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Title: Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm
Author: Hawley, Mabel C.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm" ***

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[Illustration: "Come on," said Bobby, "we have to capture the ducks."
(Page 116)]



FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS

AT

BROOKSIDE FARM

BY

MABEL C. HAWLEY

AUTHOR OF "FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS AT OAK HILL SCHOOL," "FOUR LITTLE
BLOSSOMS AND THEIR WINTER FUN," ETC.

THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

Akron, Ohio--New York



Copyright MCMXX

THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm

Made in the United States of America



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER                                                          PAGE
       I THE RESCUE OF PHILIP                                        7
      II AN INVITATION                                              18
     III AUNT POLLY                                                 26
      IV THE WILLING PACKERS                                        36
       V DOT'S ADVENTURE                                            45
      VI BROOKSIDE AT LAST                                          56
     VII THE WRECK OF THE RAFT                                      65
    VIII LEARNING TO MILK                                           76
      IX LOST IN THE WOODS                                          86
       X THE BLOSSOMS GO BERRYING                                   94
      XI THE HOME LAUNDRY                                          104
     XII UP ON THE MOUNTAIN                                        114
    XIII LINDA IS UNHAPPY                                          123
     XIV THE PICNIC                                                132
      XV WHAT MEG FOUND                                            141
     XVI THE NEW CAT                                               153
    XVII RAINY DAY FUN                                             163
   XVIII THE END OF THE VACATION                                   173



FOUR LITTLE BLOSSOMS AT BROOKSIDE FARM



CHAPTER I

THE RESCUE OF PHILIP


"Meg!"

The little girl curled up in the window-seat did not move.

"Meg, you know Mother said we were to go before four o'clock, and it's
half-past three now. You'll wait till the twins come in, and then
they'll want to go, too." Bobby Blossom looked anxiously at his
sister.

Meg put down her book and untangled her feet from the window
cushions.

"I'm coming," she promised. "I never do get a chapter all read, Bobby.
Where's my hat? I see it. I'll get it!"

Meg's hat was on the lawn outside where she had dropped it, and now
she raised the screen and tumbled through the window to the ground.
It wasn't far to tumble, and Meg had done it so often she was sure of
landing safely.

"Norah says no lady goes out of the house through a window," giggled
Bobby, tumbling after Meg and closing the screen carefully. Bobby was
always careful to leave everything as he found it.

Meg giggled, too.

"I don't care, long as I grow up to be a lady like Mother," she
asserted. "Let's hurry, Bobby, and perhaps we can stop at the
library."

The children had reached the two stone posts at the foot of the lawn
when a loud shriek halted them.

"Meg Blossom, you said I could go! Wait for me!"

Down the slightly sloping lawn hurried a short, thick-set little girl
with dark eyes and hair and the reddest cheeks you ever saw. She
carried a doll whose blue eyes opened and shut snappily with every
jump her small mother took. This was Dot, Meg's little sister.

"You said I could go," panted Dot, when she caught up with Meg and
Bobby. "Wait for Twaddles, he's coming. He wants to take the kiddie
car."

"I told you so," scolded Bobby. "I never went uptown in my life all
you children didn't want to tag along. You've got grease on your
dress, Dot."

"Sam was cleaning the car," said Dot serenely. "I guess I brushed
against the grease can. It won't show when I'm sitting down. There's
Twaddles."

Bumping its way over the green grass came a kiddie car with a small
boy astride it.

"I'm all ready," he beamed. "Come on, Bobby."

"You can't take that kiddie car," announced Bobby firmly. "Mother said
this letter was to go in the four o'clock mail and we've got to hurry.
If you and Dot want to go, you'll have to walk fast."

Twaddles usually minded Bobby. He promptly surrendered the kiddie car
and continued to smile pleasantly.

The four Blossoms trudged briskly along. If you had ever lived in Oak
Hill you would have known them. The whole town knew Meg and Bobby and
Dot and Twaddles, and the children knew nearly every one, having lived
in that one place all their short lives.

Bobby was the oldest. He was seven, and was remarkably like his sister
Meg in looks. Both had fair hair and blue eyes. Meg's real name was
Margaret Alice Blossom, and she was named for her mother. Bobby's full
name was Robert Hayward Blossom. He was just a year older than Meg.

The twins were the funniest and dearest little couple, four years old
and as roly-poly, happy-go-lucky a pair of youngsters as ever tumbled
into one scrape after another and out again. They were known as Dot
and Twaddles to all their friends, but, of course, they had "real"
names like other children. Dot was named for an aunt, Dorothy Anna
Blossom, and Twaddles was Arthur Gifford Blossom, if you please. Only
no one ever called him that.

The Blossom children lived at the very tip end of the long straggling
street that divided Oak Hill into two sections; in fact the Blossoms'
rambling, comfortable old house was almost outside the town limits.
Father Blossom owned the big foundry on the other side of the
railroad.

"I'll go in," said Bobby, when they reached the post-office. "You wait
here."

He disappeared into the yellow wooden building that was the Oak Hill
post-office, and the other Blossoms, seeing a stalled car, stopped to
watch the troubles of the interurban motorman whose trolley-car was
blocked by a dog that apparently wanted to be run over.

The motorman clanged his bell and a boy on the curbstone whistled
shrilly, but the dog refused to budge. He only rolled over on his
side.

"He's hurt," said Meg. "See, his foot drags. I'll get him off."

She dashed out into the street and bent over the poor animal. Meg was
"just crazy," her brothers said, about animals, and she was never
afraid of any four-footed creature. Now, as she leaned over the little
dog, he began to lick her hand with his rough tongue.

"His leg's broken," Meg said pityingly to the conductor and the
motorman who had joined her. "Oh, the poor doggie! But Doctor Maynard
will fix it."

There was a crowd now gathered on the car tracks, and Bobby, who had
come out of the post-office and heard from the twins what was going
on, pushed his way through to his sister.

"You hold your dress," he directed. "I'll lift him. There!"

The little dog was a heavy armful for Meg, but she held him bravely.

"I'm afraid of strange dogs myself," declared the conductor, plainly
relieved that some one else had tended to the dog. "What are you going
to do with him, little girl?"

"Take him to the doctor's," announced Meg. "Aren't we, Bobby?"

"Of course," affirmed Bobby.

He and Meg, carrying the dog, went back to where Twaddles and Dot were
waiting. The twins were used to waiting patiently while the older
children investigated sudden alarms and excitements.

"Let me pat him," begged Dot. "He's pretty, isn't he? Is he hurt,
Meg? What are you going to do with him?"

"Take him to Doctor Maynard's," said Meg briefly. "I guess he's in,
'cause it's after four o'clock."

Kind, jolly Doctor Maynard was in. He was the Blossoms' family doctor,
and knew the children very well. He didn't seem a bit surprised to
have the four of them walk into his consulting room.

"Now, who's sick?" he demanded, pretending to be anxious. "Don't tell
me Dot needs gingerbread pills? Or has Twaddles been eating too much
layer cake? Dear, dear, you can't all have the whooping cough!"

Meg smiled, a little watery smile. Tears stood in her blue eyes.

"It's this," she said, spreading out her dress on the couch so that
the doctor could see the dog. "I think his leg is broken."

Doctor Maynard sat down on the couch and the children crowded around
him. The brown eyes of the dog watched him intently as though he knew
that help was at hand.

"Yes, it's broken," said the doctor gently, after feeling of the slim
little hind leg that dragged so uselessly. "But we can mend it, Meg. I
have splints right here."

While the others watched, Doctor Maynard tore off long white strips of
cloth and selected two wooden splints. These he placed one on each
side of the broken leg and then directed Meg to wind the strips firmly
around while he held the splints in place. This was to make the leg
grow strong and straight again.

"Doesn't it hurt?" demanded Twaddles curiously.

"Yes, it hurts him," admitted Doctor Maynard, stroking the head of the
little dog. "But animals are splendid patients, and they seldom
complain. Now, then, our little friend is about as good as new, except
that he will have to go on three legs for a bit."

The telephone rang just then and it proved to be a call for the
doctor.

"I'll have to run along, chicks," he said hurriedly. "Going to keep
the dog, Meg?"

"If Mother doesn't care," answered Meg.

"Mother won't care," said Bobby, as the children were walking home. He
was very fond of his sister and tried to help her get whatever she
wanted. "Sam will let him sleep in the garage and perhaps he will be a
ratter. Sam likes a dog that is a ratter." Sam Layton was the man of
all work employed by Mr. Blossom.

Meg and Bobby took turns carrying the dog home, and Twaddles mourned
the fact that the kiddie car had not been brought along.

"I could have given him a ride," he explained. "What makes his tongue
hang out like that, Meg?"

"He's hot," said Meg. "And I think he wants a drink. Let's take him
around to the kitchen and give him some water."

As they neared the kitchen door some one spoke to them through the
screen.

"Meg! Meg! What's this you do be bringing home with ye? A dog? Most
likely it has the mange now, or some disease ye will all be catching.
Why can't ye ever take up with a nice, quiet cat? 'Tis no dog I'll be
having in me clean kitchen, mind that!"

Meg put the strange dog down on the gravel path. He swayed unsteadily
on three legs.

"Look, Norah," she said. "His leg is broken. Doctor Maynard set it.
And we only want to get him a drink of water. He's thirsty. He needn't
even come into the house."

Norah had a sharp tongue, but her heart was generous and sweet.

"The poor beastie!" she said, opening the screen door of her jealously
guarded kitchen. "Bring him in, Meg. He do be having fever, I suspect.
I'll get him a cup of water. Dear, dear!"

Making a soft, sympathetic, clucking noise, Norah hurried to get a cup
of cool water which the little dog lapped up greedily, standing on his
three good legs.

"Bobby said he thought Sam would let him sleep in the garage," said
Meg. "I suppose it is cooler there for him. All right, Norah, I'll
carry him out. But we want to show him to Mother."

"She went to meet your father--she and Sam with the car," Norah told
them. "And if I don't get my biscuits in, they'll be back before
there's a thing cooked to eat."

The children took the hint and hurried to the garage. Bobby and
Twaddles spread an old mat for the dog in a cool, dark corner, and
very glad he seemed to be to have a place to lie down.

"We'll bring you some supper," Meg promised, patting him kindly. "You
take a nap and forget 'bout your troubles."

"There's the car round front!" shouted Twaddles. "Bet you I see Daddy
first."

"Bet you don't!" shrieked Dot.

With wild whoops the children tore round to the front of the house and
fell upon Father and Mother Blossom just getting out of the car.

"We brought a dog home," cried Bobby.

"Come out and see him," urged Meg, clinging to her Mother's hand.
"He's a dear little dog, and I love him already."



CHAPTER II

AN INVITATION


The Blossoms all went back to the garage and found Sam bending over
the sick dog.

"He's a cute little fellow, Mr. Blossom," said Sam. "Just a pup, too.
Shouldn't wonder if he turned out to be a good ratter when his leg
gets well."

That was the highest praise Sam could give a dog, and Meg and Bobby
were delighted.

"May we keep him, Mother?" they urged. "He can live in the garage.
Please, Mother."

Mother Blossom looked at Father.

"Well, Ralph?" she said.

"Why, keep him, of course," counseled Father Blossom, laughter-twinkles
in his kind eyes. "Norah is the sole objector in the family, and if
you can pacify her there's no reason why we shouldn't have as many
dogs as we want. Named him yet, Meg?"

"I want to think about a name for him," replied Meg. "You can't change
names, you know, and I wouldn't want him to have a silly name."

"That's my cautious daughter," said Father Blossom. "And now it seems
to me that some one said we were going to have supper early
to-night."

"We are," declared Mother Blossom. "Children, you have several things
to do before you are ready for the table. Your faces and hands are a
sight. Bobby, didn't you go to the post-office? Was there any mail?"

"I forgot, Mother--there was one letter for you," answered Bobby,
pulling a crumpled envelope from his pocket. "The dog kind of took my
attention," he added.

Mother Blossom went into the house to read her letter, and the four
children scampered upstairs to wash their faces and hands. Meg and Dot
shared the same room, and Bobby and Twaddles slept in the room
adjoining. Each child had a little white bed and a separate bureau.

"I s'pose I'd better put on another dress," said Dot doubtfully.
"Mother didn't say to, though. Shall I, Meg?"

"Well, I would," advised Meg. "Not a spandy clean one, 'cause you
mussed up two yesterday. Put on the green one again, can't you?"

"I tore that," objected Dot, who certainly had bad luck with her
clothes. "Oh, dear, I don't see why I wasn't a bird with a dress all
glued on."

"'Most ready?" asked Mother Blossom, who had come upstairs while the
little girls were talking. "Let Mother tie your ribbon, Meg. What's
the matter with Dot?"

Meg bubbled into a gay little laugh.

"She was wishing she was a bird with a dress glued on," she said.
"Wouldn't that be funny?"

"Yes, it would," agreed Mother Blossom. "But bring me the white piqué,
dear, and let me help you into it. Daddy is waiting for us."

Dot was buttoned into a clean dress in a minute, and then Mother
Blossom had to call Twaddles away from the basin in the bathroom where
he was playing in the water instead of washing his hands, and she had
to find a clean handkerchief for Bobby, and then, at last, they could
all go downstairs.

Father Blossom was playing the mechanical piano, but he stopped as
soon as he saw them.

"Everybody here to-night?" he asked. "Well, that is fine! Come on,
Dottie-mine, and Daddy will tie your bib for you."

The twins did not always have supper with Mother and Father Blossom.
Sometimes they had their bread and milk at five o'clock and went to
bed at half-past six. It was a treat for them to eat supper with their
father.

Mother Blossom smiled at the eager faces.

"We've company coming," she announced. "Some one you love to have
visit us."

"When are they coming?" asked Meg.

"To-morrow," answered Mother Blossom. "If I hadn't asked Bobby for the
mail, we might have been in a great pickle. She's coming on the
nine-fifty-six to-morrow morning."

"Aunt Polly!" shouted the four little Blossoms.

"Is it Aunt Polly, Mother?"

"How long will she stay?"

"Can we go to meet her?"

"Will she bring a trunk?"

Mother Blossom put her hands over her ears.

"Don't all talk at once," she begged. "Yes, Aunt Polly is coming. She
can't stay long, not even a week----"

"But what do you think?" interrupted Father Blossom. "She wants the
four Blossoms to go home with her!"

"Ralph, you're not a bit better than Bobby," scolded Mother Blossom.
"I didn't want to tell them to-night. However, there's no use trying
to keep a secret in this family. Aunt Polly has invited you all to
spend the summer at Brookside Farm."

Well, of course, the children could talk of nothing else after that.
Aunt Polly Hayward was Mother Blossom's eldest sister. She was a widow
and lived on a fine farm many miles distant from the town of Oak Hill.
She came often to visit Mother Blossom, and the children thought there
was no one like her. To go to see Aunt Polly was a wonderful treat,
and even Bobby, who, as the oldest of the four little Blossoms, had
had more experiences than the others, had never been away from home
in his life to stay.

They were all up early the next morning, and Sam and the car took
Father Blossom to the foundry immediately after breakfast so as to be
back in time to meet Aunt Polly.

"Aunt Polly's coming, Norah," said Meg, happily, as Norah was clearing
the table.

"Sure, and I've heard nothing else since last night," rejoined Norah.
"How is the dog, your poor patient, this bright morning?"

Bobby and Twaddles and Dot looked at each other.

"The dog?" repeated Bobby. "My goodness, we forgot him!"

"I didn't forget him," Meg said. "At least, I remembered him after I
was in bed. I came down to feed him, and Daddy heard me and wouldn't
let me go out in my nightgown. He took him some bread and milk. And
this morning I fed him before breakfast."

"How's he feel?" asked Twaddles sympathetically.

"He's ever so much better," Meg informed him. "He can wag his leg
some."

"His tail, you mean," corrected Bobby. "Dogs don't wag their legs."

"They do, too," argued Meg. "Anyway this one does, so that shows he is
better. And I've thought up a name for him. I'm going to call him
Philip."

Bobby stared.

"What do you want to call him that for?" he said curiously.

"I read it in a book," answered Meg. "He looks as if he ought to be
named Philip."

Bobby was too surprised to argue, and just then Mother Blossom called
to them that Sam was coming back with the car and they hurried out to
see who could go to the station.

"Aunt Polly will like to see us," declared Dot confidently. "And this
dress is just as clean, Mother. There's only a tiny speck of egg on a
tuck--it doesn't show a bit."

Mother Blossom sat down on the top step and pulled Dot into her lap.

"It's a duck of a clean frock," she assured her small daughter,
kissing her. "And do you know there's just one way to avoid
disappointment, and we'll take it; we'll all go to meet Aunt Polly. If
she has any bundles, she'll just have to leave them, or Sam can tie
them on behind."

Sam grinned.

When they reached the station Mother Blossom announced that the
children were to stay quietly in the car while she went around to the
front platform to meet Aunt Polly.

"Do you suppose she'll bring us anything?" asked Twaddles hopefully,
as Mother Blossom disappeared around the corner of the ticket window.

"That isn't polite," reproved Meg quickly. "You must be glad to see
company whether they bring you things or not."

"There she is!" Dot stood up in the car and pointed. "Aunt Polly!"

"Aunt Polly!" shouted the three other little Blossoms loudly.



CHAPTER III

AUNT POLLY


Aunt Polly was short and stout with merry blue eyes and curly dark
hair that, where it showed under her pretty hat brim, was just touched
with gray.

"Hello, Blessings!" she greeted the children, as they spilled out of
the car to meet her. "Every one of you here? That's fine. How do you
do, Sam? I've two bags there on the platform, if you will get them."

When they were all stowed away in the car, Sam put the bags in the
front where he and Bobby sat, and backed the car out of the station
driveway.

"Well, have you decided to come home with me?" Aunt Polly put the
question to them bluntly.

The four little Blossoms glanced uncertainly at each other.

"Polly Hayward," said Mother Blossom gayly, "you know perfectly well
no one could get four children ready to take a journey in three days.
Why, Dot has absolutely nothing to wear!"

"Oh, I'll lend her something," smiled Aunt Polly.

The children laughed at the idea of Auntie lending any dress of hers
to small Dot.

"We'll fix it somehow," declared Aunt Polly comfortably. "I simply
have to have those youngsters for a visit at Brookside. We're all
getting so fat and lazy with no one to stir us up. Even the dog and
cat need rousing."

