Everybody had been so happy and jolly in the toy shop, and there was so much fun going on, that when the China Cat acted so oddly and mewed so loudly, there was great excitement for a time.
"Don't tell me there is a fire!" cried a little Ballet Dancer, whose skirts of tissue paper and tulle would be sure to flare up the first thing in case of a blaze.
"No, there isn't a fire," said a toy Policeman. "If there was I should turn in an alarm."
"But what is the matter?" asked the Talking Doll. "Did that crazy Jumping Jack again step on the China Cat's tail?"
"Indeed I did not," answered the Jumping Jack.
And all this while the China Cat kept mewing.
"Take her away! Don't let her come near me! The black will rub off, I'm sure, and I shall be ruined and damaged. Oh, take her away, Soldier Captain!" and the China Cat, in her white coat, snuggled as close as she could to the brave officer with his shiny sword.
"What is the matter? Who is black? Please tell me what to do so I can help you," begged the Captain.
"Why, don't you see!" exclaimed the China Cat. "That black doll is coming to play tag with us! She belongs on the other side of the store, among the Hallowe'en novelties! If she rubs up against me she'll get me all black, and I can't stand it to be dirty!"
All the other toys glanced toward the toy at which the China Cat pointed with one paw. Walking along the edge of the shelf was a fuzzy-haired black Doll, her face as shiny as the stove pipe. She was called a Topsy Doll.
"Whut's de mattah heah?" asked Topsy, talking just as a colored doll should talk. "Don't yo' all want fo' me to come an' play tag wif yo'?"
"We'd love to have you," said the Jumping Jack, who, being all sorts of colors, did not mind one more. "But our China Cat is afraid some of your black might rub off on her."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed Topsy. "Dat suah am funny! Why, my black doesn't come off! I spects maybe I's white inside, but de black on de outside don't come off! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Really, doesn't it? Won't you smut me all up?" asked the China Cat.
"No, I won't! Hones' to goodness I won't!" promised the Topsy Doll. "Some folks do say I's terrible mischievous but I can't help it. I growed up dat way, I reckon!"
With that Topsy bent over and pulled one of the ears of Tumbling Tom.
"Hey there! Stop it!" cried that toy, and he leaned over to tickle Topsy, but he leaned too far and down he fell.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed the black Doll. "Golly, I's mischievous; but mah black won't rub off! Look!"
Topsy took up from the shelf a piece of the white paper Mr. Mugg used to wrap up the toys when they were purchased. Topsy rubbed this piece of paper on her black, shiny cheek as hard as she could rub it. Then she held it out to the China Cat. The paper was as white as before.
"See!" cried Topsy. "Mah black won't rub off! Now can't I play tag wif yo' all?"
"Oh, yes, let her; do!" begged the Talking Doll. "She's so cute!"
"Of course she may play if she will not smut me," said the China Cat. "Please don't believe I'm fussy," she went on; "but I shall never be sold if I do not keep myself white and clean. I thought at first that Topsy had been down in the coal bin."
"No'm," answered that colored Doll. "I's awful mischievous, but I don't play in no coal. No indeedy!"
"I'm glad of that," said the China Cat. "Now I'll be it, and see if I can tag any of you. Look out! I'm coming!"
With that the white Cat began chasing about on the shelves, trying to tag the other toys, who, you may be sure, kept well out of her reach.
"No fair tagging with your tail--that is so long!" called the Talking Doll, as she dodged around the corner of the Jack in the Box, who could not get loose to join the fun. "You must tag us with your paws."
"Yes, I'll do that," agreed the China Cat. "I'll only tag you with my paws. And I think I'll tag you right now!" she called to the Topsy Doll.
"Oh, ho! Yo' all here has got to be mighty lively to tag me!" the black toy laughed, and, just as the China Cat was about to touch her, Topsy dodged to one side and the China Cat nearly slipped off the shelf.
"Oh, my dear! you must be careful," cried the Talking Doll. "Think what would happen if you hit the floor!"
"Oh, I don't dare think of it!" mewed the China Cat, with a shudder. "I should be broken to bits!"
So after that the Cat did not run quite so fast. Topsy was a very lively little doll. She skipped here and there, and kept the other toys laughing at her funny tricks and the queer way her kinky hair bobbed about her head.
So the game went on, and at last the China Cat managed to touch the Jumping Jack with her paw.
"Tag! You're it!" cried the China Cat. "Now it's your turn to do the chasing, Mr. Jack!"
The game went on faster than ever, and such jolly fun as there was you never would have dreamed could happen in a toy shop, unless you could have seen it yourself. But of course that is not allowed. If you had so much as peeked in with one eye, all the toys would have become as quiet as a chocolate mouse.
At last they grew tired of such exciting fun. One after another had taken a turn at being it for tag.
"I know what let's do," suggested the Soldier Captain, after they had rested. "Let's have some riddles."
"Hi!" cried Topsy, "am riddles good to eat?"
"No, indeed," answered the Talking Doll. "Riddles are something you have to guess."
"Den I mus' be a riddle!" said the colored Doll.
"What makes you think so?" asked the China Cat.
