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   Chapter 20 A NEW HIDING-PLACE.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 17619

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The four girls were in an unusually energetic frame of mind the next day, owing to so many hours confinement on the sailboat.

"Let's do something wild to-day," said Cricket, at the breakfast-table. "I'd like to ride a crazy horse."

"Are you tired of this world?" asked Will. "If you are, I'll go and borrow Mr. Gates's Josephus,-his new horse. He's only half broken, and that's the wrong half."

"Cricket, I put my foot down on your doing anything of the kind," said auntie, in alarm, not feeling at all sure of Cricket. "Remember you're strictly forbidden to mount anything but Mopsie."

"And the sawhorse?" broke in Archie.

"Yes, I'll except the sawhorse," conceded his mother.

"Why, auntie, I rode Columbus all around the field, bareback, the other day," said Cricket. "I didn't know you didn't want me to."

"Columbus! you crazy child! He's not at all safe even for a man to ride him. Understand, my dear, that's tabooed."

"Oh, auntie!" cried Cricket, clasping her hands, tragically, "If you've any filial affection for me, you won't say that! I do so love to ride a horse bareback. Mopsie is dear, but I like something fiercer."

"If you have any filial affection for me, my dear," returned auntie, laughing, "you will say no more about it. You know I've undertaken to restore all you children, as uninjured as possible, to your father and mother. Riding half-broken horses bareback is not exactly the safest thing in the world."

"What let's do, then?" asked Edna.

"I'm going to take grandma for a nice long ride after breakfast. Suppose two of you come with me, and the other two ride or drive Mopsie and Charcoal," proposed auntie.

"All right. Suppose you and I go in the carriage, Eunice," said Edna, "and let the children take the ponies."

"The children, indeed!" said Hilda, bridling. "I'm as old as you, Edna."

"Cricket's the only trundle-bed trash," said Archie, pulling her hair.

"Goodness me, auntie, if you'd whipped him a little when he was trundle-bed trash, he might have been very much nicer now," said Cricket, pulling away, and, by her hasty movement, upsetting her glass of milk. "There, now! I've done it again. Please excuse me, auntie."

"It was not your fault, dear. It's that bad boy of mine that must be blamed. I read a story a little while ago of a plan where all the small boys were put into a barrel when they were six, and fed and educated through the bung-hole, and not let out till they were twenty-one. Would you like to live there?"

"Oh, how lovely!" sighed Edna. "Let's go there! Think of having no one to tease you."

"Or pull your hair," said Cricket, feelingly.

"Or call you names," said Hilda, severely.

"Or hide your things," added Eunice, reproachfully.

"Or take you sailing, or teach you to wrestle, or write things for your old 'Echo,' or harness the ponies when Luke is not round, and look out for you generally," said Archie, in a breath. "If boys are barrelled in that place, girls ought to be-"

"Hung," said Edna, sweetly. "Please pass me the syrup."

"Since you've settled that question," said auntie, smiling, "shall we arrange it that Eunice and Edna go with us, and Cricket and Hilda ride the ponies? Or would you rather drive, Hilda?"

"I'll ride with Cricket, please," said Hilda.

"We'll have a splendid scamper, then," said Cricket. "Oh, Hilda! do you know, I've found out lately how to make Mopsie go up on his hind legs and walk around with me on his back. It's lots of fun and I don't fall off a bit, auntie."

"That seems rather dangerous, my dear," said auntie, looking disturbed. "When did you learn?"

"There's really not any danger, I think, mother," said Will. "Mopsie's such a gentle little chap and so well trained. He walks around on his hind legs as smoothly as Charcoal on four, and comes down so gently that you'd hardly know it. He knows just how."

"And if I fall off," said Cricket, "there isn't very far to fall, you know."

"Oh, girls!" said Eunice, suddenly changing the subject, "don't forget there is the meeting of the 'Echo Club' at three this afternoon, to read the 'Echo.' Do you want to hear it again, auntie?"

