A Summer in a Canyon by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter I. Preparation and Departure
'One to make ready, and two to prepare.'
It was nine o'clock one sunny California morning, and Geoffrey Strong stood under the live-oak trees in Las Flores Canyon, with a pot of black paint in one hand and a huge brush in the other. He could have handled these implements to better purpose and with better grace had not his arms been firmly held by three laughing girls, who pulled not wisely, but too well. He was further incommoded by the presence of a small urchin who lay on the dusty ground beneath his feet, fastening an upward clutch on the legs of his trousers.
There were three large canvas tents directly in front of them, yet no one of these seemed to be the object of dissension, but rather a redwood board, some three feet in length, which was nailed on a tree near by.
'Camp Frolic! Please let us name it Camp Frolic!' cried Bell Winship, with a persuasive twitch of her cousin's sleeve.
'No, no; not Camp Frolic,' pleaded Polly Oliver. 'Pray, pray let us have Camp Ha-Ha; my heart is set upon it.'
'As you are Strong, be merciful,' quoted Margery Noble, coaxingly; 'take my advice and call it Harmony Camp.'
At this juncture, a lovely woman, whose sweet face and smile made you love her at once, came up the hill from the brookside. 'What, what! still quarrelling, children?' she asked, laughingly. 'Let me be peacemaker. I've just asked the Doctor for a name, and he suggests Camp Chaparral. What do you say?'
Bell released one coat-tail. 'That isn't wholly bad,' she said, critically, while the other girls clapped their hands with approval; for anything that Aunt Truth suggested was sure to be quite right.
'Wait a minute, good people,' cried Jack Howard, flinging his fishing-tackle under a tree and sauntering toward the scene of action. 'Suppose we have a referee, a wise and noble judge. Call Hop Yet, and let him decide this all-important subject.'
His name being sung and shouted in various keys by the assembled company, Hop Yet appeared at the door of the brush kitchen, a broad grin on his countenance, a plucked fowl in his hand.
Geoffrey took the floor. 'Now, Hop Yet, you know I got name, you got name, everybody got name. We want name this camp: you sabe? Miss Bell, she say Camp Frolic. Frolic all same heap good time' (here he executed a sort of war-dance which was intended to express wild joy). 'Miss Pauline, she say Camp Ha-Ha, big laugh: sabe? Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!' (chorus joined in by all to fully illustrate the subject). 'Miss Madge, she say Camp Harmony. Harmony all same heap quiet time, plenty eat, plenty drink, plenty sleep, no fight, no too muchee talk. Mrs. Winship, she say Camp Chaparral: you sabe? Chaparral, Hop Yet. Now what you say?'
Hop Yet seemed to regard the question with mingled embarrassment and amusement, but being a sharp and talkative Chinaman gave his answer promptly: 'Me say Camp Chap-lal heap good name; plenty chap-lal all lound; me hang um dish-cloth, tow'l, little boy's stockin', on chap- lal; all same clo'se-line velly good. Miss Bell she folic, Miss Polly she ha! ha! allee same Camp Chap-lal.'
And so Camp Chaparral it was; the redwood board flaunted the assertion before the eyes of the public (which was a rather limited one, to be sure) in less than half an hour, and the artist, after painting the words in rustic letters a foot long, cut branches of the stiff, ungracious bushes and nailed them to the tree in confirmation and illustration of the fact. He then carefully deposited the paint- pot in a secret place, where it might be out of sight and touch of a certain searching eye and mischievous hand well known and feared of him; but before the setting sun had dropped below the line of purple mountain tops, a small boy, who will be known in these annals as Dicky Winship, might have been seen sitting on the empty paint-pot, while from a dingy pool upon the ground he was attempting to paint a copy of the aforesaid inscription upon the side of a too patient goat, who saw no harm in the operation. He was alone, and very, very happy.
And now I must tell you the way in which all this began. You may not realise it, dear young folks, but this method of telling a story is very much the fashion with grown-up people, and of course I am not to blame, since I didn't begin it.
