The Four Hungry Children
One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.
The baker's wife saw them first, as they stood looking in at the window of her store. The little boy was looking at the cakes, the big boy was looking at the loaves of bread, and the two girls were looking at the cookies.
Now the baker's wife did not like children. She did not like boys at all. So she came to the front of the bakery and listened, looking very cross.
"The cake is good, Jessie," the little boy said. He was about five years old.
"Yes, Benny," said the big girl. "But bread is better for you. Isn't it, Henry?"
"Oh, yes," said Henry. "We must have some bread, and cake is not good for Benny and Violet."
"I like bread best, anyway," said Violet. She was about ten years old, and she had pretty brown hair and brown eyes.
"That is just like you, Violet," said Henry, smiling at her. "Let's go into the bakery. Maybe they will let us stay here for the night."
The baker's wife looked at them as they came in.
"I want three loaves of bread, please," said Jessie.
She smiled politely at the woman, but the woman did not smile. She looked at Henry as he put his hand in his pocket for the money. She looked cross, but she sold him the bread.
Jessie was looking around, too, and she saw a long red bench under each window of the bakery. The benches had flat red pillows on them.
"Will you let us stay here for the night?" Jessie asked. "We could sleep on those benches, and tomorrow we would help you wash the dishes and do things for you."
Now the woman liked this. She did not like to wash dishes very well. She would like to have a big boy to help her with her work.
"Where are your father and mother?" she asked.
"They are dead," said Henry.
"We have a grandfather in Greenfield, but we don't like him," said Benny.
Jessie put her hand over the little boy's mouth before he could say more.
"Oh, Benny, keep still!" she said.
"Why don't you like your grandfather?" asked the woman.
"He is our father's father, and he didn't like our mother," said Henry. "So we don't think he would like us. We are afraid he would be mean to us."
"Did you ever see him?" asked the woman.
"No," answered Henry.
"Then why do you think he would be mean to you?" asked the woman.
"Well, he never came to see us," said Henry. "He doesn't like us at all."
"Where did you live before you came here?" asked the woman.
But not one of the four children would tell her.
"We'll get along all right," said Jessie. "We want to stay here for only one night."
"You may stay here tonight," said the woman at last. "And tomorrow we'll see what we can do."
Henry thanked her politely.
"We are all pretty tired and hungry," he said.
The children sat down on the floor. Henry cut one of the loaves of bread into four pieces with his knife, and the children began to eat.
"Delicious!" said Henry.
"Well, I never!" said the woman.
She went into the next room and shut the door.
"I'm glad she is gone," remarked Benny, eating. "She doesn't like us."
"Sh, Benny!" said Jessie. "She is good to let us sleep here."
After supper the children lay down on their red benches, and Violet and Benny soon went to sleep.
But Jessie and Henry could hear the woman talking to the baker.
She said, "I'll keep the three older children. They can help me. But the little boy must go to the Children's Home. He is too little. I cannot take care of him."
The baker answered, "Very well. Tomorrow I'll take the little boy to the Children's Home. We'll keep the others for awhile, but we must make them tell us who their grandfather is."
Jessie and Henry waited until the baker and his wife had gone to bed. Then they sat up in the dark.
"Oh, Henry!" whispered Jessie. "Let's run away from here!"
"Yes, indeed," said Henry. "We'll never let Benny go to a Children's Home. Never, never! We must be far away by morning, or they will find us. But we must not leave any of our things here."
Jessie sat still, thinking.
"Our clothes and a cake of soap and towels are in the big laundry bag," she said. "Violet has her little workbag. And we have two loaves of bread left. Have you your knife and the money?"
"Yes," said Henry. "I have almost four dollars."
"You must carry Benny," said Jessie. "He will cry if we wake him up. But I'll wake Violet.
"Sh, Violet! Come! We are going to run away again. If we don't run away, the baker will take Benny to a Children's Home in the morning."
The little girl woke up at once. She sat up and rolled off the bench. She did not make any noise.
"What shall I do?" she whispered softly.
"Carry this," said Jessie. She gave her the workbag.
Jessie put the two loaves of bread into the laundry bag, and then she looked around the room.
"All right," she said to Henry. "Take Benny now."
Henry took Benny in his arms and carried him to the door of the bakery. Jessie took the laundry bag and opened the door very softly. All the children went out quietly. They did not say a word. Jessie shut the door, and then they all listened. Everything was very quiet. So the four children went down the street.CHAPTER 2
Night Is Turned into Day
Soon the children left the town and came to a road. The big yellow moon was out, and they could see the road very well.
"We must walk fast," said Henry. "I hope the baker and his wife don't wake up and find us gone."
They walked down the road as fast as they could.
