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   Chapter 24 AFTER THE SACRIFICE.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 15155

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The next few days were not very happy ones. Auntie Jean had her hands full. Grandma's ankle was much better, to be sure, but still it did not allow her to walk or stand on it but very little, so that she could not be of much assistance in the nursing that followed. Poor little Kenneth suffered greatly from his burns, and his fever ran high, and the very hot weather made it harder for him to bear. He cried continually for his mother. He had not fretted for her, especially, while he was well, but now that he was sick he wailed constantly for "Mamma."

Cricket was up and about, after a day or two. Her arms and hands were still bandaged, and she was very helpless about dressing and undressing herself, but she felt better to be up. She longed to do something for Kenneth, but this was impossible, with both arms in slings. These were rather dark days for the poor little girl, for, on account of the anxiety about Kenneth, she received less attention than she otherwise would have had. She was very grateful, however, that nobody reminded her that it was chiefly her fault.

Unfortunately, her right hand, with which she had first clasped Kenneth, was much more seriously burned than the other. The left hand came out of its sling at the end of three or four days, and while the arm remained bandaged, she could use her fingers.

"If it was only the other way," she mourned, "I could write a lot of stories and things for the 'Echo,' and my time would not be all wasted."

"Learn to write with your left hand," suggested grandma.

"Could I?" said Cricket, brightening. "Why, why not? It won't be like learning to write over again. I've often tried it, only my left-hand fingers don't seem to have any push in them."

"If you practise half an hour a day, you will soon do wonders," said grandma, encouragingly. "I had a brother, once, who was left-handed, and he learned to use his right hand equally well. He drew beautifully, and would often work with a pencil in each hand. Not only that, but I have often seen him write with one hand and draw with the other."

"Isn't that wonderful?" exclaimed Cricket. "I'll begin to practise this minute, Eunice, if you'll get me paper and pencil," she added, eagerly.

She worked busily for a few minutes, in silence, after the materials were brought her.

"It looks exactly like Zaidee's writing," she said, at length, in disgust, after her first few attempts. She wrote a firm, pretty hand for a girl of her age, and these shaky, disjointed letters, sprawling across the page, were very discouraging.

"It looks like the tracks of a crazy ant," she said, half laughing.

"If you practise faithfully for a few days you will find they will look like the tracks of a very sane ant," said grandma. "And, besides, think how much easier it is to learn to write with your left hand than with your toes."

"With your toes, grandma," came in a united chorus.

"Yes, with your toes. I knew of a man, once, who was born without any arms, and-"

"No arms at all? Not one?"

"Not one," answered grandma, smiling on her eager questioner. "He was the son of a very poor woman here in the village. They lived in that little red cottage on the Bainbridge road, where you turn by the four oaks."

"Without any arms! Did he have shoulders?" asked Cricket.

"Oh, yes, indeed. I saw them often when he was a baby-bare, I mean. The shoulder ended smoothly where the arms should be. He grew up a very bright little fellow. Running barefoot all the time, as he did, I suppose he learned to pick up things with his toes very naturally. At any rate, when he was eight years old he could even handle his knife and fork with his toes."

"Ugh!" shuddered Eunice, "Did he sit on the table?"

"No, not quite so bad as that. He sat on a little low stool, and his plate was put on the floor in front of him. He would pick up his knife and fork, cut up his meat, and feed himself as deftly as possible. It was very funny."

"Think of washing his feet before dinner, instead of his hands!" giggled Cricket.

"Could he get his feet right up to his mouth?" asked Eunice.

"Yes, easily. He was very limber."

Zaidee instantly sat down on the piazza floor and attempted the performance.

"It most cracks my back," she said, getting up and trying to reach around behind herself to rub it.

"I could do it," said supple Cricket, who could sit on the floor and put her legs around her neck.

"He went to the district school," went on grandma, "and learned to read very quickly, and his mental arithmetic was really wonderful. Long examples that the others did on their slates, he did almost as quickly in his head. One year, they had a very good, patient teacher, who, noticing how deftly he picked up all sorts of things with his toes, had the bright idea of teaching him to write by holding his pen between his toes. Now his toes, by constant using, had grown longer and slenderer than most people's, and in a very short time he could guide a pencil sufficiently to make very legible letters. Quite as much so as your first attempts with your left hand, just now, Jean."

