Every coach on the long western-bound train was crowded with passengers. Dust and smoke poured in at the windows and even the breeze seemed hot as it blew across the prairie cornfields burning in the July sun.
It was a relief when the engine stopped at last in front of a small village depot. There was a rush for the lunch counter and the restaurant door, where a noisy gong announced dinner.
"Blackberries! blackberries!" called a shrill little voice on the platform. A barefoot girl, wearing a sunbonnet, passed under the car windows, holding up a basket full, that shone like great black beads. A gentleman who had just helped two ladies to alight from the steps of a parlor car called to her and began to fumble in his pockets for the right change.
"Blackberries! blackberries!" sang another voice mockingly. This time it came from a roguish-looking child, hanging half-way out of a window in the next car. He was a little fellow, not more than three years old. His hat had fallen off, and his sunny tangle of curls shone around a face so unusually beautiful that both ladies uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"Look, papa! Look, Mrs. Estel!" exclaimed the younger of the two. "Oh, isn't he a perfect picture! I never saw such eyes, or such delicate coloring. It is an ideal head."
"Here, Grace," exclaimed her father, laughingly. "Don't forget your berries in your enthusiasm. It hasn't been many seconds since you were going into raptures over them. They certainly are the finest I ever saw."
The girl took several boxes from her basket, and held them up for the ladies to choose. Grace took one mechanically, her eyes still fixed on the child in the window.
"I'm going to make friends with him!" she exclaimed impulsively. "Let's walk down that way. I want to speak to him."
"Blackberries!" sang the child again, merrily echoing the cry that came from the depths of the big sunbonnet as it passed on.
Grace picked out the largest, juiciest berry in the box, and held it up to him with a smile. His face dimpled mischievously, as he leaned forward and took it between his little white teeth.
"Do you want some more?" she asked.
His eyes shone, and every little curl bobbed an eager assent.
"What's your name, dear," she ventured, as she popped another one into his mouth.
"Robin," he answered, and leaned farther out to look into her box. "Be careful," she cautioned; "you might fall out."
He looked at her gravely an instant, and then said in a slow, quaint fashion: "Why, no; I can't fall out, 'cause big brother's a holdin' on to my feet."
She drew back a little, startled. It had not occurred to her that any one else might be interested in watching this little episode. She gave a quick glance at the other windows of the car, and then exclaimed: "What is it, papa,—a picnic or a travelling orphan asylum? It looks like a whole carload of children."
Yes, there they were, dozens of them, it seemed; fair faces and freckled ones, some dimpled and some thin; all bearing the marks of a long journey on soot-streaked features and grimy hands, but all wonderfully merry and good-natured....