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


Mrs. Morton passed the muffins for the fifth time to Ernest. Ernest’s appetite for muffins was prodigious. Sherm was also ready for another. Chicken Little hadn’t quite finished hers, but at the rate they were disappearing she thought she’d better. Katy said: “Yes, thank you,” and Gertie, who ate more slowly than the others, had only had one. Dr. Morton was merely waiting to be urged. Mrs. Morton rang the bell doubtfully. Annie had filled the plate three times already. Annie appeared with a questioning grin.

“Shall I bring some bread, Ma’am? They ain’t no more muffins.”

Dr. Morton laughed. “Our appetites do credit to your cooking, Annie.”

Mrs. Morton sighed, then smiled as she surveyed the rosy, tanned faces.

“There is certainly nothing like country air to make people eat. I wonder when Alice and Dick will be getting back. Dick said the first week in August probably.”

“Oh, dear,” said Chicken Little, “I want to see Alice and Dick again, but I don’t want Katy and Gertie and Sherm to go home. They can only stay a few days this time, Alice said so.”

“I don’t want to go home a bit,” replied Katy.

“There’s nothing to do at home till school begins.”

“I’d like to go home and see Mother, and then come back.” Gertie looked a little wistful. She did want Mother within reach.

“I wish we could keep you all till September.” Dr. Morton liked to have the clatter of the young people about. “If we only knew some one going back to Illinois at that time to look after you. I don’t suppose Mrs. Halford would like to have you girls travel so far without some grown person along. But I don’t see why Sherm can’t just as well stay till time to get ready for college.”

“I’d like nothing better, and I’m not dead sure I’m going to college this fall. Father seemed a little doubtful when I left, and the folks haven’t said anything about it in their letters. If I can’t, I guess I’ll try for a clerkship in the post-office when I go back.”

Dr. Morton studied a moment. “How would you like to work here on the ranch if you don’t go to college, Sherm?”

“Do you mean it, Dr. Morton?”

“I surely do. Of course, Ernest’s going is not quite settled yet, but I have practically made up my mind that he must go off to school somewhere. We shall need some one to take his place and it would be very pleasant to have you. Chicken Little here wouldn’t be quite so homesick for Ernest, perhaps, if you would let her adopt you in his place.”

Jane jumped up and down in an ecstasy.

“Oh, Sherm, please do I thought I’d just die with lonesomeness this winter with all of you gone, and Ernest, too.”

Sherm looked pleased at her eagerness. His news from home was still depressing and Sherm, if not homesick, had his lonely hours.

“I would pay you regular wages whatever is customary for boys of your age. I should have to make some inquiries,” continued Dr. Morton.

“Yes, and we could go to the lyceums they most always have one every winter over at the Fair View Schoolhouse. It’s heaps of fun when there’s snow on the ground. Frank puts the big wagon bed on runners and we fill the bottom with straw and buffalo robes and all snuggle down together. You just must stay, Sherm!”

“Perhaps he will, if you don’t talk him to death, Chicken Little. You haven’t given him a chance to get in a word edgeways.” Ernest reproved his sister sharply after the manner of brothers slightly older.

“What about you?” retorted Chicken Little. “Sherm, we’ll all keep quiet and let you have a chance.”

“I’d like to, if college is ruled out, and Mother and Father will let me. They may want me at home, especially if Father grows worse.” Sherm gave a little gulp. He was very fond of his father.

“I’ll write to him to-day, Sherm, and you might write, too, for I’m going in to town about noon. Any commissions, Mother? Why don’t you drop things and come along? A change will do you good you haven’t been off the place for two weeks or more.”

“I don’t know but I will. Chicken Little, you girls might get up a little picnic lunch for yourselves and the boys, and have it out in the orchard. Annie has a big ironing to-day and it would help her out not to have a dinner to get. Then we’ll have a hearty supper this evening.”

“Yes, and Chicken Little, did you girls feed the porkers last evening? I heard them squealing and grunting in the night.”

“Golly!” said Chicken Little, sitting up with a start and looking at Katy. Katy looked guilty, and Gertie concerned.

Dr. Morton did not need any further answer. “Well, you’d better run right out. Remember dumb beasts must never be neglected, daughter.”