"Think of it!" exclaimed Cricket. "I'm going to try it to-night when we go to bed, Eunice."

"It was a funny sight to see him get ready for his school work. When he arrived at school his brother washed and dried his feet carefully, and put on him an old pair of loose slippers to keep them clean. His slate or paper would be put on the floor before him, and he would slip his foot out of his slipper, grasp his pencil, and begin. By the end of a year, he really wrote wonderfully well."

"Oh-h!" sighed Zaidee. "Helen and I practised lots, last winter, with mamma, and we can't write much now. We writed every day, too."

"Where is the man now?" asked Eunice. "What became of him?"

"When he was a boy of fourteen or so, a travelling circus manager heard of him, and offered him a large salary to go with him to be exhibited," answered grandma. "He got a large salary, and after that helped support his family. He learned to do many other things with his toes, later, people said. For instance, he drew beautifully, and could even hold a knife and whittle a stick. The family soon left here, and I never knew anything more about him. So, my little Jean, aren't you encouraged to practise writing with your left hand, with good hope of success?"

"Yes, indeed, grandma," answered Cricket, taking her pencil, and going to work again, awkwardly but energetically. And I may just say, in passing, that she worked to such good effect, that in ten days' time her left-handed writing, though it slanted backward, was firm and legible.

"There!" exclaimed Cricket, with a long sigh, after her first half-hour was over, as she rose to stretch her arm above her head, "I've written so long that I'm so tired that I can hardly put one foot before the other."

"That would be a more appropriate sentiment if you were my no-armed man," said grandma, smiling.

"I'm just wild with keeping still, grandma! Resting makes me so tired. I want to go rowing or riding or walking. I'd like to jump over the moon, as far as my feelings go, but it makes my arm ache if I move round much."

"Read aloud to us," suggested grandma, "and perhaps Eunice will hold the wool for me while you do."

Cricket liked to read aloud, and she got a book very willingly.

"Here's a lovely story," she said, "all about battles and fighting, and exciting things. 'How Captain Jack Won His Epauplets.'"

"Won his-what?" asked grandma, holding her ball suspended.

"His epauplets. He was just a plain, every-day soldier, you know, to start with."

"Oh! won his epaulets, you mean," said grandma, gravely.

"Won his-oh, of course! how stupid of me!" looking more closely at the word. "Now I've always thought that word was epauplets, grandma, truly I did."

"Go on and begin," said Eunice; "how did he win them?"

The reading proceeded quietly for a time. Eunice held the wool, grandma wound it off, and Zaidee and Helen played tonka on the piazza steps. Tonka was a little Japanese game on the order of jackstones, only, instead of hard, nobby stones, that spoil the dimpled knuckles, tiny bags of soft, gay silk, half full of rice, are used. Six little bags are made with the ends gathered, and one more, the tonka, is made flat and square of some different coloured silk, to distinguish it, as the gay little bags fly up and down. It was a very favourite amusement with all the children. Eliza was with Kenneth, and auntie was lying down, for the poor baby had been wakeful and in much pain the night before, and auntie had had little sleep.

Nearly an hour slipped by, when suddenly grandma stopped Cricket.

"How quiet the children are. Are they there still?" turning to see. Eunice looked up also.

"Dear me, I haven't thought of them for a long time. They've slipped off. I suppose I ought to go and see what Zaidee's doing, and tell her she mustn't," and Eunice lay down her work. She had had to have much care of the younger ones these last few days.

"I'll go, too," said Cricket, getting up gladly. "'Scuse us, please, grandma, for leaving you all alone."

Cricket had scarcely ever been ill a day in her life, not even with children's diseases, which she had always escaped, and, in all her adventures, she was very rarely hurt. Therefore, pain was a very dreadful thing to her. She bore it bravely, but it was strange to see her looking so pale and heavy-eyed. But these few days of suffering were teaching her many things.

Eunice and Cricket heard the sound of the children's voices as they turned the corner of the house.

"Oh, they're all right," said Eunice, relieved.

Just back of the house, in a tiny little shed, built especially for it, stood a big barrel of kerosene. It was kept outside, because grandma was very much afraid of the possibility of fire. Once, in an unlucky moment, the waitress, Delia, in drawing the oil into a small can to be carried into the house, had yielded to Zaidee's entreaty, and had let her turn that fascinating little spigot. After that the twins made several private expeditions to the barrel, but as the spigot was kept locked, of course they could not turn it. It chanced that this morning Delia had drawn the oil in a hurry, and had forgotten to turn the catch in the spigot that locked it.

