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Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 12392

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Old Billy sat in the front yard, under a big tree, telling stories to the twins. Perhaps I should say telling a story, for Billy's range was limited to a single tale, and when he had told this, if any child wanted more, he simply had to tell it over again. It was a story with a moral, and was drawn from Billy's own experience. It was about a bad little boy, who ate up all his sister's pep'mint drops. This was the worst of crimes, in Billy's eyes, for to him pep'mint drops were a sacred possession, not even to be lightly referred to.

"His marmer," went on Billy, impressively, "kep' a-whippin' him, an' a-whippin' him, but it warn't no kind o' use, an' didn't do a mite o' good. And just think, children," finished Billy, solemnly, "when that bad, naughty, selfish little boy died, he couldn't go to Heaven and be a good little angel, but he had to go to the Bad Place."

The children listened with wide-open eyes.

"Where is the Bad Place, Billy?" questioned Zaidee, looking interestedly up into Billy's face.

Billy looked slowly all about him, and above him, and then at the ground, puzzled, now, what to say. He was not very clear, himself. He looked again at the blue sky, flecked with soft, white clouds.

"Wal, I think, children," he said, in his slow way, "that Heaven is up there where all them little bright specks is at night. I guess them's holes in the floor. Can't see 'em daytimes, you know, when the lights are out, up above. 'N' I ruther guess t'other place is down under there, pointing to the ground."

Helen jumped.

"Oh, I don't want it right under our foots. The ground might crack, Billy, and we'd fall in. Please don't say it's there," she begged, earnestly.

But Zaidee immediately began to poke the ground with great interest, and stamp hard upon it.

"Do you really think it's down there, Billy?" she asked, excitedly. "Oh, Helen, let's dig and find it! How far down is it, Billy?"

"Wal, now, I dunno as it's down there at all. Dunno as it is, dunno as it is. Folks say it's purty hot there."

"I know a nice place to dig, Helen, and that's the sand-banks. They're so nice and soft. Let's go and try it."

But Helen hung back, and Billy said, anxiously, "I wouldn't. Folks say that Somebody lives there."

"Who?" demanded Zaidee.

"Wal, folks says as Mr. Satan lives round them parts," answered Billy, cautiously.

"Oh, don't let's dig, Zaidee, I'm afraid," said timid little Helen, clinging to Zaidee's hand. "He might not like it, if we finded him."

Zaidee, always more daring than her delicate little twin, did not think so.

"'Course we'll be careful not to bunk right into him," she conceded. "We'll dig very slowly when we get pretty near there. Come on, Helen. Want to come, Billy?"

"Sho, now!" said Billy, looking very unhappy over this unexpected result of his little moral tale. Once, long ago, a mischievous boy-visitor had taken and eaten all Billy's peppermints, and he never forgot it. He always took occasion to tell it as a story to every little newcomer, to ensure the safety of his valued peppermints, but no one had ever thus applied the story before.

"Seems as if I wouldn't try, children," he repeated, anxiously. "You might tumble in."

But when Zaidee's mind was once set on an enterprise, nothing could turn her. She ran away for the shovels and dragged reluctant Helen with her. They selected a nice hollow place in the sand, and began to dig furiously. In a few minutes they had a hole a foot deep. Zaidee balanced herself on the edge, on her knees, and put her hands down on the bottom of the hole.

"I do think it's getting hotter, Helen, just feel."

Helen put her hand down, rather fearfully.

"It's getting very hot, Zaidee, and don't let's dig any more."

"Don't be a 'fraid cat," responded Zaidee, promptly. "It's only a little bit hot. We must dig until it's ever so much hotter yet," and Zaidee went on throwing up the sand, energetically.

"Oh, dear! how it all slides down the sides. I'll have to get in it and dig," she said, presently.

"Don't! don't!" cried Helen, in great terror, clutching Zaidee with both hands. "Don't go down there. You might tumble right through any time right on Mr. Satam's head!"

But Zaidee, unheeding, jumped into the hole, and went on digging, sturdily, while Helen, frightened and apprehensive, watched her from above. Suddenly she shrieked in new terror:

"Oh, Zaidee! come out! please come out! I see the feathers on his cap sticking right up there! oh, you'll hit him in a minute, and he'll jump up!" for "Mr. Satam," and Indian chiefs, with waving plumes, and tomahawks, formed a very confused picture in her mind.

Zaidee scrambled up in a flash.

"Where? Where?" she cried, peering down when safe above. Truly, at the bottom of the hole was seen the top of a feather dropped from a sea-gull's wing, and buried under the drifting sand, but the startled children never doubted that it was growing fast on the top of "Mr. Satam's" head, and they waited in terrified silence for that head to rise and confront them.

Meanwhile, Billy was wandering around in great anguish of soul, not knowing what dreadful thing might happen any moment. He started back to the house at last. Cricket came skipping down the piazza steps.

"See here, young 'un," Billy began, eagerly,-he seldom called the children by their names. "I'm afraid suthin' dretful's goin' to happen."

"What's the matter, Billy? Why, how your hands shake!"

"Perhaps you can stop 'em," went on Billy, hurriedly; "them ere little tikes is a-doin' a dretful thing. They're over by the sand-bank, a-diggin' fur-hell." He brought out this last word in a deep, half-frightened whisper.

"Digging for what? Oh, Billy!" and Cricket's laugh rang out. "You know better than that. Where are they? I'm going to dig a little myself, and they might help me."

Billy looked a little shamefaced at Cricket's laugh.

"Don't you think they could get there, then?" he asked, looking relieved. "I don't really know just where 'tis, myself. Didn't want them little tikes to come to no harm, that's all."

