Chapter X.


In the uppermost story of the house at Ion was a large play-room furnished with a great variety of toys and games--indeed almost everything that could be thought of for the amusement of the young folks, from Walter up to Max.

But the greatest delight of the last named was in the deft handling of the tools in an adjoining apartment, called the boys' work-room. There he found abundance of material to work upon, holly scroll and fret saws, and a well-stocked tool chest.

Edward had given him a few lessons at the start, and now he had become so expert as to be turning out some really beautiful pieces of carving, which he intended to give to his friends at Christmas.

Lulu, too, was learning scroll-sawing, and thought it far preferable to any sort of needle-work; sometimes more enjoyable than playing with her dolls.

They were there together one afternoon, both very busy and chatting and laughing as they worked.

"Max," said Lulu, "I'm determined to learn to do scroll-sawing and carving just as well as ever I can, and make lovely things! Maybe I can contrive new patterns or designs, or whatever they call 'em, and after a while make ever so much money, enough to pay for my clothes and everything, so that papa won't have to spend any of his money on me."

"Why, Lu!" exclaimed her brother, "do you think papa grudges the money he spends on you, or any of us?"

"No, I know he doesn't," she returned vehemently, "but can't you understand that I'd like him to have more to spend on himself?"

"Oh," said Max. "Well, that's right, I'm sure, and very thoughtful for a little girl like you. I do think you're splendid in some ways, Lu."

"And whether you make money by it or not, it will be a good thing to learn to do this work well. Papa says, 'knowledge is power,' and the more things we know how to do, the more independent and useful we will be."

Just then the door opened, and Zoe, in riding hat and habit, put in her head.

"Max, I'm going to ride into the village," she said, "and Edward can't go with me, as he intended. Will you?"

"Yes, Aunt Zoe, of course, if you want me," answered the boy promptly, stopping his saw and springing to his feet, for he was much gratified by the invitation. "I'll get ready as fast as I can; 'twon't take over five minutes."

"Thank you. I'll wait for you in the parlor," said Zoe, "Lulu, would you like to go, too?"

"No, thank you, I had a ride this morning, and now I want to finish this."

Max had left the room, and Zoe, drawing nearer to Lulu, exclaimed at the beauty of her work.

"Why, I never should have dreamed you could do it so well!" she said. "I don't believe I could."

Lulu's face flushed with pleasure, but she said modestly, "Perhaps you'd find, if you should try, that you could do it better; you do everything else better than I do."

"Quite a mistake," returned Zoe, "though I ought to, as I'm so much older. But there, I dare say Max is ready and waiting for me, so good-by."

They met in the lower hall. "All ready, Max?" she asked.

"Yes--no; I must ask leave," and he ran into the parlor where the ladies of the family were sitting.

It was of Grandma Elsie he asked permission, and it was given at once.

"Thank you, ma'am," he said. "Can I do anything for you in the town, ladies?"

"Yes," said Violet, "I have just broken a crochet needle. You may get me one to replace it."

She went on to give him directions about the size and where he would be likely to find it; then taking some money from her purse, "This is sure to be more than enough," she said, "but you may keep the change."

"Mamma Vi, I don't want pay for doing an errand for you," returned the boy coloring; "it is a great pleasure, it would be even if papa had not told me to wait on you and do all I could to fill his place."

"I don't mean it as pay, my dear boy," Violet answered, with a pleased look, "but haven't I a right to make a little present now and then to the children who call me mamma?"

Max's face brightened.

"Yes, ma'am, I suppose so," he said. "Thank you; I'll take it willingly enough if it isn't pay, and I'm very proud to be trusted to buy something for you."

Edward was helping Zoe into the saddle as Max came hurrying out.

"Take good care of her, Max," he said, "I'm trusting you and Tom there with my chiefest treasure."

"I'll do my best," Max said, mounting his pony, which Tom the colored boy was holding.

"Me, too, Marse Ed'ard, dere shan't nuffin hurt Miss Zoe," added the latter, giving Max the bridle, then mounting a third horse and falling behind the others as they cantered down the avenue.

A little beyond the gate the family carriage passed them, Mr. Dinsmore and a strange gentleman inside.

