Chapter XI. Breaking Camp

'The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks and gapes for drink again;
The plants suck in the earth and are,
With constant drinking, fresh and fair.'

But it did rain; and it didn't wait until they were out of the canyon either. It began long before the proper time, and it by no means confined itself to a shower, but opened the winter season fully a month before there was any need of it, and behaved altogether in a most heartless and inconsiderate manner, like a very spoil-sport of a rain.

It began after dark, so as to be just as disagreeable as possible, and under the too slight cover of their tents the campers could hear the rush and the roar of it like the tramping of myriad feet on the leaves. Pancho and the two Chinamen huddled under the broad sycamores in their rubber blankets, and were dry and comfortable; but all the waterproof tents leaked, save Elsie's.

But when it was dawn, the Sun, having heard nothing apparently of any projected change in the weather, rose at the usual time in the most resplendent fashion--brighter, rosier, and more gloriously, if you will believe me, than he had risen that whole long sunshiny summer! And he really must have felt paid for getting up at such an unearthly hour in the morning, when, after he had clambered over the grey mountain peaks, he looked down upon Las Flores Canyon, bathed in the light of his own golden beams.

If he knew anything about Ancient History and Biblical Geography--and if he didn't I don't know who should, inasmuch as he had been present from the beginning of time--he must have thought it as fair as the Garden of Eden; for Nature's face simply shone with cleanliness, like that of a smiling child just fresh from its bath, and every leaf of every tree glistened as he beamed upon it, and shook off its crystal drops that he might turn them into diamonds.

'It was only a shower,' said Dr. Winship, as he seated himself on a damp board and partook of a moist breakfast, 'and with this sun the tents will be dry before night; Elsie has caught no cold, the dust will be laid, and we can stay another week with safety.'

Everybody was hilarious over this decision save the men-of-all-work, who longed unspeakably for a less poetic existence--Hop Yet particularly, who thought camping out 'not muchee good.'

Dicky was more pleased than anybody, perhaps, as every day in the canyon was one day less in school; not that he had ever been to school, but he knew in advance, instinctively, that it wouldn't suit him. Accordingly, he sought the wettest possible places and played all day with superhuman energy. He finally found Hop Yet's box of blueing under a tree, in a very moist and attractive state of fluidity, and just before dinner improved the last shining hour by painting himself a brilliant hue and appearing at dinner in such a fiendish guise that he frightened the family into fits.

Now Dr. Winship was one of the most weather-wise men in California, and his predictions were always quite safe and sensible; but somehow or other it did rain again in two or three days, and it poured harder than ever, too. To be sure, it cleared promptly, but the doctor was afraid to trust so fickle a person as the Clerk of the Weather had become, and marching orders were issued.

The boys tramped over all their favourite bits of country, and the girls visited all their best beloved haunts, every one of them dear from a thousand charming associations. They looked for the last time in Mirror Pool, and saw the reflection of their faces--rather grave faces just then, over the leave-taking.

The water-mirror might have been glad to keep the picture for ever on its surface--Margery with her sleek braids and serene forehead; with Polly, saucy nose and mischievous eyes, laughing at you like a merry water-sprite; Bell, with her brilliant cheeks glowing like two roses just fallen in the brook; and Gold Elsie, who, if you had put a frame of green leaves about her delicate face and yellow locks, would have looked up at you like a water-lily.

They wafted a farewell to Pico Negro, and having got rid of the boys, privately embraced a certain Whispering Tree under whose singing branches they had been wont to lie and listen to all the murmuring that went on in the forest.

Then they clambered into the great thorough-brace wagon, where they all sat in gloomy silence for ten minutes, while Dicky's tan terrier was found for the fourth time that morning; and the long train, with its baggage-carts, its saddle-horses and its dogged little pack- mules, moved down the rocky steeps that led to civilisation. The gate that shut them in from the county road and the outer world was opened for the last time, and shut with a clang, and it was all over- -their summer in a canyon!