

                            A WINTER LULLABY

  “The valley is going to sleep, the birds in their nest are still
  And the maple branches bend and break, over the leafless hill:
  And the pitying sky looks down, and whispers to the snow,
  Let us cover the hills so bare and brown, where the flowers used to grow;
  And she croons a lullaby, through the hush of the storm—
  Sleep, sleep in your cradle deep, sleep, sleep in your cradle deep
  And I will keep you warm, so sleep, sleep, sleep!

  “The valley is going to wake, the birds in their nest will sing
  And the maple branches bud and break, into the leaves of spring,
  And the gleaming vale shall hear another lullaby,
  And zephyrs will whisper it into her ear, out of the heart of the sky:
  Another lullaby, tuned to the heart of the stream,—
  Wake, wake for your robin’s sake, wake, wake for your robin’s sake;
  And tell the sky your dream, so wake, wake, wake!”

When she had finished grandmother exclaimed in a low voice:

“Why, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, how charming. What if you have discovered a
genius!”

Tears came into Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s eyes.

“So it seems to you, too, that she has a good voice?” she murmured
eagerly. “I have wondered, and am most impatient to take her to the city
to have her voice tried. I have heard her singing to herself now and
then and although I know nothing about voice culture, I thought one or
two notes appeared to have an unusual quality. And, dear Mrs. Baker, I
shall never forget that it was really Jane who discovered Letty for me;
her sweet kindliness for a ‘little sister in heaven.’ The child’s coming
has made a great difference in my life already.”

“What is the song all about?” demanded Christopher of Letty, sitting
upright in his curiosity. “What was the dream?”

“I don’t know what the dream was, but——”

“Why don’t you know? There must have been some sort of a dream, because
the song says, ‘and tell the sky your dream.’ And who was talking,
anyway?”

“Why, the sky was talking to the earth, I think.”

“And did the whole earth dream? And why did the sky want the earth to
wake up and tell its dream to the sky? Why didn’t it say, ‘and tell me
your dream’? And why in the world don’t they tell what the dream is? I
think it’s a silly song, anyhow.”

“Kit Baker, you are a rude boy!” exclaimed his sister indignantly. “It
isn’t a story, it’s a song. And songs don’t have to mean much, do they,
Letty, as long as they are pretty.”

“Well, I think there ought to be another verse, telling the dream. Can’t
you make up another verse as you go along, Letty? Seems to me I just
must know what that dream was.”

“I guess there were lots and lots of dreams,” said Jane musingly. “All
the flowers and birds dreamed. I could make up one dream; that an ugly
little flower dreamed it was a lovely pink tulip, all pale and wide-open
and satiny.”

“Huh, I’d rather be a red one, with yellow streaks down the middle.
They’re lots showier and they live longer, too. The gardener that was
putting our bulbs out last fall told me so.”

“But they’re beastly ugly. People don’t dream about being something
ugly, even if it is strong and healthy. I’d rather not live so long, if
I could only be so beautiful that people just had to stop and look at
me. Wouldn’t you, Letty?”

“I don’t think looks matter so much,” said Letty practically, “if you
keep your soul all nice and clean inside you. Then it shines out through
your eyes and your smiles and makes you beautiful that way. Even
cripples are beautiful if their souls are clean. My Sunday-school
teacher, dear Miss Reese, told me that once. She was beautiful—very
beautiful, and until then I had thought it was because she had nice
white skin, pink cheeks, dimples and a pretty silk dress. But after she
told me that, I knew it was just her angel soul looking out through her
eyes.”

“What color were her eyes?” asked Christopher. “And could cross-eyed
people look beautiful? I don’t see how they could on the outside, even
if their souls were ever so clean.”

Grandmother and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, who could not help overhearing this
conversation, smiled at each other. Just then Joshua drove up in the
carriage and everybody knew that it was time to go home.

“I understand that Sally has a birthday day after to-morrow,” said Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones to Jane.

“Oh, yes, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, she will be three years old,” replied
Jane, with all the pride of a doting mamma. “Uncle Gus gave her to me
when I lost my first tooth. The fairies gave me a big silver dollar for
the tooth, too. I wrapped it up in tissue-paper and put it under my
pillow and they took it away in the night and left a shining silver
dollar.”

“The blessed fairies! Now suppose you let me give Sally a birthday
party? It would give Letty and me such pleasure to arrange it.”

Jane glowed with delight and accepted in both Sally’s name and her own,
with alacrity. Christopher pricked up his ears. A doll’s birthday party
did not appeal to him, even with the inducement of the “party.” Why
would not that day be the very opportunity for his excursion with Billy
and Jo Perkins?

“Please let the children come early, Mrs. Baker,” Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
said to grandmother, “so that we may have a long afternoon together. Or,
if you wish, Letty could drive out after them in the pony carriage.”

“Oh, thank you, I can send them quite easily. There is always some one
driving into the village. But are you sure that you want them again so
soon? You must not let them bother you.”

Grandmother did not want the twins to become a nuisance to any one,
although in her secret heart of grandmother-hearts, she did not see how
any one could see too much of Jane or Christopher.

Christopher said his good-bye very politely but very briefly.

“Please, grandmother,” he said, “will you wait for me a minute? I’ve got
to speak to Bill Carpenter about some very important business.”

He bolted around the corner of the house and Jane’s lip quivered. She
felt suddenly offended. What important business could Christopher have
that he had not confided to her?

After their guests had gone, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones drew Letty down to a
low stool beside her chair and said:

“My dear, has any one ever told you that you sing very well?”

Letty flushed crimson with surprise and delight.

“Oh, do I?” she cried. “I’d rather be able to sing than anything in this
wide, wide world! It is so wonderful! But nobody ever told me I could
sing. I have never had any lessons, you know.”

“And did you never sing to any of your teachers, in school or
Sunday-school?”

“There was never any singing at school, except among a few of the bigger
girls who took private lessons. And at Sunday-school I did not care for
the singing much. They sang ‘regular shouters’ as Kit calls them,” she
laughed.

“But sometimes in church—the church I told you about, where the little
boys sang—I used to join in a little, sometimes. Once they were singing
such a beautiful hymn. It was in the afternoon when there were not very
many people in the church and the music was so lovely, all high and
sweet and soft! I forgot for a minute where I was and sang out quite
loud. The organist turned right around and looked at me. It frightened
me terribly for I thought perhaps it was against the rules for any one
but the small boys to sing and that some one might come and put me out.
Indeed, I was afraid to go to church again for three or four Sundays,
and when I did I always kept at the back of the church and did not sing
again. But it could not have been against the rule, for a great many
people joined in the singing and the organist did not look at them at
all.”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones did not tell her, what was so evident to herself,
that the organist had been attracted, not by the child’s loud singing,
but by the quality of her voice.

“Would you like to take singing lessons when we go back to town?” she
asked presently.

“Oh, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, would it be possible?”

“Not only possible, but it could be done very easily, my child. We shall
talk about it some other time. Now, I have some plans to suggest for
Sally’s birthday party. We must invite Anna Parsons and there must be a
cake.”

“With candles,” agreed Letty, bringing her mind away from the singing
with difficulty.

“I should like to make Sally a present, too,” went on Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones. “Do you suppose we could buy a toy bed at the ‘store’?
It would be nice to make a pretty bed for Sally to rest in when she
comes to spend the afternoon.”

“And I could make the bedclothes. I love to sew,” cried Letty. “My
mother taught me; hemming, overcasting—a great many things.”

“You must have had a very good, sweet mother, Letty.”

“Oh, yes!” breathed the girl, and her brown eyes filled suddenly with
great tears.

The tears came to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s eyes, too, and she caught Letty
to her arms in a long, close embrace.

“You have no mother and I have no little girl!” she whispered brokenly.

That evening Mrs. Hartwell-Jones wrote a very long letter to the lawyer
in the city who had always managed her business for her. She glanced
often at Letty as she wrote, but the little girl, busy over a puzzling
problem in arithmetic, did not even dream of the wonderful ways in which
that letter would change her life.



CHAPTER XIII

THE TULIP’S DREAM


Christopher’s request that Jo Perkins might have the use of a horse and
wagon for the afternoon to take him and Billy Carpenter on a picnic was
granted with some hesitation.

“Jane is going to the author-lady’s to have a silly party for her old
doll and I don’t want to go,” he said. “Perk’ll look out for Bill and me
all right. You’ve often let me go fishing with Perk, grandfather.”

“Yes, but then there was no other boy along to suggest mischief.”

Christopher looked a wee bit guilty, remembering the swimming project.

“We aren’t going to get into mischief,” he exclaimed hastily. “It’s just
to be a picnic and do the things boys do; roast potatoes in a fire
and—and all sorts of things.”

“Very well, then,” replied grandfather a little absent-mindedly. “Only
remember that we’ve got to hand you and Janey over, whole and sound, to
your father and mother in less than a month.”

Mr. Baker gave his permission with a little less consideration than he
usually gave to the twins’ requests, perhaps because his mind was busy
with his own affairs. One of the letters which Christopher had brought
from the postoffice had been from the city about some business which
grandfather was afraid he would have to go into town to attend to
himself.

“I can’t bear to think of your tramping about those hot city pavements
in this August weather,” exclaimed grandmother in distress, when he told
her about it. “Can’t you possibly arrange it by letter?”

“No, I must see two or three men personally. If Kit were home” (he meant
his own son, Christopher’s father), “he could attend to it for me, but
as it is, I can’t see anything for it but to go myself. I shall start
to-morrow and get back in three days.”

Christopher was secretly glad that his grandfather was going away for a
few days. When he returned and was told that Christopher had learned how
to swim, he would be very glad, the boy felt sure.

Grandmother felt quite dismayed when she was told that the three boys
were to go off on a picnic. It seemed like a very great responsibility
for her to bear by herself; but as there was no real reason why she
should ask Christopher to put off his excursion she said nothing about
it.

The day of the party arrived and Jane was so impatient to start that she
would have gone without even finishing her dessert if grandmother had
permitted.

“But Mrs. Hartwell-Jones said to come early. Oh, dear!” she groaned as
Christopher passed his plate for a second helping. “If you’re going to
sit there and stuff all day, Kit Baker, we might as well not go at all.
You won’t have any room in your tummy for your picnic, and Huldah has
packed an awful big one.”

It had been arranged that Joshua was to drive the twins into the
village. He had left a horse in the blacksmith’s stable overnight, while
a certain special shoe was made, and he intended to ride it home. Jo
Perkins had not quite finished his work at the stable, so he was to
follow on his bicycle and join the others at Billy Carpenter’s house.

“Now, remember, Kit, you are to go back to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s to get
Janey, and be sure to be there promptly at half-past five; not a minute
later,” exclaimed grandmother for about the twentieth time; and she
proceeded to give the same instructions and many more to Jo Perkins.

Joshua had harnessed the most reliable old horse in his stable to the
wagon that was to be entrusted to Jo Perkins’s care for a whole
afternoon—a horse that had never been known to look twice at any object
and which would have been perfectly content to sleep through the day as
well as the night. He lumbered over the country road at an easy trot,
and when they were only half-way to the village Christopher looked over
his shoulder and spied Jo Perkins speedily overtaking them on his
bicycle.

“Oh, I say, Josh, make him go, Perk’s coming. Don’t let him catch up,”
and he squirmed on his seat with excitement.

Joshua good-naturedly urged the horse into a swifter trot, then into a
clumsy gallop as Jo Perkins bore down upon them over the level road.
Jane clasped Sally tight to her breast with one hand while she hung on
with the other. The road was still level and Perk was gaining steadily.
He was bent double over the handle bars, pedalling frantically. Soon a
long, gently sloping hill gave the horse the advantage, for he kept up
his easy gallop, while Perk dropped far behind, laboring hard.
Christopher sent a derisive yell after him, but he rejoiced too soon.
Jane had more foresight. She remembered the down slope on the other side
of the ridge.

“Perk’s going to beat,” she declared calmly, “’cause Josh won’t let the
horse trot down-hill.”

“Oh, Josh, do, just this once,” urged Christopher, almost falling off
the seat in his excitement. “It won’t hurt his old knees just for once.”

But Joshua was firm.

“I’m not going to abuse your gran’pa’s horses,” he said severely,
permitting the horse to slacken his pace to a walk. “An’ what’s more,
you’ve got to promise me, honest Injun, that you an’ Perk won’t let him
trot down any hills, nor run races.”

“We aren’t going down any hills,” answered Christopher sulkily.

He looked over his shoulder again and saw Perk appear at the top of the
hill, red-faced and panting. With a hoot of triumph, the boy cocked his
knees over the handle bars and whirled down the hill, letting the pedals
take care of themselves.

“Yah!” wailed Christopher, “he’s coasting! He’ll pass us like greased
lightning.” And as he spoke, Perk flashed by them, an exultant grin on
his face.

“Ah, you think you’re smart!” jeered Christopher in a vexed tone.

But pride always has a fall. As Perk reached the bottom of the hill he
glanced back to see how much of a gain he had made, and the wheel of his
bicycle struck a large stone in the road. Over toppled Perk on his head,
tumbling into a heap by the roadside. Jane screamed and even Joshua was
startled. He urged the horse into a trot again.

“Oh, Perk’s not hurt!” declared Christopher scornfully. “A fellow can
stand lots worse croppers than that.”

And Perk was not hurt. By the time they reached him he had scrambled to
his feet and was examining his bicycle to see if any harm had come to
it. But he rode quietly behind the wagon all the rest of the way into
the village.

Billy Carpenter was standing in front of his gate, watching for them,
and the impatient Christopher could hardly wait while Perk stowed his
bicycle in Mr. Carpenter’s barn and Joshua escorted Jane to Mrs.
Parsons’ front door.

“You’re in an awful hurry to have me go,” Jane exclaimed to Christopher,
a bit jealously.

For a moment she forgot Sally’s birthday party, and wished she was going
on the picnic too. It hurt to think that perhaps Christopher did not
want her—was glad she was not going. He really acted as if he were!

But her disappointment soon vanished—vanished the moment she set foot in
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s sitting-room. The party planned was so perfect! In
the first place, there was the present for Sally—a dainty little bed in
which to take her rest when visiting the lady who wrote books. Mr.
Carpenter had found the small wooden bedstead stowed away in a loft over
the post-office, left over from a stock of Christmas toys. Letty, with
deft fingers, had painted the dingy, dust-grimed wood white with tiny
pink rosebuds (difficult to recognize, perhaps, as rosebuds, but very
pretty) and had made, with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s help, a dainty white
canopy, tied back with pink ribbons. There were sheets and pillow-cases
and even a little kimono made of a scrap of white cashmere and edged
with pink ribbon.

“Where is Christopher?” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones as Jane mounted
the stairs alone. “I had a surprise for you all.”