"We have a dog, Aunt Polly," announced Meg, her eyes shining. "His
name is Philip."

Before she had a chance to describe Philip the car reached the Blossom
house and stopped at the side door.

"Here I am again, Norah," said Aunt Polly, as Norah came out to
receive her.

"And 'tis glad I am to see ye, Mrs. Hayward," responded Norah
heartily. "I'll take the bags, Sam. The guest room's all ready,
ma'am."

The four children went as far as the guest-room door with Aunt Polly,
and then Mother Blossom waved them back.

"Auntie and I have a great deal to talk over," she said. "You run away
and amuse yourselves till lunch time, like good little Blossoms."

"Wait till I give them what I've brought them," hastily interposed
Aunt Polly. "Bobby, you open that black bag and the four parcels on
top are for you children."

Bobby opened the bag and took out four packages neatly wrapped in
paper and tied with cord.

"How'll we know which is which?" he asked.

"That's for you to find out," returned his aunt, giving him a kiss.

Mother Blossom sat down on the bed and began talking in a low tone to
Aunt Polly and the four children raced downstairs and out to the
garage to open their presents. They liked the garage because there was
plenty of space to play in, where, indeed, they had four empty rooms
above the first floor for their own uses.

This morning they rushed upstairs so fast that they never thought of
Philip till, as they reached the top step, Meg looked back and saw
the little dog painfully hobbling after them on his three good legs.

"He wants to come, too," she said. "Here, Philip, come on up, good
doggie."

Philip managed to finish his climb and then lay down on the floor,
panting, but satisfied to be where his friends were.

"I'll give each one a package," Bobby decided. "Then we'll open them,
one at a time, like Christmas. You first, Meg."

Meg ripped the string off her parcel with a single motion and pulled
off the paper in such a hurry that she tore it in two. Meg always
hurried to solve mysteries.

"Why, it's a game!" she cried, when she had opened the box. "All in
pieces. Look!"

Bobby took a look and shrieked with delight.

"It's an airplane," he announced instantly. "That's mine, 'cause Aunt
Polly knows I like experiments. What you got, Dot?"

Dot hastily unwrapped her package and discovered a doll's trunk.

"With clothes in it for Geraldine," she reported, after turning the
tiny key and taking a peep inside. "That's mine all right. What's
Twaddles got?"

Twaddles unwrapped his parcel slowly and importantly. He was sure it
was for him, and he rather enjoyed making the others wait.

"Nothing but a book," he said disgustedly. "What kind of a book is it,
Bobby?"

"That's for Meg," Bobby informed him. "'Black Beauty.' Aunt Polly
knows Meg likes to read and is always fussing with animals. I must
have your present, Twaddles."

The four Blossoms were more interested in Twaddles' gift than in their
own because it was the only one they had not seen. Bobby carefully
untied the string and wound it up in a neat ring; then he slowly took
off the paper and folded that; finally he opened the flat box.

Twaddles promptly tried to stand on his head, a habit he had when he
was pleased. He never did succeed in standing on his head, but he
usually turned a very good somersault. He did now.

"Give it to me," he shouted, bobbing right side up again. "See, Dot,
it's a water pistol!"

"Well, I don't think that's a good thing to give you," pronounced Meg
decisively. "You'll be hitting Dot in the eye."

"Won't, neither," retorted Twaddles, feeling unjustly accused. "Aunt
Polly asked me what I wanted most last time she was here and I told
her; and she said if I'd promise not to shoot at people, she'd get me
one. So there!"

Bobby, the peace-maker, proposed that they all go in and show their
presents to Norah, and he helped Meg carry Philip downstairs because
she was sure the trip would hurt his leg. Bobby was never in too much
of a hurry to do what Meg wanted him to do.

In the afternoon, after lunch, all the Blossoms went for a long ride
in the car, stopping at the foundry office on the way home to pick up
Father Blossom. Still nothing was said about the children going home
with Aunt Polly.

"Do you suppose Mother will let us?" asked Dot, as Meg was helping her
undress that night. "Maybe she's afraid I will use up my clean
dresses too fast, and Aunt Polly won't have any to put on me. But you
could lend me yours, Meg."

"No, I don't believe that's the reason," said Meg slowly. "I tell you
what I think--I think Mother and Daddy have to plan a lot before they
know whether we can go. But you ought to be more careful with your
dresses, Dot."

The next morning Mother Blossom announced that if the children would
come out on the porch she had something to tell them. There was a
general stampede from the breakfast table--Father Blossom had had an
early breakfast and had gone before the others were down--and Aunt
Polly in the swing and Mother Blossom in a huge rocking-chair were
nearly smothered in a shower of kisses.

"Are we going to Brookside?"

"Are we going home with Aunt Polly?"

"Can I learn to milk a cow?"

"Do you have chickens, Aunt Polly?" Four little voices chorused at
once.

"Dear, dear," chuckled Aunt Polly. "So you've been thinking about
Brookside all this time, have you? And what makes you think your
mother wants to talk about the farm with you?"

Four pairs of eyes fixed their anxious gaze upon Mother Blossom.

"Well, dearies," said Mother Blossom in answer, "Daddy and Aunt Polly
and I have talked this over, and we've come to a decision. It is
impossible for me to get you ready to go home with Aunt Polly
to-morrow."

"Oh, Mother!" mourned Twaddles.

"Would you want to go and leave Mother?" that dear lady asked in
surprise.

"Not--not exactly," stammered the little boy. "But I want to go
somewhere awfully."

"Couldn't you go, too, Muddie?" suggested Meg.

"Listen, and I'll tell you what we've planned," said Mother Blossom.
"Aunt Polly has to go back to-morrow. We've tried to persuade her to
stay, but it seems the summer is a very bad time to be away from a
farm. But a week from to-morrow, if you are all very good and help me
as much as you can, I will take you to Brookside to visit Aunt Polly
for a month, or as long as she can stand four active youngsters in her
quiet house."

"Hurrah!" shouted the four little Blossoms.

"Won't that be great! Let's get the trunk down right away, Mother."

"Well, I wouldn't, not till Daddy comes home," said Aunt Polly,
fanning herself and smiling. "A week is plenty of time, and I hear
that Dot has to have some new frocks made."

"Is Daddy coming?" Bobby asked suddenly.

"I wanted him to, for I think he needs a rest," said Aunt Polly
soberly. "But the most we could get him to promise was that he might
come up with your mother when it is time for you to go home."

"Mother's going--she said so," Meg reminded her aunt.

"Only to take you to Brookside, Daughter," explained Mother Blossom.
"Then I am coming home again to stay with Daddy. You see, I couldn't
leave him alone in this house for a whole month. Think how lonesome he
would be."

Twaddles thought this over for a moment.

"Well, I guess it will be a change for him, 'thout any children," he
remarked, with a sunny smile.

Aunt Polly scooped him into her lap and gave him a big hug.

"Now where in the world did you get that idea?" she said.

"I found it," confided Twaddles cheerfully.

Dot had already disappeared. She thought it time to begin her packing.
Presently they heard her in the house tumbling books out of the
bookcase on to the polished floor.

"Glory be, whatever are ye doing?" came Norah's cry. "Haven't I enough
to be doing, without ye upsetting a room as fast as I put it in
order?"



CHAPTER IV

THE WILLING PACKERS


Meg rushed into the house.

"Dot Blossom, you're not to touch my books," she scolded. "The idea!
Why don't you fuss with your own things?"

Dot looked vexed.

"I'm helping you," she explained. "Don't you want to take your books
to Aunt Polly's to read rainy days? Well, then, I'll pack 'em for
you."

Mother Blossom had followed Meg, and now she intervened.

"No one is to pack anything to-day," she said firmly. "I want Dot to
go into town with a message for Miss Florence. And Meg must practice
on the piano half an hour at least. This afternoon we're going to take
Aunt Polly driving. After she goes home there will be plenty for all
of us to do to get ready."

Miss Florence Davis was the dressmaker who often came to the house to
make clothes for the Blossom children, and Dot set off presently for
her house, carrying a note to her. Miss Florence had no telephone. She
said she wasn't home long enough to answer it. But she always left a
slip of paper pinned to her door to tell people at whose house she was
sewing, and her customers were used to going about the town till they
found her.

"She says she can come," reported Dot when she returned from her
errand. "She can give you four days, Mother. Where are the boys?"

Mother Blossom looked at her small daughter and sighed.

"I thought you knew Sam painted the fence last night," she said
mildly.

"I did, but I forgot," explained Dot, trying to fold over a pleat so
that the vivid streaks of green paint would not show. "I guess I kind
of brushed up against it, Mother."

Usually when Aunt Polly went home the four little Blossoms were
disconsolate, but the next morning they saw her to the station quite
cheerfully. Were they not going to Brookside themselves exactly one
week from that day?

"Now we must fly around and get ready," announced Bobby, when they
returned to the house. Bobby had a great trick of remembering speeches
he had heard older folk make.

"Indeed then and you must," agreed Norah, who was sweeping the porch.
"Your mother wants Dot in the sewing room. Miss Florence is ready to
try on. And, Bobby, it's sorry I am, but we're out of soap."

It was rather a long walk to the grocery store, and Bobby didn't think
that going for soap promised one bit of excitement. Neither did Meg
want to practice the piano scales that one day were to make her a good
musician. Norah knew something of what they were thinking.

"You'll both be helping your mother to get ready to go," she said
earnestly and kindly. "I've got extra washing to do, for all your
clothes must be clean. And if Meg's going to stop learning music every
time a new plan comes up, she'll grow up to be terrible ignorant of
lots of things."

"All right, I'm going," said Bobby quickly. "An' you'll be through by
the time I get back, Meg. Then I guess we can pack the toys."

Twaddles, left alone, wandered up to the sewing room.

"Hello, Twaddles," said Miss Florence pleasantly. "Have you come up to
see what pretty dresses Dot is going to have? And what is this I hear
about every one going to Brookside?"

"We're going to see Aunt Polly," explained Twaddles. "And, Mother, can
we take toys? Bobby's all ready to pack 'em as soon as he gets back."

"If you don't pack something pretty soon, the house won't hold you,"
observed Mother Blossom, smiling. "You see, Twaddles dear, Mother
doesn't believe you will need many toys at Brookside. There will be so
many wonderful new out-of-door things for you to play with. Suppose we
say that each of you may choose the two things you are fondest of.
That won't make so much to carry."

So that was settled, and when Bobby came back from town and Meg had
finished practicing scales and Dot's three new dresses had all been
tried on, the children went upstairs to their playroom to select the
toys they thought they would want to take with them.

"I think we ought to take the things Aunt Polly gave us," announced
Meg. "They're new, and we haven't played with them much. She might
think we didn't like 'em if we left them at home."

"All right, we will," decided Bobby. "And I'll take my ball and bat.
Guess I won't break Aunt Polly's windows. There must be lots of room
on a farm."

"I'm going to take the paper dolls," said Meg. "I'm pretty sure Aunt
Polly will have books to read, so that's all right. What you going to
take, Dot?"

"Geraldine and Tottie-Fay and the trunk," was the prompt response.

"That's three," Meg reminded her. "Mother said we could each have two.
I tell you--you don't need the trunk; just take Geraldine's new
clothes."

"All right," acquiesced Dot briefly.

Tottie-Fay was an old dollie, but dearly loved, and, as Father
Blossom said when he heard that she was going to Brookside, no one
could need a change of air more.

"I'm going to carry my kiddie-car," declared Twaddles serenely.

The others protested that the kiddie-car wouldn't go in the trunk;
that there would be no pavement on which to ride it; that Twaddles
should take a smaller toy.

Twaddles listened politely and set his obstinate little chin firmly.
He meant to take the kiddie-car.

"We'll express it," said Father Blossom kindly that night. "I'm going
to send a porch swing up and a----Oh, my goodness, I almost told you.
And it is a _surprise_!"

"What is it?" cried the four little Blossoms eagerly. "Tell us, Daddy!
Ah, do! Please!"

"It can be a surprise for Aunt Polly," suggested Meg artfully. "Won't
you tell us, Daddy?"

"No. I like surprises that are surprises," asserted Father Blossom.
"Now, not another word does any one get out of me on this subject.
Not a word."

The next few days were very busy ones; but at last two trunks were
brought down and placed in the hall, and Mother Blossom made lists and
packed and explained her plans to Meg and Bobby, who, as the oldest,
could be expected to remember.

"All the stockings are here, dear, right in this tray," Mother Blossom
would say. "And I'm putting Bobby's blouses in this trunk. You are
sure you will remember so that Aunt Polly needn't be bothered in case
I don't get both trunks unpacked for you?"

Meg was sure she could remember.

"Where's Twaddles?" asked Mother Blossom the last afternoon, when she
was putting in the very final things. "I haven't seen him since lunch
time. Dot, do you know where he went?"

"I think he's watching Sam give Philip a bath," volunteered Bobby. "He
likes the smell of that dog soap, Mother."

"I can't say I do," said Mother Blossom frankly. "It is strongly
carbolic. Go and call him in, will you, Bobby?"

Bobby found Twaddles blissfully watching the shivering Philip enduring
a last rinsing after his bath. Sam liked to keep him clean, and he
said that because a dog had a broken leg was no reason why he
shouldn't be washed.

"Mother says for you to come in," Bobby told his brother. "It's time
to get ready for supper. Gee, that soap does smell, doesn't it?"

"I like it," Twaddles affirmed, sniffing luxuriously. "I wish we took
baths with that kind."

Mother Blossom sent him to the bathroom to wash his face and hands and
she brushed his hair for him herself.

"What is that I keep smelling?" she asked once or twice, "Oh, the
carbolic dog-soap. Twaddles, I do wish you wouldn't handle it so
much."

"Who's been to the drug store?" said Father Blossom, when they sat
down to supper. "Phew! I smell carbolic, strong."

"Philip had a bath," explained Twaddles uneasily. "Perhaps you smell
it, Daddy."

"Twaddles means the soap," giggled Meg. "You can't smell a bath,
silly."

Father Blossom laid down his carving knife and fork.

"I can't stand that," he declared positively. "Twaddles, you needn't
tell me just handling a soapy dog is responsible for the whiffs of
carbolic I'm getting. What is that in your pocket?"

A dark wet stain was slowly spreading in the square little pocket of
the blouse Twaddles wore.

"I--I saved a piece," he stammered. "I thought Spotty, Aunt Polly's
dog, ought to have some. It's awful healthy for dogs, Daddy. Sam says
so."

Father Blossom had to laugh.

"I don't doubt it," he admitted. "But that's no reason why we should
have to smell it. Wrap it up and put it away if you like for Spotty.
And then come back and we'll see if we can finish supper in peace."



CHAPTER V

DOT'S ADVENTURE


"Good-by, Daddy! Good-by, Daddy dear! Good-by, dear, darling Daddy!"

The four little Blossoms all tried to hug their father at once. They
were at the station, where Sam and the car had brought them, and the
train that was to take them on the first lap of the journey to Aunt
Polly's farm was turning the curve down the track.

"Be good," said Father Blossom, speaking as clearly as he could with
Dot hanging around his neck and Twaddles pounding his chest
affectionately. "Help Mother all you can, and be sure to write me nice
letters."

The long, shiny train glided into the station, and there was a
scramble among the people waiting on the platform. Apparently every
one wanted to be the first to get on. It took Mother and Father
Blossom and Sam and the jolly conductor to see that all four of the
little Blossoms and the two bags were stowed away comfortably in two
seats.

Then Father Blossom and Sam got off and stood on the platform talking
through the open window until the train began to move slowly.

"Good-by!" shouted the children. "Good-by, Daddy! Good-by, Sam!"

Meg leaned over Twaddles, who was seated next to the window.

"Don't forget to feed Philip," she cried.

Sam waved his hand to show that he heard and understood, and the train
went faster and faster. In a few minutes Oak Hill station was far
behind them.

"Now we're started," announced Bobby, with satisfaction.

"Did my kiddie-car get on?" asked Twaddles anxiously. "S'posing they
forgot it?"

"Is that why you were hanging round the baggage-room?" demanded Bobby.
"Course the kiddie-car is on. I saw Mr. Hayes putting it on. You ask
the conductor."

But the conductor, who came through presently for tickets, didn't
know.

"I tell you what you do," he said, his eyes twinkling at Twaddles.
"You ask the brakesman to take you into the baggage car and let you
look around. Then you can see for yourself."

"But that is making a great deal of trouble," protested Mother
Blossom. "You can easily wait till we get to Brookside, dear."

"Let him go, let him go," advised the conductor cheerily. "It will
kind of break up the monotony of the trip, ma'am. These little folks
are going to get pretty tired before they get to Alawana."

So Twaddles marched off importantly with the conductor to find the
young, good-natured brakesman, and the three little Blossoms rather
wished they could go, too.

"What happens when we get to Alawana, Mother?" asked Bobby. "Do we
change cars?"

"No, dear, we take the boat," explained Mother Blossom. "If the train
is on time we have an hour to wait, which will allow us to have lunch;
then we take a steamer that takes us up Lake Tobago to Little Havre.
There we take a stage, or a wagon, or whatever they have to meet the
boat, and ride to Four Crossways; and there Aunt Polly meets us and
drives us over to Brookside."

"Here comes Twaddles," announced Dot. "Did you find the kiddie car?"
she asked.

"Yes, it's there," reported Twaddles, squeezing in past Meg, and
climbing into his place beside his twin. "There's lots of trunks and
things there, too."

During the long stretches when the train hummed steadily along and
there was nothing to be seen from the car windows but miles and miles
of green fields and woods with here and there a house, the children
played a game Mother Blossom had known when she was a little girl.

"My ship is loaded with apples," Bobby would say.

"My ship is loaded with apricots," Meg would declare.

Dot usually had to think a minute.

"My ship is loaded with--with ashes," she might announce finally.

"My ship is loaded with at;" this from Twaddles.

"Oh, Twaddles!" Bobby would scold. "You can't load a ship with 'at.'
That isn't anything."

"'Tis, too," maintained Twaddles stubbornly. "It begins with 'a,'
doesn't it? And it's a word. So there."

If Twaddles had his way and was excused from thinking up another word,
it would be Mother Blossom's turn.

"My ship is loaded with asters," she might say, smiling.

