Nell Speed.

The Carter Girls





CHAPTER VIII
GWEN

Bill Tinsley was as keen on the camp building plan as Lewis Somerville had said he would be.

Sleeping on my arms, was his telegram in answer to the letter he got from Lewis, a letter with R. S. V. P. P. D. Q. plainly marked on the envelope.

Good old Bill! I almost knew he would tumble at the chance. All of you will like Bill, I know.

What does he mean by sleeping on his arms? asked Lucy. I should think it would make him awfully stiff.

Oh, that means ready to go at a moments notice. I bet his kit is packed now.

Mr. Lane and Dick had worked hard on the plans for the camp and had them ready when the would-be builder called for them. Then Mr. Lane and Lewis made a flying trip to Greendale to look into the lay of the land and to decide on a site for the dining pavilion. It was a spot about one hundred yards from the log cabin, built by the aforesaid sick Englishman, that seemed to them to be intended for just their purpose. It was a hollowed out place in the mountain side, not far from the summit, and four great pine trees formed an almost perfect rectangle of forty by twenty-five feet. In the centre stood a noble tulip poplar.

Pity to sacrifice him, said Bill Tinsley, whom they had picked up at Charlottesville on their way to Greendale. Bill was a youth of few words but of frequent mirth expressed in uncontrollable fits of laughter that nothing could stop, not even being shipped from West Point. It was this very laugh that had betrayed the hazers. If Bill had only been able to hold in that guffaw of his they would never have been caught. His laugh was unmistakable and through it the whole crowd of wrongdoers was nabbed, poor Lewis along with them although he was innocent.

No more to blame for laughing than a lightning bug for shining, he had declared to Lewis; but I wish I had died before I got you into this, old fellow.

Well, it cant be helped, but I bet you will be laughing on the other side of your face before you know it.

The youths had remained fast friends and now that this chance had come for them to be of service and to use the surplus energy that was stored up in their splendidly developed muscles, they were happy at the prospect of being together again.

Mr. Lane took careful measurements and adapted his plans so as to utilize the four trees as natural posts and the great tulip poplar as a support for the roof. Under the pavilion the space was to be made into kitchen and store room. Some little excavating would be necessary for this as measurements showed that one edge of the pavilion would rest almost on the mountain side while the other stood ten feet from the ground.

I am trying to spare you fellows all the excavating possible, as that is the tedious and uninteresting part of building, explained Mr. Lane.

Oh, we can shovel that little pile of dirt away in no time, declared Lewis, feeling his muscles twitch with joy at the prospect of removing mountains.

Mr. Lane smiled, knowing full well that it was at least no mole hill they were to tackle.

Within a week after Mr. and Mrs. Carter had sailed on their health-seeking voyage, Lewis and his chum were en route for Greendale, all of the lumber for their undertaking ordered and their tools sent on ahead by freight. Bill had gone to Richmond, ostensibly to consult a dentist, but in reality to see the Carter girls, who had aroused in him a great curiosity.

They must be some girls, had been his laconic remark.

So they are, the very best fun you ever saw, Lewis had assured him. They took this thing of waking up and finding themselves poor a great deal better than you and I did waking up and finding ourselves nothing but civilians when we had expected to be major generals, at least.

The Carter girls had one and all liked Bill, when Lewis took him to call on them the evening of his arrival in Richmond.

There is something so frank and open in his countenance, said Helen.

His mouth! drawled Nan. Did you ever see or hear such a laugh?

He is a great deal nicer than your old Dr. Wright, who looks as though it would take an operation on his risibles to get a laugh out of him.

Bill had offered the services of a battered Ford car he had in Charlottesville as pack mule for the camp and it was joyfully accepted. He and Lewis stopped in Charlottesville on their way to Greendale and got the tried old car, making the last leg of their trip in it.

They had decided to sleep in the Englishmans cabin, as the little log house that went with the property was always called, but Miss Somerville had made them promise to burn sulphur candles before they went in and was deeply grieved because her beloved nephew refused to carry with him a quart bottle of crude carbolic acid that she felt was necessary to ward off germs.

It was late in the afternoon as the faithful Ford chugged its way up the mountain road to the site of the proposed camp. The boys had stopped at the station at Greendale and taken in all the tools they could stow away, determined to begin work at excavating the first thing in the morning.

Lets lay out the ground this afternoon, proposed Lewis.

