AT THE BEACH The house where the Merrills lived in Westmore was a brown cottage, but it seemed large and like a palace when the children saw the shack at the beach. Still, they liked the shack very much. The front room had a couch and chairs, and a square table which could be used for eating. There was one wee bedroom and the smallest kitchen ever seen. That kitchen was hardly so large as a good-sized cupboard. Mrs. Merrill could stand in its centre and reach everything on all four walls. It contained a little sink and an oil stove and some dishes, not a great many dishes, but that made fewer to wash. The shack stood on a hard sandy ridge, not near any other house. Behind, the sand sloped to a road where automobiles were always passing. In front there was sand that slid around under foot, and then a broad hard beach and the wonderful ocean. When the children came on that sunny Saturday, for it was sunny in spite of all their watching the sky, the sea was a deep blue, with white fringes on the shore, where the waves ran up and then slid back again. The sand looked grayish-green, but when the water touched it, it turned shiny. Dora could not take her eyes off the ocean. She forgot that she had wished to see Uncle Dan and Jack Simmons put up the tent. They pitched it near the shack, on the south side, and drove the poles and the pegs in just as hard as they could hammer them, so that the wind would not loosen the ropes. When the tent was up, Dora and Lucy went inside. They pulled up all the beach peas growing in the enclosed space, so there was only a floor of warm dry sand, soft and fine. Mrs. Merrill had brought on the truck some rag rugs. These were spread on the clean sand and the legs of the cots put on the rugs. If this were not done, a cot might tumble down when somebody was asleep on it. Between the tent poles Uncle Dan stretched a rope. This was for Olive and the little girls to hang their clothes over. There was not much room left when the three cots had been set up and a chair brought from the house to hold a wash-bowl and pitcher, but Lucy and Dora thought it was beautiful. “We will keep our suit-cases under the beds,” said Olive. “And we must be careful not to lose little things in this sand.” It took only a few minutes to get settled in the tent. Lucy and Dora put on some old rompers they had brought for bathing dresses. Olive put on her pretty blue suit and tied a blue handkerchief around her hair. Dora thought she looked extremely nice. She decided that when she was twenty, like Olive, she would have a blue jersey bathing suit. But meantime she liked her rompers very well. Such a wonderful beach that was! There were not many shells to pick up, but a great many interesting pebbles. Almost immediately the children found a strange creature, shaped like a horse’s hoof, but transparent and with a long, sharp tail. It seemed quite dead and Dora was glad that it was. She really would not like to meet it strolling down the beach. Olive laughed and said that it was a horseshoe crab and would not do her any harm. Quite soon, Father and Mother Merrill and Uncle Dan came out, dressed to go into the sea. Lucy and Dora waded in to their waists, squealing because the water was so cold. But in just a few minutes it did not seem cold at all, and they wanted to stay in all day. Mother would not let them. Much sooner than they wished, she told them to go out and dress. “It won’t do to stay too long the first time,” she said. “Put on your old ginghams and you may go barefooted and wade all you like, but you have been in the water long enough for to-day.” It seemed hard to come out when Uncle Dan and Olive were still jumping waves and even diving through them, but it would be fun to go without shoes or stockings and to run into the edge of the water whenever they wished. Besides, Mother herself came out when they did. Lucy and Dora dressed quickly. They hung their wet clothes on a line which Mother stretched from the corner of the shack to the rear tent pole. Something was cooking on the oil stove which smelled very good. “When will dinner be ready?” asked Lucy. “I am as hungry as can be.” “It will be ready before the others are dressed,” said her mother. “I wish they would come out.” Strange to say, Uncle Dan was willing to leave the ocean before Olive. Father Merrill grew cold and waded ashore, but Olive did not look cold at all. It was Uncle Dan who seemed shivery and whose lips turned blue. Olive ran into the tent and presently threw out her suit. Dora hung it on the line, after brushing off what sand she could manage. What a funny dinner that was! Nobody had more than one spoon, and some of the spoons were not a size any one would choose to eat with. There were just forks enough to go