Nell Speed.

A House Party with the Tucker Twins



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CHAPTER XII
THE SHOPPER-ROON

Of course Aunt Milly kept us waiting. There is no telling what rite she performed in her cabin in preparation for the momentous occasion of chaperoning. We were all seated in the boats waiting, the lunch stowed carefully in the locker of the launch and the bathing suits tucked under the seats, when Willie came racing up in a light red-wheeled buggy, one side so bent down with Aunt Milly's great weight that the springs were touching.

"Gawd pertec' me!" she prayed as Harvie and Zebedee between them handed her into the launch. The little craft did some perceptible sinking with the extra load and had to be lightened a bit.

"Sleepy, you had better get out," teased Rags.

Poor Sleepy had been having a strenuous week trying to monopolize Annie Pore. This was a difficult thing to do, as Annie seemed to attract the male sex willy nilly. She had no idea of flirting and never meant to hurt anyone, but there was something about her that appealed to the masculine element irresistibly. Wherever she went she made conquests by a certain clinging vine attitude she had towards the whole world. Mere man likes to be looked upon as a protector and Annie's timidity was meat and drink to his vanity. George Massie, alias Sleepy, was her slave; Harvie Price thought he looked upon her as a little sister, but I have never yet seen a big brother quite so anxious for the comfort of nothing but a sister; Jack Bennett seemed to find her very attractive and divided his allegiance between her and Dee; nothing but his loyalty to Sleepy kept Ben Raglan from entering the lists for the favor of the little English maid. He occasionally teased poor Sleepy, but that young giant never did know what I knew: that Rags really cared for Annie.

Sleepy, knowing that the launch was the safest place in which to embark for a picnic and understanding how timid Annie was and how poor a swimmer, had ensconced her in that vessel in a protected spot, and had found a place at her feet where he could look up into her pretty face.

"Me get out? Get out yourself!" he cried indignantly.

"But it is not quality they want out but quantity," answered Rags. "You and Aunt Milly, being in the same boat, can't ride in the same boat."

Now George Massie was not really fat, but because of his great bulk he was usually thought of as being so. Certainly his bones were well covered but his muscles were hard as iron. What fat was there was well hammered down. He must have weighed at that time at least two hundred and twenty pounds, but then his six feet two inches could carry a good many pounds. He was cursed with money if ever a young man was. His father was very wealthy and George had never been denied a single thing in all his life. His principal ambition had been to make the football team at the University and even that had been granted him, – not because of money but because of brawn.

He was studying medicine in a desultory way, taking a year longer to finish his course than the more ambitious Wink, who was not cursed at all with money but had unbounded energy and ambition.

Sleepy's friends, and he had many of those necessary things, all adored him. He was so honest, so straightforward, so sympathetic. They deplored his lack of ambition, however. I used to feel that Sleepy was a lesson to all of the young men in his set because they realized that after all too much money often had a softening effect on character. There seemed to be no especial use for George Massie to graduate, because after he got his diploma what difference would it make whether he got patients or not? His adoration of Annie Pore had had a good effect on him, so Jim Hart had told me. The last year at the University he had done better studying than he ever had in his life, and his friends had hopes of his waking up to the fact that the world might need him, even if he did not need the world's money in doctor's fees.

"Yes, Sleepy! You'll have to vamoose," insisted Jack Bennett, trying to squeeze himself down between George Massie and Annie.

"You are as big as any two other passengers," declared Rags.

"If that is the case, then suppose two other passengers take to the life-boats," suggested Zebedee. "Come on, Page, you are light and easy to row and there is a nice little brown boat waiting for us."

Dum and Billy Somers had already started in their picturesque red skiff, and Mary Flannagan and Shorty were well on their way in the canoe. They had been independent and had not had to wait while Aunt Milly arrayed herself in all the glories of a brand new purple calico and bright plaid head handkerchief.

"All right!" I acquiesced to Mr. Tucker's proposal.

After we were transferred to the little brown boat and on our way to Croxton's Ford, he said:

"I am afraid I was selfish to ask you to come with me. I know I should not have taken you away from all of your young friends."

"Why, Zebedee! How absurd! You are the youngest friend I have, much the youngest."

"But you gave a very sad and unenthusiastic 'all right' to my proposition to come by skiff. Now, didn't you?"

"But it wasn't that I didn't want to come with you," I declared.

"Perhaps not, but merely that you didn't want to leave someone else to come with me. Now fess up, honey!"

"I have nothing to fess up about."

