They went into the cloakroom to get their wraps, and Miss Davis had to turn on the light for them because it was so dark. The window was high in the wall, and the wind had blown so much snow against it that the room was "like five o'clock at night," Carleton Marsh said.
"Now remember, don't play, but hurry home," said Miss Davis, when the last legging was buttoned and all the mittens were matched. Perry Phelps lost one of his mittens regularly every day and Miss Davis always had to find it for him. "Don't stop to play in the snow till you have been home and had your lunch. You'll have the whole afternoon to play in."
It was much colder than it had been in the morning. Sunny Boy knew that as soon as he went out on the steps. But he did not know how cold it was till he and the other children turned the first corner. Then the wind struck them and Dorothy Peters cried that she couldn't breathe!
"Turn your back to it," Sunny Boy advised her, pulling his fur cap down over his ears.
But the wind seemed to blow in several directions at once. It swooped down around the children and blew stinging snowflakes into their eyes. It howled and shrieked and tore over the roofs of the houses, bringing great sheets of snow with it.
"It wasn't like this, this morning," complained Carleton, stamping his feet to warm them.
Though none of them knew it, the storm was now a blizzard and it was cold enough and windy enough and snowy enough to make grown-ups most uncomfortable, to say nothing of small boys and girls who had to walk through the storm. It was a mistake for the teacher to send the children home alone.
"I can't see where I'm going!" gasped Jimmie Butterworth, trying to wipe the snow from his face with his mittens.
Jessie Smiley stubbed her toe against something and began to cry.
"I'm so cold!" she wailed. "My nose is frozen, I know it is. And I never saw that funny fence before."
Sunny Boy looked up at the great iron fence. The snow had blown against it till it was almost covered. There was a row of ash cans set out on the curb in front of this fence and they were so completely covered with snow that poor Jessie had walked into them without seeing them.
"No, I never saw that fence, either," declared Jimmie. "Is this the way you go home to your house, Sunny Boy?"
"I don't know whose fence that is," replied Sunny Boy. "I never saw it before. Gee, doesn't the wind blow!"
The wind was blowing harder than ever and the snow seemed to be coming down faster and faster. There was not a horse or wagon or motor truck to be seen on the street, and not even a single person. Every one who could get in out of the storm had done so. And as it was noon by this time even those whose work forced them to be out had managed to find shelter somewhere for the lunch hour.
"I want to go home!" cried Dorothy Peters, just as Ruth Baker had cried the day she went coasting with Sunny Boy and Nelson. Sunny Boy decided that all girls acted the same way.
"Well, come on," said Jimmie Butterworth, putting his hands deeper into his pockets. "Come on, Dorothy; you won't get home standing there and crying about it. Hurry up."
The children began to walk again, but the snow blinded their eyes and the wind continued to take their breath way. Jessie Smiley fell over a curb stone and began to cry and Helen Graham, who had not said a word, sat down in the snow and declared she wasn't going a step further.
"I think we're lost and we'll be buried in the snow and never, never found any more!" she said. Helen liked exciting stories and she had heard so many she thought she could tell a few herself and, as it proved, she could.
"I don't want to be buried in the snow!" cried Jessie. "I won't be buried and never, never found any more."
"You can't help yourself," Helen informed her. "Oh-h, my feet are cold!"
"Well, I don't b'lieve we're going home," admitted Jimmie Butterworth, working his arms up and down to get them warm. "I think we'd better walk the other way."
So they all turned around and began to walk in the opposite direction. The wind turned, too, and the snow came into their faces faster than ever.
"Look out!" screamed Helen Graham, as they stumbled across a street. "Here comes something!"
Something big and black was coming toward them out of the snowstorm. It moved slowly and Jimmie Butterworth said he thought it was a battleship.
"Who ever saw a battleship on the land?" said Perry Phelps. "I'll bet you it is a—a cow."
Perry said this hastily because he had thought at first the thing coming toward them was a motor truck, but before he could say so his quick eyes had made out four moving legs.
"It's a horse and wagon," said Sunny Boy. "Let's ask the driver to give us a ride home."
"Hey, mister!" shouted the boys as the wagon came close to them. "Let us in? Where are you going? Let us ride with you, please?"
The horse stopped, but no one answered. It seemed, tired, poor animal, and stood with its head down and winking its eyes to keep the snow out of them.
"Let us ride with you?" said Jimmie Butterworth politely. "I think some of us are lost."
Sunny Boy moved closer to the wagon. He peered in where the driver should sit. He could not see any one, and he noticed that the reins were tied around the whip handle.
"I don't believe any one is driving this horse," he said suddenly.
WHERE THE HORSE LIVED
Sunny Boy was right. The children stared at each other in surprise and the little girls forgot that their feet were cold. Who ever heard of a horse and wagon without a driver?
"Is he running away?" asked Jessie Smiley.
"Silly, of course he isn't," retorted Jimmie Butterworth. "A horse can't run away in a snowstorm. I tell you what let's do—let's get in and drive him home!"
"How do you know where he lives?" said Helen Graham.
"Oh, I guess I can find out," replied Jimmie, though he was wondering how to find the answer to that question.
"Do you know how to drive a horse?" asked Sunny Boy.
"Well I never did, but I think I could," said Jimmie, who was a good-natured boy and quite ready to try any kind of new experiment.
"You know how, don't you, Sunny Boy?" said Perry Phelps. "You went to see your grandfather in the country, didn't you? And he has horses and things. You drive us home."
"No," said Sunny Boy, "I don't know how to drive a horse like this. Wait a minute, and I'll think."
The other children waited for him to think. Though he was the youngest in his class, they had found out that Sunny Boy was often wiser than they were and that he could be trusted to find a way to do things. Miss Davis said that Sunny Boy was her "right-hand man."
"My daddy says," announced Sunny Boy, after he had thought a minute, "that horses can go home all by themselves, so I guess this one can. But if we all got into the wagon, the girls would cry and be afraid he would run away."
"We wouldn't, either!" said Jessie Smiley crossly.
"Yes you would," Sunny Boy told her. "I think the girls ought to get in the wagon and ride and we'll stay and walk with the horse. Then he'll go home and we'll find out where he lives."
They argued a few minutes about this plan, but as no one could think of a better one, the girls, Helen and Jessie and Dorothy, climbed into the wagon and the four boys trudged along beside the horse who started to walk slowly the minute Sunny Boy called "gid-ap" to him.
He wasn't a fast horse, and it did seem as though his home must be at the very end of Centronia, for he continued to walk long after the boys were lame and tired from slipping around in the snow. The three little girls were more comfortable, for while the wagon was not warm, the cover kept the snow off them.
"I never saw much a slow horse," grumbled Jessie, putting her head out to see where they were, though it was impossible to tell because the whirling snow hid everything.
"My feet are cold!" cried Dorothy Peters.
"I don't think this horse lives anywhere," shouted Helen, so that the boys could bear her. "He's probably going out into the country and we'll all freeze and Miss May will wonder where we went, and is she does come looking for us, she'll never find us!"
Sunny Boy patted the horse gently.
"I guess you're cold, too," he said gently. "I wish I had a blanket for you Mr. Horse. Maybe there is one in the wagon."
He said "whoa" and the horse stopped. Then Sunny Boy climbed into the wagon and felt under the seat. Sure enough there was a blanket.
"What are you going to do with that, Sunny Boy?" asked Helen Graham.
"Put it on the horse," replied Sunny Boy. "I think he must be awfully cold. He's a pretty tall horse, but I guess Jimmie will help me."
Jimmie helped him and so did Perry and Carleton, and it took them all to get the blanket spread over the horse. They got it on wrong and there was no way to fasten it, so they took turns holding it around the horse's neck as he walked. Sunny Boy held the blanket in place till his hands were cold, then Jimmie held it while Sunny warmed his hands. When Jimmie's hands were cold, Perry held the blanket, and then Carleton. The horse looked surprised at such kindness, but he did not walk any faster. He couldn't.
"I guess we've walked a hundred miles," said Sunny Boy wearily, when they had trudged through the wind and snow for a long, long time.
Then, as though he had heard, the horse stopped suddenly. He pointed his ears straight ahead and then turned the wagon around so quickly that the girls inside cried out in fright. They thought they were going to be tipped out in the snow. But the horse was walking slowly up a driveway, and now he stopped again and Sunny Boy saw that he stood in front of a barn.
