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Title: The Blissylvania Post-Office
Author: Taggart, Marion Ames
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Blissylvania Post-Office" ***

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                                  THE

                       BLISSYLVANIA POST-OFFICE.

                                  BY

                         MARION AMES TAGGART.

                            [Illustration]


                    NEW YORK, CINCINNATI, CHICAGO:



                          BENZIGER BROTHERS,

                   PUBLISHERS OF BENZIGER'S MAGAZINE



                Copyright, 1897, by Benziger Brothers.



CONTENTS.


          CHAPTER                                  PAGE

  I.    How it Began,                                5

  II.   The Honorary Member,                        18

  III.  A Narrow Escape,                            32

  IV.   The Mysterious Tenant,                      46

  V.    The Invasion of the Amazons,                57

  VI.   Further Acquaintance,                       69

  VII.  A New Member,                               82

  VIII. Margery's Plan,                             96

  IX.   One Honorary Member to the Other Honorary
  Member,                                          104

  X.    A Picnic,                                  118

  XI.   A Wedding,                                 132

  XII.  The End of the Year and of the Post-Office,143



THE BLISSYLVANIA POST-OFFICE.



CHAPTER I.

HOW IT BEGAN.


IT was wonderful that any one could have a bright idea on
such a dark day. It had rained in torrents all of the night before and
throughout the forenoon, and now that the rain had ceased, the sodden
earth sent up clouds of steaming dampness to mingle with the thick fog
descending, and they blended together like two gray ghosts of pleasant
weather. The lilacs drooped in discouragement, and a draggle-tailed
robin sat with hanging wings on the fence, uttering an occasional
chirp of protest in such vehement disgust that every time he made the
remark it tilted him forward, and agitated him to the tip of his tail.
A slender boy lay on the hearth-rug in the light of the fire kindled
to dry the dampness, the warmth of which was grateful, although it
was almost June. He was recklessly pulling a stitch that was broken in
the knee of his stocking all the way down to the ankle, and the gloomy
expression of his face indicated a melancholy pleasure in the knowledge
that he had no business to do this.

Tommy Traddles, the striped cat, sat before a plump little girl on the
floor, whose sunny face no amount of bad weather could cloud, watching
the hearth-brush in her hand, which she occasionally whisked to and fro
for his amusement, and making uncatlike cooings in his throat if she
forgot him for too long. Jack Hildreth, the boy on the rug, said he was
a cat with a canary-bird attachment.

On the edge of a chair opposite the cheery little girl on the floor sat
a long-limbed, dark-eyed girl, holding her gypsy face in her hands, her
elbows on her knees, listlessly watching Amy Tracy and the cat. They
were spending the afternoon with Margaret Gresham, Jack's cousin, who
was kept in the house by a cold, and whose tiny figure was curled up
in a big leather chair near the fire, and her pale face and big, eager
gray eyes looked out from its brown depths in sharp contrast.

"I'm going to ask St. Anthony to find the sun," announced the
gypsy-like girl suddenly. She spoke through her closed teeth, not
taking the trouble to remove her hands from her face.

"Not a bad idea, Trix," said Jack, laughing.

But their hostess looked shocked. "Why, Beatrice Lane, you shouldn't
say that, it isn't right," she protested.

"Well, I'm sure it seems lost enough," retorted Trix.

"Nothing's lost when you know where it is," said Jack.

"I don't know where the sun is, except that it's somewhere in the sky,"
said Trix.

"It's just about there," said Jack, sitting up to point out of the
window, and becoming more cheerful in the chance to show off to the
girls. "It's sliding right down to the zenith."

"Horizon, Jack," interrupted Margery, laughing.

"Well, horizon, then; it doesn't matter," Jack said, annoyed. "It's
getting ready to slip down to China, and it's more than ninety-five
millions of miles away."

"Good boy!" said Trix mockingly. "How much he knows! I don't care about
the sun anyway, it's too late for it to shine to-day; but if I don't
find something to do I'll eat that cat up, Amy."

Amy cried out in pretended fear, and gathered Tommy Traddles to her
heart, but he remonstrated vigorously, and struggling free sat down in
precisely the same spot, wrapping his tail around him, and looking as
if he had never been disturbed.

"I was thinking," began Margery slowly, "of something nice."

"Charlotte Russe?" asked Jack, knowing Margery's weakness.

"Cats?" suggested Amy, alluding to another.

"Sister Aloysia?" inquired Beatrice, for Margery was devoted to her
teacher, and, in school phrase, "had a favorite nun."

"It's something nice for us to do," replied Margery, with much dignity,
"and it would not be for a day, but for always, and if you make fun of
me I'll not tell you."

"All right, Margery, we won't, and do tell quick," said Trix.

"I wasn't really making fun of you, and I'm dying to hear," said Amy.

"Tell ahead, Margery; hurry up," added Jack.

Thus urged, Margery sat up, putting down her feet, upon which she had
been sitting, and smoothing her skirt to do honor to what she had to
reveal.

"I was thinking," she began, "that we might form a club, we four."

"Like the A. G. L.?" asked Amy.

They had banded themselves into an Anti-Gum League, and wore its badge,
designed and made by Jack, which consisted of a piece of gum stuck on
a bent pin on the centre of a wooden disk, and preceded by the word
"No," in large red letters, which of course made the badge read: "No
Gum." The only trouble was that the gum frequently fell off, and had to
be renewed, and it required chewing in order to mould it soft enough
for the pin to enter. The duty of preparing the gum for the badges was
unanimously appointed to Jack, and honor forbade his chewing longer
than the flavor lasted, which was an agreeable circumstance, and one
that made him entertain secret doubts as to his being a worthy member
of the league.

"No, not like the A. G. L.," said Margery, replying to Amy's question.
"The A. G. L. has a noble end, for chewing gum is a bad habit; but this
would be more of a club, and only be for fun, though I think it would
improve us."

"Oh, what is it anyway?" cried Trix impatiently.

"There's a big tree down in the orchard," said Margery, "and it's
hollow. I thought we might each take a character, and use that name for
our letters, and Jack could fix up a box with partitions in it, and we
could put it in the hollow tree, and we'd have----"

"A post-office!" cried Trix, jumping up in great excitement, her dark
eyes snapping. "Margery, it's a great idea."

"Hurrah for Margery!" cried Jack.

"It's splendid. Oh, Margery, you are so clever!" cried Amy, scrambling
up rapidly, to Tommy Traddles' great disgust.

"When you do think, Margery, you think," said Trix, pulling Margery out
of her chair. "Come on," and holding Margery's slender little hands
in her strong brown ones, she pranced around the room in a triumphal
dance, followed by both the others, while Tommy Traddles retreated
under the sofa, whence he peered out at the performance with dilated
eyes.

He withdrew his head quickly as the four children fell breathless and
laughing on the sofa to discuss and mature Margery's brilliant plan.

"What did you mean about names?" asked Jack. "You may write poetry,
Margery, but you sometimes get mixed in talking prose."

"I mean this," began Margery. "Let's each take some character or name,
and let's write to each other by these names instead of our own; it
would be more fun. I'd like to be Mary Queen of Scots."

"Oh, I'll be Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert!" cried Jack, who in his
twelfth year was beginning to taste the joy Sir Walter has to give
an imaginative child, and revelled in constantly repeated reading of
"Ivanhoe."

"I'll be Anthony Wayne, because I'd love to ride down the steps,"
said Trix enthusiastically; "or Lafayette, or Light Horse Harry, or
Napoleon."

"O Trix, you can't be a man," expostulated Margery.

"Yes, I can. I'd like to know why you can't make believe the whole
thing just as well as part of it. I'm as much like a man as you're
like Mary Queen of Scots, or Jack is like Sir Whatever-his-name."

"Oh, but----" began Margery, with the anxious line appearing between
her eyes that always came there when she was worried.

"Now I think that it would be a bother to take any of these
characters," said Amy, the peacemaker. "You know, all the letters would
have to fit the parts, or they'd be silly, and I never could keep up
writing _thee_ and _thou_, and _wot ye_, instead of do you know, and
all that kind of words. You'd have to write the way Shakespeare did,
and I can't."

"Can't you? That's queer," remarked Margery, and the rest shouted.

"No, I can't," Amy continued, quite unconscious of a joke. "I'd like to
be the good Lady Godiva myself, who saved her people from starving, but
I couldn't keep it up."

"Couldn't you?" asked the others, and laughed again.

"No, I couldn't," reiterated Amy, who was the practical little woman of
the party. "I say we just take names, and not characters."

"Well," assented Margery reluctantly, "I'll be the Lady Griselda of
the Castle of the Lonely Lake."

"My goodness, Margery; no wonder you write poetry!" exclaimed Beatrice.

"I'll be----" but she got no farther.

"Now, Trix, please, _please_ don't be a boy," cried Margery.

"Well, I think it's mean; I've wanted to be a boy all my life, and you
won't even let me play one," grumbled Trix. "But I'll be a daring,
splendid girl, then. Couldn't we take a name out of a book?"

"Yes; don't you think so, Amy?"

"I don't see why not," said Amy.

"Then I'll be Catharine Seyton, who barred the door with her arm when
the mean Lady of Lochleven tried to break through into the queen's
chamber. I heard my brothers reading about it," cried Trix.

"It's in 'The Abbot,' by Scott," said Jack, glad to show his
acquaintance with literature, which Trix evidently considered grown up.
"I'll take Sir Harry Hotspur," he added.

"Isn't that history?" asked Margery doubtfully.

"No, not exactly," replied Jack. "It's Shakespeare, too; I'll take only
his part." Which, though not very clear, was satisfactory.

"I'm going to be Mrs. Peace Plenty, a philanthropist," announced Amy,
convulsing the rest.

"P. P. P.," gasped Margery, emerging from a sofa pillow with her
usually pale face crimson. "O Amy, you _are_ so funny, and you never
just seem to mean to be."

"Well, it's not so funny as that," said Amy, laughing good-naturedly.

"What is a philanthropist, Jack?" asked Trix. "How did you know, Amy?"

"It's a charitable person," said Jack.

"It's a person who loves human beings," said Amy at the same time. "I
know, because papa said if I didn't mind my p's and q's I'd grow up to
be one, and get on committees; so I asked him what it was, and when he
told me I didn't think it would be so bad to be one."

"Well, now we have settled the names. Do you think you could make the
box, Jack?" asked Margery.

"Of course I can," said Jack, looking with loving condescension at
the anxiously puckered brow of his little cousin, who, though a year
younger than he, was cleverer, yet made such mistakes as this question
implied; probably because she was only a girl.

"I'll make four divisions in it, and maybe I'll paint it."

"And make a drop-box, and nail it outside the tree for us to drop
letters in with a slit in the top," said Trix.

"Just as you like, Trix," remarked Jack solemnly. "I for one don't mean
to write letters with slits in the top. I'll make a slit in the top of
the box, though, if you like."

"Don't be a goose, Jack," replied Trix, with dignity. "You know I meant
that."

"We ought to have a name for our club," said Amy.

"Yes; I've been thinking of that underneath all the time we were
talking," said Margery.

Jack stooped down and peeped under the sofa.

"I don't see how you could have thought _underneath_, Margery," he
said; "I see only Tommy Traddles there."

"Now, Jack, don't be funny," said Margery, "and look out for smartness.
You know aunty says you are troubled with smartness sometimes. I meant
that underneath all we were saying I kept thinking of our name."

"Would Post-Office Club do?" asked Amy.

"I know; call it the Happy Thought Club," cried Trix, "because it was
a lovely thing for Margery to think of, and when we were half dead for
something to do, too. And we can have it a secret from all the other
girls and boys, and if we had the letters P. O. on our badge they'd
know right off what they stood for. We'll have a badge, won't we?" she
added.

"Let's vote on the name," said Margery. "All in favor of calling it the
Happy Thought Club please signify it by saying aye."

Four voices instantly chorused "Aye."

"Contrary, no," said Margery, and paused. Deep silence reigned, and the
clock on the mantelpiece struck once.

"I propose we have for a badge a blue ribbon, and get mamma to paint an
envelope on it, with the initials of the club over it. Would that be
nice?" asked Margery.

"Lovely; and now I must go, because that was half-past five that
struck," said Trix, jumping up.

"So must I," echoed Amy.

They hastily bundled themselves into their waterproofs, and Amy was
stamping her foot into her right rubber, when she paused with the
other rubber suspended in the air, on the way to her left foot.

"Why, there's Miss Isabel; we never thought of her!" she cried.

"Sure enough." "That's so." "Oh, our dear Miss Isabel," cried Trix and
Jack and Margery together.

"You'll have to make five divisions in the box, Jack," said Margery
decidedly, "for she's got to be an honorary member."



CHAPTER II.

THE HONORARY MEMBER.


THE Miss Isabel for whom a fifth box in the post-office would
be necessary lived in a charming old house, which had been built
when Washington was a little boy. It had a large, old-time garden,
deliciously fragrant of box, syringas, and spicy border pinks, which
the children thought the utmost perfection of all that a garden should
be, and wherein it was their delight to wander. Miss Isabel was the
youngest and only surviving member of a merry band of brothers and
sisters, and she seemed too small to live alone in the great house,
with its big, empty rooms filled with the saddest and only real
ghosts--the memory of those who had occupied them, the echo of feet
which had ceased to walk the earth, and voices silenced by the green
grass pressing on the lips that death had sealed; and had she been
other than Miss Isabel she would have been melancholy; but being Miss
Isabel she was as sunny as the day was long. Her gentle life was too
full of care for others' sorrows to find time to think of her own,
and she was too loving a little soul to ever lack love. The children
worshipped her; she was their playmate, counsellor, and ideal. They
had the vaguest ideas as to her age, supposing that she must be pretty
old, in spite of the fact of her playing with them almost like one of
themselves, for they could not remember her other than she was then;
but one does not have to live long in order to be always grown up in
the memory of little persons of eleven years and less, and in truth
Miss Isabel was still young.

The children understood that at some time in her life Miss Isabel had
not expected to live alone in the big homestead, but had looked forward
to a newer home of her own, and that at the last moment something had
happened to prevent her marriage.

Their elders said Miss Isabel had had "a disappointment," and the
children, especially Margery, looked at her with pitying wonder,
speculating on how it felt to have such a disappointment that it was
spoken of as if written with a big D, and feeling, judging from their
own sensations when something failed to which they were looking
forward, that it must be very dreadful.

It cleared off warm and beautiful after the rain, and in the afternoon
the flowers and grass looked a week farther advanced than before the
storm, and the discouraged robin darted at the worms in the soft
earth with jubilant chirps, and retired to the elm to sing and swing
in ecstasy. As soon as school was over the children started for Miss
Isabel's. She met them on the broad door-stone, looking, in her soft
pink muslin, like an apple-blossom that had drifted there.

"Oh, how pretty you are!" cried Trix, giving her an enthusiastic and
damaging hug, to Margery's mute amazement. It was a perpetual wonder to
her how the others could fondle Miss Isabel so recklessly. If Margery
threw her arms around her or kissed her, it was when she had her all
to herself, and though she laid deep schemes to walk near her, and sit
where she could see her, and often stroked her gown softly on the sly,
she never flew to her as Trix and Amy did. She was sometimes afraid
that Miss Isabel would think that the others loved her more than she,
but she need not have feared; Miss Isabel understood Margery.

"We've come to tell you the nicest thing." "We've made you an honorary
member." "Margery's thought of something fine." "We're going to have a
club," began all four at once.

"Dear me!" cried Miss Isabel, laughing; "I shall never be able to
listen to four at one time. Even a quadruped couldn't do that, you
know, because he has four legs, but not four ears."

"Jack, you tell," said Trix generously, feeling it proper to resign the
glory to the man of the party.

"Well, you know, Miss Isabel," Jack said willingly, "it's Margery's
scheme, and we thought it so good we're going to call it the Happy
Thought Club. We're going to have a post-office in Uncle Gresham's
orchard."

"With five boxes, one for you," put in Amy, who had been hopping about
wildly, first on one foot and then on the other, longing to speak.

"Yes, and we're each going to take a name and write letters to one
another, and have a badge, and--and--oh, everything," concluded Jack,
waving his hands, as if to include the universe.

"And you're to be in it, you're to be in it!" cried Trix and Amy,
hugging Miss Isabel at the same time.

"Of course she's in it; it wouldn't be much if she weren't," said Jack.

"What do you think of it; you haven't said a word?" asked Margery
anxiously.

