Read CHAPTER X of Ethel Morton's Enterprise, free online book, by Mabell S.C. Smith, on


Roger’s interest in gardening had extended far beyond fertilizers and sweetpeas. It was not long after the discussion in which the Mortons’ garden had been planned on paper that he happened to mention to the master of the high school, Mr. Wheeler, what the Club was intending to do. Mr. Wheeler had learned to value the enthusiasm and persistency of the U.S.C. members and it did not take him long to decide that he wanted their assistance in putting through a piece of work that would be both pleasant and profitable for the whole community.

“It seems queer that here in Rosemont where we are on the very edge of the country there should be any people who do not have gardens,” he said to Roger.

“There are, though,” responded Roger. “I was walking down by the station the other day where those shanties are that the mill hands live in and I noticed that not one of them had space for more than a plant or two and they seemed to be so discouraged at the prospect that even the plant or two wasn’t there.”

“Yet all the children that live in those houses go to our public schools. Now my idea is that we should have a community garden, planted and taken care of by the school children.”

“Bully!” exclaimed Roger enthusiastically. “Where are you going to get your land?”

“That’s the question. It ought to be somewhere near the graded school, and there isn’t any ploughed land about there. The only vacant land there is is that cheerful spot that used to be the dump.”

“Isn’t that horrible! One corner of it is right behind the house where my aunt Louise lives. Fortunately there’s a thick hedge that shuts it off.”

“Still it’s there, and I imagine she’d be glad enough to have it made into a pleasant sight instead of an eyesore.”

“You mean that the dump might be made into the garden?”

“If we can get people like Mrs. Smith who are personally affected by it, and others who have the benefit of the community at heart to contribute toward clearing off the ground and having it fertilized I believe that would be the right place.”

“You can count on Aunt Louise, I know. She’d be glad to help. Anybody would. Why it would turn that terrible looking spot into almost a park!”

“The children would prepare the gardens once the soil was put into something like fair condition, but the first work on that lot is too heavy even for the larger boys.”

“They could pick up the rubbish on top.”

“Yes, they could do that, and the town carts could carry it away and burn it. The town would give us the street sweepings all spring and summer and some of the people who have stables would contribute fertilizer. Once that was turned under with the spade and topped off by some commercial fertilizer with a dash of lime to sweeten matters, the children could do the rest.”

“What is your idea about having the children taught? Will the regular teachers do it?”

“All the children have some nature study, and simple gardening can be run into that, our superintendent tells me. Then I know something about gardening and I’ll gladly give some time to the outdoor work.”

“I’d like to help, too,” said Roger unassumingly, “if you think I know enough.”

“If you’re going to have a share in planting and working three gardens I don’t see why you can’t keep sufficiently ahead of the children to be able to show them what to do. We’d be glad to have your help,” and Mr. Wheeler shook hands cordially with his new assistant.

Roger was not the only member of his family interested in the new plan. His Grandfather was public-spirited and at a meeting of citizens called for the purpose of proposing the new community venture he offered money, fertilizer, seeds, and the services of a man for two days to help in the first clearing up. Others followed his example, one citizen giving a liberal sum of money toward the establishment of an incinerator which should replace in part the duties of the dump, and another heading a subscription list for the purchase of a fence which should keep out stray animals and boys whose interests might be awakened at the time the vegetables ripened rather than during the days of preparation and backache. Mrs. Smith answered her nephew’s expectations by adding to the fund. The town contributed the lot, and supported the new work generously in more than one way.

When it came to the carrying out of details Mr. Wheeler made further demands upon the Club. He asked the boys to give some of their Saturday time to spreading the news of the proposed garden among the people who might contribute and also the people who might want to have their children benefit by taking the new “course of study.” Although James and Tom did not live in Rosemont they were glad to help and for several Saturdays the Club tramps were utilized as a means of spreading the good news through the outskirts of the town.

The girls were placed among the workers when the day came to register the names of the children who wanted to undertake the plots. There were so many of them that there was plenty to do for both the Ethels and for Dorothy and Helen, who assisted Mr. Wheeler. The registration was based on the catalogue plan. For each child there was a card, and on it the girls wrote his name and address, his grade in school and a number corresponding to the number of one of the plots into which the big field was divided. It did not take him long to understand that on the day when the garden was to open he was to hunt up his plot and that after that he and his partner were to be responsible for everything that happened to it.

