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HOME > Classical Novels > Norma: A Flower Scout > CHAPTER III AN AUTOMOBILE IS DONATED.
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 Norma left the basket of plants in the cool cellar for the night, but she was up in the morning before anyone was astir in the house, in order to get the plants in the ground before the sun rose high. She was busily engaged in digging holes with a kitchen coal-shovel and planting the roots carefully as Mrs. Tompkins had shown her when Mrs. James came out and saw her at work.  
“Ha! the early bird catches the flowers!” called Mrs. James, as she ran across the grass and joined Norma at the garden.
“I planted the young sweet williams and the chicken feet, and the pinks, all along that border, you see,” said Norma.
“Very good, but you did not entrench4 any manure5 in the soil, did you?”
“No, because I thought we would buy some bone dust as Mrs. Tompkins said, and spread it over the top after the flowers are in the ground.”
Mrs. James advised and suggested, as Norma dug and planted industriously6, until she had all of the slips and plants that were given her the evening before, in the ground. Then the two walked along the grass-overgrown road that ran down to the stream. The old rail fence on one side, that separated the house grounds from the pasture lot, was not a beautiful thing to look at. And the strip of weed-grown wild-grass that stretched between the fence and the badly kept road made the spot still more uninteresting.
“Norma, since the first day I moved to the place, I’ve been eager to reclaim7 this awful strip of land, so I asked Natalie to plant a few rows of corn, or beans, or even potatoes all along here. But she wouldn’t waste time over it, she said. Now let’s you and I beautify it.”
“Nothing I’d like better, Jimmy. What would you suggest?”
“What would you suggest!” countered Mrs. James.
“We could simply overwhelm that old rail fence with creepers. Convolvulas, moon-flowers, clematis, and Virginia creepers, to say nothing of trumpet8 vines, will glorify9 the old grey rails. What do you think?”
“Splendid! And they all will grow even though it is July; the trumpet vine and Virginia creeper may object but the others will make a good showing in a few weeks, and before August we will have the old fence hidden under a mass of foliage10 and flowers.”
“Their roots are not large, either, and they will not absorb the nourishment11 from the soil which will be needed by the other plants we will plant along there,” added Norma.
“I haven’t any idea of what to plant. The weeds have to all come out first, and then we may find that the soil is so dry and poor that it will need entrenching12, as Mrs. Tompkins described, yesterday.”
“I’ve been thinking of it, while I was digging this morning, Jimmy, and I thought a border of squatty old-fashioned plants such as tansy, tarragon, rue13 and chervil, exactly like Mrs. Tompkins has about that board fence that screens her gardens from the grocery yard, would look fine. Then, between the border and the vines on the fence, we could plant all kinds of geraniums, in red, white or pink. They will grow, too, because they take root and will stand transplanting at any time of the summer season. If we shelter them for the first few days, to protect them from the hot rays of the sun, and keep the roots well watered in early morning and in the evening, they ought to take hold at once.”
“I’m sure they will, Norma, and I can see how pretty the effect of such massed plants will be,” responded Mrs. James. “And way down there, opposite Natalie’s vegetable gardens, we can add some more hollyhocks for next year. Those few now growing there look so forlorn and lonesome, trying to lean against the old fence.”
“We might plant some sun flowers right away—they will grow now, and bloom before September. That will give the lonely hollyhocks a little company, and provide feasts for the birds, too.”
“We’ll try it!” declared Mrs. James, and then just as Rachel’s welcome call for breakfast sounded over the lawn, and the two went towards the house to wash before appearing at the table, Rachel gave a whoop14 and stood waving her arms, as she gazed across the drying-lawn back of her kitchen.
“Dem fowls15 ’scaped from the barn yard, Natalie, and is eating yor greens as fas’ as they kin2!” was the cook’s warning cry to the girls within the house.
In less than a minute, four girls streamed out of the back door and followed in the wake of the southern mammy, as she hurried down the pathway to the vegetable gardens. Norma and Mrs. James trailed after the four girls, but the trespassing16 hens and rooster were shooed away from the forbidden ground by the time the last two in the procession arrived on the scene.
“Now Janet, you’ve just got to get some wire and keep those horrid17 chickens in a yard,” wailed18 Natalie, when she saw the damage they had done to the tender tops of her greens.
