Nell Speed.

A House Party with the Tucker Twins



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To my amazement I heard Mr. Pore say to a little boy who had been sent to the store on a hurry call for matches: "Haven't time to wait on you; go over to Blinker's."

What did this mean? Actually sending customers to the rival store!

"Father!" exclaimed Annie, as Mr. Pore gave her his usual pecky kiss. "I didn't know you were going to take stock to-day."

"Neither did I, my dear." His tone was a bit softer than I had ever heard it. And "my dear"! I had never heard him call Annie that before.

"What is it, Father?"

"I have news from England."

"Not bad news, I hope!"

"Well, yes! I might call it bad news."

"Oh, Father, I am so sorry!"

"Ahem! My brother, the late baronet, is – er – no more."

"You mean Uncle Isaac is dead?"

"Yes!"

"What was the matter? When did you hear?"

"A cablegram states he was killed in a recent battle," and Mr. Pore went on making neat piles on the counter with cans of salmon. I wanted to shake him for more news that I felt sure he had.

Annie took off her hat and tied on an apron ready to help in the arduous task of taking stock. Tweedles and Mary and I stood in the doorway as dumb as fish. Why should a man whose brother had recently died in England feel a necessity of taking stock in a country store? It was too much for us. Suddenly it flashed through my brain that maybe Mr. Pore was going to England. His brother, Sir Isaac Pore, had a son, so Annie had told me, who was, of course, in line for the title.

Mr. Pore finished with the salmon and then spoke with his usual pomposity: "The message also states that my brother's only son has met with an untimely death in the Dardanelles."

Annie dropped a box of soap and stood looking with big eyes at her father.

"I find it necessary that we go to England, and before we go, I deem it advisable to make an inventory of our goods and chattels."

"Go to England! When?" gasped Annie.

"I fancy we can arrange to be off in about a week."

This was news that touched all of us. Annie going to England! We might never see her again, and her dried-up old father was standing there announcing this fact with as much composure as though he had decided to move his store across the road or do something else equally ordinary.

"You see," he continued with his grandiloquent manner, "the demise of my brother and his son, who is unmarried, advance me to the baronetcy, and – "

"Then you are Sir Arthur Ponsonby Pore!" blurted out Dum.

"Exactly!" he announced calmly, as though he had been inheriting titles all his life.

"Is Annie Lady Anna then?" asked Mary.

"No, she is still Miss Pore. Only a son inherits a title from a baronet," he said with a trace of bitterness. I remembered what Annie had told me of her brother's death and her father's resentment of her being a girl.

"Well, she would make a lovely Lady Annie all the same," said Dee.

"I bet everybody in England will just about go crazy about her."

"Ah, indeed!" was his supercilious remark to this effusion.

"We are going to come down and help you, Annie," I whispered. "I know there are lots of things we can do. You will need help about your clothes. I can't sew, but I can count clothes-pins and chewing-gum while you sew. Don't you want us to help, Mr. Pore?"

That gentleman was as usual quite dumbfounded by being treated like an ordinary human being, and with some hemming and hawing he finally acknowledged that our assistance would be acceptable. His idea was to sell his business and stock to the highest bidder.

Great was the consternation and surprise at Maxton when we announced the choice bit of news that we had picked up that morning before breakfast. Sleepy looked as though he might have apoplexy, his face got so red and his hand trembled so. Harvie got pale and suddenly realized that Annie was not just a little sister. Poor Rags put maple syrup in his coffee and cream on his waffle in the excitement occasioned by the unwelcome news.

They were at breakfast when we burst in on them, at breakfast and rather sore with all of us for having run off without them. Jessie was holding the fort alone, the only female present, as Miss Maria was still unable to get up. That beautiful young lady was looking lovelier than ever in a crisp handkerchief-linen frock. Her curls were very curly and her lovely brunette complexion not at all the worse for the scorching sun of the day before. My poor nose had six more freckles than when I came to Maxton, six more by actual count, and there was not room for the extra ones at all. Mary's freckles were like the stars in the sky, every time you looked you could find another; Dee had her share, too; and Dum had begun to peel as was her habit. Jessie was pretty, very pretty, but the picture of her with her face all greased up and the tick-like curlers covering her head would arise whenever I looked at her.

