"To tell the truth, I hoped I'd spy you somewhere, kid. I've got great news! Corcoran has been fired! What do you know about that?"
"The old man himself—no other!"
"Jove! Why, I thought you said he'd been at the mills all his life."
"So he has."
"But—but—to fire him now!"
"Well, he hasn't actually been fired," amended young Harling, "but so far as I'm concerned it amounts to the same thing. He's been transferred to another department and he isn't to be a boss any more, poor old chap!"
"But aren't you glad?" questioned Carl with surprise.
"Why, yes, in some ways," returned Hal thoughtfully. "Yes, of course I'm glad not to have him sarsing the girls and pestering me. Still, I'm sort of sorry for him."
"But I thought you——"
"I know! I know! I'm not saying he wasn't an awful old screw. But somehow I don't believe he meant to be so flinty-hearted. You see, he came and talked to me to-day—talked like a regular human being. You could have knocked me over. It seems—a funny thing—that kid I picked up out of the street the other day was his."
"Yep! Can you beat it? Of course I hadn't a notion who the little tike belonged to; but even if I had I should have done the same thing. You wouldn't let a kid like that be run over no matter who his father was."
"But—but—Corcoran!" gasped Carl. "How did he know it was you who rescued his baby?"
"Somebody told him. He said it cut him up terribly because of the way he'd treated Louise."
"Served him right."
"Maybe! But he was cut up, poor old cuss! You'd have been sorry for him yourself, if you'd heard him. He isn't all brute by any means. Why, when he spoke about his little boy——"
"I know. It was a low-down trick and he said so himself. But he declared it was an ill wind that blew nobody good, and he hinted that maybe in consequence of the trouble she would be better off than if it hadn't happened."
Carl bit his tongue to keep it silent. How he longed to impart to his chum the good tidings that would greet him when he reached home! But he must not spoil Louise's pleasure by telling the story of her good luck for her.
"Oh, somehow things do seem to come round right if you wait long enough," mumbled he.
"So mother says," echoed Hal moodily. "But you get almighty sick of waiting sometimes. Even knowing you were right doesn't put pennies in your pocket." He laughed with a touch of bitterness.
Again Carl was tempted to break the silence and reveal the wonderful secret, and again he clamped his lips together.
Hal would hear the tidings soon enough now and his spirits would soar the higher because of the depths to which they had descended. It was always so. This broad range of mood was one of his chief charms.
Ah, how well he knew his friend and how accurately did he forecast what would happen!
It was not five minutes after the two parted at the corner before Hal Harling came leaping up the McGregors' stairway and gave a loud knock at their door.
"Oh, you old tight-jaw!" announced he, when on entering, he beheld Carl grinning at him from across the room. "You might have put me out of my misery."
The boy laughed.
"It wasn't my secret! I'd have been a cur to butt in on Louise's fun."
"So you would!"
Quietly Mrs. McGregor glanced up from the sea of delicate blue gauze foaming about her.
"A ready tongue is a gift of silver, but a silent one is a treasure of pure gold," observed she quaintly.
THE COMING OF THE FAIRY GODMOTHER
With the Harlings safely out of their difficulties Christmas, as Carl jestingly observed, was free to approach and approach it did with a speed incredible of belief. A big blizzard a week before it, which transformed the suburban districts into a wonderland of beauty, merely worked havoc however in Baileyville, causing muddy streets and slippery pavements, and wrecking the skating in the park.
"Snow doesn't seem to be made for cities," remarked Mrs. McGregor in reply to Carl's lamentations. "It is an old-fashioned institution that belongs to the past. Here in town there is neither a place for it nor does it do an atom of good to anybody unless it is the unemployed who hail the work it brings."
"I hate the snow," wailed Timmie. "It isn't snow, anyway; it's just slush."
"Ah, laddie, you should see one of the snowstorms of the old country!" protested his Scotch mother reminiscently. "Then you would not say you hated the snow. It turned everything it touched white as a Tartary lamb."
"What's a Tartary lamb, Mother?" inquired Tim with interest.
"A Tartary lamb? Ask your big brother; he goes to school."
"I never heard of a Tartary lamb, Ma," flushed Carl.
"Mary had a little lamb," began Nell, who had caught the phrase.
"So she did, darling," laughed her mother as she picked up the child and kissed her, "and its fleece was white as snow, too, for the song says so; but it wasn't a Tartary lamb, dearie. It was just a common one."
"What is a Tartary lamb, anyway, Ma?" Mary demanded.
Mrs. McGregor paused to put a length of silk into her needle.
"Long ago," began she, "before there were ships and trains, to say nothing of automobiles and aeroplanes people had to stay at home in the places where they happened to be born. Of course they could go by coach or on horseback to a near-by city, but they could not go far; nor indeed did they think of going because they did not know there was anywhere to go. Nobody did any traveling in those days and as a result there were no maps or travel books to set you thinking you must pack up your traps to-morrow and start for some place you never had seen. But by and by the compass was invented, larger and better ships came to be built, and men got the idea the world was round instead of flat (as they had at one time supposed), a discovery that comforted vastly the timid souls who had always been afraid of falling off the edge of it. Therefore, when it was at last proved that should you sail far, far away your ship, instead of dropping off into space, would circle the great ball we live on and come home again, some of those who were brave, adventurous, and had money enough set out on voyages to see what there was to be seen in other lands than those they had been brought up in. Frenchmen thought it would be a grand thing to discover new countries for France; Englishmen wanted new territory for England. So it was all over the world. Thus this one and that one began to travel."
"Just as Columbus came to America, Ma," put in Tim.
"Exactly, dear," nodded his mother. "Now you can imagine what a hero such a traveler became; how people admired his daring; and how half of them wished they were going with him and the other half rejoiced that they weren't. And when he came back there was great excitement to hear where he had been and what he had seen! Every word he spoke was passed from mouth to mouth, each person who repeated it adding to the story until it grew like a snowball. And as was inevitable the more raptly the populace listened the more marvelous became the stories."
"Like Jack Murphy when he gets home from the circus," put in Tim.
"Yes, very much like Jack Murphy, I am afraid; only sometimes these travelers really believed the tales they told. Sometimes the stories had been passed on to them by the natives of the strange countries they visited, and how could they know that all which was told them was not true? Such a tale was the legend of the Tartary lamb."
"Tell it to us, Mother," urged Mary.
"Well, it actually isn't much of a story, my dear. You see, when the travelers from England, France, and other western countries went to the East for the first time, they saw cotton growing, or if they did not really see it, they heard there was such a thing. Now cotton was entirely new to the voyagers and it seemed unbelievable that such a plant could be. Some of the eastern natives told the visitors that in each pod grew a little lamb with soft, white fleece. Orientals were very ignorant in those days. The Tartars went even farther and said the lamb bent the stalk he lived on down to the ground and ate all the food within reach; and when he had nibbled up all the grass and roots around him he died, and then it was that people took his fleece and twisted it into thread, which was woven into garments. Thus the legend became established and the belief in the Tartary lamb became so firm that for several hundred years people even in England thought that in the Far East there grew this wonderful plant with a vegetable lamb sprouting from the top of it."
"How silly of them!" sniffed Carl.
"No sillier than lots of the things we now believe, probably," replied his mother. "Aren't we constantly discovering how mistaken some of our cherished beliefs were? That is what progress is. We learn continually to cast aside outgrown notions and adopt wiser and better ones. So it was in the past. The world was very young in those days, you must remember, and people did not know so much about it as we do now. And even we, with all our wisdom, are going to be laughed at years hence, precisely as you are laughing now about those who believed the story of the Tartary lamb. Men are going to say: 'Think of those poor, stupid old things back in nineteen hundred and twenty-three who believed so-and-so! How could they have done it?'"
Carl was silent.
"When you consider this you will understand how it was that the eager readers of the past devoured with wide-open eyes the tale-telling of Sir John Mandeville; and should you ever read that ancient story, as I hope you will sometime, you will be less surprised to hear that even he declared that he had seen cotton growing and that when the pod of the plant was cut open inside it was a little creature like a lamb. The natives of the East ate both the fruit of the plant and the wee beast, he explained. In fact he said he had eaten the thing himself."
"Why, the very idea!" gasped Mary.
"What a lie!" Carl burst out.
"I'm afraid Sir John was either not very truthful or he had a great imagination," smiled Mrs. McGregor. "Still, you see, he was not alone in his belief about the Tartary lamb. So many other people believed the yarn that he probably thought he was telling the truth. And as for eating it—well, he just had a strain of Jack Murphy in him. Besides, there were no schools in 1322 to teach Sir John Mandeville better. And anyway, who was to contradict the fable? Sir John had been to the East and the other people hadn't. Why shouldn't they believe what he and other travelers told them?"
"He did sort of have them, didn't he?" grinned Carl.
"How long was it before the public stopped believing such a ridiculous story?" demanded Mary.
"About three hundred years," answered her mother. "In the meantime much traveling had been done by the peoples of all nations and learning had made great strides. Scientific men began to whisper there could be no such thing as the lamb of the Tartars; it was not possible. Cotton was merely a plant. You can imagine what discussions such an assertion as that raised. The public had come to like the notion of the Tartary lamb and did not wish to give it up; besides, if the story were all a myth, it put the travelers who had told it in a very bad light, and shook the confidence of readers in some of the other tales they had published. Science always upsets us. None of us like to be jolted out of the beliefs we have been brought up with and exchange them for others, no matter how good the new ones are. So it was in sixteen hundred. The populace resented having the Tartary lamb taken away from them."
Mrs. McGregor laughed.
"It was a pity Sir John Mandeville and the rest did not live long enough to learn how mistaken they had been," mused Mary.
