Chapter XVIII. The Fresh-Air Camp
 

Quiet had settled down once more upon the little village of Meadow Brook. The excitement of the flood had died away, and now when the month of July was almost gone, and a good part of vacation had gone with it, the children turned their attention to a matter of new interest - the fresh-air camp.

"Mildred Manners was over to the camp yesterday," Nan told her mother, "and she says whole lot of little girls have come out from the city, and they have such poor clothes. There is no sickness there that anyone could catch, she says (for her uncle is the doctor, you know), but Mildred says her mother is going to show her how to make some aprons for the little girls."

"Why, that would be nice for all you little girls to do," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Suppose you start a sewing school, and all see what you can make!"

"Oh, that would be lovely!" exclaimed Nan. "When can we start?"

"As soon as we get the materials," the mother replied. "We will ask Aunt Sarah to drive over to the camp this afternoon; then we can see what the children need."

"Can I go?" asked Flossie, much interested in the fresh-air work.

"I guess so," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "If we take the depot wagon there will be room for you and Freddie."

So that was how it came about that our little friends became interested in the fresh-air camp. Nan and Mildred, Flossie and Freddie, with Aunt Sarah and Mrs. Bobbsey, visited the camp in the afternoon.

"What a queer place it is!" whispered Flossie, as they drove up to the tents on the mountain-side.

"Hush," said Nan; "they might hear you."

"Oh, these are war-camps!" exclaimed Freddie when he saw the white tents. "They're just like the war-pictures in my story book!"

The matron who had charge of the camp came up, and when Mrs. Bobbsey explained her business, the matron was pleased and glad to show them through the place.

"Oh, it was your boys who brought us all that money from the circus?" said the woman. "That's why we have all the extra children here - the circus money has paid for them, and they are to have two weeks on this beautiful mountain."

"I'm glad the boys were able to help," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "It really was quite a circus."

"It must have been, when they made so much money," the other answered.

"And we are going to help now," spoke up Nan. "We are starting a sewing school."

"Oh, I'm so glad somebody has thought of clothes," said the matron. "We often get gifts of food, but we need clothes so badly."

"There is no sickness?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, as they started on a tour of the camp.

"No; we cannot take sick children here now," said the matron. "We had some early in the season, but this is such a fine place for romping we decided to keep this camp for the healthy children and have another for those who are sick."

By this time numbers of little girls and boys crowded around the visitors. They were quite different from the children of Meadow Brook or Lakeport. Somehow they were smaller, but looked older. Poor children begin to worry so young that they soon look much older than they really are.

Nan and Mildred spoke kindly to the girls, while Freddie and Flossie soon made friends with the little boys. One small boy, smaller than Freddie, with sandy hair and beautiful blue eyes, was particularly happy with Freddie. He looked better than the others, was almost as fat as Freddie, and he had such lovely clear skin, as if somebody loved to wash it.

"Where do you lib?" he lisped to Freddie.

"At Uncle Daniel's," Freddie answered. "Where do you live?"

"With mamma," replied the little boy. Then he stopped a minute. "Oh, no; I don't live with mamma now," he corrected himself, "'cause she's gone to heaven, so I live with Mrs. Manily."

Mrs. Manily was the matron, and numbers of the children called her mamma.

"Can I come over and play with you?" asked the boy. "What's your name?"

"His name is Freddie and mine is Flossie," said the latter. "What is your name?"

"Mine is Edward Brooks," said the little stranger, "but everybody calls me Sandy. Do you like Sandy better than Edward?"

"No," replied Flossie. "But I suppose that's a pet name because your hair is that color."

"Is it?" said the boy, tossing his sunny curls around. "Maybe that's why!"

"Guess it is," said Freddie. "But will Mrs. Man let you come over to our house?"

"Mrs. Manily, you mean," said Sandy. "I'll just go and ask her."

"Isn't he cute!" exclaimed Flossie, and the pretty little boy ran in search of Mrs. Manily.

"I'm going to ask mamma if we can bring him home," declared Freddie. "He could sleep in my bed."

The others of the party were now walking through the big tents.

"This is where we eat," the matron explained, as the dining room was entered. The tent was filled with long narrow tables and had benches at the sides. The tables were covered with oilcloth, and in the center of each was a beautiful bunch of fresh wild flowers - the small pretty kind that grow in the woods.

"You ought to see our poor children eat," remarked the matron. "We have just as much as we can do to serve them, they have such good appetites from the country air."

"We must send you some fresh vegetables," said Aunt Sarah, "and some fruit for Sunday."

"We would be very grateful," replied Mrs Manily, "for of course we cannot afford much of a variety."

Next to the dining room was the dormitory or sleeping tent.

"We have a little boys' brigade," said the matron, "and every pleasant evening they march around with drums and tin fifes. Then, when it is bedtime, we have a boy blow the 'taps' on a tin bugle, just like real soldiers do."

Freddie and Sandy had joined the sightseers now, and Freddie was much interested in the brigade.

"Who is the captain?" he asked of Mrs. Manily.

"Oh, we appoint a new captain each week from the very best boys we have. We only let a very good boy be captain," the matron told him.

In the dormitory were rows and rows of small white cots. They looked very clean and comfortable, and the door of this tent was closed with a big green mosquito netting.

"How old are your babies?" asked Aunt Sarah.

