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Title: A Summer in a Canyon: A California Story
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith
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 "A Summer in a Canyon: A California Story" ***

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Transcribed from the 1914 Gay and Hancock, Ltd. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]



                           A Summer in a Cañon


                         A CALIFORNIA STORY: _By_
                           KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                          GAY AND HANCOCK, LTD.
                12 AND 13 HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN
                                  LONDON
                                   1914

                          _All rights reserved_

                                * * * * *

                          _Popular Edition_ 1914
                             _Reprinted_ 1914

                                * * * * *



CONTENTS

                              CHAPTER I
                                                                  PAGE
PREPARATION AND DEPARTURE                                            1
                              CHAPTER II
THE JOURNEY                                                         32
                             CHAPTER III
LIFE IN THE CAÑON—THE HEIR APPARENT LOSES                           53
HIMSELF
                              CHAPTER IV
RHYME AND REASON                                                    99
                              CHAPTER V
THE FOREST OF ARDEN—GOOD NEWS                                      133
                              CHAPTER VI
QUEEN ELSIE VISITS THE COURT                                       164
                             CHAPTER VII
POLLY’S BIRTHDAY: FIRST HALF IN WHICH SHE                          188
REJOICES AT THE MERE FACT OF HER EXISTENCE
                             CHAPTER VIII
POLLY’S BIRTHDAY: SECOND HALF                                      203
                              CHAPTER IX
ROUND THE CAMP-FIRE                                                232
                              CHAPTER X
MORE CAMP-FIRE STORIES                                             249
                              CHAPTER XI
BREAKING CAMP                                                      268



            SCENE: _A Camping Ground in the Cañon Las Flores_.

                           PEOPLE IN THE TENTS.

DR. PAUL WINSHIP        _Mine Host_.
MRS. TRUTH WINSHIP      _The Guardian Angel_.
DICKY WINSHIP           _A Small Scamp of Six Years_.
BELL WINSHIP            _The Camp Poetess_.
POLLY OLIVER            _A Sweet but Saucy Lass_.
MARGERY NOBLE           _A Nut-Brown Mayde_.
PHILIP NOBLE            _The Useful Member_.
GEOFFREY STRONG         _A Harvard Boy_.
JACK HOWARD             _Prince of Mischief_.
HOP YET                 _A Heathen Chinee_.
PANCHO GUTIERREZ        _A Mexican man-of-all-work_.



CHAPTER I
PREPARATION AND DEPARTURE


                   ‘One to make ready, and two to prepare.’

IT was nine o’clock one sunny California morning, and Geoffrey Strong
stood under the live-oak trees in Las Flores Cañon, with a pot of black
paint in one hand and a huge brush in the other.  He could have handled
these implements to better purpose and with better grace had not his arms
been firmly held by three laughing girls, who pulled not wisely, but too
well.  He was further incommoded by the presence of a small urchin who
lay on the dusty ground beneath his feet, fastening an upward clutch on
the legs of his trousers.

There were three large canvas tents directly in front of them, yet no one
of these seemed to be the object of dissension, but rather a redwood
board, some three feet in length, which was nailed on a tree near by.

‘Camp Frolic!  Please let us name it Camp Frolic!’ cried Bell Winship,
with a persuasive twitch of her cousin’s sleeve.

‘No, no; not Camp Frolic,’ pleaded Polly Oliver.  ‘Pray, pray let us have
Camp Ha-Ha; my heart is set upon it.’

‘As you are Strong, be merciful,’ quoted Margery Noble, coaxingly; ‘take
my advice and call it Harmony Camp.’

At this juncture, a lovely woman, whose sweet face and smile made you
love her at once, came up the hill from the brookside.  ‘What, what!
still quarrelling, children?’ she asked, laughingly.  ‘Let me be
peacemaker.  I’ve just asked the Doctor for a name, and he suggests Camp
Chaparral.  What do you say?’

Bell released one coat-tail.  ‘That isn’t wholly bad,’ she said,
critically, while the other girls clapped their hands with approval; for
anything that Aunt Truth suggested was sure to be quite right.

‘Wait a minute, good people,’ cried Jack Howard, flinging his
fishing-tackle under a tree and sauntering toward the scene of action.
‘Suppose we have a referee, a wise and noble judge.  Call Hop Yet, and
let him decide this all-important subject.’

His name being sung and shouted in various keys by the assembled company,
Hop Yet appeared at the door of the brush kitchen, a broad grin on his
countenance, a plucked fowl in his hand.

Geoffrey took the floor.  ‘Now, Hop Yet, you know I got name, you got
name, everybody got name.  We want name this camp: you sabe?  Miss Bell,
she say Camp Frolic.  Frolic all same heap good time’ (here he executed a
sort of war-dance which was intended to express wild joy).  ‘Miss
Pauline, she say Camp Ha-Ha, big laugh: sabe?  Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!’
(chorus joined in by all to fully illustrate the subject).  ‘Miss Madge,
she say Camp Harmony.  Harmony all same heap quiet time, plenty eat,
plenty drink, plenty sleep, no fight, no too muchee talk.  Mrs. Winship,
she say Camp Chaparral: you sabe?  Chaparral, Hop Yet.  Now what you
say?’

Hop Yet seemed to regard the question with mingled embarrassment and
amusement, but being a sharp and talkative Chinaman gave his answer
promptly: ‘Me say Camp Chap-lal heap good name; plenty chap-lal all
lound; me hang um dish-cloth, tow’l, little boy’s stockin’, on chap-lal;
all same clo’se-line velly good.  Miss Bell she folic, Miss Polly she ha!
ha! allee same Camp Chap-lal.’

And so Camp Chaparral it was; the redwood board flaunted the assertion
before the eyes of the public (which was a rather limited one, to be
sure) in less than half an hour, and the artist, after painting the words
in rustic letters a foot long, cut branches of the stiff, ungracious
bushes and nailed them to the tree in confirmation and illustration of
the fact.  He then carefully deposited the paint-pot in a secret place,
where it might be out of sight and touch of a certain searching eye and
mischievous hand well known and feared of him; but before the setting sun
had dropped below the line of purple mountain tops, a small boy, who will
be known in these annals as Dicky Winship, might have been seen sitting
on the empty paint-pot, while from a dingy pool upon the ground he was
attempting to paint a copy of the aforesaid inscription upon the side of
a too patient goat, who saw no harm in the operation.  He was alone, and
very, very happy.

[Picture: He was attempting to paint a copy of the aforesaid inscription]

And now I must tell you the way in which all this began.  You may not
realise it, dear young folks, but this method of telling a story is very
much the fashion with grown-up people, and of course I am not to blame,
since I didn’t begin it.

The plan is this: You must first write a chapter showing all your people,
men, women, children, dogs, and cats, in a certain place, doing certain
things.  Then you must go back a year or two and explain how they all
happen to be there.  Perhaps you may have to drag your readers
twenty-five years into the regions of the past, and show them the first
tooth of your oldest character; but that doesn’t matter a bit,—the
further the better.  Then, when everybody has forgotten what came to pass
in the first chapter, you are ready to take it up again, as if there had
never been any parenthesis.  However, I shall not introduce you to the
cradles, cribs, or trundle-beds of my merry young campers, but merely ask
you to retrace your steps one week, and look upon them in their homes.

On one of the pleasantest streets of a certain little California town
stood, and still stands for aught I know, a pretty brown cottage, with
its verandahs covered with passion-vine and a brilliant rose-garden in
front.  It is picturesque enough to attract the attention of any
passer-by, and if you had chosen to peep through the crevices in the
thick vines and look in at the open window, you might have thought it
lovelier within than without.

It was a bright day, and the gracious June sunshine flooded the room with
yellow light.  Three young girls, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old,
were seated in different parts of the large room, plying industrious
crochet needles and tatting shuttles.  Three pairs of bright eyes were
dancing with fun and gladness; and another pair, the softest and clearest
of all, looked out from a broad white bed in the corner,—tired eyes, and
oh, so patient, for the health-giving breezes wafted in from the blue
ocean and carried over mountain tops and vine-covered slopes had so far
failed to bring back Elsie Howard’s strength and vigour.

The graceful, brown-haired girl with the bright, laughter-loving face,
was Bell Winship.  She of the dancing blue eyes, pink cheeks, and
reckless little sun-bonnet was Pauline, otherwise Polly Oliver.  Did you
ever know a Polly without some one of these things?  Well, my Polly had
them all, and, besides, a saucy freckled nose, a crown of fluffy,
reddish-yellow hair, and a shower of coaxing little pitfalls called
dimples round her pretty mouth.  She made you think of a sunbeam, a
morning songbird, a dancing butterfly, or an impetuous little crocus just
out after the first spring shower.  Dislike her?  You couldn’t.  Approve
of her?  You wouldn’t always.  Love her?  Of course; you couldn’t help
yourself,—I defy you.

To be sure, if you prefer a quiet life, and do not want to be led into
exploits of all kinds, invariably beginning with risk, attended with
danger, and culminating in despair, you had better not engage in an
intimate friendship with Miss Pauline Oliver, but fix your affections on
the quiet, thoughtful, but not less lovable girl who sits by the bedside
stroking Elsie Howard’s thin white hand.  Nevertheless, I am obliged to
state that Margery Noble herself, earnest, demure, and given to
reflection, was Polly’s willing slave and victim.  However, I’ve
forgotten to tell you that Polly was as open and frank as the daylight,
at once torrid and constant in her affections, brave, self-forgetting as
well as self-willed; and that though she did have a tongue just the least
bit saucy, she used it valiantly in the defence of others.  ‘She’ll come
out all right,’ said a dear old-fashioned grandfather of hers whom she
had left way back in a Vermont farmhouse.  ‘She’s got to be purged o’
considerable dross, but she’ll come out pure gold, I tell you.’

Pretty, wise, tender Margery Noble, with her sleek brown braids, her
innocent, questioning eyes, her soft voice, willing hands, and shy, quiet
manners!  ‘She will either end as the matron of an orphan asylum or as
head-nurse in a hospital.’  So Bell Winship often used to say; but then
she was chiefly celebrated for talking nonsense, and nobody ever paid
much attention to her.  But if you should crave a breath of fresh air, or
want to believe that the spring has come, just call Bell Winship in, as
she walks with her breezy step down the street.  Her very hair seems
instinct with life, with its flying tendrils of bronze brightness and the
riotous little curls on her brow and temples.  Then, too, she has a
particularly jaunty way of putting on her jacket, or wearing a flower or
a ribbon; and as for her ringing peal of laughter, it is like a chime of
silver bells.

Elsie Howard, the invalid friend of the girls, was as dear to them as
they were to each other.  She kept the secrets of the ‘firm’; mourned
over their griefs and smiled over their joys; was proud of their talents
and tenderly blind to their faults.  The little wicker rocking-chair by
the bedside was often made a sort of confessional, at which she presided,
the tenderest and most sympathetic little priestess in the universe; and
every afternoon the piazza, with its lattice of green vines, served as a
mimic throne-room, where she was wont to hold high court, surrounded by
her devoted subjects.  Here Geoffrey Strong used often to read to the
assembled company _David Copperfield_, _Alice in Wonderland_, or snatches
from the magazines, while Jack Howard lazily stretched himself under the
orange-trees and braided lariats, a favourite occupation with California
boys.  About four o’clock Philip Noble would ride up from his father’s
fruit ranch, some three miles out on the San Marcos road, and, hitching
his little sorrel mare Chispa at the gate, stay an hour before going to
the post-office.

This particular afternoon, however, was not one of Elsie’s bright ones,
and there was no sign of court or invalid queen on the piazza.  The
voices of the girls floated out from Elsie’s bedroom, while the boys,
too, seemed to be somewhere in the vicinity, for there was a constant
stirring about as of lively preparation, together with noise of hammering
and sawing.

‘If you were only going, Elsie, our cup of happiness would be full,’
sighed Bell.

‘Not only would it be full, Bell, but it would be running over, and we
should positively stand in the slop,’ said Polly.  ‘No, you needn’t frown
at me, miss; that expression is borrowed from no less a person than
Sydney Smith.’

‘Don’t think any more about me,’ smiled Elsie.  ‘Perhaps I can come down
in the course of the summer.  I know it will be the happiest time in the
world, but I don’t envy you a bit; in fact, I’m very glad you’re going,
because you’ll have such a lovely budget of adventures to tell me when
you come back.’

‘When we come back, indeed!’ exclaimed Bell.  ‘Why, we shall write long
round-robin letters every few days, and send them by the team.  Papa says
Pancho will have to go over to the stage station at least once a week for
letters and any provisions we may need.’

‘Oh, won’t that be delightful,—almost as good as being there myself!
And, Margery dear, you must make them tell me every least little thing
that happens.  You know they are such fly-aways that they’ll only write
me when they learn to swim, or shoot a wildcat, or get lost in the woods.
I want to know all the stupid bits: what you have for dinner, how and
where you sleep, how your camp looks, what you do from morning till
night, and how Dicky behaves.’

‘I can tell you that beforehand,’ said Bell, dolefully.  ‘Jack will shoot
him by mistake on Thursday; he will be kicked by the horses Friday, and
bitten by tarantulas and rattlesnakes Saturday; he will eat poison oak on
Sunday, get lost in the cañon Monday, be eaten by a bear Tuesday, and
drowned in the pool Wednesday.  These incidents will complete his first
week; and if they produce no effect on his naturally strong constitution,
he will treat us to another week, containing just as many mishaps, but no
duplicates.’

By the time this dismal prophecy was ended the other girls were in a
breathless fit of laughter, though all acknowledged it was likely to be
fulfilled.

‘I went over the camping-ground last summer,’ said Margery.  ‘You know it
is quite near papa’s sheep ranch, and it is certainly the most beautiful
place in California.  The tents will be pitched at the mouth of the
cañon, where there is a view of the ocean, and just at the back will be a
lovely grove of wild oaks and sycamore-trees.’

‘Oh, won’t it be delicious!’ sighed Elsie.  ‘I feel as if I could sniff
the air this minute.  But there!  I won’t pretend that I’m dying for
fresh air, with the breath of the sea coming in at my south window, and a
whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle from the piazza.  That would be
nonsense.  Are your trunks packed?’

‘Trunks!’ exclaimed Polly.  ‘Would you believe it, our clothes are packed
in gunny-sacks!  We start in our camping-dresses, with ulsters for the
steamer and dusters for the long drive.  Then we each have—let me see
what we have: a short, tough riding-skirt with a jersey, a bathing-dress,
and some gingham morning-gowns to wear about the camp at breakfast-time.’

‘And flannel gowns for the night, and two pairs of boots, and a
riding-cap and one hat apiece,’ added Margery.

‘But oh, Elsie, my dear, you should see Dicky in his camping-suits,’
laughed Bell.  ‘They are a triumph of invention on mamma’s part.  Just
imagine! one is of some enamelled cloth that was left over from the new
carriage cushions; it is very shiny and elegant; and the other, truly, is
of soft tanned leather, and just as pretty as it can be.  Then he has
hob-nailed, copper-toed boots, and a hat that ties under his chin.  Poor
little man, he has lost his curls, too, and looks rather like a convict.’

Mrs. Howard came in the door while Bell was speaking, and laughed
heartily at the description of Dicky’s curious outfit.  ‘What time do you
start?’ she asked, as she laid a bunch of mignonette on Elsie’s table.

‘At eleven to-morrow morning,’ Bell answered.  ‘Everything is packed.  We
are to start in the steamer, and when we come to our old landing, about
forty miles down the coast, we are to get off and take a three-seated
thorough-brace wagon, and drive over to Las Flores Cañon.  Pancho has
hired a funny little pack mule; he says we shall need one in going up the
mountain, and that the boys can take him when they go out shooting,—to
carry the deer home, you know.’

‘If I can bring Elsie down, as I hope, we must come by land,’ said Mrs.
Howard.  ‘I thought we could take two days for the journey, sleeping at
the Burtons’ ranch on the way.  The doctor says that if she can get
strength enough to bear the ride, the open-air life will do her good,
even if she does nothing but lie in the hammock.’

‘And be waited upon by six willing slaves,’ added Polly.

‘And be fed on canned corned beef and tomato stew,’ laughed Bell.

‘Not a bit of it,’ said Margery.  ‘Hop Yet is a splendid cook, if he has
anything to cook, and we’ll feed her on broiled titbits of baby venison,
goat’s milk, wild bees’ honey, and cunning little mourning doves, roasted
on a spit.’

‘Good gracious,’ cried Bell, ‘what angels’ food! only I would as soon
devour a pet canary as a mourning dove.  But to think that I’ve been
trying to diet for a week in order to get intimate with suffering and
privation!  Polly came to stay with me one night, and we slept on the
floor, with only a blanket under us, and no pillow; it was perfectly
horrid.  Polly dreamed that her grandfather ate up her grandmother, and I
that Dicky stabbed the Jersey calf with a pickle-fork.’

‘Horrors!’ ejaculated Margery; ‘that’s a pleasant prospect for your
future bedfellows.  I hope the gophers won’t make you nervous, gnawing
and scratching in the straw; I got used to them last summer.  But we
really must go, darling,’ and she stooped to kiss Elsie good-bye.

‘Well, I suppose you ought,’ she answered.  ‘But remember you are to
start from this gate; Aunt Truth has promised me the fun of seeing you
out of sight.’

The girls went out at a side door, and joined the boys, who were busily
at work cleaning their guns on the broad western porch.

‘How are you coming on?’ questioned Polly.

‘Oh, finely,’ answered Jack, who always constituted himself chief
spokesman, unless driven from the rostrum by some one possessed of a
nimbler tongue.  ‘I only hope your feminine togs are in half as good
order.’

‘We take no baggage to speak of,’ said Bell, loftily.  ‘Papa has cut us
down to the very last notch, and says the law allows very few pounds on
this trip.’

‘The less the better,’ quoth Geoff, cheerily; ‘then you’ll have to polish
up your mental jewels.’

‘Which you consider imitation, I suppose,’ sniffed Polly.

‘Perish the thought!’ cried Jack.  ‘But, speaking of mental jewels, you
should see the arrangements Geoff has made for polishing his.  He has
actually stuck in six large volumes, any one of which would be a remedy
for sleeplessness.  What are you going to study, Miss Pol-y-on-o-mous
Oliver?’

‘Now, Jack, let us decide at once whether you intend to be respectful or
not.  I don’t propose to expose myself to your nonsense for two months
unless you make me good promises.’

‘Why, that wasn’t disrespectful.  It is my newest word, and it simply
means having many titles.  I’m sure you have more than most people.’

‘Very well, then!  I’ll overlook the irreverence this time, and announce
that I shall not take anything whatever to read, but simply reflect upon
what I know already.’

‘That may last for the first week,’ said Bell, slyly, ‘but what will you
do afterward?’

‘I’ll reflect upon what you don’t know,’ retorted Polly.  ‘That will
easily occupy me two months.’

Fortunately, at the very moment this stinging remark was made, Phil Noble
dashed up to the front gate, flung his bridle over the hitching-post, and
lifted his hat from a very warm brow.

‘Hail, chief of the commissary department!’ cried Geoffrey, with mock
salute.  ‘Have you despatched the team?’

‘Yes; everything is all right,’ said Phil, breathlessly, delivering
himself of his information in spasmodic bursts of words.  ‘Such a lot of
work it was! here’s the list.  Pancho will dump them on the ground and
let us settle them when we get there.  Such a load!  You should have seen
it!  Hardly room for him to sit up in front with the Chinaman.  Just hear
this,’ and he drew a large document from what Polly called ‘a back-stairs
pocket.’

‘Forty cans corned beef, four guns, three Dutch cheeses, pickles,
fishing-tackle, flour, bacon, three bushels onions, crate of dishes,
Jack’s banjo, potatoes, Short History of the English People, cooking
utensils, three hair pillows, box of ginger-snaps, four hammocks, coffee,
cartridges, sugar, Macaulay’s Essays, Pond’s extract, sixteen hams,
Bell’s guitar, pop-corn, molasses, salt, St. Jacob’s Oil, Conquest of
Mexico, sack of almonds, flea-powder, and smoked herring.  Whew!  I
packed them all myself.’

‘In precisely that order?’ questioned Polly.

‘In precisely that order, Miss Oliver,’ returned Phil, urbanely.  ‘Any
one who feels that said packing might be improved upon has only to mount
the fleet Arabian yonder’ (the animal alluded to seized this moment to
stand on three legs, hang his head, and look dejected), ‘and, giving him
the rein, speed o’er the trackless plain which leads to San Miguel,
o’ertake the team, and re-pack the contents according to her own
satisfaction.’

‘No butter, nor eggs, nor fresh vegetables?’ asked Margery.  ‘We shall
starve!’

‘Not at all,’ quoth Jack.  ‘Polly will gracefully dispose a horse-blanket
about her shoulders, to shield her from the chill dews of the early morn,
mount the pack mule exactly at cock-crow everyday, and ride to a
neighbouring ranch where there are tons of the aforesaid articles
awaiting our consumption.’

‘Can you see me doing it, girls?  Does it seem entirely natural?’ asked
Polly, with great gravity.

‘Now hear my report as chairman of the committee of arrangements,’ said
Geoffrey Strong, seating himself with dignity on a barrel of nails.  ‘The
tents, ropes, tool-boxes, bed-sacks, blankets, furniture, etc., all went
down on Monday’s steamer, and I have a telegram from Larry’s Landing
saying that they arrived in good order, and that a Mexican gentleman who
owns a mammoth wood-cart will take them up to-morrow when we go
ourselves.  The procession will move at one P.M., wind and weather
permitting, in the following order:—

‘1.  Chief Noble on his gallant broncho.

‘2.  Commander Strong on his ditto, ditto.

‘3.  Main conveyance or triumphal chariot, driven by Aide-de-Camp John
Howard, and carrying Dr. and Mrs. Winship, our most worshipful and
benignant host and hostess; Master Dick Winship, the heir-apparent; three
other young persons not worth mentioning; and four cans of best leaf
lard, which I omitted to put with the other provisions.

‘4.  Wood-cart containing baggage, driven by Señor Don Manuel Felipe
Hilario Noriega from Dead Wood Gulch.

‘5.  One small tan terrier.’

‘Oh, Geoff, Geoff, pray do stop! it’s too much!’ cried the girls in a fit
of laughter.

‘Hurrah!’ shouted Jack, tossing his hat into a tall eucalyptus-tree in
his excitement, ‘Tent life for ever!’

‘Good-bye, ye pomps and vanities!’ chanted Bell, kissing her hand in
imaginary farewell.  ‘Verily the noisy city shall know us no more, for we
depart for the green forests.’

‘And the city will not be as noisy _when_ you depart,’ murmured Jack,
with an impudence that luckily passed unnoticed.

‘If Elsie could only come too!’ sighed Polly.

                                * * * * *

Wednesday morning dawned as bright and beautiful as all mornings are wont
to dawn in Southern California.  A light mist hung over the old adobe
mission church, through which, with its snow-white towers and cold,
clear-cut lines, it rose like a frozen fairy castle.  Bell opened her
sleepy eyes with the very earliest birds, and running to the little oval
window, framed with white-rose vines, looked out at the new day just
creeping up into the world.

‘Oh dear and beautiful home of mine, how charming, how charming you are!
I wonder if you are not really Paradise!’ she said, dreamily; and the
marvel is that the rising sun did not stop a moment in sheer surprise at
the sight of this radiant morning vision; for the oval window opening to
the east was a pretty frame, with its outline marked by the dewy
rose-vine covered with hundreds of pure, half-opened buds and swaying
tendrils, and she stood there in it, a fair image of the morning in her
innocent white gown.  Her luminous eyes still mirrored the shadowy
visions of dreamland, mingled with dancing lights of hope and joyful
anticipation; while on her fresh cheeks, which had not yet lost the
roundness of childhood, there glowed, as in the eastern skies, the faint
pink blush of the morning.

The town is yet asleep, and in truth it is never apt to be fairly wide
awake.  The air is soft and balmy; the lovely Pacific, a quivering,
sparkling sheet of blue and grey and green flecked with white foam,
stretches far out until it is lost in the rosy sky; and the mountains,
all purple and pink and faint crimson and grey, stand like sentinels
along the shore.  The scent of the roses, violets, and mignonette mingled
with the cloying fragrance of the datura is heavy in the still air.  The
bending, willowy pepper-trees show myriad bunches of yellow blossoms,
crimson seed-berries, and fresh green leaves, whose surface, not
rain-washed for months, is as full of colour as ever.  The palm-trees
rise without a branch, tall, slender, and graceful, from the warmly
generous earth, and spread at last, as if tired of their straightness,
into beautiful crowns of fans, which sway toward each other with every
breath of air.  Innumerable butterflies and humming-birds, in the hot,
dazzling sunshine of noonday, will be hovering over the beds of sweet
purple heliotrope and finding their way into the hearts of the
passion-flowers, but as yet not the faintest whirr of wings can be heard.
Looking eastward or westward, you see either brown foot-hills, or, a
little later on, emerald slopes whose vines hang heavy with the
half-ripened grapes.

And hark!  A silvery note strikes on the dewy stillness.  It is the
mission bell ringing for morning mass; and if you look yonder you may see
the Franciscan friars going to prayers, with their loose grey gowns,
their girdle of rope, their sandaled feet, and their jingling rosaries;
and perhaps a Spanish señorita, with her trailing dress, and black shawl
loosely thrown over her head, from out the folds of which her two dark
eyes burn like gleaming fires.  A solitary Mexican gallops by, with gayly
decorated saddle and heavily laden saddle-bags hanging from it; perhaps
he is taking home provisions to his wife and dark-eyed babies who live up
in a little dimple of the mountain side, almost hidden from sight by the
olive-trees.  And then a patient, hardy little mustang lopes along the
street, bearing on his back three laughing boys, one behind the other, on
a morning ride into town from the _mesa_.

The mist had floated away from the old mission now, the sun has climbed a
little higher, and Bell has come away from the window in a gentle mood.

‘Oh, Polly, I don’t see how anybody can be wicked in such a beautiful,
beautiful world.’

‘Humph!’ said Polly, dipping her curly head deep into the water-bowl, and
coming up looking like a little drowned kitten.  ‘When you want to be
hateful, you don’t stop to think whether you’re looking at a cactus or a
rosebush, do you?’

‘Very true,’ sighed Bell, quite silenced by this practical illustration.
‘Now I’ll try the effect of the landscape on my temper by dressing Dicky,
while he dances about the room and plays with his tan terrier.’

But it happened that Dicky was on his very best behaviour, and stood as
still as a signpost while being dressed.  It is true he ate a couple of
matches and tumbled down-stairs twice before breakfast, so that after
that hurried meal Bell tied him to one of the verandah posts, that he
might not commit any act vicious enough to keep them at home.  As he had
a huge pocket full of apricots he was in perfect good-humour, not taking
his confinement at all to heart, inasmuch as it commanded a full view of
the scene of action.  His amiability was further increased, moreover, by
the possession of a bright new policeman’s whistle, which was carefully
tied to his button-hole by a neat little silk cord, and which his fond
parents intended that he should blow if he chanced to fall into danger
during his rambles about the camp.  We might as well state here, however,
that this precaution proved fruitless, for he blew it at all times and
seasons; and everybody became so hardened to its melodious shriek that
they paid no attention to it whatever,—history, or fable, thus again
repeating itself.

Mr. and Mrs. Noble had driven Margery and Phil into town from the fruit
ranch, and were waiting to see the party off.

Mrs. Oliver was to live in the Winship house during the absence of the
family, and was aiding them to do those numberless little things that are
always found undone at the last moment.  She had given her impetuous
daughter a dozen fond embraces, smothering in each a gentle warning, and
stood now with Mrs. Winship at the gate, watching the three girls, who
had gone on to bid Elsie good-bye.

‘I hope Pauline won’t give you any trouble,’ she said.  ‘She is so apt to
be too impulsive and thoughtless.’

‘I shall enjoy her,’ said sweet Aunt Truth, with that bright, cordial
smile of hers that was like a blessing.  ‘She has a very loving heart,
and is easily led.  How pretty the girls look, and how different they
are!  Polly is like a thistledown or a firefly, Margery like one of our
home Mayflowers, and I can’t help thinking my Bell like a sunbeam.’

The girls did look very pretty; for their mothers had fashioned their
camping-dresses with much care and taste, taking great pains to make them
picturesque and appropriate to their summer life ‘under the greenwood
tree.’

Over a plain full skirt of heavy crimson serge Bell wore a hunting jacket
and drapery of dark leaf-green, like a bit of forest against a sunset.
Her hair, which fell in a waving mass of burnished brightness to her
waist, was caught by a silver arrow, and crowned by a wide soft hat of
crimson felt encircled with a bird’s breast.

Margery wore a soft grey flannel, the colour of a dove’s throat, adorned
with rows upon rows of silver braid and sparkling silver buttons; while
her big grey hat had nothing but a silver cord and tassel tied round it
in Spanish fashion.

Polly was all in sailor blue, with a distractingly natty little
double-breasted coat and great white rolling collar.  Her hat swung in
her hand, as usual, showing her boyish head of sunny auburn curls, and
she carried on a neat chatelaine a silver cup and little clasp-knife, as
was the custom in the party.

‘It’s very difficult,’ Polly often exclaimed, ‘to get a dress that will
tone down your hair and a hat that will tone up your nose, when the first
is red and the last a snub!  My nose is the root of all evil; it makes
people think I’m saucy before I say a word; and as for my hair, they
think I must be peppery, no matter if I were really as meek as Moses.
Now there’s Margery, the dear, darling mouse!  People look at her two
sleek braids, every hair doing just what it ought to do and lying
straight and smooth, and ask, “Who is that sweet girl?”  There’s
something wrong somewhere.  I ought not to suffer because of one small,
simple, turned-up nose and a head of hair which reveals the glowing tints
of autumn, as Jack gracefully says.’

‘Here they come!’ shouted Jack from the group on the Howards’ piazza.
‘Christopher Columbus, what gorgeousness!  The Flamingo, the Dove, and
the Blue-jay!  Good-morning, young ladies; may we be allowed to travel in
the same steamer with your highnesses?’

‘You needn’t be troubled,’ laughed Bell.  ‘We shall not disclose these
glories until we reach the camp.  But you are dressed as usual.  What’s
the matter?’

‘Why, the fact is,’ answered Geoffrey, ‘our courage failed us at the last
moment.  We donned our uniforms, and looked like brigands, highway
robbers, cowboys, firemen,—anything but modest young men; and as it was
too warm for ulsters, we took refuge in civilised raiment for to-day.
When we arrive, you shall behold our dashing sombreros fixed up with
peacock feathers, and our refulgent shirts, which are of the most
original style and decoration.’

‘Aboriginal, in fact,’ said Jack.  ‘We have broad belts of alligator
skin, pouches, pistols, bowie-knives, and tan-coloured shoes; but we
dislike to flaunt them before the eyes of a city public.’

‘Here they are!’ cried Geoffrey, from the gate.  ‘Uncle, and aunt, and
Dicky, and—good gracious!  Is he really going to take that wretched tan
terrier?’

‘Won’t go without him,’ said Bell, briefly.  ‘There are cases where it is
better to submit than to fight.’

So the last good-byes were said, and Elsie bore up bravely; better,
indeed, than the others, who shed many a furtive tear at leaving her.
‘Make haste and get well, darling,’ whispered the girls, lovingly.

‘Pray, pray, dear Mrs. Howard, bring her down to us as soon as possible.
We’ll take such good care of her,’ teased Bell, with one last squeeze,
and strong signs of a shower in both eyes.

‘Come, girls and boys,’ said kind Dr. Paul, ‘the steamer has blown her
first whistle, and we must be off.’

Oh, how clear and beautiful a day it was, and how charmingly gracious
Dame Ocean looked in her white caps and blue ruffles!  Even the
combination steamboat smell of dinner, oil, and close air was obliterated
by the keen sea-breeze.

The good ship Orizaba ploughed her way through the sparkling, sun-lit
waves, traversing quickly the distance which lay between the young people
and their destination.  They watched the long white furrow that stretched
in her wake, the cloud of black smoke which floated like a dark shadow
above the laughing crests of the waves, and the flocks of sea-gulls
sailing overhead, with wild shrill screams ever and anon swooping down
for some bit of food flung from the ship, and then floating for miles on
the waves.

How they sung ‘Life on the Ocean Wave,’ ‘Bounding Billow,’ and ‘Rocked in
the Cradle of the Deep!’  How Jack chanted,—

       ‘I wish I were a fish,
          With a great long tail;
       A tiny little tittlebat,
          A wiggle or a whale,
    In the middle of the great blue sea.  Oh, my!’

‘Oh, how I long to be there!’ exclaimed Philip, ‘to throw aside all the
formal customs of a wicked world I abhor, and live a free life under the
blue sky!’

‘Why, Philip Noble!  I never saw you inside of a house in my life,’ cried
Polly.

‘Oh, yes; you’re mistaken.  I’ve been obliged to eat most of my meals in
the house, and sleep there; but I don’t approve of it, and it’s a trial
to be borne with meekness only when there’s no remedy for it.’

‘Besides,’ said Jack, ‘even when we are out-of-doors we are shelling the
reluctant almond, poisoning the voracious gopher, pruning grape-vines,
and “sich.”  Now I am only going to shoot to eat, and eat to shoot!’

‘Hope you’ve improved since last year, or you’ll have a low diet,’
murmured Phil, in an undertone.

‘The man of genius must expect to be the butt of ridicule,’ sighed Jack,
meekly.

‘But you’ll not repine, although your heartstrings break, will you?’ said
Polly, sympathisingly; ‘especially in the presence of several witnesses
who have seen you handle a gun.’

‘How glad I am that I’m too near-sighted to shoot,’ said Geoffrey, taking
off the eye-glasses that made him look so wise and dignified.  ‘I shall
lounge under the trees, read Macaulay, and order the meals.’

‘I shall need an assistant about the camp,’ said Aunt Truth, smilingly;
‘but I hardly think he’ll have much time to lounge; when everything else
fails, there’s always Dicky, you know.’

Geoffrey looked discouraged.

‘And, furthermore, I declare by the nose of the great Tam o’ Shanter that
I will cut down every tree in the vicinity ere you shall lounge under
it,’ said Jack.

‘Softly, my boy.  Hill’s blue-gum forest is not so very far away.  You’ll
have your hands full,’ laughed Dr. Paul.

Here Margery and Bell joined the group after a quick walk up and down the
deck.

‘Papa,’ said Bell, excitedly, ‘we certainly are nearing the place.  Do
you see that bend in the shore, and don’t you remember that the landing
isn’t far below?’

‘Bell’s bump of locality is immense.  There are nineteen bends in the
shore exactly like that one before we reach the landing.  How many knots
an hour do you suppose this ship travels, my fair cousin?’ asked
Geoffrey.

‘I could tell better,’ replied Bell calmly, ‘if I could ever remember how
many knots made a mile, or how many miles made a knot; but I always
forget.’

‘Oh, see!  There’s a porpoise!’ cried Jack.  ‘Polly, why is a porpoise
like a water-lily?’

But before he could say ‘Guess,’ Phil, Geoff, and the girls had drawn
themselves into a line, and, with a whispered ‘One, two, three,’ to
secure a good start, replied in concert, ‘We-give-it-up!’

