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Title: Virginia of Elk Creek Valley
Author: Chase, Mary Ellen, 1887-1973
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Virginia of Elk Creek Valley" ***

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VIRGINIA OF ELK CREEK VALLEY

by

MARY ELLEN CHASE

Author of
"The Girl from the Big Horn Country," etc.



[Illustration: "DONALD PULLED IN MACDUFF, AND YELLED TO CARVER TO JUMP"]



A. L. Burt Company
Publishers
New York

Published by arrangement with The Page Company

Printed in U. S. A.

Copyright, 1917
by The Page Company
All rights reserved

Made in U. S. A.



TO

MY MOTHER

A REAL ONE



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                         PAGE
     I.  The Joy of Anticipation                   1
    II.  The Arrival                              11
   III.  The Getting-Acquainted Trip              23
    IV.  The Bear Canyon Bear                     33
     V.  Jean Macdonald--Homesteader              49
    VI.  Miss Green Again                         68
   VII.  The Vigilantes Homestead                 88
  VIII.  Aunt Deborah Hunter--Pioneer            109
    IX.  Mr. Crusoe of Cripple Creek             126
     X.  A Letter from Dorothy                   146
    XI.  "Ever Vigilant"                         161
   XII.  The Roman Emperor                       180
  XIII.  On the Mesa                             198
   XIV.  The New School-teacher in Bear Canyon   202
    XV.  Mr. Benjamin Jarvis Entertains          216
   XVI.  The Cinnamon Creek Forest Ranger        237
  XVII.  The Winthrop Coat-of-Arms               251
 XVIII.  A Good Sport                            262
   XIX.  Carver Standish III Fits In             277
    XX.  Comrades                                286



VIRGINIA
OF
ELK CREEK VALLEY

CHAPTER I

THE JOY OF ANTICIPATION


Elk Creek Valley was a blue and golden place that mid-summer morning in
the Big Horn Country. It seemed like a joyous secret tucked away among the
mountains, whose hazy, far-away summits were as blue as the sky above
them. The lower ranges, too, were blue from purple haze and gray-green
sagebrush, while the bare, brown foot-hills tumbling about their feet were
golden in the sunlight. Blue lupines and great spikes of mountain larkspur
made of the Valley itself a garden which sloped gently to the creek, and
lost itself in a maze of quaking-asps and cottonwoods. As for the creek
waters, they ceased their tumultuous haste upon nearing the garden, and
were content to move slowly so that they might catch and hold the sunlight
in their amber depths. Beyond the creek, and through a gap in the
foot-hills, the prairie stretched for miles--blue and green with oats and
wheat and alfalfa. Now and then a mountain bluebird was lost to sight
among the larkspur, and always a cloud of tiny blue butterflies circled
above the creek.

Two pair of delighted eyes--one gray and the other blue--gazed upon the
loveliness of everything as their owners watered a team of big bay horses
at the ford. The gray eyes belonged to a girl of seventeen--a girl with
golden-brown hair and cheeks glowing red through the tan of her eager,
thoughtful face. She was radiant with happiness. It beamed from her eyes
and lurked about the corners of her mouth. She seemed too excited to sit
still. Now her gray eyes swept the prairie stretches, now scanned the
mountains, now peered up the creek beneath the over-hanging trees. She was
talking in short, eager sentences to her companion--the owner of the blue
eyes. He was a tall, clean, robust lad--a year older than she.

"Oh, Don," she cried, "isn't it wonderful? Just think! Our dream is really
coming true! I used to say at school that even if it didn't come true,
we'd have the joy of dreaming it anyway. But it's coming--this very day!
And, oh, Don, isn't this morning perfect? When I found in June they were
really coming, I said I'd never be selfish enough to expect a _perfect_
day, because it seemed as though I'd had enough already! But now it's
come, I just know it's"--her voice softened--"it's a real gift from God.
Don't you think so, too?"

"Yes, Virginia," said the boy.

Then he gathered up the reins and drove his horses through the creek, and
on toward the Gap and the open prairie.

"Don," cried the girl, suddenly clutching his arm with one hand and
pointing with the other, "there's some wild bergamot just opening! I never
knew it to be as early as this! And see! There's a sunflower on the edge
of the wheat field! There'll be thousands of them soon! They're like
Priscilla! She has such big, brown eyes, and is always so merry and
sunny. I know you'll like her, Don. And Mary? I think Mary's like the
larkspur in the Valley, don't you? So independent, and sort of--of
_self-resourceful_, as Miss Wallace says, and true. I wonder what Vivian's
like? Oh, I know! The bluebells back there by the creek. They always must
have a shady spot away from the hot sun. That's like Vivian, but she's
dear just the same, and some day I really believe she'll be able to stand
hard things as well as the rest of us. Tell me, Don, are you just as
excited inside as I am?"

Donald Keith laughed.

"Of course, I am," he said, "only, you see, Virginia, I don't get so
excited on the outside as you do. Fellows don't, I guess."

"I guess not," returned Virginia thoughtfully. "Father says I need you for
a balance-wheel. He says he doesn't know what would happen if we both
talked as much and got as excited as I do. You see, I'm seventeen now, and
I think he wants me to begin to be a little more--more level-headed, and
dignified. But I don't know how to begin. Things just spring up inside of
me, and they have to come out!"

"Don't try," said the boy bluntly. "I like you best just as you are,
Virginia."

She sighed--a happy, little sigh.

"I'm glad," she said. "I don't know what I'd do if you didn't, Don. Think
of all the good times we'd miss!"

They passed a little stream, hurrying on toward Elk Creek. Some
quaking-asps made a shady spot where ferns grew.

"Just the spot for gentians in August," cried Virginia. "The girls will
love them so! I'm going to try to send some to Miss Wallace. She'll be in
Chicago, so maybe they'll go safely that distance. She's always told me so
much about that wonderful blue color in the old Italian pictures. She says
that no one has been able to make exactly that shade since. I told her I
just knew our mountain gentians were that blue, and I'd send her some. My!
I wish she were coming, too! She's so lovely! I hope, when I grow to be
her age, I'll be at least just a tiny bit like her. You'd like her, Don."

"I'd like her anyway for being such a peach to you," said Donald.

"I'll never forget it," Virginia told him, a little break in her voice.
"And especially when--when Jim went--Somewhere Else. Oh, Don, she was so
good to me at that time! And she seemed to understand everything! I'll
always love her for it!"

Her gray eyes filled with tears. The boy beside her placed his hand on
hers in quick sympathy.

"I know," he said. "We don't find a friend like that every day, Virginia.
I wish she were coming, too! I'd like to thank her myself."

Virginia swallowed the lump in her throat and smiled again.

"I wish so, too, but she can't, so we must make the best of it. Aunt Nan
is next best. She'll love everything! I know she will. She's such a good
sport, too! She'll learn to ride and shoot, I'm sure. I hope she'll want
to go everywhere with us, and that we won't seem too young for her."

"I think Malcolm may go along some--at least before threshing starts. He
said he would. Isn't he about your Aunt Nan's age? He's most thirty."

"Yes," said Virginia. "I never thought of it before, but I guess he is.
Aunt Nan's thirty, I know, because I remember she told me she'd always
sort of dreaded being thirty, but now she'd reached there she found it the
most comfortable age in the world. I hope Malcolm will go along. He's
splendid!"

"He's all right," returned Donald loyally.

"Every one's been so dear at home about getting ready," Virginia went on.
"William put the finishing touches on the flower garden yesterday. It
looks lovely, and Aunt Nan's marigolds are all in bloom. William planted
some to make her think of home. And Alec and Joe and Dick insisted on
riding three of the horses so they'd be ready for the girls to ride
to-morrow. Hannah's baked everything I like best, and Father bought two
bran-new tents, because the girls want to sleep out with me. Do Jack and
Carver ride, do you suppose?"

"Jack does a little. Of course, I don't know about Carver Standish. You
think he'll fit in all right, don't you, Virginia? Eastern fellows don't
sometimes, you know."

"Oh, I'm sure he will," Virginia assured him. "I wish you could have seen
how pleased he was when Father asked him to come. And his grandfather, the
old Colonel, nearly burst with pride! Of course Carver's different. I
think his father and mother are very--well, _New Englandy!_ You know what
I mean. But I'm sure he'll love it out here. It's lovely of you to have
him at your house, Don. He could stay with us as well as not, of course,
but he'll be happier over there with you and Jack and the boys."

"That's all right," said Donald carelessly. "There's always room for one
more at the Keith ranch. Father says there always will be. Are all the
girls Vigilantes, Virginia--Mary and Priscilla and Vivian?"

Virginia explained. Mary wasn't really a member, and yet she really was,
being the advisor of the society, and general assistant whenever called
upon to help.

"It certainly was a clever scheme," said Donald. "No one but you would
ever have thought of such a thing, Virginia."

Virginia discredited his praise.

"Oh, yes," she told him. "Priscilla would have done it every bit as well,
only she'd never heard of the Vigilantes. You see, no one in New England
knows about them--even Miss Wallace who knows almost everything--and when
I told Priscilla the things they stood for years ago, and the work they
did against evil-doers out here in the pioneer days, we both thought it
would be just the thing to name our society after them. You see, Don, we
had to do something! 'Twas necessary with Imogene influencing Dorothy and
Vivian the way she did, and I've discovered that when a thing just _has_
to be done, there's always some one to do it. Oh, Don, see the wind
blowing over the grain! It looks almost like the real sea from Priscilla's
house--all blue-green and wavy--only I love the prairie sea better. Won't
they all just love it? It's such a big country! I'm getting excited again.
That queer feeling inside has come back, and it's a whole hour before we
get there, and before the train comes in."

"What do you suppose they're doing now?" asked Donald, excited in his
turn.

"I suppose," began Virginia--"oh, Don, there's another bergamot!--I
suppose they're all out on the observation platform, looking at everything
they can see. Mary isn't saying much--she's just looking, and Vivian is
surprised at all the new sights--I can just see how round and blue her
eyes are!--and Aunt Nan is pointing out things, so as to be sure no one
will miss one of them. Somehow I can't exactly picture Jack and Carver,
but I _know_ what Priscilla is doing. I don't even have to imagine or
suppose. I know she's just wild--outside and in! I can just see her
jumping from one side of the platform to the other, and exclaiming at
everything. Her hair is all blown about her face--she has such unruly hair
anyway--and her eyes are almost black, she's so excited over being so
near. You see, I know Priscilla. She's a lot like me. She just can't keep
still when she's happy! I know she's got the same queer feeling inside
that I have. Oh, drive faster, Don! I just don't believe I _can_ wait to
see them all!"



CHAPTER II

THE ARRIVAL


Virginia Hunter was right. Priscilla Winthrop, her roommate at St.
Helen's, and junior partner in the formation of the Vigilante Order, had
not been still for ten minutes since five A. M. At that hour she had risen
from bed, dressed hurriedly, and bribed the sleepy porter to allow her a
seat on the observation platform. It was contrary to custom and orders at
that hour, but he had done it notwithstanding. Apparently this young lady
would take no refusal.

Priscilla had moved her chair to the extreme rear of the platform that
nothing on either side might escape her eager eyes. She had watched the
sun rise from behind the first mountain spurs, and gild their barren
summits and sagebrush-covered sides. They looked so gaunt and lonely
standing there, she thought, like great gods guarding the entrance to an
enchanted land. Between her and them stretched the plains--here white with
alkali, there barren with sparse sagebrush. Not infrequently the train
rumbled across a little creek or irrigation ditch around which cottonwoods
grew and grass was green. In these fertile spots there were always rude
houses of logs with outlying shacks and corrals. Priscilla had shuddered
at the thought of living in such places. These must be other pioneers, she
said to herself, whose ancestors Virginia delighted to honor. Well, they
most certainly deserved it!

She had hardly kept her seat at all. There was constantly something on one
side or the other which attracted her attention, and she darted right and
left much to the amusement of the brakeman who sat within the car and
watched her. As they hurried through one of the irrigated spots, she heard
a bird sing--a clear, jubilant, rollicking song. Could it be the
meadow-lark of which Virginia had always spoken? At six they had passed
through a prairie-dog town, whose inhabitants had thus far existed for
Priscilla only in books and in Virginia's stories. Her fascinated eyes
spied the little animals, as for one instant they stood upright to survey
this rude and noisy intruder, and then darted into their house doorways.
She had knocked over two camp chairs in her excited efforts to reach the
brakeman, and assure herself that they were really prairie dogs.

But the climax had occurred shortly afterward when while going through a
country of sagebrush stretches and grim, almost naked buttes, she had
seen--actually seen a _cow boy!_ He was true to every description Virginia
had ever given her--sombrero, bandana, chaps and all! She could not see
his face, but she knew he must be fine-looking like the "Virginian" or
like Dick at the Hunter ranch. He was galloping through the sagebrush on a
mottled, ugly-looking broncho, doubtless bent on some secret errand.

Priscilla was seized with half a dozen impulses as she watched him. Should
she hurry through four cars and tell the others that they might see him
also? Should she send the porter? How any one could sleep at such a time
as this was far beyond her comprehension! But she had remained, rooted at
last to one spot, and watched him until he was lost to sight. How would it
seem, she wondered, to gallop alone through this country? She hoped the
cow boy had noticed the sun rise over the buttes; she hoped that even now
he was not blind to the great mountains in the distance, which were
reaching their blue summits toward the sky.

She drew a long breath of the thin, clear mountain air! So this was
Virginia's country! It was a big land! She understood now what Virginia
had meant by talking about the bigness of everything. The plains,
stretching on and on, gray-green with sagebrush, the gaunt mountain spurs,
the far-away real mountains, blue and snow-furrowed, the great, clear sky
over all! It must be wonderful at night with countless stars and a moon
looking down upon the loneliness of everything. There was something about
it all that, in some strange way, pulled out one's very soul--that made
one want to be big in thought, tolerant, kind!

The brakeman, perhaps alarmed at seeing his interesting passenger actually
standing still, had joined her at that moment. Priscilla pointed to a
speck in the sagebrush--the vanishing cow boy.

"A real cow boy!" she shouted above the rumble of the wheels.

"Humph!" grunted her companion. "Didn't you never see one before?"

"Never!" cried Priscilla fervently.

"It ain't no great sight!" returned the sophisticated brakeman.

"Perhaps not to you," Priscilla shouted in his ear, "but it would be if
you had dreamed of seeing one for ten months and three-quarters the way I
have."

"Humph!" grunted the brakeman again. "You must be a tenderfoot."

"I am," cried Priscilla, "and I'm glad of it! You can only see bran-new
things once. The second time you see them they aren't new any longer, and
can't give you thrills like the first time."

The brakeman grinned.

"There's some yucca," he shouted, pointing to a tall, straight plant with
white, bell-shaped flowers growing by the track.

"What's that?" screamed the interested Priscilla.

"Sometimes folks call it Indian soap-weed," explained the brakeman in her
ear, "because if you break the leaves they'll lather in water. And some
folks call it Spanish bayonet. It grows in barren places out here."

"I'll put that in my Thought Book," Priscilla told him. "I guess it's
lucky I have a new one with all these new things to write about. Why are
all the trees out here those tall cottonwoods?"

"They ain't all," answered the obliging brakeman, "but the cottonwoods
don't take so much soil. They grow easy and quick, and make good
wind-breaks, so folks plant 'em when they build a house near a creek like
that one over there. Quaking-asps--they grow well, too."

"Quaking-asps!" cried Priscilla. "Where are they? Please show me! I'd give
worlds to see one! My roommate lives out here--I'm just on my way to visit
her--and it's her favorite tree."

"You don't have to give nothin'," shouted her companion dryly. "There's
plenty of 'em right along this creek we're passing. They're them little
trees with light green trunks and trembly leaves. They grow by creeks and
in springy places mostly."

Priscilla leaned over the railing and gazed.

"Oh, aren't they happy? They're the jolliest trees I ever saw!"

"I guess that is a good word for 'em," agreed the brakeman. "They sure do
dance around."

"Doesn't anything grow on those hills but little trees and sagebrush?"
queried Priscilla. "It _is_ sagebrush, isn't it? I guessed it was from
pictures, and from what Virginia said."

"Yes, it's sagebrush, ma'am, and nothin' much grows on them buttes except
that and rattlers."

"Oh!" screamed Priscilla. "That's one thing I'd hate to see! You don't
think I will, do you?"

"Like's not," encouraged the brakeman. "They ain't so bad. Must come in
handy for something, else we wouldn't have 'em."

Just then Carver Standish had opened the door for Aunt Nan, who announced
breakfast for the party. Priscilla was obdurate.

"Miss Webster," she remonstrated, "please don't make me eat! I simply
couldn't do it! I've had the most wonderful morning of my whole life.
I've seen prairie-dogs and yucca and quaking-asps and a cow boy, and I
know I heard a meadow-lark. This gentleman has taught me all kinds of
things."

The brakeman touched his hat.

"He's been very kind, I'm sure," said Aunt Nan, too used to her own
niece's methods of making new friends to be troubled. "But we're going to
reach Virginia and Donald in another hour, and you must have some
breakfast, Priscilla."

"Carver will bring me some fruit," persisted Priscilla, "and you can't see
a thing from the window. Oh, please, Miss Webster! I just can't eat when I
have this queer feeling inside of me!"

So Priscilla had been left in peace, much against the better judgment of
the chaperone; and now at nine o'clock, the three Vigilantes with Aunt
Nan, Jack Williams and Carver Standish III viewed Virginia's country
together and all for the first time. The picture which Virginia was at
that very moment painting for Donald was very accurate--even to detail.
Aunt Nan, eager that no one should miss a thing, kept pointing out this
and that feature of interest--the strange, new flowers by the track, the
occasional log houses, the irrigation ditches, so new to them all. Vivian
sat quietly in one corner--her eyes big, round, almost frightened. The
endless stretches of country, the lonely barren places, and the great
mountains somehow scared Vivian. It was the loneliest country she had ever
seen, she told Aunt Nan. Mary Williams said nothing, but her dark blue
eyes roamed delightedly from prairie to foot-hills, and from the
foot-hills to the mountains, where they lingered longest. In all her
dreams she had never pictured anything so big and wonderful as this. Jack
and Carver stood together by the railing, and let nothing escape their
eager eyes; while Priscilla, forgetting to eat Carver Standish's banana,
hurried from one to another with eager explanations gained from her
morning's experience.

In half an hour they would be there. Already the barren stretches had
given place to acres and acres of grain, across which were comfortable
ranch-houses, set about by cottonwoods. Beyond the grain-fields rose the
foot-hills--open ranges where hundreds of cattle were feeding, and far
above the foot-hills towered the mountains in all their blue-clad
mystery.

"There's the creek bridge!" cried Priscilla, springing to her feet a few
minutes later. "Virginia has written me a dozen times that when we crossed
that red bridge we should begin to get ready. I suppose I ought to comb my
hair. It's a sight! But Virginia'll be so happy she'll never notice in all
this world!"

Virginia was assuredly too happy to notice disheveled heads or
smoke-stained faces or wrinkled suits when she saw her own dear Aunt Nan
and her very best friends step excitedly from the train onto the little
station platform. That queer sinking feeling inside vanished, and only joy
was left.

"It's come true! It's come true!" she kept crying as she greeted them all.
"Just think, Priscilla, it's really happening this minute! You're all in
my country at last--Donald's and mine!"

So the world looked very beautiful to them all as they drove homeward. The
three boys on the front seat became acquainted and re-acquainted, while
the Vigilantes and Aunt Nan behind held one another's hands and asked
question after question of the happy Virginia. No, she told them, the days
weren't all as perfect, but most of them were. Yes, the sunflowers grew
wild all in among the grain. No, there were no snakes very near. Yes, it
was truly sixty-five miles away to the farthest mountains. No, she had
never been so happy in all her life.

They stopped at the Keith ranch to receive a copyrighted Western welcome,
and to leave Jack and Carver. Donald would drive the girls home, and then
return. Mr. David, Mother Mary, Malcolm and little Kenneth--all the Keith
family--came to greet them. It seemed to Jack Williams as though he had
never received a welcome so genuine; and to the hungry and tired Carver
Standish III the simple brown ranch-house, surrounded by cottonwoods and
set about by wide grain-fields, possessed a charm unsurpassed by the most
stately mansions of New England.

The Vigilantes and Aunt Nan received as genuine a welcome a half hour
later when they drove down the long avenue of cottonwoods to Virginia's
home. It came not only from a tall, bronzed man, who shared his little
daughter's joy, but also from a white-aproned, kind-faced woman in the
doorway, and a quiet, stooped man by Aunt Nan's marigolds.

"I know it's Hannah," cried Priscilla, running to the doorway. "She looks
just as though she knew all about the German measles!"

"And I'm sure this is William," said Mary a little shyly, as she shook
hands with the quiet man by the garden. "It just couldn't be--any one
else!"



CHAPTER III

THE GETTING-ACQUAINTED TRIP


"If--if you'll excuse me, Virginia, I'd--I'd really rather stay at home
with Hannah and your father."

It was Vivian who spoke. She was clad in a new riding-suit, which had been
worn only during a few trembling and never-to-be-forgotten moments of the
day before, when Donald had led the oldest and safest horse on the ranch
to and fro beneath the cottonwoods. Old Siwash would never have thrown
Vivian. Far was it from him to treat a guest of his mistress in that
manner. But in spite of stirrups, saddle-horn, and the reassuring presence
of Donald, Vivian had, in some mysterious way, slipped from the saddle,
and fallen in an ignominious little heap by the wayside.

It had been more ignominious to have Priscilla and Mary, who had
themselves been riding but an hour, come cantering--actually
_cantering_--up with Virginia to see if she were hurt. She almost wished
she had been hurt. If her leg had been broken, or old Siwash had kicked,
or even her face been cut just a little, she might have been regarded not
exactly as a heroine, perhaps, but as a martyr at least. However, nothing
was broken except her spirit; old Siwash had stood stock-still; and her
face had shown no sign of anything save fright and dirt. The whole
situation was quite too much to be borne, and did not need the disdainful
glance which the critical blue eyes of Carver Standish had cast upon her.

The Vigilantes had been lovely as they led their horses and walked to the
house with her; Aunt Nan, who had had her first lesson with Malcolm Keith
that morning, was comforting; Mr. Hunter encouraging; and Donald the
finest boy she had ever known in her life. It had really seemed as though,
with them all to stand by her, she could mount again the next morning and
go on the much-dreamed of getting-acquainted trip to Lone Mountain. But
now the time to go had come, and her courage had fled. She had beckoned
Virginia from the corral where the men were saddling the horses, and
drawn her away to a secluded spot. Virginia did not need Vivian's
confession. Her frightened face was quite enough.

"I--I just can't do it, Virginia!" she finished.

Virginia considered for a long moment. Then her clear gray eyes met
Vivian's frightened blue ones.

"Vivian," she said, "perhaps you'll be angry with me for speaking so
plainly to you, but I've just got to do it. If you don't want the
Vigilantes to be dead ashamed of you, here's your chance this minute! I
believe way down in my heart that things come to us so that we can show
what's really in us--how--how far down we've been putting our roots into
good soil, you know. Now this has come to you! There isn't a thing to be
afraid of except just Fear, which I admit is a monster; but if you let
that control you, you'll spoil your whole life. Jim used to teach me that.
Siwash wouldn't hurt a baby! I rode him when I was four years old. We're
just going to trail up the mountain as slowly as can be, and Don will ride
with you every minute. When there are really things to be afraid of,
people excuse a coward; but when there isn't a thing in this world, they
don't! So if you don't come, Vivian, and show us what you are made of,
you're a _coward inside_, that's all!"

It was hard, blunt doctrine, built on seventeen years of wholesome life in
a land where cowardice has found no room; but at that moment it was just
what Vivian Winters needed. From her frightened heart the fear of Siwash
fled only to give place to a more dreadful fear, the contempt and scorn of
the Vigilantes. Better be thrown by Siwash than despised by Virginia and
Priscilla, Mary and the far-away Dorothy. She had no time to tell Virginia
that she would go after all, and to ask her to try to forget her
cowardice, for the boys called just then that all was ready. But Virginia
understood, for as they hurried toward the corral she held Vivian's hand
closely in her own, and gave it a final, encouraging squeeze, as Vivian
edged a cautious way toward Siwash and the faithful Donald.

After all, it was not so hard. Donald allowed the others to go ahead--the
two pack-horses first with tents and provisions, for they were to camp
for the night, then Malcolm, Aunt Nan and the others. He and Vivian,
riding slowly, brought up the rear. Vivian, determination rising in her
soul, was firmly seated and clutching the saddle-horn. She might be
thrown, but she would never, never fall again! But old Siwash was faithful
to his trust, and Donald was close at hand. Vivian vowed inwardly that she
would always bless Donald. Under his calm assurance, her fear gradually
went away, and in fifteen minutes she was willing to let go her hold upon
the saddle-horn, and to try to follow his instructions. He taught her how
to place her feet in the stirrups, how to clutch with her knees, how to
rise in the saddle for a trot, how to sit back for a canter; until at
length--wonder of wonders!--Vivian, her hair flying in the wind, her eyes
filled with triumph, actually _cantered_ with Donald at her side toward
the others, who to a rider turned in their saddles and cheered her
approach. And pride filled every one's eyes--even the critical ones of
Carver Standish III.

So now that the worst was over, no one enjoyed the trip more than Vivian.
She kept wondering what her timid mother would say could she see her
daughter in the suit which hours of pleading had with difficulty procured,
and on a real Western horse, riding past the grain-fields, up the canyon,
and on into the trail that led up the mountain-side.

Only three of the nine had ever ridden through a canyon or followed a
mountain trail, and those three experienced the keenest delight in
pointing out every object of interest to the others--the blue lupines and
pink cranesbill, which made the occasional open spaces riotous with color,
the forget-me-nots growing in shady places, and the rare orchids, which
they discovered after they had penetrated to the heart of the mountain
forest.

It was beautiful in among the timber. Great spruces and pines towered
above them like masts to the journeying earth. The sunlight fell in
shimmering, golden patches upon the moss-grown and leaf-covered ground. In
the more open places grew buck-brush and the service-berry, Oregon grape
with its holly-shaped leaves, blue lupines, Indian paint-brush and great
mountain ferns. It was very still when they stopped their horses to rest.
Only the wind in the great trees above them, the chatter of a squirrel
remonstrating against this intrusion into his solitude, a strange sad
bird-note farther up the mountain, and the occasional fall of a leaf or
creak of a limb as it rubbed shoulders with its neighbor, broke the
silence. Once in a clearing a deer and her fawn gazed at them with
wondering eyes before leaping through the ferns into the safe shelter of
the timber.

Up--up--up they went. The trail wound in and out around the mountain-side,
and their sure-footed horses followed it, never daunted by fallen trees or
by rocky and precipitous places. More than once every Vigilante save one
held her breath as she was carried up a dangerous, almost obliterated path
to heights beyond. But Virginia's Pedro, who was far-famed as a trailer,
led the way, and his rider called back reassuring words to those behind.

By noon the air was cold. They were near snow, Malcolm said. A few minutes
more and they had reached it--a veritable snow-bank in late July. The
Vigilantes, reënforced by Aunt Nan, challenged the boys to a snow-ball
fight, and they all dismounted for the fray. Then came dinner of Hannah's
sandwiches, and bacon and eggs cooked over a little friendship fire beyond
the snow.

An hour later they reached the mountain-top, and lo! it was spring again.
The ground was covered with early spring flowers--shooting-stars and
spring beauties and bearded-tongues. In the sheltered nooks they found
dog-toothed violets, and more forget-me-nots--both pink and blue.

It was here that the inexperienced New Englanders longed to camp. They
wanted to wake in the morning, they said, and look far across the blue
distances, over the tops of the highest trees, to the mountains beyond,
like Moses gazing into the Promised Land. But they willingly consented to
ride down on the other side to a more sheltered spot and camp by a tiny
mountain lake, when Malcolm, aided by Donald and Virginia, explained that
a snow-storm was not an unlikely occurrence away up there--even in July!

It was strange to sit around the big camp-fire that night after
supper--all alone in a mountain wilderness; strange to rehearse school
incidents and to listen to Malcolm's stories of hunting for elk and
antelope in that very spot; strangest of all to go to sleep on pine boughs
and blankets which the boys had spread in their tents. The weird, lonesome
cry of the coyotes startled more than one sleeping Vigilante that night,
and Vivian nestled closer beneath Aunt Nan's protecting arm. It was not
until the next morning when they started for home that they knew of the
bear, who, smelling the ham and bacon, had wandered into camp, only to be
repulsed by Malcolm and an extra log on the fire.

In that strange, just-before-dawn stillness Virginia awoke to miss
Priscilla from her side. She moved the tent flap, and looked out.
Priscilla stood by the entrance, her eyes raised to the distant
mountains--great shadows beneath a star-strewn sky. She was learning the
old, old secrets of those mountains at night.

"I couldn't help it, Virginia," she whispered, as she crept back a few
moments later. "I've wanted so to see what it was like at night, and now I
know. It's bigger than ever! I don't believe that any one could look at
the mountains and the stars and ever be doubtful about--God
and--and--things like that, do you?"

                   *       *       *       *       *

The next day, perfect as the one before, they went down, down, down the
trail, through the canyon, across the prairie, and home once more.

"Mr. Hunter named it just right," Priscilla said to Dick, who came to take
the horses. "I've never felt so well-acquainted in my life!"



CHAPTER IV

THE BEAR CANYON BEAR


"Gee!" cried Alden Winthrop. "I wish I was out there!"

"So do I!" echoed his brother John.

"I wish I _were_, dear," corrected his mother.

"Well, _were_, then, Mother. There isn't much difference in the way you
say it. I wish I was there anyway!"

His mother sighed, but Alden's thoughts were far from English grammar.
Instead, they were centering upon the contents of a fat letter from his
sister Priscilla, which his father had just read.

"I've got more respect for Priscilla than I ever had in all my life," he
continued. "I never supposed she'd have sand enough to go on a bear hunt.
Now, if she'd just shot the bear herself, it would be----"

"Why, Alden!" interrupted his mother. "Imagine Priscilla doing a thing
like that! You don't suppose, do you, dear," she continued, turning to
Mr. Winthrop, who was reading his daughter's letter for a second time
while he finished his breakfast, "you don't suppose Priscilla is really
handling a gun herself?"

"Sounds like it to me," said Priscilla's father as he turned the pages.
"She says, 'I can knock a bottle all to pieces at thirty yards. Don't you
call that pretty good?'"

"I'd like to know the size of the bottle before replying," commented
John.

"Dear me!" said Mrs. Winthrop anxiously. "I'm willing she should ride
horseback and climb mountains and camp in a perfect wilderness if that's
what Western people term pleasure, but I do wish she wouldn't shoot a gun!
I'm afraid I shan't have a minute's real peace till she gets home. Of
course I know she's in the best of hands, but accidents are so common.
Just yesterday I was reading where----"

"Now, Mother!" remonstrated the boys.

"Don't worry for a moment, Mother," reassured Mr. Winthrop. "She'll come
home safe and sound. I'll trust those good people out there to look after
her." He turned the pages again. "She's certainly having the time of her
life! Makes me wish I were young again myself!"

"That skin will look splendid in the library," said Alden. "Read again
what she says about sending it, Dad."

"Read it all, Dad!" suggested John. "There's plenty of time."

Priscilla's father willingly complied. He evidently shared his sons' pride
in his daughter's achievement.

                                            "'HUNTER RANCH, WYOMING,
                                                      "'July 26, 19--.

  "'Dear Folks at Home:

  "'I am covered with dust and dirt and just dead tired, but I can't
  wash or dress, or even rest until I tell you the most thrilling
  experience of my whole life! I, Priscilla Winthrop of Boston,
  Massachusetts, have helped to trap and kill a bear! I know shivers
  are running down your back as you read this. Imagine then what it
  must have been to live through the _real thing!_ To ride up the
  trail all eagerness and excitement; to visit the empty traps and turn
  away disappointed; to see your horse as you neared the third suddenly
  prick up his ears and rear----'"

"Dear me!" cried Mrs. Winthrop. "I'm sure, John, those horses out there
aren't well-broken!"

Mr. Winthrop nodded reassuringly, and continued:

  "'To hear Dick call back that there must surely be a bear; and, at
  last, to come upon the infuriated monster, dragging his trap about,
  gnashing his teeth, and trying to reach you!'"

