MRS. URIAH PEEL

The Doctor, Roy, and Dick went up the stream in search of trout, Snip
accompanying them, but Chub and Harry elected to stay behind and go
shopping. And after the others had taken their departure with poles
and tackle they set off for the store. The road ambled across the old
wooden bridge, climbed a little hill between high thickets of sumac,
and dipped again toward the settlement. From the slope, as they trudged
along, they had a view of a wide expanse of farms and orchards with
here and there a snug farm-house nestling under its grove of trees.
The village, if it really deserved the name, consisted by actual
count of seven dwelling-houses and the store. The road they were on
continued along the river, while a second road turned from it at right
angle in front of the store and wound inland. It was a sleepy little
hamlet and the only persons in sight as they reached the corner were
an old man half asleep on the tiny porch of a neighboring house and
an elderly woman pottering about the garden of another. There was a
watering-trough at the edge of the street and three big elms threw a
grateful shade over the place.

The store was a one-story affair and at some time in its history had
been painted white. At the back a small ell with a side door was
evidently the residence of the storekeeper. A brick path led to it
between a bed of sweet-william and a row of tall lilac bushes, to which
still clung the brown and withered flower spikes. The elms bathed the
red brick sidewalk, broken and uneven, and the front of the store in
cool green shadow. Above the narrow doorway, was an ancient sign which
proclaimed that “Uriah Peel” dealt in “General Merchandise.” On each
side of the door was a shallow bay-window fitted with shelves on which
was displayed as heterogeneous a collection of articles as ever came
together: pickles, cough syrup, carpet tacks, a jar of stick candy,
flatirons, horse liniment, toys, a few paper-covered books, a box of
files, women’s shoes, a manicure set in a purple plush case, straw
hats, an assortment of ribbons, tin stew-pans and dippers, and a host
of other things.

[Illustration: She tied together the strings of a quaint little black
bonnet]

“We won’t find anything here that we want,” muttered Chub at the door.

As the door swung open there was a distant tinkling of a bell. The
store was empty when they entered, empty and dim and cool after the
sunny road; but in response to the summons of the bell a little woman
appeared at the back, entering apparently from the ell. She was one of
the tiniest women they had ever seen, and as she hurried toward them
she tied together the strings of a quaint little black bonnet.

“How do you do,” said Harry. “We want to buy an iron kettle if you have
one.”

“An iron kettle,” mused the little woman, taking her chin in her hand
and looking anxiously about her. “Did you want a very large one?”

She seemed to be about fifty years of age, with a thin comely face
and a pleasant voice. Her expression, however, was so troubled and
excited that Chub wondered, and Harry hurriedly assured her that just
a medium-sized one would do and that if she didn’t have it it didn’t
really matter one bit.

“I have some kettles somewhere,” answered the little woman in a flurry,
“only I don’t just remember–”

Then she darted behind one of the counters and disappeared from
sight while a rattling sound told of frantic search. Harry turned
bewilderedly to Chub, and the latter grinned and tapped his forehead
eloquently.

“I thought so!” The storekeeper was beaming triumphantly at them across
the counter and holding out a very dusty and somewhat rusty iron
kettle. It was just what they wanted, Harry declared.

“How much is it, please?”

The little woman turned it bottom up and squinted closely, at last
holding it out for their inspection.

“Can you see any figures there?” she asked. “I left my spectacles in
the kitchen.”

“Looks like $7.00,” replied Chub dubiously.

“Oh, then it’s seventy cents,” was the reply. “Uriah always made a cent
mark like an ought. Was there anything else, Miss?”

“Well,” said Harry, hesitatingly, “we did want some lard and flour,
but–”

“How much lard?”

“Have you a small pail of it?”

“No’m, I haven’t; but I can give you any amount you want. Three or four
pounds, Miss?”

“About five, I guess. And have you flour?”

“Yes, indeed.”

And she had sugar, too, and the purchasers began to entertain a new
respect for the dingy little store.

“I suppose you don’t live around here,” asked the storekeeper as she
bustled excitedly about.

“No, we’re on a boat,” replied Chub.

“I want to know!” was the response. “There was a man in here only last
week who came in a boat. He bought a good deal, too, but there was some
things he wanted I didn’t have. Would you mind just looking out and
seeing if there’s a buggy outside?”

Chub obeyed and reported no buggy in sight. The woman looked anxiously
at an old clock and sighed.

“I don’t quite know whether I’m on my head or my heels,” she said with
a little apologetic laugh. “I’m just upset to-day.”

They murmured inarticulate sympathy.