"But that was owing to circumstances over which I have no control,"
laughed Miss Isabel. "Here are you chattering like four of the
blackbirds baked in the pie, with the other twenty flown away, and how
could I say anything? I think it is a splendumphant plan, and that is a
portmanteau word, such as Humpty Dumpty taught Alice in Looking-Glass
Land, and it means splendid and triumphant. I am deeply sensible of the
honor you do me, ladies and gentleman, in inviting me to join the club,
and I accept with joy and gratitude." And Miss Isabel took her pink
skirts in each hand, and dropped them a real dancing-school courtesy.

"Might one ask what names you have chosen?" she said.

"We were going to be people in history," said Margery. "I was going
to be Mary Queen of Scots, and Trix wanted to be Anthony Wayne, or
Lafayette, or Napoleon, or something else."

"Light Horse Harry," said Trix.

"Yes; but Amy thought it would be a bother to keep up historical ways
of talking--I mean old-fashioned ways--so we decided to take a name,
and not a character; so now Jack is Sir Harry Hotspur, and Trix is
Catharine Seyton, and I am the Lady Griselda of the Castle of the
Lonely Lake, and Amy is Mrs. Peace Plenty, a philanthropist."

"Well done, Amy!" cried Miss Isabel, laughing heartily. "All but yours
are just the names that I might have guessed they would have taken, and
yet yours is, perhaps, the most suitable of all."

"What will you take, Miss Isabel?" asked Jack.

"Why, I can't answer such an important question without thought," said
Miss Isabel. "Can you suggest a name?"

"I never could think of a name nice enough for you," said Amy lovingly.

"I think it ought to be something like Good Fairy," said Trix, "only
that sounds silly."

The color had been mounting to Margery's dark hair, and Jack said:

"Margery's thought of something. Let's have it, Peggy."

"I was thinking of Miss Isabel's name after I went to bed last night,"
the little girl said slowly. "I knew what it ought to mean, but you
couldn't make it sound like a name in English, so I asked papa this
morning if you could have any words for it in any other language that
would sound like a name, and he told me some. And I think," she said,
very low, "if Miss Isabel will, it would be nice for her to be Lady
Alma Cara."

Miss Isabel gave Margery such a look that her eyes filled with happy
tears.

"I would never have dared take such a lovely name," Miss Isabel said,
"but if my dear little Margery will give me it, I shall be proud to
have it."

"What does it mean?" asked Trix.

"I think Dearest Darling is about what it would be in English," said
Miss Isabel.

"That's you." "That's just the name." "Indeed, you are our dearest
darling," said Jack and Trix and Amy. But Margery said nothing, feeling
all warm and cosey inside, for she had named Miss Isabel, and her
loving look had thanked her better than words.

"Now, how about a postmark?" asked Miss Isabel.

"We never thought of that," said the children.

"Well, it seems to me that since we have all taken names, it would
be nice to play that our post-office was in some town with a pretty
title, and not postmark our letters with the real name of the town like
ordinary letters," said Miss Isabel.

"But how can we postmark at all?" asked Jack.

"If you don't mind, I will have a stamp made," said Miss Isabel, "and
the postmaster or postmistress can have an ink pad, and stamp each
envelope, like the real office."

"Oh, isn't that fine," "Oh, you blessed, little Miss Isabel!" "Didn't I
say she ought to be called the good fairy?" "You always think of _such_
things," chorused her visitors.

"Then that's settled," continued Miss Isabel. "Now, what shall we call
our town? If this is the Happy Thought Club, wouldn't it be a good idea
to call the place also something that meant happiness?"

"Joyberg," remarked Margery thoughtfully.

"That wouldn't do; sounds like June bug," said Jack decidedly.

"Happiness Centre," suggested Amy.

"That is good, but a trifle long, Amy," said Miss Isabel.

"How would Bliss-sylvania do?" asked Jack. "It's like Pennsylvania, you
know, and would mean _bliss_ and _woods_, and that would be saying that
we had fun in the tree in the orchard."

"I don't know," began Miss Isabel doubtfully, but was overwhelmed by a
chorus of applause from the three little girls, whom the name struck
favorably.

"But how could we get on with so many s's in the middle?" asked Amy;
"there are three right together."

"We could easily drop one, if that is the only drawback," said Miss
Isabel, "and write it B-l-i-s-s-y-l-v-a-n-i-a. That is often done in
spelling, and is called elision of a letter."

"It is lovely," cried all the little girls. "Jack, how did you come to
think of it?"

Jack tried to look modest.

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "It just popped into my head."

"Like all great thoughts," added Miss Isabel. "We will make you mayor
of Blissylvania, Jack. How about postage-stamps, girls and boy?"

"Oh, must we have stamps?" they asked.

"Why, certainly not, if you would rather not; but I thought it would be
more fun," said Miss Isabel. "I could paint some--say, a dozen for each
of us, and then they need not be cancelled, except with a pencil-mark
that would easily rub off, so they would last a long time."

"It would be much nicer, but you ought not to bother, Miss Isabel,"
said Amy.

"It is no trouble; I'll do them in the evening, and if Jack makes
the box, and you all do lots of things, I ought to do something.
An honorary member must be an honorable member," said Miss Isabel,
smiling. "May I ask you to go into the arbor in the garden while I ask
Mary to make some lemonade and bring it to us with cake, that we may
eat and drink to the health of the Happy Thought Club of Blissylvania?"

The children passed through the great hall, and out the door opposite
the front one, which admitted them to the beloved garden. On the way
they decided for the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time, at least, that
their Miss Isabel was the _dearest thing_, and that there was no one on
earth quite like her.

This decision had hardly been arrived at when she rejoined them.

"When shall we begin?" she asked, bending her head under the wistaria
vine drooping above the entrance to the arbor.

"I'm going to make the box to-night, and we thought we'd get the thing
up and everything ready to-morrow," answered Jack.

"Yes, and begin Monday," added Margery. "You see this is Friday, and we
shall have all day Saturday to get ready, and Sunday is a nice day to
write letters, for we all go to children's Mass at nine, you know, and
can write all day."

"Stopping to eat, I hope," laughed Miss Isabel.

"We are going to give you box number one, because--oh, because you are
_you_, and an honorary member," said Jack. "And Margery's to have two,
because she thought of the plan----"

"And you'll have to have three, because you named the town, Jack,"
interrupted Margery.

"And Trix and Amy will have four and five," resumed Jack.

But Miss Isabel, foreseeing possible danger, interposed.

"I wouldn't have any rewards of that kind," she said. "I'd have
Blissylvania a real republic, with every one equal, and draw lots for
numbers."

"So would I," echoed Margery heartily. "I don't want to be first
because I thought of the plan."

"I'd like to do something to celebrate the club," cried Trix, balancing
on one foot on the seat of the arbor. "I'd like to do something queer."

As she spoke the board, which was loose at one end, flew up and sent
Trix flying first upward, and then into a collapsed heap under the seat.

"You've done it!" shouted Jack, in ecstasy--"you've done the queer
thing!"

"O Trix, are you hurt?" cried the other two girls anxiously.

Trix's eyes were on a level with her knees, for she had fallen through,
doubled up like a jack-knife.

"I fell down," she remarked, vainly trying to extricate herself.

"I thought I heard something drop!" cried Jack, rolling over in spasms
of laughter, while Miss Isabel, laughing, too, at Beatrice's funny
appearance and remark, helped get her up.

"I think we'd better go home," said Amy. "When Trix gets crazy there's
no telling what will happen."

"It has happened," remarked Jack, looking down whence Trix had emerged.
"O jolly me!"--Jack's favorite and appropriate exclamation--"O jolly
me, Trix, you killed a mud worm. I knew you didn't like them, but you
needn't have sat on him so hard."

"O Jack, I didn't! O Jack, where?" cried Trix, running to look. "Oh,
yes, I did! Oh, please look and see if there's any of him on me!" she
cried, spinning round and round wildly, in a vain effort to see the
back of her own dress. "Oh, the dreadful thing!"

"See here, Trix," said Jack, "I thought you wanted to be a boy. No boy
would make a row about such a little thing as sitting on a mud worm."

Trix disdained to answer.

"We ought to go, it's getting late," she said instead. "Good-night,
Miss Isabel."

"Good-night, dears; good-night all of you," said Miss Isabel, kissing
each happy face twice over, except Jack's, who stood for the dignity of
his sex, and was not kissed, even by Miss Isabel--that is, unless no
one were looking. "You shall have the post-mark and ink-pad to-morrow
afternoon, and I am very grateful to you for letting me join you."

"Grateful! Pooh!" cried Jack, voicing the sentiments of them all. "We
couldn't get on without you."



CHAPTER III.

A NARROW ESCAPE.


SATURDAY morning Jack appeared whistling energetically as he
triumphantly balanced a box on his left hand, and swung another in his
right. He was early, but the three girls were earlier, and had swept
the dead leaves from under the apple-tree destined for the office, and
had cleared out the hollow which was to hold the box, to the noisy
indignation of a woodpecker and his dame who had chosen the tree for a
summer residence.

Jack was hailed with a cry of rapture.

"Here's the office!" he shouted, breaking into a run as he saw the
little girls; "and this is the drop-box."

So saying he stubbed his toe on one of the many rough places in the
orchard, and boy and boxes went headlong in three directions.

"I see it is a drop-box," remarked Trix dryly, getting square on the
account of the previous night.

"O Jack, have you broken them?" cried Amy, while Margery stood still in
mute anguish.

"Guess not; no, they're all right," replied Jack, gathering up his
burdens. "Aren't they just James dandies?"

The girls, who had renounced slang with gum, pronounced them "lovely"
and "beautiful." One was a starch-box, divided through the middle
into an upper and lower section, the upper partitioned into three
pigeon-holes, each numbered, and the lower half made into two
divisions, likewise numbered. The box was painted a wood brown, with
the words "Post-Office" in white over the top, and the numbers were
also white.

Jack had wanted to paint the box red, but Amy had convinced him that it
would be in greater danger of discovery in such a bright color, and he
had yielded to prudence.

The second box was red, however, for Jack had literally stood to his
colors in this case, maintaining that all Uncle Sam's drop-boxes were
red, and Blissylvania's must be no exception to the rule.

This had a slit cut in the top large enough for letters to pass
through, and was not less admired than the post-office.

"But how shall we get parcels in?" asked Margery, and Jack explained
that for this it was only necessary to lift the lid, which would not
be fastened. Every one found this arrangement perfectly satisfactory,
and the office was nailed into the tree by Jack at the cost of only one
bruised finger, while the girls executed a sort of war-dance around him
in irrepressible satisfaction.

The drop-box was fastened on a stump ten or twelve feet from the
office, which made it still more like a real post-office, for, as
Margery explained, the postmistress could play she was a postman
collecting and bringing in the mail when she took the things out of the
drop-box, and needn't pretend she was postmaster till she began sorting
them at the apple-tree.

Nothing could have been more encouraging than the morning operations,
but in the afternoon the H. T. C. and the town of Blissylvania narrowly
escaped a catastrophe that would have been like an earthquake, sweeping
the fair city from the earth.

It all came from the honorary member's generosity.

True to her promise, Miss Isabel hastened down to town in the morning
early, and ordered the stamp made for the postmark. It was to be
of leaden type, that allowed the changing of date each day, and as
the type was already in stock the shopkeeper promised to deliver it
that afternoon. Margery's mamma had painted the badges according to
the design selected at the first meeting, only substituting a white
carrier-pigeon as the device instead of an envelope, because, as
Margery explained to the others, "it was more poetical than an envelope
and prettier." The badge was of beautiful blue ribbon, the pigeon
painted in white, surmounted by the initials of the club--H. T. C. And
it may be stated here that unsatisfied curiosity as to the secret moved
the other school-children to derision, and Jack, Margaret, Beatrice,
and Amy were called the "Highty Tighty Cooing Pigeons," shortened for
convenience to "The Doves."

The four were wrapped in admiration over their beautiful badges,
when the postmark arrived. Each one tried it in turn, and at every
impression the magic circle enclosing the words, "Blissylvania,
June 8th, 1896"--for the date was set ready for the first use on
Monday--seemed more entrancing. They all repaired to the orchard to see
if it worked equally well on the big stone which they had selected for
its table, and here the little cloud appeared that rolled up into a
storm. It was such unutterable bliss to press the stamp on the ink-pad,
and then make the impression on the white paper, that the office of
postmaster suddenly seemed to each one the honor most to be coveted in
all the world.

"I wonder how we shall decide who is to be postmaster," remarked Trix
casually, as she reluctantly gave Amy the stamp to try.

Each face reddened slightly; evidently they had all been thinking of
the same thing.

"I don't see how a girl can be postmaster," said Jack.

"Pshaw! We can be postmistress, and it's all the same," said Amy,
speaking sharply for her.

"I should think it was more a man's place," continued Jack.

"It's a place for a girl that is strong and quick, and like a boy,"
said Trix hastily.

"I live right here, where I could look after it," said Margery,
bringing the discussion from abstract views on suitability to the
personal application they were all secretly making.

"That's the very reason why you shouldn't be postmistress!" cried
peace-loving Amy, ruffling her feathers. "You shouldn't have
everything."

"Oh, you're no good for it, Peggy!" said Jack, with easy scorn.
"It needs a boy, and I'm the only boy; so of course I've got to be
postmaster."

"Well, I like that," cried Trix, with eyes flashing like a whole
woman's-rights convention in one small body. "Every one knows girls are
heaps quicker and smarter than boys. I'd be a better postmaster than
any of you, if I do say so."

"You! You're too harum-scarum; you'd lose half the mail!" cried Amy.
"I'd be a much better one, and you know it."

"Well, I'd not lose the mail!" said Trix, trembling and stammering in
indignation. "You think I'm harum-scarum because you're such a poke."

"Well, there's no good you girls fighting about it, because I'm
the boy, and I'm going to be postmaster!" remarked Jack, with such
maddening certainty that the girls turned on him in a body.

"You'll be nothing of the sort!" screamed Trix, stamping her foot.

"You won't touch my letters!" cried Amy.

"If you were a gentleman you'd not want to take a lady's place!" said
Margery, with withering scorn. "No gentleman ever sits down when a lady
hasn't a seat."

"I'd like to know who wants to sit down?" demanded Jack.

"If you felt as you ought, you'd want your cousin to be postmaster,"
said Margery.

"Well, I don't; so there!" said Jack.

"Who does?" asked Trix, deserting her ally and turning on Margery.
"You've got the office in your orchard, and that's enough."

"If I'd known that you'd all have been so selfish I'd never have said
have a post-office," said Margery, turning away to hide the tears which
always would come when she was angry, spoiling the effect of her most
telling remarks.

"You're selfish yourself, because you want it as much as we do, and
that is why you think we're selfish," said Amy, with so much truth that
Margery could not retort.

"You're the meanest three in the world!" cried Trix.

"That counts me out, for you girls are the three, and Trix is the
worst!" shouted Jack.

"If I was half as mean as the rest of you I'd go to some old-clothes
man, and try to sell myself," said Amy, the mild.

"You wouldn't get much," said Trix, not realizing her retort was rather
against herself.

"I think I don't care about a post-office," remarked Margery, with
quivering lips. "I think I'll not be in it, and if you want one you can
have it some other place than my orchard."

"I don't want one," said Trix.

"It's a stupid thing anyhow," said Amy.

"No one with any sense would ever have proposed it," said Jack.

"Then we'll give it all up," said Margery, in a low voice. A quarrel
was not a little thing to her, as it was to the others, but an awful
tragedy. And at this terrible moment Miss Isabel came down the orchard,
looking as fresh and calm as if there were no such thing as anger in
all the world. It did not require her keen eyes to see the flushed
faces and trembling lips, and feel the electricity in the air, but she
discreetly pretended to observe nothing.

"Good-morrow, brave Sir Hotspur, noble Lady Catharine Seyton, kind
Mrs. Plenty, fair Lady Griselda," she said.

"Good-afternoon, Miss Isabel," responded four melancholy voices, from
which joy seemed forever fled.

"I see the postmark came. I was uneasy lest it fail to arrive, and came
over to ask about it," continued Miss Isabel cheerfully. "Is it good?
Oh, yes; those are very clear impressions you made. Do you know, I like
the name Blissylvania much better than I thought I should?"

No answer; the children were beginning to feel dreadfully ashamed, for
though they were perfectly at ease with Miss Isabel, they cared too
much for her good opinion to be anything but their best before her.

"I brought the stamps," continued Miss Isabel, with persistent,
cheerful blindness. "Here they are."

Jack had been digging a hole with his heel ever since Miss Isabel had
arrived, and it required his entire attention. Giving an extra deep
backward thrust, he said without looking up:

"It's a pity you took that trouble, Miss Isabel, for we're not going to
have a post-office after all."

A sob from Margery followed this remark.

