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Title: The Adopting of Rosa Marie - A Sequel to Dandelion Cottage
Author: Rankin, Carroll Watson
Language: English
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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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THE ADOPTING OF ROSA MARIE

    _by_
    CARROLL WATSON RANKIN

    _Illustrated by_
    FLORENCE SCOVEL SHINN

    _Frontispiece and jacket in full
    color by_ MIRIAM SELSS


In this charming girl's book we meet again the four chums of _Dandelion
Cottage_. Their friendship knit closer than ever by their summer at
playing house, the girls enlarge their activity by mothering a pretty
little Indian baby.

"Those who have read _Dandelion Cottage_ will need no urge to follow
further.... A lovable group of four children, happily not perfect, but
full of girlish plans and pranks and a delightful sense of humor."

    --_Boston Transcript._

Just the type of book that every girl _from eight to fifteen_ enjoys.

[Illustration: "MY SOUL, WHAT ARE YOU, ANYWAY?"]



Dandelion Series


THE ADOPTING OF ROSA MARIE

(_A Sequel to Dandelion Cottage_)

    BY

    CARROLL WATSON RANKIN

    Author of "Dandelion Cottage," "The Girls of
    Gardenville," etc.


    _With Illustrations by_
    FLORENCE SCOVEL SHINN

[Illustration]

    NEW YORK
    HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY



    COPYRIGHT, 1908,
    BY
    HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY


    COPYRIGHT, 1936,
    BY
    CARROLL WATSON RANKIN


    PRINTED IN THE
    UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



    TO

    EMILY, PHYLLIS, POLLY
    AND SUZANNE



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                          PAGE
         I. BORROWED BABIES            1
        II. ROSA MARIE                 9
       III. MABEL'S DAY               18
        IV. AN UNUSUAL EVENING        27
         V. RETURNING ROSA MARIE      34
        VI. THE DARK SECRET           43
       VII. DISCOVERY                 52
      VIII. THE FUGITIVE SOLDIER      64
        IX. A SURPRISE                73
         X. BREAKING THE NEWS         83
        XI. THE ALARM                 91
       XII. THE FIRE                 101
      XIII. A HEROINE'S COME-DOWN    111
       XIV. A BIRTHDAY PARTY         119
        XV. AN UNEXPECTED TREAT      130
       XVI. A SCATTERED SCHOOL       140
      XVII. AN INVITATION            151
     XVIII. OBEYING INSTRUCTIONS     161
       XIX. WITH HENRIETTA           173
        XX. THE CALL RETURNED        183
       XXI. GETTING EVEN             195
      XXII. A FULL AFTERNOON         204
     XXIII. TAKING A WALK            215
      XXIV. THE STATUE FROM INDIA    226
       XXV. COMPARING NOTES          237
      XXVI. CHRISTMAS EVE            248
     XXVII. A CROWDED DAY            256
    XXVIII. A BETTIE-LESS PLAN       265
      XXIX. ANXIOUS DAYS             275
       XXX. AN APRIL HARVEST         286



THE PERSONS OF THE STORY


  BETTIE TUCKER, aged 12:  }
  JEANIE MAPES,  aged 14:  }  The Cottagers
  MARJORY VALE,  aged 12:  }
  MABEL BENNETT, aged 11:  }

  ROSA MARIE: The Unreturnable Baby.

  THE MOTHER OF ROSA MARIE.

  ANNE HALLIDAY:       }
  THE MARCOTTE TWINS:  }  Borrowed Babies.
  THE LITTLE TUCKERS:  }

  HENRIETTA BEDFORD: The New Girl.

  MRS. HOWARD SLATER:  }  Of Henrietta's Household.
  SIMMONS:             }

  THE JANITOR:     An Unappreciated Hero.

  DR. TUCKER:      A Clergyman with More Children than Money.

  DR. BENNETT:     A Physician.

  MR. BLACK:       A Friend to Children.

  MRS. CRANE:      His Sister.

  AUNTY JANE:      Marjory's Sole Visible Relative.

  SOME MOTHERS AND BROTHERS.

  MRS. MALONY:     The Light-hearted Egg-woman.



ILLUSTRATIONS


  MY SOUL, WHAT ARE YOU, ANYWAY                      _Frontispiece_
                                                              PAGE
  ROSA MARIE AND THE SIDEWALK WERE ONE                          16
  THE STURDY FELLOW CARRIED HER OUT OF THE ROOM                112
  THE DECIDEDLY DEPRESSED FOUR STARTED DOWN THE STREET         164
  "ANOTHER 'EATHEN GOD FROM HINDIA"                            234



THE ADOPTING OF ROSA MARIE



CHAPTER I

Borrowed Babies


THE oldest inhabitant said that Lakeville was experiencing an unusual
fall. He would probably have said the same thing if the high-perched
town had accidentally tumbled off the bluff into the blue lake; but in
this instance, he referred merely to the weather, which was certainly
unusually mild for autumn.

It was not, however, the oldest, but four of the youngest citizens that
rejoiced most in this unusual prolonging of summer; for the continued
warm weather made it possible for those devoted friends, Jean Mapes,
Marjory Vale, Mabel Bennett and little Bettie Tucker, to spend many
a delightful hour in their precious Dandelion Cottage, the real,
tumble-down house that was now, after so many narrow escapes, safely
their very own. Some day, to be sure, it would be torn down to make
room for a habitable dwelling, but that unhappy day was still too
remote to cause any uneasiness.

Of course, when very cold weather should come, it would be necessary
to close the beloved Cottage, for there was no heating plant, there
were many large cracks over and under the doors and around the windows;
and by lying very flat on the dining-room floor and peering under
the baseboards, one could easily see what was happening in the next
yard. These, and other defects, would surely make the little house
uninhabitable in winter; but while the unexpectedly extended summer
lasted, the Cottagers were rejoicing over every pleasant moment of
weather and praying hard for other pleasant moments.

Of all the games played in Dandelion Cottage, the one called "Mother"
was the most popular. To play it, it was necessary, first of all, to
divide the house into four equal parts. As there were five rooms, this
division might seem to offer no light task; but, by first subtracting
the kitchen, it was possible to solve this difficult mathematical
problem to the Cottagers' entire satisfaction.

But of course one can't play "Mother" without possessing a family.
The Cottagers solved this problem also. Bettie's home could always be
counted on to furnish at least two decidedly genuine babies and Jean
could always borrow a perfectly delightful little cousin named Anne
Halliday; but Marjory and Mabel, to their sorrow, were absolutely
destitute of infantile relatives. Mabel was the chief sufferer. Sedate
Marjory, plausible of tongue, convincing in manner, could easily
accumulate a most attractive family at very short notice by the simple
expedient of borrowing babies from the next block; but nowhere within
reasonable reach was there a mother willing to intrust her precious
offspring a second time to heedless Mabel.

"Now, Mabel," Mrs. Mercer would say, when Mabel pleaded to have young
Percival for her very own for just one brief hour, "I'd really like to
oblige you, but it's getting late in the season, you are not careful
enough about doors and windows and the last time you borrowed Percival
you brought him home with a stiff neck that lasted three days."

"But I did remember to return him," pleaded Mabel.

"Do you sometimes forget?" queried Mrs. Mercer, with interest.

"I did twice," confessed always honest Mabel; "but truly I don't see
how _I_ can help it when babies sleep and sleep and sleep the way those
two did. You see, I made a bed for Gerald Price on the lowest-down
closet shelf, and he was so perfectly comfortable that he thought he
was asleep for all night."

"What about the other time?"

"That was Mollie Dixon. But then, I had five children that day and only
one bed. Mollie slipped down in the crack at the back--she's awfully
thin--and I never missed her until her mother came after her. That was
rather a bad time [Mabel sighed at the recollection] for Mrs. Dixon
found the Cottage locked up for the night and poor little Mollie crying
under the bed."

"Mabel! And you want to borrow my precious Percival!"

"But it couldn't happen _again_," protested Mabel, earnestly. "Bettie
says that I'm just like lightning; I never strike twice in the same
place. That's the reason I get into so many different kinds of scrapes.
I'll be ever so careful, though, if you'll let me borrow Percival just
this one time."

Mrs. Mercer, however, refused to part with Percival. Other mothers,
approached by pleading Mabel, refused likewise to intrust their babies
to her enthusiastic but heedless keeping. They knew her too well.

"The thing for you to do," suggested Marjory, ostentatiously washing
the perfectly clean faces of the four delightful small persons that she
had been able, without any trouble at all, to borrow in Blaker Street,
"is to find a mother that really _wants_ to get rid of her children."

"Yes," said Bob Tucker, who had dropped in to deliver the basket of
apples that Mrs. Crane had sent to her former neighbors, "you ought to
advertise for the kind of mother that feeds her babies to crocodiles.
Perhaps some of them have emigrated to this country and sort of miss
the Ganges River."

"You might try the orphan asylum," offered Jean, as balm for this
wound. "It's only four blocks from here."

"I have," returned Mabel, dejectedly. "I went there early this morning."

"What happened?" demanded Bettie, who had just arrived with a little
Tucker under each arm.

"They said they'd let them go 'permanently to responsible parties.' I
didn't know just exactly what that meant, so I said: 'Does that mean
that you'll lend me a few for two hours?'"

"And would they?"

"Well, they didn't. They said I'd better borrow a Teddy bear."

"How mean," said sympathetic Bettie. "Nevermind, I'll lend you Peter,
this time."

"Say," queried Mabel, after she had accepted Bettie's proffered
brother, "what does 'permanently' mean?"

"For keeps," explained Jean.

"What are 'responsible parties'?"

"Jean and Bettie and I," twinkled Marjory, "but not you."

"That's good," laughed Bob, who, like Marjory, loved to tease. "But
never mind, Mabel. After you've practised a year or two on Peter,
who's a nuisance if there ever was one, you'll find yourself growing
respons---- Whoop! What was that?"

"That" was a sudden crash that resounded through the house. Everybody
rushed to the kitchen. The big dish-pan that Mabel had left on the
edge of the kitchen table was upside down on the floor. At least
half of little Peter Tucker was under it. But the half that remained
outside was so unmistakably alive that nobody felt very seriously
alarmed--except Peter.

"Thank goodness!" said Mabel, removing the pan, "this is just a little
Tucker and not any Percival Mercer! Cheer up, Peter. You're not as wet
as you think you are. There wasn't more than a quart of water in that
pan and it was almost perfectly clean."

And Peter, soothed by Mabel's reassuring tone, immediately cheered up.



CHAPTER II

Rosa Marie


NOT long after Mabel's ineffectual attempt to borrow an orphan Mrs.
Bennett dispatched her small daughter to Lake Street to find out, if
possible, why Mrs. Malony, the poultry woman, had failed to send the
week's supply of fresh eggs.

Now, the way to Mrs. Malony's was most interesting, particularly to a
young person of observing habits. There were houses on only one side
of the street and most of those were tumbling down under the weight of
the sand that each rain carried down the hillside. But the opposite
side of the road was even more attractive, for there one had a grassy,
shrubby bank where one could pick all sorts of things off bushes and
get burrs in one's stockings; a narrow stretch of pebbled beach where
one could sometimes find an agate, and a wide basin of very shallow
water where one could almost--but not quite--step from stone to stone
without wetting one's feet. It was certainly an enjoyable spot. The
distance from Mabel's home to Mrs. Malony's was very short--a matter of
perhaps five blocks. But if a body went the longest way round, stopped
to scour the green bank for belated blackberries, prickly hazelnuts,
dazzling golden-rod or rare four-leaved clovers; or loitered to gather
a dress-skirtful of stony treasures from the glittering beach, going to
Mrs. Malony's meant a great deal more than a five blocks' journey.

Just a little beyond the poultry woman's house, on the lake side of
the straggling street, a small, but decidedly attractive point of land
jutted waterward for perhaps two hundred feet. On this projecting point
stood a small shanty or shack, built, as Mabel described it later,
mostly of knot-holes. She meant, without knowing how to say it, that
the lumber in the hut was of the poorest possible quality.

On this long-to-be-remembered day, a small object moving in the
clearing that surrounded the shack attracted Mabel's attention.
Curiosity led her closer to investigate.

"It's just as I thought!" exclaimed Mabel, peering rapturously through
the bushes. "It's a real baby!"

Sure enough! It _was_ a baby.

Mabel edged closer, moving cautiously for fear of frightening her
unexpected find. She saw a small toddler, aged somewhere between two
and three years, roving aimlessly about the chip-strewn clearing. The
child's round cheeks, chubby wrists, bare feet and sturdy legs were
richly brown. A straggling fringe of jet-black hair overhung the stout
baby's black, beadlike eyes.

Near the doorway of the rickety shack a man, half French, half Indian,
stood talking earnestly and with many gesticulations to a dark-skinned
woman, framed by the doorway. The woman had large black eyes, shaded
by very long black lashes. She wore her rather coarse black hair in
two long, thick braids that hung in front of her straight shoulders.
In spite of her dark color, her worn shoes, her ragged, untidy gown,
she seemed to Mabel an exceedingly pretty woman. The man, too, was
handsome, after a bold, picturesque fashion; but the woman was the more
pleasing.

Mabel approached timidly. She felt that she was intruding.

"Good-morning," said she, ingratiatingly. "Is this your little boy?"

"Him girl," returned the woman, with a sudden flash of white teeth
between parted crimson lips. "Name Rosa Marie. Yes, him _ma petite_
daughtaire. You like the looks on him, hey?"

"Oh, so much," cried Mabel, impulsively. "Oh, _would_ you do me a
favor?"

"A favaire," repeated the woman, with a puzzled glance. "W'at ees a
favaire?"

"Oh, _would_ you lend your baby to me? Would you let me have her to
play with for---- Oh, for all day?"

"Here?" queried the mother, doubtfully.

"No, not here. In my own home--up there, on the hill. _Could_ I keep
her until six o'clock? I just adore babies, and she's so fat and
cunning! Oh, please, _please_! I'd be just awfully obliged."

A look of understanding flashed suddenly between the man and the woman;
but Mabel, stooping to make friends with little Rosa Marie, did not
observe it.

"Your fodder 'ave nice house, plainty food, plainty money?" queried the
woman, running a speculative eye over Mabel's plain but substantial
wardrobe.

"Oh yes," returned Mabel, thoughtlessly. "And besides I have a
playhouse. That is, it isn't exactly mine, but I just about live in it
with three other girls, and that's where I want to take Rosa Marie.
I'll be awfully careful of her if you'll only let me take her. Oh,
_do_ you think she'll come with me? Couldn't you _tell_ her to?"

The woman, bending to look into Rosa Marie's black eyes, talked loudly
and rapidly in some foreign tongue. The mother's voice was harsh,
but her eyes, Mabel noticed, seemed soft and tender, and much more
beautiful than Rosa Marie's.

"Now," said the woman, turning to Mabel and speaking in broken English,
"eef you want her, you must go at once. Go now, I tell you. Go queek,
queek! Pull hard eef she ees drag behind. But go, I tell you, _go_!"

The voice rose to an unpleasant, almost too stirring pitch that jarred
suddenly on Mabel's nerves; but, obeying these hasty instructions, the
little girl drew Rosa Marie out of the inclosure, led her across the
street and lifted her to the sidewalk. Looking back from the slight
elevation, Mabel noticed that the man was again talking earnestly and
gesticulating excitedly; while the woman, once more framed by the
doorway, followed, with her big black eyes, the chubby figure of Rosa
Marie.

"I'll bring her back all safe and sound," shouted Mabel, over her
shoulder. "Don't be afraid. Good-by, until six o'clock!"

Escorting Rosa Marie to Dandelion Cottage proved no light task.
Her legs were very short, it soon became evident that she was not
accustomed to using them for walking purposes, the way was mostly
uphill and the little brown feet were bare. At first Mabel led, coaxed
and encouraged with the utmost patience; but presently Rosa Marie sat
heavily on the sidewalk and refused to rise. That is, she didn't _say_
that she wouldn't rise. She remained sitting with such firmness of
purpose that it seemed hopeless to attempt to break her of the habit.

Mabel walked round and round her firmly seated charge in helpless
despair. Rosa Marie and the sidewalk were one.

"Want any help?" asked a friendly voice. It belonged to a large,
freckled boy who was carrying two pails of water from the lake to one
of the tumble-down houses.

[Illustration: ROSA MARIE AND THE SIDEWALK WERE ONE.]

"Yes, I do," responded Mabel, promptly. "If you could just lift this
child high enough for me to get hold of her I think I could carry her."

So the boy, setting his pails down, obligingly lifted Rosa Marie's
solid little person, Mabel clasped the barrel-shaped body closely, and,
after a word of thanks to the kind boy, proceeded homeward. But even
now her troubles were not ended. By silently refusing to cuddle, Rosa
Marie converted herself into a most uncomfortable burden. Her entire
body was a silent protest against leaving her home.

"Do make yourself soft and bunchy," pleaded Mabel, giving Rosa Marie
sundry pokes, calculated to make her double up like a jack-knife.
"Here, bend this way. _Haven't_ you any joints anywhere? Do hold tight
with your arms and legs. _This_ way. Pshaw! You're just like a
stuffed crocodile. Well, _walk_ then, if you can't hang on like a real
child. There's one thing certain, you shan't sit down again. I s'pose
we'll get there _sometime_."



CHAPTER III

Mabel's Day


ALMOST hopeless as it seemed at times, Mabel and the silent brown
baby finally reached Dandelion Cottage. There they found Jean, seated
in a chair with her lovely little cousin Anne Halliday perched like
a pink and white blossom on the edge of the dining table before her,
tying Anne's bewitching yellow curls with wide pink ribbons. Anne was
a perpetual delight, for, besides being a picture during every moment
of the long day, her ways were so quaint and so attractive that no one
could help admiring her.

Marjory, her countenance carefully arranged to depict the deepest
sorrow, stood guard over the Marcotte twins, who, touchingly covered
with nasturtiums, were laid out on the parlor cozy corner, awaiting
burial. Their blue eyes blinked and their pink toes twitched; but, on
the whole, they played their parts in a most satisfactory manner.

Bettie, with two small but attractive Tucker babies clinging to her
brief skirts, was exclaiming: "These are my jewels," when tired, dusty
Mabel, pushing reluctant Rosa Marie before her, walked in.

"For mercy's sake, what's that!" gasped Jean, sweeping Anne Halliday
into her protecting arms.

"Is--is it something the cat dragged in?" asked Marjory.

"Is--_can_ it be a _real_ child?" demanded Bettie.

"This," announced Mabel, with dignity, "is _my_ child. Her name is Rosa
Marie--with all the distress on the _ee_."

"The distress seems to be all over both of you," giggled Marjory.

"That's just dust," explained Mabel.

"Did you both roll home like a pair of barrels?" queried Jean, "or did
the Village Improvement folks use you to dust the sidewalks?"

"What's the matter with that child's complexion?" demanded Marjory. "Is
she tanned?"

"Coming home took long enough for us both to get tanned," returned
Mabel, crossly, "but Rosa Marie's French, I guess."

"French! French nothing!" exclaimed Marjory. "She's nothing but a
little wild Indian. Look at her hair. Look at her small black eyes.
Look at her high cheekbones. Where in the world did you get her?"

Mabel explained. For once, the girls listened with the most flattering
attention. Anne Halliday bobbed her pretty head to punctuate each
sentence, the Tucker babies stood in silence with their mouths open,
even the nicely laid-out Marcotte twins on the sofa sat up to hear the
tale.

"And she's all mine until six o'clock," concluded Mabel, triumphantly.

"If she were mine," said Jean, "I'd give her a bath."

"I'd give her two," giggled Marjory.

So Mabel, assisted by Jean, Marjory, Bettie, little Anne, the two
Tucker babies and the now very much alive Marcotte twins gave Rosa
Marie a bath in the dish-pan. Although they changed the water as fast
as they could heat more in the tea-kettle, although they used a whole
bar of strong yellow soap, two teaspoonfuls of washing powder and a
_very_ scratchy washcloth lathered with Sapolio, Rosa Marie, who bore
it all with stolid patience, was still richly brown from head to heels,
when she emerged from her bath.

"Let's play Pocohontis!" cried Marjory, seizing the feather duster.
"Put feathers in her hair and drape her in my brown petticoat. I'll be
Captain John Smith in Bob Tucker's rubber boots."

"You won't either," retorted Mabel, indignantly. "I guess, after I
dragged this child all the way up here to play 'Mother' with, I'm not
going to have her used for any old Pocohontises. She's my child, and
I'm going to have the entire use of her while she lasts."

"After all," replied Marjory, cuttingly, "I don't want her. I'm sure
_I_ wouldn't care for any of _that_ colored children. The usual shade
is quite good enough for me."

But, while the novelty lasted and in spite of Marjory's declaration,
Rosa Marie was a distinct success. Little Anne Halliday's cunningest
ways and quaintest speeches went unheeded when Rosa Marie refused to
wear shoes and stockings. She had never worn a shoe, and, without
uttering a word, she made it plain that she had no intention of
hampering her pudgy brown feet with the cast-off footgear of the young
Tuckers.

Neither would she wear clothes, until Jean showed her the solitary
garment she had arrived in, now soaking in a pan of soapy water. After
they had arrayed her in a long-sleeved apron of Anne's--it didn't go
round, but had to be helped out with a cheese-cloth duster--it was
evident that the unaccustomed whiteness bothered her. She was not used
to being so remarkably stiff and clean.

The Marcotte twins, again prepared for burial, quarrelled most
engagingly as to which should be buried under the apple-tree, both
preferring that fruitful resting-place to the barren waste under
the snowball bush; but nobody listened because Rosa Marie was doing
extraordinary things with her bowl of bread and milk. Having lapped the
milk like a cat, she was deftly chasing the crumbs round the bowl with
a greedy and experienced tongue. It was plain that Rosa Marie had no
table manners.

As for the infantile Tuckers, they were an old story. On this occasion
they crawled into the corner cupboard and went to sleep and nobody
missed them for a whole hour, just because Rosa Marie was emitting
queer little startled grunts every time Marjory's best doll wailed
"Mam-mah!" "Pap-pah!" for her benefit. There was no doubt about it,
Rosa Marie was decidedly amusing.

The day passed swiftly; much too swiftly, Mabel thought. Very much
mothered Rosa Marie, who had obligingly consumed an amazing amount of
milk--all, indeed, that the Cottagers had been able to procure--started
homeward, towed by Mabel. That elated young person had declined all
offers of company; she coveted the full glory of returning Rosa Marie
to her rightful guardian. Mabel, indeed, was visibly swollen with
pride. She had given the Cottagers a most unusual treat. She had not
only surprised them by proving that she _could_ borrow a baby, but
had kept them amused and entertained every moment of the day. It had
certainly been a red-letter day in the annals of Dandelion Cottage.

Mabel more than half expected to meet Rosa Marie's mother at the very
first corner. The other real mothers had always seemed desirous--over
desirous, Mabel thought--of welcoming their home-coming babies back
to the fold; but the mother of Rosa Marie, apparently, was of a less
grudging disposition.

Mabel laboriously escorted her reluctant charge to the very door of the
shanty without encountering any welcoming parent. The borrower of Rosa
Marie knocked. No one came. She tried the door. It was locked.

"How queer!" said Mabel. "Seems to me I'd be on hand if I had an
engagement at exactly six o'clock. But then, I always _am_ late."

Dragging an empty wooden box to the side of the house, Mabel climbed to
the high, decidedly smudgy window and peered in.

There was no one inside. There was no fire in the battered stove. The
doors of a rough cupboard opposite the window stood open, disclosing
the fact that the cupboard was bare. There were no bedclothes in the
rough bunk that served for a bed; no dishes on the table; no clothing
hanging from the hooks on the wall. Both inside and outside the house
wore a strangely deserted aspect. It seemed to say: "Nobody lives here
now, nobody ever did live here, nobody ever will live here."



CHAPTER IV

An Unusual Evening


MABEL looked in dismay at Rosa Marie.

"Where do you s'pose your mother is?" she demanded.

It was useless, however, to question Rosa Marie. That stolid young
person was as uncommunicative as what Marjory called "the little
stuffed Indians in the Washington Museum." The Indians to whom Marjory
referred were made of wax. Rosa Marie seemed more like a little wooden
Indian. The countenance of little Anne Halliday changed with every
moment; but Rosa Marie's wore only one expression. Perhaps it had only
one to wear.

"I say," said Mabel, gently shaking her small brown charge by the
shoulders, "where does your mother usually go when she isn't home?"

A surprised grunt was the only response.

Rosa Marie, too suddenly released, sat heavily on the ground,
thoughtfully scratched up the surface and filled her lap with handfuls
of loose, unattractive earth.

"Goodness! What an untidy child!" cried Mabel, snatching her up and
shaking her, although Rosa Marie's weight made her youthful guardian
stagger. "I wanted your mother to see you clean, for once. Here, sit
on this stick of wood. I s'pose we'll just have to wait and wait until
somebody comes. Well, _sit_ in the sand if you want to. I'm tired of
picking you up."

Rosa Marie's home was in rather an attractive spot. The big, quiet lake
was smooth as glass, and every object along its picturesque bank was
mirrored faithfully in the quiet depths. The western sky was faintly
tinged with red. Against it the spires and tall roofs of the town stood
out sharply; but at this quiet hour they seemed very far away.

Mabel, seated on the wooden box that she had placed under the window,
leaned back against the house and clasped her hands about her knees,
while she gazed dreamily at the picture and listened with enjoyment to
the faint lap of the quiet water on the pebbled beach.

Both Mabel and Rosa Marie had had a busy day. Both had taken unusual
exercise. And now all the sights and sounds were soothing, soothing.

You can guess what happened. Both little girls fell asleep. Rosa Marie,
flat on her stomach, pillowed her head on her chubby arms. Mabel's
head, drooping slowly forward, grew heavier and heavier until finally
it touched her knees.

An hour later, the sleepy head had grown so very heavy that it pulled
Mabel right off the box and tumbled her over in a confused, astonished
heap on the ground.

"My goodness!" gasped Mabel, still on hands and knees. "Where am I,
anyway? Is this Saturday or Sunday? Why! It's all dark. This--this
isn't my room--why! why! I'm outdoors! How did I get outdoors?"

Mabel stood up, took a step forward, stumbled over Rosa Marie and went
down on all-fours.

"What's that!" gasped bewildered Mabel, groping with her hands. She
felt the rough black head, the plump body, the round legs, the bare
feet of her sleeping charge. Memory returned.

"Why! It's Rosa Marie, and we're waiting here by the lake for her
mother. It--ugh! It must be midnight!"

But it wasn't. It was just exactly twenty minutes after seven o'clock
but, with the autumn sun gone early to bed, it certainly seemed very
much later. The house was still deserted.

"I guess," said Mabel, feeling about in the dark for Rosa Marie's
fat hand, "we'd better go home--or some place. Come, Rosa Marie, wake
up. I'm going to take you home with me. Oh, _please_ wake up. There's
nobody here but us. It's way in the middle of the night and there might
be _any_thing in those awfully black bushes."

But Rosa Marie, deprived of her noontide nap, slumbered on. Mabel shook
her.

"Do hurry," pleaded frightened Mabel. "I don't like it here."

It was anything but an easy task for Mabel to drag the sleeping
child to her feet, but she did it. Rosa Marie, however, immediately
dropped to earth again. During the day she had seemed stiff; but now,
unfortunately, she proved most distressingly limber. She seemed, in
fact, to possess more than the usual number of joints, and discouraged
Mabel began to fear that each joint was reversible.

"Goodness!" breathed Mabel, when Rosa Marie's knees failed for the
seventh time, "it seems wicked to shake you _very_ hard, but I've got
to."

Even with vigorous and prolonged shakings it took time to get Rosa
Marie firmly established on her feet, and the children had walked more
than a block of the homeward way before Rosa Marie opened one blinking
eye under the street lamp.

If it had been difficult to make the uphill journey in broad daylight
with Rosa Marie wide awake and moderately willing, it was now a doubly
difficult matter with that young person half or three-quarters asleep
and most decidedly unwilling.

"I wish to goodness," grumbled Mabel, stumbling along in the dark,
"that I'd borrowed a real baby and not a heathen."

The longest journey has an end. The children reached Dandelion
Cottage at last. Mabel found the key, unlocked the door, tumbled Rosa
Marie, clothes and all, into the middle of the spare-room bed; waited
just long enough to make certain that the Indian baby slept; then,
reassured by gentle, half-breed snores, Mabel, still supposing the
time to be midnight, ran home, climbed into her own bed nearly an hour
earlier than usual and was soon sound asleep. Her mind was too full of
other matters to wonder why the front door was unlocked at so late an
hour.