"Oh, dear!" moaned poor Mrs. Winthrop.

"Go ahead!" cried the boys.

  "'I trust you are now in the atmosphere to appreciate my story.

  "'I wrote you this morning about the lovely getting-acquainted trip
  to Lone Mountain. Well, I had just come back from walking down to the
  main road and giving my letter to the carrier, who drives in a funny
  little canvas house on wheels, when Dick and William rode up to the
  door and asked if we girls didn't want to ride up into the mountains
  back of Bear Canyon and visit the bear-traps. Mr. Hunter and the
  three boys had gone to Willow Creek, but it's a fifty mile ride over
  there and back, and he thought it was too much for Mary and Vivian
  and me--much as we wanted to go.'"

"Fifty miles on horseback!" murmured Mrs. Winthrop. "I should hope so!"

  "'Virginia had insisted on staying with us, and Aunt Nan (we all call
  her that now) had gone to Mystic Lake with Donald's brother, so we
  four girls were all alone. Virginia said "Yes" on the spot, and Mary
  and I were wild at the prospect. Vivian's eyes got big when Dick said
  "bear-traps," but she wouldn't let us know she was afraid. Really,
  you'd be surprised at what a good sport Vivian's getting to be.

  "'We said we'd be ready in a minute and hurried into our riding
  clothes while Dick and William went to saddle our horses. All the
  time we kept fairly _pelting_ Virginia with questions. _Where were
  the traps? What did they look like? Did she really think we'd get a
  bear?_ She wouldn't tell us much of anything, except that bears were
  not uncommon at all, and that the men liked to get them, because they
  were a nuisance to the cattle. I think we were all seized with
  different feelings as we got ready. Vivian's came out and sat upon
  her face. You just knew she was hoping every bear in the Rockies had
  been safe at home for a week; Mary kept saying the trip up the trail
  would be so beautiful, but something told you she was secretly hoping
  for a greater adventure; and I--well, I couldn't decide between the
  triumph of bringing a real bear home, and the awfulness of seeing one
  caught and killed.

  "'In half an hour we were off. Hannah had given us each some
  sandwiches in a bundle, which we rolled in our slickers and tied on
  our saddles. Dick carried the big gun in a holster, and William a
  coil of rope. Instead of turning off on the Lone Mountain trail we
  went farther up the canyon, past the little school-house where
  Virginia used to go, and on toward where the canyon walls were great
  cliffs instead of foot-hills. It certainly was the _beariest-looking_
  place I have ever seen. You could just imagine hundreds of them
  taking sun-baths on the rocks, surrounded by their devoted families.

  "'By and by we turned into a rocky, precipitous trail, and went
  higher and higher. It was much steeper than on the getting-acquainted
  trip. Sometimes it just seemed as though the horses couldn't make it,
  but they did. My horse is a perfect wonder! He never hesitates at
  anything. His name is Cyclone!'"

"I trust it has nothing to do with his disposition," interrupted Mrs.
Winthrop.

  "'At noon we were in a perfect wilderness of huge trees, great jagged
  rocks, and thickets almost as bad as the one Theseus went through to
  reach Ariadne. William insisted on building a tiny fire to cook
  bacon, so we rustled some dry sticks and made a little one on a flat
  rock. I never in all my life tasted anything so good as that bacon
  and Hannah's sandwiches and some ice-cold water from a little creek
  that was tearing down the mountain-side.

  "'Dick said as we rested for a moment that it would take us fifteen
  minutes to reach the first trap from that spot. It was the most
  likely place of the three to find a bear, he added, and at that Mary,
  Vivian, and I tried our best to look as unconcerned as though
  catching a bear were the most usual thing in all the world. But when
  we had reached the place, after a hard ride through a narrow trail
  bordered by all kinds of prickly things, we found no bear in the
  queer little log-house that held the trap. Neither was there one in
  the trap a mile distant.

  "'When we turned away from the second, bearless and tired, every one
  of us, except perhaps Vivian, felt a sense of defeat. My fears of
  seeing one caught had vanished. I had borne sunburn and scratches and
  lameness and I wanted a bear. So did Mary. She was not content with
  just scenery. Virginia had caught bears before, but she wanted one
  because we did, and William wanted one because Virginia did. William
  never seems to want much for himself some way, but he loves Virginia,
  and I think Virginia loves him next best to Jim. As for Dick--there
  was no mistaking Dick's feeling. He felt as though he had not done
  his duty by us since there had been no bear in the two most likely
  traps.

  "'The question before the assembly now was--Should we or should we
  not visit the third trap? It might be dark, William said, before we
  got out of the canyon, and there wasn't one chance in a hundred of a
  bear anyway. Virginia--really, she is the biggest peach I ever
  knew!--proposed that she ride home with Vivian, and the others of us
  go on with Dick and William, but Vivian would not listen to her.
  There having been no bears in the first two traps was proof enough
  for Vivian that there would be none in the last, and her bravery
  returned. Mary wanted to go on, and I wouldn't have gone home for a
  thousand dollars or a trip abroad! As for Dick, he was already
  half-way up the trail.

  "'This trail was far steeper than either of the others. It led almost
  straight up the mountain-side beneath over-hanging trees, under
  fallen timber, and through every kind of bramble imaginable. But
  there was something exhilarating about even the brambles--something
  that made you glad to hear the saddle crunch and whine and creak, and
  to feel yourself being carried higher and higher. It wasn't all the
  hope of a bear either!

  "'At last we came to a little creek, which was hurling itself down
  over the rocks.

  "'"Moose Creek!" Dick called back. "The trap's one-half a mile
  farther on."

  "'On we went, growing more and more excited every moment. Something
  strange seemed to be in the air. I don't know what it was, but the
  horses must have felt it, too, for just as we had cleared an
  especially thick thicket, my Cyclone began to prick up his ears and
  to sniff the air, and Dick's horse reared. Then, in a moment, the
  others began to be restive. Even old Siwash, who is lame and halt and
  maimed and blind like the parable people at the feast, actually
  jumped, much to Vivian's horror.

  "'I just wish you could have felt the shivers and thrills and quivers
  that ran down our backs when Dick halted the procession and cried,

  "'"There's a bear around all right! The horses smell him! We'll turn
  back and tie, and then go on foot!"

  "'Five minutes more and we were stumbling up the trail--Dick and
  William ahead, Virginia and I next, and Mary and Vivian in the rear.
  I don't know where my heart was, but I know it was unfastened, for I
  distinctly felt it in a dozen different places! Vivian had actually
  forgotten to be frightened, and Mary kept saying over and over again,
  "Just think of it! Just think of it! A bear! Just think of it!" As
  for Virginia, she strode along with her head high, just as she always
  does, and looked as though she were able to cope with any grizzly on
  earth.

  "'We gained the clearing almost as soon as Dick and William,
  and--now, listen, all of you!--there was our bear!!! I'll never
  forget that moment! I don't believe I'll ever in my life experience
  so many different feelings--triumph and pity and fear and admiration,
  all struggling together. The poor thing lay in the hot sun by the
  creek, rods from the little log house which had concealed the trap,
  and one of his forelegs was securely held in that cruel, iron grip. A
  long, strong chain attached to some logs held the trap secure, though
  bark was torn in layers and strips from the trees near by, whose
  trunks the poor, mad, suffering animal had climbed--trap, chain, and
  all. But now--nearly worn out--he lay in the creek, sick at heart and
  ready to die.

  "'As Dick drew the big gun from the holster, and went nearer, the
  bear rose to his feet and growled--a fierce, awful growl that sent
  Vivian trembling to the thicket. All I could think of just then was
  Roland keeping at bay the Saracens at Roncesvalles, or Leonidas
  withstanding the Persians at Thermopylæ. There was something grand in
  the way that big bear faced Dick. I shall always admire him for it as
  long as I live. I rather believe he was glad to die as Leonidas and
  Roland were--secure in the thought that his spirit could never be
  overcome.

  "'William turned his back as Dick raised the big gun, and made ready
  to shoot. Then he said something about seeing to the horses, and
  hurried down the trail. Mary joined Vivian in the thicket, and so did
  I. I couldn't help it. We turned our backs, too, and stopped our ears
  with our fingers. Virginia was the only one who stayed. She stood by
  Dick as he aimed and shot. Afterward she told me she would have felt
  mean to desert a hero whose spirit was just about to be taken away
  from him. She wanted to pay her last respects. But I know it wasn't
  easy, for when we all came tremblingly back a few minutes after Dick
  had shot, her eyes were brimful of tears.

  "'Then William, too, returned, leading Siwash, and together he and
  Dick hoisted the big bear across Siwash's saddle, binding him
  securely with the rope. After the horses had become satisfied that
  there was no occasion for alarm, William led Siwash at the head of a
  triumphal procession, and the rest of us followed, Vivian on
  William's Ginger. Down the trail we went, unconscious of scratches
  and aches and sunburn, now that our aim had been accomplished, and
  our goal realized. The awful feeling of pity which we had felt by the
  creek went away somewhere, and we were but victors holding a
  triumph.

  "'Virginia and I wondered as we rode along together why it is that
  you can feel so full of pity one moment at the thought of killing
  something, and yet so full of triumph the next after you've conquered
  and killed it. We've decided that the triumphant feeling is something
  bequeathed to us by the cave-men like those in _The Story of Ab_ you
  know--an instinct that makes you want to prove yourself master; and
  that the pity is a sign we're all growing better instead of worse.
  Don't you think that's a fairly good explanation? Of course it is
  needless to say that Virginia thought it out!

  "'Hannah's calling me to supper, and I must hurry. Mr. Hunter and the
  boys had just reached home from Willow Creek as we rode down the
  lane. I wish you could have seen Jack and Carver when they saw the
  bear. They were wild, and hailed us as though we were Augustus
  entering Rome! Best of all, Mr. Hunter says he is going to send the
  skin to you, Dad--it's all black and curly--for the library floor.
  Isn't it splendid of him?

  "'I simply must run and wash, and rustle a clean middy somewhere.

  "'Loads of love,

                                                          "'PRISCILLA.

  "'P. S.--Mother, dear, I guess I'll have to have still another
  Thought Book. I never in my life had so many thoughts. They come
  crowding in--one on top of the other--but many of them are the kind
  you can't very well express.

                                                            "'P. A. W.

  "'P. P. S.--I can shoot a bottle all to pieces at thirty yards. Don't
  you call that pretty good?

                                                          "'P. A. W.'"

"Rustle?" soliloquized Mrs. Winthrop, as Priscilla's father folded the
letter. "I've never heard that word before in such a connection, and
she's used it twice!"

"Well," announced Alden Winthrop decidedly, "I've never had much use for
Thought Books, but I believe I could write down a thought or two myself if
I'd trapped a Rocky Mountain bear!"



CHAPTER V

JEAN MACDONALD--HOMESTEADER


South of Elk Creek Valley the foot-hills were less ambitious than those
east and north. It was easy to climb their sloping, well-trailed sides on
horseback or even afoot, and the view across the wide mesa, blue with
sagebrush to the distant mountains blue with August haze, was quite reward
enough.

Here was real Western country, almost unhampered by civilization, almost
unbroken by that certain sign of progress, the barbed-wire fence. This was
in miniature what the pioneers must have gazed upon with weary,
dream-filled eyes. Virginia and Donald, who often climbed the hills
together for a wild gallop through the unfenced sagebrush, liked always to
imagine how those sturdy folk of half a century ago urged their tired oxen
up other slopes than these; how they halted on the brow of the foot-hills
to rest the patient animals and to fan their hot, dusty faces with their
broad-brimmed hats; and how their eager eyes, sweeping over miles of
ragged prairie land to the mountains, awful with mystery, saw this great
country cleared of sagebrush, intersected with ditches, reclad with
homes.

Such had been the history of most of the land above and beyond Elk Creek
Valley, and Donald and Virginia were loath to see this one unbroken mesa
go. They wanted it as a hunting-ground for prairie chickens and pheasant
in the fall, and as a wide, free, unhindered race-course for Pedro and
MacDuff. Pedro and MacDuff wanted it, too. They liked to gallop, neck and
neck, joyous in the sense of freedom, and in the knowledge that they were
giving happiness to their respective riders. For years Donald and Virginia
had loved the mesa. They loved it in the spring when the bare patches
among the sagebrush grew green and gave birth to hardy spring
flowers--buttercups and shooting-stars and spring beauties; they loved it
in the long blue days of August and in the shorter golden ones of October;
and sometimes they thought they loved it best of all in winter when it
lay, silent and very, very wise, beneath the snow.

But it was to be just theirs no longer. The slow, steady tide of oncoming
progress had refused to let it alone. In the spring while Virginia was
still at St. Helen's, Donald, home for the Easter recess, had written her
of two homesteaders' cabins on the mesa toward the southeast, of fences
being built, and of sagebrush rooted up and burned.

It was even less theirs on this August morning, for the cabin of another
homesteader had risen as though by magic in the southwest corner; ten
acres of freshly-plowed land were being warmed by the sun and made ready
for September wheat; and rods of stout barbed-wire tacked to strong,
well-made fence-poles were guarding the future wheat against all
intruders. The cabin, superior in plan and workmanship to that of the
average homesteader, faced the west. It was built of new spruce logs, with
well-filled chinks, and boasted two large windows and a porch, in addition
to its necessary door. Moreover, an outside stone chimney betokened a
fire-place--an untold luxury to a homesteader. A second wire fence, set
at some three rods from the cabin, inclosed it on all sides, and protected
a small vegetable garden and a few fruit trees, which the owner had
already planted.

It was a good quarter section upon which this ambitious homesteader had
filed. On the south the mesa mounted into the higher hills, and this claim
included timber; the land already plowed showed the soil to be black and
fertile; and a creek, tumbling from the mountains and hurrying by just
back of the cabin, promised plenty of water, even in a thirsty season.
With a substantial new cabin, three cows and a horse, some hens and two
collie dogs, a crop nearly in, fruit trees thriving and a garden growing
like wild-fire--what more could one desire? Then add to riches already
possessed, the surety of a barn and corral in September, and the
probability of twelve pure-bred Shropshire sheep, and what homesteader
would not sing for joy?

That was precisely what Jean MacDonald was doing this sunny August
morning; for it was a girl--a strong, robust girl of twenty-one--who had
taken up the southwestern claim on Virginia's and Donald's mesa. She was
bustling about her little cabin, setting things to rights, and singing for
joy. Her voice, clear, strong, and sweet, rang out in one good old Scotch
song after another--"Robin Adair," "Loch Lomond," and "Up with the Bonnets
of Bonnie Dundee." Sometimes she paused in her sweeping and dusting and
hurried to the porch to look away across the mesa toward the north, and to
speak to Robert Bruce, her horse, who, saddled and bridled, awaited her
coming outside the gate.

"Not yet, Bobby," she called, "not yet! There's no sign of them at all, so
be patient!"

Robert Bruce was quite willing to be patient. There was nourishment in
plenty between the sagebrush clumps, and he wandered at will, his dragging
reins giving sure proof that he would not stray too far.

Meanwhile, his mistress continued her singing and her work. She proudly
dusted her new furniture in the room which served as chamber and parlor,
rearranged her few books in their wall bookcase, swept up the ashes of her
last evening's fire, and brought wood to lay another. Then she turned her
attention to the room which was kitchen and dining-room in one. From a
neat chest of drawers she drew her best and only white table-cloth and
spread it on the table. The table was a little rickety in one leg, but
several folds of newspaper acted as a splendid prop, and quite removed the
difficulty. Her supply of china and silver was scarce, but it would do
with washing between courses. Four chairs were all she had, but they were
quite enough as her guests numbered four. An empty soap-box concealed
beneath the table-cloth, and drawn out only when necessary, would do for
her.

In fifteen minutes everything was in readiness, even to five early
nasturtiums in a tumbler on the dining-table. They had made a special
effort to open that morning, and the homesteader was grateful. She paused
on her way to the creek-refrigerator to look in the sitting-room mirror.
These guests were her very first, and she wanted to appear at her best.
Yes, her khaki blouse and skirt were clean and her hair fairly tidy. Her
new red tie, she told herself, was quite decidedly jaunty. She blessed
that tie, for had it not been for Donald Keith's kindness in bringing the
package to her from the town post-office four days ago, she would neither
have known about the girls, nor have had the opportunity of inviting them
to come to see her. Of course, they were from the East--all except
Virginia Hunter, of whom she had heard so much, and she was a Wyoming
homesteader; but, she told herself, that need make no difference. In fact,
it made everything much more interesting, for she could learn many things
from them, and perhaps--perhaps, they might learn a little bit from her.

Still singing, she hurried to the end of the porch, and looked toward the
north. Four specks were distinctly visible on the edge of the mesa. Even
as she looked they became larger. They were horses coming toward her
cabin, and they bore her guests. She whistled loudly to Robert Bruce, who
obediently ceased his browsing and came toward her. A quick run to the
creek-refrigerator to see that her butter and cream were safe in the
clear, cold water, and then back to Robert; a leap into the saddle and she
was off to meet her guests.

Introductions are stilted, unlovely things between horseback riders on a
sagebrush-covered mesa under a blue August sky. There were none this
morning. Jean MacDonald reined in the restive Robert Bruce as she drew
near her guests, and unceremoniously greeted them all.

"I know every one of you," she said brightly, her dark blue eyes searching
their faces--"Mary Williams and Priscilla Winthrop and Vivian Winters--all
of you. And I've known you even longer, Virginia. Donald Keith told me all
about you a month ago when they helped break my land. I'm so glad you're
coming to spend the day with me. You're the very first guests I've ever
had on my homestead!"

They were glad, too, they told her, liking her at once, and feeling
perfectly at ease. She rode beside Virginia, talking of Donald, the other
Keiths who had been so good to her, and her neighbors in the southeast
corner of the mesa. Virginia, too, talked freely, asking questions,
telling of their recent bear hunt, joining in Jean's admiration of the
Keiths. To the three New Englanders, who rode a little behind them, this
new comradeship, though a little startling to their inherent
conservatism, was interesting in the extreme. It seemed to be born of a
land too big for ceremonies, too frank and open for formalities; and soon
they found themselves urging their horses up to Pedro and Robert Bruce, so
that they too might enter the widening circle of fellowship.

All four Vigilantes found themselves studying the face of this girl who so
often turned toward one and another with a question or a reply. It was a
face too tanned and too large-featured to be beautiful or even pretty; but
the lines about the nose and mouth were firm and strong, the eyes were
wide-open and fearless, and the head was set most independently upon a
pair of broad, straight shoulders. There was something about the girl like
the mesa--fearless, big, wholesome. It showed itself in the way she
managed her horse, in her hearty manner of laughing with her head thrown
back, and in the calm, sure, straightforward expression of her dark blue
eyes.

"She'd make the finest kind of a friend, I'm sure of that," said Mary to
herself, and then to Priscilla and Vivian, as they dropped behind for a
moment just before reaching the little cabin.

"Yes," agreed Priscilla, "she surely would. I wonder what there is about
her that makes a person feel small. I've been feeling positively
microscopic ever since she rode up to us."

"I'm glad you have," sighed Vivian, thankful that another shared her
sensation. "So have I. I feel about as big as a field-mouse, and I think I
know why. You just know a girl like her would never fall off a horse, or
run away from a gun, or--do anything babyish like that. And just imagine
daring to live all alone in a little cabin like this! I'd die! I know I
should!"

But the small feeling was forgotten in the good time which followed.
Robert Bruce, unspeakably glad of company, escorted his four guests to
choice bits of grass in among the sagebrush; the two collies barked in
welcome; and the girls, loaded with saddles and bridles, went in through
the gate toward the cabin. Jean MacDonald, proud and happy, led the way
into the house and the interested Vigilantes followed. They had never
supposed a log house could be so attractive within; but the neat dark
furniture, the couch with its brown cover, the stone fire-place, and the
books and pictures made the little cabin one of the most homelike places
they had ever seen. A mountain sheep looked down upon them from above the
fire-place. Jean had shot him the winter before in Montana, she told them.
In the corner by the cot stood her guns--one large, double-barreled
Winchester, a shot-gun, and a small rifle. Above them on the logs rested
her fishing-rods.

It was all so new and interesting to three pair of fascinated eyes. They
asked question after question and explored every nook and corner of the
cabin and its surroundings--the kitchen with its shining stove, singing
tea-kettle, and white-covered table, the pantry, the root-cellar and
chicken-house, and last of all the creek-refrigerator.

"It's all right in the daytime," announced Vivian, as they sat on the
porch before beginning to get dinner, "but I don't see how you stand it
all alone at night." She paused. "I'd die!" she finished simply.

Jean MacDonald did not laugh, though she felt like it at first, for she
saw that Vivian was very much in earnest.

"I think I know how you feel, Vivian," she said kindly. "I know you would
be very lonely, because, you see, you've always lived in a city or at
school where there have been folks all about you. But, you see, it's
different with me. I was born on a homestead in Montana, and I'm used to
endless tracts of land without neighbors. I guess I've made better friends
with the mountains than you've been able to yet, and with the silence
which I know some people fear. You see, I've never been afraid in all my
life, so I don't mind the loneliness."

Vivian was staring at her, incredulous.

"Never--been--afraid--of--anything?" she repeated questioningly.
"Honestly, haven't you--all your life?"

Jean MacDonald considered for a moment.

"No," she said, "honestly, I don't believe I ever have. I was brought up
never to fear the dark or the silence or being alone or--anything like
that. Those are the most awful things, I guess, to persons who are afraid.
And as for wild animals or people who would do harm (and there aren't
many of those in the world) why, you see"--she raised her head and her
eyes flashed--"you see, I can take care of myself! I'm thankful," she
added, "that I'm not afraid of things. I think fear must be a terrible
thing!"

Vivian's blue eyes filled with sudden tears.

"It is," she said. "It's the most dreadful monster in the whole wide
world!"

Jean MacDonald placed a firm, brown hand on Vivian's shoulder as they all
went in together to prepare dinner, and Vivian felt comradeship and
understanding in that friendly hand. Perhaps, some day, she said to
herself, she would be brave also; even before she went East, she might
become a more worthy Vigilante. At all events she would begin once more.
Perhaps, after all, she concluded, as she ran to the creek-refrigerator
after the butter and cream--perhaps after all, life was just a series of
beginnings--again--each one a wee bit farther on!

Dinner was the jolliest meal imaginable. They ate and laughed--laughed and
ate. Everything was delicious--the trout caught in the creek and fried to
a rich brown, the baked potatoes, the fresh biscuits, the lettuce and
radishes from the garden, and the custard pudding. Jean MacDonald with all
her other accomplishments was a famous cook. That was self-evident.

After dinner they went out upon the porch, gazed across the mesa bluer
than ever in the afternoon haze, and talked. Jean longed to know about
school, and they told her of St. Helen's, of Miss King, and Miss Wallace,
of the dear funny Blackmores, and of poor tactless Miss Green. Tears ran
down Jean's face as Virginia told of Katrina Van Rensaelar and the deluge
she never received, and of how Priscilla had given the German measles to
the boys at the Gordon School.

Then Mary begged to know something about homesteading, and Jean told of
how she had come to Wyoming. Her far-off neighbors in the other corner of
the mesa had been friends in Montana, she said, and it was they who had
encouraged her to come and take up an opposite claim. She explained how
the land would become her own after she had lived upon it seven months
each year for three years; how each year she must plow and fence so many
acres; and how at the end of that time she could sell the land at a good
price, or else stay and improve it further.

"And which will you do?" asked the interested Mary while the others
listened. "Will you stay or go away after it is yours?"

She would go away for a while, she told them, and rent her land. Her
neighbors yonder would be glad to hire it. She was going to college. Her
eyes glowed with enthusiasm as she dreamed her dream for them. Since her
graduation from High School she had taught in country schools until she
had saved money enough to pay for her improvements on the homestead.
Everything was paid for--the cabin (she had made most of the furniture
herself), the fencing, the plowing, her stock--everything; and there was
money enough left for fall planting, a new barn, and some sheep, and the
autumn expenses. In December, perhaps, she would leave and earn some more
money until it was time to come back again. Then in another August she
would have a crop from her winter wheat, and another in September from
the spring planting. She could hardly wait for the time to come when she
should really have money from a crop of her own raising.

After the three years were over, and the land was hers, if she could
afford it, she was going to college. If she did not have the money then,
why she would work until she did. She would study agriculture at college,
learn the best methods of improving the land, and then come back to carry
them out. She would build a new house in place of the cabin, buy some more
land, and make her ranch one of the best in all Wyoming!

The Vigilantes were in a new world as they listened--a world where the
only capital necessary was ambition, enthusiasm, vigor! Something told
them that this homesteading girl was richer in many things than they
themselves; that the treasures of hard work were quite as precious as
those of wealth; and that Jean MacDonald was finding for herself through
her own untiring labor the things most worth-while.

They were silent an hour later as they left their new friend on the edge
of the mesa, and rode down the hills toward Elk Creek Valley.

"I think it's been about the happiest day I've ever had in my life," she
told them, as she shook hands all around and said good-by. "I've loads of
things to think about and laugh about--until you come again. Give Siwash a
looser rein, Vivian. He won't stumble. Good-by!"

They looked back as they reached the Valley level to see Jean MacDonald
and Robert Bruce silhouetted against the sky-line, and to wave them a last
good-by.

"It's like your 'Power of the West' picture in our room at school,
Virginia," Priscilla almost whispered--"the man on horseback with the
sunset and the mountains behind him. Just look! There! Now she's turned
Robert, and now they're out of sight!"

That night they all sat on the porch together and watched the sunset. A
flaming pageant of color traced and retraced its course across the sky.

"I never saw such color," cried Aunt Nan. "Sometimes you think it's
saffron, and then you know it's amber, and then you're sure it's real
gold, and--it's changed again! See, Virginia!"

"I think I know what it's like," said Virginia. "Mother and I discovered
it years ago when I was a little girl. Jim took us camping once when
Father was away, and at night we had a big fire and sat and watched it.
The sunset was gorgeous like this, I remember, and just as we were
watching it and the fire, Mother discovered what the clouds were like.
They're like the smoke as the flames underneath push it through the green
boughs! It's just that wonderful color in the sky now. The next time we
camp you'll see, Aunt Nan. It always makes me think of the flame-colored
veils which the Roman girls used to wear on their wedding-days. Mother
told me about them that very night."

"Just think how beautiful it must be from Jean's cabin," said Priscilla.
"And she can see a larger sweep of sky and mountains because she's up
higher than we. I know she's watching it all alone, and maybe dreaming
about college."

"I'll never forget her to-day," Mary said earnestly. "I think she's
wonderful! And, Aunt Nan, you just know from her eyes that she's gazed on
big stretches of country all her life. You must go with us next time to
see her."

"It's more than that, Mary." The voice came from the corner of the porch
where Vivian sat apart from the others. "It's more than that. You don't
just know she's always looked at big things. You know she's had them
inside of her all her life long!"



CHAPTER VI

MISS GREEN AGAIN


"I know I shouldn't worry," said Mary to Aunt Nan, "but I just can't help
thinking of Anne and the Twins. Of course, as far as Jean and Jess are
concerned, they won't mind--they'll think it the greatest adventure
imaginable; but Anne will be terrified, and so will Mrs. Hill. I'm so glad
Mother and I went last summer."

"What does the paper say?" asked Aunt Nan.

They were sitting on the porch awaiting the arrival of Priscilla,
Virginia, and Vivian, who had walked to the road for the mail. Dick,
coming on horseback, had brought the heavier papers and packages, and Mary
was absorbed in the latest reports of the newly declared war.

"Oh, it's mostly about mobilizing and the German advance, but there are
scores of incidents about Americans unable to get money or return
passages, or anything; and here is something about their being made to
walk across the border into Switzerland. Dear me! I wonder just where Anne
is! In Germany somewhere, I know."

"Don't worry, dear," reassured Aunt Nan. "There may be disagreeable
things, but I'm sure our people won't be in any real trouble or danger.
Where are those girls anyway? They must have sat down to read their own
letters, and forgotten all about us."

"Here they come," said Mary, looking down the cottonwood-bordered lane.
"They're reading something all together, and laughing. Maybe it's a letter
from the Twins or Anne."

It proved to be a veritable volume from the Blackmore twins, Jean being
the real author, but Jess having lent her personality without stint to the
incident related.

"It's a perfect scream," cried Priscilla, half-choked with laughter as she
came up the steps. "Mary, what do you think? They've seen--no, I won't
tell, Virginia, but read it quick!"

"When is it dated?" asked Mary.

"July 20th," Virginia told her. "The very day you people came. You see,
'twas too early then for any trouble. Would you rather wait to hear it,
Aunt Nan, until you've read your mail?"

Aunt Nan's mail was unimportant, she said, compared to a letter from the
interesting Blackmore twins.

"It's a regular book," announced Virginia, as she settled herself against
a post, and turned the pages. "Jean probably didn't do much sight-seeing
on the afternoon she wrote this.

                                  "'Safe at last in Berlin, Germany,
                                                      "'July 20, 19--.

  "'DEAR VIRGINIA AND EVERYBODY ELSE:

  "'It is only through Anne's economy and Jess' impudence and my genius
  at conducting a party that we are here and writing to you. Had each
  of us lacked the quality named above, we should to-day doubtless be
  languishing within the walls of a German poor-house. But instead we
  are in a lovely pension--all together and unspeakably happy.

  "'The story in itself is so thrilling that I hate to give you the
  _necessary setting_, as Miss Wallace would say, but I must. The first
  step is to explain how we all happen to be together. It was this way:
  Father and Jess and I _did_ stay in England for a week after all. You
  see, Jess had faithfully promised every girl in English History that
  she would see Lady Jane Grey's name where she had cut it herself in
  the Tower; and I had given my oath to record the impressions made
  upon me by the sight of Kenilworth by moonlight. Whether Dad would
  have considered those vows worthy or not, we do not know, had it not
  been that he wanted to go to the Bodleian Library at Oxford to see
  some musty old manuscript or other. So on our way from Liverpool to
  Oxford we stopped at Kenilworth, and I _did_ see it at moonlight. I
  shall give my impressions at a later date. The search for another old
  manuscript gave Jess her chance at the Tower and "JANE," and it was
  there in the little chapel that we met Anne and Mrs. Hill.

  "'They had planned the most wonderful week down in Surrey in a tiny
  English village called Shere, which Anne said was, according to the
  guide-books, "the perfect realization of an artist's dream." She
  begged us to go along with them, and poor Mrs. Hill, I suppose, felt
  obliged to invite us also, though what she may have said to Anne in
  private I do not yet know. We became imbued with desire to see the
  artist's dream realized and to be with Anne, so with Jess to hurry
  Mrs. Hill and me to drag Anne, we tore through Billingsgate
  fish-market and up King William Street to the Bank, where we were to
  meet Father.

  "'After the poor man had recovered from his astonishment, he gave his
  consent--namely, that we should go to Surrey with Anne and Mrs. Hill
  _(if they really wanted us)_ then across the channel to Rotterdam, up
  the Rhine and on to Berlin, where he would meet us. Mrs. Hill really
  seemed glad to have us go with them and, to be very frank, I think
  the Rev. Dr. Blackmore was glad to get rid of us. You see, Jess and I
  simply can't get enthusiastic over the Middle Ages and old
  manuscripts, and I think it worries Dad.

  "'Well, our learned father went on to Berlin, and his imbecile
  offspring to Surrey. Shere was lovely! _My_ dream was realized at
  least. I'll never forget the little gardens filled with roses and
  Canterbury bells, and the grain-fields dotted with poppies, and the
  woods filled with holly and tall pink foxgloves, and the beeches all
  silvery and green. We rode bicycles all over Surrey, and ate roast
  beef and Yorkshire pudding and drank ginger beer at quaint little
  English inns. You'll hear all about it next year in English class,
  for I've themes enough for everybody--at least material for them.

  "'Then we went back to London, and had all sorts of adventures there,
  from our cab-horse falling flat in Piccadilly Circus to Jess being
  arrested at the House of Commons gate; but if Mrs. Hill ever repented
  of her invitation she didn't let us know, and we were never happier
  in our lives.

  "'We started for Rotterdam the 14th of July, crossed the Channel with
  flying colors since we went to bed immediately upon going aboard, and
  started up the Rhine the next day on a boat appropriately named the
  _Siegfried_. The first day we went through flat Holland country, but
  on the next we had reached the hills, all walled-up and covered with
  vineyards. That evening we arrived at Cologne, where we were to stay
  a day to see the Cathedral, and went to our hotel. And here the great
  adventure begins!

