Father Goose; His Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Etc.
No one intended to leave Martha alone that afternoon, but ithappened that everyone was called away, for one reason or another.Mrs. McFarland was attending the weekly card party held by theWomen’s Anti-Gambling League. Sister Nell’s young man had calledquite unexpectedly to take her for a long drive. Papa was at theoffice, as usual. It was Mary Ann’s day out. As for Emeline, shecertainly should have stayed in the house and looked after thelittle girl; but Emeline had a restless nature.
“Would you mind, miss, if I just crossed the alley to speak a wordto Mrs. Carleton’s girl?” she asked Martha.
“‘Course not,” replied the child. “You’d better lock the back door,though, and take the key, for I shall be upstairs.”
“Oh, I’ll do that, of course, miss,” said the delighted maid, andran away to spend the afternoon with her friend, leaving Marthaquite alone in the big house, and locked in, into the bargain.
The little girl read a few pages in her new book, sewed a fewstitches in her embroidery and started to “play visiting” with herfour favorite dolls. Then she remembered that in the attic was adoll’s playhouse that hadn’t been used for months, so she decidedshe would dust it and put it in order.
Filled with this idea, the girl climbed the winding stairs to thebig room under the roof. It was well lighted by three dormer windowsand was warm and pleasant. Around the walls were rows of boxes andtrunks, piles of old carpeting, pieces of damaged furniture, bundlesof discarded clothing and other odds and ends of more or less value.Every well-regulated house has an attic of this sort, so I need notdescribe it.
The doll’s house had been moved, but after a search Martha found itaway over in a corner near the big chimney.
She drew it out and noticed that behind it was a black wooden chestwhich Uncle Walter had sent over from Italy years and yearsago — before Martha was born, in fact. Mamma had told her about itone day; how there was no key to it, because Uncle Walter wished itto remain unopened until he returned home; and how this wanderinguncle, who was a mighty hunter, had gone into Africa to huntelephants and had never been heard from afterwards.
The little girl looked at the chest curiously, now that it had byaccident attracted her attention.
It was quite big — bigger even than mamma’s traveling trunk — and wasstudded all over with tarnished brassheaded nails. It was heavy,too, for when Martha tried to lift one end of it she found she couldnot stir it a bit. But there was a place in the side of the coverfor a key. She stooped to examine the lock, and saw that it wouldtake a rather big key to open it.
Then, as you may suspect, the little girl longed to open UncleWalter’s big box and see what was in it. For we are all curious, andlittle girls are just as curious as the rest of us.
“I don’t b’lieve Uncle Walter’ll ever come back,” she thought. “Papasaid once that some elephant must have killed him. If I only had akey — ” She stopped and clapped her little hands together gayly asshe remembered a big basket of keys on the shelf in the linencloset. They were of all sorts and sizes; perhaps one of them wouldunlock the mysterious chest!
She flew down the stairs, found the basket and returned with it tothe attic. Then she sat down before the brass-studded box and begantrying one key after another in the curious old lock. Some were toolarge, but most were too small. One would go into the lock but wouldnot turn; another stuck so fast that she feared for a time that shewould never get it out again. But at last, when the basket wasalmost empty, an oddly-shaped, ancient brass key slipped easily intothe lock. With a cry of joy Martha turned the key with both hands;then she heard a sharp “click,” and the next moment the heavy lidflew up of its own accord!
The little girl leaned over the edge of the chest an instant, andthe sight that met her eyes caused her to start back in amazement.