The plan is this: You must first write a chapter showing all your people, men, women, children, dogs, and cats, in a certain place, doing certain things. Then you must go back a year or two and explain how they all happen to be there. Perhaps you may have to drag your readers twenty-five years into the regions of the past, and show them the first tooth of your oldest character; but that doesn't matter a bit,--the further the better. Then, when everybody has forgotten what came to pass in the first chapter, you are ready to take it up again, as if there had never been any parenthesis. However, I shall not introduce you to the cradles, cribs, or trundle- beds of my merry young campers, but merely ask you to retrace your steps one week, and look upon them in their homes.
On one of the pleasantest streets of a certain little California town stood, and still stands for aught I know, a pretty brown cottage, with its verandahs covered with passion-vine and a brilliant rose- garden in front. It is picturesque enough to attract the attention of any passer-by, and if you had chosen to peep through the crevices in the thick vines and look in at the open window, you might have thought it lovelier within than without.
It was a bright day, and the gracious June sunshine flooded the room with yellow light. Three young girls, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old, were seated in different parts of the large room, plying industrious crochet needles and tatting shuttles. Three pairs of bright eyes were dancing with fun and gladness; and another pair, the softest and clearest of all, looked out from a broad white bed in the corner,--tired eyes, and oh, so patient, for the health-giving breezes wafted in from the blue ocean and carried over mountain tops and vine-covered slopes had so far failed to bring back Elsie Howard's strength and vigour.
The graceful, brown-haired girl with the bright, laughter-loving face, was Bell Winship. She of the dancing blue eyes, pink cheeks, and reckless little sun-bonnet was Pauline, otherwise Polly Oliver. Did you ever know a Polly without some one of these things? Well, my Polly had them all, and, besides, a saucy freckled nose, a crown of fluffy, reddish-yellow hair, and a shower of coaxing little pitfalls called dimples round her pretty mouth. She made you think of a sunbeam, a morning songbird, a dancing butterfly, or an impetuous little crocus just out after the first spring shower. Dislike her? You couldn't. Approve of her? You wouldn't always. Love her? Of course; you couldn't help yourself,--I defy you.
To be sure, if you prefer a quiet life, and do not want to be led into exploits of all kinds, invariably beginning with risk, attended with danger, and culminating in despair, you had better not engage in an intimate friendship with Miss Pauline Oliver, but fix your affections on the quiet, thoughtful, but not less lovable girl who sits by the bedside stroking Elsie Howard's thin white hand. Nevertheless, I am obliged to state that Margery Noble herself, earnest, demure, and given to reflection, was Polly's willing slave and victim. However, I've forgotten to tell you that Polly was as open and frank as the daylight, at once torrid and constant in her affections, brave, self-forgetting as well as self-willed; and that though she did have a tongue just the least bit saucy, she used it valiantly in the defence of others. 'She'll come out all right,' said a dear old-fashioned grandfather of hers whom she had left way back in a Vermont farmhouse. 'She's got to be purged o' considerable dross, but she'll come out pure gold, I tell you.'
Pretty, wise, tender Margery Noble, with her sleek brown braids, her innocent, questioning eyes, her soft voice, willing hands, and shy, quiet manners! 'She will either end as the matron of an orphan asylum or as head-nurse in a hospital.' So Bell Winship often used to say; but then she was chiefly celebrated for talking nonsense, and nobody ever paid much attention to her. But if you should crave a breath of fresh air, or want to believe that the spring has come, just call Bell Winship in, as she walks with her breezy step down the street. Her very hair seems instinct with life, with its flying tendrils of bronze brightness and the riotous little curls on her brow and temples. Then, too, she has a particularly jaunty way of putting on her jacket, or wearing a flower or a ribbon; and as for her ringing peal of laughter, it is like a chime of silver bells.