  "'No sooner had we arrived at the hotel and asked for mail, than the
  clerk handed Mrs. Hill a telegram. It was from her music-teacher in
  Berlin, and asked her to be in Berlin the next day without fail for a
  lesson. What was she to do? She said she just couldn't miss the
  lesson, and yet she just couldn't bear to take us girls before we had
  seen the Cathedral or the castles on the Rhine.

  "'It didn't take Jess and Anne and me long to decide. She must go on,
  of course, we told her, and we would see the Cathedral, go up the
  rest of the Rhine quite by ourselves, and on by train from Mayence to
  Berlin. We could see she was hesitating, probably feeling that Anne
  might be trusted, but not being exactly sure of those Blackmore
  twins.

  "'"The language?" she said. "Your German? You may not find English
  spoken everywhere, you know."

  "'Anne hastened to remark that I had studied German for three years,
  and carried off honors. Her imagination gave birth to the honors,
  whereupon I, wishing above all else to play my part, cleared my
  throat, thought a moment, and requested the clerk to bring me a glass
  of water, which he did with a grin.

  "'Whether my visible success reassured Mrs. Hill or not, I do not
  know, but anyhow she departed that night for Berlin, leaving us
  loaded with endless instructions, extra money, and a tiny red German
  dictionary. I never felt so officious in my life as when I called a
  cab and ushered Jess and Anne into it after the train had pulled out.
  I can see now why it is that Thomas Cook and Son have been so
  eminently successful.

  "'The next day we spent browsing around in the Cathedral. To describe
  it would be out of place in this letter, which deals primarily with
  adventure. I might say, however, that Jess bought all of you silver
  pendants of the Three Wise Men of Cologne, when she ought to have
  saved her money. That evening we took the Rhine-boat--the _Parsifal_
  this time--and when we awoke in the morning we were well among the
  castles. It was a marvelous day, and I'll have loads to tell you
  about it in the fall.

  "'We reached Mayence in the evening in a pouring rain, and took a
  cab, driven by a funny, red-faced driver, to a hotel where English
  was spoken, for however Mrs. Hill may have been impressed by my
  honors in German she had taken care to recommend English hotels. Our
  train for Berlin was to leave at nine A.M., so we went to bed early,
  feeling too self-resourceful for words.

  "'Do you remember how, with cheers for St. Helen's and groans for
  Athens, we bequeathed Greenie to the Ancient World last winter? Who
  at that joyous moment would have thought that she would again and so
  soon enter our lives? Imagine then, if you can, the chill of horror
  which shook us all when upon alighting at the Mayence station the
  next morning, ready to take our train for Berlin, we
  beheld--_unmistakably beheld_--our beloved Greenie by the
  drinking-fountain!!! Her back was toward us, and all the proofs we
  had at that moment were the hang of her familiar gray suit, and our
  old friend, that absurd chicken feather, awry upon her little, black,
  St. Helen's hat. We stood breathless and surveyed her.

  "'"It is!" said Jess. "Let's run!"

  "'"It's not!" said Anne. "She's in Athens. Besides, she's too
  antiseptic to drink at a fountain!"

  "'"I believe it is," said I. "It's just as well to look for
  shelter!"

  "'"Of course, it is," said Jess. "That chicken-feather----"

  "'And just then she looked up! There was no longer any question as to
  identity. In spite of drinking-fountains and Athens, it was Greenie!
  She looked quite the same as ever, except for the absence of the gray
  shawl, and no visible effects of curl-papers.

  "'Whether it was Providence, Greenie's near-sightedness or our own
  speed that saved us, I don't know; but I do know we took her
  bearings and all ran in opposite directions. She was going through
  the door marked _South_. Anne accordingly ran north, Jess east, and I
  west.

  "'"Meet in five minutes at the fountain," I commanded hoarsely as we
  separated.

  "'That was the last we saw of Greenie's visible form. How she
  happened to be in Mayence we knew not. Jess insisted she never
  reached Athens at all, but was discovered en route at Mayence, placed
  in the Museum there, and was simply out on parole for exercise! Be
  that as it may, the excitement of seeing her, and the flight which
  followed, proved most disastrous to us all, for when we met five
  minutes later at the fountain, the Blackmore purse, carried by Jess,
  was gone!

  "'Anne and I stood and glared at my poor twin just as though dropping
  a purse were a disgrace which could never come to us even when
  escaping from Miss Green. I informed her of a fact which she has
  known for eighteen years--namely, that twenty dollars, the amount in
  the purse, might be a trifle to some, but was colossal in the eyes
  of a minister's family. Anne was less scathing, but by no means
  charitable. Poor Jess, on the verge of tears, suggested that instead
  of scolding her we'd better look for the purse, which we proceeded to
  do without success.

  "'Thereupon Anne counted her money, my honors in German of course
  being a constant help. A twenty mark piece--five dollars; a ten mark
  piece--two dollars and a half; and some change amounting to four
  marks or another dollar. Eight dollars and fifty cents in all, and
  three persons, who had had no breakfast, must be transported to
  Berlin!

  "'"It's impossible!" said Anne.

  "'"It's got to be done!" said I.

  "'"If I have to beg on the streets, it _shall_ be done!" cried Jess,
  so loudly that every one in the station looked in our direction.

  "'"How much are the tickets?" asked Anne. "Mother said to go
  second-class in Germany."

  "'"I'll see," said I officiously, and started toward a blue-capped
  official in a cage.

  "'"You'd best hurry," cried Anne. "The train goes in twenty
  minutes."

  "'I smiled upon the somber man in the cage and asked in my best and
  clearest English how much the tickets were. A blank stare was his
  only answer. He understood no English, and to save my life I could
  think of no German. I stammered and stammered but with no success,
  and in a few seconds a fat German lady with six children and a dog
  had unceremoniously pushed me out of the way. I tried another
  official and another with the same result. A helpless feeling seized
  me. I looked at the clock. Five minutes out of the twenty gone! I ran
  back frantically to Jess and Anne, snatched the little red
  dictionary, and was off again in search of still another official.
  This time I was understood, bad as was my German, but _I_ couldn't
  understand, so things were as hopeless as ever.

  "'Ten minutes before train time I returned desperate to my twin and
  Anne, and confessed that honors in German were of no assistance
  whatsoever. We gazed at one another blankly Money gone--hope
  gone--what should we do? At that moment Jess darted away. Our first
  thought was that she had spied Miss Green, and was leaving us to our
  fate for revenge; but a moment later we saw that she had seized upon
  a tall man, who had been quietly crossing the platform. Her impudence
  was appalling! She grabbed the man by the arm without a word of
  explanation, and literally dragged him toward us. I don't think she
  had spoken to him at all until she reached Anne and me.

  "'"Here," she said, pointing a finger of scorn at me, "here is my
  sister who is supposed to know German and doesn't. She'll tell you
  how you can help us out."

  "'The man, who wore a Thomas Cook and Son hat, was very polite after
  he had recovered from his surprise. I explained the difficulty we
  were in as quickly as possible, and he, in turn, said that
  second-class tickets to Berlin cost in the neighborhood of four
  dollars, that the train left in seven minutes, and that if we would
  give him the money he would gladly make the purchase.

  "'"Four dollars!" gasped Anne. "Apiece, you mean, or together?"

  "'"Apiece," said the man.

  "'"Then we can't go," said Anne. "I knew it all the time." And she
  dropped in a limp little heap on the bench near by just as though she
  never could get up.

  "'"Why, what's the matter?" asked the man. "Out of money?"

  "'Then Jess, who was really to blame, felt called upon to explain.

  "'"Yes, sir, we are," she said, "all but eight dollars and fifty
  cents. You see, we experienced a severe shock in seeing G---- Miss
  Green, an old teacher of ours, by the drinking-fountain, when we
  thought she was in Athens. We didn't feel as though we could speak to
  her until--until we had washed and brushed up a little, and so
  we--well, we ran, and somehow I lost our family purse."

  "'"I see," said the man.

  "'He seemed very interested all of a sudden, and said we needn't
  worry at all if we had eight dollars and a half. There was another
  train leaving an hour later, he said--a train which carried
  third-class carriages. We would be quite safe in traveling that way,
  and he would personally see us on board, if we wished. At that Anne
  and her spirits arose.

  "'"Miss Green," he repeated. "You say she was your teacher?"

  "'"Yes," said I wonderingly. "She most certainly was."

  "'"Harriet, her given name?" asked the man.

  "'"Yes!" cried Jess and Anne and I all together. "You don't know her,
  do you?"

  "'"An angular person in a gray suit?" he continued. "Wears spectacles
  and----"

  "'"Crimps," interrupted Jess. "Yes, she's the one, though she hasn't
  any this morning. You see, at school she always was a little--well,
  formidable, and we----"

  "'"I see," said the man again. "Well, since I know she's around here,
  I may as well wait. I told her to be at our office just outside the
  station at ten o'clock, and it's nearly that now. You see," he
  explained, "she's been in Athens for six months, and she's very
  anxious to conduct a small party back there--lecture on the ancient
  civilization and all that sort of thing, you know. Perhaps, since she
  was your teacher, you'll be able to tell me how she'd do. She hasn't
  had time to get recommendations for just this sort of work, you
  see."

  "'"How--how long would she be gone?" ventured Jess.

  "'"Well," explained the Thomas Cook man, "if she did well, we'd
  probably keep her on the force. We're always looking for folks like
  that--to take parties--especially to Athens or Egypt. They're rare!
  This might be a life job."

  "'"I'd be willing to recommend her!" said Jess, a little too
  promptly, I thought.

  "'"I think," said Anne, "it depends a good deal on the party she's
  going to take."

  "'"It certainly does," I agreed.

  "'"Well," said the man again, "it's an easy party. There's a
  professor who's nearly eighty, and who's wanted all his life to go to
  Athens; and a minister who's trying to discover the exact spot where
  Paul preached to the Athenians; and a couple of teachers who are
  something like Miss Green, I think--about that type, you know.
  They're terribly interested in the temples on the Acropolis."

  "'"Miss Green then is certainly the woman for you, sir," I announced,
  feeling like an Employment Bureau. "She's steeped in the Ancient
  World! She dotes on Rameses and the Pharaohs and the Tarquins and
  Solon; and she knows more about every one of them than she knows
  about--us, for instance."

  "'"I see," said the man.

  "'"The only reason we hesitated for a moment," added Anne, "was
  because we thought the party might be composed of young people, and,
  you see, Miss Green has never specialized to any great extent
  in--in--young life!"

  "'"I understand perfectly," said our benefactor. "I guess I'll run
  along, young ladies. She might be in my office. Get your tickets from
  the man in the red cap at the largest window over there. He speaks
  English. Your train will reach Berlin at seven. It's on track four.
  Don't thank me at all. I'm indebted to you. Won't you walk to the
  office and see Miss Green? She'd be delighted, I'm sure!"

  "'Anne answered for us. "No, thank you," she said. "I'm afraid we
  can't. We haven't had breakfast yet, and we must telegraph my mother.
  She'll expect us earlier. Yes, thank you, I'm sure we can manage
  quite well alone. Give Miss Green our best regards. I'm sure we hope
  she'll be successful."

  "'He shook hands all around.

  "'"You really think," asked Jess, a little worried in tone, I
  thought, "you really think it's likely to be a job for life?"

  "'"Yes," said the man, "I do. I think she's the very woman I've been
  looking for."

  "'Then he went. We stood looking at one another, not knowing what to
  say. It had all been too unexpected."

  "'"Well," said Jess at last, "I don't know but that a job for life is
  cheap at twenty dollars. And, you know, she really expected to
  return to St. Helen's year after next."

  "'We had just time to eat our belated breakfast, telegraph, buy our
  tickets, and catch the ten o'clock train, which carried us to Berlin
  without incident, other than embarrassments arising from my total
  lack of German. We didn't mind third class at all. It's a lot more
  human. Mrs. Hill and Dad met us, and Dad forgot all about the twenty
  dollars when we told him about Greenie.

  "'I've given up seeing the Emperor's stables to tell you all of this,
  and I hope you appreciate it. Jess and Anne send loads of love to all
  of you, and so do I. I can't believe Wyoming is any better than
  Germany!

                                                             "'Jean.'"

"I can't help wondering, Virginia," said Priscilla, after they had all
laughed again over Jean's letter, "I can't help wondering whether Greenie
will consider _this_ vocation thrust upon her!"

"That's just what I was wondering, too," returned Virginia.



CHAPTER VII

THE VIGILANTES HOMESTEAD


"John, do you really think it's safe?"

It was Aunt Nan who asked the question. Mr. Hunter laughed.

"Safe, Nan? They couldn't be safer. There's nothing in the wide world to
hurt them out there on the mesa. They're safer there, in my opinion, than
any place I know, and if they want to know what homesteading is like, why
let them homestead for a night! It won't hurt them a bit. If they go back
to school with a few of Jean MacDonald's ideas, they'll be very
fortunate."

"It seems as though I ought to go," said Aunt Nan, "and still I don't know
that my being there would do any good."

"Not a bit," returned Virginia's father. "Roughing it at seventeen and
thirty are two entirely different experiences. Stay at home and be
civilized, but let them go and don't worry for a moment. They'll show up
to-morrow safe and sound with another bran-new experience for their
Thought Books. See if they don't!"

So it happened that Aunt Nan was convinced and gave her consent to
Virginia's just-born and dearly-beloved plan--namely, that the four
Vigilantes should homestead for Jean MacDonald during her absence of one
night from her cabin on the mesa. Jean had ridden over that morning on her
way to town to spend the night with a friend, and Virginia's plan had
sprung full-born like Athena from the head of Zeus.

"Don't you want us to homestead for you, Jean, while you're away?" she had
asked.

Jean had gladly accepted the offer. "It would be just the thing," she
said. Then they could really see why she loved the mesa as she did, and
especially her very own corner of it. The dogs would be glad of company,
for she had driven the three cows that very morning to the neighboring
homestead, and except for the chickens, Watch and King were all alone. The
cabin door had no lock, and they might go right in and make themselves at
home. There was an extra cot in the kitchen, bedding in plenty, and loads
of food supplies. She would simply love to have them do it!

Virginia had turned questioningly to the listening Vigilantes.

"Let's!" said Mary.

"Oh, do let's!" cried Priscilla.

"Of course," faltered Vivian, insuperably buoyed up by company.

"All right," said Jean MacDonald as she turned Robert Bruce toward the
road. "It's settled then! There's plenty of butter and milk in the
creek-refrigerator--I left them there--and lots of fish in the creek.
You'll have to rustle your own wood, I guess. Help yourselves to
everything! Good-by!"

William, who was working among his flowers, had waited only for Aunt Nan's
approval. Now that it had come, he was off to saddle the horses, while the
excited Vigilantes flew to get into their riding-clothes.

"I'm so glad you dared to suggest it, Virginia," said Priscilla,
struggling with her boot lacings. "I thought of it, too--that's what I
meant by nudging you--but, of course, I wouldn't have liked to propose it.
In the two weeks I've been here, I've had the best time I ever had in my
life, and I really believe this is going to be the best of all."

"I suppose," observed Virginia, "that the boys will be more or less
disappointed because we won't be here to go on the gopher hunt, but we can
shoot dozens of gophers any day."

"Of course," returned Vivian, who had never shot one in her life.

"Of course," echoed Mary, who was in the same class with Vivian.

"Besides," continued Priscilla, "the experience of shooting a gopher,
while doubtless thrilling in the extreme, doesn't compare for one moment
with homesteading. Do you know, girls, I believe I'll take along my
Thought Book. Something might come to me!"

"I would, if I were you," acquiesced Virginia. "No, Hannah, dear," she
added, turning to the faithful retainer in the doorway, "we don't want a
thing to eat. Thank you just as much. It wouldn't be homesteading at all
if we carried food. Jean says there are plenty of supplies out there.
We're just going to take our night-dresses and combs and tooth-brushes and
Priscilla's Thought Book."

Hannah smiled dubiously.

"Supplies is all right, deary," said she, "but who's going to cook them?"

"I can make biscuits, I think," offered Mary. "At least, I did once."

Virginia thought for a moment, uncertain of her contribution.

"I'm sure I can fry fish," she said. "I've seen you do it a hundred times,
Hannah."

Priscilla and Vivian, not being culinary experts, made no promises; but
Virginia, even in the face of discouragement, still insisted that they
take nothing.

"Then don't go till after dinner," called Aunt Nan from her room. "It will
be ready in an hour."

"Better wait," reiterated Mr. Hunter. "William's had to go on the range a
piece for the horses, anyway."

So it was after dinner that the four homesteaders started for their
borrowed claim, leaving behind three disgusted boys armed for a gopher
hunt, an amused father, an interested William, a still doubtful Aunt Nan,
and a much-worried Hannah.

"Can't we even come to call?" asked Carver, holding Vivian's horse for her
to mount.

"No, Carver," said Virginia sweetly, "you can't. We want to see how it
will really seem to be homesteading all alone. We'll be back by noon
to-morrow, and will go after gophers in the afternoon, if you want to
wait. If you don't, it's all right."

"Why not invite us to supper?" suggested Donald. "We'll go directly
afterward, and won't come too early."

"I should say not," cried Priscilla, much to Hannah's amusement as they
galloped away. "Supper is to be an experiment for us, and we don't want
any guests."

They rode south through the hills to Elk Creek Valley, where the pink and
blue of the blossoms were fading a little in the August sun. It would be
a golden Valley soon, Virginia said--yellow with sunflowers and
golden-rod. Then they climbed the foot-hills to the mesa, and rode eagerly
toward their newly-acquired cabin in the southwest corner.

"I feel exactly like the owner," confided Virginia, urging Pedro forward
toward their goal. "I'm wondering if anything has happened since my trip
to town."

Apparently nothing had happened. The cabin was slumbering peacefully in
the August sunshine. Watch and King, however, were wide awake. They came
bounding around the corner of the house, ready to guard their mistress'
property from all intruders. But in their superior dog wisdom they soon
remembered that these young ladies were the friends who a few days before
had made their mistress happy, and they gave the Vigilantes a royal
welcome--both for Jean and for themselves.

Virginia considered matters for a moment before dismounting.

"I think I'll leave Pedro's bridle on," she said. "Then he won't stray
far, and the others will keep near him. We'll unsaddle and put the things
on the porch. Then that will be done. It's three o'clock now," she
continued, consulting her watch, "and I don't think it would be a bad plan
to get settled and consider supper, do you?"

No, they did not, they told her, as they dismounted. Virginia, with Pedro
unsaddled and eager to feed, proudly watched Vivian as she tugged at
Siwash's saddle-straps, and took off his bridle. It was some time since
Vivian had asked assistance. Her heart might be beating fearfully
inside--it probably was--when Siwash shook his head impatiently and
stamped a foot; but only an instinctive backward movement proved that the
fear was still there.

"Vivian's making new roots every day," Virginia said to herself, "and deep
ones, too." And she smiled encouragingly into Vivian's blue eyes, as, the
horses freed, they carried the saddles, blankets, and bridles to the
porch.

Jean MacDonald was right. The cabin door would not lock. Three Vigilantes
looked somewhat askance at one another when this fact was made known,
though the fourth seemed not to consider it at all. The cot in the kitchen
was examined and pronounced comfortable.

"At least as comfortable as one would wish, homesteading for one night,"
said Priscilla.

Lots were drawn for beds and companions. Vivian and Virginia, it was thus
decided, should sleep in the living-room, and Priscilla and Mary in the
kitchen.

"Of course, we could move the kitchen cot into the living-room," said
Virginia, "but it really isn't worth the trouble where the door is so
small. Besides, you girls don't feel the least bit frightened about
sleeping out there, anyway."

Mary looked at Priscilla and Priscilla looked at Mary. Not for veritable
worlds would they have confided to Virginia the joy which would fill their
hearts if that refractory kitchen cot could be moved into the living-room;
not for untold riches would they have confessed the sinking feeling which
attacked them upon the thought of sleeping in the kitchen nearest that
unlocked door. A bear might push open that door, or a mountain lion roar
outside their window--they would be game to the end!

"Now," announced Virginia, quite unconscious of the sensations which were
agitating her friends, "I think we'd best begin to get supper. It may take
some time. Mary, I see there's a cook book in the kitchen. If you've made
biscuits only once, it might be well for you to study up a little. Vivian
can set the table, and get some lettuce from the garden. I'll rustle the
wood for the fire, and get the potatoes ready. Hannah told me to bake them
about an hour. Priscilla, why don't you take one of Jean's rods and follow
up the creek? There are some quaking-asps in a shady place up a little
way, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if you got a trout there. Use some
of those little dark flies--they're good this kind of a day. Come to think
of it, Jean has some already on. You might add a grasshopper or two.
There'll be plenty of them hopping around. Pinch their noses and they'll
keep still."

Priscilla, armed with Virginia's directions, and a total lack of
experience, took the rod and went her way. Never in her life had she
caught a fish, but the zest of a possible catch seized her. If she could
only get one, it would be something more to tell Alden, and might elicit
praise as high as the bear-trapping experience had done. She saw the
quaking-asps some rods above the cabin, crawled under the wire fence, and
went toward them. Something hopped out of her way. A grasshopper! She
jumped, but missed him! Personally she did not care for the _feel_ of
grasshoppers, and their kindred of crawly things, but if she would
accomplish her purpose, she must procure one. She dropped on her knees,
and began her search. There were grasshoppers in plenty, but they were of
a very swift variety. Priscilla darted and dove on this side and that
before she finally caught her prey. With loathing and disgust she
proceeded to pinch his nose and render him helpless. She placed him
awkwardly and none too securely on the hook beneath the little black fly,
strode to the quaking-asps, disentangled her rod and line a dozen times,
and at length managed to drop the baited hook into the creek. Then she
straightened her weary form, grasped her rod firmly in her right hand and
waited. The question was--should she do anything more than wait? Were
one's chances of success greater if she wiggled the rod? Should one just
stand still or walk back and forth, dragging the line after her?

If the trout in the dark pool under the shadow of the quaking-asps had
seen the performance that preceded the appearance of that fly and
grasshopper, he never would have deigned to approach them. But his late
afternoon nap had fortunately prevented, and now supper was before his
very eyes. He darted for the grasshopper and securely seized it.
Priscilla, standing motionless upon the bank, felt a tremor go through the
rod in her hand, saw the tip bend, felt a frightful tug as the fish darted
downstream. Something told her that her dream was realized--that she had
at least _hooked_ a fish!

Had the fish in question been less greedy, he would have assuredly made
his escape. Priscilla knew nothing of the rules of angling. She only knew
that she should never recover from chagrin and shame if that fish eluded
her. She dropped the rod, grasped the line tightly in both hands, slid
down the bank, stood in the creek to her boot-tops, and pulled with all
her might. The trout, hindered by surprise as well as greediness,
surrendered, and Priscilla with trembling hands and glowing eyes drew him
to shore.

It never occurred to her to take him from the hook. Her one thought was to
notify the Vigilantes of her success. Holding the line in one hand, just
above the flapping, defeated trout, and grasping the rod in the other, she
ran with all her might to the cabin, burst in the door, and exhibited her
fish and her dripping, triumphant self to the Vigilantes. Fears of
unlocked doors had fled! It was still light, and she was a conqueror!

Supper that night, in spite of Hannah's fears, was an unqualified success.
Memory and the cook-book had sufficed to make very creditable biscuits,
the trout, rather demolished by vigorous cleaning, lay, brown and
sizzling, in a nest of fresh lettuce leaves, and the potatoes were
perfect.

"Isn't it fun?" cried Virginia, as they ate the last crumb. "It's better
even than I thought."

"It's lovely," said Vivian, "only I feel just the same way that I did
about staying all alone as Jean does. Look outside, Virginia. It's getting
dark already!"

"Yes," answered Virginia, going to the window, "it does in August, though
the twilights stay like this a long time. See, there's a star! Doesn't it
twinkle? You can actually see the points! Let's wish on it. I wish--let me
see--I wish for the loveliest year at St. Helen's we could possibly
have--a year we'll remember all our lives!"

"I wish," said Mary, "that college may be just as lovely, and that I'll
make as good new friends as you all are."

"I wish," said Priscilla thoughtfully, "I wish I may be just as good a
Senior Monitor as you were, Mary."

"I'm not going to tell my wish," said Vivian softly. "It's--it's too much
about me."

Dishes were washed and dogs and chickens fed. Then they came out-of-doors
in the ever-deepening stillness to watch the moon rise over the blue
shadowy mountains, and look down upon the mesa, upon the horses feeding
some rods away among the sagebrush, and upon them as they stood together
a little distance from the cabin.

"Isn't it still?" whispered Vivian, holding Virginia's hand. "You can just
hear the silence in your ears. I believe it's louder than the creek!"

"I love it!" said Mary, unlocked doors all forgotten in a blessed,
all-together feeling. "See the stars come out one by one. You can almost
see them opening the doors of Heaven before they look through. I never saw
so many in all my life. And isn't the sky blue? It's never that way at
home!"

"I can understand better than ever, Virginia," said Priscilla, "how you
used to feel at school when we would open the French doors and go out on
the porch. You said it wasn't satisfying someway. I thought I understood
on the getting-acquainted trip, but now I know better than ever."

"It makes you feel like whispering, doesn't it?" Vivian whispered again.
"It's all so big and we're so little. But it doesn't scare me so much
now."

"I've been thinking," said Virginia softly, "of Matthew Arnold's poem--the
one on _Self-Dependence_, you know, Vivian, which we had in class, and
which Miss Wallace likes so much. Of course, he was on the sea when he
thought of it, but so are we--on a prairie sea--and I'm sure the stars
were never brighter, even there. I learned it because I think it expresses
the way one feels out here. I used to feel little, too, Vivian, but I
don't any more. I feel just as though some strange thing inside of me were
trying to reach the stars. It's just as though all the little things that
have bothered you were gone away--just as though you were ready to learn
_real_ things from the stars and the silence and the mountains--learn how
to be like them, I mean. You know what he said in the poem, Vivian--the
stanza about the stars--the one Miss Wallace loves the best:

             'Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
             Undistracted by the sights they see,
             These demand not that the things without them
             Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.'"

Vivian sighed--a long, deep sigh that somehow drew them closer together.

"I don't believe I'll ever be like that," she said. "I'm afraid I'll
always want sympathy and--love!"

"But it doesn't mean that, Vivian," explained Virginia. "I'm sure it
doesn't. Of course, we all want those things--more than anything else in
the world. But I think it means just as Miss Wallace said, that instead of
demanding them we're to live so--so nobly that they will come to
us--unsought, you know. Doesn't that make it a little easier, don't you
think?"

The August night grew cold, and soon they went indoors to a friendship
fire in the stone fire-place. They watched the flames roar up the chimney,
then crackle cheerily, and at last flicker away to little blue tongues,
which died almost as soon as they were born. There was no other light in
the cabin. Virginia had said that none was needed, and she did not notice
the apprehensive glances which the other Vigilantes cast around the
shadowy, half-lit room. At last Vivian yawned.

"Nine o'clock," said Virginia. "Bed-time! I guess we can see to undress by
moonlight, can't we?"

"What shall we do about the door?" asked Mary hesitatingly. "It won't
lock, you know."

"That won't matter," said Virginia carelessly, while she covered the
fire-brands with ashes. "There's no one in the world around. Besides,
Watch and King will take care of things. You don't feel afraid, do you?"

"Oh, no!" announced Priscilla, trying her best to ape Virginia's careless
manner, and determined to _act_ like a good sport at least.

"Oh, no!" echoed Mary faintly.

Vivian was unspeakably glad that her lot had fallen with Virginia, and
that their bed was in the farther corner of the living-room.

"I wish Dorothy were here!" Virginia called fifteen minutes later to the
brave souls on the kitchen cot. "Then 'twould be perfectly perfect.
Good-night, everybody. Sweet dreams!"

"Sweet dreams!" whispered Priscilla to Mary, while she clutched Mary's
hand. "I don't expect to have a dream to-night! Mary, don't go to sleep
before I do! We'll have to manage it somehow! I'll die if you do!"

"I won't," promised Mary.

But they were tired from excitement, and sleep came in spite of unlocked
doors. A half hour passed and every homesteader was sleeping soundly. The
night wore on, midnight passed, and the still, stiller hours of the early
morning came. It was yet dark when Mary was rudely awakened by her
roommate kicking her with all her might. She sat up in bed, dazed,
frightened. Priscilla was clinging to her.

"Oh, Mary!" she breathed. "Listen! There are footsteps outside our window!
There are, I tell you! Listen!"

Mary listened. Her heart was in her mouth and choking her. Yes, there were
unmistakably footsteps outside. As they listened, the sound of breathing
became apparent.

"It _isn't_ our breathing, Mary," Priscilla whispered. "I tell you it
_isn't!_ It's--oh, the steps are coming nearer! They're on the path! Oh,
Virginia! V-i-r-g-i-n-i-a! V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A!!"

The last word ended in a mighty shout, which awoke Virginia and the
terrified Vivian. Before the shout was fairly completed, the cot in the
living-room was groaning beneath an added weight, and Virginia, striving
to rise, was encumbered by three pair of arms.

"Let me go, girls!" she cried. "Let me go, I tell you! No one's coming
into this cabin unless I say so! Remember that!"

By this time the steps were on the porch. Virginia, finally free from
embraces and on her feet, reached for Jean MacDonald's gun, and started
for the door, which she was just too late to open. Instead, the visitor
from without pushed it open, and the terrified Vigilantes on the bed,
hearing Virginia laugh, raised their frightened heads from the pillows to
meet the astonished gaze of poor old Siwash!

"Don't ever let the boys know," warned Virginia, as she returned from
escorting Siwash to the gate and out upon the mesa. "We'll never hear the
last of it if you do. 'Twas our own fault. We didn't close the gate,
that's all, and Siwash has always loved company!"

So the boys never knew, though they wondered not a little at the
significant and secret glances which the Vigilantes exchanged upon their
arrival home the next morning, and at intervals during the days that
followed whenever homesteading became the topic of conversation. Once Aunt
Nan, to whom also the secret was denied, attempted to probe the mystery,
choosing Vivian as the most likely source of information.

"Did you really have a splendid time, Vivian?" she asked.

"We certainly did, Aunt Nan," answered the loyal Vivian. "I never had a
better time in all my life. Only one night of homesteading is enough for
me. There are lots of things I envy Jean MacDonald, but homesteading isn't
one of them!"



CHAPTER VIII

AUNT DEBORAH HUNTER--PIONEER


Aunt Deborah Hunter was driving from her ranch on Snake Creek to spend the
day with her nephew, her grand-niece, and her grand-niece's guests. Clad
in her best black silk dress, her black bonnet with the red cherries on
the front, and her well-darned black cotton gloves, she was sitting up,
very straight and stiff, beside Alec on the front seat. One would have
said that her dignity forbade her to rest her shoulders, doubtless tired
from the fifteen mile drive. Still, it was not altogether dignity which
made Aunt Deborah scorn the support of the cushions which Alec had placed
behind her. A great part of it was eagerness.

It had been a long time since she had left her ranch even for a day. No
one there could attend to things quite so well as she herself, she always
insisted. But now, between shearing and threshing, she had chosen a day
upon which to accept Virginia's and her father's oft-repeated invitation,
and it was a festive occasion for her. Truth to tell, she needed one day a
year, she said, "to meet folks." For the remaining three hundred and
sixty-four, the hired man, her two dogs, an occasional visitor, her
thoughts, and the mountains were quite enough.

If the infrequent passer-by had paused long enough to look into Aunt
Deborah's gray eyes beneath the cherry-trimmed bonnet, he would have seen
therein the eagerness that made their owner scorn the sofa-pillows. It
sparkled and beamed, now on this side, now on that, as she spied blue
gentians blossoming in a hollow, and the gold which was already creeping
over the wheat; it glowed as she looked at the mountains, and shone as she
drew long breaths of the clear, bracing air; it was the self-same
eagerness which lay deep in the gray eyes of her grand-niece Virginia.

As they drew near their journey's end, and came in sight of the white
ranch-house behind the cottonwoods, Aunt Deborah made her final
preparations. With her handkerchief she brushed every speck of dust from
her black dress, settled the old-fashioned brooch at her neck, gave a
final straightening to her bonnet, and pulled her cotton gloves on more
smoothly before again folding her hands on her lap. She sat up straighter
than ever as Alec turned the horse down the lane.

