MISS PUTNAM COMPLAINS
AT THE mention of the policeman's name, Sister had given a gasp. No one noticed her as Daddy Morrison pushed back his chair and went into the hall.
"I wonder what he wants?" mused Mother Morrison, helping Ralph to blackberries.
"Sister, you're spilling juice on the tablecloth," reproved Dick. "Look out, there goes another spot."
Sister was trying to eat her berries, and also plan what to say when the policeman should send for her. She was sure that he had heard about the broken case of butterflies, for Jimmie, when greatly provoked at her long ago, had threatened to tell Mr. Dougherty of her next misdeed.
"I like Mr. Dougherty," announced Brother sweetly.
No broken butterflies lay heavy on his conscience.
Louise and Grace finished their dessert and were excused to go upstairs. The others lingered at the table because Daddy Morrison and Mr. Dougherty had gone into the living-room and they did not wish to disturb them.
"Leila," called Daddy Morrison presently, "will you come here for a moment?"
Leila was Mother Morrison's name, and she rose and went across the hall quickly.
There was a low murmur of talk, an exclamation from Mother Morrison, and then the voice of Mr. Dougherty in the hall.
"Then I'm to tell the Chief that you'll drop in tonight?" he was saying. "All right, sir, that'll be satisfactory, of course. I'm not overly fond of this sort of work, but when a woman makes a complaint, you know, we haven't much choice."
"I understand," Daddy Morrison's deep, pleasant voice answered. "I'll get at the truth, and tell the Chief I'll be down at the town hall before ten o'clock. Good-night, Dougherty."
"Good-night, sir," said Mr. Dougherty and the screen door slammed.
Daddy Morrison came back to the dining-room.
"Rhodes and Elizabeth, I want to speak to you," he said very gravely. "Come up to my den."
Sister's small face went very white. "I didn't mean to, honest I didn't, Jimmie!" she cried, hurling herself on that astonished young man and clinging desperately to his coat lapels. "I didn't know they were there till they fell over."
"What ails her?" Jimmie demanded, staring at his father. "What fell over?"
"Your case of butterflies," Brother informed him sadly. "We were playing out in the barn and Betty reached up to open a window and the pole knocked the box off."
"Well, I must say—" began Jimmie wrathfully. "I must say! If you two don't learn to leave my things alone—"
"Save your lecture, Jimmie," advised his father quickly. "I didn't know about the butterflies, but I want to ask the children about something else. Come upstairs, now. You, too, Mother."
Brother and Sister followed Mother and Daddy Morrison upstairs, puzzled to know what was to be said to them. If the butterflies made so little difference to anyone—except Jimmie, who was perfectly boiling, it was plain to see—what else was there to scold them about? For that it was to be a scolding neither Brother or Sister doubted—hadn't Daddy called them "Rhodes" and "Elizabeth"?
"Now," said Daddy Morrison, when they were all in the little room he called his den and he had closed the door, although it was a warm night, "what were you doing this afternoon?"
"Playing in the barn," answered Brother. "It wasn't locked, Daddy."
"And then you broke Jimmie's case of butterflies," said Daddy. "What did you do then?"
"We swept the glass under a pad," said Sister, finding her voice. "Did Jimmie tell Mr. Dougherty?"
"Jimmie didn't know, and he certainly would not tell the police," declared Daddy Morrison, smiling a little in spite of his evident anxiety. "Miss Putnam, children, has made a complaint to the police that you tracked fresh tar over her porch and sidewalk, and she wants you to clean it off. That was why Mr. Dougherty came tonight."
"We won't either clean it off!" cried Brother angrily. "Serve her right to clean it off herself; mean old thing!"
"Don't let me hear you talk like that again," said Daddy Morrison sternly. "Did either of you have anything to do with putting tar on her porch or walk?"
"No, sir," replied Brother more meekly. "But did you play with the tar?" asked Mother Morrison. "Mr. Dougherty told us there were roofers mending the Gillson houses today, and using hot tar."
"Yes, they gave us some," said Brother honestly enough. "Didn't they, Betty? All the children had some, and we went by Miss Putnam's house and she yelled at us."
"But we didn't stop," added Sister. "We went right on and came home, didn't we, Roddy?"
"Yes," nodded Brother. "And that was before lunch, Daddy."
Daddy Morrison looked troubled.
"If you say you did not throw the tar, I believe you," he said gravely. "You may get into mischief and do wrong things, but I am sure you do not tell wrong stories. I don't see how Miss Putnam can be positive enough to give your names to the police, but I am going around to see her now and hear what she has to say. Then I'll stop in at the town hall and see the chief of police."
The telephone rang just then, and he went downstairs. It was only half-past seven, but Mother Morrison insisted that it was time for them to get ready for bed.
"Your father doesn't want you to speak of the tar to any of your playmates," she said as she brushed Sister's hair. "You must be very careful and not say a word against Miss Putnam. People may make mistakes easily, and we'll try to think as kindly of her as we can. Poor old lady! She must be terribly tormented by the children to dislike them so."
"I wish," wept Sister over her sandals as she unbuckled them, "I wish I hadn't smashed Jimmie's butterflies. Now he's mad at me."
"Well, you know he has asked you not to play in the barn when he isn't there to watch you," suggested Mother Morrison mildly. "However, you can make it up with Jimmie tomorrow; he never holds a grudge."
"Weed the onions for him," advised Brother wisely if sleepily. "He hates weeding."
"Maybe I will," decided Sister. "Daddy said tonight he couldn't go swimming again until he had worked in the garden."
On to chapter 17
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