It was impossible to resist the infection of Mr. Maynard's gay good-nature, and by the time breakfast was over, the children were in their usual merry mood. Though an occasional glance out of the window brought a shadow to one face or another, it was quickly dispelled by the laughter and gaiety within.
Marjorie was perhaps the most disappointed of them all, for it was her day, and she had set her heart on the picnic in the woods. But she tried to make the best of it, remembering that, after all, father would be at home all day, and that was a treat of itself.
After breakfast, Mr. Maynard led the way to the living-room, followed by his half-hopeful brood. They all felt that something would be done to make up for their lost pleasure, but it didn't seem as if it could be anything very nice.
Mr. Maynard looked out of the front window in silence for a moment, then suddenly he turned and faced the children.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said; "do any of you know the story of Mahomet and the mountain?"
"No, sir," was the answer of every one, and Marjorie's spirits sank. She liked to hear her father tell stories sometimes, but it was a tame entertainment to take the place of a picnic, and Mahomet didn't sound like an interesting subject, anyway.
Mr. Maynard's eyes twinkled.
"This is the story," he began; "sit down while I tell it to you."
With a little sigh Marjorie sat down on the sofa, and the others followed her example. Rosy Posy, hugging Boffin, scrambled up into a big armchair, and settled herself to listen.
"It is an old story," went on Mr. Maynard, "and the point of it is that if the mountain wouldn't come to Mahomet, Mahomet must needs go to the mountain. But today I propose to reverse the story, and since you four sad, forlorn-looking Mahomets can't go to the picnic, why then, the picnic must come to you. And here it is!"
As Mr. Maynard spoke—indeed he timed his words purposely—their own carriage drove up to the front door, and, flying to the window, Marjorie saw some children getting out of it. Though bundled up in raincoats and caps, she soon recognized Gladys and Dick Fulton and Dorothy Adams.
In a moment they all met in the hall, and the laughter and shouting effectually banished the last trace of disappointment from the young Maynards' faces.
"Did you come for the picnic?" said Marjorie to Gladys, in amazement.
"Yes; your father telephoned early this morning,—before breakfast,—and he said the picnic would be in the house instead of in the woods. And he sent the carriage for us all."
"Great! Isn't it?" said Dick Fulton, as he helped his sister off with her mackintosh. "I thought there'd be no picnic, but here we are."
"Here we are, indeed!" said Mr. Maynard, who was helping Dorothy Adams unwind an entangling veil, "and everybody as dry as a bone."
"Yes," said Dorothy, "the storm is awful, but in your close carriage, and with all these wraps, I couldn't get wet."
"Oh, isn't it fun!" cried Kitty, as she threw her arms around her dear friend, Dorothy. "Are you to stay all day?"
"Yes, until six o'clock. Mr. Maynard says picnics always last until sundown."
Back they all trooped to the big living-room, which presented a cheerful aspect indeed. The rainy morning being chilly, an open fire in the ample fireplace threw out a cheerful blaze and warmth. Mrs. Maynard's pleasant face smiled brightly, as she welcomed each little guest, and afterward she excused herself, saying she had some household matters to attend to and that Mr. Maynard would take charge of the "picnic."
"First of all," said the host, as the children turned expectant faces toward him, "nobody is to say, 'What a pity it rained!' or anything like that. Indeed, you are not to look out at the storm at all, unless you say, 'How fortunate we are under cover!' or words to that effect."
"All right, sir," said Dick Fulton, "I agree. And I think a picnic in the house will be loads of fun."
"That's the way to talk," said Mr. Maynard, "and now the picnic will begin. The first part of it will be a nutting-party."
"Oho!" laughed Marjorie. "A nutting-party in the house is 'most too much! I don't see any trees;" and she looked around in mock dismay.
"Do you usually pick the nuts off of trees?" asked her father, quizzically. "You know you don't! You gather them after they have fallen. Now nuts have fallen all over this house, in every room, and all you have to do is to gather them. Each may have a basket, and see who can find the most. Scamper, now!"
While Mr. Maynard was talking, Sarah, the waitress, had come in, bringing seven pretty baskets of fancy wicker-ware. One was given to each child, and off they ran in quest of nuts.
"Every room, Father?" called back Marjorie, over her shoulder.
"Every room," he replied, "except the kitchen. You must not go out there to bother cook. She has all she can attend to."
This sounded pleasant, so Marjorie went on, only pausing for one more question.
"What kind of nuts, Father?"
"Gather any kind you see, my child. There was such a strong wind last night, I daresay it blew down all sorts."
And truly that seemed to be the case. Shrieks of surprise and delight from the whole seven announced the discoveries they made.
They found peanuts, English walnuts, pecan nuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, hickory nuts, black walnuts, and some of which they didn't know the names.
The nuts were hidden in all sorts of places. Stuffed down in the cushions of chairs and sofas, on mantels and brackets, under rugs and footstools, on window sills, on the floor, on the chandeliers, they seemed to be everywhere. All over the house the children scampered, filling their baskets as they went.
Sometimes two would make a dash for the same nut, and two bumped heads would ensue, but this was looked upon as part of the fun.
The older children gathered their nuts from the highest places, leaving the low places for the little ones to look into.
Rosy Posy found most of those on the floor, behind the lace curtains or portières, as she toddled about with her basket on one arm and Boffin in the other.