"Why doesn't Mr. Pore leave Annie here with us until the submarine warfare is over with?" asked Mr. Tucker.

"We never thought of suggesting it," tweedled the twins.

"I did think of it but I knew she wouldn't be willing to have Sir Arthur go alone," I said, rather proud of myself for being the first one to give him his title.

"How much more suited he is to being a member of English aristocracy than engaging in mercantile pursuits in America," laughed the general. "I only wish his lovely wife might have shared the honor with him. Ah me, what a woman she was!"

"He was mighty cold and clammy about his brother's death," said Dee. "When Annie asked if it was bad news he had he said he might call it bad news; but his tone was far from convincing."

"He hasn't seen his brother for over twenty years and he rowed with all his family before he left England, so I reckon it was hard to squeeze out many tears over his death. I felt awful bad about the poor young son," and Dum looked ready to shed tears herself without having to resort to the squeezing process. "'An untimely death in the Dardanelles!' That sounds so tragic."

"Yes, that made me feel like crying, too," said Dee. "Just think of a splendid young Englishman, handsome and brave and charming, being shot to pieces by German bullets! I have an idea he had succeeded to the title and estates only a few days before, and while he was sad about his father, he still was looking forward to being the baronet when he got home."

"What makes you think he was handsome?" put in the more matter-of-fact Mary.

"I am sure he must have looked like Annie, and just think what a wonderfully handsome man he must have been! He had her lovely hair, I almost know he did, and great blue eyes and a strong, straight back," and Dum wiped her own eyes that would fill when she thought of the splendid young Englishman gone to his death.

"I don't like to break in on this grand orgy of feeling," I said, "but you must remember that Annie got her looks from her mother, as her father had none to spare. This poor young man may have been all the things you girls picture him to be, but he is just as likely to have inherited his looks from Uncle Arthur Ponsonby. He may have had no chin at all and have had champagne-bottle shoulders and a long neck."

"Page, how can you? Don't you know that people who meet untimely deaths in the Dardanelles are always brave and handsome?" teased Zebedee. "For my part, I am sorrier for the present baronet, Sir Arthur, than for the late lamenteds. Only think how far the poor man has drifted from all the manners and customs of his race!"

"Not manners, maybe customs! His manners are quite the thing to go with titles, I think. As for Annie, – she has a way with her that will make her shine in any society," I asserted.

Everyone agreed with me audibly but Jessie. She had not yet adjusted herself to look upon Annie as anything but the badly-dressed daughter of a country storekeeper, who could sing better than she could and had attracted three out of the nine beaux on the house-party.

CHAPTER XV
SLEEPY WAKES UP

House-parties have to end sometime and the one at Maxton was no exception. We had been invited for two weeks, and although Miss Maria graciously asked us to extend the time of our stay, we felt that the old lady had had enough of high jinks for a while. We had become very fond of her and I think she liked us, too. The general was in love with the whole bunch, he declared. He made his gallant, bromidic speeches to each one in turn, playing no favorites.

"If I were fifty years younger I would show these chaps a thing or two," he would say.

My private opinion was that the chaps did not need a thing or two shown them, as they seemed quite on to the fact that Maxton was a romantic spot and that there is no time like the present for getting off tender nothings. There being Jacks to go around for the Jills and some to spare, if there were any heartaches they were among the males, as there were no wallflowers among the girls.

If the death of Sir Isaac Pore and his son and heir did not cause overmuch grief in the heart of the storekeeper at Price's Landing, it had a dire effect on three young men in the great house on the hill. The only way in which they could give vent to their feelings was in heroic attempts to assist in the inventory of the stock. That meant at least that they could be near Annie and gain her gratitude. Annie's gratitude was not a difficult thing to gain. She was in a state of perpetual astonishment that all of us loved her so much.

"What have I done to make all of you so kind to me?" she would ask. And the answer would be:

"Everything, in that you are your own sweet self."

Mr. Pore, or rather Sir Arthur, seemed to think we were helping in the shop because of our admiration and respect for him, and since he thus flattered himself we let him go on thinking so, and even encouraged him in this delusion since it simplified matters for all of us. Sleepy even sneaked the daughter off on a lovely long buggy ride while Dum checked up a shelf full of dry-goods, supposed to be done by Annie.

The seemingly impossible was accomplished and that before we left Maxton: a complete inventory of the stock of a crowded country store was made and in order, all because of the many helpers. A purchaser was found by the expeditious Zebedee, and everything, including the good will, sold, lock, stock, and barrel, at a very good price considering the haste of the transaction.

Annie and her father actually did get off within the week. How it was accomplished I can't see, and as we had left Maxton before they made their getaway I shall never know. Harvie, who was the only one of us left, said that Sir Arthur was as standoffish and superior as ever. He started on his journey with the same old Gladstone bag and, as far as Harvie could make out, the same English clothes he had brought to Price's Landing all those years and years ago.

"If they weren't the same, where on earth could he have bought any like them? They don't make them in this country," he said, when he told me of it.

Harvie, having awakened to the fact that Annie was a very charming, beautiful girl, whom he had for years looked upon as a kind of sister but who was not a sister and was moreover very much admired by other members of his sex, now was making up for lost time as fast as possible. He had no feeling of noblesse oblige in regard to Sleepy. He surely had as much right to love Annie as George Massie had and more right to tell her of it, since she was almost his sister. He hovered around her to the last, doing a million little things to help her and assuring her in the meantime of his undying affection, but Annie never did seem to understand that he was being any more than a big brother to her. Never having had a big brother, she did not know that big brothers do not as a rule express their love for the little sisters in such glowing terms.

George Massie went gloomily off when the house-party broke up. He felt that he could not in decency stay longer at Maxton since all the others were leaving, although he longed to be near Annie. He sought me out on the boat when we were bound for Richmond and sighing like a furnace sank down by my side. If it had been a sailboat we were traveling in instead of an old side-wheel steamboat, I am sure the great sigh he heaved would have sent us faster on our way.

"Something fierce!" he muttered.

"Yes, it is hard, but maybe they will come back sometime, or perhaps when you get your degree you can go over to England and see her."

"Get my degree! Do you think I am going back to the University? Not on your life!"

"But what will you do? You must have some ambition," I said rather severely.

"Yes, I've got ambition all right; I'm going to do my bit in France as stretcher bearer. I decided last night."

"Really?"

"Sure! I'm just wasting my time at the University. I talked it out with Annie. She has lots of feeling about England and the war, and if she cares, then it is up to me to help her country some."

"Oh, Sleepy! I think that is just splendid of you," I cried. "When will you go?"

"Ahem – I'm thinking of going on the same boat with Mr. – Sir Arthur Pore."

I could not help laughing.

"Does Annie know?"

"No, I was afraid she might make some objection. I think I'll just surprise her on the steamer."

"Won't you have to get passports and permits and things before you can go?"

"Yes, I'll set the ball rolling as soon as I get to Richmond. Mr. Tucker is attending to Sir Arthur's and I guess I'll go see him as soon as we land. He knows how to do so many things."

That was certainly so. Mr. Jeffry Tucker not only could and would match zephyr for old ladies, but he knew just how to get passports for pompous English noblemen who had but recently kept country stores on the banks of the river, and for the lovely daughters. He also knew how to get rushed-through passports for rich young medical students who had taken sudden resolutions to do a bit in France because of a kind of vicarious patriotism.

George Massie had a busy week. He must rush off to see his people, who no doubt were quite confounded by his unwonted energy. He must get the proper clothing for his undertaking and also make his will, since he had quite an estate in his own name. He must tell many relations farewell and explain as best he could his sudden passion for carrying the wounded off of the battle fields.

When he came in to tell the Tuckers good-by before he went to New York to embark on the steamer with the unsuspecting Pores, he looked almost thin and quite wide awake, so they told me.

The Tuckers had tried to persuade me to wait in Richmond with them for a few days before going to Bracken so that together we could see the last of our little English friend, for Sir Arthur and Annie were to take a train in Richmond for New York. But I had been too long away from my father and felt that I must hasten home to him.

Needless to say that Zebedee had the passports all ready for them to sign and berths engaged on the New York sleeper and passage on an English vessel, sailing the following Saturday.

Tweedles told me that Annie clung to them at parting as though they had been a life rope. The poor girl felt that she was going into a strange cold world. It must have been even worse for her than the memorable time when she started on what she thought was going to be that lonesome, forlorn journey to Gresham. That trip had proven to be very enjoyable in spite of all her fears; and perhaps this journey across the ocean was not going to be so very forlorn, either.

