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


Chicken Little climbed the hill of sleep painfully that night, and slept late the following morning in consequence. While she was eating breakfast, Frank came in with two tear-stained, dusty letters, which he had found in the bottom of the buggy.

“Is this the way you treat your correspondence, Sis?”

“The idea it’s Ernest’s and Katy’s letters and I never read them. Sherm’s trouble drove them clear out of my mind.”

“Evidently, one is torn part way open, and the other hasn’t been touched.”

“Hurry up and tell us what Ernest has to say. I was wondering why he hadn’t written.” Mrs. Morton paused expectantly.

“He says a lot of things,” replied Jane, skimming rapidly through the letter. “He says they are going to start on their summer cruise next week and the boys are tickled to death to go, though they’re probably just going to cruise around to Navy yards and see dry docks and improving things. He says that it’s rumored that Superintendent Balch is going away and Old Rodgers is coming back as superintendent. And this year’s class graduated three Japs the Japanese government sent them over. He gives the names, but I can’t pronounce them. One is I-n-o-u-y-e.”

“Skip the Japs and give us the rest.” Frank was waiting to hear the news.

“That’s about all that would interest you.”

“My dear, anything concerning Ernest interests me,” protested her mother.

“But it isn’t about Ernest; it’s about Carol Brown.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Oh, nothing much he just took a fancy to my picture and asked Ernest a lot of questions.” Chicken Little folded the letter and hastily slipped it back into the envelope, devoutly hoping her mother wouldn’t demand to see it. She tore open Katy’s. Before she had read two lines she gave a little cry of delight.

“Oh, Mother, do you think I could? Oh, wouldn’t it be just too wonderful? Oh Mother, you must say Yes!”

“Jane, what are you talking about? Calm yourself and tell me.” Mrs. Morton looked up over her spectacles severely.

“Why, she says her mother wants me to come and live with them next year and go to the High School and that Alice and Dick want me to come there. And, perhaps, I could stay part of the time at one house and part at the other, and for me to tell you and let you be thinking about it, and Alice and Mrs. Halford are both going to write you all about it, and oh, Mother, wouldn’t it be too wonderful?”

Mrs. Morton looked both surprised and worried. “It is certainly most kind of them all, but I shall have to think the matter over.”

“Well,” said Frank, “that doesn’t have to be settled to-day. Jane, Marian wishes to know if you want to go over to the Captain’s with her to see Sherm. She is going to start in a few minutes.”

Chicken Little jumped to her feet. “I’ll be ready in a jiffy!”

Sherm had still not wakened when they arrived. He had roused once toward morning; Captain Clarke had spoken to him, telling him where he was, then he had dropped quietly off to sleep again.

Captain Clarke asked Chicken Little a good many questions.

“I should like to see that letter,” he said.

“It’s in his coat pocket. I tucked it in I was afraid he’d lose it.”

Dr. Morton, who was still there, sat for several minutes in a brown study.

“I think,” he said presently, “that under the circumstances we should be justified in reading it without waiting for Sherm’s permission.” He looked at Captain Clarke.

The latter nodded assent.

Both read it and discussed it briefly. Still Sherm did not waken.

“I believe I’ll drive over to Jake Schmidt’s while I am waiting I have an errand with him. Marian, don’t you want to ride over with me?”

“Captain Clarke,” said Jane rather timidly after they had gone, “would you mind showing me that picture of your baby again?”

Captain Clarke rose and brought the photograph. Chicken Little studied it carefully, then glanced up at the Captain. Sherm certainly was like the picture as much like it as a boy who was almost a man grown could be. Should she dare to ask him? Chicken Little felt herself growing hot and cold by turns. Her heart was beating so she thought the Captain must surely hear it. One minute she was sure she didn’t dare, the next, she remembered Sherm’s broken-hearted words about not belonging to anybody, and she was sure she could screw her courage up in just a minute. Captain Clarke helped her out. He had been observing her restless movements for several minutes and was wondering if she could possibly have guessed what was in his own mind.

“Out with it, little woman, what’s troubling you?”

Chicken Little got up from her seat and went and stood close beside him. “I want to say something to you awfully, only I am afraid you won’t like it,” she said earnestly.

“My dear child, don’t be afraid of me.”

Chicken Little summoned up her resolution.

“I wanted to ask to ask you, if you wouldn’t adopt Sherm. You see he looks like your little boy would have looked, and he hasn’t got anybody or any name, and he isn’t going to want to live hardly, I am afraid. And I thought.... You don’t know how fine Sherm is. He’s so honorable and kind so so you can trust him. I just know you’d be proud of him after a while.”

