A Summer in a Canyon by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter III. Life in the Canyon--the Heir Apparent Loses Himself
'Know'st thou the land where the lemon-trees bloom,
On the next morning, as we have seen, they named their summer home Camp Chaparral, and for a week or more they were the very busiest colony of people under the sun; for it takes a deal of hard work and ingenuity to make a comfortable and beautiful dwelling-place in the forest.
The best way of showing you how they accomplished this is to describe the camp after it was nearly finished.
The two largest bedroom tents were made of bright awning cloth, one of red and white, the other of blue and white, both gaily decorated with braid. They were pitched under the same giant oak, and yet were nearly forty feet apart; that of the girls having a canvas floor. They were not quite willing to sleep on the ground, so they had brought empty bed-sacks with them, and Pancho's first duty after his arrival had been to drive to a neighbouring ranch for a great load of straw.
In a glorious tree near by was a 'sky parlour,' arranged by a few boards nailed high up in the leafy branches, and reached from below by a primitive ladder. This was the favourite sitting-room of the girls by day, and served for Pancho's bedroom at night. It was beautiful enough to be fit shelter for all the woodland nymphs, with its festoons of mistletoe and wild grape-vines; but Pancho was rather an unappreciative tenant, even going so far as to snore in the sacred place!
Just beyond was a card-room,--imagine it--in which a square board, nailed on a low stump, served for a table, where Dr. Paul and the boys played many a game of crib, backgammon, and checkers. Here, too, all Elsie's letters were written and Bell's nonsense verses, and here was the identical spot where Jack Howard, that mischievous knight of the brush, perpetrated those modern travesties on the 'William Henry pictures,' for Elsie's delectation.
The dressing-room was reached by a path cut through bushes to a charming little pool. Here were unmistakable evidences of feminine art: looking-glasses hanging to trees, snowy wash-cloths, each bearing its owner's initials, adorning the shrubs, while numerous towels waved in the breeze. Between two trees a thin board was nailed, which appeared to be used, as nearly as the woodpeckers could make out, as a toothbrush rack. In this, Philip, the skilful carpenter, had bored the necessary number of holes, and each one contained a toothbrush tied with a gorgeous ribbon.
In this secluded spot Bell was wont to marshal every morning the entire force of 'the toothbrush brigade'; and, conducting the drill with much ingenuity, she would take her victims through a long series of military manoeuvres arranged for the toothbrush. Oh, the gaspings, the chokings and stranglings, which occurred when she mounted a rock by the edge of the pool, and after calling in tones of thunder,
'Brush, brothers, brush with care!
ordered her unwilling privates to polish their innocent molars to the tune of 'Hail, Columbia,' or 'Auld Lang Syne'! And if they became mutinous, it was Geoffrey who reduced them to submission, and ordered them to brush for three mornings to the tune of 'Bluebells of Scotland' as a sign of loyalty to their commander.
As for the furnishing of the camp, there were impromptu stools and tables made of packing-boxes and trunks, all covered with bright Turkey-red cotton; there were no less than three rustic lounges and two arm-chairs made from manzanita branches, and a Queen Anne bedstead was being slowly constructed, day by day, by the ambitious boys for their beloved Elsie.
One corner of each tent was curtained off for a bath-room, another for a clothes-press, and there were a dozen devices for comfort, as Dr. Winship was opposed to any more inconvenience than was strictly necessary. Dr. and Mrs. Winship and little Dicky occupied one tent, the boys another, and the girls a third.
When Bell, Polly, and Margery emerged from their tent on the second morning, they were disagreeably surprised to see a large placard over the front entrance, bearing the insolent inscription, 'Tent Chatter.' They said nothing; but on the night after, a committee of two stole out and glued a companion placard, 'Tent Clatter,' over the door of their masculine neighbours. And to tell the truth, one was as well deserved as the other; for if there was generally a subdued hum of conversation in the one, there never failed to be a perfect din and uproar in the other.
