SUNNY BOY IN THE COUNTRY
"AND now," declared Grandpa, putting on his wide-brimmed hat and reaching for his cane, "it's high time I was out looking after Mr. Hatch. Where are you going, Sunny Boy?"
Sunny Boy was darting off as though a new idea had seized him.
"Out," he answered vaguely. His mind was intent on his plan.
"Well, Grandma and I have the picnic to plan," cried Mrs. Horton gayly. "If we are going to have that long-promised picnic before we go home, I for one think it is high time we set a day."
Sunny Boy, lingering in the doorway, heard Grandpa grumble a little as he always did if anything was said about their going home.
"No reason why you shouldn't stay here all Summer," he scolded. "Or if you want to be nearer Harry, Olive, leave the boy with us. You know we'd take good care of him."
"I know you would; but I couldn't leave my baby," Mrs. Horton said quickly. "Bessie, my sister, you know, has a plan—"
But Araminta called Sunny just then and he ran off without hearing about Aunt Bessie's plan.
Sunny Boy had a plan of his own, and he was determined to carry it through. This was nothing less than to go and hunt for Grandpa's lost Liberty Bonds.
"For I know that kite fell down right by the old walnut tree," said Sunny Boy to himself for the twentieth time. "I saw it go down—swish! I'll bet Grandpa didn't look under the right tree."
Without much trouble he coaxed a big piece of gingerbread from Araminta—who was very curious to learn where he was going—which he crowded into his pocket. Expecting to be gone a long time, he took an apple from the basket on the dining-room table and two bananas. Bruce, lying on the back door mat, decided to go with him, but Bruce was beginning to get the least little bit fat and old, and when he had followed Sunny as far as the brook pasture and saw that he had no intention of stopping to rest under the trees, that wise collie dog turned and went back to the house.
"Hey, there! Where are you going this hot day?" Jimmie, setting out tomato plants in a side field, shouted to him.
Sunny Boy waved his hand and plodded on. He was a silent child when he had his mind fixed on a certain thing, and he was intent on finding those bonds this morning. The sun was hot, and when he reached the pretty brook the water looked so clear and cool that Sunny was tempted to go wading. Only he had promised his mother not to go in the water unless some one was with him, and then, too, wading would delay the hunt for the bonds. He walked along the bank until he came to the uneven line of stones piled together to make a crossing.
"I spect it wabbles," said Sunny Boy aloud, putting one foot on a stone, which certainly did "teeter."
He started to cross slowly, and in the middle of the stream his right foot slipped— splash!—into the icy cold water.
"My land sakes!" gasped poor Sunny Boy, who was certainly acquiring a number of new words, much to his mother's worry. "I guess that water's as cold as—as our icebox at home."
With one wet foot and one dry foot he finished his journey and landed safely on the other side of the brook. He was hungry by then, and so sat down to eat the gingerbread under a large tree whose roots had grown far out over the water.
'Tick-tack! Tick-tack! Tick—t-a-c-k!" scolded some one directly over his head.
"Don't be cross, Mr. Squirrel!" said Sunny Boy politely. "Grandpa says when you make a noise like that you're either frightened or want folks to go away and not bother you. I'm going in a minute."
Throwing the crumbs of the gingerbread into the brook for the little fish to enjoy, Sunny Boy marched straight for the woods. He had never been there alone, and somehow they seemed darker and deeper than he remembered them when Grandpa or Daddy had been with him.
"I'll begin to look now," said Sunny, talking to himself for company. And how small his voice sounded, and thin, under those tall, silent trees!
"Maybe I'll see a Brownie," Sunny continued. "I think Bruce might have come all the way. What was that?"
A twig snapped under his foot with a sharp noise. Noises are always creepy when one is alone in a strange place. Sunny sat down to rest a minute, on a half-buried tree-stump.
A black beetle came out, ran along a weedstalk, climbed up to the top and sat there, regarding Sunny steadily.
