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   Chapter 16 AN AXE TO GRIND.

Vacation with the Tucker Twins By Nell Speed Characters: 12191

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Harvie and Shorty came in that afternoon with a great basket of crabs for supper and countenances like boiled lobsters. Sunburn is as much a part of the seashore as sand and water, and sometimes it is even more in evidence. You can escape from the sand and water by going indoors and pulling down the blinds, but your sunburned nose you have to take with you.

The boys also brought the mail, a letter for Annie and one for me. My letter contained the bad news that my dear father could not come to the beach, after all, as Sally Winn was trying in dead earnest to die, and could not do it without Dr. Allison. Annie's letter had, I am ashamed to say, not such very good news, either, as it said that Mr. Pore had decided to come to Willoughby for a few days. We girls secretly dreaded this visit. We could not help knowing that Mr. Pore was very stiff and strait-laced, and we feared the effect he might have on poor little Annie. Annie was having such a good time and it did seem a pity to interrupt it.

"I do wish Zebedee would not be so promiscuous with his invitations," stormed Dum, who was escorting me as far as the hotel where I was going to pay a duty call on Cousin Park. "He was certainly not called on to ask this old dried-up Englishman down here. He could have been polite without being so effusive. It is going to ruin things for Annie, I just know."

"Maybe it won't," I suggested, speaking for moderation that I did not feel. "Harvie Price says he is a very cultivated, interesting man."

"Oh, yes, I know the kind! I bet you he says position for job; and rabble for mob; retires when he goes to bed; and arises when he gets up; calls girls, maidens; women, females; ladies, gentlewomen; birds, feathered songsters; and dogs, canines. Ugh! I just know he is going to be a wet blanket."

"Well, Dum, your father got on with him and seemed to like him very much. Maybe we can hit it off with him, too."

"Oh, that's nothing! Zebedee can get on with human oysters and clams and make animated pokers unbend. Why, that young father of ours is such a mixer he could even make ice cream and crabs agree. But that's no sign that Annie's paternal parent is not going to be a difficult guest. If it only had been dear Dr. Allison coming instead!"

I agreed with her there, but I tried to make impulsive, hot-headed Dum feel that the best thing we could do was to try to see the good in Mr. Pore for Annie's sake if not for his own. I was dying to tell her of the interesting things that Annie had divulged to me about her family, but a confidence is a confidence and must be respected as such. For my part, it seemed foolish to keep such an item as being kin to the nobility so strictly a secret. I don't believe that many Virginians would feel that being granddaughter to a baronet and great-granddaughter to an earl, something to be hid under a bushel. I fancy that Annie felt her clothes and general manner of living to be rather incongruous to such greatness.

We found Cousin Park ensconsed on the porch in a steamer chair, knitting an ugly grey shawl with purple scallops, while Mabel Binks, who had returned from her expedition to Newport News with Wink, danced attendance on the pompous lady.

"I bet she's got an axe to grind!" muttered Dum. "What do you fancy Mabel wants to get out of your cousin?"

"I can't imagine, but I'll take my hat off to her if she gets it," I laughed. "Please come on and call with me. I can't face Mabel and Cousin Park at the same time," I begged Dum, and she good-naturedly complied, although I know she hated it.

Cousin Park greeted us with what was meant to be a cordial manner, and Mabel was almost effusive as she got us chairs and took upon herself to do the honours of the hotel porch.

"I rather expected you this morning, Page," said Cousin Park, looking over her spectacles at me. This habit of my relative of looking over her spectacles at you would have made a person as mild as a May morning appear fierce, and its effect on Cousin Park's far from mild countenance was disconcerting in the extreme; but I did not feel nearly so uncomfortable with her as I had heretofore. Had I not seen her tap Judge Grayson with her turkey-tail fan, and listen with a pleasure that seemed almost human to the old man's recitation of the poem?

"We slept so late after the dance that there was no time to do anything this morning, and then Judge Grayson came to luncheon and that kept us all the early part of the afternoon. I also had a letter to write today."

"Ah, a very pleasant, well-mannered man, the Judge," said Cousin Park. "The legal profession should be proud of such a representative." Dum and I smothered a giggle at this, as Zebedee had confided to us that our charming old friend was only judge by courtesy. We said nothing, however. Far be it from us to lessen his dignity by one jot or tittle.

"We are to have another guest tomorrow," broke in Dum, in order to change the subject from Judge Grayson's doubtful legal rights. "Mr. Pore, Annie's father, is coming to visit us."

Mrs. Garnett snorted and Mabel's lip curled, but they said nothing to Dum. However, the minute my friend left us, which she did after a moment to speak to an acquaintance she spied at the other end of the long porch, their eloquence was opened up on me.

"I can't see why Jeffry Tucker should ask such a man to stay in the house with an Allison. I am told he is nothing but a little country store-keeper, just the commonest kind of Englishman, lower middle class, no doubt. It is bad enough to have his daughter, although she is very pretty and seems well mannered; but such acquaintances that cannot be continued in later life should be discouraged. I never did approve of your going to Gresham, but Sue Lee, with the democratic notions that she has picked up in Washington, insisted that it would be best for you to make a wide acquaintance. I thought a select home school where there were accommodations for very few girls would be much more desirable. One would at least know who the persons were you were meeting and

you would be spared such embarrassing situations as you are now finding yourself in. I think you had better excuse yourself and come to the hotel and visit me. I could take you in my room without much inconvenience to myself."

