ROMPS AND RHYMES

THE second prize was really won by Delight, but as she was hostess, of
course she wouldn’t take it, so, Flip Henderson having the next best
list, the prize was given to him.

“Well,” remarked Midget, “that’s a pretty thing! Only two boys in our
Jinks Club, and they take the two prizes!”

“You girls will have to look to your laurels,” said Miss Hart,
laughingly.

As the prizes were both postcard albums, they were equally appropriate
for a boy or girl, and the two boys who won them were secretly quite
proud of their achievement.

“Now, we’ve time for one more game,” said Miss Hart, “and this is one
without prizes, but I think you’ll say it’s good fun. Kitty and Dorothy,
will you distribute these bits of paper, keeping them blank side up?”

The two little girls took the box of small papers, and gave them out to
the others, being careful not to look at the written side. The slips
were about an inch long, and half an inch wide, and though the girls
tried honestly not to look, they couldn’t help seeing there was a single
word written on each one.

At last, all were distributed, and the children sat round the room
waiting for the game to begin.

“This is a lovely Jinks Club meeting,” said Dorothy Adams. “I like it
better than the ones where we romp so hard.”

“It’s sure lots of fun,” agreed King. “But it’s just like a party. Jinks
Club never was like a party before.”

“I don’t care what it’s like, if you all have a good time,” said
Delight, who had been afraid the “Jinksies” wouldn’t have a good time at
her house, where romping was not allowed.

“We’re having a beautiful time,” Marjorie said, as she squeezed
Delight’s arm.

Then Miss Hart began the game.

“I will tell a story,” she said, “and when I pause, King, who sits next
to me, will turn over one of his papers and read the word on it. Then
I’ll go on, and when I pause again, Dorothy, who sits next, will turn
over one of her papers and read it out. And so on, round the circle.
Each one of you be ready in turn, please, so as not to delay the
thrilling tale. Now we’ll start. Once upon a time a gentleman was
walking down a crowded city street, when he suddenly saw a——”

“Giraffe,” said King, who had his paper all ready to read.

“‘What a strange thing!’ exclaimed the gentleman. ‘But I will lead it
away from here lest it scare somebody.’ So he persuaded the giraffe to
go with him, and, stopping at a shop, he bought a——”

“Sunbonnet,” said Dorothy.

The children all laughed, but Miss Hart went on:

“‘Just the thing!’ exclaimed the man. ‘Without this, my poor giraffe
might have been sun-struck.’ He tied the sunbonnet on the giraffe’s
head, although, to do so, he had to climb up on a——”

“Bureau,” said Midget.

“Which was just about to be placed on a moving-van. The sunbonnet
properly adjusted, the gentleman said politely to the giraffe, ‘What is
your name?’ To his surprise, the animal spoke quite plainly, and
answered——”

“Strawberry Jam,” read Delight, giggling.

“‘A lovely name!’ exclaimed the man. ‘Now, Strawberry Jam, I feel sure
you are hungry, so I will feed you some——’”

“Tin tacks,” said Kitty.

“‘You may not think you’ll like them, dear Strawberry Jam, but I assure
you that, made up into little cakes, and iced over with——’”

“Mucilage!”

“‘They are really very nice.’ ‘Not for me!’ growled the giraffe. ‘I much
prefer——’”

“Soap and candles.”

“‘Very well,’ exclaimed the man, ‘you shall have those also. Now, as
you’re weary, I propose you take a nap in a——’”

“Washboiler!”

“It was difficult to get the large animal in, but by doubling him up the
gentleman managed to get Strawberry Jam quite comfortably in the
washboiler, when just then a lady came along. She carried——”

“Two watermelons.”

“And——”

“A live turkey.”

“And——”

“A pail of whitewash.”

“Setting down her burdens, she said to the man, ‘I belong to the Society
for the Prevention of——’”

“Green apples.”

“‘And I shall have you arrested for ill-treating that giraffe, unless
you at once give him a——’”

“Lace collar.”

“‘I shall carry out my threat.’

“‘Madame,’ said the gentleman, ‘I have no lace collars handy, and,
besides, with his long neck, he would require about seventeen, but I
will give him a——’”

“Yellow wheelbarrow.”

“‘Do so!’ cried the lady, ‘and I will wheel him away in it.’ She did so,
and the giraffe was never seen or heard of again.”

“Oh, Miss Hart, don’t stop! We have several papers left yet!” cried
Kitty, as the story came to an abrupt end.

“I must, dearie, for I see Mary is ready to announce supper.”

“Supper!” exclaimed Midget. “Why, we never have supper at Jinks Club!
Just cookies and lemonade or plain water.”

“But this is to make up for your being so good and quiet,” said Mrs.
Spencer, who stood in the doorway leading to the dining-room. “I’ve been
told that Jinks Club usually necessitates a whole redecoration of the
house, but I can’t see that you’ve done the least bit of damage here
today. So here’s your reward.”

It was a very inviting-looking reward, for the dining-table was set
prettily, and with Mrs. Spencer and Miss Hart at either end, the six
children were soon seated in their places.

No crackers and lemonade this time! There were creamed oysters, and
little sandwiches, and cocoa, and afterward a lovely snow pudding and
tiny iced cakes and bonbons.

