ON THE WAY HOME

PRACTICAL-MINDED Kitty was dismayed. She always looked ahead quicker and
farther than Kingdon or Marjorie, and though her gentle little heart
ached for the poor Simpsons, it would never have occurred to her to
invite them into her own home.

But then, too, Kitty, as a younger sister, had always agreed to the
plans of the older ones, unless by her common-sense she could argue them
down. And in this instance there was no opportunity for argument. King
and Midget had proved themselves heroes, and were even now receiving the
applause that was their due. Since, therefore, the die was cast, Kitty
had no intention of being left out of the glory of it.

Seizing Rosy Posy by the hand, the two ran to King’s side, and the four
Maynards received an ovation that would not have done discredit to a
returning war-veteran.

To be sure, the admiring audience was largely composed of the citizens
of this lowly locality, but their appreciation was as deep and their
voices were as strong as those of the aristocrats on the other side of
the bridge.

“And as we’re going to do this,” said Kitty, when the cheers had
subsided, “we’d better get about it before all those children catch
their death of cold.”

It was five o’clock now, and the sun was getting low, and the March wind
high.

The seven small Simpsons had on no hats or wraps, nor, for that matter,
did the four small Maynards, so Kitty’s suggestion was really on the
side of wisdom and prudence.

“Right you are, little Miss,” said the burly overseer, “and as you
children are so kind as to take these sufferin’ folks to your own house,
I’ll see to it that what few sticks of furnicher they’ve saved is taken
care of.”

“Oh, thank you!” cried Marjorie; “then we can go right home. I’m so
afraid our baby will catch cold. And Mrs. Simpson’s babies, too,” she
added, considerately. “Come on, Rosy Pet; come with Middy.”

Rosamond put her cold little hand in Midget’s, and Kitty said, “We must
all run; that’s the way to get warm. Come on.”

“Wait a minute,” said Mrs. Simpson, who had not yet really accepted her
invitation; “I’m thinkin’ it ain’t right for us to go to your ma’s
house, an’ her away from home. It ain’t for the likes of us to go into a
grand house with carpets and pictures. And I’m thinkin’ we’d ought to go
to the poorhouse, after all.”

For a moment Marjorie felt relieved. After her impulsive invitation, a
sort of reaction had left her wondering how it would all turn out. And
now she had a chance to retract and reconsider her offer.

But again the woebegone look on Mrs. Simpson’s tearful face, and the
forlornness of the seven shivering children smote her heart, and she
couldn’t help saying:

“It _is_ right, Mrs. Simpson. You know how kind my mother is to you, and
now she’s away, _I’m_ head of the house.”

Unconsciously, Marjorie drew up her plump little figure to its full
height, and her air of authority carried its own conviction.

“Yes, indeed,” chimed in King. “And I know my father would say just what
I say; come ahead, Mrs. Simpson, and welcome!”

As a matter of fact, King was not moved so much by the certainty that
his father would say this, as by his natural impulse to back up
Marjorie’s invitation, and also assert his own position as “head of the
house” equally with herself.

Something of this same spirit imbued Kitty, and she said:

“Indeed, I think we’d be very selfish not to share our home with these
poor, afflicted people. Mrs. Simpson, don’t you bother about anything at
all; you just bring your children and come right along with us. Father
often says to us, ‘Children, in a ’mergency you must think for
yourselves, and think quickly.’ So now we’ve thought, and we did it as
quick as we could; so you just come on and say no more about it.”

Kitty did not mean to be crisp of speech, but Mrs. Simpson was still
looking uncertain, and diffidently hanging back, and Kitty was anxious
to get home.

“Yes; come on,” said King, realizing himself the need for immediate
action.

“Well, I’ll go, just for to-night,” said Mrs. Simpson, looking scared at
her own decision. “I’ll go, as I haven’t a roof where to lay my head—I
mean—a—a——”

The poor woman was really incoherent from shock and excitement. Always
frail, she had overworked her strength to keep her family clothed and
fed, and now she was nearly at the end of her endurance.

“Here, ma’am, I’ll go with you,” said a kind-hearted neighbor, one of
the few now left in the rapidly thinning crowd. He took the poor woman
by the arm, saying, “You Simpson children come along, now,” and then
waited respectfully for the Maynards to lead the way. So King marched
boldly ahead, followed by Midget and Kitty, with the tired Rosy Posy
between them. Next came Mrs. Simpson and her escort, and then the seven
Simpson children, shy and awkward now, by reason of a sudden realization
of where they were going.

It was far from being an imposing-looking parade. Kingdon, though
valiant-hearted, was secretly a little dubious about the whole
proceeding. It had been Marjorie’s idea, and he had willingly subscribed
to it, but it certainly was a great responsibility.

It was right—yes, he felt sure it was right—but it seemed to open up
such a bewildering array of future consequences, that he couldn’t even
dare to think about them.

Then suddenly he realized that he was lonely. Why should he walk alone?
He turned to join the other three, feeling the necessity of sympathetic
companionship, but at the sight of the three girls behind him, he burst
into a peal of laughter.

“Oh! if you could see yourselves!” he cried, for he hadn’t before
noticed their appearance. “Mops, you’re just covered with smoky
smudges—your dress is more black than white! And Kit, how _did_ you get
torn so?”

