TWO LITTLE STRANGERS
DADDY MORTON held Honey Bunch tightly so that she could not fall.
“Look down,” he said. “Look down, and tell me what you see.”
Honey Bunch looked and there, far below the bridge, were shining water and boats— two little fast-moving boats that went “put-put-put” as they dashed along.
“The river!” cried Honey Bunch. “It
is the river, isn’t it, Daddy?”
“You are looking at the Leigh River and you are standing on the Haverstraw bridge, dear,” said Daddy Morton. “Those chimneys and roofs you see over there belong to the city of Haverstraw.”
“I like bridges!” exclaimed Honey Bunch.
And indeed she seemed to. She stood on the coping, holding fast to her daddy’s hand and watching the shining water, till her mother said that they really should be going on or Julie’s mother might wonder what had happened to them.
“Norman has blocks to make bridges with, Mother,” said Honey Bunch, when she was back in the car. “He told me so. I could build a bridge like this if I had some blocks.”
“Perhaps Santa Claus will bring you some next Christmas,” answered Mrs. Morton.
“You and Julie can build bridges in the sand, Honey Bunch,” said her daddy, starting the car.
Haverstraw was a fairly large city and there were a great many factories and warehouses there. Honey Bunch liked to watch the crowds of people in the streets and she had a good chance to see them because there were so many automobiles and trolley cars that it was impossible to drive fast.
“There—I’m glad we are out of Haverstraw!” said Mrs. Morton, as they left the crowded streets behind them and the car rolled over a road where the houses were fewer and further apart. “I don’t like traveling through cities.”
“Look over to your left, Honey Bunch, and tell me what you see,” said Daddy Morton after a time, his eyes fixed on the road.
“Sky,” reported Honey Bunch staring. “Just sky, Daddy.”
“The ocean is over there,” her daddy told her. “The big, blue ocean, Honey Bunch.”
The little girl looked again. All she could see was a line where the earth seemed to meet the sky.
“The same ocean Julie has, Daddy?” she asked.
“The very same ocean,” he replied. “Miles and miles of towns like Glenhaven are built along that same ocean.”
“See the sand along the road, Honey Bunch,” said her mother. “All this coarse grass is growing in sand. You are really at the seashore now although you cannot see the water.”
“It smells good,” declared Honey Bunch, taking a deep breath.
“That’s the salt—the wind is blowing in from the sea,” explained her daddy. “And you have new little curls at the back of your neck, Honey Bunch. That means the salt air is curling your hair for you.”
Honey Bunch thought nothing had ever smelled as delicious as that salty wind. She kept sniffing it. Once they passed a broken shell in the middle of the road and Mother told her some little girl had probably dropped it from another car.
“You must save the pretty shells you find, too, Honey Bunch,” said Mrs. Morton. “Ida and the other little girls you know will like to have you bring them home shells and pebbles.”
“I have to get Norman Clark a starfish, and promised Lady Clare I’d bring her home a fish to eat,” declared Honey Bunch. “But I’ll get shells for Ida, too.”
They had just passed a sign that said “three miles to Glenhaven”—Honey Bunch could not read it, even if Daddy had driven past it more slowly, but her mother read it for her—when they saw two little girls standing at the side of the road.
Honey Bunch was the first to see them. They reminded her of Kitty and Cora Williams, she thought, though afterward she found they were several years older. They stood, almost in the path of the car, holding out two big bunches of wild flowers.
“Look, Daddy!” Honey Bunch pointed ahead. “Look at the little girls—there!”
Mr. Morton stopped the car when he reached the girls, and they jumped up on the running board.
“Don’t you want to buy some nice flowers?” they asked, both speaking at once. “They’re fresh picked this afternoon.”
Honey Bunch stared at the girls. They were barefooted and their faces were streaked with dirt and perspiration. Thin, brown faces they were, with bright blue eyes. Neither girl wore a hat, and their dresses were old and thin in some places and torn in others—Honey Bunch had never seen such dresses.
She was sure Mrs. Miller could not have ironed them smoothly.
“Do you live near here?” asked Mrs. Morton, nodding to her husband as a sign that he was to buy the flowers.
“Back in the pines,” replied the taller girl, jerking her head backward to show where the pines were.
Honey Bunch’s daddy dropped a shining piece of money into the thin little brown hand she held out and the two bunches of flowers were carefully placed on the back seat. They were rather wilted posies, but the girls said they would come up again when put in water.
“What’s your name?” the shorter girl suddenly asked Honey Bunch.
“I’m Honey Bunch,” answered the little girl.
“I’m Jane,” said the girl. “And she’s Sarah,” she pointed to the other. “She’s my sister.”
