Under The Lilacs

Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 14 - Somebody Gets Lost


Putting all care behind them, the young folks ran down the hill, with a very lively dog gambolling beside them, and took a delightfully tantalizing survey of the external charms of the big tent. But people were beginning to go in, and it was impossible to delay when they came round to the entrance.

Ben felt that now "his foot was on his native heath," and the superb air of indifference with which he threw down his dollar at the ticket-office, carelessly swept up the change, and strolled into the tent with his hands in his pockets, was so impressive that even big Sam repressed his excitement and meekly followed their leader, as he led them from cage to cage, doing the honors as if he owned the whole concern. Bab held tight to the flap of his jacket, staring about her with round eyes, and listening with little gasps of astonishment or delight to the roaring of lions, the snarling of tigers, the chatter of the monkeys, the groaning of camels, and the music of the very brass band shut up in a red bin.

Five elephants were tossing their hay about in the middle of the menagerie, and Billy's legs shook under him as he looked up at the big beasts whose long noses and small, sagacious eyes filled him with awe. Sam was so tickled by the droll monkeys that the others left him before the cage and went on to see the zebra, "striped just like Ma's muslin gown," Bab declared. But the next minute she forgot all about him in her raptures over the ponies and their tiny colts; especially one mite of a thing who lay asleep on the hay, such a miniature copy of its little mouse-colored mamma that one could hardly believe it was alive.

"Oh, Ben, I must feel of it! - the cunning baby horse!" and down went Bab inside the rope to pat and admire the pretty creature, while its mother smelt suspiciously at the brown hat, and baby lazily opened one eye to see what was going on.

"Come out of that, it isn't allowed" commanded Ben, longing to do the same thing, but mindful of the proprieties and his own dignity.

Bab reluctantly tore herself away to find consolation in watching the young lions, who looked so like big puppies, and the tigers washing their faces just as puss did.

"If I stroked 'em, wouldn't they purr?" she asked, bent on enjoying herself, while Ben held her skirts lest she should try the experiment.

"You'd better not go to patting them, or you'll get your hands clawed up. Tigers do purr like fun when they are happy, but these fellers never are, and you'll only see 'em spit and snarl," said Ben, leading the way to the humpy carrels, who were peacefully chewing their cud and longing for the desert, with a dreamy, far-away look in their mournful eyes.

Here, leaning on the rope, and scientifically biting a straw while he talked, Ben played showman to his heart's content till the neigh of a horse from the circus tent beyond reminded him of the joys to come.

"We'd better hurry along and get good seats before folks begin to crowd. I want to sit near the curtain and see if any of Smitthers's lot are 'round."

"I ain't going way off there; you can't see half so well, and that big drum makes such a noise you can't hear yourself think," said Sam, who had rejoined them.

So they settled in good places where they could see and hear all that went on in the ring and still catch glimpses of white horses, bright colors, and the glitter of helmets beyond the dingy red curtains. Ben treated Bab to peanuts and pop-corn like an indulgent parent, and she murmured protestations of undying gratitude with her mouth full, as she sat blissfully between him and the congenial Billy.

Sancho, meantime, had been much excited by the familiar sights and sounds, and now was greatly exercised in his doggish mind at the unusual proceeding of his master; for he was sure that they ought to be within there, putting on their costumes, ready to take their turn. He looked anxiously at Ben, sniffed disdainfully at the strap as if to remind him that a scarlet ribbon ought to take its place, and poked peanut shells about with his paw as if searching for the letters with which to spell his famous name.

"I know, old boy, I know; but it can't be done. We've quit the busin'ess and must just look on. No larks for us this time, Sanch, so keep quiet and behave,' whispered Ben, tucking the dog away under the seat with a sympathetic cuddle of the curly head that peeped out from between his feet.

"He wants to go and cut up, don't he?" said Billy, "and so do you, I guess. Wish you were going to. Wouldn't it be fun to see Ben showing off in there?"

"I'd be afraid to have him go up on a pile of elephants and jump through hoops like these folks," answered Bab, poring over her pictured play-bill with unabated relish.

"Done it a hundred times, and I'd just like to show you what I can do. They don't seem to have any boys in this lot; shouldn't wonder if they'd take me if I asked 'em," said Ben, moving uneasily on his seat and casting wistful glances toward the inner tent where he knew he would feel more at home than in his present place.