Theres nothing to lay out since the four pine trees mark the corners. I, for one, am going to lay out myself and rest and try to decide which one of your cousins is the most beautiful.

Douglas, of course! The others cant hold a candle to her, although Helen is some looker and Nan has certainly got something about her that makes a fellow kind of blink. And that Lucy is going to grow up to her long legs some day and maybe step ahead of all of them.

Well, Im mighty glad you thought about giving me this job of working for such nice gals. These young men always spoke of themselves as being in the employ of the Carter girls, and all the time they were building the camp they religiously kept themselves to certain hours as though any laxity would be cheating their bosses. Besides, the regular habits that two years at West Point had drilled into them would have been difficult to break.

I dont know how to loaf, complained Lewis. Thats the dickens of it.

Me, neither!

They say the Government makes machines of its men.

True! I am a perpetual motion machine.

They were busily engaged on their first morning in the mountains, plying pick and shovel. They bent their brave young shoulders to the task with evident enjoyment in the work. When they did straighten up to get the kinks out of their backs, they looked out across a wonderful country which they fully appreciated as being wonderful, but raving about landscapes and Nature was not in their line and they would quickly bend again to the task in a somewhat shamefaced way.

The orchards of Albemarle County in Virginia are noted and the green of an apple tree in May is something no one need be ashamed to admire openly, but all these boys would say on the subject was:

Good apple year, I hope.

Yep! Albemarle pippins are sho good eats.

Moving mountains was not quite so easy as they had expected it to be. They remembered what Mr. Lane had said about excavating when the sun showed it to be high noon and after five hours steady work they had made but little impression on the pile they were to dig away.

Gee, we make no impression at all! said Lewis. I verily believe little Bobby Carter could have done as much as we have if he had been turned loose to play mud pies here.

Well, lets stop and eat. I havent laughed for an hour, and Bill gave out one of his guffaws that echoed from peak to peak and started two rabbits out of the bushes and actually dislodged a great stone that went rolling down the side of the mountain into an abyss below. At least, his laugh seemed to be the cause but Bill declared it was somebody or something, and to be sure a little mountain boy came from behind a boulder, grinning from ear to ear.

What be you uns a-doin?

Crocheting a shawl for Aunty, said Lewis solemnly.

Well, we uns is got a mule an a scoop that could make a shawl fer Aunty quickern you uns. This brought forth another mighty peal from Bill and another stone rolled down the mountain side.

Good for you, son! exclaimed Lewis. Suppose you fetch the mule here this afternoon and well have a sewing bee. What do you say, Bill? Do you believe we would ever in the world get this dirt moved?

Doubt it.

Do you uns want we uns to drive the critter? We uns mostly goes along thout no axtra chawge.

Sure we want you. What do you charge for the mule and driver?

Wal, time was when Josephus brought as much as fifty cents a day, but he aint to say so spry as onct, an now we uns will be satisfied to git thirty cents, with a feedin of oats.

Oats! Who has oats? Not I. The only critter we have eats gasoline. I tell you, son, you feed Josephus yourself and we will feed you and pay you fifty cents a day for your animal. I dont believe a mule could work for thirty cents and keep his self-respect.

Wal, Josephus an we uns dont want no money what we uns don arn, and the little mountain boy flushed a dark red under his sunburned, freckled face.

He was a very ragged youngster of about twelve. His clothes smacked of the soil to such an extent that you could never have told what was their original color. What sleeves there were left in his shirt certainly must once have been blue, but the body of that garment showed spots of candy pink calico, the kind you are sure to find on the shelves of any country store. His trousers, held up by twine, crossed over his wiry shoulders, were corduroy. They had originally been the color of the earth and time and weather had but deepened their tone. His eyes shone out very clear and blue in contrast to the general dinginess of his attire. His was certainly a very likable face and the young men were very much attracted to the boy, first because of his ready wit, shown from his first words, and then because of his quick resentment at the possibility of any ones giving him or his mule money they had not earned.

Of course, you are going to earn it, reassured Lewis. Now you go home and get your mule and as soon as we can cook some dinner for ourselves and satisfy our inner cravings, we will all get to work. You and Josephus can dig and Bill and I will begin to build.

Please, sir, wouldnt you uns like Gwen to cook for you uns and wash the platters an sich? She is a great han at fixins.

Gwen! Who is Gwen?

Another stone slipped from behind the boulder from which the boy had emerged and then a young girl came timidly forth.

I am Gwen, she said simply.

She was a girl of about fourteen, very slim and straight, with wide grey eyes that looked very frankly into those of the young men, although you felt a timidity in spite of her directness. Her scant blue dress was clean and whole and her brown hair was parted and braided in two long plaits, showing much care and brushing.

Oh, how do you do, Miss Gwen? I am Lewis Somerville and this is my friend and fellow laborer, Mr. William Tinsley.

The girl made a little old-fashioned courtesy with a quaint grace that charmed the laborers.

Do you want me to cook and clean for you?

Of course we do! What can you cook?

I have learned to cook some very good dishes at the Mountain Mission School. Maybe you would not like them, though.

Of course we would like them! When can you start?

When you wish!

Well, I wish now, put in Bill. I never tasted meaner coffee than you made last night except what I made myself this morning, and as for your method of broiling bacon rotten rotten!

The girl followed Lewis to the Englishmans cabin and after being shown the provisions, she said she thought she could manage to get dinner without his assistance. He showed her how to light the hard alcohol stove which was part of their outfit and then gave her carte blanche with the canned goods and groceries.

Gwen shook her head in disapproval at sight of the pile of dirty dishes left from breakfast. It would take more than West Point training to make men wash dishes as soon as a meal is over. Lewis and Bill had a method of their own and never washed a plate until both sides had been eaten from, and not then until they were needed immediately. Supper had been eaten from the top side; breakfast, from the bottom. There were still some clean plates in the hamper, so why wash those yet?

In an incredibly short time Gwen called the young men to dinner. They lay stretched at their ease on a grassy slope near the cabin, quite pleased with themselves and their luck in having found a mule to move the dirt and a girl to cook their food all in one morning.

What do you make of her? asked Lewis. She doesnt talk or walk like a mountain girl.

Mission School! commented Bill, looking at the slim, erect back of the girl as she went up the hill to the spring. She had refused their offer of help and said she wanted to get the water herself.

I dont believe Mission School would have her walking that way. Dont you fancy the boy goes to school, too? Look how he slouches.

Just then the boy, whose name was Josh, appeared, leading Josephus. Surely there never was such a specimen of horse flesh as that mule. Maud in the comic supplement was beautiful compared to him. His legs had great lumps on them and he was forced to walk with his feet quite far apart to keep from interfering. He was sway backed and spavined and blind in one eye, but there was a kindly expression in his remaining eye that reassured one. One fore leg was shorter than the other, which gave him a leaning, tumbling look that seemed to threaten to upset his equilibrium at every step.

Well, God bless my soul! exclaimed Lewis. Is that Josephus?

Yes, sir! He aint so measly as he looks. He kin do a sight of scrapin an dumpin, and the boy reached an affectionate arm up around the old animals neck. Josephus responded by snorting in his masters ear. We uns done brought the implee-ment to make Auntys shawl, pointing to a rusty old road shovel that Josephus had hitched to him.

Good! as soon as Miss Gwen feeds us, we will see what he can do in the way of fancy work.

Gwen was a born cook and the domestic science that had been so ably taught in the Mission School had developed her talent wonderfully. She had turned up two empty boxes and smoothed some wrapping paper over them. A bunch of mountain laurel glorified an old soup can and made a beautiful centre piece. The coffee was hot and clear and strong; the hoecake brown and crisp on the outside and soft and creamy within, just as a hoecake should be; the bacon vied with the hoecake in crispness, with no pieces limp and none burned. She had opened a can of baked beans and another of spaghetti, carefully following the directions on the cans as how to serve the contents.

Well, dont this beat all? said Bill as he sank down by the improvised table.

But you must come and eat with us, you and Josh, insisted Lewis.

Oh, no, the table isnt big enough, and, besides, I must go on baking hoecakes.

Well, Josh, you come, anyhow.

No, sir, thanky! We uns will wait for Gwen. We uns aint fitten to sit down with the likes of you uns, all dirty with we uns meat a-stickin through the rags.

Nonsense! exclaimed Lewis, if you are fit to sit with Miss Gwen, you are fit to sit with us. We dont mind your meat sticking through, and as for being dirty why dont you wash?

Gwen gave a laugh of delight. There now, Josh, what do I tell you all the time? Rags dont make a bit of difference if you are just clean.

Wal, we unsll eat with Josephus if we uns has to wash. This aint no time of the week for washin. But while the young men were enjoying the very appetizing food, Josh did sneak off to the stream and came back with his face and hands several shades fairer.

