A HAPPY REUNION
Such joyous times as there were next day! It was the day before Christmas, and, as everyone knows, it is the jolliest time in the year, with one exception. That exception is Christmas itself.
"When are we going to the station to meet the folks?" asked the Curlytops and their playmates, over and over again. For Mr. and Mrs. Martin, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, and the mother of Harry and Mary, now out of the hospital, were to come on the same train, to spend the Christmas holidays at Uncle Toby's.
"Oh, we'll go soon now," said Mr. Bardeen, and the children could hardly wait. Uncle Toby had arranged for an extra automobile to bring the grown folks from the station to his cabin, as the Bardeen car would be well filled.
After what seemed many hours, though it was really not more than a wait of thirty minutes at the station, the toot of a whistle was heard around a curve in the track.
"Here comes the train!" cried Ted.
"Oh, what a lovely Christmas this is going to be!" sighed Janet.
Out of the car came the mother and father of the Curlytops, then the mother and father of Tom and Lola, and then, more slowly, Mrs. Benton.
"Oh, we're so glad to see you!" cried the Curlytops and their playmates, each to the proper parents. There was hugging and kissing, and in excited tones the story of the missing boy and dog was quickly told.
"It is very good of you, Mr. Bardeen, to ask me out here," said Mrs. Benton. "I feel sure I shall grow well and strong now, and I can look after my two children."
"That's all right, Susan!" was the hearty answer. "I'm glad to have you and the children. We're going to have a jolly Christmas."
And indeed it seemed so, for Mr. and Mrs. Martin found a chance to tell Ted and Janet that it was all right about the money—that Mr. Martin was not going to lose it after all. His trip had saved it for him.
As the automobiles were about to start off, the constable came up to Uncle Toby and said:
"That strange man—the one who fell and hurt himself at the cabin wants to see you, Mr. Bardeen."
"Wants to see me?" asked Uncle Toby, in surprise.
"Yes. It seems he is much better now, and is in his right mind."
"Was he out of his mind before?" asked Uncle Toby, while the others listened eagerly.
"Yes, he was most of the time, though not always. He's a soldier, it seems, or was. He fought in the big war and was hurt or something, and lost his memory. He really doesn't know what happened to him, except that he ran away from different hospitals, got to this country somehow, and has been wandering around ever since, living as best he could. But he's all right now. The doctor said that fall he had did something to his head and gave him back his right senses, so he's all right now, and he's asking for you."
"What's his name, and why does he want to see me?" asked Uncle Toby."He says he wants to explain that he didn't mean to cause any trouble and wanted to apologize," the constable went on. "
I went out to your cabin, and a lady there said you'd come here to the station, so I hurried back, and here I am. Could you come and see that man for a few minutes?"
"Why, I suppose I could, yes," answered Uncle Toby. "But who is he, anyhow? You say he was a soldier in the big war?"
"Yes. And he says his name is Frank Benton. He—"
But there was an excited cry from the mother of Mary and Harry.
"Frank Benton!" she exclaimed. "Why, that was my husband's name! My husband fought in the war! We thought he was killed, but we never could be sure of it, as no record was found. Oh, if this should be your missing father, children!" and with tears in her eyes she looked at her boy and girl.
"We'll soon find out!" cried Uncle Toby.
"To the doctor's! First house around that corner," directed the constable.
Trembling with eagerness and hope, Mrs. Benton, with Harry and Mary, went into the room where the injured man lay in a white bed. He was much better now, and the constable did not go along, since he was not to be arrested, as what he had done had been when he was out of his head through a war injury.
"Frank!" cried Mrs. Benton, as soon as she caught sight of the man.
"Susan!" he murmured, holding out his arms. And then such a happy reunion as there was. "My, how big the children have become!" exclaimed Mr. Benton, through his glad tears. "To think I saw them in the room and didn't know them."
"And they didn't know you," said his wife. "But now we have each other! Oh, how happy I am. This will be the best Christmas in all the world!"
And it was—for everyone at Uncle Toby's cabin.
There is not much more to tell. The mystery was all cleared up. Mr. Benton had been wounded in the war, an injury to his brain making him not able to think correctly. He wandered away, escaping from one hospital after another under the mistaken notion that the doctors and nurses were trying to harm him.
In his wanderings he finally reached the neighborhood of Crystal Lake. He found the old deserted cabin and made his home there, living on what he could pick up or take from the farmhouses. Thus the rumor of tramps and burglars was talked of at the lake. Poor Mr. Benton was so timid that he ran away when Uncle Toby came to draw water.
It was Mr. Benton who took Aunt Sallie's plum pudding from the pantry, though he did not know he was stealing.
When Mr. Benton slipped and fell, it brought him back his memory.
That night Mr. Benton was taken out to the cabin, and there was reunited with his little family. And such a gladsome, happy, and thankful Christmas eve was never known before!
It seemed that the children never would go to bed, but at last they quieted down and then—well, what always happens on Christmas eve took place after that.
The Christmas tree was wondrously trimmed, empty stockings began to swell out and there was even one for Skyrocket which was laden to overflowing with dog biscuit.
The sun shone bright on the snow around Crystal Lake.
"Merry Christmas!" cried the Curlytops, as they rushed to see what Santa Claus had left for them.
"Merry Christmas!" echoed their playmates.
"The happiest Christmas in all the world!" said Harry and Mary. For they had found their father, long lost to them.
"I 'ikes Ch'is'mus," murmured Trouble, his mouth full of candy. "I 'ikes Ch'is'mus an' Unk Toby an' everybody! I 'ike 'oo!" he said to Mr. Benton.
"And I like you," said the father of Mary and Harry. "Only for you and Uncle Toby I might not be here, happy with my family. Merry Christmas to everybody!"