"Well, then, why did you look so crestfallen when I put it up to you to leave the launch?" and Zebedee dug his oars in the water with some viciousness.

"I didn't mean to. I – I – "

"You what?"

"I had a reason for wanting to stay in the launch."

"Didn't I say so? Who was the reason?"

"It wasn't a who, at all – it was a which."

"A which?" he asked somewhat mystified.

"Yes, a which! If you must know, I wanted to be under the awning because of my freckled nose," and I blushed until it hurt. My nose was a great annoyance to me. It was such a little nose to get so many freckles on it. The fact that they disappeared in the winter was but cold comfort to me.

"But I like freckles," he said quite solemnly, but his eyes were dancing with amusement.

"But I don't, and it's my nose. You are the only person who does like 'em."

"Who has been telling you he doesn't like them?"

"Nobody to my face, or rather to my freckles, but I heard Jessie Wilcox talking to someone about me and she called me a speckled beauty, – just exactly as though I were a trout or a coach dog or a turkey egg or something. And I know after this day on the water I'll be a sight."

"Do you care what she says?"

"I care what anybody says."

"Why, little friend, I did not dream you put so much value on the opinion of others, especially where mere personal appearance is concerned." I thought I detected a note of disappointment in his voice.

"I don't about everything, but one's nose is mighty close to one, somehow."

"So it is," he laughed, "and I am so sorry to have been the means of injuring that touchy member. I can't help feeling kind of happy, though, that it was the awning you were loath to leave and not some one of those boys. Here's a nice linen handkerchief; why don't you tie that over your nose?"

Mr. Tucker always had the nicest linen handkerchiefs I ever saw, and he seemed to have clean, folded ones ready to produce for every emergency. I accepted his offer and tied it over the lower part of my face.

"Now you look like a little Turkish lady. Please say you are glad you came in the little brown boat," and my boatman shipped his oars and drifted with the current.

It was a very easy thing to say because I was very glad. Now that my poor little nose was protected, I was perfectly happy. I always enjoyed being with Zebedee. We never talked out and we seldom had a disagreement; not that we agreed on every subject by any means, but we could disagree without having a disagreement. We talked about everything under the sun from Shakespeare to the musical glasses. I couldn't help comparing this boat ride to the one I had been overpersuaded to take with Wink only a few days before. We had started out with the best of intentions on my part to avoid all shoals in conversation, but before we had been out ten minutes Wink was gnawing his little moustache in fury and I was wishing I had stayed on shore. A row with Wink was sure to end in a row (pronounced rou).

The launch arrived at Croxton's Ford long before we did, but we came as fast as the current allowed, having drifted a good part of the way. The party had landed and had begun to make the camp for the day. It was a wonderful spot chosen for the picnic. A large creek, flowing into the river, broadened out almost into a lake, and in the mouth of this creek were innumerable small islands. Some of them had large trees growing on them, lovely sandy beaches and strips of verdure; others were too young to have trees but were covered with grass. The camp was pitched on the largest island, right at the mouth of the creek that afforded a landing for the launch. There was a famous spring on this island that was thought by the county people to have some great curative power. What it cured you of I don't know, but it tasted too good to be much good as a medicine, I imagine.

Aunt Milly, who had proven herself to be an ideal chaperone, having slept during the entire journey, was now ensconced under a water oak on a warm sand bank with nothing to do but enjoy herself. This she did immediately by falling asleep again.

"Whin I ain't a-wuckin', I's a-sleepin'," she droned as slumber enfolded her.

Of course the camp fire must be made and potatoes and corn put to roast and the coffee-pot filled with the sparkling spring water. The trip down had made everybody hungry, whether accomplished without exertion as by those in the launch; or with the sweat of the brow as by Mary and Shorty in the canoe, or Dum and Billy Somers in the red skiff; or with just enough work to keep the boat in the current which was Zebedee's and my method of locomotion: one and all were hungry.

"While dinner is cooking, let's have a swim," suggested Harvie. "You girls take this side of the island for a dressing-room and we'll take the other. Here are some low willows that make splendid walls."

Bathing suits were produced and while our chaperone slumbered and slept, we got into them and then into the water. Such water! It was clear and soft, so much more so than the water of the big river. The bottom was clean sand with no disturbing rocks and snags. The trees shaded the place chosen for our swim where the sloping beach made it safe for the timid close to shore, but ten yards of perseverance plunged the bold swimmer into really deep water.

