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   Chapter 26 THE PICNIC.

Vacation with the Tucker Twins By Nell Speed Characters: 16803

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The Tuckers arrived right on the dot with Cousin Park. I had hoped they would get in first, but Henry Ford had a blow out and they had to stop for repairs.

We always had to send for Cousin Park in a great old sea-going rockaway that was never pulled out of the carriage house except on state occasions. Father and I hated to ride in it as it always reminded us of funerals and Cousin Park. It was a low swung vehicle with high, broad mud guards and a peculiar swaying motion that was apt either to put you to sleep or make you very seasick, if you were inclined that way. It took two large strong plow horses to propel it. I don't know where Father got it but I do know that he had always had it. I believe there are no more built like it but its counterpart may be seen in museums. I used to play dolls in it when I was a kid, and on rare hilarious occasions when I had a companion we would get up great games of Jesse James and Dick Turpin and other noted highwaymen who would stop the coach and rob all the dolls.

Cousin Park came riding up in state, her ugly, cross old pug placed between her and Cousin Sue, who had most generously offered to go to Milton to meet our august relative so I could be at home to receive the Tuckers. As the rockaway made its ponderous way down the drive, the plow horses foaming painfully after their twelve-mile pull, six to Milton and six back, I spied Henry Ford, in a swirling cloud of dust, turn into the avenue, and in a trice he was whizzing up behind the old sea-going rockaway. Pug wrinkled his fat neck and whimpered when he saw Brindle, who occupied the back seat with Dee; Cousin Park gave an audible snort. Brindle paid no attention at all to Pug but sat like a bulldog done in bronze and for the time being even refrained from snuffling.

I dreaded the meeting between my dear friends, the Tuckers, and Cousin Park, knowing that lady's overbearing manner when things did not go to suit her. But I really had not fathomed the depth of Zebedee's mixing powers. I remembered what Dee had said about his being able to make crabs and ice cream agree if he set his mind to it.

All the Tuckers looked rather aghast as they drew up near the rockaway from which Cousin Park was emerging, Pug clasped in her arms. They composed their countenances quickly, however, at least Dee and Zebedee did; Dum was never able to pull her social self together quite so quickly as her father and sister. Zebedee shut off his engine and in a moment was assisting my dignified relative with her many traveling necessities: small pillows of various sizes and shapes, designed to ease different portions of one's anatomy on trains and in carriages (she carried four of them); several silk bags bulging with mysterious contents; a black sunshade; her turkey-tail fan; Pug and a box of dog biscuit.

Zebedee got them all safely into the house, even taking Pug tenderly in his arms, much to the astonishment of that dull-witted canine. He assured Cousin Park that Brindle would not hurt Pug, provided Pug did not try to get too intimate with him and bore him.

"We can count on Brindle up to a certain point, but if he gets very bored he is apt to be cross," another human attribute my dear Tuckers gave their pet. Cousin Park rather bridled at the idea of her precious dog's boring anything, but Zebedee's manner was so deferential and his solicitude so apparent that mortal woman could not have withstood him.

Cousin Sue and the Tuckers took to one another from the beginning. I had thought they would, but sometimes the friends that you expect to like one another are the very ones that act "Dr. Fell" and develop a strange and unreasoning dislike.

The picnic was under discussion and was approved of unanimously. I thought Dum blushed a little when I announced that Mr. Reginald Kent was back in the county. She undoubtedly had a soft spot in her girl's heart for the good looking young illustrator who had been so enamoured of her the winter before.

One thing occurred to mar our pleasant anticipations: Cousin Park, instead of declining the invitation to go on the picnic, which Father and I pressed upon her, expecting of course that she would refuse, accepted with alacrity, announcing that the piney air would be good for Pug. We told her the road was impossible for the rockaway and that she would have to go in a spring wagon; but that made no difference, go she would and go she did, four little cushions, bulging silk bags, purple and black knitting, Pug and package of dog biscuit, turkey-tail fan and all.

We made an early start to avoid the heat of the August day. Mammy Susan had packed a hamper with every conceivable good thing the countryside afforded, and the floor of the spring wagon was filled with watermelons, the pride of my dear father's heart. Next to his library, Father loved his watermelon patch. My earliest remembrance is watermelon seed spread out on letter paper to dry, with a description of that particular melon written on the paper. Every good melon must have some seed saved from it for the purpose of reproducing the species. "Very rich in colour with black seeds and thin rind. Sweet and juicy," would be one; then another: "Small, round, dark green,-meat pale in colour but mealy and very delicious;" another: "Large, striped rattlesnake variety,-good if allowed to ripen, but great favourite with niggers."

On that hot day in August small round ones rubbed noses with large rattlesnake varieties and the rich red ones with thin rinds and black seeds jostled each other in the bottom of the wagon as we bumped over the none too smooth roads that our country boasted.