"Poor old Sir John! I guess it was as well for him that he didn't, for in his day he was, you see, quite a celebrity. He might not have relished living to see his fame evaporate. At least he had the courage to make a trip to a strange and distant land, and for that we should respect him since it took nerve to travel in those days. Moreover he did his part and was a link in a civilization that went on after he was gone. So the history of the world is built up. Each generation builds on the blunders of the one before it—or should."
"How queer it makes you feel; and how small!" Mary reflected.
"Well, it just seems as if we didn't count for much," sighed the girl.
"On the contrary, dear child, we count for a great deal," instantly retorted her mother. "Each one of us can have a share in the vast plan of the universe and help carry it forward."
"By doing all we can during our lifetime to make the world better," was the answer. "Good men and good women make a good world, don't they? And the better the world the farther ahead will be its civilization. Progress is not all in wonderful discoveries of science, in fine architecture, or in great books; much of it lies in the peoples of the globe learning to live peacefully together and help one another. Kindness to our neighbor, therefore, helps civilization. It cannot avoid doing so if we live it on a large enough scale."
"I never thought of that before," meditated Carl.
"But you can see it is so, laddie," responded his mother. "A lack of kindness and fairness in nations causes wars, and wars put the world backward. It is in the peaceful times that nations grow. You know yourself that you cannot build up anything when somebody else is waiting to knock it down the minute you have it finished. Under such conditions it hardly seems worth while to build at all. So it is with nations the world over. When they are snarling jealously at one another's heels, and coveting what the other possesses, how can progress be made?"
"I suppose when they get mad they forget about the work of the world," Tim announced.
"That is just the trouble," agreed his mother. "Engrossed in their own little squabbles, they lose sight of the splendid big thing they were put here to do. In other words they forget their job, which is to make the world and themselves better."
Slowly she glanced from one earnest face into another.
"Well, I've read you quite a sermon, haven't I?" smiled she. "And it was all because of the Tartary lamb. Now suppose we talk of something else—Christmas. It will be here now before we know it. What shall we do this year? Shall it be a tree? Or shall we hang our stockings, go without a tree, and put the money into a Christmas dinner?"
Inquiringly she studied her children's faces.
"I suppose a tree does cost quite a lot before you are through with it," reflected the prudent Mary.
"And we have the municipal tree in the park, anyway," Carl put in in an attempt to be optimistic.
"But that tree isn't ours, our very own tree," Tim began to wail.
"It is lots bigger than any tree we could have, Timmie," asserted his older brother. "And think of the lights! They are all electric. We couldn't have lights like those here at home."
"I know," grieved Tim. "But it isn't our tree—just ours—in our house."
"A Christmas tree costs ever so much money, Timmie," Mary explained gently. "Mother can't buy us a tree always and a dinner, too."
"Oh, I could manage a small tree, perhaps," interrupted Mrs. McGregor, touched at seeing the child so disappointed. "There are little ones at the market."
"But I don't want a little one," objected Tim stubbornly. "I want a big, big Christmas tree."
"Big as the ceiling—big as Mulberry Court," interrupted Martin, extending his chubby arms to their full length.
"I wants a big tree, too," lisped Nell.
Mrs. McGregor sighed to herself. Evidently it was not going to be as easy to coax her flock away from their established traditions as she had at first supposed. Each year she had made a stupendous effort to keep Christmas after the old fashion; and each season the ceremony, before it was over, made appalling inroads on her slender purse. This time it had been her plan to curtail expenses and put what was spent into the more substantial and lasting things. But now as she glanced about her her heart misgave her. Even Carl and Mary, valiantly as they fought for economy, and grown up though they were, could not altogether conceal the fact that they were disappointed; and as for the younger children, they were on the brink of tears.
"Well, we won't decide to-day," announced their mother diplomatically. "We will think it over until to-morrow. By that time perhaps some way can be found——"
A knock at the door interrupted her.
"Run to the door like a good boy, Timmie," said she. "Very likely it's the boy from the corner grocery with the bundles of wood I ordered."
Tim rose with importance. Visitors to the fifth floor of Mulberry Court were so few that to admit even so prosaic a one as the grocer's boy never ceased to thrill him.
To-day, however, it was not the grocer's boy who stood peering at him from the dim hallway. In fact, it was no one he had ever seen before. A little old man stood there, a man with ruddy cheeks, a stern mouth, and blue eyes whose sharpness was softened by a moist, far-away expression. From beneath a nautical blue cap strayed a wisp or two of white hair. Otherwise, he was buttoned to his chin in a great coat, fastened with imposing brass buttons, dulled by much fingering.
Apprehensive at the sight, Tim backed into the room. Brass buttons, in his limited experience, meant either firemen or policemen and either of these dignitaries was equally terrifying.
"You don't know your Uncle Frederick, do you, sonny?" observed the stranger.
The voice, more than the words, brought Mrs. McGregor to her feet in an instant, and what a rush she made for the door! Gauze, spangles, scissors, and spool flew in all directions and the children, deciding that some unprecedented evil had befallen, stampeded after her.
Open-mouthed, they watched, while in the arms of the little old gentleman she laughed, cried, and uttered broken nothings quite unintelligible to anybody.
"Who ever would have thought to see you, Frederick!" gasped she at last, as wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron she dragged her visitor into the room. "Children, come here one by one and speak to your Uncle James Frederick Dillingham. This is Carl, the oldest one—a good boy as ever lived (if he is always tearing his clothes). The next is Mary; she's going on thirteen and is quite a little housekeeper even now. Timmie, who let you in, is nine. And here are Martin and Nell—the mites! James Frederick is asleep but when you see him you'll see the finest baby you ever set your two eyes on. Kiss your uncle, children. You know it's him you have to thank for many, many things."
Slowly the children advanced, wonder (and if the truth must be told) no small measure of chagrin in their crestfallen countenances.
Was this apparition the fairy prince of their imaginings—this little gray man with his long coat and oilskin bundle? Why, he might be Mike Carrigan, the butcher; or Davie Ryan, the proprietor of the fruit stand, for anything his appearance denoted. Their dreams were in the dust. Still, youth is hopeful and they did not quite let go the expectation that when the long coat that disguised him had been removed and the magic bundle opened Uncle Frederick Dillingham would issue forth in a garb startling, resplendent, and more in accordance with their mental pictures of him. But to their profound disappointment, when the great coat was tossed aside, it concealed no ermine-robed hero; nor was there crown or scepter in the bundle. Instead there stood in their midst a very plain, kindly little man arrayed in a shiny suit of blue serge that was almost shabby. The buttons, to be sure, had anchors on them; but they were dim, lusterless old anchors that looked as if they had been sunk in the depths of the sea until their golden glory had been tarnished by the washings of a million waves.
Nell eyed him and at length began to cry.
"Policeman!" she whimpered, hiding her face in her mother's skirt.
"Hush, girlie! Don't be silly," protested Mrs. McGregor hurriedly. "Your uncle is no policeman, though he may get one if you don't stop that noise."
At that the little old man laughed a hearty, ringing laugh, so good to hear that in spite of themselves the whole family joined in it. After that, everything was easy. Uncle James Frederick Dillingham tucked his coat, cap, and bundle away in a corner and allowed his sister to seat him in the rocking-chair before the stove.
"Put another shovelful of coal on the fire, Carl," said she briskly. "And Mary, do you slip out to the market and fetch home a beefsteak and some onions. You were ever fond of a steak smothered in onions, Frederick. Timmie, you shall set the table with a place for your uncle Frederick at the head, remember. And Nell, trot to the shed, darling, and bring mother a nice lot of potatoes. Go softly so not to waken James Frederick."
Promptly her host sprang to obey her.
"Well, well, Brother," murmured she, "I've scarcely got my breath yet. I never was so surprised in all my born days as to see you standing there on the mat! Wherever did you come from? We've not heard from you for weeks and I had begun to fear something might have gone amiss."
Captain Dillingham patted her hand with his horny one.
"We had a long trip home, Nellie, because of strong head winds," explained he. "Then, too, there were ports to stop at and cargo to unload. Add to this a fracas with the engine and you'll readily understand why I had only scant time for letter writing. I never was any too good at it, at best, you know."
"Men never are," returned Mrs. McGregor cheerily over her shoulder as she hustled out of the pantry with a clean tablecloth. "But it matters not now; the ship is safe in port and you are here in time for Christmas—a miracle that's never happened before in all my memory."
"But——," began her brother doubtfully.
"But what? Surely you're not going to say you are putting straight off to-morrow for India or some other heathen spot! No shipowners would be so heartless as to ask you to do that. Besides, very like the Charlotte must need repairing after such a stiff trip. Oughtn't her seams to be caulked or something?"
Captain Dillingham's eyes twinkled and the corners of his mouth curved upward.
"You're quite knowing in nautical matters, Nellie," observed he with amusement. "Aye, the Charlotte will have to lay to and be overhauled some. She had a tough voyage. Still, she don't mind it much. She's a thoroughbred that takes what comes without whimpering. That's the lady of her. I never have to offer excuses or apologies for her—no, siree! Tell her what you want done and you can count on her doing it every time."
"I'm sorry you didn't have a better voyage home," ventured his sister.
"Oh, the voyage was all right enough. You can't expect a marble floor to sail on in December. Indeed a trip such as that would be almost too tame for me. I like the kick of the sea. Still, heavy winds that hold you back all the way over as these held us, are trying. You make but slow progress against them. Nevertheless the Charlotte put up a stiff fight and don't you forget it."
"Had you any storms this trip?"