So, soon after the breakfast, Janet started for Four Corners to purchase a roll of chicken wire for the runway. Belle19 and Frances offered to go with her and help carry the roll back to the house. Norma had too much to do with her flower gardening to think of leaving the work, so she was hard at her self-appointed tasks when the Lowdens drove up in their touring car and stopped in front of the house.
Mrs. James was indoors helping20 Rachel, when Mr. Lowden came along the side road and stopped back of Norma. The first inkling she had of anyone being near her was, when she heard a man’s amused voice asking “How is your garden growing?”
Then Norma eagerly explained what she was doing, and all that Natalie and Janet had already accomplished21. That made her remember something. “Oh, Janet had to go to buy chicken-wire to keep her chickens from gobbling Natalie’s greens, so Frances and Belle went along to help her carry the roll of wire back.”
“Where did they go for it?” asked Mr. Lowden.
“All the way to Four Corners, and a roll of wire ought to be rather heavy before they finish this mile, don’t you think, Mr. Lowden?” suggested Norma.
Frances’ father laughed, and said he would drive down the road and help them with the burden. Then he went out to tell his wife and send her in to the house to visit Mrs. James, while he went for the three girls and the chicken wire.
The object of the Lowdens’s early visit was soon told. And they were fully1 repaid for their offer to leave the touring car for the girls of Green Hill Farm to use during the summer while the owners were vacationing in the Rockies, by such happy faces and excited declarations of how good the Lowdens were, etcetera.
When it came time for the Lowdens to start for the train that left Four Corners at noon every day, Frances asked who of the girls would like to drive with her to the station. Janet simply had to begin that horrid chicken fence, and Natalie had to mend her broken plants and smooth the scratched-up soil; Belle said someone ought to help poor Janet, so Norma spoke22 up:
“I’d love to go with you, Frans, if you will leave me at Mrs. Tompkins and call for us on your way back. Jimmy and I invited her to visit us today and advise us with the landscaping about the house.”
“Sure! Jump in and I’ll drop you as we pass the store. You can have Mrs. Tompkins all ready to come back with me when I stop for you,” was Frances’s willing reply.
The trip was soon made, and Norma, with Mrs. Tompkins, were welcomed by Mrs. James who was waiting on the side porch. Frances left the car under the great oak that grew beside the corner of the driveway near the front fence corner, and then ran to the barn yard to see what Janet was doing. But she was soon drafted into service with Belle and the three forgot the three floriculturists at the house, for a time.
Norma and Mrs. James escorted their visitor across the lawns to the garden that had been planted that morning. “Oh, but you should have placed inverted23 flower-pots over the little plants during the hot sunshine, Norma,” said Mrs. Tompkins anxiously.
“I didn’t forget it, Mrs. Tompkins, but I had none. I hunted down in the cellar, in hopes of finding some old ones, but I didn’t see a one.”
“In that case, you should have made cornucopias24 of paper—brown paper if you have it, or newspaper if there is no heavier kind on the place. I’ll show you how to do it if you get me the paper,” offered the visitor.
Rachel had several sheets of brown paper in the kitchen which she had folded and saved for a need, and now Norma was handed it, while Rachel felt that this gift privileged her to join the flower growers and listen to their talk. But she soon wearied of it and started for the barn yard to find if the company there was more interesting.
Mrs. Tompkins formed cones25 of the papers, some larger, some smaller, according to the size of the plant to be covered, and when these cones were placed in an inverted manner over the plants they were secured to the ground by means of sticks or stones placed at the edge of the paper.
The three then walked over to the strip of weeds that grew all along the fence-line, and Norma explained what she had suggested in flowers, for that strip. Mrs. Tompkins exchanged looks with Mrs. James, and said, smilingly: “Our flower scout26 is improving wonderfully in the few lessons she’s had.”
Shouts and laughter reaching them from the farm yard now attracted the visitor’s attention, and she looked over in that direction. Norma explained what was going on there: “Janet has to fence her chickens in because they scratch up Nat’s garden and eat the tops from her greens.”
Mrs. Tompkins laughed, but she said: “I wouldn’t want a garden of any kind, if I had no living creatures about it to make it companionable. To me, the bees, birds, pigeons and chickens, yes, even cats and dogs, help make my gardens more lovable, for these domestic animals love flowers and sweet-smelling things just the same as we do.”