Two boys or two girls were assigned to each plot but more children applied than there were plots to distribute. The Ethels were disturbed about this at first for it seemed a shame that any one who wanted to make a garden should not have the opportunity. Helen reminded them, however, that there might be some who would find their interest grow faint when the days grew hot and long and the weeds seemed to wax tall at a faster rate than did the desirable plants.

“When some of these youngsters fall by the wayside we can supply their places from the waiting list,” she said.

“There won’t be so many fall by the wayside if there is a waiting list,” prophesied her Aunt Louise who had come over to the edge of the ground to see how popular the new scheme proved to be. “It’s human nature to want to stick if you think that some one else is waiting to take your place.”

The beds were sixteen feet long and five feet wide and a path ran all around. This permitted every part of the bed to be reached by hand, and did away with the necessity of stepping on it. It was decreed that all the plots were to be edged with flowers, but the workers might decide for themselves what they should be. The planters of the first ten per cent. of the beds that showed seedlings were rewarded by being allowed the privilege of planting the vines and tall blossoming plants that were to cover the inside of the fence.

Most of the plots were given over to vegetables, even those cared for by small children, for the addition of a few extras to the family table was more to be desired than the bringing home of a bunch of flowers, but even the most provident children had the pleasure of picking the white candytuft or blue ageratum, or red and yellow dwarf nasturtiums that formed the borders.

Once a week each plot received a visit from some one qualified to instruct the young farmer and the condition of the plot was indicated on his card. Here, too, and on the duplicate card which was filed in the schoolhouse, the child’s attendance record was kept, and also the amount of seed he used and the extent of the crop he harvested. In this way the cost of each of the little patches was figured quite closely. As it turned out, some of the children who were not blessed with many brothers and sisters, sold a good many dimes’ worth of vegetables in the course of the summer.

“This surely is a happy sight!” exclaimed Mr. Emerson to his wife as he passed one day and stopped to watch the children at work, some, just arrived, getting their tools from the toolhouse in one corner of the lot, others already hard at work, some hoeing, some on their knees weeding, all as contented as they were busy.

“Come in, come in,” urged Mr. Wheeler, who noticed them looking over the fence. “Come in and see how your grandson’s pupils are progressing.”

The Emersons were eager to accept the invitation.

“Here is the plan we’ve used in laying out the beds,” explained Mr. Wheeler, showing them a copy of a Bulletin issued by the Department of Agriculture. “Roger and I studied over it a long time and we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t better this. This one is all vegetables, you see, and that has been chosen by most of the youngsters. Some of the girls, though, wanted more flowers, so they have followed this one.”

“This vegetable arrangement is the one I’ve followed at home,” said Roger, “only mine is larger. Dicky’s garden is just this size.”

“Would there be any objection to my offering a small prize?” asked Mr. Emerson.

“None at all.”

“Then I’d like to give some packages of seeds as many as you think would be suitable to the partners who make the most progress in the first month.”

“And I’d like to give a bundle of flower seeds to the border that is in the most flourishing condition by the first of August,” added Mrs. Emerson.

“And the United Service Club would like to give some seeds for the earliest crop of vegetables harvested from any plot,” promised Roger, taking upon himself the responsibility of the offer which he was sure the other members would confirm.

Mr. Wheeler thanked them all and assured them that notice of the prizes would be given at once so that the competition might add to the present enthusiasm.

“Though it would be hard to do that,” he concluded, smiling with satisfaction.

“No fair planting corn in the kitchen and transplanting it the way I’m doing at home,” decreed Roger, enlarging his stipulations concerning the Club offer.

“I understand; the crop must be raised here from start to finish,” replied Mr. Wheeler.

The interest of the children in the garden and of their parents and the promoters in general in the improvement that they had made in the old town dump was so great that the Ethels were inspired with an idea that would accomplish even more desirable changes. The suggestion was given at one of the Saturday meetings of the Club.

“You know how horrid the grounds around the railroad station are,” Ethel Blue reminded them.

“There’s some grass,” objected Roger.

“A tiny patch, and right across the road there are ugly weeds. I think that if we put it up to the people of Rosemont right now they’d be willing to do something about making the town prettier by planting in a lot of conspicuous places.”

“Where besides the railroad station?” inquired Helen.

“Can you ask? Think of the Town Hall! There isn’t a shrub within a half mile.”

“And the steps of the high school,” added Ethel Brown. “You go over them every day for ten months, so you’re so accustomed to them that you don’t see that they’re as ugly as ugly. They ought to have bushes planted at each side to bank them from sight.”

