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CHAPTER X


WET BLANKETS


We certainly enjoyed our second day in camp. All the morning and a great part of the afternoon, we "explored." We fastened up the tent as well as we could, and then, I with my gun, and Euphemia with the fishing-pole, we started up the creek. We did not go very far, for it would not do to leave the tent too long. I did not shoot anything, but Euphemia caught two or three nice little fish, and we enjoyed the sport exceedingly.

Soon after we returned in the afternoon, and while we were getting things in order for supper, we had a call from two of our neighbours, Captain Atkinson and wife. The captain greeted us hilariously.

"Hello!" he cried. "Why, this is gay! Who would ever have thought of a domestic couple like you going on such a lark as this! We just heard about it from old John, and we came down to see what you are up to. You've got everything very nice. I think I'd like this myself. Why, you might have a rifle-range out here. You could cut down those bushes on the other side of the creek, and put up your target over there on that hill. Then you could lie down here on the grass and bang away all day. If you'll do that, I'll come down and practise with you. How long are you going to keep it up? "

I told him that we expected to spend my two weeks' vacation here.

"Not if it rains, my boy," said he. "I know what it is to camp out in the rain."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Atkinson had been with Euphemia examining the tent, and our equipage generally.

"It would be very nice for a day's picnic," she said; "but I wouldn't want to stay out-of-doors all night."

And then, addressing me, she asked:

"Do you have to breathe the fresh air all the time, night as well as day? I expect that is a very good prescription, but I would not like to have to follow it myself."

"If the fresh air is what you must have," said the captain, "you might have got all you wanted of that without taking the trouble to come out here. You could have sat out on your back porch night and day for the whole two weeks, and breathed all the fresh air that any man could need."

"Yes," said I, "and I might have gone down cellar and put my head in the cold-air-box of the furnace. But there wouldn't have been much fun in that."

"There are a good many things that there's no fun in," said the captain. "Do you cook your own meals, or have them sent from the house?"

"Cook them ourselves, of course," said Euphemia. "We are going to have supper now. Won't you wait and take some?"

"Thank you," said Mrs. Atkinson; "but we must go."

"Yes, we must be going," said the captain.

"Good-bye! If it rains I'll come down after you with an umbrella."

"You need not trouble yourself about that," said I. "We shall rough it out, rain or shine."

"I'd stay here now," said Euphemia, when they had gone, "if it rained pitch."

"You mean pitchforks," I suggested.

"Yes, anything," she answered.

"Well, I don't know about the pitchforks," I said, looking over the creek at the sky; "but I am very much afraid that it is going to rain rain-water to-morrow. But that won't drive us home, will it?"

"No, indeed!" said she. "We're prepared for it. But I wish they'd stayed at home."

Sure enough, it commenced to rain that night, and we had showers all the next day. We stayed in camp during the morning, and I smoked and we played checkers, and had a very cosy time, with a wood fire burning under a tree near by. We kept up this fire, not to dry the air, but to make things look comfortable. In the afternoon I dressed myself up in waterproof coat, boots, and hat, and went out fishing. I went down to the water and fished along the banks for an hour, but caught nothing of any consequence. This was a great disappointment, for we had expected to live on fresh fish for a great part of the time while we were camping. With plenty of fish we could do without meat very well.

We talked the matter over on my return, and we agreed that as it seemed impossible to depend upon a supply of fish from the waters about our camp, it would be better to let old John bring fresh meat from the butcher, and as neither of us liked crackers, we also agreed that he should bring bread.

Our greatest trouble that evening was to make a fire. The wood, of which there was a good deal lying about under the trees, was now all wet and would not burn. However, we managed to get up a fire in the stove, but I did not know what we were going to do in the morning. We would have stored away some wood under shelter.

We set our little camp-table in the tent, and we had scarcely finished our supper when a very heavy rain set in, accompanied by a violent wind. The canvas at one end of our tent must have been badly fastened, for it was blown in, and in an instant our beds were deluged. I rushed out to fasten up the canvas, and got drenched almost to the skin; and although Euphemia put on her waterproof cloak as soon as she could, she was pretty wet, for the rain seemed to dash right through the tent.

