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   Chapter 21 SETTLING UP.

Vacation with the Tucker Twins By Nell Speed Characters: 20134

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The next day, our last at the Beach, such scrubbing, sweeping and dusting went on as was never seen before I am sure. We were determined that Mrs. Rand should not say that girls at best were "goatish." Blanche insisted that she could do all the cleaning herself, but we thought it but fair to turn in and help.

"How could people in one short month collect so much mess?" demanded Dum, as she turned bureau drawers out on the beds and did what she called "picking rags." "Do you s'pose on a desert island we would find ourselves littered up with a lot of doo-dads?"

"Well, Robinson Crusoe collected Friday, besides several other days of the week that I can't remember," answered Dee, "and it seems to me he got a dog and a cat and a parrot, and he certainly 'made him a coat of an old Nannie goat.' He had no luggage at all on his arrival and had much to cart away. And look at Swiss Family Robinson! There was nothing they did not collect in the way of belongings on their desert island, even a wife for one of the boys."

"Do you know, I used to think Swiss Family Robinson was the best book that had ever been written," said I, emerging from the closet with an arm full of shoes.

"Well, I don't know but that it is still," declared Dum. "Wouldn't it be just grand to be cast on a desert island? Of course I mean if Zebedee could be cast along, too."

"Of course we wouldn't be cast without him," said Dee, "Heaven would be more like the other place if Zebedee wasn't there. Goodness, I wish he didn't have to work and we could all stay together all the time!"

"When I grow up a little more and learn how, I am going to sculp such a wonderful statue that Zebedee can stop working." Dum forgot all about the rags she was picking and with the dreamy expression we knew so well, began to ball up a perfectly clean shirt waist as though it were clay and with her sculptor's thumb shape it into I don't know what image of surpassing beauty.

She was rudely awakened from her dream by Dee, who snatched the imaginary clay from her twin, exclaiming:

"Since that happens to be my shirt waist, the one I am going to travel back to Richmond in, I'll thank you to get-rich-quick on one of your own . . . or this dirty middy blouse might prove a good medium," and she tossed a very soiled article over Dum's head. It happened to be a middy that she had gone crabbing in, so it was not overly pleasant. Anything was enough to start Tweedles in a romp, and in a minute the air was black with shoes and white with pillows, and what work we had accomplished was in a fair way to be done over.

Annie and I took to the farthest cot for safety and Mary perched upon the railing and egged the warriors to fiercer battle by giving her inimitable dog fight with variations. As is often the case, the non-combatants got the worst of the fight. Dee ducked a pillow, thrown with tremendous force by her opponent, and Annie got it square on her dainty nose, causing that aristocratic feature to bleed profusely.

"Oh, Annie, Annie, I'm so sorry!" wailed Dum.

"It is altogether my fault!" declared Dee. "I had no business ducking!"

"Id's dothing adall," insisted Annie, tightly grasping her offending member, "by old dose always bleeds. Jusd a liddle dab will draw de clared."

"Oh, but I just know it hurts awfully," and Dee raced off for a basin of cold water while Dum rummaged in the debris for some of the gentleman's handkerchiefs that she and Dee always used in common with their father.

Mary insisted upon dropping a large brass door key down the sufferer's back, declaring that nothing stopped nose-bleed so effectively as the shock occasioned by a brass door key dropped down the back.

"I just know it is going to disfigure you for days to come!" exclaimed Dee.

"Oh, I don't bind the loogs but id's just the bordification of being such a duisance," answered the poor girl, as usual embarrassed over being the observed of all observers. And just then in spite of the basin of gore and Annie's pitiful expression and Tweedles' great solicitude, Mary and I went off into uncontrollable giggles.

"I'm not laughing at you, Annie, but at your 'bordification,'" gasped Mary, holding her own nose to give the proper accent; and then everybody laughed and it had the effect described in the nursery rhyme:

"Little Tommy Grace

Had a pain in his face

So bad he couldn't learn a letter.

In came Dicky Long,

Singing such a funny song,

Tommy laughed and his face felt much better."

Blanche arrived on the scene with a bottle of witch hazel and Annie was made to lie down in the farthest corner with healing cloths bound round her injuries.

"I never heard sech carryings on!" exclaimed the girl. "Mo' like a passel of boys. I couldn't believe my yers that 'twas my young missusses making sech hullybullyboo. That there rent woman come by jes' then, and she rubbered 'til I thought she would sho' twis' her po' white neck off."