The feast was delicious, but somehow conversation seemed to flag.

Mrs. Spencer was charmingly hospitable, but she was so polite, that it
made the children feel restrained.

“Do you miss your mother, Marjorie?” asked the hostess, in her
conversational way, and Midget answered:

“Yes, Mrs. Spencer, very much.”

It sounded too short, but poor Midge couldn’t think of anything to add
to the bald statement.

King helped her out. The Maynards always tried to help each other.

“We all miss Mother,” he said, “and Father, too.”

“But we try to be cheerful about it,” supplemented Kitty, who had an
uncomfortable feeling that she must act as if at a “party.”

Then a silence fell, and had it not been for Miss Hart’s cheery little
jokes and merry manner, the supper would have been a very quiet affair.

At half-past five they all went home, and, after polite good-byes, the
three Maynards walked decorously across the street.

But as they entered their own gate, King cried out:

“Race you to the house!” and the three broke into a mad run for dear
life.

Of course, King got there first, but plump Marjorie, puffing and
blowing, came a close second, while Kitty, usually a swift runner, came
walking behind them with great dignity.

“I can’t get off my Spencery air so soon,” she explained, and the others
laughed, for Kitty was far more inclined toward elegant repose of manner
than the other two madcaps.

“Huh! Guess you’ll have to!” cried King, and, taking her two hands in
his own with a clinching grip, he began to whirl her round and round.
This somewhat dangerous game, known as “Sail a boat,” required careful
attention, if accidents were to be avoided; so, seeing she was in for
it, Kitty gracefully capitulated and swung round faster and faster until
she nearly had King off his feet.

“There, stop it!” commanded Marjorie. “You’ll get dizzy, and then you’re
sure to fall. Quit it, King! We don’t want any more accidents!”

“That’s so,” agreed King, stopping slowly, and helping Kitty to preserve
her equilibrium.

“But I do say,” he went on, as they all three burst in at the front door
together, “I’d rather have plain, everyday Jinks than to go to a Spencer
party.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Marjorie, who was always satisfied with things
as they came. “I liked the party part of it, and the supper was grand.”

“But it was so mixed up,” said Kitty. “In the first place, it wasn’t a
party, ’cause there was no ice cream, and yet it was a party, ’cause we
sat at the table, and had the cut-glass goblets. Then, it wasn’t a
party, ’cause we weren’t dressed up, and yet it was a party, ’cause the
grown-ups helped entertain us.”

“That’s the point, Kit,” said her brother. “It wasn’t either party or
Jinks Club, but a mixture of both. I’d rather have either one thing or
the other. But I’ll make up for it now. I was so ’fraid I’d cut up jinks
over there, I didn’t know what to do. But here goes!”

Like one let suddenly loose from restraint, King turned two or three
handsprings down the long hall, and at the last one managed to collide
with both Miss Larkin and Rosamond’s doll-carriage. The three were
pretty well tangled up; King lost his balance, Miss Larkin lost her
dignity, and the doll-carriage lost a wheel.

But King was in high spirits by this time.

“There, there, Larky,” he said, “you’re all right. Pick up her back
comb, Mops. Don’t step on her eyeglasses, Kitty! Look out, they’re right
under your feet!”

Fortunately the comb and glasses were rescued intact and restored to
their owner.

Miss Larkin didn’t quite know whether to be annoyed or to laugh, but
King was in a wheedlesome mood, and he patted her shoulders, and
smoothed down her laces as he said:

“There, Larky Parky; it’s all right. You’re not mussed up a bit.
Nothing’s busted but the carriage. And I guess we can get that wheel
fixed. And, Jiminetty Christmas! I had to tumble about a little, to get
limbered up after that stiff party. Oh, I say, Larky, dear, did you get
us our scrap-book, as you promised?”

“Oh, I didn’t!” exclaimed Miss Larkin, looking greatly chagrined. “To
tell you the truth, King, I forgot all about it.”

“It’s naughty to be forgetful.”

“Yes, King, I know it is; and I’m awfully sorry. But I had a letter from
some friends who are coming to visit me here, and everything else went
out of my mind.”

The Maynard children had already had some experience with Miss Larkin’s
forgetfulness, so they were not greatly surprised.

But they were disappointed, and Kitty’s face showed it so plainly, that
Miss Larkin said:

“I’ll do my best to repair my error, Kitty. I’ll go downtown to-night,
right after dinner, and get the scrap-book.”

“Oh, no, Miss Larkin, you needn’t do that,” said Marjorie, quite
overcome by this offer. “It’s too late and too dark for you to go out
alone. Unless,” she added, as an afterthought, “we all go with you.”

“Oh, let us do that,” begged Kitty. “I’ve almost never been downtown at
night. Oh, do let’s go! It would be lovely!”

“Would that make up to you for my forgetfulness?” asked Miss Larkin,
smiling, and when they all chorused, “Yes!” she agreed to take them.

Dinner was soon over, for after their Jinks supper, the children wanted
almost nothing, and then, scrambling into their coats and hats, they
declared themselves ready.

Kitty walked with Miss Larkin, and King and Midget followed.

“Oh!” sighed Kitty, as they came at last to the brightly-lighted Main
Street, “isn’t it wonderful. They say New York is very brilliant at
night, but I don’t think it can be much brighter than this. Is it, Miss
Larkin?”

“Oh, yes, indeed it is, Kitty. Have you never seen New York at night?”

“No; Mother says I’m too young. I’m not ten yet, you know. But I don’t
see how it can be much gayer than this.”

The Main Street of Rockwell was the usual thoroughfare of a small town,
but the bright electrics in many of the shop-windows gave it a fairly
light effect.

One large drug-shop, which, of course, was open evenings, kept
stationery, and here they went for the scrap-book.

Great care was exercised in choosing it, for if too small, it would not
hold enough, and the very large ones were unwieldy.

So just the right size was selected, and King volunteered to carry it
home.

Miss Larkin was warmly thanked by her appreciative beneficiaries, and
then, as they turned toward home, she said:

“Suppose we make this a sort of gala night, and stop here at this shop
and have some ice cream.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Kitty, ecstatically, “do let’s do that!”

The others were far from unwilling, so the quartette were soon seated
round a white marble-topped table.

“I do think,” said Kitty, as she viewed lovingly the pink and white heap
that was placed in front of her, “I do think we’re having the loveliest
time!”

“Better than the Jinks Club?” asked Miss Larkin, with a twinkle in her
eye.

“Well, different,” said Kitty. “I feel as if I could talk every-day
talk, you know, and not think how it’s going to sound.”

“I do hate to have to think how things sound,” admitted King, honestly.

“But I s’pose,” said Midget, thoughtfully, “we ought to talk always so
they sound all right anyway.”

“That sentence might be improved upon,” said Miss Larkin, laughing; “but
I want you to have a specially good time this evening, so never mind
about any frills on your conversation. I’ve been thinking, children,
that I’ve rather neglected you. I ought to do more to entertain and
amuse you, now that your dear parents are away.”

The three Maynards looked at her in amazement. They had thought that
Miss Larkin was very indulgent usually; and though sometimes she was
unexpectedly strict or stern, yet in a moment she would forget what she
had said, and give them an extra treat of some sort. The truth was, Miss
Larkin was decidedly inconsistent. All unused to the management of
children, she was now over-indulgent and now over-exacting. She had no
knowledge of the uniformly mild and gentle, yet positive government
which Mr. and Mrs. Maynard exercised in their home.

And so the Maynard children, not understanding this, had accepted Miss
Larkin as she was, and though they sometimes rebelled at her really
unjust commands, they enjoyed to the full her often unwise indulgence.
Now, they were surprised, indeed, to hear her say she had neglected
them, but with their easy adaptability they were quite ready to accept
present and future favors. However, King felt that justice was due her,
so he said:

“Oh, come now, Miss Larkin; you’ve been pretty good to us. I think
you’re a brick, don’t you, girls?”

“Yes, we do,” agreed Midge and Kitty, and then Marjorie went on:

“Did you say you expect company, Miss Larkin? Perhaps we can help you
get ready for them.”

Miss Larkin smiled, as she remembered the “decorations” that met her
eyes the day she arrived at the Maynard house, and she replied:

“No; you can’t help me, except by keeping out of the way as much as
possible, and behaving as well as you can while they’re here.”

“We’ll try,” said Marjorie, earnestly; “who are they, Miss Larkin?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer, some friends of mine from Boston. They will stay
two or three days. And I want to have everything as nice as possible,
for they are rather particular people.”

“H’m,” said King. “If there’s anything I don’t go much on, it’s these
‘rather particular people.’ But to please you, Miss Larkin, I’ll promise
to behave the very bestest I can. And if the girls don’t do likewise,
I’ll pound ’em.”

“Huh!” said Midget, “guess you’d get pounded back!”

“Oh, children,” said Miss Larkin, in despair; “don’t talk like that! I
know you don’t mean anything, for you love each other, but your rough
and tumble ‘poundings’ would shock Mrs. Mortimer inexpressibly.”

“All right, Larky, dear,” said King, in his winning way; “we won’t have
any jinks of any kind while your friends are here. We’ll be as good—as
good—oh, we’ll be just _Spencer_ good!”

“That’s nice of you,” said Miss Larkin, beaming on them; “and if you say
so, I know you’ll keep your word.”

FOR the next few days the children were left to their own devices. Miss
Larkin was busy as a bee getting the house ready for her expected
company. The two pretty guest rooms were appointed for their use, and
Miss Larkin herself moved into Mrs. Maynard’s room.

Astonishing preparations were made in the kitchen department, and even
Ellen, the good-natured cook, was amazed at the lavish orders given to
the grocer, butcher, and caterer.

“Shure, an’ annybuddy’d think the hull rile fam’ly was a-comin’,” she
said to Sarah.

But they were well-trained servants, and as Miss Larkin was temporarily
mistress of the house, they obeyed her wishes.

The day that the Mortimers were expected, the children came home from
school to find the house in specially immaculate order, flowers in
almost every room, and a general air of festivity all about.

