A FLORAL WELCOME

“WELL,” said Marjorie, “I think it’s too perfectly, awfully, horribly
dreadful for anything in all this world!”

“I do, too,” agreed King. “It’s a calamity, and a catastrophe and a
cat,—a cata—cataclysm!”

“Of course it is,” said Kitty, who was philosophical. “But as it’s all
settled, and we’ve got to live through it, we may as well make the best
of it.”

“The best of it!” grumbled King; “there isn’t any best! It’s all
outrageously horrid, and that’s all there is about it! I don’t see how
we can stand it.”

“S’pose we say we just _won’t_ stand it,” suggested Marjorie; “do you
think they’d stay home?”

“No, indeedy!” declared King. “You know as well as I do, the tickets are
bought, and everything is arranged for.”

“Even us,” said Kitty, sadly.

“Yes; even us,” repeated her brother. “And how are we arranged for? Left
in charge of Larkin! Old Loony Larkin!”

“Hush, King, that’s disrespectful,” said Marjorie, laughing in spite of
herself.

“Well, she is old; and she is Larkin; and _I_ think she’s loony!”

“But you mustn’t say so, if you do,” persisted Marjorie.

“Indeed you mustn’t,” said Mrs. Maynard, coming into the living room
where the three children were holding an indignation meeting. “I’m
ashamed of you, King!”

“Aw, Mother, forgive me this once, and I won’t ever say such a thing
again till next time.”

Kingdon sidled up to his mother, and nestled his cheek against hers in
such a cajoling way, that Mrs. Maynard smiled, and forbore further
reproof just then.

“But, dearies all,” she went on, “you mustn’t take such an attitude
toward Miss Larkin; she’s good and kind and will look after you nicely
till I return.”

“Larkin, Larkin,
All the time a-barkin’,”

chanted King, pinching his mother’s lips together, so she couldn’t
reprimand him.

The whole tale of the Maynard children’s tribulations may be told in a
few words.

Mrs. Maynard’s health was not quite up to its usual standard, and her
husband had decided to take her for a short Southern trip. They would be
absent from home about six weeks, and Miss Larkin, a friend of Mrs.
Maynard’s, was to come and take care of the household of four children.

Now, though the little Maynards were perhaps more inclined to mischief
than model children ought to be, they were a loving and affectionate
little brood, and, moreover, they truly tried to correct their faults as
pointed out to them by their parents.

The fundamental principle of Mr. and Mrs. Maynard’s training was
common-sense, and this, added to deep parental love, made their
discipline both wise and kind.

Mrs. Maynard, herself, had some doubts of Miss Larkin’s ability to
manage the children tactfully, but there was no one else to ask to stay
with them, and they could not be left entirely in charge of the
servants, trusted and tried though they were.

But it was only for six weeks, anyway, and as Mr. Maynard said, they
couldn’t become thorough-going reprobates in that short time.

Miss Larkin was delighted with the prospect. A quiet and rather lonely
spinster, she welcomed the idea of a stay in a merry, lively home, where
she should be the commanding spirit over both children and servants.

And so, it was only the four small Maynards who raised objections.
Though they didn’t actively dislike Miss Larkin, they felt she was not
in sympathy with their childish affairs and they could not know that
this arose from ignorance, not unwillingness on her part.

It was a long time since Miss Larkin had been a child, and when she was,
she was not like the children of to-day.

She thought she understood young people, but her ideas were
old-fashioned, and often quite contradictory to the Maynards’ views.

However, as Kitty had said, the matter was settled. Mr. and Mrs. Maynard
were going, Miss Larkin was coming, and all they had to do was to accept
the situation and make the best of it.

“And perhaps it won’t be so bad,” said Mother Maynard, as they talked it
over. “When Miss Larkin is living here with you, she’ll be more chummy
and jolly than when she just comes to call or to spend the day.”

“I hope so,” sighed Marjorie; “you see, it’ll be the worst for me.
King’s a boy, and he won’t have to have much to do with her; Kitty
doesn’t seem to mind her so much, anyway; and, of course Rosy Posy is
too little to care. But I shall have to entertain her, and go walking
with her, and,—and, oh, Mother, how I shall miss _you_!”

Marjorie fairly pulled King out of Mrs. Maynard’s arms, and flung
herself into them, with one of her sudden bursts of demonstrative
affection.

“Take me with you, Mothery,” she wailed; “oh, _do_ take me with you!”

“Nonsense, Midget,” said Mrs. Maynard, knowing it was best to treat the
matter lightly; “why, the family would all go to pieces if you weren’t
here. As you just now implied you’re the most important member of the
household, and you’re needed here to keep all running smoothly in my
absence.”

This was a new view of things, and Marjorie brightened up considerably.

“Shall I be head of the house, Mother? May I sit at the head of the
table?”

Mrs. Maynard took a moment to think this over. Marjorie was only twelve,
and she was sometimes a harum-scarum little girl; but, on the other
hand, if she felt a sense of importance, she often acted with good sense
and judgment beyond her years. At last Mrs. Maynard said:

“Yes, Midget; I believe I will let you sit at the head of the table.
Miss Larkin is really a guest, and I think it would be better for you to
be hostess in my place. Kingdon will sit in his father’s place, and I
shall trust you two to uphold the dignity and decorum of the Maynard
household.”

