THE SUNBRIDGE GIRLS AT SIX STAR RANCH
Illustrated by Frank J. Murch
Boston L. C. Page & Company Publishers
Copyright, 1913 by L. C. Page & Company (Incorporated) All rights reserved
First Impression, April, 1913 Second Impression, January, 1914
The Colonial Press C. H. Simonds & Co., Boston, U. S. A.
I. AUNT SOPHRONIA 1
II. PLANS FOR TEXAS 12
III. THE COMING OF GENEVIEVE 28
IV. ON THE WAY 44
V. THE BOYS PREPARE A WELCOME 61
VI. CORDELIA SEES A COWBOY 72
VII. THE RANCH HOUSE 86
VIII. THE MISTRESS OF THE SIX STAR RANCH 99
IX. REDDY AND THE BRONCHO 110
X. CORDELIA GOES TO CHURCH 121
XI. QUENTINA 137
XII. THE OPENING OF A BARREL 157
XIII. THE PRAIRIE—AND MOONLIGHT 171
XIV. A MAN AND A MYSTERY 185
XV. THE ALAMO 201
XVI. TILLY CROSSES BRIDGES 215
XVII. "BERTHA'S ACCIDENT" 225
XVIII. THE GOLDEN HOURS 235
XIX. HERMIT JOE 248
XX. THE NEW BOY 260
XXI. GENEVIEVE LEARNS SOMETHING NOT IN BOOKS 278
XXII. A TEXAS "MISSIONARY" 296
XXIII. GENEVIEVE GOES TO BOSTON 307
XXIV. A BROWN DRESS FOR ELSIE 324
XXV. "WHEN SUNBRIDGE WENT TO TEXAS" 339
XXVI. A GOOD-BY PARTY 349
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"REDDY WAS RIGHT THERE EVERY TIME" (See page 113) Frontispiece
"A TALL, SLENDER GIRL ... APPEARED AT A CAR DOOR" 30
"'FOLLOW ME—QUICK!' HE ORDERED" 181
"'THERE, NOW—LOOK!' SHE ADDED" 207
"'HOW DO YOU DO, MR. OLIVER HOLMES,' SHE BEGAN" 265
"IT WOULD BE SOMETHING OF A WALK, THE WOMAN SAID, AS SHE GAVE DIRECTIONS" 320
The Sunbridge Girls at Six Star Ranch
The Reverend Thomas Wilson's sister, Miss Sophronia, had come to Sunbridge on a Tuesday evening late in June to make her brother's family a long-promised visit. But it was not until the next morning that she heard something that sent her to her sister-in-law in a burst of astonishment almost too great for words.
"For pity's sake, Mary, what is this I hear?" she demanded. "Edith insists that her cousin, Cordelia, is going to Texas next week—to Texas!—Cordelia!"
"Yes, she is, Sophronia," replied the minister's wife, trying to make her answer sound as cheerful and commonplace as she could, and as if Texas were in the next room. (It was something of a trial to Mrs. Thomas Wilson that her husband's sister could not seem to understand that she, a minister's wife for eighteen years and the mother of five children, ought to know what was proper and right for her orphaned niece to do—at least fully as much as should a spinster, who had never brought up anything but four cats and a parrot!) "Edith is quite right. Cordelia is going to Texas next week."
"But, Mary, are you crazy? To let a child like that go all the way from here to Texas—one would think New Hampshire and Texas were twenty miles apart!"
Mrs. Wilson sighed a little wearily.
"Cordelia isn't exactly a child, Sophronia, you must remember that. She was sixteen last November; and she's very self-reliant and capable for her age, too. Besides, she isn't going alone, you know."
"Alone!" exclaimed Miss Sophronia. "Mary, surely, the rest that Edith said isn't true! Those other girls aren't going, too, are they?—Elsie Martin, and that flyaway Tilly Mack, and all?"
"I think they are, Sophronia."
"Well, of all the crazy things anybody ever heard of!" almost groaned the lady. "Mary, what are you thinking of?"
"I'm thinking of Cordelia," returned the minister's wife, with a spirit that was as sudden as it was unusual. "Sophronia, for twelve years, ever since she came to me, Cordelia has been just a Big Sister in the family; and she's had to fetch and carry and trot and run her little legs off for one after another of the children, as well as for her uncle and me. You know how good she is, and how conscientious. You know how anxious she always is to do exactly right. She's never had a playday, and I'm sure she deserves one if ever a girl did! Vacations to her have never meant anything but more care and more time for housework."
Mrs. Wilson paused for breath, then went on with renewed vigor.
"When this chance came up, Tom and I thought at first, of course, just as you did, that it was quite out of the question; but—well, we decided to let her go. And I haven't been sorry a minute since. She's Tom's only brother's child, but we've never been able to do much for her, as you know. We can let her have this chance, though. And she's so happy—dear child!"
"But what is it? How did it happen? Who's going? Edith's story sounded so absurd to me I could make precious little out of it. She insisted that the 'Happy X's' were going."
The minister's wife smiled.
"It's the girls' 'Hexagon Club,' Sophronia. They call themselves the 'Happy Hexagons.' There are six of them."
"Humph!" commented Miss Sophronia. "Who are they—besides Cordelia?"
"Bertha Brown, Tilly Mack, Alma Lane, Elsie Martin, and Genevieve Hartley."
"And who?" frowned Miss Sophronia at the last name.
"Genevieve Hartley. She is the little Texas girl. It is to her ranch they are going."
"But who is she? What's she doing here?"
"She's been going to school this winter. She's at the Kennedys'."
"A Texas ranch-girl at the Kennedys'! Why, they're nice people!" exclaimed Miss Sophronia, opening wide her eyes.
Mrs. Wilson laughed now outright.
"You'd better not let Miss Genevieve hear you say 'nice' in that tone of voice—and in just that connection, Sophronia," she warned her. "Genevieve might think you meant to insinuate that there weren't any nice people in Texas—and she's very fond of Texas!"
Miss Sophronia smiled grimly.
"Well, I don't mean that, of course. Still, a ranch must be sort of wild and—and mustangy, seems to me; and I was thinking of the Kennedys, especially Miss Jane Chick. Imagine saying 'wild' and 'Miss Jane' in the same breath!"
"Yes, I know," smiled Mrs. Wilson; "and I guess Genevieve has been something of a trial—in a way; though they love her dearly—both of them. She's a very lovable girl. But she is heedless and thoughtless; and, of course, she wasn't at all used to our ways here in the East. Her mother died when she was eight years old; since then she has been brought up by her father on the ranch. She blew into Sunbridge last August like a veritable breeze from her own prairies—and the Kennedy home isn't used to breezes—especially Miss Jane. I imagine Genevieve did stir things up a little there all winter—though she has improved a great deal since she came."
"But why did she come in the first place?"
Mrs. Wilson smiled oddly.
"That's the best part of it," she said. "It seems that last April, when Mrs. Kennedy and Miss Chick were on their way home from California, they stopped in Houston, Texas, a few days, and there they met John Hartley and his daughter, Genevieve. It appears they had known him years ago when they were 'the Chick girls,' and he came to Sunbridge to visit relatives. I've heard it whispered that he was actually a bit in love with one of them, though I never heard whether it was Miss Jane, or the one who is now the Widow Kennedy. However that may be, he was delighted to see them in Texas, report says, and to introduce to them his daughter, Genevieve."
"But that doesn't explain how the girl came here," frowned Miss Sophronia.
"No, but I will," smiled her sister-in-law. "Fond and proud as Mr. Hartley very plainly was of his daughter, it did not take Mrs. Kennedy long to see that he was very much disturbed at the sort of life she was living at the ranch. That is, he felt that the time had come now when she needed something that only school, young girl friends, and gently-bred women could give her; yet he could not bear the thought of sending her off alone to an ordinary boarding school. Then is when Mrs. Kennedy arose to the occasion; and very quickly it was settled that Genevieve should come here to her in Sunbridge for school this last winter—which she did, and Mrs. Kennedy has been a veritable mother to her ever since. She calls her 'Aunt Julia.'"
"Hm-m; very fine, I'm sure," murmured Miss Sophronia, a little shortly. "And now she's asked these girls home with her—the whole lot of them!"
"Yes; and they're crazy over it—as you'd know they would be."
Miss Sophronia sniffed audibly.
"Humph! It's the parents that are crazy, I'm thinking," she corrected. "Imagine it—six scatter-brained children, and all the way to Texas! Mary!"
"Oh, but the father is in the East here, on business and he goes back with them," conciliated Mrs. Wilson, hastily. "Besides, Mrs. Kennedy is going, too."
Miss Sophronia raised her eyebrows.
"Well, I can't say I envy her the thing she's undertaken. Imagine my attempting to chaperon six crazy girls all the way from New Hampshire to Texas—and then on a ranch for nobody knows how long after that!"
"I can't imagine—your doing it, Sophronia," rejoined the minister's wife, demurely. And at the meaning emphasis and the twinkle in her eye, Miss Sophronia sniffed again audibly.
"When do they go?" she asked in her stiffest manner.
"The first day of July."
"Indeed! Very fine, I'm sure. Still—I've been thinking of the expense. Of course, for a minister—"
Mrs. Wilson bit her lip. After a moment she filled the pause that her sister-in-law had left.
"I understand, of course, what you mean, Sophronia," she acknowledged. "And ministers' families don't have much money for Texas trips, I'll own. As it happens, however, the trip will cost the young people nothing. Mr. Hartley very kindly bears all the expenses."
"Yes. He declares he shall be in the girls' debt even then. You see, last winter Genevieve sprained her ankle, and was shut up for weeks in the house. It was a very bad sprain, and naturally it came pretty hard on such an active, outdoor girl as she is. Mrs. Kennedy says she thinks Genevieve and all the rest of them would have gone wild if it hadn't been for the girls. One or more of them was there every day. Then is when they formed their Hexagon Club. It was worth everything to Genevieve, as you can imagine; and Mr. Hartley declares that nothing he can ever do will half repay them. Besides, he wants Genevieve to be with nice girls all she can—she's had so little of girls' society. So he's asked them to go as his guests."