"I heard some men say that it's against the law to have small boys now; it's so dangerous and not good for them, this kind of thing. If that's so, you're done for, Ben," observed Sam, with his most grown-up air, remembering Ben's remarks on "fat boys."

"Don't believe a word of it, and Sanch and I could go this minute and get taken on, I'll bet. We are a valuable couple, and I could prove it if I chose to," began Ben, getting excited and boastful.

"Oh, see, they're coming! - gold carriages and lovely horses, and flags and elephants, and every thing," cried Bab, giving a clutch at Ben's arm as the opening procession appeared headed by the band, tooting and banging till their faces were as red as their uniforms.

Round and round they went till every one had seen their fill, then the riders alone were left caracoling about the ring with feathers flying, horses prancing, and performers looking as tired and indifferent as if they would all like to go to sleep then and there.

"How splendid!" sighed Bab, as they went dashing out, to tumble off almost before the horses stopped.

"That's nothing! You wait till you see the bareback riding and the 'acrobatic exercises,'" said Ben, quoting from the play-bill, with the air of one who knew all about the feats to come, and could never be surprised any more.

"What are 'crowbackic exercises'?" asked Billy, thirsting for information.

"Leaping and climbing and tumbling; you'll see George! what a stunning horse!" and Ben forgot every thing else to feast his eyes on the handsome creature who now came pacing in to dance, upset and replace chairs, kneel, bow, and perform many wonderful or graceful feats, ending with a swift gallop while the rider sat in a chair on its back fanning himself, with his legs crossed, as comfortably as you please.

"That, now, is something like," and Ben's eyes shone with admiration and envy as the pair vanished, and the pink and silver acrobats came leaping into the ring.

The boys were especially interested in this part, and well they might be; for strength and agility are manly attributes which lads appreciate, and these lively fellows flew about like India-rubber balls, each trying to outdo the other, till the leader of the acrobats capped the climax by turning a double somersault over five elephants standing side by side.

"There, Sir, how's that for a jump?" asked Ben, rubbing his hands with satisfaction as his friends clapped till their palms tingled.

"We'll rig up a spring-board and try it," said Billy, fired with emulation.

"Where'll you get your elephants?" asked Sam, scornfully. for gymnastics were not in his line.

"You'll do for one," retorted Ben, and Billy and Bab joined in his laugh so heartily that a rough-looking, man who sat behind them, hearing all they said, pronounced them a "jolly set," and kept his eye on Sancho, who now showed signs of insubordination.

"Hullo, that wasn't on the bill!" cried Ben, as a parti-colored clown came in, followed by half a dozen dogs.

"I'm so glad; now Sancho will like it. There's a poodle that might be his ownty donty brother - the one with the blue ribbon," said Bab. beaming with delight as the dogs took their seats in the chairs arranged for them.

Sancho did like it only too well, for be scrambled out from under the seat in a great hurry to go and greet his friends; and, being sharply checked, sat up and begged so piteously that Ben found it very hard to refuse and order him down. He subsided for a moment, but when the black spaniel, who acted the canine clown, did something funny and was applauded, Sancho made a dart as if bent on leaping into the ring to outdo his rival, and Ben was forced to box his ears and put his feet on the poor beast, fearing he would be ordered out if he made any disturbance.

Too well trained to rebel again, Sancho lay meditating on his wrongs till the dog act was over, carefully abstaining from any further sign of interest in their tricks, and only giving a sidelong glance at the two little poodles who came out of a basket to run up and down stairs on their fore-paws, dance jigs on their hind-legs, and play various pretty pranks to the great delight of all the children in the audience. If ever a dog expressed by look and attitude, "Pooh! I could do much better than that, and astonish you all, if I were only allowed to," that dog was Sancho, as he curled himself up and affected to turn his back on an unappreciative world.

"It's too bad, when he knows motr than all those chaps put together. I'd give any thing if I could show him off as I used to. Folks always like it, and I was ever so proud of him. He's mad now because I had to cuff him, and won't take any notice of me till I make up," said Ben, regretfully eying his offended friend, but not daring to beg pardon yet.

More riding followed, and Bab was kept in a breathless state by the marvellous agility and skill of the gauzy lady who drove four horses at once, leaped through hoops, over banners and bars, sprang off and on at full speed, and seemed to enjoy it all so much it was impossible to believe that there could be any danger or exertion in it. Then two girls flew about on the trapeze, and walked on a tight rope, causing Bab to feel that she had at last found her sphere; for, young as she was, her mother often said,

"I really don't know what this child is fit for, except mischief, like a monkey."