“And Jane, I don’t want to hear you say Golly again. By-words of any kind are objectionable for young girls, and that is particularly rough and coarse,” Mrs. Morton added severely.

“You never say it is coarse when Ernest says it and he uses it an awful lot.”

“My dear, you are not a boy,” Mrs. Morton replied with a dignity that was final.

“I don’t care,” said Chicken Little when the trio got out doors, “it’s not one bit fair to let boys do so many more things than girls! You just wait, if I ever have a daughter she’s going to do every single thing her brother does. So there!”

Sherm overheard and later in the day when he and Jane were talking together, he remarked: “Chicken Little, I don’t think it is exactly fair either to hold the girls in so much tighter than boys, but your mother is right, allée samee. I have heard the fellows talk often enough to know they think a lot more of a girl who isn’t slangy, than of one who is. Of course, mild ones like ‘Oh dear’ don’t matter, but you see a man kind of likes to have a girl, well different.” Sherm was getting in a little beyond his depth.

The girls carried two pails of sour milk and a great basket of parings to their greedy pigs and watched them feed without interest.

“The only reason I’m glad to go home is I won’t have to feed these horrid pigs any more. I never saw anything grow and eat like they do. They ought to be worth a lot of money after all the stuff they’ve eaten.” Katy kicked her toe against the log pen to emphasize her remarks.

“I don’t think they’re worth so very much yet.” Chicken Little was regarding them with no very friendly eye.

“I wouldn’t mind so much if they weren’t getting so ugly and smelly,” said Gertie plaintively.

Frank, happening by just then, was amused to see their disgusted expressions.

“Say, Frank, how soon will these pigs be big enough to go in the corral with the others?”

Frank’s eyes twinkled. He came up and scanned the ten muddy, impudent pigs, who were already coming up to the sides of the pen, grunting for more. “Well,” he said judicially, “I think perhaps you will be rid of them inside of two or three months, but they’ll eat a lot more from now on.”

The three set up a united protest.

“Father said it would only be a few weeks when we caught them, and it’s been five already,” Chicken Little remonstrated hotly.

“Well, don’t go for me. You asked for my opinion and I gave it to you.”

Frank grinned so broadly that Jane grew suspicious. “Pooh, you’re teasing, I’ll ask Father to-night.”

The girls scoured the pantry and spring house for provender for the picnic. Sherm and Ernest would be in from the meadow where they were cutting down thistles about half-past twelve. Bread and butter and cold ham were flanked with cookies, pie, and musk melons. Annie wanted them out of her road as speedily as possible, so they took their stuff all down to the orchard and stowed it away in the shade.

“Now what?” demanded Katy.

“I don’t know. Wish we could think of something new.” Chicken Little stared up and down the rows of apple trees, seeking an inspiration.

Her glance fell upon a lone apple tree standing in the center of an open space, apart from all its fellows. Katy’s glance followed hers.

“Why is that old tree all by itself that way?”

“I don’t know they were all big trees when we came here. It is a bell-flower and we call it Old King Bee. Say, I’ve got an idea. Let’s get Calico and Caliph and play riding school you remember that article in ‘The Harper’s’ about a riding school in New York, and you said you wished you could go.”

“Would Ernest let us take Caliph?”

“I don’t know, but I know I could ride him if I tucked my skirts up and used the man’s saddle. There can’t a soul see us here; it’s so shut in by the trees.”

“It would be fun. Let’s try to ride bare back and do stunts to surprise the boys. I wish we could take our skirts clear off they catch so on the saddle horn and in the stirrup buckles.”

“I tell you what we’ll do.” Chicken Little’s eyes danced impishly. “There are lots of Ernest’s old trousers in the lumber-room closet that he outgrew ever so long ago. I believe we could find some to fit all of us. Let’s go see.”

A swift rummage of the dusty closet set them all sneezing, but they triumphantly brought forth an armful of defunct trousers and carried them up to their room. For the next fifteen minutes such giggles and exclamations and shrieks of laughter escaped from their room that Annie left her ironing to see what was up. An astonishing sight met her gaze. Once started upon the dressing-up craze, the girls had not been content with one garment. Chicken Little had daringly ransacked not only Ernest’s bureau, but Sherm’s possessions, in quest of shirts and ties.