"Why, what is the matter?" asked Miss Isabel, looking from one gloomy
face to another, and drawing Margery's, which was hidden from her, on
her knee.

"Well," said Trix desperately, "we're all mad. We got into a fuss about
who would be postmaster, and we decided to give the thing up."

"What do you mean; you couldn't decide who should be postmaster first?"
asked Miss Isabel. "Of course you intend to take turns in office?"

Jack, Trix, and Amy glanced at each other, and Margery stopped sobbing
to listen. Simple as this solution of the difficulty was, no one had
thought of it.

"We didn't mean that; we thought some one would be postmaster all the
time," said Jack.

"Oh, dear me, I should think you would get into a fuss if you tried to
decide who was to have the fun all alone," laughed Miss Isabel. "And
so you were going to give up the whole thing, and cheat me of all the
pleasure you promised me because you did not hit on such a simple plan!
And last night we decided that Blissylvania was to be a real republic,
with every one equal! Look up, little Marguerite; you are a daisy too
wet with rain just now. Don't make mountains of molehills, children; it
is much wiser to make molehills of the mountains we have to climb in
life. Now, I think each would better be postmaster a week at a time,
and draw lots for the order of serving. Or, perhaps, it would be better
still to have the term of office last but three days, for then the
terms will come around quicker."

She did not add that this would give each a second chance to serve in
case they tired quickly of the new play, but she thought it.

"Shall we draw lots for turns now?" she asked, reaching for the white
paper on which they had been making impressions before the storm broke.

"Yes, Miss Isabel," said Jack and Amy and Trix meekly, while Margery
sat up pale and trembling, and began to dry her eyes. The others
glanced at her wonderingly; they never could understand why Margery
seemed half sick if she had been angry or had cried.

Miss Isabel wrote the numbers, and they drew, Amy number one, Trix two,
Margery three, and Jack four.

"Now please show me the boxes. Why, they are very nicely made, Jack;
did you do it alone?"

"Yes, Miss Isabel," said Jack, beaming, all trace of anger melted in
the sunshine of her presence.

"And look, Miss Isabel, here's the drop-box," cried Amy. "You put
letters through the slit in the top, and when you have a parcel you
lift the cover and put it inside."

Miss Isabel laughed.

"That is a wee bit like the story of the man who made a large hole for
his cat to go in and out, and a small one alongside for the kitten. But
it is certainly the nicest kind of a post-office, and I think, perhaps,
that I shall get more pleasure out of it than any of you." Which was a
much truer prophecy than Miss Isabel herself dreamed. "We are to write
letters to-morrow, and begin Monday, are we not?"

"Yes; oh, what fun!" cried Trix, catching Amy around the waist, and
waltzing her about the old apple-tree and back again.

No one but Margery seemed to remember "the late unpleasantness;" she
stood a little apart, very pale, but trying to smile.

"Do you know, I think it is unusually warm for the sixth of June?"
remarked Miss Isabel. "I wonder if I could get any one to walk down to
Bent's to eat ice-cream with me?"

Jack turned a somersault at once.

"Don't try if you don't want to succeed, Miss Isabel," he said.

"Come, then, every one of you," she cried merrily, "for I do want to
succeed. And I propose that we wear our beautiful new badges, for we
are to go in a body as a club."

"Let me pin them on, please," said Margery. She had been longing for a
chance to beg pardon, and saw it here. "I'm dreadfully sorry I was so
cross, Jack," she whispered, pinning the badge, and at the same time
rubbing her cheek on his gray jacket.

"Oh, that's all right, Megsy. You're never much cross," he whispered
back, and would have liked to have kissed her little white face, for he
dearly loved his cousin.

"Please forgive me, Trix, for being so mean," she whispered, as she
reached her, and Trix stared at her for a moment in amazement.

"Why, I forgot all about it," she said. "I was meaner than you anyhow."
And she kissed her.

Amy put her arms around Margery before she could speak. "It's all
right, Margery; forgive me, too," she whispered.

And so, at peace with all the world and each other, the Happy Thought
Club, that had so narrowly escaped destruction, sallied forth to eat
ice-cream.



CHAPTER IV.

THE MYSTERIOUS TENANT.


THE opening of the post-office was a great success. Amy, who
was the first to go into office as postmistress, had a busy time for
the three days of her term. Every member of the H. T. C. wrote the
other four one letter a day with praiseworthy regularity, so there
were twenty letters daily for the postmistress of Blissylvania to
handle, not to mention packages and papers, and the invisible city of
Blissylvania did more mail business than many of Uncle Sam's offices in
far-off country places. There was a slight falling off in mail on the
second day of Trix's term, which followed Amy's, for Jack found so much
and such regular correspondence exhausting to mind and body, and was
first to complain that he had nothing to say. It was even found, when
the ladies compared notes on the fifth day after the office opened,
that he had basely written one letter, and copied it three times--Miss
Isabel requiring a different style of composition--but they had agreed
to feign ignorance of this action, charitably excusing it on the ground
of boys' well-known deficiencies.

There was difficulty about Margery's address. She insisted that
the whole title and address must be used, but Jack declared it was
expecting too much of any one to write on the small space of the back
of their letters, which for economy's sake were so folded as to serve
instead of envelopes: "Lady Griselda, At the Castle of the Lonely Lake,
Blissylvania, New York," which was what Margery desired.

They compromised, following Miss Isabel's suggestion, on "Lady Griselda
of the Castle, Blissylvania, New York," because, as Miss Isabel pointed
out, there could be no mistake, there being but one Lady Griselda and
one castle.

Taken altogether, the post-office could hardly have succeeded better,
and if there were any danger of its losing charm, it was saved by a
new interest arising, which gave a novel topic for conversation and
supplied Jack with the needed subject for correspondence.

It was a little after eight o'clock on the sixth morning after the
post-office opened, and Margery was practising. She was as faithful
in this as in everything else, and to the inexpressible wonder of her
playmates no strategy or coaxing could get her to leave the piano
before her time was up. This seemed to Trix, who seized any excuse to
shorten the hated task, little short of insanity, and a new proof of
the queerness that they all recognized in dreamy, sensitive Margery.
They did not understand that Margery was an unconscious philosopher,
and since the thought of an unfulfilled duty would spoil her pleasure,
preferred to secure a thorough good time by clearing away any possible
hindrances to one.

Trix came into the room, and finding Margery at the piano, sighed.

"I suppose there's no use talking to you until you're done," she said,
throwing herself in a big chair. "And I've the most interesting thing
to tell you."

Margery shook her head.

"How long must you practise; till half after?"

Margery nodded, the nod coming in well on an accented note. Up and
down went the nimble fingers, playing an exercise, with the metronome
ticking on the piano.

Trix fidgeted and wriggled down in the chair, and pulled herself up,
watching the clock the while.

"Margery, it's _such_ an interesting thing," she said plaintively at
last.

"In ten minutes," sang Margery to the accompaniment of the scale. "Play
with Tommy Traddles while you wait."

"Oh, Margery, _won't_ you stop?" cried Trix, after three minutes had
passed. No answer but _arpeggios_. "Margaret Gresham, you're chewing
gum," cried Trix, resorting to strategy.

"I am not," said Margery, coming down in flat contradiction and a false
chord at one and the same time. "I'm chewing the side of my tongue."

"Why don't you have a cud?" asked Trix, delighted at having trapped
Margery into speech. But she was not to be caught again.

Shaking her head she began playing her new piece, which, true to her
principles, she had left till the last. Finally the tiresome clock
struck once. Trix sprang up.

"You shall not finish that page," she cried, catching Margery around
the waist and pulling her off the stool. "You said half-past, and it is
half-past; so stop."

"But I _must_ finish that page, Trix," she protested. "Unfinished tunes
I can't stand."

"Well, you'll have to," declared Trix. "Listen to me. The Dismals is
rented!"

"The Dismals" was the children's name for a very large, untenanted
place called the Evergreens.

"Why, the Dismals is never rented!" cried Margery. "It hasn't had any
one in it since we were born."

"Yes; but it has now," replied Trix. "There is a man there, and he
lives all alone. Our waitress, Katie, told me about it last night. I
thought I'd never go to sleep for thinking about him. Katie knows a
girl that saw him go through the hedge and disappear under the Dismals'
pine-trees. There is something queer about him; Katie says so. They
don't know whether he's crazy or whether he's wicked, or perhaps he's
both. Katie says we may all be murdered in our beds. She says she
thinks he's a robber who has come from somewhere, and is to make the
Dismals his den. But Katie says some think he's a murderer hiding
there, and again some think he's got the evil eye."

"What's that?" asked Margery, shuddering; "another eye, or what?"

"No, you goose," cried Trix; "it's an eye that looks just like others,
only it's kind of set and stony, and when people look at it they're
never lucky any more."

But this had not the effect Trix anticipated.

"I don't believe that," said Margery; "that sounds like a ghost story,
or something of that kind. Besides, if there were an evil eye it
couldn't hurt us, for we wear our medals, and if we met him we'd just
hold on to them and say Hail Marys till he went by."

Trix was staggered.

"Katie didn't say so, and Katie's a Catholic," she remarked.

"Yes; but Katie doesn't understand," said Margery. "You ought to teach
her not to be superstitious, Trix."

This was taking the conversation into the realms of morals, and Trix
wished it to be only thrilling.

"Well, what if he's crazy or wicked?" she demanded.

"That's different," replied Margery promptly. "We'll be late for
school; wait till I get my hat and catechism, and we'll talk about it
going along."

She came back in a moment, and the two little girls went out into the
June sunshine on their way to the convent, where they were to have a
catechism instruction, though it was Saturday.

"I think myself it's much more likely he's crazy, or a robber, or
something awful," Trix resumed. "You see, no one who was all right
could live alone in such a dreadful place as the Dismals."

"You don't suppose he's some exiled prince come over from Europe and
hiding there?" suggested Margery.

"They don't have exiled princes now," declared Trix.

"Oh, yes they do; the last of the rightful princes of France died not
very long ago; papa said so."

"Well, if he's dead he can't be at the Dismals," said Trix. "I tell
you, Margery, this man is some dangerous character, and I shall be
afraid of my life to go to bed."

"I'm not afraid now talking about it, because I think maybe he's
unfortunate, and not wicked, but when night comes I shall be afraid to
go to bed, too," Margery agreed.

The Evergreens, or "the Dismals," lay out of their way to school,
but attracted to it by their very fear, the children turned aside in
order to pass it, and then raced by it as fast as their feet could
carry them, casting fearful glances over their shoulders as they ran.
That afternoon among the mail in the Blissylvania post-office was the
following circular, in duplicate copies, addressed to Lady Alma Cara,
and Mrs. Peace Plenty, and Sir Harry Hotspur. It ran:

"Dear Madam (or Sir): Having heard that a dangerous or mysterious
character has come to live alone in the Evergreens, which we call the
Dismals, we feel it our duty to warn you that you may fear to be robbed
or murdered by this strange person, and that you should be on your
guard. Yours respectfully (signed), Lady Griselda of the Castle of the
Lonely Lake. Lady Catharine Seyton, Postmistress of Blissylvania."

The circular had the desired effect. Mrs. Peace Plenty was
panic-stricken; Sir Harry Hotspur vowed to wear his sword henceforth
when he went abroad, and warned all wicked men that they'd better look
out, for he would use it, and Lady Alma Cara promised to take Hero with
her whenever she could if she went out. Hero was her big St. Bernard,
and objected to much exercise in summer.

Lady Alma Cara did not seem disturbed by the awful rumors as to the
strange tenant, but she was far too wise to tell the children that she
thought there was no danger, knowing well that this was an opportunity
for them to make much of, and that there was a certain pleasure
in their fear. By Sunday the reports of the mysterious tenant had
multiplied, not lessening in horror. Margery held her medals tight as
she passed along the streets, though her terror was moderated when
Winnie, the cook, reported that he had been in the back of the church
at the first Mass, but had slipped out before any one could get a good
look at him. Jack and Trix pointed out to Margery with much pains, that
this showed that he was even worse than they supposed, because he came
to church only to pretend to be decent, but could not stay to face
honest people.

Sunday night the sensation reached a tremendous pitch. The children had
taken tea with Trix, and had been entertained by Katie with the latest
news of the stranger. He did not live alone, after all; it seemed that
he had an old woman for housekeeper, and though it was not certain who
had seen her to report her appearance, it was quite certain that she
had a hump, and never went out in the grounds of the Dismals without a
broomstick, which proved, so Katie thought, that she was a witch. As
to the man himself, he walked with his head down, and Katie had heard
that he cast no shadow, and the children wondered what kind of folks
it was cast no shadow. The children did not know, but they did not
like to ask, feeling sure they must be the most awful people possible,
especially since they had never seen such, and shuddered at the
thought. Katie, a fresh-faced, pleasant little girl with no notion of
doing them harm, but with an amiable desire to be agreeable, responded
to their cries for more, with tales of banshees and witches till their
blood froze in their veins, and they left for home in an agony of fear
and went to bed in dumb suffering. Had they spoken their fears their
misery would have been short, but none of them mentioned the matter,
and so no relief could come.

Each made a characteristic preparation for the dangers of the night.
Jack took his toy pistol and sword to bed, hoping in case of alarm the
invader would mistake them for real ones. Trix laid the ice-pick and
fire-tongs on her pillow, and hung a bucket of water, to which she had
tied a string, over her bedroom-door. Amy put her rosary, crucifix, and
prayer-book under her pillow, and made sure that she had on her medals
and scapular, and then got an extra pillow and blanket to muffle her
ears, which, as the night was warm, had its drawbacks. Poor, nervous
little Margery sprinkled all her bed with holy water, collected every
pious object which she possessed, and took Tommy Traddles to bed with
her, that in case of danger she might protect him. To all the others
sleep came soon in spite of fear, but Margery lay cold and wakeful
until the twitter and stirring of the birds outside her window, and the
first rays of dawn brought the hope and comfort of another day.



CHAPTER V.

THE INVASION OF THE AMAZONS.


MARGERY arose from her night of terror armed with the courage
of desperation. There were two letters in the post that morning
addressed in her stiff little handwriting to Lady Catharine Seyton and
Mrs. Peace Plenty. They were precisely alike, except in the address,
and ran thus:

"The Lady Griselda of the Castle of the Lonely Lake requests you to
meet her at the elm at the corner of the convent grounds after school
to do something for the public safety."

Margery herself carried them to school and gave them to their owners,
for it was her first day as postmistress.

"They were marked 'Immediate,' so I delivered them," she said to Trix
and Amy, in the character of postmistress, with fine assumption of
ignorance as to their contents.

Amy found her waiting with Trix when she appeared at the
trysting-place a trifle late.

"Now she's come; what is it, Margery?" demanded Trix, who never could
endure waiting, and had been fuming because Margery would not speak
until Amy had arrived.

"It means that I can't stand this another moment," Margery burst out,
glad to express her feelings. "I wouldn't be so scared every night as I
was last night for anything. I want you to go with me to the Dismals,
and see if that man's as bad as Katie says."

"I wouldn't go for the world," declared Amy, blanching at the thought.

"Nor I," echoed daring Trix. "You're such a scared cat, Margery, I
don't see what you want to go for."

"It's because I am a scared cat," said Margery. "I'm afraid not to go.
I should think you'd dare what I dare, Trix Lane, when you're always
talking about being a boy."

"I suppose Jack would think we were brave," remarked Trix slowly.

She and Jack were engaged in a sort of perpetual "stump" as to which
should outdo the other.

Margery saw an advantage here.

"Of course he would," she said. "He'd never dare say again that girls
were cowards."

"But I am," said Amy candidly, "and I couldn't say I wasn't. Still, if
you go, Margery, I'll go with you."

"You dear thing," cried Margery, giving her an enthusiastic hug.

"I'll go; I'd like to," said Trix hastily, trying to retrieve her
reputation.

"Then we'll start right now," Margery declared. "Don't you see that
I'm afraid to go, but I'm more afraid to stay away, because we _must_
know what's there? If I had to lie awake nights thinking about the
hump-backed witch and the evil eye without seeing them I'd be a raving
lumanic."

Margery meant lunatic or maniac, it is not clear which.

The desperate band of amazons started valiantly down the street. As
they neared the Evergreens their pace slackened, but they did not halt.
Margery, the coward, went steadily on, and the others were ashamed not
to follow. They entered "the Dismals" by a less frequented way than
the gate--in fact, they crawled through an opening in the fence, and
concealed themselves not far from the back door, in the long grass that
had not been cut for many summers.

"My heart beats so I know he'll think some one's knocking," whispered
poor Amy, and to Margery's additional alarm Trix giggled hysterically.

"Oh, keep quiet, and just pray," she whispered.

