Read CHAPTER II of Chicken Little Jane on the Big John , free online book, by Lily Munsell Ritchie, on


Mrs. Morton was sitting by the dining room window one afternoon about a week later, busily knitting.

“Here comes Father, Jane. Run out and get the mail. There should be a letter from Alice telling about the wedding and when they are coming.”

“Oh, I do hope there is!” Chicken Little flew out the door and down the path to the road where Father was unloading bundles before he drove on to the stables.

“From Alice? Yes, and one from Katy and Gertie, and three for Marian. She’s the popular lady this time.” Dr. Morton handed out the treasures.

“Hurry, Mother,” Chicken Little fairly wriggled with eagerness as she tossed the letters into her mother’s lap.

“Don’t be so impatient, child! Little ladies should cultivate repose of manner. Where are my spectacles? I was sure I laid them on the desk.”

Mrs. Morton was peering around anxiously on desk and table and mantel, when Chicken Little suddenly began to laugh.

“On your head, Mumsey, on your head! Hurry up and read the letter I just can’t wait.”

Her mother carefully unfolded the sheets and read them to herself deliberately before satisfying Jane’s curiosity.

“They are not coming until the last of June,” she said finally. “Dick has an important case set for the tenth and they would have to make a hurried trip if they came before that, so they have settled down in the old home till the law suit is over. Then they are coming for a nice long visit. Alice says if Dick wins the case they are going clear to San Francisco, but if he doesn’t, they’ll go only as far as Denver. Oh, here’s a note for you, Chicken Little, from Dick. And Alice says, perhaps they’ll bring Katy and Gertie with them, if it is convenient for us to entertain so many, and leave them here while they go on out West. Dear me, I don’t know! Gertie hasn’t been very well, it seems, and Mrs. Halford is anxious to have her go to the country somewhere. Why, child ”

Jane had paused with Dick’s cherished note half-opened to skip and jump deliriously till she was almost breathless.

“O Mother, wouldn’t that be glorious? You could put another bed in my room, and, maybe, they’d stay all summer. Oh, goody-goody, goody, goody, goody!”

Dr. Morton coming in, caught her in the midst of her war dance and gave her a resounding kiss.

“Here, Mother, where did you get this teetotum? We might sell her for a mechanical top warranted perpetual motion. When the legs give out, the tongue still wags.”

“I don’t care, Father, Katy and Gertie are coming. I just can’t wait!”

Jane hugged her father and did her best to spin his two hundred pounds avoirdupois around with her.

When she had sobered down a little she remarked doubtfully: “But, Mother, Katy and Gertie didn’t say a single word about coming, in their letter.”

“Probably Mrs. Halford hasn’t told them. She would naturally write to me first, to find out if it is perfectly convenient for us before she roused their expectations. I presume Alice’s letter is only a suggestion, and if I reply to it favorably, Mrs. Halford will write. I shall think it over.”

“Think it over? Why, Mother, you’re going to ask them to come, aren’t you?” Chicken Little’s eyes were big with pained surprise.

“My dear, I think it likely that I shall invite them it would be good for you to have companions of your own class once more. But it will mean a great deal of extra work, and unless I can get someone to help me, I do not see how I can manage it.”

“Mother, I’ll help, and Katy and Gertie won’t mind washing dishes.”

“Now, little daughter, we will let the matter rest for a day or two. Don’t you want to hear about Alice’s wedding?”

“Read it aloud, Mother Morton.” It was Marian speaking. She was standing in the door with Jilly fresh and rosey from a long nap.

Mrs. Morton looked up.

“Jilly doesn’t seem any the worse for her bump this morning, does she?”

“No, that’s the blessed thing about children, they get over things so easily. By the way, Father, Frank told me to tell you that he had taken Ernest with him over to the Captain’s after a load of hay. They’ll probably have supper there and be late getting home that is if Captain Clarke asks them to stay he is such a queer old duck.”

