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Dandelion Cottage

CARROLL WATSON RANKIN


_Illustrated by Mary Stevens_

JOHN M. LONGYEAR RESEARCH LIBRARY

Marquette, Michigan

1977


_First published in 1904_

THE MARQUETTE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
213 North Front Street
Marquette, Michigan 49855

FOURTH EDITION

First Printing, February 1977

Printed in the USA by
THE BOOK CONCERN, INC.
Hancock, Michigan


_To_
RHODA, FRANCES, AND ELEANOR

_whose lively interest made the writing
of this little book a joyful task._




THE PERSONS OF THE STORY


BETTIE TUCKER:}
JEANIE MAPES:} _The Dandelion Cottagers_
MABEL BENNETT:}
MARJORY VALE:}
THE TUCKER FAMILY: _Mostly boys_
THE MAPES FAMILY: _Two parents, two boys_
DR. AND MRS. BENNETT: _Merely Parents_
AUNTY JANE: _A Parental Substitute_
MRS. CRANE: _The Pleasantest Neighbor_
MR. BLACK: _The Senior Warden_
MR. DOWNING: _The Junior Warden_
MISS BLOSSOM: _The Lodger_
MR. BLOSSOM: _The Organ Tuner_
GRANDMA PIKE: _Another Neighbor_
MR. AND MRS. MILLIGAN:}
LAURA MILLIGAN:}
THE MILLIGAN BOY AND} _The Unpleasantest Neighbors_
THE MILLIGAN BABY:}
THE MILLIGAN DOG:}




Contents


1. _Mr. Black's Terms_
2. _Paying the Rent_
3. _The Tenants Take Possession_
4. _Furnishing the Cottage_
5. _Poverty in the Cottage_
6. _A Lodger to the Rescue_
7. _The Girls Disclose a Plan_
8. _An Unexpected Crop of Dandelions_
9. _Changes and Plans_
10. _The Milligans_
11. _An Embarrassing Visitor_
12. _A Lively Afternoon_
13. _The Junior Warden_
14. _An Unexpected Letter_
15. _An Obdurate Landlord_
16. _Mabel Plans a Surprise_
17. _Several Surprises Take Effect_
18. _A Hurried Retreat_
19. _The Response to Mabel's Telegram_
20. _The Odd Behavior of the Grown-ups_
21. _The Dinner_




Dandelion Cottage




CHAPTER 1

Mr. Black's Terms


The little square cottage was unoccupied. It had stood for many years on
the parish property, having indeed been built long before the parish
bought the land for church purposes. It was easy to see how Dandelion
Cottage came by its name at first, for growing all about it were great,
fluffy, golden dandelions; but afterwards there was another good reason
why the name was appropriate, as you will discover shortly.

The cottage stood almost directly behind the big stone church in
Lakeville, a thriving Northern Michigan town, and did not show very
plainly from the street because it was so small by contrast with
everything else near it. This was fortunate, because, after the Tuckers
had moved into the big new rectory, the smaller house looked decidedly
forlorn and deserted.

"We'll leave it just where it stands," the church wardens had said, many
years previously. "It's precisely the right size for Doctor and Mrs.
Gunn, for they would rather have a small house than a large one. When
they leave us and we are selecting another clergyman, we'll try to get
one with a small family."

This plan worked beautifully for a number of years. It succeeded so
well, in fact, that the vestry finally forgot to be cautious, and when
at last it secured the services of Dr. Tucker, the church had grown so
used to clergymen with small families that the vestrymen engaged the new
minister without remembering to ask if his family would fit Dandelion
Cottage.

But when Dr. Tucker and Mrs. Tucker and eight little Tuckers, some on
foot and some in baby carriages, arrived, the vestrymen regretted this
oversight. They could see at a glance that the tiny cottage could never
hold them all.

"We'll just have to build a rectory on the other lot," said Mr. Black,
the senior warden. "That's all there is about it. The cottage is all out
of repair, anyway. It wasn't well built in the first place, and the last
three clergymen have complained bitterly of the inconvenience of having
to hold up umbrellas in the different rooms every time it rained. Their
wives objected to the wall paper and to being obliged to keep the
potatoes in the bedroom closet. It's really time we had a new rectory."

"It certainly is," returned the junior warden, "and we'll all have to
take turns entertaining all the little Tuckers that there isn't room for
in the cottage while the new house is getting built."