Presently an old woman appeared, and the agonized trio noted that she
carried a broom. But she certainly was not hunchbacked, but a slender,
tiny old woman, with a smiling face, and she began using the broom in a
most un-witchlike manner to clear off the back stoop.

In spite of themselves the children felt a little reassured, but their
fear returned when they saw a man come around the corner. He walked
slowly, and they soon saw that this was because he read as he walked. A
spaniel ran ahead of him, and came back, barking wildly.

"Why, Sheila, I'm ashamed of you," said the man, closing his book, with
one finger inside, and shaking the little volume at the excited dog.
"How often must I tell you that I will never help you to catch birds,
and much less in June, when they have families to look after?"

His voice sounded kindly, and even sweet; his eyes were brown, and
looked affectionately at the little dog. As Amy said afterward,
"Neither looked like an evil eye." Comfort began to come to the three
palpitating little hearts in the grass, and though they dared not
whisper it to each other, the conviction struck them that there must
have been a mistake. Just then Sheila, the spaniel, ran towards them,
barking in quite a different tone, and so sharply that her master
turned to follow her.

"That does not sound like birds, Sheila," he said. "What have you
found?"

In an agony no words could represent the three valiant amazons lay
quaking till they saw that the little dog had really scented them, and
was leading her master straight to them. Breaking cover like three
startled quails they precipitately took to their heels, to the surprise
of both dog and man.

"Stop!" shouted the stranger. "Don't run, children; Sheila won't hurt
you."

"But you might," thought the children, and fled faster, all their fear
returning in their flight. Margery and Amy cleared the hole in the
fence in rapid succession, but Trix, not liking to wait her turn to go
through, tried to climb over, and stuck fast on a paling.

"If you leave me I'll die!" she shrieked to the other two, who were
making off at a great rate. They turned and saw her face purple with
fright, while the old woman, the man, and the little dog on the other
side saw her long legs kicking so wildly that they looked several pairs
instead of one. With heroism, genuine, if unnecessary, Margery and Amy
stopped and turned back to their imprisoned comrade. They reached her
head just as a hand touched her back. With a scream that made them
sure that she had at least been stabbed, Trix made one last, desperate
effort to get away, and was still.

"Let me help you," said the man gently. "Pray, don't be so frightened.
Indeed, my little dog would never hurt you, and as soon as I can get
you off she shall apologize for frightening you so badly."

So saying he extricated Trix's dress, and set her on her feet. His
touch was so careful that Trix plucked up heart to look at him. He
was not old, he was not ugly. Trix felt sure that if she had met him
elsewhere and otherwise she should have liked him.

"Weren't there more little girls?" he asked, laughing. "It seemed to me
a dozen started up from the grass when Sheila barked."

"Two, sir," Trix murmured faintly. "They are on the other side."

He came closer, and looked over.

"Please come back a moment, and let Sheila apologize," he said, and
Margery and Amy dared not refuse.

They crawled back, and the man turned to the dog.

"Sit up, Sheila; say you're very sorry," he commanded.

Sheila sat up at once and whined.

"Now go shake hands all round," said her master.

Sheila rose on her hind feet and walked to each in turn, offering her
little brown right paw, which they accepted, almost forgetting their
fears.

"Now won't you come back and rest?" asked the man.

"Oh! no, thank you," the three little girls said in chorus, as if they
had been rehearsing it, turning at once towards the opening in the
fence.

"Then good-by," said the man. "Sheila and I are a bit lonely here,
and we should be very glad to have you come again--when you can stay
longer," he added, with such a merry twinkle of the eye that Trix could
not help responding with a laugh, and all replied, "Thank you," in
much better spirits, and went away quite enchanted with the mysterious
tenant.

The more they thought over their adventure, the more they found their
new acquaintance delightful, and the faster they hurried to look up
Jack to vaunt their courage to him, and tell him the facts about their
bugaboo. Great was Jack's amazement as he listened, and his admiration
for their pluck was satisfactory even to Trix.

But the next day Jack had a piece of news for them that restored
the balance of importance among them, and re-established Jack's
self-esteem, which had been a little lowered by the brave deed of the
girls.

"Well, what do you suppose I know?" he asked, coming down the orchard
where the girls were putting the post-office to rights, the day after
the invasion of "the Dismals."

"That wouldn't take long to tell," replied Trix saucily.

"You may have seen the man at the Dismals, but I know who he is," Jack
continued, ignoring Trix.

"Who?" cried each of the girls.

"Guess," said Jack.

"An escaped bandit," exclaimed Trix.

"An officer of the society that takes care of animals," said Amy, who
had been much impressed by the stranger's goodness to Sheila.

"An exiled prince," cried Margery, returning to her first idea.

"All wrong!" shouted Jack triumphantly. "Not even warm. I'll tell you
what happened last night. I was reading in the library, and papa and
mamma were there, and pretty soon I went to sleep. And after a while I
woke up enough to hear them talking, and papa said: 'Well, it must be
that he has some motive for coming back here, for no one would choose
to live in such a dreary place as the Evergreens without reason.'
That woke me up, and I pricked up my ears to listen. 'You know it was
his grandfather's place,' mamma said; and papa said: 'But, my dear,
people rarely live alone in a tumble-down house for their grandfather's
sake.' Mamma said: 'No, I think as you do, it must be something to do
with Isabel that brought him back here. Then papa said: 'It would be
queer if they were to marry, and be happy after all this time, like
story-book people.' And mamma said she loved Miss Isabel so much, and
she was so good and sweet, that she should be more glad of happiness
for her than for almost anything else in the world. And she said she
thought Mr. Robert Dean was a good man. And then my old book tumbled
down, and mamma said low: 'Don't let Jack hear anything of this;' and
she said to me: 'Jack, dear, don't you think you'd better go to bed?'
And I didn't think so, but I had to go. And now, do you know who that
man is?"

"No," said Amy, bewildered.

"Why, is he Mr. Robert Dean?" asked Trix, immediately adding: "I don't
know who Mr. Dean is, though."

But Margery looked greatly excited.

"Is he the one Miss Isabel was going to marry, ever so long ago, when
she was going to live in that house near yours, Jack?" she asked.

"Right you are, Peggy," said Jack. "He's come back to take Miss Isabel
away, I'll bet you, and so he is a robber, and we were right in the
first place."

Trix assented cordially.

"He'd better not try to take Miss Isabel off!" she said fiercely.

Amy and Margery took another view.

"May be she likes him, and would be glad to see him again," said Amy.
"Maybe she'd rather have him come back."

And Margery said firmly: "I don't want any one to take Miss Isabel
away, but if she would be happier, we must not say one word."

"Much he'd care what we said," muttered Jack wrathfully.

"Yes," said Margery, "but we mustn't say it anyway. We'll go to see
him, for he asked us to, and we'll see if he is nice, and then we won't
care if he does marry Miss Isabel. We'll be glad because she's glad,
and we won't let her know once how we feel about it."

Margery's voice had been growing more and more quavering, and as she
ceased speaking she sat down on the grass and cried as though her heart
would break. The others looked at her in silence.

They could not make up their minds to give up Miss Isabel, even
for her happiness; but, on the other hand, they could not cry so
tempestuously at the thought of losing her.

"Never mind, Margery; you'll have us," said Amy, sitting down by her
and putting her arm around her.

"Yes; but you're none of you Miss Isabel. But I'll be glad, very glad,"
said Margery, with a fresh burst of tears.



CHAPTER VI.

FURTHER ACQUAINTANCE.


WHEN Mr. Robert Dean opened his front door in response to
a faint ring at the bell, and saw three little girls and one very
rosy-faced boy standing on the step, he had no idea that it was a
self-appointed committee of investigation, and that his character was
to be tried by a very exacting standard. Yet such was the case.

Following Margery's suggestion, Beatrice, Amy, and Jack had gone with
her to call on the new tenant, to see if by any possibility he could be
good enough to be Miss Isabel's husband, in case that were his object
in coming to the Evergreens.

The visit was a difficult one, and was made still more so by the
committee not finding Mr. Dean in the grounds as they had hoped to do,
and thus being obliged to walk deliberately up the steps and ring the
bell.

Mr. Dean looked down on them with some surprise, and Margery said
faintly:

"We've come to call on you, sir, as you asked us."

"Oh, yes; we've met before," said Mr. Dean, recognizing Trix's black
eyes, and laughing as he remembered the plight from which he had
rescued her. "I am very glad to see you and so I am sure will Sheila
be. Will you kindly walk into my parlor, like four pleasant flies,
though I think I am not a spider."

The children thanked him, and followed him into the old house. The
parlor was darkened, and their host went to the window and threw open
the blind. The light revealed a room furnished in the taste of more
than fifty years ago. Haircloth chairs were ranged at intervals around
the walls, a carpet strewn with immense roses covered the floor, and
the wall-paper in panels representing a tiger hunt so fascinated Jack's
wondering gaze that he became quite lost in its contemplation. Margery
had perched herself on the haircloth sofa, which was so slippery that
she had to hold herself on by the bolster-like ends, for her feet did
not nearly reach the floor. She rejoiced when she was rescued from her
precarious situation by their host turning from the window with the
words:

"My name is Robert Dean. Will you please tell me yours, that we may
begin properly?"

All the others looked toward Margery, feeling that as it was her
expedition, it was for her to do the honors.

Margery gladly slipped down on her feet.

"This is Beatrice Lane; we call her Trix," she began.

Mr. Dean made a profound bow.

"And the name suits her, if one may judge by appearances," he said.

"And this is Amy Tracy, and my cousin, Jack Hildreth."

"And you?" suggested Mr. Dean. "I should like to call you something
too."

"I am Margaret Gresham," said Margery, blushing.

"I think you would be much more comfortable if you would take this
low chair that my grandmother embroidered, rather than perch on that
abominable sofa again," said her host, handing Margery a small ebony
chair with a carved back and a seat of faded satin embroidered with
flowers dim with time.

"Thank you," said Margery, with profound inward gratitude. "It seems a
pity to sit on it if your grandmother embroidered it."

"It has been used a great many times, and was made for another
Margaret, who for many years has been out of the world where things
grow old and fade," replied Mr. Dean. "My father had a sister who died
when she was just sixteen. This chair, I have been told, grandmother
embroidered for her on her fifteenth birthday."

"How lovely to have it still!" said Margery, rising to look at the
flowers again. "I am not eleven yet--not till October."

"That is a great age," said Mr. Dean, smiling. "And now you really do
not know how glad I am that you came to-day. I was feeling a trifle
blue, and wondering if I should be lonely all my life, and just then
the bell rang, and four good fairies appeared. By the way," he added,
starting up boyishly, "suppose we go into the garden? Sheila can come
there; I dare not let her in here for fear of my housekeeper. She is a
little woman, and I am a big man, but I am afraid of her. You see she
was my old nurse, and I got into the habit of minding her when I was
small. I think that she makes pretty good cake, though I am not the
judge of cake that I was when I was younger. If you will go into the
garden I'll ask her to give us some, and get your opinion."

He led the way through the side door, and the children found themselves
at once in such a dear old garden that four "Ah's!" of satisfaction
arose.

"What a beautiful, lovely old garden!" cried Trix. "It is as nice as
Miss Isabel's."

Mr. Dean turned quickly.

"Do you know Miss Isabel?" he asked.

"Know her!" cried Jack. "She's our best friend."

"And she's lovelier than any one else in all the world," added Trix,
with defiance in her voice, remembering who he was and for what he
might be there. But Margery kept her big gray eyes fastened on his
face, and saw the color come there and his eyes grow moist.

"So she is, Beatrice," he said. "You are fortunate to have her
friendship."

Something in his voice melted all Margery's distrust; she slipped her
hand confidingly into his.

"We love her more than all the world," she said softly. "We have a
club, and her name in the club is Alma Cara."

Some sure instinct always led little Margery to divine the right and
kindest thing to do. Mr. Dean looked down on her pale face and earnest
eyes.

"And I believe you are the one who named her," he said. And from that
moment, though he grew to be very fond of the three other children,
Margery was his especial pet and friend.

Mr. Dean left them after this, and returned, bringing the cake and
Sheila. The little dog was introduced to Jack in proper form, shook
hands with each of her guests, walking over to them on her hind legs to
do so, and graciously accepted cake from the children, first sniffing
each piece cautiously, like the dainty, well-fed creature that she was.

Mr. Dean touched Amy's badge inquiringly.

"Might one ask what that means?" he said.

"It's a secret," began Amy, looking hesitatingly at the others.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Mr. Dean.

"But I think we could tell Mr. Dean, couldn't we?" suggested Margery.

"Yes," replied all the other members of the club promptly. There was
no question but that the investigating committee had made up its mind,
individually and collectively, to a favorable report on the stranger.

"It is the Happy Thought Club," explained Amy, indicating the initials
on her badge; "and we have a post-office."

And each adding a bit of information, the story of the post-office was
told him. Mr. Dean laughed heartily over the names.

"What fun you must have!" he exclaimed. "If I come to return your call,
will you show me the post-office?"

"Oh, yes," cried Margery. "I am post-mistress this week. And, you know,
we have one honorary member, and she's Miss Isabel, and her name is
the Lady Alma Cara. No matter what we do, we always have Miss Isabel,
because we can't get on without her."

"It is not easy, my little maid, to get on without Miss Isabel," said
Mr. Dean gently. "What would you do if you could not see her, or speak
to her, or write to her for ten year?"

"We wouldn't stand it: we will always keep her," cried Trix, firing up,
and regarding this as a direct threat from him whom she was still ready
to regard as an enemy. But Margery understood.

"I'd hardly be able to breathe," she said pityingly, laying her hand on
her new friend's coat-sleeve; "but I'd know it would be better by and
by."

"You dear little atom," said Mr. Dean, putting his hand on her dark
hair, "it is no wonder that you at least have a white dove on your
badge."

In a moment Mr. Dean spoke again, quite cheerfully:

"Now I have been thinking of something while we have been sitting here.
I cannot tell how long I shall be at the Evergreens; it may be all
summer, it may not be a month. It depends on whether I succeed in what
I came to do. I should like to see as much of you as I can while I am
here; do you suppose that if I asked you to tea some day before long
you would all come?"

"Oh, yes, sir; we'd like to, if we may," said all four children
heartily.

"I think that your mothers will allow it," said Mr. Dean. "You see you
do not know me, nor I you, because you were all babies when I went
away from here, but I knew your mothers and fathers. Now are you not
surprised?"

Jack blushed painfully, but Trix said, with great presence of mind:

"I don't think that I ever heard them speak of you."

"Very likely not----" Mr. Dean was beginning, when Amy interrupted him.

"We were afraid of you," she said, in spite of the warning kicks and
frowns of the others. Amy had a tendency to frankness that was at times
wholly uncontrollable. "We had heard from Trix's waitress, Katie, that
you had the evil eye and your house-keeper was a witch, so the day
before yesterday, when Sheila found us, we were hiding in the grass to
see if you were so bad."

The others watched Mr. Dean anxiously to see what effect this dreadful
revelation of Amy's might have, and were relieved when he threw back
his head and laughed merrily.

"Well done!" he cried. "I had no idea that I was alarming the
neighborhood. I am glad that you decided in my favor, as I suppose you
did, since you came to see me."

"Oh, yes; don't mind that nonsense," said Trix, and Margery, rising to
go, held out her hand, saying, "I think we shall be real friends."

"Thank you," replied Mr. Dean, bowing over her little fingers as if, as
Trix afterwards remarked, "she had really been the Lady Griselda of the
Castle."

"Good-by," said the children; "we've had a beautiful time. Come and see
us, and we'll show you our post-office."

"Good-by, my dears; thank you for coming, and come often," said Mr.
Dean, as he held the garden gate open for them, and watched them go
away, while Sheila "shook a day-day with her tail," as Amy said.

"Well, what do you think?" asked Trix, as they walked towards Miss
Isabel's, whom they had not seen for four whole days, because she had
been away.

"He's all right," said Jack comprehensively.

"I think he's nice," said Amy emphatically.

"He's the nicest man, except my father, I ever saw," announced Trix.

Margery sighed gently.

"I like him," she said, "and I'm sorry for him, because I think he's
lonely and feels sad. He's most as nice for a man as Miss Isabel is
for a lady." And praise could go no further.

Miss Isabel welcomed her fellow-members of the club heartily.

"We've something very interesting to tell you," said Amy, the moment
the salutations were over.

"I am all attention," said Miss Isabel, coming to sit down before them.

"We've been making a call at the Dismals, on Mr. Dean," said Trix.

Miss Isabel sprang up again and went to the window.