“He doesn’t seem very neighborly, according to reports. I’ve found him pleasant the few times I have met him,” said Dr. Morton, “but let’s have Alice’s letter.”

Mrs. Morton adjusted her spectacles and began to read.

“Dear, Dear Mrs. Morton:

“If we could only have had all the Morton family, great and small, present, the Harding-Fletcher Nuptials, as Dick insists upon calling our wedding he quotes from the Cincinnati paper would have been absolutely perfect. Uncle Joseph and Aunt Clara couldn’t have done more for me if I had been their very own. Aunt Clara insisted upon having the big church wedding, which I fear your quiet taste would not approve, but it was very lovely. And I do think the atmosphere of a big church and the beautiful music are wonderfully impressive. Dick says it’s the proper thing to tie the bridal knot with all the kinks you can invent it makes it more secure. He said it was miles from the vestry to the chancel and his knees got mighty wobbly before he arrived, but after thinking it over, he concluded I was worth the walk the heathen! Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that the sun shone on the bride most gloriously and the old church was a perfect bower of apple-blossoms and white lilacs. My wedding dress was white satin with a train. I wore Aunt Clara’s wedding veil. It was real Brussels lace and I was scared to death for fear something would happen to it. I warned Dick off until he declared that the next time he got married the bride should either be out in the open, or have a mosquito net that wasn’t perishable. I’m not going to tell you about my trousseau because I intend to bring it along to show you. I want you to be surprised, and oh! and ah! over every single thing, because it is so wonderful for Alice Fletcher to have such beautiful clothes. Dick is looking over my shoulder and he says he thinks it’s time I learned that my name is Alice Harding. He says he’s going to have a half-dozen mottoes printed with

’My name is Harding.
On the Cincinnati hills
I lost the Fletcher!’

on them, and hang them about our happy home. Tell Chicken Little I’ve saved a big chunk of bride’s cake for her, and I’m dying to see her. It doesn’t seem possible that she is almost as tall as Marian.”

The letter ran on with much pleasant chatter of the new home, which was the same dear old one where Alice had been born, and where the Morton family had spent the two happy years that were already beginning to seem a long way off.

Alice had graduated the preceding year, but Uncle Joseph would not listen either to her plea that she should pay the money back from her little inheritance, or that she should carry out her plan of teaching. He said it would be bad enough to give her up to Dick just as they had all learned to love her she must stay with them as long as possible.

Dick’s letter was as full of nonsense as Dick himself. It was written with many flourishes to:

“Miss Chicken Little Jane Morton,
Big John Creek,
Morris County, Kansas.

“Dear Miss Morton,

“I would respectfully inform you that your dear friend Alice Fletcher is no more there ain’t no such person. She made a noble end in white satin covered with sticky out things, and her stylish aunt’s lace curtain. She looked very lovely, what I could see of her through the curtain. My dear Miss Morton, I beseech you when you get married, don’t wear a window curtain. Because if you do the groom and the sympathizing friends can’t see how hard you are taking it. Alice didn’t look mournful when the plaguey thing was removed, but her aunt wept copiously at the train and took all the starch out of Alice’s fresh linen collar. And Alice said it would be a sight, if I mussed it. I don’t see the connection, do you? Dear Chicken Little, I thought about you all the time I wasn’t thinking about Alice, because I remembered a certain other wedding where the dearest small girl in the world introduced me to the dearest big girl in the world. I thought also of the little partner who wrote a certain letter and of many other things I didn’t even forget the baby mice, Chicken Little! Alice says she would like to have your name on her diploma along with the president’s because well, you know why. And they tell us you are Chicken Big now. Thirteen going on, is a frightful age! The worst of it is you can never stop ‘going on.’ I suppose I need not expect to be asked to any doll parties, but, Jane, wouldn’t you couldn’t you, take me fishing when we come? I will promise to be as grown up as possible.



