NEW FRIENDSMR. MORTON turned the car around and they went back as far as a painted white post Honey Bunch did not remember having seen before.
“That’s the trouble,” said her daddy when she pointed to the post. “We should have seen that—at least I should. Then I would have taken the right road. However, here we go.” And he turned the car down another road which would, he explained, take them to Stub’s house.
“What pretty clouds!” said Honey Bunch, when she looked across a field and saw big white clouds piled on top of each other. “Look, Mother, they’re like the castles in my fairy-tale book.”
“Yes, I see them,” said Mrs. Morton, a little anxiously. “I’m afraid they mean we are going to have a thunder shower.”
“It may go around us,” said Mr. Morton, glancing at the sky. “If we do get caught, I’ll drive in somewhere.”
Honey Bunch thought the clouds were lovely. They looked as though she could plunge her hands up and down in them, as she sometimes did in Mrs. Miller’s soapsuds. That is, if she could get near enough to the sky to reach the clouds. Honey Bunch was sure that if Daddy drove straight across the fields to the spot where the sky touched the earth, she could grab a piece of the clouds. But then, Daddy was in a hurry to get to the farm, she knew, and it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to drive so far out of his way.
“Now they’re dark,” said Honey Bunch suddenly, staring at the beautiful white clouds which had turned black while she watched them.
“See how fast they go,” said Mrs. Morton, who was watching the clouds, too. “Almost as fast as the car goes.”
“What makes the clouds move?” asked Honey Bunch.
“The wind, dear,” replied her mother. “Hark! I hear thunder.”
Honey Bunch listened. Far away she heard a rumble and a muttering.
“It’s back of the clouds, Mother,” she said.
“We’ll not get wet,” Mr. Morton said, not even looking at the clouds again. “I’m not going to stop to put on the side curtains. I think there is a farmhouse just ahead and we’ll run into the barn and wait till the shower is over.”
The white clouds were every one black now and the wind was blowing hard. Honey Bunch could see the trees rocking back and forth. The thunder sounded nearer and little jagged streaks of light darted across the sky in front of the automobile.
“How glad all the little green growing things will be to get the rain,” said Mrs. Morton. “I’m sure they are thirsty for a drink of water.”
“And we’ll not have any more dust to-day,”declared Mr. Morton. “All the rest of the way to the farm we’ll have a dustless road. Aha, there’s the farmhouse chimney.”
Honey Bunch stood up to look. There was a chimney showing through a clump of trees. Pat! Pat! Pat! went something softly. “What’s that?” asked Honey Bunch. “What’s that funny noise?”
“It is the rain,” answered her mother. “You hear the drops striking the leaves. Do hurry, Daddy, so we won’t get wet.”
The car leaped ahead and in another minute they were opposite a barn. There was a man standing in the doorway and as soon as he saw them he pushed the sliding door back and Mr. Morton ran the car through the doorway into the nice dry barn.
“Hello!” said the man pleasantly. “Most caught you, didn’t it?”
He was a little old man and he seemed glad to see them. He opened the door for Honey Bunch and her mother to step down and the first thing he said to Honey Bunch was:
“Do you like kittens?”
“Oh, yes! replied Honey Bunch, looking at the old man as though she thought he might have a kitten in the pockets of his overalls.
“Well, Mother has some, up at the house,” said the little old man. “If you all will come on up, she’ll be right glad to see you.”
“Perhaps we had better wait here,” said Mr. Morton. “Is it far to the house?”
“Just a step,” replied the old man. “You can run between the drops.”
Honey Bunch laughed. She didn’t see how Daddy could run between the little fine drops of rain. The old man laughed, too.
“Mother loves to have company,” he said. “She’s seen your car come in. I know she has the kettle on by this time and is getting out the cookies. She’ll never forgive me if I don’t bring you up to the house.”
“All right, let’s run for it,” said Mr. Morton, picking up Honey Bunch. “Come, Edith—it isn’t raining hard yet.”
The house was not far away and they all ran, Daddy carrying Honey Bunch. As they reached the front porch the door was opened and a tiny little old lady bounced out, waving her apron and smiling.
“Come right in and set a spell,” she cried. “Are you wet? Are you cold? I’ll have a cup of hot tea for you in a minute. Come out in the kitchen where the fire is.”
Talking every minute, the old lady led them into the largest kitchen Honey Bunch had ever seen. Although it was summer, the room was not too warm, for the shower had brought a cold wind with it, and when people are wet a fire feels very comfortable indeed. There was a fire in the big stove and a teakettle sending out white clouds of steam and in the middle of the kitchen a round table spread with a white cloth.
“I know you’re hungry,” said the old lady cheerfully. “Folks are always hungry when they’re driving. I’m so sorry I didn’t know you were coming, or I could have cooked something special.”
In two minutes they felt as though they had always known the little old lady and the little old man. Their names, they said, were Popover—Mr. and Mrs. Popover.
“Just remember popovers and you’ll remember us,” said the old lady, who could certainly talk faster than any one Honey Bunch had ever known.
