Nell Speed.

A House Party with the Tucker Twins



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The child was better and our stay did not have to be very lengthy. All the children in the family had insisted upon showing their tongues to the giver of peppermints, which delayed us a few moments.

"And now for home!" said Father, who was looking tired. He actually handed the reins to me to drive while he filled his pipe for a peaceful smoke.

We were passing through a settlement where there was the usual post-office, country store, church and schoolhouse, with a few houses straggling around, when a young man ran out into the road and called desperately to Father to stop. I drew rein and he came panting to the buggy.

"Doc Allison, please come be witness for us!"

"Witness? What for?"

"Well, Julia and I have walked off to get married. I won't say 'run off' because both of us are of age and have been of age for a good five years. But Julia's mother is that cantankerous that she won't let her get married if she knows about it, and so we have come to the parson's with license and all; but he says we must have witnesses and there's no one in the settlement right now but the postmaster and the storekeeper and they can't leave their jobs, and besides they are afraid of the old lady. She is on her way here now, I believe, so you'll have to hurry."

We found the bride in the parson's parlor looking nervously out of the window. She, too, was afraid of the old lady. I was sorry for the parson because he must have been afraid, too, but he went manfully through the ceremony. He had hardly finished with: "Whom God hath united let no man put asunder," when there was a terrible commotion in the road. An old lady came driving up in a spring wagon. She had blood in her eye, a terribly rampagious old lady. She stepped out of the wagon and I noticed she had on top boots. She wore a short, scant skirt and a workman's blue chambray shirt and a man's hat pulled down over as determined a countenance as I have ever seen.

"Mrs. Henderson!" gasped the preacher, turning pale, and well he might as Mrs. Henderson was someone to stand in awe of.

"Come on home here, girl!" she said roughly, as she made her way into the parson's parlor.

"Her home is where I live now," said the young man, putting his arm around the bride.

"Nonsense! I never got too late to anything in my life. I telephoned these folks over here that they had better not stand as witness to any ceremony until I got here, and I know they wouldn't do it." She had been too enraged to notice Father and me, but now when Father stepped up and spoke to her, she fell back in confusion.

"My daughter and I were fortunately in time to witness the ceremony," he said quietly. "It is all over now and your daughter is safely married."

"Married!"

"Yes, Mrs. Henderson, and I advise you to sit still a moment and compose yourself. You will have apoplexy some of these days flying off in these rages." He looked at her very sternly. "Your daughter has married a good young fellow and she will be much happier than she would be remaining single."

"What business is it of yours, I'd like to know?"

"No business at all, except that I was asked to witness the ceremony by your son-in-law; and if you should get sick from the excitement you are working yourself into, you will send for me post haste," answered Father coolly.

"Never! Not after the bad turn you have done me!"

"Well, that's as you choose," he laughed.

Then he kissed the bride, who had said never a word but clung to her husband; shook hands with the groom and the parson; held out his hand to the irate, booted old woman.

She would have none of him, however, but folded her arms and sniffed indignantly. She made me think of:

 
"But Douglas 'round him drew his cloak,
Folded his arms and thus he spoke:"
 

One couldn't help laughing at her but feeling sorry for her, too.

"She'll have to pay for this," said Father, as we started again for home. "She has been going into rages like this all her life and usually has a spell of sickness after one like to-day's."

"But, Father, you surely would not go to her after the way she spoke to you!"

"Of course I would if she needs me. Country doctors can't be too touchy. It isn't as though she could get someone else as she could in town. In cities a doctor isn't so important as he is in the country. There are always plenty more to answer a call that he turns down. I have never in my life refused a patient."

We had a quiet drive home, Father smoking his pipe, while I gave undivided attention to the prancings and shyings of the colt. I was thinking of all the happenings of the day.

"A penny for your thoughts!" he said, pinching my ear. "I bet I know what you are ruminating."

"Well!"

"You have come to the conclusion that a good deal can happen in a country neighborhood in a day: a birth, a death, a marriage and a quarrel."

CHAPTER XVIII
THE END OF AN EVENTFUL DAY

Things kept on happening. When I got out of the buggy to open the big gate leading into the avenue, a gate that was supposed to work by pulling a string but which never did, I saw some peculiar tracks in the dust of the road.

"An automobile has gone in," I exclaimed, "and hasn't gone out, either! Look, the tracks don't come back!"

"Heavens! I do hope I am not to go out again," said Father wearily. "I'd like to sit on the back of my neck in my sleepy-hollow chair and talk or listen as the case might be. I am too tired even to read."

