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THE month that followed was a sorry one. Day after day rose bamwar dry and burning: no cool winds fanned the breathless nights, no rain fell. The poor children had headache, they felt limp and weary all over; and yet each morning brought the same hard work which must be done, whether or no. And sleep was rendered almost impossible by the mosquitoes, who seemed to possess stings and wings and buzzes such as never mosquitoes boasted before. Whenever poor Thekla dropped into a nap, after hours of tossing, in the stifling loft which served her for bedroom, “Spizz-z-z-z” the teasing little trumpets would begin; and immediately she would be130 broad awake again, ready to cry with fatigue, and dealing blows right and left, as if battling131 with an unseen foe. Max spent hours in hunting them; but the mosquitoes hid themselves cunningly, and could seldom be found. Never was such a tiresome, unpleasant August! Before the last day came, our children quite hated him, in spite of his beautiful face and rich, strange garments. He was a cruel, bad fellow, they said;—they never wished to see him again.
“‘O Reggy!’ she cried, ‘the boat is running away with us!’—‘Don’t cry, Emmy!’ he exclaimed. ‘It isn’t our fault, so nobody will scold us. And now we’ll see the Island. Just think what fun!’ and the whole boat-load shouted, and clapped their hands.”
That closing evening was hot as ever. The sun went down red and lurid. As the children sat side by side in the door-way, watching the long level beams stream through the Forest, Max caught a distant glimpse of August, pausing and glancing back, as for a last view of the cottage. Max touched Thekla’s arm to make her look. At that moment August raised his hand as in mocking gesture of farewell, and turned to go. Another figure met his as he moved away. They stopped, embraced, then August vanished; and with slow, gliding steps his companion advanced. It was September,—a noble, matronly form, with dark-flushed, stormy brow, frank smiling132 lips, and a sheaf of corn nodding over her shoulder.
Half-fearful and half-glad, the children rose to meet her. A basket was in her hand. Without speaking, she raised the lid, and showed clusters of ripe grapes, purple and white, whose delicious smell filled the air. Then, putting an arm round the brother and sister, she made them sit down on either side of her, and began to dole out the fruit, first to one and then the other; saying nothing, but laughing silently at the eager eyes and mouths. Coolness seemed to come from her garments; and, as if following her track, a fresh wind sprang up in the Forest, and, blowing down upon the group, rustled the leaves, waved Thekla’s light hair, and refreshed soul and body like wine.
How comfortable it was! The children brightened, and began to chirp and twitter like birds. “How good you are to us!” cried Max; while Thekla, holding September’s hand, cuddled close to her, and laughed with pleasure.
133 At last September spoke. Her voice was wonderfully rich and musical, but full of deep, powerful tones, which it was easy to imagine could be heard above the storm, or the loudest thunder. What she said was,—
“Are you better now, dears?”
“Oh! much better,” they told her.
“I met my Brother August as I came along,” continued September; “and I guessed, from what he said, that he had been teasing you. He is a fine fellow, but has a quick, revengeful temper; and he bears a grudge against Max for stealing the moments. But it is too bad to visit it on little Thekla, for she wasn’t to blame.”
“I’d rather share with Max, please,” said Thekla, shaking her head: “we don’t want any thing different.”
“That’s a kind little sister,” answered September. “Well, August has made you uncomfortable; but, after all, he hasn’t been so bad, for he might have given you a stroke with the great yellow sun-club he keeps on purpose to use when134 he is furiously angry. I can tell you that the people on whom that falls don’t forget it in a hurry.”
Just then Thekla jumped, and slapped the back of her neck sharply.
“What’s the matter?” asked September.
“It’s those horrid bugs,” explained Max. “August brought them, a whole bottle full, and emptied them all over the house. You can’t think how they bite and keep us awake.”
“Aha!” laughed September, “that was really too bad! But you shan’t be vexed any longer with them, Max. I have something in my pocket which will soon put a stop to their biting.”
So saying, she produced a small box, and held it out for the children to look at. It was marked on the lid,—
Mrs. September’s Specific for
Mosquitoes, Gnats, and Midges.
(None Genuine without this Label.)
135 Inside were a quantity of fine glittering pellets like minute hail-stones.
Just then a mosquito lit on Thekla’s arm. September laid her finger on her lip, and quick as lightning dashed a pinch of the “Specific” over him. The mosquito fluttered a second, dropped, and lay dead on the ground.
“You see!” said Mrs. September.
