ALMOST SUMMER TIME“WOULD you care,” said Honey Bunch politely, “if I left the door a little open?”
“Close it tight,” said Mrs. Miller, turning the wringer as fast as she talked, and that was pretty fast. “Your daddy put the screen door on yesterday because he says it’s most time for flies.”
“But it’s so hot,” said Honey Bunch, closing the screen door to please Mrs. Miller. “I thought perhaps we needed air.”
Mrs. Miller laughed and stopped turning the wringer. Instead she went over and stirred the clothes in the boiler on the stove. Mrs. Miller was always busy when she was washing.
“The fire makes it hot in here, Honey Bunch,” she explained. “But the wire on the door lets in all the air there is to come in. Why don’t you stay outdoors and play where it is cool?”
“Mother went down town and I’m lone some,” said Honey Bunch. “Is it summer yet, Mrs. Miller?”
“Dear me, no; and thankful I am it isn’t,” replied Mrs. Miller, lifting the lid from the boiler. “To-day is extra warm, I’ll admit; but we’ll have a cool spell before the real hot weather comes. You mark my words.”
Then Mrs. Miller turned on the faucet in one of the tubs and the water began to run in so fast and splashily that no one could talk. So Honey Bunch sat down on a chair and whispered to Lady Clare, the beautiful black cat, who opened a yellow eye and seemed to listen.
“You mark my words, summer is coming. Lady Clare,” whispered Honey Bunch. “My daddy said so.”
“Want to come out in the yard, Honey Bunch?” asked Mrs. Miller, picking up a basket. “I’m going to hang these clothes out now.”
Honey Bunch did want to go out into the yard, and so did Lady Clare. They both followed Mrs. Miller up the three little stone steps and out into the yard where some very white clothes fluttered on the line.
“Let me put the pins in?” asked Honey Bunch, who knew all about hanging up clothes; hadn’t she helped Mrs. Miller over and over?
“I’ll tell you what to do, Honey Bunch,” said kind Mrs. Miller. “These clothes are dry and I’ll have to take them down. You pick up the pins as I drop ’em on the grass and put every one in this little bag. That will be a big help.”
“I’ll pick them all up,” said Honey Bunch earnestly. “You mark my words, Mrs. Miller.”
Mrs. Miller sat down on the lowest step of the back porch and laughed. She laughed easily. Most people laughed, too, when they saw her laughing. Honey Bunch always did.
“You mustn’t say everything you hear me say,” declared Mrs. Miller, when she had stopped laughing. “Aren’t you a funny little girl, Honey Bunch!”
“Am I?” asked Honey Bunch.
“Yes, you are,” Mrs. Miller told her, getting up and walking over to the basket which she had left in the middle of the grass. “You’re a funny little girl and a dear little girl, and what I should do without you on Tuesdays, I’m sure I don’t know.”
This was very nice, and Honey Bunch trotted after Mrs. Miller, picking up clothespins as fast as she dropped them and putting them into a little striped bag. When all the dry clothes were taken down, Honey Bunch followed Mrs. Miller up and down while she hung up the clothes she had brought out in the basket. Every time she needed a clothespin, Honey Bunch handed her one. So you can see how nicely they worked together.
“There!” said Mrs. Miller, when the basket was empty. “That finishes everything. I have to clean the laundry before lunch, but I believe I’ll sit down and get my breath first.”
“Sit down on the step and get it,” begged Honey Bunch. “It’s so nice outdoors.”
It was nice outdoors that morning. The grass was very green and the early flowers nodded gaily from the brown earth and the pear tree at the foot of the yard was a mass of white that smelled as sweet—well, Honey Bunch said it smelled as sweet as a whole bottle of cologne, and it did.
Mrs. Miller sat down on the step again and Honey Bunch sat beside her and Lady Clare came and sat beside Honey Bunch.
“I wish summer would hurry up and come,” said Honey Bunch wistfully.
“Seems to me you’re in a great hurry,” answered Mrs. Miller, fanning herself with her blue and white apron. “You’ve been asking me for six weeks now when summer was coming.”
“Well, I’m going to visit my cousin this summer,” explained Honey Bunch. “Not my New York cousins—I went to New York in the winter. But this cousin you have to go to see in the summer time.”
“Dear me, which cousin can that be?” said Mrs. Miller, who knew every cousin Honey Bunch had and who was only pretending. “Are you going to see your cousin Hazel?”
“I haven’t any cousin Hazel!” cried Honey Bunch.
“Well, then, it must be your cousin Ida,” said Mrs. Miller, smiling.
“I haven’t any cousin Ida!” said Honey Bunch. “Not a single cousin Ida.”
“You’ll have to tell me, then,” said Mrs. Miller, making believe to be disappointed. “I give it up. What cousin are you going to see this summer?”
Honey Bunch stood up. She was so excited she almost shouted.
“I’m going to see my cousin Stub!” she cried. “You know, Mrs. Miller—Stub’s real name is Mary Morton and she lives on a farm. A real farm and she has a dog!”
