RUTH EVANSTHE man seated across the table from the Mortons laughed when he heard Honey Bunch’s question. Daddy laughed a little, too, as he sat down.
“When I was a little boy,” said the man, his eyes twinkling at Honey Bunch, “I had a washstand in my room and in winter the water used to freeze in the pitcher and I had to pound it with a stick before I could get water enough to wash my face.”
“Oh!” said Honey Bunch. “Wasn’t it cold? We have warm water that comes out of a faucet in our house.”
“To be sure you do,” answered the man. “But when your grandma was a little girl she didn’t have any faucets in her house.”
He had been eating dessert when they went in and now he had finished. He nodded good-by and went away.
“Does he live here?” asked Honey Bunch, as she tasted a baked potato the young waitress brought her.
“I don’t think so,” answered Mrs. Morton. “I imagine he is traveling and just stopped here for his lunch. But you mustn’t talk so much, Honey Bunch, or we’ll never get off. Drink your milk and don’t forget the bread and butter.”
As soon as they had finished their luncheon Honey Bunch and her daddy and Mother went back to the car. They drove away down the shady street and through the town. Morgan wasn’t very large, and most of the streets were short and turned suddenly. The moment they were past the last house, Honey Bunch made a discovery.
“The sun has begun,” she said.
“Goodness, Honey Bunch, are you making- up poetry to tell Uncle Rand?” asked Mrs. Morton.
“Is that poetry?” questioned Honey Bunch eagerly.
She said it over several times to herself.
“The sun has begun, the sun has begun,” and finally she decided that it was poetry.
“Yes, it must be poetry,” agreed Mr. Morton, his eyes on the road. “I never could understand poetry and I don’t understand this. What does ‘the sun has begun’ mean, Honey Bunch?”
“Why, it means,” said Honey Bunch, very slowly and carefully so that Daddy should understand, “that—that the sun has begun, Daddy. Just as soon as we left Morgan the trees stopped and the sun began. Don’t you see?”
“Now I do,” he replied. “The sun did begin to pour down on us, didn’t it, dear? It would be nice if we could have a shady road all the way to Elmville, but no one has planted the trees.”
Then Honey Bunch asked about the trees— who planted them and why some places had trees and some didn’t and how long it took a tree to grow and whether her daddy had ever planted a tree and where was it now?
By the time Mr. Morton had answered all of these questions they were far out in the country. Sometimes they saw men working in the fields, and when they waved to the speeding car Honey Bunch and her mother waved back. The sun was hot, but the top was up and an automobile can always bring you a breeze, you know, as long as it is going.
“There’s a tree!” cried Honey Bunch, pointing ahead. “There’s a tree, Daddy!”
“I’ll stop there and take a look at the engine,” Mr. Morton said. “You and Mother may like to take a little walk while I’m tinkering."
The tree was a cherry tree—so Mrs. Morton said—and it grew inside the fence but spread its green branches far out over the road. Mr. Morton drove up under it and stopped the car.
“Is it broken?” asked Honey Bunch anxiously.
“No, indeed,” said her daddy cheerfully. “I want to poke the engine’s insides, that’s all. I think I can make it run more smoothly.”
“We’ll take a walk down this lane,” said Mrs. Morton. “Come, dear. We won’t go far and Daddy can call us if he finishes before we get back.”
A few steps beyond the cherry tree there was a lane. Honey Bunch thought it looked just like a street, except that there were no houses and no sidewalks and no people. There was a letter box, though, right at the corner where the lane joined the road.
“Is that a letter box?” asked Honey Bunch, when Mother told her what the white tin box with the little red flag was meant for.
“Surely it is,” replied Mrs. Morton. “When the little flag is up, that means the letter carrier has left a letter.”
“It’s up now,” said Honey Bunch. “Who is the letter for, Mother?”
“There must be a farmhouse near here,” answered her mother. “And the letter is meant for some one who lives in the farmhouse.”
“But will the letter man go and tell them there is a letter?” went on Honey Bunch, so interested in the mail box she forgot to walk. “How will they know there is a letter for them, Mother?”
“Come on the shady side of the path, dear,” said her mother, “and I’ll tell you while we are walking. In the country, Honey Bunch, the mail comes only once a day. The postman leaves it in these boxes. Every family has a tin box like this one. Some one comes and gets it once a day, too.”
“But maybe there isn’t a letter for everybody every day,” said Honey Bunch. “Sometimes the letter man goes right by our house, Mother, and doesn’t leave us a thing.”
“Sometimes he drives right by the country letter box, too,” explained Mrs. Morton. “But the people who live in the country usually go once a day to their mail boxes, anyway. Most of them take a daily paper, and that means there will always be something in the box. Here comes some one for the mail now, I do believe.”
Honey Bunch looked. Coming toward them was a little girl, a year or two older than Honey Bunch, perhaps. She wore a brown gingham dress and she had brown eyes and hair and some brown freckles on her little nose.
