Chapter VIII. Down in a Deep Hole
 

Daddy hurried into the house with Mirabell and Arnold. The children were eager to show their father into what a funny pickle the Bold Tin Soldier and the Lamb on Wheels had got. Of course, it wasn't exactly a "pickle." I only call it that for fun. It was really the flour barrel into which the two toys had fallen.

"How did it happen?" asked Daddy, as the children brought out their playthings, the Soldier still entangled in the Lamb's wool, and both of them white with flour.

"It happened when we were in the kitchen watching the cook make a cake," explained Mirabell. "I was playing with my Lamb on the floor and I lifted her up to let her see how nice the cake looked."

"But what about your Soldier, Arnold?" asked Daddy.

"Oh, I had set my Soldier Captain on the back of Mirabell's Lamb to give him a ride," explained the little boy.

"I said he could," remarked Mirabell.

"And when she lifted her Lamb up she lifted my Soldier up, too," added Arnold.

"And then!" burst out Mirabell, laughing, "my foot slipped and I let go of my Lamb on Wheels, and she fell into the flour barrel, and so did Arnold's Bold Tin Soldier."

"And they were a sight, all white and covered with flour!" exclaimed the little boy.

But now we must see what happened to the Calico Clown.

At first he was very uncomfortable, stuck down in among the soiled clothes. He feared he would smother; but really he did not need much air, and he soon found he was getting all he needed. The clothes were so soft that they did not crush him, and--he was not near any of Mirabell's or Arnold's play clothes--he soon found that they were not badly soiled. So, after getting over his first distaste, he began rather to like the ride in the little express wagon.

"It isn't as smooth as an automobile," thought the Calico Clown, "but it is jolly for a change. The only thing that's worrying me is what is going to happen next; and to know whether or not I shall ever see Sidney again."

And at this time, which was early in the evening, Sidney was still looking everywhere for his Calico Clown. The little boy told his mother and sister how he and Herbert had left the Clown and the Monkey on a Stick on the porch while they went to get bread and jam.

"And when we came back my Monkey was there," said Herbert, "but Sid's Clown was gone."

"It is very strange where your toy has got to," said Mother. She helped Sidney and Herbert look, but the Clown seemed gone forever, and Sidney felt sorry.

"Now we can never have that circus," he said to his brother.

"Oh, maybe he'll be found some day," was the answer. But Sidney sadly shook his head.

Trundling the little express wagon with her basket of clothes along the streets, Mandy finally reached her home where she did the washing and ironing. Her children were waiting for her to come to supper. Liza Ann, the oldest girl, had set the table, and Jim, the next oldest boy, was out on the steps watching for his mother, just as Arnold and Mirabell watched for their daddy.

"Is de table all set, honey?" asked Mandy of Liza Ann. "I hopes it is, 'cause I wants to put dese yeah clothes in to soak after I eats."

"De table is all sot," explained Liza Ann. "An' de meat an' taters is all ready to hotten up."

"Dass good," sighed Mandy, for she was rather tired. "I'll jest leave these yeah clothes till after supper," she went on, putting the basket down in a corner of the room.

"Dear me! I wonder how much longer I shall have to stay here," thought the Calico Clown, tucked away under the sheet and in the pile of handkerchiefs. "Aren't they ever going to let me out? This is worse than being in jail!"

But at last Mandy's supper was finished, and, with Liza Ann and Jim to help her sort the clothes, she filled a tub with water and began. The big sheet was taken off the top of the basket, and then Liza Ann reached in and took up the bundle of handkerchiefs.

"You wants to be keerful o' dem, honey," said her mother. "Dem's de bestest an' most special hankowitches o' Mirabell's pa, an' he's very 'tickler how dey is washed. Better let me have dem, honey."

Mandy reached over to take the handkerchiefs from Liza Ann, and at that moment the little colored girl saw something red and yellow among them.

