Chapter XI. The Little Gardeners
 

When little Ned Prentice put the ten-dollat bill in his mother's hand, on that pleasant Fourth of July evening, he felt like a man. His mother could hardly believe the story of Ned's getting the money just for finding a balloon, but when it was explained how valuable the balloon was, and how it sometimes takes days of searching in the woods to find one after the balloonist lets go and drops down with his parachute, she was finally convinced that the money rightfully belonged to Ned.

"No one needs it more than I do," Mrs. Prentice told Mr. Bobbsey, who had brought Ned home in the wagon, "for since the baby was sick we have hardly been able to meet our bills, it cost so much for medicine."

"We were all glad when Ned got there first,"

Harry said politely, "because we knew he deserved the reward most."

As Ned was a poor boy, and had to work on farms during vacation, his father being dead and only one brother being old enough to go to work, the reward turned out a great blessing, for ten dollars is a good deal of money for a little boy to earn at one time.

"Be sure to come up to our fireworks tonight," Harry called, as they drove away, and Ned promptly accepted the invitation.

"It has certainly been a great Fourth of July!" Uncle Daniel exclaimed, later in the evening when the children fired off their Roman candles and sky rockets and burned the red fire. The little children had beautiful pinwheels and "nigger chasers" that they put off on the porch. Then Nan had a big fire balloon that she sent up, and they watched it until it was out of sight, away over the pond and clear out of Meadow Brook.

It was a very tired lot of children that rolled off to sleep that night, for indeed it had been a great day for them all.

For a few days after the Fourth it rained, as it always does, on account of all the noise that goes up in the air to shake the clouds.

"You can play in the coach house," Aunt Sarah told the children, "but be careful not to run in and out and get wet."

The children promised to remember, and soon they were all out in the big wagon house playing merrily. Freddie climbed in the wagon and made believe it was a "big fire engine." Bert attached a bell on the side for him, and when he pulled a rope this bell would clang like a chemical apparatus. Nan and Flossie had all their dolls in the pretty new carriage with the soft gray cushions, and in this the little girls made believe driving to New York and doing some wonderful shopping.

"Freddie, you be coachman," coaxed Flossie, "because we are inside and have to have someone drive us."

"But who will put out all the fires?" Freddie asked, as he clanged the bell vigorously.

"Make b'lieve they are all out," Flossie told him.

"But you can't make b'lieve about fires," argued the little fellow, "'cause they're really."

"I tell you," Nan suggested. "We will suppose this is a great big high tally-ho party, and the ladies always drive them. I'll be away up high on the box, but we ought to have someone blow a horn!"

"I'll blow the horn," Freddie finally gave in, "cause I got that big fire out now."

So Freddie climbed up on the high coach with his sisters, and blew the horn until Nan told them they had reached New York and were going to stop for dinner.

There were so many splendid things to play with in the coach house, tables, chairs, and everything, that the Bobbseys hardly knew it before it was lunch time, the morning passed so quickly.

It cleared up in the afternoon and John asked the children if they wanted to help him do some transplanting.

"Oh! we would love to," Nan answered, for she did love gardening.

The ground was just right for transplanting, after the rain, and the tender little lettuce plants were as easy to take up as they were to put down again.

"I say, Nan," John told her, "you can have that little patch over there for your garden. I'll give you a couple of dozen plants, and we will see what kind of a farmer you will make."

"Oh, thank you, John," Nan answered. "I'll do just as I have seen you doing," and she began to take the little plants in the pasteboard box from one bed to the other.

"Be careful not to shake the dirt off the roots," said John, "and be sure to put one plant in each place. Put them as far apart here as the length of this little stick, and when you put them in the ground press the earth firmly around the roots."

Flossie was delighted to help her sister, and the two girls made a very nice garden indeed.

"Let's put little stones around the path," Flossie suggested, and John said they could do this if they would be careful not to let the stones get on the garden.

