Luke proved to be a most amusing friend to have. Certainly he was a bit "simple" and could hardly read or write, but he knew all kinds of things that the children didn't know.
He could make whistles out of hollow twigs, and he presented Bets with a wonderful collection. He showed her how to whistle little tunes on them, and she was thrilled.
Then he knew every bird in the countryside, where they nested, what their eggs were like, and the songs they sang. Soon the five children and Buster were going for walks with Luke, hanging on to his words, thinking that he was really marvellous.
"Funny he knows all that and yet can't read or write properly," said Pip. "He's terribly clever with his hands too — he can carve animals and birds out of bits of wood in no time. Look at this squirrel he did for me."
"He's doing a model of Dark Queen for me," said Bets proudly. "It's going to be exactly like her, even to the little ring of pale cream hairs in her dark-brown tail. Luke is going to paint the model for me, blue eyes and all."
Luke finished the wooden carving of Dark Queen, the Siamese cat, two days later. The children heard his now familiar whistle over the wall, and crowded there to see what he wanted. Luke handed over the cat-model.
It was really excellent Even Fatty, who fancied himself very much at all kinds of art work, was very much impressed.
He handled the little model admiringly. "Fine, Luke," he said. "You've got the colouring marvellously too." "How's old Tupping these days?" asked Pip. "Awful," said Luke. "I wish I hadn't got to work for him. He's that bad-tempered. I'm always afraid of him complaining about me to my stepfather too. I'd get a good thrashing if he did. My stepfather doesn't like me."
The five children were sorry for Luke. He didn't seem to have much of a life. He was a kindly, generous fellow, always ready to do anything he could for them. He loved little Bets, and stuck up for her when Pip teased her, as he often did.
Buster adored Luke. "He's grateful to you for saving him from Tupping!" said Fatty, watching Buster trying to climb up Luke's legs, panting with delight.
"He's a nice little dog," said Luke. "I like dogs. Always did. I like them cats too. Beautiful things, aren't they?"
"We saw someone else in your garden today," said Larry. "A middle-aged lady, very thin, with a rather red nose, glasses that kept falling off, and a funny little bun of hair at the back of her neck. Who is she? That's not Lady Candling, is it?"
"Oh no," said Luke. "That's her companion, Miss Trimble. Miss Tremble I call her, to myself — she's that scared of old Tupping! She has to do the flowers for the house, you see; and if she goes out and picks them when Tupping is there, he follows her around like a dog ready to bite her, and says, 'If you pick any more of them roses, that'll spoil the tree!' 'If you take them poppies of mine they'll fall to bits — you shouldn't ought to pick them in the sun.' Things like that. The poor old thing trembles and shakes, and I feel right-down sorry for her."
"Everyone seems afraid of Tupping," said Daisy. "Horrid fellow. I hope he gets a punishment one day for being so hateful. But I bet he won't."
"Come and see my little garden, Luke," said Bets, pulling the big boy up the path. "It's got some lovely snapdragons out."
Luke went with her. It was a funny little garden, done by Bets herself. It had one old rose tree in it, a tiny gooseberry bush, some virginian stock, a few red snapdragons, and some Shirley poppies.
"Fine!" said Luke. "Did you have any gooseberries off that little bush?"
"Not one," said Bets sadly. "And Luke, I planted two strawberries last year — nice red ripe ones — and they didn't even grow up in strawberry plants. I was dreadfully disappointed. I did so want to pick strawberries of my own this year."
Luke laughed his loud, clear laugh. "Ho, ho, ho, ho! Strawberries don't grow from strawberries, Bets! They grow from runners — you know, long stems sent out from the plants. The runners send up little new plants here and there. I'll tell you what I'll do — I'll give you a few of our runners from next door. I'm cleaning up the beds now, and there'll be a lot of runners thrown away on the rubbish-heap. You can have some of those."
"Will it matter?" asked Bets doubtfully. "Would they really be rubbish?"
"Yes — all burnt up on the rubbish-heap!" said Luke. "It's Tupping's day off tomorrow. You come on over the wall and I'll show you how the runners grow, and give you some."
So the next day Pip helped Bets over the wall and Luke helped her down the other side. He took her to the strawberry-bed and showed her the new plants growing from the runners sent out from the old plants.
"It's very clever of the strawberries to grow new plants like that, isn't it?" said Bets. She saw a pile of pulled-up runners in Luke's barrow nearby. "Oh," she said, "are these the ones you're going to throw away? How many can I have?"
"You take six," said Luke, and he picked out six good runners, each with little healthy strawberry plants on them. He gave them to Bets.
"Who's that?" said Bets suddenly, as she saw someone coming towards them.