When no one could think of another word that began with A, they would
go on to B. This game amused the children for many minutes at a time.
They had just started on words beginning with C when the train reached
Alawana.

"I'm hungry," declared Meg, when they all stood together on the
platform and the train that had brought them from Oak Hill was nothing
but a black speck in the distance. "We had breakfast an awful long
time ago."

"I guess it was yesterday," said Dot mournfully.

Mother Blossom laughed.

"Poor chickens, you are hungry," she said. "Never mind, I see a nice
little restaurant across the street. Let me find out when the boat
goes, and then we'll have a good, hot lunch."

The Lake Tobago boat, Mother Blossom found out, left in half an hour.
Their train had been late. However, the dock was not far off, and
Mother Blossom was sure they would have time for sandwiches and milk
at least.

All the children were tremendously excited at the thought of going on
a steamer, as not one of them had ever been on a boat. There was no
lake or river near Oak Hill, and the largest body of water the four
little Blossoms had seen was the town reservoir.

"If they have sails, I'm going to roll 'em up and down," Dot
announced, so thrilled at the prospect that she upset her glass of
milk down the front of her frock.

"You'll have to wear it," said Mother Blossom, mopping her as dry as
she could with a napkin. "Perhaps I can put a dry dress on you on the
boat. Now try to eat quietly, dear; we haven't much time."

The shower-bath of milk rather subdued Dot for the moment, and lunch
was finished without further mishap. Then a brief walk through the
pretty little country town brought them to the lake.

"O-oh! Isn't it lovely!" breathed Meg. "Just see how it sparkles in
the sun. Don't you like it, Dot?"

"It's all right," agreed Dot carelessly.

Her quick eyes had spied an old organ grinder and his monkey on the
other side of the dock. She slipped under the rope, where the people
who wanted to take the boat were standing, and ran over to the music.

"We needn't have hurried," said Mother Blossom, coming back to her
little folk. She had been to the office to have the baggage checks
looked after. "The boat is held up for another half hour because of
some engine trouble. Where's Dot?"

Well, where was Dot? Meg had thought her little sister was standing
next to her. The boys were sure she had been just behind them. Where
was Dot?

She stood in the crowd gathered about the organ grinder, a little girl
with shining dark eyes and a milk-splashed frock, watching the clever
bowing and scraping of the small monkey with evident delight. Then a
sudden movement of the people about her startled her. She remembered
that she was supposed to go somewhere with the rest of her family. She
saw people hurrying toward a large automobile with nine or ten long
seats in it, and she hurried toward it, too. A man helped her up the
high step, and she found a seat just behind the driver.

The automobile was lumbering up a narrow white road with woods on
either side of it before Dot realized where she was.

"Why, this isn't the boat!" she said aloud.

The lady seated next to her glanced at her curiously.

"The boat?" she repeated. "This jitney goes to Fermarsh. You're not
traveling all alone, are you, little girl? You don't look more'n
five."

"I was four in June," announced Dot with dignity. "Twaddles was, too.
We're twins. But I have to go to Little Havre on the boat."

"You're going in the opposite direction," said the woman placidly. She
did not seem to care. "What's that on your dress?"

Dot's tears brimmed over.

"Milk," she sobbed. "I tipped it over. An' I have to go on the boat
with my mother."

The jitney driver heard and turned.

"What's this?" he asked. "You belong on the boat, little girl? Well,
now, don't cry; we'll fix it. I heard they had engine trouble to-day,
and like as not they'll be late starting. Long up the road a spell
we'll meet the two o'clock jitney coming back, and I'll see that Dave
Gunn takes you in with him. An' if you do miss the boat my wife'll
take care of you over night and we'll ship you up to Little Havre on
to-morrow's boat."

Dot felt that the jitney driver was very kind, but she hoped with all
her heart that she would not have to stay all night in a strange
house. She wanted her mother, and Twaddles and Meg and Bobby. She
hadn't known till this minute how dearly she loved them.

Sure enough, their jitney had not gone very far when they saw another
jitney coming toward them.

"Hi, Dave!" called the driver of Dot's jitney. "Got a passenger for
you. A little lady who tangled up her traveling directions and missed
getting on the boat. You take her with you, and see that she lands on
the steamer."

Mr. Gunn stopped his machine and came over to the other jitney.

"Come on, Sister," he said pleasantly, lifting Dot down gently.

"Why, you are little to be traveling on your own. I've got three home
'bout your size."

Mother Blossom, as you may suppose, had been nearly frantic all this
time. She had taken the other children on board the boat and had left
them on deck with the bags, after they had promised not to stir from
the spot where she left them, and she had been going up and down the
dock making inquiries, and even walking up into the town, believing
that perhaps some of the store windows had attracted Dot.

No one remembered seeing a little girl in a green dress and a brown
straw hat.

Just as Mother Blossom was wearily wondering if she should telegraph
Father Blossom that Dot was lost, a motor jitney lumbered down to the
dock. Some one in a green dress and a brown straw hat was sitting on
the front seat beside the driver.

"Mother! Mother!" shouted Dot.

There was just time for her to tumble out of the car into her mother's
arms, just time for Mother Blossom to give the driver a dollar bill
and say a word of thanks, and then the steamboat whistle blew loudly
once.

"That means she's starting," said the jitney man. "Run!"

And hand in hand, Mother Blossom and Dot raced down the wharf and over
the gangplank on to the deck of the boat, just as it began to slide
away.



CHAPTER VI

BROOKSIDE AT LAST


"We thought you weren't coming," said Meg anxiously.

"Where did you find Dot?" asked Bobby and Twaddles in the same
breath.

Dot smiled serenely.

"I came back myself," she informed them. "The jitney man told me
how."

Mother Blossom sat down on a camp-stool and fanned herself with
Twaddles' blue sailor hat.

"See if we can't get to Brookside without any more mishaps," she
commanded the children. "If we had missed the boat, think of the worry
and trouble for Aunt Polly. Even if we telegraphed she wouldn't get it
before she started over to meet us."

The four little Blossoms promised to be very good and to stay close
together.

Lake Tobago was a small lake, very pretty, and for some minutes the
children saw enough on the shores they were passing to keep them
contented and interested. In one place two little boys and their
father were out fishing in a rowboat and the steamer passed so close
to them that the four little Blossoms, leaning over the rail, could
almost shake hands with them.

"There's another wharf! Do we stop there? Yes, we do! Come on, Dot,
let's watch!" shouted Twaddles, as the steamer headed inshore toward a
pier built out into the water.

"Keep away from the gangplank," warned Mother Blossom. "You mustn't
get in people's way, dear."

The pier was something of a disappointment, because when the boat tied
up there the children discovered that only freight was to be taken off
and more boxes carried on. There was only one man at the wharf, and
apparently no town for miles.

"Doesn't anybody live here?" asked Twaddles, almost climbing over the
rail in his eagerness to see everything.

"Sure! There's a town back about half a mile," explained the deck-hand
who was carrying on a crate of live chickens. "This is just where
farmers drive in with their stuff."

"Let me see the chickens," cried Dot, climbing up beside her brother.

Her elbow knocked his hat, and because he hadn't the elastic under his
chin, it went sailing over on to the wharf. One of the men rolling a
barrel toward the steamer did not see the hat and calmly rolled his
barrel over it.

"Now you've done it!" scolded Meg, in her big-sister anxiety. "That's
a fine-looking hat to go to see Aunt Polly in. Hey, please, will you
bring it back here with you?"

The man with the barrel heard and turned. He picked up the shapeless
broken straw that had been Twaddles' best new hat, and brought it to
them, grinning. Several people who had been watching laughed.

"It does look funny, doesn't it?" said Meg. "You'd better go and show
it to Mother, Twaddles."

Twaddles went back to Mother Blossom and dangled his hat before her
sadly.

"Oh, Twaddles!" she sighed. "Is that your hat? And we're miles from a
store. Here, let me straighten out the brim. What happened to it?
Where did you go?"

Twaddles said truthfully enough that he hadn't been anywhere, and
explained what had happened to the hat. The boat was out in the lake
again by this time and steaming on toward Little Havre.

"Where are the others?" asked Mother Blossom. "Tell them we get off in
fifteen or twenty minutes, and I want them all to come and stay near
me."

Presently the boat scraped alongside a wide wharf and a number of
people began to bustle off.

"Where are we going now?" asked Twaddles, his round eyes dancing with
excitement. Twaddles certainly loved traveling.

"Don't you 'member?" said Meg importantly. "We have to go to Four
Crossways, and Aunt Polly will meet us. There's a bus that says 'Four
Crossways,' Mother."

Mother Blossom had to see about the trunks and the kiddie-car, which,
it seemed, were all to go in a queer contrivance attached to the
motor bus, a "trailer," the driver called it.

"Isn't that nice?" beamed Bobby, when he heard of this arrangement.
"Our trunks will get there the same time we do."

The children watched this trailer being loaded, and then all climbed
into the bus and began the journey to Four Crossways. There were so
many people on their way there that Bobby and Twaddles had to be
squeezed into the front seat between the driver and the man who took
the fares, and they liked this immensely.

"We're going to Brookside," volunteered Twaddles, who was sociably
inclined, as soon as the driver seemed to have his engine fixed to
suit him and the car was purring up the straight, wide road.

"To see Aunt Polly," chimed in Bobby.

"There's a lot of you, isn't there?" said the driver, smiling.

When both boys said they had never been on a real farm, the driver,
whose name, he told them, was Gus Rede, had so much to say about the
fun that awaited boys on a farm and especially such a fine place as
Brookside that before Bobby and Twaddles knew it the bus had driven up
to the post-office and there was dear Aunt Polly waiting to welcome
them.

"Bless their hearts," she said warmly, when she had kissed Mother and
had hold of a child with either hand. "Are they all tired out, poor
lambs? It's a fearful place to get to, especially the first trip."

Mother Blossom assured her sister that they were all right, and as
glad to see her as she was to see them.

"I left the car around on a side street," explained Aunt Polly,
leading the way. "You see so many horses are still afraid of
automobiles that we think it more thoughtful not to leave 'em standing
on the main street. Yes, I drove over alone for you--either Peter or
Jud will come over to-morrow for your trunks."

This last was in response to a question Mother Blossom had asked.

Aunt Polly's car was large enough to hold them all comfortably. Dot
and Twaddles fell into a little doze, leaning against Mother Blossom.
They had had rather a long day. But Meg and Bobby sat up very straight
and asked questions whenever Aunt Polly was not speaking to their
mother.

"Who's Peter and Jud?" Bobby wanted to know first.

"Peter Apgar is my tenant farmer and runs the farm for me," said Aunt
Polly, pulling over to one side of the road to let a huge load of hay
go past. "Jud is his son. You'll like Jud. They live in a house about
a quarter of a mile from our house."

"How is Spotty?" came from Meg. "I thought maybe you'd bring him with
you."

"Spotty is very lively and well," answered Aunt Polly. "I like a farm
dog to stay at home and watch things, so I've never trained him to
ride in the car with me. By the way, Meg, we have a new addition to
our animal family that I'm sure you'll like."

Meg was immediately curious--what was it?

"The blackest cat you ever saw," said Aunt Polly. "And I think
probably the largest. He is so shiny, and not a white hair on him! He
belonged to the people on the next farm, but spent about half his time
with me; so when they sold and moved away last week Poots was given to
me to keep."

"Is that his name--Poots?" inquired Meg. "How funny!"

"Well, he's a funny cat," replied her aunt. "And now, children, if you
look sharp you'll see Brookside!"

She turned the car into a neat graveled roadway which parted a pretty
concrete wall exactly in half, while Twaddles was puzzling how those
things that looked to him like chickens could ever turn into big juicy
turkeys.

Eagerly the four little Blossoms tumbled out. They saw a compact,
modern house that looked even from the outside as if one might find
all sorts of unexpected corners within. A green lawn bordered each
side of the driveway, and in one direction was a red-tiled house with
smoke coming out of the chimney and in another a birdhouse perched on
a high pole near the gate the four little Blossoms had just come
through.

Bobby spied the other house and Meg saw the home for the birds, just
as people always see whatever they are most interested in first.

"Flowers!" said Dot.

She had seen the hollyhocks that stood up straight and tall against
the fence that shut off the back of Aunt Polly's house.

Peter Apgar had come up to take the car and perhaps to see the new
arrivals. The four little Blossoms liked him at once, and when he
spoke in a soft, lazy drawl that was good-nature itself they knew he
was going to be a good friend.

"Can't say you're lonesome now, Miss Polly," he chuckled pleasantly.
He always called her Miss Polly, never Mrs. Hayward. "And I guess Jud
is as good as useless to me the rest of the summer. What these
youngsters don't think up to do, he will," the farmer added, with a
broad grin.



CHAPTER VII

THE WRECK OF THE RAFT


Though all of the four little Blossoms protested that they were not
the least bit sleepy, it was not long after Mother and Aunt Polly had
helped them to delicious brown bread and honey and milk and baked
apples that they were stumbling up the stairs to baths and bed. Linda,
a girl about fifteen, who lived with Aunt Polly and went to school in
the winter and worked during the summer, had made the two pretty
bedrooms as dainty as possible and had left a vase of flowers on the
table in each room. It was Linda, too, who brought armfuls of clean
towels and showed them which was the hot and which the cold water in
Aunt Polly's white and green bathroom.

The next day the four children and Mother Blossom and Aunt Polly, with
Linda and Jud part of the time and Spotty and Poots in constant
attendance, explored Brookside thoroughly.

They saw the poultry yard, where ducks and chickens and guinea-hens
and one lame turkey lived happily together. The other turkeys roamed
all over the farm, and Aunt Polly said that at night they slept out of
doors in the trees. She said they would be sick if cooped up in
houses, and that they had to roam half-wild to thrive.

The visitors called on Mrs. Sally Sweet, the beautiful gentle Jersey
cow that gave such wonderful rich milk; they saw the seven new little
white pigs; they took salt to the sheep that were in a stony pasture
and that came running when Peter called to them from the bars.

They made the acquaintance, too, of Jerry and Terry, the two faithful
farm horses, and Nelly Bly, the brown mare who had a small colt,
Felix, by her side. Meg had to be dragged away from the colt. She said
she had never seen such a darling little horse.

Jud Apgar was a tall, lanky boy, with the same pleasant drawling way
of speaking his father had, and the "evenest temper that ever was,"
Linda said. Linda should have known, because she was a great tease.

On their way back from the sheep pasture Aunt Polly and the Blossoms
stopped at the tenant house, and Mrs. Apgar asked them in to taste of
her fresh buttermilk. She had just finished churning, and the children
saw their first churn. They admired the firm yellow butter, but they
did not care much for the buttermilk, though Mother Blossom drank two
glasses of it and said it was delicious.

It was nearly dinner time now, for Aunt Polly, like many people who
live in the country, liked to have her dinner at noon, and they all
hurried home to get freshened up for the meal. Poor Dot, as usual, had
managed to soil her frock, and she had to be buttoned into a clean
dress.

"How'd you ever get that old egg on it?" scolded Meg, nevertheless
helping her to fasten the buttons.

"I didn't know eggs broke so easy," explained Dot. "I was looking in a
nest where a hen was sitting, and she flew up and scared me. And I
just touched one of her eggs and it broke."

Meg happened to glance from the window.

"Peter's brought the trunks!" she cried. "And the kiddie-car and a
bundle that must be the surprise Daddy told us about. Hurry, Dot."

The two little girls ran downstairs and found the others gathered
about the trunks and parcels on the front porch.

"Daddy's surprise!" shouted Bobby. "Let me open it, Mother?"

Mother Blossom handed him the shears and he cut the heavy cord.
Something brown and heavy was inside.

"It's a dress. No, it isn't, it's a tent! It's a tent and four Indian
suits!" Bobby was so delighted that he gave a war-whoop then and there
and began to do a war dance.

"An Indian suit!" shrieked Twaddles, trying to stand on his head.

"Indian beads!" cried Meg, holding up a long chain of bright colored
glass beads.

"And feathers!" Dot, too, had been digging in the package.

The rest of the afternoon was a busy time for them all. Jud helped
them set up the tent on the side lawn, and then the four little
Blossoms dressed up in their new suits and played Indians to their
hearts' content. There were jackets and trousers and feather
head-dresses for Bobby and Twaddles and squaw costumes and bead chains
for Meg and Dot. Jud made them each a wooden hatchet, which completed
the make-believe.

The next morning Mother Blossom had to go back to Oak Hill. The
children went as far as the gate to say good-by to her, but both she
and Aunt Polly, who was to drive her over, not in the car but with
Nelly Bly and a smart-looking red-wheeled buggy, thought that it was
better for them not to go to town.

When they had kissed her good-by and watched the buggy till it was
nothing but a cloud of dust in the road, the four little Blossoms
began to feel very queer indeed. They had never been alone in a
strange place without any mother before.

"Well, my goodness, if you're not here," said Jud cheerily, coming up
behind them. He pretended not to see the tears beginning to splash
down Dot's cheeks. "I'm going down to the brook to mend the line
fence, and I thought if you wanted to come along and play in the
water----"

They did, of course. Dot slipped her hand into Jud's and the others
followed, talking busily. What was a line fence? How could he fix it?
What could they play in the water?

Jud didn't mind questions at all. Indeed, he rather enjoyed answering
them.

"You see, this fence goes along the brook right in the center," he
explained carefully, "to show where your Aunt Polly's land stops and
Mr. Simmond's land begins. If we didn't have a fence there his cattle
would walk right through the brook and up into our meadows. Say, build
a raft, why don't you? I always did when I was a kid. Here, I'll show
you."

Jud in a few minutes had shown Bobby how to make a little raft, and he
and Twaddles finished it while Meg and Dot ran up to the house to get
some toys to sail on it. For a raft, you know if you have ever made
one, is no fun at all unless it has a cargo.

"We brought Geraldine!" cried Dot, running back, out of breath, with
her best doll. "And now I wish I'd brought her trunk. But here's Meg's
'Black Beauty' book. She says we can play that's a trunk. It's heavy.
And Meg is bringing your airplane, Bobby, and the singing bird for
Twaddles."

The singing bird was a little toy one of the neighbors in Oak Hill had
given Twaddles. It had come from abroad, and he was very proud of it.
It was a tiny yellow wooden bird that wound up with a key and sang
three tunes for all the world like a music box.