"And he's very nice, Miss Isabel," added Margery conscientiously. "We
were afraid of him because we heard that he was a robber, or had the
evil eye. So we went to see, and it isn't any of it true, and to-day we
went to call on him, and we're going to take tea with him soon. He's
kind, and he has the loveliest little dog, and he seems not very happy,
and we're sorry, because he's nice."

Miss Isabel turned and came back to them.

"And what about the post-office?" she asked, ignoring the new
acquaintance.

Trix and Jack stared, Margery looked hurt, and Amy murmured in helpless
bewilderment:

"It's very well, thank you."

Suddenly Jack brightened.

"Were you thinking what I was?" he asked. "You know I could easily move
those partitions over in the lower row of the post-office, to make it
hold another box like the upper row."

"I am afraid I don't understand, Jack," said Miss Isabel.

"Why, then we could ask Mr. Dean to be an honorary member, too,"
explained Jack.

"Oh, yes!" cried the three girls.

"I'm sure he'd be delighted; he seemed so interested in the office,"
said Amy.

"Should you mind?" asked Trix. "May we?" while Margery said nothing,
but looked eager.

"My dear children, you may do anything you like, and will you do one
favor for me?" said Miss Isabel. "If it is not too much trouble, will
one of you bring my mail to me every day? It is getting so warm, I
shall not feel like going down."

"Why, we'd love to," they all cried.

"Let me do it all the time," begged Jack.

"You will all come; I want you all," said Miss Isabel, rising. "You
won't mind if I say good-by? I--I feel tired. Good-night, dears; come
back as soon as you can."

She kissed each one lovingly, but there was no mistaking the fact that
she was impatient to be left alone.

The children went down the street in wondering silence, which Amy was
the first to break.

"Miss Isabel's sick," she said.

"She didn't care one bit about our visit to the Dismals," said Trix.

"And she always cared for everything we cared for," complained Jack.
"She's not one bit like our Miss Isabel; I guess she thinks Mr. Dean's
bad."

"No," said Margery decidedly; "Miss Isabel's good to bad people. Never
mind; she loves us just as much. I think Miss Isabel's not happy
to-day. I wonder why nice people are not always happy? Now, I'm sure
Mr. Dean's nice, but he seems sad, and to-night our dear Miss Isabel's
troubled. We'll ask Mr. Dean to join the post-office--that was a good
idea, Jack--and then he won't be so lonely, and we'll love all Miss
Isabel's troubles away. Oh, dear," sighed Margery wistfully, "I'd like
to make the whole world happy."



CHAPTER VII.

A NEW MEMBER.


MR. DEAN returned the children's visit without loss of time.
He found them assembled in Mr. Gresham's orchard, and was given the
seat of honor on an old stump, while he was shown the beauties of
the post-office. His admiration for this institution satisfied even
the children's enthusiasm, and when it had been exhibited from every
possible point of view, Margery turned to Amy and said:

"Tell him."

"No, you tell him," said Amy.

"Jack ought to tell him," said Trix, "because he thought of it."

"Yes, tell, Jack," echoed Margery and Amy.

"Now what is this mystery?" asked Mr. Dean.

"It's nothing much," Jack replied, blushing furiously. "You see I
thought--we thought that you might like--oh, I mean maybe you'd be
another honorary member."

"Of the post-office, the H. T. C.?" asked Mr. Dean.

Jack nodded. "If you don't think we're too little for you," he added.

"I should be delighted," replied Mr. Dean, rising to bow. "It is rather
if you don't think I am too big for you. But I'll tell you a secret. I
grew up outside, but inside I stayed a boy--do you see?"

"Yes, I see," cried Amy. "What a lovely way to grow up! I mean to be a
woman that way, too."

"That's like Miss Isabel," remarked Trix, but Jack, with an eye solely
on the business in hand, said:

"We'd like lots to have you join if you will."

"I feel honored, and I accept with much gratitude," said Mr. Dean, and
even Trix's sharp eyes, which were always on the watch lest she were
laughed at, could see nothing but pleasure in his face.

"Now you'll have to choose a name," cried Amy, jumping around in high
glee.

Mr. Dean considered a moment. "I think, on the whole, Oliver Twist
would be an appropriate name for me this summer," he said, with
humorous melancholy.

"Oliver Twist? What is that? Sir Oliver Twist, or plain Mr. Oliver
Twist?" asked Trix.

"Are none of you plain Mr. or Miss; are you all a knight or lady?" Mr.
Dean inquired.

"No; Amy is Mrs. Peace Plenty, but the rest of us are lady, and Jack is
Sir Harry Hotspur," answered Margery gravely.

"And your Miss Isabel?" suggested Mr. Dean.

"Oh, she is Lady Alma Cara; it would never do for her to be plain
_Mrs._," said Trix.

"I suppose not," assented Mr. Dean, with a queer little quirk of the
lip. "I like 'plain Mrs.' rather well myself sometimes, however. But I
shall have to be just Mr. Oliver Twist; it would never do to turn poor
hungry Oliver into a knight. Amy and I will be the every-day people,
while you others do the nobility for us. And I should like to know when
you are all coming to take tea with me? Will the day after to-morrow
suit you?"

"Yes, thank you," replied the children.

"Then that's settled. And, Jack, do you know a boy who would go
fishing with me to-morrow after school?"

"I think I do," said Jack, looking up with a beaming face.

"Then will that boy come along with me now, and get his mother's
permission to go?" inquired Mr. Dean, rising. "And, by the way, at what
time do we come for our mail?"

"We came at first before school," said Trix, "but it made us so late
that now we come after school, when Miss Isabel used to come."

"Does Miss Isabel usually come at this hour?" asked Mr. Dean, brushing
his hat carefully.

"She's not coming at all now," said Amy. "It's getting so warm, she
says, that she would like us to bring her mail to her."

Something like a shadow crept over Mr. Dean's face; Margery thought
that he looked hurt.

"We are to take her mail to her in turn; we agreed to that," she said,
coming close to him. "We'll all take turns going."

He smiled at her sadly.

"All of you whom she wishes to see," he said. "Good-by till the day
after to-morrow, then, and thank you for this honor more than I can
say. Come along, Jack."

Trix watched them enviously as they disappeared.

"That's why I hate to be a girl," she said. "No one thinks you ever
want to go fishing, and I love it just as much as Jack does."

"Isn't he splendid!" cried the other two, disregarding her woes, and
she cheered up in agreeing with them.

The tea was a delightful occasion, and the new member proved an
acquisition beyond words, for now there frequently appeared in the
boxes a card signifying that there was a parcel too big to go into the
box, which might be had on inquiry of the postmaster. The new member
devised this plan, and he was generally the sender of the parcels.
These varied in contents from delicious candy, plants, books, toys, and
all sorts of treasures, to six downy ducklings sent to Margery because
she had expressed a desire to have some.

This funny parcel was considered by the others as a good joke, but
Margery took it seriously, and her gratitude was unbounded.

"Dear Mr. Twist," she wrote in acknowledgment. "I cannot tell you how
much pleased I am. If there is anything I can do to show you how much
I like my lovely little ducks, and how I thank you, tell me what it is,
and I will do it."

The reply came the next morning, and Margery found herself taken rather
painfully at her word.

"Most Noble Lady Griselda of the Castle of the Lonely Lake," it ran.
"There is a favor which I could receive at the hands of your ladyship
which would give me the keenest pleasure, and your generous offer makes
me bold to ask it. I have heard that you write poems. Will you be so
very kind as to send me some of your work through the post-office? I
should be most grateful for the favor, and treasure the poems as a
precious memento of your ladyship's goodness."

This letter threw Margery into an agony of excitement.

"Who told him?" she demanded sternly, looking with dilated eyes over
the edge of the missive.

"I may have just mentioned that you wrote poetry that day that we went
fishing," said Jack sheepishly. "What's the harm, Peggy?"

"Yes, what's the harm?" echoed Amy, who was much impressed by the
request. "You do write poetry, and it's lovely."

"Oh, don't be a goose, Margery; there's no harm in Mr. Dean knowing
about it," said Trix. "Anyway, he does know, and you've got to send him
some, so what shall it be?"

"I have to do it, but I don't like to," sighed Margery, tasting the
trials of geniuses with indiscreet friends. "What shall I send him?"

"'The Knight,'" said Jack promptly.

"'Rome,'" said Trix.

"'Rome' is unfinished," objected Margery.

"'Millie Maloe,'" said Amy.

"I'll send 'The Knight' and 'Millie Maloe,'" Margery decided, and the
next morning's mail contained a thick letter for Mr. Oliver Twist.

"Dear Mr. Twist," this letter ran, "the Lady Griselda of the Castle
of the Lonely Lake sends two poems to you, as you asked her to. She
hopes you will excuse mistakes in 'Millie Maloe,' because she was only
eight years old when she wrote it, and 'The Knight' one she wrote last
spring; and I am sorry Jack told you, because I don't like to be
silly, but she is glad to do anything to please you because you are so
good to us."

    MILLIE MALOE.

    All alone she is wandering,
      All alone in the snow;
    Lost in the pathless forest,
      Poor little Millie Maloe.

    The tall tress shake able her,
      And the winds whistle and sigh,
    And poor little Millie is shiv'ring,
      And she thinks she's going to die;

    And she falls asleep on the dry leaves
      Covered o'er with snow,
    But is waked by darling Rover--
      Ah, happy Millie Maloe!

    The dog is bending o'er her,
      And a sleigh is drawing near,
    And soon she's with her father,
      Who clasps his baby dear.

    THE KNIGHT.

    In a nameless grave does the good knight rest.
    He has fought for the cross, and so he is blest.
    Far away, in a castle grim,
    His wife watcheth and prayeth for him.
    Her baby son around her plays
    And tosses the beads while she prays.
    A message comes from the Holy War
    Breathing of love for the son he ne'er saw.
    Days after another one comes--
    He's dead! "God pity the sorrowing ones."

The Lady Griselda received a polite note of thanks for the favor thus
shown Mr. Oliver Twist, and the matter was forgotten.

School closed, and the fresh warmth of June gave place to the fierce
heat of July. Gentle Miss Isabel was ailing, and the children divided
their time between her and their new friend. Even Jack, who was less
observant than the girls, discovered that though no subject was as
welcome to Mr. Dean as whatever they might have to say of Miss Isabel,
she did not care to hear them talk of Mr. Dean, and it puzzled them
sorely to account for such hardness of heart in her who never before
failed to throw herself wholly into their interests.

It was an unusually burning day, the sun beating down with terrible
heat, and not a breath stirring the drooping leaves, when Trix, who
was postmistress that week, handed a magazine to Margery with her
other mail. It was from Mr. Oliver Twist, and she tore off the wrapper
hastily, for everything from him was sure to be interesting.

It was a child's magazine, and as she turned its pages she stopped
suddenly, and grew so pale that Amy dropped her doll, to the great
danger of its precious nose, and flew with Trix to her side.

"What is it?" they cried.

"Look!" gasped Margery.

They followed her finger pointing, and there in the glory of type was
"Millie Maloe" and "The Knight," signed with her own name--Margaret
Gresham.

The girls nearly fell over in their wonder and awe, and Margery looked
so white and excited that they really feared she would faint.

"Jack, come here!" cried Trix and Amy, waving their hands wildly to
Jack, who appeared that moment in the gate. "Hurry! oh, hurry!"

Jack ran over to them.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Mr. Dean's sent Margery's poetry to the magazine. Look at it!" cried
Trix, snatching the magazine from the hands of the dazed authoress.

"Oh, jolly me!" cried Jack, much impressed. "Why, you're a writer now,
like--like--oh, those people what write poetry for the papers."

"I'm going to find mamma," said Margery, rising in solemn ecstasy; "and
then I'm going to thank him."

Having rejoiced her family with a glimpse of her greatness, Margery
went forth, attended by her admiring cousin and friends. First they
went to the Evergreens--they had determined never to call the place
"the Dismals" again, since it had become so pleasant to them, and, they
wakened Mr. Dean from the nap into which he had fallen over his book,
overcome by the great heat.

"You are very good to me; I came to thank you," said Margery simply,
kissing him as she spoke.

"Did you like it, little white dove?" he asked, taking the poetess on
his knee. "You are such a grave dove, and so still when you feel glad
or sorry that it is hard telling when you are pleased."

"I like it _very_ much," said Margery earnestly--"I like it more than I
can say, and when I grow up I mean to write all the time."

And there was told the secret that Margery had never uttered, for she
did not tell her dreams as the others did.

"We are going now to show the magazine to Miss Isabel," said Margery,
slipping down.

"To Miss Isabel?" repeated Mr. Dean. "Let me tell you something. I am
going away."

"Oh!" cried four pained voices.

"Yes," continued Mr. Dean, "I mean to go next week. You are sorry, my
dear little club, and I am sorry to leave you. You tried to make me
live in Blissylvania, but it has been no use. I am going away."

"Oh! not forever," cried Trix, while Amy's lips quivered, and Jack
stooped to lace his boot.

Mr. Dean did not answer.

"You'll all write me, and we shall be friends wherever I am," he said
instead.

But Margery, unstrung by her previous joy and this keen sorrow, threw
her magazine from her in a passion of tears. "You shan't go, you can't
go!" she screamed. "What's the use of being famous, or writing poetry,
or doing anything, if you can't have the people you love?"

Mr. Dean gathered her up, hushing her like a baby.

"I don't know, my little Margery," he said. "I have been trying to
answer that question, but I can't."

They were four tear-stained and swollen faces that appeared before Miss
Isabel a little later. The joy of seeing Margery's verses in print
was forgotten in their sorrow over their threatened loss. Miss Isabel
rejoiced at Margery's glory, but her words awoke no enthusiasm in
return.

"You'll be glad," said Amy, almost bitterly, "so I suppose I'd better
tell you why we don't care any more about the verses. Mr. Dean's going
away."

Miss Isabel flushed and grew pale.

"Why should I be glad if you feel badly?" she asked gently. "I am sorry
for you, for I think that you were having good times with him."

"It's not that, Miss Isabel," said Margery, with indignant vigor. "We
love him."

And Miss Isabel kissed her.

"It's very strange," remarked Trix on the way home, "how if you have
one thing you can't have another. We got the post-office and Mr. Dean,
but Miss Isabel's been so queer all summer, it's been almost like not
having her. And now Margery's poems are published Mr. Dean is going
away. I think everything is crooked, and I don't know whether we're
having a good time this summer or not, in spite of the post-office and
all our fun."

Margery walked on in a brown study, so lost to her surroundings that
she ran into Butcher Davis's big Newfoundland dog, which always sat in
the middle of the sidewalk, and would not have moved if the President
and the Queen had come along arm in arm, and she begged his pardon, to
the amusement of the other three.

"I thought he was some one else," she said, arousing herself, while
Jack shouted with laughter.

"What's the matter, Megsy; writing another poem?" he asked.

"I won't tell you," she said. "I've had an idea."

"Tell us; how queer you look!" cried Trix, giving her a little shake of
impatience.

"I won't tell any one on earth; so there!" said Margery, with entire
decision. "I want you all to make a novena for me, and begin right off
to-night. I want you to pray for my plan, but I won't tell you what it
is."

"Have you a plan, Margery?" asked Amy, who regarded Margery as a
superior being, whose thoughts were beyond the ken of ordinary mortals.

"Yes, I've a plan," replied Margery.



CHAPTER VIII.

MARGERY'S PLAN.


THE next morning Margery ate her breakfast of rolls and a
bowl of blueberries and milk without in the least realizing what she
put into her mouth. Her family was used to her abstractions, which
usually ended in the announcement of some wonderful discovery or new
verses, and paid no attention to her far-away look on this particular
morning. She did her practising as faithfully as ever, but with such
evident forgetfulness of what she was about that her mother came all
the way down-stairs to ask her to defer it to another time, when her
thoughts should be untangled. Accordingly she arose and went up-stairs,
brushed her hair, and braided it with great care, donned her clean blue
chambray with her favorite white ruffles, and went forth in solemn
excitement towards the Evergreens, to unfold her plan to Mr. Dean.

She found him in the library putting his books and magazines in a
case, in view of his coming departure. Margery's face clouded at the
sight, but brightened again when she remembered that she had come to
stay him.

"Why, what brings you so early, little dove?" asked Mr. Dean, brushing
the dust from his knees as he rose to welcome her. "And all alone? How
is it that you have flown away with none of your flock?"

"I did not want the rest," replied Margery. "I came to see you about
something important."

"And I am very glad to have you all to myself," said her friend. "Come
here, and sit by me on the sofa. You will not slip off of this one as
you do from that slippery hair-cloth thing in the parlor. Now, what
is the great matter that you have to tell me? Anything wrong with the
post-office?"