"I want to be a planter too," called Freddie, running up the path to John. "But I want to plant radishes," he continued, "'cause they're the reddist."

"Well, you just wait a few minutes, sonny," said John, "and I'll show you how to plant radishes. I'll be through with this lettuce in a few minutes."

Freddie waited with some impatience, running first to Nan's garden then back to John's. Finally John was ready to put in a late crop of radishes.

"Now, you see, we make a long drill like this," John explained as he took the drill and made a furrow in the soft ground.

"If it rains again that will be a river," said Freddie, for he had often played river at home after a rain.

"Now, you see this seed is very fine," continued John. "But I am going to let you plant it if you're careful."

"That ain't redishes!" exclaimed Freddie "I want to plant redishes."

"But this is the seed, and that's what makes the radishes," John explained.

"Nope, that's black and it can't make it red?" argued Freddie.

"Wait and see," the gardener told him. "You just take this little paper of seeds and scatter them in the drill. See, I have mixed them with sand so they will not grow too thick."

Freddie took the small package, and kneeling down on the board that John used, he dropped the little shower of seeds in the line.

"They're all gone!" he told John presently; "get some more."

"No, that's enough. Now we will see how your crop grows. See, I just cover the seed very lightly like mamma covers Freddie when he sleeps in the summer time."

"Do you cover them more in the winter time too, like mamma does ?" Freddie asked.

"Yes, indeed I do," said the gardener, "for seeds are just like babies, they must be kept warm to grow."

Freddie stood watching the line he had planted the seed in.

"They ain't growing yet," he said at last. "Why don't they come up, John ?"

"Oh!" laughed the gardener, "they won't come up right away. They have to wake up first. You will see them above the ground in about a week, I guess."

This was rather a disappointment to the little fellow, who never believed in waiting for anything, but he finally consented to let the seeds grow and come back again later to pick the radishes.

"Look at our garden!" called Nan proudly, from across the path. "Doesn't it look straight and pretty?"

"You did very well indeed," said John, inspecting the new lettuce patch. "Now, you'll have to keep it clear of weeds, and if a dry spell should come you must use the watering can."

"I'll come up and tend to it every morning," Nan declared. "I am going to see what kind of lettuce I can raise."

Nan had brought with her a beautiful string of pearl beads set in gold, the gift of one of her aunts. She was very proud of the pearls and loved to wear them whenever her mother would let her.

One afternoon she came to her mother in bitter tears.

"Oh, mamma!" she sobbed. "The the pearls are gone,"

"Gone! Did you lose them?" questioned Mrs. Bobbsey quickly.

"Yes."

"Where?"

"I - I don't know," and now Nan cried harder than ever.

The news soon spread that the string of pearls were lost, and everybody set to work hunting for them.

"Where do you think you lost 'em?" asked Bert.

"I - I don't know. I was down in the garden, and up the lane, and at the well, and out in the barn, and over to the apple orchard, and feeding the chickens, and over in the hayfield, - and lots of places."

"Then it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack," declared Aunt Sarah.

All the next day the boys and girls hunted for the string of pearls, and the older folks helped. But the string could not be found. Nan felt very bad over her loss, and her mother could do little to console her.

"I - I sup - suppose I'll never see them again," sobbed the girl.

"Oh, I guess they'll turn up some time," said Bert hopefully.

"They can't be lost so very, very bad," lisped Flossie. "'Cause they are somewhere on this farm, ain't they?"

"Yes, but the farm is so very big!" sighed poor Nan.

For a few days Freddie went up to the garden every morning to look for radishes. Then he gave up and declared he knew John had made a mistake and that he didn't plant radishes at all. Nan and Flossie were very faithful attending to their garden, and the beautiful light green lettuce grew splendidly, being grateful for the good care given it.

"When can we pick it?" Nan asked John, as the leaves were getting quite thick.

"In another week!" he told the girls, and so they continued to watch for weeds and kept the ground soft around the plants as John had told them.

