Read CHAPTER XV of Ethel Morton's Enterprise, free online book, by Mabell S.C. Smith, on


When the Club gathered at the station to go into town Mary was arrayed in a light blue satin dress as unsuitable for her age as it was for the time of day and the way of traveling. The other girls were dressed in blue or tan linen suits, neat and plain. Secretly Mary thought their frocks were not to be named in the same breath with hers, but once when she had said something about the simplicity of her dress to Ethel Blue, Ethel had replied that Helen had learned from her dressmaking teacher that dresses should be suited to the wearer’s age and occupation, and that she thought her linen blouses and skirts were entirely suitable for a girl of fourteen who was a gardener when she wasn’t in school.

This afternoon Dorothy had offered her a pongee dust coat when she stopped at the Smiths’ on her way to the cars.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get that pretty silk all cindery?” she asked.

Mary realized that Dorothy thought her not appropriately dressed for traveling, but she tossed her head and said, “O, I like to wear something good looking when I go into New York.”

One of the purposes of the expedition was to see at the Museum of Natural History some of the fossil leaves and plants about which the Mortons had heard from Lieutenant and Captain Morton who had found several of them themselves in the course of their travels.

At the Museum they gathered around the stones and examined them with the greatest interest. There were some shells, apparently as perfect as when they were turned into stone, and others represented only by the moulds they had left when they crumbled away. There were ferns, the delicate fronds showing the veining that strengthened the leaflets when they danced in the breeze of some prehistoric morning.

“It’s wonderful!” exclaimed the Ethels, and Mary asked, “What happened to it?”

“I thought some one would ask that,” replied Mrs. Smith, “so I brought these verses by Mary Branch to read to you while we stood around one of these ancient rocks.”


“In a valley, centuries ago
Grew a little fern-leaf, green and slender,
Veining delicate and fibers tender;
Waving when the wind crept down so low.
Rushes tall and moss and grass grew round it,
Playful sunbeams darted in and found it,
Drops of dew stole in by night and crowned it,
But no foot of man e’er trod that way;
Earth was young and keeping holiday.

“Monster fishes swam the silent main;
Stately forests waved their giant branches,
Mountains hurled their snowy avalanches
Mammoth creatures stalked across the plain;
Nature revelled in grand mysteries,
But the little fern was not of these,
Did not number with the hills and trees;
Only grew and waved its wild sweet way,
No one came to note it day by day.

“Earth, one time, put on a frolic mood,
Heaved the rocks and changed the mighty motion
Of the deep, strong currents of the ocean;
Moved the plain and shook the haughty wood
Crushed the little fern in soft, moist clay,
Covered it and hid it safe away.
O, the long, long centuries since that day!
O, the changes! O, life’s bitter cost,
Since that useless little fern was lost!

“Useless? Lost? There came a thoughtful man
Searching Nature’s secrets, far and deep;
From a fissure in a rocky steep
He withdrew a stone, o’er which there ran
Fairy pencilings, a quaint design,
Veinings, leafage, fibers clear and fine,
And the fern’s life lay in every line!
So, I think, God hides some souls away,
Sweetly to surprise us, the last day.”

From the Museum the party went to the Bronx where they first took a long walk through the Zoo. How Mary wished that she did not have on a pale blue silk dress and high heeled shoes as she dragged her tired feet over the gravel paths and stood watching Gunda, the elephant, “weaving” back and forth on his chain, and the tigers and leopards keeping up their restless pacing up and down their cages, and the monkeys, chattering hideously and snatching through the bars at any shining object worn by their visitors! It was only because she stepped back nimbly that she did not lose a locket that attracted the attention of an ugly imitation of a human being.

The herds of large animals pleased them all.

“How kind it is of the keepers to give these creatures companions and the same sort of place to live in that they are accustomed to,” commented Ethel Brown.

“Did you know that this is one of the largest herds of buffalo in the United States?” asked Tom, who, with Della, had joined them at the Museum. “Father says that when he was young there used to be plenty of buffalo on the western plains. The horse-car drivers used to wear coats of buffalo skin and every new England farmer had a buffalo robe. It was the cheapest fur in use. Then the railroads went over the plains and there was such a destruction of the big beasts that they were practically exterminated. They are carefully preserved now.”

“The prairie dogs always amuse me,” said Mrs. Smith. “Look at that fellow! Every other one is eating his dinner as fast as he can but this one is digging with his front paws and kicking the earth away with his hind paws with amazing industry.”

“He must be a convict at hard labor,” guessed Roger.

“Or the Mayor of the Prairie Dog Town setting an example to his constituents,” laughed James.

The polar bear was suffering from the heat and nothing but the tip of his nose and his eyes were to be seen above the water of his tank where he floated luxuriously in company with two cakes of ice.

The wolves and the foxes had dens among rocks and the wild goats stood daintily on pinnacles to see what was going on at a distance. No one cared much for the reptiles, but the high flying cage for birds kept them beside it for a long time.

