"Little girls can't carry war messages," Winifred rejoined confidently. "You are just like Gilbert, always wishing you could do something for Lafayette. I don't see why. I would rather help Washington."
"It's because Lafayette came 'way from France," Ruth replied, "and, anyway, I am going to Barren Hill. Mother says that I may go next month."
"I have thought of something!" Winifred announced. "To-morrow you and I will drive out a little way with your aunt. With Fluff, I mean; and Hero may go too. I will harness Fluff into the cart, and we will be all ready to start at the same time they do."
Ruth agreed that this would be a fine plan, and both the girls were sure that Aunt Deborah would be pleased that they wished to go a part of the way with her. They decided to take "Josephine" and "Cecilia," as well as Hero, with them.
"It will make up to them for not taking part in the play," said Winifred. So much had happened during the past week that Ruth had entirely forgotten the unfinished chair for Cecilia, but now she spoke of it to Winifred.
"I will help you finish it. But let's take our dolls and work into the garden; it is too warm to stay in the house," she said, and in a short time the two little girls had brought Cecilia and Josephine, as well as their sewing bags, to the shade of the wide-spreading maple tree that grew in the further corner of the Pernell's' garden. Ruth's father had built a low seat around this tree, and it was a favorite play-house for the two little friends. Hero followed them, and stretched himself out at their feet, quite sure that they were both happier because of his presence.
For a little while the girls worked steadily, covering with chintz the cardboard pieces that would form the chair.
"I'll put it together," said Winifred, and with skillful fingers she fastened the seat, back and arms; and with a triumphant "There!" set it down beside Ruth, who looked at it admiringly, and lost no time in establishing Cecilia in her new possession.
"Wouldn't it be fine if we could make a sofa, and a table and a little bed for each of our dolls?" suggested Ruth.
"We can," declared Winifred, "but I think it would be nicer to have the table and bed made of wood. Let's go in your shed and see if we can find some nice smooth pieces."
"And Father's tool box is in the shed," said Ruth, as they left their dolls in Hero's care and ran across the garden to the shed, whose open door faced the big maple.
The shed was nearly square. Beside the wide door there were two windows, both looking into the garden, and beneath these was Mr. Pernell's work-bench, and a box containing his treasured tools; and on a long shelf over the bench were carefully arranged strips and squares of polished wood. For in the days of peace Mr. Pernell had used his leisure hours in making frames for pictures, a work-box, desk or light-stand; and had collected this store of material from many sources. Ruth had often played about in the shed while her father was at work, but she had no idea of the value of his store of wood.
"Oh, Winifred! Look! This will make a fine table!" she said, standing on the work-bench and pulling down a strip of curly maple.
"And here are some dark shiny strips, just the thing for bed-posts!" said Winnie, drawing out a slender length of highly polished mahogany. In a few minutes the two girls had pulled down a number of strips of wood, had opened Mr. Pernell's tool-chest and taken out a number of planes, a small saw, gimlets and a hammer.
"But we haven't any patterns," said Winifred. "You know we had a pattern for the chair."
"We don't need any pattern for a table. It is just a top and four legs, one at each corner," declared Ruth. "We can begin on the table to-day; then we can look at sofas and beds and make patterns, if we need to."
"Here is something to measure with," said Winifred, holding up a foot-rule. "We can make anything! Oh, Ruth! Instead of making doll furniture let's make truly tables, I am sure some of those pieces are large enough."
"Winifred, you always think of just the right thing," Ruth responded admiringly. "Let's make a table for a present for Betty. She got all those nice things for us to dress up in, and we have never made her a present."
Winifred nodded approvingly. She was greatly pleased by Ruth's admiration, and she thought that Betty would be greatly surprised to discover that two girls so much younger than herself could really make a table.
"Ruth! Ruth!" called Aunt Deborah from the back porch. "Dinner is ready!"
So the two little girls were obliged to leave their pleasant plans, and, after promising to return early that afternoon, Winifred started for home while Ruth ran into the house.
"My chair is all finished for Cecilia," she announced as she took her seat at the dinner-table, "and Winifred and I are going to make a table for Betty."
Mrs. Pernell and Aunt Deborah both smiled their approval, thinking that the table for Betty, like Cecilia's chair, was to be made of pasteboard.
"Thee must bring thy doll to Barren Hill," said Aunt Deborah. "There are fine places to play in the big barn and in the pine woods, and thy doll will be company for thee."
"How soon may I visit Aunt Deborah, Mother?" Ruth asked eagerly. "May I not go with Farmer Withal next week?"
"I cannot spare you so soon, Ruthie dear," responded her mother, "and I will have to ask permission from the English General for you to leave the town. You see they fear even small Americans," she concluded laughingly. But before dinner was over it was decided that, if all went well, Ruth should go to Barren Hill about the first of May. That seemed a long time to Ruth; but she remembered that Betty's table was not even begun, and if she and Winifred did decide to make furniture for their dolls the three weeks that must pass before her visit to Barren Hill would perhaps be none too long a time.
Mrs. Pernell had just left the table when there was a rap at the door, and before any one could respond it opened, and there stood Winifred; her face was pale and she was evidently frightened.
"Oh, Mrs. Pernell! There are two English officers at our house. They have come to take Gilbert," she exclaimed, "and they want Ruth too."
"'Take Gilbert'!" echoed Mrs. Pernell. "What has he done? And what do they want of Ruth?"
"Oh! It's because of the play. Mother lost the programme we made for her. It blew away, and an English soldier found it; and they are going to take Ruth too," Winifred finished nearly in tears.
"I will go and speak with these officers," said Aunt Deborah calmly. "Thee need not be troubled, Winifred. Thee and Ruth had best come with me so they can see how dangerous an enemy they have to arrest," and Aunt Deborah smiled so reassuringly that Winifred took courage, and followed Aunt Deborah to the door. They were soon in the Merrill's' garden, just in time to meet two English soldiers with Gilbert between them coming down the steps.
Aunt Deborah went forward smilingly.
"Thee does not mean to take this lad from his home," she said, speaking to the elder of the two men. "He has done nothing worthy of thy notice, and his mother can ill spare him."
"That may be, madam. But we must obey orders. We have to take G. Merrill and R. Pernell to General Howe," the man answered civilly.
"Here is R. Pernell," said Aunt Deborah, her hand resting protestingly on Ruth's shoulder. "Surely thee does not mean to take this little girl?"
The soldiers seemed somewhat surprised at this, but repeated that they must obey orders. Gilbert did not seem at all afraid; he took Ruth by the hand, and told her that it was nothing to be alarmed about. Mrs. Merrill, Aunt Deborah, Ruth's mother and Winifred kept close to the "prisoners" as the little party made its way down the street toward the headquarters of the English General.
A LONG ROAD
"What is this?" called a pleasant voice, and the two soldiers halted instantly and saluted a young officer who blocked their way.
"If thee please, sir, there has been a mistake made," said Aunt Deborah, and proceeded to tell the story of the birthday entertainment that the children had given for Mrs. Merrill.
The young officer listened gravely.
"As you say, madam, they are but children; but such games find little favor among loyal English people," he responded.
"But thee must remember we are Americans," said Aunt Deborah fearlessly. The young officer turned and walked beside them. Now and then he smiled as if amused by his own thoughts, but he said nothing more until they reached the headquarters of the General.
"Wait here a moment," he said, and ran up the steps.
"I shall tell them that Ruth had nothing to do with it, and that I am the only one to blame," Gilbert said to Mrs. Pernell. "Of course they won't punish any one but me."
Before Mrs. Pernell could reply the young officer appeared at the door, and came slowly down the steps.
"Come with me, young sir," he said, resting his hand on Gilbert's shoulder. "You may take the little girls home, ladies," he added. "I am quite sure they will not prove a danger to England's cause."
"I will wait for my son," said Mrs. Merrill. "I do not suppose you mean to detain him long."
"I cannot say as to that, madam; but you are quite welcome to wait. If you will come in I will see that you find a comfortable chair," he replied courteously.
"I will wait here," said Mrs. Merrill.
"And we will wait also," declared Ruth's mother.
Ruth and Winifred clasped each other's hands as they watched Gilbert being led up the steps. They thought their mothers were very brave indeed to reply so calmly to an English officer.
Gilbert was absent not more than a half hour, but it seemed much longer to the anxious little group. He came down the steps alone, and when his mother slipped her hand under one arm while Winifred clasped his other hand he smiled and said: "Humph! All they did was laugh and tell me to choose a better plot for my next play. They are not soldiers at all. Why, they asked me if I would not like to take a part in one of Major Andre's plays."
"What did you say, Gilbert?" questioned Winifred.
"I said 'No.' And that's all I said. And I did not thank them for the offer; and then they laughed more than ever. I wish Washington would drive them out of Philadelphia," answered Gilbert, who was a trifle disappointed that the Englishmen had not taken his play more seriously. He would not have minded if he had been held as a prisoner for a few days; it would have made him feel that he had really done something to prove his loyalty to the American cause.
But Mrs. Merrill was very glad to have her tall son safely beside her, although she was inclined to agree with him that the gay young English officers took their duties too lightly. There had been balls at the City Tavern every week during the winter, and most of the officers seemed to forget that there were dangers in store for them from the American Army at Valley Forge.
Gilbert's adventure made Ruth and Winifred completely forget their plan to make a table as a present for Betty until late that afternoon; and then they decided not to begin it until after Aunt Deborah's departure the next day.
"Mother has a table shaped like a heart. We could mark a heart on that square piece of dark wood with chalk and then cut it out," suggested Winnie. "I am sure Betty would like that better than a plain square table."
"Of course she would," agreed Ruth. Neither of the little girls realized how hard an undertaking it would be to carve a heart-shaped table top from the square piece of mahogany.
Ruth was awake at an early hour the next morning. The April sun shone warmly in through her open window; the robins, who had built a nest in the hawthorn tree, sang jubilantly as if rejoicing that spring was really at hand, and Ruth could hear her mother and Aunt Deborah moving about in the lower rooms. It was just the day for a ride in the country.
