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


The days crawled by during the next two weeks.

“I hate them so by night, I want to shove them off into to-morrow by main force,” Jane told Marian complainingly, the third day after Ernest and the girls had gone.

“You’ll be all right in a day or two. It’s always hardest at first,” Marian consoled her.

“I suppose it doesn’t make any difference whether I’m all right or all wrong the folks have gone just the same.”

“And you might as well make the best ”

“Oh, yes, I might as well! ‘Count your blessings, my brethren, etc.’ I’ve done counted ’em till I’m sick of hearing about them! Marian, if you don’t find me something new to do I shall bust!”

Marian was particularly busy that morning and not so patient as usual.

She waved her hand around the room ironically. “I shall be charmed, Chicken Little, will you finish these dishes or sweep the sitting room or sew on that dress of Jilly’s? I can furnish you an endless variety to choose from.”

“I said something new.”

“Jilly’s dress is brand spanking new.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know, Jane, I have had the feeling myself, but I don’t imagine the heavens are going to open and shower down something new and choice on you because you’re lonesome and bored. If you can’t amuse yourself, you might as well be useful and have something to show for a tedious day.”

Chicken Little drummed on the window for several minutes without replying, then swung round with a grimace.

“Hand over the dress I can run up the seams on the machine all right, I suppose.”

The family waited, excited and expectant, for the report on Ernest’s examinations. They had had a long letter telling of his journey and safe arrival. Katy and Gertie and Mrs. Halford had each written long letters full of Centerville news and references to their pleasant summer. Mrs. Halford could not say enough concerning the girls’ improved appearance. Katy wrote the most interesting item. “What do you think? Carol Brown left for Annapolis, too. Do you suppose Ernest will know him? P. S. We showed him your picture and he stared at it awful hard and said you’ve got to get me a trade last for this ’Say, Chicken Little’s going to be a hummer if she keeps on!’ Don’t you think I’m nice to tell you?”

Jane gave the letter to Sherm to read, forgetting this part. Sherm snorted when he came to it, glancing up curiously at her.

“Do you like that sort of stuff, Chicken Little?” he asked later.

It was almost two weeks after Ernest went, before Dr. Morton, on his return from town one September evening, came up the walk excitedly waving a telegram.

“Oh!” exclaimed Chicken Little.

“He must have passed or Father wouldn’t look so pleased,” said Mrs. Morton.

The doctor came in slightly breathless.

“Well, Mother, I’m afraid you have lost your boy.”

Mrs. Morton looked startled for a moment, then, reassured by her husband’s smile, fumbled nervously for her glasses to read the yellow paper he handed her.

She was maddeningly deliberate. Jane, perched upon the arm of her chair, tried to anticipate her, but her mother held it so she could not see.

“It’s Mother’s place to see it first, daughter.”

Reproving Chicken Little steadied Mrs. Morton’s nerves, and she read the few words aloud with dignity.

“Sworn in to-day hurrah!” Ernest.

“That means that he ?” She looked inquiringly at her husband.

“That means he has passed both physical and mental examinations and has been regularly sworn in to Uncle Sam’s service.”

“But I thought he was just going to the Naval Academy why does he have to be sworn in as if he were enlisting?”

“Because he, practically, has enlisted. He enters the government service when he enters the academy, and he simply takes his oath of allegiance.”

Mrs. Morton’s questioning was interrupted by the entrance of Sherm, Frank, and Marian, who came in demanding news.

“Don’t worry, Mother,” said Frank, patting her shoulder, “your precious lamb is in good hands. He’ll be back next September such a dude the family won’t know how to behave in his presence.” Frank couldn’t resist teasing even when he tried to comfort.

Mrs. Morton sighed. “A great many things can happen in a year.”

“Yes, Mother dear, they can, but most always they don’t. The only things you can depend on are bad weather and work.”

A letter soon followed the telegram, giving details of the examinations, and a glimpse of Ernest’s new life, which comforted his mother, because he was forming punctual habits and had to go regularly to chapel whether he wished to or not. He had met Carol unexpectedly, to their mutual joy. “He’s an awfully handsome chap knows it, too, but I think he has too much sense to let it spoil him. It’s jolly to have some one I know here,” Ernest wrote.