"I'll fix the clothes-line when I get home, and show Ma how nice it is. Then, may be, she'd let me wear red and gold trousers, and climb round like these girls," thought the busy little brain, much excited by all it saw on that memorable day.

Nothing short of a pyramid of elephants with a glittering gentleman in a turban and top boots on the summit would have made her forget this new and charming plan. But that astonishing spectacle, and the prospect of a cage of Bengal tigers with a man among them, in imminent danger of being eaten before her eyes, entirely absorbed her thoughts till, just as the big animals went lumbering out, a peal of thunder caused considerable commotion in the audience. Men on the highest seats popped their heads through the openings in the tent-cover and reported that a heavy shower was coming up. Anxious mothers began to collect their flocks of children as hens do their chickens at sunset; timid people told cheerful stories of tents blown over in gales, cages upset and wild beasts let loose. Many left in haste, and the performers hurried to finish as soon as possible.

"I'm going now before the crowd comes, so I can get a lift home. I see two or three folks I know, so I'm off;" and, climbing hastily down, Sam vanished without further ceremony.

"Better wait till the shower is over. We can go and see the animals again, and get home all dry, just as well as not," observed Ben, encouragingly, as Billy looked anxiously at the billowing canvas over his head, the swaying posts before him, and heard the quick patter of drops outside, not to mention the melancholy roar of the lion which sounded rather awful through the sudden gloom which filled the strange place.

"I wouldn't miss the tigers for any thing. See, they are pulling in the cart now, and the shiny man is all ready with his gun. Will he shoot any of them, apprehension, for the sharp crack of a rifle startled her more than the loudest thunder-clap she ever heard.

"Bless you, no, child; it 's only powder to make a noise and scare 'em. I wouldn't like to be in his place, though; father says you can never trust tigers as you can lions, no matter how tame they are. Sly fellers, like cats, and when they scratch it's no joke, I tell you," answered Ben, with a knowing wag of the head, as the sides of the cage rattled down, and the poor, fierce creatures were seen leaping and snarling as if they resented this display of their captivity.

Bab curled up her feet and winked fast with excitement as she watched the "shiny man" fondle the great cats, lie down among them, pull open their red mouths, and make them leap over him or crouch at his feet as be snapped the long whip. When he fired the gun and they all fell as if dead, she with difficulty suppressed a small scream and clapped her hands over her ears; but poor Billy never minded it a bit, for he was pale and quaking with the fear of "heaven's artillery" thundering overhead, and as a bright flash of lightning seemed to run down the tall tent-poles he hid his eyes and wished with all his heart that he was safe with mother.

"Afraid of thunder, Bill?" asked Ben, trying to speak stoutly, while a sense of his own responsibilities began to worry him, for how was Bab to be got home in such a pouring rain?

"It makes me sick; always did. Wish I hadn't come," sighed Billy, feeling, all too late, that lemonade and "lozengers" were not the fittest food for man, or a stifling tent the best place to be in on a hot July day, especially in a thunder-storm.

"I didn't ask you to come; you asked me; so it isn't my fault," said Ben, rather gruffly, as people crowded by without pausing to hear the comic song the clown was singing in spite of the confusion.

"Oh, I'm so tired," groaned Bab, getting up with a long stretch of arms and legs.

"You'll be tireder before you get home, I guess. Nobody asked you to Come, any way;" and Ben gazed dolefully round him, wishing he could see a familiar face or find a wiser head than his own to help him out of the scrape he was in.

"I said I wouldn't be a bother, and I won't. I'll walk right home this minute. I ain't afraid of thunder, and the rain won't hurt these old clothes. Come along," cried Bab, bravely, bent on keeping her word, though it looked much harder after the fun was all over than before.

"My head aches like fury. Don't I wish old Jack was here to take me back," said Billy, following his companions in misfortune with sudden energy, as a louder peal than before rolled overhead.

"You might as well wish for Lita and the covered wagon while you are about it, then we could all ride," answered Ben, leading the way to the outer tent, where many people were lingering in hopes of fair weather.

"Why, Billy Barton, how in the world did you get here?" cried a surprised voice as the crook of a cane caught the boy by the collar and jerked him face to face with a young farmer, who was pushing along, followed by his, wife and two or three children.

"Oh, Uncle Eben, I'm so glad you found Me! I walked over, and it's raining, and I don't feel well. Let me go with you, can't I?" asked Billy, casting himself and all his woes upon the strong arm that had laid hold of him.

