HotFreeBooks.com
A Little Florida Lady
by Dorothy C. Paine
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"I'd rather be the man, because he's the head of the family and he doesn't work so hard. Besides, I don't want a little bit of a man like you. I'm the taller."

"Well, but I'm the elder, and the elder is always the man."

"All right, but you have to help about the house. You can't go away to business."

"Let's stay here all night, to-night."

Away they ran to beg permission.

The two mothers, however, seriously objected. Finally the young couple were pacified by Mrs. Newbeginner being allowed to spend the night with her spouse at the Gordon homestead which adjoined the Newbeginner mansion.

The next morning, Mrs. Newbeginner awakened at peep of day. She gave Mr. Newbeginner a poke and then jumped out of bed.

"Jul—John, I mean, it's time to get up and build the fire."

"Leave me alone," snapped Mr. Newbeginner in a truly masculine style.

"But Jul—John, you know we are going to get our own breakfast, and I can't build the fire all by myself. Please get up."

Thus entreated, Mr. Newbeginner condescended to arise. His wife was already dressing.

Together they descended to the kitchen, and Jemima, the cook, furnished them with some uncooked steak, some potatoes, butter, material to make cakes, and other necessaries.

The fire was soon built. Then such a hustling as ensued. Mr. and Mrs. Newbeginner had many a dispute before breakfast was ready. Mrs. Newbeginner might have foreseen the result of allowing a man in her kitchen.

Such a running back and forth as there was between their house and the Gordons'; for the Newbeginners began housekeeping by borrowing almost everything.

Mr. Newbeginner insisted that he knew how to make pancakes better than his wife. She therefore allowed him to try his hand at them while she cooked the meat and potatoes. Her part of the breakfast was ready before his. Thereupon, she set the pans containing the viands on a ledge of the oven above the live coals to keep them warm.

Mr. Newbeginner, as soon as he had cooked one batch of cakes, placed them beside the meat and potatoes. Then he baked another and another.

Alas, just as the last cake was baked, Mrs. Newbeginner bustled in from the bedroom where they had set the table. Now there was a long pole that ran out from the oven as its main support. Poor Mrs. Newbeginner in her excitement over their first breakfast somehow stumbled over the pole. Down she fell. But worse, down fell the stove also, and the breakfast which had caused them so much trouble tumbled into the red hot coals.

Up jumped Mrs. Newbeginner, and threw some water that happened to be handy on the fire. Her quickness saved their home from being burned, but not their breakfast. Tears rose and welled over the face of Mr. Newbeginner in a very unmanly fashion as he gave vent to his anger.

"Well, I declare, you are the clumsiest person I ever saw. I am sorry I ever invited you to this house."

Mrs. Newbeginner looked grieved and angry. "It's as much mine as yours."

"No, it isn't. The wood belongs to me, and it is built on my place. My beautiful pancakes are gone." He did not seem to mind so much about the food that Mrs. Newbeginner had cooked, and on which she had prided herself. "You are the most careless girl I ever saw."

"I couldn't help it. It hurt my legs awfully. See how they are skinned, but I didn't cry, did I?"

Even the sight of a pair of poor, bruised shins did not soften Mr. Newbeginner.

"I suppose we'll have to go into the house, after all, for our breakfast. It'll be dreadfully hu-mil-ia-ting."

"Can't we go to work and cook another?" proposed tired, redfaced little Mrs. Newbeginner.

"No, we can't. The stove would have to be fixed, and we haven't time. Even if we had, though, I wouldn't trust you to help with another meal."

Now this was too much for Mrs. Newbeginner's overtaxed nerves. "You're just horrid to say that and I'll never play with you again as long as I live. I'm going home to my mamma."

Whereupon she stalked out through the door. The sight of her retreating figure brought Mr. Newbeginner to his senses. He ran to the door after her.

"Please come back. I'm sorry."

His repentance came too late, however. His wife pretended not to hear. He grew desperate.

"If you don't come back, I'll never make up with you, either. Please, please, come back."

Either she did not hear, or else she was too grieved to be moved by his entreaties. She did not return, but wended her way back to her mother's home.

Now this unfortunate matrimonial experience made Beth reckless. Unluckily, upon reaching home, she discovered that both her mother and Marian had gone into town to spend the day with the Corners. Still worse, temptation assailed her in the form of an invitation from Harvey Baker.

Beth had not seen him for several days. She had been so absorbed in her new love that she had scarcely even thought of him. Harvey, on his part, had thought of her very often. He had haunted the Davenport wharf, but no Beth appeared. At first, pride had held him back from seeking her out, but her very indifference finally proved an irresistible attraction. Such is the masculine nature.

He came on this morning of all others to invite her out for a row. She, at first, resisted the temptation.

"Oh, Harvey, what a shame. Mamma is not here, so I cannot go."

"Do you think she would let you go if she were here?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Then what harm would there be in your going? We would be back before she returned."

Now, as stated before, Beth was reckless. She Just felt like doing something a little wrong.

"I believe I'll go, Harvey."

"Bully for you, Beth. What time did you say your mother would return?"

"Not before five or six this afternoon."

"What do you say then to taking our lunch with us, and having a picnic?"

"I'll ask Maggie."

Beth knew by this time that there was little danger of Maggie refusing her anything. If the child had asked her for the moon she would probably have said, "Shure, honey, I'll try to git it for yo'."

So now Beth hunted up Maggie, who hustled around and soon had a tempting feast ready for them.

"Does yo' maw know yo's gwine?" asked Maggie, as she handed the lunch to Beth.

"No, but she would not mind, I know."

Away ran Harvey and Beth to the boat. The river was as smooth as glass. Beth, at first, sat in the back seat, and Harvey rowed.

"I guess we'll go directly across the river. I wish it wasn't so far to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's," said Harvey.

"Who is she?"

"Don't you know? I thought everybody knew about her. She wrote 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"

"Oh, I saw that acted at the theatre once. Does she live here?"

"She has a place up the river aways, but it is deserted now. She used to come down here quite often. We'll row straight across the river. Did you ever row, Beth?"

"No, but you can teach me, can't you?"

"All right. Now move very carefully. I wouldn't have you fall overboard for the world."

Harvey suspended the oars in the air while Beth took the seat beside him. Then he showed her how to hold the oar.

"Now begin so—carefully and with me."

"That's easy. Is that all there is to rowing?"

"It won't be so easy presently."

Beth pulled away with ail her might, and in silence. Suddenly, there was a splash of water on her side, and she almost tumbled into the bottom of the boat. Harvey laughed.

"I thought you'd be catching a crab before long."

Beth's eyes opened wide. "I didn't see any crab, Harvey. My oar just balked."

"That's what is called catching a crab, you know, when your oar doesn't go far enough into the water. Say, Beth, you had better not try to row any more. It'll tire you. Don't you want to stop?"

"No indeed. I like to row."

Again Beth pulled away with all her might. Very soon, she began to feel uncomfortably warm. Her hands burned terribly, and presently she rested a moment on her oar and pointed to the land, now within easy rowing distance.

"Wouldn't that be a good spot for our picnic?"

Harvey saw how tired she was and answered:

"It's just the place, and say, Beth, we'll catch some fish, first. Here are lines and bait."

They thereupon went to fishing, and both caught a number of fish.

"Now," said Harvey, "it's time to go ashore and cook them."

"Oh, I'm so terribly hungry I can't wait. I didn't have any breakfast."

"Why, you poor child. Why didn't you say so before?"

"I didn't think of it. I was having such a good time."

"I couldn't forget that I hadn't had breakfast. How did it happen?"

Beth hung her head. She was thinking of her choleric spouse, and she had hard work forcing the tears back.

"How did it happen, Beth?"

"Why—it just happened. That's all. I'm dreadfully hungry, Harvey."

"Suppose then, you eat a sandwich or so, now, and then we'll cook the fish and have lunch later."

Harvey thought he could also eat a sandwich. It ended by their eating three apiece. Then he assisted her out of the boat, which he moored fast on shore.

"Now for the fish, Beth."

"How are we going to cook them? Have you any matches?"

"Yes, and there's a frying-pan in my boat. I always carry one, as I cook fish quite often. Didn't I see some butter and salt in the lunch basket?"

"Yes, and, Harvey, here's just the spot to build our fire. This straight bank back of the beach will make a good chimney for the smoke to go up."

Harvey looked at the spot a little critically. Scrub palmettoes and grass overhung the bank above, which made him wonder if there was any danger of their catching fire. A little breeze was springing up, but he decided that it was not strong enough to carry the sparks to the undergrowth above.

So Beth gathered dry leaves and sticks of wood while Harvey cleaned the fish. Then he applied a match to the bonfire, and it blazed up and crackled noisily. He next placed the butter and fish in the frying-pan and set it on the fire.

At that moment, a little rabbit darted past the children, running up the bank towards the woods.

Harvey started after it calling:

"Come on, Beth. Maybe it will lead us to some young rabbits."

"But the fish."

"They don't need watching for awhile. Hurry on."

It was quite a climb up the bank for Beth, but she succeeded in following close after Harvey.

The rabbit, however, had quite a start of the children, and soon they acknowledged the uselessness of pursuit, and sat down on a log under a tree to rest.

Harvey started to tell Beth of his experience in trying to tame rabbits.