The barn doors were closed and the children heard a horse inside give a loud neigh. Their own horse answered.
"I'll bet he lives here," said Jimmie Butterworth.
Sunny Boy waited a minute, and then, as no one opened the barn doors, he looked around for a house. Yes, there was a house; at least there was a chimney showing through the driving snow.
"I'll go tell the folks the horse is here," he said. "You wait for me." They all wanted to come, but Sunny Boy pointed out that the horse might go off again. So Perry Phelps and Carleton agreed to hold him and keep the blanket on him, while Sunny Boy and Jimmie Butterworth went to tell the people in the house that their horse had come home.
The two little boys walked out of the drive way and started to go across the field to the house. Sunny Boy was ahead, and suddenly he went into a snowdrift up to his neck!
"Do you suppose it is as deep as that all the way there?" he gasped, when Jimmie helped him out. There was snow inside his rubber boots and down under his coat collar. But Sunny Boy seldom fussed even when he was not quite comfortable.
Luckily, it was not as deep all the way to the house, and after they had walked and stumbled and even run a little, they reached the front door of the farmhouse. Sunny Boy rapped on it, and a woman came in answer to his knock. She held a small child in her arms.
"Why, Sunny Boy!" she cried. "How did you ever get here in weather like this? Where is your mother? Come in quickly, out of the storm."
It was Mrs. Parkney, and Sunny Boy was so surprised that before he could say a word he found himself in the warm kitchen with the seven Parkney children and Mr. and Mrs. Parkney all standing around him and Jimmie.
"Does a horse live here?" was Sunny Boy's first question. "He's waiting outside your barn. And the other children are there, too."
Mr. Parkney, who by the way looked strong and well again, soon had everything all straight. He and Bob went out to the barn and put the horse in his stall and brought back the five children. Mrs. Parkney spread a red cloth on the kitchen table, for the kitchen was cozy and warm and no amount of snow from rubber boots and little shoes could harm the linoleum floor, and began to get them something to eat.
"They must be starved, poor lambs," she said, "It is almost three o'clock."
You see, the children had been walking ever since half-past eleven o'clock that morning and had had nothing to eat since their breakfasts. No wonder they were tired and hungry.
"I don't see how you could walk away out here," said Bob Parkney, pouring milk into the bowls his mother had put out on the table. "I did it this forenoon, and I was dead tired when I got home."
"Bob walked to school, because the trolley cars were not running," explained Mrs. Parkney. "His father took the light wagon and one of the horses and went after him right after dinner to save him the walk home. But the public schools dismissed the pupils early, just as Miss May did you, and Bob had started before his father got to the school."
"And while I was in the building, asking for Bob, the horse took it into its head to walk away without me," said Mr. Parkney. "So I had to walk all the way back home myself."
"How are we to get these children home?" said Mrs. Parkney to her husband, while Sunny Boy and his six playmates were busy with the delicious home-made bread and country milk she had given them. "Their mothers will be wild with anxiety, Robert. Our telephone is out of order, or we could telephone and let them know and keep the children here over night."
"Bob and I will take them home in the sleigh," said Mr. Parkney at once. "It's an old rattletrap affair, and I don't believe it has been used for years. Still, I reckon Bob and I can make it hold together for one trip. But, Mother, find out where these little folks live before they go to sleep. I might leave the wrong child at the wrong house."
The cold and the long walk had made the children very sleepy. Sunny Boy could hardly hold his eyes open and Jessie Smiley went to sleep with her spoon in her hand. When Mrs. Parkney tried to wake her up and ask her where she lived, Jessie only opened her eyes and smiled and closed them again.
"My feet are warm now," she murmured.
"I know where she lives," said Sunny Boy to Mrs. Parkney. "I'll tell Bob. I know where all the children live, don't I, Jimmie?"
Mrs. Parkney said she would have to depend on Sunny Boy, for the others were so sleepy they almost tumbled over standing up when she tried to put their hats and coats on them.
Bob and his father went out and harnessed the old sleigh to two black horses (not the one the children had brought home, for he was tired out, of course,) and Mrs. Parkney filled bottles with hot water and wrapped hot flatirons in old cloths to keep them warm. She insisted on coming out to the sleigh and tucking away the seven boys and girls, and every one of her own children followed to watch her. Perhaps they wanted a sleigh ride, but Mr. Parkney said he would have his hands full with the load he had, and he did not want any extra passengers.
"We'll tuck Sunny Boy up in the front seat between us," said Bob, "and then he can tell us where the different youngsters live."
And Sunny Boy did, though he was so sleepy Bob had to wake him by shaking him gently every time. They soon reached Centronia, for it was not a very long drive for two horses and a sleigh which can travel swiftly over the snow. Once in the city, Bob began shaking Sunny Boy awake and asking him where his playmates lived.
They came to Jessie Smiley's house first, and she did not wake up, even when Bob lifted her and carried her in. Mrs. Smiley wanted to hear the whole story, but Bob explained that he had more children to see safely home, and Mrs. Smiley was so glad and thankful to have Jessie back that she told Bob to hurry.
"For I know the other mothers are as anxious as I have been," she said. "We have had a terrible day. The telephone wires are all down, and my husband has been to Miss May's school and to the house of every child in Jessie's class, trying to find some trace of her. He is out hunting now."
Around and around Mr. Parkney drove, and at every house they stopped Bob carried in a sleeping child. How glad the mothers were, so glad they wanted to hug Bob, and some of them did. At last every one was safe home but Sunny Boy, and then Mr. Parkney made the horses go as fast as they could. When he stopped them at the Horton's house, both he and Bob got out and went in with Sunny Boy.
"Mrs. Horton, here's Sunny Boy!" cried Harriet, when she answered the ring at the doorbell and found Sunny Boy standing there with the Parkneys.
Daddy Horton came down the front stairs three steps at a time and grabbed Sunny. Mother Horton came running down after him, and she was so glad to see Sunny Boy that she cried just a little—the way she had cried in New York when he was lost and then found again.
She held him in her lap all the time Mr. Parkney and Bob were explaining how they came to bring him home. When Mr. Horton tried to thank them, Mr. Parkney stopped him.
"I'm only trying to do for your family one-tenth part of what you've done for me and mine," he said, though Sunny Boy was so sleepy he didn't hear him very well and had to ask Mother the next day what he had said. "There isn't anything the Parkneys, from the two-year-old to Mrs. Parkney and me, wouldn't do for you, Mr. Horton."
MR. HARRIS BRINGS A LETTER
Sunny BOY did not go to school the next day. There was no school to go to. Though, even if there had been, he would not have gone, because he did not wake up till half past ten, and then Mother and Harriet brought his breakfast up to him on the pretty wicker tray.
When Sunny Boy had had his breakfast, he started to dress. While he was dressing he told his mother and Harriet all the things that had happened to him and the other children the day before. He had gone to sleep almost as soon as Mr. Parkney brought him home. Of course Mrs. Horton was anxious to hear what had happened to him after school was dismissed that snowy morning.
It had stopped snowing—Harriet said it stopped during the night—and the walks rang with the cheerful sound of shovels as men and boys went about cleaning the pavements and streets. The sun came out, too, and the outdoors was very beautiful, but so dazzling it made Sunny Boy blink his eyes whenever he looked out of the window.
"Did Miss May know we were lost?" Sunny Boy asked his mother while she was brushing his hair. He could brush his own hair, of course, but Mrs. Horton said she liked to do it for him and then she was quite sure he wouldn't forget. "Did she wonder where we were?"
"Poor Miss May!" said Mrs. Horton. "She had a terrible day. Dear Daddy went around last night to tell her you were all safe. Come and sit in my lap, Sunny Boy, and I will tell you about it."
Sunny Boy climbed into his mother's lap and she moved her rocking chair near the window so that she could see the postman when he came down the street. She was expecting a letter from a friend.
