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   Chapter 16 TWO LITTLE RUNAWAYS.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 11710

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Cricket dived into the box again.

"What's in this paper?" she asked.

Grandma took the folded sheet, and carefully opened it. There were two soft curls of bright gold hair, fastened to the middle of it by sealing wax.

"These are two little curls I cut from the children's heads when they were small. My children, I mean. Your mamma's and Auntie Jean's. It was the first time their hair was ever cut, and how badly I felt, to have to have it done!"

"But why did you do it?" asked Cricket.

"Naughty little things! I had to."

"Oh, do tell me about that. I just love hearing about mamma when she was naughty!" begged Cricket, turning over the soft gold curls. "It's just exactly like Kenneth's and Helen's, isn't it? And mamma's hair isn't very much darker, now, is it? What a shame you had to cut it!"

"Indeed it was. I was so proud of their lovely hair, and they were such lovely children, everybody said. They were little things. Auntie Jean was nearly five, and your mamma was three. I was visiting my sister in Philadelphia with them both. It was in May, but it was very warm. The children were still in the habit of taking an afternoon nap. One day they were put to bed, as usual, about two o'clock, and my sister and myself went down-town for some shopping. I had a new nursemaid, whom I left in charge, of course. But she was careless, I suppose, and probably went down-stairs to gossip with the other servants.

"Presently the children woke up, and as they found there was no one with them, they slipped off the bed by themselves. They were entirely undressed and in their little night-clothes, with bare feet. They ran around up-stairs for a while, and then, finding nobody about, they ran down-stairs. The front door stood ajar, so out they slipped, and pattered away down the street. They were always independent children, and not a bit afraid of anything, so when they found they were out all alone by themselves, they decided to go and 'see uncle.' They had been taken to his office down-town several times. My sister lived in what was then a very quiet part of Philadelphia, and near their home were several vacant lots. The children strayed in here to pick some grasses and weeds, which they thought were flowers.

"Unfortunately, a lot of burdocks grew there, and, of course, the children picked them, and stuck them together, with great delight. Probably some of them got caught accidentally in the hair of one of them, for, as far as we could make out from their story afterwards, they twisted them in each other's curls, till there was just a mat of burs, all over their heads. Then, of course, when they tried to take them out, they only made matters worse, so they gave it up and trotted on. Presently they came to a grocery store, where all sorts of things stood outside of the door.

"Strawberries were in the market, so these little wretches instantly plunged both hands into a box of them, and stuffed them into their mouths. Next they sat themselves down in a corner made by some big boxes, and quietly helped themselves to a box of strawberries apiece. You can imagine the state of their little night-dresses, when they were through with this feast, just a mass of strawberry stain. They were so small and so quiet, that no one in the store noticed them for some time, and no one chanced to pass. At last a lady came by, and spied them. Of course she instantly saw they were runaways, and spoke to them.

"'We isn't yunning away,' Jean insisted, 'we is only going to see uncle.'

"'But where is your mamma?' persisted the lady.

"'Her's gone to see uncle, too,' said Jean. The lady knew they had probably run away from some neighbouring house, so she went into the store to ask a clerk to come and see if he knew them. But while she was gone, the children slipped away down the side street. The clerk told us all about this afterwards, for it was a store where my sister often went.

"Then the little ones probably wandered around a good deal, though we never knew where, except that they came to some water in a gutter, somewhere, and took to it like ducks. They must have paddled in it for some time-'washing their feets,' Jean told us afterwards, as an excuse.

"Of course, by this time they had collected a crowd around them, for just imagine what they looked like! Nothing on but white night-dresses-I mean, of course, that were originally white,-but now spattered a foot deep with muddy water, and stained all over with crushed strawberries; and they were barefooted, with their golden curls stuck full of burs, till they looked like little porcupines."

"Grandma! how funny! and to think that was mamma," broke in Cricket, in great enjoyment of the picture.

"They must have looked as badly as Zaidee and Helen did when they came in from swimming in the tanks at the cheese factory the other day."

"Worse, if anything, because the strawberry stains made them look as if they had been through the wars, poor little mites. At last a policeman took them in charge."

"Think of mamma being actually arrested! That's worse than anything that's ever happened to me," said Cricket.

"That's your good fortune," laughed grandma. "Your wash-rag isn't getting along very fast, is it? I thought you were going to knit as I talk."

"Oh, I am! I am!" cried Cricket, scrabbling up her wash-rag, which she had entirely forgotten. "Go on, grandma."

"So a policeman took them in charge. He said the children didn't seem a bit frightened, but took everything very coolly, insisting all the time that they were on the way to see uncle.

"'Who is uncle?' asked the policeman, and Jean said: 'He's Uncle Darling, and he lives on Wide Stweet.'

"'But what's his name?' asked the policeman, thinking the children were calling him by their pet name.

"'Uncle Darling,' Jean kept repeating.

"'We'll take them to the station, and report at headquarters,' said the policeman, finally."