“My goodness!” said Mrs. Miller. “What is the dog’s name?”
“I don’t know. But Stub will tell me and I’ll write it to you on a postal card,” promised Honey Bunch. “Stub will tell me how to spell it. Did you ever see a real farm, Mrs. Miller?”
“I lived on one when I was your age,” answered Mrs. Miller. “ ’Tis a grand place for little girls. But why is a girl with a good name like Mary called such a queer name? Stub! I never heard that before.”
“She stubs her toes so much—that’s why,” said Honey Bunch. “She can’t help it, but she does fall down a lot. I don’t see why, but she does. She used to cry when she was little, but her daddy made up a verse for her to say when she falls down and now she doesn’t cry any more. She says the poetry.”
“I wish some one would make up poetry for me to say when I burn my thumb,” said Mrs. Miller. “I’m always burning my fingers.”
“Uncle Rand can make up poetry about anything,” said Honey Bunch. “I’ll ask him to make up some for you when you burn your fingers. Shall I?”
“If he isn’t too busy,” said Mrs. Miller. “But what does Stub say when she falls down, Honey Bunch?”
“I must think,” replied Honey Bunch.
When she was a very tiny little girl she had said, “I must sink” when she meant to say, “I must think.” But she didn’t say that any more. She was five years old and always spoke plainly. Mrs. Miller and Lady Clare waited patiently while she thought of the verse Stub’s daddy had taught her to say.
“I know what it is,” said Honey Bunch, in a few minutes. “I’ll recite it for you.”
Honey Bunch stood up again. She could talk better standing up for some reason.
“ ‘Stub fell down and hurt her toe, Give it a rub and away she’ll go.’
“There! Stub says that when she falls down, and then she forgets to cry,” said Honey Bunch. “I think it is a nice verse, don’t you, Mrs. Miller?”
“Yes, indeed,” replied Mrs. Miller. “Much nicer than crying. And where does Stub live, Honey Bunch—as far away as New York?”
“No, not as far away as New York,” answered Honey Bunch. “But I don’t know just where the farm is. Daddy is going to take us.”
“You like to ride on trains, don’t you?” said Mrs. Miller. “No wonder you want summer to come so you can go traveling.”
Up hopped Honey Bunch again. She had forgotten the most important news of all!
“We’re not going in the train!” she cried. “We’re going in the automobile! Daddy is going to learn to make it go and we’re going to the farm and I’m going to ride in the front seat with him.”
“Your mother told me in the winter that Mr. Morton had ordered a car,” said Mrs. Miller, her round, red face as excited as Honey Bunch’s small pink one. “My land, won’t that be fine! Where is this automobile, Honey Bunch? I’d like to see how you look sitting on the front seat.”
“It hasn’t come yet,” Honey Bunch replied, sitting down more calmly. “It has to come on the train and then Daddy has to learn to run it. And then—when summer comes—he’ll take us to the farm.”
“No wonder you want to hurry up the calendar,” said Mrs. Miller. “But it won’t take your daddy long to learn how to run this car. He knows a heap about them already. I’ve heard your mother say so.”
“Then perhaps we’ll go the day after,” cried Honey Bunch, dancing up and down on the step.
“The day after what?” asked Mrs. Miller, picking up the clothes’ basket and the clothes-pin bag.
“The day after the automobile comes,” said Honey Bunch seriously. “Stub will be expecting us as soon as summer comes, and we ought to hurry.”
“Well, I’ll have to hurry myself if I’m going to get the laundry cleaned and lunch started before your mother gets back,” said Mrs. Miller, going down the steps to the laundry. “You stay out and play a while, Honey Bunch, while I wipe up the floor.”
But in a very few minutes Honey Bunch came quietly down the steps and climbed up into the chair to watch Mrs. Miller mop the floor.
“Is anything the matter?” Mrs. Miller asked her. “You sit there so quiet, Honey Bunch.”
“I came in,” said Honey Bunch in a whisper, “because that Norman Clark was in his yard.”
“That’s the boy whose folks moved into the vacant house on the next street, isn’t it?” asked Mrs. Miller, wringing out her mop. “Don’t you like Norman, Honey Bunch? He looks like a nice little boy.”
“Oh, no, he isn’t a nice boy,” replied Honey Bunch. “I wouldn’t play with him and he can’t come to my next birthday party. He isn’t nice at all!”
“For pity’s sake, what is the matter with him?” asked Mrs. Miller, so surprised that she forgot to go on with her mopping. “Has he done anything mean to you, Honey Bunch?”
Honey Bunch shook her head.
“Well, then, why don’t you like him?” repeated Mrs. Miller. “I think he’s lonely in this strange neighborhood and you ought to be nice to him.”
“He’s a bad boy,” replied Honey Bunch. “Just as bad as can be. He told me something dreadful.”
Mrs. Miller dropped her cake of soap and forgot to pick it up.
“What did he tell you?” she asked. “When did he tell you?”
Honey Bunch climbed down from her chair and ran over to Mrs. Miller. She stood on tiptoe to whisper the dreadful thing Norman Clark had told her.