"Yes," he said, "I've had all kinds, from young ones that had to be fed milk out of a spoon to old ones that were so wild that they never could be tamed. I never could raise the young ones. If they didn't die a natural death, a cat or a dog or something would eat them up. For a long time, I never wakened up mornings without finding a dead rabbit. I have rows and rows of rabbit graves over on our place. You must come over and see——"

He was interrupted by a bird that flew screeching from the tree under which they sat. At the same instant a crackling sound caused them to spring to their feet in terror. The woods around them were on fire. The breeze had grown stronger, and had carried the sparks upward to the palmettoes and pines, so full of oil. Then it was but a question of seconds before the awful fire sped with lightning speed over the dry undergrowth. Again, it swelled upwards on the scrub palmettoes, and with a flash leaped skywards to the taller trees as if demons were lifting the flames to the very heavens. It was at this point that the children discovered their danger.

Only a person who has seen a fire in the open among shrubs and trees already parched for lack of water, and fanned by a wind each moment growing stronger, can realize with what rapidity the fire spread. To Harvey and Beth, it seemed as if from the moment of discovery, the fire hemmed them in.

The air was sultry, notwithstanding the wind, and with the spread of the fire it grew more so. The sky was marked with fantastic clouds which turned from gray to flaming red.

Beth gazed around her helplessly. She felt as if there was no escape for them from a fiery death, which made her heartily repentant that she had come. She silently prayed to God to deliver them, and vowed if she lived, never, never to do anything again without her mother's knowledge.

The awfulness of their surroundings and the enormity of his responsibility, came upon Harvey with overwhelming force. He was too horrified for speech, and, for a few seconds, too stunned for action.

On rushed the triumphant flames, blasting everything within range. The hot breath from the fire recalled Harvey to the need of action.

"Oh, Beth, how can I get you out of this horrible place? We are surrounded by fire." Then, in a moment, he added, "I see a way out, if we run."

He caught her hand and half-dragged her through scorching shrubs, circling to the left. Fortunately, they managed to reach a road skirting the woods without serious injury.

Here they saw excited men running towards the woods. "It will burn our homes, our all," they heard one cry. "Our one hope is to start counter fires," another cried.

At the word, to the horror of Beth who did not understand, the men set fire to the low palmettoes a short distance away where there was an open space.

It seemed wicked to her to set more trees on fire, especially when the men seemed so anxious about their homes burning.

"Let's go," she sobbed.

Harvey held his head high. "No, indeed, I won't go. If their houses burn, it's my fault. I have some money in the bank and I'll give them every cent of it. They look like poor fishermen. Oh, Beth, it's too terrible. See how high the flames go."

Up, up, they leaped, growing higher and more fierce every moment. The sparks flew inland. If some change did not occur, no power under the sun could save the poor fishermen's homes.

The two poor, forlorn little culprits waited in the roadway and watched the progress of the awful flames.

The two fires looked like immense dragons that were rushing at each other in uncontrolled fury. The sparks flew right and left, but the counter fire served its purpose somewhat in that part of the flames' force was spent upon the other.

The fires crackled and hissed, and to Harvey these were the voices of the dragons defying and mocking him. To him they said:

"What can you do to stop us? Nothing. Yes, you may well tremble. It was you, you alone, that set us monsters free and we will not be chained now that we are loose." Upward the fire dragons flew, and even as they sank down somewhat, their mocking did not cease.

"Counter fires may check us momentarily, but presently we will sweep upwards and devour the fishermen's huts in our fiery grasp. It is awful to you, but to us it is fun, fun, fun, and we will not be stopped. Look at us. Look at us."

Again the flames leaped higher and higher. Harvey covered his face with his hands. He could not bear the sight another instant.

Beth would have comforted him if she had known how, but what could she say? She, too, felt that nothing could stop the onward rush of the dragons.

But the one opponent that had power over them suddenly descended to take part in the fray.

Beth clapped her hands in glee. "It's raining, Harvey; it's raining."

The sun was still shining brightly, but, sure enough, one of those showers peculiar to tropical lands was descending, and the wind, too, abated somewhat.

"Thank God," murmured Harvey. "Beth, I'm going to speak to the men."

She grasped him by the arm. "Oh, Harvey, they might arrest you."

"Nonsense, Beth; they don't know how the fire started, and if their houses don't burn, there's no use in telling. You wait here for me."

He was gone only a few minutes, and, when Beth caught sight of his radiant face, she knew the good news before he said a word.

"Beth, they say the houses won't burn. We can go now."

They circled around the woods by the road, and, when they came to the river, walked down the beach to their boat which they found unharmed.

The fish were burned to cinders.

"We don't care, do we, Beth? I couldn't eat them, anyway, after all the trouble they have caused us. It was all their fault. If they hadn't been so foolish as to be caught, there wouldn't have been any fire. But I've built fires a hundred times before and never had anything like this to happen."

Trouble, it is said, never comes singly. When they were once more back in the boat, Harvey found that he had both tide and wind against him, and the river had become very squally. The St. Johns is one of the most treacherous rivers in the world. It takes only a very short time for her waters to become white-capped.

Harvey pulled manfully on the oars, but it was very hard for him to make any headway. Beth finally asked if she could not help to row.

"No, keep perfectly still where you are," he answered in such a short manner that his little companion felt grieved. She tried to let him know that she was hurt, by not saying another word, but he was too busy to mind. By this time, he was worried.

"Supposing anything happened to us," he thought to himself, "Beth's mother would never forgive me. It was my fault that Beth came."

He never knew exactly how it happened. Either the oar was defective, or else he pulled too hard on it as it struck a large wave; whichever it was, one of the oars snapped suddenly. For a moment or so the boat rocked helplessly on the waves, and it was driven backwards towards the shore from which they had just come.

"Harvey," asked Beth almost in a whisper, "are we going to be drowned? Can't I ever tell mamma how sorry, how very sorry, I am?"

"I won't let you drown, Beth."

He spoke with more assurance than he really felt, but his manner comforted her. He also proved that he was a born sailor. First, he skilfully steered the boat with the remaining oar. Next, he picked up from under one of the seats an old umbrella which chanced to be in the boat, and used it for a sail. Thus they were quickly carried back to shore not far from the scene of the fire.

Harvey once more helped Beth out, and made the boat fast. His plans were already made.

"Beth, wait here for me. I'm going to hire one of the men to take us back."

Beth had time, while he was gone, to consider all that had happened. More than ever, she felt that it had been very wrong for her to come without permission.

Harvey presently returned with a man who carried a pair of oars.

"He's going to row us across, Beth."

"Is it safe?"

The man smiled. "You needn't fear. I'm strong, and the squall has about blown over."

He helped the children in, and jumped into the boat himself as he pushed it from shore.

"How are you ever going to get back yourself?" asked Beth, as the man took his place at the oars. She was fearful that Harvey would have to row him back. Otherwise, his return trip appeared to her as intricate as some of the puzzles she had heard about crossing streams.

"I'm going to walk into town from your place. I have some errands there, and will take the ferry back."

Beth quieted down and watched the man. His rowing aroused her admiration. She wished that some time she could prove as great an expert as he, and resolved to do her very best to imitate him. She noted especially, the long swinging strokes that he took. Crossing the river was little work for him, and the other side was reached in safety. They drew up alongside the Davenport wharf.

Harvey offered to go up to the house with Beth, and take the blame upon himself, but she thought that her mother would rather hear of the adventure from her. So the three occupants of the boat parted company.

Mrs. Davenport had not yet returned when Beth reached the house, but came soon afterwards. Beth immediately confessed to her every incident of the day.

"This has taught you a lesson, Beth, without mamma's saying anything," Mrs. Davenport said, when the little penitent had finished. "You know yourself it was very wrong to go without permission, and I do not think you will ever do such a thing again, will you?"

"Never," answered Beth so earnestly that Mrs. Davenport had full faith in her promise.



CHAPTER VII

Beth's New Playfellow

Beth could not find Fritz high or low and she was worried about him.

She ran out to the barn to ask January if he had seen anything of her pet. She found the former inside the barn leaning up against a partition wall with his eyes shut and his mouth wide open. He was fast asleep and looked very droll.

Beth could hardly keep from laughing, but she managed to say sternly:

"January, you ought to be working instead of sleeping."

He wakened with a start. A look of conscious guilt overspread his face.

"My eyes were closed, Missy Beth; dat wuz all. I jes' came in and sot down to comb my hair."

Beth shook her finger at him. "You were snoring."

"Wuz I? Well, I'm powe'ful warm, Missy Beth. Don't yo' tole on me, an' I'll swah nevah to do so agin."

Beth felt it her duty to lecture him a bit.

"You ought to tell things when you do wrong. I do. January, have you seen Fritz?"

"Not since dis mornin', Missy Beth. He wuz down by the river watchin' a great big 'gator."

She looked apprehensive. "January, do 'gators ever eat dogs?"

"I've heard tell dey do sometimes."

"What would I do if that 'gator has eaten my Fritz!"

Whereupon away she ran, as fast as her little legs could carry her, to the river, calling her beloved dog. But no Fritz came bounding at her call. In fact, he did not return even to supper, nor for breakfast the next morning.

The conviction grew with Beth that Harvey Baker's 'gator had eaten Fritz. Her resentment rose against the boy and his pet, she even shedding some tears of anger and of grief.

Soon after breakfast, a red-eyed little girl started out to give Harvey Baker a piece of her mind. She found him, as usual, on the wharf. He was perfectly unconscious of the storm that was in store for him. In fact, he was in the very act of feeding the 'gator.

"Hello, Beth, don't make a noise. I've just whistled for it."

Her eyes snapped. "I just guess I'll make all the noise I want to, so there; and I hope I'll scare the horrid old 'gator away," she concluded, bursting into tears.

Harvey, in his surprise, dropped the meat which he held, and walked over to comfort her. She, however, turned on him like a veritable little shrew.

"Go away, Harvey Baker. I hate both you and your 'gator. That's what makes me cry."

He could not fathom her meaning. He thought, perhaps, she was cross because of the affair of yesterday.

"Was your mamma very angry? Stop crying and I'll go with you and tell her it's——"

"It's not that. Your 'gator——" She could not finish because of sobs. Harvey waited for her tears to subside, but at last grew desperate.

"Can't you tell me what's the matter, Beth?"

"Your horrid old 'gator—it—has eaten—my Fritz."

"I don't believe it."

"My dog's gone and——"

"I'm very sorry, Beth, that Fritz is gone; but I don't believe the 'gator ate him."

"No, you're not sorry. You were just going to feed that horrid beast, and after it had eaten my Fritz, too."

"I didn't know about Fritz; but please don't blame me, Beth, even if the 'gator did eat him." He tried to take her hand, but she pulled it away.

"I want my dog," she said angrily.

"O Beth, only like me again, and I'll promise never to feed the 'gator as long as I live."

She was too grieved over the loss of Fritz to accept any such promise. Harvey would have searched with her for Fritz, but she was so hurt that she wished to be alone. In fact, she was very cool towards him for many a day thereafter.

A week passed; then two, and nothing was heard of Fritz. The feeling grew with Beth that the 'gator really had made way with her pet. She grieved more and more as time passed and nothing was heard of her dog. At first, she was inclined to be very bitter towards Harvey, but she could not hold a grudge long against any one. Then, as she acknowledged, she was not sure the 'gator had eaten Fritz.

One day, about three weeks after the loss of Fritz, Harvey walked into the Davenports' house, leading a handsome, big black dog. The minute that the dog saw Beth, he bounded away from Harvey, and up to her. He licked her hand, and was altogether so affectionate that he won her heart immediately.

"Oh, what a beautiful fellow. Where did you get him? Is he yours, Harvey?"

The boy's eyes were very bright as he answered:

"Well, I guess so. I'll tell you how I happened to get him, and then you can judge for yourself. I was in town day before yesterday, and, while walking along Bay Street, I felt something licking my hand. I looked around, and saw this dog. I had several errands that morning and the dog followed me every place. I simply couldn't get rid of him. Then I made inquiries to find out who owned him. For a long time nobody seemed to know anything about him. Finally I met a man down by the market who said he had seen him come off a Spanish vessel that was in port that morning. I asked the man where the vessel was, and he said it had sailed. Then I asked him what I ought to do about the dog, and he replied that he supposed I might as well keep him. After that, I went to father and told him about the dog and asked what I should do. He said he would advertise it, and then if nobody answered, I might do what I liked with him. We have heard nothing so far of an owner, so it begins to look as if the dog was mine."

"Why haven't you told me before? You have had it two whole days."

"Well, Beth, I didn't want you to know about it until I was sure he was mine. Besides, I'm going to give him away."

Beth's eyes opened wide with astonishment.

"Going to give this lovely dog away! Don't you like him?"

"Yes, but I like the person I'm going to give him to better."

"You must be awfully fond of that person, then." Beth was ashamed to think that she was a little jealous and tried not to show it by her manner.

"I am. Guess to whom I am going to give him."

"I can't."

"To the only nice girl I know, and her name is Beth Davenport."

"Not me?" Her eyes had grown very big.

"Yes, you—really."

Beth could not believe it for a while. When she did realize that Harvey was truly in earnest, she gave one long gasp of delight. Then she surprised both herself and Harvey by throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him.

Harvey, boylike, was a little embarrassed, but he did not object, however.

"Harvey, you're the nicest boy living. I don't know how to thank you."

He looked very much pleased. "Do you really like him, Beth?"

"Like him!——" She could not think of words strong enough to tell how much she liked him.

"Is he as nice as Fritz? Do you forgive me now?"

She immediately felt guilty, for it was a fact that she had not been friendly towards Harvey since the disappearance of Fritz.

"He's a thousand times nicer, but perhaps you're just giving him to me because you think you ought to. Maybe the 'gator didn't eat Fritz after all."

"I'm not giving him to you because of Fritz. You may keep Don even if Fritz comes back."

"Is Don his name?"

"I call him Don because he came off a Spanish vessel, and he seems to like the name, but you can call him anything you wish."

"It's a pretty name, and I shall call him Don. Shan't I, Don?"

The dog looked up at her with his intelligent eyes to see what his new mistress wished. She threw her arms about his neck and kissed him.

"Don, I love you, I love you. You're my dog now. Harvey has given you to me."

Harvey felt a little jealous to see lavished on a dog caresses, such as had been given to him only once. He tried to distract Beth's attention.

"Say, Beth, you just ought to see him in the water. He loves the water."

"Does he? Let's go down to the river."

This was just what Harvey wished, and therefore he readily consented.

The two started ahead. Don followed majestically.

Mrs. Davenport saw them from the window, and stopped them.

"Where are you going, Beth?"

"Down to the river with Harvey, mamma. Just see what he gave me."

Beth led Don up to the window where her mother was.

"Why, you nice dog, you. He is a beauty. Where did you get him, Harvey? He must be a very valuable dog."

Thereupon the history of Don's discovery was repeated to Mrs. Davenport.

"Harvey ought to keep him himself," she declared.

"But I wish Beth to have him, Mrs. Davenport. Father said I might do what I wished with Don, and when I told mother I was going to give him to Beth, she thought it a very nice idea."

"You are very generous, Harvey, and both Beth and I appreciate your present. I love dogs almost as much as Beth does, but I don't know how we can repay you."

"Mother says that you more than repay me by letting Beth play with me. You know I haven't any sisters."

"Well, you and Beth must be careful not to get into mischief. She may play by the water this morning, but I don't care to have her go rowing. The river is too rough to-day."

"We won't go rowing, mamma."

Thereupon they hurried with Don down to the river.

The wind was quite high, which made the water choppy. The waves were white-capped in many places.

"Now, Beth, you just watch and see Don perform."

Harvey held in his hand a good-sized stick, which he threw as far as possible out into the water.



Away bounded Don after it. He easily breasted the waves, and returned in triumph with the stick.

He did this time and again, much to Beth's delight.

"Say, Beth, let's try him from the end of the wharf. I wonder if he would dare jump in from there."

"I don't like to try. He might drown."

Harvey laughed the idea to scorn, and took a stick out to the end of the wharf. Beth and Don accompanied him. Don seemed anxious to have the stick thrown, for he watched it with glistening eyes. Harvey threw it. Don immediately jumped after it, and succeeded in swimming to shore with it. By this time, he was probably tired, for he did not return to the children, but lay down on the bank for a rest.

The boat had been left outside the boat house, tied to a stake of the wharf. Harvey eyed it longingly.

"I wish we could go rowing, Beth."

"So do I, but mamma said I couldn't. You wouldn't have me disobey her, would you?"

"Nobody has asked you to, has there? Say, Beth, she never said for you not to sit in the boat, did she?"

"No, but——"

"She said you couldn't row. Now, sitting in a boat that's tied isn't rowing, is it?"

"No, but——"

"Oh, come on, Beth. It's perfectly safe when it's tied."

She hesitated. Harvey was too much of a diplomat not to press his advantage.

"Now, Beth, I think you might. I wouldn't ask you to do anything your mamma didn't like. She won't mind, I know."

Still Beth was undecided.

"And, Beth, you ought to want to please me after I gave you Don."

This argument appealed to her. She wished to show her appreciation.

"All right, if you really think mamma wouldn't mind."

Harvey did not answer. He jumped down into the boat, and then helped Beth.

"Say, Beth, we'll play we're pirates. We're out in a storm, but we are pursuing that boat there."

"What boat?"

"Why, that one there. Don't you see that stick of wood? It carries chests of gold which we are after. Now sit down and we'll start the chase."

The younger pirate thereupon seated herself in the stern of the craft while its gallant commander took charge on the middle deck. He swayed from side to side. The boat rocked in a perilous manner. Sometimes the water even dashed over the pirates.

"Isn't it kind of dangerous, Harvey?" suggested the younger pirate.

"My name isn't Harvey. I'm Captain Kidd, and you must never speak to me without saluting,—so."

His self-importance caused him to move around more lively than ever, while the boat shipped water afresh.

"But isn't it dangerous, Har—, Captain Kidd?"

The captain again looked very self-important. "Pirates never think of danger. See how near we are to the English brig. Ha, ha, mate, the gold is ours. Steady now, mate, she's coming your way. When we are once alongside of her, you make a dive for her, and pinion her until I can rush to your assistance. Steady now."

Nearer and nearer floated the English boat, unconscious of danger. Perhaps the nature of the pirate craft was unsuspected. It floated no black flag.

The younger pirate grew excited over the nearness of the prize. She arose to her feet. Surely, it was within grasp now. Just as she was about to reach out for it, however, a wave took the English boat and started to carry it out of reach.

This made the younger pirate desperate. She leaned far out over the water. Suddenly, the commander cried out in fear:

"Beth, don't try. It's too far away."

His warning came too late. The younger pirate had already reached out for the English boat. A wave at that moment struck the pirate craft, and swayed it to one side. Over went the younger pirate into the water.