The girls stood still and looked at each other. Never before in their
short lives, had they been through an occasion so momentous as to render
them entirely oblivious of everything else. But the fire and its
thrilling scenes, followed by this absorbing responsibility of the
Simpsons’ entire career, had left them no time to think of themselves or
each other.

“Goodness gracious me!” exclaimed Marjorie, as she looked at the awful
wrecks of her two sisters’ once immaculate costumes; “am I as bad as
that?”

“Your face is even blacker than Kit’s,” declared King, after looking
critically at each. “Rosy Posy, you seem to have met a waterspout
somewhere.”

“Ess,” said the little one, forlornly. “Nassy old big man frowed water
on me out o’ a long hose fing.”

It was quite evident that a careless fireman had deluged the child, and
King looked greatly concerned.

“She’ll get pneumonia in those wet clothes,” he said; “we must hurry
home faster. Come, Baby, brother’ll carry you.”

“Do, p’ease,” she said; “I’se so tired an’ wet.”

A chubby five-year-old is no light burden for a boy, but King picked up
his little sister, and trudged on faster.

“Oh, King!” said Marjorie, hurrying her steps to keep up with him, “I’ve
just thought of it! The Mortimers will be there when we get home!”

“I’ve thought of it all along,” said King, with a gloomy shake of his
head. “I don’t know what’ll happen, Mops; but we’ve got to brave it out
now.”

“But how can we? What _will_ Miss Larkin say?”

“You ought to have thought of that sooner,” said Kitty. “I did. I
thought of her first thing. But you two didn’t ask my advice.”

Poor Kitty couldn’t help this little fling. Often her judgment was
better than theirs, but being older, King and Marjorie never asked her
opinion until it was too late.

“And think how we look!” wailed Marjorie, her mind going ahead, as they
neared home.

“I’ve been thinking of it,” said King, grimly, as he shifted the baby to
his other arm. “I say, Mops, we’re in no end of a mess, and I don’t know
what we’re up against. But there’s one comfort; it isn’t mischief, and
we haven’t done anything wrong.”

“It isn’t mischief,” agreed Midget; “that’s sure. But I’m not so sure we
haven’t done wrong. When I asked Mrs. Simpson, it seemed the only thing
to do; and it seemed—it seemed——”

“Grand and noble,” suggested King.

“Yes, it did! Sort of splendid, and ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ you
know. But now——”

“Now,” said Kitty, “we’ve got to face the music. We’ve got to go in the
house, looking like ragpickers ourselves, and taking with us a crowd of
people who look—well, nearly as bad! and then, we’ve got to face Miss
Larkin and her grand company!”

“We can’t!” exclaimed Marjorie, stopping short, quite appalled at the
picture Kitty drew so graphically.

“We’ve got to!” declared King. “Come on, Mops, I can’t carry this baby
much farther. Rosy Posy, you’re a bunch of sweetness, but you’re an
awful heavy one.”

“Is I?” said the little one, apologetically, as she nestled close to the
big brother whom she adored, and patted his grimy face with her equally
grimy little hand.

“Let me carry the little girl,” said the big man, who, just behind, was
looking after Mrs. Simpson.

But Rosamond was shy, and utterly refused to go to the arms of a
stranger.

“Never mind,” said King, wearily. “We’re almost home now. I can manage
her.”

They turned in at the front gate, and the procession started up the
Maynard driveway.

“Guess I’ll go back now,” said the stranger man, a little abashed at the
sight of the great house, brilliantly lighted, that was partly visible
through the trees. “You all right, now, Mis’ Simpson?”

“Yes,” said the trembling woman, frightened herself, and weak from
fatigue and exhaustion.

“Here, you Sam,” said the man to the oldest boy; “come here and take
a-hold of your ma. She’s pretty near faintin’. Get her to bed’s soon’s
you can. Good-bye, all!”

With an embarrassed gesture, he snatched off his old cap, replaced it as
suddenly, and turning, fled down the path in an actual spasm of
stage-fright.

Though Mrs. Simpson had not heard the children’s discussion on the way
home, he had, and he knew that warm-hearted as the little Maynards were,
they had a serious situation confronting them when they opened their own
front door.

This, and his own embarrassment at the sight of unaccustomed grandeur,
made him seek refuge in panic-stricken flight.

Some of the young Simpsons were almost ready to follow him, but the
braver ones were on tiptoe of glad expectation at the thought of going
into the beautiful house. They knew the Maynards pretty well, and having
always found them kindly and pleasant, had no fear save such as was
engendered by the awe of wealth and luxurious surroundings.

“Set down the baby, and let me think a minute,” said Marjorie to her
brother, as they were within a few yards of the house. “We’ve got to
take the Simpsons in, of course, but do you think Miss Larkin would like
it better if we all went round to the side door? You see, we all look
like the dickens, and she’s so particular about those Mortimer people.”

“No, I don’t think so,” said King. “This is an emergency. It’s an
accident, a tragedy, a very special occasion. She will have to forgive
our appearance, ’cause we couldn’t help it. We were doing our best to be
helpful to people in trouble, and if we got all messed up by it, it
isn’t our fault. And, besides, it’s our house, and the Simpsons are our
comp’ny. We’ve more right there than Miss Larkin and her comp’ny. So, if
she has any sense, she’ll understand all this. And so, I say, go right
in the front door, and do our best.”

