A Summer in a Canyon: A California Story
Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 3 out of 4
tree where the horn hung and blew all the strength of her lungs into
blast after blast for five minutes.
'That's all I needed,' she said, on returning; 'that was an escape-
valve, and I shall be lady-like and well-behaved the rest of the
CHAPTER VI: QUEEN ELSIE VISITS THE COURT
'An hour and friend with friend will meet,
Lip cling to lip and hand clasp hand.'
'Now, Laura,' asked Bell, when quiet was restored, 'advise us about
Elsie's tent. We want it to be perfectly lovely; and you have such
'Let me think,' said Laura. 'Oh, if she were only a brunette instead
of a blonde, we could festoon the tent with that yellow tarlatan I
brought for the play!'
'What difference does it make whether she is dark or light?' asked
'Why, a room ought to be as becoming as a dress--so Mrs. Pinkerton
says. You know I saw a great deal of her at the hotel; and oh,
girls! her bedroom was the most exquisite thing you ever saw! She
had a French toilet-table, covered with pale blue silk and white
marquise lace,--perfectly lovely,--with yards and yards of robin's-
egg blue watered ribbon in bows; and on it she kept all her toilet
articles, everything in hammered silver from Tiffany's with monograms
on the back,--three or four sizes of brushes, and combs, and mirrors,
and a full manicure set. It used to take her two hours to dress; but
it was worth it. Oh, such gorgeous tea-gowns as she had! One of old
rose and lettuce was a perfect dream! She always had her breakfast
in bed, you know. I think it's delightful to have your breakfast
before you get up, and dress as slowly as you like. I wish mamma
would let me do it.'
'What does she do after she gets dressed in her rows of old lettuce--
I mean her old rows of lettuce?' asked Polly.
'Do? Why really, Polly, you are too stupid! What do you suppose she
did? What everybody else does, of course.'
'Oh!' said Polly, apologetically.
'How old is Mrs. Pinkerton?' asked Margery.
'Between nineteen and twenty. There is not three years' difference
in our ages, though she has been married nearly two years. It seems
'Only nineteen!' cried Bell. 'Why, I always thought that she was old
as the hills--twenty-five or thirty at the very least. She always
seemed tired of things.'
'Well,' said Laura, in a whisper intended to be too low to reach Mrs.
Winship's tent, 'I don't know whether I ought to repeat what was told
me in confidence, but the fact is--well--she doesn't like Mr.
Pinkerton very well!'
The other girls, who had not enjoyed the advantages of city life and
travel, looked as dazed as any scandalmonger could have desired.
'Don't like him!' gasped Polly, nearly falling off the stump. 'Why,
she's married to him!'
'Where on earth were you brought up?' snapped Laura. 'What
difference does that make? She can't help it if she doesn't happen
to like her husband, can she? You can't make yourself like anybody,
'Well, did she ever like him?' asked Margery; 'for she's only been
married a year or two, and it seems to me it might have lasted that
long if there was anything to begin on.'
'But,' whispered Laura, mysteriously, 'you see Mr. Pinkerton was very
rich and the Dentons very poor. Mr. Denton had just died, leaving
them nothing at all to live on, and poor Jessie would have had to
teach school, or some dreadful thing like that. The thought of it
almost killed her, she is so sensitive and so refined. She never
told me so in so many words, but I am sure she married Mr. Pinkerton
to save her mother from poverty; and I pity her from the bottom of my
'I suppose it was noble,' said Bell, in a puzzled tone, 'if she
couldn't think of any other way, but--'
'Well, did she try very hard to think of other ways?' asked Polly.
'She never looked especially noble to me. I thought she seemed like
a die-away, frizzlygig kind of a girl.'
'I wish, Miss Oliver, that you would be kind enough to remember that
Mrs. Pinkerton is one of my most intimate friends,' said Laura,
sharply. 'And I do wish, also, that you wouldn't talk loud enough to
be heard all through the canyon.'
The colour came into Polly's cheeks, but before she could answer,
Mrs. Winship walked in, stocking-basket in hand, and seated herself
in the little wicker rocking-chair. Polly's clarion tones had given
her a clue to the subject, and she thought the discussion needed
'You were talking about Mrs. Pinkerton, girls,' she said, serenely.
'You say you are fond of her, Laura, dear, and it seems very
ungracious for me to criticise your friend; that is a thing which
most of us fail to bear patiently. But I cannot let you hold her up
as an ideal to be worshipped, or ask the girls to admire as a piece
of self-denial what I fear was nothing but indolence and self-
gratification. You are too young to talk of these things very much;
but you are not too young to make up your mind that when you agree to
live all your life long with a person, you must have some other
feeling than a determination not to teach school. Jessie Denton's
mother, my dear Laura, would never have asked the sacrifice of her
daughter's whole life; and Jessie herself would never have made it
had she been less vain, proud, and luxurious in her tastes, and a
little braver, more self-forgetting and industrious. These are hard
words, dear, and I am sorry to use them. She has gained the riches
she wanted,--the carriages and servants, and tea-gowns, and hammered
silver from Tiffany's, but she looks tired and disappointed, as Bell
says; and I've no doubt she is, poor girl.'
'I don't think you do her justice, Mrs. Winship; I don't, indeed,'
'If you are really attached to her, Laura, don't make the mistake of
admiring her faults of character, but try to find her better
qualities, and help her to develop them. It is a fatal thing when
girls of your age set up these false standards, and order their lives
by them. There are worse things than school-teaching, yes, or even
floor-scrubbing or window-washing. Lovely tea-gowns and silver-
backed brushes are all very pretty and nice to have, if they are not
gained at the sacrifice of something better. I should have said to
my daughter, had I been Mrs. Denton, "We will work for each other, my
darling, and try to do whatever God gives us to do; but, no matter
how hard life is, your heart is the most precious thing in the world,
and you must never sell that, if we part with everything else." Oh,
my girls, my girls, if I could only make you believe that "poor and
content is rich, and rich enough." I cannot bear to think of your
growing year by year into the conviction that these pretty glittering
things of wealth are the true gold of life which everybody seeks.
Forgive me, Laura, if I have hurt your feelings.'
'I know you would never hurt anybody's feelings, if you could help
it, Mrs. Winship,' Laura answered, with a hint of coldness in her
voice, 'though I can't help thinking that you are a little hard on
poor Jessie; but, even then, one can surely like a person without
wishing to do the very same things she does.'
'Yes, that is true,' said Mrs. Winship, gravely. 'But one cannot
constantly justify a wrong action in another without having one's own
standard unconsciously lowered. What we continually excuse in other
people we should be inclined by and by to excuse in ourselves. Let
us choose our friends as wisely as possible, and love them dearly,
helping them to grow worthier of our love at the same time we are
trying to grow worthier of theirs; because "we live by admiration,
hope, and love," you know, but not by admiring and loving the wrong
'But there is the horn, and I hear the boys. Let us come to
luncheon, and tell our good news of Elsie.'
With incredible energy.
The horn! The horn! The lus-ty, lus-ty horn! 'Tis
not a thing to laugh to scorn, A thing to laugh to scorn!
Long before the boys appeared in sight, their voices rang through the
canyon in a chorus that woke the echoes, and presently they came into
view, bearing two quarters and a saddle of freshly killed mutton,
hanging from a leafy branch swung between Jack's sturdy shoulder and
'A splendid "still hunt" this morning, Aunt Truth!' exclaimed Jack.
'Game plenty and not too shy, dogs in prime condition, hunters ditto.
Behold the result!'
The girls could scarcely tell whether or no Laura was offended at
Aunt Truth's unexpected little lecture. She did not appear quite as
unrestrained as usual, but as everybody was engaged in the
preparations for Elsie's welcome there was a general atmosphere of
hilarity and confusion, so that no awkwardness was possible.
The tool-shop resounded with blows of hammer and steel. Dicky was
under everybody's feet, and his 'seven or ten frogs,' together with
his unrivalled collection of horned toads, were continually escaping
from their tin pails and boxes in the various tents, and everybody
was obliged to join in the search to recover and re-incarcerate them,
in order to keep the peace.
Hop Yet was making a gold and silver cake, with 'Elsie' in pink
letters on chocolate frosting. Philip had pitched the new tent so
that in one corner there was a slender manzanita-tree which had been
cropped for some purpose or other. He had nailed a cross-piece on
this, so that it resembled the letter T, and was now laboriously
boring holes and fitting in pegs, that Elsie might have a sort of
closet behind her bed.
As for the rustic furniture, the girls and boys declared it to be too
beautiful for words. They stood in circles about it and admired it
without reserve, each claiming that his own special piece of work was
the gem of the collection. The sunlight shining through the grey and
green tints of the tent was voted perfection, Philip's closet a
miracle of ingenuity, the green and white straw matting an
The looking-glass had been mounted on a packing-box, and converted by
Laura into a dressing-table that rivalled Mrs. Pinkerton's; for green
tarlatan and white mosquito-netting had been so skilfully combined
that the traditional mermaid might have been glad to make her toilet
there 'with a comb and a glass in her hand.' The rest of the green
and white gauzy stuff had been looped from the corners of the tent to
the centre of the roof-piece, and delicate tendrils of wild clematis
climbed here and there as if it were growing, its roots plunged in
cunningly hidden bottles of water. Bell had gone about with pieces
of awning cloth and green braid, and stitched an elaborate system of
pockets on the inside of the tent wherever they would not be too
prominent. There were tiny pockets for needle-work, thimbles, and
scissors, medium-sized pockets for soap and combs and brushes, bigger
pockets for shoes and slippers and stockings, and mammoth pockets for
anything else that Elsie might ordain to put in a pocket.
By four o'clock in the afternoon Margery had used her clever fingers
to such purpose that a white silesia flag, worked with the camp name,
floated from the tip top of the front entrance to the tent. The
ceremony of raising the flag was attended with much enthusiasm, and
its accomplishment greeted by a deafening cheer from the entire
'Unless one wants Paradise,' sighed Margery, 'who wouldn't be
contented with dear Camp Chaparral?'
'Who would live in a house, any way?' exclaimed Philip. 'Sniff this
air, and look up at that sky!'
'And this is what they call "roughing it," in Santa Barbara,' quoth
Dr. Winship. 'Why, you youngsters have made that tent fit for the
occupancy of a society belle.'