Elsie Howard, the invalid friend of the girls, was as dear to them as they were to each other. She kept the secrets of the 'firm'; mourned over their griefs and smiled over their joys; was proud of their talents and tenderly blind to their faults. The little wicker rocking-chair by the bedside was often made a sort of confessional, at which she presided, the tenderest and most sympathetic little priestess in the universe; and every afternoon the piazza, with its lattice of green vines, served as a mimic throne-room, where she was wont to hold high court, surrounded by her devoted subjects. Here Geoffrey Strong used often to read to the assembled company David Copperfield, Alice in Wonderland, or snatches from the magazines, while Jack Howard lazily stretched himself under the orange-trees and braided lariats, a favourite occupation with California boys. About four o'clock Philip Noble would ride up from his father's fruit ranch, some three miles out on the San Marcos road, and, hitching his little sorrel mare Chispa at the gate, stay an hour before going to the post-office.
This particular afternoon, however, was not one of Elsie's bright ones, and there was no sign of court or invalid queen on the piazza. The voices of the girls floated out from Elsie's bedroom, while the boys, too, seemed to be somewhere in the vicinity, for there was a constant stirring about as of lively preparation, together with noise of hammering and sawing.
'If you were only going, Elsie, our cup of happiness would be full,' sighed Bell.
'Not only would it be full, Bell, but it would be running over, and we should positively stand in the slop,' said Polly. 'No, you needn't frown at me, miss; that expression is borrowed from no less a person than Sydney Smith.'
'Don't think any more about me,' smiled Elsie. 'Perhaps I can come down in the course of the summer. I know it will be the happiest time in the world, but I don't envy you a bit; in fact, I'm very glad you're going, because you'll have such a lovely budget of adventures to tell me when you come back.'
'When we come back, indeed!' exclaimed Bell. 'Why, we shall write long round-robin letters every few days, and send them by the team. Papa says Pancho will have to go over to the stage station at least once a week for letters and any provisions we may need.'
'Oh, won't that be delightful,--almost as good as being there myself! And, Margery dear, you must make them tell me every least little thing that happens. You know they are such fly-aways that they'll only write me when they learn to swim, or shoot a wildcat, or get lost in the woods. I want to know all the stupid bits: what you have for dinner, how and where you sleep, how your camp looks, what you do from morning till night, and how Dicky behaves.'
'I can tell you that beforehand,' said Bell, dolefully. 'Jack will shoot him by mistake on Thursday; he will be kicked by the horses Friday, and bitten by tarantulas and rattlesnakes Saturday; he will eat poison oak on Sunday, get lost in the canyon Monday, be eaten by a bear Tuesday, and drowned in the pool Wednesday. These incidents will complete his first week; and if they produce no effect on his naturally strong constitution, he will treat us to another week, containing just as many mishaps, but no duplicates.'
By the time this dismal prophecy was ended the other girls were in a breathless fit of laughter, though all acknowledged it was likely to be fulfilled.
'I went over the camping-ground last summer,' said Margery. 'You know it is quite near papa's sheep ranch, and it is certainly the most beautiful place in California. The tents will be pitched at the mouth of the canyon, where there is a view of the ocean, and just at the back will be a lovely grove of wild oaks and sycamore-trees.'
'Oh, won't it be delicious!' sighed Elsie. 'I feel as if I could sniff the air this minute. But there! I won't pretend that I'm dying for fresh air, with the breath of the sea coming in at my south window, and a whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle from the piazza. That would be nonsense. Are your trunks packed?'
'Trunks!' exclaimed Polly. 'Would you believe it, our clothes are packed in gunny-sacks! We start in our camping-dresses, with ulsters for the steamer and dusters for the long drive. Then we each have-- let me see what we have: a short, tough riding-skirt with a jersey, a bathing-dress, and some gingham morning-gowns to wear about the camp at breakfast-time.'
'And flannel gowns for the night, and two pairs of boots, and a riding-cap and one hat apiece,' added Margery.
'But oh, Elsie, my dear, you should see Dicky in his camping-suits,' laughed Bell. 'They are a triumph of invention on mamma's part. Just imagine! one is of some enamelled cloth that was left over from the new carriage cushions; it is very shiny and elegant; and the other, truly, is of soft tanned leather, and just as pretty as it can be. Then he has hob-nailed, copper-toed boots, and a hat that ties under his chin. Poor little man, he has lost his curls, too, and looks rather like a convict.'
