SUNNY BOY IN THE COUNTRY

CHAPTER XI

THE HAY SLIDE



"DADDY," said Sunny Boy, as he munched a sandwich, lying on his stomach and looking down into the brook from the safe height of the bank, "how much is five hundred dollars'?"

"A large sum of money," answered Mr. Horton, surprised. "Why, Son? What do you know about such things? Little boys shouldn't be bothering about money for years and years to come."

So Sunny told him about Grandpa's bonds and how he had lost them by pasting them on his kite. Mr. Horton was very sorry, but he said little.

"Only remember this, Sunny Boy," he insisted gravely. "I would rather you told me yourself than to have heard it from any one else—even from Mother. When you've done anything good or bad that you think I should know, you tell me yourself, always. And now how about going wading?"

That was great fun. Sunny Boy rolled his trousers up as far as they would go and took off his shoes and stockings. The water was not deep, but, my! wasn't it cold? Little baby fish darted in and out, and ever so many times Sunny thought he had a handful of them. But when he unclosed his hands there was never anything in them but water, and not much of that.

"If I did catch a fish, could I keep him, Daddy?" Sunny asked. "I could carry home some brook for him to live in."

Sunny meant some of the brook water. Daddy explained that the baby fish, minnows they are called, would not be happy living in a bowl as the goldfish Sunny once had were.

"And you wouldn't want a fish to be unhappy, would you?" questioned Daddy. "Of course you wouldn't. But I'll tell you something better to do than trying to catch fish that only want to be left alone."

"Something to do with my shoes and stockings off?" stipulated Sunny anxiously. "I haven't been wading hardly a minute yet, Daddy."

Daddy laughed a little. He was lying flat on his stomach as Sunny had done, peering over the bank down at the water. He seemed to be having a very good time, did Daddy.

"This is something you can do without your shoes and stockings," he assured the small figure standing in the middle of the brook. "Indeed, I thought of it because you are all fixed for doing it. You know Mother was talking about her Christmas presents last night ?"

Sunny nodded.

"She's sewing a bag for Aunt Bessie," he confided, "and Grandma is getting ready, too. But I think Christmas is about a year off, Daddy."

"Not a year—about five months," corrected Daddy. "That seems like a long time to you. But Mother likes to start early and make many of her presents. And a very good way it is, too. Well, Sunny Boy, I once heard Mother say that she would like to try making an indoor garden for some of her friends who live in apartments and have no gardens of their own. Only, Mother said, she must experiment first and find out what would grow best."

"What's an indoor garden?"

"Oh, there are different kinds," answered Daddy. "But I think the kind Mother is anxious to try is very simple. Just damp moss and a vine or two put into a glass bowl. They will grow and keep green all Winter and be pretty to look at."

"I could get her some moss," said Sunny quickly. "See, those stones are all covered, Daddy."

"That's just what I want you to do." agreed Daddy. "We'll take plenty home to Mother and she can experiment with indoor gardens to her heart's content. See, Son, here's my knife. You must cut the moss very carefully in square pieces, and try not to break it. I'll be digging up some of these healthy little ground vines."

Sunny Boy was proud to be allowed to handle Daddy's big jack knife, and he was glad Daddy hadn't told him not to cut himself. Daddy, somehow, always trusted Sunny not to be heedless.

"Mother'll like it, won't she?" he called to Daddy, who was digging up a pretty, creeping green vine that grew in the grass near him. "Won't she be s'prised, Daddy?"

They worked busily, and soon Sunny had a neat little pile of green moss ready to take home to Mother. After that he waded about in the brook, splashing the water with his bare feet.

"There—you've been in long enough," called Mr. Horton presently. "The water is too cold to play in it long. Come, Son, and put on your shoes and stockings."

Sunny Boy dabbled his feet in a little hole made by a stone he had pushed away.

"Sunny Boy!" called Mr. Horton once again.

Still Sunny Boy continued to play in the water. To tell the truth every one had been so anxious to make him happy at Brookside that he was the least little bit in the world spoiled. The more you have your own way, you know, the harder it is to do other people's way, and if you can do as you please day after day, by and by you want to do as you please all the time. Sunny Boy felt like that now.

"Sunny!" said Daddy a third time, very quietly.

Sunny Boy looked at him—and came marching out of the water. He was not very pleasant while Daddy helped him dry his feet and get into the despised shoes and stockings, but, when they were ready to start for home and Daddy tilted up his chin to look at him squarely. Sunny Boy's own smile came out.

"All right!" announced Daddy cheer- fully. "Let's go home a different way and perhaps we'll find wild strawberries."

They did, too, a patch of them down at one end of the apple orchard, and Mr. Horton showed Sunny Boy how he used to string them on grass stems to take home to his mother when he was a little boy.

He certainly was a dear Daddy, and when he went back to the city Mother and Sunny had to be nicer to each other than ever because they missed him so very much.

"It's raining!" Sunny Boy stood at the window after breakfast, the morning after Mr. Horton had gone back to the city. "Does it rain in the summer?"

Grandma laughed, and told him that indeed it did rain in the summer.

"We haven't had a drop of rain since you've been here, and you must have brought fair weather with you," she said. "Now that the hay is all in the barn, we're glad to see it rain, for the garden needs it badly. Think how thirsty the flowers and vegetables must be."

"Harriet said to play in the barn on rainy days," said Sunny Boy sadly, "but I think I'm lonesome."

"Well, you go out to the barn and you won't be lonesome," Araminta, who was clearing the breakfast table, laughed at his long face. "I'll bet all the children are there, even the baby. He can go, can't he, Mrs. Horton?"

