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The Corn-Ball Money, and What Became of it by Susan Coolidge

 

Dotty and Dimple were two little sisters, who looked so much alike that most people took them for twins. They both had round faces, blue eyes, straight brown hair, cut short in the neck, and cheeks as firm and pink as fall apples; and, though Dotty was eleven months the oldest, Dimple was the taller by half an inch, so that altogether it was very confusing.

I don't believe any twins could love each other better than did these little girls. Nobody ever heard them utter a quarrelsome word from the time they waked in the morning, and began to chatter and giggle in bed like two little squirrels, to the moment when they fell asleep at night, with arms tight clasped round each other's necks. They liked the same things, did the same things, and played together all day long without being tired. Their father's farm was two miles from the nearest neighbor, and three from the schoolhouse; so they didn't go to school, and no little boys and girls ever came to see them.

Should you think it would be lonely to live so? Dotty and Dimple didn't. They had each other for playmates, and all outdoors to play in, and that was enough.

The farm was a wild, beautiful spot. A river ran round two sides of it; and quite near the house it “met with an accident,” as Dotty said; that is, it tumbled over some high rocks in a waterfall, and then, picking itself up, took another jump, and landed, all white and foaming, in a deep wooded glen.

The water where it fell was dazzling with rainbows, like soap-bubbles; and the pool at the bottom had the color of a green emerald, only that all over the top little flakes of sparkling spray swam and glittered in the sun. Altogether it was a wonderful place, and the children were never tired of watching the cascade or hearing the rush and roar of its leap.

All summer long city people, boarding in the village, six miles off, would drive over to see the fall. This was very interesting, indeed! Carryalls and big wagons would stop at the gate, and ladies get out, with pretty round hats and parasols; and gentlemen, carrying canes; and dear little children, in flounced and braided frocks. And they would all come trooping up close by the house, on their way to see the view. Sometimes, but not often, one would stop to get a drink of water or ask the way. Dotty and Dimple liked very much to have them come. They would hide, and peep out at the strangers, and make up all kinds of stories about them; but they were too shy to come forward or let themselves be seen. So the people from the city never guessed what bright eyes were looking at them from behind the door or on the other side of the bushes. But all the same, it was great fun for the children to have them come, and they were always pleased when wheels were heard and wagons drove up to the gate.

It was early last summer that a droll idea popped into Dotty's head. It all came from a man who, walking past, and stopping to see the fall, sat down a while to rest, and said to the farmer:—

“I should think you'd charge people something for looking at that ere place, stranger.”

“No,” replied Dotty's father. “I don't calculate on asking folks nothing for the use of their eyes.”

“Well,” said the man, getting up to go, “you might as well. It's what folks is doing all over the country. If 't was mine, I'd fix up a lunch or something, and fetch 'em that way.”

But the farmer only laughed. That night, when Dotty and Dimple were in bed, they began to whisper to each other about the man.

“Wasn't it funny,” giggled Dimple, “his telling Pa to fix a lunch?”

“Yes,” said Dotty. “But I'll tell you what, Dimple! when he said that, I had such a nice plan come into my head. You know you and me can make real nice corn-balls.”

“'Course we can.”

“Well, let's get Pa, or else Zach, to make us a little table,—out of boards, you know; and let's put it on the bank, close to the place where folks go to see the fall; and every day let's pop a lot of corn, and make some balls, and set them on the table for the folks to eat. Don't you think that would be nice?”

“I'm afraid Mother wouldn't let us have so much molasses,” said the practical Dimple.

“Oh, but don't you see I mean to have the folks pay for 'em! We'll put a paper on the table, with 'two cents apiece,' or something like that, on it. And then they'll put the money on the table, and when they're gone away we'll go and fetch it. Won't that be fun? Perhaps there'd be a great, great deal,—most as much as a dollar!”

“Oh, no,” cried Dimple, “not so much as that! But we might get a greenback. How much is a greenback, Dot?”

