Nell Speed.

A House Party with the Tucker Twins



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"I'm busy mollifying," declared Mary. "My talents lie more in this direction," and she could not help mimicking Jessie Wilcox just enough to give Dum the dry grins. Jessie had not helped at all about luncheon but had insisted that Aunt Milly should be made to do whatever we had the hardihood to suggest that she might do. Aunt Milly, however, having been told that she was to do no "wuck," did none, and presented a duck back to all insinuations from the haughty Jessie.

"I don't care where your talents lie," insisted Dum, "you are going to come help clear these dishes off the cloth so I can fold it up."

Mary began to sing to a catchy tune this music-hall ballad:

 
"I want to be a actress, a actress, a actress,
I tell you I won't live and die a common serving gal.
I feel I've got the natur'
To act in a the-a-ter,
I'm just the kind of stuff to make a star profession-a-l-l."
 

"Well, now ain't she cute?" and Aunt Milly shook her fat sides with laughter. "She ain't ter say purty but she is sho' got a way wid her. She ain't so handsome as some but she gonter keep her takin' ways til' Kingdom Come, whilst some folks what ain't nothin' but purty won' hab nothin' lef' a tall whin the las' trump soun's. I ain't a got no 'jections ter purty folks, – now that there little Miss Annie Po' is sho' sweet lookin' an' sweet tas'in', too, but she is wuth somethin' sides. But some ain't." A glance of her rolling eyes in the direction of Jessie gave us to understand who "some" meant.

Jessie and Wink were having a most desperate flirtation. He had not left her side a moment during the whole day. Jessie glanced occasionally in my direction with a little exultant toss of her head as much as to say: "See, miss, I've got your beau!" She was more than welcome to him, but I didn't think it kind to lessen her delight in her conquest, so I did my best to make her happy by sighing deeply every time I caught her looking at me.

The pleasure of going in swimming is going in again, so as I said before, as soon as a reasonable time had elapsed since our very filling dinner we again retired to our several tree-formed bath-houses and donned our suits for a farewell dip.

"No more fights now!" commanded Zebedee sternly, just as though he had not been among the mighty warriors of the last fray.

Tweedles promptly caught him and gave him a good ducking until he yelled for mercy and help from Aunt Milly, but that model chaperone had gone off to sleep again and was deaf to his cries.

"That's what you get for being Mr. Tuckerish," declared Dum.

Jessie Wilcox was a good swimmer but was determined not to get her hair wet, so had not entered very largely into our water sports. Tweedles and Mary and I had lost our bathing caps in the great naval battle, and since our heads were already wet, we decided to get them wetter and let our hair dry on the trip home. As for Annie, getting her feet wet was about all she could make up her mind to do, although her coils of honey-colored hair got a little damp.

She would take shuddering steps into the water and when she got about knee-deep would lie down and go through the motions of swimming with one foot on the bottom. She had really learned to keep up on top of the water at Willoughby the summer before, but now had lost all confidence in herself and was content just to paddle around in the shallows.

From one side of our large island there stretched a long narrow sand bar. The water just trickled through there, while the great volume of the creek flowed on the other side where we were swimming. There were many shallow spots where Annie could be perfectly safe, but she decided to walk out on the sand bar and there let down her hair and dry it in the sun. Her cavaliers who seldom left her alone for a moment happened to be engaged in some swimming stunts just then, so unattended she crossed the bar and, seating herself on the end of the neck of sand, she let down her beautiful hair and spread it out in the sun.

"Only look at Annie! Isn't she lovely?" whispered Dum to me. "She looks like a mermaid or a Rhine maiden."

"Please sing something, Annie!" I called.

"What shall I sing?" laughed Annie, combing her hair with one of her side-combs and peeping at me through its golden glory.

"Anything, so it has water in it!"

Annie's voice had grown in richness and volume since the days at Gresham, although she had had no lessons since that time. She had taken advantage of the teaching she had received from Miss Cox and kept up her practicing by herself as best she could. Of course she should have been under some good master, and all of us felt indignant with Mr. Pore that he did not realize this and make some arrangement for his daughter. The outlay of money necessary for her musical education would have been great, but the returns would surely have been fourfold. Everyone who heard Annie sing could not but admire her voice. Even Jessie Wilcox praised it, although that young lady was not inclined to think anybody but herself worthy of compliments.

The lovely thing about Annie was she was always ready to be obliging, and if her singing gave any pleasure, she was perfectly willing to contribute it to the general welfare. She never said she didn't have her music and could not sing without notes; she never gave the excuse of not being able to sing without accompaniment. When Annie sang, her shyness left her. She seemed to forget herself and lose all self-consciousness. As her clear soprano notes arose on the air, the noisy bathers quieted down and everyone listened.

