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   Chapter 5 A BATH IN CURDS AND WHEY.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 19208

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


All the younger fry were playing in the barn. It was much smaller than the great barns at Kayuna, for there was no farm attached to Mrs. Maxwell's place, but the new-mown hay was just as sweet and soft to jump on as the haymows were at dear old Kayuna. There was a little added excitement in the fact that Luke was not nearly so good-natured as 'Gustus John was, and was very apt to chase them off his premises when he found them there. He said the horses would not eat the hay after the children had jumped on it. However, as grandma always said that they could play in the barn as long as they didn't do any damage to anything, Luke's disapproval did not trouble them much. To be sure, they would scamper off if they heard him coming, and breathlessly fly around corners, and eagerly report if the "coast was clear," but, after all, all this was more for fun than anything else. This morning they had a clear three hours before them, for Luke had gone to drive grandma and auntie over to Plymouth, and they would not be back till almost dinner-time. Of course the time must be improved by a grand romp in the barn.

Eliza sat in the doorway crocheting. The older girls climbed the ladder to a high beam, and then would shoot off on to the soft hay far below. Zaidee ambitiously tried to follow. But half-way up the ladder her courage invariably failed her, and she would sit still and shriek till one of her sisters came and carried her down.

"Zaidee, don't climb up this ladder again," said Eunice, sharply, after she had rescued her small sister for the tenth time. "If you do, I'll leave you there. It's too high for you, and you're always afraid."

"I isn't a bit afraid," returned Zaidee, stoutly. "It's only when I get up there, the ladder gets so dizzy."

"You get dizzy, you mean. At any rate, don't climb up there again."

"You mustn't speak cross to me," said Zaidee, who was a born rebel, and resented any orders of her older sisters. "If you speak cross to me I'll run away."

"Oh, don't, Zaidee!" begged Helen, in alarm.

"Yes, I will. I'll run away, and then she'll be sorry. Let's jump on this little hay, Helen."

But after a time the high ladder looked so very tempting, and it was such wild excitement to see the girls flying off that great, high beam, with shrieks of fun and laughter, that Zaidee tried the experiment again, of climbing up herself. She went up eight rounds bravely, and then it suddenly looked so very far to the bottom that she screamed for help, as usual.

"You're a naughty little girl, to climb up there again, after I had told you not to," said Eunice, severely. "Now you must stay there and scream till you promise me not to try it again." She knew there was really no danger, and Zaidee was always trying to do what she could not.

"Take me down, 'Liza! take me down, Eunice!" she shrieked, till Edna said:

"Oh, do take her down, Eunice, and have her stop."

So Eunice helped her off her high perch once more, with the warning that if she did it again she would certainly leave her there and go away where she couldn't hear her call. Then the older girls resumed their fun. Zaidee and Helen ran out into the yard.

Presently, Helen came flying back in a great panic.

"Do come here, 'Liza! do come quick, Eunice! Zaidee's eating worms! She's eaten two woolly ones, and one plain one. I'm afraid they'll make her sick. Do come, 'Liza, and make her stop."

"Isn't she the funniest child!" exclaimed Eunice, as Eliza hurried off to rescue the worms.

"If somebody won't give her what she wants, or if anything makes her cross, she always does something disagreeable to herself. Sometimes she says she won't eat any luncheon or dinner, or won't go to walk. Think of eating those worms, just because I scolded her about climbing up on the ladder. Ugh!"

"I should think she was funny. Girls, let's go up to Simon's, and buy some peppermints," suggested Edna. "It's such a hot day, and peppermints make your throat so cool when you breathe, don't you know? I've five cents in my pocket."

Zaidee, having reluctantly consented to forego her diet of worms, watched the three girls go out into the road, and ran after them.

"Let me go, too," she called, toiling after.

"No, you can't go, my dear. It's too far. You stay with 'Liza," said Eunice, but speaking very pleasantly, to avoid another scene.

"It isn't a bit too far, Eunice. We go there lots of times with 'Liza. If you're going for peppermints, I want some, too."

"Run and ask Billy to give you some of his, then. Zaidee, you can't go. Now, run back."

"Then I'll run away," said Zaidee, repeating her former threat. She had lately heard some one speaking of running away, and it seemed a very nice punishment to inflict on Eunice.