“P. S. Do you still read Mary Jane Holmes?”

“Well, it is evident Dick Harding is the same old Dick, all right. Three years and getting married don’t seem to have changed him a particle,” laughed Marian.

“Three years isn’t a lifetime,” retorted Dr. Morton, “if it does seem ‘quite a spell’ to young people. Thank heaven, it has changed you, Marian, from a fragile, pale invalid to a hearty, rosy woman! Dr. Allerton knew what he was about when he sent you to a farm to get well.”

“Yes, I can’t be thankful enough, Father Morton, and I don’t forget how kind it was of you all to come out so far with us.”

“Mother is the only one who deserves any thanks the rest of us were crazy to come. We were tickled to death to have an excuse, eh, Chicken Little?” He tweaked her ear for emphasis.

“Oh, I love the farm, Father, only I wish Ernest could go away to school. He’s awfully worried for fear you won’t feel able to send him to college this fall. He studies every minute when he isn’t too tired.” Dr. Morton’s face grew grave.

“Yes, it’s time for the boy to have a better chance. I wanted him to go last year, but the drought and the low price of cattle made it impossible. And I don’t quite know how it will be this fall yet.”

“There mustn’t be any if about it this fall, Father. Ernest is working too hard here and now is the time for his education if he is ever to have one,” Mrs. Morton spoke decidedly.

“I know all that, Mother, but college takes ready money, and money is mighty scarce these days. He’s pretty well prepared for college. I’ve seen to that, if we do live on a Kansas ranch.”

“It isn’t just the studies, though, Father Morton,” said Marian. “Ernest needs companionship. He doesn’t take to most of the boys around here, and I don’t blame him. They’re a coarse lot, most of them. The McBroom boys are all right, but they live so far off and are kept so busy with farm work, he never sees them except after church once a month or at the lyceums in winter.”

“Marian’s just right, Father. The boy needs the right kind of associations; his manners and his English have both deteriorated here,” added Mrs. Morton.

“Perhaps, Mother, but the boy is sturdy and well and his eyes are strong once more, and he is going to make a more worth while man on account of this very farm life you despise. But he does need companions. I wonder if we couldn’t get Carol or Sherm out here for the summer along with the rest.”

“Father, do have some mercy on me. I can’t care for such a family!” Mrs. Morton gasped at this further adding to her burdens.

Marian studied for a moment.

“Mother, if you want to ask him, I’ll take Sherm, and Ernest, too, while Dick and Alice are here. I’d rather have Sherm than Carol, and Mother said in her letter that the Dart’s were having a sad time this year. Mr. Dart has been ill for so long.”

Chicken Little had listened in tense silence to this conversation, but she couldn’t keep still any longer.

“You are going to ask Katy and Gertie, aren’t you, Mother?”

Mrs. Morton smiled but made no reply.

“You’ll have to go to work and help Mother if you want any favors, Jane,” her father admonished.

The following week apparently wrought an amazing change in Chicken Little. She let novels severely alone even her precious set of Waverly beckoned in vain from the bookcase shelves. She waited upon her mother hand and foot. She set the table without being asked, and brought up the milk and butter from the spring house before Mrs. Morton was half ready for them. Indeed, she was so unnecessarily prompt that the butter was usually soft and messy before the meal was ready. She even practiced five minutes over the hour every day for good measure, conscientiously informing her mother each time.

“Bet you can’t hold out much longer, Sis,” scoffed Ernest, amused at her efforts to be virtuous. “You’re just doing it to coax Mother into inviting Katy and Gertie.”

“I just bet I can, Ernest Morton. Of course I want her to invite Katy and Gertie, but I’m no old cheat, I thank you, I’m going to help the best I can all summer if she asks ’em.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Don’t you dare hint such a thing she’s going to I think you’re real hateful! I just don’t care whether you get to go to college or not.”

“Maybe I don’t want to.”