Seven of the eight little Tuckers were boys. If it hadn't been for
Bettie they would _all_ have been boys, but Bettie saved the day. She
was a slender twelve-year-old little Bettie, with big brown eyes, a mop
of short brown curls, and such odd clothes. Busy Mrs. Tucker was so in
the habit of making boys' garments that she could not help giving a
boyish cut even to Bettie's dresses. There were always sailor collars to
the waists, and the skirts were invariably kilted. Besides this, the
little girl wore boys' shoes.

"You see," explained Bettie, who was a cheerful little body, "Tommy has
to take them next, and of course it wouldn't pay to buy shoes for just
one girl."

The little Tuckers were not the only children in the neighborhood.
Bettie found a bosom friend in Dr. Bennett's Mabel, who lived next door
to the rectory, another in Jeanie Mapes, who lived across the street,
and still another in Marjory Vale, whose home was next door to Dandelion
Cottage.

Jean, as her little friends best liked to call her, was a sweet-faced,
gentle-voiced girl of fourteen. Mothers of other small girls were always
glad to see their own more scatterbrained daughters tucked under Jean's
loving wing, for thoroughly-nice Jean, without being in the least
priggish, was considered a safe and desirable companion. It doesn't
_always_ follow that children like the persons it is considered best for
them to like, but in Jean's case both parents and daughters agreed that
Jean was not only safe but delightful - the charming daughter of a
charming mother.

Marjory, a year younger and nearly a head shorter than Jean, often
seemed older. Outwardly, she was a sedate small person, slight,
blue-eyed, graceful, and very fair. Her manners at times were very
pleasing, her self-possession almost remarkable; this was the result of
careful training by a conscientious, but at that time sadly
unappreciated, maiden aunt who was Marjory's sole guardian. There were
moments, however, when Marjory, who was less sedate than she appeared,
forgot to be polite. At such times, her ways were apt to be less
pleasing than those of either Bettie or Jean, because her wit was
nimbler, her tongue sharper, and her heart a trifle less tender. Her
mother had died when Marjory was only a few weeks old, her father had
lived only two years longer, and the rather solitary little girl had
missed much of the warm family affection that had fallen to the lot of
her three more fortunate friends. Those who knew her well found much in
her to like, but among her schoolmates there were girls who said that
Marjory was "stuck-up," affected, and "too smart."

Mabel, the fourth in this little quartet of friends, was eleven, large
for her age and young for her years, always an unfortunate combination
of circumstances. She was intensely human and therefore liable to err,
and, it may be said, she very seldom missed an opportunity. In school
she read with a tremendous amount of expression but mispronounced half
the words; when questions were asked, she waved her hand triumphantly
aloft and gave anything but the right answer; she had a surprising stock
of energy, but most of it was misdirected. Warm-hearted, generous,
heedless, hot-tempered, and always blundering, she was something of a
trial at home and abroad; yet no one could help loving her, for
everybody realized that she would grow up some day into a really fine
woman, and that all that was needed in the meantime was considerable
patience. Rearing Mabel was not unlike the task of bringing up a St.
Bernard puppy. Mrs. Bennett was decidedly glad to note the growing
friendship among the four girls, for she hoped that Mabel would in time
grow dignified and sweet like Jean, thoughtful and tender like Bettie,
graceful and prettily mannered like Marjory. But this happy result had
yet to be achieved.

The little one-story cottage, too much out of repair to be rented, stood
empty and neglected. To most persons it was an unattractive spot if not
actually an eyesore. The steps sagged in a dispirited way, some of the
windows were broken, and the fence, in sympathy perhaps with the house,
had shed its pickets and leaned inward with a discouraged, hopeless air.

But Bettie looked at the little cottage longingly - she could gaze right
down upon it from the back bedroom window - a great many times a day. It
didn't seem a bit too big for a playhouse. Indeed, it seemed a great
pity that such a delightful little building should go unoccupied when
Bettie and her homeless dolls were simply suffering for just such a
shelter.

"Wouldn't it be nice," said Bettie, one day in the early spring, "if we
four girls could have Dandelion Cottage for our very own?"

"Wouldn't it be sweet," mimicked Marjory, "if we could have the moon and
about twenty stars to play jacks with?"

"The cottage isn't _quite_ so far away," said Jean. "It _would_ be just
lovely to have it, for we never have a place to play in comfortably."

"We're generally disturbing grown-ups, I notice," said Marjory,
comically imitating her Aunty Jane's severest manner. "A little less
noise, if you please. Is it really necessary to laugh so much and so
often?"