“Will Miss Larkin like that?” said Marjorie.

“I think so; or I should not consent to the arrangement. Miss Larkin is,
I know, more anxious to please you children, than you are to please her.
And so, to please me, I want you all to be very good to her. Kind,
polite, deferential, considerate, all the things that a host and hostess
should be to their guest.”

“H’m,” said Marjorie, considering; “p’raps she’d better be hostess, and
let me be guest.”

“No, Mopsy; that matter’s settled. You shall be the lady of the house;
and Miss Larkin your honored guest for whose pleasure and comfort you
must do all you can.”

“Pooh,” said King, “if she’s only company, I don’t see why she need come
at all.”

“In return for your kindness to her, she will do much for you. She will
really keep house, in the sense of giving orders, looking after your
clothes and mending, and superintending the servants.”

“Must we obey her, Mother?”

“Well, that’s rather a delicate point, my boy. I hope there’ll be no
very serious questions of obedience, for I trust you won’t want to do
anything that Miss Larkin will think she ought to forbid.”

“But if she does, must we obey?” persisted Kingdon.

“Hello, hello! What’s all this about love, honor, and obey?” cried a
voice in the doorway, and the Maynards looked up to see Mr. Maynard
smiling at them as he entered the room.

“Oh, Father!” cried Marjorie, making a spring at him; “do come and help
us settle these awful questions. Must we obey Miss Larkin, while you and
Mother are away?”

“Me ’bey Miss Larky,” said Rosy Posy, as she toddled to her father and
clasped him round the knees, nearly upsetting that genial gentleman. “Me
goody gail; me ’bey Miss Larky booful.”

“Kit’s good at it, too,” said King. “So let Kitty and Rosy Posy do the
obeying, and Mops and I will count out.”

“What direful deeds are you planning, in defiance of Miss Larkin’s
orders?” asked Mr. Maynard, sitting down, and taking the baby up in his
arms.

“Not any,” said King; “but I hate to feel that I must do as she says,
whether I want to or not.”

“But,” said his father, “you always do as Mother says, whether you want
to, or not.”

“Yes, sir; but then, you see, I love Mother.”

This simple explanation seemed to please Mr. Maynard, and he said:

“Well, I wouldn’t bother much about this obedience matter. I doubt if
Miss Larkin lays down very strict laws, anyway. Suppose you take this
for a rule. Don’t do anything that you think Mother would forbid if she
were at home.”

“That’s ever so much better,” said King, with a sigh of relief. “I did
hate to be tied to old Larky’s apron strings.”

“Hold on, King, my boy. Stop right there. Obedience is one thing,
respect another. You are, at _my_ orders, to be respectful to Miss
Larkin, both in speech and in spirit. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir,” said Kingdon, looking ashamed. “I understand, and I’ll obey;
but, Father, we always call her Larky.”

“But you won’t any more. I don’t think you realize what bad taste it is,
for a child to speak so of an elder person. Call your school friends by
nicknames, if you like, but show to grown-ups the civility and respect
that good-breeding calls for.”

“All right; I’ll call her the Honorable Miss Larkin; Dear Madam,” and
King swept a magnificent bow nearly to the floor, in token of his great
respect for the lady.

“But do hurry home as soon as you can,” said Marjorie, as she squeezed
her father’s coat sleeve with one hand, and with the other reached out
to grasp a fold of her mother’s trailing gown.

“We’ll be gone just six weeks, dearie,” said Mr. Maynard. “I can’t
remain away longer than that. And I think that will be long enough to
make the roses bloom once more on Mother’s wan cheeks.” Mrs. Maynard
smiled.

“I’m not really ill, Ed,” she said; “it’s more of a pleasure trip than a
health trip, I think. And six weeks will be quite long enough to burden
Miss Larkin with these four beautiful but not very manageable children.”

“And, oh, Father,” cried Marjorie, “there’ll be an Ourday while you’re
gone! What shall we do about that?”

“Bless my stars!” said Mr. Maynard; “so there will. I hadn’t thought of
that! Shall we give up the trip, Helen?”

“No,” said Kitty, who always took things seriously; “we can have two
Ourdays together when you come back.”

“Bravo, Kitsie!” said her father; “you have a logical head. I think you
had better take charge of the family while we’re gone.”

“I’m not old enough,” said Kitty, practically. “But I’ll help all I
can.”

“I know you will,” said Mrs. Maynard, caressing her. “And you’ll all do
the best you can. I know my quartette, and I can trust them to do
right,—if they think in time.”

“That’s just it,” said Mr. Maynard, his eyes twinkling. “I expect King
or Midget will pull the house down around Miss Larkin’s ears, and then
excuse themselves by saying they forgot it was mischievous until it was
all over.”

“All over Miss Larkin, I suppose you mean,” said Marjorie, chuckling at
her own joke.

“Oho!” laughed Kingdon; “Mopsy’s quite a wit, isn’t she? Give us
another, Midget!”

As he spoke, he affectionately pulled off Marjorie’s hair ribbon, and
the mop of dark curls that gave her one of her nicknames came tumbling
all over her laughing face.

