Carroll Watson Rankin.

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was just like her."

"Oh, dear," said Mabel, again on the verge of tears, "I wish she might
have stayed forever. What's the use of getting lovely new friends if you
have to go and lose them the very next minute? She was just the nicest
grown-up little girl there ever was, and I'll never see - see her any - "

"Look out, Mabel," warned Marjory, "if you cry on that handkerchief
you'll spoil that monogram. Miss Blossom didn't intend these for
crying-handkerchiefs - one good-sized tear would soak them."

Miss Blossom was not the only friend the girls were fated to lose that
week. Grandma Pike, as everybody called the pleasant little old lady,
was their next-door neighbor on the west side, and the cottagers were
very fond of her. No one dreamed that Mrs. Pike would ever think of
going to another town to live; but about ten days before Miss Blossom
departed, the cheery old lady had quite taken everybody's breath away by
announcing that she was going west, just as soon as she could get her
things packed, to live with her married daughter.

When the girls heard that Grandma Pike was going away they were very
much surprised and not at all pleased at the idea of losing one of their
most delightful neighbors. At Miss Blossom's suggestion, they had spent
several evenings working on a parting gift for their elderly friend. The
gift, a wonderful linen traveling case with places in it to carry
everything a traveler would be likely to need, was finished at
last - with so many persons working on it, it was hard to keep all the
pieces together - and the girls carried it to Grandma Pike, who seemed
very much pleased.

"Well, well," said the delighted old lady, unrolling the parcel, "if you
haven't gone and made me a grand slipper-bag! I'll think of you, now,
every time I put on my slippers."

"No, no," protested Jean. "It's a traveling case with places in it for
'most everything _but_ slippers."

"We all sewed on it," explained Mabel. "Those little bits of stitches
that you can't see at all are Bettie's. Jean did all this
feather-stitching, and Marjory hemmed all the binding. Miss Blossom
basted it together so it wouldn't be crooked."

"What did _you_ do, Mabel?" asked Grandma Pike, smiling over her
spectacles.

"I took out the basting threads and embroidered these letters on the
pockets."

"What does this 'P' stand for?"

"Pins," said Mabel. "You see it was sort of an accident. I started to
embroider the word soap on this little pocket, but when I got the S O A
done, there wasn't any room left for the P, so I just put it on the
_next_ pocket. I knew that if I explained that it was the end of 'Soap'
and the beginning of 'Pins' you'd remember not to get your pins and soap
mixed up."

During the lonely days immediately following Miss Blossom's departure,
Mrs. Bartholomew Crane proved a great solace. The girls had somewhat
neglected her during the preceding busy weeks; but with Miss Blossom
gone, the cottagers became conscious of an aching void that new wall
paper and lace handkerchiefs and a bank account could not quite fill; so
presently they resumed their former habit of trotting across the street
many times a day to visit good-natured Mrs. Crane.

Mrs. Crane's house was very small and looked rather gloomy from the
outside because the paint had long ago peeled off and the weatherbeaten
boards had grown black with age; but inside it was cheerfulness
personified. First, there was Mrs. Crane herself, fairly radiating
comfort. Then there was a bright rag carpet on the floor, a glowing red
cloth on the little table, a lively yellow canary named Dicksy in one
window, and a gorgeous red-and-crimson but very bad-tempered parrot in
the other. There were only three rooms downstairs and two bed-chambers
upstairs. Mrs. Crane's own room opened off the little parlor, and
visitors could see the high feather bed always as smooth and rounded on
top as one of Mrs. Crane's big loaves of light bread. The privileged
girls were never tired of examining the good woman's patchwork quilts,
made many years ago of minute, quaint, old-fashioned scraps of calico.

Even the garden seemed to differ from other gardens, for every inch of
it except the patch of green grass under the solitary cherry tree was
given over to flowers, many of them as quaint and old-fashioned as the
bits of calico in the quilts, and to vegetables that ripened a week
earlier for Mrs. Crane than similar varieties did for anyone else. Yet
the garden was so little, and the variety so great, that Mrs. Crane
never had enough of any one thing to sell. She owned her little home,
but very little else. The two upstairs rooms were rented to lodgers, and
she knitted stockings and mittens to sell because she could knit without
using her eyes, which, like so many soft, bright, black eyes, were far
from strong; but the little income so gained was barely enough to keep
stout, warm-hearted, overgenerous Mrs. Crane supplied with food and
fuel. The neighbors often wondered what would become of the good, lonely
woman if she lost her lodgers, if her eyes failed completely, or if she
should fall ill. Everybody agreed that Mrs. Crane should have been a
wealthy woman instead of a poor one, because she would undoubtedly have
done so much good with her money. Mabel had heard her father say that
there was a good-sized mortgage on the place, and Dr. Bennett had
instantly added: "Now, don't you say anything about that, Mabel." But
ever after that, Mabel had kept her eyes open during her visits to Mrs.
Crane, hoping to get a glimpse of the dreadful large-sized thing that
was not to be mentioned.