Mrs. Bennett, dressing to go to a party, heard her daughter come in.

"How fortunate!" said she. "Now I shan't have to go to Jean's
and Marjory's and Bettie's to hunt for Mabel. She must be tired
to-night--she doesn't often go to bed so early."



CHAPTER V

Returning Rosa Marie


EARLY the next morning, Jean, needing her thimble to sew on a vitally
necessary button, ran to the supposedly empty cottage to get it. Taking
the short cut through the Tuckers' back yard she found Bettie feeding
Billy, the seagull, one of Bob's numerous pets.

"Billy always wakes everybody up crying for his breakfast," explained
thoughtful little Bettie. "Bob's spending a week at the Ormsbees' camp,
so I have to get up to feed Billy so father can sleep."

"Why don't the other boys do it?"

"Mercy! _They'd_ sleep through anything. Going to the Cottage?"

"Yes, come with me," returned Jean, "while I get my thimble. It's so
big that it almost takes two to carry it."

"All right," laughed Bettie, crawling through the hole in the fence.

Jean's thimble was a standing joke. A stout and prudent godmother had
bestowed a very large one on the little girl so that Jean would be
in no danger of outgrowing the gift. Jean was now living in hopes of
sometime growing big enough to fit the thimble.

"Why!" exclaimed Jean, after a brief search, "the key isn't under the
doormat! Where do you s'pose it's gone?"

"Here it is in the door. But how in the world did it get there? I
locked that door myself last night and tucked the key under the mat. I
_know_ I did."

"I saw you do it," corroborated Jean.

"Perhaps Marjory's inside."

"It isn't Mabel, anyway. She's always the last one up."

"Mercy me!" cried Bettie, who had been peeking into the different rooms
to see if Marjory were inside. "Come here, Jean. Just look at this!"

"This" was brown little Rosa Marie sitting up in the middle of the
pink and white spare-room bed, like, as Bettie put it, a brown bee
in the heart of a rose. Her small dark countenance was absolutely
expressionless, so there was no way of discovering what _she_ thought
about it all.

"My sakes!" exclaimed Jean, with indignation, "that lazy Mabel never
took her home, after all! Why! We'll have a whole band of wild Indians
coming to scalp us right after breakfast! How _could_ she have been so
careless. This is the worst she's done yet."

"But it's just like Mabel," said Bettie, giving vent, for once, to her
disapproval of Mabel's thoughtlessness. "She likes things ever so much
at first. Then she simply forgets that they ever existed."

"Who forgets?" demanded Mabel, bouncing in at the front door.

"You," returned Jean and Bettie, with one accusing voice.

"Prove it."

"You forgot to take Rosa Marie home last night."

"I never did. I took her every inch of the way home, stayed with her
all alone in the dark for pretty nearly a _year_, and then had to bring
her all the way back again, walking in her sleep. So there, now!"

"But why in the world didn't you leave her with her own folks?"

"Her horrid mother wasn't there. And between 'em, I didn't get any
supper and only a little sleep."

"But what are you going to do?" queried astonished Jean.

"After she drinks this quart of milk," explained Mabel, "I'm going to
take her home again."

"Where did you get so much milk?" asked Bettie, suspiciously.

Mabel colored furiously. "I begged it from the milkman," she confessed.
"That's why I'm up so early. I've been sitting on our kitchen doorstep
for two hours, waiting for him to come."

Mabel spent all that day industriously returning Rosa Marie to a home
that had locked its doors against her. No pretty, dark, French mother
stood in the doorway. No tall, dark man wandered about the yard. No
neighbor came from the tumbling houses across the street to explain the
woman's puzzling absence.

It proved a most tiresome day. Mabel was not only mentally weary from
trying to solve the mystery, but physically tired also from dragging
Rosa Marie up and down the hill between Dandelion Cottage and the
child's deserted home. The girls went with her once, but, having
satisfied their curiosity as to Rosa Marie's abiding-place, turned
their attention to pleasanter tasks. Walking with Rosa Marie was too
much like traveling with a snail. One such journey was enough.

Moreover, Mabel's pride had suffered. A grinning boy, looking from
plump Mabel's ruddy countenance to fat Rosa Marie's expressionless
brown one, had asked wickedly:

"Is that your sister? You look enough alike to be twins."

After that, Mabel feared that other persons might mistake the small
brown person for a relative of hers, or, worse yet, mistake her for an
Indian.

"Goodness me!" groaned Mabel, toiling homeward from her second trip,
"it was hard enough to borrow a baby, but it's enough sight worse
getting rid of one afterwards. There's one thing certain; I'll _never_
borrow another."

Late in the day Mabel thought of Mrs. Malony, the egg-woman. Perhaps
she would know what had become of Rosa Marie's vanished mother.
Dropping Rosa Marie inside the gate, Mabel knocked at Mrs. Malony's
door.

"The folks that lived in the shanty beyant?" asked Mrs. Malony. "Sure,
darlint, nobody's lived there for years and years save gipsies and
tramps and such like."

"But day before yesterday--no, yesterday morning--I saw a young
Frenchwoman----"

"A black-eyed gal wid two long braids and wan small Injin? Sure, Oi
know the wan you mane. Her man, Injin Pete, died a month ago, some two
days after they come to the shack."

"But where is she now?" asked Mabel.

"Lord love ye," returned Mrs. Malony, "how wud Oi be after knowin'? She
came and she wint, like the rest av thim."

"There was a man--not a gentleman and not exactly a tramp--talking
to her yesterday. Perhaps you know where _he_ is. I couldn't find
_anybody_."

"Depind upon it," said Mrs. Malony, easily, "she's gone wid him. She's
Mrs. Somebody Else by now, and good riddance to the pair av thim."

"But," objected Mabel, drawing the branches of a small shrub aside and
disclosing Rosa Marie sprawling on the ground behind it, "she left her
baby."

"The Nation, she did!" gasped Mrs. Malony, for once surprised out of
her serenity. "Wud ye think of thot, now!"

"I've _been_ thinking of it," returned Mabel, miserably. "And I don't
know what in the world to do. You see, she left the baby with _me_."

"Take her home wid ye," advised Mrs. Malony, hastily; so hastily that
it looked as if the Irishwoman feared that _she_ might be asked to
mother Rosa Marie. "I'll kape an eye on the shack for ye. If that
good-for-nothin' black-haired wan comes back, Oi'll be up wid the news
in two shakes of a dead lamb's tail, so Oi will. In the mane toime, be
a mother to thot innocent babe yourself. She needs wan if iver a choild
did."

"I've been that for two whole days now," groaned Mabel.

"Thot's right, thot's right," encouraged Mrs. Malony. "Ye were just
cut out for thot same. Good luck go wid ye."

Rosa Marie spent a second night in the spare room of Dandelion Cottage.
She, at least, seemed utterly indifferent as to her fate.



CHAPTER VI

The Dark Secret


THE four Cottagers sat in solemn conclave round the dining-room table
next morning. Rosa Marie, flat on her stomach on the floor, lapped milk
like a cat and licked the bowl afterwards; but now no one paid the
slightest attention.

"I think," said Jean, removing her elbows from the table, "that we'd
better tell our mothers and Aunty Jane all about it at once. They'll
know what to do."

"So do I," said Marjory.

"So do I," echoed Bettie.

"_I_ don't," protested Mabel, whose hitherto serene countenance now
showed signs of great anxiety. "If you ever tell _anybody_, I'll--I'll
never speak to you again. This joke--if it _is_ a joke--is on _me_. I
got into this scrape and it's _my_ scrape."

"But," objected Jean, "we always do tell our mothers everything. That's
why they trust us to play all by ourselves in Dandelion Cottage."

"Give me just a few days," pleaded Mabel. "Perhaps that woman got kept
away by some accident. I'm sure Rosa Marie's mother has mother feelings
inside of her, _some_ place--I saw 'em in her face when I was leading
Rosa Marie away. I _know_ she'll come back. Until she does, I'll take
care of that poor deserted child myself."

"It's a blessing she never cries, anyway," observed Bettie. "If she
were a howling child I don't know _what_ we'd do. As it is, she's not
_much_ more trouble than a Teddy bear."

If Mrs. Mapes hadn't had a missionary box in her cellar to pack for
Reservation Indians of assorted sizes and shapes with the cast-off
garments of all Lakeville; if Mrs. Bennett had not been exceedingly
busy with a seamstress getting ready to go out of town for an
important visit; if Aunty Jane had not been even busier trying to make
green tomato pickles out of ripe tomatoes; if Mrs. Tucker had not been
too anxious about the throats of the youngest three Tuckers to give
heed to the doings of the larger members of her family, these four good
women would surely have discovered that something unusual was taking
place under the Cottage roof. As it was, not one of the mothers, not
even sharp Aunty Jane, discovered that the Cottagers were borrowing an
amazing amount of milk from their respective refrigerators.

The novelty worn off, Rosa Marie became a heavy burden to at least
three of the Cottagers' tender consciences. Mabel's conscience may have
troubled her, but not enough to be noticed by a pair of moderately
careless parents. Mabel, however, grew more and more attached to Rosa
Marie; the others did not. To tell the truth, the borrowed infant was
not an attractive child. Many small Indians are decidedly pretty, but
Rosa Marie was not. Her small eyes were too close together, her upper
lip was much too long for the rest of her countenance and her large
mouth turned sharply down at the corners. But loyal Mabel was blind
to these defects. She saw only the babyish roundness of Rosa Marie's
body, the cunning dimples in her elbows and the affectionate gleam that
sometimes showed in the small black eyes. But then, it was always Mabel
who found beauty in the stray dogs and cats that no one else would
have on the premises. During these trying days the Cottagers _almost_
quarreled.

"That child is all cheeks," complained Marjory, petulantly. "They
positively hang down. Do you suppose we're giving her too much milk?
She's disgustingly fat, and she hasn't any figure."

"She has altogether too much figure," declared Jean, almost crossly. "I
fastened this little petticoat around what I _thought_ was her waist
and it slid right off. So now I've got to make buttonholes. Such a
nuisance!"

"Pity you can't use tacks and a hammer," giggled Marjory.

The clothing of Rosa Marie had presented another distressing problem.
She owned absolutely nothing in the way of a wardrobe. The single,
unattractive garment she had worn on her arrival had not survived the
girls' attempts to wash it. They had left it boiling on the stove, the
water had cooked off and the faded gingham had cooked also.

To make up for this accident, all four of the Cottagers had contributed
all they could find of their own cast-off garments; but these of course
were much too large without considerable making over.

"If," said Jean, reproachfully, as she took a large tuck in the
grown-up stocking that she was trying to re-model for Rosa Marie,
"you'd only let me tell my mother, she'd give us every blessed thing
we need. One live little Indian in the hand ought to be worth more to
her than a whole dozen invisible ones on a way-off Reservation; and you
know she's always doing things for _them_."

"Jeanie Mapes!" threatened Mabel, "if you tell her, that's the very
last breath I'll ever speak to you."

"I'll be good," sighed Jean, "but I just hate _not_ telling her. And
this horrid stocking is _still_ too long."

"Button it about her neck," giggled Marjory, who flatly declined to do
any sewing for Rosa Marie. "That'll take up the slack and save making
her a shirt."

"Don't bother about stockings," said Bettie, fishing a round lump from
her blouse. "Here's a pair of old ones that I found in the rag bag.
One's black and the other's tan; but they're exactly the right size and
that's _something_."

"What's the use," demurred Marjory. "She won't wear them."

"If Rosa Marie were about eight shades slimmer," said Jean, "I could
easily get some of Anne Halliday's dear little dresses--her mother gave
my mother a lot day before yesterday for that Reservation box; but
goodness! You'd have to sew two of them together sideways to get them
around _that_ child."

"She _is_ awfully thick," admitted Mabel.

Yet, after all, dressing Rosa Marie was not exactly a hardship. Indeed,
it is probable that the difficulties that stood in the way made the
task only so much the more interesting; then, of course, dressing a
real child was much more exciting than making garments for a mere doll.

Whenever the Cottagers spoke of Rosa Marie outside the Cottage they
referred to her as the D. S. D. S. stood for "Dark Secret." This seemed
singularly appropriate, for Rosa Marie was certainly dark and quite as
certainly a most tremendous secret--a far larger and darker secret than
the troubled girls cared to keep, but there seemed to be no immediate
way out of it.

Fortunately, the stolid little "D. S." was amiable to an astonishing
degree. She never cried. Also, she "stayed put." If Mabel stood her in
the corner she stayed there. If she were tucked into bed, there she
remained until some one dragged her out. She spent her days rolling
contentedly about the Cottage floor, her nights in deep, calm slumber.
Never was there a youngster with fewer wants. Teaching Rosa Marie to
talk furnished the Cottagers with great amusement. The round brown
damsel very evidently preferred grunts to words; but she was always
willing to grunt obligingly when Mabel or the others insisted.

"Say, 'This little pig went to market,'" Mabel would prompt.

"Eigh, ugh, ugh, ee, ee, _ee_, hee!" Rosa Marie would grunt.

Then, when everybody else laughed her very hardest, Rosa Marie's grim
little mouth would relax to show for an instant the row of white teeth
that Mabel scrubbed industriously many times a day. This rare smile
made the borrowed baby almost attractive. But not to Marjory. From the
first, Marjory regarded her with strong disapproval.

Fortunately for Mabel's secret, little Anne Halliday, the Marcotte
twins and the two Tucker babies were too small to tell tales out of
school, so in spite of sundry narrow escapes, Rosa Marie remained as
dark a secret as one's heart could desire.



CHAPTER VII

Discovery


SCHOOL began the first day of October--fortunately, repairs to the
building had delayed the opening. And there was Rosa Marie still on the
Cottagers' hands, still a dark and undivulged secret. In the meantime,
Mabel had paid many a visit to Mrs. Malony, who for reasons of her own
had kept silence about the borrowed baby. Probably she felt that Mrs.
Bennett would blame her for advising Mabel to harbor the deserted child.

"No, darlint," Mrs. Malony would say, encouragingly. "Oi ain't exactly
_seen_ her, but she'll be back prisintly, she'll be back prisintly--Oh,
most anny toime, now. Just do be waitin' patient and you'll see me
come walkin' in most anny foine day wid yon blackhaired lass at me
heels an' full to the eyes of her wid gratichude. Anny day at all, Miss
Mabel."

Buoyed by this hope, Mabel had waited from day to day, hoping for
speedy deliverance. And now, school!

"We'll just have to get excused for part of each day," said Marjory,
always good at suggesting remedies. "Last year, all my recitations came
in the morning; perhaps they will again. Then, if one of you others
could do all your reciting during the afternoon we could manage it."

The year previously Mabel had been obliged to spend many a half-hour
after school, making up neglected lessons. Now, however, she studied
furiously. If she failed frequently it was only because she couldn't
help making absurd blunders; it was never for lack of study. In this
one way, at least, Rosa Marie proved beneficial.

The united efforts of all four made it possible for Rosa Marie to
possess a more or less unwilling guardian for all but one hour during
the forenoon. It grieves one to confess it, but Rosa Marie spent that
solitary hour securely strapped to the leg of the dining-room table;
but, stolid as ever, she did not mind that.

It was there that Aunty Jane discovered her, the second week in
October. Aunty Jane had missed her best saucepan. Rightly suspecting
that Marjory had carried it off to make fudge in, she hurried to the
Cottage, discovered the key under the door-mat, opened the door and
walked in.

Rosa Marie was grunting. "Eigh, ugh, ugh, ee, ee, _ee_, hee!" to her
own bare brown toes.

"For mercy's sake! What's that?" gasped Aunty Jane, with a terrified
start. "There's some sort of an animal in this house."

Arming herself with the broken umbrella that stood in the mended
umbrella jar in the front hall, Aunty Jane peered cautiously into
the dining-room. The "animal" turned its head to blink with mild,
expressionless curiosity at Aunty Jane.

"My soul!" ejaculated that good lady, "what are you, anyway?"

The pair blinked at each other for several moments.

"Are--are you a _baby_?" demanded Aunty Jane.

No response from Rosa Marie.

"What," asked Aunty Jane, cautiously drawing closer, "is your name?"

Still no response.

"Who tied you to that table?"

Silence on Rosa Marie's part.

"I'm going straight after Mrs. Mapes," declared Aunty Jane, retreating
backwards in order to keep a watchful eye on the queer object under the
table. "I might have known that those enterprising youngsters would be
up to _something_, if I gave my whole mind to pickles."

Excited Aunty Jane collected not only Mrs. Mapes, but Mrs. Tucker and
Mrs. Bennett, before she returned to the Cottage. And then, the three
mothers and Aunty Jane sat on the floor beside Rosa Marie and asked
questions; useless questions, because Rosa Marie licked the table-leg
bashfully but yielded no other reply.

This lasted for nearly half an hour. And then, school being out and the
four Cottagers discovering their front door wide open, Jean, Bettie,
Marjory and Mabel, all sorts of emotions tugging at their hearts,
rushed breathlessly in. On beholding their mothers and Aunty Jane,
they, too, turned suddenly bashful and leaned, speechless, against the
Cottage wall.

"Whose child is that?" demanded all four of the grown-ups, in concert.

"Mine," replied Mabel.

"Mabel's," responded the other three, with disheartening promptness.

"What!" gasped the parents and Aunty Jane.

"I borrowed her," explained Mabel, "so she's _mostly_ mine."

"She's spending the day here, I suppose," said Mrs. Mapes.

"Ye-es," faltered Mabel. Marjory giggled, and Mabel turned crimson.

"I hope," said Mrs. Bennett, severely, "that you're not thinking of
keeping her all night."

"I--I--we--" faltered Mabel, "we--we sort of did."

"Well!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennett, not knowing how very late she was, "I
guess we've come just in time. Mabel, put that child's things on and
take her home at once."

"I can't," replied Mabel.

"Why not?"

"She hasn't any home."

"No home!"

"No. It's--it's run away."

"What! That baby?"

"No," stammered Mabel, "that baby's home. Not--not the house. Just her
mother. She--she--Oh, she'll be back, _some_ day."

"Mabel Bennett!" demanded Mrs. Bennett, suspecting something of the
truth, "how long have you had that child here?"

"Not--Oh, not so _very_ long," evaded Mabel.

"Mabel," demanded her mother, "tell me, instantly, exactly how long?"

"About--yes, just about five weeks."

"Five weeks!" gasped Mrs. Bennett.

"Five _weeks_!" shrieked Mrs. Tucker.

"Five weeks!" groaned Mrs. Mapes.

"Fi--ve weeks!" cried Aunty Jane.

"It'll be five to-morrow," said Bettie.

"No, the day after," corrected Marjory.

For the next few moments the mothers and Aunty Jane were too astounded
for further speech. The girls, too, had nothing to say. All four of the
Cottagers kept their eyes on the floor, for they knew precisely what
their elders were thinking.

"Jean," began Mrs. Mapes, reproachfully.

"I--I _wanted_ to tell," stammered Jean.

"I wouldn't let her," defended Mabel, looking up. "They _all_ wanted to
tell, but I wouldn't let them. Truly, they did, Mrs. Mapes."

"But five whole weeks!" murmured Mrs. Bennett. "I wonder that you were
able to keep the secret so long. Why! I've been over here half a dozen
times at least to ask for my scissors and other things that Mabel has
carried off."

"So have I," said Mrs. Mapes.

"So have I," echoed Mrs. Tucker.

"And so have I," added Aunty Jane, "and I've never heard a sound from
that remarkable child."

"You see," confessed Bettie, flushing guiltily, "we kept the door
locked. Whenever we saw anybody coming we whisked Rosa Marie into the
spare-room closet."

"If Rosa Marie had been an ordinary child," explained Jean, "she would
probably have howled; but you see, every blessed thing about us was so
new and strange to her that she just thought that everything we did was
all right. And anyhow, she doesn't have the same sort of feelings that
Anne Halliday does. Anne would have cried."

"You naughty, naughty children," scolded Mrs. Mapes, "to keep a secret
like that for five whole weeks."

"But, Mother," protested Jean, gently, "we never supposed it was going
to be a five-weeks-long secret. We didn't _want_ it to be. We've been
expecting her horrid mother to turn up every single minute since Rosa
Marie came."

"It was all my fault," declared loyal Mabel. "_They'd_ have told, the
very first minute, if it hadn't been for me. Blame me for everything."

"What," asked Mrs. Bennett, "do you intend to do with that--that
atrocious child?"

"She _isn't_ atrocious!" blazed Mabel, with sudden fire. "She's a
perfect darling, when you get used to her, and I _love_ her. She isn't
so very pretty, I know, but she's just dear. She's good, and that--and
that's--Why! You've said, yourself, that it was better to be good than
beautiful."

"But what do you intend to do with her?" persisted Mrs. Bennett.

"Keep her," said Mabel, firmly. "She doesn't eat anything much but milk
and sample packages."

"You can't. I won't have her in my house. Why! Her parents are probably
dreadful people."

"That's why she ought to have me for a mother and you for a
grandmother," pleaded Mabel, earnestly. "But if you don't like her,
I'll keep her here."

"But you can't, Mabel. It's so cold that there ought to be a fire here
this minute, and you can't possibly leave a child alone with a fire."

"Couldn't _you_ take her, Mrs. Mapes?" pleaded Mabel.

"No, I'm afraid I couldn't. If she were the least bit lovable----"

"Oh, she _is_----"

"Not to me," returned Mrs. Mapes, firmly.

"Wouldn't _you_ take her, Mrs. Tucker?"

"What! With all the family I have now? I couldn't think of such a
thing."

"Then you," begged Mabel, turning to Aunty Jane. "There's only you and
Marjory in that great big house. Oh, _do_ take her."

"Mercy! I'd just as soon undertake to board a live bear! Why! Nobody
wants a child of _that_ sort around. She's as homely----"

"I'm extremely glad," said Mabel, with much dignity and a great deal of
emphasis, "that _my_ child doesn't understand grown-up English."

"Perhaps," said Mrs. Mapes, smiling with sympathetic understanding,
"we four older people had better talk this matter over by ourselves.
Suppose you walk home with me.

"_I_ think," said Aunty Jane, forgetting all about the saucepan that
had led her to the Cottage, "that the orphan asylum is the place for
that unspeakable child."

"Yes," agreed Mrs. Bennett, "she'll certainly have to go to the
asylum."



CHAPTER VIII

The Fugitive Soldier


THE Cottage door closed behind the three excited parents and Aunty
Jane. The four Cottagers, all decidedly pale and subdued, looked at one
another in silence. It is one thing to confess a fault; it is quite
another to be ignominiously found out. Jean and Bettie and Marjory
were feeling this very keenly; but Mabel was far more troubled at the
prospect of losing Rosa Marie.

"The orphan asylum!" breathed Bettie, at length.

"It's wicked," blazed Mabel, "to make an orphan of a person that isn't."

"I've heard," said Marjory, reflectively, "that orphans have to eat
fried liver."

"Horrors!" gasped Mabel.

"And codfish."

"Oh _horrors_!" moaned Mabel, who detested both liver and codfish.

"And prunes," pursued teasing Marjory, wickedly remembering Mabel's
dislike for that wholesome but insipid fruit. The prunes proved
entirely too much for Mabel.

"Pup--pup--prunes!" she sobbed. "And you stand there and don't do a
thing to save her! I guess if I were Eliza escaping with my baby on
cakes of ice----"

"Rosa Marie's about the right color," giggled Marjory, who could not
resist so fine an opportunity to tease excitable Mabel.

"You'd all be glad enough to help, but when it's just me----"

"Oh, we'll help," soothed Jean, slipping an arm about Mabel. "You know
we always do stand by you."

"Yes, we'll all help," promised Bettie, "if you'll just tell us what to
do. Only _please_ don't get us into any more trouble with our mothers."

"There's the cellar," suggested Mabel, doubtfully, yet with
glimmerings of hope. "I read a story once about a lady who sat on a
cellar door, knitting stockings."

"Why in the world," demanded Marjory, "did she sit on the door?"

"Some soldiers were hunting for an escaped prisoner and she had him
hidden there."

"Was the cellar all horrid with old papers and rats and mice and
spiders and crawly things with legs?" asked Bettie, with interest.

"I hope not," shuddered Mabel, "but a soldier wouldn't mind. Dear me, I
wish we'd cleaned that cellar when we first came into the Cottage. If
we had, it'd be just the place to hide Rosa Marie in."

"Perhaps it isn't too late, now," said Marjory, stooping to loosen the
ring in the kitchen floor. "Let's look down there, anyway."

"Let's," agreed Bettie. "It'll be something to do, at least."

Everybody helped with the door. When it was open and propped against
the kitchen stove, the four girls crouched down to peer into the depths
below. Even Rosa Marie, who had been released from the table-leg, crept
to the edge to look.

They were not very deep depths. The place was filled with rubbish,
mostly old papers and broken pasteboard boxes; but it was perfectly
dry, and clean except for a thick layer of dust.

"Let's clean it out," said Mabel, recklessly grasping an armful of
dusty papers and dragging them forth.

"Phew!" exclaimed Jean, tumbling back from the hole. "Er--er--er hash!"

"Oh, ki--_hash_! Hoo!" blubbered Bettie, likewise tumbling backwards.

"Who-is-she, who-is-she," sneezed Marjory.

"Kerchoo, kerchoo, kerchoo!" sneezed Rosa Marie, her head bobbing with
each sneeze. "Kerchoo, kerchoo!"

"It's pepper," explained Mabel, when she had finished _her_ sneeze. "I
spilled a lot of it the day of Mr. Black's dinner party. I didn't know
what else to do with it, so I swept it down that biggest crack."

"Goodness! What a housekeeper!" rebuked Jean, wiping her eyes.

"It's good for moths," consoled Bettie. "At any rate, Rosa Marie won't
get moth-eaten."

"Perhaps," suggested Mabel, hopefully, "it's driven away all the rats
and crawly things."

Working more cautiously, the girls drew forth the yellowed papers and
pasteboard left by some former untidy occupant of the Cottage. They
burned most of the rubbish in the kitchen stove, Jean standing guard
lest burning pieces should escape to set fire to the Cottage. The work
of clearing the cellar, indeed, was precisely what the girls needed,
after the humiliating events of the day. All four were growing more
cheerful; but they worked as swiftly as they dared, for they felt
certain that the cellar, as a place of concealment for Rosa Marie,
would be speedily needed.

The cellar proved to be a square hole about three feet deep. When
Mabel, who for once was doing the lion's share of the work, had swept
the boarded floor and sides perfectly clean, it was really a very tidy,
inviting little shelter; as neat a shelter as fugitive soldier could
desire.

"Now," said Mabel, "we'll put a piece of carpet and an old quilt in the
bottom, tack clean papers around the sides----"

"Papers rattle," offered Marjory, sagely.

"Then we'll use cloth," declared Mabel, snatching an apron from the
hook behind the door. "We'll begin right away to practise with Rosa
Marie, so she'll get used to it. Then we must rehearse our parts, too."

The retreat ready, Rosa Marie went without a murmur into the
underground babytender--Marjory gave it that name. Rosa Marie, at
least, would do her part successfully. But it was different above
ground.

"Who," demanded Jean, "is to sit on the door and knit? _I_
couldn't--I'd fly to pieces."

"It's my child," said Mabel, "_I'm_ going to."

"But," objected Marjory, "you _can't_ knit. You don't know how."

"I can crochet," triumphed Mabel, "and I guess that's every bit as
good."

"Where," asked Bettie, "is your crochet hook?"

But that, of course, was a question that Mabel could not answer,
because Mabel never did know where any of her belongings were.
Thereupon, Jean, Marjory and Mabel began a frantic search for the
missing article. Mabel had used it the week previously; but could
remember nothing more about it.

"Goodness!" groaned Mabel, groveling under the spare-room bed in hopes
that the hook might be there. "If I'd dreamed that my child's life was
going to depend on that hook, I'd have kept it locked up in father's
fire-proof safe."

"That's what you get," said Marjory, with one eye glued to the top of a
very tall vase, "for being so careless. It isn't in here, anyway."

"Here's one," announced Bettie, scrambling in hastily and locking the
door behind her. "I skipped home for it. But there's no time to lose.
All our mothers and Aunty Jane are going out of Mrs. Mapes's gate with
their best hats and gloves on. There's something doing!"

In another moment, the cellar door was closed, a rocking chair was
placed upon it, and Mabel, with ball of yarn and crochet hook in hand,
was nervously twitching in the chair. Her fingers were stiff with
dust--there had been no time to wash them--so the loop that she tied
in the end of the white yarn was most decidedly black; but Mabel was
thankful to achieve a loop of any color, with her whole body quivering
with excitement and suspense.

