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   Chapter 12 THE HAIRS OF HIS HEAD.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 12397

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Maxwell family were coming home from church along the sandy, sunny road. Eunice and Edna, arm in arm, were ahead, laughing and talking over some profound secret. Will and Archie mimicked them behind, while grandmamma and Auntie Jean, under a generous black sun-umbrella, strolled slowly along some distance in the rear. Cricket, in the misery of a dainty organdie, which she must keep clean for another Sunday, and with the unhappy consciousness of her Sunday hat of wide, white Leghorn, which, with its weight of pink roses, flopped uncomfortably about her ears, walked along by herself, in an unusually meditative frame of mind. She refused, with dignity, the boys' proposal to walk with them, and told the girls it was too hot to go three abreast.

Presently, down a cross street, she spied a familiar figure, tall and bent, with a head of bristling hair, and a high silk hat,-it was Billy, and she instantly ran to meet him. Billy could never be induced to attend the little Episcopal chapel where Mrs. Maxwell went, but "favoured his own meetin'-'us," he said, which was the little white Unitarian church by the post-office.

"Folks didn't set easy in Mrs. Maxwell's church," he often said, "and he didn't like to see a minister in a white petticoat, with a black ribbund around his neck." It didn't seem respectful to him to have so much to do with the service. But Billy was very devout in his own way, and never missed service nor Wednesday evening prayer-meeting in his own church.

"H'lo, Billy!" cried Cricket, beaming. "Don't you want to carry my prayer-book? I want to get those wild roses."

Billy was only too delighted.

"Had a good sermon?" pursued Cricket, in very grown-up fashion, as they walked along, side by side, after the roses were secured.

"Oh, very decent, very decent," answered Billy, who always nodded from the text to "Finally."

"What was it about?" went on Cricket, feeling that she must give a Sunday tone to the conversation.

Billy took off his hat and scratched his head, to assist his ideas.

"'Bout-'bout very good things," he said, vaguely. "We sang a pretty hymn, too."

"Did you? What was it?"

"That hymn about 'Hand Around the Wash-rag.' I've heard you a-singin' it."

"Hand around the wash-rag! Why Billy Ruggles, what can you mean?"

"Yes," insisted Billy, who had a good ear for music in his poor, cracked head. "You was singin' it las' night."

"I can't imagine what you mean, Billy. When we were on the piazza, do you mean? We didn't sing anything about wash-rags, I'm sure. We didn't sing but three things, anyway, because grandma had a headache."

"It was the first thing you sang," persisted Billy.

"Oh-h! 'Rally Round the Watchword,'" and Cricket, regardless of her Sunday finery, sat down on a stone to laugh. "You funny Billy!"

Billy grinned, though he did not see the joke.

"That's as bad as what Helen insisted they sang last Christmas, in the infant class, something about 'Christmas soda's on the breeze!' I don't know what she means," said Cricket, forgetting that Billy would not understand. It was such a relief when any one else, even old Billy, mispronounced words, and thus gave her a chance to laugh at them. It was her heedlessness that made her make so many mistakes, for her quick eyes flashed along the page, taking in the meaning and general form of the words, without grasping the exact spelling.

"Hope you heard a good sermon," said Billy, making conversation in his turn.

"Oh, yes, very. I listened to almost all of it. Mr. Clark said something about something being as many as the hairs of your head, and there was a bald-headed man who sat right in front of us, and he only had the teentiest bit of hair, just like a little lambrequin around his head. So I thought I could easily count his hairs, because they were so straight and so long, and so few of them, anyway. And, Billy, do you know, I got so interested that I began to count right out loud once, and I stood up, right there in church, Billy, while the minister was preaching, to see round his head better, and Eunice pulled me down. I was so ashamed."

Billy looked so shocked that Cricket hastened to add:

"There weren't very many people who saw me, though, for we sat pretty far back. I did listen to the sermon after that, though. I had only counted up to two hundred. I just wonder how many hairs a person has on his head, anyway. I mean a person with the regular amount."

"Three hundred?" hazarded Billy, hazily.

"No, indeed; more than that. Many as a thousand, I guess. Oh, Billy, you have a splendid lot of hair! S'pose I count it this afternoon?"

Billy chuckled assent.

"Let's go out in the orchard, back of the beach. It's all quiet and shady there. The girls will be down by the rocks, and the boys are going for a long walk. So there will be nobody to interrupt us. It will take most all the afternoon, I guess, but I've always wanted to know how many hairs grow on a person's head. I'll come for you after dinner, Billy, don't forget!" and, having arrived at the house, Cricket skipped up the porch steps, and went up-stairs to relieve herself of the bondage of her pink organdie as soon as possible.

After dinner, Cricket found her willing slave waiting for her on the piazza.

"Let's go right off before the others come out, for we don't want a whole raft of children after us," she said, and so they went around the house, through the side gate, into the orchard.

"Here's a lovely, shady spot. You sit right down on this hummock, Billy," ordered Cricket. "Your hair is just fine for counting," she went on, taking off Billy's shining beaver.

Billy looked much flattered. He certainly did have a good crop for the purpose. His hair was rather coarse, very wiry and bristling, about two inches long, and as clean as a daily scrubbing in soap and water could make it.

"Now, where shall I begin? You see you haven't any part, Billy, and there's no place to start from."

"Seem's if my hair wouldn't stay parted," said Billy, meekly, looking troubled by the fact.

"I'll part it right in the middle, and you put your hand up and hold this side down, while I count th

e other. I'll begin right in front. One-two-three-there, Billy, you moved your hand a little, and some of your hair slipped right up again, and I've lost my place."

