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Title: Under the Lilacs
Author:  Louisa May Alcott




TO
EMMA, IDA, CARL, AND LINA,
Over The Sea,
THIS LITTLE BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED
BY THEIR NEW FRIEND AND SISTER,
L. M. A.




Contents

I.     A MYSTERIOUS DOG
II.    WHERE THEY FOUND HIS MASTER
III.   BEN
IV.    HIS STORY
V.     BEN GETS A PLACE
VI.    A CIRCULATING LIBRARY
VII.   NEW FRIENDS TROT IN
VIII.  MISS CELIA'S MAN
IX.    A HAPPY TEA
X.     A HEAVY TROUBLE
XI.    SUNDAY
XII.   GOOD TIMES
XIII.  SOMEBODY RUNS AWAY
XIV.   SOMEBODY GETS LOST
XV.    BEN'S RIDE
XVI.   DETECTIVE THORNTON
XVII.  BETTY'S BRAVERY
XVIII. BOWS AND ARROWS
XIX.   SPEAKING PIECES
XX.    BEN'S BIRTHDAY
XXI.   CUPID'S LAST APPEARANCE
XXII.  A BOY'S BARGAIN
XXIII. SOMEBODY COMES
XXIV.  THE GREAT GATE IS OPENED




UNDER THE LILACS

CHAPTER I: A MYSTERIOUS DOG

The elm-tree avenue was all overgrown, the great gate was never
unlocked, and the old house had been shut up for several years.

Yet voices were heard about the place, the lilacs nodded over the high
wall as if they said, "We could tell fine secrets if we chose," and the
mullein outside the gate made haste to reach the keyhole, that it might
peep in and see what was going on. If it had suddenly grown up like a
magic bean-stalk, and looked in on a certain June day, it would have
seen a droll but pleasant sight, for somebody evidently was going to
have a party.

From the gate to the porch went a wide walk, paved with smooth slabs of
dark stone, and bordered with the tall bushes which met overhead, making
a green roof. All sorts of neglected flowers and wild weeds grew between
their stems, covering the walls of this summer parlor with the prettiest
tapestry. A board, propped on two blocks of wood, stood in the middle of
the walk, covered with a little plaid shawl much the worse for wear, and
on it a miniature tea-service was set forth with great elegance. To be
sure, the tea-pot had lost its spout, the cream-jug its handle, the
sugar-bowl its cover, and the cups and plates were all more or less
cracked or nicked; but polite persons would not take notice of these
trifling deficiencies, and none but polite persons were invited to this
party.

On either side of the porch was a seat, and here a somewhat remarkable
sight would have been revealed to any inquisitive eye peering through
the aforesaid keyhole. Upon the left-hand seat lay seven dolls, upon the
right-hand seat lay six; and so varied were the expressions of their
countenances, owing to fractures, dirt, age, and other afflictions, that
one would very naturally have thought this a doll's hospital, and these
the patients waiting for their tea.

This, however, would have been a sad mistake; for if the wind had lifted
the coverings laid over them, it would have disclosed the fact that all
were in full dress, and merely reposing before the feast should begin.

There was another interesting feature of the scene which would have
puzzled any but those well acquainted with the manners and customs of
dolls. A fourteenth rag baby, with a china head, hung by her neck from
the rusty knocker in the middle of the door. A sprig of white and one of
purple lilac nodded over her, a dress of yellow calico, richly trimmed
with red-flannel scallops, shrouded her slender form, a garland of small
flowers crowned her glossy curls, and a pair of blue boots touched toes
in the friendliest, if not the most graceful, manner. An emotion of
grief, as well as of surprise, might well have thrilled any youthful
breast at such a spectacle; for why, oh! why, was this resplendent dolly
hung up there to be stared at by thirteen of her kindred? Was she a
criminal, the sight of whose execution threw them flat upon their backs
in speechless horror? Or was she an idol, to be adored in that humble
posture? Neither, my friends. She was blonde Belinda, set, or rather
hung, aloft, in the place of honor, for this was her seventh birthday,
and a superb ball was about to celebrate the great event. All were
evidently awaiting a summons to the festive board; but such was the
perfect breeding of these dolls, that not a single eye out of the whole
twenty-seven (Dutch Hans had lost one of the black beads from his
worsted countenance) turned for a moment toward the table, or so much as
winked, as they lay in decorous rows, gazing with mute admiration at
Belinda. She, unable to repress the joy and pride which swelled her
sawdust bosom till the seams gaped, gave an occasional bounce as the
wind waved her yellow skirts, or made the blue boots dance a sort of jig
upon the door. Hanging was evidently not a painful operation, for she
smiled contentedly, and looked as if the red ribbon around her neck was
not uncomfortably tight; therefore, if slow suffocation suited her, who
else had any right to complain? So a pleasing silence reigned, not even
broken by a snore from Dinah, the top of whose turban alone was visible
above the coverlet, or a cry from baby Jane, though her bare feet stuck
out in a way that would have produced shrieks from a less well-trained
infant.

Presently voices were heard approaching, and through the arch which led
to a side-path came two little girls, one carrying a small pitcher, the
other proudly bearing a basket covered with a napkin. They looked like
twins, but were not, for Bab was a year older than Betty, though only an
inch taller. Both had on brown calico frocks, much the worse for a
week's wear; but clean pink pinafores, in honor of the occasion, made up
for that, as well as the gray stockings and thick boots. Both had round,
rosy faces rather sunburnt, pug noses somewhat freckled, merry blue
eyes, and braided tails of hair hanging down their backs like those of
the dear little Kenwigses.

"Don't they look sweet?" cried Bab, gazing with maternal pride upon the
left-hand row of dolls, who might appropriately have sung in chorus, "We
are seven."

"Very nice; but my Belinda beats them all. I do think she is the
splendidest child that ever was!" And Betty set down the basket to run
and embrace the suspended darling, just then kicking up her heels with
joyful abandon.

"The cake can be cooling while we fix the children. It does smell
perfectly delicious!" said Bab, lifting the napkin to hang over the
basket, fondly regarding the little round loaf that lay inside.

"Leave some smell for me!" commanded Betty, running back to get her fair
share of the spicy fragrance. The pug noses sniffed it up luxuriously,
and the bright eyes feasted upon the loveliness of the cake, so brown
and shiny, with a tipsy-looking B in pie-crust staggering down one side,
instead of sitting properly a-top.

"Ma let me put it on the very last minute, and it baked so hard I
couldn't pick it off. We can give Belinda that piece, so it's just as
well," observed Betty, taking the lead, as her child was queen of the
revel.

"Let's set them round, so they can see too," proposed Bab, going, with a
hop, skip, and jump, to collect her young family.

Betty agreed, and for several minutes both were absorbed in seating
their dolls about the table; for some of the dear things were so limp
they wouldn't sit up, and others so stiff they wouldn't sit down, and
all sorts of seats had to be contrived to suit the peculiarities of
their spines. This arduous task accomplished, the fond mammas stepped
back to enjoy the spectacle, which, I assure you, was an impressive one.
Belinda sat with great dignity at the head, her hands genteelly holding
a pink cambric pocket-handkerchief in her lap. Josephus, her cousin,
took the foot, elegantly arrayed in a new suit of purple and green
gingham, with his speaking countenance much obscured by a straw hat
several sizes too large for him; while on either side sat guests of
every size, complexion, and costume, producing a very gay and varied
effect, as all were dressed with a noble disregard of fashion.

"They will like to see us get tea.  Did you forget the buns?" inquired
Betty, anxiously.

"No; got them in my pocket." And Bab produced from that chaotic cupboard
two rather stale and crumbly ones, saved from lunch for the fete. These
were cut up and arranged in plates, forming a graceful circle around the
cake, still in its basket.

"Ma couldn't spare much milk, so we must mix water with it. Strong tea
isn't good for children, she says." And Bab contentedly surveyed the
gill of skim-milk which was to satisfy the thirst of the company.

"While the tea draws and the cake cools, let's sit down and rest; I'm so
tired!" sighed Betty, dropping down on the door-step and stretching out
the stout little legs which had been on the go all day; for Saturday had
its tasks as well as its fun, and much business had preceded this
unusual pleasure. Bab went and sat beside her, looking idly down the
walk toward the gate, where a fine cobweb shone in the afternoon sun.

"Ma says she is going over the house in a day or two, now it is warm and
dry after the storm, and we may go with her. You know she wouldn't take
us in the fall, cause we had whooping-cough, and it was damp there. Now
we shall see all the nice things; won't it be fun?" observed Bab, after
a pause.

"Yes, indeed! Ma says there's lots of books in one room, and I can look
at 'em while she goes round. May be I'll have time to read some, and
then I can tell you," answered Betty, who dearly loved stories, and
seldom got any new ones.

"I'd rather see the old spinning-wheel up garret, and the big pictures,
and the queer clothes in the blue chest. It makes me mad to have them
all shut up there, when we might have such fun with them. I'd just like
to bang that old door down!" And Bab twisted round to give it a thump
with her boots. "You needn't laugh; you know you'd like it as much as
me," she added, twisting back again, rather ashamed of her impatience.

"I didn't laugh."

"You did!  Don't you suppose I know what laughing is?"

"I guess I know I didn't."

"You did laugh!  How darst you tell such a fib?"

"If you say that again I'll take Belinda and go right home; then what
will you do?"

"I'll eat up the cake."

"No, you won't!  It's mine, Ma said so; and you are only company, so
you'd better behave or I won't have any party at all, so now."

This awful threat calmed Bab's anger at once, and she hastened to
introduce a safer subject.

"Never mind; don't let's fight before the children. Do you know, Ma says
she will let us play in the coach-house next time it rains, and keep the
key if we want to."

"Oh, goody! that's because we told her how we found the little window
under the woodbine, and didn't try to go in, though we might have just
as easy as not," cried Betty, appeased at once, for, after a ten years'
acquaintance, she had grown used to Bab's peppery temper.

"I suppose the coach will be all dust and rats and spiders, but I don't
care. You and the dolls can be the passengers, and I shall sit up in
front drive."

"You always do.  I shall like riding better than being horse all the
time, with that old wooden bit in my mouth, and you jerking my arms
off," said poor Betty, who was tired of being horse continually.

"I guess we'd better go and get the water now," suggested Bab, feeling
that it was not safe to encourage her sister in such complaints.

"It is not many people who would dare to leave their children all alone
with such a lovely cake, and know they wouldn't pick at it," said Betty
proudly, as they trotted away to the spring, each with a little tin pail
in her hand.

Alas, for the faith of these too confiding mammas! They were gone about
five minutes, and when they returned a sight met their astonished eyes
which produced a simultaneous shriek of horror. Flat upon their faces
lay the fourteen dolls, and the cake, the cherished cake, was gone.

For an instant the little girls could only stand motionless, gazing at
the dreadful scene. Then Bab cast her water-pail wildly away, and,
doubling up her fist, cried out fiercely, --

"It was that Sally!  She said she'd pay me for slapping her when she
pinched little Mary Ann, and now she has. I'll give it to her! You run
that way. I'll run this. Quick! quick!"

Away they went, Bab racing straight on, and bewildered Betty turning
obediently round to trot in the opposite direction as fast as she could,
with the water splashing all over her as she ran, for she had forgotten
to put down her pail. Round the house they went, and met with a crash at
the back door, but no sign of the thief appeared.

"In the lane!" shouted Bab.

"Down by the spring!" panted Betty; and off they went again, one to
scramble up a pile of stones and look over the wall into the avenue, the
other to scamper to the spot they had just left. Still, nothing appeared
but the dandelions' innocent faces looking up at Bab, and a brown bird
scared from his bath in the spring by Betty's hasty approach.

Back they rushed, but only to meet a new scare, which made them both cry
"Ow!" and fly into the porch for refuge.

A strange dog was sitting calmly among the ruins of the feast, licking
his lips after basely eating up the last poor bits of bun, when he had
bolted the cake, basket, and all, apparently.

"Oh, the horrid thing!" cried Bab, longing to give battle, but afraid,
for the dog was a peculiar as well as a dishonest animal.

"He looks like our China poodle, doesn't he?" whispered Betty, making
herself as small as possible behind her more valiant sister.

He certainly did; for, though much larger and dirtier than the
well-washed China dog, this live one had the same tassel at the end of
his tail, ruffles of hair round his ankles, and a body shaven behind and
curly before. His eyes, however, were yellow, instead of glassy black,
like the other's; his red nose worked as he cocked it up, as if smelling
for more cakes, in the most impudent manner; and never, during the three
years he had stood on the parlor mantel-piece, had the China poodle done
the surprising feats with which this mysterious dog now proceeded to
astonish the little girls almost out of their wits. First he sat up, put
his forepaws together, and begged prettily; then he suddenly flung his
hind-legs into the air, and walked about with great ease. Hardly had
they recovered from this shock, when the hind-legs came down, the
fore-legs went up, and he paraded in a soldierly manner to and fro, like
a sentinel on guard. But the crowning performance was when he took his
tail in his mouth and waltzed down the walk, over the prostrate dolls,
to the gate and back again, barely escaping a general upset of the
ravaged table.

Bab and Betty could only hold each other tight and squeal with delight,
for never had they seen any thing so funny; but, when the gymnastics
ended, and the dizzy dog came and stood on the step before them barking
loudly, with that pink nose of his sniffing at their feet, and his queer
eyes fixed sharply upon them, their amusement turned to fear again, and
they dared not stir.

"Whish, go away!" commanded Bab.

"Scat!" meekly quavered Betty.

To their great relief, the poodle gave several more inquiring barks, and
then vanished as suddenly as he appeared. With one impulse, the children
ran to see what became of him, and, after a brisk scamper through the
orchard, saw the tasselled tail disappear under the fence at the far
end.

"Where do you s'pose he came from?" asked Betty, stopping to rest on a
big stone.

"I'd like to know where he's gone, too, and give him a good beating, old
thief!" scolded Bab, remembering their wrongs.

"Oh, dear, yes! I hope the cake burnt him dreadfully if he did eat it,"
groaned Betty, sadly remembering the dozen good raisins she chopped up,
and the "lots of 'lasses" mother put into the dear lost loaf.

"The party's all spoilt, so we may as well go home; and Bab mournfully
led the way back. Betty puckered up her face to cry, but burst out
laughing in spite of her woe.

"It was so funny to see him spin round and walk on his head!  I wish
he'd do it all over again; don't you?"

"Yes: but I hate him just the same.  I wonder what Ma will say when -
why! why!" and Bab stopped short in the arch, with her eyes as round and
almost as large as the blue saucers on the tea-tray.

"What is it? oh, what is it?" cried Betty, all ready to run away if any
new terror appeared.

"Look! there! it's come back!" said Bab in an awe-stricken whisper,
pointing to the table. Betty did look, and her eyes opened even wider,
-- as well they might, -- for there, just where they first put it, was
the lost cake, unhurt, unchanged, except that the big B had coasted a
little further down the gingerbread hill.



CHAPTER II: WHERE THEY FOUND HIS MASTER

Neither spoke for a minute, astonishment being too great for words;
then, as by one impulse, both stole up and touched the cake with a timid
finger, quite prepared to see it fly away in some mysterious and
startling manner. It remained sitting tranquilly in the basket, however,
and the children drew a long breath of relief, for, though they did not
believe in fairies, the late performances did seem rather like
witchcraft.

"The dog didn't eat it!"

"Sally didn't take it!"

"How do you know?"

"She never would have put it back."

"Who did?"

"Can't tell, but I forgive 'em."

"What shall we do now?" asked Betty, feeling as if it would be very
difficult to settle down to a quiet tea-party after such unusual
excitement.

"Eat that cake up  just as fast as ever we can", and Bab divided the
contested delicacy with one chop of the big knife, bound to make sure of
her own share at all events.

It did not take long, for they washed it down with sips of milk, and ate
as fast as possible, glancing round all the while to see if the queer
dog was coming again.

"There! now I'd like to see any one take my cake away," said Bab,
defiantly crunching her half of the pie-crust B.

"Or mine either," coughed Betty, choking over a raisin that wouldn't go
down in a hurry.

"We might as well clear up, and play there had been an earthquake,"
suggested Bab, feeling that some such convulsion of Nature was needed to
explain satisfactorily the demoralized condition of her family.

"That will be splendid. My poor Linda was knocked right over on her
nose. Darlin' child, come to your mother and be fixed," purred Betty,
lifting the fallen idol from a grove of chickweed, and tenderly brushing
the dirt from Belinda's heroically smiling face.

"She'll have croup to-night as sure as the world. We'd better make up
some squills out of this sugar and water," said Bab, who dearly loved to
dose the dollies all round.

"P'r'aps she will, but you needn't begin to sneeze yet awhile. I can
sneeze for my own children, thank you, ma'am," returned Betty, sharply,
for her usually amiable spirit had been ruffled by the late occurrences.

"I didn't sneeze! I've got enough to do to talk and cry and cough for my
own poor dears, without bothering about yours," cried Bab, even more
ruffled than her sister.

"Then who did?  I heard a real live sneeze just as plain as anything,"
and Betty looked up to the green roof above her, as if the sound came
from that direction.

A yellow-bird sat swinging and chirping on the tall lilac-bush, but no
other living thing was in sight. Birds don't sneeze, do they?" asked
Betty, eying little Goldy suspiciously.

"You goose! of course they don't."

"Well. I should just like to know who is laughing and sneezing round
here. "May be it is the dog," suggested Betty looking relieved.

"I never heard of a dog's laughing, except Mother Hubbard's.  This is
such a queer one, may be he can, though. I wonder where he went to?" and
Bab took a survey down both the side-paths, quite longing to see the
funny poodle again.

"I know where I 'm going to," said Betty, piling the dolls into her
apron with more haste than care. "I'm going right straight home to tell
Ma all about it. I don't like such actions, and I 'm afraid to stay."

"I ain't; but I guess it is going to rain, so I shall have to go any
way," answered Bab, taking advantage of the black clouds rolling up the
sky, for she scorned to own that she was afraid of any thing.

Clearing the table in a summary manner by catching up the four corners
of the cloth, Bab put the rattling bundle into her apron, flung her
children on the top and pronounced herself ready to depart. Betty
lingered an instant to pick up and ends that might be spoilt by the
rain, and, when she turned from taking the red halter off the knocker,
two lovely pink roses lay on the stone steps.

"Oh, Bab, just see!  Here's the very ones we wanted.  Wasn't it nice of
the wind to blow 'em down?" she called out, picking them up and running
after her sister, who had strolled moodily along, still looking about
for her sworn foe, Sally Folsom. The flowers soothed the feelings of the
little girls, because they had longed for them, and bravely resisted the
temptation to climb up the trellis and help themselves, since their
mother had forbidden such feats, owing to a fall Bab got trying to reach
a honeysuckle from the vine which ran all over the porch.

Home they went and poured out their tale, to Mrs. Moss's great
amusement; for she saw in it only some playmate's prank, and was not
much impressed by the mysterious sneeze and laugh.

"We'll have a grand rummage Monday, and find out what is going on over
there," was all she said. But Mrs. Moss could not keep her promise, for
on Monday it still rained, and the little girls paddled off to school
like a pair of young ducks, enjoying every puddle they came to, since
India-rubber boots made wading a delicious possibility. They took their
dinner, and at noon regaled a crowd of comrades with an account of the
mysterious dog, who appeared to be haunting the neighborhood, as several
of the other children had seen him examining their back yards with
interest. He had begged of them, but to none had he exhibited his
accomplishments except Bab and Betty; and they were therefore much set
up, and called him "our dog" with an air. The cake transaction remained
a riddle, for Sally Folsom solemnly declared that she was playing tag in
Mamie Snow's barn at that identical time. No one had been near the old
house but the two children, and no one could throw any light upon that
singular affair.

It produced a great effect, however; for even "teacher" was interested,
and told such amazing tales of a juggler she once saw, that doughnuts
were left forgotten in dinner-baskets, and wedges of pie remained
suspended in the air for several minutes at a time, instead of vanishing
with miraculous rapidity as usual. At afternoon recess, which the girls
had first, Bab nearly dislocated every joint of her little body trying
to imitate the poodle's antics. She had practised on her bed with great
success, but the wood-shed floor was a different thing, as her knees and
elbows soon testified.

"It looked just as easy as any thing; I don't see how he did it," she
said, coming down with a bump after vainly attempting to walk on her
hands.

"My gracious, there he is this very minute!" cried Betty, who sat on a
little wood-pile near the door. There was a general rush, -- and sixteen
small girls gazed out into the rain as eagerly as if to behold
Cinderella's magic coach, instead of one forlorn dog trotting by through
the mud.

"Oh, do call him in and make him dance!"  cried the girls, all chirping
at once, till it sounded as if a flock of sparrows had taken possession
of the shed.

"I will call him, he knows me," and Bab scrambled up, forgetting how she
had chased the poodle and called him names two days ago.

He evidently had not forgotten, however; for, though he paused and
looked wistfully at them, he would not approach, but stood dripping in
the rain, with his frills much bedraggled, while his tasselled tail
wagged slowly, and his pink nose pointed suggestively to the pails and
baskets, nearly empty now.

"He's hungry; give him something to eat, and then he'll see that we
don't want to hurt him," suggested Sally, starting a contribution with
her last bit of bread and butter.

Bab caught up her new pail, and collected all the odds and ends; then
tried to beguile the poor beast in to eat and be comforted. But he only
came as far as the door, and, sitting up, begged with such imploring
eyes that Bab put down the pail and stepped back, saying pitifully, --

"The poor thing is starved; let him eat all he wants, and we won't touch
him."

The girls drew back with little clucks of interest and compassion; but I
regret to say their charity was not rewarded as they expected, for, the
minute the coast was clear, the dog marched boldly up, seized the handle
of the pail in his mouth, and was off with it, galloping down the road
at a great pace.

Shrieks arose from the children, especially Bab and Betty, basely
bereaved of their new dinner-pail; but no one could follow the thief,
for the Ben rang, and in they went, so much excited that the boys rushed
tumultuously forth to discover the cause. By the time school was over
the sun was out, and Bab and Betty hastened home to tell their wrongs
and be comforted by mother, who did it most effectually.

"Never mind, dears, I'll get you another pail, if he doesn't bring it
back as he did before. As it is too wet for you to play out, you shall
go and see the old coach-house as I promised, Keep on your rubbers and
come along."

This delightful prospect much assuaged their woe, and away they went,
skipping gayly down the gravelled path, while Mrs. Moss followed, with
skirts well tucked up, and a great bunch of keys in her hand; for she
lived at the Lodge, and had charge of the premises.

The small door of the coach-house was fastened inside, but the large one
had a padlock on it; and this being quickly unfastened, one half swung
open, and the little girls ran in, too eager and curious even to cry out
when they found themselves at last in possession of the long-coveted old
carriage. A dusty, musty concern enough; but it had a high seat, a door,
steps that let down, and many other charms which rendered it most
desirable in the eyes of children.

Bab made straight for the box and Betty for the door; but both came
tumbling down faster than they went up, when from the gloom of the
interior came a shrill bark, and a low voice saying quickly, "Down,
Sancho! down!"

"Who is there?" demanded Mrs. Moss, in a stern tone, backing toward the
door with both children clinging to her skirts.

The well-known curly white head was popped out of the broken window, and
a mild whine seemed to say, "Don't be alarmed, ladies; we won't hurt
you." Come out this minute, or I shall have to come and get you," called
Mrs. Moss, growing very brave all of a sudden as she caught sight of a
pair of small, dusty shoes under the coach.

"Yes, 'm, I'm coming, as fast as I can," answered a meek voice, as what
appeared to be a bundle of rags leaped out of the dark, followed by the
poodle, who immediately sat down at the bare feet of his owner with a
watchful air, as if ready to assault any one who might approach too
near.

"Now, then, who are you, and how did you get here?" asked Mrs. Moss,
trying to speak sternly, though her motherly eyes were already full of
pity, as they rested on the forlorn little figure before her.



CHAPTER III: BEN

"Please, 'm, my name is Ben Brown, and I'm travellin'."

"Where are you going?"

"Anywheres to get work."

"What sort of work can you do?"

"All kinds.  I'm used to horses."

"Bless me! such a little chap as you?

"I'm twelve, ma'am, and can ride any thing on four legs;" and the small
boy gave a nod that seemed to say, "Bring on your Cruisers. I'm ready
for 'em."

"Haven't you got any folks?" asked Mrs. Moss, amused but still anxious,
for the sunburnt face was very thin, the eyes hollow with hunger or
pain, and the ragged figure leaned on the wheel as if too weak or weary
to stand alone.

"No, 'm, not of my own; and the people I was left with beat me so, I --
run away." The last words seemed to bolt out against his will as if the
woman's sympathy irresistibly won the child's confidence.

"Then I don't blame you.  But how did you get here?"

"I was so tired I couldn't go any further, and I thought the folks up
here at the big house would take me in. But the gate was locked, and I
was so discouraged, I jest laid down outside and give up."

"Poor little soul, I don't wonder," said Mrs. Moss, while the children
looked deeply interested at mention of their gate.

The boy drew a long breath, and his eyes began to twinkle in spite of
his forlorn state as he went on, while the dog pricked up his ears at
mention of his name: --

"While I was restin' I heard some one come along inside, and I peeked,
and saw them little girls playin'. The vittles looked so nice I couldn't
help wantin' 'em; but I didn't take nothin', -- it was Sancho, and he
took the cake for me."

Bab and Betty gave a gasp and stared reproachfully at the poodle, who
half closed his eyes with a meek, unconscious look that was very droll.

"And you made him put it back?" cried Bab.

"No; I did it myself. Got over the gate when you was racin' after
Sancho, and then clim' up on the porch and hid," said the boy with a
grin.

"And you laughed?" asked Bab.

"Yes."

"And sneezed?" added Betty.

"Yes."

"And threw down the roses?" cried both.

"Yes; and you liked 'em, didn't you?"

"Course we did! What made you hide?" said Bab.

"I wasn't fit to be seen," muttered Ben, glancing at his tatters as if
he'd like to dive out of sight into the dark coach again.

"How came you here?" demanded Mrs. Moss, suddenly remembering her
responsibility.

"I heard 'em talk about a little winder and a shed, and when they'd gone
I found it and come in. The glass was broke, and I only pulled the nail
out. I haven't done a mite of harm sleepin' here two nights. I was so
tuckered out I couldn't go on nohow, though I tried a-Sunday."

"And came back again?

"Yes, 'm; it was so lonesome in the rain, and this place seemed kinder
like home, and I could hear 'em talkin' outside, and Sanch he found
vittles, and I was pretty comfortable."

"Well, I never!" ejaculated Mrs. Moss, whisking up a corner of her apron
to wipe her eyes, for the thought of the poor little fellow alone there
for two days and nights with no bed but musty straw, no food but the
scraps a dog brought him, was too much for her. "Do you know what I'm
going to do with you?" she asked, trying to look calm and cool, with a
great tear running down her wholesome red cheek, and a smile trying to
break out at the corners of her lips.

"No, ma'am, and I dunno as I care.  Only don't be hard on Sanch; he's
been real good to me, and we 're fond of one another; ain't us, old
chap?" answered the boy, with his arm around the dog's neck, and an
anxious look which he had not worn for himself.

"I'm going to take you right home, and wash and feed and put you in a
good bed; and to-morrow, -- well, we'll see what'll happen then," said
Mrs. Moss, not quite sure about it herself.

"You're very kind, ma'am, I'll be glad to work for you.  Ain't you got a
horse I can see to?" asked the boy, eagerly.

"Nothing but hens and a cat."

Bab and Betty burst out laughing when their mother said that, and Ben
gave a faint giggle, as if he would like to join in if he only had the
strength to do it. But his legs shook under him, and he felt a queer
dizziness; so he could only hold on to Sancho, and blink at the light
like a young owl.

"Come right along, child.  Run on, girls, and put the rest of the broth
to warming, and fill the kettle. I'll see to the boy," commanded Mrs.
Moss, waving off the children, and going up to feel the pulse of her new
charge, for it suddenly occurred to her that he might be sick and not
safe to take home.

The hand he gave her was very thin, but clean and cool, and the black
eyes were clear though hollow, for the poor lad was half-starved.

"I'm awful shabby, but I ain't dirty.  I had a washin' in the rain last
night, and I've jest about lived on water lately," he explained,
wondering why she looked at him so hard.

"Put out your tongue."

He did so, but took it in again to say quickly, --

"I ain't sick, -- I'm only hungry; for I haven't had a mite but what
Sanch brought, for three days; and I always go halves, don't I, Sanch?"

The poodle gave a shrill bark, and vibrated excitedly between the door
and his master as if he understood all that was going on, and
recommended a speedy march toward the promised food and shelter. Mrs.
Moss took the hint, and bade the boy follow her at once and bring his
"things" with him.

"I ain't got any.  Some big fellers took away my bundle, else I wouldn't
look so bad. There's only this. I'm sorry Sanch took it, and I'd like to
give it back if I knew whose it was," said Ben, bringing the new
dinner-pail out from the depths of the coach where he had gone to
housekeeping.

"That's soon done; it's mine, and you're welcome to the bits your queer
dog ran off with. Come along, I must lock up," and Mrs. Moss clanked her
keys suggestively.

Ben limped out, leaning on a broken hoe-handle, for he was stiff after
two days in such damp lodgings, as well as worn out with a fortnight's
wandering through sun and rain. Sancho was in great spirits, evidently
feeling that their woes were over and his foraging expeditions at an
end, for he frisked about his master with yelps of pleasure, or made
playful darts at the ankles of his benefactress, which caused her to
cry, "Whish!" and "Scat!" and shake her skirts at him as if he were a
cat or hen.

A hot fire was roaring in the stove under the broth-skillet and
tea-kettle, and Betty was poking in more wood, with a great smirch of
black on her chubby cheek, while Bab was cutting away at the loaf as if
bent on slicing her own fingers off. Before Ben knew what he was about,
he found himself in the old rocking-chair devouring bread and butter as
only a hungry boy can, with Sancho close by gnawing a mutton-bone like a
ravenous wolf in sheep's clothing.

While the new-comers were thus happily employed, Mrs. Moss beckoned the
little girls out of the room, and gave them both an errand.

"Bab, you run over to Mrs. Barton's, and ask her for any old duds Billy
don't want; and Betty, you go to the Cutters, and tell Miss Clarindy I'd
like a couple of the shirts we made at last sewing circle. Any shoes, or
a hat, or socks, would come handy, for the poor dear hasn't a whole
thread on him."

Away went the children full of anxiety to clothe their beggar; and so
well did they plead his cause with the good neighbors, that Ben hardly
knew himself when he emerged from the back bedroom half an hour later,
clothed in Billy Barton's faded flannel suit, with an unbleached cotton
shirt out of the Dorcas basket, and a pair of Milly Cutter's old shoes
on his feet.

Sancho also had been put in better trim, for, after his master had
refreshed himself with a warm bath, he gave his dog a good scrub while
Mrs. Moss set a stitch here and there in the new old clothes; and Sancho
reappeared, looking more like the china poodle than ever, being as white
as snow, his curls well brushed up, and his tasselly tail waving proudly
over his back.

Feeling eminently respectable and comfortable, the wanderers humbly
presented themselves, and were greeted with smiles of approval from the
little girls and a hospitable welcome from the mother, who set them near
the stove to dry, as both were decidedly damp after their ablutions.

"I declare I shouldn't have known you!" exclaimed the good woman,
surveying the boy with great satisfaction; for, though still very thin
and tired, the lad had a tidy look that pleased her, and a lively way of
moving about in his clothes, like an eel in a skin rather too big for
him. The merry black eyes seemed to see every thing, the voice had an
honest sound, and the sunburnt face looked several years younger since
the unnatural despondency had gone out of it.

"It's very nice, and me and Sanch are lots obliged, ma'am," murmured
Ben, getting red and bashful under the three pairs of friendly eyes
fixed upon him.

Bab and Betty were doing up the tea-things with unusual despatch, so
that they might entertain their guest, and just as Ben spoke Bab dropped
a cup. To her great surprise no smash followed, for, bending quickly,
the boy caught it as it fell, and presented it to her on the back of his
hand with a little bow.

"Gracious! how could you do it?" asked Bab, looking as if she thought
there was magic about.

"That's nothing; look here," and, taking two plates, Ben sent them
spinning up into the air, catching and throwing so rapidly that Bab and
Betty stood with their mouths open, as if to swallow the plates should
they fall, while Mrs. Moss, with her dish-cloth suspended, watched the
antics of her crockery with a housewife's anxiety.

"That does beat all!" was the only exclamation she had time to make;
for, as if desirous of showing his gratitude in the only way he could,
Ben took clothes-pins from a basket near by, sent several saucers
twirling up, caught them on the pins, balanced the pins on chin, nose,
forehead, and went walking about with a new and peculiar sort of
toadstool ornamenting his countenance.

The children were immensely tickled, and Mrs. Moss was so amused she
would have lent her best soup-tureen if he had expressed a wish for it.
But Ben was too tired to show all his accomplishments at once, and he
soon stopped, looking as if he almost regretted having betrayed that he
possessed any.

"I guess you've been in the juggling business," said Mrs. Moss, with a
wise nod, for she saw the same look on his face as when he said his name
was Ben Brown, -- the look of one who was not telling the whole truth.

"Yes, 'm.  I used to help Senor Pedro, the Wizard of the World, and I
learned some of his tricks," stammered Ben, trying to seem innocent.

"Now, look here, boy, you'd better tell me the whole story, and tell it
true, or I shall have to send you up to judge Morris. I wouldn't like to
do that, for he is a harsh sort of a man; so, if you haven't done any
thing bad, you needn't be afraid to speak out, and I'll do what I can
for you," said Mrs. Moss, rather sternly, as she went and sat down in
her rocking-chair, as if about to open the court.

"I haven't done any thing bad, and I ain't afraid, only I don't want to
go back; and if I tell, may be you'll let 'em know where I be," said
Ben, much distressed between his longing to confide in his new friend
and his fear of his old enemies.

"If they abused you, of course I wouldn't.  Tell the truth, and I'll
stand by you. Girls, you go for the milk."

"Oh, Ma, do let us stay!  We'll never tell, truly, truly!" cried Bab and
Betty, full of dismay being sent off when secrets were about to be
divulged.

"I don't mind 'em," said Ben handsomely.

"Very well, only hold your tongues.  Now, boy where did you come from?"
said Mrs. Moss, as the little girls hastily sat down together on their
private and particular bench opposite their mother, brimming with
curiosity and beaming with satisfaction at the prospect before them.




CHAPTER IV: HIS STORY

"I ran away from a circus," began Ben, but got no further, for Bab and
Betty gave a simultaneous bounce of delight, and both cried out at once,--

"We've been to one!  It was splendid!"

"You wouldn't think so if you knew as much about it as I do," answered
Ben, with a sudden frown and wriggle, as if he still felt the smart of
the blows he had received. "We don't call it splendid; do we, Sancho?"
he added, making a queer noise, which caused the poodle to growl and
bang the floor irefully with his tail, as he lay close to his master's
feet, getting acquainted with the new shoes they wore.

"How came you there?" asked Mrs. Moss, rather disturbed at the news.

"Why, my father was the 'Wild Hunter of the Plains.' Didn't you ever see
or hear of him?" said Ben, as if surprised at her ignorance.

"Bless your heart, child, I haven't been to a circus this ten years, and
I'm sure I don't remember what or who I saw then," answered Mrs. Moss,
amused, yet touched by the son's evident admiration for his father.

"Didn't you see him?" demanded Ben, turning to the little girls.

"We saw Indians and tumbling men, and the Bounding Brothers of Borneo,
and a clown and monkeys, and a little mite of a pony with blue eyes. Was
he any of them?" answered Betty, innocently.

"Pooh! he didn't belong to that lot.  He always rode two, four, six,
eight horses to oncet, and I used to ride with him till I got too big.
My father was A No. 1, and didn't do any thing but break horses and ride
'em," said Ben, with as much pride as if his parent had been a
President.

"Is he dead?" asked Mrs. Moss.

"I don't know.  Wish I did," -- and poor Ben gave a gulp as if something
rose in his throat and choked him.

"Tell us all about it, dear, and may be we can find out where he is,"
said Mrs. Moss, leaning forward to pat the shiny dark head that was
suddenly bent over the dog.

"Yes, ma'am.  I will, thank y'," and with an effort the boy steadied his
voice and plunged into the middle of his story.

"Father was always good to me, and I liked bein' with him after granny
died. I lived with her till I was seven; then father took me, and I was
trained for rider. You jest oughter have seen me when I was a little
feller all in white tights, and a gold belt, and pink riggin', standing'
on father's shoulder, or hangin' on to old General's tail, and him
gallopin' full pelt; or father ridin' three horses with me on his head
wavin' flags, and every one clapping like fun."

"Oh, weren't you scared to pieces?" asked Betty, quaking at the mere
thought.

"Not a bit. I liked it."

"So should I!" cried Bab enthusiastically.

"Then I drove the four ponies in the little chariot, when we paraded,"
continued Ben, "and I sat on the great ball up top of the grand car
drawed by Hannibal and Nero. But I didn't like that, 'cause it was awful
high and shaky, and the sun was hot, and the trees slapped my face, and
my legs ached holdin' on."

"What's hanny bells and neroes?" demanded Betty.

"Big elephants.  Father never let 'em put me up there, and they didn't
darst till he was gone; then I had to, else they'd 'a' thrashed me."

"Didn't any one take your part?" asked Mrs. Moss.

"Yes, 'm, 'most all the ladies did; they were very good to me,
'specially 'Melia. She vowed she wouldn't go on in the Tunnymunt act if
they didn't stop knockin' me round when I wouldn't help old Buck with
the bears. So they had to stop it, 'cause she led first rate, and none
of the other ladies rode half as well as 'Melia."

"Bears! oh, do tell about them!" exclaimed Bab, in great excitement,
for at the only circus she had seen the animals were her delight.

"Buck had five of 'em, cross old fellers, and he showed 'em off.  I
played with 'em once, jest for fun, and he thought it would make a hit
to have me show off instead of him. But they had a way of clawin' and
huggin' that wasn't nice, and you couldn't never tell whether they were
good-natured or ready to bite your head off. Buck was all over scars
where they'd scratched and bit him, and I wasn't going to do it; and I
didn't have to, owin' to Miss St. John's standin' by me like a good
one."

"Who was Miss St. John?" asked Mrs. Moss, rather confused by the sudden
introduction of new names and people.

"Why she was 'Melia, -- Mrs.  Smithers, the ringmaster's wife. His name
wasn't Montgomery any more'n hers was St. John. They all change 'em to
something fine on the bills, you know. Father used to be Senor Jose
Montebello; and I was Master Adolphus Bloomsbury, after I stopped bein'
a flyin' Coopid and a infant Progidy."

Mrs. Moss leaned back in her chair to laugh at that, greatly to the
surprise of the little girls, who were much impressed with the elegance
of these high-sounding names.

"Go on with your story, Ben, and tell why you ran away and what became
of your Pa," she said, composing herself to listen, really interested in
the child.

"Well, you see, father had a quarrel with old Smithers, and went off
sudden last fall, just before tenting season' was over. He told me he
was goin' to a great ridin' school in New York and when he was fixed
he'd send for me. I was to stay in the museum and help Pedro with the
trick business. He was a nice man and I liked him, and 'Melia was goin'
to see to me, and I didn't mind for awhile. But father didn't send for
me, and I began to have horrid times. If it hadn't been for 'Melia and
Sancho I would have cut away long before I did."

"What did you have to do?"

"Lots of things, for times was dull and I was smart. Smithers said so,
any way, and I had to tumble up lively when he gave the word. I didn't
mind doin' tricks or showin' off Sancho, for father trained him, and he
always did well with me. But they wanted me to drink gin to keep me
small, and I wouldn't, 'cause father didn't like that kind of thing. I
used to ride tip-top, and that just suited me till I got a fall and hurt
my back; but I had to go on all the same, though I ached dreadful, and
used to tumble off, I was so dizzy and weak."

"What a brute that man must have been!  Why didn't 'Melia put a stop to
it?" asked Mrs. Moss, indignantly.

"She died, ma'am, and then there was no one left but Sanch; so I run
away."

Then Ben fell to patting his dog again, to hide the tears he could not
keep from coming at the thought of the kind friend he had lost.

"What did you mean to do?"

"Find father; but I couldn't, for he wasn't at the ridin' school, and
they told me he had gone out West to buy mustangs for a man who wanted a
lot. So then I was in a fix, for I couldn't go to father, didn't know
jest where he was, and I wouldn't sneak back to Smithers to be abused.
Tried to make 'em take me at the ridin' school, but they didn't want a
boy, and I travelled along and tried to get work. But I'd have starved
if it hadn't been for Sanch. I left him tied up when I ran off, for fear
they'd say I stole him. He's a very valuable dog, ma'am, the best trick
dog I ever see, and they'd want him back more than they would me. He
belongs to father, and I hated to leave him; but I did. I hooked it one
dark night, and never thought I'd see him ag'in. Next mornin' I was
eatin' breakfast in a barn miles away, and dreadful lonesome, when he
came tearin' in, all mud and wet, with a great piece of rope draggin'.
He'd gnawed it and come after me, and wouldn't go back or be lost; and
I'll never leave him again, will I, dear old feller?"

Sancho had listened to this portion of the tale with intense interest,
and when Ben spoke to him he stood straight up, put both paws on the
boy's shoulders, licked his face with a world of dumb affection in his
yellow eyes, and gave a little whine which said as plainly as words, --

"Cheer up, little master; fathers may vanish and friends die, but I
never will desert you."

Ben hugged him close and smiled over his curly, white head at the little
girls, who clapped their hands at the pleasing tableau, and then went to
pat and fondle the good creature, assuring him that they entirely
forgave the theft of the cake and the new dinner-pail. Inspired by these
endearments and certain private signals given by Ben, Sancho suddenly
burst away to perform all his best antics with unusual grace and
dexterity.

Bab and Betty danced about the room with rapture, while Mrs. Moss
declared she was almost afraid to have such a wonderfully intelligent
animal in the house. Praises of his dog pleased Ben more than praises of
himself, and when the confusion had subsided he entertained his audience
with a lively account of Sancho's cleverness, fidelity, and the various
adventures in which he had nobly borne his part.

While he talked, Mrs. Moss was making up her mind about him, and when he
came to an end of his dog's perfections, she said, gravely, --

"If I can find something for you to do, would you like to stay here
awhile?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am, I'd be glad to!" answered Ben, eagerly; for the place
seemed home-like already, and the good woman almost as motherly as the
departed Mrs. Smithers.

"Well, I'll step over to the Squire's to-morrow to see what he says. 
Shouldn't wonder if he'd take you for a chore-boy, if you are as smart
as you say. He always has one in the summer, and I haven't seen any
round yet. Can you drive cows?"

"Hope so;" and Ben gave a shrug, as if it was a very unnecessary
question to put to a person who had driven four calico ponies in a
gilded chariot.

"It mayn't be as lively as riding elephants and playing with bears, but
it is respectable; and I guess you'll be happier switching Brindle and
Buttercup than being switched yourself," said Mrs. Moss, shaking her
head at him with a smile.

"I guess I will, ma'am," answered Ben, with sudden meekness, remembering
the trials from which he had escaped.

Very soon after this, he was sent off For a good night's sleep in the
back bedroom, with Sancho to watch over him. But both found it difficult
to slumber till the racket overhead subsided; for Bab insisted on
playing she was a bear and devouring poor Betty, in spite of her wails,
till their mother came up and put an end to it by threatening to send
Ben and his dog away in the morning, if the girls "didn't behave and be
as still as mice."

This they solemnly promised; and they were soon dreaming of gilded cars
and mouldy coaches, runaway boys and dinner-pails, dancing dogs and
twirling teacups.



CHAPTER V: BEN GETS A PLACE

When Ben awoke next morning, he looked about him for a moment half
bewildered, because there was neither a canvas tent, a barn roof, nor
the blue sky above him, but a neat white ceiling, where several flies
buzzed sociably together, while from without came, not the tramping of
horses, the twitter of swallows, or the chirp of early birds, but the
comfortable cackle of hens and the sound of two little voices chanting
the multiplication table.

Sancho sat at the open window, watching the old cat wash her face, and
trying to imitate her with his great ruffled paw, so awkwardly that Ben
laughed; and Sanch, to hide his confusion at being caught, made one
bound from chair to bed, and licked his master's face so energetically
that the boy dived under the bedclothes to escape from the rough tongue.
A rap on the floor from below made both jump up, and in ten minutes a
shiny-faced lad and a lively dog went racing downstairs, -- one to say,
"Good-mornin', ma'am," the other to wag his tail faster than ever tail
wagged before, for ham frizzled on the stove, and Sancho was fond of it.

"Did you rest well?" asked Mrs. Moss, nodding at him, fork in hand.

"Guess I did!  Never saw such a bed.  I'm used to hay and a
horse-blanket, and lately nothin' but sky for a cover and grass for my
feather-bed," laughed Ben, grateful for present comforts and making
light of past hardships.

"Clean, sweet corn-husks ain't bad for young bones, even if they haven't
got more flesh on them than yours have," answered Mrs. Moss, giving the
smooth head a motherly stroke as she went by.

"Fat ain't allowed in our profession, ma'am.  The thinner the better for
tight-ropes and tumblin'; likewise bareback ridin' and spry jugglin'.
Muscle's the thing, and there you are."

Ben stretched out a wiry little arm with a clenched fist at the end of
it, as if he were a young Hercules, ready to play ball with the stove if
she gave him leave. Glad to see him in such good spirits, she pointed to
the well outside, saying pleasantly, --

"Well, then, just try your muscle by bringing in some fresh water."

Ben caught up a pail and ran off, ready to be useful; but, while he
waited for the bucket to fill down among the mossy stones, he looked
about him, well pleased with all he saw, -- the small brown house with a
pretty curl of smoke rising from its chimney, the little sisters sitting
in the sunshine, green hills and newly-planted fields far and near, a
brook dancing through the orchard, birds singing in the elm avenue, and
all the world as fresh and lovely as early summer could make it.

"Don't you think it's pretty nice here?" asked Bab, as his eye came back
to them after a long look, which seemed to take in every thing,
brightening as it roved.

"Just the nicest place that ever was.  Only needs a horse round
somewhere to be complete," answered Ben, as the long well-sweep came up
with a dripping bucket at one end, an old grindstone at the other.

"The judge has three, but he's so fussy about them he won't even let us
pull a few hairs out of old Major's tail to make rings of," said Betty,
shutting her arithmetic, with an injured expression.

"Mike lets me ride the white one to water when the judge isn't round.
It's such fun to go jouncing down the lane and back. I do love horses!"
cried Bab, bobbing up and down on the blue bench to imitate the motion
of white Jenny.

"I guess you are a plucky sort of a girl," and Ben gave her an approving
look as he went by, taking care to slop a little water on Mrs. Puss, who
stood curling her whiskers and humping up her back at Sancho.

"Come to breakfast!" called Mrs. Moss; and for about twenty minutes
little was said, as mush and milk vanished in a way that would have
astonished even Jack the Giant-killer with his leather bag.

"Now, girls, fly round and get your chores done up; Ben, you go chop me
some kindlings; and I'll make things tidy. Then we can all start off at
once," said Mrs. Moss, as the last mouthful vanished, and Sancho licked
his lips over the savory scraps that fell to his share.

