Nell Speed.

The Carter Girls' Week-End Camp





Tom Tit does, but I have to go away for a time every fall and winter and Tom Tit keeps house for me while I am gone. He is a famous housekeeper.

Do you get lonesome all by yourself? asked Lucy.

We uns aint never alone. Theres the baby fox and the cow and the chickens, and every day we uns tries to find something and then we uns has to write it down for the spring-keeper ginst he comes home. Every day we uns has to go to the post office for the letter, too, and that takes time. The days in winter are so short.

Oh, do you get a letter every day? How jolly! My mother doesnt write to me but once a week, said Lil, although of course she phones me in the meantime and sends me candy and things.

We uns never does git letters from maw, and poor Tom Tits eyes clouded sadly. Ever since the men came and found her and hid her in that hole she aint writ a line to poor Tom Tit.

But you write to her every time you write to me, dont you, Tom Tit? and the old gentleman put a calming and kindly hand on the shoulder of the trembling youth. It seemed that at every mention of mothers the thought of his own mother came back to him and the agony he went through with at the time of her death seized hold of him. The young people learned later from their host, while Tom Tit was washing the supper dishes, all about the poor boys history.

Tom Tits mother was a very fine woman of an intelligence and character that was remarkable even in these mountains where intelligence and character are the rule rather than the exception. She had no education, but the things she could accomplish without education were enough to make the ones who have been educated blush to think how little they do with it. She had evolved a philosophy of her own of such goodness and serenity that to know her and talk with her was a privilege. She seemed to me to be like these mountains, where she was born and where she died. She had had trouble enough to break the spirit of any ordinary mortal, but she said her spirit was eternal and could not be broken.

Her husband was a very desperate character. Convicted of illicit distilling, he was sentenced to serve a term in the penitentiary, but he managed to escape and for one whole year he evaded the sheriff, hiding in the mountains. Of course his wife had to go through the agony of this long search. She told me she had never slept more than an hour at a time while her husband was in hiding. That was the one thing she was bitter over that long hounding of her husband. She used to say if the government had spent the money and energy in educating the mountaineers that they had in hunting for them, there would have been no cause for hunting for them. Moonshining is to them a perfectly reasonable and lawful industry, and nothing but education can make them see it differently. His hiding place was finally ferreted out and he was surrounded and captured, but not before he had managed to shoot five men, killing two of them and being fatally wounded himself.

That was many years ago when Tom Tit was a little chap of three.

Melissa, the mother, was wrapped up in the child. His intelligence then was keen and his love of Nature and beautiful things was so pronounced from the beginning that if this cloud had not come over his intellect he would surely have been a great artist of some kind, whether poet, painter or musician, I cant say.

Perhaps all of them, like Leonardo da Vinci! exclaimed Lil, who always did know things.

The old gentleman smiled at her appreciatively.

What is an artist but a person who finds things, just like my poor Tom Tit, and then is able to tell to the world what he has found?

When he writes to you, does he tell you things in poetical language? asked Lucy, her gray eyes very teary as she listened to the story of the mountain youth.

My dear, his writing is not ordinary writing. He can neither read nor write as you think of it. His letters to me are written in another way. He tells me what he has found each day with some kind of rude drawing or with some device of his own.

Please show us some of them! begged all four of the guests.

I am going to let you guess what he meant. He took from his desk in the corner a packet of large envelopes. I leave with my friend enough addressed and stamped envelopes to run him until I return, and all he has to do is put in his letter and seal it and drop it in the box at Bear Hollow, our post office. Sometimes he draws me a picture and sometimes he just sends me something he has found. What do you think he intended to convey by this?

On a sheet of paper were drawn many stars of various kinds and sizes, and down in the corner was what was certainly meant for an axe.

Clear night and going coon hunting, I think, said Skeeter solemnly.

No! cried Lucy and Lil in a breath. Those are meant for snow flakes! It has begun to snow!

Right you are! Good girls, go up head! And how about the axe, since it is not meant to signify coon hunting?

It is going to be cold, suggested the practical Frank, and he must go to work and lay in wood before the snow gets deep.

Fine! I am glad to see there are others who can interpret my poor Tom Tits letters. Now this is the one I received the next day.

It was evidently meant for a deep snow. The roof of a house and a few bare branches were shown but from the chimney a column of smoke ascended and in that smoke was plainly drawn a grin: a mouth with teeth.

Snowed under! cried Skeeter.

But he got his wood cut and is now sitting by the fire quite happy, even grinning, declared Lucy.

Right again! Now comes a piece of holly and a pressed violet. That means that he finds a little belated violet in our flower beds in spite of the fact that the holly is king at this season. Sometimes he has so much to tell me that he must make many pictures. Here he found a sunset and it was so beautiful that he had to paint it with his colored crayons. This is where he fed the birds during the deep snow. He has a trough where he puts grain and seeds and crumbs for his winged friends. This is a picture of the trough and see the flocks of birds he has tried to draw to show how many are fed in his trough. This means a stranger has come in on him! It was a picture of a hat and staff and down one side of the page were many drops of water, at least that was what the interested audience thought they were. At the top was an eye.

Oh, I know! exclaimed Lil. If a hat and staff mean a stranger, those drops of water must mean rain.

The eye looks like a Mormon sign, suggested Skeeter.

I bet it means this, said Lil, studying the page intently. It means the stranger is old, or he would not have a staff, and it means he is unhappy. Those drops are tear drops. See how sad the eye looks!

Oh, a Daniel come to judgment! Young lady, you are right. That was a tired, sick traveler that our Tom Tit found and brought in and looked after for two weeks last winter. He was trying to cross the mountains and got lost and Tom Tit picked him up, almost starved and frozen. In this one, he shows the sick guest is still with him and in bed. He cannot draw faces well and hates to make anything too grotesque, so he usually has a sign or symbol for persons. The staff and hat in bed mean the guest is there. These little saddle-bags and hat mean he had to send for the doctor. Look at the medicine the poor staff and hat must take from the cruel saddle-bags! His own symbol is usually a jews-harp, although sometimes he makes himself a kind of butterfly

Just like Whistler! cried Lil.

Yes, and in his way he is as great an artist as Whistler, said the old man sadly. If he had only had his chance! Well, well! Maybe he is happier as he is. I never saw a happier person, as a rule, than my poor boy. Tom Tit could never have written letters that would have been put in a book and called The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, as that other great artist did. He makes friends with every living thing, and inanimate objects are friendly to him, too, I sometimes think. If his wits had been spared him, the world would have called him and the peace of the mountains would no longer have been his.

The old man fingered the packet of letters tenderly while the young guests sat thoughtfully by. They could hear the cheerful Tom Tit in the kitchen washing dishes and whistling a strange crooning melody.

Here it is spring and he has found the first hepatica. See, he sends me a pressed one! And this is my love letter. What do you make of it?

It was six little stamped envelopes, all with wings, and in the corner was a jews-harp unmistakably dancing a jig.

I know! I know! cried Lucy.

So do I! from Lil.

I cant see any kind of sense in it! pondered Frank.

Nor I, grumbled Skeeter. You girls just make up answers.

Im going to whisper my answer to Mr. Spring-keeper, suggested Lil.

The old man smiled as Lil whispered her answer.

Good! Splendid! And now what do you think? turning to Lucy.

I think that he has only six envelopes left, and that means you will be back in six days. He is so happy he is dancing and he is so busy the days are just flying away.

Well, if you girls arent clever! No wonder they say women are the most appreciative sex although men are the creative. A few men create while all women appreciate. And now, my dear young people, this is so pleasant for me that I am afraid of being selfish, so I am going to insist on your going to bed. You have had a hard day and must be tired.

We have had a wonderful day with a wonderful en said Lil, a yawn hitting her midway so she could not get out the ding.

But I hate to go to bed until you tell us something about yourself, blurted out Skeeter.

The story of the half-witted young mountaineer was very interesting, no doubt, but Skeeter wanted to know why this highly educated gentleman was spending so much time in the mountains, cooking for himself and taking care of lost sheep.

Oh, my story is such an ordinary one I can tell it while I light a candle for these young ladies, laughed their host, not at all angry at Skeeters curiosity, although Lil and Lucy were half dead of embarrassment when Skeeter came out so flat-footed with the question which was almost bubbling over on their lips, but which they felt they must not put.

I am a successful manufacturer I have made enough money selling clothes pins and ironing boards and butter tubs to stop. In fact, I stopped many years ago and now I do nothing but enjoy myself in my own way.

And that way is ?

Trying to help a little. In the winter I live in New York and teach the boys clubs on the East Side, and in the summer I am spring-keeper in the mountains.

But isnt your name Mr. Spring-keeper? asked Lil.

No, my dear, spring-keeping is my occupation. My name is Walter McRae. Here is your candle, and pleasant dreams.

Wont you tell us some more about yourself? asked Lucy as she took the candle from him.

Another time! Anything so dry as my story will keep.

CHAPTER XVII
THE SPRING-KEEPER

Isnt this grand? were the last words both of our girls uttered as they rolled into the bunks that had been made up with fresh, lavender-scented linen. The brigands had captured them certainly and their adventure was complete. The boys were sleeping on the porch in hammocks. Mr. McRae always slept on the porch unless weather drove him in, and Tom Tit had a little room that he loved, where he kept his treasures, all those he did not put in the hole in the mountain.

Dawn found the babes in the wood much refreshed. The boys were up and out early, helping Tom Tit milk the cow and chop wood. Mr. McRae had started the cooking of breakfast when Lucy and Lil appeared.

We are so ashamed to be late but we almost slept our heads off, they apologized. Now let us help!

All right, set the table and skim the milk and get the butter out of the dairy. The dairy was a cave dug in the side of the mountain where all their food was kept cool in summer and warm in winter. We shall breakfast on the porch.

The girls made all haste and set the table with great care.

Lets get him to tell us all about himself this morning, whispered Lucy. Im dying to hear about him. Isnt he romantic?

Im crazy about him. Dont you reckon hell go to the camp with us? Nan would be wild over him.

Yes, but hes ours. We certainly found him.

You sound like Tom Tit, laughed Lil.

I hope the people at the camp wont laugh at poor Tom Tit, said Lucy. If we could only get there a little ahead and prepare them for his pink pants.

She need not have worried, as the wise Mr. McRae knew how to manage Tom Tit so that he discarded his pink pants when he was to go among strangers.

Now, Tom Tit, we must hurry with all of our duties so we can make an early start to walk home with our guests; and we must put on our corduroys for such a long tramp, as the brambles might tear your lovely new trousers.

So poor Tom Tit did the outside chores with the help of the boys, while the girls assisted Mr. McRae in the house.

Having breakfasted a little after dawn, by seven oclock they were ready for their ten mile tramp back to the camp. The boys shouldered their guns and the sacks of fox grapes and squirrels. Mr. McRae took with him a small spade while Tom Tit carried a hoe.

I cant help thinking both of them are a bit loony, Skeeter whispered to Lucy. Why on earth do they want to carry garden tools on a ten mile tramp?

Loony yourself! I reckon they want to dig something.

The old gentleman, as though divining Skeeters thoughts, remarked:

Tom Tit and I have a little duty to attend to today, so we are taking our implements. There are several springs I have not been able to visit this summer and I am going to combine duty with pleasure and look after them today.

Look after springs! What for? from Skeeter.

I thought I told you that I am a spring-keeper. Perhaps you dont know what a spring-keeper is.

N o! Not exactly! said Skeeter.

Well, every country child knows that in every spring there is or should be a spring-keeper to keep the water clear. It is a kind of crawfish. It may be a superstition that he really does purify water. At any rate, it is a pleasing idea that he can. Whether he can or not, I know I can help a great deal by digging out of the springs the old dead roots and vegetable matter that decays there, so my self-appointed job is to keep the springs of Albemarle county in condition. I am sure I have saved many families from typhoid in the last years. That is something.

I was born in the mountains, born in a cabin that stands just where the one I live in now stands, in fact the chimney is the same one that has always been there, but the house is new. When I was a mere lad, about twelve years old, there was a terrible epidemic of typhoid fever in the mountains. My whole family was wiped out by it, my father, mother and two sisters dying of it. I just did escape with my life and was nursed back to health by Tom Tits granny, as good a woman as ever lived. Afterwards, having no home ties, I drifted to the city where I was successful financially. We of the mountains had not known in the old days what caused typhoid, but afterwards, when I learned it was the water we drank, I determined to come back to my county whenever I could and make some endeavor to better the conditions. Would God that I might have been sooner! My poor boy had an attack of the dread disease just the year before I got my affairs in condition to leave New York, and that is what caused his brain trouble.

Tom Tit was ahead of the party, gazing up into the air as his old friend spoke. He had a rapt expression on his face that made him for the moment look like Guido Renis Christ.