“Hello!” said Mrs. Morton, smiling, while Honey Bunch and the little girl stared at each other.
“Hello!” said the little girl shyly.
“My little girl and I were talking about the letter box at the end of the lane,” said Mrs. Morton. “I told her how the letters are delivered in the country. She is going to visit this summer on a farm, and I am sure she will find letters in just that kind of a box.”
“Did you happen to see if the flag was up?” asked the little girl eagerly. “I don’t suppose you looked, did you?”
“Yes, we did!” cried Honey Bunch. “The flag was up, wasn’t it, Mother? That means there is a letter there! Mother said so!”
“Yes, and that letter is from my aunt,” said the little girl. “My cousin Laura is coming to see me next week and now we’ll know what train she is coming on.”
“We’ll turn and go back,” said Mrs. Morton. “I think Daddy must be looking for us by this time.”
“Did your car break down?” asked the little girl, quite as if she were used to meeting people in her lane whose cars had broken down.
“No, nothing’s broken, but Honey Bunch and I thought we’d take a little walk while Honey Bunch’s daddy tinkered with the engine,” explained Mrs. Morton, smiling at the little girl who smiled back and told her own mother afterward that the lady in the tan coat was the “nicest and happiest lady.”
“Is that her name—Honey Bunch?” asked the little girl. “My name is Ruth—Ruth Evans.”
“My whole name is Gertrude Marion Morton,” said Honey Bunch. “But every one calls me Honey Bunch. And I’m going to see my cousin, too. She lives on a farm and her name is Stub. Where does your cousin Laura live?”
“She lives in Bayplace,” answered Ruth. “That’s the seashore. What a funny name— Stub! Is that her real name?”
“No—o. But she falls down when she stubs her toe, and that’s why they call her that,” explained Honey Bunch. “What is Stub’s real name, Mother?”
“Oh, Honey Bunch, you know, if you’ll only stop to remember,” laughed Mrs. Morton. “Her name is Mary Morton, dear.” “And I have a cousin who lives at the sea-shore, too,” said Honey Bunch proudly. “Julie. She came to my birthday party.” They had reached the mail box by this time and Ruth lifted the lid and pulled out several letters and a newspaper and two magazines. Then she folded down the little flag.
“Why do you bend it down?” asked Honey Bunch, who thought this way of getting letters was much more exciting than to have the postman bring them to the house and ring the doorbell.
“If you leave the flag up, the mail man will think there are letters in the box to be mailed,” answered Ruth. “He doesn’t like to go feeling around in the bottom of the box when there isn’t anything there.”
“Oh!” said Honey Bunch.
Mrs. Morton asked Ruth to walk with them down to the car, but Ruth said she had promised her mother to come straight back to the house.
“She wants to telephone to my brother, who lives in town, to go to meet my cousin, as soon as she knows what train she is coming on,” explained Ruth. “So I’ll scoot.”
And up the lane she “scooted,” her brown gingham skirts flapping as she ran. She could run fast, and in a few minutes she was out of sight.
“Dear me,” said Mr. Morton, wiping his hands on a towel as Honey Bunch and her mother came around the front of the car, “I thought I saw two little girls. Didn’t I? Did the fairies come and carry the other girl away?”
“That was Ruth Evans, Daddy,” answered Honey Bunch. “She came down to get the letters out of the mail box. The mail man leaves them there once a day. Ruth has a cousin Laura who lives at the seashore, just like Julie. And the cousin is coming to see her when her mother telephones her brother to go to meet the train that the letter tells about.”
Mr. Morton swung Honey Bunch into the seat and gave her a kiss.
“You must know all about Ruth Evans,” he said teasingly. “So I really did see another little girl. I thought, perhaps, I was getting to be such an old daddy I needed glasses.”
“You’re not an old daddy!” exclaimed Honey Bunch.
“No, indeed,” declared Mrs. Morton. “Here’s a four-leaf clover I picked for you in the lane while Honey Bunch was talking to Ruth.”
Mr. Morton put the clover in his watch case and said it would bring him good luck. Then, as the engine was “running beautifully” he said, they started off again. But though the car went as fast as it had before, Mr. Morton kept slowing up and once he stopped and stood up to look back.
“What is the matter, David?” asked Honey Bunch’s mother. “Is anything coming up behind us?”
“No. But I begin to think I’ve taken the wrong road,” replied Mr. Morton. “Let’s have a look at the road maps. I should have studied them before.”
He spread the maps out on his lap, and though Honey Bunch could not understand the yellow and blue spots, Daddy and Mother seemed to know what they meant. Mother took a hairpin and followed a wide black line clear across the paper.
“There’s where I made the wrong turn,” said Daddy, in a moment. “I’ll turn the car around—because the next cross road is at least four miles ahead—and we’ll go back. It won’t delay us more than half an hour.”