School began for Chicken Little at the little brown schoolhouse a mile distant, on the fifteenth of September. Chicken Little and the whole Morton family rejoiced, for she had been a most dissatisfied young person of late. Her mother watched her walk away down the lane, immaculate in her new flower-bordered calico, lunch basket in hand, with positive thankfulness.

“Glad to have her out of the way, aren’t you, Mother? Jane is too restless a girl to be idle,” laughed Marian.

Jane had spoken to her father about her plan for Sherm and he had heartily agreed. But Sherm was not to begin until the first of November when the most pressing of the farm work would be over.

Chicken Little promptly talked the matter over also with the new teacher, Mr. Clay, a young man of twenty-one, fresh from his junior year at college. He was wide awake and attractive, and while ignorant, as they, of many of the niceties of polite society, seemed a very elegant being to the majority of his new pupils. Mamie Jenkins had concluded to stay at home for the fall term instead of going to the Garland High School. For some reason it took an astonishing number of consultations with the teacher to arrange Mamie’s course satisfactorily, especially when she learned that Sherm would be coming soon. She quizzed Chicken Little carefully as to what studies Sherm would take.

“Geometry and Latin, I think. I asked Mr. Clay and he said he could. Maybe bookkeeping, too.”

“I was just thinking I ought to go on with my Latin. I had Beginning Latin last year, and I really ought to take Cæsar right away before I forget.”

Jane regarded her thoughtfully. She happened to know that Sherm was planning to study Cicero. How mad Mamie would be if she started Cæsar all alone! She had half a mind to let her go ahead. Mamie had spent the entire morning recess telling her how the boys bored her hanging round. Yes, it would do Mamie good to have to recite alone. Chicken Little shut her lips firmly for a second. When she opened them, she replied that she understood Cæsar was a very interesting study.

Mamie bridled and said condescendingly: “It’s a pity you haven’t had Latin so you could come into the class, too.”

“Oh, I see enough of Sherm at home!” returned Chicken Little maliciously. Mamie had the faculty of always rubbing her up the wrong way.

Mamie gave her shoulders a fling. “Of course, I always forget you are just a little girl, Jane. You’re so big and ” Mamie didn’t finish her sentence. She merely glanced expressively at Jane’s long legs. “I think I’ll go in and talk to Mr. Clay. He must be sick of having all those kids hanging round him.”

Mamie sailed off in state, leaving Jane feeling as if she had run her hand into a patch of nettles. She was standing there in the sunshine looking after Mamie resentfully when Grant Stowe came along.

He nodded toward the schoolhouse door through which Mamie had vanished. “What’s Miss Flirtie been saying to make you so ruffled? She’s begun to sit up nights now fixing her cap for the teacher. Bet you a cookie he’s too slick for her.”

Chicken Little laughed, but retorted: “Humph, how many times have you sat on her front porch this summer?”

Grant reddened. “Oh, we’re neighbors, and a fellow has to kill time summer evenings. Father and mother always go to bed with the chickens and it’s no fun listening to the frogs all by yourself. Suppose your folks wouldn’t let anybody come to see you I hear they’re all-fired particular.”

Jane did not have an opportunity to answer. One of the little girls came begging her to play Blackman with a group of the younger children. Grant suggested that she choose up for one side, and he would for the other. She had just begun to choose when Mr. Clay appeared at her elbow. “May I play on your side, Jane?”

“Teacher’s” entrance into the game acted like magic. The few big boys who had come on this first day, edged near enough to be seen and were speedily brought into the sport. Mamie, venturing languidly to the door to see what had become of Mr. Clay, suddenly decided she was not too big to play “just this once.”

Teacher and Jane were both swift runners and Grant had hard work to make a showing. Mamie sweetly let herself be caught by teacher the first rush, to Grant’s openly expressed disgust. The big boys warmed into envious rivalry with Mr. Clay right from the start, but he soon convinced them that they would have to work, if they worsted him at any of their games or exercises.

Chicken Little found team work with him very delightful and could scarcely believe the noon hour was over, when he pulled out his watch and announced that he must call school. She turned a radiant face up to him.

“Oh, it’s such fun to have you play I wish you would often.”

“Thank you, it’s fine exercise, isn’t it?”

Mamie began her Cæsar the next day, requiring much help from “Teacher.” She also came to school in her best dress. Mamie had faith in first impressions. Chicken Little had been tempted the night before to betray Mamie’s schemes to Sherm, but she stopped with the words on the tip of her tongue. She couldn’t exactly have explained the scruple that would not let her “give Mamie away,” as she phrased it.

