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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 8
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    "Do you s'pose," she said, at last, in a musing voice: "Herbert, do you s'pose maybe there's some poor family's children somewheres that haven't got any playthings or anything and we could take all these----"

    But here Herbert proved unsympathetic. "I'm not goin' to give my insecks to any poor people's children," he said emphatically. "I don't care how poor they are!"

    "Well, I thought maybe just as a surprise----"

    "I won't do it. I had mighty hard work to catch this c'lection, and I'm not goin' to give it away to anybody, I don't care how surprised they'd be! Anyway, I'd never get any thanks for it; they wouldn't know how to handle 'em, and they'd get all stung up: and what'd be the use, anyhow? I don't see how that's goin' to be somep'n so interesting we'd never forget it."

    "No," she said. "I guess it wouldn't. I just thought it would be kind of a bellnevolent thing to do."

    This word disturbed Herbert, but he did not feel altogether secure in his own impression that "benovvalent" was the proper rendition of what she meant, and so refrained from criticism. Their musing was resumed.

    "There's one thing I do wish," Florence said suddenly, after a time. "I wish we could find some way to use the c'lection that would be useful for Noble Dill."

    Now, at this, her cousin's face showed simple amazement. "What on earth you talkin' about?"

    "Noble Dill," she said dreamily. "He's the only one I like that comes to see Aunt Julia. Anyway, I like him the most."

    "I bet Aunt Julia don't!"

    "I don't care: he's the one I wish she'd get married to."

    Herbert was astounded. "Noble Dill? Why, I heard mamma and Aunt Hattie and Uncle Joe talkin' about him yesterday."

    "What'd they say?"

    "Most of the time," said Herbert, "they just laughed. They said Noble Dill was the very last person in this town Aunt Julia'd ever dream o' marryin'. They said he wasn't anything: they said he wasn't handsome and he wasn't distingrished-looking----"

    "I think he is," Florence interposed. "I think he's very distingrished-looking."

    "Well, they said he wasn't, and they know more'n you do. Why, Noble Dill isn't hardly any taller'n I am myself, and he hasn't got any muscle partickyourly. Aunt Julia wouldn't look at him!"

    "She does, too! My goodness, how could he sit on the porch, right in front of her, for two or three hours at a time, without her lookin' at him?"

    "I don't care," Herbert insisted stubbornly. "They said Aunt Julia wouldn't. They said she was the worst flirt had ever been in the whole family and Noble Dill had the worst case they ever saw, but she wouldn't ever look at him, and if she did she'd be crazy."

    "Well, anyway," said Florence, "I think he's the nicest of all that goes to see her, and I wish we could use this c'lection some way that would be nice for him."

    Herbert renewed his protest. "How many times I got to tell you I had a hard enough time catchin' this c'lection, day in and day out, from before daylight till after dark, and then fixin' 'em all up like this and everything! I don't prapose to waste 'em just to suit Noble Dill, and I'm not goin' to give 'em away either. If anybody wanted to buy 'em and offered a good fair price, money down, why, I----"

    "That's it, Herbert!" his lady-cousin exclaimed with sudden excitement. "Let's sell 'em!" She jumped up, her eyes bright. "I bet we could get maybe five dollars for 'em. We can pour the ones that are in the jars that haven't got tops and the ones in the jelly glasses and pill-boxes--we can pour all those into the jars that have got tops, and put the tops on again, and that'd just about fill those jars--and then we could put 'em in a basket and take 'em out and sell 'em!"

    "Where could we sell 'em?" Herbert inquired, not convinced.

    "At the fish store!" she cried. "Everybody uses bugs and worms for bait when they go fishing, don't they? I bet the fish man'll buy all the worms we got, even if he wouldn't buy anything else. I bet he'll buy all the others, too! I bet he never saw as much good bait as this all at one time in his whole life! I bet he'll give us five dollars--maybe more!"

    Herbert was dazzled; the thought of this market was a revelation--nothing could have been more plausible. Considered as bait, the c'lection at once seemed to acquire a practical and financial value which it lacked, purely as a c'lection. And with that the amateur and scientist disappeared, giving way to the person of affairs. "'Give us five dollars'?" he said, in this capacity, and for deeper effect he used a rhetorical expression: "Who do you think is the owner of all this fish bait, may I ask you, pray?"