“Kit has gone on a picnic with the boys. He didn’t want to come to
Sally’s birthday,” replied Jane with a catch in her voice.

“Never mind, dear. Boys seem to like to get off by themselves now and
then, don’t they, dear? We’ll have a little dove party. But I have
answered a question of Kit’s, however, which now he will miss hearing,”
she added, glancing at a pile of closely written pages on her writing
desk.

“Oh!” exclaimed Jane, looking from Mrs. Hartwell-Jones to Letty, her
cheeks growing crimson. “You’ve written the story you promised—just for
us!”

“Yes,” laughed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, “just for you. I got my idea from
Letty’s song and Christopher’s questions about it. Shall I read it now,
while we are waiting until it is time for the party?”

“Oh, yes, please! And I can be putting Sally to bed.”

Letty, who had been in a flutter of excitement all day as she watched
those pages of story growing, flew over to the table for the manuscript,
and bustled about, making Mrs. Hartwell-Jones more comfortable and
arranging the light.

“Oh, perhaps Anna might like to hear the story, too! Might she come?”
she asked impulsively.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones said yes, graciously, feeling secretly proud of
Letty’s thoughtfulness.

“Now,” she said, when shy little Anna Parsons had been brought up-stairs
and everything was ready, “we must have Letty’s song first, as a sort of
introduction.”

So Letty sang the “Winter Lullaby” again, sweetly, simply, without any
thought of herself or how she was doing it, but evidently enjoying the
soft, plaintive melody. When she had finished Mrs. Hartwell-Jones took
up her paper and read:

  “The Tulip’s Dream

  “Once upon a time a little tulip lived in a lovely big garden. It was
  the middle blossom of the front row of a bed of beautiful, pale yellow
  tulips, whose petals shone like the softest velvet. But alas for this
  poor little front tulip! It had broad red streaks running down the
  middle of each of its petals, making them seem bold and flaunting and
  common. And none of the other tulips in the bed would speak to it;
  they had not even a word of sympathy to offer.

  “The lady who owned the garden had taken great pains to have this
  particular tulip bed planted with just the shade of flowers that she
  wanted, and it was such a disappointment to have had the very front
  blossom of all turn out to be so different and ordinary. She used to
  visit the garden every day with her little daughter. Standing in front
  of the bed they would discuss the ugly little tulip.

  “‘I have half a mind to pluck the flower,’ she said one day. ‘It looks
  so horrid that it quite spoils the effect of the bed. But all the
  other blossoms are out and if I took this one away it would leave such
  a gap.’

  “‘The flower can’t help having red streaks in it, mother,’ replied the
  little girl. ‘P’rhaps it feels bad at being different from all the
  rest! But it is ugly,’ she added.

  “The poor little tulip drooped its head and pined. It is very, very
  hard to be thought ugly and different; and harder still not to be
  wanted. So the tulip drooped and faded and dropped its petals long
  before any of the other flowers in the bed.

  “And when the lady found the red and yellow petals lying on the ground
  she exclaimed:—‘Why, how odd that this tulip should have died first. I
  always thought that those common, hardy varieties lasted longest!’

  “Her little girl picked up one of the scattered petals and stroked it.

  “‘See, mother, it is really very pretty,’ she said. ‘I wonder if the
  flower was not nicer than we thought after all?’

  “Although the lady had spoken of the tulip as dead, because the
  blossom was gone, of course we all know that it was not dead. But that
  down, down in its brown little root, or bulb, under the warm, moist
  earth, its life was throbbing as strong as ever. The tulip heard the
  little girl’s words, therefore, and was somewhat comforted by them.
  But it still mourned over the red streaks down the middle of its
  petals, for it was quite sure that it had not meant to be that way,
  but soft, pale yellow like all the other tulips in the bed.

  “‘You ought not to take it so to heart,’ whispered a gentle shower to
  the falling petals, and it bathed them in soft, warm drops. ‘Your
  petals are red because the sun has kissed them.’

  “But the tulip would not be comforted. It shed its satiny petals and
  crept down inside its bulb-nest to sleep away its sorrow and
  disappointment.

  “After a time the tulip bulbs were dug up by the gardener and carried
  away to the cellar to make room for other flowers that would bloom
  during the summer. In the autumn they were brought out and planted in
  their bed again, and as it happened, the little red and yellow tulip
  was put exactly where it had been before. The warm, dark earth
  snuggled it close to her fragrant bosom and whispered: ‘Sleep well,
  little tulip, and dream that you are the most beautiful, pale yellow
  tulip in the world.’

  “So the little tulip fell asleep and lo, at the first call of the
  spring robin it waked, feeling very, very happy.

  “‘Go, tell the sky your dream,’ whispered Mother-Earth, and pushed the
  bulb upward. The tulip shot up a delicate, whity-green stalk through
  the dark clods,—up, up, until it saw the great, deep-blue sky far
  above it. The air was sweet and warm and a few early birds were
  singing. Becoming more and more happy and excited, the little tulip
  pushed upward and spread its petals to the smiling sky. And lo, they
  were of the loveliest pale yellow, and shone like the softest velvet!”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had ceased her reading for quite a full minute
before the children realized that the story was ended.

“Oh!” sighed Jane. “I am so glad that the tulip was happy at last!”

“But what do you suppose made the petals turn?” asked Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones.

“Blossoms do change colors, different years. I’ve seen ’em in our own
garden,” said Anna Parsons practically.

“Oh, it was because the tulip wanted it so much!” exclaimed Letty.

“Yes, it was because the tulip wanted it; but there are different kinds
of wants, Letty, dear. Some people want things selfishly, just because
the things would give them pleasure. But the little tulip felt that it
had disappointed some one by being the color it was—and so felt that it
was not doing its real duty in the world. So, by wishing and hoping and
waiting patiently, it got what it wanted. If it had been a person
instead of a flower, of course just hoping and waiting would not have
been enough. There would have been work to do, as well.

“But if whatever we want is right, and of some benefit to the rest of
the world, we are pretty sure to get it in the end.”

“Oh, do you think so?” cried Letty eagerly; looking as if she had some
particular thing in her mind.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones smiled and patted her hand.

“Yes, I really think so, dear child. But it is time for the tea-party
now,” she said.



CHAPTER XIV

WHERE IS CHRISTOPHER?


After the tea-party was over, Jane dressed Sally again and she and Anna
Parsons took their dolls for a walk down into the garden, while Letty
carried the plates down-stairs to be washed, and made the room tidy
again.

“What is it that you would like so much to do, Letty, dear?” asked Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones presently. “There is something on your mind, I know.”

“Oh, there is, dear Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. If only I could learn to sing!
Sing right, you know. It would be wonderful!” And Letty clasped her
hands eagerly.

“Well, my dear, it will all depend on yourself.”

“How do you mean?” asked the girl breathlessly.

“I mean that when we go back to the city I am going to have your voice
tried. That is, I am going to have you sing before a certain good
teacher of singing and if he thinks it worth while to give you lessons,
you shall study with him. He is a wonderful master, and will take only
pupils who have really good voices.”

“Oh!” cried Letty, the sound being more a sigh than an exclamation. She
was really breathless with joy at the thought of what happiness might be
in store for her.

“But suppose he shouldn’t be willing to give me lessons!” she cried in
sudden dismay, her voice coming back with a little gasp.

“That remains to be seen,” replied Mrs. Hartwell-Jones with a serene
little smile that did not look as if she were very much worried.

Then they went back to the subject that always proved so deeply
interesting to them both; the subject of Letty’s studies in the fall,
and so intent did they become that they forgot all about the time until
Jane rushed suddenly into the room, crying:

[Illustration: “DON’T YOU WORRY, LITTLE GIRL”]

“Where is Kit? It’s much after half-past five, Letty. Oh, where is he!”

Letty sprang to her feet and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones looked anxiously out of
the window at the lengthening shadows.

“I’ll look and see if he’s coming down the road,” said Letty, and ran
quickly out of the room, followed by Jane.

Letty looked up and down the road, straining her eyes, but no horse and
wagon was to be seen. Jane climbed on the gate and swung on it gloomily,
back and forth.

“Do you suppose the horse has run away with them?” she asked with a
catch in her voice. “I spoke crossly to Kit when he went away. I hope he
isn’t—isn’t killed!” And she began to cry.

Mrs. Carpenter came out of her house next door and called to Letty
across the fence:

“Are you looking for those boys? Most likely they won’t get home before
dark. Boys never know what time it is.”

“Kit’s got a watch,” wailed Jane, still swinging disconsolately on the
gate.

“Don’t you worry, little girl. Watches don’t mean anything to boys when
they’re off on a picnic. Nothing has happened with Jo Perkins to take
care of them. When I get my Billy home I shall spank him and put him to
bed without any supper.”

Jane’s tears flowed faster than ever at the thought that a like
punishment might be in store for Christopher. Sadness can come so very
quickly on the heels of joy! She had been perfectly happy only a short
half hour ago.

“Janey, dear,” called Mrs. Hartwell-Jones from her up-stairs window,
“Letty would better drive you home in the pony carriage, and then, if
your grandmother thinks best, she can send Joshua out to hunt up the
boys. Come up to me, little girl, and get comforted while Letty
harnesses Punch and Judy.”

In the meantime, where was Christopher?

The three boys were in the highest of spirits as they drove off into the
woods. The swimming hole that Billy Carpenter had in mind was situated
farther up the stream than Christopher had ever been. It was very, very
pretty. Pine trees grew close to the water’s edge, and the needles that
had dropped into the pool made the water clear and brown and gave it a
delicious, spicy smell.

Perk unharnessed the horse and tied him by the reins to a neighboring
tree. Then the boys undressed and Christopher, with mingled feelings,
stepped into the water. He understood all the principles of swimming; it
was only confidence he lacked, and the desire to appear well in the eyes
of his companions gave him courage. The pool was shallow, nowhere was
the water over the boys’ heads; it was in reality as safe as a bath tub.
In a very short time Christopher was paddling about in great glee,
keeping his head nicely above water.

It was a grand frolic and after dressing again, they were all very ready
for Huldah’s nicely packed luncheon. Christopher insisted upon building
a fire in a hole to roast the potatoes, in true camping out fashion. The
potatoes were somewhat lumpy when done, and burned the mouth. Still,
they were quite eatable with plenty of salt and butter.

It was nearly four o’clock when the picnic lunch was finished. But the
August afternoon was close and sultry. The boys had got hot and grimy
over the potatoes. They lay about on the ground, throwing pine-cones at
a family of chattering squirrels and trying to feel cool.

Christopher looked at the still clear brown pool and sat up exclaiming:

“Say, fellows, let’s go in for another dip. Just enough to cool us off.”

“No, you mustn’t. It is bad to go into the water right after eatin’,”
said Perk.

“Oh, what are you givin’ us?” chaffed Billy Carpenter, who had begun to
undress at Christopher’s first word. “I have been in hundreds of times,
right after a big dinner.”

“Besides, we’ve been through eating a long time,” added Christopher.
“’Most ten minutes, I guess.”

“But you oughtn’t, Kit. What will your grandfather say?”

“Grandfather’ll be glad I know how to swim.”

“Are you quite sure you know how?” insinuated Billy. He thought he saw
signs of weakening in Christopher’s resolution and did not want to lose
any fun.

“Of course I’m sure,” retorted Christopher indignantly. “Just you hold
on and I’ll show you!”

“Well, if you boys are set on doin’ it, I guess I’ll have to go in too,
to keep you out of mischief,” drawled Jo Perkins, untying his cravat as
he spoke. His remonstrances had not been very strong, but they had
satisfied his conscience.

The second bath proved to be even more fun than the first. The water was
delightfully cool and refreshing; Christopher soon lost the last bit of
dread he had had of going under. He and Billy began to swim a race
across the pond and back. They had crossed, had splashed into the
shallow water to touch a certain pine branch that had been chosen as the
half-way mark (like the first stake in croquet) and were starting back.

Billy was in the lead, but Christopher was gaining on him, when all at
once he felt a queer sensation in his arm, as if someone had struck him
a sudden blow. The pain was intense and increased every moment.
Christopher doubled up his elbow involuntarily and stopped moving his
other arm, forgetting in his sudden discomfort that he was not on solid
ground. Naturally, he went under. His mouth being open at the time, he
swallowed quantities of water and did not find it pleasant. He gasped
and splattered and tried to call for help, but the water filled his
mouth and nose and eyes. He could not breathe, much less speak. And all
the while the pain in his arm increased. His struggles pushed him upward
again and as his head appeared above the water he gave a wailing cry. If
he had had presence of mind enough to stand upright on the sandy bottom,
his head would have been almost entirely out of water. But he was in
great pain and very badly frightened. Was he drowning, he wondered? And
if so, would everybody be sorry? Would grandfather blame him for having
gone to the swimming hole without permission? He hoped he would not be
held up to other boys as a sad example of disobedience. Where in the
world were Billy and Perk and why did they not come to his assistance?
Oh! Oh! Another effort to shout and another nasty dose of water.

Drowning people were supposed to review their whole past life, he
remembered. He could think of nothing except that he had learned in
school that Socrates had met his death by being compelled to drink
hemlock. There was hemlock enough in this water to kill a horse,
Christopher felt sure. If he escaped from drowning, therefore, he was
sure to be poisoned. It was certain death however you looked at it, and
he gave up struggling. The pain in his arm made him feel weak and numb.

Just then he was grabbed by rough but friendly hands, his head propped
above water and his body propelled speedily to shore. It had been a very
few seconds from the time Perk had seen him go under and had swum out
and seized him by the hair. So short had the time been, indeed, that
Billy Carpenter did not know that anything had gone amiss until he
reached the goal of the race and turned to jeer his victory. Then he saw
Perk wading swiftly through the shallow water, half carrying, half
pushing Christopher before him. The boy was almost unconscious when they
got him to shore, and he lay in a heap on the pine-needles, his cramped
arm bent pitifully beneath his body. Perk threw a coat about him and
went to work in a businesslike, capable way to revive the boy.

“He’s swallowed an awful lot of water, and it has made him sick,” Perk
explained to Billy. “It’s that right arm that’s cramped. Haul it out
straight, Bill, and pound it. Never mind if he hollers; it’ll help bring
him to. Keep poundin’ and don’t let him double it up again. We’ve got to
get the muscles limbered up.”

It took half an hour’s hard work to restore Christopher to anything like
his usual cheerful self. Then they all realized with a pang how late it
was. The sun was so near setting that it had already darkened the woods.
In a panic of alarm the boys harnessed the horse and drove as rapidly as
they dared in the growing dusk, down the winding wood road.