She had decked herself in a blue checked cheviot shirt, tucked into blue serge trousers, liberally patched at the knees. Sherm’s best red tie was neatly knotted at her throat, and an old straw hat adorned with a red hair ribbon, topped her brown braids. Katy was resplendent in a tan colored shirt, with a bright green tie popularly supposed to belong to Ernest. Her own black sailor finished her off nicely. Gertie had a faded pink shirt, which dated back to Centerville days all Ernest’s more recent garments being too big for her slim little figure.

Annie threw up her hands. “You’re a pretty-looking lot. I’d just like to have the Missus see you now. I bet you’d catch it.”

But Annie had troubles of her own and retired to her ironing.

The trio slipped out the back way they didn’t care to have Marian see them, and they didn’t wish to bother with Jilly. The stable was deserted. They quickly saddled Caliph after making friends with sundry lumps of sugar. Calico was equipped only with a saddle blanket and girth. Gertie decided that she would let the others experiment first, so she walked back to the orchard.

“Let’s try them down the lane first. They will be easier to manage on a straight road than in among the trees, if they are fractious.”

Jane helped Katy upon Calico’s back and showed her how to press her knees against the sides to secure her seat in the place of stirrups.

“You can put your hand under the girth if you begin to slip.”

Katy took a turn or two and decided she could stick on if Calico didn’t trot. He was a single footer and had a very easy gait except on the rare occasions when he insisted upon breaking into a hard trot. Chicken Little led Caliph to the fence. She wanted to be sure that she was well in her seat before Caliph discovered she was a girl.

But Caliph liked Chicken Little, and not having any skirts to make him suspicious, seemed inclined to take her for what she seemed. He noticed only that he had a lighter hand on the reins. He dashed off as lightly and smoothly as if Ernest or Sherm were on his back, and Chicken Little was in a transport of pleasure and triumph to think she could ride him. Katy had a harder time, but she stuck on pluckily for three turns up and down the lane.

They didn’t dare linger too long lest some neighbor come by and see them. So they presently turned off upon the faint track that led through the gate into the orchard. Gertie was awaiting them under the big tree. Katy slipped off Calico to give Gertie her turn. Chicken Little led the way on Caliph and they went round and round the tree, faster and faster, till both were ready for a rest. The ponies were fresh and seemed to enjoy the sport as much as they did.

Katy tried Calico next, enchanted to find she could stick on at a canter. By this time they were ready for something new.

“Do you suppose we could ride backwards?” Katy was in a daring mood.

They could and they did, though Calico was a little doubtful as to whether he approved of this innovation. It was not exactly comfortable for anyone concerned and they soon gave it up. But when Chicken Little tried to make the intelligent pony dance on his hind legs, Calico waxed indignant. Instead of rising gracefully, he gave two short, plunging leaps, descending with forelegs rigid and head down, a maneuver which sent his mistress flying over his head.

The turf was soft and she was up in a trice, gripping Calico’s rein before he could make use of his freedom. The crowning feat of the morning was another of Chicken Little’s brilliant ideas. They had tethered the ponies by their bridle reins and were letting them graze on the orchard grass while they stretched out and rested. Suddenly Jane sat up with a start and began to take off her shoes.

“What on earth are you going to do now, Jane Morton?” demanded Katy sharply.

“Wait and see. I’m most sure I can. I want you to lead Calico very slowly.”

Katy obediently followed directions. Chicken Little put her hand on the girth and vaulted on his back. She rode once around the tree tamely, then slowly got to her feet on Calico’s slim back, bidding Katy steady her. She succeeded in going about three feet with this precarious footing before she lost her balance and slid harmlessly down on the pony’s back. Calico did not look specially pleased at the jounce she gave him as she lit. She persevered until she could go round the tree, then insisted upon trying it alone. Katy and Gertie both remonstrated.

“You’ll get killed! Calico doesn’t like it a bit.”

“I won’t I tried once all by myself last summer on old Kit, but Calico’s harder, because he isn’t so fat. You wouldn’t hurt me, would you, Calico?” She put her arm around his neck and squeezed him hard.

Calico whinnied and began to nose her for sugar. She produced two lumps, and stroked him, talking to him in whispers while Katy hooted.

