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


The household was awakened in the middle of the night by peals of thunder and the rush of rain against the windows. Chicken Little was drenched before she could get the window down next their bed.

“I don’t care,” she said, as she hunted out a dry gown, “it’s raining and Ernest can go to college.”

They slept late the following morning. The rain was coming down in a steady, business-like way that gladdened the heart of every farmer on the creek. Dr. Morton was jubilant.

“This will save the corn and make thousands of dollars difference in the hay yield in the country,” he remarked at the breakfast table.

“That’s what I don’t like about farming,” said Ernest. “So much depends on things that you can’t help. A man can work like a dog, and along comes a drouth or chinch bugs or too much rain during the haying season and, presto, all his fond hopes are knocked sky high.”

“Well,” replied his father, “I guess there are mighty few businesses or professions where you don’t have to take chances. By the way, Son, I’m beginning to be afraid your hopes of Annapolis may be disappointed. I don’t understand why Senator Pratt ignores my letter this way.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Father, Captain Clarke heard at the hotel yesterday that Senator Pratt has been seriously ill for several weeks, but they’ve been keeping it quiet. They say he’s just beginning to take up his affairs again.”

“We may hear then in a day or two. I believe I’ll go to town to-day it’s too wet to do any work.”

The day dragged for the young people indoors. They tried dominoes and authors, but the boys soon found these tame and settled down by themselves to chess as more worthy of a masculine intellect.

The rain ceased and the sun came out about two o’clock. Gertie was in the midst of a letter home, but Katy and Chicken Little hurried outdoors into the moist, fresh air joyfully.

“Let’s go get some of those summer sweetings. I’m hungry for an apple. My, doesn’t the air taste good?” Chicken Little was taking deep breaths.

They picked their way daintily to avoid the wet weeds and high grass. The sky once more serene, receded in deep bays above the arches of foliage. Every now and then a bird, startled by their coming, flew out from the branches overhead, sending down showers of drops on their hair and shoulders.

They found the sweeting tree and Chicken Little soon had an apron full. It was too wet to linger and they had started back, when Chicken Little stopped still and made a wry face. “Katy Halford, we haven’t fed those pigs!”

“No sir, we haven’t!”

“Say, this would be an awful good time to do it everything’s so wet, we could loosen one of the stones easy. And I guess they’ll do the rest fast enough.”

“If we don’t give ’em much to eat they’ll want to get out worse.”

The days since Alice’s and Dick’s coming had been so full they had found no opportunity to carry out Jane’s scheme for ridding themselves gracefully of their burdensome boarders. Katy had explained the plan to Gertie, who heartily endorsed it. She went back to the house after her now, while Chicken Little began scouting to see if there were anyone about. The coast seemed clear. Jim Bart had gone to look after the pasture fences, and Marian told her that Ernest and Sherm had taken the wheelbarrow and started to the south field after a load of watermelons. “They’ll be back in half an hour if you want them for anything, Jane.”

Jane didn’t want them for anything: she merely wanted them safely out of the way.

She sped back to the house. “Hurry, girls, everybody’s gone, and Marian’s putting Jilly to sleep in the bedroom on the other side of the cottage, so she won’t see us. I’ll go get the milk and those pea pods Annie saved.”

Katy and Gertie undertook the feeding, while Chicken Little went to the tool house for pick and spade. The log pig pen was merely one corner of the big hog corral, fenced off for the benefit of the new litters to protect them from the older hogs. Stones had been securely embedded underneath the lowest rail to keep the pigs from burrowing out beneath. Chicken Little went into the corral and inspected these, carefully trying one or two with the pick.

“Here’s one that isn’t very big and it’s loose at one corner. Let’s try it.”

The stone had been put there to stay and did not yield readily. Jane dug till she was tired, then Katy took a hand. Gertie had been posted as a sentinel where she could watch the road.

They strained and tugged, but the stone was obstinate. Jane was getting red in the face.

“The old hateful I’ll get it out or bust!”

“Perhaps I can help you, Chicken Little.”

The girls glanced up in dismay. Sherm stood there grinning. He had come back across lots.

“What you trying to do, anyhow? Have your pets been getting out?”

There was nothing to do but take Sherm into their confidence.

“Please promise you won’t tell, Sherm they’d tease me to death if they know. But we’re sick of those pigs. I never want to lay eyes on a pig again. So we thought we’d just loosen a stone so they could get into the corral with the others and Father’d think they’d dug out themselves. Nobody can ever pick ’em out from the others. They are every bit as big as old Whity’s pigs and Father turned them in two weeks ago.”