“There is no use in going into the town,” said Jo Perkins as they
emerged from the gloom of the trees into the lighter twilight of the
open road. “Jane will have got home somehow before this. Letty’s taken
her home, most likely. I shouldn’t be surprised if they had searching
parties out for us,” he added, eyeing the reddening western sky.

“Oh, shucks,” boasted Christopher, “I guess they know we can take care
of ourselves.” But his voice had not quite so confident a ring as usual.
“Besides, Perk, there’s no other way to get home except by going through
town.”

“We can go along Birch Lane to the crossroads. It is only half as far
that way.”

Both boys whistled under their breath. Birch Lane was a lonely road by
night!

“But how about me?” asked Billy. “I guess I’ve got to get home.”

“Yes,” chimed in Christopher, “it wouldn’t be polite not to take Bill
home. He’s our company.”

“Besides, Perk, there’s your bicycle that you left at our house.”

“We can drop Bill at the turn. It’s only two miles from there home, and
I guess that’s nothing of a walk for you, is it, Bill? I’ll come in
after the bicycle in the morning.”

“I don’t think it’s treating Bill right, to dump him like that,” argued
Christopher. If he did not relish the drive along Birch Lane in Perk’s
companionship, Birch Lane with its ghostly, whispering white sentinels,
the silver birch trees, how much less must Bill look forward to walking
by himself along the deserted wood road? Christopher was sincerely
sympathetic. “Besides,” he added, “I feel pretty sure that Jane will be
waiting for us, Perk. I told her I’d come for her, and she knows that I
always keep my word.”

“Oh, pshaw! She knew long before this that you weren’t coming for her,
leastways, not at the time you said. And I guess your grandma’s pretty
nigh crazy by this time. No, we’ve got to get home as soon as ever we
can and take our thrashings. Bill ain’t afraid to walk, and here’s the
turn. Hop out, Bill.”

“Who’s afraid?” demanded Billy, in a boastful voice, jumping out over
the wheel with affected alacrity. “And it’s only girl-boys that get
thrashed for staying out late. I’ve been out lots later than this. My,
Jo Perkins, if I was as old as you I guess I wouldn’t let anybody thrash
me! Not much. Not for anything like that!”

With which parting taunt, Billy trotted off, whistling to keep up his
spirits.

Christopher sat rather close to Jo Perkins and stared stolidly ahead. As
each birch tree came in sight he eyed it roundly, even watching it over
his shoulder in passing, as if to stare it out of countenance. Then he
took to counting them off as they went by; it helped to keep his
thoughts from the present homecoming and grandmother’s face. It was
growing darker and darker.

“I hope she won’t cry,” he said suddenly. “Women are such babies. I’d
rather she’d thrash me than cry.”

“I guess you won’t get the thrashing until your grandpa gets home,” Perk
answered grimly. “But I tell you, Kit, this is a pretty bad scrape for
me. I was put in charge of you two young ones, and I didn’t do right to
keep you out so late. I ought to have watched the time a bit closer. And
I almost let you drown, too,” he added soberly. “Gee whizz, I guess
mebbe it’ll cost me my place! I’m powerful sorry about it all.”

“Oh, Perk, did I really nearly drown?” asked Christopher in awe.

He shuddered as the recollection of his recent experience came over him.



CHAPTER XV

LETTY’S FUTURE


When Letty and Jane reached Sunnycrest they found grandmother climbing
into the carriage to drive to Hammersmith, fully convinced that the
worst had happened. Gathering Jane, silent and frightened, into her
arms, grandmother felt half comforted. But a cold dread still clutched
at her heart. Where was Christopher?

“Oh, why did we let him go off like that!” she cried. “And your
grandfather away. I did think Jo Perkins was to be trusted. What can
have happened? Joshua, you must go in search of them. Oh, Janey, Janey,
if only your grandfather were here!” and she burst into tears.

Jane’s heart grew big and tight with all kinds of alarms. It was so very
unusual for grandmother to be upset. She was generally calm in the face
of any calamity, however great. Why, even that time when the whole
kettleful of raspberry jam fell off the kitchen range and splashed on
the cat, grandmother had only said:—“Mercy me, it’s lucky the kittens
weren’t there, too.”

“Oh, Mrs. Baker,” exclaimed Letty in distress, “I don’t believe anything
serious has happened. Mrs. Carpenter said she thought that they had just
forgotten about the time; she said boys never could keep track of the
time when they were off on a picnic; and she did not seem at all worried
about Billy.”

“She was just cross,” added Jane. “She said she was going to spank him
when he did get home. Shall you spank Kit, grandmother?”

“Bless the boy, he will have to be punished some way,” replied Mrs.
Baker, drying her tears. “If only he comes home safe and sound,” she
added mournfully, watching the carriage disappear down the road into the
dusk. “Letty dear, don’t you think you would better start back home?
There is enough worry on hand without giving Mrs. Hartwell-Jones a
fright about you.”

“I don’t believe she will worry, Mrs. Baker. She said I might stay as
long as I could be of any use here and I should like to wait until Kit
gets back,” answered Letty earnestly. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Just talk a bit, you and Jane,” said grandmother, “if you think it all
right to remain. It will keep my mind off imagining all sorts of horrors
about that blessed boy. How did the party go off, Janey, dear? I haven’t
asked a single word about it.”

Jane was in the middle of an elaborate account of the party when they
were interrupted by the sound of wheels. Grandmother had been sitting on
the veranda steps with Jane in her lap and Letty on another step close
beside them.

“Can Joshua be coming back for something?” exclaimed grandmother,
rising.

Jane had already climbed out of her lap and was running down the drive.

“It’s Kit, it’s Kit!” she cried joyfully.

Grandmother kissed Christopher first, and cried over him. Then she took
him aside and gave him a long, serious lecture. Christopher knew that he
had been disobedient, but he did not realize that he had also been
selfish until grandmother pointed out to him how much upset every one
had been by his long absence.

“We did not mean any harm, grandmother,” he said. “We only wanted to
have a good time. Is it always wrong to have a good time?”

“Why no, dear, of course not. It is right to enjoy oneself and be happy,
if one can do so without causing pain or discomfort to others. But it is
wrong to do things that are sure to distress or worry other people.”

“Bill Carpenter did not seem to think it was wrong. He said he had often
been out later than this. I don’t believe his folks will even scold
him.”

Grandmother repressed a smile as she remembered what Billy Carpenter’s
mother had said was in store for that boastful young gentleman.

“Billy Carpenter has been brought up differently, Kit——” she began.

“Yes, without being tied to a girl’s apron-strings,” broke in
Christopher bitterly.

He did not mean to be rude to his grandmother, but he was tired, hungry
and a bit conscience-stricken; all of which are apt to make any one feel
a little out of temper.

Grandmother did not reprove him. A new and not very pleasant idea had
been suggested by Christopher’s words. Had they made too much of a
girl-boy of him? Pampered him and watched him too closely? she asked
herself.

She sent Christopher up-stairs to tidy himself while she saw Letty off
for home and sent Jo Perkins on horseback to find Joshua and bring him
back from his fruitless search. Joshua had taken the main road and so
missed the truants on the short cut through Birch Lane.

Jane did not know how to treat her brother. She was so glad to have him
safe at home that she longed to hug and kiss him and cling to him. But
he had been naughty and she supposed she must not speak to him. She eyed
him askance and when he was not looking, felt of his arms and legs
gently, to assure herself that he was whole. Her brother rubbed the
places she touched and said:—“Shucks!” without turning around.

Christopher himself was surprised at being allowed to come to the supper
table. He had fully expected to be sent to bed without any supper at
all, but grandmother did not think it healthful to send growing children
to bed without anything to eat. She allowed Christopher to have all the
bread and butter and minced chicken that he wanted. It was only the
sweets of which he was deprived.

Grandmother was very silent and thoughtful all evening and the twins
were miserable. When bedtime came she kissed them both good-night very
gravely and said:

“You must consider yourself a sort of prisoner all day to-morrow, Kit. I
shall trust you not to go off the place. Your grandfather will be home
to-morrow night and I am leaving your punishment to him.”

Jo Perkins, too, suffered the tortures of suspended judgment all the
next day. He fulfilled his usual daily tasks about the stable, but
Joshua gave him no instructions and Perk found a great many idle hours
hanging heavily on his hands. He felt sadly left out of the busy
farm-life.

In the afternoon, Letty drove Mrs. Hartwell-Jones out to see grandmother
and to find out if Mrs. Baker were any the worse for her scare. Letty
drove the ponies down to the stable and found Perk moping by himself in
the harness room.

“Hello, what’s the matter?” she asked sympathetically.

“I’m wondering what I’ll do when I leave here,” replied Perk bluntly.

“Why, Perk, are you going away? I hadn’t heard that.”

“I guess I’ll get sent away—after yesterday’s doings.”

“Oh, no you won’t. Of course you did not do as you should have done
yesterday, but Mr. and Mrs. Baker will forgive you, I’m sure. They are
not the kind to shunt a person off without more of a trial than that.
You just go to Mr. Baker when he gets home and tell him straight out
that you’re sorry and will try to do better next time.”

“I ’most let Kit drown, too,” said Perk, and related the incident of the
swimming pool, which Letty had not heard before.

“Well of course it was naughty to take Kit in swimming when you knew his
grandfather did not allow it. But it was not really your fault about his
cramp. And besides, Kit had had some lessons in swimming, you say. It
was not as if he did not know anything at all about it. Anyway, you make
a clean breast of it all to Mr. Baker. That’s the best way, always, and
I’m pretty sure that he’ll forgive you and let you stay.”

But Perk could not be cheered so easily, and set about unharnessing the
ponies in a glum fashion so different from his usual whistling gayety
that even Punch and Judy felt the difference.

Letty went straight to Mrs. Baker and told her how badly Perk felt.

“I hope you and Mr. Baker won’t send him away,” she pleaded. “He’s a
good boy, but it will make him reckless and bitter if he should be
turned off now. He’ll think that if people make so much of a small
matter, there won’t be much punishment left for big wrongs, and that it
isn’t worth while to be good. Please, dear Mrs. Baker, don’t think I’m
trying to preach to you, but I heard my brother talk that way once—he
had been dismissed from a situation for some little carelessness—and
although I was very young at the time, I’ve never forgotten how he felt
about it. I hope you won’t send Perk away?”

Letty’s cheeks were very red and her voice trembled, half with eagerness
in pleading Perk’s cause, and half with fear at her own daring.

“Such a thing never entered my mind, Letty,” replied grandmother
earnestly. “Of course we should do nothing so severe. But Jo must be
made to realize how serious his wrong-doing of yesterday was. For it is
very wrong indeed to neglect or betray a trust, you know, however slight
the consequences may prove. And Letty, dear, remember that it is the
little things, after all, that count in life. The pennies go to make the
dollars and the swift little seconds form years. Think of the
infinitesimal animals at work in the sea, adding bit to bit through the
centuries to make those wonderful coral islands we read about.

“And it is the same with the naughtinesses in the world. If a wee sin is
committed here and another there, and pardoned or overlooked with the
thought, ‘oh, that did no harm—it was not really wrong,’ why in time the
conscience will become hardened and the first thing one knows, one is in
a condition to commit any wicked deed.”

Letty looked up with a serious face, from Mrs. Baker to Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, who had sat quietly by during grandmother’s little
homily.

“I never thought before how very great the little things are, Mrs.
Baker,” she said. “I hope I can learn to be more careful after this.”

“You are a good, faithful child, and my lecture was not meant for you,
dear. I am glad you spoke for Jo Perkins. Of course we shall not dismiss
him. It would be wrong to set him adrift for so slight an offense; we
must make the punishment fit the wrong-doing. The offense this time is
slight because it turned out all right, but it might have proved very
serious. You know that Christopher tried to swim and was taken with a
cramp in his arm?”

“Perk told me just now. He feels awfully about it.”

“That is news to me,” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. “No wonder you are
feeling nervous and upset over the ‘might-have-beens.’”

“Yes,” replied grandmother with a little shudder. “I don’t know what to
say about it because of course Christopher was not actually forbidden to
swim. We did not think about such a question arising. But grandfather
will be home to-night, and then everything will be all right.”

“What a comfort to have a strong arm to lean upon,” sighed Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones wistfully. Then she turned to Letty. “Run off now and
play, child. Jane is hopping her toes through her shoes with
impatience.”

Letty ran off and the two ladies discussed every detail of Christopher’s
mishap, and how seriously it might have turned out.

“Children can be the greatest sort of cares,” Mrs. Hartwell-Jones said
at length, half laughing but wholly in earnest, “almost nuisances
sometimes; but they are a blessing for all that!” She paused a moment
and then added: “Have you noticed what a fine nature Letty has, Mrs.
Baker? What a splendid chance for the development of a noble character?”

“I think that what you have agreed to do for her is a wonderful
opportunity for the child.”

“But I should like the tie to be still closer, Mrs. Baker,” exclaimed
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones impulsively. “I am wondering—I desire something very
much, and yet I am not sure that it is wise. I have no one to go to for
advice except my lawyer. I have consulted him, but he is so cold and
businesslike. Might I talk it over with you, Mrs. Baker?”

“Do you mean,” asked grandmother, a look of eager interest kindling in
her eyes, “do you mean that you are considering the question of adopting
Letty?”

“Just that,” replied Mrs. Hartwell-Jones solemnly. “I am thinking about
it a great deal—all the time, in fact. You see, there are so many, many
reasons why I should do it, and so few why I should not; that is, that I
can see.”

“That is apt to be the way with things we want very much to do,” said
grandmother mildly. “But as far as I understand the matter, I agree with
you. Will you tell me all about it, please?”

And while Letty played out in the orchard with Jane at being Knights of
the Round Table, her fairy godmother (as she secretly thought of Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones) revealed to Grandmother Baker a plan which, if carried
out, would bring to Letty a more wonderful future than any of which she
had ever dreamed.



CHAPTER XVI

UNTYING THE APRON-STRINGS


When grandfather got home he was acquainted promptly with the misdoings
of Christopher and Jo Perkins. After the expected thrashing had been
given—much against grandfather’s tender heart—and Perk had had his stern
lecture, without a word in it of dismissal—to his mingled astonishment
and surprised relief—grandfather went into the sitting-room to talk
events over with grandmother. Perk and Christopher both felt that great
loads had been lifted off their minds. They had suffered penitence and
had been punished for their wrong-doing, and they were free agents
again.

“My dear,” said grandmother, after she had described minutely all her
feelings during Christopher’s prolonged absence the afternoon before,
“My dear, I have been thinking.”

“Not really!” interjected grandfather with pretended great astonishment,
and chuckled.

“Yes, I have, seriously, and I have come to the conclusion that we
coddle Kit too much; treat him too much as we treat Jane—too much like a
girl, in fact.”

Grandfather looked genuinely surprised this time.

