One entire day out of each month Mr. Maynard devoted to the entertainment of his children.
This was a long-established custom, and the children looked forward eagerly to what they called an Ourday.
The day chosen was always a Saturday, and usually the first Saturday of the month, though this was subject to the convenience of the elders.
The children were allowed to choose in turn what the entertainment should be, and if possible their wishes were complied with.
As there had been so much bustle and confusion consequent upon their return from the summer vacation, the September "Ourday" did not occur until the second Saturday.
It was Marjorie's turn to choose the sport, for, as she had been away at Grandma Sherwood's all summer, she had missed three Ourdays.
So one morning, early in the week, the matter was discussed at the breakfast table.
"What shall it be, Midget?" asked her father. "A balloon trip, or an Arctic expedition?"
"I want something outdoorsy," she said, at last, "and I think I'd like a picnic best. A real picnic in the woods, with lunch-baskets, and a fire, and roasted potatoes."
"That sounds all right to me," said Mr. Maynard; "do you want a lot of people, or just ourselves?"
It was at the children's pleasure on Ourdays to invite their young friends or to have only the family, as they chose. Sometimes, even, Mrs. Maynard did not go with them, and Mr. Maynard took his young brood off for a ramble in the woods, or a day at the seashore or in the city. He often declared that but for this plan he would never feel really acquainted with his own children.
"I don't want a lot of people," said Marjorie, decidedly; "but suppose we each invite one. That makes a good-sized picnic."
As it was Marjorie's Ourday, her word was law, and the others gladly agreed.
"I'll ask Dick Fulton," said Kingdon. "I haven't seen much of him since I came home."
"And I'll ask Gladys Fulton, of course," said Midget. As Gladys was her most intimate friend in Rockwell, no one was surprised at this.
"I'll ask Dorothy Adams," said Kitty; but Rosy Posy announced: "I won't ask nobody but Boffin. He's the nicest person I know, an' him an' me can walk with Daddy."
"Next, where shall the picnic be?" went on Mr. Maynard.
"I don't know whether I like Pike's Woods best, or the Mill Race," said Marjorie, uncertainly.
"Oh, choose Pike's Woods, Mops," put in Kingdon. "It's lovely there, now, and it's a lot better place to build a fire and all that."
"All right, Father; I choose Pike's Woods. But it's too far to walk."
"Of course it is, Mopsy. We'll have a big wagon that will hold us all. You may invite your friends, and I'll invite a comrade of my own. Will you go, Mrs. Maynard?"
"I will, with pleasure. I adore picnics, and this bids fair to be a delightful one. May I assist you in planning the feast?"
"Indeed you may," said Midget, smiling at her mother. "But we can choose, can't we?"
"Of course, choose ahead."
"Ice-cream," said Marjorie, promptly.
"Little lemon tarts," said Kitty.
"Candy," said Rosy Posy.
"Cold chicken," said Kingdon.
"That's a fine bill of fare," said Mr. Maynard, "but I'll add sandwiches and lemonade as my suggestions, and anything we've omitted, I'm sure will get into the baskets somehow."
"Oh, won't it be lovely!" exclaimed Marjorie. "I haven't been on a picnic with our own family for so long. We had picnics at Grandma's, but nothing is as much fun as an Ourday."
"Let's take the camera," said Kingdon, "and get some snapshots."
"Yes, and let's take fishlines, and fish in the brook," said Kitty.
"All right, chickabiddies; we'll have a roomy wagon to travel in, so take whatever you like. And now I must be off. Little Mother, you'll make a list today, won't you, of such things as I am to get for this frolic?"
"Candy," repeated Rosy Posy; "don't fordet that."
As the baby was not allowed much candy, she always chose it for her Ourday treat.
Mr. Maynard went away to his business, and the others remained at the breakfast table, talking over the coming pleasure.
"We'll have a great time!" said Kingdon. "We'll make father play Indians and shipwreck and everything."
"Don't make me play Indians!" exclaimed his mother, in mock dismay.
"No, indeedy! But you can be a Captive Princess."
"Yes!" cried Marjorie; "in chains and shut up in a dungeon."
"No, no," screamed Rosy Posy; "my muvver not be shutted up in dunjin!"
"No, she shan't, Baby," said her brother, comfortingly; "and, anyway, Mops, Indians don't put people in dungeons, you're thinking of Mediævals."
