You Know How Boys Are
By Olive W. Burt
That afternoon at play period she did not feel like running and playing with the rest of the children. She was worried. She didn’t know why. She sat over in one corner of the playground, close to the fence, and let the warm spring sunshine beat down upon her. Maybe, maybe it was all right.
Stevie came up to his sister.
“Wassa matter, Janet?” he asked. “Come and play Green Light with us.”
Janet shook her head.
“I’m thinking, Stevie,” she explained. “Thinking” had always been a good excuse for sitting still and not playing. “You go play. I’ll watch.”
She crouched back under the lilac bush. The little leaves were just beginning to show at the tips of the brown buds. She loved the lilac tree at any time of the year, but right now she thought it was, perhaps, loveliest of all, with the slender brown branches knobbed with the green-tipped buds.
“Hello, there!” A jolly voice roused her, and she looked up, startled.
Over the fence was leaning a freckled-faced, smiling young man.
“Can you show me which one of the kids is Janet?” he asked amiably.
Janet waited, very still. She wondered whether she ought to own up who she was. What would the superintendent think? There had been too much excitement for one day.
But as she watched the young man, she saw a strange light come into his laughing eyes, and she knew he recognized her. Janet had no idea how he had guessed.
“So you’re the young lady herself!” he cried gaily. “Well, if this isn’t a bit of luck! And you’re sitting here all by yourself?” He vaulted over the fence and sat down by her.
“Why aren’t you playing with the other kids?”
“I was thinking,” whispered Janet.
“Thinking about that swell home you’re going to get?”
So it was her letter again.
“You know, that is just what I was thinking about, too,” the pleasant voice went on.
“You?” Janet’s lips formed the word incredulously. “How did you know?”
“Very simply,” he answered. “You see, I know Mr. Knowlton. And I know the Sunshine Lady. In fact, I work for the same paper she does. My desk is just across the room from hers. Well, I was in Mr. Knowlton’s office this morning when he came back from seeing you. He told me about you and the … er … stamp.”
Janet wondered what he thought of her, and dropped her eyes so that she couldn’t read the answer in his own. But he laughed gaily.
“That’s a mistake we all make when we start writing letters,” he said. “I remember the first time I wrote to Santa Claus. I did exactly the same thing. But they were expecting it at Christmas time, so they didn’t even bother to check up on it. You just surprised them a bit, your letter coming along in the spring like this. I suppose though,” he added seriously, “they were pretty certain it was just a mistake, right from the first. But they have to check up, to be sure.”
Janet felt better and looked up at the young man again.
He went on. “When I got back to the office, I asked the Sunshine Lady if she had your letter. It came in with the one o’clock mail, and she showed it to me. She is going to answer it tomorrow morning, but she thought it would be a mighty good plan to have a picture of you to go along with the letter, so folks would kind of feel acquainted with you, you know.”
Janet drew back and flung her arm up over her freckled face.
“Not me! she cried, “not a picture of me! That would spoil the whole thing. But Stevie … if you had a picture of him!”
The young man considered.
“I see your point,” he agreed. “Folks do like little boys, don’t they? But some folks like little girls better still. Say, how would it be if I took both of you together?”
Janet shook her head.
“Not me. I don’t want my picture taken.”
“Gosh, this is going to be tough on me. What shall I tell the Sunshine Lady when I get back? She is going to be mighty disappointed.”
Janet thought a minute.
“Does the Sunshine Lady want it very bad?” she asked.
“Does she? Why, she has set her heart upon it. In fact, I think she has already written her story for the paper, and she’ll have to do it all over again if she doesn’t have that picture.”
Janet asked timidly, “Is the Sunshine Lady nice?”
“Oh, definitely!” smiled the young man. “She looks just like her name.”
“Well, then …” sighed Janet. “Well, then …”
“Is Stevie handy? asked the young man, not waiting for Janet to say more.
“Stevie!” Janet sounded the clarion call that always brought the little fellow running.