 
"On the banks of Allan Water
When the sweet spring-time did fall,
Was the miller's lovely daughter,
Fairest of them all.
 
 
For his bride a soldier sought her,
And a winning tongue had he,
On the banks of Allan Water,
None so gay as she.
 
 
On the banks of Allan Water
When brown autumn spreads his store,
There I saw the miller's daughter,
But she smiled no more.
 
 
For the summer grief had brought her,
And the soldier false was he,
On the banks of Allan Water,
None so sad as she.
 
 
On the banks of Allan Water,
When the winter's snow fell fast,
Still was seen the miller's daughter,
Chilling blew the blast.
 
 
But the miller's lovely daughter,
Both from cold and care was free;
On the banks of Allan Water,
There a corse lay she."
 

"Bully!" exclaimed the audience.

"I'd like to meet that soldier," muttered Sleepy.

"Please sing some more," begged Rags.

And so she sang again. Now she stood up, took a few steps, and faced us as we paddled around.

"Look what a big hole Annie made in the sand, almost as big as Aunt Milly's," whispered Dee to me.

"Yes, the sand must be awfully soft. I'm glad it's not quicksand, though. That's so dangerous." But what I knew about the dangers of quicksand I kept to myself, as Annie had begun:

 
"To sea, to sea! The calm is o'er;
The wanton water leaps in sport,
And rattles down the pebbly shore;
The dolphin wheels, the sea-cow's snort,
And unseen mermaids' pearly song
Comes bubbling up the weeds among – "
 

And just then a strange thing happened: Annie began to sink. The little sand island she had chosen as a place of refuge where she might dry her hair was evidently only an island in the making, and the sand had not packed down. It was quicksand, but not so quick as it might have been, as she had been on it some minutes before it began to give way under her weight. She looked frightened and tried to pull her one foot up, but it stuck. The last lines of her song were in a fair way to be enacted before our very eyes if haste was not made.

Annie gave a scream and made desperate struggles to extricate herself. The swimmers all started to her rescue, George Massie leading the way, shooting through the water like a shark.

I clutched Zebedee as he went by me. "Get the little brown boat and I'll help! The sand may be dangerous all around there."

He was a quick thinker and turned without a word, landed on the big island and I followed. We launched the little brown boat that we had shoved up among the weeds and in a very short time were floating out into deep water. With a few strong strokes of the oars we had arrived at the spot where we were in truth much needed.

Sleepy had grasped Annie, who was now engulfed up to her knees. Of course he was about the worst person among us to have got first to her rescue because of his great weight. He gave a tremendous pull, grasping Annie around her waist. She came out of the sand making a noise like a whole drove of cattle lifting their hoofs out of the mud. Annie was perfectly limp with fright. She clung to George Massie like some little panic-stricken child.

The frantic Rags reached the sand bar immediately behind Sleepy, and Harvie swam him a close second. The water was quite deep within a few feet of the fatal spot that the innocent Annie had chosen as the best place to dry her hair. The beach of quicksand shelved suddenly into swimming depth. As Harvie and Rags stepped from this swimming hole into shallow water they realized that they, too, had hurled themselves into danger. They stuck fast.

Annie clung desperately to George. Her eyes were closed and she was so pale I thought she must have fainted. It was a few moments before the rest of the party realized that the three youths were being slowly sucked down. They knew it, however, from the moment they touched the bar.

"Throw Annie out into the water!" said Harvie hoarsely. Annie had not fainted as I had thought, for at these words she clung so desperately to poor Sleepy that he could not loose her hands.

Harvie reached over and unclasped them, holding them tightly until Sleepy could raise her up farther in his arms to throw her.

"Float, Annie! You can float!" shouted Dee. "Do as I tell you!"

Annie, ever inclined to obedience, spread her arms out as she struck the water and floated off as neatly as some well-built yacht launched for the first time. Of course the others grabbed her as soon as she got to them.

By this time Zebedee and I had the little brown boat to the rescue. We came alongside the poor stick-in-the-muds.

"Take Sleepy first!" cried the other two. "He's in worse than we are."

Taking Sleepy first was no joke. He had sunk at least a foot and a half. Zebedee tugged at him and Sleepy tugged at himself. The little boat almost capsized and still the young giant could not pull his feet out of the treacherous mire.

"You are not in far, Rags; come on and help trim the boat," I insisted, paddling the stern around in reach of Rags. He caught hold and with a quick spring was in the boat.

