A SPRING RAMBLE

AT six o’clock, Miss Larkin summoned the Maynards to supper. Delight, of
course, accompanied them, and being in hospitable mood, Miss Larkin bade
the younger Maynards invite Dorothy and Flip.

So it was a real Jinks Club feast, and a gay time they had. Substitutes
had been put in their places at the trees, so they had no need to hurry.

“Have you heard about the contest, Mops?” said King, as he blissfully
ate his chicken-salad, a luxury not often bestowed upon the Maynard
children.

“No; what is it?”

“Why, Mr. Abercrombie has arranged a sort of game, something like a
spelling match, only you guess trees instead of spelling words.”

“Can anybody be in it?” asked Delight, who was fond of guessing games.

“Yes, if you pay a quarter. Let’s all enter; will you, Miss Larkin?”

“No, King; I can’t guess riddles—never could. But I’ll look after our
tree while you go to the contest—or whatever you call it.”

“Of course, we won’t get the prizes,” said Kitty, “for I s’pose the
grown-up people will guess better than we do. But it’ll be fun to try.”

Mr. Abercrombie was a genial old gentleman, beloved by everybody in the
town. He was both rich and generous, so at a public fair or bazaar he
was always expected to do his share, and more, too, and these
expectations were always realized.

As he passed by the Maynards’ supper table, he stopped to pat Marjorie
on the head.

“Well, my little orange maiden,” he said, “you look so like an orange, I
think I shall squeeze you.”

Marjorie smiled at him gaily, and he squeezed her plump arm as he said:

“Are you going to guess trees with us, this evening?”

“I’d like to,” said Midge, “but I only know our common trees. I don’t
know about tropical or foreign trees.”

“Well, the quizzes are pretty hard,” admitted Mr. Abercrombie, “but
you’d better have a try at it. I hope you’ll all try,” he added,
genially; “the more, the merrier.”

He passed on, and the Jinks Club resumed their supper.

“I wish Father and Mother were here,” said Marjorie, as she looked round
on the pretty scene. “I know we’ll never have such a lovely show in town
again.”

“Well, they’re seeing trees down South to beat these,” said King.

“And anyway,” said Kitty, “they’ll be home next week, and we can tell
them all about it.”

“My! but I’m glad they’re coming,” said Marjorie; “seems to me I miss
Mother more every day.”

“Oh, Marjorie,” cried Miss Larkin; “haven’t I looked after you pretty
well?”

“Yes, indeed, Larky, dear, you have. But, of course, you’re not
_Mother_, and somehow it does make a difference. I hope you’ll stay a
while after she gets home, and then we’ll have you both.”

“Perhaps,” said Miss Larkin, smiling; “and now, if you’ve finished your
ice cream, let’s go back to our trees.”

After Marjorie was again at her stand, selling oranges, Mr. Abercrombie
came strolling by.

“Well, my orange maiden,” he said, “I think I must patronize your very
attractive tree. No, I don’t care for grab-bag prizes. I’ll take some
jars of orange marmalade. You know, we must take the bitter with the
sweet.”

Marjorie liked the merry old gentleman, and to amuse him, she told him
the story of her orangeade and the leaky ice-tub.

He laughed heartily. “Well, well,” he exclaimed, “that was too bad, that
_was_ too bad! I suppose you felt terribly chagrined, eh?”

“Yes, I did,” Marjorie admitted, “but, you know, we must take the bitter
with the sweet.”

“Good girl, good girl, to learn a lesson so quickly. Now, let me see;
I’ll buy some of these college traps. I have a grandson in Princeton,
and he’ll be glad to have them for his room. There, I’ll take that, and
that, and that. Now, if you’ll make me out my orange bill, I’ll pay
you.”

On a square of orange-colored paper, Marjorie wrote neatly the articles
he had bought, and their prices. She added it correctly, and presented
it with a business-like air.

“Well done, well done, little orange girl. And so I owe you nine
sixty-five. Quite a big orange bill. But I’ll make it ten dollars, if
you can tell me of the greatest Orange Bill ever known.”

Marjorie thought hard. She had been afraid this quizzical old gentleman
would ask her some question that she couldn’t answer. She thought of
great shiploads of oranges coming up from the South, but she knew
nothing about the price of them.

