The Sweet Public Domain: Celebrating Copyright Expiration with the Honey Bunch Series

Chapter I


          “I HOPE this doesn’t shrink,” said Honey Bunch, holding up her doll’s petticoat for Mrs. Miller to see. “Somehow my child’s clothes shrink every time I starch ’em.”
          Mrs. Miller laughed. Her round, red face shone through a cloud of steam, for she was washing. She had two large tubs filled with water and a basket of clothes stood on the floor beside her. She was rubbing a white sailor blouse up and down on the wash-board and the soapsuds came up to her elbows. The sailor blouse belonged to Honey Bunch.
          Honey Bunch was washing, too. She had a basin all to herself, and a chair to hold it and a cake of soap. She was washing a petticoat and a dress that belonged to Eleanor, her doll.
          “Clothes get very dirty, don’t they?” said Honey Bunch, holding Eleanor’s petticoat up to the light as she had seen Mrs. Miller do. “I just can’t seem to get the dirt out. Eleanor is such a careless child!”
          Mrs. Miller walked over to the tin boiler that stood on the laundry stove and stirred the clothes in it with a long stick. Honey Bunch knew that Mrs. Miller boiled the clothes to make them clean and white. She often said so.
          “I wonder if I hadn’t better cook Eleanor’s petticoat?” asked Honey Bunch. “I’d like her to have a nice clean petticoat and dress this week.”
          “You let ’em soak, Honey Bunch,” said Mrs. Miller, stirring the clothes in the boiler carefully. “Let them soak in the warm water awhile; that loosens the dirt.”