"You see, precious," Mrs. Horton began, "Daddy saw that the storm was getting worse, and he tried to telephone me to tell Harriet to go after you. But the telephone wires were out of order and he couldn't get us; so he sent a messenger. Harriet started out at once, but, as you know, Miss May sent you home early, and by the time Harriet reached the school you were gone. She hurried home, expecting to find you here. And then wasn't I frightened when the afternoon went by and you didn't come! I sent Harriet down to Daddy's office, and he came home. By and by Mr. Smiley came and one or two other fathers to ask if we knew anything about their children. Miss May started out in all the storm to look for you, and a policeman had to bring her back, for the wind was too much for her."
"Yes, it blew like—like anything!" agreed Sunny Boy. "Did you think I was lost, Mother?"
"Yes, I did, precious. And so you were, you know," said Mrs. Horton, kissing the back of his neck.
"There comes Mr. Harris!" cried Sunny Boy, as the postman came down the street. "Let me go, Mother. Perhaps there is a letter for me!"
Sunny Boy was always expecting letters, though he seldom wrote any. He wrote to Grandpa Horton now and then, to be sure, and at Christmas time he wrote one or two "thank you" letters to the relatives and friends who sent him Christmas presents. But, as a rule, he did not write letters, and that is probably the reason he did not receive many. Still, it is fun to expect letters, and Sunny Boy liked to say: "Any for me?" to the postman.
"Hello, you didn't get snowed in after all, did you?" said kind Mr. Harris, smiling at Sunny Boy when he opened the door. "You had this house in a turmoil yesterday, young man."
"What's a turmoil?" asked Sunny Boy.
"It's an upset," replied the postman. "What happened to you, anyway?"
Sunny Boy explained, while Mr. Harris went through his package of letters which he carried in his hand.
"And we came home in Mr. Parkney's sleigh," finished Sunny Boy. "Have you any letters for me, Mr. Harris?"
"Two for your mother, and a paper for your daddy," said Mr. Harris slowly. "And—let—me—see—" He began to go over his letters again, very slowly. "Let—me—see—" he said again. "Oh, here it is! I thought I'd lost it. Are you Arthur Bradford Horton? You are? Well, Sunny Boy, here's a nice, big, square white letter for you. And I'm glad the blizzard didn't blow you away."
Sunny Boy took his letter eagerly, mumbled "thank you," and ran upstairs as fast as he could go.
"Oh, Mother, look!" he shouted. "I have a letter! It's addressed to me from somebody. Did Aunt Bessie write to me?"
"Open your letter and read it," said Mrs. Horton laughingly.
Sunny Boy took the paper knife she gave him and cut the envelope as he had seen his daddy do.
"It isn't a letter; it's a Christmas card," he said in disappointment.
"Oh, no, precious, no one would sent you a Christmas card in January," declared Mrs. Horton. "See, dear, it is an invitation to a party. Oliver Dunlap is eight years old next week and he is going to have a birthday party. Won't that be fun!"
Sunny Boy was glad Oliver had sent him an invitation to his party and not a Christmas card. He spent the greater part of the afternoon writing an answer to the letter. First he wrote it in pencil, and when he had shown the pencil copy to Mother and Harriet and Aunt Bessie (who came to lunch and to see if Sunny Boy was quite well after his snow storm experience) and they had all said it was a very nice answer indeed, he copied it in ink. He had to do this five times before it satisfied him. Sunny Boy would not send a letter to Oliver with the tiniest spot of ink on it, and he was willing to do a thing over and over and over to get it right. Before he had finished putting the stamp on the envelope—Harriet said Sunny Boy shook the house when he put a stamp on a letter, and indeed he thumped it as though he were pounding with a brick—Nelson and Ruth Baker came over to see him.
"Did you get lost yesterday?" asked Nelson. "When did you get home? We only had one session in school."
Nelson went to the public school and he had to go to school in the afternoon unless the principal decided to have only one session, as he often did when it stormed.
"Are you going to Oliver's party?" said Ruth. "We are. What are you going to take him?"
Sunny Boy could tell Nelson all about getting lost and when he came home, and he could explain to Ruth that he was going to Oliver's party. But he could not tell her what birthday gift he meant to take Oliver, because he hadn't thought about it.
He asked Mother, after Nelson and Ruth had gone home, and she said they would go down town some afternoon before the party and find something nice.
The telephone man came to fix the wires that afternoon, and when Daddy Horton came home to dinner he said that much of the snow had been cleared away in the streets.
The next morning Sunny Boy started off to school and Daddy walked with him up to the steps, as he had done the snowy morning. It was very cold, but all the walks were clear and the great high walls of snow that had been piled up along the pavements made fine places for jumping boys. Sunny Boy tried several himself, and Daddy had to remind him that it was a quarter to nine, or he might have been late for school.
Every one talked about the blizzard in school. All the children wanted to hear from those who had been lost, and Sunny Boy and Jimmie and Perry and Carleton and the three little girls were kept busy answering questions. Miss May and Miss Davis asked questions, too, and even when they did get at their lessons they read snow stories and drew sleighs and horses and snow forts on the blackboard.
But after that day, Oliver Dunlap's party was the most exciting thing talked about. There might be another snowstorm but, as Oliver said, he wouldn't be eight years old again that winter.
"Oliver's party is to-morrow, and I haven't any birthday present for him yet," Sunny Boy said to his family at breakfast the day before the party.
"We'll go down town and get it this afternoon, as soon as lunch is over," Mrs. Horton promised. "I didn't mean to leave it till the last minute, dear, but I have been very busy. Hurry home from school, and we'll go and buy him something nice."
After school Sunny Boy hurried home, and he and Mother went down town shopping as soon as they had had lunch. They looked at ever so many things which might please Oliver, and finally they decided that a little flashlight he could carry in his pocket would be a good birthday gift for him. They bought it, and Mrs. Horton wrapped it up nicely and Sunny Boy wrote on a little white card, "Many Happy Returns of the Day from Sunny Boy to Oliver," and this was tied on the outside of the package.
The next day was Oliver's birthday. It happened to be a Saturday. Miss Davis said this was lucky, or she didn't know what might have happened in school. She said no one could expect children who were going to a party in the afternoon to be very much interested in learning to spell and write in the morning.
The party was to be from two to five o'clock, and Sunny Boy, in his best white flannel suit, and carrying Oliver's present under his arm, started about quarter of two for the birthday boy's house.
At the same time the door of the Bakers' house opened.
"Going to the party?" called Nelson, running down the steps of his house, followed by Ruth. "What did you get for Oliver?"
Sunny Boy told him. Nelson said he had a story book to give Oliver. Ruth had a little silver pencil, she said. Sunny Boy thought that Ruth looked very pretty, dressed all in white from her white rubbers to her white fur hat. She didn't complain about her feet being cold, either. But that may have been because Oliver did not live very far away.
There were about twenty children at the party, when all the guests had arrived. Mrs. Dunlap and Oliver shook hands with each, and the boys put their hats and coats in Oliver's room while the little girls put theirs in his mother's. Sunny Boy knew nearly all the children except one, a boy who seemed older than any of the others and who, whenever he had a chance, teased the girls by pulling their hair-ribbons or putting out his foot to trip them as they went past him in the games.
"That's Jerry Mullet," whispered Oliver to Sunny Boy. "He's a cousin of Perry Phelps'. I didn't know he was visiting Perry when I sent the invitations, but Mrs. Phelps called up Mother and asked if Jerry couldn't come to the party. I don't like him very much, do you?"
"Oh, I guess so," said Sunny Boy, who wanted to be polite and who liked Perry Phelps so much he wanted to like his cousin, too.
Among the games they played were several in which prizes were given to those who won the game. Ruth Baker won the spider web prize, much to her delight, for she was the youngest of the little girls, and it made her feel quite grown up to be asked to an eight-year-old party and to win a prize also.
"We are going to play the donkey game before supper," announced Mrs. Dunlap, after they had played several other games. "The donkey game is old, but Oliver thinks you will like it," went on Mrs. Dunlap. "I will blindfold you, children. You first, Jerry."
Jerry was blindfolded and turned around three times. Then he started for the picture of the donkey pinned up on the wall. A shout of laughter greeted him when he pinned the tail on one of the donkey's long ears.
Nelson Baker was next, and he pinned the tail on a leg. Helen Graham pinned it on his neck. Dorothy Peters took a long time to decide where she would stab her pin and then, after all her trouble, only succeeded in pinning the tail on the donkey's nose. Child after child went up, and not one of them pinned the tail anywhere near the place where a donkey's tail should grow.