Cousin Park required a whole back seat for herself and Pug and her many belongings. Zebedee drove with Cousin Sue Lee and Brindle on the front seat with him, and we three girls sat in the back with the tail gate down and our legs a-dangling. It was thoroughly selfish of Cousin Park to allow us to do it but we enjoyed it hugely. Father had many morning calls to make but was to land at the ford for dinner.

Jo Winn was waiting at the cross roads in his knock-about, his favourite setter between his knees and his handsome cousin by his side. Mr. Kent could hardly wait for the vehicle to stop to jump out and speak to us. Again he seemed to think we needed masculine protection so Dee changed places with him and joined the grinning and delighted Jo, and the young advertising artist squeezed in between Dum and me.

A jolly ride we had in spite of the many bumps in the road and the fact that at every bump the watermelons would roll against our backs. Cousin Park sat in solemn silence, but Zebedee and Cousin Sue kept up a lively conversation on the front seat and we three with our legs a-dangling never paused a moment in our lively chatter.

I think Cousin Park regretted many times that she had not decided to spend the day quietly at Bracken with Miss Pinky Davis for company and Mammy Susan to wait on her. We had not let her come without informing her of the bad roads and the long drive to Uncle Peter's cabin and then the rough walk to the ford, but nothing would keep her from coming and now she was making the best of it. She emitted an occasional groan but never a word of complaint, which was quite fine of her in a way.

We found Uncle Peter hoeing his tobacco but glad of an excuse to stop. Aunt Rosana was as fat as ever and her cabin just as clean. She was overjoyed to see us and flattered beyond measure when Mr. Kent told her he had come all the way back from New York just to get another picture of the inside of her house. This time he wanted to make a drawing, not being satisfied with the time exposure he had taken before. Of course he could not possibly find his way to the ford alone, so the wily youth persuaded Dum to wait with him while he made his sketch. She seemed nothing loath and even made a sketch herself.

"Lawsamussy, Rosana! Come look at dese here watermillions Docallison done sent to de pickanigger!" exclaimed Uncle Peter, his eyes rolling in delight. Aunt Rosana waddled out.

"Great Gawd! They mus' be one apiece."

"So they are, Aunt Rosana, and you must have one left here for you so you can have your share. Which kind do you like best?" I asked.

"Well, all watermillions is good but some is scrumptious, and I low I'll take a chanct on one er dem striped rattlers. If

it do prove to be scrumptious they will be so much er it. I is jes' lak a lil' pig wif a million-whin he'll eat a whole bucket er slop an' thin git in de bucket. I eats all they is an' thin jes' fair wallows in de rime."

"I can't raise no millions, it looks like," said Uncle Peter sadly. "Dem dere swamp niggers comes an' gathers 'em whin dey's no bigger 'n cowcumbers." He reached into the back of the wagon and thumped every melon with his horny forefinger, a smile of extreme satisfaction lighting his kindly features. "I tell yer, Docallison ain't a gwine ter hab no millions on his plantation pulled green. He knows de music ub a ripe un 'bout as well as he reckernizes de soun' ub pneumony in a sick man's chist. Whin I comes to think ub it they is similar sounds. I'll be boun' Docallison done got up hisself an' pulled dese here millions wif de dew on 'em. Dey's still cold in spite of the heat dey done been in."

That was so. Father always pulled the watermelons himself and always did it very early in the morning when the dew was still on them.

We started on our walk to the ford, the same walk we had taken the winter before on our memorable deer hunt. Uncle Peter loaded the melons into his wheelbarrow and Zebedee and Jo Winn swung the baskets on a stout pole which they carried between them. Cousin Park got between Dee and me and taking an arm of each proceeded on her ponderous way. I would gladly have wheeled the watermelons or carried the hampers. It would have been child's play beside the load we carried. Pug and Brindle trotted along, Brindle still ignoring the existence of Pug and Pug whimpering every time he caught Brindle's eye. Jo's setter kept well in advance and pretended he was none of us.

"Why do we go so far? Why not sit down right here and have our repast?" panted poor Cousin Park.

"But we are to fish at the river," suggested Cousin Sue, who was laden with Cousin Park's many cushions and bags and the knitting and dog biscuit.

"And there is such a fine spring there, too," I said, and added, knowing Cousin Park's weakness: "We can't make the coffee unless we get near a spring." And so we trudged on, Zebedee and Uncle Peter taking down the worm fences to let Cousin Park and the watermelons through, and then patiently building them up again.

There was the deep cathedral peace in the pine woods and our presence seemed almost a sacrilege as we tramped heavily over the soft bed of fragrant pine needles. Cousin Park had to sit down and rest every now and then and it took the combined effort of all the males, white and coloured, to get her on her feet after one of these pauses.