"Now, Harvie!" I commanded. "We can't get Sleepy unless you come help." I knew perfectly well that Harvie had a notion he must not get in the boat until his friend was saved. In the meantime, Zebedee was struggling to raise Sleepy and the boat was in sad need of ballast. Harvie did as I bade him and with a mighty effort extricated himself and landed in the boat. The legs of both the boys were covered with mire up to their knees.

All the time we were doing this, the rest of the party was not idle. Of course some of them had to look after the frightened Annie. Dum and Billy Somers had struck out immediately for the red boat which was beached on the far side of the island, realizing as they soon did that the only way to get the boys out of the quicksand was by boat. Mary and Shorty also made for the canoe, thinking it might be needed, too.

Glad we were when the red boat came alongside of ours and we could lash them together to make more purchase for Sleepy. The little brown boat did not have weight enough to do the job alone. And now with a long pull and a strong pull and a pull all together, we at last got him out.

If when Annie got her feet out of the sand she made a noise like a drove of cattle lifting their hoofs out of the mud, you can fancy what the noise was when Sleepy came out. It was like a great ground swell, and so much water had that young giant displaced, when he removed his bulk I am sure the depth of the creek was perceptibly lowered.

Now it was all over we could giggle, which Dum and I did until Zebedee got really outdone with us and threatened to box us both. It had been a close shave and he felt it was not a time for giggling, but Dum and I were no respecters of time or place. When the giggles struck us, giggle we must.

"If it had not been for your quickness, Page, it might have been a very serious tragedy," he said solemnly. "I never thought of the boats but was going to swim to Annie's assistance."

"I have seen this quicksand before. I almost lost one of my dogs several years ago. He started out in the creek to get a stick I had thrown for him and as soon as he touched the sand he began to sink. I never heard such cries as he gave trying to pull his feet out. I got two fence-rails and crawled out to him and pulled him in. Father nearly had a fit when I told him about it. He sent men down and had the creek dredged."

"I think we should put a sign up here," said Harvie, and a few days later he did paint "Danger" on a sign and came back to Croxton's Ford and planted it at the fatal spot.

It had been a very trying experience, but young people don't brood over things that might have been serious. That is something left to the so-called philosophy of old age. By the time we were in dry clothes and on our way home, the fact that some of our party had been in a fair way to losing their lives seemed something to be joked about.

Of course poor Sleepy came in for his share, but much he cared. He stretched himself at Annie's feet, and possessing himself of a little corner of her sweater, which he clutched tightly in his great hand just as a little baby might cling to its mother's dress, he dropped off into a sleep of exhaustion. He looked very peaceful and happy as he lay there and Annie looked down on his handsome head with affection and admiration in her blue eyes.

"I know one thing," announced Rags; "I'll never see sticky fly-paper again without thinking of this day. I felt exactly like a poor fly stuck fast in tanglefoot. I am sure my legs are a foot longer than they were when I left Maxton this morning." As Ben Raglan's legs were abnormally long, we all devoutly hoped that the stretching was not permanent. Proportioned somewhat like a clothes-pin, he could not stand much lengthening of limb.

"Shorty, it's too bad you weren't first aid man this time," teased Harvie. "It might have made a man of you. All you need is a good stretching."

"Wait until I get you where Aunt Milly can't help you and I'll give you the pounding you need," answered the boy, as he paddled the canoe in the wake of the launch.

Aunt Milly was comfortably ensconced in the seat of honor, sleeping the sleep of the just and generous chaperone.

CHAPTER XIV
A YOUNGER SON

We found Miss Maria much improved but still bed-ridden. She said Wink's medicine was the most efficacious she had ever had, as it had given her a day of rest free from pain. I fancy the quiet had done her as much good as the medicine. She regretted to report that Mr. Pore had telephoned a peremptory message to the effect that Annie should come home the first thing in the morning and bring her clothes.

"Now isn't that the limit?" stormed Dum. "What on earth can he want? We haven't but three more days here and it seems to me he might – " But Annie looked so pained that Dum didn't say what he might do.

"He needs me, I fancy," said Annie sadly.

"So do we need you! And how about Sleepy and Harvie and Rags?" But Annie didn't know how about them, so she only blushed.

"Maybe you can come back," I suggested.

"No, I fancy not, or why should he say I must bring my clothes?"

All of us were at a loss to fathom the behavior of Mr. Pore, but we were too tired to discuss it farther. We were thankful for the time we had been able to wrest Annie from his selfish demands. I was sorry, indeed, that Zebedee had attended to his old freight for him. I heartily agreed with Dum's sentiments which she muttered under her breath:

"Pig!"