"Now, Sunny Boy, you come and try it," said Mrs. Dunlap, smiling at Sunny Boy. "Never mind if these children do laugh. They are ready to laugh at nothing now. You pin the tail on the donkey, and then we'll go out to the dining-room and see what Kate has to surprise us."
JERRY LOSES HIS TEMPER
Sunny Boy stood very still to have the handkerchief tied over his eyes. He was glad it was his turn, and he meant to pin that donkey's tail almost in the right place, if not the exact spot.
"There you are, Sunny Boy," said Mrs. Dunlap gaily, turning him around and around gently, three times. "Now you are ready to try your luck."
Sunny Boy tried to remember where the donkey was pinned. He walked forward slowly, taking queer little short steps. When your eyes are blindfolded, you know, you feel every moment as though you were going to step down into a hole. Suddenly Sunny Boy lifted his pin with the donkey's tail on it and made a quick jab. He was sure he had reached the picture of the donkey.
"Ouch!" shrieked a boy's voice.
After that came a moment of perfect silence; and then, such a shout of laughter! Girls and boys seemed to be shouting together and Sunny Boy thought he heard Mrs. Dunlap laughing with them. He pulled off the handkerchief, and then he saw what they were laughing at. He had pinned the donkey's tail on Jerry Mullet!
"Oh, my! Oh, my!" laughed Perry Phelps, rolling over on the floor. "Oh, Sunny Boy, I never saw anything so funny in my life! You lifted that pin so high in the air and brought it down on Jerry's arm before he knew what you were going to do. I never saw anything so funny!" and Perry rolled over on the rug and began to laugh again.
All the children were laughing, and pretty Mrs. Dunlap had tears in her eyes because she had laughed so much. Only Jerry Mullet looked cross.
"I hope I didn't hurt you," Sunny Boy said to him. "I didn't mean to stick a pin into you."
Before Jerry could do more than scowl, Perry sat up on the floor wiping his eyes.
"What I want to know—" he said, "is Jerry a donkey?" And then he began to laugh again, and this time the children shouted with him.
They thought this was the funniest question, and they laughed and laughed and kept saying to each other: "Is Jerry a donkey, because Sunny Boy pinned the donkey's tail on him? Is Jerry a donkey?"
"I'll show you whether I'm a donkey or not," growled Jerry, frowning at them all. "I'll show you! I won't stay at your old party!"
And he dashed upstairs and into Oliver's room where his hat and coat were. Downstairs he came flying, and never stopped in the parlor to tell Mrs. Dunlap he was going or to say that he had had a pleasant time. No! Instead, Jerry opened the front door and banged it after him with a crash that shook the house.
"He's gone!" said Sunny Boy, dismayed. "He's mad!"
"I'm afraid he is," admitted Mrs. Dunlap. "And I'm sorry. He didn't have his ice-cream."
"He didn't like it 'cause I pinned the donkey's tail on him," said Sunny Boy sorrowfully. "But I didn't mean to."
"No, of course you didn't," answered Mrs. Dunlap. "Don't feel bad over that, Sunny Boy. I'm afraid we teased Jerry too much about it, though. He is a stranger here in Centronia, and we should have tried to be extra kind to him. You shouldn't have said that about Jerry being a donkey, Perry," she added, turning to Perry Phelps. "You must have hurt his feelings."
Miss May often said that Perry had the best manners of any boy in her school. He did not laugh now, but he came up to Mrs. Dunlap and said he was sorry he had asked his cousin if he were a donkey.
"I should think he could take a joke," he said. "He's ten years old. But I'm sorry, Mrs. Dunlap, and Mother will be, too, that Jerry left your party like this. And I hope you'll 'scuse him banging your front door."
Perry Phelps' mother did not allow him to bang doors. If he forgot and slammed one, he had to come back and open and close it softly five times. This helped him to remember.
"Well, I'm sorry our party is spoiled for Jerry," sighed Mrs. Dunlap. "But we'll go out into the dining-room and have supper now. Jennie Rice wins the prize for pinning the donkey's tail nearer to the right place than any other child, so she gets the first prize. Sunny Boy, of course, gets the consolation prize. Give them the prizes, Oliver, dear."
Oliver handed Jennie a tiny silver donkey on a pretty red ribbon, to wear around her neck. She was delighted and put it right on. Sunny Boy's prize was a gray donkey whose head came off and whose body was filled with small gumdrops. He thought it was a very nice prize.
They had a beautiful time at the supper table, and poor Jerry was hardly missed. They had chicken sandwiches and cocoa with whipped cream. Then came vanilla and chocolate ice cream. And there was a large slice of the white-frosted birthday cake, which Oliver himself cut, for each child.
After supper they played a few more games, and then it was time to go home. Mrs. Dunlap was almost smothered by the little girls who all tried to kiss her at once and tell her they had had the nicest time at Oliver's party. Nearly every one said-good-bye to Oliver and his mother and started down the steps at the same time.
At the first corner every one but the Baker children and Sunny Boy went a different way. They could walk home together, and that was why Mrs. Horton had said that Harriet need not come for Sunny Boy.
As they were passing a house some one tapped on the window. Nelson and Ruth's aunt lived there, and she had been waiting to see them pass.
"Your mother telephoned me you went to Oliver Dunlap's party and would go by our house on your way home," said Aunt Edith, coming out on the steps, with a coat thrown over her shoulders. "I asked her to let you stay and visit us till eight o'clock this evening. Then I'll take you home. The cat has a basketful of new kittens for you to play with, Ruth."
"May Sunny Boy stay, too, please?" asked Ruth.
"Yes, of course," said Mrs. Tyler, who was Ruth's Aunt Edith. "Of course, he may. I will telephone to his mother so that she will not worry about him."
"No, thank you. I have to go home," Sunny Boy said shyly. "I said I would come right home. And I want to tell Mother about the party."
"All right, dear, just as you please," said Mrs. Tyler kindly. "You are sure, Sunny Boy, you don't mind going the rest of the way alone?"
Sunny Boy replied that he did not mind, and Nelson and Ruth went into the house, while he trudged off down the street by himself. Presently he chuckled.
"Didn't Jerry look funny?" snickered Sunny Boy. "I wonder what made me pin the donkey's tail on him."
"Where do you think you're going so fast?" cried Jerry, stepping out from behind a barrel where he had been hiding.
"Hello!" said Sunny Boy, surprised to see him. "I'm going home. The party is all done. You missed it—we had two kinds of ice cream."
"I hope you're happy, spoiling my afternoon and making everybody laugh at me," scolded Jerry Mullet. "You're a nice kind of boy. Do you know what I'm going to do to you?"
"No, I don't," said Sunny Boy, trying to walk past him. "Let me be. I told my mother I'd come home and not stop to play on the way."
"This isn't playing," growled Jerry disagreeably. "You can't go till I say you can. Are you sorry you made everybody laugh at me?"
"I told you I was sorry I pinned the tail on you," answered Sunny Boy. "I can't help it if they did laugh. And you did look funny."
"Well, you think so now, but you won't long," Jerry said. "I'm going to wash your face in that snow and then you'll look funny yourself."
He pointed to some dirty snow that was banked in the gutter.
"You let me alone," cried Sunny Boy, trying to run past Jerry. "I won't let you wash my face. Go away, Jerry Mullet!"
Jerry reached out his hand to snatch Sunny Boy's coat, but, before he could touch him, down came a shower of snow that struck Jerry on the back of his neck and made him shut his eyes.
"Hey, you!" called a deep, hoarse voice. "Why don't you pick on boys your own size! That kid isn't half as big as you are!"
Jerry and Sunny Boy looked up. The voice came from the roof of a piazza that overhung the sidewalk. A big man in blue overalls and a red flannel undershirt, and wearing no overcoat, was shoveling the snow off the roof. He had heard Jerry scolding Sunny Boy and had seen him trying to grab him.
"The likes of you, thinking to pick a fight with a little feller like that!" said the man, scooping up another shovelful of snow as he talked. "Why, if you were my boy, bread and water for a week would be too good for you. Take that, you little bully!" And down came another shower of snow on the surprised Jerry.
"Run, kid, run!" shouted the man to Sunny Boy. "Let's see how well you can run. I'll look after this tormenting one."