“Oh, I don't know,” replied Dotty. “A good deal, I know, but I guess it isn't so much as a dollar.”

The little sisters could hardly sleep that night, they were so excited over their plan. Next morning they were up with the birds; and before breakfast Mother, Father, and Zach, the hired man, had heard all about the wonderful scheme.

Mother said she didn't mind letting them try; and Zach, who was very fond of the children, promised to make the table the very first thing after the big field was ploughed. And so he did; and a very nice table it was, with four legs and a good stout top. Dotty and Dimple laughed with pleasure when they saw it.

Zach set it on the bank just at the place where the people stood to look at the view; and he drove a stake at each corner; and found some old sheeting, and made a sort of tent over the table, so that the sun should not shine under and melt the corn-balls. When it was all arranged, and the table set out, with the corn-balls on one plate and maple-sugar cakes on another, it looked very tempting, and the children were extremely proud of it. Dotty cut a sheet of paper, and printed upon it the following notice:

          “Corn bals 2 sents apece.
              Sugar 1 sent apece.
    Plese help yure selfs and put the munney
                on the table.”

This was pinned to the tent, right over the table.

The first day four people came to visit the waterfall; and when the children ran down to look, after they had driven away, half the provisions were gone, and there on the table lay four shining five-cent pieces! The next day was not so good; they only made four cents. And so it went on all summer. Some days a good many people would come, and a good many pennies be left on the table; and other days nobody would come, and the wasps would eat the maple-sugar, and fly away without paying anything at all. But little by little the tin box in Mother's drawer got heavier and heavier, until at last, early in October, Dotty declared that she was tired of making corn-balls, and she guessed the city-folks were all gone home; and now wouldn't Mother please to count the money, and see how much they had got?

So Mother emptied the tin box into her lap, with a great jingle of pennies and rustling of fractional currency. And how much do you think there was? Three dollars and seventy-eight cents! The seventy-eight cents Mother said would just about pay for the molasses; so there were three dollars all their own,—for Dotty and Dimple to spend as they liked!

You should have seen them dance about the kitchen! Three dollars! Why, it was a fortune! It would buy everything in the world! They had fifty plans, at least, for spending it; and sat up so late talking them over, and had such red cheeks and excited eyes, that Mother said she was afraid they wouldn't sleep one wink all night. But, bless you! they did, and were as bright as buttons in the morning.

For a week there was nothing talked about but the wonderful three dollars. And then one evening Father, who had been over to the village, came home with a very grave face, and, drawing a newspaper from his pocket, read them all about the great fire in Chicago.

He read how the flames, spreading like wind, swept from one house to another, and how people had just time to run out of their homes, leaving everything to burn; how women, with babies in their arms, and frightened children crouched all that dreadful night out on the cold, wet prairie, without food or clothes or shelter; how little boys and girls ran through the burning streets, crying for the parents whom they could not find; how everybody had lost everything.

“Oh,” said Dimple, almost crying, as she listened to the piteous story, “how dreadful those little girls must feel! And I suppose all their dollies are burned up too. I wouldn't have Nancy burned in a fire for anything!” and, picking up an old doll, of whom she was very fond, she hugged her with unspeakable affection.

That night there was another long, mysterious confabulation in the children's bed; and, coming down in the morning, hand in hand, Dotty and Dimple announced that they had made up their minds what to do with the corn-ball money.

“We're going to send it to the Sicago,” said Dimple, “to those poor little girls whose dollies are all burned up!”

“How will you send it?” asked their Mother.

“In a letter,” said Dotty. “And please, Pa, write on the outside: 'From Dotty and Dimple, to buy some dollies for the little girls whose dollies were burned up in the fire.'”

So their father put the money into an envelope, and wrote on the outside just what Dotty said. And, when he had got through, he put his hands in his pockets and walked out of the room. The children wondered what made his face so red, and when they turned round, there was Mother with tears in her eyes.

“Why, what's the matter?” cried they. But their Mother only put her arms round them and kissed them very hard. And she whispered to herself: “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”