Ruth was glad that Winifred had thought of so pleasant a plan as driving a part of the way with Aunt Deborah. Both the little girls had taken it for granted that their mothers would have no objection. Winifred was used to driving the pony, and had often taken Ruth with her, but they had never been farther than Fair Mount, a pleasant hill just outside the town on the Schuylkill River, or along the quiet streets of the town; but to-day Winifred had said that they would drive until Aunt Deborah should tell them to turn toward home.
Farmer Withal usually arrived in the city at an early hour, delivered his produce, then gave the big brown horse an hour or two rest, and was ready to start on his return journey directly after dinner.
Aunt Deborah did not keep him waiting, and was at the gate with Mrs. Pernell beside her when the round-faced smiling farmer in his long coat of heavy blue drilling and his wide-rimmed hat came driving up.
"Where can Ruth be?" her mother said anxiously, as the farmer lifted Aunt Deborah's trunk into the back of the wagon and stood waiting to help her mount to the high seat.
At that moment the pony carriage drew up behind the wagon with Winnie and Ruth smiling and waving their hands at Aunt Deborah.
"We are going a little way with you, Mistress Farleigh," called Winifred.
"May I go, Mother?" Ruth added.
Aunt Deborah was evidently greatly pleased that the little girls had wished to go a little way with her on her journey home, and Mrs. Pernell smiled and nodded her consent, thinking that Ruth would be safely back in an hour at the longest, and waving her good-byes as Farmer Withal climbed to his seat and the brown horse trotted off, closely followed by Fluff.
Down the street they went, turning now into the broader highway and at last reaching the river road that led straight to Mat son's Ford, beyond which the road led on to Valley Forge.
As they came in sight of the river the big horse stopped, and in a moment Fluff was beside the farmer's cart. Aunt Deborah smiled down at the little girls.
"'Tis best that thee turn toward home now. And I thank thee both for coming so far with me. 'Twill not be long now, Ruth, before I hope to see thee at Barren Hill. And thee, Winifred, will be welcome also whenever thou canst give me the pleasure of a visit."
Before Aunt Deborah had finished speaking Ruth was out of the pony carriage and standing on the step of Farmer Withe's cart holding up a package.
"Here is something I made for you, Aunt Deborah," she said. Aunt Deborah reached down and received the small carefully wrapped package.
"Thank thee, dear child," she said, and Ruth stood by the roadside and waved a good-bye as the brown horse trotted off at a more rapid pace than he had traveled through the town.
"I wish we could have gone farther," she said regretfully as she went back to her seat beside Winifred.
"Well, we can. We'll turn up that shady road and see where it goes," responded Winifred. "What did you give your aunt?"
"A needle-book. Mother helped me make it. It is of blue flannel, with embroidered edges, and shaped like a small book, with Aunt Deborah's initials on the cover," said Ruth. "Would it not be pleasant if you could visit Aunt Deborah when I do?"
Winifred feared that such a visit would not be possible. But the two little friends talked of many things as Fluff trotted along the narrow country road, hardly more than a lane, and sheltered by closely growing trees. Now and then the road came out into an open space, and there would be many violets growing close to the roadside. Then the girls sprang from the cart and gathered handfuls of the fragrant blossoms, while Fluff nibbled at the grass, or twisted his head to watch his young mistress. The wild honeysuckle was also in bloom along a sloping pasture, and Ruth was eager to gather it to take home to her mother. She climbed up the rough slope, followed by Winifred, and they soon had large bunches of the delicate blossoms. From the top of the little hill that they had climbed they could see the distant line of the blue river, and after roaming about for a time they decided it was time to return to Fluff and start for home. The pony whinnied a little impatiently and shook his head at them as they approached.
"He thinks we have stayed too long," said Winifred laughingly. "What time do you suppose it is, Ruth?"
"Oh! we can't have been away from home more than an hour," said Ruth; "but the sky looks cloudy, doesn't it?"
But it was not clouds that made the sky darken, it was the rapidly approaching twilight. The tall trees shut out the golden spring sunshine; and the afternoon had passed so pleasantly that neither Ruth nor Winifred had any idea that evening was close at hand, or that they were miles from home in a solitary and unknown road that had seemed to grow more narrow as they went on.
"Perhaps we had better turn around now," suggested Winifred a few moments after they had gathered the wild honeysuckle. "I told Mother we would be home early. Why, what is the matter with Fluff?" she added in a startled tone, for the little pony had come to a full stop.
Both the little girls jumped out of the cart and ran to the pony's head, which drooped low. Fluff was breathing heavily, and it seemed to Winifred as if his slender legs trembled.
"Why, he can't be tired. He had that long rest just now," said Ruth anxiously. Neither of them realized that ever since leaving the river the road had run steadily up-hill, or that the pony had been traveling for a number of hours. Fluff was no longer young, and he had never been required to go long distances; and now he could go no further.
"I'll take off his harness," said Winifred quickly. "I hope he isn't going to have a fit. Ned Farris's pony has fits." It did not take her long to set Fluff free from the pony-cart, and he turned a grateful look toward his little mistress, who began to wish there was a brook or spring near at hand where the little creature could drink.
Ruth smoothed Fluff's head, and Winifred with a bunch of wayside grass rubbed his back and legs.
"He's going to lie down," said Winifred as Fluff moved his head about quickly; and in a moment the tired little creature had stretched himself at their feet.
"What shall we do? I am sure Fluff can't take us home," exclaimed Winifred, "and we can't go and leave him here."
"It can't be very far from home," responded Ruth. "I could go home and tell Gilbert, and he would come right back for you with Ned's pony."
"But what could we do with Fluff?" asked Winifred a little despondently. "He is too tired to drive home."
"Perhaps he'd be rested enough by that time to go home, if he didn't have to pull the cart," said Ruth; "anyway, I do think one of us ought to go home or our mothers will think some harm has befallen us. I'll stay, if you would rather go."
But Winifred shook her head. She did not wish to leave the pony; neither was she pleased at the thought of staying by herself on that lonely road. At last, however, they decided that Ruth's plan was the best they could think of, and Ruth started.
"I'll hurry all the way, Winifred; and Gilbert will come back as fast as he can," she called as she started to run down the hill.
A LONG RIDE
"I wish we had brought Hero," thought Ruth regretfully as she hurried down the shadowy road, "then he could have come with me for company." For at the last moment before leaving home the little girls had decided that it was not best to let Hero accompany them. There was not room for him in the pony-cart, and for him to race along the streets might well mean that he would again disappear; so Ruth had been quite ready to leave him at home. But now she would have been very glad to have him running along beside her. "Josephine" and "Cecilia" had also been left behind; in fact neither Winifred nor Ruth had remembered the dolls until after they had said good-bye to Aunt Deborah. And, while Ruth was regretting the absence of Hero, Winifred, sitting close beside Fluff, was wishing that her beloved Josephine was there to keep her company.
"It would be a great adventure for Josephine," she thought, looking up through the overhanging branches of the big oak under which Fluff had stopped to rest. For a time she amused herself by braiding the long grass and weaving it about green twigs broken from an elder-bush until she had made a wide, shallow basket with a handle. Into this she put the violets and wild honeysuckle, resolving to take it home as a present to her mother. She put it carefully under the seat of the pony-cart, and then decided to search for a spring or brook, for she was thirsty.
Fluff showed no signs of wishing to start for home, or even to eat the tempting young grass growing near.
"If I find a brook perhaps I can lead him, and then he will get a good drink," thought Winifred, crossing the narrow road and pushing aside a thick growth of wild shrubs.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, for she had stepped at once on to damp yielding moss which covered her low cut slippers and whetted her feet as completely as if she had stepped into a brook. Just beyond this moss lay a clear little pool of water, evidently fed by springs.
Winifred discovered that the farther, or upper, bank of the pool was dry and sandy, and in a few moments she was kneeling beside the clear water and drinking thirstily. She then made her way back to the road, breaking down branches of the shrubs to make a way for Fluff, who was now on his feet looking about as if in search of his little mistress.
"Come on, Fluff," she said coaxingly, grasping the plume-like mane. "Come and have a drink." The pony moved forward obediently. He hesitated a moment at having to push his way through the undergrowth, but with Winifred encouraging and urging him forward he was soon in sight of the pool, and then sprang forward so suddenly that his mane slid through Winifred's hands and she found herself on her hands and knees while Fluff, with his nose in the clear water, was drinking thirstily.
Winifred laughed as she scrambled to her feet. Her shoes and stockings were wet and muddy, her pretty blue linen dress was torn, and now she realized that her hat was gone, that she must have lost it in pushing her way through the undergrowth; but these things seemed of small consequence to Winifred just then; for the pony, with his forefeet planted firmly in the shallow water, was evidently more himself than he had been since he had stopped short under the oak tree.
"I'll lead him back and harness him into the cart and start after Ruth," thought his little mistress happily, "and I do believe it is getting dark!" she added aloud, realizing that the woods seemed very shadowy, as she made her way toward the pool.
As she came near Fluff he lifted his head from the water, shook himself much as a big dog would do, and whinnied with satisfaction. But as Winifred approached more closely he gave a little dancing step into the water just beyond her reach.
"Oh, Fluff! It isn't any time to play games. We must start for home before it is really dark," said Winifred. But Fluff was now rested, and free from his harness in a fragrant shadowy wood. He was sure that his little mistress must be as ready as himself for a game, so he edged along the pool until a clear space opened before him, and then he stepped out, and trotted briskly away between the tall trees.
"Fluff! Fluff!" called Winifred, running after him. "Oh! where did he go?" for the pony had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him. Winifred ran on until her way was blocked by thickly growing underbrush. Then she turned back, but now she could not find the pool. The shadows deepened; she could hardly distinguish one tree from another, and there was no sound or sign from the gray pony.
"What shall I do?" she said, standing close to the trunk of a pine tree that rose straight and tall with wide-spreading branches. She realized that she must now be some distance from the road and the big oak tree where she had left the pony-cart, and Fluff perhaps was deep in this wilderness, unable to make his way back; and, worst of all, night was close upon her.