“I got a telegraph message from my brother-in-law down to Myersville
this morning saying that my sister is real sick and asking me to come
down there. And so I’m going to take the four o’clock train.” She
glanced again at the clock which said a few minutes before three.
“Millie never was very strong and I’m real worried about her. Seems
as though he wouldn’t have sent a telegraph message if things wasn’t
pretty bad, don’t it? I packed my bag right up and wrote a letter to my
niece over in Byers to come and look after the store while I’m gone,
but I haven’t seen sight of her yet. I thought she’d be along on that
two-twenty train and I sent the Hooper boy down to the station to meet
her, and he ain’t back yet. And if he don’t come pretty soon he won’t
be in time to take me to the station. Though I don’t know as I’d ought
to leave the store until Jennie comes.”

“Is your husband away?” ventured Chub sympathetically.

“He died a year ago last April.”

“Oh!” murmured Chub. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t know–”

“Course you didn’t. I ain’t never had the sign changed yet. Don’t know
as I ever will. If business don’t pick up pretty soon I guess I’ll have
to close up. Uriah used to do pretty well here when he was alive, but
there’s a new store opened down to Washington Hills and folks mostly
goes there to buy their things. Is that the buggy?”

“No,” Chub reported. “It hasn’t come yet.”

She looked again at the clock and heaved an audible sigh of relief.

“Well, everything’s all ready when it does come,” she said. “I suppose
you young folks travel a good deal on the trains, but I never have, and
I’m always pretty nigh scared to death at the thought of it. There’s
always so many accidents in the papers.”

“Have you far to go?” asked Harry. The purchases were all ready and
paid for by this time, but neither Harry nor Chub seemed in any hurry
to depart.

“’Bout seventy miles it is. I have to take the train to Jones Point
and then the ferry across to Peekskill. I guess I’ll find a carriage
waiting for me at the other side. Yes, it’s a good deal of a journey.
When Millie was first married it did seem like she was just going
right out of the world. But she’s been to see me plenty of times since
and I’ve been down to Myersville twice. Millie was visiting me only a
little while ago; must be two weeks since she left. Maybe the trip was
too much for her. She ain’t as strong as she used to be, and there’s a
lot of work about a farm. I guess James is a real good husband to her,
but he don’t seem to realize what a sight of work she has to do. Men
are like that–mostly. I do wonder why that trifling boy don’t come
back?”

She hurried to the front door, opened it, and looked anxiously out.

“Well, I suppose he’ll get back when he’s good and ready. I do hope
Jennie can come. If she doesn’t I’ll just have to shut up the store.
’Twon’t make much difference, though, I guess; what’s sold here in two
days wouldn’t pay Jennie’s fare across. But I got everything ready if
she should come. I marked things plain so’s she can tell how much to
ask. I spent about three hours doing it, too.”

She looked proudly about the store and Chub and Harry, their gazes
following hers, saw that almost everything in sight had been labeled
in some way with the price. Usually small paper bags had been laid upon
the article and the figures printed on the bag.

“It must have been a lot of trouble,” murmured Harry.

“So it was, but Jennie hasn’t got enough sense to look after the place
if things aren’t marked right out plain. There he is, ain’t he?”

A buggy containing a small, freckled-faced boy drew slowly up at the
edge of the sidewalk in front of the store. Mrs. Peel’s face fell.

“Jennie didn’t come!” she exclaimed. “Whatever shall I do? I ought to
be starting for the station this very instant. I suppose she’s coming
on the next train, but I can’t wait for her. I do think she might have
come when I told her, after all the things I’ve done for that girl! But
that’s the way of human nature, I suppose! Bennie Hooper, didn’t you
see anything of her?”

“No’m,” answered the boy.

“You sure she didn’t get off and you didn’t see her?”




“Didn’t nobody get off,” answered Benny resentfully.

“Well–” Mrs. Peel’s eyes wavered back and forth from the clock to the
buggy. “I suppose I’ll just have to shut up the store and leave the key
with Martha Hooper. Mrs. Benson was coming in for some onions, but I
suppose she’ll have to wait.”

“When does the next train come?” asked Harry solicitously.

“About six. She’s bound to come on that, but–”

“Then you let us watch the store until she comes,” cried Harry. “We’ll
be very careful, Mrs. Peel. That is, if you think you’d care to trust
us?”

Mrs. Peel’s face had lighted at once.

“You–you wouldn’t mind?” she faltered anxiously. “Jennie’s bound to
come on the six o’clock train and I’ll have Bennie wait over there and
bring her back. She ought to be here by half-past six. It’s a good deal
to ask, especially as you’re strangers to me.”