"Goodness!" she quavered. "That soldier lady was a wonder! Think of
her looking calm outside with her heart going like a Dover egg-beater.
Do--do _I_ look calm?"

"Here," said Bettie, extending a basin of warm water. "Soak your hands
in this. Warm water is said to be soothing."

"Also cleansing," giggled Marjory.

"Hurry!" gasped quick-eared Jean, snatching the basin and hurling a
towel in Mabel's direction. "I heard our gate click. There's somebody
coming."

"Don't let 'em in," breathed Mabel, defiantly.

"I'm afraid," said Jean, "we'll have to."

"Anyway," soothed Bettie, "we'll peek first--there's the door-bell!"



CHAPTER IX

A Surprise


JEAN and Bettie flew to one window, Marjory to the other. Mabel wanted
to fly, too, but she remained faithfully at her post, feeling quite
cheered by her own heroism.

"It's dark gray trousers with a crease in 'em; not skirts," announced
Marjory, peering under the edge of the shade.

"Probably a man from the asylum," shuddered Bettie. "Let's keep very
still. He may think that this is the wrong house and go somewhere else."

"But," objected Jean, "he'll only come back again."

"Yes," sighed Bettie. "I s'pose we will have to open the door. You do
it, Marjory."

"I don't want to," returned Marjory, unexpectedly shrinking. "It seems
too much like giving Rosa Marie into the hands of the enemy. After
all, we're going to miss her dreadfully and Mabel'll be just about
broken-hearted. She _does_ get so attached to things--Oh! He's ringing
again."

"We'll have to unlock the door," sighed Jean, placing her hand on the
key, "but dearie me, I feel just as Marjory does about it. Knit fast,
Mabel."

The key turned in the lock, but the girls did not need to open the
door; the visitor did that. Then there were rapturous cries of "Mr.
Black! Mr. Black!"

Mabel wanted to greet Mr. Black, too, for there was nobody in the world
that was kinder to little girls than the stout gentleman who had just
opened their door; but she remembered that the soldier lady (in spite
of the Dover egg-beater heart) had remained seated, placidly knitting;
so Mabel likewise sat still and plied her crochet hook.

"Hi, hi!" exclaimed Mr. Black. "What are you all locked in for? And
here I had to ring four times when I came with a present--apples right
off the top of my own barrel. Began to be afraid I'd have to eat them
all myself, you were so long letting me in."

"If we'd guessed that it was you and apples," said Marjory, "we'd have
met you at the gate."

"Where's the other girl?" asked Mr. Black's big, cheery voice. "Doesn't
she like apples, too?"

"In the kitchen," chorused Jean, Marjory and Bettie.

"Bless my soul!" said Mr. Black, striding kitchenward, "here she is,
knitting like any old lady. Aren't you coming in here to eat apples
with the rest of us?"

"Can't," mumbled Mabel.

"What's the matter, grandma?" teased Mr. Black. "Rheumatism troubling
you to-day?"

"Nope," returned Mabel.

"Lost all your teeth?"

"Nope."

"Are you knitting me a pair of socks or is it mittens?"

"Just a chain," replied Mabel, suddenly beaming. "But, Mr. Black, does
it really look as if I were knitting?"

"Precisely," smiled Mr. Black. "So much so that you remind me of the
story of the woman who sat on the trap door and knitted--By Jove! That
_is_ a trap door! Here's the ring sticking up."

The girls shot a quick glance at the floor. Then they gazed guiltily at
one another. Sure enough! The tell-tale ring stood upright, ready for
use. No one had thought to conceal it.

"Is there a wounded soldier down there?" asked Mr. Black, jokingly.

"No!" shouted all four with suspicious haste.

The deep silence that followed was suddenly punctuated by a muffled
sneeze from Rosa Marie. Undoubtedly, some of the pepper dislodged from
the crack in the floor had sifted down to the prisoner.

The faces of the four girls flushed guiltily. Mr. Black looked
wonderingly at the little group. It was plain that something was wrong.
Jean, who had always met her friend's glance with level, truthful eyes,
was now looking most sheepishly at her own toes. Bettie, hitherto
always ready to tell the whole truth, was now fiddling evasively with
the corner of her apron. Marjory's fair skin was crimson; her usually
frank blue eyes were intent on something under the kitchen table.

"Is there some sort of an animal in that cellar?" demanded Mr. Black.

Rosa Marie chose this moment to give another large sneeze.

"Is it something you're afraid of?" demanded Mr. Black.

"'Fraid of losing," mumbled Mabel, shamefacedly. Poor Mabel realized
only too well that she, with her knitting and her too-perfect playing
of the part, had given the secret away; and she felt all the bitterness
of failure.

Seizing the back of Mabel's chair, Mr. Black drew it swiftly off the
trap door. In another moment, he had the door open.

Rosa Marie, blinking at the sudden light, bobbed upward. Mr. Black
involuntarily started back from the opening.

"What under heavens is that!" he gasped. "A monkey?"

And, indeed, the error was a perfectly natural one, for all he had been
able to see was a tousled head of hair, beneath which gleamed small
black eyes.

"I should say not!" blazed Mabel. "It's my little girl--my Rosa Marie."

"Does she bite? Is she dangerous? Is that why you treat her like
potatoes?"

"Most certainly not," returned Mabel, with dignity. "She's an Indian."

"Bless me!" said Mr. Black, leaning cautiously forward. "Let's have a
look at her."

Now that the secret was out, everybody eagerly clutched some portion of
Rosa Marie's clothing. She was drawn, with some difficulty and sundry
tearings of cloth, from the "Soldier's Retreat." Mabel cuddled the
blinking small person in her lap.

"Did you pick her up in the woods?" asked Mr. Black, "or did you simply
kidnap her? Or, dreadful thought! Did you order her by number from some
catalogue? And did they charge you full price?"

Then Mabel, helped by the other three, told all that they knew of the
history of Rosa Marie; and of Mabel's affection for the queer brown
baby. They told him everything. Mabel, with visions of the orphan
asylum's doors yawning to engulf precious Rosa Marie, considered it
a very sad story. She felt grieved and indignant because Mr. Black,
instead of sympathizing, laughed until his sides shook. Even the
pathetic diet of liver, codfish and prunes seemed to amuse him.

"What would you have said if your mothers had asked you where this
child was?" inquired Mr. Black presently. "I mean, when you had her
down cellar?"

Jean looked at Bettie, Bettie looked at Marjory, Marjory looked at
Mabel.

"We never thought of that," confessed Bettie.

"Oh," groaned Mabel, holding Rosa Marie closer, "our plan isn't any
good after all. We'd have to tell the truth if they asked; we always
do."

"Yes," said Jean, "they'd get it out of us at once."

"Even," teased Marjory, shrewdly, "if Mabel, sitting upon that trap
door, were not every bit as good as a printed sign."

"Never mind," soothed Jean, slipping an arm about Mabel's shoulders,
"we'd rather be honest than smart, since we can't be both."

Mabel needed soothing. She sat still and made no sound; but large
tears were rolling down her cheeks and splashing on Rosa Marie's
black head. Mr. Black regarded them thoughtfully. He noticed too that
Mabel's moderately white hand was closed tightly over Rosa Marie's
brown fingers. It reminded him, some way, of his own youthful agony
over parting with a puppy that he had not been allowed to keep--he had
always regretted that puppy.

Suddenly the front door, propelled by some unseen force, opened from
without to admit the three mothers and Aunty Jane, followed closely by
Mr. Tucker, Dr. Bennett and two young women in nurses' uniform. They
crowded into the little parlor and filled it to overflowing. None of
the Cottagers said a word; but Mabel, tears still rolling down her
cheeks, silently clasped both arms tightly about Rosa Marie's body. It
began to look as if Rosa Marie would have to be taken by force.

"It's all arranged," announced Mrs. Bennett, breathlessly. "The asylum
is willing to take her and she is to go at once with these young
ladies. Come, Mabel, don't be foolish. Take your arms away. You're
behaving very badly--There, there, I'll buy you something."

"You're just a little too late," said Mr. Black, keeping watchful
eyes on Mabel's speaking countenance. "I've decided to take the
responsibility of Rosa Marie into my own hands."



CHAPTER X

Breaking the News


WHEN Mr. Black went home that afternoon to explain the matter to
his good sister, Mrs. Crane, he took with him not only Rosa Marie,
but Jean, Marjory, Bettie and Mabel, whose parents had given them
permission to escort the brown baby to her new home.

"You see," said he, while waiting for Rosa Marie to be made somewhat
more attractive, "I want you to tell the story to Mrs. Crane, precisely
as you told it to me. But don't mention _me_ until you get to the very
end."

With her hair brushed and braided and her fat little body stuffed into
a pink gingham apron that the Cottagers had laboriously cut down from
a wrapper of Mrs. Halliday's, Rosa Marie looked her best, in spite of
the fact that she wore no shoes and stockings. She trotted contentedly
at Mabel's side; but Bettie, who was supposed to be walking with Mr.
Black, pranced delightedly about him in circles, to show her gratitude.
Jean and Marjory followed more sedately but with beaming countenances.

Now that Mrs. Crane was no longer poor, she was always dressed very
neatly in black silk. Except for that she was precisely the same jolly,
good-natured woman that she had been when she lived alone in the little
house just across the street from Dandelion Cottage. Now, however, she
lived with her brother, Mr. Black, in his big, imposing, but rather
gloomy house. She had no husband, he had no wife and neither had any
children. Perhaps that is why they were both so fond of the Dandelion
Cottagers.

Mrs. Crane was planting bulbs in the garden when Mr. Black ushered his
procession in at the gate.

"Bless my soul!" said she, "here you are just in time to help. I
always said that if ever I got a chance to plant all the tulip bulbs I
wanted, I'd die of pure happiness; but I guess I stand _more_ chance
of dying of a broken back. My land! I've planted two thousand three
hundred and forty-eight of the best-looking bulbs I ever laid eyes
on, and there ain't a hole in those boxes yet. They're all named,
too. Here's Rachel Ruish, Rose Grisdelin, Rosy Mundi, Yellow Prince,
the Duke of York--think of having _him_ in your front yard--and Lady
Grandison, two inches apart, clear to the gate. But land! I suppose a
body's tongue'd go lame counting _diamonds_."

"Why don't you let Martin plant them?" asked Mr. Black, with a twinkle
in his eye. It was plain that he enjoyed his talkative elderly sister.

"And have them all bloom in China?" retorted Mrs. Crane. "Now you know,
Peter, that Martin couldn't get a bulb right end up if there were
printed directions on the skin of every bulb. But Jean there, and
Bettie----"

"We'll do it," cried the girls. "Just tell us how."

"Two inches apart, pointed end up, all the way along those little
trenches," directed Mrs. Crane, seating herself in the wheelbarrow.
"No, not _you_, Mabel. You and Martin--Well, I won't _say_ it. Why!
What's the matter with your face? Looks to me as if you'd dusted the
coal bin with yourself and then cried about it. What's the trouble?"

Thereupon Mabel introduced Rosa Marie, who had been shyly hiding behind
a rosebush, told her story and graphically described the horrors of the
orphan asylum.

"While I don't believe that any orphan asylum is as black as you've
painted that one," said Mrs. Crane, "it does seem a pity to shut a
little outdoor animal like that up in a cage when she ain't used to it.
Now, Peter, you listen to me. Why couldn't _we_ keep Rosa Marie here
for a time. Like enough, her mother'll be back after her most any day.
In the meantime, she'd be more company than a cat and easier to wash
than a poodle."

"Well now, I don't know," returned Mr. Black, winking at Mabel. "A
child is a great deal of trouble."

"Shame on you, Peter Black. It's only yesterday that you bought a
wretched old horse to keep his owner from ill-treating him; and here
you are refusing----"

"Oh, not exactly refusing----"

"Begrudging, anyway, to rescue that innocent lamb----"

"She means black sheep," whispered Marjory, into Jean's convenient ear.

"From that institution. Peter Black! I'm just going to keep that child,
anyway."

At this, all five laughed merrily. Rosa Marie, cheered by the sound,
reached gravely into a paper bag, gravely handed each person a tulip
bulb and appropriated one herself. She took a generous bite out of
hers.

"We'll plant 'em in a ring around that snowball bush," said Mrs. Crane,
rescuing the bitten bulb, bite and all. "That shall be Rosa Marie's own
flower bed."

"There's a nursery on the second floor," said Mr. Black. "You girls
must help us fix it up. And, Mabel, perhaps _you_ would like to spend
this money for some toys that would just exactly suit Rosa Marie."

Mabel beamed gratefully as she accepted the money and the
responsibility. Never before had any one singled her out to perform
a task that required discretion. It was always Jean, or Bettie, or
sometimes even Marjory that was chosen. Never before had greatness
been thrust upon Mabel. She lavished grateful, affectionate glances on
Mr. Black and inwardly determined to save part of the cash with which
to buy him a Christmas present, not realizing that that would be a
misappropriation of funds.

Mabel, however, felt a pang of jealousy when Rosa Marie, digging
contentedly in the sand at Mrs. Crane's feet, allowed her former
guardian to depart absolutely unnoticed.

"I _did_ think," confided Mabel to Bettie, who walked beside her, "that
she'd at least _look_ as if she cared."

That night the mothers made peace with their daughters, and Aunty Jane
extended a flag of truce to Marjory.

"It was all for your own good," explained Mrs. Bennett, her arm about
Mabel, who was missing the pleasant task of putting Rosa Marie to bed.
"I couldn't let you grow up with a little Indian continually at your
heels. You'd have grown tired of her, too. And by keeping silence so
long, you did a great deal of harm. If we'd known about the matter at
once, we might have been able to find her mother. Now it's too late."

"I never thought of that," said Mabel, contritely. "I'll tell right
away, next time."

"Mabel! There mustn't _be_ a next time. Promise me this instant that
you'll never borrow another baby unless you know that its mother really
wants to keep it. Promise."

"All right, I promise," said Mabel, cheerfully.

"But I _can't_ think," remarked Mrs. Bennett, "what possessed Mr. Black
to be so foolish as to take such a child into his own home."

There were other persons that wondered, too, why Mr. Black should
burden his household with the care of what Martin, his man, called
an uncivilized savage; but the truth of the matter was just this.
The large silent tears rolling down Mabel's forlorn countenance had
suddenly proved too much for the tender heart of Mr. Black. In some
ways, perhaps, impulsive Mr. Black was not a wise man; but, where
children were concerned, there was no doubt of his being an exceedingly
tender person.



CHAPTER XI

The Alarm


NOW that the burden of caring for Rosa Marie was shifted to older and
more competent shoulders, the Cottagers' thoughts returned to their
school-work. It was time. Never had lessons been so neglected. Never
before had four moderately intelligent little girls seemed so stupid.
But of course with their minds filled with Rosa Marie, it had been
impossible to keep the rivers of South America from lightmindedly
running over into Asia, or the products of British Columbia from being
exported from Calcutta.

These fortunate girls attended a beautiful school. That is, the
building was beautiful. It stood right in the middle of a great big
grassy block, entirely surrounded, as Bettie put it, by street, which
of course added greatly to its dignity. It was built of "raindrop"
sandstone, a most interesting building material because no two blocks
were alike and also because each stone looked as if it had just been
sprinkled with big, spattering drops of rain. It was hard when looking
at it to believe that it wasn't raining, and certain naughty youngsters
delighted in fooling new teachers by pointing out the deceiving drops
that flecked the balustrade. Perhaps even the grass was fooled by this
semblance to showers for, in summer time, it grew so thriftily that
no one had to be warned to "Keep off," so a great many little people
frolicked in the schoolyard even during vacation.

Of course the Dandelion Cottagers were not in the same classes in
school. Jean, being the oldest, the most sedate and the most studious,
was almost through the eighth grade. Marjory, being naturally very
bright and also moderately industrious, was in the seventh. Mabel and
Bettie were not exactly anywhere. You see, Bettie had had to stay out
so often to keep the next to the youngest Tucker baby from falling
downstairs, that naturally she had dropped behind all the classes that
she had ever started with; and Mabel--of course Mabel _meant_ well,
but when she studied at all it was usually the lesson for some other
day; for this blundering maiden never _could_ remember which was the
right page. But one day she happened by some lucky accident to stumble
upon the right one, and on that solitary occasion she recited so very
brilliantly that Miss Bonner and all the pupils dropped their books to
listen in astonishment, and Mabel was marked one hundred.

But in spite of this high mark in good black ink (if one stood less
than seventy-five red ink was employed) the thing did not happen
again that fall because Mabel was too busy bringing up Rosa Marie to
study even the wrong lesson. However, she was exceedingly fond of
pretty Miss Bonner and, having learned the exact date of that young
woman's birthday, hoped to appease her by a gift to be paid for by
contributions from all the pupils in Miss Bonner's room. Mabel herself
received and cared for the slowly accumulating funds, and the little
brown purse was becoming almost as weighty a responsibility as Rosa
Marie had been. Sometimes it rested in Mabel's untrustworthy pocket,
sometimes in her rather untidy desk, sometimes under her pillow in her
own room at home. One day Mrs. Bennett found it there.

"Why, Mabel!" she exclaimed. "Where did all this money come from? I
know _you_ don't possess any."

"It's the M. B. B. P. F.," responded Mabel, who was brushing her hair
with evident enjoyment and two very handsome military brushes. "I guess
I'd better put it in my pocket."

"The what?" asked puzzled Mrs. Bennett.

"The Miss Bonner Birthday Present Fund. I'm the Cus--Cus--Custodium."

"The what kind of cuss?" asked Dr. Bennett, who had just poked his head
in at the door to ask if, by any chance, Mabel had seen anything of his
hair brushes.

"The Custodium," replied Mabel, with dignity.

"I think she means 'Custodian.'" explained Mrs. Bennett, rescuing the
brushes.

"Well," retorted Mabel, "the toad part was all right if the tail
wasn't. Marjory named me that, and she's always using bigger words than
she ought to."

"So is somebody else," said Dr. Bennett, forgetting to scold about the
brushes. "But I think the 'Custodium' had better hurry, or she'll be
late for school."

That was Friday, and the little brown purse contained two dollars and
forty-seven cents, which seemed a tremendous sum to inexperienced Mabel.

She remembered afterwards how very big, imposing and substantial
the school building had looked that morning as she approached it and
noticed some strangers fingering the "rain-drops" to see if they
were real. Indeed, everybody, from the largest tax-payer down to the
smallest pupil, was proud of that building because it was so big and
because there was no more rain-drop sandstone left in the quarry from
which it had been taken. Even thoughtless Mabel always swelled with
pride when tourists paused to comment on the queer, spotted appearance
of those massive walls. She meant to point that building out some day
to her grandchildren as the fount of all her learning; for the huge,
solid building looked as if it would certainly outlast not only Mabel's
grandchildren but all their great-great-grandchildren as well. But it
didn't.

The catastrophe came on Saturday. Afterwards, everybody in Lakeville
was glad, since the thing had to happen at all, that the day was
Saturday, for no one liked to think what might have happened had the
trouble come on a schoolday. It was also a Saturday in the first week
of November, which was not quite so fortunate, as there was a stiff
north wind.

At two o'clock that afternoon the streets were almost deserted, but
weatherproof Dick Tucker, with his hands in his pockets, was going
along whistling at the top of his very good lungs. By the merest
chance he glanced at the wide windows of Lakeville's most pretentious
possession, the big Public School building.

From four of the upper windows floated thin, softly curling plumes
of gray smoke. The windows were closed, but the smoke appeared to be
leaking out from the surrounding frames.

"Hello!" muttered Dick, suddenly shutting off his whistle. "That looks
like smoke. The janitor must be rebuilding the furnace fire. But why
should smoke--I guess I'll investigate."

The puzzled boy ran up the steps, pulled the vestibule door open and
eagerly pressed his nose against the plate-glass panel of the inner
door, which was locked. Through the glass, however, he could plainly
see that the wide corridor was thick with smoke. He could even smell it.

"Great guns!" exclaimed Dick. "There's things doing in there! That
furnace never smokes as hard as all that and besides the Janitor always
has Saturday afternoons off. Perhaps the basement door is unlocked."

Dick ran down the steps to find that door, too, securely fastened.

"I guess," said Dick, with another look at the curling smoke about the
upper windows, "the thing for me to do is to turn in an alarm."

Dick happened to know where the alarm-box was situated, so, feeling
most important, yet withal strangely shaky as to legs, the lad made for
the corner, a good long block distant, smashed the glass according to
directions, and sent in the alarm, a thing that he had always longed to
do.

Five minutes later, the big red hosecart, with gong ringing, firemen
shouting and dogs barking, was dashing up the street. The hook and
ladder company followed and a meat wagon, or rather a meat-wagon horse,
galloped after. The foundry whistle began to give the ward number in
long, melancholy, terrifying toots and the hosehouse bell joined in
with a mad clamor. People poured from the houses along the hosecart's
route, for in Lakeville it was customary for private citizens to attend
all fires.

Dick, feeling most important, stood on the schoolhouse steps and
pointed upward. The hosecart stopped with a jerk that must have
surprised the horses, firemen leaped down and in a twinkling the
foremost had smashed in the big glass door.

"It's a fire all right," said he.

Meanwhile the Janitor, chopping wood in his own backyard (which was his
way of enjoying his afternoons off), had listened intently to the fire
alarm.

"Six-Two," said he, suddenly dropping his ax. "Guess I'll have a look
at that fire. That's pretty close to my school."



CHAPTER XII

The Fire


JEAN, Bettie, Marjory and Mabel ran with the rest to see what was
happening, for their homes were not far from the schoolhouse. Indeed,
owing to its ample setting, the building was plainly visible from
all directions; and from a distance, it always loomed larger than
anything else in the town. To all the citizens it was a most unusual
and alarming sight to see thick, black smoke curling about the eaves
and rising in a threatening column above the familiar building. Such a
thing had never happened before.

Marjory was the first of the quartette to discover what was going on.
She had opened her bedroom window the better to count the strokes of
the fire-bell when, to her astonishment, she saw the fire itself or at
least the smoke thereof. Her first thought was of her three friends;
for of course no Cottager could view such a spectacle as this promised
to be without the companionship of the other three.

So Marjory flew around the block--like a little excited hen, Dr. Tucker
said--and collected the girls. They ran in a body to join the swelling
crowd that surrounded the smoking building.

"Keep back out of danger," called Aunty Jane, who was watching the fire
from her upstairs window.

"We will," shrieked Marjory, who, with the other three, was rushing by.

"Don't get mixed up with the hose," warned Dr. Tucker, who was carrying
young Peter to view the fire.

"We won't," promised Bettie. "We'll stand on the very safest corner."

"This is it," declared Jean, stopping short on the sidewalk. "We can
see right over the heads of the folks that are close to the building."

"Should you think," panted Mabel, hopefully, "that there'd be school
Monday?"

"Looks doubtful," said Marjory.

"Not upstairs, anyway," returned Jean. "Everything must be smoked
perfectly black. And it's getting worse every minute instead of better."

"Goodness!" cried Mabel, suddenly turning pale at a new and alarming
thought. "I do hope it won't burn _my_ room. The money for Miss
Bonner's birthday present is in my desk. It's--it's a horrible lot of
money to lose. I ought never to have left it there. Dear me! Do you
think----"

"Phew!" cried Jean, paying no heed to Mabel. "Look at that!"

"That" was a terrifying flash of red that suddenly illumined six of the
big upper windows.

"The High School room," groaned Bettie. "It's--it's _flames_!"

"Hang it!" growled an indignant tax-payer. "Why doesn't somebody _do_
something? That building cost fifty thousand dollars."

"Fire started from a defective flue on top floor," explained another
bystander, "but that's no reason why the whole place should go. There's
no fire downstairs, but there _will_ be--What's that? No water? Broken
hydrant?"

Mabel listened attentively. The bystander continued:

"Then the whole building is doomed. It's had time enough to get a
tremendous start."

"Oh, look!" cried Jean. "It's bursting through into the next room--_my_
room! Oh, how _dreadful_! All our plants, our books, our pictures--Oh,
oh! I can't bear to look."

Firemen and volunteer helpers were, hurrying in and out the wide
south door. Men carried out towering piles of books and tossed them
ruthlessly to the ground. Miss Bonner's big pink geranium was added to
the heap. The Janitor appeared with the big hall clock, that wouldn't
go at all on ordinary occasions but was now striking seven hundred and
twenty-seven--or something like that--all at one stretch. It seemed to
be crying out in alarm. The roar of flames could now be heard, likewise.

"Why!" exclaimed Jean, wheeling suddenly. "Where's Mabel? Wasn't she
right beside you a minute ago, Bettie? I certainly saw her there."

"She was--but she isn't now," returned Bettie, looking about anxiously.
"I thought she was behind me."

"Dear me!" murmured motherly Jean. "I hope she hasn't gone any closer.
Suppose the scallops on that roof should begin to melt off."

"Oh, look!" cried Marjory. "There! In the doorway!"

All three looked just in time to see a short, not-very-slender girl in
an unmistakable red cap dart in at the smoky doorway.

"Oh," groaned Jean, "it's Mabel!"

"Oh," moaned Marjory, "why did I ever tell her that there was a fire?"

"I'm afraid," hazarded Bettie, "that she's gone to Miss Bonner's room
to get that money."

Bettie was right. That was exactly what Mabel had done.

All along Mabel's way hands had stretched out to stop the flying
figure. But the hands were always just a little too late. You see, the
owners of the tardy hands did not realize quickly enough that rash
little Mabel actually meant to enter a building whose top floor was
all in flames. She was fairly inside before the onlookers grasped the
situation.

"How perfectly foolish!" cried Marjory, stamping her foot in helpless
rage. "Of course somebody'll get her out--there's two men going in
now--but how perfectly silly for her to go in at all!"

Mabel, however, was not feeling at all foolish. No, indeed. The little
girl, to her own way of thinking, was doing a worthy, even a heroic,
deed. She was rescuing the precious two dollars and forty-seven
cents that her class had so laboriously raised to buy Miss Bonner
a birthday gift. She would have liked to accomplish it in a little
less spectacular manner, but, no other way being available, she had
made the best of circumstances and was ignoring the crowd. She hoped,
indeed, that no one had noticed her; with so much else to look at it
seemed as if one small girl might easily remain unobserved. To be sure
she was risking her life, the life of the only little girl that her
parents possessed; but that seemed a small affair beside two dollars
and forty-seven cents. The roof might fall, the cornice might drop, the
huge chimney might collapse, the suffocating smoke or scorching flames
might suddenly pour into that still unburned lower room. Let them!
Heroes never stopped for such trifles with such a sum at stake.

By this time, Jean, Marjory and Bettie were white and absolutely
speechless with fear. Four firemen were sitting on Dr. Bennett to keep
him from rushing in after the little girl he had promptly recognized as
his own, and five women were supporting and encouraging Mrs. Bennett,
who had grown too weak to stand although she still had her wits about
her.

"Fifty dollars reward," Mr. Black was shouting, "to the man that gets
that child!"

He would have gone after her himself, but Mrs. Crane had him firmly by
the coat-tails and both Dr. and Mrs. Tucker were clinging to his arms.

"Be aisy, be aisy," Mrs. Malony, the egg-woman was murmuring to the
world in general. "Miss Mabel's the kind thot's always escapin' jist be
the skin av her teeth. Rest aisy. Thim fire-laddies'll be havin' her
out av thot dure in another jiffy."

But, although the crowd rested as "aisy" as it could, the moments went
by and no Mabel appeared.

With every instant the fire grew worse. By this time, the smoke and
angry sheets of flame had burst through the roof and were streaming,
with a mighty, threatening roar, straight up into the blackened sky--a
splendid sight that was visible for a long distance. There was no water
to check the mighty fire, for, a very few moments after the hose had
been attached, the hydrant had burst and the water that should have
been busy quenching the fire was quietly drenching the feet of many an
unheeding bystander.

And presently the thing that everybody expected happened. With a
lingering, horrible crash a large part of the upper floor dropped to
the main hall below. Smoke poured from the lower doors and windows.
In another moment leaping hungry flames were visible in every room
except the basement. The entire superstructure seemed now just like a
gigantic, topless furnace; and of course it was no longer possible for
even the firemen to venture inside.

But _where_ was Mabel?



CHAPTER XIII

A Heroine's Come-Down


MABEL, with the Janitor and four pursuing firemen at her reckless
heels, had made a bold dash through the long corridor that led to Miss
Bonner's room. Owing to a strong upward draft, there was surprisingly
little smoke in this corridor and none at all in Miss Bonner's distant
corner.