Sunny Boy took one look at Jerry sputtering in the snow, and then turned and ran. He ran as fast as he could, and he never stopped till he landed on his own doorstep and rang the bell. When Harriet came to the door he was so out of breath that, for several minutes, he couldn't tell her what had happened. And then, of course, before he could make her understand about Jerry, he had to tell all about the party.
Daddy and Mother Horton had to hear about the party, too. And they said that they would rather have a little boy for their son who behaved as Sunny Boy had than a boy who acted the way Jerry Mullet did.
"But no one likes to be laughed at, and we won't be too hard on Jerry," said Mother Horton, as she helped Sunny Boy get ready for bed. "Shall I put your donkey prize up here on the mantel shelf for you, Sunny Boy?"
Sunny Boy remembered her putting his donkey on the shelf for him, but he did not remember seeing the donkey climb down again. Yet the next time he looked at the shelf the donkey wasn't there. Then he saw it sitting on the foot of his bed, laughing. The donkey laughed so hard and opened his mouth so very wide that Sunny Boy could see the gumdrops down inside him.
"Ha! Ha!" laughed the donkey. "Didn't Jerry look funny? Ha! Ha!"
"Mother says we mustn't laugh at him any more," Sunny Boy told the donkey. "You'll hurt his feelings."
But the donkey only laughed harder, and Sunny Boy began to laugh, too, and he woke up laughing to find that it was morning and that he had been dreaming about the donkey.
Sunny Boy saw Perry Phelps in Sunday school that afternoon, but Jerry had not come with him.
"Jerry is so cross!" declared Perry. "He hardly speaks to me, and I'm glad he is going home to-morrow."
And Monday, when Perry came to school, he announced that his cousin had gone home. He lived in a city fifty miles from Centronia and did not visit Perry very often.
"My father said it might snow to-day," said Oliver Dunlap, who seemed to feel very happy and gay after his party. "And if it does, let's have a snowball fight, shall we?"
Oliver had brought Miss Davis "some of the party" in a pretty paper napkin, and she said he was a very thoughtful boy and she was sure every one had had a good time Saturday afternoon.
All the boys were willing to have a snowball fight, and when a few flakes of snow began to fall at recess time, Oliver shouted that now there would be enough snow for the "bullets and things."
"Let me be on your side, Oliver?" asked Helen Graham coaxingly.
"On my side?" repeated Oliver. "There aren't going to be any girls in this snowball fight. This is just us boys."
"I think you're mean!" cried Helen. "And I will, too, be on your side. If you don't let us girls in the snowball fight, I'll go to Miss May and tell her we want the back lot to play in after school. So there!"
And now it was Oliver's turn to be provoked.
"I think girls are perfectly horrid," he said crossly.
BRAVE LITTLE SUNNY BOY
Miss Davis, feeding the goldfish in the largest glass bowl, overheard what Oliver said to Helen.
"Why, Oliver!" she said in surprise. "How impolite you are! How can you say such a thing to Helen? Besides, didn't you have girls at your birthday party?"
"Oh, girls are all right at parties," explained Oliver. "They always go to parties. But I don't think girls should want to be in a snowball fight, Miss Davis."
"Miss May said the girls could have the back lot whenever they wanted it," said Helen. "And if you don't let us play with you, Oliver Dunlap, there won't be any snowball fight; you haven't any other place to play."
This was true. Oliver knew it, and Helen knew it. Boys who live in a city can not have a snowball fight in the street, lest they hit people who may be walking past. No back yard is a safe place because of the many windows that may be broken. A vacant lot, like the one behind Miss May's school, is really the only place for this kind of fun. Miss May early in the school year had made a rule that this lot should be for the girls in her school whenever they wanted it. The boys might use it, she said when the girls didn't care to play on it.
"Boys have more freedom than girls," kind Miss May had said. "They can run and climb and tumble about coming to school and going home. But little girls have to be more careful. So I think they should have the lot to play in whenever they wish."
In the spring Miss May had swings and a sand pile and a few "flying rings" put up for the children to amuse themselves with, but these, of course, were taken down during the winter. When it snowed, the lot was a large white square, and it certainly was an ideal spot for a snowball fight.
"I don't see why you don't let the girls play," said Miss Davis to Oliver. "You will probably be glad to have them in your army. Sunny Boy, don't you think the girls ought to play?"
Sunny Boy looked uncomfortable. He wanted to be polite, but he had to be truthful, too.
"Well, girls are a lot of trouble, Miss Davis," he explained earnestly. "You see, as soon as they start to play their feet get cold. And then they have to stop."
Miss Davis said yes, she could see how that would bother a general.
"But then," she said, "perhaps the girls won't get cold feet while they are in the snowball fight. They will be running about and they will be quite cozy and warm all the time, I am sure."
"Well, let 'em play, if they want to," said Oliver. "I shouldn't think they would want to play when they know nobody wants 'em."
"Then I'll be on your side, Oliver," said. Helen Graham, who intended to be in that snowball fight whether any one wanted her or not.
It was snowing steadily by this time and all the children in Miss Davis' rooms were excited about the fight. Recess was over before they had chosen generals and sides, but Miss Davis, who was such a dear teacher it was no wonder her pupils loved her, said that she would allow them an extra ten minutes to make their plans.
"Then you must work ever so hard to cover the lost time," she told them, slipping out of the room to speak to Miss May, while the boys and girls began to chatter again.
Sunny Boy was made a general for one side, and Oliver took the other. Perry Phelps and Jimmie Butterworth were on Sunny Boy's side and Jessie Smiley and Dorothy Peters. There were three other boys and two more girls in his army, too. Helen Graham, of course, was on Oliver's side, and Carleton Marsh and Leslie Bradin. Lottie Carr and her sister were on his side, also, and four other boys. That gave each side ten, you see.
"I've been speaking to Miss May," announced Miss Davis, coming back to her room when the ten minutes was up. "She thinks, instead of having you children go home at noon and come back for your snowball fight, that it will be better if you have lunch here and then go out to play in the snow. Miss May will telephone every child's mother and ask permission to have you stay here, and she is going to promise that you will all be home by four o'clock. And now I want you to have the best reading lesson we have had since Christmas."
The children liked to have luncheon in Miss May's blue and silver dining-room. She invited them, one at a time, to have lunch with her, and it was always a pleasant experience. And to-day it would be great fun not to have to go home and come back again, but to be able to go right out and begin their snow battle as soon as luncheon was over.
The rest of the morning went smoothly, and Miss Davis said she was glad she had given them the extra recess, for they recited very nicely. When the noon bell rang, it seemed strange instead of going to the cloak room for coats and hats and rubbers, to go upstairs and wash their hands and faces and then come downstairs and go into the dining-room with Miss May and Miss Davis and have Maria bring in their lunch.
"I'd like to have a table like this every noon," said Miss May, smiling at the circle of little faces that went all around her big mahogany table. "We'd both like it, shouldn't we, Miss Davis?"
"I think it would be lovely!" nodded Miss Davis, squeezing Sunny Boy's hand. He sat next to her. "Think of all the questions we could answer, Miss May."
Miss May laughed and said she didn't mind answering questions at all.
As soon as lunch was over, Miss Davis helped them get into their coats and wraps and watched them march out to the back lot for their fun. Jessie Smiley wore a new scarlet sweater that came down to the edge of her dress and was so warm and snug that she said she did not need to wear her coat with it. Miss Davis said she thought she would be warm enough, too, without the coat, and she knew she could run more easily.
"Not that a good soldier runs," she explained, laughing a little as she buttoned the sweater under Jessie's chin. "But a snowball army soldier has to run, I know."
Jessie left her rubbers in the cloakroom, too, for she had her rubber boots. She had worn her rubbers to school that morning. The boots had been left in the cloakroom since the last snowstorm. Jessie wanted to wear one rubber and one boot, but Miss Davis said she thought that two boots would be better, so Jessie had taken her advice.
"Whee, there's a lot of snow!" cried Sunny Boy, wading out into the middle of the lot, followed by his army. "We ought to get a lot of bullets made. And a fort. We must build a fort."
Oliver took his army over at one end of the lot and set them to work making snowballs. The boys made more balls than the girls did. But then the girls were so anxious to make theirs smooth and round that they did not work very quickly. Sunny Boy soon noticed that Dorothy Peters scraped and packed and patted one snowball while he was making four.