It was indeed a dangerous position for a little girl to be alone in a wilderness as Winifred found herself. It was a time when many wild beasts still wandered about, often coming near to the outskirts of towns and villages. Winifred remembered that only a few weeks earlier a catamount had been killed at Fair Mount, and she knew that in the early spring bears left the dens where they had slept through the winter, and wandered through the woods eating the tender young buds and leaves. She crouched closer to the tree as she remembered these things, and then suddenly she recalled the words that she had worked on her sampler: "There shall no evil befall thee. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
Her mother had traced the words, and Winifred had worked them in dull blue yarns on the perforated wool cloth. She said them over aloud: "No evil befall thee," and was no longer afraid. She did not think now of the beasts of the dark wood, but of a kindly presence that would shelter her.
"Perhaps Fluff will come and find me," she thought hopefully. "Anyway, Ruth will soon be back with Gilbert, and they will call my name, and I shall call back," and so comforted and encouraged Winifred sat down on the soft pine spills and leaned back against the tall tree. A pair of squirrels chattered noisily in the branches; a soft-footed little animal sped by almost touching her feet, and she could hear faint calls from nesting birds near at hand.
"For he shall give his angels charge over thee," the little girl whispered to herself, and soothed and quieted by the spring fragrance of the wood her eyes closed.
Ruth, meanwhile, was trudging along the road toward home. She was sure that she could find the way without any trouble.
"All I have to do is to turn when I come to the river road and follow it straight back to the city, and then any one can tell me how to get home," she thought, hopefully. But she began to think she should never reach the river road. Her thin shoes were scrubbed and dusty, and she wondered what Aunt Deborah would say at her untidy appearance.
Now and then she would quicken her pace and run until she was out of breath. She began to understand why Fluff was tired out. Just before she reached the river road there was the sound of breaking twigs, and of some animal making its way through the woods, and the next moment a deer followed by a young fawn sprang into the road directly in front of the surprised and startled little girl; but they vanished before Ruth realized that they had been within reach of her hand.
"Oh! I wish Winifred could have seen them," she thought. The road now hardly showed in the thick dusk. Ruth stumbled often, and began to be both hungry and thirsty. She wished she could stop and rest; but the thought of Winifred sitting alone under the big oak tree made her resolve not to stop until she reached home.
At last she could see an open space ahead, and the dark line of the river; and at the same moment she heard the sound of trotting feet on the road behind her and a little gray figure ran swiftly by.
"That was Fluff! I know it was Fluff," she exclaimed, and called loudly after the pony. But Fluff did not stop; he knew he was headed for home, and it was much easier to run along free and unharnessed than to pull a cart containing two little girls.
Ruth now hardly knew what to do. Perhaps Winifred might be coming closely behind the pony.
"Perhaps I ought to wait and see if she is coming," thought Ruth, puzzled and uncertain as to the right course to take. Before she could decide she saw the gleam of a lantern, and heard the wheels of a carriage coming rapidly over the road, and without a moment's hesitation she called out: "Stop! Please stop!" and heard a familiar voice respond:
"It's Ruth. It's Ruth." And the light of the lantern showed Gilbert and his mother in Ned Farris's pony-cart.
In a moment they were standing in the road beside her, and Ruth was telling the story of the woodland road, and of Winifred waiting beside the pony-cart under a big oak tree.
"And Fluff just ran by, headed for home," she concluded.
"I thought it was Fluff who raced past us. I was sure it was he," said Gilbert.
They were now puzzled what course to take. To leave Winifred alone so far from any human habitation was not to be thought of; neither did Mrs. Merrill wish Ruth to go on toward home without some one with her.
"Gilbert, you must go home with Ruth, and I will drive on after Winifred," she decided. "Mrs. Pernell will be sadly troubled when Fluff comes running home and she has no news of her little girl. Go as quickly as you can."
Gilbert agreed; but he felt a little defrauded as he and Ruth turned toward home. He would have enjoyed going up that dark hillside road, where it seemed to him some interesting adventure might befall a traveler.
Mrs. Merrill, with the lantern fastened to the front of the cart, drove rapidly up the hill, trying to pierce the dusky shadows of the roadside. Now and then she called Winifred's name, and listened intently for some response, but none came.
At last the light from the lantern showed the pony-carriage in the shadow of the big oak tree, and in a moment Mrs. Merrill was on the ground beside it. But Winifred was not to be seen. "Winifred!" she called over and over, but there was no reply.
Winifred awakened suddenly. For a moment she looked about with startled eyes.
"That is Mother calling," she exclaimed aloud, springing to her feet, and resting one hand against the smooth trunk of the pine tree. For a moment she was too surprised and sleepy to respond to the call; then she called back, "Mother! I'm in the woods!" at the same time moving slowly around to the other side of the big tree.
"Oh! There's a light! And there's the road! And there is Mother!" and stumbling and running Winifred appeared in the road only a short distance from the flickering light of the lantern.
"Mother! Mother! Did you come all alone?" called Winifred, as her mother held her close as if, thought the little girl, "I had been away a long time."
"I thought I was way in the deep woods, and I was close to the road all the time. But Fluff is lost," she explained, as her mother led her toward the cart.
"No, dear; Fluff passed us on our way home, and will probably be safe in his stall long before we get back," replied Mrs. Merrill, and as they drove through the darkness she told her little daughter of how troubled she and Mrs. Pernell had been as the afternoon passed and Winifred and Ruth failed to return; of Gilbert borrowing Ned's pony, of meeting Ruth, "and I have been here an hour, calling and calling," she concluded.
"How sound asleep I must have been not to hear you," said Winifred happily, snuggling closer to her mother's side.
"After Fluff ran off I began to be frightened," she continued. "I thought of catamounts and bears; and then I thought of my sampler."
"Your sampler?" repeated Mrs. Merrill, not understanding just what Winifred meant.
"Yes, Mother dear! Don't you remember the words you traced on it? 'There shall no evil befall thee. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways,'" repeated the little girl. "I kept saying it over and over and I was not afraid."
For a moment Mrs. Merrill did not reply. She stooped and kissed her little daughter, and then said: "That was right, dear child."
It was nearly midnight when Mrs. Merrill and Winifred reached home, and Gilbert lifted a very sleepy little girl from the pony-cart. "Mrs. Pernell and Ruth are here," he said, "and she has some hot broth ready."
Gilbert looked after Ned's pony before following his mother and sister into the house. Mrs. Pernell had already prepared his supper and he had eaten it with Ruth on reaching home after their long walk; but that seemed a long time ago, and he was quite ready to sit down at the candle-lit table and join the others. The hot broth, toast and damson preserves were very welcome to Winifred and her mother. The little group around the table were all too tired to talk much, but they smiled happily at one another, rejoicing that they were all safe and at home.
It was decided that Mrs. Pernell and Ruth should stay the remainder of the night with the Merrill's.
"Hero will take care of our house," Ruth said confidently, as she and her mother entered the pleasant chamber where they were to sleep.
"Mother, you never scold me, do you?" she said, just as Mrs. Pernell extinguished the candle, and smiled happily to herself at her mother's little laugh.
"Why, Ruthie dear! I should hope not. You know 'scold' is an ugly word. There is nothing about it that is fair. It means to 'find fault,' which is never quite fair; do you think it is?" and Ruth agreed that "scold" had an ugly sound.
"We didn't mean to stay away and to worry you," said Ruth.
"Of course you didn't, dear child. Go to sleep," replied her mother, who was thinking to herself that no other little girl was as dear and good as her own little daughter. And, strange as it may seem, Mrs. Merrill was thinking that very same thing about Winifred.
How much there was for the two little friends to talk about the next day! Gilbert and Fluff had started off at an early hour to bring home the pony-cart, and early in the afternoon Betty Hastings came to see Ruth. She knew nothing about the adventure of the day before, and listened eagerly to Ruth and Winifred as they told of the lonely road, the coming of darkness, and of the deer and fawn that Ruth had seen.
The two younger girls looked at Betty admiringly as they all sat together in Mrs. Pernell's front room. Betty's smooth brown curls under her pretty white straw hat, her shining brown eyes and pleasant smile, and the pretty dress of blue and white plaid, made her well worth their approving glances. Both Ruth and Winifred wondered to themselves why it was that Betty's hands were always clean, her hair smooth, and her dress always neat and in order. They decided, as they had often done before, that it was because Betty was so nearly grown up, nearly thirteen. They were quite sure that being tidy and careful was a gift that came with years.
Ruth always liked to have Betty come to see her.
"It's just like really being grown up when Betty comes," she had explained to her mother, "because we always sit in the front room, and never play dolls." So this afternoon when Mrs. Pernell brought in a tray with the little silver pitcher and sugar bowl, the luster teapot, and the treasured Canton cups and saucers, together with a plate of round frosted cakes, and Ruth had the pleasure of giving Betty and Winifred a cup of "real tea" she felt herself the most fortunate little girl in Philadelphia.
"'Tis not a taxed tea," Mrs. Pernell declared smilingly; for Americans had refused to receive any tea on which the Government of Great Britain demanded an unlawful tax.
"I came to ask you and Winifred to a May party," said Betty, when she was ready to start for home. "My mother says I may invite a dozen girls to go Maying to some pleasant place on the river, where we can gather flowers, put up a May-pole, and have a picnic lunch. Mother will get some one to drive us all out in a big wagon."
Both Ruth and Winifred were delighted at the invitation, and thanked Betty. May-day was nearly two weeks distant, but they were glad to have so pleasant an invitation. And the front door had hardly closed behind their visitor when Ruth exclaimed:
"We must begin on that table right away, Winifred, so that it will surely be finished by May-day. I have just remembered that May first is Betty's birthday! Her mother always has a party for her."
"So it is!" responded Winifred, as she followed Ruth toward the shed.
There was a piece of chalk in the drawer of the work-bench, and Ruth, laying the square of smooth dark wood on the top of a barrel, began to mark a large heart, while Winifred stood beside her watching admiringly.
"There!" Ruth exclaimed, as her rather uneven chalk line came to an end. "I guess that is enough to go by. We can make the edges smooth with some of the tools."
Winifred agreed promptly. "I'll make the legs," she volunteered.
"Be sure and have them all the same length," advised Ruth. "You can take this chalk and mark the places where to saw;" and in a few moments Winifred with a small sharp saw was endeavoring to cut through the strips of hard wood selected for table legs, while Ruth with a sharp knife tried in vain to make some impression on the square of mahogany. Snap! went the slender knife-blade!
