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CHAPTER XVII


MORE SIGHTSEEING


Libbie waited till they were safely in the attic before she followed up her suggestion.

"I read the loveliest story last summer," she said dreamily. "It was about a bride—"

A shout of laughter from the listening girls interrupted her.

"I knew there would be a bride in it somewhere," rippled Bobby. "Now, Libbie, once and for all, this is hide-and-go-seek, not a mock wedding."

"You might let me finish," protested Libbie. "I only meant to say this story was about a bride who ran away from her wedding guests for fun and hid in a great carved chest; the chest had a spring lock and it closed tight when she pulled it down. Her husband and all the guests hunted and hunted, and they never found her. Years and years after, when they opened the chest, there were only some bones and the wedding dress and veil."

"And you call that a lovely story!" Bobby's scorn was immeasurable. "Well, I think it's gruesome. And what kind of housecleaning did they have in those days? My mother opens every chest and trunk and box in the house at least twice a year."

The game started merrily, and, forewarned by Libbie's story, the girls knew exactly where to find her when she hid from them and unerringly pulled her out of every chest into which she hopefully squeezed her plump self.

"You never should have mentioned 'chest' to us," laughed Betty, when Libbie was "it" for the third time. "We know your line of reasoning now, you see."

Libbie good-naturedly began her counting, and Betty looked about for a good place to hide. The attic was long and wide and a splendid place to play. It was rather too well lighted for hide-and-seek, but the trunks and boxes arranged neatly around the walls offered a fair chance to escape detection. A peculiar fan-shaped box near a window attracted Betty's attention, apparently being a built-in box.

"I'll hide there," she resolved, running lightly over to it.

Louise and Esther and Bobby were already stowed away in various corners, and Betty slipped into the box noiselessly. Libbie ceased counting.

The three Littell girls reached "home" without being detected, and then perched merrily on an old trunk to watch Libbie prowl about after Betty. A five-minute search failed to reveal her, and Libby gave up.

"All safe, you may come in!" they called in unison.

No Betty appeared, and they shouted again.

"Well, if that isn't queer!" Louise looked at Bobby in doubt. "Where do you suppose she is hiding?"

Bobby, a furrow of anxiety between her eyes searched the attic with level glances, her sisters and cousin watching her apprehensively.

"Something must have happened to her," Louise was beginning, when Bobby gave a cry and raced for the door.

"I'll bet I know where she went," she flung over her shoulder. "Haven't time—to stop—don't bother me——" She flew down the stairs, the others after her at top speed.

Down, down, down, through the third, second and first floors, the four girls fled like a whirlwind, down, always following flying Bobby, to the laundry in the basement where modern electric equipment made washing clothes a scientific process.

Bobby brought up her mad flight before a tall cupboard in one corner, turning the catch on the door, opened it and out tumbled—Betty!

"Are you hurt?" demanded Bobby, helping her to her feet. "Oh, Betty, darling, do say you're all right! It's a wonder you weren't suffocated or didn't break any bones."

"I'm all right," said Betty, smoothing out her skirts. "But I'm still a bit dazed. It was such a sudden drop. What have I done that I shouldn't, Bobby?"

Libbie, too, was bewildered, and stared at the disheveled Betty with puzzled wonder.

"Why, my dear child," explained Bobby, with a funny maternal manner, "you fell down the laundry shoot. It opens into the attic for good ventilation. I'm glad there were some soiled clothes at the bottom for you to land on, otherwise you might have had a bad bump. Sure you're all right?"

"Yes, indeed," insisted Betty. "I thought I was climbing into a box and went in feet first without looking. Instead of hitting the floor, I slid gently on and on. I hadn't any breath to scream with I went so fast. Anyway, there wasn't time to scream. I just sat here for a time after I landed. And I was wondering where I was and how I could get out when you opened the door for me."

That ended the game for the day, and the rest of the afternoon the girls were content to spend quietly, Betty in writing a long letter to Mrs. Arnold, one of her mother's old friends who had moved to California, and the others with books and sewing.

The next morning was fair and sunny, and before breakfast Bobby had it planned that they should spend the day at Mount Vernon. Of course Betty and Libbie were very anxious to see the famous place, and the three sisters were glad to have the opportunity to take them for the first time.

"It's never the same again," explained Louise, obligingly tying Esther's hair-bow for her. "There's a wonderful thrill you get when you see the things that really were Washington's and were handled by him that never comes again. Though we love to go there and never tire of looking at the rooms."

"What a chatter-box you are, child!" expostulated her mother, who had come up to tell them breakfast was ready. Indeed the gong had sounded fully fifteen minutes before. "How nice you look, all of you! I'll be proud to take five girls to Mount Vernon. We're going to-day, aren't we?"

Dear Mrs. Littell! Betty already loved her dearly, as indeed did every member of the household. She was so unaffected, so affectionate and generous, and she allowed money to change her simple, happy nature not at all. The Littells had not always been wealthy, and the mistress of the beautiful mansion did not hesitate to tell of the days when she had done all of her own housework and taken care of two babies.

Soon after breakfast the party started, the plan to go by motor being abandoned in favor of the trip down the river. It was decided that Carter should come down later with the car and bring a basket luncheon, taking them home in the afternoon.

Mount Vernon is sixteen miles below Washington, and the sail down the Potomac was delightful in the cool of the morning, and Betty thought she had never seen anything more beautiful than the deep greens of the trees and grass on either bank. By common consent the boatload of chattering people became silent as they came in sight of Mount Vernon, and as the glimmer of the house showed white between the trees. Betty's heart contracted suddenly. Louise, who was watching her, squeezed her arm sympathetically.

"I know how you feel," she whispered. "Mother told me that the first time she went abroad and dad took her to see the Colosseum she cried. You're not crying, are you, Betty?"

Betty shook her head, but her eyelashes were suspiciously damp.

Libbie was staring in unaffected enjoyment at the scene before her and fairly dancing with impatience to be off the boat.

"I do want to see Martha Washington's things," she confided, as they went ashore. "Her ivory fan and her dishes and the lovely colonial mahogany furniture."

"George Washington's swords for mine," announced Bobby inelegantly. "I've seen 'em every time I've been here, and I'd give anything to have one to hang in my room."

"Bobby should have been a boy," remarked Mrs. Littell indulgently. "You're mother's only son, aren't you, dear?"

"Well, my name is as near as I'll ever come to it," mourned Bobby. "However, I manage to have a pretty good time if I am only a girl."

Mrs. Littell led them first to the tomb of Washington. The plain brick building was directly at the head of the path leading from the landing, and a reverent group stood, the men with bared heads, for a few moments before the resting place of the Father of his Country.

High above the river, overlooking the land he loved, stands the Mount Vernon mansion. From the tomb the Littell party went directly to the house.

Each of the girls, although interested in the whole, showed her personality distinctly in her choice of special relics.

It was Betty who lingered longest in the library, fascinated by the autographed letters of Washington, his tripod used in surveying, and his family Bible. Bobby had to be torn bodily from the room which contained the four swords. Esther spent her happiest hour in the old kitchen, admiring the huge fireplace and the andirons and turnspit.

Louise and Mrs. Littell were able to go into raptures over the old furniture in Martha Washington's bedroom and sitting room, though they, of course, had seen it all many times before.

Mrs. Littell herself had a collection of antique furniture of which she was justly proud, and mahogany furniture was sure of her intelligent appreciation. Strange to say, Libbie remained cool toward the very things she had voiced a desire to see, and in the middle of the morning they missed her.

They were on their way to the barn Washington's father had built, and Betty volunteered to run back and see if the missing girl had stayed behind in the house.