Then she rose up, and went into the house, telling the children to sit still and finish the grapes. They heard her moving softly to and fro: after a while she came again, and showed them a handful of spider-web legs and gauzy wings.
“There they are,” she said. “Not one of them has escaped. You will sleep soundly to-night, little ones; and I shall give Master August a piece of my mind next time we meet, for playing such naughty tricks.
“And now for my story. By the way, have either of you ever seen the sea?”
“No,” replied Thekla. “But the Grandfather did once; and Fritz is there now.”
136 “Fritz? Who is he?”
“Don’t you know?” said Max. “That’s our big brother, who went away a great while ago, when Thekla and I were very little. He was coming back; but, then, he didn’t come. I don’t know why. And now the Grandfather says he never will. Is it because the sea is such a pleasant place?”
“I don’t know,” replied September, dreamily,—“I don’t know why he doesn’t come. But if you never saw the sea, how in the world am I going to make you understand my story?”
“It’s very big,—I know that,” ventured Max,—“and all water.”
“Did you ever so much as see a lake or a pond?”
“No, only the little spring down there,” answered Thekla. “Oh, I know! (joyfully). I can guess! It’s a great, great deal of water, thousands and thousands of times more than there is in our rain-water tub!”
137 “Bless me!” cried September, almost in a pet. “Rain-water tub, indeed! Why, child, if all the tubs in creation were put side by side, they wouldn’t make a quarter of a sea! Quarter! they wouldn’t make a millionth part! Now listen, while I tell you about it.
“It stretches miles and miles and miles. Get into a boat, and sail for weeks and months, still the shore lies beyond, and still you are at sea!
“It is blue as the sky, and beautiful silver dimples come and go over its face. Or at other times it is green, with waves fifty times the height of your hut, and they rise and fall, and break in foam white as milk. And, when the storms blow, it is black,—black as night,—and the sound of its roaring is like wild beasts over their prey.
“I love the ocean. He and I are friends, though almost every year we have a mighty quarrel, and the world rings with the noise. But afterwards we kiss and make up, and part affectionately.
138 “And the little ones who live by the sea are my special pets. There are ever so many of them, of all sizes and ages; and our frolics go on from sunrise to sleepy-time.”
“What do you play at?” asked Thekla, getting interested.
“All sorts of games. The game of ‘Drown’ for one,—that is played in the shallows,—and ‘Wet my neighbor,’ and ‘Polliwog.’ We build sand-forts; go fishing with crooked pins; rock-by-baby in boats; paddle about with no shoes on. I collect all sorts of pretty shells and weeds for them; and drive schools of bright fish, to plunge and jump where they can be seen. On Sunday there are Sunday schools, and they jump to a tune in short metre. Oh, there is no end to the amusing things we do, when we get together! They think there is nobody like me, especially the Brown children.”
“The Brown children?” said Max, inquiringly.
“Yes: the ones who were carried off in the boat, you know.”
139 “But we never heard about them before,” remonstrated little Thekla.
“Why, so you didn’t!” cried September, recollecting herself. “Well, you shall now; for that’s the very story I’m going to tell you.
“There are a good many of the Browns; and they live at a very nice place on the sea-coast, called ‘Timber Cove.’ Plenty of rocks and sand and surf there; and these jolly little Browns—prime pets of mine—are as fond of the ocean as a nest full of young sea-mews. They were always on the beach; playing plays, and ‘making-believe’ about going to sea,—especially about going to an Island, which was one of their favorite plans.
“I’ve seen Islands enough in my time, and don’t think much of them,” went on September. “But there was a book in the nursery, which the Brown children were for ever poring over, and which was all about an Island. I don’t recollect its name; in fact, I don’t know how to read myself, having always lived outdoors, and hated140 schools. But what little I picked up about it sounded particularly silly; and as for the Island, it was like none I ever saw or heard of. The little Browns, however, believed in it as if it had been law and gospel; and were perfectly sure if they could only just get out to a certain Island, which lay just in sight from the shore, that there they should find all the things spoken of in the book,—tigers and serpents and buffaloes, and what not!
“One afternoon they were playing in a boat, which was drawn up on the beach,—Reggy and Alice and Emmy, and Jack and Nora, and little Tom, the baby. I was busy that day. The Sea and I had engaged in a wrangle, and both our tempers were getting up. I forgot to look after my pets, and one of the watch-dogs of Ocean seized the opportunity to creep up and do them a mischief. These dogs are called ‘Tides,’ because they are generally kept tied up, out of harm’s way; but now and then the wild things break loose, and then there is a fine to-do.