Mrs. Howard came in the door while Bell was speaking, and laughed heartily at the description of Dicky's curious outfit. 'What time do you start?' she asked, as she laid a bunch of mignonette on Elsie's table.
'At eleven to-morrow morning,' Bell answered. 'Everything is packed. We are to start in the steamer, and when we come to our old landing, about forty miles down the coast, we are to get off and take a three- seated thorough-brace wagon, and drive over to Las Flores Canyon. Pancho has hired a funny little pack mule; he says we shall need one in going up the mountain, and that the boys can take him when they go out shooting,--to carry the deer home, you know.'
'If I can bring Elsie down, as I hope, we must come by land,' said Mrs. Howard. 'I thought we could take two days for the journey, sleeping at the Burtons' ranch on the way. The doctor says that if she can get strength enough to bear the ride, the open-air life will do her good, even if she does nothing but lie in the hammock.'
'And be waited upon by six willing slaves,' added Polly.
'And be fed on canned corned beef and tomato stew,' laughed Bell.
'Not a bit of it,' said Margery. 'Hop Yet is a splendid cook, if he has anything to cook, and we'll feed her on broiled titbits of baby venison, goat's milk, wild bees' honey, and cunning little mourning doves, roasted on a spit.'
'Good gracious,' cried Bell, 'what angels' food! only I would as soon devour a pet canary as a mourning dove. But to think that I've been trying to diet for a week in order to get intimate with suffering and privation! Polly came to stay with me one night, and we slept on the floor, with only a blanket under us, and no pillow; it was perfectly horrid. Polly dreamed that her grandfather ate up her grandmother, and I that Dicky stabbed the Jersey calf with a pickle-fork.'
'Horrors!' ejaculated Margery; 'that's a pleasant prospect for your future bedfellows. I hope the gophers won't make you nervous, gnawing and scratching in the straw; I got used to them last summer. But we really must go, darling,' and she stooped to kiss Elsie good- bye.
'Well, I suppose you ought,' she answered. 'But remember you are to start from this gate; Aunt Truth has promised me the fun of seeing you out of sight.'
The girls went out at a side door, and joined the boys, who were busily at work cleaning their guns on the broad western porch.
'How are you coming on?' questioned Polly.
'Oh, finely,' answered Jack, who always constituted himself chief spokesman, unless driven from the rostrum by some one possessed of a nimbler tongue. 'I only hope your feminine togs are in half as good order.'
'We take no baggage to speak of,' said Bell, loftily. 'Papa has cut us down to the very last notch, and says the law allows very few pounds on this trip.'
'The less the better,' quoth Geoff, cheerily; 'then you'll have to polish up your mental jewels.'
'Which you consider imitation, I suppose,' sniffed Polly.
'Perish the thought!' cried Jack. 'But, speaking of mental jewels, you should see the arrangements Geoff has made for polishing his. He has actually stuck in six large volumes, any one of which would be a remedy for sleeplessness. What are you going to study, Miss Pol-y- on-o-mous Oliver?'
'Now, Jack, let us decide at once whether you intend to be respectful or not. I don't propose to expose myself to your nonsense for two months unless you make me good promises.'
'Why, that wasn't disrespectful. It is my newest word, and it simply means having many titles. I'm sure you have more than most people.'
'Very well, then! I'll overlook the irreverence this time, and announce that I shall not take anything whatever to read, but simply reflect upon what I know already.'
'That may last for the first week,' said Bell, slyly, 'but what will you do afterward?'
'I'll reflect upon what you don't know,' retorted Polly. 'That will easily occupy me two months.'
Fortunately, at the very moment this stinging remark was made, Phil Noble dashed up to the front gate, flung his bridle over the hitching-post, and lifted his hat from a very warm brow.
'Hail, chief of the commissary department!' cried Geoffrey, with mock salute. 'Have you despatched the team?'
