Read CHAPTER VIII of Ethel Morton's Enterprise, free online book, by Mabell S.C. Smith, on


The dogwood was in blossom when the girls first established themselves in the cave in the Fitz-James woods. Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Smith thought it was rather too cool, but the girls invited them to come and have afternoon cocoa with them and proved to their satisfaction that the rocks were so sheltered by their position and by the trees that towered above them that it would take a sturdy wind to make them really uncomfortable.

Their first duty had been to clean out the cave.

“We can pretend that no one ever has lived here since the days when everybody lived in caves,” said Ethel Blue, who was always pretending something unusual. “We must be the first people to discover it.”

“I dare say we are,” replied Dorothy.

“Uhuh,” murmured Ethel Brown, a sound which meant a negative reply. “Here’s an old tin can, so we aren’t the very first.”

“It may have been brought here by a wolf,” suggested Ethel Blue.

“Perhaps it was a werwolf,” suggested Dorothy.

“What’s that?”

“A man turned by magic into a wolf but keeping his human feelings. The more I think of it the more I’m sure that it was a werwolf that brought the can here, because, having human feelings, he would know about cans and what they had in them, and being a wolf he would carry it to his lair or den or whatever they call it, to devour it.”

“Really, Dorothy, you make me uncomfortable!” exclaimed Ethel Blue.

“That may be one down there in the field now,” continued Dorothy, enjoying her make-believe.

The Ethels turned and gazed, each with an armful of trash that she had brought out of the cave. There was, in truth, a figure down in the field beside the brook, and he was leaning over and thrusting a stick into the ground and examining it closely when he drew it out.

“That can’t be a werwolf,” remonstrated Ethel Brown. “That’s a man.”

“Perhaps in the twentieth century wolves turn into men instead of men turning into wolves,” suggested Dorothy. “This may be a wolf with a man’s shape but keeping the feelings of a wolf, instead of the other way around.”

“Don’t, Dorothy!” remonstrated Ethel Blue again. “He does look like a horrid sort of man, doesn’t he?”

They all looked at him and wondered what he could be doing in the Miss Clarks’ field, but he did not come any nearer to them so they did not have a chance to find out whether he really was as horrid looking as Ethel Blue imagined.

It was not a short task to make the cave as clean as the girls wanted it to be. The owner of the tin can had been an untidy person or else his occupation of Fitz-James’s rocks had been so long ago that Nature had accumulated a great deal of rubbish. Whichever explanation was correct, there were many armfuls to be removed and then the interior of the cave had to be subjected to a thorough sweeping before the girls’ ideas of tidiness were satisfied. They had to carry all the rubbish away to some distance, for it would not do to leave it near the cave to be an eyesore during the happy days that they meant to spend there.

It was all done and Roger, who happened along, had made a bonfire for them and consumed all the undesirable stuff, before the two mothers appeared for the promised cocoa and the visit of inspection.

The girls at once set about the task of converting them to a belief in the sheltered position of the cave and then they turned their attention to the preparation of the feast. They had brought an alcohol stove that consisted of a small tripod which held a tin of solid alcohol and supported a saucepan. When packing up time came the tripod and the can fitted into the saucepan and the handles folded about it compactly.

“We did think at first of having an old stove top that Roger saw thrown away at Grandfather’s,” Ethel Brown explained. “We could build two brick sides to hold it up and have the stone for a back and leave the front open and run a piece of stove pipe up through that crack in the rocks.”

Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Smith, who were sitting on a convenient bit of rock just outside the cave, peered in as the description progressed.

“Then we could burn wood underneath and regulate the draft by making a sort of blower with some piece of old sheet iron.”

The mothers made no comment as Ethel Brown seemed not to have finished her account.

“Then we thought that perhaps you’d let us have that old oil stove up in the attic. We could set it on this flat rock on this side of the cave.”

“We thought there might be some danger about that because it isn’t very, very large in here, so we finally decided on this alcohol stove. It’s safe and it doesn’t take up any room and this solid alcohol doesn’t slop around and set your dress afire or your table cloth, and we can really cook a good many things on it and the rest we can cook in our own little kitchen and bring over here. If we cover them well they’ll still be warm when they get here.”

“That’s a wise decision,” assented Mrs. Morton, nodding toward her sister-in-law. “I should be afraid that the stove top arrangement might be like the oil stove the fuel might fall about and set fire to your frocks.”

“And it would take up much more space in the cave,” suggested Mrs. Smith. “Here’s a contribution to your equipment,” and she brought out a box of paper plates and cups, and another of paper napkins.

“These are fine!” cried Ethel Blue. “They’ll save washing.”

“Here’s our idea for furnishing. Do you want to hear it?” asked Dorothy.

“Of course we do.”