Ben fell to chopping so vigorously that chips flew wildly all about the
shed; Bab rattled the cups into her dish-pan with dangerous haste, and
Betty raised a cloud of dust "sweeping-up;" while mother seemed to be
everywhere at once. Even Sanch, feeling that his fate was at stake,
endeavored to help in his own somewhat erratic way, -- now frisking
about Ben at the risk of getting his tail chopped off, then trotting
away to poke his inquisitive nose into every closet and room whither he
followed Mrs. Moss in her "flying round" evolutions; next dragging off
the mat so Betty could brush the door-steps, or inspecting Bab's
dish-washing by standing on his hind-legs to survey the table with a
critical air. When they drove him out he was not the least offended, but
gayly barked Puss up a tree, chased all the hens over the fence, and
carefully interred an old shoe in the garden, where the remains of the
mutton-bone were already buried.

By the time the others were ready, he had worked off his superfluous
spirits, and trotted behind the party like a well-behaved dog accustomed
to go out walking with ladies. At the cross-roads they separated, the
little girls running on to school, while Mrs. Moss and Ben went up to
the Squire's big house on the hill.

"Don't you be scared, child. I'LL make it all right about your running
away; and if the Squire gives you a job, just thank him for it, and do
your best to be steady and industrious; then you'll get on, I haven't a
doubt," she whispered, ringing the Ben at a side-door, on which the word
"Morris" shone in bright letters.

"Come in!" called a gruff voice; and, feeling very much as if he were
going to have a tooth out, Ben meekly followed the good woman, who put
on her pleasantest smile, anxious to make the best possible impression.

A white-headed old gentleman sat reading a paper, and peered over his
glasses at the new-comers with a pair of sharp eyes, saying in a testy
tone, which would have rather daunted any one who did not know what a
kind heart he had under his capacious waistcoat, --

"Good-morning, ma'am.  What's the matter now? Young tramp been stealing
your chickens?"

"Oh, dear no, sir!" exclaimed Mrs. Moss, as if shocked at the idea.
Then, in a few words, she told Ben's story, unconsciously making his
wrongs and destitution so pathetic by her looks and tones, that the
Squire could not help being interested, and even Ben pitied himself as
if he were somebody else.

"Now, then, boy, what can you do?" asked the old gentleman, with an
approving nod to Mrs. Moss as she finished, and such a keen glance from
under his bushy brows that Ben felt as if be was perfectly transparent.

"'Most any thing, sir, to get my livin'."

"Can you weed?"

"Never did, but I can learn, sir."

"Pull up all the beets and leave the pigweed, hey? Can you pick
strawberries?"

"Never tried any thing but eatin' 'em, sir,"

"Not likely to forget that part of the job.  Can you ride a horse to
plow?"

"Guess I could, sir!" -- and Ben's eyes began to sparkle, for he dearly
loved the noble animals who had been his dearest friends lately.

"No antics allowed. My horse is a fine fellow, and I'm very particular
about him." The Squire spoke soberly, but there was a twinkle in his
eye, and Mrs. Moss tried not to smile; for the Squire's horse was a joke
all over the town, being about twenty years old, and having a peculiar
gait of his own, lifting his fore-feet very high, with a great show of
speed, though never going out of a jog-trot. The boys used to say he
galloped before and walked behind, and made all sorts of fun of the big,
Roman-nosed beast, who allowed no liberties to be taken with him.

"I'm too fond of horses to hurt 'em, Sir.  As for ridin', I ain't afraid
of any thing on four legs. The King of Morocco used to kick and bite
like fun, but I could manage him first-rate."

"Then you'd be able to drive cows to pasture, perhaps?"

"I've drove elephants and camels, ostriches and grizzly bears, and
mules, and six yellow ponies all to oncet. May be I could manage cows if
I tried hard," answered Ben, endeavoring to be meek and respectful when
scorn filled his soul at the idea of not being able to drive a cow.

The Squire liked him all the better for the droll mixture of indignation
and amusement betrayed by the fire in his eyes and the sly smile round
his lips; and being rather tickled by Ben's list of animals, he answered
gravely, --

"Don't raise elephants and camels much round here. Bears used to be
plenty, but folks got tired of them. Mules are numerous, but we have the
two-legged kind; and as a general thing prefer Shanghae fowls to
ostriches."

He got no farther, for Ben laughed out so infectiously that both the
others joined him; and somehow that jolly laugh seemed to settle matters
than words. As they stopped, the Squire tapped on the window behind him,
saying, with an attempt at the former gruffness, --

"We'll try you on cows awhile.  My man will show you where to drive
them, and give you some odd jobs through the day. I'll see what you are
good for, and send you word to-night, Mrs. Moss. The boy can sleep at
your house, can't he?"

"Yes, indeed, sir.  He can go on doing it, and come up to his work just
as well as not. I can see to him then, and he won't be a care to any
one," said Mrs. Moss, heartily.

"I'll make inquiries concerning your father, boy; meantime mind what you
are about, and have a good report to give when he comes for you,"
returned the Squire, with a warning wag of a stern fore-finger.

"Thanky', sir.  I will, sir.  Father'll come just as soon as he can, if
he isn't sick or lost," murmured Ben, inwardly thanking his stars that
he had not done any thing to make him quake before that awful finger,
and resolved that he never would.

Here a red-headed Irishman came to the door, and stood eying the boy
with small favor while the Squire gave his orders.

"Pat, this lad wants work.  He's to take the cows and go for them.  Give
him any light jobs you have, and let me know if he's good for any
thing."

"Yis, your honor.  Come out o' this, b'y, till I show ye the bastes,"
responded Pat; and, with a hasty good-by to Mrs. Moss, Ben followed his
new leader, sorely tempted to play some naughty trick upon him in return
for his ungracious reception.

But in a moment he forgot that Pat existed, for in the yard stood the
Duke of Wellington, so named in honor of his Roman nose. If Ben had
known any thing about Shakespeare, he would have cried, "A horse, a
horse! my kingdom for a horse!" for the feeling was in his heart, and he
ran up to the stately animal without a fear. Duke put back his ears and
swished his tail as if displeased for a moment; but Ben looked straight
in his eyes, gave a scientific stroke to the iron-gray nose, and uttered
a chirrup which made the ears prick up as if recognizing a familiar
sound.

"He'll nip ye, if ye go botherin' that way.  Leave him alone, and attend
to the cattle as his honor told ye," commanded Pat, who made a great
show of respect toward Duke in public, and kicked him brutally in
private.

"I ain't afraid! You won't hurt me, will you, old feller?  See there
now! -- he knows I 'm a friend, and takes to me right off," said Ben,
with an arm around Duke's neck, and his own cheek confidingly laid
against the animal's; for the intelligent eyes spoke to him as plainly
as the little whinny which he understood and accepted as a welcome.

The Squire saw it all from the open window, and suspecting from Pat's
face that trouble was brewing, called out, --

"Let the lad harness Duke, if he can.  I'm going out directly, and he
may as well try that as any thing."

Ben was delighted, and proved himself so brisk and handy that the roomy
chaise stood at the door in a surprisingly short time, with a smiling
little ostler at Duke's head when the Squire came out.

His affection for the horse pleased the old gentleman, and his neat way
of harnessing suited as well; but Ben got no praise, except a nod and a
brief "All right, boy," as the equipage went creaking and jogging away.

Four sleek cows filed out of the barnyard when Pat opened the gate, and
Ben drove them down the road to a distant pasture where the early grass
awaited their eager cropping. By the school they went, and the boy
looked pityingly at the black, brown, and yellow heads bobbing past the
windows as a class went up to recite; for it seemed a hard thing to the
liberty-loving lad to be shut up there so many hours on a morning like
that.

But a little breeze that was playing truant round the steps did Ben a
service without knowing it, for a sudden puff blew a torn leaf to his
feet, and seeing a picture he took it up. It evidently had fallen from
some ill-used history, for the picture showed some queer ships at
anchor, some oddly dressed men just landing, and a crowd of Indians
dancing about on the shore. Ben spelt out all be could about these
interesting personages, but could not discover what it meant, because
ink evidently had deluged the page, to the new reader's great
disappointment.

"I'll ask the girls; may be they will know," said Ben to himself as,
after looking vainly for more stray leaves, he trudged on, enjoying the
bobolink's song, the warm sunshine, and a comfortable sense of
friendliness and safety, which soon set him to whistling as gayly as any
blackbird in the meadow.



CHAPTER VI: A CIRCULATING LIBRARY

After supper that night, Bab and Betty sat in the old porch playing with
Josephus and Belinda, and discussing the events of the day; for the
appearance of the strange boy and his dog had been a most exciting
occurrence in their quiet lives. They had seen nothing of him since
morning, as he took his meals at the Squire's, and was at work with Pat
in a distant field when the children passed. Sancho had stuck closely to
his master, evidently rather bewildered by the new order of things, and
bound to see that no harm happened to Ben.

"I wish they'd come.  It's sundown, and I heard the cows mooing, so I
know they have gone home," said Betty, impatiently; for she regarded the
new-comer in the light of an entertaining book, and wished to read on as
fast as possible.

"I'm going to learn the signs he makes when he wants Sancho to dance;
then we can have fun with him whenever we like. He's the dearest dog I
ever saw!" answered Bab, who was fonder of animals than her sister.

"Ma said -- Ow, what's that?" cried Betty with a start, as something
bumped against the gate outside; and in a moment Ben's head peeped over
the top as he swung himself up to the iron arch, in the middle of which
was the empty lantern frame.

"Please to locate, gentlemen; please to locate. The performance is about
to begin with the great Flyin' Coopid act, in which Master Bloomsbury
has appeared before the crowned heads of Europe. Pronounced by all
beholders the most remarkable youthful progidy agoin'. Hooray! here we
are!"

Having rattled off the familiar speech in Mr. Smithers's elegant manner,
Ben begin to cut up such capers that even a party of dignified hens,
going down the avenue to bed, paused to look on with clucks of
astonishment, evidently fancying that salt had set him to fluttering and
tumbling as it did them. Never had the old gate beheld such antics,
though it had seen gay doings in its time; for of all the boys who had
climbed over it, not one had ever stood on his head upon each of the big
balls which ornamented the posts, hung by his heels from the arch, gone
round and round like a wheel with the bar for an axis, played a tattoo
with his toes while holding on by his chin, walked about the wall on his
hands, or closed the entertainment by festooning himself in an airy
posture over the side of the lantern frame, and kissing his hand to the
audience as a well-bred Cupid is supposed to do on making his bow.

The little girls clapped and stamped enthusiastically, while Sancho, who
had been calmly surveying the show, barked his approval as he leaped up
to snap at Ben's feet.

"Come down and tell what you did up at the Squire's.  Was he cross?  Did
you have to work hard? Do you like it?" asked Bab, when the noise had
subsided.

"It's cooler up here," answered Ben, composing himself in the frame, and
fanning his hot face with a green spray broken from the tall bushes
rustling odorously all about him. "I did all sorts of jobs. The old
gentleman wasn't cross; he gave me a dime, and I like him first-rate.
But I just hate 'Carrots; ' he swears at a feller, and fired a stick of
wood at me. Guess I'll pay him off when I get a chance."

Fumbling in his pocket to show the bright dime, he found the torn page,
and remembered the thirst for information which had seized him in the
morning. "Look here, tell me about this, will you? What are these chaps
up to? The ink has spoilt all but the picture and this bit of reading. I
want to know what it means. Take it to 'em, Sanch."

The dog caught the leaf as it fluttered to the ground, and carrying it
carefully in his mouth, deposited it at the feet of the little girls,
seating himself before them with an air of deep interest. Bab and Betty
picked it up and read it aloud in unison, while Ben leaned from his
perch to listen and learn.

"'When day dawned, land was visible.  A pleasant land it was.  There
were gay flowers, and tall trees with leaves and fruit, such as they had
never seen before. On the shore were unclad copper-colored men, gazing
with wonder at the Spanish ships. They took them for great birds, the
white sails for their wings, and the Spaniards for superior beings
brought down from heaven on their backs."

"Why, that's Columbus finding San Salvador. Don't you know about him?"
demanded Bab, as if she were one of the "superior beings," and
intimately acquainted with the immortal Christopher.

"No, I don't.  Who was he any way?  I s'pose that's him paddlin' ahead;
but which of the Injuns is Sam Salvindoor?" asked Ben, rather ashamed of
his ignorance, but bent on finding out now he had begun.

"My gracious! twelve years old and not know your Quackenbos!" laughed
Bab, much amused, but rather glad to find that she could teach the
"whirligig boy" something, for she considered him a remarkable creature.

"I don't care a bit for your quackin' boss, whoever he is.  Tell about
this fine feller with the ships; I like him," persisted Ben.

So Bab, with frequent interruptions and hints from Betty, told the
wonderful tale in a simple way, which made it easy to understand; for
she liked history, and had a lively tongue of her own.

"I'd like to read some more. Would my ten cents buy a book?" asked Ben,
anxious to learn a little since Bab laughed at him.

"No, indeed! I'll lend you mine when I'm not using it, and tell you all
about it," promised Bab; forgetting that she did not know "all about it"
herself yet.

"I don't have any time only evenings, and then may be you'll want it,"
begun Ben, in whom the inky page had roused a strong curiosity.

"I do get my history in the evening, but you could have it mornings
before school."

"I shall have to go off early, so there won't be any chance.  Yes, there
will, -- I'LL tell you how to do it. Let me read while I drive up the
cows. Squire likes 'em to eat slow along the road, so's to keep the
grass short and save mowin'. Pat said so, and I could do history instead
of loafin' round!" cried Ben full of this bright idea.

"How will I get my book back in time to recite?" asked Bab, prudently.

"Oh, I'll leave it on the window-sill, or put it inside the door as I go
back. I'll be real careful, and just as soon as I earn enough, I'll buy
you a new one and take the old one. Will you?"

"Yes; but I'll tell you a nicer way to do.  Don't put the book on the
window, 'cause teacher will see you; or inside the door, 'cause some one
may steal it. You put it in my cubby-house, right at the corner of the
wall nearest the big maple. You'll find a cunning place between the
roots that stick up under the flat stone. That's my closet, and I keep
things there. It's the best cubby of all, and we take turns to have it."

"I'll find it, and that'll be a first-rate place," said Ben, much
gratified.

"I could put my reading-book in sometimes, if you'd like it.  There's
lots of pretty stories in it and pictures," proposed Betty, rather
timidly; for she wanted to share the benevolent project, but had little
to offer, not being as good a scholar as Bab.

"I'd like a 'rithmetic better. I read tip-top, but I ain't much on
'rithmetic"; so, if you can spare yours, I might take a look at it. Now
I'm goin' to earn wages, I ought to know about addin' 'em up, and so
on," said Ben, with the air of a Vanderbilt oppressed with the care of
millions.

"I'll teach you that.  Betty doesn't know much about sums.  But she
spells splendidly, and is always at the head of her class. Teacher is
real proud of her, 'cause she never misses, and spells hard, fussy
words, like chi-rog-ra-phy and bron-chi-tis as easy as any thing."

Bab quite beamed with sisterly pride, and Betty smoothed down her apron
with modest satisfaction, for Bab seldom praised her, and she liked it
very much.

"I never went to school, so that's the reason I ain't smart. I can
write, though, better 'n some of the boys up at school. I saw lots of
names on the shed door. See here, now," -- and scrambling down, Ben
pulled out a cherished bit of chalk, and flourished off ten letters of
the alphabet, one on each of the dark stone slabs that paved the walk.

"Those are beautiful!  I can't make such curly ones.  Who taught you to
do it?" asked Bab, as she and Betty walked up and down admiring them.

"Horse blankets," answered Ben, soberly.

"What!" cried both girls, stopping to stare.

"Our horses all had their names on their blankets, and I used to copy
'em. The wagons had signs, and I learned to read that way after father
taught me my letters off the red and yellow posters. First word I knew
was lion, 'cause I was always goin' to see old Jubal in his cage. Father
was real proud when I read it right off. I can draw one, too."

Ben proceeded to depict an animal intended to represent his lost friend;
but Jubal would not have recognized his portrait, since it looked much
more like Sancho than the king of the forest. The children admired it
immensely, however, and Ben gave them a lesson in natural history which
was so interesting that it kept them busy and happy till bedtime; for
the boy described what he had seen in such lively language, and
illustrated in such a droll way, it was no wonder they were charmed.



CHAPTER VII

NEW FRIENDS TROT IN

Next day Ben ran off to his work with Quackenbos's "Elementary History
of the United States" in his pocket, and the Squire's cows had ample
time to breakfast on way-side grass before they were put into their
pasture. Even then the pleasant lesson was not ended, for Ben had an
errand to town; and all the way he read busily, tumbling over the hard
words, and leaving bits which he did not understand to be explained at
night by Bab.

At "The First Settlements" he had to stop, for the schoolhouse was
reached, and the book must be returned. The maple-tree closet was easily
found, and a little surprise hidden under the flat stone; for Ben paid
two sticks of red and white candy for the privilege of taking books from
the new library.

When recess came, great was the rejoicing of the children over their
unexpected treat, for Mrs. Moss had few pennies to spare for sweets,
and, somehow, this candy tasted particularly nice, bought out of
grateful Ben's solitary dime. The little girls shared their goodies with
their favorite mates, but said nothing about the new arrangement,
fearing it would be spoilt if generally known. They told their mother,
however, and she gave them leave to lend their books and encourage Ben
to love learning all they could. She also proposed that they should drop
patch-work, and help her make some blue shirts for Ben. Mrs. Barton had
given her the materials, and she thought it would be an excellent lesson
in needle-work as well as a useful gift to Ben, -- who, boy-like, never
troubled himself as to what he should wear when his one suit of clothes
gave out.

Wednesday afternoon was the sewing time; so the two little B's worked
busily at a pair of shirt-sleeves, sitting on their bench in the
doorway, while the rusty needles creaked in and out, and the childish
voices sang school-songs, with frequent stoppages for lively chatter.

For a week, Ben worked away bravely, and never shirked nor complained,
although Pat put many a hard or disagreeable job upon him, and chores
grew more and more distasteful. His only comfort was the knowledge that
Mrs. Moss and the Squire were satisfied with him; his only pleasure the
lessons he learned while driving the cows, and recited in the evening
when the three children met under the lilacs to "play school."

He had no thought of studying when he began, and hardly knew that he was
doing it as he pored over the different books he took from the library.
But the little girls tried him with all they Possessed, and he was
mortified to find how ignorant he was. He never owned it in words, but
gladly accepted all the bits of knowledge they offered from their small
store; getting Betty to hear him spell "just for fun;" agreeing to draw
Bab all the bears and tigers she wanted if she would show him how to do
sums on the flags, and often beguiled his lonely labors by trying to
chant the multiplication table as they did. When Tuesday night came
round, the Squire paid him a dollar, said he was "a likely boy," and
might stay another week if he chose. Ben thanked him and thought he
would; but the next morning, after he had put up the bars, he remained
sitting on the top rail to consider his prospects, for he felt
uncommonly reluctant to go back to the society of rough Pat. Like most
boys, he hated work, unless it was of a sort which just suited him; then
he could toil like a beaver and never tire. His wandering life had given
him no habits of steady industry; and, while he was an unusually capable
lad of his age, he dearly loved to "loaf" about and have a good deal of
variety and excitement in his life.

Now he saw nothing before him but days of patient and very uninteresting
labor. He was heartily sick of weeding; even riding Duke before the
cultivator had lost its charms, and a great pile of wood lay in the
Squire's yard which he knew he would be set to piling up in the shed.
Strawberry-picking would soon follow the asparagus cultivation; then
haying; and and so on all the long bright summer, without any fun,
unless his father came for him.

On the other hand, he was not obliged to stay a minute longer unless he
liked. With a comfortable suit of clothes, a dollar in his pocket, and a
row of dinner-baskets hanging in the school-house entry to supply him
with provisions if he didn't mind stealing them, what was easier than to
run away again? Tramping has its charms in fair weather, and Ben had
lived like a gypsy under canvas for years; so he feared nothing, and
began to look down the leafy road with a restless, wistful expression,
as the temptation grew stronger and stronger every minute.

Sancho seemed to share the longing, for he kept running off a little way
and stopping to frisk and bark; then rushed back to sit watching his
master with those intelligent eyes of his, which seemed to say, "Come
on, Ben, let us scamper down this pleasant road and never stop till we
are tired." Swallows darted by, white clouds fled before the balmy west
wind, a squirrel ran along the wall, and all things seemed to echo the
boy's desire to leave toil behind and roam away as care-free as they.
One thing restrained him, the thought of his seeming ingratitude to good
Mrs. Moss, and the disappointment of the little girls at the loss of
their two new play-fellows. While he paused to think of this, something
happened which kept him from doing what he would have been sure to
regret afterward.

Horses had always been his best friends, and one came trotting up to
help him now; though he did not know how much he owed it till long
after. Just in the act of swinging himself over the bars to take a
shortcut across the fields, the sound of approaching hoofs,
unaccompanied by the roll of wheels, caught his ear; and, pausing, he
watched eagerly to see who was coming at such a pace.

At the turn of road, however, the quick trot stopped, and in a moment a
lady on a bay mare came pacing slowly into sight, -- a young and pretty
lady, all in dark blue, with a bunch of dandelions like yellow stars in
her button-hole, and a silver-handled whip hanging from the pommel of
her saddle, evidently more for ornament than use. The handsome mare
limped a little, and shook her head as if something plagued her; while
her mistress leaned down to see what was the matter, saying, as if she
expected an answer of some sort,--

"Now, Chevalita, if you have got a stone in your foot, I shall have to
get off and take it out. Why don't you look where you step, and save me
all this trouble?"

"I'll look for you, ma'am; I'd like to!" said an eager voice so
unexpectedly, that both horse and rider started as a boy came down the
bank with a jump.

"I wish you would.  You need not be afraid; Lita is as gentle as a
lamb," answered the young lady, smiling, as if amused by the boy's
earnestness.

"She's a beauty, any way," muttered Ben, lifting one foot after another
till he found the stone, and with some trouble got it out.

"That was nicely done, and I'm much obliged. Can you tell me if that
cross-road leads to the Elms?" asked the lady, as she went slowly on
with Ben beside her.

"No, ma'am; I'm new in these parts, and I only know where Squire Morris
and Mrs. Moss live."

"I want to see both of them, so suppose you show me the way. I was here
long ago, and thought I should remember how to find the old house with
the elm avenue and the big gate, but I don't."

"I know it; they call that place the Laylocks now, 'cause there's a
hedge of 'em all down the path and front wall. It's a real pretty place;
Bab and Betty play there, and so do I."

Ben could not restrain a chuckle at the recollection of his first
appearance there, and, as if his merriment or his words interested her,
the lady said pleasantly,

"Tell me all about it.  Are Bab and Betty your sisters?" Quite
forgetting his intended tramp, Ben plunged into a copious history of
himself and new-made friends, led on by a kind look, an inquiring word,
and sympathetic smile, till he had told every thing. At the school-house
corner he stopped and said, spreading his arms like a sign-post, --

"That's the way to the Laylocks, and this is the way to the Squire's."

"As I'm in a hurry to see the old house, I'll go this way first, if you
will be kind enough to give my love to Mrs. Morris, and tell the Squire
Miss Celia is coming to dine with him. I won't say good-by, because I
shall see you again."

With a nod and a smile, the young lady cantered away, and Ben hurried up
the hill to deliver his message, feeling as if something pleasant was
going to happen; so it would be wise to defer running away, for the
present at least.

At one o'clock Miss Celia arrived, and Ben had the delight of helping
Pat stable pretty Chevalita; then, his own dinner hastily eaten, he fell
to work at the detested wood-pile with sudden energy; for as he worked
he could steal peeps into the dining-room, and see the curly brown head
between the two gay ones, as the three sat round the table. He could not
help hearing a word now and then, as the windows were open, and these
bits of conversation filled him with curiosity for the names "Thorny,"
"Celia," and "George" were often repeated, and an occasional merry laugh
from the young lady sounded like music in that usually quiet place.

When dinner was over, Ben's industrious fit left him, and he leisurely
trundled his barrow to and fro till the guest departed. There was no
chance for him to help now, since Pat, anxious to get whatever trifle
might be offered for his services, was quite devoted in his attentions
to the mare and her mistress, till she was mounted and off. But Miss
Celia did not forget her little guide, and, spying a wistful face behind
the wood-pile, paused at the gate and beckoned with that winning smile
of hers. If ten Pats had stood scowling in the way, Ben would have
defied them all; and, vaulting over the fence, he ran up with a shining
face, hoping she wanted some last favor of him. Leaning down, Miss Celia
slipped a new quarter into his hand, saying,

"Lita wants me to give you this for taking the stone out of her foot."

"Thank y', ma'am; I liked to do it, for I hate to see 'em limp,
'specially such a pretty one as she is," answered Ben, stroking the
glossy neck with a loving touch.

"The Squire says you know a good deal about horses, so I suppose you
understand the Houyhnhnm language? I'm learning it, and it is very
nice," laughed Miss Celia, as Chevalita gave a little whinny and
snuffled her nose into Ben's pocket.

"No, miss, I never went to school."

"That is not taught there.  I'll bring you a book all about it when I
come back. Mr. Gulliver went to the horse-country and heard the dear
things speak their own tongue."

"My father has been on the prairies, where there's lots of wild ones,
but he didn't hear 'em speak. I know what they want without talkin',"
answered Ben, suspecting a joke, but not exactly seeing what it was.

"I don't doubt it, but I won't forget the book. Good-by, my lad, we
shall soon meet again," and away went Miss Celia as if she were in a
hurry to get back.

"If she only had a red habit and a streamin' white feather, she'd look
as fine as 'Melia used to. She is 'most as kind and rides 'most as well.
Wonder where she's goin' to. Hope she will come soon," thought Ben,
watching till the last flutter of the blue habit vanished round the
corner; and then he went back to his work with his head full of the
promised book, pausing now and then to chink the two silver halves and
the new quarter together in his pocket, wondering what be should buy
with this vast sum.

Bab and Betty meantime had had a most exciting day; for when they went
home at noon they found the pretty lady there, and she had talked to
them like an old friend, given them a ride on the little horse, and
kissed them both good-by when they went back to school. In the afternoon
the lady was gone, the old house all open, and their mother sweeping,
airing, in great spirits. So they had a splendid frolic tumbling on
feather-beds, beating bits of carpet, opening closets, and racing from
garret to cellar like a pair of distracted kittens.

Here Ben found them, and was at once overwhelmed with a burst of news
which excited him as much as it did them. Miss Celia owned the house,
was coming to liver there, and things were to be made ready as soon as
possible. All thought the prospect a charming one: Mrs. Moss, because
life had been dull for her during the year she had taken charge of the
old house; the little girls had heard rumors of various pets who were
coming; and Ben, learning that a boy and a donkey were among them,
resolved that nothing but the arrival of his father should tear him from
this now deeply interesting spot.

"I'm in such a hurry to see the peacocks and hear them scream. She said
they did, and that we'd laugh when old Jack brayed," cried Bab, hopping
about on one foot to work off her impatience.

"Is a faytun a kind of a bird? I heard her say she could keep it in the
coach-house," asked Betty, inquiringly.

"It's a little carriage," and Ben rolled in the grass, much tickled at
poor Betty's ignorance.

"Of course it is.  I looked it out in the dic., and you mustn't call it
a payton, though it is spelt with a p," added Bab, who liked to lay down
the law on all occasions, and did not mention that she had looked vainly
among the Vs till a school-mate set her right.

"You can't tell me much about carriages.  But what I want to know is
where Lita will stay?" said Ben.

"Oh, she's to be up at the Squire's till things are fixed, and you are
to bring her down. Squire came and told Ma all about it, and said you
were a boy to be trusted, for he had tried you."

Ben made no answer, but secretly thanked his stars that he had not
proved himself untrustworthy by running away, and so missing all this
fun.

"Won't it be fine to have the house open all the time?  We can run over
and see the pictures and books whenever we like. I know we can, Miss
Celia is so kind," began Betty, who cared for these things more than for
screaming peacocks and comical donkeys.

"Not unless you are invited," answered their mother, locking the front
door behind her. "You'd better begin to pick up your duds right away,
for she won't want them cluttering round her front yard. If you are not
too tired, Ben, you might rake round a little while I shut the blinds. I
want things to look nice and tidy."

Two little groans went up from two afflicted little girls as they looked
about them at the shady bower, the dear porch, and the winding walks
where they loved to run "till their hair whistled in the wind," as the
fairy-books say.

"Whatever shall we do!  Our attic is so hot and the shed so small, and
the yard always full of hens or clothes. We shall have to pack all our
things away, and never play any more," said Bab, tragically.

"May be Ben could build us a little house in the orchard," proposed
Betty, who firmly believed that Ben could do any thing.

"He won't have any time.  Boys don't care for baby-houses," returned
Bab, collecting her homeless goods and chattels with a dismal face.

"We sha'n't want these much when all the new things come; see if we do,"
said cheerful little Betty, who always found out a silver lining to
every cloud.



CHAPTER VIII: MISS CELIA'S MAN

Ben was not too tired, and the clearing-up began that very night.  None
too soon, for in a day or two things arrived, to the great delight of
the children, who considered moving a most interesting play. First came
the phaeton, which Ben spent all his leisure moments in admiring;
wondering with secret envy what happy boy would ride in the little seat
up behind, and beguiling his tasks by planning how, when he got rich, he
would pass his time driving about in just such an equipage, and inviting
all the boys he met to have a ride.

Then a load of furniture came creaking in at the lodge gate, and the
girls had raptures over a cottage piano, several small chairs, and a
little low table, which they pronounced just the thing for them to play
at. The live stock appeared next, creating a great stir in the
neighborhood, for peacocks were rare birds there; the donkey's bray
startled the cattle and convulsed the people with laughter; the rabbits
were continually getting out to burrow in the newly made garden; and
Chevalita scandalized old Duke by dancing about the stable which he had
inhabited for years in stately solitude.

Last but by no means least, Miss Celia, her young brother, and two maids
arrived one evening so late that only Mrs. Moss went over to help them
settle. The children were much disappointed, but were appeased by a
promise that they should all go to pay their respects in the morning.

They were up so early, and were so impatient to be off, that Mrs.  Moss
let them go with the warning that they would find only the servants
astir. She was mistaken, however, for, as the procession approached, a
voice from the porch called out, "Good-morning little neighbors!" so
unexpectedly, that Bab nearly spilt the new milk she carried, Betty gave
such a start that the fresh-laid eggs quite skipped in the dish, and
Ben's face broke into a broad grin over the armful of clover which he
brought for the bunnies, as he bobbed his head, saying briskly, --

"She's all right, miss, Lita is; and I can bring her over any minute you
say."

"I shall want her at four o'clock.  Thorny will be too tired to drive,
but I must hear from the post-office, rain or shine;" and Miss Celia's
pretty color brightened as she spoke, either from some happy thought or
because she was bashful, for the honest young faces before her plainly
showed their admiration of the white-gowned lady under the honeysuckles.

The appearance of Miranda, the maid, reminded the children of their
errand; and having delivered their offerings, they were about to retire
in some confusion, when Miss Celia said pleasantly, --

"I want to thank you for helping put things in such nice order.  I see
signs of busy hands and feet both inside the house and all about the
grounds, and I am very much obliged."

"I raked the beds," said Ben, proudly eying the neat ovals and circles.

"I swept all the paths," added Bab, with a reproachful glance at several
green sprigs fallen from the load of clover on the smooth walk.

"I cleared up the porch," and Betty's clean pinafore rose and fell with
a long sigh, as she surveyed the late summer residence of her exiled
family. Miss Celia guessed the meaning of that sigh, and made haste to
turn it into a smile by asking anxiously, --

"What has become of the playthings? I don't see them anywhere."

"Ma said you wouldn't want our duds round, so we took them all home,"
answered Betty, with a wistful face.

"But I do want them round.  I like dolls and toys almost as much as
ever, and quite miss the little 'duds' from porch and path. Suppose you
come to tea with me to-night and bring some of them back? I should be
very sorry to rob you of your pleasant play-place."

"Oh, yes, 'm, we'd love to come! and we'll bring our best things."

"Ma always lets us have our shiny pitchers and the china poodle when we
go visiting or have company at home," said Bab and Betty, both speaking
at once.

"Bring what you like, and I'll hunt up my toys, too. Ben is to come
also, and his poodle is especially invited," added Miss Celia, as Sancho
came and begged before her, feeling that some agreeable project was
under discussion.

"Thank you, miss.  I told them you'd be willing they should come
sometimes. They like this place ever so much, and so do I," said Ben,
feeling that few spots combined so many advantages in the way of
climbable trees, arched gates, half-a-dozen gables, and other charms
suited to the taste of an aspiring youth who had been a flying Cupid at
the age of seven.

"So do I," echoed Miss Celia, heartily.  "Ten years ago I came here a
little girl, and made lilac chains under these very bushes, and picked
chickweed over there for my bird, and rode Thorny in his baby-wagon up
and down these paths. Grandpa lived here then, and we had fine times;
but now they are all gone except us two."

"We haven't got any father, either," said Bab, for something in Miss
Celia's face made her feel as if a cloud had come over the sun.

"I have a first-rate father, if I only knew where he'd gone to," said
Ben, looking down the path as eagerly as if one waited for him behind
the locked gate.

"You are a rich boy, and you are happy little girls to have so good a
mother; I've found that out already," and the sun shone again as the
young lady nodded to the neat, rosy children before her.

"You may have a piece of her if you want to, 'cause you haven't got any
of your own," said Betty with a pitiful look which made her blue eyes as
sweet as two wet violets.

"So I will! and you shall be my little sisters.  I never had any, and
I'd love to try how it seems;" and Celia took both the chubby hands in
hers, feeling ready to love every one this first bright morning in the
new home, which she hoped to make a very happy one.

Bab gave a satisfied nod, and fell to examining the rings upon the white
hand that held her own. But Betty put her arms about the new friend's
neck, and kissed her so softly that the hungry feeling in Miss Celia's
heart felt better directly; for this was the food it wanted, and Thorny
had not learned yet to return one half of the affection he received.
Holding the child close, she played with the yellow braids while she
told them about the little German girls in their funny black-silk caps,
short-waisted gowns, and wooden shoes, whom she used to see watering
long webs of linen bleaching on the grass, watching great flocks of
geese, or driving pigs to market, knitting or spinning as they went.

Presently "Randa," as she called her stout maid, came to tell her that
"Master Thorny couldn't wait another minute;" and she went in to
breakfast with a good appetite, while the children raced home to bounce
in upon Mrs. Moss, talking all at once like little lunatics.

"The phaeton at four, -- so sweet in a beautiful white gown, -- going to
tea, and Sancho and all the baby things invited. Can't we wear our
Sunday frocks? A splendid new net for Lita. And she likes dolls. Goody,
goody, won't it be fun!"

With much difficulty their mother got a clear account of the approaching
festivity out of the eager mouths, and with still more diffculty, got
breakfast into them, for the children had few pleasures, and this
brilliant prospect rather turned their heads.

Bab and Betty thought the day would never end, and cheered the long
hours by expatiating on the pleasures in store for them, till their
playmates were much afflicted because they were not going also. At noon
their mother kept them from running over to the old house lest they
should be in the way; so they consoled themselves by going to the
syringa bush at the corner and sniffing the savory odors which came from
the kitchen, where Katy, the cook, was evidently making nice things for
tea.

Ben worked as if for a wager till four; then stood over Pat while he
curried Lita till her coat shone like satin, then drove her gently down
to the coach-house, where he had the satisfaction of harnessing her "all
his own self".

"Shall I go round to the great gate and wait for you there, miss?" he
asked, when all was ready, looking up at the porch, where the young lady
stood watching him as she put on her gloves.

"No, Ben, the great gate is not to be opened till next October. I shall
go in and out by the lodge, and leave the avenue to grass and
dandelions, meantime," answered Miss Celia, as she stepped in and took
the reins, with a sudden smile.

But she did not start, even when Ben had shaken out the new duster and
laid it neatly over her knees.

"Isn't it all right now?" asked the boy, anxiously.

"Not quite; I need one thing more.  Can't you guess what it is?" and
Miss Celia watched his anxious face as his eyes wandered from the tips
of Lita's ears to the hind-wheel of the phaeton, trying to discover what
had been omitted.

"No, miss, I don't see -- " he began, much mortified to think he had
forgotten any thing.

"Wouldn't a little groom up behind improve the appearance of my
turnout?" she said, with a look which left no doubt in his mind that he
was to be the happy boy to occupy that proud perch.

He grew red with pleasure, but stammered, as he hesitated, looking down
at his bare feet and blue shirt, --

"I ain't fit, miss; and I haven't got any other clothes."

Miss Celia only smiled again more kindly than before, and answered, in a
tone which he understood better than her words, -- "A great man said his
coat-of-arms was a pair of shirt-sleeves, and a sweet poet sang about a
barefooted boy; so I need not be too proud to ride with one. Up with
you, Ben, my man, and let us be off, or we shall be late for our party."

With one bound the new groom was in his place, sitting very erect, with
his legs stiff, arms folded, and nose in the air, as he had seen real
grooms sit behind their masters in fine dog-carts or carriages. Mrs.
Moss nodded as they drove past the lodge, and Ben touched his torn
hat-brim in the most dignified manner, though he could not suppress a
broad grin of delight, which deepened into a chuckle when Lita went off
at a brisk trot along the smooth road toward town.

It takes so little to make a child happy, it is a pity grown people do
not oftener remember it and scatter little bits of pleasure before the
small people, as they throw crumbs to the hungry sparrows. Miss Celia
knew the boy was pleased, but he had no words in which to express his
gratitude for the great contentment she had given him. He could only
beam at all he met, smile when the floating ends of the gray veil blew
against his face, and long in his heart to give the new friend a boyish
hug, as he used to do his dear 'Melia when she was very good to him.

School was just out as they passed; and it was a spectacle, I assure
you, to see the boys and girls stare at Ben up aloft in such state; also
to see the superb indifference with which that young man regarded the
vulgar herd who went afoot. He couldn't resist an affable nod to Bab and
Betty, for they stood under the maple-tree, and the memory of their
circulating library made him forget his dignity in his gratitude.

"We will take them next time, but now I want to talk to you," began Miss
Celia, as Lita climbed the hill. "My brother has been ill, and I have
brought him here to get well. I want to do all sorts of things to amuse
him, and I think you can help me in many ways. Would you like to work
for me instead of the Squire?

"I guess I would!" ejaculated Ben, so heartily that no further
assurances were needed, and Miss Celia went on, well pleased: --

"You see, poor Thorny is weak and fretful, and does not like to exert
himself, though he ought to be out a great deal, and kept from thinking
of his little troubles. He cannot walk much yet, so I have a wheeled
chair to push him in; and the paths are so hard, it will be easy to roll
him about. That will be one thing you can do. Another is to take care of
his pets till he is able to do it himself. Then you can tell him your
adventures, and talk to him as only a boy can talk to a boy. That will
amuse him when I want to write or go out; but I never leave him long,
and hope he will soon be running about as well as the rest of us. How
does that sort of work look to you?"

"First-rate! I'll take real good care of the little feller, and do every
thing I know to please him, and so will Sanch; he's fond of children,"
answered Ben, heartily, for the new place looked very inviting to him.
Miss Celia laughed, and rather damped his ardor by her next words.

"I don't know what Thorny would say to hear you call him  'little.' He
is fourteen, and appears to get taller and taller every day. He seems
like a child to me, because I am nearly ten years older than he is; but
you needn't be afraid of his long legs and big eyes, he is too feeble to
do any harm; only you mustn't mind if he orders you about."

"I'm used to that. I don't mind it if he won't call me a 'spalpeen,' and
fire things at me," said Ben, thinking of his late trials with Pat.

"I can promise that; and I am sure Thorny will like you, for I told him
your story, and he is anxious to see 'the circus boy' as he called you.
Squire Allen says I may trust you, and I am glad to do so, for it saves
me much trouble to find what I want all ready for me. You shall be well
fed and clothed, kindly treated and honestly paid, if you like to stay
with me."

"I know I shall like it -- till father comes, anyway. Squire wrote to
Smithers right off, but hasn't got any answer yet. I know they are on
the go now, so may be we won't hear for ever so long," answered Ben,
feeling less impatient to be off than before this fine proposal was made
to him.

"I dare say; meantime, we will see how we get on together, and perhaps
your father will be willing leave you for the summer if he is away. Now
show me the baker's, the candy-shop, and the post-office," said Miss
Celia, as they rattled down the main street of the village.

Ben made himself useful; and when all the other errands were done,
received his reward in the shape of a new pair of shoes and a straw hat
with a streaming blue ribbon, on the ends of which shone silvery
anchors. He was also allowed to drive home, while his new mistress read
her letters. One particularly long one, with a queer stamp on the
envelope, she read twice, never speaking a word till they got back. Then
Ben was sent off with Lita and the Squire's letters, promising to get
his chores done in time for tea.




CHAPTER IX: A HAPPY TEA

Exactly five minutes before six the party arrived in great state, for
Bab and Betty wore their best frocks and hair-ribbons, Ben had a new
blue shirt and his shoes on as full-dress, and Sancho's curls were
nicely brushed, his frills as white as if just done up.

No one was visible to receive them, but the low table stood in the
middle of the walk, with four chairs and a foot-stool around it. A
pretty set of green and white china caused the girls to cast admiring
looks upon the little cups and plates, while Ben eyed the feast
longingly, and Sancho with difficulty restrained himself from repeating
his former naughtiness. No wonder the dog sniffed and the children
smiled, for there was a noble display of little tarts and cakes, little
biscuits and sandwiches, a pretty milk-pitcher shaped like a white calla
rising out of its green leaves, and a jolly little tea-kettle singing
away over the spirit-lamp as cosily as you please.

"Isn't it perfectly lovely?" whispered Betty, who had never seen any
thing like it before.

"I just wish Sally could see us now," answered Bab, who had not yet
forgiven her enemy.

"Wonder where the boy is," added Ben, feeling as good as any one, but
rather doubtful how others might regard him.

Here a rumbling sound caused the guests to look toward the garden, and
in a moment Miss Celia appeared, pushing a wheeled chair, in which sat
her brother. A gay afghan covered the long legs, a broad-brimmed hat
half hid the big eyes, and a discontented expression made the thin face
as unattractive as the fretful voice, which said, complainingly, --

"If they make a noise, I'll go in.  Don't see what you asked them for."

"To amuse you, dear.  I know they will, if you will only try to like
them," whispered the sister, smiling, and nodding over the chair-back as
she came on, adding aloud, "Such a punctual party! I am all ready,
however, and we will sit down at once. This is my brother Thornton, and
we are all going to be very good friends by-and-by. Here 's the droll
dog, Thorny; isn't he nice and curly?"

Now, Ben had heard what the other boy said, and made up his mind that he
shouldn't like him; and Thorny had decided beforehand that he wouldn't
play with a tramp, even if he cut capers; go both looked decidedly cool
and indifferent when Miss Celia introduced them. But Sancho had better
manners and no foolish pride; he, therefore, set them a good example by
approaching the chair, with his tail waving like a flag of truce, and
politely presented his ruffled paw for a hearty shake.

Thorny could not resist that appeal, and patted the white head, with a
friendly look into the affectionate eyes of the dog, saying to his
sister as he did so, --

"What a wise old fellow he is! It seems as if he could almost speak,
doesn't it?"

"He can.  Say 'How do you do,' Sanch," commanded Ben, relenting at once,
for he saw admiration in Thorny's face.

"Wow, wow, wow!" remarked Sancho, in a mild and conversational tone,
sitting up and touching one paw to his head, as if he saluted by taking
off his hat. Thorny laughed in spite of himself, and Miss Celia seeing
that the ice was broken, wheeled him to his place at the foot of the
table. Then, seating the little girls on one side, Ben and the dog on
the other, took the head herself and told her guests to begin. Bab and
Betty were soon chattering away to their pleasant hostess as freely as
if they had known her for months; but the boys were still rather shy,
and made Sancho the medium through which they addressed one another. The
excellent beast behaved with wonderful propriety, sitting upon his
cushion in an attitude of such dignity that it seemed almost a libertyto
offer him food. A dish of thick sandwiches had been provided for his
especial refreshment; and, as Ben from time to time laid one on his
plate, he affected entire unconsciousness of it till the word was given,
when it vanished at one gulp, and Sancho again appeared absorbed in deep
thought.

But, having once tasted of this pleasing delicacy, it was very hard to
repress his longing for more; and, in spite of all his efforts, his nose
would work, his eye kept a keen watch upon that particular dish, and his
tail quivered with excitement as it lay like a train over the red
cushion. At last, a moment came when temptation proved too strong for
him. Ben was listening to something Miss Celia said; a tart lay
unguarded upon his plate; Sanch looked at Thorny who was watching him;
Thorny nodded, Sanch gave one wink, bolted the tart, and then gazed
pensively up at a sparrow swinging on a twig overhead.

The slyness of the rascal tickled the boy so much that he pushed back
his hat, clapped his hands, and burst out laughing as he had not done
before for weeks. Every one looked round surprised, and Sancho regarded
them with a mildly inquiring air, as if he said, "Why this unseemly
mirth, my friends?"

Thorny forgot both sulks and shyness after that, and suddenly began to
talk. Ben was flattered by his interest in the dear dog, and opened out
so delightfully that he soon charmed the other by his lively tales of
circus-life. Then Miss Celia felt relieved, and every thing went
splendidly, especially the food; for the plates were emptied several
times, the little tea-pot ran dry twice, and the hostess was just
wondering if she ought to stop her voracious guests, when something
occurred which spared her that painful task.

A small boy was suddenly discovered standing in the path behind them,
regarding the company with an air of solemn interest. A pretty,
well-dressed child of six, with dark hair cut short across the brow, a
rosy face, a stout pair of legs, left bare by the socks which had
slipped down over the dusty little shoes. One end of a wide sash trailed
behind him, a straw hat hung at his back, his right hand firmly grasped
a small turtle, and his left a choice collection of sticks. Before Miss
Celia could speak, the stranger calmly announced his mission.

"I have come to see the peacocks."

"You shall presently --" began Miss Celia, but got no further, for the
child added, coming a step nearer,--

"And the wabbits."

"Yes, but first won't you --"

"And the curly dog," continued the small voice, as another step brought
the resolute young personage nearer.

"There he is."

A pause, a long look; then a new demand with the same solemn tone, the
same advance.

"I wish to hear the donkey bray."

"Certainly, if he will."

"And the peacocks scream."

"Any thing more, sir?"

Having reached the table by this time, the insatiable infant surveyed
its ravaged surface, then pointed a fat little finger at the last cake,
left for manners, and said, commandingly, --

"I will have some of that."

"Help yourself; and sit upon the step to eat it, while you tell me whose
boy you are," said Miss Celia, much amused at his proceedings.

Deliberately putting down his sticks, the child took the cake, and,
composing himself upon the step, answered with his rosy mouth full, --

"I am papa's boy.  He makes a paper.  I help him a great deal."

"What is his name?"

"Mr. Barlow.  We live in Springfield," volunteered the new guest,
unbending a trifle, thanks to the charms of the cake.

"Have you a mamma, dear?"