"To be sure I do. I want to know all about your budding geniuses. And it will amuse grandma, too. Meet on the piazza. And can't you make the hour four o'clock to suit us old ladies, that like a nap after luncheon?"

"Of course we will. I'm president, and I'll appoint the meeting at four. Can we be excused now, auntie? We will be round somewhere when you're ready to go to ride. I've got to do a little work on the 'Echo' yet. It isn't quite finished."

Even the long scamper on the ponies, of two or three hours, failed to exhaust Cricket's energy, and when they returned she wanted Hilda to go for a row with her. Hilda flatly refused.

"You are the most untiresome creature," she said. "I should think you'd be ready to drop. I am, I know. I'm going to get into the hammock, and I'm not going to stir till dinner-time. Do come and sit down yourself, and rest."

"Sit down and rest," repeated Cricket, with much scorn. "As if a little ride like that tired me. Well, if you won't go to row, come to walk!"

"I'm going to sit still, I say," returned Hilda, firmly, seating herself comfortably in the hammock. "I'll row this afternoon, perhaps, if it isn't too hot. Here come Eunice and Edna. Do sit down, Cricket, and be sensible."

"If I sat down I'd be insensible," answered Cricket, trying to sit cross-legged on the piazza-rail. "There's old Billy! I'll take him for a row," and Cricket, tipping herself sideways, alighted on her feet on the ground below, and ran off.

"Such a child," sighed Hilda, with the air of forty years. "She is reprehensible!" aiming at irrepressible.

Eunice and Edna joined her on the piazza.

"Where is Cricket?" Eunice asked.

"She's rampaging off," said Hilda. "I'm so hot that I don't know what to do, and there's Cricket calmly going out on that scorching water. Look at her, now!"

The girls followed Hilda's indignant finger, which pointed to where Cricket, having adjusted old Billy to her satisfaction in the stern, was pushing off the boat. The tide was nearly out, and in another half-hour the flats would be bare.

"CRICKET SAT DOWN ON THE BEACH WITH THE CHILDREN"

"I wonder if she'll get stuck again," said Edna, with interest, shading her eyes to look. "Cricket! Cricket! don't-forget-the-tide!" she called, making a speaking-tube of her hands.

"No," called Cricket, in reply, "I'm only going a little distance, just for exercise."

"For exercise!" groaned Hilda, sinking down in her hammock.

"For exercise!" echoed Edna, subsiding at full length in a steamer-chair.

"For exercise!" said Eunice, briskly, looking half inclined to follow her, when Edna pulled her down beside her.

"No, you don't want to go at all. Cricket will be back in a few moments. She can't go far, on account of the tide."

"I must finish my 'Echo,' any way," said Eunice, remembering her editorial duties, and vanishing into the house to get her materials.

It was not long before Cricket turned and pulled in. The children were on the beach with Eliza, and Cricket sat down on the sand with them, after landing, digging and laughing, as if she were six years old herself. Presently they all jumped up, and ran laughing and shouting after her.

"Come on, girls, and play 'Tick-den,'" called Cricket, as she passed.

"Come and sit down," chorused the girls, but Cricket laughed and ran on, the twins tagging after her, and Kenneth struggling in the rear.

"Tick-den" is a local variation of the time-honoured "hide-and-go-seek." There is not much fun in it when there are only three playing, especially when two of the three have very short legs, but Cricket seemed to find a certain amount of amusement in it, as she did in everything. The other girls made remarks of withering scorn to her, as she flew by, but Cricket only laughed and tossed back her curly head, and ran on.

At last there was a longer disappearance than usual. After a time Zaidee and Helen, with Kenneth lagging after, came disconsolately around to the front piazza. Zaidee's soft, silky, black hair lay in wet streaks, plastered down on her forehead, while Helen's golden locks were as tightly curled as grape-tendrils.

"We can't find Cricket any more, for she's runned away," announced Zaidee, aggrieved.