“Do you see that flat oblong space there at the back? We’re going to fit a box in there. We’ll turn it on its side, put hinges and a padlock on the cover to make it into a door, and fix up shelves.”

“I see,” nodded her mother and aunt. “That will be your store cupboard.”

“And our sideboard and our linen closet, all in one. We’re going to make it when we go home this afternoon because we know now what the measurements are and we’ve got just the right box down in the cellar.”

“Where do you get the water?”

“Roger is cleaning out the spring now and making the basin under it a little larger, so we shall always have fresh spring water.”

“That’s good. I was going to warn you always to boil any water from the brook.”

“We’ll remember.”

The water for the cocoa was now bubbling in the saucepan. Ethel Blue took four spoonfuls of prepared cocoa, wet it with one spoonful of water and rubbed it smooth. Then she stirred it into a pint of the boiling water and when this had boiled up once she added a pint of milk. When the mixture boiled she took it off at once and served it in the paper cups that her aunt had brought. To go with it Ethel Brown had prepared almond biscuit. They were made by first blanching two ounces of almonds by pouring boiling water on them and then slipping off their brown overcoats. After they had been ground twice over in the meat chopper they were mixed with four tablespoonfuls of flour and one tablespoonful of sugar and moistened with a tablespoonful of milk. When they were thoroughly mixed and rolled thin they were cut into small rounds and baked in a quick oven for ten or fifteen minutes.

“These are delicious, my dear,” Mrs. Smith said, smiling at her nieces, and the Ethels were greatly pleased at their Aunt Louise’s praise.

They sat about on the rocks and enjoyed their meal heartily. The birds were busy over their heads, the leaves were beginning to come thickly in the tree crowns and the chipmunks scampered busily about, seeming to be not at all frightened by the coming of these new visitors to their haunts. Dorothy tried to coax one to eat out of her hand. He was curious to try the food that she held out to him and his courage brought him almost within reach of her fingers before it failed and sent him scampering back to his hole, the stripes on his back looking like ribbons as he leaped to safety.

Within a month the cave was in excellent working order. The box proved to be a success just as the girls had planned it. They kept there such stores as they did not care to carry back and forth sugar, salt and pepper, cocoa, crackers and a supply of eggs, cream-cheese and cookies and milk always fresh. Sometimes when the family thermos bottle was not in use they brought the milk in that and at other times they brought it in an ordinary bottle and let it stand in the hollow below the spring. Glass fruit jars with screw tops preserved all that was entrusted to them free from injury by any marauding animals who might be tempted by the smell to break open the cupboard. These jars the girls placed on the top shelf; on the next they ranged their paper “linen” which they used for napkins and then as fuel to start the bonfire in which they destroyed all the rubbish left over from their meal. This fire was always small, was made in one spot which Roger had prepared by encircling it with stones, and was invariably put out with a saucepanful of water from the brook.

“It never pays to leave a fire without a good dousing,” he always insisted. “The rascally thing may be playing ’possum and blaze out later when there is no one here to attend to it.”

A piece of board which could be moved about at will was used as a table when the weather was such as to make eating inside of the cave desirable. One end was placed on top of the cupboard and the other on a narrow ledge of stone that projected as if made for the purpose. One or two large stones and a box or two served as seats, but there was not room inside for all the members of the Club. When there was a general meeting some had to sit outside.

They added to their cooking utensils a few flat saucepans in which water would boil quickly and they made many experiments in cooking vegetables. Beans they gave up trying to cook after several experiments, because they took so long from one to three hours for both the dried and the fresh kinds, that the girls felt that they could not afford so much alcohol. They eliminated turnips, too, after they had prodded a frequent fork into some obstinate roots for about three quarters of an hour. Beets were nearly as discouraging, but not quite, when they were young and tender, and the same was true of cabbage.

“It’s only the infants that we can use in this affair,” declared Dorothy after she had replenished the saucepan from another in which she had been heating water for the purpose, over a second alcohol stove that her mother had lent them. Spinach, onions and parsnips were done in half an hour and potatoes in twenty-five minutes.

They finally gave up trying to cook vegetables whole over this stove, for they concluded that not only was it necessary to have extremely young vegetables but the size of the cooking utensils must of necessity be too small to have the proceedings a success. They learned one way, however, of getting ahead of the tiny saucepan and the small stove. That was by cutting the corn from the cob and by peeling the potatoes and slicing them very thin before they dropped them into boiling water. Then they were manageable.

“Miss Dawson, the domestic science teacher, says that the water you cook any starchy foods in must always be boiling like mad,” Ethel Blue explained to her aunt one day when she came out to see how matters were going. “If it isn’t the starch is mushy. That’s why you mustn’t be impatient to put on rice and potatoes and cereals until the water is just bouncing.”

