Nell Speed.

A House Party with the Tucker Twins



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CHAPTER I
MAXTON

There may be more fun than a house-party, but I doubt it. Certainly I, Page Allison, have never had it. What could be more delightful than to spend two weeks in a beautiful old country home with such a host as General Price, and to have as fellow guests all the girl friends you care for most in the world, – to say nothing of some of the male persuasion that at least you don't hate?

Harvie Price had been promised this house-party by his grandfather as reward of merit, and, like most things earned by hard labor, it proved to be worth the work expended. The Tucker Twins of course were there, Mary Flannagan, Shorty Hawkins, George Massie (alias Sleepy), Wink White, Jim Hart, and Ben Raglan, whose other name was Rags. There were two men from the University whom we did not know before, but it did not take long for us to forget that they were new acquaintances. They fitted in wonderfully well and a few hours found them behaving like old and tried friends. Their names were Jack Bennett and Billy Somers, and both of them hailed from Kentucky. There was a new girl in the party, Jessie Wilcox. She wasn't quite so easy to know as the new boys.

I always feel like crying when I think of dear little Annie Pore's connection with that house-party. She was of course the very first person Harvie asked, the one he wanted most. I think in his mind the party was given to Annie, and when Mr. Pore with characteristic selfishness and stubbornness refused to let her go, it was a blow indeed.

His plea was that he needed her to keep the store for him. He had hired a clerk after Annie went to boarding-school, and owing to his growing business, had kept the boy on through vacation, but on the eve of the house-party had seen fit to get rid of him, having sent him on an unasked for and undesired holiday.

"I found it out only this morning," said Harvie gloomily.

He had come to meet us at the landing, most of us having arrived by boat from Richmond. He was doing his best to look cheerful, feeling that a cloud must not be cast over the entire party because one member could not be there. He said he felt he knew me well enough to speak out on the subject of Mr. Pore, and speak out he did.

"But has your grandfather tried to persuade him to let her come?"

"No! You see Grandfather is a great believer in State's Rights, and he carries his theories down to the individual. He says that Mr. Pore is a wrong-headed father but it is his own affair and he refuses to interfere. He takes the stand that he has no more right to dictate to Mr. Pore how to run his household, than Massachusetts had to interfere in our own little matter of slavery here in Virginia, back in the sixties."

"Poor Annie! We shall have to work out some kind of a scheme for her. I'll tell Mary and the Tuckers. I am sure we can get the tiresome old Englishman to come around somehow."

"I wish I thought so, but I tell you that Mr.

Arthur Ponsonby Pore has never been known to change his mind. Besides he is leaving to-day for Richmond to be gone several days."

That is often the way with persons who have not much mind to change; they seem to have none to spare; but Mr. Pore was a cultivated, learned gentleman, – surely he was amenable to reason.

Price's Landing was a quiet little wharf almost hidden by the overhanging willows. It took the boat only a moment to drop one mail bag and take on another, or to do the same by the occasional passengers. It seemed hardly worth while to go through the motions of landing for such small traffic, but Harvie assured us that in watermelon time or when tobacco was being shipped they were a very important trading point, one of the busiest along the James.

The village was about an eighth of a mile back from the landing and it looked as though not even watermelon time could wake it up. There were two stores, Mr. Pore's and a rival concern; a blacksmith shop, sprawling far out in the road; a schoolhouse; three churches; a post-office; and four residences.

"I'd like to stop and have all of you see Annie now, but Grandfather is expecting us and perhaps we had better come back later on," said Harvie, who was driving one of the vehicles sent to meet us.

The road to Maxton, the Prices' place, skirted the village and then went directly up quite a steep elevation. The house was built on top of the hill commanding a fine view of the river. The lawn sloped down to the water's edge where one could see a very attractive boat-house and several boats riding at anchor.

"Lovely! Lovely!" we exclaimed.

"I'm mighty afraid I'm going to run down that hill and jump in the water," cried Dum.

"Well, hills are certainly made to run down and water to jump in," declared one of the new acquaintances, Billy Somers, who was standing on the springs of the vehicle in the rear holding on by the skin of his teeth and the back seat. "I bid to do what you do."

The mansion (one could not call it just plain house) was a perfect specimen of colonial architecture, red brick of a rich rare tone with a great gallery across the front, the roof of which was supported by huge white pillars. The front door was a marvel of beautiful proportions, line and detail. A great ball might have been given on the porch, or gallery, as it is called in the South. Indeed, a sizable party might have been held on each one of the broad stone steps that led to the lawn. Only a very long-legged person could go up or down those stairs without taking two steps to a tread.