“No, sir,” she said, finally, with a little sigh; “I don’t believe I can
tell you.”

“Well, well, I’ll give you the ten, all the same, for the good of the
cause. And the Bill I have in mind was William of Orange.”

“Oh!” said Marjorie, laughing; “well, even if I had thought of him, I
couldn’t tell you much about him. But I’ll know more of him next week!”

“How’s that? Does he come next in your history lesson?”

“No, sir; but in my school, we can have any lesson we want. If I ask
Miss Hart to make a lesson on William of Orange, she will.”

“Bless my soul! That’s a fine school! And can all the pupils order
subjects that please their fancy?”

“Well, you see,” said Midget, with her eyes twinkling, “there are only
two pupils. Here’s the other.”

She turned and drew Delight toward her.

“Oh, yes, another little Orangette. Well, you must be a fine class, you
two. Now, see to it that you learn about William of Orange, and next
year, if we have a bazaar, you can tell me all about him. I hope your
memories are long enough for that.”

“Oh, yes,” said Marjorie. “I remember, at the bazaar last winter, you
taught me some spelling.”

“Why, you little wiseacre! You’ll have too much book-learning, if you’re
not careful! Well, try the guessing contest this evening, and see how
you make out at that!”

Mr. Abercrombie went away, and Delight said:

“Isn’t he a pleasant old gentleman? But he twinkles his eyes so, he
makes me jump.”

“He likes to tease,” said Marjorie, “but he’s awfully generous. I expect
he buys more than any one else at the fair.”

“Hasn’t he any people of his own?”

“Not that live with him. He lives all alone in a great big house. His
wife is dead, and he has some grandchildren, but I don’t know where they
live. He’s a kind man, anyway.”

At eight o’clock the contest began. It was conducted like an
old-fashioned spelling match—that is, two captains were selected, who
chose sides.

Mr. Henderson was one captain, and Miss Merington was the other.

These two chose alternately until all who had entered the contest were
ranged in two long rows, and the rest of the people looked on with great
interest.

Mr. Abercrombie conducted the game, and as he walked up and down between
the two rows, he caught sight of Marjorie’s eager little face, and gave
her an encouraging nod and smile.

Midget had been chosen on Miss Merington’s side, and though she was sure
she could not win the prize herself, she hoped she could at least help
her captain to win it.

“This is the plan of our contest,” announced Mr. Abercrombie, for few of
them had ever seen the game before: “I will ask a question of Mr.
Henderson, then of Miss Merington, then of the next one on Mr.
Henderson’s side, then of the next one on the other side; and so on down
the two lines. Whoever answers a question correctly, remains in the
game. Whoever does not do so, must be scored against, and the question
passed on to the next. After three scorings, the contestant must drop
out of line. The winner, of course, is the one who remains to the last.
First, I will ask of Mr. Henderson, ‘What tree do we give to our friends
when we meet?’”

“Palm,” answered Mr. Henderson, promptly, and everybody applauded.

Then Mr. Abercrombie asked of Miss Merington, “What is the housewife’s
tree?”

“Broom,” she replied, for it had been explained that the answer need not
necessarily be a _tree_, but a bush, or tall plant of any kind.

Marjorie’s courage began to fail her. She liked puzzles, but these were
pretty hard ones. However, the next ones were a little easier.

“Where do the ships land?” was readily answered “Beech,” and “What is
the dandified tree?” was “Spruce.”

Delight had an easy one. She was asked, “What tree is most warmly clad?”
and she said, “Fir” at once.

Other questions were asked, some were missed, and some answered
correctly, and then King covered himself with glory by replying “Peach”
to “What is the tell-tale tree?”

Nearer and nearer Marjorie’s turn came.

At last, Mr. Abercrombie looked at her and said, “What is the
historian’s tree?”

Marjorie breathed a sigh of relief. She was safe for this round, anyway,
and she said, “Date,” with a smiling face. Then she listened, as the
questions went round again.

Many missed this time, and it was a second scoring for some.

Again Marjorie had good luck.

“What tree is found in a bottle?” was the question.

She hesitated a moment, for she had hazy visions of tiny trees growing
in bottles, then her wits returned like a flash, and she said, “Cork,”
which was right.

But she thought to herself, “I’m sure I should have forgotten that cork
comes from a tree, if I hadn’t seen the Cork Tree here to-night.”