"Oh, Winifred! quick! I've cut off my thumb!" screamed Ruth, as she raced past the horrified Winifred and ran into the kitchen calling: "Mother! Mother!"
In a moment her mother was beside her; the injured thumb was bathed and bandaged, and Ruth was explaining, with Winifred's help, how the accident occurred. It was really a deep cut, and it was no wonder that the little girl had been frightened.
Mrs. Pennell went to the shed with the little girls, and looked with troubled eyes at the cherished pieces of polished wood, and the fine tools scattered about the floor.
"We must put all these tools carefully back in the chest, and the wood on the shelf just as your father left it. Winifred will help me, for you must not use your hand, Ruth," she said.
"But, Mother, we want to make a heart-shaped table for a birthday present for Betty," Ruth explained. "Mayn't we use Father's tools?"
"No, my dear. It would have been a very serious thing if you had spoiled any of his saws or planes. And those strips and squares of wood are valuable. Besides that you and Winifred are not accustomed to the use of tools; and you might really have cut off your thumb instead of only cutting it," said Mrs. Pennell. "I am to blame that I did not tell you how much your dear father valued these tools and wood."
"Oh, Mother! You are never to blame. I ought to have asked you," Ruth declared.
"Well, my dear, I really think it would have been wiser. But now we must think of something else as a present for Betty. With that hurt thumb, Ruth, I am afraid you cannot make her anything," responded her mother, leading the way to the seat under the maple tree.
"Now, let us all try and think of something that Betty would like for a birthday gift," she continued, as they all sat down. Hero came bounding across the yard, and took his usual place at Ruth's feet.
"I know! I know exactly what Betty would like," declared Ruth, "and I am sure I could help make it. Candy! She loves candy. Can I not use some of your sugar, Mother, to make some heart-shaped sweets?" For Ruth had some tiny heart-shaped molds of tin, into which hot candy mixture could be turned, and that when cool came out in perfect shapes.
"That will be better than a table," said Winifred eagerly, "and I know my mother will give me some sugar for such a purpose. And, Ruth! we can make a heart-shaped box of paper to put it in."
Mrs. Pennell listened smilingly as the two little girls made their plan for their friend's birthday gift. She promised to give them a portion of her scanty store of sugar.
"You will not need to make it for a week to come; and Ruth's thumb will be well by that time. You may have the kitchen to yourselves on the last day of April," she said.
Ruth quite forgot the ugly cut in her excitement over the proposed candy-making.
"I am glad May is only ten days away," she said. "Just think of all that is going to happen next month! Betty's birthday picnic, and my visit to Aunt Deborah! And perhaps even more than that. Perhaps I shall see Lafayette! And perhaps the English will leave Philadelphia."
Both her mother and Winifred laughed at Ruth's eager prophecy.
THE CANDY DISAPPEARS
Gilbert and Winifred often talked to Ruth of their soldier brother, Vinal; and she never tired of hearing the story of a midnight visit he had made during the previous winter.
He had arrived home late one afternoon, coming up the street as if there were not an English soldier in the city, and had stayed the night in his own home, departing early the next morning for Valley Forge. It was just such an adventure as the children admired, and would have well liked to have had some part in.
Gilbert had reluctantly given up the plan of changing his name to Lafayette. No one seemed to remember his wish, and after a few weeks he no longer reminded Ruth or Winifred.
As the time of Ruth's visit to Barren Hill drew near she made many pleasant plans of all she would see and do while at Aunt Deborah's square stone house, and recalled all that her aunt had told her of the beehives in a sunny corner of the garden, the flocks of chickens, the many birds that nested safely in the orchard trees, and the big attic that would be such a fine play-house on stormy days. But most of all Ruth thought of the fact that Barren Hill was only ten miles distant from Valley Forge, and that there might be some way in which she could see her father.
"I wish I could find out that the English were going to leave Philadelphia, and then I would have good news for Father," she thought. "Or if I could carry a fine present for Father to give Lafayette." But there seemed little prospect that a little girl like Ruth could be the bearer of good news to the troops at Valley Forge, or of a present to the gallant young Frenchman.
Ruth's thumb healed in a few days, so that she could help her mother in the garden, and do her usual work about the house. Every morning, directly after breakfast, was the lesson hour, when Mrs. Pennell and Ruth would sit down in the dining-room and, as Ruth had described it to Aunt Deborah, "Tell stories."
There were "history" stories, and these Ruth liked best of all. One was the story of the first Quaker emigrants who came to Philadelphia in three small ships, bringing a friendly letter from the good-natured King Charles to the Delaware Indians. She liked to hear how these people sailed safely across the Atlantic and came up the Delaware, and first found shelter in caves along the river's bank, and then built themselves log cabins, and big strong houses.
Then there were stories of the stars, by which sailors steered their course at sea, and there were stories of birds and beasts, and a very amusing game in which a small girl from Japan and another from China, and a little black girl from Africa, each recited the way children were taught in those countries.
Mrs. Pennell did not always tell the stories, no, indeed! Often Ruth would be asked to tell the story of William Penn, or perhaps to draw a little picture of certain constellations. And always there was the adding of apples, the dividing of apples into four parts and eight parts, which Mrs. Pennell called "Fractions." And after this pleasant hour there were the neat stitches to be set in apron, dress, or handkerchief.
Nearly every child had regular tasks; they were taught to use their hands as well as their eyes and thoughts, and Ruth was very proud that she could hemstitch nicely, and "set the heel" of a stocking, and finish off its toe.
After Vinal brought the letter from Ruth's father Mrs. Pennell seemed more cheerful, and often said that she was sure it would not be many months before Philadelphia would be rid of the enemy.
Ruth and Winifred counted the days until the last day of April, when they were to make the candy as a present for Betty. The pretty heart-shaped box that was to hold it was already finished. Mrs. Pennell had helped them make it. She had carefully shaped it from pasteboard, and then, with a flour paste, the little girls had covered it carefully with some pretty bits of wall-paper. The cover had three tiny hearts cut from gilt paper, and Ruth and Winifred were both sure that Betty would be much pleased by their gift, especially when she opened it and found it full of sweets.
Ruth had just finished her lesson hour on the morning of the day before the May-day picnic, when Winifred appeared. She brought a package of sugar that her mother had given her as her share for the candy, and the two little girls ran to the kitchen, which they were to have quite to themselves for their candy-making.
The family cooking was done over the bed of coals in the fireplace, and Ruth brought out a saucepan, a big spoon, and some sugar from the pantry, and talking happily of the pleasures of the coming day the two little friends measured their sugar and set the saucepan over the coals, while Ruth, spoon in hand, watched it carefully, while Winifred stood close by ready to help.
It was a great event to be permitted to make candy, and both Winifred and Ruth decided that it would be a much more acceptable present than a table.
In a short time the melted sugar, flavored with rose leaves, was ready to be turned into the tiny heart-shaped molds, and set to cool on the window ledge.
"Let's go out in the garden," suggested Ruth. "If we stay in here we shall keep looking at the candy to see if it is ready to turn out, and it will seem forever." So they went out to the seat under the maple tree, played with Hero, talked about the May party and the time, now near at hand, when Ruth would go to visit Aunt Deborah, and nearly an hour passed before they returned to the kitchen.
"Why, where are the molds?" exclaimed Ruth. "Where is the candy?" demanded Winifred, and they looked at the vacant window-sill where they had left the sweets to cool.
"Mother must have put them in the pantry," said Ruth.
"Of course," Winifred agreed, and the little girls exchanged a smile of relief as they both turned toward the pantry.
But the candy was not there.
"I'll run and ask her where she put it," said Ruth, and hurried off to find her mother who was busy in one of the upper rooms.
"But I have not been down-stairs, dear child," Mrs. Pennell replied. "You do not suppose the molds have fallen out of the window?" she asked, and without stopping to answer Ruth ran back to the kitchen, and leaned out of the window, but there was no candy to be seen.
"Oh, Ruth! The box is gone, too! Some one must have come in and taken it!" said Winifred; and, sure enough, the pretty box had disappeared from the table as well as the molds from the window. Both the little girls were ready to cry with disappointment.
They knew that each of the other guests would bring Betty a present, and they knew also that their mothers could not spare any more sugar for candy. Besides this the pretty box was gone, and they had no more bits of paper to make another.
"I shan't go to the party," Ruth declared. "And who could have been mean enough to take the candy?"
Mrs. Pennell was nearly as troubled as Ruth and Winnie. It was evident that some one must have entered the house by the front door, taken the candy, and made off while the girls were in the garden. She feared that other things must have been taken, but a careful search proved that nothing else was missing.
Winifred agreed with Ruth that they did not wish to go to the party without a present for Betty. "And now it is too late to even think of anything," she said as she started for home, leaving Ruth puzzled and unhappy, and wondering to herself if perhaps some ill-natured fairies had not made off with the sweets. The more Ruth thought of this the more convinced she was that it was what had happened. She remembered hearing queer little noises at her window that morning that she had thought were made by the birds nesting in the hawthorn. Now she said to herself that it must have been fairies coming into the house. "And because I did not make them welcome they have taken the candy," she decided, remembering a fairy tale that Mrs. Merrill had once told the two girls in which children had always welcomed fairies who came tapping at the windows of a spring morning, by singing:
"Welcome, fairies good and kind; Come in, come in, and welcome find."
In the story the fairies had brought wonderful gifts, but if they had not been welcomed they would have taken the children's dearest possessions, which could only be recovered by walking around the garden just before sunrise and bowing low three times to the lilac, three times to a robin, and three times with your eyes shut tight, repeating each time:
"Fairies, fairies, here I bow. Will you kindly pardon now That I did not hear or see When you came to visit me?"
Ruth was glad that she could remember it.
"I'll get up before sunrise to-morrow morning and do exactly as the little girl did in the story when the fairies brought back her silver heart, and then probably when I open my eyes there will be the box and the candy," thought Ruth.
"Why, of course, it was because the box and the candies were heart-shaped," she decided; "that's another reason I'm sure it was fairies. It will be splendid if I can get them back. I won't tell Winifred until after breakfast to-morrow. Won't she be surprised?"
Mrs. Pennell wondered a little that Ruth was in such good spirits the rest of the day, after the disappearance of the candy, and that she was so ready to go to bed at an hour earlier than the usual time.
