UNCLE PETER COMES
“MY Uncle Peter is coming to see us tomorrow,” said Honey Bunch to Mrs. Lancaster the next morning. “But I won’t tell him about the secret flowers,” she added.
“You’re very fond of your Uncle Peter, aren’t you?” said Mrs. Lancaster, smiling. “You talk about him so much. The pansies are ready for him, aren’t they?”
“Pansies are his favorite flowers,” declared Honey Bunch. “Uncle Peter sent me my rake and my hoe and my spade, but he hasn’t seen my garden growing yet. And he hasn’t seen Spot; but he knows about him—Mother wrote and told him.”
When the time came for Mrs. Lancaster to go home that morning, she turned her chair around and stopped, instead of rolling off at her usual quick pace. She could turn the wheels rapidly and skillfully, and as a rule she hurried along the street in her wheel-chair as fast, if not faster, than a woman would walk, “By the way, Honey Bunch,” she said to the little girl who stood at the fence ready to wave good-bye, “I won’t be around for two or three days. Don’t expect me to come before the first of next week.”
“But then you won’t see Uncle Peter,” protested Honey Bunch. “He’s going Friday—he can stay but one night, Mrs. Lancaster. Couldn’t you just come a minute in the morning and see Uncle Peter?”
“Not very well,” said the old lady. “To tell you the truth, Honey Bunch, I don’t care much about meeting new faces; I like little people better than grown-ups—always did. You can tell me about the good time you have with Uncle Peter, and that will be much better than if I came and saw him.”
Honey Bunch went into the house almost crying. She wanted Mrs. Lancaster, who was one of her best friends by this time, to see her dearest uncle. But when she told her mother what the old lady had said, Mrs. Morton took Honey Bunch on her lap and tried to make her understand.
“You see, darling,” she said gently, “Mrs. Lancaster is an old lady, and she isn’t well Sometimes her poor crippled legs hurt her. When you are a tired old lady it is often hard work to have to meet and talk to strangers. Uncle Peter doesn’t seem a stranger to us, because we know and love him dearly, but Mrs. Lancaster would have to begin at the beginning with him and make his acquaintance.
“You and Mrs. Lancaster have a beautiful time together,” Mrs. Morton went on, rocking with Honey Bunch in her lap, “because you both love flowers and you’re making a garden together—the secret flowers are something you are both interested in. I’ve been out and spoken to this dear little old lady once or twice, but now I usually nod to her and wave my hand from the window because I know she is happier talking to my little girl. You may not understand exactly, dear, until you are an old lady yourself, years and years and years from now. But Mother knows Mrs. Lancaster would rather talk to you and watch your garden grow and not be asked to visit with grown-up people.”
That made Honey Bunch feel better. You may have noticed, as she did, that talking things over with Mother does make you feel better every time. Now, instead of feeling sorry because Mrs. Lancaster wasn’t going to see Uncle Peter, Honey Bunch bustled out into her garden to make everything look as nice as possible for his visit.
She pulled every weed she could find, though there were not many. She was a faithful little gardener and kept such sharp watch on the weeds that not many of them had a chance to grow high before she spied them, and then it was off with their heads and out with their roots. It had not taken Honey Bunch long to learn that taking the heads off the weeds didn’t discourage them. She had to pull them up by the roots and throw them into the trash can, before they died.
When she had the weeds pulled, Honey Bunch spent half an hour fixing Stub’s sweet pea vines. She always thought of the flowers she had planted as belonging to the ones for whom she had planted them. So whenever she tried to coax the pretty curly green vines of the sweet peas to grow up the wires Daddy Morton had fixed for them, Honey Bunch said to herself that she was “making Stub’s sweet peas grow.”
With the stray weeds pulled and the vines started up the wires and the earth raked around the plants to make them tidy and a few scattered pieces of paper picked from the paths, Honey Bunch’s garden was in perfect order. That was because she spent some time in it every day. Some small gardeners, you know, and big ones, too, let their gardens go for days at a time; they never weed or water or cultivate them. And then, suddenly, they want to show the garden to some one and they have to pitch in and work for hours—perhaps in the broiling sun—to put the garden in order. But it never looks as nice, no matter how hard they may work, as does the garden which has been carefully tended since the first seed was planted.
What do you suppose happened to Honey Bunch the morning of the day her Uncle Peter was expected? Her garden bloomed!
Yes’m, she came out on the side porch before breakfast, in her spandy new pink gingham dress that Mother had just finished making for her, and she looked over to her garden just as she always did, every morning. There she saw three pinks and more nasturtiums than she could count—they made a lovely blaze of color—and one scarlet poppy.
Honey Bunch was so surprised she nearly fell off the porch! It was lucky the railing was there. Of course she had looked at her garden every morning hoping to find that it had blossomed, but she had looked so many mornings and seen only the bright-faced pansies that she could hardly believe it true when she saw these other flowers.
“Mother! Daddy! Mrs. Miller!” she cried. “Come look, quick!”