However, that might be equally the case with all the others, so it was
perfectly fair.

That time, Delight had a hard one and missed it. The question, “What
tree invites you to travel?” was too difficult for her.

It was passed from one to another, until a man answered, “O range,” but
he laughingly admitted he had heard it before.

“I’m glad I didn’t get that question,” thought Marjorie, for not even
her orange frock would have helped her to guess that.

And so the game went on. Several dropped out on the third round, and
after the fourth round, only about a dozen were left standing.

The two captains were still at the heads of their lines, and Marjorie
and King had each missed only once; but the other Jinksies were all
scored three times and out.

“What tree was an Egyptian plague?” asked the director.

“Locust,” promptly replied Miss Merington, who hadn’t missed yet.

“What tree destroyed Pompeii?” came next.

It was missed and passed on again and again, for nobody could guess it.

Midget and King both shook their heads, and this gave them each their
second bad score.

It came round to the leaders, and as they both missed, it gave Mr.
Henderson his third score, and put him out, but gave Miss Merington only
her first score for missing.

As no one could guess it, the answer was told, “Mountain Ash.”

Everybody agreed it was easy, after all, and the game went on with the
few valiant strugglers that were left.

King couldn’t think of “Elder” as an answer to, “What must everybody
become before he gets old?” So he went ruefully to his seat.

On and on went the questions, until, at last, only Miss Merington and
Marjorie were standing.

Marjorie had two bad marks, and Miss Merington only one, but the fact
that Midget was still there at all, was due to the fact that most of her
questions had chanced to be easy ones. There had been many given out
that she couldn’t answer, but they hadn’t happened to come to her.

But these are the fortunes of war, and Marjorie was glad she had escaped
so well.

After several that they guessed correctly, Mr. Abercrombie said, “What
is the most kissable tree?”

It was Marjorie’s turn, and as the question fell on her ears, an answer
popped into her mind.

But she hesitated about saying it. She didn’t think it was the right
answer, and yet she couldn’t think of any other.

But if she said she didn’t know, she would get her third score, and have
to admit herself vanquished.

Miss Merington smiled at her pleasantly, Mr. Abercrombie waited
patiently, King and Kitty were looking at her anxiously. Why did she
hesitate? they thought.

For Marjorie didn’t look as if she didn’t know the answer, she only
seemed unwilling to tell it.

“Come, come, little orange girl,” said Mr. Abercrombie, most kindly;
“that’s not a hard one. You can guess it, can’t you?”

Still Marjorie said nothing.

“I’m _sure_ that’s the answer,” she said to herself; “and yet suppose it
shouldn’t be!”

Then she thought she’d say she didn’t know, and let Miss Merington get
the prize. Then her conscience told her it would be wrong to say she
didn’t know, when she _did_ know.

“Now, then, orange maiden,” went on the kind voice, “here’s your last
chance. What’s the most kissable tree?”

Finding that she must speak it, Marjorie blushed a little, but said in a
clear voice, “Yew!”

Such a shout of laughter as went up from everybody! Mr. Abercrombie
laughed until he was red in the face, and his huge form shook from side
to side.

Of course, Midget was terribly embarrassed, and wished she could sink
through the door, but Miss Merington took her hand and smiled at her
sweetly, as she whispered, “Be plucky! Smile, yourself, you haven’t said
anything wrong!”

So Marjorie stopped trembling, and smiled a little; then she saw King
and Flip fairly choking with glee, and she realized that her answer was
wrong after all.

“I’m more than sorry,” said Mr. Abercrombie, after the fun had subsided
a little, “that I can’t accept that answer! But I have to go by the
card, and another answer is given here. So I shall have to pass the
question, but I assure you, little orange girl, that I greatly prefer
your answer to the one here given. Miss Merington, can you guess it?”

“Tulip tree,” said Miss Merington, and Marjorie opened her eyes wide.

“I never heard of that tree,” she said.

“Then you were very clever to guess as you did,” declared Mr.
Abercrombie. “Technically, you score your third error, and Miss
Merington wins the prize; but in my unofficial capacity, I hold that you
guessed correctly, and I shall beg the honor of bestowing upon you a
prize also.”

The old-time courtliness of Mr. Abercrombie’s manner was quite a balm to
Marjorie’s disturbed spirit, and she turned to congratulate her captain
on winning the beautiful prize.