"Very well," said Eunice, turning away. "Only don't eat any more worms;" for the way to manage Zaidee was not to take much notice of her. She was a headstrong little thing, and grew very obstinate if she was opposed.

"Run back to 'Liza, children," repeated Eunice, looking back. "Come on, girls."

"It's awfully hot walking up this road," observed Edna, as they went up the slight incline to the village. The treeless road was made of white sea-shells, powdered fine, and reflected the glare of the sun powerfully.

"Don't your feet burn, walking along here? Mine do, awfully," said Cricket. "I wish I had wooden legs like Maggie Sampson's father's. His feet can't burn."

"He can't feel the heat through the soles of his feet, 'cause he ain't built that way," chanted Eunice, instantly, for she shared the family failing for rhyme.

"We might have stilts, I suppose," said Cricket. "I love stilts. Here we are. Let's rest and get cool before we go back."

It was half an hour before the girls strolled leisurely into the yard again, munching their peppermints.

"Where are the children?" asked Eliza, hastily, seeing the girls come back alone.

"Not with us. We sent them back to you," said Eunice, quickly. "What have those tiresome children done now? They ought to be put in barrels and kept there. It's the only way to be sure of them. When did you miss them?"

"Ever since you've been gone. Zaidee ran past, saying she was going with you, so I let her."

"They must be somewhere around the house or barn," answered Eunice, beginning to call "Helen! Helen!" She knew that Helen would answer if she were within earshot, but Zaidee was quite equal to letting them call, if she were in a fit of temper. But they searched in vain. Kenneth insisted they went "that way," pointing down the beach, but Billy thought he had seen them going up the beach. They searched the house and barn, and then, as it was near dinner-time, Will and Archie appeared and joined the detective force.

"This is getting serious," said Will, presently. "I think the little skivers have really run off."

"Could they have fallen off the dock?" asked Cricket, anxiously. But, fortunately, it was low tide, and there was no water to fall into. They inquired of all passers-by, and of the immediate neighbours, with no better result. The children had not been seen. Faces began to grow grave, and feet began to fly faster in every direction. Archie saddled the ponies, and Cricket started off in one direction, Eunice in another, while he and Will went back into the woodland roads.

Meanwhile, the twins, after being sent back by Eunice, had marched disconsolately down on the beach, without Eliza's seeing them.

"I'm going to run away now," said Zaidee, firmly. She must have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed that morning, for everything seemed to go wrong. She was usually a sunny little soul.

"Where shall we run to?" asked Helen, hanging back.

"Let's go this way," said Zaidee, selecting "this way," for no particular reason. It led them back of the house, on to one of the woodland roads, out of sight of anybody.

They trudged on for half a mile or more, and then suddenly came upon a small cheese factory, which stood upon one side of a little brook. There was a dam here, and a small pond, and on the other side of the brook a little saw-mill stood.

Zaidee, of course, immediately wanted to go into this queer looking house, as she called it. Finding the door open, and no one there, she entered, boldly. As it was just noon, the few men employed were at dinner, and the place was deserted.

"What a queer house!" exclaimed Zaidee. It was a long bare place, with a platform on one side, and on that were three or four vats or tanks, only, of course, the children did not know what they were. These vats were for the milk. There was also the most remarkable number of new brooms decorating the walls.

The children ran here and there with the greatest interest and curiosity; and very soon discovered that there were spigots in the tanks. Of course Zaidee instantly proceeded to turn one, and out came a spurting deluge of whey, all over their feet. They jumped back, hastily.

"Oh, what pretty white water!" cried Zaidee, eagerly, stooping down and spatting her hands in the trough, and then throwing it up in the air. It came down all over herself and Helen.

"I don't like it. It smells so loud," said dainty Helen, drawing back.

Zaidee sniffed, critically.

"Yes, it does, Helen. But isn't it pretty? Let's look over the wall and see what it looks like."

They were not, however, quite tall enough to do this, but Zaidee's quick eyes, roving around, spied a wooden stool which she immediately dragged up on the little platform, to stand on. She climbed up and looked in. It

was not the vat in which she had turned the spigot, and it was half full of whey with great pieces of the curd floating around on it.