I should not relish much the idea of a trip with Sir Arthur Ponsonby Pore. I can fancy his aloof manner with fellow passengers, who perhaps were seeking acquaintance with his lovely daughter; his disregard for the comfort of others; his haughtiness with the steward. The only way to travel in peace with the baronet would be to have him get good and seasick before the vessel got out of sight of Sandy Hook, and stay so until she was docked at Liverpool. Then he might prove a very pleasant traveling companion, provided he was so ill that he had to stay in his bunk.

Of course as the days passed we became desperately uneasy about Annie. It seemed a perfect age since they had sailed and still no news of the safe arrival of the vessel. I was at Bracken, away from the constant calling of extras that was the rule in the city during those stirring war times. Tweedles told me they rushed out in the night to purchase a paper every time an extra was called, fearing news of a disaster to the Lancaster, the old-fashioned wooden boat the Pores had taken.

Zebedee had promised to telephone to them if news came to his paper concerning the steamer, news either of disaster or safety. The following is the letter I received from Dee written in the excitement of a message but that moment received from her father.

Richmond, Va.

Dearest Page:

Zebedee has just cabled me that he has had a telephone message from Liverpool that a mine had struck the Lancaster about five hours out from port and the open boats had to take to the passengers. All on board were saved although some of the passengers were much shaken up. (I hope Arthur Ponsonby was one of the much shaken.) We are greatly excited about poor Annie. She is so afraid of water. It is feared all baggage is lost. (Good-by to the Gladstone bag!)

Dum and I can hardly wait for the cable that we just know Sleepy will send us as soon as he can. Aren't we glad, though, that Sleepy was along? He will take care of Annie no matter what happens. It may be weeks and months before we can get a letter from Annie, telling us all about it. We are awfully sorry it should have happened to Annie, but Dum and Zebedee and I just wish we had been along. I bet you do, too!

These times are so stirring, I don't see how we can all of us sit still. If our country ever gets pulled into the mix-up I tell you I'm going to get in the dog fight, too. Zebedee says he is, too, and so is Dum. I want to study veterinary surgery so I can help the poor horses when they get wounded and look after the dear dogs who work so hard to bring in the wounded. Zebedee is afraid that is man's work but I tell him bosh! plain bosh! There is no such thing as man's work any more in this world. He says I'm an emancipated piece and I tell him I'm glad he realizes it. Dum and I are hard at work at war relief work. We go three times a week and roll bandages. I like the work but Dum sits up and lets tears drop on the bandages, thinking about all the poor soldiers they are to bind up. I cry a little, too, sometimes. Zebedee says if we bawl over new bandages, what would we do over real wounds? I tell him salt is a good antiseptic and a few sincere tears won't hurt the poor wounded.

Dum and I have adopted a French war orphan between us. Ten cents keeps one for a day and it does seem mean of us not to give that much. We always waste that much money, and more, every day of our lives. It means only letting up a bit on the movies or drinking water instead of limeade when one is thirsty. Zebedee has got himself one all by himself and he is going to keep it by letting up on one cigar a day. He says his smoke is bitter to him now that he realizes that every time he lights a ten cent cigar he might be feeding a little Belgian baby. We offered to get him some rabbit tobacco and dry it nicely so he could smoke it in a pipe, but he said never mind. Poor Zebedee is so choosey about his smoke that he would rather give it up altogether than not have it good.

We've got a scheme on hand for a jaunt but I'm going to let Zebedee have the pleasure of springing it on you if the plan works out. Dum says I'm not leaving a thing for her to tell. She says it is not ethical for one member of a family to write such a long letter to a person that other members correspond with, but I tell her I have told you very little news and that my letter has been more taken up with psychology and the conduct of life.

Of course I started this letter to tell you about Annie and the good ship Lancaster, but since all I know about it is that it hit a mine and all hands were saved in open boats I could not enlarge on that bit of news much. We will let you know when we hear more.

Zebedee and Dum and Brindle send you much love. Give mine to Dr. Allison and Mammy Susan, also many hugs to the dogs.

Affectionately,
Dee.


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