Chicken Little was pleading with eyes and voice and trembling hands. The Captain gazed at her a moment in astonishment, then he tenderly drew her toward him.

“Chicken Little, I doubt if Sherm would agree to that. But if he is willing, I should be proud and happy to call him my son. But don’t get your hopes up I fear Sherm is too proud to let us find any such easy solution of his troubles. But we’ll find a way to put him on his feet, you and I we’ll find a way, if it takes every cent I have!

“I think perhaps the first thing to do, Chicken Little,” he continued after some pondering, “is to try to find out something about Sherman’s real parentage. It hardly seems possible that a comfortably dressed woman could have disappeared with her child without making some stir. I am in hopes, by getting somebody to search through the files of two or three of the leading New York newspapers immediately following the day of the accident, we might secure a clue. I shall write to Mrs. Dart at once for particulars, and then send to a man I know and pay him to make a thorough investigation.”

They were so interested discussing what could be done, that Sherm entered the room before they knew he was awake. The boy was calm, but looked years older, and very white and worn. Captain Clarke greeted him cheerfully.

“I hope you rested. Jane tells me you had a staggering day yesterday. Chicken Little, would you mind telling Wing to serve Sherm’s breakfast?”

As soon as she disappeared, he gripped the boy’s hand, saying confidently, “I don’t wish to talk about your trouble just now and I have no words to comfort you for your loss, lad, but I want to tell you not to begin to worry yet about your identity. I believe we shall find a way to get track of your people and that you will find you have an honorable name, and, possibly, a living father to make up a little for the kind foster-father you have lost.”

“I don’t see how we could after all these years.”

“Will you leave the matter to me for a few days? And Sherm, make an effort to eat something for Chicken Little’s sake she is worrying her heart out over your trouble. You have some good friends right here don’t forget that. Dr. Morton watched by you all night. Brace up and be a man. I know you have it in you, Sherm.”

Letters came to Sherm in a short time from Sue Dart, from Dick and Alice Harding, and from Mrs. Halford, who painstakingly wrote him all the details of his supposed father’s last days. She evidently knew nothing of his not being the Dart’s own son. Sue’s letter seemed to comfort him a little. He did not show it to anyone, even to Chicken Little. He confided to her, however, that the folks were sending his things to him the next day. They had already broken up the home and were going back to Chicago with Sue the following week.

When the express package arrived, Sherm took it straight to Jane.

“You open it,” he said.

Chicken Little took his knife and cut the string and folded back the paper wrappings carefully. It seemed some way as if she were meeting Sherm’s mother.

The quaint little old-fashioned garments were musty and faded. A frock of blue merino braided in an elaborate pattern in black lay on top. There was a cape to match, and a little cloth cap. Beside these lay a funny pair of leather boots with red tops almost like a man’s only, oh, so tiny!

Chicken Little hardly knew whether to laugh or cry at these.

“Oh, Sherm, did you ever wear them? How you must have strutted! I can fairly see you.”

Sherm smiled and took them up tenderly. Did he, too, feel as if there were another presence haunting these relics of his childhood?

The tiny yellowed undergarments came next, all made by hand with minute even stitches. A pair of blue and white striped knitted stockings was folded with these, and last, at the bottom, a little pasteboard box appeared, containing a ring, a brooch, and a flat oval locket on a fine gold chain.

Sherm examined the ring first. Inside was inscribed William-Juanita. May 1860.

The brooch contained a lock of dark hair under a glass; the whole set in a twisted rim of gold. The locket held miniatures of a white-haired man and woman with foreign-looking faces. Both Sherm and Chicken Little looked these over in silence. Presently Sherm sighed, then laid the trinkets all back in Chicken Little’s lap.

“I don’t see anything there that could help much,” he said hopelessly.

Chicken Little slowly folded up the little garments and laid them neatly back in their wrapping. Her brow was puckered into a frown.

“I am trying to think where I have heard that name Juanita some place lately. I don’t remember ever to have known anybody by that name. It’s Spanish, isn’t it?”

“I guess so, but what you’re thinking of is the song, ‘Juanita.’”

“Oh, I expect it is. Sherm, do you mind if I take these things over and show them to Captain Clarke? He said he would like to see them when they came.”

“No, take them along. If you’ll wait till I get the feeding done, I’ll go with you.”

“All right, let’s take Calico and Caliph.”

Sherm lingered out on the veranda while Chicken Little displayed the contents of the package to the Captain. He examined each little article of clothing for some identifying mark.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything to help on those,” he said, disappointed. “Let’s have a look at the jewelry.”