Blanche had as frank a dislike to Mrs. Rand as that good woman had for all darkeys, and it was only with the most tactful management that we could keep them from coming to blows on the few occasions when Mrs. Rand came over to inspect our cottage. The white woman was very free in her use of the very objectionable term "nigger," and Blanche on the other hand had an insolent bearing in her presence that was entirely foreign to her usual polite manner and gentle disposition. It seemed strange that two persons as excellent in their way as Mrs. Rand and Blanche should be so antagonistic. They were like two chemicals, innocent and mild until brought together and then such a bubbling and boiling and exploding! Mrs. Rand always entered the house through the kitchen, which in itself was an irritation to Blanche.

"I don't hold to no back-do' company. If'n she calls herself a lady, wherefore don't she entrance like one? What call is she got to be pryin' and appearin' auspiciously into all my intensils? I ain't goin' to leave no mo' dirt than I found."

"Did she come in just now?" asked Dee as Blanche got off the foregoing tirade after having administered to Annie.

"No'm, she never come in! I squared myself in the do'way and she couldn't git by me and she couldn't git over me and Gawd knows she couldn't git under me. I wa'n't goin' to let her or no one else come in my kitchen 'til I got the dislocation indigent to the undue disordinary of yesterday somewhat abated."

"Did she say anything?" laughed Dum.

"Yessum, she said a absolute piece of po'try what I would not defame my lips by repeating to you."

"Oh, please tell us what it was!" we begged.

"Well, 'twas:

"'Nigger, nigger, never die,

Black face and shiny eye,

Flat nose and crooked toes,

That's the way the nigger goes.'"

"Wasn't that horrid of her?" we cried. "And what did you say?"

"Well, I held my head up same as a white lady, an' I answered her back same as a white lady, an' I called out to her:

"'I had a little dog

An' his name was Dash,

'Druther be a nigger

Than po' white trash!'"

"Well, I'm glad you got back at her; and now come on and let's get the cottage in such good order that we won't care which way the owner comes in," and Dee gave Blanche a friendly pat on her broad shoulder. The girl left us, her good-humour restored by our sympathy, and if there was a speck of dirt left in that kitchen it would have taken a magnifying glass to find it.

Trunks were soon packed, and we had proceeded to the business of dismantling beds (all but on our porch), when we heard the rasping voice of Mrs. Rand in the living room below, that wily woman having slipped in through the kitchen while Blanche's back was turned.

"Hey-Miss Tucker Twins!! Where's that so-called paw of yours? I come over to go over the inventory with him."

"Inventory! What inventory?" asked Tweedles from the balcony.

"What inventory? Why, land's sakes alive, what are you handin' out to me? Didn't I give him a list of my goods and chattels to be returned to me in the same condition in which they was delivered to him on the fust of the month?"

"Oh, I believe there is a list of things in the blue tea-pot," and Dee raced down the steps and drew out the important document from the beautiful old blue tea-pot on the mantelpiece.

"But, Mrs. Rand, our father has gone back to Richmond, went yesterday, and he told me to tell you to send him the bill for anything that was broken or missing."

"Bill, indeed!" she sniffed. "I don't trust to bills with any of these here tenants. Richmond is Richmond and Willoughby is Willoughby."

"Certainly, Mrs. Rand," said Dee with great dignity, "we will not ask you to trust us for any sum provided we have cash enough to reimburse you. There have been very few things broken and I fancy nothing will be missing. A few water glasses and some cups, I think, are the only things broken."

"Not with a nigger in the kitchen!" said our landlady, rudely. "Yer can't tell me a nigger has gone through a month without bustin' mo' things than that."

"Why, Blanche didn't break the things that have been broken. We did it ourselves. I don't believe Blanche has broken a single thing," exclaimed Dum.

"You is quite exactitude in yo' statement, Miss Dum," said Blanche, appearing in the kitchen door, where she had overheard all of Mrs. Rand's not too complimentary remarks. "I is not been the instructive mimber of the household, and what brokerage has been committed has been performed by you young ladies or yo' papa. I is fractured but one object since I engaged in domestic disuetude and that was a cup without no saucer, and before Gawd it was cracked whin I come."