"We've hunted and hunted," said Helen. "We heard her calling once, but when we got where she was, she wasn't there any more."

"She'll be back in a moment," said Eunice, mopping off the little hot head with a practised hand. "You sit still and get cool. Really, 'Liza ought not to let you run around this way, in the hot sun."

"Just what I came out to say," said auntie, ap

pearing in the doorway. "I came down to tell you, my dear little girls, that it is much too hot to run around this way any more. You must sit down and rest till after dinner. Where's Cricket?"

"She's hided, and we can't find her anywhere," repeated Zaidee.

"She will come out presently, when she finds you aren't looking for her any more," said auntie, sitting down. "How fares our noble editor?"

"Your noble editor has most finished," said Eunice, surveying, with pride, her neatly printed pages. "If you could only stay next week, Hilda, we'd let you print a number."

"I would just as soon as not," said Hilda. "I can print very nicely. I'd like to. I'd put big, beautiful fancy capitals for the 'Echo,' and the names of the stories in fancy capitals also, and I'd draw tail-pieces."

Eunice and Edna exchanged glances.

"It's a very great pity you can't stay," said Edna, with marked politeness. "We can't do tail-pieces." The two little girls, Hilda and Edna, were just enough alike to clash very often, though Edna was never given to bragging, as Hilda sometimes was, and she was much more unselfish.

"I can draw very well," said Hilda, serenely, and with perfect truth. Like Edna, she had a dainty touch.

The minutes passed by, and still Cricket did not appear. Presently auntie raised her head, and listened.

"I thought I heard Cricket calling," she said, "but I don't hear it again."

A moment later, Eunice suddenly said:

"There certainly is some one calling. Is it Cricket?" She stood up to listen better. A muffled cry was certainly heard.

"Children! Eunice!"

Eunice shot off the piazza.

"Yes, Cricket, where are you?" running around the house. In a few moments she reappeared from the other side.

"Where can she be? I ran all around the barn, too. Hark! there it is again! Cricket! where are you?"

And again every one heard the same muffled cry, "Eunice!"

"Now it sounds in the house," said Mrs. Somers, going in.

They all joined in the search, running in every direction, and trying to locate the indistinct sounds. She was evidently in trouble, but they could not imagine why she did not tell them where she was. Somebody suggested the garret, and they all trooped up there and searched every corner in vain. Then closets, even to the rubbers-closet under the stairs, were investigated. If they stood inside the house, her call seemed to come from outside. If they went out, she seemed to be calling from inside. After the barn and woodshed were searched, there was really no place for her to conceal herself in.

"This is certainly the strangest thing!" said Auntie Jean, at last in despair. "Cricket, dear child, where are you?" looking up at the trees.

"I don't know!" wailed a voice so near them that they all jumped. They were near the open cellar window, where the coal was put in.

"Down cellar!" cried Eunice, darting away. "She must be caught somewhere!"

But down cellar, the sounds, though still audible, were more vague than ever.

"It really sounds in the furnace," suggested Eunice, hopefully, going forward. She threw open the door, rather expecting to see Cricket crouching in a bunch in the fire-box. But no! it was guiltless of Cricket, as every other place had been.

"This is getting positively uncanny," exclaimed auntie, when suddenly a tremendous pounding that seemed to come from their very feet was heard. Hilda grew pale, Edna clung to her mother, Zaidee began to roar, and Helen to whimper, while Eunice sprang forward, listening intently.

"Do that again, Cricket," she said, and immediately the pounding was repeated.

"If I had ever heard of an underground passage here, I should think she was in that," said auntie, looking puzzled. "If it were Governor Winthrop's house, all could be explained. Cricket, in the name of all that is weird, where are you?"

"I don't know," came in sepulchral tones. "I seem to be walled up!"

"Oh!" shrieked Hilda, clutching Mrs. Somers' other hand.

"Are you underground? Shall we dig you out?" called auntie.