"Well, I don't care," said Midget, happily; "we'll have a lovely time, whatever we play. I'm going over to ask Gladys now. May I, Mother?"
"Yes, Midget, run along. Tell Mrs. Fulton that Father and I are going, and that we'd be glad to take Gladys and Dick."
Away skipped Marjorie, hatless and coatless, for it was a warm day, and Gladys lived only across the street.
"It's so nice to have you back again, Mopsy," said Gladys, after the invitation had been given and accepted. "I was awful lonesome for you all summer."
"I missed you, too; but I did have a lovely time. Oh, Gladys, I wish you could see my tree-house at Grandma's! Breezy Inn, its name is, and we had such fun in it."
"Why don't you have one here? Won't your father make one for you?"
"I don't know. Yes, I suppose he would. But it wouldn't seem the same. It just belongs at Grandma's. And, anyway, I'm busy all the time here. There's so much to do. We play a lot, you know. And then I have my practicing every day, and, oh dear, week after next school will begin. I just hate school, don't you, Gladys?"
"No, I love it; you know I do."
"Well, I don't. I don't mind the lessons, but I hate to sit cooped up at a desk all day. I wish they'd have schools out of doors."
"Yes, I'd like that, too. I wonder if we can sit together, this year, Mops?"
"Oh, I hope so. Let's ask Miss Lawrence that, the very first thing. Why, I'd die if I had to sit with anyone but you."
"So would I. But I'm sure Miss Lawrence will let us be together."
Gladys was a pretty little girl, though not at all like Marjorie. She was about the same age, but smaller, and with light hair and blue eyes. She was more sedate than Midget, and more quiet in her ways, but she had the same love of fun and mischief, and more than once the two girls had been separated in the schoolroom because of the pranks they concocted when together.
Miss Lawrence, their teacher, was a gentle and long-suffering lady, and she loved both little girls, but she was sometimes at her wits' end to know how to tame their rollicking spirits.
Gladys was as pleased as Marjorie at the prospect of the picnic. Often the Maynard children had their Ourdays without inviting other guests, but when outsiders were invited they always remembered the happy occasions.
All through the week preparations went on, and on Friday Ellen, the cook, gave up most of the day to the making of cakes and tarts and jellies. The next morning she was to get up early to fry the chicken and prepare the devilled eggs.
Mr. Maynard brought home candies and fruit from the city, and a huge can of ice-cream was ordered from the caterer.
The start was to be made at nine o'clock Saturday morning, for it was a long drive, and everybody wanted a long day in the woods.
Friday evening was fair, with a beautiful sunset, and everything boded well for beautiful weather the next day.
Rosy Posy, after her bread-and-milk supper, went happily off to bed, and dropped to sleep while telling her beloved Boffin of the fun to come. The other children dined with their parents, and the conversation was exclusively on the one great subject.
"I don't think it could rain; do you, Father?" said Kitty, looking over her shoulder, at the fading sunset tints.
"I think it could, my dear, but I don't think it will. All signs point to fair weather, and I truly believe we'll have a perfect Ourday and a jolly good time."
"We always do," said Midge, happily. "I wonder why all fathers don't have Ourdays with their children. Gladys' father never gets home till seven o'clock, and she has to go to bed at eight, so she hardly sees him at all, except Sundays, and of course they can't play on Sundays."
"They must meet as strangers," said Mr. Maynard. "I think our plan is better. I like to feel chummy with my own family, and the only way to do it is to keep acquainted with each other. I wish I could have a whole day with you every week, instead of only every month."
"Can't you, Father?" said Kitty, wistfully.
"No, daughter. I have too much business to attend to, to allow me a holiday every week. But perhaps someday I can manage it. Are you taking a hammock tomorrow, King?"
"Yes, sir. I thought Mother might like an afternoon nap, and Rosy Posy always goes to sleep in the morning."
"Thoughtful boy. Take plenty of rope, but you needn't bother to take trees to swing it from."
"No, we'll take the chance of finding some there."
"Yes, doubtless somebody will have left them from the last picnic. Your young friends are going?"
"Yes," said Marjorie. "King and I asked the two Fultons, and Kitty asked Dorothy Adams. With all of us, and Nurse Nannie, that makes just ten."
"And the driver of the wagon makes eleven," said Mr. Maynard. "I suppose we've enough rations for such an army?"