It was a fine edition of Browning’s Poems, and it pleased Miss Merington
very much.

“It’s just right for the lady who won it,” commented Mr. Abercrombie,
“but not at all appropriate for an orange girl of twelve. Now, you come
with me, and we’ll find the second prize right here and now.”

He offered his arm as formally as if to a duchess, and in obedience to
Miss Merington’s smile and nod, Marjorie walked away with him.

He paused at the book stall, which was a somewhat ungainly old tree
trunk, bearing the legend, “The Tree of Knowledge.”

Beneath it on a table lay the books, under a sign, “Nothing but Leaves.”

Mr. Abercrombie selected a fine edition of Longfellow’s Poems, and
inscribed Marjorie’s name and the date on the flyleaf.

Beneath it he wrote:

“From one who appreciates Yew,” and presented it in a flourishing
fashion.

Midget had now entirely regained her composure, and she thanked him
politely and prettily, and then ran away to join Miss Merington and
Delight.

“ONLY think!” cried Marjorie, as she sprang out of bed, “Father and
Mother are coming home to-day!”

“Hooray!” cried Kitty, tumbling out of her bed at the joyful reminder.
“_Won’t_ I be glad to see them, though! Aren’t we going to celebrate?”

“Not any regular celebration. It’ll be fun enough just to see them, and
hear them tell about their trip.”

“Yes, indeed; so it will. And, of course, we’ll have ice cream.”

“Oh, of course; I told Ellen that, yesterday.”

A little later, two trim and tidy little Maynard girls went downstairs
to the cheerful dining-room.

“Hello-morning!” cried King, meeting them on the landing. “Going to
school to-day, Mops?”

“Yes, of course; why not?”

“Oh, I thought as Mother’s coming home, we might take a holiday.”

“No, I don’t want to. They don’t come till afternoon, you know, and if I
hung round here all day, I’d just die waiting for ’em. Going to school
will fill up the morning, anyway.”

“That’s so; say we go, then. Hello, Rosy Posy; did I ’most upset you?”

The four danced into the dining-room, where Miss Larkin and breakfast
awaited them.

“I do think,” said Midget, as she ate her cereal, “that, considering
we’re Maynards, we have behaved pretty well since Mother’s been away.”

“Sure we have!” agreed King; “if I get much better, I’ll spoil.”

“I’m spoiling for some mischief, as it is,” said Marjorie, with dancing
eyes.

“Oh, Mops,” begged Kitty, “don’t cut up any jinks before Mother gets
home.”

“Well, I won’t,” said Mops, who didn’t mean her speech as seriously as
Kitty took it; “but after she gets home, I’m going to cut up the biggest
jink I can think of.”

“Are you, really?” said Miss Larkin, with such a horrified expression
that the three children could not help giggling.

“I dunno, Larky,” said Midge, teasingly. “P’raps I will, and p’raps I
won’t. But I’ll promise to be good as pie till Mother does come; only it
seems as if to-day will be a hundred years long.”

However, the morning passed rapidly enough to three Maynards, and it was
not until after luncheon that they grew restless again.

“Oh, deary, deary me!” sighed Marjorie. “They can’t come until five
o’clock, and now it’s only two. We can’t dress up for them until about
four—’cause there’s no use dressing sooner, and getting all messy.
Let’s do something or go somewhere.”

Miss Larkin hastily offered a suggestion. She well knew that when Midget
grew restless and impatient, mischief was pretty likely to ensue.

“Let’s go and weed the flower boxes,” she said.

“They’re spick and span now,” said Marjorie. “We’ve weeded them every
day this week, and if we pull up anything more it’ll have to be the
flowers themselves. And we’ve watered them till they’re most drownded.”

“Drowned, my child,” corrected King, with a schoolmaster air.

“I don’t mean drowned—I mean drowned dead,” declared Marjorie,
triumphantly.

“Pooh, if you’re drowned, you’re sure to be dead,” returned her brother.

“You’ve never been drowned, so how do you know?”

“Neither have you, so how do you know?”

“There, there, children, don’t quarrel,” said Miss Larkin, pleadingly.

“Oh, pshaw, that isn’t quarreling,” said Marjorie; “that’s only cheerful
conversation; isn’t it, King?”