Sherm chuckled. “Mum’s the word. Hand over the pick and we’ll do such an artistic job that the porkers themselves will think they are responsible for the whole business. I don’t blame you. That’s not girl’s work!”

The pigs rose to the occasion beautifully. The tiny opening called as loudly as a pile of corn. They continued the excavating so promptly and expeditiously that by the time Dr. Morton returned from town, every piglet had deserted its maternal ancestor and was joyously rooting for itself in the corral.

“I don’t see how those pigs got out,” said Dr. Morton disgustedly. “I thought that small pen was secure.”

The girls listened attentively.

“They were there at four o’clock, I saw them,” Sherm remarked.

“Oh, I suppose the heavy rain loosened the earth and it was easy rooting.”

“Possibly,” said Sherm.

The incident might have awakened more interest if the Doctor had not returned, bringing a fateful letter. The long-expected letter from Senator Pratt had come. He would be most happy to give Ernest the appointment immediately, if he thought he could pass the mental examinations. An extra examination was to be held on the 30th at Annapolis. He was sending a catalogue and some special literature as to the ground to be covered, by the same mail. He would, however, recommend that Ernest go immediately to some reputable physician and see if he could pass the physical examination. They had a naval surgeon there in Topeka, if he cared to incur the expense of a visit to the Capital.

Ernest was so busy poring over the catalogue that he could hardly be induced to stop long enough to eat his supper.

“I’m more afraid of the mathematics than anything else. I wonder if I couldn’t get Prof. Smith to coach me. I could study all week and go in Saturdays to recite.”

“The first thing to do is to get that doctor’s certificate. We’ll go to town to-morrow and have Dr. Hardy look you over, and if he doesn’t find anything suspicious, we’ll run down to Topeka to see the surgeon and call on the senator at the same time. I think I could go Monday.”

The entire family held its breath or at least tried to, for the next few days. Mrs. Morton quite forgot how badly she had wanted Ernest to have an education, when she learned that he could only come home once a year, and then only for a short month. She sighed so much and was so distraught, that the family were almost afraid to rejoice with Ernest, when he came home jubilantly waving his physician’s certificate.

“Never mind, Mother, that surgeon may send me packing. Don’t worry till you are sure I’m going. Even if I am vouched for as up to the scratch physically, I may flunk, alas! Wouldn’t that be nice after Father had put up a lot of money to send me on? You’d be ashamed of me, Mother, you wouldn’t want to see me come home.”

“I am not expecting you to fail, son,” said Dr. Morton, “though I wish we could have arranged matters sooner to give you more time for review. But with the exception of a little extra mathematics, the requirements are certainly no worse than for college entrance exams. And you’ve tested yourself out twice on those. Aren’t you glad I insisted on more geometry?”

“He doesn’t need to come home if he does fail. He can visit some of our friends in Centerville till college opens. It would only be a few days,” Frank consoled him. “However, I am not expecting you to fail, old boy. I have always flattered myself that the Morton family are not lacking in brains, and you know how to study.”

“I most wish he would fail so he could come to see us. Mother would love to have him spend the Christmas vacations with us,” put in Katy naively.

“Thank you, Katy, I’d enjoy nothing better, but I’ve kinder set my heart on showing this naval outfit that a wild and woolly Kansan can measure up with some of those down-easters.”

The naval surgeon confirmed Dr. Hardy’s judgment. The senator had been cordial, and after some questioning, said he would send Ernest’s name to the department immediately. He also gave him some helpful suggestions as to what subjects to put the emphasis on.

Two weeks seemed a pretty short time for preparation. Ernest thanked his lucky star that he had done a little studying through the summer in preparation for his college entrance, and was not rusty. The entire family waited on him and followed him round till Frank declared they would ruin the boy, if he didn’t get off soon. Chicken Little sadly neglected her guests whenever it was possible to hang round Ernest. But Ernest was so busy, she seldom had a word alone with him. The two were very dear to each other despite their occasional bickering, and Chicken Little was almost jealous of every one who came near him during those last few days.

“Ernest,” said his father the Saturday before his departure, “will you take one farewell turn at herding to-morrow? Jim Bart wants to get off for the day and I’d like to have the cattle clean off that stubble field. I think I will plow early and put it in winter wheat this year. I have promised to drive Mother and the girls to town to church in the morning. We are to have dinner with the parson and won’t be home until evening.”

That evening Ernest overtook Chicken Little coming up from the spring with the butter and cream.