A house like Maxton is very wonderful and beautiful but somehow never seems very homelike to me. Every time you go in and out of your front door to have to tackle those stairs would take from the homey feeling. Now at my home, Bracken, you are closer to Mother Earth and not nearly so grand and toploftical.

Standing on the gallery to greet the guests were General Price and his maiden sister Miss Maria, the general tall and stately and Miss Maria short and fat. It was easy for the brother to look aristocratic and dignified, in fact he could not have looked any other way, so deserved no credit; but for the sister to look equally so was a marvel. Her figure reminded me of Mammy Susan's tomato pincushion, a treasure I had been allowed to play with in my childhood. She was quite as round in the back as the front and her waist was like the equator: an imaginary line extending from east to west. Her face was in keeping with her figure, round and fat, but through those rolls of flesh the high born lady looked out. Her voice was very sweet and the hand that she extended to us was as white as snow. She must have been about seventy years old, but thanks to her rotundity there were no wrinkles on her pink and white face. Of course she was dressed in black silk and old lace! How else could she have been clothed?

The general would have served as a model for the make-up of a movie actor in a before-the-war film. The Tuckers and Mary and I decided later on that we felt just like a movie as we went up those grand broad steps with our host and hostess at the top.

The hall carried out our feeling of being on the screen.

"My, what a place to dance!" whispered Dee to me, but General Price heard her and smiled his approval. He was dignified himself but we were thankful he did not expect us to be.

"You shall dance here to your heart's content, my dear. Many a measure has been trod in this hall."

Dee looked a little depressed at being expected to tread a measure. That sounded rather minuetish to the modern ear. We wondered what he would think of the dances of the day.

Maxton was laid out in the form of a cross with two great wings, one on each side of the hall. The girls were lodged upstairs in one wing, the boys in the other. Downstairs in the boys' wing were the parlors and smoking room and General Price's chamber and office; in the girls', the dining room, breakfast room, sewing room, chamber, linen room, storeroom, Miss Price's chamber and her small sitting room where she directed her household. There was a basement with more storerooms, pantries, a billiard room and a winter kitchen, but in the summer an outside kitchen was used. All of these things we found out later on a tour of inspection with our hostess.

The great hall ran through the house and the back door was exactly like the front. Thanks to the lay of the land, however, there was not quite such a formidable array of steps. It seemed much more homelike in the back than the front. From the rear gallery one stepped into a formal garden, gravel paths, box hedges, labyrinth and all.

"Oh, ain't it great, ain't it great?" cried Mary, dancing up and down the waxed floor of the great bedroom she and I were to occupy. Dum and Dee Tucker were put in the room with the other girl, Jessie Wilcox. If Annie could have come she was to have been with Mary and me.

"I've got no business calling it great, though," she said as she stopped prancing, "when Annie can't be here. What are we to do about it, Page Allison?"

"Let's call Tweedles in consultation. They can think up things."

Tweedles were very glad to come. Miss Wilcox, who had motored over to Maxton several hours ahead of us, had already taken possession of the room and had begun to unpack her many fluffy clothes. Miss Maria had introduced all of us to our fellow visitor and had graciously expressed a desire that we should be good friends. We were willing, but it remained to be seen whether the stranger would meet us half way. She was a beautiful little creature with dark eyes and hair. Evidently she was very dressy or she would not have had to take up two double beds and all the chairs with her clothes. She seemed to have no idea of making room for the Tuckers nor did she make any excuse for spreading herself so promiscuously.

"She needn't think I am going to move them," said Dum. "If they aren't off my bed by bedtime, I'll just go to sleep on them. I wish we could come in with you girls."

"Of course that would never do," declared Dee. "We must stay where Miss Price put us."

"Maybe Miss Wilcox will turn out to be fine," I suggested, hoping to turn the tide of Dum's disapproval.

"Fine! She's too fine. I wish you could see her fluffy ruffles. But this isn't thinking up something to do about poor little Annie. My, I wish Zebedee could have come!"

We all wished the same thing, but since he couldn't come we felt we must think up something for ourselves.

"He could have talked old Ponsonby Pore into letting Annie come, I just know," said Dee.

"Maybe we could do the same thing," I suggested.

"Harvie says nothing will move him."