Still hotly pursued, Mabel, who had the advantage of knowing exactly
whither she was bound, darted down the narrow aisle, reached into her
desk, and, unselfishly passing by sundry dearly loved treasures of her
own, seized the fat brown purse. Such joy to find it when so many of
the desks had been stripped of their contents!

She was none too soon, for the next moment the Janitor's hands had
closed upon her and, plump as she was, the sturdy fellow easily
carried her out of the room, although Mabel protested crossly that she
would much rather walk. In this uncomfortable fashion they reached the
corridor.

[Illustration: THE STURDY FELLOW CARRIED HER OUT OF THE ROOM.]

"Not that way--not that way!" shouted the firemen, pointing towards
a glowing, spreading patch on the ceiling of the main hall. "It's
breaking through--you can't reach the door! It's not safe at that end."

"Down to the basement!" shouted the Janitor, nodding toward a narrow
doorway, through which the men promptly vanished.

Then, seemingly, a new thought assailed the Janitor.

"Open door number twelve," he shouted after the men.

Then, hurriedly pushing up a sliding door at the safest end of the hall
and murmuring "Quicker this way," the Janitor unceremoniously lifted
Mabel and dropped her down the big dust-chute.

What a place for a heroine! In spite of her surprise, Mabel felt
deeply mortified. It was humiliating enough for a would-be rescuer to
be rescued; but to be dropped down a horrid, stuffy dust-chute and
to land with a queer, springy thud on a pile of sliding stuff--the
contents of a dozen or more waste-baskets and the results of
innumerable sweepings--was worse.

In a very few seconds, the hasty Janitor had opened the lower door of
the chute and, with the firemen standing by, was calmly hauling her out
by her feet--Oh! She could _never_ tell that part of it.

And then, as if that were not bad enough, that inconsiderate Janitor
seized her by the elbow and hurried her right into the coal bin, forced
her to march over eighty tons of black, dusty, sliding coal and finally
compelled her to crawl--yes, _crawl_--out of a small basement window on
the safest side of the building. The only explanation that the rescuer
vouchsafed was a gruff statement that the fire was "More to the other
end" and that short-cuts saved time. Mabel tried to tell him what
_she_ thought about it, but the Janitor seemed too excited to listen.

Of course, by this time, the Bennetts, the Cottagers, the firemen, the
Janitor's wife and most of the bystanders were in a perfectly dreadful
state of mind; for the coal-hole window was not on their side of the
building--Mabel was glad of that--so none of her friends witnessed
her exit. The Cottagers, in particular, were clutching each other and
fairly quaking with fear when a familiar voice behind them panted
breathlessly:

"I saved it, girls."

Jean, Marjory and Bettie wheeled as one girl. It was certainly Mabel's
voice, the shape and size were Mabel's, but the color----

"Oh!" cried Jean, in a horrified tone. "Are you _burned_? Are you all
burned up to a crisp?"

But thoughtful Bettie, after one searching look to make certain that
it really was Mabel, had not stopped to ask questions, nor to hear
them answered. She remembered that the Bennetts were still anxious
concerning their missing daughter, and straightway flew to relieve
their minds.

"She's safe, Mabel's safe," she shouted, running to the Bennetts, to
Mr. Black, to the Tuckers, to all Mabel's friends, and completely
forgetting her own usual shyness. "Yes, she's all safe. No, not burned;
just scorched, I guess."

Then everybody crowded around Mabel. Mrs. Bennett was about to kiss
her, but desisted just in time.

"Mabel!" she cried, as Jean had done. "Are you burned?"

"No," mumbled Mabel, indignantly. "I'm not even singed. I--I just came
out through the coal hole, but you needn't tell. That horrid Janitor
dragged me out over a whole mountain of coal."

"Thank Heaven!" breathed Mrs. Bennett.

"Huh!" snorted Mabel, "that's a mighty queer thing to thank Heaven for,
when it was only last night that I had a perfectly good bath. That's
the meanest Janitor----"

"Where is he?" demanded Dr. Bennett, eagerly. "I must thank him."

"Yes," said Mrs. Bennett, "I must thank him too."

"And I," said Dr. Tucker, "should like to shake hands with him."

And would you believe it! Not a soul had a word of praise for Mabel's
bravery. Not a person commended her for saving that precious purse.
Instead, the local paper devoted a whole column to lauding the prompt
action of that sickening Janitor, Dr. Bennett gave him a splendid gold
watch, the School Board recommended him for a Carnegie medal--all
because of the dust-chute.

"Don't let me hear any more," Dr. Bennett said that night, "about that
miserable two dollars and forty-seven cents. I'd rather give you two
hundred and forty-seven dollars than have you take such risks."

"Yes, sir," rejoined Mabel, meekly. "But you didn't say anything like
that day before yesterday when I asked for three more cents to make it
an even two-fifty. I must say I don't understand grown folks."

"Mabel, you go--go take that bath. And when you're clean enough to
kiss, come back and say good-night."

"Yes, sir," sighed Mabel, "but I _do_ wish I _could_ raise three more
cents."

Mr. Bennett fished two quarters and three pennies from his pocket and
handed them to Mabel.

"There," said he, "you have an even three dollars, but I hope you won't
consider it necessary to rescue them in case of any more fires."

Fortunately, there were no more fires; but the original one made up for
this lack by lasting for an astonishing length of time. For seven days
the school building continued to burn in a safe but expensive manner;
for the eighty tons of coal over which Mabel had walked so unwillingly
had caught fire late in the afternoon and had burned steadily until
entirely reduced to ashes. It was a strange, uncanny sight after dark
to see the mighty ruin still lighted by a fitful glare from within.
Only the four walls, the bare outer shell of the huge structure,
remained. You see, all the rest of it had been wood--and steam pipes.
Every splinter of wood was gone; but the pipes, and there seemed to
be miles of them, were twisted like mighty serpents. They filled the
cellar and seemed fairly to writhe in the scarlet glow. It made one
think of dragons and volcanoes and things like that; and caused creepy
feelings in one's spine.

Even the dust-chute was gone. Mabel was glad of that. She hated to
think of the Janitor proudly pointing it out to visitors and saying:

"I once dropped a girl down there."



CHAPTER XIV

A Birthday Party


BUT if Mabel derived little joy from her experience as a heroine, there
was at least some satisfaction in knowing that there could be no school
on Monday, for Mabel was decidedly partial toward holidays.

"If I ever teach school," she often said, "there'll be two Saturdays
every week and no afternoon sessions."

Jean, however, really liked to go to school. So did Marjory, but Bettie
was uncertain.

"If," said Bettie, "I could go long enough to know what grade I
belonged in it might be interesting; but when you only attend in
patches it's sort of mixing. There's a little piece of me in three
different grades."

When Mrs. Crane realized that there could be no school on Monday,
she too was pleased. She stopped a moment after church on Sunday to
intercept the girls on their way to Sunday School.

"My!" said she. "How spruce you look!"

They did look "spruce." Tall Jean was all in brown, even to her gloves
and overshoes. Marjory's trim little winter suit was of dark green
broadcloth with gray furs, for neat Aunty Jane, whatever her other
failings, always kept Marjory very beautifully dressed. Bettie's short,
kilted skirt was red under a boyish black reefer that had once belonged
to Dick, and a black hat that Bob had discarded as "too floppy" had
been wired and trimmed with scarlet cloth to match the skirt. This
hand-me-down outfit was very becoming to dark-eyed Bettie, but then,
Bettie was pretty in anything. Plump Mabel was buttoned tightly into a
navy blue suit. Although she had owned it for barely six weeks it was
no longer big enough either lengthwise or sidewise.

"But," said Mabel, cheerfully, "by holding my breath most of the time I
can stand it for one hour on Sundays."

"How would you like," asked Mrs. Crane, "to spend to-morrow with me and
Rosa Marie?"

"We'd love to," said Jean.

"We'd like it a lot," said Marjory.

"Just awfully," breathed Bettie.

"Oh, goody!" gurgled Mabel.

"You see," said Mrs. Crane, "I'm not altogether easy about Rosa Marie.
I do every living thing I can think of, but someway I can't get inside
that child's shell. I declare, it seems sometimes as if she really
pities me for being so stupid. And I think she's falling off in her
looks."

"Oh, I _hope_ not," cried Mabel, fervently.

"No," agreed Marjory, "it certainly wouldn't do for Rosa Marie to fall
off very _much_."

"However," returned Mrs. Crane, loyally, "she might be very much worse
and at any rate she is warm and well fed, even if she does seem a
bit--foreign. So that Janitor put you down through the dust-chute, did
he, Mabel? You must have landed with quite a jolt."

"No," returned Mabel, rather sulkily, for every one was mentioning the
dust-chute. "I had all September's and October's sweepings to land on.
It was all mushy and springy, like mother's bed."

"How," pursued kindly Mrs. Crane, "did he get you out?"

"I'd--I'd rather not say," mumbled Mabel, flushing a brilliant crimson.
No one else had thought to ask this dreaded question, and the papers,
fortunately, had overlooked this detail.

"Why!" giggled teasing Marjory, "he _must_ have dragged her out by
her feet because she's so fat that she couldn't possibly have turned
herself over in that narrow space. It's just like a chimney, you know.
I've often looked down that place and wondered if Santa Claus could
manage the trip down. Oh, Mabel! It must have been funny! Tell us about
it."

Mabel grinned, but it was rather a sickly grin.

"First," she said, "he clawed out a lot of papers and stuff. Ugh! It
was horrid to feel everything sliding right out from under me--I didn't
know _how_ far I was going to drop. Then he grabbed my two ankles and
just jerked me out on the bias through the little door at the bottom. I
suppose it was a lot quicker. But he _didn't_ need to make me climb all
that coal."

"Yes, he did," returned Jean. "The cornice on the other three sides was
all loose and flopping up and down in the flames. Pieces kept falling.
The coal-bin side was the last to burn--the wind went the other
way--and Miss Bonner's room was the last to catch fire."

"That Janitor," declared Mrs. Crane, with conviction, "knew exactly
what he was about. Now, girls, you'll be sure to come to-morrow, won't
you? I think it will do Rosa Marie good and there's a reason why I'd
like a little company myself, but I shan't tell you just now what it
is."

"Oh, do," begged all four.

"No," returned Mrs. Crane. "It's a secret, and not a living soul knows
it but me. I'll tell you to-morrow."

"We'll _surely_ come," promised the girls.

Of course they kept their promise. The four Cottagers arrived very soon
after breakfast, were let in most sedately by Mr. Black's man, who
smiled when the unceremonious visitors rushed pell-mell past him to
fall upon Mrs. Crane, who was watering plants in the breakfast room.

"Tell us the secret!" shouted Mabel. "Oh--I mean good-morning!"

"Good-morning," smiled Mrs. Crane, setting the watering pot in a safe
place. "The secret isn't a very big one. It's only that to-day is
my birthday and I thought I'd like to have a party. You're it. The
cook is making me a birthday cake, but she doesn't know that it is a
birthday cake."

"Goody!" cried Mabel.

"Doesn't Mr. Black know it's your birthday?" queried Jean.

"I don't think so. You see, it's a long time since Peter and I spent
birthdays under the same roof, and men don't remember such things very
well. We'll surprise him with the cake to-night. Now let's go to the
nursery."

Rosa Marie's dull countenance brightened at sight of her four friends.
She gave four solemn little bobs with her head.

"Mercy!" cried Marjory, "she's learning manners."

"And see," said Bettie, "she's stringing beads."

"That's a surprise," said Mrs. Crane, proudly. "I taught her that."

"Fourteen," said Rosa Marie, unexpectedly.

"Goodness me!" cried Mabel. "Can she count?"

"Ye-es," admitted Mrs. Crane, guardedly, "but not to depend on. In
fact, fourteen is the only counting word she _can_ say. Peter taught
her that."

"Fourteen," repeated Rosa Marie, holding up her string of beads.

"You ridiculous baby!" laughed Mabel, hugging her. "Who are the pretty
beads for?"

Rosa Marie hurriedly clapped the string about her own brown throat.

"No, no," remonstrated Mrs. Crane. "You're making them for Mabel."

But Rosa Marie set her small white teeth firmly together and continued
to hold the beads against her own plump neck.

"_She_ knows whose beads they are," laughed Jean.

"I can't teach her a single Christian virtue," sighed Mrs. Crane.
"There isn't one unselfish hair in that child's head."

"She's too young," encouraged Bettie. "All babies are little savages."

"Not Anne Halliday," said Jean, who fairly worshiped her small cousin.

"That's different," said Marjory. "Anne was born with manners."

"The little Tuckers weren't," soothed Bettie. "Rosa Marie will be
generous enough in time."

"I wish I could believe it," sighed Mrs. Crane.

"Hi, hi! What's all this racket?" cried Mr. Black from the doorway. "Is
Rosa Marie doing all that talking? Get your things on quick, all of
you, and come for a ride with me."

"A ride!" exclaimed Mrs. Crane. "What in?"

"An automobile," returned Mr. Black, turning to wink comically at
Bettie.

"An automobile!" echoed Mrs. Crane. "I'd like to know whose. There's
only one in town and I don't know the owners."

"Yours," twinkled Mr. Black. "It's your birthday present."

"How did you know that this was the day?"

"Perhaps I remembered," said Mr. Black, smiling rather tenderly at his
old sister. "You _used_ to have them on this day."

"I do still," beamed Mrs. Crane. "That's why I invited the girls;
they're my birthday party. But what's this about automobiles?"

"Only one. It's yours."

"Peter Black! I don't believe you."

"Look out the hall window."

Everybody rushed to the big window in the front hall. Sure enough! A
splendid motor car stood at the gate.

"Peter," faltered Mrs. Crane, "have I _got_ to ride in that? I've never
set foot in one, and I'm sure I'd be scared to at this late day."

"What! Not ride in your own automobile? Bless you, Sarah, in another
week you'll refuse to stay out of it. Get your things on, everybody;
and warm ones, too. Find extra wraps for these girls, Sarah. There's
room for everybody but Rosa Marie."

"Now, isn't that just like a man?" said Mrs. Crane, looking about
helplessly. "Whose clothes does he think you're going to wear for
'extra wraps'? His, or mine?"

Everybody laughed, for obviously Mr. Black's house was a poor one in
which to find little girls' garments.

"We'll stop at your houses," said he, "and pick up some duds. Besides,
perhaps your mothers might like to know that you've been kidnaped.
What! no hat on yet? Here, pin this on," said Mr. Black, handing Mrs.
Crane a pink dust-cap. "I can't wait all day."

"Mercy! That's not a bonnet," cried Mrs. Crane, scurrying away. "I'll
be ready in two minutes."



CHAPTER XV

An Unexpected Treat


"PETER," demanded Mrs. Crane, stopping short on the horse-block, "who's
going to run that thing?"

"I am."

"Not with me in it. You don't know how."

"My dear, I've been learning the business for five weeks."

"So _that's_ what has taken you to Bancroft every afternoon for all
that time?"

"That's exactly what," admitted Mr. Black.

"And you're _sure_," queried Mrs. Crane, doubtfully, "that you
understand all those fixings?"

"Every one of them."

"Will you promise to go slow?"

"There's a fine for exceeding the speed limit," twinkled Mr. Black.

"Well, I'm glad of that," said Mrs. Crane, permitting her patient
brother to help her into the vehicle. "My! but these cushions are soft."

"Yes," said Bettie, "it's just like sitting on baking powder biscuits
before they're baked."

"How do you know?" asked Mr. Black.

"Because I've tried it. You see, ministers' wives are dreadfully
interrupted persons, and one night when Mother was making biscuits
some visitors came. Instead of popping one of the pans into the oven,
mother dropped it on a dining-room chair on her way to the door and
forgot all about it. When I came in to supper that chair was at my
place and I flopped right down on those biscuits! And I had to _stay_
sitting on them because Father had asked one of the visitors--_such_
a particular-looking person--to stay to tea; and I knew that Mother
wouldn't want a perfectly strange man to know about it."

"That was certainly thoughtful," smiled Mr. Black. "Now, is every one
comfortable? If she is, we'll go for those extra wraps."

The new machine rolled down the street and turned the corner in the
neatest way imaginable. Mrs. Crane looked decidedly uneasy at first;
but when Mr. Black had successfully steered the birthday present past
the ice wagon, a coal team, a prancing pony and two street cars, she
folded the hands that had been nervously clutching the side of the car
and leaned back with a relieved sigh.

But when Mabel asked a question, Mrs. Crane silenced her quickly.

"Don't talk to him," she implored. "There's no telling _what_ might
happen to us if he were to take any part of his mind off that--that
helm, for even a single second. Don't even _look_ at him."

What did happen was this. After the extra wraps had been collected
and donned, Mr. Black carried his charges all the way to Bancroft, a
distance of seventeen miles, in perfect safety. The road was good, the
day was mild and the only team they passed obligingly turned in at its
own gate before they reached it. They stopped in front of the biggest
and best hotel in Bancroft.

"Everybody out for dinner," ordered Mr. Black.

"But, Peter," expostulated Mrs. Crane, hanging back, bashfully, "I'm in
my every-day clothes."

"Well, this isn't Sunday; and you always look well dressed. You're a
very neat woman, Sarah."

"Well I _am_ neat, but black alpaca isn't silk even if my sleeves _are_
this year's. And for goodness' sake, Peter, don't ask me to pronounce
any of that bill of fare if it isn't plain every-day English, for
you know there isn't a French fiber in my tongue. You order for me.
There's only one thing I can't eat and that's parsnips."

It was a very nice dinner and plain English enough to suit even
matter-of-fact Mrs. Crane. After the first few bashful moments, the
four girls chattered so merrily that all the guests at other tables
caught themselves listening and smiling sympathetically.

"I never ate a really truly hotel dinner before," confided Bettie,
happily.

"And to think," sighed Jean, contentedly, "of doing it without knowing
you were going to! That always makes things nicer."

"And I _never_ expected to ride in a navy-blue automobile," murmured
Marjory.

"Or to have four kinds of potatoes," breathed Mabel, who sat half
surrounded by empty dishes--"little birds' bath-tubs," she called them.

"You must be a vegetarian," smiled Mr. Black.

"N-no," denied Mabel. "Only a potatorian."

"Mabel!" objected Marjory. "There isn't any such word."

"Yes, there is," returned Mabel, calmly. "I just made it."

"Well, I'm sure," sighed Mrs. Crane, "I never expected to have any such
birthday as this."

"You see," said Mr. Black, giving his sister's plump elbow a kindly
squeeze, "this is a good many birthdays rolled into one."

"It seems hard," mourned Mabel, who was earnestly scanning the bill of
fare, "to read about so many kinds of dessert when you've room enough
left for only three. I wish I'd began saving space sooner."

"You're in luck," laughed Bettie. "A very small, thin one is all _I_
can manage--pineapple ice, I guess."

"Anyway," said Marjory, "I shan't choose bread pudding. We have that
every Tuesday and Friday at home. Aunty Jane has regular times for
everything, so I always know just what's coming. I'm going to have
something different--hot mince pie, I guess."

"Ice-cream," said Jean, "with hot chocolate sauce."

"Bring _me_," said Mabel, turning to the waiter, "hot mince pie,
ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce and a pineapple ice with little
cakes."

"Bring little cakes for everybody," added Mr. Black.

"I declare," said Mrs. Crane, "I don't know when I've been so hungry."

"Now," remarked Mr. Black, half an hour later, "I think we'd better be
jogging along toward home because it won't be as warm when the sun goes
down and I want to show you some of the sights in Bancroft--there's a
pretty good candy shop a few blocks from here--before we start toward
Lakeville. We can run down in about an hour."

"Peter," demanded Mrs. Crane, "what _is_ that speed limit?"

"About eight miles an hour."

"Hum--and it's seventeen miles----"

"Now, Sarah, don't go to doing arithmetic--you know you were never
very good at it. If I were to keep strictly within that limit you'd
all want to get out and push. Got all your wraps? Whose muff is this?
Here's a glove. Whose neck belongs to this pussy-cat thing? Here's a
handkerchief and two more gloves--Well, well! It's a good thing you had
somebody along to gather up your duds. What! My hat? Why, that's so, I
_did_ have a cap--here it is in my coat pocket."

There was still time after the pleasant ride home for a good frolic
with Rosa Marie and a cozy meal with Mrs. Crane; strangely enough,
everybody was again hungry enough to enjoy the big birthday cake and
the good apple-sauce that went with it. Then Mr. Black carried them all
home in the motor car and delivered each damsel at her own door. But
only one stayed delivered, for the other three immediately ran around
the block to meet at Jean's always popular home. You see, they had to
talk it all over without the restraint of their host's presence.

"I think," said Mabel, ecstatically, "that Mr. Black is just too dear
for words. _Some_ folks are too stingy to live, with their automobiles
and horses and never _think_ of giving anybody a ride."

"He's certainly very generous," agreed Jean.

"Of course," ventured Marjory, meditatively, "he has plenty of money or
he couldn't do nice things."

"He would anyway," declared Bettie. "It's the way he's made. Don't you
remember how Mrs. Crane was always being good to people even when she
was so dreadfully poor? Well, Mr. Black would be just like that, too,
even if he hadn't a single dollar. He has a Santa Claus heart."

"There _are_ folks," admitted Marjory, "that wouldn't know how to give
anybody a good time if they had all the money in the world. There's
Aunty Jane, for instance. She's a _very_ good woman, with a terribly
pricking conscience, and I know she'd like to make things pleasant for
me if she knew how, but she doesn't, poor thing. She doesn't know a
good time when she sees one. And Mrs. Howard Slater doesn't, either."

"Good-evening, girls," said Mrs. Mapes, coming in with a newspaper in
her hand. "I _thought_ I heard voices in here. Have you had a nice day?
You're just in time to read the paper; there's something in it that
will interest you."



CHAPTER XVI

A Scattered School


IT seemed too bad for such a delightful day to end sorrowfully, but
the evening paper certainly brought disquieting news. It stated that
the School Board hoped to provide, within a very few days, suitable
schoolrooms for all the pupils. And, in another item, the unfeeling
editor complimented the Board on its enterprise.

"I'd like that Board a whole lot better," said Marjory, "if it weren't
so enterprising. I s'posed we were going to have at least a month to
play in."

"Just before Christmas, too," grumbled Mabel. "They might at least have
waited until I'd finished Father's shoe-bag. And what do you think?
Mother says I'd better give that Janitor a Christmas present!"

"Perhaps the paper is mistaken," soothed Jean. "You know it always is
about the weather reports. If it says 'Fair,' it's sure to rain; and
when it says 'Colder,' it's quite certain to be warm. Besides, there
isn't a place in town big enough for all that school."

But this time it was Jean and not the paper that was mistaken. In just
a few days the School Board announced that its hopes were realized.
It had found "suitable quarters" for all the classes. Two grades went
into the basement of the Baptist Church. The underground portion of
the Methodist edifice accommodated two more. The A. O. U. W. Hall
opened its doors to three others. A benevolent private citizen took
in the kindergarten. A downtown store hastily transformed itself from
an unsuccessful harness shop into nearly as unsuccessful a haven for
two other grades. The City Hall gave up its Council Chamber to the
Seniors, and the Masons loaned their dining-room to the Juniors,
without, however, providing any refreshment. The enterprising Board
had telegraphed for desks the very day of the fire; and as soon as
that dreadfully prompt furniture arrived, it was remorselessly screwed
into place. The Stationer, too, had speedily ordered books. They, too,
traveled with unseemly haste from New York to Lakeville. By Thursday,
less than a week after the fire, there were desks and seats and books
for everybody; and would you believe it, they even kept school on
Saturday, that week!

And now, an utterly unforeseen thing happened. Hitherto Jean, who was
usually the first to be ready, had stopped for Marjory and Bettie. All
three had stopped to finish dressing Mabel, who always needed a great
deal of assistance, and then all four had walked merrily to school
together. But now this happy scheme was entirely ruined, for here was
Jean doing algebra under the Baptist roof, Bettie struggling with
grammar in the Methodist basement, Marjory climbing two long flights
of stairs to the A. O. U. W. Hall and Mabel passing six saloons to
reach her desk in the made-over harness shop.

"It isn't just what we'd choose," apologized the School Board, "but it
won't last forever. We'll build just as soon as we can."

Except for the inconvenience of having to go to school separately the
children were rather pleased with the novelty of moving into such
unusual quarters as the Board had provided; but the mothers were not at
all satisfied.

"That Baptist cellar is damp and Jean's throat is delicate," complained
Mrs. Mapes. "I know she'll be sick half the winter; but of course
she'll have to go to school there as long as there's no better place."

"That Methodist Church is no place for children," declared Mrs. Tucker.
"Its brick walls were condemned seven years ago and it's likely to fall
down at any moment, even if they did brace it up with iron bands. But
Bettie's too far behind now for me to take her out of school, so I
suppose she'll just have to risk having that church tumble in on her."

"It's a shame," sputtered Aunty Jane, "for Marjory to climb all those
stairs twice a day. It's all very well for the Ancient Order of United
Workmen to climb two flights with grown-up legs, but it isn't right for
delicate girls. However, there's no help for it just now, and I can't
say I blame the child for sliding down the banisters, though of course
I do scold her for it."

"There are saloons on both sides of that harness shop," said Mrs.
Bennett, "and six more this side of it, besides a livery stable that is
always full of loafers and bad language. Mabel has never been allowed
to go to that part of town alone, and now I have to send a maid with
her twice a day. But of course she has to go, even if the maid _is_
more timid than Mabel is."

"By next year," consoled the Board, "we'll have a bigger and better
schoolhouse than the old one. In the meantime we must all have
patience."

Except that Mabel, without the others to get her started, was always
late and that Bettie, without Marjory to coach her on the way, found it
difficult to learn her lessons, school life went on very much as usual,
for matters soon settled down as things always do and Lakeville turned
its attention to fresher problems.

Poor Bettie, indeed, was busier than ever because Miss Rossitor, the
Domestic Science teacher, whose classes were temporarily housed in the
Methodist kitchen, discovered that Bettie could draw. Every day or two
she asked Bettie to remain after school to copy needed illustrations on
the blackboard. One day, Miss Rossitor demanded a cow. She needed it,
she explained, to show her class the different cuts of meat.

"A side view of a plain cow," said she.

"I think," said Bettie, reflectively nibbling the fresh stick of chalk,
"that I could do the outside of that cow, but I know I couldn't get his
veal cutlets in the proper spot."

"I'll give you a diagram," smiled Miss Rossitor, "for I see very
plainly, that it wouldn't be safe not to."

"Perhaps Miss Bettie thinks," ventured a belated pupil, a pink-cheeked
girl with an impertinent nose, "that one cow is a whole butcher shop."

"Well," returned Miss Rossitor, meaningly, "it isn't a great while
since some other folks were of the same opinion. But, since you are
now so very much wiser, you may label the parts after Bettie has drawn
them."

The girl made such a comical face that Bettie's gravity was in sad
danger, but she accepted the chalk. On the cow's shoulder she printed
"Pork sausages," on the flank, "Mutton chops," on the backbone,
"Oysters on the half-shell," on the breast, "buttons."

Bettie looked puzzled and doubtful but Miss Rossitor laughed outright.

"Henrietta Bedford," she said, "you're a complete humbug. If you don't
settle down to business you won't get home to-night."

"I'm going to walk home with Bettie," returned Henrietta, quickly
substituting the proper labels. "I can easily write out that luncheon
menu while she's putting feathers on the cow's tail."

And the new girl did walk home with Bettie, and teased her so merrily
all the long way that Bettie didn't know whether to like her or not.

Near the Cottage they met Jean, Marjory and Mabel just starting out to
look for belated Bettie.

"This," said Bettie introducing her new acquaintance, "is
Henrietta--Henrietta----"

"Plantagenet," assisted Henrietta Bedford, smoothly. "I am really a
Duchess in disguise, but I've left all my retainers in Ohio and I'm
simply dying for friends. This is my day for collecting them--I always
collect friends on Tuesdays. You are indeed fortunate to have happened
upon me on Tuesday. But, Elizabeth, why not finish your introductions?"

"This," obeyed overwhelmed Bettie, "is Jean, this is Marjory and this
is Mabel Bennett."

"What! The Damsel of the Dust-chute! I am indeed honored."

Then, as her quick eye traveled over Mabel's plump figure, Henrietta
added wickedly:

"Was that chute built to fit?"

Mabel flushed angrily.