"Company," remarked Zoe. "I wonder who he is, and if he's come to stay any time? I think grandpa drove into the city in season to meet the afternoon train."

"Yes, I know he did," said Max.

Max had now learned to ride quite well, and felt himself very nearly a man as he escorted Zoe to the village, and, arrived there, went with her from store to store, executed Violet's commission, then having assisted Zoe into the saddle remounted, and returned with her to Ion.

It was very near the tea hour when they reached home. Zoe went directly to her own apartments to change her dress, but Max, without even waiting to take off his overcoat, hastened into the parlor to hand the crochet needle to Violet.

The ladies were all there, Rosie, too, and Mr. Dinsmore, and an elderly gentleman, whom Max at once recognized as the one he had seen in the carriage that afternoon.

He shook hands very kindly with the boy as Mr. Dinsmore introduced them, "Cousin Ronald this is Max Raymond--Mr. Lilburn, Max."

"Ah ha, ah ha! um, h'm! ah ha! A fine-looking lad," Mr. Lilburn said, still holding the boy's hand in a kindly grasp, and gazing with evident interest into the bright young face. "I trust you and I are going to be good friends, Max. I'm no so young myself as I once was, but I like the company of the blithe young lads and lasses."

"Thank you, sir," said Max, coloring with pleasure. "Rosie says you tell splendid stories about Wallace and the Bruce and Robin Hood and his merry men; and I know I shall enjoy them ever so much."

As he finished his sentence Max colored more deeply than before, at the same time hastily thrusting his right hand deep into the pocket on that side of his overcoat, for a peculiar sound like the cry of a young puppy seemed to come from it at that instant, much to the boy's discomfiture and astonishment.

"What is that? What have you got there, Max?" asked little Walter, pricking up his ears, while Violet asked with an amused look, "Have you been making an investment in livestock, Max?"

A query that seemed all the more natural and appropriate as the cluck of a hen came from the pocket on the other side of the overcoat.

Down went the left hand into that. "No, Mamma Vi, they're not in my pockets," returned the boy, with a look of great bewilderment.

"No, to be sure not," said Mr. Lilburn, and the hen clucked behind Violet's chair and the pup's cry was heard coming from underneath a heap of crocheting in Mrs. Dinsmore's lap, fairly startling her into uttering a little cry of surprise and dismay and springing to her feet.

Then everybody laughed, Rosie clapping her hands with delight, and Max glanced from one to another more mystified than ever.

"Never mind, Max," said Violet, "it's plain you are not the culprit who brought such unwelcome intruders here. Run up to your room now and make yourself ready for tea."

Max obeyed, but looking back from the doorway, asked, "Shall I send one of the servants to turn out the hen and carry away the pup?"

"Never mind, we'll attend to it," said Mr. Dinsmore.

"I'll find 'em. I can carry that pup out," said Walter, getting down from his grandpa's knee and beginning a vigorous search for it, the older people watching him with much amusement.

At length, having satisfied himself that neither it nor the hen was in the room, he concluded that they must be in Max's overcoat pockets, and told him so the moment he returned.

"No, they are not, unless some one has put them there since I went up-stairs," said Max. "But I don't believe in them, Walter. I think they were only make believe."

"How make believe?" asked the little fellow in perplexity.

"Ask Mr. Lilburn."

"Come, explain yourself, young man," said that gentleman laughingly.

"I've heard of ventriloquists, sir," said Max. "I don't know if you are one, but as pup and hen could only be heard and not seen, I think it must have been a ventriloquist's work."

"But you don't know for certain," said Rosie, coming to his side, "and please don't say anything to Zoe, or Lulu, or Gracie about it."

"I won't," he said, as the door opened and the three entered, Zoe having overtaken the two little girls on their way down-stairs after being dressed for the evening by the careful and expert Agnes.

"Mamma, do I look nice enough for your little girl?" asked Gracie, going to Violet's side.

"Very nice and sweet, my darling," was the whispered reply, accompanied by a tender caress.

Walter, hardly waiting until the necessary introductions were over, burst out eagerly, "Zoe, do you know where that pup is?"

"What pup?" she asked.

"I don't know his name."

"Well, what about him?"

"I thought he was in Max's pocket, but he wasn't, and neither was the hen."