“We’ll be glad to,” answered Harry promptly. “Won’t we, Chub?” Chub
agreed readily.

“Well, I don’t know how to thank you,” fluttered Mrs. Peel. “I just
don’t, and that’s a fact. But I’m going to take you at your word.
All you’ll have to do is to stay here until she comes and tell her
everything’s marked with the price, and that I’ll be back just as soon
as I can and will write to-morrow and tell her how Millie is. Now I’ll
get my things. You turn that buggy around, Bennie; you know I don’t
like to be in it when it’s turned.”

Mrs. Peel shot a rapid look at the clock and hurried away to the little
door leading to the living-rooms. When she came back Chub took the old
black leather bag from her and put it in the buggy. By this time the
little woman’s excitement was intense.

“Tell Jennie the house door is locked on the inside and that she’s to
be careful to look out for sparks when she goes to bed because the
insurance has run out and I haven’t had time to renew it again. And if
Mrs. Benson comes for the onions you see that she pays for ’em, because
she owes me two dollars and eighteen cents already. I didn’t leave any
money in the till because I had to have it to buy my ticket, but I
guess she’ll have the right change. I’m very much obliged to you, young
lady, and you, sir. And I hope you’ll be here when I get back. Benny,
you’ve got your reins crossed; I do wish you’d be a little careful when
you know how nervous I am about horses. Did I get my spectacles? Yes,
here they are. Go ahead, Bennie, and drive careful. Good-by, Miss!
Good-by, sir! Tell Jennie I’ll write to-morrow surely. If you like
candy there’s some in the jars on the shelf back of the counter on the
left. Help yourself, Miss. Good-by! Bennie, I guess you’ll have to
hurry a little.”

“Got most forty minutes,” growled Bennie.

“Well, I like to be in plenty of time.”

“It don’t take but fifteen minutes,” said Bennie. “Get ap, Cæsar!”

The buggy wobbled around the corner, Mrs. Peel waving an excited
black-mittened hand to the two on the sidewalk, and disappeared. Chub
and Harry looked at each other and laughed.

“Isn’t she a dear!” gasped Harry.

“Funniest ever. Let’s go in and look around the shop.”

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UNDER THE AWNING

Three idyllic days followed during which the _Slow Poke_, her white
paint freshly gleaming in the sunlight, bobbed and courtesied her way
up the long reaches of the river. It was wonderful weather for July,
pleasantly cool in the mornings and evenings and languorously hot in
the middle of the day. Chub still remained nominally master of the
ship, but to all intents and purposes the management of affairs had
passed into the small, sun-browned hands of Miss Harriet Emery. It was
Harry who ordered the lines cast off as soon as breakfast was finished
in the morning and who refused to allow them to remain at anchor
for more than the barest two hours at dinner-time. Chub predicted
sunstrokes for the whole party, but Harry was without mercy. She was
on a cruise and her idea of cruising was to keep going. On the second
evening she even insisted that they should leave a very comfortable
berth and put in two hours of sailing by moonlight. It proved a very
pleasant experience, and every one enjoyed it until it became necessary
to find a place to spend the night. Then, as the shore was in deep
shadow, they had their own troubles with jutting rocks and submerged
tree-trunks.

Doctor Emery spent most of his time on the upper deck, reading in the
numerous books he had brought; writing on square sheets of paper, and,
sometimes, sitting idly in his chair and watching the shore slip by.
But he always had a ready smile for whoever happened by, and, on the
whole, was quite the cheeriest and most contented of any. The upper
deck was a mighty comfortable place in the middle of the day when,
moored or anchored by the river bank, they ate dinner and indulged
afterward in what they called a “siesta.” The table was set up there,
and, while it was somewhat of a trouble to bring the things up the
stairs, it made a fine dining-room. The striped awning fluttered in the
breeze, the geraniums were masses of scarlet bloom and the gaily-hued
rugs added their quota of color. There were wicker chairs for all,
although Dick preferred to lie stretched out on the deck with a
cushion under his head. Sometimes during siesta the Doctor fell frankly
asleep and snored gently, and the others talked in whispers for fear of
awaking him. But Harry was impatient of idleness, and as soon as the
two hours were up she insisted on weighing anchor.

Snip would scamper ashore whenever they touched the bank and he had the
most wonderfully exciting times of his life. He explored every foot
of the ground, pursued real and imaginary scents, and treed mythical
bears. Those three days were jolly ones, even if nothing really
happened. There was so much to talk about, so many things to relate,
that the conversation never languished for a minute. Harry learned to
steer after a fashion, learned to tell time by the ship’s clock in the
wheel-house, and helped Dick prepare the meals. She made the beds, too,
and went religiously around the rooms with a dustcloth every morning in
a vain endeavor to find dust.