"Even Mother gets tired of us sometimes," confided Jean. "There are days
when no one seems to want all of us at once."

"I know it," said Bettie, pathetically, "but it's worse for me than it
is for the rest of you. You have your rooms and nobody to meddle with
your things. I no sooner get my dolls nicely settled in one corner than
I have to move them into another, because the babies poke their eyes
out. It's dreadful, too, to have to live with so many boys. I fixed up
the cunningest playhouse under the clothes-reel last week, but the very
minute it was finished Rob came home with a horrid porcupine and I had
to move out in a hurry."

"Perhaps," suggested Marjory, "we could rent the cottage."

"Who'd pay the rent?" demanded Mabel. "My allowance is five cents a week
and I have to pay a fine of one cent every time I'm late to meals."

"How much do you have left?" asked Jeanie, laughing.

"Not a cent. I was seven cents in debt at the end of last week."

"I get two cents a hundred for digging dandelions," said Marjory, "but
it takes just forever to dig them, and ugh! I just hate it."

"I never have any money at all," sighed Bettie. "You see there are so
many of us."

"Let's go peek in at the windows," suggested Mabel, springing up from
the grass. "That much won't cost us anything at any rate."

Away scampered the four girls, taking a short cut through Bettie's back
yard.

The cottage had been vacant for more than a year and had not improved in
appearance. Rampant vines clambered over the windows and nowhere else in
town were there such luxurious weeds as grew in the cottage yard.
Nowhere else were there such mammoth dandelions or such prickly burrs.
The girls waded fearlessly through them, parted the vines, and, pressing
their noses against the glass, peered into the cottage parlor.

"What a nice, square little room!" said Marjory.

"I don't think the paper is very pretty," said Mabel.

"We could cover most of the spots with pictures," suggested practical
Marjory.

"It looks to me sort of spidery," said Mabel, who was always somewhat
pessimistic. "Probably there's rats, too."

"I know how to stop up rat holes," said Bettie, who had not lived with
seven brothers without acquiring a number of useful accomplishments.
"I'm not afraid of spiders - that is, not so _very_ much."

"What are you doing here?" demanded a gruff voice so suddenly that
everybody jumped.

The startled girls wheeled about. There stood Bettie's most devoted
friend, the senior warden.

"Oh!" cried Bettie, "it's only Mr. Black."

"Were you looking for something?" asked Mr. Black.

"Yes," said Bettie. "We're looking for a house. We'd like to rent this
one, only we haven't a scrap of money."

"And what in the name of common sense would you do with it?"

"We want it for our dolls," said Bettie, turning a pair of big pleading
brown eyes upon Mr. Black. "You see, we haven't any place to play.
Marjory's Aunty Jane won't let her cut papers in the house, so she can't
have any paper dolls, and I can't play any place because I have so many
brothers. They tomahawk all my dolls when they play Indian, shoot them
with beans when they play soldiers, and drown them all when they play
shipwreck. Don't you think we might be allowed to use the cottage if
we'd promise to be very careful and not do any damage?"

"We'd clean it up," offered Marjory, as an inducement.

"We'd mend the rat holes," offered Jean, looking hopefully at Bettie.

"Would you dig the weeds?" demanded Mr. Black.

There was a deep silence. The girls looked at the sea of dandelions and
then at one another.

"Yes," said Marjory, finally breaking the silence. "We'd even dig the
weeds."

"Yes," echoed the others. "We'd even dig the weeds - and there's just
millions of 'em."

"Good!" said Mr. Black. "Now, we'll all sit down on the steps and I'll
tell you what we'll do. It happens that the Village Improvement Society
has just notified the vestry that the weeds on this lot must be removed
before they go to seed - the neighbors have complained about them. It
would cost the parish several dollars to hire a man to do the work, and
we're short of funds just now. Now, if you four girls will pull up every
weed in this place before the end of next week you shall have the use of
the cottage for all the rest of the summer in return for your services.
How does that strike you?"

"Oh!" cried Bettie, throwing her arms about Mr. Black's neck. "Do let
me hug you. Oh, I'm glad - glad!"

"There, there!" cried stout Mr. Black, shaking Bettie off and dropping
her where the dandelions grew thickest. "I didn't say I was to be
strangled as part of the bargain. You'd better save your muscle for the
dandelions. Remember, you've got to pay your rent in advance. I shan't
hand over the key until the last weed is dug."

"We'll begin this minute!" cried enthusiastic Mabel. "I'm going straight
home for a knife."