Fortunately, Beth got only a wetting. Before she was really in the water, Harvey had her by the dress. For a second or two, it seemed as if the boat would upset. But presently a wet, unhappy little girl stood shivering beside Harvey. Her teeth chattered from fright more than from cold.

"What'll mamma say?"

"I'll tell her it was all my fault."

"How good you are," and Beth edged up nearer to him.

"Stop dripping water all over me and come on."

They hurried towards the house, and circled around to the back entrance to escape Beth's mother.

The washerwoman, at the tubs on the kitchen porch, and Maggie were the only ones to see poor Beth. Maggie raised her arms skyward. "Laws a massa"—then she broke into hearty laughter. "I 'lows, Penny,"—the name of the washerwoman,—"hyere's moh washin' fur yo'. How yo' 'specs it'd be if we'd jes' run chile an' all frugh de wringer?"

Beth was too humiliated to say a word, and rushed up-stairs the back way.

When the affair was reported to Mrs. Davenport, she considered the situation well before seeing her little daughter.

Beth was getting to be a terrible tomboy, she thought, but she was growing strong physically with the outdoor life. And even while she did sometimes fall into danger, the same thing often occurred when mothers watched a child's every breath. Mrs. Davenport decided that the wiser way was to educate a child to be self-reliant and fearless, trusting to God's guardianship and protection.

She knew that in the years to come, Beth would learn the gentler graces, for she had a kindly heart; so, instead of punishing Beth, Mrs. Davenport had a long talk with her that did Beth a world of good. In fact, her mother's gentleness was an inspiration to right living all through her life.



CHAPTER VIII

Learning to Swim

Marian, Julia, Beth, Harvey, and Don were in bathing. The deep water enclosed by the walk and piling surrounding the boat house made a safe bathing place for them,—safe at least from the alligators, though the water was deep. Harvey and Don were the only ones in the party who knew how to swim.

The other children struggled hard to learn. Harvey was a very willing teacher, but did not know exactly how to impart his knowledge. He said:

"Why, it's very easy. See, you just have to start out like this, and there you are."

Thereupon, they started out as directed, but, alas, they were not there as he said. Their feet grew unaccountably light so that their heads disappeared under the water. However, they enjoyed even the ducking.

Don reveled in the water frolic as much, if not more, than any of them. He was ever ready to do the children's bidding, and ever kept a watchful eye on his charges. Beth, however, was his especial care. He seemed to feel an ownership for her.

Don, too, tried to encourage the children in their efforts to swim. He plunged out into deep water, and then looked persuasively back at the children nearer shore, as if to say:

"Follow me. It's really very easy."

Beth as usual proved the venturesome one, and started out after Don.

Mrs. Davenport, who was sitting on the wharf doing some fancy work and at the same time watching the children, called:

"Beth, do be careful or you'll get into trouble."

"Why, mamma, I am careful."

Mrs. Davenport again became absorbed in her work. Suddenly, she was startled by screams from the children. Above the other voices she heard Marian calling:

"Don, Don, save her."

Poor Mrs. Davenport sprang to her feet in a frenzy of terror. It was as she expected. She saw her beloved Beth sinking. She was so horrified that for a second or two she could not cry out.

Harvey was near Beth, but made no effort to rescue her.

"Harvey, Harvey," screamed Mrs. Davenport, "save her."

But even as she cried another was swimming to the rescue, and this was faithful Don. He had no idea of letting his beloved little mistress drown. He grabbed her by her bathing suit and swam towards the shore with her.

"Why, Mrs. Davenport, we didn't think you'd be frightened. It's only play," called Harvey.

How proud the delighted dog was. He thought he had really saved Beth's life. He did not know that she was just pretending for the fun of having him come to her.

Day after day, the children struggled to learn to swim, but with rather poor success.

At last, they thought of trying light logs to keep them up. This proved quite successful. They placed the log across their chests, and under their armpits, and then made their hands and feet go. This was quite like swimming. After a time they tried it even in the deep water inside the boat house.

One day Beth ran down ahead of the others. Don, for a wonder, was not with her that morning. She thought she would have some fun all by herself.

Her log was in the boat house. She fearlessly jumped into deep water with it, but somehow, she got beyond the range of the walk. In trying to paddle back to it, her log slipped away from her. Then she grew very much frightened.

It was a case of swim or sink. Terrified as she was, she had presence of mind to keep her hands and feet going. To her surprise, she did not sink. She had only a little ways to go and made it without very much effort.

When the other children came, she was all excitement.

"Just see. I can swim, I can swim."

Beth hastened to show off her wonderful accomplishment. She was disgusted when Harvey laughed at her.

"Why, Beth, you swim in regular dog fashion. You claw the water just like Don. You ought to go like this."

She tried striking out with her arms as he bid, but could not swim that way. Whereupon, she declared:

"I like swimming dog fashion best."

One evening Mr. Davenport came home and said:

"Mary, how would you like to go down to the seashore for a week?"

"And take us?" exclaimed Beth.

Mr. Davenport was in a teasing mood.

"I will take Marian because she has been good, but as to you, I must find out first from mamma if any bad girl has been around here lately. We can't take bad girls with us."

Beth held her breath for her mother's answer.

"Well, James, for a wonder we have had an unusually good girl here for the past week. If we go, she may go too."

Beth danced a jig in the intensity of her joy.

"Where are we going, papa?"

"Down to Fort George Island, which is at the mouth of the St. Johns. We will leave to-morrow morning. Can you be ready by that time, Mary?"

"I guess so."

Mrs. Davenport was accustomed to her husband's desire to start at a moment's notice. He had made a like suggestion many times before.

At Beth's earnest solicitation, she was allowed to take Don with her.

The next morning, when they boarded the boat for Fort George's, Beth was very much surprised to behold Julia.

"Why, Julia, how nice of you to come down to see us off, but how did you know we were going?"

"I didn't come to see you off; I'm going to Fort George, too. Your papa was over last night and persuaded papa and mamma to go."

"Oh goody, goody, goody."

Julia and Beth took possession of the boat from the first moment. They inspected it from one end to the other. They made friends with the captain and those under him. They went up even to the pilot house and helped run the boat, or, at least, they thought they were helping. The morning proved a very happy one for them.

The trip delighted their parents also. They were content to sit still and watch the St. Johns as it curved and widened on its course to the ocean. There is hardly a more picturesque river in America.

As they neared the sea, its briny odor was wafted to them by the breeze. Great sand dunes rose on both sides of the river.

Upon reaching Fort George, the Davenport party drove in the 'bus to the hotel, over the hardest of shell roads. Magnificent palms lined the way on both sides. All the foliage, in fact, was extremely luxuriant. The island was more tropical than anything that the Davenports had seen, so far, in Florida.

A gentleman in the 'bus proffered the information to Mr. Davenport that the island had once been visited by Talleyrand. He said it had been owned by French grandees who carried on an extensive slave trade from the island.

When questioned about the mounds of shells that are so numerous at Fort George, the gentleman explained that for many centuries the Indians had congregated on the island in oyster season, and held high festivals. They probably feasted on oysters and corn, and these mounds were the result.

The week that followed was one of almost unalloyed bliss to Julia and Beth. They got into very little mischief, although they simply lived out of doors, and up in the trees.

Each morning, a number of the people from the hotel went in surf bathing. Beth was always one of the party. Mrs. Davenport did not care to go in, but she generally sat on the beach and watched the bathers.

Since Beth had learned how to swim, she caused her mother much anxiety. She was very venturesome, and would often swim far out beyond her depth.

Don did not enjoy salt water as much as he did fresh, and therefore he often rested beside Mrs. Davenport.

One morning only children went in bathing. All the men were away fishing, and the women did not care for the sport. Mrs. Davenport was unusually anxious, and she warned Beth to stay near shore with the other children. Beth obeyed pretty well at first, but before she knew it she was out where the water was over her head.

"Beth, it's time to come in," called her mother.

Beth raised her head and spurted out some water.

"Why, mamma, I'm coming."

"No, you're not. You're going out," and Mrs. Davenport sprang to her feet in sudden terror.

"Why, mamma, I'm swimming as hard as ever I can."

In fact, Beth was trying her very best to reach shore, but notwithstanding her desperate efforts, she was slowly but surely drifting out to sea. One of those treacherous undertows that abound on the Florida coast had her in its deadly power.

Mark Charlesworth, one of the boys, rushed to the side of Beth's mother.

"Oh, Mrs. Davenport, she'll surely drown unless some one saves her. A boy was drowned just that way last winter."

Mrs. Davenport was almost frenzied. She could not swim and she knew that personally she could not rescue her child. She looked in vain for assistance.

The other children had come from the water, and rushed frantically up and down the beach wringing their hands in terror.

Beth realized that her position was critical, and she struck out with such desperate energy that soon she felt her strength failing her. Terror seized upon her so that she feared she could not keep up another instant.

"Mamma," she screamed, "I'm sinking."

Mrs. Davenport's heart grew leaden. Was there no hope for her child? Must she stand helpless and see her drown? No, no, there must be some way of saving her. She would not despair.

"Dearie, don't give out," she cried; "mamma will save you."

The words strengthened Beth to strive anew. At this instant, Mrs. Davenport's eye rested upon Don lying fast asleep in the shade. Her heart seemed to jump into her mouth in the intensity of a new hope.

"Don, Don, go to Beth," she cried.

But Don would not heed. He did not realize the danger. He was tired and wished to sleep.

"Beth, call Don."

Beth who was drifting farther and farther away heard, and yelled:

"Don, Don."