Sometimes, continued the old man, in typhoid, the temperature is so high that certain brain tissue seems to be burned out. I am afraid that is what has happened to my boy.

All of us have been inoculated against typhoid, said Lucy. Dr. Wright insisted on it every member of the family. Helen kicked like a steer but she had to do it, too.

Well named, well named, that young doctor! I try to get the friends in the mountains to submit to it, too, but it is a difficult matter. I keep the virus on hand all the time, a fresh supply. If I cant persuade them to let me give them the treatment, I can at least keep their springs clean for them. Sometimes they even object to that, he laughed, but they cant help it, as I do it without their leave. They say I take all the taste out of the water.

Their way lay around the mountain instead of over it, the course they had taken the day before, and much to the amazement of the young people, they went to the left instead of to the right.

But Greendale is that way! declared Frank, pointing to the east.

Greendale is really due north of us, but I thought you wanted to go by Jude Hanfords cabin to do your errand. We could go either way to the camp from here, but if we go east, we will miss Jude.

Well, if that doesnt beat all! exclaimed Frank.

Mr. McRae laughed. What would you have done last night if Tom Tit had not found you and brought you home?

I was going to lie right down and let the robins cover me up, said Lil.

I was going to climb the highest tree and look out and see if I could spy a light, like the cock in the Musicians of Bremen, said Lucy.

I was going to follow the path from the spring, said Frank. I felt sure from the cleanliness of the spring that we were near some house.

And I was going to build a fire and skin the squirrels and have supper, declared Skeeter. I was just about famished and I knew that food was what Lil and Lucy needed to put heart in them.

Yes, it wouldnt! laughed Lil. Much good burnt squirrel without any salt would do a bruised heel. That was all that was the matter with me.

That ten miles back to the camp seemed much shorter than it had the day before, and in fact it was, as they made no digressions on the homeward trip.

We must really have walked twenty miles yesterday. Just think how many times we doubled on our tracks, said Frank when they finally came to a familiar spot.

They found Jude Hanfords yard running over with frying-sized chickens and on his door step a water bucket full of eggs all ready to take to the store. Of course he was pleased to sell them without having to take off the commission for the middleman. He joined their procession, with his eggs and three dozen chickens distributed among the bearers.

CHAPTER XVIII
MORE FINDS

Look! exclaimed Lucy as they neared the camp. Mr. Smith is flying this morning. I wonder who is with him. He hasnt taken me yet but he promised to today. Please dont tell mother. She would be terribly alarmed at the prospect.

Oh, theres my bird! and Tom Tit dropped his hoe and the basket of chickens he was carrying and clasped his hands in an ecstasy of delight. See, see, how it floats! I have found it again! I have found it again!

Tom Tit, would you like to fly with that great bird? asked Lucy gently.

Fly? Oh, I always dream I can fly! Can I really fly?

Yes, Tom Tit, if you want to I will give you my place. The birdman promised to take me today and I will get him to take you instead.

Tom Tit looked wonderingly and trustingly at Lucy. Mr. McRae smiled his approval.

It will be an experience my boy will remember all his life.

Spending the night at your home will be one we will remember always, too. It beat flying, and all of the wanderers agreed with her.

Mr. Tom Smith was perfectly willing to take Tom Tit on a flight if he promised to sit still, which of course he did. The aeroplane was a great astonishment to him and the fact that the birdman could leave the bird and talk and walk filled him with awe.

We uns aint never seen buzzards and eagles git outn their wings, but then we uns aint never been so clost to the big ones, the ones that sails way up in the clouds.

When they landed after a rather longer flight than Tom Smith usually took the would-be flyers, Tom Tits expression was that of one who has glimpsed the infinite. He said not a word for a moment after he found himself once more on terra firma, and then he turned to his old friend and whispered:

Oh, Spring-keeper, I have found so many things that Ill never be sad again.

The Carters, of course, gave Mr. McRae a warm welcome. They could not do enough to express their gratitude for his kindness and hospitality to their young people. Mrs. Carter was graciousness itself to the old man, but looked rather askance at the queer figure of his companion. I wonder what she would have thought had she seen his pink calico trousers and his patched shirt that he considered so beautiful. Bobby, however, was drawn to him immediately and treated him just as though he had been another little boy who had come to see him. He took his new friend to see all of his bird houses and water wheels, and Tom Tit followed him about with adoration in his eyes.





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