"Storms? Oh, I believe we did strike a gale or two, now I come to think of it. I recall there was a nasty typhoon in the Indian Ocean that kept us busy for a while. But such happenings are all in the day's work and after they are over are forgotten."
Carl, busy at his task of slicing the bread, gasped. Gales and typhoons! And the Indian Ocean to boot! And his uncle mentioned them all as if they were no more than flies on the wall. He had seen the Indian Ocean on the map—an area of blue edged about with patches of pink, green, and yellow; but he certainly had never expected to meet in the flesh anybody who had sailed its waters.
Uncle Frederick Dillingham suddenly began to take on in his eyes an aspect quite new; an aspect so alluring that when contrasted with the myth of purple and ermine the latter tradition shriveled into something very minor in importance. Was not the master of a ship a far more intriguing character than a dull old king who did nothing but sit on a crimson velvet throne and wave a scepter?
"You'll have much to tell us, Frederick," declared Mrs. McGregor, putting the potatoes into the oven. "The children know little of foreign lands. Nor do I know as much of them as I would. 'Twill be grand to hear where you've been and what you've seen."
"Did you go to China, Uncle Frederick?" Carl inquired timidly.
"Aye! And to India and Japan, laddie."
The boy's eyes glowed with excitement.
"Oh, wouldn't I like to sail on a big ship to some place that was different from Mulberry Court!" cried he.
"The places I've been in lately were certainly different from Mulberry Court!" sighed Captain Dillingham. "And perhaps had you seen them you would be as glad as I am to be at Mulberry Court."
"Maybe! I'd like a peep at something else, though."
"Maybe some day you'll be having it," returned the sea captain jocosely. "Who knows! I may be taking you to India with me when you're older."
"Frederick!" came from Mrs. McGregor in a horrified tone.
"You wouldn't like to see the shaver starting off for India, Nellie? And why not?" laughed her brother. "India is a fine country. Besides, traveling the world is a great way to study its geography. I'll be willing to wager, now, that not one of these older children, though they have been to school since they were knee high, could tell me offhand where the Suez Canal is."
Consternation greeted the assertion and there was dead silence.
"There! What did I tell you?" returned Captain Dillingham triumphantly. "And should I try them on the Bay of Biscay or the Ganges it would be no better."
The stillness was oppressive.
"Aren't there—didn't I read somewhere that there are crocodiles in the Ganges?" Carl managed to stammer.
His uncle chuckled.
"There's hope for you, son," he answered. "To know there are crocodiles in the Ganges is something. Perhaps I shall make a tourist of you yet. But you will have to know a little more about this globe of ours before I can do it, I'm afraid."
"I hate geography," announced Tim, who had been listening and now with disconcerting frankness proclaimed his aversion in no uncertain terms. "All it is is little squares of color."
Captain Dillingham glanced toward his sister and met her wry smile.
"That's what books do for you," acclaimed he. "They make the romance of the Orient nothing but patchwork." Then to Tim he continued, "I can teach you better geography than that, laddie. Countries aren't just little pieces of pink, yellow, or blue paper laid together. They are people, rivers, mountains; tea, sugar, and cotton; ivory, elephants, and carved temples."
The children had drawn closer around his knee.
"Tell us about the elephants," pleaded Tim, with shining eyes.
"There, you see! You are begging already for a lesson in geography—much as you dislike it!" teased his uncle.
"There can be no geography lessons now," objected Mrs. McGregor. "The steak is done and mustn't be spoiled with waiting. Show your uncle where to sit, Mary. And, Timmie, bring the salt. It's been forgotten. You'll have to bring a chair from my room, Martin. Remember James Frederick and go on your toes."
"Now, Frederick," smiled his sister mischievously, "admit that even in India you've seen nothing better than this beefsteak."
"'Twill take no coaxing to make me admit that, my dear," returned Captain Dillingham. "Not all the sultans of the east could produce a dish as royal as this one."
THE ROMANCE OF COTTON
From the moment of Uncle James Frederick Dillingham's arrival there began for the McGregor children an era of delight. The newly found relative, they soon discovered, was not only all they had pictured, but more—far more!
He did not, it is true, actually live at Mulberry Court, for because of the crowded conditions of the McGregor home he took a room near-by; nevertheless he might as well have lived there for he only used his own room to sleep in and stow away his luggage. Each morning just before breakfast his step would be heard on the stairs and off would race the children in merry rivalry to see who would reach the door first and have the honor of admitting him. Once inside the cosy kitchen he made it his headquarters and it did not take long to find out that he was a valuable asset there.
For example who could fry fish so deliciously as he? And who could make such chowder? And as for washing dishes and wiping them he was quicker than any of the young folks. To behold an officer in gold braid presiding at the dishpan at first caused a protest from Mrs. McGregor; but when the little old man asserted that it was a treat to be inside a home and handle a mop and soap-shaker what could one say? So he mixed the foaming suds and dabbled in them up to his elbows, and when his sister witnessed the general frolic into which his leadership suddenly transformed the dishwashing she no longer objected. The center of an admiring group of youngsters Uncle Frederick scrubbed pots and pans until they shone like mirrors, and all to a chain of the most wonderful stories.
What marvel that there were quarrels as to who should help him and actual bribes offered for the coveted pleasure? The children's chatter never tired him. On the contrary he was in his element when they swarmed about his chair and perched on his knee. As for his namesake, James Frederick, there was not another such baby to be found in all the world, he declared. Often he would sit with the little fellow in his arms, crooning to him fragments of old sea chanties whose refrains were haunting to hear. Or he wheeled the baby out with as much pride as if he were treading the decks of the Charlotte.
To see him one would have imagined that he had always lived at Mulberry Court. How naturally, for example, he wandered into the market, bringing back with him mysterious bundles which on being opened disclosed lamb chops, sweet potatoes, and oranges. And what a feast big and little McGregors had when such parcels made their advent in the kitchen! Or he would venture into the shopping district and appear with his pockets bulging with rubbers, mittens, and caps. Oh, there never was such an uncle! His purse seemed lined with gold; or if it were not lined with this precious metal at least the supply of pennies it contained was unending.
And not only was there one of these shiny pennies for each child in the family but before long the train of benefactions lengthened until there was scarce a boy or girl to be found in all Mulberry Court who did not have tucked away in his mitten a golden disc with the shining face of Abraham Lincoln upon it. So it was that he became uncle not alone to the wee McGregors but to the community as well.
Now of course it followed that such a visitor could not be more than a short cycle of hours in the neighborhood without making the acquaintance of the Harlings, and running in to amuse the shut-ins with his tales of foreign lands. For he was a rare story-teller, was Uncle Frederick. Never was there a better. And with running here and running there was it to be wondered at that he found himself as busy if not busier than he had been when aboard the Charlotte—a very lucky thing too, for he confided that he always got fidgety for his ship if he was idle when on shore.
Now he had no chance to become nervous or fretful. Much travel had rendered it easy for him to establish contacts with persons. In consequence all types of human beings interested him and with a charm quite his own he swept aside the preliminaries and by simple and direct methods made straight for the hearts of those he met. He reached them, too—there was no doubt about that. Had he chosen he could have astounded Mulberry Court with all he knew about Julie O'Dowd, the Murphys, and the Sullivans. Why, he even knew all about Davis and Coulter's mills before he had been in Baileyville twenty-four hours!
Now this delightful relative could not but increase in the community the prestige of the McGregor family. To have a connection so popular, traveled, and prosperous—a man of rank, and adorned with brass buttons, what a luster all this shed over the inhabitants of the fifth floor of Mulberry Court! Carl, Mary, Tim, Martin, were no longer rated as little street Arabs; suddenly they became the nieces, nephews (probably the heirs) of Captain James Frederick Dillingham who commanded the Charlotte and had sailed to every port under the sun. How the neighbors gossiped, congratulating themselves that they had discovered Mrs. McGregor's virtues in time to be included in her circle of acquaintances! Oh, they had always known she was a lady! Wasn't her ancestry stamped upon her very face?
As for the Captain himself, his career, when contrasted with the humdrum life of Mulberry Court, was like that of a returned Columbus. How could he fail to be enveloped in a halo of fascination? For Mulberry Court was dingy and dull. Probably not one of its toiling throng was destined ever to see much beyond the city's muddy streets, crowded sidewalks, cheap shops, and seething tenements. But at least, even right here in Baileyville, it was possible to glimpse through other eyes the wonders denied them.
Therefore when Captain Dillingham came to call one did the next best thing to really going to India—one went there by proxy and saw in imagination white-turbaned natives, resplendent temples, sun-flooded tropics arched by turquoise skies. Even the Murphys could do that, and without it costing them a cent, either. The Captain told Julie O'Dowd stories of China while she ironed Joey's dresses, and the tediousness of the task was forgotten in the enchantment of the tale. As for Grandfather Harling, after the stranger's first visit he strained his ears for a second, and when with a cheery "Ahoy!" the knob turned and the small gray man entered, it seemed as if the very sunlight came with him. And Mrs. Harling welcomed his coming too for even the men's talk of cargoes, commerce, shipping, and stevedores had its lure for her.
In fact, all the neighborhood agreed that the dapper little captain "had a way with him."
"Why, he could actually talk about dried codfish, I do believe, and make you think there was nothing on earth like it!" exclaimed Julie O'Dowd to Mrs. Murphy. "I never saw such a man! And so kind withal. Simple as a child, too. You don't catch him prating about his doings. Why, Mike Sullivan who went once to New York talked more about it than does this critter all his circlings of the globe."
Aye, the Captain was modest. Everybody agreed to that. Nevertheless he certainly had at his tongue's end an astonishing amount of information which came hither when occasion arose for him to use it.
Carl had an illustration of that one day when he chanced to drop a remark about the Tartary lamb.