The dog immediately pricked up his ears. Then he jumped to his feet.

"Don, Don."

At that second appeal, he bounded into the water.

Mrs. Davenport felt like falling on her knees in thanksgiving.

"Dearie, don't give up. Don's coming."

Beth heard and her strength revived sufficiently for her to struggle afresh against that terrible undertow.

The big waves swirled around Don who swam directly towards Beth.

Mrs. Davenport's heart almost stood still while her anxious eyes kept watch on her struggling child and the noble dog.

"Thank God, the eddy has Don too in its wake and is helping him on to my child. Beth's strength again seems to be failing. Will she be able to hold out? On, Don, on. Supposing he cannot make it. Supposing the child sinks before he reaches her?" These seconds of watching seemed an eternity to the frantic mother.

"Thank God, he is almost within reach of her. Bravo, Don, bravo. He has Beth fast by the bathing suit. Brave, brave dog. Now he has headed towards shore. Will he ever be able to make it with that awful undertow to work against besides the extra precious burden he carries? How heroically he struggles. Oh, noble, noble Don, you will save her yet, and keep a mother's heart from breaking. Yes, he is slowly but surely making headway against the eddying waters. Now, now, his feet surely touch bottom. Yes, and Beth knows it and struggles to her feet. Thank God, she is still conscious."

Though Beth was very much frightened, she was in no way harmed by her watery experience, and rushed straight to her mother's open arms, both unmindful of the wetting Mrs. Davenport received.

Don pricked up his ears, and wagged his tail from side to side. He could not understand why they did not notice him immediately as they had done before when he rescued Beth. Really, it was enough to ruffle the patience of any dog. He barked to attract attention. Thereupon, Mrs. Davenport turned to him, and patted him while tears trickled down her cheeks.

"Yes, Don, we know what a very noble fellow you are, and love you with all our hearts. We'll never forget what you've done."

Beth said nothing, but patted Don who expressed his appreciation as best he could by licking Beth's hands and face. If he could have talked, he would have said:

"Little mistress, I'm so glad I could show my love for you. I do dearly love you all, and am thankful that I saved you. Life with you is better than it was at sea. I will always be faithful to you."

This narrow escape of Beth's made Mrs. Davenport wish to return home. She said she would not stay with the children where the water was treacherous. The following day, therefore, they all returned to Jacksonville.



CHAPTER IX

The Little Dressmaker

It must not be imagined that Beth always romped. Although she was a tomboy, she was a very industrious little girl. She did not go to school the first year she was in Florida, and on rainy days she learned how to sew.

Mr. Davenport started a bank in Jacksonville, and soon after was elected president of the State's fair. He was a liberal-minded citizen, and therefore accepted the position, wishing to advance the standard of Florida exhibits.

Beth became interested in the undertaking. She asked to enter the lists herself and compete for prizes.

Mr. Davenport thought it an excellent idea that children should be encouraged to exhibit, and therefore offered prizes for juvenile displays.

Beth decided to make a dress all by herself. Her mother suggested that she was rather young for such a big undertaking, and that, perhaps, she had better first dress a doll, but Beth would not listen to such a thing.

Mrs. Davenport, therefore, bought the material and a pattern, and gave them to Beth. She offered to cut out the dress, but Beth thought that this would not be honorable nor fair. She must do it all by herself. Mrs. Davenport admired the spirit, and encouraged it in her, although she feared she might make a failure.

Beth, however, had one great quality of success,—perseverance. She would never give up anything in which she was interested, until she had succeeded. For the next three days, she could not be enticed from her work.

"Beth, please, come with me," begged Harvey, who came quite regularly to persuade her from her undertaking. But she was deaf to all persuasion. Julia had no better success, and it ended by Beth infecting Julia with the sewing fever. Julia brought material for a dress over to the Davenports' and went to work on it. She sewed faithfully for an hour or two, and then jumped up in disgust.

"Oh, botheration, Beth; I can't get the horrid thing right, and I'm not going to try."

"Let me help you, Julia. Maybe we'll get prizes."

"Oh, bother prizes. Let's quit."

"No, I'm going to finish this dress. Please stay and sew with me."

"If I do, what will you do for me?"

"Anything you want me to."

"All right then, I'll stay, but when you've finished, you have to go up in a tree with me and spend the night. We'll be like the captive princess."

They had just finished a fairy tale of a princess confined in a tower which she never left during many years. The tower was well provisioned so that she did not starve.

"It'll be great fun," continued Julia. "We'll take plenty of food up with us. I'm so glad you promised to go."

"May I tell mamma about it?"

"No."

"Then I won't go. I know mamma wouldn't like it, Julia, and it's wrong to worry her."

"And it's downright wicked to break one's word. You aren't going to be wicked, are you?"

Beth looked worried. "Please don't ask me to play princess, Julia."

"But you just have to, Beth; that's all there is about it."

This was Julia's ultimatum. She persisted in remaining with Beth until the dress was finished, although, she, herself, did comparatively little sewing. She even stayed nights at the Davenports for fear Beth would betray her secret.

Beth worked so steadily that Mrs. Davenport feared that she would make herself sick, and was glad when finally Beth jumped up and said:

"There, mamma, it's finished. Buttonholes and all. I guess it's all right, isn't it?"

The dress was very creditably made for so young a girl. Mrs. Davenport was justly proud of it and of Beth.

"Mrs. Davenport," began Julia, "can't Beth stay all night with me?"

"Yes, I'll be glad to have her out of doors. Run along, Beth."

Beth, however, held back. "I'd rather stay with you, mamma."

"Why, child, what is the matter?"

"Oh, she's just tired from this everlasting sewing, Mrs. Davenport;" and then Julia whispered to Beth, "You're not going to be wicked and break your word, are you? I'll never speak to you again if you don't come."

Thus pressed, Beth reluctantly kissed her mother and departed.

"We'll go over to my house, and get enough food for supper and breakfast."

Away they hurried to the Gordons. Julia robbed the larder to quite an extent.

"Mamma, I'm going back to Beth's. You don't mind, do you?"

"No."

Thereupon, avoiding observation, they ran back to Beth's. They selected a grand water oak with immense spreading branches that would effectually screen them from view. Besides, it was quite a ways from the house, which suited Julia's purpose.

Julia, carrying the provisions, scrambled up into the tree as nimbly as a squirrel, crying:

"Isn't this the grandest fortress you ever did see?"

Beth was too busy climbing to answer. She was a natural born climber, but she lacked practice. Besides, her plumpness would prevent her from ever being quite as agile as Julia.

"This will be my bedroom. See, I do not have to build any bed. These branches and leaves make a perfect resting-place," declared Julia.

"Yes, but suppose you fell asleep and rolled out. You'd break your neck."

"I don't roll out of bed at home, and I'm not going to here."

"But I do, and I don't want to break my neck. I guess I'll stay awake all night, but I'll lie down."

As Beth spoke, she lay back on some inviting looking branches. Their appearance, however, proved deceitful. They were not as strong as they looked, and she came very near having the tumble that she dreaded. Luckily, however, she caught on to a strong branch, and with Julia's assistance was soon in comparative safety.

"I guess I'd better sit up all the time."

"I reckon you'll do nothing of the sort. I'll tell you what: You may have my bedroom, and I'll find another higher up."

Although Beth was still trembling from the narrowness of her escape, she did not wish to take advantage of Julia's generosity, but the latter insisted.

Thus persuaded, Beth, cautiously this time, tried reclining on the branches. She found that they really made a delightful bed.

"It is beautiful, Julia. Why, I don't believe I should be afraid to sleep here. These limbs would keep me from falling."

"And here is another bed just as good. You see I'm right across the hall from you. I didn't have to go to the next floor as I feared at first. It's nicer being near each other, isn't it, Beth?"

"Yes, much nicer, but wouldn't you rather have this room, Julia? It is so lovely."

"No, it isn't. Mine is best. I can look way up to the sky."

"Why, that isn't nice at all. I wouldn't sleep in a room without a roof. Mine has a roof painted green."

"I don't care, mine's nicer."

"No, it isn't. Mine is."

Whereupon they had a fuss, such as all children sometimes have. They declared that "they didn't like each other," and that one was "hateful" and the other "too mean to live," and that "they'd never speak again."

In a minute or two after, they were talking as lively as two young magpies. They had figuratively kissed and made up.

"Now," said Julia, "I'm going to draw the portcullis so we can never go down unless some one comes to release us."

"I don't care to stay here always."

"We're only playing, goosie, but you have to stay until morning because you promised."

After that one thrust, Julia relented and tried to be as nice as she possibly could, and Beth had such a good time that her conscience stopped troubling her.

The minutes passed so quickly that they both were surprised to see how low the sun was. The captive ladies decided it was time to eat supper, so they divided supplies, using their laps as tables.

Beth, the unfortunate, had not taken a mouthful when a great pinching bug dropped on her head. She jumped to her feet screaming, and her supper was all scattered to the ground. She decided to go after it.

"Where are you going, Beth?"

"After my supper."

"But the portcullis is drawn."

"I'm going to have my supper, portcullis or no portcullis."

Already it was growing so dark that objects were becoming indistinguishable. Suddenly Beth uttered a cry.

"What's the matter?"

"I,—I thought it was a bear. It's only Don, however, and he's eaten up all my supper, the mean thing, and now he's run away."

"Never mind, Beth. You can have half of mine."

They ate their scanty meal in silence. It was growing so dark that immediately after supper they went to bed.

Neither of the children felt comfortable, but neither would own it.