She seemed a little troubled about something when she saw the group of
young people gathered at the porch and waiting for her.

"Alec," she whispered, "the cherries on my bonnet? They worry me. I want
to be young, but being long toward eighty I mustn't be childish. What do
you think, Alec? I wouldn't displease Virginia for anything!"

"Couldn't be nicer, ma'am," reassured Alec. "You need 'em for a touch o'
life to your black."

Thus assured, the little old lady sat in state, her eyes glowing and her
folded hands trembling with excitement.

"No, John," she said a few moments later, as she declined Mr. Hunter's
outstretched arms. "No, thank you. When I get so I have to be lifted out,
I'm not coming any more. Turn just a little more, Alec. There! Here I
am!"

It was her grand-niece whom she greeted first.

"My dear!" she cried, holding the tall, gray-eyed girl at arms' length.
"How you grow! John, she's grown an inch since she rode over a month ago.
I believe upon my soul she has. And looks more like you every day! Kiss
your old aunt, dear! She's plum proud of you!"

Then she turned to the others, whom Virginia proudly introduced one by
one.

"It's a blessed sight--all these young folks together," she said, shaking
hands with them all. "Except for Pioneer Reunions, I haven't seen so many
all to once for fifty years. And so you all come from away back East--the
place we used to call home? It ain't that any longer to us old folks--but
the memories are dear all the same!"

She stepped briskly upon the porch and toward the chair Virginia had
placed for her. The Vigilantes and Aunt Nan watched her, fascinated.
Virginia had told them of her wedding journey across the plains in '64; of
the hardships and dangers she had withstood; of lonely winter days in a
sod hut, and of frightful perils from Indians. She seemed so little
someway sitting there, so frail and wrinkled in the big chair. It was
almost incredible that she had lived through such terrible things. They
longed to hear the story of it all from her own lips. Virginia's recital
was thrilling enough! What then must Aunt Deborah's be?

But Aunt Deborah was in no haste to talk about herself! She was far more
interested in Virginia's friends--their respective homes and
families--their school life and their plans and dreams for the future.
Somehow the Vigilantes found it the easiest thing in the world to tell
Aunt Deborah their ambitions. Aunt Nan found it easy, too, to speak of
Virginia's mother to this dear old lady who had known and loved her.
Virginia held Aunt Nan's hand close in her own as they heard Aunt Deborah
tell of Mary Webster's coming to Wyoming; then a far rougher land than
now; of her brave fight against homesickness; of her transformation of the
Buffalo Horn School; and, finally, of the fierce struggle within herself
over whether she should return to Vermont or stay to marry a Wyoming
ranchman.

"My nephew John," finished Aunt Deborah proudly. "A good man. None other
than a good man could have won Mary Webster."

"Oh, I'm so glad she stayed!" cried Aunt Nan, a big lump in her throat and
her eyes brimming with tears. "I'm so glad--Aunt Deborah!" She took one of
the little old lady's hands in hers. "We're all together now," she said,
"New England and the West. There's no difference any longer, is there,
Virginia?"

"No, Aunt Nan," said Virginia, choking down the lump in her own throat.
"There's not a bit of difference. And somehow I'm sure Mother knows.
Aren't you, Aunt Deborah?"

"Something inside of me says that she does," said Aunt Deborah softly.
"You see, dears, even Heaven can't blot out the lovely things of earth! At
least, that's how it seems to me!"

A moment later, and Mr. Hunter came around the corner of the porch.

"John," cried Aunt Deborah gayly, "don't let's worry one bit about this
old world! With these young folks to write the books, and teach the
schools, and take care of the homeless babies, we're safe for years to
come! Come and tell me all about the wheat."

So the morning passed, and at noon Malcolm and Donald, Jack and Carver
rode over for dinner, and for Aunt Deborah's stories, which Virginia had
promised them. Aunt Deborah's talent for listening won them also, and they
told her their ambitions quite as eagerly as the Vigilantes had done. All
but Malcolm--he was strangely silent! Dinner was served on the lawn
beneath the cottonwoods. Joe and Dick brought out the large table, which
was soon set by Hannah and her four eager assistants. It was a jolly meal,
quite the merriest person being Aunt Deborah.

"It wouldn't be so bad to grow old if you could be sure of being like
that, would it?" whispered Carver Standish III to Malcolm.

"No," said Malcolm absent-mindedly, looking at Aunt Nan. "No, it
wouldn't!"

"Now, Aunt Deborah," began Virginia, when the things were cleared away,
"you know you promised you'd tell stories. You will, won't you?"

Aunt Deborah's gray eyes swept the circle of interested faces raised to
her own.

"Why, of course I will, Virginia," she said. "Where shall I begin?"

"At the very beginning," suggested Carver and Jack together. "We want it
all, please."

"I'm glad William put marigolds on the table," Aunt Deborah began. "They
make it easy for me to get started. They take me back fifty years ago to
the day before I was married back in Iowa. Robert came up that evening,
and saw me with a brown dress on and marigolds at my waist. 'Wear them
to-morrow, Deborah,' says he. 'They're so bright and sunny and a good
omen. You see, _we're_ going to need sunshine on our wedding journey.' So
the next day, when I was married, I wore some marigolds against my white
dress. Some folks thought 'twas an awful queer thing to do. They said
roses would have been much more _weddingy_, but Robert and I knew--and it
didn't matter about other folks.

"The very next day we started for our new home across the plains. That was
to be our wedding journey. 'Twas in July, 1864. We went to Council Bluffs
to meet the others of our train. That was just a small town then. In about
three days they'd all collected together, ready to start. We didn't have
so large a party as some. There were about seventy-five wagons in all, and
two hundred persons, counting the children.

"I'll never forget how I felt when I saw the last house go out of sight. I
was sitting in the back of our wagon--we were near the end of the train
that day--and Robert was ahead driving the oxen. But I guess he knew how I
was feeling, for he came back and comforted me. There was comfort, too, in
the way other folks besides me were feeling. There wasn't many dry eyes on
the day we swung into the plains, and yet we wouldn't have turned
back--no, not for worlds!"

Aunt Deborah paused now and then for the eager questions which her
interested listeners asked. Yes, she told them, the wagons were great,
white-covered prairie schooners--real houses on wheels. Yes, the oxen
were powerfully slow, but good, kind beasts. No, they were not all. There
were mules in the train and a few horses. Most of those were ridden by
scouts--men who received their food and bed for giving protection against
the Indians. Yes, there were small children and tiny babies--whole
families seeking new homes in this great land. Two babies were born on the
journey. One lived to reach Montana and to grow into a strong, stout man;
the other, a little girl, died on the way, and was buried somewhere in
Nebraska.

"Yes, there were many hard things like that," she said, "but we expected
sadness and trouble and sorrow when we started out. We were not the first
who had crossed the plains. There were pleasures, too. Nights when we
stopped to camp there was a whole village of us. The men placed the wagons
in a great circle, and within the circle was our fire and supper. We
forgot to be lonely when the stars came out and looked down upon us--the
only human things for miles around. We told stories and visited one
another's wagons, and were thankful to be together. Friends were made
then--real friends that always stuck!"

"Indians?" she asked in response to Jack's interested questions. "Oh, yes,
we found plenty of those to our sorrow! The first real hostile ones we met
in Nebraska, six weeks after we started. Two days before they came I'd
somehow felt as though we were having too smooth sailing for pioneers. One
morning four of our men took horses and rode out searching for water. We
never saw three of them again. At noon the only one left came riding up,
half-dead from exhaustion and from wounds which the Indians had given him.
He gave the alarm and soon we were ready for them, our wagons in a circle,
and every man armed. Some women, too." Aunt Deborah's head rose proudly.
"I shot my first shot that day, and I killed an Indian. Robert was proud
of me that night!"

So the journey went on, she told them. The long, hot days of mid-summer on
the plains shortened into the cooler ones of September and October. All
were wearying, of course, but few actually dangerous. The attacks from
Indians were rare. They seemed to have learned that more could be gained
by friendly bartering. By October the train had left the plains and was
going higher into the mountains. The air grew more exhilarating. There was
less sickness in the village on wheels. One October morning they found a
light covering of snow.

"I can't tell you how that snow made me feel," said Aunt Deborah. "It made
me afraid somehow. I thought of the days I must stay alone that coming
winter while Robert was away. But my fears went later in the day when the
sun once more made the land like summer.

"It was early November when we reached our journey's end in a Montana
valley. A few sod huts were there to welcome us, and the day after our
arrival other pioneers drifted in from the south. The spot was chosen
because it was near water, and because there seemed to be plenty of wild
game. Some of our train pushed on to the gold mines, another day's journey
and more, but it was the gravel beds of the creek where we were promised
gold, and we decided to stay in the valley.

"We built a sod hut like those around us, and began to get settled. Our
poor cows and horses were glad enough to rest and crop the grass in among
the sagebrush. It was a forlorn-looking village enough when all our huts
were done. I wish you could have seen it! There we spent our first
winter--the happiest one of my whole life. Yes, my dears," she said,
looking into their doubtful, surprised faces, "it _was_ the happiest.
There were dangers, of course, and all kinds of hardships, but those made
no difference. Of course there were lonely days when I longed for home.
When Robert was there, I didn't mind the smoky, crowded hut, but on the
days when he had to be away I felt as though I couldn't stand it much
longer. We lived on meat and milk that winter. The flour gave out and
there was no way to get more, so we had no bread. All the provisions had
been used before February came, and we could get no more before spring.
Buffalo meat and elk, we ate mostly. Yes, Virginia, what is it?"

"The story, Aunt Deborah, about the Indian coming into the hut?"

"Oh, yes," said Aunt Deborah, "Virginia always must have that. It
happened on one day that Robert was away. He had ridden to the mining camp
to try to get flour. I was all alone in the hut. There had been no news of
Indians around, so imagine my surprise when the door was pushed open and
an Indian walked in. I knew by his signs that he wanted food, so I gave
him all I had. He drank all the milk in the hut, and some oat cakes which
I had made from our last bit of oat-meal. I remember how angry I was, for
I had been saving them especially for Robert, but I dared not refuse. Then
he began admiring a rug which we had brought from home. It was on the bed
in the corner. He asked me for it, and I refused. Then he insisted, and I
still refused. But he wanted that rug, and was going to have it. At last
he just grabbed it, and made for the door. That was too much for me. My
grandmother had given Robert and me that rug for a wedding gift, and no
Indian was going to take it away. I snatched Robert's gun from the corner
and raised it.

"'Drop it, or I shoot you!" I screamed.

"I guess he knew I meant what I said, for he dropped the rug and hurried
out of the cabin. I don't know how long I sat there facing the door. I was
afraid he would bring others back, but he never came again. When Robert
came that night, I was still facing the door with the gun. When I saw him,
I burst out crying, and cried and cried. The strain had been too much for
me."

So Aunt Deborah's stories went on--of the village attacked by night, and
her fearful ride to the little fort for protection; of the Vigilantes and
their determined hunting-down of robbers and road-agents; of a sickness
which broke out in the town toward spring; of hunger and privations--the
varied, fascinating, almost incredible tales of pioneer life. Then, like
oases, would come stories of Christmas festivities, and of merry, laughing
times all together. The minutes, half-hours, and hours flew by as they
listened.

"My Thought Book will never hold them all," Priscilla whispered to
Virginia.

"But in the spring," Aunt Deborah finished, casting an anxious glance at
the sun, "all was different. A trail to Salt Lake had been opened and
provisions came through by stage. I'll never forget the morning the first
stage train came. Men had use for their money then, though many of them
used gold weighed out in little scales. Flour was a dollar and a half a
pound, calico fifty cents a yard, and eggs five dollars a dozen. Shoes
were priceless. One man bought a pair for thirty dollars. I remember that
Robert and I wanted to give our neighbor's little girl a birthday present.
After much thought we decided on an apple, and paid a dollar for it."

"I don't see how you did it," said Vivian, who had not spoken a word since
Aunt Deborah began. "I don't believe girls of to-day could live through
such terrible things!"

"Yes, they could, dear," affirmed Aunt Deborah, "only the need hasn't
come. When it does, you'll all be ready. Of course, the Pioneer Days are
over, but there is always need of pioneers--for Vigilantes, like
yourselves."

A half hour later and Aunt Deborah was again in the wagon beside
Alec--again very straight and very stiff. She had had a beautiful day, she
said, smiling upon them all. She had gathered thoughts and memories
enough for another year.

William came up to the carriage just as Alec lifted the reins. His hands
were filled with marigolds--brown and orange and yellow.

"I thought you might like 'em, ma'am," he said shyly.

A light came into Aunt Deborah's gray eyes.

"Like them, William!" she cried. "Like them! They'll give me even more
memories--the very sweetest of my life."



CHAPTER IX

MR. CRUSOE OF CRIPPLE CREEK


Mr. Crusoe was washing an extra shirt in the ford between Elk Creek Valley
and the Gap. The absence of soap was a distinct disadvantage, but water, a
corrugated stone, and Mr. Crusoe's diligence were working wonders. A short
distance away among the quaking-asps smoldered the embers of a small fire;
a blackened and empty bean-can on the hearth-stone, together with a
two-tined fork, bore evidence of a recent breakfast.

His washing completed, Mr. Crusoe turned his attention to his personal
appearance. Deep in the waters of Elk Creek he plunged his arms, bare to
the elbow, and washed his neck and face. From one pocket he drew a soiled
and folded towel, which upon being unrolled disclosed a diminutive brush
and an almost toothless comb. With these he proceeded to arrange his
somewhat long and dripping black hair. His two weeks' old whiskers
apparently worried him, for he pulled them meditatively; but since he was
far from a barber and carried no shaving appliances, the brush and comb
must suffice for them also. Finally he took his battered old hat from a
nearby branch, brushed it carefully, arranged the crown so that fewer
holes appeared, and put it upon his head. His clean shirt, spread upon a
quaking-asp but by no means dry, afforded the best of reasons why he
should not hurry; so, drawing a stained and stubby pipe and sack of
tobacco from another pocket, Mr. Crusoe lay beneath a friendly cottonwood
at the water's edge and gave himself to quiet contemplation.

The morning was perfect, and no one could appreciate it more keenly than
Mr. Crusoe, wanderer that he was. He blew a great mouthful of blue smoke
into the still air, watched it circle lazily upward, and blew another to
hasten the progress of the first. His black eyes, peering from a forest of
eyebrows and whiskers, looked long upon the blossoms that clothed Elk
Creek Valley--sunflowers, early golden-rod and purple thistles--swept the
friendly, tumbling foot-hills and sought beneath the over-hanging trees
for the secrets of the creek. It was a morning to love things, Mr. Crusoe
thought to himself. He was glad that he had left his comrades of the
railroad tracks; more glad that he had abandoned freight-jumping for a
season; most glad that he had decided to work during the early fall
months. Then with money in his pockets and a new suit of clothes upon his
back, he might go back to Cripple Creek whence he had come.

A few minutes later his contemplations were broken by the sound of horses'
feet coming through the Gap. He sat up, interested, and removed his pipe.
In another moment as he met the wide-open eyes of two very much startled
young ladies, his hat followed. Mr. Crusoe was used to speaking to persons
whom he met in his journeyings. It was one of the many joys of the road.

"Good-mornin', comrades," said he.

The hearts of Mary and Vivian leaped into their throats. Their eyes,
leaving Mr. Crusoe's, saw in one terrifying instant the shirt drying on
the quaking-asp, the smoldering fire, the empty bean-can. This man was a
tramp! He belonged to that disgusting clan of vagabonds who asked for food
at back-doors, and whom one, if frightened into doing it, fed on back
stoops as one fed the cat! He, like his fellows, would inspire one to lock
all the doors at noonday, and to tell one's neighbors there was a tramp
abroad!

"Good-mornin'," said Mr. Crusoe again. "It's a fine day."

This time Mary answered. She did not dare keep silent. The tramp might
become angry.

"Good-morning," she faltered.

Vivian said nothing. She was waiting for Mary to plan a means of escape.
Meanwhile Siwash and his companion, feeling their reins tighten, had
stopped and were nibbling at the quaking-asps, quite undisturbed.

Mr. Crusoe rose, hat in hand.

"Was you plannin' to ford, young ladies?" he asked politely.

The vanishing flanks of two horses, unceremoniously yanked away from their
luncheon and turned toward the prairie, were his only answer. Mr. Crusoe
gazed wonderingly into a cloud of dust. Then he felt of his washing on the
quaking-asp. It was dry enough. Laying his pipe and hat on the ground, he
proceeded to get into the clean shirt.

"Poor little things!" he said from its somewhat damp depths. "They was
plum scared of me!"

The shirt on, he did its mate into a bundle, cut a forked stick upon which
to sling it, stamped out the last ember of his dying fire, took his hat
and pipe, and started north up the creek trail.

Vivian and Mary did not stop their wild gallop until they were well in
sight of the nearest house on the prairie. Blue gentians for Miss Wallace,
which had been their errand, were quite forgotten. So also was the glory
of the morning. Instead, there ever rose before their still startled eyes
a black-whiskered, coatless man, smoking the stub of a dirty pipe beneath
a cottonwood.

"Mary," said Vivian, gathering courage as the Keith house came into view,
and breaking a long, frightened silence, "Mary, did you ever see any one
so villainous-looking in your life--outside of the movies, I mean? I
guess my heart will never stop thumping! I wish Virginia had been with us!
She's always saying there's no one around here to harm any one. I just
wish she had!"

"I sort of wish we hadn't run so," returned Mary, pulling her horse down
to a walk. "Maybe he wasn't any one harmful at all, only he scared me so I
never stopped to think. I'd hate to be a snob, even to a tramp!"

"I wouldn't! I glory in it! And, besides, you needn't worry. It takes time
to be a snob, and we didn't waste a moment. Here's the Keith house. Hadn't
we best go in for a moment? There's Carver now playing with Kenneth."

The Keiths, upon hearing the story, quieted Vivian's fears, and confirmed
Mary's increasing regret. The man was only a hobo, Donald said, doubtless
seeking work. They looked unmistakably rough, but were often good fellows
inside. Probably he wouldn't have frightened them for the world.

"I wish this fellow would stray our way," he added. "We're going to be in
need of extra hands when threshing comes, and it won't be long now. Dad
would welcome him all right."

Vivian stared at Donald, incredulous and speechless. There was no need of
asking him if he meant what he had just said. Apparently that horrible
creature back there by the creek, the very remembrance of whom caused cold
shivers to run over Vivian, would be given a welcome by the Keith family.
Vivian's nose, already a trifle high, rose higher. Democracy was
unquestionably a splendid attribute. Since knowing Virginia and coming
West, she was more inclined to believe in it than ever. But this was too
much!

An hour later they were riding homeward, their hands filled with gentians.
Donald and Jack had ridden back with them to the ford to act as
protectors, and, Vivian secretly believed, to interview the hobo, were he
still there, upon the subject of threshing. But only an empty bean-can and
the charred remnants of a fire bore evidence of the wayfarer. He had gone!
Reassured, they had gathered gentians to their hearts' content, left the
boys upon the prairie, and ridden homeward.

Mr. Hunter came to meet them as they rode beneath the cottonwoods.

"Crusoe," he called to some one on the other side of the porch, "here's
your first job! Take these horses to the corral."

An attempt to describe the sensations which swept over Mary and Vivian
when they recognized their acquaintance of the morning would be
impossible. Unable for a moment to dismount, they sat in their saddles and
stared. Mr. Crusoe, undoubtedly sensible of their surprise, patted Siwash,
who responded gladly in spite of black whiskers and a battered hat. Mr.
Hunter, thinking that the flowers might be the reason of their delay,
relieved them of the gentians. Mary and Vivian, thus assisted, finally
fell from the saddles, and followed Mr. Hunter to the porch.

"Mr. Hunter," gasped Vivian when the new man had taken the horses, "do you
know who he is? He's a hobo! Donald said so! We met him this morning down
at the ford--Mary and I. He scared us almost to death! He had washed a
shirt and it was drying on the bushes, and he ate canned beans for
breakfast right out of the can with a dirty, bent, old fork. He was lying
under a tree and smoking a hideous pipe as we rode up! I never was so
horrified in all my life! And, Mr. Hunter, he took off his hat and spoke
to us! I thought we'd die! Siwash would eat the bushes, and I thought we'd
never escape! He's not going to stay here after he has something to eat,
is he, Mr. Hunter? You don't know how awful he is!"

Vivian stopped--merely for breath. Mr. Hunter with a mighty effort
repressed a smile. Mary was torn between a desire to play fair and the
awful remembrance of her fright. She said nothing.

"Vivian," said Mr. Hunter, "out here we've learned not to judge persons by
whether or not they wash in the creek and eat canned beans. I'm sorry
Crusoe frightened you. He isn't exactly captivating in appearance, I'll
admit, but, from what I can gather, he seems to be a pretty good sort. Any
man's worth a try-out, you know. He's looking for work, and now that
threshing is coming on I'm looking for an extra man, so he's going to stay
here a spell. These fellows who take to the road, you see, fill a great
need out here in this country. We depend on one or more of them showing up
about this time of year."

Vivian was still staring, unable to speak. Mary, desirous that Mr. Crusoe
should not misunderstand their flight, explained the affair to Mr. Hunter,
a little more rationally than Vivian had done.

"You see," she finished, "it's just that we aren't used to seeing persons
like that, and he _did_ look fierce, Mr. Hunter. I wish you'd explain to
him how it was. I shouldn't want to be rude even to a hobo."

Mr. Hunter smiled.

"He'll understand, Mary," he said. "In fact, he does already, for when he
saw you riding home he told me about how frightened you were at the ford.
Don't be at all alarmed, Vivian," he called, for Vivian was hurrying into
the house, her head high. "He's a gentleman--underneath the whiskers and
the shirt."

So Mr. Crusoe stayed on at the Hunter ranch. The men liked him--that was
plain to be seen. Every evening their laughter echoed from the bunk-house
where Mr. Crusoe was entertaining them with his songs and stories. Even
the silent William was loud in his praise, and Mr. Weeks, the foreman, in
speaking of his ability and readiness to work, suggested a permanent
position. Mary allowed but a day to go by before apologizing for her
flight from the ford, and after Mr. Crusoe's courteous acceptance became
his firm adherent, much to Vivian's disgust. Even Aunt Nan found him
interesting, while Virginia and Priscilla listened eagerly to his tales of
Cripple Creek. They were collecting theme material, they told the
disdainful Vivian.

Apparently Mr. Crusoe had stormed and taken the Hunter ranch. Only one
member of the family remained his enemy. Vivian was still unconvinced. To
her every one else on the ranch had taken his place among the number of
those condemned by the apostle, "who, having eyes, see not." In her
suspicious eyes Mr. Crusoe was a "ravening wolf" of whom she should
beware. When she had an infrequent occasion to address him she used an
offended dignity, tinged with scorn; when his name was brought into the
conversation she remained silent, secure in the knowledge that some day
they would all see this tramp in his true light!

In three days Vivian had worked herself into a state from the eminence of
which she looked down with protecting pity upon Aunt Nan, the other
Vigilantes, and Mr. Hunter. They were being hoodwinked, and she alone was
left to guard their interests. Harrowing memories of tales she had read,
terrifying visions of escaped criminals whom she had witnessed in the
"movies," and who exactly resembled Mr. Crusoe, came to disturb her rest
and haunt her dreams. She was a quaking detective, watching Mr. Crusoe's
every act, and discovering treachery and evil design in the most innocent
of them.

On the fourth day following Mr. Crusoe's advent matters approached a
climax. In the early afternoon Mr. Hunter, driving to town on business,
had taken the other Vigilantes with him. Vivian, with letters to write,
had remained at home, feeling safe with Aunt Nan. In her stimulated
imagination Mr. Crusoe had been behaving peculiarly all the morning, and
not for worlds would she have stayed alone.

Hannah left soon after the others, going for raspberries up the canyon;
Aunt Nan, thoughtful and strangely silent, was in the living-room, where
within an hour she was joined by Malcolm Keith; Vivian sat beneath the
vines in the corner of the porch, and tried to center her attention upon a
letter she was writing to Dorothy. She was not eminently successful. Grave
apprehensions, strange forebodings, filled her heart. Once Mr. Crusoe
passed empty-handed before the porch. He did not see Vivian, although he
might easily have detected the beating of her heart. She watched him
pause, study for a brief moment the house, its doors and windows, and then
pass on. He was seizing the opportunity while they were all away, Vivian
told herself, to become better acquainted with his surroundings. Then some
day, not far distant, or some night, he----!

She jumped from her seat and ran indoors. At that moment she wanted
company more than anything else in the world. Sunny as it was outside,
the silence worried her. There was something portentous even in the
singing of the August insects. Aunt Nan's genuine interest in Mr. Crusoe
and his welfare would probably prevent Vivian from giving expression to
her new-born fears; but at least nearness to some one might quiet the
misgivings which were tormenting her.

She reached the living-room door, and stood still, unable to make her
presence known, and, for a moment, unable to run away. Aunt Nan and
Malcolm Keith were standing by the big western window which faced the
prairie and the distant mountains. Malcolm's arm was around Aunt Nan, and
her head was on his shoulder. As Vivian stood transfixed to the spot by a
strange Something, Malcolm bent his head, and--Vivian fled, unperceived!

That same strange Something, stronger than her fear of the silence or even
of Mr. Crusoe, was making her breath come in gasps as she sank into her
chair and tried to collect her scattered senses. Truly Life was being too
generous to her that day! So Malcolm and Aunt Nan loved each other! That
was clearly unmistakable. She was sorry she had intruded, though she knew
they had not heard her. In that last moment before she had found strength
to run away she felt as though she had come unbidden into a sacred place.
Her cheeks burned at the thought. How surprised the girls would be when
she told them! No, she would not tell! It was Aunt Nan's secret--hers and
Malcolm's!

Fifteen minutes later, still unperceived and to all appearances quite
forgotten, she sat in her chair and watched Aunt Nan and Malcolm go down
the lane beneath the cottonwoods, and on toward the foot-hills. They had
forgotten her very existence. She was all alone--alone with Mr. Crusoe and
the silence. At that very instant Mr. Crusoe again passed before the
porch--again paused to study the house. This time he held a key in his
hand--a large key on a string which he twisted and untwisted as it swung
from his big, brown finger. Vivian knew that key. It belonged to the
root-cellar just beyond the kitchen, and it hung in Mr. Hunter's office
above his desk. She had seen Hannah take it a dozen times, and once Mr.
Hunter had given it to Virginia, asking her to get some papers from a
desk he kept down there. Why should Mr. Crusoe want to go to the
root-cellar?

Something told Vivian that the time for her to act had come; that only she
could save the Hunter fortunes from oncoming disaster. As Mr. Crusoe
rounded the farther corner of the porch, and started in the direction of
the root-cellar, Vivian ran through the house and into Hannah's spotless
kitchen. A new sense of responsibility gave birth to a bran-new sense of
courage. Vivian, watching from the kitchen window, saw Mr. Crusoe go into
the cellar. That was enough.

Running to Virginia's room, she grasped the little rifle which stood in
the corner. It was the only gun in the house which Vivian had ever used,
and her one experience with it had not given her a far-reaching knowledge
of fire-arms. Still, it was a gun, and guns concealed cowardice, and lent
power and dignity to one's bearing. Vivian knew that it was loaded.
Virginia always kept it ready in case a gopher poked his inquisitive
little nose above the ground. She knew, too, that a quick push of her
thumb would drive back the safety and leave the gun ready to shoot.

She ran down the hall and out the back door toward the root cellar. Her
heart was in her mouth, her breath came in gasps, her wide-open blue eyes
were filled with terror. When she reached the stone steps leading down to
the cellar she looked far less a heroine than a much frightened little
girl. Still, there was the gun! Vivian's nervous fingers kept pushing the
safety on and off--a rather terrifying sound to the ears of a much
surprised man, who, papers in hand, was coming up the steps.

Vivian saw the papers. She was right! Mr. Crusoe had been rifling Mr.
Hunter's private possessions. She raised the gun with a trembling hand.

"Mr. Crusoe," she faltered, "this gun is loaded, and if you try to pass
me, I--I'm very sure I shall shoot you. You sit down there in the cellar
and wait for Mr. Hunter."

Mr. Crusoe sat down. He was too surprised to do anything else. He had
faced guns many times before in his varied existence, but never had he
been confronted by a shaking .22 in the trembling hands of a very nervous
young lady. Moreover, the sound of a safety clicking nervously back and
forth is not conducive to peace. Mr. Crusoe did not expect Vivian to shoot
him, but he did entertain a fear that the gun might go off in his
direction and in spite of her. Considering silence the better part of
valor, he accordingly sought the farthest corner of the cellar and hoped
for the best.

Vivian sat upon the top step, the gun upon her knees. She had not looked
for such non-resistance on the part of Mr. Crusoe. Indeed, he looked less
fierce than she had ever seen him. Could she have observed the amused
smile which was quivering beneath Mr. Crusoe's black whiskers as he began
more fully to understand this peculiar situation, she would have been much
puzzled. To her, he was a cringing suppliant, and she a distinct
conqueror.

Still the minutes dragged themselves very slowly away. It seemed two
hours, though it was in reality but ten minutes before conqueror and
conquered heard the roll of returning wheels, the sound of voices calling
for Vivian, the approach of hurrying footsteps. Mr. Crusoe stirred
uneasily. He would have willingly saved Vivian from the embarrassment
which he knew was bound to follow, but it had been impossible. Vivian's
heart beat wildly. Now, at least, they would understand that she had been
right all along; now, perhaps, they would no longer think her such a
coward!

Embarrassment did follow! Embarrassment and tears and explanations and not
a little ill-concealed amusement. For one long hour Vivian, in spite of
sympathy and understanding and genuine admiration, wished she had never
been born. In that hour she discovered that a finer courage is necessary
to admit a mistake and to begin anew than to besiege a hobo in a
root-cellar. But she proved equal to the task, and Mr. Crusoe in the part
he played showed himself the gentleman he really was. For when Vivian was
convinced that Mr. Crusoe had been given the key by Mr. Hunter, that he
had been told to fetch the papers, and that he really was trustworthy
after all, she dried her tears, donned a fresh middy, and went quite alone
to offer her apologies.

She found Mr. Crusoe by the bunk-house. He had shaved in the meantime,
and when Vivian saw his clean firm chin, she knew it was partly the
whiskers which had made her level the gun at him.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Crusoe," she stammered. "You see, I thought you were just
a tramp, and at home we are always afraid of them. But I know now you
aren't. I know I've been wrong all the time, and--oh, I'm awfully glad the
gun didn't go off!"

Mr. Crusoe removed his battered old hat and offered his freshly-washed
hand.

"I'm glad, too, Miss Vivian," he said. "If it had, perhaps I couldn't have
told you how much pluck I think you've got stored away inside of you. And
as for your being suspicious of the likes o' me, I don't wonder a mite.
Only, you see, there are tramps and tramps. To the best of us, I guess
trampin' just means followin' roads that lead to shelters--to _homes_, you
see! And now you know I'm not the kind you thought I was, this here ranch
looks like a mighty good home to me."

"Then you won't go back to Cripple Creek?" asked Vivian. "If I were you
I'd stay right here."

"That's what I'm plannin' on," said Mr. Crusoe.



CHAPTER X

A LETTER FROM DOROTHY


"It seems an age, doesn't it, since we've had a real meeting," said the
founder of the Vigilantes, "and yet it's only nine weeks ago this very
identical day. I guess it's because the places are so far apart and so
different. The last time 'twas on the big rock back of the Retreat, and
now it's away out here in the Land of our Dreams. Oh, you'll never, never
know what it's meaning to me to have you all out here, because it's one of
the things you feel inside but can never, never tell!"

"I guess we know," cried Priscilla, "because we're feeling it, too! Every
day I think I'll die if I get any happier, but I guess happiness is one of
the things you can keep pouring into your heart like love--without its
overflowing."

"It's the very same way about pouring it out, too," said Mary. "There's
always plenty left like the oil in the Bible story."

"Aren't the mountains way off there blue?" cried Vivian. "I think blue's
the happiest color in the world. I'll never say that I feel _blue_ again
now that I've seen the mountains."