"Tartary lamb, eh!" commented his uncle, catching up the phrase quickly. "And how, pray, did you hear of the Tartary lamb?"
"Mother told us."
"A funny idea, wasn't it?" Uncle Frederick spoke as if Tartary lambs were topics of everyday conversation. "And yet no stranger than some of the notions we hold now, I imagine. We do not know all there is to be known ourselves—not by a good sight—even though we do think ourselves very up-to-date. With all the learning the ages have rolled up handed to us in a bundle we should blush were we not better informed than poor Sir John Mandeville, who had no books to speak of. Had he been able to read Herodotus, for example, he would then have learned from that Greek writer who lived so many centuries ago that there was in India a wild tree having for its fruit fleeces finer than those of sheep; and that the natives spun cloth out of them and made clothing for themselves. Herodotus tells many other interesting facts about cotton and its uses, too. A present, he remarks, sent to the king of Egypt, was packed in cotton so that it would not get broken. That sounds natural, doesn't it? He even makes our clever inventor, Eli Whitney, appear unoriginal by describing a Greek machine that separated cotton seeds from the fiber."
"Then the cotton gin wasn't new, after all," frowned Carl.
"The idea of it was not new, no; but the device Whitney and his friend Mr. Miller produced was a fresh method for getting this age-old result. Up to 1760 the same primitive ginning machine was used in England as had been used in India for many, many years. Think of that! But as civilization grew and people not only wove more cloth but made an increasing variety of kinds the demand for material to make it increased. And old Herodotus is by no means the only early historian to mention cotton. Other writers went into even more details than he, describing the plant, its leaves and blossoms, and telling how it was set out in rows. Apparently as long ago as 519 B.C. the Persians were spinning and weaving cloth and dyeing it all sorts of colors, using for the purpose the leaves and roots of tropical plants. It therefore followed that when the officers of Emperor Alexander's army returned from the East they brought back to Greece tales of the cotton plant, and Greeks and Romans alike began to use the material for awnings much as we do now."
"How funny!" smiled Carl. "I'll bet they were glad to have something to shade them from the sun. I shouldn't relish spending the summer in Greece or Italy."
"I guess you wouldn't. Baileyville may be hot in July but it is nothing to what Rome must have been. The stone seats of the Forum were like stove covers; and because the rich old Romans enjoyed comfort quite as much as anybody else, lengths of cotton cloth were stretched across certain parts of the structure to shade it. Even your friend Julius Caesar was not so toughened by battle that he fancied having the hot sun beat down on his head; he therefore ordered a screening of cloth to be extended from the top of his house to that of the Capitoline Hill so when he rode hither he could be cool and sheltered. Oh, the Romans knew a good thing when they saw it—never fear! In the meantime Greeks and Romans alike were using the newly discovered material for tents, sails, and gay-colored coverlets."
"Didn't cotton grow in any other country beside India, Uncle Frederick?" interrogated Mary.
"We do not really know about that," was her uncle's reply. "Certainly it was found in other places—Egypt, Africa, Mexico, and America; but whether it was native to these lands or had been transplanted to them it is impossible to say. We do know, however, that the ancient Egyptians depended chiefly on flax for their cloth and imported cotton from other countries, so although the plant did grow there they could not have had much of it. The little they had was cultivated, I believe, almost entirely as a shrub and used merely for decoration."
"But loads of cotton come from Egypt now," declared Carl. "The teacher told us so."
"Indeed it does," nodded Captain Dillingham. "I have brought many a bale of it back in my ship, so I know."
"Really!" ejaculated his listeners.
"Yes; Egypt, India, and the United States are the great cotton-producing countries of the world. India comes first on the list; then we ourselves, with our vast southern crops; then Egypt. And it is because India raises such great quantities of cotton and is obliged to ship it to England for manufacture afterward buying it back again—that Gandhi and his followers who are eager for India to be independent of England are raising little patches of cotton, weaving their own cloth on hand looms, and refusing to purchase that of English make. It certainly seems fair enough that the wealth derived from this crop should remain in India and not be spent for things the people of India do not like. However, all that is too big a question for you and me."
"Did you ever see cotton growing, Uncle Frederick?" asked Tim, who had drawn near.
"Oh, often, sonny. As a general thing the plant is like a Christmas tree in shape. The perennial plants, or those that come up every year, frequently grow to be six or eight feet tall; but the annual ones remain little three or four-foot bushes. Still each grows into pyramid form, having the wider branches at the bottom. The leaves are not unlike the lilac; and there is a deep, cup-shaped pod having points that turn up like fingers and hold the cotton in tightly. But no matter whether perennial or annual, the cotton plant must have a hot, humid climate to thrive, and if the land is not naturally moist it must be irrigated as it is in Egypt."
"I thought things like cotton just grew wild, Uncle Frederick," said Tim.
"No, indeed," laughed his uncle. "You cannot gather big crops of anything unless you are willing to work for them. The Lord does not mean to make life too easy for us. He gives us all these things and then He has done His part; we must do the rest. The world is a place of opportunities, that is all. If we are too lazy to take them, or too stupid, it is our own fault. Many a man gets nowhere because he fails to grasp this idea. So, sonny, you do not get your cotton all grown for you, and with the seeds picked out. You are given the root and if you wish a big cotton crop you must plant seeds, or better yet set out cuttings, cultivate and care for the plants. Every minute your mind must be on the thing you are trying to raise. You must watch, for instance, for pests of insects; diseases that will spoil your plants; blights caused by fungi; and above all for sudden changes in the weather. Should it turn scorching hot just when your cotton shoots are up and beginning to spread their roots the result will be fatal. Or an early frost will work ruin. Sometimes, you know, we have a spell of hot weather in the late winter that fools the growing things into thinking spring has come, and the poor misguided plants begin to put out their leaves. Then, like a mischievous joker, old Winter comes back and nips the trusting little creatures. Cotton doesn't fancy that sort of joke. Nor does it like too much wet weather, for then the cotton gets damp and sodden and cannot be picked. Should it be gathered in this condition it would mold and mildew, and become a wreck."
"It sounds to me as if cotton raising was pretty hard work," sighed Tim.
"Oh, no harder than are most other things, Timmie," returned Uncle Frederick. "Generally speaking cotton plants sail along safely enough unless a pest attacks them. That is their greatest menace. When a pest descends on the crop the grower does lose courage, I can tell you. It is queer to think what damage a crowd of tiny insects can do, isn't it? Some of them will bore through the pods as if in pure spite and spoil the cotton fiber at the time it is just beginning to form—a detestable trick! Others, fattening on the tender green leaves near the top of the plant, will turn into caterpillars, creep down the stalk, and devour every leaf as they go along. This leaves the roots of the plant unprotected from the sun and speedily every particle of moisture on which the growth is so dependent is dried up. So the plants shrivel and die. Then there are beetles, locusts, grasshoppers, and all the rest of the army of trouble-makers who wait to steal a march on the unwatchful planter. All these rebels must be kept their distance if you would harvest a big cotton crop."
"I guess I never would have any cotton," remarked the disheartened Tim.
"Oh, yes, you would, son," laughed his uncle. "Surely you wouldn't let yourself be beaten by a lot of bugs and worms, would you? Should you live in a climate where cotton could be raised you would pitch in, fight the pests, and be as proud of your snowy field as many another man is. For when the pods are ready for gathering there is no prettier sight. It is like a huge bowl of popcorn."
"I'd like to see a cotton field," ventured Mary.
"You'd have to go to India, the southern part of your own country, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, or the South Sea Islands then," Captain Dillingham responded. "That is, if you wanted to see the best of it—that which is strongest of fiber."
"But isn't cotton all alike?" queried the girl, with parted lips.
"No, indeed, child! There are many different kinds of cotton. Some have seeds of one color, some of another; some seeds come out easily, some do not; some cotton is strong fibered, some is weak and snaps at a touch; some has long fibers and some short. Each variety has its name and is peculiar to a given country."
"Oh!" came in chorus from his audience.
"For instance, the most delicate or fine quality of thread is produced from the Sea Island cotton, and usually this type is quite expensive; it has so many seeds and they take up so much room in the pod that after they have been removed only a small quantity of cotton remains and that makes it costly. Almost every other kind gives more lint (or picked cotton) than does this variety. The Egyptian cotton is somewhat on this same order. India, China, Arabia, Persia, Asia Minor, Africa, and the Coromandel Coast all have a common type of plant which probably first grew in the latter place and was transplanted from there to the other countries.
"In Cuba a sort of cotton vine is found that has very large pods and a great number of seeds. Some of the fibers of this plant are long and some short. It is not a very good kind of cotton to cultivate because the long fibers get tangled up with the seeds and often break when being separated. Moreover the short fibers are all mixed in with the long.
"This gives you some notion of the different species of cotton. Were I to tell you of all the kinds you would be tired hearing about them. I myself get interested because I carry so much cotton in my ship—bales upon bales of it. Sometimes I take cotton out from America to countries that either do not have any, or do not have as much as they want; sometimes I bring back here varieties that we cannot raise in the South."
"What kind of cotton do we raise in the United States?" Mary asked.
"The bulk of our cotton is long-stapled and is called Georgian Upland," was the response. "The whole plant is rough and hairy—leaf, branch, and pod. Some persons think that originally it came from Mexico. However that may be, here it is, and although we raise some little of other sorts we have far more of this than anything else. We can thank it, too, for much of the wealth of this country of ours for Texas, Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas are all big cotton-growing States. Florida, Tennessee, Indian Territory, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma also lie in the cotton belt and ship substantial crops."
The little man rose.