"How far can you carry Benny?" asked Violet.
"Oh, I can carry him a long way," replied Henry.
But Jessie said, "I think we could go faster if we woke him up now. We could take his hands and help him along."
Henry stopped and put Benny down.
"Come, Benny," he said. "You must wake up and walk now."
"Go away!" said Benny.
"Let me try," said Violet. "Now, Benny, you can play that you are a little brown bear and are running away to find a nice warm bed. Henry and Jessie will help you, and we'll find a bed."
Benny liked being a little brown bear, and so he woke up and opened his eyes. Henry and Jessie took his hands, and they all went on again.
They passed some farmhouses, but the houses were dark and quiet. The children did not see anyone. They walked and walked for a long time. Then the red sun began to come up.
"We must find a place to sleep," said Jessie. "I am so tired."
Little Benny was asleep, and Henry was carrying him again. The other children began to look for a place.
At last Violet said, "Look over there." She was pointing at a big haystack in a field near a farmhouse.
"A fine place, Violet," said Henry. "See what a big haystack it is!"
They ran across the field toward the farmhouse. They jumped over a brook, and then they came to the haystack. Henry was still carrying Benny.
Jessie began to make a nest in the haystack for Benny, and when they put him into it, he went to sleep again at once. The other children also made nests.
"Good night!" said Henry, laughing.
"It is 'Good morning,' I should think," replied Jessie. "We sleep in the day, and we walk all night. When it is night again, we'll wake up and walk some more."
The children were so tired that they went right to sleep. They slept all day, and it was night again when they woke up.
Benny said at once, "Oh, Jessie, I'm hungry. I want something to eat."
"Good old Benny," said Henry. "We'll have supper."
Jessie took out a loaf of bread and cut it into four pieces. It was soon gone.
"I want some water," begged Benny.
"Not now," said Henry. "You may have some water when it gets dark. There is a pump near the farmhouse. But if we leave the haystack now, someone will see us."
When it was dark, the children came out of the haystack and went quietly toward the farmhouse, which was dark and still. Nearby was a pump, and Henry pumped water as quietly as he could. He did not even wake up the hens and chickens.
"I want a cup," said Benny.
"No, Benny," whispered Henry. "You will have to put your mouth right in the water. You can play you are a horse."
This pleased Benny. Henry pumped and pumped, and at last Benny had all the water he wanted. The water was cold and sweet, and all the children drank. Then they ran across the field toward the road.
"If we hear anyone," said Jessie, "we must hide behind the bushes."
Just as she said this, the children heard a horse and cart coming up the road.
"Keep very still, Benny!" whispered Henry. "Don't say a word."
The children got behind the bushes as fast as they could, for they did not have much time to hide. The horse came nearer and nearer and began to walk up the hill toward them. Then the children could hear a man talking. It was the baker!
"I wonder where those children went," he said. "I don't think they could walk as far as Silver City. If we don't find them in Greenfield, we'll go home."
"Yes," answered his wife. "I do not want to find them, anyway. I don't like children, but we must try a little while longer. We will look for them in Greenfield, and that's all."
The children watched until the horse and cart had gone down the road. Then they came out from behind the bushes and looked at each other.
"My, I am glad those people did not see us!" said Henry. "You were a good boy, Benny, to keep still.
"We'll not go to Greenfield."
"I wonder how far it is to Silver City," said Jessie.
The children were very happy as they walked along the road. They knew that the baker would not find them. They walked until two o'clock in the morning, and then they came to some signs by the side of the road.
The moon came out from behind the clouds, and Henry could read the signs.
"One sign says that Greenfield is this way," he said. "The other sign points to Silver City. We don't want to go to Greenfield. Let's take this other road to Silver City."
They walked for a long time, but they did not see anyone.
"Not many people come this way, I guess," said Henry. "But that is all the better."
"Listen!" said Benny suddenly. "I hear something."
"Listen!" said Violet.
The children stood still and listened, and they could hear water running.
"I want a drink of water, Henry!" said Benny.
"Well, let's go on," said Henry, "and see where the water is. I'd like a drink, too."
Soon the children saw a drinking fountain by the side of the road.
"Oh, what a fine fountain this is!" said Henry, running toward it. "See the place for people to drink up high, and a place in the middle for horses, and one for dogs down below."
All the children drank some cold water.
"Now I want to go to bed," said Benny.
Jessie laughed. "You can go to bed very soon."
Henry was looking down a little side road, which had grass growing in the middle of it.
"Come!" he cried. "This road goes into the woods. We can sleep in the woods."
"This is a good place," said Jessie, as they walked along. "It is far away from people. You can tell that by the grass in the road."
"And it will be near the drinking fountain," said Violet.