"It is I," apologized Henrietta, "that should wear those blushes.
Forgive me, dear Damsel. I have an over-quick tongue and all my
speeches are followed by repentance. But I have a warm heart and I'm
really much nicer than I sound. See, I kneel at your insulted feet."

Whereupon this ridiculous girl with the impertinent nose flopped down
on her knees on the sidewalk and made such comically repentant faces
that all four giggled merrily.

"Get up, you goose," laughed Mabel. "Your apology is accepted."

"Come along with us," urged Jean. "We're going to have hot chocolate at
our house. Mother is trying to fatten Marjory, Bettie and me."

"She seems to succeed best with--hum--no personal remarks, please.
Dear maiden, I will inspect your home from the outside, but I regret
that I'm strictly forbidden to go _in_side any strange house without
my grandmother's permission. You'll have to call on me first. She
is _very_ particular in such matters. But," added Henrietta, with a
sudden twinkle, "I'm not. So, if you'll kindly rush in and make that
chocolate, there's no earthly reason why I shouldn't stand just
outside your gate and drink it."

"Oh," cried Bettie, "is it possible that you're Mrs. Howard Slater's
new granddaughter?"

"I am," admitted Henrietta, "but I'm not so new as you seem to think.
She has owned me for fourteen years. Now, hustle up that chocolate.
I've just remembered that I'm to have a dress tried on at four. It is
now half-past."



CHAPTER XVII

An Invitation


"BETTIE," asked Jean, when the girls were "hustling up" the chocolate
in Mrs. Mapes' kitchen (the weather was now too cold for Dandelion
Cottage to be habitable), "where did you find her?"

"At school," replied Bettie. "She comes in for Domestic Science. I've
seen her about three times, and every time she's had that stiff Miss
Rossitor laughing. You know who that girl is, don't you?"

"I've heard something," said Marjory, "but I can't just remember what,
about some girl named Henrietta."

"Well, you've seen Mrs. Howard Slater?"

All the girls had seen Mrs. Slater, the beautifully gowned, decidedly
aristocratic old lady with abundant but perfectly white hair and
bright, sparkling black eyes. Mrs. Slater, who seemed a very reserved
and exclusive person, had spent many summers and even an occasional
winter in her own handsome home in Lakeville. She lived alone except
for a number of servants; for both her son and her daughter were
married. The son lived abroad, no one knew just where; and some four
years previously Mrs. Slater's daughter, who was Henrietta's mother,
had died in Rome. Since that event Henrietta had been cared for by her
uncle's wife; and she had spent a winter in California and another
in Florida with her grandmother, but this was her first visit to
Lakeville. It was said that Henrietta's mother had left her little
daughter a very respectable fortune, that her father, an English
traveler of note, was also wealthy, and it was known to a certainty
that Mrs. Howard Slater was a moneyed person.

"Yes," said Marjory, replying to Bettie's question, "we sit behind Mrs.
Slater in church, and she's the very daintiest old lady that ever
lived. She's as slim and straight as any young girl. She's perfectly
lovely to look at, but----"

"Yes, 'but,'" agreed Jean. "She seems very proud and not
very--get-nearable. I don't know whether I'd like to live with her or
not; but I know I'd feel terribly set up to own a few relatives that
_looked_ like that."

"How do you like Henrietta?" asked Mabel.

"I don't know," said Bettie.

"Neither do I," replied Jean.

"It takes time," declared Marjory, "to discover whether you like a
person or not. And when it's such a different person--truly, she isn't
a bit like any other girl in this town--it takes longer."

"The chocolate's ready," announced Jean, opening a box of wafers.
"Here, Bettie, you carry Henrietta's cup and I'll take these. Let's
_all_ have our chocolate on the sidewalk."

Henrietta, her hands in her pockets, was leaning against the
fence and humming a tune. Her voice, in speaking, was very nicely
modulated--which was fortunate, because she used it a great deal. She
straightened up when the door opened.

"I'm an icicle," said she. "I hope that chocolate's good and hot. My!
What a nice big cup! And wafers! I'm glad I stayed for your party. I've
had chocolate in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Switzerland and in
England, but I do believe this is the very first time I've had any in
America."

"I'm sorry," said Jean, "that you have to have your first on the
sidewalk."

"I shan't, next time," promised Henrietta. "I have a beautiful plan.
I made it while waiting for the chocolate. You're all to come after
school to-morrow and pay me a formal call. Then I'll return it. After
that, I suspect I shall be allowed to run in. But first you'll have to
call, formally."

"A formal call!" gasped Bettie.

"We never made a formal call in all our lives," objected Jean.

"They're dreadful," agreed Henrietta, "but in this case you'll really
have to do it. I've planned it all nicely. In the first place, you must
hand your cards to the butler----"

"Cards!" gasped Jean and Bettie.

"Cards!" snorted Mabel, flushing indignantly. "We haven't a card to our
names!"

"You _must_ have them," declared Henrietta, firmly, "or Simmons may
consider you suspicious characters. Simmons is a very lofty person.
You can write some, you know, because Simmons holds his chin so high
that it interferes with the view, so he'll never know what's on them.
Then you must be very polite to Grandmother and say 'Yes, ma'am,'
'No, ma'am,' 'Thank you, ma'am'--and not very much else. You've seen
Grandmother, of course? Then you know how very formal and stiff she
looks. Well, _you_ must be like that, too."

"I'll try," said Mabel, "but it'll be pretty hard work."

"Be sure to wear gloves," cautioned Henrietta. "Grandmother is
exceedingly particular about shoes and gloves. I know it's a lot of
trouble, but you'll find it pays; for after you've beaten down the icy
barrier that surrounds me, you'll find me quite a comfortable person.
And _do_ come just as early as you can--I'm really desperately lonely."

This was a different Henrietta from the merry one that Bettie had
encountered. That other Henrietta had made her laugh. This one, with
the wistful, sorrowful countenance and the four words "I'm really
desperately lonely," was almost moving her to tears.

"You'll surely come," pleaded Henrietta.

"We'll come," promised Bettie, "cards and all."

"_Au revoir_," said Henrietta, carefully balancing her cup on the top
rail of the fence. "I must run along now to try on my clothes."

"Was that French?" queried Mabel, gazing after the departing figure.

"I think so," replied Jean.

"She can certainly talk English fast enough," said Marjory. "I suppose
just one language _isn't_ enough for anybody that chatters like that."

"Do you think," asked Bettie, "she meant all that about cards and
gloves and butlers? She's so full of fun most of the time that I don't
exactly know whether to believe her or not."

"I think she did," said Marjory. "You see, I sit behind Mrs. Slater in
church--and I'm thankful that it's behind."

"Perhaps that's the reason," ventured Bettie, "that nobody'll rent the
three pews in front of her. Father says it's hard to even give them
away. No one likes to sit in them."

"That's it," agreed Marjory. "One would have to be sure that her back
hair was absolutely perfect to be at all comfortable in front of Mrs.
Slater."

"And that," groaned discouraged Mabel, "is the sort of person I'm to
make my first formal call on."

"You'd better take your bath to-night," advised Jean, "and lay out all
your very best clothes. And don't forget to polish your shoes."

"Father has some blank cards," said Bettie, "and he writes beautifully.
I'll get him to do cards for all of us."

"I think," said Marjory, with a puzzled air, "that we ought to take
five or six apiece. I know Aunty Jane leaves a whole lot at one house,
sometimes."

"No," corrected Jean, "we need just two. One for Mrs. Slater and one
for Henrietta. My aunt, Mrs. Halliday, always gets two whenever her
sister-in-law is visiting there."

"There are holes in my best gloves," mourned Bettie. "They came in a
missionary box, and missionary gloves are never very good even to
start with. Besides, Dick wore them first--I never had a _new_ pair of
kid gloves."

"Never mind," said always generous Mabel. "I must have about six pairs
and I've never had any of the things on. I know I've outgrown some of
them. Your hands are lots smaller than mine. Come over and I'll fix you
out--Mother said we'd have to give them to somebody and I guess you're
just exactly the right somebody. I hate the thing myself."

"Goody!" rejoiced Bettie.

"I wish," said Jean, "that my shoes were newer, but I'll get the boys
to black 'em."

"I can't help _you_ out," laughed Mabel. "My shoes are short and fat
and yours are long and slim."

"A coat of Wallace's blacking will be all that's needed, thank you,
Mabel. There's nothing like having brothers when it comes to blacking
shoes."

"We'll have to get up a little earlier to-morrow morning," said Marjory.

"Mercy!" exclaimed Jean, "are you leaving all those chocolate cups on
the fence for _me_ to carry in?"

"Of course not," said obliging Bettie, seizing two. "Come on, you lazy
people."



CHAPTER XVIII

Obeying Instructions


THE four girls were wonderfully excited all the next day. They were
restless in school and fidgety at home.

"A body would think," scoffed Aunty Jane, at noon, "that you were going
to your own wedding. Don't worry so. I'll have everything ready for you
to put on the moment you get out of school."

"Oh, thank you," breathed Marjory, fervently. "That'll help a lot; but
I do hope that Bettie's father will remember to do those cards. And,
Aunty Jane, _could_ you lend me a perfectly inkless hankerchief?"

"Jumping January!" growled Wallace Mapes, Jean's older brother. "That
makes nineteen times, Jean, that you've reminded me of those miserable
shoes. I'll black them when I've finished lunch. I'm not going to rush
off in the middle of my oyster soup to black _any_body's best shoes."

"Is it a reception?" asked Roger.

"No," replied Wallace, "just a formal call on Henrietta Bedford."

"She's in my French class," said Roger. "And kippered snakes! You ought
to hear her recite. She talks up and down and all around poor little
Miss McGinnis, whose French was made right here in Lakeville. It's a
daily picnic."

"You won't forget my shoes, will you?" reminded anxious Jean.

"I'd like to know how I _could_," demanded Wallace, feelingly.

Although Mabel had taken a most complete bath the night before, she
spent the noon-hour taking another. She put on her best stockings and
shoes, but looked doubtfully at her Sunday suit.

"If I have to do my language in ink," reflected she, "it'll be all up
with my clothes. I'll just have to change after school."

The girls were out by half-past three. Fortunately, Miss Rossitor
needed no more cows that afternoon, so Bettie was home in good season.
All four dressed speedily. Three of them got into their gloves
unassisted; but Jean, Marjory and Bettie found plump, impatient Mabel
seated on the piano stool with her mother working over one hand, her
perspiring father over the other. Several other gloves that had proved
too small were scattered on the floor.

"You needn't think," said Mabel, greeting her friends with an
expressive grimace, "that _I_ ever picked out these lemon-colored
frights. Somebody sent 'em for Christmas. None of the pretty ones were
big enough--I've tried four pairs."

"Neither are these," returned Mrs. Bennett, "and the color certainly
is outrageous, but it's Hobson's choice. And just remember, Mabel, if
you touch a single door-knob they'll be black before you get there.
And don't put your hands in your pockets. And _please_ don't rub them
along the fences. There! Mine's on as far as it will go."

[Illustration: THE DECIDEDLY DEPRESSED FOUR STARTED DOWN THE STREET.]

"I guess you'd better finish this one," said Dr. Bennett, abandoning
his task. "I rather tackle a case of smallpox than wrestle with another
job like that. She'd look much better in mittens."

"Mittens!" snubbed Mabel. "You can't make formal calls in mittens! Now,
Somebody, please put me into my jacket and hat, if I'm not to touch
anything."

The decidedly depressed four, in their Sunday best, started down the
street. Mabel's gloves, owing to their brilliant color, were certainly
conspicuous, and unconsciously she made them more so by the careful and
rigid manner in which she carried them. It was plain that she had them
very much on her mind. And when her hat tilted forward over one eye she
left it there rather than risk damaging those immaculate lemon-hued
gloves.

"Take my muff," implored Marjory. "That yellow splendor lights up
the whole street."

"No, siree," declined Mabel. "If Mrs. Slater wants gloves she's going
to have 'em. Do you think I'm going to suffer like this and not have
'em _show_?"

So Mabel, a swollen, imprisoned but gorgeous hand dangling at each
side, a big navy-blue hat flopping over one eye, strutted muffless down
the street.

"That's the house," announced Jean, as they turned the corner. "That
big one with the covered driveway."

"Ugh!" shuddered Marjory, "it gives me chills to think of ringing such
a wealthy doorbell. Are the cards safe, Bettie? My! I hope you haven't
lost them."

"In my pocket in an envelope," assured Bettie.

"Can you see any white?" queried Jean, nervously. "I think my top
petticoat has broken loose."

"It seems all right," said Marjory, stooping to test it with little
sharp jerks. "Firm as the Rock of Gibraltar."

"It won't be if you pull like that," objected Jean.

"Somebody open the gate," requested Mabel. "I can't touch things."

"Everybody stand up straight," commanded Marjory. "We must look our
best when we go up the walk."

"I wish I hadn't come," demurred Bettie, hanging back, diffidently.
"Let's wait till it's darker."

"No," asserted Jean. "We'd better get it over."

"Yes," agreed Mabel, "I don't want to wear these gloves a minute longer
than I have to."

"All right," sighed Bettie, despondently, "but you go first, Jean."

They had waited on the imposing doorstep for a long five minutes when
it occurred to Marjory to ask if any one had pushed the bell.

"No," replied Jean, with a surprised air. "I thought _you_ had."

"And I," said Bettie, "supposed that Mabel had."

"How could I," demanded Mabel, hotly, "in these gloves?"

And then, all four began to giggle. Never before had such an
inopportune fit of helpless, hysterical giggling seized the Cottagers.
No one could stop. Tears rolled down Mabel's plump cheeks, and,
fettered by her lemon-colored gloves, she had to let them roll, until
Bettie wiped them away. And that set them all off again. In the midst
of it Marjory's sharp elbow inadvertently struck the push-bell and
Simmons, the imposing, much-dreaded butler, opened the door. Instantly
the giggling ceased. Four exceedingly solemn little girls filed
into the big hall. Bettie groped nervously for her pocket, found it
and endeavored to extract the cards. But the large, stiff envelope
stuck and, for a long, embarrassing moment, Bettie fumbled in vain;
while the butler, his chin "very high and scornful" as Marjory said
afterwards, waited.

At last the cards were out. Diffident Bettie dropped them, envelope and
all, on the extended plate; but Jean deftly seized the envelope and
shook out the cards. Next followed a most unhappy moment. Simmons was
evidently expecting them to do _something_, they hadn't the remotest
idea what.

Then, to their great relief, there was a sudden "swish" of silken
skirts, a flash of scarlet and lively Henrietta, who had slid down the
broad banister, was greeting them warmly.

"Grandmother's out," said she. "Come up to my room and have a real
visit before she gets back. Simmons, just toddle down to the lower
regions for some fruit and anything else you can find; send them up to
my room."

Something very like a smile flitted across Simmons's wooden
countenance. Perhaps it amused him to be ordered to "toddle."

"Do you like my new gown?" queried Henrietta, leading the way upstairs
and flirting her accordion-pleated skirts in graceful fashion. "It's my
dinner dress. I have to dress for dinner every night--such a fuss for
just two of us. Come in here--this is my sitting-room."

"How very odd," said Jean, finding her voice at last.

"Isn't it?" laughed Henrietta, shaking her brown curls. She wore them
tied back with two enormous black bows. "Grandmother's a mixture
of everything, you know--French, English, New York Dutch--and her
furniture shows it. Lots of it came from Europe and Father picked up
things in India and China--such a jolly dad as he is. That's why this
place is such a jumble."

"I like it," declared Jean. "It looks interesting--as if there were
lovely stories in it."

"There are," said Henrietta, drawing aside a heavy, silken curtain,
"and I keep making new ones to fit. This is my bedroom, this next one
is my dressing-room and this is my bath."

"Ugh!" shuddered Mabel, "do you take shower baths?"

"Every morning," laughed Henrietta.

"What a lovely dressing table!" exclaimed Bettie, peering into the oval
mirror and smiling into her own dark eyes. "I never saw such pretty
things, even in a catalogue."

"It's French," said Henrietta, "but all those little jeweled boxes came
from Calcutta--Father just loves to buy little boxes with inlaid tops.
Oh, here's Greta, with things to eat." Henrietta hastily swept her
belongings from a dainty little table and the smiling maid deposited
the heavy tray.

"Tangerines, nuts, figs and sponge cake," chattered Henrietta. "That's
very nice, Greta. Help yourselves to chairs, girls. Here's a tabouret
for you, little Marjory. Catch, Jean," and the merry little hostess
tossed a golden tangerine to Jean. "Oh, wait," she added. "You mustn't
take off your gloves or get them soiled, because Grandmother always
gets in about this time, and you know you must be very formal with
Grandmother. I'll peel them for you. Now draw up closer. You mustn't
spot your gloves, so I'll feed you. First, a bit of sponge cake all
around. Now an almond. Now the orange. Oh, I'm forgetting myself! Now
more sponge cake."

"This is fine," said Bettie. "I'm always hungry after school."

"So am I," said Jean.

"If I'd s'posed," said Mabel, "that formal calls were like this, I'd
have started sooner."

"Are you a different person every time anybody sees you?" asked Bettie,
curiously.

"Why?" queried Henrietta.

"Because," explained Bettie, "you seem so very changeable. You're a
mischief in school, yesterday you seemed almost sad and to-day you're
so polite."

"Oh, _thank_ you," said Henrietta, rising to sweep a deep and very much
exaggerated courtesy. "Nobody _ever_ before said that I was polite."

"Miss Henrietta," said Greta, tapping at the door, "the carriage has
just turned the corner."

"Follow me," said Henrietta, with an instant change of tone, as she
hurriedly brushed the crumbs from her lap and pulled Mabel's jacket
into place. "Follow me and don't make a sound. It's time to be formal."



CHAPTER XIX

With Henrietta


THROUGH a long corridor, around several corners and down two flights
of back stairs, the formal callers, their hearts in their throats,
followed Henrietta, who finally paused at the basement door.

"There," said Henrietta, mysteriously, "you're safe at last. Now
listen. You must slip out through the alley, walk slowly round the
block, approach the house with dignity, ring the doorbell and present
your cards to Simmons."

"We--we can't," faltered Bettie. "He has them _now_."

"I'll poke them out through the letter slot," laughed resourceful
Henrietta. "You're not going to escape that formal call. Wait, your
hat's over one ear, Mabel. There now, you're perfectly lovely. Now
don't forget to pick up the cards."

Entirely bewildered by Henrietta's pranks, the conventional visitors
walked out through the alley, strolled round the block and nervously
ascended the front steps. There, sure enough, were eight white cards
popping out through the letter slot.

"My goodness!" gasped Jean, "they're not _our_ cards. This one says
'Mrs. Francis Patterson.'"

"And this," said Marjory, picking up another, "says 'John D. Thomas,
sole agent for Todd's shoes.'"

"According to mine," giggled Bettie, "I'm Miss Ethel Louise Cartwright.
What's on yours, Mabel?"

"'With love from Father,'" groaned Mabel.

"What in the world shall we do?" queried Jean, gathering up the
remaining cards. "Not one of them will fit _us_."

"Give them to Simmons in a bunch," suggested Marjory. "He didn't look
at the last lot, so perhaps he won't now."

So the girls, gathering what courage they could, touched the bell,
presented their odd assortment of cards to Simmons--who almost
succeeded in not looking astonished at seeing the callers again so
soon--and were ushered into the reception room.

Such a sedate Henrietta advanced to meet them! Such a dignified, but
charming old lady rose to shake hands all around! Such a sheepish
quartette of visitors perched on the extreme edge of the nearest four
chairs! Mrs. Slater smiled encouragingly; but Henrietta, from her post
behind her grandmother's chair, displayed every sign of abject terror.

"We--we came to call," faltered Jean.

"That was pleasant," responded Mrs. Slater. "You are just in time to
have some tea. Midge, will you please ring for Greta? I'm very glad you
came, for I wanted my granddaughter to meet some of the young people."

Mrs. Slater, her slender, beringed fingers moving daintily among the
cups, made the tea. Henrietta, in absolute silence and much subdued in
manner, passed the cups, the delicate sandwiches and the little frosted
tea cakes.

"Midge," demanded Mrs. Slater, turning suddenly to her granddaughter,
"what in the world is the matter with you? You haven't said a word for
fifteen minutes. I never knew you to be still for so long a time."

"It's my conscience," groaned Henrietta, dolefully. "I'm in another
scrape."

"What have you done now?" asked Mrs. Slater, who seemed very much less
terrifying than the girls had expected to find her. "Confession is good
for the soul, my dear."

Henrietta's infectious laugh gurgled out suddenly and merrily.

"I've frightened four girls almost into spasms," said she. "You see,
Grannie, I told them that they'd _have_ to call formally if they wanted
me to visit them. When they came you were out, so I took them upstairs,
gave them things to eat and a jolly good time, generally. Then, just
for a joke, I had Greta tell me when you were coming and I led them
carefully down the back way, made them go round the block and do it all
over again, cards and all. You see, Grannie, they don't know you. They
haven't seen anything but your husk; and I had them scared blue; didn't
I, girls?"

"Midge, you shouldn't have done it," reproved Mrs. Slater, whose black
eyes, however, were sparkling with only half-suppressed merriment.
"That wasn't quite a courteous way to treat your guests!"

"Forgive me," pleaded Henrietta, flopping down on her knees and looking
the very picture of penitence. "Walk on me, Jean. Wipe your shoes on
me, Bettie. I grovel at your feet--at _every_body's feet."

"Don't grovel too hard in that dress," warned Mrs. Slater.

"Am I forgiven?" implored Henrietta, gathering up her ruffles with
elaborate care.

The girls were not certain. Their pride had been injured and they eyed
Henrietta doubtfully.

"When you've known Midge as long as I have," said Mrs. Slater, "you'll
discover that she is really too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. But
you'll also discover that she never misses an opportunity to play
pranks on every soul she loves. It's a symbol of her favor. She will
never tell you an untruth, she is too honorable to practise downright
deceit; but depend on it, girls, she will fool you until you won't
believe your own ears. And she's always sorry, afterwards. She spends
half her time apologizing."

"Ah, _do_ forgive," pleaded extravagant Henrietta, suddenly extending
imploring hands. "I mean it, truly. It _wasn't_ nice of me."

Jean, stooping suddenly, kissed the upturned lips.

"Why!" exclaimed Jean, genuinely surprised, "I didn't know I was going
to do that."

"She gets around everybody," said Mrs. Slater, "and the worst of it is
she's so good and so naughty that you'll never know whether you like
her or not."

"Why, Grannie!" exclaimed Henrietta, "don't _you_ know?"

"I know that I like you," said the old lady, smiling fondly at pretty,
whimsical Henrietta, "but you know very well that I also regard you
with strong disapproval. I consider you a very faulty young person."

"You're a dear Grannie," breathed Henrietta, kissing the old lady's
delicate hand, "but I'm quite sure you're spoiling me; isn't she,
Bettie?"

"Were you like Henrietta," queried Jean, "when you were young?"

"My dear, you've found me out," laughed Mrs. Slater. "I was just such
a piece of impishness; but my father was very severe, and I think I
began earlier to restrain my prankishness. Midge, unfortunately, has
a lenient father and a doting grandmother. Between them she is having
pretty much her own way."

"I'll be good," promised Henrietta, comically, "in spite of them; but
you see, girls, with such a pair of relatives dogging my footsteps,
it's uphill work."

After a little more conversation, the girls rose to depart. Mrs. Slater
begged them to come again. She said that she enjoyed young people. Then
the big front door was closed behind them and the dreaded visit was
over.

"So," said Marjory, "_that's_ what Mrs. Slater is like inside."

Mabel, unable to bear them longer, was recklessly peeling off her
lemon-colored gloves.

"She's lovely, inside and out," declared Bettie, "but I never dreamed
that she was like _that_."

"She wouldn't have cared if I _had_ gone without gloves," mourned
aggrieved Mabel. "I'd like to pay Henrietta back for _that_."

"Girls," asked Marjory, "do you _like_ Henrietta?"

"I adore her," declared Jean.

"I _think_ I like her," said Bettie.

"I know _I_ don't," asserted Mabel, waving her throbbing hands in the
evening breeze to cool them.

"I do and I don't," said Marjory. "I admire her, but she makes me
uncomfortable. I feel as if she were just playing with me."

"She seems more than fourteen," murmured Jean, dreamily.

"That's because she's traveled so much," explained Bettie.

"She's like the big opal in Mother's ring," mused imaginative Jean.
"One moment all warm and sparkly, the next, all cold and quiet."

"And you never know," supplemented Marjory, "which way it's going to
be."

"I like folks that are downright bad or good," said Mabel, crossly.
"Burglars ought to be burglars and ministers ought to be ministers and
they all ought to be marked so you can tell 'em apart; else, how are
you going to?"



CHAPTER XX

The Call Returned


THE following Saturday, the girls carried their Christmas sewing to
Jean's. The sewing had not reached a very exciting stage, so tongues
moved faster than fingers. Mabel was still working on a shoe-bag for
her father but, owing to some misadventure, one of the two compartments
was several sizes larger than the other. Mabel regarded this difference
with disapproval until comforting Jean came to the rescue.

"Perhaps," suggested Jean, "there's a difference in the size of your
father's feet."

"Oh, there is," cried Mabel, gleefully. "His right shoe is always
tighter than the left."

"But," objected quick-witted Marjory, "it isn't his feet that are going
into that bag. It's his shoes, and they're the same size."

"Oh," groaned Mabel, settling into a disconsolate heap, "that's so."

"Never mind," said Bettie. "Give me the bag, and I'll fix those
pockets."

Bettie was embroidering an elaborate pincushion for her mother, but she
stopped so often to help the others that there seemed small hope of its
ever getting finished. Marjory, who was making one just like it for her
Aunty Jane, was progressing much more rapidly.

Jean, rummaging in her work-bag, was trying to decide which of four
partly completed articles to sew on when a carriage stopped at Mrs.
Mapes's gate.

"It's a caller," said Jean. "We'll have to vacate. Here, scurry into
the dining-room with all your stuff. I'll answer the bell; and you,
Bettie, remind Mother to take off her apron--she's apt to forget it."

Jean, stopping long enough to twitch the chairs into place, went primly
to the door.

"Good-morning," said a familiar voice, "I've come to return your
visit. It's all right, James. You needn't wait."

"Come back, girls," called Jean, when she had ushered the caller in.
"It's Henrietta."

"What luck!" cried Henrietta, pulling off her gloves. "Now I can
make a long, long call instead of four short ones. What are you
doing--Christmas presents? Give me a spool of fine white thread, some
pins and a sofa pillow. I'm going to make one, too."

"Take off your things," said Jean, smilingly.

Henrietta wriggled out of her jacket and tossed her hat on the couch.

"What is it going to be?" asked Bettie, watching the merry visitor's
deft fingers fly to and fro.

"Lace," returned Henrietta. "I learned to make it in France. Of course
these aren't the right materials for very fine lace, but I can make an
edge for a pincushion or a mat. I like to do things with my fingers."

"Can you draw?" asked Bettie.

"A little," returned Henrietta, modestly, "but you mustn't tell Miss
Rossitor, or she'll have _me_ doing cows and pigs and roosters."

"What grade do you belong in?" asked Jean.

"None," laughed the visitor, arranging the pins in what looked like
a very intricate pattern. "I couldn't be graded. I'm having Domestic
Science under the Methodist church, Senior Latin in the Council
Chamber, Post-graduate French in a cloak-room off the A. O. U. W. Hall,
Sophomore American History with the Baptists, and I'm doing mathematics
in the kindergarten--or somewhere down there. I had to go back to the
very beginning. If I ever tell you anything with numbers in it don't
believe it. I don't know six from six hundred. But I'm doing lessons in
five different buildings and getting lots of exercise besides. That's
doing pretty well for my first year in school."

"Your first year!" cried Marjory. "Surely you're fooling!"

"Not this time," assured Henrietta. "I've had governesses and tutors
ever since I could think, but this is truly my first school year. And
it's great fun. But if I stay in America, I'm to go to boarding school,
Grandmother says. I've always wanted to, and Grannie thinks it will be
good for me to be with other girls. You see, I've always lived with
grown folks, so I need to renew my youth."

"Mother's been reading the boarding-school advertisements in the
magazines lately," said Mabel. "I heard her read some of them aloud to
Father. But of course they couldn't have been thinking about _me_. But
they sounded interesting."

"Perhaps," offered Bettie, "they had read all the stories and those
boarding schools were all they had left to read."

"I guess so," said Mabel.

