Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

How Aunt Pam Became A Smuggler

by Mrs Frank McCarthy

 

My name is Tom Barnes, and I live on the other side of the river, just far enough from New York to go there once in a while with pa to a show. That's all the city's good for, anyway. We can't get up shows here very well; but when it comes to other fun, we can beat you city folks all hollow. You see, you haven't got the things to work with that we have—the woods and water and things. But I'll tell you about Aunt Pam—her name is Pamela, I think, but we call her Pam for short. She wasn't ever married, though I guess she's old enough. Somebody once said Aunt Pam was an old maid; but that can't be, for old maids are always cranky, and get out of bed backward every morning. Now Aunt Pam was never cranky in her life; and I know she gets out of bed like everybody else, for I've slept with her many a time. And nobody in their senses would call Aunt Pam old, and you'd better believe she's jolly. The house ain't anything without Aunt Pam.

My sisters are all girls, you see, and so taken up with worsted-work, and practicing, and one thing and the other, that I don't know what I'd do without Aunt Pam. I tell her everything; but I couldn't about the smugglers' cave, because the fellows wrote it all down in black and white, and we took a solemn promise to keep it a secret. We all live close to the water; and having everything handy, we made up our minds we'd make a smugglers' cave. We got to work lively; and while some of the fellows were digging out the bank, others chopped down small trees and bushes, and made a covered archway to crawl under, so that the opening of the cave couldn't be seen. We pulled the young twigs and vines down over the chopped ones, rolled logs inside for seats, and things began to look quite ship-shape.

It was no easy job, I can tell you. We worked like beavers to get the cave the way we wanted it; but when it was done, it was what you may call hunky-dory. Bill Drake's father had a flat-bottomed boat that we got into and rowed along shore. We rigged up a sail; but there was something the matter with it, and it kept flopping about, and wasn't much good, but anyhow it looked nice. We never went far from shore. We weren't afraid, but we didn't care to. Smugglers always kept along shore.

We all had blue shirts, and pulled our caps down over our eyes to look fierce. And Bill Drake kept an old pipe of his father's in his mouth; it hadn't any tobacco in it, but it was a real pipe, so we made Bill captain. The thing was to get lots of traps into the cave to look like smuggled goods. We fished up old bathing pieces and bits of broken bottles, and Bill brought down a red petticoat; but the best of all was Aunt Pam's shawl.

Now I'd scorn to do a mean or sneaking thing, especially to Aunt Pam, but she didn't seem to care a button for that shawl. I didn't think it was worth twopence. She used to wear it in all sorts of weather, and it looked to me as if it was patched up out of bits that she hadn't any other use for. I'm sure she'd worn it since she was a baby. I could remember seeing that shawl around as long as I could remember anything, and it was just the thing for our cave. It was kind of like a Turk's best turban as to color; and when it was fixed over Bill Bates's bathing suit, and one corner hung down over the rock, it made the cave look bully. I went into Aunt Pam's room one morning, and found it thrown over the foot of the bedstead, like an old blanket, and I carried it off to the cave.

When I came home from school, I saw Aunt Pam out walking with a worsted thing that one of my sisters made for her, and I thought it was enough sight handsomer in the way of a shawl. I went on down to the cave, and when I got home again there was a regular hullabulloo in the house.

The girls were ransacking the closets, Aunt Pam was flying around like a hen with its head cut off, and everybody was turning everything inside out. "Maybe Tom's seen it," said mamma. "Tom, have you seen your aunt Pam's shawl?"

"That old thing she used to wear around?" I said.

"Old thing!" they all shrieked together. "Why, it's a camel's-hair shawl; it's worth five hundred dollars."

"Oh no!" I said. "I beg your pardon; there wasn't the hair of a camel, or even a cat, in the shawl that I mean; it was just sewed together on the wrong side like a bed-quilt."

"That was it, you ridiculous boy," said my sisters. "Have you seen it?"

"Seen it!" said I; "I've only seen it every day since I was born, and yet I remember it well." I went whistling away, and they began to rush around again for that shawl.

I felt pale under my whistle. Five hundred dollars! who'd 'a thought it? Down in the smugglers' cave! Goodness gracious! No wonder it looked just the thing. No wonder we all cottoned to that shawl from the start.

"I always told you something would happen to it," said mamma to Aunt Pam. "You flung it around like an old rag."