On one occasion she thought she saw light. Mrs. Crane had expressed a
fear that a wandering polecat had made a home under her woodshed.

"Is mortgage another name for polecat?" Mabel had asked a little later.

"No," imaginative Jean had replied. "A mortgage is more like a great,
lean, hungry, gray wolf waiting just around the corner to eat you up.
Don't ever use the word before Mrs. Crane; she has one."

"Where does she keep it?" demanded Mabel, agog with interest.

"I promised not to talk about it," said Jean, "and I won't."

Miss Blossom had been gone only two days when something happened to Mrs.
Crane. It was none of the things that the neighbors had expected to
happen, but for a little while it looked almost as serious. Bettie,
running across the street right after breakfast one morning, with a
bunch of fresh chickweed for the yellow canary and a cracker for cross
Polly, found Mrs. Crane, usually the most cheerful person imaginable,
sitting in her kitchen with a swollen, crimson foot in a pail of
lukewarm water, and groaning dismally.

"Oh, Mrs. Crane!" cried surprised Bettie. "What in the world is the
matter? Are - are you coming down with anything?"

"I've already come," moaned Mrs. Crane, grimly. "I was out in my back
yard in my thin old slippers early this morning putting hellebore on my
currant bushes, and I stepped down hard on the teeth of the rake that
I'd dropped on the grass. There's two great holes in my foot. How I'm
ever going to do things I don't know, for 'twas all I could do to crawl
into the house on my hands and knees."

"Isn't there something I can do for you?" asked Bettie, sympathetically.

"Could you get a stick of wood from the shed and make me a cup of tea?
Maybe I'd feel braver if I wasn't so empty."

"Of course I could," said Bettie, cheerily.

"I tell you what it is," confided Mrs. Crane. "It's real nice and
independent living all alone as long as you're strong and well, but just
the minute anything happens, there you are like a Robinson Crusoe, cast
away on a desert isle. I began to think nobody would _ever_ come."

"Can't I do something more for you?" asked Bettie, poking scraps of
paper under the kettle to bring it to a boil. "Don't you want Dr.
Bennett to look at your foot? Hadn't I better get him?"

"Yes, do," said Mrs. Crane, "and then come back. I can't bear to think
of staying here alone."

For the next four days there was a deep depression in the middle of Mrs.
Crane's puffy feather bed, for the injured foot was badly swollen and
Mrs. Crane was far too heavy to go hopping about on the other one. At
first, her usually hopeful countenance wore a strained, anxious
expression, quite pathetic to see.

"Now don't you worry one bit," said comforting little Bettie. "We'll
take turns staying with you; we'll feed Polly and Dicksy, and I believe
every friend you have is going to offer to make broth. Mother's making
some this minute."

"But there's the lodgers," groaned Mrs. Crane, "both as particular as a
pair of old maids in a glass case. Mr. Barlow wants his bedclothes
tucked in all around so tight that a body'd think he was afraid of
rolling out of bed nights, and Mr. Bailey won't have his tucked in at
all - says he likes 'em 'floating round loose and airy.' Do you suppose
you girls can make those two beds and not get those two lodgers mixed
up? I declare, I'm so absent-minded myself that I've had to climb those
narrow stairs many a day to make sure I'd done it right."

"Don't be afraid," said Jean, who had joined Bettie. "Marjory's Aunty
Jane has taught her to make beds beautifully, and I have a good memory.
Between us we'll manage splendidly."

"But there's my garden," mourned the usually busy woman, who found it
hard to lie still with folded hands in a world that seemed to be
constantly needing her. "Dear me! I don't see how I'm going to spare
myself for a whole week just when everything is growing so fast."

"We'll tend to the garden, too," promised Bettie.

"Yes, indeed we will," echoed Mabel. "We'll water everything and weed - "

"No, you won't," said Mrs. Crane, quickly. "You can do all the watering
you like, but if I catch any of you weeding, there'll be trouble."