“I never looked at it in that light,” murmured Norma.
Just then a shout for Mrs. James came ringing across the farm from the direction of the barn yard, so that lady hastily excused herself and ran down the lane to see what was wanted of her. She did not return to Norma or Mrs. Tompkins, so they walked on and talked of their favorite subject—flower culture.
“I have watched many times, and do you know, Norma, not a cat or dog, or other creatures that wandered into my gardens, ever ruined a plant for me! I have seen them scoop27 out a slight depression in the soft soil to sleep in. But they always curled up in the little hole and never disturbed the roots or vines. Then when they had had their nap they would get up and walk silently away. I generally smoothed out the spot and that was all the trouble it gave me.”
“Mrs. Tompkins, it must be your sublime28 faith that the creatures won’t injure your flowers, that keeps them from doing any harm,” remarked Norma. “Just like Daniel when he was in the lion’s den3, you know. If he had wavered and thought to himself: ‘Oh, I wonder if God really will bother to keep the lions’ jaws29 closed’ maybe he wouldn’t have come out of that experience quite so remarkably30.”
Mrs. Tompkins laughed heartily31 at the comparison, and added: “I see you know something of the Scriptures32, Norma, so I can say, and you will understand, the line that goes thus: ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ I trust to my faith in good creatures and hope that they will respond to my loving faith in them, and sure enough! the evidence of such things generally appears to me.”
“Why can’t I encourage the same sort of faith in my ideals for a garden, Mrs. Tompkins? I know a garden of flowers must be good because flowers are beautiful things created by God. So I can hold to my faith until I see the evidence appear, eh?”
Mrs. Tompkins smiled and nodded, then added: “I want to say, that in speaking of entertaining the little feathered angel birds, in my flower garden, I also entertain them in beneficent ways unseen by me. For bees and birds are necessary and valuable for your flowers. The bees have panniers on their legs where they carry the pollen33 to the hives, and many a tiny bit of pollen falls from these well-packed panniers to fall into the heart of the blossom from which the bee is gathering34 nectar. In this bit of pollen lies the secret of the fertilization of other flowers.
“Can you picture my flower garden without the darling humming-birds and bees that buzz and sing about it all day long?”
“I wish we could coax35 all the different birds in the county to live on the farm. I’d love it!” declared Norma fervently36.
“You can have them, if you will work to attract them,” was Mrs. Tompkins’s reply.
“Jimmy said that she never saw so many different kinds of wild song birds in any place, as she has seen since coming to Green Hill. She told me that the only regret is that she has not built any bird houses to offer them for homes.”
“Why lose any more time, then? Begin to fix up some bird houses at once, and you will see what a difference they will make about your place.”
“I thought we would have to send to the city and buy the houses,” ventured Norma.
“Goodness, no! You can use empty starch37 boxes such as Si throws on the woodpile, or cheese boxes, or even soap boxes, if they are not too large and heavy. You can fix partitions inside, and then nail perches39 on the outside under the entrances, then, last of all, you nail the cover on the box again and paint it. If you want a real fancy house, get some bark from a fallen tree and nail it on the outside with wire brads.”
“I’ll get the girls to help me and we’ll do it at once,” promised Norma eagerly. “You ask your husband to save some of those boxes for us, will you, Mrs. Tompkins?”
“I certainly will! and now that I come to think of it, I saw Si empty another cheese box this morning. That makes two you girls can have, for I saved one a few weeks ago in case any of the neighbors asked me for one to use for the birds.”
“How do you make that kind, Mrs. Tompkins?” asked Norma.
“For wrens40 you always cut a small hole so the sparrows can’t crawl in and annoy them. A wren41 is touchy42 and won’t live in a nest where she is annoyed by her enemy, the sparrow. A bluebird or a martin needs a doorway43 a little larger than the wren’s. And the robin44, or the blue jay, or an oriole, needs the door still larger. A cat bird, and birds of his size, needs the largest holes to their nests, of any of these others.