“I begin to think that there is something in this ‘telepathy’ that the
newspapers talk about,” he said, taking an envelope from his pocket.
“Just read this letter from Kit’s father. I got it at the post-office on
my way home this evening.”

Grandmother took her son’s letter and put on her glasses. Grandfather
pointed out the page to which he wished to draw her special attention.

“That is the part I meant,” he said and grandmother read:

“‘I have been thinking a good deal lately about Kit’s and Jane’s
comradeship. Doesn’t it strike you and mother that we make too little
distinction? We are anxious that the children should be congenial, and
in trying to keep their tastes alike and yet have Jane gentle and
ladylike, isn’t there some danger of making Kit girly-girly?

“‘After all, Kit is a boy and Jane is a girl. They will have to draw
apart some day and I am wondering if the time has not come to begin.
Aren’t there some nice village boys in or about Hammersmith? There used
to be. Suppose you let Kit play with them a bit and rough it like other
fellows do. Now that you have found Letty again and she is as nice a
child as she was three years ago, she will make a nice playmate for
Janey, who won’t miss Kit so much. I really think it will do them both
good.’

“Exactly the opinion I had reached,” declared grandmother, dropping the
letter. “We must untie the apron-strings.”

Grandfather looked puzzled for a moment over this expression, then he
laughed heartily.

“That’s a very good way of putting it, my dear,” he said, “only we must
not untie them all at once. Too much freedom at one time is as bad as an
overdose of anything else. Besides, if we begin all at once to give Kit
full swing, it will set him to thinking of his old restrictions and in
his new liberty he will grow very sorry for himself and consider that he
had been greatly abused.

“We must not let him think he’s been molly-coddled. We must be
diplomatic. I shall tell him, in a day or two, that as long as he has
got on so well with his swimming, he might as well go ahead with it.
We’ll send him off with Perk, too, now and then, to show Perk that we
still trust him; although I shall go along the first time or two to see
how things are. I do trust Perk, my dear. He is a good lad, although
like all boys, he’s fond of a lark.”

Grandmother sighed, but it was not at the thought of Jo Perkins enjoying
a good time.

“Our baby Kit has gone,” she said dolefully, “and a big boy has come in
his stead. I do hope Janey won’t miss him too much. She has seemed a
little offended at times, when Kit goes off with Billy Carpenter, but
just now her heart is so full of Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, Letty, and her
dolly’s new bed, that she is happy even without Kit, bless her.”

“How different boys and girls are, from the very beginning,” said
grandfather soberly, as if he had just made a great discovery. “The
girls love their dollies and the boys their swimming holes.”

“Do you realize that you are quoting Tennyson, after a fashion?” smiled
grandmother, and she recited:

    “‘Man for the field and woman for the hearth;
    Man for the sword and for the needle she.’

“Something else has taken place while you were away. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
has taken a great fancy to Letty.”

Grandfather and grandmother exchanged very knowing glances at this. They
had often wondered, since the little circus girl had gone to live with
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, if something more would not come of the
arrangement.

“It would be a great thing for Letty,” said grandmother at last. “Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones believes that the child has a good singing voice.”

“Well, I am sure I should be thankful to see the little girl happy,”
said grandfather. “Letty is a good child and will repay any kindness
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones does for her, I am sure. Have you finished with
Kit’s letter, my dear?”

Grandmother caught up the letter from her lap and turned to the
beginning.

“Do they say anything about the date they are to sail?” She asked the
question with mingled feelings. She would be very glad to see her son
and daughter-in-law again, of course, but their return to America meant
the departure of the twins from Sunnycrest and it really seemed too soon
to end their happy visit. The summer had been very short.

Two or three days later, grandfather opened the new program of events
which he had planned.

“Kit, my boy,” he said at dinner, “as long as you have started in with
this swimming business, I suppose you might as well keep it up. It is a
pity to let that one lesson go to waste.”

Christopher’s face beamed with astonishment and delight.

“You don’t mean to say that you’re going to let me go swimming?” he
cried. “Oh, cricky, that’s bully!”

“Why, yes, it seems to me that I knew how to swim when I was your age,”
went on grandfather. “Suppose we let Janey go into the village with
grandmother this afternoon while you and Perk and I go off on a little
lark of our own. What do you say to the plan, Kit?”

“I think it would be—perfectly splendid, sir!” shouted Christopher in
great excitement.

“All right, then. I’ll have Perk harness the spring wagon. Grandmother,
will you ask Huldah to put us up a bite of something? A pretty liberal
bite, my dear. Learning to swim is hungry work. And I thought we might
pick up Bill Carpenter on the way,” he added to Christopher, “if we see
him about anywhere.”

“Are you going to swim, too, grandfather?” asked Jane, folding her
napkin neatly. “I should think it would be horrid in the cold, weedy
water. Please don’t let Kit drown again.”

“Huh!” sniffed Christopher in his most superior manner, “I just guess
there’s not any danger of me drownin’. I can swim. You just ask Perk if
I can’t.”

“Well, that’s nothing to be so smart about. I could swim, too, if I
chose to learn. Girls are just as clever as boys, every bit, only they
don’t like such silly things.”

“The things a girl likes are heaps sillier,” retorted Christopher.
“Fairies and dolls! Ho! There aren’t any such things as fairies, and
who’d play with a doll? An old painted thing stuffed with sawdust!”

Jane’s face grew red and her eyes filled with tears.

“You have always been glad enough to play with dolls and to talk about
fairies when you hadn’t got any horrid boys around,” she said slowly.

Then her injured feelings overcame her and she ran to her grandmother
and buried her face on her shoulder.

“Oh, grandmother,” she sobbed, “Kit doesn’t love me any more. He talks
to me like other boys talk to girls. I always thought Kit and I would be
just alike forever and ever, but we ain’t—aren’t, I mean—and it’s all
Billy Carpenter’s fault!”

Grandmother whispered comforting words in the little girl’s ear, and
stroked her hair until Jane’s storm of tears was over. Christopher stood
by in awkward silence. He felt sorry and a little taken aback, for he
had not really meant to hurt his sister’s feelings.

“I didn’t mean to be a beast, Jane,” he said. “I’m sorry I said that
about your dolls. Stop crying, do, there’s a good fellow. I’m sorry,
honest Injun. I’ll—I’ll stay home!” he gulped heroically, “and play I’m
Oberon or Puck all the afternoon; or I’ll doctor Sally through the
scarlet fever. Stop crying, I say.”

Jane lifted a tear-stained face.

“I don’t want you to stay home,” she said cruelly. “I am glad you’ve got
something to do, ’cause I was only staying home to keep you company.
I’ve got another engagement for this afternoon,” and lifting her little
square chin loftily, she walked out of the room.

So occurred the first real break between the twins. Jane’s tender little
heart reproached her the minute she had closed the door.

“I was rude to him when he was trying to make up,” she thought
miserably. “I wish I hadn’t. And he’s going to be gone all the whole
afternoon! I hope it won’t spoil his picnic with grandfather.”

Just as grandmother and Jane were about to start, Letty appeared in the
pony carriage to take them. Grandmother decided, therefore, to let Jane
go back with Letty and she could follow later. But she remembered some
jelly that she wished to send to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and asked the
children to wait while she had it packed. Jane was glad of the delay,
for she wanted a chance to make up with Christopher if possible, and he
had gone down to the stable to help Perk harness the horse. They drove
up presently, Christopher looking so supremely happy that Jane was
obliged to acknowledge that her unforgiving words had not altogether
spoiled his afternoon.

“Good-bye, Kit, I hope you’ll have a good time,” she said a little
wistfully.

“Thanks, Janey; wish you were going along,” replied Christopher
graciously. “But girls can’t do everything that boys can, you know. Some
day we’ll have a picnic for the ladies, won’t we, grandfather?” he added
politely.

Grandfather kissed Jane and lifted her into the pony carriage beside
Letty.

“Have a nice time at the author-lady’s, little Jane, and if you miss Kit
very much, just let me know and I’ll make him go along next time to rock
your baby to sleep. He’s not a man quite yet, you know.”

“He thinks he’s awful smart, though,” she replied to her grandfather,
and stuck out her tongue resentfully at Christopher over Mr. Baker’s
shoulder.

“Just the same, you’re not allowed to go alone,” she taunted.

Christopher refused to have his spirits damped.

“Grandfather is only going so that I can show him how well I know how to
swim. And he’s not so bad as having girls tagging along,” he answered
coolly.

And grandfather felt that the apron-strings were indeed untied!



CHAPTER XVII

GOOD NEWS


Grandfather remembered Christopher’s promise to Jane and did get up
another picnic “for the ladies,” but the ladies included only Jane and
her grandmother. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty were not invited for
several reasons, chiefly because grandmother had expressed the wish to
have it strictly a family party. She realized that the end of Jane’s and
Christopher’s visit at Sunnycrest was drawing near; that before very
long their father and mother would return and carry the children back to
their home in the city. And so she thought that one last party, all by
themselves, would be very nice. Jane and Christopher thought so too.
They were always happy and contented with their grandparents.

Of course they went to the woods—the only picnic grounds worth
considering except on circus day. Grandfather drove past the swimming
pool, so that Jane might see the spot where Christopher had learned to
swim and wherein he had almost drowned on that memorable afternoon. They
went on farther yet into the woods. It was all deliciously green and
brown; still and cool. Jane was quite confident that she would catch
sight of a fairy before long.

Grandfather had brought some fishing-tackle, and after the picnic ground
was chosen and the horse unharnessed and made comfortable, they all sat
in a row on the bank of the stream and fished. At the end of half an
hour Jane, to Christopher’s secret envy, was the only one who had caught
anything. It was a fat little perch that wriggled and shone in the
sunlight.

“Oh, the poor little thing!” cried Jane, and covered her face with her
hands while grandfather took it off the hook.

“Coward-y cat!” jeered Christopher. “Isn’t that just like a girl! Afraid
of a fish!”

Jane took up the cold, squirming thing and held it tight in both hands,
looking her brother straight in the eyes.

“I am not a coward-y cat, Kit Baker,” she said quietly. “I just couldn’t
bear to see the poor thing being hurt with that dreadful sharp hook.”

Christopher felt subdued. It had not occurred to him to feel sorry for
the fish.

“It’s only a fish,” he muttered. “They don’t feel much.”

“Janey is quite right,” said grandfather. “A truly kind heart always
sympathizes with any animal, however small, that is in pain.”

They fished on patiently for another half hour, not talking much
(Christopher could not keep absolutely silent) for fear of scaring away
the fish, which, however, must have had either a bad fright or a
warning, for they refused to bite or even nibble. Finally grandmother
suggested that it was rather useless to try any longer.

“But one fish won’t go very far,” grumbled Christopher. “Let’s try for
just one more. It’s hungry work, fishing.”

“I think Huldah has packed enough in the basket to keep us from starving
until supper time,” laughed grandmother, “and as there is only one poor
little fish for all of us, suppose we just put him back into the water?”

“Oh, no,” cried Christopher aggrieved.

“Oh, yes, let’s,” exclaimed Jane. “Poor little fish, we’ll make him
happy. He’s my fish and I guess I have the right to say what shall be
done with him,” she added defiantly, seizing the basket as Christopher
made a lunge for it. “If your stomach wasn’t so greedy, Kit Baker, your
heart would be kinder.”

Jane let the wriggling pink fish slip back into the brook, where he
darted out of sight in an instant among the rushes.

The hamper that Huldah had packed certainly did promise to satisfy the
appetite of even the hungriest people in the world. There were all sorts
and conditions of sandwiches; thin and square with the crusts cut off.
Some had slices of chicken inside, others pink boiled tongue. Still
others had tender leaves of dressed lettuce—these were grandmother’s
favorites—and others with jelly. Then there were soft ginger cakes and
crisp sugar wafers; apple pie—Huldah’s famous apple pie with plenty of
cinnamon—hard boiled eggs that had the yolks beaten up with salad
dressing; pears, plums and a whole chocolate layer cake. There were also
bottles of milk and coffee which latter grandmother heated over a spirit
lamp in a tiny saucepan put in for the purpose. Christopher wanted to
build a fire out of sticks and bits of wood for the coffee, but
grandfather said it was too hot for that.

After the luncheon was over, Jane and Christopher went off to gather
moss and pine-needles. Jane had planned to make a pine pillow to take
home to her mother, who declared that they always cured her headaches.
Letty had promised to help her with the sewing, for Jane did not like to
sew very well, not even to make doll’s clothes, and it was only a labor
of love (or the occasional desire to be thought grown-up) that could
induce her to use a needle.

Fir trees were somewhat scarce in the grove and the children had to walk
some distance. They left grandfather and grandmother discussing
something in very low, serious tones.

“What are they talking about?” asked Christopher, pointing his thumb
over his shoulder in the direction of his grandparents. “They look like
they sometimes do when we’ve been up to something.”

“But we haven’t—not for a long time,” put in Jane defensively. “Not
since the time you played hookey with Perk and drowned because you
didn’t know how to swim.”

“I didn’t play hookey. Grandfather let me go.”

“He didn’t say you might go in swimming.”

“Well, he has since,” returned Christopher triumphantly, as if that
settled the matter. “But something is up,” he added, returning to his
subject. “Do you suppose they’ve found out about our putting that hard
cider we found in the cellar into the pups’ milk?”

“It was only some left-over stuff, and it didn’t hurt the pups,” said
Jane hurriedly, for the idea had been hers. “And it did make them act
funny.”

They both laughed at the recollection.

“Well, then, maybe it’s the green stripes I painted on the pig the day
we pretended he was a zebra in the circus. Grandfather said green paint
was very poisonous. I’d have used brown paint if I could have found any;
it would have been lots more lifelike. Anyhow it didn’t seem to hurt the
pig any, although it did lick a lot off.”

“I know what it is they’re talking about,” replied Jane with an air of
importance. “It’s not the pigs and it’s not the pups. It’s about Letty.”

“Letty! What has she been doing?” demanded Christopher in astonishment.
He had looked upon Letty as so far above naughtiness as to be considered
almost a goody-goody.

“She hasn’t done anything,” explained Jane. “They are just talking about
where Mrs. Hartwell-Jones is going to send her to school this fall. I
heard Mrs. Hartwell-Jones say something about it to grandmother the last
time we were there.”

“Oh, is that all!” exclaimed Christopher indifferently, and lost his
interest in the subject immediately.

But, if the twins had known it, Mr. and Mrs. Baker were discussing
something much more interesting than Letty’s school, and that was,
Letty’s whole future. Grandmother had had a very short, very happy note
from Mrs. Hartwell-Jones just before leaving for the picnic. It seemed
that the “lady who wrote books,” after a great deal of discussion with
her lawyer, a long letter from Mrs. Baker, the twins’ mother, some
correspondence with Mrs. Drake (whose whereabouts Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
had had a good deal of trouble to discover), and finally a personal
visit from her lawyer, had resolved definitely upon the great step of
making Letty her own little girl.