Bobby fixed the string, and the children arranged the toys on the
raft, the smiling Geraldine occupying the place of honor in the center
and leaning gracefully against the book which served her as a prop.

"Look, Jud!" shouted Bobby. "See it float!"

Jud, in the middle of the stream, waved his hand encouragingly.

"It's beginning to sprinkle," he called. "Better run on up to the
barn, out of the wet. You'll find Dad working there. Tie your
raft--this is only a shower."

Bobby obediently tied the raft to a tree root that extended out over
the water, and the four little Blossoms, taking hold of hands, raced
madly for the barn. They were only just in time, for as they reached
the door the rain fell in sheets.

"Most caught you, didn't it?" chuckled Peter, who was mending harness
in a little room that opened on to the barn floor. "A rain like this
could drown that littlest one."

"No, it couldn't," protested Dot, who was the "littlest one."

"Maybe Jud will drown," worried Bobby. "Does he stay out in the wet?"

"A bit of rain doesn't hurt Jud," said Peter comfortably. "He's used
to it, and his mother has dry clothes ready for him when he comes in.
Well now, look around, and make yourselves at home. You can do most
anything in Miss Polly's barn."

"Let's play see-saw," proposed Meg, pointing to a long board that
stood in the corner. "Could we have that, Mr. Peter?"

"Of course you can. I'll lay it across this saw-horse, so, and that's
as fine a see-saw as any one could ask for," said Peter, lifting the
heavy plank with ease.

Bobby and Meg took possession of the see-saw, and Dot and Twaddles
made the simultaneous discovery that hay was slippery. They found this
out because Twaddles had climbed to the top of a pile of loose hay and
was intending to reach an open window when his foot slipped and he
gently slid down to the floor.

"Let me do that," cried Dot, hastily scrambling up. "Watch me, Meg."

She sat down, gave herself a little shove and neatly slid down the
side of the hay. Then Twaddles tried, and then they took turns.

Spotty appeared at the barn door, wagging his tail engagingly. He was
"part white terrier" and "part something else" Jud had told the
children, and he had one funny black spot on his back near his tail.

In less than half an hour the rain had stopped and a watery sun was
struggling through the breaking clouds.

"Bobby!" Meg thought of something so suddenly, she stopped the see-saw
with a bump that jarred poor Bobby's teeth. "What do you know about
the things we left on the raft? Geraldine will be soaked!"

"And the wings of my airplane," cried Bobby. "Why, I never thought! We
should have taken the toys off. Let's get 'em now, and maybe Linda can
dry them in the kitchen for us."

Hastily calling the twins, Meg and Bobby set off, running for the
brook. The grass was very wet and their shoes were soaked in a few
minutes. But they didn't mind that if only the toys were not damaged!

Bobby reached the brook first. No Jud was in sight, but a neat, firm
fence showed where he had completed his work. No raft was tied to the
root, either.

"It's gone!" gasped Meg, who had followed Bobby closely. "My lovely
book I've never even read yet!"

"And my airplane I meant to have such fun sailing out where there is
lots of room," said Bobby mournfully. "Dot, the raft's floated away!"

Dot and Twaddles came up to them and Dot at first could not believe
the bad news.

"But you tied it, Bobby," she urged. "How could it get gone?"

"Don't say 'get gone,'" said Bobby absently. "I don't know how it got
loose, but it has. You can see for yourself. And all our toys are
lost!"

"Poor, poor Geraldine!" sobbed Geraldine's little mother. "All
drowned! And Twaddles' Dicky bird! Maybe, couldn't Jud have them,
Bobby?" she added suddenly.

Bobby had not thought of that.

"You run and ask him," he said, "while we walk down the brook a way
and look for 'em."



CHAPTER VIII

LEARNING TO MILK


Dot ran off to the Apgar house as fast as her short legs would carry
her, to find Jud and ask him if he had taken their toys in out of the
rain. The other children followed Bobby along the brook.

"Because our feet are as wet as they can be, now," he said, "and if
Aunt Polly is going to scold, getting them wetter won't make her scold
any more."

"It looks like more rain," worried Meg, scanning the clouds. "Why
don't we go back, Bobby, and come out after dinner? If the raft
floated as far as the woods, the trees will keep it dry."

Bobby was very damp and very hungry, and he, too, thought that after
dinner would be a better time to hunt for the toys.

"Come on, Twaddles," he shouted. "We're going back."

Twaddles was some distance ahead, and he turned so quickly that one
foot slipped. Meg and Bobby saw him tumble into the brook with a loud
splash.

It wasn't very deep, but it was very wet, and though Bobby reached him
in a second, poor Twaddles was frightened.

"I'm so co-old!" he wept loudly. "I want Mother!"

"Well, don't stand here all day," said Bobby practically. "Take hold
of Meg's hand, and we'll run to the house. Linda was making soup this
morning, Twaddles. Think how good nice, hot soup will taste!"

Meg took his hand, and, Bobby on the other side, Twaddles ran with all
his might toward dry clothes and hot soup. It was raining hard again.

"Why, children!" Aunt Polly met them at the door, for she had long ago
come back from taking Mother Blossom to town. "Has anything happened?
I found Dot in the hammock crying for her doll and----But Twaddles is
dripping!"

"He fell in the brook," explained Bobby concisely.

"Poor lamb!" comforted Aunt Polly. "Come upstairs, dear, and Auntie
will see that you're rubbed dry. And Bobby and Meg, don't stand around
in those wet shoes one minute. Change them immediately."

Half an hour later four clean, dry little Blossoms were at the table
enjoying Linda's delicious soup and other good things. The day had
turned to a cold, rainy, dismal one, very different from the promise
of the sunny summer morning. Aunt Polly said they would have to
manufacture their own sunshine that afternoon.

"You mustn't think of going to hunt for the toys till to-morrow, and
only then if it's clear," she announced firmly. "Likely as not the
raft sank, and you mustn't feel too bad about the toys. You'll find
plenty of other things to play with on the farm."

All that afternoon it poured, and all that afternoon the four little
Blossoms spent in Linda's kitchen cooking and pulling molasses candy.
They had the sweetiest, stickiest time you ever heard of, and when
about six o'clock the rain stopped and the sun came out pure yellow
gold, they had a plate of beautiful cream-colored candy to take to
Mrs. Peter Apgar.

"Who wants to help me milk?" asked Jud, passing the kitchen door as
they were talking to his mother.

"Oh, Jud, I do!" begged Meg. "You promised to show me how."

"We'll all come," said Bobby. "Aunt Polly isn't going to have supper
till seven o'clock to-night, 'cause the minister is coming. We've got
oceans of time."

"Dot looks dressed up to me," announced Jud. "Keep her out of the mud,
somebody."

"This is my prettiest dress," said Dot serenely, smoothing down the
folds of her white dotted swiss under her coral-colored sweater.

Mrs. Sally Sweet looked mildly interested when she saw such a number
of people coming into her comfortable barnyard, and when Jud drove her
into the barn and fastened her in the stanchion, all the children
stood around to watch.

When Jud had the pail nearly full of milk, he rose carefully.

"Now, Meg," he said, "you sit here. Easy now; don't be nervous. Don't
you know a cow won't give milk if she knows you're nervous? Now work
your fingers like this----"

Meg sat on the three-legged stool and tried to do exactly as Jud told
her. Bobby and Dot and Twaddles stared at her open-mouthed. She was
actually milking a live cow!

"Keep right on; that's fine," encouraged Jud. "You're doing first
rate."

His father called him just then, and he ran to the door to see what
was wanted. Meg, beaming, kept on milking. All would have been well if
Mrs. Sally Sweet hadn't remembered her calf, Buttercup, and opened her
mouth to give a tremendous and unexpected, "_Moo!_"

The four little Blossoms were sadly startled. Meg jumped up, upsetting
the pail of milk over herself and Bobby, who stood nearest, and
knocking down Twaddles and Dot who were close behind her. As luck
would have it, both twins pitched into a heap of soft hay and were
not hurt at all. But when they scrambled to their feet, alas! streams
of yellow, bright yellow, decorated Dot's sweater and dress and
splashed Twaddles' middy blouse.

"For goodness' sake!" cried Jud, coming back in time to view this
wholesale damage. "What have you been up to now?"

Meg explained.

"There must have been eggs in that hay," said Twaddles disapprovingly.

"Some hen stole her nest, and you've finished her hopes," sighed Jud.
"I must say you're a sweet looking mess. Wonder what Miss Polly will
say?"

"My! and the minister's coming to supper," announced Bobby,
remembering this for the first time.

"I thought you looked dressed up," Jud groaned. "I suppose I ought to
have paid more attention. Well, come on, we'll go up the back way and
I'll tell Miss Polly most of it was my fault."

The four little Blossoms, eggy and milky, followed Jud up to the
house. He meant to take them in through the kitchen in case the
minister should be on the front porch and so spare Aunt Polly's
company the sight of such a forlorn procession. But, just as they
rounded the back of the house, they met Aunt Polly showing the
minister and his wife her kitchen garden.

"Twaddles!" gasped poor Aunt Polly, for Twaddles was ahead.

"We--we--we were learning to milk," said Meg apologetically.

The minister and his wife took one look at the four, and then they sat
down on the back doorstep and laughed and laughed. After a minute Aunt
Polly joined them, and then the children and Jud began to giggle.

"Hurry and get into something clean," commanded Aunt Polly, wiping her
eyes. "Linda is just putting supper on the table. I don't care what
you put on, as long as it is clean. I spent an hour dressing you, and
now see the result."

The four little Blossoms made haste to scurry into clean suits and
dresses, and in a short time were ready to come downstairs and meet
the minister and his wife properly.

"To-morrow morning," said Bobby, as Aunt Polly put out the light and
kissed them good-night, "we must go and hunt for the raft."

But in the morning Peter Apgar rattled up to the door while they were
still at the breakfast table, with Jerry and Terry harnessed to an
empty wagon.

"Anybody here want to go over to the mill with me?" he called loudly.

Of course the four children were wild to go, and Aunt Polly said that
she was sure Peter had room for every one.

"Take good care of them, Peter," she said, following them down to the
gate.

"I will," promised Peter. "I've got an old quilt spread down in the
bottom for them to sit on. If the jolting tires 'em two can sit up
with me, taking turns."

Spotty wagged his tail as they drove off, but he would not follow the
wagon. He knew it was his place to stay and take care of Aunt Polly.

The mill was about four miles from Brookside, and the children enjoyed
the drive intensely. Good-natured Peter allowed each one to "drive,"
holding the reins carefully as he told them, "Because," said Peter
seriously, "even if you're only learning, you might as well begin
right."

When they reached the mill, Jerry and Terry were tied to a post and
Peter and the children went inside. Bobby was rather disappointed with
the outside of the mill; he had expected it to look like the mills he
saw in pictures, with great wide sails flattened against the sky.

"Electric power runs this mill," Peter explained when Bobby asked
where the sails were. "You'll find plenty to see inside."

A short, stout man in a dusty white coat met them, and Peter gave him
his order.

"I've some little folks from down the state a way with me," Peter told
the man. "Guess you can show 'em round the mill a bit this morning?"

"I should say so!" was the hearty answer. "Come along, everybody, and
we'll see just how grain is milled."

It was not a real flour mill. That is, not one of the great mills that
turn millions of bushels of wheat into flour; but it did grind
buckwheat for the farmers and made coarse flour and feed for their
stock, cracked corn for poultry and so on. The four little Blossoms
saw much to interest them, but the great round stones that ground the
grains and the arrangements for sifting the dust and chaff from the
grain interested them the most.

"It must be fun to be a miller!" said Bobby, when they were ready to
go and the noon whistle blew and the big stones stopped turning as the
power was shut off. "Maybe when I grow up I'll run a mill."

Rattling home in the big wagon with two sacks of "middlings" in the
back with them, Twaddles and Dot decided that they, too, would have a
mill some day.



CHAPTER IX

LOST IN THE WOODS


Right after dinner the four children started to hunt for the lost
raft.

"It must have gone down the brook," argued Bobby, as they walked
along. "Jud says things always float with the current. So we'll start
on Mr. Simmond's land and walk slow."

They scrambled under the line fence, and Dot only tore one of the
ruffles off her frock. They went on and on.

"We're almost to the woods," said Meg, as they dropped down under a
ragged buttonwood tree to rest. "Where do you suppose the brook goes?
Wouldn't it be fun to follow it through the woods and see what's on
the other side!"

The four little Blossoms thought this would be great fun. They had not
been in the woods yet, though Jud and Linda had promised to take them
some day and Aunt Polly said it was the nicest kind of a place for
picnics.

The children stood up, and shaded their eyes their hands. They could
just see the eaves of the barn and the chimneys of Aunt Polly's house
and the Apgar house. The brook twisted and turned so often, they had
really walked further than they guessed.

"I'll bet it's dark in the woods," said Twaddles, marching ahead.
"Maybe there's bears and things in there."

"Now don't begin and scare Dot," admonished Bobby. "Let's take hold of
hands. My, isn't it nice and cool!"

They stepped from the sunny glare of the brook pasture into the cool,
dark, rustly stillness of the beautiful woods. A chipmunk ran across
their path, and tall ferns grew higher than their heads on either side
of the brook.

Almost unconsciously the children left the brook and struck off into a
pretty path that was laid with stepping stones and led up a slight
hill. They saw two rabbits and heard gray squirrels chattering in the
trees overhead. One squirrel came down and stared gravely at them.

"Isn't he pretty?" said Meg. "I wish he'd let me pat him."

A shriek from Dot startled them all.

"I saw a snake!" she cried, running to Meg. "A horrid, nasty little
green one. And now I've lost my flowers!"

Sure enough, the bouquet she had been picking was scattered in all
directions.

"Don't you care," Meg comforted her. "It was only a baby water snake.
Aunt Polly told Mother that's the only kind that lives round here.
Honestly, snakes are all right, Dot. Lots of people don't mind 'em a
bit."

"Well, I do," said Dot decidedly. "They wiggle so. Let's go home
anyway."

"I think we'd better," announced Bobby. "I don't know what time it is,
but I guess there's no use looking for the raft any more."

"The raft?" echoed Meg. "Oh Bobby, where is the brook?"

Bobby grinned a little sheepishly.

"We forgot about the raft, didn't we?" he said. "Let's see--we came
down that path--the brook must be over there. Come on, Dot, we're
going home."

Dot sat down on the ground and began to cry.

"I don't want to be lost," she wailed. "I'm hungry, and my feet hurt!
And I'm so tired!"

Meg put her arms around her sister.

"Don't cry," she urged her bravely. "We're not lost, are we, Bobby?"

Bobby and Meg, as the two older, felt that they must keep the twins
from becoming discouraged.

"Course we're not lost," asserted Bobby stoutly.

"Course not," echoed Meg. "I think the brook is right past those three
big trees. Come on, Dot, let's run and see who gets there first."

Dot allowed herself to be pulled to her feet.

"I'll count for you," said Bobby, glad to see her stop crying.
"One--two--three--go!"

Away went Meg and Dot. Meg had intended to let Dot win, because she
was so much smaller she couldn't be expected to run as well as her
older sister. But Meg's good intentions came to nothing. Dot had an
unfortunate habit of shutting her eyes tight when she ran, and the
woods, of all places, are where it pays to keep one's eyes wide open.
Poor Dot, running over the uneven ground with her eyes closed,
crashed headlong into a wild blackberry bush.

"Oh, ow!" she wailed shrilly. "Meg, Meg! Ow!"

Her face and hands were scratched and bleeding and her dress was badly
torn by the time Meg and Bobby got her free from the prickly bush.

"I won't go," sobbed the unfortunate child, rubbing her smarting face.
"I'll lie down in the grass and the birds can cover me with leaves.
Nasty old woods!"

"But you'll have to come," urged Bobby. "I don't b'lieve it's much
further, Dot. Come on."

"Then I'll take of my shoes and stockings," said Dot.

"Her feet are all puffed up," said Meg, unbuttoning the little tan
shoes. "Poor sister! But you can't go barefoot through here--the
Stones and things are too sharp."

"They'll cut you," said Twaddles, who was watching anxiously.

"Let's make a chair with our hands and carry her," suggested Bobby.

So Meg and Bobby joined hands and managed to start off comfortably,
carrying Dot.

Twaddles looked at them anxiously.

"It's getting dark," he quavered.

It was, too, a shadowy gray dusk there in the woods.

"I guess it's only 'cause there's so many trees," said Meg cheerfully.
"It can't be dark out in the fields yet. I don't believe Jud has even
started to milk."

They took up Dot again and went ahead, but it grew more and more
difficult to follow the path.

"Here's where we were when you stopped to get your breath," declared
Twaddles positively as they came into an open space. "I 'member that
rotten log on the ground."

It was true. They had been walking in a circle!

"What's that?" cried Meg, starting up in sudden fright.

The twins clung to her, hiding their faces in her skirt.

"I saw something move--over there in those bushes," whispered Bobby.

"Is it--a--a bear?" asked Meg softly.

But Dot heard her.

"It's a bear!" she shrieked. "Twaddles, Meg, Bobby, come quick! It's a
bear!"

Something bounded out of the bushes and leaped upon them with shrill,
sharp barks.

"Spotty!" chorused the children. "You dear, darling old Spotty! Where
did you come from?"

Spotty was apparently as glad to see them, and in his way tried to
tell them so. He jumped up and down, barked excitedly and licked their
hands and faces over and over.

"Say, I'll bet you Spotty knows the way home!" Bobby jumped to his
feet as this thought came to him. "Spotty, show us the way home,
that's a good dog. Home, Spotty!"

Spotty wagged his tail heartily and barked once. Then he rushed a
little way ahead and turned to look at the children.

"Come on," he seemed to say.

"He does know," agreed Meg excitedly. "Put your shoes on, Dot. All
take hold of hands and hurry!"

They were in such haste they put the left shoe on Dot's right foot and
the right one on her left, but she never even noticed it. Taking hold
of hands, the four little Blossoms scurried through the dark woods,
for it was pitch dark now, after Spotty. The dog kept just a little
way ahead, and now and then he barked as if to tell them that
everything was all right.

It was not easy walking in the dark, and they tripped and stumbled
over tree roots and unsuspected stones. But at last they came out into
the open. The stars were shining overhead, and it was night.

