WHERE DID TROUBLE GO?
Mary Benton, the newest addition to the playmates, was really frightened by the screeching voice and by feeling her hat snatched off in that strange way. Even what Ted said about being among Uncle Toby's pets did not seem to make her feel any better.
She turned quickly around, and saw her hat that had been snatched off in the black beak of a big red and green bird which was perched on the back of a chair.
"Dat's Mr. Nip!" announced Trouble. He knew the parrot from the previous summer.
"Eat 'em up! Eat 'em up! Eat 'em all up!" croaked Mr. Nip in his harsh voice.
"Well, please don't eat Mary's hat up!" laughed Jan. "She'll want it to wear when we go to Crystal Lake."
"Is that parrot going to the Lake with us?" asked Lola.
"If he does I'll have to be careful of my hat," added Mary, who was getting over her fright. "It's a new one," she went on, and the other girls rightly guessed that Mary did not have many hats.
"Here are some more pets!" cried jolly Uncle Toby, as he came in out of the storm, having put the car in his barn. He was followed by Skyrocket, who barked and leaped about, shaking snowflakes all about. In his arms Uncle Toby carried Fluff, the little kitten that had been rescued from a "Ch'is'mus tree," as Trouble called the evergreen.
"Oh, we forgot all about him!" exclaimed Jan, as she took the little stranger from Uncle Toby.
"It wouldn't be wonderful if you forgot even your names," laughed Uncle Toby, "considering all the excitement that was going on when we got here. But we're all right now, I guess."
Skyrocket went over to sniff around Jack, the monkey, with which pet the Curlytops' dog was well acquainted, so the two soon became friendly.
"I guess he misses Tip and Top," observed Ted, speaking of the two valuable trick poodles, which had been sold since the children found them in the show, after they had been stolen.
"Well, there are plenty of other animals," said Aunt Sallie, as she finished setting the table and called to the children to take their places.
Such a jolly time as followed! The Curlytops and their playmates, the new as well as the old ones, were all hungry from their ride through the cold. Even Trouble forgot about being sleepy while he ate, and if Mary and Harry remembered about their mother in the hospital that thought did not chase away the smiles from their faces.
Jack, the monkey, seemed to have gotten over the slight shivering caused by foolishly going up on the roof in the storm, and he and Skyrocket ate their meal behind the warm stove on one side, while Snuff, Uncle Toby's big cat, and Fluff, the new kitten, lapped warm milk from the same saucer on the other side of the stove.
As for Mr. Nip, the parrot, he seemed satisfied after he had pulled off Mary's hat, and he was now asleep with his head under his wing, perched on his stand in one corner.
"How did Jack get out, Aunt Sallie?" asked Uncle Toby, as knives and forks began to slow up a little in the supper race, the children becoming less hungry the more they ate.
"I had left a window open, and he seemed to know it," was the answer. "I never knew it to fail that if I left a window open so much as a crack but what he'd find it. He's the smartest monkey I ever saw! But he's a rascal just the same!"
"Well, you'll have a little rest from all the pets, except maybe Skyrocket," said Uncle Toby. "We'll take him with us out to Crystal Lake, but the other pets we'll leave here."
Uncle Toby's house was a large one and had plenty of beds in it for the children. It was warm and cozy, and Aunt Sallie had seen to it that everything should be comfortable for the Curlytops and their playmates.
"I thought you two were coming by train," she said to Mary and Harry, when supper was over and the plans for the night began to be talked about.
"They were on the train. But I took them off when it became stuck in the snow," explained Uncle Toby. "I hope they have dug the engine out by this time. If they haven't it may have to stay there a long time, for this storm is getting worse."
The children thought so too, as they listened to the wind howling around the corners of the house and down the chimney, while the hard flakes of snow beat against the windows.
But they were snug and warm in Uncle Toby's house, and Jan and her brother, with Lola and Tom, were so jolly, suggesting so many games to play and talking about the good times to come at Crystal Lake, that though Mary and Harry had begun to feel homesick this soon wore off, and the strange playmates laughed with their new friends.
Trouble was to sleep in a big bed with Jan in a room next to Aunt Sallie. And in the same room with Jan and her little brother, Mary and Lola would sleep, but in separate beds.
The three older boys had a room to themselves, each with a single bed, so they would not disturb one another.
"And mind!" cried Uncle Toby, when the time came to "turn in," as a soldier or a sailor might say. "Mind! No pillow fights!"
"Oh, no!" cried Tom and Ted, winking at each other.
And I think Uncle Toby must have known that they would have a little fun in this way. For he did not come up to stop them when they began tossing about at each other the soft, fluffy pillows. At this game there was a jolly good time for half an hour.
But even boys can get tired sometimes, and these boys had had a long automobile ride that day. So they finally gave up tossing the pillows about and settled down snugly in their beds. The girls and Trouble had gone to sleep long before this.
"Well, you certainly have quite a houseful, Uncle Toby," said Aunt Sallie that night, when locking-up time came, "with seven children, to say nothing of the animals."
"Oh, I like 'em all!" exclaimed the old sailor, with a laugh. "And I just had to take the Curlytops. There was no place for them to go when their father and mother had to start off on that trip. As for Tom and Lola, I wanted the Curlytops to have some playmates over the holidays. And about Mary and Harry—well, I couldn't leave them in the big city all alone, with their mother in the hospital."
"No, I suppose not. Poor children! Poor Mother! I hope she gets better!"