As soon as they were alone, grandmother gave Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s note
to grandfather to read. It began with the announcement of the
author-lady’s decision, included an invitation for the picnickers to
stop at her house on their way home for congratulations and supper, and
wound up with the request that she be allowed to tell the twins the news
herself.

“I want to see Janey’s face,” she wrote, “when she learns what a
wonderful thing has come to me out of her little idea of being helpful
to a fellow mortal. May the dear child grow up to be as tender and
thoughtful a woman as she is a little girl! She will undoubtedly be
greatly and widely beloved.”

“Isn’t it beautiful the way she speaks of our Janey?” said grandmother
with tears in her eyes, when grandfather had finished reading the note.

“Does Letty know yet?” he asked.

“She is to tell her this afternoon, and we are to stop in on our way
home from the picnic to rejoice with them. You see she invites us all to
supper.”

“That will please Kit,” smiled his grandfather. “You have not given Jane
a suspicion of it?”

“Of course not. Don’t you see that Mrs. Hartwell-Jones wants the
pleasure of telling her herself, or let Letty do it. I wonder what Letty
said and did when she was told, and what they are saying about it now?”

Letty’s feelings at that moment were really too mixed up and bewildered
to describe. She had had a very happy day, performing her customary
tasks in the morning and driving as usual with Mrs. Hartwell-Jones in
the pony carriage. She had not felt a bit badly (as Jane had feared she
might) at not being invited to the picnic. She loved the children and
their good times dearly, but she was equally satisfied to be alone with
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones.

That usually placid lady appeared extraordinarily excited and restless
to-day.

“Oh!” Letty had exclaimed when she came into the sitting-room that
morning with the breakfast tray, which she insisted upon preparing
always herself. “How pretty you look! Your cheeks are as rosy as
Jane’s!”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had laughed and kissed Letty, but she said nothing
of what was on her mind, until the afternoon. It was a warm, sunshiny
day with a sort of hush over the earth. The air was still and full of
sweet, clean country smells. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty sat alone
together in the large, up-stairs sitting-room. A little later they were
to have a tea-party of two, for Mrs. Hartwell-Jones always liked a cup
of tea or chocolate in the afternoon.

“Letty, my dear,” said Mrs. Hartwell-Jones gently, trying to keep the
excitement out of her voice, “please sit here on the stool, close by me.
I have something very important to talk to you about.”

“Something important to talk to me about!” repeated Letty in
astonishment. “Oh, what is it?”

“Sit there, dear child, facing me. Now look up at me so that I can watch
your eyes. Tell me, Letty dear, have you ever thought about what you
would do when you grew up?”

“Not very much; not at all since I have been with you. Before—when I was
with the circus I used to wonder what I could do to get away from it
all. I knew that I could never stand it to go on travelling about with a
circus all my life. Mrs. Drake was very good to me and the baby was
dear! But I hated the life; living in tents, always on the go; no
school, no little girl friends, no home!”

She sat looking at the floor thoughtfully for a moment.

[Illustration: “NOW LOOK UP AT ME”]

“I suppose I ought to have thought about it more,” she said humbly. “I
am afraid I have taken your kindness too much as a matter of course,
dear Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. I shall try to show you how truly grateful I
am to you for giving me such a happy home! And you know how delighted I
am about boarding-school,” she added eagerly. “It seems just like—well,
almost like heaven to be like other girls and go to school to learn
things and be happy. I shall study hard and be good in school to show
how grateful I am. And then, perhaps, when I am grown up, I can teach
and pay you back for all you are going to do for me.”

“You dear little girl!” cried Mrs. Hartwell-Jones with a sob in her
voice, “I want no thanks but your happiness!

“But now, listen to what I have to say. How would you like being
somebody’s little girl in earnest? To have a real home to go to in
holiday time, and—and some one to love you and be as nearly a mother to
you as it is possible to be?”

Letty looked puzzled and a little frightened.

“Have you found some of my relatives? some one to claim me?” she asked.
“Oh, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, I don’t want to leave you! I don’t, I don’t!
You have taken as great care of me as my mother could have. Please don’t
send me away!”

“No, no, dear, never. You don’t understand, Letty darling. Do you know
what adoption means?”

“No, I am afraid I don’t,” said Letty meekly. She hung her head and
blushed, embarrassed as she always was at her ignorance, when asked the
meaning of something she did not know.

“It means,” said Mrs. Hartwell-Jones slowly, “that any one who wishes,
and there are no reasons why one should not do so, can take a little
girl or boy into one’s home and make that child her very own, by law.
And it means, Letty darling, that if you are willing, I intend to take
you to my home and make you my own little daughter!”

Letty sat staring at her with wide eyes. She was too bewildered—too
overwhelmed to speak. Two great tears welled up in Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s
eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Then she gave an odd little cry and
stretched out her arms.

“Oh, my little girl, my little girl!” she whispered.

Neither of them knew how long they sat there, wrapped in each other’s
arms, not talking except for a quick question and answer now and then.
At last they were interrupted by a hesitating knock on the door, and
Anna Parsons’ voice was heard calling:

“Please, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, mother says she is afraid the chocolate
will spoil if it waits any longer.”

Letty laughed and springing to the door, threw it wide open.

“Oh, Anna,” she cried, “I am the happiest girl in the whole wide world!
Bring in the chocolate and cakes, quick.”

Anna turned up her nose a trifle. It seemed rather a greedy thing to say
that one was the happiest girl in the world at sight of hot chocolate
and cakes—even if they were Madeira cakes. But then, she did not know
the wonderful thing that had happened to Letty.



CHAPTER XVIII

A CABLEGRAM


In spite of Letty’s appearing to be overjoyed at the arrival of the
chocolate and cakes, she did not eat very much. For some reason which
Anna did not understand she did not seem able to keep quiet for an
instant. Every second she would jump up to fetch some trifle for Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, for which that lady had not felt the slightest need; or
if she could think of nothing to do, would simply whirl about the room
in an ecstasy of motion. Anna watched her with astonished curiosity.

These little afternoon tea-parties occurred every day now, and Anna
Parsons was always included. Usually on the days when the twins and
their grandmother were not present, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones did most of the
talking, entertaining her little guests with descriptions of her travels
across the seas or telling them bits of stories that she had read or
written herself. But to-day it was Letty who talked. Talked! She became
a perfect chatterbox. Indeed, she seemed like a different person
altogether, with her sparkling eyes, red cheeks and prattling tongue.

Presently Anna Parsons asked some question about the ponies, Punch and
Judy, and that set Letty off on her recollections of the circus. Soon
she had Anna and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones both laughing heartily over her
tales; little Anna nearly fell off her chair in her merriment over the
account of the trick elephant’s puzzled behavior when they softened the
clapper of his bell so that it would not sound when he rang it.

Then she told all the droll stories she could remember about Poll, Mrs.
Goldberg’s parrot; and about the wonderful day Emma Fames had spent with
her at Willow Grove and how she had saved Jane and Christopher from the
bear.

“This mention of the twins and Willow Grove set Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
thinking of the letter she had received from the children’s mother. Both
she and grandmother had written to Mrs. Baker, Jr., and the answer had
been most satisfactory, both earnest and enthusiastic. Mrs. Baker had
described her visit to Mrs. Grey and told what a sweet, cultured,
refined woman she had found her to be, and how carefully brought up and
guarded Letty had been.

“Unless these three years with a traveling circus since her mother’s
death have spoiled her, I am sure you could find no more ladylike child
than Letty,” she had written. “Certainly she has sufficient birth and
breeding to overcome any little bad habits she may have acquired, and in
the proper surroundings I am sure she will grow into a charming, refined
gentlewoman. Moreover, she may prove to have an inestimable gift. Her
mother told me that she herself sang quite well when she was a younger
woman, and that she had a strong conviction that Letty had inherited her
voice.”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones sat thinking over this letter and all the little
incidents of the child’s past life that Letty had told her from time to
time, and she breathed a little prayer of thanksgiving that a precious
soul had been entrusted to her care.

“But I thought you didn’t like the circus,” exclaimed Anna at last, when
she could laugh no more.

“I didn’t,” answered Letty positively, becoming grave all at once. “I
didn’t like it at all!” She was silent for a moment and then said
soberly: “Anna, did you ever get into a deep, dark wood with lots of
low, thorny bushes and vines among the trees that caught your feet and
tangled them and pricked you when you tried to walk through? And then,
all at once you came out into the bright, bright sunshine? Then, if you
looked back at the wood, while you were safe outside in the warm
sunshine, it did not look so dreadful, but you found that it had some
rather bright spots in it here and there. Well, that is how I feel about
the circus.”

“Oh!” said Anna wonderingly.

“Oh, oh, it is so nice to be out in the sunshine again!” sighed Letty
clasping her hands and looking across at Mrs. Hartwell-Jones with tears
in her eyes. “So nice!”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones opened her arms without a word, and Letty ran to
them with a glad little cry. Anna stared at the pair in amazement, quite
unable to account for this display of emotion. Then, with a sudden
instinct that she was not wanted for the moment she rose, gathered the
teacups softly together on the tray and tiptoed out of the room.

It was some time before Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty were again
interrupted. This time it was the sound of a horse’s hoofs in the road
below and then Grandfather Baker’s voice calling “Whoa!”

“Our supper guests are arriving,” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones smiling.

“Oh!” cried Letty, jumping to her feet. “May I tell them?”

“Of course you may, my dear, that is, the children. The grown-ups
already know. I could not keep my secret from Mrs. Baker.”

Letty flew out of the room, and met the Baker family mounting the
stairs. She looked so radiantly happy that Christopher felt sure that
there was going to be something particularly good for supper.

When they had all gathered in the sitting-room, after the greetings were
over, Letty announced her glorious news, and then, oh, what excitement
prevailed! The old Parsons house had never known anything like it. Every
one talked at once, no one knew what any one else was saying, and no one
answered questions. Indeed, nobody expected to be answered at first, nor
said anything of any importance. They just “oh’d” and “ah’d” and kissed
one another and laughed—and cried a little bit too, the feminine part.
At this point Christopher drew his grandfather aside and said in a
disgusted voice:

“There they go again! What makes women and girls cry so much,
grandfather? They’re as bad when they’re pleased as when they’re sorry.”

Letty’s cheeks grew redder and redder, and her eyes danced and sparkled
until they were fit companions for the stars that were already beginning
to peep through the darkening sky outside. For it was growing later and
later. Christopher began to be afraid that nobody would remember about
supper. He could not be the one to remind Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, since he
was her guest, but the picnic in the woods seemed farther and farther in
the past until at length he decided that it had happened the day
before—or maybe years ago! A fellow’s stomach can’t stay empty forever,
you know, and he began to wonder what were the first symptoms of
starvation.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones came to herself and a realization of her duties as
hostess in time, however, to save him from the actual pangs of
starvation, and Mrs. Parsons, who had come up with Anna “to see what it
was all about” hustled down-stairs again with the promise that she would
have supper on the table “in a jiffy.”

At table the grown-ups, who all sat together at one end of the table,
seemed to have a good deal to say to each other that was serious, but
the children were brimful of fun and nonsense, and Letty kept the twins
in a gale of laughter, just as she had kept Anna Parsons and Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones in the afternoon.

After supper the children went out-of-doors and sat on the steps in the
sweet night air while Letty sang to them. They grew very quiet and sober
in the soft, solemn darkness. Presently Christopher said briskly, by way
of breaking what he thought was beginning to be an awkward silence:

“I guess you’re some happy to-night, Letty. How does it feel to be
somebody’s little girl after you haven’t belonged to anybody for so
long?”

Instead of answering Letty suddenly began to cry. She only now saw how
very lonely she had been these past three dreary years.

“There now, you rude boy, you’ve hurt her feelings. I hope you’re
satisfied,” exclaimed Jane indignantly. “How would you like to be told
you didn’t belong to any one?”

“But I do belong to some one, and I always have. But Letty didn’t, until
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones took her, and I don’t see why she has to cry just
because I spoke the truth,” argued Christopher.

“Kit is right,” said Letty, drying her tears. “I didn’t belong to any
one before and it makes me so happy now to think that I’m really going
to be somebody’s little girl again that—that I had to cry.”

“Huh! Had to cry! Why don’t you laugh if you’re glad? Why, I’d laugh for
a week if I was going to belong to somebody that had as many good things
to eat as Mrs. Hartwell-Jones always has.”

“Why, Kit, would you like to leave father and mother?” exclaimed Jane,
much shocked.

“I didn’t say that, but Mrs. Hartwell-Jones certainly does know how to
feed a fellow,” and Christopher smacked his lips.

Letty saw the word “greedy” trembling on Jane’s tongue and to check it
she began quickly to talk about her good fortune.

“I am not to go to boarding-school, after all, because Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones said she would be too lonely without me,” she said with a
happy laugh. “Oh, just think of having a home to go back to every day
after school! And the girls won’t snub me because of being a little
circus girl!” she exclaimed, and, to Christopher’s vexation, began to
cry again.

Jane grew very thoughtful all of a sudden. She thought of her own
home-coming each day after school. She remembered that sometimes—quite
often, indeed—she had not wanted to go home at all; had thought it very
stupid to sit in the house and study. She would much rather go to the
house of a schoolmate, or bring a friend home to play with her. But
mother did not approve of visiting on schooldays, and Jane’s good times
always had to be put off until Friday and Saturday during term-time.
Mother was always at home to welcome her, and to ask about her lessons,
quite as much interested in everything that had happened as if she, too,
were a little girl. Then Christopher would get home from his school and
the twins would have a jolly romp together before study time. Still Jane
had found it dull at home at times. She wondered why, when she thought
of how much she loved her mother and when she saw how happy it made
Letty to think of going home to a woman who was very dear and sweet but
who wasn’t her own mother after all—not really and truly her mother.

The children had not spoken for some time. Christopher was busying
himself with trying how many stars he could count without changing his
position. Suddenly a shadowy figure whirled toward them out of the
darkness. Letty caught her breath and half rose to her feet. Christopher
grasped the step with both hands and ejaculated:—“Oh, cricky!” He grew
very pale for a moment but controlled his feelings bravely. But Jane
screamed outright and threw both her arms around Letty’s neck.

But the shadowy figure turned out to be only Jo Perkins on his bicycle.
He carried a small envelope which he handed to Christopher.

“It’s a cablegram, Kit,” he said. “Run up to your grandfather with it,
quick. It came about supper time and Huldah said she didn’t know but it
might be something important and that I’d better ride in with it.”