"Where are we?" asked Meg in wonder. "This isn't the brook pasture."

"I see the gate light!" cried Bobby suddenly.



CHAPTER X

THE BLOSSOMS GO BERRYING


Sure enough, ahead of them twinkled the pretty ornamental light that
Aunt Polly had lighted on dark nights to show where the driveway went
through the gates.

"We're in back of the house!" cried Meg. "See, that's the kitchen
window where the white curtain is. Don't things look different at
night?"

"Hello! Hello!" came Jud's clear call. "Bobby, Meg, is that you?"

Then as Bobby answered him, they heard Jud shouting:

"All right, folks, they've come. I told you they were all right."

Peter and Jud and a neighbor's boy came running toward the children,
swinging lanterns, and followed by Mrs. Peter Apgar and Aunt Polly and
Linda. Such a time as there was, and such a hugging and kissing and
explaining!

"When you didn't come home to supper, I began to worry," said dear
Aunt Polly, carrying Dot, big girl as she was. Peter had picked up
Meg, and Jud had shouldered Twaddles, while Bobby kept running beside
them.

"You must be starved," was Linda's greeting. "We've got fried chicken
and currant jelly, too."

And though it was late, Aunt Polly was sure that fried chicken would
hurt no one, and while the hungry Blossoms ate, she sat by and
listened to what had happened to them in the woods.

"Why, darlings," she cried over and over, "Auntie will buy you other
books and toys, but I couldn't possibly buy your mother other children
if anything happened to you. Look at Dot's feet; the poor child must
have walked miles. And her face and hands are terribly scratched."

Directly after supper the tired children were ready for bed, and Linda
and Aunt Polly undressed them and bathed the sore little feet and put
soothing cold cream on sunburned, scratched little faces.

The summer weeks flew merrily by, and when a rainy afternoon came and
Aunt Polly suggested that the children should write to their father
and mother, the Blossoms discovered that they really had a good deal
to tell.

"I'll begin, 'cause I'm the oldest and I can write in pencil," said
Bobby. "Then Meg can print, and I'll write what Dot and Twaddles tell
me to. I guess they will like that kind of letter."

Aunt Polly thought so, too, and she gave Bobby her own pretty mahogany
"secretary" that was ever so old a desk, to write at.

Bobby put his tongue in his cheek and worked hard for fifteen minutes.
Then he was ready to read aloud.

"'Dear Daddy and Mother:'" he read. "'We thought you would like to
hear from us. Last week Peter was haying and Meg and I helped him make
loads. Meg drove into the barn all by herself. It is fun to see them
unload the hay, because they have a thing they call a hayfork that
comes down and takes up big handfuls and carries it up to the mow. I
can almost milk. The twins are very good most of the time. Your
loving son, Robert Hayward Blossom.'"

                  *       *       *       *       *

"Will they know that's from you?" asked Meg doubtfully, slipping into
the chair at the desk and taking up the pencil to print her letter.
"You never call yourself Robert."

"I guess I know how to write a letter," Bobby informed her with
dignity. "You always sign your real names to letters, don't you, Aunt
Polly?"

"Yes, indeed, dear," said Aunt Polly, who was doing something to a
pair of overalls.

Meg printed slowly and carefully, and soon her letter was ready to be
read aloud.

"'Dear Daddy and Mother,'" she began proudly. "'We hope you are well.
We are. Dot most wasn't, but I took care of her. She went out to the
barn to hunt for eggs, and the turkey gobbler saw her. He thought she
was carrying corn in the basket. He chased her and she ran. I heard
her crying and I ran down to the barn. She was backed up into a corner
and he was making noises at her. He is awful big, but I am not afraid
of him. I grabbed the broom Jud keeps to sweep the barn floor with and
I chased that old gobbler clear into the orchard. We are going to pick
berries to-morrow.'"

                  *       *       *       *       *

The twins had kept still as long as they could, and now it was their
turn.

"Tell Mother 'bout the snake I saw this morning," said Twaddles. "Jud
says it was a black snake after baby robins. It was on the grape arbor
where there is a robin's nest. Jud killed it."

"Tell Daddy I weeded a whole onion row for Aunt Polly," begged Dot.

"Wait a minute, I have to sign my name," interrupted Meg.

And she signed it, "Margaret Alice Blossom," right in among the words
of the twins' letters that Bobby was patiently writing.

The next day was very warm, and Aunt Polly thought they had better
play in the orchard instead of picking berries, so they trooped out
soon after breakfast, to find the orchard cool and shady.

"I wish I had my book that was drowned," mourned Meg. "I love to sit
up in a tree and read."

"Well, I loved Geraldine better than Tottie-Fay," said Dot, giving the
old doll a shake as she spoke.

"No use fussing," advised the sensible Bobby. "They're lost, and we
mustn't let Aunt Polly hear us, 'cause she'll think she ought to go
right off and buy us some more. I'm going to climb this tree. Who
wants a ripe apple?"

"I do," and Meg jumped up. "Let me hold my apron and you throw 'em
down, Bobby. Twaddles, stop teasing Spotty."

"I aren't teasing him," declared Twaddles indignantly. "I'm going to
teach him to carry bundles."

Twaddles' method of teaching the patient Spotty was to sit down on him
with feet spread wide apart and wait for the dog to shake him off.

Dot sat down quietly in the grass and began to make a bouquet of
wild-flowers. It was Dot who always helped Aunt Polly weed and water
her flower garden, and Dot who liked to see fresh flowers on the
dining-room table.

When Meg had her apron full of apples she sat down near Dot, and the
four ate as many sweet summer apples as four small people could who
had eaten breakfast less than an hour before.

"There's Poots," said Meg suddenly, glancing up and seeing the black
cat picking her way through the grass. "Do you suppose she is hunting
birds?"

Poots blinked her green eyes innocently. If she were after birds, she
had no intention of catching any before an audience. She sat down and
began to wash her face.

A mischievous idea seized Twaddles.

"Rats, Spotty!" he shouted. "Rats!"

Now rats sounds pretty much like "cats," and the excited and startled
Spotty did not stop to question which word Twaddles had used. He
jumped up, his ears pointing forward.

"Rats, sic 'em!" said bad little Twaddles. "Rats, Spotty!"

Spotty barked twice sharply. Poots arose, her fur bristling. Spotty
leaped at her, barking playfully. Away ran Poots, her black tail
sticking straight up in the air. And after them raced the four little
Blossoms, shouting and calling frantically.

Poots ran straight for the front wall and scrambled up it, leaving
Spotty to bark wildly on the ground and make futile rushes at the
solid wall he couldn't hope to climb. Some of the masonry was loose,
and Poots, digging with her sharp claws, sent down a shower of dust
into the dog's eyes. He whined, and dug at his eyes with both
forepaws. Then he sneezed several times.

"You will chase me, will you?" Poots seemed to say, gazing down at him
from her safe position. "The idea!"

"Well, we might as well pick up some of this stuff," said Twaddles,
knowing that the fun was over.

"It's cooler--just feel that breeze!" exclaimed Meg. "Let's ask Aunt
Polly if we can't go berrying after dinner."

Aunt Polly obligingly said they could, and after dinner the four
little Blossoms scrambled into overalls Aunt Polly had bought and
shortened to fit them.

"I wish your mother could see you," she said, as she gave them each a
bright tin pail. "No need to worry about your dress now, is there,
Dot?"

"Going berrying?" asked Jud, as they passed him, clipping the green
hedge around the kitchen garden. "Better keep out of the sun."

The children walked down the road and turned into another field. They
knew where the blackberry bushes grew, and they meant to fill their
pails.

"Let's start here by this fence," suggested Bobby. "What's that over
in Mr. Simmond's field?"

"It's a bull," answered Meg who knew all the animals at Brookside and
on the neighboring farms by this time. "He's as cross as can be, but
he took three prizes at the last Fair."

Twaddles ate the first dozen berries he picked and then he picked
another dozen for Dot's pail. He decided that larger and better
berries grew on the other side of the fence. He crawled under and his
shout of delight brought the others.

"You never saw such big ones!" cried Twaddles gleefully. "Meg, look!"

"They are big," agreed Meg. "Come on, Bobby, let's go on the other
side. Mr. Simmonds won't care."

Dot was already under the fence, and Meg and Bobby stooped down and
crawled under after her.

The four little figures in blue overalls began to pick industriously.
The berries were thick and juicy, and the bottoms of the tin pails
were covered in a few minutes. Meg had just stopped to pull a briar
from her thumb when she heard a bellow behind her.

There stood the bull, in the middle of the field, his head down
between his knees, his feet pawing the ground, and his angry eyes
glaring at the berry pickers.

"Oh, Bobby! The bull!" gasped Meg. "Run, Dot and Twaddles!"



CHAPTER XI

THE HOME LAUNDRY


Dot and Twaddles took one frightened look at the bellowing bull, and
then dropped flat on the ground and began to squirm under the fence.

"Hurry, Meg," urged Bobby. "Don't stand there like that! Run!"

"I'm waiting for you," quavered Meg.

"All right, hurry," repeated Bobby.

He and Meg crawled under the fence and stood beside Twaddles and Dot.
Then they looked over at the bull. He was not charging directly toward
them, but at something else his angry red eyes had seen even before
the children noticed it. Further down there was a gap in the fence
where several rails were broken.

Meg shrieked in terror as she saw what the bull meant to do.

"Peter! Jud! Aunt Polly! Come quick!" she screamed, hardly knowing
what she was crying.

"Coming!" called a big voice, and over the fence corner sprang Peter
Apgar, a pitchfork in his hand. He had been gathering up the loose hay
left along the edge of the field after the hayloader had gathered the
main crop.

After Peter came Spotty, who met the bull just as that cross animal's
nose appeared at the gap in the fence. Indeed, Spotty met him so
suddenly that both grunted.

"I'll turn him. You stay back here out of sight," commanded Peter,
running past the four little Blossoms.

The children were very glad to stay huddled behind the bushes, but
they couldn't help peeping out now and then to see what Peter and
Spotty were doing with the bull.

"Woof, woof!" barked Spotty.

"You will, will you?" shouted Peter.

He jabbed the bull with the pitchfork, and that surprised beast turned
with a bellow. Holding the pitchfork so that it would not hurt him
unless he tried to come at him, Peter forced the bull back through the
fence, and then he and Spotty drove him across the field.

Presently Peter and the dog came back, a bit warm and breathless, and
very glad the four little Blossoms were to see them.

"You can finish berrying in peace," said Peter. "I drove the bull into
Simmonds' barnyard and told his man to keep him there. No farmer has a
right to leave a cross bull at large."

The children set to work at the berries again, and, as nothing further
happened to disturb them, they filled all four pails before supper
time. Bobby and Meg helped the twins a little, and maybe they weren't
proud to have berries of their own picking and cream, as Meg said, of
their own milking, for their supper that night! And there were enough
berries left over for four small turnovers. Aunt Polly made this
pleasant announcement.

"I intended to bake cookies to-morrow morning," she said, smiling.
"And I don't know why I shouldn't make turnovers, too, and maybe
doughnuts. Perhaps some one would like to keep me company? Linda is
going to spend the day with her mother in town, and like as not I
shall be lonesome."

"We'll all keep you company," promised Bobby gravely.

So the next morning every one was up early because Linda wanted to
have breakfast cleared away before Jud drove her over to town. Soon
after she was gone Aunt Polly put on a large white apron and the four
children trooped into the pleasant kitchen after her.

"Let me see," thought Aunt Polly out loud. "Meg should have an apron.
Suppose I tie one of Linda's around your neck, dear? Hers are shorter
than mine."

In a very short time Aunt Polly had rolled out the crust for the
turnovers and filled them with berries and sugar.

"When they are done you can take them outdoors and eat them while
they're hot," she said. "Make believe you're having a picnic."

"Can't we have a picnic, a real picnic?" asked Bobby quickly.

"Why, of course," agreed Aunt Polly. "I meant you should have a picnic
weeks ago. Only time goes so fast. However, before vacation is over
we'll have a real picnic with all kinds of good things to eat."

Every one was very much interested in the first batch of cookies, and
Aunt Polly gave each one a sample, which was pronounced delicious.

Then Aunt Polly put on her big kettle and started to fry some
doughnuts.

Dot, when no one was looking, took Spotty out into the hall and gave
him half a cookie. Then they both came back into the kitchen wearing
such an innocent air that Aunt Polly had to laugh.

"Spotty has a sweet tooth, all right," she declared. "Don't let him
tease all your cookies away from you, dear. Twaddles, look out!"

The warning came too late, for Twaddles, reaching across the bowl of
freshly fried doughnuts to get something, caught his sleeve on the rim
of the bowl and succeeded in turning the whole thing upside down over
himself.

"I really think," said patient, long-suffering Aunt Polly, when the
doughnuts had been picked up and brushed off and Twaddles had
explained how it happened, "I really think, that four children and a
dog are too many to have in the kitchen on baking day. Anyway, the
turnovers are done. I'll slip them on a plate and let Meg carry it out
under the chestnut tree. Then you may have your picnic." And so it was
settled.

"I wish," confided Meg, as she bit into a juicy bit of pie--Aunt Polly
made wonderful berry pies--"I had my 'Black Beauty' book."

"I'll never have another doll like Geraldine!" sighed Dot. "Never! And
what good are all her clothes? I haven't any doll to fit 'em."

"You might take a tuck in 'em for Totty-Fat," suggested Bobby, using
the disrespectful name he had invented for Dot's old doll. "She's a
sight. Oh dear! I wish I had tried to fly my airplane just once before
I lost it."

"Well, there's my bird," mourned Twaddles. "Aunt Polly never heard it
sing. And now she never will."

"I dripped a little juice on my dress," announced Dot doubtfully,
after Meg had gone in to help her aunt wash dishes.

"I should think you had," said Bobby, gazing severely at the little
girl. "I don't believe blackberry juice comes out, either. Prob'ly
that dress will always be spotted now."

"Linda said when she was a little girl her mother made her wash her
own dresses if she got too many dirty in one day," Dot declared.
"Maybe I could wash this."

Twaddles and Bobby hadn't a very clear idea of how to wash a dress,
and because it was something they had not done before, the idea
appealed to them.

"We'll help you," offered Bobby generously. "I saw a piece of soap out
at the barn this morning. And the rain barrel's full. Come on."

They trotted down to the barn. Neither Peter nor Jud was anywhere in
sight, which was just what the washers hoped for. Of course, they
argued, it wasn't naughty to wash a dress, but you never can tell what
objections grown-ups are going to make. Sometimes they find fault with
every single thing one wants to do.

"Let me rub the soap on," begged Dot, as Bobby unbuttoned her frock
for her and she stepped out of it, a sturdy little figure in a brief
white petticoat.

So Dot rubbed plenty of soap on the blackberry spots. It was harness
soap, which Jud had been using for the leather harness, but the
children thought it made a fine lather. Linda would have scolded had
she seen them, for soap sets fruit juice stains so that it is almost
impossible ever to get them out.

"Let's put in our handkerchiefs, too," suggested Bobby, pulling out a
grimy square.

Twaddles had lost his, and Dot's was in the pocket of her dress and
already wet, but Bobby added his to the wash.

"We must let 'em soak," advised Dot, who had been in the kitchen on
wash days. "Linda says that gets the dirt out."

The three children balanced themselves on the edge of the rain barrel
while they waited for their wash to soak.

"Well, for pity's sake, what are you up to now?" It was Jud's voice,
and Jud came out of the barn so unexpectedly that he made them jump.

Twaddles tumbled to his knees, and Bobby stood up, but poor Dot lost
her shaky balance and fell into the barrel with her dress and the
handkerchief.

"There, there, sister, you're not hurt," soothed Jud, as he pulled the
dripping child out and stood her on the grass. "For mercy's sake don't
yell like that. Miss Polly will think you're killed!"

Dot was frightened and wet, and she had no intention of smiling at
such misfortune. She cried so loud that Aunt Polly heard her and came
running down to the barn, Meg running behind her.

"Why, Baby!" Aunt Polly was surprised to see streams of water running
off her small niece, and at first she did not notice that Dot had no
dress on.

"Where's your dress?" demanded Meg.

Aunt Polly picked up Dot, wet as she was, and started back to the
house. Meg followed to help find clean dry clothes.

Jud looked at Twaddles and Bobby queerly.

"Just what were you doing?" he asked in a different voice than they
had ever heard from easygoing, good-natured Jud. "What's that in the
barrel?"

"We were helping Dot," said Bobby. "She got juice all on her dress,
and, honest, she's worn eleven this week. So we thought we ought to
wash this one."

"I see," replied Jud slowly. "Do you know you've spoiled a barrel of
soft rain water that's worth considerable? To say nothing of soap."

"We used the green soap we found on the beam," put in Twaddles.

"You perfect imps!" groaned poor Jud. "That's my harness soap. I don't
see how your town gets along with all four of you the year around.
Well, you can just help me bail out this water--that's flat. Wring out
that pesky wash and spread it on the grass to dry. Then each of you
take one of those lard pails, and set to work."



CHAPTER XII

UP ON THE MOUNTAIN


Two subdued little boys went in to dinner that noon. Afterward Aunt
Polly announced that she was going over to town.

"I have to drive Nelly Bly," she told them, "and as I couldn't take
but one, I don't think it is fair to take any of you. As soon as the
car is fixed, we'll have a long drive."

Jud had taken the automobile over to the one garage the week before
and it was not ready yet.

"Now try to amuse yourselves and don't get into mischief," cautioned
Aunt Polly, as Jud brought Nelly Bly and the buggy to the door. "I'm
sorry I have to leave you when Linda is away, but you'll be all right.
Jud will be within call, and I'll be back about five. I'm going to
pick up Linda and bring her back."

"What are you going to do, Jud?" asked Dot, as Aunt Polly drove out of
the gate. Dot was in a clean dry dress and none the worse for her
ducking.

"Can't we help you?" asked Meg kindly.

"Now look here," Jud said, in his pleasant, slow voice. "I'm going to
be all-fired busy in the back garden. If anything frightens you, sing
out and I'll hear you. If you want to talk to any one, go down to the
house, and Mother will listen to you. But please don't bother me."

"But what'll we do?" persisted Bobby.

Jud pointed to the tent that had been Father Blossom's surprise.