"Don't see what your mother was about to let you come so far alone, and you just over scarlet fever. We are as full as ever we can be, but we'll tuck you in somehow," said the pleasant-faced woman, bundling up her baby, and bidding the two little lads "keep close to father."

"I didn't come alone. Sam got a ride, and can't you tuck Ben and Bab in too? They ain't very big, either of them," whispered Billy, anxious to serve his friends now that he was provided for himself.

"Can't do it, any way. Got to pick up mother at the corner, and that will be all I can carry. It's lifting a little; hurry along, Lizzie, and let us get out of this as quick is possible," said Uncle Eben, impatiently; for going to a circus with a young family is not an easy task, as every one knows who has ever tried it.

"Ben, I'm real sorry there isn't room for you. I'll tell Bab's mother where she is, and may be some one will come for you," said Billy, hurriedly, as he tore himself away, feeling rather mean to desert the others, though he could be of no use.

"Cut away, and don't mind us. I'm all right, and Bab must do the best she can," was all Ben had time to answer before his comrade was hustled away by the crowd pressing round the entrance with much clashing of umbrellas and scrambling of boys and men, who rather enjoyed the flurry.

"No use for us to get knocked about in that scrimmage. We'll wait a minute and then go out easy. It's a regular rouser, and you'll be as wet as a sop before we get home. Hope you'll like that?" added Ben, looking out at the heavy rain poring down as if it never meant to stop.

"Don't care a bit," said Bab, swinging on one of the ropes with a happy-go-lucky air, for her spirits were not extinguished yet, and she was bound to enjoy this exciting holiday to the very end. "I like circuses so much! I wish I lived here all the time, and slept in a wagon, as you did, and had these dear little colties to play with."

"It wouldn't be fun if you didn't have any folks to take care of you," began Ben, thoughtfully looking about the familiar place where the men were now feeding the animals, setting their refreshment tables, or lounging on the hay to get such rest as they could before the evening entertainment. Suddenly he started, gave a long look, then turned to Bab, and thrusting Sancho's strap into her hand, said, hastily:

"I see a fellow I used to know. May be he can tell me something about father. Don't you stir till I come back."

Then he was off like a shot, and Bab saw him run after a man with a bucket who bad been watering the zebra. Sancho tried to follow, but was checked with an impatient, -

"No, you can't go! What a plague you are, tagging around when people don't want you."

Sancho might have answered, "So are you," but, being a gentlemanly dog, he sat down with a resigned expression to watch the little colts, who were now awake and seemed ready for a game of bo-peep behind their mammas. Bab enjoyed their funny little frisks so much that she tied the wearisome strap to a post, and crept under the rope to pet the tiny mouse-colored one who came and talked to her with baby whinnies and confiding glances of its soft, dark eyes.

"Oh, luckless Bab! why did you turn your back? Oh, too accomplished Sancho! why did you neatly untie that knot and trot away to confer with the disreputable bull-dog who stood in the entrance beckoning with friendly wavings of an abbreviated tail? Oh, much afflicted Ben! why did you delay till it was too late to save your pet from the rough man who set his foot upon the trailing strap, and led poor Sanch quickly out of sight among the crowd?

"It was Bascum, but he didn't know any thing. Why, where's Sanch?" said Ben, returning. A breathless voice made Bab turn to see Ben looking about him with as much alarm in his hot face as if the dog had been a two years' child.

"I tied him - he's here somewhere - with the ponies," stammered Bab, in sudden dismay, for no sign of a dog appeared as her eyes roved wildly to and fro.

Ben whistled, called and searched in vain, till one of the lounging men said, lazily,

"If you are looking after the big poodle you'd better go outside; I saw him trotting off with another dog."

Away rushed Ben, with Bab following, regardless of the rain, for both felt that a great misfortune had befallen them. But, long before this, Sancho had vanished, and no one minded his indignant howls as he was driven off in a covered cart.

"If he is lost I'll never forgive you; never, never, never!" and Ben found it impossible to resist giving Bab several hard shakes, which made her yellow braids fly up and down like pump handles.

"I'm dreadful sorry. He'll come back - you said he always did," pleaded Bab, quite crushed by her own afflictions, and rather scared to see Ben look so fierce, for he seldom lost his temper or was rough with the little girls.