A FAIRY STORY
When Gilbert took the pan of candy-molds from the open window of Mrs. Pennell's kitchen, and, reaching in captured the heart-shaped box from the table, his only intention was to keep them just long enough to puzzle Ruth and Winifred and then return them. When the girls came back to the kitchen he had run into the shed, and set box and pan in the open drawer of the work-bench and closed it quickly, and had then gone home to attend to some garden work, meaning to come back in an hour at the longest; but his mother had sent him on an errand, and it was noon before Gilbert remembered the candy; and then Winifred was telling the story of its disappearance:
"You wouldn't think any one would be so mean as to take our candy," she concluded, and Gilbert felt his face flush uncomfortably, and realized that it was going to be very difficult to explain what he had intended for a joke to Ruth and Winifred. In some way he must get that candy and box back to the place from which he had taken it, or else tell the girls what he had done; and this last alternative would be unpleasant. All that afternoon he was on the alert for a chance to slip into the Pennells' garden, enter the shed and rescue the hidden sweets; but the day was warm and pleasant, and Ruth and Winifred with their dolls and Hero were out-of-doors playing about in the shade of the maple tree until it was too late for Gilbert to carry out his plan; so that he was as uneasy and troubled as Ruth or Winifred over the missing candy, and not until evening could he think of any way to recover it.
He was just closing the stable for the night when he noticed the shallow basket of woven grass and twigs which Winifred had made on the eventful afternoon's journey along the river road. The violets and wild honeysuckle were now only dried up stems; but the basket looked serviceable and attractive. Gilbert smiled as he picked it up. He knew now exactly what he would do: he would get up very early the next morning, gather daffodils and iris and then take the basket to Mrs. Pennell's shed,—take the candy from the molds, fill the box, and setting the box in Winifred's grass basket cover it with flowers; then he would hang it to the knocker of the Pennells' front door.
"The girls will think the fairies did it for a May-day surprise," he chuckled to himself, remembering that Winifred could never quite decide about fairies: if there really were such wonderful little people or not.
So Gilbert was up before sunrise the next morning, and with a friendly word to Hero, found it an easy matter to enter the shed quietly and take the candy and box from the bench drawer. In a few moments he had filled the box skilfully without breaking one of the tiny hearts, set it in the basket and covered it with the spring blossoms. He was just about to leave the shed when he heard a voice, and peering out saw Ruth bowing to the lilac tree and saying in a low voice:
"Fairies, fairies, here I bow. Will you kindly pardon now That I did not hear or see When you came to visit me?"
"Jiminy! It's that old fairy story Mother tells; and Ruth believes it," thought Gilbert, as he watched Ruth bowing low to a startled robin, which flew up to a higher branch in the hawthorn tree. She was so much absorbed in what she was doing that she did not hear the stealthy step behind her on the soft grass as Gilbert swiftly set down the mold pan and the basket, and flew back to the shop. He had just reached its shelter when Ruth turned to go back to the house and saw the basket.
She looked at it for a moment as if she could hardly believe her eyes; and as she stooped to pick it up Ruth fully expected that basket, pan and tin molds would all vanish from sight. But no! They were real; and, quite as Ruth expected, the box, filled with candy hearts, was under the flowers.
"Oh! what will Winifred say?" she whispered to herself. And then she bowed to the lilac tree and to the robin, and said, "Thank you, kind fairies. I will always know now that you are true and kind," and then Ruth ran into the house to wake up her mother and tell her this wonderful story, and show her the basket in proof of the fairies' visit.
Gilbert hurried home. He was delighted with the success of his plan, but a little troubled that Ruth should believe so implicitly that fairies had first taken and then returned the candy.
Mrs. Pennell listened to Ruth's story and looked at the basket with as much wonder and surprise as even Ruth could expect. Although she did not deny that fairies had a hand in the return of the candy, she endeavored to explain to herself just how it could have occurred. But she remembered how much happiness she herself had had as a small girl in believing in good fairies, and was quite willing that her own little daughter should have the same pleasure.
The Merrills were just sitting down to an early breakfast when Ruth came over to tell Winifred that the candy had been found, but she did not tell all the story, for she knew Gilbert laughed at fairies.
"I'll tell you all about it on the way to Betty's," she said, for it had been arranged that Betty's guests should all meet at her house, where the wagons would be in readiness to take them to a favorite picnic ground, a green sloping field on the banks of the Schuylkill River, where there were groups of wide-spreading elms and where many spring flowers grew.
Winifred was so eager to hear about the return of the candy that she could hardly wait to finish her breakfast. Ruth had not lingered after telling the great news, but had run home to make ready for the picnic.
Gilbert continued to feel uneasy about his part in the fairy story, and after Ruth and Winifred had started for the May party he followed his mother into the garden and offered to help her transplant the young seedlings.
"Mother, do you think there is any harm in believing in fairies?" he asked, and before his mother could reply Gilbert was telling her the story.
"Ruth seemed more pleased about the fairies than she did to get the candy back," he concluded, "and I don't think there is any harm in fairies, do you?"
"Why, no, Gilbert! I am always hoping that they really are true," replied his mother smilingly.
"Oh, Mother! You are as bad as Ruth," laughed Gilbert; "but do you think I ought to tell Ruth that I hid the candy, and then brought it back?"
"No, not at present. Some time in the future you can tell Ruth about it, if you wish, but I think it would be too bad to spoil her pleasure to-day. But perhaps you had better ask Mrs. Pennell, and then do whatever she thinks best," replied his mother.
The thought of telling Mrs. Pennell of his mischievous act made Gilbert rather uncomfortable, but he responded promptly:
"All right, Mother. I'll go now," and ran toward the house to wash his hands before presenting himself at Mrs. Pennell's door.
"So that was it. I could not imagine how it happened," said Mrs. Pennell when Gilbert had told of hiding the candy, and of meaning to return it as a May basket. She agreed with Mrs. Merrill that Ruth could be told the facts later on, and did not seem to feel that Gilbert's joke had been anything but natural and harmless, so Gilbert returned home with an untroubled mind.
Betty had asked her little guests to be at her house at half-past ten o'clock, and when Ruth and Winifred came down the street they saw a big wagon with two big brown horses standing in front of Betty's house; just behind the big wagon was a smaller one which Dinah was helping to load with baskets and packages.
"That's the lunch wagon," said Winifred. "Oh, Ruth! I'm sure we are going to have a beautiful time. What do you suppose Betty will say when you tell her about the fairies?"
"I don't know. But probably she will think she is lucky to have a basket made by fairies," responded Ruth, who did not know the story of the basket that she carried so carefully.
"I made that basket. Truly I did, Ruth," Winifred declared eagerly.
Ruth's smile vanished. She stood still and looked at Winifred accusingly.
"Then I suppose there weren't any fairies at all? If you made the basket you probably put the candy in it and set it in my garden for me to find. And you let me tell you all about bowing to the lilac tree, and never said a word," exclaimed Ruth; "and I suppose you have been laughing at me all the time," she concluded, a little choke coming in her throat at the thought that her best friend, as well as the fairies, had failed her.
Before Winifred could say a word Ruth ran ahead as fast as she could go. Betty was on the steps, and a number of the girls who were going on the picnic were with her. She greeted Ruth warmly, and when Ruth explained that the basket was from Winifred and herself Betty was greatly pleased. She was looking at the basket and box admiringly when Winnie appeared.
"Did Ruth tell you that is a fairy present?" she asked eagerly, and at the little chorus of laughter and questions, Winifred went on and told the story just as Ruth had told it to her, while Ruth stood by looking rather sulky and unhappy. The moment Winifred finished Ruth stepped forward and said:
"That's a good story, but it isn't true. About the fairies, I mean. Not one word of it. And Winifred knows it isn't."
BETTY AND ANNETTE
The girls' laughter ceased, and they looked at Ruth a little questioningly as if expecting that she would explain. But it was Betty who, slipping her arm around Winifred, said pleasantly: "Well, we are all obliged to Winnie for telling us such a beautiful story. And I am sure it is just what the fairies would do if they happened to think of it."
Winifred looked up at the older girl gratefully, but she felt very unhappy. She could not understand why Ruth, her very best friend, should have turned against her, and denied the story.
Ruth stood, sulky and silent, and a little ashamed, as the other guests arrived; and when Betty declared that it was time to start and led the way toward the big wagon, Ruth walked alone and was the last one of Betty's guests to climb up to her seat.
There were ten little girls in the party, and Black Jason, Dinah's husband, was to drive the team. Mrs. Hastings sat on the back seat between Betty and Ruth; the small wagon with the good things for the birthday luncheon followed close behind, driven by a friend of Jason's.
The other girls laughed and talked merrily as the big horses trotted briskly through the streets leading to the river. But Ruth was silent, except when Mrs. Hastings spoke to her; then she answered as pleasantly as possible, but she had no pleasure in the ride. Now and then they passed groups of English soldiers; and as they turned into the river road several red-coated officers on horseback rode past them.
"We wish you a happy May, young ladies," called one of the officers, bowing very low as he rode past the wagon filled with happy girls.
There was no response to his polite salutation; for even the children of the historic city resented the presence of the English soldiery.
"Mother, sing your May-day song," suggested Betty.
But Mrs. Hastings shook her head laughingly.
"I must save that for our dance round the May-pole," she replied, "and we shall soon be at the picnic field now."
The field was very near the place where Ruth and Winifred had turned into the hill road, and the May party reached it after not more than an hour's ride. Black Jason drove through the field toward the river bank, and stopped under a group of tall elms. In a few moments the girls were scattered about searching for flowers. Black Jason and his friend unloaded the lunch wagon, and then Mrs. Hastings called the girls to decide on the best place to erect the May-pole, a fine birch tree that Black Jason was now chopping down.
"There are so many good places!" exclaimed Betty, looking about the smooth field. "I think this is the best," she decided finally, as, with her guests beside her, she stopped near the edge of a wood.
It was just the place for a May-pole, the other girls declared, as they looked about; and Black Jason and his friend set up the tall birch tree, whose green branches were more beautiful than any decoration that the girls could have imagined. While Mrs. Hastings and Betty spread the lunch in the shade of the woods, the other girls gathered flowers and wove garlands for each other, and talked happily together. Ruth found herself seated beside Annette Tennant, a girl about Betty's age.