"Well, one thing sure, we can go to see Annie and he can't drive us out, not after he has visited us at the beach. He'll just have to be polite to us."

"Can't she come up in the evening? Surely she must stop keeping store sometimes," asked Mary.

"Country stores never close. At least the one near us never does. They might miss the sale of a box of matches or a stick of candy. I used to think, when I was a little girl, that I would rather keep a store than do anything in all the world. I talked about it so much that Mammy Susan got right uneasy about me."

"Well, Harvie and Sleepy are blue enough about it, so we must cheer up," said Dee. "We are to be here two weeks and if we behave real well maybe they will ask us for longer, and surely in that time we can make that old stickinthemud come around. Zebedee could think up a way in a minute."

CHAPTER II
THE COUNTRY STORE

The Prices had the right idea about entertaining a crowd of young people: that was to let them entertain each other. If a dozen boys and girls can't have a good time just because they are girls and boys then there is something very dull about them and the combination is hopeless. There was nothing dull about this crowd gathered in the hospitable Price mansion. Harvie was too well bred to let the disappointment about the non-appearance of one guest make him neglect the others. Poor George Massie was the one who could not conceal his feelings. Annie was the first and only girl he had ever cared for and now he sat, a mountain of woe, consuming large quantities of luncheon as though the business of eating were the only solace in life.

"Wake up, Sleepy, the worst is yet to come!" teased Rags.

Sleepy only groaned and dismally accepted another hot biscuit. The funny thing about Sleepy was that he was so in love with Annie that he did not at all mind being teased.

"I am going down to see Annie right after luncheon. Don't you want to go too?" I whispered to Sleepy who was next to me.

"Sure!"

"We are trying to think up a plan by which we can get her hateful old father to let her join us here."

"Brute!"

"Don't you think the girl is pretty, sitting next to Wink?"

Miss Wilcox had plunged into a flirtation with that budding young doctor, placed on her right, not forgetting to turn to her left quite often to include Jack Bennett in her chatter.

"No! Like blondes best!"

Miss Wilcox looked up quickly. I was almost sure she had heard Sleepy. She glanced quite seriously around the table, regarding each girl intently. Certainly there were no decided blondes there except Mary Flannagan, whose hair was red, and even the best friends of dear old Mary could not call her beautiful. The Tucker twins were more brunette than blonde, Dum's hair being red black and Dee's blue black. As for me, Page Allison, I was neither one thing nor the other. My hair was neither light nor dark and my eyes were grey. She need not look at me so hard. I wasn't the blonde that Sleepy liked best.

Farther acquaintance with Jessie Wilcox explained her concern over Sleepy's remark. She was a very nice girl just so long as she was "it," but she could not brook a rival of any sort. She must be the center of attraction, admired by all, praised by all. The minute she felt that there was someone who was considered more beautiful than she was, could dance better, sing better, do anything better, that minute she was a changed being.

Her previous visits to Maxton had been very delightful as she had always been praised and petted to her heart's content. Both General Price and his sister were devoted to her and she was ever a welcome visitor. Her grandfather's home was about ten miles from Price's Landing, and whenever she came from New York to see him she must spend part of her time with the old people at Maxton. Harvie admired her very much, as who would not? She was beautiful, intelligent, very quick-witted and charming. He had never seen her with any other girl except her best friend, who on one occasion had been at Maxton with her, and this friend, being hopelessly plain and rather slow of wit, but served as a foil to the little beauty.

After overhearing Sleepy's announcement about blondes, she looked at me so steadily that I began to blush. I was suddenly very conscious of my tip-tilted nose and of the added toll of freckles that the summer always exacted from it. I wondered if anyone else was noticing the almost disagreeable expression of her usually sweet countenance.

I was glad when Miss Maria arose as a signal for us to leave the table.

"Make yourselves at home!" the general said in his hospitable way. "Maxton is yours to do with as you please. There are horses in the stables for any of you who want to ride or drive; there are boats on the river; there are swings on the lawn; the tennis court is in condition for matches if you care to play. All I ask of you is not to fall off the horses or let them run away with you and kill you; and not to tumble into the river and drown."

"That seems a reasonable request," I laughed. "How about falling out of the swings or beating each other up with tennis rackets?"

"Oh, well! I must not put too many restrictions on youth," he said, pinching my ear.

Jessie looked at me again rather severely and once more I felt mighty freckled.

"Let's get a rig and go see Annie," suggested Sleepy.