"If he doesn't come back, don't you speak to me for a year. Now, I'm going home." And, feeling that words were powerless to express his emotions, Ben walked away, looking as grim as a small boy could.

A more unhappy little lass is seldom to be found than Bab was, as she pattered after him, splashing recklessly through the puddles, and getting as wet and muddy as possible, as a sort of penance for her sins. For a mile or two she trudged stoutly along, while Ben marched before in solemn silence, which soon became both impressive and oppressive because so unnsual, and such a proof of his deep displeasure. Penitent Bab longed for just one word, one sign of relenting; and when none came, she began to wonder how she could possibly bear it if he kept his dreadful threat and did not speak to her for a whole year.

But presently her own discomfort absorbed her, for her feet were wet and cold as well as very tired; pop-corn and peanuts were not particularly nourishing food; and hunger made her feel faint; excitement was a new thing, and now that it was over she longed to lie down and go to sleep; then the long walk with a circus at the end seemed a very different affair from the homeward trip with a distracted mother awaiting her. The shower had subsided into a dreary drizzle, a chilly east wind blew up, the hilly road seemed to lengthen before the weary feet, and the mute, blue flannel figure going on so fast with never a look or sound, added the last touch to Bab's remorseful anguish.

Wagons passed, but all were full, and no one offered a ride. Men and boys went by with rough jokes on the forlorn pair, for rain soon made them look like young tramps. But there was no brave Sancho to resent the impertinence, and this fact was sadly brought to both their minds by the appearance of a great Newfoundland dog who came trotting after a carriage. The good creature stopped to say a friendly word in his dumb fashion, looking up at Bab with benevolent eyes, and poking his nose into Ben's hand before he bounded away with his plumy tail curled over his back.

Ben started as the cold nose touched his fingers, gave the soft head a lingering pat, and watched the dog out of sight through a thicker mist than any the rain made. But Bab broke down; for the wistful look of the creature's eyes reminded her of lost Sancho, and she sobbed quietly as she glanced back longing to see the dear old fellow jogging along in the rear.

Ben heard the piteous sound and took a sly peep over his shoulder, seeing such a mournful spectacle that he felt appeased, saying to himself as if to excuse his late sternness, -

"She is a naughty girl, but I guess she is about sorry enough now. When we get to that sign-post I'll speak to her, only I won't forgive her till Sanch comes back."

But he was better than his word; for, just before the post was reached, Bab, blinded by tears, tripped over the root of a tree, and, rolling down the bank, landed in a bed of wet nettles. Ben had her out in a jiffy, and vainly tried to comfort her; but she was past any consolation he could offer, and roared dismally as she wrung her tingling hands, with great drops running over her cheeks almost as fast as the muddy little rills ran down the road.

"Oh dear, oh dear! I'm all stinged up, and I want my supper; and my feet ache, and I'm cold, and every thing is so horrid!" wailed the poor child lying on the grass, such a miserable little wet bunch that the sternest parent would have melted at the sight.

"Don't cry so, Babby; I was real cross, and I'm sorry. I'll forgive you right away now, and never shake you any more," cried Ben, so full of pity for her tribulations that he forgot his own, like a generous little man.

"Shake me again, if you want to; I know I was very bad to tag and lose Sanch. I never will any more, and I'm so sorry, I don't know what to do," answered Bab, completely bowed down by this magnanimity.

"Never mind; you just wipe up your face and come along, and we'll tell Ma all about it, and she'll fix us as nice as can be. I shouldn't wonder if Sanch got home now before we did," said Ben, cheering himself as well as her by the fond hope.

"I don't believe I ever shall. I'm so tired my legs won't go, and the water in my boots makes them feel dreadfully. I wish that boy would wheel me a piece. Don't you s'pose he would? asked Bab, wearily picking herself up as a tall lad trundling a barrow came out of a yard near by.

"Hullo, Joslyn!" said Ben, recognizing the boy as one of the "hill fellows" who came to town Saturday nights for play or business.

"Hullo, Brown!" responded the other, arresting his squeaking progress with signs of surprise at the moist tableau before him.

"Where goin'?" asked Ben with masculine brevity.

"Got to carry this home, hang the old thing."

"Where to?"

"Batchelor's, down yonder," and the boy pointed to a farm-house at the foot of the next hill.

"Goin' that way, take it right along."

"What for?" questioned the prudent youth, distrusting such unusual neighborliness.