“Say, Sis, don’t you want to stay home and help me herd to-morrow? The girls wouldn’t mind this once.”

“Oh, I’d love it. We just haven’t had a good talk for ages but I don’t know what Mother’ll say.”

“I’ll fix Mother,” he answered confidently.

Later, he whispered: “It’s all O. K.”

“Gee, I guess Mother’d give you the moon if she could, she feels so bad about having you go so far away.”

“Poor Mother, it’s mighty rough on her out here on the ranch. Say, Sis, I don’t mind if you want to wear some of my old truck to-day we’ll just be down in the field and your riding skirt will be a nuisance in among the cattle.”

This was a mighty concession for Ernest, who had a considerable share of his mother’s respect for the conventions. Chicken Little appreciated it.

She reached up and gave him a big hug.

“It’s going to be awful hard to have you go, Ernest.”

Ernest didn’t say anything in reply, but he squeezed his young sister tight, as if he were realizing himself that he was about to miss something precious from his life.

The two were up early the next morning and off with the herd before the rest of the family were fairly through breakfast. Sherm was going in with the others to church. Annie had put up a lunch for Ernest and Jane; they did not expect to get back to the house until late afternoon.

The day was an August masterpiece, warm, but not too warm, with a fresh breeze blowing and shreds of blue haze lingering over the timber along the creek.

“It has almost a fall feel,” said Chicken Little.

A brisk half-hour’s work, in which Huz and Buz took an active part, hindering rather more than helping in the cattle driving, was sufficient to transfer the herd from the pasture to the stubble field. Chicken Little was thankful she had discarded her skirt, for they had many a chase after refractory animals through the timber and underbrush. Calico and Caliph, being mustangs, seemed to enjoy the sport as much as their riders.

“Cricky, Caliph is almost human when it comes to heading off a steer, and he’s never done much cattle driving either. He must have inherited the range instinct.”

“Humph, what about Calico?” retorted Jane. “He turned that roan Father always says is so mean, three times.”

The cattle scattered over the stubble eagerly. Ernest picketed the ponies so they could graze after their good work and he and Chicken Little threw themselves down under a red bud tree near the edge of the field to rest.

“They won’t stray much till they get their stomachs full,” said Ernest, “and that won’t be before afternoon. I brought a book along Cooper’s ‘Naval History.’ It’s great, though Father says it’s better romance than history. Do you mind if I read you a bit?”

Chicken Little backed up against a tree and settled herself comfortably and they were soon fighting with Paul Jones, so utterly absorbed that the herd had drifted down to the farther end of the field before they realized it. A half dozen adventurous beasts were already disappearing into the timber, apparently headed for the Captain’s cornfield, which lay just beyond the creek.

“The pesky brutes! Why can’t they be content with a good square meal at home?” Ernest hated to be interrupted.

“Perhaps they like to go visiting as much as we do. Besides, they don’t often have a chance at green corn.”

It took some time to recover the truants. By the time they were settled once more under the tree, the sun was nearing the zenith and they were growing hungry.

“It’s only half past eleven, but I’m starved. Let’s eat now.” Ernest eyed the packet of luncheon hungrily.

“All right, go fill the water jug, and I’ll get it out.”

After lunch they read for awhile, but, presently, the sun seemed to grow hotter and they commenced to feel drowsy. They decided to take turns watching the cattle and napping. The cattle also seemed to feel the heat and were hunting patches of shade, lying down to chew their cuds contentedly. The air seemed palpitating with the incessant humming and whirring of insects. Bees, and white and yellow butterflies flittered in a mat of weeds and wild blackberry vines, which had entirely covered an angle of the old rail fence near them.

Ernest’s nap was a long one. The boy had been studying hard for his examinations and was thoroughly tired. He was lying on his side, his face resting on his hand, and his old straw hat drawn over his face to keep off the flies. But the nagging insects soon discovered his neck and hands. Chicken Little fished his bandanna out of his pocket to protect his neck, covering the hand that lay on the grass with her own handkerchief.

He woke at length with a start, smiling up at Chicken Little when he discovered the handkerchiefs.

“Thank you, Sis. Whew, I must have slept for keeps,” he added, glancing at the sun. “It’s four o’clock. The folks will be along about six.”

He sat up and took a survey of the field. The cattle were all quiet. Chicken Little was braiding little baskets with a handful of cat tail leaves she had brought from the slough. Ernest reached over and patted the busy fingers.

“Sis, I’m mighty fond of you do you know it?”

