Chapter VIII. Exploring--A Race for Pond Lilies




"Now let's explore," Bert said to the girls the next morning. "We haven't had a chance yet to see the lake, the woods, or the island."

"Hal Bingham is coming over to see you this morning," Dorothy told Bert. "He said you must be tired toting girls around, and he knows everything interesting around here to show you."

"Glad of it," said Bert. "You girls are very nice, of course, but a boy needs another fellow in a place like this," and he swung himself over the rail of the veranda, instead of walking down the steps.

It was quite early, for there was so much planned, to be accomplished before the sun got too hot, that all the children kept to their promise to get up early, and be ready for the day's fun by seven o'clock. The girls, with Mrs. Bobbsey, Mrs. Minturn, and Freddie, were to go shell hunting, but as Bert had taken that trip with his father on the first morning after their arrival, he preferred to look over the woods and lake at the back of the Minturn home, where the land slid down from the rough cliff upon which the house stood.

"Here comes Hal now," called Dorothy, as a boy came whistling up the path. He was taller than Bert, but not much older, and he had a very "jolly squint" in his black eyes; that is, Dorothy called it a "jolly squint," but other people said it was merely a twinkle. But all agreed that Hal was a real boy, the greatest compliment that could be paid him.

There was not much need of an introduction, although Dorothy did call down from the porch, "Bert that's Hal; Hal that's Bert," to which announcement the boys called back, "All right, Dorothy. We'll get along."

"Have you been on the lake yet?" Hal asked, as they started down the green stretch that bounded the pretty lake on one side, while a strip of woodland pressed close to the edge across the sheet of water.

"No," Bert answered, "we have had so much coming and going to the depot since we came down, I couldn't get a chance to look around much. It's an awfully pretty lake, isn't it?"

"Yes, and it runs in and out for miles," Hal replied. "I have a canoe down here at our boathouse. Let's take a sail."

The Bingham property, like the Minturn, was on a cliff at the front, and ran back to the lake, where the little boathouse was situated. The house was made of cedars, bound together in rustic fashion, and had comfortable seats inside for ladies to keep out of the sun while waiting for a sail.

"Father and I built this house," Hal told Bert. "We were waiting so long for the carpenters, we finally got a man to bring these cedars in from Oakland. Then we had him cut them, that is, the line of uprights, and we built the boathouse without any trouble at all. It was sport to arrange all the little turns and twists, like building a block house in the nursery."

"You certainly made a good job of it," said Bert, looking critically over the boathouse.

"It's all in the design, of course; the nailing together is the easiest part."

"You might think so," said Hal, "but it's hard to drive a nail in round cedar. But we thought it so interesting, we didn't mind the trouble," finished Hal, as he prepared to untie his canoe.

"What a pretty boat!" exclaimed Bert, in real admiration.

The canoe was green and brown, the body being colored like bark, while inside, the lining was of pale green. The name, Dorothy, shone in rustic letters just above the water edge.

"And you called it Dorothy," Bert remarked.

"Yes, she's the liveliest girl I know, and a good friend of mine all summer," said Hal. "There are some boys down the avenue, but they don't know as much about good times as Dorothy does. Why, she can swim, row, paddle, climb trees, and goes in for almost any sport that's on. Last week she swam so far in the sun she couldn't touch an oar or paddle for days, her arms were so blistered. But she didn't go around with her hands in a muff at that. Dorothy's all right," finished Hal.

Bert liked to hear his cousin complimented, especially when he had such admiration himself for the girl who never pouted, and he knew that the tribute did not in any way take from Dorothy's other good quality, that of being a refined and cultured girl.

"Girls don't have to be babies to be ladylike," added Bert. "Nan always plays ball with me, and can skate and all that. She's not afraid of a snowball, either."

"Well, I'm all alone," said Hal. "Haven't even got a first cousin. We've been coming down here since I was a youngster, so that's why Dorothy seems like my sister. We used to make mud pies together."

The boys were in the canoe now, and each took a paddle. The water was so smooth that the paddles merely patted it, like "brushing a cat's back," Bert said, and soon the little bark was gliding along down the lake, in and out of the turns, until the "narrows" were reached.

"Here's where we get our pond lilies," said Hal.

"Oh, let's get some!" exclaimed Bert. "Mother is so fond of them."

It was not difficult to gather the beautiful blooms, that nested so cosily on the cool waters, too fond of their cradle to ever want to creep, or walk upon their slender green limbs. They just rocked there, with every tiny ripple of the water, and only woke up to see the warm sunlight bleaching their dainty, yellow heads.