‘What a deafening shout!’ cried Aunt Truth, coming out of the cabin.
‘What’s the matter, pray?’

‘Nothing, aunty,’ laughed Polly.  ‘But we have formed a society for
suppressing Jack’s conundrums, and this is our first public meeting.  How
do you like the watchword?’

Aunt Truth smiled.  ‘It was very audible,’ she said.  ‘Yours is evidently
not a secret society.’

‘I wish I could find out who originated this plan,’ quoth Jack,
murderously.  ‘But I suppose it’s one of you girls, and I can’t revenge
myself.  Oh, when will this barrier between the sexes be removed!’

‘I trust not in your lifetime,’ shuddered Polly, ‘or we might as well
begin to “stand round our dying beds” at once.’



CHAPTER II
THE JOURNEY


    ‘Away, away, from men and towns,
    To the wild wood and the downs,
    To the silent wilderness.’

WHATEVER the distance was in reality, the steamer had consumed more time
than usual, and it was quite two o’clock, instead of half-past twelve, as
they had expected, before they were landed on the old and almost
forgotten pier, and saw the smoke of the Orizaba as she steamed away.

After counting over their bags and packages to see if anything had been
forgotten, they looked about them.

             [Picture: Coach of people being drawn by horses]

There was a dirty little settlement, a mile or two to the south,
consisting of a collection of tumble-down adobe houses which looked like
a blotch on the brown hillside; a few cattle were browsing near by, and
the locality seemed to be well supplied with lizards, which darted over
the dusty ground in all directions.  But the startling point of the
landscape was that it showed no sign of human life, and Pancho’s orders
had been to have Señor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega and his
wood-cart on hand promptly at half-past twelve.

‘Can Pancho have forgotten?’

‘Can he have lost his way and never arrived here at all?’

‘Can Señor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega have grown tired of waiting
and gone off?’

‘Has Señor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega been drinking too much
aguardiente and so forgotten to come?’

‘Has Pancho been murdered by highway robbers, and served up into stew for
their evening meal?’

‘With Hop Yet for dessert!  Oh, horrible!’  These were some of the
questions and exclamations that greeted the ears of the lizards, and
caused them to fly over the ground in a more excited fashion than ever.

‘One thing is certain.  If Pancho has been stupid enough to lose his way
coming fifty miles down the coast, I’ll discharge him,’ said Dr. Winship,
with decision.

‘When you find him,’ added Aunt Truth, prudently.

‘Of course.  But really, mamma, this looks discouraging; I am afraid we
can’t get into camp this evening.  Shall we go up to the nearest ranch
house for the night, and see what can be done to-morrow?’

‘Never!’ exclaimed the young people, with one deafening shout.

‘Never,’ echoed Philip separately.  ‘I have vowed that a bed shall not
know me for three months, and I’ll keep my vow.’

‘What do you say to this, Uncle Doc?’ said Geoffrey.  ‘Suppose you go up
to the storehouse and office,—it’s about a mile,—and see if the goods are
there all right, and whether the men saw Pancho on his way up to the
cañon.  Meanwhile, Phil and I will ride over here somewhere to get a
team, or look up Señor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega.  Jack can stay
with Aunt Truth and the girls, to watch developments.’

‘But, papa, can’t we pitch the camp to-night, somehow?’ asked Bell,
piteously.

‘I don’t see how.  We are behindhand already; and if we get started
within an hour we can’t reach the ground I selected before dark and we
can’t choose any nearer one, because if Pancho is anywhere in creation he
is on the identical spot I sent him to.’

‘But, Dr. Paul, I’ll tell you what we could do,’ suggested Jack.  ‘If we
get any kind of a start, we can’t fail to reach camp by seven or eight
o’clock at latest.  Now it’s bright moonlight, and if we find Pancho,
he’ll have the baggage unloaded, and Hop Yet will have a fire lighted.
What’s to prevent our swinging the hammocks for the ladies?  And we’ll
just roll up in our blankets by the fire, for to-night.  Then we’ll get
to housekeeping in the morning.’

This plan received a most enthusiastic reception.

‘Very well,’ replied the Doctor.  ‘If you are all agreed, I suppose we
may as well begin roughing it now as at any time.’

You may have noticed sometimes, after having fortified yourself against a
terrible misfortune which seemed in store for you, that it didn’t come,
after all.  Well, it was so in this case; for just as Dr. Winship and the
boys started out over the hillside at a brisk pace, an immense cloud of
dust, some distance up the road, attracted their attention, and they came
to a sudden standstill.

The girls held their breath in anxious expectation, and at length gave an
irrepressible shout of joy and relief when there issued from the dense
grey cloud the familiar four-horse team, with Daisy, Tule Molly,
Villikins, and Dinah, looking as fresh as if they had not been driven a
mile, tough little mustangs that they were.

A long conversation in Spanish ensued, which, being translated by Dr.
Winship, furnished all necessary information concerning the delay.

S. D. M. F. H. N. stated that Pancho was neither faithless nor stupid,
but was waiting for them on the camping-ground, and that as the goods
were already packed in his wood-cart he would follow them immediately.
So the whole party started without more delay; Dr. and Mrs. Winship,
Master Paul, Jack Howard, and the three girls riding in the wagon, while
Geoffrey and Philip galloped ahead on horseback.

It was a long, dusty, tiresome ride; and Dicky, who had been as good all
day as any saint ever carved in marble and set in a niche, grew rather
warm, cross, and hungry, although he had been consuming ginger-snaps and
apricots since early morning.  After asking plaintively for the fiftieth
time how long it would be before dinner, he finally succumbed to his
weariness, and dropping his yellow head, that was like a cowslip ball, in
his mother’s lap, he fell asleep.

But the young people, whose eyes were not blinded by hunger and sleep,
found more than enough to interest them on this dusty California road,
winding as it did through grand old growths of trees, acres and acres of
waving grain, and endless stretches of gorgeous yellow mustard, the
stalks of which were five or six feet high, almost hiding from view the
boys who dashed into the golden forest from time to time.

At the foot of the hill they passed an old adobe hut, with a crowd of
pretty, swarthy, frowzy Mexican children playing in the sunshine, while
their mother, black-haired and ample of figure, occupied herself in
hanging great quantities of jerked beef on a sort of clothes-line running
between the eucalyptus-trees.

The father, a wild-looking individual in a red shirt and enormous hat,
came from behind the hut, unhitched the stout little broncho tied to the
fence, gave the poor animal a desperately tight ‘cinch,’ threw himself
into the saddle without touching his foot to the lumbering wooden
stirrups, and, digging his spurs well into the horse’s sides, was out of
sight in an instant, leaving only a huge cloud of dust to cover his
disappearance.

‘How those fellows do ride!’ exclaimed Dr. Winship, savagely.  ‘I wish
they were all obliged to walk until they knew how to treat a horse.’

‘Then they’d walk straight into the millennium,’ said Jack, sagely, ‘for
their cruelty seems to be an instinct.’

‘But how beautifully they ride, too!’ said Polly.  ‘Mamma and I were
sitting on the hotel piazza the other day, watching two young Spaniards
who were performing feats of horsemanship.  They dropped four-bit pieces
on the dusty road, and riding up to them at full speed clutched them from
the ground in some mysterious way that was perfectly wonderful.  Then
Nick Gutierrez mounted a bucking horse, and actually rolled and lighted a
cigarette while the animal bucked with all his might.’

‘See that cunning, cunning _muchachita_, mamma!’ cried Bell; for, as they
stopped at the top of the hill to let the horses breathe, one of the
little Mexican children ran after them, holding out a handful of glowing
yellow poppies.

She was distractingly pretty, with a beauty that is short-lived with the
people of her race.  The afternoon sun shone down fiercely on her waving
coal-black locks, and brought a rich colour to her nut-brown cheek; she
had one little flimsy, ragged garment, neither long, broad, nor thick,
which hung about her picturesquely; and, with her soft, dark, sleepy
eyes, the rows of little white teeth behind her laughing red mouth, and
the vivid yellow blossoms in her tiny outstretched hand, she was a very
charming vision.

‘_Como te llamas_, _muchachita_?’  (What is your name, little one?) asked
Bell, airing her Spanish, which was rather good.

‘Teresita,’ she answered, with a pretty accent, as she scratched a set of
five grimy little toes to and fro in the dusty ground.

‘Throw her a bit, papa,’ whispered Bell; and, as he did so, Teresita
caught the piece of silver very deftly, and ran excitedly back to the
centre of the chattering group in front of the house.

‘How intense everything is in California!  Do you know what I mean,
mamma?’ said Bell.  ‘The fruit is so immense, the cañons so deep, the
trees so big, the hills so high, the rain so wet, and the drought so
dry.’

‘The fleas so many, the fleas so spry,’ chanted Jack, who had perceived
that Bell was talking in rhyme without knowing it.  ‘California is just
the place for you, Bell; it gives you a chance for innumerable adjectives
heaped one on the other.’

‘I don’t always heap up adjectives,’ replied Bell, with dignity.  ‘When I
wish to describe you, for instance, I simply say “that hateful boy,” and
let it go at that.’

Jack retired to private life for a season.

‘I’d like to paint a picture of Teresita,’ said Margery, who had a pretty
talent for sketching, ‘and call it The Summer Child, or some such thing.
I should think the famous old colour artists might have loved to paint
this gorgeous flame-tinted poppy.’

‘Not poppy,—eschscholtzia,’ corrected Jack, coming rapidly to the surface
again, after Bell’s rebuke, and delivering himself of the
tongue-confusing word with a terrible grimace.

‘I’m not writing a botany,’ retorted Margery; ‘and I can never remember
that word, much less spell it.  I don’t see how it grows under such an
abominable Russian name.  It’s worse than ichthyosaurus.  Do you remember
that funny nonsense verse?—

    “I is for ichthyosaurus,
    Who lived when the world was all porous;
       But he fainted with shame
       When he first heard his name,
    And departed a long while before us.”’

‘The Spaniards are more poetic,’ said Aunt Truth, ‘for they call it _la
copa de oro_, the golden cup.  Oh, see them yonder!  It is like the Field
of the Cloth of Gold.’

The sight would have driven a royal florist mad with joy: a hillside that
was a swaying mass of radiant bloom, a joyous carnival of vivid colour,
in which the thousand golden goblets, turned upward to the sun, were
dancing, and glowing, and shaming out of countenance the purple and blue
and pink masses which surrounded them on every side.

‘You know Professor Pinnie told us that every well-informed young girl
should know at least the flora of her own State,’ said Jack, after the
excitement had subsided.

‘Well, one thing is certain: Professor Pinnie never knew the _state_ of
his own _flora_, or at least he kept his wife sorting and arranging his
specimens all the time; and I think he’s a regular old frump,’ said
Polly, irreverently, but meeting Aunt Truth’s reproving glance, which
brought a blush and a whispered ‘Excuse me,’ she went on, ‘Well, what I
mean is, he doesn’t know any more than other people, after all; for he
cares for nothing but bushes and herbs and seeds and shrubs and roots and
stamens and pistils; and he can’t tell whether a flower is lovely or not,
he is so crazy to find out where it belongs and tie a tag round it.’

‘I must agree with Polly,’ laughed Jack.  ‘Why, I went to ride with him
one day in the Cathedral Oaks, and he made me get off my horse every five
minutes to dig up roots and tie them to the pommel of his old saddle, so
that we came into town looking like moving herbariums.  The stable-man
lifted him on to his horse when he started, I suppose, and he would have
been there yet if he hadn’t been helped off.  Bah!’  For Jack had a
supreme contempt for any man who was less than a centaur.

By this time they had turned off the main thoroughfare, and were
travelling over a bit of old stage road which was anything but easy
riding.  There they met some men who were driving an enormous band of
sheep to a distant ranch for pasture, which gave saucy Polly the chance
to ask Dr. Winship, innocently, why white sheep ate so much more than
black ones.

He fell into the trap at once, and answered unsuspectingly, in a
surprised tone, ‘Why, do they?’ giving her the longed-for opportunity to
respond, ‘Yes, of course, because there are so many more of ’em; don’t
you see?’

‘You are behind the times, Dr. Paul,’ said Jack.  ‘That’s an ancient
joke.  Just look at those sheep, sir.  How many are there?  Eight
hundred, say?’

‘Even more, I should think,—a thousand, certainly; and rather thin they
look, too.’

‘I should imagine they might,’ said Bell, sympathetically.  ‘When I first
came to California I never could see how the poor creatures found
anything to eat on these bare, brown hillsides, until the farmers showed
me the prickly little burr clover balls that cover the ground.  But see,
mamma! there are some tiny lambs, poor, tired, weak-legged little things;
I wonder if they will live through the journey.’

‘Which reminds me,’ said Jack, giving Villikins a touch of the whip,
‘that nothing is so calculated to disturb your faith in and love for
lambs as life on a sheep ranch.  Innocent!  Good gracious!  I never saw
such—such—’

‘Gasping, staggering, stuttering, stammering tom-fools,’ interposed Bell.
‘That’s what Carlyle called _one_ Lamb,—dear Mr. “Roast Pig” Charles; and
a mean old thing he was, too, for doing it.’

‘Well, it is just strong enough to apply to the actual lamb; not the lamb
of romance, but the lamb of reality.  You can’t get him anywhere; he
doesn’t know enough.  He won’t drive, he can’t follow; he’s too stupid.
Why, I went out for a couple of ’em once, that were lost in the cañon.  I
found them,—that was comparatively easy; but when I tried to get them
home, I couldn’t.  At last, after infinite trouble, I managed to drive
them up on to the trail, which was so narrow there was but one thing for
a rational creature to do, and that was to go ahead.  Then, if you’ll
believe me, those idiots kept bleating and getting under the horse’s
fore-feet; finally, one of them, the champion simpleton, tumbled over
into the cañon, and I tied the legs of the other one together, and
carried him home on the front of my saddle.’

‘They are innocent, any way,’ insisted Margery.  ‘I won’t believe they’re
not.  I can’t bear these people who interfere with all your cherished
ideas, and say that Columbus didn’t discover America, and Shakespeare
wasn’t Shakespeare, and William Tell didn’t shoot the apple.’

‘Nevertheless, I claim that the lamb is not half so much an emblem of
innocence as he is of utter and profound stupidity.  There is that
charming old lyric about Mary’s little lamb; I can explain that.  After
he came to school (which was an error of judgment at the very beginning),
he made the rumpus, you know—

    “And then the teacher turned him out,
       But still he lingered nee-ar,
    And waited patiently about
       Till Mary did appee-ar.”

Of course he did.  He didn’t know enough to go home alone.

    “And then he ran to her and laid
       His head upon her arr-um,
    As if to say, ‘I’m not afraid;
       You’ll keep me from all harr-um.’”

As if a lamb could be capable of that amount of reasoning!  And then

    “‘What makes the lamb love Mary so?
       The eager children cry;
    ‘Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,’
       The teacher did reply.”

And might have added that as Mary fed the lamb three times a day and
twice on Sundays, he probably not only knew on which side his daily bread
was buttered, but also who buttered it.’

‘Dreadful boy!’ laughed Bell.  ‘Polly, pray lower the umbrella; we are
going to meet some respectable people, and we actually are too dirty to
be seen.  I have really been eating dust.’

‘They must be equally dusty,’ said Polly, sagely.  ‘Why, it is the
Burtons, from Tacitas ranch!’

The Burton ranch wagon was drawn up, as its driver recognised Dr.
Winship, and he proceeded to cheer the spirits of the party by telling
them that he had passed Pancho two hours before, and that he was busily
clearing rubbish from the camping-ground.  This was six o’clock, and by a
little after eight the weary, happy party were seated on saddle-blankets
and carriage-cushions round a cheery camp-fire, eating a frugal meal,
which tasted sweeter than nectar and ambrosia to their keen appetites.

The boys expressed their intention of spending the night in unpacking
their baggage and getting to rights generally, but Dr. Winship placed a
prompt and decisive veto on this proposition, and they submitted
cheerfully to his better judgment.

Getting to bed was an exciting occupation for everybody.  Dicky was first
tucked up in a warm nest of rugs and blankets, under a tree, and sank
into a profound slumber at once, with the happy unconsciousness of
childhood.  His father completed the preparations for his comfort by
opening a huge umbrella and arranging it firmly over his head, so that no
falling leaf might frighten him and no sudden gust of air blow upon his
face.

Bell stood before her hammock, and meditated.  ‘Well,’ she said, ‘going
to bed is a simple matter after all, when you have shorn it of all
useless formalities.  Let me see: I generally walk to and fro in the
room, eating a bunch of grapes or an orange, look out of the window five
or ten minutes, brush my hair, read my chapter in the Bible, take my book
and study Spanish five minutes, on the principle of that abnormal woman
who learned ninety-six languages while she was waiting for the kettle to
boil in the morning—’

‘Must have been a slow boiler,’ interrupted Polly, wickedly.  ‘Seems to
me it would have been economy to sell it and buy a new one.’

‘Oh, Polly! you are so wilfully stupid!  The kettle isn’t the point—but
the languages.  Besides, she didn’t learn all the ninety-six while the
kettle was boiling once, you know.

‘Oh, didn’t she?  That alters the case.  Thank you,’ said Polly,
sarcastically.

‘Now observe me,’ said Bell.  ‘I have made the getting into a hammock a
study.  I first open it very wide at the top with both hands; then,
holding it in that position, I gracefully revolve my body from left to
right as upon an imaginary swivel; meantime I raise my right foot
considerably from mother earth, with a view to passing it over the
hammock’s edge.  Every move is calculated, you perceive, and produces its
own share of the perfect result; the method is the same that Rachel used
in rehearsing her wonderful tragic poses.  I am now seated in the
hammock, you observe, with both hands extending the net from side to side
and the right foot well in position; I now raise the left foot with a
swift but admirably steady movement, and I am—Help!  Help!!  Murder!!!’

‘In short, you are not in, but out,’ cried Polly, in a burst of laughter;
for Bell had leaned too far to the right, and on bringing the other foot
in, with its ‘swift but admirably steady’ motion, she gave a sudden
lurch, pulled the hammock entirely over herself and fell out head first
on the other side, leaving her feet tangled in its meshes.  ‘Shall we
help her out, Meg?  She doesn’t deserve it, after that pompous oration
and attempt to show off her superior abilities.  Nevertheless, she always
accepts mercy more gracefully than justice.  Heave ahoy, my hearties!’

Bell was extricated, and looked sufficiently ashamed.

‘We are much obliged for the lesson,’ said Margery, ‘but the method is
open to criticism; so I think we’ll manage in our ordinary savage way.
We may not be graceful or scientific, but we get in, which is the main
point.’

The hammocks did not prove the easiest of nests, as the girls had
imagined.  In fact, to be perfectly candid about the matter, the wicked
flea of California, which man pursueth but seldom catcheth, is apt, on
many a summer night, to interfere shamelessly with slumber.  On this
particular night he was fairly rampant, perhaps because sweet humanity on
which to feed was very scarce in that cañon.

‘Good-night, girls!’ called Jack, when matters seemed to be finally
settled for sleep.  ‘Bell, you must keep one eye open, for the coyotes
will be stealing down the mountain in a jiffy, and yours is the first
hammock in the path.’

‘Of course,’ moaned Bell,—‘that’s why the girls gave me this one; they
knew very well that one victim always slakes the animals’ thirst for
blood.  Well, let them come on.  I shiver with terror, but my only hope
is that I may be eaten in my sleep, if at all.’

    ‘There was a young party named Bell,
    Who slept out of doors for a spell;
       When asked how she fared,
       She said she was scared,
    But otherwise doing quite well.

‘How’s that?’ asked Jack.  ‘I shall be able to drive Bell off her own
field, with a little practice.’

‘Go to sleep!’ roared Dr. Paul.  ‘In your present condition of mind and
body you are not fit for poetry!’

‘That’s just the point, sir,’ retorted Jack, slyly, ‘for, you remember,
poets are not _fit_, but _nascitur_,—don’t you know?’ and he retired
under his blanket for protection.

But quiet seemed to be impossible: there were all sorts of strange
sounds; and the moon, too, was so splendid that they almost felt as if
they were lying beneath the radiance of a calcium light; while in the
dark places, midst the branches of thick foliage, the owls hooted
gloomily.  If you had happened to be an owl in that vicinity, you might
have heard not only the feverish tossing to and fro of the girls in the
hammocks, but many dismal sighs and groans from Dr. Winship and the boys;
for the bare ground is, after all, more rheumatic than romantic, and they
too tumbled from side to side, seeking comfort.

But at midnight quiet slumber had descended upon them, and they presented
a funny spectacle enough to one open-eyed watcher.  A long slender
sycamore log was extended before the fire, and constituted their pillow;
on this their heads reposed, each decorated with a tightly fitting silk
handkerchief; then came a compact, papoose-like roll of grey blanket,
terminated by a pair of erect feet, whose generous proportions soared to
different heights.  There was a little snoring, too; perhaps the log was
hollow.

At midnight you might have seen a quaintly despondent little figure,
whose curly head issued from a hooded cloak, staggering hopelessly from a
hammock, and seating herself on a mossy stump.  From the limpness of her
attitude and the pathetic expression of her eyes, I fear Polly was
reviewing former happy nights spent on spring-beds; and at this
particular moment the realities of camping-out hardly equalled her
anticipations.  Whatever may have been her feelings, however, they were
promptly stifled when a certain insolent head reared itself from its
blanket-roll, and a hoarse voice cackled, ‘Pretty Polly!  Polly want a
cañon?’  At this insult Miss Oliver wrapped her drapery about her and
strode to her hammock with the air of a tragedy queen.



CHAPTER III
LIFE IN THE CAÑON—THE HEIR APPARENT LOSES HIMSELF


    ‘Know’st thou the land where the lemon-trees bloom,
    Where the gold orange glows in the green thicket’s gloom;
    Where the wind, ever soft, from the blue heaven blows,
    And groves are of myrtle, and olive, and rose?’

ON the next morning, as we have seen, they named their summer home Camp
Chaparral, and for a week or more they were the very busiest colony of
people under the sun; for it takes a deal of hard work and ingenuity to
make a comfortable and beautiful dwelling-place in the forest.

The best way of showing you how they accomplished this is to describe the
camp after it was nearly finished.

The two largest bedroom tents were made of bright awning cloth, one of
red and white, the other of blue and white, both gaily decorated with
braid.  They were pitched under the same giant oak, and yet were nearly
forty feet apart; that of the girls having a canvas floor.  They were not
quite willing to sleep on the ground, so they had brought empty bed-sacks
with them, and Pancho’s first duty after his arrival had been to drive to
a neighbouring ranch for a great load of straw.

In a glorious tree near by was a ‘sky parlour,’ arranged by a few boards
nailed high up in the leafy branches, and reached from below by a
primitive ladder.  This was the favourite sitting-room of the girls by
day, and served for Pancho’s bedroom at night.  It was beautiful enough
to be fit shelter for all the woodland nymphs, with its festoons of
mistletoe and wild grape-vines; but Pancho was rather an unappreciative
tenant, even going so far as to snore in the sacred place!

Just beyond was a card-room,—imagine it—in which a square board, nailed
on a low stump, served for a table, where Dr. Paul and the boys played
many a game of crib, backgammon, and checkers.  Here, too, all Elsie’s
letters were written and Bell’s nonsense verses, and here was the
identical spot where Jack Howard, that mischievous knight of the brush,
perpetrated those modern travesties on the ‘William Henry pictures,’ for
Elsie’s delectation.

The dressing-room was reached by a path cut through bushes to a charming
little pool.  Here were unmistakable evidences of feminine art:
looking-glasses hanging to trees, snowy wash-cloths, each bearing its
owner’s initials, adorning the shrubs, while numerous towels waved in the
breeze.  Between two trees a thin board was nailed, which appeared to be
used, as nearly as the woodpeckers could make out, as a toothbrush rack.
In this, Philip, the skilful carpenter, had bored the necessary number of
holes, and each one contained a toothbrush tied with a gorgeous ribbon.

In this secluded spot Bell was wont to marshal every morning the entire
force of ‘the toothbrush brigade’; and, conducting the drill with much
ingenuity, she would take her victims through a long series of military
manœuvres arranged for the toothbrush.  Oh, the gaspings, the chokings
and stranglings, which occurred when she mounted a rock by the edge of
the pool, and after calling in tones of thunder,

    ‘Brush, brothers, brush with care!
    Brush in the presence of the commandaire!’

ordered her unwilling privates to polish their innocent molars to the
tune of ‘Hail, Columbia,’ or ‘Auld Lang Syne’!  And if they became
mutinous, it was Geoffrey who reduced them to submission, and ordered
them to brush for three mornings to the tune of ‘Bluebells of Scotland’
as a sign of loyalty to their commander.

As for the furnishing of the camp, there were impromptu stools and tables
made of packing-boxes and trunks, all covered with bright Turkey-red
cotton; there were no less than three rustic lounges and two arm-chairs
made from manzanita branches, and a Queen Anne bedstead was being slowly
constructed, day by day, by the ambitious boys for their beloved Elsie.

One corner of each tent was curtained off for a bath-room, another for a
clothes-press, and there were a dozen devices for comfort, as Dr. Winship
was opposed to any more inconvenience than was strictly necessary.  Dr.
and Mrs. Winship and little Dicky occupied one tent, the boys another,
and the girls a third.

When Bell, Polly, and Margery emerged from their tent on the second
morning, they were disagreeably surprised to see a large placard over the
front entrance, bearing the insolent inscription, ‘Tent Chatter.’  They
said nothing; but on the night after, a committee of two stole out and
glued a companion placard, ‘Tent Clatter,’ over the door of their
masculine neighbours.  And to tell the truth, one was as well deserved as
the other; for if there was generally a subdued hum of conversation in
the one, there never failed to be a perfect din and uproar in the other.

Under a great sycamore-tree stood the dining-table, which consisted of
two long, wide boards placed together upon a couple of barrels; and not
far away was the brush kitchen, which should have been a work of art, for
it represented the combined genius of American, Mexican, and Chinese
carpenters, Dr. Winship, Pancho, and Hop Yet having laboured in its
erection.  It really answered the purpose admirably, and looked quite
like a conventional California kitchen; that is, it was ten feet square,
and contained a table, a stove, and a Chinaman.

The young people, by the way, had fought bitterly against the stove,
protesting with all their might against taking it.  Polly and Jack
declared that they would starve sooner than eat anything that hadn’t been
cooked over a camp-fire.  Bell and Philip said that they should stand in
front of it all the time, for fear somebody would ride through the cañon
and catch them camping out with a stove.  Imagine such a situation; it
made them blush.  Margery said she wished people weren’t quite so
practical, and wouldn’t ruin nature by introducing such ugly and
unnecessary things.  She intended to point the moral by drawing a picture
of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden,—Eve bending over a cook-stove and
Adam peeling apples with a machine.  Geoffrey scoffed at Margery’s
sentimentalism, put on his most trying air, and declared that if he had
his pork and onions served up ‘hot and reg’lar,’ he didn’t care how she
had her victuals cooked.

They were all somewhat appeased, however, when they found that Dr.
Winship was as anxious as they for an evening camp-fire, and merely
insisted upon the stove because it simplified the cookery.  Furthermore,
being an eminently just man, he yielded so far as to give them permission
to prepare their own meals on a private camp-fire whenever they desired;
and this effectually stopped the argument, for no one was willing to pay
so heavy a price for effect.

The hammocks, made of gaily-coloured cords, were slung in various
directions a short distance from the square tent, which, being the family
sitting-room, was the centre of attraction.  It was arranged with a gay
canopy, twenty feet square.  Three sides were made by hanging full
curtains of awning cloth from redwood rods by means of huge brass rings.
These curtains were looped back during the day and dropped after dark,
making a cosy and warm interior from which to watch the camp-fire on cool
evenings.

As for the Cañon de Las Flores itself, this little valley of the flowers,
it was beautiful enough in every part to inspire an artist’s pencil or a
poet’s pen; so quiet and romantic it was, too, it might almost have been
under a spell,—the home of some sleepy, enchanted princess waiting the
magic kiss of a princely lover.  It reached from the ocean to the
mountains, and held a thousand different pictures on which to feast the
eye; for Dame Nature deals out beauty with a lavish hand in this land of
perpetual summer, song, and sunshine.  There were many noble oak-trees,
some hung profusely with mistletoe, and others with the long, Spanish
greybeard moss, that droops from the branches in silvery lines, like
water spray.  Sometimes, in the moonlight, it winds about the oak like a
shroud, and then again like a filmy bridal veil, or drippings of mist
from a frozen tree.

Here and there were open tracts of ground between the clumps of trees,
like that in which the tents were pitched,—sunny places, where the earth
was warm and dry, and the lizards blinked sleepily under the stones.

Farther up the cañon were superb bay-trees, with their glossy leaves and
aromatic odour, and the madroño, which, with its blood-red skin, is one
of the most beautiful of California trees, having an open growth, like a
maple, bright green lustrous leaves, and a brilliant red bark, which
peels off at regular seasons, giving place to a new one of delicate
pea-green.

There were no birches with pure white skin, or graceful elms, or fluffy
pussy willows, but so many beautiful foreign things that it would seem
ungrateful to mourn those left behind in the dear New England woods; and
as for flowers, there are no yellow and purple violets, fragile anemones,
or blushing Mayflowers, but in March the hillsides are covered with red,
in April flushed with pink and blue, in May brilliant with yellow
blossoms; and in the cañons, where the earth is moist, there are flowers
all the year.

And then the girls would never forgive me if I should forget the superb
yucca, or Spanish bayonet, which is as beautiful as a tropical queen.
Its tall, slender stalk has no twigs or branches, but its leaves hang
down from the top like bayonet-blades; and oh, there rises from the
centre of them such a stately princess of a flower, like a tree in
itself, laden with cream-white, velvety, fragrant blossoms.

The boys often climbed the hillsides and brought home these splendid
treasures, which were placed in pails of water at the tent doors, to shed
their luxuriant beauty and sweetness in the air for days together.  They
brought home quantities of Spanish moss, and wild clematis, and manzanita
berries too, with which to decorate the beloved camp; and even Dicky
trotted back with his arms full of gorgeous blossoms and grasses, which
he arranged with great taste and skill in mugs, bottles, and cans on the
dining-table.

Can’t you see what a charming place it was?  And I have not begun to tell
you the half yet; for there was always a soft wind stirring the leaves in
dreamy music, and above and through this whispered sound you heard the
brook splashing over its pebbly bed,—splashing and splashing and laughing
all it possibly could, knowing it would speedily be dried up by the
thirsty August sun.  Every few yards part of the stream settled down
contentedly into a placid little pool, while the most inquisitive and
restless little drops flowed noisily down to see what was going on below.
The banks were fringed with graceful alders and poison-oak bushes, vivid
in crimson and yellow leaves, while delicate maiden-hair ferns grew in
miniature forests between the crevices of the rocks; yet, with the
practicality of Chinese human nature, Hop Yet used all this beauty for a
dish-pan and refrigerator!

Now, confess that, after having seen exactly how it looks, you would like
to rub a magic lamp, like Aladdin, and wish yourself there with our merry
young sextette.  For California is a lovely land and a strange one, even
at this late day, when her character has been nearly ruined by dreadful
stories, or made ridiculous by foolish ones.

When you were all babies in long clothes, some people used to believe
that there were nuggets of gold to be picked up in the streets, and that
in the flowery valleys, flowing with milk and honey, there grew groves of
beet-trees, and forests of cabbages, and shady bowers of squash-vines;
and they thought that through these fertile valleys strode men of curious
mien, wild bandits and highway robbers, with red flannel shirts and many
pockets filled with playing-cards and revolvers and bowie-knives; and
that when you met these frightful persons and courteously asked the time
of day, they were apt to turn and stab you to the heart by way of
response.

Now, some of these things were true, and some were not, and some will
never happen again; for the towns and cities no longer conduct themselves
like headstrong young tomboys out on a lark, but have grown into ancient
and decorous settlements some twenty-five or thirty years old.

Perhaps California isn’t really so interesting since she began to learn
manners; but she is a land of wonders still, with her sublime mountains
and valleys; her precious metals; her vineyards and orchards of lemons
and oranges, figs, limes, and nuts; her mammoth vegetables, each big
enough for a newspaper story; her celebrated trees, on the stumps of
which dancing-parties are given; her vultures; her grizzly bears; and her
people, drawn from every nook and corner of the map—pink, yellow, blue,
red, and green countries.  And though the story of California is not
written, in all its romantic details, in the school-books of to-day, it
is a part of the poetry of our late American history, full of strange and
thrilling scenes, glowing with interest and dramatic fire.

I know a little girl who crossed the plains in that great ungeneraled
army of fifteen or twenty thousand people that made the long and weary
journey to the land of gold in 1849.  She tells her children now of the
strange, long days and months in the ox-team, passing through the heat
and dust of alkali deserts, fording rivers, and toiling over steep
mountains.  She tells them how at night she often used to lie awake,
curled up in her grey blanket, and hear the men talking together of the
gold treasures they were to dig from the ground—treasures, it seemed to
her childish mind, more precious than those of which she read in The
Arabian Nights.  And from a little hole in the canvas cover of the old
emigrant wagon she used to see the tired fathers and brothers, worn and
footsore from their hard day’s tramp, some sleeping restlessly, and
others guarding the cattle or watching for Indians, who were always
expected, and often came; and the last thing at night, when her eyes were
heavy with sleep, she peered dreamily out into the darkness to see the
hundreds of gleaming camp-fires, which dotted the plain as far as the eye
could reach.

                                * * * * *

You will have noticed that this first week of camp-life was a quiet one,
spent mostly by the young people in getting their open-air home
comfortably arranged, making conveniences of all kinds, becoming
acquainted with the cañon so far as they could, and riding once or twice
to neighbouring ranches for hay or provisions.

Dr. Winship believed in a good beginning; and, as this was not a week’s
holiday, but a summer campaign, he wanted his young people to get fully
used to the situation before undertaking any of the exciting excursions
in prospect.  So, before the week was over, they began to enjoy sound,
dreamless sleep on their hard straw beds, to eat the plain fare with
decided relish, to grow a little hardy and brown, and quite strong and
tough enough for a long tramp or horseback ride.

After a religious devotion to cold cream for a few nights, Polly had
signified her terrible intention of ‘letting her nose go.’  ‘I disown
it!’ she cried, peeping in her tiny mirror, and lighting up her too rosy
tints with a tallow candle.  ‘Hideous objick, I defy thee!  Spot and
speckle, yea, burn to a crisp, and shed thy skin afterwards!  I care not.
Indeed, I shall be well rid of thee, thou—h’m—thou—well, leopard, for
instance.’

One beautiful day followed another, each the exact counterpart of the one
that had preceded it; for California boys and girls never have to say
‘wind and weather permitting’ from March or April until November.  They
always know what the weather is going to do; and whether this is an
advantage or not is a difficult matter to settle conclusively.

New England boys affirm that they wouldn’t live in a country where it
couldn’t rain any day it felt like it, and California lads retort that
they are glad their dispositions are not ruined by the freaks of New
England weather.  At all events, it is a paradise for would-be campers,
and any one who should assert the contrary would meet with energetic
opposition from the loyal dwellers in Camp Chaparral.