"Isn't this heaps of fun, Beth?"

"Yes, heaps, Julia."

Then each of them let a great sigh escape. Silence prevailed for awhile. All the world seemed asleep. Such stillness was terrifying to the children.

"Are you asleep, Julia?"

"No, but I thought you were."

Again they were quiet until it had grown pitch dark.

"I can't sleep."

"Neither can I, but it's fun, isn't it?"

"It's a sperience, Julia."

Again two great sighs, and then quiet once more.

Suddenly, there was a hoot right above them. Julia and Beth both gave such a start that they almost tumbled out of the tree. Then two scared whispers were heard:

"What was that?"

"I don't know."

Another hoot.

"I wish we were together, Julia."

"So do I. Say, Beth, I believe there's room for you here with me. Let's try it."

"I'm afraid to come."

"Don't be a 'fraid cat."

"I'm not, only——" For the third time that melancholy hoot above them.

"Julia, come to me."

"I won't do it. I spoke first You come here."

Solitude was so terrifying that Beth risked the trip across for companionship. Fortunately, the hoot did not occur during her trip to Julia, or she would probably have landed on the ground.

The space proved rather narrow, and rather perilous for two, but Beth and Julia snuggled together very close.

Soon the hooting began again, and continued at regular intervals.

"I believe it's a hoot-owl."

"So it is."

Although they knew it was only an owl, the melancholy cry was neither conducive to sleep nor to high spirits. The children found it decidedly depressing. They talked awhile in whispers. The sound of one's own voice even is startling in such a situation. Very often they sighed, and sometimes there was a pensive quietness broken only by the hoot-owl.

"What time do you s'pose it is, Julia?"

"I think it must be twelve at least. They're not coming for us to-night. They've forgotten us."

Their parents had not forgotten them, but when meal-time came and they did not appear, the Davenports supposed they were over at the Gordons', and the Gordons thought they were at the Davenports'. The children often stayed for meals without asking, and so neither family worried.

About half-past eight the Gordons decided to go and bring Julia home. When they walked in at the Davenports, the first question asked them was:

"Why did you not bring the children with you?"

"The children? Why, they are here, are they not?"

Anxiety immediately possessed every one present. Mrs. Davenport's first thought was of the river, and her heart became leaden. She gave voice to her fear.

"Nonsense," answered Mr. Davenport decidedly, although he himself was not so sure as he seemed; "they are not drowned."

With lanterns to aid them, a search was begun through the grounds.

Two scared little girls presently saw lights flitting like fireflies below them.

"Perhaps it's burglars."

"Or—or the Prince to rescue us."

"I don't want any Prince; Julia. I want my mamma. I'm tired of being a Princess. I want to go home. Let's call."

"But what if they are burglars."

"Burglars don't carry lights, do they?"

Then they heard voices calling:

"Julia, Beth."

"Here we are, papa. Here, up in this big tree."

This answer brought relief to many hearts. Even Julia was not sorry to descend again to earth, and be once more an ordinary girl. Romance is not always as pleasant as being practical. Let children who are inclined to run away from home, remember this.



CHAPTER X

The Horse Race

"I'm going to double the recipe, Maggie."

"Law, honey, yo' hadn't best. I 'lows it's more partickiler to get good dat way."

"I can't help it. I want plenty of it so the judges can all have a taste. They'll be sure to give me a prize."

Beth had on an apron in which she was almost lost. In her hand, she held an open cook book from which she read:

"'The whites of five eggs.' Twice five is ten. Give me ten eggs, Maggie."

The good-natured Maggie counted out the desired number.

"I'll break dem for yo', honey."

"No, Maggie, I must do it every bit myself or it wouldn't be fair. Oh, dear me. The yolk has got into this one so it's no good. Another egg, please, Maggie."

All ten of the whites were finally in one dish. Beth tried to beat them and spattered them not only over herself but over the pantry floor.

"Whites of eggs are very slippery, Maggie."

"I wouldn't beat more'n half at a time, honey."

Beth accepted the suggestion and succeeded in getting a good stiff froth from the eggs. Next, she measured out the other ingredients. She tried to be careful, but somehow she spilled flour not only over the pantry floor but also over herself.

"Beth, you are a powdered beauty," called a boyish voice from the open pantry door.

"Why, Harvey, where did you come from?"

"Oh, I came to see you, and your mother told me I'd find you here. What are you making?"

"Wait until I put this pan in the oven, and I'll tell you all about it. Maggie," added Beth to the cook, "you're not to peep at my cake even. Promise me."

"Law, honey, I won't even go into the kitchen if yo' don't want me to. I'll stay here in de pantry until yo' calls me, but I fear you'll forget it."

"No, indeed, I won't."

The precious cake was consigned to the oven, and then Beth joined Harvey on the piazza.

"I've made an angel's cake, Harvey, and I'm going to get a prize for it. Mamma says the only way to learn to cook is just to cook."

All this time, Harvey had been holding one hand behind him. Beth now noticed that he was hiding something.

"What have you there?" she asked.

Harvey looked bashful. "Well, ever since I came so near burning you up, I've been saving my money to buy you a present, and here it is."

Beth drew in her breath at sight of a beautiful dog collar. "Oh, it's for Don, and what's this mark on it? 'Don. Owned by Beth Davenport.' Oh, it's too lovely for anything. Where is Don? I must try it on him."

The prize cake was all forgotten. Away she and Harvey scampered.

Don was out near the stable. The collar fitted him exactly, and the children talked and admired it for some time.

Suddenly Beth gasped, "Oh, my cake," and ran as fast as she could back to the kitchen.

Upon opening the oven, an avalanche of smoke came forth. The cake was burned to charcoal.

The heart-broken little cook sat down on the floor and cried bitterly. Maggie stuck her head through the pantry window.

"For de law's sake—dat beau'ful cake. I knew I jes' ought to have 'tended it."

"Maggie, Maggie, why didn't you tell me it was time to look at it?"

"Sure, honey, didn't yo' tol' me I must have nuffin to do with it?"

"Yes, but——" the sentence ended in sobs.

"Never mind, Beth," said Harvey; "Maggie will make you another, won't you, Maggie?"

"I don't want her to make me another. I was going to take a prize with this one, and the judges won't give prizes for burnt cake, boo-hoo."

Suddenly Beth resolved not to cry over spilt milk. She jumped to her feet.

"Harvey, run away. I'm going to make another cake, and I won't let it burn. I'll get the prize yet."

Harvey reluctantly departed. Beth immediately went to work and made another. When once it was in the oven, she watched it so carefully that Maggie feared it would be spoiled by overzeal. For a wonder, it was a great success. A professional cook could not have made a better-looking cake.

By this time, it was growing so late that Beth did not wait to make frosting.

She took her dress and cake over to the Fair building, which was about a quarter of a mile from her home. She was in plenty of time to make her entries.

Dollie was grazing in the pasture when Beth returned. This reminded her of her great desire to ride Dollie, so she called the horse to her, and she came running at the call. Dollie was always sure of sugar from Beth.

Beth put her hand up against the horse and whispered:

"I wish I might ride you, Dollie. I know I could. I'll go and ask mamma if I may."

Away ran Beth to her mother.

"Mamma, may I ride Dollie this morning?"

"No, dear, I'm going to use Dollie myself. I'm going to get Mrs. Corner, who is to spend the day with me. We are going to the races this afternoon."

"Won't you bring Laura back, too?"

"She probably can't come. She goes to school, you know."

"Mamma, will you let me ride Dollie sometime?"

"Yes, dear, sometime, but don't tease now."

Beth took this as a decided promise. She told Maggie, January, Harvey, and Julia that she was to ride Dollie; that her mamma had said so. She did nothing but talk about the matter the whole morning.

Mrs. Davenport returned with Mrs. Corner in time for luncheon. About two o'clock Beth ran into the library where her mother and her guest were having a cozy chat before starting for the races. She had thought so much about her ride that she took it for granted that Mrs. Davenport must know her thoughts.

"Mamma, I'm going now. May I?"

At this particular moment the conversation between the two women was especially absorbing so that Mrs. Davenport hardly heeded Beth.

"May I, mamma?"

Mrs. Davenport glanced towards her for a second. She took it for granted that Beth wished to play with either Julia or Harvey.

"All right. Run along, dear."

In the seventh heaven of happiness, Beth skipped up-stairs.

She decided that it would never do to ride in an ordinary dress, and believed that her mother would not object if she borrowed her riding habit. Beth knew just where to find it. The skirt was one of those now old-fashioned affairs that almost swept the ground even on a grown-up person.

However, Beth was not to be daunted. She heroically jumped into the skirt, but found that the belt was almost twice too large for her. This necessitated the use of a safety pin. She took a step towards the bureau, and fell sprawling over the floor, tangled in yards of trailing skirt. She tried to rise, and tripped again. For a moment, she rested on the floor, thinking to herself that it must be a much harder matter to manage a habit than a horse. Then, gathering up the unruly skirt in both hands, she managed to reach the bureau where she pinned the skirt tightly around her. But even now her troubles were not over.

The waist proved almost as big a problem as the skirt. She buttoned it on over her own dress, but even then it was about twice too large for her.

She looked at herself in a glass, and burst forth into hearty peals of laughter.

"I declah"—already she pronounced "declare" almost like the darkies—"I feel like a cat dressed up in clothes. It can't move without tumbling all over itself, and neither can I."

She held up her arms and flapped them. They were almost lost in the voluminous sleeves. Her hands were not to be seen at all.

