A SUBSTITUTE GUEST
Thanksgiving Day came late that year. The red-lettered Thursday on the calendar didn't appear until the last part of the month. But winter had set in early, and already there was fine coasting and skating.
Marjorie loved all out-of-door sports, and the jolly afternoons spent on the hill or on the lake sent her home with cheeks as rosy as a hard, sound, winter apple.
The Thanksgiving season always meant festivity of some sort. Sometimes they all went to Grandma Sherwood's in orthodox traditional fashion, and sometimes they went to Grandma Maynard's, who lived in New York.
But this year Mr. and Mrs. Maynard expected friends of their own, some grown-ups from the city, to spend the holiday.
"No children!" exclaimed Marjorie, when she heard about it.
"No, Midge," said her mother. "You must help me entertain my guests this time, as I sometimes help you entertain yours."
"Indeed you do, you sweetest mother in all the world!" cried impetuous Midget, as she flung herself into her mother's arms. Midget's embraces were of the strenuous order, and, though Mrs. Maynard never warded them off, she was often obliged to brace herself for the sudden impact.
"And I'll help you a heap," went on Marjorie. "What can I do? May I make Indian pudding with raisins in it?"
Midge was just having a spell of learning to cook, and good-natured Ellen had taught her a few simple dishes, of which Indian pudding was the favorite.
"No thank you, dearie. As it is a festival occasion, I think we'll have something a little more elaborate than that. You can help me better by trying to behave decorously, and by keeping the other children quiet when they are in the drawing-room. Mr. and Mrs. Crawford have never had any children, and they don't like noise and confusion."
"You're more used to it, aren't you, Mother?" said Marjorie, again springing to give her mother one of her spasmodic embraces, and incidentally upsetting that long-suffering lady's work-basket.
"I have to be if I live with my whirlwind of an eldest daughter," said Mrs. Maynard, when she could get her breath once more.
"Yes'm. And I'm awful sorry I upset your basket, but now I'll just dump it out entirely, and clear it up from the beginning; shall I?"
"Yes, do; it always looks so nice after you put it in order."
And so it did, for Marjorie was methodical in details, and she arranged the little reels of silk, and put the needles tidily in their cushion, until the basket was in fine order.
"There," she said, admiring her own work, "don't you touch that, Mother, until after Thanksgiving Day; and then it will be all in order for Mrs. Crawford to see. When is she coming?"
"They'll arrive Wednesday night and stay over until Friday morning. You may help me make the guest-rooms fresh and pretty for them."
"Yes; I'll stick pins in the cushions to make the letters of their names. Shall I?"
"Well, no; I don't believe I care for that particular fancy. But I'll show you how I do like the pins put in, and you may do it for me. Now, run out and play, we'll have ample time for our housekeeping affairs later on."
Away went Marjorie, after bestowing another tumultuous bear-hug on her mother. She whisked on her hat and coat, and with her mittens still in her hand, flew out of the door, banging it after her.
"Cold weather always goes to that child's muscles," thought Mrs. Maynard, as she heard the noise. "She never bangs doors in summer time."
"Wherever have you been?" cried the others, as Marjorie joined them on the hill.
"Talking to Mother. I meant to come out right away after school, but I forgot about it."
Gladys Fulton looked at her curiously. She wasn't "intimate" with her mother, as Marjorie was, and she didn't quite understand the relationship.
In another minute Midge was on her sled, and, with one red-mittened hand waving on high, was whizzing down the hill.
King caught up to her, and the others followed, and then they all walked back up the hill together.
"Going to have fun, Thanksgiving Day?" asked Dick Fulton, as they climbed along.
"No. We're going to have a silly old Thanksgiving," said Marjorie. "Only grown-ups to visit us, and that means we don't have any good of Father at all."
"Aw, horrid!" said King. "Is that the programme? I didn't know it."
"Yes!" went on Marjorie, "and I've promised Mother to behave myself and to make all you others behave, too." Her own eyes danced, as she said this, and King burst into laughter.
"That's a good one!" he cried. "Why, it will take the whole Maynard family to make you behave yourself, let alone the rest of us."
"No, truly, I'm going to be good, 'cause Mother asked me most 'specially." Marjorie's earnest air was convincing, but King was skeptical.
"You mean to be good, all right," he said, "but at the party you'll do some crazy thing without thinking."
"Very likely," said Mopsy, cheerfully, and then they all slid down hill again.
The day before Thanksgiving Day everything was in readiness for the guests.
Mr. Maynard had come home early, and the whole family were in the drawing-room to await the arrival.
This, in itself, was depressing, for to be dressed up and sitting in state at four o'clock in the afternoon is unusual, and, therefore, uncomfortable.
Marjorie had a new frock, of the material that Kitty called "Alberta Ross." It was very pretty, being white, trimmed here and there with knots of scarlet velvet, and Midget was greatly pleased with it, though she looked longingly out of the window, and thought of her red cloth play-dress and her shining skates.