141 “The Tide was cunning. Silently he prowled about, drawing nearer and nearer, till at last he fastened his teeth in the bow of the boat. Then he pulled and pulled,—very gently, so as not to alarm the children; and little by little dragged them away from the shore into the deeper water. Next he gave a shove, and floated them off completely. And then, beside himself with joy and frolic, he rushed for the beach; and, plunging and roaring, began to turn summersaults on the sand, delighted at his success. The little ones played on, unconscious.
“At last Emmy looked up, and gave a scream.
“‘O Reggy!’ she cried, ‘the boat is running away with us! Jump out quick, and pull it in again.’
“But Reggy poked with a stick over the side, and looked sober. The water was already over his head, and getting deeper every moment.
“Then a bright thought seized him. ‘Don’t cry, Emmy!’ he exclaimed. ‘It isn’t our fault, so nobody can scold; and now we’ll see the142 Island! Just think what fun! It’s the most splendiferous chance!’ And he swung his hat, and gave a great shout.
“So the whole boat-load, little Tom and all, shouted too, and hurrahed and clapped their hands, and began to talk about what they would do on the Island. They never felt afraid for one moment. Poor little lambs!
“All this time I was bandying words with my friend the Sea, who was in a very ugly humor. I was getting mad myself, and was flinging about, cuffing the ears of the pert little waves as they looked on and tittered over the quarrel, when lo! and behold, I became aware of the Brown family floating out in a boat, and in the highest spirits, to meet us. And then I was frightened, as you may imagine.
“There was no time to be lost. Open war between myself and the Sea must begin before long I well knew, but I turned all my efforts to soothe and delay. I coaxed and cajoled, unsaid some sharp words, and stroked the angry waves143 the right way, till they took off their white caps which they had put on defiantly, and obeyed my orders like good boys. Then I laid hold of the boat, and drew it along toward the Island. It seemed a pity the children shouldn’t go there since they had set their hearts upon it; and, beside, I did not dare to take them home, for there was the Tide growling savagely, and lying in wait on the beach ready to snap at little legs the moment they tried to jump out.
“So I made for the Island. This was precisely what the Browns wished; and they hurrahed louder than ever as they drew near. The excitement became so great I could hardly keep them in the boat. The moment it touched, out they tumbled, big and little, Reggy head over heels, and Nora so nearly in the water that, to save her, I had to let go my hold of the boat; whereupon two artful little billows rushed up, and before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’ had snatched it out of reach, and were tossing it on their heads with peals of laughter. I was vexed144 enough, but there was no help for it. The Browns were prisoners, and must stay on the Island whether they liked it or not.
“But, bless you! there was no question of liking! Nothing so enchanting had ever happened before, the children thought. I looked to see them disappointed at the non-appearance of elephants and tigers,—but not at all! Up and down they raced, on the beach, in the woods, full of fun, and making discoveries of all sorts. In less than two hours Reginald and Jack had a heap of fir-cones higher than their heads, ‘for a fire’ they said, only unfortunately there were no matches to light it with. Alice and Emmy had filled their aprons with shells and pebbles, Nora was deep in a sand pudding, and Baby Tom had twice been fished from a pool as wet as a frog, and set up in the sun to dry. All were as busy as bees, and not a doubt or fear had so far arisen to mar their pleasure.
“But at last it began to grow late, and the sun was dropping down the sky into a dark145 cloud, which lay ready to catch and carry him off. The little ones felt hungry, and began to talk about supper.
“What shall we have?” they asked.
“Reggy looked important. He took from his pocket a book. It was the very one I told you of,—the one about the Island. Reggy usually had it in his pocket.
“‘Let us see,’ he said, and read aloud,—
“‘We put some of the soup-cakes with water in our iron pot, and placed it over the flame; and my wife, with little Francis for scullion, took charge of peppering the dinner.’
“‘Me don’t like pepper,’ said Baby, in a disconsolate voice.
“‘Not “peppering,”—preparing,’ corrected Emmy, over Reginald’s shoulder. ‘Baby shan’t have any bad pepper. Brother didn’t read right.’
“‘We haven’t got any iron pot,’ suggested Alice.
“‘Nor any soap-cakes,’ said Nora.
146 “‘Soup-cakes, little goose!’ cried the discomfited Reggy. ‘Nobody eats soap. Well, then, we must think of something different. Let’s see what else these people had.’ And he read again,—
“‘We sat down to breakfast, some biscuits and a cocoa-nut full of salt butter being placed on the ground. We toasted our biscuit, and while it was hot applied the butter, and contrived to make a hearty meal.’