“We have only a ‘pick-up’ luncheon,” said Miss Larkin, who was looking
over a timetable as she talked. “You see, I forgot to order anything—I
was so absorbed in my dinner preparations. But Ellen has found something
for you, I see.”

And, indeed, Ellen had not forgotten the children’s midday appetites,
and so there was plenty to eat, if not so carefully served as usual.

“I don’t want to hurry you too much,” Miss Larkin went on, as they sat
down to the table, “but please get through as soon as you can; for I
want the table lengthened, and then I shall myself set it for dinner.”

“We’ll make sandwiches, and take ’em up in the playroom to eat, if you
say so, Miss Larkin,” volunteered Kingdon, who was willing to help in
any way he could.

“Mercy, no, child! That would only make extra work for Sarah, clearing
up after you. No, eat your lunch here. Don’t gobble, but make all the
haste you can.”

This was a rather mixed direction, and caused much hilarity among the
young Maynards.

“I’ll spread my bread on both sides,” announced Marjorie, “that’ll use
up my butter faster.”

“I’ll put sugar on mine,” declared Kitty, quick to see the possibilities
of this new game; “so, you see, I can eat butter and sugar both at once,
and so hurry up things.”

“I’ll eat with both hands,” giggled King, as he broke a slice of bread
in two, and took alternate bites.

“Oh, children!” exclaimed Miss Larkin, in despair, “now you’ve commenced
carrying on, I don’t know where you’ll end up! I know how you act when
you once begin your nonsense!”

“Aw, truly, Larky, we’re going to be good,” said King, in the wheedling
tone that often betokened “cutting up.” “And as I know you want this
table to set for King and Queen Mortimer, I’ll now remove all these
bothering children. Girls, I’ll race you to the front door!”

Marjorie jumped up, dropping her fork and upsetting a cup of cocoa;
Kitty flew after her, over-turning her chair as she ran; but as the
girls reached the door between the dining-room and hall, King slammed it
to, and turned the key on the other side.

This meant they couldn’t reach the front door, except by going through
the kitchen and thence to the hall again. Of course, King would get
there before them, but this was all the more reason to fly after him and
avenge themselves. Back they ran around the table. Midget tripped over
the rug, caught at the tablecloth, and upset a glass of water on her
head.

Kitty paused to lift Rosy Posy down from her high chair, for the baby
was clamoring to join the fray.

Through the pantry and into the kitchen the whirlwind passed, nearly
upsetting Ellen and Sarah on their mad flight to the front hall.

Miss Larkin, still at the table, sat looking distracted. What would the
Mortimers think of such actions as these! And the Maynard children, even
when meaning to behave their best, were so easily started off on a romp
by the least provocation.

“Look at that!” said Miss Larkin, as Sarah came in. “A nice mess, just
as I’m preparing for a dinner party!”

“Yes’m,” said Sarah, respectfully. “But them children do be in such a
hurry sometimes. I’ll clear it all up, mem. And then I’ll help ye with
the table.”

But Miss Larkin was really irate, and Sarah’s air of apology for the
children only made her more so.

“Call them to me, Sarah,” she said. “I wish to speak to them.”

Sarah obediently went in search of the children, and found them in a
scrambled heap near the front door. A good-natured wrestling match was
on and, as a consequence, hair ribbons and neckties were off.

“She wants you,” said Sarah, as she looked at the by no means unfamiliar
performance. “I’ll take Rosy Posy, and the rest of ye had better go, an’
have it over with.”

“Come on, then,” said King, already sorry for their boisterous
misdemeanors.

Unlocking the door, he marched into the dining-room, followed by his two
sisters.

“Dear Miss Larkin,” he said, with a low and elaborate bow, “we’re
’ceedingly sorry we went off in such a hurry, and we’ve come back to
’pollergize.”

Kitty caught the dramatic tone of his apology, and falling on her knees,
with clasped hands, she looked beseechingly up into Miss Larkin’s face,
and wailed:

“_Do_ forgive us—ah, do!”

Marjorie, not to be outdone, fell down in a posture which she fondly
hoped represented an Oriental salaam.

Crouching on the floor, she buried her face in her folded arms, and
rocked her plump body from side to side, as, she gave voice to long,
deep groans supposed to be expressive of abject repentance. Her position
was temptingly insecure, and King couldn’t resist a tiny push which sent
her rolling over against Kitty, and the girls both lost their
equilibrium.

Then Miss Larkin lost her temper.

“You’re the worst children I ever saw!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t know
civilized beings _could_ be such rude and unmannerly and barbarous——”

“Cannibals,” prompted King, as she paused for lack of a sufficiently
opprobrious name.

This made the girls giggle, and they at once began to eat each other, in
dumb show.

But Miss Larkin saw nothing humorous in the situation.

“I don’t see how I _can_ have those people,” she went on. “I invited
them, thinking you children would at least act fairly decent, and now as
you’ve begun this hoodlum business, I just know you’ll keep it up and
mortify me to death.”

“No, we won’t,” declared King. “Honest and truly, black and bluely, Miss
Larkin, we’ll begin now, and we’ll be as good as pie—custard pie!”

“Mince pie!” supplemented Marjorie.