"Do you like living here"?" asked Sunny politely. "I wish you could talk, Mr. Beetle. Maybe you've seen the Lib'ty Bonds somewhere an' you'd tell me just where to look."
The beetle winked his beady eyes rapidly, but of course he didn't say a word.
Presently a striped chipmunk appeared on a stump opposite the one where Sunny sat, and he, too, stared at Sunny intently.
"I'm going! I'm going right away!" Sunny assured the chipmunk hastily.
"Daddy says you wood folks like to be alone. I wouldn't hurt you, but I s'pose you don't know that."
He trotted along, eating the bananas as he went. There were so many things to look at and think about that sometimes he almost forgot the Liberty Bonds. Almost, but not quite.
" 'Cause I just have to find 'em," he told a blue jay that sat up in a tree and listened sympathetically. "I'm mose sure Grandpa didn't look in the right place. An' won't he like it when I come home with them in my pocket!"
Sunny was so pleased with this idea that he gave a little shout and threw his cap up into the air, which so alarmed the blue jay that it quickly flew away.
Sunny Boy was marching steadily, hands in his pockets, when he saw something near a stone that made him stop to look. It was a turtle.
"Why didn't you run?" Sunny demanded, picking up the turtle carefully, as he had seen Jimmie do. "Maybe you're the one Grandpa carved his initials and the date on when he came here to live. Are you?"
The turtle kept his head obstinately in. Very likely he objected to being picked up and looked at so closely. Sunny brushed him off neatly with his clean handkerchief, and, sure enough, on the shell he found a date carved.
"I can't read it," mourned Sunny aloud. "But I guess you're not Grandpa's turtle, 'cause you haven't any initials on you. I wish you'd put your head out, just once."
But, though he put the turtle gently on the ground again and kept very still for at least five minutes, the queer, narrow little head stayed safely in its shell house. The turtle did not run away.
" Guess he thinks I'll catch him if he runs," thought Sunny. "I'd like to keep him if he was little. Jimmie says little turtles are nice to keep in the garden. Maybe I can find one on the way back, and build him a little house under Grandma's rose bushes."
Sunny went on, and soon he was sure that he was coming to the place where he had seen his kite fall. To be sure, the inside of the woods looked very different from the outside, and Sunny began to understand why he and Grandfather had not found the bonds as easily as they had hoped to. Still, he felt he was "getting warm" as they say in the games of seeking, and he began to look about him closely.
"It was right here—" His apple fell out of his blouse and he stooped to pick it up. He sprang up with a shriek and ran screaming toward an opening in the woods.
"It was a snake—a great, big, nasty, bitey snake!" he sobbed. "I put my hand right on it—all slippy and cold!"
He looked back—was it a snake after all? What was that curved black thing that lay there so quietly at the foot of a tree?
Then Sunny Boy did a very brave thing indeed. He was all alone, remember, and there was no one to laugh at him had he gone on home believing that he had touched a snake. But he liked to be very sure in his own mind, and he went back, cautiously and ready to run if a twig snapped, but back, nevertheless, to the place where he thought he had seen the snake. Any one, you know, may be frightened, but to face the fear and see if it is an afraid thought, or something really scary—that takes a truly brave person. And always afterward Sunny Boy was to be glad that he had had the courage to go back and see.
For his snake was only an old twisted tree root, after all!
"But I guess it's dinner time, an' I can come again an' look for the bonds," he told a chipmunk. "Maybe Jimmie will come tomorrow and help hunt."
This time Sunny Boy crossed the stone crossing without getting either foot wet and he was half way up to the house when he saw Peter and Paul standing hitched to the fence. They had been hauling the tomato plants for Jimmie and Grandpa, who was always kind to the farm animals, had ordered them to be unharnessed and tied in the shade while the plants were being set out.
"No horse likes to be anchored to a wagon when 'tisn't necessary," said kind Grandpa.