Perk propped his bicycle against the steps and waited while the twins
rushed up-stairs.

“It’s from father and mother,” shouted Christopher, tumbling up the
stairs in the lead. “What does it say, grandfather, oh, what does it
say?”

Jane scrambled up behind her brother.

“They’re coming home, they’re coming home!” she sang blissfully. “When,
grandfather? When?”

Grandfather looked a bit startled at this abrupt entrance. He fumbled
for his spectacles, put them on and unfolded the cablegram carefully,
while grandmother leaned over his shoulder, almost as impatient as the
children.

“We sail ‘Metric’ Thursday. All well,” read grandfather.

“I knew they were coming, I knew it!” cried Jane happily. “When will
they get here, grandfather?”

Then grandfather, grandmother and Jane began talking all at once, while
Christopher whistled “The Campbells are Coming” as the most appropriate
tune he could think of and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty stood hand in
hand, smiling upon them all happily. A few weeks ago this little scene
of rejoicing would have made Letty very sorrowful, but now she had her
own unspeakable joy.

Outside in the soft summer night Jo Perkins sat on the fence and waited
in comfortable unconcern.



CHAPTER XIX

SYMPTOMS OF MEASLES


“Jane,” said Christopher to his sister three days later, “a week is an
awfully short time.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Jane.

She knew that when Christopher began to speak in that tone he had,
something in particular to say.

“I mean that in a week mother and father will be here and——”

“A week isn’t a short time to wait to see them when we haven’t seen them
for a long, long summer,” interrupted Jane indignantly.

“Well, it’s a short time when it’s all we’ve got left of staying here,
isn’t it?” retorted Christopher.

Jane’s face lengthened. She had not thought of that side of the
question.

“Do you think they are going to take us right straight home?” she asked
slowly.

“Why, of course. Father’s been away from his business so long that he’ll
just have to get back to it. I know enough to know that,” replied
Christopher in his most exasperatingly superior tone.

But Jane was too deep in her own thoughts to be provoked. She was trying
to understand the queer feeling that Christopher’s words brought to her
heart. Surely she was not sorry that her father and mother were coming
home? Oh, no, the thump her heart gave told her that that was not the
reason. But it would be hard to leave grandfather and grandmother,
Huldah and the puppies!

“Don’t you think they’ll let us stay a little longer?” she repeated.
“School doesn’t begin for almost another month.”

“I don’t know. But if one of us was ill, we’d have to stay longer,
wouldn’t we?”

“Why, yes, of course. But then it wouldn’t be any fun. Besides neither
of us is ill or anything like it.”

“It is fun to be ill if you’re not so very bad,” said Christopher,
answering the first half of Jane’s sentence. “Why, when Edward Hammond
had the measles—do you remember?—he had lots of fun. He had to stay in
bed a few days, but he didn’t mind that ’cause his mother read him
stories and he got lots of presents.”

“Did he? Well, I guess mother’ll bring us a present.”

“And nice things to eat,” went on Christopher. “It was really great
sport being ill.”

Jane eyed her brother suspiciously.

“Kit Baker, what’s the matter? What do you mean? Why are you talking
such a lot about Edward Hammond having the measles? It all happened over
a year ago anyhow, and he’s as well as you or I, now.”

“It wasn’t Edward I was thinking so much about as the measles.”

Jane turned.

“What about the measles? You don’t think you’re getting them, do you?
Have you been exposed?”

“You don’t have to be exposed to get the measles.”

“Oh, but you do, I know. Else why is mother always so careful to keep us
away from any one who has measles?”

“Oh, I suppose you can catch them from somebody else, but you can get
them without being exposed, too, because Edward’s mother said he hadn’t
been exposed, so there.”

“She said she couldn’t find out that he’d been exposed,” corrected Jane.
“But I’d like to know what difference it makes now, Kit Baker. Do you
feel as if you were getting the measles?”

“Not exactly, only—why, don’t you see? If one of us was to get the
measles, we couldn’t go back to town so soon. And whichever one of us
had ’em would have a bully time, with presents and sweetbreads and
things,” he added hastily, as if offering an inducement.

Jane considered. She felt sure that there was something behind
Christopher’s words—something he was trying to make her understand; but
she could not make out what it was.

“Well, anyway,” she announced finally, “I haven’t the measles, nor
anything else. I don’t know about you, but if you are coming down with
anything you’ll have plenty of time to get over it before we go home.”

Which practical speech ended the conversation for the present.

Whatever Christopher’s deep-laid schemes were, he decided that the time
was not yet ripe to unfold them. Then, too, there might be no necessity.
He would wait and see.

But immediately after breakfast, two days before the steamship “Metric”
was due to arrive in New York, he came upon his grandparents as they
were ending a private consultation. Christopher overheard grandmother
say:

“It will have to be Monday, then, two days after they get here.”

The words set Christopher thinking. As usually happens when one
overhears something intended for other ears, he misunderstood
grandmother’s meaning and jumped to the conclusion that the Monday to
which grandmother referred was the day set for their return to the city.
To leave Sunnycrest and all its joys, the freedom, the open air, country
life! To leave on Monday and this was Thursday! Clearly there was no
time to be lost. He rushed off to find Jane, carried her to the most
remote corner of the orchard and there they sat a good hour or more,
quite beyond the reach of ears, however sharp, but showing, had any one
been interested enough to watch, that the topic under discussion was
very weighty—and with two sides to it, to judge from Jane’s determined
attitude and Christopher’s of persuasion.

It had been arranged that grandfather and grandmother were to go to the
city on Friday afternoon, sleep there overnight, meet the ship which was
to dock very early in the morning and bring the twins’ parents back with
them to Sunnycrest on Saturday.

Grandmother, who believed in being punctual always, had already packed
her bag and was in readiness for the journey quite soon after breakfast,
although they did not have to start until after an earlier dinner than
usual.

But shortly after eleven o’clock Jane came into the house looking very
much flushed and complained of not feeling well. Even as she spoke, she
turned white and became very ill. Christopher, who had followed her to
the door of grandmother’s room, looked on with deep concern.

“Why, Kit,” exclaimed grandmother, “what have you and Janey been doing?”

“Playing,” answered Christopher briefly. He seemed to have lost his
usual too-ready tongue. “We were just playing.”

“Was Janey swinging in the hammock or anything that could have made her
so seasick?”

“We weren’t near the hammock,” answered Christopher frankly. “Are you
going to send for the doctor, grandmother?”

“I hope it won’t be necessary,” replied grandmother anxiously. “Please
ask Huldah to come up-stairs, Kit. I’ll get Janey to bed.”

Jane appeared so limp and miserable that grandmother decided (greatly to
her secret disappointment) to give up her journey to town and stay at
home with her, letting grandfather go by himself.

“And it will be a melancholy meeting with such anxious news for the
children’s father and mother,” she added regretfully.

“Oh, Jane’s not as ill as that,” expostulated Christopher.
“She’s—she’s—it’ll just keep us from going home so soon, perhaps, but
that’s all. You go ahead to town, grandmother. I’ll take care of
Janey—me and Huldah. And perhaps Letty’ll come out and read to us.”

“Oh, I should be afraid to let Letty come until I know what the matter
is. Janey may be coming down with something. It is most distressing, and
Dr. Greene is away up country and won’t be back to-night.”

And grandmother, cheerful, serene grandmother, actually cried a little.
But then you see, she was both worried about Jane’s sudden, somewhat
mysterious illness, and disappointed that she should have such
distressing news to give the children’s mother just at this last moment
when everything had gone so beautifully all summer long.

“Don’t you think you’d better go?” urged grandfather. He, too, was
disappointed, for he and grandmother rarely traveled and always enjoyed
their little excursions together. “Don’t you think Janey’s mother might
worry more than she need if you stay behind? She will think it more
serious than it really is.”

“It is serious enough to make me unwilling to leave Janey,” answered
grandmother positively. “I should worry every single instant if I were
away from her. I could not stand it, not knowing how she is every
minute. With her symptoms she might be coming down with almost
anything.”

“But I don’t think she’s very ill,” put in Christopher again. “You just
tell father and mother she’ll be all right in a week or two if they——”

“In a week or two!” exclaimed grandmother, looking ready to cry again.
“I hope it is not going to be so long an illness as that!”

Christopher blushed and hung his head, while grandfather again urged the
wisdom of going to town together as they had originally planned. But
grandmother was firm. She changed her dress and went back to Jane’s
room. Jane set up a wail when she heard that grandmother was to remain
at home.

“I am not ill, grandmother, not a bit!” she moaned. “I—I——”

“Be careful, Jane,” called Christopher from the doorway of his own room.
“You’ll—you’ll get sick again.”

Jane dropped back in bed and began to cry. Grandmother knelt down and
did her best to comfort her, but Jane sobbed on quite heedlessly.

Grandfather and Christopher had to sit down to dinner alone, as
grandmother would not leave Jane and grandfather could not wait or he
would miss his train. It was rather a melancholy meal. Grandfather ate
hardly anything and even Christopher’s appetite failed. He watched his
grandfather off and rode on the step of the carriage as far as the gate,
but he did not ask permission to go all the way to Hammersmith, for the
sake of the ride, as grandfather and Joshua had both expected him to do.

“The boy seems quite unlike himself,” grandfather remarked to Joshua as
they drove away. “He takes Janey’s illness very much to heart.”

“I always agreed there was a lot of character in that boy,” replied
Joshua heartily.

Christopher was told, when he got back to the house, that Jane was
asleep and must on no account be disturbed, so he tiptoed disconsolately
away and cast about for something to do. He began to be sorry he had not
asked leave to ride into the village.

At about five o’clock grandmother called him. Jane was awake and feeling
ever so much better—almost like herself in fact. Would Christopher sit
with her a short time while grandmother went to her own room?

Jane, who had been sitting up in bed playing quite happily with her
paper dolls, dropped back on her pillow when Christopher came in and
turning her back, refused to speak to him. Grandmother had already left
the room.

“Sit up, Jane,” commanded Christopher, closing the door and drawing a
small black lacquered box from his pocket.

“I won’t,” said Jane flatly. “You are a horrid, wicked boy and I don’t
like you.”

“But you promised.”

“You spoiled grandmother’s trip to town and mother’ll be scared ’most to
death when she hears I’m too ill to let grandmother go.”

“I can’t help that. I didn’t know grandmother would stay home when it
wasn’t necessary, and you promised——”

“Grandmother is so disappointed she wants to cry all the time,” went on
Jane, her lip quivering.

“You promised!” Christopher’s tone was growing threatening. “Hurry up.
There isn’t much time.”

“I don’t care,” said Jane defiantly.

“Jane Baker! Do you mean to say you are going to break your promise?”

This was attacking Jane’s vulnerable spot, for she prided herself upon
always keeping her word. She sat up in bed.

“But if it’s a wrong promise?” she asserted weakly.

“It’s the same promise as when you made it,” announced Christopher with
calm conviction, and he approached the bed with the small box in his
hand.

Grandmother completed her afternoon toilet in something of a hurry, for
she thought she heard sounds in Jane’s room.

“What is it?” she asked a little anxiously, appearing in the doorway
just as Christopher opened the door from within.

“Nothing,” he answered. “I was just helping Janey get—get fixed.”

Grandmother glanced at Jane, lying flat on her pillow, her face turned
away.

“Don’t you feel as well, Janey?” she asked tenderly, crossing to the
bedside quickly.

Jane shook her head without speaking. She was white about the lips but
her face looked red and blotched. Grandmother lifted one of the little
hands; it felt hot and feverish. Huldah entered just then with a
daintily arrayed supper tray but Jane pushed it aside with a shudder.

“I am afraid it is measles,” grandmother said in a low tone aside to
Huldah. “She is sick again and see how flushed and broken out her face
looks. We’d best send Kit away somewhere.”

“He can go down to the farmhouse,” replied Huldah promptly. “Joshua will
see to him. I’m going to stay up here nights until the child’s better.
Where could the precious lamb have caught the measles? I don’t know of a
case for miles around.”

Mrs. Baker spent an anxious night for Jane tossed and moaned in her
sleep in a distressful way. Several messages had been sent to the doctor
and grandmother had also sent Jo Perkins into Hammersmith with a note to
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, to tell her of the sudden illness and to warn Letty
against coming out to Sunnycrest for fear of contagion. Such a dreary
home-coming it promised to be for the returned travelers!

Christopher was decidedly taken aback by his banishment. He had not
counted on anything of that sort and remonstrated vigorously.

“If it is measles, I don’t see the use in sending me away now,” he
argued. “I guess the harm’s already done.”

But grandmother was determined to take no risks and sent Christopher off
with a hand-bag.

Toward morning Jane became quieter and grandmother fell into an
exhausted sleep. When Jane woke, she tiptoed softly into the bath-room,
went through her morning bath and got back into bed again without
disturbing her grandmother. The blotchy flush had entirely left her face
and she looked and acted perfectly well. Indeed, she appeared quite like
her usual self, except for a certain look of unhappiness which even the
thought of her mother’s coming could not banish from her chubby face.

Grandmother was surprised to see this sudden change for the better, when
she finally awoke, and she sent Jo Perkins speeding again into the
village with a telegram to grandfather. But she decided to take no
chances until Dr. Greene had come and pronounced the danger of measles
really past, so Christopher was still held in quarantine at the
farmhouse at the foot of the hill.

The doctor was late and took his departure only just before the arrival
of the travelers. He had been puzzled by Jane’s symptoms.

“There were evidences of an upset stomach,” he said, “but not enough to
have caused fever and a breaking out.”

She might get up and dress, he added as he left, and such a scramble
Jane had to get into her clothes in time, with one eye on the clock! But
she succeeded, and was the first to rush into her dear, dear mother’s
arms.

What a day of jubilation it was! What wonderful tales of travel! What
wonderful presents! But through it all there was something not quite
natural about the behavior of the children. Christopher’s cheerfulness
was a little overdone. The look of unhappiness still lurked in the
depths of Jane’s eyes and she very pointedly avoided her brother.

“If grandmother had not assured me to the contrary, I should say the
children were suffering from a guilty conscience,” said Mr. Christopher
Baker, Jr., to his wife.

“Yes,” she agreed. “And Janey appears on the eve of confession. I have
noticed two or three times that she has been on the point of telling me
something and Kit has stopped her. Do you suppose there can be something
behind her illness?”

After supper the family were assembled on the veranda, and Mrs. Baker,
Jr., or “Mrs. Kit” as she was generally called—asked about Letty.

“We know how interested you both must be in Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and
Letty,” replied grandmother, “and so we have planned to invite them to
Sunnycrest to spend a week. They are to come on Monday.”

Jane and Christopher exchanged sudden, startled looks.

“Aren’t we going home on Monday?” demanded Christopher.

