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It all began one rainy night at the end of a summer.
"As if we didn't have enough troubles!" groaned Mrs. Chipley. "There it goes and rains on us!"
Sally, clinging to Mrs. Chipley's plump hand, was almost running to keep up with her. The bright feather on Mrs. Chipley's black hat, which had started out so proudly erect, had gradually wilted, and now drooped sadly down the back of that lady's stout neck. Sally's red SUitcase, its handle firmly gripped by Mrs. Chipley's other hand, bumped in a steady rhythm against her right leg. But Mrs. Chipley strode purposefully on, as if she had no time to notice small discomforts.
The two of them had come all the way across the city on the bus, and during the ride the sky had darkened and the streetlights had bloomed all at once. High-piling storm clouds snuffed out the light of the round orange moon. As they stepped off the bits, the branches of the tall trees rattled like bones in the wind.
And now it was raining--a nasty, cold, stinging rain, mixed with wet leaves torn from the groaning trees. It splashed and flew about them as they hurried along the gloomy street, as if the faster they went the more they stirred up the fury of the night. Their coattails snapped behind them. Rain flew into Sally's eyes and even into her mouth, and it dribbled unpleasantly beneath the collar of her coat. Raindrops hitting a large mailbox echoed like drumbeats
down the street. Sally's long red hair, fluttering bannerlike behind her, gave their small processiona brave look. And yet, Sally, at least, was not feeling brave at all. Quite the contrary.
"Troubles,troubles," Mrs. Chipley went on, "but it's a lucky thing your Aunt Sarah's come back to town just now when we need her."
"I don't remember her at all," panted Sally. "I was just a baby when she went away to California."
"Going back again, too, pretty soon, your ma tells me," said Mrs. Chipley. "Only came back here to sell the house. But never you mind, honey," she went on, without slackening her furious pace at all, "she's your own kin, and the only one you have here in town. I'm sure I didn't know what else to do but call her, what with your mom and dad away on that business trip, and we don't want to spoil it for them, andit's not as if you'd have to stay with your aunt forever. A few days and I'll have my daughter straightened around and come back. And it was your own ma left her name in case of an emergency."
"I wonder what she's like," Sally said. But Mrs. Chipley did not seem to hear her.
"And if my daughter's getting sick like that and five kids to take care of and her poor husband working day and night to keep food in their mouths isn't an emergency, then I'm sure I don't know what is!" Mrs. Chipley stopped so suddenly that Sally bumped into her. Mrs. Chipley, who was not very much taller than Sally herself, though a good deal bigger around, placed a steadying arm about Sally's shoulders and then peered up through the blowing rain at a street sign. She shook her head, sighed, and placed the red suitcase on the sidewalk.
"Land sakes, my glasses are all fogged over with wet," she said. "Can you read that sign, honey?"
Sally shaded her eyes and stood up on tiptoe, squinting to make out the letters on the sign in the uncertain gleam of a streetlight. The blowing shadows of tree branches came and went over the words on the sign. The letters wavered, grew taller, then shorter, then seemed to disappear entirely."It says Forest Road," she said at last.
"Can't hear you, dearie, your voice is gone all husky. Hope you don't go getting a cold now on top of everything else."
"Forest Road," said Sally, more strongly this time.
"This is it," said Mrs. Chipley, nodding vigorously. "Forest Road. Come along, honey." And picking up the suitcase, she led the way down Aunt Sarah's street. Sally's hand crept back into hers. "Now watch the numbers on the houses," Mrs. Chipley said. "It's eighty-two we want. Your young eyes are better than mine."
"But there aren't any houses," said Sally, for as far as she could see, all down the street on either side, were buildings, tall buildings, the light from their windows streaming out into the blowing street. Like the letters on the street sign, the buildings seemed to waver behind the lashing curtains of rain. A leaf danced in one of the streams of light for a moment, and then vanished into the darkness.
"It's a funny sort of street for your aunt to live on, all right," said Mrs. Chipley. "All these apartment buildings. But if it's Forest Road, it's got to be your aunt Sarah's street. You sure you read that sign right, honey?"
"Yes," said Sally. The hand clinging to Mrs. Chipley's grew suddenly very cold. Mrs. Chipley
looked down as if she'd noticed it too. She squeezed Sally's hand gently. "There, honey," she said, "you're not scared, are you?"
Sally shook her head. But she was scared. She was scared of the strange dark street with the rain splashing in the gutters, of the windblown shadows shivering over the walk, of the tall buildings looming over them and seeming to watch them with the glittering eyes of their windows. And of her aunt, whose street this was, and whom she did not know at all.