Zaidee and Helen, prowling around for something to do, chanced to come past the barrel, and Zaidee tried the faucet. To their rapture a spurting stream of oil instantly poured out. An old dipper, lying near by, was immediately seized upon, as something to fill, and all the flower beds that were near by were well watered with kerosene. Next, they spied a small churn, which Bridget, the cook, had just put out in the sun to dry. This was an opportunity not to be neglected, and the next dipperful of kerosene went splash into Bridget's clean, white churn. Up and down went the dasher, worked by these eager hands, while, behind them, the kerosene still poured from the barrel.

"Yes, they're all right," repeated Eunice. "They're only working the churn-dasher up and down. Probably Bridget left some water in it to soak."

"Come over here," called Zaidee, hospitably.

"We're making butter, Eunice."

Eunice drew a little nearer, then, suddenly, she stopped, sniffed, and darted forward.

"Children, what have you there?"

"Caroseme," responded Zaidee, promptly. "We drawed it from the pretty little fountain in the barrel."

Eunice turned hastily towards the "caroseme" barrel, then flew towards it. As the barrel had been lately filled there was plenty in it, still, and it was flowing merrily, while a pool of kerosene lay over the board floor.

"Goodness gracious me! How shall I ever get in there to turn it off?" cried Eunice. "I can't step in it?"

"Let Zaidee do it. She's soaking already with it. Zaidee, come here, directly, and turn this kerosene off."

Zaidee came up cheerfully, and waded in, regardless of her shoes.

"It's too bad to turn it off, when it looks so pretty," she said, regretfully.

"You are naughty children," said Eunice, severely, arraying the guilty twins before her, when this was done. "Whatever shall I do with you? I can't take you, all dripping like that, into the house to Eliza, because she's with Kenneth, and auntie's lying down, and I don't suppose Delia would know what to do with you."

"Hang them both up over the clothes-line to dry," suggested Cricket, darkly eying the chief culprit. "Dear me! how you do smell!"

"I don't like it pretty well," admitted Zaidee, sniffing at her hands. "I want to go in and get us washed off now."

"No, stop," commanded Eunice, as Zaidee was starting off. "You would ruin everything you touched, I suppose. You're reeking wet. You can't go into the nursery, for you mustn't disturb Kenneth. Auntie said particularly that we mustn't even make any noise around, so he can sleep. What shall I do with you?"

"I'll tell you," suggested Cricket, the ever-ready. "Take them down to the Cove and put them in the water just as they are, and wash off the worst of it. Then you can take off their clothes and leave them down there in the bathing-house, for 'Liza to look after when she can."

"Perhaps that might do. I could put on my own bathing-suit and take them in, and wash off the outside, anyway."

"Yes, let's," cried Zaidee, scampering off in high feather at the delightful possibility of going into the water all dressed, "just like a dog."

"Grandma wouldn't care, would she?"

"There's nothing else to do. You go on and I'll tell her. My arm aches so that I can't walk over there," said Cricket, turning away, very dolefully. She didn't like to miss the fun of ducking those naughty children. She watched them out of sight.

"But it isn't really a bit worse of Zaidee to turn that spigot, and play with the oil, than it was for me to play with the fire," she said, honestly, to herself, as she walked slowly back to grandma. "I can't say much. But it is funny how much badder things seem in other people, when they're really just as worse in ourselves."

And with this not very lucid statement of an undeniable fact, Cricket walked up the piazza steps and informed grandma of the state of affairs.

Half an hour later Eunice appeared, driving a pair of depressed looking children before her, clad only in their little blue bathing-suits.

She was hot and flushed, Zaidee cross and rebellious, and Helen tearful and subdued. Eunice had found that the plan of washing oily children, with all their clothes on, was much easier in theory than in practice. And such a task as it had been to get their dripping clothes off! Wet buttonholes refused to open, shoestrings knotted hopelessly, and everything stuck flabbily together.

Auntie Jean was with little Kenneth again, so Eliza was at liberty to take the children in hand, but before they went off, grandma said, very gravely, to them, that they were to go directly to bed for two whole hours, so that they might have a quiet time to think over the mischief they had done.

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