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LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE . . . and Her Apple Business


ANNIE sang as she worked, pausing now and then to have a chat with Sandy, the big, rough dog who followed her from kitchen to living room and back again.

"We're lucky, Sandy," Annie said wholeheartedly. "I could hardly b'lieve my ears when Miss Falorne said we could stay here with her—just like it was our own home. Aren't many kids 'thout a father or mother find a swell home like this ever'day! Now—we got to work hard and deserve this home!"

"Arf!" Sandy agreed readily, and moved toward the ice-box.

Annie put away the broom and dust mop, and then discovered him sitting there so hopefully.

"Sorry, Sandy," Annie shook her head. "There's just 'nuff for supper and breakfast. You'll just have t' wait, that's all. B'sides, we're not really hungry—we've been a lot hungrier than this. Tomorrow's Monday and Miss Falorne'll give me th' money to go marketing. We'll have to buy things a lot closer, Sandy, to make th' food stretch out."

Sandy stretched himself on the floor, his nose between his paws, and dozed. But Annie could not relax so easily. She was worried about Miss Falorne. The little old lady kept to her room almost all the time.

Annie paced the floor as she thought about Miss Falorne.

"She doesn't want us to go. She said so. She said she could not get along without us. But we do eat more than she would alone. Nope! It won't do. I got to think up somethin' and think it up mighty fast."

"I know!" Annie cried so loudly that Sandy leaped up from the floor and looked about, growling. "I know! It's just the thing! "

Sandy walked to the window where Annie was standing and looking out.

"Arf?" Sandy questioned.

"Listen, Sandy," Annie drew him close to her, "I've got a swell idea! It's too long to 'xplain to you now, so I'll just give you a clue—apples! Apples! Miss Falorne has a big apple orchard, hasn't she? And we're out on th' edge o' town, aren't we? We could do pretty much as we pleased and not have people nosin' around, couldn't we?"

"Arf! Arf! Arf!" Sandy agreed.

Annie rubbed her hands together thoughtfully and walked without knowing it to the kitchen cupboard. There, on the top shelf, stood the Blue Rose Jar. Annie had looked at it often, wondering at the story it could tell if it could only talk.

There were roses in that jar, Miss Falorne had told her, which had been saved for years and years. Roses from weddings, from christenings, from festive occasions, yes, and roses from hospital rooms. Annie always was very careful when she dusted the Blue Rose Jar.

"So that I won't disturb a single petal," she would whisper.

Miss Falorne loved the Rose Jar. Whenever she came into the kitchen she would lift it in her hands, caress it lovingly a moment, and then put it back.

But now Miss Falorne hardly ever came to the kitchen. She would stay for hours in her room. Time and again Annie had found her there, seated at a little table and looking out the window.

"As though she's waitin' for somethin' or someone," Annie decided. "What could Miss Falorne be waitin' for?"

This was a question which only time could answer, if it were ever answered. But the question right now was the apples.

"C'mon, Sandy," Annie slipped into her coat, "let's take a walk into th' orchard. I can think this all out better if I'm walkin' along out there."

Side by side they walked along. Sandy knew that Annie was figuring out something special and kept very still.

Annie was thinking, too. Now and then she would say something which sounded like "Pie" and "Butter" and "Jelly," but Sandy did not so much as sneeze.

"C'mon, Sandy," Annie turned back and headed for the house. "I got it all straight now. I'm goin' up and have a little business talk with Miss Falorne. All she can say is no—and I have a hunch she won't say it!"

Eagerly Annie tore off her coat and raced up to Miss Falorne's room. She found the little old lady as usual, seated at her table. She must have been figuring something out herself, for she suddenly closed a drawer in the table as though putting something out of sight.

"Miss Falorne," Annie burst in eagerly, "I got an idea! A swell idea! You've got somethin' right here on your own property that can make you a lot o' money."

"Wh-what?" gasped the old lady.