Bell returned one day from a walk which she had taken by herself, while
the other girls were off on some errand with the Doctor.  After luncheon
she drew them mysteriously into the square tent, and lowered the
curtains.

‘What is it?’ Polly whispered, with an anxious expression of countenance.
‘Have you lost your gold thimble again, or your temper, or have you
discovered a silver mine?’

‘I have found,’ she answered mysteriously, ‘the most beautifully secret
place you ever beheld.  It will be just the spot for us to write and
study in when we want to be alone; or it will even do for a theatre; and
it is scarcely more than half a mile up the cañon.’

‘How did you find it?’ asked Margery.

‘As I was walking along by the brookside, I saw a snake making its way
through the bushes, and—’

‘Goodness!’ shrieked Polly, ‘I shall not write there, thank you.’

‘Goose!  Just wait a minute.  I looked at it, and followed at a distance;
it was a harmless little thing; and I thought, for the fun of it, I would
just push blindly on and see what I should find, because we are for ever
walking in the beaten path, and I long for something new.’

‘A bad instinct,’ remarked Madge, ‘and one which will get you into
trouble, so you should crush it in its infancy.’

‘Well, I took up my dress and ploughed through the chaparral, until I
came, in about three minutes of scratching and fighting, to an open
circular place about as large as this tent.  It was exactly round, which
is the curious part of it; and in the centre was one stump, covered with
moss and surrounded by great white toadstools.  How any one happened to
go in there and cut down a single tree I can’t understand, nor yet how
they managed to bring out the tree through the tangled brush.  It is so
strange that it seems as if there must be a mystery about it.’

‘Certainly,’ said Margery promptly.  ‘A tragedy of the darkest kind!
Some cruel wretch has cut down, in the pride and pomp of it beauty, one
sycamore-tree; its innocent life-blood has stained the ground, and given
birth to the white toadstools which mark the spot and testify to the
purity of the victim.’

‘Well,’ continued Bell, impressively, ‘I knew I could never find it
again; and I wanted so much you should see it that I took the ball of
twine we always carry, unrolled it, and dropped the thread all the way
along to the brookside, like Phrygia, or Melpomene, or Anemone, or
whatever her name was.’

‘Or Artesia, or Polynesia, or Euthanasia,’ interrupted Polly.  ‘I think
the lady you mean is Ariadne.’

‘Exactly.  Now we’ll take papa to see it, and then we’ll fit it up as a
retreat.  Won’t it be charming?  We’ll call it the Lone Stump.’

‘Oh, I like that; it makes me shiver!’ cried Polly.  ‘I’m going to write
an ode to it at once.  Ahem!  It shall begin—let me see—

    ‘O lonely tree,
    What cruel “he”
    Did lay thee low?
    Tell us the facts;
    Did cruel axe
    Abuse thee so?’

‘Sublime!  Second verse,’ said Bell slowly, with pauses between the
lines:—

    ‘Or did a gopher,
    The wicked loafer,
    Gnaw at thy base,
    And, doing so,
    Contrive to go,
    And leave no trace?’

‘Oh dear!’ sighed Margery; ‘if you will do it, wait a minute.

    ‘O toadstools white,
    Pray give us light
    Upon the question.
    Did gopher gnaw,
    And live in awe
    Of indigestion?’

‘Good!’ continued Bell:—

    ‘Or did a man
    Malicious plan
    The good tree’s ruin,
    And leave it so
    Convenient low,
    A seat for Bruin?

For travelling grizzlies, you know.  We may go there and see a hungry
creature making a stump-speech, while an admiring audience of
grasshoppers and tarantulas seat themselves in a circle on the
toadstools.’

‘Charming prospect!’ said Madge.  ‘I don’t think I care to visit the Lone
Stump or pass my mornings there.’

‘Nonsense, dear child; it is just like every other part of the cañon,
only a little more lonely.  It is not half a mile from camp, and hardly a
dozen steps from the place where the boys go so often to shoot quail.’

‘Very well,’ said the girls.  ‘We must go there to-morrow morning; and
perhaps we’d better not tell the boys,—they are so peculiar.  Jack will
certainly interfere with us in some way, if he hears about it.’

‘Now let us take our books and run down by the pool for an hour or two,’
said Bell.  ‘Papa and the boys are all off shooting, and mamma is lying
down.  We can have a cool, quiet time; the sunshine is so hot here by the
tents.’

Accordingly, they departed, as they often did, for one of the prolonged
chats in which school-girls are wont to indulge, and which so often, too,
are but idle, senseless chatter.

These young people, however, had been fortunate in having the wisest and
most loving guardianship, so that all their happy young lives had been
spent to good purpose.  They had not shirked study, and so their minds
were stocked with useful information; they had read carefully and
digested thoroughly whatever they had read, so that they possessed a good
deal of general knowledge.  The girls were bright, sensible, industrious
little women, who tried to be good, too, in the old-fashioned sense of
the word; and full of fun, nonsense, and chatter as they were among
themselves, they never forgot to be modest and unassuming.

The boys were pretty well in earnest about life, too, with good ambitions
and generous aspirations.  They had all been studying with Dr. Winship
for nearly two years; and that means a great deal, for he was a real
teacher, entering into the lives of his pupils, sympathising with them in
every way, and leading them, through the study of nature, of human
beings, and of God, to see the beauty and meaning of life.

Geoffrey Strong, of course, was older than the rest, having completed his
junior year at college; but Dr. Winship, who was his guardian, thought it
wiser for him to rest a year and come to him in California, as his
ambition and energy had already led him into greater exertions than his
age or strength warranted.  He was now studying medicine with the good
Doctor, but would go back to the ‘land of perpetual pie’ in the fall and
complete his college course.

A splendid fellow he was,—so earnest, thoughtful, and wise; so gravely
tender in all his ways to Aunt Truth, who was the only mother he had ever
known; so devoted to Dr. Winship, who loved him as his own elder son.

What will Geoffrey Strong be as a man?  The twig is bent, and it is safe
to predict how the tree will incline.  His word will be as good as his
bond; he will be a good physician, for his eye is quick to see suffering,
and his hand ready to relieve it; little children with feverish cheeks
and tired eyes will love to clasp his cool, strong sand; he will be
gentle as a woman, yet thoroughly manly, as he is now, for he has made
the most of his golden youth, and every lad who does that will have a
golden manhood and a glorious old age.

As for Philip Noble, he was a dear, good, trustworthy lad too; kindly,
generous, practical, and industrious; a trifle slow and reserved,
perhaps, but full of common sense,—the kind of sense which, after all, is
most uncommon.

Bell once said: ‘This is the difference between Philip and Geoffrey,—one
does, and the other is.  Geoff is the real Simon-pure ideal which we
praise Philip for trying to be,’—a very good description for a little
maiden whose bright eyes had only looked into life for sixteen summers.

And now we come to Jack Howard, who never kept still long enough for any
one to write a description of him.  To explain how he differed from
Philip or Geoffrey would be like bringing the Equator and the Tropic of
Cancer together for purposes of comparison.

If there were a horseback ride, Jack rode the wildest colt, was oftenest
thrown and least often hurt; if a fishing-party, Jack it was who caught
all the fish, though he made more noise than any one else, and followed
no rules laid down in _The Complete Angler_.

He was very often in trouble; but his misdemeanours were those of pure
mischief, and were generally atoned for when it was possible.  He
excelled in all out-of-door sports.  And indeed, if his prudence had at
all kept pace with his ability, he might have done remarkable things in
almost any direction; but he constantly overshot the mark, and people
looked to him for the dazzling brilliancy and uncertainty of a meteor,
but never for the steady glow of a fixed star.

Just now, Jack was a good deal sobered, and appeared at his very best.
The teaching of Dr. Paul and the companionship of Geoffrey had done much
for him, while the illness of his sister Elsie, who was the darling of
his heart, acted constantly as a sort of curb upon him; for he loved her
with all the ardour and passion which he gave to everything else.  You
might be fearful of Jack’s high spirits and riotous mirth, of his
reckless actions and heedless jokes, but you could scarcely keep from
admiring the boy; for he was brave and handsome and winsome enough to
charm the very birds off the bush, as Aunt Truth acknowledged, after
giving him a lecture for some misdemeanour.

The three girls made their way a short distance up the cañon to a place
which they called Prospect Pool, because it was so entirely shut in from
observation.

‘Dear old Geoff!’ said Bell, throwing her shawl over a rock and opening
her volume of Carlyle.  ‘He has gone all through this for me, and written
nice little remarks on the margin,—explanations and things, and
interrogations where he thinks I won’t know what is meant and had better
find out,—bless his heart!  What have you brought, Margery?  By the way,
you must move your seat away from that clump of poison-oak bushes; we
can’t afford to have any accidents which will interfere with our fun.  We
have all sorts of new remedies, but I prefer that the boys should
experiment with them.’

‘It’s the softest seat here, too,’ grumbled Margery.  ‘We must get the
boys to cut these bushes down.  Why, you haven’t any book, you lazy
Polly.  Are you going to sleep, or shall you chatter and prevent our
reading?’

‘Neither,’ she answered.  ‘Here is a doughnut which I propose to send
down the red pathway of fate; and here a pencil and paper with which I am
going to begin our round-robin letter to Elsie.’

‘That’s good!  She has only had notes from Jack and one letter from us,
which, if I remember right, had nothing in it.’

‘Thanks!  I wrote it,’ sniffed Bell.

‘Well, I meant it had no news—no account of things, you know.’

‘No, I wouldn’t descend to writing news, and I leave accounts to the
butcher.’

‘Stop quarrelling, girls!  This is my plan: I will begin in my usual
rockety style, sometimes maliciously called the Pollyoliver method;
Margery will take up the thread sedately; Bell will plunge in with a
burst of enthusiasm and seventeen adjectives, followed by a verse of poor
poetry; Geoff will do the sportive or instructive, just as he happens to
feel; and Phil will wind up the letter by some practical details which
will serve as a key to all the rest.  Won’t it be a box of literary
bonbons for her to read in bed, poor darling!  Let me see!  I represent
the cayenne lozenges, sharp but impressive; Margery will do for jujube
paste, which I adore,—mild, pleasant, yielding, delicious.’

‘Sticky and insipid!’ murmured Madge, plaintively.

‘Not at all, my dear.  Bell stands for the peppermints; Jack for
chocolates, “the ladies’ delight”; Geoffrey for a wine-drop, altogether
good, but sweetest in its heart; Phil—let me see!  Phil is like—what is
he like?’

‘No more like candy than a cold boiled potato,’ said his sister.

‘He is _candid_,’ suggested Bell.  ‘Let us call him rock-candy, pure,
healthful, and far from soft.’

‘Or marshmallow,’ said Margery, ‘good, but tough.’

‘Or caramel,’ laughed Polly; ‘it always sticks to a point.’

‘Thanks, gentle creatures,’ said a voice from the bushes on the other
side of the pool, and Phil stalked out from his covert, like a wounded
deer.

‘How long have you been in there, villain?’ cried Bell.

‘Ever since lunch; but I only waked from a sound sleep some twenty
minutes ago.  I’ve heard a most instructive conversation—never been more
amused in my life; don’t know whether I prefer being a cold boiled potato
or a ladies’-delight!’

‘You haven’t any choice,’ snapped Polly, a trifle embarrassed at having
been overheard.

‘I’m glad it was my own sister who called me a c. b. p. (the most
loathsome thing in existence, by the way), because sisters never
appreciate their brothers.’

‘I didn’t call you a c. b. p.,’ remonstrated Margery.  ‘I said you were
no more like candy than a c. b. p.  There is a difference.’

‘Is there?  My poor brain fails to grasp it.  But never mind; I’ll
forgive you.’

‘Listeners never hear good of themselves,’ sighed Polly.

‘Are you writing a copy-book, Miss Oliver?  I didn’t want to listen; it
was very painful to my feelings, but I was too sleepy to move.’

‘And now our afternoon is gone, and we have not read a word,’ sighed
little Margery.  ‘I never met two such chatterboxes as you and Polly.’

‘And to hear us talk is a liberal education,’ retorted Polly.

‘Exactly,’ said Philip, dryly, ‘Come, I’ll take the books and shawls.
It’s nearly five o’clock, and we shall hear Hop Yet blowing his lusty
dinner-horn presently.’

‘Why didn’t you go off shooting with the others?’ asked Margery.

‘Stayed at home so they’d get a chance to shoot.’

‘Why, do you mean you always scare the game away?’ inquired Polly,
artlessly.

‘No; I mean that I always do all the shooting, and the others get
discouraged.’

‘Clasp hands over the bloody chasm,’ said Bell, ‘and let us smoke the
pipe of peace at dinner.’

Philip and Bell came through the trees, and, as they neared the camp, saw
Aunt Truth sitting at the door of Tent Chatter, looking the very picture
of comfort, as she drew her darning-needle in and out of an unseemly rent
in one of Dicky’s stockings.  Margery and Polly came up just behind, and
dropped into her lap some beautiful branches of wild azalea.

‘Did you have a pleasant walk, dears?’ she asked.

‘Yes, indeed, dear auntie.  Now, just hold your head perfectly still,
while we decorate you for dinner.  We will make Uncle Doc’s eyes fairly
pop with admiration.  Have you been lonely without us?’

‘Oh, not a bit.  You see there has been a good deal of noise about here,
and I felt as if I were not alone.  Hop Yet has been pounding soap-root
in the kitchen, and I hear the sound of Pancho’s axe in the distance,—the
Doctor asked him to chop wood for the camp-fire.  Was Dicky any trouble?
Where is he?’

‘Why, darling mother, are you crazy?’ asked Bell.  ‘If you think a
moment, he was in the hammock and you were lying down in the tent when we
started.’

‘Why, I certainly thought I heard him ask to go with you,’ said Mrs.
Winship, in rather an alarmed tone.

‘So he did; but I told him it was too far.’

‘I didn’t hear that; in fact, I was half asleep; I was not feeling well.
Ask Hop Yet; he has been in the kitchen all the afternoon.’

Hop Yet replied, with discouraging tranquillity, ‘Oh, I no know.  I no
sabe Dicky; he allee time lun loun camp; I no look; too muchee work.  I
chop hash—Dicky come in kitch’—make heap work—no good.  I tell him go
long—he go; bime-by you catchum; you see.’  Whereupon he gracefully
skinned an onion, and burst into a Chinese song, with complete
indifference as to whether Dicky lived or died.

‘Perhaps he is with Pancho; I’ll run and see!’ cried Polly, dashing
swiftly in the direction of the sky-parlour.  But after a few minutes she
ran back, with a serious face.  ‘He’s not there; Pancho has not seen him
since lunch.’

‘Well, I’ve just happened to think,’ said pale Aunt Truth, ‘that papa
came into the tent for some cartridges, after you left, and of course he
took Dick with him.  I don’t suppose it is any use to worry.  He always
does come out right; and I have told him so many times never on any
account to go away from the camp alone that he surely would not do it.
Papa and the boys will be home soon, now.  It is nearly six o’clock, and
I told them that I would blow the horn at six, as usual.  If they are too
far away to hear it, they will know the time by the sun.’

‘Well,’ said Bell, anxiously, ‘I hope it is all right.  Papa is so strict
that he won’t be late himself.  Did all the boys go with him, mamma?’

‘Yes, all but Philip.’

‘Oh, then Dicky must be with them,’ said Margery, consolingly.  ‘Geoffrey
always takes him wherever he can.’

So the girls went into the tent to begin their dinner toilet, which
consisted in carefully brushing burrs and dust from their pretty dresses,
and donning fresh collars and stockings, with low ties of russet leather,
which Polly declared belonged only to the stage conception of a camping
costume; then, with smoothly brushed hair and bright flower-knots at
collar and belt, they looked charming enough to grace any drawing-room in
the land.

The horn was blown again at six o’clock, Aunt Truth standing at the
entrance of the path which led up the cañon, shading her anxious eyes
from the light of the setting sun.—

‘Here they come!’ she cried, joyously, as the welcome party appeared in
sight, guns over shoulder, full game-bags, and Jack and Geoff with a few
rabbits and quail hanging over their arms.

The girls rushed out of the tent.  Bell took in the whole group with one
swift glance, and then turned to her mother, who, like most mothers,
believed the worst at once, and grew paler as she asked:

‘Papa, where is little Dick?’

‘Dick!  Why, my dear, he has not been out with us.  What do you mean?’

‘Are you sure you didn’t take him?’ faltered Aunt Truth.

‘Of course I am.  Good heavens!  Doesn’t any one know where the child
is?’ looking at the frightened group.

‘You know, uncle,’ said Geoffrey, ‘we started out at three o’clock.  I
noticed Dicky playing with his blocks in our tent, and said good-bye to
him.  Did you see him when you came back for the cartridges?’

‘Certainly I did; he called me to look at his dog making believe go to
sleep in the hammock.’

‘We girls went down to the pool soon after that,’ said Bell, tearfully.
‘He asked to go with us, and I told him it was too far, and that he’d
better stay with mamma, who would be all alone.  He said “Yes” so sweetly
I couldn’t mistrust him.  Oh, was it my fault, papa?  Please don’t say it
was!’ and she burst into a passion of sobs.

‘No, no, my child, of course it was not.  Don’t cry; we shall find him.
Go and look about the camp, Geoff, while we consider for a minute what to
do?’

‘If there is any fault, it is mine, for going to sleep,’ said poor Aunt
Truth; ‘but I never dreamed he would dare to wander off alone, my poor
little disobedient darling!  What shall we do?’

‘Have you spoken to Pancho and Hop Yet?’ asked Phil.

‘Yes; they have seen nothing.’

Hop Yet just at this moment issued from his kitchen with an immense
platter of mutton-stew and dumplings, which he deposited on the table.
On being questioned again, he answered as before, with the greatest
serenity, intimating that Dicky would come home ‘heap bime-by’ when he
got ‘plenty hungly.’  He seemed to think a lost boy or two in a family
rather a trifle than otherwise, and wound up his unfeeling remarks with
the practical one, ‘Dinner all leady; you no eat mutton, he get cold!
Misser Wins’, I no find pickle; you catchum!’

‘I don’t believe he would care if we all died right before his eyes,’
muttered Polly, angrily.  ‘I should just like to see a Chinaman’s heart
once, and find out whether it was made of resin, or cuttle-fish, or
what.’

‘Well,’ said Phil, as Dr. Winship came through the trees from the
card-room, ‘we must start out this instant, and of course we can find him
somehow, somewhere; he hasn’t been gone over two hours, and he couldn’t
walk far, that’s certain.  Now, Uncle Doc, shall we all go different
ways, and leave the girls here to see if he doesn’t turn up?’

‘Oh, papa,’ cried Bell, do not leave us at home!  We can hunt as well as
any one; we know every foot of the cañon.  Let me go with Geoff, and
we’ll follow the brook trail.’

‘Very well.  Now, mamma, Pancho and I will go down to the main road, and
you wait patiently here.  Make all the noise you can, children; and the
one who finds him must come back to the camp and blow the horn.  Hop Yet,
we go now; if Dicky comes back, you blow the horn yourself, will you?’

‘All light, boss.  You eat um dinner now; then go bime-by; mutton heap
cold; you—’

‘Dinner!’ shouted Jack.  ‘Confound your impudence!  If you say dinner
again, I’ll cut the queue off your stupid head.’

‘Good!’ murmured Polly, giving a savage punch to her blue Tam o’ Shanter
cap.

‘Jack, Jack!’ remonstrated Aunt Truth.

‘I know, dear auntie; but the callous old heathen makes me so mad I can’t
contain myself.  Come, Margery, let’s be off.  Get your shawl; and hurrah
for the one who comes back to blow the horn first!  I’ll wager you ten to
one I’ll have Dick in auntie’s lap inside the hour!’—at which Aunt
Truth’s eyes brightened, and she began to take heart again.  But as he
tore past the brush kitchen and out into the woods, dragging Madge after
him at a breathless pace, he shut his lips together rather grimly,
saying, ‘I’d give five hundred dollars (s’posin’ I had a cent) to see
that youngster safe again.’

‘Tell me one thing, Jack,’ said Margery, her teeth chattering with
nervousness; ‘are there any animals in this cañon that would attack him?’

‘Oh, of course it is possible that a California lion or a wild-cat might
come down to the brook to drink—they have been killed hereabouts—but I
hardly believe it is likely; and neither do I believe they would be apt
to hurt him, any way, for he would never attack them, you know.  What I
am afraid of is that he has tumbled over the rocks somewhere in climbing,
or tangled himself up in the chaparral.  He couldn’t have made off with a
pistol, could he?  He is up to all such tricks.’

Presently the cañon began to echo with strange sounds, which I have no
doubt sent the owls, birds, and rabbits into fits of terror; for the boys
had whistles and pistols, while Polly had taken a tin pan and a hammer.
She had gone with Phil out behind the thicket of manzanita bushes, and
they both stood motionless, undecided where to go.

‘Oh, Phil, I can’t help it; I must cry, I am so frightened.  Let me sit
down a second.  Yes, I know it’s an ant-hill, and I shouldn’t care if it
were a hornets’ nest—I deserve to be stung.  What do you think I said to
Margery this morning?  That Dicky was a perfect little marplot, and
spoiled all our fun, and I wished he were in the bottom of the Red Sea;
and then I called him a k-k-k-ill-joy!’ and Polly buried her head in her
blue Tam, and cried a good, honest, old-fashioned cry.

‘There, chirk up, poor little soul, and don’t you fret over a careless
speech, that meant nothing at all.  I’ve wished him in the Red Sea more
than once, but I’m blessed if I ever do it again.  Come, let’s go over
yonder, where we caught the young owl; Dicky may have wanted to try that
little game again.’

So they went on, calling, listening, then struggling on again, more
anxious every moment, but not so thoroughly dazed as Bell, who had rocked
her baby-brother in his cradle, and to whom he was the embodiment of
every earthly grace, if not of every heavenly virtue.

‘I might have known this would happen,’ she said, miserably.  ‘He is so
careless that, if we ever find him again, we must keep him tied to
something.’

‘Take care of your steps, dear,’ said Geoff, ‘and munch this cracker, or
you won’t have strength enough to go on with me.  I wish it were not
getting so dark; the moment the sun gets behind these mountain-tops the
light seems to vanish in an instant.—Dick-y!’

‘Think of the poor darling out in this darkness—hungry, frightened, and
alone,’ sighed Bell.  ‘It’s past his bed-time now.  Oh, why did we ever
come to stay in this horrible place!’

‘You must not blame the place, dear; we thought it the happiest in the
world this morning.  Here we are by the upper pool, and the path stops.
Which way had we better go?’

‘I’ve been here before to-day,’ said Bell; ‘we might follow the trail I
made.  But where is my string?  Light a match, Geoff, please.’

‘What string?  What do you mean?’

‘Why, I found a beautiful spot this morning, and, fearing I shouldn’t
remember the way again, I took out my ball of twine and dropped a white
line all the way back, like Ariadne; but I don’t see it.  Where can it
have disappeared—unless Jack or Phil took it to tease me?’

‘Oh no; I’ve been with them all day.  Perhaps a snake has swallowed it.
Come.’

But a bright idea had popped into Bell’s head.  ‘I want to go that way,
Geoff, dear; it’s as good as any other, and there are flowers just the
other side, in an open, sunny place; perhaps he found them.’

‘All right; let’s go ahead.’

‘The trouble is, I don’t know which way to go.  Here is the rock; I
remember it was a spotted one, with tall ferns growing beside it.  Now I
went—let me see—this way,’ and they both plunged into the thick brush.

‘Bell, Bell, this is utter nonsense!’ cried Geoff.  ‘No child could crawl
through this tangle.’

‘Dicky could crawl through anything in this universe, if it was the wrong
thing; he isn’t afraid of beast, bird, or fish, and he positively enjoys
getting scratched,’ said Bell.

Meanwhile, what had become of this small hero, and what was he doing?  He
was last seen in the hammock, playing with the long-suffering terrier,
Lubin, who was making believe go to sleep.  It proved to be entirely a
make-believe; for, at the first loosening of Dicky’s strangling hold upon
his throat, he tumbled out of the hammock and darted into the woods.
Dicky followed, but Lubin was fleet of foot, and it was a desperate and
exciting race for full ten minutes.

At length, as Lubin heard his little master’s gleeful laugh, he realised
that his anger was a thing of the past; consequently, he wheeled about
and ran into Dicky’s outstretched arms, licking his face and hands
exuberantly in the joy of complete forgiveness.

By this time the voice of conscience in Dicky’s soul—and it was a very,
very still, small one on all occasions—was entirely silenced.  He strayed
into a sunny spot, and picked flowers enough to trim his little sailor
hat, probably divining that this was what lost children in Sunday-school
books always did, and it would be dishonourable not to keep up the
superstition.  Then he built a fine, strong dam of stones across the
brook, wading to and fro without the bother of taking off his shoes and
stockings, and filled his hat with rocks and sunk it to the bottom for a
wharf, keeping his hat-band to tie an unhappy frog to a bit of bark, and
setting him afloat as the captain of a slave-ship.  When, at length, the
struggling creature freed himself from his bonds and leaped into the
pool, Dicky played that he was a drowning child, and threw Lubin into the
water to rescue him.

In these merry antics the hours flew by unnoticed; he had never been
happier in his life, and it flashed through his mind that if he were left
entirely to himself he should always be good.

‘Here I’ve been a whole day offul good by my lone self; haven’t said one
notty word or did one notty fing, nor gotted scolded a singul wunst, did
I, Lubin?  I guess we better live here; bettent we, Lubin?  And ven we
wunt git stuck inter bed fur wettin’ our feets little teenty mites of wet
ev’ry singul night all the livelong days, will we, Lubin?’

But this was a long period of reflection for Master Dicky, and he capered
on, farther and farther, the water sozzling frightfully in his little
copper-toed boots.  At length he sat down on a stone to rest himself,
and, glancing aimlessly about, his eyes fell on a white string, which he
grasped with alacrity, pulling its end from beneath the stone on which he
sat.

‘Luby Winship, the anjulls gaved me this string fur ter make an offul
splendid tight harness for you, little Luby; and you can drag big heavy
stones.  Won’t that be nice?’

Lubin looked doubtful, and wagged his tail dissentingly, as much as to
say that his ideas of angel ministrations were a trifle different.

But there was no end to the string!  How very, very curious!  Dicky wound
and wound and crept and crept along, until he was thoroughly tired but
thoroughly determined to see it through; and Lubin, meanwhile, had seized
the first convenient moment, after the mention of the harness, to retire
to the camp.

At length, oh joy! the tired and torn little man, following carefully the
leading-string, issued from the scratching bushes into a clean,
beautiful, round place, with a great restful-looking stump in the centre,
and round its base a small forest of snowy toadstools.  What could be a
lovelier surprise!  Dicky clapped his hands in glee as he looked at them,
and thought of a little verse of poetry which Bell had taught him:

    ‘Some fairy umbrellas came up to-day
    Under the elm-tree, just over the way,
    And as we have had a shower of rain,
    The reason they came is made very plain:
    To-night is the woodland fairies’ ball,
    And drops from the elm-tree might on them fall,
    So little umbrellas wait for them here,
    And under their shelter they’ll dance without fear.
    Take care where you step, nor crush them, I pray,
    For fear you will frighten the fairies away.’

‘Oh!’ thought Dicky, in a trance of delight, ‘now I shall go to the
fairies’ ball, and see ’em dance under the cunning little teenty
umberells; and wunt they be mad at home when nobuddy can’t see ’em but
just only me!  And then if that potry is a big whopper, like that there
uvver one—’laddin-lamp story of Bell’s—I’ll just pick evry white
toadstool for my papa’s Sunday dinner, and she sha’n’t never see a singul
fairy dance.’

But he waited very patiently for a long, long time that seemed like
years, for Lubin had disappeared; and all at once it grew so dark in this
thickly-wooded place that Dicky’s courage oozed out in a single moment,
without any previous warnings as to its intention.  The toadstools looked
like the ghosts of little past-and-gone fairy umbrellas in the darkness,
and not a single fairy couple came to waltz under their snowy canopies,
or exchange a furtive kiss beneath their friendly shadows.

Dicky thought the situation exceedingly gloomy, and, without knowing it,
followed the example of many older people, who, on being deserted by man,
experienced their first desire to find favour with God.  He was not in
the least degree a saintly child, but he felt instinctively that this was
the proper time for prayer; and not knowing anything appropriate to the
occasion, he repeated over and over again the time-worn plaint of
childhood:—

    ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
    If I should die before I wake,
    I pray the Lord my soul to take.  Amen.’

Like older mortals of feeble faith, he looked for an immediate and
practical answer, in the shape, perhaps, of his mother, with his little
night-gown and bowl of bread and milk.

‘My sakes alive!’ he grumbled between his sobs, ‘they’re the meanest
fings I ever saw.  How long do they s’pose I’m goin’ to wait for ’em in
this dark?  When the bears have et me up in teenty snips, then they’ll be
saterfied, I guess, and wisht they’d tookened gooder care of me—a little
speck of a boy, lefted out in this dark, bear-y place, all by his lone
self.  O—oo—oo—oh!’ and he wound up with a murderous yell, which had
never failed before to bring the whole family to his side.

His former prayer seeming to be in vain, he found a soft place, brushed
it as clean as possible, and with difficulty bending his little stiff,
scratched body into a kneeling position, he prayed his nightly postscript
to ‘Now I lay me’: ‘God bless papa, ’n’ mamma, ’n’ Bell, ’n’ Jack, ’n’
Madge, ’n’ Polly, ’n’ Phil, ’n’ Geoff, ’n’ Elsie.’  Then, realizing that
he was in a perilous position, and it behoved him to be as pious as
possible, he added: ‘And please bless Pancho, ’n’ Hop Yet, ’n’ Lubin, ’n’
the goat—not the wild goat up on the hill, but my goat, what got sick to
his stummick when I painted him with black letters.’

What a dreadful calamity, to be sure, if the wrong goat had been blessed
by mistake!  His whole duty performed, he picked the toadstools for his
papa’s Sunday dinner, and, leaning his head against the lone stump, cried
himself to sleep.

                  [Picture: And cried himself to sleep]

But relief was near, though he little suspected it as he lay in the
sound, dreamless sleep which comes only to the truly good.  There was a
crashing sound in the still darkness, and Bell plunged through the thick
underbrush with a cry of delight.

‘He is here!  Dear, dear Geoff, he is all here!  I knew it, I knew it!
Hurrah!—no, I mean—thank God!’ she said softly as she stooped down to
kiss her mischievous little brother.

‘But what a looking creature!’ exclaimed Geoff, as he stooped over the
recovered treasure.  ‘See, Bell, his curls are glistening with pitch, his
dress is torn into ribbons, and his hands—ugh, how dirty!’

‘Poor little darling, he is thoroughly used up,’ whispered Bell, wiping
tears of joy from her brown eyes.  ‘Now, I’ll run home like lightning to
blow the horn; and you carry Dicky, for he is too sleepy and stiff to
walk; and, Geoff’—(here she laid an embarrassed hand on his
shoulder)—‘I’m afraid he’ll be awfully cross, but you’ll not mind it,
will you?  He’s so worn-out.’

‘Not I,’ laughed Geoff, as he dropped a brotherly kiss on Bell’s pale
cheek.  ‘But I’ve no idea of letting you go alone; you’re tired to death,
and you’ll miss the path.  I wish I could carry you both.’

‘Tired—afraid!’ cried Bell, with a ringing laugh, while Dicky woke with a
stare, and nestled on Geoffrey’s shoulder as if nothing had happened.
‘Why, now that this weight is lifted off my heart, I could see a path in
an untravelled forest!  Good-bye, you dear, darling, cruel boy!  I must
run, for every moment is precious to mamma.’  And with one strangling
hug, which made Dicky’s ribs crack, she dashed off.

Oh how joyously, how sweetly and tunefully, the furious blast of the old
cracked dinner-horn fell on the anxious ears in that cañon.  It seemed
clearer and more musical than a chime of silver bells.

In a trice the wandering couples had gathered jubilantly round the
camp-fire, all embracing Bell, who was the heroine of the hour—entirely
by chance, and not though superior vision or courage, as she confessed.

It was hardly fifteen minutes when Geoff strode into the ring with his
sorry-looking burden, which he laid immediately in Aunt Truth’s lap.

‘Oh my darling!’ she cried, embracing him fondly.  ‘To think you are
really not dead, after all!’

‘No, he is about as alive as any chap I ever saw.’  And while the happy
parents caressed their restored darling, Geoff gathered the girls and
boys around the dinner-table, and repeated some of Dicky’s remarks on the
homeward trip.

It seems that he considered himself the injured party, and with great
ingenuity laid all the blame of the mishap on his elders.

‘Nobuddy takes care of me, anyhow,’ he grumbled.  ‘If my papa wasn’t a
mean fing I’d orter to have a black nurse with a white cap and apurn,
like Billy Thomas, ’n’ then I couldn’t git losted so offul easy.  An’ you
all never cared a cent about it either, or you’d a founded me quicker ’n
this—’n’ I’ve been hungry fur nineteen hours, ’n’ I guess I’ve been gone
till December, by the feelin’, but you was too lazy to found me ’f I
freezed to def—’n’ there ain’t but one singul boy of me round the whole
camp, ’n’ ’t would serveded you right if I had got losted for ever; then
I bet you wouldn’t had much fun Fourth of July ’thout my two bits ’n’ my
fire-crackers!’

It was an hour or two before peace and quiet were restored to the camp.
The long-delayed dinner had to be eaten; and to Hop Yet’s calm delight,
it was a very bad one.  Dicky’s small wounds were dressed with sweet oil,
and after being fed and bathed he was tucked lovingly into bed, with a
hundred kisses or more from the whole party.

A little rest and attention had entirely restored his good-humour; and
when Dr. Paul went into the tent to see that all was safe for the night,
he found him sitting up in bed with a gleeful countenance, prattling like
a little angel.

‘We had an offul funny time ’bout my gittin’ losted, didn’t we, mamma?’
chuckled he, with his gurgling little laugh.  ‘Next time I’m goin’ to get
losted in annover bran’-new place where no-bud-dy can find me!  I fink it
was the nicest time ’cept Fourth of July, don’t you, mamma?’  And he
patted his mother’s cheek and imprinted an oily kiss thereon.

‘Truth,’ said the Doctor, with mild severity, ‘I know you don’t believe
in applying the slipper, but I do think we should arrange some plan for
giving that child an idea of the solemnity of life.  So far as I can
judge, he looks at it as one prolonged picnic.’

‘My sentiments exactly!’ cried Bell, energetically.  ‘I can’t stand many
more of these trying scenes; I am worn to a “shadder.”’

Dicky tucked his head under his mother’s arm, with a sigh of relief that
there was one person, at least, whose sentiments were always favourable
and always to be relied upon.

‘I love you the best of anybuddy, mamma,’ whispered he, and fell asleep.



CHAPTER IV
RHYME AND REASON


                A BUDGET OF LETTERS FROM THE CAMP MAIL-BAG

    ‘The letter of a friend is a likeness passing true.’

OUR friend Polly was seated in a secluded spot whence all but her had
fled; her grave demeanour, her discarded sun-bonnet, her corrugated brow,
all bespoke more than common fixedness of purpose, the cause of which
will be discovered in what follows.

              [Picture: Polly was seated in a secluded spot]



I.  FROM THE COUNTESS PAULINA OLIVERA TO HER FRIEND AND CONFIDANTE, THE
LADY ELSIE HOWARD. {100a}


       _Scene_: _A sequestered nook in the Valley of the Flowers_.

                                           CAMP CHAPARRAL, _July_ 6, 188–.

The countess is discovered at her ommerlu {100b} writing-table.  A light
zephyr {100c} plays with her golden locks {100d} and caresses her Grecian
{100e} nose—a nose that carries on its surface a few trifling freckles,
which serve but to call attention to its exquisite purity of outline and
the height of its ambition.  Her eyes reflect the changing shadows of
moonlight, and her mouth is one fit for sweet sounds; {100f} yet this
only gives you a faint idea of the beauteous creature whose fortunes we
shall follow in our next number. {100g}

I have given that style a fair trial, my dear darling, but I cannot stand
it another minute, not being familiar with the language of what our cook
used to call the ‘fuddal aristocracy’ (feudal, you know).

I, your faithful Polly, am seated in the card-room, writing with a
dreadful pen which Phil gave me yesterday.  Its internal organs are
filled with ink, which it disgorges when _pressed_ to do so, but just now
it is ‘too full for utterance,’ as you will see by the blots.

We have decided not to make this a real round-robin letter, like the
last, because we want to write what we like, and not have it read by the
person who comes next.

I have been badgered to death over my part of the communication sent to
you last week, for the young persons connected with this camp have a
faculty of making mountains out of mole-hills, as you know, and I have to
suffer for every careless little speech.  However, as we didn’t wish to
bore you with six duplicate letters, we invented a plan for keeping off
each other’s ground, and appointed Geoff a committee of one to settle our
line of march.  It is to be a collective letter, made up of individual
notes; and these are Geoff’s sealed orders, which must be obeyed, on pain
of dismissal from the camp:

    No. 1 (Polly) is to amuse!

    No. 2 (Phil)  . . . inform.

    No. 3 (Geoff) . . . edify!!

    No. 4 (Madge) . . . gossip.

    No. 5 (Bell)  . . . versify.

    No. 6 (Jack)  . . . illustrate.

So, my dear, if you get any ‘information’ or happen to be ‘edified’ by
what I write, don’t mention it for worlds!  (I just screamed my fears
about this matter to Jack, and he says ‘I needn’t fret.’  I shall
certainly slap that boy before the summer is over.)

I could just tell you a lovely story about Dicky’s getting lost in the
woods the day before yesterday, and our terrible fright about him, and
how we all joined in the boy-hunt, until Geoff and Bell found him at the
Lone Stump; but I suppose the chronicle belongs to Phil’s province, so I
desist.  But what can I say?  Suppose I tell you that Uncle Doc and the
boys have been shooting innocent, _tame_ sheep, skinning and cutting them
up on the way home, and making us believe for two days that we were
eating venison; and we never should have discovered the imposition had
not Dicky dragged home four sheep-skins from the upper pool, and told us
that he saw the boys ‘_peeling them off a venison_.’  Perhaps Phil may
call this information, and Margery will vow that it is gossip and belongs
to her; any way, they consider it a splendid joke, and chuckle themselves
to sleep over it every night; but I think the whole affair is perfectly
maddening, and it makes me boil with rage to be taken in so easily.  Such
a to-do as they make over the matter you never saw; you would think it
was the first successful joke since the Deluge.  (That wasn’t a _dry_
joke, was it?  Ha, ha!)

This is the way they twang on their harp of a thousand strings.  At
breakfast, this morning, when Jack passed me the corn-bread, I said
innocently, ‘Why, what have we here?’  ‘It is manna that fell in the
night,’ answered Jack, with an exasperating snicker.  ‘You didn’t know
mutton, but I thought, being a Sunday-school teacher, you would know
something about manna.’  (_N.B._—He alludes to that time I took the
infant class for Miss Jones, and they all ran out to see a military
funeral procession.)  ‘I wish you knew something about manners,’ snapped
I; and then Aunt Truth had to warn us both, as usual.  Oh dear! it’s a
weary world.  I’d just like to get Jack at a disadvantage once!

We climbed Pico Negro yesterday.  Bell, Geoff, Phil, and I had quite an
experience in losing the trail.  I will tell you about it.  Just as—

(Goodness me! what have I written?  Oh, Elsie, pray excuse those
_horizontal evidences_ of my forgetfulness and disobedience.  I have
bumped my head against the table three times, as penance, and will now
try to turn my thoughts into right channels.  This letter is a
black-and-white evidence that _I_ have not a frivolous order of mind, and
have always been misunderstood from my birth up to this date.)

We have had beautiful weather since—but no, of course Phil will tell you
about the weather, for that is scarcely an amusing topic.  I do want to
be as prudent as possible, for Uncle Doc is going to read all the letters
(not, of course, aloud) and see whether we have fulfilled our specific
obligations.

(I just asked Bell whether ‘specific’ had a ‘c’ or an’s in the middle,
and she answered ‘“c,” of course,’ with such an air, you should have
heard her!  I had to remind her of the time she spelled ‘Tophet’ with an
‘f’ in the middle; then she subsided.)

(I just read this last paragraph to Madge, to see if she called it
gossip, as I was going to take it out if it belonged to her topic, but
she said No, she didn’t call it gossip at all—that she should call it
slander!)

You don’t know how we all long to see you, dear darling that you are.  We
live in the hope of having you with us very soon, and meanwhile the
beautiful bedstead is almost finished, and a perfect success.  (I wish to
withdraw the last three quarters of that sentence, for obvious reasons!!)

Dear, dear!  Geoffrey calls ‘Time up,’ and I’ve scarcely said anything I
should.  Never, never again will I submit to this method of
correspondence; it is absolutely petrifying to one’s genius.  When I am
once forced to walk in a path, nothing but the whole out-of-doors will
satisfy me.

I’m very much afraid I haven’t amused you, dear,—

    But when I lie in the green kirkyard,
    With the mould upon my breast,
    Say not that ‘She did well or ill,’
    Only, ‘She did her best.’

Now, do you think that will interfere with Bell, when it’s only a
quotation?  Any way, it’s so appropriate that Uncle Doc will never have
the heart to strike it out.  The trouble is that Geoff thinks all the
poetry in the universe is locked up in Bell’s head, and if she once
allows it to escape, Felicia Hemans and the rest will be too discouraged
ever to try again!  (I can’t remember whether F. H. is alive or not, and
am afraid to ask, but you will know that I don’t mean to be
disrespectful.)

Laura, Anne, and Scott Burton were here for the play, and Laura is coming
down again to spend the week.  I can’t abide her, and there will probably
be trouble in the camp.

The flame of my genius blazes high just now, but Geoff has spoken, and it
must be snuffed.  So good-bye!

                       _Sizz-z-z_!! and I’m _out_!

                                                              POLLIOLIVER.



II.  FROM PHILIP TO ELSIE.


                                           CAMP CHAPARRAL, _July_ 8, 188–.

MY DEAR ELSIE,—I believe I am to inform you concerning the daily doings
of our party, not on any account, however, permitting myself to
degenerate into ‘gossip’ or ‘frivolous amusement.’

They evidently consider me a quiet, stupid fellow, who will fulfil such a
task with no special feeling of repression, and I dare say they are quite
right.

They call me the ‘solid man’ of the camp, which may not be very high
praise, to be sure, as Geoffrey carries his head in the clouds, and Jack
is—well, Jack is Jack!  So, as the light of a tallow dip is valuable in
the absence of sun and moon, I am raised to a fictitious reputation.

We fellows have had very little play so far, for the furnishing of the
camp has proved an immense undertaking, although we have plenty of the
right sort of wood and excellent tools.

We think the work will pay, however, as Dr. Paul has about decided to
stay until October, or until the first rain.  He writes two or three
hours a day, and thinks that he gets on with his book better here than at
home.  As for the rest of us, when we get fairly to rights we shall have
regular study hours and lose no time in preparing for the examinations.

I suppose you know that you have a full bedroom set in process of
construction.  I say ‘suppose you know,’ because it is a profound secret,
and the girls could never have kept it to themselves as long as this.

The lounging-chair is my allotted portion, and although it is a
complicated bit of work, I accepted it gladly, feeling sure that you
would use it oftener than any of the other pieces of furniture.  I shall
make it so deliciously easy that you will make me ‘Knight of the Chair,’
and perhaps permit me to play a sort of devoted John Brown to your
Victoria.  You will need one dull and prosy squire to arrange your
pillows, so that you can laugh at Jack’s jokes without weariness, and
doze quietly while Geoff and Uncle Doc are talking medicine.

Of course the most exciting event of the week was the mysterious
disappearance and subsequent restoration of the Heir-Apparent; but I feel
sure somebody else will describe the event, because it is uppermost in
all our minds.

Bell, for instance, would dress it up in fine style.  She is no
historian, but in poetry and fiction none of us can touch her; though, by
the way, Polly’s abilities in that direction are a good deal underrated.
It’s as good as a play to get her after Jack when he is in one of his
teasing moods.  They are like flint and steel, and if Aunt Truth didn’t
separate them the sparks would fly.  With a girl like Polly, you have
either to lie awake nights, thinking how you’ll get the better of her, or
else put on a demeanour of gentleness and patience, which serves as a
sort of lightning-rod round which the fire of her fun will play all day
and never strike.  Polly is a good deal of a girl.  She seems at first to
have a pretty sharp tongue, but I tell you she has a heart in which there
is swimming-room for everybody.  This may not be ‘information’ to you,
whom we look upon as our clairvoyant, but it would be news to most
people.

Uncle Doc, Bell, Geoff, Polly, Meg, and I started for the top of Pico
Negro the other morning.  Bell rode Villikins, and Polly took a mule,
because she thought the animal would be especially sure-footed.  He was;
in fact, he was so sure-footed that he didn’t care to move at all, and we
had to take turns in beating him up to the top.  We boys walked for
exercise, which we got to our hearts’ content.

It is only five or six miles from the old Mountain Mill (a picture of
which Jack will send you), and the ascent is pretty stiff climbing,
though nothing terrific.  We lost the trail once, and floundered about in
the chaparral for half an hour, till Bell began to make a poem on the
occasion, when we became desperate, and dashed through a thicket of
brush, tearing ourselves to bits, but stumbling on the trail at last.
The view from the top is simply superb.  The valleys below are all yellow
with grain-fields and green with vineyards, with here and there the roofs
of a straggling little settlement.  The depression in the side of the
mountain (you will observe it in the picture) Polly says has evidently
been ‘bitten out’ by a prehistoric animal, and it turns out to be the
loveliest little cañon imaginable.

We have had one novel experience—that of seeing a tarantula fight; and
not between two, but five, tarantulas.  We were about twenty miles from
camp, loping along a stretch of hot, dusty road.  Jack got off to cinch
his saddle, and so we all stopped a moment to let our horses breathe.  As
I was looking about, at nothing in particular, I noticed a black ball in
the deep dust at the side of the road.  It suddenly rolled over on itself
and I called to the boys to watch the fun.  We got off, hitched our
horses, and approached cautiously, for I had seen a battle of the same
kind before.  There they were—five huge, hairy, dirty, black creatures,
as large as the palm of Dicky’s hand, all locked in deadly combat.  They
writhed and struggled and embraced, their long, curling legs fastening on
each other with a sound that was actually like the cracking of bones.  It
takes a little courage to stand and watch such a proceeding, for you feel
as if the hideous fellows might turn and jump for you; but they were
doubtless absorbed in their own battle, and we wanted to see the affair
to the end, so we took the risk, if there was any.  At last they showed
signs of weariness, but we prodded them up with our riding-whips,
preferring that they should kill each other, rather than do the thing
ourselves.  Finally, four of them lay in the dust, doubled up and
harmless, slain, I suppose, by their own poison.  One, the conquering
hero, remained, and we dexterously scooped him into a tomato-can that
Jack had tied to his saddle for a drinking-cup, covered him up with a
handkerchief, and drew lots as to who should carry him home to Dr. Paul.

Knowing that the little beasts were gregarious, we hunted about for a
nest, which we might send to you after ousting its disagreeable occupant.
After much searching, we found a group of them—quite a tarantula village,
in fact.  Their wonderful little houses are closed on the outside by a
circular, many-webbed mesh, two or three inches across, and this web
betrays the spider’s den to the person who knows the tricks of the trade.
Directly underneath it you come upon the tiny circular trap-door, which
you will notice in the nest we send with these letters.  You will see how
wonderfully it is made, with its silken weaving inside, and its bits of
bark and leaves outside; and I know you will admire the hinge, which the
tarantula must have invented, and which is as pretty a bit of workmanship
as the most accomplished mechanic could turn out.  We tore away the web
and the door from one of the nests, and then poured water down the hole.
The spider was at home, came out as fact as his clumsy legs would carry
him, and clutched the end of the stick Jack held out to him.  Then we
tumbled him into the tomato-can just as he appeared to be making for us.
The two didn’t agree at all.  One of them despatched the other on the way
home—the same hero who had killed the other four; but, on hearing his
bloody record, Aunt Truth refused to have him about the camp; so we gave
him an alcohol bath, and you shall see his lordship when you come.  As
Dr. Paul says, they have been known to clear fourteen feet at a jump,
perhaps you will feel happier to know that he is in alcohol, though their
bite is not necessarily fatal if it is rightly cared for.

The girls have been patronising the landscape by naming every peak,
valley, grove, and stream in the vicinity; and as there is nobody to
object, the names may hold.

We carry about with us a collection of strong, flat stakes, which have
various names painted on them in neat black letters.  Jack likes that
kind of work, and spends most of his time at it; for now that Dr. Paul
has bought a hundred acres up here, we are all greatly interested in its
improvement.

Geoff has named the mountain Pico Negro, as I told you, and the little
cañon on its side is called the Giant’s Yawn.  Then we have—

  Mirror Pool,

  The Lone Stump,

  Field of the Cloth-of-Gold,

  Cosy Nook,

  The Imp’s Wash-Bowl,

  Dunce-Cap Hill,

  The Saint’s Rest, and

  Il Penseroso Fall (in honour of Dicky, who was nearly drowned there).

If anybody fails to call these localities by their proper names he has to
pay a fine of five cents, which goes towards beautifying the place.  Dr.
Paul has had to pay two fines for Bell, three for Aunt Truth, and seven
for Dicky; so he considers it an ill-judged arrangement.

Our encampment is supposed to be in the Forest of Arden, and Jack has
begun nailing verses of poetry on the trees, like a second Orlando, save
that they are not love-poems at all, but appropriate quotations from
Wordsworth or Bryant.  And this brings me to our thrilling rendition of
the play ‘As You Like It,’ last evening; but it is deserving of more than
the passing notice which I can give it here.

One thing, however, I must tell you, as the girls will not write it of
themselves—that, although Bell carried off first honours and fairly
captivated the actors as well as the audience, all three of them looked
bewitching and acted with the greatest spirit, much better than we
fellows did.

Of course we didn’t give the entire play, and we had to ‘double up’ on
some of the characters in the most ridiculous fashion; but the Burtons
helped out wonderfully, Scott playing Oliver, and Laura doing Audrey.
They were so delighted with the camp that Aunt Truth has invited them to
come again on Saturday and stay a week.

At the risk of being called conceited I will also state that we boys
consider that the stage management was a triumph of inventive art; we
worked like beavers for two days, and the results were marvellous, ‘if I
do say so as shouldn’t.’

Just consider we were ‘six miles from a lemon,’ as Sydney Smith would
say, and yet we transformed all out of doors, first into an elegant
interior, and then into a conventional stage forest.

A great deal of work is available for other performances, and so we do
not regret it a bit; we propose doing ‘As You Like It’ again when you are
down here, and meanwhile we give diversified entertainments which Jack
calls variety shows, but which in reality are very chaste and elegant
occasions.

The other night we had a minstrel show, wearing masks of black cambric,
with red mouths painted on them; you should have seen us, all in a dusky
semicircle, seated on boards supported by nail-kegs: it was a scene
better imagined than described.  This is certainly the ideal way to live
in summer-time, and we should be perfectly happy and content if you could
only shake off your troublesome cough and come to share our pleasure.  We
feel incomplete without you; and no matter how large our party may grow
as the summer progresses, there will always be a vacant niche that none
can fill save the dear little Saint who is always enshrined therein by
all her loyal worshippers, and by none more reverently than her friend,

                                                          PHILIP S. NOBLE.



III.  THE KNIGHT OF THE SPECTACLES TAKES THE QUILL.


This paper is writ unto her most Royal Highness, our beloved Gold Elsie,
Queen of our thoughts and Empress of all hearts.

You must know, most noble Lady, that one who is your next of kin and high
in the royal favour has laid upon us a most difficult and embarrassing
task.

In our capacity as Director of the Court Games, we humbly suggested the
subjects for the weekly bulletin which your Highness commanded to be
written; but, alas, with indifferent success; for the Courtiers growled
and the Ladies-in-waiting howled at the topics given them for
consideration.

On soliciting our own subjects from the Privy Councillor and Knight of
the Brush, Lord John Howard, he revengefully ordered me to ‘edify’ your
Majesty with wise utterances; as if such poor, rude words as mine could
please the ear that should only listen to the singing of birds, the
babbling of brooks, or the silvery tongue of genius!

When may your devoted subjects hope to see their gracious Sovereign again
in their midst?

The court is fast drifting into dangerous informalities of conduct.  The
Princess Bell-Pepper partakes of the odoriferous onion at each noon-day
meal, so that a royal salute would be impossible; the hands of the
Countess Paulina look as if you might have chosen one of your attendants
from ‘Afric’s sunny fountains, or India’s coral strand’; and as for the
Court Chaplain, Rev. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, he has woefully forsaken the
manners of the ‘cloth,’ and insists upon retaining his ancient title of
Knight of the Brush; the Duchess of Sweet Marjoram alone continues
circumspect in walk and mien, for blood will tell, and she is more Noble
than the others.

In our capacity of Court Physician we have thrice relieved your youthful
page, Sir Dicky Winship, of indigestion, caused by too generous
indulgence in the flowing bowl—of milk and cherries; we have also
prescribed for his grace the Duke of Noble, whose ducal ear was poisoned
by the insidious oak leaf.

Your private box awaits you in the Princess’ Theatre, and your Majesty’s
special interpreters of the drama will celebrate your arrival as
gorgeously as it deserves.

The health of our dearly beloved Sovereign engages the constant thought
of all her loyal and adoring subjects; they hope ere long to cull a
wreath of laurel with their own hands and place it on a brow which needs
naught but its golden crown of hair to affirm its queenly dignity.  And
as for crown jewels, has not our Empress of Hearts a full store?—two
dazzling sapphires, her eyes; a string of pearls, her teeth; her lips two
rubies; and when she opens them, diamonds of wisdom issue therefrom!

Come! and let the sight of thy royal charms gladden the eyes of thy
waiting people!  Issued under the hand of

                                               SIR GEOFFREY STRONG, Bart.,
                           _Court Physician and Knight of the Spectacles_.



IV.  MARGERY’S CONTRIBUTION.


                                               COSY NOOK, _July_ 11, 188–.

MY OWN DEAR ELSIE,—Your weekly chronicle is almost ready for Monday’s
stage, and I am allowed to come in at the close with as many pages of
‘gossip’ as I choose; which means that I may run on to my heart’s content
and tell you all the little things that happen in the chinks between the
great ones, for Uncle Doc has refused to read this part of the letter.

First for some commissions: Aunt Truth asks if your mother will kindly
select goods and engage Mrs. Perkins to make us each a couple of Scotch
gingham dresses.  She has our measures, and we wish them simple,
full-skirted gowns, like the last; everybody thinks them so pretty and
becoming.  Bell’s two must be buff and pink, Polly’s grey and green, and
mine blue and brown.  We find that we haven’t clothes enough for a three
months’ stay; and the out-of-door life is so hard upon our ‘forest suits’
that we have asked Mrs. Perkins to send us new ones as soon as possible.

We have had a very busy and exciting week since Polly began this letter,
for there have been various interruptions and an unusual number of
visitors.

First, there was our mountain climb to the top of Pico Negro; Phil says
he has written you about that, but I hardly believe he mentioned that he
and the other boys worried us sadly by hanging on to the tails of our
horses as they climbed up the steepest places.  To be sure they were so
awfully tired that I couldn’t help pitying them; but Uncle Doc had tried
to persuade them not to walk, so that it was their own fault after all.
You cannot imagine what a dreadful feeling it gives one to be climbing a
slippery, rocky path, and know that a great heavy boy is pulling your
horse backwards by the tail.  Polly insisted that she heard her mule’s
tail break loose from its moorings, and on measuring it when she got back
to camp she found it three inches longer than usual.

The mule acted like original sin all day, and Polly was so completely
worn-out that she went to bed at five o’clock; Jack was a good deal the
worse for wear too, so that they got on beautifully all day.  It is queer
that they irritate each other so, for I am sure that there is no lack of
real friendship between them; but Jack is a confirmed tease, and he seems
to keep all his mischief bottled up for especial use with Polly.  I have
tried to keep him out of trouble, as you asked me; and although it gives
me plenty to do, I am succeeding tolerably well, except in his dealings
with Polly.  I lecture him continually, but ‘every time he opens his
mouth he puts his foot in it.’

Polly was under a cloud the first of the week.  Villikins was sick, and
Dr. Winship sent her to Aunt Truth for a bottle of sweet oil.  Aunt Truth
was not in sight, so Polly went to the box of stores and emptied a whole
quart bottle of salad oil into a pail, and Villikins had to take it,
_wheel or whoa_ (Jack’s joke!).  Auntie went to make the salad dressing
at dinner-time, and discovered her loss and Polly’s mistake.  It was the
last bottle; and as we can’t get any more for a week, the situation was
serious, and she was very much tried.  Poor Polly had a good cry over her
carelessness, and came to the dinner-table in a very sensitive frame of
mind.  Then what should Jack do but tell Dicky to take Villikins a head
of lettuce for his supper, and ask Polly why she didn’t change his name
from Villikins to Salad-in!  Polly burst into tears, and left the table,
while Dr. Paul gave Jack a scolding, which I really think he deserved,
though it was a good joke.  The next morning, the young gentleman put on
a pair of old white cotton gloves and his best hat, gathered her a
bouquet of wild flowers, and made her a handsome apology before the whole
party; so she forgave him, and they are friends—until the next quarrel.

On the night before the play, Laura and Scott Burton arrived on
horseback, and the next morning the rest of the family appeared on the
scene.  We had sent over to see if Laura would play Audrey on so short
notice, and bring over some odds and ends for costumes.  We actually had
an audience of sixteen persons, and we had no idea of playing before
anybody but Aunt Truth and Dicky.

There were three of the Burtons, Pancho, Hop Yet, the people from the
dairy farm, and a university professor from Berkeley, with eight
students.  They were on a walking tour, and were just camping for the
night when Scott and Jack met them, and invited them over to the
performance.  Geoffrey and Phil were acquainted with three of them, and
Uncle Paul knew the professor.

Laura, Anne, and Scott went home the next morning, but came back in two
days for their week’s visit.  The boys like Scott very much; he falls
right into the camp ways, and doesn’t disturb the even current of our
life; and Anne, who is a sweet little girl of twelve, has quite taken
Dicky under her wing, much to our relief.

With Laura’s advent, however, a change came over the spirit of our
dreams, and, to tell the truth, we are not over and above pleased with
it.  By the way, she spent last summer at the hotel, and you must have
seen her, did you not?  Anyway, Mrs. Burton and Aunt Truth were old
school friends, and Bell has known Laura for two years, but they will
never follow in their mothers’ footsteps.  Laura is so different from her
mother that I should never think they were relations; and she has managed
to change all our arrangements in some mysterious way which we can’t
understand.  I get on very well with her; she positively showers favours
upon me, and I more than half suspect it is because she thinks I don’t
amount to much.  As for the others, she rubs Polly the wrong way, and I
believe she is a little bit jealous of Bell.

You see, she is several months older than the rest of us, and has spent
two winters in San Francisco, where she went out a great deal to parties
and theatres, so that her ideas are entirely different from ours.

She wants every single bit of attention—one boy to help her over the
brooks, one to cut walking-sticks for her, another to peel her oranges,
and another to read Spanish with her, and so on.  Now, you know very well
that she will never get all this so long as Bell Winship is in camp, for
the boys think that Bell drags up the sun when she’s ready for him in the
morning, and pushes him down at night when she happens to feel sleepy.

We, who have known Bell always, cannot realise that any one can help
loving her, but there is something in Laura which makes it impossible for
her to see the right side of people.  She told me this morning that she
thought Bell had grown so vain and airy and self-conscious that it was
painful to see her.  I could not help being hurt; for you know what Bell
is—brimful of nonsense and sparkle and bright speeches, but just as open
as the day and as warm as the sunshine.  If she could have been spoiled,
we should have turned her head long ago; but she hasn’t a bit of silly
vanity, and I never met any one before who didn’t see the pretty charm of
her brightness and goodness—did you?

And yet, somehow, Laura sticks needles into her every time she speaks.
She feels them, too, but it only makes her quiet, for she is too proud
and sensitive to resent it.  I can see that she is different in her ways,
as if she felt she was being criticised.  Polly is quite the reverse.  If
anybody hurts her feelings she makes creation scream, and I admire her
courage.

Aunt Truth doesn’t know anything about all this, for Laura is a different
girl when she is with her or Dr. Paul; not that she is deceitful, but
that she is honestly anxious for their good opinion.  You remember Aunt
Truth’s hobby that we should never defend ourselves by attacking any one
else, and none of us would ever complain, if we were hung, drawn, and
quartered.

Laura was miffed at having to play Audrey, but we didn’t know that she
could come until the last moment, and we were going to leave that part
out.

‘I don’t believe you appreciate my generosity in taking this thankless
part,’ she said to Bell, when we were rehearsing.  ‘Nobody would ever
catch you playing second fiddle, my dear.  All leading parts reserved for
Miss Winship, by order of the authors, I suppose.’

‘Indeed, Laura,’ Bell said, ‘if we had known you were coming we would
have offered you the best part, but I only took Rosalind because I knew
the lines, and the girls insisted.’

‘You’ve trained the girls well—hasn’t she, Geoffrey?’ asked Laura, with a
queer kind of laugh.

But I will leave the unpleasant subject.  I should not have spoken of it
at all except that she has made me so uncomfortable to-day that it is
fresh in my mind.  Bell and Polly and I have talked the matter all over,
and are going to try and make her like us, whether she wants to or not.
We have agreed to be just as polite and generous as we possibly can, and
see if she won’t ‘come round,’ for she is perfectly delighted with the
camp, and wants to stay a month.

Polly says she is going to sing ‘Home Sweet Home’ to her every night, and
drop double doses of the homoeopathic cure for home-sickness into her
tea, with a view of creating the disease.

Good-bye, and a hundred kisses from your loving

                                                              MARGERY DAW.



V.  THE CAMP POETESS ADDS HER STORE OF MENTAL RICHES TO THE GENERAL FUND.


MY DARLING,—I have a thousand things to tell you, but I cannot possibly
say them in rhyme, merely because the committee insists upon it.  I send
you herewith all the poetry which has been written in camp since last
Monday, and it has been a very prosy week.

I have given them to papa, and he says that the best of my own, which are
all bad enough, is the following hammock-song.

I thought it out while I was swinging Margery, and here it is!—

    To—fro,
    Dreamily, slow,
    Under the trees;
    Swing—swing,
    Drowsily sing
    The birds and the bees;
    Sleep—rest,
    Slumber is best,
    Wakefulness sad;
    Rest—sleep,
    Forget how to weep,
    Dream and be glad!

Papa says it is all nonsense to say that slumber is best and wakefulness
sad; and that it is possible to tell the truth in poetry.  Perhaps it is,
but why don’t they do it oftener, then?  And how was he to know that
Polly and Jack had just gone through a terrible battle of words in which
I was peacemaker, and that Dicky had been as naughty as—Nero—all day?
These two circumstances made me look at the world through blue glasses,
and that is always the time one longs to write poetry.

I send you also Geoff’s verses, written to mamma, and slipped into the
box when we were playing Machine Poetry:—

    I know a woman fair and calm,
       Whose shining tender eyes
    Make, when I meet their earnest gaze,
       Sweet thoughts within me rise.

    And if all silver were her hair,
       Or faded were her face,
    She would not look to me less fair,
       Nor lack a single grace.

    And if I were a little child,
       With childhood’s timid trust,
    I think my heart would fly to her,
       And love—because it must!

    And if I were an earnest man,
       With empty heart and life,
    I think—(but I might change my mind)—
       She’d be my chosen wife!

Isn’t that pretty?  Oh, Elsie!  I hope I shall grow old as beautifully as
mamma does, so that people can write poetry to me if they feel like it!
Here is Jack’s, for Polly’s birthday; he says he got the idea from a real
poem which is just as silly as his:—

    A pollywog from a wayside brook
       Is a goodly gift for thee;
    But a milk-white steed, or a venison sheep,
       Will do very well for me.

    For you a quivering asphodel
       (Two ducks and a good fat hen),
    For me a withering hollyhock
       (For seven and three are ten!).

    Rose-red locks and a pug for thee
       (The falling dew is chill),
    A dove, a rope, and a rose for me
       (Oh, passionate, pale-blue pill!).

    For you a greenery, yallery gown
       (Hath one tomb room for four?),
    Dig me a narrow gravelet here
       (Oh, red is the stain of gore!!).

I told Jack I thought it extremely unhitched, but he says that’s the
chief beauty of the imitation.

I give you also some verses intended for Polly’s birthday, which we shall
celebrate, when the day arrives, by a grand dinner.

You remember how we tease her about her love for tea, which she cannot
conceal, but which she is ashamed of all the same.

Well!  I have printed the poem on a card, and on the other side Margery
has drawn the picture of a cross old maid, surrounded by seven cats, all
frying to get a drink out of her tea-cup.  Then Geoff is going to get a
live cat from the milk ranch near here, and box it up for me to give to
her when she receives her presents at the dinner-table.  Won’t it be fun?

                              OWED TO POLLY
                         BECAUSE OF HER BIRTHDAY.

    She camps among the untrodden ways
       Forninst the ‘Mountain Mill’;
    A maid whom there are few to praise
       And few to wish her ill.

    She lives unknown, and few could know
       What Pauline is to me;
    As dear a joy as are to her
       Her frequent cups of tea.

    A birthday this dear creature had,
       Full many a year ago;
    She says she is but just fifteen,
       Of course she ought to know.

    But still this gift I bring to her,
       Appropriate to her age,
    Regardless of her stifled scorn,
       Or well conceal-ed rage!

    She smiles upon these tender lines,
       As you all plainly see,
    But when she meets me all alone,
       How different it will be!

Now comes Geoff’s, to be given with a pretty little inkstand:—

    There was a young maiden whose thought
    Was so airy it couldn’t be caught;
       So what do you think?
       We gave her some ink,
    And captured her light-winged thought.

Here is Jack’s last on Polly:—

    There’s a pert little poppet called Polly,
    Who frequently falls into folly!
       She’s a terrible tongue
       For a ‘creetur’ so young,
    But if she were dumb she’d be jolly!

I helped Polly with a reply, and we delivered it five minutes later:—

    I’d rather be deaf, Master Jack,
    For if only one sense I must lack,
       To be rid of your voice
       I should always rejoice,
    Nor mourn if it never came back!

And now good-night and good-bye until I am allowed to write you my own
particular kind of letter.

The girls and boys are singing round the camp-fire, and I must go out and
join them in one song before we go to bed.

                                          Yours with love, now and always,
                                                                     BELL.

_P.S._—Our ‘Happy Hexagon’ has become a sort of ‘Obstreperous Octagon.’
Laura and Scott Burton are staying with us.  Scott is a good deal of a
bookworm, and uses very long words; his favourite name for me at present
is Calliope; I thought it was a sort of steam-whistle, but Margery thinks
it was some one who was connected with poetry.  We don’t dare ask the
boys; will you find out?



VI.


                                          CAMP CHAPARRAL, _July_ 13, 188–.
                                                           STUDIO RAPHAEL.

DEAR LITTLE SIS,—The enclosed sketches speak for themselves, or at least
I hope they do.  Keep them in your private portfolio, and when I am
famous you can produce them to show the public at what an early age my
genius began to sprout.

At first I thought I’d make them real ‘William Henry’ pictures, but
concluded to give you a variety.

Can’t stop to write another line; and if you missed your regular letter
this week you must not growl, for the sketches took an awful lot of time,
and I’m just rushed to death here anyway.

Love to mother and father.

                                                      Your loving brother.
                                                                      JACK

_P.S._—Polly says you need not expect to recognise that deer by his
portrait, should you ever meet him, as no one could expect to get a
_striking_ likeness at a distance of a half-mile.  But, honestly, we have
been closer than that to several deer.



CHAPTER V
THE FOREST OF ARDEN—GOOD NEWS


    ‘From the East to western Ind,
    No jewel is like Rosalind;
    Her worth, being mounted on the wind,
    Through all the world bears Rosalind;
    All the pictures, fairest lined,
    Are but black to Rosalind;
    Let no face be kept in mind,
    But the fair of Rosalind.’

The grand performance of ‘As You Like It’ must have a more extended
notice than it has yet received, inasmuch as its double was never seen on
any stage.

The reason of this somewhat ambitious selection lay in the fact that our
young people had studied it in Dr. Winship’s Shakespeare class the
preceding winter, but they were actually dumb with astonishment when Bell
proposed it for the opening performance in the new theatre.

‘I tell you,’ she argued, ‘there are not many pieces which would be
effective when played out of doors by dim candle-light, but this will be
just as romantic and lovely as can be.  You see it can be played just “as
you like it.”’

Philip and Aunt Truth wanted a matinée performance, but the girls
resisted this plan very strongly, feeling that the garish light of day
would be bad for the makeshift costumes, and would be likely to rob them
of what little courage they possessed.

‘We give the decoration of the theatre entirely into your hands, boys,’
Polly had said on the day before the performance.  ‘You have some of the
hardest work done already, and can just devote yourselves to the
ornamental part; but don’t expect any more ideas from us, for you will
certainly be disappointed.’

‘I should think not, indeed!’ cried Bell, energetically.  ‘Here we have
the wall decorations for the first scene, and all the costumes besides;
and the trouble is, that three or four of them will have to be made
to-morrow, after Laura comes with the trappings of war.  I hope she will
get here for dinner to-night; then we can decide on our finery, and have
a rough rehearsal.’

‘Well, girls!’ shouted Jack, from the theatre, ‘come and have one
consultation, and then we’ll let you off.  Phil wants to change the
location altogether.’

‘Oh, nonsense!’ cried Madge, as the three girls ran towards the scene of
action.  ‘It’s the only suitable place within a mile of the camp.’

‘I think it will be simply perfect, when you have done a little more
cutting,’ said Bell.  ‘Just see our advantages: First, we have that
rising knoll opposite the stage, which is exactly the thing for audience
seats; then we have a semicircular background of trees and a flat place
for the stage, which is perfectly invaluable; last of all, just gaze upon
that madroño-tree in the centre, and the oak on the left; why, they are
worth a thousand dollars for scenery.’

‘Especially in the first scene—ducal interior, or whatever it is,’ said
Phil, disconsolately.

‘Jingo! that is a little embarrassing,’ groaned Jack.

‘Not at all,’ said Polly, briskly.  ‘There is plenty of room to set the
interior in front of those trees.  It can be all fixed beforehand, and
just whisked away for good at the end of the first act.’

‘That’s true,’ said Geoff, thoughtfully.  ‘But we can’t have any Adam’s
cottage.  We talked it over last night, and decided it “couldn’t be
did.”’

‘Did you indeed!’ exclaimed Bell, sarcastically.  ‘Then allow me to
remark that you three boys represent a very obtuse triangle.’

‘Thanks, most acid Rosalind!’ murmured Geoff, meekly.  ‘Could you deign,
as spokesman of the very acute triangle, to suggest something?’

‘Certainly.  There is the rear of the brush kitchen in plain sight, to
convey the idea of a rustic hut.  To be sure, it’s a good distance to the
left, but let the audience screw round in their seats when they hear the
voices, and Adam, Oliver, and Orlando can walk out carelessly, and go
through their scene right there.’

‘Admirable!’ quoth Geoff.  ‘We bow to your superior judgment.’

‘What an inspiration that was to bring those Chinese lanterns for the
Fourth of July; they have just saved us from utter ruin,’ said Margery,
who was quietly making leaf-trimming.

‘Yes, the effect is going to be perfectly gorgeous!’ exclaimed Polly,
clasping her hands in anticipation.  ‘How many have we?  Ten?  Oh, that’s
splendid; and how many candles?’

‘As many as we care to use,’ Phil answered, from the top of the ladder
where he was at work.  ‘And look at my arrangement for holding them to
these trees.  Aren’t they immense?’

‘By the way,’ said Bell, ‘don’t forget the mossy banks under those trees,
for stage seats; and make me some kind of a thing on the left side, to
swoon on when I sniff Orlando’s gory handkerchief.’

‘A couple of rocks,’ suggested Jack.

‘Not exactly,’ replied the critical Rosalind, with great dignity.  ‘I am
black and blue already from practising my faint, and I expect to shriek
with pain when I fall to-morrow night.’

‘St. Jacob’s Oil relieves stiffened joints, smooths the wrinkles from the
brow of care, soothes lacerated feelings, and ’ushes the ’owl of
hinfancy,’ remarked Geoffrey serenely, as he prepared to build the
required mossy banks.

‘My dear cousin (there are times when I am glad it is only second
cousin), have you a secret contract to advertise a vulgar patent
medicine? or why this eloquence?’ laughed Bell.

‘And, Jack,’ suggested Polly, ‘you don’t seem to be doing anything; fix a
stump for me to sit on while Orlando and Rosalind are making love.’

‘All right, countess.  I’d like to see you stumped once in my life.
Shall we have the canvases brought for stage carpets?’

‘We say no,’ cried Rosalind, firmly.  ‘We shall be a thousand times more
awkward stumbling over stiff billows of carpet.  Let’s sweep the ground
as clean and smooth as possible, and let it go for all the scenes.’

‘Yes, we shall then be well _grounded_ in our parts,’ remarked Phil,
hiding his head behind a bunch of candles.

‘Take care, young man,’ laughed Polly, ‘or you may be “run to earth”
instead.’

‘Or be requested by the audience to get up and dust,’ cried the
irrepressible Jack, whose wit was very apt to be of a slangy character.
‘Now let us settle the interior, or I shall go mad.’

‘Bell and I have it all settled,’ said Geoffrey, promptly.  ‘The
background is to be made of three sheets hung over a line, and the two
sides will be formed of canvas carpets; the walls will have Japanese
fans, parasols, and—’

‘Jupiter!’ exclaimed Jack, who, as knight of the brush, felt compelled to
be artistic.  ‘Imagine a ducal palace, in the year so many hundred and
something, decorated with Japanese bric-a-brac!  I blush for you.’

‘Now, Jack, we might as well drop the whole play as begin to think of the
‘nakkeronisms,’ or whatever the word is.  I have got to wear an old white
wrapper to the wrestling-match, but I don’t complain,’ said Polly.

Just here Bell ran back from the kitchen, exclaiming:

‘I have secured Pancho for Charles the Wrestler.  Oh, he was fearfully
obstinate! but when I told him he would only be on the stage two minutes,
and would not have to speak a word, but just let Geoff throw him, he
consented.  Isn’t that good?  Did you decide about the decorations?’

‘It will have to be just as we suggested,’ answered Margery.  ‘Fans,
parasols, flowers, and leaves, with the madroño-wood furniture scattered
about, sheep-skins, etc.’

‘A few venison rugs, I presume you mean,’ said Geoffrey, slyly.  ‘Say,
Polly, omit the cold cream for once, will you?  You don’t want to
outshine everybody.’

‘Thank you,’ she replied.  ‘I will endeavour to take care of my own
complexion, if you will allow me.  As for yours, you look more like
Othello than Orlando.’

‘Come, come, girls,’ said industrious Margery, ‘let us go to the tent and
sew.  It is nothing but nonsense here, and we are not accomplishing
anything.’

So they wisely left the boys to themselves for the entire day, and
transformed their tent into a mammoth dressmaking establishment, with
clever Aunt Truth as chief designer.

                                * * * * *

The intervening hours had slipped quickly away, and now the fatal moment
had arrived, and everything was ready for the play.

The would-be actresses were a trifle excited when the Professor and his
eight students were brought up and introduced by Jack and Scott Burton;
and, as if that were not enough, who should drive up at the last moment
but the family from the neighbouring milk ranch, and beg to be allowed
the pleasure of witnessing the performance.  Mr. Sandford was the
gentleman who had sold Dr. Winship his land, and so they were cordially
invited to remain.

All the cushions and shawls belonging to the camp were arranged carefully
on the knoll, for audience seats; it was a brilliant moonlight night, and
the stage assumed a very festive appearance with its four pounds of
candles and twelve Chinese lanterns.

Meanwhile the actors were dressing in their respective tents.  Bell’s
first dress was a long pink muslin wrapper of Mrs. Burton’s, which had
been belted in and artistically pasted over with bouquets from the
cretonne trunk covers, in imitation of flowered satin; under this she
wore a short blue lawn skirt of her own, catching up the pink muslin on
the left side with a bouquet of wild roses, and producing what she called
a ‘positively Neilson effect.’

Her bright hair was tossed up into a fluffy knot on the top of her head;
and with a flat coronet of wild roses and another great bunch at her
belt, one might have gone far and not have found a prettier Rosalind.

‘I declare, you are just too lovely—isn’t she, Laura?’ asked Margery.

‘Yes, she looks quite well,’ answered Laura, abstractedly, being much
occupied in making herself absurdly beautiful as Audrey.  ‘Of course the
dress fits horridly, but perhaps it won’t show in the dim light.’

‘Oh, is it very bad?’ sighed Bell, plaintively; ‘I can’t see it in this
glass.  Well, the next one fits better, and I have to wear that the
longest.  Shall I do your hair, Laura?’

‘No—thanks; Margery has such a capital knack at hair-dressing, and she
doesn’t come on yet.’

During this conversation Polly was struggling with Aunt Truth’s trained
white wrapper.  It was rather difficult to make it look like a court
dress; but she looked as fresh and radiant as a rose in it, for the
candle-light obliterated every freckle, and one could see nothing but a
pair of dancing eyes, the pinkest of cheeks, and a head running over with
curls of ruddy gold.

‘Now, Bell, criticise me!’ she cried, taking a position in the middle of
the tent, and turning round like a wax figure.  ‘I have torn out my hair
by the roots to give it a “done up” look, and have I succeeded? and shall
I wear any flowers with this lace surplice? and what on earth shall I do
with my hands? they’re so black they will cast a gloom over the stage.
Perhaps I can wrap my handkerchief carelessly round one, and I’ll keep
the other round your waist, considerable, tucked under your Watteau
pleat.  Will I do?’

‘Do?  I should think so!’ and Bell eyed her with manifest approval.
‘Your hair is very nice, and your neck looks lovely with that lace
handkerchief.  As for flowers, why don’t you wear a great mass of yellow
and white daisies?  You’ll be as gorgeous as—’

‘As a sunset by Turner,’ said Laura, with a glance at Polly’s auburn
locks.  ‘Seems to me this is a mutual admiration society, isn’t it?’ and
she sank languidly into a chair to have her hair dressed.

‘Yes, it is,’ cried Polly, boldly; ‘and it’s going to “continner.”  Meg,
you’re a darling in that blue print and pretty hat.  I’ll fill my
fern-basket with flowers, and you can take it, as to have something in
your hand to play with.  You look nicer than any Phœbe I ever saw, that’s
a fact.  And now, hurrah! we’re all ready, and there’s the boys’ bell, so
let us assemble out in the kitchen.  Oh dear!  I believe I’m frightened,
in spite of every promise to the contrary.’

When the young people saw each other for the first time in their stage
costumes there was a good deal of merriment and some honest admiration.
Geoff looked very odd without his eyeglasses and with the yellow wig that
was the one property belonging to this star dramatic organisation.

The girls had not succeeded in producing a great effect with the
masculine costumes, because of insufficient material.  But the boys had
determined not to wear their ordinary clothes, no matter what happened;
so Jack had donned one of Hop Yet’s blue blouses for his Sylvius dress,
and had ready a plaid shawl to throw gracefully over one shoulder
whenever he changed to the Banished Duke.

His Sylvius attire was open to criticism, but no one could fail to admire
his appearance as the Duke, on account of a magnificent ducal head-gear,
from which soared a bunch of tall peacock feathers.

‘Oh, Jack, what a head-dress for a Duke!’ laughed Margery; ‘no wonder
they banished you.  Did you offend the court hatter?’

Phil said that at all events nobody could mistake him for anything but a
fool, in his ‘Touchstone’ costume, and so he was jest-er going to be
contented.

Scott Burton was arranging Pancho’s toilette for the wrestling-match, and
meanwhile trying to raise his drooping spirits; and Rosalind was vainly
endeavouring to make Adam’s beard of grey moss stay on.

While these antics were going on behind the scenes, the audience was
seated on the knoll, making merry over the written programmes, which had
been a surprise of Geoff’s, and read as follows:—

                          THE PRINCESS’ THEATRE.
                             July 10th, 188–.

                                * * * * *

               APPEARANCE OF THE GREATEST DRAMATIC COMPANY
                             ON EARTH (FACT).

                    THE COOLEST THEATRE IN THE WORLD.

                                * * * * *

          A Royal Galaxy and _Boyaxy_ of Artists in the play of
                            _AS YOU LIKE IT_,
                  By William Shakespeare, or Lord Bacon.

                                * * * * *

                                  CAST.

    ‘_Alas_! _unmindful of their doom_, _the little victims play_;
    _No sense have they of ills to come_, _or cares beyond to-day_.’

ROSALIND                The Lady Bell-Pepper. (Her greatest
                        creation.)
CELIA                   The Countess Paulina.
PHŒBE                   The Duchess of Sweet Marjoram.
AUDREY                  A talented Incognita of the Court.
ORLANDO                 Hennery Irving Salvini Strong.  (Late from
                        the Blank Theatre, Oil City.)
ADAM                    Dr. Paul Winship.  (By kind permission of his
                        manager, Mrs. T. W.)
BANISHED DUKE /         Lord John Howard        Lightning Change
SYLVIUS                                         Artist.
TOUCHSTONE / JACQUE     Duke of Noble
 (_N.B._—The Duke of Noble has played the ‘fool’ five million times.)
OLIVER                  Mr. Scott Burton.  (Specially engaged.)
CHARLES THE WRESTLER    Pancho Muldoon Sullivan.  (His first
                        appearance.)

The Comb Orchestra will play the Music of the Future.

The Usher will pass pop-corn between the Acts.  Beds may be ordered at
10.30.

                                * * * * *

The scene between Adam and Orlando went off with good effect; and when
Celia and Rosalind came through the trees in an affectionate attitude,
and Celia’s blithe voice broke the stillness with, ‘I pray thee,
Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry,’ there was a hearty burst of applause
which almost frightened them into silence.

At the end of the first act everybody was delighted; the stage-manager,
carpenter, scene-shifter, costumier, and all the stars were called
successively before the curtain.

Hop Yet declared it was ‘all the same good as China theatre’; and every
one agreed to that criticism without a dissenting voice.

To be sure, there was an utter absence of stage-management, and all the
‘traditions’ were remarkable for their absence; but I fancy that the
spirits of Siddons and Kemble, Macready and Garrick, looked down with
kind approval upon these earnest young actors as they recited the
matchless old words, moving to and fro in the quaint setting of trees and
moonlight, with an orchestra of cooing doves and murmuring zephyrs.

                         [Picture: Forest scene]

The forest scenes were intended to be the features of the evening, and in
these the young people fairly surpassed themselves.  Any one who had seen
Neilson in her doublet and hose of silver-grey, Modjeska in her shades of
blue, and Ada Cavendish in her lovely suit of green, might have thought
Bell’s patched-up dress a sorry mixture; yet these three brilliant stars
in the theatrical firmament might have envied this little Rosalind the
dewy youth and freshness that so triumphed over all deficiencies of
costume.

Margery’s camping-dress of grey, shortened to the knee, served for its
basis.  Round the skirt and belt and sleeves were broad bands of
laurel-leaf trimming.  She wore a pair of Margery’s long grey stockings
and Laura’s dainty bronze Newport ties.  A soft grey chudda shawl of Aunt
Truth’s was folded into a mantle to swing from the shoulder, its fringes
being caught up out of sight, and a laurel-leaf trimming added.  On her
bright wavy hair was perched a cunning flat cap of leaves, and, as she
entered with Polly, leaning on her manzanita staff, and sighing, ‘Oh
Jupiter, how weary are my spirits!’ one could not wish a lovelier stage
picture.

And so the play went on, with varying fortunes.  Margery was frightened
to death, and persisted in taking Touchstone’s speeches right out of his
mouth, much to his discomfiture.  Adam’s beard refused to stay on; so did
the moustache of the Banished Duke, and the clothes of Sylvius.  But
nothing could damp the dramatic fire of the players, nor destroy the
enthusiasm of the sympathetic audience.

Dicky sat in the dress-circle, wrapped in blankets, and laughed himself
nearly into convulsions over Touchstone’s jokes, and the stage business
of the Banished Duke; for it is unnecessary to state that Jack was not
strictly Shakespearean in his treatment of the part.

As for Polly, she enjoyed being Celia with all her might, and declared
her intention of going immediately on the ‘regular’ stage; but Jack
somewhat destroyed her hopes by affirming that her nose and hair wouldn’t
be just the thing on the metropolitan boards, although they might pass
muster in a backwoods theatre.

                                * * * * *

‘Hello!  What’s this?’ exclaimed Philip, one morning.  ‘A visitor?
Yes—no!  Why, it’s Señor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega coming up the
cañon!  He’s got a loaded team, too!  I wonder if Uncle Doc is expecting
anything.’

The swarthy gentleman with the long name emerged from one cloud of dust
and disappeared in another, until he neared the gate where Philip and
Polly were standing.

Philip opened the gate, and received a bow of thanks which would have
made Manuel’s reputation at a Spanish court.

‘Going up to camp?’

‘Si, señor.’

‘Those things for us?’

‘Si, señor.’

‘What are they?’

‘Si, señor.’

‘Exactly!  Well, are there any letters?’

‘Si, señor.’  Whereupon he drew one from his gorgeously-decorated leather
belt.

Philip reached for it, and Polly leaned over his shoulder, devoured with
curiosity.

‘It’s for Aunt Truth,’ she said; ‘and—yes, I am sure it is Mrs. Howard’s
writing; and if it is—’

Hereupon, as Manuel spoke no English, and neither Philip nor Polly could
make inquiries in Spanish, Polly darted to the cart in her usual meteoric
style, put one foot on the hub of a wheel and climbed to the top like a
squirrel, snatched off a corner of the canvas cover, and cried
triumphantly, ‘I knew it!  Elsie is coming!  Here’s a tent, and some
mattresses and pillows.  Hurry!  Help me down, quick!  Oh, slow-coach!
Keep out of the way and I’ll jump!  Give me the letter.  I can run faster
than you can.’  And before the vestige of an idea had penetrated Philip’s
head, nothing could be seen of Polly but a pair of twinkling heels and
the gleam of a curly head that caught every ray of the sun and turned it
into ruddier gold.

It was a dusty, rocky path, and up-hill at that; but Polly, who was
nothing if not ardent, never slackened her pace, but dashed along until
she came in sight of the camp, where she expended her last breath in one
shrill shriek for Aunt Truth.

It was responded to promptly.  Indeed, it was the sort of shriek that
always commands instantaneous attention; and Aunt Truth came out of her
tent prepared to receive tragic news.  Bell followed; and the entire
family would have done the same had they been in camp.

Polly thrust the letter into Mrs. Winship’s hand, and sank down
exhausted, exclaiming, breathlessly, ‘There’s a mattress—and a
tent—coming up the cañon.  It’s Elsie’s, I know.  Philip is down at the
gate—with the cart—but I came ahead.  Phew! but it’s warm!’

‘What!’ cried Bell, joyfully.  ‘Elsie at the gate!  It can’t be true!’
And she darted like an arrow through the trees.

‘Come back! come back!’ screamed Polly.

‘Elsie is not at the gate.  Don S. D. M. F. H. N. is there with a team
loaded down with things.  Isn’t it from Mrs. Howard, Aunt Truth?’

‘Yes, it is.  Written this morning from Tacitas Rancho.  Why, how is
this?  Let me see!’

                                         TACITAS RANCHO, _Monday morning_.

DEAR TRUTH,—You will be surprised to receive a letter from me, written
from Tacitas.  But here we are, Elsie and I; and, what is better, we are
on our way to you.

(‘I knew it!’ exclaimed the girls.)

Elsie has been growing steadily better for three weeks.  The fever seems
to have disappeared entirely, and the troublesome cough is so much
lessened that she sleeps all night without waking.  The doctor says that
the camp-life will be the very best thing for her now, and will probably
complete her recovery.

(‘Oh, joy, joy!’ cried the girls.)

I need not say how gladly we followed this special prescription of our
kind doctor’s, nor add that we started at once.

(‘Oh, Aunt Truth, there is nobody within a mile of the camp; can’t I,
_please_ can’t I turn one little hand-spring, just one little lady-like
one?’ pleaded Polly, dancing on one foot and chewing her sun-bonnet
string.

‘No, dear, you can’t!  Keep quiet and let me read.’)

Elsie would not let me tell you our plans any sooner, lest the old story
of a sudden ill turn would keep us at home; and I think very likely that
she longed to give the dear boys and girls a surprise.

We arrived at the Burtons’ yesterday.  Elsie bore the journey exceedingly
well, but I would not take any risks, and so we shall not drive over
until day after to-morrow morning.

(‘You needn’t have hurried quite so fast, Polly dear.’)

I venture to send the tent and its belongings ahead to-day, so that Jack
may get everything to rights before we arrive.

The mattress is just the size the girls ordered; and of course I’ve told
Elsie nothing about the proposed furnishing of her tent.

I am bringing my little China boy with me, for I happen to think that,
with the Burtons, we shall be fourteen at table.  Gin is not quite a
success as a cook, but he can at least wash dishes, wait at table, and
help Hop Yet in various ways; while I shall be only too glad to share all
your housekeeping cares, if you have not escaped them even in the
wilderness.

I shall be so glad to see you again; and oh, Truth, I am so happy, so
happy, that, please God, I can keep my child after all!  The weary burden
of dread is lifted off my heart, and I feel young again.  Just think of
it!  My Elsie will be well and strong once more!  It seems too good to be
true.

Always your attached friend,

                                                             JANET HOWARD.

Mrs. Winship’s voice quivered as she read the last few words, and Polly
and Bell threw themselves into each other’s arms and cried for sheer
gladness.

‘Come, come, dears!  I suppose you will make grand preparations, and
there is no time to lose.  One of you must find somebody to help Philip
unload the team.  Papa and the boys have gone fishing, and Laura and
Margery went with them, I think.’  And Mrs. Winship bustled about,
literally on hospitable thoughts in-tent.

Polly tied on her sun-bonnet with determination, turned up her sleeves as
if washing were the thing to be done, and placed her arms akimbo.

‘First and foremost,’ said she, her eyes sparkling with excitement,
‘first and foremost, I am going to blow the horn.’

‘Certainly not,’ said Aunt Truth.  ‘Are you crazy, Polly?  It is scarcely
ten o’clock, and everybody would think it was dinnertime, and come home
at once.’

‘No, they’d think something had happened to Dicky,’ said Bell, ‘and that
would bring them in still sooner.’

‘Of course!  I forgot.  But can’t I blow it earlier than usual?  Can’t I
blow it at half-past eleven instead of twelve?  We can’t do a thing
without the boys, and they may not come home until midnight unless we do
something desperate.  Oh, delight!  There’s Don S. D. M. F. H. N., and
Phil has found Pancho to help unload.’

‘Isn’t it lucky that we decided on the place for Elsie’s tent, and saved
it in case she should ever come?’ said Bell.  ‘Now Philip and Pancho can
set it up whenever they choose.  And isn’t it fortunate that we three
stayed at home to-day, and refused to fish? now we can plan everything,
and then all work together when they come back.’

Meanwhile Polly was tugging at an immense bundle, literally tooth and
nail, as she alternated trembling clutches of the fingers with frantic
bites at the offending knot.

Like many of her performances, the physical strength expended was out of
all proportion to the result produced, and one stroke of Philip’s knife
accomplished more than all her ill-directed effort.  At length the bundle
of awning cloth stood revealed.  ‘Oh, isn’t it beautiful?’ she cried, ‘it
will be the very prettiest tent in camp; can’t I blow the horn?’

‘Look, mamma,’ exclaimed Bell, ‘it is green and grey, in those pretty
broken stripes, and the edge is cut in lovely scollops and bound with
green braid.  Won’t it look pretty among the trees?’

Aunt Truth came out to join the admiring group.

‘O-o-o-h!’ screamed Polly.  ‘There comes a piece of the floor.  They’ve
sent it all made, in three pieces.  What fun!  We’ll have it all up and
ready to sleep in before we blow the horn!’

‘And here’s a roll of straw matting,’ said Phil, depositing a huge bundle
on the ground near the girls.  ‘I’ll cut the rope to save your teeth!’

‘Green and white plaid!’ exclaimed Bell.  ‘Well!  Mrs. Howard did have
her wits about her!’

‘Oh, do let me blow the horn!’ teased the irrepressible Polly.

‘Here are a looking-glass and a towel-rack and a Shaker rocking-chair,’
called Philip; ‘guess they’re going to stay the rest of the summer.’

‘Yes, of course they wouldn’t want a looking-glass if they were only
going to stay a month or two,’ laughed Bell.

‘Dear Aunt Truth, if you won’t let me turn a single decorous little
hand-spring, or blow the horn, or do anything nice, will you let us use
all that new white mosquito-netting?  Bell says that it has been in the
storehouse for two years, and it would be just the thing for decorating
Elsie’s tent.’

‘Why, of course you may have it, Polly, and anything else that you can
find.  There!  I hear Dicky’s voice in the distance; perhaps the girls
are coming.’

Bell and Polly darted through the swarm of tents, and looked up the
narrow path that led to the brook.

Sure enough, Margery and Laura were strolling towards home with little
Anne and Dick dangling behind, after the manner of children.  Margery
carried a small string of trout, and Dick the inevitable tin pail in
which he always kept an unfortunate frog or two.  The girls had
discovered that he was in the habit of crowding the cover tightly over
the pail and keeping his victims shut up for twenty-four hours, after
which, he said, they were nice and tame—so very tame, as it transpired,
that they generally gave up the ghost in a few hours after their release.
Margery had with difficulty persuaded him of his cruelty, and the cover
had been pierced with a certain number of air-holes.

‘Guess the loveliest thing that could possibly happen!’ called Bell at
the top of her voice.

‘Elsie has come,’ answered Margery in a second, nobody knew why; ‘let me
hug her this minute!’

‘With those fish?’ laughed Polly.  ‘No! you’ll have to wait until day
after to-morrow, and then your guess will be right.  Isn’t it almost too
good to be true?’

‘And she is almost well,’ added Bell, joyfully, slipping her arm through
Margery’s and squeezing it in sheer delight.  ‘Mrs. Howard says she is
really and truly better.  Oh, if Elsie Howard in bed is the loveliest,
dearest thing in the world, what will it be like to have her out of it
and with us in all our good times!’

‘Has she always been ill since you knew her?’ asked Laura.

‘Yes; a terrible cold left her with weakness of the lungs, and the
doctors feared consumption, but thought that she might possibly outgrow
it entirely if she lived in a milder climate; so Mrs. Howard left home
and everybody she cared for, and brought Elsie to Santa Barbara.  Papa
has taken an interest in her from the first, and as far as we girls are
concerned, it was love at first sight.  You never knew anybody like
Elsie!’

‘Is she pretty?’

‘Pretty!’ cried Polly, ‘she is like an angel in a picture-book!’

‘Interesting?’

‘Interesting!’ said Bell, in a tone that showed the word to be too feeble
for the subject; ‘Elsie is more interesting than all the other girls in
the other world put together!’

‘Popular?’

‘Popular!’ exclaimed Margery, taking her turn in the oral examination, ‘I
don’t know whether anybody can be popular who is always in bed; but if
it’s popular to be adored by every man, woman, child, and animal that
comes anywhere near her, why then Elsie is popular.’

‘And is she a favourite with boys as well as girls?’

‘Favourite!’ said Bell.  ‘Why, they think that she is simply perfect!  Of
course she has scarcely been able to sit up a week at a time for a year,
and naturally she has not seen many people; but, if you want a boy’s
opinion, just ask Philip or Geoffrey.  I assure you, Laura, after you
have known Elsie a while, and have seen the impression she makes upon
everybody, you will want to go to bed and see if you can do likewise.’

‘It isn’t just the going to bed,’ remarked Margery, sagely.

‘And it isn’t the prettiness either,’ added Polly; ‘though if you saw
Elsie asleep, a flower in one hand, the other under her cheek, her hair
straying over the pillow (O for hair that would stray anywhere!), you
would expect every moment to see a halo above her head.’

‘I don’t believe it is because she is good that everybody admires her
so,’ said Laura, ‘I don’t think goodness in itself is always so very
interesting; if Elsie had freckles and a snub nose’—(‘Don’t mind me!’
murmured Polly)—‘you would find that people would say less about her
wonderful character.’

‘There are things that puzzle me,’ said Polly, thoughtfully.  ‘It seems
to me that if I could contrive to be ever so good, nobody ever would look
for a halo round my head.  Now, is it my turned-up nose and red hair that
make me what I am, or did what I am make my nose and hair what they
are—which?’

‘We’ll have to ask Aunt Truth,’ said Margery; ‘that is too difficult a
thing for us to answer.’

‘Wasn’t it nice I catched that big bull-frog, Margie?’ cried Dick, his
eyes shining with anticipation.  ‘Now I’ll have as many as seven or
’leven frogs and lots of horned toads when Elsie comes, and she can help
me play with ’em.’

When the girls reached the tents again, the last article had been taken
from the team and Manuel had driven away.  The sound of Phil’s hammer
could be heard from the carpenter-shop, and Pancho was already laying the
tent floor in a small, open, sunny place, where the low boughs of a
single sycamore hung so as to protect one of its corners, leaving the
rest to the full warmth of the sunshine that was to make Elsie entirely
well again.

‘I am tired to death,’ sighed Laura, throwing herself down in a bamboo
lounging-chair.  ‘Such a tramp as we had! and after all, the boys
insisted on going where Dr. Winship wouldn’t allow us to follow, so that
we had to stay behind and fish with the children; I wish I had stayed at
home and read _The Colonel’s Daughter_.’

‘Oh, Laura!’ remonstrated Margery, ‘think of that lovely pool with the
forests of maiden-hair growing all about it!’

‘And poison-oak,’ grumbled Laura.  ‘I know I walked into some of it and
shall look like a perfect fright for a week.  I shall never make a
country girl—it’s no use for me to try.’

‘It’s no use for you to try walking four miles in high-heeled shoes, my
dear,’ said Polly, bluntly.

‘They are not high,’ retorted Laura, ‘and if they are, I don’t care to
look like a—a—cow-boy, even in the backwoods.’

‘I’m an awful example,’ sighed Polly, seating herself on a stump in front
of the tent, and elevating a very dusty little common-sense boot.  ‘Sir
Walter Raleigh would never have allowed me to walk on his velvet cloak
with that boot, would he, girls?  Oh, wasn’t that romantic, though? and
don’t I wish that I had been Queen Elizabeth!’

‘You’ve got the _hair_,’ said Laura.

‘Thank you!  I had forgotten Elizabeth’s hair was red; so it was.  This
is my court train,’ snatching a tablecloth that bung on a hush near by,
and pinning it to her waist in the twinkling of an eye,—‘this my
farthingale,’ dangling her sun-bonnet from her belt,—‘this my sceptre,’
seizing a Japanese umbrella,—‘this my crown,’ inverting a bright tin
plate upon her curly head.  ‘She is just alighting from her chariot,
_thus_; the courtiers turn pale, _thus_; (why don’t you do it?) what
shall be done?  The Royal Feet must not be wet.  “Go round the puddle?
Prit, me Lud, ’Od’s body!  Forsooth!  Certainly not!  Remove the puddle!”
she says haughtily to her subjects.  They are just about to do so, when
out from behind a neighbouring chaparral bush stalks a beautiful young
prince with coal-black hair and rose-red cheeks.  He wears a rich velvet
cloak, glittering with embroidery.  He sees not her crown, her hair
outshines it; he sees not her sceptre, her tiny hand conceals it; he sees
naught save the loathly mud.  He strips off his cloak and floats it on
the puddle.  With a haughty but gracious bend of her head the Queen
accepts the courtesy; crosses the puddle, _thus_, waves her sceptre,
_thus_, and saying, “You shall hear from me by return mail, me Lud,” she
vanishes within the castle.  The next morning she makes Sir Walter
British Minister to Florida.  He departs at once with a cargo of tobacco,
which he exchanges for sweet potatoes, and everybody is happy ever
after.’

The girls were convulsed with mirth at this historical romance, and, as
Mrs. Winship wiped the tears of merriment from her eyes, Polly seized the
golden opportunity and dropped on her knees beside her.

‘Please, Aunt Truth, we can’t get the white mosquito-netting because Dr.
Winship has the key of the storehouse in his pocket, and so—may—I—blow
the horn?’

Mrs. Winship gave her consent in despair, and Polly went to the oak-tree
where the horn hung and blew all the strength of her lungs into blast
after blast for five minutes.

‘That’s all I needed,’ she said, on returning; ‘that was an escape-valve,
and I shall be lady-like and well-behaved the rest of the day.’



CHAPTER VI
QUEEN ELSIE VISITS THE COURT


    ‘An hour and friend with friend will meet,
    Lip cling to lip and hand clasp hand.’

‘NOW, Laura,’ asked Bell, when quiet was restored, ‘advise us about
Elsie’s tent.  We want it to be perfectly lovely; and you have such good
taste!’

‘Let me think,’ said Laura.  ‘Oh, if she were only a brunette instead of
a blonde, we could festoon the tent with that yellow tarlatan I brought
for the play!’

‘What difference does it make whether she is dark or light?’ asked Bell,
obtusely.

‘Why, a room ought to be as becoming as a dress—so Mrs. Pinkerton says.
You know I saw a great deal of her at the hotel; and oh, girls! her
bedroom was the most exquisite thing you ever saw!  She had a French
toilet-table, covered with pale blue silk and white marquise
lace,—perfectly lovely,—with yards and yards of robin’s-egg blue watered
ribbon in bows; and on it she kept all her toilet articles, everything in
hammered silver from Tiffany’s with monograms on the back,—three or four
sizes of brushes, and combs, and mirrors, and a full manicure set.  It
used to take her two hours to dress; but it was worth it.  Oh, such
gorgeous tea-gowns as she had!  One of old rose and lettuce was a perfect
dream!  She always had her breakfast in bed, you know.  I think it’s
delightful to have your breakfast before you get up, and dress as slowly
as you like.  I wish mamma would let me do it.’

‘What does she do after she gets dressed in her rows of old lettuce—I
mean her old rows of lettuce?’ asked Polly.

‘Do?  Why really, Polly, you are too stupid!  What do you suppose she
did?  What everybody else does, of course.’

‘Oh!’ said Polly, apologetically.

‘How old is Mrs. Pinkerton?’ asked Margery.

‘Between nineteen and twenty.  There is not three years’ difference in
our ages, though she has been married nearly two years.  It seems so
funny.’

‘Only nineteen!’ cried Bell.  ‘Why, I always thought that she was old as
the hills—twenty-five or thirty at the very least.  She always seemed
tired of things.’

‘Well,’ said Laura, in a whisper intended to be too low to reach Mrs.
Winship’s tent, ‘I don’t know whether I ought to repeat what was told me
in confidence, but the fact is—well—she doesn’t like Mr. Pinkerton very
well!’

The other girls, who had not enjoyed the advantages of city life and
travel, looked as dazed as any scandalmonger could have desired.

‘Don’t like him!’ gasped Polly, nearly falling off the stump.  ‘Why,
she’s married to him!’

‘Where on earth were you brought up?’ snapped Laura.  ‘What difference
does that make?  She can’t help it if she doesn’t happen to like her
husband, can she?  You can’t make yourself like anybody, can you?’

‘Well, did she ever like him?’ asked Margery; ‘for she’s only been
married a year or two, and it seems to me it might have lasted that long
if there was anything to begin on.’

‘But,’ whispered Laura, mysteriously, ‘you see Mr. Pinkerton was very
rich and the Dentons very poor.  Mr. Denton had just died, leaving them
nothing at all to live on, and poor Jessie would have had to teach
school, or some dreadful thing like that.  The thought of it almost
killed her, she is so sensitive and so refined.  She never told me so in
so many words, but I am sure she married Mr. Pinkerton to save her mother
from poverty; and I pity her from the bottom of my heart.’

‘I suppose it was noble,’ said Bell, in a puzzled tone, ‘if she couldn’t
think of any other way, but—’

‘Well, did she try very hard to think of other ways?’ asked Polly.  ‘She
never looked especially noble to me.  I thought she seemed like a
die-away, frizzlygig kind of a girl.’

‘I wish, Miss Oliver, that you would be kind enough to remember that Mrs.
Pinkerton is one of my most intimate friends,’ said Laura, sharply.  ‘And
I do wish, also, that you wouldn’t talk loud enough to be heard all
through the cañon.’

The colour came into Polly’s cheeks, but before she could answer, Mrs.
Winship walked in, stocking-basket in hand, and seated herself in the
little wicker rocking-chair.  Polly’s clarion tones had given her a clue
to the subject, and she thought the discussion needed guidance.

‘You were talking about Mrs. Pinkerton, girls,’ she said, serenely.  ‘You
say you are fond of her, Laura, dear, and it seems very ungracious for me
to criticise your friend; that is a thing which most of us fail to bear
patiently.  But I cannot let you hold her up as an ideal to be
worshipped, or ask the girls to admire as a piece of self-denial what I
fear was nothing but indolence and self-gratification.  You are too young
to talk of these things very much; but you are not too young to make up
your mind that when you agree to live all your life long with a person,
you must have some other feeling than a determination not to teach
school.  Jessie Denton’s mother, my dear Laura, would never have asked
the sacrifice of her daughter’s whole life; and Jessie herself would
never have made it had she been less vain, proud, and luxurious in her
tastes, and a little braver, more self-forgetting and industrious.  These
are hard words, dear, and I am sorry to use them.  She has gained the
riches she wanted,—the carriages and servants, and tea-gowns, and
hammered silver from Tiffany’s, but she looks tired and disappointed, as
Bell says; and I’ve no doubt she is, poor girl.’

‘I don’t think you do her justice, Mrs. Winship; I don’t, indeed,’ said
Laura.

‘If you are really attached to her, Laura, don’t make the mistake of
admiring her faults of character, but try to find her better qualities,
and help her to develop them.  It is a fatal thing when girls of your age
set up these false standards, and order their lives by them.  There are
worse things than school-teaching, yes, or even floor-scrubbing or
window-washing.  Lovely tea-gowns and silver-backed brushes are all very
pretty and nice to have, if they are not gained at the sacrifice of
something better.  I should have said to my daughter, had I been Mrs.
Denton, “We will work for each other, my darling, and try to do whatever
God gives us to do; but, no matter how hard life is, your heart is the
most precious thing in the world, and you must never sell that, if we
part with everything else.”  Oh, my girls, my girls, if I could only make
you believe that “poor and content is rich, and rich enough.”  I cannot
bear to think of your growing year by year into the conviction that these
pretty glittering things of wealth are the true gold of life which
everybody seeks.  Forgive me, Laura, if I have hurt your feelings.’

‘I know you would never hurt anybody’s feelings, if you could help it,
Mrs. Winship,’ Laura answered, with a hint of coldness in her voice,
‘though I can’t help thinking that you are a little hard on poor Jessie;
but, even then, one can surely like a person without wishing to do the
very same things she does.’

‘Yes, that is true,’ said Mrs. Winship, gravely.  ‘But one cannot
constantly justify a wrong action in another without having one’s own
standard unconsciously lowered.  What we continually excuse in other
people we should be inclined by and by to excuse in ourselves.  Let us
choose our friends as wisely as possible, and love them dearly, helping
them to grow worthier of our love at the same time we are trying to grow
worthier of theirs; because “we live by admiration, hope, and love,” you
know, but not by admiring and loving the wrong things.

‘But there is the horn, and I hear the boys.  Let us come to luncheon,
and tell our good news of Elsie.’

 [Picture: Music score and words: With incredible energy.  The horn!  The
  horn!  The lus-ty, lus-ty horn!  ’Tis not a thing to laugh to scorn, A
                        thing to laugh to scorn!]

Long before the boys appeared in sight, their voices rang through the
cañon in a chorus that woke the echoes, and presently they came into
view, bearing two quarters and a saddle of freshly killed mutton, hanging
from a leafy branch swung between Jack’s sturdy shoulder and Geoff’s.

‘A splendid “still hunt” this morning, Aunt Truth!’ exclaimed Jack.
‘Game plenty and not too shy, dogs in prime condition, hunters ditto.
Behold the result!’

The girls could scarcely tell whether or no Laura was offended at Aunt
Truth’s unexpected little lecture.  She did not appear quite as
unrestrained as usual, but as everybody was engaged in the preparations
for Elsie’s welcome there was a general atmosphere of hilarity and
confusion, so that no awkwardness was possible.

The tool-shop resounded with blows of hammer and steel.  Dicky was under
everybody’s feet, and his ‘seven or ten frogs,’ together with his
unrivalled collection of horned toads, were continually escaping from
their tin pails and boxes in the various tents, and everybody was obliged
to join in the search to recover and re-incarcerate them, in order to
keep the peace.

Hop Yet was making a gold and silver cake, with ‘Elsie’ in pink letters
on chocolate frosting.  Philip had pitched the new tent so that in one
corner there was a slender manzanita-tree which had been cropped for some
purpose or other.  He had nailed a cross-piece on this, so that it
resembled the letter T, and was now laboriously boring holes and fitting
in pegs, that Elsie might have a sort of closet behind her bed.

As for the rustic furniture, the girls and boys declared it to be too
beautiful for words.  They stood in circles about it and admired it
without reserve, each claiming that his own special piece of work was the
gem of the collection.  The sunlight shining through the grey and green
tints of the tent was voted perfection, Philip’s closet a miracle of
ingenuity, the green and white straw matting an inspiration.

The looking-glass had been mounted on a packing-box, and converted by
Laura into a dressing-table that rivalled Mrs. Pinkerton’s; for green
tarlatan and white mosquito-netting had been so skilfully combined that
the traditional mermaid might have been glad to make her toilet there
‘with a comb and a glass in her hand.’  The rest of the green and white
gauzy stuff had been looped from the corners of the tent to the centre of
the roof-piece, and delicate tendrils of wild clematis climbed here and
there as if it were growing, its roots plunged in cunningly hidden
bottles of water.  Bell had gone about with pieces of awning cloth and
green braid, and stitched an elaborate system of pockets on the inside of
the tent wherever they would not be too prominent.  There were tiny
pockets for needle-work, thimbles, and scissors, medium-sized pockets for
soap and combs and brushes, bigger pockets for shoes and slippers and
stockings, and mammoth pockets for anything else that Elsie might ordain
to put in a pocket.

By four o’clock in the afternoon Margery had used her clever fingers to
such purpose that a white silesia flag, worked with the camp name,
floated from the tip top of the front entrance to the tent.  The ceremony
of raising the flag was attended with much enthusiasm, and its
accomplishment greeted by a deafening cheer from the entire party.

‘Unless one wants Paradise,’ sighed Margery, ‘who wouldn’t be contented
with dear Camp Chaparral?’

‘Who would live in a house, any way?’ exclaimed Philip.  ‘Sniff this air,
and look up at that sky!’

‘And this is what they call “roughing it,” in Santa Barbara,’ quoth Dr.
Winship.  ‘Why, you youngsters have made that tent fit for the occupancy
of a society belle.’

‘Now, let’s organise for reception!’ cried Geoffrey.  ‘Assemble, good
people!  Come over here, Aunt Truth!  I will take the chair myself, since
I don’t happen to see anybody who would fill it with more dignity.’

‘I am going to mount my broncho and go out on the road to meet my beloved
family,’ said Jack, sauntering up to the impromptu council-chamber.

‘How can you tell when they will arrive?’ asked Mrs. Winship.

‘I can make a pretty good guess.  They’ll probably start from Tacitas as
early as eight or nine o’clock, if Elsie is well.  Let’s see: it’s about
twenty-five miles, isn’t it, Uncle Doc?  Say twenty-three to the place
where they turn off the main road.  Well, I’ll take a bit of lunch, ride
out ten or twelve miles, hitch my horse in the shade, and wait.’

‘Very well,’ said Geoffrey.  ‘It is not usual for committees to appoint
themselves, but as you are a near relative of our distinguished guests we
will grant you special consideration and order you to the front.  Ladies
and gentlemen, passing over the slight informality of the nomination, all
in favour of appointing Mr. John Howard Envoy Extraordinary please
manifest it by the usual sign.’

Six persons yelled ‘Ay,’ four raised the right hand, and one stood up.

‘There seems to be a slight difference of opinion as to the usual sign.
All right.—Contrary minded!’

‘No!’ shouted Polly, at the top of her lungs.

‘It is a unanimous vote,’ said Geoffrey, crushingly, bringing down his
fist as an imaginary gavel with incredible force and dignity.  ‘Dr. and
Mrs. Winship, will you oblige the Chair by acting as a special Reception
Committee?’

‘Certainly,’ responded the doctor, smilingly.  ‘Will the Chair kindly
outline the general policy of the committee?’

‘Hm-m-m!  Yes, certainly—of course.  The Chair suggests that the
Reception Committee—well, that they stay at home and—receive the
guests,—yes, that will do very nicely.
All-in-favour-and-so-forth-it-is-a-vote-and-so-ordered.  Secretary will
please spread a copy on the minutes.’  Gavel.

‘I rise to a point of order,’ said Jack, sagely.  ‘There is no secretary
and there are no minutes.’

‘Mere form,’ said the Chair; ‘sit down; there will be minutes in a
minute,—got to do some more things first; that will do, _sit down_.  Will
the Misses Burton and Messrs. Burton and Noble kindly act as Committee on
Decoration?’

‘Where’s the Committee on Music, and Refreshments, and Olympian Games,
and all that sort of thing?’ interrupted Polly, who had not the slightest
conception of parliamentary etiquette; ‘and why don’t you hurry up and
put me on something?’

‘If Miss Oliver refuses to bridle her tongue, and persists in
interrupting the business of the meeting, the Chair will be obliged to
remove her,’ said Geoffrey, with chilling emphasis.

Polly rose again, undaunted.  ‘I would respectfully ask the Chair, who
put him in the chair, any way?’

‘Question!’ roared Philip.

‘Second the motion!’ shrieked Bell, that being the only parliamentary
expression she knew.

‘Order!’ cried Geoffrey in stentorian accents.  ‘I will adjourn the
meeting and clear the court-room unless there is order.’

‘Do!’ remarked Polly, encouragingly.  ‘I will rise again, like Phœbus,
from my ashes, to say that—’

Here Jack sprang to his feet.  ‘I would suggest to the Chair that the
last speaker amend her motion by substituting the word “Phœnix” for
“Phœbus.”’

‘Accept the amendment,’ said Polly, serenely, amidst the general
hilarity.

‘Question!’ called Bell, with another mighty projection of memory into a
missionary meeting that she had once attended.

‘I am not aware that there is any motion before the house,’ said
Geoffrey, cuttingly.

‘Second the motion!’

‘Second the amendment!’ shouted the girls.

‘Ladies, there _is_ no motion.  Will you oblige the Chair by remaining
quiet until speech is requested?’

‘Move that the meeting be adjourned and another one called, with a new
Chair!’ remarked Margery, who felt that the honour of her sex was at
stake.

‘Move that this motion be so ordered and spread upon the minutes, and a
copy of it be presented to the Chairman,’ suggested Philip.

‘Move that the copy be appropriately bound in _calf_,’ said Jack, dodging
an imaginary blow.

‘Move that the other committees be elected by ballot,’ concluded Scott
Burton.

‘This is simply disgraceful!’ exclaimed the Chair.  ‘Order! order!  I
appoint Miss Oliver Committee on Entertainment, with a view of keeping
her still.’

This was received with particular as well as general satisfaction.

‘Miss Winship, we appoint you Committee on Music.’

‘All right.  Do you wish it to be original?’

‘Certainly not; we wish it to be good.’

‘But we only know one chorus, and that’s “My Witching Dinah Snow.”’

‘Never mind; either write new words to that tune or sing tra-la-la to it.
Mr. Richard Winship, the Chair appoints you Committee on Menagerie, and
suggests that as we have proclaimed a legal holiday, you give your
animals the freedom of the city.’

‘Don’t know what freedom of er city means,’ said Dicky, who feared that
he was being made the butt of ridicule.

‘Why, we want you to allow the captives to parade in the evening, with
torch-lights and mottoes.’

‘All right!’ cried Dicky, kindling in an instant; ‘’n’ Luby, ’n’ the
doat, ’n’ my horn’ toads, all e’cept the one that just gotted away in
Laura’s bed; but may be she’ll find him to-night, so they’ll be all
there.’

This was too much for the various committees, and Laura’s wild shriek was
the signal for a hasty adjournment.  A common danger restored peace to
the assembly, and they sought the runaway in perfect harmony.

‘Well,’ said Jack, when quiet was restored, ‘I am going a little distance
up the Pico Negro trail; there are some magnificent Spanish bayonets
growing there, and if you’ll let me have Pancho, Uncle Doc, we can bring
down four of them and lash them to each of the corners of Elsie’s
tent,—they’ll keep fresh several days in water, you know.’

‘Take him, certainly,’ said Dr. Winship.

‘Do let me go with you!’ pleaded Laura, with enthusiasm.  ‘I should like
the walk so much.’

‘It’s pretty rough, Laura,’ objected Margery.  ‘If you couldn’t endure
our walk this morning, you would never get home alive from Pico Negro.’

‘Oh, that was in the heat of the day,’ she answered.  ‘I feel equal to
any amount of walking now, if Jack doesn’t mind taking me.’

‘Delighted, of course, Miss Laura.  You’ll be willing to carry home one
of the trees, I suppose, in return for the pleasure of my society?’

‘Snub him severely, Laura,’ cried Bell; ‘we never allow him to say such
things unreproved.’

‘I think he is snubbed too much already,’ replied Laura, with a charming
smile, ‘and I shall see how a course of encouragement will affect his
behaviour.’

    ‘That will be what I long have sought,
    And mourned because I found it not,’

sang Jack, nonchalantly.

‘Oh, Laura,’ remonstrated Bell, ‘think twice before you encourage him in
his dreadful ways.  We have studied him very carefully, and we know that
the only way to live with him is to keep him in a sort of “pint pot”
where we can hold the lid open just a little, and clap it down suddenly
whenever he tries to spring out.’

‘Do not mind that young person, Miss Laura, but form your own impressions
of my charming character.  Excuse me, please, while I put on a celluloid
collar, and make some few changes in my toilet necessary to a proper
appearance in your distinguished company.’

‘I prefer you as you are,’ answered Laura, laughingly.  ‘Let us start at
once.’

‘Do you hear that, young person?  She prefers me as I are!  Now see what
magic power her generosity has upon me!’  And he darted into the tent,
from which he issued in a moment with his Derby hat, a manzanita cane, a
pocket-handkerchief tied about his throat, and a flower pinned on his
flannel camping-shirt—a most ridiculous figure, since nothing seems so
out of place in the woods as any suggestion of city costumes or customs.
Laura was in high good-humour, and looked exceedingly brilliant and
pretty, as she always did when she was the central figure of any group or
the bright particular star of any occasion.

‘Be home before dark,’ said Dr. Winship.  ‘Pancho, keep a look-out for
the pack-mule.  Truth, one of the pack-mules has disappeared.’

‘So?  Dumpling or Ditto?’

‘Ditto, curiously enough.  His name should have led him not to set an
example, but to follow one.’

                                * * * * *

Elsie came.

Perhaps you thought that this was going to be an exciting story, and that
something would happen to keep her at the Tacitas ranch; but nothing did.
Everything came to pass exactly as it was arranged, and Jack met his
mother and sister at twelve o’clock some four miles from the camp, and
escorted them to the gates.

                          [Picture: Elsie came]

‘Welcome’ had been painted on twenty different boards or bits of white
cloth and paper, and nailed here and there on the trees that lined the
rough wood-road; the strains of an orchestra, formed of a guitar, banjo,
castanets, Chinese fiddle, and tin cans, greeted them from a distance,
but were properly allowed to die away in silence when the guest neared
the tents.  Everything wore a new and smiling face, and Elsie never came
more dangerously near being squeezed to death.

Elsie, in the prettiest of gingham dresses, and her cloud of golden hair
braided in two funny little pugs to keep it out of the dust; Elsie, with
a wide hat that shaded her face, already a little tanned and burned, no
longer colourless; Elsie, with no lines of pain in her pretty forehead,
and the hollow ring gone from her voice; Elsie, who jumped over the wheel
of the wagon, and hugged her huggers with the strength of a young bear!
It was too good to believe, and nobody did quite believe it for days.

At three o’clock the happiest party in the world assembled at the rough
dining-table under the sycamore-trees.

Elsie beamed upon the feast from the high-backed manzanita chair, a faint
colour in her cheeks, and starry prisms of light in a pair of eyes that
had not sparkled for many a weary month.  Hop Yet smiled a trifle
himself, wore his cap with a red button on the top to wait upon the
table, and ministered to the hungry people with more interest and
alacrity than he had shown since he had been dragged from Santa Barbara,
his Joss, and his nightly game of fantan.  And such a dinner as he had
prepared in honour of the occasion!—longer by four courses than usual,
and each person was allowed two plates in the course of the meal.

                  BILL OF FARE FOR HER MAJESTY’S DINNER

           Quail Soup.                   Crackers.
                    Chili Colorado.
  (Mutton stew, in Spanish style, with Chili peppers,
                tomatoes, and onions.)
         Cold Boiled Ham.           Fried Potatoes.
          Apples and Onions stewed together.
          Ginger-snaps.                  Pickles.
          Peaches, Apricots, and Nectarines.
   California Nuts and Raisins.           Coffee.

And last of all, a surprise of Bell’s, flapjacks, long teased for by the
boys, and prepared and fried by her own hands while the merry party
waited at table, to get them smoking hot.

She came in flushed with heat and pride, the prettiest cook anybody ever
saw, with her hair bobbed up out of the way and doing its best to escape,
a high-necked white apron, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, and an
insinuating spot of batter in the dimple of her left cheek.

‘There!’ she cried, joyfully, as she deposited a heaping plate in front
of her mother, and set the tin can of maple syrup by its side.  ‘Begin on
those, and I’ll fry like lightning on two griddles to keep up with you,’
and she rushed to the brush kitchen to turn her next instalments that had
been left to brown.  Hop Yet had retired to a distant spot by the brook,
and was washing dish-towels.  All Chinese cooks are alike in their horror
of a woman in the kitchen; but some of them will unbend so far as to
allow her to amuse herself so long as they are not required to witness
the disagreeable spectacle.

Bell delicately inserted the cake-turner under the curled edges of the
flapjacks and turned them over deftly, using a little too much force,
perhaps, in the downward stroke when she flung them back on the griddle.

‘Seems to me they come down with considerable of a thud,’ she said,
reflectively.  ‘I hope they’re not tough, for I should never hear the
last of it.  Guess I’ll punch one with the handle of this tin shovel, and
see how it acts.  Goodness! it’s sort of—elastic.  That’s funny.  Well,
perhaps it’s the way they ought to look.’  Here she transferred the
smoking mysteries to her plate, passed a bit of pork over the griddles,
and, after ladling out eight more, flew off to the group at the table.

‘Are they good?’ she was beginning to ask, when the words were frozen on
her lips by the sight of a significant tableau.

The four boys were standing on the bench that served instead of
dining-chairs, each with a plate and a pancake on the table in front of
them.  Jack held a hammer and spike, Scott Burton a hatchet, Geoffrey a
saw, and Philip a rifle.  Bell was nothing if not intuitive.  No
elaborate explanations ever were needed to show her a fact.  Without a
word she flung the plate of flapjacks she held as far into a thicket as
she had force to fling it, and then dropped on her knees.

    “‘Shoot, if you must, this old grey head,
    But spare my flapjacks, sirs,” she said!

‘What’s the matter with them?  Tough?  I refuse to believe it.  Your
tools are too dull,—that’s all.  Use more energy!  Nothing in this world
can be accomplished without effort.’

‘They’re a lovely brown,’ began Mrs. Winship, sympathetically.

‘And they have a very good flavour,’ added Elsie.

‘Don’t touch them, dearest!’ cried Bell, snatching the plate from under
Elsie’s very nose.  ‘I won’t have you made ill by my failures.  But as
for the boys, I don’t care a fig for them.  Let them make flapjacks more
to their taste, the odious things!  Polly Oliver, did you put in that
baking powder, as I told you, while I went for the pork?’

Polly blanched.  ‘Baking powder?’ she faltered.

‘Yes, baking powder!  B-A-K-I-N-G P-O-W-D-E-R!  Do I make myself plain?’

‘Oh, baking powder, to be sure.  Well, now that you mention the matter, I
do remember that Dicky called me away just as I was getting it; and now
that I think of it, Elsie came just afterwards, and—and—’

‘And that’s the whole of my story, O,’ sang Jack.  ‘I recommend the
criminal to the mercy of the court.’

‘A case of too many cooks,’ laughed Dr. Winship.  ‘Cheer up, girls;
better fortune next time.’

‘There are eight more of them burning on the griddles this moment,
Polly,’ said Bell, scathingly; ‘and as they are yours, not mine, I advise
you to throw them in the brook, with the rest of the batter, so that Hop
Yet won’t know that there has been a failure.’

‘Some people blight everything they touch,’ sighed Polly, gloomily, as
she departed for the kitchen.

                    ‘But when I lie in the green kirkyard—

‘Oh, Polly, dear,’ interrupted Margery, ‘that apology will not serve any
longer; you’ve used it too often.’

‘This is going to be entirely different,’ continued Polly, tragically.

    ‘But when I lie in the green kirkyard,
       With the mould upon my breasts
    Say not that she made flapjacks well,
       Only, she did her best.’

‘We promise!’ cried Bell.



CHAPTER VII
POLLY’S BIRTHDAY: FIRST HALF IN WHICH SHE REJOICES AT THE MERE FACT OF
HER EXISTENCE


    ‘“O frabjous day!  Calooh!  Callay!”
    He chortled in his joy.’

POLLY’S birthday dawned auspiciously.  At six o’clock she was kissed out
of a sound sleep by Bell and Margery, and the three girls slipped on
their wrappers, and prepared to run through the trees for a morning
plunge in Mirror Pool.  Although it was August there was still water
enough in Minnehaha Brook to give one a refreshing dip.  Mirror Pool was
a quarter of a mile distant and well guarded with rocks and deep hidden
in trees; but a little pathway had been made to the water’s edge, and
thus the girls had easy access to what they called The Mermaid’s Bath.  A
bay-tree was adorned with a little redwood sign, which bore a picture of
a mermaid, drawn by Margery, and below the name these lines in rustic
letters:—

          ‘A hidden brook,
    That to the sleeping woods all night
    Singeth a quiet tune.’

Laura had not lived long enough in the woods to enjoy these cold plunges;
and, as her ideal was a marble tub, with scented water, and a French maid
to apply the same with a velvet sponge, it is not much wonder.  She
insisted that, though it was doubtless a very romantic proceeding, the
bottom and sides of the natural tub were quite too rocky and rough for
her taste, and that she should be in constant terror of snakes curling
round her toes.

‘I’ve a great mind to wake Laura, just for once,’ said Bell, opening the
tent door.  ‘There never was such a morning!  (I believe I’ve said that
regularly every day; but I simply never can get used to it.)  There must
have been a wonderful sunrise, dears, for the glow hasn’t faded yet.  Not
a bit of morning fog—that’s good for Elsie.  And what a lovely day for a
birthday!  Did they use to give you anything like this in Vermont,
Polly?’

‘Hardly,’ said Polly, peering over Bell’s shoulder.  ‘Let’s see.  What
did they give us in Vermont this month?  Why, I can’t think of anything
but dog-days, hot nights, and hay fever; but that sounds ungrateful.
Why, Geoff’s up already!  There’s Elsie’s bunch of vines, and twigs, and
pretty things hanging on her tent-door.  He’s been off on horseback.
Just my luck to have him get up first.  Jack always does, you know; and
last night I sewed up the tent-opening with carpet-thread, good and
tight, overhand—stitches I wouldn’t be ashamed of at a sewing-school.’

‘Oh you naughty girl!’ laughed Bell.  ‘The boys could rip it open with a
knife in half the time it took you to sew it.’

‘Certainly.  I didn’t mean to keep them sewed up all day; but I thought
I’d like Jack to remember me the first thing this morning.’

‘Girls,’ whispered Margery, excitedly, ‘don’t stand there mooning—or
sunning—for ever!  I thought there was a gopher in this tent last night.
I heard something scratching, and I thought it was the dog outside; but
just look at these two holes almost under Laura’s pillow!’

‘Let’s fill them up, cover them over—anything!’ gasped Bell.  ‘Laura will
never sleep here another night if she sees them.’

‘Nobody insured Laura against gophers,’ said Polly.  ‘She must take the
fortunes of war.’

‘I wouldn’t wake her,’ said Margery.  ‘She didn’t sleep well, and her
face is flushed.  Come, or we shall be late for breakfast.’

When they returned, fresh and rosy, from their bath, there was a stir of
life in all the tents.  Pancho had come from the stage-station with mail;
an odour of breakfast issued from the kitchen, where Hop Yet was humming
a fragment of Chinese song, that ran something like this,—not loud, but
unearthly enough, as Bell used to say, to spoil almost any cooking:—

  [Picture: Music score.  Words are: ‘Fong fong mongmong tiu he sun yi-u
          sow chong how ki-u me yun tan-tar che ku choi song!’]

Dicky was abroad, radiant in a new suit of clothes, and Elsie pushed her
golden head out between the curtains, and proclaimed herself strong
enough for a wrestling-match with any boy or man about the camp.

But they found Laura sitting on the edge of her straw bed, directly over
the concealed gopher-holes, a mirror in her hand and an expression of
abject misery on her countenance.

‘What’s the matter?’ cried the girls in one breath.  But they needed no
answer, as she turned her face towards the light, for it was plainly a
case of poison-oak—one eye almost closed, and the cheek scarlet and
swollen.

‘Where do you suppose you got it?’ asked Bell.

‘Oh, I don’t know.  It’s everywhere; so I don’t see how I ever hoped to
escape it.  Yet I’ve worn gloves every minute.  I think I must have
touched it when I went up the mountain trail with Jack.  I’m a perfect
fright already, and I suppose it has only begun.’

‘Is it very painful?’ asked Polly, sympathetically.  ‘Oh, you do look so
funny, I can hardly help laughing, but I’m as sorry as I can be.’

‘I should expect you to laugh—you generally do,’ retorted Laura.  ‘No,
it’s not painful yet; but I don’t care about that—it’s looking so
ridiculous.  I wonder if Dr. Winship could send me home.  I wish now that
I had gone with Scott, for I can’t be penned up in this tent a week.’

‘Oh, it won’t hurt you to go out,’ said Bell, ‘and you can lie in the
sitting-room.  Just wait, and let mamma try and cure you.  She’s a famous
doctor.’  And Bell finished dressing hurriedly, and went to her mother’s
tent, while Polly and Margery smoothed the bed with a furtive kick of
straw over the offending gopher-holes, and hung a dark shawl so as to
shield Laura’s eyes.

Aunt Truth entered speedily, with a family medical guide under one arm,
and a box of remedies under the other.

‘The doctor has told me just what to do, and he will see you after
breakfast himself.  It doesn’t look so very bad a case, dear; don’t run
about in the sun for a day or two, and we’ll bring you out all right.
The doctor has had us all under treatment at some time or other, because
of that troublesome little plant.’

‘I don’t want to get up to breakfast,’ moaned Laura.

‘Just as you like.  But it is Polly’s birthday, you know (many happy
returns, my sweet Pollykins), and there are great preparations going on.’

‘I can’t help it, Mrs. Winship.  The boys would make fun of my looks; and
I shouldn’t blame them.’

‘Appear as the Veiled Lady,’ suggested Margery, as Mrs. Winship went out.

‘I won’t come, and that’s the end of it,’ said Laura.  ‘Perhaps if I
bathe my face all the morning I can come to dinner.’

After breakfast was cleared away, Hop Yet and Mrs. Howard’s little China
boy Gin were given a half-holiday, and allowed to go to a—neighbouring
ranch to see a ‘flend’ of Hop Yet’s; for it was a part of the birthday
scheme that Bell and Geoffrey should cook the festival dinner.

Jack was so delighted at the failure of Polly’s scheme to sew him in his
tent, that he simply radiated amiability, and spent the whole morning
helping Elsie and Margery with a set of elaborate dinner-cards, executed
on half-sheets of note-paper.

The dinner itself was a grand success.  Half of the cards bore a
caricature of Polly in the shape of a parrot, with the inscription ‘Polly
want a cracker?’  The rest were adorned with pretty sketches of her in
her camping-dress, a kettle in one hand, and underneath,

    ‘Polly, put the kettle on,
    We’ll all have tea.’

                           [Picture: The cards]

This was the bill of fare arranged by Bell and Geoffrey, and written on
the reverse side of the dinner-cards

                        DINNER À LA MOTHER GOOSE.

                             CAMP CHAPARRAL.

                             August 15, 18—.

                                * * * * *

                    ‘Come with a whoop, come with a call;
                    Come with a good will, or not at all.’

                                * * * * *

                         ‘_VICTUALS AND DRINK_.’

                                BEAN SOUP.

            ‘She gave them some broth, she gave them some bread.’

                              SALT CODFISH.

                           ‘You shall have a fishy
                             In a little dishy.’

                        ROAST MUTTON À LA VENISON.

                           ‘Dear sensibility, O la!
                       I heard a little lamb cry ba-a!’

                           POTATOES IN JACKETS.

               ‘The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
                     All jumped out of a roasted potato.’

                              STEWED BEANS.

                        ‘You, nor I, nor nobody knows,
                 Where oats, peas, beans, and barley grows.’

                       CHICKEN AND BEEF SANDWICHES.

                       ‘Hickety, pickety, my pretty hen
                        Laid good eggs for gentlemen.’

                  ‘Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief,
              Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of beef.’

                                LEMON PIE.

                         ‘A pie sat on a pear-tree.’

                               PLUM TARTS.

                  ‘The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
                           All on a summer’s day.’

                        FRUIT, NUTS, AND RAISINS.

                          ‘You shall have an apple,
                           You shall have a plum.’

               ‘I had a little nut-tree, nothing would it bear
                   But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.’

                            BREAD AND CHEESE.

                  ‘When I was a bachelor I lived by myself,
          And all the bread and cheese I got I put upon the shelf.’

                           COFFEE AND LEMONADE.

                      ‘One, two, three, how good you be!
                     I love coffee and Billy loves tea.’

                             ‘Oranges and lemons,
                       Says the bell of St. Clemen’s.’

                                * * * * *

    ‘What they ate I can’t tell,
    But ’tis known very well
    That none of the party grew fat.’

Bell and Geoff took turns at ‘dishing up’ in the kitchen, and sat down at
the table between whiles; and they barely escaped being mobbed when they
omitted one or two dishes on the programme, and confessed that they had
been put on principally for the ‘style’ of the thing,—a very poor excuse
to a company of people who have made up their mouths for all the
delicacies of the season.

Jack was head waiter, and having donned a clean white blouse of Hop Yet’s
and his best cap with the red button, from which dangled a hastily
improvised queue of black worsted, he proceeded to convulse everybody
with his Mongolian antics.  These consisted of most informal remarks in
clever pigeon English, and snatches of Chinese melody, rendered from time
to time as he carried dishes into the kitchen.  Elsie laughed until she
cried, and Laura sat in the shadiest corner, her head artistically
swathed in white tarlatan.

Polly occupied the seat of honour at the end of the table opposite Dr.
Winship, and was happier than a queen.  She wore her new green cambric,
with a bunch of leaves at her belt.  She was sun-burned, but the freckles
seemed to have disappeared mysteriously from her nose, and almost any one
would have admired the rosy skin, the dancing eyes, and the graceful
little auburn head, ‘sunning over with curls.’

When the last bit of dessert had been disposed of, and Dicky had gone to
sleep in his mother’s lap, like an infant boa-constrictor after a hearty
meal, the presentation of gifts and reading of poems took place; and
Polly had to be on the alert to answer all the nonsensical jokes that
were aimed at her.

Finally, Bell crowned the occasion by producing a song of Miss Mulock’s,
which had come in the morning mail from some girl friend of Polly’s in
the East, who had discovered that Polly’s name had appeared in poetry and
song without her knowledge, and who thought she might be interested to
hear the composition.  With the aid of Bell’s guitar and Jack’s banjo the
girls and boys soon caught the pretty air, and sung it in chorus.

         [Picture: Music and words of Pretty Polly Oliver] {198}

At the end, Dr. Winship raised his glass of lemonade, and proposed to
drink Miss Oliver’s health.  This was done with enthusiasm, and Geoffrey
immediately cried, ‘Speech, speech!’

‘I can’t,’ said Polly, blushing furiously.

‘Speech!’ sung Jack and Philip vociferously, pounding on the table with
knife-handles to increase the furore.

‘Speech!’ demanded the genial doctor, going over to the majority, and
smiling encouragingly at Polly, who was pushed to her feet before she
knew very well what she was doing.  ‘Oh, if Laura were not looking at
me,’ she thought, ‘I’d just like to speak right out, and tell them a
little bit of what is in my heart.  I don’t care—I will!’

‘I know you are all in fun,’ she said, looking bravely into the good
doctor’s eyes, ‘and of course no one could make a proper speech with Jack
grinning like a Cheshire cat, but I can’t help telling you that this is
the happiest summer and the happiest birthday of my whole life, and that
I scarcely remember nowadays that I have no father and no brothers and
sisters, for I have never been alone or unhappy since you took me in
among you and Bell chose me for her friend; and I think that if you knew
how grateful I am for my beautiful summer, dear Dr. Paul and Aunt Truth,
you would be glad that you gave it to me, and I love you all, dearly,
dearly, dearly!’  Whereupon the impulsive little creature finished her
maiden speech by dashing round the table and giving Mrs. Winship one of
her ‘bear hugs,’ at which everybody laughed and rose from the table.

Laura Burton, who was thoroughly out of conceit with the world, and who
was never quite happy when other people seemed for the moment to be
preferred to herself, thought this burst of affection decidedly
theatrical, but she did not know of any one to whom she could confine her
opinions just then; indeed, she felt too depressed and out of sorts to
join in the general hilarity.

Dinner being over, Dr. Paul and the boys took the children and sauntered
up the cañon for a lazy afternoon with their books.  Elsie went to sleep
in the new hammock that the doctor had hung in the sycamores back of the
girls’ sleeping-tent, and Mrs. Winship lay down for her afternoon nap.
Pancho saddled the horses for Bell and Margery, who went for a gallop.
Polly climbed into the sky-parlour to write a long letter to her mother,
and Laura was left to solitude in the sleeping-tent.  Now everybody knows
that a tent at midday is not a particularly pleasant spot, and after many
a groan at the glare of the sun, which could not be tempered by any
system of shawls, and moans at the gopher-holes which she discovered
while searching for her ear-ring, and repeated consultations with the
hand-glass at brief intervals, during which she convinced herself that
she looked worse every minute,—she finally discovered a series of
alarming new spots on her neck and chin.  She felt then that camping out
was a complete failure, and that she would be taken home forthwith if it
could be managed, since she saw nothing before her but day after day of
close confinement and unattractive personal appearance.  ‘It’s just my
luck!’ she grumbled, as she twisted up her hair and made herself as
presentable as possible under the trying circumstances.  ‘I don’t think I
ever had a becoming or an interesting illness.  The chicken-pox, mumps,
and sties on my eyes—that’s the sort of thing I have!’

‘I feel much worse, Mrs. Winship,’ she said, going into the sitting-room
tent and waking Aunt Truth from a peaceful snooze.  ‘If you can spare
Pancho over night, I really think I must trouble you to send Anne and me
home at once.  I feel as if I wanted to go to bed in a dark room, and I
shall only be a bother if I stay.’

‘Why, my child, I’m sorry to have you go off with your visit unfinished.
You know we don’t mind any amount of trouble, if we can make you
comfortable.’

‘You are very kind, but indeed I’d rather go.’

‘I hardly dare let you start in the hot sun—without consulting the
doctor, and everybody is away except Polly; they will feel badly not to
say good-bye.’

‘It is nearly three o’clock now, so the worst of the sun is over, and we
shall be at the ranch by eight this evening.  I feel too ill to say
good-bye, any way, and we shall meet Bell and Margery somewhere on the
road, for they were going to the milk ranch.’

                            [Picture: Packing]

‘Very well, my dear, if you’ve made up your mind I must yield,’ replied
Mrs. Winship, getting up and smoothing her hair.  ‘I don’t dare wake
Elsie, she has had such an exciting day; but I’ll call Polly to help you
pack, and then tell Pancho to find Anne and harness the team.  While he
is doing that, I’ll get you a little lunch to take with you and write a
note to your mother.  Perhaps you can come again before we break camp,
but I’m sorry to send you home in such a sad plight.’



CHAPTER VIII
POLLY’S BIRTHDAY: SECOND HALF


               IN WHICH SHE WISHES SEE HAD NEVER BEEN BORN.

    ‘From Hebrew wit the maxim sprung,
    Though feet should slip, ne’er let the tongue.

POLLY came at once to the tent, where she found Laura getting her
belongings together.

‘Why, Laura, it seems too bad you should go off so suddenly.  What can I
do to help you?’

The very spirit of evil entered Laura’s heart as she looked at Polly, so
fresh and pretty and radiant, with her dimples dancing in and out, her
hair ruffled with the effort of literary composition, and the glow of the
day’s happiness still shining in her eyes.  She felt as if Polly was
‘glad inside’ that she was poisoned; she felt sure she was internally
jumping for joy at her departure; and, above all, she felt that Polly was
entirely too conceited over the attention she had received that day, and
needed to be ‘taken down a peg or two.’

‘Red-haired, stuck-up, saucy thing,’ she thought, ‘how I should like to
give her a piece of my mind before I leave this place, if I only dared!’

‘I don’t need any help, thank you,’ she said aloud, in her iciest manner.

‘But it will only make your head ache to bend over and tug away at that
valise, and I’ll be only too glad to do it.’

‘I’ve no doubt of that,’ responded Laura, meaningly.  ‘It is useless for
you to make any show of regret over my going, for I know perfectly well
that you are glad to get me out of the way.’

‘Why, Laura, what do you mean?’ exclaimed Polly, completely dazed at this
bombshell of candour.

‘I mean what I say; and I should have said it before if I could ever have
found a chance.  Because I didn’t mention it at the time, you needn’t
suppose I’ve forgotten your getting me into trouble with Mrs. Winship,
the day before the Howards came.’

‘That was not my fault,’ said Polly, hotly.  ‘I didn’t speak any louder
than the other girls, and I didn’t know Aunt Truth objected to Mrs.
Pinkerton, and I didn’t know she was anywhere near.’

‘You roared like the bull of Bashan—that’s what you did.  Perhaps you
can’t help your voice, but anybody in the cañon could have heard you; and
Mrs. Winship hasn’t been the same to me since, and the boys don’t take
the slightest notice of me lately.’

‘You are entirely mistaken, Laura.  Dr. and Mrs. Winship are just as
lovely and cordial to you as they are to everybody else, and the boys do
not feel well enough acquainted with you to “frolic” with you as they do
with us.’

‘It isn’t so, but you are not sensitive enough to see it; and I should
never have been poisoned if it hadn’t been for you!’

‘Oh, go on, do!’ said Polly, beginning to lose her self-control, which
was never very great.  ‘I didn’t know I was a Lucrezia Borgia in
disguise.  How did I poison you, pray?’

‘I didn’t say you poisoned me; but you made me so uncomfortable that day,
bringing down Mrs. Winship’s lecture on my head and getting my best
friend abused, that I was glad to get away from the camp, and went out
with Jack for that reason when I was too tired and warm; and you are
always trying to cut me out with Bell and the boys.’

‘That’s a perfectly—jet black—fib!’ cried Polly, who was now thoroughly
angry; ‘and I don’t think it is very polite of you to attack the whole
party, and say they haven’t been nice to you, when they’ve done
everything in the world!’

‘It isn’t your party any more than mine, is it?  And if I don’t know how
to be polite, I certainly shan’t ask _you_ for instruction; for I must
know as much about the manners of good society as you do, inasmuch as I
have certainly seen more of it!’

Polly sank into a camp-chair, too stunned for a moment to reply, while
Laura, who had gone quite beyond the point where she knew or cared what
she said, went on with a rush of words: ‘I mean to tell you, now that I
am started, that anybody who isn’t blind can see why you toady to the
Winships, who have money and social position, and why you are so anxious
to keep everybody else from getting into their good graces; but they are
so partial to you that they have given you an entirely false idea of
yourself; and you might as well know that unless you keep yourself a
little more in the background, and grow a little less bold and affected
and independent, other people will not be quite as ready as the Winships
to make a pet of a girl whose mother keeps a boarding-house.’

Poor Laura!  It was no sooner said than she regretted it—a little, not
much.  But poor Polly!  Where was her good angel then?  Why could she not
have treated this thrust with the silence and contempt it deserved?  But
how could Laura have detected and probed the most sensitive spot in the
girl’s nature?  She lost all command of herself.  Her rage absolutely
frightened her, for it made her deaf and blind to all considerations of
propriety and self-respect, and for a moment she was only conscious of
the wild desire to strike—yes, even to kill—the person who had so
insulted all that was dearest to her.

‘Don’t dare to say another word!’ she panted, with such flaming cheeks
and such flashing eyes that Laura involuntarily retreated towards the
door, half afraid of the tempest her words had evoked.  ‘Don’t dare to
say another word, or I don’t know what I may do!  Yes, I am glad you are
going, and everybody will be glad, and the sooner you go the better!
You’ve made everybody miserable ever since you came, with your jealousy
and your gossip and your fine-lady airs; and if Aunt Truth hadn’t loved
your mother, and if we were mean enough to tell tales, we would have
repeated some of your disagreeable speeches long ago.  How can you dare
to say I love the Winships for anything but themselves?  And if you had
ever seen my darling mother, you never could have called her a
boarding-house keeper, you cruel—’

Oh, but the dashing torrent of angry words stopped at the mere mention of
her mother.  The word recalled her to herself, but too late.  It woke in
her memory the clasp of her mother’s arms, the sound of the sweet, tired
voice: ‘Only two of us against the big world, Polly—you and I.  Be brave,
little daughter, brave and patient.’  Oh, how impatient and cowardly she
had been!  Would she never learn to be good?  The better impulses rushed
back into her heart, and crowded out the bad ones so quickly that in
another moment she would have flung herself at Laura’s feet, and implored
her forgiveness merely to gain again her own self-respect and her
mother’s approval; but there was no time for repentance (there isn’t
sometimes), for the clatter of wheels announced Pancho’s approach with
the team, and Mrs. Winship and Anne Burton came into view, walking
rapidly towards the tent.

Laura was a good deal disconcerted at their ill-timed appearance, but
reflected rapidly that if Mrs. Winship had overheard anything, it was
probably Polly’s last speech, in which case that young person would seem
to be more in fault than herself, so stepping out of the tent she met
Mrs. Winship and kissed her good-bye.

Little Anne ran on and jumped into the wagon, with all a child’s joy at
the prospect of going anywhere.  Polly’s back was turned, but she could
not disappear entirely within the tent without causing Mrs. Winship
surprise; and she went through a lifetime of misery and self-reproach in
that minute of shame and fear, when she dared neither to advance nor
retreat.

‘I don’t quite like to let you go alone, Laura, without consulting the
doctor, and I can’t find him,’ said Mrs. Winship.  ‘Why, you are nervous
and trembling!  Hadn’t you better wait until to-morrow?’

‘No, thank you, Mrs. Winship.  I am all ready now, and would prefer to
go.  I think perhaps I have stayed quite long enough, as Polly has just
told me that everybody is glad to see the last of me, and that I’ve made
you all miserable since I came.

This was the climax to Polly’s misery; for she was already so overcome by
the thought of her rudeness that she was on the point of begging Laura’s
pardon for that particular speech then and there, and she had only to
hear her exact words repeated to feel how they would sound in Mrs.
Winship’s ears.

Mrs. Winship was so entirely taken aback by Laura’s remark, that she
could only ejaculate, ‘Polly—said—that!  What do you mean?’

‘Oh, I am quite ready to think she said more than she intended, but those
were her words.’

‘Polly!’

Polly turned.  Alas! it was plain enough that this was no false
accusation.  Her downcast eyes, flushed, tear-stained cheeks, quivering
lips, and the silent shame of her whole figure, spoke too clearly.

‘Can it be possible, Polly, that you spoke in such a way to a guest who
was about to leave my house?’

‘Yes.’

The word was wrung from Polly’s trembling lips.  What could she say but
‘Yes,’—it was true,—and how could she repeat the taunts that had provoked
her to retort?  They were not a sufficient excuse; and for that matter,
nothing could be a sufficient excuse for her language.  Now that she was
confronted with her own fault, Laura’s seemed so small beside it that she
would have been ashamed to offer it as any justification.

Mrs. Winship grew pale, and for a moment was quite at a loss as to the
treatment of such a situation.

‘Don’t say any more about it, Mrs. Winship,’ said Laura; ‘we were both
angry, or we should never have forgotten ourselves, and I shall think no
more of it.’  Laura spoke with such an air of modest virtue, and seemed
so ready to forgive and forget, that Polly in her silence and confusion
appeared worse than ever.

‘But I want you to remember that you are my guest, not Pauline’s; that I
asked you to come and ask you to remain.  I cannot allow you to go simply
because you do not chance to be a favourite with another of my guests.’
(Oh! the pang these words gave Polly’s faulty, tender little heart!)

‘I am only going because I feel so ill,—not a bit because of what Polly
said; I was in the wrong, too, perhaps, but I promise not to let anybody
nor anything make me quarrel when I visit you again.  Good-bye!’ and
Laura stepped into the wagon.

‘I trust you will not mention this to your mother, since I hope it is the
only unpleasant incident of your visit; and it is no fault of mine that
you go away with an unhappy impression of our hospitality.’  Here Mrs.
Winship reached up and kissed little Anne, and as the horses were
restive, and no one seemed to have anything further to say, Pancho drove
off.

‘I don’t care to talk with you any more at present, Polly,’ said Mrs.
Winship.  ‘I am too hurt and too indignant to speak of your conduct
quietly.  I know the struggles you have with your temper, and I am quite
willing to sympathise with you even when you do not come off victorious;
but this is something quite different.  I can’t conceive how any amount
of provocation or dislike could have led you into such disloyalty to me’;
and with this she walked away.

Polly staggered into a little play-room tent of Dicky’s, where she knew
that she could be alone, pinned the curtains together so that no one
could peep in, and threw herself down upon the long cushioned seat where
Dicky was wont to take his afternoon nap.  There, in grief and despair,
she sobbed the afternoon through, dreading to be disturbed and dreading
to be questioned.

‘My beautiful birthday spoiled,’ she moaned, ‘and all my own fault!  I
was so happy this morning, but now was ever anybody so miserable as I?
And even if I tell Aunt Truth what Laura said, she will think it no
excuse, and it isn’t!’

As it neared supper-time she made an opening in the back of the tent, and
after long watching caught sight of Gin on his way to the brook for
water, signalled him, and gave him this despairing little note for Mrs.
Winship:—

    DEAR AUNT TRUTH,—I don’t ask you to forgive me—I don’t deserve to be
    forgiven—but I ask you to do me just one more of your dear little
    kindnesses.  Let me stay alone in Dicky’s tent till morning, and
    please don’t let any one come near me.  You can tell everybody the
    whole story to-night, if you think best, though I should be glad if
    only Dr. Paul and Bell need know; but I do not mind anything after
    displeasing you—nothing can be so bad as that.  Perhaps you think I
    ought to come out and confess it to them myself, as a punishment; but
    oh, Aunt Truth, I am punishing myself in here alone worse than any
    one else can do it.  I will go back to Santa Barbara any time that
    you can send me to the stage station, and I will never ask you to
    love me again until I have learned how to control my temper.

                           Your wretched, wretched

                                                                    POLLY.

    _P.S._—I remember that it is my birthday, and all that you have done
    for me, to-day and all the other days.  It looks as if I were
    ungrateful, but in spite of what I did I am not.  The words just
    blazed out, and I never knew that they were going to be said till I
    heard them falling from my mouth.  It seems to me that if I ever
    atone for this I will have a slate and pencil hanging to my belt, and
    only write what I have to say.

                                                                    POLLY.

The moisture came to Mrs. Winship’s eyes as she read this tear-stained
little note.  ‘There’s something here I don’t quite understand,’ she
thought; ‘and yet Polly confessed that Laura told the truth.  Poor
child!—but she has got to learn patience and self-control through
suffering.  However, I’ll keep the matter a secret from everybody at
present, and stand between her and my inquisitive brood of youngsters,’
and she slipped the note into her pocket.

At six o’clock the members of the family came into camp from various
directions, and gathered about the supper-table.  All were surprised at
Laura’s sudden departure, but no one seemed especially grief-stricken.
Dicky announced confidentially to Philip that Laura was a ‘norful
’fraid-cat of frogs,’ and Jack ventured the opinion that Miss Laura
hadn’t ‘boy’ enough in her for camp-life.

‘But where is Polly?’ asked Bell, looking round the table, as she pinned
up her riding-skirt and sat down in her usual seat.

‘She has a bad headache, and is lying down,’ said Mrs. Winship, quietly;
‘she’ll be all right in the morning.’

‘Headache!’ ejaculated four or five people at once, dropping their
napkins and looking at each other in dismay.

‘I’ll go and rub her head with Cologne,’ said Margery.

‘Let me go and sit with her,’ said Elsie.

‘Have you been teasing her, Jack?’ asked Mrs. Howard.

‘Too much birthday?’ asked Dr. Paul.  ‘Tell her we can spare almost
anybody else better.’

‘Bless the child, she wants me if she is sick.  Go on with your suppers,
I’ll see to her,’ and Bell rose from the table.

‘No, my dear, I want you all to leave her alone at present,’ said Mrs.
Winship, decidedly.  ‘I’ve put her to bed in Dicky’s play-tent, and I
want her to be quiet.  Gin has taken her some supper, and she needs
rest.’

Polly Oliver in need of rest!  What an incomprehensible statement!
Nobody was satisfied, but there was nothing more to be said, though Bell
and Philip exchanged glances as much as to say, ‘Something is wrong.’

Supper ended, and they gathered round the camp-fire, but nothing was
quite as usual.  It was all very well to crack jokes, but where was a
certain merry laugh that was wont to ring out, at the smallest
provocation, in such an infectious way that everybody else followed suit?
And who was there, when Polly had the headache, to make a saucy speech
and look down into the fire innocently, while her dimples did everything
that was required in order to point the shaft?  And pray what was the use
of singing when there was no alto to Bell’s treble, or of giving
conundrums, since it was always Polly who thought of nonsensical answers
better than the real ones?  And as for Jack, why, it was folly to shoot
arrows of wit into the air when there was no target.  He simply stretched
himself out beside Elsie, who was particularly quiet and snoozed
peacefully, without taking any part in the conversation, avowing his
intention to ‘turn in’ early.  ‘Turn in’ early, forsooth!  What was the
matter with the boy?

‘It’s no use,’ said Bell, plaintively; ‘we can’t be anything but happy,
now that we have Elsie here; but it needs only one small headache to show
that Polly fills a long-felt want in this camp.  You think of her as a
modest spoke in the wheel till she disappears, and then you find she was
the hub.’

‘Yes,’ said Margery, ‘I think every one round this fire is simply
angelic, unless I except Jack; but the fact is that Polly is—well, she
is—Polly, and I dare any one to contradict me.’

‘The judgment of the court is confirmed,’ said Philip.

    ‘And the shark said, “If you
    Don’t believe it is true,
    Just look at my wisdom tooth!”’

sang Geoffrey.

‘And if any one ever tells me again that she has red hair and hasn’t good
features, I should just like to show them a picture of her as she was
to-day at the dinner-table!’ exclaimed Bell.

‘As if anybody needed features with those dimples,’ added Elsie, ‘or
would mind red hair when it was such pretty hair!’

‘I think a report of this conversation would go far towards curing
Polly,’ said Dr. Winship, with a smile.

‘And you say we can’t go in there before we go to bed, _mamacita_?’
whispered Bell in her mother’s ear, as the boys said good-night—and went
towards their tent.

‘My dear,’ she answered decidedly, with a fond kiss for each of the
girls, ‘Polly herself asked me to keep everybody away.’

Polly herself wanted to be alone!  Would wonders never cease?

Meanwhile Dicky, who had disappeared for a moment, came back to the fire,
his bosom heaving with grief and rage.

‘I went to my play-tent,’ he sobbed, ‘and putted my hand underneath the
curtain and gave Polly a piece of my supper cake I saved for her—not the
frosted part, but the burnt part I couldn’t eat—and she liked it and
kissed my hand—and then I fought she was lonesome, and would like to see
my littlest frog, and I told her to put out her hand again for a s’prise,
and I squeezed him into it tight, so ’t he wouldn’t jump—and she fought
it was more cake, and when she found it wasn’t she frew my littlest frog
clear away, and it got losted!’

This brought a howl of mirth from everybody, and Dicky was instructed,
while being put to bed, not to squeeze little frogs into people’s hands
in the dark, as it sometimes affected them unpleasantly.

                                * * * * *

All this time Polly was lying in the tent, quite exhausted with crying,
and made more wretched by every sound of voices wafted towards her.
Presently Gin appeared with her night-wrapper and various things for
comfort sent her by the girls; and as she wearily undressed herself and
prepared for the night, she found three little messages of comfort pinned
on the neck and sleeves of her flannel gown, written in such colossal
letters that she could easily read them by the moonlight.

On the right sleeve:—

                Cheer up!  ‘I will never desert Mr. Micawber!’

                                                                     BELL.

On the left sleeve:—

    DARLING POLLY,—Get well soon, or we shall all be sick in order to
    stay with you.  Lovingly,

                                                                      MEG.

    _P.S._—Jack said you were the _life of the camp_!  What do you think
    of that??

                                                                        M.

On the neck:—

    Dearest,—You have always called me the Fairy Godmother, and pretended
    I could see things that other people couldn’t.

    The boys (great stupids!) think you have the headache.  We girls can
    all see that you are in trouble, but only the Fairy Godmother _knows
    why_; and though she can’t make a beautiful gold coach out of this
    pumpkin, because there’s something wrong about the pumpkin, yet she
    will do her best for Cinderella, and pull her out of the ashes
    somehow.

                                                                    ELSIE.

Polly’s tears fell fast on the dear little notes, which she kissed again
and again, and tucked under her pillow to bring her sleep.  ‘Elsie knows
something,’ she thought, ‘but how? she knows that I’m in trouble and that
I’ve done wrong, or she wouldn’t have said that about not being able to
turn a bad pumpkin into a beautiful gold coach; but perhaps she can get
Aunt Truth to forgive me and try me again.  Unless she can do it, it will
never come to pass, for I haven’t the courage to ask her.  I would rather
run away early in the morning and go home than have her look at me again
as she did to-day.  Oh! what shall I do?’ and Polly went down on her
knees beside the rough couch, and sobbed her heart out in a childish
prayer for help and comfort.  It was just the prayer of a little child
telling a sorrowful story; because it is when we are alone and in trouble
that the unknown and mysterious God seems to us most like a Father, and
we throw ourselves into the arms of His love like helpless children, and
tell Him our secret thoughts and griefs.

‘Dear Father in heaven,’ she sobbed, ‘don’t forgive me if I ought not to
be forgiven, but please make Aunt Truth feel how sorry I am, and show me
whether I ought to tell what made me so angry, though it’s no excuse.
Bless and keep my darling patient little mother, and help me to grow more
like her, and braver and stronger too, so that I can take care of her
soon, and she needn’t work hard any longer.  Please forgive me for hating
some things in my life as much as I do, and I will try and like them
better; but I think—yes, I know—that I am full of wicked pride; and oh,
it seems as if I could never, never get over wanting to live in a pretty
house, and wear pretty dresses, and have my mother live like Bell’s and
Margery’s.  And oh, if Thou canst only forgive me for hating boarders so
dreadfully, and being ashamed of them every minute, I will try and like
them better and tell everybody that we take them—I will indeed; and if I
can only once make Aunt Truth love and trust me again, I will make the
boarders’ beds and dust their rooms for ever without grumbling.  Please,
dear Father in heaven, remember that I haven’t any father to love me or
to teach me to be good; and though mamma does her best, please help her
to make something out of me if it can be done.  Amen.’

‘Truth,’ said Mrs. Howard, when all was quiet about the camp, ‘Elsie
wants to see you a moment before she goes to sleep.  Will you go to her
tent, while I play a game of cribbage with Dr. Paul?’

Elsie looked like a blossom in all the beautiful greenness of her tent,
with her yellow head coming out from above the greens and browns of the
cretonne bed-cover for all the world like a daffodil pushing its way up
through the mould towards the spring sunshine.

‘Aunt Truth,’ she said softly, as Mrs. Winship sat down beside her, ‘you
remember that Dr. Paul hung my hammock in a new place to-day, just behind
the girls’ sleeping-tent.  Now I know that Polly is in trouble, and that
you are displeased with her.  What I want to ask, if I may, is, how much
you know; for I overheard a great deal myself—enough to feel that Polly
deserves a hearing.’

‘I overheard nothing,’ replied Mrs. Winship.  ‘All that I know Polly
herself confessed in Laura’s presence.  Polly told Laura, just as she was
going away, that everybody would be glad to see the last of her, and that
she had made everybody miserable from the beginning of her visit.  It was
quite inexcusable, you know, dear, for one of my guests to waylay
another, just as she was leaving, and make such a cruel speech.  I would
rather anything else had happened.  I know how impetuous Polly is, and I
can forgive the child almost anything, her heart is so full of love and
generosity; but I cannot overlook such a breach of propriety as that.  Of
course I have seen that Laura is not a favourite with any of you.  I
confess she is not a very lovable person, and I think she has led a very
unwholesome life lately and is sadly spoiled by it; still that is no
excuse for Polly’s conduct.’

‘No, of course it isn’t,’ sighed Elsie, with a little quiver of the lip.
‘I thought I could plead a better case for Polly, but I see exactly how
thoughtless and impolite she was; yet, if you knew everything, auntie,
dear, you would feel a little different.  Do you think it was nice of
Laura to repeat what Polly said right before her, and just as she was
going away, when she knew it would make you uncomfortable and that you
were not to blame for it?’

‘No, hardly.  It didn’t show much tact; but girls of fifteen or sixteen
are not always remarkable for social tact.  I excused her partly because
she was half-sick and nervous.’

‘Well,’ Elsie went on, ‘I didn’t hear the whole quarrel, so that I do not
know how long it lasted nor who began it.  I can’t help thinking it was
Laura, though, for she’s been trying her best to provoke Polly for the
last fortnight, and until to-day she has never really succeeded.  I was
half asleep, and heard at first only the faint murmur of voices, but when
I was fully awake, Laura was telling Polly that she doted on you simply
because you had money and position, while she had not; that you were all
so partial to her that she had lost sight of her own deficiencies.  Then
she called her bold and affected, and I don’t know what else, and finally
wound up by saying that nobody but the Winships would be likely to make a
pet of the daughter of a boarding-house keeper.’

‘Elsie!’ ejaculated Mrs. Winship; ‘this grows worse and worse!  Is it
possible that Laura Burton could be guilty of such a thought?’

‘I can’t be mistaken.  I was too excited not to hear very clearly; and
the moment the words were spoken I knew my poor dear’s fiery temper would
never endure that.  And it didn’t; it blazed out in a second, but it
didn’t last long, for before I could get to the tent she had stopped
herself right in the middle of a sentence; and in another minute I heard
your voice, and crept back to the hammock, thinking that everything would
be settled by Laura’s going away.  I’d no idea that she would pounce on
Polly and get her in disgrace, the very last thing, when she knew that
she was responsible for the whole matter.  You see, auntie, that,
impolite as Polly was, she only told Laura that we girls were glad she
was going.  She didn’t bring you in, after all; and Laura knew perfectly
well that she was a welcome visitor, and we all treated her with the
greatest politeness, though it’s no use to say we liked her much.’

‘I am very sorry for the whole affair,’ sighed Mrs. Winship, ‘there is so
much wrong on both sides.  Laura’s remark, it is true, would have angered
almost anybody who was not old and wise enough to see that it deserved
only contempt; but both the girls should have had too much respect for
themselves and for me to descend to such an unladylike quarrel.  However,
I am only too glad to hear anything which makes Polly’s fault less, for I
love her too dearly not to suffer when I have to be severe with her.’

‘She wouldn’t ask you to overlook her fault,’ continued Elsie, with tears
in her eyes.  ‘I know just how wretched and penitent she must be—Polly is
always so fierce against her own faults—but what must be making her
suffer most is the thought that she has entirely lost your confidence and
good opinion.  Oh, I can’t help thinking that God feels sorrier this very
minute for Polly, who fights and fights against her temper, like a dear
sunbeam trying to shine again and again when a cloud keeps covering it
up, than He does for Laura, who has everything made smooth for her, and
who is unhappy when her feathers are ruffled the least bit.’

‘You are right, dear, in so far that a fiery little soul like Polly’s
can, if it finds the right channels, do God’s work in the world better
than a character like Laura’s, which is not courageous, nor strong, nor
sweet enough for great service, unless it grows into better things
through bitter or rich experiences.  Now, good-night, my blessed little
peacemaker; sleep sweetly, for I am going into Polly’s tent to have a
good talk with her.’

As Mrs. Winship dropped the curtains of Elsie’s tent behind her, and made
her way quietly through the trees, the tinkling sound of a banjo fell
upon the still night air; and presently, as she neared Polly’s retreat,
this facetious serenade, sung by Jack’s well-known voice, was wafted to
her ears:

    ‘Prithee, Polly Oliver, why bide ye so still?
    Pretty Polly Oliver, we fear you are ill.
    I’m singing ’neath thy window, when night dews are chill,
    For, pretty Polly Oliver, we hear you are ill.’

She was about to despatch Master Jack to his tent with a round scolding,
when the last words of the song were frozen on his lips by the sound of a
smothered sob, in place of the saucy retort he hoped to provoke.  The
unexpected sob frightened him more than any fusilade of hot words, and he
stole away in the darkness more crestfallen than he had been for many a
year.

Mrs. Winship, more troubled than ever, pulled apart the canvas curtains,
and stood in the opening, silently.  The sight of the forlorn little
figure, huddled together on the straw bed, touched her heart, and, when
Polly started up with an eloquent cry and flew into her extended arms,
she granted willing forgiveness, and the history of the afternoon was
sobbed out upon her motherly shoulder.

The next morning Mrs. Winship announced that Polly was better, sent
breakfast to her tent, and by skilful generalship drove everybody away
from the camp but Elsie, who brought Polly to the sitting-room, made her
comfortable on the lounge, and, administering much good advice to Margery
and Bell concerning topics to be avoided, admitted them one by one into
her presence, so that she gradually regained her self-control.  And at
the dinner-table a very pale Polly was present again, with such a white
face and heavy eyes that no one could doubt there had been a headache,
while two people, at least, knew that there had been a heartache as well.
The next day’s mail carried the following letter to Laura Burton:

                                        CAMP CHAPARRAL, _August_ 16, 188—.

    MY DEAR LAURA,—As I told you when you were leaving, I cannot well say
    how sorry I am that anything should have occurred to mar your
    pleasant remembrance of your stay with us.  That your dear mother’s
    daughter should have been treated with discourtesy while she was my
    guest was very disagreeable to me; but I have learned that you were
    yourself somewhat to blame in the affair, and therefore you should
    have borne the harsh treatment you received with considerable
    patience, and perhaps have kept it quite to yourself.  (‘That little
    cat told her, after all,’ said Laura, when she read this.  ‘I didn’t
    think she was that kind.’)  Polly would never have confessed the
    cause of the quarrel, because she knew nothing could justify her
    language; but Elsie was lying in the hammock behind the tent and
    overheard the remark which so roused Polly’s anger.  You were not
    aware, of course, how sore a spot you touched upon, or you could
    never have spoken as you did, though I well know that you were both
    too angry to reflect.  Polly is a peculiarly proud and high-spirited
    girl—proud, I confess, to a fault; but she comes, on her mother’s
    side, from a long line of people who have had much to be proud of in
    the way of unblemished honesty, nobility, fine attainments, and
    splendid achievements.  Of her father’s honourable services to his
    country, and his sad and untimely death, you may have heard; but you
    may not know that Mrs. Oliver’s misfortunes have been very many and
    very bitter, and that the only possibility of supporting and
    educating Polly lies at present in her taking boarders, for her
    health will not admit just now of her living anywhere save in
    Southern California.  I fail to see why this is not thoroughly
    praiseworthy and respectable; but if you do not consider it quite an
    elegant occupation, I can only say that Mrs. Oliver presides over the
    table at which her ‘boarders’ sit with a high-bred dignity and grace
    of manner that the highest lady in the land might imitate; and that,
    when health and circumstances permit her to diminish the distance
    between herself and the great world, she and her daughter Polly, by
    reason of their birth and their culture, will find doors swinging
    wide to admit them where you and I would find it difficult to enter.
    Polly apologises sincerely for her rudeness, and will write you to
    that effect, as of course she does not know of this letter.

                            Sincerely your friend,

                                                            TRUTH WINSHIP.



CHAPTER IX
ROUND THE CAMP-FIRE


    ‘The time before the fire they sat,
    And shortened the delay by pleasing chat.’

THE August days had slipped away one after another, and September was at
hand.  There was no perceptible change of weather to mark the advent of
the new month.  The hills were a little browner, the dust a little
deeper, the fleas a little nimbler, and the water in the brook a trifle
lower, but otherwise Dame Nature did not concern herself with the change
of seasons, inasmuch as she had no old dresses to get rid of, and no new
ones to put on for a long time yet; indeed, she is never very fashionable
in this locality, and wears very much the same garments throughout the
year.

                      [Picture: Round the camp-fire]

Elsie seemed almost as strong as any of the other girls now, and could
enter with zest into all their amusements.  The appetite of a young bear,
the sound, dreamless sleep of a baby, and the constant breathing in of
the pure, life-giving air had made her a new creature.  Mrs. Howard and
Jack felt, day by day, that a burden of dread was being lifted from their
hearts; and Mrs. Howard especially felt that she loved every rock and
tree in the cañon.

It was a charming morning, and Polly was seated at the dining-room table,
deep in the preparation of a lesson in reading and pronunciation for Hop
Yet.  Her forehead was creased with many wrinkles of thought, and she bit
the end of her lead-pencil as if she were engaged in solving some
difficult problem; but, if that were so, why did the dimples chase each
other in and out of her cheeks in such a suspicious fashion?  She was a
very gentle, a very sedate Polly, these latter days, and not only
astonished her friends, but surprised herself, by her good behaviour, her
elegant reserve of manner, her patience with Jack, and her abject
devotion to Dicky.

‘I’m afraid it won’t last,’ she sighed to herself occasionally.  ‘I’m
almost too good.  That’s always the way with me—I must either be so bad
that everybody is discouraged, or else so good that I frighten them.  Now
I catch Bell and Elsie exchanging glances every day, as much as to say,
“Poor Polly, she will never hold out at this rate; do you notice that
nothing ruffles her—that she is simply angelic?”  As if I couldn’t be
angelic for a fortnight!  Why I have often done it for four weeks at a
stretch!’

Margery was in the habit of giving Hop Yet an English lesson every other
day, as he had been very loath to leave his evening school in Santa
Barbara and bury himself in a cañon, away from all educational
influences; but she had deserted her post for once and gone to ride with
Elsie, so that Polly had taken her place and was evolving an exercise
that Hop Yet would remember to the latest day of his life.  It looked
simple enough:—

  1.  The grass is dry.

  2.  The fruit is ripe.

  3: The chaparral is green.

  4.  The new road is all right.

  5.  The bay-‘rum’ tree is fresh and pretty.

But as no Chinaman can pronounce the letter ‘r,’ it was laboriously
rendered thus, when the unhappy time of the lesson came:

  1.  The-glass-is-dly.

  2.  The-fluit-is-lipe.

  3.  The-chap-lal-is-gleen.

  4.  The-new-load-is-all-light-ee.

  5.  The bay-lum-tlee-is-flesh-and-plitty.

Finally, when she attempted to introduce the sentence, ‘Around the rough
and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran,’ Hop Yet rose hurriedly,
remarking, ‘All lightee; I go no more school jus’ now.  I lun get
lunchee.’

Bell came running down the path just then, and linking her arm in Polly’s
said, ‘Papa has the nicest plan.  You know the boys are so disappointed
that Colonel Jackson didn’t ask them over to that _rodeo_ at his cattle
ranch—though a summer _rodeo_ is only to sort out fat cattle to sell, and
it is not very exciting; but papa promised to tell them all about the
old-fashioned kind some night, and he has just remembered that to-morrow
is Admission Day, September 9, so he proposes a real celebration round
the camp-fire to amuse Elsie.  She doesn’t know anything about California
even as it is now, and none of us know what it was in the old days.
Don’t you think it will be fun?’

‘Perfectly splendid!’

‘And papa wants us each to contribute something.’

‘A picnic!—but I don’t know anything.’

‘That’s just what I’m coming to.  I have such a bright idea.  He said
that we might look in any of his books, but Geoff and Jack are at them
already, and I’d like a surprise.  Now Juan Capistrano, an old vaquero of
Colonel Jackson’s, is over here.  He is a wonderful rider; papa says that
he could ride on a comet, if he could get a chance to mount.  It was he
who told the boys that the rodeo was over.  Now I propose that we go and
interview Pancho and Juan, and get them to tell us some old California
stories.  They are both as stupid as they can be, but they must have had
some adventures, I suppose, somewhere, sometime.  I’ll translate and
write the things down, for my part, and you and Margery can tell them.’

‘Lovely!  Oh, if we can only get an exciting grizzly story, so that

    Every one’s blood upon end it will stand,
    And the hair run cold in their veins!

And was Dr. Paul out here when California was admitted into the
Union—1850, wasn’t it?’

‘Of course; why, my child, he was one of the delegates called by General
Riley, the military governor, to meet in convention at Monterey and make
a State constitution.  That was September, too—the first day of September
1849.  He went back to the East some time afterwards, and stayed ten or
fifteen years; but he was a real pioneer and “forty-niner” all the same.

The next night, September 9th, was so cool that the camp-fire was more
than ordinarily delightful; accordingly they piled on more wood than
usual, and prepared for a grand blaze.  It was always built directly in
front of the sitting-room tent, so that Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Winship
could sit there if they liked; but the young people preferred to lie
lazily on their cushions and saddles under the oak-tree, a little
distance from the blaze.  The clear, red firelight danced and flickered,
and the sparks rose into the sombre darkness fantastically, while the
ruddy glow made the great oak an enchanted palace, into whose hollow dome
they never tired of gazing.  When the light streamed highest, the bronze
green of the foliage was turned into crimson, and, as it died now and
then, the stars winked brightly through the thousand tiny windows formed
by the interlacing branches.