Under a great sycamore-tree stood the dining-table, which consisted of two long, wide boards placed together upon a couple of barrels; and not far away was the brush kitchen, which should have been a work of art, for it represented the combined genius of American, Mexican, and Chinese carpenters, Dr. Winship, Pancho, and Hop Yet having laboured in its erection. It really answered the purpose admirably, and looked quite like a conventional California kitchen; that is, it was ten feet square, and contained a table, a stove, and a Chinaman.
The young people, by the way, had fought bitterly against the stove, protesting with all their might against taking it. Polly and Jack declared that they would starve sooner than eat anything that hadn't been cooked over a camp-fire. Bell and Philip said that they should stand in front of it all the time, for fear somebody would ride through the canyon and catch them camping out with a stove. Imagine such a situation; it made them blush. Margery said she wished people weren't quite so practical, and wouldn't ruin nature by introducing such ugly and unnecessary things. She intended to point the moral by drawing a picture of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden,--Eve bending over a cook-stove and Adam peeling apples with a machine. Geoffrey scoffed at Margery's sentimentalism, put on his most trying air, and declared that if he had his pork and onions served up 'hot and reg'lar,' he didn't care how she had her victuals cooked.
They were all somewhat appeased, however, when they found that Dr. Winship was as anxious as they for an evening camp-fire, and merely insisted upon the stove because it simplified the cookery. Furthermore, being an eminently just man, he yielded so far as to give them permission to prepare their own meals on a private camp- fire whenever they desired; and this effectually stopped the argument, for no one was willing to pay so heavy a price for effect.
The hammocks, made of gaily-coloured cords, were slung in various directions a short distance from the square tent, which, being the family sitting-room, was the centre of attraction. It was arranged with a gay canopy, twenty feet square. Three sides were made by hanging full curtains of awning cloth from redwood rods by means of huge brass rings. These curtains were looped back during the day and dropped after dark, making a cosy and warm interior from which to watch the camp-fire on cool evenings.
As for the Canyon de Las Flores itself, this little valley of the flowers, it was beautiful enough in every part to inspire an artist's pencil or a poet's pen; so quiet and romantic it was, too, it might almost have been under a spell,--the home of some sleepy, enchanted princess waiting the magic kiss of a princely lover. It reached from the ocean to the mountains, and held a thousand different pictures on which to feast the eye; for Dame Nature deals out beauty with a lavish hand in this land of perpetual summer, song, and sunshine. There were many noble oak-trees, some hung profusely with mistletoe, and others with the long, Spanish greybeard moss, that droops from the branches in silvery lines, like water spray. Sometimes, in the moonlight, it winds about the oak like a shroud, and then again like a filmy bridal veil, or drippings of mist from a frozen tree.
Here and there were open tracts of ground between the clumps of trees, like that in which the tents were pitched,--sunny places, where the earth was warm and dry, and the lizards blinked sleepily under the stones.
Farther up the canyon were superb bay-trees, with their glossy leaves and aromatic odour, and the madrono, which, with its blood-red skin, is one of the most beautiful of California trees, having an open growth, like a maple, bright green lustrous leaves, and a brilliant red bark, which peels off at regular seasons, giving place to a new one of delicate pea-green.
There were no birches with pure white skin, or graceful elms, or fluffy pussy willows, but so many beautiful foreign things that it would seem ungrateful to mourn those left behind in the dear New England woods; and as for flowers, there are no yellow and purple violets, fragile anemones, or blushing Mayflowers, but in March the hillsides are covered with red, in April flushed with pink and blue, in May brilliant with yellow blossoms; and in the canyons, where the earth is moist, there are flowers all the year.
And then the girls would never forgive me if I should forget the superb yucca, or Spanish bayonet, which is as beautiful as a tropical queen. Its tall, slender stalk has no twigs or branches, but its leaves hang down from the top like bayonet-blades; and oh, there rises from the centre of them such a stately princess of a flower, like a tree in itself, laden with cream-white, velvety, fragrant blossoms.
