The Carter Girls' Week-End Camp
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The above is a conversation that, with variations, occurred during almost every meal at the camp. Oscar and Susan, the faithful servants the Carters had brought from Richmond, were proving more and more efficient now that the first sting of the country was removed and camp life had become a habit with them. They were creatures of habit and imbued with the notion that what was good enough for white folks was good enough for them. Their young mistresses were contented with the life in the camp, so they were, too. Their young mistresses were not above doing any work that came to hand, so they, too, must be willing to do what fell to their lot. Susan forgot the vows she had so solemnly sworn when she became a member of the housemaids’ league, to do housework and nothing else. She argued that a camp wasn’t a house and she could do what she chose. Oscar had, while in town, held himself above any form of labor not conducive to the dignity of a butler serving for many years in the best families. But if Mr. Lewis Somerville and Mr. Bill Tinsley, both of them belonging to fust famblies, could skin squirrels, why then, he, Oscar, must be a sport and skin them, too.
These week-ends in August were hard work for all concerned and now there was talk of some of the guests staying over for much longer and spending two weeks with them. That meant no cessation of fillin’ ’em up. Previous to this time, Monday had been a blessed day for all the camp, boarders gone and time to take stock and rest, but now there was to be no let up in the filling process.
Susan, for the time completely demoralized by the return of her beloved mistress, had left her work to whomsoever it might concern and had constituted herself lady’s maid for Mrs. Carter. She unpacked boxes and parcels, hovering over the pretty things purchased in New York; she fetched and carried for that dainty lady, ignoring completely the steady stream of week-enders climbing up the mountain or being carried up by the faithful and sturdy mountain goat, with the silent Bill as chauffeur.
Helen had reluctantly torn herself from the delectable boxes and parcels and was busily engaged in concocting a wonderful potato salad, something she always attended to herself. Gwen was making batter bread after having put to rise pan after pan of rolls. Oscar had begun to fry the apples, a dish ever in demand at camp. The Brunswick stew had been safely deposited in the fireless cooker early in the day and all was going well.
“There!” exclaimed Helen, putting the finishing touch to the last huge bowl of salad and stepping back to admire her handiwork. “That substantial salad unites beauty and utility.”
“It sho’ do, Miss Helen, it sho’ do!” declared Oscar, adroitly turning his apples just as they reached the proper stage of almost and not quite being candied. “They’s nothin’ like tater salid fer contitutioning a foumdation stone on which to build fillin’ victuals. It’s mo’ satisfying to my min’ than the staft of life itself.All I is a-hopin’ is that they won’t lick the platter befo’ I gits to it.”
“You are safe there, Oscar, as I made this extra dishful to be kept back so you and Susan will be sure to get some.”
“Susan, indeed!” sniffed her fellow-servant. “She ain’t called on to expect no favors at yo’ han’. To be foun’ by the wayside, a fallin’ down wantin’ jes’ at this crucible moment!”
“I think she is helping mother.”
“Then I’s got nothin’ to say – but I ’low she helpin’ yo’ maw with one han’ an’ Susan Jourdan with yudder.”
Mr. Carter and Dr. Wright looked into the kitchen a moment. Dr. Wright had been showing his patient over the camp, as all of the daughters were occupied. Mr. Carter was delighted with the arrangements and amazed at the scope of the undertaking. Could this be his Helen, the queen of the kitchen, attending to the preparation of this great quantity of food? He never remembered before seeing Helen do any more strenuous work than play a corking good game of tennis, and here she was handling a frying pan with the same skill with which she had formerly handled a racquet, looking after the apples while Oscar cracked ice and carried up into the pavilion the great pitchers of cold tea destined to quench the thirst of the week-enders.
Helen was looking wholly lovely in her becoming bungalow apron, with her flushed cheeks and hair a bit dishevelled from the hurry of getting things done without the assistance of the capable Susan. Robert Carter looked in amazement at the great bowls of potato salad and the pans of rolls, being taken from the oven to make room for other pans.
“In heaven’s name, what is all this food for?” he asked, laughing.
“Have you seen the week-enders swarming up the mountain?”