"Here's more nice white water, with pretty white stones floating on it," Zaidee cried, eagerly. She stretched down her hand to grasp some. She could just reach it, but to her surprise the "white stone" separated as she grasped it.

"I can't pick it up," she cried, puzzled, as she tried again and again.

"Let me see," begged Helen. But the stool was not big enough for both to stand on, and Zaidee was too interested to get down. A bigger piece of curd came floating towards her, and she leaned quickly forward to reach it. She lost her balance, and went headlong into the milky pool.

In a moment, sputtering and screaming, she found her feet, for the liquid was only up to her waist, but the top of the tank being even with her head, of course she could not get out. Helen stood open-mouthed with astonishment at Zaidee's sudden disappearance; then she quickly climbed upon the stool to see for herself. Zaidee stood immersed to her waist, with her short, silky black hair plastered to her head with the whey, and small lumps of curd sticking all over her head and shoulders, so that she looked as if she had been out in a sharp-cornered snow storm. She tried to rub her streaming eyes dry with her wet fists.

"I don't like this white water," she said, wiping her wet face on her wetter sleeve. "It's nasty stuff. It's worse than the ocean. It's sour water, Helen. Just taste it."

"I can't," said Helen. "How can you get out? Can you step on those white stones?"

"They won't hold me up. They're such funny stones. They all go to pieces when you squeeze them," said Zaidee, grasping some with both hands, to illustrate. "Could you put the stool over for me to stand on?"

"I can't, 'cause I'm standing on it. P'raps I can pull you out, Zaidee. See if I can."

Zaidee waded over to the side of the tank, and tried to climb up the smooth, tin-lined surface, while Helen tugged from above.

When this did not work, the children stared at each other wistfully.

"Do you s'pose you'll have to stay there always?" said Helen, at last, in a half whisper.

"No. I'll holler," said Zaidee, with confidence, "and somebody will come. If only I could get boosted a little bit! Helen!" with a sudden inspiration, "you jump over here and I'll stand on your knee as I do on 'Liza's when she boosts me up into the apple-tree. Then I could climb right over."

Helen hesitated. This plan did not strike her favourably.

"Oh, Zaidee! I don't want to get down there into that white water. It smells so loud, and I'd get my feet all wet, and my dress wet, too." Helen was one of the children whom dirt distresses, and no soil ever seemed to cling to her clothes or hands. Zaidee was not in the least particular, or, perhaps, she would not have lunched on woolly worms.

"But I've got to get out, Helen," she persisted. "I'm all sticky inside. I don't like it. Please jump in and boost me out;" for the problem of getting Helen out never occurred to either of these young philosophers.

Helen looked very unwilling, but she was too used to doing as Zaidee ordered to object further; she slowly put one leg over the edge of the tank till her foot touched the whey. Then she shivered, and hesitated. Zaidee took hold of her leg for fear she would draw it back, but, pulling it a little harder than she intended, Helen immediately fell over on to Zaidee, who, unable to keep her footing on the smooth tin bottom, took a second plunge, dragging Helen with her.

Then two curded and wheyey heads arose.

"Oh, Helen, you look so funny!" said Zaidee, as Helen spluttered in her turn. "Doesn't it feel awful nasty? And see how funny these little stones look now!"

The curd being pretty thoroughly churned up now, with the gyrations of the two children, it was settling in a smooth, even layer over the top of the whey. Zaidee slapped and splashed it about in high glee, perfectly satisfied to stay in the tank any length of time, now that she had Helen beside her there.

Just then steps sounded on the planks outside, and the voices of men were heard.

"Great guns! Who left this 'ere spigot a-runnin'!" exclaimed one, coming hastily forward. "Look at the whey goin' galumphin out. Suthin' must hev gorn bust."

A breathless silence settled on Zaidee and Helen.

"There warn't nothin' a-runnin' when I went off to dinner," said another, "and I was the last feller out."

The next moment the astonished men were gazing at the pair of guilty-looking little mermaids, who wore curds for seaweeds. Helen's floating golden hair, all stringy with whey, was a funnier sight even than Zaidee's short plastered locks. The two frightened, dirty, streaming little faces, were raised appealingly.