Blanche no longer looked the mild and peaceful character we had found her to be. Her pleasant gingerbread coloured face was purple with rage, and one of her pigtails, usually tightly wrapped, had come unbound and was standing up in a great woolly bush on the top of her head, giving her very much the appearance of a Zulu warrior in battle regalia. A rolling pi

n in one hand and a batter cake turner in the other added to her warlike aspect.

"I never seed a nigger yet that didn't say everything she broke was cracked when she come," sniffed Mrs. Rand scornfully.

"Blanche is quite right!" exclaimed Dum. "The cup she broke was cracked, because I cracked it myself. I cracked the cup and broke the saucer the first night at the beach, didn't I, Dee?"

"No, you didn't. I did it myself," said Dee.

"Well, hoity-toity! It looks like you both think you done something fine to bust up the chiny," and Mrs. Rand smiled grimly as she gave an extra twist to her Mrs. Wiggs knot and got out of her capacious pocket a huge pair of brass-rimmed spectacles. "Come on, now, and go over this here inventory. Business is business, and if the chiny is busted, no matter who done it, it is the business of the renters to make good. I ain't a-saying the nigger done it, but I'm a-saying if'n she didn't, she's the fust nigger I ever seed that didn't behave like a bull in a chiny shop, bustin' and breakin' wherever she trod."

But Blanche had not had her say out and she took up the ball and continued:

"I is large, 'tis true, but I is light to locomotion, and brokerage is never been one of my failures. My kitchen is open fer yo' conception at any time, Miss Dee. You kin bring in the rent woman when it suits yo' invention," and with a bow that took in all of us and left out Mrs. Rand, Blanche retired to her domain and lifted up her voice in a doleful hymn.

Everything in the cottage was carefully checked off, living room first and then the sleeping porches. We were thankful indeed that we had cleaned up so well and had all of our accumulated mess out of the way. The old woman complimented us on the appearance of everything. She was not at all an unkind person, except where coloured people were concerned. She seemed to take a motherly interest in us and highly approved of Zebedee.

"Well, you gals is sho' kept my house nice and I must say it is some surprise to me. You look like such harum-scarums that I was fearing you would be worser tenants than them boys-- Land sakes, if'n the tick covers ain't clean enough ter use agin. I always changes 'em fer a new tenant, but looks like it would be foolishness to take off perfectly clean things, 'thout spot or speck on 'em. Of course, I'll take off the nigger's tick."

Every time Mrs. Rand said nigger it made me wince. Mammy Susan had brought me up to think that that was a word not to be used in polite society or anywhere else.

"Niggers is the onliest ones what kin say nigger," she used to tell me. "Whin white folks says niggers they is demeaning of themselves, an' they is also paintin' of the nigger blacker than his Maker done see fit to make him."

Blanche's room was in perfect order and I wondered if Mrs. Rand would not give her some praise, but that stern person only sniffed and passed on.

Dishes were next on the list and we ticketed them off easily. Four cups were broken, three saucers and a plate and six water glasses, about a dollar's worth in all, as the china and glass were of the plainest. Then came the kitchen and cooking utensils. We hoped Blanche would go out, but she stood to her guns bravely and refused to desert the ship. Mrs. Rand poked her nose into every crack and crevice and seemed to be hunting dirt which she could not discover. The tins were counted and found O. K.; and then the kitchen spoons and forks were as carefully gone over as though they had been of the finest silver. One iron spoon was worn on the edges and a little bent from the vigorous beating and stirring the batter bread had undergone, and the strictly business Mrs. Rand looked at it dubiously, but finally let it pass along with the "sheep," although her expression was very much what Peter's might be if a goat had butt his way into Paradise.

"Why don't you speak up, girl?"-Page 255

"Where's that there can-opener, a perfectly good one that I bought from a peddler? I wouldn't lose it for a pretty! I never seed one like it before and the man I bought it from said he was the sole agent for it and mor'n likely would not be back this way for years to come," and Mrs. Rand rummaged in the table drawer like some lady who feared she had lost some precious jewel.

Blanche stood back abashed and was silent, and Tweedles and I looked at one another guiltily.

"Why don't you speak up, girl? You needn't think you can get off with my can-opener, 'cause you can't." Still Blanche held to the policy of the Tar Baby and said nothing, and Tweedles and I were as dumb as fish. "It was one of these here combination implements, a cork-screw and can-opener, beer-opener and knife-sharpener, with a potato-parer at one end and apple-corer at the other, and in the middle a nutmeg-grater. I never seen a finer thing, and besides it had a attachment fer the slicin' of Sarytogy chips."