"Oh, what a funny handkowitch!" she called, and the next moment they all saw the Calico Clown. Mandy took him out of the bundle.

"Oh, Mammy! I want him!" cried Jim.

"Nope! He's mine! I saw him, fustest!" exclaimed Liza Ann, and she reached for the Calico Clown.

"Wait a minute, now, chilluns. Wait a minute!" said Mandy, and she held the toy close to her breast. "Dish yeah don't belongs to us."

"But it come in de basket of wash, Mammy!" said Jim. "Why can't we keep it?"

"'Cause tain't belongin' to us," answered his mother. "I can jest guess how it come in. Mirabell or Arnold, dey done drop it in dere Daddy's pocket, an' he didn't know nothin' about its bein' in. He took it out wif his hankowitches, and put it in mah basket of wash. An' I brung it home. My! My! It suah is funny how it happened!"

She held the Calico Clown up and looked at him.

"Oh, ain't he jest grand!" cried Jim, his eyes shining with delight.

"He suah is a gay fellow all right," said Mandy.

Liza Ann reached up and pulled one of the Clown's strings. Quickly his legs jiggled and he cut some funny capers.

"Oh, my! Dat suah is scrumptious!" laughed the little colored girl.

"Oh, Mammy, jest let us play with him a little while!" begged Jim. "Den I'll take him back to where he belongs."

"All right," agreed Mandy. "But be mighty keerful of him! If dat Calico Clown should get busted Mirabell or Arnold is gwine to feel mighty bad!"

You see she didn't know the Clown belonged to Sidney, and not to either Mirabell or Arnold.

"Come on, we'll have some fun wif him!" said Liza Ann to her brother.

And then, while their mother put the clothes to soak, the children played with the Calico Clown. They were good and gentle children, and the gay toy did not in the least mind clanging his cymbals for them or doing his funny dance. He jiggled and joggled his arms and legs, and went through such funny antics that Jim and Liza Ann laughed again and again.

"Po' li'l honey lambs!" said Mandy with a sigh, as she bent over the wash tub. "I wish dey had some toys of dere own. But den I'se got good clean and soft watah to wash wif, an' dat's a blessin'! Lots of folks hasn't got only hard watah, what won't make no suds."

After the clothes had been put to soak in a tub Mandy dried her hands and sat and looked at Liza Ann and Jim playing with the Calico Clown.

"Come now, you'd better get ready to take him back," she said to Jim, after a while.

"Does you mean to take him back where you got de basket of wash, Mammy?" asked the colored boy.

"Yes," his mother answered. "You know de big green house. You's been dere befo', honey. You go dere now, Jim--tisn't late yet--an' you take back dis Clown. Tell Mirabell or Arnold dat it got in de wash wif dere daddy's pocket hankowitches."

"All right," said Jim, with a sigh. "I will. But I suah does wish we could keep him!"

"So do I," sighed Liza Ann in a low voice.

"Well, maybe some day I can make money enough to git you somethin' to play wif," said their mother.

As she had said, it was not late, though the sun had set. It was a warm, summer night, and the moon was shining brightly. Jim knew the way to the house where Mirabell and Arnold lived, for he had often gone there both with his mother and alone, either to get or bring back the clothes.

With the Calico Clown wrapped in a piece of paper, Jim set off on his trip. He hurried along, thinking how nice it would be if he had a toy like that. He was wondering how long it would be before his mother could earn enough money to buy one when, just as he turned into the yard of the house where Arnold and Mirabell lived, Jim stumbled and fell.

The Calico Clown shot out of his hands, and the poor toy, as he flew along, thought to himself:

"Oh, what is happening now!"

The next moment he fell into a deep hole, and only that he grasped the long grass at the edge of it, Jim would have fallen in himself.

"Fo' de lan' sakes!" exclaimed the little colored boy as he picked himself up. "What have done gone an' happened now?"

You see, he felt about it just as the Calico Clown did.