At last we reached our camping ground. The kindly and resourceful Zebedee made a bed for my august relative of pine boughs and with the help of the different sized and shaped pillows she was quite comfortable. With her various bags distributed around her and her knitting and her stupid Pug by her side she went off into a deep sleep, much to the relief and delight of all of us.

"Now we can be ourselves!" exclaimed Zebedee, turning handsprings like a boy; and Cousin Sue and Dee and I caught hold of hands and ran to the spring which sparkled and gurgled in a beautiful stone grotto at the foot of the hill near the river ford. Uncle Peter put all the melons into the little branch flowing from the spring and there they cooled to a queen's taste.

We made the camp fire and prepared the coffee well away from Cousin Park and we devoutly hoped that she would sweetly sleep until her favourite beverage was ready.

What a good time we did have that day! We fished in the river, and while our catch was nothing to be proud of, we had fun all the same. Dee caught a catfish that pulled and tugged at her line like a veritable whale. She finally landed it with a shriek that made Cousin Park stir uneasily from her bed of pine boughs and brought on herself, Dee, a good shaking from Zebedee.

"Wake her up, and I declare you will have to entertain her! It's your turn, anyhow."

I caught what Uncle Peter called "a mud turkle." We threw him back into his delectable mud and he went in with a grateful "kerchunk," sending back many bubbles of appreciation.

"Almost as good at making bubbles as a young lady I know," said Zebedee, re-baiting my hook for me.

Enough small river perch were caught to make a little mess which Uncle Peter cleaned with great skill and fried on our camp fire. Dum and her cavalier, having finished the sketching, joined us with such a racket that Cousin Park really waked up and confessed herself much refreshed when she detected the odour of coffee in the air. She was much more of a sport than I had expected to find her and not such a bad picnicker after all.

Father got there in time to sit down to as good a dinner as was served in all the land on that hot day in August, I am sure. Sally Winn had put on the big pot and the little, and Mammy Susan had out-Susaned herself. We had no forks for our fried fish, but the person who can't eat a fried fish without a fork deserves to go fishless. Cousin Park drank so much strong coffee that she was really boozy and actually flirted with Zebedee.

The watermelons were-well, there are no words to describe those melons. Watermelons are like sunsets-no words can picture them. You have to be on the spot with both wonders to appreciate them. Father's pockets were bulging with seeds, saved for next year's planting. Uncle Peter, who sat over behind a pine tree having his dinner, declared himself "fittin' fur to bust!"

All of us had reached our limit of endurance and when the food was all disposed of decided we should either have to go on a long walk or drop to sleep. Cousin Park again sought her pine bough couch where she sat in state, dozing and knitting on her ugly black and purple shawl. Uncle Peter acted as body guard to her while all the rest of us went on a long tramp on the other side of the river.

We came back feeling fine and no longer full to "stuffifaction," as poor dear Blanche used to say. Zebedee held up two fingers, the sign all the world over among boys that a swim would be in order. Father responded with a boyish laugh and all the men trooped off to a swimming hole that Jo knew of a little way down the river. We could hear their shouts of laughter and a great splashing.

They were hardly out of sight when we were out of our shoes and stockings and in wading, Cousin Sue as eager as any of us. How good it felt! I'd rather wiggle my toes in a clear brown stream with a sandy bottom than do anything in the world. We took bits of bark and slender twigs and scraps of stray paper and sailed them down the swift-flowing water, watching to see which reached the tiny eddying rapids first and cheering the winners. Then at Dee's suggestion we picked up little pieces of wood and named them Volunteer, Valiant, Vixen, and Valkyrie and held an exciting cup race.

We dabbled our hands in the cool water. We splashed and sang. We romped and ran. You know what we did and what fun we had if you ever spent part of an August day in such a lovely spot.

But bye and bye we heard laughter again and voices, and we knew the men were coming back. So we scrambled out of the stream, dried our feet on the sunny bank and popped them again into demure and proper coverings.

We sighed a little that it was over-that glorious bit of freedom-but argued that it must stop sometime.

And that reminds me: this book, too, must stop, and it might as well be now, although the picnic story is not quite ended.

I had thought of telling how Uncle Peter took Cousin Park back to the spring wagon in his wheelbarrow, and something of the wonderful drive home with the crescent moon shining in the glow of the sunset. How Father drove Cousin Sue in his buggy and I sat on the front seat with Zebedee,-but I must stop.

I wonder,-shall I meet you all again when I am "Back at School with the Tucker Twins?"

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Transcriber's Note:

Obvious punctuation errors were corrected.

Varied hyphenation was retained. This includes words such as cork-screw and corkscrew; football and foot-ball. This text spells the more usual "Monticello" as "Montecello."

The remaining corrections made are indicated by dotted lines under the corrections. Scroll the mouse over the word and the original text will appear.

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