The young cottagers were even better than their promises, for they took
excellent care of Mrs. Crane, the lodgers, the parrot, the canary, and
the garden, until the injured foot was well again; but while doing all
this they learned something that distressed them very much, indeed. Of
course they had always known in a general way that their friend was far
from being wealthy, but they had not guessed how touchingly poor she
really was. But now they saw that her cupboard was very scantily filled,
that her clothing was very much patched and mended, her shoes
distressingly worn out, and that even her dish-towels were neatly
darned.

"But we won't talk about it to people," said fine-minded Jean. "Perhaps
she wouldn't like to have everybody know."

Even Jean, however, did not guess what a comfort proud Mrs. Crane had
found it to have her warm-hearted little friends stand between her
poverty and the sometimes-too-prying eyes of a grown-up world.

Unobservant though they had seemed, the girls did not forget about the
Mother-Hubbardlike state of Mrs. Crane's cupboard. After that one of
their finest castles in Spain always had Mrs. Crane, who would have made
such a delightful mother and who had never had any children, enthroned
as its gracious mistress. When they had time to think about it at all,
it always grieved them to think of their generous-natured,
no-longer-young friend dreading a poverty-stricken, loveless, and
perhaps homeless old age; for this, they had discovered, was precisely
what Mrs. Crane was doing.

"If she were a little, thin, active old lady, with bobbing white curls
like Grandma Pike," said Jean, "lots of people would have a corner for
her; but poor Mrs. Crane takes up so much room and is so heavy and slow
that she's going to be hard to take care of when she gets old. Oh, _why_
couldn't she have had just one strong, kind son to take care of her?"

"When I'm married," offered Mabel, generously, "I'll take her to live
with me. I won't _have_ any husband if he doesn't promise to take Mrs.
Crane, too."

"You shan't have her," declared Jean. "I want her myself."

"She's already promised to me," said Bettie, triumphantly. "We're going
to keep house together some place, and I'm going to be an old-maid
kindergarten teacher."

"I don't think that's fair, Bettie Tucker," said Marjory, earnestly. "I
don't see how my children are to have any grandmother if she doesn't
live with _me_. Imagine the poor little things with Aunty Jane for a
grandmother!"




CHAPTER 10

The Milligans


To the moment of Grandma Pike's departure, all their neighbors had been
so pleasant that the girls were deceived into thinking that neighbors
were never anything _but_ pleasant. Although they felt not the slightest
misgiving as to their future neighbors, they had hated to lose dear old
Grandma Pike, who had always been as good to them as if she had really
been their grandmother, and whose parting gifts - sundry odds and ends
of dishes, old magazines, and broken parcels of provisions - gave them
occupation for many delightful days. In spite of the lasting pleasure of
this unexpected donation, however, they could not help feeling that,
with Mr. Black away, Miss Blossom gone, Mrs. Pike living in another
town, and only disabled Mrs. Crane left, they were losing friends with
alarming rapidity. Grief for the departed, however, did not prevent
their taking an active interest in the persons who were to occupy the
house next door, which Mrs. Pike's departure had left vacant.

"I wonder," said Marjory, pulling the curtain back to get a better view
of the empty house, "what the new people will be like. It's exciting,
isn't it, to have something happening in this quiet neighborhood? What
did Grandma Pike say the name was?"

"Milligan," replied Bettie.

"Kind of nice name, isn't it?" asked Jean.

"Yes," agreed Mabel, brightening suddenly. "I made up a long, long rhyme
about it last night before I went to sleep. Want to hear it?"

"Of course."

"This one really rhymes," explained Mabel, importantly. Her verses
sometimes lacked that desirable quality, so when they did rhyme Mabel
always liked to mention it. "Here it is:

"As soon as a man named Milligan
Got well he always fell ill again - ill again - ill -

"Dear me, I can't remember how it went. There was a lot more, but I've
forgotten the rest."

"It's a great pity," said Marjory, drily, "that you didn't forget _all_
of it, because if there's really a Mr. Milligan, and I ever see him,
I'll think of that rhyme and I won't be able to keep my face straight."

"We must be very polite to the Milligans," said considerate Bettie, "and
call on them as soon as they come. Mother always calls on new people;
she says it makes folks feel more comfortable to be welcomed into the
neighborhood."

"Mrs. Crane does it, too. We're the nearest, perhaps we ought to be the
first."

"I think," suggested Jean thoughtfully, "we'd better wait until they're
nicely settled; they might not like visitors too soon. You know _we_
didn't."