"I could go on talking cotton forever," jested he. "Think of a sacred cotton tree often as high as twenty feet, growing along the coast of the Indian Ocean, the cotton from which is used only for weaving cloth for the turbans of Hindoo priests! And think of still another exquisitely fine Indian cotton called Dacca cotton that is spun and woven into fragile oriental muslins and Madras Long Cloth. It almost makes your mouth water to grow cotton, doesn't it?"
"Well, at least you can go and see it grown, Uncle Frederick, and that is more than we can do," piped Tim.
"True, sonny," nodded the captain. "But still you who stay at home and do not see it grown have your share in its benefits. You wear, use, and eat cotton products."
"How?" questioned the wondering Tim.
"Don't you have cotton cloth for clothing, bedding, and no end of other comforts? Of course you do."
"But—eating cotton——" faltered Tim. "I don't do that."
"There are medicines made from the cotton root; cottonseed oil for cooking and to use on salads, you may not be aware, comes from the meaty kernel inside the cotton seed."
"I didn't know that," Tim answered.
"Oh, cotton has many by-products," returned his uncle. "The lint that cannot be used for spinning is made into cotton wadding to pad quilts, skirts, and coat linings; and cotton waste is excellent for cleaning machinery. Ripe cotton fiber furnishes an almost pure cellulose, too."
"Cotton certainly seems to do its part in the world," Mary murmured thoughtfully. "But I'm not sure," added she, with a mischievous little smile, "that I know just what cellulose is."
NORTH AND SOUTH
"Where do you and the Charlotte go when you leave here, Frederick?" his sister inquired as the family sat at breakfast the next morning.
"New Orleans, I suppose; we touch there for a cargo of cotton," was the reply.
"Then you'll see the crop gathered, won't you, Uncle Frederick?" Mary put in.
"Hardly that, lassie," replied her uncle kindly. "All the work will be done before I arrive. However, I shall not mind that for I have seen southern cotton fields in their prime before now."
"It grows everywhere in the South, doesn't it?" Mary ventured.
"One could hardly say that, my dear," Captain Dillingham responded with a mild shake of his head. "On the contrary the cotton belt of the United States is comparatively small considering the vast crops it yields."
"Why don't they make it bigger and plant more cotton?" questioned Tim.
"Cotton, as I told you, sonny, has its own ideas as to where it will grow. Let it be planted farther north than forty-five degrees and it will only thrive under glass; or try to cultivate it farther south than the thirty-five degree line and it will also balk. This, you see, leaves a rather narrow zone that answers its demands in the way of temperature and soil. For the kind of soil cotton likes has to be considered also. If the land is too sandy the moisture will soon dry up and the plants shrivel; or if there is an undue proportion of clay the excess moisture will not drain off and the plants will run to wood and leaves. Therefore you have the problem of getting the right proportions of clay, loam and sand in a climate where the temperature holds practically even."
"Why, I shouldn't think any spot on earth would fill that bill," grinned Carl.
"We do succeed in getting just such areas, however," returned Captain Dillingham. "North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Indian Territory, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma all contrive to answer the requirements to a greater or less degree. These States boast soils that are blends of clay, sand, and loam in the desired proportions; and while some of them are better than others both soil and temperature are such that cotton can be grown in them. Given these two assets the rest of the conundrum is up to the planter."
"I should think most of it was answered for him when he has these two important factors," Mrs. McGregor asserted.
"But to have climate and land is not enough," protested her brother. "Once he possesses the land the owner must take care of it. It cannot be allowed to run out but must be plowed up, fertilized, and the crop tended like any other farm product. Before cotton growers realized this, not much attention was paid to these laws and in consequence the crop of many a southern plantation suffered. Now cotton-raising is done far more scientifically. The old stalks are gathered and destroyed; the land is plowed and fertilized, and afterward seed-planting machines go up and down the rows, scattering five or six seeds into each hole, with a space of not more than a foot between the holes. Then the seeds are covered over lightly and left to sprout."
"How long is it before they come up?" interrogated Carl.
"About ten or twelve days," was the reply. "A couple of days later the first leaf appears and then trouble begins. April sees the Carolina planters thinning their shoots in order to have sturdy plants from which to select the ones eventually allowed to grow. States farther south get at the task earlier. After the thinning process is over the plants are hilled up like potatoes and the spaces between the rows, where the last season's crop previously grew, is plowed to keep the soil open and free for drainage. Men afterward travel through the open rows hoeing up the loose soil and heaping it around the young plants to strengthen and protect them; then, since nothing more can be done immediately everybody takes a rest and waits."
"Then what happens?" piped Tim.
"Oh, after a time the same process is repeated. The earth by this time has become crusted over and must be opened up again; the hauling, too, takes place once more. Hauling is the name given to bedding up the plants with loose earth. Often there are four or five haulings. By July the plants have grown sufficiently to show which one in each hill is to be the most thrifty and this one is left to grow while the other shoots are pulled up. After that, given sunny days and occasional light showers, the crop should prosper. Should there, however, be too much heat, or too great a quantity of rain, things will not move so successfully."
"How long does cotton have to grow before it is ready for picking?" asked Carl.
"The plants bloom approximately the middle of June—sometimes earlier, sometimes later, according to the climates of the various States. Two months after that the crop is ready to be gathered. You must not, however, run away with the notion that cotton-picking is a hurried process. Often it goes on from the end of August until into November or December. It is a long-drawn-out, tedious, monotonous task. Whole families join in the harvesting for since there is always some low and some tall cotton (some annual and some perennial varieties) the children can share with their elders in the work and thus earn quite a sum of money. In fact, in the old days before child labor laws protected the kiddies, and while cotton-picking was done by slaves, many a poor little mite toiled cruelly long in the fields. Even the older negroes were driven with whips and compelled to keep at work until utterly exhausted."
His audience gasped.
"Yes," nodded their uncle, "I am afraid that urged forward by the desire to garner a big crop before rain should fall and spoil it, the cotton growers practiced much cruelty. No doubt, too, the same tyranny reigned in India. Wherever work must be done by hand and labor is cheap and plentiful, human beings come to be classed to a great extent as machines. Plantation owners become so interested in the money they are to make that they forget everything else. Of course labor was never as cheap in our Southern States even during slave days as in India and therefore until the advent of the cotton gin cotton was not one of our valuable crops."
"You mean because the seeds had to be picked out by hand?" Carl said.
"Yes. There was, to be sure, the primitive kind of gin resorted to in India for cleaning certain black-seed varieties. Two kinds of this black-seed, or long-stapled cotton, grew in the Sea Islands and along the coast from Delaware to Georgia; but it could not be made to thrive away from the moist ocean climate. Hence on inland plantations a different and more vigorous variety of plant (one having green seeds and short staples) was propagated. This kind was known as Upland cotton. It was a troublesome product for the planters, I assure you, for its many seeds clung so tightly to the lint that it was almost out of the question to remove them. The simple little gin copied from India and successfully used on the black seed variety was entirely impracticable on this Upland growth since it tore the fibers all to bits."
"They did need a cotton gin, didn't they!" Carl ejaculated.
"Very badly, indeed," agreed Captain Dillingham. "Well, the only substitute for machinery was fingers; and when I tell you that it often took an entire day to get out of a three-pound batch of cotton a pound or so that was clear of seeds you will understand what a slow process it was."
"At that rate I shouldn't think it would have paid anybody to raise cotton," sniffed Carl.
"It didn't," returned his uncle. "Moreover it rendered the product very expensive, for it required a great number of slaves to clean any considerable quantity of cotton. I often think of the toil and misery that went into the cotton-growing of those slavery days. After working for a long stretch of hours in the blazing sun the negroes came in at night worn out. But were they allowed to rest? Perhaps some of them who had considerate owners were; but many, many others less fortunate were set to picking out seeds and lest they fall asleep at their task overseers prodded them with whips."
"That was slavery, son," declared Captain Dillingham. "Do you wonder that Abraham Lincoln thought it would be worth even a war to rid this country of such an evil? Understand, I am not condemning all slave owners. Undoubtedly there were kind and humane ones just as there are to this day employers who are fair with their help. But urged on by commercial greed the temptation of the planters was to force the slaves to do more than was right, and as a result a great deal of cruelty was practiced. Had the primitive method of picking cotton by hand continued it is probable that slavery might have died a natural death without recourse to war, for many of the Southerners were reaching a point where the returns from cotton and tobacco were not sufficient to feed the army of slaves that swarmed over the plantations. To use a common phrase the slaves were eating their heads off. It was just at this juncture, however, that Eli Whitney came along with his cotton gin and in a twinkling the South became revolutionized and the problem of the legion of idle, profitless slaves was settled. They would now be idle and profitless no longer. Vast quantities of cotton could henceforth be planted and the negroes could cultivate and gather it. With Eli Whitney's gin to do the slow and hindering part of the process cotton-raising could be made a paying industry."
"Mr. Whitney bobbed up in the very nick of time, didn't he?" smiled Mary.
"For the financial prosperity of the South he did," her uncle responded. "But to the welfare of the negroes his advent was a fatal stroke. Slaves immediately were more in demand than they ever had been before. No mechanical device could take their place. Cotton must be planted, cultivated, and harvested by hand and the larger the cotton fields became, the harder the slaves were worked. The cotton crop became the staple product of the South. Many a Southerner who took up arms against the Union did so because he honestly believed that to free the slaves would mean the economic ruin of his section of the country."
"I never thought of that side of the question before," Mrs. McGregor murmured thoughtfully.
"Nor I," rejoined Carl.