“Is the teacher any good?” Sherm had asked, meeting her at the ford on her way home, and taking lunch basket and books with an air of possession, which was the one trick of Sherm’s that annoyed Chicken Little. He never asked leave or offered to relieve her of burdens; he merely reached over and took them.

She minded this more than usual to-day; Mr. Clay’s manner had been so delightful. She couldn’t even thank Sherm. They trudged along in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Sherm asked dryly: “Left your tongue at school, Miss Morton? you’re not very sociable.”

Chicken Little responded by making a face at him, which brought an ominous sparkle into the boy’s eyes. Things hadn’t gone very well with him that day and he had waited for Jane for a little companioning.

“Well,” he demanded gruffly, “what’s the matter? Did Mr. Clay stand you in a corner the first day or did the handsome Grant neglect you for Mamie?”

The last thrust put fire in Chicken Little’s eye. She turned and looked at him squarely.

“Sherm, if I slapped you some day would you be surprised?” she demanded unexpectedly.

Sherm flashed a sidelong glance at her. “Not as surprised as you’ll be, if you ever try it.”

Chicken Little considered this remark. Just what did he mean?

Sherm’s face was flushed a trifle angrily. He looked as if he might mean most anything. She replied demurely with a provoking shrug of her shoulders.

“I didn’t say I should but I wanted to dreadfully a minute ago.”

The tall lad beside her seemed genuinely surprised at this statement.

“I suppose you know what you are talking about, Chicken Little, but I’m blamed if I do.”

“It’s the way you take my books and ”

“Yes?” Sherm was still more surprised. Then an idea popping into his mind, “Oh, I presume you’d like to have me take off my hat and make you a profound reverence as your favorite heroes do in novels. What in thunder you girls find to like in those trashy novels is more than I can see!”

Chicken Little bristled. “Hm-n, Walter Scott and Washington Irving, trashy! Shows how much you know, if you have graduated from High School, Sherman Dart! Besides, I didn’t mean any such thing. Only, you sort of take my things without asking as if as if ” She was getting into rather deeper water than she had anticipated.

“Yes, as if what?”

“Oh, I don’t suppose you mean it that way but you act as if I was only a silly little girl and didn’t count!”

Chicken Little was decidedly red in the face by the time she finished.

Sherm didn’t say anything for a moment, but he continued to look at her. He looked at her as if he had found something about her he hadn’t noticed before.

“Who put that idea into your head? Mamie?”

She shook her head indignantly.

“Grant Stowe?”

“Nobody, thank you, I guess I have a mind of my own.”

“New teacher start in by giving you a lecture on deportment?”

Chicken Little stamped her foot. “You’re perfectful hateful and I sha’n’t walk another step with you!”

They were near the gate leading from the lane into the orchard and she suited the action to the word, by darting through it and running off under the trees.

Sherm looked after her a moment, undecided whether to stand on his dignity or to pursue. He had considered Jane a little girl most of the time. Some way she was alluringly different to-day. He suddenly resolved that he would not be flouted in any such fashion. It took him about two minutes to catch up with Chicken Little and slip his arm through hers.

“No, you don’t, Miss. You are going to sit down here under this tree and tell me exactly what’s the matter!”

Chicken Little struggled rebelliously, but Sherm held her firmly.

“I can’t Mother told me to come straight home from school; she wanted me.”

“Fibber! Your mother and Marian went over to Benton’s this afternoon. You needn’t try to dodge you and I are going to have this out right now. So you might as well be obliging and sit down comfortably.”

“It wasn’t anything to make such a fuss about.”

“Then why are you making such a row?”

Chicken Little flung herself down upon the grass.

Sherm stretched his muscular length on the sward in front of her and began to chew a grass stem in a leisurely fashion while he watched her.

Chicken Little pulled a handful of long grasses and commenced plaiting them. Her hair was windblown and her face rose-flushed from her run. She declined to look at Sherm.

“Chicken Little O Chicken Little, are you very mad? Chicken Little?”

Chicken Little kept her brown eyes fixed upon the pliant stems.

“Chicken Little,” Sherm murmured softly, “you have the prettiest eyes of any girl I know.”

Chicken Little caught the touch of malice in his tone and shot an indignant glance at him from the aforesaid eyes.