"I am very sorry, Mrs. Rand, but your can-opener is-is-lost," said Dee. "Blanche is not responsible for it, as she had nothing to do with it. Here is a very good can-opener, however, that our father brought back from Norfolk," and she took from its accustomed nail a sturdy little affair of the old-fashioned kind, meant to open cans and to do nothing but open cans, and in consequence one that did open cans. "Here is a cork-screw, and here is a nutmeg-grater! We never did know what all the other parts of the thing were meant for or I am sure my father would have got those, too, as he did not wish to defraud you in any way."

"You talk like that there so-called paw of yours had lost it, and I believe you is just trying to shield this nigger. I never seed a nigger yet who had the gumption to use one of these here labor-saving devices."

The purple colour again rose in Blanche's dusky countenance and the tuft of unwrapped wool began to shake ominously, but still she held her peace, showing that she was a lady at heart. She knew as well as we did what had become of the prized and priceless implement, but her loyalty made her keep silence.

The situation was tense and the irate owner looked from one to another of our solemn countenances, trying to solve the riddle of the lost can-opener. Annie and Mary had come to the kitchen door, Annie with her nose not much the worse for the blow, but with her pretty face very pale from the loss of blood, Mary with the whimsical expression that she always wore when she was taking mental notes of anyone whom she intended to imitate later on.

We all of us could recall with the keenest delight the memorable evening when Zebedee undertook to open the sardines at a beach party we were having and his scornful remarks anent our can-opener.

"Look at this thing!" he had said indignantly. "Pretends to do so much and can't do a single thing right! Broke the cork in the olive bottle! Won't cut anything but a little round, jagged hole in this square can of sardines! I have cut a biscuit out of my hand with this butt end that is meant for the Lord knows what!" (That must have been the end that was meant for an apple-corer.) He continued, "If it's the last act of my life, I intend to take this abomination out in the bay and drop it down ten fathoms deep."

He was as good as his word, and the very next morning when we went out for our usual before-breakfast dip, Zebedee appeared with the can-opener in his mouth (to leave his hands free for swimming) and with strong, rapid strokes shot out far into the bay, there to consign the hated abomination to its watery grave.

And now what was to be said to Mrs. Rand? It wouldn't do to stand like Patience on a monument smiling at Grief, indefinitely. We looked to Dee, our social deliverer, to save us, and I only hoped that Mary and I would not disgrace the crowd by going off into our usual giggles.

"As I said before, Mrs. Rand, it is lost and we are as sorry as can be. I will either reimburse you for your property or I'll send you another from Richmond." We were mighty proud of Dee, her reimburse sounded so grown-up and business-like, but Mrs. Rand seemed not one whit impressed.

"How kin you git something when they ain't no more of them, and how kin you pay fer something when it is valued for its bein' so useful and so rare? I wouldn't a lef' it here if'n I hadn't 'a' thought you was all girls and had been raised proper, not to lose or break other folkses' things."

"Well then, Mrs. Rand, all I can say is that we are sorry, and if you will make out a receipted bill for the china and glass that is broken, we will pay you immediately and wish you good-morning, as we have a great deal to do on this our last day at the beach." Dee's dignity was wonderful. How often I have seen her father behave in exactly that way: do all he could to keep the peace, exercise all his tact to smooth things over and, that failing, take on a dignity and a toploftical manner that would reduce the offender to pulp.

"Well, now, you needn't get so huffy about it! Business is just business--"

"Exactly, so please make out the receipted bill and let us pay you what we owe you."

"Well, I never said I was goin' to charge you fer those few bits of broken chiny. I reckon I kin make my fifteen per cent. off my investment, anyhow," and the old woman gave her rare snaggle-toothed grin. "I'll give it to you that you is leaving my house as clean as you found it, and that's something I can't say of most tenants."

"Cleaner!" muttered Blanche, but if Mrs. Rand heard, she pretended not to. Dee's grande dame manner had had its effect and she now treated us with great cordiality, shaking hands and expressing a wish to see all of us again at the beach and complimenting us again and again on the neatness of the cottage. She sent messages to "that so-called paw" and was almost genial as she bade us good-bye.

Mary and I managed to wait until she got away before we were shaken by the inevitable storm of giggles. "All of that row about an old can-opener," gasped Mary, "and after all it was a can't-opener."

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