"Aunt Jane reads them, too," added Marjory. "There's some money that is
to be used for my education and for nothing else. When I've finished
with High School I'm to go to College."

"Oh well," laughed, Jean, lightly, "you're safe for another five years."

"_I_'m not," returned Henrietta. "I'm going next September, and if
Grandmother had known how the schools were going to be you wouldn't be
having the pleasure of my company now. She says I'm getting thin in the
pursuit of knowledge--it's too scattered, in Lakeville. That's why she
made me ride to-day."

"Look!" cried Mabel, her eyes bulging with astonishment. "She's really
making lace!"

"It's for you," said Henrietta, flashing a bright glance at
Mabel. "It's an apology, Mam'selle, for my past--and perhaps my
future--misdeeds."

"I _said_ I didn't like you," blurted honest Mabel, "but I do."

"Don't depend on me," sighed Henrietta. "I don't wear well. You'll find
the real me rubbing through in spots. Granny says I'm an imp that came
in one of Dad's Hindoo boxes."

"Why does your grandmother call you Midge?" asked Bettie.

"Because she doesn't like Henrietta. You see, I have five names--they
do that sort of thing on the other side--and I take turns with them.
When I find out which one suits me best, I'll choose that one for
keeps."

"What are they?" demanded Mabel.

"Henrietta Constance Louise Frederika Francesca--you see, there isn't
a really suitable name in the lot. But when you have five quarrelsome
aunts, as Father had, you have to please all or none of them by giving
your poor helpless baby all their horrid names. Call me Sallie--I've
_always_ wanted to be Sallie."

"Think of anybody," laughed Jean, "with as many names as that wanting a
new one."

"Where's that baby you adopted?" asked Henrietta, abruptly changing the
subject. "Didn't one of you adopt a baby or something like that?"

"It was Mabel," replied Marjory. "The rest of us are pretty good, but
Mabel's sort of thoughtless about borrowing things. She just happened
to borrow an unreturnable baby, one day."

"Where is it now?"

"At Mr. Black's. Her name is Rosa Marie."

"I'd like to see her," said Henrietta, carefully moving a pin.

"Stay to luncheon," urged Jean. "Father's away, so there'll be plenty
of room. Afterwards we can all pay a visit to Rosa Marie."

"I'm afraid," said Marjory, "she's getting to be a burden to Mrs.
Crane."

"Yes," agreed Bettie, "but it isn't Rosa Marie's fault. Mrs. Crane has
been reading a lot of books about bringing up children--you know she
never had any. Before she discovered how many things _might_ happen
to a baby she was quite comfortable; but now she's always certain that
Rosa Marie is coming down with something."

"And she doesn't seem very bright," mourned Jean.

"Who--Mrs. Crane?"

"No, Rosa Marie. You see, we don't know exactly how old she is--Mabel
didn't think to ask--but she seems big enough to be lots smarter than
she is. We're rather disappointed in her."

"I'm not," protested Mabel, loyally. "She's just slow because she
hasn't any little brothers and sisters. She's a _dear_ child."

"Cheer up, Mabel," soothed Henrietta. "As long as she's beautiful she
doesn't need to be bright."

At this, Marjory looked at Jean, then at Bettie, and smiled an odd,
significant smile. Here was a chance to get even with Henrietta; and,
unconsciously, Mabel helped.

"She's beautiful to me," said Mabel, "and she's ever so cunning."

"What color are her eyes?"

"Dark," said Marjory. "Darker than yours."

"Then she's a brunette?"

"Ye-es," said Marjory, as if considering the question. "She's darker,
at least, than I am."

"We all are," said Henrietta, with an admiring glance at Marjory's
golden locks. "We seem to shade down gradually. Mabel comes next, then
Jean, then Bettie; I'm the darkest, because Bettie's eyes are like
brown velvet, but mine are black, like bits of hard coal. Where does
Rosa Marie come in?"

"I think," said Marjory, with an air of pondering deeply, "that Rosa
Marie is almost, if not quite, as dark as you; even darker, perhaps.
But her hair isn't as curly."

"Dear little soul," breathed Henrietta, tenderly. "I've a tremendous
liking for babies, but they're pretty scarce at our house. But there
was one in England that was--Oh, if I could just see that English baby
_now_! Wouldn't I just hug her!"

Henrietta's eyes were unwontedly tender, her expression unusually sweet.

"You're not a bit like you've been any of the other times," observed
Bettie. "I like you a lot better when you're like this."

"I'm not myself to-day," twinkled Henrietta. "I'm Sallie--just plain
Sallie. But beware of me when I'm Frederika, the Disguised Duchess.
_That's_ when I'm not to be trusted."

"I think," said Jean, listening to some faraway sound, "that lunch is
about ready."

"Good!" exclaimed Henrietta. "The sooner it's over, the sooner I can
hug that darling baby. It's months since I've held one in my arms--the
dear little body."

"You'll find----" began Mabel; but the other three promptly headed her
off before she had time to explain that Rosa Marie was a pretty big
armful.

"It's time to go home," exclaimed Marjory and Bettie, in chorus. "Come
on, Mabel."

"If you'll excuse me," said Jean, speaking directly to Mabel, "I'll go
set a place for Henrietta. Sorry I can't ask everybody to stay; but
come back at two o'clock."



CHAPTER XXI

Getting Even


LUNCHEON at Jean's that day proved a lively affair, for both boys were
home; Henrietta chatted as frankly and as merrily as if she had known
them all her life. Wallace, who was shy, squirmed uneasily at first and
kept his eyes on his plate; but Roger, who had encountered the visitor
in his French class, was able to respond to her friendly chatter.

"I like boys," asserted Henrietta, frankly, "but I haven't any
belonging to me but one and he's a horrid muff--sixteen and a regular
baby. He's my cousin."

"I thought you liked babies," laughed Jean.

"I do, but not that kind. He's been molly-coddled until it makes you
sick to look at him."

"Trot him out," offered Roger. "I'll give him an antidote."

"He's in England," said Henrietta, "and I hope he'll stay there. He
hasn't any idea of doing anything for himself; he's always talking
about what he'll do when somebody else does such and such a thing for
him."

"You mean," said Roger, "he hasn't any American independence."

"That's it," agreed Henrietta. "He'd have made a nice pink-and-white
girl, but he's no use at all as a boy."

"How dark it's getting," said Jean. "I can hardly see my plate."

"I think," prophesied Wallace, breaking his long silence, "that it's
going to snow. The sky's been a little thick for three days; when it
comes we'll get a lot."

"Goody!" cried Henrietta, "I've never seen a real Lake Superior
snowstorm and I want to. So far all the snow we've had has come in the
night. I want to _see_ it snow."

"You wouldn't," growled Wallace, "if you had to shovel several tons of
it off your sidewalk."

"Will it snow very soon?" queried Henrietta, eagerly.

"Probably not before dark," returned Wallace, turning to glance at the
dull sky. "It's only getting ready."

Enthusiastic Henrietta, that odd mixture of extreme youth and premature
age, was all impatience to see Rosa Marie. She had telephoned her
grandmother to ask permission to spend the day with her new friends,
and now she was eager to add Rosa Marie to the list. It was easy to see
that she was expecting to behold something very choice in the line of
babies. Jean was tempted to undeceive her, but loyalty to Marjory kept
her silent.

"A baby," breathed Henrietta, rapturously, "is the loveliest thing
in all the world. _Isn't_ it most two o'clock? Wait, I'll look at my
watch--Mercy! I forgot to wind it!"

"Hark!" said Jean, "I think I hear the girls. Yes, I do."

"Get on your things," commanded Marjory, opening the door. "Bettie
stopped to feed the cat, sew a button on Dick, wash Peter's face, tie
up her father's finger and hook her mother's dress, but she's here at
last and we're to pick up Mabel on the way because Dr. Bennett called
her back to wash her face."

"We mustn't stay too long," warned Jean, glancing at the dull sky. "It
looks as if it would get dark early."

Mrs. Crane was glad to see her visitors and appeared delighted to add a
new girl to her collection of youthful friends.

"You and Jean are just of a size," said she.

"And about the same age," added Bettie, who had always regretted the
two years' difference in her age and Jean's. "I wish _I_ were as old as
that."

"Aren't you afraid," blundered well-meaning Mrs. Crane, turning to
Bettie, "that she'll cut you out? You and Jean have always been as
thick as thieves. Don't you let this pretty Henrietta steal your Jean
away from you."

Bettie, dear little unselfish soul, had hitherto been conscious of
no such fear, but now her big brown eyes were troubled. This new
possibility was alarming.

"We'd like to see Rosa Marie," said Marjory. "Is she well?"

"She has a bad cold," returned Mrs. Crane, shaking her head,
sorrowfully. "I've just been looking through my books, and in the very
first one I found more than twenty-five fatal diseases that begin with
a bad cold."

"Didn't you find _any_ that folks ever get over?" suggested Jean,
comfortingly.

"Why, yes," replied Mrs. Crane, brightening. "I've known of folks
pulling through at least twenty-four of them. But there's one thing.
You won't like Rosa Marie's clothes to-day. They're--they're sort of
an accident."

"An accident?" questioned Bettie. "What happened?"

"Why, you see, I ordered her a ready-made dress out of a catalogue. It
sounded very promising but--Well, it's _warm_, but I guess that's about
all you can say for it. I'll take you to the nursery; I have to keep
her out of drafts."

Rosa Marie, well and becomingly clad, would hardly have captured a
prize in a beauty show, even with very little competition. Poor little
Rosa Marie, suffering with a severe cold, appeared a most unlovable
object. Her eyes were dull and all but invisible, her nose and lips
were red and swollen and her wide mouth seemed even larger than usual.
The catalogue dress was more than an accident; it was an out and out
calamity. Its gorgeous red and green plaid was marked off like a city
map in regular squares with a startling stripe of yellow. Moreover,
the alarming garment was a distressingly tight fit.

"It looked," sighed Mrs. Crane, apologetically, "as pretty as you
please in that book; but of course nobody would _think_ of buying such
goods as that _outside_ a catalogue. But Rosa Marie liked it."

After the first glance, however, the Cottagers did not look at Rosa
Marie or the hideous plaid. They gazed instead at Henrietta's speaking
countenance. Having led their new friend to expect something entirely
different in the way of infantile charms, they wanted to enjoy her
surprise; but strangely enough they did not. It was evident that
something was wrong with their plan.

The bright, expectant look faded suddenly from the sparkling black
eyes. All the animation fled swiftly from the girlish countenance. Two
large tears rolled down Henrietta's cheeks.

"Oh," she mourned, "I was _so_ lonely for a real, dear little baby."

"Dear me," sighed penitent Jean, "we thought you'd enjoy the joke. We
saw at once that you supposed that Rosa Marie was an ordinary child--a
nice little pink and white creature in long clothes. It seemed such a
good chance to get even that we----"

"It was my fault," apologized Marjory. "I _tried_ to fool you. I never
thought you'd _care_."

"I'm sorry," said offended Mabel, stiffly, "that you don't like Rosa
Marie. She's much more interesting than a common baby, and I think,
when I picked her out----"

"It isn't that," said Henrietta, smiling through her tears. "You see,
I had a baby cousin in England that I just hated to leave--Oh, the
sweetest, daintiest little-girl baby--and she'll be all grown up and
gone before I ever see her again. I simply adored that baby."

"Never mind," soothed Bettie, generously. "We've any number of real
babies at our house and three of them are small enough to cuddle. And
even the littlest one is big enough to be played with."

"What an accommodating family," said Henrietta, wiping her eyes. "I
guess they'll make up for this remarkable infant."

"Rosa Marie certainly isn't looking her best to-day," admitted Jean,
"but you'll really find her very interesting when you know her better.
But she never does appeal to strangers--we've found _that_ out."

"And just now," said Bettie, "she's surely a sight; but when you've
seen her in the cunning little Indian costume that Mr. Black bought for
her you'll really like her."

"Perhaps," said Henrietta, doubtfully.



CHAPTER XXII

A Full Afternoon


"NOW," said Mrs. Crane, with a note of pride in her tone, "I want
to show you what Peter Black's been doing _this_ time. It's in the
library."

The interested girls followed Mrs. Crane into the cozy, book-lined
room. Mr. Black's purchases were apt to be worth seeing, for, now that
he had a family after so many years of solitude, he was spending his
money lavishly. And he delighted in surprising his elderly sister with
unusual gifts.

"There," said Mrs. Crane, pointing to a square cabinet of polished
wood. "What do you think of that! Can you guess what it is?"

"I think," replied Jean, "it's a cupboard for your very prettiest
tea-cups--the ones that are too nice to use."

"_I_ think," said Marjory, "that it's a fire-proof safe to keep Rosa
Marie's plaid dress in, so it won't set the house afire."

"I guess," said Bettie, "it's some sort of a refrigerator to use on
Sundays only."

"It looks to me," ventured Mabel, "like a cage with a monkey in it.
I've seen them in processions, only they were fancier."

"I _know_ what it is," said Henrietta, "because we have one like it,
but ours isn't as nice as this."

"Now turn your backs," requested Mrs. Crane.

In another moment the girls were listening to a delightful concert.
Wonderful music was pouring from the polished cabinet.

"I was the nearest right," asserted Mabel.

"Why!" objected Bettie, "you said it was a monkey--monkeys don't sing."

"I was right, just the same. It's a hand organ, and everybody knows
that a monkey's pretty near the same thing."

The girls laughed, for Mabel, who was usually wrong, always insisted
obstinately that she was right.

"It's a phonograph," explained Henrietta, "and the very best one I ever
heard."

"It's a whole brass band," breathed Bettie.

"I knew it was good," said Mrs. Crane, contentedly, "for Peter refused
to tell what he paid for it."

It took a long time for the phonograph to give up all that was inside
its polished case, and before the entertainment was quite over Mr.
Black came in.

Bettie, eager to display her new acquaintance, hardly waited to greet
him before introducing Henrietta. It was a pleasure, as well as a
novelty, to have so attractive a friend to present.

"This," said Bettie, proudly but a little flustered, "is my hen,
Frenriet--I mean, my hen----"

Bettie turned scarlet and stopped. The girls shrieked with delight.
Mrs. Crane laughed till she cried. Mr. Black's roars of laughter
drowned the phonograph's best effort.

"I'm _not_ your hen," giggled Henrietta. "Not even your chicken. This
settles _that_ name--I can't risk being mistaken for any more poultry."

"She's Henrietta Bedford," explained Jean, wiping her eyes.

"And how long," teased Mr. Black, "have you been keeping poultry, Miss
Bettykins?"

"About two weeks," giggled Bettie. "She's Mrs. Slater's granddaughter."

"I don't like to seem inhospitable," said Mr. Black, a few moments
later, "but it's beginning to snow, and the weather's going to be a
good deal worse before it gets any better. If you start now, you'll be
home before the snow begins to drift--there's a strong north wind and
the thermometer's a bit down-hearted."

The girls had removed their wraps and it took time to get into them.
Also, Mrs. Crane, noticing that the girls were dressed for mild
weather, detained them while she hunted up a silk handkerchief to wrap
about Marjory's throat, a veil to tie over Bettie's ears and some
warmer gloves for Jean. Henrietta and Mabel refused to be bundled up.

The outside air was many degrees colder than it had been two hours
earlier, and was full of flying snow. The wind came in gusts, yet there
was something bracing and stimulating about the stirring atmosphere,
particularly to Henrietta.

"Oh!" cried she, "this is fine! Why can't we take a long walk? It's a
shame to hurry home. I just love this. Isn't there somebody we can go
to see? Hasn't anybody an errand?"

"Ye-es," said Mabel, doubtfully. "We could go down to Mrs. Malony's.
Mother told me this morning to get her bill, and I forgot all about it."

"Mabel always has a few forgotten errands laid away," teased Marjory.
"She can show you, too, where she found Rosa Marie--it's down that way."

"I hope," said Henrietta, making a comical grimace, "that there's no
danger of finding any more like her. But let's go. It's a shame to miss
any of this."

Going down the long hill toward Mrs. Malony's was entirely delightful,
for the wind, of which there was a great deal, was at their
well-protected backs; they fairly scudded before it, laughing joyously
as they were swept along almost on a run. Going westward at the bottom
of the hill was not so very bad either, for here the road was somewhat
sheltered, though the snow was much deeper than the girls had expected
to find it.

Mrs. Malony, the garrulous egg-woman, was at home; she expressed her
surprise and delight at the advent of so many unexpected visitors.

"'Tis mesilf thot's glad to see so manny purty faces," said she,
flying about to find chairs. "'Tis the lovely complexion you have
to-day, Miss Jean. An' who's the little lady wid the rosy cheek? The
gran'choild av Mrs. Lady Slater--wud ye hark to thot now! An' how's
Bettie darlin' wid all her purty smiles? Thot's good--thot's good. An'
Miss Mabel here--sure she's the fat wan----"

"Mother," explained Mabel, with dignity, "would like her egg-bill."

"Bill, is ut?" replied Mrs. Malony, graciously. "Sure there's no hurry
at all, at all. The sooner it comes the sooner 'tis spint. Ah, well, if
you're afther insistin' [no one _had_ insisted] joost count the banes
in me owld taypot. Ivery wan stands fer wan dozen eggs at twinty-foive
cints the dozen."

"Thirteen beans," announced Jean, who had counted them several times to
make certain.

"Sure," persuaded smooth-tongued Mrs. Malony, "you'd best be takin' wan
more dozen, Miss Mabel. 'Twould be sore unlucky to stop wid t'irteen."

While she was counting the eggs, Mr. Malony, redolent of the stable and
bearing two steaming pails of milk, came into the kitchen. Mrs. Malony,
beaming with hospitality, went hastily to the cupboard, brought forth
five exceedingly thick cups, filled them with milk and passed them to
her dismayed guests.

Some persons like warm milk, fresh from the cow, with the cow-smell
overshadowing all other flavors. Mrs. Malony's visitors did not. They
were too polite to say so, however, so there they sat, five martyrs
to courtesy, sipping the distasteful milk. It clogged their throats,
it made them feel queerly upset inside, but still, solely out of
politeness, they continued to sip.

"Take bigger swallows," advised Mabel, in a smothered whisper.

"I cuk--can't," breathed Bettie.

Mr. Malony had left the room. Presently, Mrs. Malony, in search of a
basket for the eggs, stooped to rummage in the untidy recess beneath
the cupboard. Quick as a wink, Henrietta emptied her cup into the
original pail, but the other unfortunates were left to struggle with
their unwelcome refreshment. Henrietta, however, gained nothing by her
trick, for the egg-woman, discovering that her cup was empty, promptly
refilled it, much to the amusement of the other victims.

Henrietta, discovering their state of mind, was moved to defiance.
Lifting her cup, with a determined glint in her black eyes, she drank
every drop in four courageous, continuous gulps. In a twinkling, the
other girls had imitated her example and were declining Mrs. Malony's
pressing offer of more milk.

"Joost a wee sup," pleaded Mrs. Malony, reaching for Jean's cup.

"No, thank you," said Jean, rising hastily. "We ought to be getting
home."

Getting home, however, proved a different matter from getting away from
home. After escaping Mrs. Malony's insistent hospitality, the girls
waded across the snowy street and out toward the point to see if Rosa
Marie's home were still there. The door hung from one hinge and snow
had drifted, and was still drifting, in at the doorway.

"Do you think," asked Henrietta, gazing at the deserted house, "that
Rosa Marie's mother will ever come back?"

"No," returned Jean.

"Not to any such homely baby as that," declared Marjory.

"She _will_ come back," asserted Mabel, loyally. "She loved Rosa
Marie--I saw it in her eyes."

"Looks don't matter, with mothers," soothed Bettie. "A cat likes a
homely yellow kitten as well as a lovely white one. And Dick has more
freckles than Bob, but Mother likes him just as well."

"Rosa Marie's mother stood right in that doorway," said Mabel, "and, as
long as I could see her, her eyes were stretching out after Rosa Marie."

"They must have stuck out on pegs like a lobster's," giggled Henrietta,
"by the time you reached the corner."

"I think you're _mean_," muttered Mabel.

"I repent," apologized Henrietta. "For a moment I relapsed into
Frederika, the Disguised Duchess; but now I'm your own kind-hearted
Sallie and I wish that my toes were as warm as my affections. Let's
start for civilization--we seem to have the world to ourselves. Doesn't
anybody else like snow, I wonder?"



CHAPTER XXIII

Taking a Walk


"PHEW!" gasped Jean, wheeling as the north wind, sweeping round the
corner, caught her square in the face. "I don't think much of that!
It's like ice."

"Ugh!" groaned Marjory, "I wish I'd stayed home."

"Mercy!" gulped Henrietta, "it's blowing my skin off."

After that, no one had very much to say. The girls needed their breath
for other purposes. With heads down and jackets pulled tightly about
them, they started up the long hill with the wind in their faces. It
was not a pleasant wind. Cold and cutting, it flung icy particles of
snow against their cheeks, nipped their unprotected ears, stung their
fingers and found the thin places in their garments. It rushed down
their throats when they opened their mouths to speak, wrapped their
petticoats so tightly about them that they had to keep unwinding
themselves in order to walk at all, heaped the whirling snow in drifts
and filled the air so full of flakes that it was only between gusts
that the houses were visible. Worst of all, the way was very much
uphill, and Mabel, besides being short of breath, was burdened with
the basket of eggs. The snow seemed to take a delight in piling itself
directly in front of them.

"Ugh!" gasped Henrietta, "I wish my stockings were fur-lined. They
thawed out in Mrs. Malony's and now they're frozen stiff. I don't like
'em."

"Mine, too," panted Mabel.

"And all my skirts," groaned Marjory. "The edges are like saws and
they're scraping my knees."

"How do you like a real storm?" queried Jean, steering Henrietta
through a mighty drift.

"Not so well as I thought I should," admitted Henrietta. "I miss my
blizzard clothes."

The streets, when the girls finally reached the top of the hill, were
deserted. Even the sides of the houses looked like solid walls of snow,
for the wind had hurled the big flakes in gigantic handfuls against the
buildings until they were all nicely coated with a thick frosting; and
so, all the world was white. And, by the time the five girls reached
Jean's house, for they finally accomplished that difficult feat, they,
too, were nicely plastered from head to heels with the clinging snow.
They looked like animated snow men as they piled thankfully into Mrs.
Mapes's parlor.

The girls themselves were warm and glowing from the unusual exercise,
but their stockings and cotton skirts were frozen stiff.

"Henrietta will simply have to stay all night," said Mrs. Mapes,
discovering the wet stockings. "I sent the coachman home half an hour
ago for the sake of the horses. I'll telephone Mrs. Slater that you're
safe. You other girls must go home at once and change your clothes
before they thaw. And, Jean, you and Henrietta must get into bed at
once. I'll bring you a hot supper inside of five minutes."

"That'll be fun," declared Jean, seizing Henrietta's hand and making
for the stairs. "Good-night, girls."

"I guess," said Marjory, when the Mapes's door had closed behind
Bettie, Mabel and herself, "Jean and Henrietta are going to be great
chums."

"I'm afraid so," sighed Bettie. "I like Henrietta; but, dear me, I
don't want Jean to like her better than she does me."

"She won't," comforted Marjory. "Henrietta's all right for a little
while at a time, but you're _always_ nice."

Thanks to Mrs. Mapes's instructions, none of the girls caught cold; but
their mothers were so afraid that they might that not one of them was
permitted to poke her nose out of doors the next day. To Henrietta's
delight, the drifts reached the fence tops; and, until a huge plow,
drawn by six horses arranged in pairs, had cleared the way, the roads
were impassable. The wind, after raging furiously all night, had
quieted down; but the snow continued to fall in big, soft, clinging
flakes, every tree and shrub was weighted down with a heavy burden and
all the world was white. To Henrietta, who had never before seen snow
in such abundance, it was a most pleasing spectacle.

Bettie, however, was sorely troubled. There was Jean shut in with
attractive Henrietta and getting "chummier" with her every minute.
There was Bettie, a solitary prisoner in a fuzzy red wrapper and bed
slippers, sighing for her beloved Jean. To be sure, Bettie had brothers
of assorted sizes and complexions, but not one of them could fill
Jean's place in Bettie's troubled affections.

Had Bettie but known it, however, Jean was not having an entirely
comfortable day. It happened to be one of Henrietta's "Frederika"
days. The lively girl tormented bashful Wallace by pretending that
she herself was excessively shy, and, as shyness was not one of her
attributes, her victim was covered with confusion. She teased and
bewildered Roger by chattering so rapidly in French that he couldn't
understand a word she said, although he had studied the language for
three years under Miss McGinnis and was proud of his progress. A number
of times she became so witty at Jean's expense that "Sallie" had to
rush to the rescue with profuse apologies. Also, she disturbed both Mr.
and Mrs. Mapes by her extreme restlessness.

"My sakes," confided Mrs. Mapes, in the privacy of the kitchen, whither
she had fled for the sake of quiet, "I'm glad that girl doesn't belong
to me; she isn't still a minute."

"Perhaps," said Roger, who had escaped on the pretext of blacking his
shoes, "it's because she has traveled so much. Maybe she feels as if
she had to keep going."

"Bettie's certainly a great deal quieter," agreed Jean, who looked
tired, "and she doesn't talk all night when a body wants to sleep; but
Henrietta's more fun. You see, you never know what she's going to do
next, but Bettie's always just the same."

At dinner time that day, Mrs. Mapes asked her husband if he knew
whether the School Board had accomplished anything at the meeting held
the night previously.

"No," replied Mr. Mapes, a tall, thin man with a preoccupied air.
"And they never will as long as each one of them wants to put that
schoolhouse in a different place. They can't come to any sort of an
agreement."

Indeed, the poor School Board was having a perplexing time. The
citizens that lived at the north end of the town wanted the new school
built there. Other tax-payers declared that the southern portion of
Lakeville, being more densely populated, offered a more suitable site.
Then, since the town stretched westward for a long distance, a third
group of persons were clamoring for the building in _their_ part of the
town. Besides all these, there were persons who declared that the old
site was the _only_ place for a school building. As the Board itself
was divided as to opinion, it began to look as if Lakeville would have
to get along without a schoolhouse unless it could afford to build
four, and the tax-payers said it couldn't do that.

"I wish," said Mrs. Mapes, "that I could find a first-class girls'
school within a reasonable distance. If they don't have a proper
building in Lakeville by next September I'll send Jean away. That
Baptist cellar is damp, and I know it. Besides, I went to a good
boarding school myself and I'd like Jean to have the experience--I'll
never forget those days."

"Send her," suggested Henrietta, "to the school I'm going to."

"Which one is that?" asked Mrs. Mapes.

"I don't know; but Grandmother says it mustn't be too far away. She
wants me within reach."

"I think," said Mrs. Mapes, reflectively, "I'll send for some
catalogues."

The next morning the sun shone brightly on a glittering world.
Henrietta went into ecstasies over it, for even the tree trunks seemed
incrusted with diamonds--or at least rhine-stones, Henrietta said. The
coachman arrived with the Slater horses a little before nine o'clock
and the two girls were carried off to school in state. They waved their
hands to Bettie as they passed her trudging in the snow; and poor
Bettie was suddenly conscious of a sharp twinge of jealousy.

Now that Henrietta had been properly called on and had returned the
call, she became a permanent part of all the Cottagers' plans.
Thereafter, there was hardly a day when one or another of the four
girls did not see the fascinating maid of many names. They always found
her interesting, attractive and entertaining. Yet, there were days
when she teased them almost to the limit of their endurance, times
when they could not quite approve her and moments when she fairly
roused them to anger; but, in spite of her faults, they could not
help loving her, because, with all her impishness and her distressing
lack of repose, she was warm-hearted, loyal and thoroughly true. And,
although she possessed dozens of advantages that the other girls
lacked, although she was beautifully gowned, splendidly housed and
bountifully supplied with spending money, never did she show, in any
way, the faintest scrap of false pride. She mentioned her life abroad,
in a simple, matter-of-fact way (as if it were a mere incident that
might have happened to anybody), but never in any boasting spirit. Her
prankishness, however, kept her from being too good or too lovable;
for, as her Grandmother said, she spared no one; sometimes even Jean,
who was a model of patience, found it hard to forgive fun-loving
Frederika, the Disguised Duchess.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Statue from India


ALL the shops in Lakeville wore a holiday air, for money was plentiful
and trade was unusually brisk. The windows were gay with wreaths of
holly and glittering strings of Christmas-tree ornaments. Clerks were
busy and smiling. Customers, alert for bargains, crowded about the
counters and parted cheerfully from their cash. Persons in the streets,
laden with parcels of every shape, size and color, pushed eagerly
through the doors or hurried along the busy thoroughfares. All wore
an air of eager expectancy, for two weeks of December were gone and
Christmas was fairly scrambling into sight.