Finally General Dunlap shouted to General Sunny Boy and the battle was about to start when something happened that put all thoughts of a snowball fight out of the heads of soldiers and generals alike.
The battlefield, that is the back lot, you know, was directly back of Miss May's school. A large porch ran across the rear of the building and the back yard joined the vacant lot. Just as Sunny Boy waved his hand to signal Oliver that he was ready, Maria came out on the porch of the school.
"Fire!" she shouted. "Fire! The school is on fire!"
If Miss May or Miss Davis had been in the building, it never would have happened. Miss May would have telephoned the fire department quietly at the first sign of smoke and Miss Davis would have picked up the brass fire extinguisher that stood in the hall and at least have tried to put the fire out. But Miss May and Miss Davis had gone down town, believing that the children were safe and happy, playing in the snow, and Maria was alone in the house. When she saw smoke creeping out around the door of Miss Davis' schoolroom, Maria lost her head entirely.
"Fire!" she screamed, rushing out on the porch and beckoning to the children. "The school's on fire!"
But when they came rushing toward her, pellmell, she seemed to remember what she ought to do.
"You can't come in," she told them, as they gathered at the bottom of the porch steps. "You can't come in, because you'll get burned! The school is on fire."
She opened the door behind her and, sure enough, out poured smoke.
"My coat!" wailed Jessie Smiley. "My lovely new coat. Santa Claus brought it to me for Christmas and it has real beaver fur on the collar! Oh, oh, I don't want my coat burned up! And my rubbers are brand new, too."
"I'll get them for you," promised Sunny Boy. "Don't cry, Jessie. I know where they are in the cloakroom."
"Will you get my rubbers, too?" asked Jessie, smiling through her tears.
"Yes, I'll get everything," said Sunny Boy.
"You can't go in there, it's on fire!" screamed Maria, when he ran up the steps. "Sunny Boy, I tell you the school is burning up! Come back here!"
But Sunny Boy opened the door and ran in past her. He knew that Jessie Smiley was very proud of her new winter coat with its pretty beaver collar.
The house was full of smoke, and it made Sunny Boy choke and gasp, but he shut his eyes and felt his way to Miss Davis' room. The smoke was worse in here than in the hall, and his eyes smarted and burned as he crept slowly to the cloakroom. In there there was not so much smoke, and he had no trouble at all in pulling Jessie's coat down from the hook where it hung, and he found her rubbers on the floor. He stuffed one in each pocket. Then he started back.
His eyes hurt so badly that, brave little boy as he was, he began to cry.
"I can't breathe!" he sobbed. "I wish I had a drink of water."
"George!" suddenly shouted a big voice in his ear. "Say, George, here he is! I've found him!"
Somebody grabbed Sunny Boy up in strong, rough arms and he was carried swiftly through the halls and out to the porch again. The children shouted when they saw him.
"Don't you know any better than to go into a house that is on fire?" said a big, rough voice that seemed to belong to the big arms.
Sunny Boy opened his eyes. It was the tall policeman! And before he could speak, with a clang and a whistle and a toot and a great deal of noise and excitement, up came the fire engines to put the fire out.
The tall policeman dipped a clean white handkerchief in water and bathed Sunny Boy's eyes while another policeman kept the children off the porch. The other policeman was the "George" to whom Sunny Boy's policeman friend had shouted. They had heard Maria screaming and had run through the alley to see what the matter was. And then George had sent in the alarm of fire while the tall policeman had come to look for Sunny Boy.
"What possessed you to go in there, anyway?" asked the tall policeman, paying no attention to the firemen running past him into the house. "What made you do it?"
"I had to get Jessie's coat," explained Sunny Boy. "And her rubbers."
THE EXPLORERS SET OUT
And that was what Sunny Boy said to every one who asked him why he had gone into the burning school.
"I had to get Jessie's coat and rubbers," he repeated, when the "George" policeman asked him.
And the big firemen, who soon crowded around him, and Miss May and Miss Davis, who came hurrying home, breathless, for they had seen the crowd around the school the moment they stepped off the trolley car at the corner, were given the same reason.
"Well, next time, you remember that no coat and no rubbers are worth going after when a place is on fire," said one of the firemen, fanning himself with his helmet, for fighting a fire is warm work, you know. "There is just one thing to risk your life for at a fire," he went on to explain to Sunny Boy and to the other children who crowded around to hear. "Just one thing, and that's another life. Think you youngsters can remember that?"
Sunny Boy was sure he could, and the firemen began to roll up their chemical hose. They had not even unwound the big hose for, you see, Miss May's school had not been on fire.
"Not on fire!" cried Maria, when the tall policeman told her this. "Why, I saw the smoke, and Sunny Boy was almost choked with it. Of course it was on fire!"
"No fire, Miss," said one of the firemen, grinning. "Snow's been accumulating on the edge of the chimney for some time, I take it, and this afternoon a chunk fell in and choked the flue. Of course the smoke poured out into the house. And the little fellow thought he was going straight into a blaze. He's a spunky little chap, and it was a good chance to tell him, and the other kids, what not to do at a fire. Next time it might be a serious matter."
The firemen went away, their engines and apparatus making as much noise as when they had been coming to the fire, and by and by the curious crowd that had gathered in the street went away, too. The tall policeman and his friend George helped Miss May and Miss Davis and Maria to put down the windows which had been left up by the firemen to let the smoke out, and then they went away.
"Sunny Boy, are you quite positive you feel all right?" asked Miss May anxiously. "Do your eyes hurt you now? Don't you want me to walk home with you?"
Sunny Boy said no, thank you, he felt all right and he didn't need her to walk home with him.
Daddy Horton was home when Sunny Boy came in, for he had left his office early. So he and Mother heard all about the fire before dinner, and though Mother hugged him tightly and declared that he smelled of smoke, she said she was glad her little boy had not been afraid.
"But the fireman was right," said Daddy Horton gravely. "Coats and rubbers are not important enough, Sunny Boy, even if they were trimmed with gold fur, to risk one's life for. I hope there'll be no more fires till you are grown up and able to judge for yourself. But if there should be, remember what the fireman said. That will keep you from dashing into a blaze after foolish trifles."
Sunny Boy knew he would not forget, and then he went out into the kitchen and told Harriet about the afternoon's excitement.
"And we never had the snowball fight at all," he said. "All the bullets were made, too. Perhaps we can have it to-morrow."
But the next morning was rainy, and though there was plenty of cold weather through February which followed, not once did it snow again. There was not even much good skating, though Sunny Boy did enjoy one afternoon with Bob Parkney, who declared that he would soon be a champion skater with his new skates to help him. After that, though, it thawed and froze and thawed and froze and the Centronia Park Commission refused to allow any one on the ice. The children were disappointed in the weather, but Miss May said she was glad to see it rain. She had had enough snow, she said, till another year.
Bob stopped in once a week after school at the Hortons, to get the egg container. He brought Mrs. Horton two dozen fresh eggs every Monday morning from his mother's poultry yard, and Friday afternoon he came for the box. Mrs. Parkney was so busy and happy now that she had almost forgotten she had ever been discouraged. Judge Layton had put the farmhouse in good order for her family, and he had stocked the poultry yard with fine chickens. He said that if Mrs. Parkney would feed the chickens and look after them till he came out in the summer, she might have the eggs to do with as she pleased. The Parkney children had all the fresh eggs to eat they wanted and there were several dozen to sell every week, and Mrs. Parkney said she felt rich with the egg money for her own.
Mr. Parkney's arm gradually grew stronger, and he was proving such a handy man on the little farm, so willing and so capable, that Judge Layton told Mrs. Horton that he was thinking of building a new house and asking Mr. Parkney to go on living in the farmhouse and to be his farm manager.
"He's going to paint the house and the barns for me this spring and whitewash all the fences," said the judge. "There isn't anything that man can't do."
"Spring is on the way," announced Daddy Horton, one evening early in March. "I see they are having freshets out in Yardley county."
"What is a freshet?" asked Sunny Boy.