“Almost all vegetables have some starch,” explained Mrs. Morton. “Water really boiling is your greatest friend. When you girls are old enough to drink tea you must remember that boiling water for tea is something more than putting on water in a saucepan or taking it out of a kettle on the stove.”

“Isn’t boiling water boiling water?” asked Roger, who was listening.

“There’s boiling water and boiling water,” smiled his mother. “Water for tea should be freshly drawn so that there are bubbles of air in it and it should be put over the fire at once. When you are waiting for it to boil you should scald your teapot so that its coldness may not chill the hot water when you come to the actual making of the tea.”

“Do I seem to remember a rule about using one teaspoonful of tea for each person and one for the pot?” asked Tom.

“That is the rule for the cheaper grades of tea, but the better grades are so strong that half a teaspoonful for each drinker is enough.”

“Then it’s just as cheap to get tea at a dollar a pound as the fifty cent quality.”

“Exactly; and the taste is far better. Well, you have your teapot warm and your tea in it waiting, and the minute the water boils vigorously you pour it on the tea.”

“What would happen if you let it boil a while?”

“If you should taste water freshly boiled and water that has been boiling for ten minutes you’d notice a decided difference. One has a lively taste and the other is flat. These qualities are given to the pot of tea of course.”

“That’s all news to me,” declared James. “I’m glad to know it.”

“I used to think ‘tea and toast’ was the easiest thing in the world to prepare until Dorothy taught me how to make toast when she was fixing invalid dishes for Grandfather after he was hurt in the fire at Chautauqua,” said Ethel Brown. “She opened my eyes,” and she nodded affectionately at her cousin.

“There’s one thing we must learn to make or we won’t be true campers,” insisted Tom.

“What is it? I’m game to make it or eat it,” responded Roger instantly.

“Spider cakes.”

“Spiders! Ugh!” ejaculated Della daintily.

“Hush; a spider is a frying pan,” Ethel Brown instructed her. “Tell us how you do them, Tom,” she begged.

“You use the kind of flour that is called ‘prepared flour.’ It rises without any fuss.”

The Ethels laughed at this description, but they recognized the value in camp of a flour that doesn’t make any fuss.

“Mix a pint of the flour with half a pint of milk. Let your spider get hot and then grease it with butter or cotton seed oil.”

“Why not lard.”

“Lard will do the deed, of course, but butter or a vegetable fat always seems to me cleaner,” pronounced Tom wisely.

“Won’t you listen to Thomas!” cried Roger. “How do you happen to know so much?” he inquired amazedly.

“I went camping for a whole month once and I watched the cook a lot and since then I’ve gathered ideas about the use of fat in cooking. As little frying as possible for me, thank you, and no lard in mine!”

They smiled at his earnestness, but they all felt the same way, for the girls were learning to approve of delicacy in cooking the more they cooked.

“Go ahead with your spider cake,” urged Margaret, who was writing down the receipt as Tom gave it.

“When your buttered spider is ready you pour in half the mixture you have ready. Spread it smooth over the whole pan, put on a cover that you’ve heated, and let the cake cook four minutes. Turn it over and let the other side cook for four minutes. You ought to have seen our camp cook turn over his cakes; he tossed them into the air and he gave the pan such a twist with his wrist that the cake came down all turned over and ready to let the good work go on.”

“What did he do with the other half of his batter?” asked Ethel Brown, determined to know exactly what happened at every stage of proceedings.

“When he had taken out the first cake and given it to us he put in the remainder and cooked it while we were attacking the first installment.”

“Was it good?”

“You bet!”

“I don’t know whether we can do it with this tiny fire, but let’s try what do you say?” murmured Ethel Brown to Ethel Blue.

“We ought to have trophies of our bow and spear,” Roger suggested when he was helping with the furnishing arrangements.

“There aren’t any,” replied Ethel Brown briefly, “but Dicky has a glass bowl full of tadpoles; we can have those.”

So the tadpoles came to live in the cave, carried out into the light whenever some one came and remembered to do it, and as some one came almost every day, and as all the U.S.C. members were considerate of the needs and feelings of animals as well as of people, the tiny creatures did not suffer from their change of habitation.

Dicky had taken the frogs’ eggs from the edge of a pool on his grandfather’s farm. They looked like black dots at first. Then they wriggled out of the jelly and took their place in the world as tadpoles. It was an unfailing delight to all the young people, to look at them through a magnifying glass. They had apparently a round head with side gills through which they breathed, and a long tail. After a time tiny legs appeared under what might pass as the chin. Then the body grew longer and another pair of legs made their appearance. Finally the tail was absorbed and the tadpole’s transformation into a frog was complete. All this did not take place for many months, however, but through the summer the Club watched the little wrigglers carefully and thought that they could see a difference from week to week.