"Play Indians, why don't you?" he suggested. "Don't believe you've had
those clothes on three times since you got 'em. If any one had sent me
a tent when I was a kid, you couldn't have kept me from playing with
it."

"We might as well play Indian," said Meg, when Jud had gone off to his
garden, whistling. "Dot and I'll put on our suits and you and Twaddles
wear yours. I wish I had a tomahawk."

"Girl Indians don't have 'em," said Bobby flatly.

"Well, they ought to," declared Meg. "Doesn't Dot look cunning in her
suit?"

"Heap big Injun chief," announced Bobby, prancing about in his suit.

"Let's get captives and hide them in the tent," suggested Meg, who
usually did most of the planning for their games.

"Where'll we get 'em?" asked Bobby doubtfully. "Jud's bigger than we
are."

"No, we can't capture Jud," agreed Meg.

"Wow! wow! Whoop!" shouted Twaddles, tumbling down the steps and
giving his best Indian yell as he came.

"Ducks and chickens might be captives," said Meg slowly, frowning at
the interruption of Twaddles.

Ordinarily Meg was a good little girl and not given to mischief, but a
spice of naughtiness seemed to be in all the four little Blossoms on
this unfortunate day.

"Let's get the ducks, first," said Bobby. "That's a great idea, Meg.
Come on, Twaddles, we have to capture the ducks."

They found the beautiful white birds swimming lazily about the
artificial duck pond in the chicken yard, and they didn't seem to want
to be captured at all. The children finally succeeded in driving
them, twenty of them, that is, into the tent.

"Somebody will have to stay and see they don't come out when we get
the chickens," said Meg. "Dot's too little--she'll let 'em out. I'll
do it, if you'll stay when we get the chickens in, and let me capture
the turkeys, Bobby."

Bobby assented, and Meg stayed behind at the tent while Dot, Twaddles
and Bobby went after the chickens.

If you have ever tried to drive a hen into a certain place, you will
know how very stupid she can be. The children were hot and cross
before they had twenty-eight white leghorn hens penned in the tent
with the ducks.

"They make an awful lot of noise," said Bobby nervously. "Jud will
hear them."

"As soon as they find it's dark they'll think it's night," answered
Meg comfortably. "Now I'm going after turkeys."

But the only turkey she could find was the lame one that lived in the
chicken yard and was tame enough to allow herself to be picked up.

"Aren't they good and quiet?" said Meg with satisfaction, as she poked
the patient turkey hen through the tent flaps and heard the soft
mutterings of the ducks and hens, who thought it was night and time to
go to sleep.

Just as the Indians had the last captive snugly fastened in, Peter,
with Terry harnessed to the "market wagon," a light wagon that was
used to take the butter and eggs over to town in, came down the drive
from the barn.

"Whoa!" said Peter to Terry.

"Oh, Mr. Peter!" The four little Blossoms rushed out to greet him.
"Where are you going? Can't we go? Where's Jerry?"

Peter surveyed the four Indians gravely.

"Well, as I'm going up in the mountain, I guess we won't meet any one
who'll be scared to death," he said slowly. "So I don't know but
perhaps you might hop in. Jerry? I left him in the stable. This wagon
goes with one horse."

As the children scrambled in, Peter thought of something.

"Like as not Miss Polly'll be back before we are," he observed. "She
might miss all four of you if no one's about. Jud!"

"Here!" shouted Jud from the back garden.

He came to the gate in the hedge.

"Jud, if Miss Polly comes home and doesn't find any children, just
tell her they're with me and that we'll be home by six. I'm going up
in the mountain."

"All right," said Jud.

"How do you go up in the mountain?" inquired Meg curiously, as they
turned into the road.

She was sitting on the front seat with Peter, Twaddles was between
them, and Dot was in her lap. Bobby stood up in the wagon behind them
and looked over their shoulders.

"I guess I mean up on the mountain," Peter corrected himself. "We've
got kind of a habit round here of saying 'in the mountain.' Ever been
up there?"

The four little Blossoms had never been there--indeed they did not
know there was a mountain near by.

"Well, I suppose it's more of a hill," admitted Peter. "But it's the
best mountain we have. Queer people live up there. They don't see much
of anybody, and some of 'em's as timid as deer. The children, now, run
when they see a stranger coming."

"What are we going to get?" asked Bobby. He had been long enough on
the farm to know that when one harnessed up a horse and wagon there
was usually something to be fetched or carried.

"I'm going up to see if I can't get a woman to come down next week and
help Mrs. Peter do some cleaning," explained Peter. "Help's scarce in
the town, and some of the mountain-folk like to earn a little money in
the summer. Miss Polly taking the buggy, I had to get along with the
market wagon. 'Sides, the thought came to me that I might meet some
one who wanted a ride."

Meg saw Peter's eyes twinkling and she guessed that he had meant to
ask them to go with him all the time.

Terry was going up a steep road now, narrow as well as steep, and the
untrimmed trees lashed against the curtained sides of the wagon as it
passed.

"Here's Mrs. Cook's house," said Peter at last.

The children saw a little unpainted house standing in a clearing of
half-chopped tree-stumps. A line of washing was strung between the two
posts that supported a narrow roof over the door. Skins of animals
were tacked on the sides of the house, and a large hound dog chained
to a tree watched them closely.

"Can we get out and see the dog?" asked Meg, as Peter tied Terry to a
convenient tree.

"I don't know as I'd touch the dog," said Peter. "Better keep away
from him. He's a night hunter, and may be cross. There's Mrs. Cook's
little girl--go and make friends with her If you want to."

Peter went up to the house door and knocked, and Meg walked over to a
little girl seated on a tree stump.

The child was barefooted and wore a ragged dress, but her skin was a
beautiful clear brown and her eyes were as blue as Meg's. She had
lovely long brown hair, too.

"Hello!" said Meg.

Apparently the little girl had not heard her coming, for she jumped
when Meg spoke and turned swiftly. Then she shrieked loudly and dashed
for the house. Peter came out at once.

"Guess you frightened her," he said. "And Christopher Columbus, I
don't wonder. You look like a band of Indians let loose."

"My! we forgot these clothes," said Bobby. "Meg didn't mean to
frighten her. Look at Twaddles--she scared him pretty near stiff
yelling like that."

Mrs. Cook came out to the wagon presently, to tell Peter that she
would come the next week. She was a little thin, brown-faced woman,
and she was even shyer than Dot, who usually shrank out of sight when
there were any strangers around.

"These Miss Polly's 'lations?" asked Mrs. Cook, twisting her apron
nervously.



CHAPTER XIII

LINDA IS UNHAPPY


"Every one of 'em," announced Peter. "These, ma'am, are the four
little Blossoms!"

"We didn't mean to scare your little girl," said Meg bravely. "I guess
she thought we were Indians. These are just play clothes."

"Emma Louise scares easy," said Mrs. Cook. "All my children do."

"How many have you?" asked Twaddles, meaning to be polite.

"Nine," replied Mrs. Cook serenely. "Four boys and five girls."

"We have to be going, if we get back in time for supper," hinted
Peter, gathering up the reins. "I'll tell the Missus you'll walk down
Tuesday morning, then, and I'll drive you home at night."

"Wait a minute," begged Dot, as Peter was about to turn Terry. It was
the first word she had spoken since they had reached the Cook house.
"Give these to the little girl."

It was the chain of gay-colored beads Dot wore around her neck with
the Indian dress, and Mrs. Cook's face wrinkled into a smile of
delight.

"Emma Louise will love 'em," she declared brightly. "I'm much
obliged."

Dot was too shy to say anything, but she blushed and smiled and
inwardly wished that Peter would drive on. Soon they were going down
the mountain again.

"Aunt Polly's at home!" shouted Dot, as they turned into the drive and
she saw a white figure rocking in the porch swing.

Aunt Polly was very glad to see them, and she had not been worried
because Jud had told her where the children had gone. The milking was
done, she said, and everything fed, so if they would get washed and
dressed right away for supper, Linda would put it on the table while
they were upstairs.

"Linda looked as if she'd been crying," said Meg, slipping off the
Indian dress and pulling on a clean white piqué. "Her eyes were all
red."

"Maybe she was bad and her mother scolded her," said Dot.

At the supper table Aunt Polly listened to the story of the
afternoon's drive, and heard about Mrs. Cook and the queer little
house, but all the time she seemed to be thinking of something else.
And there was certainly something seriously wrong with Linda. She
scarcely ate any supper, and her eyes were red, as Meg said. Twaddles
was sure she had the toothache. When he went out into the kitchen
after supper he found her crying over the dishes, and she was cross to
him and told him to get out of her kitchen.

"I guess Linda has the measles," reported the astonished Twaddles to
the rest of the family, who were on the front porch.

"Yes, I guess she's sick," remarked Bobby. "She didn't want any cold
chicken."

"Was she bad, Aunt Polly?" questioned Dot "Did her mother punish
her?"

"Well, Linda and I had decided not to bother you with our troubles,"
said Aunt Polly, "but I see we can't hide a thing from your sharp
eyes. I have bad news to tell you. While you were away with Peter this
afternoon, and while Linda and I were in town, a miserable chicken
thief got into the chicken yard and stole ever so many chickens. We
don't know yet how many. And they took nearly every one of Linda's
ducks. She has the ducks for her own, you know, and she uses the money
for her school clothes. So that's why she's crying."

The four little Blossoms sat and stared at Aunt Polly. They had
completely forgotten the chickens and ducks and the one lame turkey
shut into the tent till this minute.

"Aunt Polly!" gasped Meg, in a very little voice. "Aunt Polly--please,
we were just playing, and--and----" Meg could not go on.

"We were playing Indians," said Bobby, coming to the rescue of his
sister, "and we had to have some captives. So--so----"

"We took the chickens and the ducks," went on the twins in concert.

"And the lame turkey," put in Meg.

"And shut them in our tent!" finished Bobby and Meg together.

"Put them in your tent?" repeated Aunt Polly. "Do you suppose they are
there now?"

Away dashed the children, Aunt Polly after them, around to the side
lawn. The tent was just as they had left it, and Meg cautiously
unbuttoned the flap. A soft, comfortable little singing sound came out
to them.

"Well, I never!" said Aunt Polly helplessly. "What won't you children
do next!"

The four little Blossoms ran back to tell Linda that her ducks were
safe, and you may be sure she was very glad to hear it. And in the
morning they found the biddies and the ducks none the worse for their
night in the tent.

Shortly after this, Bobby and Meg were awakened one night by a queer
noise outside. Bobby heard it first and came creeping into Meg's room
to see if she were awake.

"Meg! Meg!" he whispered, so as not to wake Dot. "Did you hear
something?"

"Yes, I did," whispered back Meg. "Under my window. Wait a minute and
we'll peep out."

Dot and Twaddles wouldn't wake up, "not if there was an earthquake,"
Daddy Blossom sometimes said, but Meg and Bobby were light sleepers
and very apt to hear any unusual noise.

Together now they crept over to Meg's window and, raising the screen
very softly, peeped out. Something large and dark was moving about on
the lawn below.

"I guess it's Mr. Simmonds' bull," suggested Meg.

"Don't you think we ought to go down and drive him off?" asked Bobby,
quite as if driving bulls off his aunt's lawn was a nightly task with
him. "Or I'll go alone--I'm the man of the house."

As a matter of fact, he was. Aunt Polly and Linda slept in rooms
across the hall at the back of the house, and apparently had heard
nothing. But Meg had no idea of letting her brother face a bull
alone.

"I'm coming, too," she whispered. "Let's put on our shoes--you know
how wet the grass is at night. And here's a blanket, so you won't
catch cold."

Wrapping herself in another blanket--Aunt Polly kept two light-weight
blankets folded at the foot of each bed for chilly nights--Meg tiptoed
carefully downstairs after Bobby. They knew their way about the house
now, even in the dark. The front door was not locked, for people in
the country seldom lock their doors.

"Why, Bobby!" Meg called softly. "Look! There's a lot of 'em! See! All
down the drive! They can't be Mr. Simmonds' bull----"

"Well, not all of 'em," snickered Bobby. "There's only one of him.
Come on, Meg, I'm going up to one and see what it is."

"Why, it's a calf!" cried Meg, in astonishment. "A darling baby calf!
They all are! How many are there, Bobby?"

"I can count fourteen," said Bobby after a moment, for the night was
not pitch black, but one of those soft summer nights with so many
stars that after your eyes are accustomed to it you can see objects
distinctly enough to count.

"Somebody's left their barnyard gate open," announced Meg. "What'll
we do? Drive 'em into our barnyard?"

"Sure!" answered Bobby, just like a farmer. "That'll keep 'em safe
till morning. And then Jud will find out whose they are."

Driving those fourteen baby calves was not such hard work as they had
expected, for they were very amiable beasties and only wanted to
nibble a little fresh sweet grass as they were driven on toward the
barnyard. But Meg and Bobby had so much fun doing this that they
forgot to be quiet, and just as they had the last calf safely inside
and the big gate barred, two figures came running up to them.

"For the love of Pete!" said Jud, breathing heavily. "Meg and Bobby!
And in their night clothes! Are you crazy?"

"There's fourteen baby calves in there," announced Bobby with
dignity.

"Yes, and they would have had the whole lawn eaten up if it hadn't
been for us," declared Meg.

Peter and Jud peered over the gate.

"Those are Tom Sparks' calves he bought for his auction next week,"
said Peter. "Guess he didn't pen 'em in good to-night. Well, you
youngsters don't miss anything, do you? You run back to bed now, and
in the morning we'll do a little telephoning."

And when Jud came up while they were at breakfast the next morning and
told them that Mr. Sparks wanted to pay a reward of five dollars to
the person who had saved his calves for him, maybe there wasn't great
excitement!

Aunt Polly then heard the story for the first time, as did Dot and
Twaddles and Linda.

"You take it," advised Linda, when Jud repeated the offer of the
reward. "If the constable had put his calves in the pound it would
have cost him twice that to get them out."

"But I don't like to have them take money," protested Aunt Polly.

"All right," said Jud suddenly. "Mr. Sparks can pay them back some
other way."



CHAPTER XIV

THE PICNIC


Jud went off whistling, and soon after they had finished breakfast the
four little Blossoms saw a tall, stout man drive in. His horse was a
beautiful, shiny black animal, evidently groomed and tended with great
care.

"That's Mr. Sparks," Linda informed the children.

The children ran out to see the calves being herded together, and Jud
embarrassed Meg and Bobby very much by introducing them as the little
people who had heard the calves in the night and gone downstairs after
them.

"Meg heard 'em," said Bobby modestly.

"Well, well, well!" almost shouted Mr. Sparks, though that was his
natural way of talking; he couldn't speak low. "I do certainly admire
a girl with spunk enough to get up in the middle of the night and
chase live-stock. You ought to be a farmer's daughter."

He paused and smiled at the children. It was impossible not to like
this bluff, red-faced man with the loud voice.

"I had intended to give a little reward to the person who did me this
service," went on Mr. Sparks. "Finding there's two of 'em, rightly I
should double it. But Mrs. Hayward, I hear, doesn't want you to take
money--good notion, too, in a way, I guess. Suppose I give you one of
these little calves now. How would that do?"

"One of those darling little calves?" cried Meg.

"To keep?" echoed Bobby.

"To keep, of course," assented Mr. Sparks. "You pick the critter you
want, and I guess Mrs. Hayward will pasture it for you."

"Sure she will," promised Jud, who was standing by with a delighted
smile. "And after you go back to Oak Hill, I'll take good care of it
and next summer you can come up and see your own cow."

Aunt Polly and Linda and Peter all had to be summoned, and then, with
every one's help and advice, not forgetting the twins', Bobby and Meg
selected a handsome cream-colored little calf that Mr. Sparks assured
them would grow into a Jersey bossy cow like Mrs. Sally Sweet.

"What you going to call her?" he asked curiously.

Bobby looked at Meg.

"You name her," he suggested.

"All right. Let's call her Carlotta," said Meg promptly. "I think that
is the loveliest name." So Carlotta the calf was named.

Carlotta did not seem to mind at all when her friends and relatives
were driven off by Mr. Sparks. Apparently she liked Brookside farm and
was glad she was going to live there.

"Thank you ever so much, Mr. Sparks," said Meg and Bobby for the
twentieth time, as he drove out of the gateway after his recovered
property.

A day or two after the finding of the calves Aunt Polly came out on
the porch where the children were cutting up an old fashion magazine
for paper dolls, and sat down in the porch swing with her mending
basket.

"Do you know, honeys," she began, "if we don't have our picnic pretty
soon, vacation is going to be over. Though what I am to do this long
cold winter without any children in my house I don't see."

"Bobby and I have to go to school," said Meg. "But Dot and Twaddles
could stay."

"We're going to school, too," declared Dot, with such a positive snap
of her blunt scissors that she snipped off a paper doll's head.

"Of course," affirmed Twaddles, with maddening serenity.

"Well, I think we'd better talk about the picnic," interposed Aunt
Polly. "When to have it, and whom to invite and what to have to eat."

"Sandwiches!" cried Meg, answering the last question first. "Let me
help make 'em, Auntie?"

"Oh, of course," promised Aunt Polly. "And it seems to me that we had
better go to-morrow. This spell of fine dry weather can't last
forever, and when the rain does come we may have a week of it."

"Can Jud come?" asked Bobby.

"Yes, indeed," answered Aunt Polly, who had the happiest way of
saying "yes" to nearly everything her nephews and nieces asked of
her.

"And Linda?" asked Twaddles.

"Linda, too," agreed Aunt Polly.

"Where'll we go?" demanded the practical Dot.

"Over in the woods," said Aunt Polly.

"Let's get ready," proposed Meg, who knew a picnic meant work
beforehand.

Every one scattered, Meg and Aunt Polly to the kitchen to help Linda
pack the lunch boxes, as far as they could be packed the day before
the picnic; Bobby to tell Jud that he was expected; and Dot and
Twaddles on an errand of their own.

They were gone some time, and when they returned acted so mysteriously
that Meg was quite out of patience.

"Be sure you have enough sandwiches," advised Twaddles, swinging on
the kitchen screen door, a thing which always made Linda nervous.

"There might somebody come at the last minute," chimed in Dot.

Then she and Twaddles giggled.

"Those silly children," said Meg with her most grown-up air. "I
suppose they think they sound funny."