“I think all that, too,” agreed Midge, “but I only thought if it would
hurt Larky’s feelings to see us girls looking so disreputable, we might
spruce into clean clothes before we saw the Mortimers.”

“What do you think, Kit?” said King, with a sudden remembrance of
Kitty’s good sense in a dilemma.

Kitty, much elated at being appealed to, answered at once:

“I think King’s right. It’s our house, and this is our whole show. Miss
Larkin has company to-night, and that’s her whole show. We needn’t
interfere with each other at all. ’Course it’s too bad that we look so
dirty and all, but who wouldn’t, after they’d been managing a whole
fire? And so I say, let’s march right in, and not act as if we’d been
doing anything wrong. We haven’t, and I don’t see, Mops, why you act as
if we had.”

“It isn’t wrong,” said Marjorie, still standing still, and digging her
patent-leather toe thoughtfully into the hard ground of the drive; “but
I do want to spare Larky’s feelings all I can. She was so particular
about our keeping clean, and you know, we truly meant to, and now, look
at us!”

“Oh, pshaw!” said Kitty; “we’d have kept lovely and clean if we’d stayed
at home. But we went out, and got into this—this predickerment, and
’course we got smoky and all. We can get washed and dressed after we
tell Larky all about it. Come on, do; I’m awful hungry, and I’m tired,
too.”

“All right,” said Marjorie, still a little doubtful; “come on, then. You
can walk now, can’t you, Posy Pet?”

“Ess; I’s all wested now. Take hold my hand.”

So the four Maynards, hand in hand, walked on, and then mounted the
broad steps of their own front verandah.

“Come on, Mrs. Simpson,” said Marjorie, over her shoulder. Her voice was
full of the kindest hospitality and welcome. In doubt about Miss
Larkin’s attitude in the matter, she might be; in doubt about the wisdom
of making their entrance before strange guests, without first repairing
their toilets, she might be; but in Marjorie’s honest little heart there
was not a shadow of doubt that she was doing right in offering the
shelter of her home to these unfortunate refugees.

She felt sure that had her parents been at home they would have done the
same thing, and in their absence her own sense of responsibility
asserted itself, and upheld her in her present action.

The eight Simpsons trudged up the steps behind the Maynards, and as they
all stood in front of the long glass doors, whose heavy lace panels only
partly screened the brightly lighted hall, King rang the bell.

NOW, while the Simpsons’ cottage had been burning, the occupants of the
Maynard house had been in a state of great consternation. Miss Larkin
and her two guests from Boston had arrived shortly after five o’clock,
and Sarah met them at the door with a scared look on her face.

“Are the children with you, ma’am?” she said, as Miss Larkin stepped
across the threshold.

“With me, Sarah? No, indeed. I left them in the drawing-room.”

“Well, they’re not there, ma’am; and they’re not in the house. I thought
as how they must have run out to meet the carriage. Master King’s cap
and the little girls’ hats is in their places, so they haven’t gone
far.”

“Oh, I suppose they’re hiding, to tease us,” said Miss Larkin, in an
annoyed tone. “They’ll probably jump out of the guest-room wardrobe, or
something like that. Mrs. Mortimer, you must be prepared for childish
pranks. The little Maynards are the most mischievous children I ever
saw.”

Mrs. Mortimer smiled, and said nothing, but her expression seemed to
indicate little tolerance for juvenile misbehavior. She had no children
of her own, and so had not learned patience and forbearance as mothers
have to.

But Mr. Mortimer was by nature more sympathetic with childish ways.

“Good for the kiddies!” he cried. “I like little folks with some fun in
them. If they jump out of a cupboard at me, they’ll catch a rousing
reception.”

He smiled broadly, and looked about for some laughing faces to appear
suddenly.

“It’s nice of you to be so indulgent,” said Miss Larkin, but she herself
was far from pleased. She had hoped to present four demure and
prettily-dressed children, whose manners should seem above reproach even
to exacting Mrs. Mortimer.

However, there was no sight or sound of the Maynard quartette, so the
guests were shown to their rooms by Sarah, while Miss Larkin laid aside
her own wraps, and then went to the kitchen to see that dinner was
progressing properly.

“Where do you suppose the children are, Ellen?” she asked of the cook.

The good-natured face of the Irishwoman looked a little anxious, as she
replied:

“Shure, I dunno, ma’am. I’m thinkin’ it’s not hidin’ they do be, fer
they’d be fer bowsin’ out afore this. No, Miss Larkin, they must ’ave
went out to meet the kerridge, an’ thin, their attintion bein’ divarted,
they’ve wint som’ers else.”

“Oh, nonsense, Ellen; they wouldn’t go off like that, without hats, and
with their best clothes on.”

“It’s no sayin’ what them childher wud or wuddent do, ma’am. There’s
nothin’ I’d put past ’em; nothin’ at all, ma’am!”

“Well, but, Ellen—if they’re not in the house—if they’ve wandered
away, we ought to send some one after them. It’s dark now, and they
should be at home.”

“An’ where wud ye be sindin’ to, ma’am? Shure they might be over to Mis’
Spencer’s—I jist thought o’ that.”

“I’ll telephone over and find out. Meanwhile, go on with the
preparations for dinner, Ellen; I still think they’re hiding in the
house, the naughty little rascals.”

