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About seven o’clock one hot summer evening a strange family moved into the little village of Middlesex. Nobody knew where they came from, or who they were. But the neighbors soon made up their minds what they thought of the strangers, for the father was very drunk. He could hardly walk up the rickety front steps of the old tumble-down house, and his thirteen-year-old son had to help him. Toward eight o’clock a pretty, capable-looking girl of twelve came out of the house and bought a loaf of bread at the baker’s. And that was all the villagers learned about the newcomers that night.
“There are four children,” said the bakeshop woman to her husband the next day, “and their mother is dead. They must have some money, for the girl paid for the bread with a dollar bill.”
“Make them pay for everything they get,” growled the baker, who was a hard man. “The father is nearly dead with drink now, and soon they will be only beggars.”
This happened sooner than he thought. The next day the oldest boy and girl came to ask the bakeshop woman to come over. Their father was dead.
She went over willingly enough, for someone had to go. But it was clear that she did not expect to be bothered with four strange children, with the bakery on her hands and two children of her own.
“Haven’t you any other folks?” she asked the children.
“We have a grandfather in Greenfield,” spoke up the youngest child before his sister could clap her hand over his mouth.
“Hush, Benny,” she said anxiously.
This made the bakeshop woman suspicious. “What’s the matter with your grandfather?” she asked.
“He doesn’t like us,” replied the oldest boy reluctantly. “He didn’t want my father to marry my mother, and if he found us he would treat us cruelly.”
“Did you ever see him?”
“Jess has. Once she saw him.”
“Well, did he treat you cruelly?” asked the woman, turning upon Jess.
“Oh, he didn’t see me,” replied Jess. “He was just passing through our—where we used to live—and my father pointed him out to me.”
“Where did you use to live?” went on the questioner. But none of the children could be made to tell.
“We will get along all right alone, won’t we, Henry?” declared Jess.
“Indeed we will!” said Henry.
“I will stay in the house with you tonight,” said the woman at last, “and tomorrow we will see what can be done.”
The four children went to bed in the kitchen, and gave the visitor the only other bed in the house. They knew that she did not at once go to bed, but sat by the window in the dark. Suddenly they heard her talking to her husband through the open window.
“They must go to their grandfather, that’s certain,” Jess heard her say.
“Of course,” agreed her husband. “Tomorrow we will make them tell us what his name is.”
Soon after that Jess and Henry heard her snoring heavily. They sat up in the dark.
“Mustn’t we surely run away?” whispered Jess in Henry’s ear.
“Yes!” whispered Henry. “Take only what we need most. We must be far off before morning, or they will catch us.”
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