"Aren't they fragrant?" said Bert, as he put one after the other into the bottom of the canoe.

"There's nothing like them," declared Hal. "Some people like roses best, but give me the pretty pond lilies," he finished.

The morning passed quickly, for there was so much to see around the lake. Wild ducks tried to find out how near they could go to the water without touching it, and occasionally one would splash in, by accident.

"What large birds there are around the sea," Bert remarked. "I suppose they have to be big and strong to stand long trips without food when the waves are very rough and they can hardly see fish."

"Yes, and they have such fine plumage," said Hal. "I've seen birds around here just like those in museums, all colors, and with all kinds of feathers--Birds of Paradise, I guess they call them."

"Do you ever go shooting?"

"No, not in summer time," replied Hal. "But sometimes father and I take a run down here about Thanksgiving. That's the time for seaside sport. Why, last year we fished with rakes; just raked the fish up in piles--'frosties,' they call them."

"That must be fun," reflected Bert.

"Maybe you could come this year," continued Hal. "We might make up a party, if you have school vacation for a week. We could camp out in our house, and get our meals at the hotel."

"That would be fine!" exclaimed Bert. "Maybe Uncle William would come, and perhaps my Cousin Harry, from Meadow Brook. He loves that sort of sport. By the way, we expect him down for a few days; perhaps next week."

"Good!" cried Hal. "The boat carnival is on next week. I'm sure he would enjoy that."

The boys were back at the boathouse now, and Bert gathered up his pond lilies.

"There'll be a scramble for them when the girls see them," he said. "Nellie McLaughlin, next to Dorothy, is out for fun. She is not a bit like a sick girl."

"Perhaps she isn't sick now," said Hal, "but has to be careful. She seems quite thin."

"Mother says she wants fun, more than medicine," went on Bert. "I guess she had to go to work because her father is away at sea. He's been gone a year and he only expected to be away six months."

"So is my Uncle George," remarked Hal. "He went to the West Indies to bring back a valuable cargo of wood. He had only a small vessel, and a few men. Say, did you say her name was McLaughlin?" exclaimed Hal, suddenly.

"Yes; they call him Mack for short, but his name is McLaughlin."

"Why, that was the name of the man who went with Uncle George!" declared Hal. "Maybe it was her father."

"Sounds like it," Bert said. "Tell Uncle William about it sometime. I wouldn't mention it to Nellie, she cut up so, they said, the first time she saw the ocean. Poor thing! I suppose she just imagined her father was tossing about in the waves."

The boys had tied the canoe to its post, and now made their way up over the hill toward the house.

"Here they come," said Bert, as Nan, Nellie, and Dorothy came racing down the hill.

"Oh!" cried Dorothy, "give me some!"

"Oh, you know me, Bert?" pleaded Nellie.

"Hal, I wound up your kite string, didn't I?" insisted Nan, by way of showing that she surely deserved some of Hal's pond lilies.

"And I found your ball in the bushes, Bert," urged Dorothy.

"They're not for little girls," Hal said, waving his hand comically, like a duke in a comic opera. "Run along, little girls, run along," he said, rolling his r's in real stage fashion, and holding the pond lilies against his heart.

"But if we get them, may we have them sir knight?" asked Dorothy, keeping up the joke.

"You surely can!" replied Hal, running short on his stage words.

At this Nellie dashed into the path ahead of Hal, and Dorothy turned toward Bert. Nan crowded in close to Dorothy, and the boys had some dodging to get a start. Finally Hal shot out back of the big bush, and Nellie darted after him. Of course, the boys were better runners than the girls, but somehow, girls always expect something wonderful to happen, when they start on a race like that. Hal had tennis slippers on, and he went like a deer. But just as he was about to call "home free" and as he reached the donkey barn, he turned on his ankle.

Nellie had her hands on the pond lilies instantly, for Hal was obliged to stop and nurse his ankle.

"They're yours," he gave in, handing her the beautiful bunch of blooms.

"Oh, aren't they lovely!" exclaimed the little cash girl, but no one knew that was the first time she ever, in all her life, held a pond lily in her hand.

"I'm going to give them to Mrs. Bobbsey," she decided, starting at once to the house with the fragrant prize in her arms. Neither Dorothy nor Nan had caught Bert, but he handed his flowers to his cousin.

"Give them to Aunt Emily," he said gallantly, while Dorothy took the bouquet and declared she could have caught Bert, anyhow, if she "only had a few more feet," whatever that meant.



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