"Jimmie's always saying he will let me ride Peter," grumbled Sunny Boy, looking very little as he stood by the fence, fumbling with the strap that tied Peter fast. "Pretty soon we'll be going home. Mother says, and I won't ever learn to ride."
Sunny's busy, mischievous fingers had untied the strap as he talked, and now Peter could have walked away to the barn and his dinner, had he only known it. He didn't though, and so he was very much surprised to feel little feet digging into him as Sunny Boy scrambled desperately to get on his back. Peter and Paul were fat and slow or they never would have stood the antics of Sunny as that small person, clinging to Peter's mane, and using Paul as a kind of stepladder, pushed and pulled and climbed till he found himself where he wished to be —on Peter's broad back.
"Gee, you're a tall horse'." he observed, gathering the halter strap in one hand as he had seen Jimmie take the reins. "Oh, there's what you ought to have on—I didn't see it."
The bridles and reins lay on the ground where Jimmie had dropped them when he had unharnessed the horses from the wagon. But Sunny Boy was not minded to get down after such a trifle—he had had too much trouble to secure his present seat.
"Gid-apl" he said loudly, and jerked the halter strap.
Over in the field, Jimmie straightened an aching young back and gazed in amazement. "Say—hey, Sunny—Sunny Horton! Get off that horse—do you hear me?" he shouted.
Sunny Boy heard. He turned and grinned impishly. He delighted to plague Jimmie, and he was having fun guiding Peter.
Then Jimmie rather lost his head. Had he kept still, Peter would probably have ambled gently about the meadow, perhaps turned into the road that led to the house and barn, and Sunny's adventure might have been a very mild one. But Jimmie was frightened, and in his fear he did the one thing that could have brought about what he feared. He leaped the fence and came running toward the horse.
"Gid-ap, Peter! Go long! Hurry!" Sunny slapped the strap smartly across old Peter's neck.
That easy-going horse was not used to such treatment, and he broke into a trot. Jimmie began to shout and wave his arms. Then Peter broke into a gallop, taking great, long easy strides that seemed to cover miles of ground to Sunny's excited eyes.
"You kind of bump!" he gasped, as the horse galloped on. "I wonder—will—I— fall off!"
Peter snorted. He had forgotten how it felt to be running free, and perhaps he was pretending he was a young colt again. He paid no more attention to the small boy on his back than if Sunny Boy had been a fly.
Around and around the field they tore. Jimmie's shouts had brought Grandpa, and together the two watched in terrible anxiety.
"I'd get on Paul and chase 'em, but Peter can outrun him any day!" Jimmie almost sobbed. "Say! I know what will do it. You wait, sir."
He ran up to the barn and came back with a peck measure of corn. Paul saw the long yellow ears and whinnied with pleasure.
"You don't get any," Jimmie informed him. "Lucky they hadn't had their dinner," he said to Grandpa. He stood out from the fence and rattled the measure invitingly, and whistled.
Now Peter was not a colt, however much he might enjoy pretending, and he was getting tired of his gallop. Also he was hungry, and he had heard Paul whinny. So when Jimmie whistled, the old, familiar whistle he always gave when he came in the barn at feeding time, Peter turned and stared. Yes, there he stood, down at the other end of the field, and yes, he had corn with him.
Peter slowed down to a gentle run, then to a half trot, and finally came walking at his usual gentle gait straight up to Jimmie and Grandpa.
"Sunny, Sunny, what will you do next?" groaned Grandpa, lifting him down. "I hope your mother didn't see this—she would be frightened to death."
"It didn't hurt me," urged Sunny Boy, beginning to wonder if he had done wrong. "I is bumped a little, but I wasn't afraid, Grandpa. Was Jimmie?"
"You young imp!" Jimmie swooped down upon him and hugged him so hard Sunny squirmed uneasily. "You bet I was scared! I thought every minute you'd tumble off. And now do you want to ride up to the barn with me, or have you had enough ?"
"I'll ride with you," said Sunny firmly.
On to chapter fifteen
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