Greatly annoyed at the troublesome situation, Miss Larkin telephoned to
Mrs. Spencer, and to one or two other neighbors, but could get no word
of the children.

Then, hearing her guests coming downstairs, she returned to the
drawing-room to receive them.

“I can’t understand it,” she said, as they came in; “if the children
were hiding, they would appear by this time. They are not the kind to
keep still very long. The cook thinks they are not in the house, but
Sarah and I think they must be.”

“Jolly little scamps!” said Mr. Mortimer, rubbing his hands in glee.
“When I was a child, I always loved to play practical jokes myself.”

“I didn’t,” said Mrs. Mortimer, as she seated herself stiffly on the
satin sofa. “I think it very bad manners, and I’m surprised that Helen
Maynard encourages such ways in her children.”

“Well, I must say it isn’t Helen’s fault,” said Miss Larkin, eager to do
her friend justice; “Helen is really pretty strict with them, in her
gentle way. But they are everlastingly inventing some new kind of
mischief that no one ever heard of before. Like as not, they are out on
the roof, or in some such crazy place.”

“The roof!” gasped Mrs. Mortimer, raising her hands in horror. “Won’t
they fall off?”

“Oh, they’re not really there,” said Miss Larkin, “and they wouldn’t
fall off if they were. But I don’t know exactly what to do. I can’t help
feeling worried about them. Suppose they’ve all been kidnapped.”

“Kidnappers don’t often take four at a time,” said Mr. Mortimer,
smiling. “I fancy they’re all right, wherever they are.”

It was at this moment the doorbell rang.

It did not occur to Miss Larkin that the children might be outside, and
seating herself primly, she waited while Sarah admitted the guest,
whoever it might be.

So Sarah opened the front door, and at sight of the four untidy-looking
children, and the nondescript group behind them, she gave an
uncontrollable shriek, and fell back, half-dazed, as what seemed like an
endless procession of people marched in.

King and Marjorie, as ringleaders, went straight up to Miss Larkin.

“We brought these people home with us,” explained Marjorie, simply.
“They are the Simpsons. Their house burned down, and their father is in
the hospital, and they have no home to cover their heads, and so we
brought them here. Father and Mother always look out for them and——”

But Marjorie quailed at last before the flush of anger on Miss Larkin’s
face, and the look of frozen horror on the countenance of the strange
lady, who, she knew, must be Mrs. Mortimer.

Suddenly she realized her own shocking appearance, and the dreadful
spectacle of the crowd behind her.

But Kingdon rose to the occasion.

“And so, Miss Larkin,” he went on, slipping his comforting hand into
Midget’s, “as Mopsy and I have to take Father and Mother’s place while
they’re away, we invited Mrs. Simpson and her children to come here for
a few days, until they get another home.”

“Here! A few days!” repeated Miss Larkin, and, looking helplessly about,
she sank back into the chair from which she had risen, and, closing her
eyes, seemed about to faint away.

“Ugh! how appalling!” said Mrs. Mortimer, in the tone one might use at
seeing a dozen boa constrictors suddenly turned loose in one’s vicinity.

But there was also a note of contempt in her voice, which touched
Marjorie’s self-respect. At any rate, she must not forget her own
manners, whatever Miss Larkin’s guest might do. She turned to the
strange lady, and curtseyed prettily.

“How do you do, Mrs. Mortimer?” she said; “I can’t shake hands until I’m
tidied up.”

“I should think not,” said Mrs. Mortimer, with a slight shudder, but
Marjorie, having made her greetings, turned to the other guest.

She was about to speak to him in the same formal manner, when he grasped
her hand, and said, cordially:

“How do you do, Miss Marjorie? You have evidently had an adventure. Can
I help you in any way?”

His genial tones as well as his actual words were such a comfort to
Marjorie, that she regained at once her rapidly-disappearing composure,
and felt that she had found, most unexpectedly, a helpful friend.

King, too, appreciated the gentleman’s good-will, and after a few words
of greeting, felt his own courage fortified, and went over to where Miss
Larkin sat, with her eyes still closed to the dreadful sight before her.
“Now, look here, Larky,” he whispered, “you’re making it all worse by
acting like that. Brace up to the ’casion, and let’s see what we can
do.”

“What we can _do_!” echoed Miss Larkin, as she opened her eyes to treat
Kingdon to an angry glare. “There’s nothing to do! You have disgraced me
forever.”

“Indeed you have,” said Mrs. Mortimer, who seemed to resent the invasion
quite as much as if she were, herself, in authority. “I have heard you
children were mischievous, but I never could have dreamed of such a
high-handed performance as this.”

“But it had to be high-handed,” urged Kitty, who took the guest’s speech
very seriously. “There was no time for anything but a high-handed
performance. Why, you know how fast a fire burns——” she said, turning
to Mr. Mortimer, as to the one friend in sight.

“Indeed, I do,” he responded, heartily. “And now, that this rather
unexpected event has occurred, some of its minor details must be
attended to.”

The Maynards, despite their anxiety and worry, looked at Mr. Mortimer
with open-eyed curiosity. They were not surprised at the attitudes of
Miss Larkin and Mrs. Mortimer, but for a complete stranger to enter so
into the spirit of their own intent, and, moreover, to have a lurking
twinkle in his eye, that spoke well for his sense of humor, was, indeed,
cheering.