Dot and Twaddles apparently did not care how they sounded, and they
stayed in the kitchen, stirring and tasting, till Linda flatly
declared that she'd put pepper in the pressed chicken instead of salt
if they didn't stop bothering her. Jud came just at that moment and
asked the twins to help him see if the new catch on the chicken yard
gate worked all right, and the two little torments readily followed
him.

Nearly everything was ready for the picnic by that night, and every
one went to bed hoping for a clear day.

"The sun is shining, Meg! Meg, get up!" shouted Dot early the next
morning. "We're going on a picnic!"

She made so much noise that she woke up Aunt Polly and Linda, as well
as Bobby and Twaddles, and then, of course, there was nothing to do
but to get up and have breakfast.

The four little Blossoms found Peter and Jud busy in the barn, putting
clean straw in the bottom of the box wagon that was used to haul logs
and brushwood in in the winter.

"Be ready in two jerks of a lamb's tail," announced Peter, using one
of his favorite expressions.

When the heavy wagon rattled up to the front door, the four little
Blossoms were already sitting on the straw. Aunt Polly and Linda were
helped in by Jud, who also lifted in the boxes of lunch, and then
Peter clucked to Jerry and Terry, and away they went, over the meadow
into the woods, and up the narrow wagon road.

"See, isn't this pretty?" asked Aunt Polly, as the road suddenly came
out into a clearing, and they saw the brook a bit ahead of them.

They all jumped out, and Peter turned the horses' heads toward home at
once. He was anxious to get back to his work, but was coming for them
at half-past four.

"We must get some flowers for the table," said Aunt Polly, after she
had helped Linda put the boxes in a low branch of a tree where nothing
could touch them. "Come, children, let's get a bouquet of flowers."

They gathered wild flowers, and also found some late blackberries
which, placed on a wide green leaf as a dish, looked very pretty.
Linda spread a white cloth presently, and was opening the boxes when
the sound of a rattling wagon attracted her attention.

"If that doesn't sound like Mr. Sparks' old rig," said Linda
curiously.

"It is," announced Dot complacently. "Twaddles and me asked him to
come to the picnic, 'cause he gave Meg and Bobby the calf."

Although Aunt Polly murmured helplessly, "what will those children do
next!" they were all very glad to see Mr. Sparks when he finally
rattled up. And there was plenty of everything to eat--trust Aunt
Polly and Linda for that.

Mr. Sparks brought a freezer of ice-cream with him, which his wife had
made, as his contribution to the picnic, and though he had to go as
soon as lunch was over, he assured the children that he had had a
splendid time.

When the crumbs were all scattered for the birds, and the papers and
boxes neatly buried, except one box of sandwiches they had not eaten
and which they saved for Peter, Aunt Polly declared that she wanted to
sit quietly for an hour and knit. Linda, too, had her embroidery, but
the four little Blossoms wanted to go wading.

"I'll watch 'em," promised Jud.

So Meg and Bobby and Dot and Twaddles took off their shoes and
stockings and pattered over the pine needles that covered the grass
down to the edge of the brook.

Bobby dipped one foot in to test the water.

"Wow, it's cold!" he said. "Just like ice, Jud."

"You won't mind it after you've been in a little while," Jud assured
him. "Now when I say come out, you're to come. No teasing to stay in!
Is that agreed?"

"All right," promised the four little Blossoms. "Oh, ow! isn't it
cold?"



CHAPTER XV

WHAT MEG FOUND


The first thing Dot did was to step in a deep hole and get her dress
and tucked-up skirt wet nearly to her shoulders.

"It's all right," said Meg calmly. "Aunt Polly brought some dry things
with her. I guess she expected Dot to go in bathing instead of
wading."

This made Dot very indignant, but she pattered along after the others,
and in a few minutes forgot to be cross. When you are wading in a
clear, cold brook with little dancing leaves making checkered patterns
on the water, and a green forest all around you, you can not stay
cross long.

"I see something," said Bobby suddenly. "Look! Over there where it's
wide! Don't you see it, Meg?"

"Looks like clothes," said Meg, shading her eyes with her hand, for
the sun on the water dazzled her. "Maybe it's a wash. Aunt Polly said
some of the hired men around here wash their clothes in the brook.
Let's go and see."

"Here, here! Where are you going?" called Jud, as they began to
scramble down.

"We saw something on the other side of the brook," explained Bobby.
"We're going over to see what it is."

"Well, you just wait," ordered Jud. "That's the widest part of the
brook down there, and all that side is swampy land. You can't land on
it. You'll sink in. Wait till I take my shoes off, and I'll come and
help you."

Jud took off his shoes and socks and rolled his trousers up to his
knees. He wasn't afraid that the four little Blossoms would drown, for
the brook was not very deep in any part. But it was wide at the point
where Bobby wanted to cross, and there was no bank, only a piece of
swamp, on the other side.

"Now I'll take Dot and Twaddles, and you and Meg hold hands," said
Jud, as he stepped into the water. "Come on, Pirates, let's board
yonder frigate."

The children giggled and stepped gingerly after Jud. They were glad
he had come with them, for the mild little brook looked like a river
to them as they got out into the middle of it.

"What do you suppose that is over there?" said Bobby. "I wish it was
buried treasure. I never found any buried treasure."

"Maybe it is Indians," Meg suggested a little fearfully.

"With a flag of truce?" said Jud, understanding at once. "Well, Meg, I
don't believe we have any Indians around here."

He made a dive for Dot and saved her from slipping, but she wasn't a
bit grateful.

"I almost caught a crab," she sputtered.

Before Bobby could tell her that crabs didn't live in brooks, they had
reached the piece of swamp land and all four children rushed for the
fluttering bit of white which had attracted Bobby's attention.

"Why, it's a shirt!" said Twaddles in great disappointment.

Whatever he had expected to see, it certainly wasn't a shirt and he
felt cheated. Jud had to laugh at the queer expression on his face.

Meg, however, did not laugh. She was eyeing the shirt closely and Jud
saw that she had something on her mind. Perhaps Meg was his favorite
among the children, if he had a favorite. He had once told Linda that
Meg was a "regular little woman" and indeed, quiet as she was, she
often saw things that other people did not notice.

"Jud," she said now, "that shirt hasn't any buttons on it and the
pocket is ripped. And Linda brought her sewing basket."

Bobby looked at his little sister as though he thought she was losing
her mind.

"What's a sewing basket got to do with it?" he demanded.

"It needs mending," said Meg soberly. "Maybe the man who washed it
hasn't any needle and thread."

The twins declared that everyone had needle and thread, but Jud rather
spoiled their argument by announcing that he had none.

"I can't sew, so what good would needle and thread do me?" he asked
them.

Meg, forgetting the shirt for a moment, asked him what he did when
buttons came off his clothes.

"My mother sews them on again," said Jud, "and Mother darns my socks
and Mother mends the rips I get in my coats."

"There, you see!" Meg cried triumphantly. "This man hasn't any mother
to sew buttons on him."

"On his shirt, you mean," giggled Dot.

"Well, maybe he hasn't," Bobby admitted. "I don't suppose he has, or
he wouldn't have to do his own washing. But Linda's basket is on the
other side of the brook."

"I'm going to take the shirt over to her and ask her to mend it,"
announced Meg. "I know she will. Then I'll bring it back and hang it
on the bush and won't he be surprised!"

Jud chuckled.

"He'll be more surprised if he comes along and his shirt is missing,"
he laughed. "Why, he'll think the birds made way with it."

This was a new problem for Meg and she thought about it for several
minutes.

"Dot and Twaddles can stay here," she decided, "and if the man comes,
they can tell him that I will bring his shirt back as soon as it is
mended."

But the twins did not take kindly to the idea of being left alone.
They said they were going back when Jud went.

"Then you take the shirt, and I'll stay," said Meg, who seldom gave up
a plan, once she had made it. "Please ask Linda to put the buttons on
and mend the pocket and then you bring it right back."

Jud looked doubtful at the thought of leaving Meg, even when Bobby
declared he would stay with her.

"I have to go, for the children can't get back alone," he said, "but
you mustn't go away from here: I want to be able to find you when I
bring the laundry home."

Bobby and Meg laughed and promised to stay close to the bush. Meg
folded up the shirt and stuffed it in Jud's pocket, because she said
Dot would drop it in the water if she tried to carry it and Twaddles
would want to play with it and might get it dirty. Then Meg and Bobby
watched the three wade back and when they reached the opposite bank,
they waved to them.

Though Jud had said they could not land, there was a narrow strip of
ground firm enough to hold them and it was on this the bush grew where
the unknown man had hung his washing.

"I don't see any house for him to live in," said Bobby curiously.

"Maybe he lives in a tent," Meg answered absently, trying to see
across the brook to the tree where she knew Linda was sitting.

"Let's walk down a little way," suggested Bobby. "We'll come right
back: Jud didn't say we couldn't go wading. He only said to be here
when he came. Maybe we'll find the man's house."

Meg was willing enough, for she was no more fond of sitting still than
Bobby was. Holding hands, they began cautiously to wade down stream.

The water rushed more swiftly than they actually liked, but neither
would say so. Instead they slipped over the stones and tried to walk
as fast as the water, and presently Meg had to stop to get her
breath.

"I hear a kitty crying," she said the next minute. "Listen,
Bobby--don't you hear a cat?"

But as noises often do, as soon as Bobby listened intently, the noise
stopped. He couldn't hear a thing and said so.

"There! Now don't you hear it?" cried Meg. "It's a little kitty and it
must be lost. Oh, Bobby, we have to find it!"

Bobby could hear the kitten mewing now and he was as eager to find it
as Meg was. But how could a kitten be in the brook?

"It's back there!" Meg said, waving her hand toward the marshy land.
"Maybe, if we call it, it will come."

And together they called, "Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!" but the little faint
"Meow" sounded just the same.

"Well, I'll have to hunt for it," declared Bobby, looking at the wet
and soggy ground rather regretfully. "I hope there aren't any snakes
in there," he added gloomily.

Meg had a horror of snakes and she didn't want her dearly loved
brother to go where they might be. Neither could she go away and leave
the kitten. So, like the brave and affectionate little girl she was,
she said she was going with Bobby.

They hoped with all their hearts they wouldn't see a snake and they
didn't know what they would do if they did, but they had no intention
of leaving that forlorn kitty cat to its own fate. And, as sometimes
happens, it turned out that they did not have to go where they dreaded
to go at all.

"I see it!" cried Meg suddenly, her sharp eyes having searched the
bank near them, where it jutted out into the water. "Look, Bobby, in
that crooked tree, hanging out over the brook."

Bobby looked. At the very tip end of the longest branch, there clung a
tiny ball of dirty white which must be the kitten.

"Scared to death," commented Bobby. "I don't see how we can get it
down: the more I shake the tree, the harder it will dig its claws in.
That's the way cats do."

But Meg was ready with a plan.

"You climb up the tree," she told Bobby, "and I'll stand underneath
and hold my skirts out; you can pull the cat off and drop it down into
my lap."

That was easier said than done, as they both discovered the next
minute. For one thing, the water sucked past the tree in a current
that forced Meg to brace her feet wide apart to keep her balance. And
when Bobby had climbed the tree, he found the limb wasn't strong
enough to bear his weight and he couldn't crawl out to the cat.

"If I had a pole, I could push her off," he shouted to Meg.

"Bend it down," she called. "Bend the branch down and I'll pick her
off, Bobby."

And, after one or two unsuccessful attempts to bend the branch down,
that was just what they did do. Bobby managed to bend it within arm's
reach of Meg, who detached the little cat much as you pick a
caterpillar off a leaf. Though the cat stuck tighter to the branch
than any caterpillar was ever known to do.

"You're all right," said Meg soothingly, putting the kitten in her
dress and gathering it up like a bag. "Soon as you get home, you can
have something to eat and you'll feel much better."

It was hard work, wading against the current, but they helped each
other and by good luck reached the bush, just as they saw Jud starting
out from the other side. Dot and Twaddles danced impatiently on the
bank, but he had evidently told them to stay there, for they did not
follow him.

"Jud! Jud!" called Bobby and Meg, beginning to do a dance of their
own. "You don't know what we found, Jud!"

"If I was you, I'd wait to do my prancing on, dry ground," Jud advised
them as he waded across. "It's safer and drier."

"Did Linda do the shirt? Is it mended?" Meg asked eagerly, when Jud
was within easy talking distance.

"Mended tip-top," announced Jud. "Buttons all on, pocket sewed back,
rip between the shoulders all fixed. Never saw a neater job."

"Linda is good as she can be," Meg said gratefully, holding her skirts
with one hand and reaching for the shirt with the other. "Let's spread
it out just the way we found it."

They draped the shirt as Meg insisted she remembered seeing it, Jud
all the while staring curiously at the little girl.

"What are you holding in your skirt?" he asked when she gave him her
free hand and they were ready to cross the brook.

"It's a surprise," Meg said mysteriously. "I want to surprise Dot and
Twaddles. You'll never be able to guess what it is, either, Jud."

And just as she said that, her foot slipped.



CHAPTER XVI

THE NEW CAT


Meg could not fall flat, for Jud had hold of her hand, but she did
drop her carefully held skirt. There was a splash, a startled "Meow!"
and a shriek from Meg.

"Don't let it drown!" she cried. "Jud, catch it, quick!"

If Meg had planned to surprise the twins, she could not have managed
better. They couldn't quite see what was going on, but they knew that
something had happened.

"What is it?" they called. "Can we come in, Jud, can't we come see?"

Jud made a quick scoop with his hand and brought out the miserable,
clawing, spitting little kitten.

"You stay where you are!" he ordered the twins. "Say, where'll I put
this?" he asked helplessly, turning to Meg.

She held up her skirt again and he dropped the kitten in it, since
that seemed to be the only place, and as Meg afterward said she was "a
little damp" from the cat's splash and more water wouldn't hurt.

Then Jud took hold of Meg's hand more firmly and Bobby's, too, and
they managed to reach the opposite bank without any more mishaps.

"What is it? What is it?" Dot and Twaddles begged, running up and down
madly. "Did you find something, Meg? Did you see the buttons on the
shirt? Did the man come and ask you who took it?"

"We didn't see anybody," said Bobby, who felt it was his duty to
answer this flood of questions. "I don't believe the man lives very
near, because we didn't see any house. But Meg found something."

By this time Aunt Polly and Linda had come down to the brook, to see
what was making the twins more excited than usual.

"Meg found something!" Dot told Aunt Polly.

"Did you, dear?" asked Aunt Polly, smiling. "Don't tell me it is
another shirt, Meg."

Meg stepped back and faced the group dramatically.

"It's a cat!" she said, and held her "find" up for them to see.

To her amazement, Linda and Jud went off into fits of laughter and
even Aunt Polly seemed to be trying not to smile.

"I don't see anything funny," Meg announced stiffly. "It's a poor
little almost dead cat. Bobby and I found it down the brook, hanging
on a tree and afraid to climb off."

"Why, the poor little thing!" said Aunt Polly with ready sympathy. "We
must take it home and feed it, Meg."

"I'm only laughing," Linda explained, wiping her eyes, "because it is
such a distressed-looking cat, Meg. It's so dirty and so little and
so--so mad!" she finished as the cat humped up its back and spit at
Twaddles who tried to stroke it.

"Stray kittens don't make friends very readily," said kind Aunt Polly.
"They think everyone is their enemy, till proved otherwise. We must
teach your kitten, Meg, that at Brookside Farm we like kitty cats."

"Where do you suppose it came from?" Bobby asked.

"Oh, some one had more cats than they wanted, so they turned it loose,
down by the brook," said Jud. "It's a mean trick and if I ever caught
a person doing it, I wouldn't waste a second giving him a piece of my
mind."

Meg stared at the forlorn white kitten gravely.

"You don't suppose it belongs to the man who washed the shirt, do
you?" she suggested earnestly.

Linda laughed. She was busily wrapping up the cat in tissue paper--of
all things!--because she happened to have a big wad of it in her
basket.

"There!" she said, handing the astonished kitten to Meg. "I can't bear
to have dirty things around me--you carry her like that and as soon as
we get home I'll wash her. If the cat did belong to the man whose
shirt I mended, I suppose you'd feel like going back and cutting the
buttons off, eh, Meg?"

Meg blushed a little.

"No-o, I wouldn't do that," she replied slowly, "but next time I
wouldn't bother."

However, Jud said that he didn't think a man who had to wash his
clothes in the brook and dry them on a bush had any cats.

"What are you going to call your find, Meg?" asked Jud when they
were riding home at half-past four, Peter eating his sandwiches
gratefully.

"Shirt," Meg answered placidly. "What are you laughing at? It's white,
like the shirt we found, and if it hadn't been for the shirt we
wouldn't have found the kitten at all and it might have fallen into
the water and been drowned."

And in spite of some teasing and much joking, Meg continued to call
the stray kitten "Shirt." True to her word, Linda washed the little
creature and when its fur dried it proved to be very pretty, soft and
silky. The kitty had blue eyes and by the time it was a full-grown
cat, Aunt Polly was immensely proud of it.

For Shirt lived at Brookside Farm and did not go with the four little
Blossoms when they went home to Oak Hill. Aunt Polly said Poots would
miss him and that cats didn't like to change their homes, anyway, and
Meg knew this to be true. And every year, at Christmas time, Meg
remembered to send Shirt a Christmas present and when she came to
visit Aunt Polly, he always seemed to know her.

The week of rain which Aunt Polly had predicted and which had led her
to hasten the picnic, arrived two or three days after the adventure in
the brook. The exceedingly practical Meg remarked at the breakfast
table, the first rainy morning, that she didn't care if it did
rain--Shirt was safe in a dry place and the man had had plenty of time
to get his wash dry and take it in off the bush.

"I wonder what he said when he saw the buttons," speculated Dot.

But this was one question that never received an answer, for the
children never saw the man who owned the shirt and they never heard
whether he was pleased to find his mending done or not.

"Maybe he thought the birds did it for him," said Twaddles helpfully
and was delighted when Jud told him that there was a bird called the
tailor bird.

"Then he did it," Twaddles declared, and when Dot pointed out that
they had seen Linda doing the work, Twaddles explained that he meant
the man would think the tailor bird had done it.

It was talk like this between the twins that made Jud say it gave him
a headache if he listened too long.

"We haven't had a rain like this in a long time," said Aunt Polly,
glancing out of the dining-room window at the dripping leaves.