"Sandy is our baby!" replied the matrons patting the little boy fondly, "and he is four years old. We cannot take them any younger without their mothers."

"Freddie is four also," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "What a dear sweet child Sandy is!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Manily, "he has just lost a good mother and his father cannot care for him - that is, he cannot afford to pay his board or hire a housekeeper, so he brought him to the Aid Society. He is the pet of the camp, and you can see he has been well trained."

"No mother and no home!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "Dear little fellow! Think of our Freddie being alone in the world like that!"

Mrs. Bobbsey could hardly keep her tears back. She stooped over and kissed Sandy.

"Do you know my mamma?" he asked, looking straight into the lady's kind face.

"Mrs. Manily is your mamma, isn't she?" said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Yes, she's my number two mamma, but I mean number one that used to sleep with me."

"Come now, Sandy," laughed Mrs. Manily. "Didn't you tell me last night I was the best mamma in the whole world?" and she hugged the little fellow to make him happy again.

"So you are," he laughed, forgetting all his loneliness now. "When I get to be a big man I'm goin' to take you out carriage riding."

"Can't Sandy cone home with us?" asked Freddie. "He can sleep in my bed."

"You are very good," said the matron. "But we cannot let any of our children go visiting without special permission from the Society."

"Well," said Aunt Sarah, "if you get the permission we will be very glad to have Sandy pay us a visit. We have a large place, and would really like to have some good poor child enjoy it. We have company now, but they will leave us soon, and then perhaps we could have a little fresh-air camp of our own."

"The managers have asked us to look for a few private homes that could accommodate some special cases," replied Mrs. Manily, "and I am sure I can arrange it to have Sandy go."

"Oh, let him come now," pleaded Freddie, as Sandy held tight to his hand. "See, we have room in the wagon."

"Well, he might have a ride," consented the matron, and before anyone had a chance to speak again Freddie and Sandy had climbed into the wagon.

Nan and Mildred had been talking to some of the older girls, who were very nice and polite for girls who had no one to teach them at home, and Nan declared that she was coming over to the camp to play with them some whole day.

"We can bring our lunch," said Mildred, "and you can show us all the pleasant play-places you have fixed up in stones over the mountain-side."

One girl, Nellie by name, seemed very smart and bright, and she brought to Mrs. Bobbsey a bunch of ferns and wild flowers she had just gathered while showing Nan and Mildred around.

"You certainly have a lovely place here," said Mrs. Bobbsey, as they got ready to leave, "and you little girls will be quite strong and ready for school again when you go back to the city."

"I don't go to school," said Nellie rather bashfully.

"Why?" asked Aunt Sarah.

"Oh, I go to night school," said the little girl. "But in the daytime I have to work."

"Why, how old are you?" asked Aunt Sarah.

"Twelve," said Nellie shyly.

"Working at twelve years of age!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey in surprise. "What do you do?"

"I'm a cash-girl in a big store," said Nellie with some pride, for many little girls are not smart enough to hold such a position.

"I thought all children had to go to school," Aunt Sarah said to Mrs. Manily.

"So they do," replied the matron, "but in special cases they get permission from the factory inspector. Then they can work during the day and go to school at night."

"I think it's a shame!" said the mother. "That child is not much larger than Nan, and to think of her working in a big store all day, then having to work at night school too!"

"It does not seem right!" admitted the matron; "but, you see, sometimes there is no choice. Either a child must work or go to an institution, and we strain every point to keep them in their homes."

"We will drive back with Sandy," said Aunt Sarah as they got into the wagon.

"Can't Nellie come too?" asked Nan. "There is plenty of room."

The matron said yes, and so the little party started off for a ride along the pretty road.

"I was never in a carriage before in all my life," said Nellie suddenly. "Isn't it grand!"

"Never!" exclaimed the other girls in surprise.

"No," said Nellie. "I've had lots of rides in trolley cars, and we had a ride in a farm wagon the other day, but this is the first time I have ever been in a carriage."

Aunt Sarah was letting Sandy drive, and he, of course, was delighted. Freddie enjoyed it almost as well as Sandy did, and kept telling him which rein to pull on and all that. Old Bill, the horse, knew the road so well he really didn't need any driver, but he went along very nicely with the two little boys talking to him.

"We will stop and have some soda at the postoffice," said Mrs. Bobbsey. For the postoffice was also a general store.

This was good news to everybody, and when the man came out for the order Aunt Sarah told him to bring cakes too.

Everybody liked the ice cream soda, but it was plain Nellie and Sandy had not had such a treat in a long time.

"This is the best fun I've had!" declared the little cash-girl, allowing how grateful she was. "And I hope you'll come and see us again," she added politely to Mildred and Nan.

"Oh, we intend to," said Mildred. "You know, we are going to have a sewing school to make aprons for the little ones at the camp."

Old Bill had turned back to the fresh-air quarters again, and soon, too soon, Sandy was handed back to Mrs. Manily, while Nellie jumped down and said what a lovely time she had had.

"Now be sure to come, Sandy," called Freddie, " 'cause I'll expect you!"

"I will," said Sandy rather sadly, for he would rather have gone along right then.

"And I'll let you play with Snoop and my playthings," Freddie called again. "Goode bye."

"Good-bye," answered the little fresh children.

Then old Bill took the others home.