    "Yes, you may, pray!" was his cousin's instant and supercilious retort. "Pray where would you ever of got any five dollars from any fish man, if it hadn't been for me, pray? Pray, didn't I first sajest our doing somep'n with the bugs we'd never forget, and if the fish man gives us five dollars for 'em won't we remember it all our lives, pray? And, pray, what part did you think up of all this, pray? Not one single thing, and if you don't divide even with me, I'll run ahead and tell the fish man the whole c'lection has been in bottles that had old medicine and poison in 'em--and then where'll you be, pray?"

    It is to be doubted that Florence possessed the cold-blooded capacities with which this impromptu in diplomacy seemed to invest her: probably she would never have gone so far. But the words sufficed; and Herbert was so perfectly intimidated that he was even unresentful. "Well, you can have your ole two dollars and a half, whether you got a right to it or not," he said. "But you got to carry the basket."

    "No," said Florence. "This has got to be done right, Herbert. We're partners now and everything's got to be divided just exackly even. I'll carry the basket half the way and you carry it the other half."

    "Well----" he grumbled, consenting.

    "That's the only right way," she said sunnily. "You carry it till we get to the fish man's, and I'll carry it all the way back."

    But even Herbert could perceive the inequality here. "It'll be empty then," he protested.

    "Fair's fair and wrong's wrong," she returned firmly. "I spoke first to carry it on the way home, and the one that speaks first gets it!"

    "Look here!"

    "Herbert, we got to get all these bugs fixed up and ready," she urged. "We don't want to waste the whole afternoon just talkin' about it, do we? Besides, Herbert, on the way home you'll have two dollars and a half in your pocket, or anyway as much as you have left, if you buy some soda and candy and things, and you'll feel so fine then you won't mind whether you're carrying the basket or not."

    The picture she now suggested to Herbert's mind was of himself carrying the basket both to the fish man and from the fish man: and he found himself anxious to protest, yet helpless in a maze of perplexity. "But wait a minute," he began. "You said----"

    "Let's don't waste another minute," she interrupted briskly. "I shouldn't wonder it was after four o'clock by this time, and we both need money. Hurry, Herbert!"

    "But didn't you say----" He paused to rub his head. "You said I'd feel so good I wouldn't mind if I--if----"

    "No. I said, 'Hurry'!"

    "Well----" And though he felt that a subtle injustice lurked somewhere, he was unable to think the matter out clearly into its composing elements, and gave up trying. Nevertheless, as he obeyed her, and began to "hurry," there remained with him an impression that by some foggy and underhand process he had been committed to acquiescence in an unfair division of labour.

    In this he was not mistaken. An hour later he and Florence were on their way home from the fish man's place of business, and Herbert, having carried the basket thither, was now carrying it thence. Moreover, his burden was precisely as heavy on this homeward leg of the course as it had been on that terminating at the fish store, for, covered by a discreet newspaper, the preserve and pickle jars still remained within the basket, their crowding and indignant contents intact. The fish man had explained in terms derisive, but plain, the difference between a fish man and a fisherman. He had maintained his definitions of the two economic functions in spite of persistent arguments on the part of the bait-dealers, and in the face of reductions that finally removed ninety per cent. of their asking price. He wouldn't give fifty cents, or ten cents, or one cent, he said: and he couldn't furnish the address of anybody else that would. His fish came by express, he declared, again and again: and the only people he knew that did any fishing were mainly coloured, and dug their own bait; and though these might possibly be willing to accept the angle worms as a gift, they would probably incline to resent a generosity including so many spiders, not to speak of the dangerous winged members of the c'lection. On account of these latter, he jocosely professed himself to be anxious lest the tops of some of the jars might work loose--and altogether he was the most disheartening man they had ever met.

    Anticlimax was never the stimulant of amiability, and, after an altercation on the pavement just outside of the store, during which the derisive fish man continually called to them to go on and take that there basket out of the neighbourhood, the cousins moved morbidly away, and walked for a time in silence.