"It's Miss Trimble," said Luke. "You needn't be afraid of her. She won't hurt you."
Miss Trimble came up, smiled at Bets. Bets didn't like her very much, she was so thin and bony. She wore glasses without rims, pinched on to the sides of her nose. They kept falling off, and dangled on a little chain. Bets watched to see how many times they would fall off.
"Well, and who is this little girl?" said Miss Trimble, in a gay, bird-like voice, nodding at Bets. Her glasses at once fell off and she put them on again.
"I'm Bets from next door," said Bets.
"And what have you got there?" said Miss Trimble, looking at the strawberry plants in Bets' hands. "Some lovely treasure?"
"No," said Bets. "Just some strawberry runners."
Miss Trimble's glasses fell off again and she put them back.
"Be careful they don't run away from you!" she said, and laughed loudly at her own joke. Bets didn't think it was very funny; but she laughed too, out of politeness. Miss Trimble's glasses fell off again.
"Why don't they keep on?" asked Bets with interest "Is your nose too thin to hold them on?"
"Oh, what a funny little girl!" said Miss Trimble, laughing again. "Well, good-bye my dear, I must away to my little jobs!"
She went off, and Bets was glad. "Her glasses fell off six times, Luke," she said.
"You're a caution, you are," said Luke. "I only hope she doesn't go and tell Mr. Tupping she saw you here!"
But that is just what Miss Trimble did do! She did not mean any harm. She did not even know that Tupping had ordered the children out of the garden some days before. She was picking roses the very next day, when Tupping came along behind her and stood watching her.
Miss Trimble began to feel scared, as she always did when the surly gardener came along. He was so rude. She turned and gave him a frightened smile.
"Lovely morning, Tupping, isn't it?" she said. "Beautiful roses these."
"Won't be beautiful long when you've finished messing about with them," said Tupping.
"Oh, I'm not spoiling them!" said Miss Trimble. "I know how to pick roses."
"You don't know any more than a child!" said surly Tupping, enjoying seeing how scared poor Miss Trimble was of him.
The mention of a child made Miss Trimble remember Bets. "Oh," she said, trying to turn the conversation away from roses — "oh, there was such a dear little girl with Luke in the garden yesterday!"
Tupping's face grew as black as thunder. "A girl here!" he shouted. "Where's that Luke? I'll skin him if he lets those kids in here whilst my back is turned!"
He went off to find Luke. Miss Trimble shook with fright, and her glasses fell off and got so entangled in her lace collar that it took quite twenty minutes for her trembling hands to disentangle them.
"A most unpleasant fellow!" she kept murmuring to herself. "Dear, dear! I hope I haven't got poor Luke into trouble. He's such a pleasant fellow — and only a boy too. I do hope he won't get into trouble."
Luke was in trouble. Tupping strode up to him and glowered, his stone-coloured eyes almost hidden under his shaggy brows.
"Who was that girl in here yesterday?" he demanded. "One of them kids next door, was it? What was she doing here?"
"Nothing she shouldn't do, Mr. Tupping," said Luke. "She's a good little thing."
"I said 'What was she doing here?' " shouted Mr. Tupping. "Taking the peaches, I suppose — or picking the plums!"
"She's the little girl from next door," said Luke hotly. "She wouldn't take nothing like that. I just gave her some strawberry runners for her garden, that's all. They'd have been burnt on the rubbish-heap, anyway!"
Mr. Tupping looked as if he was going to have a fit. To think that Luke should give anyone anything out of his garden! He really thought it was his garden, and not Lady Candling's. He didn't stop to think that Lady Candling would willingly give a little girl a few strawberry runners, for she was fond of children.
Tupping gave Luke a box on the ears, and went straight to the wall. Luke did not dare to follow him. He felt certain that all the children were out, because he had heard their voices and their bicycle bells some time back on the road. He stooped over his work, his ears red. He felt angry with Miss Trimble. Why had she given Bets away?
The children had gone out on their bicycles — all but Bets. The ride they were going was too far for her, so the little girl had been left behind with Buster, much to her annoyance. It was such a nuisance being four or five years younger than the others. They kept on leaving her out!
"Buster, come and sit by me and I'll read you a story about rabbits," said Bets. At the word "Rabbits" Buster fan to Bets. He thought she was going to take him for a walk. But instead she sat down under a tree and took a book from under her arm. She opened it and began to read.
"Once there was a big, fat rabbit called Woffly. He..."
But Buster was bored. He got up and ran to the bottom of the drive waiting for the others to come back. Bets sat there alone. She suddenly heard a noise and looked up — and, oh dear me, there, climbing over the wall, looking as fierce as could be, was that horrid Mr. Tupping!