Joan, Patsy, Jackie, and Craig know what Paradise is. They have dwelt there. It's the room over the milkhouse.
When the milkhouse was first built, that space was a bunkhouse for the hired men. After the Big House had its roof raised and dormitory rooms put in, the bunkhouse became an apartment for a succession of married couples. One of these was Lester and Moo Moo Stam, who moved out in the middle of the night after Moo Moo and Grama had a fight over nobody ever knew what. It has been empty now for quite some time.
There are really several rooms, each commanding a view over a portion of the farm, so that a trip through the apartment lets you see from on high everything that is going on. The floors are broad golden planks, and the walls and ceilings painted white. It's a fresh and sunny place, with built-in cabinets and large drawers forming one whole wall of the largest room. It is this room that turns into Paradise.
It happens this way. The rich relatives who live in Elgin have bought new furniture. They offer to sell Daddy and Mother their old furniture at a very low price. Old Bosworth furniture is much finer than anything Mother and Daddy now have. Besides, they will soon need more furniture, for they are buying the Snide farm up the road, and plan to remodel the large farmhouse.
Mother and Daddy drive a truck down to Elgin to look over the discards and pick out what they want. They return with a bird's-eye maple bedroom suite, a dining room table and eight chairs, several marble-topped bedroom tables, an ornate four-sided pivoting bookcase, and other assorted pieces. Aside from trying out the spin on the bookcase, the four children are not particularly interested in the spoils.
But then Daddy says, "They threw in something for you. Go look in the room over the milkhouse."
The four mount the stairs and enter through the many-paned door. Side by side in the empty front room stand a bear and a barrel. The bear is dark brown, its four legs on wheels, and is big enough to ride. They all make a dash but Craig gets there first and straddles it. He promptly discovers a metal ring in the middle of the bear's shoulders. He pulls it and the bear says, in a low weary voice, "Uuunh." Craig scoots the bear forward. It turns out that one of the wheels is only half a wheel; the bear lists to the side and clunks when it rolls. But that hardly matters. It is a wonderful bear! They take turns riding it and making it go "Uuuunh."
They then turn their attention to the barrel. It is larger than the chocolate powder barrel in the old schoolhouse, larger than the copper sulphate barrel. It's open at the top but covered with tucked-in newspapers. They peel back the papers and make their flabbergasting find. The barrel is filled with toys!
After a stunned moment they reach in and start grabbing them out, loudly laying claim, until Joan declares that everything in the barrel has to belong to all of them, just like the bear has to, unless there's something nobody else wants. Patsy, Jackie, and Craig can see the justice of this. They also agree when Joan suggests they remove things one at a time, and examine them together.
Where did all the toys come from? That's easy to figure out. The rich relatives have four daughters, long grown up. The Dougan kids have never known these second cousins, except that Joan once met the youngest, Betsy. Betsy was visiting at the farm and riding a horse, and she told Joan, who was trotting along behind her, breathless with admiration, to go away and quit bothering her -- she was too little and might get hurt. Joan was outraged to be ordered off her own fields by a virtual stranger. Forever after, she has resented Betsy Bosworth.
But now, all is forgiven. Somebody put the Bosworth girls' outgrown toys in a barrel and sent the barrel up to the farm, along with the marble-top tables and bird's-eye maple.
The barrel is a cornucopia. Wonder after wonder pours from it. There is a rag doll as tall as Patsy, with a smiling face and yellow yarn braids and a real child's dress and pinafore. Elastic bands are sewed to the bottoms of her feet, so that you can put your feet through the straps and dance with her. There is a metal platter painted with houses and trees and streams and bridges and a train station. When you wind a key on the underside, a little train runs round and round a groove in the edge of the platter. Most of the other windup toys no longer work, but one that still does is an amazement: a little tin woman, with long tin skirts and her hair in a mobcap. She holds a tin carpet sweeper with bristles that really go around, and wound up she darts here and there erratically, pushing the sweeper stiffly before her. She has a no-nonsense expression. Her name is printed on her apron: Bizzy Lizzy.
There are alphabet blocks and anchor blocks. There are books, among them several fat volumes of Chatterbox, which turn out to be bound collections of old children's magazines with games and puzzles and continued mystery stories. These come from England, and Jackie immediately adores them. There are toys with missing parts, and parts with missing toys. There are games with no directions jostling for space with games complete in their boxes. There are three ornate cut-glass perfume bottles, elegantly stoppered, fit for a queen's dressing table. The bottles are empty but each retains a trace of faraway fragrance.
These, and some of the toys, come wrapped in funny papers. The four spread the papers out and see comics they recognize, but most are from before their time, such as Little Nemo and Krazy Kat.
When the call for noon dinner comes, they hurry back to the Little House, each carrying a choice item to show Mother and Daddy. Joan brings the beautiful perfume bottles, Patsy clasps Bizzy Lizzy, Jackie and Craig between them lug the bear.
Their parents are happy to share their delight. Mother makes one rule. The barrel toys are to be kept over the milk-house, for the Little House is cluttered enough, and the long window box is already crammed to the top with toys. That is all right with the four.
Though usually worn and sometimes broken, the new toys are special for several reasons. Fundamentally, they have appeared out of nowhere, totally unsolicited, imagined, longed for, or deserved. It is not Christmas or Easter or anyone's birthday. They are pure manna from heaven. Then, because the Bosworth cousins are so much older, their toys are not the familiar ones in the stores and advertisements. Where could anyone possibly go to buy a Bizzy Lizzy? Her day has come and gone. Add to that the wealth of the Bosworths. The toys they purchased are expensive ones, from unusual catalogs or Chicago department stores like Marshall Field's. They sit on a higher shelf in the economic toyshop than most of the Dougan kids' toys, however plentiful.
But all this is not enough to make the room over the milkhouse Paradise. There is a final factor. At the Little House, play goes on on the living room rug. Extensive villages outlined with blocks and peopled with small ceramic dolls and dogs, elaborate Tinkertoy or Lincoln Log extravaganzas, can last only an afternoon. Sometimes Mother is persuaded to let a particularly absorbing creation stay up till the following day. Then everybody has to be careful to step over it or around it, including the family pets, who are particularly obtuse about such matters.
But over the milkhouse, the spacious room is totally theirs. No grown-up presence taints it. Week after week, the four can play on the sunny floor and never have to pick up anything. No one ever, ever, ever says: "Time to put your things away." When they return, everything is as they left it.
But earthly paradises do not last. Patsy arrives at the room one day to find it bare. She is stricken, and so are Joan and Jackie and Craig. They rush to find out what has happened. Their parents don't know. But the answer is soon forthcoming. Grama has decided they've played with the toys long enough. It's time for Trever's children to have a turn. After all, they are Bosworth cousins, too. So, like Moo Moo in the night, the barrel has vanished. It has been loaded up and shipped to Jerry and Karla.
Daddy says it's also history repeating itself in another way; that his Grandmother Delcyetta swiped his toys when he didn't pick them up and hid them in her bottom drawer. They weren't found till she died.
It doesn't make them feel any better. "You at least got them back," Patsy wails. She never does get over losing Bizzy Lizzy.
But two things are
saved from Armageddon. Jackie happens to have a volume of Chatterbox under
her pillow at the Little House. And Craig has only recently dragged the
bear that says "Uuunh" over to the playhouse, as a guest at
a stuffed animal tea party.