'Now, let's organise for reception!' cried Geoffrey. 'Assemble, good
people! Come over here, Aunt Truth! I will take the chair myself,
since I don't happen to see anybody who would fill it with more
'I am going to mount my broncho and go out on the road to meet my
beloved family,' said Jack, sauntering up to the impromptu council-
'How can you tell when they will arrive?' asked Mrs. Winship.
'I can make a pretty good guess. They'll probably start from Tacitas
as early as eight or nine o'clock, if Elsie is well. Let's see:
it's about twenty-five miles, isn't it, Uncle Doc? Say twenty-three
to the place where they turn off the main road. Well, I'll take a
bit of lunch, ride out ten or twelve miles, hitch my horse in the
shade, and wait.'
'Very well,' said Geoffrey. 'It is not usual for committees to
appoint themselves, but as you are a near relative of our
distinguished guests we will grant you special consideration and
order you to the front. Ladies and gentlemen, passing over the
slight informality of the nomination, all in favour of appointing Mr.
John Howard Envoy Extraordinary please manifest it by the usual
Six persons yelled 'Ay,' four raised the right hand, and one stood
'There seems to be a slight difference of opinion as to the usual
sign. All right.--Contrary minded!'
'No!' shouted Polly, at the top of her lungs.
'It is a unanimous vote,' said Geoffrey, crushingly, bringing down
his fist as an imaginary gavel with incredible force and dignity.
'Dr. and Mrs. Winship, will you oblige the Chair by acting as a
special Reception Committee?'
'Certainly,' responded the doctor, smilingly. 'Will the Chair kindly
outline the general policy of the committee?'
'Hm-m-m! Yes, certainly--of course. The Chair suggests that the
Reception Committee--well, that they stay at home and--receive the
guests,--yes, that will do very nicely. All-in-favour-and-so-forth-
it-is-a-vote-and-so-ordered. Secretary will please spread a copy on
the minutes.' Gavel.
'I rise to a point of order,' said Jack, sagely. 'There is no
secretary and there are no minutes.'
'Mere form,' said the Chair; 'sit down; there will be minutes in a
minute,--got to do some more things first; that will do, SIT DOWN.
Will the Misses Burton and Messrs. Burton and Noble kindly act as
Committee on Decoration?'
'Where's the Committee on Music, and Refreshments, and Olympian
Games, and all that sort of thing?' interrupted Polly, who had not
the slightest conception of parliamentary etiquette; 'and why don't
you hurry up and put me on something?'
'If Miss Oliver refuses to bridle her tongue, and persists in
interrupting the business of the meeting, the Chair will be obliged
to remove her,' said Geoffrey, with chilling emphasis.
Polly rose again, undaunted. 'I would respectfully ask the Chair,
who put him in the chair, any way?'
'Question!' roared Philip.
'Second the motion!' shrieked Bell, that being the only parliamentary
expression she knew.
'Order!' cried Geoffrey in stentorian accents. 'I will adjourn the
meeting and clear the court-room unless there is order.'
'Do!' remarked Polly, encouragingly. 'I will rise again, like
Phoebus, from my ashes, to say that--'
Here Jack sprang to his feet. 'I would suggest to the Chair that the
last speaker amend her motion by substituting the word "Phoenix" for
'Accept the amendment,' said Polly, serenely, amidst the general
'Question!' called Bell, with another mighty projection of memory
into a missionary meeting that she had once attended.
'I am not aware that there is any motion before the house,' said
'Second the motion!'
'Second the amendment!' shouted the girls.
'Ladies, there IS no motion. Will you oblige the Chair by remaining
quiet until speech is requested?'
'Move that the meeting be adjourned and another one called, with a
new Chair!' remarked Margery, who felt that the honour of her sex was
'Move that this motion be so ordered and spread upon the minutes, and
a copy of it be presented to the Chairman,' suggested Philip.
'Move that the copy be appropriately bound in CALF,' said Jack,
dodging an imaginary blow.
'Move that the other committees be elected by ballot,' concluded
'This is simply disgraceful!' exclaimed the Chair. 'Order! order! I
appoint Miss Oliver Committee on Entertainment, with a view of
keeping her still.'
This was received with particular as well as general satisfaction.
'Miss Winship, we appoint you Committee on Music.'
'All right. Do you wish it to be original?'
'Certainly not; we wish it to be good.'
'But we only know one chorus, and that's "My Witching Dinah Snow."'
'Never mind; either write new words to that tune or sing tra-la-la to
it. Mr. Richard Winship, the Chair appoints you Committee on
Menagerie, and suggests that as we have proclaimed a legal holiday,
you give your animals the freedom of the city.'
'Don't know what freedom of er city means,' said Dicky, who feared
that he was being made the butt of ridicule.
'Why, we want you to allow the captives to parade in the evening,
with torch-lights and mottoes.'
'All right!' cried Dicky, kindling in an instant; ''n' Luby, 'n' the
doat, 'n' my horn' toads, all e'cept the one that just gotted away in
Laura's bed; but may be she'll find him to-night, so they'll be all
This was too much for the various committees, and Laura's wild shriek
was the signal for a hasty adjournment. A common danger restored
peace to the assembly, and they sought the runaway in perfect
'Well,' said Jack, when quiet was restored, 'I am going a little
distance up the Pico Negro trail; there are some magnificent Spanish
bayonets growing there, and if you'll let me have Pancho, Uncle Doc,
we can bring down four of them and lash them to each of the corners
of Elsie's tent,--they'll keep fresh several days in water, you
'Take him, certainly,' said Dr. Winship.
'Do let me go with you!' pleaded Laura, with enthusiasm. 'I should
like the walk so much.'
'It's pretty rough, Laura,' objected Margery. 'If you couldn't
endure our walk this morning, you would never get home alive from
'Oh, that was in the heat of the day,' she answered. 'I feel equal
to any amount of walking now, if Jack doesn't mind taking me.'
'Delighted, of course, Miss Laura. You'll be willing to carry home
one of the trees, I suppose, in return for the pleasure of my
'Snub him severely, Laura,' cried Bell; 'we never allow him to say
such things unreproved.'
'I think he is snubbed too much already,' replied Laura, with a
charming smile, 'and I shall see how a course of encouragement will
affect his behaviour.'
'That will be what I long have sought,
And mourned because I found it not,'
sang Jack, nonchalantly.
'Oh, Laura,' remonstrated Bell, 'think twice before you encourage him
in his dreadful ways. We have studied him very carefully, and we
know that the only way to live with him is to keep him in a sort of
"pint pot" where we can hold the lid open just a little, and clap it
down suddenly whenever he tries to spring out.'
'Do not mind that young person, Miss Laura, but form your own
impressions of my charming character. Excuse me, please, while I put
on a celluloid collar, and make some few changes in my toilet
necessary to a proper appearance in your distinguished company.'
'I prefer you as you are,' answered Laura, laughingly. 'Let us start
'Do you hear that, young person? She prefers me as I are! Now see
what magic power her generosity has upon me!' And he darted into the
tent, from which he issued in a moment with his Derby hat, a
manzanita cane, a pocket-handkerchief tied about his throat, and a
flower pinned on his flannel camping-shirt--a most ridiculous figure,
since nothing seems so out of place in the woods as any suggestion of
city costumes or customs. Laura was in high good-humour, and looked
exceedingly brilliant and pretty, as she always did when she was the
central figure of any group or the bright particular star of any
'Be home before dark,' said Dr. Winship. 'Pancho, keep a look-out
for the pack-mule. Truth, one of the pack-mules has disappeared.'
'So? Dumpling or Ditto?'
'Ditto, curiously enough. His name should have led him not to set an
example, but to follow one.'
Perhaps you thought that this was going to be an exciting story, and
that something would happen to keep her at the Tacitas ranch; but
nothing did. Everything came to pass exactly as it was arranged, and
Jack met his mother and sister at twelve o'clock some four miles from
the camp, and escorted them to the gates.
'Welcome' had been painted on twenty different boards or bits of
white cloth and paper, and nailed here and there on the trees that
lined the rough wood-road; the strains of an orchestra, formed of a
guitar, banjo, castanets, Chinese fiddle, and tin cans, greeted them
from a distance, but were properly allowed to die away in silence
when the guest neared the tents. Everything wore a new and smiling
face, and Elsie never came more dangerously near being squeezed to
Elsie, in the prettiest of gingham dresses, and her cloud of golden
hair braided in two funny little pugs to keep it out of the dust;
Elsie, with a wide hat that shaded her face, already a little tanned
and burned, no longer colourless; Elsie, with no lines of pain in her
pretty forehead, and the hollow ring gone from her voice; Elsie, who
jumped over the wheel of the wagon, and hugged her huggers with the
strength of a young bear! It was too good to believe, and nobody did
quite believe it for days.
At three o'clock the happiest party in the world assembled at the
rough dining-table under the sycamore-trees.
Elsie beamed upon the feast from the high-backed manzanita chair, a
faint colour in her cheeks, and starry prisms of light in a pair of
eyes that had not sparkled for many a weary month. Hop Yet smiled a
trifle himself, wore his cap with a red button on the top to wait
upon the table, and ministered to the hungry people with more
interest and alacrity than he had shown since he had been dragged
from Santa Barbara, his Joss, and his nightly game of fantan. And
such a dinner as he had prepared in honour of the occasion!--longer
by four courses than usual, and each person was allowed two plates in
the course of the meal.
BILL OF FARE FOR HER MAJESTY'S DINNER
Quail Soup. Crackers.
(Mutton stew, in Spanish style,
with Chili peppers, tomatoes,
Cold Boiled Ham. Fried Potatoes.
Apples and Onions stewed together.
Peaches, Apricots, and Nectarines.
California Nuts and Raisins.
And last of all, a surprise of Bell's, flapjacks, long teased for by
the boys, and prepared and fried by her own hands while the merry
party waited at table, to get them smoking hot.
She came in flushed with heat and pride, the prettiest cook anybody
ever saw, with her hair bobbed up out of the way and doing its best
to escape, a high-necked white apron, sleeves rolled up to the elbow,
and an insinuating spot of batter in the dimple of her left cheek.