“So you cut the hole according to the bird you expect to rent your house to. The more modern improvements you offer a tenant45 the sooner you rent the apartment. Most birds like a cozy46 home, with enough room to build a good substantial nest therein, but not so large that it will feel like poking47 in the corners every night to make sure there are no tramps lurking48 about. The tenants49 like a safe perch38 upon which they can rest when they alight before entering their home. And they even like a little promenade50 deck in front of their house, so the mother can exercise now and then, and still have safety and security from cats, or fighting birds that disagree with the smaller ones. A roof to shed water and shade the doorway is also a boon51 to the tenant; then give them a fine bird-bath near the house, and feeding grounds throughout the cold weather and you will be amazed at the beautiful song birds you can secure for your houses.”
“Shall we nail the boxes to the tree trunks?” asked Norma.
“Better not, as cats can climb a tree and will frighten the birds even if they do not kill them. I should swing the house by means of a stout52 wire, from a bough53, or nail the house to a strong slat and then nail the slat to the main trunk, or large bough of the tree. If you place a bird house under the eaves of your house, you can use the slat and nail it securely to the ledge54 of the window, but keep the house out towards the eaves where it will be far enough away from the window to insure privacy to the birds.”
“Dear me, I wish Janet had thought of keeping bees. I will speak to her about it, and if she doesn’t try it, I will do it myself. I want bees, and birds, and butterflies, and everything, to enjoy my flowers as much as I shall myself,” sighed Norma.
Mrs. Tompkins was too wise to suggest that Norma had better try and grow a flower garden before she planned for the friendly visitors to such a garden. But she said, apropos55 of bees: “I’m looking for a swarm56 of my bees almost any day, now. If you girls decide to start a bee-hive, just send me word and I’ll keep the new swarm for you.”
“Oh, do! Even if the others won’t, I’m going to have them for my garden flowers,” cried Norma eagerly.
At this moment, Frances called to Mrs. Tompkins: “I’ve got to rush to the store for more wire nails and an extra hammer, for Janet’s work. If you are ready to go home, I’ll drive you back.”
“Oh, must you go so soon?” asked Norma when Mrs. Tompkins nodded her head at Frances.
“Soon! Why, child, I have been here more than an hour.”
“Well, then, I’ll jump in with you and get those boxes for the bird houses,” declared Norma.
So the boxes were found and placed in the automobile57 while Frances was waiting for the nails and hammer at Four Corners’ general store. When Norma came out of the house, where she had gone at Mrs. Tompkins’s invitation, she carried a bottle of tiny brown seeds and several pasteboard boxes. One small pill box that had held pepsin pellets at one time now had six precious nasturtium seeds in it. Another box held a quantity of morning glory seeds, and still another had sun flower seeds in it. A paper packet held sweet pea seeds and these Norma was told to soak in warm water for quickest results after planting.
Frances was ready to start back to the farm just about the time when Norma came out with the seeds in her hands. As she turned to wave a hand at her generous friend, the latter said: “Remember to soak all the seeds but the nasturtiums. They are better dry, when planted. And plant them in the morning after they have soaked through the night.”
The tonneau was piled high with starch boxes, two round cheese boxes and other small boxes that would make good bird houses, so Norma sat in front beside Frances and chattered58 of all the birds they would soon have about Green Hill, once the apartments were ready for their occupancy.
When she got home, the boxes were piled beside the side door leading to the cellar, and then Norma carried her seeds indoors to soak, as Mrs. Tompkins had advised her to do. The small pill box containing the six rare nasturtium seeds was left on the living room table while Norma soaked the other seeds in cups filled with warm water. These cups were placed under the steps of the porch to be out of harm’s way.
Norma now picked up the pill box and wondered where to keep it for the night. It might be damp under the porch steps, and the seeds might be spilled if the box was left on the living room table. So she decided59 to hide it in the pantry closet where the china was kept. She would put it on a shelf that she could easily reach, and shove it against the side wall just inside the door that opened to the dining room. So here the box was left.
Nothing more could be done that evening in the flower gardens, so Norma joined the other girls when they came from the barn yard talking about the fence they had built. As Janet had forgotten the pig’s extra meal of milk that morning, the milk had soured, and Rachel had made sour-milk pancakes of it for supper.
These were a favorite dish with all the girls, and Rachel mixed an extra lot of batter60. Smeared61 thickly with butter and with white clover honey poured over them, they were so delicious that the hungry girls did full justice to them. But Rachel still had so much batter left, after the girls had finished supper, that she baked it into cakes for herself. She, too, was overfond of sour-milk pancakes with pure honey on them.
