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   Chapter 1 OLD BILLY.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 10686

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The summer at Marbury had begun. On the 20th of June, after seeing the Europe-bound party off for New York, the Ward children had arrived, bag and baggage, under Auntie Jean's escort.

Early the first morning after their arrival, Cricket awoke Eunice with a punch.

"Eunice, what do you think I am going to do to-day? and I'm going to do it every day till I succeed."

"Don't know, I'm sure," said Eunice, sleepily. "Don't tumble round so. It isn't time to get up."

"Oh, you're such a lazybones," sighed Cricket, whose light, active frame required less sleep than Eunice's heavier build. "It's six o'clock, for the clock just struck. Now I'll tell you what I want to do. Let's dig in the sand-banks every day, and see if we can't find mamma's money-bag, that she and auntie buried there so long ago."

"All right, and let's search in the cove for the little turquoise ring you lost two years ago, in bathing," answered Eunice, still sleepily, but with much sarcasm.

"Now, Eunice, you needn't come out with any of your sarcastic sinuates," said Cricket, tossing her curly head. "I'm going to do it anyway, and I'm going to find it. I feel it in my bones, as 'Liza says, and I'm going to begin straight after breakfast, if we don't do anything else. Don't tell any one, for I want to surprise everybody."

"I think you're safe to do it, if you want to. I won't tell. Wonder if they've sailed yet," with a thought of the travellers.

"The steamer doesn't sail till eleven; don't you remember? Prob'ly they're just getting up. Come, Eunice, get up. I hear the boys, now."

Cricket scrambled out of bed and ran to the window to peep out.

"There they go now for their swim. Boys! Boys! wait for me!" and Cricket dropped into her bathing-suit, which had been put out all ready the night before, and flew down-stairs to join the boys in their morning plunge in the sea, her bare arms gleaming from the dark-blue of her suit, and bathing-shoes protecting her feet from the sharp stones in the rough lane that led to the cove.

They had a glorious swim. At least, Will and Archie swam, and Cricket splashed under their directions. She had almost learned to swim the last time that she had been at Marbury in the summer-time, two years before, and she could already float nicely and go "dog-paddle," but she had great difficulty in making any headway in swimming.

"There!" she sputtered, in triumph, at last, clinging hold of the swimming-raft; "I almost got away from the place where I was, then." She turned over on her back to rest herself, and float for a moment, then prepared for another start.

"I don't seem to wiggle my feet right. I get so destracted thinking of my hands, that I always forget to kick. I can't keep my mind in two places at once."

"Now try again," said Will, good-naturedly. "See here. Draw up your feet as you bring your hands together and kick hard, when you throw them out. Go just like a frog. That's fine. Now again. Draw up, kick out, draw up, kick out-fine!" and Cricket, sputtering and laughing, drew herself up on the swimming-raft, having really swum two feet. And then it was time to go out.

The cove was some little distance from the house, so, after scampering up the lane, their bathing-suits were almost dry. There were bathing-houses down there, but for this early morning dip they liked better to get into their bathing-suits at the house, and dress there.

When Cricket flew up-stairs into her room, glowing and rosy, she found Eunice only partly dressed, with the sleep not half out of her drowsy eyes.

"Oh, you lazy thing!" cried Cricket, retiring behind the screen. "You don't know how fine I feel. My skin is all little prickles."

"I shouldn't think that would be very comfortable," said Eunice, brushing out her long, dark hair, and braiding it. "I like to sleep in the morning better than you do, anyway. Did you dive for mamma's money-bag?"

"You needn't laugh at me," said Cricket, emerging, half-dressed already. "I mean to find it. You'll see." But she inwardly registered a vow that she would pursue her search alone.

The Ward children had never spent much time at Marbury, with grandma, since they had their own summer home at Kayuna, in East Wellsboro. They had often been there for short visits, however, as mamma generally took one or another of her little flock with her, in her frequent trips to see grandma.

Marbury lies in Marbury Bay, which is very large, but so shallow that at low tide the mud-flats are all exposed for a long distance out. A long tongue of land, principally sand-banks, stretches half around the bay, making a break-water from the ocean, and rendering the harbour a very safe one for sailing. Will and Archie Somers were capital sailors, inheriting their grandfather's love of the sea. Back of the house, over a short, steep hill, lay the beginning of the sand-banks, where mamma and auntie had buried their money-bags long ago. Then beyond these sand-banks, on the ocean-side, was another deep small curve, called the cove, where the children bathed. It was a safe, sheltered spot, with a good bit of beach. Altogether, Marbury had many attractions.