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Maynard, smiling. "Enough for twenty, I think, but it's well to be on the safe side."
The children went to bed rather earlier than usual, in order to be up bright and early for the picnic.
Their play-clothes, which were invariably of blue and white striped seersucker, were laid out in readiness, and they fell asleep wishing it were already morning.
But when the morning did come!
Marjorie wakened first, and before she opened her eyes she heard an ominous sound that sent a thrill of dismay to her heart.
She sprang out of bed, and ran to the window.
Yes, it was not only raining, it was simply pouring.
One of those steady, determined storms that show no sign of speedy clearing. The sky was dark, leaden gray, and the rain came down in what seemed to be a thick, solid volume of water.
"Oh!" said Marjorie, with a groan of disappointment from her very heart.
"Kitty," she said, softly, wondering if her sister were awake.
The girls had two beds on either side of a large room, and Midget tiptoed across the floor, as she spoke. Kitty opened her eyes sleepily. "What is it, Midget? Time to get up? Oh, it's picnic day!"
As Kitty became broad awake, she smiled and gaily hopped out of bed.
"What's the matter?" she said, in alarm, for Marjorie's face was anything but smiling.
For answer, Midget pointed out of the window, toward which Kitty turned for the first time.
"Oh!" said she, dropping back on the edge of the bed.
And, indeed, there seemed to be nothing else to say. Both girls were so overwhelmed with disappointment that they could only look at each other with despondent faces.
Silently they began to draw on their stockings and shoes, and though determined they wouldn't do anything so babyish as to cry, yet it was no easy matter to keep the tears back.
"Up yet, chickabiddies?" called Mr. Maynard's cheery voice through the closed door.
"Yes, sir," responded two doleful voices.
"Then skip along downstairs as soon as you're ready; it's a lovely day for our picnic."
Midge and Kitty looked at each other. This seemed a heartless jest indeed! And it wasn't a bit like their father to tease them when they were in trouble. And real trouble this surely was!
They heard Mr. Maynard tap at King's door, and call out some gay greeting to him, and then they heard King splashing about, as if making his toilet in a great hurry. All this spurred the girls to dress more quickly, and it was not long before they were tying each other's hair-ribbons and buttoning each other's frocks.
Then they fairly ran downstairs, and, seeing Mr. Maynard standing by the dining-room window, they both threw themselves into his arms, crying out, "Oh, Father, isn't it too bad?"
"What?" asked Mr. Maynard, quizzically.
"Now, Daddy," said Midget, "don't tease. Our hearts are all broken because it's raining, and we can't have our picnic."
"Can't have our picnic!" exclaimed Mr. Maynard, in apparent excitement. "Can't have our picnic, indeed! Who says we can't?"
"I say so!" exclaimed Kingdon, who had just entered the room. "Nobody but ducks can have a picnic today."
"Oh, well," said Mr. Maynard, looking crestfallen, "if King says so that settles it. I think it's a beautiful picnic day, but far be it from me to obtrude my own opinions."
Just here Mrs. Maynard and Rosy Posy came in. They were both smiling, and though no one expected the baby to take the disappointment very seriously, yet it did seem as if Mother might have been more sympathetic.
"I suppose we can eat the ice-cream in the house," said Marjorie, who was inclined to look on the bright side if she could possibly find one.
"That's the way to talk!" said her father, approvingly. "Now you try, Kingdon, to meet the situation as it should be met."
"I will, sir. I'm just as disappointed as I can be, but I suppose there's no use crying over spilt milk,—I mean spilt raindrops."
"That's good philosophy, my boy. Now, Kitty, what have you to say by way of cheering us all up?"
"I can't see much fun in a day like this. But I hope we can have the picnic on the next Ourday."
"That's a brave, cheerful spirit. Now, my sad and disheartened crew, take your seats at the breakfast table, and listen to your foolishly optimistic old father."
The children half-heartedly took their places, but seemed to have no thought of eating breakfast.
"Wowly-wow-wow!" said Mr. Maynard, looking around the table. "What a set of blue faces! Would it brighten you up any if I should prophesy that at dinner-time tonight you will all say it has been the best Ourday we've ever had, and that you're glad it rained?"
"Oh, Father!" said Marjorie, in a tone of wondering reproach, while Kitty and King looked blankly incredulous, and Mrs. Maynard smiled mysteriously.