CHAPTER 2

Paying the Rent


"This is a whopping big yard," said Mabel, looking disconsolately at two
dandelions and one burdock in the bottom of a bushel basket. "There
doesn't seem to be any place to begin."

"I'm going to weed out a place big enough to sit in," announced Bettie.
"Then I'll make it bigger and bigger all around me in every direction
until it joins the clearing next to mine."

"I'm a soldier," said Marjory, brandishing a trowel, "vanquishing my
enemies. You know in books the hero always battles single-handed with
about a million foes and always kills them all and everybody lives happy
ever after - zip! There goes one!"

"I'm a pioneer," said Jean, slashing away at a huge, tough burdock. "I'm
chopping down the forest primeval to make a potato patch. The dandelions
are skulking Indians, and I'm capturing them to put in my bushel-basket
prison."

"I'm just digging weeds," said prosaic Mabel, "and I don't like it."

"Neither does anybody else," said Marjory, "but I guess having the
cottage will be worth it. Just pretend it's something else and then you
won't mind it so much. Play you're digging for diamonds."

"I can't," returned Mabel, hopelessly. "I haven't any imagination. This
is just plain dirt and I can't make myself believe it's anything else."

By supper time the cottage yard presented a decidedly disreputable
appearance. Before the weeds had been disturbed they stood upright,
presenting an even surface of green with a light crest of dandelion
gold. But now it was different. Although the number of weeds was not
greatly decreased, the yard looked as if, indeed, a battle had been
fought there. Mr. Black, passing by on his way to town, began to wonder
if he had been quite wise in turning it over to the girls.

At four o'clock the following morning, sleepy Bettie tumbled out of bed
and into her clothes. Then she slipped quietly downstairs, out of doors,
through the convenient hole in the back fence, and into the cottage
yard. She had been digging for more than an hour when Jean, rubbing a
pair of sleepy eyes, put in her appearance.

"Oh!" cried Jean, disappointedly. "I meant to have a huge bare field to
show you when you came, and here you are ahead of me. What a lot you've
done!"

"Yes," assented Bettie, happily. "There's room for me and my basket,
too, in my patch. I'll have to go home after a while to help dress the
children."

Young though she was - she was only twelve - Bettie was a most helpful
young person. It is hard to imagine what Mrs. Tucker would have done
without her cheerful little daughter. Bettie always spoke of the boys as
"the children," and she helped her mother darn their stockings, sew on
their buttons, and sort out their collars. The care of the family baby,
too, fell to her lot.

The boys were good boys, but they were boys. They were willing to do
errands or pile wood or carry out ashes, but none of them ever thought
of doing one of these things without first being told - sometimes they
had to be told a great many times. It was different with Bettie. If Tom
ate crackers on the front porch, it was Bettie who ran for the broom to
brush up the crumbs. If the second-baby-but-one needed his face
washed - and it seemed to Bettie that there never was a time when he
_didn't_ need it washed - it was Bettie who attended to it. If the cat
looked hungry, it was Bettie who gave her a saucer of milk. Dick's
rabbits and Rob's porcupine would have starved if Bettie had not fed
them, and Donald's dog knew that if no one else remembered his bone kind
Bettie would bear it in mind.

The boys' legs were round and sturdy, but Bettie's were very much like
pipe stems.

"I don't have time to get fat," Bettie would say. "But you don't need to
worry about me. I think I'm the healthiest person in the house. At least
I'm the only one that hasn't had to have breakfast in bed this week."

Neither Marjory nor Mabel appeared during the morning to dig their share
of the weeds, but when school was out that afternoon they were all on
hand with their baskets.

"I had to stay," said Mabel, who was the last to arrive. "I missed two
words in spelling."

"What were they?" asked Marjory.

"'Parachute' and 'dandelion.' I hate dandelions, anyway. I don't know
what parachutes are, but if they're any sort of weeds I hate them, too."

The girls laughed. Mabel always looked on the gloomiest side of things
and always grumbled. She seemed to thrive on it, however, for she was
built very much like a barrel and her cheeks were like a pair of round
red apples. She was always honest, if a little too frank in expressing
her opinions, and the girls liked her in spite of her blunt ways. She
was the youngest of the quartet, being only eleven.

"There doesn't seem to be much grass left after the weeds are out," said
Bettie, surveying the bare, sandy patch she had made.

"This has _always_ been a weedy old place," replied Jean. "I think the
whole neighborhood will feel obliged to us if we ever get the lot
cleared. Perhaps our landlord will plant grass seed. It would be fine to
have a lawn."

