Mom looked at the two young boys, wondering how she was going to manage them along with the two girls and a baby on the way. Son,Chesterwas a precocious handful by himself, having been badly spoiled as Mother Dimond’s first-born grandchild. Nephew Raymond, Mom’s sister Mabel’s boy, was having a hard time adjusting to his mother’s death. Hoping a change of scenery and another boy to play with might help fill the void in Raymond’s life, he was sent to spend some time with his Aunt Helen, Uncle Furb, and family inNew Hampshire. The family was already stretching the house seams. The new baby would share its parents’ room. Eleanor and Mildred would still share the bed in the front room. Chet would just have to share his upstairs room with Raymond.
Ray flinched as Mom touched his shoulder and asked, “Did Chester help you find a place to put away all your clothes?”
“Yes, thank you, Aunt Helen,” Raymond replied. “Please, can I go exploring?”
Mom said, “Yes, as long as you andChesterstay together. Don’t go too far from the house, Chet. We’ll be having supper as soon as your Father comes home.”
More than enough said, the boys were out the door.
“Where are the girls,” Ray asked. “They aren’t here.”
Mom heard Ray’s question and thought, one boy to tease the two girls generated enough battles. What was it going to be like having collaborating teasers?
“Library,” Chet answered. “They went to see if the newest Raggedy Anne and Andy book has come in.”
Straight ahead of them stood a small brick structure with a door, but no windows.
Ray asked, “What’s that? It’s not big enough to be a house—besides there’s no windows.”
“That’s a smoke house,” Chet explained.
“You have a special house where you can go and smoke?” Ray asked, in amazement.
Chet laughed, explaining further, “My Dad told me that fresh meat was hung from the rafters in the ceiling and a fire, burning from below, made smoke that cured the hams, turkey, beef, and pork so the meat wouldn’t spoil.”
“Wow!” Ray was impressed. “Have you ever been in it?” he asked.
“No, there’s nothing to see. Just empty rafters and a cold fire pit. It isn’t used any more, because now there are ice boxes to keep food from spoiling.” Chet explained.
Now at the roadside, Ray scanned up and down—no girls in sight.
“I’m guessing the library is this way,” said Ray.
Chet answered, “You’re right, but let’s check the big rock over here in the pasture, next to the stone wall.”
“Why are you whispering?” Ray asked.
“Because, if they’re there, they’ll hear us and I thought we’d have some fun sneaking up on them. Here, pick up some small stones, then we’ll crouch down behind the stone wall and toss our ammunition at them over the wall,” Chet replied.
Pockets stuffed with pebbles, the boys crept quietly, on hands and knees, along the base of the stone wall. Chet, in the lead, motioned for Ray to stop and peek between the rocks in the wall. There were their unsuspecting targets.
The colorful pictures in their library books were sufficient to keep the girls’ attention as neither girl could yet read the words.
“One at a time,” Chet whispered as he lobbed his first shot over the wall.
“You hit Mildred’s arm, but mine went too far.” Ray whispered back. “Got to get the range right,” Ray said.
The boys used up half of their ammunition before the girls took any notice of the boys’ efforts and then, only because they threw two larger stones. One hit Eleanor in the middle of her back and the other hit Mildred on her temple, knocking her unconscious.
Seeing what they had done, the boys quickly started to reverse their path along the wall. Just a couple feet into their retreat, they found their way blocked by a pair of large, heavy boots with a big man in those boots, looming over them.
“I saw that! Don’t either of you move until I find out what damage you have done to the girls.” Dad ordered.
Dad quickly jumped the stone wall and reached for Mildred as he tried to console Eleanor. Army trained, he checked Mildred’s pulse and breathing as well as the growing lump on her head just as she started to move and open her eyes.
“Oh, gosh and by gorey, Mildred’s really hurt,” Chet cried.
Raymond observed, “But she isn’t even crying.”
“Oh, yes she is!” Chet argued. “She just isn’t making any noise. That’s what happens when she’s really hurt!”
Dad picked up his still-dazed daughter off of the rock, took his other daughter, still weeping, by the hand, and instructed the two boys to follow him home. “You’re right, Chet, that silent crying is a lot worse than all the usual bawling racket,” Ray said thoughtfully, as the quiet tears continued to dampen her father’s shirt.
As he went through the kitchen door, Dad said, “Helen, we have a problem here. I think it’s going to be all right, but we’ll have to watch Mildred and check Eleanor’s back for bruises.”
Mom turned from the stove where our supper was simmering.
“What, now?” she asked as she saw the swelling on Mildred’s head. “Boys, did you have anything to do with this bruise on Eleanor or the lump on her sister’s head?”
Dead silence. Both boys, heads hanging, shoe toes nervously trying to gouge a hole in the linoleum.
“Well, boys?” Dad questioned.
Raymond finally spoke, saying, “We were just having fun, but the girls weren’t paying any attention, so we figured maybe a bigger stone would make them notice us.”
“Your upgrade in missile size got my attention, too,” Dad observed. “Early tomorrow morning you two will go with me to the farm and clean the chicken coop.”
Raymond brightened up, but Chet whispered, “That’s one stinky, messy job.”
With no further discussion, the family and guest closed an eventful day.
The hen house cleaning experience didn’t dampen the two boys’ enthusiasm for adventure for very long.
Raymond made a suggestion. “I want to see for myself what the smoke house looks like inside. There’s no lock on the door, so we could easily get in.”
“You forget that smoke house door is right across from the kitchen window where Mom spends most of her time. There is another door through the back, out of sight, but I’ve never tried to use it.”
“Let’s go!” Ray challenged. “I’ll bet there’s even an echo in there.”
Eleanor and Mildred came out of the house to play near the back steps just as the boys disappeared down the slope and around to the back of the smoke house.
After much tugging and pulling, the lower door of the smoke house yielded with a loud squawk and opened on rusty, complaining hinges. The complete darkness inside seemed touchable as the boys tried to make out if there really was anything to see.
As they started to move forward, Chet said, “Look out, we’re on the top step of some stone stairs….”
Too late, Chet grabbed Ray’s arm and both boys fell down the stairs. Trying to regain their feet, they stumbled further, falling into the old fire pit. There was much loud moaning and groaning followed by a hasty assessment of their numerous scrapes and bruises. Until Ray pulled the door around, almost shut and said in a loud and deeply booming a voice, “I am the ghost of the many animals and birds that have met their death only to be smoked and cured in this place.”
The echo effect was all Ray could have hoped for.
Grinning, Chet and Ray heard the girls terrified screams, so they kept making eerie sounding animal and bird cries. Until the door was flung open and Mom said, “You boys come out here! Right now!” As the boys appeared out of the dark bowels of the smoke house, Mom didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Before her, standing on the threshold, were two of the blackest white boys she’d ever seen outside of a minstrel show. Bruised and torn, they were instructed to close the door and march themselves into the house to get cleaned up.
After cleaning and bandaging the two “ghosts,” Mom sank wearily into the nearest chair, the two boys standing in front of her.
“You frightened the girls quite badly, which, I’m sure is what you had hoped for, but after this whole incident, I’ve decided to change your names. Raymond, you are no longer Raymond. ‘Hector’ is now your name. You, my son, are no longerChester. Your name is now ‘Pester.’ So ‘Hector’ and ‘Pester’ it will be for the rest of the summer.”