“‘Bully!’ cried Jack. ‘Buttered toast is first-rate!’
“‘But there isn’t any butter,’ said Emmy.
“‘Nor any biscuit,’ added Alice, timidly.
“‘I declare,’ shouted Reggy, closing the book with a flap, ‘how in the world is a fellow going to get supper for you as long as you keep standing round telling him there’s nothing to eat!’
“This made me laugh so, that I had to run behind a bush to have it out. When I came back, the dispute had been made up, and the147 children were all setting off in a body along the beach to ‘look for a shipwreck.’
“‘There’ll be a barrel, or something,’ asserted Reggy: ‘there always is!’
“‘Then I know what I hope will be in it,’ shouted Jack, with a caper.
“‘Molasses candy and fire-crackers.’
“Now it happened that I was aware of a box drifting about half a mile out or so; and, though I hadn’t the least idea of its contents, it struck me it might please the children. So I flew out, and pushed it in. There was an immense uproar as it came floating nearer and nearer. The moment it could be reached, the two boys splashed in, grappled it, and with loud hurrahs dragged it ashore.
“‘Ting-a-ling! ting-a-ling!’ sang Emmy, rapping the lid with her knuckles. ‘Come to supper! Tea’s ready! Don’t you hear the bell?’
“‘Where’s the hammer, Em?’ asked Reggy.
148 “‘I don’t know. Have we got any?’
“‘Why, didn’t you put one in your pocket?’ demanded Jack, in an indignant voice.
“‘Jack! A hammer in my pocket! It wouldn’t half go in. Just look!’ And she turned inside out a small muslin triangle, and exhibited some crumbs, one raisin, and a pocket handkerchief far from clean.
“‘Well, that’s too bad!’ cried Jack. ‘She’s forgotten every thing, Reggy,—the fish-hooks, the nails, the ball of string, the screw-driver, the—I don’t believe she’s even so much as brought a needle. Have you, Emmy?’
“‘No: I didn’t know we were coming, you see,’ replied Emmy, in an apologizing tone.
“‘Never mind,’ said Reginald, good-naturedly, as Jack gave an indignant snort. ‘Emmy ought to have remembered, of course, because she’s the “Mother” of the party, and the one to bring the “miraculous bag.” But to-morrow or next day there’ll be sure to be a wreck, and lots of nice things come ashore, which149 will do just as well. So now let’s get this fellow open.’
“It was not an easy job. However, what with stones, and a sharp stick, the lid was at last pried off, and a quantity of damp sawdust revealed.
“The children poked and poked. At last Alice hit upon something hard.
“‘Perhaps it’s a “Westphalia ham,”’ she said. No! it was a bottle.
“It had no label; but Reggy knocked the top off against a stone, and took a mouthful.
“‘Ph-shew!’ he spluttered, and spit it out again.
“‘What is it?’ cried the rest.
“‘Horrid! salt!’ cried Reggy, making dreadful faces. ‘It’s that stuff Papa takes sometimes before breakfast,—I forget the name.’
“‘“Saratoga water”?’ said Alice, sniffing it daintily, and applying her tongue. ‘So it is. Well, that’s real mean! I didn’t suppose medicines and such things ever came ashore on Desert Islands!’
150 “It was clearly impossible to make a meal of ‘Saratoga water.’ So, hungry and slow, the party went back to the grove.
“‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Reginald, ‘the first thing in the morning we’ll catch a buffalo or a wild ass, and tame him. Luckily I’ve a piece of string in my pocket, so we can “pierce his nostrils,” and put it in. Then I’ll gallop round to the other side of the Island, you know, and find things.’
“‘I want my supper,’ wailed Nora, who was too tired and hungry to be consoled with this distant prospect of a wild ass.
“Tom began to cry too; and for a while the older ones were at their wits’ end to comfort them. Some blueberries which they found had the desired effect at last; and, cuddled in their sisters’ laps, the little creatures fell asleep. The whole party nestled together in a mossy place in the woods. The waves on the beach began to sound hollow and mournful. Alice shuddered a little.
151 “‘Please hold my hand tight, Reggy,’ she said.
“‘Oh dear!’ sighed Emmy. ‘Was that a drop of rain on my nose? I do believe it’s going to sprinkle! And we haven’t any umbrellas.’
“‘What did the people in the book do when it sprinkled?’ asked Reginald. ‘Or didn’t it ever sprinkle there?’