"That was the comfort of it," said Aunt Pam. "It couldn't be hurt. It could be worn in all weathers—to a wedding or a funeral, to church or to a clam-bake. It was always in the fashion, and everybody knew what it was worth."

"Except me," I said, under my breath.

"Oh, my beautiful shawl!" said Aunt Pam, beginning all at once to feel the full shock of her loss. The tears rolled out of her dear old eyes, and my sisters began to snivel, as they always did.

Mamma said it must be looked into, and for a moment I was scared. I thought of the smugglers' cave.

"What must be looked into?" I said.

"Why, the loss of the shawl," said mamma. "It must have been stolen out of the house."

Our up-stairs girl was passing through the room when ma said that, and she turned red and pale.

"Did you notice Maggie?" mamma said, when the door was shut.

"Oh, mamma!" we all cried out, for we thought the world of Maggie. I couldn't help wondering how it was she was so red and flustered, while I was as cool as a cucumber. Aunt Pam declared she wouldn't have Maggie's feelings hurt for the world; and I said she was innocent, in a deep low solemn voice, but nobody paid any attention to me. Then I stopped to think before I went on. How could I betray my comrades and the whereabouts of the cave? I remembered the last piece I spoke in school, and how I hollered out the words,

"O for a tongue to curse the slave
Whose treason, like a deadly blight,
Comes o'er the councils of the brave,
And blasts them in their hour of might!"

Could I be that traitor? No indeed—not much! Yet here was a dreadful row in the house, and the only way to mend matters was to get that shawl again as soon as possible. I resolved to get it that very night, and when I listened to an advertisement that Aunt Pam had written out for the paper, I saw my way clear. She said no questions would be asked if the article was promptly returned. That settled it. I went up to my room, and wrote out the following in a disguised hand:

"Secrit and konfidenshal—the shawl's all right."

I waited till after supper, slipped it under Aunt Pam's door, and going out the back way I took a cross-cut down to the shore. Now pa won't let us go out at night to play, and I think that's a mistake, because we can't get used to the dark if we don't. The whole world looked queer somehow to me by starlight. The moon hadn't come up yet, and at first I could hardly see my hand before my face. I never saw such ugly shadows, and once I had to stop and get breath before I could make up my mind to pass a clump of old mulberry bushes. Once in a while I heard a crackle behind me like a footstep, but I didn't look back. I knew my only chance was to plod ahead, no matter how my heart thumped or my knees shook. I thought of everything I could to bolster me up—of dear old Aunt Pam and poor little Maggie. But the sound of the waves on the beach was awful! They roared like so many wild beasts. It was as black as ink on the water, and the twinkle of the light-house seemed a hundred miles away. It was so lonely and wild that my heart was in my throat. And suppose, thinks I, when I get in the cave, the waves come up and devour me? Suppose somebody has crawled in there to sleep, some tramp or something, and he should catch me by the leg? Or the bank should tumble in on top of me? All my spunk was gone, and I turned to run, when, bunk! I came into something behind me.

"Ow!" I screamed, and "Oh!" exclaimed somebody, and wasn't I glad to find it was dear old Aunt Pam. She scared me, though, for she was as white as any sheet, and grabbing me in her arms, she began to cry over me.

"Tell me all, Tom," she said. "I got your note, and I followed you. You bad, wicked, dear little wretch, tell me everything. If the shawl's got lost, never mind, Tom; I don't care; only tell me, and come back home."

Poor, dear Aunt Pam! she told me afterward she thought I had done something to the shawl, and ran away in my fright. We were both pretty well broke up, and I couldn't help crying a little bit myself. But of course I couldn't go home now without the shawl. I began to feel as brave as a lion now Aunt Pam was there. The thing was to get her out of the way while I went into the cave. It looked awful down there in the hollow, and the wind was getting up, the water swashed around, and I couldn't help thinking there might be a tramp in there. All at once a bright thought struck me. Aunt Pam wasn't afraid of tramps; she wasn't afraid of anything. And, after all, it was her shawl. If it was worth having, it was worth going after. But how about betraying the boys? Another bright thought struck me. I'd make Aunt Pam one of us. She could say the words over after me, and she could crawl in and get the shawl, while I kept guard outside: and if anybody says Aunt Pam is old after that, they must be crazy. She said all the words solemnly, one after another; then she crawled in, and dragged out every blessed thing she could lay her hands on. I put 'em all back the next morning, and the best of it all was that Aunt Pam never gave us away. She just told the folks she found the shawl herself, and she did, you know—didn't she?