"Anyhow, we are going down with you," declared Mary.

"But I must go before breakfast," said Annie.

"Well, we can travel on an empty stomach quite as well as you can and a great deal weller," insisted Dum, and Dee and Mary and I agreed.

"Please don't awaken me," said Jessie as she twisted her hair into the patent curlers that she managed so well nobody but a girl could have told that her curls were not natural. "I certainly want to sleep in the morning. Dr. White begged me to go rowing with him before breakfast, but I can't bear to get up so early in the morning. It seemed to distress him terribly but then he is such a flirt one can never tell." All this with many glances in my direction.

We had gathered in the room occupied by Tweedles and Jessie for a little chat before turning in for the night.

"How cr-u-le!" exclaimed Mary. "What makes you think he is such a flirt?"

"Ah, that would be telling!" and Jessie began dabbing on the cold cream.

It is strange how indifferent some girls are to what other girls think of them. Jessie Wilcox, the most careful person in the world to look well when any males were around, did not mind in the least letting us see her with her hair twisted up in little wads and clasped with innumerable arrangements made of wire covered with leather. The things looked like huge ticks sticking out from her head, not such a shapely head, either, now that one saw it with the hair drawn back so tightly. Cold cream may be a future beautifier but certainly not a present one. She laid it on in generous hunks and then massaged herself, contorting her countenance in a most disconcerting manner.

"I don't think Wink is a flirt at all," said Dee stoutly. "He is a very good friend of mine and I reckon I know him about as well as anybody in the world. Of course he will flirt if it is up to him, but that is not making him a flirt."

"Ah, indeed!" and Jessie began rubbing cocoa butter on her neck. "Perhaps you don't know the flirtatious side of him."

"Thank goodness, I don't. He and I talk sense to each other," and Dee scornfully sniffed the air. She and Dum hated the odor of cocoa butter, declaring it made their room smell like an apothecary's shop.

"Why don't you and Dum come in our room for to-night?" I suggested, scenting mischief as well as cocoa butter in the air, since the usually tactful Dee was on the war-path. "You will be sure to disturb Jessie in the morning if you sleep in here. Come on! I'll sleep three in the bed with you and get in the middle at that," and so they came, expressing themselves privately as glad to get away from their roommate, who did smell so of cocoa butter and also looked so hideous with her hair done up in those tick-like arrangements and her face shiny with grease.

"Cat! What does she mean by calling Wink a flirt?" raged Dee, who was surely a loyal friend.

"Maybe he is one," suggested Dum.

"Virginia Tucker, I am tired unto death but I'll challenge you to a boxing match if you say that again."

"You are no more tired than I am and I'll say it again!" maintained Dum. "All I said was: 'Maybe he is,' and maybe he is!" No one of the name of Tucker ever took a dare, and the twins crawled out of the great bed where I had taken my place in the middle.

"Girls! Girls! You are so silly," I cried wearily. "You haven't your boxing gloves and you know you might beat each other up with your bare fists. This is no fighting matter, Dee, at least nothing to fight Dum about. Go fight Jessie Wilcox! She is the one who has the proof of Wink's ways."

We were relieved that my reasoning powers quelled the disturbance. Tweedles got back into bed. The twins very rarely resorted to trial by combat now. It had been their childish method of settling difficulties, as their father had brought them up like boys whose code of honor is to stop fussing and fight it out.

"I can't see why you think it is such an awful thing to call Wink a flirt," I said, when all danger of a battle had subsided. "You certainly flirt sometimes yourself."

"When?" indignantly.

"When you sell coffins to healthy young farmers," I asserted.

No more from Dee that night.

We were up early the next morning to escort Annie home, so early that no one was stirring, not even the servants. It seemed ridiculous for her to go so early, but the message from her father was one not to be lightly ignored. She had told Miss Maria and the general good-by the night before and Harvie was to drive her home, but when we crept downstairs there was no Harvie to be found; so we made our way out to the stable where Mary and I hitched up. As we drove off, all five of us crowded into a one-seated buggy, we beheld a very sleepy Harvie waving frantically from the boys' wing and vainly entreating us to wait; but we weren't waiting for sleepy-heads that morning, and drove pitilessly away.

There was an air of bustling in the store when we piled out of our small buggy. Mr. Pore was in his shirt sleeves, his glasses set at a rakish angle on his aristocratic nose and an unaccustomed flush on his usually pale countenance. He was busy pulling things off of the shelves and piling them up on the counters. The clerk (he called him a "clark," of course, after the manner of Englishmen), was just as busy.



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