"That's right!" cried Henry. "You think of everything, Violet."
"It is almost morning," remarked Jessie. "And how hot it is!"
"I'm glad it is hot," said Henry, "for we must sleep on the ground. Let's find some pine needles for beds."
The children went into the woods and soon made four beds of pine needles.
"I hope it's not going to rain," said Jessie, as she lay down.
Then she looked up at the sky.
"It looks like rain, for the moon has gone behind the clouds."
She shut her eyes and did not open them again for a long time.
More clouds rolled across the sky, and the wind began to blow. There was lightning, also, and thunder, but the children did not hear it. They were all fast asleep.CHAPTER 3
A New Home in the Woods
At last Jessie opened her eyes. It was morning, but the sun was covered by clouds. She sat up and looked all around her, and then she looked at the sky. It seemed like night, for it was very dark. Suddenly it began to thunder, and she saw that it was really going to rain.
"What shall we do? Where shall we go?" thought Jessie.
The wind was blowing more and more clouds across the sky, and the lightning was very near.
She walked a little way into the woods, looking for a place to go out of the rain.
"Where shall we go?" she thought again.
Then she saw something ahead of her in the woods. It was an old boxcar.
"What a good house that will be in the rain!" she thought.
She ran over to the boxcar. There was no engine, and the track was old and rusty. It was covered with grass and bushes because it had not been used for a long time.
"It is a boxcar," Jessie said. "We can get into it and stay until it stops raining."
She ran back as fast as she could to the other children. The sky was black, and the wind was blowing very hard.
"Hurry! Hurry!" cried Jessie. "I have found a good place! Hurry as fast as you can!"
Henry took Benny's hand, and they all ran through the woods after Jessie.
"It's beginning to rain!" cried Henry.
"We'll soon be there," Jessie shouted back. "It is not far. When we get there, you must help me open the door. It is heavy."
The stump of a big tree stood under the door of the boxcar and was just right for a step. Jessie and Henry jumped up on the old dead stump and rolled back the heavy door of the car. Henry looked in.
"There is nothing in here," he said. "Come, Benny. We'll help you up."
Violet went in next, and, last of all, Jessie and Henry climbed in.
They were just in time. How the wind did blow! They rolled the door shut, and then it really began to rain. Oh, how it did rain! It just rained and rained. The children could hear it on the top of the boxcar, but no rain came in.
"What a good place this is!" said Violet. "It is just like a warm little house with one room."
After awhile the rain and lightning and thunder stopped, and the wind did not blow so hard. Then Henry opened the door and looked out. All the children looked out into the woods. The sun was shining, but some water still fell from the trees. In front of the boxcar a pretty little brook ran over the rocks, with a waterfall in it.
"What a beautiful place!" said Violet.
"Henry!" cried Jessie. "Let's live here!"
"Live here?" asked Henry.
"Yes! Why not?" said Jessie. "This boxcar is a fine little house. It is dry and warm in the rain."
"We could wash in the brook," said Violet.
"Please, Henry," begged Jessie. "We could have the nicest little home here, and we could find some dishes, and make four beds and a table, and maybe chairs!"
"No," said Benny. "I don't want to live here, Jessie."
"Oh, dear, why not, Benny?" asked Jessie.
"I'm afraid the engine will come and take us away," answered Benny.
Henry and Jessie laughed. "Oh, no, Benny," said Henry. "The engine will never take this car away. It is an old, old car, and grass and bushes are growing all over the track."
"Then doesn't the engine use this track any more?" asked Benny.
"No, indeed," said Henry. He was beginning to want to live in the boxcar, too.
"We'll stay here today, anyway."
"Then can I have my dinner here?" asked Benny.
"Yes, you shall have dinner now," said Henry.
So Jessie took out the last loaf of bread and cut it into four pieces, but it was very dry. Benny ate the bread, but soon he began to cry.
"I want some milk, too, Jessie," he begged.
"He ought to have milk," said Henry. "I'll go to the next town and get some."
But Henry did not want to start. He looked to see how much money he had. Then he stood thinking.
At last he said, "I don't want to leave you girls alone."
"Oh," said Jessie, "we'll be all right, Henry. We'll have a surprise for you when you come back. You just wait and see!"
"Good-by, Henry," said Benny.
So Henry walked off through the woods.
When he had gone, Jessie said, "Now, children, what do you think we are going to do? What do you think I saw over in the woods? I saw some blueberries!"
"Oh, oh!" cried Benny. "I know what blueberries are. Can we have blueberries and milk, Jessie?"
"Yes," Jessie was beginning. But she suddenly stopped, for she heard a noise. Crack, crack, crack! Something was in the woods.