The five girls had money to spend. Very little of it, to be sure,
belonged to the Cottagers; but Henrietta had a great deal, and,
as they all went together on their shopping expeditions, it didn't
matter very much, as far as enjoyment went, who did the purchasing.
Bettie said that it was quite as much fun to help Henrietta pick out
a five-dollar scarf pin for Simmons, the butler, as it was to choose
ten-cent paper weights for Bob and Dick. Besides, no one was obliged
to go home empty-handed, because it took all five to carry Henrietta's
purchases.

All five were making things besides. Sometimes they sewed at Jean's,
sometimes at Henrietta's, occasionally at Marjory's and once in a
while at Mabel's. They liked least of all to go to Marjory's because
Aunty Jane, who was a wonderfully particular housekeeper, objected
to their walking on her hardwood floors and seemed equally averse
to having them step on the rugs. As they couldn't very well use the
ceiling or feel entirely comfortable under the battery of Aunty Jane's
disapproving glances, they liked to go where they were more warmly
welcomed. Perhaps Henrietta's once-dreaded home was the most popular
place, though in that fascinating abode they could not accomplish a
great deal in the sewing line because Henrietta invariably produced
such a bewildering array of unusual belongings to show them that their
eyes kept busier than their fingers. In another way, however, they
accomplished a great deal. Henrietta, who was really very clever with
her needle, had started at one time or another a great many different
articles. These, in their half-finished condition--the changeable
girl was much better at beginning things than at completing them--she
lavishly bestowed on her friends. Lovely flowered ribbons, dainty bits
of silk and lace, curious scraps of Japanese and Chinese embroidery,
embossed leather and rich brocades, all these found their way into the
Cottagers' work-bags.

Out of these fascinating odds and ends they fashioned gifts for Mrs.
Crane, Anne Halliday's mother, their out-of-town relatives, their
parents and their school-teachers. They wanted, of course, to buy every
toy that ever was made for Rosa Marie, little Anne Halliday, Peter
Tucker and the Marcotte twins; but Mr. Black, meeting them in the
toy-shop one day, implored them to leave just a few things in the shops
for him to buy, particularly for Rosa Marie and little Peter Tucker,
his namesake.

And now, Mabel was immensely pleased with Henrietta; for, one day, Rosa
Marie, cured of her cold, had been dressed in her cunning little Indian
costume for the new girl's benefit. Rosa Marie had looked so very much
more attractive than when she had had a cold that Henrietta had been
greatly taken with her. As the way to Mabel's affections was through
approval of Rosa Marie, Henrietta quickly found it, so the threatened
breach was healed.

"Oh, Mrs. Crane," Henrietta had cried, on beholding the little brown
person in buckskin and feathers, "do let me telephone for James to
bring the carriage so I can take Rosa Marie to our house and show her
to my Grandmother. I'll take the very best of care of her. And all four
of the girls can come with her, so she won't be afraid."

"Oh, _do_," pleaded the others.

"Well, it's mild out to-day," returned Mrs. Crane, glancing out the
window, "and a little fresh air won't hurt her. I guess her coat will
go on right over these fixings and I can tie a veil over her head.
You'll find a telephone in the library, on Mr. Black's desk."

Half an hour later, the six youngsters, carefully tucked between
splendid fur robes, were on their way to Mrs. Slater's.

"I have a perfectly heavenly plan," said Henrietta, her black eyes
sparkling with impishness. "Want to hear it?"

"Of course we do," encouraged the Cottagers.

"You see," explained Henrietta, "a large box came from Father this
morning. It hasn't been opened yet; but Greta and Simmons don't know
that. I'm going to make them think that Rosa Marie is what came in that
box--it's time I cheered them up a little, for Simmons has lost some
money he had in the bank and Greta is homesick for the old country.
Will you help?"

"Ye-es," promised Jean, doubtfully, "if you're not going to hurt
anybody's feelings."

"Shan't even scratch one," assured Henrietta. "Now, when we reach the
house, I'll slip around to the basement door with Rosa Marie--the cook
will let us in--and you must ring the front-door bell because that will
take Simmons out of the way while I get up the back stairs. Ask for
Grandmother, and I'll come down and get you when I'm ready."

So the girls asked for Mrs. Slater--every one of them now liked the
entertaining old lady very much indeed--and chatted with her merrily
until Henrietta came running down the stairs.

"Grannie," asked the lively girl, pressing her warm red cheek against
Mrs. Slater's much paler one, "would you like to be amused? Would you
like to be a black conspirator and humble your most haughty servitor to
the dust? Then you must ascend to my haunted den and not say a single
word for at least five minutes. Come on, girls."

In Henrietta's oddly furnished room there were two large East Indian
gods and one heathen goddess. Henrietta had managed to group these
interesting, Oriental figures in one corner of the spacious chamber,
with appropriate drapings behind them. Near them she had placed an
empty packing case, oblong in shape and plastered with curious, foreign
labels. It looked as if it were waiting to be carried away to the
furnace room or some such place.

Darkening her bedroom and her dressing room, she placed her obliging
grandmother and her four friends behind the heavy portières.

"You can peek round the edges," said she, "but you mustn't be seen or
heard or even suspected."

Then, fun-loving Henrietta brought Rosa Marie from another room,
removed her wraps, concealed them from sight and placed the stolid
child in a sitting posture on a large tabouret near one of the richly
colored statues. Next she rang for Greta, and ran downstairs in person
to ask Simmons to come at once to remove the heavy packing case.

Simmons obeyed immediately and just as the pair reached Henrietta's
door, Greta, who had been in her own room, joined them. All three
entered together.

"Don't you want to see my lovely new statue?" asked Henrietta. "There,
with the rest of my heathen friends."

"Ho," said Simmons, leaning closer to look. "_That's_ wot came in that
'eavy box. Another 'eathen god from Hindia."

[Illustration: "ANOTHER 'EATHEN GOD FROM HINDIA."]

"He ees very pretty god-lady, Miss Henrietta," approved Greta. "Looks
most like real."

Rosa Marie, awed by her strange surroundings, played her part most
beautifully. For a long moment she sat perfectly still. But, just as
Simmons leaned forward to take a better look at her, Rosa Marie, who
had suddenly caught a whiff of pungent smoke from the joss-sticks
that Henrietta had lighted to create a proper atmosphere for her gods
and goddesses, gave a sudden sneeze. The effect was all that could be
desired. Simmons leaped backward and Greta, who was excitable, gave a
piercing shriek.

The hidden girls restrained their giggles, but only with difficulty;
and Bettie said afterwards that she could feel Mrs. Slater shaking with
helpless laughter.

"My heye!" exclaimed Simmons, "wot'll they be mykin' next! Look!
Hit's movin' 'is 'ead."

Rosa Marie proceeded deliberately to move more than her head. Putting
both hands on the tabouret, she managed somehow to lift herself
clumsily to all-fours, balancing uncertainly for several moments in
that ungainly attitude. Then she rose to her feet, and, stiffly, like
some mechanical toy, stretched out her arms toward Henrietta. Greta
backed hastily through the doorway; but Simmons eyed the swaying
youngster with enlightened eyes.

"Hit's a real biby, from Hindia," said he, "but think of hit comin'
hall that wy in that there box. But them Indoos 'ave a lot of queer
tricks and Hi suppose they drugged 'im, mide a bloomin' mummy of 'im
and sent directions for bringin' of 'im to."

"Take the box downstairs, please," said Henrietta, succeeding in the
difficult task of keeping her face straight. "This is a little North
Indian from Lakeville, Simmons, not an East Indian from India, and it
was only some things that I'm not to look at till Christmas that came
in the box."

"Hi _thought_ hit was mighty stringe," returned Simmons, looking very
much relieved and not at all resentful. "Hit seemed sort of hawful,
Miss 'Enrietta, to think as 'ow 'uman bein's could tike such chances
with heven their hown hoffsprings. But, just the sime, Miss 'Enrietta,
Hi've 'eard of them 'Indoos doing mighty queer things, and Hi, for one,
don't trust 'em."



CHAPTER XXV

Comparing Notes


IT was eight o'clock, the morning of the twenty-fourth day of December,
which is twice as exciting a day as the twenty-fifth and at least ten
times as interesting as the twenty-sixth.

Bettie, and as many of the little Tuckers as had been able to find
enough clothes for decency, were eating pancakes a great deal faster
than Mrs. Tucker could bake them over the Rectory stove. Marjory, her
young countenance somewhat puckered because of the tartness of her
grapefruit, was sitting sedately opposite her Aunty Jane. Jean had
finished her breakfast and was tying mysterious tissue paper parcels
with narrow scarlet ribbon; and Mabel, having suddenly remembered
that this was the day that the postman brought interesting mail, was
hurrying with might and main to get into her sailor blouse in order
to capture the letters. Of course she didn't expect to open any of her
Christmas mail; but she did like to squeeze the packages. Henrietta was
reading a long, delightful letter from her father. Mrs. Slater, too,
had Christmas letters.

Five blocks away Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane were finishing their
breakfast. Their dining-room was at the back of the house, where its
three broad windows commanded a fine view of the lake. Just at the top
of the bluff and well inside the Black-Crane yard stood a wonderfully
handsome fir tree, a truly splendid tree, for in all Lakeville there
was no other evergreen to compare with it in size, shape or color.

Every now and again, Mr. Black would turn in his chair to gaze
earnestly out the window at the tree. For a long time, Mrs. Crane, her
nice dark eyes dancing with fun, watched her brother in silence. But
when he began to consume the last quarter of his second piece of toast
she felt that it was time to speak.

"Peter," said she, "you can't do it."

"Do what?" asked Mr. Black, with a guilty start.

"Cut down that tree. I know, just as well as I know anything, that
you're just aching to make that splendid big evergreen into a
Christmas-tree for Rosa Marie and those four girls."

"_How_ do you know it?" queried Mr. Black, eying his sister with quick
suspicion.

"Because I had the same thought myself. It _would_ be fine for
Christmas--it looks like a Christmas-tree every day of the year. And if
you've been a sort of bottled-up Santa Claus all your life you're apt
to be pretty foolish when you're finally unbottled. And that tree----"

"But," queried Mr. Black, "what would it be the day after?"

"That," confessed Mrs. Crane, "is what bothers _me_."

"It does seem a shame," said Mr. Black, rising and walking to the
window, "to cut down such a perfect specimen as that; and yet, in
all my life I never met a tree so evidently designed for the express
purpose of serving as a Christmas-tree. It's a real temptation."

"I know it," sighed Mrs. Crane. "It's been tempting _me_; but I said:
'Get thee behind me, Santa Claus, and send me to the proper place for
Christmas-trees.'"

"And did you go to that place?"

"It came to me. I engaged a twelve-foot tree from a man that was taking
orders at the door."

"So did I," confessed Mr. Black. "I'm not sure that I didn't order two."

"Peter Black! You're spoiling those children."

"I'm having plenty of help," twinkled Mr. Black, shrewdly.

With so many trees to choose from, it certainly seemed probable that
the Black-Crane household would have at least one respectable specimen
to decorate; but half an hour later, when the three ordered balsams
arrived, both Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane were greatly disappointed. The
trees had shrunk from twelve to six feet, and the uneven branches were
thin and sparsely covered.

"Why!" exclaimed Mr. Black, "all three of those trees together wouldn't
make a whole tree."

"They look," said Mrs. Crane, "as if they were shedding their feathers."

"Most of them," agreed Mr. Black, "have already been shed. I said, Mr.
Man, that I wanted _good_ trees."

"My wagon broke down," explained the tree-man, "so I couldn't bring
anything that I couldn't haul on a big sled. They weigh a lot, those
big fellows."

"Can't you make a special trip," suggested Mrs. Crane, "and bring us a
first-class tree--just one?"

"It's too late. I have to go too far before I'm allowed to cut any."

"Well," said Mr. Black, "I'll pay you for these, and I'll give you
fifty cents extra to haul them off the premises. We don't want any such
sorrowful specimens round here to cast a gloom over our Christmas, do
we, Sarah?"

"Peter," announced Mrs. Crane, when the man had departed with his
scraggly trees, "I have an idea. The weather's likely to stay mild for
another twenty-four hours, isn't it?"

"I think so."

"And this is an honest town?"

"As honest as they make 'em."

"And all those girls are accustomed to being outdoors----"

"I _see_!" cried Mr. Black, giving Mrs. Crane's plump shoulders a
sudden, friendly whack. "I _almost_ thought of that myself. We'll
certainly surprise 'em _this_ time."

Although it was getting late, Mr. Black still hung about the house as
if he had not yet freed his mind of Christmas matters.

"I suppose," said Mr. Black, breaking a long silence, "that you've
thought of a few things to put on the tree for those girls?"

"Yes," admitted Mrs. Crane, guardedly, "I've gathered up some little
fixings that I thought they'd fancy."

"It might be a good idea," said Mr. Black, rising to ring for Martin,
"for us to compare notes. Two heads are better than one, you know;
and after what they did for us, we owe those little folks a splendid
Christmas."

"We certainly do," agreed Mrs. Crane, wiping away the sudden moisture
that sprung to her eyes at thought of the memorable dinner party in
Dandelion Cottage--the dinner that had brought her estranged brother to
the rescue. "I don't know where I'd have been now if it hadn't been for
those blessed children. In the poorhouse, probably."

"Martin," said Mr. Black, huskily, "you go to the storeroom in the
basement. Take a hatchet with you and knock the top off that wooden box
that is marked with a big blue cross and bring it up here to me."

Presently Martin, who always blundered if there was the very faintest
excuse for blundering, returned, proudly bearing the cover of the large
box.

"Thank you," replied Mr. Black, turning twinkling eyes upon Mrs. Crane,
who twinkled back. "Now bring up the box with all the things in it."

"I'll get my things, too," offered Mrs. Crane. "They're right here in
the library closet, in a clothes hamper."

Then when Martin had brought the box, the two middle-aged people began
to sort their presents. They went about it rather awkwardly because
neither had had much experience; but they were certainly enjoying their
novel occupation.

"This," said Mr. Black, clearing a space on the big library table, "is
Bettie's pile, and Heaven knows that I tried not to get it bigger than
the other three; but everything I saw in the shops shouted 'Buy me for
Bettie'--and I usually obeyed."

"This is Jean's pile," said Mrs. Crane, baring another space, "and I
guess I feel about Jean the way you do about Bettie; but I love Bettie
too--and all of them. Rosa Marie's things will have to go on the
floor--they're mostly bumpy and breakable."

Mr. Black rummaged in his box, Mrs. Crane fished in her basket.
Presently there was a rapidly growing, untidy heap of large, lumpy
bundles on the floor for Rosa Marie, and four very neat stacks of
square, compact parcels for the Cottagers.

"Let's open them all," suggested Mr. Black, eagerly. "We can tie them
up again."

So the elderly couple, as interested as two children, opened their
packages. At first, both were too busy renewing acquaintanceship with
their own purchases to notice what the other was doing; but presently
Mrs. Crane gave a start as her eye traveled over the table.

"Why, Peter Black," she exclaimed. "Here are two watches in Bettie's
pile!"

"I didn't buy but one of them," declared Mr. Black, placing his finger
on one of the dainty timepieces. "That's mine."

"The other's mine," confessed Mrs. Crane. "And, Peter, did you go and
buy dolls all around, too?"

"I did," owned Mr. Black, opening a long narrow box. "One _always_ buys
dolls for Christmas."

"Well," sighed Mrs. Crane, "I guess they can stand two apiece, because
ours are not a bit alike. You see, you got carried away by fine clothes
and I paid more attention to the dolls themselves. The bodies are
first-class and the faces are lovely. I bought mine undressed and I've
had four weeks' pleasure dressing them--I sort of hate to give them
up. The clothes are plain and substantial; I couldn't make 'em fancy."

"But the watches, Sarah?"

"Well, I guess we'll have to send half of those watches back. Yours are
the nicest--we'll keep yours."

"I suspect," said Mr. Black, reflectively pinching two large parcels in
Rosa Marie's heap, "that we've both bought Teddy bears for Rosa Marie.
And we've both supplied the girls with perfume, purses and writing
paper, but I don't see any books."

"We'll use the extra-watch money for books," decided Mrs. Crane,
promptly. "Suppose you attend to that--if we both do it we'll have
another double supply. I see we've both bought candy, too; but I need a
box for the milk-boy and I'd like to send some little thing to Martin's
small sister."

"On the whole," said Mr. Black, complacently, "we've managed pretty
well considering our inexperience; but next time we'll do better."



CHAPTER XXVI

Christmas Eve


IN Lakeville, Christmas always began at exactly four o'clock the
afternoon of the twenty-fourth; for the young people of that little
town--even the very old young people with gray hair and youthful
eyes--always indulged in an unusual and extremely enjoyable custom. The
moment that marked this real beginning of Christmas found each person
with gifts for her neighbor sallying forth with a great basketful of
parcels on her arm. If one had a great many friends and neighbors it
often took until ten o'clock at night to distribute all one's gifts.
As each package was wrapped in white tissue paper, tied with ribbon
and further adorned with sprigs of holly or gay Christmas cards,
these Christmas baskets were decidedly attractive; and the streets of
Lakeville, from four to ten, were certain to be full of gayety and
genuine Christmas cheer.

On all other days of the year, the Cottagers traveled together; but
on this occasion each girl was an entirely separate person. Bettie,
wearing a fine air of importance, went alone to Mabel's, to Jean's and
to Marjory's to leave her gifts for her three friends. Although, at
all other times, it was her habit to run in unceremoniously, to-day
she rang each door-bell and was formally admitted to each front hall,
where she selected the package designed for each house. Jean and the
other two, likewise, went forth by themselves to leave their mysterious
little parcels. But when this rite was completed all four ran to their
own homes, added more parcels to their gay baskets and then congregated
in Mrs. Mapes's parlor.

They had gifts for dear little Anne Halliday, the Marcotte twins,
Henrietta Bedford, Rosa Marie, Mr. Black, Mrs. Crane, some distant
cousins of Jean's and for all their school-teachers that had not gone
out of town for the holidays. Besides, their parents had intrusted them
with articles to be delivered to their friends and Mabel had a gift for
the dust-chute Janitor, a silver match-safe with the date of the fire
engraved under his initials.

"We'll go to Henrietta's first," decided Jean, "because that's the
farthest."

"And to the Janitor's next," said Mabel, "because I want to get it over
and forget about it."

To make things more exciting for Henrietta, the girls went in singly
to present their offerings, the others crouching out of sight behind
the stone balustrades that flanked the steps. Each time the bell rang,
Henrietta was right at Simmons's heels when he opened the door. Then,
after a brief wait outside, all four again presented themselves to
invite Henrietta, who had gifts for Rosa Marie, to go with them to Mr.
Black's and all the other places. Henrietta was glad to go, because
she herself was too new to Lakeville to have very many friends to favor
with presents. The five had a very merry time with their baskets; but
they were much too excited to stay a great while under any one roof.
They shouted merry greetings to the rest of the basket-laden population
and paused more than once to obligingly pull a door-bell for some
elderly acquaintance who found that she needed more hands than she had
started out with.

"How jolly everybody is!" remarked Henrietta. "I never saw a more
Christmassy lot of people. It must be lovely to have a long, long list
to give to."

"Father says this is an unusually nice town," offered Bettie. "The
people seem actually glad to have folks sick and in trouble so they can
send them flowers and things to eat."

"What a charitable place," laughed Henrietta, gaily. "I hope nobody's
longing for _me_ to come down with anything. I'd rather stay well than
eat flowers--they're too expensive just now."

"My!" exclaimed Mabel, after all the gifts had been distributed and the
girls, with their empty baskets turned over their heads, had started
homeward, "won't to-morrow be a lively day. First, all our stockings;
very early in the morning at home. Next, all our Christmas packages to
open--I've about ten already that I haven't even squeezed--that is, not
_very_ hard, except one that I know is a bottle. Then our dinners----"

"Too bad we can't have all our dinners together," mourned Marjory, "but
of course your mothers and my Aunty Jane and Henrietta's grandmother
would be too lonely if we did; and all the families in a bunch would
make too many to feed comfortably."

"And then," proceeded Mabel, "a tree at Mr. Black's just as soon as
it's dark enough to light the candles, and supper and another tree at
Henrietta's in the evening, and a ride home in the Slater carriage
afterwards, because by that time we'll surely be too tired to walk."

"And I've trimmed a tree for the boys at home," said Bettie. "There
won't be anything on it for you, but you can all come to see it."

"Aunty Jane says that Christmas-trees shed their feathers and make too
much litter," said Marjory, "but with three others to visit I don't
mind if I don't have one."

"You can have half of mine," offered Mabel, generously. "I shan't have
time to trim more than half of it, anyway, so I'd like somebody to
help."

"I suppose," said Marjory, doubtfully, "that we ought to do something
for the poor, but I don't know where to find any since our washwoman
married the butcher."

"I'm glad you don't," laughed Henrietta. "I've nine cents left and it's
got to last, for I shan't have any more until I get my allowance the
first of January, unless somebody sends me money for Christmas."

"I guess," giggled Jean, fishing an empty purse from her pocket, "the
rest of us couldn't scare up nine cents between us; but I have an uncle
who always sends me a paper dollar every year. I've spent it in at
least fifty different ways already. I always have lovely times with
that dollar _before_ it comes, but it just sort of melts away into
nothing afterwards."

"I wish," breathed Mabel, fervently, "_I_ had an uncle like that."

"Yes," agreed Henrietta, "a few uncles with the paper-dollar habit
wouldn't be bad things to have."

"I caught a glimpse of your tree, Henrietta," confessed Marjory. "I
stood on the balustrade outside and peeked in the window when Jean was
inside. It's going to be perfectly grand; but of course I didn't _mean_
to peek. I just got up there because I was too excited to stay on the
ground."

"So did I," owned Bettie.

"I wonder," said Mabel, "where Mr. Black's tree is. We were in all the
downstairs rooms and I didn't see a sign of it."

"Probably," teased Henrietta, "he's forgotten to order one. Unless one
forms the habit very early in life, one is very apt to overlook little
things like that."

"Mr. Black never forgets," assured Bettie.

"Probably it's some place in the yard," ventured Marjory, not guessing
how close she came to the truth.

"No," declared Mabel, positively. "I looked out the windows and there
wasn't a single sign of a tree anywhere. I pretty nearly asked about
it, but I wasn't sure that that would be polite."

"Don't worry," soothed Jean. "There'll _be_ one if Mr. Black has to
plant a seed and grow it over night. He and Mrs. Crane are more excited
over Christmas than we are. They can't think of anything else."



CHAPTER XXVII

A Crowded Day


MABEL rose very early indeed on Christmas morning to explore her
bulging stocking and to open her packages; but Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane
were even earlier, and they were delighted to find that the weather
had remained mild. Putting on their outside wraps and warm overshoes,
the worthy couple went with good-natured Martin and Maggie, the nimble
nursery maid, to the garden as soon as it was light. They strung the
tall tree from top to bottom with tinsel and glittering Christmas-tree
ornaments, the finest that money could buy. Martin and the maid,
perched on tall step-ladders, worked enthusiastically. Mr. Black and
Mrs. Crane handed up the decorations. The cook, watching them from the
basement window, grinned broadly at the sight.

"Sure," said she, "'tis a lot of children they are; but 'twould do no
harrum if all the wurruld was loike 'em."

By church time the towering tree was in readiness except for a few of
the more precious gifts, to be added later.

"I hope," said Mrs. Crane, with a lingering, backward glance, when
there was no further excuse for remaining outdoors, "that the air will
be as quiet to-night as it is now. It would be dreadful if we couldn't
light the candles."

"We'll have to trust to luck," returned Mr. Black, "but I'm quite sure
that luck will be with us."

Of course the girls enjoyed their stockings at home, their gifts
that arrived by mail and express from out-of-town relatives and the
bountiful dinners at the home tables. But the Black-Crane tree to which
Henrietta, likewise, had been invited, was something entirely new and
so proved particularly enjoyable; if not, indeed, the crowning event
of the day. Martin had cleared away the snow and had laid boards and
even a carpet for them to stand on, and there were chairs and extra
wraps, only the girls were too excited to use them. But Mrs. Crane
and placid Rosa Marie sat enveloped in steamer rugs while the others
capered about the brilliantly lighted tree, constantly discovering new
beauties.

"I declare," sighed Mrs. Crane, happily, "you're the youngest of the
lot, Peter."

"Well," returned Mr. Black, "why not? It's the first real Christmas
I've had for forty years--but let's have another Christmas dinner on
New Year's Day; I was disappointed when all these young folks said,
'No, thank you,' to our invitation to dinner. Just remember, girls,
we expect to see you all here the first of January or there'll be
trouble--I'll see that it lasts all the year, too."

"Peter Black," warned Mrs. Crane, "that step-ladder's prancing on one
leg. If you go over that bluff you won't stop till you land in the
lake. Let Martin do all the circus acts."

"I've got it, now," said Mr. Black, coming down safely with the small
parcel that had dangled so long just above his reach. "Here's something
for Henrietta Bedford, with the tree's compliments."

"How nice of you to remember me," cried Henrietta, opening the parcel.
"And what a dear little pin--just what I needed. Thank you very much
indeed."

Of all their gifts, however, the Cottagers liked their lovely little
watches the best. They had expected no such magnificent gifts from Mr.
Black, and their own people had, of course, considered them much too
young to be trusted with watches.

"Dear me," said Mabel, strutting about with her timepiece pinned to her
blouse, "I feel too grown-upedy for words. I never expected this moment
to come."

"I've _always_ wanted a watch," breathed Jean, "but I certainly
supposed I'd have to wait until I'd graduated from high-school--folks
almost always get them then."

"And I," beamed Marjory, "never expected a _pretty_, really truly
girl's watch, because--worse luck--I'm to get Aunty Jane's awful watch
when she dies. Of course I don't want her to die a minute before her
time, but getting even _that_ watch seemed sort of hopeless because all
Aunty Jane's ancestors that weren't killed by accident lived to enjoy
their nineties. But that doesn't prevent Aunty Jane's promising me that
clumsy old turnip whenever she's particularly pleased with me."

Bettie was too delighted for speech. But her big brown eyes spoke
eloquently for her.

Rosa Marie accepted the unusual tree, all her Teddy bears, her dolls
and other gifts, very much as a matter of course. Nothing it appeared
was ever sufficiently surprising to astonish calm little Rosa Marie.

"Perhaps," offered Bettie, "she's awfully surprised inside."

"I know _I_ am," laughed Mabel. "Inside and out, too."

Then, just as Mrs. Crane had decided that Rosa Marie had been outdoors
long enough, the Slater carriage arrived for the girls. Mr. Black,
beaming at the success of his Christmas party, packed them with all
their belongings into the vehicle and they rolled happily away.

They stopped at their own homes just long enough to drop most of the
gifts they had garnered from the Black-Crane tree; and then Henrietta
whisked her friends to the Slater home, where Mrs. Slater entertained
them for two hours over a delightful, genuinely English Christmas
supper.

Henrietta's tree, too, was a very handsome one. A realistic Santa Claus
who seemed as English as the supper, since he dropped the letter H just
as Simmons always did, distributed the gifts. When the Cottagers opened
odd, foreign-looking parcels and found that Henrietta had given each
girl a set of three beautiful Oriental boxes with jewelled tops, their
delight knew no bounds. They had expected nothing so fine.

"You see," explained Henrietta, "I told Father, months ago, to send
me a lot of little things to give away for Christmas and of course he
bought boxes. I believe he buys every one he sees."

"They're darlings," declared Jean, dreamily. "They take you away to
far-off places where things smell old and--and magnificent."

"It's the grown-upness of my presents that I like," explained
eleven-year-old Mabel, with a big sigh of satisfaction. "It's lovely to
have people treat you as if you were somebody."

"You see," laughed Marjory, "it's only two years ago that an
absent-minded aunt of Mr. Bennett's sent Mabel a rattle, and the poor
child can't forget it."

"Miss 'Enrietta," inquired Santa Claus, anxiously, when the Slater
tree, too, had been stripped of all but its decorations, "might Hi be
hexcused now? Hi'm due at a Christmas ball and Hi'm hawfully afride
these togs is meltin' me 'igh collar."

"Yes," laughed Henrietta, "you've done nobly and I hope you'll have a
lovely time at the party."

It was half-past ten before the Cottagers got to bed that night--a long
day because they had risen so early.