"Nevertheless it is a fact none of us here in the North should forget," continued Captain Dillingham. "To the southern planter our point of view appeared unfair and grossly one-sided. It was easy enough for the North to say the slaves should be freed. They had no cotton fields and their prosperity was not dependent on the negroes. But to let the slaves go meant ruin for the South. It was not alone, you see, that their owners wished the profit derived from buying and selling them; they needed them to work. Never had the South had such an opportunity to coin wealth as that now opening. What wonder its residents were angry at having this dazzling prospect for fortune-making snatched away? Remember and take these facts into consideration when you think harshly of those who took up arms to defend slavery."
There was an instant's pause.
"Of course, however, none of this justifies slavery or makes it more right. The entire principle of it was wrong; it was un-Christian, unjust, and cruel, and the only honorable thing to do was to bring it to an end in this country. But that is another story altogether. What we are talking about now is the cotton itself; and to get a big view of this subject it is well to consider what was happening in the world just at this time, and why cotton was such a desirable commodity.
"Over across the ocean James Watts's steam engine, combined with the flying shuttle of John Kay, the spinning jenny of Hargreaves, the water-frame of Arkwright, and the self-acting loom of Crompton, was working as great a revolution in England's cloth-making industry as Eli Whitney's cotton gin had done in the South. In other words the hand loom had been supplanted by the more modern device of the steam-driven spinning mill. This meant that in future cloth would no longer be made in small quantities in the homes, women of the families spinning the thread and weaving it whenever they could steal a bit of time from other household duties. No! Cloth was to be made in factories on a much larger scale, and sold to the public."
"No wonder the fact set everybody to raising cotton!" declared Mrs. McGregor.
"No wonder indeed!" nodded her brother. "From a vintage so small that even President Jefferson scarcely knew America had a cotton crop at all this product of the South leaped forward by bounds. The year preceding Eli Whitney's invention the United States exported less than one hundred and forty thousand bales; but the year afterward the shipment had soared to nearly half a million. The following year it was a million and a half; the year after that six million."
"Gee whizz!" commented Carl. "That was some record, wasn't it?"
"Rather!" agreed his uncle.
"How much do we export now, Uncle Frederick?" Mary asked.
"From nine to twelve million bales of five-hundred pounds each are raised annually in the South," returned Captain Dillingham. "Of this about ninety per cent. is Upland cotton, the green seeds of which have to be taken out by a gin similar to the one Eli Whitney invented. Approximately about half this vast crop is exported."
"I had no idea we raised so much cotton," mused Carl.
"We raise quantities of it, son," Uncle Frederick said. "Now you can understand better why the South was so resentful at being compelled to free the slaves. With cotton so much in demand the prices of slaves had greatly increased. The planters had untold wealth almost within their grasp. It was all very well for the North to assert that slavery was a barbarous practise. Who was to tend the cotton fields when the slaves were gone?"
"The South did have something on its side, didn't it?" Mary ventured.
"A great deal, when once you put yourself in the Southerner's place. We in the North are liable to emphasize only the cruelty of slavery and are often unable to understand how enlightened and Christian men could keep slaves and fight to keep them. You see there were reasons."
"Of course, as I said before, all the cotton-raising in the world could not make the thing right. It was wrong from start to finish. Nevertheless it does explain why some of our people felt the freeing of the slaves so unjust and such a blow to their prosperity that they threatened secession from the Union."
"And it was because Abraham Lincoln would not allow them to secede that the war was fought!" announced Carl triumphantly.
"Precisely! You cannot allow part of a country to rise up and walk out any more than you can let some of the wheels of a watch announce they are not going to turn any more," laughed his uncle. "It requires every part to make the watch go; and it takes the united strength of a people to make a nation. North and South were all beloved children of one land, and Abraham Lincoln, like the father of a big family, was not going to let any of the household break away from the organization to which it belonged. It meant a struggle to do the two things necessary—free the slaves and preserve the Union; but quarrels are sometimes necessary in families. After they are over there is a more perfect understanding. So it has been with this one. Both sides paid a fearful price but as a result we now have one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
"That's the oath of allegiance!" cried Carl, Mary, and Tim in chorus, as they leaped to their feet and stood at salute.
"We say it at school every morning," continued Tim, "but I never knew before what it meant."
"You will know better now, won't you?" Captain Dillingham replied. "Every time you say those words remember the brave men of the South who really believed they had a right to establish a government of their own and protect the prosperity of their part of this great land. If you do this you will learn to honor both sides alike, each of which fought so devotedly for the cause he cherished. And now that the war is over the entire country has the South to thank for one of its greatest sources of wealth—cotton. The South raises it; the North, with its many mills, transforms the raw product into a finished commodity. How is that for team work? Could there be better proof of how vitally each section needs the other?"
A LESSON IN THRIFT
That evening Carl resumed the cotton-raising subject by idly remarking, "I suppose since the invention of the cotton gin and the abolition of slavery most of the drudgery connected with the cotton industry has disappeared."
His uncle smiled.
"Hardly that, I am afraid, sonny," replied he. "Even under the best possible conditions the cultivation and gathering of the cotton crop entails drudgery. This cannot be helped. In the first place cotton demands steady heat to make it grow; and you know what it means to work all day in the broiling sun. Of course the negroes are to a certain degree accustomed to this; and moreover they belong to a race that finds hot weather less hard to bear than do many other persons. Nevertheless heat is heat, and say what you may, a hot sun pouring down on one's head does not make for comfort. In addition there is the monotony of the harvesting. As I told you before, this has to be done by hand—there is no escape from that; and since it must be, the dullness of the task is an unavoidable evil."
Carl mused thoughtfully for a moment.
"I don't see," observed he presently, "that after all the negroes are much better off than they were in slave days."
"Oh, yes, they are," Captain Dillingham instantly responded. "Remember they now receive wages; their hours of work have also been shortened and regulated; and overseers have become more humane and now invent little ways of breaking the monotony and making the time pass more pleasantly."
"Oh, there are various things that can be done to achieve this end. Sometimes fresh buttermilk or some other refreshing drink is passed down the rows; or on a cool day hot coffee is served. Any little change such as singing or whistling interrupts the sleepy effect of one continual process and shifts the mood and spirits of those toiling into another groove. This is very beneficial. All our students of industrial methods will tell you that the worst flaw of our present system is the effect monotony has on the minds of those constantly subjected to it. Performing without deviation the same mechanical act day after day deadens the brain and even, in certain cases, produces insanity. It also kills ambition and creates hopeless, indifferent persons. Therefore, made wiser by psychology we realize the importance of stirring the mind out of a fixed rut, or rather a stupidity that verges on somnambulism, and keeping it alert and active. Sheep growers, for example, try in every way to divert the minds of their shepherds lest the continual watching of a slowly moving flock paralyze their minds and get them locoed."
"Your mother will tell you that. That is why a shepherd's pipe is such a splendid thing. To pick out a tune and listen to it starts the mind out of its trance and promotes mental exercise. It does what gymnastics do for the body."
"But all our factories keep men at a single task," Carl objected.
"You mean the piece-work system? Aye, I know," nodded his uncle. "And as we grow wiser, and come to care more for our fellows, we begin to wonder whether so much specializing is as fine a notion as we at first thought it. It makes for efficiency, for without question a man who does just one thing over and over becomes expert at his particular job; but does he not in time, because of his very expertness, lapse into a machine whose hands move automatically and whose mind is idle? Such a result is fatal both to his intellect and his will. He becomes passive until at length all initiative is destroyed. For many years the colored people of the South reaped precisely this harvest of mental inertia. Now, thank heaven, they are rousing out of the lethargy that has been their inheritance and their brains are getting to work. It will, however, take years, perhaps generations, for some of them to work up to a normal mental activity and intelligence; but if they persist results will surely come. Many of them have already shaken off their intellectual fetters so that not only are their bodies free but their minds are also. That is why I feel that all our citizens should do everything in their power to help them, and try and make up to them for the injustices they have suffered. It is not enough to take them out of physical slavery; we should break the chains of their mental imprisonment as well by giving them schools, trades, and such other training as is within their mental scope."
"I'm afraid I never thought of the negroes that way," confessed Carl.
"A great many persons older than you do not," Captain Dillingham returned kindly. "But when you do think of them from that angle you cannot but honor the more highly those colored persons who have achieved positions of importance. There are now in our country colored lawyers, doctors, teachers, poets, and writers. Who can tell what their background has been or measure the mental exertion that has brought them where they are to-day? Wherever we meet them we should give them a hand up. We owe it to them because of our own greater opportunity."
The little man stopped to light his pipe.
"Now see where talking about picking cotton has led me," grumbled he whimsically. "A pretty distance I've wandered from my subject! Well, you mustn't touch me off on the topic of the colored race again. I have seen many abuses of the negroes in my day, both on shipboard and ashore, and the subject turns me hot. Just how the evils of cotton-gathering are to be avoided I do not know. We must wait, I fear, until some clever individual bobs up with a scheme that does away with hand harvesting of cotton. In the meantime the only remedy left us is to vary the work of the men and women who toil at it as much as is possible."
"I wish, Uncle Frederick, you would tell us just how the cotton is gathered," said Mary, who had joined the group.
Captain Dillingham flashed the girl one of his rare smiles.
"I don't know, my dear, just how much more there is to tell," declared he. "Of course, if you have ever picked currants or blackberries you will realize something of the constant bending and stooping that goes with the industry and will understand how hard it is on the back. Then there is the continual standing, a tiresome business at best. Besides, mechanically as the task is rated, it is not such an easy one after all, for the cotton fibers stick firmly to the inside of the pods and as a result the unskilled person who tries to detach them in a hurry will probably succeed only in extricating a bare half of what is inside. And like as not he will break the fibers he does get out so that their value will be sadly decreased. The trade has its tricks, you see. Furthermore an amateur generally has fragments of husks and leaves scattered through his cotton, all of which have to be removed and make extra work later on."