'Yes; everything is all right,' said Phil, breathlessly, delivering himself of his information in spasmodic bursts of words. 'Such a lot of work it was! here's the list. Pancho will dump them on the ground and let us settle them when we get there. Such a load! You should have seen it! Hardly room for him to sit up in front with the Chinaman. Just hear this,' and he drew a large document from what Polly called 'a back-stairs pocket.'
'Forty cans corned beef, four guns, three Dutch cheeses, pickles, fishing-tackle, flour, bacon, three bushels onions, crate of dishes, Jack's banjo, potatoes, Short History of the English People, cooking utensils, three hair pillows, box of ginger-snaps, four hammocks, coffee, cartridges, sugar, Macaulay's Essays, Pond's extract, sixteen hams, Bell's guitar, pop-corn, molasses, salt, St. Jacob's Oil, Conquest of Mexico, sack of almonds, flea-powder, and smoked herring. Whew! I packed them all myself.'
'In precisely that order?' questioned Polly.
'In precisely that order, Miss Oliver,' returned Phil, urbanely. 'Any one who feels that said packing might be improved upon has only to mount the fleet Arabian yonder' (the animal alluded to seized this moment to stand on three legs, hang his head, and look dejected), 'and, giving him the rein, speed o'er the trackless plain which leads to San Miguel, o'ertake the team, and re-pack the contents according to her own satisfaction.'
'No butter, nor eggs, nor fresh vegetables?' asked Margery. 'We shall starve!'
'Not at all,' quoth Jack. 'Polly will gracefully dispose a horse- blanket about her shoulders, to shield her from the chill dews of the early morn, mount the pack mule exactly at cock-crow everyday, and ride to a neighbouring ranch where there are tons of the aforesaid articles awaiting our consumption.'
'Can you see me doing it, girls? Does it seem entirely natural?' asked Polly, with great gravity.
'Now hear my report as chairman of the committee of arrangements,' said Geoffrey Strong, seating himself with dignity on a barrel of nails. 'The tents, ropes, tool-boxes, bed-sacks, blankets, furniture, etc., all went down on Monday's steamer, and I have a telegram from Larry's Landing saying that they arrived in good order, and that a Mexican gentleman who owns a mammoth wood-cart will take them up to-morrow when we go ourselves. The procession will move at one P.M., wind and weather permitting, in the following order:-
'1. Chief Noble on his gallant broncho.
'2. Commander Strong on his ditto, ditto.
'3. Main conveyance or triumphal chariot, driven by Aide-de-Camp John Howard, and carrying Dr. and Mrs. Winship, our most worshipful and benignant host and hostess; Master Dick Winship, the heir- apparent; three other young persons not worth mentioning; and four cans of best leaf lard, which I omitted to put with the other provisions.
'4. Wood-cart containing baggage, driven by Senor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega from Dead Wood Gulch.
'5. One small tan terrier.'
'Oh, Geoff, Geoff, pray do stop! it's too much!' cried the girls in a fit of laughter.
'Hurrah!' shouted Jack, tossing his hat into a tall eucalyptus-tree in his excitement, 'Tent life for ever!'
'Good-bye, ye pomps and vanities!' chanted Bell, kissing her hand in imaginary farewell. 'Verily the noisy city shall know us no more, for we depart for the green forests.'
'And the city will not be as noisy WHEN you depart,' murmured Jack, with an impudence that luckily passed unnoticed.
'If Elsie could only come too!' sighed Polly.
Wednesday morning dawned as bright and beautiful as all mornings are wont to dawn in Southern California. A light mist hung over the old adobe mission church, through which, with its snow-white towers and cold, clear-cut lines, it rose like a frozen fairy castle. Bell opened her sleepy eyes with the very earliest birds, and running to the little oval window, framed with white-rose vines, looked out at the new day just creeping up into the world.