"Not since we lost the raft," Bobby reminded her.

"I wonder if we'll ever find that," said Meg for the fortieth time.

"If I were you," Aunt Polly announced briskly, "I'd think up the
nicest thing to do for a rainy day and have just as much fun as I
could."

"Let's go out in the barn," suggested Twaddles.

"We could see what Jud is doing," Dot chimed in.

"He's mending the corn shelter," said Bobby, who usually knew what was
going on at the farm.

"I think it would be fun to play lighthouse in the barn and take our
lunch and stay all day," Meg declared, having thought of this while
the others were talking.

None of them knew what the lighthouse game might be, but it sounded
new and exciting. Aunt Polly said she didn't see why they couldn't
have a picnic in the barn as well as outdoors and she promised to help
Linda put up a lunch for them.

"Only remember not to bother Jud, if he is busy," she cautioned them.

The four little Blossoms knew how to run "between the drops" and as
soon as their lunch was packed, they kissed Aunt Polly and started for
the barn at breakneck speed. Flushed and breathless and hardly wet at
all, they burst into the barn and told Jud, who was busy on the main
floor, that they were going to have another picnic.

"You do manage to have a good time, all right," he said approvingly.
"Where are you going to play?"

They looked at Meg. It was her game and she was the only one who knew
the best place to go.

"We have to play in the loft," directed Meg. "We're going to live in a
lighthouse, Jud, and pull things up and down."

Jud did not understand at first and when she told him, he said that
lighthouse keepers did not live at the top of the lighthouse and pull
things up, but instead they lived in a neat little house built on the
ground, like other houses, and climbed the tall stairs to take care of
the light.

"Well, I think it would be more fun to live up high," said Meg, and
Jud said that was the best of a "pretend" play. You could do it to
suit yourself.

The four children scrambled up the loft ladder--practice had made this
once difficult feat easy for them--and for a half hour jumped about
in the clean, sweet hay, forgetting their game. The smooth, slippery
hay, piled in such masses, never failed to fascinate them.

"Now let's play lighthouse," suggested Meg, when Twaddles had come
down rather hard on his nose and was trying not to cry. "First thing
we need is a basket and rope."

They found a basket Jud said they might take and he got a piece of
rope for them. Then they argued about staying down on the floor of the
barn to put things in the basket for, of course, each one wanted to
pull the basket up; that was the interesting part.

"Take turns," Bobby advised. "I'll stay down first, and let Meg pull
up first, because she thought of this game."

So Meg ran up the ladder and Bobby put in the lunch box and she pulled
and tugged and at last succeeded in pulling the basket up to the
loft.



CHAPTER XVII

RAINY DAY FUN


"I'll bury it in the hay, before Twaddles comes up," said Meg to
herself. "He always wants to eat everything up right away."

She peeped over the edge of the haymow and saw the twins, one on
either side of Bobby, staring up. They looked funny, for their mouths
were open and Meg giggled a little.

"Send the basket back," Twaddles called. "We want to put something in
it."

"All right--wait a minute," answered Meg.

She ran back and hastily stuffed the lunch box under the hay, pulling
a pile over it so that it did not show at all. Then she rushed to the
edge of the mow, but she was in such haste not to keep the others
waiting that she dropped the basket, rope and all.

It rapped Dot on the head and she looked astonished.

"I don't see why you threw it at me," she said resentfully.

"I didn't," Meg explained. "I forgot to hold the rope. Shall I come
down and get it?"

"Twaddles will bring you the rope," said Bobby. "Soon as I put
something in the basket. Let's see, what shall we put in next?"

"There's Poots," Dot suggested, pointing to the cat who had followed
them.

"I don't think she'll like it," objected Meg, but Bobby was eager to
send the cat aloft and he and Twaddles together managed to stuff her
in the basket.

Bobby held her there while Twaddles took one end of the rope in his
hand and scrambled up the ladder to the waiting Meg.

"Where did you put the lunch?" he asked as soon as he reached the
loft.

"I put it away," Meg assured him. "Are you going to help me pull the
basket up, Twaddles?"

Twaddles was eager to help and he forgot the lunch. He stood back of
Meg and they both began to pull. Poots meowed sadly as she felt
herself rising and Bobby and Dot shouted to the pullers to "hurry
up."

"Poots will jump out in a minute," warned Bobby.

Twaddles' foot slipped on the soft hay and he went down, slackening
his hold on the rope as he fell. Meg turned to see what had happened
to him, let the rope sag, and the basket fell a foot or two with
sickening speed.

This was too much for any self-respecting cat and with a wild snarl
Poots leaped clear over the heads of Bobby and Dot. The angry cat
landed on his feet on the barn floor ten feet away, and dashed out
into the rain. Getting his fur coat soaking wet was preferable to
being hoisted about in a basket, he seemed to say.

"What did you do to Poots?" called Jud. "When he went out of that
door, his tail was two feet around!"

"We were only playing with him," Bobby said. "But maybe he didn't like
it much."

"If you have time to play with the cat, you have time to help me,"
declared Jud. "Don't you and Meg want to come and help me see if this
sheller is going to work?"

Bobby and Meg loved to help Jud and they left their game cheerfully,
to go to the corncrib. It was attached to the other end of the barn,
so they didn't have to go out in the rain. Jud wanted to watch the
machinery he had mended and he asked Meg to turn the crank and Bobby
to feed in the ears of corn. They were never allowed to touch the
sheller unless some older person was around, for little fingers could
get easily nipped in the cog wheels. So they were rather proud to be
especially asked to help Jud make it work.

"I thought the twins were coming," said Jud, absently, bending down to
tighten a screw.

"They must have stayed to play with the basket," Meg replied.

And that was just what the twins were doing, playing with the basket.

"You put something in it and let me pull it up," commanded Dot.

"I haven't anything to put in it," Twaddles offered. "The cat's
gone."

"Well you don't have to have a cat," said Dot impatiently. "I know
what we can get--eggs!"

There were always two or three hens that persisted in stealing their
nests and the twins had a fair idea of where these stolen nests were
in the barn. They often found the eggs and took them in to Linda.

Now, after a few minutes' search, they found seven eggs and put them
in the basket with great glee.

"Let me pull it up after you do?" asked Twaddles as Dot climbed up the
ladder.

"Well--perhaps," she replied carefully. "I might want to pull it up
more than once myself."

She began to pull on the rope and the basket dangled in the air.
Whether the sound of voices made Dot nervous, or whether the basket
was heavier than she had expected, it is hard to say. But just as Jud
and Bobby and Meg came out on the barn floor, Dot let that basket
fall.

"Good grief!" exclaimed Jud.

Twaddles seemed glued to one spot and the basket crashed down almost
under his nose. The eggs broke and some splashed up and sprayed him,
but most of the contents ran out on the floor in a bright yellow
stream.

"You took eggs!" Meg said accusingly.

"Well, nobody said not to," answered Dot in a rather frightened voice,
peering over the edge of the loft.

"All right, I'll say it now," Jud proclaimed. "After this, it is
against the rules to put anything in the basket which will break.
Remember that. And now, let me see if I can wipe you off, Twaddles."

Jud found a cloth and mopped the egg off Twaddles--fortunately not
much had reached him--and then Dot suggested that they do something
else.

"We could eat," Twaddles said placidly, which made Jud laugh.

"I'm going to start feeding the stock, so perhaps it isn't too early
for you to have lunch," he said. "That is one sure way to keep the
twins quiet, Meg."

Dot called after him that she hadn't said anything about eating, but
Jud didn't hear her. He was already measuring out corn for the
horses.

"Where is the lunch?" asked Bobby, who began to feel hungry himself.

"I know--I'll get it," Meg replied, and ran up the ladder.

She felt around in the hay where she had buried the box, but she
couldn't find it. The other children came up and watched her
curiously, but still she couldn't feel anything like a box.

"What are you looking for?" said Dot curiously.

"For our lunch," Meg told her, almost ready to cry. "I put it under
the hay and now I can't find it."

Bobby and the twins hastily got down beside her and tossed the hay
around. They looked where Meg said she put the box and they looked
where she was sure it couldn't be, but all that happened was that they
got very warm and tired indeed and not one sign of the lunch did they
uncover.

"Do you know what I think?" said Twaddles wisely. "I think some rat
found it and ate it. I've seen rats up here in the loft, lots of
times."

Meg glanced around hastily. She wasn't at all anxious to see a rat.

"Rats couldn't eat the box and everything in it," Bobby argued. "They
would leave pieces of paper and things that we would see."

"Then where is the box?" demanded Dot.

Bobby sat down to think and Meg waited respectfully.

"We'll have to get a pitchfork and turn over all the hay," Bobby
decided. "That's the only way to find the box: it's lost in all this
hay."

He was willing to go and get the pitchfork, but he was gone several
minutes. When he came back, Jud was with him.

"Pitchforks and Twaddles won't mix," declared Jud firmly. "We'll have
to manage some other way. Show me where you hid the box, Meg."

Meg showed him, as nearly as she could remember. Jud knelt down and
felt under the hay, while the children stared at him as though they
expected him to work some kind of magic.

"I think I can find it," he announced. "You all sit down and close
your eyes tightly and don't open them till I give the word."

So they sat down on the floor and Dot put her head in Meg's lap, for
it was hard for her to keep her eyes closed. She always wanted to see
what was going on.

Meg counted to ninety-eight before she heard Jud cry, "All right!"

The four little Blossoms opened their eyes and there stood Jud, the
lunch box in his hand. He was smiling.

"How did you find it?" asked Meg. "Was it under the hay?"

"On top," said Jud mysteriously. "You see, Meg, the box fell through
the slats and landed on top of a ration of hay in one of the stalls.
All I had to do was to go downstairs and get it."

Linda had packed the box so neatly and so firmly that nothing was
damaged and the children had a delightful picnic up in the loft. They
played there most of the afternoon, too, and often during the rainy
days that followed. Indeed they amused themselves so well and were so
little trouble to Aunt Polly, that she promised them one more outdoor
picnic, the first dry sunny day that came.

"Be sure you save me some sandwiches," said Peter, when he heard about
it.

They promised and it was Dot who woke up the household bright and
early when she saw the sun streaming in at the window.

"We can have the picnic!" she shouted joyfully. "Aunt Polly, isn't it
dry and sunny? Get up, Twaddles, we can have the picnic."

It was a sunny day, but it wasn't so dry, for the ground was still
damp from so much rain.

"But if we go wading, the water's wet," argued Dot, and Linda, too,
thought they might as well go.

"Don't forget my sandwiches," Peter reminded them as he saw them
start.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE END OF THE VACATION


The four little Blossoms wanted to go to the same place where they had
gone before and Jud drove them. Then he was to take the horses and
wagon back for his father to use during the day and Peter would come
for the picnickers in the afternoon and get his sandwiches.

"Don't go wading till Jud comes," said Aunt Polly, when good-natured
Jud had gone back. "Help Linda spread out the rubber blanket, for we
want to be comfortable while you play around."

The children spread out the blanket and on top of that Aunt Polly
spread a cotton one and then she and Linda sat down to sew.

"Let's go see if there is another shirt spread out to dry," suggested
Meg, and she was much excited when they saw a bit of white fluttering
from a bush.

"'Tisn't the same place," Dot argued.

"Well, it's almost the same place," retorted Bobby. "Only it looks
ragged," he added.

Meg was eager to go and examine the white thing, but she knew they
would have to wait for Jud. Aunt Polly laughed when she heard about it
and said that Meg would have Linda running a mending shop if she was
not very careful.

"After we have lunch, if Jud is willing to take you, you may go over
and see what it is," she told her little niece kindly. "You'd have
every one nicely washed and mended if you could, wouldn't you, Meg?"

Jud came back on foot and after he had rested a minute, declared he
was willing to wade the brook with the children. But Aunt Polly
insisted they must have lunch first and of course no one wanted to
miss that. As soon as the last crumb was gone, however, the children
began to tease and Jud said they might as well go. He had laughed at
the idea of another shirt, but half way across the stream he seemed to
change his mind.

"Guess somebody lost his shirt," observed Jud, keeping a firm grip on
Dot, who seemed to be trying to dance.

"Say, wouldn't it be funny," began Bobby, but Meg had the same idea at
the same time.

"Do you suppose it could----" she said slowly.

"It's the raft!" yelled Twaddles, breaking away from Jud, and rushing
into the bushes. "It's our raft--Oh, Jud!" Twaddles had stepped on a
sharp stone.

"I wish you'd be a little more careful," said Jud calmly. "Well, it is
the raft! Can you beat that?"

Tangled in broken reeds and a few prickly bushes, lay their raft,
Geraldine smiling as sweetly as ever and still propped up against
Meg's book. Nothing was missing, not even Twaddles' singing bird or
Bobby's airplane.

"I'm so glad!" Meg kept saying. "I'm so glad! Now let's go home and
play with them."

"It's lucky we've had this long, dry spell," said Jud, picking up
Geraldine and eyeing her critically. "If we'd had one good storm,
good-by toys."

Dot tucked Geraldine under her arm, Twaddles stuffed his bird into his
pocket, Meg took her book and Bobby his airplane, and Jud offered to
tow the raft. So slowly and carefully they made their way back to
where Jud had left his socks and shoes.

Aunt Polly and Linda were surprised and delighted when they saw the
children coming, for they had begun to wonder what they could be
doing.

"You don't mean to tell me you found the raft!" exclaimed Aunt Polly,
when she heard the news. "Why, that's the best luck I ever heard of."

And Linda said "My goodness!" over and over, and wanted to know just
where they had found it and who saw it first and how they had managed
to reach it.

"You've played enough in the water," said Aunt Polly, when each child
had told the story. "Put on your shoes and stockings and see if you
can't find me a maidenhair fern for my fern-box."

Meg found it first, and then Jud lent her his jack-knife and showed
her how to take it up so that the roots would not be injured. Then he
left her for a minute while he went back to get a paper cup from Linda
to plant it in, and when he came back he found her backed up against a
tree and looking frightened.

"What scared you?" he asked quickly. "Did you see a snake, Meg?"

"No," she whispered. "I don't know what it was. But it stared and
stared at me, Jud."

"Well, where did you see it?" demanded Jud briskly. "Let me have a
whack at it with this branch. Where'd you see it, Meg?"

"In the hole in this tree," answered Meg. "I was shaking more dirt off
the fern when I looked up and there it was jiggling at me."

"Where?" asked Jud again, a bit impatiently. "I don't see any hole."

"I'm standing over it," said Meg, "so the thing can't get away."

Meg, you see, was frightened, but not too frightened to be interested
and curious about a strange animal.

"I'm sure it's an animal, 'cause it moves," she told Jud, as she stood
aside to let him look in the hole.

Jud put his hand in the hole--it was an old dead tree and hollow at
the top--and drew out something soft and fluffy.

"Just as I thought," he chuckled. "It's a baby owl."

"Oh, how cunning," cried Meg, coming closer and venturing to put a
finger on the bunch of feathers. "But what a funny face, Jud!"

Indeed the baby owl looked like a very young and foolish monkey as it
sat in Jud's hands and rolled its head and stared aimlessly.

"He's pretty near blind," Jud explained. "In the daytime owls can
hardly see at all. I suspect there's a nest in this old tree. Want to
hold it for me while I feel?"

Meg was certainly not afraid of a baby owl, and she took it tenderly.
Sure enough, Jud knew what he was talking about--he put his arm away
into the tree trunk and brought out two more little owls.

Twaddles and Dot had come up by this time, and they were perfectly
entranced with the queer little birds.

Jud carefully put the baby owls back. Then they planted the fern in
the paper cup, found Bobby, who was trying to fish with a breadcrumb
tied to a string, and told him about the owls, and then they heard the
wagon coming for them.

"Have a good time?" asked Peter, as he helped them all in and the
wagon started its noisy trip home. Peter was eating one of the
sandwiches they had saved for him and looked very contented.

"Such a nice time," said the four little Blossoms.

"Was there any mail?" asked Aunt Polly.

"Just one letter," replied Peter.

But that was a very important letter, as the Blossoms found out when
they were once more at home and Aunt Polly read it to them while
Linda was getting supper.

"Mother's coming!" cried Bobby, meeting Jud on his way to the barn.

"That's fine," said Jud heartily. Then his face fell.

"But you don't want to go home yet!" he urged. "Vacation isn't over so
soon, is it? There's lots we planned to do we haven't done."

"Mother's going to stay a week," said Bobby happily. "School doesn't
open for two weeks, but we have to go home and get ready. Say, Jud, I
didn't miss Mother--not such a lot, that is--but now I miss her
dreadful much."

When Mother Blossom came she found all the children in the car with
Aunt Polly to meet her. And the things they did during that one week,
from another picnic to having all the new friends they had made at
Brookside come to supper, including Mr. Sparks--well, Linda said there
was more going on than there had been all through the summer, and
Linda ought to have known!

"I s'pect Aunt Polly will miss us," said Twaddles the last morning of
their visit, as Mother Blossom was buttoning Dot into a clean frock
and Aunt Polly was on her knees locking the trunks.

"I s'pect I shall," said Aunt Polly, tears in her kind eyes.

This was too much for Twaddles.

"You come and stay at our house," he told her earnestly. "And you can
come and visit school."

For the twins still insisted they were going to school.

Aunt Polly promised that she would come to see them some time during
the winter and that she wouldn't cry any more but just remember the
nice times they had had together that summer.

"And if you go to school, you'll learn to write, and then I shall look
for letters," she said seriously.

So the four little Blossoms started home for Oak Hill and found a
Daddy Blossom there very glad to see them, as well as Norah and Sam
and Philip, who, as Meg observed, had "grown considerable." He wasn't
lame any more, either.

And if you want to read about what Meg and Bobby did in school, and
how the twins contrived to go to school, too, in spite of the fact
that they were only four years old, you must read the next book about
them which is called "Four Little Blossoms at Oak Hill School."

"Oh, but it's been a perfectly lovely summer, hasn't it?" said Meg,
while she was helping unpack her things.

"Best ever," declared Bobby.

"And just think--we own a cow!" cried Dot.

"And maybe--when she gets big--we can milk her," added Twaddles. "Oh,
I like the country--I do."

"Let's all buy a farm when we grow up," suggested Bobby.

"Let's!" all the others cried in chorus.

THE END





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