Margery arranged herself beside him on the sofa, crossed her ankles,
smoothed her dress, clasped her hands in her lap, and immediately
unclasped them to remove her hat, folded them again, and was ready to
begin.

"You see," said Margery, "I was thinking about your going away, and
about Miss Isabel."

Mr. Dean looked rather startled.

"That is a queer subject for your thoughts, Margery," he said.

"I think that you are sorry that you are not friends with Miss Isabel,"
Margery continued.

"I am very sorry that I am not friends with Miss Isabel," Mr. Dean
repeated gravely.

"Now I think Miss Isabel doesn't know," said Margery.

"Doesn't know what, little dove?" Mr. Dean asked.

"I don't know, but she doesn't know something," Margery replied.
"Miss Isabel's this way: if anybody does anything she doesn't like,
she always forgives them right away, before they ask her to, and if
anybody's bad she says maybe they aren't what they seem. Now you're
nice, and yet you're the only one she acts so queer about. I've puzzled
and puzzled over it, and I can't see why it is, but I know she doesn't
understand. I think you're friends all the time, only it's all horrid."

"Well," said Mr. Dean, smiling a little, "I think it's rather horrid
myself."

"Yes," assented Margery. "Now why don't you send her a letter through
our postoffice, and tell her how badly it makes us all feel?"

Mr. Dean sat up straight, and looked at her.

"I never once thought of the little post-office!" he cried.

"You're both members," Margery went on, "and you're the only ones who
haven't written to each other. Now don't you think Miss Isabel would
be pleased if you wrote her through our little post-office? Maybe she
feels slighted."

"Margery, it's an inspiration," cried Mr. Dean. "And I could address it
to Miss Alma Cara."

"Oh, yes, you'd have to, because that's her post-office name, only it's
not _Miss_, it's _Lady_ Alma Cara. And you know it would be all part of
our play, and yet it wouldn't, because it's dreadful not to be friends
with people; but she wouldn't mind so much if you wrote her that way."

Mr. Dean was walking up and down the room by this time, and he came
over and stood before Margery.

"Did you ever hear that Solomon was a little girl before he grew up?"
he asked.

"I never heard about Solomon when he was little, but I guess he was a
little boy," replied Margery.

"Well, I am sure that he was a little girl with a pale face and blue
dress, and that some good fairy made him into a king when he was big
enough, and the same good fairy brought him here to me to-day, once
more in the form of a little girl," said Mr. Dean.

Margery laughed.

"Do you think it is a good plan?" she asked delightedly.

"Good plan, Margery?" cried Mr. Dean. "Solomon himself could have
thought of no wiser. I'll try it, and you will carry Miss Isabel the
letter." He took her face in his hands and kissed her hair. "You dear
little soul," he said, "I think that you will grow up a second Miss
Isabel."

And Margery felt that in all her life she could never again have such
praise as this.

"Will you write it soon?" she asked, putting on her hat, and pulling
its elastic from the ribbon on the end of her braid.

"You'll find the letter in to-morrow morning's mail," replied Mr. Dean.
"I shall be in more of a hurry about it than you are."

"And if you and Miss Isabel were friends you wouldn't go away, would
you?" asked Margery wistfully, turning back in the doorway.

"In that case I promise to stay--oh, no one knows how long," said Mr.
Dean; and Margery ran down the walk with hope and joy speeding her
steps.

She found Tommy Traddles watching for her return, for he was devoted to
his little mistress, and sat at the door on the lookout, and crying for
her when she was out, which was proof that she made life pleasant for
him when she was at home, for if any animal appreciates being treated
with attention it is the cat. He arose, welcoming her with loud mews,
alternating with the softest murmurs, and jumping up on a table, where
he could rub his head against her cheek, and give her hands sundry pats
with his white paws. Then he ran away and hid behind the door, solely
for the pleasure of jumping out at her, and then waited for her to
hide, which she did behind the sofa, and when she cried "Coop!" Tommy
Traddles came creeping softly to look for her, and when he found her,
sprang up on the sofa, and gave her a pat, instantly running away to
hide himself, as if he said, "Now you're _it_; come find me." When
hide-and-seek grew tiresome, Tommy Traddles went to get the stick which
was his favorite plaything, and brought it to Margery in his teeth,
laying it at her feet, and rubbing his head against her, and making the
most coaxing murmurs to induce her to whisk it about for him to run
after. Margery never could resist his pleadings, and cat and child had
a delightful frolic until both curled up on the big sofa, and fell into
a long summer noonday sleep.

The afternoon seemed interminable to Margery, so full of impatience
was she for the hour when her plan should be carried out. Jack,
Trix, and Amy came over for three-cornered puss-in-the-corner and
old-man-among-your-castle after tea, which helped her through the few
hours that lay between then and bed-time.

When her friends had gone Margery slipped down into the orchard,
through the wet grass, regardless of low shoes and damp ankles. She
opened the drop-box--it was her turn to be postmistress--and thrust her
hand down to the bottom. One letter was there, a big, thick one. She
took it out; yes, she was right. Even by the starlight she recognized
Mr. Dean's fine, clear hand. While they were playing he had come in
the orchard gate and posted it.

She ran with it to the house, but she knew before she held it under
the gaslight that she should find it addressed to Lady Alma Cara,
Blissylvania, New York.

"Now if only Miss Isabel will forgive him, and he can stay here, and we
can all be friends," thought the little conspirator.

She took the letter to her own room and put it under her pillow. The
moon peeped in a little later and saw a small figure in its white night
dress kneeling by the bed, and praying very hard for the success of the
plan that might give happiness to the two friends whom Margery loved
best. It was long before she went to sleep, and when she did it was
to dream that Tommy Traddles had joined the club, and that instead of
wearing the dove badge, he had two white wings growing from his striped
back, and was flying over the orchard to take Mr. Dean a message
from the President, saying that he had been appointed postmaster of
Blissylvania, at Miss Isabel's request. And all night long she wakened
at intervals to slip her hand under the pillow to make sure that the
plump letter was still safe.



CHAPTER IX.

ONE HONORARY MEMBER TO THE OTHER HONORARY MEMBER.


TOMMY TRADDLES was aroused from his morning nap by the shock
of seeing his little mistress appear at half-past five all dressed and
ready for the day. He welcomed her with his usual salutation of soft
murmurs, rubbing his head against her, which she interpreted to mean on
this occasion, "Why are you dressed so early?"

"I couldn't sleep, Tommy," Margery answered; "I have so much on my
mind."

By six the entire household was awake, for Margery began to practise
energetically, that there should be no hindrance to her starting to
take the letter to Miss Isabel as soon as breakfast was over.

Mary, Miss Isabel's old servant, told Margery that Miss Isabel was in
the garden, and the little girl ran quickly through the big hall and
down the box-bordered paths to find her.

Miss Isabel was watering and tending her lilies. She looked pale
and ill as she bent over the tall stalks, in her white morning
gown, dusting the glossy leaves, and showering them from her little
watering-pot. Margery thought that she had never seen her beloved Miss
Isabel look so weary and sad, and fear for her health for a moment
drove all thought of the letter from her mind.

"Dear Miss Isabel, are you ill?" she cried, running to throw her arms
around her.

Miss Isabel brightened as she turned to meet her.

"Why, my Margaret!" she cried; "you startled me! What a very early bird
you are! No, I am not ill, only a trifle tired, and perhaps a little
sad."

This recalled Margery to her errand.

"I brought you a letter, Lady Alma Cara," she said.

Miss Isabel set down the watering-pot, and put out her hand.

"Was it a special delivery that you came so early?" she asked.

"I think it was," said Margery, "though it was not marked."

Suddenly Miss Isabel dropped her shears and sponge, and sat down on the
old gray stone bench, beside which the lilies grew white and stately;
they were not as white as Miss Isabel's face as she looked at Margery.

"What is this, Margery?" she asked.

"Mr. Dean wrote it," began Margery, very much frightened. "He is going
away, and we can't bear it, and he wants you to be friends, and so
do we, for then he would stay, and he has told you all about it, so
that you'll be nice to him, as you are to everybody else, even--even
_worms_," said Margery, inspired to this comparison by looking down at
the lilies' roots. "Please, _please_ don't be angry with him any more,
Miss Isabel. You're the nicest of anybody in the whole world, except
mamma, and he's the next nicest."

Miss Isabel was sobbing.

"Go back, dear Margery," she whispered. "You must go away now."

Margery was dreadfully frightened. She knelt at Miss Isabel's feet, and
pulled her hands from before her face, peering under a lily to look at
her.

"Are you angry?" she implored. "Only tell me that; are you angry?"

"Yes," said Miss Isabel, suddenly laughing in a queer sobbing way;
"why didn't you bring this letter before?"

And Margery went away, pondering over this incomprehensible answer. As
she walked slowly down the street she saw Trix and Amy coming to meet
her. Trix's face was tragic; her cheeks were crimson, her lips set, her
brow dark, and her eyes full of dumb misery. Amy's comfortable, rosy
little countenance was stamped with sympathetic sorrow. Margery saw
that something dreadful must have happened.

"What's the matter?" she called out, as soon as they could hear,
running to receive the answer.

"I have been sent with a note to your house, and I'm to stay with you
all day till three, and if I go out I'm not to go near home," replied
Trix in an awful tone.

"Going to spend the day? I'm glad. What's the matter, Trix, that you
look so solemn," asked Margery.

"Don't you know what that means?" demanded Trix, in such a
horror-stricken manner that Margery trembled and shook her head.

"I'll tell you, then," said Trix. "You know mamma fell down-stairs
three weeks ago and sprained her ankle?"

"Yes, I know that," said Margery.

"Well, the doctors are coming to-day to cut her leg off," declared
Trix, and Margery gasped, as did Amy, though she had been told this
before.

"How do you know?" demanded Margery, recovering from the shock.

"I'm sure of it," Trix replied. "I've heard how they do those things.
They send the children out of the way always, and mamma thought I would
never guess, and it would be easier for me to come home and find her
leg gone than to be there and smell the ether and hear her groan, and I
_know_ that's it, and I shall die, I shall die!"

Margery and Amy looked at each other, feeling helpless in the face of
such a calamity as this.

"Did you say anything to my mother?" Margery asked at last.

"No, I gave her mamma's note, and that will tell her," said Trix. "I
didn't want her to know I knew, because they were trying to keep it a
secret from me."

"It's awful!" shuddered Margery. "You'd better come home with me, Trix,
and we'll try to do something to forget it."

"Forget it!" cried Trix, turning on her indignantly, as they began
to walk onward. "Do you think you could forget it if you knew those
horrid doctors were cutting off your mother's leg, and she had to go on
crutches forever? Perhaps they're coming with their knives this minute."

Margery looked faint, Amy began to sob, and Trix quivered from head to
foot.

"We shall all go crazy if we think of it," said Margery, bracing
herself. "It may not be that at all."

"I tell you I know it is," asserted Trix, so confidently that Margery
yielded the point.

"Well, come home, and don't let us talk of it," she said. "I know some
people walk very nicely with crutches, and it doesn't hurt to have a
leg taken off, because they use ether."

But there was no consoling Trix, and the task of entertaining her
proved a heavy one. Jack came, and heard the story with so much
excitement that the others were wrought to a higher pitch than ever.

"I'm going to be a doctor myself when I grow up," he announced. Jack
would have had more lives than a cat to follow half the callings that
at different times he thought that he should like to follow. "I'd like
to cut off legs. Now, don't you fret, Trix; your mother'll be all
right in a few days, and crutches would only be fun. Think how fast I
can go on stilts, and that must be about a million times harder, for
you don't have even one foot on the ground. I've thought of a good
play. We'll pretend this house is a castle besieged by the enemy, and
I'll be a scout. I'll go around by Trix's house every half hour, and
come back to let you know how it looks."

This idea was hailed with rapture, and was about to be carried out, but
just as Jack had reached the front gate Mrs. Gresham's voice was heard
from the window.

"Jack! Jack!" she called.

"Yes, Aunt Margaret," replied Jack, pausing.

"If you are going out, don't go near Mrs. Lane's house," said his aunt.

So that plan was never fulfilled. Luncheon made one of the hours
pass a little better, but after luncheon Trix's restlessness became
uncontrollable. She wandered in and out of the house; she accepted
Amy's proposition to make a visit to the church and pray for her
mother, but, as Amy remarked, "did not seem to feel any better after
it." She quarrelled with Jack, and almost fell out with Margery, for
she teased Tommy Traddles till that confiding cat fled in terror, and
altogether led her friends such a life that no prisoners could long
for freedom more eagerly than they longed for three o'clock to come.
It never occurred to one of the four to lay their trouble before Mrs.
Gresham, and she being busy did not discover its symptoms. Children
are such queer little beings that they will sometimes suffer all sorts
of misery without a word, and in this case the feeling that there was
a secret to be kept from them made them unwilling to betray their
knowledge of it.

At last it was ten minutes to three, and Trix could go. Amy, Margery,
and Jack accompanied her.

"I don't smell ether," remarked Amy as they went in the door.

Katie, smiling with all her might, showed them into the parlor. Mrs.
Lane, looking very bright and happy, stood by the window; she turned at
once, and came swiftly forward to meet the children.

"Look, Trix!" she said, and pointed to a piano standing in all the
glory of new polish over at the end of the room.

"For me!" gasped Trix.

"Yes, for you. You see now why I sent you off," said her mother. "I
didn't want you to see it until it was all in place."

Trix had longed for a new piano, but she did not know whether to be
glad or sorry; the revulsion of feeling was too strong.

"And you didn't have your leg cut off, after all?" asked Jack.

"I don't understand," said Mrs. Lane in bewilderment.

"Trix thought you were having your leg cut off, and that was why you
sent her away," explained Margery. "We've had an awful day."

"You poor, poor child!" cried her mother, taking Trix in her lap, in
spite of her great length. "Why didn't you tell Mrs. Gresham?"

And for the first time in that hard day Trix burst out crying, though
she explained that it was because she was so glad.

"To think that we've had such a dreadful day for nothing," said Jack,
in profound disgust, as they left the house.

"Why, Jack Hildreth, I'm ashamed of you; one might think you were sorry
that Mrs. Lane wasn't a cripple," cried his cousin.

The children parted at their respective homes, and Margery went around
by the orchard to look at the post-office, for throughout the troublous
day she had not forgotten her anxiety as to Miss Isabel and the letter.
She met Miss Isabel coming out of the gate as she went in. She was all
in white, with a bunch of sweet peas at her belt; her face was glowing
with color, her eyes shining. Margery did not stop to consider how
strange it was to find her there now when she had ceased coming to the
post-office; she only stood still in wondering amazement at the change
in Miss Isabel since morning. Miss Isabel put her arms around her, and
nearly kissed her breath away.

"You little dove of good tidings, my dear little Margery, how can I
love you enough?" she cried.

"Have you answered?" asked Margery eagerly.

"I posted a note just now, and it was addressed to Mr. Oliver Twist,"
said Miss Isabel, and fairly ran away.

Margery went at once to take it out of the box. It was alarmingly thin,
and her heart sank. Still, you could not always judge letters by the
outside, and she ran with it all the way to the Evergreens.

She found Mr. Dean marching up and down the walk, "just as if he were
expecting some one," thought Margery.

"A letter, Margery?" he cried, as soon as he saw her.

"Yes, but it's very thin, and yours was so thick," said Margery, not
wishing him to be disappointed.

He snatched it from her and tore it open while she stood by trembling
with eagerness to know whether he was to stay or go, and whether
Miss Isabel had been so cruel as not to forgive him, and to make
the children lose their kind new friend. It was a tiny note, but it
took Mr. Dean ten minutes to read it, with bowed head, and only his
shoulders visible to anxious Margery. Then he straightened himself, and
turned towards her such a happy face that her heart leaped with joy.

"I shall not go away, my little dove," he said simply.

"Then Miss Isabel isn't angry any more?" asked Margery.

"No, and it is your blessed little plan that saved us," said Mr. Dean.
"You dear little dove of peace and good tidings, you brought the olive
branch."

"And now I can keep you and Miss Isabel?" asked Margery.

"You can keep me; I'm not so sure about Miss Isabel," said Mr. Dean.

"I'm not afraid of losing her," laughed Margery happily. "Oh, I'm so
glad, I'm so glad you can stay!"

"What shall we do to show how glad we are?" asked Mr. Dean.

Margery considered the question seriously.

"Let's kneel right down and thank God," pious little Margery suggested
at last, and as there was no one there to see, the big man and the
little maiden knelt down on the grass under the pines with their Gothic
arches, and said a most sincere prayer of thanksgiving.

"But are you sure it is all right; it was such a little note, and yours
was so thick?" said Margery as they arose.