“Lemon meringue pie,” said Kitty, rolling her eyes, as she thought of a
lovely big one even now on the pantry shelf.

“If I could only trust you,” said Miss Larkin, sighing. “But I can’t.
You’re too uncertain.”

“Oh, no, we aren’t,” said King, sidling up to her, and patting her
shoulder. “And, anyway, after a bang-up tussle, like that, we’re always
better’n ever, for a long time.”

“Yes, we are,” corroborated Kitty; “it’s what Father calls the clam
after the storm. Oh, Miss Larkin, we _will_ be good!”

“You ought to be punished,” said the tormented lady, looking at the
merry, if repentant, faces.

“Oh, do punish us!” cried Marjorie. “That would square it all up; and,
besides, punishments are gen’rally fun. You can most always make a game
out of ’em.”

“You can, can you!” exclaimed Miss Larkin; “well, I rather think I’ll
give you a punishment that you can’t make a _noisy_ game out of, at any
rate. Now, listen to me. I expect my friends on the five o’clock train.
I shall go in the carriage to meet them at the station. At half-past
four, I want you all to be dressed nicely, and wait in the drawing-room
till we return. Marjorie, you may wear your new white serge; and, Kitty,
put on your light-blue voile.”

“Yes’m,” said the two little girls.

“Now, be sure to allow time enough to make your toilets properly, but
before that you must each learn a piece of poetry and recite it to me
without missing a word. This is your punishment, and I trust it will at
least keep you quiet for the afternoon.”

It was, indeed, a punishment. The Maynard children loved to read poetry,
or have it read to them, but memorizing it was another matter.

“How long a poem, Miss Larkin?” asked Kitty, disconsolately.

Miss Larkin considered. If she set them a long task, they might not get
through in time to dress; if a short one, time would be left for
mischief.

“About ten lines,” she said, at last. “Not less than ten, and more, if
you choose.”

“May we select our poems ourselves?”

“Yes; that is, you may take anything that you find printed in any book
in the library. Now, go on, and when you have learned them, I will hear
you recite them.”

The three culprits walked slowly away to their punishment, and Miss
Larkin felt satisfied that she had at least quelled their boisterous
spirits for a time.

She turned to her own occupations, and was soon lost in the pleasant
flutter of arranging her elaborate dinner-table.

The three in the library stared at the book-shelves.

“Ten lines!” muttered King. “I’m going to pick out something with short
lines, I can tell you.”

“I wish she hadn’t said ‘printed,’” said Marjorie; “then I’d learn some
of the poems Mother and Father write us in letters. That would be fun.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Kitty. “Let’s learn things out of our
scrap-book. Don’t you know, the one Mother made, and pasted in verses
cut out of the papers and magazines.”

“That’s so!” cried King. “They’re printed, sure enough; and a lot more
fun than these Tennysons and Longfellows sitting up here on the
shelves.”

Kitty brought the scrap-book, and the three sat down on the floor to
look it over. It was a jolly book, filled with pictures and jingles, and
they became so interested in reading it, that they almost forgot they
were being punished.

“Well, I s’pose we must each pick out one to learn,” said King, at last.
“I guess I’ll take this ‘Two Old Kings.’ It has a lot more’n ten lines,
but I don’t care; they’re short ones.”

“All right,” said Marjorie. “I’ll choose ‘The Merry Prince.’ It has
fourteen lines, but they’re so gay and jolly, I think I can learn it
pretty easy. What’s yours, Kit?”

“I’ll choose ‘Ice Cream.’ Partly ’cause I love it, and partly ’cause
it’s just ten lines.”

“All right; now we’ll fix the book,” said King. “We’ll put it on the
floor, so. Now, Kit, your piece comes first, so you lie down, and stick
your feet out that way, toward the window. Mops, your piece is ’most at
the end of the book, so you sprawl out the other way. Mine is between,
so I’ll sneak in here, and I’ll hold up the leaves for you girls.”

The plan was not as complicated as it sounds, for the Maynards’ favorite
position for reading was lying prone, with the book open on the floor,
and their heads supported by their hands.

But the three made a funny picture, as, quite oblivious of each other,
they studied hard to learn the rhymes they had selected.

“Don’t gabble out loud, Kit,” begged her brother. “How can I study, when
you’re sissing ‘Ice Cream, Ice Cream,’ all the time?”

“All right, I’ll study to myself,” said Kitty, agreeably, and went on
hissing her sibilant syllables in a whisper.

Marjorie stared into space, and studied without moving her lips, and
King silently read his lines over and over, trusting to his
“photographic memory” to retain them.

Miss Larkin peeped in, and seeing the absorbed students, kicking their
heels or tapping their toes, went away again, unnoticed, but rejoicing
that at least they were out of mischief.

“Hooray!” cried King, at last; “I know mine! I’ve said it over three
times without looking.”

“Go away, then,” said Marjorie, her fingers in her ears, “until we know
ours.”

“All right; here, hold up these middle pages,” and King left his sisters
in possession of the book.

Kitty finished next, for Midget’s lines turned out to be pretty hard
ones to learn. But, after a while, they were firmly fixed in her curly
head, and the three went in search of Miss Larkin.

“We’re ready,” King announced, cheerfully, as he offered her the book.