They had climbed to the summit of Spruce Ridge for their Vigilante
meeting--the first formal one they had held since their arrival in
Virginia's country. A letter from Dorothy, coming an hour ago, bore the
inscription, "To be read at a Vigilante meeting," and in order to be
honest to the letter, as well as in spirit, they had decided upon a place
apart and assembled.

"After all, it's better to come away like this, isn't it?" asked Virginia.
"There's a queer, common feeling that doesn't come when we just sit on the
porch and talk. And I love this sweep of country from the Ridge. It's real
Vigilante land. Now let's have the letter, Priscilla. I'm wild to hear it.
It's the very first we've had in a month."

The secretary of the order broke a large amount of sealing-wax, unfolded
sheets of blue stationery, and began:

                                  "'A PIECE OF HEAVEN IN CALIFORNIA,
                                                       "'Aug. 11,19--.

  "'DEAR FELLOW VIGILANTES:

  "'I've been trying desperately to write you for weeks and weeks, but
  you've no idea what the cares of a household are, especially when you
  have a child around.'"

"A child!" cried all the Vigilantes at once. "What child?"

Priscilla continued:

  "'But before I tell you about _Virginia Winthrop Richards_, I must
  say that the summer is being even more wonderful than Dad and I ever
  dreamed. I never got so well-acquainted with my own father in all my
  life, and he's been a perfect darling to devote days and days to me.
  The bungalow is more heavenly than ever. It's positively buried in
  roses and heliotrope, and you'd never know it had a chimney. You'd
  think that a huge geranium was growing right out of the roof. The
  front porch looks out upon the sea. Oh, it's such a dark, deep,
  sparkly blue! And when the sky is blue, too, and the sand is golden,
  and the white gulls skim next the water--nothing could be more
  beautiful in all the world! I think of you a hundred times a day, and
  wish that you were here. So does Dad. I've told him all about the
  Vigilantes, and he's so interested. He says he's thankful every day
  that I have such fine friends at St. Helen's. In fact, I just know
  he's more pleased with me than ever before. I think he sees there's
  hope ahead, and it's a very comforting assurance.

  "'Now I must tell you about Virginia Winthrop Richards. I know you're
  consumed with curiosity. If you could see her, you'd be consumed with
  envy. She is seven years old and all pink and white and blue and
  gold. Her cheeks are just the color of wild roses, and her eyes deep
  blue--almost like the water--and her hair golden brown with lights in
  it. I dress her in pink or blue or white all the time. One day two
  weeks ago Dad and I went to Los Angeles to buy clothes for her. I
  don't believe I ever had quite such a good time in all my life. 'Twas
  just like shopping for one's very own child. I put my hair up high
  for the occasion, and endeavored to look matronly, but I guess I
  failed, for when I saw a ravishing pink dress and said, "I guess it's
  too small for my little girl," the stupid clerk laughed in my face.

  "'We bought the sweetest things you ever saw! Hair-ribbons and
  adorable shoes and socks striped like sticks of candy and little
  fairy night-dresses all trimmed in lace. Then Dad bought some toys. I
  let him do that. He bought a doll and books and a cart and horses,
  for we want Virginia to be a trifle boyish, too, you see. While he
  was doing it, his eyes just beamed and beamed. He said he felt just
  as he did when I was little and he bought toys for me. When we
  reached home and showed the things to Virginia Winthrop Richards, I
  thought she'd die of happiness. Really, I didn't know but that we'd
  lose her after all!

  "'But here I am dressing my child for you, and you don't even know
  who she is! She wasn't anybody but _Minnie_ and _No. 31_ until three
  weeks ago. I've always thought it would be a heavy cross enough to
  be named _Minnie_ anyway, even though you had a respectable surname,
  but to be _Minnie_ without any surname at all, and _No. 31_ in
  addition, seem to me the depths of misery. We found her in the Home
  for Friendless Children, and I'll always believe that an angel led us
  there! Dad and I went to the city three weeks ago this very Sunday
  and walked by the Home. We didn't even know 'twas there--just
  stumbled upon it while we were roaming around in search of adventure.
  Poor little _31_ was sitting under a tree on the lawn holding a
  shingle and singing to it. I'll never forget how she looked. Her
  curls were braided up tight, and tied with a shoe-string, and she was
  dressed in a hideous blue-checked thing, but even those drawbacks
  couldn't spoil her. Dad and I just stopped and stared, and then we
  walked up the steps and in at the door.

  "'"Whose child is that out there on the lawn?" Dad asked the matron
  who greeted us at the office entrance.

  "'She was a tall, stern-looking person in a shirtwaist and a high,
  starched collar. You just couldn't imagine her holding a baby, or one
  cuddling up against her neck. She said _No. 31_ was nobody's child.
  She had been left in an old basket on the steps six years ago. You
  see, she isn't one of those children you read about with beautifully
  embroidered clothes and gold lockets and one thousand dollars in
  bills under her pillow. She didn't have any name or notes or requests
  for whoever took her to call at the bank for a fortune when she was
  twenty-one. She was just wrapped in an old blanket and left there.
  But Dad and I don't care!

  "'When the matron saw that we were interested, she asked if we didn't
  want to borrow _No. 31_ for a few days. She said they sometimes lent
  children for two weeks or so. When she said it, she sounded just as
  though a child were a typewriter or a vacuum cleaner, sent on ten
  days' free trial. I looked at Dad and Dad looked at me, and then he
  said, "We'll take her!" It didn't take long for the matron to do up
  her few clothes and to get her ready. She was so glad to make the
  loan that she hurried. Little No. 31 was so surprised that she didn't
  know whether to be happy or not. Perhaps she didn't understand what
  it was to be really happy, but she knows now! She's positively
  radiant!

  "'I can't explain how it seemed when we brought her home. Somehow
  'twas as though we'd just begun to be a _real_ family. She snuggled
  between Dad and me on the front seat of the car, and kept looking
  from one to the other of us. I think it was her name that first gave
  us the idea of keeping her. We couldn't call that adorable child _No.
  31_, and we wouldn't call her _Minnie_. Of course we couldn't name a
  borrowed child, and so after I'd given her a bath, and we'd seen how
  truly sweet and adorable she was, we decided that at all events she
  should never, never go back to that Home, which is a satire on the
  word. At first Dad thought he knew of a fine home for her with some
  friends of his who haven't any children, but after the ten days' free
  trial were over we knew we just couldn't give her up. Best of all,
  Mrs. Shute, the housekeeper, who's been with us all summer, loves
  her to death, and she's promised to stay right on with Dad, and keep
  house for him next winter in Los Angeles. So you see Dad has a home
  and another child, and he's the happiest man in California.

  "'He let me do the naming, and, of course, I consulted my child. I
  couldn't think of anything lovelier than to name her for the two
  founders of the Vigilantes, and after I'd told her all about you she
  was pleased as pleased could be. I let her choose between _Priscilla
  Hunter Richards_ and _Virginia Winthrop Richards_, and she took
  Virginia and named her new doll _Priscilla_. I wish I could have
  named her for you and Mary, Vivian, dear, but Dad thought two names
  were enough.

  "'We're the very happiest family you ever saw. Virginia fits in
  better every day. She's learning such sweet manners--I tell Dad it
  just shows she must be sweet inside! She's learning to read and to
  write, too. We have a lesson every morning after breakfast. The other
  day I bought the pattern of a little dress, and Mrs. Shute helped me
  cut it out and make it. I never felt so proud in all my life. I'm
  obliged to be more _vigilant_ than ever, because Virginia does and
  says everything that I do. The other day I said I should certainly
  die if I didn't get a letter from some of you, and she was quite
  frightened. So I guess I'll have to be more moderate in speech after
  this.

  "'There's one thing more I must tell you before I stop. I saw Imogene
  the other day. Dad and Virginia and I were walking by one of the big
  hotels here, when an automobile came up to the curbing. You can just
  imagine how surprised I was when Imogene and Mrs. Meredith stepped
  out. There was a young man with them whom I didn't like very well. He
  had a queer way of looking at you, and was over-dressed, I thought.
  Imogene looked very handsome, and, oh, loads older! I felt a perfect
  baby beside her! Mrs. Meredith was just the same, only even more
  elaborately gowned than she used to be when she visited Imogene.
  Imogene was as surprised as I was, I think, though she didn't show
  it. She and her mother shook hands with me, and she introduced her
  friend. I was so excited I didn't hear his name at all. She told me
  she was going to be married at Christmas time, and so wouldn't be
  back at St. Helen's, and Mr. Whoever-he-was laughed and said Imogene
  had been to school long enough. Dad and I asked them to tea with us,
  but they said they were just hurrying through and couldn't come.

  "'When they left us and went into the hotel I had the queerest
  feeling. 'Twas just as though I had said good-by to Imogene
  forever--just as though she'd gone away into a different world. And
  the queerest part of it all was that I didn't care very much. It
  seemed years since I had cared for her--years since we had done
  things together at St. Helen's. That night after I had put Virginia
  to bed, and come out on the porch with Dad, a big machine flew by our
  house. I heard some one laugh, and knew it was Imogene. She hadn't
  been hurrying through; she just hadn't cared to come. I suppose it
  ought to have hurt me, but it didn't. I was glad she'd stopped
  caring, too, the way I had. Then, at least, neither of us would be
  hurt. The only thing I'm sorry about is that Imogene has gone into
  that kind of a world. I don't believe it can give the best kind of
  happiness, do you?

  "'It's nearly church time, and I must hurry. We're all going
  together. It's Virginia's very first service, except for those at the
  Home, and I do hope she'll be good. I've been instructing her for
  days--telling her just what to do and what not to do. I'm afraid I'll
  send out many thoughts in your direction, but Miss Wallace says
  they're prayers anyway--that is, the kind I'd send to you, so I guess
  it will be all right. There's Virginia calling now.

                                               "'Dearest love,
                                                          "'DOROTHY.

  "'P.S. After service. She was angelic! When she knelt and closed her
  eyes, she looked like one of Raphael's cherubs. Dad wiped his eyes--I
  saw him--and I could have cried for happiness. The sermon was on
  "Vigilance"--wasn't that strange? The minister spoke about watching
  for opportunities to serve, for in so doing, he said, we served
  ourselves most of all. Dad looked at me then and smiled, and we both
  looked at Virginia, our opportunity. She was finding _A's_ in the
  prayer-book.

  "'This is a selfish letter--all about me--but I knew you'd want to
  know about your namesake. Write me right away. We'll be watching
  every mail.

                                                        "'DOROTHY.'"

They looked at one another with shining eyes as Priscilla folded the
letter. Mary was the first to speak.

"Isn't it the loveliest thing in all the world for Dorothy to do?" she
said.

"Wonderful!" cried the two who possessed a namesake.

"I think we ought to make Virginia Winthrop Richards a present," proposed
Priscilla. "I never felt so important in all my life, did you, Virginia?"

"Never!" said Virginia. "Why so quiet, Vivian?"

"I was thinking about Imogene," said Vivian. "I'm wondering why I don't
care much either. It's strange when I cared so much for her--only four
months ago."

In their excitement over Dorothy's child, the others had for the moment
forgotten Imogene.

"I guess it's because we went as far as the crossroads together,"
explained Virginia, "and then chose different paths. I feel the same way
Dorothy does. I'm sorry for Imogene, but I don't feel any great loss
myself."

"I propose we adjourn," said the excited Priscilla, "and go down and tell
the news to Aunt Nan and Mr. Hunter. That is, if there's no more
business," she added, looking toward the president.

The president declared the meeting adjourned, and they started homeward.
By a large spruce they stopped for a moment. The ground beneath the tree
was a garden, glad with blossoming flowers. Virginia's gray eyes looked at
them, then sought the distant mountains.

"I never thought," she said softly, "that I'd love to come up here the way
I do. Of course I know Jim isn't here. He's gone on to make others happy
Somewhere Else. But I like to remember how we used to climb up here and
look off at the country. He always loved it so. I used to be so lonely
without him, but now I'm glad--glad he's having all the wonderful things
that just must happen after we--go on! That's why I like William's flowers
so! They're so glad, too!"

"I like William for taking such good care of them," said Mary. "I saw him
coming up here yesterday with his garden tools."

"William!" cried Virginia gladly. "Why, William's _always_ been next best
to Jim!"



CHAPTER XI

"EVER VIGILANT"


"There's no reason in the world why more than three of us should go back,"
said Virginia. "I know just exactly where she left it. It's on the table
just back of the jars of raspberries. All right, Vivian, if you insist and
are sure you're not too tired. It's all of six miles there and back, you
know. It's not a bit necessary, Carver, but we'd love to have you come if
you want to. Sagebrush Point, Don--at the open place? All right, we'll be
there."

"Be sure to make the Canyon Path before dusk," warned Donald. "It's bad
there, you know. Signals all right? Better take my revolver. Malcolm has
his."

Virginia examined the revolver before securing the holster to her saddle.

"Two, if we need you; three, if everything's all right. You probably won't
hear either. We'll see you by six o'clock. Good luck!"

She turned Pedro, and, followed by Carver and Vivian, rode back up the
trail, while the others kept on down the mountain side toward Sagebrush
Point where they were to meet Malcolm and Aunt Nan.

They had ridden far up Bear Canyon, miles beyond the farthest bear-trap,
to the Forest Ranger's cabin. The trail was wilder than six of them had
ever imagined a trail could be. Sometimes it was almost obliterated, but
the blaze of the rangers with its U.S. brand told them that human beings
had traversed it, and that they might safely follow. At noon they had
reached the cabin--a lonely eyrie looking down into the gorge of the
river. Behind it unbroken forests stretched for miles.

The ranger was away upon his beat, but his door stood hospitably open, and
they had gladly entered, sure that a welcome was intended. In his little
kitchen they had eaten dinner, leaving some of their bacon as a gift. Then
an idea had seized Aunt Nan. Why not pick some of the raspberries which
grew in profusion near by, and cook a quart of them as winter preserves
for the ranger? It did not take very long for nine pair of hands to pick
three quarts instead of one, and within an hour, sugar having been found
in the pantry, the berries were cooking on the little stove. Jars, too,
were discovered, and at three o'clock when the boys had brought the
horses, five cooks in khaki surveyed their gift with proud eyes. They had
ridden hurriedly away, realizing that they were already late if they
wanted Sagebrush Point for a camping-place; and three miles below the
cabin Vivian had discovered the loss of her wrist-watch, a birthday gift
from her father.

"Don't you worry a bit, Vivian," Virginia said, reassuringly, as she urged
Pedro up the steep trail. "We'd just as soon ride back as not, and I
wouldn't have you lose the watch for the world. Of course the ranger would
keep it safe for us, but there's no knowing when we could get away up here
again. It's best to go now when we're only three miles away."

"I'm dead sure it's right on the table," said Carver. "I saw you put it
there, Vivian, when you got ready to wash the dishes."

Carver Standish was right. The watch was on the table where she had left
it. The cabin seemed more lonely than ever as they hurried away. The rush
of the river hundreds of feet below, the drowsy hum of the August insects,
and the sound of their horses' feet upon the stones alone broke the
silence. Vivian shivered.

"I hate it here, now," she said. "Let's hurry back to the others."

But it was impossible to hurry down the steep, rocky trail. The horses
were tired, and a misstep or a stumble would be dangerous. Pedro, sure of
himself on any trail, led the way, and Vivian and Carver followed, weaving
right and left down the mountain side. More than once Carver glanced
apprehensively at his watch. It was growing late--nearly five
already!--and Virginia had told Donald they would be at Sagebrush Point at
six! It was impossible. They could never make it!

Vivian was worried, too. She hated the shadows that began to creep in
among the trees, the lonely call of a bird in the timber, the coolness
that came as the afternoon waned. She shivered again, when at the first
ford, where they had separated more than an hour before, the rawhide
thongs in one of her stirrups broke, and caused a second delay.

Carver's none too agile fingers laced and re-tied the thong. Virginia
allowed Pedro to nibble at the quaking-asps and tried to be patient while
she watched the repairing. More than once she was tempted to jump from her
saddle and do the work herself, but she knew that Carver would resent the
intrusion. Carver Standish III heartily disliked any intimation that he
was a tenderfoot. Safe and satisfied in the citadel of New England birth
and ancestry, he still was averse to any suggestion of inferiority in
Wyoming. Virginia liked Carver, though she knew him far better now than
she had ever dreamed she should. She liked him in spite of the tinge of
snobbishness which would creep in now and then, try as he did to conceal
it. She even liked him during the ten minutes he took to lace the thong
when she could have done it in three.

It was growing dark when they at last swung into the easier, grass-grown
trail of the lower mountains--dark and cold. The realization that they
were already two miles from supper and the others, together with the
knowledge that there was still the Canyon Path to cross, made them all
silent and very grave. They hurried their horses through the last of the
tallest timber and out upon the bare summit of a mountain, which looked
down across the valley and the river to a point beyond. As they gazed,
flames shot up from the point where a newly-kindled fire was welcoming the
first star. Dark specks were visible about the fire--persons moving here
and there. Sagebrush Point--a mile across the valley, two by the trail!

Carver looked questioningly at Virginia, and found his answer in the smile
she gravely gave him. They would go no farther. Carver knew it before
Virginia discovered the paper. Vivian suspected, but would not know. They
sat quietly in their saddles while she rode Pedro close to a great pine
which bore a ranger's sign, burned in a piece of wood.

"Two miles to Sagebrush Point," read the sign.

"A good camping-place. Dangerous trailing!"

Below the sign was a folded piece of paper, fastened by Donald's
scarf-pin to the tree, and bearing Virginia's name. She read it silently
and with difficulty in the fast-fading light.

"It's just as I thought," she explained. "When Donald reached here and saw
what a long time it had taken, he knew we couldn't make the Point. He says
not to attempt it if it's after six, and it's a quarter of seven now. I
wouldn't try the Canyon Path for anything in this light, and there's no
other way to go. We'll just have to camp here, that's all! We've our
blankets and matches and plenty of bacon and bread, and there's a spring
near by. It won't be so bad. Quite an adventure!"

Her last words were spoken in an attempt to reassure Vivian, who was
staring at her--the epitome of horror.

"Camp--here--Virginia! Alone! Here! In--this--wilderness!" Vivian was
monosyllabic from terror.

Carver did not share Vivian's fear, but he was a trifle overbearing in his
judgment of those about the fire at Sagebrush Point.

"If Donald thought we weren't going to make it, why didn't he camp here
himself?" he asked. "Of course it's all right for me, but it's rather
tough on you and Vivian. I should think he'd have thought of that."

Virginia was quick to champion Donald. Indeed Carver Standish III would
have given much for the place Donald held in Virginia's estimation.

"Why, Carver," she said, frank in her displeasure, "Donald's one of the
most thoughtful persons in the world. Malcolm and Aunt Nan were over at
Sagebrush, and he couldn't get word to them before dark. Besides, he knows
I'm not afraid to camp by ourselves. They're right across on Sagebrush,
and there's nothing in this world to harm us. Of course he wouldn't have
gone on for anything if you hadn't been here, but he knew he could depend
on you."

The knowledge of New England ancestry could not keep Carver Standish from
feeling small as he unsaddled the horses, and tied them in among the
trees. Then, considering work a good antidote, he cut brush and brought
dry sticks for a fire. A dead cedar promised logs enough for the night,
and these Carver cut, trimmed, and piled. Vivian, unable as yet to
comprehend the situation, stood looking off toward the fire on the point,
and wished with all her heart that she had wings. Virginia unstrapped the
blankets and laid them upon a fallen log. Then, the big revolver in her
hand, she waited only for the fire to give those watching on Sagebrush the
signals agreed upon. At last the flame-colored smoke burst into tongues of
fire, leaping, crackling tongues which told the anxious watchers on
Sagebrush that the note had been found and that all was well. A moment
later three shots from the mountain opposite tore away the stillness.
Donald sent back an answering three. Then five in quick succession came
from Virginia's revolver.

"It's the old signal we've always used in hunting," Donald explained to
Mary, Priscilla, and Jack who were standing beside him. "It means, 'We're
going to camp here.' I knew Virginia would decide on that. She always does
the sensible thing anyway," he added proudly.

Malcolm and Aunt Nan, standing near the water's edge, watched the flames
of Virginia's fire as they blazed skyward.

"I've never quite realized before what Virginia's made of," said Aunt Nan
thoughtfully. "If her Grandmother Webster were here this minute, I think
perhaps she'd realize that there _are_ qualities which balance being born
in New England."

"Perhaps," returned Malcolm, a little doubtfully. "Perhaps she would. I've
known New Englanders to realize several things. The trouble is they're
very much averse to admitting it."

Meanwhile the three on the summit across the valley had dined, frugally to
be sure, and somewhat silently on bread and bacon. Now sweater-clad they
sat before the fire, and munched at some sweet chocolate which Carver had
discovered in his coat pocket. With every nibble Vivian peered among the
trees behind her, glanced fearfully right and left, and ended by gazing
with longing eyes at the fire on Sagebrush Point. Carver hugged his knees,
and rocked idly to and fro. Virginia gazed thoughtfully into the flames.
To her a night in a mountain forest was a privilege, whether three or
nine shared its glories. To be sure, a tent would be a distinct addition,
but since they had none they must do without it. Its absence was but an
incident, and gave her little anxiety--far less, in fact, than the fear
which she detected in the blue eyes of Vivian. For to Vivian the
approaching night was a terrible ordeal through which she must go. Her
reason fled away to parts unknown, and only imagination remained to create
a mountain lion in every thicket, and mysterious, unearthly, disembodied
presences in the air, behind her back, at her very elbow. She was grateful
when Carver came to sit beside her. With Virginia on the other side, two
less avenues of approach were opened. At all events she would not talk
about her fear; and, acting upon her resolve, she did her best to join in
the conversation on school and books and athletics.

Ten o'clock came, and Carver brought wood for the fire. Then he unrolled
their blankets, spreading them over pine boughs already cut and placed
upon the ground. The ground itself was a good enough mattress for him, he
said, as he rolled in his blanket Indian-fashion, and lay down under a
great pine. They need have no anxiety as to the fire. He probably should
sleep but little, and would replenish it whenever wood was needed. If they
wanted a thing or became frightened in the night, they should speak to
him.

Vivian, sleepy in spite of her fears, lay down upon the boughs, her head
in Virginia's lap. She knew she should not close her eyes, but she might
as well rest. If a bear or a mountain lion came, it would make little
difference whether she were sitting or reclining. Virginia was not sleepy.
She preferred to sit up.

In half an hour a long, resigned snore from the neighborhood of the great
pine proved that Carver Standish had forgotten all about fires and
protection. Virginia smiled to herself as she reached for more wood. There
was bacon in camp and undoubtedly bears on the mountain. The combination
made a big fire desirable. Moreover, she was determined that the Sagebrush
Point fire, replenished from time to time by a black dot, should not
eclipse her own.

"Sit up a minute, Vivian," she whispered, trying to rise. "I want to get
one of those big logs which I can't reach from here. I'll be back in a
moment."

But when she returned with the log, Vivian's head had dropped upon the
blankets, and the flames which leaped up a moment later showed her, to
Virginia's joy, to be fast asleep.

So the founder of the Vigilantes was the only one left to guard the
fortunes of the camp. She took her station near the edge of the slope, a
little distance from the fire, drew her blanket close around her, and
began her vigil. There was so much to see and to think about! She was glad
she felt wide-awake.

Deep in the gorge below her, the river called with a thousand voices. Down
in the valley the pine trees reared their heads--little spear points
pricking the purple blackness of the night. The fire on Sagebrush sparkled
like a single jewel in a vast setting. Far above and beyond the valley
rose the opposite height, dark and indistinct--a bridge between two
worlds. To Virginia she was like an eagle, secure in his nest on the
topmost pinnacle of a cliff, and looking forth upon his domain.

Now she turned her face upward toward the deep, almost transparent blue of
the midnight sky. It was set with myriads of stars--great arc-lights,
beacons at sea, flickering candle-flames. A star fell--it was one of the
beacons--and came earthward, trailing glory in its wake. Then, the path
blazed, another followed, and a third. The last was a little candle-flame,
almost too tiny to find its way alone. The Milky Way was a great, golden
trail across the sky. If souls traversed it on their way to the Great
Throne, as she had believed when she was a little girl, they would have no
difficulty to-night in finding their way. She traced its triumphant course
across the heavens. It seemed to begin on earth, she thought to herself,
and come back to earth again after its journey skyward. That might break
in pieces her childhood dream. But perhaps there were Great Thrones on
earth, too, if one only searched far enough. Who knew that there were
not?

After all, Life was a search. She was beginning to realize that more every
day. It meant a seeking after the best things. What were those best
things, she wondered? Had she discovered the trail which, like the Milky
Way, led to them? Friendship was one, she concluded--the real friendship
which never demanded more than it was willing to give. And Service was
another--the desire to help people over the hard, rocky places--to be a
comrade, not just a spectator. Dorothy had discovered that. Then the Love
of Beautiful Things must surely be a third--the love of books and pictures
and of all the wonderful treasures of the out-of-doors. These were not
all. There were others to be found far ahead, Virginia knew--treasures
more wonderful than any yet discovered--if one searched and were worthy of
finding them.

At least she knew she had discovered the key which would open the gate to
the trail. She felt of it upon her waist. To be "Ever Vigilant" would open
the door. To be watchful of one's opportunities; never to scorn a chance
to serve; to guard against the cheap and the unlovely in books and
thoughts; to keep the windows of one's soul shining and clean, so that the
light of all things beautiful might shine in. She held the little pin
close in her hand. She and Priscilla and Dorothy and Mary and Vivian would
keep to the trail together.

Life was such a great, big thing she said to herself. Her breath sobbed in
her throat at the thought. It was like a day in April--cloudy and sunny
and wind-blown and rainy. She wanted her own life to be like that. Then
she could understand the storms and clouds in other lives, and prove she
was a comrade and not just an onlooker!

The fire died down and she went for more wood. As she placed a big log on
the glowing embers and turned away from the heat as it burst into flame,
she saw that the fire on Sagebrush was rekindled also. She could discern a
shadowy shape in the light of it. Donald, perhaps. He loved the night,
too. She had forgotten Donald for the moment when she chose her comrades
for the Long Trail, but he must go. She had followed trails with Donald
all her life, and on this great journey she needed his comradeship more
than ever.

It was one o'clock, her little watch said--time to sleep. The great log
with another added would last till morning. She rolled the second against
the first, and lay down beside Vivian. The heat from the fire made her
drowsy, and she soon slept. The flames leaped against the darkness; Pedro
awakened and neighed questioningly; another star fell from the sky.
Carver, Virginia, and Vivian were all in lands of their own. All at once a
hideous yell shattered the night silence. It shrieked and quavered and
moaned, and at last died away in an echo that encircled the valley.
Virginia, mounting a rocky hill with Donald, sat up suddenly. A figure
enshrouded in blankets stood beside her. Vivian mercifully slept on.

"Gee!" screamed the half-asleep and wholly frightened Carver Standish III.
"What was that?"

"A mountain lion," said Virginia, shaking in spite of herself. "But he's
miles away across the valley. I'm glad Vivian didn't wake up. She'd have
been scared to death."

"I shouldn't blame her!" replied Carver in a stentorian whisper. "I never
heard anything like it in my life. My! I'm sleepy! It's most eleven,
isn't it?"

Virginia smiled into the darkness. Not for worlds would she have told
Carver of his unsuccessful vigil.

"Yes, Carver," she said. "It's--it's past eleven!"

Alone she watched the day come as she had watched it go. She saw the last
stars fade away, and the half-light of early morning greet the eastern
mountains. She felt in a strange silence the mystery and majesty of dawn.
A mourning dove in a far-away thicket said farewell to the night; an early
morning wind stirred the quaking-asps; an orange and yellow bird left his
nest and mate to fly across the valley toward a sky-line of his own hue.
The trees stood expectant. Then the light came in long, golden rays. It
was day.

By six they were on their way to breakfast with their fellow-campers at
Sagebrush--Vivian, incredulous that the night was really over and that she
had slept; Carver, secretly much disturbed over his protecting powers;
Virginia, eager, radiant, buoyant. Donald waited for them on the other
side of the Canyon Path, and watched their safe transit. Aunt Nan and the
others were ready at the camp with welcomes and words of genuine
admiration.

"I'd have been worried to death about you," said Priscilla with her arm
around Virginia, "if it hadn't been for Carver's being there. Yes, I
would, Virginia. I don't care how much you know about camping. A man's
being around makes a heap of difference. You know it does!"

"Of course," agreed the loyal Virginia.

But Carver Standish III drank his coffee in silence, glad for once that
the cup was large enough to hide his face.



CHAPTER XII

THE ROMAN EMPEROR


The late August days came relentlessly on, each in turn being seized by
the Vigilantes and placed in a treasure-house of never-to-be-forgotten
joys. The month which they had planned in June was lengthening into six
weeks. Mr. Hunter and Virginia had insisted and Aunt Nan seemed very loath
to go. Already they were quite Westernized. They "rustled" and "cached"
and "packed" things without even stopping to think, and _r's_ were
unmistakably creeping into Priscilla's strictly Bostonian speech. What
_would_ the Winthrop family say?

Every day the country grew lovelier. A veil of bronze and purple was being
laid softly over the foot-hills, and the waiting wheat stood golden. Day
after day the sun rose in glory, and after a cloudless journey set in a
golden sea. In the woods the berries of the kinnikinnick grew red, and on
the lawn the mountain ash trees stood clothed in holiday attire. The air
was clear and bracing; the nights were cold. One morning the highest
mountain was white with snow, which, when the sun rose higher, hurried
away, as though it had told a secret. September was on the way, and these
were her forerunners.

"I never supposed," announced Priscilla one morning at breakfast, "that
weeks could go so fast. It makes old age seem awfully close. And still I
know how slowly they go sometimes, like January at St. Helen's, for
instance. Just sixteen more days, and we'll be going back East, Virginia.
Dad says if I'm not back by the tenth, they'll motor to the White
Mountains without me. I'm afraid I can't help feeling superior when I view
the White Mountains after seeing these!"

Virginia was busily counting on her fingers.

"I'm trying to remember just what we've done and what we haven't done,"
she said. "Then we can see what's left. We've ridden hundreds of miles,
and we've climbed mountains, and trapped a bear, and shot gophers, and
fished, and homesteaded, and camped, and visited Aunt Deborah and Jean
MacDonald. I'm so glad Jean went to Aunt Deborah's with us. It was such
fun having her along. Then we've been up to Mystic Lake, and out on the
range with Joe and William, and----"

"But you haven't visited the Roman Emperor," interrupted her father. "I
stopped at his place yesterday on my way home from Willow Creek, and found
him at home, flag out and all. He promised me some water-cress, but I
couldn't wait for it. You see," he added, smiling at the puzzled faces
around him, "it isn't every one who can see the Emperor. It takes a
special errand. In this case, it's water-cress."

"We'll go this very day!" cried Virginia. "Cottonwood Canyon can wait! Don
and I've been planning it all along, but he said Mr.--the Emperor, I
mean--was away up in the mountains. I'll telephone over for the boys this
minute."

Not to question had become a Vigilante principle; and not to appear too
curious, another. Still the mystery which filled their minds concerning
the Emperor was ill-concealed. They knew Patrick Sheehan, the old
Vigilante, who lived on the Lone Mountain trail, and queer Aunt Susan
Nevitt, who was reputed to have a bag of gold nuggets in the cellar of her
tumble-down cabin. But of this personage, the Roman Emperor, they had
surely never heard! Curiosity lent haste to their fingers, and in half an
hour they were ready to start.

"His ca--_estate_ is off the road to Willow Creek," Virginia explained as
they went out to greet the boys. "We've ridden by the driveway loads of
times, but I knew he wasn't at home by his flag not being out. That's the
sign. It's that way in England, you know, at the king's and dukes'
palaces. When they're at home, the flag is flying."

"I see," said Priscilla, as she mounted Cyclone. "Is the Emperor old?"

"Rather. He's nearly eighty. You see, he's been reigning twenty-five
years, hasn't he, Don?"

"Yes, he commenced when Malcolm was of no account--twenty-five years or so
ago. He's met with lots of reverses, too. He was telling me just before
you got home how the Senate wouldn't vote him any money to fix up the
estate. He'll probably apologize. Everybody ready? Come on!" commanded
Don.

They rode for a mile across the open prairie, then turned south into the
Willow Creek road, which followed the foot-hills. Conversation regarding
the Emperor was tantalizing, and questioning was forbidden. Accordingly,
they pocketed their curiosity, and devoted their time to one another, and
to the signs of approaching autumn upon the brown hillsides. Pedro and
MacDuff, eager for a gallop, left the other horses, and dashed along a
three-path, grass-grown trail which encircled the hill and met the road
again a mile beyond.

"It's just the chance I wanted," said Donald, reining in MacDuff to ride
beside Virginia. "I want to ask you about Carver. I can't make him out
lately. I don't know what's the matter. He's been queer ever since that
night on the mountain--last Tuesday, wasn't it? Of course he's all right
to the folks, and all that, but he's stuck by himself more or less, and
seemed stirred up over something. Dave, the man we got last winter,
complained to Dad yesterday about Carver's being rather officious with
the men. Dad smoothed it over, of course, and explained how Carver didn't
understand that that sort of thing doesn't go out here. But it kind of
worries me. Everything went all right up there, didn't it, Virginia--on
the mountain, I mean?"

Not even Donald could detect hesitation in Virginia's reply. If Carver
still chose to keep the ill-gotten rôle of protector, it was not up to her
to take it from him.

"Why, of course, Don," she said promptly. "Everything was perfectly all
right. I guess Carver wasn't awfully pleased at first when he found we had
to stay. You see, he--he hasn't much patience with Vivian when she's
nervous. But she did splendidly, and tried her best not to show how she
felt inside. And I couldn't see why Carver didn't enjoy himself. He
certainly seemed to!"

Donald was plainly puzzled.

"Well," he said, "it gets me! He's not a fellow you can reach very easily
either. If it were Jack, I'd ask him just what the matter was, but somehow
it's different with Carver. There's always something in the way. I
believe it's--too much New England!"

Virginia laughed.

"Too much of it's a dreadful barrier," she observed. "Grandmother Webster
had too much when I first went to Vermont, but I found a little path that
led around it after I'd searched a long time. I think part of the trouble
with Carver is that he's just one of us out here. He isn't looked up to
the way he is at home. Priscilla knew him last summer, you know, and she's
told me about him. We were talking about it just last night, because we've
noticed he's queer lately. Priscilla says he's always been looked up to by
boys and girls of his age because his family's so old, and his father so
wealthy, and his grandfather a colonel. In New England, you know, those
things count, especially the family and the colonel. Then, besides,
Carver's bright and fine-looking and an only son. Out here, you see, Don,
we don't care so much about colonels and old families and money. They're
all right, of course, if you have them, but you've an equal chance if you
don't."

"Maybe Carver's learning that we're right after all," said Donald
thoughtfully. "Maybe he's seeing that ancestry won't make a man. It's hard
to admit those things, I know that. I hated to admit that the Eastern
fellows at school had better manners than we cow-punchers from this part
of the country. But 'twas so all the same."

Virginia allowed Pedro to nibble at the quaking-asps before she spoke.

"He'll come out all right, Don," she said. "Don't let's worry! Sometimes I
think he's like Captain Myles in the poem. Priscilla does, too. He gets
angry all at once, and then hates himself for it. By and by he'll be all
right again, and as nice as ever the Captain was at John Alden's wedding.
Come on, let's round the hill! We're nearly at Mr. Livy's, and they'll
think we're too exclusive for worlds!"

The Emperor's flag was out--a diminutive and tattered Old Glory, whose
shreds fluttered in the wind. It was tacked to a wooden box, which,
mounted on a log at the entrance to a narrow, winding path, served as the
Emperor's mail-box. The name

                             A. C. Levinsky

was painted upon the side facing the road. As they turned into the path,
Priscilla halted Cyclone. There was a decided tinge of stubbornness in her
voice as she spoke.

"I'm not going another step," she announced, "until I know about this
Emperor business. I'm not going to embarrass any poor old thing who may
live in this wilderness by not knowing anything about him. Come, Donald!
You've got to tell!"

"I intended to all along just as soon as we reached the bridge," said
Donald. "I know the Emperor, and I wouldn't have him hurt for anything.
His real name is Augustus Cæsar Levinsky--at least, his last name is
Levinsky, and I guess he hitched on the first. He's a poor old prospector
who's been in this valley fifty years. He claims he was the very first to
come, and perhaps he was. He's dug holes all over these mountains looking
for gold, and you're always coming on him panning out gravel in some
creek. Some one grub-stakes him up here to get his land. By that, I mean,"
he added, noting the puzzled faces of his listeners, "that some one gives
him food and clothes and a promise to bury him for the sake of the land
he's homesteaded. That's the way with old Pat Sheehan, and a lot of
fellows around here."

"And now he thinks he's the Emperor of Rome," said Virginia, continuing
the Emperor's story. "He's been thinking that for twenty-five years,
Father says. Some one gave him an old Roman History years ago, and he
knows it all by heart. We all call him Mr. Livy around here. He says he
doesn't feel like asking his friends to title him. He sounds pathetic, but
he isn't at all. He's the happiest man you ever saw. He's like the verse
at the beginning of Emerson's _Essay on History_. He believes he's Cæsar,
and so he is. You'll be surprised at the way he speaks, and the fine
manners he has. It's believing he's the Emperor that's done those things,
I'm sure."

Less curious but more interested, they followed the cool, shady path that
led toward the imperial estates. They crossed a bridge over a creek,
green with fresh water-cress, their open sesame. Upon the railing was
tacked a second flag--this one new and untorn.

"The Emperor must have had a present," observed Virginia. "You catch your
first glimpse of the palace around this curve."

Around the curve they went, and into an open, path-cut field through which
the creek meandered. The palace lay in the farthest corner. It did not
even stand. Its old logs, disjoined and askew, were all but on the ground.
How the roof managed to hold the chimney was a mystery. Perhaps, after
all, it was the chimney which acted as a prop to the roof. A lean-to of
poles, sod, and bark served as an entrance, and boasted a door.
Mountain-fringe and other vines had taken root in the sod, and were
undoubtedly helping to hold the structure together.

An undisturbed, unbroken silence reigned over the imperial residence. The
Emperor was doubtless busy with affairs of state, if indeed he were not
away upon official business. Still the flag disproved his absence. He
might be simply viewing the domain.

Suddenly from the lean-to came such fierce barking that more than one
Vigilante made a hasty return to the safety of her saddle. Then the door
opened, and, preceded by his dogs, the Emperor came out into the sunshine.
He had doubtless been too absorbed to note their coming.

"Down, Nero! Down, Trajan!" they heard him say. "Is this the way you
receive my guests?"

The dogs ceased barking, and stood on either side of him as he surveyed
his visitors. They in turn surveyed him. They saw a tall, slight old man,
still unbent. It seemed as though dignity defied time and kept him
upright. His frayed white shirt was spotless, and his gray trousers, held
up by thongs of skin, were neatly darned and clean. The lines in his
smoothly shaven face vied in intricacy with the streets of Boston; his
thin hair was neatly brushed; his faded blue eyes were gentle. He was the
kind of an old man to whom one instinctively showed deference. Moreover,
he was the Roman Emperor.

The hats of Jack, Carver, and Donald came off as they greeted him.

"These are our friends, Mr. Livy," Donald explained. "You remember I told
you some time ago that they were coming. And you know Virginia Hunter?"

Mr. Livy did know Virginia. He and Nero and Trajan came forward all
together to greet her.

"It's good to see your face again, Miss Virginia," said the Emperor. "Your
father was here day before yesterday. He mentioned water-cress. Was that
your errand?"

"That, and to see you, Mr. Livy," answered Virginia. "My friends wished to
come. I hope you're not too busy to show them around a little."

The Emperor was not too busy. He said this with a bow, which was many
times repeated as he was presented to the others.

"I regard you as friends," he said with dignity, "otherwise I should
hesitate to show you the palace. There is a sad lack of funds of late--a
sad lack! All the Senate's appropriations are being expended on the new
aqueduct, and on new roads through the provinces. The roads hold our
great possessions together, and the Emperor's home can wait. But next year
all will be different. Then I shall again plead my case, and money will be
forthcoming. This way, please, young ladies and gentlemen. We will first
view the grounds."

His guests in respectful silence followed him down a path toward the creek
over which he had placed a little foot-bridge. A fish jumped as they
stepped upon the logs, and swam away to the safe shelter of the
water-cress.

"The stream is well-stocked with the best of trout," explained their host.
"It is my pastime to catch them in other streams and to bring them here.
You remember Horace upon his Sabine farm? Such pleasures as he enjoyed are
mine. Yes, there is an abundance of cress. We will wait until later to
gather it that it may be fresh and crisp."

They followed the stream in its meandering course through the fields.
Their guide pointed out to them this and that beauty--the fringed gentians
in a thicket near the water's edge; a late wild rose which saw its pink
reflection in the still, amber water. It was as though he, aided by the
Senate's money, had laid out the grounds himself, such was his pride in
them. Another foot-bridge brought them back to the other side, and to the
field-path which led to the house.

The Emperor felt called upon to apologize again before opening the door of
the lean-to.

"The Senate still appropriates for conquests," he said gravely. "I am much
opposed. The Empire is large enough."

They went within. The lean-to was a chaotic place, filled to overflowing
with pick-axes, spades, elk-horns, musk-rat traps, mining tools, samples
of coal, and curiously-colored pieces of rock. Some skins, stretched on
boards, were drying on the wall; some rude fishing-rods stood in one
corner. The little room was strangely like the Emperor's poor, befuddled
brain.

The room in the main house was hardly imperial. A small, rickety stove,
bearing corn-meal porridge in a tin basin, stood in the center. In one
corner was the Emperor's bed, piled high with skins; in another, a scarred
and battered table. Some ragged articles of clothing hung about the room.
By the one window was his chair, and on the floor close by lay a soiled
and tattered book--Smith's _History of Ancient Rome!_ The Emperor picked
it up eagerly and showed it to his guests.

"I was reading over again all that my reign has accomplished when you
came," he said. "There are the fire department, and the police, and the
new roads, and the patronage of poets. I feel encouraged when I think it
all over."

"I should think you would," complimented Virginia. "And then think of all
the things you did before you were Emperor! Think of the early days out
here--the Vigilantes and all!"

Mr. Livy's faded blue eyes gleamed. Epochs had become as nothing to him.
Now he was Emperor of Rome, and then he had fought against robbers and
road-agents in a new country. It was all one.

"Don't I remember it!" he cried. "Don't I remember how we hung seven
robbers in one night from a single cottonwood! Don't I remember how old
Jim Gillis said to me: 'For God's sake, Levinsky, get me one last drink
before I die!' I got it for him, and in a minute more he was dead!"

Jack and Carver's eyes shone. They thought old tales were forthcoming, but
they did not know the Emperor. He said no more of Vigilante days, but
turned toward the stove to stir the porridge.

"I'll get the water-cress for you directly," he said with a return to his
old dignity. "Give it to your father with my compliments, Miss Virginia. I
sent some but recently to the censor. No payment, I insist!"

Thus dismissed, his guests passed reluctantly outside. Ten minutes later
they were making their farewells. The Emperor stood between Nero and
Trajan, and watched them go. He was glad of occasional visitors, but more
glad to return to the knotty problems which were before the Empire.

"Good-by," he called as they rode away. "Don't forget to notice the statue
of Athena just within the gate. It's a recent gift from the Governor of
Gaul."

Then he went within the palace, passed through the lofty atrium, and
entered his private room, where he sat down to continue the story of his
glorious reign.

Meanwhile his guests searched for the Athena. There might be something--a
post, perhaps--that signified the goddess of wisdom to the plastic mind of
poor Mr. Levinsky. But they could find nothing.

"She's only a dream like all the other things," said Priscilla. "Poor man!
I can't see how he can reconcile things in his own mind!"

"He doesn't," explained Virginia. "That's the lovely part of it! He's the
happiest Emperor I've ever known of in all my life!"



CHAPTER XIII

ON THE MESA


"Pedro," said Virginia, "do you realize for one little minute what's
happened?"

Pedro looked back and whinnied. He realized at least that something was
agitating his mistress. But half an hour since she had run out of the
house to where he was feeding beneath the cottonwoods, and hurried him to
the corral where she had saddled and bridled him herself. She had been
crying then. Quick little sobs were shaking her shoulders. Then she had
sprung upon his back and ridden like mad across the prairie to Elk Creek
Valley. Had MacDuff been along, he would not have minded; but it was too
warm at mid-day to gallop all alone. Once during that wild ride she had
laughed, and once she had leaned forward and put her arms around his neck.
It was all a very strange proceeding. Now she had mercifully halted him
on the brow of the mesa, and was allowing him to rest and feed while she
sat in silence and looked across the sagebrush stretches to the
mountains.

A long silence. The air throbbed with a hidden insect chorus. Little waves
of heat shimmered above the mesa. Jean MacDonald's three cows, searching
for better feeding-grounds, passed by and gazed with grave, inquisitive
eyes at Pedro and Virginia. Pedro fed on where he was. At last the girl
upon his back spoke again.

"Pedro," she began, and again Pedro raised his head, "Pedro, I've decided
that Life isn't such a strange thing after all! I've always thought it was
until to-day, but I guess it isn't. I guess it just means loving
people--and things! If you love the wrong kind of people and the things
that don't count, why, then--why, then Life's a sad, gray thing. But if
you love the right kind of people, the kind who've learned that a primrose
isn't just a primrose, and things like the mountain and the mesa and
_you_, Pedro--why, then, Life's a golden thing like to-day. And it's the
loving that makes all the difference. I discovered that this morning when
Aunt Nan told me about Malcolm. When I was in Vermont I thought that
Grandmother and Aunt Nan were about the happiest people I'd seen; but this
morning, when I saw the light in Aunt Nan's eyes, I understood. I guess
it's a home that makes all the difference, Pedro--a home you and _somebody
else_ make together!"

Pedro fed on, glad to be talked to, confident that his mistress' world had
righted itself again. A passing cloud obscured the sun for a brief
moment.

"That's the way it was with me this morning," confided Virginia. "For just
an instant I felt sorry. 'Twas the selfish part of me coming out. I didn't
want any one to take a bigger piece of Aunt Nan's heart than mine. I
didn't want to move over and make room for any one else--even Malcolm. But
that mean, drab feeling lasted only a moment. It went right away, and now
I'm glad, _glad--glad!_ If Grandmother Webster's only glad, too, there
couldn't be any greater happiness in the world, could there, Pedro?"

Pedro stopped feeding to look back at his mistress, and to shake his
head. Virginia laughed.

"You're the only friend I want to-day, Pedro," she said, her arms around
his neck, "you and a big Something in my heart. I wanted to come away off
up here alone with you. That's why I hurried you so, poor dear! I wanted
to hear the stillness all around, and to look at the mountains. I wanted
to think about it, and to wonder if, some day, after I've learned more
things, it will come to me, too!"

Impulsively she turned in her saddle and looked down the foot-hills. Some
one was fording the creek. She knew it even before she heard the splash of
water. As she watched, two riders left the ford, and turned north up the
canyon trail. They were Malcolm and Aunt Nan. Virginia turned back toward
the mountains, and sat very still.

"Pedro," she said at last, her voice breaking, "I guess perhaps we'd
better go home, don't you? Aunt Nan and Malcolm have found their trail,
you see. They don't need us just now. No, I'm not sorry! I'm glad! I just
_know_ it's the most wonderful thing in all the world!"



CHAPTER XIV

THE NEW SCHOOL-TEACHER IN BEAR CANYON


"Yes, sir," said Mr. Samuel Wilson, stretching his boot-clad legs to their
fullest extent, and twirling his thumbs thoughtfully, "yes, sir, we've got
to have a teacher up in Bear Canyon. There ain't a bit o' use in waitin' a
week for that teacher from Sheridan. Come December, there'll be snow, and
school not out. Accordin' to my judgment, and I'm the chief trustee o'
this district, it's best to get some one to teach a week until the one
we've hired gets here. I stopped at Ben Jarvis' place on my way down here,
and he agreed with me. Says he, 'Sam, there'd ought to be one out o' that
crowd o' ladies over to Hunter's who could keep school a week. They're all
raised around Boston, folks tell me. Now you go along over, and see.' And
I said I would. What do you think, John? Ain't there a likely one among
'em? If Virginia didn't know the children so well, I'd be for choosin'
her. But a stranger's what we want. That school seems to need a stranger
'bout every term."

"That's just the difficulty," said Mr. Hunter. "It is a hard school, and
these girls aren't used to schools out here. The girl I am thinking of is
Mary Williams, but she's young--only eighteen. I shouldn't even consider
her if she hadn't said the other day that she'd like to try teaching in
that little school-house up the canyon. Of course 'twould be only for a
week. They're going back East in a little more than two."

"Her age ain't nothin' against her," reassured Mr. Wilson. "Remember Eben
Judd's girl who kept the school last spring? She was only seventeen, and
she could thrash the biggest boy there! Supposin' you let me talk with
this girl if she's around. Seems to me twenty dollars a week is mighty
easy money for just keepin' school and givin' out things you've got in
your head a'ready!"

Mr. Hunter, half-sorry that he had even considered the matter, went in
search of Mary, while Mr. Samuel Wilson stretched his legs even farther
across the floor, re-lit his old corn-cob pipe, and settled himself more
comfortably in his chair. He did not rise when Mary, forewarned but very
eager, came into the room a few minutes later, but he did remove his pipe.
Then he stated his errand, while Mary, feeling very professional, listened
with the deference due Mr. Wilson's position as chief trustee of the Bear
Canyon District.

"What we want," concluded the chief trustee, with a wave of his hand,
after he had explained all the difficulties and expatiated on all the joys
of the Bear Canyon school, "what we want is a teacher who can start things
right. A heap depends on the startin' things have in this world, I've
noticed. Now you look like a spunky young lady. Ain't afraid o' big boys,
are you?"

Mary, with the memory of Eben Judd's daughter and the biggest boy fresh in
her mind, hesitated. Bear Canyon might offer problems too big for her
inexperienced hands. Then she summoned an extra amount of dignity.

"It surely isn't necessary to thrash them, Mr. Wilson, if you can get
along with them some other way. No, I'm not at all afraid of them. Are
there many big ones?"

Mr. Wilson considered for a moment. No, there were not many. Ben Jarvis'
big boy Allan was the worst, and even he wasn't bad if he had enough to
do. The trouble was he led all the others, and if he once got "contrary,"
trouble arose. Mary inwardly resolved that he should not get "contrary."

"Now up here in Bear Canyon," Mr. Wilson further remarked, "we're strong
on figurin'. How are you on arithmetic?"

Mary's heart fell. Dismal visions of cube root and compound proportion
came to torment her. Her ship, sailing smoothly but a moment since, had
apparently struck a reef. Then a never-failing imagination came to her
rescue. She saw Priscilla solving her problems in the evening at the
table.

"Arithmetic isn't exactly my specialty, Mr. Wilson," she said brightly.
"That is, I don't love it as I do other studies; but I assure you I shall
be quite able to teach it."

The chief trustee rose from his seat, knocked the ashes from his pipe
into the fire-place, and took his hat.

"I guess you're hired for the week, then," said he, "at twenty dollars.
I'll stop in at Ben Jarvis' on my way home and tell him. School begins
Monday morning at nine. I may drop in myself durin' the week to see how
things is goin'. Good-mornin'."

Mary stood in the middle of the room, paying no heed to the curious voices
which called her from the porch. She saw the chief trustee ride past the
window on his way to tell Ben Jarvis that she was elected. She pictured
the incorrigible Allan Jarvis spending the Sabbath in the invention of
mischief. It had come too suddenly. She could not realize that she was
actually a Wyoming school-teacher. Now the time which she had thought to
be four years' distant had come--the time to begin to realize the ideals
she had shaped for herself upon the teaching and the personality of her
adored Miss Wallace.

The voices on the porch became more curious, and Mary, at last coming to
herself, hurried out to tell the wonderful news. She found the Vigilantes
and Aunt Nan as interested as she herself, and willing to sacrifice her
company for five days for the sake of Bear Canyon's rising generation.
Priscilla offered all the proficiency in arithmetic she possessed; Aunt
Nan hurried indoors to cut and make two aprons for the teacher; and Vivian
and Virginia went in search of pencils and paper. This was Saturday and
there was no time to lose.

On Monday morning at eight they all stood beneath the cottonwoods to watch
a wide-eyed and much excited school-teacher start for Bear Canyon. In a
bag which she hung on the saddle-horn were her pencils, papers, and new
apron; in a package strapped to the saddle was her lunch, packed by
Hannah's interested hands; and in her heart were excitement, misgivings,
and eagerness. She preferred to go alone, she said, as she mounted into
the saddle. They might ride up at four, and come home with her if they
liked, but she must go alone.

They did go up that afternoon at four--Vivian, Priscilla, and Virginia. As
they swung around a bend in the road, and came upon the little
school-house, they were surprised at the stillness. Where was everybody?
The children had not gone home--that was certain--for half a dozen horses
were picketed round about. Had the school adjourned and gone for a picnic
in the woods? That would not be unlike the new teacher, but it would be
very unlike the former traditions of the Bear Canyon school. No sound came
from within and it was long past four. Had the big Jarvis boy triumphed
after all, and made Mary a prisoner?

After five minutes of patient, puzzled waiting they added their horses to
those already grazing among the sagebrush, and stole quietly to the open
window. The new teacher sat in the middle of the battered, scarred, ugly
little room. She held her two youngest children upon her lap much to the
detriment of her new apron. A dirty eager face was raised to hers from
either side of her chair. The others of her twenty charges sat as near as
the seats would permit. The big Jarvis boy had not deigned to move toward
the front--that was too much of a concession for the first day--but he
was leaning forward in his seat, his big, shaggy, unkempt head resting in
his folded arms, his eyes never leaving Mary's face. She was telling them
the story of the _Dog of Flanders_. The Vigilantes, crouching beneath the
window, heard her as she finished.

"The next day," she said, "they came to the great cathedral, and found
Nello and Patrasche dead upon the stone floor. People were sorry then.
Alois' father was one who came. He realized how cruel he had been to
Nello, and was ready now to help him. But it was too late. Little Alois
came also. She begged Nello to wake and come home for the Christmas
festivities, and cried when she saw that he could not. Then a great artist
came. He had seen Nello's picture of the old man on the fallen tree, and
he knew that some day Nello might become a wonderful painter, even though
another had won the Antwerp prize. He wanted to take Nello away with him,
he said, and teach him art. But he, also, was too late, for Nello and
Patrasche had gone away together to a Kinder Country. All their lives they
had not been separated, and so the people of their little village, sorry
and ashamed, made them one grave and laid them to rest together."

There was a silence in the Bear Canyon school-house until a little girl in
a pink apron sobbed. Sobs were at a discount in Bear Canyon, and yet
strangely enough no one laughed. Allan Jarvis, in the back seat, was
intent upon his finger-nails. The others were gazing admiringly at their
new teacher.

"It's such a sad story," said the little girl, using her pink apron for a
handkerchief, "but I like it all the same."

"Deary me!" cried the new teacher, depositing the two littlest ones on the
floor, "it's half-past four! We must close school at once!"

At that the big Jarvis boy left his seat and came down the aisle, for the
first time in his life abstaining from pulling the hair of the girls
nearest him.

"Shan't I get your horse ready for you, ma'am?" he asked.

The new teacher smiled gratefully upon him.

"If you please, Allan," she said. "I'll be ever so much obliged." And
Allan Jarvis departed for the horse sheds--a conquered hero!

Mary, tired but enthusiastic, told them all about it as they rode home
together, followed at a respectful distance by a dinner-pail laden throng.
How she had arrived that morning to find Allan Jarvis the center of a
mischief-bent circle; how she had begun the day by the most exciting
shipwreck story she knew; and how the promise of another story before four
o'clock had worked a miracle. They were starved for stories, she said. She
thought they needed them more than arithmetic.

"Besides," she added, "probably the Sheridan person knows all about
figures. I'm going to put all the arithmetic classes the last thing in the
afternoon, and if we don't get around to them, why all right. It's
unfortunate, of course, but it can't be helped."

One day was quite sufficient to establish the name and the fame of the
Bear Canyon school-teacher. Around every supper-table circled tales of her
wisdom, her beauty, her strange way of speaking, and her general
superiority over any teacher Bear Canyon had ever hired. Her ability to
tell stories was lauded to the skies, and her genius at making six
hitherto mercilessly long hours seem like three marvelously short ones was
freely advertised. History under this new teacher had become something
more than a dog-eared text-book; geography more than stained and torn
wall-maps; reading more than a torturesome process of making sounds. They
proudly told their parents what the Constitution of the United States had
looked like when their teacher had last seen it; the size and shape of
Plymouth Rock as recorded by her during her last visit there. They re-told
her stories one by one to the children at home, too young for school.
Allan Jarvis did his part. He told his father he would go to school
without a word, if the new teacher could be persuaded to stay in Bear
Canyon.

Because of this Mr. Benjamin Jarvis left his work the third day, put on a
clean shirt, and visited the school himself. Mr. Samuel Wilson joined him,
as did the third trustee from farther up the canyon. When these three
gentlemen entered, the oldest History class was engaged in reproducing
the trial of Nathan Hale, the leading man in the cast being the big Jarvis
boy. It was a novel method of teaching history, the trustees said to
themselves, remembering the barren instruction they had received, but it
seemed effectual. That night they offered the new teacher a permanent job
in Bear Canyon. The teacher in Sheridan was not over-anxious to come, they
said, and the position was Mary's if she cared to accept it.

But Mary was going to college, she explained to the disappointed trustees.
Perhaps, some day, she would come back--some day when she had learned more
about teaching. As it was, Friday night must end her labors, grateful as
she was, and happy as she felt over the reception Bear Canyon had given
her.

It came all too soon--Friday night. The children stood in a disconsolate
little group to bid her good-by. They knew Bear Canyon teachers of old.
There would be no more stories, no more circuses at recess, no more flower
hunts in the woods, no more plays. School now would become just a weary
succession of days--all pointing toward Saturday. Figures would take the
place of reading, and the Rhine would again be just a crooked, black line,
not a river surmounted by frowning castles and golden with legends.

The little girl in the pink apron again used it as a handkerchief as Mary
rode down the trail.

"I--I'd go to school all my life--with her!" she said loyally.

The school-teacher halted at the residence of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis, second
trustee. He it was who was to sign the check for her services, give to her
the very first money she had ever earned. He was waiting for her, the
check in his hand.

"I--I think I ought to tell you, Mr. Jarvis," said Mary, "especially since
you're strong on figures in Bear Canyon, that I haven't taught many this
week. I'm afraid I'm very weak on system. That will be one of the things
I'll have to learn in college, I guess. The days have gone so fast I just
haven't seemed to have time to get them in. And--and to tell the truth,
Mr. Jarvis, I'm not very strong on figures myself."

"Figures!" said Mr. Benjamin Jarvis as he shook hands with her. "I guess
you've given that boy o' mine somethin' better'n figures, God bless you!"

The boy himself came around the house just as Mary was mounting her horse
to ride away. He had left school before the others, and had said no
good-by. Now he came up to her, a brown paper parcel in his hand.

"It's a rattlesnake skin I fixed for you," he said shyly. "You said you
liked 'em once. And the heavy thing in the end's my jack-knife. I carved
your letters on the handle. I thought it might come in handy when you went
to college."



CHAPTER XV

MR. BENJAMIN JARVIS ENTERTAINS


Bear Canyon did not forget Mary. A score of heart-broken children was
proof against such oblivion. Moreover, hope began to dawn in the hearts
beneath pink gingham and outing flannel when the teacher from Sheridan,
discouraged perhaps by a total lack of cordiality in her students,
resigned after two lugubrious days of service. Then Mr. Samuel Wilson,
accompanied by Mr. Benjamin Jarvis and the third trustee rode in a body to
the Hunter ranch, and offered Mary a substantial "raise" if she would only
stay on until December, and finish the fall term so triumphantly begun.

The memories of the little girl in the pink apron, together with the pleas
of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis on behalf of Allan, and the assurance of Mr. Samuel
Wilson that his children had cried "five nights runnin'" was almost too
much for Mary. In one mad wave of sympathy she determined to give up
college and to wire her mother that the Path of Duty for her led
unmistakably to the Bear Canyon school. But the more mature judgment of
Mr. Hunter and Aunt Nan prevailed, and an hour later three very reluctant
trustees rode away, leaving behind them a sad, but much relieved,
school-teacher, who lay long awake that night and pondered over the
desperate state of affairs in Bear Canyon.

But her worry, like most that encumbers the world, was needless, for the
County Superintendent over at Elk Creek lent a helping hand, and sent Miss
Martha Bumps to Bear Canyon. Now Miss Bumps was not Mary, but she was
assuredly Miss Martha Bumps, and the three trustees, disappointed as they
were not to have Mary, held their heads a trifle higher as they drove to
town. For the aforesaid Miss Bumps was a character of renown throughout
the county, and it was only because of the whooping-cough in the
consolidated rural schools of Willow Creek that she was prompted to
forsake her larger field and hurry to the aid of Bear Canyon.

For twenty-five years Miss Martha Bumps had dedicated her energies to the
teaching of Wyoming country schools. Some who knew her well affirmed that
she had made money thereby; and this statement will doubtless be given
credence by all who are not themselves school-teachers. After
relinquishing the dreams in which most women of thirty indulge, and
deciding once and for all that she would give the best of her life to
teaching, she had spent much thought and ingenuity in scheming how such a
vocation could be a distinctly pleasurable one. Ten years of boarding in
homesteaders' cabins, of sleeping with the youngest child, and eating salt
pork three times a day, of drinking condensed milk on ranches devoted
solely to cattle, and of riding miles to her place of business in all
kinds of weather--these experiences had been fruitful in the extreme. Now
she boarded nowhere. Instead, she lived in her own two-room house, which,
clapboarded, shingled, windowed and doored after the manner of all houses,
was mounted upon four stout cart-wheels, and driven by an obliging trustee
of one district to the next chosen field whenever Miss Bumps decided that
the time had come to make a change. Arriving at her destination, the
house was drawn to the best site near the school, the horses were
unhitched, and the trustee, riding and leading, started homeward, leaving
Miss Bumps to begin her double labors in her new situation.

Now, although this rather unusual mode of living on wheels had attracted
much attention and comment, it must be conceded (and will by all country
school-teachers) that it was decidedly superior to boarding. In her small
but spotless kitchen, Miss Bumps cooked the food which no homesteader's
cabin afforded, and at night slept luxuriously in her own comfortable bed
which nearly filled her other room. All day she gave herself untiringly to
her profession. In the evenings she sat by her small air-tight stove,
read, and tatted!

To this last-named accomplishment Miss Bumps had dedicated fifteen years
of practice until expert proficiency had made eyes unnecessary. She tatted
while she read, tatted while she taught, tatted while she watched the
potatoes boiling for dinner. Some even asserted that they had seen her tat
on horseback with all the diligence attributed to Bertha the beautiful
queen of old Helvetia, who spun from a distaff fastened to the saddle of
her betasseled palfrey.

But even such a curiosity as Miss Bumps may have been in the early days of
her portable residence and ever-present tatting grows ordinary when
besieged by Time, and Wyoming no longer regarded her as a phenomenon. She
was just plain Martha Bumps, to whom many a rural community owed much.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that her singular customs of living were
considered most eccentric by strangers who often laughed long and
uproariously at the portable house. Three amused Vigilantes found in her
the best theme material imaginable, and on the day when Mr. Crusoe
reported having passed her house and her on the road from Elk Creek, they
hastened with their hostess to the mail-box, ostensibly to await the
postman, but really to see Miss Martha Bumps pass by.

They did not have long to wait. The Willow Creek trustee had used his best
team of horses in the transportation, and Miss Bumps' entry into Bear
Canyon was a triumphal one. At a brisk trot and in a cloud of dust, the
equipage came down the easy grade toward the mail-box and the four
interested Vigilantes, who, throwing aside all ostentation, sprang to
their feet and stared. They saw a little, blue-ginghamed woman under a
huge peanut-straw hat, who sat in her own front doorway beside a
substantial trustee and tatted while her interested eyes scanned her
chosen country. Spying the four wayside spectators and doubtless mistaking
them for members of her future flock, she smiled from behind a pair of
gold-bowed spectacles, and waved a welcoming tatting-shuttle.

"She thinks I'm one of the children," said the former Bear Canyon
school-mistress. "She doesn't recognize me as a professional friend. But
I'm going to call upon her to-morrow if it's the last thing I do while I'm
in Wyoming. Maybe, since I know the Bear Canyon school, I'll even dare
give her some suggestions. I'm so anxious she should understand Allan."