“Yes, sir; that’s just it,” said Kitty, delighted to find some one who
appreciated the need for immediate action. “We’ve asked these people
here, and now we must provide for them.” She clasped her sooty little
hands, as she looked confidently up into the kind face that smiled
quizzically at her.

“Yes, that is so,” Mr. Mortimer agreed. And then he turned to Miss
Larkin, who was still unable to cope with the situation.

“It seems to me,” he said, looking at his wife and his hostess, who were
both fairly helpless with indignation, “that, if you will permit me,
Miss Larkin, I will advise and assist the Maynard children in this
rather trying matter. I am not surprised that you are a little overcome,
and so at risk of seeming presumptuous, I am going to do all I can to
bring about a more satisfactory state of affairs.”

“James,” said Mrs. Mortimer, “I think you are overstepping all bounds of
propriety. I think that neither you nor Miss Larkin are called upon to
interfere in this dreadful escapade of Mrs. Maynard’s children. Summon
the servants, and let them do whatever may be necessary.”

Marjorie flushed crimson. She felt that a guest of Miss Larkin had no
right to talk so about other guests who had been invited to the Maynard
house by the Maynards themselves. But she also knew that a little girl
must not express views contrary to those of a grown-up lady, so she said
nothing.

“There, there, Hester,” said her husband, “don’t put your finger in this
pie. One of our family is enough, and I propose to do all the
interfering myself. Now, Kingdon and Marjorie, as I know nothing of your
household, I’ll have to ask a few questions. Where did you propose to
put these guests of yours to sleep to-night?”

“I don’t know what Midget thought,” said King, “and I hadn’t quite
settled it in my own mind; but I thought Ellen or James would help us
out. There’s an extra room in the attic that Mrs. Simpson could use, and
then—I thought maybe James could fix some bunks somewhere for the
children.”

“Yes,” said Marjorie, “there’s a big loft over the carriage-house——”

“But that’s too cold,” objected Kitty. “I thought they could sleep in
the kitchen.”

“The kitchen!” exclaimed Mrs. Mortimer, in that tone of biting sarcasm
that was even more irritating than Miss Larkin’s dumb despair.

Meantime the household servants, though they had not been summoned, were
hovering round in the hall.

Ellen, at risk of endangering the fine dinner she was preparing, had
come to see if she could help her beloved young people in any way.
Nannie, seeing Rosy Posy’s plight, had carried her off to the nursery,
and Sarah, wringing her hands in dismay, was consulting in whispers with
Thomas, as to what could be done to help Miss Marjorie and Master King
out of this scrape.

As for the Simpsons themselves, they, of course, had no part in the
discussion. Mrs. Simpson, in a sort of apathy, sat with her head
drooped, and a baby in her arms; while two others, scarcely more than
babies, clutched at her dress and hid their faces if any one looked at
them. The other four stood behind their mother’s chair, wriggling
awkwardly, and uncertain whether to cry or to feel pleased at being
guests of the great house, even though of doubtful welcome.

“No, Miss Kitty, dear,” said Ellen, coming to the doorway of the
drawing-room, “ye can’t be afther usin’ my kitchen fer bedrooms. But the
pore woman can have my bed fer the night, an’ I’ll shlape on the flure
or annywhere, so I will.”

“An’ I will, too,” said Sarah, wiping her eyes, for her warm heart
sympathized with the anxiety of the children she loved.

“An’ I’ll see to some few of ’em,” said Thomas, from the background,
“though I’m sure, Miss Marjorie, they’d all catch pewmonia a-sleepin’ in
the carriage-loft.”

“Now, I’ll make a suggestion,” said Mr. Mortimer. “Ellen, do you think
you could make Mrs. Simpson and that smallest baby comfortable for the
night?”

“I’m shure I cud, sor.”

“Very well. Take her away at once. Give her a cup of tea, and some
supper, and then send her to bed. The poor soul is quite worn out, and
no wonder.”

Realizing the authority of the strange gentleman, Ellen took Mrs.
Simpson’s arm, and without another word, the two went away, the mother
carrying with her the youngest child.

“Now,” went on Mr. Mortimer, “I next dismiss the three Maynards to a
liberal use of soap and water. Don’t spare the soap; use sand, if
necessary. But get yourselves clean and—I suppose you have other
clothes?”

“Yes, sir,” serious Kitty assured him.

“Then get them on, as expeditiously as possible. And with the assistance
of Thomas, I will assume the management of these six remaining Simpsons.
Run away, now, ask no questions, but leave all to me.”

King and Midget felt as if a weight were lifted from their shoulders. It
did not seem like ignobly shifting a responsibility, for Mr. Mortimer
left them no choice in the matter. He gave commands evidently with the
intention of having them obeyed.

And so, with a very earnest squeeze of his hand, Marjorie obeyed his
decree, and went upstairs, with King and Kitty on either side of her.

“Well, if he isn’t a trump!” she cried, as they reached the upper hall.

“Brick!” declared King.

“Yes, he is,” agreed Kitty, thoughtfully. “Except Father, nobody could
be as nice as he is.”

“Nobody!” echoed the other two.

“And now,” said Marjorie, “let’s do the best we can to get dressed
quick, and get downstairs in time for dinner. Let’s put on our best
clothes, and our best manners, and perhaps that crosspatch lady will
like us a little better.”

“She never will!” sighed Kitty, with conviction. “She hates us.”

“Oh, let’s get round her,” said King hopefully. “If we’re lovely and
sweet and pleasant, she’ll have nothing to growl at.”

“And clean,” supplemented Kitty. “If you look in the mirror, you’ll see
one reason why she was so disgusted.”

“Yes,” laughed King; “and if you girls look in the mirror, you’ll see
two reasons!”

Midge and Kitty were truly scandalized when they saw their mirrored
selves, and were glad of Nurse Nannie’s helpful hands to restore
tidiness.

Rosy Posy was already bathed and tucked in her crib, where she sat up
against a pillow, eating bread and milk with a sleepy disregard of the
afternoon’s excitement.

And so, it was not more than half an hour later when three spick and
span Maynards went downstairs again, in fresh attire, from hair-ribbons
to slipper-bows, though, of course, King didn’t wear hair-ribbons.

IN the drawing-room they found only the two ladies.

Perhaps Mr. Mortimer had asked them to treat the children with more
kindliness, and perhaps they themselves concluded they had been too
harsh in their judgment, but at any rate, their reception was far less
chilly than it had been an hour ago.

Mrs. Mortimer was positively gracious in her demeanor, and even smiled
as she gave Marjorie her finger-tips, after the little girl had made her
best curtsey.

Kitty followed, and King, though he had to fight down his resentful
feelings, behaved with the winsome politeness which always characterized
his “good manners.”

The children were consumed with curiosity to know how the Simpsons had
been disposed of, but deemed it better to ask no questions. So the
conversation was on trivial subjects, and Miss Larkin grew quite
amiable, as she realized that, though belated, this was the scene into
which she had desired to introduce her guest. The Simpson subject was
ignored, until, just before dinner was announced, Mr. Mortimer returned,
his eyes twinkling, and his whole expression betokening great amusement.

They went to the dining-room then, and not until the soup had been
served, did he satisfy the children’s eager desire to know what had
happened.

“I think I owe it to you, Miss Marjorie,” he began, “to tell you what I
did with your guests.”

“Oh, if you please, Mr. Mortimer,” said Marjorie, with shining eyes.

“Well, you see, it was a hard nut to crack,” he went on, unable to
resist delaying the tale in order to tease them a little bit. “There
were six children, all of them hungry, tired, and sleepy. To feed them
here, would have been a great tax on your servants, especially as you
already had house-guests. I found that this town of yours, progressive
as it is, has no orphan asylum, and besides, the Simpsons aren’t
orphans, anyway.”

“What _did_ you do?” cried Kitty, unable to conceal her interest.

“Why,” said Mr. Mortimer, slowly, as one who knows he is about to create
a sensation, “Why, I put them up at the hotel.”

“What!” cried his wife and Miss Larkin in unison, while Kitty looked
incredulous, King shouted in glee, and Marjorie giggled.

“Yes,” went on Mr. Mortimer, “it was really the only thing to do. It was
that, or the Police Station—-and I’m not sure there is a police station
in Rockwell. It seems to be a very small town, and without some of the
institutions of a metropolis. But it boasts a fair-sized hotel, which,
fortunately, is not over-crowded at the present time.”

King chuckled at this, for the scarcity of patronage at the “Rockwell
House” was a local joke.

“And did you really put them there, as regular customers?” asked
Marjorie, unable to believe such a proceeding possible.

“Well, I don’t know about regular customers; indeed, the landlord seemed
to think the whole deal a little irregular. But, anyway, they’re there
for the night.”

“The Simpson children, at a hotel!” cried King, nearly choking in his
attempt to restrain his laughter.

And indeed, so incongruous was the idea, after having seen the young
people in question, that even Mrs. Mortimer smiled, while Miss Larkin
laughed in spite of herself.

“Oh!” said Kitty, whose vivid imagination pictured the scene, “I _wish_
I had been there! Did you register them?”

This suggestion sent King and Midget into chuckles again, and Mr.
Mortimer said, gravely:

“Of course I did; from Samuel down to Mary Eliza. And I fancy those six
names will always be pointed to with pride by the worthy proprietor.”

“I hope, sir,” said King, suddenly remembering his position as “man of
the house,” “that you directed him to send the bill to my father.”

“I’ll tell you what I did do,” said Mr. Mortimer, with a business-like
air that somehow made King feel very manly at being thus addressed: “I
told him the circumstances of the case. I told him of your generous
offer of hospitality, and of the difficulties in the way of entertaining
the whole Simpson family at your own home. I laid before him the fact
that the town ought to take some interest in this calamity that has
befallen one of its poorer families; and we finally arranged that he was
to make his charges as moderate as possible, that Mr. Maynard would be
responsible for half the bill, and that the city authorities should be
asked to pay the other half. All of this, of course, subject to your
father’s sanction; and agreed to by us, in order to meet the emergency.”

“You did fine!” exclaimed King. “Thank you, Mr. Mortimer. I know Father
will say you did just right—unless he prefers to pay the whole bill
himself.”

