WHAT SHALL WE DO?
"Here, Teddy! Wait a minute!" called Mr. Martin, but Ted did not wait. He was already at the front door. Trouble had started after his brother, but Janet remained with her mother.
"I wonder who it can be, just at lunch time," said Mrs. Martin. She glanced at the table to see if it were properly set, and began to think rapidly whether there would be enough pie for dessert.
"Will you and daddy really have to go away, Mother?" asked Janet, as the murmur of voices came from the front hall, whither Mr. Martin and Trouble had followed Ted.
"I'm afraid so," was the answer. "Your father had a letter this morning telling of some trouble about business, and unless he wishes to lose a lot of money he and I will have to go and see about some property he owns in a distant state."
"But I don't see why we couldn't go!" said Janet.
"Take you out of school, with the fall term just well started!" exclaimed Mrs. Martin. "No, indeed! You must stay and study; that is, all but William."
"But we don't want to stay here if you and daddy go away!" cried Janet, almost on the verge of tears. "It won't be any fun here alone!"
"No, I suppose not," agreed Mrs. Martin. "And yet your father and I must go. We can't afford to lose this money. I must make some plans. I hardly know what to do. I wonder who came then?"
More talk and laughter sounded in the hall. Teddy came tramping back into the dining room, carrying with him a little jacket belonging to his brother William.
"Look, Mother!" cried Ted. "Skyrocket had dragged this over in Bob Newton's yard. He was playing with Trouble's jacket—I mean our dog was—and Bob saw him and took it away. Bob just brought it back. Look, it's got a hole in it!" and Ted held up the little garment, torn by the teeth of Skyrocket.
"Oh, what a bad dog!" cried Mrs. Martin.
"He didn't mean to!" said Ted quickly. "Bob said he was just shaking it and playing with it."
"I—I—guess he was makin' believe it was a cat," explained Bob, another of the playmates of the Curlytops. "I saw him come runnin' into my yard, shakin' somethin', and first I thought it was a cat. But when I saw what it was—Trouble's coat—I took it away from Skyrocket, and brought it over here."
"We're much obliged to you, Bob," said Mrs. Martin. Mr. Martin, when he found the visitor was not for him, began reading the troublesome letter again.
"Where's Skyrocket?" asked Janet, not seeing the dog with which she and Ted had so much fun.
"Oh, he ran off when I took the jacket away from him," answered Bob.
"I wonder how he got Trouble's jacket," mused Jan.
"I—I took it off when I climbed up on de boxes to slide," explained William.
"That's right!" exclaimed Ted. "I saw it on the ground after Mr. Brennan lifted him down with the stepladder. You brought him out his sweater, Mother."
"Yes, so I did. I thought he had come out with nothing over him. Well, I'll have to mend this jacket now. Trouble, why didn't you pick up your jacket after you dropped it?"
"Oh—jest—'cause!" murmured the little fellow, and they all laughed except Mr. Martin. He seemed too worried over the letter even to smile.
"Well, I must get back," said Bob, twisting his cap which he held in his hands. "I—now—I've got to get back."
"Have you had your dinner, Bob?" asked Mrs. Martin.
"Part—part of it," Bob answered. "All but the fancy part."
"Oh, you mean the dessert?" asked the mother of the Curlytops.
"Yes'm, and there wasn't any today."
"Suppose you stay and have dessert with us," suggested Mrs. Martin, well knowing how children like to eat away from home.
"Yes'm, I—I could do that," agreed Bob, his face brightening.
"Couldn't he have all dinner with us, and not just dessert?" suggested Ted.
"Of course," his mother replied.
"Maybe Bob has eaten all he can," suggested Mr. Martin, folding the letter and putting it in his pocket.
"Oh, no! I can eat a lot more!" quickly cried Bob. "You ought to see me eat!"
"Well, we'll give you a chance," said Mr. Martin, and they all sat down to the table.
The Curlytop children told Bob about the toboggan slide, which he had not yet seen, as he lived several houses down the street and had had no hand in building up the big pile of empty boxes.
"An' you ought to see me in the box!" cried Trouble, when he had a chance to speak.
"Yes!" exclaimed Jan. "Oh, how he frightened us!"
While the children were talking Mr. and Mrs. Martin were conversing in low tones. And once Ted heard his mother ask:
"What shall we do?"
"Something will have to be done," her husband answered. "We must find someone to look after the children while we are away, for we shall certainly have to go. I can't let this slip away from me."
"No, indeed!" agreed his wife, with a sigh. "And yet, with the Christmas holidays coming on, it will be too bad to be away from the children."
"Perhaps we may get back by Christmas," remarked her husband.
Ted did not listen to all this, but he heard words here and there, and Christmas was one of them.
"How long to Christmas?" he asked.
