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was "baked beans.” Mrs. Carter evidently loved her posies, and her posies loved her, let her be never so toothless.
When the two girls reached this shamble of sociability, a man's back was seen retreating to the woodshed. It might as well be mentioned now and done for that Mr. Carter's retreating back was all an alien ever saw. Whether he feared the possession of a Medusa power to blast with his front view, or whether he was merely of a retiring disposition, there is no one to say. The simple fact remains that Mr. Carter, when approached, withdrew.
The spotted calico dog spread its legs far apart and stared down from the veranda till it convinced itself of the familiarity of one girl and of the harmlessness of the other, then it raced to meet them, its wide ears flapping like carriage curtains and its upper lip smilingly looped back on a serviceable incisor. This expressiveness said plainly, “Here's a joke a real lady to visit us Carters !"
“Hi, you Jax, quit a-skeerin' the company!" screamed Mrs. Carter, who already was dusting chairs with her dress skirt.
At this Jax apparently sat down to laugh at the idea of his “skeerin'” anybody. His tongue all but fell from his mouth. He was a veritable Mark Twain among dogs. When sufficiently over his amusement to be strong enough to stand again, he did so, and commenced to wag not his tail alone but the whole dog, and thus writhingly led the way to the veranda and seats. Then he dashed at the baby and licked her violently, telling her all about it.
“Ma, this is Miss McAllister,” said Osceola, red with pleasure and shame.
“Shucks! don't I know?” asked Mrs. Carter, above subtleties. She wiped her hand on her hip, where records of other wipes remained, and welcomed the newcomer with genuine hospitality. "Hain't we all heard o''McAllister'?” She threw back her head and cackled happily through the gaps. “Sot down, honey, and be at home.”
“What lovely flowers you have, Mrs. Carter!” said Laurie, mentally renovating her hostess by washing her dress, combing her hair, and fitting her with a set of teeth. Thus repaired, Mrs. Carter would be rather nice.
“When you go I'll give you all the cuttings you can carry,” said she, immediately generous.
“Oh, I wouldn't have you deprive yourself!” cried Laurie, hastily.
With the flowers gone what would remain?
“You can't deprive you’self of a good thing by spreading it round,” maintained Mrs. Carter stoutly. “Most o' these slips was gi'n me, anyhow, an' in all fairness I'm boun' to pass 'em on. When we first settled here the family acted peeved 'cause there warn't any view. “You all save the tin cans an! I'll make a view,' I says, and I done it."
Osceola resumed introductions—the dirty little girl was her sister Tallahassie, the moping boy was her brother Lee.
“I'm named after a city and so's the dawg," volunteered Tallahassie, skipping blithely.
She was bright-spoken, bright-eyed child. “Bet you can't guess what city ‘Jax’ is !"
Hearing himself mentioned Jax mouthed at the fallen watergourd till he fastened it between his teeth, then he chased wildly around the house with it, and, drop
ping it, lay down on it, hoping someone would dispute it with him. To those who had to drink out of it later this antic appeared to be merely merry and not unsanitary.
“I give up," said Laurie, referring audibly to the city, and inaudibly to much else.
“Jacksonville !" triumphed Tallahassie. “But ‘Jax' is the way the railroad writes it. Jes' you look at a freight box and see.”
The moping boy, who had paid but little attention to anything, now picked a piece of rotten wood from a decaying box containing slips that had not flourished and deliberately ate it.
“Lee's got the 'big-lazies,' ” explained Mrs. Carter, uneasily and glibly. “He cotched it up to Georgy. The whole of what he does is jes' to eat and sot, then sot an' eat again. I raikon I go spread him a cannibalsandwich right now. That's raw fish on bread," she explained, disclosing her gums in a nervous smile.
She disappeared into the house. Osceola, who had turned red when her brother was being discussed, obstinately stared at the road.
“You are not very well, are you?” Laurie gently asked the boy.
“Did the Board send you?” he counterdemanded. His pasty white face took on a sullen look, and under the excitement of anger his hands and body twitched with symptoms of St. Vitus' dance.
“What does he mean?” asked Laurie of the older sister.
“Lee, don't be more of a fool than you can help,” admonished she sharply. “This young lady's only company. Lee brightened.
“I ain't sick,” he told Laurie, almost amiably. He yawned and stretched, saw a choice piece of bark on the porch post, picked it off and swallowed it with relish. “I'm jes' havin' a spell o' bein' tired, an'
“Here, honey,” said his mother, appearing and shutting his mouth with the cannibal-sandwich. She seemed as anxious to stem his confidence as to fill his hollows. “If I kin fin' a chair that ain't too creachy to hold me I'll sot a bit. Come here, Tal'hass', while I button your skirt.” Which that damsel certainly needed.
Osceola in her neatly made and carefully ironed pink dress was a striking contrast to her bedraggled mother and slipshod sister.
Right now Tallahassie was too busy to be buttoned. She was studying tin-can words.
“Look at this. Hain't this fine?" she asked Laurie, dragging out a gorgeous fuchsia blossoming in a tomato can.
But "fine" did not refer to the flower. “T-o-m-a-t-o, termattusses," spelled Tallahassie proudly.
“That's a big word for a small girl,” praised the listener.
“I tell it by the pickcher,” confessed Tallahassie. “But there's a lot more to it what ain't no pickcher for. Look- there's T-o-m, Tom, and m-a-t, mat, and m-a, ma, an' I bet I could find a lot more words to it if I was to went to skule."
“And don't you, dear?” asked Laurie, distressed. The child's tone had been a longing one.
"Laws-ee, no,” Mrs. Carter answered for her. . “There hain't no skule near enough. An' I don't know as Tallahassie's any the wuss. For what did skule make out of Osceoly? A young miss what we can't
please nohow. Tal’hass', run break me off a bresh.”
This command set Osceola staring at the road again. Laurie watched interestedly to find out what "bresh” could mean. Tallahassie, making first a laughing grimace, hopped from the porch, danced to a chinaberry tree, snapped off a twig, and jigged back with it. Mrs. Carter put the twig in the back of her mouth, chewed it to a “bresh,” and next stirred it vigorously around in a can that looked as if it might contain carriage varnish. But it was snuff. Then Mrs. Carter chewed the twig again, this time extracting from it a rich reward for her labor,
While tolerantly watching this performance the barelegged Tallahassie stood on one foot only, scratching hard at the other.
“Quit!” commanded her mother with unusual severity.
“I'm scratchin' my ground-itch,” defended Tallahassie loyally.
So far as Mrs. Carter was concerned this explanation was anything but an apology for the circumstance.
“I said quit,” she reminded in a hollow tone.
“I got ground-itch, so where's the sense sayin' I ain't?" demanded Tallahassie, pardonably aggrieved.
The sufferers from this complaint have enough to do to endure the pain of it without being obliged to subdue their palliative energies on account of the ultrasensitiveness of onlookers.
Tallahassie glared at her swollen feet with a species of respect. Not everybody with ground-itch had blisters, and Tallahassie had blisters.
“What are you doing for it, Tallahassie?” asked Laurie, whose memory was inclining her to fear that the child's ailment was anything but a trifling one.