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   Chapter 1 THE BEACH.

Vacation with the Tucker Twins By Nell Speed Characters: 12667

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


My first impression of Willoughby Beach gave me keen disappointment. It was so sandy, so flat, and so absolutely shadeless. I longed for the green hills far away and in my heart felt I could not stand a month of the lonesome stretches of sand and the pitiless glare of the summer sun. It took great self-control and some histrionic ability for me to conceal my emotions from my enthusiastic hostesses.

The Tuckers had been coming to Willoughby for years and loved every grain of sand on the beach. They could hardly wait for the trolley from Norfolk to stop before they jumped out and raced down to the water's edge just to dabble their hands in the ocean.

"My gracious me! How I hate to grow up!" exclaimed Dum. "One year ago I would have had off my shoes and been in bliss by this time."

"Well, maybe you are too grown up to wade, but I'm not," declared Dee. "However, since Zebedee has trusted us to come down and open up the cottage, I fancy we had better go do it and get things ready for our guests."

We three girls were the fore-runners of the famous beach house-party that Mr. Jeffry Tucker, father of the "Heavenly Twins," had promised to give us the winter before as reward of merit if we passed all of our exams at Gresham and got through the year without any very serious mishaps. Mishaps we had had in abundance, but not very serious ones, as all of us were alive to tell the tale; and Mr. Tucker, with his eternally youthful outlook on life, seemed to feel that a scrape that turned out all right was not such a terrible matter after all.

"Just so you can look me in the eye while you are telling me your troubles, it's all right," I have heard him say to his daughters.

The cottage proved to be very attractive. The lower floor was chiefly a large living room with French windows that opened upon three deep, shady verandas. A kitchen and bath rooms were in the rear. A staircase came down into the living room from a low-hung balcony that went around the four sides of the room. Doors from this balcony opened into dressing rooms and they in turn led to the sleeping porches. This style of architecture was new to me and very pleasing. There was a spaciousness to the living room with its high, raftered ceiling that appealed to me greatly. I have never been able to be happy in little, chopped-up rooms. The wood-work, rafters, roof and all, were stained a dark moss green, as were also the long mission dining table and the chairs and settles. At one end was a great fireplace made of rough, grey boulders, with heavy iron fire-dogs and fender. There was no attempt at ornamentation with the exception of several old blue platters and a tea pot on the high mantelpiece and a long runner of Japanese toweling on the table.

"Oh!" burst from us in chorus as we came through the hospitably open door. "Isn't it lovely?"

Just then there emerged from the kitchen a woman with a pail in one hand and broom in the other. Her long, pale face with the sandy hair drawn tightly back into a Mrs. Wiggs knot had no trace of welcome, but rather one of irritation.

"Well, land's sakes! You is greedy fer yo' rights. The fust of July don't mean the fust thing in the morning. The last tenants ain't been gone mor'n a hour an' here you come a-turn-in' up before I kin mor'n turn 'round."

"Well, everything looks lovely," said the tactful Dee.

"Y' aint seen it yet. It's right enough in this here room where I've done put in some licks, but that there kitchen is a mask of grease. These June tenants was jist a passel of boys and I can tell you they pretty near ripped things wide open. They had a triflin', no-'count black man fer cook and if ther' is one thing I hate more'n a nigger woman, it's a nigger man. Sometimes I think I will jist natchally refuse to rent my house to anybody that hires niggers."

"Your house!" escaped from Dum before she could stop herself.

"Yes, Miss, my house! Did you think I'd be cleaning up after a nigger in anybody's house but my own?"

"Then you are Mrs. Rand?" inquired Dee.

"The same! Did you think I might be Capt. Rand?"

"No'm; I-I--"

"You jist didn't expect to see a lady who owns a grand house like this workin' like any common person. Well, you are right, young lady. But if I didn't work like this, ther' wouldn't be no house to rent. Where's your brother?"

"Brother?"

"Yes; him what come down last winter to see after rentin' the house. He was a powerful likely young man. Me 'n Capt. Rand took to him from the first minute we clapt eyes on him. I'd a-knowed you two were his sisters anywhere; and this other young lady," indicating me, "I reckon she's his girl, 'cause she sho ain't no kin."

The twins spluttered and I blushed but managed to put Mrs. Rand right as to the Tucker family, explaining to her that Mr. Tucker was the father of my friends and that I was merely a schoolmate who was invited to come to the beach on a visit.

"Well, you may be putting something over on me, as these wild June tenants used to call it. I can't believe that the young man who came down here is the paw of these strapping twins any more than I could believe that you are their maw. Maybe he sent his office boy." That made all of us laugh.

"We've been coming here for years, Mrs. Rand," said Dee. "It is strange we do not know each other. I can't remember ever seeing you before and you never saw us."

"Good reason! I never come here 'til this last fall, when Capt. Rand and I left Virginia Beach. He's been a lifesaver ever since he was a-put inter pants, but his jints is too stiff now. The Government has pensioned him but it looks like so long as we live near the old Life Saving Station that every time there is any cause for gittin' out the boats, Capt. Rand sees some good excuse why he's beholden to go 'long. So I jist up 'n' moved him away from temptation over inter these quiet waters. But when is that so-called paw of yourn comin'?"

"He will be along this evening with Miss Cox, our chaperone, and we want to get everything in order before he comes," said Dum.

"Well, that bein' the case, I'd better get a hump on and finish up the kitchen that greasy nigger left in such a state; and then I'll come right on up to the bedrooms. This lapping and slamming of tenants is right hard on me, but it is the only way I

can get my fifteen per cent out of my investment."

"Did you plan the house yourself, Mrs. Rand?" questioned Dum. "It is so pretty."

"What, me? Do I look crazy? When I builds, I builds a house with a parlor and nice, tight bedrooms. I don't 'low the builder to waste no lumber on porches that's nothin' but snares fer lazy folks. I owns three houses over to Virginia Beach, as snug little homes as you ever seed; but somehow it looks like I can't git rich tenants fer 'em, in spite of they bein' on the water front. Rich folks what is got the money to sleep in nice, close bedrooms is all took to sleepin' out doors like tramps; an' when they is got all the time there is to set in the parlors and rock, they ain't content in the house but must take theyselves out in the wind and sun 'til they look like Injuns!

"No, sirree! I had a mortgage on this house an' foreclosed. It was built and owned by a architect from Norfolk. I had a chattel mortgage, too, so I got all his fixin's. I felt real sorry fer him. It looked like he loved the place as if'n it was his own flesh and blood. It is a strange, misshapen lookin' house to me; but they do say if any of yo' children is afflicted, you loves 'em more'n all the others. I wanted to decoration this barn a little with some real fine pictures a lightnin' artist over to Hampton struck off for me while I waited, but the man took on so, jist like he thought I might a-been desecratin' the grave of his child! And he kinder made me promise to leave this room jist as it is with that common old blue chany on the mantel an' this strip of blue and white rag on the table. So that's how it comes to be so bare-like."

"We don't think it is bare, Mrs. Rand, but beautiful," said Dum reverently, and Dee took off her hat and held it just as I had seen her father do when a funeral was passing. "May we go upstairs and see the sleeping porches, and maybe we can help you some?"

"Snoop around all you've a mind to; but I wouldn't ask you to help. When I rents a furnished house I sees that it is turned over to tenants in apple-pie order, and if'n you'd 'a' come in the afternoon instid of morning you'd 'a' found it ship-shape."

"But we'd simply adore helping," urged Dee.

"All right, if you must you must! Here's a basket of clean sheets an' sich, an' here's clean bags fer the mattresses. I never asks one tenant to sleep on the same tick cover that the one before it used, certainly not when boys is been the fore-runners. These was likely boys if'n they was a leetle harum-scarum, but boys at the best is kinder goatish. Jist bundle up the s'iled bedclothes an' trun 'em down the steps, an then when you've buttoned up the mattresses in their clean covers make up the cots to suit your fancy. By that time I'll be up with my broom and rags." And Mrs. Rand bustled out to the kitchen to clean up after her abomination.

We could hardly wait for her to get out of the room to have a good giggle. She was a type that was new to me. Dee declared that she was a real out and out "po' white" if she did own three houses at Virginia Beach and one at Willoughby, and got 15 per cent on her investments. Her dialect was, in some instances, like the coloured people's, but her voice was high and nasal and every sentence ended in a kind of whine. With our coloured friends the dropping of a "g" or "d" makes their speech soft and mellow, but with this so-called "poor white" it seemed to make it only dry and hard. Certainly Mrs. Rand's exterior was not very attractive, but there was a kind of frankness about her that I rather liked. I had an idea that she was going to prove a good and just landlady, which, after all, is very important when one is renting a furnished house for a month at the sea shore.

"Thank goodness, we are spared the lightning artist's pictures," sighed Dum. "Isn't this room wonderful?"

It had indeed the repose and calm of a forest. The light was soft and subdued after the glare of sand and water. The high, vaulted, unplastered ceiling with its heavy green beams and rafters made me think of William Morris's description of the hall of the Nibelungs when the eagles screamed in the roof-tree.

We carried the heavy basket of clean bed linen upstairs and made our way through the dressing rooms, which were little more than closets, to the spacious sleeping porches, overlooking the bay. We found the place in very good order, considering boys had been keeping bach there for a month, and it was not at all "goatish," as we had been led to expect to find it. On the first porch we discovered an old checked cap on a hook, and some discarded tennis shoes in a corner, under one pillow a wallet, rather fat with bank bills, and under another a large gold watch.

"Aren't boys the limit, though?" exclaimed Dee as she carefully placed the valuables in a drawer. "That means they'll be coming back for their treasures. Maybe we had better save the old hat and shoes, too;" which we did with as much care as we had shown the watch and wallet. We bundled up the bed clothes according to instructions and decided to visit the other porches and get rid of all the soiled linen before we commenced to make up the cots. There were three large porches, with two dressing rooms to each porch, and two small porches in the back, one of them, we fancied, intended for the servant and the other one for some person who preferred solitude to company, as there was room for only one bed on it.

This porch was the last one we visited and we found it in terrible disarray. There were clothes and shoes all over the floor and the bed was piled high with a conglomeration of sweaters, baseball suits and what not.

"My, what a mess!" I cried, being the first to enter. "And this is the room of all others to get in order, as I fancy Miss Cox, our chaperone, will occupy it."

"Yes, this would be best," said Dum. "She could have more privacy, and then, too, she would escape the morning sun. Here, you girls, catch hold of the corners of the sheet and let's take up all of this trash and 'trun' it down the steps and let Mrs. Rand sort it out."

We laid hold with a good will, but it proved to be very heavy, so heavy, in fact, that just as we got it off the bed, Dee let go her end and the contents fell to the floor with a resounding bump.

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