Chicken Little looked up at him affectionately. “I suspected it, Ernest,” she answered demurely.

The boy was going on with his own thoughts. “I’m mighty glad to get away from the ranch. I don’t believe I’m cut out for this sort of thing. Guess, maybe, I’m not democratic enough you remember that party at Jenkins’? Well, I’ve been thinking about it a good deal since. I guess Sherm sort of set me to thinking with his fuss about the kissing games. At any rate, I’ve made up my mind I don’t intend to be like any of the boys on this creek, and I don’t propose that you shall be like any of the girls if I can help it. It isn’t that they aren’t smart enough and good enough. The people round here are mighty touchy about one person’s being just as good as another. Maybe one person is born just as good as anybody else, but, thank goodness, they don’t all stay alike. I mayn’t be any better than the Craft boys, but I know I’m a sight cleaner, and I don’t murder the king’s English quite every other word, and I know enough to be polite to a lady. And if I take the trouble to make myself decent, and they don’t, I don’t see any reason why I should be expected to pretend they’re as good as I am.”

Ernest was waxing wroth. The insistent equality of the Creek was on his nerves.

“I don’t care if people do think I’m stuck up I’m going to try to associate with the kind of people I like. It isn’t money it’s just nice living. If it wasn’t for people like the Captain and one or two others we’d forget what lady and gentleman meant. And that isn’t saying that there aren’t lots of good kind people on the Creek, too. But they’re so dead satisfied with themselves the way they are they don’t seem to know there is any better way to live.”

Chicken Little was listening eagerly.

“I know what you mean. Lots of it’s little things. I noticed that night at the Jenkins’. Mamie’s prettier than me and the boys like her better, but I don’t want to be like her all the same.”

“I should think not, Chicken Little, and you needn’t worry. You’re nothing but a kid yet, but by the time you’re eighteen, Mamie Jenkins won’t hold a candle to you. And while I think of it, Sis, the less you see of Mamie the better. And I don’t want you playing any more kissing games you’re too big.”

“Humph, you just said I was nothing but a kid. You’re as bad as Mother.”

Ernest was not to be diverted. “None of your dodging. I want you to promise me you won’t.”

Chicken Little considered.

“It isn’t that I want to play them,” she argued, “but if I don’t, I’ll have to sit and look on and all the old folks’ll ask me if I’m not well, and the girls’ll say I’m stuck up. It wasn’t as easy as you seem to think, Ernest Morton, but I’ll promise, if you’ll promise not to kiss any girl while you’re gone.”

“Nonsense, Jane, you don’t understand. It’s different with a boy.”

Chicken Little fixed her brown eyes upon Ernest’s face musingly.

“How is it different?”

“Chicken Little Jane Morton, haven’t you had any raising? You know as well as I do it isn’t nice for a girl to let boys kiss her.”

Chicken Little considered. “You needn’t be so toploftical; girls don’t want most boys to kiss ’em.”


“That’s what I said. I hated it when Grant kissed me at Mamie’s party, but I don’t know that I’d mind if Sherm ”

She got no further. Ernest bristled with brotherly indignation.

“Has Sherm ever ”

“Of course not, Sherm wouldn’t! I guess it’s because I know he wouldn’t, that I shouldn’t much mind if he did.”

Chicken Little said this soberly, but her face grew a little red.

Ernest’s brotherly eyes were observant.

“Oh, Sherm’s all right, but Sis, I want that promise.”

“I told you I’d promise if you would.” Chicken Little drew her lips together in a firm way.

“But I can’t it would be silly I might look ridiculous sometime if I refused. The fellows would guy me if they knew I made such a promise.”

“Well, I just told you they’d guy me if I refused to do what the others do.”

“But, Chicken Little, it isn’t nice.”

“I guess I know that as well as you do. And I don’t know that I shall ever play that kind of games again, but I’m not going to promise if you won’t. Boys don’t need to think they can do everything they want to, just because they’re boys. You don’t want anybody to kiss me, but I’d like to know how you are going to kiss a girl without making somebody else’s sister do something that isn’t nice, Ernest Morton.”

The discussion ended there. Ernest was not very worldly wise himself, and Chicken Little’s reasoning was certainly logical.

They had but little time to talk after that. The cattle began to roam restlessly once more and they were in the saddle pretty constantly for the remainder of the afternoon.

Ernest took the trouble to lift her down from Calico when they reached the stable that evening, an unusual attention. He also gave her a shy kiss on the cheek and whispered: “I’ll promise, Sis. I don’t know but you are about half right.”