"Perhaps," said Marjory, "he'll let us have some flower beds. Wouldn't
it be lovely to have nasturtiums running right up the sides of the
house?"

"They'd be lovely among the vines," agreed Bettie. "I've some poppy
seeds that we might plant in a long narrow bed by the fence."

"There are hundreds of little pansy plants coming up all over our yard,"
said Jean. "We might make a little round bed of them right here where
I'm sitting. What are you going to plant in _your_ bed, Mabel?"

"Butter-beans," said that practical young person, promptly.

"Well," said Bettie, with a long sigh, "we'll have to work faster than
this or summer will be over before we have a chance to plant _anything_.
This is the biggest _little_ yard I ever did see."

For a time there was silence. Marjory, the soldier, fell upon her foes
with renewed vigor, and soon had an entire regiment in durance vile.
Jean, the pioneer, fell upon the forest with so much energy that its
speedy extermination was threatened. Mabel seized upon the biggest and
toughest burdock she could find and pulled with both hands and all her
might, until, with a sharp crack, the root suddenly parted and Mabel,
very much to her own surprise, turned a back somersault and landed in
Bettie's basket.

"Hi there!" cried a voice from the road. "How are you youngsters getting
along?"

The girls jumped to their feet - all but Mabel, who was still wedged
tightly in Bettie's basket. There was Mr. Black, with his elbows on the
fence, and with him was the president of the Village Improvement
Society; both were smiling broadly.

"Sick of your bargain?" asked Mr. Black.

The four girls shook their heads emphatically.

"Hard work?"

Four heads bobbed up and down.

"Well," said Mr. Black, encouragingly, "you've made considerable headway
today."

"Where are you putting the weeds?" asked the president of the Village
Improvement Society.

"On the back porch in a piano box," said Bettie. "We had a big pile of
them last night, but they shrank like everything before morning. If they
do that _every_ time, it won't be necessary for Mabel to jump on them to
press them down."

"Let me know when you have a wagon load," said Mr. Black. "I'll have
them hauled away for you."

For the rest of the week the girls worked early and late. They began
almost at daylight, and the mosquitoes found them still digging at dusk.

By Thursday night, only scattered patches of weeds remained. The little
diggers could hardly tear themselves away when they could no longer find
the weeds because of the gathering darkness. Now that the task was so
nearly completed it seemed such a waste of time to eat and sleep.

Bettie was up earlier than ever the next morning, and with one of the
boys' spades had loosened the soil around some of the very worst patches
before any of the other girls appeared.

By five o'clock that night the last weed was dug. Conscientious Bettie
went around the yard a dozen times, but however hard she might search,
not a single remaining weed could she discover.

"Good work," said Jean, balancing her empty basket on her head.

"It seems too good to be true," said Bettie, "but think of it,
girls - the rent is paid! It's 'most time for Mr. Black to go by. Let's
watch for him from the doorstep - our own precious doorstep."

"It needs scrubbing," said Mabel. "Besides, it isn't ours, yet. Perhaps
Mr. Black has changed his mind. Some grown-up folks have awfully
changeable minds."

"Oh!" gasped Marjory. "Wouldn't it be perfectly dreadful if he had!"

It seemed to the little girls, torn between doubt and expectation, that
Mr. Black was strangely indifferent to the calls of hunger that night.
Was he never going home to dinner? Was he _never_ coming?

"Perhaps," suggested Jean, "he has gone out of town."

"Or forgotten us," said Marjory.

"Or died," said Mabel, dolefully.

"No - no," cried Bettie. "There he is; he's coming around the corner
now - I can see him. Let's run to meet him."

The girls scampered down the street. Bettie seized one hand, Mabel the
other, Marjory and Jean danced along ahead of him, and everybody talked
at once. Thus escorted, Mr. Black approached the cottage lot.

"Well, I declare," said Mr. Black. "You haven't left so much as a blade
of grass. Do you think you could sow some grass seed if I have the
ground made ready for it?"

The girls thought they could. Bettie timidly suggested nasturtiums.

"Flower beds too? Why, of course," said Mr. Black. "Vegetables as well
if you like. You can have a regular farm and grow fairy beanstalks and
Cinderella pumpkins if you want to. And now, since the rent seems to be
paid, I suppose there is nothing left for me to do but to hand over the
key. Here it is, Mistress Bettie, and I'm sure I couldn't have a nicer
lot of tenants."




CHAPTER 3

The Tenants Take Possession


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