“Yep,” he returned, smiling good-naturedly. “We Maynards never really
quarrel, we just sort of squarrel, you know.”

“That’s sort of between quarreling and squabbling,” observed Kitty.

“Right you are, Kit! You grow brighter every day, don’t you?”

Kitty beamed at her brother’s compliment, for she well knew King meant
it as such.

“Let’s play games,” suggested Miss Larkin next. “Shall we play
Parcheesi?”

“Too poky,” said Midget. “I want to run and jump round. Let’s go
outdoors. Come with us, Miss Larkin, and take a walk?”

“Larky, Larky,” chanted King, “let’s go to the park-y, and walk till
after dark-y.”

“Walk till nearly dark-y,” corrected Marjorie. “Oh, I’ll tell you what
we’ll do; we’ll take a spring ramble.”

“What’s that? Something like this?” and King jumped up, and tripped
across the room with affected mincing gait.

“No; it’s just a walk in the spring. But you call it a spring ramble, if
you go off on the country paths, and pick some wild flowers, and wonder
what the birds are.”

“Sounds good to me,” agreed King. “Come on, ladies. Only we mustn’t stay
too long.”

So they set off, Miss Larkin, Rosy Posy, and all, for a spring ramble.

It proved to be just the thing to divert their attention, and though
they didn’t forget the expected arrival, they became greatly engrossed
in the wonders they found.

Marjorie was leader, because Miss Hart had taken her and Delight on two
spring rambles already, and she knew how to look for the tiny wild
flowers, that scarce showed their blossoms as yet.

“Those are marshmallows,” announced Marjorie, proud of her knowledge, as
she pointed to some rather tall green stems, growing near the brook.

“Marshmallows! Huh!” cried King in disdain. “Marshmallows don’t grow on
reeds!”

“I don’t mean the candy kind,” protested Marjorie. “These are a pink
flower—when the flowers come—and I know they’re it, for Miss Hart told
me so. I think they’re in bud.”

“Those aren’t buds, they’re last year’s seedpods,” said King.

“I don’t think so, but let’s go down and see. The principal thing you do
on a spring ramble is learn things.”

They were on a high bank, and the descent to the growing things down by
the brook was rather steep, and very stony.

“I can’t go down there,” declared Miss Larkin. “You children go, if you
like, and Baby and I will wait up here for you.”

“No, we must all go,” said Marjorie, who was in wilful mood to-day.

“Oh, come on, Larky, dear,” wheedled King; “we’ll all take hold of hands
and scamper down, just as easy as ease!”

So the five joined hands, and when King had counted, “One, two, three!
Go!” they ran down the slope.

But though the stony bank was treacherous, it was nothing compared to
the trouble they found on the lower level.

The impetus gained on the steep slope sent them running rapidly forward,
and they found themselves stumbling in mud and mire.

“Whew!” exclaimed King, as they were stopped at last by their own
clogging footsteps; “who’d have thought this was soft mud? It looked
hard enough!”

Miss Larkin looked utterly disgusted. She tried to take a step forward,
failed, lost her balance, and fell over against Rosy Posy, upsetting the
poor child entirely. But the youngest Maynard was not one of the crying
sort, and she floundered about in the mud, smiling hopefully, as she
said:

“Middy; King; pick up poor Wosy Posy!”

But Midget and King were so convulsed with laughter at the comical
appearance of Miss Larkin, that Rosy Posy was unheeded for the moment,
and the baby good-naturedly floundered on, getting muddier at every
step.

“I can’t get my feet out of this mire,” said poor Miss Larkin; “it’s
like a quicksand.”

“Is it?” inquired King, with great interest; “I always wondered what a
quicksand was like. But I don’t care for it much, myself,” he added,
looking ruefully at his own shoes, muddied all over, and, indeed, half
sunk in the ground.

“How shall we get out, King?” asked Kitty. “I think this is a horrid
place.”

“Oh, we’ll get out all right,” answered King, cheerfully. “Here, this is
the way to do it. Turn down these bushes, and walk on ’em, see?”

It was a good plan, only the bushes chanced to be brambly ones, and
their hands were scratched and their clothes were torn in their struggle
to get out of the mud.

King lifted Rosy Posy high, in an endeavor to get her over unharmed; but
thinking it was all a fine game, the little one gave a wriggle of
delight, and fell plump into the soft mud.