He came panting up to his sister’s side. A group of children, turning at Janet’s cry and seeing the young man, came trooping behind Stevie.
Janet put her arms around her brother.
“This man wants to take our pictures for the Sunshine Lady,” she said.
Stevie favored the young man with one of his charming smiles, and the others crowded closer.
Suddenly the camera clicked, and Janet knew that the ordeal was over.
“That was easy, wasn’t it?” grinned the young man.
“Take our pictures, too!” cried the others, so the obliging young man gathered them all into a nice group and took their pictures, too. Then, just as the bell sounded to call them back into the building, he vaulted over the fence again and was away with a wave of his hand.
Janet thought she had better tell Teacher what had happened, but there was no need. The children went chattering into their room. They gathered around their teacher crying, “We had our pictures taken! We had our pictures taken!”
It all came out, then, and Janet could see that Teacher was worried. She got the children busy at their tasks and then left the room.
When she returned, she said nothing about the pictures, but went on with the work. Janet wondered what had happened, but it was too late to change it now – unless the superintendent telephoned to the Sunshine Lady. That would end it all. That would be too bad.
Janet went to bed, worrying about tomorrow. But at last she fell asleep so deeply that she was unprepared for the brightness of the sun when she awoke the next morning.
She didn’t have time even to slip out of bed before the superintendent entered the dormitory. She came and sat on the edge of Janet’s cot. She held the morning newspaper in her hand.
“Look, Janet,” she said gently.
Janet looked. There on the page held toward her was the picture of her and Stevie. She looked rather wide-eyed and serious, almost ready to cry, she thought. Her freckles didn’t show very much, and she really looked kind of pretty. But Stevie! My, he was cute, smiling and dimpled and his freckles shining out from the page. Janet wanted to kiss him as he stood there in the picture, in the shelter of his sister’s arm.
“It’s a lovely picture, isn’t it?” smiled the superintendent.
Janet nodded. She couldn’t speak.
“Shall I read you what the Sunshine Lady says?” Miss Thomas asked.
Then she read the story, which told of Janet’s trouble in getting her letter mailed to the Sunshine Lady, and then, printed nice and wide and in black letters so it was easy to read, was Janet’s letter, exactly as she had written it.
“I am going to let that letter speak for itself,” the Sunshine Lady wrote after the letter. “Can it be possible that in this city there is no heart generous enough to answer it?”
“Do you know, Janet, this letter of yours is going to get you a fine home, I am sure. Already this morning I have had half a dozen phone calls about you – people who want to take both you and Stevie into their hearts. Of course, they must come here and talk to you, and you don’t have to go with anyone till you find the right one, but I am sure that among the nice people that have called there will be someone who has just the kind of home you want for Stevie.”
“Now,” she put on a business-like air, “you’d better get up and get dressed. Have Connie comb your hair prettily and put a ribbon on it. You won’t need to go to the schoolroom today, because it will interrupt the work to keep calling you out. Go to the playroom instead, or to the library, and I’ll send for you when I think it is necessary.”
At the door she stopped and came back and put her arms around Janet.
“You’re a sweet child,” she said tenderly. “We are all going to miss you – and Stevie. But little girls must have homes …”
“Oh,” Janet felt a sudden pang of anguish. They had been good to her. “Oh, it isn’t me so much. I like it here, really I do. But Stevie needs to get out in the country …”
Miss Thomas smiled and kissed Janet.
“It’s all right,” she said, and left the room quickly.
Janet had never spent such an exciting day in her whole life. Every little while Miss Thomas would send for her, and she would go down to the parlor and there would be a nice man and woman, and they would ask Janet to go home with them and be their little girl. And they wanted Stevie, too.
Janet was too bewildered to think, and Miss Thomas told her not to try to think today, but just to wait.
Toward the middle of the forenoon, Janet opened the parlor door to find the smiling young man who had taken her picture and a lovely, lovely lady with golden hair. She caught her breath.
“The Sunshine Lady!” she whispered.
The Sunshine Lady bent down and put her arms about Janet.