"Billy, think how silly of you to think that place is under the gr

ound. Think how men dig wells and mines, and things, and nothing ever happens, unless they cave in, or something like that, which doesn't count," said Cricket, skipping and dancing on, as usual, while Billy shambled along by her side. "I'm just ashamed of you."

Billy looked crushed.

"I s'pose I'm a silly boy," he said, meekly, for the poor old fellow was never anything but a boy in his own eyes. "See here, don't say nothin' to Mis' Maxwell, will you?" he added, anxiously.

Just then the children, who still stood, frightened yet curious, by the hole, caught sight of them coming. They both made a wild rush and caught Cricket's hands.

"I'm so 'fraid, Cricket," half sobbed Helen. "Zaidee digged for the Bad Place and we've most found it, and there's a feather of Mr. Satam's head, sticking right up, and I'm 'fraid he may bounce up and get us."

Cricket doubled up with laughter.

"Oh, you silly children! You're thinking of a red Indian, I guess. That's nothing but some bird's feather. If you dug long enough, you'd come to China, that's all."

"But it got so hot, Cricket," insisted Zaidee, "an' Billy says it's awfully hot there."

"'Course it's hot when you dig down, because the centre of the earth is all burning up, you know, but I don't think you'll get far enough to get scorched any. You're silly children, any way," finished Cricket, with a very elder-sisterly air.

Nevertheless, Helen did not feel secure until Cricket had jumped into the hole and pulled up the feather, triumphantly.

"Now I'm going to dig myself," with a deep-laid purpose in her mind, "and you may dig, too. You start another hole, right here. I'll dig this big one out more, and I'll be an incubus"-meaning nobody knows what-"and live in it, and you be little crabs trying to get out of my way in these holes of yours."

The children, quite reassured now as to the safety of their pet amusement, dug away merrily, while Billy, like an amiable Turk, sat cross-legged near by.

The shifting stretches of sand changed their shape year by year with the wind and rain, and Cricket had no definite idea of the exact locality of the spot where mamma and auntie had buried their money-bags, thirty years before. She enlarged the hole the children had begun, till it was quite an excavation, carrying on her game of "incubus" with the children all the time. At last she concluded to sit down and rest. She planted herself in the bottom of the hole, with her curly crop not visible above the top of it. She pulled up her sleeve, plunging her hand idly in the dry, cool sand, till her arm was buried far above the elbow. Then her hand struck a resisting object.

"Oh, oh!" she shrieked, immediately, not daring to move her hand lest she should lose the object, which might prove what she was searching for. It was too large to bring up through the weight of sand.

"Come here, Zaidee, quick," she cried. "Dig me out. Dig out my arm, quick."

Helen looked fearfully into the hole, then set up a shriek in her turn.

"Mr. Satam's got Cricket's hand, and he's holding her down. Pull, pull, Zaidee," and the child began tugging at Cricket's nearest shoulder, which she could reach without committing herself to the dreadful possibilities of that hole. Zaidee instantly jumped in, however, and, screaming, herself, added her small strength to pull up Cricket's arm, while Billy, startled by this sudden hubbub, ran distractedly from side to side, trying to find something to pull, likewise adding his peculiar "Hi! Hi!" his expression of great excitement. Cricket laughed so at the general uproar that she could not explain.

"Oh, children," she managed to cry at last. "Stop pulling the sockets out of my arms-I mean the arms out of my sockets. Goodness, Zaidee, how you pinch! There isn't anybody down there, but I've got hold of something and I don't want to lose it. Just dig down around my arm, that's all. Stop crying, Helen. That's a good girl, Zaidee." And so in a few minutes, by their united exertions, a hole was scraped around Cricket's arm, and she could bring up the object she was grasping.

"What is it?" cried the excited little twins. Cricket plunged both hands under the object, and, if you'll believe me, she actually brought up a little buckskin money-bag.

"Hoo-ray!" she shrieked, wild with delight at her discovery. "It's mamma's bag, children, that she planted ever so long ago, when she was a little girl. There's money in it."

The bag, indeed, had been perfectly preserved all these years in the sand. The sand-banks there were too high to be ever overflowed by the tides, and were very dry, even to the depth of many feet. But the string fell to pieces in Cricket's eager hands as she tried to unfasten it, and the pennies and dimes came to view.

A few minutes later, the young woman, breathless and excited, flew up the walk, with the twins toiling on behind. Auntie Jean and grandma were sitting on the porch, when suddenly a shower of dull-looking coins fell into auntie's blue lawn lap.

"I've found it!" Cricket cried, triumphantly. "Knew I would. Won't I laugh at those girls now!"

"But what in the world-" began Auntie Jean, in amazement, hastily transferring the heap to a newspaper. Cricket waved the chamois bag in wild delight.

"It's one of the bags, auntie, that you and mamma buried so long ago in the sand-banks, because you thought it was the right kind of a bank to put money in."

"We digged the hole," put in Zaidee, eager for her share of the glory. "We digged for Mr. Satam's house, an' most found him, an' Cricket came an' said he'd gone to China, an' then Cricket digged this up, and we're going to dig every day, now, and get lots of money," for the whole performance was very mysterious in Zaidee's mind.

You can imagine the clatter when the rest of the children arrived on the scene, and Cricket, flushed with victory, waved her bag, which had been found to have mamma's initials on it. Therefore, auntie's was still unfound, and, strange to say, it never has been found, although, after Cricket's remarkable achievement, the sand-banks in that locality were excavated to a point just short of China.

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