"I never can manage a horse without hands," she murmured.

She overcame this difficulty by pinning up the bothersome sleeves.

Next, she jammed her mother's riding hat down on her curls. It, too, was much too large for her, and had some blond frizzes sewn across the front of it. The hat with its false front added the finishing touch of rakishness to Beth. She, however, was as proud as a peacock over her attire.

As fast as her awkward skirt would allow, she hurried in search of January.

He was very much amused over her appearance.

"Missy, I declah, yo' looks like a rag bag dat needs some rags to fill it out. Whaffor don't yo' get chuck full of somethin'?"

She would not heed such remarks, but said with great dignity:

"I wish the saddle put on Dollie."

"I'm skeered yo'r maw won't like me to."

"But she told me I might ride."

Still January hesitated.

"I dunno as I kin kotch Dollie."

"You can try. Hurry, January."

For once Dollie was easily caught and saddled. January helped Beth to mount. Nobody but him saw the start. He was so much interested that he walked down as far as the gate and opened it.

Dollie did not seem to wish to go for Beth, but the latter settled the question with a switch cut by January. She headed Dollie in the direction of the Fair grounds.

There was more driving than usual on the shell road, because of the Fair and the races. Many a person turned, stared, and smiled to see that quaint little figure on Dollie going along so primly.

A young lady, a cousin of Beth's, was spending the winter in Jacksonville that year, and was very popular in society. On this particular afternoon she, too, was driving on the shell road and chanced upon Beth. She and her escort laughed so heartily over the child's ludicrous appearance that Beth, at first, was inclined to be offended. However, she drew Dollie up alongside of the carriage.

"Are you laughing because we're going slow? I'm not a bit afraid. Say, Cousin Lulu, would you like to have a race with me?"

Lulu and her escort laughed harder than ever. Beth tried to look more dignified.

"I bet I could beat you, Cousin Lulu. Are you afraid I would? Come on and try."

The young man in the carriage leaned forward.

"Do you ride well enough for that?"

"Of course, I do."

This was hardly true, as she had never ridden at a fast pace in her life. She did not think it necessary to own to this, however.

The young man was highly amused.

"Well, little lady, we'll try your skill. If you reach the Fair grounds gate before we do, I'll give you a box of candy. Now when I count three and say go, we'll both start. Now one, two, three, go."

Beth gave Dollie a cut with the switch. She was bound to win that box of candy.

Dollie, surprised by the sudden blow, leaped forward, almost unseating Beth who, however, managed in some way not to fall.

The young man had a fine horse which also started forward at a good fast pace, and soon nosed ahead of his rival.

Dollie, not to be outdone, quickened her gait. Both horses began to feel the contagion of the race, especially Dollie who had been, as January said, a race horse in her day. Her mouth tightened on the bit.

Beth's blood quickened too. After she found she could cling on, she was not a particle frightened but began to enjoy the sport.

The young man turned to Lulu, saying:

"She does well for such a little thing, doesn't she?"

He touched his horse with the whip. It went faster. Whereupon Dollie took the bit so completely that Beth had no control over her. Her racing blood was thoroughly aroused, and it would have taken an extremely strong hold to quiet her. She simply flew, and Beth began to be scared. The words of January flashed through her mind: "She'll go so fast, you'll wish you hadn't got on her."

Nose to nose the horses sped over the hard shell road. The situation grew critical for Beth.

She wondered what her mother would say if she were thrown and her lifeless body were carried home.

"She will be so sorry that she scolded me yesterday. I wish I could tell her that I know I deserved it. I don't want to die."

The world seemed more beautiful than ever now that death seemed near her.

"Whoa, Dollie, whoa," she cried.

But Dollie paid not the slightest attention. With head curved well down she sped as fast as in her palmiest racing days. Slowly but surely she forged ahead of her fast rival.

"The horse is running away with the child. Stop her, stop her," cried Cousin Lulu in alarm.

Her warning came too late.

They were now opposite the Fair grounds, which had a very high fence surrounding them. There were two gates, one for pedestrians and the other for carriages.

Dollie swerved in at the foot passageway and her helpless rider could not stop her. People scattered in every direction before the runaway horse. Even the gate-keeper stepped aside, dropping his tickets in his fright.

"Oh, what shall we do? She'll surely be killed. She'll be dragged from her horse. Her dress has caught on the gate," cried Cousin Lulu with her heart in her mouth.

Beth let go the reins and held with one hand to the saddle pommel, and with the other to Dollie's mane. This saved her. Her skirt tore loose from the gate. Onward flew horse and child.

Cousin Lulu and her escort hastened after through the driveway. Far ahead of them they saw Dollie and Beth flying towards the race track with lightning speed.

Mr. Davenport chanced to come from the Fair building at this very minute.

"Oh, Uncle James," screamed Lulu, "Dollie is running away with Beth."

He hardly understood, but saw the runaway horse now nearing the race track and hastened after it.

With the long memory of a horse, Dollie recognized the track as a scene of bygone triumphs, and made straight for it. No rider urged her on as of old, no rivals were by her side; but Dollie of her own accord started around that course at a breakneck speed with a little girl clinging wildly to her mane.

People were already gathering on the grandstand and they held their breath for very fear, Beth held hers also. Dollie needed all of her breath for her solitary run. On, on, she flew. Beth clung closer, while people sprang to their feet in their anxiety over the outcome.

By this time Beth was hatless. Her long curls and the clumsy torn skirt were flying backwards.

On, on they came. People leaned far over the stand. Jockeys ran out on the track. One of them cried enthusiastically:

"It is a beautiful run if only the little one isn't killed."

Dollie in truth was making a wonderful run for a horse that had no competition. With long swinging strides she came around the track, and her speed remained unabated. If people had not been so fearful for the child's life, some one might have thought to time Dollie, and it is very probable that it would then have been proved that she was fully equaling her record if she was not breaking it.

Mr. Davenport ran up the track in an agony of fear, ready to head off the runaway animal if it seemed advisable. The jockeys followed in his wake.

"That is the child's father. How terrible it must be for him," said some of the spectators.

Dollie's speed remained unabated.

When she was three-quarters of the way around, Mr. Davenport was almost within hailing distance of his brave little girl who still clung to the excited horse.

Mr. Davenport was undecided whether to try to stop the horse or not, for fear a sudden stop might unseat his child.

Beth saw her father and grew excited.

"Oh, papa," she cried, taking her hand from the pommel to wave it to him.

The action came near being fatal. Dollie was making the curve. Beth swayed, and Mr. Davenport and many another spectator shuddered, fearing she would be dashed to death. She, however, proved a better rider than they expected. She was growing accustomed to the rapid motion of the horse, and gained confidence thereby. She straightened herself, clinging with one hand and gathering up the reins that had been hanging loose, with the other. Then she pulled on them again, crying:

"Whoa, Dollie, whoa."

Dollie perhaps was tiring of her mad run, for she heeded the frantic appeal. Gently as any well-regulated machinery, she slackened speed.

Delighted at the success of her horsemanship, Beth repeated the action, crying:

"Whoa—nice Dollie." Then in a tumult of relief she shouted:

"Hurrah, I'm not going to die after all."

People on the grandstand heard the sweet childish cry of joy and saw Dollie a moment after come to a standstill. Instantly a wild outburst of enthusiasm followed. People clapped and stamped wildly, shouting themselves hoarse. Mr. Davenport, too agitated for speech, rushed up to Beth, and clasped her close to his heart. The jockeys clustered around, and they too clapped their hands in approval.

"Why are all the people shouting?" asked Beth.

Mr. Davenport gave her a convulsive hug and answered:

"They are shouting for you, my dear."

For a few seconds Beth was quite overcome, and then she whispered to her father:

"I guess they're not shouting for me, but for Dollie. I didn't really want her to go so fast, but I couldn't stop her at first. In fact, I thought I was going to be killed, sure. I am very, very glad I was not thrown."

If she was glad, Mr. Davenport was more so, but he was still too overcome to say much. Beth was rather surprised to have him hug and kiss her so often, for generally he was not a demonstrative man.

Presently Beth said:

"Papa, I know how to ride now, don't I? And say, papa, I won a box of candy from Cousin Lulu's beau."

One of the jockeys heard her. He grinned his approval and said:

"She's got pluck enough to be one of us. I reckon she's born with a liking for horses. My, didn't the old mare go!"



CHAPTER XI

Don Meets a Sad Fate

Marian and Beth were getting ready for bed. Marian looked tragic. She brushed her hair so energetically that it seemed as if she must be pulling it out by the handfuls. Suddenly, she threw down the brush, and clasped her hands dramatically.

"I simply must have the money."

Beth, interested, looked up at her,

"What's the matter, Marian? I thought you had plenty of money. You've been saving your allowance for weeks to spend at the Fair."

"So I have, but I lost my pocketbook with every bit of the money at the Fair to-day."

"Why, Marian Davenport," Beth gasped.

Marian burst into tears. Beth rushed up to her sister and threw her arms around her neck.

"I'm awfully sorry, Marian."

Marian brushed the tears away and continued:

"I hate to have papa and mamma think me so dreadfully careless, so I'm not going to let them know, but I've just got to have some money. Beth, won't you lend me part of yours? I'll pay you just as soon as I can get some more."

Beth hung her head. "I'm awfully sorry, but I've spent all my money."

Marian looked at her in surprise. "Why, Beth Davenport, how is that?"