Daddy Morton was anxious to go on, but the two girls stood on the running board, look-ing at Honey Bunch. As they looked, a kind thought came to her.
“Mother, maybe they’re hungry,” she whispered. “Jane and Sarah maybe didn’t have any lunch.”
To tell the truth, the girls did look hungry. It wasn’t that they were thin. Grace Winters was very thin, and goodness knows she had enough to eat. Jane and Sarah were not as thin as Grace Winters, but they looked thinner—so Honey Bunch said afterward. What she meant, and could not explain, was that their eyes looked eager—as though they spent much of their time hunting for something they did not find.
“There are those sandwiches, Edith,” said Mr. Morton.
“We have a box of lunch we haven’t touched,” Mrs. Morton said to Jane and Sarah, who had listened intently. “We shall be very glad if you will take the sandwiches and cake and eat them. Wait! I’ll get the box for you. Or can you reach it? It is the one tied with the string.”
Sarah put her arm into the tonneau and picked up a box.
“That’s Julie’s turtle!” cried Honey Bunch. “Don’t take the turtle! Mother, don’t give away Julie’s turtle.”
“Sarah and Jane couldn’t eat the turtle, dear,” replied Mrs. Morton, laughing a little. “See, Sarah, I mean that box on the seat—that’s the one. There, now you have it.”
Sarah hugged the box tightly to her. She looked very happy.
“Thank you,” she said shyly, as she and Jane stepped back from the car. “If you come back this way, maybe we’ll have some more flowers for you—I don’t mean you to buy ’em; we’d like to
give you some to take home.”
“We shan’t be back for several weeks, for we expect to visit in Glenhaven,” explained Mrs. Morton. “I suppose you have been there?”
“Lots of times,” replied Jane. “It’s a nice place. Good-bye, little girl,” she added, waving to Honey Bunch.
“I do believe those children were hungry,” announced Mrs. Morton, turning to look back as Mr. Morton drove on. “Yes, they’re sitting down right where we left them and opening the lunch box.”
“They probably have to take the money home, but they feel free to eat the food,” said Mr. Morton. “Honey Bunch, why are you staring at me with those big blue eyes of yours?”
“Your wish came true, Daddy!” Honey Bunch cried. “It was a fairy place—that tree. You said you wished we would meet some one who was hungry.”
“So I did,” said her daddy. “Well, you and I seem to have good luck with our wishes, don’t we? I don’t like to think of little girls being hungry, that’s a sure thing.”
Honey Bunch didn’t like the idea either. All the rest of the short way to Glenhaven she asked her mother questions about Jane and Sarah. If they had always sold wild flowers—who bought them other days—how much wild flowers were—where they grew—and many more questions.
“Do Jane and Sarah live in a house?” asked Honey Bunch.
“Why, yes, of course they must,” replied her mother. “Some kind of a house, dear. You remember they said they lived in the pines—I suppose there must be a settlement somewhere in those woods.”
“But they didn’t have nice dresses on, or any shoes and stockings,” said Honey Bunch. “Daddy went barefoot when he was a little boy for fun; but I don’t believe Jane and Sarah go barefoot for fun.”
“I’m afraid they do it because they have no shoes or stockings to wear,” declared Mrs. Morton sadly. “However, they may have better dresses put away. No child would put on her best dress to go out and gather wild flowers to sell along the dusty road.”
It was not long before they came to Glenhaven, the pretty town where Julie lived with her daddy and mother. Julie’s daddy was far away this summer—across the ocean in England—and that was one reason Julie’s mother wanted Honey Bunch and her mother to come and visit them. It would not seem so lonely, she said.
Glenhaven was the whitest town Honey Bunch had ever seen. The roads were white and the fences were white and even the big boulders that marked some of the lawns were whitewashed. Rows of white clam shells outlined the flowerbeds on many of the lawns and the paths were filled in with glistening white pebbles. It was the cleanest town surely, as well as the whitest, the visitors from Barham had ever been in.
Julie lived on Beach avenue, and Mr. Morton had to stop at the drug store and ask where that street was. Then, when he turned down it, the salt smell of the ocean came in their faces and ahead Honey Bunch caught a glimpse of the ocean.
“Some day I’m going to have a garden of my own,” murmured Honey Bunch, which was not at all what her daddy expected to hear her say when she was coming nearer to the ocean every minute.
But Honey Bunch was still thinking about
Jane and Sarah. She forgot them though, and even the seashore, when a gay little figure in a red frock came dancing out from one of the pretty white cottages—the one on the corner.
“Mother! They’ve come!” shrieked Julie wildly. “They’ve come! Here’s Honey Bunch!”