"I didn't go to do it," said Billy, pressing his hand down harder on the rebellious hairs. "Is that all right now?"

"Yes, that will do. Now, hold still," and Cricket began again.

"Ninety-nine-one hundred-oh, Billy!" for an inquiring wasp came whizzing near, and Billy ducked suddenly to avoid it. "Now I've lost that, and I've got to begin again. Billy, you haven't any string in your pocket, have you? Then I could tie up your hair in bunches when I get to one hundred, and count the bunches afterward."

But Billy hadn't a string.

"I'll run up to the house and get some," said Cricket, darting away. She was back in a few minutes, with a small pasteboard box in her hand.

"This is better than string," she panted. "I got auntie's little box of rubber bands. Now we can count. Never mind holding your hand up, for I can begin anywhere."

She gathered up a lock of hair, counted to one hundred, and twisted an elastic band around it, close to the roots.

"That's one hundred. Now, for the next," she said, with much satisfaction. She counted on, industriously, and soon poor Billy's head bristled with queer-looking little bunches on one side. She was much too engrossed to notice the effect at first.

Some time later, grandmamma and Auntie Jean, strolling leisurely through the orchard, saw ahead of them a funny sight: Billy, sitting meekly on a hummock, his hands on his black broadcloth knees, while Cricket stood behind him, bending over his head, all over the top of which bristled plumy bunches of white hair, which stood up rampantly.

"What in the world is that child doing, making Billy look like a porcupine?" exclaimed grandma, standing still in amazement, unseen by the two.

"Playing Horned Lady, I should think. But I dare say she has purpose in her mind. Listen. Why, mother! she's actually counting Billy's hair!"

At this moment, Cricket, pausing to snap another elastic band around the last bunch, for the first time noticed the effect of her hair dressing.

"Oh, Billy! if you don't look just as if you had a lot of little feather dusters growing on your head!" she cried, holding on to her sides as she laughed.

Billy looked disturbed. He decidedly objected to being laughed at. He put up his hand to feel.

"Don't take them down," said Cricket, pushing his hand away. "I'm going on. My! what a lot of hair people have. Let's see how many bunches I have. Twenty-two-twenty-three. That makes twenty-three hundred, and there's lots more to do, yet. I don't wonder people mean so much when they say, as many as the hairs of your head, do you?"

"How many, Cricket?" asked auntie, laughing, as she and grandma drew nearer.

"Who's that? Oh, auntie!" Cricket looked a little abashed. "I'm only counting Billy's hair," she explained. "Mr. Clark said this morning that, if we counted our mercies, we should find them as many as the hairs of our heads."

"It might be easier to count the mercies," said auntie, still laughing.

"Yes, I thought of that coming home from church," said Cricket, going on with her work of gathering up wisps of Billy's hair into plumes, and fastening them by the bands, though without counting. "Then I didn't know exactly what my mercies are, excepting that 'Liza says it is a mercy I'm not twins."

"What had you been doing when she said that, Jean?" immediately asked grandma, who never used her nickname.

"Nothing, much," said Cricket, "only 'Liza gets cranky sometimes, you know."

"That won't do, Cricket," said Auntie Jean, scenting mischief. "Tell me what you did."

"Really, it wasn't much. It was this morning, and 'Liza had Helen in the bath-tub bathing her, and I went into the nursery a moment, and Zaidee was in bed, and she said her leg hurt her, and 'Liza was going to rub it with 'Pond's Extrap,'-that's what she calls Pond's Extract, you know," taking breath,-"and I only meant to help 'Liza, really and truly. So I took down the bottle and began to rub Zaidee's legs. I thought the Pond's Extract seemed to have gotten dreadfully sticky, and it was all thick and dark like molasses, and I could hardly rub at all with it, and Zaidee said she didn't like it, and she cried. But I thought it was the best thing to do for her, so I told her a story to keep her quiet, till I got both her legs all rubbed. Then 'Liza came in, and wanted to know what made Zaidee's legs so sticky, and the sheets and her nightdress were pretty bad, because she wiggled so that I spilled some. 'Liza just snatched the bottle away, very unpolitely, when I only told her that I had been helping her because she was so busy, and Zaidee wanted her legs rubbed. 'It's Kemp's Balsam,' she said, 'and I'm giving it to Helen for her cough, and it's not Pond's Extract, at all.' But it was a Pond's Extract bottle, auntie, truly, so how should I know? And then she said, 'it was a mercy I wasn't twins,'" finished Cricket, looking much aggrieved.

Auntie laughed till the tears came into her eyes.

"Kemp's Balsam, of all sticky things!" she said. "Poor Zaidee! did she have to be scraped?"

"'Liza said she guessed she would have to scrape her," admitted Cricket, reluctantly. "And the things on the bed, and her nightdress, had to be changed. I kept thinking it was pretty funny looking stuff for Pond's Extract, but I thought perhaps it was rancid."

"Rancid Pond's Extract! Oh, what a girl!" laughed grandma, but patting her head, consolingly, "Our little Jean is very nice, but I think I'm glad, myself, you're not twins."

"There'd be two of us to fall through ceilings, then," meditated Cricket, "for I suppose if I was twins we'd be always together like Zaidee and Helen. No, I'm glad there is only one of me. It's more convenient. I don't want to count any more, now, Billy, but would you mind keeping your hair that way for a day or two, so I could count whenever I like?"

And if auntie had not interposed in his behalf, I do not know but Billy might still be walking the streets of Marbury with his crested decoration.

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