"Thank you, Cousin Park! I would not inconvenience you even a little bit for the world, nor would I leave my friends until my visit with them is finished. Annie Pore is as much my friend as she is the Tuckers', and I love her dearly and have found her a perfect lady on all occasions. Mr. Tucker is acquainted with Mr. Pore and his judgment as to who is a suitable person to introduce to us is to be relied on implicitly. Mr. Pore is not a common Englishman at all but a very cultivated, highly-educated gentleman." How I did long to spring Sir Isaac Pore and the Earl of Garth on them! There are times when I wish I did not have such a keen sense of honour. It certainly does restrict your actions and words at very inconvenient moments.

"He may be educated but hardly a gentleman," said Cousin Park, dropping stitches in her indignation. "One would hardly find a gentleman weighing out lard and drawing kerosene from a barrel for his darkey customers, and that is what Miss Binks tells me this Pore is accustomed to do."

"Ah!" I thought, "I fancied I could see Mabel Binks' fine Italian hand in this. She has never forgiven Annie since the Seniors gave her a cheer when she arrived at Gresham, all because the shy little English girl stood up for herself and downed the dashing Mabel with the retort courteous."

"I quite agree with you, Mrs. Garnett, about Gresham's being entirely too democratic. My mother was shocked when I told her of some of the ordinary looking, badly dressed girls Miss Peyton had allowed to enter. It used to be quite select. I am glad I am through. I am dying to come out this next winter," continued Mabel. "Richmond society is so charming. I envy these girls who can come out there. I have a cousin who lives there but she is not one bit sociable and it is not very much fun to visit her." I was beginning to see Mabel's axe as her grinding was quite evident.

"I shall be glad to have you visit me," said Cousin Park. "I have not chaperoned a girl for some years, but no doubt I could make you have a very nice time."

"Oh, how lovely of you!" and Mabel's expression was indeed triumphant as she picked up Cousin Park's ball of purple yarn and restored it to that lady's rather precarious lap. I could have told Mabel that it was not such a sweet boon as she fancied: to visit the grand Garnett mansion. I thought of Jeremiah, the blue-gummed butler, with his solemn air of officiating at a funeral; of the oiled walnut furniture with its heavy uncomfortable carving, sure to hit you in the small of the back if you sought repose in one of the stiff hair cloth covered chairs, or to find a tender place on your shins when you passed a bureau or bed. I thought of the interminable, heavy dinners: roast mutton and starchy vegetables topped off with plum pudding or something equally rich and filling. I could fancy the line of family portraits, hung high against the ceiling, looking their disapproval at the far from dignified Mabel and plainly showing their wonderment that she should have found her way into their august presence.

Those old portraits will little dream how much Mabel had fetched and carried for that invitation; how many cushions she had arranged and rearranged behind the plump back of the present owner of the portraits; how many tiresome moments she had spent holding the skeins of grey and purple yarn for Mrs. Garnett to wind her fat knitting balls. She had also gathered bits of pleasing gossip to retail to the willing ear of my relative. Cousin Park was the type ever ready and delighted to be scandalized. The day after the sail that we had spent in dough masks, Mabel had evidently spent in the mask of a lively, agreeable, obliging girl, doing everything in her power to make herself attractive to her possible hostess. Success was hers! A long visit in Richmond in her debutante winter with one of the wealthiest members of society meant a good deal to that young lady. Mabel's mother belonged to a very good family but her father's name, Binks, is enough to show that at least he was not of the F. F. V's. Wink White, who was a cousin of Mrs. Binks, had confided to me that he rather preferred Mr. Binks to Mrs.

"The fact that she married old Binks for his money and now is ashamed of him shows about what kind Cousin Florence is," he had said.

Having said all I could say in defense of Mr. Pore, and having played so well into Mabel's hands that, by giving her a chance to agree so readily and heartily with Cousin Park, her invitation had come much more easily than she had dared to hope, I felt sure, I now took my departure with Dum. It should have made no difference to me how many visits Mabel Binks would pay in Richmond, but it did. I well knew what her game was there: she was determined to attract Mr. Jeffry Tucker, and had been from the moment she had seen him at Gresham, when he took Tweedles there to enter them at school. I well knew that Zebedee gave her not a moment's thought, but if she pursued him enough he might change his mind about her. She was certainly handsome and quite bright and entertaining. Tweedles would not be there to protect their young father and he was but human, very human, in fact. I felt depressed on the way back to our cottage, so much so that Dum noticed it and begged me to cheer up.

"Your cousin is enough to make you blue, but remember that everyone has some scrubby kin. Just think of poor Annie and what oceans of spirits we will have to produce to drown her sorrow and depression when her respected parent arrives!"

I threw off my gloom the best I could and let Dum go on thinking it was Cousin Park who had cast the spell over me. I knew quite well that if I even hinted at Mabel and her machinations, Tweedles would refuse to go back to Gresham but stay in Richmond all winter to guard their precious Zebedee.

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