Grandma said yes, of course he could, and Mother brought his rubbers and raincoat downstairs when she came, for he met her on the stairs and there she had them all ready.

"Run along and have a good time," she told him, kissing him. "I was going to suggest that you play in the barn this morning. Help Jimmie if he's working, won't you, and don't hinder him?"

Paddling out to the barn in the pouring rain was fun. But the barn was the most fun of all. Grandpa and Jimmie were on the first floor mending harness, and the doors were open so that they could see right out into the orchard and yet not get a bit wet. Just as Araminta had said, all the Hatch children were there, even the baby, who lay asleep on the hay in a nice, quiet corner.

"Hurrah!" cried Juddy Hatch. "We're going to play robbers, and you can be in my cave."

"Be in my cave," urged David, his brother. "Our side has the best slide."

"I'll come up there and settle you youngsters if you're going to quarrel," threatened Jimmie, switching a buggy whip and looking very fierce. "You'd better start playing and stop arguing."

The children knew Jimmie had small patience with little bickerings, though he had never been known to do anything more severe than scold. So they took him at his word and began to play.

"You be on Juddy's side, then," agreed David. "See, we each have a cave here in the hay—that's mine in this corner. The way we do is to all go into our caves and take turns creeping up. When you hear us on the roof of your cave, you have to get out and run over to ours, climb up to the top and slide down the other side. If you're caught you have to b'long to our robber tribe."

The hay was very smooth and slippery, and the children had many a tumble as the two robber tribes chased each other across the haymow. Such shrieks of laughter, such howls as the robbers in their excitement sometimes forgot and pulled a braid of Sarah's or Dorabelle's! The baby continued to sleep placidly through all the noise, and Jimmie told Grandpa that he thought perhaps "the poor little kid was deaf!" Jimmie was only fooling, of course, for the Hatch baby was not deaf at all.

It was Sunny Boy's turn to be chased, and as he heard David's robber tribe beginning to climb up on the roof of his cave he dashed out and ran for the other cave at the end of the haymow. Up the side he went, and down. Dorabelle was captured in that raid and had to go over to David's side.

"Now I've got four in my tribe," crowed the robber chief. "Get your men together, Jud, and we'll do it again."

"Where's Sunny Boy?" demanded Juddy, counting his tribe. "He was here—I saw him climb up the top of the cave. Sunny Boy! Sun-ny!"

No Sunny Boy answered.

"Jimmie, is Sunny Boy down there with you?" Juddy peered over the edge of the haymow where Jimmie sat mending the harness. Grandpa had gone to the house, declaring that there was a little too much noise in the barn for his rheumatism.

"Haven't seen him," answered Jimmie. "Isn't he up there with you?"

Juddy's lip began to quiver. He was only eight years old.

"Then he's lost," he said. "He isn't here at all, Jimmie."

Jimmie dropped his harness and ran up the little ladder that led to the haymow.

"Nonsense!" he declared sharply. "A boy can't get lost with a roof over him. Likely enough he's hiding for fun. Sunny! Sunny Boy, where are you?"

But no Sunny Boy answered. And though Jimmie and the Hatch children turned over the hay and looked in every corner of the haymow, they could not find him.

"Shall I go and tell Mr. Horton?" suggested David, who was the oldest of the Hatch boys.

"Not till we have something to tell," was Jimmie's answer. "Where was he when you saw him last?"

"Right over in that corner," said Juddy, pointing. "I saw him going over the top of the cave, an' then I ducked under, and when David got Dorabelle he just wasn't here."

"He must be here—somewhere," retorted Jimmie impatiently. "I'm going to look once more—and if he's just hiding, won't I shake him!"

Jimmie climbed over the top of the "robber's cave," as Sunny Boy had done, and down on the other side. The children heard him scuffling about, kicking the hay with his feet, and then suddenly he gave a shout.

"You stay where you are till I come back," he called. "You David, and Juddy, keep the others where they are. I'll bet I've found him."

The Hatch children were fairly dancing to follow Jimmie, but they knew he meant what he said. They sat down in the hay to wait.

One-two-three-four-five minutes passed. Then Jimmie stepped out on the barn floor and grinned cheerfully up at the anxious group perched on the edge of the haymow.

"It's all right," he said. "I've found him. He's out in the old dairy. Now don't all come down at once—Jud, let the girls come first. Easy there!"

The Hatch children came tumbling down, eager to see Sunny Boy. Sarah stopped to pick up the baby, who had slept through all the excitement and now merely opened two dark eyes, smiled, and went to sleep again. The Hatch baby was used to being taken about and had the steady habits of an old traveler.

They found Sunny absorbed in watching a mother duck and her ten little ducklings who were swimming daintily about in a trough in the dairy.

"Well, where were you?" Juddy pounced on Sunny Boy. "You gave us an awful scare."

"I've been right here all the time." Sunny was a bit aggrieved to find such a fuss made over him. First Jimmie and now Juddy. "I haven't been anywhere," he insisted.

"We thought you were lost!" David frowned at him severely.

"Well, I wasn't," retorted Sunny Boy briefly. "I was watching ducks. Jimmie, do they sleep in water?"

"What, ducks?" said Jimmie. "Oh, no, they sleep under their mother just like chickens at night, some place where it is warm and dry. Your grandmother will be glad you found this duck—she's missed her for two days. Guess she never thought of looking in the dairy."

This part of the barn had been used for the cows, you see, years before, when Sunny's father was a little boy and a big herd of fine cows were kept at Brookside. Now Mrs. Butterball and Butterette were the only cows, and they lived in a box stall near Peter and Paul.

On to chapter twelve

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