“They’re at our house,” she said. “They’re sitting out on the screen porch and drinking whiskey and ginger ale and they’ve unhitched and put their horses up. They say they’re going to wait till you come back. It was our mother told them you’d gone fishing at the creek. I don’t think she meant to. Anyway I hope not.”
“What about Mrs. Packard?”
“I saw her in the kitchen of the hotel and she asked me if I’d seen you and I said no. She said she was waiting for you to bring her some fish for tonight. She was worried. You might as well take them in.
“Good,” he said. “They’re nice and fresh. I repacked them in ferns.”
“Can I come in with you?”
“Sure,” Nick said.
The hotel was a long wooden building with a porch that fronted on the lake. There were wide wooden steps that led down to the pier that ran far out into the water and here were natural cedar railings alongside the steps and natural cedar railings around the porch. There were chairs made of natural cedar on the porch and in them sat middle-aged people wearing white clothes. There were three pipes set on the lawn with spring water bubbling out of them, and little paths led to them. The water tasted like rotten eggs because these were mineral springs and Nick and his sister used to drink from them as a matter of discipline. Now coming toward the rear of the hotel, where the kitchen was, they crossed a plank bridge over a small brook running into the lake beside the hotel, and slipped into the back door of the kitchen.
“Wash them and put them in the ice box, Nickie,” Mrs. Packard said. “I’ll weigh them later.”
“Mrs. Packard,” Nick said. “Could I speak to you a minute?”
“Speak up,” she said. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“If I could have the money now.”
Mrs. Packard was a handsome woman in a gingham apron. She had a beautiful complexion and she was very busy and her kitchen help were there as well.
“You don’t mean you want to sell trout. Don’t you know that’s against the law?”
“I know,” Nick said. “I brought you the fish for a present. I mean my time for the wood I split and corded.”
“I’ll get it,” she said. “I have to go to the annex.”
Nick and his sister followed her outside. On the board sidewalk that led to the icehouse from the kitchen she stopped and put her hands in her apron pocket and took out a pocketbook.
“You get out of here,” she said quickly and kindly. “And get out of here fast. How much do you need?”
“I’ve got sixteen dollars,” Nick said.
“Take twenty,” she told him. “And keep that tyke out of trouble. Let her go home and keep an eye on them until you’re clear.”
“When did you hear about them?”
She shook her head at him.
“Buying is as bad or worse than selling,” she said. “You stay away until things quiet down. Nickie, you’re a good boy no matter what anybody says. You see Packard if things get bad. Come here nights if you need anything. I sleep light. Just knock on the window.”
“You aren’t going to serve them tonight are you, Mrs. Packard? You’re not going to serve them for the dinners?”
“No,” she said. “But I’m not going to waste them. Packard can eat half a dozen and I know other people that can. Be careful, Nickie, and let it blow over. Keep out of sight.”
“Littless wants to go with me.”
“Don’t you dare take her,” Mrs. Packard said. “You come by tonight and I’ll have some stuff made up for you.”
“Could you let me take a skillet?”
“I’ll have what you need. Packard knows what you need. I don’t give you any more money so “you’ll keep out of trouble.”
“I’d like to see Mr. Packard about getting a few things.”
“He’ll get you anything you need. But don’t you go near the store, Nick.”
“I’ll get Littless to take him a note.”
“Anytime you need anything,” Mrs. Packard said. “Don’t you worry. Packard will be studying things out.”