'Oh dear and beautiful home of mine, how charming, how charming you are! I wonder if you are not really Paradise!' she said, dreamily; and the marvel is that the rising sun did not stop a moment in sheer surprise at the sight of this radiant morning vision; for the oval window opening to the east was a pretty frame, with its outline marked by the dewy rose-vine covered with hundreds of pure, half- opened buds and swaying tendrils, and she stood there in it, a fair image of the morning in her innocent white gown. Her luminous eyes still mirrored the shadowy visions of dreamland, mingled with dancing lights of hope and joyful anticipation; while on her fresh cheeks, which had not yet lost the roundness of childhood, there glowed, as in the eastern skies, the faint pink blush of the morning.
The town is yet asleep, and in truth it is never apt to be fairly wide awake. The air is soft and balmy; the lovely Pacific, a quivering, sparkling sheet of blue and grey and green flecked with white foam, stretches far out until it is lost in the rosy sky; and the mountains, all purple and pink and faint crimson and grey, stand like sentinels along the shore. The scent of the roses, violets, and mignonette mingled with the cloying fragrance of the datura is heavy in the still air. The bending, willowy pepper-trees show myriad bunches of yellow blossoms, crimson seed-berries, and fresh green leaves, whose surface, not rain-washed for months, is as full of colour as ever. The palm-trees rise without a branch, tall, slender, and graceful, from the warmly generous earth, and spread at last, as if tired of their straightness, into beautiful crowns of fans, which sway toward each other with every breath of air. Innumerable butterflies and humming-birds, in the hot, dazzling sunshine of noonday, will be hovering over the beds of sweet purple heliotrope and finding their way into the hearts of the passion-flowers, but as yet not the faintest whirr of wings can be heard. Looking eastward or westward, you see either brown foot-hills, or, a little later on, emerald slopes whose vines hang heavy with the half-ripened grapes.
And hark! A silvery note strikes on the dewy stillness. It is the mission bell ringing for morning mass; and if you look yonder you may see the Franciscan friars going to prayers, with their loose grey gowns, their girdle of rope, their sandaled feet, and their jingling rosaries; and perhaps a Spanish senorita, with her trailing dress, and black shawl loosely thrown over her head, from out the folds of which her two dark eyes burn like gleaming fires. A solitary Mexican gallops by, with gayly decorated saddle and heavily laden saddle-bags hanging from it; perhaps he is taking home provisions to his wife and dark-eyed babies who live up in a little dimple of the mountain side, almost hidden from sight by the olive-trees. And then a patient, hardy little mustang lopes along the street, bearing on his back three laughing boys, one behind the other, on a morning ride into town from the mesa.
The mist had floated away from the old mission now, the sun has climbed a little higher, and Bell has come away from the window in a gentle mood.
'Oh, Polly, I don't see how anybody can be wicked in such a beautiful, beautiful world.'
'Humph!' said Polly, dipping her curly head deep into the water-bowl, and coming up looking like a little drowned kitten. 'When you want to be hateful, you don't stop to think whether you're looking at a cactus or a rosebush, do you?'
'Very true,' sighed Bell, quite silenced by this practical illustration. 'Now I'll try the effect of the landscape on my temper by dressing Dicky, while he dances about the room and plays with his tan terrier.'
But it happened that Dicky was on his very best behaviour, and stood as still as a signpost while being dressed. It is true he ate a couple of matches and tumbled down-stairs twice before breakfast, so that after that hurried meal Bell tied him to one of the verandah posts, that he might not commit any act vicious enough to keep them at home. As he had a huge pocket full of apricots he was in perfect good-humour, not taking his confinement at all to heart, inasmuch as it commanded a full view of the scene of action. His amiability was further increased, moreover, by the possession of a bright new policeman's whistle, which was carefully tied to his button-hole by a neat little silk cord, and which his fond parents intended that he should blow if he chanced to fall into danger during his rambles about the camp. We might as well state here, however, that this precaution proved fruitless, for he blew it at all times and seasons; and everybody became so hardened to its melodious shriek that they paid no attention to it whatever,--history, or fable, thus again repeating itself.
Mr. and Mrs. Noble had driven Margery and Phil into town from the fruit ranch, and were waiting to see the party off.
Mrs. Oliver was to live in the Winship house during the absence of the family, and was aiding them to do those numberless little things that are always found undone at the last moment. She had given her impetuous daughter a dozen fond embraces, smothering in each a gentle warning, and stood now with Mrs. Winship at the gate, watching the three girls, who had gone on to bid Elsie good-bye.
'I hope Pauline won't give you any trouble,' she said. 'She is so apt to be too impulsive and thoughtless.'
'I shall enjoy her,' said sweet Aunt Truth, with that bright, cordial smile of hers that was like a blessing. 'She has a very loving heart, and is easily led. How pretty the girls look, and how different they are! Polly is like a thistledown or a firefly, Margery like one of our home Mayflowers, and I can't help thinking my Bell like a sunbeam.'
The girls did look very pretty; for their mothers had fashioned their camping-dresses with much care and taste, taking great pains to make them picturesque and appropriate to their summer life 'under the greenwood tree.'
Over a plain full skirt of heavy crimson serge Bell wore a hunting jacket and drapery of dark leaf-green, like a bit of forest against a sunset. Her hair, which fell in a waving mass of burnished brightness to her waist, was caught by a silver arrow, and crowned by a wide soft hat of crimson felt encircled with a bird's breast.
Margery wore a soft grey flannel, the colour of a dove's throat, adorned with rows upon rows of silver braid and sparkling silver buttons; while her big grey hat had nothing but a silver cord and tassel tied round it in Spanish fashion.
Polly was all in sailor blue, with a distractingly natty little double-breasted coat and great white rolling collar. Her hat swung in her hand, as usual, showing her boyish head of sunny auburn curls, and she carried on a neat chatelaine a silver cup and little clasp- knife, as was the custom in the party.
'It's very difficult,' Polly often exclaimed, 'to get a dress that will tone down your hair and a hat that will tone up your nose, when the first is red and the last a snub! My nose is the root of all evil; it makes people think I'm saucy before I say a word; and as for my hair, they think I must be peppery, no matter if I were really as meek as Moses. Now there's Margery, the dear, darling mouse! People look at her two sleek braids, every hair doing just what it ought to do and lying straight and smooth, and ask, "Who is that sweet girl?" There's something wrong somewhere. I ought not to suffer because of one small, simple, turned-up nose and a head of hair which reveals the glowing tints of autumn, as Jack gracefully says.'
'Here they come!' shouted Jack from the group on the Howards' piazza. 'Christopher Columbus, what gorgeousness! The Flamingo, the Dove, and the Blue-jay! Good-morning, young ladies; may we be allowed to travel in the same steamer with your highnesses?'
'You needn't be troubled,' laughed Bell. 'We shall not disclose these glories until we reach the camp. But you are dressed as usual. What's the matter?'
'Why, the fact is,' answered Geoffrey, 'our courage failed us at the last moment. We donned our uniforms, and looked like brigands, highway robbers, cowboys, firemen,--anything but modest young men; and as it was too warm for ulsters, we took refuge in civilised raiment for to-day. When we arrive, you shall behold our dashing sombreros fixed up with peacock feathers, and our refulgent shirts, which are of the most original style and decoration.'
'Aboriginal, in fact,' said Jack. 'We have broad belts of alligator skin, pouches, pistols, bowie-knives, and tan-coloured shoes; but we dislike to flaunt them before the eyes of a city public.'
'Here they are!' cried Geoffrey, from the gate. 'Uncle, and aunt, and Dicky, and--good gracious! Is he really going to take that wretched tan terrier?'
'Won't go without him,' said Bell, briefly. 'There are cases where it is better to submit than to fight.'
So the last good-byes were said, and Elsie bore up bravely; better, indeed, than the others, who shed many a furtive tear at leaving her. 'Make haste and get well, darling,' whispered the girls, lovingly.
'Pray, pray, dear Mrs. Howard, bring her down to us as soon as possible. We'll take such good care of her,' teased Bell, with one last squeeze, and strong signs of a shower in both eyes.
'Come, girls and boys,' said kind Dr. Paul, 'the steamer has blown her first whistle, and we must be off.'
Oh, how clear and beautiful a day it was, and how charmingly gracious Dame Ocean looked in her white caps and blue ruffles! Even the combination steamboat smell of dinner, oil, and close air was obliterated by the keen sea-breeze.
The good ship Orizaba ploughed her way through the sparkling, sun-lit waves, traversing quickly the distance which lay between the young people and their destination. They watched the long white furrow that stretched in her wake, the cloud of black smoke which floated like a dark shadow above the laughing crests of the waves, and the flocks of sea-gulls sailing overhead, with wild shrill screams ever and anon swooping down for some bit of food flung from the ship, and then floating for miles on the waves.
How they sung 'Life on the Ocean Wave,' 'Bounding Billow,' and 'Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep!' How Jack chanted, -
'Oh, how I long to be there!' exclaimed Philip, 'to throw aside all the formal customs of a wicked world I abhor, and live a free life under the blue sky!'
'Why, Philip Noble! I never saw you inside of a house in my life,' cried Polly.
'Oh, yes; you're mistaken. I've been obliged to eat most of my meals in the house, and sleep there; but I don't approve of it, and it's a trial to be borne with meekness only when there's no remedy for it.'
'Besides,' said Jack, 'even when we are out-of-doors we are shelling the reluctant almond, poisoning the voracious gopher, pruning grape- vines, and "sich." Now I am only going to shoot to eat, and eat to shoot!'
'Hope you've improved since last year, or you'll have a low diet,' murmured Phil, in an undertone.
'The man of genius must expect to be the butt of ridicule,' sighed Jack, meekly.
'But you'll not repine, although your heartstrings break, will you?' said Polly, sympathisingly; 'especially in the presence of several witnesses who have seen you handle a gun.'
'How glad I am that I'm too near-sighted to shoot,' said Geoffrey, taking off the eye-glasses that made him look so wise and dignified. 'I shall lounge under the trees, read Macaulay, and order the meals.'
'I shall need an assistant about the camp,' said Aunt Truth, smilingly; 'but I hardly think he'll have much time to lounge; when everything else fails, there's always Dicky, you know.'
Geoffrey looked discouraged.
'And, furthermore, I declare by the nose of the great Tam o' Shanter that I will cut down every tree in the vicinity ere you shall lounge under it,' said Jack.
'Softly, my boy. Hill's blue-gum forest is not so very far away. You'll have your hands full,' laughed Dr. Paul.
Here Margery and Bell joined the group after a quick walk up and down the deck.
'Papa,' said Bell, excitedly, 'we certainly are nearing the place. Do you see that bend in the shore, and don't you remember that the landing isn't far below?'
'Bell's bump of locality is immense. There are nineteen bends in the shore exactly like that one before we reach the landing. How many knots an hour do you suppose this ship travels, my fair cousin?' asked Geoffrey.
'I could tell better,' replied Bell calmly, 'if I could ever remember how many knots made a mile, or how many miles made a knot; but I always forget.'
'Oh, see! There's a porpoise!' cried Jack. 'Polly, why is a porpoise like a water-lily?'
But before he could say 'Guess,' Phil, Geoff, and the girls had drawn themselves into a line, and, with a whispered 'One, two, three,' to secure a good start, replied in concert, 'We-give-it-up!'
'What a deafening shout!' cried Aunt Truth, coming out of the cabin. 'What's the matter, pray?'
'Nothing, aunty,' laughed Polly. 'But we have formed a society for suppressing Jack's conundrums, and this is our first public meeting. How do you like the watchword?'
Aunt Truth smiled. 'It was very audible,' she said. 'Yours is evidently not a secret society.'
'I wish I could find out who originated this plan,' quoth Jack, murderously. 'But I suppose it's one of you girls, and I can't revenge myself. Oh, when will this barrier between the sexes be removed!'
'I trust not in your lifetime,' shuddered Polly, 'or we might as well begin to "stand round our dying beds" at once.'