This was a favorite performance of King’s, and though it never teased
Marjorie, there was, of course, but one reply to it. That was to tweak
the end of King’s Windsor tie out of its neat bow, and, if possible, out
from under his flat round white collar.

But knowing what was coming, King sprang away and around the table
before even quick-motioned Midget could catch him. Of course a race
ensued. Round the room they went, knocking over a few chairs and light
articles of furniture, until King paused and danced maddeningly up and
down on one side of the large centre table, while Midget, at the other
side, stood alert to spring after him should he run.

“Mopsy, Midget, Midge, just come around the idge!” sang King, as he made
a feint of going one way, then another.

But even as he leaned over to smile teasingly in her face, Marjorie made
a quick grab across the table, and just gripped the end of his tie
enough to untie it.

Then, of course, peace was declared, although a pile of books was
knocked off the table, and a small vase upset.

“My dear children,” sighed Mrs. Maynard, as Marjorie, flushed but
smiling with victory, came back to her mother to have her hair retied,
“_why_ do you have to play so,—so emphatically?”

“Why, I just had to catch him, you see,” was Midget’s plausible
explanation, “’cause a hair-ribbon pull-off always means a necktie
untie. Doesn’t it, King?”

“Yep,” agreed her brother, who was adjusting his tie before a mirror,
“always. If Miss Larkin pulls off my tie, I shall sure go for her
hair-ribbon.”

“I believe you would,” said Mrs. Maynard; “and the worst of it is, Miss
Larkin will be so anxious to entertain and amuse you, that I’m sure
she’ll try to enter into your childish games. If she does, do try to
remember she’s a lady and not a member of the Jinks Club.”

“She can be a member if she wants to,” said King, condescendingly; “only
if she is, she must take what she gets.”

“Well, she’ll be here pretty soon, and I’ll warn her,” said Mr. Maynard.

“No,” said his wife, “she’s not coming to-night, after all. I expected
her, but she telephoned to-day that she can’t come until to-morrow
afternoon.”

“And we leave to-morrow morning! Why, my dear, that’s too bad.”

“Yes; I’m sorry, for there are lots of things I want to tell her. I’ll
write a long note and leave it for her. And, Marjorie, I trust to you to
welcome her properly, and in every way act like a gracious hostess.”

“I think I’ll practise,” said Midget, jumping up. “Now, you be Miss
Larkin, Father, and I’ll be me.”

“Very well,” said Mr. Maynard, going out to the hall, and coming in
again.

“Why, how do you do, Marjorie?” he said, offering his hand in exact
imitation but not caricature of Miss Larkin’s vivacious manner. Marjorie
suppressed a giggle, and gave her hand, as she said:

“How do you do, Miss Larkin? I hope you understand that we’re a very bad
crowd of children. At least, King and I are. Kit and Rosy are angels.”

“Indeed! I thought you were the angelic one.”

“Oh, no; Miss Larkin. I’m awful bad; and King is even worse.”

“Nothing of the sort,” put in King. “I’m bad, I know, but I can’t hold a
candle to Mops for real lovely mischief.”

“You come pretty near it,” said his mother, laughing; “and now scamper,
all of you, and make yourselves tidy for dinner.”

“Good-by, Miss Larkin,” said Marjorie, again shaking hands with her
father. “You can’t say you haven’t been warned!”

“They’ll lead the poor girl a dance,” said Mrs. Maynard, as she watched
the four romp out of the room and up the stairs.

“Oh, it will do her good,” replied Mr. Maynard. “And it will do them
good too. Even if there are scenes, it will all be a new experience for
Miss Larkin, and a shaking up will do her no harm. As to the children,
they’ll live through it, and if they have some little troubles, it will
help to develop their characters. And as for us, Helen, we’ll have a
good vacation, and come home refreshed and strong to set right anything
that has gone wrong in our absence.”

“Very well,” said Mrs. Maynard, agreeing, as she usually did, with her
clever, sensible husband.

BREAKFAST next morning was not the gay, cheery feast it usually was.

Mrs. Maynard came to the table with her hat on, and the children seemed
suddenly to realize afresh that their mother was going away.

“Oh,” said Marjorie, “I wish I could go to sleep for six weeks, and then
wake up the day you come home again.”

“Oh, you have that farewell feeling now,” said Mr. Maynard; “but after
we’re really gone, and you find out what fun it is to have no one to
rule over you, you’ll begin to wish we would stay six months instead of
six weeks.” Marjorie cast a look of reproach at her father.

“Not much!” she said, emphatically. “I wish you’d only stay six days, or
six hours.”

“Or six minutes,” added Kitty. But at last the melancholy meal was over,
and the good-bys really began.

“Cut it short,” said Mr. Maynard, fearing the grief of the emotional
children would affect his wife’s nerves.

They clung alternately to either parent, now bewailing the coming
separation, and again cheering up as Mr. Maynard made delightful
promises of sending back letters, postcards, pictures and gifts from
every stopping-place on their journey.

“And be very good to Miss Larkin,” said Mrs. Maynard, by way of final
injunction. “Cheer her up if she is lonely, and then you’ll forget that
you’re lonely yourselves.” This was a novel idea.

“Oho!” said King, “I guess she’d better cheer us up.”