around and Lucy and Dora had to share a knife. But this was only the more sport. Olive’s hair was wet and tied with a ribbon, so she looked like a little girl with it hanging down her back. There were not chairs for everybody, and Uncle Dan sat on an old crate which kept cracking and acting as though it were going to break and let him down on the floor. But Dan didn’t care if it did. “Alice Palmer lives in a house somewhere at this beach,” said Lucy contentedly. “It is much more fun to camp.” After dinner Mrs. Merrill told them all to go down on the beach and she would wash the dishes. “We will do nothing of the kind,” said Olive. “You got dinner alone and I shall wash the dishes myself and the children will wipe them. You will not be allowed in the kitchen, Molly Merrill, and indeed, there is not room for anybody but Lucy and Dora and me.” “Well!” said Mrs. Merrill, and she put on her hat and went down to the edge of the water with Father Merrill. There was no can for the garbage, so Olive gave the dish to Uncle Dan and told him to take it down the beach away from all the houses and dig a hole and bury it. “What for?” asked Dan. “Why not throw it out for the gulls to eat?” Olive said he was not to do this. The gulls might not eat it immediately and the flies would collect and it would be unpleasant for people who were passing. It must be buried, and quite deep at that. Lucy and Dora were amused to see Uncle Dan go off to bury the garbage just as Olive said. But she looked so pretty with her wavy hair tied back with the blue ribbon that it was no wonder Uncle Dan did what he was told. For dinner, they had used every dish in the shack, except one big and very black kettle, but even then it did not take long to wash them. Just for fun, Lucy and Dora counted as they wiped. There were precisely forty-three dishes, and that included all the spoons and knives and forks. “Now,” said Olive as they finished, “don’t you think it would be nice to have sandwiches for supper and eat them on the beach?” Lucy and Dora both thought it would be an excellent plan. “Then let’s go and ask your mother,” said Olive. “Because if she is willing, we will make the sandwiches right now, and then we shall not have anything to do for supper except eat it.” Olive and the little girls ran a race to see which would first reach Mrs. Merrill. Lucy won, because her legs were longer than Dora’s and, anyway, Dora wasn’t trying very hard to beat Olive. Mrs. Merrill approved of the sandwiches. She said that Olive might plan supper exactly as she liked. So they ran back to the shack. By this time Uncle Dan had buried the garbage and he helped make the sandwiches. Some were filled with peanut butter and some with orange marmalade. Olive also boiled six eggs, one for each. She wrapped the sandwiches in waxed paper, and put them in a basket covered with a damp cloth. She put in the eggs and the salt and the pepper, and a loaf of cake and a knife to cut it with. She put in some peaches and some paper napkins. “Our supper is ready,” she announced. “All we have to do is to come for the basket when we want to eat.” Uncle Dan wanted to walk up the beach to see the life-saving station. Olive’s hair was dry now, so she twisted it up and pinned on a pretty hat made of blue silk ribbon. They invited the little girls to go, but both preferred to play in the sand. Lucy took a big spoon from the kitchen to dig a well, but Dora planned to collect shiny white and gray-green pebbles and make a house for herself. This she did by outlining the walls with pebbles and leaving spaces for doors and windows. The beach was so wide that there was room for a large house. Quite soon Lucy came and began to make herself a house next door to Dora’s. To build the house took a long time, but just as it was finished, Dora had a visitor. The tide was coming, and the first she knew, old Father Ocean ran right in through her front door without even so much as knocking! He did not stay, but ran promptly out again, leaving wet marks all over the front hall of Dora’s new house. Dora did not say anything then, but the next time a big wave rushed up, the water came into her parlor and curled about her bare toes. “I shall have to move,” she said to Lucy. “Or go away until to-morrow,” suggested Lucy. “Look! How low the sun is.” Where _had_ that afternoon gone? It did not seem as though they had been playing more than a few minutes. But the sea was growing gray instead of blue, and the sun struck long level lines through the air. Up by the shack Father and Mother were enjoying themselves; Mother sitting quite idle, just looking at the water; Father lying on his back in the sand. Away down the beach Olive and Uncle Dan were coming. It must be time for that picnic supper.