"She's tired, wants a ride; I'll leave it all right, true as I live and breathe," explained Ben, half ashamed yet anxious to get his little responsibility home as soon as possible, for mishaps seemed to thicken.

"Ho, you couldn't cart her all that way! she's most as heavy as a bag of meal," jeered the taller lad, amused at the proposition.

"I'm stronger than most fellers of my size. Try, if I ain't," and Ben squared off in such scientific style that Joslyn responded with sudden amiability, -

"All right, let's see you do it."

Bab huddled into her new equipage without the least fear, and Ben trundled her off at a good pace, while the boy retired to the shelter of a barn to watch their progress, glad to be rid of an irksome errand.

At first, all went well, for the way was down hill, and the wheel squeaked briskly round and round; Bab smiled gratefully upon her bearer, and Ben "went in on his muscle with a will," as he expressed it. But presently the road grew sandy, began to ascend, and the load seemed to grow heavier with every step.

"I'll get out now. It's real nice, but I guess I am too heavy," said Bab, as the face before her got redder and redder, and the breath began to come in puffs.

"Sit still. He said I couldn't. I'm not going to give in with him looking on," panted Ben, and he pushed gallantly up the rise, over the grassy lawn to the side gate of the Batchelors' door-yard, with his head down, teeth set, and every muscle of his slender body braced to the task.

"Did ever ye see the like of that now? Ah, ha!

"The streets were so wide, and the lanes were so narry,
He brought his wife home on a little wheelbarry,"

sung a voice with an accent which made Ben drop his load and push back his hat, to see Pat's red head looking over the fence.

To have his enemy behold him then and there was the last bitter drop in poor Ben's cup of humiliation. A shrill approving whistle from the hill was some comfort, however, and gave him spirit to help Bab out with composure, though his hands were blistered and he had hardly breath enough to issue the Command, -

"Go along home, and don't mind him."

"Nice childer, ye are, runnin' off this way, settin' the women distracted, and me wastin' me time comin' after ye when I'd be milkin' airly so I'd get a bit of pleasure the day," grumbled Pat, coming up to untie the Duke, whose Roman nose Ben had already recognized, as well as the roomy chaise standing before the door.

"Did Billy tell you about us?" asked Bab, gladly following toward this welcome refuge.

"Faith he did, and the Squire sent me to fetch ye home quiet and aisy. When ye found me, I'd jist stopped here to borry a light for me pipe. Up wid ye, b'y, and not be wastin' me time stramashin' after a spalpeen that I'd like to lay me whip over," said Pat, gruffly, as Ben came along, having left the barrow in the shed.

"Don't you wish you could? You needn't wait for me; I'll come when I'm ready," answered Ben dodging round the chaise, bound not to mind Pat, if he spent the night by the road-side in consequence.

"Bedad, and I won't then. It's lively ye are; but four legs is better than two, as ye'll find this night, me young man."

With that he whipped up and was off before Bab could say a word to persuade Ben to humble himself for the sake of a ride. She lamented and Pat chuckled, both forgetting what an agile monkey the boy was, and as neither looked back, they were unaware Master Ben was hanging on behind among the straps and springs, making derisive grimaces at his unconscious foe through the little glass in the leathern back.

At the lodge gate Ben jumped down to run before with whoops of naughty satisfaction, which brought the anxious waiters to the door in a flock; so Pat could only shake his fist at the exulting little rascal as he drove away, leaving the wanderers to be welcomed as warmly as if they were a pair of model children.

Mrs. Moss had not been very much troubled after all; for Cy had told her that Bab went after Ben, and Billy had lately reported her safe arrival among them, so, mother-like, she fed, dried, and warmed the runaways, before she scolded them.

Even then, the lecture was a mild one, for when they tried to tell the adventures which to them seemed so exciting, not to say tragical, the effect astonished them immensely, as their audience went into gales of laughter, especially at the wheelbarrow episode, which Pat insisted on telling, with grateful minuteness, to Ben's confusion. Thorny shouted, and even tender-hearted Betty forgot her tears over the lost dog to join in the familiar melody when Bab mimicked Pat's quotation from Mother Goose.

"We must not laugh any more, or these naughty children will think they have done something very clever in running away," said Miss Celia, when the fun subsided, adding, soberly, "I am displeased, but I will say nothing, for I think Ben is already punished enough."

"Guess I am," muttered Ben, with a choke in his voice as he glanced toward the empty mat where a dear curly bunch used to be with a bright eye twinkling out of the middle of it.