"She takes naps.  I go to walk then."

"Without leave, I suspect.  Have you no brothers or sisters to go with
you?" asked Miss Celia, wondering where the little runaway belonged.

"I have two brothers, Thomas Merton Barlow and Harry Sanford Barlow.  I
am Alfred Tennyson Barlow. We don't have any girls in our house, only
Bridget."

"Don't you go to school?"

"The boys do.  I don't learn any Greeks and Latins yet.  I dig, and read
to mamma, and make poetrys for her."

"Couldn't you make some for me?  I'm very fond of poetrys," proposed
Miss Celia, seeing that this prattle amused the children.

"I guess I couldn't make any now; I made some coming along.  I will say
it to you." And, crossing his short legs, the inspired babe half said,
half sung the following poem: (1)

    "Sweet are the flowers of life,
    Swept o'er my happy days at home;
    Sweet are the flowers of life
    When I was a little child.

    "Sweet are the flowers of life
    That I spent with my father at home;
    Sweet are the flowers of life
    When children played about the house.

    "Sweet are the flowers of life
    When the lamps are lighted at night;
    Sweet are the flowers of life
    When the flowers of summer bloomed.

    "Sweet are the flowers of life
    Dead with the snows of winter;
    Sweet are the flowers of life
    When the days of spring come on.

(1) These lines were actually composed by a six-year old child.

"That's all of that one.  I made another one when I digged after the
turtle. I will say that. It is a very pretty one," observed the poet
with charming candor; and, taking a long breath, he tuned his little
lyre afresh:

    Sweet, sweet days are passing
    O'er my happy home.
    Passing on swift wings through the valley of life.
    Cold are the days when winter comes again.
    When my sweet days were passing at my happy home,
    Sweet were the days on the rivulet's green brink ;
    Sweet were the days when I read my father's books;
    Sweet were the winter days when bright fires are blazing."

"Bless the baby! where did he get all that?" exclaimed Miss Celia,
amazed; while the children giggled as Tennyson, Jr., took a bite at the
turtle instead of the half-eaten cake, and then, to prevent further
mistakes, crammed the unhappy creature into a diminutive pocket in the
most business-like way imaginable.

"It comes out of my head.  I make lots of them," began the imperturbable
one, yielding more and more to the social influences of the hour.

"Here are the peacocks coming to be fed," interrupted Bab, as the
handsome birds appeared with their splendid plumage glittering in the
sun.

Young Barlow rose to admire; but his thirst for knowledge was not yet
quenched, and he was about to request a song from Juno and Jupiter, when
old Jack, pining for society, put his head over the garden wall with a
tremendous bray.

This unexpected sound startled the inquiring stranger half out of his
wits; for a moment the stout legs staggered and the solemn countenance
lost its composure, as he whispered, with an astonished air,

"Is that the way peacocks scream?"

The children were in fits of laughter, and Miss Celia could hardly make
herself heard as she answered merrily, --

"No, dear; that is the donkey asking you to come and see him: will you
go?

"I guess I couldn't stop now. Mamma might want me."

And, without another word, the discomfited poet precipitately retired,
leaving his cherished sticks behind him.

Ben ran after the child to see that he came to no harm, and presently
returned to report that Alfred had been met by a servant, and gone away
chanting a new verse of his poem, in which peacocks, donkeys, and "the
flowers of life" were sweetly mingled.

"Now I'll show you my toys, and we';; have a little play before it gets
too late for Thorny to stay with us," said Miss Celia, as Randa carried
away the tea-things and brought back a large tray full of picture-books,
dissected maps, puzzles, games, and several pretty models of animals,
the whole crowned with a large doll dressed as a baby.

At sight of that, Betty stretched out her arms to receive it with a cry
of delight. Bab seized the games, and Ben was lost in admiration of the
little Arab chief prancing on the white horse, -- all saddled and
bridled and fit for the fight. Thorny poked about to find a certain
curious puzzle which he could put together without a mistake after long
study. Even Sancho found something to interest him; and, standing on his
hind-legs, thrust his head between the boys to paw at several red and
blue letters on square blocks.

"He looks as if he knew them," said Thorny, amused at the dog's eager
whine and scratch.

"He does.  Spell your name, Sanch;" and Ben put all the gay letters down
upon the flags with a chirrup which set the dog's tail to wagging as he
waited till the alphabet was spread before him. Then, with great
deliberation, he pushed the letters about till he had picked out six;
these he arranged with nose and paw till the word "Sancho" lay before
him correctly spelt.

"Isn't that clever?  Can he do any more?" cried Thorny, delighted.

"Lots; that's the way he gets his livin', and mine too," answered Ben;
and proudly put his poodle through his well-learned lessons sith Such
success that even Miss Celia was surprised.

"He has been carefully trained.  Do you know how it was done?" she
asked, when Sancho lay down to rest and be caressed by the children.

"No, 'm, father did it when I was a little chap, and never told me how.
I used to help teach him to dance, and that was easy enough, he is so
smart. Father said the middle of the night was the best time to give him
his lessons; it was so still then, and nothing disturbed Sanch and made
him forget. I can't do half the tricks, but I'm goin' to learn when
father comes back. He'd rather have me show off Sanch than ride, till
I'm older."

"I have a charming book about animals, and in it an interesting account
of some trained poodles who could do the most wonderful things. Would
you like to hear it while you put your maps and puzzles together?" asked
Miss Celia, glad to keep her brother interested in their four-footed
guest at least.

"Yes,'m, yes,'m," answered the children; and, fetching the book, she
read the pretty account, shortening and simplifying it here and there to
suit her hearers.

"I invited the two dogs to dine and spend the evening; and they came
with their master, who was a Frenchman. He had been a teacher in a deaf
and dumb school, and thought he would try the same plan with dogs. He
had also been a conjurer, and now was supported by Blanche and her
daughter Lyda. These dogs behaved at dinner just like other dogs; but
when I gave Blanche a bit of cheese and asked if she knew the word for
it, her master said she could spell it. So a table was arranged with a
lamp on it, and round the table were laid the letters of the alphabet
painted on cards. Blanche sat in the middle, waiting till her master
told her to spell cheese, which she at once did in French, F R O M A G
E. Then she translated a word for us very cleverly. Some one wrote
pferd, the German for horse, on a slate. Blanche looked at it and
pretended to read it, putting by the slate with her paw when she had
done. 'Now give us the French for that word,' said the man; and she
instantly brought CHEVAL. 'Now, as you are at an Englishman's house,
give it to us in English;' and she brought me HORSE. Then we spelt some
words wrong, and she corrected them with wonderful accuracy. But she did
not seem to like it, and whined and growled and looked so worried, that
she was allowed to go and rest and eat cakes in a corner.

"Then Lyda took her place on the table, and did sums on the slate with a
set of figures. Also mental arithmetic, which was very pretty. 'Now,
Lyda,' said her master, 'I want to see if you understand division.
Suppose you had ten bits of sugar, and you met ten Prussian dogs, how
many lumps would you, a French dog, give to each of the Prussians?' Lyda
very decidedly replied to this with a cipher. 'But, suppose you divided
your sugar with me, how many lumps would you give me?' Lyda took up the
figure five and politely presented it to her master."

"Wasn't she smart? Sanch can't do that," exclaimed Ben, forced to own
that the French doggie beat his cherished pet.

"He is not too old to learn.  Shall I go on?" asked Miss Celia, seeing
that the boys liked it, though Betty was absorbed with the doll, and Bab
deep in a puzzle.

"Oh, yes!  What else did they do?"

"They played a game of dominoes together, sitting in chairs opposite
each other, and touched the dominoes that were wanted; but the man
placed them and kept telling how the game went. Lyda was beaten, and hid
under the sofa, evidently feeling very badly about it. Blanche was then
surrounded with playing-cards, while her master held another pack and
told us to choose a card; then he asked her what one had been chosen,
and she always took up the right one in her teeth. I was asked to go
into another room, put a light on the floor with cards round it, and
leave the doors nearly shut. Then the man begged some one to whisper in
the dog's ear what card she was to bring, and she went at once and
fetched it, thus showing that she understood their names. Lyda did many
tricks with the numbers, so curious that no dog could possibly
understand them; yet what the secret sign was I could not discover, but
suppose it must have been in the tones of the master's voice, for he
certainly made none with either head or hands.

"It took an hour a day for eighteen months to educate a dog enough to
appear in public, and (as you say, Ben) the night was the best time to
give the lessons. Soon after this visit, the master died; and these
wonderful dogs were sold because their mistress did not know how to
exhibit them."

"Wouldn't I have liked to see 'em and find out how they were taught!
Sanch, you'll have to study up lively, for I'm not going to have you
beaten by French dogs," said Ben, shaking his finger so sternly that
Sancho grovelled at his feet and put both paws over his eyes in the most
abject manner.

"Is there a picture of those smart little poodles?" asked Ben, eying the
book, which Miss Celia left open before her.

"Not of them, but of other interesting creatures; also anecdotes about
horses, which will please you, I know," and she turned the pages for
him, neither guessing how much good Mr. Hamerton's charming "Chapters
on Animals" were to do the boy when he needed comfort for a sorrow
which was very near.



CHAPTER X: A HEAVY TROUBLE

"Thank you, ma'am, that's a tip-top book, 'specially the pictures.  But
I can't bear to see these poor fellows;" and Ben brooded over the fine
etching of the dead and dying horses on a battle-field, one past all
further pain, the other helpless, but lifting his head from his dead
master to neigh a farewell to the comrades who go galloping away in a
cloud of dust.

"They ought to stop for him, some of 'em," muttered Ben, hastily turning
back to the cheerful picture of the three happy horses in the field,
standing knee-deep among the grass as they prepare to drink at the wide
stream.

"Ain't that black one a beauty?  Seems as if I could see his mane blow
in the wind, and hear him whinny to that small feller trotting down to
see if he can't get over and be sociable. How I'd like to take a rousin'
run round that meadow on the whole lot of 'em!" and Ben swayed about in
his chair as if he was already doing it in imagination.

"You may take a turn round my field on Lita any day.  She would like it,
and Thorny's saddle will be here next week," said Miss Celia, pleased to
see that the boy appreciated the fine pictures, and felt such hearty
sympathy with the noble animals whom she dearly loved herself.

"Needn't wait for that.  I'd rather ride bareback. Oh, I say, is this
the book you told about, where the horses talked?" asked Ben, suddenly
recollecting the speech he had puzzled over ever since he heard it.

"No; I brought the book, but in the hurry of my tea-party forgot to
unpack it. I'll hunt it up to-night. Remind me, Thorny."

"There, now, I've forgotten something, too! Squire sent you a letter;
and I'm having such a jolly time, I never thought of it."

Ben rummaged out the note with remorseful haste, protesting that he was
in no hurry for Mr. Gulliver, and very glad to save him for another day.
Leaving the young folks busy with their games, Miss Celia sat in the
porch to read her letters, for there were two; and as she read her face
grew so sober, then so sad, that if any one had been looking he would
have wondered what bad news had chased away the sunshine so suddenly. No
one did look; no one saw how pitifully her eyes rested on Ben's happy
face when the letters were put away, and no one minded the new
gentleness in her manner as she came back, to the table. But Ben thought
there never was so sweet a lady as the one who leaned over him to show
him how the dissected map went together and never smiled at his
mistakes.

So kind, so very kind was she to them all, that when, after an hour of
merry play, she took her brother in to bed, the three who remained fell
to praising her enthusiastically as they put things to rights before
taking leave.

"She's like the good fairies in the books, and has all sorts of nice,
pretty things in her house," said Betty, enjoying a last hug of the
fascinating doll whose lids would shut so that it was a pleasure to
Sing, "Bye, sweet baby, bye," with no staring eyes to Spoil the
illusion.

"What heaps she knows!  More than Teacher, I do believe; and she doesn't
mind how many questions we ask. I like folks that will tell me things,"
added Bab, whose inquisitive mind was always hungry.

"I like that boy first-rate, and I guess he likes me, though I didn't
know where Nantucket ought to go. He wants me to teach him to ride when
he's on his pins again, and Miss Celia says I may. She knows how to make
folks feel good, don't she?" and Ben gratefully surveyed the Arab chief,
now his own, though the best of all the collection.

"Won't we have splendid times?  She Says we may come over every night
and play with her and Thorny."

"And she's goin', to have the seats in the porch lift up, so we can put
our things in there all day and have 'em handy."

"And I'm going to be her boy, and stay here all the time. I guess the
letter I brought was a recommend from the Squire."

"Yes, Ben; and if I had not already made up my mind to keep you before,
I certainly would now, my boy."

Something in Miss Celia's voice, as she said the last two words with her
hand on Ben's shoulder, made him look up quickly and turn red with
pleasure, wondering what the Squire had written about him.

"Mother must have some of the party; so you shall take her these, Bab,
and Betty may carry Baby home for the night. She is so nicely asleep, it
is a pity to wake her. Good by till to-morrow, little neighbors,"
continued Miss Celia, and dismissed the girls with a kiss.

"Is Ben coming, too?" asked Bab, as Betty trotted off in a silent
rapture with the big darling bobbing over her shoulder.

"Not yet; I've several things to settle with my new man.  Tell mother he
will come by-and-by."

Off rushed Bab with the plateful of goodies; and, drawing Ben down
beside her on the wide step, Miss Celia took out the letters, with a
shadow creeping over her face as softly as the twilight was stealing
over the world, while the dew fell, and every thing grew still and dim.

"Ben, dear, I've something to tell you," she began, slowly; and the boy
waited with a happy face, for no one had called him so since 'Melia
died.

"The Squire has heard about your father, and this is the letter Mr.
Smithers sends."

"Hooray! where is he, please?" cried Ben, wishing she would hurry up;
for Miss Celia did not even offer him the letter, but sat looking down
at Sancho on the lower step, as if she wanted him to come and help her.
"He went after the mustangs, and sent some home, but could not come
himself."

"Went further on, I s'pose.  Yes, he said he might go as far as
California, and if he did he'd send for me. I'd like to go there; it's a
real splendid place, they say."

"He has gone further away than that, to a lovelier country than
California, I hope." And Miss Celia's eyes turned to the deep sky, where
early stars were shining.

"Didn't he send for me?  Where's he gone? When 's he coming back?" asked
Ben, quickly; for there was a quiver in her voice, the meaning of which
he felt before he understood.

Miss Celia put her arms about him, and answered very tenderly, -- "Ben,
dear, if I were to tell you that he was never coming back, could you
bear it?"

"I guess I could, -- but you don't mean it?  Oh, ma'am, he isn't dead?"
cried Ben, with a cry that made her heart ache, and Sancho leap up with
a bark.

"My poor little boy, I wish I could say no."

There was no need of any more words, no need of tears or kind arms
around him. He knew he was an orphan now, and turned instinctively to
the old friend who loved him best. Throwing himself down beside his dog,
Ben clung about the curly neck, sobbing bitterly, --

"Oh, Sanch, he's never coming back again; never, never any more!"

Poor Sancho could only whine and lick away the tears that wet the
half-hidden face, questioning the new friend meantime with eyes so full
of dumb love and sympathy and sorrow that they seemed almost human.
Wiping away her own tears, Miss Celia stooped to pat the white head, and
to stroke the black one lying so near it that the dog's breast was the
boy's pillow. Presently the sobbing ceased, and Ben whispered, without
looking up,--

"Tell me all about it; I'll be good."

Then, as kindly as she could, Miss Celia read the brief letter which
told the hard news bluntly; for Mr. Smithers was obliged to confess that
he had known the truth months before, and never told the boy, lest he
should be unfitted for the work they gave him. Of Ben Brown the elder's
death there was little to tell, except that he was killed in some wild
place at the West, and a stranger wrote the fact to the only person
whose name was found in Ben's pocket-book. Mr. Smithers offered to take
the boy back and "do well by him," averring that the father wished his
son to remain where he left him, and follow the profession to which he
was trained.

"Will you go, Ben?" asked Miss Celia, hoping to distract his mind from
his grief by speaking of other things.

"No, no; I'd rather tramp and starve.  He's awful hard to me and Sanch;
and he'd be worse, now father's gone. Don't send me back! Let me stay
here; folks are good to me; there's nowhere else to go." And the head
Ben had lifted up with a desperate sort of look, went down again on
Sancho's breast as if there were no other refuge left.

"You shall stay here, and no one shall take you away against your will. 
I called you 'my boy' in play, now you shall be my boy in earnest; this
shall be your home, and Thorny your brother. We are orphans, too; and we
will stand by one another till a stronger friend comes to help us," said
Miss Celia, with such a mixture of resolution and tenderness in her
voice, that Ben felt comforted at once, and thanked her by laying his
cheek against the pretty slipper that rested on the step beside him, as
if he had no words in which to swear loyalty to the gentle mistress whom
be meant henceforth to serve with grateful fidelity.

Sancho felt that he must follow suit; and gravely put his paw upon her
knee, with a low whine, as if he said, "Count me in, and let me help to
pay my master's debt if I can."

Miss Celia shook the offered paw cordially, and the good creature
crouched at her feet like a small lion, bound to guard her and her house
for evermore.

"Don't lie on that cold stone, Ben; come here and let me try to comfort
you," she said, stooping to wipe away the great drops that kept rolling
down the brown cheek half hidden in her dress. But Ben put his arm over
his face, and sobbed out with a fresh burst of grief, --

"You can't, you didn't know him!  Oh, daddy! daddy! if I'd only seen you
jest once more!"

No one could grant that wish; but Miss Celia did comfort him, for
presently the sound of music floated out from the parlor, -- music so
soft, so sweet, that involuntarily the boy stopped his crying to listen;
then quieter tears dropped slowly, seeming to soothe his pain as they
fell, while the sense of loneliness passed away, and it grew possible to
wait till it was time to go to father in that far-off country lovelier
than golden California.

How long she played Miss Celia never minded; but, when she stole out to
see if Ben had gone, she found that other friends, even kinder than
herself, had taken the boy into their gentle keeping. The wind had sung
a lullaby among the rustling lilacs, the moon's mild face looked through
the leafy arch to kiss the heavy eyelids, and faithful Sancho still kept
guard beside his little master, who, with his head pillowed on his arm,
lay fast asleep, dreaming, happily, that Daddy had come home again.



CHAPTER XI: SUNDAY

Mrs. Moss woke Ben with a kiss next morning, for her heart yearned over
the fatherless lad as if he had been her own, and she had no other way
of showing her sympathy. Ben had forgotten his troubles in sleep; but
the memory of them returned as soon as he opened his eyes, heavy with
the tears they had shed. He did not cry any more, but felt strange and
lonely till he called Sancho and told him all about it, for he was shy
even with kind Mrs. Moss, and glad when she went away.

Sancho seemed to understand that his master was in trouble, and listened
to the sad little story with gurgles of interest, whines of condolence,
and intelligent barks whenever the word "daddy " was uttered. He was
only a brute, but his dumb affection comforted the boy more than any
words; for Sanch had known and loved "father" almost as long and well as
his son, and that seemed to draw them closely together, now they were
left alone.

"We must put on mourning, old feller.  It's the proper thing, and
there's nobody else to do it now," said Ben, as he dressed, remembering
how all the company wore bits of crape somewhere about them at 'Melia's
funeral.

It was a real sacrifice of boyish vanity to take the blue ribbon with
its silver anchors off the new hat, and replace it with the dingy black
band from the old one; but Ben was quite sincere in doing this, though
doubtless his theatrical life made him think of the effect more than
other lads would have done. He could find nothing in his limited
wardrobe with which to decorate Sanch except a black cambric pocket. It
was already half torn out of his trousers with the weight of nails,
pebbles, and other light trifles; so he gave it a final wrench and tied
it into the dog's collar, saying to himself, as he put away his
treasures, with a sigh,--

"One pocket is enough; I sha'n't want anything but a han'k'chi'f
to-day."

Fortunately, that article of dress was clean, for he had but one; and,
with this somewhat ostentatiously drooping from the solitary pocket, the
serious hat upon his head, the new shoes creaking mournfully, and Sanch
gravely following, much impressed with his black bow, the chief mourner
descended, feeling that he had done his best to show respect to the
dead.

Mrs. Moss's eyes filled as she saw the rusty band, and guessed why it
was there; but she found it difficult to repress a smile when she beheld
the cambric symbol of woe on the dog's neck. Not a word was said to
disturb the boy's comfort in these poor attempts, however; and he went
out to do his chores, conscious that he was an object of interest to his
friends, especially so to Bab and Betty, who, having been told of Ben's
loss, now regarded him with a sort of pitying awe very grateful to his
feelings.

"I want you to drive me to church by-and-by. It is going to be pretty
warm, and Thorny is hardly strong enough to venture yet," said Miss
Celia, when Ben ran over after breakfast to see if she had any thing for
him to do; for he considered her his mistress now, though he was not to
take possession of his new quarters till the morrow.

"Yes, 'm, I'd like to, if I look well enough," answered Ben, pleased to
be asked, but impressed with the idea that people had to be very fine on
such occasions.

"You will do very well when I have given you a touch. God doesn't mind
our clothes, Ben, and the poor are as welcome as the rich to him. You
have not been much, have you?" asked Miss Celia, anxious to help the
boy, and not quite sure how to begin.

"No, 'm; our folks didn't hardly ever go, and father was so tired he
used to rest Sundays, or go off in the woods with me."

A little quaver came into Ben's voice as he spoke, and a sudden motion
made his hat-brim hide his eyes, for the thought of the happy times that
would never come any more was almost too much for him.

"That was a pleasant way to rest. I often do so, and we will go to the
grove this afternoon and try it. But I have to go to church in the
morning,; it seems to start me right for the week; and if one has a
sorrow that is the place where one can always find comfort. Will you
come and try it, Ben, dear?"

"I'd do any thing to please you," muttered Ben, without looking up; for,
though he felt her kindness to the bottom of his heart, he did wish that
no one would talk about father for a little while; it was so hard to
keep from crying, and he hated to be a baby.

Miss Celia seemed to understand, for the next thing she said, in a very
cheerful tone, was, "See what a pretty sight that is. When I was a
little girl I used to think spiders spun cloth for the fairies, and
spread it on the grass to bleach."

Ben stopped digging a hole in the ground with his toe, and looked up, to
see a lovely cobweb like a wheel, circle within circle, spun across a
corner of the arch over the gate. Tiny drops glittered on every thread
as the light shone through the gossamer curtain, and a soft breath of
air made it tremble as if about to blow it away.

"It's mighty pretty, but it will fly off. just as the others did.  I
never saw such a chap as that spider is. He keeps on spinning a new one
every day, for they always get broke. and he don't seem to be
discouraged a mite," said Ben, glad to change the subject, as she knew
he would be.

"That is the way he gets his living. he spins his web and waits for his
daily bread, -- or fly, rather; and it always comes, I fancy. By-and-by
you will see that pretty trap full of insects, and Mr. Spider will lay
up his provisions for the day. After that he doesn't care how soon his
fine web blows away."

"I know him; he's a handsome feller, all black and yellow, and lives up
in that corner where the shiny sort of hole is. He dives down the minute
I touch the gate, but comes up after I've kept still a minute. I like to
watch him. But he must hate me, for I took away a nice green fly and
some little millers one day."

"Did you ever hear the story of Bruce and his spider? Most children know
and like that," said Miss Celia, seeing that he seemed interested.

"No, 'm ; I don't know ever so many things most children do," answered
Ben, soberly; for, since he had been among his new friends, he had often
felt his own deficiencies.

"Ah, but you also know many things which they do not. Half the boys in
town would give a great deal to be able to ride and run and leap as you
do; and even the oldest are not as capable of taking care of themselves
as you are. Your active life has done much in some ways to make a man of
you; but in other ways it was bad, as I think you begin to see. Now,
suppose you try to forget the harmful part, and remember only the good,
while learning to be more like our boys, who go to school and church,
and fit themselves to become industrious, honest men." Ben had been
looking straight up in Miss Celia's face as she spoke, feeling that
every word was true, though he could not have expressed it if he had
tried; and, when she paused, with her bright eyes inquiringly fixed on
his, he answered heartily,--

"I'd like to stay here and be respectable; for, since I came, I've found
out that folks don't think much of circus riders, though they like to go
and see 'em. I didn't use to care about school and such things, but I do
now; and I guess he'd like it better than to have me knockin' round that
way without him to look after me."

"I know he would; so we will try, Benny.  I dare say it will seem dull
and hard at first, after the gay sort of life you have led, and you will
miss the excitement. But it was not good for you, and we will do our
best to find something safer. Don't be discouraged; and, when things
trouble you, come to me as Thorny does, and I'll try to straighten them
out for you. I've got two boys now, and I want to do my duty by both."

Before Ben had time for more than a grateful look, a tumbled head
appeared at an upper window, and a sleepy voice drawled out, --

"Celia!  I can't find a bit of a shoe-string, and I wish you'd come and
do my neck-tie."

"Lazy boy, come down here, and bring one of your black ties with you.
Shoe-strings are in the little brown bag on my bureau," called back Miss
Celia; adding, with a laugh, as the tumbled head disappeared mumbling
something about "bothering old bags", "Thorny has been half spoiled since
he was ill. You mustn't mind his fidgets and dawdling ways. He'll get
over them soon, and then I know you two will be good friends."

Ben had his doubts about that, but resolved to do his best for her sake;
so, when Master Thorny presently appeared, with a careless "How are you,
Ben?" that young person answered respectfully, -- "Very well, thank
you," though his nod was as condescending as his new master's; because
he felt that a boy who could ride bareback and turn a double somersault
in the air ought not to "knuckle under" to a fellow who had not the
strength of a pussy-cat.

"Sailor's knot, please; keeps better so," said Thorny, holding up his
chin to have a blue-silk scarf tied to suit him, for he was already
beginning to be something of a dandy.

"You ought to wear red till you get more color, dear;" and his sister
rubbed her blooming cheek against his pale one, as if to lend him some
of her own roses.

"Men don't care how they look," said Thorny, squirming out of her hold,
for he hated to be "cuddled" before people.

"Oh, don't they?  Here 's a vain boy who brushes his hair a dozen times
a day, and quiddles over his collar till he is so tired he can hardly
stand," laughed Miss Celia, with a little tweak of his ear.

"I should like to know what this is for?" demanded Thorny, in a
dignified tone, presenting a black tie.

"For my other boy.  He is going to church with me," and Miss Celia tied
a second knot for this young gentleman, with a smile that seemed to
brighten up even the rusty hat-band.

"Well, I like that--" began Thorny, in a tone that contradicted his
words.

A look from his sister reminded him of what she had told him half an
hour ago, and he stopped short, understanding now why she was "extra
good to the little tramp."

"So do I, for you are of no use as a driver yet, and I don't like to
fasten Lita when I have my best gloves on," said Miss Celia, in a tone
that rather nettled Master Thorny.

"Is Ben going to black my boots before he goes? with a glance at the new
shoes which caused them to creak uneasily.

"No; he is going to black mine, if he will be so kind. You won't need
boots for a week yet, so we won't waste any time over them. You will
find every thing in the shed, Ben; and at ten you may go for Lita."

With that, Miss Celia walked her brother off to the diningroom, and Ben
retired to vent his ire in such energetic demonstrations with the
blacking-brush that the little boots shone splendidly.

He thought he had never seen any thing as pretty as his mistress when,
an hour later, she came out of the house in her white shawl and bonnet,
holding a book and a late lily-of-the-valley in the pearl-colored
gloves, which he hardly dared to touch as he helped her into the
carriage. He had seen a good many fine ladies in his life; and those he
had known had been very gay in the colors of their hats and gowns, very
fond of cheap jewelry, and much given to feathers, lace, and furbelows;
so it rather puzzled him to discover why Miss Celia looked so sweet and
elegant in such a simple suit. He did not then know that the charm was
in the woman, not the clothes; or that merely living near such a person
would do more to give him gentle manners, good principles, and pure
thoughts, than almost any other training he could have had. But he was
conscious that it was pleasant to be there, neatly dressed, in good
company, and going to church like a respectable boy. Somehow, the lonely
feeling got better as be rolled along between green fields, with the
June sunshine brightening every thing, a restful quiet in the air, and a
friend beside him who sat silently looking out at the lovely world with
what he afterward learned to call her "Sunday face," -- a soft, happy
look, as if all the work and weariness of the past week were forgotten,
and she was ready to begin afresh when this blessed day was over.

"Well, child, what is it?" she asked, catching his eye as he stole a shy
glance at her, one of many which she had not seen.

"I was only thinking, you looked as if --"

"As if what?  Don't be afraid," she said, for Ben paused and fumbled at
the reins, feeling half ashamed to tell his fancy.

"You were saying prayers," he added, wishing she had not caught him.

"So I was.  Don't you, when you are happy?

"No,'m.  I'm glad, but I don't say any thing."

"Words are not needed; but they help, sometimes, if they are sincere and
sweet. Did you never learn any prayers, Ben?"

"Only 'Now I lay me.' Grandma taught me that when I was a little mite of
a boy."

"I will teach you another, the best that was ever made, because it says
all we need ask."

"Our folks wasn't very pious; they didn't have time, I s'pose."

"I wonder if you know just what it means to be pious?"

"Goin' to church, and readin' the Bible, and sayin' prayers and hymns,
ain't it?"

"Those things are a part of it; but being kind and cheerful, doing one's
duty, helping others, and loving God, is the best way to show that we
are pious in the true sense of the word."

"Then you are!" and Ben looked as if her acts had been a better
definition than her words.

"I try to be, but I very often fail; so every Sunday I make new
resolutions, and work hard to keep them through the week. That is a
great help, as you will find when you begin to try it."

"Do you think if I said in meetin', ' I won't ever swear any more,' that
I wouldn't do it again?" asked Ben, soberly; for that was his besetting
sin just now.

"I'm afraid we can't get rid of our faults quite so easily; I wish we
could: but I do believe that if you keep saying that, and trying to
stop, you will cure the habit sooner than you think."

"I never did swear very bad, and I didn't mind much till I came here;
but Bab and Betty looked so scared when I said 'damn,' and Mrs. Moss
scolded me so, I tried to leave off. It's dreadful hard, though, when I
get mad. 'Hang it!' don't seem half so good if I want to let off steam."

"Thorny used to 'confound!' every thing, so I proposed that he should
whistle instead; and now he sometimes pipes up so suddenly and shrilly
that it makes me jump. How would that do, instead of swearing?" proposed
Miss Celia, not the least surprised at the habit of profanity, which the
boy could hardly help learning among his former associates.

Ben laughed, and promised to try it, feeling a mischievous satisfaction
at the prospect of out-whistling Master Thorny, as he knew he should;
for the objectionable words rose to his lips a dozen times a day.

The Ben was ringing as they drove into town; and, by the time Lita was
comfortably settled in her shed, people were coming up from all quarters
to cluster around the steps of the old meeting-house like bees about a
hive. Accustomed to a tent, where people kept their hats on, Ben forgot
all about his, and was going down the aisle covered, when a gentle hand
took it off, and Miss Celia whispered, as she gave it to him, --

"This is a holy place; remember that, and uncover at the door."

Much abashed, Ben followed to the pew, where the Squire and his wife
soon joined them.

"Glad to see him here," said the old gentleman with an approving nod, as
he recognized the boy and remembered his loss.

"Hope he won't nestle round in meeting-time," whispered Mrs. Allen,
composing herself in the corner with much rustling of black silk.

"I'll take care that he doesn't disturb you," answered Miss Celia,
pushing a stool under the short legs, and drawing a palm-leaf fan within
reach.

Ben gave an inward sigh at the prospect before him; for an hour's
captivity to an active lad is hard to bear, and he really did want to
behave well. So he folded his arms and sat like a statue, with nothing
moving but his eyes. They rolled to and fro, up and down, from the high
red pulpit to the worn hymnbooks in the rack, recognizing two little
faces under blue-ribboned hats in a distant pew, and finding it
impossible to restrain a momentary twinkle in return for the solemn wink
Billy Barton bestowed upon him across the aisle. Ten minutes of this
decorous demeanor made it absolutely necessary for him to stir; so he
unfolded his arms and crossed his legs as cautiously as a mouse moves in
the presence of a cat; for Mrs. Allen's eye was on him, and he knew by
experience that it was a very sharp one.

The music which presently began was a great relief to him, for under
cover of it he could wag his foot and no one heard the creak thereof;
and when they stood up to sing, he was so sure that all the boys were
looking at him, he was glad to sit down again. The good old minister
read the sixteenth chapter of Samuel, and then proceeded to preach a
long and somewhat dull sermon. Ben listened with all his ears, for he
was interested in the young shepherd, "ruddy and of a beautiful
countenance," who was chosen to be Saul's armor-bearer. He wanted to
hear more about him, and how he got on, and whether the evil spirits
troubled Saul again after David had harped them out. But nothing more
came; and the old gentleman droned on about other things till poor Ben
felt that he must either go to sleep like the Squire, or tip the stool
over by accident, since "nestling" was forbidden, and relief of some
sort he must have.

Mrs. Allen gave him a peppermint, and he dutifully ate it, though it was
so hot it made his eyes water. Then she fanned him, to his great
annoyance, for it blew his hair about; and the pride of his life was to
have his head as smooth and shiny as black satin. An irrepressible sigh
of weariness attracted Miss Celia's attention at last; for, though she
seemed to be listening devoutly, her thoughts had flown over the sea,
with tender prayers for one whom she loved even more than David did his
Jonathan. She guessed the trouble in a minute, and had provided for it,
knowing by experience that few small boys can keep quiet through
sermon-time. Finding a certain place in the little book she had brought,
she put it into his hands, with the whisper, "Read if you are tired."

Ben clutched the book and gladly obeyed, though the title, "Scripture
Narratives," did not look very inviting. Then his eye fell on the
picture of a slender youth cutting a large man's head off, while many
people stood looking on.

"Jack, the giant-killer," thought Ben, and turned the page to see the
words "David and Goliath", which was enough to set him to reading the
story with great interest; for here was the shepherd boy turned into a
hero. No more fidgets now; the sermon was no longer heard, the fan
flapped unfelt, and Billy Barton's spirited sketches in the hymnbook
were vainly held up for admiration. Ben was quite absorbed in the
stirring history of King David, told in a way that fitted it for
children's reading, and illustrated with fine pictures which charmed the
boy's eye.

Sermon and story ended at the same time; and, while he listened to the
prayer, Ben felt as if he understood now what Miss Celia meant by saying
that words helped when they were well chosen and sincere. Several
petitions seemed as if especially intended for him; and he repeated them
to himself that he might remember them, they sounded so sweet and
comfortable heard for the first time just when he most needed comfort.
Miss Celia saw a new expression in the boy's face as she glanced down at
him, and heard a little humming at her side when all stood up to sing
the cheerful hymn with which they were dismissed.

"How do you like church?" asked the young lady, as they drove away.

"First-rate!" answered Ben, heartily.

"Especially the sermon?"

Ben laughed, and said, with an affectionate glance at the little book in
her lap,--

"I couldn't understand it; but that story was just elegant.  There's
more; and I'd admire to read 'em, if I could."

"I'm glad you like them; and we will keep the rest for another
sermon-time. Thorny used to do so, and always called this his 'pew
book.' I don't expect you to understand much that you hear yet awhile;
but it is good to be there, and after reading these stories you will be
more interested when you hear the names of the people mentioned here."

"Yes, 'm.  Wasn't David a fine feller?  I liked all about the kid and
the corn and the ten cheeses, and killin' the lion and bear, and
slingin' old Goliath dead first shot. I want to know about Joseph next
time, for I saw a gang of robbers puttin' him in a hole, and it looked
real interesting."

Miss Celia could not help smiling at Ben's way of telling things; but
she was pleased to see that he was attracted by the music and the
stories, and resolved to make church-going so pleasant that he would
learn to love it for its own sake.

"Now, you have tried my way this morning, and we will try yours this
afternoon. Come over about four and help me roll Thorny down to the
grove. I am going to put one of the hammocks there, because the smell
of the pines is good for him, and you can talk or read or amuse
yourselves in any quiet way you like."

"Can I take Sanch along?  He doesn't like to be left, and felt real bad
because I shut him up, for fear he'd follow and come walkin' into
meetin' to find me."

"Yes, indeed; let the clever Bow-wow have a good time and enjoy Sunday
as much as I want my boys to."

Quite content with this arrangement, Ben went home to dinner, which he
made very lively by recounting Billy Barton's ingenious devices to
beguile the tedium of sermon time. He said nothing of his conversation
with Miss Celia, because he had not quite made up his mind whether he
liked it or not; it was so new and serious, he felt as if he had better
lay it by, to think over a good deal before he could understand all
about it. But he had time to get dismal again, and long for four
o'clock; because he had nothing to do except whittle. Mrs. Moss went to
take a nap; Bab and Betty sat demurely on their bench reading Sunday
books; no boys were allowed to come and play; even the hens retired
under the currant-bushes, and the cock stood among them, clucking
drowsily, as if reading them a sermon.

"Dreadful slow day!" thought Ben; and, retiring to the recesses of his
own room, he read over the two letters which seemed already old to him.
Now that the first shock was over, he could not make it true that his
father was dead, and he gave up trying; for he was an honest boy, and
felt that it was foolish to pretend to be more unhappy than he really
was. So he put away his letters, took the black pocket off Sanch's neck,
and allowed himself to whistle softly as he packed up his possessions,
ready to move next day, with few regrets and many bright anticipations
for the future.

"Thorny, I want you to be good to Ben, and amuse him in some quiet way
this afternoon. I must stay and see the Morrises, who are coming over;
but you can go to the grove and have a pleasant time," said Miss Celia
to her brother.

"Not much fun in talking to that horsey fellow. I'm sorry for him, but I
can't do anything to amuse him," objected Thorny, pulling himself up
from the sofa with a great yawn.

You can be very agreeable when you like; and Ben has had enough of me
for this time. To-morrow he will have his work, and do very well; but we
must try to help him through to-day, because he doesn't know what to do
with himself. Besides, it is just the time to make a good impression on
him, while grief for his father softens him, and gives us a chance. I
like him, and I'm sure he wants to do well; so it is our duty to help
him, as there seems to be no one else."

"Here goes, then! Where is he?" and Thorny stood up, won by his sister's
sweet earnestness, but very doubtful of his own success with the "horsey
fellow."

"Waiting with the chair.  Randa has gone on with the hammock.  Be a dear
boy, and I'll do as much for you some day."

"Don't see how you can be a dear boy. You're the best sister that ever
was; so I'lllove all the scallywags you ask me to."

With a laugh and a kiss, Thorny shambled off to ascend his chariot,
good-humoredly saluting his pusher, whom he found sitting on the high
rail behind, with his feet on Sanch.

"Drive on, Benjamin.  I don't know the way, so I can't direct.  Don't
spill me out, -- that's all I've got to say."

"All right, sir," -- and away Ben trundled down the long walk that led
through the orchard to a little grove of seven pines.

A pleasant spot; for a soft rustle filled the air, a brown carpet of
pine needles, with fallen cones for a pattern, lay under foot; and over
the tops of the tall brakes that fringed the knoll one had glimpses of
hill and valley, farm-houses and winding river, like a silver ribbon
through the low, green meadows.

"A regular summer house!" said Thorny, surveying it with approval.
"What's the matter, Randa? Won't it do?" he asked, as the stout maid
dropped her arms with a puff, after vainly trying to throw the hammock
rope over a branch.

"That end went up beautiful, but this one won't; the branches is so
high, I can't reach 'em; and I'm no hand at flinging ropes round."

"I'll fix it;" and Ben went up the pine like a squirrel, tied a stout
knot, and swung himself down again before Thorny could get out of the
chair.

"My patience, what a spry boy!" exclaimed Randa, admiringly.

"That 's nothing; you ought to see me shin up a smooth tent-pole," said
Ben, rubbing the pitch off his hands, with a boastful wag of the head.

"You can go, Randa. just hand me my cushion and books, Ben; then you can
sit in the chair while I talk to you," commanded Thorny, tumbling into
the hammock.

"What's he goin' to say to me?" wondered Ben to himself, as he sat down
with Sanch sprawling among the wheels.

"Now, Ben, I think you'd better learn a hymn; I always used to when I
was a little chap, and it is a good thing to do Sundays," began the new
teacher, with a patronizing air, which ruffled his pupil as much as the
opprobrious term "little chap."

"I'll be -- whew -- if I do! " whistled Ben,  stopping an oath just in
time.

"It is not polite to whistle in company," said Thorny, with great
dignity.

"Miss Celia told me to. I'll say 'confound it,' if you like that
better," answered Ben, as a sly smile twinkled in his eyes.

"Oh, I see! She 's told you about it?  Well, then, if you want to please
her, you'll learn a hymn right off. Come, now, she wants me to be clever
to you, and I'd like to do it; but if you get peppery, how can I?"

Thorny spoke in a hearty, blunt way, which suited Ben much better than
the other, and he responded pleasantly, --

"If you won't be grand I won't be peppery. Nobody is going to boss me
but Miss Celia; so I'll learn hymns if she wants me to."

"'In the soft season of thy youth' is a good one to begin with. I
learned it when I was six. Nice thing; better have it." And Thorny
offered the book like a patriarch addressing an infant.

Ben surveyed the yellow page with small favor, for the long s in the
old-fashioned printing bewildered him; and when he came to the last two
lines, he could not resist reading them wrong, --

"The earth affords no lovelier fight Than a religious youth."

"I don't believe I could ever get that into my head straight. Haven't
you got a plain one any where round?" he asked, turning over the leaves
with some anxiety.

"Look at the end, and see if there isn't a piece of poetry pasted in. 
You learn that, and see how funny Celia will look when you say it to
her. She wrote it when she was a girl, and somebody had it printed for
other children. I like it best, myself."

Pleased by the prospect of a little fun to cheer his virtuous task, Ben
whisked over the leaves, and read with interest the lines Miss Celia had
written in her girlhood:

    "MY KINGDOM

    A little kingdom I possess,
    Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
    And very hard I find the task
    Of governing it well.
    For passion tempts and troubles me,
    A wayward will misleads,
    And selfishness its shadow casts
    On all my words and deeds.

    "How can I learn to rule myself,
    To be the child I should, --
    Honest and brave, -- nor ever tire
    Of trying to be good?
    How can I keep a sunny soul
    To shine along life's way?
    How can I tune my little heart
    To sweetly sing all day?

    "Dear Father, help me With the love
    That casteth out my fear!
    Teach me to lean on thee, and feel
    That thou art very near;
    That no temptation is unseen,
    No childish grief too small,
    Since Thou, with patience infinite,
    Doth soothe and comfort all.

    "I do not ask for any crown,
    But that which all may will
    Nor seek to conquer any world
    Except the one within.
    Be then my guide until I find,
    Led by a tender hand,
    Thy happy kingdom in myself,
    And dare to take command."

"I like that!" said Ben, emphatically, when he had read the little hymn.
"I understand it, and I'll learn it right away. Don't see how she could
make it all come out so nice and pretty."

"Celia can do any thing!" and Thorny gave an all-embracing wave of the
hand, which forcibly expressed his firm belief in his sister's boundless
powers.

"I made some poetry once. Bab and Betty thought it was first-rate, I
didn't," said Ben, moved to confidence by the discovery of Miss Celia's
poetic skill.

"Say it," commanded Thorny, adding with tact, I can't make any to save
my life, -- never could but I'm fond of it."

    "Chevalita,
    Pretty cretr,
    I do love her
    Like a brother;
    Just to ride
    Is my delight,
    For she does not
    Kick or bite,"

recited Ben, with modest pride, for his first attempt had been inspired
by sincere affection, and pronounced "lovely" by the admiring girls.

"Very good! You must say them to Celia, too. She likes to hear Lita
praised. You and she and that little Barlow boy ought to try for a
prize, as the poets did in Athens. I'll tell you all about it some time.
Now, you peg away at your hymn."

Cheered by Thorny's commendation, Ben fell to work at his new task,
squirming about in the chair as if the process of getting words into his
memory was a very painful one. But he had quick wits, and had often
learned comic songs; so he soon was able to repeat the four verses
without mistake, much to his own and Thorny's satisfaction.

"Now we'll talk," said the well-pleased preceptor; and talk they did,
one swinging in the hammock, the other rolling about on the
pine-needles, as they related their experiences boy fashion. Ben's were
the most exciting; but Thorny's were not without interest, for he had
lived abroad for several years, and could tell all sorts of droll
stories of the countries he had seen.

Busied with friends, Miss Celia could not help wondering how the lads
got on; and, when the tea-Ben rang, waited a little anxiously for their
return, knowing that she could tell at a glance if they had enjoyed
themselves.

"All goes well so far," she thought, as she watched their approach with
a smile; for Sancho sat bolt upright in the chair which Ben pushed,
while Thorny strolled beside him, leaning on a stout cane newly cut.
Both boys were talking busily, and Thorny laughed from time to time, as
if his comrade's chat was very amusing.

"See what a jolly cane Ben cut for me!  He's great fun if you don't
stroke him the wrong way", said the elder lad, flourishing his staff as
they came up.

"What have you been doing down there?  You look so merry, I suspect
mischief," asked Miss Celia, surveying them front the steps.

"We've been as good as gold.  I talked, and Ben learned a hymn to please
you. Come, young man, say your piece," said Thorny, with an expression
of virtuous content.

Taking off his hat, Ben soberly obeyed, much enjoying the quick color
that came up in Miss Celia's face as she listened, and feeling as if
well repaid for the labor of learning by the pleased look with which She
said, as he ended with a bow, --

"I feel very proud to think you chose that, and to hear you say it as if
it meant something to you. I was only fourteen when I wrote it; but it
came right out of my heart, and did me good. I hope it may help you a
little."

Ben murmured that he guessed it would; but felt too shy to talk about
such things before Thorny, so hastily retired to put the chair away, and
the others went in to tea. But later in the evening, when Miss Celia was
singing like a nightingale, the boy slipped away from sleepy Bab and
Betty to stand by the syringa bush and listen, with his heart full of
new thoughts and happy feelings; for never before had he spent a Sunday
like this. And when he went to bed, instead of saying "Now I lay me," he
repeated the third verse of Miss Celia's hymn; for that was his
favorite, because his longing for the father whom he had seen made it
seem sweet and natural now to love and lean, without fear upon the
Father whom he had not seen.



CHAPTER XII: GOOD TIMES

Every one was very kind to Ben when his loss was known.  The Squire
wrote to Mr. Smithers that the boy had found friends and would stay
where he was. Mrs. Moss consoled him in her motherly way, and the little
girls did their very best to "be good to poor Benny." But Miss Celia was
his truest comforter, and completely won his heart, not only by the
friendly words she said and the pleasant things she did, but by the
unspoken sympathy which showed itself just at the right minute, in a
look, a touch, a smile, more helpful than any amount of condolence. She
called him "my man," and Ben tried to be one, bearing his trouble so
bravely that she respected him. although he was only a little boy,
because it promised well for the future.

Then she was so happy herself, it was impossible for those about her to
be sad, and Ben soon grew cheerful again in spite of the very tender
memory of his father laid quietly away in the safest corner of his
heart. He would have been a very unboyish boy if he had not been happy,
for the new place was such a pleasant one, he soon felt as if, for the
first time, he really had a home. No more grubbing now, but daily tasks
which never grew tiresome, they were so varied and so light. No more
cross Pats to try his temper, but the sweetest mistress that ever was,
since praise was oftener on her lips than blame, and gratitude made
willing service a delight.