As they had found Miss Larkin in the pantry, and as she was just turning
some jelly out of a mold—a proceeding which required extreme care—she
did not extend a hearty welcome.

Moreover, the pantry, though roomy as a pantry, was not well adapted to
the invasion of three eager and wide-awake children.

“Oh!” sighed Kitty, gazing rapturously at the laden shelves; “what
beautiful desserty things! I thought you said only two people were
coming, Miss Larkin.”

In her zeal for entertainment, Miss Larkin _had_ provided an
over-abundance, and as she felt a little sensitive on the subject,
Kitty’s remark irritated her.

“Little girls shouldn’t criticize their elders,” she said, severely.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to, Miss Larkin,” cried Kitty, apologetically. “I’m
sure I think the things are lovely. And prob’ly Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer
have very large appetites.”

“I hope they haven’t,” observed King; “I could eat most of these things
myself. How about letting us try these little cakes, Miss Larkin?”

“Don’t touch those!” was the rejoinder, as King’s fingers hovered
dangerously near the dainties; “that basket is filled, ready for the
table. Come away from here. If you’ve learned your poems, I’ll hear
them, and then it’s time for you to go and dress.”

Miss Larkin pushed the reluctant children out of the fascinating pantry,
and they all went to the library.

“Well, King,” she said; “which is your poem?”

“Oh, let me say mine first,” said Kitty, “’fore I forget it.”

“You must have a short memory, child! Well, say yours first, then. Why,
what sort of a book is this?”

“It’s our scrap-book,” explained Marjorie. “You didn’t say what sort of
poems, ’cept that they must be printed. So we took these. They’re much
more interesting than those in reg’lar books.”

“Very well,” said Miss Larkin, whose only intent had been to keep the
children quiet for an hour. “Say yours first, then, Kitty.”

So Kitty stood up, and with her hands behind her, recited her little
jingle about

ICE CREAM.

I love to talk of my fav’rite theme,
So of course my subject is Ice Cream!

My Mother says that my eyes just beam
Whenever I even _think_ Ice Cream!

When I’ve sewed a _’specially_ long, hard seam,
She takes me to town to get Ice Cream!

Sometimes the clouds in the blue sky seem
Like heaping saucers of white Ice Cream!

And often when I’m asleep, I dream
Of millions of platters of pink Ice Cream!

“You certainly know it perfectly, and you recite very nicely,” said Miss
Larkin. “Marjorie, you may say yours next.”

“Mine is a jolly-sounding one,” said Midget; “that’s why I like it. It’s
called

“THE MERRY PRINCE.”

The gay Prince Popinjay Peacock-Feather
Would play on his lute for hours together;
And feathery-weathery afternoons
He’d warble hilarious, various tunes.
He’d airily, merrily roam the street,
And sing to all he might chance to meet;
And if any were grumpy or gloomy or glum,
Along the Prince Peacock-Feather would come,
And sing them an affable, laughable lay,
Until they were gleeful, and glad, and gay,
They’d forget their bothers, and pothers, and wrongs,
When they listened to Popinjay’s popular songs.

So let’s be light-hearted, every one,
Like this frolicksome, rollicksome Prince of Fun!

“I don’t wonder you like it,” said Miss Larkin, smiling. “You’re a
Princess of Fun, yourself.”

“So you are, Mopsy!” cried King. “I’ll call you that, after this. Here
goes for mine now, Miss Larkin, and then it’s all over. Mine is one of
those nonsense songs. Maybe you won’t care for it, but we all love
nonsense.”

And then in an exaggerated declamatory style, and with dramatic
gestures, Kingdon recited

TWO OLD KINGS.

Oh! the King of Kanoodledum
And the King of Kanoodledee,
They went to sea
In a jigamaree—
A full-rigged jigamaree.

And one king couldn’t steer
And the other, no more could he;
So they both upset
And they both got wet—
As wet as wet could be.

And one king couldn’t swim
And the other, he couldn’t, too;
So they had to float,
While their empty boat
Danced away o’er the sea so blue.

Then the King of Kanoodledum
He turned a trifle pale,
And so did he
Of Kanoodledee,
But they saw a passing sail!

And one king screamed like fun
And the other king screeched like mad,
And a boat was lowered
And took them aboard;
And, My! but those kings were glad!

“I don’t see much sense to it,” admitted Miss Larkin, “but you have all
done as I asked you to, and you’ve done it very nicely. Now you may each
have a little cake, and then go and get dressed. And oh, children, do,
please, be good while my visitors are here.”

“We will, we truly will!” was the earnest reply.

VERY soon after half-past four, the Maynard quartette walked sedately
into the drawing-room and seated themselves. Miss Larkin, herself just
about to start for the station, regarded them critically.

“You look lovely,” she declared, “all of you. And, beside being dressed
prettily, you all look unusually good. In fact, I’m ’most afraid you
look _too_ good to be true! But you will keep yourselves tidy till we
return, won’t you? Don’t romp, or pull off hair-ribbons.”