“He can do as he likes about that. He can settle the matter with the
city authorities. But the hotel man—a mighty sensible chap, by the
way—seemed to think the townspeople would stand quite ready to do their
share, both individually and as a public measure.”

“I think they will,” said Marjorie, “for I remember when Mr. Simpson
first went to the hospital, the town looked after the family, or
something—I don’t know just what, but I know we only helped.”

“And so,” concluded Mr. Mortimer, “the small Simpsons are to-night
enjoying the luxury of lodging in a hotel, whatever fate may bring them
to-morrow.”

“You have been very kind,” said Marjorie, her eyes fairly brimming with
gratitude. “I don’t know what we should have done if you hadn’t been
here.”

“You would have had more room in your own house,” said Mr. Mortimer,
smiling.

But Miss Larkin said, “Indeed we wouldn’t have put those children in our
pretty guest rooms.”

“I don’t know,” said Kitty; “I think we would have had to do so. For I’m
sure it never would have occurred to us to take them to the hotel!”

Again King shook with laughter.

“I’d like to see them,” he said; “imagine those scared-to-death
youngsters, sitting up in the hotel dining-room!”

“Is there anybody to look after them?” asked Miss Larkin. “A matron, or
anybody?”

“Well, of course, it isn’t a juvenile asylum,” said Mr. Mortimer; “but I
persuaded the landlord’s wife to take an interest in the poor little
scraps of humanity. They really seemed very lonesome and forlorn.”

“I don’t think they need to,” observed Kitty. “They’re much more
comfortable, by this time, than they’ve ever been before in their lives.
I don’t believe they ever have enough to eat, except when we take them
Christmas dinners or Thanksgiving baskets.”

“Poor things!” exclaimed Miss Larkin, who was exceedingly sympathetic,
now that her dinner party was no longer interfered with. “To-morrow, we
must see what we can do for them.”

“Do,” said Mrs. Mortimer; “I’m sorry for them, I’m sure. But now let’s
talk of more agreeable matters.”

It seemed to Marjorie that the Boston lady was a bit heartless, but as
the children were not expected to take much part in the conversation
anyway, they behaved beautifully during the rather lengthy dinner, and
thought out little plans of their own, while their elders were talking.

After dinner, they were excused, and, rather relieved at not being
expected to go in the drawing-room again, they went upstairs.

They congregated for a few moments in the playroom, before going to bed,
and discussed hastily some plans for the next day.

“I do think Mr. Mortimer was just lovely,” said Midget. “He makes up for
his wife. She hasn’t any heart at all, I don’t b’lieve she’d have cared
if this house had burned up, ’stead of the Simpsons’!”

“Never mind her, Mopsy,” put in King; “’tisn’t polite to jump on guests
that way! But I tell you, girls, to-morrow we’ll stir up the town. I
didn’t know that they ought to look after people that get burned out,
but we’ll see that they do.”

“How?” queried Kitty, who loved to plan.

“Well, we’ll go and see that landlord man at the hotel, first. He’ll
tell us what to do, I guess. You know, we oughtn’t to bother Mr.
Mortimer any further in the matter.”

“All right,” said Marjorie, yawning; “and I’m awful sleepy, King. Let’s
settle it all in the morning.”

“All right; good-night, girls,” and with a brotherly tweak at their
curls, being careful not to pull their “dress-up” hair-ribbons, he was
off to his own room.

Next morning, Marjorie came downstairs, ready for action.

It was Saturday, so there was no school, and the three Maynards decided
to devote the day to seeing what they could do in aid of the Simpson
family.

Mr. Mortimer smiled, when they thanked him over and over for his
kindness of the night before, and then excused him from any further
responsibility in the matter.

“Oho!” said he, “am I to be left out of this picnic?”

“It isn’t exactly a picnic,” said Kitty, “and we thought you’d rather be
left out.”

“You’ve already done so much,” said King, “I’m sure we couldn’t expect
you to do anything more. Besides, Miss Larkin says you’re all going
driving this morning.”

“Yes, we are,” said his hostess. “I want to show you round this part of
the country. Some of the drives are beautiful.”

Mr. Mortimer made a comical face at the children, as if to say he was
not master of his fate, and must do as he was bid, and then they all
went to breakfast.

While at the table, Marjorie was called to the telephone.

Mr. Adams, the father of Dorothy, talked to her, and told her that Mr.
Jennings, of the hotel, had told him the whole story.

“And, Marjorie,” he said, “I am quite willing to let the Simpsons have
that cottage of mine round on Spruce Street for a few months, anyway. It
isn’t large, but it’s in good repair, and they’re welcome to the use of
it for a time.”

“Oh, how good you are!” exclaimed Midget. “And what about furniture, Mr.
Adams?”

“Well, my wife, and a few other ladies, are already talking that matter
over. They think that many of our citizens will contribute some beds,
chairs, and tables; and so, if you have any discarded things like that
in your attic, you may donate them. But don’t give anything your mother
might want to keep.”

“All right,” returned Marjorie. “I’ll go over to see Mrs. Adams after
breakfast, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Midget felt very grown up at being consulted by Mr. Adams, and it was
with an air of importance that she returned to the breakfast table. She
told of Mr. Adams’ kindness in letting the Simpsons use his vacant
house, which was really a pretty little cottage on a pleasant street.

