ON THE SLIPPERY HILL
They slept rather late the next morning, for they were tired with the travel of the day before, and when Jan and Lola came down to the kitchen they found Aunt Sallie getting breakfast.
"Oh, we said we'd get up and help!" exclaimed Jan. For she had promised her mother, on leaving home to visit Uncle Toby and Aunt Sallie, that she would help with the housework.
"And I used to get breakfast all alone," said Mary. "That is after mother was sick," and she could not keep back a few tears, though she turned her head away so the other girls would not see them.
"Never mind, my dear," said Aunt Sallie, with a laugh. "I didn't want you to get up early. Uncle Toby told me to let you girls and the boys sleep."
"Oh, aren't the boys up yet?" asked Jan, with a laugh.
"Don't tell me we've beaten!" added Lola, with a giggle.
"They said they were going to get up and see the sun rise," remarked Mary.
"I guess they forgot it, or else they thought they could see the sun some other morning," laughed Aunt Sallie. "For they aren't down yet, though it's almost time to call them, for I'm going to start to bake the pancakes soon."
"Oh, are you going to have pancakes?" cried Jan.
"Yes, and with maple syrup," Aunt Sallie answered.
"Oh, I love them!" exclaimed Lola. "Don't you, Mary?"
"I—I don't know," was the hesitating answer. "I—I guess I never had any."
"Oh my, just—" but Lola stopped. She was going to say "just fancy a girl never having eaten pancakes with maple syrup!" But she thought it would not be polite to say that, so she changed it to:
"Just you wait until you try them! You'll love them!"
"I know Ted does, so I'm going to call him!" exclaimed Janet. "He wouldn't want to keep on sleeping and miss the cakes."
"Tom wouldn't, either," declared Lola.
So they called the boys, who soon rushed downstairs, as hungry as ever any boys were. And the girls were quite as hungry. As for Trouble, he always thought he was hungry whether he was or not.
Uncle Toby came in, having been out to do the chores.
"Getting colder, boys and girls. Hope you brought your skates."
"Why," asked Ted, "is there skating?"
"No; but there will be. Shouldn't wonder but what part of the lake would freeze over by tomorrow. But don't any of you go on until I try the ice to see if it's safe."
"Guess there isn't any danger of me going on," remarked Harry Benton.
"Why not?" asked Ted. "Don't you like to skate?"
"Sure I do!" Harry answered. "But I haven't any skates."
"I brought some extra pairs along," remarked Uncle Toby. "I think I have some that will fit you and Mary."
"Oh, goodie!" cried Mary, for she felt she could now have fun like the other girls.
"But it hasn't frozen yet, though it soon will be," said Uncle Toby. "Well, I'm going to leave you youngsters to amuse yourselves for a while, as I have some things to look after."
Uncle Toby paused for a moment and then went on.
"Now about school."
"Yes," said Ted, in a low voice. "I s'pose we'll have to go," he added, with a sigh.
"No!" exclaimed Uncle Toby. "Turns out you can't go afterall. I told your folks you could, but you can't."
"Why not?" asked Jan, and neither she nor any of the others seemed disappointed.
"The teacher they had here was taken sick, I've just heard, and they can't get another until after the holidays. So it doesn't look as though you could go to school. I'm sorry—"
"Oh, ho!" cried the Curlytops and their playmates. "No school! Hurray!"
"Now we'll go out and have some fun!" shouted Ted, as Uncle Toby left the cabin.
"Me come!" cried Trouble.
"Yes, we'll take you," answered Lola.
"Take good care of Trouble!" called Aunt Sallie to the boys and girls as they started from the cabin. They were warmly dressed, as it was getting colder, just as Uncle Toby had declared.
"We'll watch him!" called back Jan.
Off through the trees, under which, here and there, were patches of snow, wandered the Curlytops and their playmates. They laughed and shouted, running here and there until they were nearly as warm as on a summer's day. It was sheltered under the trees, but out in the open was getting colder, and in places thin ice was forming on Crystal Lake.
They walked along, sometimes all together and again with the boys running ahead of the girls, until they came to a little hill, covered with pine trees. The wind had swept the ground bare of snow here, or else it had melted, and in places were patches of the long, smooth and slippery pine needles.
Tom, Ted, and Harry had run off to one side, for Skyrocket had scared up a rabbit and the boys wanted to see the bunny, though they would not have let the dog harm it. Trouble started to follow his brother and the other two lads, but as he reached the top of the pine-needle-covered hill Janet called him back.
"Trouble, come here!" she exclaimed.
"No!" he answered. "I go see bunny rabbit!"
"No, you must stay with me," said Janet, starting after him. Trouble gathered himself to spring away on a run, but suddenly there was a queer screeching call in a tree over his head, and a moment later the little fellow went sliding and slipping down the hill and out of sight.
"Oh, dear!" cried Janet
"Was it an eagle that screamed?" asked Lola, who did not know much about birds.
"Maybe the eagle carried him off," suggested Mary, who knew even less about the creatures of the woods.
"There aren't any eagles around here, I hope," said Janet. "But something happened to Trouble! I hope he isn't hurt!"
Again came that shrill, harsh call. It sounded like:
"Hay! Hay! Hay!"
"Somebody is laughing because Trouble fell downhill?" said Lola.
A moment later there was a rustling in the bushes, and a large bird with bright blue feathers marked with patches of white flew up into a tree harshly crying:
"Hay! Hay! Hay!"
"Oh, it's a blue jay!" exclaimed Janet, as she ran to the top of the hill to see what had happened to William. It was nothing serious. He had merely slid down on the smooth brown pine needles which covered the ground and made it almost as slippery as a coasting hill. Perhaps the sudden cry of the blue jay had made Trouble give a nervous jump and this had thrown him off his balance, causing him to fall.
"Was that bird chase me?" he asked, as he heard the blue one cry and saw it flitting about.
"Oh, no," answered Lola. "You chased yourself, I guess. Are you hurt?"
"I—I'm all—bumped," explained Trouble.
And this, really, was all that had happened to him. The pine hill was so smooth that no one could have been hurt on it. The girls found it so slippery that they could hardly stand up on it while helping Trouble up.
"Let's try—" began Mary. She was about to say "try a slide," when her feet suddenly went from under her and she did as Trouble had done. She burst out laughing, as did William and the other two girls, and the woods echoed to the merry sound, bringing the boys over on the run. They had not seen the rabbit after the first fleeting glimpse.
"What's the matter?" asked Ted.
"We've found a slippery place," answered his sister.
"Come on, let's try it!" suggested Tom.
They all did, making efforts to go down the slippery pine-needle hill standing up. But every one toppled before reaching the bottom of the hill. However, this was part of the fun, and Trouble enjoyed it with the others.
Now and then the blue jay would flit to and fro, alighting on the trees or bushes, and shrilly cry:
"Hay! Hay! Hay!"
"Maybe he wants to play, too," suggested Mary, who liked to look at one of our most brilliantly colored winter birds.
"He's making enough fuss about it, anyhow," said Tom.
The children had lots of fun in the woods that day and the next. No more tappings on the window were heard, and the Curlytops and their playmates forgot all about the little scare. The weather grew colder and colder. One morning Uncle Toby came in from the barn. He rubbed his red hands before the fire and said:
"Lake's frozen over! Now you can go skating!"