Freddie's radishes were above ground now, and growing nicely, but they thought it best not to tell him, as he might pull them up too soon. Nan and Flossie weeded his garden as well as their own and showed they loved to see things grow, for they did not mind the work of attending to them.

"Papa will come up from Lakeport to-night," Nan told Flossie; "and won't he be pleased to see our gardens!"

That evening when Mr. Bobbsey arrived the first thing he had to do was to visit the garden.

"Why, I declare!" he exclaimed in real surprise. "You have done splendidly. This is a fine lettuce patch."

Mrs. Bobbsey and Aunt Sarah had also come up to see the girls' garden, and they too were much surprised at the result of Nan's and Flossie's work.

"Oh!" screamed Freddie from the other side of the garden. "See my redishes! They growed!" and before anyone could stop him he pulled up a whole handful of the little green leaves with the tiny red balls on the roots.

"They growed! They growed!" he shouted, dancing around in delight.

"But you must only pick the ripe ones," his father told him. "And did you really plant them?" Mr. Bobbsey asked in surprise

"Yep! John showed me," he declared, and the girls said that was really Freddie's garden.

"Now I'll tell you," Aunt Sarah remarked. "We will let our little farmers pick their vegetables for dinner, and then we will be able to say just how good they are."

At this the girls started in to pick the very biggest heads of lettuce, and Freddie looked carefully to get the very reddest radishes in his patch. Finally enough were gathered, and down to the kitchen the vegetables were carried.

"You will have to prepare them for the table," Mrs. Bobbsey said. "Let us see, girls, what a pretty dish you can make."

This was a pleasant task to Nan and Flossie, who both always loved to play at housekeeping, and when at last Nan brought the dish in to the dinner table everybody said how pretty it looked.

"Them's my redishes!" exclaimed Freddie, as he saw the pretty bright red buttons peeping out from between the lettuce leaves.

"But we can all have some, can't we, Freddie?" his father asked.

"Yes, 'course you can. But I don't want all my good redishes smothered in that big dish of green stuff," he pouted.

"Now, Nan, you can serve your vegetables," Aunt Sarah said, and then Nan very neatly put a few crisp lettuce leaves on each small plate, and at the side she placed a few of Freddie's radishes, "with handles on" as Dinah said, meaning the little green stalks.

"Just think, we've done it all from the garden to the table!" Nan exclaimed, justly proud of her success at gardening.

"I done the radishes," put in Freddie, gulping down a drink of water to wash the bite off his tongue, for his radishes were quite hot.

"Well, you have certainly all done very nicely," Mrs. Bobbsey said. "And that kind of play is like going to school, for it teaches you important lessons in nature."

The girls declared they were going to keep a garden all summer, and so they did.

It was an unusually warn night, and so nearly all the doors were left open when the folks went to bed. Freddie was so worked up over his success as a gardener he could not go to sleep.

At last he dozed off, but presently he awoke with a start. What was that strange sound ringing in his ears? He sat up and listened.

Yes, somebody must surely be playing the piano. But what funny music! It seemed to come in funny runs and curious thumps. He called out sharply, and his mother came at once to his side.

"I heard piano-playing," said Freddie, and Mrs. Bobbsey started, for she remembered how Flossie had once told her the same thing.

"Oh, Freddie, are you sure?" she asked.

"Sure," repeated the little fellow. "But it wasn't very good playing."

Mrs. Bobbsey called Uncle Daniel, and the latter lit a lamp and went below into the parlor. Nobody was at the piano or in the room.

"I've made a careful examination," he said, on coming back. "I can see nothing unusual. Some of the children left a piece of cake on the keys of the piano, that's all."

"Well, cake can't play," put in Freddie. "Maybe it was a ghost."

"No, you must have been dreaming," said his mother. "Come, go to sleep," and presently Freddie dropped off. Mrs. Bobbsey was much worried, and the next day the older folks talked the matter over; but nothing came of it.