“Oh, you mud-turtle!” cried King. “Well, Rosy Posy, you’re a sight now!
But it’s lucky you didn’t fall into the bramble bush.”

“And scratch out both your eyes,” added Marjorie.

“Mine _are_ about scratched out,” said Kitty, plaintively.

“Try the other bush, Kit, and scratch ’em in again,” proposed King, who
was struggling manfully to carry his littlest sister and help Miss
Larkin at the same time.

Well, after a time, they did get out, and were such a looking crowd as
can scarcely be imagined!

But they were once more on firm pavement, and though terribly scratched
up, were not seriously injured. It was a narrow escape, though, for the
mire was deep, and the thorns were sharp, and a bad accident might have
happened.

“You said you wanted to cut up jinks, Midget, and now you’ve done it!”
said her brother.

“No more than the rest of you,” returned Midget. “Larky looks just as
Jinky as any of us.”

They all turned to Miss Larkin, and then burst into laughter. She did
look funny, with her hat awry, her hair out of place, a daub of mud on
her cheek, and her skirts beplastered with sticky mire, and caught here
and there with brambles. Somewhat to the children’s surprise, she took
the disaster humorously, too.

“I don’t look a scrap worse than you four do,” she said. “But I’m
thankful there are no eyes really scratched out, and no arms or legs
broken; nothing but torn clothes, and dirty hands and faces, all of
which can be set right in an hour or so. Now let’s scramble for home,
and we’re plenty of time to get in spick and span order before your
father and mother come home.”

“I’m glad it isn’t later,” said Marjorie. “Just think of their catching
us looking like this!”

They went home by a back street, and fortunately met no one on the way.

As they entered their own gate, and walked up the driveway, Marjorie
said:

“It reminds me of the night we walked up here with the Simpsons. Only,
we’re a worse-looking crowd than they were.”

“We’re a worse-looking crowd than anybody ever was anywhere,” said King,
with conviction. “Here, Rosy Posy, you walking mud-puddle, brother’ll
carry you up the steps.”

Rosy Posy nestled her soft, muddy cheek against King’s equally muddy
one, for she dearly loved her big brother, and liked to have him carry
her now and then.

Up the steps they went, and in at the front door, and there, in the
hall, stood—Mr. and Mrs. Maynard!

“Oh, Mother!” cried Marjorie; “_oh, Mother!_”

“Oh, Midget!” was the response, and then, regardless of the muddiness of
Midget, and the tidiness of Mrs. Maynard, the two little arms flew round
the mother’s neck, and Marjorie’s kisses left visible evidence on her
mother’s pretty pink cheeks.

“It was nice of you to fix up like this to welcome us,” said Mr.
Maynard, who had Rosy Posy in his arm now, and Kitty clinging to his
other side.

Then muddy Kingdon was folded in his mother’s embrace, and then,
somehow, everybody embraced everybody else, quite thoughtless of mud or
scratches.

“But what’s it all about?” went on Mr. Maynard. “I like it—oh, don’t
think I don’t like it! but—it’s a new style to me.”

“I feel that I am responsible for the children,” began Miss Larkin, and
all at once Marjorie saw that Miss Larkin was painfully embarrassed at
having seemingly neglected her charge.

“Not a bit of it!” declared Midget, flying to Miss Larkin’s side, and
embracing the muddy lady; “it isn’t the least bit Larky’s fault! Is it,
King? We went for a spring ramble——”

“And you sprang in,” interrupted her father.

“Yes, we did. And we didn’t expect you so soon, and we thought we’d get
cleaned up ’fore you came. But you came sooner than we ’spected, didn’t
you?”

“Yes; we caught an earlier train than I thought we could.”

“Well,” Marjorie went on, “I’m glad you did—awful glad—’cause it
didn’t seem’s if I could wait for you another minute! But I’m sorry we
look so ’sreputable—but we can soon get washed, you know—only, I just
want to say it wasn’t Larky’s fault—not the leastest mite! She’s done
the best she could to take care of us Maynards, and make us behave. But
_nobody_ can make _Maynards_ behave. Can they, Father?”

“No,” said Mr. Maynard, with twinkling eyes, and a glance at his wife;
“no, nobody can make Maynards behave—but Maynards!”

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