"'Cause some ob de toys in mah pa't of de store says as how I kept 'em guessin'," was the answer. "Dey done say dey nebber know whut I'm gwine to do nex'. I suah mus' be a riddle."
"Oh, no, that isn't a riddle," the Soldier Captain explained. "A riddle is like a puzzle. For instance, I ask you what has four legs, and yet can't walk?"
"Hu! Dey ain't nothin' whut has fo' legs an' can't walk!" declared Topsy. "Dat's silly! I's got only two legs, but I can walk when nobody looks at me. An' dat Noah's Ark Elephant, he's got fo' legs, an' he can walk. What is dat has fo' legs an' can't walk I axes yo', Mr. Soldier Captain?"
"A table has four legs and yet it can't walk," laughed the wooden officer. "That's a riddle, Topsy. Now see if you can tell one."
So the Topsy Doll and the other toys began to think of riddles, asking them of one another. But, somehow or other, the China Cat was very still and quiet. She did not enter into this fun as she had into the game of tag.
"What's the matter?" asked the Jumping Jack, when he had guessed a funny riddle about a little green hen. "Are you watching for mice, China Cat? There are some little ones, made of cloth and wood over in the novelty department where Topsy came from."
"No, I am not thinking of mice," answered the China Cat. "To tell you the truth, Mr. Jumping Jack, I was thinking of the Nodding Donkey. He came back here, you know, to have his leg fixed, and he spoke about how happy he was with the little lame boy, who, I'm glad to know, is lame no longer. I was just wondering if I would go to a nice home such as he has."
"I suppose all us toys will be sold, one after another," said the Jumping Jack. "But it is so nice here that I dread to think of going away."
"Yes, it is nice in Mr. Mugg's store," the China Cat agreed. "But I suppose we must do as we are told. Dear Nodding Donkey! How I should like to see him again. I wonder--"
"Hush! Quiet, everybody! Back to your shelves!" suddenly cried Tumbling Tom. "Morning is about to come and Mr. Mugg and his daughters will soon be here. They must never catch us moving about!"
Such a scramble as there was! The China Cat, the Talking Doll, the Trumpeter, the Policeman, the Fireman, the Jumping Jack, Tumbling Tom and Jack Box all made haste to get on the shelves where they belonged.
The Topsy Doll, with her kinky hair, darted toward the novelty department.
"I's glad yo' all let me play wif yo'," she said in her queer talk. "An' I didn't get any black on yo'; did I, Miss China Cat?"
"No, indeed. You were very nice," was the answer. "Come and play with us again."
Then it was time for the toys to be very still and quiet, for the door of the store opened, and in came Mr. Mugg.
"Ah, this is going to be a lovely day!" said the jolly toy-shop man. "I shall do a good business to-day!"
A little later in came his daughters, Geraldine and Angelina. They began dusting and setting the store to rights for the day's business.
"Oh, my dear! look at this," said Angelina to her sister.
"What is the matter?" asked Geraldine, pausing with a feather duster under her arm.
"Why, the lovely white China Cat has a speck of dirt on her back," said Angelina. "I must have forgotten to dust her yesterday."
"Oh, my!" thought the China Cat, who heard what was said, though she could not turn around to lick off the speck with her red tongue, "some black must have come off Topsy after all."
"Oh, no, it isn't dirt," said Angelina, as she took the Cat down to look more closely at her. "It's just a little speck of black feather from my duster. It must have just got on."
"Oh, I'm so glad of that!" thought the white Cat. "I wouldn't want to think that Topsy's black rubbed off."
Soon the store was in readiness for customers, and among the first to enter that morning was a little girl. She was with a lady, who was the little girl's aunt.
"Now, Jennie," said the aunt, as Mr. Mugg came forward to wait on them, "what present would you like? You may pick out anything you please."
"Oh, Aunt Clara! How lovely of you!" cried Jennie Moore, for that was her name. "Let me see now. What would I like best?"
While Jennie was looking along the shelves of toys her aunt said in a low tone to Mr. Mugg:
"Jennie has been such a good girl, helping her mother who was ill, that I promised her any toy she wished."
"That is very kind of you, I am sure," said Mr. Mugg, rubbing his hands and looking over the tops of his glasses. "We have many toys here for good little girls, and for good boys, too. Not long ago I sold a Nodding Donkey to a lame boy, and, would you believe me; that boy isn't lame at all now," and Mr. Mugg laughed, and Aunt Clara laughed also.
But Jennie was looking along the shelves of toys. The China Cat looked down, and when she saw what a nice little girl Jennie was, so neat and clean, the China Cat thought to herself:
"If I have to be taken away and belong to some child, I think I should like to go to Jennie's house. I'm sure she would be kind to me and love me, and I would love her."
Jennie seemed to be thinking the same thing about the China Cat, for suddenly she reached up and took down the white toy.
"Here, Aunt Clara, this is what I would like," said Jennie.
She walked toward her aunt and Mr. Mugg with the China Cat in her hand, but, just before she reached them, Jennie tripped over a velocipede on the floor, and seemed about to fall.
"Oh, Jennie, don't drop that China Cat, whatever you do!" cried her aunt.