“No, my boy. I have a ten days’ holiday and we are going to spend it
here, all together,” answered his father.

Jane burst into tears.

“Now, Jane!” whispered Christopher fiercely, and reached out a hand to
clutch Jane’s skirts.

But she was too quick for him and sprang to the shelter of her mother’s
arms.

“Oh, we needn’t have done it! We needn’t have done it!” she wailed.

Everybody was unspeakably astonished except Christopher, who grew very
red in the dusk, squirmed about on his chair, finally rose and muttering
something about “girls being such softies,” ran into the house.

“Oh, mother,” sobbed Jane, “come over here.”

She drew her mother apart and made her sit down. Then standing beside
her, the dear mother-shoulder ready to hide a shamed face, she whispered
her story:

“Kit and I thought you and father were going to take us right back home
to the city, and we didn’t want to go, and Kit said if one of us was ill
or something, that we couldn’t go so soon, so he—he made me promise and
we—I ate a lot of mushy bread and milk and drank some warm water and Kit
whirled me till I was dizzy and—and grandmother put me to bed; then Kit
came up and painted my face out of our water-color box and whirled me
again and grandmother thought it was measles. She was scared and she
cried because she had to give up her trip to the city with grandfather
to meet you and mother—oh, mother, I’m so mis’rable! And I have broken
my promise to Kit, too, ’cause I promised him not to tell!”

The halting, sobbing whisper ceased and Jane, in an agony of weeping,
buried her head in her mother’s breast.

“Why, Jane!” exclaimed her mother. “Why, Janey!”

After the scolding, the sermon and the punishment were over and the
children had been sent forgiven to bed, the four grown-ups went out onto
the veranda again. It was a soft, balmy night, with no hint of the
coming autumn in the air. The stars twinkled good-humoredly.

Grandmother, grandfather, mother and father all looked at one another
for a moment; then—I am sorry to say that then they laughed; laughed
until the tears rolled down their cheeks and they had to sit down to
keep from tipping over.

But of course Jane and Christopher never knew that.



CHAPTER XX

OLD SCENES AGAIN


Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty came out to Sunnycrest on the following
Monday, as they had been invited to do, and every one spent a happy
week. Letty was radiant to meet again some one who had seen and known
her mother, and urged Mrs. Baker, Jr., to tell Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
everything she could remember about the sweet, sad-faced gentlewoman who
had trained her little daughter so carefully and lovingly.

There were long, long talks among the grown-ups, and both grandmother
and the mother of the twins were confident that Mrs. Hartwell-Jones had
done wisely in making Letty her own little girl.

Letty had asked permission to renew only one tie of her past life.

“You have told Mrs. Drake already,” she said to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones,
“and I should like all my other friends to know, if I could reach them.
There was dear Miss Reese. She was so good to me and my mother one
winter, and then I never heard from her again, nor her cousin, Clara
Markham. Indeed, I’ve even forgotten what Miss Reese’s married name is.
I have always thought of her as Miss Reese.

“Then there was Mrs. Goldberg at Willow Grove. She was awfully
good-hearted although she was so fat and homely and dressed so badly.
But she and Mr. Goldberg went out to California just before—before my
mother died. Mr. Goldberg wanted Ben to go out to California with him,
but Ben couldn’t leave mother and me. Perhaps if he had gone——” Letty
stopped and her eyes filled with tears. “Perhaps that horrible accident
wouldn’t have happened!”

“Hush, dear Letty—dear little girl,” whispered Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
tenderly. “An accident is always likely to happen in such a life—so
filled with risks and dangers. And think how very much more terrible it
would have been if it had happened far off—away from you.”

Letty was soon comforted and dried her eyes with a little sigh.

“But there is one person I can tell my happiness to,” she said after
rather a long silence, “if I may? It is Emma Haines, the little girl I
told you about that lived next door when we had rooms in South Front
Street. I should so like her to know! May I write to her? She lives in
New Jersey now, she and her mother and Tottie. Such a cunning baby
Tottie was.”

“By all means write to her at once,” consented Mrs. Hartwell-Jones
cordially. “And when we get settled at home in town, you may invite her
over to see you, if you like.”

Letty would have liked to take Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s “at once”
literally. Indeed, she had already jumped up from her stool and crossed
to the writing-desk, when Christopher appeared at the open door and
beckoned to her eagerly. The little conversation had taken place in Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones’s room at Sunnycrest, and Christopher’s interruption was
not a surprise, as the twins gave Letty very little time to herself.

After Letty had run off to join the children, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones sat
lost in thought, considering seriously an idea that had come to her that
morning, suggested by the letter she had received from her lawyer.
Presently she went to consult Grandmother Baker, as she generally did
upon nearly all matters nowadays. She found her in her own room, going
over the week’s mending.

“Mrs. Baker, I am thinking of taking a short journey,” she began. “But
you are busy, I see. I am afraid I shall disturb you.”

Grandmother hastened to assure her that she was not interrupting.

“Indeed, it will help me very much to be talked to,” she replied. “It
will help me to keep my mind off the terrific size of the holes in Kit’s
stockings. Just look at this!” And she held up a long brown stocking
with a great gaping tear in the knee. “You say you think of taking a
short journey,” she exclaimed in surprise. “You don’t think of leaving
us before the end of your visit, I hope?” she added anxiously.

“Only for two days, if you will excuse us. I think of taking Letty with
me. But I would like your opinion; whether you think it would please and
interest Letty, or only distress her with sad memories.”

Mrs. Baker looked up curiously.

“I am thinking of going down to Philadelphia for a day,” explained Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones. “There are certain records that my lawyer wishes to look
up, concerning Letty’s baptism and the exact date of her father’s death.
I should like, too, to call on the minister, if we can find him, in
whose parish Mrs. Grey lived at that time.

“And I thought possibly it might interest Letty to revisit some of the
places where she used to live. Or do you think it might rouse sad
memories in the child’s heart and make her unhappy? Do you think it
would be a hard experience?”

“It might sadden the dear child a bit for the moment,” answered
grandmother; “but the sadness cannot last long, remembering what the
future holds for her, and I think it would be very good for her, Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, to go over the old scenes and impress them upon her
mind, since her life from now on is to be so very different.”

“I am glad you agree with me, Mrs. Baker. Then, since that is settled,
will it interfere with your plans in any way to have us go tomorrow?”

Mrs. Baker smiled.

“Not with me, dear Mrs. Hartwell-Jones. Choose your own time and
convenience. But I am afraid the children will raise a very dreadful
outcry.”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones smiled too, in recollection of all the mysterious
whisperings and private interviews that had been going on among the
children.

“I think they can spare Letty for two days,” she laughed. “We shall be
back the day after, you know.”

Letty received the news of the proposed journey with mingled feelings.
How odd it would seem to go back to Philadelphia, to revive the scenes
and memories of the old life, which seemed gone forever.

Letty was afraid it might make her unhappy to visit again the places
where she had lived with her dear, dear mother. She said nothing of all
this to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, and tried her best not to let her see that
she felt it, but entered into plans very eagerly and drove Punch and
Judy into the village after the noonday dinner to get time-tables.

It was discovered that the only convenient train to Philadelphia passed
through Hammersmith in the afternoon, not reaching Philadelphia until
after dark. And the return trip must be taken even later in the day.

“Of course we can do nothing the evening we reach there,” said Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones, “but it will give us nearly a whole day before starting
back, which is all the time I shall need.

“But we shall arrive at Hammersmith very late in the evening, Mr.
Baker,” she added. “Don’t you think it would be better for Letty and me
to stop overnight at our own rooms in the village? It will take Joshua
and the horses out so late, to come to meet us.”

“Indeed, no. Josh won’t mind a little evening jaunt. We may all come,
for the matter of that, for the sake of a moonlight ride.”

And so Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Letty started off. It was all very
strange and odd to Letty. She could not get used to the parlor-car. She
had traveled a good deal in her time, during her three years with Mr.
Drake’s circus, but never, of course, in such comfort and luxury. It was
like living in a different world.

Philadelphia, too, was like a completely different city. It was quite
dark when they arrived and the confusion and brilliance of the big, busy
station quite overwhelmed Letty. The streets were totally unfamiliar.
She had been in that part of the city very seldom and never at night.
The comfort and delightful motion of the taxicab charmed her and she
became completely absorbed in watching the register, illumined by a tiny
electric light.

“What does it make you think of, dear?” asked Mrs. Hartwell-Jones as the
taxicab was steered smoothly and dexterously in and out of the stream of
traffic.

“Oh, I don’t know. It is all so mysterious, this going along and along
without anything to take us,” replied Letty. “But then, after all, it
isn’t so very different from a trolley-car, is it, except that there are
no tracks. Ah, the thing has dropped again! What do you suppose makes
it? You say the man does not push it,” and she studied the metre with
puzzled eyes.

The ride was very short and the hotel at which they stopped very
magnificent. A meal was served to them in their own room, for it was too
late to dress and go down-stairs to the restaurant; and after it was
over, Letty spent the hour until bedtime at the open window, watching
the rushing stream of people pour by below, in carriages or motors and
on foot, ascending or descending from trolley-cars and entering or
leaving the big hotel. All the while she asked herself over and over:

“Is this Philadelphia? Is this really Philadelphia where I used to
live?”

Her sense of strangeness and bewilderment did not leave her next
morning, for Mr. Shoemaker, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s lawyer, having come
over from New York by appointment to join them, the three took another
taxicab and drove out to West Philadelphia. This part of the city was
even stranger to Letty than the portion about the station, for she had
been only a baby, too young to remember any impressions, when her
mother, Ben and she had moved down-town; and she had never revisited
that part of the city at all.

She did not understand exactly what was the errand upon which Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones and the lawyer were bent, and while they consulted huge
books and parish registers, she wandered about the yard of the big
college where her father had been a teacher, looking up at the high
buildings with their rows and rows of windows, and thinking how jolly it
must be to be a boy and go to college.

“But there are girls’ colleges, too,” she reflected. “Perhaps Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones will let me go to one when I am old enough—or know
enough. Oh, dear, I am sorry I am so far behind other girls in my
classes. I mean to work terribly hard. Mrs. Hartwell-Jones has helped me
a lot this summer and perhaps it won’t matter so much, my being behind,
at a private school.”

When Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and Mr. Shoemaker joined Letty, a kind-faced
old clergyman accompanied them, who patted Letty on the cheek and
exclaimed:

“Bless me, is this the baby? How time does fly, to be sure. You are a
fortunate little lady, Letitia. Good-morning, all of you.”

After luncheon at the hotel, Mr. Shoemaker talked business with Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones for half an hour or so, then departed again for New York.
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones ordered still another taxicab.

“We have over two hours before our train leaves, dear, and so suppose we
drive about to the different places you know about. Would you like to?
Do you remember the street and number where your Miss Reese used to
live?”

Letty gave the address, which was quite near by, and as they drove past
the house she related again, with eager interest, the exciting tale of
the fire. Then they were driven down Chestnut Street and Letty’s eyes
shone as they passed the shops she recollected having visited with Miss
Reese on the memorable Christmas shopping expedition.

“Is this where you had your first taste of ice-cream soda-water?” asked
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones as the cab stopped in front of a large candy shop.
“Then we must have some now, for old times’ sake. And let us take a box
of candy back to the twins.”

They did a good deal of shopping, of one sort or another, and then Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones gave the chauffeur a direction that made him stare. It
brought the tears to Letty’s eyes suddenly and a great lump to her
throat.

Far down-town they drove, out of the range of stylishly equipped
carriages and motor cars; out of the range of big shops and smooth
streets. The pavement grew rougher and dirtier, the houses and small
shops that lined the street, shabbier and shabbier.

Letty leaned forward out of the carriage window, her eyes large,
curious, almost frightened, fixed on each familiar spot as it was
passed. She clasped her hands tightly together and drew her breath in
short, audible inspirations.

“Ah, there is the house, there it is!” she exclaimed at length, and Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones gave the signal to stop.

The cab came to a halt at the curb, the motor continuing to throb with
an even, businesslike regularity.

The little motor inside Letty’s small body was throbbing too, wildly,
now fast and now slow, as she gazed at the shabby, dingy house that had
been her home. It looked shabbier and dingier than ever, and there were
neither fresh muslin curtains nor blooming plants at the third-story
front windows where her mother used to sit and sew.

No familiar faces were to be seen. Several people went in and out of the
front door, turning to stare curiously at the lady and little girl
sitting in the motor car. But Letty had never seen any of them before.
There were children playing on the door-step next door, but they were
not Emma Haines nor Tottie. It all seemed completely changed.

“Oh, dear!” sighed Letty.

Then she turned and threw herself into Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s
outstretched arms.

“My mother, my mother!” she sobbed. “How I want my mother!”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones soothed her as best she could, wondering the while
if she had done wrong to bring back the old associations.

“I know it is hard, dear little girl,” she whispered, “but I think some
day you will be glad we came. It will help to fix the picture in your
mind. It keeps our memories fresher and more precious, you know, if we
have the pictures of their surroundings clearly in our mind.

“Take one last look, dear, and then we shall go. I pray I may be able to
keep you as good and happy as your dear mother did, my precious little
Letty!”

The cab moved slowly, with increasing speed, away from the dingy street,
back to the gay, prosperous part of the city; back to the life that was
to be Letty’s henceforth.

The child’s sobs soon ceased and she drew back from the comforting
shoulder. But she still clung to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones’s hand for solace,
and there were tears in the brown eyes that tried bravely to smile.

“You are so good to me!” she exclaimed. “My mother would be so grateful
to you if she knew!”

“She does know, up in heaven. I am sure she does, Letty, dear. And we
shall both do our best to keep good and happy, shall we not? for that
would please her best.

“And Letty dear, while we are on the subject, may I speak about
something else regarding you and me? What do you want to call me, child?
Have you thought about it at all? You know you can’t go on calling me
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones,” she added with a little laugh, to aid Letty’s
embarrassment. “How would ‘Aunt Mary’ do?”

Letty looked up shyly.

“I think that would be perfectly beautiful!” she ejaculated with a happy
sigh. “If it is what you would like?” she added hastily.

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones would have liked a sweeter, more intimate title, but
she guessed that Letty would find it too hard to confer the beloved name
of mother upon any one else; so she accepted the other and they were
both satisfied and contented.

“‘Aunt Mary,’” whispered Letty again and again. “It is a beautiful name
and just like yourself, Mrs. Hart—I mean Aunt Mary,” she added
tremulously.



CHAPTER XXI

CONCLUSION


The twins greeted Letty’s return tumultuously. They had been very
indignant over her journey and had considered it most unnecessary and
thoughtless of Mrs. Hartwell-Jones to take Letty away at such a critical
time, thus threatening to upset all their plans. But two days were not
so very long.