          “All right, I will,” replied Honey Bunch. “But won’t it make the buttons loose, too?”
          “My land, Honey Bunch, what won’t you think of!” cried Mrs. Miller, putting the lid of the boiler on again and going back to her tub. “I never heard of buttons soaking loose, and I guess anything I never heard of, in connection with washing clothes, never happened!”
          Honey Bunch was sure Mrs. Miller was right. The washerwoman had washed for the little girl’s mother ever since Honey Bunch could remember. She was a very large washerwoman, large and jolly and good-natured. When she walked across the kitchen floor the pans in the closet rattled on their hooks. Down in the laundry there were no pans to rattle, but you always knew when Mrs. Miller was coming down the stairs, for she made each step creak and groan. But that, as Honey Bunch’s daddy said, was much better than if Mrs. Miller had creaked and groaned. She never did. She was always laughing.
          “There now, my wash has to soak,” said Honey Bunch, who could no more work without talking than Mrs. Miller could wash without soap. “Lady Clare, have you anything you’d like me to wash for you?”
          Lady Clare opened her lazy green eyes and stared at Honey Bunch. Lady Clare was a beautiful, sleek cat and she was dressed in black velvet with an ermine collar. That was the reason she was called Lady Clare, Honey Bunch had not noticed at first that the cat wore black velvet; Daddy had pointed out that to her. Daddy had shown her the collar of white ermine that went right around the kitty-cat’s throat, too. Some people said Lady Clare had black fur and was striped with white fur around her neck, but Honey Bunch knew better; it was black velvet and ermine as plain as plain could be.
          “I might wash Lady Clare,” said Honey Bunch, leaning over her basin of clothes to stroke the cat.
          “Well, I wouldn’t, if I were you,” advised Mrs. Miller, beginning to put a lunch cloth through the wringer. “In the first place, a cat just naturally hates to be washed. In the second place, her fur might run.”
          “Run?” said Honey Bunch, in great surprise. “Where would it run to?”
          Mrs. Miller laughed so hard she had to wipe her eyes on her blue and white gingham apron.
          “I declare, Honey Bunch, you’re the oddest young one I ever knew!” she told the little girl. “I don’t mean the kind of running your legs and feet do. You recollect how the blue silk embroidery in your pongee blouse all ran into the collar when I washed it, don’t you? That’s the kind of ‘run’ I’m talking about.”
          “Oh!” said Honey Bunch, who remembered the pongee blouse very well. “Would Lady Clare’s black fur run into her white fur if I washed her?”
          “I’m not saying it would,” answered Mrs. Miller. “You never can tell. Cats aren’t made to be washed with soap and water.”
          “Then I won’t wash you, Lady Clare,” said Honey Bunch. “But the little poodle dog across the street has a bath every Saturday afternoon.”
          “Poodle dogs are different,” declared the wise Mrs. Miller. “I’ve heard folks say they put bluing in the water for a white poodle dog, the same as if he was a sheet or a tablecloth. It makes ’em white.”
          “I guess they don’t put them through the wringer, though,” said Honey Bunch, and Mrs. Miller agreed that she had never known of a poodle dog whose bath included a turn through the wringer.
          “You’d better be rinsing out Eleanor’s clothes, if you want me to hang them up when I take the next basket out,” said the washerwoman kindly.
          Lady Clare, sure that soapsuds and water were not for her, curled up close to Honey Bunch’s feet and went to sleep, while Honey Bunch herself went to work so seriously that she quite forgot to talk. Her small pink tongue, just the tip of it, showed between her little white teeth. Honey Bunch was determined to make a good job of her rinsing.
          She was such a little girl, this Honey Bunch, that the lowest chair in the laundry made her a table. You see she wasn’t quite five years old, so, of course, she couldn’t be tall. And while her real name was not Honey Bunch, a great many people who loved her dearly said it ought to be.
          “ ‘Bunch of Sweetness,’ is too long to say every day,” her daddy had declared. “So let’s call her ‘Honey Bunch.’ ”
          And by and by every one except Daddy and Mother had almost forgotten that Gertrude Marion Morton was the little girl’s real name, for Honey Bunch seemed to suit her so exactly. That kind of name would not have done at all for a cross little girl, or for one that liked to tease, or even for a little girl who meant to be good but who often forgot. Honey Bunch was so sunny and smiling and so sweet, every day, that the name just fitted her.
          Daddy Morton was a lawyer. He went often to a place called a “court” where it was very solemn and serious and quiet and where most important things happened. Honey Bunch had never been to court, but Mother Morton had. She had heard Daddy make long speeches there, and when Honey Bunch was older, she said, perhaps she might some day go to court and hear Daddy speak, too.
          Honey Bunch did not wash every Monday morning, though Mrs. Miller did. Indeed, Mrs. Miller washed nearly every day in the week for somebody. This particular bright and sunny Monday morning, Mother Morton had given Honey Bunch a little basin and had told her she might wash her doll’s clothes while Mrs. Miller was in the laundry. Honey Bunch liked to wash. Indeed she liked to do a great many things. She was always busy and happy.
          “I could turn the wringer for you,” said Honey Bunch, when she had finished rinsing the petticoat and white pique dress that belonged to Eleanor. “Wouldn’t you like to have some help, Mrs. Miller?”
          “You couldn’t turn the wringer, thank you just the same,” replied Mrs. Miller politely. “First place, it’s too high for you, and then again it turns too stiff. I think it needs a mite of oil, but I’ll wait till I’m through this Monday. Are you all through washing, Honey Bunch?”
          “I haven’t anything else to wash,” explained Honey Bunch.
          “My goodness, what about your doll’s stockings?” asked Mrs. Miller. “They have to be washed last thing, you know. I’m sure Eleanor would like to have a clean pair of stockings—don’t you think she would?”
          “Oh, yes, I know she would,” cried Honey Bunch, delighted with the idea. “But she hasn’t any others.”
          Honey Bunch meant the doll had no other stockings to wear while those she had on were being washed, but Mrs. Miller said such tiny stockings would dry quickly and if Honey Bunch thought Eleanor might take cold, the doll’s feet could be wrapped in the old knitted muffler that hung on the laundry door.
          Honey Bunch took down the muffler and wrapped Eleanor in it and then she put the stockings in the basin of water and “jiggled” them up and down to let the warm, soapy water run through them.
          “I’m glad I didn’t wash Lady Clare,” she cried in a moment. “Look how the black comes out!”
          Sure enough, the water was black from the doll’s little stockings and Mrs. Miller said it was the dye.
          “Who dyed them?” asked Honey Bunch.
          “The folks that manufactured them,” said Mrs. Miller, lifting the lid from the boiler and letting out great clouds of steam. “Most everything we wear is dyed, Honey Bunch.”
          “Is this dress dyed?” said Honey Bunch, looking down at the green chambray frock she wore.
          “Yes, that’s dyed,” answered Mrs. Miller, lifting, with the long stick, the boiled clothes from the boiler into a tub of clear rinsing water. “Stand away from this steam, child; you don’t want to get burned.”
          “Will the dye come out of my dress?” asked Honey Bunch anxiously.
          She was very fond of her green dress and she didn’t want the pretty color to come out.
          “I’ll see that it doesn’t,” promised Mrs. Miller. “When I get that dress to wash I’ll set the color first.”
          Honey Bunch wanted to ask how she “set the color” in a dress, but before she could ask the question, another thought popped into her head; why not “set the color” in her doll’s stockings?
          “Look, Mrs. Miller!” she called excitedly. “Look—” and Honey Bunch leaned across the chair which held her basin of water to get the tiny stockings which she had hung on a nail in the wall.
          Her elbow struck the edge of the basin, it tilted, splash! over went the basin and the water on the sleeping Lady Clare! The poor cat sprang up with a howl and a spzz-t! and, rushing across the laundry, dashed between the feet of Mrs. Miller, who had her back to Honey Bunch, and on out through the open door into the yard.
          “My land, has that cat got a fit?” gasped Mrs. Miller. “Did she bite you, Honey Bunch? She looks mad enough to scratch my eyes out!”
          Mrs. Miller hurried to the door to look at Lady Clare and Honey Bunch peeped around her. The cat sat in the center of the yard, glaring at the house. Lady Clare’s velvet and ermine were soaking wet and her feelings were plainly hurt.
          “I knocked the basin over on her,” giggled Honey Bunch. “It tipped. I guess Lady Clare thought I changed my mind and meant to wash her, anyway.”
          The loud buzz of the electric bell sounded through the upstairs hall.
          “Oh, my!” whispered Honey Bunch eagerly. “Somebody’s come! I’ll be back in a minute.”
          And she scuttled up the back stairs, intending to go to the door for Mother who she knew was busy writing letters.

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