But on the fourth day Harry’s mania for progress palled. It was a gray
morning, foggy and damp. Oddly enough it was the Doctor who first
voiced a desire for change.

“I wonder,” he remarked, looking at the unbroken margin of forest which
stretched along the shore, “if there is any fishing to be found about
here?”

“I think we could catch something from the tender, sir,” replied Roy.

“I was thinking of trout,” murmured the Doctor. Chub went into the
wheel-house and consulted his map.

“There’s a good-sized stream about a mile up,” he announced. “Let’s go
and try it.”

“Oh, let’s!” cried Harry. “I never caught a trout.”

“You should have seen the one I caught,” said Chub. “It was a regular
whopper. It was as long–”

Roy and Dick groaned.

“I’ve got a picture of it somewhere. I’ll find it.”

“Never mind it now,” said Roy gently. “Try to think of something
else, Chub. You see, sir,” addressing the Doctor, “he’s a little
bit–er–daffy on the subject of that fish. As a matter of fact, it
weighed about ten ounces and–”

“Ten ounces!” howled Chub. “It weighed two pounds! Why, it was the
biggest trout you ever saw! I thought first it was a salmon.”

“Suppose we see if we can find another,” said the Doctor with a smile.
“I haven’t fished for trout in years. Could I borrow a line from some
one?”

“Yes, sir: I’ve lots of them,” said Chub. “And an extra pole. And Dick
has a pole Harry can use. Let’s take luncheon with us and make a day of
it.”

They did. The stream, which evaded them for the better part of an
hour, held plenty of small trout and the Doctor was as excited as a
boy over his first catch. Harry didn’t make a good fisherman, for she
was too impatient. But they had a good time, even when it drizzled for
awhile, and ate their luncheon at noon huddled together in the lee of a
big boulder. They returned to the boat in the middle of the afternoon
with seventeen small trout. The sun came out soon afterward and made
a glorious ending to the day. They fried the fish for supper and the
Doctor, who pretended to have personally caught all the largest of the
trout, declared that he had never tasted anything finer.

“We might try again some day,” he said tentatively.

The result was that the next morning they chugged four miles further
up the river, crossed to the west bank and made a mooring in a
particularly attractive little cove. The stream which they had come to
fish in flowed into the cove under a wooden bridge, and a few hundred
yards below was a small settlement consisting of a village store and a
half-dozen houses. Between the road and the river was a small stretch
of meadow on one side and a grove of trees on the other.

“What an ideal place!” exclaimed Harry, as she stepped ashore.

Strange to say, however, they appeared to have alighted in a locality
quite bare of streams and lakes and nothing on the map looked enticing
nearer than a good-sized lake half a day’s journey upstream and several
miles back from the river. They held a council and decided to try their
luck there, the Doctor declaring with enthusiasm that a lake like that
ought to have plenty of black bass in it. Chub and Dick had never
fished for bass, and that was enough incentive for them. The _Slow
Poke_ was put at her best pace and they reached their destination
that afternoon. After supper the Doctor regaled them with stories of
bass fishing that made their hearts beat high in anticipation of the
morrow’s sport.

They were up early to secure a full morning’s fishing. Everyone
went, Snip showing more true enthusiasm than any other member of the
expedition. The lake proved a long way off, the road was very hot and
very dusty, and after the first mile Harry was trailing along in the
rear, with Chub gallantly bearing her company. They were all tired out
when they reached the lake and the sight which greeted them there was
far from cheering. The lake was large enough, but for fully half a mile
around where they stood it was so shallow that rushes grew for hundreds
of feet out into the water. The Doctor shook his head dubiously.

“It doesn’t look much like a bass lake,” he muttered, “but we’ll walk
along around that point and see what’s there.”

They walked around that point and two more before they found a
semblance of deep water. There was nothing in sight in the way of a
boat or raft, and at last they tried a few casts from a bank and in
the course of half an hour caught five small fish which the Doctor said
were crappies. Whatever they were they were not worth carrying home.
The only catch of any importance was made by Snip. He found a turtle on
the bank and worried it until it closed on his paw. His yelps brought
prompt assistance from Chub who pried the turtle’s jaws apart and threw
it into the lake. Snip stood in the mud and barked for fully five
minutes at the place where the turtle had disappeared. At noon they
reeled in their lines, packed their poles and went back to the boat,
reaching it just before two o’clock, too warm and tired and disgusted
to be hungry. They had a cold luncheon instead of a dinner, and Harry
made some iced tea for which they sacrificed the last piece of ice on
board. After luncheon Chub strode to the wheel-house and seized his
chart with an air of determination.