"A freshet, Son, is when a stream rises suddenly and overflows its natural course," explained his daddy. "In spring, freshets are often caused by the ice and snow melting too rapidly and draining down into the brooks and rivers. Then the stream rises, and if the banks are narrow, it overflowers [Transcriber's note: overflows?] them and sometimes great damage is done. A big river may sweep away houses and cattle and send people scurrying about in boats and rafts. Centronia is not near a river, though, so it isn't likely that you'll see a freshet soon."
The news of the freshets was not the only sign of spring. At school, Miss Davis had a large blue jar filled with beautiful pussy willows on her desk, and the nature study lessons were all about the spring birds. When Bob Parkney brought Mrs. Horton her fresh eggs, he also brought her some budded twigs which he said would blossom if she put them in water.
"My, it's nice out in the country now," said Bob. "Why can't Sunny Boy come out and see us, Mrs. Horton? Ma was saying yesterday she'd like to have him come any time. He's never really seen the place, and Judge Layton is fixing it up fine. Can't he come next Saturday? I'd meet him at the trolley station."
"I'll tell you, Bob, what Sunny Boy has been teasing to be allowed to do," replied Mrs. Horton. "He and half a dozen of the boys he plays with want to take their lunches and spend a day exploring. Mr. Horton and I have suggested that they wait till it is warmer, but I am afraid they can't wait contentedly much longer, and your suggestion has really solved the problem for me."
"Oh, Mother!" cried Sunny Boy, who had been listening eagerly. "Next Saturday, Mother? Please!"
Mrs. Horton laughed as she put her twigs in a vase of water.
"You see how it is, don't you, Bob?" she said. "Well, Mr. Horton and I are not willing to have Sunny Boy go to a strange place. But if your mother is willing to let them come out where you are, they can play around and have a beautiful time. They'll bring their own lunches, and she musn't let them track mud on her clean kitchen floor. Indeed, they'll be too busy with all outdoors, to think much about coming in the house, I suppose. But you and your father will be there, to keep an eye on them, and I shall feel so much easier. Some one will put them on the trolley car here in the morning, and if you will meet them at the corner of your lane and see that they are put on the half past four car in the afternoon, every mother will be much obliged to you."
Bob grinned and said he would "tell Ma," and the next morning he stopped on his way to school to say that the Parkneys would be expecting Sunny Boy and his friends the next Saturday morning.
"And tell them to wear their rubber boots, Mrs. Horton," he said earnestly. "Such mud you never saw! Ma keeps a broom at the back door, and she won't let us come in till we change our shoes. She hands us out clean ones. But of course it is always soft when the frost is coming out of the ground."
Sunny Boy could hardly wait till Saturday. He and Oliver Dunlap were the ones who had teased to be allowed to go on an "exploring" trip in the country. At first they had planned to go together, without any one else, but as soon as the other boys heard of the scheme, they wanted to go, too. Nelson Baker heard about the plan, and he asked if he could go. Nelson did not see much of Sunny Boy on school days because, of course, he went to the public school and did not get home till three o'clock in the afternoon. But he and Sunny Boy were good friends, and Sunny was glad to have him go exploring with the rest.
"Bring me some pussy willows, if you find them," said Miss Davis, when she heard what they were planning to do. "Miss May wants some pussy willows to root in water and then she will plant them in the yard and perhaps they will grow." Sunny Boy promised to bring back pussy willows, if they found any.
Friday came at last, and that meant he could leave his rubber boots beside his bed where he could see them the first thing in the morning. Somehow, Sunny Boy never felt that he was going on a long trip till he saw the big trunk standing in the hall, waiting to be packed, and he never felt that he was going on a little trip till he could put the things he was to wear in neat piles ready to hop into.
"So you're going exploring to-day, are you?" said Daddy Horton, when he kissed him good-bye the next morning. "Well, good luck to you, old man. I hope you have an exciting adventure. And don't lose either of your handsome boots!"
Sunny Boy laughed and went out on the front steps to wave to Daddy.
"It feels so nice," he said to his mother, when she came to tell him that Mrs. Dunlap had telephoned that Oliver was going to call for Sunny Boy. "I like spring, don't you, Mother?"
"I love the spring, precious," she answered, smiling. "Now come and get your cap and the lunch Harriet has packed for you. I believe Mr. Nelson is going to walk out to the car with you. Where are you going to meet the other boys?"
"At the corner," replied Sunny Boy, snatching up his cap and struggling into his sweater as he heard Oliver's whistle. "Thank you for making me the lunch, Harriet," he cried, running toward the door. "Good-bye, Mother," he said, running back to kiss her.
Oliver and Nelson and Mr. Baker were waiting for him on the sidewalk, and when they reached the corner where the interurban trolley car stopped to take on passengers, they found Perry Phelps and Jimmie Butterworth and Leslie Bradin and Carleton Marsh, each with a box of lunch under his arm.
"Going to Europe?" said the conductor, as he watched them climb into his car. "Let them off at Lane's Corners," he repeated, as Mr. Baker told him how far the boys were going. "All right, sir. Lane's Corners it is. All aboard."
He pulled the bell and the car started. The seven little boys found seats together at one end of the car, and the conductor made them laugh all the way to Lane's Corners. There were only two other people in the car, an elderly man and a man who read his newspapers and did not look up. The conductor pretended half the time that the trolley was a boat and that the boys were sailors. And then he would pretend that he was the conductor on a train and that the motorman was the engineer. It was not a long ride to Lane's Corners and the merry conductor made it seem only a few minutes.
"Who wanted to get off at Lane's Corners?" he called, when he had stopped the car at the big white sign post. "Why, goodness, all my passengers are leaving me! Here, lad, catch this," he shouted to Bob, picking up Sunny Boy and pretending to toss him to Bob, who was waiting for them.
"It's a good thing you wore boots and rubbers," said Bob, as the trolley car went on, leaving the boys, who waved to the conductor as long as they could see him on the platform. "The mud is up to the hub of the wagon wheels."
A horse and wagon stood at one side of the road, and Bob led the boys over and told them to "hop in."
"Isn't this the horse and wagon that was lost in the blizzard?" asked Sunny Boy, scrambling up to a seat beside Bob. Indeed all the boys tried to get near Bob, and when he turned the horse's head toward the farmhouse, there were boys on every side of him.
"Same horse, same wagon," said Bob. "Only difference is the weather. Feel how warm that sun is?"
"Where we going?" asked Carleton Marsh.
"Down to the house, first, to pick up Father," replied Bob. "He is going to tinker up and whitewash some of the fences this morning. And Ma said she wanted to say 'hello' to you all. I thought you'd like to play down along the brook, and I can drive you there, because Father wants to work on the pasture fence."
Mrs. Parkney came out, followed by the Parkney children, when she heard Bob driving up to the farmhouse door. The road was so soft and muddy that she couldn't hear the horse's feet or the wagon wheels, but she could hear eight boys talking and laughing. That made a noise that could be heard some distance away.
"Now mind," said Mrs. Parkney, when she had spoken to the boys and her husband had come out with his tools and two buckets of whitewash and climbed into the wagon with them. "Mind! If you eat your lunch up before noon, or get hungry any time, you come up to the house and I'll fix you something good. And stop in anyway before you go home and have some milk to drink. Mud, Sunny Boy? Why, bless your heart, dear, a little mud is nothing. I wouldn't know spring had come to stay if I didn't see some mud tracked in."
The boys thanked Mrs. Parkney, and Bob drove off. When he came to the pasture, he got out and took down three bars and then drove in across the grass, down to the brook.
"Why, it's almost like a river!" cried Perry Phelps in surprise. "Look how fast it goes!"
"Ice melting up above," said Mr. Parkney, getting out his tools while Bob tied the horse to a tree. "See the chunks of ice floating past?"
As the boys watched they saw pieces of dirty-looking ice go swirling past in the rushing water.
"Is it a freshet?" asked Sunny Boy, remembering what his daddy had told him about freshets.
"Not exactly," answered Mr. Parkney. "The water's pretty high, but I don't believe this little stream can do much in the way of a freshet. Folks around here say it carries on right powerful-like some springs, but it doesn't look dangerous to me."
The pasture land was soft and oozy, but as every boy wore either rubber boots or storm rubbers, they did not mind the mud. Perry Phelps said if they were going to explore, he thought it would be a good plan to follow the brook and see where it went.
