11. Home For The Holidays.
 

"Hurrah! Here we are again! How natural Oak Run looks!" exclaimed Tom on the following day, as the long train came to a halt at their station and they piled out on to the narrow platform.

"There is old Nat Ricks, the station master," said Sam. "Remember how you nearly scared him to death once by putting a big fire-cracker in the waste paper he was burning and then telling him a yarn about dynamite being around?"

"Well, I just guess I do," answered Tom, with a grin. "Hullo, Mr. Ricks!" he called out. "How are you this fine and frosty morning?"

"Putty well, Tom," grumbled the old station master. "Been troubled a lot lately with rheumatism."

"That's too bad, Mr. Ricks. Caught it hoisting trunks into the cars, I suppose."

"Don't know how I caught it."

"Or maybe lifting milk cans."

"I don't lift no milk cans no more. Job Todder has that work around here."

"I see. Well, you must have caught it somehow, or else it caught you. Ever tried the old Indian remedy for it?"

"Indian remedy, what's that?"

"Gracious, Mr. Ricks! never heard of the old reliable Indian remedy? I'm astonished at you," went on Tom, in mock candor.

"I've heard tell of Indian vegetable pills--but they aint no good for rheumatism," was the slow answer.

"Where is the pain mostly?"

"Down this left leg."

"Then the Indian remedy will just cure you, sure pop, Mr. Ricks."

"Well, what might it be?"

"It might be cover-liver oil, but it isn't. You get a quart bottle--a red quart bottle, for a white one won't do,--and fill it with cold spring water, tapped when the moon is full."

"Is that all?"

"Oh, no, no! Then you take the spring water and boil it over a charcoal fire, same as the Modoc Indians used to do. You remember all about that, don't you?"

"I--I--'pears to me I ought to," stammered the old station master.

"Well, after the water is boiled," went on Tom, with a side wink at Dick and Sam, who were already on a broad grin, "you strain it through a piece of red cheesecloth--not white, remember--and add one teaspoonful of sugar, one of salt, one of ginger, one of mustard, one of hog's lard, one of mercury, one of arrowroot, one of kerosene oil, one of lemon juice, one of extract of vanilla, one of mushamusha----"

"Hold on Rover, I can't remember all that. I'll have to put it down," interrupted Nat Ricks.

"No, you don't put it down until everything is in and well mixed. Then you put it down, half a pint at a time, four times a day. It's a sure cure, and inside of a week after taking seventeen quarts and rubbing the empty bottles on your left shoulder blade you'll feel like dancing a jig of joy; really, you will."

"Oh, you go along!" growled the old station master, in sudden wrath. "You're joking me. Go oh, or I'll throw something at you!"

"No bouquets, please, Mr. Ricks. Then you won't try the cure? All right, but don't blame me if your rheumatism gets worse. And as I can't do anything for you, will you kindly inform me if you've seen anything of Jack Ness around here, with our turnout?"

"If you want your hired man you go find him yourself," growled the station master, and hobbled into his office.

"Oh, Tom, but that was rich," laughed Sam softly. "When you said extract of vanilla and mushamusha I thought I'd explode. And he was listening so earnestly, too!"

"Here's Jack Ness!" cried Dick, as they turned to the rear of the station. "Hullo, Jack! Here we are again!"

"Master Dick!" exclaimed the hired man, with a grin. "An' Tom an' Sam! Glad to see you boys back, indeed I am. Here, give me them bags. I'll put 'em in the back of the sleigh."

"How is the sleighing?" asked Sam.

"Sleighing is quite fair yet, Master Tom. In you go. All the folks is dying to see you."

They were soon stowed away in the big family sleigh, and Jack Ness touched up the team, and away they went, through Oak Run and across the bridge spanning the Swift River--that stream where Sam had once had such a thrilling adventure. The countryside was covered with snow and with pools of ice.

It did not take them long to come in sight of Valley Brook. While still at a distance they saw faithful Alexander Pop come out on the broad piazza and wave his hand at them.

"There's Aleck!" cried Tom. "He's been on the watch!"

"There is father!" came from Sam, a moment later; "and aunt Martha and Uncle Randolph!"

Soon they turned into the lane, and Jack Ness brought the sleigh up to the piazza block in fine style. Tom was the first out and ran to greet his father, and then his uncle and his aunt, and the others followed.

"I am glad to see you back, boys," said Mr. Anderson Rover. "You all look first- rate."

"We're feeling first-rate," came from Dick.

"Are you sure, Sam, that you are quite over your cold?" asked Aunt Martha anxiously.

"Quite sure, aunty dear," he answered, and kissed her very warmly, not once, but several times.

"Here, don't eat Aunt Martha up!" cried Tom. "Leave some for me."

"You dear Tom!" murmured the lady of the house, as she kissed him and then embraced Dick. "Full of fun as ever, I suppose."

"Oh, no, aunty! I never do anything wrong now," answered Tom solemnly. "I really haven't time, you know."

"I'm afraid, Tom, I can't trust you." And Mrs. Randolph Rover shook her head sadly, but smiled nevertheless. She loved the jolly lad with all her heart.

There was a warm greeting from Randolph Rover also, and then the boys turned indoors, to greet faithful Alexander Pop and the others who worked about the place.

"Yo' is a sight fo' soah eyes, 'deed yo' is, boys," said the colored man. "I can't tell yo' how much I'se missed yo'!" And his face shone like a piece of polished ebony.

"It's more like home than ever, to get where you are, Aleck," said Dick. "You've been through so much with us you are certainly part of the outfit." And at this Aleck laughed and looked more pleased than ever.

It was the day before Christmas, but in honor of their arrival there was an extra-fine dinner awaiting them. Mrs. Rover had wanted to keep her turkey meat for Christmas, so her husband, Anderson Rover, and Aleck had gone into the woods back, of the farm and brought down some rabbits and a number of birds, so there was potpie and other good things galore, not forgetting some pumpkin pies and home-made doughnuts, which Aunt Martha prepared with her own hands and of which the boys had always been exceedingly fond.

"I'll tell you what," remarked Tom, as he was stowing away his second generous piece of pie, "the feed at the Hall is all right, but when it comes to a real, downright spread, like this, the palm goes to Aunt Martha." And Dick and Sam agreed with him.

There was, of course, much to tell about on both sides, and after dinner the family gathered in the big sitting room, in front of a cheerful, blazing fire. Mr. Anderson Rover listened with keen interest to what his sons had to say about Jasper Grinder and Dan Baxter.

"I sincerely trust they do not plot against us," he said. "I am getting old, and I want no more trouble."

"I don't believe Dan has the backbone his father has," answered Dick. "And I believe Mr. Grinder is good deal of a coward."

"If only young Baxter would turn over a new leaf!" sighed Mrs. Martha Rover. "I declare I'll not feel safe, on your account, until that young man is taken care of."

The evening was passed in talking, singing, and playing games, and it was not until late that all retired.

The Christmas to follow was not one to be easily forgotten. There were presents for everybody, from Mr. Rover down to Sarah, the hired girl, and everybody was greatly pleased.

At the Christmas dinner Alexander Pop insisted upon waiting on the table, just as he had so often done at Putnam Hall. He had on his full dress suit, and his face wore one perpetual smile. The boys had all remembered Aleck handsomely, and he had not forgotten them.

In the afternoon the boys went skating, and on the pond met several of the boys of the neighborhood, and all had a glorious time until dark. Then they piled home, once more as hungry as wolves, to a hot supper, and an evening of nut- cracking around the fire.

"Tell you what," said Sam on going to bed that night, "I almost wish Christmas came once a week instead of once a year!"