Chapter VII. In the Wash-Basket

"There, now look what you did!" cried the girl.

"I didn't do it! You did!" said the boy. "If you hadn't jiggled it out of my hand when I was taking it down it wouldn't have fallen."

I don't know how long they might have gone on disputing in this fashion if the office boy from next door had not poked his head in and called:

"What's the matter?"

Then he saw the Calico Clown lying on the floor and he added:

"Has Santa Claus been here?" and he laughed.

"It came out of the pocket of the Boss," explained the first office boy. "He put it on his desk. I was going to look at it and pull the strings, 'cause the Boss is out to lunch, but she jiggled my hand and made me drop it. Now it's busted."

"Maybe it isn't," said the second office boy. "I'll see."

He picked the Calico Clown up off the floor, punched him in the chest, and the gay red and yellow chap banged his cymbals together.

"He's all right so far," said the second office boy. "Now we'll pull the strings."

"And there's where trouble may come in," thought the Calico Clown himself, for he heard and saw and felt all that went on. "I'm almost sure my glued leg is broken," said the Clown to himself.

But when the strings were pulled, one after another, and the arms and legs and head of the funny fellow twisted and turned and jerked, the two office boys and the typewriter girl laughed. And the Clown himself was glad, for he felt that he was not broken.

"If the Boss comes in and finds you playing with that Clown you'll catch it," said the girl to the first office boy, after a while.

"I guess I'd better put him back on the desk. I'm going out to get my dinner pretty soon," the boy said.

And a little later, while the girl was in an outer office looking over some papers and while the Man was still at his lunch and while the office boy was out getting something to eat, the Calico Clown was left alone with the Ink-Well Dwarf.

"How do you do?" politely asked the Clown.

[Illustration: Calico Clown Has a Chat With Ink-Well Dwarf.]

"Very well, thank you," answered the Dwarf. "And how are you? Where did you come from? Are you going to work here?"

"I never work!" exclaimed the Clown. "I am only to make jolly fun and laughter."

"Then this is no place for you," went on the Dwarf. "This is an office, and we must all work, though I must admit that those boys seem to get as much fun out of it as any one. They're always skylarking, cutting up, and playing jokes. But I work myself. I hold ink for the Boss."

"I see you do," answered the Clown. "I suppose I don't really belong here, made only for fun, as I am. And I did not want to come here. It was quite accidental. I was brought."

"How!" asked the Ink-Well Dwarf.

"In the pocket of the Man they call the Boss," was the reply. And then the Clown told of how he had fallen out of the tree.

All the remainder of the day the Calico Clown sat on the desk of the Man, wondering what would happen to him. At last he found out.

At the close of the afternoon, when no more business was to be done, the Man arose and closed his desk. He put papers in his different pockets to take home with him, and then he saw the Calico Clown.

"Oh, I mustn't forget you!" he said, speaking out loud as he sometimes did when alone. And he was alone in the office now, for the boy and the typewriter girl had gone. "I'll take you home and ask Arnold or Mirabell to whom you belong," went on the man. "You are some child's toy, I'm sure of that, and one of my children may know where you live."

The Calico Clown knew this to be so, and he knew that either Arnold or Mirabell would at once be able to say that the Clown belonged to Sidney, for they had seen Sidney playing with this toy.

"Back into my pocket you go!" said the Man, and he took the Clown down off the top of the desk. "There are a lot of handkerchiefs in that pocket," the man went on. "They'll make a good, soft bed for you to lie on."

And, surely enough, there was a soft bed of handkerchiefs for the Calico Clown. They were handkerchiefs the man had been carrying in his pocket for some time, and he had forgotten to put them in the wash, as his wife, over and over again, had told him to do.

A little later, with the Calico Clown nestled down in among a pile of handkerchiefs in his pocket, the Man started for home from his office.

"Well, I am certainly doing some traveling this day," thought the Clown, as he reposed in the Man's pocket. "First I am carried up a tree, and then I fall down. Next I am taken to an office, just as if I were in business like the Ink-Well Dwarf, and now I am being taken to the home of Mirabell and Arnold. I wonder what will happen next."

He did not have to wait long to find out.

Down the street walked the Man, and soon he was within sight of his home, where Mirabell and Arnold lived. The two children were out in front, waiting for their father. As soon as they saw him coming they stopped swinging on the gate and cried:

"Here comes Daddy!"

He waved his hand to them.

Down the street they raced to meet him, and taking hold of his hands, one on either side, they led him toward the house.

Just then out of the side gate came Mandy, the jolly fat colored washer-woman. She had a basket full of clothes on a small express wagon.

"Oh, that reminds me!" exclaimed Mirabell's father. "I'll put these handkerchiefs from my pocket in your basket of wash, Mandy! You can take them home with you, wash them clean and iron them and bring them back to me."

"'Deed an' dat's just what I can do!" exclaimed Mandy, smiling broadly. "Put 'em right down yeah in mah basket!"

She turned back the sheet she had spread over the soiled clothes and made a little place down in one corner for the Man to put his handkerchiefs.

There was quite a bundle of them, all wadded together.

"There, you can tell Mother I didn't forget my handkerchiefs this time," said Daddy to his two children. "You saw me put them in the wash, didn't you?"

"Yes, Daddy, we did!" exclaimed Mirabell. "And, oh, you ought to see what happened to my Lamb on Wheels to-day!"

"What happened?" asked Daddy, as he straightened up after having stooped down to thrust the handkerchiefs into the basket.

"Why, Arnold's Bold Tin Soldier got caught in the curly wool on my Lamb's back," explained Mirabell, "and they both fell into the flour barrel!"

"That was funny!" laughed Daddy. And he was thinking so much about this and laughing so with Arnold and Mirabell that he never stopped to think of the Calico Clown in among the handkerchiefs he had put in the wash-basket.

But that is what he had done. He had thrust the Clown, with the handkerchiefs, down in Mandy's basket of soiled clothes.

"Oh, my! Oh, dear me! Oh, what is going to happen now?" thought the Calico Clown as he felt himself covered up and taken away. "Oh, if I could only tell Mirabell or Arnold I am here. Oh, this is dreadful."

But he could do nothing! Away he was taken in the wash-basket.