"I will give you my wreath, and you can give me yours," said the older girl. "You are rather young to be asked to this party," she continued, looking at Ruth.
"I am nearly eleven," replied Ruth. "Winifred Merrill isn't any older than that."
"I noticed there were two little girls," rejoined Annette condescendingly. "You mustn't mind if most of us are older. I always like children," went on Annette, who was even taller than Betty Hastings, and whose yellow hair was braided neatly and wound around her head.
Ruth made no reply. She was feeling a little ashamed that she had declared Winifred's story to be untrue. Even if Winnie had set the basket in the garden and let her go about bowing to trees and birds Ruth felt that she herself had been rude and unkind.
"What made that other child tell all that rigmarole about fairies?" questioned Annette. "I was glad when you spoke up and said that it was not true. Of course we older girls knew she was making it up."
Suddenly Ruth became perfectly sure that Winifred had had nothing to do with the discovery of the candy, and that Winifred had really believed the fairies had brought it back, using her basket for the purpose.
"Winifred didn't make it up," declared Ruth. "It was exactly as she told it. The fairies did take away the candy, and bring it back."
Annette stopped weaving the vines and flowers, and jumped up.
"Well, you are a very funny child. You tell us all that Winifred Merrill made up a story, and now you tell me that it was true," she exclaimed scornfully. "You need not give me your garland; I don't want it, or anything to do with you," and before Ruth could say a word in reply Annette had joined a group of the older girls, and was evidently telling them her opinion of Ruth Pennell.
Ruth looked down through a blur of tears at the wreath she was making. She could hardly see the flowers in her lap.
"I wish I had stayed at home. I hate grown-up girls," she thought bitterly, wishing herself in her own garden with Hero and Cecilia for playmates.
The sound of Betty's voice calling to her guests that luncheon was ready made Ruth look up. She saw the other girls walking toward the shade of the tall elms where Mrs. Hastings stood waiting for them. Winifred was evidently in high favor; Annette walked on one side and Mary Pierce on the other, each with an arm about the pleased but somewhat embarrassed Winifred.
"Ruth! Ruthie Pennell! We are all waiting for you," called Betty, and Ruth followed the others.
It was evident at once that none of the girls meant to sit beside Ruth if it could be avoided. Annette had declared that she believed Ruth to be a mischief-maker, and untruthful, and that it was the duty of the older girls to "teach her a lesson."
"We must let the child realize that older girls don't approve of such things," Annette had said, and the others agreed that the best way to express their disapproval was to leave Ruth to herself as much as possible.
Winifred was now more puzzled than ever.
When Annette had repeated Ruth's declaration that Winifred's story was true, that fairies had returned the candy, she did not know what to think.
"I'm sure Ruthie was only fooling," Winifred declared bravely. "I mean when she said that I made up the story about the candy. Because it was just what she told me."
"Then the child must be taught that we don't like such fooling," responded Annette, with what she felt was a very grown-up and impressive manner.
"Sit here, Ruth," said Betty, wondering at the manner of the older girls, "and, Winifred, come and sit beside her."
Winifred was quite ready to change her seat as Betty suggested, but Annette's hand clasped her arm, and it was Annette who answered: "Winnie would rather sit here, beside me."
"All right," responded Betty. "Then I'll have Ruthie for my helper. I can always depend on you, Ruth, can't I?" she added, smiling at her young friend.
"Always," whispered Ruth, gratefully; and it was she who helped Betty serve the other girls with the excellent cold chicken, and bread, and butter, the jelly-filled tarts, and squares of molasses gingerbread, so that Annette's proposed "lesson" bid fair to be defeated.
"What's the matter, Ruthie?" Betty found a chance to whisper, as they sat down together a little way from the larger group.
Ruth told the story eagerly. "I don't know why I thought Winnie had put the basket there, or why I was so horrid as to say that she told a story," confessed the unhappy little girl. "Do you suppose it really was the fairies, Betty?"
Betty looked rather sober for a minute. She was thinking to herself that her May-day party bid fair to be a failure unless her guests could realize that Ruth had only made a mistake for which she was sorry. She blamed Annette more than she did Ruth, feeling sure that Winifred and Ruth would have come to a friendly understanding if Annette had not interfered.
"I have a plan, Ruthie, that perhaps will make it all right. Will you do just what I tell you?"
"Yes, indeed I will," responded Ruth gratefully.
Mrs. Hastings had left the girls to themselves and gone over to the May-pole.
"Come here, Winifred," called Betty, and this time Annette made no objection, and in a moment Winifred was sitting beside Ruth, and both the little girls were thinking that Betty was much nicer than any other "grown-up" girl in the party.
"Ruth Pennell is going to tell us a story," announced Betty. "She doesn't know if it really is true or not. For a little while she thought her best friend had taken the part of a fairy, but afterward she was sure she had not. Now, Ruth," and Betty turned smilingly toward her little friend, "stand up and tell us all about it; about the making my candy, how it disappeared, and what you did to recover it. Then, when you have finished, we will take a vote and see how many of us believe in fairies."
For a moment Ruth hesitated, but Winifred's friendly smile encouraged her and she stood up. She did not look at the group of girls sitting about under the trees; she looked straight over their heads at the river, and began to speak, beginning her story with the discovery that the candy had disappeared. She spoke clearly, and when she finished by saying that she was sorry that she had been rude to Winifred, because she and Winifred both rather believed in fairies, there was a little murmur of approval.
"Now, girls, all those who believe in fairies stand up," said Betty, jumping to her feet, and reaching out a hand to the girls beside her, and at the same time beginning to sing:
"'Here are fields of smiling flowers— Come and seek May in her bowers. Catch young May. Make her stay; Dance around her bright and gay.'"
Nearly all the girls knew the song and joined in singing, as hand in hand they ran across the smooth grass toward the May-pole, where Mrs. Hastings stood waiting for them. And now Ruth was her happy, smiling self again, and Annette was no longer eager to teach "lessons" to the younger girls. Annette and Ruth were both conscious, however, that Betty, with her frank kindness, had smoothed out their mistakes.
The girls had exchanged their wreaths of flowers as they sat down to luncheon, all excepting Ruth and Annette, who wore the ones they had made themselves, and they now made a very attractive picture as they all formed a ring around the May-pole, singing an old song that their mothers had sung when they too were little girls; a May-pole song that had been sung in England for hundreds of years.
"'Round the May-pole, trit, trit, trot. See what a garland we have got: Fine and gay, Trip away. Happy is our New May Day.'"
"Now for choosing the May Queen!" said Mary Pierce, and a little chorus of "Betty Hastings! Betty Hastings!" was the response, and Betty curtsied very low, and thanked her guests. For "Maids of Honor" she chose Ruth and Winifred, whose duties were to walk one on each side of the May Queen on her way to her throne, and then kneel beside her until she bade them rise.
While the girls had been at luncheon and dancing around the May-pole Black Jason and his friend had been busily at work behind some thick growing trees near the river.
"All ready, Missie!" he announced, as, hat in hand, and bowing low, he came smilingly toward the "Queen of the May."
A little procession formed to follow Jason, who led the way through a woodland path to a clearing that opened toward the river. In this clearing stood a big rustic chair, Betty's "throne."
Ruth and Winifred handed the Queen to her seat with great ceremony, and then one after another the girls approached the throne, curtsying low and laying their garlands at Betty's feet. Now they joined hands in a little circle and danced around the throne, singing:
"'The First of May is garland day, And every child should dance and play. Curl your locks as I do mine, And wear your summer gown so fine.'"
The Queen of the May asks any favor she pleases from the throne, but as soon as she leaves the throne her power ceases; so now the group of laughing girls stood waiting to hear what the Queen would ask:
"A wreath and a staff And a cup to quaff,"
demanded Betty smilingly, and away raced her loyal subjects to fulfil the royal demand.
It was Annette who brought the wreath of violets; Mary Pierce came with a curving branch that Jason had cut from a maple tree and trimmed into a staff, while Caroline Fraser brought a cup of cool water from the spring under the willow tree.
"We must soon be thinking of home," Mrs. Hastings reminded them, as the girls, now flushed and a little tired, seated themselves about the throne, from which Betty had descended.
"You have not sung your May-day song, Mother!" Betty reminded her, and the girls now gathered about Mrs. Hastings, repeating Betty's request.
"But it isn't really 'my' song; it is an old English May song," Mrs. Hastings said.
"'Spring is coming, Spring is coming, Flowers are coming too; Pansies, lilies, daffodils, Now are coming through.'"
"'Spring is coming, Spring is coming, All around is fair; Shimmer and quiver on the river Joy is everywhere.'"
As she finished singing Mrs. Hastings curtsied to the happy group, and said:
"I wish you a happy May."
When Black Jason drove the brown horses into the field, and the girls took their seats in the wagon, they all declared it was the best May-day party they had ever known, and they all thought Betty Hastings was the most fortunate of girls that her birthday came on the first day of May.
"How would you and Winifred like to sit with Jason on the front seat, Ruth?" asked Mrs. Hastings, and the two little friends smiled at each other, and replied that they would like it very much, and so were lifted to the high seat beside the good-natured Jason.
"I almost spoiled everything," Ruth whispered to Winifred, "but Betty made it come out all right. I like Betty."
"So do I," responded Winifred, and they smiled at each other again, both quite sure that they would never again come so near to a quarrel as they had that May-day.
As they drove past a square stone house whose gardens sloped down to the river, Black Jason pointed toward it with his whip and said: "Dat de house where Capitan Delancy live, an' he an' de oder fine English soldiers are gettin' up a great party, a kind of show like."
The girls looked well at the house from which Betty had so skilfully made her escape on the night following Gilbert's play.
"Are they going to have the party in that house, Jason?" asked Ruth.
"Landy! No, Missie. It's to be out to Master Wharton's fine place in Southwark. Folks do say as General Sir Willem Howe be Gwen to leave dis place. They certain do say so," and Jason chuckled with satisfaction at the thought.
"Then will General Washington and Lafayette come here, Jason?" questioned Ruth eagerly.
