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   Chapter 1 No.1

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 5988

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Harry Loudon Makes Up His Mind.

On a wooden bench under a great catalpa-tree, in the front yard of a comfortable country-house in Virginia, sat Harry and Kate Loudon worrying their minds. It was all about old Aunt Matilda.

Aunt Matilda was no relation of these children. She was an old colored woman, who lived in a cabin about a quarter of a mile from their house, but they considered her one of their best friends. Her old log cabin was their favorite resort, and many a fine time they had there. When they caught some fish, or Harry shot a bird or two, or when they could get some sweet potatoes or apples to roast, and some corn-meal for ash-cakes, they would take their provisions to Aunt Matilda and she would cook them. Sometimes an ash-cake would be baked rather harder than it was convenient to bite, and it had happened that a fish or two had been cooked entirely away, but such mishaps were not common. Aunt Matilda was indeed a most wonderful cook-and a cook, too, who liked to have a boy and a girl by her while she was at work; and who would tell them stories-as queer old stories as ever were told-while the things were cooking. The stories were really the cause of the ash-cakes and fish sometimes being forgotten.

And it is no wonder that these children were troubled in their minds. They had just heard that Aunt Matilda was to go to the alms-house.

Harry and Kate were silent. They had mourned over the news, and Kate had cried. There was nothing more to be done about it, so far as she could see.

But all of a sudden Harry jumped up. "I tell you what it is Kate," he exclaimed; "I've made up my mind! Aunt Matilda is not going to the alms-house. I will support her myself!"

"Oh, that will be splendid!" cried Kate; "but you can never do it!"

"Yes, I can," said Harry. "There are ever so many ways in which I can earn money."

"What are you going to do?" said Kate; "will you let me help?"

"Yes," said her brother; "you may help if you can, but I don't think you will be of much use. As for me, I shall do plenty of things. I shall go out with my gun-"

"But there is nothing to shoot, now in the summer-time," said Kate.

"No, there isn't much yet, to be sure," said her brother, "but before very long there will be partridges and hares, plenty of them; and father and Captain Caseby will buy all I shoot. And you see, until it is time for game I'm going to gather sumac."

"Oh! I can help you in that," cried Kate.

"Yes, I believe you can," said her brother. "And now, suppose we go down and see Aunt Matilda, and have a talk with her about it."

"Just wait until I get my bonnet," said Kate. And she dashed into the house, and then, with a pink calico sun-bonnet on her head, she came down the steps in two jumps, and the brother and sister, together, hurried through the woods to Aunt Matilda's cabin.

Harry and Kate Loudon were well-educated children, and, in many respects, knew more than most girls and boys who were older than

they. Harry had been taught by his father to ride and to swim and to shoot as carefully as his school-teacher had taught him to spell and to parse. And he was not only taught to be skillful in these outdoor pursuits, but to be prudent, and kind-hearted. When he went gunning, he shot birds and game that were fit for the table; and when he rode, he remembered that his horse had feelings as well as himself. Being a boy of good natural impulses, he might have found out these things for himself; but, for fear that he might be too long about it, his father carefully taught him that it was possible to shoot and to hunt and to ride without being either careless or cruel. It must not be supposed that Harry was so extremely particular that there was no fun in him, for he had discovered that there is just as much fun in doing things right as in doing them wrong; and as there was not a boy in all the country round about who could ride or swim or shoot so well as Harry, so there was none who had a more generally jolly time than he.

His sister Kate was a sharp, bright, intelligent girl, rather inclined to be wild when opportunity offered; but very affectionate, and always as ready for outdoor sports as any boy. She could not shoot-at least, she never tried-and she did not ride much on horseback, but she enjoyed fishing, and rambles through the woods were to her a constant delight. When anything was to be done, especially if it was anything novel, Kate was always ready to help. If anybody had a plan on hand, it was very hard to keep her finger out of it; and if there were calculations to be made, it was all the better. Kate had a fine head for mathematics, and, on the whole, she rather preferred a slate and pencil to needles and spool-cotton.

As to Aunt Matilda, there could be no doubt about her case being a pretty hard one. She was quite old and decrepit when the war set her free, and, at the time of our story, she was still older and stiffer. Her former master had gone to the North to live, and as she had no family to support her, the poor old woman was compelled to depend upon the charity of her neighbors. For a time she managed to get along tolerably well, but it was soon found that she would suffer if she depended upon occasional charity, especially after she became unable to go after food or help. Mr. and Mrs. Loudon were very willing to give her what they could, but they had several poor people entirely dependent upon them, and they found it impossible to add to the number of their pensioners. So it was finally determined among the neighbors that Aunt Matilda would have to go to the alms-house, which place was provided for just such poor persons as she. Neither Harry nor Kate knew much about the alms-house, but they thought it must be some sort of a horrible place; and, at any rate, it was too hard that Aunt Matilda should have to leave her old home where she had spent so many, many years.

And they did not intend she should do it.

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