At first, it seemed as if there was going to be trouble between the two
boys; for Thorny was naturally masterful, and illness had left him weak
and nervous, so he was often both domineering and petulant. Ben had been
taught instant obedience to those older than him self, and if Thorny had
been a man Ben would have made no complaint; but it was hard to be
"ordered round" by a boy, and an unreasonable one into the bargain.

A word from Miss Celia blew away the threatening cloud, however; and for
her sake her brother promised to try to be patient; for her sake Ben
declared he never would "get mad" if Mr. Thorny did fidget; and both
very soon forgot all about master and man and lived together like two
friendly lads, taking each other's ups and downs good-naturedly, and
finding mutual pleasure and profit in the new companionship.

The only point on which they never could agree was legs, and many a
hearty laugh did they give Miss Celia by their warm and serious
discussion of this vexed question. Thorny insisted that Ben was
bowlegged; Ben resented the epithet, and declared that the legs of all
good horsemen must have a slight curve, and any one who knew any thing
about the matter would acknowledge both its necessity and its beauty.
Then Thorny Would observe that it might be all very well in the saddle,
but it made a man waddle like a duck when afoot; whereat Ben would
retort that, for his part, he would rather waddle like a duck than
tumble about like a horse with the staggers. He had his opponent there,
for poor Thorny did look very like a weak-kneed colt when he tried to
walk; but he would never own it, and came down upon Ben with crushing
allusions to centaurs, or the Greeks and Romans, who were famous both
for their horsemanship and fine limbs. Ben could not answer that, except
by proudly referring to the chariot-races copied from the ancients, in
which he had borne a part, which was more than some folks with long legs
could say. Gentlemen never did that sort of thing, nor did they twit
their best friends with their misfortunes, Thorny would remark; casting
a pensive glance at his thin hands, longing the while to give Ben a good
shaking. This hint would remind the other of his young master's late
sufferings and all he owed his dear mistress; and he usually ended the
controversy by turning a few lively somersaults as a vent for his
swelling wrath, and come up with his temper all right again. Or, if
Thorny happened to be in the wheeled chair, he would trot him round the
garden at a pace which nearly took his breath away, thereby proving that
if "bow-legs" were not beautiful to some benighted beings they were
"good to go."

Thorny liked that, and would drop the subject for the time by politely
introducing some more agreeable topic; so the impending quarrel would
end in a laugh over some boyish joke, and the word "legs" be avoided by
mutual consent till accident brought it up again.

The spirit of rivalry is hidden in the best of us, and is a helpful and
inspiring power if we know how to use it. Miss Celia knew this, and
tried to make the lads help one another by means of it, -- not in
boastful or ungenerous comparison of each other's gifts, but by
interchanging them, giving and taking freely, kindly, and being glad to
love what was admirable wherever they found it. Thorny admired Ben's
strength, activity, and independence; Ben envied Thorny's learning,
good manners, and comfortable surroundings; and, when a wise word had
set the matter rightly before them, both enjoyed the feeling that there
was a certain equality between them, since money could not buy health,
and practical knowledge was as useful as any that can be found in books.
So they interchanged their small experiences, accomplishments, and
pleasures, and both were the better, as well as the happier, for it;
because in this way only can we truly love our neighbor as ourself, and
get the real sweetness out of life.

There was no end to the new and pleasant things Ben had to do, from
keeping paths and flower-beds neat, feeding the pets, and running
errands, to waiting on Thorny and being right-hand man to Miss Celia. He
had a little room in the old house, newly papered with hunting scenes,
which he was never tired of admiring. In the closet hung several
out-grown suits of Thorny's, made over for his valet; and, what Ben
valued infinitely more, a pair of boots, well blacked and ready for
grand occasions, when he rode abroad, with one old spur, found in the
attic, brightened up and merely worn for show, since nothing would have
induced him to prick beloved Lita with it.

Many pictures, cut from illustrated papers, of races, animals, and
birds, were stuck round the room, giving it rather the air of a circus
and menagerie. This, however, made it only the more home-like to its
present owner, who felt exceedingly rich and respectable as he surveyed
his premises; almost like a retired showman who still fondly remembers
past successes, though now happy in the more private walks of life.

In one drawer of the quaint little bureau which he used, were kept the
relics of his father; very few and poor, and of no interest to any one
but himself, -- only the letter telling of his death, a worn-out
watch-chain, and a photograph of Senor Jose Montebello, with his
youthful son standing on his head, both airily attired, and both smiling
with the calmly superior expression which gentlemen of their profession
usually wear in public. Ben's other treasures had been stolen with his
bundle; but these he cherished and often looked at when he went to bed,
wondering what heaven was like, since it was lovelier than California,
and usually fell asleep with a dreamy impression that it must be
something like America when Columbus found it, -- "a pleasant land,
where were gay flowers and tall trees, with leaves and fruit such as
they had never seen before." And through this happy hunting-ground
"father" was for ever riding on a beautiful white horse with wings, like
the one of which Miss Celia had a picture.

Nice times Ben had in his little room poring over his books, for he soon
had several of his own; but his favorites were Hamerton's "Animals" and
"Our Dumb Friends," both full of interesting pictures and anecdotes such
as boys love. Still nicer times working about the house, helping get
things in order; and best of all were the daily drives with Miss Celia
and Thorny, when weather permitted, or solitary rides to town through
the heaviest rain, for certain letters must go and come, no matter how
the elements raged. The neighbors soon got used to the "antics of that
boy," but Ben knew that he was an object of interest as he careered down
the main street in a way that made old ladies cry out and brought people
flying to the window, sure that some one was being run away with. Lita
enjoyed the fun as much as he, and apparently did her best to send him
heels over head, having rapidly earned to understand the signs he gave
her by the touch of hand and foot, or the tones of his voice.

These performances caused the boys to regard Ben Brown with intense
admiration, the girls with timid awe, all but Bab, who burned to imitate
him, and tried her best whenever she got a chance, much to the anguish
and dismay of poor Jack, for that long-suffering animal was the only
steed she was allowed to ride. Fortunately, neither she nor Betty had
much time for play just now, as school was about to close for the long
vacation, and all the little people were busy finishing up, that they
might go to play with free minds. So the "lilac-parties," as they called
them, were deferred till later, and the lads amused themselves in their
own way, with Miss Celia to suggest and advise.

It took Thorny a long time to arrange his possessions, for he could only
direct while Ben unpacked, wondering and admiring as he worked, because
he had never seen so many boyish treasures before. The little
printing-press was his especial delight, and leaving every thing else in
confusion, Thorny taught him its and planned a newspaper on the spot,
with Ben for printer, himself for editor, and "Sister" for chief
contributor, while Bab should be carrier and Betty office-boy. Next came
a postage-stamp book, and a rainy day was happily spent in pasting a new
collection where each particular one belonged, with copious explanations
from Thorny as they went along. Ben did not feel any great interest in
this amusement after one trial of it, but when a book containing
patterns of the flags of all nations turned up, he was seized with a
desire to copy them all, so that the house could be fitly decorated on
gala occasions. Finding that it amused her brother, Miss Celia
generously opened her piece-drawer and rag-bag, and as the mania grew
till her resources were exhausted, she bought bits of gay cambric and
many-colored papers, and startled the store-keeper by purchasing several
bottles of mucilage at once. Bab and Betty were invited to sew the
bright strips of stars, and pricked their little fingers assiduously,
finding this sort of needle-work much more attractive than piecing bed-
quilts.

Such a snipping and pasting, planning and stitching as went on in the
big back room, which was given up to them, and such a noble array of
banners and petitions as soon decorated its walls, would have caused the
dullest eye to brighten with amusement, if not with admiration. Of
course, the Stars and Stripes hung highest, with the English lion
ramping on the royal standard close by; then followed a regular
picture-gallery, for there was the white elephant of Siam, the splendid
peacock of Burmah, the double-headed Russian eagle, and black dragon of
China, the winged lion of Venice, and the prancing pair on the red,
white, and blue flag of Holland. The keys and mitre of the Papal States
were a hard job, but up they went at last, with the yellow crescent of
Turkey on one side and the red full moon of Japan on the other; the
pretty blue and white flag of Greece hung below and the cross of free
Switzerland above. If materials had held out, the flags of all the
United States would have followed; but paste and patience were
exhausted, so the busy workers rested awhile before they "flung their
banner to the breeze," as the newspapers have it.

A spell of ship-building and rigging followed the flag fit; for Thorny,
feeling too old now for such toys, made over his whole fleet to "the
children," condescending, however, to superintend a thorough repairing
of the same before he disposed of all but the big man-of-war, which
continued to ornament his own room, with all sail set and a little red
officer perpetually waving his sword on the quarter-deck.

These gifts led to out-of-door water-works, for the brook had to be
dammed up, that a shallow ocean might be made, where Ben's piratical
"Red Rover," with the black flag, might chase and capture Bab's smart
frigate, "Queen," while the "Bounding Betsey," laden with lumber, safely
sailed from Kennebunkport to Massachusetts Bay. Thorny, from his chair,
was chief-engineer, and directed his gang of one how to dig the basin,
throw up the embankment, and finally let in the water till the mimic
ocean was full; then regulate the little water-gate, lest it should
overflow and wreck the pretty squadron or ships, boats, canoes, and
rafts, which soon rode at anchor there.

Digging and paddling in mud and water proved such a delightful pastime
that the boys kept it up, till a series of water-wheels, little mills
and cataracts made the once quiet brook look as if a manufacturing town
was about to spring up where hitherto minnows had played in peace and 
the retiring frog had chanted his serenade unmolested.

Miss Celia liked all this, for any thing which would keep Thorny happy
out-of-doors in the sweet June weather found favor in her eyes, and when
the novelty had worn off from home affairs, she planned a series of
exploring expeditions which filled their boyish souls with delight. As
none of them knew much about the place, it really was quite exciting to
start off on a bright morning with a roll of wraps and cushions, lunch,
books, and drawing materials packed into the phaeton, and drive at
random about the shady roads and lanes, pausing when and where they
liked. Wonderful discoveries were made, pretty places were named, plans
were drawn, and all sorts of merry adventures befell the pilgrims.

Each day they camped in a new spot, and while Lita nibbled the fresh
grass at her ease, Miss Celia sketched under the big umbrella, Thorny
read or lounged or slept on his rubber blanket, and Ben made himself
generally useful. Unloading, filling the artist's water-bottle, piling
the invalid's cushions, setting out the lunch, running to and fro for a
Bower or a butterfly, climbing a tree to report the view, reading,
chatting, or frolicking with Sancho,-- any sort of duty was in Ben's
line, and he did them all well, for an out-of-door life was natural to
him and he liked it.

"Ben, I want an amanuensis," said Thorny, dropping book and pencil one
day after a brief interval of silence, broken only by the whisper of the
young leaves overhead and the soft babble of the brook close by.

"A what?" asked Ben, pushing back his hat with such an air of amazement
that Thorny rather loftily inquired:

"Don't you know what an amanuensis is?"

"Well, no; not unless it's some relation to an anaconda. Shouldn't think
you'd want one of them, anyway."

Thorny rolled over with a hoot of derision, and his sister, who sat
close by, sketching an old gate, looked up to see what was going on.

"Well, you needn't laugh at a feller. You didn't know what a wombat was
when I asked you, and I didn't roar," said Ben, giving his hat a slap,
as nothing else was handy.

"The idea of wanting an anaconda tickled me so, I couldn't help it.  I
dare say you'd have got me one if I had asked for it, you are such an
obliging chap,"

"Of course I would if I could.  Shouldn't be surprised if you did some
day, you want such funny things," answered Ben, appeased by the
compliment.

"I'll try the amanuensis first.  It's only some one to write for me; I
get so tired doing it without a table. You write well enough, and it
will be good for you to know something about botany. I intend to teach
you, Ben," said Thorny, as if conferring a great favor.

"It looks pretty hard," muttered Ben, with a doleful Glance at the book
laid open upon a strew of torn leaves and flowers.

"No, it isn't; it's regularly jolly; and you'd be no end of a help if
you only knew a little. Now, suppose I say, 'Bring me a "ranunculus
bulbosus,"' how would you know what I wanted?" demanded Thorny, waving
his microscope with a learned air.

"Shouldn't."

"There are quantities of them all round us; and I want to analyze one. 
See if you can't guess."

Ben stared vaguely from earth to sky, and was about to give it up, when
a buttercup fell at his feet, and he caught sight of Miss Celia smiling
at him from behind her brother, who did not see the flower.

"S'pose you mean this?  I don't call 'em rhinocerus bulburses, so I
wasn't sure." And, taking the hint as quickly as it was given, Ben
presented the buttercup as if he knew all about it.

"You guessed that remarkably well. Now bring me a 'leontodon
taraxacum,'" said Thorny, charmed with the quickness of his pupil, and
glad to display his learning.

Again Ben gazed, but the field was full of early flowers; and, if a long
pencil had not pointed to a dandelion close by, he would have been lost.

"Here you are, sir," he answered with a chuckle and Thorny took his turn
at being astonished now.

"How the dickens did you know that?"

"Try it again, and may be you'll find out," laughed Ben.

Diving hap-hazard into his book, Thorny demanded a "trifolium pratense."

The clever pencil pointed, and Ben brought a red clover, mightily
enjoying the joke, and thinking that their kind of botany wasn't bad
fun.

"Look here, no fooling!" and Thorny sat up to investigate the matter, so
quickly that his sister had not time to sober down. "Ah, I've caught
you! Not fair to tell, Celia. Now, Ben, you've got to learn all about
this buttercup, to pay for cheating."

"Werry good, sir; bring on your rhinoceriouses," answered Ben, who
couldn't help imitating his old friend the clown when he felt
particularly jolly.

"Sit there and write what I tell you," ordered Thorny, with all the
severity of a strict schoolmaster. Perching himself on the mossy stump,
Ben obediently floundered through the following analysis, with constant
help in the spelling, and much private wonder what would come of it: --

"Phaenogamous.  Exogenous.  Angiosperm.  Polypetalous. Stamens, more
than ten. Stamens on the receptacle. Pistils, more than one and
separate. Leaves without stipules. Crowfoot family. Genus ranunculus.
Botanical name, Ranunculus bulbosus."

"Jerusalem! what a flower! Pistols and crows' feet, and Polly put the
kettles on, and Angy sperms and all the rest of 'em! If that's your
botany, I won't take any more, thank you," said Ben, as he paused as hot
and red as if he had been running a race.

"Yes, you Will; you'll learn that all by heart, and then I shall give
you a dandelion to do. You'll like that, because it means dent de lion,
or lion's tooth; and I'll show them to you through my glass. You've no
idea how interesting it is, and what heaps of pretty things you'll see,"
answered Thorny, who had already discovered how charming the study was,
and had found great satisfaction in it, since he had been forbidden more
active pleasures.

"What's the good of it, anyway?" asked Ben, who would rather have been
set to mowing the big field than to the task before him.

"It tells all about it in my book here, -- 'Gray's Botany for Young
People.' But I can tell you what use it is to us," continued Thorny,
crossing his legs in the air and preparing to argue the matter,
comfortably lying flat on his back. "We are a Scientific Exploration
Society, and we must keep an account of all the plants, animals,
minerals, and so on, as we come across them. Then, suppose we get lost,
and have to hunt for food, how are we to know what is safe and what
isn't? Come, now, do you know the difference between a toadstool and a
mushroom?"

"No, I don't."

"Then I'll teach you some day.  There is sweet flag and poisonous flag,
and all sorts of berries and things; and you'd better look out when you
are in the woods, or you'll touch ivy and dogwood, and have a horrid
time, if you don't know your botany."

"Thorny learned much of his by sad experience; and you will be wise to
take his advice," said Miss Celia, recalling her brother's various
mishaps before the new fancy came on.

"Didn't I have a time of it, though, when I had to go round for a week
with plantain leaves and cream stuck all over my face! Just picked some
pretty red dogwood, Ben; and then I was a regular guy, with a face like
a lobster, and my eyes swelled out of sight. Come along, and learn right
away, and never get into scrapes like most fellows."

Impressed by this warning, and attracted by Thorny's enthusiasm, Ben
cast himself down upon the blanket, and for an hour the two heads bobbed
to and fro, from microscope to book, the teacher airing his small
knowledge, the pupil more and more interested in the new and curious
things he saw or heard, -- though it must be confessed that Ben
infinitely preferred to watch ants and bugs, queer little worms and
gauzy-winged flies, rather than "putter" over plants with long names. He
did not dare to say so, however; but, when Thorny asked him if it wasn't
capital fun, he dodged cleverly by proposing to hunt up the flowers for
his master to study, offering to learn about the dangerous ones, but
pleading want of time to investigate this pleasing science very deeply.

As Thorny had talked himself hoarse, he was very ready to dismiss his
class of one to fish the milk-bottle out of the brook; and recess was
prolonged till next day. But both boys found a new pleasure in the
pretty pastime they made of it; for active Ben ranged the woods and
fields with a tin box slung over his shoulder, and feeble Thorny had a
little room fitted up for his own use, where he pressed flowers in
newspaper books, dried herbs on the walls, had bottles and cups, pans
and platters, for his treasures, and made as much litter as he liked.

Presently, Ben brought such lively accounts of the green nooks where
jacks-in-the-pulpit preached their little sermons; brooks, beside which
grew blue violets and lovely ferns; rocks, round which danced the
columbines like rosy elves, or the trees where birds built, squirrels
chattered, and woodchucks burrowed, that Thorny was seized with a desire
to go and see these beauties for himself. So Jack was saddled, and went
plodding, scrambling, and wandering into all manner of pleasant places,
always bringing home a stronger, browner rider than he carried away.

This delighted Miss Celia; and she gladly saw them ramble off together,
leaving her time to stitch happily at certain dainty bits of sewing,
write voluminous letters, or dream over others quite as long, swinging
in her hammock under the lilacs.



CHAPTER XIII: SOMEBODY RUNS AWAY

    "'School is done,
    Now we'll have fun,"

Sung Bab and Betty, slamming down their books as if they never meant to
take them up again, when they came home on the last day of June.

Tired teacher had dismissed them for eight whole weeks, and gone away to
rest; the little school-house was shut up, lessons were over, spirits
rising fast, and vacation had begun. The quiet town seemed suddenly
inundated with children, all in such a rampant state that busy mothers
wondered how they ever should be able to keep their frisky darlings out
of mischief; thrifty fathers planned how they could bribe the idle hands
to pick berries or rake hay; and the old folks, while wishing the young
folks well, secretly blessed the man who invented schools.

The girls immediately began to talk about picnics, and have them, too;
for little hats sprung up in the fields like a new sort of mushroom, --
every hillside bloomed with gay gowns, looking as if the flowers had
gone out for a walk; and the woods were full of featherless birds
chirping away as blithely as the thrushes, robins, and wrens.

The boys took to base-ball like ducks to water, and the common was the
scene of tremendous battles, waged with much tumult, but little
bloodshed. To the uninitiated, it appeared as if these young men had
lost their wits; for, no matter how warm it was, there they were,
tearing about in the maddest mannet, jackets off, sleeves rolled up,
queer caps flung on any way, all batting shabby leather balls, and
catching the same, as if their lives depended on it. Every one talking
in his gruffest tone, bawling at the top of his voice, squabbling over
every point of the game, and seeming to enjoy himself immensely, in
spite of the heat, dust, uproar, and imminent danger of getting eyes or
teeth knocked out.

Thorny was an excellent player, but, not being strong enough to show his
prowess, he made Ben his proxy; and, sitting on the fence, acted as
umpire to his heart's content. Ben was a promising pupil, and made rapid
progress; for eye, foot, and hand had been so well trained, that they
did him good service now; and Brown was considered a first-rate
"catcher".

Sancho distinguished himself by his skill in hunting up stray balls, and
guarding jackets when not needed, with the air of one of the Old Guard
on duty at the tomb of Napoleon. Bab also longed to join in the fun,
which suited her better than "stupid picnics" or "fussing over dolls;"
but her heroes would not have her at any price; and she was obliged to
content herself with sitting by Thorny, and watching with breathless
interest the varying fortunes of "our side."

A grand match was planned for the Fourth of July; but when the club met,
things were found to be unpropitious. Thorny had gone out of town with
his sister to pass the day, two of the best players did not appear, and
the others were somewhat exhausted by the festivities, which began at
sunrise for them. So they lay about on the grass in the shade of the big
elm, languidly discussing their various wrongs and disappointments.

"It's the meanest Fourth I ever saw. Can't have no crackers, because
somebody's horse got scared last year," growled Sam Kitteridge, bitterly
resenting the stern edict which forbade free-born citizens to burn as
much gunpowder as they liked on that glorious day.

"Last year Jimmy got his arm blown off when they fired the old cannon. 
Didn't we have a lively time going for the doctors and getting him
home?" asked another boy, looking as if he felt defrauded of the most
interesting part of the anniversary, because no accident had occurred.

"Ain't going to be fireworks either, unless somebody's barn burns up. 
Don't I just wish there would,: gloomily responded another youth who had
so rashly indulged in pyrotechnics on a former occasion that a
neighbor's cow had been roasted whole.

"I wouldn't give two cents for such a slow old place as this.  Why, last
Fourth at this time, I was rumbling though Boston streets on top of our
big car, all in my best toggery. Hot as pepper, but good fun looking in
at the upper windows and hearing the women scream when the old thing
waggled round and I made believe I was going to tumble off, said Ben,
leaning on his bat with the air of a man who had seen the world and felt
some natural regret at descending from so lofty a sphere.

"Catch me cuttin' away if I had such a chance as that!" answered Sam,
trying to balance his bat on his chin and getting a smart rap across the
nose as he failed to perform the feat.

"Much you know about it, old chap.  It's hard work, I can tell you, and
that wouldn't suit such a lazy-bones. Then you are too big to begin,
though you might do for a fat boy if Smithers wanted one," said Ben,
surveying the stout youth, with calm contempt.

"Let's go in swimming, not loaf round here, if we can't play," proposed
a red and shiny boy, panting for a game of leap-frog in Sandy pond.

"May as well; don't see much else to do," sighed Sam, rising like a
young elephant.

The others were about to follow, when a shrill "Hi, hi, boys, hold on!"
made them turn about to behold Billy Barton tearing down the street like
a runaway colt, waving a long strip of paper as he ran.

"Now, then, what's the matter?" demanded Ben, as the other came up
grinning and puffing, but full of great news.

"Look here, read it! I'm going; come along, the whole of you," panted
Billy, putting the paper into Sam's hand, and surveying the crowd with a
face as beaming as a full moon.

"Look out for the big show," read Sam. "Van Amburgh & Co.'s New Great
Golden Menagerie, Circus and Colosseum, will exhibit at Berryville, July
4th, at 1 and 7 precisely. Admission 50 cents, children half-price.
Don't forget day and date. H. Frost, Manager."

While Sam read, the other boys had been gloating over the enticing
pictures which covered the bill. There was the golden car, filled with
noble beings in helmets, all playing on immense trumpets; the twenty-
four prancing steeds with manes, tails, and feathered heads tossing in
the breeze; the clowns, the tumblers, the strong men, and the riders
flying about in the air as if the laws of gravitation no longer existed.
But, best of all, was the grand conglomeration of animals where the
giraffe appears to stand on the elephant's back, the zebra to be jumping
over the seal, the hippopotamus to be lunching off a couple of
crocodiles, and lions and tigers to be raining down in all directions
with their mouths, wide open and their tails as stiff as that of the
famous Northumberland House lion.

"Cricky! wouldn't I like to see that," said little Cyrus Fay, devoutly
hoping that the cage, in which this pleasing spectacle took place, was a
very strong one.

"You never would, it's only a picture! That, now, is something like,"
and Ben, who had pricked up his ears at the word "circus," laid his
finger on a smaller cut of a man hanging by the back of his neck with a
child in each hand, two men suspended from his feet, and the third
swinging forward to alight on his head.

"I 'm going," said Sam, with calm decision, for this superb array of
unknown pleasures fired his soul and made him forget his weight.

"How will you fix it?" asked Ben, fingering the bill with a nervous
thrill all through his wiry limbs, just as he used to feel it when his
father caught him up to dash into the ring.

"Foot it with Billy. It's only four miles, and we've got lots of time,
so we can take it easy. Mother won't care, if I send word by Cy,"
answered Sam, producing half a dollar, as if such magnificent sums were
no strangers to his pocket.

"Come on, Brown; you'll be a first-rate fellow to show us round, as you
know all the dodges," said Billy, anxious to get his money's worth.

"Well, I don't know," began Ben, longing to go, but afraid Mrs. Moss
would say "No!" if he asked leave.

"He's afraid," sneered the red-faced boy, who felt bitterly toward all
mankind at that instant, because he knew there was no hope of his going.

"Say that again, and I'll knock your head off," and Ben faced round with
a gesture which caused the other to skip out of reach precipitately.

"Hasn't got any money, more likely," observed a shabby youth, whose
pockets never had any thing in them but a pair of dirty hands.

Ben calmly produced a dollar bill and waved it defiantly before this
doubter, observing with dignity:

"I've got money enough to treat the whole crowd, if I choose to, which I
don't."

"Then come along and have a jolly time with Sam and me.  We can buy some
dinner and get a ride home, as like as not," said the amiable Billy,
with a slap on the shoulder, and a cordial grin which made it impossible
for Ben to resist.

"What are you stopping for?" demanded Sam, ready to be off, that they
might "take it easy."

"Don't know what to do with Sancho.  He'll get lost or stolen if I take
him, and it's too far to carry him home if you are in a hurry," began
Ben, persuading himself that this was the true reason of his delay.

"Let Cy take him back. He'll do it for a cent; won't you, Cy?" proposed
Billy, smoothing away all objections, for he liked Ben, and saw that he
wanted to go.

"No, I won't; I don't like him. He winks at me, and growls when I touch
him," muttered naughty Cy, remembering how much reason poor Sanch had to
distrust his tormentor.

"There 's Bab; she'll do it.  Come here, sissy; Ben wants you," called
Sam, beckoning to a small figure just perching on the fence.

Down it jumped and Came fluttering up, much elated at being summoned by
the captain of the sacred nine.

"I want you to take Sanch home, and tell your mother I'm going to walk,
and may be won't be back till sundown. Miss Celia said I Might do what I
pleased, all day. You remember, now."

Ben spoke without looking up, and affected to be very busy buckling a
strap into Sanch's collar, for the two were so seldom parted that the
dog always rebelled. It was a mistake on Ben's part, for while his eyes
were on his work Bab's were devouring the bill which Sam still held, and
her suspicions were aroused by the boys' faces.

"Where are you going?  Ma will want to know," she said, as curious as a
magpie all at once.

"Never you mind; girls can't know every thing. You just catch hold of
this and run along home. Lock Sanch up for an hour, and tell your mother
I'm all right," answered Ben, bound to assert his manly supremacy before
his mates.

"He's going to the circus," whispered Fay, hoping to make mischief.

"Circus! Oh, Ben, do take me!" cried Bab, falling into a state of great
excitement at the mere thought of such delight.

"You couldn't walk four miles," began Ben.

"Yes, I could, as easy as not."

"You haven't got any money."

"You have; I saw you showing your dollar, and you could pay for me, and
Ma would pay it back."

"Can't wait for you to get ready."

"I'll go as I am.  I don't care if it is my old hat," and Bab jerked it
on to her head.

"Your mother wouldn't like it."

"She won't like your going, either."

"She isn't my missis now.  Miss Celia wouldn't care, and I'm going, any
way."

"Do, do take me, Ben! I'll be just as good as ever was, and I'll take
care of Sanch all the way," pleaded Bab, clasping her hands and looking
round for some sign of relenting in the faces of the boys.

"Don't you bother; we don't want any girls tagging after us," said Sam,
walking off to escape the annoyance.

"I'll bring you a roll of chickerberry lozengers, if you won't tease,"
whispered kind-hearted Billy, with a consoling pat on the crown of the
shabby straw hat.

"When the circus comes here you shall go, certain sure, and Betty too,"
said Ben, feeling mean while he proposed what he knew was a hollow
mockery.

"They never do come to such little towns; you said so, and I think you
are very cross, and I won't take care of Sanch, so, now!" cried Bab,
getting into a passion, yet ready to cry, she was so disappointed.

"I Suppose it wouldn't do -- " hinted Billy, with a look from Ben to the
little girl, who stood winking hard to keep the tears back.

"Of Course it wouldn't.  I'd like to see her walking eight miles. I
don't mind paying for her; it's getting her there and back. Girls are
such a bother when you want to knock round. No, Bab, you can't go.
Travel right home and don't make a fuss. Come along, boys; it 's most
eleven, and we don't want to walk fast."

Ben spoke very decidedly; and, taking Billy's arm, away they went,
leaving poor Bab and Sanch to watch them out of sight, one sobbing, the
other whining dismally.

Somehow those two figures seemed to go before Ben all along the pleasant
road, and half spoilt his fun; for though he laughed and talked, cut
canes, and seemed as merry as a grig, he could not help feeling that he
ought to have asked leave to go, and been kinder to Bab.

"Perhaps Mrs. Moss would have planned somehow so we could all go, if I'd
told her, I'd like to show her round, and she's been real good to me. No
use now. I'll take the girls a lot of candy and make it all right."

He tried to settle it in that way and trudged gayly off, hoping Sancho
wouldn't feel hurt at being left, wondering if any of "Smithers's lot"
would be round, and planning to do the honors handsomely to the boys.

It was very warm; and just outside of the town they paused by a wayside
watering-trough to wash their dusty faces, and cool off before plunging
into the excitements of the afternoon. As they stood refreshing
themselves, a baker's cart came jingling by; and Sam proposed a hasty
lunch while they rested. A supply of gingerbread was soon bought; and,
climbing the green bank above, they lay on the grass under a wild
cherry-tree, munching luxuriously, while they feasted their eyes at the
same time on the splendors awaiting them; for the great tent, with all
its flags flying, was visible from the hill.

"We'll cut across those fields, -- it 's shorter than going by the road,
-- and then we can look round outside till it's time to go in. I want to
have a good go at every thing, especially the lions," said Sam,
beginning on his last cookie.

"I heard 'em roar just now;" and Billy stood up to gaze with big eyes at
the flapping canvas which hid the king of beasts from his longing sight.

"That was a cow mooing.  Don't you be a donkey, Bill.  When you hear a
real roar, you'll shake in your boots," said Ben, holding up his
handkerchief to dry, after it had done double duty as towel and napkin.

"I wish you'd hurry up, Sam.  Folks are going in now. I see 'em!" and
Billy pranced with impatience; for this was his first circus, and he
firmly believed that he was going to behold all that the pictures
promised.

"Hold on a minute, while I get one more drink. Buns are dry fodder,"
said Sam, rolling over to the edge of the bank and preparing to descend
with as little trouble as possible.

He nearly went down head first, however; for, as he looked before he
leaped, he beheld a sight which caused him to stare with all his might
for an instant, then turn and beckon, saying in an eager whisper, 
"Look here, boys, -- quick!"

Ben and Billy peered over, and both suppressed an astonished "Hullo!"
for there stood Bab, waiting for Sancho to lap his fill out of the
overflowing trough.

Such a shabby, tired-looking couple as they were! Bab with a face as red
as a lobster and streaked with tears, shoes white with dust, Playfrock
torn at the gathers, something bundled up in her apron, and one shoe
down at the heel as if it hurt her. Sancho lapped eagerly, with his eyes
shut; all his ruffles were gray with dust, and his tail hung wearily
down, the tassel at half mast, as if in mourning for the master whom be
had come to find. Bab still held the strap, intent on keeping her charge
safe, though she lost herself; but her courage seemed to be giving out,
as she looked anxiously up and down the road, seeing no sign of the three
familiar figures she had been following as steadily as a little Indian
on the war-trail.

"Oh, Sanch, what shall I do if they don't come along?  We must have gone
by them somewhere, for I don't see any one that way, and there isn't any
other road to the circus, seems to me."

Bab spoke as if the dog could understand and answer; and Sancho looked
as if he did both, for he stopped drinking, pricked up his cars, and,
fixing his sharp eyes on the grass above him, gave a suspicious bark.

"It's only squirrels; don't mind, but come along and be good; for I 'm
so tired, I don't know what to do!" sighed Bab, trying to pull him after
her as she trudged on, bound to see the outside of that wonderful tent,
even if she never got in.

But Sancho had heard a soft chirrup; and, with a sudden bound, twitched
the strap away, sprang up the bank, and landed directly on Ben's back as
he lay peeping over. A peal of laughter greeted him; and, having got the
better of his master in more ways than one, he made the most of the
advantage by playfully worrying him as he kept him down, licking his
face in spite of his struggles, burrowing in his neck with a ticklish
nose, snapping at his buttons, and yelping joyfully, as if it was the
best joke in the world to play hide-and-seek for four long miles.

Before Ben could quiet him, Bab came climbing up the bank, with such a
funny mixture of fear, fatigue, determination, and relief in her dirty
little face, that the boys could not look awful if they tried.

"How dared you come after us, miss?" demanded Sam, as she looked calmly
about her, and took a seat before she was asked.

"Sanch would come after Ben; I couldn't make him go home, so I had to
hold on till he was safe here, else he'd be lost, and then Ben would
feel bad."

The cleverness of that excuse tickled the boys immensely; and Sam tried
again, while Ben was getting the dog down and sitting on him.

"Now you expect to go to the circus, I suppose."

"Course I do.  Ben said he didn't mind paying, if I could get there
without bothering him, and I have; and I'll go home alone. I ain't
afraid. Sanch will take care of me, if you won't," answered Bab,
stoutly.

"What do you suppose your mother will say to you?" asked Ben, feeling
much reproached by her last words.

"I guess she'll say you led me into mischief; and the sharp child
nodded, as if she defied him to deny the truth of that.

"You'll catch it when you get home, Ben; so you'd better have a good
time while you can," advised Sam. thinking Bab great fun, since none of
the blame of her pranks would fall on him. "What would you have done if
you hadn't found us?" asked Billy, forgetting his impatience in his
admiration for this plucky young lady.

"I'd have gone on and seen the circus, and then I'd have gone home again
and told Betty all about it," was the prompt answer.

"But you haven't any money."

"Oh, I'd ask somebody to pay for me.  I 'm so little, it wouldn't be
much."

"Nobody would do it; so you'd have to stay outside, you see."

"No, I wouldn't.  I thought of that, and planned how I'd fix it if I
didn't find Ben. I'd make Sanch do his tricks, and get a quarter that
way; so, now! answered Bab, undaunted by any obstacle.

"I do believe she would! You are a smart child, Bab; and if I had enough
I'd take you in myself," said Billy, heartily; for, having sisters of
his own, he kept a soft place in his heart for girls, especially
enterprising ones.

"I'll take care of her.  It was very naughty to come, Bab; but, so long
as you did, you needn't worry about any thing. I'll see to you; and you
shall have a real good time," said Ben, accepting his responsibilities
without a murmur, and bound to do the handsome thing by his persistent
friend.

"I thought you would;" and Bab folded her arms, as if she had nothing
further to do but enjoy herself.

"Are you hungry?" asked Billy, fishing out several fragments of
gingerbread.

"Starving!" and Bab ate them with such a relish that Sam added a small
contribution; and Ben caught some water for her in his hand, where the
little spring bubbled up beside a stone.

"Now, you wash your face and spat down your hair, and put your hat on
straight, and then we'll go," commanded Ben, giving Sanch a roll on the
grass to clean him.

Bab scrubbed her face till it shone; and, pulling down her apron to wipe
it, scattered a load of treasures collected in her walk. Some of the
dead flowers, bits of moss, and green twigs fell near Ben, and one
attracted his attention, -- a spray of broad, smooth leaves, with a
bunch of whitish berries on it.

"Where did you get that?" he asked, poking it with his foot.

"In a swampy place, coming along.  Sanch saw something down there; and I
went with him, 'cause I thought may be it was a musk-rat, and you'd like
one if we could get him."

"Was it?" asked the boys all at once, and with intense interest.

"No; only a snake, and I don't care for snakes. I picked some of that,
it was so green and pretty. Thorny likes queer leaves and berries, you
know," answered Bab, "spatting," down her rough locks.

"Well, he won't like that, nor you either; it's poisonous, and I
shouldn't wonder if you'd got poisoned, Bab. Don't touch it!
Swamp-sumach is horrid stuff, -- Miss Celia said so;" and Ben looked
anxiously at Bab, who felt her chubby face all over, and examined her
dingy hands with a solemn air, asking, eagerly, --

"Will it break out on me 'fore I get to the circus?"

"Not for a day or so, I guess; but it's bad when it does come."

"I don't care, if I see the animals first.  Come quick, and never mind
the old weeds and things," said Bab, much relieved; for present bliss
was all she had room for now in her happy little heart.



CHAPTER XIV: SOMEBODY GETS LOST

Putting all care behind them, the young folks ran down the hill, with a
very lively dog gambolling beside them, and took a delightfully
tantalizing survey of the external charms of the big tent. But people
were beginning to go in, and it was impossible to delay when they came
round to the entrance.

Ben felt that now "his foot was on his native heath," and the superb air
of indifference with which he threw down his dollar at the
ticket-office, carelessly swept up the change, and strolled into the
tent with his hands in his pockets, was so impressive that even big Sam
repressed his excitement and meekly followed their leader, as he led
them from cage to cage, doing the honors as if he owned the whole
concern. Bab held tight to the flap of his jacket, staring about her
with round eyes, and listening with little gasps of astonishment or
delight to the roaring of lions, the snarling of tigers, the chatter of
the monkeys, the groaning of camels, and the music of the very brass
band shut up in a red bin.

Five elephants were tossing their hay about in the middle of the
menagerie, and Billy's legs shook under him as he looked up at the big
beasts whose long noses and small, sagacious eyes filled him with awe.
Sam was so tickled by the droll monkeys that the others left him before
the cage and went on to see the zebra, "striped just like Ma's muslin
gown," Bab declared. But the next minute she forgot all about him in her
raptures over the ponies and their tiny colts; especially one mite of a
thing who lay asleep on the hay, such a miniature copy of its little
mouse-colored mamma that one could hardly believe it was alive.

"Oh, Ben, I must feel of it! -- the cunning baby horse!" and down went
Bab inside the rope to pat and admire the pretty creature, while its
mother smelt suspiciously at the brown hat, and baby lazily opened one
eye to see what was going on.

"Come out of that, it isn't allowed" commanded Ben, longing to do the
same thing, but mindful of the proprieties and his own dignity.

Bab reluctantly tore herself away to find consolation in watching the
young lions, who looked so like big puppies, and the tigers washing
their faces just as puss did.

"If I stroked 'em, wouldn't they purr?" she asked, bent on enjoying
herself, while Ben held her skirts lest she should try the experiment.

"You'd better not go to patting them, or you'll get your hands clawed
up. Tigers do purr like fun when they are happy, but these fellers never
are, and you'll only see 'em spit and snarl," said Ben, leading the way
to the humpy carrels, who were peacefully chewing their cud and longing
for the desert, with a dreamy, far-away look in their mournful eyes.

Here, leaning on the rope, and scientifically biting a straw while he
talked, Ben played showman to his heart's content till the neigh of a
horse from the circus tent beyond reminded him of the joys to come.

"We'd better hurry along and get good seats before folks begin to crowd.
I want to sit near the curtain and see if any of Smitthers's lot are
'round."

"I ain't going way off there; you can't see half so well, and that big
drum makes such a noise you can't hear yourself think," said Sam, who
had rejoined them.

So they settled in good places where they could see and hear all that
went on in the ring and still catch glimpses of white horses, bright
colors, and the glitter of helmets beyond the dingy red curtains. Ben
treated Bab to peanuts and pop-corn like an indulgent parent, and she
murmured protestations of undying gratitude with her mouth full, as she
sat blissfully between him and the congenial Billy.

Sancho, meantime, had been much excited by the familiar sights and
sounds, and now was greatly exercised in his doggish mind at the unusual
proceeding of his master; for he was sure that they ought to be within
there, putting on their costumes, ready to take their turn. He looked
anxiously at Ben, sniffed disdainfully at the strap as if to remind him
that a scarlet ribbon ought to take its place, and poked peanut shells
about with his paw as if searching for the letters with which to spell
his famous name.

"I know, old boy, I know; but it can't be done. We've quit the busin'ess
and must just look on. No larks for us this time, Sanch, so keep quiet
and behave,' whispered Ben, tucking the dog away under the seat with a
sympathetic cuddle of the curly head that peeped out from between his
feet.

"He wants to go and cut up, don't he?" said Billy, "and so do you, I
guess. Wish you were going to. Wouldn't it be fun to see Ben showing off
in there?"

"I'd be afraid to have him go up on a pile of elephants and jump through
hoops like these folks," answered Bab, poring over her pictured
play-bill with unabated relish.

"Done it a hundred times, and I'd just like to show you what I can do. 
They don't seem to have any boys in this lot; shouldn't wonder if they'd
take me if I asked 'em," said Ben, moving uneasily on his seat and
casting wistful glances toward the inner tent where he knew he would
feel more at home than in his present place.

"I heard some men say that it's against the law to have small boys now;
it's so dangerous and not good for them, this kind of thing. If that's
so, you're done for, Ben," observed Sam, with his most grown-up air,
remembering Ben's remarks on "fat boys."

"Don't believe a word of it, and Sanch and I could go this minute and
get taken on, I'll bet. We are a valuable couple, and I could prove it
if I chose to," began Ben, getting excited and boastful.

"Oh, see, they're coming! -- gold carriages and lovely horses, and flags
and elephants, and every thing," cried Bab, giving a clutch at Ben's arm
as the opening procession appeared headed by the band, tooting and
banging till their faces were as red as their uniforms.

Round and round they went till every one had seen their fill, then the
riders alone were left caracoling about the ring with feathers flying,
horses prancing, and performers looking as tired and indifferent as if
they would all like to go to sleep then and there.

"How splendid!" sighed Bab, as they went dashing out, to tumble off
almost before the horses stopped.

"That's nothing! You wait till you see the bareback riding and the
'acrobatic exercises,'" said Ben, quoting from the play-bill, with the
air of one who knew all about the feats to come, and could never be
surprised any more.

"What are 'crowbackic exercises'?" asked Billy, thirsting for
information.

"Leaping and climbing and tumbling; you'll see George! what a stunning
horse!" and Ben forgot every thing else to feast his eyes on the
handsome creature who now came pacing in to dance, upset and replace
chairs, kneel, bow, and perform many wonderful or graceful feats, ending
with a swift gallop while the rider sat in a chair on its back fanning
himself, with his legs crossed, as comfortably as you please.

"That, now, is something like," and Ben's eyes shone with admiration and
envy as the pair vanished, and the pink and silver acrobats came leaping
into the ring.

The boys were especially interested in this part, and well they might
be; for strength and agility are manly attributes which lads appreciate,
and these lively fellows flew about like India-rubber balls, each trying
to outdo the other, till the leader of the acrobats capped the climax by
turning a double somersault over five elephants standing side by side.

"There, Sir, how's that for a jump?" asked Ben, rubbing his hands with
satisfaction as his friends clapped till their palms tingled.

"We'll rig up a spring-board and try it," said Billy, fired with
emulation.

"Where'll you get your elephants?" asked Sam, scornfully. for gymnastics
were not in his line.

"You'll do for one," retorted Ben, and Billy and Bab joined in his laugh
so heartily that a rough-looking, man who sat behind them, hearing all
they said, pronounced them a "jolly set," and kept his eye on Sancho,
who now showed signs of insubordination.

"Hullo, that wasn't on the bill!" cried Ben, as a parti-colored clown
came in, followed by half a dozen dogs.

"I'm so glad; now Sancho will like it.  There's a poodle that might be
his ownty donty brother -- the one with the blue ribbon," said Bab.
beaming with delight as the dogs took their seats in the chairs arranged
for them.

Sancho did like it only too well, for be scrambled out from under the
seat in a great hurry to go and greet his friends; and, being sharply
checked, sat up and begged so piteously that Ben found it very hard to
refuse and order him down. He subsided for a moment, but when the black
spaniel, who acted the canine clown, did something funny and was
applauded, Sancho made a dart as if bent on leaping into the ring to
outdo his rival, and Ben was forced to box his ears and put his feet on
the poor beast, fearing he would be ordered out if he made any
disturbance.

Too well trained to rebel again, Sancho lay meditating on his wrongs
till the dog act was over, carefully abstaining from any further sign of
interest in their tricks, and only giving a sidelong glance at the two
little poodles who came out of a basket to run up and down stairs on
their fore-paws, dance jigs on their hind-legs, and play various pretty
pranks to the great delight of all the children in the audience. If ever
a dog expressed by look and attitude, "Pooh! I could do much better than
that, and astonish you all, if I were only allowed to," that dog was
Sancho, as he curled himself up and affected to turn his back on an
unappreciative world.

"It's too bad, when he knows motr than all those chaps put together. I'd
give any thing if I could show him off as I used to. Folks always like
it, and I was ever so proud of him. He's mad now because I had to cuff
him, and won't take any notice of me till I make up," said Ben,
regretfully eying his offended friend, but not daring to beg pardon yet.

More riding followed, and Bab was kept in a breathless state by the
marvellous agility and skill of the gauzy lady who drove four horses at
once, leaped through hoops, over banners and bars, sprang off and on at
full speed, and seemed to enjoy it all so much it was impossible to
believe that there could be any danger or exertion in it. Then two girls
flew about on the trapeze, and walked on a tight rope, causing Bab to
feel that she had at last found her sphere; for, young as she was, her
mother often said,

"I really don't know what this child is fit for, except mischief, like a
monkey."

"I'll fix the clothes-line when I get home, and show Ma how nice it is.
Then, may be, she'd let me wear red and gold trousers, and climb round
like these girls," thought the busy little brain, much excited by all it
saw on that memorable day.

Nothing short of a pyramid of elephants with a glittering gentleman in a
turban and top boots on the summit would have made her forget this new
and charming plan. But that astonishing spectacle, and the prospect of a
cage of Bengal tigers with a man among them, in imminent danger of being
eaten before her eyes, entirely absorbed her thoughts till, just as the
big animals went lumbering out, a peal of thunder caused considerable
commotion in the audience. Men on the highest seats popped their heads
through the openings in the tent-cover and reported that a heavy shower
was coming up. Anxious mothers began to collect their flocks of children
as hens do their chickens at sunset; timid people told cheerful stories
of tents blown over in gales, cages upset and wild beasts let loose.
Many left in haste, and the performers hurried to finish as soon as
possible.

"I'm going now before the crowd comes, so I can get a lift home. I see
two or three folks I know, so I'm off;" and, climbing hastily down, Sam
vanished without further ceremony.

"Better wait till the shower is over. We can go and see the animals
again, and get home all dry, just as well as not," observed Ben,
encouragingly, as Billy looked anxiously at the billowing canvas over his
head, the swaying posts before him, and heard the quick patter of drops
outside, not to mention the melancholy roar of the lion which sounded
rather awful through the sudden gloom which filled the strange place.

"I wouldn't miss the tigers for any thing. See, they are pulling in the
cart now, and the shiny man is all ready with his gun. Will he shoot any
of them, apprehension, for the sharp crack of a rifle startled her more
than the loudest thunder-clap she ever heard.