“You almost spoiled everything, but only almost, so it’s all right,”
said Jane magnanimously.

“We did a lot of practicing,” added Christopher with his mouth full of
chocolate, “and this is fine candy, thank you.”

“We’ve kept the secret splendidly and not a soul knows anything except
those who are in it,” went on Jane importantly.

In fact, the children were planning an immense surprise for the
celebration of the last evening at Sunnycrest. The great scheme was
Christopher’s idea, and he found some difficulty at first in persuading
Letty to take her part in it. She consented at length, partly for the
fun of it, partly because she was so happy that she wanted to do
whatever any one asked her to do.

A great mystery pervaded the place—a mystery which the grown-ups had to
be very careful at times not to see through, for the children found it
hard, in their joy and excitement, not to betray secrets. Billy
Carpenter was included in the affair, and he and Christopher spent hours
every day in the hayloft, rehearsing some private performance which
resulted in a good deal of thumping and an occasional hard bump. They
also did a great deal of hammering and sawing, which employment demanded
frequent calls upon Jo Perkins’s time and even upon Joshua’s valuable
moments.

Letty and Jane were busy, too, in Jane’s room, snipping and sewing away
at costumes. They made an unexplained trip into the village one morning
in the pony carriage. Jane had her allowance and Letty was enjoying the
unexpected, undreamed-of thrill of possessing her own spending money. On
their return they smuggled their packages up to Jane’s room and confided
their purchases to no one but Christopher.

It was evening of the last day of the delightful Sunnycrest house-party.
By general request supper was an hour earlier than usual and none of the
children—not even Christopher and Billy Carpenter—ate very much. They
were in a constant fidget to have the meal come to an end. Indeed, the
two boys excused themselves before it was over and rushed out to help Jo
Perkins complete the final arrangements.

When the grown-ups went out to sit on the veranda as usual, they found a
transformation. The front lawn had been turned into a circus ring by
means of a low, rather wobbly circular railing. An inner railing was
staked out with string so as to form a track. Although the autumn
daylight still lingered, thanks to Huldah’s promptness with the early
supper, Joshua had stationed four large stable lanterns at intervals
around the ring and Jo Perkins had strung festoons of gay Japanese
lanterns, left over from the Fourth of July, along the edge of the
railing. The veranda chairs had been placed in a row on the driveway,
facing this ring.

As the party seated themselves, Christopher’s head could be seen every
few seconds, bobbing around the corner of the house. Huldah and the two
housemaids came out and stood on the veranda and Joshua joined them.

When every one had assembled Christopher, in rather an extraordinary
costume composed of a long mackintosh, boots much too big for him and a
silk hat of his grandfather’s—with a false band inside to make it
fit—strutted into the ring. The long whip he carried proclaimed his
character as ringmaster. He mounted on an inverted keg, evidently put
there for the purpose.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began in a loud voice, which he tried to make
deep and impressive, “we hope you will all enjoy our circus, for we have
worked very hard to get it ready.” Great applause from the audience,
which rather disconcerted the youthful manager. “We have decided not to
have a procession,” he went on in a more natural voice, “because that
would show all our—our acts, and we want to keep the different things we
are going to do a secret until you see them. We hope you will enjoy it
as—oh, I said that before. Ah—oh—thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for
your attention. We’ll be ready in a minute,” and with an abrupt little
bow Christopher jumped off the box and clumped away in his big boots at
an awkward run.

After a very short interval of waiting he appeared again, this time
airily attired in a striped bathing suit, in lieu of tights, followed by
Billy Carpenter in like costume.

“Oh, I hope they won’t take cold. Fortunately it’s a warm night,”
murmured Christopher’s mother.

The two boys capered into the ring and proceeded to show off the results
of their week of practicing and labor. They turned handsprings and stood
on their heads; Billy walked a short distance on his hands and
Christopher turned a back somersault landing, a little to every one’s
surprise, including his own, on his feet. Then they jumped and tumbled
together, performing fantastic feats at leap-frog. They were very quick
and agile and really rather clever.

The audience was most appreciative and encored them again and again.
When they had finally retired, with many bows and flourishes Jane
appeared dressed in a long full skirt of flowered muslin—one of her
grandmother’s, shortened—a white kerchief crossed on her breast and a
quaint little cap on her head. She carried her doll Sally in her arms.

“Letty’s handiwork,” whispered Mrs. Hartwell-Jones proudly as she
surveyed the costume.

In her sweet, piping voice Jane recited “Beautiful Grandma.” The
audience clapped and clapped and called “encore” again and again but the
piece was long and had taxed shy little Jane’s powers. She shook her
head as she gave her cunning little bob of a curtsey and finally called:

“I don’t know anything else that would go with this costume and besides,
I have to get dressed for——” She stopped and ran off, laughing.

There was a slight pause and then Christopher reappeared in his costume
as ringmaster. Again he mounted the keg and made another speech,
cracking his whip to secure attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he shouted impressively, “we have made
arrangements for a rare treat for you all this evening. I wish to
announce the only and positively the last public performance of Punch
and Judy! All right, bring ’em along, Perk.”

Jo Perkins appeared in sight around the corner of the house leading the
Shetland ponies. They were literally covered with wreaths and festoons
of goldenrod and wild asters. The little carriage to which they were
harnessed was decorated in the same manner and Letty, sitting enthroned
on the seat, was dressed, not in the imitation Roman toga she had worn
under Mr. Drake’s direction, but in a short white frock such as she had
worn at Willow Grove when she had first exhibited the ponies for Mr.
Goldberg. She had on long pink stockings and white tennis shoes—a result
of the shopping trip—and carried a long wand wrapped in silver paper. A
crown of silver paper, with a bunch of flowers at the sides, completed
her costume.

“That is exactly the way she was dressed when I saw her at Willow
Grove,” Mrs. Baker, Jr., whispered to Mrs. Hartwell-Jones.

“Poor child, do you suppose she will miss the old life, with its
constant change and excitement?” asked Mrs. Hartwell-Jones a little
wistfully.

“I am quite sure she will not. See how happy she has been this summer.
And her blessed mother would be so thankful to know she had been saved
from it. She did not like Letty’s occupation; she told me so herself,
and always went to the theatre with her as long as she was able.
Afterward she sent a maid. Dear little Letty, how she must have missed
her mother’s care! But the lack of it has not harmed her, Mrs.
Hartwell-Jones. She is as sweet and gentle-hearted as ever.”

They turned their attention to the little performer. Letty had
unharnessed the ponies and in response to a hearty burst of applause led
them forward, one on each side, and all three bowed in a most
fascinating manner. Then Punch and Judy went through their simple tricks
as accurately and docilely as if they had performed them regularly twice
every day all summer. Christopher, sitting on his keg which he had moved
to one side, played “Listen to the Mocking-Bird” on a mouth-organ for an
orchestra.

But, contrary to the expectations of the audience, the showing off of
Punch and Judy did not complete the entertainment. Billy Carpenter took
Christopher’s place at the mouth-organ and Letty dropped down out of
sight behind a little screen of bushes near by, while Jo Perkins
reharnessed the ponies and drove them off.

Perk reappeared in a few moments pushing a wheelbarrow in which reposed
a large crate. He was followed by Jane, who was dressed this time in
Letty’s Roman toga. She carried her two largest dolls, which she placed
in two small chairs facing the ring. Then Jo Perkins, with some effort,
lifted the crate from the wheelbarrow, and opening this improvised cage
released a monster that leapt to the ground with a truly blood-curdling
growl. The audience really looked a little startled. The strange animal
was clothed in shaggy black fur and waved a pair of forelegs that ended
in alarming looking claws.

“My best bearskin rug out of the camphor chest,” whispered grandmother
in a voice choked with laughter. “Kit must have coaxed Huldah to lend it
to him. How well he has fastened it on. How do you suppose he manages to
hide his face so cleverly?”

Gravely, Jane proceeded to put the clumsy bear through his tricks. But
the animal was unruly and growled and threatened his trainer in quite a
fearsome way. At length he turned and shambled, growling fiercely all
the while, straight toward the audience. He stopped as he perceived the
two children (the dolls), stiff and immovable in their chairs, sniffed
the air a moment and then charged them with a terrific roar. The trainer
screamed, threw aside her toga and assuming the character of fond mamma
rushed forward, clasped the dolls to her breast and shrieked for help.
Up rose Letty, like a good fairy in her filmy white frock, and bounding
across the ring flung a cover, which looked suspiciously like one of
Huldah’s kitchen aprons, over the infuriated bear. After a long,
exciting tussle (and some suppressed laughter) in which Jane and Billy
Carpenter joined, the bear was subdued and bundled into his cage, from
which he popped out at once to respond with the others to the peal upon
peal of applause from the highly amused audience.

Poor Mrs. Baker, Jr., did not know whether to laugh or cry, and eased
her feelings by doing a little of each.

“It was so exactly like the real thing,” she whispered to grandmother
wiping her eyes. “My poor, precious little lambs!”

During the confusion that followed, audience and performers all talking
together, grandmother saw Huldah and the maids disappear indoors. Huldah
wore such an air of mystery and importance that grandmother immediately
suspected that refreshments were to complete the programme.

It was quite dark by now and a little chilly as well, and the grown-ups
suggested going indoors to talk over the grand affair. Whereupon
Christopher bounded ahead to make sure a certain door was shut and
ushered everybody into the parlor. Before many minutes had passed,
however, every one was summoned to the dining-room. There the table
(which it seemed to all the grown-ups had only just been cleared from
supper) was loaded down with every delicacy that the fertile minds of
the twins could suggest and Huldah concoct.

“Kit had a voice in the planning of this menu, I’ll be bound,” said that
young gentleman’s father with a laugh.

“Surely,” agreed his wife, “and I noticed that he did not eat quite as
much supper as usual this evening. I felt anxious at the time, but now I
understand; he was saving up.”

“Of course I was,” admitted Christopher frankly. “What fellow wouldn’t
save up when he knew what was coming?”

“Who, indeed? The only objection I have to make is that you didn’t warn
me, and give me a chance to save up, too,” answered his father gravely.

“I am concerned about only one thing,” said Mrs. Hartwell-Jones to
grandfather, as they sat side by side at the table. “I don’t know what
to do with Punch and Judy during the winter. I can hardly take them to
the city with me.”

“Why not let me keep them out here?” proposed grandfather promptly.
“There is plenty of room and to spare. Then when you decide where to
spend next summer I can have them shipped to you.”

“But Letty and I are coming back to Hammersmith next summer,” replied
Mrs. Hartwell-Jones quickly. “We are so devoted to the dear place, and
you all have been such kind friends to us, that we want to spend as many
summers here as possible.”

Every one looked pleased at this news and the twins set up a shout of
joy.

“Then we’ll see Punch and Judy again, and have some more jolly rides,”
they cried.

“And we’ll have Letty again, too, and Mrs. Hartwell-Jones,” added Jane.
“Just think, Letty, if we hadn’t seen the ponies that day after the
circus, and thought about ’em for Mrs. Hartwell-Jones and her lame foot,
you might never have known her.”

“It is you, you dear, precious child, and your thoughtfulness that gave
me Letty,” exclaimed Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, catching Jane up in an ardent,
unexpected embrace—rather disconcerting to the big piece of chocolate
cake which Jane was holding suspended between plate and mouth during her
little speech.

“Dear Mrs. Baker,” went on “the lady who wrote books,” turning to Jane’s
mother, “of course you have heard from all the family the story of
Jane’s idea of having Letty drive the ponies out here so that she might
gratify her desire of seeing a poor, modest writer of books; and
afterward how Jane’s sweet desire to help Letty find suitable work to do
gave me the opportunity of knowing and gaining possession of my
daughter!”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones spoke the words with great pride, and Letty ran
across to her embrace. Then Mrs. Hartwell-Jones took a small parcel out
of her work-bag.

“Will you give me permission to make Janey a small gift, Mrs. Baker, to
show her how happy and grateful I am?”

She undid the parcel and revealed a small jeweler’s box. She opened this
in turn and lifted out something small and glittering. Kneeling in front
of the pleased, astonished Jane, she slipped a slender, shining chain of
gold over her head and kissed the smiling, rosy mouth.

“Oh, cricky!” ejaculated Christopher, his voice tingling with a faint
note of envy.

His eyes were big with surprise and excitement.

Jane followed the direction of his gaze and looked down at what she
supposed was a locket on the end of her chain. It was a tiny gold watch,
ticking merrily. It had a pretty, open face and Jane’s initials engraved
on the back.

“Oh, Mrs. Hartwell-Jones, dear Mrs. Hart-well-Jones, is it really for
me!” she gasped. “Oh, how much you must love Letty!”

Mrs. Hartwell-Jones laughed, but the laugh was checked in the middle by
a little sob. She turned and held out her arms again to Letty.

“My little girl, my little girl!” she whispered brokenly.

Jane ran to her own dear mother’s arms, and grandmother caught hold of
one chubby hand. They all cried a wee bit, too—in silent sympathy for
the lonely woman and lonely child who had found each other.

“Oh, shucks!” exclaimed Christopher uncomfortably.

He turned his back on the womenfolk and helped himself and Billy to
another piece of cake.



The Books in this Series are:

    Letty of the Circus
    Letty and the Twins
    Letty’s New Home
    Letty’s Sister
    Letty’s Treasure
    Letty’s Good Luck
    Letty at the Conservatory
    Letty’s Springtime
    Letty and Miss Grey



HELEN SHERMAN GRIFFITH

Helen Sherman Griffith was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the youngest
daughter of Major Hoyt Sherman, and a niece of General Sherman. She now
lives in Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her first story, at
the age of ten (written with a pencil stub while reclining prone on the
grass with her legs waving skyward, like her ambition), was called “The
Lost Evangeline” and concerned an abducted Princess. This fondness in
her extreme youth for magnificent nomenclature has finally resulted in
“Jane” and “Mary” being her favorite names, for heroines.

When she was twelve a local paper published a short story of hers and at
the age of fourteen she won a prize of fifty dollars. She has written
chiefly for girls, with occasional inroads upon the field of short
stories of which a novelette “Incognito” that appeared in Lippincott’s
might be termed a long one. Twenty-four plays constitute her effort in
the dramatic line.

Her juvenile books number ten. One novel, “Rosemary for Remembrance”,
may be added to the list which, to the author’s private chagrin, was
recently classed along with the juvenile.

Among her favorite authors are Dickens, Trollope and Jane Austen. Her
books for girls are:

    Her Father’s Legacy
    Her Wilful Way
    Letty of the Circus
    Letty and the Twins
    Letty’s New Home
    Letty’s Sister
    Letty’s Treasure
    Letty’s Good Luck
    Letty at the Conservatory
    Letty’s Springtime





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