“A lot of good that will do.”

Chicken Little got up again with Katy’s help, then started off slowly by herself. Calico moved carefully at a snail’s pace. She made the entire circuit of the tree successfully this time. Again she went around, increasing the speed of Calico’s walk. She was so jubilant she grew reckless and clucked, which was Calico’s signal to canter. He responded promptly and with equal promptness, she slid down on him kerplunck. Calico laid back his ears in disapproval, and looked around inquiringly.

By this time Katy had plucked up her courage and wished to try it. She was entirely willing, however, to have Chicken Little at the pony’s head. Katy slipped, too, but she was lighter, and Calico was growing used to it and did not mind so much. Chicken Little patted him each time and he soon ceased to notice the bumps. Gertie preferred to be a spectator at this stunt, but the others persisted until Jane succeeded in going round the tree once with Calico pacing.

“Golly, I wish Ernest and Sherm could see us!” Chicken Little was already sighing for new worlds to conquer.

“You said Golly again.”

“Golly, I did, didn’t I? It’s awfully hard to quit anything like that. Say, I want you girls to pinch me every time I say it, then I’ll remember.”

“You’ll get mad if we do,” replied Gertie, wise beyond her years.

“No, I won’t! Honest to goodness I won’t. I truly want to stop it.”

“All right,” said Katy firmly, “but you will get more pinches than you are expecting.”

Katy and Gertie and poor Calico were all ready to settle down for a rest. But Chicken Little was burning to show off before Ernest and Sherm. She untied Caliph and took several turns around the tree, going faster and faster.

“Pooh,” she said after a while, “I bet I could ride Caliph anywhere. Suppose we go meet the boys. You and Gertie can both ride Calico bare back. I guess they’ll be surprised. It’s most noon; I can tell by the sun.”

“But Jane, we can’t go to meet the boys this way.” Gertie looked distressed.

“Oh, I forgot. What can we do? I’d be afraid to ride Caliph with even a short skirt he’s never had a woman on him before.”

“What if the boys do see us? Nobody else is likely to come along just at noon. Anyway, your father thinks it’s dangerous for girls to wear long skirts to ride in. I heard him say so.” Katy was plausible and Chicken Little wanted to be persuaded.

“I don’t care, if you don’t.”

“All right, let’s do it. I think you look real nice that way, Chicken Little, honest I do.”

“Well, they’re heaps more comfortable. I feel so light. You make an awfully cute boy, Katy, and Gertie is just sweet. And you couldn’t ride bare back half so well sidewise.”

It took some persuasion to secure Gertie’s consent, but she finally gave in.

They rode gaily out into the lane. Calico was too tired to make any protest to his double burden. Once in the lane, they waited in the shade. But the boys did not come. They waited until Jane was sure it must be one o’clock and their appetites suggested two at the very earliest. Calico waited patiently enough, but Caliph was uneasy over the flies. Finally, they decided to give the boys up and go back and have their picnic alone.

“We might take one gallop down the line to the creek to make sure they’re not in the meadow,” Katy suggested.

“I bet they finished the weeds sooner than they expected and went fishing.” Chicken Little strained her eyes in the direction of the meadow.

They started the horses off at a smart pace, then faster and faster, till they broke into a swift gallop.

“Isn’t it glorious?” Chicken Little called back. She was several lengths ahead.

She did not hear Katy’s response. A jack rabbit, frightened by the approaching horses, broke cover from some wild blackberry bushes that grew over the stone wall, and dashed across the road directly in front of Caliph. The spirited beast shied violently, then leaped forward, throwing Chicken Little neatly off into the exact middle of the dusty lane. Her pride was more hurt than she was. She tried to stop him by calling “Whoa” lustily. But Caliph seemed to have a pressing engagement elsewhere. He quickly disappeared around a bend in the lane.

The girls looked at each other in dismay.

Chicken Little got hastily to her feet. There was no time to nurse bruises. She must catch Caliph somehow.

“Golly, he’s got that beautiful Mexican saddle on and he may take a notion to roll. I knew I hadn’t any business to take it, but I wanted to ride him just as Ernest does.”

Katy and Gertie noticed the “Golly,” but there seemed to be more important business on hand.

“Do you suppose you could take Calico and catch him?” asked Katy anxiously.