"Go as far as you like," said Mr. Parkney. "Bob and I are going up to the house at noon for dinner, but we'll be back around half-past one. And we won't let you miss the half-past four car, because your mothers will be expecting you home on that. Go as far as you like; you won't be trespassing. The few folks that live around here are good-natured, and the next farm is vacant, anyway."
"But don't try any funny stunts, like wading in the brook," said Bob. "That water has more current than you'd expect, and it might knock you down easily. And it isn't warm enough yet to make a cold bath pleasant."
Sunny Boy had been thinking that it would be fun to wade into the brook and see how near the water came to the top of his rubber boots. But he didn't want to be knocked down and perhaps hit with a piece of the ice, so he wisely decided to follow Bob's advice and stay on shore.
The boys walked beside the brook, following its twists and turnings and climbing the fences that stood in their way, till they came to a large clump of willow trees, loaded down with pussy willows.
"Let's pick them for Miss Davis," suggested Sunny Boy.
"But then we'll have to carry them all day," said Perry.
"No we won't. We can take them back and leave them in the wagon," said Sunny Boy. "And then we'll eat lunch and walk the other way. I don't think there is much fun around here."
Nelson Baker had a pocket knife, so he cut the pussy willows and the boys carried a large bunch back to the tree where Bob had tied the horse and wagon. But the horse was gone, and, of course, the wagon, when they reached the tree, and neither Bob or Mr. Parkney was in sight.
"They've gone home to eat their dinner," said Sunny Boy. "Let's leave the pussy willows under this tree. Mr. Parkney said he would be back by half-past one, you know."
"I'm starving," declared Leslie Bradin. "Come on, let's eat now. My mother put two stuffed eggs in my box."
Seven very hungry small boys may dispose of seven hearty lunches in almost seven minutes. It did take Sunny Boy and his friends a little longer, but in much less than half an hour they were through eating and had tossed the boxes into the brook and seen them rushed swiftly down stream.
"What's on the other side of that fence?" asked Oliver Dunlap, pointing to a wire fence that ran across the pasture, dipped into the brook, and continued on the other side.
"Mr. Parkney said nobody lives there," Sunny Boy reminded Oliver. "Let's explore where nobody lives. Come on, fellows!"
They ran toward the fence, intending to climb over it, but before they reached it, Sunny Boy saw something that made him cry out in surprise.
"Look, Oliver!" he shouted. "Carleton, look! See the fence in the water!"
The boys looked toward the brook. Part of the fence that was in the water had broken and hung wobbling. But what had attracted Sunny Boy's attention was a pile of ice cakes that were jammed against the fence. They were a yellowish-white, not at all like the ice cakes the iceman left in the refrigerator on summer mornings.
"It'll break in a minute," declared Nelson Baker. "Let's watch."
The boys stood waiting a few moments, and with a dull roar, the ice was forced through the fence, carrying a part of it along, and the water, as though angry at being held back, raced madly by, tossing cakes of ice on either bank. A large piece was tossed right on the toe of Sunny Boy's boot.
"There must be more ice where that came from," said Nelson. "Maybe we can find the beginning of the brook. Hurry up! Let's try to find it."
They could not run, or even walk very fast, because at every step they sank into the soft ground. But, after they had climbed the fence, they came to a little graveled walk that was drier.
"Bet you I can throw a stone farther than any of you," said Carleton Marsh.
"Bet you can't!" retorted Perry Phelps.
Then every one had to toss a stone into the brook. The water went so fast it was hard to tell whose stone went farthest, for none landed across the brook. Still, in a way this was satisfactory, for each boy was sure that his stone had won.
"Well, come on, if you're going to explore," said Nelson Baker. "What are you staring at, Sunny Boy?"
"Ice," said Sunny Boy, pointing up the stream. "Isn't that ice all over everything?"
The boys looked. A little distance away the ground seemed to be covered with cakes of ice.
"Hurry up!" shouted Perry. "It's an ice field. We can have heaps of fun playing."
The others hurried after Perry, and when they came to the field where the ice was they found that the brook was almost a river at this point. It had cut a wide, new gash in the bank and had overflowed, leaving mud and water and ice in great quantities and cutting the trunks of little trees that stood in the way. The boys scrambled up on the ice and pretended that they were at the North Pole.
"I'll be the savage Eskimo and chase you white men," said Carleton.
"Are Eskimos savage?" asked Sunny Boy doubtfully. "They don't look savage in the geography book. They look fat."
"Of course they are savage," said Carleton. "Anybody who lives at the North Pole is savage. Now when I chase you, you have to jump."
Carleton made an awful face, such as he thought a savage Eskimo would make, and ran directly toward Sunny Boy, who jumped from his cake of ice to the ground. But instead of landing on the ground, he landed in water! Ice-cold water and up to his knees! And at that moment the ice on which Carleton stood began to rock.
"The brook!" gasped Sunny Boy. "It's running over again! It's inside my rubber boots!"
The boys jumped from the ice cakes on which they stood, and those who had only rubbers on were wet at once to the knees.
"We'll be drowned!" cried Perry Phelps.
Sunny Boy saw a barn in the next field, and he thought if they could only reach that they would be safe.
"We'll all take hold of hands," he said quickly. "And don't anybody let go. There's a barn up there, and we can go and stay in that. Bob will come and find us, I know he will."
The water kept rising higher and higher, and it was hard work to walk against the current. Once Sunny Boy stumbled and fell, and once Carleton lost his balance; but the others pulled them up again. When they reached the barn they found it was an old building, built very close to the brook and quite empty.
"It must have been the hay barn," said Sunny Boy, who remembered what he had learned when he visited Grandpa Horton's farm. "Sometimes hay barns are built out in the fields so it won't be so far to haul the hay. I wonder how far off the house is?"
The house had burned down years ago, but Sunny Boy did not know that. The boys were only too thankful to have a dry floor to stand on, and they huddled in one corner out of the keen March wind that blew in through the windows, for every pane of glass in the barn was broken. Every few minutes they could hear the crash of a chunk of ice against the building, and once or twice Sunny Boy thought he felt something move. The third time he saw Jimmie Butterworth looking at him.
"The barn is moving!" said Sunny Boy loud.
And it was. The force of the water and the ice, driving against the poor worn out foundations, had loosened them, and the old barn was actually sailing. The boys ran to the door. All around them was water, water and ice. The barn began to rock and to lean to one side a little.
"It will tip over!" cried Carleton. "We'll be drowned."
"If we shout, some one will hear us and come and get us," suggested Sunny Boy. "We'll have to yell!"
And yell they did, shouting with all the strength and power of their lungs. They had almost given up hope of making any one hear when suddenly there came an answering shout and down in one corner of the field they saw something moving.
"It's Bob and the horse and wagon!" cried Sunny Boy. "Now we'll be all right."
"Well, you do manage to get yourselves into a pickle every time, don't you?" was Bob's greeting when he drove up. "Father sent me down to finish the fence alone and bring you up, and I couldn't imagine where you could be. Hurry up, kids, because I don't like the looks of this water. It will be coming in the wagon if it gets much higher."
Bob helped them all in and then drove slowly to the Parkney house. The horse had hard work to keep his footing in the water and ice, and he kept shaking his head as though he did not like it. But they reached the house safely, and Mrs. Parkney gave the boys milk to drink and clean dry stockings to wear as though she were used to any emergency, as indeed she was.
"I guess you've had enough exploring for one day," said Bob, as he drove the boys out to the head of the lane to get the half-past four o'clock trolley car. "If it's dull out here this summer, I mean to send for you, Sunny Boy, because excitement seems to follow you around."
The same merry conductor was on the four-thirty trolley car, and he was much interested to hear about the day's experiences. So were the mothers and fathers when the boys reached home.
The next morning Daddy Horton telephoned Mr. Parkney to ask him if the brook had done any damage over night. Mr. Parkney said that the old barn had been carried down past their farm and was completely wrecked.
"I'm glad we didn't stay in it," said Sunny Boy cheerfully. "It must have been a freshet, Daddy. Don't you think it was?"
It was a freshet, of course, and Daddy Horton said so.
After that Saturday the weather grew warmer and warmer, and Sunny Boy began to think of summer. What he did when school closed and what happened to him, we'll have to tell you in another book, to be called "SUNNY BOY AND HIS GAMES."