“Oh, the four of you can cheer each other,” said Mr. Maynard. “Come,
Helen, the carriage is waiting—Good-by for the last time, chickadees.
Now, brace up, and let your mother go away with a memory of four smiling
faces.”

This was a pretty big order, but the Maynard children were made of
pretty good stuff after all, and in response to their father’s request
they did show four smiling, though tearful faces, as Mrs. Maynard waved
a good-by from the carriage window. But as the carriage passed through
the gate and was lost to their sight, the four turned back to the house
with doleful countenances indeed.

Rosy Posy recovered first, and at an invitation from Nurse to come and
cut paper-dolls, she went off smiling in her usual happy fashion. Not so
the others.

Kitty threw herself on the sofa and burying her face in a pillow sobbed
as if her heart would break.

This nearly unnerved King, who, being a boy, was specially determined
not to cry.

“Let up, Kit,” he said, with a sort of tender gruffness in his tone. “If
you don’t you’ll have us all at it. I say, Mops, let’s play something.”

“Don’t feel like it,” said Marjorie, who was digging at her eyes with a
wet ball of a handkerchief.

It was Saturday, so they couldn’t go to school, and there really seemed
to be nothing to do.

But reaction is bound to come, and after a time, Kitty’s sobs grew less
frequent and less violent; King managed to keep his mouth up at the
corners; and Marjorie shook out her wet handkerchief and hung it over a
chair-back with some slight feeling of interest.

“I think,” Midget began, “that the nicest thing to do this morning would
be something that Mother would like to have us do. Something special, I
mean.”

“Such as what?” asked Kitty, between two of those choking after-sobs
that follow a hard crying-spell.

“I don’t know, exactly. Can’t you think of something, King? Maybe
something for Miss Larkin.”

“I’ll tell you,” said King; “let’s put flowers in her room! Mother would
like us to do that.”

“All right,” said Midget, but without enthusiasm; “only I meant
something bigger. Something that would take us all the morning. We could
put a bouquet of flowers up there in five minutes.”

“But I don’t mean just a bouquet,” explained King. “I mean a lot of
flowers—decorate it all up, you know.” Marjorie brightened, and Kitty
displayed a cordial interest.

“Wreaths and garlands,” went on King, drawing on his imagination, “and a
‘Welcome’ in big letters.”

“Fine!” cried Kitty, who loved to decorate; “and festoons and streamers
and flags.”

“All right, come on!” said Midget. “Let’s give her a rousing good
welcome. It’ll please her, and it will please Mother when we tell her.”

“But what shall we make our wreaths and garlands of?” asked Kitty, who
was always the first to see the practical side.

“That’s so,” said King, “there isn’t a flower in the garden.” As it was
only the second week in March, not many flowers could be expected to be
in bloom.

“Never mind,” said Marjorie, her ingenuity coming to the rescue,
“there’s lots of evergreen and laurel leaves to make wreaths and things,
and we can make paper flowers. Pink tissue paper roses are lovely.”

“So they are,” agreed Kitty. “’Deed we will have enough to do to fill up
the morning. You go and cut a lot of greens, King, and Mopsy and I will
begin on the flowers.”

“Haven’t any pink paper,” said Midget. “Let’s all go downtown and get
that first, and then we can get some ice cream soda at the same time.”

“That’s a go!” cried King. “Hurry up, girls.”

In ten minutes the three were into their hats and coats, and arm in arm
started for the village drug shop.

In this convenient store, they found pink paper and equally pink ice
cream soda. Having despatched the latter with just enough
procrastination to appreciate its exquisite flavor and texture, they
took their roll of tissue paper and hastened home.

Then Marjorie and Kitty went to work in earnest, and it is astonishing
how fast pink paper roses can grow under skilful little fingers. Their
method was a simple one. A strip of paper was cut, about twelve inches
long and two inches wide. This was folded in eight sections, and the
folded tops cut in one round scallop. Thus, the paper when unfolded,
showed eight large scallops. These were the rose petals, and were deftly
curled a trifle at the edges, by the use of an ivory paper-knife. Then
the strip was very loosely rolled round itself, the pretty petals
touched into place, the stem end pinched up tight and wound with a bit
of wire, which also formed a stem.

Midge and Kitty had made these before, and were adept in the art.

So when King came in, they had a good-sized waste-basket filled with
their flowers.

King brought not only evergreens, and laurel sprays, but some trailing
vines that had kept green through the winter’s frost.

“There!” he said, as he deposited his burden on the floor; “I guess that
will decorate Larky’s room—I mean the Honorable Miss Larkin’s
room—just about right. Jiminy, what a lot of flowers!”

“Yes, aren’t they fine!” agreed Marjorie. “We have enough now, Kit,
let’s take ’em up.”

Upstairs they went, to the pretty guest room that had been appointed for
Miss Larkin’s use, during her stay with the Maynards. Many hands make
light work, and soon the room was transformed.

From a dainty, well-appointed chamber, it changed to the appearance of a
holiday bazaar of some sort.

Garlands of greens, stuck full of pink roses, wreathed the mirrors and
pictures. Wreaths or nosegays were pinned to the lace curtains, tied to
the brass bedposts, and set around on bureau, tables, mantel, and
wherever a place could be found. The Maynard children had no notion of
moderation, and with them, to do anything at all, usually meant to
overdo it, unless restrained by older heads and hands.

