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   Chapter 7 THE EXILES.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 16557

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Eunice made a telescope of her hands and studied the shore intently.

"Isn't that our boat, now, drawn up by those rocks? No, not near the docks, but up to the right."

Edna followed her gaze.

"I do think it is! Yes, and that's Billy, isn't it? and those little things are the twins. And Eunice! that's Cricket, this instant! See she's standing up now. I know her by the broad white flannel collar on her blue dress. Now they are coming down to the beach. She did row over for something and sat down to talk, and forgot us. What crazy lunatics we were to let her go off with the boat!"

"Cricket hasn't forgotten anything serious since she forgot mamma's invitation last spring. You see, she never thought about the tide going out, and meant to come back and get us later. It takes so long to get used to the tide. I do wish it would settle upon some time of day, and keep to it. Don't you? It's a great nuisance."

"I guess I do," replied Edna, with inelegant emphasis. "If I had my way, the tide shouldn't go out but once a day, and that's at night. These ugly old mud-flats that have to be seen some time during every day are the one thing that spoil Marbury. It's so pretty when the bay is full. But, Eunice, we've got to make up our minds to stay here and broil, this whole afternoon. Even if Cricket should start this minute, she couldn't get here. Do you see that broad, smooth place, with the water rippling a little on each side? That means that there is a mud-flat there, and it will be bare in about ten minutes. Oh, goodness gracious me! enchanting prospect!" and Edna plumped herself down on the rock in despair.

"It's no worse really than many a time when we've been over here and staid five or six hours and meant to," said Eunice, philosophically, "only we never happened to be caught and obliged to stay. And it might be worse," she added, cheerfully. "We have luncheon, for one thing. You know we stayed here all day, once."

"But then we expected to," said Edna, looking very unresigned. "We had made up our minds to."

"Very well, then," said Eunice, brightly, "let us make up our minds to stay, now. Let's play we want to, and meant to all the time. We'll eat our luncheon, and then you can embroider and I'll read to you some more. Or let's go on playing that we're shipwrecked, and that Cricket has gone back with a raft to the ship, to bring some things back. Of course, that would take all day."

"If the ship was burned," objected Edna, "there wouldn't be any wreck to bring things from."

"We'll play it rained and put out the fire," returned Eunice, imperturbably. "Plenty of ways to fix it. Wasn't it fortunate we rescued your work and my book from the wreck," she went on, changing her tone. "And don't let's stay here and bake in the sun any longer. I'm just drizzling away. Come back to the rocks and eat our luncheon. There's evidently no use waiting any longer for Cricket," she added, with a laugh. "We'll have a lovely afternoon, and we'll pretend we meant to stay all the time."

"Oh, pretend! I believe you girls would pretend if you were going to be hung. You'd play you liked it," said Edna, laughing, herself.

"Why not?" answered Eunice, sturdily. "It makes things lots easier. Besides, it's more fun. Do you suppose auntie and grandma will worry when we're not back to dinner?"

"No, because I told mamma where we were going, and Cricket will have to tell them we're safe, and that she's forgotten us. We can't be run away with very well, and nothing can happen to us here. And, why, Eunice! look! isn't that Cricket, now, rowing towards us? No, this way. Not far from shore."

"It is! it is! Wah-whoo-wah! wah-whoo-wah! Naughty, naughty Cricket! wah-whoo-wah!" shrieked Eunice, clapping her hands.

But Edna instantly put her hands to her mouth to form a trumpet, and called with all her might:

"Go back, Cricket! go back! You'll get aground."

"Wah-whoo-wah!" came back faintly over the water, and they could see the little figure bend to the oar.

"Go back!" screamed Edna, fairly dancing up and down in her excitement, for she knew what would happen better than Eunice did. But Cricket evidently did not understand. She looked over her shoulder, waved her oar, and pulled on.

"Oh, dear," cried Edna, "see, that mud-flat back of her will be all bare in two minutes, and she doesn't know it, and she's pulling right across it. Oh, oh, she's aground!"

And, indeed, the last stroke of the oars had landed the boat on the treacherous bank, where it stuck fast. The girls watched her, eagerly, as the oars came up, dripping with mud, in her frantic efforts to push over it.

"Why doesn't she sit still?" exclaimed Edna, anxiously. "She'll get the boat wedged fast!"

But, by some good luck, one final shove of the oars sent the light boat through the yielding mud, and into a little depression beyond, where the water still flowed. Cricket pulled with all her strength, realizing now the inconvenience of being stuck fast. There was still another flat, which was fast uncovering itself, between her and the island, but if she could only get through that, there was water enough beyond to float her to the island. That had a rock foundation, and the water was unexpectedly deep around it. But, unfortunately, the next mud-flat was too wide to get over it before the swiftly ebbing tide left it entirely bare, and so there, within five hundred feet of the island, she finally stuck, immovably. The girls ran down to the edge of the island, waving their hands, and shouting.

"I-guess-I'm-stuck!" called Cricket, standing up, carefully, and turning around. Fortunately her voice could just be heard.

Eunice and Edna laughed at the obvious truth of her remark.

"I should think she was stuck! What a little goose to try to get out here when the tide was so low!"

"She isn't used to it," said Eunice, defensively. "See, now. Five minutes ago there seemed to be water enough in the bay, and now look at it!"

It was a sight to look at, for the broad mud-flats were now visible in every direction, while streams of water still lay in the deeper depressions.

"I never noticed before, in all my life, how quickly the tide goes out," added Eunice.

"We never happened to be caught on a desert island before," said Edna, "when you have to notice it. I suppose we get so in the habit of calculating upon it, and knowing by the looks of the water how long it will take, that we forget you don't know so well. But what will Cricket do? Think of her staying out there for about four hours, in that broiling sun, and nothing to eat. Gracious, she has the worst of it."

"Couldn't she take off her shoes and stockings, and wade in through the mud?" suddenly asked Eunice, brightening.

"No, indeed. She'd sink down to China, I guess. There's just about no bottom at all to this mud, if you step in it. Keep-perfectly-still-Cricket," she hallooed, suddenly, through her hands, as Cricket shows signs of restlessness.

"What will she do?" groaned Eunice. "It seems perfectly heartless to sit down and eat our luncheon, when she can't get a mouthful."

"But our not eating won't do her any good," objected Edna, very sensibly.

"Anyway, I'm not going to eat anything, with my Cricket out there, starving," cried Eunice, determinedly.

"But Eunice! how silly! It won't help Cricket any. She wouldn't like to have you not eat."

"I sha'n't eat a mouthful," replied Eunice, obstinately, shaking her head.

"Well, then, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll eat just one tiny sandwich apiece, so we won't just die with hunger, then we'll call to Cricket that we won't eat the rest till she can get in here. Then we'll eat it before we go back."

"Yes, I'll do that," answered Eunice, after considering a moment. And then they called to Cricket.

"We-won't-eat-any-luncheon-till you-get-here. Can-you-wait?"

"Have-to!" called back Cricket, cheerfully. "Will-it-be-long?"

"Three-or-four-hours!" answered Edna. "Keep-as-still-as-you-can, -so-the-boat-won't-sink. Can she keep still?" added Edna, to Eunice.

"I think so," answered Eunice, somewhat doubtfully, it must be confessed. Then they sat down, and, opening their luncheon, selected a small sandwich each. It really

took considerable self-control not to satisfy two hearty appetites, then and there, for the luncheon looked very tempting. But Eunice resolutely put the basket away.

"What will auntie think?" asked Eunice, anxiously, glancing toward the shore. "It's dinner-time, I guess."

"There are the boys, now," cried Edna. "Yes, it's dinner-time, and they've come down to see where we are." She stood up and waved her bureau cover. The boys, catching sight of the signal, waved frantically in return. Presently, all the others, grandma, auntie, old Billy, and the children, were seen to gather there. The boys ran up and down the beach, then all the figures clustered together, evidently holding a council of war.

"There's just nothing to be done," sighed Edna, "except to wait for the water."

"Wait for the water, and we'll all take a ride," sang Eunice. "It's really much harder for them to be anxious about us, and about Cricket, than for us to be here. And hardest of all for Cricket. For pity's sake! what is the child doing?"

In watching the shore people, they had forgotten for a moment the stranded boat and its small occupant. As they looked again, they saw she had stuck the oars in the mud, blade down, and was now evidently lashing them to the oar-locks. This done, she stood up and slipped off the blue flannel skirt of her little sailor suit, standing up in her short white petticoat. She hung the skirt by the hem over the oars, and immediately she had a very fair substitute for a tent, to shield her from the blazing sun. Then, apparently quite contented, she sat down in the bottom of the boat, adjusting the cushion from the stern seat, for a back. She had her face towards the island, and, when she was comfortably settled, she waved her hand, crying out:

"Isn't-this-exciting? I'm-playing-I'm-Marco-Bozzaris-in-his-shrouded-tent."

After their consultation, the shore people had evidently decided there was nothing to be done for the shipwrecked mariner and her exiled companions, as presently every one went into the house.

"Think of the soup and roast beef they're devouring!" sighed Eunice, with a thrill of envy,-but she stood fast to her resolution not to eat luncheon till Cricket could have some, too.

Fortunately, there was no special danger for Cricket, unless she actually tumbled out of the boat into the deep, soft mud, which she could scarcely do, unless she deliberately jumped out, so securely was the boat held. So the time went on, and Eunice and Edna, after a while, submitted to the inevitable, and resumed work and reading, stopping now and then to look towards Cricket, and call out sympathizing messages.

"Isn't-it-nice-I'm-near-enough-to-talk-to-you?" called back this little Mark Tapley once.

"Are-you-very-hungry?" shouted Eunice, after a long lapse in this high-keyed conversation. But there was no answer, and, looking again, they saw that Cricket's head was down on her arm, which was stretched out over the seat.

"She's actually gone to sleep!" said Eunice, in amazement. "Well, I never knew Cricket to go to sleep in the daytime before in her life."

"I should think she'd do anything for variety," returned Edna. "If this isn't the longest day that ever was! I should think it was to-morrow morning. It's worse than that day last summer when we went blackberrying and came home at ten in the morning, thinking it was six. Do you remember?"

"I should think I did! I never had a chance to forget it," answered Eunice, "between papa and Donald. I suppose it was funny to them, but I never could see how the time seems so long to us."

"Oh, look, look!" cried Edna, suddenly. "Do you see that little ripple where the water lies in the channel? The tide is turning at last. In an hour or so, now, the water will be high enough for Cricket to get over here at least,-though we can't get home for a long time yet."

If the time had dragged before, this last hour fairly crawled. Eagerly the girls watched the strengthening ripples and the eddying current in the channel, as the water slowly crept higher in the outer bay. Slowly the brown ooze became a smooth, even, brown paste, and then, a few minutes later, the usual transformation scene took place. The bay was so protected by the long arm of land that half surrounded it that there was not only no surf, but no large waves even. The first you knew, the deepening water hid the ugly mud-flats, which were so level that only two or three inches of water were needed to transform the bay into a thing of beauty.

"Cricket! Cricket!" shrieked both girls, in eager chorus. "Wake-up! wake-up! the-tide's-coming-in. Crick-et!"

Cricket, evidently bewildered, sat up, and looked around her, then grasped the situation. Quickly she pulled down her tent, and restored her skirt to its original use. She unlashed her oars, and adjusted them in the oar-locks.

"Push-off-as-soon-as-you-can!" called Edna. "Rock-the-boat-to-loosen-it."

Cricket obeyed instructions. She kept up a steady swaying movement, dipping her oars lightly in the deepening water. At last, like Longfellow's ship, "she starts! she moves!"

"Hurrah!" shouted Cricket, waving her oar, and then applying it vigorously. "I'm off!"

One more determined shove and she was off, and her boat floated in the hollow between herself and the island. It was but a moment's work then to pull in shore. If the two sisters had been parted for a year, they could not have greeted each other more rapturously. They rushed into each other's arms, kissing and hugging each other, while Edna declared she would eat up all the luncheon if they didn't stop.

"If I'm not starved!" cried Cricket, eagerly falling to as soon as the luncheon was opened. "I almost thought I'd eat my shoes out in the boat. It was awfully good of you not to eat anything till I got here."

"There's enough to last us till we get home, anyway," said Edna, munching away at the sandwiches with much satisfaction. "Now tell us, Cricket, what became of you?"

"Nothing became of me. I thought I'd row over home for a drink, and old Billy and the children were down on the beach, and I took them out for a little row, and I played they were castaways from the burning ship. Then I took them in, and sat down to rest, and then I thought it was time to come back for you. I never thought about the tide, and there seemed to be plenty of water around, and suddenly I found the water had all turned into mud."

"Cricket, your stockings are all coming down," interrupted Eunice.

"Yes, I know," said Cricket, coolly, stopping long enough to produce her side-elastics from her pocket. "I took off my stocking-coddies to tie the oars up with, to make my tent. Why, I had lots of fun, girls. I couldn't think of any shipwrecked hero who was ever stuck in the mud, so I played the mud was a desert, and that I was Marco What's-his-name in his shrouded tent, and-"

"It was the Turk, who was at midnight in his shrouded tent," interrupted Eunice, again.

"Was it? Well, I played it, anyway. Then I put my head down on my arm to look like him, and I must have gone to sleep, for the sun was pretty hot, even under my tent, and it made me dreadfully sleepy. Then I heard you call me, and there was the water all around me. Can't we start, now, Edna?"

"We can't get over that last bar nearest the shore, yet awhile," answered Edna, "but we can start as soon as there is the least bit of water over it, for by the time we get there the water will be deep enough to float us."

"I don't care how long we stay, now," said Eunice, contentedly, "since Cricket is here, and not out there all alone. I'll row in, Cricket."

"See, there are the boys running along the shore, and beckoning. Probably they mean it is safe to start now. Let's get ready. My goody, doesn't it seem as if we had been here a week?"

"Don't let's come again till it's high tide in the middle of the day," said Eunice. "Here, now we have the things all in."

"Isn't this boat a spectacle?" said Eunice, surveying its mud-splashed sides. "Won't the boys give you a blessing, Miss Scricket!"

"A blessing is a good thing to have," answered Cricket, quite undisturbed, as she yielded the oars to Eunice, and sat in the stern with Edna.

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