What chattering and gabbling there was that first morning at breakfast, when all sorts of plans were projected for the summer's amusement! Mrs. Somers and her chil

dren had spent most of the warm weather at Marbury, for years, so that Will, and Archie, and Edna knew every inch of the country for miles around, and were eager to do the honours.

"'Wot larks' we're going to have," cried Archie, as they all got up from the table. "Think of it, grandma! all summer! whoop!" with a shout, as he vanished, that made grandma cover her deafened ears in dismay, as the whole flock trooped after.

"Dear me! mother," said Mrs. Somers, privately, as they stood together on the piazza, "I begin to think that we've undertaken a great deal, to keep this horde in order for a whole season. Can you ever stand it in the world? I scarcely realized that there would be eight of them."

"We'll manage beautifully," said grandma, cheerily. "The boys go to their camp for a month, you know, and the little girls will soon settle down."

"Yes, and Edna will have to spend two weeks with her Grandmother Somers, at Lake Clear, as usual, and as for the twins, Eliza manages them really beautifully, and Kenneth is no more trouble than a kitten. Eunice and Cricket are used to running pretty wild all summer. If the confusion is not too much for you, that's all I'm thinking of."

"And I'm on special police duty," broke in Arthur, popping up from behind the vines. "I'll chuck the baddest ones overboard any time you say."

"And there's old Billy for special guard duty," added auntie, laughing. "See him now, poor old fellow! he doesn't know whether he's scared out of his few wits, or whether he likes the commotion."

Grandma followed auntie's glance.

"He likes it," she said, "for see, he's bringing out his music-box, and that's the highest honour he can pay any one."

I must stop right here and tell you about old Billy, for he was a life-long institution at grandma's. I wish I could make you see the dear old fellow as I see him now, in my mind's eye. A tall, thin, bent old man he was, not much over fifty, in reality, though he looked seventy. A shock of rough gray hair stood out all over his head, and a gray, tousled-looking beard covered half his face. A pair of keen, startled-looking eyes flashed sharp, observant glances this way and that, from under his shaggy eyebrows. Few words he had on any occasions, but he generally spoke straight to the point.

A sad story had poor old Billy. He had been a bright lad in a neighbouring village, and, when he was about eighteen, had come to work for Captain Maxwell. He was very faithful and responsible, and soon became a fixture on the place. Then poor Billy one day got a terrible fall in the barn, and was taken up for dead. However, he was not dead, only unconscious, and terribly hurt. He had a long and severe illness, during which Mrs. Maxwell had him carefully nursed and cared for in her own home.

At length he recovered, but, alas! his poor mind was hopelessly affected, and the doctor said that, though he might be much better, he would never be quite right again. Everybody thought they ought to send him to the poorhouse, as he had no home to be sent to, but Captain Maxwell refused to do this. So he stayed on, and, gradually, as he grew stronger, he took up some simple duties again. However, he had forgotten everything, even how to read.

But he was very happy in his dim way, for he did not realize all that had happened to him. So several years passed, when suddenly a lawyer's letter was received, stating that William Ruggles was heir to a large amount of money from a brother who had gone West many years before and had never been heard of since. He had died leaving no family, and no other heir than Billy.

Of course there was a great deal of troublesome law business to be adjusted, but the end of it was that, a few months later, Billy was in possession of a small fortune. The next question was, what to do with him. He could not stay on as a servant at the Maxwells, and he was entirely unable to take care of himself. Captain Maxwell had been appointed his guardian, and trustee of his property. There chanced to be a small unused building, once an office, on the grounds, and this was easily changed into a suitable abode for Billy. He had his little sitting-room, bedroom, and kitchen, and some one to take care of it and of him, and here lived Billy, as happy as a king. When Captain Maxwell died, Mrs. Maxwell took Billy as one of her legacies, and here he probably would end his days.

It was hard at first to make him understand that he need not do any more work, and yet could have what he called his "pay," just the same, for it was useless to tell him about his property. His allowance had to be a small one, for it was soon found that generous Billy emptied his pockets on all occasions to any one asking. So his allowance was limited to twenty-five cents a week in his own hands, but the spending of his "dollar," as he always called his quarter, gave him quite as much pleasure as if it had been hundreds. He always spent this for tobacco and peppermint candy, his two luxuries.

Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Somers had been little girls of ten and twelve when Billy first came there, and all through their childhood he had been their devoted slave, for the poor soul was patience and fidelity itself. And to the second generation, old Billy was as much part of the landscape as the bay itself.

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