“Why yes, but they couldn’t eat all this.”
“Don’t you fool yourself!” and Helen gave her dear father a fried apple hug. She was very happy. The beloved parents were back with them. Dr. Wright assured her that her father was improving. The camp had been her very own idea and it was successful. They were making money and she was going to take her share of the profits and give her mother a trip. She, Helen Carter, only eighteen, could do all of this! She had no idea what the profits amounted to, but Nan and Douglas had only the week before congratulated themselves that they were putting more money in the bank than they were drawing out. She cared nothing for money in the bank except as a means of gratifying the ones she loved. The poor little mumsy had been shut up on shipboard for months and surely she deserved some recreation. She was astonished at Douglas for being so stingy. It was plain stinginess that would make her think more of having some paltry savings than of wanting to give to their charming, beautiful little mother her heart’s desire, so Helen thought.
Dr. Wright was smiling on her, too. He seemed to think she was a very remarkable girl, at least that was what one might gather from his expression as he stood by the kitchen and gazed in through the screening at the bright-eyed, eager young cook.
“Where are the other girls?” asked Mr. Carter.
“Oh, they have a million things to do! We always divide up and spread ourselves over the whole camp when the train gets in. Lucy has just finished setting the tables, and that is some job, I can tell you, but Lil Tate and Frank Skeeter always help. Nan has been making mayonnaise enough to run us over Sunday, and now she has gone with Douglas to receive the week-enders and show them their tents and cots. Douglas is the great chief – she does all the buying and supervising, looks after the comfort of the week-enders and sees that everything is kept clean and sanitary. Nan writes all the letters, and believe me, that is no little task. She also makes the mayonnaise and helps me here in the kitchen when I need her, but Gwen is my right hand man. But what am I thinking of? You haven’t even met Gwen!”
The young English girl was looking shyly at the big man and thinking what she would give to have her own father back again. Dr. Wright had told Mr. Carter of Gwen and her romantic history, how Helen had found the wallet in the scrub oak tree containing all of the dead Englishman’s papers, of old Abner Dean’s perfidy in taking the land from Gwen when the receipt had not been found, although the child was sure her father had paid for the side of the mountain before he had built his cabin there. Mr. Carter had been greatly interested in the recital and now his kind friendliness brought a mist to the eyes of the girl.
“I am very glad to know you, my dear. Dr. Wright has told me of you and now I hope to be numbered among your friends.”
Gwen looked so happy and grateful that Helen had to give her father one more fried apple hug before she pushed him out of the kitchen to make room for the important ceremony of dishing up supper.
“Where did I ever get them, Doctor, these girls? Why, they are perfect bricks! To think of my little Helen forgetting the polish on her fingernails and actually cooking! I don’t see where they came from.”
It was rather wonderful and George Wright was somewhat at a loss himself to account for them as he watched the dainty mother of the flock trip lightly across the rough mountain path connecting the cabin with the pavilion. Robert Carter himself had character enough to go around, but when one considered that his character had been alloyed with hers to make this family it was a wonder that they had that within them that could throw off tradition and environment as they had done and undertake this camp that was proving quite a stupendous thing for mere girls.
“Well, Dr. Wright,” trilled Mrs. Carter, “isn’t this a delightful adventure for my girls to have amused themselves with? The girl of the day is certainly an enterprising person. Of course a thing like this must not be carried too far, as there is danger of their forgetting their mission in life.”
“And that mission is – ?”
“Being ornaments of society, of course,” laughed the little lady.
Mrs. Carter had long ago overcome the fear she had entertained for the young physician. He had been so unfailingly kind to her and his diagnosis of her husband’s case had been so sure and his treatment so exactly right that she could have nothing but liking and respect for him. She even forgave him the long exile he had subjected her to on that stupid ship. It had cured her Robert and she was willing to have cut herself off from society for those months if by doing so she had contributed to the well-being of her husband. She had been all devotion and unselfishness in the first agony of his illness. The habits of her lifetime had been seemingly torn up by the roots and from being the spoiled and petted darling she had turned into the efficient nurse. As his health returned, however, it had been quite easy to slip back into her former place of being served instead of serving. It was as much Robert Carter’s nature to serve as it was hers to be served. The habits had not been torn up by the roots, after all, but only been trimmed back, and now they were sprouting out with added vigor from their pruning.