“I think streamers are pretty,” said Marjorie. “Let’s tie our best
sashes on these big bouquets.”

“Oh, yes,” said Kitty, “and some hair-ribbons, too.”

A hasty visit to their bedroom resulted in many ribbons and sashes,
which were soon fluttering gracefully from wreaths, bedposts, and
chair-backs.

“We must have a ‘Welcome’ somewhere,” said King, as he stood, with his
hands in his pockets, admiring the results of their labors.

“There’s a great big ‘Welcome’ sign, up in the attic,” said Kitty; “the
one we had for a transparency when the Governor came, you know.”

“Oh, I know!” cried King. “That big white muslin thing, with black
letters. I’ll get it.”

He raced away to the attic, and soon came back with the big painted
sign.

As it was about ten feet long, it was nearly unmanageable, but at last
they managed to fasten it up above the mantel, and it surely gave
evidence of a hearty welcome to the coming guest.

“I found this in the attic, too,” said King, unrolling a smaller strip
of muslin.

This bore the legend “We Mourn Our Loss,” and had been used many years
before, beneath the portrait of a martyred President.

“I thought,” he explained, “that it seemed too bad to make such a
hullabaloo over Miss Larkin, and make no reference to Father and
Mother.”

“Oh, I think so, too,” cried Marjorie. “It will be lovely to put this up
in memory of them. Shall we drape it in black?”

“No, you goose!” said King. “They aren’t dead! We’ll put a little flag
at each corner, like a Bon Voyage thing, or whatever you call it.”

“Oh, yes; like the pillow Mother sent to Miss Barstow when she went to
Europe. That had a flag in each corner, and Bon Voyage right across it,
cattycorner. What does Bon Voyage mean, anyway?”

“It means ‘hope you have a good time,’” said Kitty; “and I’m sure we
hope Father and Mother will have a good time.”

“Yes, I know,” said Midget, “but what has that got to do with Miss
Larkin?”

“Oh, well, we may as well do our decorating all in one room,” said
sensible Kitty. “Come on, let’s hurry up and finish; I’m awful tired,
and hungry, too.”

“So’m I,” said both the others, and they finished up their decorating in
short order.

“Sarah,” called Marjorie, at last, to the good-natured and
long-suffering waitress, “won’t you please come and clear away this
mess; we’ve finished our work.”

“For goodness’ sake, Miss Marjorie!” exclaimed Sarah, as she saw the
guest room; “now, why did you do this? Your mother told me to put this
room tidy for the lady, and I did, and now you’ve gone and cluttered it
all up.”

“You’re mistaken, Sarah,” said King. “We’ve decorated it in honor of the
lady that’s coming. Now, you just take away the stuff on the floor, and
sweep up a bit, and straighten the chairs, and smooth over the bed, and
the room will look lovely.”

“And perhaps you’d better put on fresh pillow-shams,” added Marjorie;
“somehow those got all crumpled. And we broke the lampshade. Can’t you
get one out of Mother’s room to replace it?”

“Oh, yes,” said Sarah, half laughing, half grumbling; “of course I can
do the room all over. It needs a thorough cleaning after all this mess.”

“Well, thorough-clean it, then,” said Marjorie, patting Sarah’s arm.
“But don’t touch our decorations! They’re to assure the lady of our
welcome.”

“I’ll not touch ’em, Miss Marjorie; but any lady’d get the nightmare to
sleep in such a jungle as this.”

“It is like a jungle, isn’t it?” said King. “I didn’t think of that
before. Maybe Miss Larkin will think we mean she’s a wild beast.”

“No,” said Kitty, with her usual air of settling a question. “It’s
lovely, all of it. You just tidy up, Sarah, and it will be all right,
and Miss Larkin will adore it. Is luncheon ready?”

“Almost, Miss Kitty. It will be by when you’re ready yourselves.”

The children gave one more admiring glance at their decorations, and
then ran away to get ready for luncheon.

“What time is she coming?” asked Kitty, as she and Midge tied each
other’s hair-ribbons.

“I don’t know, exactly. About four, Mother thought. She told me to show
her to her room, and ask her if she’d like tea sent up.”

“Doesn’t it make you feel grown up to do things like that?” asked Kitty,
looking at her older sister with admiring eyes.

“Yes—sort of. But I forget it right away again, and feel
little-girlish. Come on, Kits, are you ready?”

Luncheon was great fun. Marjorie at one end of the table, and King at
the other, felt a wonderful sense of dignity and responsibility. Kitty
and Rosy seemed to them very young and childish.

“Will you have some cold beef, Marjorie,” said King, “or a little of the
omelet?”

“Both, thank you,” replied Midget, “and a lot of each.”

“Ho! that doesn’t sound like Mother,” said King, grinning.

“I don’t care,” said Marjorie. “Just because I sit in Mother’s place,
I’m not going to eat as little as she does! I’d starve to death.”

“All right, sister, you shall have all you want,” and King gave Sarah a
well-filled plate for Midget’s delectation.

“Isn’t it fun to be alone?” said Kitty, and then added hastily: “I don’t
mean without Mother and Father, I mean without Miss Larkin.”

“Yes,” agreed Marjorie. “I do feel glad that she didn’t come this
morning, and we can lunch alone. It’s sort of like a party.”

