OFF TO THE COUNTRY
Skyrocket ran up to Uncle Toby, barking and sniffing around the legs of the jolly man who had pulled the two boys from the ice-cold brook.
"So you remember me, don't you?" chuckled Uncle Toby, as he watched the wagging tail of the dog.
"I do, too!" said Tom. "Have you got all your pets still?"
"Most of 'em!" answered Uncle Toby. "But we mustn't stand here talking, with you boys wet through. Come on to the house. Run! That's the best way to keep from taking a cold! Run!"
"We—we got—all wet—last night, too," Ted informed Uncle Toby, the words being jerked out of him because of the jolting effect of the run.
"Were you in swimming last night?" Uncle Toby wanted to know.
"We were making a toboggan slide like those you told about seeing in Canada," explained Ted.
"And we weren't in swimming now. We were sliding and the ice broke," explained Tom.
"Well, never mind about that now," said Uncle Toby. "Come on—run!" And he ran so fast, half holding up the boys who trotted along on either side of him, with Skyrocket leaping along behind, that by the time the house was reached Ted and Tom each felt quite warm in spite of their icy bath.
"Oh, my goodness! What'll your ma say?" cried Nora, as Uncle Toby rushed the boys into the cozy kitchen.
"Get upstairs and bring them down some dry clothes. Let them undress and dress here by the fire. The water won't hurt the kitchen floor," said Uncle Toby.
In a little while Tom was again attired in his own suit, which was now dry, and Ted had on an extra one of his own, while the wet garments were taken down cellar to be hung near the furnace.
"I guess you boys had better stay in the house the rest of the day," said Mrs. Martin, when she had greeted Uncle Toby and had heard what had happened.
"I have to go home," said Tom. "Thank you for drying my clothes, and I'm sorry I got Ted's wet," he added.
"Well, be careful," cautioned Mrs. Martin, as Ted's playmate left, promising to run all the way so he would not get a chill. But the day was quite warm now, all the ice having been melted from the toboggan slide, and even the water on it drying up.
"Well, what kindly fortune brings you here, Uncle Toby?" asked Mrs. Martin, as soon as she could sit down for a chat.
"Oh, I came to ask a favor," went on the old gentleman, who had traveled in many parts of the world and who had collected quite a few strange pets, some of which he still kept at his home in Pocono. "But you look worried, Ruth," he went on. "Has anything happened? Don't worry about those boys. They won't take cold from a little dipping, even if the weather is getting a bit frosty."
"I wasn't worrying about them," said Mother Martin, with a smile. "But we have had some other troubles. Dick has had word that he is likely to lose a lot of money, and he and I will have to take a trip to see about some property. We'll have to go right away, or within a day or so, and what to do about the children I don't know. We can't very well take them with us. I was just thinking we might get some of our relations to come and stay here while we're gone. Then you drop in. Have you come to tell me that you are coming to pay a visit? I'd leave my Curlytops and William with you and know they were safe."
"And I'd ask nothing better than to look after them," said Uncle Toby, with a smile. "But I didn't come to tell you I was coming here. Instead I came to invite you to my place in the country. I have a large cottage, or camp, as you know, at Crystal Lake, just outside Pocono. I'm going to have a sort of holiday party out there this winter, and I want you and the Curlytops to come and spend some time with me. In fact I'll take some of their playmates, if their folks will spare them. That's what I came for—to invite you all out to my place to have jolly times through the holidays."
"Oh, how lovely!" cried Janet, who heard what was being said.
"Could we have a toboggan slide there?" Ted wanted to know.
"Me tum?" lisped Trouble.
"Sure you'll come!" cried Uncle Toby, catching baby William up in his arms and hugging and kissing him. "There wouldn't be any fun if we left you behind. When can you get ready to come?" he asked Mrs. Martin.
"Why," answered the mother of the Curlytops slowly, "I don't see that Dick and I can come at all. We must take this business trip or daddy will lose a lot of money," she explained to the children. "But you coming at this time is most fortunate, Uncle Toby. As long as you are going to have a party out at your country cabin on Crystal Lake, it will be just the thing for the children. They can go and stay with you while Dick and I are away."
"Of course!" cried Uncle Toby. "Aunt Sallie will see that the children don't get their feet wet."
"Aunt Sallie," remarked Mrs. Martin. "I don't seem to remember—"
"She's Mrs. Watson, the old lady who went away from my house the time I started for South America, and left you my pets to look after," Uncle Toby explained. "She's a distant relative of mine, and I call her Aunt Sallie, though she isn't really my aunt. But she's come back to keep house for me, and she'll go out to the camp with us. It will be just the place for the older children, and they can go to school there. We've got a good little country school not far from the lake. In fact they can skate to school when the lake gets frozen over, and that will be soon if this weather keeps up."
"Oh, what fun!" cried Ted.
"It will be just the thing for us," said Mrs. Martin. "It will take away all our worries over what we were going to do about the children while we were away."
"And did you say we could have some playmates out there?" asked Janet.
"Yes, bring along some boy or girl chum—one for each of you," replied Uncle Toby.
"I'd like to have Tom!" exclaimed Ted.
"And I'll ask Lola," said Jan.
"All right," agreed Mr. Bardeen. "And they may find some other playmates when they get out there," he added in a low voice.