Indeed, everything Mrs. Popover did, was done quickly. She talked fast and she walked fast and she had cups of tea poured out for her visitors—with a glass of milk for Honey Bunch—and had brought out a basket of striped yellow and white kittens and three pictures of her grandchildren and then sat down and knitted, almost before Mrs. Morton had taken off Honey Bunch’s hat and unloosened her own linen coat.
“Such darling kitties!” cried Honey Bunch sitting down on the floor beside the basket “Have they any names?”
“To be sure,” said Mrs. Popover, knitting away as fast as she talked. “One is named Topaz—that’s the one you are stroking now. Then there is Emerald and Ruby and Pearl. Peter, pass the child a cookie.”
Mr. Popover brought the plate of cookies to Honey Bunch who took one and went on petting the kittens.
“I’m going to give Topaz to my grandson, Cornelius, just as soon as the kittens are old enough to give away,” said Mrs. Popover. “Pearl is for my granddaughter, Lucy, and Emerald is for the baby, Albert.”
“But there is Ruby,” Honey Bunch reminded her. “Haven’t you any more grandchildren, Mrs. Popover?”
“Oh, Father and I will keep Ruby,” answered the old lady. “The mother cat, Jewel would feel lonely if we didn’t keep one kitten.”
Honey Bunch asked where the mother cat was.
“Out in the barn most likely,” said Mr. Popover, who was eating cookies as though he liked them very much. “Jewel is a great mouser and she patrols the barn as regularly as a policeman.”
“I’m right glad you dropped in,” declared Mrs. Popover, beaming at her guests and clicking her needles faster than ever. Father and I get lonely with no one to talk to. I often tell him we ought to borrow some children to stay with us. Our daughter and her children live fifty miles away and we don’t see them as often as we’d like.”
While the Popovers talked, the thunder storm was “storming,” as Honey Bunch said. The wind rattled the shutters of the farmhouse and the rain poured down. The thunder sounded directly over their heads, but no one seemed to pay much attention to the storm. Mr. Popover and Mr. Morton were talking about farming and Mrs. Popover was showing Mrs. Morton her patchwork quilts—she took her upstairs to show her those—and Honey Bunch played with the kittens and loved them. They were too busy to listen to the wind and the rain.
“It is getting lighter now,” said Mr. Morton, walking over to the window. “I think we can be going on in a few moments. Honey Bunch, can you find Mother, and tell her I am going out to the barn to start the car?” “You go right out into that hall and up the stairs,” said Mr. Popover to Honey Bunch. “You’ll find the ladies talking about basting threads and thimbles in the front room, I’ll bet a cookie.”
Honey Bunch laughed and trotted into the wide, square, front hall. She went up the stairs that twisted and as soon as she reached the upstairs hall she heard Mrs. Popover talking.
“Come right in, dear,” said the old lady. “I’ve been showing your mother my quilts. I don’t suppose you ever made patchwork, did you? When I was a little girl that was the first needlework we did.”
Honey Bunch looked at the gay quilts spread across the bed. There were stars and wheels and diamonds, all beautifully stitched together. There was every color of the rainbow in those quilts, too.
“How pretty!” said Honey Bunch. “Did you make them, Mrs. Popover?”
“Every one,” said the old lady proudly. “I’ve won twenty prizes at the State fair for my quilt patterns.”
When Honey Bunch said that Daddy had gone out to the barn and that he wanted them to be ready to start in a few moments, Mrs. Popover seemed much disappointed.
“I hoped it would settle down into a steady rain, so you could stay all night,” she said. “I’d have fried chicken for supper if I thought you’d stay.”
“Oh, they will be expecting us at the farm,” replied Honey Bunch’s mother. “We couldn’t stay over a night—though it is lovely of you to be so hospitable.”
“Well, I like plenty of people around,” answered Mrs. Popover, folding up the quilts. “When Father and I were younger we had summer boarders a good deal. They were good company, but they used to rile me because they couldn’t remember our names. We were always getting letters addressed to Mr. Muffin or Mrs. Biscuit, and it got on my nerves, though I s’pose that was silly.”
Honey Bunch and her mother laughed at the idea of a letter addressed to “Mrs. Biscuit,” and Mrs. Popover, too, laughed good-naturedly. She followed them out to the barn and begged them to stop in if they ever drove past again.
“Stop on your way home, at least,” she urged. “Stop off here for dinner when you go back.”
Mr. Morton said they would and that promise seemed to cheer Mr. and Mrs. Pop- over so much they smiled and waved their hands quite gaily as the car went down the road.
“They’re just lonely,” said Honey Bunch’s mother. “They ought to have some one who is young and gay and happy come and live with them.”
“Some one like Honey Bunch,” said Honey Bunch’s daddy, smiling at his little girl. “But we can’t spare her.”
The rain had stopped entirely now and the fields were fresh and green as though just washed. And that was what the rain had done—washed them. There was no dust in the road, either, and theirs seemed to be the only car out. Honey Bunch was thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Popover and the kittens when her daddy slowed down and turned into a cemented drive that was bordered on each side by beautiful blue iris.
“All out for Broad Acres!” called Mr. Morton briskly.