"Then cotton-gathering is not really such brainless work as it might be, is it, Uncle Frederick," Mary asserted.
"Oh, it requires a knack that comes through practice," conceded her uncle quickly. "As soon as the pods crack open and show white it is a sign the workers must be on hand for the picking, and early in the morning they assemble that they may have a long day to work while the sun is on the crop. For as I told you there can be no cotton-harvesting without sun to dry off the night's moisture. The moment a bag or basket is filled it is emptied into something larger and the picker starts afresh. Before evening comes and the dew falls, the day's crop is hurried under cover that it may not absorb any dampness. Here it is packed into receptacles banded with the owner's name or private mark, and made ready to be carried to the ginning factory."
"Don't the planters have their own cotton gins?" queried Carl in surprise.
"Oh no, son! That would be an unnecessary and expensive luxury. Just as corn is sent to the miller to be ground, so the cotton is sent to factories to be ginned, weighed, and baled for shipment. You see the cotton grown on any one plantation and cultivated under uniform conditions will be practically of the same ripeness and weight; it will also be, in all probability, of the same variety. This fact is important when ginning and selling it, and greatly increases its value. Such conditions, however, do not always prevail for there are districts (and also countries) where small cotton farms exist whose output is not large enough to make an entire bale. In such cases the product of several farms has to be combined and this makes a bale mixed in quality. This is true of part of the cotton that comes from India. There many of the natives, owing to lack of commercial and industrial enterprise, raise small batches of cotton. Often it takes a great many of these little lots to make up a bale."
"Do the natives of India take the seeds out of their own cotton?" asked Mary.
"Some of them do, using the primitive gins so long known in India. The Chinese also gin much of their own cotton by amateur gins. But it goes without saying that much of the cotton fiber is broken by these methods. For the more perfect the gin the less loss results. Even with our best machinery however, a certain amount of injury is done which cannot be avoided."
"Then Eli Whitney's gin isn't so perfect," ventured Carl.
"Its method is as perfect a one as we have," answered Captain Dillingham, "and up to date nothing better has been found. Those handling large quantities of cotton are almighty thankful to have anything as good, I can tell you. In India, China, and oriental countries, though, where the lots are small the people, as I say, still cling to their primitive foot gins. Here in America we have several types of gin all made on the same general principle but differing slightly as to detail. Some of these are better than others. By this I mean some are less brutal and cause a smaller degree of waste. Indeed I believe Whitney's own gin and those of its kind known as saw gins are considered to do the most damage to the fiber. This sort of gin consists of a series of circular saws set into a revolving shaft in such a way that the cotton fed into the machine is separated from its seeds in an incredibly short space of time. Afterward a whirling brush cleans the saws of the fiber clinging to them. It is an effectual system but a merciless one and is best adapted to short staple cotton which is strong and does not snarl. The best gins use only long, smooth blades to clear the cotton and it follows that these do the fiber far less injury."
"How does a ginning factory look, Uncle Frederick?" Carl inquired.
"You mean the inside? I never went through but one. I was waiting for a cargo at Norfolk once and as there happened to be a ginning plant near where I was staying I visited it. Generally peaking I suppose they are pretty much alike. The cotton is brought to them, as I said, in clearly marked, or branded bags or baskets, and is tossed from the wagons directly into hoppers. Afterward the contents of the hoppers is loaded into freight elevators and shot to one of the upper stories of the factory, there to be piled up and await its turn for ginning.
"When the time comes to gin that particular batch it is heaped into a hopper and borne to the gins below by means of traveling racks."
"How many gins are there to a factory?" questioned Mary.
"That depends on the size of the factory and the amount of work brought there to be done," was the reply. "A fair-sized factory in a busy district will have half-a-dozen gins or more; and when you know that one gin will clean from three hundred to three hundred and fifty pounds of cotton an hour you will see that it will take a pretty big supply to keep such a lot of machinery moving. There is a separate hopper for each gin and if the supply fed into it comes too fast it can be stopped and switched to other gins. Once in the clutch of the relentless knives the cotton is shredded apart and the seeds drop out and fall into a traveling basket. From this basket they are forced through a tube to an oil mill which usually stands in another part of the grounds."
"Cottonseed oil!" murmured Mary, recognizing an old friend. "We often use it to fry things. It's good on lettuce, too. But somehow I never thought that it was really made from the seeds of cotton."
"We often accept terms without thinking much about them, don't we?" Captain Dillingham agreed. "But cottonseed oil is a genuine by-product of cotton."
"What is a by-product?" smiled Mary ingenuously.
"A by-product is something made from the leavings," put in Carl without hesitation. "Hash is a by-product of corned beef."
A laugh greeted the assertion.
"Technically speaking a by-product is something that is turned to account from what would otherwise have been waste. Every person who manufactures on a large scale tries to think what he can do with what is left after he has made the thing he started out to make. This he does for two reasons: first he wishes to turn back into money every ounce of material for which he has paid; secondly he desires to get rid of stuff which would otherwise accumulate and (if not combustible) force him into the added expense of carting it away. In other words he seeks to convert his waste into an asset instead of a liability. Therefore all big producers tax their brains to invent things that can be made from their waste, and such commodities are called by-products. Many of these things require no ingenuity for frequently they are articles much needed in other trades. Masons, for example, are only too thankful to have the hair taken from tanned leather to hold their plaster together; and those who dry and salt fish can easily turn the fish skins into glue. The by-products of great packing houses and tanneries are legion. Often such dealers will have at hand such a supply of usable stuff that they will establish other factories where their unused materials can be converted into cash. The sale of these products often increases very materially the profits of a business. Such a product is cottonseed oil. As millions more seeds mature each year than can possibly be used for planting why not turn them to account? Often there are from sixty-five to seventy-five pounds of seeds to a hundred pounds of cotton. Think how rapidly they would accumulate if something could not be done with them. During the war when we were unable to get olive oil from Italy and fats of all kinds were scarce we were thankful enough to fall back on the cottonseed oil made in our own country. At the oil mills machines are ready to clean the cotton seeds of lint, hull them, separate hull from kernel, and press the oil from the kernel itself. This oil is then bottled, labelled, and shipped for sale, making quite an independent little industry, you see. What is left of the crushed kernels is removed from the hydraulic presses and is remolded into small cakes to be used for——" he paused, glancing quizzically toward Carl and Mary.
"For what?" the boy asked.
"I've not the most remote idea," Carl returned.
"Nor I!" echoed Mary.
"For cattle to eat," went on Captain Dillingham, completing his unfinished sentence.
"Even the hulls," he continued, "are, I believe, utilized in some way; and as I previously told you the lint which clings to the seeds is passed through a second sort of gin, gathered into a bundle, and afterward put through a carding engine which combs it out and prepares it so it can be made into wadding for coverlids, quilted linings, and quilted petticoats. All the gins then collect whatever material is left and this, being absolutely too poor for any other purpose, is sold as cotton waste to be used for cleaning machinery and polishing brass and nickel trimmings. Were we individuals half as thrifty as are manufacturers in salvaging the odds and ends that come our way we might save ourselves many a penny. Every year we Americans throw away enough food and wearing apparel to maintain a small army. We are, alas, a very wasteful people and are constantly becoming more so. Our ancestors used to lay aside buttons, string, papers, scraps of cloth and use them again. They made over clothing, fashioned rag rugs, conserved everything they could lay hands on. Their attics were museums where were horded every sort of object against the time when it might be needed. But do we follow their example? No, indeed! In fact, we go to the other extreme and hurry out of the house, either to a junk dealer or a rummage sale, everything we cannot find immediate use for. To a certain extent our mode of living has forced us to this course. Most of us reside in cramped city quarters where there are no spacious attics in which to garner up articles against a rainy day. Modern apartment dwellers boast neither attic nor cellar, to say nothing of a farmer's barn loft. Moreover, we all must scramble so fast to earn our daily bread that we have no time to make over the old; it is cheaper, we reason, to purchase new than to fuss with remodelling. Neither are materials what they were in the old days. Few of the fine old silks and woolens that would wear for a generation are to be had at present. Also we have more money than our forebears and this has much to do with our wholesale wastefulness. With plenty of everything at hand, why save? And the policy the individual is following on a small scale the nation is adopting on a much vaster one. We are using up our forests, our mines, all our resources with no thought of the morrow. We ought to stop and think about this before it is too late but I doubt if we ever will."
Captain Dillingham paused.
"There is such a thing," he added, "as people and nations being too prosperous for their own good. But to return to the cotton gin. The cotton, having been cleared of its seeds, is now known as lint, and this is bundled together until enough of it is collected to be properly baled for the spinning mills."
"What is proper baling?" inquired Carl.
"Why, the rough baling simply gathers the cotton together into a big bundle."
"Well, what's the matter with that?"
"Nothing—so far as it goes," laughed the Captain. "I should be sorry, however, to see many such bales coming aboard my ship."
"Well, you know what cotton is," answered Uncle Frederick. "After it has been picked to pieces in the gins it comes out a nice, white, fluffy mass that takes up no end of room. Were it to be transported in this condition a few hundred pounds of it would fill a ship or freight car and cost the owner so much that it would not be worth his while to transport it. Moreover, it would be bothersome to handle when it arrived at the spinning mills. Therefore before cotton is shipped it has to be reduced in bulk so that it will not take up so much space."
"But how can it be, Uncle Frederick? asked Mary, open-eyed.
"What do you do when you wish to make some soft material into a small parcel, my dear?"
"Oh, roll it up—squeeze it together," was the instant response.