"Me, too! And hungry's not the word!"

"A midday dinner gets mighty far off by supper time. I hope Susan realizes that."

A dusty Ford car was drawn up near the stile block. It looked familiar, but then all Fords have a way of looking that.

"Who on earth can it be? Well, if I have to go out again at least you and the colt won't," sighed the poor country doctor. "I am going to make the owner of that car carry me wherever I am to go and what's more bring me back. I am not going to sit on the front seat with him, either, and listen to his jabber. Me for the rear and a whole seat to myself. I might even get a nap."

A sudden opening of the front door and who should come tearing out but Dum and Dee Tucker and Zebedee? Of course the lines of the dusty car were familiar: Henry Ford himself, faithful servitor!

The tired feeling vanished very quickly in our joy at the disclosure of the owner of the car. Father was always glad to see the Tuckers but was doubly glad now, because it being the Tuckers, meant it was not someone to snatch him away from his sleepy-hollow chair.

At Mammy Susan's instigation the twins were already installed in my room. There were plenty of guest chambers at Bracken, but we always liked to be in the same room. Whenever we had tried sleeping in separate rooms we felt we had missed something.

"How did it happen?" I cried, hugging the twins again as we hastened to my room to make ourselves fit for the supper that Mammy Susan warned us she was a-dishin' up.

"Well, we are having a Tucker discussion and we thought you and Dr. Allison should be called in consultation, especially as you are one of the parties concerned," answered Dum.

"Me?"

"Yes, you! We'd like to know what plan we could make where you were not concerned," put in Dee.

"Please tell me what it is!"

"Wait until after supper, and when the men-folks light their pipes, then we can talk it out. You can do twice as much with Zebedee when he is fed," said the knowing Dee.

"Father, too, is more amenable to reason," I laughed.

Mammy Susan had fully realized that a midday dinner is a long way from supper and had planned a royal feast for us, and when the Tuckers arrived she added to her menu to suit their tastes and appetites. Mammy Susan always remembered what guests liked best, and no matter how much trouble it was to her, usually managed to have that particular dish. The Tuckers were prime favorites with the dear old woman and she could not do enough for them.

Supper over, we adjourned to the library where a cheery wood fire was crackling in the great fireplace. There was frost in the air and a fire was quite acceptable, although we had the windows wide open. Father and I loved to make up a big fire and then have plenty of cold fresh air.

"I can't see the use er heatin' up the whole er Bracken, but if Docallison is a-willin' ter pay fer cuttin' the wood, 'tain't fer me ter 'jec'," said Mammy Susan as she peeped in to see that there was plenty of wood, hoping in her secret soul that there would not be so she could have some excuse for quarreling with the yard boy. Mammy Susan waged an eternal warfare with the yard boy, whoever he might be. We had so many it was hard to keep up with their changing names, so Father called them all George.

It was dear Mammy's one failing. She simply could not live in peace with other servants. We had long ago given up trying to have a housemaid, as Mammy Susan would have complained of the lack of efficiency of a graduate of a domestic science school of the first standing. No one could help her cook. Mrs. Rorer herself would have been found wanting in the culinary department of Bracken.

"Humph! Wood enough fer onct!" she grumbled. "If'n I hadn' er got right behin' that there so-called George there wouldn' er been. He is the triflinges' nigger," she mumbled, as she went through the hall. Zebedee ran after her and her grumblings were changed to chucklings by something that passed between them.

"Poor old Susan!" said Father, as he sank into the deepest hollow of his chair. "She is so capable herself that she expects all of her race to toe the mark, too. She is very lenient with the white people whom she loves and absolutely adamantine with the coloreds. The white folks can do no wrong and the black folks can do no right."

Pipes were filled for the two parents and a box of candy opened for the daughters, and then we were ready for the business of the day to be discussed.

"Dr. Allison, what are you going to do with Page this winter?" asked Mr. Tucker.

"Do with Page! Why – nothing but – nothing at all."

"Oh, but, doctor – " broke in Dum and in the same breath Dee clamored:

"We want – " but nobody heard what we wanted as I had to put in my oar saying I thought I ought to stay at home.

"Now, see here, if we all of us talk at once we won't get anywhere, and we might just as well have stayed in Richmond," complained Zebedee.

"Well, let's appoint a chairman then," I suggested, "and everybody address the chair. I nominate Mr. Tucker chairman pro tem."

He was duly elected.

"Nominations are in order for chairman," and the chairman pro tem rapped for order.

"I nominate Mr. Tucker for chairman," said Father contentedly from his easy chair.

"I second the nomination," from me.

"I nominate Dr. Allison!" cried Dum.

"Second the nomination!" said Dee, jumping to her feet for a speech. "Zebedee is too Mr. Tuckerish when he gets in the chair to suit me, and besides he will have to be talking too much in this meeting to occupy the chair with any grace."

"I withdraw my name as candidate," said the first nominee graciously. "Any other nominations? The chair hears none, – then it is in order to make the election of Dr. Allison unanimous." It was done so with three rousing cheers.

Father always enjoyed the Tuckers' foolishness and he was now in a state of relaxation and contentment, after a strenuous day spent in doing his duty, that fitted in well with our cheerful guests.

"Well, I'm glad to have the chair if I can sit in it," he said. "Friends, since there are no minutes, we can dispense with the reading of them. What is the business of the day?"

"Mr. President, what are we going to do with our daughters this coming winter?" said Zebedee, rising to his feet and speaking after due acknowledgment from the chair. "'The time has come' the walrus said, 'to talk of many things,' but this business of occupying these girls, whom a Merciful Providence has confided to our care, is a serious matter. They are too young to stop school altogether, especially since they don't want to make d?buts – "

"Who said we didn't? We'd do anything rather than go back to school," interrupted Dum.

"Mr. Tucker has the floor," said Father with mock severity.

"I rise to a question of privilege," announced Dee solemnly. "We are 'most as old as Zebedee was when he got married and quite as old as our mother was." At this Zebedee laughed a little and wiped his eyes once. He always had a tear ready for his young wife who was spared to him such a little while.

"Well, honey, even if you are, times have changed. Young folks don't stop school as soon as they used to."

"Didn't I tell you he would get Mr. Tuckerish? Just listen to him! Talking about young folks as though he were a million."

"Address the chair!" and Father rapped for order.

"May I ask your indulgence for a moment, Mr. President?" asked Zebedee meekly. "As I was saying, when the gentleman from nowhere interrupted me: our daughters are too young to stop studying altogether. Don't you think so?"

"If you will allow the chair to express an opinion, I am afraid they are."

"Of course Gresham's burning down was most inopportune, as they would have been safely placed for another year there, but now that it is burned and not rebuilt yet – "

"We wouldn't go back there, anyhow, with that old Miss Plympton bossing things," asserted Dum.

"Now what I want to find is some way to have them go on studying and learning and still not be bored to death," and Zebedee sat down.

"A Daniel come to judgment!" I whispered.

"Are you addressing the chair?" asked Father.

"No, I was just talking to myself."

"Of course, I want to study art more than anything in the world!" exclaimed Dum, bouncing on her feet and forcing an acknowledgment from the chair before Dee had time to get it. "I can't see the use in burdening myself with Latin and math when I am nearly dead to model things."

"Well, you haven't overburdened yourself with knowledge yet, I am glad to say," teased her father.

"Are you addressing the chair?" asked our president sternly. "If not, pray do so."

"Well, Mr. President, I want to study physiology and anatomy," said Dee. "And for the life of me I can't see what good ancient history and French would do me."

"And I want to be a writer, and it seems to me the best way to be one is – just to be one," I remarked.

"Exactly!" smiled Father.

"And now we want to talk over what is the best way for these girls to get what they want and still not be idle," said Mr. Tucker. "I should like to hear what our honored president has to say."

"Well, friends, this has kind of been sprung on me. I have been living in a kind of fool's paradise, thinking that maybe our girls knew enough to stop; but I see that I was wrong. Girls never know enough to stop. I'll let my third do whatever you let your two-thirds do, if it isn't too wild."

"But, Father, I am going to stay right here at Bracken with you! You know you need me."

"Of course I need you, but you don't think I need you any more than Tucker needs his daughters. You will settle down soon enough and now is the time to gather material for writing. Things make an impression on you now that wouldn't when you are older. One can put off writing longer than getting experience," and Father drew me down on the arm of his chair.

"Where do you think these monkeys should go to get these varied industries they are longing for, Tucker?"

"New York, I should say."

CHAPTER XIX
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

New York! The very sound of the name thrilled me. It was all I could do to keep from following the twins in their demonstration of joy and gratitude lavished on their father. I contented myself, however, by rumpling up my father's hair.

"When?" gasped Father, when I had finished with him.

"Immediately if not sooner!" said Zebedee, coming out unscathed from the embraces of his girls. "I have been thinking a lot about it and I really believe it would be the best thing for them. They can in a way find themselves, and they don't get in any more scrapes without us than they do with us."

"That's so," agreed Father.

"Oh, we won't get in any scrapes at all!" declared Dee.

"Not a single one, if you only trust us!" maintained Dum.

"I'm not going to take my oath upon it that you won't get into some, but if you talk over anything you are contemplating, in the way of adventure, with wise little Page, I don't believe your scrapes will amount to much."

Zebedee always complimented me by insisting that my judgment was good, and for a wonder, the girls did not mind when he praised me. They were very jealous of their father's praise when it was laid on too thickly, except where I was concerned, but they agreed with him heartily when he lauded me to the skies.

"You shouldn't say that," I said, blushing. "I might prove myself unworthy of the trust imposed in me, – and then what?"

"Then I shall have to declare myself at fault in character reading."

"But, Page, you know you always hold us down! When we get into trouble it is against your judgment. If we listen to you, we keep straight," said Dum.

"You mean I preach!"

"That's the funny thing about you, Page: you give us sage, grown-up advice without preaching. We wouldn't listen a minute if you preached."

"All right, I promise never to do that objectionable thing," I laughed. "But really and truly, I don't think Father ought to afford this trip for me."

"Child, it's not a trip," and Father put his arm around me again. "It's part of your education. New York need not be such an expensive place if you girls go there with economical ideas in your heads, instead of extravagant ones."

"Certainly! We had better allowance them and that will be part of their training, as well as what they will get from the several schools. My girls know very little about finances and it is high time they learned. Experience is the only way for them to learn, as whenever I try to instill in them principles of economy they say I am Mr. Tuckerish," and Zebedee tried to look stern.

The idea of his instilling principles of economy in anybody's mind was so funny all of us had to laugh. One thing Mr. Tucker insisted on was not spending money until you had it; but the minute you did have it, what was it meant for but to spend? "Easy come, easy go!" was the motto for the whole Tucker family.

"Oh, we will live so cheap I haven't a doubt we'll save oodlums of money!" cried Dum. "Mrs. Edwin Green told me a lot about how cheap one can live in Bohemia. She told us whenever we went to New York she was going to give us a letter of introduction to her brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Kent Brown."

Mrs. Edwin Green was the lovely young woman we had met in Charleston when we took our famous trip down there. She was a Miss Molly Brown of Kentucky who had married Professor Edwin Green of Wellington College. They were the very nicest couple I ever knew and we became great friends with them. We corresponded with her and a letter from "Molly Brown" was highly prized by all of us.

"Yes, and she said we were to visit her at Wellington if we got anywhere near. Won't it be great?" and Dee danced around the library from pure glee.

"How will we live in New York?" I asked. "Shall we board or what?"

"Board, by all means! If you try to live any other way you will run into debt, I am afraid," said Zebedee.

"But we just naturally despise boarding," pouted Dum. "We've been boarding all our lives, it seems to me."

"But when you board, you are in a measure chaperoned," said her cautious parent.

"Chaperoned! Oh, Zebedee, you make me laugh. What boarding-house keeper has time to chaperone? Besides, isn't Page along to chaperone?"

"What do you think about it, Page? Come along now with that sage advice," teased Father.

"I have never boarded and don't know how I'd like it, but it seems to me the best thing for us to do would be to board when we first get there, and then if we can't stand it, take a little flat and keep house, or rather, flat."

"Ah, I see why your advice is so sought after by our worthy friends, the Tuckers; you are as wise as Solomon and cut the baby in two and satisfy all parties. You will go to boarding to suit Tucker and then get a flat to suit the daughters, eh, honey?"

"Fifty-fifty is a safe course to pursue, and safety first is best and wisest for an official umpire," I maintained.

"I must say that the oracle has spoken well," said Zebedee. "Of course, if they are not happy boarding they must not keep to it, but it is better for them to start that way. They can learn the ropes and decide later on to get a flat if it seems wiser. We can go on with them and establish them, eh, doctor?"

"I reckon so, if my patients behave. Now that old Mrs. Reed is dead, I can leave perhaps – Ellen Miller's baby safely here, too!"

"Oh, Father, that will be simply grand, if you can only go!"

"I haven't had a trip for a long, long time, and I think it is up to me to treat myself."

All of us thought so, too. It made it easier for me if Father was contemplating going with us for a little recreation. He worked so hard, had so little fun in his life. What fun there was he made for himself by treating life as something very amusing when all was told. His patience was only equalled by his sense of humor.



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