The shouts of joy would have waked the dead had there been any on the island, but nothing waked the sleeping Aunt Milly. She had burrowed down in the unresisting sand almost as deep as some meteoric stone might have done. There she lay, having the rest that she deserved after the "mos' a hun'erd years er cookin'" that she declared she had served at Maxton.

"This is my island!" cried Dum, swimming over to a beautiful spot about twenty yards from camp. She clambered out on the strip of sand and stood with arms outstretched looking very handsome, her lithe young figure drawn up to its full height. "I am monarch of all I survey! I'm queen of this land!"

"Let me come help you rule," pleaded Billy Somers, who had followed her.

"I don't need a prime minister just now, thank you, but you might get in the waiting list."

"Thanks awfully!" and the young Kentuckian threw himself on the warm sand at her feet. What nice fellows those Kentuckians were, anyhow! They were full of life and fun, clean minded, clear thinking, well-mannered boys. Dum and Billy were friends from the moment they met and were usually the ringleaders in any larks that were started on the house-party. The strange thing about the friendship was that they looked alike, so very much alike that I believe some pioneer ancestor of Billy's must have come from the Tucker stock.

Billy's hair had a bit more red in it than Dum's, not much, just enough to make his hair in the shade about the color Dum's was in the sun. Their foreheads were identical and their chins had the same tendency to get square when an argument was under way. They really looked quite as much alike as the twins themselves did. Zebedee declared that Billy made him feel a hundred years old because he looked so like his son, if he had ever had one. Billy was about three years older than the twins, and when we consider that the twins were born when their father was only twenty, no wonder the possibility of a son at seventeen made poor Mr. Tucker blue.

"This is our island and we are going to permit no aliens to land here," called Dum as a challenge to all of us. "I am Queen Dum and Billy is General Billdad. We have held counsel and herewith make the proclamation that there is to be no immigration to this kingdom."

It took only a moment for us to answer the challenge. Dee headed the opposing forces, making a long dive that brought her up almost on the beach of the little kingdom. Dum was ready to push her back in the water and kerflop! she went before Zebedee could come to her aid. Then ensued such a battle as had not been fought in the United States since Custer's last rally.

Of course Dum and Billy had the advantage of position, but we so far outnumbered them that it took all of their strength to keep us from landing.

"Mary! Mary! You and Shorty come be our allies!" called Queen Dum to the couple who had gone to housekeeping on a small island near her own. Mary slid into the water like a turtle and Shorty followed. They landed from the rear and now the battle raged fiercely.

I know I got pitched back into the water at least a dozen times. Having learned to swim only the summer before at Willoughby, I was not a past master in the art, but I could keep above water indefinitely, thanks to Zebedee, my instructor, who had made floating the first requisite.

The odds were in our favor but the vantage they had in position was well-nigh discouraging us, when Zebedee and Wink made a flank movement and landed on the other side of the island, immediately pushing over the opposing forces into the foaming torrent and then pulling all of us onto dry land.

"Victory! Victory!" we shouted; and then for the first time since the battle began to rage we remembered our chaperone. She had awakened and dug herself out of her warm sand nest. What were her charges up to? It never entered the old woman's head that we were playing a game, and I fancy we looked in dead earnest.

When she had dozed off after landing we were all of us clothed and in our right minds, and suddenly she awoke to find us anything but clothed, according to her strict ideas of propriety among the quality, never having seen girls in bathing suits; and not only were we in disgraceful dishabille, but we were engaged in a distressing brawl.

"My Gawd! My Gawd!" she wailed. "Here I been a-slumberin' an' sleepin' an' Miss Maria done tol' me to shopper-roon. I trus'ed de white folks an' look at 'em!" She covered her face with her hands and wept aloud.

I fancy we were something to look at. Bathing caps were off and hair wet and tangled streaming down our backs. Dee had lost a stocking in the tussle and Rags had been bereft of more than half of his shirt, so that his white back gleamed forth in a most immodest abandon. Shorty had tapped Harvie on the nose and that scion of a noble race was bleeding like a stuck pig. The gore added color to the scene, and had not Aunt Milly already been certain that this was a real war we were raging, the blood of her young master would have convinced her.

"Hi, you! You!" she called. "Quit dat!"

The battle being won, we had stopped for repairs but there were still here and there some fitful hostilities. For instance: Shorty had determined that Harvie needed some cold water on his bleeding nose and was rolling him into the creek. Both of them were shouting and pommelling each other as they rolled.

