Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm/Chapter 13

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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."