Chicken Little unwrapped the ring from its layers of tissue paper, and handed it to him. Captain Clarke took it, regarded the flat golden circle intently for an instant, then turned it to read the inscription.

A pained cry broke from his lips. Chicken Little glanced hastily up to find him holding the ring in shaking fingers, staring off into vacancy. “Juanita!” he whispered, “Juanita!”

Chicken Little touched his hands in distress.

“Captain Captain Clarke, what is it?”

He looked down at her with a start. “I it is Excuse me a moment, Chicken Little.”

He walked into his bedroom with the ring still in his hand and closed the door.

Chicken Little waited and waited, not knowing whether she ought to go and tell Sherm what she suspected. It seemed too strange to be possible. And if it were true, surely Captain Clarke would want to tell him himself. Perhaps she oughtn’t to be there. She rose softly and slipped out to Wing in the kitchen. After a time she heard Sherm get up from his seat on the veranda step and go into the library. Immediately after, the bedroom door opened and she heard the murmur of voices. She left a message with Wing and running quietly out to Calico, untied him, and rode home in the twilight.

“You needn’t ever say again, Ernest Morton,” she wrote to her brother the next evening, “that E. P. Roe’s stories are too goody-goody and fishy to be interesting. He can’t hold a candle to what’s happened to the Captain and Sherm. I have to go round pinching myself to believe it is really so. I am almost afraid I will wake up and find it isn’t, still. Do you remember the picture of the Captain’s little boy that looked like Sherm? Well, it was Sherm. I can hear you say: ’What in the dickens?’ So, I’ll put you out of suspense right away. The Captain’s boy was not dead, only lost, and he is Sherm or Sherm is he, whichever way is right I’m sure I don’t know. You see the Captain went off on a long voyage and got shipwrecked and was gone ages and ages. And Juanita’s father and mother were way off in California they used to be Spanish. That’s what made them so foreign-looking in the locket picture. Well, nobody knows exactly what happened. When the Captain got back to New York and hunted up the boarding house where she had lived, they said she had left six months before to go to her parents in California. Captain Clarke wrote to California and found that her father was dead and her mother hadn’t heard from Juanita for months, and didn’t know anything about her coming home. Wasn’t it dreadful? He paid detectives to hunt her up, but they never found the slightest clue. The Captain thought she’d gone off and left him on purpose that’s what made him such a woman-hater and so sad all the time. You wouldn’t know him now. He looks like Merry Christmas all the year round. You should see him gaze at Sherm. Marian says it makes her want to cry, and Mother says it is the most wonderful manifestation of Providence she has ever known. It seems to me Providence would show more sense not to muddle things up so in the first place. Sherm is as pleased as can be to find he really is somebody, and he’s awfully fond of the Captain, but you see he’d got so used to loving the Darts as his own folks that he can’t get unused to it all of a sudden. He choked all up when he tried to call Captain Clarke ‘Father,’ and the Captain told him not to. There’s heaps more to tell, but Mother has been calling me for the past three minutes.”

“No wonder Sherm feels dazed,” said Dr. Morton two evenings later, watching the boy, who was making a vain pretense of playing checkers with Chicken Little.

He was so heedless that she swept his men off the board at each move, to Chicken Little’s disgust. Sherm usually beat her when he gave his mind to the game. Presently, she picked up the board and dumped the checkers off into her lap.

“A penny for your thoughts, Sherm.”

“I was just wondering if Captain Father would find out anything more in New York.”

“How long will he be gone?”

“I guess that depends on whether he gets track of anything new. After he comes back we’re going to Chicago to see Mother.”

“Oh, I am so glad. It will make you feel a lot better to have a good visit with them all.”

“Yes, and he told me I might buy back the old home for her if she wants it if I’d only known last week, she needn’t have sold the place. And the Captain Father says he will give me some money to put out at interest so she’ll have enough to live on comfortably. He says he owes her and Father a debt he can never repay for bringing me up.”

Chicken Little was thoughtful. “Sherm, he seems to have plenty of money, maybe you can go to college and to the Beaux Arts, too.”

“He said I could have all the education I wanted.”

“Will you go to college next year?”


“O dear, it will be awful here unless Mother lets me go to Centerville.”

“Don’t fret, she is going to.”

“How do you know?”

“She told Marian so last night.”

Chicken Little got to her feet and shot two feet into the air with a whoop of joy. “Goody! Goody!! Goody!!!”

“Save a little breath, Jane. I know something better than that. Promise you won’t tell your mother would skin me if she knew I were giving away her cherished plans.”

“Don’t be afraid, she just wants me to act surprised, and I can do it a lot better if I know about it before hand.”