"Bless you, no, child; it 's only powder to make a noise and scare 'em. 
I wouldn't like to be in his place, though; father says you can never
trust tigers as you can lions, no matter how tame they are. Sly
fellers, like cats, and when they scratch it's no joke, I tell you,"
answered Ben, with a knowing wag of the head, as the sides of the cage
rattled down, and the poor, fierce creatures were seen leaping and
snarling as if they resented this display of their captivity.

Bab curled up her feet and winked fast with excitement as she watched
the "shiny man" fondle the great cats, lie down among them, pull open
their red mouths, and make them leap over him or crouch at his feet as
be snapped the long whip. When he fired the gun and they all fell as if
dead, she with difficulty suppressed a small scream and clapped her
hands over her ears; but poor Billy never minded it a bit, for he was
pale and quaking with the fear of "heaven's artillery" thundering
overhead, and as a bright flash of lightning seemed to run down the
tall tent-poles he hid his eyes and wished with all his heart that he
was safe with mother.

"Afraid of thunder, Bill?" asked Ben, trying to speak stoutly, while a
sense of his own responsibilities began to worry him, for how was Bab to
be got home in such a pouring rain?

"It makes me sick; always did.  Wish I hadn't come," sighed Billy,
feeling, all too late, that lemonade and "lozengers" were not the
fittest food for man, or a stifling tent the best place to be in on a
hot July day, especially in a thunder-storm.

"I didn't ask you to come; you asked me; so it isn't my fault," said
Ben, rather gruffly, as people crowded by without pausing to hear the
comic song the clown was singing in spite of the confusion.

"Oh, I'm so tired," groaned Bab, getting up with a long stretch of arms
and legs.

"You'll be tireder before you get home, I guess. Nobody asked you to
Come, any way;" and Ben gazed dolefully round him, wishing he could see
a familiar face or find a wiser head than his own to help him out of the
scrape he was in.

"I said I wouldn't be a bother, and I won't.  I'll walk right home this
minute. I ain't afraid of thunder, and the rain won't hurt these old
clothes. Come along," cried Bab, bravely, bent on keeping her word,
though it looked much harder after the fun was all over than before.

"My head aches like fury.  Don't I wish old Jack was here to take me
back," said Billy, following his companions in misfortune with sudden
energy, as a louder peal than before rolled overhead.

"You might as well wish for Lita and the covered wagon while you are
about it, then we could all ride," answered Ben, leading the way to the
outer tent, where many people were lingering in hopes of fair weather.

"Why, Billy Barton, how in the world did you get here?" cried a
surprised voice as the crook of a cane caught the boy by the collar and
jerked him face to face with a young farmer, who was pushing along,
followed by his, wife and two or three children.

"Oh, Uncle Eben, I'm so glad you found Me! I walked over, and it's
raining, and I don't feel well. Let me go with you, can't I?" asked
Billy, casting himself and all his woes upon the strong arm that had
laid hold of him.

"Don't see what your mother was about to let you come so far alone, and
you just over scarlet fever. We are as full as ever we can be, but we'll
tuck you in somehow," said the pleasant-faced woman, bundling up her
baby, and bidding the two little lads "keep close to father."

"I didn't come alone.  Sam got a ride, and can't you tuck Ben and Bab in
too? They ain't very big, either of them," whispered Billy, anxious to
serve his friends now that he was provided for himself.

"Can't do it, any way.  Got to pick up mother at the corner, and that
will be all I can carry. It's lifting a little; hurry along, Lizzie, and
let us get out of this as quick is possible," said Uncle Eben,
impatiently; for going to a circus with a young family is not an easy
task, as every one knows who has ever tried it.

"Ben, I'm real sorry there isn't room for you. I'll tell Bab's mother
where she is, and may be some one will come for you," said Billy,
hurriedly, as he tore himself away, feeling rather mean to desert the
others, though he could be of no use.

"Cut away, and don't mind us. I'm all right, and Bab must do the best
she can," was all Ben had time to answer before his comrade was hustled
away by the crowd pressing round the entrance with much clashing of
umbrellas and scrambling of boys and men, who rather enjoyed the flurry.

"No use for us to get knocked about in that scrimmage.  We'll wait a
minute and then go out easy. It's a regular rouser, and you'll be as wet
as a sop before we get home. Hope you'll like that?" added Ben, looking
out at the heavy rain poring down as if it never meant to stop.

"Don't care a bit," said Bab, swinging on one of the ropes with a
happy-go-lucky air, for her spirits were not extinguished yet, and she
was bound to enjoy this exciting holiday to the very end. "I like
circuses so much! I wish I lived here all the time, and slept in a
wagon, as you did, and had these dear little colties to play with."

"It wouldn't be fun if you didn't have any folks to take care of you,"
began Ben, thoughtfully looking about the familiar place where the men
were now feeding the animals, setting their refreshment tables, or
lounging on the hay to get such rest as they could before the evening
entertainment. Suddenly he started, gave a long look, then turned to
Bab, and thrusting Sancho's strap into her hand, said, hastily:

"I see a fellow I used to know. May be he can tell me something about
father. Don't you stir till I come back."

Then he was off like a shot, and Bab saw him run after a man with a
bucket who bad been watering the zebra. Sancho tried to follow, but was
checked with an impatient,--

"No, you can't go!  What a plague you are, tagging around when people
don't want you."

Sancho might have answered, "So are you," but, being a gentlemanly dog,
he sat down with a resigned expression to watch the little colts, who
were now awake and seemed ready for a game of bo-peep behind their
mammas. Bab enjoyed their funny little frisks so much that she tied the
wearisome strap to a post, and crept under the rope to pet the tiny
mouse-colored one who came and talked to her with baby whinnies and
confiding glances of its soft, dark eyes.

"Oh, luckless Bab! why did you turn your back? Oh, too accomplished
Sancho! why did you neatly untie that knot and trot away to confer with
the disreputable bull-dog who stood in the entrance beckoning with
friendly wavings of an abbreviated tail? Oh, much afflicted Ben! why did
you delay till it was too late to save your pet from the rough man who
set his foot upon the trailing strap, and led poor Sanch quickly out of
sight among the crowd?

"It was Bascum, but he didn't know any thing. Why, where's Sanch?" said
Ben, returning. A breathless voice made Bab turn to see Ben looking
about him with as much alarm in his hot face as if the dog had been a
two years' child.

"I tied him -- he's here somewhere -- with the ponies," stammered Bab, 
in sudden dismay, for no sign of a dog appeared as her eyes roved 
wildly to and fro.

Ben whistled, called and searched in vain, till one of the lounging men
said, lazily,

"If you are looking after the big poodle you'd better go outside; I saw
him trotting off with another dog."

Away rushed Ben, with Bab following, regardless of the rain, for both
felt that a great misfortune had befallen them. But, long before this,
Sancho had vanished, and no one minded his indignant howls as he was
driven off in a covered cart.

"If he is lost I'll never forgive you; never, never, never!" and Ben
found it impossible to resist giving Bab several hard shakes, which made
her yellow braids fly up and down like pump handles.

"I'm dreadful sorry. He'll come back -- you said he always did," pleaded
Bab, quite crushed by her own afflictions, and rather scared to see Ben
look so fierce, for he seldom lost his temper or was rough with the
little girls.

"If he doesn't come back, don't you speak to me for a year.  Now, I'm
going home." And, feeling that words were powerless to express his
emotions, Ben walked away, looking as grim as a small boy could.

A more unhappy little lass is seldom to be found than Bab was, as she
pattered after him, splashing recklessly through the puddles, and
getting as wet and muddy as possible, as a sort of penance for her sins.
For a mile or two she trudged stoutly along, while Ben marched before in
solemn silence, which soon became both impressive and oppressive because
so unnsual, and such a proof of his deep displeasure. Penitent Bab
longed for just one word, one sign of relenting; and when none came, she
began to wonder how she could possibly bear it if he kept his dreadful
threat and did not speak to her for a whole year.

But presently her own discomfort absorbed her, for her feet were wet and
cold as well as very tired; pop-corn and peanuts were not particularly
nourishing food; and hunger made her feel faint; excitement was a new
thing, and now that it was over she longed to lie down and go to sleep;
then the long walk with a circus at the end seemed a very different
affair from the homeward trip with a distracted mother awaiting her. The
shower had subsided into a dreary drizzle, a chilly east wind blew up,
the hilly road seemed to lengthen before the weary feet, and the mute,
blue flannel figure going on so fast with never a look or sound, added
the last touch to Bab's remorseful anguish.

Wagons passed, but all were full, and no one offered a ride. Men and
boys went by with rough jokes on the forlorn pair, for rain soon made
them look like young tramps. But there was no brave Sancho to resent the
impertinence, and this fact was sadly brought to both their minds by the
appearance of a great Newfoundland dog who came trotting after a
carriage. The good creature stopped to say a friendly word in his dumb
fashion, looking up at Bab with benevolent eyes, and poking his nose
into Ben's hand before he bounded away with his plumy tail curled over
his back.

Ben started as the cold nose touched his fingers, gave the soft head a
lingering pat, and watched the dog out of sight through a thicker mist
than any the rain made. But Bab broke down; for the wistful look of the
creature's eyes reminded her of lost Sancho, and she sobbed quietly as
she glanced back longing to see the dear old fellow jogging along in the
rear.

Ben heard the piteous sound and took a sly peep over his shoulder,
seeing such a mournful spectacle that he felt appeased, saying to
himself as if to excuse his late sternness, --

"She is a naughty girl, but I guess she is about sorry enough now.  When
we get to that sign-post I'll speak to her, only I won't forgive her
till Sanch comes back."

But he was better than his word; for, just before the post was reached,
Bab, blinded by tears, tripped over the root of a tree, and, rolling
down the bank, landed in a bed of wet nettles. Ben had her out in a
jiffy, and vainly tried to comfort her; but she was past any consolation
he could offer, and roared dismally as she wrung her tingling hands,
with great drops running over her cheeks almost as fast as the muddy
little rills ran down the road.

"Oh dear, oh dear! I'm all stinged up, and I want my supper; and my feet
ache, and I'm cold, and every thing is so horrid!" wailed the poor child
lying on the grass, such a miserable little wet bunch that the sternest
parent would have melted at the sight.

"Don't cry so, Babby; I was real cross, and I'm sorry.  I'll forgive you
right away now, and never shake you any more," cried Ben, so full of
pity for her tribulations that he forgot his own, like a generous little
man.

"Shake me again, if you want to; I know I was very bad to tag and lose
Sanch. I never will any more, and I'm so sorry, I don't know what to
do," answered Bab, completely bowed down by this magnanimity.

"Never mind; you just wipe up your face and come along, and we'll tell
Ma all about it, and she'll fix us as nice as can be. I shouldn't wonder
if Sanch got home now before we did," said Ben, cheering himself as well
as her by the fond hope.

"I don't believe I ever shall.  I'm so tired my legs won't go, and the
water in my boots makes them feel dreadfully. I wish that boy would
wheel me a piece. Don't you s'pose he would? asked Bab, wearily picking
herself up as a tall lad trundling a barrow came out of a yard near by.

"Hullo, Joslyn!" said Ben, recognizing the boy as one of the "hill
fellows" who came to town Saturday nights for play or business.

"Hullo, Brown!" responded the other, arresting his squeaking progress
with signs of surprise at the moist tableau before him.

"Where goin'?" asked Ben with masculine brevity.

"Got to carry this home, hang the old thing."

"Where to?"

"Batchelor's, down yonder," and the boy pointed to a farm-house at the
foot of the next hill.

"Goin' that way, take it right along."

"What for?" questioned the prudent youth, distrusting such unusual
neighborliness.

"She's tired, wants a ride; I'll leave it all right, true as I live and
breathe," explained Ben, half ashamed yet anxious to get his little
responsibility home as soon as possible, for mishaps seemed to thicken.

"Ho, you couldn't cart her all that way! she's most as heavy as a bag of
meal," jeered the taller lad, amused at the proposition.

"I'm stronger than most fellers of my size. Try, if I ain't," and Ben
squared off in such scientific style that Joslyn responded with sudden
amiability, --

"All right, let's see you do it."

Bab huddled into her new equipage without the least fear, and Ben
trundled her off at a good pace, while the boy retired to the shelter of
a barn to watch their progress, glad to be rid of an irksome errand.

At first, all went well, for the way was down hill, and the wheel
squeaked briskly round and round; Bab smiled gratefully upon her bearer,
and Ben "went in on his muscle with a will," as he expressed it. But
presently the road grew sandy, began to ascend, and the load seemed to
grow heavier with every step.

"I'll get out now.  It's real nice, but I guess I am too heavy," said
Bab, as the face before her got redder and redder, and the breath began
to come in puffs.

"Sit still. He said I couldn't.  I'm not going to give in with him
looking on," panted Ben, and he pushed gallantly up the rise, over the
grassy lawn to the side gate of the Batchelors' door-yard, with his head
down, teeth set, and every muscle of his slender body braced to the
task.

"Did ever ye see the like of that now?  Ah, ha!

    "The streets were so wide, and the lanes were so narry,
     He brought his wife home on a little wheelbarry,"

sung a voice with an accent which made Ben drop his load and push back
his hat, to see Pat's red head looking over the fence.

To have his enemy behold him then and there was the last bitter drop in
poor Ben's cup of humiliation. A shrill approving whistle from the hill
was some comfort, however, and gave him spirit to help Bab out with
composure, though his hands were blistered and he had hardly breath
enough to issue the Command, --

"Go along home, and don't mind him."

"Nice childer, ye are, runnin' off this way, settin' the women
distracted, and me wastin' me time comin' after ye when I'd be milkin'
airly so I'd get a bit of pleasure the day," grumbled Pat, coming up to
untie the Duke, whose Roman nose Ben had already recognized, as well as
the roomy chaise standing before the door.

"Did Billy tell you about us?" asked Bab, gladly following toward this
welcome refuge.

"Faith he did, and the Squire sent me to fetch ye home quiet and aisy. 
When ye found me, I'd jist stopped here to borry a light for me pipe. Up
wid ye, b'y, and not be wastin' me time stramashin' after a spalpeen
that I'd like to lay me whip over," said Pat, gruffly, as Ben came
along, having left the barrow in the shed.

"Don't you wish you could?  You needn't wait for me; I'll come when I'm
ready," answered Ben dodging round the chaise, bound not to mind Pat, if
he spent the night by the road-side in consequence.

"Bedad, and I won't then.  It's lively ye are; but four legs is better
than two, as ye'll find this night, me young man."

With that he whipped up and was off before Bab could say a word to
persuade Ben to humble himself for the sake of a ride. She lamented and
Pat chuckled, both forgetting what an agile monkey the boy was, and as
neither looked back, they were unaware Master Ben was hanging on behind
among the straps and springs, making derisive grimaces at his
unconscious foe through the little glass in the leathern back.

At the lodge gate Ben jumped down to run before with whoops of naughty
satisfaction, which brought the anxious waiters to the door in a flock;
so Pat could only shake his fist at the exulting little rascal as he
drove away, leaving the wanderers to be welcomed as warmly as if they
were a pair of model children.

Mrs. Moss had not been very much troubled after all; for Cy had told her
that Bab went after Ben, and Billy had lately reported her safe arrival
among them, so, mother-like, she fed, dried, and warmed the runaways,
before she scolded them.

Even then, the lecture was a mild one, for when they tried to tell the
adventures which to them seemed so exciting, not to say tragical, the
effect astonished them immensely, as their audience went into gales of
laughter, especially at the wheelbarrow episode, which Pat insisted on
telling, with grateful minuteness, to Ben's confusion. Thorny shouted,
and even tender-hearted Betty forgot her tears over the lost dog to
join in the familiar melody when Bab mimicked Pat's quotation from
Mother Goose.

"We must not laugh any more, or these naughty children will think they
have done something very clever in running away," said Miss Celia, when
the fun subsided, adding, soberly, "I am displeased, but I will say
nothing, for I think Ben is already punished enough."

"Guess I am," muttered Ben, with a choke in his voice as he glanced
toward the empty mat where a dear curly bunch used to be with a bright
eye twinkling out of the middle of it.



CHAPTER XV: BEN'S RIDE

Great was the mourning for Sancho, because his talents and virtues made
him universally admired and beloved. Miss Celia advertised, Thorny
offered rewards, and even surly Pat kept a sharp look-out for poodle
dogs when he went to market; but no Sancho or any trace of him appeared.
Ben was inconsolable, and sternly said it served Bab right when the
dogwood poison affected both face and hands. Poor Bab thought so, too,
and dared ask no sympathy from him, though Thorny eagerly prescribed
plantain leaves, and Betty kept her supplied with an endless succession
of them steeped in cream and pitying tears. This treatment was so
successful that the patient soon took her place in society as well as
ever, but for Ben's affliction there was no cure, and the boy really
suffered in his spirits.

"I don't think it's fair that I should have so much trouble, -- first
losing father and then Sanch. If it wasn't for Lita and Miss Celia, I
don't believe I could stand it," he said, one day, in a fit of despair,
about a week after the sad event.

"Oh, come now, don't give up so, old fellow.  We'll find him if he s
alive, and if he isn't I'll try and get you another as good," answered
Thorny, with a friendly slap on the shoulder, as Ben sat disconsolately
among the beans he had been hoeing.

"As if there ever could be another half as good!" cried Ben, indignant
at the idea; "or as if I'd ever try to fill his place with the best and
biggest dog that ever wagged a tail! No, sir, there's only one Sanch in
all the world, and if I can't have him I'll never have a dog again."

"Try some other sort of pet, then.  You may have any of mine you like. 
Have the peacocks; do now," urged Thorny, full of boyish sympathy and
good-will.

"They are dreadful pretty, but I don't seem to care about em, thank
you," replied the mourner.

"Have the rabbits, all of them," which was a handsome offer on Thorny's
part, for there were a dozen at least.

"They don't love a fellow as a dog does; all they care for is stuff to
eat and dirt to burrow in. I'm sick of rabbits." And well he might be,
for he had had the charge of them ever since they came, and any boy who
has ever kept bunnies knows what a care they are.

"So am I! Guess we'll have an auction and sell out.  Would Jack be a
comfort to you? If he will, you may have him. I'm so well now, I can
walk, or ride anything," added Thorny, in a burst of generosity.

"Jack couldn't be with me always, as Sanch was, and I couldn't keep him
if I had him."

Ben tried to be grateful, but nothing short of Lita would have healed
his wounded heart, and she was not Thorny's to give, or he would
probably have offered her to his afflicted friend.

"Well, no, you couldn't take Jack to bed with you, or keep him up in
your room, and I'm afraid he Would never learn to do any thing clever. I
do wish I had something you wanted, I'd so love to give it to you."

He spoke so heartily and was so kind that Ben looked up, feeling that he
had given him one of the sweetest things in the world -- friendship; he
wanted to tell him so, but did not know how to do it, so caught up his
hoe and fell to work, saying, in a tone Thorny understood better than
words, --

"You are real good to me -never mind, I won't worry about it; only it
seems extra hard coming so soon after the other--"

He stopped there, and a bright drop fell on the bean leaves, to shine
like dew till Ben saw clearly enough to bury it out of sight in a great
flurry.

"By Jove! I'll find that dog, if he is out of the ground. Keep your
spirits up, my lad, and we'll have the dear old fellow back yet."

With which cheering prophecy Thorny went off to rack his brains as to
what could be done about the matter.

Half an hour afterward, the sound of a hand-organ in the avenue roused
him from the brown study into which he had fallen as he lay on the newly
mown grass of the lawn. Peeping over the wall, Thorny reconnoitred, and,
finding the organ a good one, the man a pleasant-faced Italian, and the
monkey a lively animal, he ordered them all in, as a delicate attention
to Ben, for music and monkey together might suggest soothing memories of
the past, and so be a comfort.

In they came by way of the Lodge, escorted by Bab and Betty, full of
glee, for hand-organs were rare in those parts, and the children
delighted in them. Smiling till his white teeth shone and his black eyes
sparkled, the man played away while the monkey made his pathetic little
bows, and picked up the pennies Thorny threw him.

"It is warm, and you look tired.  Sit down and I'll get you Some
dinner," said the young master, pointing to the seat which now stood
near the great gate.

With thanks in broken English the man gladly obeyed, and Ben begged to
be allowed to make Jacko equally comfortable, explaining that he knew
all about monkeys and what they liked. So the poor thing was freed from
his cocked hat and uniform, fed with bread and milk, and allowed to curl
himself up in the cool grass for a nap, looking so like a tired littie
old man in a fur coat that the children were never weary of watching
him.

Meantime, Miss Celia had come out, and was talking Italian to Giacomo in
a way that delighted his homesick heart. She had been to Naples, and
could understand his longing for the lovely city of his birth, so they
had a little chat in the language which is all Music, and the good
fellow was so grateful that he played for the children to dance till
they were glad to stop, lingering afterward as if he hated to set out
again upon his lonely, dusty walk.

"I'd rather like to tramp round with him for a week or so.  Could make
enough to live on as easy as not, if I only I had Sanch to show off,"
said Ben, as he was coaxing Jacko into the suit which he detested. "You
go wid me, yes?" asked the man, nodding and smiling, well pleased at the
prospect of company, for his quick eye and what the boys let fall in
their talk showed him that Ben was not one of them.

If I had my dog I'd love to," and with sad eagerness Ben told the tale
of his loss, for the thought of it was never long out of his mind.

"I tink I see droll dog like he, way off in New York. He do leetle trick
wid letter, and dance, and go on he head, and many tings to make laugh,"
said the man, when he had listened to a list of Sanch's beauties and
accomplishments.

"Who had him?" asked Thorny, full of interest at once.

"A man I not know.  Cross fellow what beat him when he do letters bad."

"Did he spell his name?" cried Ben, breathlessly.

"No; that for why man beat him.  He name Generale, and he go spell
Sancho all times, and cry when whip fall on him. Ha! yes! that name true
one; not Generale?" and the man nodded, waved his hands, and showed his
teeth, almost as much excited as the boys.

"It's Sanch! let's go and get him now, right off! cried Ben, in a fever
to be gone.

"A hundred miles away, and no clue but this man's story?  We must wait a
little, Ben, and be sure before we set out," said Miss Celia, ready to
do almost any thing, but not so certain as the boys. "What sort of a
dog was it? A large, curly, white poodle, with a queer tail?" she asked
of Giacomo.

"No, Signorina mia, he no curly, no wite; he black, smooth dog, littel
tail, small, so;" and the man held up one brown finger with a gesture
which suggested a short, wagging tail.

"There, you see how mistaken we were.  Dogs are often named Sancho,
especially Spanish poodles; for the original Sancho was a Spaniard, you
know. This dog is not ours, and I'm so sorry."

The boys' faces had fallen dismally as their hope was destroyed; but Ben
would not give up. For him there was and could be only one Sancho in the
world, and his quick wits suggested an explanation which no one else
thought of.

"It may be my dog, -- they color 'em as we used to paint over trick
horses. I told you he was a valuable chap, and those that stole him hide
him that way, else he'd be no use, don't you see? because we'd know
him."

"But the black dog had no tail," began Thorny, longing to be convinced,
but still doubtful.

Ben shivered as if the mere thought hurt him, as he said, in a grim
tone, --

"They might have cut Sanch's off."

"Oh, no! no! they mustn't, -- they wouldn't! How Could any one be so
wicked?" cried Bab and Betty, horrified at the suggestion.

"You don't know what such fellows would do to make all safe, so they
could use a dog to earn their living for 'em," said Ben, with mysterious
significance, quite forgetting in his wrath that be had just proposed to
get his own living in that way himself.

"He no your dog?  Sorry I not find him for you. Addio, signorina! 
Grazia, signor! Buon giorno, buon giorno!" and, kissing his hand, the
Italian shouldered organ and monkey, ready to go.

Miss Celia detained him long enough to give him her address, and beg him
to let her know if he met poor Sanch in any of his wanderings; for such
itinerant showmen often cross each other's paths. Ben and Thorny walked
to the school-corner with him, getting more exact information about the
black dog and his owner, for they had no intention of giving it up so
soon.

That very evening, Thorny wrote to a boy cousin in New York, giving all
the particulars of the case, and begging him to hunt up the man,
investigate the dog, and see that the police made sure that every thing
was right. Much relieved by this performance, the boys waited anxiously
for a reply, and when it came found little comfort in it. Cousin Horace
had done his duty like a man, but regretted that he could only report a
failure. The owner of the black poodle was a suspicious character, but
told a straight story, how he had bought the dog from a stranger, and
exhibited him with success till he was stolen. Knew nothing of his
history, and was very sorry to lose him, for he was a remarkably clever
beast.

"I told my dog-man to look about for him, but he says he has probably
been killed, with ever so many more; so there is an end of it, and I
call it a mean shame."

"Good for Horace!  I told you he'd do it up thoroughly and see the end
of it," said Thorny, as he read that paragraph in the deeply interesting
letter.

"May be the end of that dog, but not of mine. I'll bet he ran away; and
if it was Sanch, he'll come home. You see if he doesn't!" cried Ben,
refusing to believe that all was over.

"A hundred wiles off? Oh, he couldn't find you without help, smart as he
is," answered Thorny, incredulously.

Ben looked discouraged, but Miss Celia cheered him up again by saying,--

"Yes, he could.  My father had a friend who left a little dog in Paris;
and the creature found her in Milan, and died of fatigue next day. That
was very wonderful, but true; and I've no doubt that if Sanch is alive
he will come home. Let us hope so, and be happy, while we wait."

"We will!" said the boys; and day after day looked for the wanderer's
return, kept a bone ready in the old place if he should arrive at night,
and shook his mat to keep it soft for his weary bones when he came. But
weeks passed, and still no Sanch.

Something else happened, however, so absorbing that he was almost
forgotten for a time; and Ben found a way to repay a part of all he owed
his best friend.

Miss Celia went off for a ride one afternoon, and an hour afterward, as
Ben sat in the porch reading, Lita dashed into the yard with the reins
dangling about her legs, the saddle turned round, and one side covered
with black mud, showing that she had been down. For a minute, Ben's
heart stood still; then he flung away his book, ran to the horse, and
saw at once by her heaving flanks, dilated nostrils, and wet coat, that
she must have come a long way and at full speed.

"She has had a fall, but isn't hurt or frightened," thought the boy, as
the pretty creature rubbed her nose against his shoulder, pawed the
ground, and champed her bit, as if she tried to tell him all about the
disaster, whatever it was.

"Lita, where's Miss Celia?" he asked, looking straight into the
intelligent eyes, which were troubled but not wild.

Lita threw up her head, and neighed loud and clear, as if she called her
mistress; and, turning, would have gone again if Ben had not caught the
reins and held her.

"All right, we'll find her;" and, pulling off the broken saddle, kicking
away his shoes, and ramming his hat firmly on, Ben was up like a flash,
tingling all over with a sense of power as he felt the bare back between
his knees, and caught the roll of Lita's eye as she looked round with an
air of satisfaction.

"Hi, there! Mrs. Moss! Something has happened to Miss Celia, and I'm
going to find her. Thorny is asleep; tell him easy, and I'll come back
as soon as I can!"

Then, giving Lita her head, he was off before the startled woman had
time to do more than wring her hands and cry out, --

"Go for the Squire! Oh, what shall we do?"

As if she knew exactly what was wanted of her, Lita went back the way
she had come, as Ben could see by the fresh, irregular tracks that cut
up the road where she had galloped for help. For a mile or more they
went, then she paused at a pair of bars, which were let down to allow
the carts to pass into the wide hay-fields beyond. On she went again,
cantering across the new-mown turf toward a brook, across which she had
evidently taken a leap before; for, on the further side, at a place
where cattle went to drink, the mud showed signs of a fall.

"You were a fool to try there; but where is Miss Celia?" said Ben, who
talked to animals as if they were people, and was understood much better
than any one not used to their companionship would imagine.

Now Lita seemed at a loss, and put her head down, as if she expected to
find her mistress where she had left her, somewhere on the ground. Ben
called, but there was no answer; and he rode slowly along the
brook-side, looking far and wide with anxious eyes.

"May be she wasn't hurt, and has gone to that house to wait," thought
the boy, pausing for a last survey of the great, sunny field, which had
no place of shelter in it but one rock on the other side of the little
stream. As his eye wandered over it, something dark seemed to blow out
from behind it, as if the wind played in the folds of a shirt, or a
human limb moved. Away went Lita, and in a moment Ben had found Miss
Celia, lying in the shadow of the rock, so white and motionless, he
feared that she was dead. He leaped down, touched her, spoke to her;
and, receiving no answer, rushed away to bring a little water in his
leaky hat to sprinkle in her face, as he had seen them do when any of
the riders got a fall in the circus, or fainted from exhaustion after
they left the ring, where "do or die" was the motto all adopted.

In a minute, the blue eyes opened, and she recognized the anxious face
bending over her, saying faintly, as she touched it, --

"My good little Ben, I knew you'd find me, -- I sent Lita for you, --
I'm so hurt, I couldn't come."

"Oh, where?  What shall I do?  Had I better run up to the house?" asked
Ben, overjoyed to hear her speak, but much dismayed by her seeming
helplessness, for he had seen bad falls, and had them, too.

"I feel bruised all over, and my arm is broken, I'm afraid.  Lita tried
not to hurt me. She slipped, and we went down. I came here into the
shade, and the pain made me faint, I suppose. Call somebody, and get me
home."

Then she shut her eyes, and looked so white that Ben hurried away, and
burst upon old Mrs. Paine, placidly knitting at the end door, so
suddenly that, as she afterward said, "It sca't her like a clap o'
thunder."

"Ain't a man nowheres around.  All down in the big medder gettin' in
hay," was her reply to Ben's breathless demand for "everybody to come
and see to Miss Celia."

He turned to mount, for he had flung himself off before Lita stopped,
but the old lady caught his jacket, and asked half a dozen questions in
a breath.

"Who's your folks?  What's broke? How'd she fall?  Where is she?  Why
didn't she come right here? Is it a sunstroke?"

As fast as words could tumble out of his mouth, Ben answered, and then
tried to free himself; but the old lady held on, while she gave her
directions, expressed her sympathy, and offered her hospitality with
incoherent warmth.

"Sakes alive! poor dear! Fetch her right in. Liddy, get out the
camphire; and, Melissy, you haul down a bed to lay her on. Falls is
dretful uncert'in things; shouldn't wonder if her back was broke.
Father's down yender, and he and Bijah will see to her. You go call 'em,
and I'll blow the horn to start 'em up. Tell her we'd be pleased to see
her, and it won't make a mite of trouble."

Ben heard no more, fur as Mrs. Paine turned to take down the tin horn he
was up and away.

Several long and dismal toots sent Lita galloping through the grassy
path as the sound of the trumpet excites a war-horse, and "father and
Bijah," alarmed by the signal at that hour, leaned on their rakes to
survey with wonder the distracted-looking little horseman approaching
like a whirlwind.

"Guess likely grandpa's had 'nother stroke.  Told 'em to send over soon
's ever it come," said the farmer, calmly.

"Shouldn't wonder ef suthing was afire some'r's," conjectured the hired
man, surveying the horizon for a cloud of smoke.

Instead of advancing to meet the messenger, both stood like statues in
blue overalls and red flannel shirts, till the boy arrived and told his
tale.

"Sho, that's bad," said the farmer, anxiously.

"That brook always was the darndest place," added Bijah; then both men
bestirred themselves helpfully, the former hurrying to Miss Cella while
the latter brought up the cart and made a bed of hay to lay her on.

"Now then, boy, you go for the doctor.  My own folks will see to the
lady, and she'd better keep quiet up yender till we see what the matter
is," said the farmer, when the pale girl was lifted in as carefully as
four strong arms could do it. "Hold on," he added, as Ben made one leap
to Lita's back. You'll have to go to Berryville. Dr. Mills is a master
hand for broken bones and old Dr. Babcock ain't. 'Tisn't but about three
miles from here to his house, and you'll fetch him 'fore there's any
harm done waitin'."

"Don't kill Lita," called Miss Celia from the cart, as it began to move.

But Ben did not hear her, for he was off across the fields, riding as if
life and death depended upon his speed.

"That boy will break his neck," said Mr. Paine, standing still to watch
horse and rider go over the wall as if bent on instant destruction.

"No fear for Ben, he can ride any thing, and Lita was trained to leap,"
answered Miss Celia, falling back on the hay with a groan, for she had
involuntarily raised her head to see her little squire dash away in
gallant style.

"I should hope so; regular jockey, that boy. Never see any thing like it
out of a race-ground," and Farmer Paine strode on, still following with
his eye the figures that went thundering over the bridge, up the hill,
out of sight, leaving a cloud of cloud of dust behind.

Now that his mistress was safe, Ben enjoyed that wild ride mightily, and
so did the bay mare; for Lita had good blood in her, and proved it that
day by doing her three miles in a wonderfully short time. People jogging
along in wagons and country carry-alls stared amazed as the reckless
pair went by. Women, placidly doing their afternoon sewing at the front
windows, dropped their needles to run out with exclamations of alarm,
sure some one was being run away with; children playing by the roadside
scattered like chickens before a hawk, as Ben passed with a warning
whoop, and baby-carriages were scrambled into door-yards with perilous
rapidity at his approach.

But when he clattered into town, intense interest was felt in this
barefooted boy on the foaming steed, and a dozen voices asked, "Who's
killed?" as he pulled up at the doctor's gate.

"Jest drove off that way; Mrs. Flynn's baby's in a fit," cried a stout
lady from the piazza, never ceasing to rock, though several passers-by
paused to hear the news, for she was a doctor's wife, and used to the
arrival of excited messengers from all quarters at all hours of the day
and night.

Deigning no reply to any one, Ben rode away, wishing he could leap a
yawning gulf, scale a precipice, or ford a raging torrent, to prove his
devotion to Miss Celia, and his skill in horsemanship. But no dangers
beset his path, and he found the doctor pausing to water his tired horse
at the very trough where Bab and Sancho had been discovered on that
ever-memorable day. The story was quickly told, and, promising to be
there as soon as possible, Dr. Mills drove on to relieve baby Flynn's
inner man, a little disturbed by a bit of soap and several buttons, upon
which he had privately lunched while his mamma was busy at the wash-tub.

Ben thanked his stars, as he had already done more than once, that he
knew how to take care of a horse; for he delayed by the watering-place
long enough to wash out Lita's mouth with a handful of wet grass, to let
her have one swallow to clear her dusty throat, and then went slowly
back over the breezy hills, patting and praising the good creature for
her intelligence and speed. She knew well enough that she had been a
clever little mare, and tossed her head, arched her glossy neck, and
ambled daintily along, as conscious and coquettish as a pretty woman,
looking round at her admiring rider to return his compliments by glance
of affection, and caressing sniffs of a velvet nose at his bare feet.

Miss Celia had been laid comfortably in bed by the farmer's wife and
daughter; and, when the doctor arrived, bore the setting of her arm
bravely. No other serious damage appeared, and bruises soon heal, so Ben
was sent home to comfort Thorny with a good report, and ask the Squire
to drive up in his big carry-all for her the next day, if she was able
to be moved.

Mrs. Moss had been wise enough to say nothing, but quietly made what
preparations she could, and waited for tidings. Bab and Betty were away
berrying, so no one had alarmed Thorny, and he had his afternoon nap in
peace, -- an unusually long one, owing to the stillness which prevailed
in the absence of the children; and when he awoke he lay reading for a
while before he began to wonder where every one was. Lounging out to
see, he found Ben and Lita reposing side by side on the fresh straw in
the loose box, which had been made for her in the coach-house. By the
pails, sponges and curry-combs lying about, it was evident that she had
been refreshed by a careful washing and rubbing down, and my lady was
now luxuriously resting after her labors, with her devoted groom half
asleep close by.

"Well, of all queer boys you are the queerest, to spend this hot
afternoon fussing over Lita, just for the fun of it!" cried Thorny,
looking in at them with much amusement.

"If you knew what we'd been doing, you'd think I ought to fuss over her,
and both of us had a right to rest!" answered Ben, rousing up as bright
as a button; for he longed to tell his thrilling tale, and had with
difficulty been restrained from bursting in on Thorny as soon as he
arrived.

He made short work of the story, but was quite satisfied with the
sensation it produced; for his listener was startled, relieved, excited
and charmed, in such rapid succession, that he was obliged to sit upon
the meal-chest and get his breath before he Could exclaim, with an
emphatic demonstration of his heels against the bin,--

"Ben Brown, I'll never forget what you've done for Celia this day, or
say 'bow-legs' again as long as I live

"George! I felt as if I had six legs when we were going the pace. We
were all one piece, and had a jolly spin, didn't we, my beauty?" and Ben
chuckled as he took Lita's head in his lap, while she answered with a
gusty sigh that nearly blew him away.

Like the fellow that brought the good news from Ghent to Aix," said
Thorny, surveying the recumbent pair with great admiration.

"What follow?" asked Ben, wondering if he didn't mean Sheridan, of whose
ride he had heard.

"Don't you know that piece? I spoke it at school. Give it to you now;
see if it isn't a rouser."

And, glad to find a vent from his excitement, Thorny mounted the
meal-chest, to thunder out that stirring ballad with such spirit that
Lita pricked up her ears and Ben gave a shrill "Hooray!" as the last
verse ended.

"And all I remember is friends flocking round, As I sat with his head
'twixt my knees on the ground, And no voice but was praising this Roland
of mine, As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine, Which
(the burgesses voted by common consent) Was no more than his due who
brought good news from Ghent."



CHAPTER XVI: DETECTIVE THORNTON

A few days later, Miss Celia was able to go about with her arm in a
sling, pale still, and rather stiff, but so much better than any one
expected, that all agreed Mr. Paine was right in pronouncing Dr. Mills
"a master hand with broken bones." Two devoted little maids waited on
her, two eager pages stood ready to run her errands, and friendly
neighbors sent in delicacies enough to keep these four young persons
busily employed in disposing of them.

Every afternoon the great bamboo lounging chair was brought out and the
interesting invalid conducted to it by stout Randa, who was head nurse,
and followed by a train of shawl, cushion, foot-stool and book bearers,
who buzzed about like swarming bees round a new queen. When all were
settled, the little maids sewed and the pages read aloud, with much
conversation by the way; for one of the rules was, that all should
listen attentively, and if any one did not understand what was read, he
or she should ask to have it explained on the spot. Whoever could answer
was invited to do so, and at the end of the reading Miss Celia could ask
any she liked, or add any explanations which seemed necessary. In this
way much pleasure and profit was extracted from the tales Ben and Thorny
read, and much unexpected knowledge as well as ignorance displayed, not
to mention piles of neatly hemmed towels for which Bab and Betty were
paid like regular sewing-women.

So vacation was not all play, and the girls found their picnics, berry
parties, and "goin' a visitin'," all the more agreeable for the quiet
hour spent with Miss Celia. Thorny had improved wonderfully, and was
getting to be quite energetic, especially since his sister's accident;
for while she was laid up he was the head of the house, and much enjoyed
his promotion. But Ben did not seem to flourish as he had done at first.
The loss of Sancho preyed upon him sadly, and the longing to go and find
his dog grew into such a strong temptation that he could hardly resist
it. He said little about it; but now, and then a word escaped him which
might have enlightened any one who chanced to be watching him. No one
was, just then, so he brooded over this fancy, day by day, in silence
and solitude, for there was no riding and driving now. Thorny was busy
with his sister trying to show her that he remembered how good she had
been to him when he was ill, and the little girls had their own affairs.

Miss Celia was the first to observe the change, having nothing to do but
lie on the sofa and amuse herself by seeing others work or play. Ben was
bright enough at the readings, because theyn he forgot his troubles; but
when they were over and his various duties done, he went to his own room
or sought consolation with Lita, being sober and quiet, and quite unlike
the merr monkey all knew and liked so well.

"Thorny, what is the matter with Ben?" asked Miss Celia, one day, when
she and her brother were alone in the "green parlor," as they called the
lilac-tree walk.

"Fretting about Sanch, I suppose.  I declare I wish that dog had never
been born! Losing him has just spoilt Ben. Not a bit of fun left in him,
and he won't have any thing I offer to cheer him up."

Thorny spoke impatiently, and knit his brows over the pressed flowers he
was neatly gumming into his herbal.

"I wonder if he has any thing on his mind? He acts as if he was hiding a
trouble he didn't dare to tell. Have you talked with him about it?"
asked Miss Celia, looking as if she was hiding a trouble she did not
like to tell.

"Oh, yes, I poke him up now and then, but he gets peppery, so I let him
alone. May be he is longing for his old circus again. Shouldn't blame
him much if he was; it isn't very lively here, and he's used to
excitement, you know."

"I hope it isn't that.  Do you think he would slip away without telling
us, and go back to the old life again? "Don't believe he would. Ben
isn't a bit of a sneak; that's why I like him."

"Have you ever found him sly or untrue in any way?" asked Miss Celia,
lowering her voice.

"No; he's as fair and square a fellow as I ever saw. Little bit low, now
and then, but he doesn't mean it, and wants to be a gentleman, only he
never lived with one before, and it's all new to him. I'll get him
polished up after a while."

"Oh, Thorny, there are three peacocks on the place, and you are the
finest!" laughed Miss Celia, as her brother spoke in his most
condescending way with a lift of the eyebrows very droll to see.

"And two donkeys, and Ben's the biggest, not to know when he is well off
and happy!" retorted the "gentleman," slapping a dried specimen on the
page as if he were pounding discontented Ben.

"Come here and let me tell you something which worries me. I would not
breathe it to another soul, but I feel rather helpless, and I dare say
you can manage the matter better than I."

Looking much mystified, Thorny went and sat on the stool at his sister's
feet, while she whispered confidentially in his ear: "I've lost some
money out of my drawer, and I'm so afraid Ben took it."

"But it's always locked up and you keep the keys of the drawer and the
little room?"

"It is gone, nevertheless, and I've had my keys safe all the time."

"But why think it is he any more than Randa, or Katy, or me?"

"Because I trust you three as I do myself. I've known the girls for
years, and you have no object in taking it since all I have is yours,
dear."

"And all mine is yours, of course. But, Celia, how could he do it?  He
can't pick locks, I know, for we fussed over my desk together, and had
to break it after all."

"I never really thought it possible till to-day when you were playing
ball and it went in at the upper window, and Ben climbed up the porch
after it; you remember you said, 'If it had gone in at the garret gable
you couldn't have done that so well; ' and he answered, 'Yes, I could,
there isn't a spout I can't shin up, or a bit of this roof I haven't
been over.'"

"So he did; but there is no spout near the little room window."

"There is a tree, and such an agile boy as Ben could swing in and out
easily. Now, Thorny, I hate to think this of him, but it has happened
twice, and for his own sake I must stop it. If he is planning to run
away, money is a good thing to have. And he may feel that it is his own;
for you know he asked me to put his wages in the bank, and I did. He may
not like to come to me for that, because he can give no good reason for
wanting it. I'm so troubled I really don't know what to do."

She looked troubled, and Thorny put his arms about her as if to keep all
worries but his own away from her.

"Don't you fret, Cely, dear; you leave it to me. I'll fix him -
ungrateful little scamp!"

"That is not the way to begin.  I am afraid you will make him angry and
hurt his feelings, and then we can do nothing."

"Bother his feelings! I shall just say, calmly and coolly: 'Now, look
here, Ben, hand over the money you took out of my sister's drawer, and
we'll let you off easy,' or something like that."

"It wouldn't do, Thorny; his temper would be up in a minute, and away he
would go before we could find out whether he was guilty or not. I wish I
knew how to manage."

Let me think," and Thorny leaned his chin on the arm of the chair,
staring hard at the knocker as if he expected the lion's mouth to open
with words of counsel then and there.

"By Jove, I do believe Ben took it!" he broke out suddenly; "for when I
went to his room this morning to see why he didn't come and do my boots,
he shut the drawer in his bureau as quick as a flash, and looked red and
queer, for I didn't knock, and sort of startled him."

"He wouldn't be likely to put stolen money there. Ben is too wise for
that."

"He wouldn't keep it there, but he might be looking at it and pitch it
in when I called. He's hardly spoken to me since, and when I asked him
what his flag was at half-mast for, he wouldn't answer. Besides, you
know in the reading this afternoon he didn't listen, and when you asked
what he was thinking about, he colored up and muttered something about
Sanch. I tell you, Celia, it looks bad -- very bad," and Thorny shook
his head with a wise air.

"It does, and yet we may be all wrong. Let us wait a little and give the
poor boy a chance to clear himself before we speak. I'd rather lose my
money than suspect him falsely."

"How much was it?"

"Eleven dollars; a one went first, and I supposed I'd miscalculated
somewhere when I took some out; but when I missed a ten, I felt that I
ought not to let it pass."

"Look here, sister, you just put the case into my hands and let me work
it up. I won't say any thing to Ben till you give the word; but I'll
watch him, and now that my eyes are open, it won't be easy to deceive
me."

Thorny was evidently pleased with the new play of detective, and
intended to distinguish himself in that line; but when Miss Celia asked
how he meant to begin, he could only respond with a blank expression:
"Don't know! You give me the keys and leave a bill or two in the drawer,
and may be I can find him out somehow."

So the keys were given, and the little dressing-room where the old
secretary stood was closely watched for a day or two. Ben cheered up a
trifle which looked as if he knew an eye was upon him, but otherwise he
went on as usual, and Miss Celia feeling a little guilty at even
harboring a suspicion of him, was kind and patient with his moods.
Thorny was very funny in the unnecessary mystery and fuss he made; his
affectation of careless indifference to Ben's movements and his clumsy
attempts to watch every one of them; his dodgings up and down stairs,
ostentatious clanking of keys, and the elaborate traps he set to catch
his thief, such as throwing his ball in at the dressing-room window and
sending Ben up the tree to get it, which he did, thereby proving beyond
a doubt that he alone could have taken the money, Thorny thought.
Another deep discovery was, that the old drawer was so shrunken that the
lock could be pressed down by slipping a knife-blade between the hasp
and socket.

"Now it is as clear as day, and you'd better let me speak," he said,
full of pride as well as regret at this triumphant success of his first
attempt as a detective.

"Not yet, and you need do nothing more.  I'm afraid it was a mistake of
mine to let you do this; and if it has spoiled your friendship with Ben,
I shall be very sorry; for I do not think he is guilty," answered Miss
Celia.

"Why not?" and Thorny looked annoyed.

"I've watched also, and he doesn't act like a deceitful boy.  To-day I
asked him if he wanted any money, or should I put what I owe him with
the rest, and he looked me straight in the face with such honest,
grateful eyes, I could not doubt him when he said 'Keep it, please, I
don't need any thing here, you are all so good to me.'"

"Now, Celia, don't you be soft-hearted.  He's a sly little dog, and
knows my eye is on him. When I asked him what he saw in the
dressing-room, after he brought out the ball, and looked sharply at him,
he laughed, and said 'Only a mouse,' as saucy as you please."

"Do set the trap there, I heard the mouse nibbling last night, and it
kept me awake. We must have a cat or we shall be overrun."

"Well, shall I give Ben a good blowing up, or will you?" asked Thorny,
scorning such poor prey as mice, and bound to prove that he was in the
right.

"I'll let you know what I have decided in the morning. Be kind to Ben,
meantime, or I shall feel as if I had done you harm by letting you watch
him."