“I wish it was a party,” said Kitty, “’cause then we’d have ice cream.”

“P’raps we’ll have ice cream a lot, when Miss Larkin gets here,” said
Marjorie. “Mother left a letter for her, and it says for her to order
everything nice to eat.”

“Then I’m glad she’s coming,” declared Kitty, who loved good things to
eat.

After luncheon the hours dragged a little. The house seemed empty and
forlorn, and the children didn’t know exactly what to do.

“Why don’t you go over to see Delight?” Kitty asked of her sister; “and
then, I’ll go to see Dorothy.”

“I don’t feel like it,” answered Midget. “I feel all sort of lost, and I
don’t want Delight, or anybody else—except Mother.”

“Huh!” said King, “squealing already! Chuck it, Mops. Come on outdoors
and play tag.”

King’s suggestion proved a good one, for somehow a game of tag in the
cool, bracing, outdoor air did them all good, and when at last it was
time to dress for afternoon, and to receive Miss Larkin, it was a
smiling group of children who awaited the coming guest.

IT was about four o’clock when Miss Larkin arrived. Mindful of their
newly-acquired dignity, the children awaited her in the drawing-room.

But when Sarah opened the hall door for the guest, a great commotion was
heard.

“Yes,” said Miss Larkin’s high, shrill voice; “that trunk must be put in
my bedroom; also these two suit-cases, and this hold-all. Oh, yes, and
this travelling-bag. That other trunk may be put in your trunk-room if
you have one—or attic, if you haven’t. I sha’n’t want it for several
weeks yet. This basket, take to the kitchen—be careful with it—and
these other things you may put anywhere for the present. Where are the
babies? the dear babies?”

“Oh, King, she’s fairly moving in!” said Marjorie, in a whisper, as she
saw James, the coachman, carrying a rocking-chair through the hall, and
Sarah’s arms piled with wraps and bundles.

But encumbered as she was, Sarah managed to usher Miss Larkin into the
drawing-room.

“Oh, here you are, little dears!” exclaimed the visitor, as she rushed
rapidly from one to another, and, disregarding their polite curtseys,
kissed each child heartily on the cheek. “My poor, orphaned babies!
Don’t grieve for your parents. I will be to you all that they could be.
Come to me with your little troubles. I will soothe and comfort you.”

“Yes, Miss Larkin,” said Marjorie, rather bewildered by this flood of
conversation. “Mother said you would look after us. And now, would you
like to go to your room, and have some tea sent up?”

Miss Larkin stared at her in amazement.

“Tea!” she said; “why, bless my soul, child, yes, of course, I should
like tea; but I supposed I should order it myself. What do you know
about tea, little one?”

It suddenly dawned on Marjorie that Miss Larkin looked upon them all as
helpless infants, and had no realization that they were not all of Rosy
Posy’s age. She suppressed a smile, and said:

“Why, Mother said you were to have it when you came; either down here,
or in your room, as you wish.”

Still Miss Larkin seemed unable to take it in.

“Yes, dear,” she said, “I’ll have it upstairs, whilst I rest, and unpack
some of my things. But I came here to be housekeeper for you, not to
have you look after me.”

“All right, Miss Larkin,” said King, pleasantly. “You can housekeep all
you like. Midget isn’t very good at it. Now, if you’re going to your
room, we’ll all go, too, and see how you like it.”

“Ess, Miss Larky,” put in Rosy Posy. “Come on—see booful f’owers and
pitty welcome flag.”

“What’s a welcome flag?” inquired Miss Larkin, but her question was not
answered, as the children were already leading the way upstairs.

They were followed by two or three of the servants, who were carrying up
the astonishing amount of luggage which the guest had brought. Marjorie
thought they had never had a visitor with so many bags and boxes; but
then their visitors didn’t often stay so long as six weeks.

The children pranced into the room first, and waited in delighted
impatience to hear Miss Larkin’s words of approval.

“What are you doing here?” she inquired, pleasantly. “Having a fair of
some sort? Is this your playroom?”

“No, Miss Larkin,” explained Marjorie. “This is your room. We decorated
it on purpose for you. We want you to feel welcome.”

The lady looked around at the bewildering array of greens and pink
flowers.

It was a trying moment, for Miss Larkin’s tastes were inclined toward
the Puritanical, and she liked a large room almost bare of furniture,
and scrupulously prim and tidy.

Had she followed her inclinations, she would have said to Sarah, “Sweep
all this rubbish out”; but as she saw the children’s expectant faces,
evidently waiting for her to express her appreciation, her tactfulness
served her just in time.

“For me!” she exclaimed; “you did all this for me! Why, you dear, dear
children!”

They capered round her in glee. It was a success, then, after all.

“Yes,” cried Marjorie, “it’s all for you, and we’re so glad you like it.
That is, the ‘Welcome’ is for you; the other sign, with the flags on it,
is for Mother and Father—in their memory, you know.”

“Yes,” said Miss Larkin, though her lips were twitching, “yes, I know.”

“The ribbons, of course, we will take back,” explained careful Kitty;
“for they’re our sashes and hair-ribbons. But they can stay all the time
you’re here—unless we need some of them—and the flowers you can take
home with you, if you like. They’re only paper, you see.”