Something in Ernest’s tone made Jane glance up in surprise.

“Don’t want to? Why, you’ve been daffy about it you haven’t thought about anything else for a year!”

“That’s so, too, but I guess I can change my mind, can’t I?”

Ernest lounged on the edge of the table and looked at his sister teasingly.

He was almost six feet tall, slim and muscular, with the unruly lock of hair sticking up in defiance of all brushing as of old, and a skin that was still girlishly smooth though he shaved religiously every Sunday morning to the family’s secret amusement. The results of this rite were painfully meager. Both Chicken Little and Frank chaffed him unmercifully about it. Jane loved to pass her hands over his chin and shriek fiendishly:

“Ernest, I believe I felt one. I think really, I think you’ll cut ’em by Christmas!” A lively race usually followed this insult.

Frank was even meaner. He came into Ernest’s room one morning while he was shaving and gravely pretending to pick up a hog’s stiff bristle from the carpet, held it out to him.

“Why Ernest, you’re really growing quite a beard!”

But Ernest was a man in many ways if he had but little need of a razor. Seeing other boys so seldom and being thrown so much with men had made him rather old for his years and more than ordinarily capable and self-reliant. He loved horses and was clever in managing them, breaking in many a colt that had tried the patience and courage of his elders. But his day dream for the past twelve months had been college. He had confided all his hopes and fears to Chicken Little. The love between the two was very tender, the more so that they had so few companions of their own ages.

So Chicken Little, knowing that he had fairly lived and breathed and slept and eaten college during many months, might be pardoned for her amazement at his mysterious words.

“Ernest, tell me what’s the matter?”

“Nothing’s the matter I’ve got a new idea, that’s all.”

“What is it? Where’d you get it?”

“From the old captain. Say, you just ought to see his place it’s the queerest lay-out. Snug and neat as a pin. He’s tried to arrange everything the way it is on shipboard. He’s got a Chinaman or a Jap, I don’t know which, for a servant. He is the first one I ever saw, though they say there are lots of them in Kansas City. This chap can work all right. We had the best supper the evening Frank and I went over for hay.”

“My, I wish I could see it. Do you suppose Father would take me over some time?”

“I don’t know. They say he hates women won’t have one around.”

“Pshaw, you’re making that up, but what’s the idea? Oh, you old hateful, you’re just teasing I can tell by your eyes!”

“Honest Injun, I’m not any such thing, only you interrupt so you don’t give me a chance. You know the Captain has been at sea for twenty-five years never’d quit only his asthma got so bad the doctor told him he’d have to go to a dry climate, and bundled him off here to Kansas. Well, he seemed to take a shine to me, and he asked me a lot of questions about what I was going to do. Finally, he wanted to know why I didn’t try to get into the Naval Academy instead of going to college. Said if he had a son and do you know, he turned kind of white when he said that, perhaps he’s lost a boy or something he’d send him there.”

“O Ernest, and be an officer? I saw a picture of one at Mrs. Wilcox’s her nephew and his uniform was perfectly grand.”

“Just like a girl always thinking of clothes! But I’ve been thinking perhaps I should like the life. I always like to read about naval fights, and our navy’s always been some pumpkins, if it has been small. And the captain says a naval officer has a chance to go all over the world. Think of your beloved brother, who has never been on a train but six times, sailing away for China or Australia!”

Chicken Little gave a gasp, “Ernest Morton, it wouldn’t be a bit fair for you to go without me!”

“Don’t worry, I don’t suppose there’s one chance in a hundred that I could get the appointment. Father knows Senator Pratt, and the Captain said he didn’t think there was as much competition for Annapolis out here as for West Point. It’s so far from the sea. But mind, Jane, not a word to anybody till I think it over some more. I’m going to see the Captain again.”

“O Ernest, what if you should go clear round the world?”

“’Twouldn’t hurt my feelings a bit. But mum’s the word, Sis.”