“Whew!” said King, “they’ll have to brace up if they’re going to live in
a house like that. Why, it’s an awful jolly little place.”

“It may be a good thing for them,” said Mr. Mortimer. “Teach them
self-respect, and help them to try to keep their heads up.”

“Won’t it be fun to fix it up for them!” exclaimed Marjorie. “I shall
give them my old bureau cover—my new one is nearly finished.”

“Ho!” said King; “they need lots of things much more than a bureau
cover. Let’s ask Mr. Smith, the grocer, to give them a barrel of flour.”

“Don’t strike too high,” advised Mr. Mortimer; “ask him for a sack of
flour, and you’re more likely to get it. Why don’t you children canvass
the town? I’m sure you could wheedle more charity out of the shopkeepers
and other citizens than all the city authorities together.”

“I’d like to,” said Marjorie, dubiously, “but I don’t know whether
Father would approve of that. Once we were a Village Improvement
Society, and we got into an awful fuss!”

“But that was quite different,” urged Kitty. “This is for charity—a
noble cause. I’d just as lieve go round with a basket, and collect
things for them.”

“Not literally a basket, my child,” advised Mr. Mortimer, “but surely it
would do no harm to ask contributions from the people you know well.”

“I’ll tell you what!” exclaimed King. “Let the whole Jinks Club do it.
We never have done anything charitable in the Club, and this is a good
time to begin.”

“Well,” said Marjorie, “I think it would be fine. But let’s go and ask
Mrs. Adams about it first. I guess she’s at the head of the Poor
Society, and she’ll tell us what to do.”

So, after breakfast, the three Maynard “Jinkses” started out. They
gathered in Delight on the way, and while the girls went to Dorothy’s
house, King ran over for Flip Henderson.

Mrs. Adams not only approved their plan, but offered to loan a big
wagon, a pair of horses, and a driver to transport any furniture or
clothing that might be donated.

Then such fun as the Jinks Club had! They called on everybody they knew,
and some that they didn’t know. They collected a fine lot of second-hand
furniture, and clothing, as well as a liberal supply of provisions. Two
or three kind-hearted people donated coal and wood; and though many of
the contributors sent their gifts themselves, yet some had no means of
doing so, and Mrs. Adams’ wagon carried many loads to the cottage on
Spruce Street.

The Maynards went home to luncheon, jubilant.

“Such fun!” they cried, as they bounded in at the front door. “We’ve
loads of things already in the house, and what do you think, Miss
Larkin—the bureau that Mrs. Chester gave, exactly fits my bureau cover!
Isn’t that fine?”

So enthusiastic were the children at luncheon, that Miss Larkin and Mrs.
Mortimer were interested before they knew it.

“I’d like to go over and see the house,” said Mrs. Mortimer, at last. “I
really think you young people have done wonders.”

“Oh, we didn’t do it all,” said Midget. “Mrs. Adams and half a dozen
other ladies have been working all the morning, too. And Mrs. Spencer
sent a lot of lovely things. Why, the house is ’most full of furniture.”

“I never heard of such a town,” said Mrs. Mortimer, laughing. “I think,
James, it would be a fine place to live.”

“Yes,” Mr. Mortimer agreed; “if you’re sure to be burned out of house
and home.”

The village people did, indeed, prove themselves generous. In the
afternoon the enthusiasm spread to such an extent, that curtains were
being put to the windows, and kerosene poured into the lamps. Some of
the more impetuous ones wanted to move the family in that night, but it
was deemed better to wait until Monday. Marjorie was allowed to tell
Mrs. Simpson what had been done for her.

“My gracious land!” exclaimed the poor woman. “I can’t take it in, Miss
Marjorie! A whole house! all furnished—for me? Oh, it’s too much!
You’re too good! I don’t deserve it.”

“It’s because we’re so sorry for you, Mrs. Simpson,” said Midget. “Mr.
Simpson has been in the hospital so long, I wonder how you ever got
along at all. But now, with this house for a start, you can manage,
can’t you?”

“Oh, yes, Miss Marjorie; I’m thinkin’ Sam can get a job of some sort
this spring. And I can do washin’ now, for Hannah can mind the babies.
Oh, Miss Marjorie, it’s too good you are! You’re just like your father
and your dear mother.”

And then, for the first time since the fire, Marjorie felt an absolutely
clear conscience. She realized that she hadn’t done wrong—at least, not
intentionally; and though the circumstances had greatly annoyed Miss
Larkin, and had disturbed one of her guests, yet now, the whole affair
had turned out all right.

Indeed, the matter was practically taken out of Marjorie’s hands; and
though the Jinks Club did their full share of assisting, it was the
grown-up citizens of Rockwell who escorted Mrs. Simpson and her children
to their new home on Monday.

The house, though not lavishly, was completely furnished; the pantry was
well stocked; so were the coal-bin and wood-box.

And though most of the Simpson children were too young to appreciate the
kindness that had given them all this, poor, hard-working Mrs. Simpson
showed gratitude true and deep enough to satisfy the most exacting.

“And while I humbly thank all you kind ladies,” she said, her voice
choked with emotion, “I can’t forget that but for Marjorie Maynard, I’d
have been in the poorhouse now!”

“Hooray for our Mopsy!” cried Flip Henderson, which turned into gay
laughter what had threatened to be a tearful climax to the occasion.

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