"I dunno, Missie. But I reckon de English Gwen to have a mighty fine party. Deere gwine to have bands o' music in boats on de river. Yam," and Jason chuckled at the thought of all the great preparations that had already begun for the most splendid pageant that America had seen, and about which the people of Philadelphia were wondering, for the English officers were making elaborate plans.
"I wish I could drive two horses," said Ruth, looking a little longingly at the reins and whip that Jason so skilfully held in one hand.
"Landy, Missie! Yo' Jes' take hold de reins like dis," responded Jason, at the same moment clasping Ruth's hands over the leather reins. "Now hole 'em study."
Ruth obeyed Jason's instructions to "look straight ahead, an' hole 'em up study," and it was the happiest part of all that happy May-day to be driving Jason's brown horses, with the other girls singing and laughing on the seats behind her. But as they turned from the river road into the town Jason again took the reins. The girls were now carried each to her own home, so Winifred and Ruth were set down at the Merrills' door.
"We have had a beautiful time, Betty. We shall always remember your birthday," declared Ruth, and Winnie repeated the words.
Betty smiled and waved her hand; she realized that her two little friends were thanking her for more than their happy May-day.
Hero welcomed Ruth home, and seemed to be trying to tell her something. He ran around her, barking and whining.
"What is it, Hero? What is the matter? Where is my mother?" she asked, as she pushed open the door of the sitting-room and found it vacant.
"Mother!" she called, running into the dining-room, and then heard her mother's voice calling from the kitchen:
"Come out here, Ruthie!"
Ruth stopped in the doorway with an exclamation of surprise.
"Oh, Mother! What is it?" she asked, for Mrs. Pennell was sitting in a low chair near the window, with one foot resting on a stool.
"I have sprained my ankle, Ruthie. I slipped coming in from the porch about an hour ago, and could just manage to crawl to this chair," replied Mrs. Pennell; "and now you will have to be 'mother' for a time. Tie my apron over your dress, and start up the fire, and fill the big kettle with water."
Ruth obeyed quickly, and in a few moments had carried out her mother's directions, bringing a small wooden tub in which to turn the water when it should be heated. She could think of nothing but that her mother must be in pain, as she drew off Mrs. Pennell's slipper and stocking, filled the tub, and now gently bathed the swollen ankle.
"Remember, Ruthie, dear, when any one has the ill-fortune to sprain wrist or ankle, that hot water is the best aid," Mrs. Pennell said, as she directed the way in which Ruth should bandage the ankle.
"I am afraid I am going to make a good deal of work for my little girl. We must try and send for your Aunt Clara to come as soon as possible," she added.
But Ruth did not mind the work; as she went from pantry to fireplace, preparing toast and a dish of hot gruel for her mother her thoughts flew away to Aunt Deborah at Barren Hill, to the lustre cup out of which Lafayette had drunk, and she realized that she could not go away from home now that her mother was lame.
After supper the ankle was bathed again, and now Mrs. Pennell thought it best that Ruth should run in and tell Mrs. Merrill of the accident, and ask her assistance. For she found herself unable to walk.
Mrs. Merrill came at once, and with her aid Mrs. Pennell was able to reach the big sofa in the sitting-room where she was made comfortable for the night.
"I will send Gilbert to Germantown early in the morning to fetch your sister," said Mrs. Merrill, as she bade her neighbor good-night.
"It is fortunate that Ruth had not started for her visit to Barren Hill," she added.
"It is, indeed. I could hardly spare her now," Mrs. Pennell responded.
Ruth listened with a feeling that there would never be any more happy days. Her mother was lame; she could not go to Barren Hill, and all her plans for visiting her father at Valley Forge, and perhaps seeing the brave young Lafayette, must be given up.
As she went slowly up-stairs to bed, she had almost forgotten the happy birthday picnic near the river. But she recalled what Black Jason had said of the rumor that General Howe was soon to leave Philadelphia. Just now, however, that seemed to be of little importance to Ruth. Her last waking thought was that she must be sure to get up early, very early, the next morning and have hot water ready to bathe the hurt ankle.
A GREAT RESOLVE
Although Ruth was up in good season the next morning, she had only started the kitchen fire when Mrs. Merrill and Gilbert appeared at the kitchen door with a basket containing breakfast for Mrs. Pennell and Ruth.
Gilbert was all ready to start for his drive to Germantown, and, after a few words with Mrs. Pennell, hurried away.
Mrs. Merrill bathed the sprained ankle and helped Ruth's mother to a comfortable chair near the window.
"May I not put the little table by your chair, Mother, and have my breakfast here with you?" asked Ruth.
"Yes, indeed! That is exactly what I was wishing you to do, my dear," responded Mrs. Pennell; and Ruth ran away to the kitchen and brought in the hot corn bread that Mrs. Merrill had brought, the dish of porridge and the pot of steaming coffee. Then she drew a chair up opposite her mother, and they smiled happily at each other across the small table.
Mrs. Pennell declared that her foot was much better.
"I am sure your Aunt Clara will return with Gilbert," she continued, "but even then I am afraid you will have to do a good deal more than ever before, Ruthie, dear, for Aunt Clara is not yet fully recovered from her illness."
Ruth felt rather proud to know that her mother relied upon her to be of so much help, and, for the moment, quite forgot the visit to Barren Hill. She told her mother of all the delights of Betty's May-day party, and when she carried the breakfast dishes out to the kitchen she was almost her happy self again.
Winifred came over and helped Ruth with the household work that morning, and early in the afternoon Aunt Clara arrived; who, in spite of Mrs. Pennell's fears in regard to her strength, declared herself quite equal to taking care of her sister and attending to the work of the house.
Nevertheless Ruth was kept busy for a number of days; she did not go very far from her mother's sitting-room, and Mrs. Pennell said that her little daughter was "hands and feet" for her lame mother.
Mrs. Pennell's fingers were busy making a dress for Ruth. It was of white linen that Aunt Deborah had woven herself, and brought as a present to Ruth, and Mrs. Pennell was hemstitching the broad collar and dainty cuffs.
"Your Aunt Deborah will be pleased if you have the dress to wear when you visit her," said Mrs. Pennell, a few days after her accident, when Ruth sat beside her, both busy with their needles.
"But I can't go to Barren Hill, Mother. You couldn't spare me," replied Ruth.
"Of course you must go to Barren Hill. Not just at present; but in a week or two I shall be hobbling about the house, and your Aunt Clara will stay with me while you are away," said Mrs. Pennell.
"Truly? Am I really to go to Barren Hill?" exclaimed Ruth, dropping her work, and jumping up from her chair. "Oh! I'm so glad."
Mrs. Pennell looked at her little girl in surprise. She had had no idea how much Ruth had counted on this visit, nor with what disappointment she had given it up.
"Why, my dear child, you have not said a word about your visit since I hurt my ankle. I had not an idea that you wished to go so much," she said.
"I didn't wish to go when you couldn't take a step," Ruth declared.
"Well! I think it is almost worth while to have a sprained ankle to find out what a good little daughter I have," said her mother. "I feel very proud indeed. And now I think you had best put on your hat and go and make Betty Hastings an afternoon visit. It is nearly a week since her May party."
"I will ask Winifred to go, too," said Ruth eagerly, feeling happier than she had since her mother's accident.
"You had best change your dress, dear; put on your blue chambray," suggested her mother, and Ruth ran off to her own room, singing, "Joy is everywhere," as gaily as she had sung it when dancing around Betty's throne.
In a little while she was back in the sitting-room, all ready for her visit. In the pretty blue dress, and wearing a white hat with a blue ribbon around the crown, and with her white stockings and low shoes with shining silver buckles, Ruth was indeed a little girl of whom any mother might be proud.
Winifred was soon ready to accompany her, and the two friends started on their walk to see Betty Hastings.
As they came in sight of the Hastings house they both exclaimed in surprise. For on the steps was Betty, wearing her best hat, and the tall English officer, whose red coat Betty had borrowed for Gilbert's play, stood beside her.
"Do you suppose Betty is a prisoner?" whispered Winnie, a little fearfully.
"Of course she isn't, all dressed up in her best," replied Ruth, and at that moment Betty saw her two friends and waved her hand to them as she came down the steps beside the English officer.
"Oh, Winifred! Ruth! I am so glad you came. Now you can go with us to Walnut Grove and see the English officers practising for their tournament. Captain Harlow says you may go," she exclaimed, running forward to meet them.
Before Ruth or Winifred could reply the tall officer was beside Betty, and she now introduced him to her friends. Ruth and Winnie curtsied, with rather sober faces, and the Englishman bowed politely, and said that he should be happy to have Ruth and Winifred accompany them.
The young Englishman had lodged with Mrs. Hastings ever since the September day when the English army entered Philadelphia. He had been unfailingly kind to all the family, and when he offered to take Betty to Walnut Grove to see the preparations already well under way for the "Mischianza," as the soldiers named their famous entertainment to be given in honor of General Howe, Mrs. Hastings was quite willing for Betty to go.
"We shall be home in good season. I am sure your mothers would be willing," urged Betty, "and 'twill be a fine sight to-day, since the soldiers are to rehearse, as we did for Gilbert's play."
"Let's go, Ruth," Winifred whispered eagerly, and Ruth agreed, but with a vague feeling that she ought not to wish to be entertained by the amusements of America's enemies.
As they walked on toward Knight's Wharf, at the water edge of Green Street, where a boat was waiting to take Captain Harlow and his guests down the river to Mr. Wharton's country place, Ruth kept repeating the word "tournament" to herself, and wondering what it meant. Betty must know, she thought, for she had spoken it so easily. She resolved to ask her at the first opportunity.
A rowboat with two sailors was waiting for the captain, and he helped the little girls to the comfortable seats, and took his place at the tiller, and with a word to the oarsmen the boat moved out from the wharf and headed toward Southwark.
"What does 'tournament' mean, Betty?" Ruth whispered.
"Wait and see," laughed Betty.
"Does it mean the same as 'rehearsal'?" persisted Ruth.
"Not exactly," replied Betty, who only that very morning had asked her mother the same question. "It really means a make-believe battle," she explained, seeing Ruth's look of disappointment. "Men dress up in armor, such as soldiers used to wear, and their horses wear shields, and the men have long spears, and make-believe attack each other."
"Shall we see that to-day?" Ruth questioned.
But before Betty could answer she realized that Captain Harlow was speaking.