"I hope so, too," said Uncle Toby. "And I hope the Curlytops' father doesn't lose his money."
Janet was awakened early the next morning by feeling something cold on her face. She was dreaming that Jack, the monkey, was still up on the roof, but that he had a long tail which reached all the way to the ground. And she dreamed that Jack was dipping his tail in ice water and tickling her on the cheek.
Something almost like this was happening as Janet opened her eyes, for she saw Trouble bending over her with a lump of snow in his fist, rubbing the cold stuff on her nose.
"Oh, Trouble! Stop it!" cried Janet, rolling over in bed and giving her brother a little push. He dropped some of the cold snow down her neck. "Oh!" screamed Jan. "You're freezing me!"
"You shouldn't have jiggled me!" complained Trouble, whose grasp on the snowball had been loosened as his sister moved. "I wanted you open your eyes," he added.
"I guess you made her open them all right," laughed Lola from her bed, next to Janet's.
The talking aroused Mary, who sat up, rubbing her eyes.
"Oh, where am I?" she exclaimed. "I—Oh, I remember!" she said. "I was dreaming I was back home!"
"And I was dreaming Jack was slapping me with his tail wet in ice water," laughed Janet. "Then I wake up and find Trouble with a snowball. Where did you get it?" she asked, tossing the half-melted lump into the water basin nearby.
"It blowed in the window," Trouble explained, pointing to more of the white flakes on the sill. They had drifted in around a crack.
"You mustn't get out of bed and run around in your bare feet," said Janet. "I wonder what sort of a day it is?" She slipped on her little robe and slippers and went to the window, meanwhile covering Trouble warmly in bed. "It's stopped snowing," she said, "and the sun is out. We can make snowmen, big snowballs, and everything."
"Oh, what fun it will be!" cried Lola.
"Snow in the country is much nicer than in the city where I live," said Mary. "It seems to stay clean longer out here."
Meanwhile Ted, Tom, and Harry had also discovered that there was a chance for plenty of fun out of doors. They were soon up and getting dressed, and when Aunt Sallie had seen that Trouble was washed and dressed all the children went down to breakfast.
"Where are all the pets?" asked Mary, seeing only Mr. Nip perched on his stand, cracking seeds in his strong beak.
"They're having their breakfasts out in their room," said Aunt Sallie, for a special room had been provided for the animals.
A little later the Curlytops and their playmates were having fun in the snow outside, Skyrocket romping around with them. There were sleds at Uncle Toby's house, and not far from it a little hill, and on this the children were soon coasting.
"It's more fun than our toboggan," cried Ted.
"Yes, it is. But the snow isn't going to last long," observed Tom. "It's too warm."
"It's melting now," added Harry.
Indeed the warm sun would soon make short work of this first snow, which had come much earlier than usual. The children made up their minds to have as much fun as they could while it lasted.
So they coasted, they made snowmen, rolled big snowballs and the boys even started to build a snow fort, for the white flakes were wet enough to pack well and stay in place once they were piled up.
Trouble played with the others, sometimes getting in the way and toppling down, to pick himself up again and fall down once more.
"I havin' 'ots of fun!" he laughed.
In fact all the children were—so much so that they hardly wanted to come in to lunch. But playing out in the air made them hungry, and soon they were eagerly eating.
"How soon are we going to Crystal Lake?" asked Ted of Uncle Toby, as the Curlytops and the others prepared to rush out in the snow once more.
"Oh, we'll go in a few days," was the answer. "Might as well wait for this snow to melt, as it's bound to if this weather keeps up. It will be easier going for the auto then, as the roads to the Lake are rather rough."
"Well, we're having fun here," chuckled Ted, as he ran out to join his playmates.
"Let's make a big fort!" proposed Tom, for they had made a little one, and trampled it down in having a "battle."
"All right," agreed the other boys.
"I he'p!" offered Trouble.
"No you'll only be in the way," Ted replied. "You go over and help sister make a snowman," he added, for this is what Jan and the other two girls were trying to do.
This was a bit selfish on Ted's part, for he must have known that Trouble would annoy his sister as much as the little fellow would be in the way of himself and his chums. But brothers are this way sometimes, I suppose.
Anyhow, Trouble toddled off to see if he could not play with Jan, Lola, and Mary. He saw them shaping the snowman.
"I he'p!" he offered, trying to put a little ball on the snowman's coat to serve as a "button."
"Oh, Trouble! Don't!" begged Jan. "Go over and play with the boys! You'll spoil our snowman!"
"Ted telled me come here!" announced William.
Poor Trouble! No one seemed to want him!
"Oh, let him stay," begged Mary, "I'll watch him."
"All right," sighed Jan. She was trying to make the snowman's face, and it was not easy work.
Just how it happened no one seemed to know but the boys forgot all about Trouble in the excitement of making their fort. And though Mary had promised to keep watch over the little fellow she forgot when she went to the shed to get two pieces of coal to make eyes for the snowman.
It was not until after the snowman was finished and Ted had shouted what fun it would be if they could put him in the fort that Trouble was missed.
"Where is he?" asked Janet, looking around the yard.
"He was here a little while ago," said Lola.
"I saw him too," added Tom.
But now Trouble was not in sight.
"Maybe he went into the house to get something to eat," suggested Mary.
Jan ran to the door and asked Aunt Sallie.
"Why, no," she answered. "Trouble didn't come in here!"
"Oh, where can Trouble be?" half sobbed Janet.