“Touch those wonderful constructions!” exclaimed King, pointing to the
unusually wide and elaborate bows that adorned the heads of his three
sisters; “perish the thought! Nay! I will constitute myself chief
protector of those marvels of headgear, and just as you see them now, so
shall they stay to dazzle the eyes of the admiring Mortimers!”

When King declaimed in this highfalutin style, he was very funny, and
even Miss Larkin smiled, though still a little anxious about their
behavior.

“Well,” she said, with a sigh, “I must go. I leave you in charge, King;
you’re the oldest. Can’t you read aloud or do something to amuse
yourselves quietly? If you don’t, you’ll get to tumbling around before
you know it.”

“Oh, we’ll be good, Miss Larkin,” declared Marjorie. “Skip along, now,
or you’ll be late at the train.”

With a final glance round the pretty room, and at the pretty children,
Miss Larkin went away.

“We’ll give her a surprise,” said Marjorie, as, from the window, she
watched the carriage roll down the drive. “She really ’spects we’re
going to tear around and get all tumbled up ’fore she comes back. Now,
let’s be extra special careful to keep quiet and let her find us just as
she left us.”

“It’s easy enough,” agreed Kitty, “if you only make up your mind to it.
But don’t anybody read aloud—I hate it. If we want to read, let’s read
to ourselves.”

“Don’t read,” said Midget, sociably; “let’s just talk.”

And so, perhaps unconsciously a little subdued by the atmosphere of the
drawing-room, they sat quietly and conversed like model children.

Nurse Nannie looked in, and seeing all was well, left Rosy Posy with the
others.

The baby, looking adorable in her dainty white frock, white socks and
slippers, and white hair-ribbon, was perched demurely on a chair,
holding one of her best dolls in her arms.

Midget, near the window, sometimes lifted the curtain a trifle to see if
the returning carriage was yet in sight.

“They can’t get here till five, Mopsy,” said her brother; “and it’s only
twenty minutes to five now.”

“I know it,” said Midge; “but it always seems to hurry people up, if you
look out the window for them.”

“It doesn’t, though,” argued Kitty; “if they don’t know you’re looking.”

“No,” agreed Midget, amiably. Then she suddenly added, “Oh, King, look
at all that smoke! It burst up all at once! Something is on fire!”

“I should say so!” cried King, going to the window. “Not very far away,
either. Come out on the piazza.”

“Fires are always farther away than they seem,” said Kitty, as they went
out at the front door and stood on the verandah, looking toward the
smoke.

“Hullo, there’s flame, too,” said King. “Must be about as near as Bridge
Street, anyhow. Let’s go down to the gate.”

Toward the gate they went, for what is so fascinating as a fire?

Kitty took Rosy Posy by the hand, and, mindful of their best clothes,
the children didn’t run, but walked quickly to the entrance of their own
grounds.

“Where’s the fire?” called King to a man who rushed by.

“Dunno,” was the answer. “Summers down on Bridge Street, I guess. You
can see from the corner.”

So, of course, the Maynards went on to the corner of the block, from
which point of vantage a much better view of the fire could be had.

It was a real conflagration, and no mistake. Smoke rose in volumes, and
occasionally whirls of flame darted up through it. Never before had the
children seen such a spectacle.

Thrilling with excitement, they went another block, and then some one
passing them cried out, “Why, it’s Simpson’s old tumble-down house! Good
thing for the town to have that go!”

“Oh, King!” cried Marjorie, her face white with horror, “it’s Mrs.
Simpson’s house! How terrible! We must go and see if we can help them.”

“Sure!” exclaimed King. “Why, Mr. Simpson’s back in the hospital, you
know. Whatever will she do, with all those children!”

The Simpsons were a poor family, who were special beneficiaries of the
Maynards. Mr. Simpson, after an injury, had recovered sufficiently to
leave the hospital, but a relapse had sent him back there again, and his
wife, with seven children, had a hard time to get along at all. They
lived in a large, but old and dilapidated, frame house in a poor quarter
of the town.

Mr. and Mrs. Maynard had been very kind to them, and the Maynard
children had often carried gifts of food or clothing to the needy
family. Learning, then, that it was the Simpsons’ house that was
burning, King and Marjorie started on a dead run, and Kitty followed, as
fast as Rosy Posy’s toddling steps would allow.

“Oh,” cried Marjorie, as she ran; “the poor, dear people! I think only
rich folks’ houses ought to burn down, not poor widows’, who haven’t any
other shelter.”

“She isn’t a widow,” returned King, for he and Midget were running hand
in hand.

“It’s all the same,” she responded. “Mr. Simpson is in the hospital, so
she’s as poor as a widow, anyway. We must do all we can to help them,
King.”

“’Course we must. If Father and Mother were only here, they’d do lots.
We must do whatever they’d do.”

By this time, they were nearing the burning house. A rather inefficient
fire department was doing its best, but it was easily to be seen the
whole house was doomed.

A crowd of men and boys were excitedly rushing about, jostling each
other as they tried to save some of the furniture from the flames. But
the broken and battered chairs and tables seemed scarcely worth saving,
and their efforts were mostly expended in shouting orders to each other,
which were never, by any chance, carried out.