"I suppose you all know what the Knights of the days of Chivalry fought for?" he was saying, with a friendly smile at the three little American girls who were his guests.
"What are 'Knights'?" questioned Winifred.
"Can you answer that, Miss Betty?" asked the captain.
"Mother told me that a knight was a brave soldier, whose king gave him a sword, and then said: 'Arise, Sir Knight,'" replied Betty, while Ruth and Winifred listened admiringly, thinking their friend Betty must be the most clever girl in Philadelphia.
"Well, that is near enough," replied the young officer, "but I will tell you that in olden times knights used to have tilts, or tournaments, such as we mean to have on the eighteenth of this month. White Knights against the Knights of the Blended Rose."
It all sounded very wonderful to the three little girls, and Ruth was eager to reach Southwark, fearing that they might miss some part of this rehearsal.
The beautiful river was very still that pleasant afternoon in May, and the boat moved rapidly along, now and then passing some fishing-craft or pleasure boat, and the little girls smiled happily at each other, thinking that this indeed was a great adventure.
As the boat drew near the landing place, they could see a number of people on the wharf, and one of these Ruth at once recognized as Major Andre, the young officer who had introduced her to General Howe on the night when she had gone to demand the return of Hero.
Captain Harlow led the little girls to a bench on the further side of Mr. Wharton's beautiful lawn. "Stay here until I come after you," he said and hurried away.
The girls looked about admiringly. Just across the lawn from where they were sitting men were at work on a pavilion, in which the guests would be seated to view the "Mischianza." Soldiers on horseback were riding back and forth, and a trumpet call sent them all trotting away, to return immediately with long lances and shields on their left arms. Forming in two divisions they galloped forward and back, turning so quickly that Ruth and Betty both exclaimed, fearful that the riders would be thrown.
In a little while Captain Harlow came and took his guests to visit the ballroom. From the garden they ascended a short flight of steps, and entered a spacious hall, lined with mirrors. Never had the little girls seen anything so wonderful. Wherever they looked they saw Betty, Ruth, and Winifred all smiling with delight. Captain Harlow called a servant, and in a few moments the man returned with a silver tray on which were plates of candied fruits, cakes, and glasses of lemonade for his little guests.
"It's more wonderful than the May-day party," whispered Winifred.
But Ruth did not hear her. For at that moment two officers had entered the room.
"Sir Henry Clinton will arrive to-morrow, and General Howe will soon be on his way to England," she heard one of them say.
"'Tis a pity he cannot capture young Lafayette and take him back to England with him. King George would give him a royal welcome," responded the other.
"There is some such plan afoot," declared the first speaker.
"'Capture Lafayette!'" Ruth whispered the dreadful words over to herself and all her delight and pleasure vanished. These men, even the kind Captain Harlow, whom the Hastings liked so well, would try their best to capture the young French Republican, America's best friend, and take him to England a prisoner. Ruth could think of nothing else. She wondered if perhaps there was not already some plan by which Lafayette would be captured. She was very silent all the remainder of the afternoon, and Betty decided that Ruth must be tired.
But they all thanked the captain very politely for their pleasant visit, as he helped them from the boat and walked with them to Mrs. Hastings' door. Ruth was eager to get home. She meant to ask her mother if she might not go to Barren Hill very soon, perhaps to-morrow. It seemed to her she could hardly wait that long; for who could tell what the English soldiers might do before warning could reach Lafayette?
For Ruth had made a great resolve: she would try to let Lafayette know that the English General meant to do his best to take him a prisoner to England. Once at Barren Hill Ruth was sure that she could find some way to reach Washington's camp and warn the young Frenchman.
Ruth's mother and aunt listened to her account of her afternoon's adventure with interest, but when she had finished her mother said:
"I do not blame you, my dear, for accepting Betty's invitation, but I am surprised that Mrs. Hastings should permit an enemy of America's rights to become a friend, as it is evident she so regards the young English officer who lodges there."
In her heart Ruth agreed with her mother. It seemed disloyal even to have accepted Betty's invitation. Nevertheless Ruth was glad that she had gone to Southwark; for the conversation she had overheard in regard to Lafayette seemed of great importance to the little girl. She did not speak to any one of what she had heard the English officers say, but she could not explain even to herself why she had not at once told Winnie, or why she did not now tell her mother. It seemed to Ruth that it was a secret which she could confide only to one person: to Lafayette himself.
"May I go to Barren Hill to-morrow, Mother, dear?" she asked earnestly, as she bade her mother good-night.
"Why, Ruthie! Of course not! Your things are not ready, and we have not sent Aunt Deborah word to have Farmer Withely call for you," replied her mother in surprise. "Why are you so anxious to go to-morrow?"
"Oh, Mother! Never mind about my things. And I am sure Farmer Withely will take me," urged Ruth.
"But do you think it will be quite fair to Aunt Clara?" said Mrs. Pennell gravely. "You know there are many things you can do to help her until I am on my feet again. Be patient, Ruthie. You shall go to Barren Hill as soon as it is possible."
Ruth was ready to cry with disappointment as she went up-stairs to bed. For a moment she had been tempted to tell her mother her reason for wanting to go at once to Barren Hill, but she realized that her mother might say that a little girl could do nothing to protect a great soldier, and forbid her making any attempt to reach the young Frenchman only to repeat the careless talk of English soldiers.
"I must do it myself, in some way. I must!" thought Ruth as she prepared for bed. She wondered if Aunt Clara would not help her in her plan to go to Barren Hill.
Ruth was late to breakfast the next morning, and Aunt Clara wondered a little at her sober face, while Mrs. Pennell was troubled, thinking that Ruth was brooding over her disappointment in not going to Barren Hill.
The little girl performed her usual household duties; but when her mother suggested that she should go and play with Winifred, she shook her head.
In the afternoon she went into the yard with Hero and "Cecilia" to the seat under the maple tree. Aunt Clara noticed that the little girl sat looking across the garden as if her thoughts were far away, neglecting Cecilia, and paying no attention to the faithful Hero.
"I am afraid Ruthie is going to be ill," she said to Mrs. Pennell. "She has not seemed like herself since she got home from her visit yesterday."
Mrs. Pennell was quite sure that Ruth was not ill, but she was troubled that her little daughter should be so disappointed and unwilling to postpone the visit to Aunt Deborah.
"Her heart is set on going to Barren Hill, and I have told her she must wait a while," she explained.
"But why not let her go now?" suggested Aunt Clara. "She is a good and helpful child, and deserves the pleasure. I can make her things ready."
It did not take much persuasion for Mrs. Pennell to give her consent, and when Ruth came slowly into the sitting-room, in response to Aunt Clara's call, her mother said:
"Well, my dear, your Aunt Clara says that you well deserve to start for Barren Hill as soon as she can make you ready. So be on the outlook for Farmer Withely to-morrow morning, and ask him to call for you on Thursday, and to tell Aunt Deborah to expect you."
Ruth's face had brightened as her mother began to speak, but as Mrs. Pennell finished she was again almost ready to cry.
"'Thursday'!" she repeated. "That's two whole days to wait! Why can't I go to-morrow?" she said anxiously.
Mrs. Pennell looked at Ruth in surprise. Never before had she known her little daughter to whine, or seem to want her own way more than anything else.
"What is the matter, Ruth? I thought you would be so glad that your Aunt Clara had persuaded me to let you go so soon. If you say anything about going before Thursday we shall give up the visit altogether," she said.
Ruth hardly knew what to say or do. It seemed to the little girl that her delay in starting for Barren Hill meant the possibility of the capture of Lafayette. She was tempted to tell her mother the reason for wishing to start at once, but she was sure Mrs. Pennell would promptly forbid her carrying out her plan to visit Valley Forge.
Ruth managed to thank her mother for permission to go on Thursday, and to say that she would be sure and see Farmer Withely and give him the message the next morning, and then went back to her seat in the garden. She had just taken up Cecilia, when the garden gate was pushed open and Winifred came running up the path.
"Gilbert says he is ashamed of me!" declared Winifred, "and of you, and of Betty Hastings, for going to Southwark yesterday," and she looked at Ruth a little fearfully, as if expecting her friend to be quite overcome by Gilbert's disapproval.
"I don't care if he is," was Ruth's surprising reply. "I am glad I went, and I always shall be glad. And perhaps some day Gilbert will be glad too."
"Why, Ruth Pennell!" exclaimed Winifred.
"You tell him just what I say," insisted Ruth, beginning to feel more cheerful at the thought of Gilbert's surprise when he should discover that she had saved Lafayette from capture through her visit to Southwark. After all, Thursday was only the day after to-morrow, she reflected, and the English were too much occupied in their welcome to Sir Henry Clinton to start off to capture the young Frenchman. Besides that encouraging thought Winifred had brought over a box filled with beads. They were wonderful beads—blue, all shades of blue, and sparkling red beads, and beads of shining green, and white beads as clear as dew-drops.
"You may pick out those you like best," said the generous Winnie, "enough to make you a necklace, and one for Cecilia, too," and the two little girls were soon happily occupied with the beads, and Ruth forgot all about her fears lest her warning should come too late. But when Winifred jumped up saying that it was time for her to go home, Ruth remembered that she had not told Winnie that she was to go to Barren Hill on Thursday.
"Oh, Ruth! Then you won't see all the processions for Captain Harlow's entertainment. And he said this morning when I went over to see Betty that we could go down again, the very day before it is given," exclaimed Winifred.
"I wouldn't go if I were at home," declared Ruth, "but don't you tell Gilbert that I said I wouldn't go. You tell him what I said first: 'that I am glad I went, and I always shall be glad. And that perhaps some day he will be glad too that I went to Southwark.'"
Winifred promised to deliver the message. She did not suppose it had any special meaning, but she was sure it would puzzle Gilbert.
The next day was a busy one for Ruth. Farmer Withely promised to call for her on Thursday afternoon, and wondered to himself why the little girl was so eager to visit Barren Hill. Mrs. Pennell finished the white linen dress, while Ruth helped Aunt Clara in the work of the house, packed the small leathern trunk, which was to accompany her on her journey, and last of all dressed Cecilia in her best, for she had decided, at Aunt Clara's suggestion, that Cecilia needed a visit to the country.