“I dare say you’re right,” confessed Helen, while Roger nodded assent and murmured something about Japan ivy.

“Some sort of vine at all the corners would be splendid,” insisted Ethel Brown. “Ethel Blue and Dorothy and I planted Virginia Creeper and Japan ivy and clematis wherever we could against the graded school building; didn’t we tell you? The principal said we might; he took the responsibility and we provided the plants and did the planting.”

“He said he wished we could have some rhododendrons and mountain laurel for the north side of the building, and some evergreen azalea bushes, but he didn’t know where we’d get them, because he had asked the committee for them once and they had said that they were spending all their money on the inside of the children’s heads and that the outside of the building would have to look after itself.”

“That’s just the spirit the city fathers have been showing about the park. They’ve actually got that started, though,” said Roger gratefully.

“They’re doing hardly any work on it; I went by there yesterday,” reported Dorothy. “It’s all laid out, and I suppose they’ve planted grass seed for there are places that look as if they might be lawns in the dim future.”

“Too bad they couldn’t afford to sod them,” remarked James, wisely.

“If they’d set out clumps of shrubs at the corners and perhaps put a carpet of pansies under them it would help,” declared Ethel Blue, who had consulted with the Glen Point nurseryman one afternoon when the Club went there to see Margaret and James.

“Why don’t we make a roar about it?” demanded Roger. “Ethel Blue had the right idea when she said that now was the time to take advantage of the citizens’ interest. If we could in some way call their attention to the high school and the Town Hall and the railroad station and the park.”

“And tell them that the planting at the graded school as far as it goes, was done by three little girls,” suggested Tom, grinning at the disgusted faces with which the Ethels and Dorothy heard themselves called “little girls”; “that ought to put them to shame.”

“Isn’t the easiest way to call their attention to it to have a piece in the paper?” asked Ethel Brown.

“You’ve hit the right idea,” approved James. “If your editor is like the Glen Point editor he’ll be glad of a new crusade to undertake.”

“Particularly if it’s backed by your grandfather,” added Della shrewdly.

The result of this conference of the Club was that they laid the whole matter before Mr. Emerson and found that it was no trouble at all to enlist his interest.

“If you’re interested right off why won’t other people be?” asked Ethel Brown when it was clear that her grandfather would lend his weight to anything they undertook.

“I believe they will be, and I think you have the right idea about making a beginning. Go to Mr. Montgomery, the editor of the Rosemont Star, and say that I sent you to lay before him the needs of this community in the way of added beauty. Tell him to ‘play it up’ so that the Board of Trade will get the notion through their heads that people will be attracted to live here if they see lovely grounds about them. He’ll think of other appeals. Go to see him.”

The U.S.C. never let grass grow under its feet. The Ethels and Dorothy, Roger and Helen went to the office of the Star that very afternoon.

“You seem to be a delegation,” said the editor, receiving them with a smile.

“We represent our families, who are citizens of Rosemont,” answered Roger, “and who want your help, and we also represent the United Service Club which is ready to help you help them.”

“I know you!” responded Mr. Montgomery genially. “Your club is well named. You’ve already done several useful things for Rosemont people and institutions. What is it now?”

Roger told him to the last detail, even quoting Tom’s remark about the “three little girls,” and adding some suggestions about town prizes for front door yards which the Ethels had poured into his ears as they came up the stairs. While he was talking the editor made some notes on a pad lying on his desk. The Ethels were afraid that that meant that he was not paying much attention, and they glanced at each other with growing disappointment. When Roger stopped, however, Mr. Montgomery nodded gravely.

“I shall be very glad indeed to lend the weight of the Star toward the carrying out of your proposition,” he remarked, seeming not to notice the bounce of delight that the younger girls could not resist. “What would you think of a series of editorials, each striking a different note?” and he read from his pad; Survey of Rosemont; Effect of Appearance of Railroad Station, Town Hall, etc., on Strangers; Value of Beauty as a Reinforcement to Good Roads and Good Schools. “That is, as an extra attraction for drawing new residents,” he explained. “We have good roads and good schools, but I can conceive of people who might say that they would have to be a lot better than they are before they’d live in a town where the citizens had no more idea of the fitness of things than to have a dump heap almost in the heart of the town and to let the Town Hall look like a jail.”

The listening party nodded their agreement with the force of this argument.

“‘What Three Little Girls Have Done,’” read Mr. Montgomery. “I’ll invite any one who is interested to take a look at the graded schoolhouse and see how much better it looks as a result of what has been accomplished there. I know, because I live right opposite it, and I’m much obliged to you young ladies.”