Across the road they entered the grounds of the Arboretum and passed along a narrow path beside a noisy brook under heavy trees, until they came to a grove of tall hemlocks. With upturned heads they admired these giants of the forest and then passed on to view other trees from many climes and countries.

“Here’s the Lumholtz pine that father wrote me about from Mexico,” cried Ethel Blue, whose father, Captain Morton, had been with General Funston at Vera Cruz. “See, the needles hang down like a spray, just as he said. You know the wood has a peculiar resonance and the Mexicans make musical instruments of it.”

“It’s a graceful pine,” approved Ethel Brown. “What a lot of pines there are.”

“We are so accustomed about here to white pines that the other kinds seem strange, but in the South there are several kinds,” contributed Dorothy. “The needles of the long leaf pine are a foot long and much coarser than these white pine needles. Don’t you remember, I made some baskets out of them?”

The Ethels did remember.

“Their green is yellower. The tree is full of resin and it makes the finest kind of kindling.”

“Is that what the negroes call ’light wood’?” asked Della.

“Yes, that’s light wood. In the fields that haven’t been cultivated for a long time there spring up what they call in the South ’old field pines’ or ‘loblolly pines.’ They have coarse yellow green needles, too, but they aren’t as long as the others. There are three needles in the bunch.”

“Don’t all the pines have three needles in the bunch?” asked Margaret.

“Look at this white pine,” she said, pulling down a bunch off a tree they were passing. “It has five; and the ‘Table Mountain pine’ has only two.”

“Observant little Dorothy!” exclaimed Roger.

“O, I know more than that,” laughed Dorothy. “Look hard at this white pine needle; do you see, it has three sides, two of them white and one green? The loblolly needle has only two sides, though the under is so curved that it looks like two; and the ‘Table Mountain’ has two sides.”

“What’s the use of remembering all that?” demanded Mary sullenly.

Dorothy, who had been dimpling amusedly as she delivered her lecture, flushed deeply.

“I don’t know,” she admitted.

“We like to hear about it because we’ve been gardening all summer and anything about trees or plants interests us,” explained Tom politely, though the way in which Mary spoke seemed like an attack on Dorothy.

“I’ve always found that everything I ever learned was useful at some time or other,” James maintained decidedly. “You never can tell when this information that Dorothy has given us may be just what we need for some purpose or other.”

“It served Dorothy’s purpose just now when she interested us for a few minutes telling about the different kinds,” insisted Ethel Blue, but Mary walked on before them with a toss of her head that meant “It doesn’t interest me.”

Dorothy looked at her mother, uncertain whether to take it as a joke or to feel hurt. Mrs. Smith smiled and shook her head almost imperceptibly and Dorothy understood that it was kindest to say nothing more.

They chatted on as they walked through the Botanical Gardens and exclaimed over the wonders of the hothouses and examined the collections of the Museum, but the edge had gone from the afternoon and they were not sorry to find themselves on the train for Rosemont. Mary sat with Mrs. Smith.

“I really was interested in what Dorothy told about the pines,” she whispered as the train rumbled on; “I was mad because I didn’t know anything that would interest them, too.”

“I dare say you know a great many things that would interest them,” replied Mrs. Smith. “Some day you must tell me about the most interesting thing you ever saw in all your life and we’ll see if it won’t interest them.”

“That was in a coal mine,” replied Mary promptly. “It was the footstep of a man thousands and thousands of years old. It made you wonder what men looked like and how they lived so long ago.”

“You must tell us all about it, some time. It will make a good addition to what we learned to-day about the fossils.”

When the Mortons reached home they found Mr. Emerson waiting for them at their house.

“I’ve a proposal to make to these children, with your permission, Marion,” he said to his daughter.

“Say on, sir,” urged Roger.

“Mr. Clark is getting very nervous about this man Hapgood. The man is beginning to act as if he, as the guardian of the child, had a real claim on the Clark estate, and he becomes more and more irritating every day. They haven’t heard from Stanley for several days. He hasn’t answered either a letter or a telegram that his uncle sent him and the old ladies are working themselves into a great state of anxiety over him. I tell them that he has been moving about all the time and that probably neither the letter nor the wire reached him, but Clark vows that Hapgood has intercepted them and his sisters are sure the boy is ill or has been murdered.”

“Poor creatures,” smiled Mrs. Morton sympathetically. “Is there anything you can do about it?”

“I told Clark a few minutes ago that I’d go out to western Pennsylvania and hunt up the boy and help him run down whatever clues he has. Clark was delighted at the offer said he didn’t like to go himself and leave his sisters with this man roaming around the place half the time.”

“It was kind of you. I’ve no doubt Stanley is working it all out well, but, boy-like, he doesn’t realize that the people at home want to have him report to them every day.”

“My proposal is, Marion, that you lend me these children, Helen and the Ethels and Roger, for a few days’ trip.”

“Wow, wow!” rose a shout of joy.

“Or, better still, that you come, too, and bring Dicky.”

Mrs. Morton was not a sailor’s wife for nothing.

“I’ll do it,” she said promptly. “When do you want us to start?”

“Can you be ready for an early morning train from New York?”

“We can!” was the instant reply of every person in the room.