WHEN Mother Morrison had suggested a fishpond for the party, Louise and Grace had protested.
"Oh, Mother!" they cried. "That's so old!"
"But the children like it," said Mother Morrison mildly.
"It's fun," urged Brother. "It's fun to fish over the table and catch something!"
Sister, too, had asked for the pond, so it was decided to have one. Louise and Grace might not care for such things at their birthday parties, but this, as Sister said, was "different."
"We bought bushels and bushels," Brother informed Sister as she bounded through the hedge and up to the front porch. "Little colored pencils, and crayons, and games, and dolls, and oh! —everything!"
Louise, whose shopping bag was certainly bulging with parcels, laughed merrily. "We bought all the little gifts for the fishpond and for the—there! I almost told you." She clapped her hand over her mouth and laughed again.
"For the what?" teased Sister. "Tell me, Louise—I won't tell."
"No, Mother said no one was to know," declared Louise firmly. "Now all these packages you may open) and after lunch I'll help you tie them up again and fix the pond. But these other parcels go upstairs to Mother's room and no one is to touch them."
She tumbled half the contents of her bag on the porch floor and then ran upstairs with the rest.
"Let's look at them," said Sister eagerly. "What's the matter, Roddy?"
"I was thinking," explained Brother, making no move to open the packages. "We saw a little boy down town and his foot was all tied up in a rag, and I know it hurt him 'cause he limped."
"Maybe he sprained his ankle," said Sister. "Like Dr. Yarrow's cousin, you know."
"It wasn't his ankle—it was his foot," insisted Brother. "And I told Louise Mother said we mustn't go on the ground without our sandals, and she said she guessed the boy didn't have any sandals; she said he prob'bly didn't have any shoes, either."
"Nor any stockings—just rags?" asked Sister in pity. "I like to go barefoot, Roddy, but I like my new patent leather slippers) too."
"Maybe he has some for Sunday," comforted Brother, trying to be hopeful. "Everybody has to wear shoes on Sunday."
"Yes, of course they do," agreed Sister, who had never heard of a boy and girl who didn't wear shoes on Sunday and every day in the week except when they were allowed to go barefoot as a great treat.
The tempting packages were not to be forgotten one moment longer, and they decided to "take turns" opening them.
"Isn't it fun!" giggled Sister. What do you s'pose Mother is going to make you, Roddy?"
"I don't know," replied Brother absently. "I keep thinking about Ralph's present. He says that he thinks I'll be tall enough to have it by tomorrow."
"Did you drink all your milk for breakfast?" asked Sister anxiously.
Ralph was most particular about the children's milk. He insisted that they couldn't grow properly without enough milk, and as both were anxious to grow tall, Brother and Sister usually drank their milk without fussing. Brother had finished his to the last drop that morning, he said, and when they were called in to lunch presently, he drank another glass so that he would surely grow enough to please Ralph.
"And now we'll do up the fishpond presents," said Louise) when they had finished lunch.
She and Grace both helped, for Mother Morrison was busy in the kitchen with Molly, and of course none of the brothers were home during the day except Jimmie, and he was usually busy out in the barn where the gymnasium was.
You have probably "fished" in a fishpond yourself at parties, and know what it is. Little gifts are placed somewhere out of sight, and each small guest is given a fishing rod and line with a hook at the end. He dangles- this over the back of a sofa, or over a table, and when he draws it up there is a "fish," or the present, attached to it.
Louise had plenty of nice white paper and pink string, and each gift was carefully wrapped and tied. Dark blue crepe paper was tacked around three sides of a table and this table placed across one corner of the parlor. This was the "ocean." The presents were placed on the floor back of the table, and Brother and Sister knew, from past pleasant experience, that when it came time to fish, the packages would obligingly attach themselves to the hooks.
"Tomorrow's ever so long off," sighed Brother when the fishpond was ready and Louise and Grace had gone over to the library to take back some books.
He and Sister were not wanted in the kitchen and they were asked not to touch the clean white clothes spread out on the guest-room bed for them to wear to the party. There really did not seem to be anything for them to do.
"Let's go out and watch for Ralph?" suggested Sister.
Ralph was the best-loved brother, after all, though, of course, the children loved Dick and Jimmie dearly. But no one was quite as patient as Ralph, no one had time to read to them as often as he did, no one told them stories without coaxing as Ralph did.
He and Dick came up the street from the station together this night, and though Dick kissed Sister and said, "Hello, kid," to Brother, he dashed into the house) while Ralph stayed to talk.
"Birthday tomorrow, Brother?" he asked teasingly, though he knew very well that Brother would be six years old.
"Oh, Ralph!" Brother was so excited he nearly stuttered. "Ralph, couldn't you tell me what the present is now? I'm just as tall, and it's almost my birthday. Please, Ralph?"
Ralph swung Sister up and sat her on the fence-post.
"Well, I don't believe I could do that," he replied slowly. "Let's see, did you drink your milk today without grumbling?"
"Yes, I did—didn't I, Sister?" said Brother eagerly.
"Yes," nodded Sister. "He drank all of his for lunch, too, Ralph, and didn't spill any."
"That's certainly fine," praised Ralph. "I'm sure you've grown a little bit every day, too. Well, Brother, I tell you what I'll do—tomorrow morning I'll bring the present up to your room before breakfast. How will that do?"
Brother was more excited than ever, and for once he was ready to go to bed that night without a protest. He and Sister trailed sleepily off upstairs, wishing for the morning to come so that they might know what this mysterious present was.
They had two little white beds in the same room and they could undress themselves very nicely if they helped each other with the but- tons. Mother Morrison usually came up before they were ready for bed, and on bath nights she always came up with them and stayed till they were in bed.
The night before a birthday party was, of course, a bath night, and Sister was very willing to let Brother take his bath first because she had a picture book she wanted to look at. She was lying on her bed, in her nightie, looking at the pictures while Brother splashed in the tub and Mother Morrison waited for him to stop playing and use the soap to lather himself, instead of pretending it was a boat, when Dick knocked on the door.
"Look here!" he said, opening it and thrusting in his head. "Have either of you kids been in my room today?"
"How nice you are!" cried Sister, sitting up to look at Dick, who, indeed, did seem very nice, though he was without his coat.
"I'm twenty minutes late now," growled Dick. "I've hunted everywhere for my collar buttons and studs, and I can't find them."
On to chapter 5