Sherm laughed delightedly. “Chicken Little, you don’t need to tell me what’s the matter with you I know.”

Chicken Little shot another indignant glance. “There isn’t anything the matter except what I told you of course, it wasn’t anything really only ”

“Yes, there is, Chicken Little, that was only a symptom.”

“Stop your fooling.”

“Don’t you want me to tell you?”


“Bet you do honest, don’t you?”

“I haven’t the least curiosity so you can just stop teasing.” Jane was positively dignified.

“Well, I’m going to tell you, whether you want to hear it or not. You’re growing up, Chicken Little, that’s what’s the matter with our little feelings. But don’t forget you promised to give me part of Ernest’s place this winter. It was a bargain, wasn’t it?” Sherm reached over and took possession of her busy fingers. “Wasn’t it? Chicken Little Jane, wasn’t it?”

Jane looked at this new and astonishing Sherm and nodded shyly.

Sherm gathered up her books with a laugh. “Come on, your mother wants you.”

“She does not and I’m going to sit here till I make a grass basket for Jilly.”

September and October slipped away quietly, their warm, hazy days gay with turning leaves and spicily fragrant with the drying vegetation and ripening fruits. Chicken Little found school under Mr. Clay unwontedly interesting. He departed from the regulation mixture of three parts study and one part recitation and tried to lead his pupils’ thoughts out into the world a little. Indeed, some of his innovations were regarded with suspicion by certain fathers and mothers in the district. When he advised his advanced history class to read historical novels and Shakespeare in connection with their work, there was much shaking of heads. But when he took advantage of the coming election to waken an interest in politics, the district board waited on him. If the visit of the school board silenced Mr. Clay, it did not discourage his charges, and partisanship ran high. The favorite method of boosting one’s candidates being to write their names on the blackboard at recesses and noons, and then stand guard to prevent the opposing faction from erasing them.

The fun grew furious. The Mortons were staunch Republicans, and Chicken Little strove valiantly to write “Garfield and Arthur” earlier and oftener than the Democrats, led by Grant Stowe and Mamie Price, could replace them with “Hancock and English.”

Grant was the biggest and strongest and bossiest lad in school. His favorite method of settling the enemy was to pick them up bodily and set them outside the schoolhouse door while he rubbed out their ticket. Or better still, to hold the door while Mamie or some other democrat turned the entire front board into a waving sea of “Hancocks and Englishes.”

The Republicans were in the lead as to numbers, but they were mostly the younger children. But few of the older boys could be spared from the farm work to enter school so early in the fall. So Chicken Little captained her side, aided by quiet suggestions from Mr. Clay who did not wish to take sides openly.

Many were the ruses employed to capture the blackboards. Jane stayed one evening after school to have things ready for the morrow, but, alas, Grant Stowe was in the habit of waiting to walk a piece home with her. He waited down the road till he grew suspicious, and, coming back, caught her in the act.

He took swift revenge, none too generously, by forcing her to erase every line, then rubbed it in by guiding her hand to make her write the names of the opposition candidates. Despite all Chicken Little’s struggles, he persisted until the hated names were finished in writing that decidedly resembled crow tracks, but could be read by anyone having sufficient patience.

Chicken Little was furious but helpless. Mr. Clay had gone home early in order to drive into town that evening. Grant treated her anger as a good joke. She finally wrenched her hand loose and gave him a resounding smack across the cheek, that made her tormentor’s face tingle.

It was Grant’s turn to be vexed now. He caught her arm and twisted it till she winced. “Say you’re sorry!”

“I won’t!”

Grant turned the supple wrist a twist farther. “Now, will you?”

“No sir, not if you twist till you break it I won’t! I’m not going to be bullied!”

Grant began to be afraid she meant what she said. But his pride would not let him give in to a girl. “All right, little stubborn, I’ll kiss you till you do.”

As Grant loosened his hold on her wrist, Jane jerked away and fled toward the door in a panic. She was more than half afraid of Grant in this humor and then her promise to Ernest.

“Oh, dear, I knew better than to do that, but he made me so mad!” she mourned.

Grant was close upon her. She fairly hurled herself out the door and most unexpectedly bumped into Sherm, who caught her in time to save her catapulting down the steps.

“Save the pieces, Chicken Little, what’s your hurry?”

“O Sherm, oh, I’m so glad you came I ”

Before she could finish Grant reached the door, stopping short on seeing Sherm.

