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Under the Lilacs, Page 2

Louisa May Alcott



  Neither spoke for a minute, astonishment being too great for words;then, as by one impulse, both stole up and touched the cake with a timidfinger, quite prepared to see it fly away in some mysterious andstartling manner. It remained sitting tranquilly in the basket, however,and the children drew a long breath of relief, for, though they did notbelieve in fairies, the late performances did seem rather likewitchcraft.

  "The dog didn't eat it!"

  "Sally didn't take it!"

  "How do you know?"

  "She never would have put it back."

  "Who did?"

  "Can't tell, but I forgive 'em."

  "What shall we do now?" asked Betty, feeling as if it would be verydifficult to settle down to a quiet tea-party after such unusualexcitement.

  "Eat that cake up just as fast as ever we can," and Bab divided thecontested delicacy with one chop of the big knife, bound to make sure ofher own share at all events.

  It did not take long, for they washed it down with sips of milk, and ateas fast as possible, glancing round all the while to see if the queerdog was coming again.

  "There! now I'd like to see any one take my cake away," said Bab,defiantly crunching her half of the pie-crust B.

  "Or mine either," coughed Betty, choking over a raisin that wouldn't godown in a hurry.

  "We might as well clear up, and play there had been an earthquake,"suggested Bab, feeling that some such convulsion of Nature was needed toexplain satisfactorily the demoralized condition of her family.

  "That will be splendid. My poor Linda was knocked right over on hernose. Darlin' child, come to your mother and be fixed," purred Betty,lifting the fallen idol from a grove of chickweed, and tenderly brushingthe dirt from Belinda's heroically smiling face.

  "She'll have croup to-night as sure as the world. We'd better make upsome squills out of this sugar and water," said Bab, who dearly loved todose the dollies all round.

  "P'r'aps she will, but you needn't begin to sneeze yet awhile. I cansneeze for my own children, thank you, ma'am," returned Betty, sharply,for her usually amiable spirit had been ruffled by the late occurrences.

  "I didn't sneeze! I've got enough to do to talk and cry and cough for myown poor dears, without bothering about yours," cried Bab, even moreruffled than her sister.

  "Then who did? I heard a real live sneeze just as plain as anything,"and Betty looked up to the green roof above her, as if the sound camefrom that direction.

  A yellow-bird sat swinging and chirping on the tall lilac-bush, but noother living thing was in sight. "Birds don't sneeze, do they?" askedBetty, eying little Goldy suspiciously.

  "You goose! of course they don't."

  "Well. I should just like to know who is laughing and sneezing roundhere. May be it is the dog," suggested Betty looking relieved.

  "I never heard of a dog's laughing, except Mother Hubbard's. This issuch a queer one, may be he can, though. I wonder where he went to?" andBab took a survey down both the side-paths, quite longing to see thefunny poodle again.

  "I know where I 'm going to," said Betty, piling the dolls into herapron with more haste than care. "I'm going right straight home to tellMa all about it. I don't like such actions, and I 'm afraid to stay."

  "I ain't; but I guess it is going to rain, so I shall have to go anyway," answered Bab, taking advantage of the black clouds rolling up thesky, for she scorned to own that she was afraid of any thing.

  Clearing the table in a summary manner by catching up the four cornersof the cloth, Bab put the rattling bundle into her apron, flung herchildren on the top and pronounced herself ready to depart. Bettylingered an instant to pick up and ends that might be spoilt by therain, and, when she turned from taking the red halter off the knocker,two lovely pink roses lay on the stone steps.

  "Oh, Bab, just see! Here's the very ones we wanted. Wasn't it nice ofthe wind to blow 'em down?" she called out, picking them up and runningafter her sister, who had strolled moodily along, still looking aboutfor her sworn foe, Sally Folsom. The flowers soothed the feelings of thelittle girls, because they had longed for them, and bravely resisted thetemptation to climb up the trellis and help themselves, since theirmother had forbidden such feats, owing to a fall Bab got trying to reacha honeysuckle from the vine which ran all over the porch.

  Home they went and poured out their tale, to Mrs. Moss's greatamusement; for she saw in it only some playmate's prank, and was notmuch impressed by the mysterious sneeze and laugh.

  "We'll have a grand rummage Monday, and find out what is going on overthere," was all she said. But Mrs. Moss could not keep her promise, foron Monday it still rained, and the little girls paddled off to schoollike a pair of young ducks, enjoying every puddle they came to, sinceIndia-rubber boots made wading a delicious possibility. They took theirdinner, and at noon regaled a crowd of comrades with an account of themysterious dog, who appeared to be haunting the neighborhood, as severalof the other children had seen him examining their back yards withinterest. He had begged of them, but to none had he exhibited hisaccomplishments except Bab and Betty; and they were therefore much setup, and called him "our dog" with an air. The cake transaction remaineda riddle, for Sally Folsom solemnly declared that she was playing tag inMamie Snow's barn at that identical time. No one had been near the oldhouse but the two children, and no one could throw any light upon thatsingular affair.

