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X The Blackberry Adventure
They came upon the old house one day when they were out blackberrying in vacation time. It was the kind of house that people used to build long ago. It had a long, sloping roof behind and the roof ran down almost to the ground. The house was very weather-beaten and out of repair. It looked battered and forlorn. Of course, it had long been deserted. Weeds grew rank in its front yard. It was far away from any neighbors. Solita and Sue had wandered far from the village. They hardly knew just how they had reached the place where so many berries grew, but they knew it was far from where they were boarding that summer.

Nobody seemed to have lived in the house for ever so long. Creepers covered the fence and what was once a roadway, leading toward[Pg 130] the rear, was all overgrown. There were blackberry bushes thick everywhere.

At first Solita and Sue didn’t think much about the house, though it was rather a surprise to have come upon it suddenly. They had explored the different roads in the country near White Farm but never a deserted house had they found yet. At first both Solita and Sue did not observe it because they were all-absorbed in berry-picking. It was wonderful how fast the pails filled up with big, juicy, ripe fruit!

Solita had her pail full and was picking more berries to fill her white canvas hat. She didn’t stop to think that the berries would ruin it—she just wanted to get as many berries as possible! The hat was all she had to use. Sue was racing with her and her basket was nearly full. There must have been at least three quarts. It was much more roomy than the tin pail or Solita’s hat.

The rest of the children who had started from White Farm with Sue and Solita were lagging along the roadside in the rear. Just how far away they were, the two leaders did not bother to consider. There was Albert, the[Pg 131] baby, and he was bound to go slowly with Matilda. Probably some of the children were just fooling in the brook or sitting by the wayside. It was not everybody who was as energetic as Sue and Solita that hot day!

So Solita and Sue, proud to outdo all the others, picked fast and furiously and did not stop. Step by step they had progressed to this wonderful, wonderful berry patch beside the old house. All of a sudden, Solita shouted, “I’ve won!” She made her way with difficulty through the tangle, holding her hat, piled high. The tin pail hung upon her arm and dropped berries at every step.

“Let’s see?” Sue questioned. “I don’t believe it; you come here an’ we’ll compare.”

So the two floundered around in the high growth of weeds and made for the first clear space that there seemed to be. They met at the stone doorstep of the old house and put their load of berries down there upon its broad, flat tableland.

My! But they were a sight! Solita’s pink gingham dress was torn in several places and her arms were a sight to behold—all red scratches. Her fingers were stained and[Pg 132] grimy and her cap, too, was a sight. As for Sue, her green chambray was purple with berry juice, although she seemed to have escaped the rents from thorny creepers. But the two were happy and they didn’t care much how they looked. They simply dumped all the berries on the doorstep and compared the two piles. These seemed even, so the two thought they would rest for a while and then start back to tell the lagging children behind and urge them to hurry up.

But Solita decided that it was no use to go away back on the road to call the others. They might be a mile or more back, she said. “No, don’t let’s do that! Let’s try to pick all there are and then go home and surprise everybody.”

“But, Solita,” Sue suggested, “we haven’t anything to put all the berries in. How could we do that?”

“I could gather up my skirt,” Solita volunteered. “We could pick into that. It’s already all ruined so I don’t mind using it—it’s an old last year’s frock.”

“Mercy me, Solita! What would your mother say to that!” Sue exclaimed, aghast.[Pg 133] “The very idea! No, we’ll have to find something else.”

“Do you suppose there’d be anything to hold them if we were to look around here?” questioned Solita. “Maybe we might find something—an old pail or cooking pan that has been thrown away.”

“There might be something inside the house,” Sue mused. “That’s very likely, but I don’t know if we could get in or not. We can try. I’m going to push the door. Do you suppose we can get in?” They had prowled around the house to what must have been the back door. But that back door wouldn’t give at all. It was tight.

The windows seemed shut fast, too. Sue said it made her feel like a burglar to try them, but since the house had been without a tenant for so long, of course it was not burglaring, she said.

After they had investigated many nooks and found nothing in the near-by shed, either, Solita suggested that they try the front door. “People always leave things behind when they move,” she declared. “I’m sure, if we could get in, we’d find a box or a pan or a basket.[Pg 134] Even an old sack might answer—anything that is like a bag could be used.”

But when the two came to the front doorstone where the two big piles of berries lay, Solita sat down on one side and did not try the door.

“You open the door, Sue,” she said.

“No, you try it!”

“You’re afraid something will jump out at you!”

“No I’m not!” retorted Sue. “What’s there to be afraid of, anyway?”

“I don’t know,” said Solita. “But it’s kind of spooky, I think. Let’s go home.” But with that Solita rose and pretended to try the door. She didn’t push it at all.

“Oh, I can get it open! You’re not pushing,” Sue exclaimed. “We’ll do it together. You turn and I’ll push—what’s the use of backing down? Let’s go in.” So the two together pushed and pulled and the door suddenly yielded. Its latch must have been very old and rusty indeed!

The opening of the door came as a real surprise, and it swung back against the wall inside the house with a loud bang that echoed[Pg 135] through all the lonely darkness of the hallway. There was only a little light that came from the slats of broken blinds here and there in the open room that was just off the hall.

Sue took the lead. Solita followed, ready to run back at any minute. It was certainly an adventure, this entering in upon the solitude of that deserted house, long closed. “I don’t think it’s at all nice to go into people’s houses while they’re away,” she urged. “I’m going back. I think we ought not to have come in here at all—it’s ever so dark. I can’t see anything—Where’re you, Sue?”

“I’m not a scare-cat,” replied Sue. “You were the one who wanted to find the basket for the berries. Come ahead! It isn’t dark—this is lots of fun!”

“I’m going to use my dress, anyhow,” protested Solita. “I don’t want any basket.” But for the sake of company chiefly, perhaps, she followed Sue, who was investigating the empty house. Here and there she poked under dusty furniture and into old, vacant closets. There seemed to be no basket—not even an old box or tin pan, rusty from disuse. “Come ahead, Solita,” she kept saying. “Nobody’s[Pg 136] going to eat you up. If anybody comes for such a purpose, they can begin and eat up the blackberries that are on the doorstep.” So she kept on hunting. Really, after a while, when they were used to the noise that their feet made and to the echo of their voices in the dim, closed rooms, it was rather interesting. All they found was a rusty hammer downstairs, so Sue decided to go above and look some more.

Everything there was rickety and the stairs squeaked and frightened Solita but she laughed—indeed, she was beginning to get over her timidity and enjoy the quest.

The chambers opened into the hall upstairs so that it looked like one big room except at one end of the rear room where the roof sloped. There was a real little bit of a room that must have belonged to some child. There were two little br............
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