"Well, there you have your answer!" responded Uncle Frederick. "Balers treat cotton lint in the same fashion; only, as they are not strong enough to accomplish this end with their hands, they resort to powerful machines, or compressors, to carry out the process for them. By means of enormous pressure they crush down the billowing lint until four feet of it can be reduced to a thickness of not more than seven inches."
"I wouldn't want to fall into that machine! chuckled Carl.
"There wouldn't be much left of you if you should, I can assure you of that," Captain Dillingham said. "Cotton, however, does not raise any such protest. It is pressed and pressed and pressed, and while still in the presses iron bands are put round it to hold it so it can be compactly transported. An American bale of some five hundred pounds will usually have six or seven of these iron bands round it. Certain of these bales are merely rough ones; others are cylindrical. I believe the latter sort are more generally preferred. To make them the cotton is gradually pressed and rolled by powerful presses until a bale four feet long and about two feet through is obtained. These cylindrical bales weigh a trifle less than the others—about four hundred and twenty-six pounds—and because they have been pressed so hard they keep in place without either iron bands or cloth covers. When they arrive at the mills the cotton from them can be unrolled and much more easily fed into the machines. If they are covered it is merely to keep them clean."
"Do all bales of cotton have to weigh the same?" inquired Carl.
"You mean is there a standardized weight for all bales?"
"No, there is no universal standard for bales of cotton. The bales from different countries differ quite considerably. For example a Brazilian bale usually weighs only from a hundred and seventy-five to two hundred and twenty pounds; the Turkish from two hundred and fifty to three hundred and twenty-five pounds; those coming from India do better, averaging about three hundred and ninety pounds. Should you handle this imported cotton you would notice that the bales from India are very heavily banded, often as many as thirteen bands encircling them. This is partly because the long staple of this variety of cotton must not be injured by heavy pressure, and partly because they have not in India the excellent facilities for compressing lint that we have here. The Egyptian bales are the largest transported; they run as high as seven hundred pounds and have about eleven bands to hold them."
"It must be a stunt to get them aboard ship," grinned Carl.
"I've taken my turn at the job," responded the captain drily. "We swing them down into the hold by means of cranes and have now learned to land them quite neatly. Nevertheless, even though they are only bundles of cotton wool I should not fancy having one of them drop on my head," concluded he with a twinkle.
A FAMILY CONGRESS
Meantime while the McGregors discussed cotton and the sunny southern fields in which it grew, Christmas was approaching and Baileyville, shrouded in wintry whiteness, began to feel the pulse of the coming holiday. Shop windows along the main street were gay with holly and scarlet. Every alluring object was displayed to entice purchasers and such objects as were not alluring were made to appear so by a garnish of ribbon or flashing tinsel. There were Christmas carpet sweepers, Christmas teakettles, Christmas coal hods and how surprised and embarrassed they must have been to find themselves dragged out of their modest corners and, arrayed in splendor, set forth before the public gaze. Nothing was too mundane to be transformed by the holiday's magic into a thing mystic and unreal. Even such a prosaic article as a washtub, borrowing luster from the season's witchery and in shining blue dress became a thing to covet and dream about.
Then there was the army of foolish trifles that owed their existence merely to the season's glamor and would have had no excuse for being at a time when the purchaser's head was level and his judgment sane. And in addition to all these there were the scores upon scores of gifts useful, fascinating, desirable, but beyond range of possibility at any ordinary period of the year.
Oh, it was a time to keep one's balance, the Christmas holidays! The very stones of the streets glistened golden and the crisp air breathed enchantment. If one's nerves were not frayed and on edge he jostled his neighbor with a smile and took his share of jostling in good part. Was not every man a brother; and did not a great throbbing kindliness emanate from all humanity?
It seemed so to Carl McGregor as the wonderful day of days drew near; and so also it seemed to all the wee McGregors. They were on tiptoe with excitement and could hardly be made to stand still long enough to have their neckties tied or their pinafores buttoned.
"Have you children decided yet what you want to do?" questioned their mother one morning, as she struggled to hold the wriggling Tim until his hair could be made presentable for school. "Christmas is but a week away now and we must come to some decision as to our plans. We can't have everything, you know. Shall it be a turkey and no tree? Or shall it be a tree and no turkey? And if it is a tree shall it be a big or a little one? We must vote on all these questions."
"I want ice-teem," lisped Nell.
"Mercy on us!" ejaculated Mrs. McGregor, in consternation, as this fresh avenue for outlay presented itself. "Nell is for ice cream and a tree too."
"And turkey!" went on the little one imperturbably. "Me wants turkey!"
"Ice-treem! Ice-treem!" cooed James Frederick.
The mother's face clouded. A tree, turkey, ice cream and presents were far beyond the range of the family purse.
"I'd rather have stockings and turkey," Mary declared.
"And cranberry sauce and nuts," put in Tim.
"And celery and sweet potatoes," added Carl. "A real dinner, Mother."
"Would you rather do that than have the tree?"
Silence greeted the question.
Into every mind flashed the picture of a tree towering to the ceiling and a-glitter with lights and ornaments. Even Carl, despite his fourteen years, could not entirely banish the vision. But the dinner, the dinner! After all the tree would only be a thing to look at; food could be eaten and enjoyed, and Carl was a healthy boy at an age when he was possessed of a particularly healthy appetite. Tempting as was the tree the aroma of browned turkey rose in his nostrils.
"I vote for turkey," announced he at last.
"No tree? No Christmas tree?" murmured Martin, his lip quivering.
"You have a tree at kindergarten, silly, and so does Nell," declared the elder brother quickly.
"'Tain't like having it here—our really own tree," bewailed Martin.
"Couldn't we have a simpler dinner, Mother, and manage to get a tree?" interrogated Mary. "It is fun to trim it and the little children love it so."
"Girls always like things that look pretty," piped Tim in disdain.
"And all boys care about is to eat and eat," Mary shot out with equal scorn.
Hidden away in a corner behind his newspaper Captain Dillingham chuckled. He was vastly amused by this family congress.
Meantime Mrs. McGregor, in order to avert the battle she saw rising, said, "Suppose we put it to vote. Are you ready for the question?"
"Yes!" responded her flock in chorus.
"All right. Shall it be presents and turkey, or presents and a tree?"
"I want mince pie," proclaimed Martin flatly.
"But we are not talking of pie, dear," answered his mother patiently. "It is the turkey we're voting on."
"I want turkey and a tree and presents and ice-teem and pie!" Nell asserted shamelessly.
"Stockings and turkey, Ma! Stockings and turkey!" shouted Carl.
"Listen, dears!" began their mother. "As I told you before we can't have everything. I wish we could but we just plain can't, so that ends it. Therefore we must choose what we think we will get the most pleasure out of. Now who is for turkey? Raise your hands!"
Every hand came up.
"And who is for a tree?"
Again every hand was raised.
Helplessly Mrs. McGregor sank back into her chair.
"Oh, dear," sighed she. "Don't you see we are getting nowhere? I told you only a minute ago we couldn't have both."
Uncle Frederick came out from behind his paper.
"See here, you young savages," began he, laughing good-humoredly, "listen to me! If you do not get down to business and use some sense, Christmas will be here and you will have nothing at all."
A wail ascended from Nell and Martin.
"Your mother can give you either turkey or a tree; but she can't give you both. In my opinion she is almighty good to do so much."
He saw the children flush uncomfortably. Carl dropped his eyes and Mary slipped a hand into her mother's.
"Now instead of clamoring at her like a lot of ungrateful little brutes and wanting the whole earth, why don't you show her you are grateful for what she's doing?" went on Captain Dillingham in a sharper tone.
"Oh, it's all right, Frederick," interrupted Mrs. McGregor hurriedly. "I don't want——"
The captain, however, was not to be stopped.
"Your mother is ready to give you turkey or a tree. How many are for turkey?"
Carl and Tim raised their hands.
"And who is for the tree?"
Instantly Mary, Martin, and Nell raised their hands.
"It is the tree, as I see it," acclaimed he.
"But it isn't fair," Tim objected. "James Frederick didn't vote."
At this everybody laughed and whatever tension there was vanished.
"Oh, James Frederick would vote for the tree," Mary said. "He is so little he couldn't eat turkey if we had it, could he, Mother?"
"I'm afraid he couldn't," smiled her mother. "He hasn't teeth enough."
"Then it is a tree! A tree!" cried Martin exultantly.
"Wait!" Captain Dillingham put up his hand. "We haven't finished with this matter yet. You've got your tree from your mother; now I can give you a turkey if you decide you want me to. But first you are to listen to what I have to say. A Christmas tree and a turkey mean a great deal for one family to have in these days when so many people are having so little. The O'Dowds, for example, are to have neither a Christmas dinner nor a tree; I happen to know that. Joey has been sick and there are doctor's bills to pay. Beside that, Mr. O'Dowd has been out of work and has no money to spend this year."
The little McGregors regarded their uncle with solemn faces.
"Oh, dear!" breathed Mary sympathetically.
Carl scowled soberly; then his face glowed with a sudden idea.
"Couldn't we——" he hesitated awkwardly.
"Oh, Uncle Frederick, if you were really going to buy a turkey, couldn't we give it to them?" flashed Mary, smiling toward her brother. "Would you mind giving it away to somebody else? You see, if you were going to buy it anyway——" she regarded her uncle timidly, "we could have something else for dinner, couldn't we, Mother? Perhaps corn chowder. We all like that. And maybe we could have a pudding and some nuts."
"Bully, Mary! I'm with you!" Carl rejoined.
"I'd like to do that, too," agreed Martin. "I wouldn't mind so much about the turkey if we had the tree."