"They're going to move in today," said Mabel. "Goodness! I wish they'd
hurry and come; I'm so excited that I keep dusting the same shelf over
and over again. I'm just wild to see them!"

It was sweeping-day at the cottage when the Milligans' furniture began
to arrive, but it looked very much as if the sweeping would last for at
least _two_ days because the girls were unable to get very far away from
the windows that faced west. These were the bedroom windows, and, as
there were only two of them, there were usually two heads at each
window.

"There comes the first load," announced Marjory, at last. "There's a
high-chair on the very top, so there must be a baby."

"I'm so glad," said Bettie. "I just love a baby."

Two men unpacked the Milligans' furniture in the Milligans' front yard,
and each load seemed more interesting than the one before it. It was
such fun to guess what the big, clumsy parcels contained, particularly
when the contents proved to be quite different from what the girls
expected.

"Somehow, I don't think they're going to be very nice people," said
Mabel. "I b'lieve we're going to be disappointed in 'em."

"Why, Mabel," objected Jean, "we don't know a thing about them yet."

"Yes, I do too. Their things - look - they don't look _ladylike_."

"Oh, Mabel," laughed Marjory, "you're so funny."

"Perhaps," offered Jean, "the Milligans are poor and the children have
spoiled things."

"No," insisted Mabel. "They've got some of the newest and shiningest
furniture I ever saw, but I b'lieve it's imitation."

"Oh, Mabel," laughed Jean, "I hope you won't watch the loads when _I_
move. For a girl that's slept for three weeks on an imitation pillow,
you're pretty critical."

Presently the Milligans themselves arrived. Mabel happened to be
counting the buds on the poppy plants when they came.

"Girls!" she cried, rushing into the cottage with the news. "They've
come. I saw them all. There's a Mr. Milligan, a Mrs. Milligan, a girl, a
boy, a baby, and a dog. The girl's the oldest. She's just about my
size - I mean height - and she has straight, light hair. The baby walks,
and none of them are so very good-looking."

It did not take the newcomers long to discover that their next-door
neighbors were four little girls. Mrs. Milligan found it out that very
afternoon when she went to the back door to borrow tea. Bettie
explained, very politely, that Dandelion Cottage was only a playhouse,
and that their tea-caddy contained nothing but glass beads. When Mrs.
Milligan returned to her own house, she told her own family about it.

"You might as well run over and play with them, Laura," she said. "Take
the baby with you, too. He's a dreadful nuisance under my feet. That'll
be a real nice place for you both to play all summer."

The girls received their visitors pleasantly; almost, indeed, with
enthusiasm; but after a very few moments, they began to eye the baby
with apprehension. He refused to make friends with them but wandered
about rather lawlessly and handled their treasures roughly. Laura paid
no attention to him but talked to the girls. She seemed a bright girl
and not at all bashful, and she used a great many slang phrases that
sounded new and, it must be confessed, rather attractive to the girls.

"Oh, land, yes," she said, "we came here from Chicago where we had all
kinds of money, and clothes to burn - we lived in a beautiful flat. Pa
just came here to oblige Mr. Williams - he's going to clerk in Williams's
store. Come over and see me - we'll be real friendly and have lots of
good times together - I can put you up to lots of dodges. Say, this is a
dandy place to play in - I'm coming over often."

Jean looked in silence at Bettie, Bettie at Mabel, and Mabel at Marjory.
Surely such an outburst of cordiality deserved a fitting response, but
no one seemed to be able to make it.

"Do," said Jean, finally, but rather feebly, "we'd be pleased to have
you."

Except for a few lively but good-natured squabbles between Marjory, who
was something of a tease, and Mabel, who was Marjory's favorite victim,
the little mistresses of Dandelion Cottage had always played together in
perfect harmony; but with the coming of the Milligans everything was
changed.

To start with, between the Milligan baby and the Milligan dog, the girls
knew no peace. Mrs. Milligan was right when she said that the baby was a
nuisance, for it would have been hard to find a more troublesome
three-year-old. He pulled down everything he could reach, broke the
girls' best dishes, wiped their precious petunia and the geraniums
completely out of existence, and roared with a deep bass voice if anyone
attempted to interfere with him. The dog carried mud into the neat
little cottage, scratched up the garden, and growled if the girls tried
to drive him out.

"Well," said Mabel, disconsolately, in one of the rare moments when the
girls were alone, "I _could_ stand the baby and the dog. But I _can't_
stand Laura!"