Beth seated herself upon the floor. "Well, Marian, you know both you and I decided to buy mamma's birthday present before the Fair began for fear we wouldn't have anything left to buy it with. Well, after that I had only a dollar."

"But that dollar was to last you all the week."

Beth took down a brush and brushed out the snarls while she talked.

"Yes, I know it was, but you see, Marian, Julia and Harvey were with me to-day. They were my guests. Papa gave me the tickets to take them. Well, it was dreadfully hot, and we did want some ice cream awfully, so I asked them to have some. There was thirty cents gone."

Marian looked judicial. "Well, what about the other seventy?"

Beth brushed snarls so vigorously that she winced once or twice.

"Well, you may think me dreadfully foolish, but I invited them to the Punch and Judy show. That took thirty cents more."

"Well, but you still should have forty cents."

Beth stopped brushing and clasped her hands.

"Well, I just couldn't help it. I—well, this is how it happened. You know papa gave Gustus tickets for the Fair for himself, his brothers and sisters, and mamma let him have the afternoon off. Well, just as we came out of the Punch and Judy show we met them. You know mamma gives Gustus clothes, but the others looked dreadfully ragged. I stopped and spoke to them and asked them if they were going into the show. Marian, tears came into Gustus's eyes, as he said, 'Missy Beth, the likes of us don't go to shows. I'se never been to a show in my life.'"

"Never been to a show in his life? How was that, Beth?"

"That was just what I asked him, Marian. I knew mamma paid him for waiting on us. He told me that he took all his money to his mother. Marian, I just couldn't help it. I spent my last forty cents for four Punch and Judy tickets for four of them, and Harvey and Julia bought some for the others. Do you think we were foolish?"

Marian hesitated for an instant.

"I suppose I should have done the same thing in your place. I am awfully sorry, though, you haven't any money to lend me."

"Maybe my dress and cake will take prizes. Then I'll have some to lend you."

Beth could hardly wait for the last day of the exhibition to see if she would be awarded any prize. She thought that nothing could mar her happiness if she received one.

The prices were decided upon on Friday night, but were not to be made public until Saturday morning. Beth was up bright and early, therefore, on Saturday. She was all impatience to be through breakfast that she might learn her fate, but she found that she might as well possess her soul in patience, as Maggie proved provoking, and would not hurry in the least.

To pass away the time, Beth hunted up Don. At sight of her, he barked and wagged his tail. She threw her arms about his neck. "Yes, Don, I know you're glad to see me, and I love you with all my heart. Come on and we'll have a play."

But, for some unaccountable reason, he did not seem ready for a frolic. As soon as she let go of him, he walked back by the stable and lay down.

"Come on, Don," she called coaxingly.

He did not budge. She stamped her foot impatiently.

"Oh, everybody's provoking this morning. You're horrid and mean, Don, and I don't believe I love you, after all."

He looked up at this. His gaze seemed a reproach to her, but she grew only the crosser.

"Oh, you needn't be looking that way at me. You're lazy, and you know it. If you were sorry, you'd play with me. No, I don't love you one little bit."

She walked back to the house, and then sulked until the breakfast gong sounded.

To make up for being somewhat late, Maggie had prepared an extra fine meal. Mr. and Mrs. Davenport and even Marian proved unusually talkative that morning, and they started their breakfast very happily. Beth, too, could not withstand the general good humor, and soon her spirits began to rise. She said, however:

"Do you know, that horrid old Don would not play with me this morning. He——"

At that instant, January came running up on the piazza, where they were eating breakfast.

"Missy Beth," he cried, "come quick; Don acts mighty queer. 'Pears like he's dying."

Not only Beth, but Mr. and Mrs. Davenport and Marian jumped up from the table and ran out to the barn.

They found the noble dog where Beth had left him. He was, in truth, in the very throes of death.

Beth fell on her knees beside him, and lifted his head upon her lap. Tears were streaming from her eyes so that she could hardly see him.

"Don," she cried, "you know I didn't mean it. You know I love you."

His fast glazing eye brightened momentarily at the sound of her voice. If he could have spoken, he would have said:

"Little mistress, I never doubted your love. I wasn't lazy. You know now why I wouldn't play."

"Oh, we must do something for him. It would break my heart if he died," cried poor Beth.

"I'm skeered it's too late, but mebbe, if I fotch," began January. But Don, with one long, loving look at Beth, gave up his breath with a gasp, stretching out in the rigidity of death.

"It is too late," said Mr. Davenport huskily.

"No, no, no," cried Beth; "God wouldn't be so cruel as to let him die. Don, look at me. Dear old doggie, I love you, I love you."

But Don was beyond range of her call. Mrs. Davenport and Marian were crying softly, too, and there were tears even in the eyes of Mr. Davenport and January.

"You'se breakfasts all gettin' cole," called Maggie, not knowing of the trouble.

"Food would choke me," declared Marian.

"I couldn't eat either. Do you want anything, James?" asked Mrs. Davenport.

"No,—I'm not hungry now," there was a break in Mr. Davenport's voice.

"Clear off the table, Maggie. Don is dead."

"Don dead?" cried Maggie, running out, "Why what am de mattah?"

"I 'lows he got hole some of de rat pizen," said January.

At sight of Beth's intense grief, Maggie's heart melted.

"Dar, dar, honey, don't yo' cry. Yo'se pah'll get you anoder dog."

"I don't want another dog. I—want—my—Don. I want him, I'll never be happy again," and Beth cried so hard that Mr. Davenport tried to comfort her.

"Beth," he said, "I have some news that will make you happy. I knew all about it last night, but I wouldn't tell you because I wanted you to find it out for yourself. Both your dress and cake have taken prizes—first prizes at that."

Her sobs did not lessen in the least. She hid her face on her father's shoulder and murmured:

"A hundred prizes wouldn't make up for dear old Don,—my dear old doggie who saved my life."



CHAPTER XII

The Arrival of Duke

The death of Don so preyed upon Beth's spirits, that one night Mrs. Davenport took her in her arms and said:

"Do you remember that once when I was sad about something, you slipped your arms around my neck and asked, 'Mamma, what makes you think of the unpleasant things? why don't you just think of the nice things? That's the way I do.'"

"Did I say that really?"

Mrs. Davenport smiled at the mournfulness of Beth's tones.

"Yes, dear, and now mamma wants you to practice what you preached. I think you and I will have to form a 'Pleasant Club.' Every night we will tell each other all the pleasant things that happen during the day. What do you say?"

The child nestled close to her mother.

"It would be nice, mamma, only nothing pleasant happens now that Don is dead."

"Why, why," exclaimed Mrs. Davenport, "that isn't at all like my happy Beth. Put on your thinking cap and see if you can't remember something nice that happened to-day."

Beth remained silent for a moment, and then suddenly smiled.

"Why, yes, mamma, now that I think of it, a whole lot of nice things happened. Do you know, ever since Don died, Julia has been perfectly lovely. She always plays just as I want to. And what do you think? Harvey played with Julia and me to-day, and he would never stay before when Julia was here. We even got him to play dolls with us, although he said dolls were beneath a boy."

Mrs. Davenport smiled. "Why should he feel that way?"

"Well, you see, mamma, he doesn't think much of girls and their play. He's always saying to me, 'Beth, don't you wish you were a boy?' So one day I answered, 'No, indeed, Harvey.' It wasn't quite the truth, mamma, for I should like to be a boy, but I wouldn't let him know it. Then I asked him: 'Don't you wish you were a girl, Harvey?'"

"What did he say, dear?"

"He grunted and said, 'Eh—be a girl? I'd rather be nothing than be a girl.'"

Mrs. Davenport could hardly keep her face straight; nevertheless, she said gravely:

"If Harvey ever says that to you again, you tell him your mamma says that girls are of just as much consequence as boys. God would not have created them otherwise. Well, what else happened to-day?"

"Oh, Harvey offered me a bird's nest that he'd stolen. Mamma, I couldn't help scolding him about it. You know papa doesn't think it right. So I had Harvey take the nest back."

"That was a good girl."

"And oh, mamma, I forgot to tell you how nice Marian has been. This afternoon after school, she made some candy for Julia and Harvey and me. It was just lovely. And now that I think of it, Maggie has been good too. She hasn't scolded us once, although I guess we are in her way very much sometimes."

Mrs. Davenport now kissed Beth good-night.

"Doesn't my little girl see that there never was a sorrow so great but that it has its bright side? You have much for which to be thankful, dear, and you must try to be happy."

This talk helped Beth somewhat. Nevertheless, for weeks thereafter, a dog did not cross her path without bringing tears to her eyes. And many a night she cried herself to sleep, grieving for Don.

Sorrow, however, is not eternal, and comfort came to her from an unexpected source.

One afternoon the Davenports were driving home from Jacksonville, when Beth chanced to look back. She thereupon uttered such an exclamation of delight that Mr. Davenport, who was driving, pulled in on the horses.

"Oh, just see the beautiful dog!" exclaimed Beth. "I believe he's following us."

About three yards behind the carriage was a very large dog, but possessing a grace and a swiftness of motion unusual to his size. He was not only beautiful, but also intelligent-looking. His coat was of dark brown, and smooth as sealskin, showing every muscle of his body. His broad square head and monstrous jaw reminded the beholder of a tiger. His ears were close-cropped, which gave a compactness to his head that brought into prominence his great changeable eyes: eyes that the Davenports afterwards found so fiery sometimes that they reflected red lights; at other times so mildly brown that they beamed with the greatest affection. The dog was a combination of Russian bloodhound and mastiff.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse