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Little Cousin Ranna by Mrs. Lucy Morse

 

"Will and Almida Handly were rather sorry when they learned that their little cousin Marianne Joy was coming to make them a long visit.

"She won't know a bumble-bee from a butternut," said Will. "City children don't know anything, and she'll be awfully in the way. Won't she tag after you and me, though, Almy?"

"Oh dear!" said Almy, in a complaining tone; "we'll have to keep her every speck of washing and baking days."

"I wish they'd leave her where she belongs," said Will.

The children were silent awhile, and then Almy heaved a sigh, and said: "I s'pose that's just the trouble, Will. If her mother has—has died, where does she belong? Where would you and I—"

"I know it," exclaimed Will, gruffly. "Come on, if you want me to help fix up your old baby-house for her."

The day after Marianne came the children's feelings were altered. Walking down the lane all together, the little cousin was dazzled by buttercups, and ran hither and thither gathering them in such wild delight that she came upon Dowsabell, the cow, unexpectedly. Dowsy only raised her sleepy nose from the grass to sniff at the buttercups, but Marianne dropped the whole bunch, with a cry of terror, and ran like the wind to Will for protection. She flung herself upon him with such a pretty confidence that Will took her right into his big boyish heart, and wished on the spot that Dowsy was a raging lion, or, to say the least, Neighbor Stethaway's cross bull.

"After all," he confided to Almida, "she's only a poor city child: what can you expect? I don't mind seeing to her."

"Laws, no," said Almida, with a matronly air. "And if her father's gone to Europe, and every day is baking, or washing, or mending, or something, who is there besides you and me for her to look to, I'd like to know? Only you needn't think you're going to have more than just your own half of the care-taking, Will Handly."

The mother looked on in silence, and understood perfectly the very things which her children thought she had not noticed.

"At first I was troubled lest Will and Almy wouldn't notice the child," she said, one afternoon, to Mrs. Stethaway, as they watched the three children crossing the opposite field. "Next I thought they would tyrannize over her, and that Will would tease her to death."

"And now," said Mrs. Stethaway, "it looks as if they would neglect everything just to follow her bidding. What are you going to do about that?"

"Well," said Mrs. Handly, smiling after the children as they disappeared among the daisies, "it isn't always that old folks know the best turn to take. I'm going to see what the little one's course will be. It seems very much as if my own two children were in the way of getting some lessons in gentleness and self-forgetfulness from the poor little motherless child, which I don't know so well as she does how to teach them."

The children went through the field, the orchard, and over the bars into the lane, through which Ria Bell was just driving the cows.

"Quick! quick! Oh! oh!" screamed Marianne, as soon as she saw the cows.

"Not that way; you're running right into the face of the enemy, Ranna," said Will, laughing, and taking hold of her as she was trying to climb the bars.

But Ranna struggled, crying, "Get me over! get me over! I ain't 'fraid of tows; it's the birds;" and was so excited that Will on one side and Almida on the other lifted her into the lane as quickly as possible.

"Oh, goodness!" screamed Almy, as Ranna made a dive, right under Dowsabell's very nose, toward a little mound of leaves. Crouching down and spreading her arms over it, she looked up at Dowsy so savagely that Will exclaimed, much amused: "Thunder and lightning! what has poor Dowsy done? I thought you were afraid of her, Ranna, and now you look ready to take her by the horns, and are frightened at two poor little robins flying overhead."

"No, I ain't. Nor I won't mind Teazle even if he is going to bite my—my—my head off," cried Ranna, pale with fright, as the dog ran his nose into her face.

Will called Teazle away, while he and Almy tried very hard not to laugh.

"What have you got under the leaves?" asked Will, while Almy stooped over Ranna, and said, tenderly,

"Show us your treasure, darling, and we won't tell Teazle, nor Dowsy, nor anybody a word about it."

THE FALLEN NEST.—Drawn by S. G. McCutcheon. THE FALLEN NEST.—Drawn by S. G. McCutcheon.

Ranna sat up, brushed away the leaves, and took from under them a pretty little nest full of young robins. "They're my own baby birds, and I thought Dowsy would step on them," she said. "I found them just before I ran to bring you, only the nest was in a great, ugly, dark bush, where the poor little birdies couldn't feel any sun shinin', and I brung them here, and tovered them with leaves, so the chittens wouldn't frighten them while I was gone. What are those big birds flying round me for? Tover my birdies up again; they are crying 'cause they are frightened."

"Hi! ho! hum! Harry!" exclaimed Will. "Those two birds are the excited and anxious parents of your baby birdies, Ranna, and they feel just about as comfortable as your father and mother would feel if a great giant—" But Will remembered suddenly that poor little Ranna had no mother, and, blushing fiery red, said: "I'm a good-for-nothing old blunderbuss. You tell her, Almy; it's girl's talk, anyway."

Almy, with her arms around her little cousin, explained the situation. Ranna eagerly pointed out the exact spot from which she had taken the nest, and when Will had carefully restored it, watched with great delight the old birds return to it.

"I'll never touch another nest in my life," she said; and holding one arm tight around Almy's neck, she beckoned to Will with the other. Putting it around him, she drew his head close down to Almy's, and whispered: "I don't think you're a bundlefuss, Will. I think you and Almy know just as well how to take care of little birds when their papas and mammas can't find them, as you do of little girls when their mammas is—is—is lost. And I'm going to tell all the children in the world that when they lose their mammas, the best thing they can do is to find my cousin Will and my cousin Almy."