"Do you mean new pets?" asked Ted, overhearing what Uncle Toby remarked.
"That's a secret," was the smiling answer, and he made a sign to Mrs. Martin that he would explain to her later. As for Ted and Jan they were so excited over the prospect of going to spend the holidays in the country cabin of Uncle Toby that they danced up and down and around the room, swinging Trouble with them.
"I'm going over to tell Tom!" cried Ted.
"And I'll tell Lola," added his sister.
"Wait a while, Curlytops," advised Mrs. Martin. "Let's see what daddy says."
The children felt that they never could wait until their father came home from the store that evening. But he did arrive at last. Ted and Janet were sure he was late, but, as a matter of fact, he was a little ahead of his usual time, Mother Martin having telephoned to him about the visit of Uncle Toby. The latter had come along suddenly, not even writing to say that he was on his way.
"I just got the notion into my head that I wanted the Curlytops and some of their playmates out at my place on a holiday visit," he explained, "and so I packed up and come on. Didn't pack up much either," he said. "Just a bag. And I left that at the station and took the short cut across lots. Good thing I did," he concluded, winking at Teddy.
"You must never again go sliding on the ice until you are sure it will hold you," said Mr. Martin to his son. "Just because it held up Skyrocket doesn't prove that it will hold you. If you don't promise to be careful I can't let you go to Crystal Lake!"
"Oh, we'll be careful!" promised Ted and Janet in one breath.
"I guess this means that you've made up your mind to let them come with me, is that so?" asked Uncle Toby.
"I think it will be the best thing that could happen," answered Daddy Martin. "Ruth and I must go to see about that property. It will take both of us to clear matters up and save my money. I know the children will be in good hands when they are with you and Aunt Sallie. So we'll let them go."
"And can we take Skyrocket?" begged Jan.
"Oh, yes, I guess so," replied Uncle Toby. "My two dogs, Tip and Top, have been sold. I haven't as many pets as I had, though Jack, the monkey, Mr. Nip, the parrot, and Snuff, the cat, I have kept. I want them for company."
"Then if we take our dog it will be just about right," decided Ted. "We'll leave Turnover, our cat, here with Nora."
"Yes, she'll need company," said Mrs. Martin. "And do you really mean it about taking some playmates for Ted and Janet, Uncle Toby?"
"Of course I do! Let Tom and Lola come!"
"I'll go tell them!" offered Ted.
"I'll come, too," added Jan.
Trouble wanted to follow, but as it was dark now, being after supper, his mother decided the best place for him was in bed. And there he was taken, after he had fallen asleep in Uncle Toby's arms.
"But what is this about some other children that are going to be at your cabin?" asked Mrs. Martin, while Ted and Janet were still over at the Taylor home.
"I'm going to take charge of two little Fresh Air children," explained Uncle Toby. "You know I give money to some of the big societies in the city, and these societies send out children to the country in the summer. It isn't usual to send them out in the winter, but this is a special case.
"Their mother, whom I knew when she was a girl, has to go to the hospital for an operation, and she has no one with whom she can leave Harry and Mary. So I agreed to take charge of them this winter, as their mother may have to stay in the hospital a long time to get well and strong."
"Where is their father—dead?" asked Mr. Martin.
"I'm afraid he is," answered Uncle Toby. "And yet it isn't known for sure."
"What do you mean?" asked Mother Martin.
"You see it's this way," Uncle Toby explained. "Their father, Frank Benton, went to the big war. He was heard of for a time and then all trace of him was lost. I suppose he was killed in some battle and never found until after the fighting was over. Anyhow his two children, who are about as old as Ted and Janet, were left with their mother. She took care of them as well as she could until she became ill.
"One of the Fresh Air Society ladies heard about their sad case and she wrote to me. I said I'd keep the children all winter. And now when your Curlytops come out with their friends Tom and Lola they'll find other playmates, and I hope they'll all get along well together."
"I think they will," said Mr. Martin. "It is very kind of you to do this."
"Oh, I like it!" declared Uncle Toby. "I like children and animals. The more the merrier. And now let's plan how soon the children can come back with me."
Ted and Jan returned a little later with word that Tom and Lola could make the trip, and the next few days were busily spent in getting ready. Mr. and Mrs. Martin made arrangements to go on their trip, to try to save the money that Daddy Martin was in danger of losing.
Except for this there would have been no sadness when the time of parting came. But the Curlytops could not help seeing that their father and mother looked rather worried.
"I hope Dad doesn't lose that money," said Ted.
"So do I," echoed his sister, with a sigh.
But they were not sad for long. The day came when the children were to depart for their holiday stay at Uncle Toby's cabin on the shore of Crystal Lake.
"All aboard!" cried the jolly old gentleman, as the automobile drew up in front of the house to take along the Curlytops, Trouble, Tom, Lola, Uncle Toby himself, and Skyrocket. "All aboard!"
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" cried the children, as they piled in. The dog barked his farewells.
"Have a good time!" said Mother Martin, and there was just a tear or two in her eyes as she waved her hands.
"We'll have you all back again after Christmas!" said Daddy Martin.
"Oh, what fun we'll have at Christmas!" shouted Ted.
"All aboard!" called Uncle Toby again, and they were off on the first part of their trip to the country for the holidays.