"But," breathed Bettie, happily, "when days are as nice as this I like
'em long."

"It's nice to have friends," said Jean.

"I wish," sighed Mabel, "they'd make some kind of a watch that had to
be wound every hour; it seems awfully hard to wait until morning."

When Mrs. Bennett looked in that night to see if Mabel had remembered
to take off her best hair ribbon, she found a doll on each side of the
blissful slumberer, a watch pinned to her nightdress, a jeweled box
clasped loosely in each relaxed hand and at least half a bushel of
other treasures under the uncomfortable pillow. As Mrs. Bennett gently
removed all these articles and straightened the bed-clothes Mabel
murmured in her sleep, "Merry Christmas, girls."



CHAPTER XXVIII

A Bettie-less Plan


THE first thing that happened after Christmas was the announcement of
the School Board's decision to wait a full year before beginning to
build a new schoolhouse.

"Even if we could decide on a site," said they, "it would be hard
on the tax-payers to furnish money for such a building all at one
assessment. By spreading it over two years' tax-rolls it will come
easier."

The fathers, for the most part, were pleased with the arrangement, but
many of the mothers disliked it very much indeed.

"We must do something about it," said Aunty Jane, who had called at
Mrs. Bennett's to talk the matter over. "I'm in favor of sending
Marjory away to some good girls' school, because she has some money
that is to be used solely for educational purposes. There is enough
for college and for at least one year at a boarding school, besides
something for extras. My conscience will feel easier when that money
begins to go toward its proper purpose."

"The Doctor thinks of going to Germany next fall for a special course
of study that he thinks he needs," returned Mrs. Bennett. "If we could
place Mabel in a safe, comfortable school, I could go with him. We've
been talking of it for a long time."

"I certainly am not satisfied," admitted Mrs. Mapes, when Aunty Jane
put the matter to her. "There are too many pupils crowded into that
Baptist basement and it's so damp that I've had to put cold compresses
on Jean's throat four times since the fire. If you can find a good
school to fit a modest pocketbook we'd be glad to send Jean for the one
year."

Then Aunty Jane unfolded her plans to the Tuckers.

"It's a beautiful idea," said pleasant Dr. Tucker, "as far as the rest
of you are concerned; but you will have to leave Bettie entirely out of
the scheme; we simply can't afford it. We've always hoped to be able
to do something for Dick--he wants to be a physician--but even that is
hopelessly beyond us at present."

"No," added Mrs. Tucker, shifting the heavy baby to her other arm and
hoping that Aunty Jane would not notice the dust on the battered table,
"we couldn't even think of sending Bettie. But Mrs. Slater intends
letting Henrietta go some place next fall; why don't you talk it over
with her?"

"I mean to," assured Aunty Jane. "You see, it will need a great deal of
talking over because it may prove hard to find exactly the right kind
of school. The eastern seminaries are too far away. It must be some
place south of Lakeville, within a day's journey, within reach of all
our pocketbooks, and in a healthful location. It mustn't be too big,
too stylish, or too old-fashioned. I'm sending out postal cards every
day and getting catalogues by every mail; but so far, I haven't come to
any decision except that Marjory is to go _some_ place."

At first, the older people said little about school matters to the four
girls, but as winter wore on it became an understood thing that not
only fortunate Henrietta but Jean, Marjory and Mabel were to go away to
school the following September.

"Won't it be simply glorious," said Henrietta, who was entertaining the
Cottagers in her den, "if all four of us land in the same school; and
we _must_--I shall stand out for that. And you and I, Jean, shall room
together and be chums."

"Then Marjory and I," announced Mabel, "shall room together, too, and
fight just the way we always do if Jean isn't on hand to stop us."

"Won't it be perfectly fine?" breathed Marjory. "I've always loved
boarding-school stories and now we'll be living right in one."

Bettie kept silence, but her eyes were big and troubled. With the
girls gone she knew that her world would be sadly changed. Her close
companionship with the other Cottagers--she was only three when
she first began to play with Jean--had prevented her forming other
friendships. Without doubt, Aunty Jane would be lonely; the Bennetts,
in Germany, might miss noisy, affectionate Mabel, Mrs. Mapes might
long for helpful Jean and Mrs. Slater would certainly find her big,
beautiful home dull with no sparkling Henrietta but it was Bettie,
poor little impecunious, uncomplaining Bettie, who would be the very
loneliest of all. The others would lose only one girl apiece; Bettie's
loss would be fourfold. Lovely Jean, sprightly Marjory, jolly Mabel and
attractive Henrietta--how _could_ she spare them all at once! And the
glorious times the absent four would have together--how _could_ Bettie
miss all that? It seemed, to the little, overwhelmed girl, too big a
trouble to talk about.

For a long, long time the more fortunate girls were too taken up with
their own prospects to think very seriously of Bettie's; but one day
Jean was suddenly astonished at the depth of misery that she surprised
in Bettie's wistful, tell-tale eyes. After that, the girls openly
expressed their pity for Bettie, who would have to stay in Lakeville.
This proved even harder to bear than their light-hearted chatter; for
it made Bettie pity herself to an even greater extent.

Of course, it would be several months before the hated school--Bettie,
by this time, was quite certain that she hated it--would swallow up
her dearest four friends at one sudden, hideous gulp; but remote as
the date was, the interested girls could talk of very little else. No
matter what topic they might begin with, it always worked around at
last to "when I go away next fall."

"I can't have any clothes this spring," said Jean, when the girls, in
a body, were escorting Henrietta home from her dressmaker's. "Mother's
letting my old things down and piecing everything till I feel like a
walking bedquilt. You see, I'm to have new things to go away with."

"Same here," asserted Mabel. "Only _my_ mother's having a worse time
than yours to make my things meet. My waist measure is twenty-nine
inches and my skirt bands are only twenty-seven."

"_Only_ twenty-seven," groaned shapely Henrietta.

"If you see a second Aunty Jane," said Marjory, skipping ahead to
imitate the elder Miss Vale's prim, peculiar walk, "running round
Lakeville all summer, you'll know who it is. She's cutting down two of
her thousand-year-old gowns to tide me over the season. One came out of
the Ark and she purchased the other at a little shop on Mount Ararat."

"Grandmother's making lists," laughed Henrietta, "of all the things
mentioned in all the catalogues. When she gets done, probably she'll
add them all up and divide the result by _me_; and that will give a
respectable outfit for one girl."

"Poor Bettie!" said sympathetic Jean, squeezing Bettie's slim hand.
"You're out of it all, aren't you?"

But this was too much for Bettie. She turned hastily and fled.

The girls looked after her pityingly.

"Poor Bettie!" murmured Jean. "It's awfully hard on her to hear all
this talk about school. She's always had us, you know, and she thinks
there won't be a scrap of Lakeville left when we're gone."

In February Rosa Marie created a little excitement by coming down
with measles. Maggie, the maid, had broken out with this unlovely
affliction and no one had suspected what the trouble was until she had
peeled in the actual presence of Rosa Marie. Of course Rosa Marie came
down with measles too. But there was an unusual feature about this
illness. Although it was Maggie and Rosa Marie who were supposed to be
the sufferers it was really Mrs. Crane who did all the suffering. You
see, this inexperienced lady read all the literature that she could
find that touched on the subject of measles and its after-effects;
and long after Rosa Marie had entirely recovered, conscientious Mrs.
Crane remained awake nights waiting for the dreaded "after-effects" to
develop.

"We'll bury Mrs. Crane with whooping cough," sputtered Dr. Bennett,
writing a soothing prescription for the good lady, "if Rosa Marie ever
catches it. She's a hen bringing up a solitary duckling, and she's
certainly overdoing it. She ought not to have the responsibility of
that child; she's not fitted for responsibilities, yet she's the sort
that takes 'em."

"I'll adopt Rosa Marie myself," declared Henrietta Bedford, hearing
of this opinion and waylaying Dr. Bennett in Mrs. Slater's hall to
make her light-hearted offer. "She'd go beautifully with the other
picturesque objects in my den and I'm very sure that the responsibility
won't weigh _me_ down."

"So am I," laughed Dr. Bennett. "So sure of it that I shan't allow you
to afflict your grandmother with any carelessly adopted babies. But
that child is on my conscience, since Mabel was the principal culprit
in the matter. We'll try to get Mrs. Crane to send her to an asylum;
only that dear lady's conscience will have to be bombarded from all
sides before it will let her consent to any such sensible plan. Perhaps
you can get the girls--particularly Mabel,--to look at the matter from
that point of view; we must rescue Mrs. Crane."

"I'll try to," promised Henrietta.



CHAPTER XXIX

Anxious Days


FOR the next few weeks the Cottagers led as quiet a life as almost
daily association with Henrietta would permit. Jean grew a trifle
taller, Marjory discovered new ways of doing her hair and Mabel
remained as round and ruddy as ever. But everybody was worried about
Bettie. She seemed listless and indifferent in school, she fell asleep
over her books when she attempted to study at night, she grew averse to
getting up mornings and day by day she grew thinner and paler, until
even heedless Mabel observed that she was all eyes.

"What's the trouble?" asked Jean, when Bettie said that she didn't feel
like going to the Public Library corner to view the Uncle Tom's Cabin
parade. "A walk would do you good, and it's only four blocks."

"I'm tired," returned Bettie. "My head would like to go but my feet
would rather not. And my hands don't want to do anything--or even
my tongue. You can tell me about the parade--that'll be easier than
looking at it."

Now, this was a new Bettie. The old one, while not exactly a noisy
person, had been so active physically that the others had sometimes
found it difficult to follow her dancing footsteps. She had ever been
quick to wait on the other members of her large family; or to do
errands, in the most obliging fashion, for any of her friends. This
new Bettie eyed the Tucker cat sympathetically when it mewed for milk;
but she relegated the task of feeding pussy to one of her much more
unwilling small brothers.

"She needs a tonic," said Mrs. Tucker, giving Bettie dark-brown doses
from a large bottle. "It's the spring, I guess."

Two days after the parade there was great excitement among Bettie's
friends. She had not appeared at school. That in itself was not
an unusual occurrence, for Bettie often stayed at home to help her
overburdened mother through particularly trying days; but when Jean
stopped in to consult her little friend about homemade valentines, Mrs.
Tucker met her with the news that Bettie was sick in bed.

"Can't I see her?" asked Jean.

"I'm afraid not," replied Mrs. Tucker, who looked worried. "She's
asleep just now and she has a temperature."

When Mabel heard this latter fact she at once consulted Dr. Bennett.

"Father," she queried, "do folks ever die of temperature?"

"Why, yes," returned the Doctor. "If the temperature is below zero they
sometimes freeze. Why?"

"Mrs. Tucker says that's what Bettie's got--temperature."

"It isn't a disease, child. It's a condition of heat or cold. But it's
too soon to say anything about Bettie--go play with your dolls."

Henrietta and the remaining Cottagers immediately thought of lovely
things to do for Bettie. So, too, did Mr. Black. Impulsive Henrietta
purchased a large box of most attractive candy, Jean made her a lovely
sponge cake that sat down rather sadly in the middle but rose nobly
at both ends; Mabel begged half a lemon pie from the cook; Marjory
concocted a wonderful bowl of orange jelly with candied cherries on
top, Mrs. Crane made a steaming pitcherful of chicken soup and Mr.
Black sent in a great basket of the finest fruit that the Lakeville
market afforded.

But when all these successive and well-meaning visitors presented
themselves and their unstinted offerings at the Rectory door, Dr.
Tucker received them sadly.

"Bettie is down with a fever," said he. "She can't eat _anything_."

The days that followed were the most dreadful that the Cottagers had
ever known. They lived in suspense. Day after day when they asked
for news of Bettie the response was usually, "Just about the same."
Occasionally, however, Dr. Bennett shook his head dubiously and said,
"Not quite so well to-day."

For weeks--for _years_ it seemed to the disheartened children--these
were the only tidings that reached them from the sick-room. There was a
trained nurse whose white cap sometimes gleamed in an upper window, the
grave-faced, uncommunicative doctor visited the house twice a day, a
boy with parcels from the drug store could frequently be seen entering
the Rectory gate and that was about all that the terribly interested
friends could learn concerning their beloved Bettie. They spent most of
their time hovering quietly and forlornly about Mrs. Mapes's doorstep,
for that particular spot furnished the best view of the afflicted
Rectory. They wanted, poor little souls, to keep as close to Bettie as
possible. If the sun shone during this time, they did not know it; for
all the days seemed dark and miserable.

"If we could only help a little," mourned Jean, who looked pale and
anxious, "it wouldn't be so bad."

"I teased her," sighed Henrietta, repentantly, "only two days before
she was taken sick. I do wish I hadn't."

"I gave her the smaller half of my orange," lamented Mabel, "the very
last time I saw her. If--if I don't ever see--see her again----"

"Oh, well," comforted Marjory, hastily, "she might have been just
that much sicker if she'd eaten the larger piece. But _I_ wish I
hadn't talked so much about boarding school. It always worried her and
sometimes I tried [Marjory blushed guiltily at the remembrance] to make
her just a little envious."

"I'm afraid," confessed Jean, "I sometimes neglected her just a little
for Henrietta; but I mean to make up for it if--if I have a chance."

"That's it," breathed Marjory, softly, "if we only have a chance."

Then, because the March wind wailed forlornly, because the waiting had
been so long and because it seemed to the discouraged children as if
the chance, after all, were extremely slight--as slight and frail a
thing as poor little Bettie herself--the four friends sat very quietly
for many minutes on the rail of the Mapes's broad porch, with big tears
flowing down their cheeks. Presently Mabel fell to sobbing outright.

Mr. Black, on his way home from his office, found them there. He had
meant to salute them in his usual friendly fashion, but at sight of
their disconsolate faces he merely glanced at them inquiringly.

"She's--she's just about the same," sobbed Jean.

Mr. Black, without a word, proceeded on his way; but all the sparkle
had vanished from his dark eyes and his countenance seemed older.
He, too, was unhappy on Bettie's account and he lived in hourly dread
of unfavorable news. The very next morning, however, there was a more
hopeful air about Dr. Bennett when he left the Rectory. Mabel, waiting
at home, questioned him mutely with her eyes.

"A very slight change for the better," said he, "but it is too soon for
us to be sure of anything. We're not out of the woods yet."

Next came the tidings that Bettie was really improving, though not at
all rapidly; yet it was something to know that she was started on the
road to recovery.

Perhaps the tedious days that followed were the most trying days
of all, however, for the impatient children; because the "road to
recovery" in Bettie's case seemed such a tremendously long road that
her little friends began to fear that Bettie would never come into
sight at the end of it, but she did at last. And such a forlorn Bettie
as she was!

She had certainly been very ill. They had shaved her poor little head,
her eyes seemed almost twice their usual size and the girls had not
believed that any living person could become so pitiably thin; but the
wasting fever was gone and what was left of Bettie was still alive.

Long before the invalid was able to sit up, the girls had been admitted
one by one and at different times, to take a look at her. Bettie had
smiled at them. She had even made a feeble little joke about being able
to count every one of her two hundred bones.

After a time, Bettie could sit up in bed. A few days later, rolled in a
gaily flowered quilt presented by the women of the parish; she occupied
a big, pillowed chair near the window; and all four of the girls were
able to throw kisses to her from Jean's porch. And now she could eat a
few spoonfuls of Mrs. Crane's savory broth, a very little of Marjory's
orange jelly and one or two of Mr. Black's imported grapes. But, for a
long, long time, Bettie progressed no further than the chair.

"I don't know what ails that child," confessed puzzled Dr. Bennett.
"She's like a piece of elastic with all the stretch gone from the
rubber. She seems to lack something; not exactly vitality--animation,
perhaps, or ambition. Yes, she certainly lacks ambition. She ought to
be outdoors by now."

"Hurry and get well," urged Jean, who had been instructed to try to
rouse her too-slowly-improving friend. "The weather's warmer every day
and it won't be long before we can open Dandelion Cottage. And we've
sworn a tremendous vow not to show Henrietta--she's crazy to see it--a
single inch of that house until you're able to trot over with us.
Here's the key. You're to keep it until you're ready to unlock that
door yourself."

"Drop it into that vase," directed Bettie. "It seems a hundred miles
to that cottage, and I'll never have legs enough to walk so far."

"Two are enough," encouraged Jean.

"Both of mine," mourned Bettie, displaying a wrinkled stocking,
"wouldn't make a whole one."

"Mrs. Slater wants to take you to drive every day, just as soon as you
are able to wear clothes. She told me to tell you."

"It seems a fearfully long way to the stepping stone," sighed Bettie.
"Go home, please. It's makes me tired to _think_ of driving."

"There's certainly something amiss with Bettie," said Dr. Bennett, when
told of this interview. "Some little spring in her seems broken. We
must find it and mend it or we won't have any Bettie."



CHAPTER XXX

An April Harvest


SPRING is an unknown season in Lakeville. But if one waits sufficiently
long, there comes at last a period known as the breaking of winter.
Since, owing to the heavy snows of January, February and March, there
is always a great deal of winter to break, the process is an extended
and--to the "overshoed" young--a decidedly trying one. But even in
northerly Lakeville there finally came an afternoon when the girls
decided that the day was much too fine to be spent indoors; and that
the hour had arrived when it would be safe to leave off rubbers. The
snow had disappeared except in very shaded spots and the Bay was free
of ice except for a line of white that showed far out beyond the
intense blue. The sidewalks were comparatively dry, but streams of
icy water gurgled merrily in the deep gutters that ran down all the
sloping streets. Although this abundant moisture was only the result of
melting snow in the hills back of Lakeville and possessed no beauty in
itself, these impetuous streams gave forth pleasant springlike sounds
and made one think sentimentally of babbling brooks, fresh clover and
blossoms by the wayside. Yet one needed to draw pretty heavily on one's
imagination to see either flowers or grass at that early date; but the
_feel_ of them, as Jean said, was certainly in the air.

"Let's walk down by Mrs. Malony's," suggested Mabel.

"She doesn't milk at this time of day, does she?" queried Henrietta,
cautiously.

"We needn't go in," assured Mabel. "We'll just run down one hill and up
the other; but it's always lovely to walk along the shore road. There's
a sort of a side-walk--if folks aren't too particular."

"Wouldn't it be beautiful," sighed Jean, "if Bettie could only come
too? This air would do anybody good."

"Yes," mourned Marjory, "nothing seems quite right without Bettie."

The girls, a trifle saddened, went slowly down the hill.

"We must certainly steer clear of Mrs. Malony," warned Henrietta, as
the egg-woman's house became visible. "Another dose of her hot milk
would drive me from Lakeville."

"There she is now!" exclaimed Mabel. "I recognize her by her cow; she's
driving it home."

"Perhaps it ran away to look for summer," offered Marjory. "The lady
seems displeased with her pet."

"An' how are the darlin' childer?" cried Mrs. Malony, greeting her
friends while yet a long way off. "'Tis a sight for a quane to see, so
manny purty lasses. But where's me little black-oiyed Bettie--there's
the swate choild for yez? Sure Oi heard she was loike to die, wan
while back. Betther, is ut? Thot's good, thot's good. An' wud yez
belave ut, Miss Mabel,--'tis fatter than iver yez are, Oi see--Oi had
yez in me moind all this blissid day."

"Why?" asked Mabel, rather coldly.

"Well, 'twas loike this, darlin'," explained Mrs. Malony, dropping her
voice to a more confidential tone and nodding significantly toward a
distant chimney. "'Twas siven o'clock the mornin' whin Oi seen smoke
risin' from the shanty beyant. All day Oi've been moinded to be goin'
acrost the p'int an' lookin' in at thot windy to see if 'twas thot
big-eyed Frinch wan come back wid the spring."

"You don't mean Rosa Marie's mother!" gasped Mabel.

"Thot same," proceeded Mrs. Malony, calmly. "But what wid Malony
white-washin' me kitchen, an' me pesky hins walkin' in me parlor and me
cow breakin' down me fince, sure Oi've had no toime to be traipsin'
about."

"Couldn't you go now?" queried Jean, eagerly. "If it _is_ that woman we
ought to know it."

"Wait till Oi toi up me cow," consented Mrs. Malony.

The four friends, with Mrs. Malony in tow, picked their way over the
badly kept path that led to the shanty.

"The door's been mended," announced observant Marjory.

"It doesn't seem quite proper," said gentle-mannered Jean, "to peek
into people's windows. Couldn't we knock and ask in a perfectly proper
way to see the lady of the house?"

"Sure we could thot," replied Mrs. Malony.

"Do hurry!" urged Mabel, breathlessly.

There was no response to Jean's rather nervous knock; but when Mrs.
Malony applied her stout knuckles to the door there were results. The
door was opened cautiously, just a tiny crack at first, then to its
full extent. A dark-eyed woman with two thick braids falling over her
shapely shoulders confronted them.

She swept a mildly curious glance over Mrs. Malony, over Jean, over
Marjory, over Henrietta. Then her splendid eyes fell upon Mabel; they
changed instantaneously.

In a twinkling the woman had brushed past the others to seize startled
Mabel by both shoulders and to gaze piercingly into Mabel's frightened
eyes. The woman tried to speak; but, for a long moment, her voice would
not come.

"You--you!" she gasped, clutching Mabel still more tightly, as if she
feared that the youngster might escape. "Ees eet you for sure? But
w'ere, w'ere----?"

No further words would come. The poor creature's evident emotion was
pitiful to see, and the girls were too overwhelmed to do more than
stare with all their might.

"Rosa Marie's all right," gulped Mabel, coming to the rescue with
exactly the right words. "She's safe and happy."

"Ma babee, ma babee," moaned the woman, her long-lashed eyes beaming
with wonderful tenderness, and expressive of intense longing. "Bring me
to heem queek--ah, so queek as evaire you can. Ma babee--I want heem
queek."

Then, without stopping for outer garments or even to close her door,
and still holding fast to the abductor of Rosa Marie, the woman
hurriedly led the way from the clearing.

Mrs. Malony would have remained with the party if she had not
encountered her frolicsome cow, a section of fence-rail dangling from
her neck, strolling off toward town.

On the way up the long hill the woman, who still possessed all the
beauty and the "mother-looks" that Mabel had described, talked volubly
in French, in Chippewa Indian and in broken English. As Henrietta was
able to understand some of the French and part of the English, the
girls were able to make out almost two-thirds of what she was saying.

On the day of Mabel's first visit the young mother had departed with
her new husband, who, not wanting to be burdened with a step-child,
had persuaded her to abandon Rosa Marie, for whom she had subsequently
mourned without ceasing. As might have been expected, the man had
proved unkind. He had beaten her, half starved her and finally deserted
her. She had worked all winter for sufficient money to carry her to
Lakeville and had waited impatiently--all that time without news of her
baby--for mild weather in order that the shanty, the only home that she
knew, might become habitable.

The hill was steep and long, but all five hastened toward the top.
Marjory ran ahead to ring the Black-Crane door-bell. Mabel piloted the
trembling mother straight to the nursery. Jean, learning from Martin
where to look for Mrs. Crane, ran to fetch her.

Rosa Marie, in her little chair and placidly stringing beads, looked
up as unconcernedly as if it were an ordinary occasion. The woman,
uttering broken, incoherent sounds sped across the big room, dropped to
her knees and flung her arms about Rosa Marie. Then, for many moments,
her face buried in Rosa Marie's neck, the only-half-civilized mother
sobbed unrestrainedly.

The child, however, gazed stolidly over her mother's shoulder at the
other visitors, all of whom were much more moved than she. Mrs. Crane,
indeed, was shedding tears and even Mr. Black seemed touched. As for
Mabel, that sympathetic young person was weeping both visibly and
audibly, without exactly knowing why.

Since the repentant mother, who refused to let her baby out of her arms
for a single moment, begged to be allowed to take Rosa Marie to the
shanty that very night, Mrs. Crane, aided by the willing girls and Mr.
Black, did what they could toward making the place comfortable.

After Martin and Mr. Black had carried a whole motor-carful of bedding,
food and fuel to the shanty, the now radiant mother, Rosa Marie, her
toys, her clothes and all her belongings, were likewise transported
to the humble lakeside dwelling. Everybody was so busy and the whole
affair was over so quickly that no one had time for regrets.

"I declare," said Mrs. Crane, wonderingly, "I ought to feel as if I'd
lost something. Instead, I'm all of a whirl."

"I said," Mabel triumphed, "that she'd come back."

Jean was commissioned to go the next morning to break the news to
Bettie. It seemed to Dr. Bennett and to the hopeful Cottagers that this
important happening would surely rouse the listless little maid if
anything could. Mr. Black, who arrived with a great bunch of violets
while Jean was telling the wonderful tale as graphically as she could,
expectantly watched Bettie's pale countenance. Her wistful, weary eyes
brightened for a moment and a faint, tender smile flickered across her
lips.

"I'm glad," said she. "Now Mrs. Crane won't have to have whooping cough
and all the other things."

"Mrs. Crane is going to find work for Rosa Marie's mother," announced
Jean, "and the shanty is to be mended."

"That's nice," returned Bettie, who, however, no longer seemed
interested in Rosa Marie's mother. "But my ears are tired now; don't
tell me any more."

After this failure, Mr. Black followed crestfallen Jean downstairs; he
drew her into the shabby Rectory parlor.

"Now, Jean," demanded he, sternly, "is there a solitary thing in this
whole world that Bettie wants? Is there anything that could _possibly_
happen that would wake her up and bring her back? I'm dreadfully afraid
she's slipping away from us, Jean; and she's far too precious to lose.
Now think--think _hard_, little girl. Has she _ever_ wanted anything?"

"Why," responded Jean, slowly, as if some outside force were dragging
the words from her, "right after Christmas there _was_ something, I
think. A big, impossible something that _nobody_ could possibly help.
She didn't talk about it--and yet--and yet---- Perhaps she did worry."

"Go on," insisted Mr. Black, "I want it all."

"She seemed to get used to the idea so--so uncomplainingly. Still, she
may have cared more than anybody suspected. She's _like_ that--never
cries when she's hurt."

"What idea?" demanded Mr. Black. "Cared for what? Make it clear,
child."

"You see," explained Jean, "all of us--Henrietta, Marjory, Mabel
and I--have been talking a great deal about going away to boarding
school--we're all going. But Bettie--Bettie, of course, knew that she
couldn't go. There was no money and her father said----"

"And why in thunder," shouted Mr. Black, forgetting the invalid and
striding up and down the room with his fists clenched, "didn't somebody
say so? What do folks think the good Lord _gave_ us money for? Why
didn't--Come upstairs. We'll settle this thing right now."

Impulsive Mr. Black, with dazed Jean at his heels, opened Bettie's door
and walked in. Bettie lifted her tired eyes in very mild astonishment.

"Bad pennies," she smiled, "always come back. What's all the noise
about?"

"Bettie," demanded Mr. Black, "do you want to go away to school with
those other girls next September?"

Bettie opened her eyes wide. Jean said afterwards that she "pricked up
her ears," too.

"Because," continued Mr. Black, keeping a sharp watch on Bettie's
awakening countenance, "you're going. And if _I_ say you're going, you
surely are. Now, don't worry about it--the thing's settled. You're
going with the others."

"Open the windows," pleaded Bettie, her face alight with some of the
old-time eagerness. "I want to see how it smells outdoors."

"I believe we've done it," breathed Jean. "She looks a lot brighter."

And they had. No one had realized how tender, uncomplaining Bettie had
dreaded losing her friends. And in her weakened state, both before and
after the fever, the trouble had seemed very big. The load had almost
crushed sick little Bettie. Now that it was lifted, and it was, for
Mr. Black swept everything before him, there was nothing to keep the
little girl from getting well with truly gratifying speed.

"Bettie," asked Dr. Bennett, the next evening, "are you sure this is
your own pulse? If it is, it's behaving properly at last."

"She ate every bit of her supper," said Mrs. Tucker, happily, "and she
asked, this afternoon, if she owned any shoes. She's really getting
well."

"I'm hurrying," laughed happy Bettie, "to make up for lost time. Do
give me things to make me fat--as fat as Mabel."

"She's certainly better," said the satisfied doctor. "By to-morrow
we'll have to tie her down to keep her from dancing. She's our own
Bettie, at last."

    THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Punctuation errors repaired. Varied hyphenation retained.

Front page description, "Scovill" changed to "Scovel" (Florence Scovel
Shinn)

Page 96, "Bennettt" changed to "Bennett" (Mrs. Bennett, rescuing)

Page 165, "shruddered" changed to "shuddered" ("Ugh!" shuddered Marjory)

Page 214, repeated word "a" removed from text. Original read (like a a
lobster's)





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