However, she had promised to be good, and she looked as demure as St. Cecilia, as she sat quietly on the sofa with an eye on the behavior of her younger sisters.
Kitty and Rosy Posy, both in freshly-laundered, white muslin frocks, also sat demurely, with folded hands, while King, rather restlessly, moved about the room, now and then looking from the window.
"You children get on my nerves!" said Mr. Maynard, at last. "I begin to think you're not my own brood at all. Is it necessary, Mother, to have this solemn stillness, just because we expect some friends to see us?"
Mrs. Maynard smiled.
"These children," she said, "have no idea of moderation. It isn't necessary for them to sit like wax-works, but if they didn't they'd be turning somersaults, or upsetting tables,—though, of course, they wouldn't mean to."
"I daresay you're right," said Mr. Maynard, with a sigh, "and I do want them to behave like civilized beings, when our friends come."
"There they are, now!" cried King, as the doorbell was heard. "But I don't see any carriage," he added, looking from the window. In a moment Sarah appeared with a telegram for Mrs. Maynard.
"They are delayed," said that lady, prophetically, "and won't arrive till the next train." But this she said while she was opening the envelope. As she read the message, her face fell, and she exclaimed, "Oh, they're not coming at all."
"Not coming?" said Mr. Maynard, taking the yellow paper.
"No; Mrs. Crawford's sister is ill, and she can't leave her. Oh, I'm so disappointed!"
"It is too bad, my dear; I'm very sorry for you. I wish they could have let you know sooner."
"Yes, I wish so, too. Then we could have gone out to Grandma Sherwood's for the day."
"Is it too late for that?" asked Marjorie, eagerly. "Can't we get ready, and fly off in a hurry?"
"You could," said her father, smiling. "And probably we all could. But Grandma Sherwood couldn't get ready for six starving savages in such short order. Moreover, I fancy Mother has a larder full of good things here that must be eaten by somebody. What shall we do, Helen?"
"I don't know, Ed. I'll leave it to you. Plan anything you like."
"Then I'll leave it to the children. Speak up, friends. Who would you like to ask to eat Thanksgiving dinner with you?"
The children considered.
"It ought to be somebody from out of town," said Marjorie. "That makes it seem more like a special party."
"I'll tell you!" exclaimed Kitty. "Let's ask Molly Moss."
"Just the one!" cried Marjorie. "How'd you come to think of her, Kit? But I 'most know her people won't let her come, and there isn't time, anyway."
"There's time enough," said Mr. Maynard. "I'll call them up on the long-distance telephone now. Then if Molly can come, they can put her on the train tomorrow morning, and we'll meet her here. But I doubt if her mother will spare her on Thanksgiving Day."
However, to Mr. Maynard's surprise, Mrs. Moss consented to let Molly go, and as a neighbor was going on the early morning train, and could look after her, the matter was easily arranged.
Marjorie was in transports of glee.
"I'm truly sorry, Mother," she said, "that you can't have your own company, but, as you can't, I'm so glad Molly is coming. Now, that fixes tomorrow, but what can we do today to have fun?"
"I think it's King's turn," said Mr. Maynard. "Let him invite somebody to dine with us tonight."
"That's easy," said Kingdon. "I choose Dick and Gladys. We can telephone for them right away."
"They don't seem much like company," said Marjorie, "but I'd rather have them than anybody else I know of."
"Then it's all right," said Mrs. Maynard, "and, as they're not formal company, you'd better all change those partified clothes for something you can romp about in."
"Yes, let's do that," said Kitty. "I can't have fun in dress-up things."
And so it was an informal lot of children who gathered about the dinner-table, instead of the guests who had been expected.
But Mr. Maynard exerted himself quite as much to be entertaining as if he had had grown-up companions, and the party was a merry one indeed.
After dinner the young people were sent to the playroom, as the elders were expecting callers.
"Tell me about Molly Moss," said Gladys to Marjorie. "What sort of a girl is she?"
"Crazy," said Marjorie, promptly. "You never knew anybody, Glad, who could get up such plays and games as she does. And she gets into terrible mischief, too. She's going to stay several days, and we'll have lots of fun while she's here. At Grandma's last summer, we played together nearly all the time. You'll like her, I know. And she'll like you, of course. We'll all have fun together."
Gladys was somewhat reassured, but she had a touch of jealousy in her nature, and, as she was really Marjorie's most intimate friend, she resented a little bit the coming of this stranger.
"She sounds fine," was Dick's comment, as he heard about Molly. "We'll give her the time of her life. Can she skate, Mops?"
"Oh, I guess so. I only knew her last summer, but I'm sure she can do anything."
When Molly arrived the next morning, she flew into the house like a small and well-wrapped-up cyclone. She threw her muff in one direction, and her gloves in another, and made a mad dash for Marjorie.