She ate and ate, until she could hardly breathe, and then she sighed because the last pancake had to be put away on the pantry shelf. She sought for a safe corner in which to hide it from Mrs. James’s searching eye, for fear of being laughed at for saving it for her breakfast.
In pushing the plate in the corner, Rachel found the pill box, and always having enough curiosity to cause her useless trouble, she carried the box to the kitchen window to see what it said on the cover. Then she carried it back and placed it on the shelf.
The supper dishes were washed and put away where they belonged, but Rachel found it hard to finish her tasks, because she was taken with such indigestion pains. She drank a glass of hot water, hoping to relieve her difficulty in breathing. But it got worse. She sat down every few moments until a cramp62 had passed, and every time she began again to do the dishes, she had to gasp63 for breath.
Suddenly she remembered the pill box that said: “Pepsin pills for indigestion.”
“Dat means despepsy like what I got so bad,” muttered Rachel, going for the box.
She brought it out to the daylight and laboriously64 read the directions: “Take two pills, if attack is severe. If not relieved, repeat dose in half hour.”
“Humph! I’se got it so bad, I reckon I’d better take all foh at one time—like it say, repeat dose.” So Rachel took four of the six rare seeds. She replaced the box on the shelf and in a short time the gas disappeared and she felt better. She sat on the stoop for a time to enjoy the cool breezes, and then finding she was feeling as well as ever again, she walked out on the lawn to meet the girls who had spent the evening at Solomon’s Seal Camp.
They told Rachel all about the stories of the stars and the legends of the constellations65 that the scouts66 had told them, and so interested in some of these myths was Rachel that she forgot to speak of the pills she had taken from the box in the pantry.
Early before breakfast the next morning, Norma and Mrs. James were planting the seeds which had been soaked through the night. They planted them where the soil was richest, and planned to dig up the tiny shoots when they came up, and transplant them over by the fence which would be all ready for the vines by that time.
“Now I’ll go and get the wonderful nasturtium seeds, Jimmy,” said Norma, when the swollen67 wet seeds were all planted.
She ran to the pantry and got the box. She ran out again with it in her hand and did not open it until she stopped in front of Mrs. James. Then she carefully lifted the cover from the box to show her companion the six queer shrivelled seeds that would bring forth68 such beauty. To her amazement69 she saw but two.
“I know Mrs. Tompkins gave me six!” she exclaimed.
“You didn’t drop any on your way over here, did you?”
“No, I never removed the lid until I got here.”
“That’s very strange! I wonder if there are any field mice in the house. I’ve heard they love nasturtium seeds,” said Mrs. James.
“Jimmy, if a mouse got the seeds, wouldn’t the cover be off, or a hole eaten into the box?”
“Yes, of course it would! And the cover was on when you picked it up?”
“It was on exactly as I left it last night, and just as I showed it to you this minute.”
It was a mystery, but a sad one for Norma as she had been so proud of those six Oriental nasturtium seeds. The main subject of conversation at the breakfast table that morning was the strange disappearance70 of four seeds from the pill box. Rachel brought in another plate of toast while Norma described minutely the place on the shelf where she had hidden the box the night before.
Rachel thumped71 the plate on the table and dropped into an empty arm chair. Her eyes bulged72 and her mouth sagged73 open in dismay. Finally she gasped74 in awe-struck tones:
“Mis’ James, what yoh think will happen to me ef I swallowed dem foh pills?”
“What four pills, Rachel?” was the puzzled reply.
“Why dem foh seed pills in dat dyspepsy box. I got such cramps75 las’ night, I had to take somefin and dat was all I could fin’.”
The girls almost had hysterics from laughing at her confession76, and Janet managed to say: “Norma will have to pour water down your throat every day before sun-up, and every evening after sunset, Rachel, to make the vine grow luxuriantly.”
“Janet—yoh don reely mean dat, does yoh?” was Rachel’s dread77 question.
“Sure, Rachel! You’ll have the finest Oriental vine coming out of your mouth in a few days that Norma ever saw!”
But Mrs. James hushed Janet’s foolish teasing and assured Rachel that she would feel no ill effects at all, from the wrong dose of seeds.

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