Jane clutched Sherm’s arm tight. “Don’t let him, please don’t let him!”

Her words were not entirely clear, but Sherm promptly shoved her behind him and confronted Grant angrily.

“Big business you’re in, frightening girls you bully!”

Sherm had taken a dislike to Grant that evening at Mamie’s and exulted in this opportunity to pick a quarrel. Grant was equally ready. He scorned explanations and replied by pulling off his coat. Sherm swiftly peeled his also. Chicken Little was alarmed by these warlike preparations.

“Don’t, boys, don’t! I guess it was part my fault, Sherm. Grant didn’t mean any harm. We were scrapping over the election and ”

“I don’t care whether it was your fault or not, Jane. If Grant doesn’t know enough to be a gentleman, it’s time he learned.”

Sherm sprang forward and the boys clinched. They were pretty evenly matched. Grant outweighed Sherm, but the latter was quicker and had had some training in wrestling. This was the popular method of settling quarrels, boxing not having come into vogue. Inside of three minutes both were down, rolling over the ground an indiscriminate, writhing heap of arms and legs.

Chicken Little was utterly dismayed. She didn’t want either of the boys hurt, but they heeded her remonstrances no more than if she had been a mosquito. She even tried pulling at the one who came uppermost, but they both pantingly warned her off. Chicken Little set her jaw firmly. She flew into the schoolhouse to the water bench, and seizing the water bucket, flew out. Pausing long enough to take good aim, she dashed its contents over the boys’ heads with all her might.

Grant being underneath at the moment, with lips parted from his exertions, received the full force of the water in his mouth and nose, and nearly strangled from the dose. Sherm had to let him up and apply first aid to help him recover his breath the lad was purple. When he began to breathe readily once more, both boys got to their feet, glaring reproachfully at Chicken Little. Each was restrained by the presence of the other from expressing forcibly his opinion of the young lady. The heroine was in wrong with both the villain and the hero. However, the heroine did not care.

“You boys ought to be ashamed of yourselves, both of you fighting like a pair of kids. I wish you could see yourselves! You look exactly like drowned rats!”

The lads could not not see themselves, but they could see each other, and the exhibit was convincing. Sherm’s mouth puckered into its crooked smile.

“Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, Chicken Little, it’s all right with me. So long, Grant.”

Sherm picked up his coat and cap and set off, leaving Jane to follow or linger as she saw fit. She turned to Grant.

“I didn’t mean to get you into trouble, Grant.”

“Don’t mention it, and, truly I didn’t intend to frighten you, Chicken Little. I guess you aren’t like most of the girls on the Creek I didn’t suppose you’d take it that way. Good-bye, Sherm,” he called. Grant also picked up his belongings and departed.

Chicken Little rescued the water pail and carried it into the schoolhouse. She secured her hat and lunch basket, and was starting for the door when a wonderful idea buzzed in her brain. Slipping to the window she glanced out. Grant was striding rapidly off up the road. She ran to the board and hastily erased that hateful “Hancock and English” and as hastily wrote the names of the other presidential candidates in letters a foot high across the front board, underlining them heavily and putting hands pointing toward them on each of the side boards. This done, she locked the schoolhouse door, as she had promised Mr. Clay, and, taking the key over to a neighbor’s a few rods away, joyously departed homeward.

Sherm was not in sight when she started. A little farther down the hill she saw him waiting beside a haystack. He had evidently been watching to make sure she did not get into further trouble. He walked briskly on as soon as he caught sight of her.

Young Mr. Dart looked a trifle sulky at supper that evening. Chicken Little tried to attract his attention in various ways without success. Sherm was resolved to ignore her. Finally, she addressed him directly.

“Won’t you please pass the water, Sherm?” she asked with exaggerated meekness.

Sherm grinned in spite of himself. The other members of the family looked at Jane inquiringly. Jane, having received the water, ate her supper in profound silence.

He came on her unexpectedly down by the spring a little later. It was growing dark and he did not see her until he was almost beside her. He hesitated a moment, then joined her. She glanced up demurely.

He regarded her an instant in complete silence. Chicken Little tossed her head.

Sherm came a step closer and Jane prepared to fly if necessary, but Sherm contented himself with staring at her till he made her drop her eyes.

“You mischievous witch, I’d like to shake you hard!”