Then, remembering her manners, she spoke politely to Mrs. Maynard.
"How do you do?" she said; "it was very kind of you to invite me here, and I hope you won't make me any trouble. There! Mother told me to say that, and I've been studying it all the way, for fear I'd forget it."
Mrs. Maynard smiled, for Molly was entirely unaware of the mistake she had made in her mother's message, and the other children had not noticed it, either.
"We're glad to have you with us, my dear," Mrs. Maynard replied; "and I hope you'll enjoy yourself and have a real good time."
"Yes'm," said Molly, "I always do."
Then the children ran away to play out-of-doors until dinner-time.
"It's so queer to be here," said Molly, who had never before been away from home alone.
"It's queer to have you, but it's nice," said Marjorie. "Which do you like best, summer or winter?"
"Both!" declared Molly. "Whichever one it is, I like that one; don't you?"
"Yes, I s'pose so. But I like winter best. There's so much to do. Why, Molly, I'm busy every minute. Of course, school takes most of the time, so I have to crowd all the fun into the afternoons and Saturdays."
"Oh, is this your hill?" exclaimed Molly, as they reached their favorite coasting-ground. "What a little one! Why, the hills at home are twice as long as this."
"I know it," said Mopsy, apologetically; "but this is the longest one here. Won't it do?"
"Oh, yes," said Molly, who did not mean to be unpleasantly critical, but who was merely surprised. "But you have to be going up and down all the time."
"We do," agreed King. "But it's fun. And, anyway, you have to go up and down all the time if it's a longer hill, don't you?"
"So you do," admitted Molly, "but it seems different."
However, after a few journeys up and down, she declared the hill was a first-rate coaster, and she liked it better than a long one, because it was easier to walk up.
They all liked Molly. Gladys concluded she was a welcome addition to their crowd, and both Kingdon and Dick thought her a jolly girl.
She was daring,—sometimes a little too much so,—but she was good-natured, and very kind and pleasant.
"Don't you ever hitch on?" she asked, as they all trudged up hill.
"What's that mean?" asked Gladys.
"Why, hitch on behind sleighs. Or big wagon-sleds."
"Yes, of course. It's lots of fun. Come on, let's try it."
Out to the road they went, and waited for a passing sleigh. Soon Mr. Abercrombie's turnout came by.
This gentleman was one of the richest men in Rockwell, and very dignified and exclusive. Indeed, he was a bit surly, and not very well liked by his fellow townsmen. But he had a fine sleigh and a magnificent pair of horses, which were driven by a coachman in a brave livery and fur cape.
"Please give us a hitch," called out Molly, as the glittering equipage drew near.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Abercrombie, as he looked at the child.
Molly was always elf-like in appearance, but the wind had reddened her cheeks, and blown wisps of her straight black hair about her face, until she looked crazier than ever.
The big sleigh had stopped, and Mr. Abercrombie glared at the group of children.
"What did you say?" he demanded, and Molly repeated her request.
Marjorie was a little shocked at the performance, but she thought loyalty to her guest required that she should stand by her, so she stepped to Molly's side and took hold of her hand.
The two surprised boys were about to enter a protest, when Mr. Abercrombie smiled a little grimly, and said:
"Yes, indeed. That's what I'm out for. Martin, fasten these sleds on behind somehow."
The obedient footman left his place, and, though the order must have been an unusual one, he showed no sign of surprise.
"Yes, sir," he said, touching his hat. "Beg pardon, sir, but what shall I fasten them to, sir?"
"I said fasten them to this sleigh! If there isn't any way to do it, invent one. Fasten one sled, and then that can hold the next one, all the way along!"
"Yes, sir; very good, sir." And, touching his hat again, the unperturbed footman went to work. How he did it, they never knew, for the sleigh had not been constructed for the purpose of "giving a hitch" to children's sleds, but somehow the ingenious Martin attached a sled securely to the back of the big sleigh. Molly took her seat thereon, and then another sled was easily fastened to the back of hers. And so on, until all were arranged.
Then the footman calmly returned to his own place, the coachman touched up the horses, the bells jingled gaily, and they were off!
Such a ride as they had! It was ever so much more fun than riding in the sleigh, and though the boys, who were at the end of the line of sleds, fell off occasionally, they floundered on again, and were all right until they turned another sharp corner.
"Thank you, very much, mister," said Molly, heartily, as they neared the Maynard home; "we're going to leave you now."
Again the sleigh stopped, the dignified footman came and released the sleds, and, after a chorus of thanks from the merry children, Mr. Abercrombie drove away in his solitary splendor.
"You are something, Molly!" cried King. "I never should have dreamed of asking Lord Abercrombie, as people call him, to give us a ride."
"I think he liked it as well as we did," said Molly.
"I think so, too," said Marjorie, "and I hope someday he'll take us again."