"Dear me! Well, he must have some money!"
"He has. Mrs. Kennedy says he is a man of independent means, and he has no one but Genevieve to spend his money on. So, as for this trip—in his whole-hearted, generous Western fashion, he pays all the bills himself."
"Hm-m; very kind, I'm sure," admitted Miss Sophronia, grudgingly. "Well, I'm glad, at least, that it doesn't cost you anything."
There was a moment's silence, then Mrs. Wilson said, apologetically:
"I'm sorry, Sophronia, but I'm afraid you'll have to stand it till the children go—and there'll be something to stand, too; for it's 'Texas, Texas, Texas,' from morning till night, everywhere. Genevieve herself is in New Jersey visiting friends, but that doesn't seem to make any difference. The whole town is wildly excited over the trip. I found even little Mrs. Miller, the dressmaker, yesterday poring over an old atlas spread out on her cutting-table.
"'I was just a-lookin' up where Texas was,' she explained when she saw me. 'My! only think of havin' folks go all that distance—folks I know, I mean. I'm sure I'd never dare to go—or let my girl.'"
"Very sensible woman, I'm sure," remarked Miss Sophronia.
Mrs. Wilson smiled; but she went on imperturbably.
"Even the little tots haven't escaped infection. Imagine my sensations Sunday when Bettie Barker, the primmest Miss Propriety in my infant class, asked: 'Please, Mis' Wilson, what is a broncho, and how do you bust 'em?'"
This, indeed, was too much for even Miss Sophronia's gravity. Her lips twitched and relaxed in a broad smile.
"Well, upon my word!" she ejaculated, as she rose to her feet to go up-stairs to her room. "Upon my word!"
An hour later, in that same room, Mrs. Wilson, going in to place some fresh towels upon the rack, found a huge book spread open on Miss Sophronia's bed. The book was number seven in the Reverend Thomas Wilson's most comprehensive encyclopedia; and it was open at the word "Texas."
Mrs. Wilson smiled and went out, closing the door softly behind her.
It was, indeed, as Mrs. Wilson had said, "Texas, Texas, Texas," everywhere throughout the town. Old atlases were brought down from attics, and old geographies were dug out of trunks. Even the dictionaries showed smudges in the T's where not over-clean fingers had turned hurried pages for possible information. The library was besieged at all hours, particularly by the Happy Hexagons, for they, of course, were the storm-center of the whole thing.
Ordinarily the club met but once a week; now they met daily—even in the absence of their beloved president, Genevieve. Heretofore they had met usually in the parsonage; now they met in the grove back of the schoolhouse.
"It seems more appropriate, somehow," Elsie had declared; "more sort of airy and—Texasy!"
"Yes; and we want to get used to space—wide, wide space! Genevieve says it's all space," Bertha Brown had answered, with a far-reaching fling of her arms.
"Ouch! Bertha! Just be sure you've got the space, then, before you get used to it," retorted Tilly, aggrievedly, straightening her hat which had been knocked awry by one of the wide-flung arms.
The Happy Hexagons met, of course, to study Texas, and to talk Texas; though, as Bertha Brown's brother, Charlie, somewhat impertinently declared, they did not need to meet to talk Texas—they did that without any meeting! All of which merely meant, of course, retaliated the girls, that Charlie was jealous because he also could not go to Texas.
PLANS FOR TEXAS
It was a pretty little grove in which the Happy Hexagons met to study and to talk Texas. Nor were they the only ones that met there. Though Harold Day, Alma Lane's cousin, was not to be of the Texas party, the girls invited him to meet with them, as he was Texas-born, and was one of Genevieve's first friends in Sunbridge. On the outskirts of the magic circle, sundry smaller brothers and sisters and cousins of the members hung adoringly. Even grown men and women came sometimes, and stood apart, looking on with what the Happy Hexagons chose to think were admiring, awestruck eyes—which was not a little flattering, though quite natural and proper, decided the club. For, of course, not every one could go to Texas, to be sure!
At the beginning, at least, of each meeting, affairs were conducted with the seriousness due to so important a subject. In impressive silence the club seated itself in a circle; and solemnly Cordelia Wilson, the treasurer, opened the meeting, being (according to Tilly) a "perfect image of her uncle in the pulpit."
"Fellow members, once more we find ourselves gathered together for the purpose of the study of Texas," she would begin invariably. And then perhaps: "We will listen to Miss Bertha Brown, please. Miss Brown, what new thing—I mean, what new features have you discovered about Texas?"
If Miss Brown had something to say—and of course she did have something (she would have been disgraced, otherwise)—she said it. Then each in turn was asked, after which the discussion was open to all.
They were lively meetings. No wonder small brothers and sisters and cousins hung entranced on every word. No wonder, too, that at last, one day, quite carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment, they made so bold as to have something to say on their own account. It happened like this:
"Texas is the largest state in the Union," announced Bertha Brown, who had been called on first. "It has an area about one twelfth as large as that of the whole United States. If all the population of the country were placed there, the state would not be as thickly settled as the eastern shore of Massachusetts is. Six different flags have waved over it since its discovery two hundred years ago: France, Spain, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America, and the Star Spangled Banner."
"Pooh! I said most of that two days ago," muttered Tilly, not under breath.
"Well, I can't help it," pouted Bertha; "there isn't very much new left to say, Tilly Mack, and you know it. Besides, I didn't have a minute's time this morning to look up a single thing."
"Order—order in the court," rapped Cordelia, sharply.
"Oh, but it doesn't matter a bit if we do say the same things," protested Alma Lane, quickly. (Alma was always trying to make peace between combatants.) "I'm sure we shall remember it all the better if we do repeat it."
"Of course we shall," agreed Cordelia, promptly. "Now, Alma—I mean Miss Lane—" (this title-giving was brand-new, having been introduced as a special mark of dignity fitting to the occasion; and it was not easy to remember!)—"perhaps you will tell us what you have found out."
"Well, the climate is healthful," began Alma, hopefully. "Texas is less subject to malarial diseases than any of the other states on the Gulf of Mexico. September is the most rainy month; December the least. The mean annual temperature near the mouth of the Rio Grande is 72 deg.; while along the Red River the mean annual temperature is only 80 deg.. In the northwestern part of the state the mean annual—"
"Alma, please," begged Tilly, in mock horror, raising both her hands, "please don't give us any more of those mean annual temperatures. I'm sure if they can be any meaner than the temperature right here to-day is," she sighed, as she fell to fanning herself vigorously, "I don't want to know what it is!"
"Tilly!" gasped Cordelia, in shocked disapproval. "What would Genevieve say!"
Tilly shrugged her shoulders.
"Say? She wouldn't say anything—she couldn't," declared Tilly, unexpectedly, "because she'd be laughing at us so for digging into Texas like this and unearthing all its poor little secrets!"
"But, Tilly, I think we ought to study it," reproved Cordelia, majestically, above the laugh that followed Tilly's speech. "Elsie—I mean, Miss Martin,—what did you find out to-day?"
Elsie wrinkled her nose in a laughing grimace at Tilly, then began to speak in an exaggeratedly solemn tone of voice.
"I find Texas is so large, and contains so great a variety of soil, and climate, that any product of the United States can be grown within its limits. It is a leader on cotton. Corn, wheat, rice, peanuts, sugar cane and potatoes are also grown, besides tobacco."
"And watermelons, Elsie," cut in Bertha Brown. "I found in a paper that just last year Texas grew 140,000,000 watermelons."
"I was coming to the watermelons," observed Elsie, with dignity.
"Wish I were—I dote on watermelons!" pouted Tilly in an audible aside that brought a chuckle of appreciation from Harold Day.
Cordelia gave her a reproachful look. Elsie went on, her chin a little higher.
"Texas is the greatest producer of honey in the United States. As for the cattle—prior to 1775 there were vast ranches all over Southwestern Texas, and herds of hundreds of wild cattle were gathered and driven to New Orleans. I found some figures that told the number of animals in 1892, or about then. I'll give them. They're old now, of course, but they'll do to show what a lot of animals there were there then."
Elsie paused to take breath, but for only a moment.
"There were 7,500,000 head of cattle, 5,000,000 sheep, and 1,210,000 horses, besides more than 2,321,000 hogs."
There was a sudden giggle from Tilly—an explosive giggle that brought every amazed eye upon her.
"Well, really, Tilly," disapproved Elsie, aggrievedly, "I'm sure I don't see what there was so very funny in that!"
"There wasn't," choked Tilly; "only I was thinking, what an awful noise it would be if all those 2,321,000 hogs got under the gate at once."
"Tilly!" scolded Cordelia; but she laughed.
She could not help it. They all laughed. Even the little boys and girls on the outskirts giggled shrilly, and stole the opportunity to draw nearer to the magic circle. Almost at once, however, Cordelia regained her dignity.
"Miss Mack, we'll hear from you, please—seriously, I mean. You haven't told us yet what you've found."
Tilly flushed a little.
"I didn't find anything."
"Why, Tilly Mack!" cried a chorus of condemning voices.
"Well, I didn't," defended Tilly. "In the first place I've told everything I can think of: trees, fruits, history, and everything; and this morning I just had to go to Mrs. Miller's for a fitting."
"Oh, Tilly, another new dress?" demanded Elsie Martin, her voice a pathetic wail of wistfulness.
"But there are still so many things," argued Cordelia, her grave eyes fixed on Tilly, "so many things to learn that—" She was interrupted by an eager little voice from the outskirts.
"I've got something, please, Cordelia. Mayn't I tell it? It's a brand-newest thing. Nobody's said it once!"
Cordelia turned to confront her ten-year-old cousin, Edith.
"And I have, too," piped up Edith's brother, Fred, with shrill earnestness. (Fred was eight.) "And mine's new, too."
Cordelia frowned thoughtfully.
"But, children, you don't belong to the club. Only members can talk, you know."
"Pooh! let's hear it, Cordelia," shrugged Tilly. "I'm sure if it's new, we need it—of all the old chestnuts we've heard to-day!"
"Well," agreed Cordelia, "what is it, Edith? You spoke first."
"It's gypsies," announced the small girl, triumphantly.
"Gypsies!" chorused the Happy Hexagons in open unbelief.
"Yes. There's lots of 'em there—more than 'most anywhere else in the world."
The girls looked at each other with puzzled eyes.
"Why, I never heard Genevieve say anything about gypsies," ventured Tilly.
"Well, they're there, anyhow," maintained Edith; "I read it."
"You read it! Where?" demanded Cordelia.
"In father's big sac'l'pedia." Edith's voice sounded grieved, but triumphant. "I was up in auntie's room, and I saw it. It was open on her bed, and I read it. It said there was coal and iron and silver, and lots and lots of gypsies."
There was a breathless hush, followed suddenly by a shrieking laugh from Tilly.
"Oh, girls, girls!" she gasped. "That blessed child means 'gypsum.' I saw that in papa's encyclopedia just the other day."
"But what is gypsum?" demanded Alma Lane.
"Mercy! don't ask me," shuddered Tilly. "I looked it up in the dictionary, but it only said it was a whole lot of worse names. All I could make out was that it had crystals, and was used for dressing for soils, and for plaster of Paris. Gypsies! Oh, Edith, Edith, what a circus you are!" she chuckled, going into another gale of laughter.
It was Fred's injured tones that filled the first pause in the general hubbub that followed Tilly's explanation.
"You haven't heard mine, yet," he challenged. "Mine's right!"
"Well?" questioned Cordelia, wiping her eyes. (Even Cordelia had laughed till she cried.) "What is yours, Fred?"
"It's boats. There hasn't one of you said a single thing about the boats you were going to ride in."
"Boats!" cried the girls in a second chorus of unbelief.
"Oh, you needn't try to talk me out of that," bristled the boy. "I know what I'm talking about. Old Mr. Hodges told me himself. He's been in 'em. He said that years and years ago, when he was a little boy like me, he and his father and mother went 'way across the state of Texas in a prairie schooner; and I asked father that night what a schooner was, and he said it was a boat. Well, he did!" maintained Fred, a little angrily, as a shout of laughter rose from the girls.
"And so 'tis a boat—some kinds of schooners," Harold Day soothed the boy quickly, rising to his feet, and putting a friendly arm about the small heaving shoulders. "Come on, son, let's you and I go over to the house. I've got a dandy picture of a prairie schooner over there, and we'll hunt it up and see just what it looks like." And with a ceremonious "Good day, ladies!" and an elaborate flourish of his hat toward the Happy Hexagons, Harold drew the boy more closely into the circle of his arm and turned away.
It was the signal for a general breaking up of the club meeting. Cordelia, only, looked a little anxiously after the two boys, as she complained:
"Harold never tells a thing that he knows about Texas, and he must know a lot of things, even if he did leave there when he was a tiny little baby!"
"Don't you fret, Cordy," retorted Tilly. (Cordelia did not like to be called "Cordy," and Tilly knew it.) "Harold Day will talk Texas all right after Genevieve gets back. Besides, you couldn't expect a boy to join in with a girls' club like us, just as if he were another girl—specially as he isn't going to Texas, anyway."
"Well, all he ever does is just to sit and look bored—except when Tilly gets in some of her digs," chuckled Bertha.
"Glad I'm good for something, if nothing but to stir up Harold, then," laughed Tilly, as she turned away to answer Elsie Martin's anxious: "Tilly, what color is the new dress? Is it red?"
It was the next day that the letter came from Genevieve. Cordelia brought it to the club meeting that afternoon; and so full of importance and excitement was she that for once she quite forgot to open the meeting with her usual ceremony.
"Girls, girls, just listen to this!" she began breathlessly.
The Happy Hexagons opened wide their eyes. Never before had they seen the usually placid Cordelia like this.
"Why, Cordelia, you're almost girlish!" observed Tilly, cheerfully.
Cordelia did not seem even to hear this gibe.
"It's a letter from Genevieve," she panted, as she hurriedly spread open the sheet of note paper in her hand.
"Dear Cordelia, and the whole Club," read Cordelia, excitedly. "I came up yesterday from New Jersey with the Hardings for two days in New York. I have been to see the animals at the Zoo all the afternoon, and I'm going to see the Hippodrome this evening. That sounds like another animal but it isn't one, they say. It's a place all lights and music and crowds, and with a stage 'most as big as Texas itself, with scores of real horses and cowboys riding all over it.
"I am having a perfectly beautiful time, but I just can't wait to see my own beloved home on the big prairie, and have you all there with me. I sha'n't see it quite so soon though, for father has been delayed about some of his business, and he can't come for me quite so soon as he expected. He says we sha'n't get away from Sunbridge until the fifth; but he's engaged five sections in a sleeper leaving Boston at eight P. M. So we'll go then sure.
"Mrs. Harding is calling me. Good-by till I see you. We're coming the third. With heaps of love to everybody, Your own
"Well, I like that," bridled Tilly. "Just think—not go until the fifth!"
"Oh, but just think of going at all," comforted Alma Lane, hurriedly; "and in sleepers, too! Sleepers are loads of fun. I rode in one fifty miles, once—it wasn't in the night, though."
"I rode in one at night!" Tilly's voice rose dominant, triumphant.
"What was it like?"
"Was it fun?"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
Tilly laughed in keen enjoyment of the commotion she had created.
"Don't you wish you knew?" she teased. "Just you wait and see!"
"Yes, but, Tilly, do they lay you down on a little narrow shelf, really?" worried Cordelia.
"I sha'n't take off a single thing, anyhow," announced Bertha, with decision, "not even my shoes. I'm just sure there'll be an accident!"
Tilly laughed merrily.
"A fine traveler you'll make, Bertha," she scoffed. "Sleepers are made to sleep in, young lady—not to lie awake and worry in, for fear there'll be an accident and you'll lose your shoes. As for you, Cordy, and the shelf you're fretting over—there are shelves, in a way; but you lay yourself down on them, my child. Nobody else does it for you."
"Thank you," returned Cordelia, a little stiffly. Cordelia did not like to be called "my child"—specially by Tilly, who was not quite sixteen, and who was the youngest member of the club.
"But, Tilly, are—are sleepers nice, daytimes?" asked Edith Wilson, who, as usual, was hovering near. "I should think they'd be lovely for nights—but I wouldn't like to have to lie down all day!"
Tilly laughed so hard at this that Edith grew red of face indeed before Alma patched matters up and made peace.
It was the trip to Texas that was the all-absorbing topic of discussion that day; and it was the trip to Texas that Cordelia Wilson was thinking of as she walked slowly home that night after leaving the girls at the corner.
"I wonder—" she began just under her breath; then stopped short. An old man, known as "Uncle Bill Hodges," stood directly in her path.
"Miss Cordelia, I—I want to speak to ye, just a minute," he stammered.
"Yes, sir." Cordelia smiled politely.
The old man threw a suspicious glance over his shoulder, then came a step nearer.
"I ain't tellin' this everywhere, Miss Cordelia, and I don't want you to say nothin'. You're goin' to Texas, they tell me."
"Yes, Mr. Hodges, I am." Cordelia tried to make her voice sound properly humble, but pride would vibrate through it.
"Well, I—" The man hesitated, looked around again suspiciously, then blurted out a storm of words with the rush of desperation. "I—years ago, Miss Cordelia, I let a man in Boston have a lot of money. He said 'twas goin' into an oil well out in Texas, and that when it came back there'd be a lot more with it a-comin' to me. So I let him have it. I liked Texas, anyhow—I'd been there as a boy."
"Yes," nodded Cordelia, smiling as she remembered the prairie schooner that was Fred's "boat."
"Well, for a while I did get money—dividends, he called 'em. Then it all stopped off short. They shut the man up in prison, and closed the office. And there's all my money! They do be sayin', too, that there ain't no such place as this oil well there—that is, not the way he said it was—so big and fine and promisin'. Well, now, of course I can't go to see, Miss Cordelia—an old man like me, all the way to Texas. But you are goin'. So I thought I'd just ask you to look around a little if you happened to hear anything about this well. Maybe you could go and see it, and then tell me. I've written down the name on this paper," finished the man, thrusting his trembling fingers into his pocket, and bringing out a small piece of not over-clean paper.
"Why, of—of course, Mr. Hodges," promised Cordelia, doubtfully, as she took the paper. "I'd love to do anything I could for you—anything! Only I'm afraid I don't know much about oil wells, you see. Do they look just like—water wells, with a pump or a bucket? Bertha's aunt has one of those on her farm."
"I don't know, child, I don't know," murmured the old man, shaking his head sadly, as he turned away. "Sometimes I think there ain't any such things, anyhow. But you'll do your best, I know. I can trust you!"
"Why, of course," returned Cordelia, earnestly, slipping the bit of paper into the envelope of Genevieve's letter in her hand.
In her own room that night Cordelia Wilson got out her list marked "Things to do in Texas," and studied it with troubled eyes. She had now one more item to add to it—and it was already so long!
She had started the list for her own benefit. Then had come the request from queer old Hermit Joe to be on the lookout for his son who had gone years ago to Texas. After that, commissions for others followed rapidly. So many people had so many things they wanted her to do in Texas!—and nobody wanted them talked about in Sunbridge.
Slowly, with careful precision, she wrote down this last one. Then, a little dubiously, she read over the list.
See the blue bonnet—the Texas state flower. Find out if it really is shaped like a bonnet.
Bring home a piece of prairie grass.
See a real buffalo.
Find Hermit Joe's son, John, who ran away to Texas twenty years ago.
See an Osage orange hedge.
See a broncho bursted (obviously changed over from "busted").
Find out for Mrs. Miller if cowboys do shoot at sight, and yell always without just and due provocation.
See a mesquite tree.
Inquire if any one has seen Mrs. Snow's daughter, Lizzie, who ran away with a Texas man named Higgins.
Pick a fig.
See a rice canal.
Find out what has become of Mrs. Granger's cousin, Lester Goodwin, who went to Texas fourteen years ago.
See cotton growing and pick a cotton boll, called "Texas Roses."
See peanuts growing.
Inquire for James Hunt, brother of Miss Sally Hunt.
See a real Indian.
Look at oil well for Mr. Hodges, and see if there is any there.
* * * * *
"Now if I can just fix all those people's names in my mind," mused Cordelia, aloud; "and seems as if I might—there are only four. John Sanborn, Lizzie Higgins, Lester Goodwin, and James Hunt," she chanted over and over again. She was still droning the same refrain when she fell asleep that night.
THE COMING OF GENEVIEVE
Genevieve was to arrive in Sunbridge at three o'clock on the afternoon of the third of July. Her father was to remain in Boston until one of the evening trains. The Happy Hexagons, knowing Genevieve's plans, decided to give her a welcome befitting the club and the occasion. They invited Harold Day, of course, to join them.
Harold laughed good-humoredly.
"Oh, I'll be there all right, at the station," he assured them. "I've got Mrs. Kennedy's permission to bring her up to the house; but I don't think I'll join in on your show. I'll let you girls do that."
The girls pouted a little, but they were too excited to remain long out of humor.
"Don't our dresses look pretty! I know Genevieve'll be pleased," sighed Elsie Martin, as, long before the train was due that afternoon, the girls arrived at the station.
"Of course she'll be pleased," cried Alma Lane. "She can't help it. I can hear her laugh and clap her hands now, when she sees us—and hears us!"
"So can I," echoed Bertha. "And how her eyes will dance! I love to see Genevieve's eyes dance."
"So do I," chorused the others, fervently.
Sunbridge was a quiet little town in southern New Hampshire near the state line. It had wide, tree-shaded streets, and green-shuttered white houses set far back in spacious lawns. The station at this hour was even quieter than the town, and there were few curious eyes to question the meaning of the unusual appearance of five laughing, excited young girls, all dressed alike, and all showing flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.
At one minute before three o'clock, a tall, good-looking youth drove up in a smart trap, and was hailed with shouts of mingled joy and relief.
"Oh, Harold, we were just sure you were going to be late," cried Cordelia.
"Late? Not I—to-day!" laughed the boy. Then, with genuine admiration: "Say, that is pretty slick, girls. I'll take off my hat to the Happy Hexagons to-day all right!" he finished, with an elaborate flourish.
"Thank you," twittered Tilly, saucily. "Now don't you wish you had joined us? But then—you couldn't have worn a white frock!"
A prolonged bell-clanging and the rumble of an approaching train prevented Harold's reply, and sent the girls into a flutter of excitement. A moment later they stood in line, waiting, breathless with suspense.
They made a wonderfully pretty picture. Each girl was in white, even to her shoes and stockings. Around each waist was a sash of a handsome shade of blue. The same color showed at the throat and on the hair.
Quietly they watched the train roll into the station, and still quietly they stood until a tall, slender girl with merry brown eyes and soft fluffy brown hair appeared at a car door and tripped lightly down the steps to the platform. They waited only till she ran toward them; then in gleeful chorus they chanted:
"Texas, Texas, Tex—Tex—Texas! Texas, Texas, Rah! Rah! Rah! GENEVIEVE!"
What happened next was a surprise. Genevieve did not laugh, nor cry out, nor clap her hands. Her eyes did not dance. She stopped and fumbled with the fastening of her suit-case. The next minute the train drew out of the station, and the girls were left alone in their corner. Genevieve looked up, at that, and came swiftly toward them.
They saw then: the brown eyes were full of tears.
The girls had intended to repeat their Texas yell; but with one accord now they cried out in dismay:
"Genevieve! Why, Genevieve, you're—crying!"
"I know I am, and I could shake myself," choked Genevieve, hugging each girl in turn spasmodically.
"But, Genevieve, what is the matter?" appealed Cordelia.
"I don't know, I don't know—and that's what's the trouble," wailed Genevieve. "I don't know why I'm crying when I'm so g-glad to see you. But I reckon 'twas that—'Texas'!"
"But we thought you'd like that," argued Elsie.
"I did—I do," stammered Genevieve, incoherently; "and it made me cry to think I did—I mean, to think I do—so much!"
"Well, we're glad you did, or do, anyhow," laughed Harold Day, holding out his hand. "And we're glad you're back again. I've got Jerry here and the cart. This your bag?"
"Yes, right here; and thank you, Harold," she smiled a little mistily. "And girls, you're lovely—just lovely; and I don't know why I'm crying. But you're to come over—straight over to the house this very afternoon. I want to hear that 'T-Texas' again. I want to hear it six times running!" she finished, as she sprang lightly into the cart.
On the way with Harold, she grew more calm.
"You see, once, last fall, I said I hated Sunbridge, and that I wouldn't stay," she explained a little shame-facedly.
"You said you hated it!" cried Harold. "You never told me that. Why, I thought you liked it here."
"I do, now, and I did—very soon, specially after I'd met some one I could talk Texas to all I wanted to—you, you know! I reckon I never told you, but you were a regular safety valve for me in those days."
"Was I?" laughed the lad.
"Yes, even from that first day," nodded Genevieve, with a half-wistful smile. "Did I ever tell you the reason, the real reason, why Aunt Julia called you into the yard that afternoon?"
"Why, no—not that I know of." Harold's face showed a puzzled frown.
"Well, 'twas this. I'd been here a week, and I was so homesick and lonesome for father and the ranch and all. I was threatening to go back. I declared I'd walk back, if there was no other way. Poor Aunt Julia! She tried everything. Specially she tried to have me meet some nice girls, but I just wouldn't. I said I didn't want any girls that weren't Texas girls. I didn't want anything that wasn't Texas. That's what I'd been saying that very day out under the trees there, when Aunt Julia looked toward the street, saw you, and called you into the yard."
"Is that why she introduced me as the boy who was born in Texas?" laughed Harold.
"Yes; and you know how I began to talk Texas right away."
"But I couldn't help much—I left there when I was a baby."
"I know, but you'd been there," laughed Genevieve, "and that helped. Then, through you, I met your cousin Alma, and the rest was easy, for I always had you for that safety valve, to talk Texas to. You see, it was just that I got homesick. All my life I'd lived on the ranch, and things here were so different. I didn't like to—to mind Mrs. Kennedy and Miss Jane, very well, I suspect. You see, at the ranch I'd always had my own way, and—I liked it."
"Well, I'm sure that's natural," nodded Harold.
"I know; but I wasn't nice about it," returned the girl, wistfully. "Father said I must do everything—everything they said. And I tried to. But Miss Jane had such heaps of things for me to do, and such tiresome things, like dusting and practising, and learning to cook and to sew! And it all was specially hard when you remember that I didn't want to come East in the first place. But I love it here, now; you know I do. Every one has been so good to me! Aunt Julia is a dear."
"And—Miss Jane?" queried Harold, eyeing her a little mischievously.
"Miss Jane? Well, she's 'most a dear, too—sometimes. As for Sunbridge—I love both the East and the West now. Don't you see? But, to-day, coming up from Boston, I got to thinking about it—my dear prairie home; and how I had hated to leave it, and how now I was going back to it with Aunt Julia and the girls all with me. And I was so happy, so wonderfully happy, that a great big something rose within me, and I felt so—so queer, as if I could fly, and fly, and fly! And then, when I saw the girls all dressed alike so prettily, and heard the 'Texas, Texas, Texas'—what did I do? I didn't do anything but cry—cry, Harold, just as if I didn't like things. And the girls were so disappointed, I know they were!"
"Never mind; I guess you can make them understand—anyhow, you have me," said Harold, trying to speak with a lightness that would hide the fact that her words had made him, too, feel "queer." Harold did not enjoy feeling "queer."
A moment later they turned into the broad white driveway that led up to the Kennedy home.
On the veranda of the fine old house stood a sweet-faced, motherly-looking woman with tender eyes and a loving smile. Near her was a taller, younger woman with eyes almost as interested, and a smile almost as cordial.
"You dears—both of you!" cried Genevieve, running up the steps and into the arms of the two women.
"Thank you, Harold," smiled Mrs. Kennedy over Genevieve's bobbing head; "thank you for bringing our little girl home."
"As if I wasn't glad to do it!" laughed the boy, gallantly, as he picked up the reins and sprang into the cart. To the horse he added later, when quite out of earshot of the ladies: "Jerry, I'm thinking Genevieve isn't the only one in that house that has 'improved' since last August. It strikes me that Miss Jane Chick has done a little on her own account. Did you see that smile? That was a really, truly smile, Jerry. Not the 'I-suppose-I-must' kind!"
Genevieve and the two ladies were still on the veranda when the five white-clad girls turned in at the broad front walk.
"We came around this way home," announced Tilly. "You said you wanted us."
"Want you! Well, I reckon I do," cried Genevieve, springing to her feet. "Come up here this minute! Now say it—say it again—that thing you did at the station. I want Aunt Julia to hear it—and Miss Jane."
The change in Genevieve's voice and manner was unconscious, but it was very evident. No one noticed it apparently, however, but Tilly; and she only puckered her lips into an odd little smile as she formed in line with the other girls: Tilly was not without some experience herself with Miss Jane and her ways.
"Now, one, two, three, ready!" counted Cordelia, sternly, her face a tragedy of responsibility lest this final triumph of their labors should be anything less than the glorious success the occasion demanded.
Once more five eager, girlish countenances faced squarely front. Once more five fresh young voices chanted with lusty precision:
"Texas, Texas, Tex—Tex—Texas! Texas, Texas, Rah! Rah! Rah! GENEVIEVE!"
It was finished. Cordelia, with the expression of one from whom the weight of nations has been lifted, drew a happy sigh, and looked confidently about for her reward. Almost at once, however, her face clouded perplexedly.
Genevieve was dancing lightly on her toes and clapping her hands softly. Mrs. Kennedy was laughing with her handkerchief to her lips. But Miss Jane Chick—Miss Jane Chick was sitting erect, her eyes plainly horrified, her hands clapped to her ears.
"Children, children!" she gasped, as soon as there was a chance for her voice to be heard. "You don't mean to say that you did that—at a public railroad station!"
Cordelia looked distressed. The other girls bit their lips and lifted their chins just a little: they did not like to be called "children."
"But, Miss Chick," stammered Cordelia, "we didn't think—that is, we wanted to do something to welcome Genevieve, and—and—" Cordelia stopped, and swallowed chokingly.
"But to shout like that," protested Miss Chick. "You—young ladies!"
The girls bit their lips still harder and lifted their chins still higher: they were not quite sure whether they more disliked to be "children" or "young ladies"—in that tone of voice.
"Oh, but Miss Jane," argued Genevieve, "you know Sunbridge station is just dead, simply dead at three o'clock in the afternoon. Nobody ever comes on that train, hardly, and there wasn't a soul around but that sleepy Mr. Jones and the station men, and that old Mrs. Palmer. And you know she wouldn't hear a gun go off right under her nose."
"Genevieve, my dear!" murmured Mrs. Kennedy—but her eyes were twinkling.
Cordelia still looked troubled.
"I know, Genevieve," she frowned anxiously, "but I never thought of it that way—what others would think. Maybe we ought not to have done it, after all. But I'm sure we didn't mean any harm."
Promptly, now, Mrs. Kennedy came to the rescue.
"Of course you did not, dear child," she said, smiling into Cordelia's troubled eyes; "and it was very sweet and lovely of you girls to think of giving Genevieve such a pretty welcome. Oh, of course," she added with a whimsical glance at her sister, "we shouldn't exactly advise you to make a practice of welcoming everybody home in that somewhat startling fashion. That really wouldn't do, you know. Sunbridge station might not be quite so dead next time," she finished, meeting Genevieve's grateful eyes.
* * * * *
"That really was dear of you, Aunt Julia," confided Genevieve some time later, after the girls had gone, and when she and Mrs. Kennedy were alone together. (Miss Jane had gone up-stairs.) "Only think of the pains they took—to get themselves up to look so pretty, besides learning to give that yell so finely. I was so afraid they'd be hurt at what Miss Jane said! And I wouldn't want them hurt—after all that!"
"Of course you wouldn't," smiled Mrs. Kennedy; "and my sister wouldn't either, dear."
Genevieve stirred restlessly.
"I know she wouldn't, Aunt Julia; but—but the girls don't know it. They—they don't understand Miss Jane."
"And do you—always?" The question was gently put, but its meaning was unmistakable.
"Maybe not—quite always; but—Miss Jane is so—so shockable!"
Mrs. Kennedy made a sudden movement. Apparently she only stooped to pick up a small thread from the floor, but when she came upright her face was a deeper red than just that exertion would seem to occasion.
"Genevieve, have you been to your room since you came home?" she asked. There were times when Mrs. Kennedy could change the subject almost as abruptly as could Genevieve herself.
"No, Aunt Julia. You know Nancy carried up my suit-case, and I've been too busy telling you all about my visit to think of anything else."
"Oh," smiled Mrs. Kennedy. "I was just wondering."
Genevieve frowned in puzzled questioning.
"Well, I'm going up right away, anyhow," she said. "Mercy! I reckon I'll go up right now," she added laughingly, springing to her feet as there came through the open window behind her the sound of a clock striking half-past five. "I had no idea it was so late."
Genevieve was not many minutes in her room before she ceased to wonder at Mrs. Kennedy's questioning; for in plain sight on her dressing-table she soon found a small white box addressed to Genevieve Hartley. The box, upon being opened, disclosed in a white velvet nest a beautiful little chatelaine watch in dark blue enamel and gold.
"To keep Genevieve's time. With much love from Jane Chick."
read Genevieve on the little card that was with the watch.
"Oh, oh, oh, how lovely!" breathed the girl, hovering over the watch in delight. "And to think what I said!" With a heightened color she turned, tripped across the room and hurried down the hall to Miss Jane's door.
"May I come in?"
"I—I want to thank you—oh, I do want to thank you, but I don't know how." Genevieve's eyes were misty.
"For the watch? You like it, then?"
"Like it! I just love it; and I never, never saw such a beauty!"
"I'm glad you like it."
There was a moment's pause. Over by the dressing-table Miss Jane was carefully smoothing a refractory lock of hair into place. She looked so calm, so self-contained, so—far away, thought Genevieve; if it had been Aunt Julia, now!
Suddenly the girl gave a little skipping run and enveloped the lady in two wide-flung young arms, thereby ruffling up more than ever the carefully smoothed lock of hair.
"Miss, Jane, I—I've just got to hug you, anyway!"
"Why, Genevieve, my dear!" murmured Miss Jane, a little dazedly.
From the door Genevieve called back incoherently—the hug had been as short in duration as it had been sudden in action:
"I don't think I can be late now, Miss Jane, ever—with that lovely thing to keep time for me. And I wanted you to know—next year, when I come back, I'm just sure I shall cook and sew beautifully, and do my practising and everything, without once being told. And if I do sprain my ankle I'll be a perfect angel—truly I will. And I won't ever keep folks waiting, either, or—mercy! there's Nancy's first ring now, and I'm not one bit ready!" she broke off, as the musical notes of a Chinese gong sounded from the hall below. The next moment Miss Jane was alone with her thoughts—and with the lock of hair that she was still trying to smooth.
"Dear child!" smiled the lady. Then she turned abruptly and hastened from the room, her hair still unsmoothed. "I'll just tell Nancy to be a little slow about ringing that second gong," she murmured.
When Genevieve came down-stairs to supper that night, she brought with her two books: one a small paper-covered one, the other a larger one bound in dark red leather.
"Here's the latest 'Pathfinder'—only I call it 'Pathloser,'" she laughed, handing the smaller book to Miss Jane Chick; "and here is—well, just see what is here," she finished impressively, spreading open the leather-covered book before Mrs. Kennedy's eyes.
"'Chronicles of the Hexagon Club,'" read Mrs. Kennedy. "Oh, a journal!" she smiled.
"Yes, Aunt Julia. Isn't it lovely?"
"Indeed it is! Who will keep it?"
"All of us. We are going to take turns. We shall write a day apiece—we six Happy Hexagons of the Hexagon Club."
"Do the girls know about it?" asked Miss Jane.
"Not yet. I just thought of it yesterday when I saw the book in the store. Father bought it for the club—of course my money was gone long ago—at such a time as this," she explained with laughing emphasis. "I'm going to show the book to the girls to-morrow. Won't they be tickled—I mean pleased," corrected Genevieve, throwing a hasty glance into Miss Jane's smiling eyes.
"I think they will," agreed that lady, pleasantly.
The girls were pleased, indeed, when Genevieve told of her plan and showed the book the next day. But even so entrancing a subject as a journal kept by each in turn could not hold their attention long; for time was very short now, and in every household there were a dozen-and-one last things to be done before the momentous fifth of July. Even the Fourth, with its fun and its firecrackers had no charms for the Happy Hexagons. Of so little consequence did they consider it, indeed, that at last one small boy quite lost his patience.
"You won't fire my crackers, you won't take me to the picnic, you won't play ball, you won't do anything," he complained to his absorbed sister. "I shall be just glad when this old Texas thing is over!"
ON THE WAY
All the girls' friends came to see them off at the station that fifth of July.
"Mercy! it would never do to spring our Texas yell to-day," chuckled Tilly, eyeing the assembled crowd; "but wouldn't I like to, though!"
"There's nothing dead about Sunbridge now, sure," laughed Genevieve.
"I should say not," declared Harold Day, who had begged the privilege of going to Boston to see them aboard their train for Washington.
"For you see," he had argued, "it's to my state, after all, that you are going, so I ought to be allowed to do the honors at this end of the trip as long as I can't at the other!"
They were off at last, Mrs. Kennedy, Mr. Hartley, the six girls, and Harold. But what a scrambling it was, and what a confusion of chatter, laughter, "good-byes," and "write soons"!
In Boston there was a thirty-minute wait in the South Station before their train was due to leave; but long before the thirty minutes were over, the usually serene face of Mrs. Kennedy began to look flushed and worried.
"Genevieve, my dear," she expostulated at last, "can't you keep those flutterbudget girls somewhere near together? It will be time, soon, to take our train, and only Cordelia is in sight. Not even Harold and your father are here!"
Genevieve laughed soothingly.
"I know, Aunt Julia; but they'll be here, I'm sure. There's still lots of time," she added, glancing proudly at her pretty new watch.
"But where are they all?"
"Tilly and Elsie have gone for some soda water, and Bertha for a sandwich at the lunch counter. She said she just couldn't eat a thing before she left home. Alma Lane has gone to a drug store across the street. I don't know where father and Harold are. They went off together, and—oh, here they are!" she broke off in relief, as the two wanderers appeared.
"And now," summoned Mr. Hartley, "we'll be off to our car! Why, where are the rest of us?"
"Well, they—they aren't all here," frowned Genevieve, a little anxiously.
As at Sunbridge, it was a rush and a scramble at the last. Tilly, Elsie, and Bertha came back, but Genevieve went to look for Alma Lane; and when Alma returned without having seen Genevieve, Harold had to run post-haste for her.
"Sure, dearie," said Mr. Hartley to his daughter, laughingly, when at last he had his charges all in the car, "this is a little worse than trying to corral a bunch of bronchos!"
"Oh, but we won't be so bad again," promised the girl, waving her hand to Harold, who stood alone outside the window, watching them a little wistfully.
They had a merry time getting settled, and more than one tired countenance in the car brightened at sight of the six eager young faces.
"I couldn't get all five sections together," frowned Mr. Hartley. "I got three here, but the other two are down near the end of the car—you know the porter showed you. Do you think we can make them go, some way?" he questioned Mrs. Kennedy, anxiously. "I planned for you to have one of the sections down there by yourself, perhaps, with two of the young ladies in the other. Will that do?"
"Of course it will—and finely, too," declared the lady. "Genevieve, you and I will go down there and take one of the girls with us—perhaps Bertha. That will leave your father for one up here, Elsie and Alma for another, and Tilly and Cordelia for the third."
"I knew she'd put you with Cordelia," chuckled Bertha to Tilly, under cover of their scramble to pick out their suit-cases from the pile in which the porter had left them. "And I'm sure you ought to be," she laughed. "There'll be some hopes then that you'll be kept in order!"
"Just look to yourself," retorted Tilly, serenely. "Mrs. Kennedy put you down there near her—remember that!"
"I declare, I felt just like an orange," giggled Elsie, "with all that talk about 'sections.'"
"I don't see where the shelves are," whispered Cordelia, craning her short little neck to its full extent.
"You'll see them all right," promised Tilly. "Just wait till it's dark, then—'The goblins'll get ye if ye don't watch out!'" she quoted, with mock impressiveness.
"I feel as if I were ten years old, and playing house," chirped Alma Lane, as she happily frowned over just the proper place for her bag.
"I feel as if it were all a dream, and that I shall wake up right at home," breathed Cordelia. "Seems as if it just couldn't be true—that we're really going to Texas! Oh, Genevieve, we can't ever thank you and your father enough," she finished, as Genevieve came up the aisle.
"As if we wanted thanks, after what you've done for me!" cried Genevieve. "Besides, you girls can't be half so glad to go as I am to have you!"
Some time later the porter began to make up the berths.
Tilly nudged Cordelia violently.
"There's shelf number one, Cordy. How do you think you'll like it?" she asked.
Cordelia was too absorbed even to notice the hated "Cordy." With wide-eyed, breathless interest she was watching the porter.
"I think—it's the most wonderful thing—I ever saw," she breathed in an awestruck voice.
It was after the car was quiet that night that Genevieve, in her upper berth, pulled apart the heavy curtains and peeped out into the long narrow aisle between the swaying draperies.
The train was moving very rapidly. The air was heavy and close. The night was an uncomfortably warm one. Genevieve had been too excited to sleep. Even yet it did not seem quite real—that the Happy Hexagons were all there with her, and that they were going to her far-away Texas home.
With a sigh the girl fell back on her pillow, and tried to coax sleep to come to her. But sleep refused to come. Instead, the whole panorama of her Eastern winter unrolled itself before her, peopled with little fairy sprites, who danced with twinkling feet and smiled at her mockingly.
"Oh, yes, I know you," murmured Genevieve, drowsily. "I know you all. You—you little black one—you're the cake I forgot in the oven, and let burn up. And you're the lessons I didn't learn—there are heaps of you! And you—you're those horrid scales I never could catch up with. My, how you run now! And you—you little shamed one over in the corner—you're the prank I played on Miss Jane.... Oh, you can dance now—but you won't, by and by! Next year there won't be any of you—not a one left. I'm going to be so good, so awfully good; and I'm not going to ever forget, or to cause anybody any trouble, or—"
With a start Genevieve sat erect in her berth, fully awake.
"Mercy! What a jounce that was!" she cried, just above her breath. "But we seem to be going all right now."
Cautiously she parted her curtains and peeped out again. The next instant she almost gave a little shriek: she was looking straight into Bertha Brown's upraised, startled eyes, just below her.
"Was that an accident?" chattered Bertha. "I told you there'd be one! I'm all dressed, anyhow—if 'tis!"
"Sh-h! No, goosey," chuckled Genevieve.
She would have said more but, at that moment, from up the aisle sounded a sibilant "S-s-s-s!" They turned to see a somewhat untidy fluff of red hair above a laughing, piquant face.
"It's Tilly! She's motioning to us. Say, let's go," whispered Genevieve. And cautiously she began to let herself down from her perch.
The next moment Bertha, fully dressed, and Genevieve in her long, dark blue kimono, were tripping softly up the aisle.
"Why, you're both down here," exulted Genevieve, as she climbed into the lower berth.
"Yes; Cordelia was afraid," giggled Tilly, "so I came down."
"Tilly!—I was not," disputed Cordelia, in an indignant whisper. "You came of your own accord."
"Pooh! Tilly's fooling, and we know it," soothed Bertha, climbing into the berth after Genevieve.
"Why, Bertha Brown, you've got your shoes on!" gasped Tilly, forgetting to whisper.
"Of course I have," retorted Bertha. "Do you suppose—sh!"
There was a tug at the curtains, and Elsie Martin's round, good-natured face peered in.
"Well, I like this," she bridled. "A special meeting of the Hexagon Club, and me not notified! I heard Genevieve and Bertha giggling in the aisle. Are you all here?"
"All but Alma," rejoined Tilly, in an exultant whisper. "Say, get her, too!"
"Well, now, if this isn't just a lark," crowed Bertha, gleefully, when the last of the six girls had crowded themselves into the narrow berth.
"Ouch! my head," groaned Genevieve, as a soft thud threw the other girls into stifled laughter.
"Pooh! I've been hitting my head against the up-stairs flat ever since I went to bed," quoth Elsie. "Isn't it fun! Now let's talk."
"Texas, of course," cut in Tilly. "Girls, girls, wouldn't it be glorious to give our Texas yell, though, and see what happened!"
"Tilly!" gasped the shocked Cordelia.
"Oh, I wasn't going to, of course," chuckled Tilly, softly. "I was just imaginin', you know."
"But even this—I'm not sure we ought—" began Cordelia.
"No, of course not; you never are, Cordy," agreed Tilly, smoothly.
"But let's talk Texas—we can whisper, you know. Tell us about Texas, Genevieve," cut in pacifier Alma, hurriedly. "What's it like—the ranch?"
Genevieve drew a happy sigh.
"Why, it's like—it's like nothing in Texas, we think," she breathed. "Of course we don't think any other ranch could come up to the Six Star!"
Tilly gave a sudden cry.
"The Six Star—our ranch, you know."
"You mean it's named the 'Six Star Ranch'?" demanded Tilly.
"Sure! Didn't I ever tell you?" retorted Genevieve in plain surprise.
Tilly clapped her hands softly.
"Did you! Well, I should say not! You've always called it just 'the ranch.' And now—why, girls, don't you see?—it's our ranch. It couldn't have had a better name if we'd had it built to order. It's the Six Star Ranch—and we're the six star girls—the Happy Hexagons. And to think we never knew it before!"
There was a chorus of half-stifled exclamations of delight; then Cordelia demanded anxiously:
"But, Genevieve, will they be glad to see us, really—all your people out there?"
"Glad! I reckon they will be," averred Genevieve, warmly. "The boys will give us a rousing welcome, and there won't be anything too good for Mr. Tim and Mammy Lindy to do."
"Who are they?" asked Tilly.
"Mr. Tim is the ranch foreman, 'the boss,' the boys call him. He's been with us ever since I can remember, and he's so good to me! Mammy Lindy is—well, Mammy Lindy is a dear! You'll love Ol' Mammy. She's been just a mother to me ever since my own mother died eight years ago." Genevieve's voice faltered a little, then went on more firmly. "She's a negro woman, you know. Her people were slaves, once."
"And—the—boys?" asked Cordelia, dubiously. "Are they your—brothers, Genevieve?"
Genevieve laughed—a little more loudly than perhaps she realized.
"Brothers!—well, hardly! The boys are the cowboys—on the ranch, you know. My, but they'll give us a welcome! I reckon they'll ride into town to give it, too, in all their war paint. Just you wait till you see the boys—and hear them!" And Genevieve laughed again.
All in the dark Cordelia looked distinctly shocked; but, being in the dark, nobody noticed it.
"Well, I for one just can't wait," began Tilly, hugging herself with her arms about her knees. "Only think, it'll be whole days now before we get there, and—"
Tilly stopped with a little cry of dismay. A man's voice had spoken close to her ear.
"Young ladies," came the mellow tones again. "I begs yo' pardon, but de lady what belongs down in number ten says maybe you done forgot dat dis am a sleepin' car."
"Aunt Julia!" breathed Genevieve. "She's number ten."
"She sent the porter," gasped Cordelia. "How—how awful!—and you're in my house, too," she almost sobbed.
"Now I know we're playing house," tittered Alma Lane, hysterically, as she followed Genevieve out of the berth.
Once more in her own quarters, Genevieve lay back on her pillow with a remorseful sigh.
"I don't see why it's so much easier to say you'll never give anybody any trouble than 'tis to do it," she lamented, as she turned over with a jerk.
The girls began the "Chronicles of the Hexagon Club" the next morning. Genevieve made the first entry. She dwelt at some length on the confusion of the train-taking, both at Sunbridge and Boston. She also had something to say of Tilly Mack. She gave a full account, too, of the midnight session of the Hexagon Club in Cordelia's berth.
"And I'm ashamed that Aunt Julia had to be ashamed of me so soon," she wrote contritely.
Cordelia Wilson had agreed to make the second entry in the book; but the heat, the loss of sleep, and the strangeness and excitement added to her distress that "her house" should have been made to seem a disgrace in the eyes of the whole car, all conspired to make her feel so ill that she declared she could not think of writing for a day or two.
"Very well, then, you sha'n't write; we'll hand the book to Tilly," said Genevieve, "and then we'll give it to some of the others. But I'll tell you what we will do, Cordelia; you shall make the last entry in the book just before we leave the train at Bolo. And you can make it a sort of retrospect—a 'review lesson' of the whole, you know."
"But I thought the others—won't they each tell their day?"
"That's just what they'll tell—their day," retorted Genevieve, whimsically. "You know what most of them are. Alma Lane would be all right, and would give a true description of everything; only she would go into particulars so, that she would tell everything she saw from the windows, and just what she had to eat all day, down to the last olive."
"I know," nodded Cordelia, with a faint smile.
"As for Tilly—you can't get real sense, of course, from her part. If there's any nonsense going, Tilly Mack will find it and trot it out. Bertha Brown will take up the most of her space by saying 'I always said that—' etc., etc. Bertha is a dear—but you know she does just love to say 'I told you so.' Elsie will write clothes, of course. We shall find out what everybody has on when Elsie writes."
Cordelia laughed aloud—then clapped her hand to her aching head.
"You poor dear! What a shame," sympathized Genevieve. "But, Cordelia, why does Elsie think so much of clothes? Mercy! for my part I think they're the most tiresome sort of things to bother with; and it's such a waste of time to be having to change your dress always!"
Cordelia smiled; then her face sobered.
"Poor Elsie! I'm sorry for Elsie. She does have such an unhappy time over clothes."
"Why? How?—or isn't it fair to tell?" added Genevieve, with quick loyalty.
"Oh, yes, it's fair. Everybody knows it, 'most, and I supposed you did. Elsie herself tells of it. You know she lives with her aunt, Mrs. Gale. Well, Mrs. Gale has three daughters, Fannie, about twenty-one, I guess, and the twins, nineteen; and she just loves to make over their things for Elsie—so she does it."
"Are they so very—poor, then?"
"Oh, no; they aren't poor at all. I don't think she really has to do it. Aunt Mary says she's just naturally thrifty, and that she loves to make them over. But you see, poor Elsie almost never has a new dress—of new material, I mean. Now Elsie loves red; but Fannie wears blue a lot, and the twins like queer shades like faded-out greens and browns which Elsie abhors. Poor Elsie—no wonder she's always looking at clothes!"
"Hm-m; no wonder," nodded Genevieve, her pitying eyes on Elsie far down the aisle—Elsie, who, in a mustard-colored striped skirt and pongee blouse, was at that moment trying to perk up the loppy blue bows on a somewhat faded tan straw hat. "Well, anyhow," added Genevieve, with a sigh, "just remember, Cordelia, that you're to do the last day of the trip in the Chronicles. Now lie down and give your poor head a rest."
* * * * *
Long before the last day of the journey came, Cordelia had quite recovered from her headache; but, in accordance with Genevieve's plan, she did not add her share to the Chronicles until the appointed time. Then, with almost a reverent air, she accepted the book and pen from Genevieve's hands, and returned to the seclusion of her seat, rejoicing that Tilly was playing checkers with Bertha, and so would not, presumably, disturb her—for a time, at least.
"To-day, at noon, we are to arrive at Bolo," she wrote a little unevenly; then with a firmer hand she went on. "Genevieve says this ought to be a retrospect, and touch lightly upon the whole trip; so I will try to make it so.
"It has been a beautiful journey. Nothing serious has happened, though Bertha has worn her shoes all the time expecting it. The best thing, so far, was our lovely day in Washington that Mr. Hartley gave us, and the President. (I mean, we saw him and he smiled.) And the worst thing (except that first night in my berth that Genevieve wrote of) was the time we lost Tilly for three whole hours, and Mrs. Kennedy got so nervous and white and frightened. We supposed, of course, she had fallen off, or jumped off, or got left off at some station. But just as we were talking with the porter about telegraphing everywhere, she danced in with two very untidy, unclean little Armenian children. It seems she had been in the emigrant car all the time playing with the children and trying to make the men and women talk their queer English. I never knew that gentle Mrs. Kennedy could speak so sharply as she did then to Tilly.
"And now—since Tuesday, some time—we have really been in Texas. Some things look just like Eastern things, but others are so strange and queer. It is very hot—I mean, very warm, too. But then, we have just as warm days in Sunbridge, I guess. The windmills look so queer—there are such a lot of them; but they look pretty, too. Some of the towns are very pretty, also, with their red roofs and blue barns and houses. Genevieve says lots of them are German villages.
"In some places lots of things are growing, but in others it is all just gray and bare-looking with nothing much growing except those queer prairie-dog cities with the funny little creatures sitting on top of their houses, or popping down into their holes only to turn around and look at you out of their bright little eyes. We had a splendid chance to see them once when our train stopped right in the middle of a prairie for a long time. We got off and walked quite a way with Mr. Hartley. I saw a rattlesnake, and I'm afraid I screamed. I screamed again when the horrid thing wiggled into one of the dog houses. Mr. Hartley says they live together sometimes, but if I were that dog he wouldn't live with me!
"We have seen lots of cattle and goats and hogs—though Tilly says she hasn't seen any of the latter under any gate yet. I have seen a mesquite tree (so I have done one of my things), and it does have thorns. We are on another prairie now, and oh, how big it is, and such a lot of grass as there is on it—just as far as you can see, grass, grass, grass! I guess there won't be any danger of my not having plenty of that to take home. I have seen lots of men on horseback, but I don't know whether they were cowboys or not. They did not shoot, anyway, but some of them did yell.
"Genevieve says cowboys are to meet us, and that probably they will come away to Bolo in full war paint. I thought it was only Indians who painted—except silly ladies, of course—and I was going to say so; but Tilly was there, so I didn't like to. Of course I ought not to mind the cowboys—if Genevieve likes them, and they are her friends; but I can't help remembering what Mrs. Miller told me about their 'shooting up towns' in a very dreadful way when they were angry. I hope none of the men I want to find will turn out to be cowboys." (Here there were signs of an attempted erasure, but the words still stood, and immediately after them came another sentence.) "That is, I mean I should hate to find that any friends of mine had become cowboys.
"I have just been reading over what I have written, and I am disappointed in it. I am sure I ought to have mentioned a great many things about which I have been silent. But there were so many things, and they all crowded at once before me, so that I had to just touch on the big things and the tall things—like windmills, for instance.
"We are getting nearer Bolo now, and I must stop and eat some luncheon, Genevieve says, as we sha'n't have anything else till supper on the ranch. Oh, I am so excited! Seems as if I couldn't draw a breath deep enough. And the idea of trying to eat when I feel like this!"
THE BOYS PREPARE A WELCOME
On the back gallery of the long, low ranch house, the boys were waiting for Teresa to ring the bell for supper. Comfortably they lolled about on hammocks, chairs, and steps, with their shirts open at the neck and plentifully powdered with the dust of the corral.
From the doorway, Tim Nolan, the ranch foreman, spoke to them hurriedly.
"See here, boys, I'm right sorry, but I've got to see Benson to-morrow about those steers. That means that I've got to go as far as Bolo to-night, and that I sha'n't be back in time to start with the rest of you to meet the folks. But I'll see you in Bolo day after to-morrow at noon. The train is due then. Now be on hand, all of you that can. We want Miss Genevieve and her friends to have a right royal welcome. I reckon now I'd better be off. So long! Now remember—day after to-morrow at noon!" he finished, turning away.
"As if we'd be a-forgettin' it," grinned Long John, a tall, lank fellow sprawled in a hammock, "when the little mistress hain't set her pretty foot on the place since last August!"
"If only she wa'n't bringin' all them others," groaned the short, sandy-haired man on the steps. "I'd just like to rope the whole bunch and send 'em back East again, old lady and all—all but the little mistress, of course. Boys, what are we a-goin' to do with an old lady—even though she ain't so awful old—and five tom-fool girls on the Six Star Ranch?"
"Ees not the Senorita a gurrl, also?" laughed a dark-eyed Mexican from his perch on the gallery railing. "Eh, Reddy?"
"Sure, Pedro," retorted the sandy-haired man, testily. (Pedro was the only Mexican cowboy at the ranch, and even he was barely tolerated.) "But the little mistress ain't no tenderfoot girl. She don't howl at a rattlesnake nor jump at a prairie dog; and she knows how to ride, and which end of a gun goes off!"
There was a general laugh, followed by a long silence—the boys did not usually talk so much together, but to-night a curious restlessness pervaded them all. Suddenly the tall man in the hammock pulled himself erect.
"Look a-here, boys, that's jest it," he began in a worried voice. "What if the little mistress has changed? What if she hain't no use for us and the ranch any more? I never told ye, but at the first, last August, 'fore she went away, I heard the boss and Mr. Hartley a-talkin'. They was sayin' she'd got to go East to learn how to live like a lady should—to know girls, and books, and all that. They said she was runnin' wild here with only us for playmates, and that they had just got ter pasture her out where the grass was finer, and the fences nearer tergether."
"Did they say—that?" gasped half a dozen worried voices.
"They sure did—and more. They said two real ladies was a-goin' ter take her and make her like themselves—a lady. And, boys, I was wonderin'—how is a lady goin' ter like us, and the ranch?"
There was a moment's tense silence. The boys were staring, wide-eyed and appalled, into each other's faces.
From somewhere came a deep sigh.
"Gorry!—she can't, she just can't, after all her book-learnin' and culturin'," groaned a new voice.
For a time no one spoke; then Reddy cleared his throat.
"Look a-here, there ain't but jest one thing to do. If she don't like the ranch—and us—we'll jest have to make the ranch—and us—so she will like 'em."
"How?" demanded a skeptical chorus.
"Slick 'em up—and us," retorted the sandy-haired man, with finality. "I was raised East, and I know the sort of doin's they hanker after. To-morrow mornin' we'll begin. I'll show you; you'll see," he finished in a louder tone, as Teresa's clanging supper bell sent them in a stampede through the long covered way that led to the dining-room which, with the cook room, occupied the large, low building thirty feet to the rear of the ranch house.
* * * * *
When Tim Nolan arrived at the Bolo station a little before noon two days later, he stared in open-mouthed wonder at the sight that greeted his eyes. In a wavering, straggling line stood ten stiff, red-faced, miserable men, dressed in what was, to Tim Nolan, the strangest assortment of garments he had ever seen.
Two of the men were in dead black, from head to foot. Four wore stiff, not over-clean white shirts. Six sported flaming red neckties. One had unearthed from somewhere a frock coat three sizes too small for him, which he wore very proudly, however, over a flannel shirt adorned with a red-and-green silk handkerchief knotted at the throat. Another displayed a somewhat battered silk hat. But, whatever they wore, each showed a face upon which hope, despair, pride, shame, and physical misery were curiously blended.
For an instant Tim Nolan peered at them with unrecognizing eyes; then he gave a low ejaculation.
"Reddy! Carlos! Jim! Boys!" he gasped. "What in the world is the meaning of this?"
"Eet ees that we welcome the little Senorita an' her frien's," bowed Pedro, doffing his sombrero which was the only part of his usual costume that he had retained.
"But—I don't understand," demurred the foreman; "these rigs of yours! Reddy, where in time did you corral that coat?"
Reddy shifted from one uneasy foot to the other.
"Pedro's told you—we're here to welcome the little mistress, of course. We've slicked up. We—we didn't want the shock too sudden—from the East, you know."
For another moment Tim Nolan stared; then he threw back his head and laughed—laughed till the faces of the men before him grew red with something more than discomfort.
At that moment a pretty young girl in khaki and a cowboy hat made her appearance astride a frisky little mustang. She wore a cartridge belt about her waist—though there was no revolver in her holster.
"Is Genevieve coming to-day, sure?" she called out joyfully. "I heard she was, and I've come to meet her."
"There, boys," bantered the ranch foreman, "now here's a young lady who knows how to welcome the mistress of the Six Star Ranch!" Then, to the girl: "Sure, Miss Susie, we do expect Genevieve, and we're here to welcome her, as you see," he finished with a sweep of his broad-brimmed hat.
It looked, for a moment, as if the wavering, straggling men would break ranks and run; but a sudden distant whistle, and a sharp command from Reddy brought them right about face.
"Buck up, boys," he ordered sharply. "I reckon the little mistress ain't a-goin' ter turn us down! She'll like it. You'll see!"
The train had scarcely come to a stop before Genevieve was off the car steps.
"Mr. Tim, Mr. Tim—here I am! Oh, how good you look!" she cried, holding out both her hands. A minute later she turned to introduce the embarrassed foreman to Mrs. Kennedy and the girls, who, with her father, were following close at her heels. This task was not half completed, however, when she spied the red-faced, anxious-eyed men.
As Mr. Tim had done, she stared dumbly for a moment; then, leaving the rest of the introductions to her father, she ran toward them.
"Why, it's the boys—our boys! Carlos, Long John, Reddy! But what is the matter? How queer you look! Is anybody sick—or—dead?" she stammered, plainly in doubt what to say.
"Sure, it's for you—we're a-welcomin' you," exploded Long John, jerking at his collar which was obviously too small for him.
Genevieve's face showed a puzzled frown.
"But these clothes!—why are you like this?—and after all I've promised the girls about you, too!"
"You mean—you don't like it—this?" demanded Reddy, incredulous hope in his eyes and voice.
"Of course I don't like it! I've been promising the girls all the way here that you'd give them a welcome that was a welcome! And now—but why did you do it, boys?"
Long John drew himself to his full height.
"Why? 'Cause Reddy said to," he answered. "Reddy said we'd better ease up on the shock it would be to you—here, after all you'd been used to back East—fine clothes, fine feed, and fine doin's all around, to say nothin' of books and learnin' in between times; so we—we tried to break ye in easy. That's all," he finished, a little lamely.
"And then these clothes mean—that?" demanded the girl.
Long John nodded dumbly.
Genevieve gave a ringing laugh, but her eyes grew soft as she extended her hand to each man in turn.
"What old dears you are—every one of you!" she exclaimed. "Now go home quick, and get comfortable." She would have said more, but some one called her and she turned abruptly. Cordelia Wilson, looking half frightened, half exultant, but wholly excited, was pulling at her sleeve.
"Genevieve, Genevieve, quick," she was panting; "is that a cowboy—that, over there—talking to your father?"
Genevieve turned with a wondering frown. The next moment she burst into a merry laugh.
"Oh, Cordelia, Cordelia, you will be the death of me, yet! No, that isn't a cowboy. It's Susie Billings. She lives on a ranch near here."
"A girl—dressed like that—and carrying a revolver! Just a common 'Susie!'" gasped Cordelia.
"Yes—just a common 'Susie,'" twinkled Genevieve.
"But I thought she was a—a cowboy," quavered Cordelia. "You said they'd be here in—in all their war paint!"
From behind them sounded a muffled snort and a low-voiced:
"Boys, she thinks that's a cowboy! Come on—say we show 'em! Eh?"
Genevieve laughed softly at what Cordelia had said, and at the disappointment in her voice.
"Cowboys? Well, they are here," she acknowledged with twitching lips, "and in their war paint, too—of a kind! They're right here—Why, they're gone," she broke off. "Never mind," she laughed, as she caught sight of a silk hat and a black coat hurrying toward a group of saddled ponies. "I reckon you'll see all the cowboys you want to before you go back East again. Now come up and meet Susie—and she hasn't, really, any revolver there, Cordelia, in spite of that cartridge belt and holster. She's always rigging up that way. She likes it!"
Susie proved to be "a girl just like us," as Cordelia amazedly expressed it to Alma Lane. She was certainly a very pleasant one, they all decided. But even Susie could not keep their eyes from wandering to the unfamiliar scene around them.
It was a bare little station set in the midst of a bare little prairie town, and quite unlike anything the Easterners had ever seen before. Broad, dusty streets led seemingly nowhere. Low, straggling houses stretched out lazy lengths of untidiness, except where a group of taller, more pretentious buildings indicated the stores, a hotel or two, several boarding houses, and numerous saloons and dance halls.
From the station doorway, a blanketed Indian looked out with stolid, unsmiling face. Leaning against a post a dreamy-eyed Mexican in tight trousers, red sash, and tall peaked hat, smoked a cigarette. Halfway down the platform a tired-looking man in heavy cowhide boots and rough clothes, watched beside a huge canvas-topped wagon beyond which could be seen the switching tails of six great oxen.
"There's Fred's 'boat,'" remarked Bertha, laughingly, to Cordelia.
"Where? What?" Cordelia had been trying to look in all directions at once.
"That prairie schooner down there."
"Now that looks like the pictures," asserted Cordelia. "I wonder if the cowboys will."
"I declare, the whole thing is worse than a three-ring circus," declared Tilly, aggrievedly, to Genevieve. "I simply can't see everything!"
"All aboard for the ranch," called Mr. Hartley, leading the way around to the other side of the station; and like a flock of prairie chickens, as Genevieve put it, they all trooped after him.
"Why, what funny horses!" cried Tilly, as Mr. Hartley stopped before a large, old-fashioned three-seated carriage drawn up to the platform.
At Genevieve's chuckling laugh, Tilly threw a sharper glance toward the two gray creatures attached to the carriage.
"Why, they aren't horses at all—yes, they are—no, they aren't, either!"
"I always heard young ladies were a bit changeable," grinned Tim Nolan, mischievously; "but do they always change their minds as often as that, Miss?"
"Yes, they do—when the occasion demands it," retorted Tilly, with a merry glance; and Tim Nolan laughed appreciatively.
"Well, they aren't horses," smiled Mr. Hartley, as he gave his hand to help Mrs. Kennedy into the carriage. "They happen to be mules. Now, Miss Tilly, if you'll come in here with Mrs. Kennedy, we'll put two other young ladies and myself in the other two seats, and leave Genevieve to do the honors in one of the ranch wagons with the rest of you. The baggage, the boys are already putting in the other wagon, I see," he added, looking back to where two men were busy with a pile of trunks and bags. "They'll come along after us. Mr. Tim is on his horse, of course. We'll let him show us the way. Now stow yourselves comfortably," he admonished his guests. "You know we have an eighteen-mile ride ahead of us!"
CORDELIA SEES A COWBOY
Through the broad, dusty streets, by the straggling houses, and out on to the boundless sea of grass trailed the carriage and the ranch wagons, with Mr. Tim in the lead.
Five pairs of eyes grew wide with wonder and awe.
"I didn't suppose anything in the world could be so—so far," breathed Cordelia, who was with Mr. Hartley on the front seat of the carriage.
"No wonder Genevieve was always talking about 'space, wide, wide space,'" cried Bertha. "Why, it's just like the ocean—only more so, because there aren't any waves."
"As if anything could be more like the ocean than the ocean itself," giggled Tilly.
Mr. Hartley laughed good-naturedly.
"Never mind, Miss Bertha," he nodded. "Just you wait till there's a little more wind, and you'll see some waves, I reckon. It's mighty still just now; and yet—there, look! Over there to the right—see?"
They all looked, and they all saw. They saw far in the distance the green change to gray, and the gray to faint purple, and back again to green, while curious shifting lights and shadows glancing across the waving blades of grass, made them ripple like water in the sunlight. At the same time, from somewhere, came a soft, cool wind.
"Why, it is—it is just like the ocean," exulted Cordelia. "I've seen it look like that down to Nantasket, 'way, 'way off at sea."
"I told you 'twas," triumphed Bertha.
"Well, anyway," observed Tilly, demurely, "they must be awfully dry waves—not much fun to jump!"
"Tilly, how can you?" protested Cordelia. "How you do take the poetry out of anything! I believe you'd take the poetry out of—of Shakespeare himself!"