"We-ll," Annie retracted a little, "maybe not at th' start—but it can grow into somethin' big. I just know it. Look out that window. See? See all those apples? They're swell apples. They'd make swell apple butter and pies and apple jelly. And who doesn't like a good apple pie?"

Miss Falorne put a hand to her head.

"But—my dear—who's to make the pies and—"

"I am!" Annie said promptly. "You know I can make good apple pie. I can make ten just as well as I can one, I guess! And apple jelly and apple butter, too. There's plenty of jars in the basement. I can get busy tomorrow!"

Miss Falorne shook her head dazedly.

"But pies take sugar and flour and shortening, Annie," she reminded the little girl. "You know what we have to spend—"

"Sure I know!" Annie nodded eagerly. "I know ev'ry penny by heart. But we'll just have to go easier this week, 'cause I'll have to stock up for the first batch. It's not real cold yet—I can make a stand on th' porch. A lot of cars go by now—people cornin' home and people goin'—I tell you, Miss Falorne, it's just bound to work out!"

From her pocket Miss Falorne drew out a handkerchief and placed it to her eyes.

"Bless you, child," she said. "I hope it does! Oh, I hope it does! Listen, Annie—I'm going to tell you something. I'm not Miss Falorne—I'm MRS. Falorne!"

"Mrs.—Falorne! " Annie stammered. "Then where's—?"

"My husband is dead. He died nine years ago. A year before he died my Dicky ran away from home. He and his father—never agreed. Dicky was eighteen when he left, tall and dark, and so strong! He could have done anything—anything! But—they had another argument and Dicky left. His father loved him, really. I think it was Dicky's running away that broke his heart and brought on his death. And—all these years I've waited."

The old lady seemed to have forgotten Annie, till she spoke.

"Oh, I know now! I know now, Miss—I mean Mrs. Falorne—you sit by th' window here—waitin' for Dicky to come home! "

Mrs. Falorne nodded.

"That's right, Annie. And you've noticed I keep pretty much to myself. People forget quickly. There are not many who ask any longer if I've heard from my boy. But I don't want to be questioned. I only want to stay here—and wait. Now, you see, Annie, why I'm hoping your plan may work. With money I can have something to offer Dicky when he does return. For I feel certain that he will. I know he will come home!"

Annie choked.

"Gee, Mrs. Falorne—I know he will, too—I just know he will!"

The next day Annie spent the greater part of the weekly marketing money for sugar, shortening, cinnamon, and flour. At once she set to work.

"It's not just for Miss—I mean Mrs. Falorne now, Sandy," she explained to the big dog. "It's for her boy, Dicky. He's cornin' home, y' see—any day now, I 'spect. And we got to be ready for him."

Out on the porch went the pies. There were nine that first day. Annie arranged them on a snowy white cloth and painted a big sign. But, to be sure die passers-by would see her wares, she and Sandy stood close to the edge of the road.

"Pies! Apple pies!" Annie called out to car after car. "Just like mother used to make—ever' bit as good! Try one and see!"

She sold the whole nine that day. With the proceeds she bought more supplies. This went on until the cold weather set in. Then Annie took her pies to town and Mr. Foodser, the grocer, gave her a space in his window.

When Annie had not been baking the pies she was putting up jars of jelly and apple butter. These, too, went in Mr. Foodser's window, and everything sold like hotcakes.

"Annie's Apple Tasties," as they were called, attracted the attention of neighboring towns, and their fame spread at last to the nearby big city. Scapin, the gang leader, became interested. Accordingly he sent the Rover to the little town to investigate this successful apple business.

"A kid!" Scapin laughed. "That should be easy for you, Rover. Muscle in on her—and then, well, you know."

The Rover knew, but he went unwillingly.

It was night when he arrived at the home of Mrs. Falorne. The back door was open and he walked right in. The smell of apple butter simmering met his nostrils, and at the stove stood a tow-haired little girl.

"Hello—" the Rover greeted her, and smiled.

"Oh, hello," said Annie, smiling over her first surprise. "I 'spect you're the man Mrs. Tonley was sendin' for the jelly. I'll get it for you right away. Just sit down a minute."