    They brooded. Herbert was even more embittered with Florence than he was with the fish man, and Florence found life full of unexpectedness; it had been so clear to her that the fish man would say: "Why, certainly. Here's five dollars; two dollars and a half for each of you. Would you care to have the jars back?" The facts, so contrary, seemed to wear the aspect of deliberate malice, and she felt ill-used, especially as she had several physical grievances, due to her assistance in pouring part of the c'lection into the jars with tops. In spite of every precaution three or four of the liveliest items had made their escape, during this pouring, and had behaved resentfully. Florence bore one result on the back of her left hand, two others on the thumb and second finger of her right hand, and another, naturally the most conspicuous, on the point of her chin. These had all been painful, in spite of mud poultices, but, excited by the anticipation of a kindly smiling fish man, and occupied with plans for getting Herbert to spend part of his two dollars and a half for mutual refreshment, she had borne up cheerfully. Now, comprehending that she had suffered in vain, she suffered anew, and hated bugs, all fish men, and the world.

    It was Herbert who broke the silence and renewed the altercation. "How far you expeck me to go on luggin' this ole basket?" he demanded bitterly. "All the way home?"

    "I don't care how far," she informed him. "You can throw it away if you want to. It's certainly no propaty of mine, thank you!"

    "Look here, didn't you promise you'd carry it home?"

    "I said I spoke to. I didn't say I would carry it."

    "Well, I'd like to know the dif----"

    But Florence cut him off. "I'll tell you the difference, since you're so anxious to know the truth, Mister Herbert Atwater! The difference is just this: you had no biznuss to meddle with those vile ole bugs in the first place, and get me all stung up so't I shouldn't wonder I'd haf to have the doctor, time I get home, and if I do I'm goin' to tell mamma all about it and make her send the bill to your father. I want you to know I hurt!"

    "My goodness!" Herbert burst out. "Don't you s'pose I hurt any? I guess you don't hurt any worse than----"

    She stopped him: "Listen!"

    From down the street there came a brazen clamouring for the right of way; it grew imperiously louder, and there were clatterings and whizzings of metallic bodies at speed, while little blurs and glistenings in the distance grew swiftly larger, taking shape as a fire engine and a hose-cart. Then, round the near-by corner, came perilously steering the long "hook-and-ladder wagon"; it made the turn and went by, with its firemen imperturbable on the running boards.

    "Fire!" Florence cried joyfully. "Let's go!" And, pausing no instant, she made off up the street, shouting at the top of her voice: "Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!"

    Herbert followed. He was not so swift a runner as she, though this he never submitted to a test admitted to be fair and conclusive; and he found her demonstration of superiority particularly offensive now, as she called back over her shoulder: "Why don't you keep up with me? Can't you keep up?"

    "I'd show you!" he panted. "If I didn't haf to lug this ole basket, I'd leave you a mile behind mighty quick."

    "Well, why'n't you drop it, then?"

    "You s'pose I'm goin' to throw my c'lection away after all the trouble I been through with it?"

    She slackened her gait, dropping back beside him. "Well, then, if you think you could keep up with me if you didn't have it, why'n't you leave it somewhere, and come back and get it after the fire's over?"

    "No place to leave it."

    She laughed, and pointed. "Why'n't you leave it at grandpa's?"

    "Will you wait for me and start fair?"

    "Come on!" They obliqued across the street, still running forward, and at their grandfather's gate Herbert turned in and sped toward the house.

    "Take it around to the kitchen and give it to Kitty Silver," Florence called. "Tell Kitty Silver to take care of it for you."

    But Herbert was in no mind to follow her advice; a glance over his shoulder showed that Florence was taking another unfair advantage of him. "You wait!" he shouted. "You stand still till I get back there! You got half a mile start a'ready! You wait till we can start even!"

    But Florence was skipping lightly away and she caroled over her shoulder, waving her hand in mocking farewell as she began to run:

    "Ole Mister Slowpoke can't catch me! Ole Mister Slowpoke couldn't catch a flea!"

    "I'll show you!" he bellowed, and, not to lose more time, he dashed up the steps of the deserted veranda, thrust his basket deep underneath a wicker settee, and ran violently after his elusive cousin.

    She kept a tantalizing distance between them, but when they reached the fire it was such a grand one they forgot all their differences--and also all about the basket.
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