“How’s it going, Janet,” she asked. “Are nice people coming? Do you think you will find a good home for you and Stevie?”
“Oh, yes!” breathed Janet. She drew in deep breaths, the better to smell the sweetness of the glorious creature. “Oh, yes. they are all nice, very nice. but there have been so many –.”
“Take your time, kid,” grinned the young man. “You’ve got ‘em coming, so be choosy!”
“Have Mr. and Mrs. Allen – Robert Allen – been in yet?” the Sunshine Lady asked Miss Thomas over Janet’s head.
“Not today,” Miss Thomas answered in surprise. “Mrs. Allen was in a few days ago, but not today.”
“She called me early this morning,” the Sunshine Lady explained, “even before I was out of bed. She’d seen the paper and remembered seeing Stevie and Janet when she was here. She said she would be in first thing this morning, just as soon as her husband returned from Green City. I thought she might have come before now.”
After some more talking and joking, the two left, but not before the Sunshine Lady had promised, “We’re going to be great friends, Janet. I’ll see you often, no matter where you go.”
Janet went back to the library. She felt very happy, and it seemed as if the floor under her feet had suddenly become a floor of rubber balloons, so light she felt as she ran along the corridor. She hadn’t even begun to read a story when she was called back into the parlor. She went eagerly. Somehow, she felt sure this was to be the right one.
And it was! There in the parlor was the kind-looking, beautifully dressed woman whose visit a few days earlier had started the whole affair. With her was a man, who, somehow, looked almost as boyish as Stevie.
Miss Thomas introduced Janet to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Allen. Janet smiled shyly.
“Yes, I know,” she said.
“You know, Janet?” queried the woman with interest. “But how?”
“I saw you when you were in the schoolroom. I was praying that you’d take us.”
“You dear child!” The woman knelt beside Janet as the Sunshine Lady had done.
“How callous and unseeing grownups are,” she said. “Can you forgive me, and would you really like to live with us?”
“Oh, yes!” Janet didn’t have to try to make this sound convincing.
“How can you tell?”
Janet looked into the kind eyes. “I can tell,” was all she could say.
The man knelt down, too.
“Do you think Stevie will like us, too?”
“Of course,” smiled Janet.
“Then it’s all settled, as easy as that?” asked the man, turning to Miss Thomas.
Miss Thomas smiled. “As easy as that!” she said. Then she added, “I explained everything to Mrs. Allen when she was here the other day. There are some formalities, but they won’t take long. Do you want to take the children now or come back for them?”
“Oh, let’s take them now. We’ve been slow enough about this business already. Just think, we might have lost them entirely!”
So Stevie was brought, and the good news was told to him. He accepted it with a shy smile. He had known that they’d get a home some time.
The two children gathered their possessions and by the time they had told everyone goodbye and were ready to leave, Mr. and Mrs. Allen were ready, too. Janet and Stevie were very quiet as they climbed into the big sedan at the side door.
Mr. Allen said, “Do you want to sit up here in front with me, Stevie? We’ll let the womenfolk have the back seat to gossip in.”
As the car rolled along the highway in the bright April sunshine, Janet looked back at the Home. She didn’t know whether it was tears in her eyes or whether the sun had suddenly gone behind a cloud, but everything looked dim and wavering.
Stevie and Mr. Allen were talking dogs and baseball in an intimate way. They seemed to have forgotten the other two, and Janet felt a twinge of loneliness.
A friendly arm went about her and drew her close.
“I’m mighty glad I’ve got you,” whispered a tender voice, “otherwise, I’d be left quite alone, it seems.”
Janet smiled tremulously.
“Oh,” she apologized for Stevie, “he doesn’t mean anything. You know how boys are!”
“Yes, I know,” laughed the woman, “but girls … well, they’re different, aren’t they? We’re going to have a job taking care of those two, Janet.” And she bent and kissed the top of Janet’s head.
The sunshine was shining again. From a turn on the hill road, Janet looked back. The Home was smiling in the sun.
(The End … for now)