"All right; it was little, but it was enough," said Mr. Dean, taking
out the note and refolding it carefully to restore it to his pocket.
And Margery went home pondering the mysterious ways of grown people.
She was quite sure that she should never have been satisfied with such
a tiny note in reply to a long letter.

Margery went to bed early that night, needing rest after a long and
wearing day. She lay in her little white bed looking out at the soft
summer twilight in which her two friends, whom she had been the means
of reuniting, were that moment walking and talking after a separation
of ten years. The stars shone down on her peacefully, and the one
bright one that she called "her star" looked right into her eyes.

"It's glad, too, that everything is happy, and Mr. Dean is going to
stay. It's smiling good-night."

And smiling back to it, Margery passed into happy dreams.



CHAPTER X.

A PICNIC.


TRIX and Amy were twins--that is, as they explained to
everybody, one was eleven and the other ten, and they weren't the least
bit of relation to one another, but both their birthdays was the same
day, the eighth of August. On the afternoon of the seventh four small
notes appeared in the post-office addressed to Lady Catharine Seyton,
Mrs. Peace Plenty, Lady Griselda of the Castle of the Lonely Lake,
and Sir Harry Hotspur, stating that the favor of their company was
requested for a day in the woods on the following day by Lady Alma Cara
and Mr. Oliver Twist, in celebration of the birthday of Lady Catharine
Seyton and Mrs. Peace Plenty. The recipients of this invitation showed
their joy with less dignity of manner than one might have expected
from their lofty titles. Sir Harry Hotspur immediately climbed a tree,
and sat whooping on a limb for a few moments before descending in a
somersault from a lower one. Lady Catharine Seyton, regardless of her
eleven years, danced a sort of impromptu skirt dance, in which Lady
Griselda joined, and Mrs. Peace Plenty hopped on and off the apple-tree
stump, which served as a seat, fully twenty times without stopping,
which was undignified in a well-known philanthropist.

The eighth dawned fair and lovely, though rather warm. The four
children met at Miss Isabel's gate, where she and Mr. Dean were
awaiting them. Amy brought her doll Rose Viola along, for, as she
justly remarked, she did not see why growing up need make one forget
old friends, and for her part she meant to play with Rose Viola till
she was twenty. A three-seated wagon stood waiting them as they came up
to the meeting-place, and hampers of the most exciting appearance stuck
out all round under the seats.

"Trix and Amy are the guests of honor to-day, because it is their
birthday," announced Mr. Dean. "Up with you first, lassies, and many
happy returns of the day."

The drive to the woods was a delight in itself, so fragrant was the
air, and so beautiful the roadside with the bright flowers of August,
and the blackberries showing red through the vines, with some black as
jet, and here and there the leaves beginning to bronze.

The last of the drive was through the woods, and the shrill voices
hushed as the great trees darkened the road, and the wheels rolled
almost noiselessly over the fragrant carpet of brown pine needles.
They left the horse and his driver at the last point where driving was
possible, and lading themselves with the contents of the wagon went on
afoot.

"There is a spring not far from here," said Mr. Dean. "I came
prospecting the other day, and I thought that would be the best place
for us to pitch our tents, for I expect to be both hungry and thirsty."

The spot that Mr. Dean had selected for their use was the prettiest in
all the woods. Though the fierce heat of the sun, penetrating even the
thick hemlocks, had dried much of the delicate leafage, the spring had
here kept the moss bright and green, and the brakes and ferns grew tall
and lovely in all the hollows.

The children drew long breaths of satisfaction as they paused here,
and stooped to lay their burning cheeks on the cool pillows of moss.
Miss Isabel sank down with a happy sigh, caressing a fern at her side
with her delicate fingers, as if it were a little baby's hair. But her
guests were not disposed to be quiet long.

"Now what shall we do?" said Jack, starting up after fully three
minutes and a half of silent enjoyment of the peace and refreshment of
the spot.

"What would you like to do first?" asked Mr. Dean, with a twinkle in
his eye.

"Eat," said Jack promptly.

"I knew it," cried Mr. Dean, laughing, "and to be quite honest, I am
hungry myself."

"Open the small hamper," said Miss Isabel. "I provided a little lunch
and a big lunch, and we may have the little one first."

The "little lunch" proved to be hard-boiled eggs, thin bread and
butter, and bottles of milk, with ginger cookies for dessert. The last
crumb vanished speedily, for although the girls had laughed at Jack for
being hungry the very first thing, they were quite ready to take their
share of the luncheon.

"And now I've thought of a splendid play," announced Trix, removing
the crumbs from her lips in the most simple, if not the most elegant
manner, by the tip of her slender red tongue. "Miss Isabel and Mr. Dean
must be a queen and king, and we will be their subjects, and they must
send us to explore the countries around their kingdom, and do all kinds
of brave deeds, and we must come back to report them, and then they
must send us again. Some of us can discover countries, and some report
on the plants, and fruits, and things in the neighboring kingdoms, and
some must kill dragons and all those things."

"Isn't that a great play, Trix!" cried Jack in ecstasy. "I'll kill
dragons."

"I'd like to discover," said Margery.

"I'll report the flowers and things," said Amy.

"And I want to be a knight sent out to have adventures," declared Trix.
"Will you play that, Miss Isabel? Will you, Mr. Dean?"

"By all means," replied Mr. Dean.

"I'd like it very much," said Miss Isabel.

"Then you sit here," said Trix, in great delight. "Wait till I make
your throne with these shawls. And now we'll kneel before you, and you
must send us on these expeditions. And remember, we're all knights,
because girls can't do such things."

Four faces were raised to the sovereigns seated on the empty
lunch-basket and a rock, while four knightly figures, three in bright
ginghams and one in knickerbockers, knelt to receive their commands.

"Sir Harry Hotspur," began the king, "there is a monstrous dragon
devastating our kingdom on the west. Take thy trusty sword and slay
this monster, bringing me its head, and fail not, as ye be a good
knight and true."

"Yes, your majesty," replied Sir Harry, rising and backing from the
royal presence, and then starting westward at a pace that plainly
showed how his horse was plunging beneath him, as he waved his pine
sword in his right hand and blew an imaginary trumpet in his left.

"And you, Sir Percival," the queen said, "go abroad to the kingdoms
adjoining our domain, and bring me tidings of the kinds of fruits and
plants that flourish in those foreign parts, and if possible bring me
also specimens of these."

"Yes, your majesty," replied rosy-cheeked Sir Percival, trying to rise
gracefully as the first knight had done, and getting entangled in her
pink gingham skirts.

"And, Sir Philip," the king said, "don light armor and select your
trustiest steed, for it is my will that you go to discover new
countries, if such there be, for the honor of our name and the increase
of our kingdom."

"Sire, I will go right gladly," replied Sir Philip loyally.

"And you, brave and bold Sir Guy," the queen said, "ride hither and yon
seeking adventure for the glory of knighthood and the succor of the
unfortunate."

"Your majesty, I obey," replied Sir Guy, making a profound bow, and
doffing a helmet that looked uncommonly like a shade hat with yellow
daisies.

The band of knights began returning in what seemed like two or three
minutes, but which was a period of from three to five years.

Sir Harry bore the dragon's head, which he presented kneeling to the
king.

"It was a dreadful fight, your majesty," said the panting knight. "All
around the dragon's cave lay men's bones."

"Think ye they were the bones of the victims which he had devoured?"
the king asked.

"I am sure of it, your majesty, for I barely escaped," said Sir Harry;
"but at last I gave one terrible stroke, and his head rolled at my
feet. Here it is."

Jack had had a hard time digging up the root which represented the
dragon's head.

"You have our royal thanks," said the king, "and you shall learn that
one monarch at least is not ungrateful."

Sir Philip was the next to arrive. He--or she--knelt at the feet of the
king.

"Well, Sir Philip," he asked, "were you successful?"

"More than I expected to be, my liege," replied Sir Philip. "I found
a large continent north of this kingdom, and an island to the east.
They are inhabited by a singular race, but the chief with whom I talked
is willing to embrace Christianity, so I doubt not they will be loyal
subjects of your throne."

"Well done, valiant Sir Philip," said the queen; "permit me to decorate
you with the Isabellan medal," and she pinned in the gathers of the
blue gingham shirt-waist which covered the breast of this knight a
large round leaf, bearing the word "Honor" pricked in it with a pin.

"And here comes Sir Guy," cried the king.

Sir Guy came running, his hair was unbraided, and his cheeks flushed,
and his dark eyes bright.

"I found a lovely maiden chained to a rock, and four ruffians about to
stab her. I made them all fly, and here is the maiden," and Sir Guy
produced a little white kitten mewing feebly.

"Oh, Trix, give her to me!" cried Margery.

"No; I'm going to keep her myself," said Trix, dropping the rôle of Sir
Guy. "I found her, and you've got Tommy Traddles, and I haven't any
kitten. She's most starved: Mayn't I give her milk, Miss Isabel?"

"Of course you may. You really did have an adventure," cried Miss
Isabel. "Perhaps it is a fairy birthday present, Trix, and she is an
enchanted princess. But at last here comes Sir Percival. Good Sir
Percival, we began to fear you had perished."

"Here are all the flowers and fruits I could find," said Sir Percival,
presenting an enormous bunch of all sorts of blossoms. "But here
is something else I found, and it looks like shells--see;" and Sir
Percival, who was not as good as the rest in keeping up what Margery
had called "historical ways of talking," held out something to the
queen.

"A fossil!" cried her majesty. "Sir Percival, I congratulate you; you
have really made a discovery. Where did you find it?"

"Oh, need I be Sir Percival any more? It's so hard to talk that way. I
can't tell you unless I can be myself," implored Amy.

"Oh, pshaw! you can't pretend worth a cent," said Jack in disgust; but
Miss Isabel said, "Why, of course; we don't want to do anything for fun
when it is no longer fun. Tell on, Amy."

"You know that little hill over there beyond the spring," began Amy,
much relieved. "They've been taking out some rock on the side, and I
was looking there when I found this lump of something that looked like
mud, and when I took it up I found it was hard, and it had all these
shells in it. They look like scallop shells, but they can't be, because
they are in the woods. What are they, Miss Isabel?"

"The shells can tell us," said Miss Isabel, putting the lump of clay
to her ear and pretending to listen. "I'll tell you what they say.
It is this shell that is speaking; it says: Many ages ago, before
Adam was made, there was a great lake where these woods now are, and
this shell lived in the water, and was the house of a little mollusk,
like shells nowadays. And once there came a great commotion in the
waters and something like an earthquake in the land, and when it was
over the lake was gone, and in its place was a valley, and the hill
was thrown up, and beautiful great plants of such kinds as grow now
only in the tropics began to flourish, for it was very warm. And the
shell says it found itself thrown up into clay-like mud, and pretty
soon the mollusk died, for it could not live out of the water. And
then it grew very cold, and great glaciers went crashing and cracking,
and sliding to the sea over this very spot where we now sit. And then
the land in the northern latitudes sank, and made the climate warmer
again, and the glaciers began to melt, and as they melted they dropped
great quantities of stone and gravel and soil made of the stones their
awful strength had ground up, and the hollow where the lake had been
was filled up, and the little shell says it was imbedded in the soil
made by the passing and breaking up of the glacier, and a great bowlder
fell on top of it, dropped by the glacier, and which was taken out of
the hill only the other day, and once more this little shell saw the
sun. And it says it wonders to see such creatures as we are, for though
more ages ago than we can imagine it saw great animals much larger than
the elephant wandering here, it never before saw anything that could
understand its wonderful history, for when it last saw light God had
not made man."

"Oh, Miss Isabel, is it a fairy story?" "Oh, Miss Isabel, is it true?"
cried Trix and Amy together.

Margery almost sobbed in excitement; she stretched out her hand for the
fossil.

"I can't think so far back," she whispered. "Before God made man!"

But Jack said, "I know; that's geology, and it's splendid. I mean to
study it when I get big."

"It is all true, dears," said Miss Isabel, "and no one can 'think so
far back,' nor take in the wonders of the story. And it is geology, as
Jack says; but no fairy story, Amy, is half so lovely and interesting
as the story that nature tells."

"Do you know that nature is telling me a story about little Jack
Horner, and I think I should like to put my hand in that hamper and
pull out a plum--in other words, I'm hungry, Isabel," said Mr. Dean.

So they all attacked the "big luncheon," and when they had eaten all
the chicken, and rolls, and cake, and fruit that they possibly could,
and had given the white kitten the bones, they were disposed to rest,
and all but Amy lounged on the moss in every attitude of perfect ease.
Suddenly Miss Isabel asked, "Where is Amy?" And that moment a faint
scream came as answer to her question. Everybody ran towards the
direction whence the sound came. There stood poor little Mrs. Peace
Plenty up to her knees in black mud, and if she tried to extricate one
foot the other only sank the deeper.

"I came to get some water," she sobbed, "and when I came around here
behind the spring to see what it looked like I got stuck."

"Never mind, Amy, we'll pull you out," said Mr. Dean cheerily. "Jack,
help me drag this dead tree over."

They swung the fallen trunk around, and with that to stand on soon
pulled Amy out, and set the poor child on firm land again, though with
both her low shoes gone, and her skirts in a sorry plight.

"It's lucky that it is time to go home," remarked Miss Isabel, as she
took off Amy's stockings to rub her feet. "You must carry her to the
wagon."

Mr. Dean obediently shouldered the little girl, and they started in
procession out of the woods.

"I am glad the hampers are empty," remarked Mr. Dean. "Mrs. Peace
Plenty is a solid little body."

The drive home in the long, warm rays of the afternoon sun warmed Amy
thoroughly and restored her shaken nerves.

"I never had such a lovely birthday in all my life, and I thank you
ever and ever so much," said Trix, as they set her down at her own gate.

"And you have had a whole long eleven, too," laughed Mr. Dean.

"I have had such a good time I can't tell you," said Amy, in her turn,
as she was deposited at home. She was a funny figure standing there
barefooted, the black mud of the woods dried on her skirts and hands,
clutching her stiff stockings, her precious fossil, and Rose Viola to
her breast.

"Many happy returns, many happy returns," Mr. Dean, Miss Isabel, Jack,
and Margery called back to her as they drove away.

"I'm afraid there won't be many returns of her shoes," remarked Jack.
"But in spite of that it's been a perfect picnic."



CHAPTER XI.

A WEDDING.


MR. DEAN was to marry Miss Isabel, after all! The tidings came
to the children as a blow at first, and they, especially Margery, felt
that it was almost taking advantage of their confidence, since that was
not at all the end they had in view in seeking to have Mr. Dean stay at
the Evergreens. But in time they grew reconciled to the arrangement,
and even came to see that it was the best one possible, for now they
could visit both Miss Isabel and Mr. Dean at once, instead of dividing
their time between them. It helped them to see that this wedding was a
desirable plan, that the day appointed for it was Margery's eleventh
birthday, October fourteenth, and that all the little girls were to be
bridesmaids, and Jack best man, in spite of his being but twelve years
old, for Miss Isabel declared that this must be a club wedding, since
without the H. T. C. it might never have come about.

Four pairs of little bare feet sprang to the floor early in the morning
of October fourteenth, moved by the thought that Margery was eleven
years old and it was Miss Isabel's wedding-day, and they sped to the
window to see what sort of weather it was. Nor was one likely to sleep
late when a dress of softest pink mull, with a big picture hat to
match, lay like a kind of rosy dawn on a chair ready for the bridesmaid
to put on. And Jack had gone to bed with his first long trousers laid
where his eyes could rest on them the moment they opened, and with his
patent-leather shoes in shining glory on the hearth, and he arose in a
flurry that was still dignified, feeling that much of the success of
the wedding lay on his shoulders. The weather was all that it should
be; a soft haze rested over all the earth, the leaves were blazing in
the glory of their October colors, and there was that wonderful hush
upon nature that comes when the harvest is over, the work done, and
summer pauses lingeringly, as if dreading to say good-by.

There was only happiness in each little heart that lovely morning; all
doubt had been removed from the children's minds, and they had learned
to see what a delightful thing it was that their Miss Isabel would no
longer be lonely in the old house. "For," as Amy sagely remarked, "when
we were there we couldn't tell how lonely she was, because we _were_
there, and she wasn't lonely, but when we were gone she must have been
sad, and now we shall know that when we aren't there Mr. Dean will talk
to her till we come back."

At half-past ten three pink skirts fluttered out of a carriage at
Miss Isabel's door. The Mass was to be at eleven. It would have
been dreadful to have been late, and they had all insisted on their
privilege of seeing Miss Isabel first in her bridal dress. Very sweet
and lovely she looked with the white veil crowning her bright hair, and
such a peaceful look on her face that Amy cried out as she kissed her,
"You look so good, Miss Isabel, as well as pretty."