“Of course,” said Miss Larkin. “One couldn’t expect real roses at this
time of year, and anyway paper ones are so much more lasting.”

“Yes, and they smell good, too,” said Marjorie, “for I sprayed them with
the cologne atomizer.”

“Where are you going to put all your things?” asked Kingdon, with
interest, as the servants continued to bring in luggage.

“Well,” said Miss Larkin, thoughtfully, “I don’t know. I brought this
rocking-chair, because I never go anywhere without it. It’s my favorite
chair. But I thought we could take out one of your chairs to make room
for it. I don’t like much furniture in my room.”

“Of course,” said Marjorie, politely. “King, won’t you put that wicker
rocker in Mother’s room? Then Miss Larkin’s chair can be by the window.”

“Good boy,” said the visitor, with an approving smile, as King took away
the wicker chair.

“And now,” she went on, as he returned, “if you’ll just take away also
that small table, and those two chairs over there, and that
sewing-screen, and that large waste-basket, and that tabouret and
jardiniere, I’ll be much obliged.”

“Whew!” said King; “I think I’ll ask Thomas to come up and help me. Are
you sure you want all those taken out, Miss Larkin?”

“Yes, child. The room is too full of useless furniture. I can’t stand
it.”

“Well, Miss Larkin,” said Marjorie, “I’m sure Mother would like you to
have things just as you want them. But I don’t believe we children can
help you fix them. I think we’d better go downstairs and be out of your
way. Then you tell Sarah and Thomas what you want, and they’ll do it.”

“Very well,” said Miss Larkin, with a preoccupied air. She was trying
her rocking-chair as she spoke, now at one window and now at another,
and seemed scarcely to hear Marjorie’s words.

Just then, Sarah appeared with the tea-tray, and so Midget told her to
await Miss Larkin’s orders, and to call Thomas, if necessary, to help
her move the furniture.

Then the four children went downstairs, and after giving Rosamond over
to the care of Nurse Nannie, they held a council of war.

“She’s crazy,” said Marjorie, with an air of deep conviction.

“I knew it!” declared King. “You know I called her Loony Larky. You
needn’t frown at me, Midge; I’m not calling her that now. I’m just
reminding you.”

“Well, I believe she is. Did you ever hear of a guest cutting up so?”

“I don’t believe she liked the decorations,” said Kitty, thoughtfully.

“She said she did,” observed King.

“Yes; but that was just so she wouldn’t hurt our feelings,” went on
Kitty. “I saw her look when she first got into the room, and I thought
she looked disgusted. Then, to be nice to us, she said they were
lovely.”

“Then she’s deceitful,” said Marjorie, “and that’s a horrid thing to
be.”

“’Most always it is,” argued patient Kitty; “but it’s sometimes
’scusable when you do it to be polite. She couldn’t very well tell us
she hated our greens and roses—but I know she did.”

“I know it, too,” said King, gloomily. “We had all that trouble for
nothing.”

“Well,” said Marjorie, after thinking a moment; “even if she didn’t like
the welcome and garlands, she must have ’preciated the trouble we took,
and she must have understood that we meant to please her.”

“’Course she did,” said Kitty, “and that’s why she seemed pleased about
it. Now, I think, we’d better go up and tell her that if she wants to,
she can have all that stuff carted out.”

“Oh, Kit!” cried Midge, reproachfully. “It’s so pretty, and we worked so
hard over it.”

“I know it, Mops, but if she doesn’t want it there, it’s a shame for her
to have to have it.”

“You’re right, old Kitsie,” said King; “you’re right quite sometimes
often. Mops, she _is_ right. Now let’s go up and inform the Larky
lady—I mean Larkin lady, that we won’t feel hurt if she makes a bonfire
of our decorations in her honor.”

“I shall,” said Marjorie, pouting a little.

“Oh, pshaw, Mops; don’t be a silly. A nice hostess you are, if you make
a guest sleep in a jungle, when she likes a plain, bare room.”

Marjorie’s brow cleared. A sense of responsibility always called out her
better nature, and she agreed to go with the others to see Miss Larkin.
Upstairs they tramped, King between his two sisters, and as the Maynards
rarely did anything quietly, they sounded like a small army pounding up
the steps.

“What _is_ the matter?” exclaimed Miss Larkin, flying to her door as
they approached.

“Why, we came to tell you,” began Marjorie, somewhat out of breath,
“that—that——”

“That if you’d rather not have that racket of ‘Welcome’ stuff in your
room, you can pitch it out,” continued King.

“Just tell Thomas,” went on Kitty, in her soft, cooing way, “and he’ll
carry it all away for you.”

“But why shouldn’t I like it?” said Miss Larkin, who hadn’t quite
grasped the rapid speech of the children.

“Oh, ’cause it _is_ trumpery,” said King. “And we think that you just
hate it——”

“And that you said it was nice, so not to ’fend us,” went on Kitty, “and
so, we’ll freely forgive you if you don’t want it. But we do want our
ribbons back.”

“And we may as well keep the ‘Welcome’ and the mournful signs,” added
Marjorie; “for you see, our next guest might be of a more—more gay and
festive nature.”