"All right! Tweedles and Mary want to go, too."

"Let's get in ahead of them," he pleaded.

"Come on, Page!" shouted Dum. "We want you in a set of tennis."

"Now I was just going to ask her to come for a row," cried Dee. "Wink and Jim told me to engage you. They have gone to see about the boat."

"Sorry, but I've got a date with Sleepy."

"Humph! Miss Allison seems to be rather in demand," said Jessie to Jack Bennett. She said it in a low voice but I heard quite distinctly.

"Yes! They say she is the most popular girl at her school."

"Oh, is that so? I can't see the attraction."

"Well, she must have it because girls like her as well as the fellows. They say Dr. White is terribly smitten on her."

"Absurd!"

I quite agreed with her. The sooner Wink White stopped hypnotizing himself into thinking he was in love with me, the better I would have liked it. Of course every girl likes to have attention, but I thought entirely too much of Wink to be pleased to have him looking at me like a dying calf. He was such a nice boy, so good looking, so clever, so agreeable, – except when he was alone with me. Then his whole nature seemed to undergo a change. I dreaded being left with him and usually managed to avoid it. He was my fly in the ointment of this house-party. I did not at all relish having this young Kentuckian state it as a fact that Wink was interested in me. Jessie Wilcox was welcome to him if she could persuade him to transfer his affections.

Sleepy and I skimmed away in a spruce red-wheeled buggy with a young horse that evidently liked to be moving.

"Fierce about Annie!" he said. "I'd like to wring that old duffer's neck."

"I hope he has gone before we get there, then," I laughed. "If Mr. Tucker could only get hold of him, I bet he could bring him around."

Mr. Pore had not gone, however, when we drew up at the cross roads where the country store stood. He was engaged in trying to sell a large rake to a farmer, while Annie was busily employed in measuring off two yards and three-quarters of unbleached cotton for the farmer's wife and then computing the amount due when the cotton was worth eight and two-third cents a yard. She completed the calculation just as we came in.

How glad she was to see us! Mr. Pore seemed pleased to renew my acquaintance, too. He gave only a formal greeting to Sleepy but shook my hand in what he meant to be a cordial way. The fact that I was part English and that part of me came up to his idea of social equality, made him look upon me as desirable. He had not forgotten that my mother and his wife had been friends in England. He honestly felt that there were no Americans who were his equals. General Price might be almost so, but not quite. He saw no reason why his beautiful daughter should not spend her young life weighing out lard and measuring calico for negroes, but every reason why she should not demean herself by mixing socially with any but the highest.

Mr. Pore's store was like every other country store except that it was perhaps a little more orderly, not much though. Order in a country store seems to be impossible. The stock must be so large and so varied to suit all demands that there never is room for it. I have never seen a country store that was not crowded. How the keepers of such stores ever take stock of their wares is a mystery to me. Perhaps they never do, but just go on buying when the supply gets low, and selling off as they can, putting money in the till until it gets full and then sending it to the bank. Usually they run their affairs in a haphazard manner and their books would defy an expert to straighten out. No matter from what walk of life the country storekeepers are drawn, they are all more or less alike, whether they are younger sons of the nobility as was Mr. Pore or elder sons of the soil (with much soil sticking to them) as was old Blinker, who ran the rival emporium at Price's Landing. They always have more stock than they have store, and their books usually look as though entries had been made upside down.

The Pores' store had shelves stretching from one end to the other, down both sides and reaching as high as the ceiling. On these shelves were piled dry-goods of all grades and material, lamps, shoes, harness, hardware, canned goods of every description, crackers, soap, starch, axle grease, false hair, perfume, patent medicines, toys, paint brushes, brooms, tobacco, writing paper, china and glass ware, jars, pots and pans, pokers, baseball bats, millinery, overalls, etc., etc.

The things that were too tall for the shelves, like Grandfather's clock, consequently stood on the floor. The aisle between the counters was blocked with sewing machines, kitchen tables, chairs, lawn mowers, crates of eggs and cases of ginger ale and sarsaparilla. There were barrels of coarse salt and great tins of lard, firkins of mackerel and herring, barrels of flour and sacks of meal. One would think that everything in the world that could be bought or sold was in that little store, but no! A door to one side led into another room and this room was also full to overflowing. There were more barrels of provisions for man and beast; sacks of chicken feed and bran; stoves of all kinds; poultry netting; coils of wire fencing; gardening implements and away back in a corner I spied a coffin.



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