So it was left for that day, and by the next, Miss Celia had made up her
mind to speak to Ben. She was just going down to breakfast when the
sound of loud voices made her pause and listen. It came from Ben's room,
where the two boys seemed to be disputing about something.

"I hope Thorny has kept his promise," she thought, and hurried through
the back entry, fearing a general explosion.

Ben's chamber was at the end, and she could see and hear what was going
on before she was near enough to interfere. Ben stood against his closet
door looking as fierce and red as a turkey-cock; Thorny sternly
confronted him, saying in an excited tone, and with a threatening
gesture: "You are hiding something in there, and you can't deny it."

"I don't."

"Better not; I insist on seeing it."

"Well, you won't."

"What have you been stealing now?"

"Didn't steal it, -- used to be mine, -- I only took it when I wanted
it."

"I know what that means.  You'd better give it back or I'll make you."

"Stop!" cried a third voice, as Thorny put out his arm to clutch Ben,
who looked ready to defend himself to the last gasp, "Boys, I will
settle this affair. Is there anything hidden in the closet, Ben?" and
Miss Celia came between the belligerent parties with her one hand up to
part them.

Thorny fell back at once, looking half ashamed of his heat, and Ben
briefly answered, with a gulp as if shame or anger made it hard to speak
steadily:

"Yes 'm, there is."

"Does it belong to you?"

"Yes 'm, it does."

"Where did you get it?"

"Up to Squire's."

"That's a lie!" muttered Thorny to himself.

Ben's eye flashed, and his fist doubled up in spite of him, but he
restrained himself out of respect for Miss Celia, who looked puzzled, as
she asked another question, not quite wure how to proceed with the
investigation: "Is it money, Ben?"

"No 'm, it isn't."

"Then what can it be?"

"Meow!" answered a fourth voice from the closet; and as Ben flung open
the door a gray kitten walked out, purring with satisfaction at her
release.

Miss Celia fell into a chair and laughed till her eyes were full; Thorny
looked foolish, and Ben folded his arms, curled up his nose, and
regarded his accuser with calm defiance, while pussy sat down to wash
her face as if her morning toilette had been interrupted by her sudden
abduction.

"That's all very well, but it doesn't mend matters much, so you needn't
laugh, Celia," began Thorny, recovering himself, and stubbornly bent on
sifting the case to the bottom, now he had begun.

"Well, it would, if you'd let a feller alone.  She said she wanted a
cat, so I went and got the one they gave me when I was at the Squire's.
I went early and took her without asking, and I had a right to,"
explained Ben, much aggrieved by having his surprise spoiled.

"It was very kind of you, and I'm glad to have this nice kitty. We will
shut her up in my room to catch the mice that plague me," said Miss
Celia, picking up the little cat, and wondering how she would get her
two angry boys safely down stairs.

"The dressing-room, she means; you know the way, and you don't need keys
to get in," added Thorny, with such sarcastic emphasis that Ben felt
some insult was intended, and promptly resented it.

"You won't get me to climb any more trees after your balls, and my cat
won't catch any of your mice, so you needn't ask me."

"Cats don't catch thieves, and they are what I'm after!"

"What do you mean by that?" fiercely demanded Ben.

"Celia has lost some money out of her drawer, and you won't let me see
what's in yours; So I thought, perhaps, you'd got it!" blurted out
Thorny, finding it hard to say the words, angry as he was, for the face
opposite did not look like a guilty one.

For a minute, Ben did not seem to understand him, plainly as he spoke;
then he turned an angry scarlet, and, with a reproachful glance at his
mistress, opened the little drawer so that both could see all that it
contained.

"They ain't any thing; but I'm fond of 'em they are all I've got -- I
was afraid he'd laugh at me that time, so I wouldn't let him look -- it
was father's birthday, and I felt bad about him and Sanch -- " Ben's
indignant voice got more and more indistinct as he stumbled on, and
broke down over the last words. He did not cry, however. but threw back
his little treasures as if half their sacredness was gone; and, making a
strong effort at self-control, faced around, asking of Miss Celia, with
a grieved look,

"Did you think I'd steal anything of yours?"

"I tried not to, Ben, but what could I do? It was gone, and you the only
stranger about the place."

"Wasn't there any one to think bad of but me? he said, so sorrowfully
that Miss Celia made up her mind on the spot that he was as innocent of
the theft as the kitten now biting her buttons, no other refreshment
being offered.

"Nobody, for I know my girls well.  Yet, eleven dollars are gone, and I
cannot imagine where or how for both drawer and door are always locked,
because my papers and valuables are in that room."

"What a lot! But how could I get it if it was locked up?" and Ben looked
as if that question was unanswerable.

"Folks that can climb in at windows for a ball, can go the same way for
money, and get it easy enough when they've only to pry open an old
lock!"

Thorny's look and tone seemed to make plain to Ben all that they had
been suspecting, and, being innocent, he was too perplexed and unhappy
to defend himself. His eye went from one to the other, and, seeing doubt
in both faces, his boyish heart sunk within him; for he could prove
nothing, and his first impulse was to go away at once.

"I can't say any thing, only that I didn't take the money.  You won't
believe it, so I'd better go back where I come from. They weren't so
kind, but they trusted me, and knew I wouldn't steal a cent. You may
keep my money, and the kitty, too; I don't want 'em," and, snatching up
his hat, Ben would gone straight away, if Thorny had not barred his
passage.

"Come, now, don't be mad.  Let's talk it over, and if I 'm wrong I'll
take it all back and ask your pardon," he said, in a friendly tone,
rather scared at the consequences of his first attempt, though as sure
as ever that he was right.

"It would break my heart to have you go in that way, Ben.  Stay at least
till your innocence is proved, then no one can doubt what you say now."

"Don't see how it can be proved," answered Ben, appeased by her evident
desire to trust him.

"We'll try as well as we know how, and the first thing we will do is to
give that old secretary a good rummage from top to bottom. I've done it
once, but it is just possible that the bills may have slipped out of
sight. Come, now, I can't rest till I've done all I can to comfort you
and convince Thorny." Miss Celia rose as she spoke, and led the way to
the dressing-room, which had no outlet except through her chamber. Still
holding his hat, Ben followed with a troubled face, and Thorny brought
up the rear, doggedly determined to keep his eye on "the little scamp"
till the matter was satisfactorily cleared up. Miss Celia had made her
proposal more to soothe the feelings of one boy and to employ the
superfluous energies of the other, than in the expectation of throwing
any light upon the mystery; for she was sadly puzzled by Ben's manner,
and much regretted that she had let her brother meddle in the matter.

"There," she said, unlocking the door with the key Thorny reluctantly
gave up to her, "this is the room and that is the drawer on the right.
The lower ones have seldom been opened since we came, and hold only some
of papa's old books. Those upper ones you may turn out and investigate
as much as you-- Bless me! here 's something in your trap," Thorny and
Miss Celia gave a little skip as she nearly trod on a long, gray tall,
which hung out of the bole now filled by a plump mouse.

But her brother was intent on more serious things, and merely pushed the
trap aside as he pulled out the drawer with an excited gesture, which
sent it and all its contents clattering to the floor.

"Confound the old thing! It always stuck so I had to give a jerk.  Now,
there it is, topsy-turvy," and Thorny looked Much disgusted at his own
awkwardness.

"No harm done; I left nothing of value in it. Look back there, Ben, and
see if there is room for a paper to get worked over the top of the
drawer. I felt quite a crack, but I don't believe it is possible for
things to slip out; the place was never full enough to overflow in any
way."

Miss Celia spoke to Ben, who was kneeling down to pick up the scattered
papers, among which were two marked dollar bills, -- Thorny's bait for
the thief. Ben looked into the dusty recess, and then put in his hand,
saying carelessly, -

"There's nothing but a bit of red stuff."

"My old pen-wiper -- Why, what's the matter?" asked Miss Celia, as Ben
dropped the handful Of what looked like rubbish.

"Something warm and wiggly inside of it," answered Ben, stooping to
examine the contents of the little scarlet bundle. "Baby mice! Ain't
they funny? Look just like mites of young pigs. We'll have to kill 'em
if you've caught their mamma," he said, forgetting his own trials in
boyish curiosity about his "find."

Miss Celia stooped also, and gently poked the red cradle with her
finger; for the tiny mice were nestling deeper into the fluff with small
squeals of alarm. Suddenly she cried out: "Boys, boys, I've found the
thief! Look here; pull out these bits and see if they won't make up my
lost bills."

Down went the motherless babies as four ruthless hands pulled apart
their cosey nest, and there, among the nibbled fragments, appeared
enough finely printed, greenish paper, to piece out parts of two bank
bills. A large cypher and part of a figure one were visible, and that
accounted for the ten; but though there were other bits, no figures
could be found, and they were willing to take the other bill on trust.

"Now, then, am I a thief and a liar?" demanded Ben, pointing proudly to
the tell-tale letters spread forth on the table, over which all three
had been eagerly bending.

"No; I beg your pardon, and I'm very sorry that we didn't look more
carefully before we spoke, then we all should have been spared this
pain."

"All right, old fellow, forgive and forget.  I'll never think hard of
you again, -- on my honor I won't."

As they spoke, Miss Celia and her brother held out their hands frankly
and heartily. Ben shook both, but with a difference; for he pressed the
soft one gratefully, remembering that its owner had always been good to
him; but the brown paw he gripped with a vengeful squeeze that made
Thorny pull it away in a hurry, exclaiming, good-naturedly, in spite of
both physical and mental discomfort, --

"Come, Ben, don't you bear malice; for you've got the laugh on your
side, and we feel pretty small. I do, any way; for, after my fidgets,
all I've caught is a mouse!"

"And her family.  I'm so relieved I'm almost sorry the poor little
mother is dead -- she and her babies were so happy in the old
pen-wiper," said Miss Celia, hastening to speak merrily, for Ben still
looked indignant, and she was much grieved at what had happened.

"A pretty expensive house," began Thorny, looking about for the
interesting orphans, who had been left on the floor while their
paper-hangings were examined.

No further anxiety need be felt for them, however; Kitty had come upon
the scene, and as judge, jury, and prisoner, turned to find the little
witnesses, they beheld the last pink mite going down Pussy's throat in
one mouthful.

"I call that summary justice, -- the whole family executed on the spot!
Give Kit the mouse also, and let us go to breakfast. I feel as if I had
found my appetite, now this worry is off my mind," said Miss Celia,
laughing so infectiously that Ben had to join in spite of himself, as
she took his arm and led him away with a look which mutely asked his
pardon over again.

"Rather lively for a funeral procession," said Thorny, following with
the trap in his hand and Puss at his heels, adding, to comfort his pride
as a detective:

"Well, I said I'd catch the thief, and I have, though it is rather a
small one!"



CHAPTER XVII: BETTY'S BRAVERY

"Celia, I've a notion that we ought to give Ben something.  A sort of
peace-offering, you know; for he feels dreadfully hurt about our
suspecting him," said Thorny, at dinner that day.

"I see he does, though he tries to seem as bright and pleasant as ever.
I do not wonder, and I've been thinking what I could do to soothe his
feelings. Can you suggest any thing? "

"Cuff-buttons.  I saw some jolly ones over at Berryville, oxidized
silver, with dogs' heads on them, yellow eyes, and all as natural as
could be. Those, now, would just suit him for his go-to-meeting white
shirts, -- neat, appropriate, and in memoriam."

Miss Celia could not help laughing, it was such a boyish suggestion; but
she agreed to it, thinking Thorny knew best, and hoping the yellow-eyed
dogs would be as balm to Ben's wounds.

"Well, dear, you may give those, and Lita shall give the little whip
with a horse's foot for a handle, if it is not gone. I saw it at the
harness shop in town; and Ben admired it so much that I planned to give
it to him on his birthday."

"That will tickle him immensely; and if you'd just let him put brown
tops to my old boots, and stick a cockade in his hat when he sits up
behind the phaeton, he'd be a happy fellow," laughed Thorny, who had
discovered that one of Ben's ambitions was to be a tip-top groom."

"No, thank you; those things are out of place in America, and would be
absurd in a small country place like this. His blue suit and straw hat
please me better for a boy; though a nicer little groom, in livery or
out, no one could desire, and you may tell him I said so."

"I will, and he'll look as proud as punch; for he thinks every word you
say worth a dozen from any one else. But won't you give him something?
Just some little trifle, to show that we are both eating humble pie,
feeling sorry about the mouse money."

"I shall give him a set of school-books, and try to get him ready to
begin when vacation is over. An education is the best present we can
make him; and I want you to help me fit him to enter as well is he can.
Bab and Betty began, little dears, -- lent him their books and taught
all they knew; so Ben got a taste, and, with the right encouragement,
would like to go on, I am sure."

"That's so like you Celia!  Always thinking of the best thing and doing
it handsomely. I'll help like a house a-fire, if he will let me; but,
all day, he's been as stiff as a poker, so I don't believe he forgives
me a bit."

"He will in time, and if you are kind and patient, he will be glad to
have you help him. I shall make it a sort of favor to me on his part, to
let you see to his lessons, now and then. It will be quite true, for I
don't want you to touch your Latin or algebra till cool weather;
teaching him will be play to you."

Miss Celia's last words made her brother unbend his brows, for he longed
to get at his books again, and the idea of being tutor to his
"man-servant" did not altogether suit him.

"I'll tool him along at a great pace, if he will only go. Geography and
arithmetic shall be my share, and you may have the writing and spelling;
it gives me the fidgets to set copies', and hear children make a mess of
words. Shall I get the books when I buy the other things? Can I go this
afternoon?"

"Yes, here is the list; Bab gave it to me.  You can go if you will come
home early and have your tooth filled."

Gloom fell at once upon Thorny's beaming face, and he gave such a shrill
whistle that his sister jumped in her chair, as she added, persuasively,--

"It won't hurt a bit, now, and the longer you leave it the worse it will
be. Dr. Mann is ready at any time; and, once over, you will be at peace
for months. Come, my hero, give your orders, and take one of the girls
to support you in the trying hour. Have Bab; she will enjoy it, and
amuse you with her chatter."

"As if I needed girls round for such a trifle as that!" returned Thorny
with a shrug, though he groaned inwardly at the prospect before him, as
most of us do on such occasions. "I wouldn't take Bab at any price;
she'd only get into some scrape, and upset the whole plan. Betty is the
chicken for me, -- a real little lady, and as nice and purry as a
kitten."

"Very well; ask her mother, and take good care of her.  Let her tuck her
dolly in, and she will be contented anywhere. There's a fine air, and
the awning is on the phaeton, so you won't feel the sun. Start about
three, and drive carefully."

Betty was charmed to go, for Thorny was a sort of prince in her eyes;
and to be invited to such a grand expedition was an overwhelming honor.
Bab was not surprised, for, since Sancho's loss, she had felt herself in
disgrace, and been unusually meek; Ben let her "severely alone," which
much afflicted her, for he was her great admiration, and had been
pleased to express his approbation of her agility and courage so often,
that she was ready to attempt any fool-hardy feat to recover his regard.
But vainly did she risk her neck jumping off the highest beams in the
barn, trying to keep her balance standing on the donkey's back, and
leaping the lodge gate at a bound; Ben vouchsafed no reward by a look, a
smile, a word of commendation; and Bab felt that nothing but Sancho's
return would ever restore the broken friendship.

Into faithful Betty's bosom did she pour forth her remorseful
lamentations, often bursting out with the passionate exclamation, "If I
could only find Sanch, and give him back to Ben, I wouldn't care if I
tumbled down and broke all my legs right away!" Such abandonment of woe
made a deep impression on Betty; and she fell into the way of consoling
her sister by cheerful prophecies, and a firm belief that the organ-man
would yet appear with the lost darling.

"I've got five cents of my berry money, and I'll buy you an orange if I
see any," promised Betty stepping to kiss Bab, as the phaeton came to
the door, and Thorny handed in a young lady whose white frock was so
stiff with starch that it crackled like paper.

"Lemons will do if oranges are gone.  I like 'em to suck with lots of
sugar," answered Bab, feeling that the sour sadly predominated in her
cup just now.

"Don't she look sweet, the dear!" murmured Mrs. Moss, proudly surveying
her youngest.

She certainly did, sitting under the fringed canopy with "Belinda," all
in her best, upon her lap, as she turned to smile and nod, with a face
so bright and winsome under the little blue hat, that it was no wonder
mother and sister thought there never was such a perfect child as "our
Betty."

Dr. Mann was busy when they arrived, but would be ready in an hour; so
they did their shopping at once, having made sure of the whip as they
came along. Thorny added some candy to Bab's lemon, and Belinda had a
cake, which her mamma obligingly ate for her. Betty thought that
Aladdin's palace could not have been more splendid than the jeweller's
shop where the canine cuff-buttons were bought; but when they came to
the book-store, she forgot gold, silver, and precious stones, to revel
in picture-books, while Thorny selected Ben's modest school outfit.
Seeing her delight, and feeling particularly lavish with plenty of money
in his pocket, the young gentleman completed the child's bliss by
telling her to choose whichever one she liked best out of the pile of
Walter Crane's toy-books lying in bewildering colors before her.

"This one; Bab always wanted to see the dreadful cupboard, and there's a
picture of it here," answered Betty, clasping a gorgeous copy of
"Bluebeard" to the little bosom, which still heaved with the rapture of
looking at that delicious mixture of lovely Fatimas in pale azure gowns,
pink Sister Annes on the turret top, crimson tyrants, and yellow
brothers with forests of plumage blowing wildly from their
mushroom-shaped caps.

Very good; there you are, then.  Now, come on, for the fun is over and
the grind begins," said Thorny, marching away to his doom, with his
tongue in his tooth, and trepidation in his manly breast.

"Shall I shut my eyes and hold your head?" quavered devoted Betty, as
they went up the stairs so many reluctant feet had mounted before them.

"Nonsense, child, never mind me!  You look out of window and amuse
yourself; we shall not be long, I guess;" and in went Thorn silently
hoping that the dentist had been suddenly called away, or some person
with an excruciating toothache would be waiting to take ether, and so
give our young man an excuse for postponing his job.

But no; Dr. Mann was quite at leisure, and, full of smiling interest,
awaited his victim, laying forth his unpleasant little tools with the
exasperating alacrity of his kind. Glad to be released from any share in
the operation, Betty retired to the back window to be as far away as
possible, and for half in hour was so absorbed in her book that poor
Thorny might have groaned dismally without disturbing her.

"Done now, directly, only a trifle of  polishing off and a look round,"
said Dr. Mann, at last; and Thorny, with a yawn that nearly rent him
asunder, called out, --

"Thank goodness! Pack up, Bettykin."

"I'm all ready!" and, shutting her book with a start, she slipped down
from the easy chair in a great hurry.

But "looking round" took time; and, before the circuit of Thorny's mouth
was satisfactorily made, Betty had become absorbed by a more interesting
tale than even the immortal "Bluebeard." A noise of children's voices in
the narrow alley-way behind the house attracted her attention; the long
window opened directly on the yard, and the gate swung in the wind.
Curious as Fatima, Betty went to look; but all she saw was a group of
excited boys peeping between the bars of another gate further down.

"What's the matter?" she asked of two small girls, who stood close by
her, longing but not daring to approach the scene of action.

"Boys chasing a great black cat, I believe," answered one child.

"Want to come and see?" added the other, politely extending the
invitation to the stranger.

The thought of a cat in trouble would have nerved Betty to face a dozen
boys; so she followed at once, meeting several lads hurrying away on
some important errand, to judge from their anxious countenances.

"Hold tight, Jimmy, and let 'em peek, if they want to. He can't hurt
anybody now," said one of the dusty huntsmen, who sat on the wide coping
of the wall, while two others held the gate, as if a cat could only
escape that way.

"You peek first, Susy, and see if it looks nice," said one little girl,
boosting her friend so that she could look through the bars in the upper
part of the gate.

"No; it 's only an ugly old dog!" responded Susy, losing all interest at
once, and descending with a bounce.

"He's mad! and Jud's gone to get his gun, so we can shoot him!" called
out one mischievous boy, resenting the contempt expressed for their
capture.

"Ain't, neither!" howled another lad from his perch.  "Mad dogs won't
drink; and this one is lapping out of a tub of water."

"Well, he may be, and we don't know him, and he hasn't got any muzzle
on, and the police will kill him if Jud don't," answered the sanguinary
youth who had first started the chase after the poor animal, which had
come limping into town, so evidently a lost dog that no one felt any
hesitation in stoning him.

"We must go right home; my mother is dreadful 'fraid of mad dogs, and so
is yours," said Susy; and, having satisfied their curiosity, the young
ladies prudently retired.

But Betty had not had her "peep," and could not resist one look; for she
had heard of these unhappy animals, and thought Bab would like to know
how they looked. So she stood on tip-toe and got a good view of a dusty,
brownish dog, lying on the grass close by, with his tongue hanging out
while he panted, as if exhausted by fatigue and fear, for he still cast
apprehensive glances at the wall which divided him from his tormentors.

His eyes are just like Sanch's," said Betty to herself, unconscious that
she spoke aloud, till she saw the creature prick up his cars and half
rise, as if he had been called.

"He looks as if he knew me, but it isn't our Sancho; he was a lovely
dog." Betty said that to the little boy peeping in beside her; but
before he could make any reply, the brown beast stood straight up with
an inquiring bark, while his eyes shone like topaz, and the short tail
wagged excitedly.

"Why, that's just the way Sanch used to do!" cried Betty, bewildered by
the familiar ways of this unfamiliar-looking dog.

As if the repetition of his name settled his own doubts, he leaped
toward the gate and thrust a pink nose between the bars, with a howl of
recognition as Betty's face was more clearly seen. The boys tumbled
precipitately from their perches, and the little girl fell back alarmed,
yet could not bear to run away and leave those imploring eyes pleading
to her through the bars so eloquently.

"He acts just like our dog, but I don't see how it can be him.  Sancho,
Sancho, is it really you?" called Betty, at her wits' end what to do.

"Bow, wow, wow!" answered the well-known bark, and the little tail did
all it could to emphasize the sound, while the eyes were so full of dumb
love and joy, the child could not refuse to believe that this ugly stray
was their own Sancho strangely transformed.

All of a sudden, the thought rushed into her mind, how glad Ben would
be! -- and Bab would feel all happy again. "I must carry him home."

Never stopping to think of danger, and forgetting all her doubts, Betty
caught the gate handle out of Jimmy's grasp, exclaiming eagerly: "He is
our dog! Let me go in; I ain't afraid."

"Not till Jud comes back; he told us we mustn't," answered the
astonished Jimmy, thinking the little girl as mad as the dog.

With a confused idea that the unknown Jud had gone for a gun to shoot
Sanch, Betty gave a desperate pull at the latch and ran into the yard,
bent on saving her friend. That it was a friend there could he no
further question; for, though the creature rushed at her as if about to
devour her at a mouthful, it was only to roll ecstatically at her feet,
lick her hands, and gaze into her face, trying to pant out the welcome
which he could not utter. An older and more prudent person would have
waited to make sure before venturing in; but confiding Betty knew little
of the danger which she might have run; her heart spoke more quickly
than her head, and, not stopping to have the truth proved, she took the
brown dog on trust, and found it was indeed dear Sanch.

Sitting on the grass, she hugged him close, careless of tumbled hat,
dusty paws on her clean frock, or a row of strange boys staring from the
wall.

"Darling doggy, where have you been so long?" she cried, the great thing
sprawling across her lap, as if he could not get near enough to his
brave little protector. "Did they make you black and beat you, dear? Oh,
Sanch, where is your tail -- your pretty tail?"

A plaintive growl and a pathetic wag was all the answer he could make to
these tender inquiries; for never would the story of his wrongs be
known, and never could the glory of his doggish beauty be restored. 
Betty was trying to comfort him with pats and praises, when a new face
appeared at the gate, and Thorny's authoritative voice called out, --

"Betty Moss, what on earth are you doing in  there with that dirty
beast?"

"It's Sanch, it's Sanch! Oh, come and see! shrieked Betty, flying up to
lead forth her prize. But the gate was held fast, for some one said the
words, "Mad dog," and Thorny was very naturally alarmed, because he had
already seen one. "Don't stay there another minute. Get up on that bench
and I'll pull you over," directed Thorny, mounting the wall to rescue
his charge in hot haste; for the dog did certainly behave queerly,
limping hurriedly to and fro, as if anxious to escape. No wonder, when
Sancho heard a voice he knew, and recognized another face, yet did not
meet as kind a welcome as before.

"No, I'm not coming out till he does.  It is Sanch, and I'm going to
take him home to Ben," answered Betty, decidedly, as she wet her
handkerchief in the rain water to bind up the swollen paw that had
travelled many miles to rest in her little hand again.

"You're crazy, child.  That is no more Ben's dog than I am."

"See if it isn't!" cried Betty, perfectly unshaken in her faith; and,
recalling the words of command as well as she could, she tried to put
Sancho through his little performance, as the surest proof that she was
right. The poor fellow did his best, weary and foot-sore though he was;
but when it came to taking his tail in his mouth to waltz, he gave it
up, and, dropping down, hid his face in his paws, as he always did when
any of his tricks failed. The act was almost pathetic now, for one of
the paws was bandaged, and his whole attitude expressed the humiliation
of a broken spirit.

That touched Thorny, and, quite convinced both of the dog's sanity and
identity, he sprung down from the wall with Ben's own whistle, which
gladdened Sancho's longing ear as much as the boy's rough caresses
comforted his homesick heart.

"Now, let's carry him right home, and surprise Ben.  Won't he be
pleased?" said Betty, so in earnest that she tried to lift the big brute
in spite of his protesting yelps.

"You are a little trump to find him out in spite of all the horrid
things that have been done to him. We must have a rope to lead him, for
he's got no collar and no muzzle. He has got friends though, and I'd
like to see any one touch him now. Out of the way, there, boy!" Looking
as commanding as a drum-major, Thorny cleared a passage, and with one
arm about his neck, Betty proudly led her treasure magnanimously
ignoring his late foes, and keeping his eye fixed on the faithful friend
whose tender little heart had known him in spite of all disguises.

"I found him, sir," and the lad who had been most eager for the
shooting, stepped forward to claim any reward that might be offered for
the now valuable victim.

"I kept him safe till she came," added the jailer Jimmy, speaking for
himself.

"I said he wasn't mad", cried a third, feeling that his discrimination
deserved approval.

"Jud ain't my brother," said the fourth, eager to clear his skirts from
all ofi-ence.

"But all of you chased and stoned him, I suppose? You'd better look out
or you'll get reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals."

With this awful and mysterious threat, Thorny slammed the doctor's gate
in the faces of the mercenary youths, nipping their hopes in the bud,
and teaching them a good lesson.

After one astonished stare, Lita accepted Sancho without demur, and they
greeted one another cordially, nose to nose, instead of shaking hands.
Then the dog nestled into his old place under the linen duster with a
grunt of intense content, and soon fell fast asleep, quite worn out with
fatigue. No Roman conqueror bearing untold treasures with him, ever
approached the Eternal City feeling richer or prouder than did Miss
Betty as she rolled rapidly toward the little brown house with the
captive won by her own arms. Poor Belinda was forgotten in a corner,
"Bluebeard" was thrust under the cushion, and the lovely lemon was
squeezed before its time by being sat upon; for all the child could
think of was Ben's delight, Bab's remorseful burden lifted off, "Ma's"
surprise, and Miss Celia's pleasure. She could hardly realize the happy
fact, and kept peeping under the cover to be sure that the dear dingy
bunch at her feet was truly there.

"I'll tell you how we'll do it," said Thorny, breaking a long silence as
Betty composed herself with an irrepressible wriggle of delight after
one of these refreshing peeps. "We'll keep Sanch hidden, and smuggle him
into Ben's old room at your house. Then I'll drive on to the barn, and
not say a word, but send Ben to get something out of that room. You just
let him in, to see what he'll do. I'll bet you a dollar he won't know
his own dog."

"I don't believe I can keep from screaming right out when I see him, but
I'll try. Oh, won't it be fun!" -- and Betty clapped her hands in joyful
anticipation of that exciting moment.

A nice little plan, but Master Thorny forgot the keen senses of the
amiable animal snoring peacefully among his boots; and, when they
stopped at the Lodge, he had barely time to say in a whisper,

"Ben's coming; cover Sanch and let me get him in quick!" before the dog
was out of the phaeton like a bombshell, and the approaching boy went
down as if shot, for Sancho gave one leap, and the two rolled over and
over, with a shout and a bark of rapturous recognition.

"Who is hurt?" asked Mrs. Moss, running out with floury hands uplifted
in alarm.

"Is it a bear?" cried Bab, rushing after her, beater in hand, for a
dancing bear was the delight of her heart.

"Sancho's found! Sancho's found!"  shouted Thorny, throwing up his hat
like a lunatic.

"Found, found, found!" echoed Betty, dancing wildly about as if she too
had lost her little wits.

"Where? how? when? who did it?" asked Mrs. Moss, clapping her dusty
hands delightedly.

"It isn't; it's an old dirty brown thing," stammered Bab, as the dog
came uppermost for a minute, and then rooted into Ben's jacket as if he
smelt a woodchuck, and was bound to have him out directly.

Then Thorny, with many interruptions from Betty, poured forth the
wondrous tale, to which Bab and his mother listened breathlessly, while
the muffins burned as black as a coal, and nobody cared a bit.

"My precious lamb, how did you dare to do such a thing?" exclaimed Mrs.
Moss, hugging the small heroine with mingled admiration and alarm.

"I'd have dared, and slapped those horrid boys, too. I wish I'd gone!"
and Bab felt that she had for ever lost the chance of distinguishing
herself.

"Who cut his tail off?" demanded Ben, in a menacing tone, as he came
uppermost in his turn, dusty, red and breathless, but radiant.

"The wretch who stole him,  I suppose; and he deserves to be hung,"
answered Thorny, hotly.

"If ever I catch him, I'll -- I'll cut his nose off," roared Ben, with
such a vengeful glare that Sanch barked fiercely; and it was well that
the unknown "wretch" was not there, for it would have gone hardly with
him, since even gentle Betty frowned, while Bab brandished the
egg-beater menacingly, and their mother indignantly declared that "it
was too bad!"

Relieved by this general outburst, they composed their outraged
feelings; and while the returned wanderer went from one to another to
receive a tender welcome from each, the story of his recovery was more
calmly told. Ben listened with his eye devouring the injured dog; and
when Thorny paused, he turned to the little heroine, saying solemnly, as
he laid her hand with his own on Sancho's head,

"Betty Moss, I'll never forget what you did; from this minute half of
Sanch is your truly own, and if I die you shall have the whole of him,"
and Ben sealed the precious gift with a sounding kiss on either chubby
check.

Betty was so deeply touched by this noble bequest, that the blue eyes
filled and would have overflowed if Sanch had not politely offered his
tongue like a red pocket-handkerchlef, and so made her laugh the drops
away, while Bab set the rest off by saying gloomily, --

"I mean to play with all the mad dogs I can find; then folks will think
I'm smart and give me nice things."

"Poor old Bab, I'll forgive you now, and lend you my half whenever you
want it," said Ben, feeling at peace now with all mankind, including,
girls who tagged.

"Come and show him to Celia," begged Thorny, eager to fight his battles
over again.

"Better wash him up first; he's a sight to see, poor thing," suggested
Mrs. Moss, as she ran in, suddenly remembering her muffins.

"It will take a lot of washings to get that brown stuff off.  See, his
pretty, pink skin is all stained with it. We'll bleach him out, and his
curls will grow, and he'll be as good as ever -- all but -- "

Ben could not finish, and a general wail went up for the departed tassel
that would never wave proudly in the breeze again.

"I'll buy him a new one.  Now form the procession and let us go in
style," said Thorny, cheerily, as he swung Betty to his shoulder and
marched away whistling "Hail! the conquering hero comes," while Ben and
his Bow-wow followed arm-in-arm, and Bab brought up the rear, banging on
a milk-pan with the egg-beater.




CHAPTER XVIII

BOWS AND ARROWS

If Sancho's abduction made a stir, one may easily imagine with what
warmth and interest he was welcomed back when his wrongs and wanderings
were known. For several days he held regular levees, that curious boys
and sympathizing girls might see and pity the changed and curtailed dog.
Sancho behaved with dignified affability, and sat upon his mat in the
coach-house pensively eying his guests, and patiently submitting to
their caresses; while Ben and Thorny took turns to tell the few tragical
facts which were not shrouded in the deepest mystery. If the interesting
sufferer could only have spoken, what thrilling adventures and
hair-breadth escapes he might have related. But, alas! he was dumb; and
the secrets of that memorable month never were revealed.

The lame paw soon healed, the dingy color slowly yielded to many
washings, the woolly coat began to knot up into little curls, a new
collar, handsomely marked, made him a respectable dog, and Sancho was
himself again. But it was evident that his sufferings were not
forgotten; his once sweet temper was a trifle soured; and, with a few
exceptions, he had lost his faith in mankind. Before, he had been the
most benevolent and hospitable of dogs; now, he eyed all strangers
suspiciously, and the sight of a shabby man made him growl and bristle
up, as if the mernory of his wrongs still burned hotly within him.

Fortunately, his gratitude was stronger than his resentment, and he
never seemed to forget that he owed his life to Betty, -- running to
meet her whenever she appeared, instantly obeying her commands, and
suffering no one to molest her when he walked watchfully beside her,
with her hand upon his neck, as they had walked out of the almost fatal
backyard together, faithful friends for ever.

Miss Celia called them little Una and her lion, and read the pretty
story to the children when they wondered what she meant. Ben, with great
pains, taught the dog to spell "Betty," and surprised her with a display
of this new accomplishment, which gratified her so much that she was
never tired of seeing Sanch paw the five red letters into place, then
come and lay his nose in her hand, as if he added, "That's the name of
my dear mistress."

Of course Bab was glad to have everything pleasant and friendly again;
but in a little dark corner of her heart there was a drop of envy, and a
desperate desire to do something which would make every one in her small
world like and praise her as they did Betty. Trying to be as good and
gentle did not satisfy her; she must do something brave or surprising,
and no chance for distinguishing herself in that way seemed likely to
appear. Betty was as fond as ever, and the boys were very kind to her;
but she felt that they both liked "little Beteinda," as they called her,
best, because she found Sanch, and never seemed to know that she had
done any thing brave in defending him against all odds. Bab did not tell
any one how she felt, but endeavored to be amiable, while waiting for
her chance to come; and, when it did arrive, made the most of it, though
there was nothing heroic to add a charm.

Miss Celia's arm had been doing very well, but would, of course, be
useless for some time longer. Finding that the afternoon readings amused
herself as much as they did the children, she kept them up, and brought
out all her old favorites enjoying a double pleasure in seeing that her
young audience relished them as much as she did when a child for to all
but Thorny they were brand new. Out of one of these stories came much
amusement for all, and satisfaction for one of the party.

"Celia, did you bring our old bows?" asked her brother, eagerly, as she
put down the book from which she had been reading Miss Edgeworth's
capital story of "Waste not Want not; or, Two Strings to your Bow."

"Yes, I brought all the playthings we left stored away in uncle's garret
when we went abroad. The bows are in the long box where you found the
mallets, fishing-rods, and bats. The old quivers and a few arrows are
there also, I believe. What is the idea now? asked Miss Celia in her
turn, as Thorny bounced up in a great hurry.

"I'm going to teach Ben to shoot.  Grand fun this hot weather; and
by-and-by we'll have an archery meeting, and you can give us a prize.
Come on, Ben. I've got plenty of whip-cord to rig up the bows, and then
we'll show the ladies some first-class shooting."

"I can't; never had a decent bow in my life.  The little gilt one I used
to wave round when I was a Coopid wasn't worth a cent to go," answered
Ben, feeling as if that painted "prodigy" must have been a very distant
connection of the respectable young person now walking off arm in arm
with the lord of the manor.

"Practice is all you want.  I used to be a capital shot, but I don't
believe I could hit any thing but a barn-door now," answered Thorny,
encouragingly.

As the boys vanished, with much tramping of boots and banging of doors,
Bab observed, in the young-ladyish tone she was apt to use when she
composed her active little mind and body to the feminine task of
needlework, --

"We used to make bows of whalebone when we were little girls, but we are
too old to play so now."

"I'd like to, but Bab won't, 'cause she 's most 'leven years old," said
honest Betty, placidly rubbing her needle in the "ruster," as she called
the family emery-bag.

"Grown people enjoy archery, as bow and arrow shooting is called,
especially in England. I was reading about it the other day, and saw a
picture of Queen Victoria with her bow; so you needn't be ashamed of it,
Bab," said Miss Celia, rummaging among the books and papers in her sofa
corner to find the magazine she wanted, thinking a new play would be as
good for the girls as for the big boys.

"A queen, just think!" and Betty looked much impressed by the fact, as
well as uplifted by the knowledge that her friend did not agree in
thinking her silly because she preferred playing with a harmless
home-made toy to firing stones or snapping a pop-gun.

"In old times, bows and arrows were used to fight great battles with;
and we read how the English archers shot so well that the air was dark
with arrows, and many men were killed."

"So did the Indians have 'em; and I've got some stone arrow-heads, --
found 'em by the river, in the dirt!" cried Bab, waking up, for battles
interested her more than queens.

"While you finish your stints I'll tell you a little story about the
Indians," said Miss Celia, lying back on her cushions, while the needles
began to go again, for the prospect of a story could not be resisted.

"A century or more ago, in a small settlement on the banks of the
Connecticut, -- which means the Long River of Pines, -- there lived a
little girl called Matty Kilburn. On a hill stood the fort where the
people ran for protection in any danger, for the country was new and
wild, and more than once the Indians had come down the river in their
canoes and burned the houses, killed men, and carried away women and
children. Matty lived alone with her father, but felt quite safe in the
log house, for he was never far away. One afternoon, as the farmers were
all busy in their fields, the bell rang suddenly, -- a sign that there
was danger near, -- and, dropping their rakes or axes, the men hurried
to their houses to save wives and babies, and such few treasures as they
could. Mr. Kilburn caught up his gun with one hand and his little girl
with the other, and ran as fast as he could toward the fort. But before
he could reach it he heard a yell, and saw the red men coming up from
the river. Then he knew it would be in vain to try to get in, so he
looked about for a safe place to hide Matty till he could come for her.
He was a brave man, and could fight, so he had no thought of hiding
while his neighbors needed help; but the dear little daughter must he
cared for first.

"In the corner of the lonely pasture which they dared not cross, stood a
big hollow elm, and there the farmer hastily hid Matty, dropping her
down into the dim nook, round the mouth of which young shoots had grown,
so that no one would have suspected any hole was there.

"Lie still, child, till I come; say your prayers and wait for father,'
said the man, as he parted the leaves for a last glance at the small,
frightened face looking up at him.

"'Come soon,' whispered Matty, and tried to smile bravely, as a stout
settler's girl should.

"Mr. Kilburn went away, and was taken prisoner in the fight, carried
off, and for years no one knew whether he was alive or dead. People
missed Matty, but supposed she was with her father, and never expected
to see her again. A great while afterward the poor man came back, having
escaped and made his way through the wilderness to his old home. His
first question was for Matty, but no one had seen her; and when he told
them where he had left her, they shook their heads as if they thought he
was crazy. But they went to look, that he might be satisfied; and he
was; for they they found some little bones, some faded bits of cloth,
and two rusty silver buckles marked with Matty's name in what had once
been her shoes. An Indian arrow lay there, too, showing why she had
never cried for help, but waited patiently so long for father to come
and find her."

If Miss Celia expected to see the last bit of hem done when her story
ended, she was disappointed; for not a dozen stitches had been taken.
Betty was using her crash towel for a handkerchief, and Bab's lay on the
ground as she listened with snapping eyes to the little tragedy.

"Is it true?" asked Betty, hoping to find relief in being told that it
was not.

"Yes; I have seen the tree, and the mound where the fort was, and the
rusty buckles in an old farmhouse where other Kilburns live, near the
spot where it all happened," answered Miss Celia, looking out the
picture of Victoria to console her auditors.

"We'll play that in the old apple-tree.  Betty can scrooch down, and
I'll be the father, and put leaves on her, and then I'll be a great
Injun and fire at her. I can make arrows, and it will be fun, won't it?"
cried Bab, charmed with the new drama in which she could act the leading
parts.

"No, it won't! I don't like to go in a cobwebby hole, and have you play
kill me, I'll make a nice fort of hay, and be all safe, and you can put
Dinah down there for Matty. I don't love her any more, now her last eye
has tumbled out, and you may shoot her just as much as yon like."

Before Bab could agree to this satisfactory arrangement, Thorny
appeared, singing, as he aimed at a fat robin, whose red waistcoat
looked rather warm and winterish that August day, --

    "So he took up his bow,
    And he feathered his arrow,
    And said, 'I will shoot
    This little cock-sparrow.'"

But he didn't," chirped the robin, flying away, with a contemptuous
flirt of his rusty-black tail.

"That is exactly what you must promise not to do, boys.  Fire away at
your targets as much as you like, but do not harm any living creature,"
said Miss Celia, as Ben followed armed and equipped with her own long-
unused accoutrements.

"Of course we won't if you say so; but, with a little practice, I could
bring down a bird as well as that fellow you read to me about with his
woodpeckers and larks and herons," answered Thorny, who had much enjoyed
the article, while his sister lamented over the destruction of the
innocent birds.

"You'd do well to borrow the Squire's old stuffed owl for a target;
there would be some chance of your hitting him, he is so big," said his
sister, who always made fun of the boy when he began to brag.

Thorny's only reply was to send his arrow straight up so far out of
sight that it was a long while coming down again to stick quivering in
the ground near by, whence Sancho brought it in his mouth, evidently
highly approving of a game in which he could join.

"Not bad for a beginning.  Now, Ben, fire away."

But Ben's experience with bows was small, and, in spite of his
praiseworthy efforts to imitate his great exemplar, the arrow only
turned a feeble sort of somersault and descended perilously near Bab's
uplifted nose.

"If you endanger other people's life and liberty in your pursuit of
happiness, I shall have to confiscate your arms, boys. Take the orchard
for your archery ground; that is safe, and we can see you as we sit
here. I wish I had two hands, so that I could paint you a fine, gay
target;" and Miss Celia looked regretfully at the injured arm, which as
yet was of little use.

"I wish you could shoot, too; you used to beat all the girls, and I was
proud of you," answered Thorny, with the air of a fond elder brother;
though, at the time he alluded to, he was about twelve, and hardly up to
his sister's shoulder.

"Thank you. I shall be happy to give my place to Bab and Betty if you
will make them some bows and arrows; they could not use those long
ones."

The young gentlemen did not take the hint as quickly as Miss Celia hoped
they would; in fact, both looked rather blank at the suggestion, as boys
generally do when it is proposed that girls -- especially small ones --
shall join in any game they are playing.

"P'r'aps it would be too much trouble," began Betty, in her winning
little voice.

"I can make my own," declared Bab, with an independent toss of the head.

"Not a bit; I'll make you the jolliest small bow that ever was,
Belinda," Thorny hastened to say, softened by the appealing glance of
the little maid.

"You can use mine, Bab; you've got such a strong fist, I guess you
could pull it," added Ben, remembering that it would not be amiss to
have a comrade who shot worse than he did, for he felt very inferior to
Thorny in many ways, and, being used to praise, had missed it very much
since he retired to private life.

"I will be umpire, and brighten up the silver arrow I sometimes pin my
hair with, for a prize, unless we can find something better," proposed
Miss Celia, glad to see that question settled, and every prospect of the
new play being a pleasant amusement for the hot weather.

It was astonishing how soon archery became the fashion in that town, for
the boys discussed it enthusiastically all that evening, formed the
"William Tell Club" next day, with Bab and Betty as honorary members,
and, before the week was out, nearly every lad was seen, like young
Norval, "With bended bow and quiver full of arrows," shooting away,
with a charming disregard of the safety of their fellow citizens.
Banished by the authorities to secluded spots, the members of the club
set up their targets and practised indefatigably, especially Ben, who
soon discovered that his early gymnastics had given him a sinewy arm and
a true eye; and, taking Sanch into partnership as picker-up, he got more
shots out of an hour than those who had to run to and fro.

Thorny easily recovered much of his former skill, but his strength had
not fully returned, and he soon grew tired. Bab, on the contrary, threw
herself into the contest heart and soul, and tugged away at the new bow
Miss Celia gave her, for Ben's was too heavy. No other girls were
admitted, so the outsiders got up a club of their own, and called it
"The Victoria," the name being suggested by the magazine article, which
went the rounds as a general guide and reference book. Bab and Betty
belonged to this club and duly reported the doings of the boys, with
whom they had a right to shoot if they chose, but soon waived the right,
plainly seeing that their absence would be regarded in the light of a
favor.

The archery fever raged as fiercely as the base-ball epidemic had done
before it, and not only did the magazine circulate freely, but Miss
Edgeworth's story, which was eagerly read, and so much admired that the
girls at once mounted green ribbons, and the boys kept yards of
whip-cord in their pockets like the provident Benjamin of the tale.

Every one enjoyed the new play very much, and something grew out of it
which was a lasting pleasure to many, long after the bows and arrows
were forgotten. Seeing how glad the children were to get a new story,
Miss Celia was moved to send a box of books -- old and new -- to the
town library, which was but scantily supplied, as country libraries are
apt to be. This donation produced a good effect; for other people hunted
up all the volumes they could spare for the same purpose, and the dusty
shelves in the little room behind the post-office filled up amazingly.
Coming in vacation time they were hailed with delight, and ancient books
of travel, as well as modern tales, were feasted upon by happy young
folks, with plenty of time to enjoy them in peace.

The success of her first attempt at being a public benefactor pleased
Miss Celia very much, and suggested other ways in which she might serve
the quiet town, where she seemed to feel that work was waiting for her
to do. She said little to any one but the friend over the sea, yet
various plans were made then that blossomed beautifully by-and-by.



CHAPTER XIX: SPEAKING PIECES

The first of September came all too soon, and school began.  Among the
boys and girls who went trooping up to the "East Corner knowledge-box,"
as they called it, was our friend Ben, with a pile of neat books under
his arm. He felt very strange, and decidedly shy; but put on a bold
face, and let nobody guess that, though nearly thirteen, he had never
been to school before. Miss Celia had told his story to Teacher, and
she, being a kind little woman, with young brothers of her own, made
things as easy for him as she could. In reading and writing he did very
well, and proudly took his place among lads of his own age; but when it
came to arithmetic and geography, he had to go down a long way, and
begin almost at the beginning, in spite of Thorny's efforts to "tool him
along fast." It mortified him sadly, but there was no help for it; and
in some of the classes he had dear little Betty to console with him when
he failed, and smile contentedly when he got above her, as he soon began
to do, -- for she was not a quick child, and plodded through First Parts
long after sister Bab was flourishing away among girls much older than
herself.

Fortunately, Ben was a short boy and a clever one, so he did not look
out of place among the ten and eleven year olders, and fell upon his
lessons with the same resolution with which he used to take a new leap,
or practise patiently till he could touch his heels with his head. That
sort of exercise had given him a strong, elastic little body; this kind
was to train his mind, and make its faculties as useful, quick and sure,
as the obedient muscles, nerves and eye, which kept him safe where
others would have broken their necks. He knew this, and found much
consolation in the fact that, though mental arithmetic was a hopeless
task, he could turn a dozen somersaults, and come up as steady as a
judge. When the boys laughed at him for saying that China was in Africa,
he routed them entirely by his superior knowledge of the animals
belonging to that wild country; and when "First class in reading" was
called, he marched up with the proud consciousness that the shortest boy
in it did better than tall Moses Towne or fat Sam Kitteridge.