But Mary's call was never made, for an hour later Mr. Benjamin Jarvis rode
in to announce with an air of mystery a barn-warming in his new building
for that very evening.

"It's short notice," he explained to those who had met his invitation with
instantaneous and delighted acceptance, "it's short notice, but, when you
come to think of it, there ain't much time left. You ladies go back East
in less than a week, and the threshers may come any day, so I says to
Allan this mornin' that seein' the floor was laid we hadn't better wait to
get the windows in nor any finishin' touches. It will be a farewell party
from Bear Canyon to you, Miss Mary, and a welcomin' one to the new
teacher. I just rode past the school-house to see how she felt about
to-night before invitin' the others. She's all set up an' settled in the
pine grove next the school, ain't tired a mite, and says there's nothing
like a neighborhood party to get a person acquainted."

Mary repeated her appreciation as the second trustee, having announced the
time of assembling and probable other guests, turned his horse's head
homeward. Nor were the others slow to voice their own. Virginia was
radiant. A real Wyoming barn-warming, she told Mr. Jarvis, seemed the
final joy in their collection of summer treasures, and she could not be
grateful enough for his hospitality toward her guests.

Everybody for miles around would be there, she announced that evening as
they hurried from supper to dress. All the people in the Canyon and the
Valley, and even the forest rangers from Sagebrush Point and Cinnamon
Creek. It would not be much like a Gordon dance or one at St. Helen's, but
she knew they would enjoy it. Yes, she said in response to Priscilla's
questions, it might really be quite like the one in _The Virginian_ where
they had swapped the babies.

Vivian, who had been burrowing in her closet for a stray blue satin
slipper to match the gown spread upon her bed, was surprised a few moments
later to see Virginia's dismayed face.

"Oh, Vivian, dear," she cried, "I thought you'd understand about dressing.
You really can't wear that, you know. Why, nobody will be dressed up like
that! It's for everybody, you see--Dick and Mr. Crusoe and William and the
men at Keiths'. They'll all come in flannel shirts and chaps, and they'd
all feel so queer and awkward if we dressed as we would at school. A clean
middy is what you want. I'm going to wear that. You see, it's so different
out here, Vivian."

It certainly was different out there, Vivian said to herself a little
petulantly as she hung up the blue dress, and selected a fresh middy and
some lighter shoes. Would she be expected to dance with the Bear Canyon
forest ranger and his brethren from Cinnamon Creek and Sagebrush
Point--with Dick and William and Mr. Crusoe? They were picturesque, and
she would enjoy describing them as characteristic of the West when she
returned home, but as for dancing with them, that--she was careful not to
admit to the others--was quite another matter.

By seven they were off, Mr. Crusoe being the proud driver of the large
rig, and the other men following on horseback. The Keith family with
Carver and Jack joined them at the main road, and all together they
journeyed up Bear Canyon which was populated beyond its wont with
pedestrians and equestrians, all bound for the barn-warming of Mr.
Benjamin Jarvis.

Virginia's prophecy was fulfilled. _Everybody was there!_ Not a family in
the Valley or Canyon had missed this opportunity. Babies, securely bundled
against the night air, slumbered on fresh hay in the unused bins, and
allowed their tired parents a few moments to greet their neighbors. Love
for their old teacher, and interest in their new, divided the hearts of
every child but two in the Bear Canyon school, those of the little girl in
the pink apron and Allan Jarvis being immovably anchored. The rangers from
Bear Canyon and Sagebrush, together with a bran-new man from Cinnamon
Creek, were among the guests, and two cow boys from the great Biering
ranch westward had, at the invitation of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis, driven their
bunch of cattle into his corral, made camp on the nearby hillside, and
stayed for the celebration.

The two guests of honor were escorted to seats on the center platform,
expressly built for Mr. Samuel Wilson's phonograph, which by elevation, it
was believed, would furnish sufficient volume for dancing. In the few
intervals between the quickly succeeding introductions, Bear Canyon's two
school-mistresses began their acquaintanceship, and Mary found herself
strangely fascinated by plain Miss Martha Bumps. A critical analysis
failed to warrant the fascination. Certainly Miss Bumps' appearance was
not engrossing. To her, clothes were an economical and a social necessity.
She wore her traveling gown of faded blue gingham, which of itself was
inconspicuous, had it not been for two pockets of newer material on either
side of the front. These proofs of unheeded Scriptural warning, being far
different in size, gave the entire garment a sinister, cross-eyed effect,
which did not fail to catch the eye of the most casual observer. After a
surreptitious examination of the aforesaid pockets, Mary discovered that
one was occupied by Miss Bumps' ample handkerchief, and the other by her
tatting.

Nor was there anything extraordinary in the features of her successor.
Ordinary gray hair was parted most punctiliously upon a most ordinary
forehead. Her eyes were the usual blue, and her nose a trifle better
shaped than the average. In vain Mary searched for the hiding-place of the
fascination which years afterward she was to understand--that fascination
which is born of noblest enthusiasm and a passion for service, and which
can transform all the Valleys of Baca in the wide world.

Priscilla stood with Virginia and Donald, and with eyes full of eagerness
watched the gathering of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' guests. She longed for Miss
King and Miss Wallace and Dorothy and the Blackmore Twins--yes, she even
longed for her mother, in spite of her apprehension lest her Bostonian
mother might not strictly appreciate this Wyoming barn-warming and the
cosmopolitan society attendant thereupon. She wanted them all to feel as
six weeks ago she had felt that indescribable _first_ thrill at the sight
of chaps and lariats and fully-equipped cowboys. She wanted them all to
realize that here in Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' new barn was a true democracy of
comradeship--a comradeship freed from the obnoxious fetters of ball-room
etiquette.

It was the interest sparkling in her brown eyes which made the Cinnamon
Creek forest ranger outdistance Carver Standish III in his haste to ask
her for the grand march. Carver, in white trousers and an air a little too
pronounced to be termed self-possession, was leisurely crossing the floor
toward her when his chap-clad rival of Cinnamon Creek slid past him
unceremoniously and reached Priscilla first. Even then Carver could not
believe she would choose a forest ranger in place of him; and his anger
was by no means cooled when he heard her say as though in answer to an
apology:

"Oh, but you see I can dance with Carver any day, and I've never danced
with a forest ranger in my life. I was just hoping you'd ask me when you
came!"

Baffled, Carver sought Vivian in the corner whence he had come. Weak as
Vivian was at times, he said to himself, in the matter of associates she
showed better judgment than some other girls he might name. Vivian did not
turn him down. Secretly she was devoutly thankful he had rescued her from
a persistent Biering cow boy to whom she had not been introduced, and
with whom, had an introduction been procured, she did not care to dance.
Before Carver had come, she had watched Mary talking with that freakish
Miss Bumps, Priscilla chatting with a dozen different ranchmen, cow boys,
and Bear Canyon children, and Virginia attending to the needs of a fretful
baby while its mother went cookie-hunting to the family rig.

In her heart of hearts Vivian envied them all. Inwardly she longed to be
one with whom all others felt at ease; but outwardly it was far easier to
echo Carver's vindictive mood, and agree with him, as they went to take
their places in the ever-lengthening line, that never in her life had she
seen such people.

Mr. Samuel Wilson with Miss Bumps as a partner and Mr. Benjamin Jarvis
with Mary led the march, which three times made the circle of the new barn
before breaking into an hilarious two-step. Mr. Samuel Wilson's phonograph
groaned and wheezed bravely from its platform; three great bon-fires
outside made the great barn glow with light; the babies in the
straw-filled bins slumbered on while their fathers and mothers grew young
again.

Carver, scorning a two-step, was teaching Vivian a new dance introduced at
Gordon the winter before. Pretty as it was, it was strangely inappropriate
in Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' barn, and served to separate Carver and Vivian
still farther from their fellow guests. The Cinnamon Creek forest ranger
watched them until the straight line between his eyebrows grew deeper and
deeper. Then he left Miss Martha Bumps with the excuse of bringing her a
glass of cider, and started across the floor. It was too bad, he was
thinking to himself, for a likeable chap like that young Standish to get
in bad. A good-natured word might give him a hint, and no one be the
wiser.

Carver and Vivian did not notice his approach. They were resting from
their dance, and talking together in tones low yet perfectly audible to
one who might be passing by.

"Did you ever see such queer people in your life?" the tall ranger heard
Vivian say, and Carver's rejoinder made the straight line between his
brows even deeper than before. Apparently there was double need for his
friendly hint.

"Some five hundred, _believe me_!" said the third Carver Standish.

The scorn in his voice was born of petulance rather than of snobbishness,
but no such kindly discrimination would be made by any sharp-eared guest
of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis, and the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger lost no
time.

"If I were you," he said frankly but pleasantly to the amazed Carver
Standish, "I'd be a bit more careful about what I said. You see, here in
Wyoming it's not considered good form to talk about your host and his
guests. If they heard you, it mightn't be comfortable. And, besides, it
seems to me it would be better to dance with other folks. That's why I
came to ask you if you'd dance the next dance with me, Miss Winters."

Carver and Vivian were too discomfited to be gracious. Like many persons
more mature than they, they sought to cover embarrassment and to gain
control of the situation by bad manners.

"I hardly think," said Carver Standish III stiffly, "that I need any
coaching on behavior from you!"

And before the ranger had time to reply, had he contemplated such action,
Vivian was ready with her self-defense.

"I rather guess New Englanders have about as good manners as Wyoming
people," she said scathingly, "at least judging from those I've seen!"

The reply of the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger was brief and to the point.

"I always thought so myself until to-night," he said.

Then he bowed politely, procured a glass of cider for the waiting Miss
Bumps, who was tatting during the interval, and quietly took his leave.
But his words, angrily received though they had been, bore fruit, for
Carver Standish III danced not only with Miss Martha Bumps but also with
Mrs. Samuel Wilson who was twice his size; and Vivian, heartily ashamed of
herself and seeking redemption in her own eyes, accepted the Biering cow
boy without a show of an introduction, and danced with him three times
during the evening, not to mention her hearty acceptance of Dick and Alec
and Joe.

It was late when Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' barn-warming broke up, and later
when the guests rode and drove away down the canyon. In Mr. Crusoe's rig,
save from one occupant, conversation and laughter never ceased until they
turned down the avenue of cottonwoods. The Cinnamon Creek forest ranger
came in for his share of the observations from all but Vivian--his general
superiority over the other rangers, his good English, the interesting line
between his eyes, and his air of having seen the world. Miss Bumps was
admired and complimented. The stature of the biggest Biering cow boy
brought forth exclamations. The capacity of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis as a host
received loud praise. In short, no one was omitted, even to the youngest
Wilson baby, who had looked so adorable as he lay asleep in the bin.

It had been a memorable evening, Aunt Nan said, as they gathered around
the big fire which Hannah had kept for them, for a last half hour before
bed-time. She thought they all needed just such an occasion, so that they
might carry back home with them a knowledge of real Wyoming hospitality
which knew no strangers. Of course, they had seen it all summer long, she
added, smiling at Virginia, but the courtesy of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis had
made them one with all Elk Creek Valley and Bear Canyon.

"I've been thinking all the evening of the little poem we learned last
Christmas, Virginia," she said. "You know, the one about the fire. I guess
the big bon-fires at Mr. Jarvis' made me think of it, and now this one at
home brings it back again. You remember it, don't you?"

Virginia did remember. She repeated it softly while they watched the
flames and listened. Vivian, in her corner, was glad no one could see the
red which crept into her cheeks.

             "'I watched a log in the fire-place burning,
               Wrapped in flame like a winding sheet,
             Giving again with splendid largess
               The sun's long gift of treasured heat--

             "'Giving again in the fire's low music
               The sound of wind on an autumn night,
             And the gold of many a summer sunrise
               Garnered and given out in light.


             "'I watched a log in the fire-place burning--
               Oh, if I, too, could only be
             Sure to give back the love and laughter
               That Life so freely gave to me!'"

"That's what the people out here do," said Aunt Nan after a little when
Virginia had finished. "They're not afraid to give back the 'love and
laughter' which Life has given them. I think we reserved New Englanders
can learn a lesson from Mr. Jarvis and the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger
and all the other people we met and be more willing to give back what
we've had given to us."

For a long hour after she had gone to bed Vivian remembered the lesson she
might have learned from the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger and would not;
the love and laughter she might have given the guests of Mr. Benjamin
Jarvis and did not. Thoroughly disgusted with herself, she lay looking
through the tent opening at the mountains--great, silent souls beneath the
stars. They gave back--just _everything_, she thought.

"Can't you sleep, Vivian?" Virginia whispered from her bed across the
tent. "What's the matter?"

Vivian told half the truth.

"It's that poem," she said petulantly. "Of course it's lovely, but I can't
get it out of my mind, and I hate to have things run through my head like
that!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE CINNAMON CREEK FOREST RANGER


"No, Vivian," assured Virginia for at least the tenth time, "there aren't
any cattle on those hills. You just turn up the Bear Canyon road where we
went after the bear, and go till you reach the creek. It's only a mile
from here. Then if you feel a bit nervous about riding Siwash up the
mountain, why tie him to a tree and walk. Perhaps 'twill be easier anyway,
for you'll find the kinnikinnick just after you leave the creek. It will
be redder in the open places, so hunt for those. You'll love it for
Christmas boxes. If it weren't for Cæsar, I'd go with you, but I want to
finish the third book before Mary goes. Is it at the creek Carver's going
to meet you?"

"There or at the crossroads," explained Vivian, as she mounted Siwash. "He
went to town this morning with Donald, but he said he'd be back in plenty
of time. I tried to 'phone, but I guess there must be something wrong. I
couldn't get any one, and it didn't buzz at all. But I know he'll be
there, and I'm not a bit afraid of Siwash. Good-by."

Virginia stood on the porch and watched Vivian ride down the lane before
returning to Cæsar. She was wondering if anything could be the matter, if,
perhaps, something had happened at the barn-warming the evening before to
displease Vivian. She had seemed so unlike herself all the morning.

But, she concluded wisely, few days were cloudless, and even an almost
perfect house-party had its ups and downs. She and Donald had both
discovered that. So many different personalities were bound to collide
occasionally, and one couldn't be happy always. An afternoon on the
mountain was sure to make Vivian's world bright again.

Meanwhile Vivian neared the crossroads. Carver was not there. A scanning
of the prairie showed him nowhere in sight. She would ride up the canyon
to the ford and wait there, she said to herself. When she rode, her
thoughts were less troublesome, and it was far easier to stick to her
resolve.

Last evening, just as Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' guests were dispersing, she had
made a hasty engagement with Carver to meet her the following afternoon
and go for kinnikinnick up Cinnamon Creek. The search for kinnikinnick was
not, however, her real reason for wishing to see Carver. If her courage
did not fail her, and if her sudden resolve did not wane in the light of
day, as resolves so often do, she was going to ask Carver to ride with her
up Cinnamon Creek to the ranger's cabin, and there help her to apologize
for their rudeness. To admit her regret to Carver would be even more
difficult than to apologize to the ranger, and she was not at all sure
that she should wish to do so in severely practical daylight.

Yet daylight had come--it was early afternoon of the next day--and she was
still ready if Carver would only come. She allowed Siwash to sink his warm
nose in the amber waters of the ford while she waited. It was very still
up there. In fact, only Virginia's repeated assurances that there were no
cattle on the hills and her own knowledge that a homesteader's cabin was
just out of sight beyond the quaking-asps on her left, made Vivian endure
that stillness, broken only by the hurrying creek waters and the lazy
humming of tiny, hidden insects.

To her right rose the mountain wall, dark with pine and spruce, though
here and there a flaming service-berry or a hawthorn broke through the
evergreens like sudden fire. The tangle of trees and shrubs seemed
impenetrable, and yet Virginia had told of a trail which led from the
creek not three rods from the ford--led up, up, up for five miles until it
reached the Cinnamon Creek Station.

Why did not Carver come? She wished she could be as patient as Siwash who
stood knee deep in the ford, hung his shaggy, homely head, and stole a nap
gratefully. For the twentieth time Vivian rehearsed her speeches, the one
to Carver and the other to the insulted ranger. That is, he had every
cause to be insulted, though her memory of the smile with which he had
received her thrust would seem to dispute his justifiable indignation.
Perhaps here in the mountains people were not so easily insulted. They,
the mountains, were so big and generous that they made one ashamed of
littleness.

Being sure of the speeches, she grew more and more impatient. Carver,
waiting in Elk Creek for a stock train to load up with its living freight,
was even more uneasy than she. He could not leave Donald and there was no
way of letting Vivian know that he could not meet her at the ford. At
last, having convinced himself that he could not help matters, he sat down
on the station platform, disturbed in spirit and conscience, and hoped
that Vivian had already turned back home.

But Vivian did not turn back. It grew hot by the ford, and she decided to
tie Siwash in the shadow of some quaking-asps across the creek, and go up
the trail herself to a shady place. Carver would see Siwash and call to
her if she did not hear him come.

It was cool and shady beneath the trees that bordered the rocky trail. She
would willingly have rested had not her eyes spied the red berries of
some kinnikinnick growing on either side of the path. Farther away in an
open space she saw more and larger. They were far prettier than holly for
Christmas boxes, and would be so different to her friends back East. She
loved the tiny leaves and graceful trailing of the vines, which seemed
hardly sturdy enough to hold the big, round, jolly-looking berries.

Virginia was right. They did grow more luxuriantly in the infrequent open
places, and she climbed farther and farther up the mountain side, seeking
like Hansel and Gretel for bigger berries than she had found. Sometimes
she stood still and listened. The silence made a queer catch in her
throat. Had it not been for her eagerness to find more and better
kinnikinnick, and her knowledge that the homesteader's cabin was very
near, she would have been frightened. But Carver must be there very soon,
and though she often left the trail, the sound of the creek was proof
against her being lost. Her own woodsman instinct was not strong, but
Virginia had told her always to trust the creek, which would ever lead one
down whence she had come.

Once her heart almost stopped beating. Away in the top of a great spruce
she heard a hammering sound. It echoed through the silent woods like great
blows of an ax, and some long moments passed before Vivian could assure
her frightened heart that it was only a flicker searching for his dinner.

Her box was filled with kinnikinnick and she would go back. If Carver were
not at the ford, they must make the trip up the trail the next day in
spite of Virginia's plan for a ride to Lone Mountain. If necessary, she
would be brave enough to explain matters, and then they would understand.

She turned to go down the mountain, when suddenly from above her came a
sound of breaking underbrush as though some creature were bursting from
its covert. Vivian stood motionless, too terrified to move or to scream.
It was not Carver--that was certain. He would never be upon the mountain.
It was far more likely to be a bear. Why not one here as well as farther
up the canyon where they had caught that monster from the sight of which
she had not yet recovered? Thoughts passed like flashes through her brain
while that awful sound of breaking twigs continued. Hundreds and hundreds
of them came, crowding one another for space--thoughts of St. Helen's,
snatches of poems she had learned, memories of things which had frightened
her as a child. And last of all, perhaps because without knowing it she
had reached a great tree and sunk in a little heap at its foot, came the
picture of a sallow youth in eye-glasses and a linen duster, who had once,
ages ago, crashed through some underbrush somewhere else!

The crashing ceased. Some one stepped into the trail above her. The
thought of a bear had somehow given place to her old knight-errant of the
soda-fountain. And yet when she looked up, expecting to see his pale,
sickly countenance, she saw instead the khaki-clad form and the surprised
blue eyes of the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger!

He was the very person she had wished to see. She could make her speech
now, and be spared her long ride, and yet she found herself studying the
line between his eyes and wondering why other people did not have a line
there, too. It was the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger who spoke first.

"If that were an oak tree," he said, "I'd think you were consulting an
oracle; but since it isn't, maybe you're just a Dryad who's fallen out of
the branches. What are you doing away up here anyway? I guess you startled
me almost as much as I seem to have startled you. I'm mighty sorry I
scared you though!"

His apology made Vivian remember her own, and though she quite forgot her
speech and just stammered out how sorry she was, the ranger liked it quite
as well and assured her he should never think of it again.

"And now," he said, "since you've come away off up here, I'm not going to
let you go home until you've seen my garden."

"Your garden?" queried Vivian. "Why, your cabin isn't here! It's----"

"I know," he interrupted, "but my garden is. Follow me. I'll show you. I
promise there aren't any bears."

She followed him for half a mile up the trail. They wound around great
bowlders and along the edges of steep, forbidding places. Then the ranger
paused before a thicket of yellow quaking-asps.

"This is the entrance," he explained. "Now prepare, for you're going to
see something more wonderful than the hanging gardens of Nineveh."

Pushing aside the quaking-asps, he made a path for Vivian, who followed,
mystified. A few moments more and they had passed the portals, and stood
in the ranger's garden.

Vivian caught her breath. Never in her life had she seen such grandeur of
color. They stood in an open place--a tiny valley surrounded by brown
foot-hills. Beyond, the higher pine-clad mountains shut off the valley
from the eyes of all who did not seek it. Some great, gray, over-hanging
rocks guarded the farther entrance. Within the inclosure, carpeting the
valley and clothing the foot-hills, great masses of color glowed in the
gold of the sunlight. The ranger's garden was a flaming pageant of yellow
and bronze and orange, crimson and scarlet and purple between a cloudless,
turquoise sky.

"Oh!" cried Vivian. "It's just like a secret, isn't it, hidden away up
here? I never saw such color in all my life, except in Thaïs, you know,
where the women in Alexandria wore such beautiful gowns." Somehow she knew
that the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger _did_ know.

"Yes," he said understandingly, "I remember, only this is better than
grand opera, because it's real. You see, I spotted this place last spring.
I saw all the different shrubs--quaking-asp and buck-brush and Oregon
grape and service-berry and hawthorn and wild currant--and I thought to
myself that this would be some garden in September. It's cold nights up
here in these hills, the frosts are early, and the sun strikes this valley
all day. It's going to be even more gorgeous in two weeks more. It isn't
exactly on my beat, but it's near enough so I can make it. Come on. I'll
show you all the different things."

So he led her from golden quaking-asp to crimson hawthorn, and taught her
the names of everything that grew in his wonderful garden. Before they had
made the circle, Vivian mustered courage, and, seeing the jeweled pin upon
the pocket of his rough shirt, which his coat had covered the evening
before, asked him about himself, and if Wyoming were his home.

No, he said, glad to tell her. He was from Maine, and the pin he wore was
his fraternity pin. He had studied forestry in the university there, and
then, becoming ill, had been sent West to get rid of a nasty cough which
didn't want to go away. But the mountains had proven the best doctors in
the world, and he was only staying on a year in the cabin at Cinnamon
Creek to learn the mountain trees, and to add a few more pounds before
going back home again.

Vivian grew more and more confused as she listened. Here he was a New
Englander like herself, and she had been so rude. What would Carver say
when he knew?

"It just shows," she said, "that we never can tell about persons on first
acquaintance. I'm doubly sorry I was rude last night. I thought you didn't
talk like a Westerner, but I didn't dream you were from New England!"

He smiled.

"I've learned since I've been out here," he said, "that it doesn't make
any difference where we're from. Wyoming hearts are just like New England
ones, and the only safe way is never to be rude or unkind at all."

Vivian agreed with him. She never would be again, she said to herself, as
they left the garden and went back down the trail to Siwash and the ford.
Carver was not there, and the ranger insisted upon walking home with her.
He would not have stayed for supper had not Virginia and Aunt Nan, meeting
them at the mail-box, persuaded him.

So it was a very merry party that ate supper beneath the cottonwoods--a
party saddened only by the early good-night of the Cinnamon Creek ranger,
who wanted to make his mountain cabin before darkness quite obliterated
the trail. As he swung into the main road after some cordial handshakes
which warmed his heart, he met Carver Standish III.

It was too nearly dark for Carver to see the fraternity pin, and no one
had yet told him that the ranger was from New England. Nevertheless, he
straightened his shoulders, and held out his hand.

"I've wanted to see you, sir," he said, "to tell you that I was an awful
cad last night, and that I'm dead ashamed of it!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE WINTHROP COAT-OF-ARMS


Priscilla, sitting under the biggest cottonwood, was writing to Miss
Wallace, in her best handwriting, on her best stationery, in her best
style. One unconsciously brought forth the best she had for Miss Wallace.
She was telling of the Emperor and of the Cinnamon Creek ranger, sure that
Miss Wallace would be glad to add both to her collection of interesting
people. Interruptions were many. Carver, moody and silent, rode over,
looking for entertainment, and she did her best; Vivian, having reached a
halt in her daily Latin review, asked assistance; little David, Alec's
adorable son, had come over with his mother for the afternoon, and
Priscilla found him irresistible; and at last Donald, riding homeward, hot
and tired from working on the range, had stopped for rest and refreshment.
With Hannah's help Priscilla had provided the refreshment, and the ground
beneath the cottonwood was giving the rest.

"Some stationery!" said Donald, raising himself on his elbow to look at
the pile of sheets which Priscilla had placed in readiness on the grass.
"A shield and an eagle and a lion and a unicorn all at once, to say
nothing of Latin. What does it say? '_Courage--my----_'"

"_Courage is my heritage_," translated Priscilla proudly. "It's our family
coat-of-arms, and that's the motto. We've had it for years and years, ever
since the Wars of the Roses. A Winthrop was shield-bearer for Edward, Duke
of York, and Grandfather used to say we could be traced back to the Norman
Conquest."

"I see," said Donald politely, but with something very like amusement in
his blue eyes. "You New England folks are strong on crests and mottoes and
that sort of thing, aren't you?"

"No more than we should be," announced Priscilla a little haughtily. "We
are the oldest families for the most part, and I think we ought to
remember all those things about our ancestors. It's--it's
very--stimulating. The West is so excited over progress and
developing the country and all that," she finished a little disdainfully,
"that it doesn't care about family traditions or--or anything like that."

"Oh, I don't know," returned Donald. "It isn't so bad as that. We think a
fine family history is a splendid thing. I venture I'm as proud of my
Scotch forefathers as you are of the Duke of York's shield-bearer, though
we haven't any coat-of-arms, and never did have any, I guess. Only back
there you think it's a necessity to have a good ancestry, and out here we
just consider it a help. I like what Burns said about a man being just a
man. That's the way we feel out here. It isn't what you come from; it's
what you _are_, and what you can do. Family mottoes are all right, if you
live up to them. I knew a fellow at school when I was East two years ago.
He roomed with me. He had the family coat-of-arms framed and hung on the
wall. 'Twas all red and silver, and the motto was '_Ne cede
malis_'--'Yield not to difficulties.' The funny part was that he was the
biggest quitter in school. You see, I think it's you who have to uphold
the motto--not the motto that has to uphold you."

Priscilla ate a cookie silently. She wished Donald were not so
convincing.

"For instance," Donald continued, "suppose _Courage is my heritage_ were
Vivian's family motto. Do you think that fact would give Vivian an extra
amount of courage if she said it over a thousand times? I don't. All the
courage Vivian's got she's gained for herself without any motto to help
her out. And I guess that's the way with most of us in this world."

He took his hat and rose to go.

"I've got to be making for home," he said. "Dave's gone, and I've an extra
amount of work to do. Thanks awfully for the cookies, and don't think I'm
too hard on the family motto business. I can see where your motto means a
heap to you, but you're not a quitter anyway, Priscilla."

He jumped on MacDuff and rode down the lane with a final wave of his hat
as he galloped homeward across the prairie. Priscilla's cheeks grew red
as she watched him. She was not any too sure that she was not a quitter.
Disturbing memories came to trouble her--memories of occasions when she
had not proven the truth of the motto, which had fired her ancestors.
Donald was right, too, about ancestry and coats-of-arms and mottoes being
only helps. Her New England conscience told her that, and her weeks in
Wyoming corroborated her conscience. Still she was averse to admitting
it--even to Donald.

She returned to her unfinished letter, but Genius seemed on a vacation.
She could not picture the Emperor to Miss Wallace--could not give the
impression which he had indelibly stamped upon her memory as he stood
between Nero and Trajan at the palace entrance. The coat-of-arms seemed a
disturbing element. She covered it with a strip of paper, but still
thoughts would not come.

Disgruntled and out-of-sorts, she put away her letter, and started toward
the house. Carver's mood was contagious, she said to herself. In Hannah's
kitchen she found Mrs. Alec and little David, a roly-poly youngster of
three who demanded too much attention for just one mother. Priscilla,
seeing in David a sure antidote for introspection, offered to play the
part of the necessary other mother, and took him out-of-doors, much to the
relief of tired Mrs. Alec. She had no more time to think of family mottoes
or coats-of-arms. David clamored for attention, begged to be shown the
horse, the dogs, and all the live-stock which the ranch afforded.
Priscilla was an obedient guide. Nothing was omitted from the itinerary.
When David, satisfied as to the other four-footed possessions, said "Pigs"
in his funny Scotch way, pigs it was!

She led him down the hill to the corral, then off toward the right where
the pigs had their abiding-place. A pile of rocks, the crevices of which
were filled with all weeds infesting the neighborhood of pigs, offered a
vantage-ground from which they might view the landscape so alluring to
little David. With his hand in hers, she was helping him mount the rocks
one by one.

Suddenly a miniature saw-mill whirred at their feet. A swarm of bees
filled the air! Priscilla, intent upon David, had not noticed the flat
surface of the rock where the sun lay warm and bright. Warned by the
strange sound, her terrified eyes saw the snake, coiled and ready to
spring! She had a fleeting vision of a flat, cruel head, and a thousand
diamond-shaped yellow dots as she grasped little David by the neckband and
pulled him from the rocks to the corral. It was a rattlesnake! The
brakeman's prophecy had come true! In spite of Virginia's assertion that
they never came near the house, she had seen one!

Little David was crying from surprise and a sore neck. He had not seen the
snake. Priscilla was trembling in every muscle. There was no one whom she
could call. The men were on the range and in the fields; Mr. Hunter and
the girls, except Vivian, were in town; Aunt Nan was at the Keiths. The
snake must not be allowed to live. Little David might be playing around
there again, or some other child. She herself would never, never have the
courage----! She started, for suddenly in place of the sound of the
saw-mill and the vision of the diamond-shaped dots, came the memory of a
lion rampant on a field of gold, an eagle perched upon a shield, and a
unicorn surrounded by stars. As the red came back into her white cheeks,
Donald's words came back also:

"You see, you're no quitter anyway, Priscilla!"

Two minutes later Mrs. Alec and Hannah were surprised to receive into
their midst a shrieking child, borne by a most determined girl, who was
almost out of breath.

"He's all right!" she gasped. "Except his neck, I mean! I dragged him. I
had to! I'll tell you why by and by. Keep him till I get back!"

Then she flew out of the house and down the path to the stables. A
many-tined pitchfork rested against one of the sheds. It was one which
William had used that morning in turning over sod for a new flower-bed.
Priscilla in her hurried transit with David had marked the fork, and
chosen it as her best weapon. Of all those cruel tines, one must surely be
successful. Donald had told tales of forked sticks and heavy stones, but
her hands were too inexperienced for those things.

She seized the fork and ran down the path toward the rocks, not daring to
stop lest her resolve should fail her; not even waiting to plan her
attack lest the memory of that awful head should send her back to the
kitchen.

The saw-mill whirred again as she neared the rock. Apparently the snake
had not stirred since his last conquest. This time she saw his wicked
little eyes, his flattened head, and the contraction of his
diamond-covered muscles as he made ready to spring. But Priscilla sprang
first. The tines of the heavy pitchfork pierced the coils, and the only
whirr which sounded was the whirr of iron against the rock.

Priscilla, on the rock below, held the handle of the pitchfork firmly, and
tried not to look at her victim as he writhed in agony. A sickness was
creeping over her. There were queer vibrations in the air, and a strange,
singing sound in her ears. Memory brought back the picture of an evening
in Carver Standish's room at the Gordon School when she had felt the same
way. She would not faint, she said to herself, rallying all her forces.
She would die first! The snake had ceased writhing. He was surely dead.
Little David need be no longer in danger, and she--perhaps she need not
feel so unworthy when she thought of the Winthrop coat-of-arms.