Miss Isabel had three little boxes all ready containing her gifts to
her bridesmaids, and when they opened them, behold there lay before
their delighted eyes a dear little dove in pearls, so that the only
regret that they felt in wearing their pretty pink dresses, that the
blue badge with the dove was forbidden them, was more than taken away.
Miss Isabel fastened the pins in the soft ruffles around each little
yoke, and whispered to her bridesmaids that these were badges of her
love, as well as reminders of the club and the happiness that had come
from it. And she satisfied Trix's solicitude for Jack by assuring her
that he had a pin precisely like theirs for a scarf-pin.

Then she kissed each face under its big mull hat, gathered up her
gloves, and they all went down to get into the carriages to drive to
the church, whence Miss Isabel should return Miss Isabel no longer.
The little church was filled, for Miss Isabel had many friends, and
everybody was deeply interested in this wedding because they knew it
was the happy ending of an old story. And everybody knew, too, that
it had come about through the children's club, and the old women in
the side aisles nudged each other as the Lohengrin wedding march
pealed through the church, and whispered, "There they are; there are
the children," as the three little maids in pink came slowly down the
aisle, preceding Miss Isabel on the arm of her uncle, who had come all
the way from Chicago that on this great day she might have the arm of
one of her kindred on which to lean.

And Mr. Dean met her at the sanctuary gate, looking very proud and
happy, with Jack beside him suffering torture from his stiff collar,
but enjoying himself immensely none the less. Then Miss Isabel and Mr.
Dean entered the sanctuary, and Mass began.

It did not seem long to the excited children before the organ once
more pealed forth, this time in the jubilant strains of Mendelssohn's
wedding march, and they were proceeding down the aisle in twos,
Trix and Amy, Margery and Jack, and behind them Mr. and Mrs. Dean,
while audible exclamations of "God bless her!" came from the humbler
friends to whom Miss Isabel had given help and happiness, and tearful
smiles and loving looks followed her from those to whom she had given
happiness also, though they had not needed alms.

The old house looked beautiful on their return. All the rooms were
filled with palms and white and golden chrysanthemums, and the sun lit
up the place into splendor.

"I believe they built these old houses just for weddings and balls; I
never knew it could look so fine," said Jack to Margery, pausing on
the threshold, and feeling without understanding why that the dignified
old rooms were made for grandeur.

At the wedding breakfast Margery, as first bridesmaid, sat at Mrs.
Dean's right hand, and Jack at Mr. Dean's left, Trix next to him, and
Amy next Margery. They found that for once in their life they had
enough ice-cream and dainties, and Jack leaned over and whispered to
Trix, "I've taken my watch out, and I can't get it back," which remark
caused Trix to choke in the most embarrassing manner over her last
spoonful of ice.

Jack had hardly succeeded in the difficult task of restoring his watch
to the tight vest, and was sitting back at peace with all mankind, when
he heard Mr. Dean saying something so dreadful that he could not credit
his own ears. He looked up; Mr. Dean's eyes had a twinkle in them that
Jack had learned meant mischief, and he certainly was saying:

"Mr. John Hildreth, my best man, will make a few remarks on this happy
occasion."

Jack sank back farther, looking painfully red and frightened, but Trix
poked him energetically.

"Get up, Jack; he wants you to make a speech," she whispered. "You've
got to do it. Pooh! what do you care; you know most of the people here."

Jack arose; his very ears were crimson, and his voice trembled.

"Ladies and gentlemen," poor Jack began.

"Hear! hear!" cried one of the guests, in what was meant for
encouragement, but had the opposite effect.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Jack said again, "I didn't know best men had to
make speeches. I never made a speech."

Here the poor child stuck fast, and Mrs. Dean whispered to her husband
to be merciful and tease him no more, while Trix in a stage whisper
said, "Go on, say something about the weather, the breakfast, and Miss
Isabel, or Mr. Dean, or anything."

"I think we have very nice weather for a wedding," Jack went on, acting
on this hint; "and once I heard a saying, 'Happy the bride that the
sun shines on.' And we've had a fine breakfast, and enjoyed ourselves
very much, and I couldn't eat another bit. And we all love Miss Isabel
so much, that at first we didn't want Mr. Dean to marry her, but after
we got acquainted with him we didn't mind, because he's most as nice
as she is. So we were willing--I mean Margery, and Trix, and Amy, and
me--and I--to have her marry him, and we're all perfectly satisfied,
and we think they've had a nice wedding, and we hope they'll have a
great many more."

A great deal of laughter and cheering greeted this happy ending, under
cover of which Trix whispered:

"O Jack! you goose; why did you go and spoil it? The rest was splendid.
They can't have a great many more weddings; people don't keep getting
married."

"Some people do," retorted Jack. "Isn't there a tombstone in the
cemetery that says, 'Here lies Amos Barnes, and Amelia, and Frances,
and Rosa, and Harriet, wife of the above'?" However, Jack got upon his
feet again, quite emboldened by his success. "I didn't mean we hoped
they'd have a great many more; I meant we wish them many happy returns
of the same."

And not even Trix could see why the guests laughed again, but they
applauded heartily, and Mr. and Mrs. Dean told Jack that his speech was
very nice, and they thanked him very much. So Jack felt rather puffed
up, and tried hard not to look as if the eyes of the world were on
him; and under cover of the applause for Jack, Mr. and Mrs. Dean arose
and slipped away up-stairs, and presently they reappeared, Mr. Dean
carrying an umbrella and a travelling shawl, and Mrs. Dean dressed all
in soft dove-gray with chinchilla collar, and the children saw that
she had pinned on her breast the blue badge of the H. T. C. And that
one little act explained why they had so loved Miss Isabel, for even
in that exciting moment she remembered to give them pleasure. From the
foot of the stairs, all down the long hall, and out the door, even
while Mrs. Dean paused to kiss her small bridesmaids, swarming eagerly
around her, she was pelted with a shower of rice, and it rattled on the
top of the carriage as the door shut, and Jack hit the back with an old
slipper provided for that purpose, and then the wheels rattled down the
gravel of the driveway, and Miss Isabel was gone.

A feeling of desolation crept over the children; the girls' eyes were
full of tears, and Jack felt a lump in his throat, for though they knew
that Miss Isabel would be back in two weeks, it seemed horribly like
giving her up. But the situation was saved from becoming melancholy by
Amy's small brother, who, standing quietly in his white dress and blue
kid shoes, had been watching the departure from under his waving mop of
golden hair. He now trotted off to the parlor, and returned with the
hearth-broom.

"Well, if nobody else is goin' to get married, I dess I'd better thweep
up dis rice," he remarked, and everybody laughed, and the solemnity of
the moment was broken up.

Fifteen minutes passed, and most of the guests had gone, when children
began arriving, and more and more, till Amy, Trix, Margery, and Jack
were completely puzzled to see all their schoolmates enter. But Mrs.
Gresham explained the mystery by telling them that it was a plan of
Miss Isabel's to surprise Margery, as it was her birthday, as well as
Miss Isabel's wedding-day. So she had asked Mrs. Gresham to help her,
and the orchestra was to remain, and the children were to have a party
for the rest of the afternoon. This exciting information drove all
thoughts of loneliness out of the children's heads, and soon the big
rooms were filled with gay little figures, dancing to the liveliest
music under the stately palms and bright golden chrysanthemums. And
so while the cars were whirling their dear Miss Isabel away to begin
her new life, her loving thought gave Margery a happy ending of her
birthday, and made the children feel that she was still too near them
to be lonely, and that the time would be all too short for them to plan
the welcome home that they meant to give her.



CHAPTER XII.

THE END OF THE YEAR AND OF THE POST-OFFICE.


CHRISTMAS had come and gone, and it was the last day of the
year. The Christmas tree still stood in the bay-window, and Tommy
Traddles had not ceased to find delight in setting in motion with his
paw the decorative balls within his reach on the lower limbs, and eying
wistfully those that hung higher. The fire burned brightly on the
hearth, and the snow fell swiftly and silently outside, drifting like a
white veil across the window, and heaping itself on the sills.

Margery sat watching it listlessly, swinging the curtain cord, and
wondering what made the others so long. The post-office had languished
of late, having been crowded out of mind by the holiday preparations
and the colder weather. No one would confess to being tired of it, but
sometimes there were two or three days between the delivery of mails,
which were steadily growing lighter; indeed, no one but Lady Alma Cara
and Mr. Oliver Twist were still faithful correspondents.

At last Trix and Amy came running in the gate, and Margery sprang to
meet them. They stamped the snow off in the vestibule, and took off
their things in the hall, where Trix had a struggle with her rubber
boots, which, as she needlessly observed, were growing too small for
her.

"Now what shall we do?" demanded Trix, as they came into the
sitting-room, bringing with them such an atmosphere of out-of-doors
that Tommy Traddles retired to the hearth-rug.

"Why, I'm looking for Jack," answered Margery. "He has some secret
which he wouldn't tell me, but he said he'd come over this afternoon
surely and tell me. He said it was half good and half bad, and I can't
think what it can be."

"I don't believe it's much," said Trix sceptically. "Jack has such lots
of notions."

But Margery shook her head.

"This is something," she began, when Amy interrupted her.

"I hear him now, coming through the back way," she said, and had
scarcely spoken when Jack appeared, half a dozen cookies in each hand
and busy with another.

"Winnie's baking," he explained, not very clear in speech, "and I
helped myself. They're prime; have one," and he offered each girl a
cookie with princely generosity.

"Now, Jack, what's your secret?" demanded Margery. "Are you going to
tell me to-day? Mind those crumbs; this room's been swept this morning."

Jack nodded energetically, signifying in pantomime that he would tell
them as soon as the cookies had disappeared; so there was nothing to
do but wait for this to happen with what patience they could summon.
At last the final morsel vanished, and after a provokingly elaborate
brushing of his knees, and careful sweeping up of crumbs with the
hearth-brush, Jack seated himself on the edge of a chair, and looked
from one to the other.

"Oh, tell me, Jack; hurry up!" cried Margery, while Trix threw a down
pillow at him, which he caught, saying:

"Thank you," putting it at his back. "Do you want me to tell you,
Megsy?" he asked. "Well, I'm going away to school."

A thunderbolt in the midst of the snow could not have produced greater
consternation.

"Jack!" cried all three in tones of horror. "You're not."

"Yes, I am; papa has decided. I am going next Monday."

"To boarding-school?" asked Trix, regret at his going and envy
struggling in her face.

"Yes; you see, papa thinks I can prepare for my First Communion better
in the school than here, and you know I want to make it with you next
June."

"Oh!" cried Margery, who had been sitting in speechless grief, a little
ray of light breaking into the gloom of her face. "Then you're not
going far?"

"Oh, no; only in town. I can come home at Easter, and June will soon be
here," replied Jack.

"And we can write to him," said Amy, trying as usual to see a bright
side.

"But it will be so lonesome without Jack," said Margery, her voice
quivering, for she had never had a brother, and this cousin had been
all to her that a brother could be.

"It's a pity he must go," said Trix, tilting one foot up and down on
the toe of her slipper, which she thus slipped on and off at the heel
in a pensive manner; "but as Amy says, we can write to him, and the
post-office will be more fun again," thus admitting by implication
what no one had been willing to confess, that the post-office was less
delightful than at first.

Silence followed this remark. Amy and Margery looked at one another.

"We should have to take the post-office in the house," Trix went on,
continuing her line of thought. "No one could go down into the orchard
for mail all winter."

"And what house could we put it in?" asked Margery. "None of us wants
to be postmaster all the time now, though we did at first, and it would
be a nuisance for any of us to have to go into some one else's house to
take care of the mails."

Neither liked to be the one to propose discontinuing it, but Jack did
not mind, because since he was going away he could not bear his part in
it that winter in any case.

"Why not give up the post-office?" he asked. "We'd be the H. T. C. just
the same, and you're all sick of it anyway."

"You are too," said Trix, indirectly admitting that she was.

"Well, even if I weren't, I couldn't play post-office this winter,"
Jack replied. "I say, let's get the post-office in here, and burn it
for a farewell ceremony, and then if we want to have another I'll make
one next summer. Anyhow, this one's warped."

Trix cheered up.

"Let's," she said briefly.

"Burn our post-office!" Amy gasped.

Margery looked happier.

"And I could write an ode, and we'd read it while it burned. But you'd
have to ask Alma Cara and Mr. Oliver Twist first, Jack, because they're
members. You go there, and while you're gone I'll write the ode."

"First let's vote on whether we burn it or not," said Jack. "All in
favor of burning the post-office please signify it by saying aye."

"Aye," said Trix and Margery unanimously.

"How do you vote when you want to and don't want to?" asked Amy.

"You decide which you want more," said Margery.

"O Amy, you goose, we'll have another next summer, if we want one, and
what's the use of a post-office without Jack," said Trix impatiently.

"Sure enough," said Amy. "Well, I vote aye, then."

"Now once more," cried Jack. "All in favor say aye."

"Aye," cried the four voices.

"Now, Jack, run up to Mr. Dean's while I write an ode," said Margery,
and Jack went.

"They say give it up till next summer, and then decide whether to begin
again," announced Jack, returning out of breath. "They say better not
drag on if it's burdensome. I'm going down to the orchard to get the
post-office."

"How shall we burn it?" asked Amy, when Jack came back.

"I've been thinking of the ceremonies on the way," Jack replied,
depositing the post-office on the floor. "I say we all march around it
three times in silence, and then each of us lay our hand on it once
for farewell. And then I'll make a speech, and then we'll each take
a corner and carry it to the fire and lay it on the coals, and we'll
stand around and watch it burn while Margery reads the ode."

"It's awfully solemn," said Amy, shuddering.

"It's fine," said Trix. "Ode done, Margery?"

"Yes, it will do," said Margery, giving a last wild flourish with her
pencil.

"Come on then," said Jack. "Move the table."

They pushed the table out of the way, and three times the members of
the H. T. C. encircled the doomed post-office in solemn silence, after
which each laid a hand on its top as a farewell greeting. Then with a
gesture commanding silence Jack began to speak.

"This office, ladies, has served us long and faithfully, and many are
the pleasures it has given us. We owe to it that our dear friend, Mr.
Oliver Twist, is still with us, and it has made the Lady Alma Cara
happy and done a noble work in the six months of its life. But the
year is ending to-night, and the office is to end with it, because
each has lasted as long as it can. We say farewell to this happy year,
and we are glad that it was so happy. And we say farewell to our good
post-office, and we are glad it was so good. I for one shall keep its
memory dear even in the new scenes to which I am about to depart. And
if the H. T. C. has a new post-office next summer we shall still love
and cherish the recollection of this one, to which we now say good-by.
Girls, take a corner each."

Amy sniffed outright as she lifted her end, and Margery looked excited,
while Trix whispered to her, "I think Jack will be a priest, he
preaches so splendidly."

They bore the little post-office to the grate, and laid it on the
coals. It was wet with snow, and sputtered, and steamed awhile before
it kindled. At last a little tongue of flame ran along the roof, and
came out at one of the boxes.

"Now, Margery, begin your ode," whispered Jack. "Read slowly."

Margery read:

    "Sweet post-office, though you are dear,
      The hour has come to say good-by;
    You end now with the ending year,
      And we stand here to see you die.
    You served us well in summer's heat;
      You changed two foes to man and wife;
    We ran to you with hurried feet,
      Because you were our joy in life.
    Though you are warped, we do not spurn;
      We love you still, though you are bent,
    And standing here to see you burn
      We read to you our hearts' lament.
    The New Year comes to-morrow morn,
      When one brave dove far schoolward flocks;
    In June, if a new office's born,
      We'll think your spirit's in the box,
    And thus you will be with us yet;
      Old office, we will hold you dear;
    Our first friend we can ne'er forget,
      So good-by, old office, and Old Year."

This ode, in spite of its halting in some of its feet, was hailed with
rapturous approval by Margery's audience.

"There goes the last end of the office," cried Jack excitedly.

"And our post-office is over," said Amy sadly.

"And Jack's going away," added Margery.

"Only till June, and then we'll have a new office and Jack back again,"
said Trix.

"And the Happy Thought Club's going to last forever," cried Jack.

"Let's give three cheers for the H. T. C. as a close of the exercises.
Hurry up before the box is quite gone."

The cheers were given, and then four figures curled up on the
hearth-rug to watch the last embers of the post-office fade away, and
build castles in the air for the future achievements of the H. T. C. in
the New Year so close upon them.

       *       *       *       *       *

                PRINTED BY BENZIGER BROTHERS, NEW YORK.





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