Daddy Morton came hurrying downstairs without his necktie, and Mrs. Morton, who was buttoning her slippers, left one strap undone while she ran out to look, and Mrs. Miller, who had come to clean the house, left the coffee pot on the stove and it boiled over.
“Flowers!” said Honey Bunch, almost shouting, she was so excited. “Flowers in my garden!”
“Well, I never!” Mr. Morton seemed as pleased as Honey Bunch. “And clove pinks, too! Perhaps I’ll have one to wear downtown in my buttonhole.”
“Oh, yes, Daddy,” said Honey Bunch eagerly. “I’ll pick it for you. And the nasturtiums will go in Mother’s glass dish on the table and the red poppy is Ida’s. Isn’t it fun?”
“Don’t pick the very first flowers and give them away, little daughter,” said Mrs. Morton, stooping down to hug Honey Bunch. “The posies will bloom fast now they have started; if I were you, I’d leave those right where they are growing, at least until you have shown your garden to Uncle Peter.”
Honey Bunch thought this was a fine plan, and although she brought Ida Camp to see her poppy and called Norman to look over the fence at the nasturtiums, she told them that no flowers were to be picked till after Uncle Peter had seen them.
“When will my sunflowers bloom?” asked Norman. “Gee, they’re growing tall, aren’t they?”
“Daddy says they will have flowers on in August,” Honey Bunch answered. “And they’ll be higher than that fence, when they’re grown up, Norman. Mrs. Lancaster told me so.”
“That will be nice,” said Norman with satisfaction. “Then I can see them without climbing the fence. Maybe I’ll buy a parrot to eat the seeds, Honey Bunch. Do you like parrots?”
“I like to hear them talk,” replied Honey Bunch. “There is one in that red house down on the next block. But I would rather have a canary bird than a parrot. A parrot can’t sing.”
It seemed a very long morning to Honey Bunch, in spite of the excitement of finding the flowers and showing them to Ida and Norman, but the afternoon finally came and it brought Uncle Peter.
“Well, how you’ve grown!” was the first thing Uncle Peter said when he saw her. “I suppose it is this working out in the open air. You are a farmer now, aren’t you, Honey Bunch? Like Stub.”
Honey Bunch laughed. She didn’t mind being teased.
“I’m a gardener, Uncle Peter,” she said. “I made a garden with the rake and the hoe and the spade you sent me. And I have a garden apron with things in the pocket.”
“You have?” said Uncle Peter, pretending to be surprised. “Then it is lucky I didn’t buy you that.”
Honey Bunch looked at him, her blue eyes eager. She knew it wasn’t polite to ask him; what he had bought her, but it was hard not to say anything. And she knew he had brought her some kind of present. Uncle Peter never came to see her that he didn’t bring her a gift. He had once told her that uncles were meant to bring little girls presents.
“I think,” said Uncle Peter then, “if you look on the table in the hall, you’ll find a package there for you. In fact, I seem to remember putting one there.”
Honey Bunch ran out into the hall. There on the table sat a package. It seemed to be pretty big, and it was tied all over with string and the string had knots in it. Honey Bunch couldn’t guess, from looking at it, what might be inside. There are some packages you can always guess—candy, for instance. But I do not believe that you could have told from looking at this package what was inside it.
“I’ll cut the string for you,” said Uncle Peter, taking out his knife. “The paper came off in the train and I had to tie it up as best I could. There you are, Honey Bunch!”
Honey Bunch took off the paper and found —a little red wheelbarrow! The reddest, glossiest, smoothest little wheelbarrow you ever saw.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” squealed Honey Bunch. “What a darling little wheelbarrow. I can wheel things in it, Uncle Peter!”
She put her arms around his neck and kissed him, and Uncle Peter told her that he had had a wheelbarrow when he was a little boy and helped his daddy in the big garden at home.
“You may not use it so much during the summer, but you will this fall, Honey Bunch,” Uncle Peter said. “And now, if some one asked me, I might go out and see this garden I have heard so much of—I even heard that pansies were growing in it.”
Honey Bunch gave one hand to Uncle Peter and carried the new wheelbarrow in the other and took them both out to see her garden. The pansy plants were thick with lovely blossoms and another poppy had blossomed since morning. As for the nasturtiums, they were red and yellow and orange, each one gayer than the other.
Uncle Peter put a pansy in his buttonhole at once and knelt down on the grass and looked at every single pansy. Honey Bunch was so glad she had planted them for him and explained to him that she was going to plant some pansy seeds in August and have more plants for next year.
“This is absolutely the nicest garden I was ever in,” said Uncle Peter, when he had seen it all and Honey Bunch had told him about all the flowers.
Honey Bunch had placed the little red wheelbarrow at a corner of the garden, and when Uncle Peter was called into the house for a moment she walked close to inspect her gift. First she looked at the outside of the barrow and then she looked inside. Then, all at once, Honey Bunch gave a gasp.
And not without reason, for in the wheelbarrow, crouched in a heap, was a big green toad. And as Honey Bunch stared at the toad, it suddenly gave a hop right towards her!