He bowed so affably in the direction of the Ethels and Dorothy, and “young ladies” sounded so pleasantly in their ears that they were disposed to forgive him for the “little girls” of his title.

“I have several other topics here,” he went on, “some appealing to our citizens’ love of beauty and some to their notions of commercial values. If we keep this thing up every day for a week and meanwhile work up sentiment, I shouldn’t wonder if we had some one calling a public meeting at the end of the week. If no one else does I’ll do it myself,” he added amusedly.

“What can we do?” asked Ethel Brown, who always went straight to the practical side.

“Stir up sentiment. You stirred your grandfather; stir all your neighbors; talk to all your schoolmates and get them to talk at home about the things you tell them. I’ll send a reporter to write up a little ‘story’ about the U.S.C. with a twist on the end that the grown-ups ought not to leave a matter like this for youngsters to handle, no matter how well they would do it.”

“But we’d like to handle it,” stammered Ethel Blue.

“You’ll have a chance; you needn’t be afraid of that. The willing horse may always pull to the full extent of his strength. But the citizens of Rosemont ought not to let a public matter like this be financed by a few kids,” and Mr. Montgomery tossed his notebook on his desk with a force that hinted that he had had previous encounters with an obstinate element in his chosen abiding place.

The scheme that he had outlined was followed out to the letter, with additions made as they occurred to the ingenious minds of the editor or of his clever young reporters who took an immense delight in running under the guise of news items, bits of reminder, gentle gibes at slowness, bland comments on ignorance of the commercial value of beauty, mild jokes at letting children do men’s work. It was all so good-natured that no one took offence, and at the same time no one who read the Star had the opportunity to forget that seed had been sown.

It germinated even more promptly than Mr. Montgomery had prophesied. He knew that Mr. Emerson stood ready to call a mass meeting at any moment that he should tell him that the time was ripe, but both he and Mr. Emerson thought that the call might be more effective if it came from a person who really had been converted by the articles in the paper. This person came to the front but five days after the appearance of the first editorial in the surprising person of the alderman who had been foremost in opposing the laying out of the park.

“You may think me a weathercock,” he said rather sheepishly to Mr. Montgomery, “but when I make up my mind that a thing is desirable I put my whole strength into putting it through. When I finally gave my vote for the park I was really converted to the park project and I tell you I’ve been just frothing because the other aldermen have been so slow about putting it in order. I haven’t been able to get them to appropriate half enough for it.”

Mr. Montgomery smothered a smile, and listened, unruffled, to his caller’s proposal.

“My idea now,” he went on, “is to call a mass meeting in the Town Hall some day next week, the sooner the better. I’ll be the chairman or Mr. Emerson or you, I don’t care who it is. We’ll put before the people all the points you’ve taken up in your articles. We’ll get people who understand the different topics to talk about them some fellow on the commercial side and some one else on the beauty side and so on; and we’ll have the Glen Point nurseryman ”

“We ought to have one over here,” interposed Mr. Montgomery.”

“We will if this goes through. There’s a new occupation opened here at once by this scheme! We’ll have him give us a rough estimate of how much it would cost to make the most prominent spots in Rosemont look decent instead of like a deserted ranch,” exclaimed the alderman, becoming increasingly enthusiastic.

“I don’t know that I’d call Rosemont that,” objected the editor. “People don’t like to have their towns abused too much; but if you can work up sentiment to have those public places fixed up and then you can get to work on some sort of plan for prizes for the prettiest front yards and the best grown vines over doors and-so on, and raise some competitive feeling I believe we’ll have no more trouble than we did about the school gardens. It just takes some one to start the ball rolling, and you’re the person to do it,” and tactful Mr. Montgomery laid an approving hand on the shoulder of the pleased alderman.

If it had all been cut and dried it could not have worked out better. The meeting was packed with citizens who proved to be so full of enthusiasm that they did not stand in need of conversion. They moved, seconded and passed resolution after resolution urging the aldermen to vote funds for improvements and they mentioned spots in need of improvement and means of improving them that U.S.C. never would have had the courage to suggest.

“We certainly are indebted to you young people for a big move toward benefiting Rosemont,” said Mr. Montgomery to the Club as he passed the settee where they were all seated together. “It’s going to be one of the beauty spots of New Jersey before this summer is over!”

“And the Ethels are the authors of the ideal” murmured Tom Watkins, applauding silently, as the girls blushed.