At last the whole house had been pretty thoroughly ransacked, and the nutting-party returned in triumph with loaded baskets.
"Did you look under the sofa pillows on the couch in this room?" said Mr. Maynard, gravely, and seven pairs of legs scampered for the couch.
Under its pillows they found three big cocoanuts, and Mr. Maynard declared that completed the hunt.
Meantime, the big, round table in the middle of the room had been cleared of its books and papers, and the children were directed to empty their baskets of nuts on the table, taking care that none should roll off the edge. The seven basketsful were tumbled out, and a goodly heap they made.
Then the seven sat round the table, and to each one was given a tiny pair of candy tongs, such as comes with the confectioner's boxes.
"This is a new game," explained Mr. Maynard, "and it's called Jacknuts. It is played just the same as Jackstraws. Each, in turn, must take nuts from the heap with the tongs. If you jar or jostle another nut than the one you're taking away, it is then the next player's turn."
Of course they all knew how to play Jackstraws, so they understood at once, but this was much more fun.
"The first ones are so easy, let's give Rosy Posy the first chance," said Dick Fulton, and Mr. Maynard, with a nod of approval at the boy, agreed to this plan. So Rosy Posy, her fat little hand grasping the tiny tongs, succeeded in getting nearly a dozen nuts into her basket.
As Dorothy Adams was not quite as old as Kitty, she took her turn next, and then all followed in accordance with their ages.
It was a fascinating game. Some of the little hazelnuts or the slender peanuts were easy to nip with the tongs, but the big English walnuts, or queer-shaped Madeira nuts were very difficult. Great delicacy of touch was necessary, and the children found the new game enthralling.
After her first turn Rosy Posy ran away from the game, and Mr. Maynard took her place.
"Oho, Father," laughed Kitty, "I thought you'd get them all, but you're no more successful at it than we are."
"No," said Mr. Maynard, looking with chagrin at his small heap of nuts, "my fingers are too old and stiff, I think."
"So are mine," said Marjorie, laughing.
"You're too fat, Dumpling," said her father. "Kitty's slim little claws seem to do the best work."
"I think it's a steady hand that counts," said Dick; "watch me now!"
With great care, and very slowly, he picked off several nuts that were daintily balanced on the other nuts, but at last he joggled one, and it was King's turn.
"I believe in going fast," said King, and like a whirlwind he picked off four nuts, one after the other. But his last one sent several others flying, and so left an easy chance for Gladys, who came next.
"There's a prize for this game," announced Mr. Maynard, after the table was entirely cleared, and the nuts were again all in the seven baskets. "In fact there's a prize apiece, all round. And the prizes are nuts, of course. You may each have one."
"One nut!" cried Marjorie. "What a little prize!"
"Not so very little," said her father, smiling.
Then Sarah appeared with a plate of doughnuts, and everybody gladly took a prize. A glass of milk went with each of these particular “nuts”, and then the children clamored to play the game all over again.
"No, indeed!" said Mr. Maynard. "You can play that any day in the year, but just now we're having a picnic, and the picnic must proceed with its programme."
"All right!" cried Marjorie. "What comes next?"
"Crackers," said her father. "Bring them in, please, Sarah."
"Crackers!" exclaimed King. "I don't want any after that big doughnut."
"You must take one, though," said his father, "it's part of the programme."
Then Sarah came, and brought a big tray on which were three nutcrackers, some nutpicks, and several bowls and plates.
"Take a cracker, King," said Mr. Maynard, and the boy promptly took the biggest nutcracker, ready to do the hardest work.
The girls took nutpicks and bowls, and Mr. Maynard and Dick Fulton took the other two nutcrackers, and then work began in earnest. But the work was really play, and they all enjoyed cracking and picking out the nuts, though what they were doing it for nobody knew. But with so many at it, it was soon over, and the result was several bowls full of kernels. The shells were thrown into the fire, and Mr. Maynard directed that the seven empty baskets be set aside till later.
"We haven't cracked the cocoanuts yet," said Dick. "They're too big for these nutcrackers."
"So they are," said Mr. Maynard. "Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll take them to the dining-room and continue our nut game out there."
So each carried a bowl of nuts, or a cocoanut, and all went to the dining-room.
There the extension-table was spread out full length, and contained a lot of things. On big sheets of white paper were piles of sifted sugar. Large empty bowls there were, and big spoons, and plates and dishes filled with figs and dates, and oranges and all sorts of goodies.
"What's it all for?" said Marjorie. "It's too early for lunch, and too late for breakfast."
"It's the rest of the nut game," said Mr. Maynard. "I am Professor Nuttall, or Know-it-all; and I'm going to teach you children what I hope will be a valuable accomplishment. Do any of you like candy?"
Replies of "We do," and "Yes, sir," came so emphatically that Mr. Maynard seemed satisfied with the answers.
"Well, then, we'll make some candy that shall be just the best ever! How's that?"
"Fine!" "Glorious!" "Goody, goody!" "Great!" "Oh, Father!" and "Ah!" came loudly from six young throats, and Mrs. Maynard and Rosy Posy came to join the game.
Sarah came, too, bringing white aprons for everybody, boys and all, and then Nurse Nannie appeared, and marched them off, two by two, to wash their hands for the candy-making process.