BROTHER and Sister were very fond of playing school. They carefully saved all the old pencils and scraps of paper and half-used blank books that Grace and Louise and Jimmie gave them, and many mornings they spent on the porch "going to school."
Neither had ever been to school, and of course they were excited at the prospect of starting in the fall. Brother had had kindergarten lessons at home and he was ready for the first grade, while Sister would have to make her start in the Ridgeway school kindergarten.
"I wish summer would hurry up and go," complained Brother one August day. "Then we could really go to school."
"Well, don't wish that," advised Louise. "Goodness knows you'll be tired of it soon enough! Sister, what are you dragging out here?"
"My blackboard," answered Sister, almost falling over the doorsill as she pulled her blackboard—a gift from Grandmother Hastings— out onto the porch.
"Come on, Grace, we'll go in," proposed Louise, hastily gathering up her work. "If these children are going to play school there won't be any place for us! We'll go up to my room."
"I thought maybe you would be the scholars," said Brother, disappointed. "We never have enough scholars."
Louise was halfway up the stairs.
"You can play the dolls are scholars," she called back.
Mother Morrison had gone over to Grandmother Hastings to help her make blackberry jam, and Louise and Grace had been left in charge of the house.
"Let me be the teacher," begged Sister, when her blackboard was arranged to her liking. "I know how, Roddy."
"Well, all right, you can be teacher first," agreed Brother. "But after you play, then it's my turn."
Sister picked up a book and pointed to the blackboard.
" 'Rithmetic class, go to the board," she commanded.
Both she and Brother knew a good deal about what went on in classrooms, because they had listened to the older children recite.
"How much is sixty-eight times ninety-two?" asked Teacher-Sister importantly.
Brother made several marks on the blackboard with the crayon.
"Nine hundred," he answered doubtfully.
"Correct," said the teacher kindly. "Now I'll hear the class in spellin'."
"I wish we had more scholars," complained Brother. "It's no fun with just one; I have to be everything."
"There's that little boy again—maybe he'd play," suggested Sister, pointing to the red-haired, barefooted little boy who stood staring on the walk that led up to the porch.
He could not see through the screens very clearly, but he had heard the voices of the children and, stopping to listen, had drawn nearer and nearer.
"That's Mickey Gaffney," whispered Brother. "Hello, Mickey," he called more loudly. "Want to come play school with us?"
Mickey came up on the steps, and flattened his nose against the screen door.
"I dunno," he said doubtfully. "How do you play?"
Sister pushed open the door for him, and Mickey rather shyly looked about him.
"It's nice and shady in here," he said appreciatively. "You got a blackboard, ain't you?"
"You should say 'have' a blackboard and 'ain't' is dreadful," corrected Sister, blissfully unaware that "dreadful" was not a good word to use. "You can use the chalk if you'll be a scholar, Mickey."
Mickey was anxious to draw on the black- board and he consented to play "just for a little."
As Brother had said, two scholars were ever so much better than one and they had a beautiful time playing together. Mickey, in spite of his ragged clothes, and bad grammar, knew how to play, and he suggested several new things that Sister and Brother had never done.
"I been to school," boasted Mickey.
The children were anxious to have him stay to lunch with them and Louise, who had heard his voice and who came downstairs to see him, also invited him to stay. But he was too shy, and shuffled off just as Nellie Yarrow bounded up the front steps.
"Wasn't that Mickey Gaffney?" she asked curiously. "I shouldn't think you'd want to play with him. His folks are awful poor, and, besides, his father was arrested last year."
"Mickey isn't to blame for that," retorted Grace quickly. "Don't be a snob, Nellie; Brother and Sister had a good time playing with that little red-headed boy."
"But hardly any of the children play with him," persisted Nellie, who of course went to the public school. "You see last term Mickey was in my room, and he only came till about the middle of October—maybe it was November. Anyway, soon as it got cold he stopped coming.
"The teacher thought he was playing hooky, and she told Mr. Alexander, the principal. And he found out that the reason Mickey didn't come to school was 'cause his father didn't send him."
"Why didn't his father send him?" asked Sister.
"He wouldn't work, and Mickey didn't have any shoes to wear," explained Nellie. "Mr. Alexander got somebody to give Mickey a pair of shoes, but he wouldn't pay any attention to his lessons, and I know he wasn't promoted. I suppose he'll be in the first grade again this year."
Brother and Sister thought a good deal about Mickey after Nellie had gone home. They wondered if he wanted to go to school and whether he wished the summer would hurry so the new term might open.
"He liked to play school, so I guess he likes to go, really," argued Sister.
"Playing is different," said Brother wisely. "He didn't have any shoes on this morning, did he?"
"No, that's so," Sister recalled. "And his clothes were all torn and dirty; maybe he hasn't any new suit to wear the first day."
All the Morrison children had always started school in new suits or dresses, and Mother Morrison had promised Brother a new sailor suit and Sister a gingham frock when they started off in September.
"Miss Putnam would say he 'scuffled,' " giggled Sister, remembering that was what Miss Putnam thought all children did with their feet.
"I wonder who really did put the tar on her porch?" murmured Brother. "She'll always think we did it, unless someone tells her something else."
On to chapter 19
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