'There!' she cried, joyfully, as she deposited a heaping plate in
front of her mother, and set the tin can of maple syrup by its side.
'Begin on those, and I'll fry like lightning on two griddles to keep
up with you,' and she rushed to the brush kitchen to turn her next
instalments that had been left to brown. Hop Yet had retired to a
distant spot by the brook, and was washing dish-towels. All Chinese
cooks are alike in their horror of a woman in the kitchen; but some
of them will unbend so far as to allow her to amuse herself so long
as they are not required to witness the disagreeable spectacle.
Bell delicately inserted the cake-turner under the curled edges of
the flapjacks and turned them over deftly, using a little too much
force, perhaps, in the downward stroke when she flung them back on
'Seems to me they come down with considerable of a thud,' she said,
reflectively. 'I hope they're not tough, for I should never hear the
last of it. Guess I'll punch one with the handle of this tin shovel,
and see how it acts. Goodness! it's sort of--elastic. That's funny.
Well, perhaps it's the way they ought to look.' Here she transferred
the smoking mysteries to her plate, passed a bit of pork over the
griddles, and, after ladling out eight more, flew off to the group at
'Are they good?' she was beginning to ask, when the words were frozen
on her lips by the sight of a significant tableau.
The four boys were standing on the bench that served instead of
dining-chairs, each with a plate and a pancake on the table in front
of them. Jack held a hammer and spike, Scott Burton a hatchet,
Geoffrey a saw, and Philip a rifle. Bell was nothing if not
intuitive. No elaborate explanations ever were needed to show her a
fact. Without a word she flung the plate of flapjacks she held as
far into a thicket as she had force to fling it, and then dropped on
"'Shoot, if you must, this old grey head,
But spare my flapjacks, sirs," she said!
'What's the matter with them? Tough? I refuse to believe it. Your
tools are too dull,--that's all. Use more energy! Nothing in this
world can be accomplished without effort.'
'They're a lovely brown,' began Mrs. Winship, sympathetically.
'And they have a very good flavour,' added Elsie.
'Don't touch them, dearest!' cried Bell, snatching the plate from
under Elsie's very nose. 'I won't have you made ill by my failures.
But as for the boys, I don't care a fig for them. Let them make
flapjacks more to their taste, the odious things! Polly Oliver, did
you put in that baking powder, as I told you, while I went for the
Polly blanched. 'Baking powder?' she faltered.
'Yes, baking powder! B-A-K-I-N-G P-O-W-D-E-R! Do I make myself
'Oh, baking powder, to be sure. Well, now that you mention the
matter, I do remember that Dicky called me away just as I was getting
it; and now that I think of it, Elsie came just afterwards, and--and-
'And that's the whole of my story, O,' sang Jack. 'I recommend the
criminal to the mercy of the court.'
'A case of too many cooks,' laughed Dr. Winship. 'Cheer up, girls;
better fortune next time.'
'There are eight more of them burning on the griddles this moment,
Polly,' said Bell, scathingly; 'and as they are yours, not mine, I
advise you to throw them in the brook, with the rest of the batter,
so that Hop Yet won't know that there has been a failure.'
'Some people blight everything they touch,' sighed Polly, gloomily,
as she departed for the kitchen.
'But when I lie in the green kirkyard -
'Oh, Polly, dear,' interrupted Margery, 'that apology will not serve
any longer; you've used it too often.'
'This is going to be entirely different,' continued Polly,
'But when I lie in the green kirkyard,
With the mould upon my breasts
Say not that she made flapjacks well,
Only, she did her best.'
'We promise!' cried Bell.
CHAPTER VII: POLLY'S BIRTHDAY: FIRST HALF
IN WHICH SHE REJOICES AT THE MERE FACT OF HER EXISTENCE.
'"O frabjous day! Calooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.'
Polly's birthday dawned auspiciously. At six o'clock she was kissed
out of a sound sleep by Bell and Margery, and the three girls slipped
on their wrappers, and prepared to run through the trees for a
morning plunge in Mirror Pool. Although it was August there was
still water enough in Minnehaha Brook to give one a refreshing dip.
Mirror Pool was a quarter of a mile distant and well guarded with
rocks and deep hidden in trees; but a little pathway had been made to
the water's edge, and thus the girls had easy access to what they
called The Mermaid's Bath. A bay-tree was adorned with a little
redwood sign, which bore a picture of a mermaid, drawn by Margery,
and below the name these lines in rustic letters:-
'A hidden brook,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.'
Laura had not lived long enough in the woods to enjoy these cold
plunges; and, as her ideal was a marble tub, with scented water, and
a French maid to apply the same with a velvet sponge, it is not much
wonder. She insisted that, though it was doubtless a very romantic
proceeding, the bottom and sides of the natural tub were quite too
rocky and rough for her taste, and that she should be in constant
terror of snakes curling round her toes.
'I've a great mind to wake Laura, just for once,' said Bell, opening
the tent door. 'There never was such a morning! (I believe I've
said that regularly every day; but I simply never can get used to
it.) There must have been a wonderful sunrise, dears, for the glow
hasn't faded yet. Not a bit of morning fog--that's good for Elsie.
And what a lovely day for a birthday! Did they use to give you
anything like this in Vermont, Polly?'
'Hardly,' said Polly, peering over Bell's shoulder. 'Let's see.
What did they give us in Vermont this month? Why, I can't think of
anything but dog-days, hot nights, and hay fever; but that sounds
ungrateful. Why, Geoff's up already! There's Elsie's bunch of
vines, and twigs, and pretty things hanging on her tent-door. He's
been off on horseback. Just my luck to have him get up first. Jack
always does, you know; and last night I sewed up the tent-opening
with carpet-thread, good and tight, overhand--stitches I wouldn't be
ashamed of at a sewing-school.'
'Oh you naughty girl!' laughed Bell. 'The boys could rip it open
with a knife in half the time it took you to sew it.'
'Certainly. I didn't mean to keep them sewed up all day; but I
thought I'd like Jack to remember me the first thing this morning.'
'Girls,' whispered Margery, excitedly, 'don't stand there mooning--or
sunning--for ever! I thought there was a gopher in this tent last
night. I heard something scratching, and I thought it was the dog
outside; but just look at these two holes almost under Laura's
'Let's fill them up, cover them over--anything!' gasped Bell. 'Laura
will never sleep here another night if she sees them.'
'Nobody insured Laura against gophers,' said Polly. 'She must take
the fortunes of war.'
'I wouldn't wake her,' said Margery. 'She didn't sleep well, and her
face is flushed. Come, or we shall be late for breakfast.'
When they returned, fresh and rosy, from their bath, there was a stir
of life in all the tents. Pancho had come from the stage-station
with mail; an odour of breakfast issued from the kitchen, where Hop
Yet was humming a fragment of Chinese song, that ran something like
this,--not loud, but unearthly enough, as Bell used to say, to spoil
almost any cooking:-
Fong fong mongmong tiu he sun yi-u
sow chong how ki-u me yun tan-tar che ku choi song!
Dicky was abroad, radiant in a new suit of clothes, and Elsie pushed
her golden head out between the curtains, and proclaimed herself
strong enough for a wrestling-match with any boy or man about the
But they found Laura sitting on the edge of her straw bed, directly
over the concealed gopher-holes, a mirror in her hand and an
expression of abject misery on her countenance.
'What's the matter?' cried the girls in one breath. But they needed
no answer, as she turned her face towards the light, for it was
plainly a case of poison-oak--one eye almost closed, and the cheek
scarlet and swollen.
'Where do you suppose you got it?' asked Bell.
'Oh, I don't know. It's everywhere; so I don't see how I ever hoped
to escape it. Yet I've worn gloves every minute. I think I must
have touched it when I went up the mountain trail with Jack. I'm a
perfect fright already, and I suppose it has only begun.'
'Is it very painful?' asked Polly, sympathetically. 'Oh, you do look
so funny, I can hardly help laughing, but I'm as sorry as I can be.'
'I should expect you to laugh--you generally do,' retorted Laura.
'No, it's not painful yet; but I don't care about that--it's looking
so ridiculous. I wonder if Dr. Winship could send me home. I wish
now that I had gone with Scott, for I can't be penned up in this tent
'Oh, it won't hurt you to go out,' said Bell, 'and you can lie in the
sitting-room. Just wait, and let mamma try and cure you. She's a
famous doctor.' And Bell finished dressing hurriedly, and went to
her mother's tent, while Polly and Margery smoothed the bed with a
furtive kick of straw over the offending gopher-holes, and hung a
dark shawl so as to shield Laura's eyes.
Aunt Truth entered speedily, with a family medical guide under one
arm, and a box of remedies under the other.
'The doctor has told me just what to do, and he will see you after
breakfast himself. It doesn't look so very bad a case, dear; don't
run about in the sun for a day or two, and we'll bring you out all
right. The doctor has had us all under treatment at some time or
other, because of that troublesome little plant.'
'I don't want to get up to breakfast,' moaned Laura.
'Just as you like. But it is Polly's birthday, you know (many happy
returns, my sweet Pollykins), and there are great preparations going
'I can't help it, Mrs. Winship. The boys would make fun of my looks;
and I shouldn't blame them.'
'Appear as the Veiled Lady,' suggested Margery, as Mrs. Winship went
'I won't come, and that's the end of it,' said Laura. 'Perhaps if I
bathe my face all the morning I can come to dinner.'
After breakfast was cleared away, Hop Yet and Mrs. Howard's little
China boy Gin were given a half-holiday, and allowed to go to a--
neighbouring ranch to see a 'flend' of Hop Yet's; for it was a part
of the birthday scheme that Bell and Geoffrey should cook the
Jack was so delighted at the failure of Polly's scheme to sew him in
his tent, that he simply radiated amiability, and spent the whole
morning helping Elsie and Margery with a set of elaborate dinner-
cards, executed on half-sheets of note-paper.
The dinner itself was a grand success. Half of the cards bore a
caricature of Polly in the shape of a parrot, with the inscription
'Polly want a cracker?' The rest were adorned with pretty sketches
of her in her camping-dress, a kettle in one hand, and underneath,
'Polly, put the kettle on,
We'll all have tea.'
This was the bill of fare arranged by Bell and Geoffrey, and written
on the reverse side of the dinner-cards
DINNER A LA MOTHER GOOSE.
August 15, 18-.
'Come with a whoop, come with a call;
Come with a good will, or not at all.'
'VICTUALS AND DRINK.'
'She gave them some broth, she gave them some bread.'
'You shall have a fishy
In a little dishy.'
ROAST MUTTON A LA VENISON.
'Dear sensibility, O la!
I heard a little lamb cry ba-a!'
POTATOES IN JACKETS.
'The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
All jumped out of a roasted potato.'
'You, nor I, nor nobody knows,
Where oats, peas, beans, and barley grows.'
CHICKEN AND BEEF SANDWICHES.
'Hickety, pickety, my pretty hen
Laid good eggs for gentlemen.'
Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief,
Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of beef.'
'A pie sat on a pear-tree.'
'The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer's day.'
FRUIT, NUTS, AND RAISINS.
'You shall have an apple,
You shall have a plum.'
'I had a little nut-tree, nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.'
BREAD AND CHEESE.
'When I was a bachelor I lived by myself,
And all the bread and cheese I got I put upon the shelf.'
COFFEE AND LEMONADE.
'One, two, three, how good you be!
I love coffee and Billy loves tea.'
'Oranges and lemons,
Says the bell of St. Clemen's.'
'What they ate I can't tell,
But 'tis known very well
That none of the party grew fat.'
Bell and Geoff took turns at 'dishing up' in the kitchen, and sat
down at the table between whiles; and they barely escaped being
mobbed when they omitted one or two dishes on the programme, and
confessed that they had been put on principally for the 'style' of
the thing,--a very poor excuse to a company of people who have made
up their mouths for all the delicacies of the season.
Jack was head waiter, and having donned a clean white blouse of Hop
Yet's and his best cap with the red button, from which dangled a
hastily improvised queue of black worsted, he proceeded to convulse
everybody with his Mongolian antics. These consisted of most
informal remarks in clever pigeon English, and snatches of Chinese
melody, rendered from time to time as he carried dishes into the
kitchen. Elsie laughed until she cried, and Laura sat in the
shadiest corner, her head artistically swathed in white tarlatan.
Polly occupied the seat of honour at the end of the table opposite
Dr. Winship, and was happier than a queen. She wore her new green
cambric, with a bunch of leaves at her belt. She was sun-burned, but
the freckles seemed to have disappeared mysteriously from her nose,
and almost any one would have admired the rosy skin, the dancing
eyes, and the graceful little auburn head, 'sunning over with curls.'
When the last bit of dessert had been disposed of, and Dicky had gone
to sleep in his mother's lap, like an infant boa-constrictor after a
hearty meal, the presentation of gifts and reading of poems took
place; and Polly had to be on the alert to answer all the nonsensical
jokes that were aimed at her.
Finally, Bell crowned the occasion by producing a song of Miss
Mulock's, which had come in the morning mail from some girl friend of
Polly's in the East, who had discovered that Polly's name had
appeared in poetry and song without her knowledge, and who thought
she might be interested to hear the composition. With the aid of
Bell's guitar and Jack's banjo the girls and boys soon caught the
pretty air, and sung it in chorus.
1. Pretty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, will you be my own?
Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, as cold as a
stone; But my love has grown warm-er as
cold-er you've grown, O Pret-ty Pol-ly
Ol-i-ver, will you be my own?
2. Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, I love you so dear!
Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, my hope and my
fear; I've wait-ed for you, sweet-heart, this
many a long year; For Pret-ty Pol-ly
Ol-i-ver, I've loved you so dear!
3. Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, I'll bid you good bye:
Pret-ty Pol-ly Ol-i-ver, for you I'll not
die; You'll nev-er get a tru-er true
lov-er than I, So Pret-ty Pol-ly
Ol-i-ver, good-bye, love, good-bye!
At the end, Dr. Winship raised his glass of lemonade, and proposed to
drink Miss Oliver's health. This was done with enthusiasm, and
Geoffrey immediately cried, 'Speech, speech!'
'I can't,' said Polly, blushing furiously.
'Speech!' sung Jack and Philip vociferously, pounding on the table
with knife-handles to increase the furore.
'Speech!' demanded the genial doctor, going over to the majority, and
smiling encouragingly at Polly, who was pushed to her feet before she
knew very well what she was doing. 'Oh, if Laura were not looking at
me,' she thought, 'I'd just like to speak right out, and tell them a
little bit of what is in my heart. I don't care--I will!'
'I know you are all in fun,' she said, looking bravely into the good
doctor's eyes, 'and of course no one could make a proper speech with
Jack grinning like a Cheshire cat, but I can't help telling you that
this is the happiest summer and the happiest birthday of my whole
life, and that I scarcely remember nowadays that I have no father and
no brothers and sisters, for I have never been alone or unhappy since
you took me in among you and Bell chose me for her friend; and I
think that if you knew how grateful I am for my beautiful summer,
dear Dr. Paul and Aunt Truth, you would be glad that you gave it to
me, and I love you all, dearly, dearly, dearly!' Whereupon the
impulsive little creature finished her maiden speech by dashing round
the table and giving Mrs. Winship one of her 'bear hugs,' at which
everybody laughed and rose from the table.
Laura Burton, who was thoroughly out of conceit with the world, and
who was never quite happy when other people seemed for the moment to
be preferred to herself, thought this burst of affection decidedly
theatrical, but she did not know of any one to whom she could confine
her opinions just then; indeed, she felt too depressed and out of
sorts to join in the general hilarity.
Dinner being over, Dr. Paul and the boys took the children and
sauntered up the canyon for a lazy afternoon with their books. Elsie
went to sleep in the new hammock that the doctor had hung in the
sycamores back of the girls' sleeping-tent, and Mrs. Winship lay down
for her afternoon nap. Pancho saddled the horses for Bell and
Margery, who went for a gallop. Polly climbed into the sky-parlour
to write a long letter to her mother, and Laura was left to solitude
in the sleeping-tent. Now everybody knows that a tent at midday is
not a particularly pleasant spot, and after many a groan at the glare
of the sun, which could not be tempered by any system of shawls, and
moans at the gopher-holes which she discovered while searching for
her ear-ring, and repeated consultations with the hand-glass at brief
intervals, during which she convinced herself that she looked worse
every minute,--she finally discovered a series of alarming new spots
on her neck and chin. She felt then that camping out was a complete
failure, and that she would be taken home forthwith if it could be
managed, since she saw nothing before her but day after day of close
confinement and unattractive personal appearance. 'It's just my
luck!' she grumbled, as she twisted up her hair and made herself as
presentable as possible under the trying circumstances. 'I don't
think I ever had a becoming or an interesting illness. The chicken-
pox, mumps, and sties on my eyes--that's the sort of thing I have!'
'I feel much worse, Mrs. Winship,' she said, going into the sitting-
room tent and waking Aunt Truth from a peaceful snooze. 'If you can
spare Pancho over night, I really think I must trouble you to send
Anne and me home at once. I feel as if I wanted to go to bed in a
dark room, and I shall only be a bother if I stay.'
'Why, my child, I'm sorry to have you go off with your visit
unfinished. You know we don't mind any amount of trouble, if we can
make you comfortable.'
'You are very kind, but indeed I'd rather go.'
'I hardly dare let you start in the hot sun--without consulting the
doctor, and everybody is away except Polly; they will feel badly not
to say good-bye.'
'It is nearly three o'clock now, so the worst of the sun is over, and
we shall be at the ranch by eight this evening. I feel too ill to
say good-bye, any way, and we shall meet Bell and Margery somewhere
on the road, for they were going to the milk ranch.'
'Very well, my dear, if you've made up your mind I must yield,'
replied Mrs. Winship, getting up and smoothing her hair. 'I don't
dare wake Elsie, she has had such an exciting day; but I'll call
Polly to help you pack, and then tell Pancho to find Anne and harness
the team. While he is doing that, I'll get you a little lunch to
take with you and write a note to your mother. Perhaps you can come
again before we break camp, but I'm sorry to send you home in such a
CHAPTER VIII: POLLY'S BIRTHDAY: SECOND HALF
IN WHICH SHE WISHES SEE HAD NEVER BEEN BORN.
'From Hebrew wit the maxim sprung,
Though feet should slip, ne'er let the tongue.
Polly came at once to the tent, where she found Laura getting her
'Why, Laura, it seems too bad you should go off so suddenly. What
can I do to help you?'
The very spirit of evil entered Laura's heart as she looked at Polly,
so fresh and pretty and radiant, with her dimples dancing in and out,
her hair ruffled with the effort of literary composition, and the
glow of the day's happiness still shining in her eyes. She felt as
if Polly was 'glad inside' that she was poisoned; she felt sure she
was internally jumping for joy at her departure; and, above all, she
felt that Polly was entirely too conceited over the attention she had
received that day, and needed to be 'taken down a peg or two.'
'Red-haired, stuck-up, saucy thing,' she thought, 'how I should like
to give her a piece of my mind before I leave this place, if I only
'I don't need any help, thank you,' she said aloud, in her iciest
'But it will only make your head ache to bend over and tug away at
that valise, and I'll be only too glad to do it.'
'I've no doubt of that,' responded Laura, meaningly. 'It is useless
for you to make any show of regret over my going, for I know
perfectly well that you are glad to get me out of the way.'
'Why, Laura, what do you mean?' exclaimed Polly, completely dazed at
this bombshell of candour.
'I mean what I say; and I should have said it before if I could ever
have found a chance. Because I didn't mention it at the time, you
needn't suppose I've forgotten your getting me into trouble with Mrs.
Winship, the day before the Howards came.'
'That was not my fault,' said Polly, hotly. 'I didn't speak any
louder than the other girls, and I didn't know Aunt Truth objected to
Mrs. Pinkerton, and I didn't know she was anywhere near.'
'You roared like the bull of Bashan--that's what you did. Perhaps
you can't help your voice, but anybody in the canyon could have heard
you; and Mrs. Winship hasn't been the same to me since, and the boys
don't take the slightest notice of me lately.'
'You are entirely mistaken, Laura. Dr. and Mrs. Winship are just as
lovely and cordial to you as they are to everybody else, and the boys
do not feel well enough acquainted with you to "frolic" with you as
they do with us.'
'It isn't so, but you are not sensitive enough to see it; and I
should never have been poisoned if it hadn't been for you!'
'Oh, go on, do!' said Polly, beginning to lose her self-control,
which was never very great. 'I didn't know I was a Lucrezia Borgia
in disguise. How did I poison you, pray?'
'I didn't say you poisoned me; but you made me so uncomfortable that
day, bringing down Mrs. Winship's lecture on my head and getting my
best friend abused, that I was glad to get away from the camp, and
went out with Jack for that reason when I was too tired and warm; and
you are always trying to cut me out with Bell and the boys.'
'That's a perfectly--jet black--fib!' cried Polly, who was now
thoroughly angry; 'and I don't think it is very polite of you to
attack the whole party, and say they haven't been nice to you, when
they've done everything in the world!'
'It isn't your party any more than mine, is it? And if I don't know
how to be polite, I certainly shan't ask YOU for instruction; for I
must know as much about the manners of good society as you do,
inasmuch as I have certainly seen more of it!'
Polly sank into a camp-chair, too stunned for a moment to reply,
while Laura, who had gone quite beyond the point where she knew or
cared what she said, went on with a rush of words: 'I mean to tell
you, now that I am started, that anybody who isn't blind can see why
you toady to the Winships, who have money and social position, and
why you are so anxious to keep everybody else from getting into their
good graces; but they are so partial to you that they have given you
an entirely false idea of yourself; and you might as well know that
unless you keep yourself a little more in the background, and grow a
little less bold and affected and independent, other people will not
be quite as ready as the Winships to make a pet of a girl whose
mother keeps a boarding-house.'
Poor Laura! It was no sooner said than she regretted it--a little,
not much. But poor Polly! Where was her good angel then? Why could
she not have treated this thrust with the silence and contempt it
deserved? But how could Laura have detected and probed the most
sensitive spot in the girl's nature? She lost all command of
herself. Her rage absolutely frightened her, for it made her deaf
and blind to all considerations of propriety and self-respect, and
for a moment she was only conscious of the wild desire to strike--
yes, even to kill--the person who had so insulted all that was
dearest to her.
'Don't dare to say another word!' she panted, with such flaming
cheeks and such flashing eyes that Laura involuntarily retreated
towards the door, half afraid of the tempest her words had evoked.
'Don't dare to say another word, or I don't know what I may do! Yes,
I am glad you are going, and everybody will be glad, and the sooner
you go the better! You've made everybody miserable ever since you
came, with your jealousy and your gossip and your fine-lady airs; and
if Aunt Truth hadn't loved your mother, and if we were mean enough to
tell tales, we would have repeated some of your disagreeable speeches
long ago. How can you dare to say I love the Winships for anything
but themselves? And if you had ever seen my darling mother, you
never could have called her a boarding-house keeper, you cruel--'
Oh, but the dashing torrent of angry words stopped at the mere
mention of her mother. The word recalled her to herself, but too
late. It woke in her memory the clasp of her mother's arms, the
sound of the sweet, tired voice: 'Only two of us against the big
world, Polly--you and I. Be brave, little daughter, brave and
patient.' Oh, how impatient and cowardly she had been! Would she
never learn to be good? The better impulses rushed back into her
heart, and crowded out the bad ones so quickly that in another moment
she would have flung herself at Laura's feet, and implored her
forgiveness merely to gain again her own self-respect and her
mother's approval; but there was no time for repentance (there isn't
sometimes), for the clatter of wheels announced Pancho's approach
with the team, and Mrs. Winship and Anne Burton came into view,
walking rapidly towards the tent.
Laura was a good deal disconcerted at their ill-timed appearance, but
reflected rapidly that if Mrs. Winship had overheard anything, it was
probably Polly's last speech, in which case that young person would
seem to be more in fault than herself, so stepping out of the tent
she met Mrs. Winship and kissed her good-bye.
Little Anne ran on and jumped into the wagon, with all a child's joy
at the prospect of going anywhere. Polly's back was turned, but she
could not disappear entirely within the tent without causing Mrs.
Winship surprise; and she went through a lifetime of misery and self-
reproach in that minute of shame and fear, when she dared neither to
advance nor retreat.
'I don't quite like to let you go alone, Laura, without consulting
the doctor, and I can't find him,' said Mrs. Winship. 'Why, you are
nervous and trembling! Hadn't you better wait until to-morrow?'
'No, thank you, Mrs. Winship. I am all ready now, and would prefer
to go. I think perhaps I have stayed quite long enough, as Polly has
just told me that everybody is glad to see the last of me, and that
I've made you all miserable since I came.
This was the climax to Polly's misery; for she was already so
overcome by the thought of her rudeness that she was on the point of
begging Laura's pardon for that particular speech then and there, and
she had only to hear her exact words repeated to feel how they would
sound in Mrs. Winship's ears.
Mrs. Winship was so entirely taken aback by Laura's remark, that she
could only ejaculate, 'Polly--said--that! What do you mean?'
'Oh, I am quite ready to think she said more than she intended, but
those were her words.'
Polly turned. Alas! it was plain enough that this was no false
accusation. Her downcast eyes, flushed, tear-stained cheeks,
quivering lips, and the silent shame of her whole figure, spoke too
'Can it be possible, Polly, that you spoke in such a way to a guest
who was about to leave my house?'
The word was wrung from Polly's trembling lips. What could she say
but 'Yes,'--it was true,--and how could she repeat the taunts that
had provoked her to retort? They were not a sufficient excuse; and
for that matter, nothing could be a sufficient excuse for her
language. Now that she was confronted with her own fault, Laura's
seemed so small beside it that she would have been ashamed to offer
it as any justification.
Mrs. Winship grew pale, and for a moment was quite at a loss as to
the treatment of such a situation.
'Don't say any more about it, Mrs. Winship,' said Laura; 'we were
both angry, or we should never have forgotten ourselves, and I shall
think no more of it.' Laura spoke with such an air of modest virtue,
and seemed so ready to forgive and forget, that Polly in her silence
and confusion appeared worse than ever.
'But I want you to remember that you are my guest, not Pauline's;
that I asked you to come and ask you to remain. I cannot allow you
to go simply because you do not chance to be a favourite with another
of my guests.' (Oh! the pang these words gave Polly's faulty, tender
'I am only going because I feel so ill,--not a bit because of what
Polly said; I was in the wrong, too, perhaps, but I promise not to
let anybody nor anything make me quarrel when I visit you again.
Good-bye!' and Laura stepped into the wagon.
'I trust you will not mention this to your mother, since I hope it is
the only unpleasant incident of your visit; and it is no fault of
mine that you go away with an unhappy impression of our hospitality.'
Here Mrs. Winship reached up and kissed little Anne, and as the
horses were restive, and no one seemed to have anything further to
say, Pancho drove off.
'I don't care to talk with you any more at present, Polly,' said Mrs.
Winship. 'I am too hurt and too indignant to speak of your conduct
quietly. I know the struggles you have with your temper, and I am
quite willing to sympathise with you even when you do not come off
victorious; but this is something quite different. I can't conceive
how any amount of provocation or dislike could have led you into such
disloyalty to me'; and with this she walked away.
Polly staggered into a little play-room tent of Dicky's, where she
knew that she could be alone, pinned the curtains together so that no
one could peep in, and threw herself down upon the long cushioned
seat where Dicky was wont to take his afternoon nap. There, in grief
and despair, she sobbed the afternoon through, dreading to be
disturbed and dreading to be questioned.
'My beautiful birthday spoiled,' she moaned, 'and all my own fault!
I was so happy this morning, but now was ever anybody so miserable as
I? And even if I tell Aunt Truth what Laura said, she will think it
no excuse, and it isn't!'
As it neared supper-time she made an opening in the back of the tent,
and after long watching caught sight of Gin on his way to the brook
for water, signalled him, and gave him this despairing little note
for Mrs. Winship:-
Dear Aunt Truth,--I don't ask you to forgive me--I don't deserve to
be forgiven--but I ask you to do me just one more of your dear little
kindnesses. Let me stay alone in Dicky's tent till morning, and
please don't let any one come near me. You can tell everybody the
whole story to-night, if you think best, though I should be glad if
only Dr. Paul and Bell need know; but I do not mind anything after
displeasing you--nothing can be so bad as that. Perhaps you think I
ought to come out and confess it to them myself, as a punishment; but
oh, Aunt Truth, I am punishing myself in here alone worse than any
one else can do it. I will go back to Santa Barbara any time that
you can send me to the stage station, and I will never ask you to
love me again until I have learned how to control my temper. Your
P.S.--I remember that it is my birthday, and all that you have done
for me, to-day and all the other days. It looks as if I were
ungrateful, but in spite of what I did I am not. The words just
blazed out, and I never knew that they were going to be said till I
heard them falling from my mouth. It seems to me that if I ever
atone for this I will have a slate and pencil hanging to my belt, and
only write what I have to say. POLLY.
The moisture came to Mrs. Winship's eyes as she read this tear-
stained little note. 'There's something here I don't quite
understand,' she thought; 'and yet Polly confessed that Laura told
the truth. Poor child!--but she has got to learn patience and self-
control through suffering. However, I'll keep the matter a secret
from everybody at present, and stand between her and my inquisitive
brood of youngsters,' and she slipped the note into her pocket.
At six o'clock the members of the family came into camp from various
directions, and gathered about the supper-table. All were surprised
at Laura's sudden departure, but no one seemed especially grief-
stricken. Dicky announced confidentially to Philip that Laura was a
'norful 'fraid-cat of frogs,' and Jack ventured the opinion that Miss
Laura hadn't 'boy' enough in her for camp-life.
'But where is Polly?' asked Bell, looking round the table, as she
pinned up her riding-skirt and sat down in her usual seat.
'She has a bad headache, and is lying down,' said Mrs. Winship,
quietly; 'she'll be all right in the morning.'
'Headache!' ejaculated four or five people at once, dropping their
napkins and looking at each other in dismay.
'I'll go and rub her head with Cologne,' said Margery.
'Let me go and sit with her,' said Elsie.
'Have you been teasing her, Jack?' asked Mrs. Howard.
'Too much birthday?' asked Dr. Paul. 'Tell her we can spare almost
anybody else better.'
'Bless the child, she wants me if she is sick. Go on with your
suppers, I'll see to her,' and Bell rose from the table.
'No, my dear, I want you all to leave her alone at present,' said
Mrs. Winship, decidedly. 'I've put her to bed in Dicky's play-tent,
and I want her to be quiet. Gin has taken her some supper, and she
Polly Oliver in need of rest! What an incomprehensible statement!
Nobody was satisfied, but there was nothing more to be said, though
Bell and Philip exchanged glances as much as to say, 'Something is
Supper ended, and they gathered round the camp-fire, but nothing was
quite as usual. It was all very well to crack jokes, but where was a
certain merry laugh that was wont to ring out, at the smallest
provocation, in such an infectious way that everybody else followed
suit? And who was there, when Polly had the headache, to make a
saucy speech and look down into the fire innocently, while her
dimples did everything that was required in order to point the shaft?
And pray what was the use of singing when there was no alto to Bell's
treble, or of giving conundrums, since it was always Polly who
thought of nonsensical answers better than the real ones? And as for
Jack, why, it was folly to shoot arrows of wit into the air when
there was no target. He simply stretched himself out beside Elsie,
who was particularly quiet and snoozed peacefully, without taking any
part in the conversation, avowing his intention to 'turn in' early.
'Turn in' early, forsooth! What was the matter with the boy?
'It's no use,' said Bell, plaintively; 'we can't be anything but
happy, now that we have Elsie here; but it needs only one small
headache to show that Polly fills a long-felt want in this camp. You
think of her as a modest spoke in the wheel till she disappears, and
then you find she was the hub.'
'Yes,' said Margery, 'I think every one round this fire is simply
angelic, unless I except Jack; but the fact is that Polly is--well,
she is--Polly, and I dare any one to contradict me.'
'The judgment of the court is confirmed,' said Philip.
'And the shark said, "If you
Don't believe it is true,
Just look at my wisdom tooth!"'
'And if any one ever tells me again that she has red hair and hasn't
good features, I should just like to show them a picture of her as
she was to-day at the dinner-table!' exclaimed Bell.
'As if anybody needed features with those dimples,' added Elsie, 'or
would mind red hair when it was such pretty hair!'
'I think a report of this conversation would go far towards curing
Polly,' said Dr. Winship, with a smile.
'And you say we can't go in there before we go to bed, mamacita?'
whispered Bell in her mother's ear, as the boys said good-night--and
went towards their tent.
'My dear,' she answered decidedly, with a fond kiss for each of the
girls, 'Polly herself asked me to keep everybody away.'
Polly herself wanted to be alone! Would wonders never cease?
Meanwhile Dicky, who had disappeared for a moment, came back to the
fire, his bosom heaving with grief and rage.
'I went to my play-tent,' he sobbed, 'and putted my hand underneath
the curtain and gave Polly a piece of my supper cake I saved for her-
-not the frosted part, but the burnt part I couldn't eat--and she
liked it and kissed my hand--and then I fought she was lonesome, and
would like to see my littlest frog, and I told her to put out her
hand again for a s'prise, and I squeezed him into it tight, so 't he
wouldn't jump--and she fought it was more cake, and when she found it
wasn't she frew my littlest frog clear away, and it got losted!'
This brought a howl of mirth from everybody, and Dicky was
instructed, while being put to bed, not to squeeze little frogs into
people's hands in the dark, as it sometimes affected them
All this time Polly was lying in the tent, quite exhausted with
crying, and made more wretched by every sound of voices wafted
towards her. Presently Gin appeared with her night-wrapper and
various things for comfort sent her by the girls; and as she wearily
undressed herself and prepared for the night, she found three little
messages of comfort pinned on the neck and sleeves of her flannel
gown, written in such colossal letters that she could easily read
them by the moonlight.
On the right sleeve:-
Cheer up! 'I will never desert Mr. Micawber!' BELL
On the left sleeve:-
Darling Polly,--Get well soon, or we shall all be sick in order to
stay with you. Lovingly, MEG.
PS.--Jack said you were the LIFE OF THE CAMP! What do you think of
On the neck:-
Dearest,--You have always called me the Fairy Godmother, and
pretended I could see things that other people couldn't.
The boys (great stupids!) think you have the headache. We girls can
all see that you are in trouble, but only the Fairy Godmother KNOWS
WHY; and though she can't make a beautiful gold coach out of this
pumpkin, because there's something wrong about the pumpkin, yet she
will do her best for Cinderella, and pull her out of the ashes
Polly's tears fell fast on the dear little notes, which she kissed
again and again, and tucked under her pillow to bring her sleep.
'Elsie knows something,' she thought, 'but how? she knows that I'm in
trouble and that I've done wrong, or she wouldn't have said that
about not being able to turn a bad pumpkin into a beautiful gold
coach; but perhaps she can get Aunt Truth to forgive me and try me
again. Unless she can do it, it will never come to pass, for I
haven't the courage to ask her. I would rather run away early in the
morning and go home than have her look at me again as she did to-day.
Oh! what shall I do?' and Polly went down on her knees beside the
rough couch, and sobbed her heart out in a childish prayer for help
and comfort. It was just the prayer of a little child telling a
sorrowful story; because it is when we are alone and in trouble that
the unknown and mysterious God seems to us most like a Father, and we
throw ourselves into the arms of His love like helpless children, and
tell Him our secret thoughts and griefs.
'Dear Father in heaven,' she sobbed, 'don't forgive me if I ought not
to be forgiven, but please make Aunt Truth feel how sorry I am, and
show me whether I ought to tell what made me so angry, though it's no
excuse. Bless and keep my darling patient little mother, and help me
to grow more like her, and braver and stronger too, so that I can
take care of her soon, and she needn't work hard any longer. Please
forgive me for hating some things in my life as much as I do, and I
will try and like them better; but I think--yes, I know--that I am
full of wicked pride; and oh, it seems as if I could never, never get
over wanting to live in a pretty house, and wear pretty dresses, and
have my mother live like Bell's and Margery's. And oh, if Thou canst
only forgive me for hating boarders so dreadfully, and being ashamed
of them every minute, I will try and like them better and tell
everybody that we take them--I will indeed; and if I can only once
make Aunt Truth love and trust me again, I will make the boarders'
beds and dust their rooms for ever without grumbling. Please, dear
Father in heaven, remember that I haven't any father to love me or to
teach me to be good; and though mamma does her best, please help her
to make something out of me if it can be done. Amen.'
'Truth,' said Mrs. Howard, when all was quiet about the camp, 'Elsie
wants to see you a moment before she goes to sleep. Will you go to
her tent, while I play a game of cribbage with Dr. Paul?'
Elsie looked like a blossom in all the beautiful greenness of her
tent, with her yellow head coming out from above the greens and
browns of the cretonne bed-cover for all the world like a daffodil
pushing its way up through the mould towards the spring sunshine.
'Aunt Truth,' she said softly, as Mrs. Winship sat down beside her,
'you remember that Dr. Paul hung my hammock in a new place to-day,
just behind the girls' sleeping-tent. Now I know that Polly is in
trouble, and that you are displeased with her. What I want to ask,
if I may, is, how much you know; for I overheard a great deal myself-
-enough to feel that Polly deserves a hearing.'
'I overheard nothing,' replied Mrs. Winship. 'All that I know Polly
herself confessed in Laura's presence. Polly told Laura, just as she
was going away, that everybody would be glad to see the last of her,
and that she had made everybody miserable from the beginning of her
visit. It was quite inexcusable, you know, dear, for one of my
guests to waylay another, just as she was leaving, and make such a
cruel speech. I would rather anything else had happened. I know how
impetuous Polly is, and I can forgive the child almost anything, her
heart is so full of love and generosity; but I cannot overlook such a
breach of propriety as that. Of course I have seen that Laura is not
a favourite with any of you. I confess she is not a very lovable
person, and I think she has led a very unwholesome life lately and is
sadly spoiled by it; still that is no excuse for Polly's conduct.'
'No, of course it isn't,' sighed Elsie, with a little quiver of the
lip. 'I thought I could plead a better case for Polly, but I see
exactly how thoughtless and impolite she was; yet, if you knew
everything, auntie, dear, you would feel a little different. Do you
think it was nice of Laura to repeat what Polly said right before
her, and just as she was going away, when she knew it would make you
uncomfortable and that you were not to blame for it?'
'No, hardly. It didn't show much tact; but girls of fifteen or
sixteen are not always remarkable for social tact. I excused her
partly because she was half-sick and nervous.'
'Well,' Elsie went on, 'I didn't hear the whole quarrel, so that I do
not know how long it lasted nor who began it. I can't help thinking
it was Laura, though, for she's been trying her best to provoke Polly
for the last fortnight, and until to-day she has never really
succeeded. I was half asleep, and heard at first only the faint
murmur of voices, but when I was fully awake, Laura was telling Polly
that she doted on you simply because you had money and position,
while she had not; that you were all so partial to her that she had
lost sight of her own deficiencies. Then she called her bold and
affected, and I don't know what else, and finally wound up by saying
that nobody but the Winships would be likely to make a pet of the
daughter of a boarding-house keeper.'
'Elsie!' ejaculated Mrs. Winship; 'this grows worse and worse! Is it
possible that Laura Burton could be guilty of such a thought?'
'I can't be mistaken. I was too excited not to hear very clearly;
and the moment the words were spoken I knew my poor dear's fiery
temper would never endure that. And it didn't; it blazed out in a
second, but it didn't last long, for before I could get to the tent
she had stopped herself right in the middle of a sentence; and in
another minute I heard your voice, and crept back to the hammock,
thinking that everything would be settled by Laura's going away. I'd
no idea that she would pounce on Polly and get her in disgrace, the
very last thing, when she knew that she was responsible for the whole
matter. You see, auntie, that, impolite as Polly was, she only told
Laura that we girls were glad she was going. She didn't bring you
in, after all; and Laura knew perfectly well that she was a welcome
visitor, and we all treated her with the greatest politeness, though
it's no use to say we liked her much.'
'I am very sorry for the whole affair,' sighed Mrs. Winship, 'there
is so much wrong on both sides. Laura's remark, it is true, would
have angered almost anybody who was not old and wise enough to see
that it deserved only contempt; but both the girls should have had
too much respect for themselves and for me to descend to such an
unladylike quarrel. However, I am only too glad to hear anything
which makes Polly's fault less, for I love her too dearly not to
suffer when I have to be severe with her.'
'She wouldn't ask you to overlook her fault,' continued Elsie, with
tears in her eyes. 'I know just how wretched and penitent she must
be--Polly is always so fierce against her own faults--but what must
be making her suffer most is the thought that she has entirely lost
your confidence and good opinion. Oh, I can't help thinking that God
feels sorrier this very minute for Polly, who fights and fights
against her temper, like a dear sunbeam trying to shine again and
again when a cloud keeps covering it up, than He does for Laura, who
has everything made smooth for her, and who is unhappy when her
feathers are ruffled the least bit.'
'You are right, dear, in so far that a fiery little soul like Polly's
can, if it finds the right channels, do God's work in the world
better than a character like Laura's, which is not courageous, nor
strong, nor sweet enough for great service, unless it grows into
better things through bitter or rich experiences. Now, good-night,
my blessed little peacemaker; sleep sweetly, for I am going into
Polly's tent to have a good talk with her.'
As Mrs. Winship dropped the curtains of Elsie's tent behind her, and
made her way quietly through the trees, the tinkling sound of a banjo
fell upon the still night air; and presently, as she neared Polly's
retreat, this facetious serenade, sung by Jack's well-known voice,
was wafted to her ears:
'Prithee, Polly Oliver, why bide ye so still?
Pretty Polly Oliver, we fear you are ill.
I'm singing 'neath thy window, when night dews are chill,
For, pretty Polly Oliver, we hear you are ill.'
She was about to despatch Master Jack to his tent with a round
scolding, when the last words of the song were frozen on his lips by
the sound of a smothered sob, in place of the saucy retort he hoped
to provoke. The unexpected sob frightened him more than any fusilade
of hot words, and he stole away in the darkness more crestfallen than
he had been for many a year.
Mrs. Winship, more troubled than ever, pulled apart the canvas
curtains, and stood in the opening, silently. The sight of the
forlorn little figure, huddled together on the straw bed, touched her
heart, and, when Polly started up with an eloquent cry and flew into
her extended arms, she granted willing forgiveness, and the history
of the afternoon was sobbed out upon her motherly shoulder.
The next morning Mrs. Winship announced that Polly was better, sent
breakfast to her tent, and by skilful generalship drove everybody
away from the camp but Elsie, who brought Polly to the sitting-room,
made her comfortable on the lounge, and, administering much good
advice to Margery and Bell concerning topics to be avoided, admitted
them one by one into her presence, so that she gradually regained her
self-control. And at the dinner-table a very pale Polly was present
again, with such a white face and heavy eyes that no one could doubt
there had been a headache, while two people, at least, knew that
there had been a heartache as well. The next day's mail carried the
following letter to Laura Burton:
CAMP CHAPARRAL, August 16, 188-.
My dear Laura,--As I told you when you were leaving, I cannot well
say how sorry I am that anything should have occurred to mar your
pleasant remembrance of your stay with us. That your dear mother's
daughter should have been treated with discourtesy while she was my
guest was very disagreeable to me; but I have learned that you were
yourself somewhat to blame in the affair, and therefore you should
have borne the harsh treatment you received with considerable
patience, and perhaps have kept it quite to yourself. ('That little
cat told her, after all,' said Laura, when she read this. 'I didn't
think she was that kind.') Polly would never have confessed the
cause of the quarrel, because she knew nothing could justify her
language; but Elsie was lying in the hammock behind the tent and
overheard the remark which so roused Polly's anger. You were not
aware, of course, how sore a spot you touched upon, or you could
never have spoken as you did, though I well know that you were both
too angry to reflect. Polly is a peculiarly proud and high-spirited
girl--proud, I confess, to a fault; but she comes, on her mother's
side, from a long line of people who have had much to be proud of in
the way of unblemished honesty, nobility, fine attainments, and
splendid achievements. Of her father's honourable services to his
country, and his sad and untimely death, you may have heard; but you
may not know that Mrs. Oliver's misfortunes have been very many and
very bitter, and that the only possibility of supporting and
educating Polly lies at present in her taking boarders, for her
health will not admit just now of her living anywhere save in
Southern California. I fail to see why this is not thoroughly
praiseworthy and respectable; but if you do not consider it quite an
elegant occupation, I can only say that Mrs. Oliver presides over the
table at which her 'boarders' sit with a high-bred dignity and grace
of manner that the highest lady in the land might imitate; and that,
when health and circumstances permit her to diminish the distance
between herself and the great world, she and her daughter Polly, by
reason of their birth and their culture, will find doors swinging
wide to admit them where you and I would find it difficult to enter.
Polly apologises sincerely for her rudeness, and will write you to
that effect, as of course she does not know of this letter.
Sincerely your friend,
CHAPTER IX: ROUND THE CAMP-FIRE
'The time before the fire they sat,
And shortened the delay by pleasing chat.'
The August days had slipped away one after another, and September was
at hand. There was no perceptible change of weather to mark the
advent of the new month. The hills were a little browner, the dust a
little deeper, the fleas a little nimbler, and the water in the brook
a trifle lower, but otherwise Dame Nature did not concern herself
with the change of seasons, inasmuch as she had no old dresses to get
rid of, and no new ones to put on for a long time yet; indeed, she is
never very fashionable in this locality, and wears very much the same
garments throughout the year.
Elsie seemed almost as strong as any of the other girls now, and
could enter with zest into all their amusements. The appetite of a
young bear, the sound, dreamless sleep of a baby, and the constant
breathing in of the pure, life-giving air had made her a new
creature. Mrs. Howard and Jack felt, day by day, that a burden of
dread was being lifted from their hearts; and Mrs. Howard especially
felt that she loved every rock and tree in the canyon.
It was a charming morning, and Polly was seated at the dining-room
table, deep in the preparation of a lesson in reading and
pronunciation for Hop Yet. Her forehead was creased with many
wrinkles of thought, and she bit the end of her lead-pencil as if she
were engaged in solving some difficult problem; but, if that were so,
why did the dimples chase each other in and out of her cheeks in such
a suspicious fashion? She was a very gentle, a very sedate Polly,
these latter days, and not only astonished her friends, but surprised
herself, by her good behaviour, her elegant reserve of manner, her
patience with Jack, and her abject devotion to Dicky.
'I'm afraid it won't last,' she sighed to herself occasionally. 'I'm
almost too good. That's always the way with me--I must either be so
bad that everybody is discouraged, or else so good that I frighten
them. Now I catch Bell and Elsie exchanging glances every day, as
much as to say, "Poor Polly, she will never hold out at this rate; do
you notice that nothing ruffles her--that she is simply angelic?" As
if I couldn't be angelic for a fortnight! Why I have often done it
for four weeks at a stretch!'
Margery was in the habit of giving Hop Yet an English lesson every
other day, as he had been very loath to leave his evening school in
Santa Barbara and bury himself in a canyon, away from all educational
influences; but she had deserted her post for once and gone to ride
with Elsie, so that Polly had taken her place and was evolving an
exercise that Hop Yet would remember to the latest day of his life.
It looked simple enough:-
1. The grass is dry.
2. The fruit is ripe.
3: The chaparral is green.
4. The new road is all right.
5. The bay-'rum' tree is fresh and pretty.
But as no Chinaman can pronounce the letter 'r,' it was laboriously
rendered thus, when the unhappy time of the lesson came:
5. The bay-lum-tlee-is-flesh-and-plitty.
Finally, when she attempted to introduce the sentence, 'Around the
rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran,' Hop Yet rose hurriedly,
remarking, 'All lightee; I go no more school jus' now. I lun get
Bell came running down the path just then, and linking her arm in
Polly's said, 'Papa has the nicest plan. You know the boys are so
disappointed that Colonel Jackson didn't ask them over to that rodeo
at his cattle ranch--though a summer rodeo is only to sort out fat
cattle to sell, and it is not very exciting; but papa promised to
tell them all about the old-fashioned kind some night, and he has
just remembered that to-morrow is Admission Day, September 9, so he
proposes a real celebration round the camp-fire to amuse Elsie. She
doesn't know anything about California even as it is now, and none of
us know what it was in the old days. Don't you think it will be
'And papa wants us each to contribute something.'
'A picnic!--but I don't know anything.'
'That's just what I'm coming to. I have such a bright idea. He said
that we might look in any of his books, but Geoff and Jack are at
them already, and I'd like a surprise. Now Juan Capistrano, an old
vaquero of Colonel Jackson's, is over here. He is a wonderful rider;
papa says that he could ride on a comet, if he could get a chance to
mount. It was he who told the boys that the rodeo was over. Now I
propose that we go and interview Pancho and Juan, and get them to
tell us some old California stories. They are both as stupid as they
can be, but they must have had some adventures, I suppose, somewhere,
sometime. I'll translate and write the things down, for my part, and
you and Margery can tell them.'
'Lovely! Oh, if we can only get an exciting grizzly story, so that
Every one's blood upon end it will stand,
And the hair run cold in their veins!
And was Dr. Paul out here when California was admitted into the
Union--1850, wasn't it?'
'Of course; why, my child, he was one of the delegates called by
General Riley, the military governor, to meet in convention at
Monterey and make a State constitution. That was September, too--the
first day of September 1849. He went back to the East some time
afterwards, and stayed ten or fifteen years; but he was a real
pioneer and "forty-niner" all the same.
The next night, September 9th, was so cool that the camp-fire was
more than ordinarily delightful; accordingly they piled on more wood
than usual, and prepared for a grand blaze. It was always built
directly in front of the sitting-room tent, so that Mrs. Howard and
Mrs. Winship could sit there if they liked; but the young people
preferred to lie lazily on their cushions and saddles under the oak-
tree, a little distance from the blaze. The clear, red firelight
danced and flickered, and the sparks rose into the sombre darkness
fantastically, while the ruddy glow made the great oak an enchanted
palace, into whose hollow dome they never tired of gazing. When the
light streamed highest, the bronze green of the foliage was turned
into crimson, and, as it died now and then, the stars winked brightly
through the thousand tiny windows formed by the interlacing branches.
'Well,' said the doctor, bringing his Chinese lounging-chair into the
circle, and lighting his pipe so as to be thoroughly happy and
comfortable, 'will you banish distinctions of age and allow me to sit
among you this evening?'
'Certainly,' Margery said; 'that's the very point of the celebration.
This is Admission Day, you know, and why shouldn't we admit you?'
'True; and having put myself into a holiday humour by dining off
Pancho's dish of guisado (I suppose to-night of all nights we must
call beef and onion stew by its local name), I will proceed to
business, and we will talk about California. By the way, I shall
only conduct the exercises, for I feel rather embarrassed by the fact
that I've never killed, or been killed by, a bear, never been bitten
by a tarantula, poisoned by a rattlesnake, assaulted by a stage-
robber, nor anything of that sort. You have all read my story of
crossing the plains. I even did that in a comparatively easy and
unheroic fashion. I only wish, my dear girls and boys, that we had
with us some one of the brave and energetic men and women who made
that terrible journey at the risk of their lives. The history of the
California Crusaders, the thirty thousand or more emigrants who
crossed the plains in '48, more than equals the great military
expeditions of the Middle Ages, in magnitude, peril, and adventure.
Some went by way of Santa Fe and along the hills of the Gila; others,
starting from Red River, traversed the Great Stake Desert and went
from El Paso del Norte to Sonora; others went through Mexico, and,
after spending over a hundred days at sea, ran into San Diego and
gave up their vessels; others landed exhausted with their seven
months' passage round the Horn; and some reached the spot on foot
after walking the whole length of the California peninsula.'
'What privations they must have suffered!' said Mrs. Howard. 'I
never quite realised it.'
'Why, the amount of suffering that was endured in those mountain
passes and deserts can never be told in words. Those who went by the
Great Desert west of the Colorado found a stretch of burning salt
plains, of shifting hills of sand, with bones of animals and men
scattered along the trails; of terrible and ghastly odours rising in
the hot air from the bodies of hundreds of mules, and human creatures
too, that lay half-buried in the glaring white sand. A terrible
journey indeed; but if any State in the Union could be fair enough,
fertile enough, and rich enough to repay such a lavish expenditure of
energy and suffering, California certainly was and is the one. Now
who can tell us something of the name "California"? You, Geoffrey?'
'Geoffrey has crammed!' exclaimed Bell, maliciously. 'I believe he's
been reading up all day and told papa what question to ask him!'
'I'll pass it on to you if you like,' laughed Geoffrey.
'No--you'd never get another that you could answer! Go on!'
'In 1534, one Hernando de Grijalva was sent by Hernando Cortez to
discover something or other, and it was probably he who then saw the
peninsula of California; but a quarter of a century before this a
romance called Esplandian had appeared in Spain, narrating the
adventures of an Amazonian queen who brought allies from "the right
hand of the Indies" to assist the infidels in their attack upon
Constantinople--by the way I forgot to say that she was a pagan.
This queen of the Amazons was called Calafia, and her kingdom, rich
in gold and precious stones, was named California. The writer of the
romance derived this name, perhaps, from Calif, a successor of
Mohammed. He says: "Know that on the right hand of the Indies there
is an island named California, very close to the Terrestial Paradise,
and it was peopled by black women without any man among them, for
they lived in the fashion of the Amazonia. They were of strong and
hardy bodies, of ardent courage, and of great force. Their island
was the strongest in all the world, with its steep cliffs and rocky
shore. Their arms were all of gold, and so was the harness of the
wild beasts which they tamed and rode. For in the whole island there
was no metal but gold. They lived in caves wrought out of the rocks
with much labour, and they had many ships with which they sailed out
to other countries to obtain booty." Cortez and Grijalva believed
that they were near the coast of Asia, for they had no conception of
the size of the world nor of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean; and
as the newly-discovered land corresponded with the country described
in the romance, they named the peninsula California.'
'My book,' said Philip, 'declared that the derivation of the name was
very uncertain, and that it was first bestowed on one of the coast
bays by Bernal Diaz.'
'Now, Philip!' exclaimed Margery, 'do you suppose we are going to
believe that, after Geoff's lovely story?'
'Certainly not; I only thought I'd permit you to hear both sides. I
knew of course that you would believe the prettier story of the two--
girls always do!'
'That isn't a "pretty story"--your remark, I mean, so we won't
believe it; will we, girls?' asked Bell.
'Now, Polly, your eyes sparkle as if you couldn't wait another
minute; your turn next,' said Dr. Winship.
'I am only afraid that I can't remember my contribution, which is
really Bell's and still more really Pancho's, for he told it to us,
and Bell translated it and made it into a story. We call it
"Valerio; or, The Mysterious Mountain Cave."'
'Begins well!' exclaimed Jack.
'Now, Jack, you must be nice. Remember this is Bell's story, and she
is letting me tell it so that I can bear my share in the
'Pancho believes every word of it,' added Bell, 'and says that his
father told it to him; but as I had to change it from bad Spanish
into good English, I don't know whether I've caught the idea
'Oh, it will do quite nicely, I've no doubt,' said Jack,
encouragingly. 'We've often heard you do good English into bad
Spanish, and turn and turn about is only fair play. Don't mind me,
Polly; I will be gentle!'
'Jack, if you don't behave yourself I'll send you to bed,' said
Elsie; and he ducked his head obediently into her lap, as Polly, with
her hands clasping her knees, and with the firelight dancing over her
bright face, leaned forward and told the Legend of
VALERIO; OR, THE MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAIN CAVE.
'A long time ago, before the settlement of Santa Barbara by the
whites, the Mission padres had a great many Indians under their
control, who were known as peons, or serfs. They were given enough
to eat, were not molested by the outside Indians, and were entirely
peaceable. There were so few mountain passes by which to enter Santa
Barbara that they were easily held, and of course the padres were
anxious to keep their Indians from running away, lest they should
show the wilder tribes the way to get in and commit depredations.
These peaceable Indians paid tribute to intermediary tribes to hold
the passes and do their fighting. Those about the Mission gave corn
and cereals and hides and the products of the sea, and got in
exchange pinones (pine nuts). One of these Indians, named Valerio,
was a strong, brave, handsome youth, whose haughty spirit revolted at
his servitude, and, after seeking an opportunity for many weeks he
finally escaped to the Santa Ynez mountains, where he found a cave in
which he hid himself, drawing himself up by a rope and taking it in
after him. The Indians had unlimited belief in Valerio's mysterious
and wonderful powers. Pancho says that he could make himself
invisible at will, that locks and keys were powerless against him;
and that no one could hinder his taking money, horses, or food. All
sorts of things disappeared mysteriously by day and by night, and the
robberies were one and all laid to the door of Valerio. But after a
while Valerio grew lonely in his mountain retreat. He longed for
human companionship, and at length, becoming desperate, he descended
on the Mission settlement and kidnapped a young Indian boy named
Chito, took him to his cave, and admitted him into his wild and
lawless life. But Chito was not contented. He liked home and
comfortable slavery better than the new, strange life; so he seized
the first opportunity, and being a bright, daring little lad, and
fleet of foot, he escaped and made his way to the Mission. Arriving
there he told wonderful stories of Valerio and his life; how his
marvellous white mare seemed to fly, rather than gallop, and leaped
from rock to rock like a chamois; and how they lived upon wheat-
bread, cheeses, wine, and other delicacies instead of the coarse fare
of the Indians. He told them the location of the cave and described
the way thither; so the Alcalde (he was the mayor or judge, you know,
Elsie), got out the troops with their muskets, and the padres
gathered the Mission Indians with their bows and arrows, and they all
started in pursuit of the outlaw. Among the troops were two
hechiceros (wizards or medicine-men), whose bowed shoulders and
grizzled beards showed them to be men of many years and much wisdom.
When asked to give their advice, they declared that Valerio could not
be killed by any ordinary weapons, but that special means must be
used to be of any avail against his supernatural powers.
Accordingly, one of the hechiceros broke off the head of his arrow,
cast a charm over it, and predicted that this would deal the fatal
blow. The party started out with Chito as a guide, and, after many
miles of wearisome travel up rugged mountain sides and over steep and
almost impassable mountain trails, they paused at the base of a
cliff, and saw, far up the height, the mouth of Valerio's cave, and,
what was more, Valerio himself sitting in the doorway fast asleep.
Alas! he had been drinking too heavily of his stolen wine, or he
would never have so exposed himself to the enemy. They fired a
volley at him. One shot only took effect, and even this would not
have been possible save that the spell was not upon him because of
his sleep; but the one shot woke him and, half rising, he staggered
and fell from the mouth of the cave to a ledge of rocks beneath. He
sprang to his feet in a second and ran like a deer towards a tree
where his white mare was fastened. They fired another volley, but,
though the shots flew in every direction, Valerio passed on unharmed;
but just as he was disappearing from view the hechicero raised his
bow and the headless arrow whizzed through space and pierced him
through the heart. They clambered up the cliffs with shouts of
triumph and surrounded him on every side, but poor Valerio had
surrendered to a more powerful enemy than they! Wonderful to relate,
he still breathed, though the wound should have been instantly fatal.
They lifted him from the ground and tied him on his snow-white mare,
his long hair reaching almost to the ground, his handsome face as
pale as death, the blood trickling from his wound; but the mysterious
power that he possessed seemed to keep him alive in spite of his
suffering. Finally one of the hechiceros decided that the spell lay
in the buckskin cord that he wore about his throat--a rough sort of
necklace hung with bears' claws and snake rattles--and that he never
would die until the magic cord was cut. This, after some
consultation, was done. Valerio drew his last breath as it parted
asunder, and they bore his dead body home in triumph to the Mission.
'But he is not forgotten. Stories are still told of his wonderful
deeds, and people still go in search of money that he is supposed to
have hidden in his cave. The Mexican women who tell suertes, or
fortunes, describe the location of the money; but, as soon as any one
reaches the cave, he is warned away by a little old man who stands in
the door and protects the buried treasure. An Indian lad, who was
riding over the hills one day with his horse and his dogs, dismounted
to search for his moccasin, when he suddenly noticed that the dogs
had chased something into a cave in the rocks. He followed, and,
peering into the darkness, saw two gleaming eyes. He thrust his
knife between them, but struck the air; and, though he had been
standing directly in front of the opening, so that nothing could have
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