This gust of wind did not last long, and the rain soon settled down into a steady drizzle, but we were in a sad plight. It was after nine o'clock before we had put things into tolerable order.

"We can't sleep in those beds," said Euphemia, "they're as wet as sop, and we shall have to go up to the house and get something to spread over them.

I don't want to do it, but we musn't catch our deaths of cold."

There was nothing to be said against this, and we prepared to start out. I would have gone by myself, but Euphemia would not consent to be left alone. It was still raining, though not very hard, and I carried an umbrella and a lantern. Climbing fences at night with a wife, a lantern, and an umbrella to take care of, is not very agreeable, but we managed to reach the house, although once or twice we had an argument in regard to the path, which seemed to be very different at night from what it was in the daytime. Lord Edward came bounding to the gate to meet us, and I am happy to say that he knew me at once, and wagged his tail in a very sociable way.

I had the key of a side-door in my pocket, for we had thought it wise to give ourselves command of this door, and so we let ourselves in without ringing or waking Pomona.

All was quiet within, and we went upstairs with the lantern. Everything seemed clean and in order, and it is impossible to convey any idea of the element of comfort which seemed to pervade the house, as we quietly made our way upstairs in our wet boots and heavy, damp clothes.

The articles we wanted were in a closet, and while I was making a bundle of them, Euphemia went to look for Pomona. She soon returned, walking softly.

"She's sound asleep," said she, "and I didn't think there was any need of waking her. We'll send word by John that we've been here. And oh! you can't imagine how snug and happy she did look, lying there in her comfortable bed, in that nice, airy room. I'll tell you what it is: if it wasn't for the neighbours, and especially the Atkinsons, I wouldn't go back one step."

"Well," said I, "I don't know that I care so particularly about it myself; but I suppose I couldn't stay here and leave all Thompson's things out there to take care of themselves."

"Oh, no!" said Euphemia. "And we're not going to back down. Are you ready?"

On our way downstairs we had to pass the partly open door of our own room. I could not help holding up the lantern to look in. There was the bed, with its fair, white covering and its smooth, soft pillows; there were the easy-chairs, the pretty curtains, the neat and cheerful carpet, the bureau, with Euphemia's work-basket on it; there was the little table with the book that we had been reading together, turned face downward upon it; there were my slippers; there was——

"Come!" said Euphemia, "I can't bear to look in there. It's like a dead child."

And so we hurried out into the night and the rain.We stopped at the wood-shed and got an armful of dry kindling, which Euphemia was obliged to carry, as I had the bundle of bedclothing, the umbrella and the lantern.

Lord Edward gave a short, peculiar bark as we shut the gate behind us, but whether it was meant as a fond farewell or a hoot of derision I cannot say.

We found everything as we left it at the camp, and we made our beds apparently dry. But I did not sleep well. I could not help thinking that it was not safe to sleep in a bed with a substratum of wet mattress, and I worried Euphemia a little by asking her several times if she felt the dampness striking through.

To our great delight, the next day was fine and clear, and I thought I would like, better than anything else, to take Euphemia in a boat up the river and spend the day rowing about, or resting in shady places on the shore.

But what could we do about the tent? It would be impossible to go away and leave that, with its contents, for a whole day.

When old John came with our water, milk, bread, and a basket of vegetables, we told him of our desired excursion, and the difficulty in the way. This good man, who always had a keen scent for any advantage to himself, warmly praised the boating plan, and volunteered to send his wife and two of his younger children to stay with the tent while we were away.

The old woman, he said, could do her sewing here as well as anywhere, and she would stay all day for fifty cents.

This plan pleased us, and we sent for Mrs. Old John, who came with three of her children—all too young to leave behind, she said—and took charge of the camp.

Our day proved to be as delightful as we had anticipated, and when we returned, hungry and tired, we were perfectly charmed to find that Mrs. Old John had our supper ready for us.

She charged a quarter extra for this service, and we did not begrudge it to her, though we declined her offer to come every day and cook and keep the place in order.