Teacher praised him all she honestly could, and corrected his many
blunders so quietly that he soon ceased to be a deep, distressful red
during recitation, and tugged away so manfully that no one could help
respecting him for his efforts, and trying to make light of his
failures. So the first hard week went by, and though the boy's heart had
sunk many a time at the prospect of a protracted wrestle with his own
ignorance, he made up his mind to win, and went at it again on the
Monday with fresh zeal, all the better and braver for a good, cheery
talk with Miss Celia in the Sunday evening twilight.

He did not tell her one of his greatest trials, however, because he
thought she could not help him there. Some of the children rather looked
down upon him, called him "tramp" and "beggar," twitted him with having
been a circus boy, and lived in a tent like a gypsy. They did not mean
to be cruel, but did it for the sake of teasing, never stopping to think
how much such sport can make a fellow-creature suffer. Being a plucky
fellow, Ben pretended not to mind; but he did feel it keenly, because he
wanted to start afresh, and be like other boys. He was not ashamed of
the old life; but, finding those around him disapproved of it, he was
glad to let it be forgotten, even by himself; for his latest
recollections were not happy ones, and present comforts made past
hardships seem harder than before.

He said nothing of this to Miss Celia; but she found it out, and liked
him all the better for keeping some of his small worries to himself.
Bab and Betty came over Monday afternoon full of indignation at some
boyish insult Sam had put upon Ben; and, finding them too full of it to
enjoy the reading, Miss Celia asked what the matter was. Then both
little girls burst out in a rapid succession of broken exclamations,
which did not give a very clear idea of the difficulty, --

"Sam didn't like it because Ben jumped farther than he did -- "

"And he said Ben ought to be in the poor-house."

"And Ben said he ought to be in it pigpen."

"So he had! -- such a greedy thing, bringing lovely big apples, and not
giving any one a single bite!"

"Then he was mad, and we all laughed; and he said, 'Want to fight?'

"And Ben said, 'No, thanky, not much fun in pounding a feather-bed.'"

"Oh, he was awfully mad then, and chased Ben up the big maple."

"He's there now, for Sam won't let him come down till he takes it all
back."

"Ben won't; and I do believe he'll have to stay up all night," said
Betty, distressfully.

"He won't care, and we'll have fun firing up his supper.  Nut cakes and
cheese will go splendidly; and may be baked pears wouldn't get smashed,
he's such a good catch," added Bab, decidedly relishing the prospect.

"If he does not come by tea-time, we will go and look after him. It
seems to me I have heard something about Sam's troubling him before,
haven't I?" asked Miss Celia, ready to defend her protege against all
unfair persecution.

"Yes,'m, Sam and Mose are always plaguing Ben. They are big boys, and we
can't make them stop. I won't let the girls do it, and the little boys
don't dare to, since Teacher spoke to them." answered Bab.

"Why does not Teacher speak to the big ones?

"Ben won't tell of them, or let us.  He says he'll fight his own
battles, and hates tell-tales. I guess he won't like to have us tell
you, but I don't care, for it is too bad!" and Betty looked ready to cry
over her friend's tribulations.

"I'm glad you did, for I will attend to it, and stop this sort of
thing," said Miss Celia, after the children had told some of the
tormenting speeches which had tried poor Ben.

Just then Thorny appeared, looking much amused. and the little girls
both called out in a breath, "Did you see Ben and get him down?"

"He got himself down in the neatest way you can imagine;" and Thorny
laughed at the recollection.

"Where is Sam?" asked Bab.

"Staring up at the sky to see where Ben has flown to."

"Oh, tell about it!" begged Betty.

"Well, I came along and found Ben treed, and Sam stoning him. I stopped
that at once, and told the 'fat boy' to be off. He said he wouldn't till
Ben begged his pardon; and Ben said he wouldn't do it, if he stayed up
for a week. I was just preparing to give that rascal a scientific
thrashing, when a load of hay came along, and Ben dropped on to it so
quietly that Sam, who was trying to bully me, never saw him go. It
tickled me so, I told Sam I guessed I'd let him off that time, and
walked away, leaving him to hunt for Ben, and wonder where the dickens
he had vanished to."

The idea of Sam's bewilderment amused the others as much as Thorny, and
they all had a good laugh over it before Miss Celia asked, --

"Where has Ben gone now?"

" Oh, he'll take a little ride, and then slip down and race home full of
the fun of it. But I've got to settle Sam. I won't have our Ben hectored
by any one -- "

"But yourself," put in his sister, with a sly smile, for Thorny was
rather domineering at times.

"He doesn't mind my poking him up now and then, it's good for him; and I
always take his part against other people. Sam is a bully, and so is
Mose; and I'll thrash them both if they don't stop."

Anxious to curb her brother's pugnacious propensities, Miss Celia
proposed milder measures, promising to speak to the boys herself if
there was any more trouble.

"I have been thinking that we should have some sort of merry-making for
Ben on his birthday. My plan was a very simple one; but I will enlarge
it, and have all the young folks come, and Ben shall be king of the fun.
he needs encouragement in well-doing, for he does try; and now the first
hard part is nearly over, I am sure he will get on bravely. If we treat
him with respect, and show our regard for him, others will follow our
example; and that will be better than fighting about it."

"So it will!  What shall we do to make our party tip-top?" asked Thorny,
falling into the trap at once; for he dearly loved to get up
theatricals, and had not had any for a long time.

"We will plan something splendid, a 'grand combination,' as you used to
call your droll mixtures of tragedy, comedy, melodrama and farce,"
answered his sister, with her head already full of lively plots.

"We'll startle the natives.  I don't believe they ever saw a play in all
their lives, hey, Bab?"

"I've seen a circus."

"We dress up and do ' Babes in the Wood,"' added Betty, with dignity.

"Pho! that's nothing.  I'll show you acting that will make your hair
stand on end, and you shall act too. Bab will be capital for the naughty
girls," began Thorny, excited by the prospect of producing a sensation
on the boards, and always ready to tease the girls.

Before Betty could protest that she did not want her hair to stand up,
or Bab could indignantly decline the role offered her, a shrill whistle
was heard, and Miss Celia whispered, with a warning look, --

"Hush! Ben is coming, and he must not know any thing about this yet."

The next day was Wednesday, and in the afternoon Miss Celia went to hear
the children "speak pieces," though it was very seldom that any of the
busy matrons and elder sisters found time or inclination for these
displays of youthful oratory. Miss Celia and Mrs. Moss were all the
audience on this occasion, but Teacher was both pleased and proud to see
them, and a general rustle went through the school as they came in, all
the girls turning from the visitors to nod at Bab and Betty, who smiled
all over their round faces to see "Ma" sitting up "'side of Teacher,"
and the boys grinned at Ben, whose heart began to beat fast at the
thought of his dear mistress coming so far to hear him say his piece.

Thorny had recommended Marco Bozzaris, but Ben preferred John Gilpin,
and ran the famous race with much spirit, making excellent time in some
parts and having to be spurred a little in others, but came out all
right, though quite breathless at the end, sitting down amid great
applause, some of which, curiously enough, seemed to come from outside;
which in fact it did, for Thorny was bound to hear but would not come
in, lest his presence should abash one orator at least.

Other pieces followed, all more or less patriotic and warlike, among the
boys; sentimental among the girls. Sam broke down in his attempt to give
one of Webster's great speeches, Little Cy Fay boldly attacked

    "Again to the battle, Achaians!"

and shrieked his way through it in a shrill, small voice, bound to do
honor to the older brother who had trained him even if he broke a vessel
in the attempt. Billy chose a well-worn piece, but gave it a new
interest by his style of delivery; for his gestures were so spasmodic he
looked as if going into a fit, and he did such astonishing things with
his voice that one never knew whether a howl or a growl would come next.
When

    "The woods against a stormy sky
    Their giant branches tossed; "

Billy's arms went round like the sails of a windmill; the "hymns of
lofty cheer" not only "shook the depths of the desert gloom," but the
small children on their little benches, and the school-house literally
rang "to the anthems of the free!" When "the ocean eagle soared," Billy
appeared to be going bodily up, and the "pines of the forest roared" as
if they had taken lessons of Van Amburgh's biggest lion. "Woman's
fearless eye" was expressed by a wild glare; "manhood's brow, severely
high," by a sudden clutch at the reddish locks falling over the orator's
hot forehead, and a sounding thump on his blue checked bosom told where
"the fiery heart of youth" was located. "What sought they thus far?" he
asked, in such a natural and inquiring tone, with his eye fixed on Mamie
Peters, that the startled innocent replied, "Dunno," which caused the
speaker to close in haste, devoutly pointing a stubby finger upward at
the last line.

This was considered the gem of the collection, and Billy took his seat
proudly conscious that his native town boasted an orator who, in time,
would utterly eclipse Edward Everett and Wendell Phillips.

Sally Folsom led off with "The Coral Grove," chosen for the express
purpose of making her friend Almira Mullet start and blush, when she
recited the second line of that pleasing poem,

    "Where the purple mullet and gold-fish rove."

One of the older girls gave Wordsworth's "Lost Love" in a pensive tone,
clasping her hands and bringing out the "O" as if a sudden twinge of
toothache seized her when she ended.

    "But she is in her grave, and O,
     the difference to me!

Bab always chose a funny piece, and on this afternoon set them all
laughing by the spirit with which she spoke the droll poem, "Pussy's
Class," which some of my young readers may have read. The "meou" and the
"sptzz" were capital, and when the "fond mamma rubbed her nose," the
children shouted, for Miss Bab made a paw of her hand and ended with an
impromptu purr, which was considered the best imitation ever presented
to an appreciative public. Betty bashfully murmurred "Little White
Lily," swaying to and fro as regularly as if in no other way could the
rhymes be ground out of her memory.

"That is all, I believe.  If either of the ladies would like to say a
few words to the children, I should be pleased to have them," said
Teacher, politely, pausing before she dismissed school with a song.

"Please, 'm.  I'd like to speak my piece," answered Miss Celia, obeying
a sudden impulse; and, stepping forward with her hat in her hand, she
made a pretty courtesy before she recited Mary Howitt's sweet little
ballad, "Mabel on Midsummer Day."

She looked so young and merry, and used such simple but expressive
gestures, and spoke in such a clear, soft voice that the children sat as
if spell-bound, learning several lessons from this new teacher, whose
performance charmed them from beginning to end, and left a moral which
all could understand and carry away in that last verse, --

    "'Tis good to make all duty sweet,
    To be alert and kind;
    'Tis good, like Littie Mabel,
    To have a willing mind."

Of course there was an enthusiastic clapping when Miss Celia sat down,
but even while hands applauded, consciences pricked, and undone tasks,
complaining words and sour faces seemed to rise up reproachfully before
many of the children, as well as their own faults of elocution.

"Now we will sing," said Teacher, and a great clearing of throats
ensued, but before a note could be uttered, the half-open door swung
wide, and Sancho, with Ben's hat on, walked in upon his hind-legs, and
stood with his paws meekly folded, while a voice from the entry sang
rapidly, --

    "Benny had a little dog,
    His fleece was white as snow,
    And everywhere that Benny went,
    The dog was sure to go.

    He went into the School one day,
    which was against the rule;
    It made the children laugh and play
    To see a dog --"

Mischievous Thorny got no further, for a general explosion of laughter
drowned the last words, and Ben's command "Out, you rascal!" sent Sanch
to the right-about in double-quick time.

Miss Celia tried to apologize for her bad brother, and Teacher tried to
assure her that it didn't matter in the least, as this was always a
merry time, and Mrs. Moss vainly shook her finger at her naughty
daughters; they as well as the others would have their laugh out, and
only partially sobered down when the Bell rang for "Attention." They
thought they were to be dismissed, and repressed their giggles as well
as they could in order to get a good start for a vociferous roar when
they got out. But, to their great surprise, the pretty lady stood up
again and said, in her friendly way, --

"I just want to thank you for this pleasant little exhibition, and ask
leave to come again. I also wish to invite you all to my boy's birthday
party on Saturday week. The archery meeting is to be in the afternoon,
and both clubs will be there, I believe. In the evening we are going to
have some fun, when we can laugh as much as we please without breaking
any of the rules. In Ben's name I invite you, and hope you will all
come, for we mean to make this the happiest birthday he ever had."

There were twenty pupils in the room, but the eighty hands and feet made
such a racket at this announcement that an outsider would have thought a
hundred children, at least, must have been at it. Miss Celia was a
general favorite because she nodded to all the girls, called the boys by
their last names, even addressing some of the largest as "Mr." which won
their hearts at once, so that if she had invited them all to come and be
whipped they would have gone sure that it was some delightful joke. With
what eagerness they accepted the present invitation one can easily
imagine, though they never guessed why she gave it in that way, and
Ben's face was a sight to see, he was so pleased and proud at the honor
done him that he did not know where to look, and was glad to rush out
with the other boys and vent his emotions in whoops of delight. He knew
that some little plot was being concocted for his birthday, but never
dreamed of any thing so grand as asking the whole school, Teacher and
all. The effect of the invitation was seen with comical rapidity, for
the boys became overpowering in their friendly attentions to Ben. Even
Sam, fearing he might be left out, promptly offered the peaceful
olive-branch in the shape of a big apple, warm from his pocket, and Mose
proposed a trade of jack-knives which would be greatly to Ben's
advantage. But Thorny made the noblest sacrifice of all, for he said to
his sister, as they walked home together, --

"I'm not going to try for the prize at all.  I shoot so much better than
the rest, having had more practice, you know, that it is hardly fair.
Ben and Billy are next best, and about even, for Ben's strong wrist
makes up for Billy's true eye, and both want to win. If I am out of the
way Ben stands a good chance, for the other fellows don't amount to
much."

"Bab does; she shoots nearly as well as Ben, and wants to win even more
than he or Billy. She must have her chance at any rate."

"So she may, but she won't do any thing; girls can't, though it 's good
exercise and pleases them to try. "

"If I had full use of both my arms I'd show you that girls can do a
great deal when they like. Don't be too lofty, young man, for you may
have to come down," laughed Miss Celia, amused by his airs.

"No fear," and Thorny calmly departed to set his targets for Ben's
practice.

"We shall see," and from that moment Miss Celia made Bab her especial
pupil, feeling that a little lesson would be good for Mr. Thorny, who
rather lorded it over the other young people. There was a spice of
mischief in it, for Miss Celia was very young at heart, in spite of her
twenty-four years, and she was bound to see that her side had a fair
chance, believing that girls can do whatever they are willing to strive
patiently and wisely for.

So she kept Bab at work early and late, giving her all the hints and
help she could with only one efficient hand, and Bab was delighted to
think she did well enough to shoot with the club. Her arms ached and her
fingers grew hard with twanging the bow, but she was indefatigable, and
being a strong, tall child of her age, with a great love of all athletic
sports, she got on fast and well, soon learning to send arrow after
arrow with ever increasing accuracy nearer and nearer to the bull's-eye.

The boys took very little notice of her, being much absorbed in their
own affairs, but Betty did for Bab what Sancho did for Ben, and trotted
after arrows till her short legs were sadly tired, though her patience
never gave out. She was so sure Bab would win that she cared nothing
about her own success, practising little and seldom hitting any thing
when she tried.



CHAPTER XX: BEN'S BIRTHDAY

A superb display of flags flapped gayly in the breeze on the September
morning when Ben proudly entered his teens. An irruption of bunting
seemed to have broken out all over the old house, for banners of every
shape and size, color and design, flew from chimney-top to gable, porch
and gate-way, making the quiet place look as lively as a circus tent,
which was just what Ben most desired and delighted in.

The boys had been up very early to prepare the show, and when it was
ready enjoyed it hugely, for the fresh wind made the pennons cut strange
capers. The winged lion of Venice looked as if trying to fly away home;
the Chinese dragon appeared to brandish his forked tail as he clawed at
the Burmese peacock; the double-headed eagle of Russia pecked at the
Turkish crescent with one beak, while the other seemed to be screaming
to the English royal beast, "Come on and lend a paw." In the hurry of
hoisting the Siamese elephant got turned upside down, and now danced
gayly on his head, with the stars and stripes waving proudly over him. A
green flag with a yellow harp and sprig of shamrock hung in sight of the
kitchen window, and Katy, the cook, got breakfast to the tune of "St.
Patrick's day in the morning." Sancho's kennel was half hidden under a
rustling paper imitation of the gorgeous Spanish banner, and the scarlet
sun-and-moon flag of Arabia snapped and flaunted from the pole over the
coach-house, as a delicate compliment to Lita, Arabian horses being
considered the finest in the world.

The little girls came out to see, and declared it was the loveliest
sight they ever beheld, while Thorny played "Hail Columbia" on his fife,
and Ben, mounting the gate-post, crowed long and loud like a happy
cockerel who had just reached his majority. He had been surprised and
delighted with the gifts he found in his room on awaking and guessed why
Miss Celia and Thorny gave him such pretty things, for among them was a
match-box made like a mouse-trap. The doggy buttons and the horsey whip
were treasures, indeed, for Miss Celia had not given them when they
first planned to do so, because Sancho's return seemed to be joy and
reward enough for that occasion. But he did not forget to thank Mrs.
Moss for the cake she sent him, nor the girls for the red mittens which
they had secretly and painfully knit. Bab's was long and thin, with a
very pointed thumb, Betty's short and wide, with a stubby thumb, and all
their mother's pulling and pressing could not make them look alike, to
the great affliction of the little knitters. Ben, however, assured them
that he rather preferred odd ones, as then he could always tell which
was right and which left. He put them on immediately and went about
cracking the new whip with an expression of content which was droll to
see, while the children followed after, full of admiration for the hero
of the day.

They were very busy all the morning preparing for the festivities to
come, and as soon as dinner was over every one scrambled into his or her
best clothes as fast as possible, because, although invited to come at
two, impatient boys and girls were seen hovering about the avenue as
early as one.

The first to arrive, however, was an uninvited guest, for just as Bab
and Betty sat down on the porch steps, in their stiff pink calico frocks
and white ruffled aprons, to repose a moment before the party came in, a
rustling was heard among the lilacs, and out stepped Alfred Tennyson
Barlow, looking like a small Robin Hood, in a green blouse with a silver
buckle on his broad belt, a feather in his little cap and a bow in his
hand.

"I have come to shoot.  I heard about it.  My papa told me what arching
meant. Will there be any little cakes? I like them."

With these opening remarks the poet took a seat and calmly awaited a
response. The young ladies, I regret to say, giggled, then remembering
their manners, hastened to inform him that there would be heaps of
cakes, also that Miss Celia would not mind his coming without an
invitation, they were quite sure.

"She asked me to come that day.  I have been very busy. I had measles.
Do you have them here?" asked the guest, as if anxious to compare notes
on the sad subject.

"We had ours ever so long ago.  What have you been doing besides having
measles?" said Betty, showing a polite interest.

"I had a fight with a bumble-bee."

"Who beat?" demanded Bab.

"I did.  I ran away and he couldn't catch me."

"Can you shoot nicely?"

"I hit a cow. She did not mind at all.  I guess she thought it was a
fly."

"Did your mother know you were coming?" asked Bab, feeling an interest
in runaways.

"No; she is gone to drive, so I could not ask her."

"It is very wrong to disobey. My Sunday-school book says that children
who are naughty that way never go to heaven," observed virtuous Betty,
in a warning tone.

"I do not wish to go," was the startling reply.

"Why not?" asked Betty, severely.

"They don't have any dirt there.  My mamma says so. I am fond of dirt. I
shall stay here where there is plenty of it," and the candid youth began
to grub in the mould with the satisfaction of a genuine boy.

"I am afraid you're a very bad child."

"Oh yes, I am.  My papa often says so and he knows all about it,"
replied Alfred with an involuntary wriggle suggestive of painful
memories. Then, as if anxious to change the conversation from its
somewhat personal channel, he asked, pointing to a row of grinning heads
above the wall, "Do you shoot at those?"

Bab and Betty looked up quickly and recognized the familiar faces of
their friends peering down at them, like a choice collection of trophies
or targets.

"I should think you'd be ashamed to peek before the party was ready!"
cried Bab, frowning darkly upon the merry young ladies.

"Miss Celia told us to come before two, and be ready to receive folks,
if she wasn't down," added Betty, importantly.

"It is striking two now.  Come along, girls;" and over scrambled Sally
Folsom, followed by three or four kindred spirits, just as their hostess
appeared.

"You look like Amazons storming a fort," she said, as the girls cattle
up, each carrying her bow and arrows, while green ribbons flew in every
direction.

"How do you do, sir?  I have been hoping you would call again," added
Miss Celia, shaking hands with the pretty boy, who regarded with benign
interest the giver of little cakes.

Here a rush of boys took place, and further remarks were cut short, for
every one was in a hurry to begin. So the procession was formed at once,
Miss Celia taking the lead, escorted by Ben in the post of honor, while
the boys and girls paired off behind, arm in arm, bow on Shoulder, in
martial array. Thorny and Billy were the band, and marched before,
fifing and drumming "Yankee Doodle" with a vigor which kept feet moving
briskly, made eyes sparkle, and young hearts dance under the gay gowns
and summer jackets. The interesting stranger was elected to bear the
prize, laid out on a red pin-cushion; and did so with great dignity, as
he went beside the standard bearer, Cy Fay, who bore Ben's choicest
flag, snow-white, with a green wreath surrounding a painted bow and
arrow, and with the letters W. T. C. done in red below.

Such a merry march all about the place, out at the Lodge gate, up and
down the avenue, along the winding paths, till they halted in the
orchard, where the target stood, and seats were placed for the archers
while they waited for their turns. Various rules and regulations were
discussed, and then the fun began. Miss Celia had insisted that the
girls should be invited to shoot with the boys; and the lads consented
without much concern, whispering to one another with condescending
shrugs, "Let 'em try, if they like; they can't do any thing."

There were various trials of skill before the great match came off, and
in these trials the young gentlemen discovered that two at least of the
girls could do something; for Bab and Sally shot better than many of the
boys, and were well rewarded for their exertions by, the change which
took place in the faces and conversation of their mates.

"Why, Bab, you do as well as if I'd taught you myself," said Thorny,
much surprised and not altogether pleased at the little girl's skill.

"A lady taught me; and I mean to beat every one of you," answered Bab,
saucily, while her sparkling eyes turned to Miss Celia with a
mischievous twinkle in them.

"Not a bit of it," declared Thorny, stoutly; but he went to Ben and
whispered, "Do your best, old fellow, for sister has taught Bab all the
scientific points, and the little rascal is ahead of Billy."

"She won't get ahead of me," said Ben, picking out his best arrow, and
trying the string of his bow with a confident air which re-assured
Thorny, who found it impossible to believe that a girl ever could,
would, or should excel a boy in any thing he cared to try.

It really did look as if Bab would beat when the match for the prize
came off; and the children got more and more excited as the six who were
to try for it took turns at the bull's-eye. Thorny was umpire, and kept
account of each shot, for the arrow which went nearest the middle would
win. Each had three shots; and very soon the lookers-on saw that Ben and
Bab were the best marksmen, and one of them would surely get the silver
arrow.

Sam, who was too lazy to practise, soon gave up the contest, saying, as
Thorny did, "It wouldn't be fair for such a big fellow to try with the
little chaps," which made a laugh, as his want of skill was painfully
evident. But Mose went at it gallantly; and, if his eye had been as true
as his arms were strong, the "little chaps" would have trembled. But his
shots were none of them as near as Billy's; and he retired after the
third failure, declaring that it was impossible to shoot against the
wind, though scarcely a breath was stirring.

Sally Folsom was bound to beat Bab, and twanged away in great style; all
in vain, however, as with tall Maria Newcomb, the third girl who
attempted the trial. Being a little near-sighted, she had borrowed her
sister's eye-glasses, and thereby lessened her chance of success; for
the pinch on her nose distracted her attention, and not one of her
arrows went beyond the second ring to her great disappointment. Billy
did very well, but got nervous when his last shot came, and just missed
the bull's-eye by being in a hurry.

Bab and Ben each had one turn more; and, as they were about even, that
last arrow would decide the victory. Both had sent a shot into the
bull's-eye, but neither was exactly in the middle; so there was room to
do better, even, and the children crowded round, crying eagerly, "Now,
Ben!" "Now, Bab!" "Hit her up, Ben!" "Beat him, Bab!" while Thorny
looked as anxious as if the fate of the country depended on the success
of his man. Bab's turn came first; and, as Miss Celia examined her bow
to see that all was right, the little girl said, With her eyes on her
rival's excited face, --

"I want to beat, but Ben will feel so bad, I 'most hope I sha'n't."

"Losing a prize sometimes makes one happier than gaining it. You have
proved that you could do better than most of them; so, if you do not
beat, you may still feet proud," answered Miss Celia, giving back the
bow with a smile that said more than her words.

It seemed to give Bab a new idea, for in a minute all sorts of
recollections, wishes, and plans rushed through her lively little mind,
and she followed a sudden generous impulse as blindly as she often did a
wilful one.

"I guess he'll beat," she said, softly, with a quick sparkle of the
eyes, as she stepped to her place and fired without taking her usual
careful aim.

Her shot struck almost as near the centre on the right as her last one
had hit on the left; and there was a shout of delight from the girls as
Thorny announced it before he hurried back to Ben, whispering anxiously,--

"Steady, old Man, steady; you must beat that, or we shall never hear the
last of it."

Ben did not say, "She won't get ahead of me," as he had said at the
first; he set his teeth, threw off his hat, and, knitting his brows with
a resolute expression, prepared to take steady aim, though his heart
beat fast and his thumb trembled as he pressed it on the bowstring.

"I hope you'll beat, I truly do," said Bab, at his elbow; and, as if the
breath that framed the generous wish helped it on its way, the arrow
flew straight to the bull's-eye, hitting, apparently, the very spot
where Bab's best shot had left a hole.

"A tie! a tie!" cried the girls, as a general rush took place toward the
target.

"No, Ben's is nearest.  Ben's beat! Hooray shouted the boys, throwing up
their hats. There was only a hair's-breadth difference, and Bab could
honestly have disputed the decision; but she did not, though for an
instant she could not help wishing that the cry had been "Bab's beat!
Hurrah!" it sounded so pleasant. Then she saw Ben's beaming face,
Thorny's intense relief, and caught the look Miss Celia sent her over
the heads of the boys, and decided, with a sudden warm glow all over her
little face, that losing a prize did sometimes make one happier than
winning it. Up went her best hat, and she burst out in a shrill, "Rah,
rah, rah!" that sounded very funny coming all alone after the general
clamor had subsided.

"Good for you, Bab! you are an honor to the club. and I'm proud of you",
said Prince Thorny, with a hearty handshake; for, as his man had won, he
could afford to praise the rival who had put him on his mettle, though
she was a girl.

Bab was much uplifted by the royal commendation, but a few minutes later
felt pleased as well as proud when Ben, having received the prize, came
to her, as she stood behind a tree sucking her blistered thumb, while
Betty braided up her dishevelled locks.

"I think it would be fairer to call it a tie, Bab, for it really was,
and I want you to wear this. I wanted the fun of beating, but I don't
care a bit for this girl's thing and I'd rather see it on you."

As he spoke, Ben offered the rosette of green ribbon which held the
silver arrow, and Bab's eyes brightened as they fell upon the pretty
ornament, for to her "the girl's thing" was almost as good as the
victory.

"Oh no; you must wear it to show who won. Miss Celia wouldn't like it. 
I don't mind not getting it; I did better than all the rest, and I guess
I shouldn't like to beat you," answered Bab, unconsciously putting into
childish words the sweet generosity which makes so many sisters glad to
see their brothers carry off the prizes of life, while they are content
to know that they have earned them and can do without the praise.

But if Bab was generous, Ben was just; and though he could not explain
the feeling, would not consent to take all the glory without giving his
little friend a share.

"You must wear it; I shall feel real mean if you don't. You worked
harder than I did, and it was only luck my getting this. Do, Bab, to
please me," he persisted, awkwardly trying to fasten the ornament in the
middle of Bab's' white apron.

"Then I will. Now do you forgive me for losing Sancho?" asked Bab, with
a wistful look which made Ben say, heartily, --

"I did that when he came home."

"And you don't think I'm horrid?"

"Not a bit of it; you are first-rate, and I'll stand by you like a man,
for you are 'most as good as a boy!" cried Ben, anxious to deal
handsomely with his feminine rival, whose skill had raised her immensely
in his opinion.

Feeling that he could not improve that last compliment, Bab was fully
satisfied, and let him leave the prize upon her breast, conscious that
she had some claim to it.

"That is where it should be, and Ben is a true knight, winning the prize
that he may give it to his lady, while he is content with the victory,"
said Miss Celia, laughingly, to Teacher, as the children ran off to join
in the riotous games which soon made the orchard ring.

"He learned that at the circus 'tunnyments,' as he calls them. He is a
nice boy, and I am much interested in him; for he has the two things
that do most toward making a man, patience and courage," answered
Teacher, also as she watched the young knight play and the honored lady
tearing about in a game of tag.

"Bab is a nice child, too," said Miss Celia; "she is as quick as a flash
to catch an idea and carry it out, though very often the ideas are wild
ones. She could have won just now, I fancy, if she had tried, but took
the notion into her head that it was nobler to let Ben win, and so atone
for the trouble she gave him in losing the dog. I saw a very sweet look
on her face just now, and am sure that Ben will never know why he beat."

"She does such things at school sometimes, and I can't bear to spoil her
little atonements, though they are not always needed or very wise,"
answered Teacher. "Not long ago I found that she had been giving her
lunch day after day to a poor child who seldom had any, and when I asked
her why, she said, with tears, 'I used to laugh at Abby, because she had
only crusty, dry bread, and so she wouldn't bring any. I ought to give
her mine and be hungry, it was so mean to make fun of her poorness."

"Did you stop the sacrifice?"

"No; I let Bab 'go halves,' and added an extra bit to my own lunch, so I
could make my contribution likewise."

"Come and tell me about Abby.  I want to make friends with our poor
people, for soon I shall have a right to help them;" and, putting her
arm in Teacher's, Miss Celia led her away for a quiet chat in the porch,
making her guest's visit a happy holiday by confiding several plans and
asking advice in the friendliest way.



CHAPTER XXI: CUPID'S LAST APPEARANCE

A picnic supper on the grass followed the games, and then, as twilight
began to fall, the young people were marshalled to the coach-house, now
transformed into a rustic theatre. One big door was open, and seats,
arranged lengthwise, faced the red table-cloths which formed the
curtain. A row of lamps made very good foot-lights, and an invisible
band performed a Wagner-like overture on combs, tin trumpets, drums, and
pipes, with an accompaniment of suppressed laughter.

Many of the children had never seen any thing like it, and sat staring
about them in mute admiration and expectancy; but the older ones
criticised freely, and indulged in wild speculations as to the meaning
of various convulsions of nature going on behind the curtain.

While Teacher was dressing the actresses for the tragedy, Miss Celia and
Thorny, who were old hands at this sort of amusement, gave a "Potato"
pantomime as a side show.

Across an empty stall a green cloth was fastened, so high that the heads
of the operators were not seen. A little curtain flew up, disclosing the
front of a Chinese pagoda painted on pasteboard, with a door and window
which opened quite naturally. This stood on one side, several green
trees with paper lanterns hanging from the boughs were on the other
side, and the words "Tea Garden," printed over the top, showed the
nature of this charming spot.

Few of the children had ever seen the immortal Punch and Judy, so this
was a most agreeable novelty, and before they could make out what it
meant, a voice began to sing, so distinctly that every word was heard,--

    "In China there lived a little man,
    His name was Chingery Wangery Chan."

Here the hero "took the stage" with great dignity, clad in a loose
yellow jacket over a blue skirt, which concealed the hand that made his
body. A pointed hat adorned his head, and on removing this to bow he
disclosed a bald pate with a black queue in the middle, and a Chinese
face nicely painted on the potato, the lower part of which was hollowed
out to fit Thorny's first finger, while his thumb and second finger were
in the sleeves of the yellow jacket, making a lively pair of arms. While
he saluted, the song went n, --

    "His legs were short, his feet were small,
    And this little man could not walk at all."

Which assertion was proved to be false by the agility with which the
"little man" danced a jig in time to the rollicking chorus, --

    "Chingery changery ri co day,
    Ekel tekel happy man;
    Uron odesko canty oh, oh,
    Gallopy wallopy China go."

At the close of the dance and chorus, Chan retired into the tea garden,
and drank so many cups of the national beverage, with such comic
gestures, that the spectators were almost sorry when the opening of the
opposite window drew all eyes in that direction. At the lattice appeared
a lovely being; for this potato had been pared, and on the white surface
were painted pretty pink checks, red lips, black eyes, and oblique
brows; through the tuft of dark silk on the head were stuck several
glittering pins, and a pink jacket shrouded the plump figure of this
capital little Chinese lady. After peeping coyly out, so that all could
see and admire, she fell to counting the money from a purse, so large
her small hands could hardly hold it on the window seat. While she did
this, the song went on to explain, --

    "Miss Ki Hi was short and squat,
    She had money and he had not
    So off to her he resolved to go,
    And play her a tune on his little banjo."

During the chorus to this verse Chan was seen tuning his instrument in
the garden, and at the end sallied gallantly forth to sing the following
tender strain, --

    "Whang fun li,
    Tang hua ki,
    Hong Kong do ra me!
    Ah sin lo,
    Pan to fo,
    Tsing up chin leute!"

Carried away by his passion, Chan dropped his banjo, fell upon his
knees, and, clasping his hands, bowed his forehead in the dust before
his idol. But, alas! --

    "Miss Ki Hi heard his notes of love,
    And held her wash-bowl up above
    It fell upon the little man,
    And this was the end of Chingery Chan,"

Indeed it was; for, as the doll's basin of real water was cast forth by
the cruel charmer, poor Chan expired in such strong convulsions that his
head rolled down among the audience. Miss Ki Hi peeped to see what had
become of her victim, and the shutter decapitated her likewise, to the
great delight of the children, who passed around the heads, pronouncing
a "Potato" pantomime "first-rate fun."

Then they settled themselves for the show, having been assured by
Manager Thorny that they were about to behold the most elegant and
varied combination ever produced on any stage. And when one reads the
following very inadequate description of the somewhat mixed
entertainment, it is impossible to deny that the promise made was nobly
kept.

After some delay and several crashes behind the curtain, which mightily
amused the audience, the performance began with the well-known tragedy
of "Bluebeard;" for Bab had set her heart upon it, and the young folks
had acted it so often in their plays that it was very easy to get up,
with a few extra touches to scenery and costumes. Thorny was superb as
the tyrant with a beard of bright blue worsted, a slouched hat and long
feather, fur cloak, red hose, rubber boots, and a real sword which
clanked tragically as he walked. He spoke in such a deep voice, knit his
corked eye-brows, and glared so frightfully, that it was no wonder poor
Fatima quaked before him as he gave into her keeping an immense bunch of
keys with one particularly big, bright one, among them.

Bab was fine to see, with Miss Celia's blue dress sweeping behind her, a
white plume in her flowing hair, and a real necklace with a pearl locket
about her neck. She did her part capitally, especially the shriek she
gave when she looked into the fatal closet, the energy with which she
scrubbed the tell-tale key, and her distracted tone when she called out:
"Sister Anne, O, sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?" while her
enraged husband was roaring: "Will you come down, madam, or shall I come
and fetch you?"

Betty made a captivating Anne, -- all in white muslin, and a hat full of
such lovely pink roses that she could not help putting up one hand to
feel them as she stood on the steps looking out at the little window for
the approaching brothers who made such a din that it sounded like a
dozen horsemen instead if two.

Ben and Billy were got up regardless of expense in the way of arms; for
their belts were perfect arsenals, and their wooden swords were big
enough to strike terror into any soul, though they struck no sparks out
of Bluebeard's blade in the awful combat which preceded the villain's
downfall and death.

The boys enjoyed this part intensely, and cries of "Go it, Ben!" "Hit
him again, Billy!" "Two against one isn't fair!" "Thorny's a match for
'em." "Now he's down, hurray!" cheered on the combatants, till, after a
terrific struggle, the tyrant fell, and with convulsive twitchings of
the scarlet legs, slowly expired while the ladies sociably fainted in
each other's arms, and the brothers waved their swords and shook hands
over the corpse of their enemy.

This piece was rapturously applauded, and all the performers had to
appear and bow their thanks, led by the defunct Bluebeard, who mildly
warned the excited audience that if they "didn't look out the seats
would break down, and then there'd be a nice mess."

Calmed by this fear they composed themselves, and waited with ardor for
the next play, which promised to be a lively one, judging from the
shrieks of laughter which came from behind the curtain.

"Sanch 's going to be in it, I know; for I heard Ben say, 'Hold him
still; he won't bite,'" whispered Sam, longing to "jounce up and down,
so great was his satisfaction at the prospect, for the dog was
considered the star of the company.

"I hope Bab will do something else, she is so funny. Wasn't her dress
elegant?" said Sally Folsum, burning to wear a long silk gown and a
feather in her hair.

"I like Betty best, she's so cunning, and she peeked out of the window
just as if she really saw somebody coming," answered Liddy Peckham,
privately resolving to tease mother for some pink roses before another
Sunday came.

Up went the curtain at last, and a voice announced "A Tragedy in Three
Tableaux." "There's Betty!" was the general exclamation, as the audience
recognized a familiar face under the little red hood worn by the child
who stood receiving a basket from Teacher, who made a nice mother with
her finger up, as if telling the small messenger not to loiter by the
way.

"I know what that is!" cried Sally; "it's 'Mabel on Midsummer Day.' The
piece Miss Celia spoke; don't you know?"

"There isn't any sick baby, and Mabel had a 'kerchief pinned about her
head.' I say it's Red Riding Hood," answered Liddy, who had begun to
learn Mary Howitt's pretty poem for her next piece, and knew all about
it.

The question was settled by the appearance of the wolf in the second
scene, and such a wolf! On few amateur stages do we find so natural an
actor for that part, or so good a costume, for Sanch was irresistibly
droll in the gray wolf-skin which usually lay beside Miss Celia's bed,
now fitted over his back and fastened neatly down underneath, with his
own face peeping out at one end, and the handsome tail bobbing gayly at
the other. What a comfort that tail was to Sancho, none but a bereaved
bow-wow could ever tell. It reconciled him to his distasteful part at
once, it made rehearsals a joy, and even before the public he could not
resist turning to catch a glimpse of the noble appendage, while his own
brief member wagged with the proud consciousness that though the tail
did not match the head, it was long enough to be seen of all men and
dogs.

That was a pretty picture, for the little maid came walking in with the
basket on her arm, and such an innocent face inside the bright hood that
it was quite natural the gray wolf should trot up to her with deceitful
friendliness, that she should pat and talk to him confidingly about the
butter for grandma, and then that they should walk away together, he
politely carrying her basket, she with her hand on his head, little
dreaming what evil plans were taking shape inside.

The children encored that, but there was no time to repeat it, so they
listened to more stifled merriment behind the red table-cloths, and
wondered whether the next scene would be the wolf popping his head out
of the window as Red Riding Hood knocks, or the tragic end of that
sweet child.

It was neither, for a nice bed had been made, and in it reposed the
false grandmother, with a ruffled nightcap on, a white gown, and
spectacles. Betty lay beside the wolf, staring at him as if just about
to say, "Why, grandma, what great teeth you've got!" for Sancho's mouth
was half open and a red tongue hung out, as he panted with the exertion
of keeping still. This tableau was so very good, and yet so funny, that
the children clapped and shouted frantically; this excited the dog, who
gave a bounce and would have leaped off the bed to bark at the rioters,
if Betty had not caught him by the legs, and Thorny dropped the curtain
just at the moment when the wicked wolf was apparently in the act of
devouring the poor little girl, with most effective growls.

They had to come out then, and did so, both much dishevelled by the late
tussle, for Sancho's cap was all over one eye, and Betty's hood was
anywhere but on her head. She made her courtesy prettily, however; her
fellow-actor bowed with as much dignity as a short night-gown permitted,
and they retired to their well-earned repose.

Then Thorny, looking much excited, appeared to make the following
request: "As one of the actors in the next piece is new to the business,
the company must all keep as still as mice, and not stir till I give the
word. It's perfectly splendid! so don't you spoil it by making a row."

"What do you suppose it is?" asked every one, and listened with all
their might to get a hint, if possible. But what they heard only whetted
their curiosity and mystified them more and more. Bab's voice cried in a
loud whisper, "Isn't Ben beautiful?" Then there was a thumping noise,
and Miss Celia said, in an anxious tone, "Oh, do be careful," while Ben
laughed out as if he was too happy to care who heard him, and Thorny
bawled "Whoa!" in a way which would have attracted attention if Lita's
head had not popped out of her box, more than once, to survey the
invaders of her abode, with a much astonished expression.

"Sounds kind of circusy, don't it?" said Sam to Billy, who had come out
to receive the compliments of the company and enjoy the tableau at a
safe distance.

"You just wait till you see what's coming.  It beats any circus I ever
saw," answered Billy, rubbing his hands with the air of a man who had
seen many instead of but one.

"Ready! Be quick and get out of the way when she goes off!" whispered
Ben, but they heard him and prepared for pistols, rockets or
combustibles of some sort, as ships were impossible under the
circumstances, and no other "She" occurred to them.

A unanimous "O-o-o-o !" was heard when the curtain rose, but a stern
"Hush!" from Thorny kept them mutely staring with all their eyes at the
grand spectacle of the evening. There stood Lita with a wide flat saddle
on her back, a white head-stall and reins, blue rosettes in her ears,
and the look of a much-bewildered beast in her bright eyes. But who the
gauzy, spangled, winged creature was, with a gilt crown on its head, a
little bow in its hand, and one white slipper in the air, while the
other seemed merely to touch the saddle, no one could tell for a minute,
so strange and splendid did the apparition appear. No wonder Ben was not
recognized in this brilliant disguise, which was more natural to him
than Billy's blue flannel or Thorny's respectable garments. He had so
begged to be allowed to show himself "just once," as he used to be in
the days when "father" tossed him up on the bare-backed old General, for
hundreds to see and admire, that Miss Celia had consented, much against
her will, and hastily arranged some bits of spangled tarlatan over the
white cotton suit which was to simulate the regulation tights. Her old
dancing slippers fitted, and gold paper did the rest, while Ben, sure of
his power over Lita, promised not to break his bones, and lived for days
on the thought of the moment when he could show the boys that he had not
boasted vainly of past splendors.

Before the delighted children could get their breath, Lita gave signs of
her dislike to the foot-lights, and, gathering up the reins that lay on
her neck, Ben gave the old cry, "Houp-la!" and let her go, as he had
often done before, straight out of the coach-house for a gallop round
the orchard.

"Just turn about and you can see perfectly well, but stay where you are
till he comes back," commanded Thorny, as signs of commotion appeared in
the excited audience.

Round went the twenty children as if turned by one crank, and sitting
there they looked out into the moonlight where the shining figure
flashed to and fro, now so near they could see the smiling face under
the crown, now so far away that it glittered like a fire-fly among the
dusky green. Lita enjoyed that race as heartily as she had done several
others of late, and caracoled about as if anxious to make up for her
lack of skill by speed and obedience. How much Ben liked it there is no
need to tell, yet it was a proof of the good which three months of a
quiet, useful life had done him, that even as he pranced gayly under the
boughs thick with the red and yellow apples almost ready to be gathered,
he found this riding in the fresh air with only his mates for an
audience pleasanter than the crowded tent, the tired horses, profane
men, and painted women, friendly as some of them had been to him.

After the first burst was over, he felt rather glad, on the whole, that
he was going back to plain clothes, helpful school, and kindly people,
who cared more to have him a good boy than the most famous Cupid that
ever stood on one leg with a fast horse under him.

"You may make as much noise as you like, now; Lita's had her run and
will be as quiet as a lamb after it. Pull up, Ben, and come in; sister
says you'll get cold," shouted Thorny, as the rider came cantering round
after a leap over the lodge gate and back again.

So Ben pulled up, and the admiring boys and girls were allowed to gather
about him, loud in their praises as they examined the pretty mare and
the mythological character who lay easily on her back.

He looked very little like the god of love now; for he had lost one
slipper and splashed his white legs with dew and dust, the crown had
slipped down upon his neck, and the paper wings hung in an apple-tree
where he had left them as he went by. No trouble in recognizing Ben,
now; but somehow he didn't want to be seen, and, instead of staying to
be praised, he soon slipped away, making Lita his excuse to vanish
behind the curtain while the rest went into the house to have a
finishing-off game of blindman's-buff in the big kitchen.

"Well, Ben, are you satisfied?" asked Miss Celia, as she stayed a moment
to unpin the remains of his gauzy scarf and tunic.

"Yes, 'm, thank you, it was tip-top."

"But you look rather sober.  Are you tired, or is it because you don't
want to take these trappings off and be plain Ben again?" she said,
looking down into his face as he lifted it for her to free him from his
gilded collar.

"I want to take 'em off; for somehow I don't feel respectable," and he
kicked away the crown he had helped to make so carefully, adding with a
glance that said more than his words: "I'd rather be 'plain Ben' than
any one else, for you like to have me."

"Indeed I do; and I'm so glad to hear you say that, because I was afraid
you'd long to be off to the old ways, and all I've tried to do would be
undone. Would you like to go back, Ben?" and Miss Celia held his chin an
instant, to watch the brown face that looked so honestly back at her.

"No, I wouldn't -- unless -- he was there and wanted me."

The chin quivered just a bit, but the black eyes were as bright as ever,
and the boy's voice so earnest, she knew he spoke the truth, and laid
her white hand softly on his head, as she answered in the tone he loved
so much, because no one else had ever used it to him, --

"Father is not there; but I know he wants you, dear, and I am sure he
would rather see you in a home like this than in the place you came
from. Now go and dress; but, tell me first, has it been a happy
birthday?"

"Oh, Miss Celia! I didn't know they could be so beautiful, and this is
the beautifulest part of it; I don't know how to thank you, but I'm
going to try --" and, finding words wouldn't come fast enough, Ben just
put his two arms round her, quite speechless with gratitude; then, as if
ashamed of his little outburst, he knelt down in a great hurry to untie
his one shoe.

But Miss Celia liked his answer better than the finest speech ever made
her, and went away through the moonlight, saying to herself, --

"If I can bring one lost lamb into the fold, I shall be the fitter for a
shepherd's wife, by-and-by."



CHAPTER XXII: A BOY'S BARGAIN

It was some days before the children were tired of talking over Ben's
birthday party; for it was a great event in their small world; but,
gradually, newer pleasures came to occupy their minds, and they began to
plan the nutting frolics which always followed the early frosts. While
waiting for Jack to open the chestnut burrs, they varied the monotony of
school life by a lively scrimmage long known as "the wood-pile fight."

The girls liked to play in the half-empty shed, and the boys, merely for
the fun of teasing, declared that they should not, so blocked up the
doorway as fast as the girls cleared it. Seeing that the squabble was a
merry one, and the exercise better for all than lounging in the sun or
reading in school during recess, Teacher did not interfere, and the
barrier rose and fell almost as regularly as the tide.