"Quite a while," his mother replied. "It isn't Thanksgiving yet."
"How long before it will snow?" Janet wanted to know.
"That may happen any day now," replied her father, with a glance out of the window. "It was getting colder as I came in. If you children go out to play again you must wrap up warmly."
"We will!" promised Ted. "We're going to play toboggan again," he added. "You can stay and play with us, Bob," he said.
"Thanks! That'll be fun. Oh, you have pie!" he added quickly, as he saw Nora coming in with the dessert. "I like pie!" he frankly admitted.
"So do I," said Ted.
"An' I want two pieces!" declared Trouble.
"Hush, dear," cautioned his mother, in a low voice.
The meal over, the Curlytops prepared to go out in the yard again, to have fun on their paraffin-greased sleds. Bob ran home after his, promising to bring some candle ends, as those Mrs. Martin had found for Ted had nearly all been used.
Such fun as the Curlytops and their playmates had in the yard after dinner! Tom and Lola came back, with some other boys and girls, and they coasted down the toboggan slide one after the other. Trouble was put to bed for his afternoon nap, and so neither Ted nor Jan had to watch him, which gave them more time for fun.
"Say, it's getting real cold!" exclaimed Bob, blowing on his red hands after a coast down the wooden hill. "I guess maybe it will freeze tonight."
"Do you think it will, Tom?" asked Ted of his best chum.
"Well, it's pretty cold," was the answer. "But I don't believe it will freeze the ice enough for skating."
"If it only freezes a little ice that would be enough," Ted declared.
"No, it wouldn't!" asserted Tom. "They won't let us skate on the pond lessen the ice is real thick."
"I wasn't thinking of the pond," said Ted. "I have an idea! Come on over here, Tom, and we'll talk about it. I'm sorter—now—tired of coasting on a wooden hill. I'd like some snow."
"Maybe it'll snow and freeze, too," said Tom, as he and Ted walked off by themselves to talk.
That evening, after an afternoon of fun on the toboggan, the Curlytops sat in the living room reading on one side of the table, while Mr. and Mrs. Martin were talking in low voices on the other side. Trouble had been put to bed. It was Friday night. There had been no school that day on account of an educational meeting which all the teachers had to attend, and there was no home work for Ted and Janet to worry about. So they could sit up and read until bedtime.
But, for some reason or other, Ted did not seem very intent on his book. Every now and then he would look up from it and appear to be listening.
"What's the matter?" Janet asked him after one of these periods of listening.
"Oh, nothing," her brother answered.
Janet, too, was not as much interested in her story as she ordinarily was. What her mother had said that afternoon, about having to go away with daddy leaving the children at home, was worrying the little girl more than she liked to admit.
Mr. Martin was just saying something about getting ready to leave in about a week, and Janet was going to ask who would come to keep house and stay with them, when a shrill whistle sounded out in the street.
"There's Tom!" cried Ted, dropping his book and fairly jumping from his chair.
"You aren't going out now!" said Mr. Martin. "It's after eight o'clock, Ted."
"I'm just going out in the back yard a minute," Ted answered. "I promised Tom I'd meet him there."
"All right, but don't go away," his mother said, and Ted promised. Snatching his cap down off the nail, he hurried out, giving a shrill whistle while still in the house in answer to another call from his chum.
"Quiet, Ted! You'll awaken William!" exclaimed Mrs. Martin. "And don't slam the door!"
But this warning came too late. The door was slammed, but Trouble seemed to sleep on. He was tired from his day of play. Janet could hear Tom and Ted talking on the side porch.
"I guess maybe they're going to toboggan a little by moonlight," thought the girl. Then her mind went back to the letter of that afternoon, and she remembered what her father had said about having to go away or else lose a lot of money. Janet did not understand much about business—very little, in fact—but she knew what it meant to lose money. Once she had dropped five cents down a hole, and she never got it back. She always remembered this.
"Who's going to stay with us, Mother?" Janet asked, after a pause.
"Stay with you when, dear?"
"When you and daddy go away."
"Well, we haven't decided that," her father answered. "In fact, it's that which bothers us. We don't know just what to do. If it wasn't that winter is coming we might take you along. But, as it is, we can't."
"We want somebody nice to stay with us," insisted Janet.
"Yes, of course, dear," agreed her mother. "We'll have to write to some of our relatives and see who can come. I don't know just who would be the best, or who could spare the time. And while I know you two Curlytops will be all right, I shall be worried over William."
"Oh, I'll look after Trouble!" promised Jan.
"Yes, I know you'll do your best, dear. And now—"
But Mrs. Martin never finished that sentence. Suddenly, from the yard, came loud shouts, a banging, rattling noise, and Ted's voice could be heard yelling:
"Look out! Look out!"