“Oh, I’m gay and festive,” said Miss Larkin, with her funny little
giggle, which somehow always irritated the children; “but since you
insist, I believe I will have these greens taken away. The scent of
evergreens is a little overpowering to my delicate nerves. I shouldn’t
have dreamed of suggesting it, but since you have done so—ah, may I
ring for Thomas at once?”

Sarah answered Miss Larkin’s bell, and Thomas was sent for.

Then the lady seemed to forget all about the children, and returned to
her tea and bread-and-butter.

Feeling themselves dismissed, they went downstairs again.

“Goodness, gracious, sakes alive!” said King, slowly; “have we got to
live six weeks with _that_?”

“Don’t be disrespectful,” said Marjorie, remembering her father’s words,
“but I do think she’s just about the worst ever.”

“We’ve got to have her here,” said Kitty, “so we may as well make the
best of it.”

“Oh, Kittums,” groaned King, “you’d make the best of a lame caterpillar,
I do believe.”

“Well, you might as well,” protested Kitty, stoutly. She was used to
being chaffed about her optimism, but still persisted in it, because it
was innate with her.

“All right,” said King, “let’s forget it. What do you say to ‘Still
Pond; no moving’?”

This was a game that greatly belied its name, for though supposed to be
played in silence, it always developed into a noisy romp.

But for this very reason it was a favorite with the Maynard children,
and by way of cheering their flagging spirits, they now entered into it
with unusual zest.

“Do you s’pose Miss Larkin is playing this same game with Thomas and
Sarah?” asked Marjorie, as during a lull in their own game they heard as
much, if not more noise in the room above.

“’Spect she’s still moving furniture,” said King, after listening a
moment. “Hope she doesn’t take a fancy to my new chiffonier.”

“We ought to have told her what time dinner is,” said Marjorie.

“You’re a gay old hostess, aren’t you, Mops?” teased her brother.

But Kitty said, “Oh, she’ll ask Sarah. Don’t let’s think any more about
her till dinner time.”

This was good advice, and was promptly acted upon.

And so it was half-past six before the young Maynards saw their guest
again.

Miss Larkin had asked the dinner hour of Sarah, and promptly to the
minute she came downstairs, attired in a black silk dress, quite stiff
with jet ornaments.

“I am your guest to-night, my dears,” she said, as she patted each one’s
head in turn; “but to-morrow I shall myself take up the reins of
government, and all household cares. I have a letter, left for me by
your dear mother, in which she bids me do just as I think best in all
matters. She tells me to order such things as I wish, and to command the
servants as I choose. I’m sure I need not tell you I shall do my best to
make you all comfortable and happy.”

Miss Larkin beamed so pleasantly on the children, that it was impossible
not to respond, so they all smiled back at her, while Marjorie said,
“I’m sure you will, Miss Larkin.”

“And now,” the lady went on, “I have here a little gift for each of you.
I brought them to show my love and affection for you all.”

Then she gave to each of the quartette a small box, and sat beaming
benignantly as the children tore open the wrappings.

Cries of delight followed, for the gifts were lovely, indeed.

Marjorie’s was a narrow gold bangle, set all round with tiny
half-pearls.

Kitty’s was a gold ring, with a turquoise setting.

King’s, a pair of pretty sleeve-links, and Rosy Posy’s a pair of little
gold yoke pins.

“Oh, Miss Larkin!” exclaimed Marjorie, over-whelmed by the beauty and
unexpectedness of these gifts.

“It’s just like Christmas,” declared King, and Kitty, too pleased for
words, went slowly up to Miss Larkin and kissed her.

The baby was scarcely old enough to be really appreciative, but the
other three were delighted with their presents, and said so with
enthusiasm.

“I’m glad you like them,” said Miss Larkin, “and now let us go to
dinner.”

Marjorie felt a little shy as she took her place at the head of the
table, and she asked Miss Larkin if she wished to sit there.

“No, my dear; your mother wrote in her note that she wished you to have
that seat. I shall, of course, exercise a supervision over your manners,
and tell you wherein I think they may be improved.”

This speech made Marjorie feel decidedly embarrassed, and she wondered
why she liked Miss Larkin one minute and didn’t like her the next.

Then she smiled to herself as she realized that she liked her when she
presented pearl bracelets, and didn’t like her when she proposed
discipline!

This was a fine state of affairs, indeed!

And so compunctious did it make Marjorie feel, that she said, “I hope
you will correct me, when I need it, Miss Larkin; for my manners are not
very good.”

King and Kitty stared at this. What had come over wilful, headstrong
Midget to make her talk like that?

But Miss Larkin only smiled pleasantly, and made no comment on
Marjorie’s manners as a hostess, all through dinner.

As the two sisters were going to bed that night, Kitty said:

“I can’t make her out. I think she’s real nice, and then the next minute
she does something so queer, I don’t know what to make of it.”

“I think she’s what they call eccentric,” said Marjorie. “And I do
believe if we let her alone a good deal, she’ll let us alone. She seems
awfully wrapped up in her own affairs. If she doesn’t interfere too
much, I think we’ll get along all right. But I wish Mother was home.”

“So do I. Oh, Mops, there isn’t one day gone yet! Out of forty-two!”

“Well, skip into bed; the time flies faster when you’re asleep.”

“So it does,” agreed Kitty; “good-night.”