That afternoon was a busy one for all on that mountain side. Gwen gave the cabin a thorough cleaning, washed all the dishes and put papers on the shelves that were already in the cabin, unpacked the provisions and placed them with the dishes neatly on the shelves and in the old cupboard that still stood in the corner, left there by the Englishman. She went back to her home for yeast and made up a sponge, planning to have hot rolls for breakfast.

Josephus showed the mettle of his pasture by scraping and dumping about three times as much dirt in an hour as the two West Pointers had been able to move in a whole mornings work. Josh did very spirited driving, pretending all the time that his steed had to be handled very carefully or he would run away, road-shovel and all.

How did your mule happen to have one leg shorter than the other? teased Lewis.

Wal, thats a mounting leg. He got that walkin round the mounting. All critters in the mountings is built that a way. Aint you an Mr. Bill there a-planning that there buildin after we unses mule, with short legs up the hill an long legs down?

Bill almost fell out of the poplar tree where he had climbed to saw off limbs for twenty feet or more. He laughed so loud and long at the way Josh had gotten ahead of his friend in repartee that Gwen came out of the cabin to see what was the matter. Bills laugh was a very disconcerting thing until you got used to him.

That first day showed much accomplished. The excavating was half done; the post holes were dug and logs cut and trimmed and planted ready for the beams. A load of lumber arrived before sundown and that meant no delay in the to-morrows work.

Six oclock found them very tired and hungry but Gwen had supper all ready for them, a great dish of scrambled eggs and flannel cakes. She had brought from home a pitcher of milk that stayed delightfully cool in the mountain spring.

Therell be buttermilk to-morrow, she said, blushing with pleasure at the praise the young men bestowed on her culinary efforts.

Splendid and more splendid! exclaimed Lewis. And will you and your brother just come every day and take care of us?

You mean Josh? He is not my brother.

Oh, cousin, then?

No, he is no relation to me. I live with his mother, though, Aunt Mandy. I have lived with her for five years. I am very fond of Josh, but if he were my brother, Id simply make him take baths.

Cant you anyhow as it is?

No, sadly. He thinks it is foolishness. Teacher has told him time and time again and even sent him home, five miles across the mountains, but he wont wash for her or for me. Aunt Mandy thinks it is foolishness, too, but she makes him bathe oftener than he used to in summer.

Boys will be boys and it is hard to make them anything else. I remember the time well when bathing was something that I thought grown-ups wished on me just for spite, and now a cold shower every morning is as necessary to my happiness as dirt used to be when I was a kid. Bill and I are going to pipe from the spring up there and concoct a shower somehow under the pavilion.

That will be glorious. Father always meant to use that spring and get a shower at the cabin.

Your father!

Yes, my father was the man who built the Englishmans cabin. He died five years ago.

Gee whilikins! Now I understand!

CHAPTER IX
SOME LETTERS

From Lewis Somerville to Douglas Carter
Greendale, Va., May , 19 .

Dear Douglas:

Bill and I are coming on finely. Already the noble palace is rearing its head. Weve got the posts planted and the uprights and rafters in place and will begin on the roof to-morrow. Bill is a perfect glutton for work. Speaking of gluttons weve got a cook. A perfect gem of a cook who has been born and bred at Lonesomehurst and doesnt mind the country. We are going to hang on to her like grim Death to a dead nigger.

The funny thing about her is she is a real lady. I spotted it from the beginning from a certain way she had with her. She is only fourteen and her father, who, by the way, was the Englishman who built this cabin and used to own the side of the mountain, has been dead five years; but before he died this child evidently learned to eat with a fork and to take a daily bath and to keep her hair smooth. She handles the Kings English with the same respect and grace she does a fork, and her speech is very marked because of the contrast between it and the we uns and you uns and you allses of the ordinary mountaineer. She has lived ever since her fathers death with Aunt Mandy, a regular old mountain character who looks as though she might have stepped out of one of John Foxs books. She is the same back and front, concave both ways slightly more convex in the back than the front. She stands a good six feet in her stocking feet (although I doubt her ever having on a pair). I have never seen her without a snuff stick in her mouth except once and then she had a corn-cob pipe. She is as sharp as a tack and woe be to the one who engages her in a contest of wit.

Josh is her son and Josephus her mule. Mr. Mandy is dead, and Aunt Mandy and Josh, who is twelve, I think, have scratched a living out of their clarin with the help of Josephus, who is as much of a character as Aunt Mandy and Josh.





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