“‘Only in the “rainy season,”’ replied Emmy; ‘and then they shut themselves up in a cave. It must be nice to have “rainy seasons,” and know just what to expect. Here, it just rains whenever it likes, and catches you!’
“No more drops came, however; and before long sleep fell upon the group. So sound were their slumbers that when, some hours later, a horned creature stuck his head through the bushes, and then retreated with a loud bellow, nobody stirred except Reginald. He, half-awake, started up, muttering drowsily, ‘There’s the buffalo: we’ll fix him to-morrow.’ But the noise died away; and he tumbled down again, and was asleep in a minute.
152 “Soon after the flapping of sails reached my ear, and I ran down to the beach. Sure enough, a white sail like a ghost was gliding rapidly toward the Island. It was a boat. On the deck was Mr. Brown, looking wild and ghastly,—quite unlike his usual jolly, comfortable self.
“‘There isn’t half a chance,’ he muttered as he sprang ashore. He went questing up and down with a lantern. I followed, whispering comforting things in his ear; but he never listened. At last he lighted on Emmy’s pocket-handkerchief lying beside the smashed box.
“‘It’s hers!’ he cried, trembling with anxiety. ‘Search for the boat, men.’
“But no boat could be found, and the Father groaned aloud.
“Meantime I was gently pulling Mr. Brown, now by the collar and now by the coat-tail, and trying to turn him in the right direction. He was frantic and obstinate, as men usually are; so he would not follow. At last, as hope grew153 less, his strength seemed to go too; and, little by little, I drew him along to where the children lay. He was almost upon them before he knew it. There they were, fast asleep,—Tom in Alice’s lap, and Nora hugged tight in Jack’s arms.
“Well, you never saw any one behave as Mr. Brown did. He was like a crazy person. He felt the warm little hands and the round cheeks, as if he couldn’t believe his eyes; and made inarticulate sounds over them, like some loving dumb animal. The sailors lifted them, still asleep, and wrapped them warmly; but, just as they were moving off, Jack roused. There was a stamping, bellowing sound in the brush-wood near by.
“‘There’s the buffalo again!’ he cried. ‘Catch him, Reggy!’ Then, waking more completely, ‘Why, it’s Papa! O Papa, don’t let’s leave the buffalo behind!’
“‘Buffalo!’ said one of the men. ‘There’s no buffalo, sir. That’s one of Farmer Newman’s154 cows. He pastures them here in the summer.’
“Reggy was the next to wake. ‘Oh, it’s the savages!’ he exclaimed. ‘They’ve got us! Why, Papa, is it you?’
“Alice and Emmy roused at his cry, to be first frightened, then charmed, to find themselves under their Father’s care. Before long the whole party were awake, and lively as crickets.
“‘Only think, Emmy, I thought it was a buffalo, and it’s only a cow!’ concluded Jack.
“‘Cows!’ shuddered Alice. ‘Were there any cows on the Island? O Papa, I’m so glad you came for us! I should have been so scared!’
“‘Why, Alice!’ cried Reginald. ‘Afraid! when you know you said you wanted to have a rhinoceros come, or at least an anaconda.’
“‘Oh well!’ replied Alice, ‘I wouldn’t have minded them; but I’m afraid of cows!’
“I wasn’t quite easy all the way across. The Sea had evidently got his back up, and I didn’t155 know but he might yet break out at any moment, and do some dreadful mischief to the Browns. All went well, however; and just in the faint gray of morning the boat scraped the sand, where stood, dimly seen, a waiting figure. It was poor Mrs. Brown, who, all that dreadful night, had stood there listening, and looking off to sea.
“‘All right, Mother!’ called out Mr. Brown, in a joyful, husky voice.
“But Mrs. Brown could not speak. When her husband laid little Tom in her arms, and she felt his warm touch, she began to cry. The others crowded about her, she hugged them tight, kissed the up-turned faces without a word, and led them into the house, still crying for joy.
“I had a frog in my own throat, I can tell you,” continued September, “so glad was I to see them safe at home again. But the Sea was growling at my heels in a surly way, which aggravated me; so that, there being no longer any reason for keeping the peace, I just went at156 him, and relieved my feelings by one of the fiercest quarrels we ever had. For a week we fought like giants. We tossed ships and lighthouses at each other, and filled the world with fear. The people on the coast still talk about it, and call it the great September gale. Though why September, I don’t know. I’m sure it was a great deal more Ocean’s fault than mine!”
“Oh!” said Thekla, drawing a long breath, “I’m so glad the children got safely to land.”
“So am I,” said September, dryly. “There were a good many grown people who didn’t, I can assure you.”