After obtaining Carroll Watson Rankin’s 1904 novel I planned on being sensible by enjoying a couple of chapters a day, but ended up staying up way too late reading the book in one fell swoop.
Dandelion Cottage is directly behind the big stone church. For years it was the minister’s home, and the church had always made sure they chose a clergyman with a small family – until they forgot to ask Dr. Tucker about his children and he arrived with a wife, one daughter and seven sons.
The church wardens had to rush around and build a big new rectory for the Tucker family, but no effort was put into renting out Dandelion Cottage, which was good news for potential renters. The former ministers had complained about the need to use umbrellas inside on rainy days, and the kitchen pantry was so small that ministers’ wives had been in the habit of storing potatoes in the bedroom closet.
Twelve-year-old Bettie Tucker was the only girl in the minister’s family of eight children, but she became friends with three neighbor girls. Jeanie Mapes was a fourteen-year-old gentle peacemaker. Marjory Vale was thirteen and “less sedate than she appeared.” Eleven-year-old Mabel Bennet was “large for her age and young for her years,” and tended to be a pessimist. Despite their differences the girls enjoyed each others’ company, and all suffered from the same problem – they needed a place of their own to play in.
Bettie’s house was teaming with boys who borrowed her toys for rough games, and the families of Jean, Mabel and Marjory all had times when they wished their girls didn’t make so much noise.
The girls were peeking into Dandelion Cottage’s windows when Mr. Black, the senior church warden, happened by and asked what they were doing. The friends said they wanted a playhouse and asked what it would cost to rent the cottage for the summer. Since town-folk had been complaining about the tall crop of dandelions surrounding the cottage Mr. Black said if the girls dug out every dandelion and briar by the end of the week their work would pay for a summer’s worth of rent.
The girls hesitated for a moment over the daunting task before them, then agreed to the bargain. Bettie, Jean and Marjory used imagination in an attempt to turn the job into an adventure, and gloomy Mabel declared she was just pulling weeds, but all worked hard and earned the use of the cottage.
After receiving the building’s key and evicting numerous spiders and mice the girls scrubbed rooms and Bettie’s oldest brothers flattened out tin cans to replace missing roof shingles. Then the girls began furnishing their new home with castoffs. Soon the rooms were filled with such treasures as “tickless clocks,” a “talkless telephone,” and furniture that might collapse if caution was forgotten.
I found most of the chapters “comfortable” reading. At first there were no major adventures or troubles to face, but I was entertained by Bettie and her friends as they cleaned and decorated, watched over the youngest of the Tucker boys, and resolved minor squabbles that occasionally arose.
One bit of mystery was introduced early on. Mr. Black – one of the wealthiest men in the town – stopped by to check on the new church-property tenants and the girls promised to invite him to a dinner party after they practiced cooking in their kitchen.
One of the poorest people in town was their widowed neighbor Mrs. Crane, and the girls wanted to repay her kindness by having a dinner party for her as well. When the girls’ families learned of the two people in need of invitations they became most supportive of the plan, and declared that Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane should be invited to the same dinner – but it was important to keep both invitees unaware that the other guest would be present.
Hmm, why did all of the grownups think it so important for Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane to have dinner together?
As summer progressed the girls took in a temporary boarder, which brought on new adventures. After the girls had the rent money to buy food for the long-planned dinner party it had to be delayed because Mr. Black went out West for several weeks.
While he was gone one of their neighbors moved out of town and the girls became interested in who might rent Grandma Pike’s house. None of them imagined there could be such a thing as a bad neighbor, but they learned the hard way that it was possible.
The Milligan family moved in next door, and the girls soon discovered they were not good neighbors. Laura Milligan was about the same age as the friends, and she invited herself to be part of the playhouse family – usually bringing along her squalling baby brother and bad tempered dog.
Laura insisted on choosing group activities that only interested her. She gossiped, mocked others and – worst of all – stole the girls’ belongings. When the stealing was discovered the girls picked up the baby and plopped him on the porch, then ordered Laura to leave and never return.
Alas, Laura was not one to depart graciously. She told her parents the girls hurt the baby by throwing him outside, and that they behaved cruelly towards her. With each new day Laura added to the lists of injustices supposedly done by the girls.
Mrs. Miligan went to see one of the church wardens and demanded that the girls be removed from Dandelion Cottage. And since her daughter had said how attractive the cottage was inside, and since their current house had such high rent, she had her heart set on moving into the cottage.
She spoke with the junior church warden, Mr. Downing, who hadn’t approved of turning the cottage over to a group of girls, when he thought it could be earning rent money for the church. He didn’t agree with many of Mr. Black’s decisions, and with the senior warden out of state for several weeks he considered it a good opportunity to make better decisions.
After calling upon the girls he noted how attractive Dandelion Cottage was (without investigating the building’s need for structural repairs) and, being prejudiced by Mrs. Milligan’s exaggerated stories, he judged a small cookstove mishap as proof of the girls’ careless and dangerous behavior.
Not only did the girls receive a written eviction notice, but they learned their beloved Dandelion Cottage was to be rented out to the dreadful Milligan family.
I won’t spoil the novel’s ending by telling what happened next, but I’ll let you know that all works out well in the closing chapters. And you get to find out why the girls’ families were so interested in Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane having dinner together.
I don’t consider Dandelion Cottage to be a great literary masterpiece, but I enjoyed the characters (well, except for those disagreeable Milligans…) and the story kept me entertained up to and including the happy ending.
If you’d like to learn more about life at Dandelion Cottage the book can be downloaded free of charge at: