This etext was produced from the 1914 Gay and Hancock, Ltd. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
A SUMMER IN A CANYON: A CALIFORNIA STORY
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
SCENE: A Camping Ground in the Canyon 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 Canyon, 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.
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 canyon 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 canyon, 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 Canyon. 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 Senor 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 senorita, 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.
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 Senor 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 Senor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega have grown tired of waiting and gone off?'
'Has Senor 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 canyon. Meanwhile, Phil and I will ride over here somewhere to get a team, or look up Senor 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 canyons 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 canyon. 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 canyon, 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 canyon.
'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 canyon?' 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 CANYON—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 manoeuvres 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 canyon 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 Canyon 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 canyon were superb bay-trees, with their glossy leaves and aromatic odour, and the madrono, 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 canyons, 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 canyon 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 canyon.'
'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 canyon, 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 canyon 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.'