"Laura certainly likes to boss," said Bettie, who looked pale and
worried. "I don't just see what we're going to do about it. I try to be
nice to her, but I _can't_ like her. Mother says we must be polite to
her, but I don't believe Mother knows just what a queer girl she is - you
see she's always as quiet as can be when there are grown people around."

"Yes," agreed Mabel, "her company manners are so much properer than mine
that Mother says she wishes I were more like her."

"Well," said Marjory, uncompromisingly, "I'm mighty glad you're not.
Your manners aren't particularly good, but you haven't two sets. I
think Laura's the most disagreeable girl I ever knew. Just as she fools
you into almost liking her, she turns around and scratches you."

"Perhaps," said Jean, "if her people were nicer - By the way, Mother says
that after this we must keep the windows shut while Mr. Milligan is
splitting wood in his back yard so we can't hear the awful things he
says, and that if we hear Mr. and Mrs. Milligan quarreling again we
mustn't listen."

"Listen!" exclaimed Mabel. "We don't _need_ to listen. Their voices keep
getting louder and louder until it seems as if they were right in this
house."

"Of course," said Marjory, "it can't be pleasant for Laura at home, but,
dear me, it isn't pleasant for _us_ with her over here."

Badly-brought-up Laura was certainly not a pleasant playmate. She wanted
to lead in everything and was amiable only when she was having her own
way. She was not satisfied with the way the cottage was arranged but
rearranged it to suit herself. She told the girls that their garments
were countrified, and laughed scornfully at Bettie's boyish frocks and
heavy shoes. She ridiculed rotund Mabel for being fat, and said that
Marjory's nose turned up and that Jean's rather large mouth was a good
opening for a young dentist. Before the first week was fairly over, the
four girls - who had lived so happily before her arrival - were grieved,
indignant, or downright angry three-fourths of the time.

Laura had one habit that annoyed the girls excessively, although at
first they had found it rather amusing. Later, however, owing perhaps to
a certain rasping quality in Laura's voice, it grew very tiresome. She
transposed the initials of their names. For instance, Bettie Tucker
became Tettie Bucker, Jeanie Mapes became Meanie Japes, while Mabel
became Babel Mennett. It was particularly distressing to have Laura
speak familiarly in her sharp, half-scornful tones, of their dear,
departed Miss Blossom, whose name was Gertrude, as Bertie Glossom. Mr.
Peter Black, of course, became Beter Plack, and Mrs. Bartholomew Crane
was Mrs. Cartholomew Brane, to lawless young Laura.

"I don't think it's exactly respectful to do that to grown-up people's
names," protested Bettie, one day.

"Pooh!" said Laura. "Mrs. Cartholomew Brane looks just like an old
washtub, she's so fat - who'd be respectful to a washtub? There goes
Toctor Ducker, Tettie Bucker. Huh! I'd hate to be a parson's
daughter - they're always as poor as church mice. What did you say your
mother's first name is?"

"I didn't say and I'm not going to," returned Bettie.

"Well, anyhow, her bonnet went out of style four years ago. I should
think the parish'd take up a subscription and get her a new one."

"I wish, Laura," said exasperated Jean, another day, "that you wouldn't
meddle with our things. This bedroom is mine and Bettie's, and the other
one is Mabel's and Marjory's. We wouldn't _think_ of looking into each
other's private treasure boxes. I've seen you open mine half a dozen
times this week. The things are all keepsakes and I'd rather not have
them handled."

"Huh! I guess I'll handle 'em if I want to. My mother can't keep me out
of her bureau drawers, and I don't think you're so very much smarter."

A day or two later, the girls of Dandelion Cottage were invited to a
party in another portion of the town. The invitations were left at their
own cottage door and the delighted girls began at once to make plans for
the party.

"Let's carry our new handkerchiefs," suggested Jean, going to her
treasure box. "I believe I'll take mine home with me - I dreamed last
night that the cottage was on fire and that mine got burned. Besides,
I'll have to get dressed at home for the party and it would be handier
to have it there."

"Guess I will, too," said Bettie.

"Great idea," said Marjory, taking her own box from its shelf. "I never
should have thought of anything so bright. Let's all write to Miss
Blossom and tell her that we carried our - Why! mine isn't in my box!"

"Neither is mine," cried Mabel, who had turned quite pale at the
discovery. "It was there this morning. Girls, did any of you touch our
handkerchiefs?"

"Of course we didn't," said Jean. "See, here's mine with 'J' on it, and


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