"Wal, I vum! We've caught suthin' in this cheese, for sure," said one man, coming nearer.

"We falled in," said Zaidee, regaining her courage, which never long deserted her. "We don't like this white water, and it's all smelly. Please take us out."

"I swan," said the other man. "Where did you come from, young uns?"

"We live at the beach, at grandma's. Take us out, please. Take Helen first."

"What are you doin' around here, then, a-tumblin' into our vats, and a-spilin' good curds and whey? You don't suppose we want to flavour it with little gals, do you?"

Zaidee wasn't sure of anything but that she wanted to get out of her new bath-tub, so she only repeated:

"Please take us out, Mr. Man, and we won't fall in again, ever, 'cause we don't like this white water, truly we don't. There are such funny little snow stones in it. We like really truly water best. Please take us out."

"Was it you turned my spigot?" demanded her jailer, very sternly.

Zaidee quaked. She had forgotten about turning the spigot.

"We won't ever turn it again," she promised, hastily.

"Oh, come, Steve, take the kid out," said the other man.

"Ef it was one of our children they'd get a trouncin', but they belong to some of them city folks down by the beach. Them city children dunno nothin'-can't expect 'em to. Come, young uns," and, in a moment, Zaidee and Helen stood on the planks.

"Sech capers!" grumbled the other man, setting down the dripping little figures he had lifted out. "Hull batch spiled. Now, scoot." And the children hastily scooted, leaving a milky track behind.

They had no idea of the way home, but, as Zaidee was not ready to return yet, that did not trouble her. Once outside of the cheese factory they got leaves and wiped off each other's dripping faces and hair, as best they could.

"My shoes are all soppy," said Helen, tiptoeing along, uncomfortably.

"Let's take 'em off," said Zaidee, instantly, sitting down and tugging at the wet buttonholes, which would not yield to her small fingers. Helen's were loose, and unbuttoned easily. When she got her shoes off, however, she found she could not walk, for the sticks and prickles on the ground hurt her tender feet.

"I'll have to put my shoes on again," she said. "The palms of my feet hurt so. Don't take yours off, Zaidee."

So Zaidee got up out of the little pool of whey that had dripped from her dress while she had been sitting, and after Helen had, with some difficulty, crowded her feet into her wet shoes again, the children started off in search of a new adventure. The hot sun on their clothes was fast making them very unpleasant objects to a sensitive nose, but they were getting used to the odour of sour milk.

There was a little foot-bridge above the dam, for on the other side of the stream stood a little sawmill. The children ran across the bridge, gaily. Back of the sawmill were high heaps of delightful yellow sawdust.

"See those beautiful yellow hills!" cried Zaidee, rapturously, running forward and throwing herself full length into one, bringing a cloud of yellow powder about her. "It's awfully nice, Helen; come on."

Helen, nothing loth, came on, and in a moment the children were wallowing in the soft, light dust. In the somewhat damp state of their clothes, the immediate result can be imagined.

"You look just like a woolly worm, Helen," said Zaidee, gleefully. "You're all fuzzy with sawdust. Lie down and I'll bury you all up."

Helen obediently sat down, and Zaidee heaped a yellow mound over her.

"You're like a yellow Santa Claus," cried Zaidee, as Helen emerged, presently, somewhat smothered. "Now, bury me!"

"I love to feel it all running down my back like ants," Zaidee said, wriggling, but enjoying the sensation, as Helen let the dry dust drop through her fingers on her head.

A little later, Will, running through the woods, came past the sawmill, and stopped to listen, at the sound of children's voices. Following this, he immediately discovered two strange looking objects, rolling, with shrieks of laughter, down the sawdust heaps.

"You're a pretty pair of kids," he said, approaching them. "Scaring people into fits, for two hours! By Jove! where have you been?" he broke off, holding his nose, as he drew nearer.

"Let's go home, now; I'm hungry," was all the answer Zaidee deigned.

And so it happened that just as auntie and grandma drove up in front of the gate the first thing they saw was two remarkable little figures coming slowly around the house, golden hair and black all of a colour, faces begrimed with dust and streaked with sour milk, draggled dresses, with plasters of sawdust here and there, and odorous,-but the less said about that, the better.

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