“I don’t know, but I guess I’ll have to try.”

Katy and Gertie climbed down and Chicken Little swung herself up.

“Maybe one of you’d better come, too, to hold Calico and ride him home if I catch Caliph.”

“I’ll come, and Gertie had better run and change her clothes and go back to the orchard to give the boys their lunch, if they come before we get back. Don’t tell them where we’re gone.”

“Nor about Caliph, Gertie, you can say we’ll be back in a minute.”

Katy had mounted behind Jane while she was giving this last direction and poor Calico started off at a gallop. They crossed the creek and came to the place where the road forked just beyond the timber without seeing hide or hair of Caliph.

“He must have streaked it. I don’t think he’d take the road to town he must have gone straight home to the Captain’s. Oh, dear, I’ll have to tell him I used Ernest’s horse without permission, and I’ve got these awful clothes on! It just seems as if the Captain has to know every single bad thing I ever do.” Chicken Little heaved a long sigh and clucked to Calico.

They had almost reached the Captain’s gate when they saw Wing Fan approaching on horseback, leading the truant Caliph. Chicken Little was immensely relieved to find, as they came near, that neither saddle nor bridle had suffered from the run away.

Wing Fan was also greatly relieved to find that no one had been hurt.

“Me velly ’fraid honorable brother have bad fall. Captain Clarke no home. I bring horse, find out.”

Wing held Caliph while Jane mounted, and rode a little way with her to make sure he would not be fractious, but Caliph seemed to have had his fling and bowled along smoothly.

In the meantime Ernest and Sherm had arrived and were plying Gertie with questions between mouthfuls. Gertie parried as long as she could, shutting her lips together tight when they began to press her too hard.

“I’d just like to know what they are up to now. That precious sister of mine can get into more scrapes than any kid I ever saw.”

“And Katy isn’t far behind her,” added Sherm, hoping Gertie would try to defend her absent sister and let something out.

Chicken Little and Katy took the horses to the barn, carefully unsaddled Caliph, and rubbed both horses down and fed them, before going back to the orchard. They forgot all about their unusual dress.

They arrived there, tired and flushed, in time to help the boys finish the last melon.

“You mean things to eat the melons all up.” Chicken Little almost forgot her own offense in her disgust over their greediness.

The boys did not waste time defending themselves; their attention was concentrated on the girls’ peculiar costume.

“Well, what in the demnition bow wows have you been doing now, Chicken Little Jane Morton?” Ernest’s gaze wandered from his sister to Katy, who suddenly became self-conscious and tucked her feet and as much of her trouser-clad legs as she could manage, underneath her.

Chicken Little gave a start of surprise, then faced Ernest boldly.

“Oh, just having a little fun.”

By this time Ernest was beginning to grasp details. “Suppose next time you start out to have fun you let my things alone. Isn’t that Sherm’s best tie you’ve got on?”

Chicken Little clutched the offending tie and glanced hastily at Sherm. The boy was regarding her with a peculiar expression, both admiring and disapproving. There was no denying that Chicken Little made a most attractive boy.

The swift color swept into the girl’s face as she caught Sherm’s glance. “Oh, dear, and he had told her only that morning that girls should be different!” She liked Sherm she didn’t want him to think she was a bold, awful girl. Some way their prank seemed to need excusing. She replied to the look in Sherm’s eyes rather than to her brother’s accusation.

“We I wanted to ride Caliph I just knew I could if I didn’t have a lot of horrid skirts to frighten him. And we did beautiful stunts and we couldn’t, if we hadn’t put on your old things. I bet if you had to wear cluttering things like skirts all the time you’d be glad to take them off some times, too.” Chicken Little’s big brown eyes sought Sherm’s appealingly.

Ernest answered before Sherm could say anything.

“Well, you can settle with Mother about the skirts, but I’ll thank you to let Caliph and my best ties alone.”

“Did you ride him?” asked Sherm. “You’re welcome to my tie, Chicken Little. It’s very becoming.”

Chicken Little felt subtly consoled. “Yes, I rode him, but he threw me once,” she confessed.

“He threw me once, too,” said the boy. “You’d better be a little careful.”

Sherm grinned and Chicken Little smiled back happily.