  It produced a great effect, however; for even "teacher" was interested,and told such amazing tales of a juggler she once saw, that doughnutswere left forgotten in dinner-baskets, and wedges of pie remainedsuspended in the air for several minutes at a time, instead of vanishingwith miraculous rapidity as usual. At afternoon recess, which the girlshad first, Bab nearly dislocated every joint of her little body tryingto imitate the poodle's antics. She had practised on her bed with greatsuccess, but the wood-shed floor was a different thing, as her knees andelbows soon testified.

  "It looked just as easy as any thing; I don't see how he did it," shesaid, coming down with a bump after vainly attempting to walk on herhands.

  "My gracious, there he is this very minute!" cried Betty, who sat on alittle wood-pile near the door. There was a general rush,--and sixteensmall girls gazed out into the rain as eagerly as if to beholdCinderella's magic coach, instead of one forlorn dog trotting by throughthe mud.

  "Oh, do call him in and make him dance!" cried the girls, all chirpingat once, till it sounded as if a flock of sparrows had taken possessionof the shed.

  "I will call him, he knows me," and Bab scrambled up, forgetting how shehad chased the poodle and called him names two days ago.

  He evidently had not forgotten, however; for, though he paused andlooked wistfully at them, he would not approach, but stood dripping inthe rain, with his frills much bedraggled, while his tasselled tailwagged slowly, and his pink nose pointed suggestively to the pails andbaskets, nearly empty now.

  "He's hungry; give him something to eat, and then he'll see that wedon't want to hurt him," suggested Sally, starting a contribution withher last bit of bread and butter.

  Bab caught up her new pail, and collected all the odds and ends; thentried to beguile the poor beast in to eat and be comforted. But he onlycame as far as the door, and, sitting up, begged with such imploringeyes that Bab put down the pail and stepped back, saying pitifully,--

  "The poor thing is starved; let him eat all he wants, and we won't touchhim."

  The girls drew back with little clucks of interest and compassion; but Iregret to say their charity was not rewarded as they expected, for, theminute the coast was clear, the dog marched boldly up, seized the handleof the pail in his mouth, and was off with it, galloping down the roadat a great pace.

  Shrieks arose from the children, especially Bab and Betty, baselybereaved of their new dinner-pail; but no one could follow the thief,for the bell rang, and in they went, so much excited that the boys rushedtumultuously forth to discover the cause. By t
he time school was overthe sun was out, and Bab and Betty hastened home to tell their wrongsand be comforted by mother, who did it most effectually.

  "Never mind, dears, I'll get you another pail, if he doesn't bring itback as he did before. As it is too wet for you to play out, you shallgo and see the old coach-house as I promised. Keep on your rubbers andcome along."

  This delightful prospect much assuaged their woe, and away they went,skipping gayly down the gravelled path, while Mrs. Moss followed, withskirts well tucked up, and a great bunch of keys in her hand; for shelived at the Lodge, and had charge of the premises.

  The small door of the coach-house was fastened inside, but the large onehad a padlock on it; and this being quickly unfastened, one half swungopen, and the little girls ran in, too eager and curious even to cry outwhen they found themselves at last in possession of the long-coveted oldcarriage. A dusty, musty concern enough; but it had a high seat, a door,steps that let down, and many other charms which rendered it mostdesirable in the eyes of children.

  Bab made straight for the box and Betty for the door; but both cametumbling down faster than they went up, when from the gloom of theinterior came a shrill bark, and a low voice saying quickly, "Down,Sancho! down!"

  "Who is there?" demanded Mrs. Moss, in a stern tone, backing toward thedoor with both children clinging to her skirts.

  The well-known curly white head was popped out of the broken window, anda mild whine seemed to say, "Don't be alarmed, ladies; we won't hurtyou. Come out this minute, or I shall have to come and get you," calledMrs. Moss, growing very brave all of a sudden as she caught sight of apair of small, dusty shoes under the coach.

  "Yes, 'm, I'm coming, as fast as I can," answered a meek voice, as whatappeared to be a bundle of rags leaped out of the dark, followed by thepoodle, who immediately sat down at the bare feet of his owner with awatchful air, as if ready to assault any one who might approach toonear.

  "Now, then, who are you, and how did you get here?" asked Mrs. Moss,trying to speak sternly, though her motherly eyes were already full ofpity, as they rested on the forlorn little figure before her.