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   Chapter 3 No.3

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 8538

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Commencing Business.

When they reached home, Harry and Kate put together what little money they had, and found that they could buy food enough to last Aunt Matilda for several days. This Harry procured and carried down to the old woman that day. He also gathered and piled up inside of her cabin a good supply of wood. Fortunately, there was a spring very near her door, so that she could get water without much trouble.

Harry and Kate determined that they would commence business in earnest the next morning, and, as this was not the season for game, they determined to go to work to gather sumac-leaves.

Most of us are familiar with the sumac-bush, which grows nearly all over the United States. Of course we do not mean the poisonous swamp-sumac, but that which grows along the fences and on the edges of the woods. Of late years the leaves of this bush have been greatly in demand for tanning purposes, and, in some States, especially in Virginia, sumac gathering has become a very important branch of industry, particularly with the negroes; many of whom, during the sumac season, prefer gathering these leaves to doing any other kind of work. The sumac-bush is quite low, and the leaves are easily stripped off. They are then carefully dried, and packed in bags, and carried to the nearest place of sale, generally a country store.

The next morning, Harry and Kate made preparations for a regular expedition. They were to take their dinner, and stay all day. Kate was enraptured-even more so, perhaps, than Harry. Each of them had a large bag, and Harry carried his gun, for who could tell what they might meet with? A mink, perhaps, or a fox, or even a beaver! They had a long walk, but it was through the woods, and there was always something to see in the woods. In a couple of hours, for they stopped very often, they reached a little valley, through which ran Crooked Creek. And on the banks of Crooked Creek were plenty of sumac-bushes. This place was at some distance from any settlement, and apparently had not been visited by sumac gatherers.

"Hurra!" cried Kate, "here is enough to fill a thousand bags!"

Harry leaned his gun against a tree, and hung up his shot and powder flasks, and they both went to work gathering sumac. There was plenty of it, but Kate soon found that what they saw would not fill a thousand bags. There were a good many bushes, but they were small; and, when all the leaves were stripped off one, and squeezed into a bag, they did not make a very great show. However, they did very well, and, for an hour or so, they worked on merrily. Then they had dinner. Harry built a fire. He easily found dry branches, and he had brought matches and paper with him. At a little distance under a great pine-tree, Kate selected a level place, and cleared away the dead leaves and the twigs, leaving a smooth table of dry and fragrant pine-needles. On this she spread the cloth, which was a napkin. Then she took from the little basket she had brought with her a cake of corn-meal, several thick and well-buttered slices of wheat bread, some hard-boiled eggs, a little paper of pepper and salt, a piece of cheese, and some fried chicken. When this was spread out (and it would not all go on the cloth), Harry came, and looked at the repast.

"What is there to cook?" said he.

Kate glanced over her table, with a perplexed look upon her countenance, and said, "I don't believe there is anything to cook."

"But we ought to cook something," said Harry. "Here is a splendid fire. What's the good of camping out if you don't cook things?"

"But everything is cooked," said Kate.

"So it seems," said Harry, in a somewhat discouraged tone. Had he built that beautiful fire for nothing? "We ought to have brought along something raw," said he. "It is ridiculous eating a cold dinner, with a splendid fire like that."

"We might catch some fish," said Kate; "we should have to cook them."

"Yes," said Harry, "but I brought no lines."

So, as there was nothing else to be done, they ate their dinner cold, and when they had finished, Kate cleared off the table by giving the napkin a flirt, and they were ready for work again. But first they went to look for a spring, where they could get a drink. In about half an

hour they found a spring, and some wild plums, and some blackberries, and a grape-vine (which would surely be full of grapes in the fall, and was therefore a vine to be remembered), and a stone, which Kate was quite certain was an Indian arrow-head, and some tracks in the white sand, which must have been made by some animal or other, although neither of them was able to determine exactly what animal.

When they returned to the pine-tree, Kate took up her bag. Harry followed her example, but somewhat slowly, as if he were thinking of something else.

"I tell you, Harry," said Kate, "suppose you take your gun and go along the creek and see what that was that made the tracks. If it was anything with fur on it, it would come to more than the sumac. I will stay here, and go on filling my bag."

"Well," said Harry, after a moment's hesitation, "I might go a little way up the creek. I needn't be gone long. I would certainly like to find that creature, if I can."

"All right," said Kate; "I think you'll find it."

So Harry loaded his gun, and hurried off to find the tracks of the mysterious, and probably fur-covered animal.

Kate worked away cheerfully, singing a little song, and filling her bag with the sumac-leaves. It was now much warmer, and she began to find that sumac picking, all alone, was not very interesting, and she hoped that Harry would soon find his animal, whatever it was. Then, after picking a little longer, she thought she would sit down, and rest awhile. So she dragged her bag to the pine-tree, and sat down, leaning her back against the tall trunk. She took her bag of sumac in her arms, and lifted it up, trying to estimate its weight.

"There must be ten pounds here!" she said, "No-it don't feel very heavy, but then there are so many of the leaves. It ought to weigh fifteen pounds. And they will be a cent a pound if we take pay in trade, and three-quarters of a cent if we want cash. But, of course, we will take things in trade."

And then she put down the bag, and began to calculate.

"Fifteen pounds, fifteen cents, and at seventy-seven and three-quarter cents per week, that would support Aunt Matilda nearly a day and a half; and then, if Harry has as much more, that will keep her almost three days; and if we pick for two hours longer, when Harry comes back, we may get ten pounds more apiece, which will make it pretty heavy; but then we won't have to come again for nearly five days; and if Harry shoots an otter, I reckon he can get a dollar for the skin-or a pair of gloves of it-kid gloves, and my pink dress-and we'll go in the carriage-two horses-four horses-a prince with a feather-some butterflies-" and Kate was asleep.

When Kate awoke, she saw by the sun that she had been asleep for several hours. She sprang to her feet. "Where is Harry?" she cried. But nobody answered. Then she was frightened, for he might be lost. But soon she reflected that that was very ridiculous, for neither of them could be lost in that neighborhood which they knew so well. Then she sat down and waited, quite anxiously, it must be admitted. But Harry did not come, and the sun sank lower. Presently she rose with an air of determination.

"I can't wait any longer," she said, "or it will be dark before I get home. Harry has followed that thing up the creek ever so far, and there is no knowing when he will get back, and it won't do for me to stay here. I'll go home, and leave a note for him."

She put her hand in her pocket, and there was Harry's pencil, which she had borrowed in the morning and forgot to return, and also the piece of paper on which she had made her calculation of the cost of Aunt Matilda's board. The back of this would do very well for a note. So she wrote on it:

I am going home, for it is getting late. I shall go back by the same road we came. Your sumac-bag is in the bushes between the tree and the creek. Bring this piece of paper with you, as it has Aunt Matilda's expenses on the outside.

Kate.

This note she pinned up against the pine tree, where Harry could not fail to see it. Then she hid her brother's sumac-bag in the bushes and, shouldering her own bag, which, by-the-way, did not weigh so many pounds as she thought it did, set out for home.

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