Very lovely the little lady looked in her filmy lace dress. Her charming face, framed by its cloud of blue-black hair, showed no trace of having gone through the anxiety of a severe illness of one whom she loved devotedly. Nothing worried her very long and she had the philosophy of a young child, taking no thought of the yesterdays or of the morrows. Dr. Wright looked on her in amazement. Her speaking of the camp as an adventure chosen by the girls as something with which to amuse themselves would have been laughable had it not been irritating to the young man. And now, forsooth, their business in life was to become ornaments of society!
“Humph!” was all he said, although he had to turn on his heel and walk off to keep from asserting that their mission in life should be to become useful members of society. He had a dread of appearing priggish, however, and then this was Helen’s mother and he wanted to do nothing to mar in any way the friendship that had sprung up between that elusive young person and himself.
“Where are all the children, Robert?” asked Mrs. Carter, wondering in her well-bred mind why Dr. Wright should be so brusque.
“There aren’t any children, Annette,” sighed Mr. Carter, “but I shouldn’t sigh but be glad and happy. Why, they are perfect wonders! Helen is in the kitchen, not eating bread and honey, but cooking and bossing, and all the other girls are flying around taking care of the boarders.”
“Boarders! Oh, Robert, what a name to call them! I can’t contemplate it. Who are all those people I saw coming up the road?”
“They are the boarders.”
“Not all that crowd! I thought they had only a select few.”
“No, indeed, they take all that come and I can tell you they have made the place very popular. I did not know they had it in them. I believe it was a good thing I went off my hooks for a while, as it has brought out character in my girls that I did not dream they had.”
“It seems hardly ladylike for them to be so – so – successful at running a boarding place. I wonder what people will say.”
“Why they will say: ‘Hurrah for the Carter Girls!’ At least, that is what the worth-while people will say.”
“Well, if you think it all right, I know it must be,” sighed the poor little lady, “but somehow I think it would be much better for them to have visited Cousin Elizabeth Somerville until we got back or had her visit them in Richmond. I don’t at all approve of their renting my house. Douglas is so coarsened by this living out-of-doors. She has the complexion that must be guarded very carefully or she will lose her beauty very early. I think the summer before a girl makes her debut should be spent taking care of her complexion.”
Robert Carter laughed. He was always intensely amused by his wife’s outlook on life and society and looked upon it as one of her girlish charms. Common sense had not been what made him fall in love with her twenty years before, so the lack of it did not detract in any way from his admiration of her in these latter years. She was what she had always been: beautiful, graceful, sweet, charming; made to be loved, served and spoiled.
“Where is Bobby? He, at least, cannot be busy with these awful boarders.”
“Bobby? Why, he is now engaged in helping Josh, the little mountain boy who is serving as expressman for the girls, to curry Josephus, the mule. These boarders are not awful, my dear. You will find many acquaintances among them. Jeffry Tucker came with his two girls, the twins, and a friend of theirs from Milton, Page Allison is her name. There are several others whom you will be glad to see, I know. I think it would be well for us to go up in the pavilion where they dine and then dance, and you can receive them there as they arrive.”
Mrs. Carter patted her creamy lace dress with a satisfied feeling that she was looking her best. It was a new creation from a most exclusive shop in New York – quite expensive, but then she had had absolutely no new clothes for perfect ages and since the proprietor of the shop had been most pleased to have her open an account with him, the price of the gown was no concern of hers. It set off her pearly skin and dusky hair to perfection. She was glad Jeffry Tucker was at the camp. He was a general favorite in Richmond society and his being there meant at least that her girls had not lessened themselves in the eyes of the elite. Surely he would not bring his daughters to this ridiculous camp unless he felt that it would do nothing toward lowering their position.
The pretty, puzzled lady took her place at one end of the great long dining pavilion as the week-enders swarmed up the steps, attracted hither by the odor of fried apples and hot rolls that was wafted o’er the mountainside.