“I don’t like this place,” he said. “Let’s get out of here as soon as
we can.”

That evening they tied up to a little deserted wharf a few miles below
Albany, and in the morning chugged on to the capital. They spent that
day ashore, shopping and sightseeing, and had dinner at a hotel.
They bought gasolene and ice and fresh meat and fruit and vegetables
and what Chub called “real milk.” They spent a very hot night there,
anchored in the river, and in the morning went on northward until noon.

“I don’t think much of the river up here,” said Dick.

“Well, it isn’t anything to boast of,” Chub replied. “If every one else
is willing I say let’s turn and go back.”

Everyone was quite willing and so after dinner was over the boat was
headed down-stream. The next day found them moored at the foot of a
sloping pasture which ran back and up to a thick forest. The pasture
looked as though it might contain berries, and Harry mentioned the
fact. Chub pointed out that whether there were berries there or not
there were certainly cows. But Harry declared that she wasn’t afraid of
any number of cows and so, leaving the Doctor to keep house, they took
pails and buckets and set forth. Harry had guessed right and they had
no difficulty in filling their pails with blackberries. There were a
few blueberries, too, and Roy had a brilliant idea.

“Harry!” he called, “would you like to distinguish yourself? I’ve
enough blueberries here for a nice big pie. What do you say?”

“She says yes!” cried Chub.

“I haven’t said anything,” Harry demurred.




“But you’re going to, aren’t you?” he asked anxiously.

“Do you really want a pie?”

“Want it! My soul craves a blueberry pie, Harry!”

“All right; but if I’m to make it in time for dinner we must go back
at once. I do hope it will be a success. I never tried baking in a tin
oven,” she added loftily.

“That’s all right,” said Dick. “After you’ve tried it once you’ll use
no other. Isn’t it lucky dinner is our midday meal!”

So they had blueberry pie that day, a good big fat one it was, too.
After a short siesta they walked over to the pasture which afforded
a fairly good place for kicking and catching, and the boys found the
foot-ball which Chub had brought along and had a good hour of fun with
it. Snip, too, enjoyed it, chasing the pigskin like a veteran and
trying to bite holes in it when he had run it down.

Harry’s pie was such a success that there was a loud and insistent
demand for more. So she tried one of blackberries and, while it wasn’t
quite as good as the blueberry, it didn’t go begging.

Two days of rain tried their patience, for the upper deck was quite
uninhabitable, and staying indoors became dull work after the first few
hours. The evenings weren’t so bad, for Harry took things in hand then.
They had dancing to music supplied by the talking-machine, they played
games and told stories, the Doctor proving a veritable mine of romance.
The _Slow Poke_ made a few miles each day, but most of the time it
remained huddled against a bank as much as possible out of the way of
the storm.

[Illustration: Before noon camp was made at the edge of the grove]

The next day the storm passed over, but the weather remained gloomy and
chill. The _Slow Poke_ put thirty miles behind her between breakfast
and supper and life became more cheerful. Just before sunset the clouds
broke and a vivid red glow in the northwest promised a fair day on
the morrow. That evening the Doctor began to talk of trout again, and
Chub brought his map down to the table in the forward cabin and they
searched it for likely fishing places. The result was that in the
morning they chugged four miles down stream, crossed over to the west
shore, and found a mooring in a charming little sandy cove. The sky
was blue again, the river like a great mirror, and the sun shone hot
and comforting. The _Slow Poke_ lay nestled right up to the bank and a
few yards away the stream which they had come to fish in flowed into
the cove under an old rickety wooden bridge. Between the road and the
water was a grove of trees and a little clearing in which the grass
grew knee-deep. Some four hundred yards down-stream huddled a small
settlement consisting of a store and a half-dozen white and drab houses
under a group of giant elms.

“What a lovely place for a camp,” mused Harry, as the boat was made
fast.

“Great!” Chub agreed. “Let’s pitch the tent, fellows, and live ashore
for a day or two. Doctor Emery and Harry can stay aboard at night and
guard the boat.”

The proposition was received with enthusiasm, and before noon camp was
made at the edge of the grove and Dick was cooking dinner over an open
fire. They ate the last of the doughnuts at that meal and Chub was
inconsolable until Harry promised to make some more as soon as she
could secure the necessary ingredients and a kettle big enough in which
to fry them.

“Maybe we can get things at the store down there,” said Chub. “I’ll go
and see presently.”

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