Kingdon was indignant at their actions, and, throwing off his coat,
began at once to lend whatever aid a fourteen-year-old boy could
compass, and inspired by his enthusiasm, others began to do better work,
and many of Mrs. Simpson’s poor belongings were saved from destruction.

Marjorie went straight to the poor woman, herself, and found her sitting
in a broken rocking-chair, with two children in her lap. She was
watching the destruction of her forlorn home, and the tears ran down her
pale cheeks, as she realized the magnitude of this, her latest disaster.

“There, there,” said Marjorie, patting her shoulder, “don’t cry so, Mrs.
Simpson. Be thankful you and the children escaped with your lives. You
might have all been burned to a black, you know!”

But this tragic suggestion was of no comfort.

“Better so, Miss,” she replied, with fresh wails of grief. “Ah, yes,
’twould have been far better. Me, with me good man in the hospital, and
seven homeless children, what can I ever do now?”

The question was, indeed, unanswerable, and the neighbors, many of them
also poverty-stricken stood about volubly but uselessly sympathetic.

“Here, take these boxes, Mops,” called King. “They’re tied up, and they
may have valuables in.”

Marjorie took a pile of boxes from her brother, and Mrs. Simpson,
looking at them with interest, said:

“Yes, I’m glad to save those; they’re bits of ribbons and silks for
patchwork.”

As the poor woman had now no beds to put patchwork quilts on, the boxes
did not seem so very valuable, but King hadn’t waited to learn; he had
returned to the house for other things. The firemen handed them out, or
threw them from the windows, and those that King received he handed over
to Marjorie and Kitty, who stacked them up in nondescript-looking heaps.

Kitty had stood Rosy Posy up against Mrs. Simpson, and bade her stay
there.

“Look after her, please,” she said to the half-distracted woman, “and
then I can help save your things. Be good, won’t you, Baby, and stay
right there till sister comes back.”

“Ess,” acquiesced little Rosamond, and, sinking down on the ground,
began to dig in the dirt with an iron spoon she found near by.
Blissfully happy with this occupation, and pausing now and then to watch
the novel spectacle of the burning house, Rosy Posy staid just where
Kitty had told her, and Mrs. Simpson found it as easy to look after
three babies as two.

The other five Simpson children were scattered among the crowd, the
older ones realizing their misfortune, the others enjoying it as a new
and startling form of entertainment.

“Well,” said a fireman, as he rather perilously made his own escape from
the falling walls, “there she goes! That’s the last of her!” And then
all that was left of the building collapsed into the flames, and nothing
more of house or furniture could be saved.

For a few moments, everyone was silent, thrilled by the grandeur and
awfulness of the sight, for there is always something awesome about
uncontrollable flames.

Then the firemen turned their attention to extinguishing smouldering
embers. Some of the neighbors started to go home, and others lingered
out of curiosity, to see what the Simpsons would do.

“They’ll have to go to the poorhouse,” said one man, unfeelingly; “here
comes the overseer now.”

At sight of the overseer, and hearing the unsympathetic remark of the
other, Mrs. Simpson’s woe broke out afresh.

“The poorhouse for me!” she cried. “Me, who was a Foster! Oh, don’t let
me go there! I’ll work me finger-ends off to keep a home for my
childhern, somehow! Oh, if my man could be here with me! Have pity on a
poor lone woman. Don’t send me to the poorhouse.”

“But what else can you do?” said the overseer of the poor. He was not
unkindly in speech or tone, but he could see no other future for the
mother and her seven children. Not one of them was old enough to earn a
living, and as Mrs. Simpson had been in sore straits before the fire,
surely she was really destitute now.

But the look of agony on her ashen face was so tragic that Marjorie felt
her own heart breaking.

“Mrs. Simpson,” she said, “you shall not go to the poorhouse! You shall
come home with us!”

Everybody looked at the speaker in amazement. They all knew the
Maynards, and had often had proofs of their kindness and generosity, but
this declaration of Marjorie’s took them by storm.

And Midget, as she stood before them, her tearful eyes spilling drops
that made little furrows on her smoke-begrimed cheeks; her dainty white
serge frock, soiled and ruined by her work of assistance; her
hair-ribbon awry, but still rampant; seemed like an angel of mercy to
the stricken woman, and the other auditors.

“Yes,” she went on, “you shall go home with us, for a few days anyway,
until we see what can be done. You and all the children shall at least
have a roof to your head and a lamp to your feet.”

Marjorie’s enthusiasm was making her a little incoherent, and she looked
appealingly at Kingdon. Loyalty to his sister stirred in the boy’s soul,
and as he saw a look of incredulity on some faces, he determined to
stand by her amazing offer, although filled, himself, with secret
consternation at the idea.

“Sure,” he said, stepping to Marjorie’s side, and taking her hand. “My
father and mother are away, but I know they would do a heap for the
Simpsons if they were at home. And Mother told us to do whatever she
would approve of, so I know it’s all right. We will take care of these
stricken people”—this didn’t sound quite right, but King hurried
on—“and give them a home beneath a roof which hasn’t yet burned down!”

It was characteristic of King to wax declamatory in exciting moments,
and his loud tones, and the sight of the brother and sister standing
nobly in their parents’ place, so moved the audience, that they at once
gave three cheers for the Maynards.