Eunice stood turning her head from side to side, like a dog. Then she made a rush for a large closet at one side of the cellar. It was nearly empty except for a few stone jars.

"I looked in there once," said auntie, but as Eunice opened the door, the pounding began again, apparently directly back of it.

"But the back of the closet is against the cellar wall," said Auntie Jean in new bewilderment, but at the very moment, Cricket's voice, clearer now and more distinct, announced, "I'm here," with a vigorous kick, to emphasize her words. "Can't you get me out? I'm nearly dead."

"But what are you in, and how in the name of wonder did you get there?" said Auntie Jean, more puzzled than ever, surveying the blank boards before her. "Eunice, run and find Luke, and tell him to come here. Are you against the cellar wall, Cricket?"

"I don't seem to know where I am," answered Cricket, half-laughing. "I've fallen into something."

In a few minutes Eunice returned with Luke. The moment he looked in at the open closet door, he burst into a loud guffaw, slapping his thigh with his hand.

"She's in the cold-air box, by gosh!"

"The cold-air box!" echoed everybody in varying intonations. It was even so. The old house had an unusually deep cellar. When the furnace had been put into the house a few years before, the cold-air box had to go in as best it could. It happened to be more convenient to build it down the back of an unused closet which already had an opening for a window at the level of the ground. So the back of the closet had been partioned off for it, and it was continued under the cemented floor to the furnace. Luke had lately been doing something to it, so both the cover that shuts off the cold air was out, and also the wire-netting, that went over the window.

Cricket seeing the window from the outside, took it for granted that it opened into the coal-bin, and, in her heedless fashion, backed hastily through, as she was looking for a good place to hide in, meaning to swing down by her hands, and drop on her feet. She did drop, what to her surprise seemed about to the middle of the earth, and it really was some distance. The cellar, as I said, was unusually deep, and Cricket was only four feet high. Every one knows how surprising it is to come down even a foot or two lower than we expect, and the swift, long drop, when she thought she must be already near the cellar bottom, not only startled, but slightly stunned her for a few moments. When she opened her eyes after the black, dizzy whirl that lasted for several minutes, she could not imagine what sort of a place she was in. The light above her showed her a square, well-like tunnel, set up on end, and about two feet square, with the window ledge five feet higher than her head. At first she tried to climb up the wall by bracing herself on opposite sides of it, but her muscles were not quite equal to this. It was not until it slowly dawned on her that she could not possibly get out by her own efforts, that she began to call. Of course her voice was carried by the furnace pipes all over the house, making it impossible to locate the sound.

"There's a big hole down by my feet," Cricket called out, when she heard them debating as to the best way to get her out. "Can't I crawl through that and come out somewhere?"

"You'd come out in the furnace, Miss," said Luke, "and you'd get stuck in the bend. I'll haul you up from the outside."

They all went outside, while Luke tried to reach down to her, but their hands could not make connections.

"Let a ladder down," said Eunice, but there was not room for both a ladder and Cricket, even if one could have been put down.

"Let a rope down, and tie it around her waist," said Luke, "and I'll haul it up."

"I'm afraid that would hurt her," said auntie, anxiously.

Just then Will and Archie arrived on the scene, and joined the group around the window.

"What's up? caught a burglar down there?" asked Will.

"Yes, one caught in the very act. Question is, getting it up."

"Will, is that you?" called a forlorn voice from the depths. "Do, for goodness sake, get me out of this hole."

Archie instantly poked his head through the opening, and looked down at her.

"Cricket, by jingo! How's the weather down there?"

"Don't tease now, Arch," begged Cricket. "Get me up, for I'm nearly dead down here."

"Why don't you knock away some of the boards from the partition down-stairs?" asked Will. "It wouldn't take a moment. Where's the axe, Luke?"

"Will, you're the Lady from Philadelphia," exclaimed his mother. "Of course we can."

And in ten minutes more Cricket was a free individual again, and quite ready to attack their belated dinner.

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