‘Well,’ said the doctor, bringing his Chinese lounging-chair into the
circle, and lighting his pipe so as to be thoroughly happy and
comfortable, ‘will you banish distinctions of age and allow me to sit
among you this evening?’

‘Certainly,’ Margery said; ‘that’s the very point of the celebration.
This is Admission Day, you know, and why shouldn’t we admit you?’

‘True; and having put myself into a holiday humour by dining off Pancho’s
dish of _guisado_ (I suppose to-night of all nights we must call beef and
onion stew by its local name), I will proceed to business, and we will
talk about California.  By the way, I shall only conduct the exercises,
for I feel rather embarrassed by the fact that I’ve never killed, or been
killed by, a bear, never been bitten by a tarantula, poisoned by a
rattlesnake, assaulted by a stage-robber, nor anything of that sort.  You
have all read my story of crossing the plains.  I even did that in a
comparatively easy and unheroic fashion.  I only wish, my dear girls and
boys, that we had with us some one of the brave and energetic men and
women who made that terrible journey at the risk of their lives.  The
history of the California Crusaders, the thirty thousand or more
emigrants who crossed the plains in ’48, more than equals the great
military expeditions of the Middle Ages, in magnitude, peril, and
adventure.  Some went by way of Santa Fé and along the hills of the Gila;
others, starting from Red River, traversed the Great Stake Desert and
went from El Paso del Norte to Sonora; others went through Mexico, and,
after spending over a hundred days at sea, ran into San Diego and gave up
their vessels; others landed exhausted with their seven months’ passage
round the Horn; and some reached the spot on foot after walking the whole
length of the California peninsula.’

‘What privations they must have suffered!’ said Mrs. Howard.  ‘I never
quite realised it.’

‘Why, the amount of suffering that was endured in those mountain passes
and deserts can never be told in words.  Those who went by the Great
Desert west of the Colorado found a stretch of burning salt plains, of
shifting hills of sand, with bones of animals and men scattered along the
trails; of terrible and ghastly odours rising in the hot air from the
bodies of hundreds of mules, and human creatures too, that lay
half-buried in the glaring white sand.  A terrible journey indeed; but if
any State in the Union could be fair enough, fertile enough, and rich
enough to repay such a lavish expenditure of energy and suffering,
California certainly was and is the one.  Now who can tell us something
of the name “California”?  You, Geoffrey?’

‘Geoffrey has crammed!’ exclaimed Bell, maliciously.  ‘I believe he’s
been reading up all day and told papa what question to ask him!’

‘I’ll pass it on to you if you like,’ laughed Geoffrey.

‘No—you’d never get another that you could answer!  Go on!’

‘In 1534, one Hernando de Grijalva was sent by Hernando Cortez to
discover something or other, and it was probably he who then saw the
peninsula of California; but a quarter of a century before this a romance
called _Esplandian_ had appeared in Spain, narrating the adventures of an
Amazonian queen who brought allies from “the right hand of the Indies” to
assist the infidels in their attack upon Constantinople—by the way I
forgot to say that she was a pagan.  This queen of the Amazons was called
Calafia, and her kingdom, rich in gold and precious stones, was named
California.  The writer of the romance derived this name, perhaps, from
Calif, a successor of Mohammed.  He says: “Know that on the right hand of
the Indies there is an island named California, very close to the
Terrestial Paradise, and it was peopled by black women without any man
among them, for they lived in the fashion of the Amazonia.  They were of
strong and hardy bodies, of ardent courage, and of great force.  Their
island was the strongest in all the world, with its steep cliffs and
rocky shore.  Their arms were all of gold, and so was the harness of the
wild beasts which they tamed and rode.  For in the whole island there was
no metal but gold.  They lived in caves wrought out of the rocks with
much labour, and they had many ships with which they sailed out to other
countries to obtain booty.”  Cortez and Grijalva believed that they were
near the coast of Asia, for they had no conception of the size of the
world nor of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean; and as the
newly-discovered land corresponded with the country described in the
romance, they named the peninsula California.’

‘My book,’ said Philip, ‘declared that the derivation of the name was
very uncertain, and that it was first bestowed on one of the coast bays
by Bernal Diaz.’

‘Now, Philip!’ exclaimed Margery, ‘do you suppose we are going to believe
that, after Geoff’s lovely story?’

‘Certainly not; I only thought I’d permit you to hear both sides.  I knew
of course that you would believe the prettier story of the two—girls
always do!’

‘That isn’t a “pretty story”—your remark, I mean, so we won’t believe it;
will we, girls?’ asked Bell.

‘Now, Polly, your eyes sparkle as if you couldn’t wait another minute;
your turn next,’ said Dr. Winship.

‘I am only afraid that I can’t remember my contribution, which is really
Bell’s and still more really Pancho’s, for he told it to us, and Bell
translated it and made it into a story.  We call it “Valerio; or, The
Mysterious Mountain Cave.”’

‘Begins well!’ exclaimed Jack.

‘Now, Jack, you must be nice.  Remember this is Bell’s story, and she is
letting me tell it so that I can bear my share in the entertainment.’

‘Pancho believes every word of it,’ added Bell, ‘and says that his father
told it to him; but as I had to change it from bad Spanish into good
English, I don’t know whether I’ve caught the idea exactly.’

‘Oh, it will do quite nicely, I’ve no doubt,’ said Jack, encouragingly.
‘We’ve often heard you do good English into bad Spanish, and turn and
turn about is only fair play.  Don’t mind me, Polly; I will be gentle!’

‘Jack, if you don’t behave yourself I’ll send you to bed,’ said Elsie;
and he ducked his head obediently into her lap, as Polly, with her hands
clasping her knees, and with the firelight dancing over her bright face,
leaned forward and told the Legend of

                  VALERIO; OR, THE MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAIN CAVE.

    ‘A long time ago, before the settlement of Santa Barbara by the
    whites, the Mission _padres_ had a great many Indians under their
    control, who were known as _peons_, or serfs.  They were given enough
    to eat, were not molested by the outside Indians, and were entirely
    peaceable.  There were so few mountain passes by which to enter Santa
    Barbara that they were easily held, and of course the _padres_ were
    anxious to keep their Indians from running away, lest they should
    show the wilder tribes the way to get in and commit depredations.
    These peaceable Indians paid tribute to intermediary tribes to hold
    the passes and do their fighting.  Those about the Mission gave corn
    and cereals and hides and the products of the sea, and got in
    exchange _piñones_ (pine nuts).  One of these Indians, named Valerio,
    was a strong, brave, handsome youth, whose haughty spirit revolted at
    his servitude, and, after seeking an opportunity for many weeks he
    finally escaped to the Santa Ynez mountains, where he found a cave in
    which he hid himself, drawing himself up by a rope and taking it in
    after him.  The Indians had unlimited belief in Valerio’s mysterious
    and wonderful powers.  Pancho says that he could make himself
    invisible at will, that locks and keys were powerless against him;
    and that no one could hinder his taking money, horses, or food.  All
    sorts of things disappeared mysteriously by day and by night, and the
    robberies were one and all laid to the door of Valerio.  But after a
    while Valerio grew lonely in his mountain retreat.  He longed for
    human companionship, and at length, becoming desperate, he descended
    on the Mission settlement and kidnapped a young Indian boy named
    Chito, took him to his cave, and admitted him into his wild and
    lawless life.  But Chito was not contented.  He liked home and
    comfortable slavery better than the new, strange life; so he seized
    the first opportunity, and being a bright, daring little lad, and
    fleet of foot, he escaped and made his way to the Mission.  Arriving
    there he told wonderful stories of Valerio and his life; how his
    marvellous white mare seemed to fly, rather than gallop, and leaped
    from rock to rock like a chamois; and how they lived upon
    wheat-bread, cheeses, wine, and other delicacies instead of the
    coarse fare of the Indians.  He told them the location of the cave
    and described the way thither; so the Alcalde (he was the mayor or
    judge, you know, Elsie), got out the troops with their muskets, and
    the padres gathered the Mission Indians with their bows and arrows,
    and they all started in pursuit of the outlaw.  Among the troops were
    two _hechiceros_ (wizards or medicine-men), whose bowed shoulders and
    grizzled beards showed them to be men of many years and much wisdom.
    When asked to give their advice, they declared that Valerio could not
    be killed by any ordinary weapons, but that special means must be
    used to be of any avail against his supernatural powers.
    Accordingly, one of the _hechiceros_ broke off the head of his arrow,
    cast a charm over it, and predicted that this would deal the fatal
    blow.  The party started out with Chito as a guide, and, after many
    miles of wearisome travel up rugged mountain sides and over steep and
    almost impassable mountain trails, they paused at the base of a
    cliff, and saw, far up the height, the mouth of Valerio’s cave, and,
    what was more, Valerio himself sitting in the doorway fast asleep.
    Alas! he had been drinking too heavily of his stolen wine, or he
    would never have so exposed himself to the enemy.  They fired a
    volley at him.  One shot only took effect, and even this would not
    have been possible save that the spell was not upon him because of
    his sleep; but the one shot woke him and, half rising, he staggered
    and fell from the mouth of the cave to a ledge of rocks beneath.  He
    sprang to his feet in a second and ran like a deer towards a tree
    where his white mare was fastened.  They fired another volley, but,
    though the shots flew in every direction, Valerio passed on unharmed;
    but just as he was disappearing from view the _hechicero_ raised his
    bow and the headless arrow whizzed through space and pierced him
    through the heart.  They clambered up the cliffs with shouts of
    triumph and surrounded him on every side, but poor Valerio had
    surrendered to a more powerful enemy than they!  Wonderful to relate,
    he still breathed, though the wound should have been instantly fatal.
    They lifted him from the ground and tied him on his snow-white mare,
    his long hair reaching almost to the ground, his handsome face as
    pale as death, the blood trickling from his wound; but the mysterious
    power that he possessed seemed to keep him alive in spite of his
    suffering.  Finally one of the hechiceros decided that the spell lay
    in the buckskin cord that he wore about his throat—a rough sort of
    necklace hung with bears’ claws and snake rattles—and that he never
    would die until the magic cord was cut.  This, after some
    consultation, was done.  Valerio drew his last breath as it parted
    asunder, and they bore his dead body home in triumph to the Mission.

    ‘But he is not forgotten.  Stories are still told of his wonderful
    deeds, and people still go in search of money that he is supposed to
    have hidden in his cave.  The Mexican women who tell _suertes_, or
    fortunes, describe the location of the money; but, as soon as any one
    reaches the cave, he is warned away by a little old man who stands in
    the door and protects the buried treasure.  An Indian lad, who was
    riding over the hills one day with his horse and his dogs, dismounted
    to search for his moccasin, when he suddenly noticed that the dogs
    had chased something into a cave in the rocks.  He followed, and,
    peering into the darkness, saw two gleaming eyes.  He thrust his
    knife between them, but struck the air; and, though he had been
    standing directly in front of the opening, so that nothing could have
    passed him, yet he heard the clatter of hoofs and the tinkle of
    spurs, and, turning, saw a mysterious horseman, whose pale face and
    streaming hair melted into the mountain mist, as it floated down from
    the purple Santa Ynez peaks into the lap of the vine-covered
    foot-hills below.’



CHAPTER X
MORE CAMP-FIRE STORIES


    ‘And still they watched the flickering of the blaze,
    And talked together of the good old days.’

‘BRAVA!’  ‘Bravissima!’  ‘Splendid, Polly!’ exclaimed the boys.  ‘Bell,
you’re a great author!’

‘Couldn’t have done better myself—give you my word!’ cried Jack, bowing
profoundly to Bell and Polly in turn, and presenting them with bouquets
of faded leaves hastily gathered from the ground.

‘Polly covered herself with glory,’ said the doctor; ‘and I am very proud
of your part in it, too, my little daughter.  I have some knowledge of
Pancho’s capabilities as a narrator, and I think the “Story of Valerio”
owes a good deal to you.  Now, who comes next?  Margery?’

‘No, please,’ said Margery, ‘for I have another story.  Take one of the
boys, and let’s have more facts.’

‘Yes, something historic and profound, out of the encyclopædia, from
Jack,’ said Polly, saucily.

‘Thanks, Miss Oliver.  With you for an audience any man might be
inspired; but—’

‘But not a _boy_?’

‘Mother, dear, remove that child from my sight, or I shall certainly
shake her!  Phil, go on, just to keep Polly quiet.’

‘Very well.  Being the oldest Californian present, I—’

‘What about Dr. Paul?’ asked the irrepressible Polly.

‘He wasn’t born here,’ responded Philip, dryly, ‘and I was.’

‘I think that’s a quibble,’ interrupted Bell.  ‘Papa was here twenty
years before you were.’

‘It’s not my fault that he came first,’ answered Philip.  ‘Margery and I
are not only the oldest Californians present, but the only ones.  Isn’t
that so, sir?’

‘Quite correct.’

‘Oh, if you mean that way, I suppose you are; but still papa helped frame
the Constitution, and was here on the first Admission Day, and was one of
the Vigilantes—and I think that makes him more of a real Californian than
you.  You’ve just “grown up with the country.”’

‘Bless my soul!  What else could I do?  I would have been glad to frame
the Constitution, admit the State, and serve on the Vigilance Committee,
if they had only waited for me; but they went straight ahead with the
business, and when I was born there was nothing to do but stand round and
criticise what they had done, or, as you express it, “grow up with the
country.”  Well, as I was saying when I was interrupted—’

‘Beg pardon.’

‘Don’t mention it.  Uncle Doc has asked me to tell Mrs. Howard and Elsie
how they carried on the rodeos ten or fifteen years ago.  Of course I was
only a little chap’—(‘_Very_ little,’ murmured his sister)—‘but never too
small to stick on a horse, and my father used often to take me along.
The rodeos nowadays are neither as great occasions, nor as exciting ones,
as they used to be; but this is the way a rodeo is managed.  When the
spring rains are mostly over, and the grass is fine,—say in April—the
ranchero of a certain ranch sends word to all his neighbours that he will
hold a rodeo on a certain day or days.  Of course the cattle used to
stray all over the country, and get badly mixed, as there were no fences;
so the rodeo was held for the purpose of separating the cattle and
branding the calves that had never been marked.

‘The owners of the various ranches assemble the night before, bringing
their vaqueros with them.  They start out very early in the morning,
having had a cup of coffee, and ride to the “rodeo-ground,” which is any
flat, convenient place where cañons converge.  Many of the cattle on the
hills round about know the place, having been there before, and the
vaqueros start after them and drive them to the spot.’

‘How many vaqueros would there be?’ asked Elsie.

‘Oh, nine or ten, perhaps; and often from one thousand to three thousand
cattle—it depends on the number of ranches and cattle represented.  Some
of the vaqueros form a circle round the cattle that they have driven to
the rodeo-ground, and hold them there while others go back to the ranch
for breakfast and fresh horses.’

                        [Picture: Driving cattle]

‘Fresh horses so soon?’ said Mrs. Howard.  ‘I thought the mustangs were
tough, hardy little beasts, that would go all day without dropping.’

‘Yes, so they are; but you always have to begin to “part out” the cattle
with the freshest and best-trained horses you have.  The owners and their
best vaqueros now go into the immense band of cattle, and try to get the
cows and the unbranded calves separated from the rest.  You can imagine
what skilful engineering this takes, even though you never saw it.  Two
work together; they start a certain cow and calf and work them through
the band of cattle until they near the outside, and then “rush” them to a
place three or four hundred yards beyond, where other vaqueros are
stationed to receive and hold them.  Of course the cattle don’t want to
leave the band, and of course they don’t want to stay in the spot to
which they are driven.’

‘I don’t blame them!’ cried Bell impetuously.  ‘Probably the cows
remember the time when they were branded themselves, and they don’t want
their dear little bossies put through the same operation.’

‘Very likely.  Then more cows and calves are started in the same way; the
greatest difficulty being had with the first lot, for the cattle always
stay more contentedly together as the group grows larger.  Occasionally
one “breaks” and runs off on the hills, and a vaquero starts after him,
throws the reata and lassos him, or “lass’s” him, as the California boys
say.’

‘There must be frightful accidents,’ said Mrs. Winship.

‘Yes; but not so many as you would suppose, for the horsemanship, in its
particular way, is something wonderful.  When an ugly steer is lassoed
and he feels the reata or lariat round his neck, he sometimes turns and
“makes” for the horse, and unless the vaquero is particularly skilful he
will be gored and his horse too; but he gives a dexterous turn to the
lariat, the animal steps over it, gets tangled and thrown.  Frequently an
animal breaks a horn or a leg.  Sometimes one fall is not enough; the
steer jumps up and pursues the horse.  Then the vaquero keeps a little
ahead of him and leads him back to the rodeo-ground, where another
vaquero lassos him by the hind legs and throws him, while the reata is
taken off his neck.’

‘There is another danger, too,’ added Dr. Winship.  ‘The vaquero winds
the reata very tightly round the pommel of his saddle to hold the steer,
and he is likely to have his finger caught in the hair-rope and cut off.’

‘Yes, I forgot that.  Two or three of the famous old vaqueros about Santa
Barbara—José María, José Antonio, and old Clemente—have each lost a
finger.  Well, the vaqueros at length form in a circle round the band of
selected cattle.  The ranch owner who gives the rodeo takes his own
cattle that he has found—the ones bearing his brand, you know—and drives
them in with the ones to be branded, leaving in the rodeo-ground the
cattle bearing the brands of all the other rancheros.  There has been
much drinking of _aguardiente_ (brandy) and everybody by this time is
pretty reckless.  Then they drive this selected band to the home corral,
the vaqueros yelling, the cattle “calling,” and the reatas whizzing and
whistling through the air.  If any unfortunate tries to escape his fate
he is pursued, “lass’d,” and brought back.  By this time the cattle are
pretty well heated and angry, and when they get into the crowded corral
they horn each other and try to gore the horses.  A fire is then built in
one corner of the corral and the branding-irons are heated.’

‘Oh! hold my hand, Polly, if the branding is going to begin, I hate it
so,’ exclaimed Elsie.

‘I won’t say much about it, but it’s no worse than a thousand things that
people have to bear every year of their lives.  Animals never have to
have teeth filled, for instance, nor limbs amputated—’

‘Oh, just think of a calf with a wooden leg, or a cow with false teeth!
Wouldn’t it be funny?’ laughed Bell.

‘They don’t have a thousand ills that human flesh is heir to, so they
must be thankful they get off so easy.  Well! the branding-irons are
heated, as I say—each cattle-owner having his special brand, which is
properly recorded, and which may be any device not previously used.  Two
men now catch the calves; one lassoing them by the head, the other by the
legs.  A third man takes the iron from the fire and brands the chosen
letter or hieroglyphic on the animal’s hind quarter.’

‘Sometimes on the fore quarter, don’t they?’ asked Bell.  ‘I’ve seen
brands there,—your horse has two, and our cow has one also.’

‘Yes, a brand on the fore quarter shows that the animal has been sold,
but it always has the original brand on the hind quarter.  When a sale is
effected, the new brand is put anywhere in front of the fifth rib, and
this constitutes what they call a _venta_, or sale.  If you notice some
of the little “plugs” ridden by Santa Barbara boys, you’ll see that they
bear half a dozen brands.  By the way, if the rodeo has been a very large
one, they are several days branding the cattle, so they are turned out to
_pastorear_ a little while each day.’

‘The brand was absolute sign of ownership, you know, girls,’ said Dr.
Winship; ‘and though there was the greatest care exercised in choosing
and recording the brands, there was plenty of opportunity for cheating.
For instance, a man would often see unbranded cattle when riding about,
and there was nothing to prevent his dismounting, building a fire,
heating his iron, and putting his own brand on them.  Then, at the next
rodeo, they were simply turned over to him, for, as I say, the brand was
absolute ownership.’

    ‘Whene’er I take my rides abroad,
       How many calves I see;
    And, as I brand them properly,
       They all belong to me,’

said Bell.

‘How I should like to see a rodeo!’ sighed Elsie.  ‘I can’t imagine how
the vaqueros can fling the reata while they are riding at full speed.’

‘It isn’t so very wonderful,’ said Polly, nonchalantly ‘the most ordinary
people can learn it; why! your brother Jack can lasso almost as well as a
Mexican.’

‘And I can “lass” any stationary object myself,’ cried Bell; ‘a
hitching-post, or even a door-knob; I can do it two or three times out of
ten.’

‘That shows immense skill,’ answered Jack, ‘but, as the thing you want to
“lass” never does stay still, and as it is absolutely necessary to catch
it more than three times out of ten, you probably wouldn’t make a name
and fortune as a vaquero.  Juan Capistrano, by the way, used to be famous
with the lariat.  I had heard of his adventure with a bull on the island
of Santa Rosa, and I asked him about it to-day; but he had so exhausted
himself telling stories to Bell that he had very few words for me.  You
see there was a bull, on Santa Rosa island, so wild that they wanted to
kill him; but nobody could do it, though he was a terror to any one who
ventured on the island.  They called him “Antiguelo,” because of his long
horns and long tail.  He was such a terrible fighter that all the
vaqueros were afraid to lass’ him, for he always broke away with the
lariat.  You see a horse throws a bull by skill and not by strength, of
course.  You can choke almost any bull; but this one was too smart! he
would crouch on his haunches and pull back until the rope nearly choked
him and then suddenly “make” for the horse.  Juan Capistrano had a
splendid horse—you see as much depends on the horse as the man in such a
case—and he came upon Antiguelo on the Cerro Negro and lass’d him.  Well,
did he fight? I asked.  “_Si_, _Señor_.”  Well, what happened?  “_Yo lo
maté_” (I killed him), he said, with a shrug of his shoulders, and that’s
all I could get out of Juan regarding his adventure.’

‘But you haven’t done your share, you lazy boy,’ objected Bell.  ‘You
must tell us more.’

‘What do you want to hear?  I am up on all the animal and vegetable life
of Southern California, full of interesting information concerning its
old customs, can give you Spanish names for all the things that come up
in ordinary conversation, and am the only man present who can make a
raw-hide reata,’ said Jack, modestly.

‘Go on and tell us how, O great and wise _reatero_,’ said Bell.

‘I’ll tell you that myself,’ said Elsie, ‘for I’ve seen him do it dozens
of times, when he should have been studying his little lessons.  He takes
a big piece of raw hide, cuts a circle right out of the middle, and then
cuts round and round this until he has one long continuous string, half
an inch wide.  He then stretches it and scrapes the hair off with a knife
or a piece of glass, gets it into four strands, and braids it “round.”’

‘Perhaps you think braiding “round” is easy to do,’ retorted Jack, in an
injured tone; ‘but I know it took me six months to learn to do it well.’

‘I fail to see,’ said his mother, ‘how a knowledge of “braiding round”
and lassoing of wild cattle is going to serve you in your university life
and future career.’

‘Oh yes, it will.  I shall be the Buffalo Bill of Harvard, and I shall
give charming little entertainments in my rooms, or in some little
garden-plot suitable to the purpose.’

‘Shall you make a point of keeping up with your class?’ asked Mrs.
Winship.

‘Oh yes, unless they go too fast.  My sports won’t take any more time
than rowing or baseball.  They’ll be a little more expensive, because
I’ll have to keep some wild cattle constantly on hand, and perhaps a
vaquero or two; but a vaquero won’t cost any more than a valet.’

‘I didn’t intend furnishing you with a valet,’ remarked his mother.

‘But I shall be self-supporting, mother dear.  I shall give exhibitions
on the campus, and the gate-money will keep me in luxury.’

‘This is all very interesting,’ said Polly, cuttingly; ‘but what has it
to do with California, I’d like to know?’

‘Poor dear!  Your brain is so weak.  Can’t you see that when I am the
fashion in Cambridge, it will be noised about that I gained my marvellous
skill in California?  This will increase emigration.  I don’t pretend to
say it will swell the population like the discovery of gold in ’48, but
it will have a perceptible effect.’

‘You are more modest than a whole mossy bank of violets,’ laughed Dr.
Paul.  ‘Now, Margery, will you give us your legend?’

‘Mine is the story of Juan de Dios (literally, Juan of God), and I’m
sorry to say that it has a horse in it, like Polly’s; only hers was a
snow-white mare, and mine is a coal-black charger.  But they wouldn’t
tell us any romantic love-stories; they were all about horses.’

                            STORY OF JUAN DE DIOS.

    ‘In early days, when Americans were coming in to Santa Barbara, there
    were many cattle-buyers among them; and there were large bands of
    robbers all over the country who were ready to pounce on these
    travellers on their way to the great cattle ranchos, kill them, and
    steal their money and clothes, as well as their horses and trappings.
    No one could understand how the robbers got such accurate information
    of the movements of the travellers, unless they had a spy somewhere
    near the Mission, where they often stopped for rest and refreshment.

    ‘Now, there was a certain young Indian vaquero in the employ of the
    padres at La Mission de la Purísima.  He was a wonderful horseman,
    and greatly looked up to by his brother vaqueros, because he was so
    strong, alert, and handsome, and because he was always dressed
    elegantly in rich old Spanish embroideries and velvets, given to him,
    he said, by men for whom he had done great services.

    ‘One day a certain traveller, a Spanish official of high degree, came
    from Monterey to wed his sweetheart, the daughter of the richest
    cattle-owner in all the country round.  His spurs and bit and bridle
    were of solid silver; his _jaquima_ (halter) was made of a hair rope
    whose strands had been dyed in brilliant colours; his _tapaderos_
    (front of the stirrups), _mochilas_ (large leather saddle flaps), and
    _sudaderos_ (thin bits of leather to protect the legs from sweat),
    were all beautifully stamped in the fashion used by the Mexicans; his
    saddle blankets and his housings were all superb, and he wore a broad
    sombrero encircled with a silver snake and trimmed with silver lace.

    ‘The traveller stayed at La Purísima all night, and set out early in
    the morning to ride the last forty miles that separated him from his
    bride.  But Juan and two other robbers were lying in wait for him
    behind a great rock that stood at the entrance of a lonely cañon.
    They appeared on horseback, one behind the unfortunate man and two in
    front, so that he could escape neither way.  They finally succeeded
    in lassoing the horse and throwing him to the ground with his rider,
    who defended himself bravely with his knife, but was finally killed
    and robbed, Juan taking his clothes and trappings, and the other two
    dividing the contents of his purse.  They could not have buried their
    victim as successfully as usual, or else they were surprised, and had
    to escape, for the body was found; and Juan, whom the padres had
    begun to view with suspicion, was nowhere to be found about the
    Mission.  Troops were sent out in pursuit of him, for this particular
    traveller was a high official, and it was necessary that his death
    should be avenged.  They at last heard that Juan had been seen going
    towards Santa Ynez Mission, and, pursuing him thither, they came upon
    him as he was driving a band of horses into a corral, and just in the
    act of catching his own horse, a noble and powerful animal, called
    Azabache, because of his jet-black colour.  The men surrounded the
    corral, and ordered him to surrender.  He begged them to wait until
    he had saddled Azabache, and then they might shoot them both down
    together.  He asked permission to call three times (_pegar tres
    gritos_), and after the third call they were to shoot.  His last wish
    was granted.  He saddled and mounted his splendid horse, called
    once—twice—thrice,—but when the last shout faded in the air, and the
    troops raised their muskets to fire, behold, there was no Juan de
    Dios to be seen.  They had been surrounding the corral so that no one
    could have ridden out; they looked among the horses, but Asabache was
    nowhere to be found.

    ‘Just then a joyous shout was heard, so ringing and triumphant that
    every man turned in the direction from which it came.  There,
    galloping up the hillside, nearly half a mile distant, was Juan de
    Dios, mounted on his coal-black Azabache!  But it was no common
    sunshine that deepened the gorgeous colours of his trappings and
    danced upon his silver spurs till they glistened like two great
    stars!  It was a broad, glittering stream of light such as no mortal
    had ever seen before and which almost blinded the eyes; and over this
    radiant path of golden sunbeams galloped Juan de Dios, until he
    disappeared over the crest of the mountain.  Then the light faded;
    the padres crossed themselves in silence and went home to their
    Mission! and Juan de Dios never was heard of more.’

Modest little Margery was hailed with such cheers that you could not have
seen her cheeks for the blushes; and, just as the party began to think of
forsaking the fascinating camp-fire for bed, Bell jumped up impetuously
and cried, ‘Here, Philip, give me the castanets, please.  Polly and Jack,
you play “Las Palomas” for me, and I’ll sing and show you the dance of
that pretty Mexican girl whom I saw at the ball given under the Big Grape
Vine.  Wait till I take off my hair ribbon.  Lend me your scarf, mamma.
Now begin!’

                           LAS PALOMAS. {266a}
                               (THE DOVES.)

   [Picture: Music score and words for Las Palomas (The Doves)] {266b}

It is barely possible, but not likely, that anything prettier than Bell’s
Mexican _danza_ was to be seen under the light of the September stars
that night; although they were doubtless shining down upon a thousand
lovely things.  With all the brightness of her loosened hair rising and
falling with the motion of her swaying figure—with her twinkling feet,
her crimson cheeks and parted lips, she looked the very spirit of the
dance, and her enraptured—audience only allowed her to stop when she was
absolutely breathless.

‘Oh what a beautiful evening!’ exclaimed Elsie, when the celebration was
finally over.  ‘Was there ever such a dear, dear cañon with such dear
people in it!  If it only wouldn’t rain and we could live here for ever!’

    ‘Rain, rain, stay away!
    Come again another day,
    Little Elsie wants to play,’

recited Polly, and then everybody went to their straw beds.



CHAPTER XI
BREAKING CAMP


    ‘The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
    And drinks and gapes for drink again;
    The plants suck in the earth and are,
    With constant drinking, fresh and fair.’

BUT it did rain; and it didn’t wait until they were out of the cañon
either.  It began long before the proper time, and it by no means
confined itself to a shower, but opened the winter season fully a month
before there was any need of it, and behaved altogether in a most
heartless and inconsiderate manner, like a very spoil-sport of a rain.

It began after dark, so as to be just as disagreeable as possible, and
under the too slight cover of their tents the campers could hear the rush
and the roar of it like the tramping of myriad feet on the leaves.
Pancho and the two Chinamen huddled under the broad sycamores in their
rubber blankets, and were dry and comfortable; but all the waterproof
tents leaked, save Elsie’s.

But when it was dawn, the Sun, having heard nothing apparently of any
projected change in the weather, rose at the usual time in the most
resplendent fashion—brighter, rosier, and more gloriously, if you will
believe me, than he had risen that whole long sunshiny summer!  And he
really must have felt paid for getting up at such an unearthly hour in
the morning, when, after he had clambered over the grey mountain peaks,
he looked down upon Las Flores Cañon, bathed in the light of his own
golden beams.

If he knew anything about Ancient History and Biblical Geography—and if
he didn’t I don’t know who should, inasmuch as he had been present from
the beginning of time—he must have thought it as fair as the Garden of
Eden; for Nature’s face simply shone with cleanliness, like that of a
smiling child just fresh from its bath, and every leaf of every tree
glistened as he beamed upon it, and shook off its crystal drops that he
might turn them into diamonds.

‘It was only a shower,’ said Dr. Winship, as he seated himself on a damp
board and partook of a moist breakfast, ‘and with this sun the tents will
be dry before night; Elsie has caught no cold, the dust will be laid, and
we can stay another week with safety.’

Everybody was hilarious over this decision save the men-of-all-work, who
longed unspeakably for a less poetic existence—Hop Yet particularly, who
thought camping out ‘not muchee good.’

Dicky was more pleased than anybody, perhaps, as every day in the cañon
was one day less in school; not that he had ever been to school, but he
knew in advance, instinctively, that it wouldn’t suit him.  Accordingly,
he sought the wettest possible places and played all day with superhuman
energy.  He finally found Hop Yet’s box of blueing under a tree, in a
very moist and attractive state of fluidity, and just before dinner
improved the last shining hour by painting himself a brilliant hue and
appearing at dinner in such a fiendish guise that he frightened the
family into fits.

Now Dr. Winship was one of the most weather-wise men in California, and
his predictions were always quite safe and sensible; but somehow or other
it did rain again in two or three days, and it poured harder than ever,
too.  To be sure, it cleared promptly, but the doctor was afraid to trust
so fickle a person as the Clerk of the Weather had become, and marching
orders were issued.

The boys tramped over all their favourite bits of country, and the girls
visited all their best beloved haunts, every one of them dear from a
thousand charming associations.  They looked for the last time in Mirror
Pool, and saw the reflection of their faces—rather grave faces just then,
over the leave-taking.

The water-mirror might have been glad to keep the picture for ever on its
surface—Margery with her sleek braids and serene forehead; with Polly,
saucy nose and mischievous eyes, laughing at you like a merry
water-sprite; Bell, with her brilliant cheeks glowing like two roses just
fallen in the brook; and Gold Elsie, who, if you had put a frame of green
leaves about her delicate face and yellow locks, would have looked up at
you like a water-lily.

They wafted a farewell to Pico Negro, and having got rid of the boys,
privately embraced a certain Whispering Tree under whose singing branches
they had been wont to lie and listen to all the murmuring that went on in
the forest.

Then they clambered into the great thorough-brace wagon, where they all
sat in gloomy silence for ten minutes, while Dicky’s tan terrier was
found for the fourth time that morning; and the long train, with its
baggage-carts, its saddle-horses and its dogged little pack-mules, moved
down the rocky steeps that led to civilisation.  The gate that shut them
in from the county road and the outer world was opened for the last time,
and shut with a clang, and it was all over—their summer in a cañon!

                         [Picture: Breaking camp]



FOOTNOTES.


{100a} Foot-notes by a rival of the Countess.

{100b}  Is that spelled right?

{100c}  Fifty miles an hour, Jack says.

{100d}  Poetic licence.

{100e}  Gone back to cold cream.

{100f}  And pie.

{100g}  For sale at all bookstores, ten cents a copy.

{198}  The words for _Pretty Polly Oliver_ are mixed with the music score
and given below for those not able to see the picture.—DP.

    1.  Pretty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, will you be my own?
    Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, as cold as a
    stone; But my love has grown warm-er as
    cold-er you’ve grown, O Pret-ty Pol-ly
    Ol-i-ver, will you be my own?

    2.  Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, I love you so dear!
    Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, my hope and my
    fear; I’ve wait-ed for you, sweet-heart, this
    many a long year; For Pret-ty Pol-ly
    Ol-i-ver, I’ve loved you so dear!

    3.  Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, I’ll bid you good bye:
    Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, for you I’ll not
    die; You’ll nev-er get a tru-er true
    lov-er than I, So Pret-ty Pol-ly
    Ol-i-ver, good-bye, love, good-bye!

{266a}  ‘Four little white doves began to coo,
   To coo to their mates so fair;
And each to the other dove said, ‘Your coo
   With mine cannot compare!’

{266b}  The words for _Las Palomas_ are mixed with the music score and
given below for those not able to see the picture.—DP.

    Cua-tro pa-lo-mi-tas blan-cas que vienen de por a—llá.
    U-nas á las o-tras di-cen no hay a-mor como el de a-cá.





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