“Well, she’s coming on at Christmas time for a visit in Centerville, and she’s going to take you on to visit Ernest.”

“Sherm, truly?”

“That’s what she said.”

Chicken Little gave an ecstatic hop. “Sherm,” she exclaimed presently, a new idea striking her, “I can go to that hop with Carol!”

“Carol?” Sherm sat up a little straighter. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you remember that letter I got from Carol? You don’t remember a single thing about it, do you? He wrote to ask me if I wouldn’t come on some time and go to a Navy hop with him. He said he was asking me in time so I couldn’t promise anybody else.”

“It strikes me Carol is getting mighty fresh.”

Chicken Little stole a surprised glance at Sherm.

“I don’t see anything fresh about that I think it nice of him to remember me so long. My, I used to think Carol was the most wonderful thing. I hung a May basket to him the last spring we were in Centerville.”

“You did? Why, I thought I got yours. Who hung mine?”

“Gertie. I guess she won’t mind if I tell it’s been so long.”

Sherm whistled. After a little he inquired rather sheepishly:

“Say, Chicken Little, you don’t like Carol best now, do you?”

Chicken Little looked up hastily. She was disgusted to feel her face growing hot. “Why, Sherm I haven’t seen Carol for four years. I don’t know what I should think of him now.” Then, seeing the hurt look in Sherm’s eyes, she added: “I guess I’d have to like him pretty awfully well, if I did.”

Captain Clarke was gone two weeks and he had added only two facts to those they had been able to piece together. He had accidentally run across an old friend. This friend had supposed him dead all these years, and could scarcely believe his own eyes when he saw him. From him, he learned that his wife had also believed him dead before she would consent to leave New York. This friend told him he had suspected that her money was running low and had offered to help her, but she refused. He thought, after hearing the Captain’s story, that she must have had barely enough left to take her home, and that this explained why she was walking to the wharf instead of taking a hack, the day she was run down.

Sherm stayed on with the Morton’s until the following week when he set out with his new-found father to visit his adopted family. Youth recovers readily from its sorrows. It was almost the old Sherm who raised his cap to Chicken Little as the train got under steam and slid away from the long wooden platform.

“O dear!” she exclaimed, “seems to me I haven’t done anything this whole year but see somebody off. I think it ought to be my turn pretty soon.”

“Have a little patience, Humbug,” said her father, “your turn is almost here. It is hard for me to realize how fast my baby is growing up.”

Chicken Little liked the sound of those words “growing up.” There was something magical about them. They lingered in her mind for days.

One hot Sunday afternoon late in June, she arrayed herself in an old blue lawn dress of Marian’s that trailed a full inch on the floor at every step. She coiled her hair high on her head and tucked in a rose coquettishly above her ear. Highly gratified with the result of her efforts, she swept downstairs in a most dignified manner to astonish the family. Unfortunately the family Father and Mother, and both pups, were taking a siesta. She went over to the cottage; a profound silence reigned there also. She rambled around restlessly for a few moments, then, taking “Ivanhoe” and a pocketful of cookies, went out into the orchard. It was hot even there. The air seemed heavy and the birds contented themselves with lazy chirpings. She swung herself up into her favorite tree and began to munch and read.

But she did not read long. The charm of the green world around her was greater than the pictured world of the book. Chicken Little fell to making pictures of her own dream pictures that changed quickly into other dream pictures, as real dreams sometimes do. As she stared down the leafy arcades between the rows of apple trees, she saw an immense ball room hung in red, white, and blue bunting and filled with astonishingly handsome young men in blue uniforms. Ernest was there. And a tall, curly-headed Adonis, who looked both like, and unlike, the good-natured, plump Carol of Old Centerville days, was close beside her. But when the supposed Carol spoke, it was certainly Sherm’s voice she heard, and it was Sherm’s odd, crooked smile that curved the dream midshipman’s lips. Chicken Little recognized the absurdity of this herself and laughed happily. A bird on a bough nearby took this for a challenge, and burst into an ecstasy of trills.

“Pshaw,” she whispered to herself, “I wonder what it would really be like.” She kept on wondering. She felt as if she and the orchard were wrapped about with a great cloud, like a veil, and that beyond this, all the wonderful things that must surely happen when she grew up, were hidden. The twilight was falling before she stretched her cramped limbs and slid down the rough tree trunk. She picked up her neglected book, which had fallen to the ground unnoticed, and said aloud, with a little mocking curtsey:

“Your pardon, Sir Walter, but I made a romance of my own that was nicer.”

Then she tucked the slighted author under her arm and flew to the house before the pursuing shadows. Chicken Little was growing up.