"Think of mamma's actually being taken to the lock-up," murmured Cricket.

"But the children were very determined little things, and insisted that they were going to Wide Stweet to see uncle. Presently a gentleman passed, and asked the reason of the commotion.

"'Runaways,' somebody answered, whereupon Jean instantly piped up, 'I say I isn't yunning away. I is goin' to Wide Stweet to see Uncle Darling.'

"'Darling?' said the gentleman. 'I know Darling of Broad Street. These little scraps must have slipped away from his house. Call a cab, policeman, and we'll go and see.'

"So a cab was called, and the policeman mounted the box, and the man got inside with the children, and off they went to Broad Street, which Jean called Wide Stweet.

"Imagine your great-uncle's feelings, when suddenly his office door opened, and a gentleman appeared leading those two ridiculous looking little creatures.

"Their faces were grimy, their hair bristling with burs, their feet splashed with mud, their little straight night-gowns stained with strawberry juice from neck to hem,-looking startlingly like blood at first sight,-but in spite of all, the most beaming of smiles, for they had had a beautiful time.

"'We has tum to see 'oo,' said Margaret, giving him a very burry hug, for as she threw her arms around his neck, the burs in her hair caught in his heavy beard. Margaret screamed as her hair pulled, and they had some trouble to get her disentangled.

"'We hasn't yunned away, Uncle Darling. We has came in a carriage,' said Jean.

"The gentleman was a business friend of your great-uncle's. He delivered the children over into his charge, telling him the story. Of course he started home with them immediately, knowing how frightened we would be if we got home and discovered that they were missing.

"Fortunately for my peace of mind, we had been detained later than we expected to be, and so just as we got out of the horse-cars in front of my sister's house, a cab drew up at the door, and out got your uncle, and with him two of the most disreputable looking little objects you ever saw. We could hardly believe our eyes.

"'We has tum home aden,' Margaret called, cheerfully, as she saw us.

"Well you can imagine how quickly we got both those children into the house, and into the bath-tub, where we satisfied ourselves that they were not bleeding to death.

"We had to get the first coating of dirt off before we could undertake to disentangle those dreadful burs. My heart sank at the sight, I must say. I was so proud of their beautiful golden hair. They each had so much of it, and it was as fine as floss; but this only made it the more difficult to get those sticky burs out. My sister and I each took a child, and began at the burs. We worked at them a long time, but they were so hopelessly twisted in, and the fine silky hair was so wound up in them, that at last I had to get the scissors, very sorrowfully. Way underneath, close to their necks, we found these little locks, that by some work and careful snipping we managed to get quite free of burs, so I cut them off to preserve. I simply cut the rest off, in any way, as best I could, to do for the night, as it was too late to take them to the barber's that afternoon.

"What dreadful looking little things they were then! Did you ever see a sheared sheep? Well, they looked just like that, for I had snipped their hair here and there, as best I could, and it stood up in little, rough, jagged, irregular tufts all over their heads. I almost cried as I looked at them. 'I had thought I had two pretty children,' I said, mournfully. Their heads looked so comically small, and their necks like little pipe-stems.

"Of course the barber clipped their hair smooth the next day, but I felt for a long time as if I could not let people see them. Their heads were simply lost in every hat and bonnet they had."

"To think of my mother having been such a little scallawag," murmured Cricket, in an awestruck tone.

"Poor little things! They had a sad time the next day, for their feet were so swollen and cut that they couldn't get on a shoe. I can't imagine how they managed to walk so far on the hot pavements with their tender little feet."

"I know. The palms of your feet get dreadfully hot and sting-y when you go barefoot. I've tried it. Did they ever run away again?"

"No, never, I believe. That one experience was enough. And now, my small maid, will you go and ask Luke to harness Mopsie for you? I would like to send a note over to Mrs. Carter, if you would please take it for me."

Cricket sprang up with a bound.

"Would you really like me to go? Oh, thank you! I mean, of course, I love to stay with you, but-"

"Yes," said grandma, smiling, "and I enjoy my little maid's company extremely, but I think she had better have some fresh air, this lovely day."

Cricket gave a hop, skip, and jump.

"Thank you so much for your stories, grandma, dear. I'd love to go with your note. Oh, George W., you bad, bad cat! You've gone and snarled your Aunt Zaidee's wash-rag all up while I was listening to a beautiful story about your Grandma Ward. Look, grandma! he's made it just as worse as burs!"

"I'll put it in order, while you're gone," said grandma, taking the very hopeless looking knitting.

"Hand me my writing things, and I'll have the note ready when you come back for it. Really, I shall be tempted to sprain my ankle again, Jean, if it brings me such a dear little nurse."

"We've had a lovely time, I think," said Cricket, giving her dear, comforting grandma a prodigious hug. "Let's have a knitting bee again, sometime, grandma. Perhaps, I'd get my wash-rag done this summer if we did."

HILDA'S ARRIVAL

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