It would be difficult to say which side worked the harder; for the boys
went before school began to build up the barricade, and the girls stayed
after lessons were over to pull down the last one made in afternoon
recess. They had their play-time first; and, while the boys waited
inside, they heard the shouts of the girls, the banging of the wood, and
the final crash, as the well-packed pile went down. Then, as the lassies
came in, rosy, breathless, and triumphant, the lads rushed out to man
the breach, and labor gallantly till all was as tight as hard blows
could make it.

So the battle raged, and bruised knuckles, splinters in fingers, torn
clothes, and rubbed shoes, were the only wounds received, while a great
deal of fun was had out of the maltreated logs, and a lasting peace
secured between two of the boys.

When the party was safely over, Sam began to fall into his old way of
tormenting Ben by calling names, as it cost no exertion to invent trying
speeches, and slyly utter them when most likely to annoy. Ben bore it as
well as he could; but fortune favored him at last, as it usually does
the patient, and he was able to make his own terms with his tormentor.

When the girls demolished the wood-pile, they performed a jubilee chorus
on combs, and tin kettles, played like tambourines; the boys celebrated
their victories with shrill whistles, and a drum accompaniment with
fists on the shed walls. Billy brought his drum, and this was such an
addition that Sam hunted up an old one of his little brother's, in order
that he might join the drum corps. He had no sticks, however, and,
casting about in his mind for a good substitute for the genuine thing,
bethought him of bulrushes.

"Those will do first-rate, and there are lots in the ma'sh, if I can
only get 'em," he said to himself, and turned off from the road on his
way home to get a supply.

Now, this marsh was a treacherous spot, and the tragic story was told of
a cow who got in there and sank till nothing was visible but a pair of
horns above the mud, which suffocated the unwary beast. For this reason
it was called "Cowslip Marsh," the wags said, though it was generally
believed to be so named for the yellow flowers which grew there in great
profusion in the spring.

Sam had seen Ben hop nimbly from one tuft of grass to another when he
went to gather cowslips for Betty, and the stout boy thought he could do
the same. Two or three heavy jumps landed him, not among the bulrushes,
as he had hoped, but in a pool of muddy water, where he sank up to his
middle with alarming rapidity. Much scared, he tried to wade out, but
could only flounder to a tussock of grass, and cling there, while he
endeavored to kick his legs free. He got them out, but struggled in vain
to coil them up or to hoist his heavy body upon the very small island in
this sea of mud. Down they splashed again; and Sam gave a dismal groan
as he thought of the leeches and water-snakes which might be lying in
wait below. Visions of the lost cow also flashed across his agitated
mind, and he gave a despairing shout very like a distracted "Moo!"

Few people passed along the lane, and the sun was setting, so the
prospect of a night in the marsh nerved Sam to make a frantic plunge
toward the bulrush island, which was nearer than the mainland, and
looked firmer than any tussock round him. But he failed to reach this
haven of rest, and was forced to stop at an old stump which stuck up,
looking very like the moss-grown horns of the "dear departed." Roosting
here, Sarn began to shout for aid in every key possible to the human
voice. Such hoots and howls, whistles and roars, never woke the echoes
of the lonely marsh before, or scared the portly frog who resided there
in calm seclusion.

He hardly expected any reply but the astonished Caw!" of the crow, who
sat upon a fence watching him with gloomy interest; and when a cheerful
"Hullo, there!" sounded from the lane, he was so grateful that tears of
joy rolled down his fat cheeks.

"Come on! I'm in the ma'sh.  Lend a hand and get me out!" bawled Sam,
anxiously waiting for his deliverer to appear, for he could only see a
hat bobbing along behind the hazel-bushes that fringed the lane.

Steps crashed through the bushes, and then over the wall came an active
figure, at the sight of which Sam was almost ready to dive out of sight,
for, of all possible boys, who should it be but Ben, the last person in
the world whom he would like to have see him in his present pitiful
plight.

"Is it you, Sam? Well, you are in a nice fix!" and Ben's eyes began to
twinkle with mischievous merriment, as well they might, for Sam
certainly was a spectacle to convulse the soberest person. Perched
unsteadily on the gnarled stump, with his muddy legs drawn up, his
dismal face splashed with mud, and the whole lower half of his body as
black as if he had been dipped in an inkstand, he presented such a
comically doleful object that Ben danced about, laughing like a naughty
will-o'-the-wisp who, having led a traveller astray then fell to jeering
at him.

"Stop that, or I'll knock your head off!" roared Sam, in a rage.

"Come on and do it; I give you leave," answered Ben, sparring away
derisively as the other tottered on his perch, and was forced to hold
tight lest he should tumble off.

"Don't laugh, there 's a good chap, but fish me out somehow, or I shall
get my death sitting here all wet and cold," whined Sam, changing his
tune, and feeling bitterly that Ben had the upper hand now.

Ben felt it also; and, though a very good-natured boy, could not resist
the temptation to enjoy this advantage for a moment at least.

"I won't laugh if I can help it; only you do look so like a fat,
speckled frog, I may not be able to hold in. I'll pull you out pretty
soon; but first I'm going to talk to you, Sam," said Ben, sobering down
as he took a seat on the little point of land nearest the stranded
Samuel.

"Hurry up, then; I'm as stiff as a board now, and it's no fun sitting
here on this knotty old thing," growled Sam, with a discontented squirm.

"Dare say not, but 'it is good for you,' as you say when you rap me over
the head. Look here, I've got you in a tight place, and I don't mean to
help you a bit till you promise to let me alone. Now then!" and Ben's
face grew stern with his remembered wrongs as he grimly eyed his
discomfited foe.

"I'll promise fast enough if you won't tell anyone about this," answered
Sam, surveying himself and his surroundings with great disgust.

"I shall do as I like about that."

"Then I won't promise a thing! I'm not going to have the whole school
laughing at me," protested Sam, who hated to be ridiculed even more than
Ben did.

"Very well; good-night!" and Ben walked off with his hands in his
pockets as coolly as if the bog was Sam's favorite retreat.

"Hold on, don't be in such a hurry!" shouted Sam, seeing little hope of
rescue if he let this chance go.

"All right!" and back came Ben, ready for further negotiations.

"I'll promise not to plague you, if you'll promise not to tell on me. 
Is that what you want?"

"Now I come to think of it, there is one thing more. I like to make a
good bargain when I begin," said Ben, with a shrewd air. "You must
promise to keep Mose quiet, too. He follows your lead, and if you tell
him to stop it he will. If I was big enough, I'd make you hold your
tongues. I ain't, so we'll try this way."

"Yes, Yes, I'll see to Mose.  Now, bring on a rail, there's a good
fellow. I've got a horrid cramp in my legs," began Sam, thinking he had
bought help dearly, yet admiring Ben's cleverness in making the most of
his chance.

Ben brought the rail, but, just as he was about to lay it from the
main-land to the nearest tussock, he stopped, saying, with the naughty
twinkle in his black eyes again, "One more little thing must be settled
first, and then I'll get you ashore. promise you won't plague the girls
either, 'specially Bab and Betty. You pull their hair, and they don't
like it."

"Don't neither!  Wouldn't touch that Bab for a dollar; she scratches and
bites like a mad cat," was Sam's sulky reply.

"Glad of it; she can take care of herself.  Betty can't; and if you
touch one of her pig-tails I'll up and tell right out how I found you
snivelling in the ma'sh like a great baby. So now!" and Ben emphasized
his threat with a blow of the suspended rail which splashed the water
over poor Sam, quenching his last spark of resistance.

"Stop! I will! -- I will!"

"True as you live and breathe!" demanded Ben, sternly binding him by the
most solemn oath he knew.

"True as I live and breathe," echoed Sam, dolefully relinquishing his
favorite pastime of pulling Betty's braids and asking if she was at
home.

"I'll come over there and crook fingers on the bargain," said Ben,
settling the rail and running over it to the tuft, then bridging another
pool and crossing again till he came to the stump.

"I never thought of that way," said Sam, watching him with much inward
chagrin at his own failure.

"I should think you'd written 'Look before you leap,' in your copy-book
often enough to get the idea into your stupid head. Come, crook,"
commanded Ben, leaning forward with extended little finger. Sam
obediently performed the ceremony, and then Ben sat astride one of the
horns of the stump while the muddy Crusoe went slowly across the rail
from point to point till he landed safely on the shore, when he turned
about and asked with an ungrateful jeer, --

"Now what's going to become of you, old Look-before-you-leap?"

"Mud turtles can only sit on a stump and bawl till they are taken off,
but frogs have legs worth something, and are not afraid of a little
water," answered Ben, hopping away in an opposite direction, since the
pools between him and Sam were too wide for even his lively legs.

Sam waddled off to the brook in the lane to rinse the mud from his
nether man before facing his mother, and was just wringing himself out
when Ben came up, breathless but good natured, for he felt that he had
made an excellent bargain for himself and friends.

"Better wash your face; it's as speckled as a tiger-lily.  Here's my
handkerchief if yours is wet," he said, pulling out a dingy article
which had evidently already done service as a towel.

"Don't want it," muttered Sam, gruffly, as he poured the water out of
his muddy shoes.

"I was taught to say ' Thanky' when folks got me out of scrapes.  But
you never had much bringing up, though you do 'live in a house with a
gambrel roof,'" retorted Ben, sarcastically quoting Sam's frequent
boast; then he walked off, much disgusted with the ingratitude of man.

Sam forgot his manners, but he remembered his promise, and kept it so
well that all the school wondered. No one could guess the secret of
Ben's power over him, though it was evident that he had gained it in
some sudden way, for at the least sign of Sam's former tricks Ben would
crook his little finger and wag it warningly, or call out "Bulrushes!"
and Sam subsided with reluctant submission, to the great amazement of
his mates. When asked what it meant, Sa, turned sulky; but Ben had much
fun out of it, assuring the other boys that those were the signs and
password of a secret society to which he and Sam belonged, and promised
to tell them all about it if Sam would give him leave, which, of course,
he would not.

This mystery, and the vain endeavors to find it out caused a lull in the
war of the wood-pile, and before any new game was invented something
happened which gave the children plenty to talk about for a time.

A week after the secret alliance was formed, Ben ran in one evening with
a letter for Miss Celia. He found her enjoying the cheery blaze of the
pine-cones the little girls had picked up for her, and Bab and Betty sat
in the small chairs rocking luxuriously as they took turns to throw on
the pretty fuel. Miss Celia turned quickly to receive the expected
letter, glanced at the writing, post-mark and stamp, with an air of
delighted surprise, then clasped it close in both hands, saying, as she
hurried out of the room, --

"He has come! he has come! Now you may tell them, Thorny."

"Tell its what? asked Bab, pricking up her cars at once.

"Oh, it's only that George has come, and I suppose we shall go and get
married right away," answered Thorny, rubbing his hands as if he enjoyed
the prospect.

"Are you going to be married?  asked Betty, so soberly that the boys
shouted, and Thorny, with difficulty composed himself sufficiently to
explain.

"No, child, not just yet; but sister is, and I must go and see that all
is done up ship-shape, and bring you home some wedding-cake. Ben will
take care of you while I'm gone."

"When shall you go?" asked Bab, beginning to long for her share of cake.

"To-morrow, I guess.  Celia has been packed and ready for a week.  We
agreed to meet George in New York, and be married as soon as he got his
best clothes unpacked. We are men of our word, and off we go. Won't it
be fun?"

"But when will you come back again?" questioned Betty, looking anxious.

"Don't know.  Sister wants to come soon, but I'd rather have our
honeymoon somewhere else, -- Niagara, Newfoundland, West Point, or the
Rocky Mountains," said Thorny, mentioning a few of the places he most
desired to see.

"Do you like him?" asked Ben, very naturally wondering if the new master
would approve of the young man-of-all-work.

"Don't I? George is regularly jolly; though now he's a minister, perhaps
he'll stiffen up and turn sober. Won't it be a shame if he does?" and
Thorny looked alarmed at the thought of losing his congenial friend.

"Tell about him; Miss Celia said you might", put in Bab, whose
experience of "jolly" ministers had been small.

"Oh, there isn't much about it.  We met in Switzerland going up Mount
St. Bernard in a storm, and -- "

"Where the good dogs live?" inquired Betty, hoping they would come into
the story.

"Yes; we spent the night up there, and George gave us his room; the
house was so full, and he wouldn't let me go down a steep place where I
wanted to, and Celia thought he'd saved my life, and was very good to
him. Then we kept meeting, and the first thing I knew she went and was
engaged to him. I didn't care, only she would come home so he might go
on studying hard and get through quick. That was a year ago, and last
winter we were in New York at uncle's; and then, in the spring, I was
sick, and we came here, and that's all."

"Shall you live here always when you come back? asked Bab, as Thorny
paused for breath.

"Celia wants to.  I shall go to college, so I don't mind.  George is
going to help the old minister here and see how he likes it. I'm to
study with him, and if he is as pleasant as he used to be we shall have
capital times, -- see if we don't."

"I wonder if he will want me round," said Ben, feeling no desire to be a
tramp again.

"I do, so you needn't fret about that, my hearty," answered Thorny, with
a resounding slap on the shoulder which reassured Ben more than any
promises.

"I'd like to see a live wedding, then we could play it with our dolls.
I've got a nice piece of mosquito netting for a veil, and Belinda's
white dress is clean. Do you s'pose Miss Celia will ask us to hers?"
said Betty to Bab, as the boys began to discuss St. Bernard dogs with
Spirit.

"I wish I could, dears," answered a voice behind them; and there was
Miss Celia, looking so happy that the little girls wondered what the
letter could have said to give her such bright eyes and smiling lips." I
shall not be gone long, or be a bit changed when I come back, to live
among you years I hope, for I am fond of the old place now, and mean it
shall be home," she added, caressing the yellow heads as if they were
dear to her.

"Oh, goody!" cried Bab, while Betty whispered with both arms round Miss
Celia, --

"I don't think we could bear to have anybody else come here to live."

"It is very pleasant to hear you say that, and I mean to make others
feel so, if I can. I have been trying a little this summer, but when I
come back I shall go to work in earnest to be a good minister's wife,
and you must help me."

"We will," promised both children, ready for any thing except preaching
in the high pulpit.

Then Miss Celia turned to Ben, saying, in the respectful way that always
made him feel at least twenty-five, --

"We shall be off to-morrow, and I leave you in charge.  Go on just as if
we were here, and be sure nothing will be changed as far as you are
concerned when we come back."

Ben's face beamed at that; but the only way he could express his relief
was by making such a blaze in honor of the occasion that he nearly
roasted the company.

Next morning, the brother and sister slipped quietly away, and the
children hurried to school, eager to tell the great news that "Miss
Celia and Thorny had gone to be married, and were coming back to live
here for ever and ever."




CHAPTER XXIII: SOMEBODY COMES

Bab and Betty had been playing in the avenue all the afternoon several
weeks later, but as the shadows began to lengthen both agreed to sit
upon the gate and rest while waiting for Ben, who had gone nutting with
a party of boys. When they played house Bab was always the father, and
went hunting or fishing with great energy and success, bringing home all
sorts of game, from elephants and crocodiles to humming-birds and
minnows. Betty was the mother, and a most notable little housewife,
always mixing up imaginary delicacies with sand and dirt in old pans and
broken china, which she baked in an oven of her own construction.

Both had worked hard that day, and were glad to retire to their favorite
lounging-place, where Bab was happy trying to walk across the wide top
bar without falling off, and Betty enjoyed slow, luxurious swings while
her sister was recovering from her tumbles. On this occasion, having
indulged their respective tastes, they paused for a brief interval of
conversation, sitting side by side on the gate like a pair of plump gray
chickens gone to roost.

"Don't you hope Ben will get his bag full?  We shall have such fun
eating nuts evenings observed Bab, wrapping her arms in her apron, for
it was October now, and the air was growing keen.

"Yes, and Ma says we may boil some in our little kettles.  Ben promised
we should have half," answered Betty, still intent on her cookery.

"I shall save some of mine for Thorny."

"I shall keep lots of mine for Miss Celia."

"Doesn't it seem more than two weeks since she went away?"

"I wonder what she'll bring us."

Before Bab could conjecture, the sound of a step and a familiar whistle
made both look expectantly toward the turn in the road, all ready to cry
out in one voice, "How many have you got?" Neither spoke a word,
however, for the figure which presently appeared was not Ben, but a
stranger, -- a man who stopped whistling, and came slowly on dusting his
shoes in the way-side grass, and brushing the sleeves of his shabby
velveteen coat as if anxious to freshen himself up a bit.

"It's a tramp, let's run away," whispered Betty, after a hasty look.

"I ain't afraid," and Bab was about to assume her boldest look when a
sneeze spoilt it, and made her clutch the gate to hold on.

At that unexpected sound the man looked up, showing a thin, dark face,
with a pair of sharp, black eyes, which surveyed the little girls so
steadily that Betty quaked, and Bab began to wish she had at least
jumped down inside the gate.

"How are you?" said the man with a goodnatured nod and smile, as if to
re-assure the round-eyed children staring at him.

"Pretty well, thank you, sir," responded Bab, politely nodding back at
him.

"Folks at home?" asked the man, looking over their heads toward the
house.

"Only Ma; all the rest have gone to be married."

"That sounds lively.  At the other place all the folks had gone to a
funeral," and the man laughed as he glanced at the big house on the
hill.

"Whh, do you know the Squire?" exclaimed Bab, much surprised and
re-assured.

"Come on purpose to see him. Just strolling round till he gets back,"
with an impatient sort of sigh.

"Betty thought you was a tramp, but I wasn't afraid. I like tramps ever
since Ben came," explained Bab, with her usual candor.

"Who 's Ben!" and the man came nearer so quickly that Betty nearly fell
backward. "Don't you be scared, Sissy. I like little girls, so you set
easy and tell me about Ben," he added, in a persuasive tone, as he
leaned on the gate so near that both could see what a friendly face he
had in spite of its eager, anxious look.

"Ben is Miss Celia's boy.  We found him most starved in the coach-house,
and he's been here ever since," answered Bab, comprehensively.

"Tell me about it. I like tramps, too," and the man looked as if he did
very much, as Bab told the little story in a few childish words that
were better than a much more elegant account.

"You were very good to the little feller," was all the man said when she
ended her somewhat confused tale, in which she had jumbled the old coach
and Miss Celia, dinner-pails and nutting, Sancho and circuses.

"'Course we were!  He's a nice boy and we are fond of him, and he likes
us," said Bab, heartily.

" 'Specially me," put in Betty, quite at ease now, for the black eyes
had softened wonderfully, and the brown face was smiling all over.

"Don't wonder a mite. You are the nicest pair of little girls I've seen
this long time," and the man put a hand on either side of them, as if he
wanted to hug the chubby children. But he didn't do it; he merely smiled
and stood there asking questions till the two chatterboxes had told him
every thing there was to tell in the most confiding manner, for he very
soon ceased to seem like a stranger, and looked so familiar that Bab,
growing inquisitive in her turn, suddenly said, --

"Haven't you ever been here before? It seems as if I'd seen you."

"Never in my life.  Guess you've seen somebody that looks like me," and
the black eyes twinkled for a minute as they looked into the puzzled
little faces before him, then he said, soberly, --

"I'm looking round for a likely boy; don't you think this Ben would
suite me? I want just such a lively sort of chap."

"Are you a circus man?" asked Bab, quickly.

"Well, no, not now. I'm in better business."

"I'm glad of it -- we don't approve of 'em; but I do think they're
splendid!"

Bab began by gravely quoting Miss Celia, and ended with an irrepressible
burst of admiration which contrasted drolly with her first remark.

Betty added, anxiously: "We can't let Ben go any way.  I know he
wouldn't want to, and Miss Celia would feel bad. Please don't ask him."

"He can do as he likes, I suppose.  He hasn't got any folks of his own,
has he?"

"No, his father died in California, and Ben felt so bad he cried, and we
were real sorry, and gave him a piece of Ma, 'cause he was so lonesome,"
answered Betty, in her tender little voice, with a pleading look which
made the man stroke her smooth check and say, quite softly, --

"Bless your heart for that! I won't take him away, child, or do a thing
to trouble anybody that's been good to him."

"He 's coming now.  I hear Sanch barking at the squirrels!" cried Bab,
standing up to get a good look down the road.

The man turned quickly, and Betty saw that he breathed fast as he
watched the spot where the low sunshine lay warmly on the red maple at
the corner. Into this glow came unconscious Ben, whistling "Rory
O'Moore," loud and Clear, as he trudged along with a heavy bag of nuts
over his shoulder and the light full on his contented face. Sancho
trotted before and saw the stranger first, for the sun in Ben's eyes
dazzled him. Since his sad loss Sancho cherished a strong dislike to
tramps, and now he paused to growl and show his teeth, evidently
intending to warn this one off the premises.

"He won't hurt you -- " began Bab, encouragingly; but before she could
add a chiding word to the dog, Sanch gave an excited howl, and flew at
the man's throat as if about to throttle him.

Betty screamed, and Bab was about to go to the rescue when both
perceived that the dog was licking the stranger's face in an ecstasy of
joy, and heard the man say as he hugged the curly beast, --

"Good old Sanch!" I knew he wouldn't forget master, and he doesn't"

"What's the matter?" called Ben, coming up briskly, with a strong grip
of his stout stick. There was no need of any answer, for, as he came
into the shadow, he saw the man, and stood looking at him as if he were
a ghost.

"It's father, Benny; don't you know me?" asked the man, with an odd sort
of choke in his voice, as he thrust the dog away, and held out both
hands to the boy. Down dropped the nuts, and crying, "Oh, Daddy, Daddy!"
Ben cast himself into the arms of the shabby velveteen coat, while poor
Sanch tore round them in distracted circles, barking wildly, as if that
was the only way in which he could vent his rapture.

What happened next Bab and Betty never stopped to see, but, dropping
from their roost, they went flying home like startled Chicken Littles
with the astounding news that "Ben's father has come alive, and Sancho
knew him right away!"

Mrs. Moss had just got her cleaning done up, and was resting a minute
before setting the table, but she flew out of her old rocking-chair when
the excited children told the wonderful tale, exclaiming as they ended,
--

"Where is he?  Go bring him here.  I declare it fairly takes my breath
away!"

Before Bab could obey, or her mother compose herself, Sancho bounced in
and spun round like an insane top, trying to stand on his head, walk
upright, waltz and bark all at once, for the good old fellow had so lost
his head that he forgot the loss of his tail.

"They are coming! they are coming! See, Ma, what a nice man he is," said
Bab, hopping about on one foot as she watched the slowly approaching
pair.

"My patience, don't they look alike! I should know he was Ben's Pa
anywhere!" said Mrs. Moss, running to the door in a hurry.

They certainly did resemble one another, and it was almost comical to
see the same curve in the legs, the same wide-awake style of wearing the
hat, the same sparkle of the eye, good-natured smile and agile motion of
every limb. Old Ben carried the bag in one hand while young Ben held the
other fast, looking a little shame-faced at his own emotion now, for
there were marks of tears on his cheeks, but too glad to repress the
delight he felt that he had really found Daddy this side heaven.

Mrs. Moss unconsciously made a pretty little picture of herself as she
stood at the door with her honest face shining and both hands ont,
saying in a hearty tone, which was a welcome in itself,

"I'm real glad to see you safe and well, Mr. Brown!  Come right in and
make yourself to home. I guess there isn't a happier boy living than Ben
is to-night."

"And I know there isn't a gratefuler man living than I am for your
kindness to my poor forsaken little feller," answered Mr. Brown,
dropping both his burdens to give the comely woman's hands a hard shake.

"Now don't say a word about it, but sit down and rest, and we'll have
tea in less'n no time. Ben must be tired and hungry, though he's so
happy I don't believe he knows it," laughed Mrs. Moss, bustling away to
hide the tears in her eyes, anxious to make things sociable and easy all
round.

With this end in view she set forth her best china, and covered the
table with food enough for a dozen, thanking her stars that it was
baking day, and every thing had turned out well. Ben and his father sat
talking by the window till they were bidden to "draw up and help
themselves" with such hospitable warmth that every thing had an extra
relish to the hungry pair.

Ben paused occasionally to stroke the rusty coat-sleeve with
bread-and-buttery fingers to convince himself that "Daddy" had really
come, and his father disposed of various inconvenient emotions by eating
as if food was unknown in California. Mrs. Moss beamed on every one from
behind the big tea-pot like a mild full moon, while Bab and Betty kept
interrupting one another in their eagerness to tell something new about
Ben and how Sanch lost his tail.

"Now you let Mr. Brown talk a little; we all want to hear how he 'came
alive,' as you call it," said Mrs. Moss, as they drew round the fire in
the "settin'-room," leaving the tea-things to take care of themselves.

It was not a long story, but a very interesting one to this circle of
listeners; all about the wild life on the plains trading for mustangs,
the terrible kick from a vicious horse that nearly killed Ben, sen., the
long months of unconsciousness in the California hospital, the slow
recovery, the journey back, Mr. Smithers's tale of the boy's
disappearance, and then the anxious trip to find out from Squire Allen
where he now was.

"I asked the hospital folks to write and tell you as soon as I knew
whether I was on my head or my heels, and they promised; but they
didn't; so I came off the minute I could, and worked my way back,
expecting to find you at the old place. I was afraid you'd have worn out
your welcome here and gone off again, for you are as fond of travelling
as your father."

"I wanted to sometimes, but the folks here were so dreadful good to me I
couldn't," confessed Ben, secretly surprised to find that the prospect
of going off with Daddy even cost him a pang of regret, for the boy had
taken root in the friendly soil, and was no longer a wandering
thistle-down, tossed about by every wind that blew.

"I know what I owe 'em, and you and I will work out that debt before we
die, or our name isn't B.B.," said Mr. Brown, with an emphatic slap on
his knee, which Ben imitated half unconsciously as he exclaimed
heartily, --

"That's so!" adding, more quietly, "What are you going to do now? Go
back to Smithers and the old business?"

"Not likely, after the way he treated you, Sonny. I've had it Out with
him, and he won't want to see me again in a hurry," answered Mr. Brown,
with a sudden kindling of the eye that reminded Bab of Ben's face when
he shook her after losing Sancho.

"There's more circuses than his in the world; but I'll have to limber
out ever so much before I'm good for much in that line," said the boy,
stretching his stout arms and legs with a curious mixture of
satisfaction and regret.

"You've been living in clover and got fat, you rascal," and his father
gave him a poke here and there, as Mr. Squeers did the plump Wackford,
when displaying him as a specimen of the fine diet at Do-the-boys Hall.
"Don't believe I could put you up now if I tried, for I haven't got my
strength back yet, and we are both out of practice. It's just as well,
for I've about made up my mind to quit the business and settle down
somewhere for a spell, if I can get any thing to do," continued the
rider, folding his arms and gazing thoughtfully into the fire.

"I shouldn't wonder a mite if you could right here, for Mr. Towne has a
great boarding-stable over yonder, and he's always wanting men." Said
Mrs. Moss, eagerly, for she dreaded to have Ben go, and no one could
forbid it if his father chose to take him away.

"That sounds likely.  Thanky, ma'am.  I'll look up the concern and try
my chance. Would you call it too great a come-down to have father an
'ostler after being first rider in the 'Great Golden Menagerie, Circus,
and Colossem,' hey, Ben?" asked Mr. Brown, quoting the well-remembered
show-bill with a laugh.

"No, I shouldn't; it's real jolly up there when the big barn is full and
eighty horses have to be taken care of. I love to go and see 'em. Mr.
Towne asked me to come and be stable-boy when I rode the kicking gray
the rest were afraid of. I hankered to go, but Miss Celia had just got
my new books, and I knew she'd feel bad if I gave up going to school.
Now I'm glad I didn't, for I get on first rate and like it."

"You done right, boy, and I'm pleased with you. Don't you ever be
ungrateful to them that befriended you, if you want to prosper. I'll
tackle the stable business a Monday and see what's to be done. Now I
ought to be walking, but I'll be round in the morning ma'am, if you can
spare Ben for a spell to-morrow. We'd like to have a good Sunday tramp
and talk; wouldn't we, Sonny?" and Mr. Brown rose to go with his hand on
Ben's shoulder, as if loth to leave him even for the night.

Mrs. Moss saw the longing in his face, and forgetting that he was an
utter stranger, spoke right out of her hospitable heart.

"It's a long piece to the tavern, and my little back bedroom is always
ready. It won't make a mite of trouble if you don't mind a plain place,
and you are heartily welcome."

Mr. Brown looked pleased, but hesitated to accept any further favor from
the good soul who had already done so much for him and his. Ben gave him
no time to speak, however, for running to a door he flung it open and
beckoned, saying, eagerly, --

"Do stay, father; it will be so nice to have you. This is a tip-top
room; I slept here the night I came, and that bed was just splendid
after bare ground for a fortnight."

"I'll stop, and as I'm pretty well done up, I guess we may as well turn
in now," answered the new guest; then, as if the memory of that homeless
little lad so kindly cherished made his heart overflow in spite of him,
Mr. Brown paused at the door to say hastily, with a hand on Bab and
Betty's heads, as if his promise was a very earnest one, --

"I don't forget, ma'am, these children shall never want a friend while
Ben Brown's alive;" then he shut the door so quickly that the other
Ben's prompt "Hear, hear!" was cut short in the middle.

"I s'pose he means that we shall have a piece of Ben's father, because
we gave Ben a piece of our mother," said Betty, softly.

"Of course he does, and it's all fair," answered Bab, decidedly.  "Isn't
he a nice man, Ma?

"Go to bed, children," was all the answer she got; but when they were
gone, Mrs. Moss, as she washed up her dishes, more than once glanced at
a certain nail where a man's hat had not hung for five years, and
thought with a sigh what a natural, protecting air that slouched felt
had.

If one wedding were not quite enough for a child's story, we might here
hint what no one dreamed of then, that before the year came round again
Ben had found a mother, Bab and Betty a father, and Mr. Brown's hat was
quite at home behind the kitchen door. But, on the whole, it is best not
to say a word about it.



CHAPTER XXIV: THE GREAT GATE IS OPENED

The Browns were up and out so early next morning that Bab and Betty were
sure they had run away in the night. But on looking for them, they were
discovered in the coach-house criticising Lita, both with their hands in
their pockets, both chewing straws, and looking as much alike as a big
elephant and a small one.

"That's as pretty a little span as I've seen for a long time," said the
elder Ben, as the children came trotting down the path hand in hand,
with the four blue bows at the ends of their braids bobbing briskly up
and down.

"The nigh one is my favorite, but the off one is the best goer, though
she's dreadfully hard bitted," answered Ben the younger, with such a
comical assumption of a jockey's important air that his father laughed
as he said in an undertone, --

"Come, boy, we must drop the old slang since we've given up the old
business. These good folks are making a gentleman of you, and I won't be
the one to spoil their work. Hold on, my dears, and I'll show you how
they say good-morning in California," he added, beckoning to the little
girls, who now came up rosy and smiling.

"Breakfast is ready, sir," said Betty, looking much relieved to find
them.

"We thought you'd run away from us," explained Bab, as both put out
their hands to shake those extended to them.

"That would be a mean trick.  But I'm going to run away with you," and
Mr. Brown whisked a little girl to either shoulder before they knew what
had happened, while Ben, remembering the day, with difficulty restrained
himself from turning a series of triumphant somersaults before them all
the way to the door, where Mrs. Moss stood waiting for them.

After breakfast Ben disappeared for a short time, and returned in his
Sunday suit, looking so neat and fresh that his father surveyed him with
surprise and pride as he came in full of boyish satisfaction in his trim
array.

"Here's a smart young chap! Did you take all that trouble just to go to
walk with old Daddy?" asked Mr. Brown, stroking the smooth head, for
they were alone just then, Mrs. Moss and the children being up stairs
preparing for church.

"I thought may be you'd like to go to meeting first," answered Ben,
looking up at him with such a happy face that it was hard to refuse any
thing. I'm too shabby, Sonny, else I'd go in a minute to please you."

"Miss Celia said God didn't mind poor clothes, and she took me when I
looked worse than you do. I always go in the morning; she likes to have
me," said Ben, turning his hat about as if not quite sure what he ought
to do.

"Do you want to go?" asked his father in a tone of surprise.

"I want to please her, if you don't mind.  We could have our tramp this
afternoon."

"I haven't been to meeting since mother died, and it don't seem to come
easy, though I know I ought to, seeing I'm alive and here," and Mr.
Brown looked soberly out at the lovely autumn world as if glad to be in
it after his late danger and pain.

"Miss Celia said church was a good place to take our troubles, and to be
thankful in. I went when I thought you were dead, and now I'd love to go
when I've got my Daddy safe again,"

No one saw him, so Ben could not resist giving his father a sudden hug,
which was warmly returned as the man said earnestly, --

"I'll go, and thank the Lord hearty for giving me back my boy better'n I
left him!"

For a minute nothing was heard but the loud tick of the old clock and a
mournful whine front Sancho, shut up in the shed lest he should go to
church without an invitation.

Then, as steps were heard on the stairs, Mr. Brown caught up his hat,
saying hastily, --

"I ain't fit to go with them, you tell 'm, and I'll slip into a back
seat after folks are in. I know the way." And, before Ben could reply,
he was gone. Nothing was seen of him along the way, but he saw the
little party, and rejoiced again over his boy, changed in so many ways
for the better; for Ben was the one thing which had kept his heart soft
through all the trials and temptations of a rough life.

"I promised Mary I'd do my best for the poor baby she had to leave, and
I tried; but I guess a better friend than I am has been raised up for
him when he needed her most. It won't hurt me to follow him in this
road," thought Mr. Brown, as he came out into the highway from his
stroll "across-lots," feeling that it would be good for him to stay in
this quiet place, for his own as well as his son's sake.

The Bell had done ringing when he reached the green, but a single boy
sat on the steps and rail to meet him, saying, with a reproachful look,
--

"I wasn't going to let you be alone, and have folks think I was ashamed
of my father. Come, Daddy, we'll sit together."

So Ben led his father straight to the Squire's pew, and sat beside him
with a face so full of innocent pride and joy, that people would have
suspected the truth if he had not already told many of them. Mr. Brown,
painfully conscious of his shabby coat, was rather "taken aback," as he
expressed it; but the Squire's shake of the hand, and Mrs. Allen's
gracious nod enabled him to face the eyes of the interested
congregation, the younger portion of which stared steadily at him all
sermon time, in spite of paternal frowns and maternal tweakings in the
rear.

But the crowning glory of the day came after church, when the Squire
said to Ben, and Sam heard him, --

"I've got a letter for you from Miss Celia. Come home with me, and bring
your father. I want to talk to him."

The boy proudly escorted his parent to the old carry-all, and, tucking
himself in behind with Mrs. Allen, had the satisfaction of seeing the
slouched felt hat side by side with the Squire's Sunday beaver in front,
as they drove off at such an unusually smart pace, it was evident that
Duke knew there was a critical eye upon him. The interest taken in the
father was owing to the son at first; but, by the time the story was
told, old Ben had won friends for himself not only because of the
misfortunes which he had evidently borne in a manly way, but because of
his delight in the boy's improvement, and the desire he felt to turn his
hand to any honest work, that he might keep Ben happy and contented in
this good home.

"I'll give you a line to Towne.  Smithers spoke well of you, and your
own ability will be the best recommendation," said the Squire, as he
parted from them at his door, having given Ben the letter.

Miss Celia had been gone a fortnight, and every one was longing to have
her back. The first week brought Ben a newspaper, with a crinkly line
drawn round the marriages to attract attention to that spot, and one was
marked by a black frame with a large hand pointing at it from the
margin. Thorny sent that; but the next week came a parcel for Mrs. Moss,
and in it was discovered a box of wedding cake for every member of the
family, including Sancho, who ate his at one gulp, and chewed up the
lace paper which covered it. This was the third week; and, as if there
could not be happiness enough crowded into it for Ben, the letter he
read on his way home told him that his dear mistress was coming back on
the following Saturday. One passage particularly pleased him, --

"I want the great gate opened, so that the new master may go in that
way. Will you see that it is done, and all made neat afterward? Randa
will give you the key, and you may have out all your flags if you like,
for the old place cannot look too gay for this home-coming."

Sunday though it was, Ben could not help waving the letter over his head
as he ran in to tell Mrs. Moss the glad news, and begin at once to plan
the welcome they would give Miss Celia, for he never called her any
thing else.

During their afternoon stroll in the mellow sunshine, Ben continued to
talk of her, never tired of telling about his happy summer under her
roof. And Mr. Brown was never weary of hearing, for every hour showed
him more plainly what a lovely miracle her gentle words had wrought, and
every hour increased his gratitude, his desire to return the kindness in
some humble way. He had his wish, and did his part handsomely when he
least expected to have a chance.

On Monday he saw Mr. Towne, and, thanks to the Squire's good word, was
engaged for a month on trial, making himself so useful that it was soon
evident he was the right man in the right place. He lived on the hill,
but managed to get down to the little brown house in the evening for a
word with Ben, who just now was as full of business as if the President
and his Cabinet were coming.

Every thing was put in apple-pie order in and about the old house; the
great gate, with much creaking of rusty hinges and some clearing away of
rubbish, was set wide open, and the first creature who entered it was
Sancho, solemnly dragging the dead mullein which long ago had grown
above the keyhole. October frosts seemed to have spared some of the
brightest leaves for this especial occasion; and on Saturday the arched
gate-way was hung with gay wreaths, red and yellow sprays strewed the
flags, and the porch was a blaze of color with the red woodbine, that
was in its glory when the honeysuckle was leafless.

Fortunately it was a half-holiday, so the children could trim and
chatter to their heart's content, and the little girls ran about
sticking funny decorations where no one would ever think of looking for
them. Ben was absorbed in his flags, which were sprinkled all down the
avenue with a lavish display, suggesting several Fourth of Julys rolled
into one. Mr. Brown had come to lend a hand, and did so most
energetically, for the break-neck things he did with his son during the
decoration fever would have terrified Mrs. Moss out of her wits, if she
had not been in the house giving last touches to every room, while Randa
and Katy set forth a sumptuous tea.

All was going well, and the train would be due in an hour, when luckless
Bab nearly turned the rejoicing into mourning, the feast into ashes. She
heard her mother say to Randa, "There ought to be a fire in every room,
it looks so cheerful, and the air is chilly spite of the sunshine;" and,
never waiting to hear the reply that some of the long-unused chimneys
were not safe till cleaned, off went Bab with an apron full of old
shingles, and made a roaring blaze in the front room fire-place, which
was of all others the one to be let alone, as the flue was out of order.

Charmed with the brilliant light and the crackle of the tindery fuel,
Miss Bab refilled her apron, and fed the fire till the chimney began to
rumble ominously, sparks to fly out at the top, and soot and swallows'
nests to come tumbling down upon the hearth. Then, scared at what she
had done, the little mischief-maker hastily buried her fire, swept up
the rubbish, and ran off, thinking no one would discover her prank if
she never told.

Everybody was very busy, and the big chimney blazed and rumbled
unnoticed till the cloud of smoke caught Ben's eye as he festooned his
last effort in the flag line, part of an old sheet with the words
"Father has come!" in red cambric letters half a foot long sewed upon
it.

"Hullo! I do believe they've got up a bonfire. without asking my leave.
Miss Celia never would let us, because the sheds and roofs are so old
and dry; I must see about it. Catch me, Daddy, I'm coming down!" cried
Ben, dropping out of the elm with no more thought of where he might
light than a squirrel swinging from bough to bough.

His father caught him, and followed in haste as his nimble-footed son
raced up the avenue, to stop in the gate-way, frightened at the prospect
before him, for falling sparks had already kindled the roof here and
there, and the chimney smoked and roared like a small volcano, while
Katy's wails and Randa's cries for water came from within.

"Up there with wet blankets, while I get out the hose!" cried Mr. Brown,
as he saw at a glance what the danger was.

Ben vanished; and, before his father got the garden hose rigged, he was
on the roof with a dripping blanket over the worst spot. Mrs. Moss had
her wits about her in a minute, and ran to put in the fireboard, and
stop the draught. Then, stationing Randa to watch that the falling
cinders did no harm inside, she hurried off to help Mr. Brown, who might
not know where things were. But he had roughed it so long, that he was
the man for emergencies, and seemed to lay his hand on whatever was
needed, by a sort of instinct. Finding that the hose was too short to
reach the upper part of the roof, he was on the roof in a jiffy with two
pails of water, and quenched the most dangerous spots before much harm
was done.

This he kept up till the chimney burned itself out, while Ben dodged
about among the gables with a watering pot, lest some stray sparks
should be over-looked, and break out afresh.

While they worked there, Betty ran to and fro with a dipper of water,
trying to help; and Sancho barked violently, as if he objected to this
sort of illumination. But where was Bab, who revelled in flurries? No
one missed her till the fire was out, and the tired, sooty people met to
talk over the danger just escaped.

"Poor Miss Celia wouldn't have had a roof over her head, if it hadn't
been for you, Mr. Brown," said Mrs. Moss, sinking into a kitchen chair,
pale with the excitement.

"It would have burnt lively, but I guess it's all right now. Keep an eye
on the roof, Ben, and I'll step up garret and see if all's safe there.
Didn't you know that chimney was foul, ma'am?" asked the man, as he
wiped the perspiration off his grimy face.

"Randa said it was, and I 'in surprised she made a fire there," began
Mrs. Moss, looking at the maid, who just then came in with a pan full of
soot.

"Bless you, ma'am, I never thought of such a thing, nor Katy neither. 
That naughty Bab must have done it, and so don't dar'st to show
herself," answered the irate Randa, whose nice room was in a mess.

"Where is the child?" asked her mother; and a hunt was immediately
instituted by Betty and Sancho, while the elders cleared up.

Anxious Betty searched high and low, called and cried, but all in vain;
and was about to sit down in despair, when Sancho made a bolt into his
new kennel and brought out a shoe with a foot in it while a doleful
squeal came from the straw within.

"Oh, Bab, how could you do it?  Ma was frightened dreadfully," said
Betty, gently tugging at the striped leg, as Sancho poked his head in
for another shoe.

"Is it all burnt up?" demanded a smothered voice from the recesses of
the kennel.

"Only pieces of the roof.  Ben and his father put it out, and I helped,"
answered Betty, cheering up a little as she recalled her noble
exertions.

"What do they do to folks who set houses afire?" asked the voice again.

"I don't know; but you needn't be afraid, there isn't much harm done, I
guess, and Miss Celia will forgive you, she's so good."

"Thorny won't; he calls me a 'botheration,' and I guess I am," mourned
the unseen culprit, with sincere contrition.

"I'll ask him; he is always good to me.  They will be here pretty soon,
so you'd better come out and be made tidy," suggested the comforter.

"I never can come out, for every one will hate me," sobbed Bab among the
straw, as she pulled in her foot, as if retiring for ever from an
outraged world.

"Ma won't, she's too busy cleaning up; so it's a good time to come. 
Let's run home, wash our hands, and be all nice when they see us. I'll
love you, no matter what anybody else does," said Betty, consoling the
poor little sinner, and proposing the sort of repentance most likely to
find favor in the eyes of the agitated elders.

"P'raps I'd better go home, for Sanch will want his bed," and Bab gladly
availed herself of that excuse to back out of her refuge, a very
crumpled, dusty young lady, with a dejected face and much straw sticking
in her hair.

Betty led her sadly away, for she still protested that she never should
dare to meet the offended public again; but in fifteen minutes both
appeared in fine order and good spirits, and naughty Bab escaped a
lecture for the time being, as the train would soon be due.

At the first sound of the car whistle every one turned good-natured as
if by magic, and flew to the gate smiling as if all mishaps were
forgiven and forgotten. Mrs. Moss, however, slipped quietly away, and
was the first to greet Mrs. Celia as the carriage stopped at the
entrance of the avenue, so that the luggage might go in by way of the
lodge.

"We will walk up and you shall tell us the news as we go, for I see you
have some," said the young lady, in her friendly manner, when Mrs. Moss
had given her welcome and paid her respects to the gentleman who shook
hands in a way that convinced her he was indeed what Thorny called him,
"regularly jolly," though he was a minister.

That being exactly what she came for, the good woman told her tidings as
rapidly as possible, and the new-comers were so glad to hear of Ben's
happiness they made very light of Bab's bonfire, though it had nearly
burnt their house down.

"We won't say a word about it, for every one must be happy to-day," said
Mr. George, so kindly that Mrs. Moss felt a load taken off her heart at
once.

"Bab was always teasing me for fireworks, but I guess she has had enough
for the present," laughed Thorny, who was gallantly escorting Bab's
mother up the avenue.

"Every one is so kind! Teacher was out with the children to cheer us as
we passed, and here you all are making things pretty for me," said Mrs.
Celia, smiling with tears in her eyes, as they drew near the great gate,
which certainly did present an animated if not an imposing appearance.

Randa and Katy stood on one side, all in their best, bobbing delighted
courtesies; Mr. Brown, half hidden behind the gate on the other side,
was keeping Sancho erect, so that he might present arms promptly when
the bride appeared. As flowers were scarce, on either post stood a rosy
little girl clapping her hands, while out from the thicket of red and
yellow boughs, which made a grand bouquet in the lantern frame, came
Ben's head and shoulders, as he waved his grandest flag with its gold
paper "Welcome Home!" on a blue ground.

"Isn't it beautiful!" cried Mrs. Celia, throwing kisses to the children,
shaking hands with her maids, and glancing brightly at the stranger who
was keeping Sanch quiet.

"Most people adorn their gate-posts with stone balls, vases, or
griffins; your living images are a great improvement, love, especially
the happy boy in the middle," said Mr. George, eying Ben with interest,
as he nearly tumbled overboard, top-heavy with his banner.

"You must finish what I have only begun," answered Celia, adding gayly
as Sancho broke loose and came to offer both his paw and his
congratulations. "Sanch, introduce your master, that I may thank him for
coming back in time to save my old house."

"If I'd saved a dozen it wouldn't have half paid for all you've done for
my boy, ma'am," answered Mr. Brown, bursting out from behind the gate
quite red with gratitude and pleasure.

"I loved to do it, so please remember that this is still his home till
you make one for him. Thank God, he is no longer fatherless!" and her
sweet face said even more than her words as the white hand cordially
shook the brown one with a burn across the back.

"Come on, sister.  I see the tea-table all ready, and I'm awfully
hungry," interrupted Thorny, who had not a ray of sentiment about him,
though very glad Ben had got his father back again.

"Come over, by-and-by, little friends, and let me thank you for your
pretty welcome, -- it certainly is a warm one;" and Mrs. Celia glanced
merrily from the three bright faces above her to the old chimney, which
still smoked sullenly.

"Oh, don't!" cried Bab, hiding her face.

"She didn't mean to," added Betty, pleadingly.

"Three cheers for the bride!" roared Ben, dipping his flag, as leaning
on her husband's arm his dear mistress passed under the gay arch, along
the leaf-strewn walk, over the threshold of the house which was to be
her happy home for many years.

The closed gate where the lonely little wanderer once lay was always to
stand open now, and the path where children played before was free to
all comers, for a hospitable welcome henceforth awaited rich and poor,
young and old, sad and gay, Under the Lilacs.



THE END




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