The tea-bell rang at that instant, and Rosie, putting her lips to Walter's ear, whispered, "Do keep quiet about it, and we'll have some fun."

"Will we?" he asked with a look of mingled wonder and pleasure; "then I'll keep quiet."

All through the meal Walter was on the qui vive for the fun, but there was none beyond a few jests and pleasantries which were by no means unusual in their cheerful family circle.

"There wasn't a bit of fun, Rosie," he complained to her after all had returned to the parlor.

"Wait a little," she answered, "perhaps it will come yet."

"Before I have to go to bed?"

"I hope so. Suppose you go and tell Cousin Ronald you want some fun. He knows how to make it. But be sure to whisper it in his ear."

Walter did as directed.

"Wait a wee, bairnie, and see what will happen," Cousin Ronald answered in an undertone, and with a low pleasant laugh as he lifted the little fellow to his knee.

Mr. Dinsmore sat near at hand, the ladies had gathered about the centre-table with their work, while Lester Leland and Edward Travilla hovered near their wives, the one with a newspaper, the other merely watching the busy fingers of the fair workers and making jesting comments upon what they were doing.

But presently there was a sudden commotion in their midst, one after another springing from her chair with a little startled cry and trying to dodge what, from the sound, seemed to be an enormous bumble bee circling round and round their heads and in and out among them. "Buzz! buzz! buzz!" surely never bumble bee buzzed so loud before.

"Oh, catch it! kill it, Edward!" cried Zoe, with a half frantic rush to the farther side of the room. "Oh, here it comes after me! It's settling on my hair! Oh!"

"No, dear, it isn't, there is really nothing there," Edward said soothingly, yet with a laugh, for a second thought had told him the real cause of the disturbance.

"I believe it's gone," she said, drawing a long breath of relief, as she turned her head this way and that, "but where did it go to? and how strange for one to be flying about this time of year!"

The other ladies exchanging amused glances and smiles, were drawing round the table again when a loud "cluck, cluck" came from beneath it.

"Oh, there she is! there's the old hen Max brought!" cried Walter, springing from Mr. Lilburn's knee to run to the table.

Stooping down he peeped under it. "Why, no, she's not there!" he said in wonder and disappointment. "Ah, yonder she is! behind that window curtain," as "cluck, cluck cluck," came from a distant corner. "Max, Max, catch her quick, 'fore she gets away!"

Max ran and hastily drew aside the curtain.

There was nothing there, as Walter, Lulu and Gracie, who had all rushed to the spot, perceived with amazement.

"Hark!" said Mr. Dinsmore, and as a death-like silence fell upon the room the "cluck, cluck, cluck" was distinctly heard from the hall.

Out rushed the children and searched its whole length, but without finding the intruder.

Back they came to report their failure. Then dogs, big and little, barked and growled, now here, now there, little pigs squealed, cats meowed, and mice squealed from the corners, under sofas and chairs, in the ladies' laps, in the gentlemen's pockets, yet not one could be seen.

For a while it made a great deal of sport, but at length little feeble Gracie grew frightened and nervous, and running to "Mamma Vi" hid her head in her lap with a burst of tears and sobs.

That put an end to the fun and frolic, everybody sobered down instantly and kept very quiet, while Grandpa Dinsmore carefully explained to the little weeper that Cousin Ronald had made all the sounds which had so excited and alarmed her, and that there was really nothing in the room that could hurt or annoy her.

She lifted her head at last, wiped away her tears, and with a laugh that was half a sob, said, "I'll stop crying, then; but I'm afraid everybody thinks I'm a great baby."

"Oh no, dear!" said Grandma Elsie, "we all know that if our little girlie is easily troubled, it is because she is not well and strong like the rest of us."

"And I must beg your pardon for frightening you so, my wee bit bonny lassie," said Mr. Lilburn, stroking her hair. "I'll try to atone for it, one o' these days, by telling you and the other bairns the finest stories I know."

The promise called forth from the young folks a chorus of thanks and exclamations of delight, Walter adding, "Won't you please tell one now, Cousin Ronald, to comfort Gracie?"

"A very disinterested request, no doubt, my little son," Elsie said laughingly, as she rose and took his hand to lead him from the room; "but it is high time both you and Gracie were in your nests. So bid good-night, and we will go."