She was very white when she reached the kitchen after depositing the
pitchfork and its burden by the shed. Grateful Mrs. Alec cried and held
little David closer when Priscilla, fortified by Hannah's cider, told the
story. Alec, who came in a few minutes later, was grateful, too, in his
bluff Scotch way. The snake, he said, was a whopper. He had rarely seen a
larger, and Miss Priscilla was a trump--the very bravest tenderfoot he'd
ever seen!

She had been true to her heritage, Donald said that evening--worthy to
bear the Winthrop coat-of-arms. But then he knew she wasn't a quitter
anyway. He had told her so that very afternoon.

But Priscilla's honesty was equal to all the demands placed upon it that
night. Donald's praise was but the last straw!

"All the coats-of-arms and family mottoes in the world, Donald," she said,
"couldn't have made me kill that snake. It was what you said about them,
and about me not being a quitter that did it. I think I was a quitter
until this afternoon; but now I can go and write Miss Wallace without
covering up the top of the paper. I'm going to do it before bed-time, if
you'll excuse me. Good-night!"



CHAPTER XVIII

A GOOD SPORT


"Whew!" sighed Vivian, shifting her position in the saddle for the tenth
time in as many minutes, and taking off her broad-brimmed hat to fan her
tanned, flushed face. "I think sagebrush must attract the sun. I never was
hotter in all my life! I wish now we'd stayed at the Buffalo Horn and
waited till after supper to start back. Of course I don't exactly love
riding in the dark, but of the two I'd about as soon be scared to death as
baked. Where is the next shady spot, Virginia? I can't see a tree for
miles! I honestly can't!"

"There aren't any," said the comforting Virginia, brushing back the damp
rings of hair from her hot forehead, "and the next shady spot is two miles
away. The trail bends and there are some quaking-asps by a spring. We'll
rest there, and eat our cookies, and drink some real water. 'Twill be a
change from the river."

"I'm thankful for the river though, even if I have drunk all kinds of
bugs. I guess we'd have died without it through all these miles of
sagebrush. When will the others get home, do you suppose?"

"Not until late," Virginia answered, "that is, if they wait for supper.
I'd have loved to have stayed, but William wants Pedro for the range
to-morrow, and I wanted him to have a longer rest. Besides, he runs so
with the other horses and gets nervous. You were a peach to come with me,
Vivian. Right in the hottest part of the day, too."

Vivian was honest.

"It wasn't all out of kindness," she admitted, "though, of course, I love
to ride with you. I didn't especially care about riding home at night, and
I don't like such a big crowd either. Siwash always forgets how old he is,
and begins to act kittenish, and I never know what to do. I'm thirsty
again. Shall we drink a few more bugs?"

"Might as well, I suppose," Virginia replied. "Pedro and Siwash seem
ready. Ugh! I got one that time! Actually felt him go down my throat! We
ought not to put water on our faces, Vivian. They're peeling now! Here's
some cold cream!"

Vivian squeezed the tube and smeared her glowing nose, before she again
mounted Siwash.

"We mustn't drink any more of the river," she said. "I feel like an insect
cabinet already. Let's get to the quaking-asps as soon as we can and
rest."

Virginia's eyes glowed with pride as she watched Vivian mount Siwash and
ride away from the river. One would never have known it was the same
Vivian who nearly seven weeks ago had begged to stay at home from the
getting-acquainted trip. She had learned to ride well and easily, and no
apparent fear, at least of Siwash, remained. With still more pride
Virginia saw her tanned, happy face, the red color in her cheeks, and the
extra pounds which Wyoming had given her. The Big Horn country had been
kind to Vivian in more ways than one.

"I never saw any one improve so in riding, Vivian," she could not resist
saying. "You do every bit as well as Priscilla, and Don thinks she's a
marvel. I'm proud as Punch of you!"

Vivian's cheeks glowed redder.

"I can't help but be a tiny bit pleased with myself," she said
hesitatingly, "at least about the riding. And--and there are other things,
too, Virginia. Of course I know there have been loads of silly things--Mr.
Crusoe, for instance. I'll never forget how awful that was, even though
you were all so fine about it. But in spite of everything foolish, I have
learned things out here, Virginia, that I never knew in all my life.
Mother and Father probably won't see any difference next week when I get
home, but there is some just the same. I'm not quite such a--a coward as I
was! I feel it inside!"

"I know you do," said Virginia, riding Pedro closer. "It shows on your
face, too. I guess what's really inside of us usually does. You're getting
to be a good sport, Vivian, and we're all proud of it--with you!"

The knowledge of Virginia's approval somehow made the mid-day heat less
intense, and the two miles to the quaking-asps less long. It was good to
reach them, and to lie at full length on the cool ground before drinking
from the spring a few steps away. Pedro and Siwash were grateful, too, as
they cropped the sweet, moist grass. A half hour here would sustain them
against the three miles of sagebrush beyond.

Virginia and Vivian lay flat on their backs with their arms straight above
their heads and rested, as they had been taught to do at St. Helen's.
Above them the interlaced branches of the quaking-asps shut out the sun.
The air was still with that strange stillness which sometimes comes before
a storm. Even the ever-active leaves of the quaking-asps moved not at
all.

"It's the stillest place I ever knew," said Vivian, as she reached for a
cookie. "How far is it to the nearest house?"

Virginia considered.

"Six miles," she said. "No, there's a homesteader's cabin nearer. That's
about four, I guess, but Michner's, the cattle ranch, is six. We always
call them the nearest neighbors from here. It is still, isn't it?"

"Awfully!" returned Vivian.

Their words were hardly finished when the sound of hoofs broke the
stillness. Pedro and Siwash snorted. Virginia and Vivian sat up
quickly--one interested, the other alarmed. Some one was coming along the
rough trail through the sagebrush. Some one was very near! They peered
through the quaking-asps. The some one was a lone cowboy riding a buckskin
horse. He was leaning forward in his saddle and clutching the horn. His
face, almost covered by the big hat he wore, was close to the black mane
of the sturdy little buckskin.

From their shelter they watched him draw near with beating hearts. There
was something strange about him--strange as the stillness. They could not
see that he was guiding the horse, who apparently knew not only the way,
but her mission as well. She came straight toward the shady thicket and
stopped beneath the trees a few rods away from the two anxious spectators.
Her rider, conscious perhaps from the halt that he had reached his
destination, loosened his hold upon the saddle-horn, swung himself with a
mighty effort from the saddle, and fell upon the ground, his hat all
unnoticed falling from his head.

The buckskin was apparently worried. She sniffed the air dubiously,
snorted an anxious greeting to Pedro and Siwash, and moved to one side,
lest by mistake she should tread upon her master, who lay in a motionless
heap close beside her. Then Virginia's quick eyes discovered blood upon
the man's head and face. She jumped to her feet.

"He's hurt somehow, Vivian," she said, "terribly hurt, I'm afraid. We
mustn't leave him like this. He might die here all alone! Come on! Let's
see what we can do."

Vivian, too surprised to remonstrate, followed Virginia through the
quaking-asps. The man lay where he had fallen, unconscious of anything
about him. Blood was flowing from an ugly wound just above his forehead.
He was a sad and sorry sight. Vivian shuddered and drew back.

"Who is he, Virginia?" she breathed. "You know who he is, don't you? Oh,
what are you going to do?" For Virginia's strong young arms were trying
to pull the man into a more comfortable position, and farther beneath the
trees.

"No, I don't know who he is," she whispered, fanning the man's white face
with her broad-brimmed hat. "That doesn't make any difference. He's
awfully hurt! I thought at first 'twas a shot, but I guess he's fallen. It
looks like that. The horse belongs to Michner's. I know by the brand. Fan
him, Vivian, while I fix his head and see if he has any whisky about him
anywhere."

The dazed and frightened Vivian obediently took the fan, and turning her
face away, frantically fanned the quaking-asps until they danced and
fluttered once more. Virginia untied the cow boy's slicker from the back
of the buckskin's saddle and folded it into a pillow, which she placed
beneath the sick man's head. The buckskin was relieved and whinnied her
thanks. Then from one pocket she drew a small, leathern flask and shook
it.

"Empty!" she said. "Hard luck! Water will have to do. We were careless to
forget our drinking-cups. Rinse this flask, and get some water from the
spring, Vivian."

Vivian, still waving the fan in the air, brought the water, which Virginia
tried to pour between the man's lips. It seemed to arouse him, for he
drank some gratefully, though without opening his eyes.

"I ought to wash some of this blood away," said Virginia, "but I guess I
won't take the time. You can do that after I'm gone. There's only one
thing to do. We can't leave this man here in this condition. He might die
before any one found him. I'll take Pedro and ride on to Michner's as fast
as I can for help. Or," she added, seeing Vivian's eyes open wider, "_you_
take him, and I'll stay here. Either you like, only we must decide at
once. Maybe we'll meet somebody or somebody'll come, or maybe there'll be
somebody at the homesteader's cabin. Which will you do, ride or stay?"

Vivian had decided before she looked at Pedro. She always felt that Pedro
entertained scorn for her, contempt that wild gallops through the
sagebrush should, together with his youth and speed, present terrors. She
knew that he despised her for preferring Siwash to him.

"I'll stay," she said firmly. "Pedro will do more for you than for me.
When will you be back?"

Virginia was already in the saddle.

"Probably in little more than an hour, if I find folks," she said. "Keep
giving him some water if he needs it, and fan him. He may come to.
Good-by."

The sound of Pedro's feet died away all too quickly. The stillness which
followed was deeper than ever. It fairly sang in the air. For fully five
minutes Vivian stood motionless, loath to believe that Virginia had gone.
She did not want to be alone! Something inside of her cried out against
it. But she _was_ alone--she, Vivian Winters, alone with a dying cow boy
on a limitless Wyoming plain. Since the relentless knowledge pushed itself
upon her, she might as well accept it. _She was alone!_ And there was the
cow boy!

Virginia had said that he might come to! For her own sake she hoped he
didn't. He was awful enough as he was--blood-smeared and dirty--but at
least he did not realize the situation, and that was a scant comfort. If
he came to, he might be insane. Blows on the head often made persons so.
Given insanity and a gun, what would be the demonstration?

A low groan from the quaking-asp thicket brought Vivian to herself.
Imagination had no place here. This man was hurt, and she was strong and
well. There was a spring of water near by, and she had extra handkerchiefs
in her pocket. It was plainly up to her!

The stillness was less persistent after she had gone to the spring for
water. She forgot all about it as she knelt beside the wounded man and
washed the blood from his pain-distorted face. He opened his eyes as he
felt the cold cloths, and Vivian saw that they were good, blue eyes. They,
together with the absence of blood and dirt, told her that her patient was
young--only a boy, in fact! The cut on his head was ugly! Something
fluttered inside of her as she parted his hair to place a clean
handkerchief upon it, and for a moment she was ill and faint. The cow
boy's "Thank you, miss," brought her to herself. Perhaps he was coming
to! It was not so awful as she had thought.

But he again fell asleep, cleaner and more comfortable than before. The
buckskin whinnied her thanks, and put her nose against Vivian's arm as she
went to the spring for more water. For the first time in her life Vivian
felt the comradeship, the dumb understanding of a horse. Then Siwash
became glorified. He was something more than a ragged, decrepit old pony.
He was a companion, and Vivian stopped to pat him before she hurried back
to her patient.

Upon her return from her third journey after water, she found the cow
boy's eyes again open. This time he had raised himself on his elbow and
was looking at her. He had come to, and it was not horrible at all. Her
only feeling was one of alarm lest his sitting up should cause his wound
to bleed again, and she hurried to him.

"You're feeling better, aren't you?" she faltered. "But you'd better lie
down. You've got a pretty bad cut on your head."

The boy smiled in a puzzled way.

"I don't seem to remember much," he said, "except the header. My horse
fell when I wa'n't expectin' it, and I went on a rock. 'Twas the only one
on the prairie, I guess, but it got me for sure. What are you doin' here,
miss? I don't seem to remember you."

Vivian explained as simply as possible. She and her friend had been
resting when his horse brought him to the quaking-asps. One of them had
gone for help, and the other had stayed. She was the other.

"You're not from these parts, I take it," said the boy, still puzzled.
"You don't speak like us folks."

"No," Vivian told him, "I'm from the East. I came out here six weeks ago
to visit my friend."

Her patient looked surprised and raised himself again on his elbow in
spite of Vivian's restraining hand.

"So much of a tenderfoot as that?" he said, gazing at her. "They ain't
usually such good sports as you are, miss. Yes, thank you, I'll have some
more water. It's right good, I tell you!"

Then he fell asleep again, and left Vivian to the companionship of Siwash
and the buckskin. Her patient comfortable, she fed them the remaining
cookies, wondering as she did so where the awful sense of loneliness had
gone. She should welcome Virginia--already it was time for her--but the
knowledge that she must stay another hour would not present such terrors
to her.

It was Siwash who first caught the sound of returning hoofs--Siwash and
the relieved buckskin. They neighed and told Vivian, who ran from the
thicket to see if they were right. Yes, there was Virginia, with Pedro
still in the lead, and two men on horseback behind her. She had luckily
met them a mile this side of Michner's, and hurried them back with her.
The cow boy had again raised himself, as they rode up to him and
dismounted. He was better, for he could look sheepish! This being thrown
from one's horse was a foolish thing!

They would stay with him, the men said. They knew him well. He was called
"Scrapes" at Michner's because he was always getting into trouble. This
last was the worst yet. They would camp there that night, and in the
morning he could ride home, they felt sure. They were grateful to the
girls. Scrapes was a likeable chap, and no one wanted him hurt.

But Scrapes himself was the most grateful. He staggered to his feet as
Vivian went up to tell him good-by and shook hands with her, and then with
Virginia. But his eyes were for Vivian.

"You're the best tenderfoot I ever knew, miss," he said. "You was sure
some good sport to take care o' me. Would you take my quirt? It's bran
new, and I made it all myself. Get it off my horn, Jim. Yes, I want you to
have it. Good-by!"

"Scrapes is right," said Virginia, as they left the thicket and started
homeward. "I said a while ago that you were getting to be one, Vivian, but
now I know you've got there--for sure!"



CHAPTER XIX

CARVER STANDISH III FITS IN


Carver Standish III hated the world, himself, and everybody else--at
least, he thought he did. In fact, he had been so sure of it all day that
no one had attempted any argument on the subject. Jack, unable to maneuver
a fishing-trip and secretly glad of an escape, had ridden over to Mary
with some much-needed mending; Donald had been glad to ride on the range
on an errand for his father; Mr. Keith was in town; the whereabouts of
Malcolm could easily be guessed.

Carver, in white trousers and a crimson Gordon sweater, was idly roaming
about the ranch in search of any diversion which might present itself, and
which did not require any too much exertion. For two weeks and more things
had not been going well with him. His stay in Wyoming was not closing so
happily as it had begun--all due, he admitted to himself, to a missed
opportunity. For had he seized the chance when it was given him on the
morning after that disastrous night on the mountain, and taken the laugh
he had so richly deserved, by now the incident, like Vivian's affair with
Mr. Crusoe, would be forgotten. Instead, he had accepted ill-gotten
commendation, and received with it the well-disguised scorn of Virginia.
This last was the worst of all.

He wandered down to the corral. If there were a horse around he might
change his clothes and ride. Dave was there, repairing some harnesses.
There were no horses down, he said, except old Ned. They were all on the
range. Carver might ride Ned, or take him to round up the others. For a
moment Carver thought of asking Dave to do the service for him, but the
determined set of the old Scotchman's jaw warned him in time. Dave was
averse to taking orders from a tenderfoot. It was too much like work,
Carver concluded, to round up a decent horse, and to ride Ned would not
alleviate his present mood. He would walk.

Old Dave, intent on his harnesses, did not see Carver jump the farther
boundary of the corral. Had he done so, he would have shouted a warning
not to stray too far on foot across the range. The cattle were being
driven farther down toward the ranch, and they were often averse to
solitary persons on foot.

Carver, all unperceived, climbed the foot-hills, his hands deep in his
pockets, his eyes on the ground. It was all a bad mess, he thought, and
how to get out of it, he didn't know. Of one thing he was certain: the
West was not the place for him. The dreams in which he had lived only
three weeks ago--dreams of opening a branch of his father's business in
the West when he should have finished college--had vanished. He had now
decided he was born to remain a New Englander. There were things about the
West which he didn't like--blunt, unpolished, new things. Of course these
ranchers didn't mind crudities. They could fraternize with ordinary
cow-punchers. Even Donald could do that. But _he_ had been reared
differently. He struck his toe against a rock, which he kicked savagely
out of his way. No, the Standishes were New Englanders, and there they
would remain!

He reached the brow of the first foot-hills, crossed an open space, and
climbed others to the open range above. When he again reached a level he
stopped in surprise. Never had he seen so many cattle. There were
literally hundreds of them. Where had they all come from? He stood still
and stared at them, and they with one accord stopped browsing and stared
at him. They were unaccustomed to persons strolling on foot across their
preserves. For an instant Carver Standish felt a strange sense of fear.
There was something portentous in the way a big red and white bull in the
foreground was staring at him. Then he saw Donald on horseback off to the
right, and waved his hand. But Donald, spying the white trousers and the
red sweater in the same instant, did not stop to wave. Instead, he struck
MacDuff with his spur, skirted the cattle nearest him, and rode madly down
toward Carver and those ahead.

"He's crazy," he said to himself, "coming up here in that rig and afoot.
Old Rex will never stand it for a moment."

He was right. Old Rex had not the slightest inention of standing it. He
ate no more, but with lowered head gazed at this curiously clad intruder,
who was hesitating, not knowing whether to advance or to turn back. Old
Rex decided for him. He did the advancing. One shake of his heavy head,
crowned with long, sharp horns, one cloud of dust as he pawed the ground,
and one tremendous bellow warned Carver Standish III to do no tarrying in
that locality.

A shout from Donald following Old Rex's roar determined Carver's
direction. He fled toward MacDuff at a speed which would have won any
twenty-five yard cup in New England! Old Rex followed. The other cattle,
curiously enough and much to Donald's relief, let their champion fight it
out alone.

Donald, every moment drawing nearer, freed his left foot from the stirrup.
Carver must somehow be made to jump behind the saddle, and jump quick!
There was not an instant to lose. Old Rex was gaining, and Carver was
growing tired. It was too hot up there for a red sweater. With the bull a
scant thirty feet away Donald pulled in MacDuff, and yelled to Carver to
jump, which he did, aided by the stirrup, Donald's arm, and the last bit
of ancestral nerve he possessed. When Old Rex, baffled and defeated, saw
his foe being championed by one whom he full well knew, it took but a yell
from Donald and a mighty crack of his quirt to send him back among the
herd.

There seemed little enough to say as MacDuff bore his double load down
over the hills to the lower range, where white trousers and red sweaters
might be countenanced. But something had returned to Carver, something
which for two weeks had been on a vacation. As they neared the home
foot-hills, he slid from MacDuff.

"If you're not in a hurry, Don," he said, "let's rest here a minute.
MacDuff is tired, I know, and there are some things I want to get
straightened out before we go down home."

                   *       *       *       *       *

The next afternoon while Jack searched the ranch for his scattered
possessions and tried in vain to stow them all away in his trunk, while
three crestfallen girls packed at the Hunter ranch, Carver, fresh from an
interview with Mr. Keith, sat down to write his father. The letter,
received four days later in place of its author by the Standish family,
brought surprise and consternation in its wake.

"I simply can't understand it," said Mrs. Carver Standish II, on the verge
of hysterical tears. "I've never known him to do such a thing before.
There's Ruth Sherman's house-party coming off, and the St. Clair wedding,
and the tennis tournament, and our trip to the Adirondacks--and
everything! Whatever shall I tell people who inquire? There's something
wrong with him, Carver! I never did want him to go to that place, anyway.
You'd better wire!"

"I can't see but that it's plain enough," said his father. "He simply
prefers threshing on a Wyoming ranch to a house-party or a wedding or a
tennis tournament or the Adirondacks. Let him alone. Maybe a little work
won't hurt him."

"Hurt him!" cried a certain gray-haired old gentleman, slapping his knees.
"Hurt him! It'll be the best thing that ever happened to him, in _my_
opinion! Work, and being with that little girl out there!"

"And I did so want Mrs. Van Arsdale to see him!" continued his mother.
"I'd planned all sorts of things for September. Read the letter again,
Carver."

Mr. Carver Standish II read the letter. It was brief and to the point.

  "'DEAR DAD:

  "'I'm not coming home till school opens. I'm going to stay out here
  and help thresh. Mr. Keith is short on hands, and he says I'll do. I
  wanted to help for nothing, they've all been so good to me--but he
  says I mustn't. You needn't send me any money, because I'm going to
  be earning two dollars a day, and maybe three if I'm any good. Please
  don't let Mother object. It won't do any good anyhow, because I've
  already signed a contract to stay. Mr. Keith didn't want to draw it
  up, but I insisted. He does it with the other men, and I'm no better
  than the rest.

  "'I've got a great scheme about bringing the business West when I'm
  through college. It sure is some country out here! Love to
  Grandfather.

  "'CARVER.'"

That Carver Standish III preferred threshing on a Wyoming ranch to a
house-party was the subject of conversation at every social affair for a
week and more. Poor Mrs. Carver Standish II found explanations most
difficult.

"Carver's so in love with the country and riding and all that he just
won't come back," she said.

But Carver's grandfather, the old Colonel, found no such difficulty.

"My grandson," he said, his fine head thrown back, and his blue eyes
glowing with pride, "my grandson is discovering the dignity of labor on a
Wyoming ranch!"



CHAPTER XX

COMRADES


Wyoming, to be appreciated, should be explored on horseback and not viewed
from the observation platform of a limited train. Barren stretches of
sagebrush and cactus, and grim, ugly buttes guard too well the secret that
golden wheat-fields lie beyond them; the rugged, far-away mountains never
tell that their canyon-cut sides are clothed with timber and carpeted with
a thousand flowers; and tired, dusty travelers, quite unaware of these
things, find themselves actually longing for Nebraska to break the
monotony!

The half-dozen weary persons who on the afternoon of September 6th sat on
the observation platform of the Puget Sound Limited, together with the
scores who peered from its windows in vain search of something besides
sagebrush, were no exception to the rule. To a man, they were all giving
fervent thanks that Fate had cast their lots in California or New England
or, at the worst, Iowa. The assurances of the brakeman, who was loquacious
beyond his kind, that once past Elk Creek they would strike a better
country brought some much-needed cheerfulness; and Elk Creek itself
afforded such amusement and entertainment that they really began to have a
better impression of Wyoming. Apparently, there were civilized persons
even in so desolate an environment as this!

The sources of their entertainment, for they were several, stood on the
little station platform at Elk Creek. The central figure was a tall,
middle-aged man, whose hands were filled with trunk checks and tickets,
and to whom three very excited girls were saying good-by all at the same
time. Three boys, two in khaki and one in traveling clothes, were shaking
hands heartily; a fresh-faced young woman with marigolds at her waist
stood a little apart from the others and talked earnestly with a tall
young man; and a hatless, brown-haired girl in a riding suit seemed to be
everywhere at once.

"Oh, I can't bear to think it's all over!" the interested travelers heard
her say, as she embraced the three girls in turn. "It's been absolutely
the most perfect six weeks I've ever, ever known. Don't lose your quirt,
Vivian! And don't leave Allan's knife around, Mary. It isn't fair to tempt
even a porter. You'll write from every large place, won't you,
Priscilla?"

In spite of an amused and impatient conductor, the last-named girl turned
back for a last hug. Her hat was askew, her brown hair disheveled, and her
brown eyes full of tears, which were coursing freely down her cheeks.

"Oh, Virginia," she cried, "you're the biggest peach I ever knew!
Remember, you're going to think of me every night at seven o'clock. It'll
be nine for me in Boston, but I'll not forget. And it's only three weeks
before I see you again. That's a comfort!"

She hurried toward the waiting train, at the steps of which a boy in khaki
stood ready to help her.

"Good-by, Carver," she cried, shaking hands for at least the fourth time.
"I'm going to see your grandfather the very first thing and tell him what
a good sport you are!"

A mad rush for the observation platform ensued--the three girls, the boy,
and the young woman reaching it just in time to wave good-by to those left
behind. The brown-eyed girl swept the faces of her fellow travelers at one
glance, nodded to the interested brakeman with a surprised and pleased
smile, and then, just as the train began to move, hurried to the railing.

"Oh, Virginia!" she cried to the girl in the riding-suit. "What do you
think! I've got the very same brakeman! Doesn't that make the ending just
perfect?"

                   *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later a boy and a girl on horseback forded Elk Creek, rode up
the Valley, and to the summit of the highest foot-hill.

"I'm glad we rode up here," said Virginia. "I'm missing them already, and
to be up here with you helps a lot! Do you remember a year ago, Don? 'Twas
in this very spot that we planned and planned, and the day was just like
this, too--all clear and golden. It just seems as though every year is
lovelier than the last, and this one has been the very loveliest of all my
life."

"I guess," said Donald thoughtfully, leaning forward in his saddle to pat
MacDuff, "I guess it's been the best of my life, too, counting this summer
and all. Last year at school was great, with college always ahead--sort of
a dream almost true, you know. And then to have Jack and Carver here, and
all the girls with you, finished everything up just right. But the best
part of the year to me, Virginia," he finished hesitatingly, "was June
when you came back, and I found you weren't a young lady after all. I was
some glad, I tell you!"

Virginia's gray eyes looked at the mountains, swept the golden prairie
stretches, and lingered for a long moment on the cottonwoods which
bordered Elk Creek before they came back to Donald's blue ones.

"I'm glad, too," she said simply.

Pedro and MacDuff sniffed the September air and gloried in it. They were
impatient for a wild run across the brow of the hills, and wondered why
their riders chose to look so long at the mountains on such an afternoon
as this. If they sat so silently much longer, there would be no time to
make the mesa, to gallop across its wide surface, and at last, perhaps, to
have supper among the sagebrush with Robert Bruce. They felt somewhat
encouraged when Virginia began to speak.

"I've been trying to decide the very loveliest thing of all the year," she
said. "I mean from September to June. I don't know whether 'twas the
Vigilantes or Miss Wallace or Grandmother Webster, but I'm almost sure
'twas Grandmother Webster learning to love Father. The others were joys
for me, but that was one for all of us. Of course we know the loveliest
thing of this summer. Everything's been perfect, but Aunt Nan and Malcolm
the most perfect of all. Yesterday, when Grandmother Webster's letter
came, I just cried for joy, it was so lovely!

"I--I couldn't help comparing it with the one she wrote Mother about
Father," she continued, a little break in her voice. "I found
it--afterward--in Mother's things. She didn't understand at all then. I
guess it takes some people a long time to understand things. But I'm going
to try to forget that because Grandmother Webster knows now just how
splendid Father is. Besides," she finished thoughtfully, "it's going to be
very hard for Grandmother to give Aunt Nan up. I guess we can't even
imagine how hard it's going to be."

"Of course we can't I think it's fine of her to take it the way she does.
What relation will that make you and me?" he finished practically.

"Priscilla and I figured it all out. You're no relation at all--just my
uncle's brother. Makes you sound about forty-five, doesn't it?"

"It doesn't sound exactly young. When do you suppose it will happen?"

"Aunt Nan doesn't know. Malcolm says Christmas, but she says no, she must
have a year with Grandmother. So I think it will be in June--just after
school is out. Webster is lovely then--all filled with daisies and
buttercups and wild roses. And you'll come on, Don--of course you will.
And Priscilla will be there, and Mary and Vivian and Carver and Jack and
maybe Dorothy! I want you to see Dorothy. Oh, won't it be the happiest
time? I'm getting excited already!"

"The horses want to go," said Donald. "I'll race you to the edge of the
mesa. Come on!"

Five minutes later they looked at each other, red-cheeked and radiant.

"In together, just as usual," cried Donald. "There's never much
difference!"

"My hair makes me think of Priscilla," said Virginia, brushing back some
loose locks and re-tying her ribbon. "Wasn't she funny this afternoon when
she said good-by, her hat on one side and her hair all falling down, and
her eyes full of tears? I can't help saying all over and over how lovely
it's been. And now another year's beginning, and in two weeks more you and
I will go away to school again. I'm wondering," she finished thoughtfully,
"I'm wondering if next June, when we ride up here, you'll say that I'm not
a young lady after all."

"You don't feel you're going to be--too grown-up, do you?" There was
anxiety in Donald's tone.

"No, not in the way you mean," Virginia promised him. "Not ever like
Imogene or Katrina Van Rensaelar. But I _am_ growing up! I feel it coming!
It's just as though I'd met my older self and shaken hands with her before
she went away again, for, you see, she hasn't come to stay for keeps yet.
I think she came the first time when Jim went away, and then again at
Easter time when Miss King talked to us at Vespers, and then this summer
when Aunt Nan told me about Malcolm. That time she stayed longest of
all."

"I hope she won't be a lot different from you," said Donald. "I shouldn't
want to have to get acquainted all over again."

"You won't," Virginia assured him. "Only she knows a lot more than I know,
and she's told me a great many things already. That night on the mountain
she came and stayed with me while Vivian and Carver were asleep. I learned
so many things that night, Don. I'm just sure she taught them to me--she
and the night and the stillness." Her voice softened. "Somehow, away up
there on the mountain, life seemed such a big, wonderful thing--all full
of dreams and opportunities and surprises and--and comrades, all going
along the same trail. Don't you like to think of life as a trail--like the
kind that leads to Lone Mountain, I mean--all full of dangers and
surprises and beautiful things?"

"Yes," he said simply. His eyes as he watched her filled with pride in
their comradeship--his and hers.

"And, oh, that makes me think!" she cried excitedly. "I've forgotten to
tell you about the poem Miss Wallace sent me yesterday. You see, I'm
collecting lovely ones, and she's such a help in sending them to me. I
learned this one to say to you. Of course she didn't know, but it's just
like we were the Christmas before I went away to school when you were home
for the holidays. Don't you remember how we went for Christmas greens up
Bear Canyon in that big snow-storm and didn't get home until long after
dark, and how Jim and William were just starting to hunt for us? Listen! I
know you'll like it. It's called 'Comrades.'

     "'You need not say one word to me as up the hill we go
       (Night-time, white-time, all in the whispering snow),

     You need not say one word to me, although the whispering trees
       Seem strange and old as pagan priests in swaying mysteries.

     "'You need not think one thought of me as up the trail we go
       (Hill-trail, still-trail, all in the hiding snow),
     You need not think one thought of me, although a hare runs by,
       And off behind the tumbled cairn we hear a red fox cry.

     "'Oh, good and rare it is to feel as through the night we go
       (Wild-wise, child-wise, all in the secret snow)
     That we are free of heart and foot as hare and fox are free,
       And yet that I am glad of you, and you are glad of me!'"

"Don't you like it, Don?" she finished eagerly. "I do. I like it because I
think it shows the finest kind of friendship--the kind that makes you free
to do just what seems right and best to _you_, and yet makes you glad of
your friends. Miss Wallace calls it the friendship which doesn't _demand_,
and it's her ideal, too. I'm sure she was thinking of that when she sent
me the poem. And then I like it most of all because it makes me think of
that Christmas, and the good time we had. Don't you like it?" she
repeated.

In her eagerness she was all unconscious that she had given him no time to
reply.

"Yes," he said. "I should say I do like it. I guess I'll copy it, if you
don't mind. And, Virginia," he added, hesitating, "you don't know what our
comradeship means to me. You see, when a fellow goes away to college the
way I'm going, it helps him to be--to be on the square in everything, if
he has a comrade like--like you've always been."

But there was no hesitation--only gladness in Virginia's frank gray eyes
as she looked at him.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she cried, her face flooded with happiness. "That's the
very kind of a comrade I want to be, Don! I like to feel just as it says
in the poem:

     "'That we are free of heart and foot as hare and fox are free,
     And yet that I am glad of you, and you are glad of me!'"

THE END



      *      *      *      *      *      *



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Woodcarver of 'Lympus, The. By Mary E. Waller.
Wooing of Rosamond Fayre, The. By Berta Ruck.
World for Sale, The. By Gilbert Parker.
Wreckers, The. By Francis Lynde.
Wyndham's Pal. By Harold Bindloss.

Years for Rachel, The. By Berta Ruck.
Yellow Claw, The. By Sax Rohmer.
You Never Know Your Luck. By Gilbert Parker.
You're Only Young Once. By Margaret Widdemer.
Youth Challenges. By Clarence Budington Kelland.

Zeppelin's Passenger. By E. Phillips Oppenheim.





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