"However," said Euphemia, on second thoughts, "you may come on Saturday and clean up generally."

The next day, which was Friday, I went out in the morning with the gun. As yet I had shot nothing, for I had seen no birds about the camp, which, without breaking the State laws, I thought I could kill, and so I started off up the river road.

I saw no game, but after I had walked about a mile I met a man in a waggon.

"Hello!" said he, pulling up; "you'd better be careful how you go popping around here on the public roads, frightening horses."

As I had not yet fired a single shot, I thought this was a very impudent speech, and I think so still.

"You had better wait until I begin to pop," said I, "before you make such a fuss about it."

"No," said he; "I'd rather make the fuss before you begin. My horse is skittish." And he drove off.

This man annoyed me; but as I did not, of course, wish to frighten horses, I left the road and made my way back to the tent over some very rough fields. It was a poor day for birds, and I did not get a shot.

"What a foolish man!" said Euphemia, when I told her the above incident, "to talk that way when you stood there with a gun in your hand. You might nave raked his waggon, fore and aft."


 
My horse is skittish

"My horse is skittish"


That afternoon, as Euphemia and I were sitting under a tree by the tent, we were very much surprised to see Pomona come walking down the peninsula.

I was annoyed and provoked at this. We had given Pomona positive orders not to leave the place under any pretence while we were gone. If necessary to send for anything, she could go to the fence, back of the barn, and scream across a small field to some of the numerous members of old John's family. Under this arrangement I felt that the house was perfectly safe.

Before she could reach us, I called out:

"Why did you leave the house, Pomona? Don't you know you should never come away and leave the house empty? I thought I had made you understand that."

"It isn't empty," said Pomona, in an entirely unruffled tone. "Your old boarder is there with his wife and child."

Euphemia and I looked at each other in dismay.

"They came early this afternoon," continued Pomona, "by the 1.14 train, and walked up, he carrying the child."

"It can't be," cried Euphemia. "Their child's married."

"It must have married very young, then," said Pomona, "for it isn't over four years old now."

"Oh," said Euphemia; "I know! It's his grandchild."

"Grandchild!" repeated Pomona, with her countenance more expressive of emotion than I had ever yet seen it.

"Yes," said Euphemia. "But how long are they going to stay? Where did you tell them we were?"

"They didn't say how long they was goin' to stay," answered Pomona. "I told them you had gone to be with some friends in the country, and that I didn't know whether you'd be home to-night or not."

"How could you tell them such a falsehood?" cried Euphemia.

"That was no falsehood," said Pomona; "it was as true as truth. If you're not your own friends, I don't know who is. And I wasn't a-goin' to tell the boarder where you was till I found out whether you wanted me to do it or not. And so I left 'em and run over to old John's, and then down here."

It was impossible to find fault with the excellent management of Pomona.

"What were they doing?" asked Euphemia.

"I opened the parlour, and she was in there with the child—putting it to sleep on the sofa, I think. The boarder was out in the yard, tryin' to teach Lord Edward some tricks."

"He had better look out!" I exclaimed.

"Oh, the dog's chained and growlin' fearful! What am I to do with 'em?"

This was a difficult point to decide. If we went to see them, we might as well break up our camp, for we could not tell when we should be able to come back to it.

We discussed the matter very anxiously, and finally concluded that under the circumstances, and considering what Pomona had said about our whereabouts, it would be well for us to stay where we were, and for Pomona to take charge of the visitors. If they returned to the city that evening she was to give them a good supper before they went, sending John to the store for what was needed. If they stayed all night, then she could get breakfast for them.

"We can write," said Euphemia, "and invite them to come and spend some days with us, when we are at home and everything is all right. I want dreadfully to see that child, but I don't see how I can do it now."

"No," said I. "They're sure to stay all night if we go up to the house, and then I should have to have the tent and things hauled away, for I couldn't leave them here."

"The fact is," said Euphemia, "if we were miles away, in the woods of Maine, we couldn't leave our camp to see anybody. And this is practically the same."

"Certainly!" said I. And so Pomona went away on her new charge.