As they approached the large island where our camp was pitched, Aunt Milly became very much excited. Who were these vile wretches who had accepted the hospitality of the Prices and then turned against them, and while she, the natural protector of the young master, was sleeping, had well-nigh stripped him of his clothes and then bloodied him all over with his own blue blood, which was certainly flowing very redly?

"Hi, you! You little low flung, no 'count, bench-legged trash! What you a-doin' ter Mr. Harbie?" she called to the all-unconscious Shorty, who was having the time of his life as he and his friend wallowed in the water, wrestling as they swam.

But Aunt Milly saw no joke in such doings. She looked around for something to use as a weapon and spied the camp fire where the corn and potatoes were being prepared to fulfill their mission. They were done to a turn by that tune and the fire had died down to a bed of red embers. The old woman grabbed from the ashes a great yam and with an aim that astonished one, she threw it and hit Shorty a sounding whack on his back.

"Wow!" yelled that young warrior.

"You'd better wow! An' don' you lan' here; you go back ter dem Injuns whar you come wid."

"Why, Aunt Milly! What on earth?" gasped Harvie as he saw the old woman stooping for more ammunition.

"Yo' ol' Milly gwine he'p you, dat's what!" She aimed another at the astonished Shorty, but that young man turned himself into a submarine and disappeared.

Harvie clambered out of the water spluttering and laughing. His nose had stopped bleeding now and the water had washed off all traces of the gory disaster. He caught the rampant Milly by the arm:

"Aunt Milly, it's all a joke, a game! Nobody was abusing me. Don't throw away the potatoes, we are so hungry."

"Lawsamussy, chile! You can't fool this ol' nigger. I's seen folks a-playin' an' I's a-seen folks a-fightin', an' if'n that there warn't a battle royal, I neber seed one."

By this time all of us were headed for camp. As we came ashore her expression was still a belligerent one and she had a hot potato which she tossed from hand to hand ready for an emergency.

It took all the tact the Tuckers could muster among them to convince Aunt Milly that we had not been fighting, and even after she seemed to be convinced, she growled a bit when Shorty appeared all dressed and spruce, with his hair plastered down tight and his arm linked in Harvie's. She had the fidelity of some old dog for its master and it would take some time to erase from her mind and heart that terrible scene of Mr. Harbie being beaten and blooded and pitched into the water.

We led her back to her seat in the sand and brought her dinner to her. We would not let her help cook or serve, but treated her like a real chaperone and waited on her right royally. She rolled her eyes a bit when to Shorty was relegated the task of taking her a cup of coffee. He pretended to be very much frightened and trembled violently as he handed her the brimming cup.

"Aunt Milly, how did you learn how to throw so well? You hit me with that potato just as though you belonged to a baseball nine."

"I been a-practicin' all my life a-throwin' at rats," she growled.

This brought down the house.

CHAPTER XIII
TANGLEFOOT

A sufficient time having elapsed since dinner, we decided to go in swimming again; at least the Tuckers decided to and all of us followed suit (bathing suit!). Aunt Milly was becoming accustomed to the ways of her charges and gave her gracious consent when we humbly asked it. She even stopped rolling her eyes at Shorty when she saw that Harvie was not injured, after all, and that he himself bore no malice towards his friend.

Mary, too, had something to do with mollifying the old woman. She went and sat on the sand bank by her side and explained to her how the battle royal started and what fun it had been. Of course ever since the circus, Mary had been a great favorite with all the servants. They looked upon her as a real celebrity. Mary had so many stunts and was always so willing to amuse persons that she was constantly being called on to do her dog fight or get off a feat of ventriloquism or something else.

"Aunt Milly, if you forgive poor Mr. Hawkins for bloodying up Mr. Harvie, I'll go like a little pig caught under the gate for you."

"Lawsamussy, chil', kin you do that?"

"Sure! Will you forgive him if I do it?"

"Lemme hear you do it fust an' I'll see," said Aunt Milly with a sly look. She was getting too much capital out of the grudge she had against Shorty to give it up too readily.

So Mary went through all the agony of a little pig caught under the gate and even improved upon it to the extent of introducing another character into the act: she went like two pigs caught under the gate.

Aunt Milly sat in her sand hole entranced.

"Well, bless Bob! If it ain't it to the life! How you do it, honey?" So Mary had to do it once more and then Aunt Milly promised to forgive and forget.

"Come on and help clear up the remains of the feast, Mary," insisted Dum, who was ever determined that there should be no shirkers.



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