"No," the Rover almost barked. "I didn't come for jelly." His mouth twisted bitterly. "I came—to rob the little girl who has made my mother's life happy at last!"

Annie did not hear the "robbed." All she caught was "my mother."

"Then—you're Dicky!" she cried. "Oh—I'll call Mrs. Falorne! She's sleepin'—but she'll want to know at once! Oh, I knew you'd come back, Dicky! I told her an' told her! And—here you are! "

But the Rover held her back.

"I have something to do first, Annie. Don't mention this—" His eyes moved to the Blue. Rose Jar in the cupboard. "She still has that," he murmured. "The only present I ever gave her! Maybe she still wants me back—"

"Maybe!" Annie cried. "You're all she wants! Won't you stay now? Please, won't you?

The Rover shook his head. Annie and Sandy followed him into town, and the little girl pleaded all the way. But the man held firm.

"I'll come back!" he promised. "Wait—and keep still!"

So saying he strode away and was lost in the shadows.

In the city, that evening, the Rover had a talk with Scapin.

"It's no go, Scapin," he growled. "That's one business we can't touch."

"That's a laugh, pal," Scapin shifted the limp cigarette between his lips, but he was far from laughing. "Why can't we touch that business?"

Suddenly the Rover saw a picture of the kitchen where so many times he had watched his mother busy at her tasks. But it was a little girl he saw in it now, a little girl who pleaded with him to come home again.

He straightened his shoulders. He was no longer the Rover; he was Richard Falorne, and he spoke with a tone Scapin had never heard before.

"Listen, Scapin, you have nothing on me, see? Nothing at all and I'm not afraid of you. And I'll tell you why you can't touch that business—it was built up in my home. So long!"

Thus the Rover broke his ties with the past. Still he was not ready to return home. He wanted first of all to do some honest work, to have his pockets full of wellearned dollars.

"I'll meet that kid on her own ground," he told himself. "And I can do it. I feel like I can do anything now! Like she's given me a new lease on life!"

So it was the months went by and there was no word from Dicky. Annie's business was booming. Mrs. Falorne was an active worker now, keeping the books. There were other helpers, too, for Annie could never hope to fill the orders alone.

But the old lady continued to watch out her window. Annie often found her there, but every time she told the old lady the same thing:

"Be patient! Just a little longer! Dicky will come home—you just wait and see!"

Even Sandy appeared to be waiting for someone. Annie mentioned this to him as, one spring morning, they were out tidying up the orchard.

"A person'd think you had some inside dope on this, Sandy! You sit there, watchin' th' road as if you knew somethin' was goin' to happen and happen soon! Gee! I hope it does! I can't for th' life o' me figger out what's keepin' him! He's just got to come home, Sandy. What's th' good o' this apple business if Mrs. Falorne stays so sadlike?"

Sandy remained seated with his eyes on the mailman.

"You know it's a letter, don't you, Sandy?" Annie came over to him and patted his shaggy fur. "Gee, I hope it comes soon! Mrs. Falorne has been waiting so long."

It was a month later that the letter finally came. Annie read it at the mailbox, and then rushed toward the house.

"He's comin' home, Mrs. Falorne!" Annie cried as he flew into the house. "Dicky's comin' home—Saturday!"

Now, of course, Annie told Mrs. Falorne of Dicky's first visit.

"But he musta had somethin' to take care of first," she explained. "'Cause he made me promise not to tell and to wait till he came again!"

Wednesday—Thursday—Friday. On Saturday Annie said she had to go to town. It was her hope that Dicky should see his mother alone first.

Sure enough, when Annie returned, his wraps were on the kitchen chair.

"But where is he?" Annie rubbed her curls.

Theri she heard the happy laughter from upstairs.

"C'mon, Sandy, it's out under th' apple trees for us!"

In great content Annie leaned back against a tree trunk. "What I can't understand, Sandy," she said, "is why he ever left home. Imagine—havin' a mother like that!"