The boys often climbed the hillsides and brought home these splendid treasures, which were placed in pails of water at the tent doors, to shed their luxuriant beauty and sweetness in the air for days together. They brought home quantities of Spanish moss, and wild clematis, and manzanita berries too, with which to decorate the beloved camp; and even Dicky trotted back with his arms full of gorgeous blossoms and grasses, which he arranged with great taste and skill in mugs, bottles, and cans on the dining-table.
Can't you see what a charming place it was? And I have not begun to tell you the half yet; for there was always a soft wind stirring the leaves in dreamy music, and above and through this whispered sound you heard the brook splashing over its pebbly bed,--splashing and splashing and laughing all it possibly could, knowing it would speedily be dried up by the thirsty August sun. Every few yards part of the stream settled down contentedly into a placid little pool, while the most inquisitive and restless little drops flowed noisily down to see what was going on below. The banks were fringed with graceful alders and poison-oak bushes, vivid in crimson and yellow leaves, while delicate maiden-hair ferns grew in miniature forests between the crevices of the rocks; yet, with the practicality of Chinese human nature, Hop Yet used all this beauty for a dish-pan and refrigerator!
Now, confess that, after having seen exactly how it looks, you would like to rub a magic lamp, like Aladdin, and wish yourself there with our merry young sextette. For California is a lovely land and a strange one, even at this late day, when her character has been nearly ruined by dreadful stories, or made ridiculous by foolish ones.
When you were all babies in long clothes, some people used to believe that there were nuggets of gold to be picked up in the streets, and that in the flowery valleys, flowing with milk and honey, there grew groves of beet-trees, and forests of cabbages, and shady bowers of squash-vines; and they thought that through these fertile valleys strode men of curious mien, wild bandits and highway robbers, with red flannel shirts and many pockets filled with playing-cards and revolvers and bowie-knives; and that when you met these frightful persons and courteously asked the time of day, they were apt to turn and stab you to the heart by way of response.
Now, some of these things were true, and some were not, and some will never happen again; for the towns and cities no longer conduct themselves like headstrong young tomboys out on a lark, but have grown into ancient and decorous settlements some twenty-five or thirty years old.
Perhaps California isn't really so interesting since she began to learn manners; but she is a land of wonders still, with her sublime mountains and valleys; her precious metals; her vineyards and orchards of lemons and oranges, figs, limes, and nuts; her mammoth vegetables, each big enough for a newspaper story; her celebrated trees, on the stumps of which dancing-parties are given; her vultures; her grizzly bears; and her people, drawn from every nook and corner of the map--pink, yellow, blue, red, and green countries. And though the story of California is not written, in all its romantic details, in the school-books of to-day, it is a part of the poetry of our late American history, full of strange and thrilling scenes, glowing with interest and dramatic fire.
I know a little girl who crossed the plains in that great ungeneraled army of fifteen or twenty thousand people that made the long and weary journey to the land of gold in 1849. She tells her children now of the strange, long days and months in the ox-team, passing through the heat and dust of alkali deserts, fording rivers, and toiling over steep mountains. She tells them how at night she often used to lie awake, curled up in her grey blanket, and hear the men talking together of the gold treasures they were to dig from the ground--treasures, it seemed to her childish mind, more precious than those of which she read in The Arabian Nights. And from a little hole in the canvas cover of the old emigrant wagon she used to see the tired fathers and brothers, worn and footsore from their hard day's tramp, some sleeping restlessly, and others guarding the cattle or watching for Indians, who were always expected, and often came; and the last thing at night, when her eyes were heavy with sleep, she peered dreamily out into the darkness to see the hundreds of gleaming camp-fires, which dotted the plain as far as the eye could reach.
You will have noticed that this first week of camp-life was a quiet one, spent mostly by the young people in getting their open-air home comfortably arranged, making conveniences of all kinds, becoming acquainted with the canyon so far as they could, and riding once or twice to neighbouring ranches for hay or provisions.
Dr. Winship believed in a good beginning; and, as this was not a week's holiday, but a summer campaign, he wanted his young people to get fully used to the situation before undertaking any of the exciting excursions in prospect. So, before the week was over, they began to enjoy sound, dreamless sleep on their hard straw beds, to eat the plain fare with decided relish, to grow a little hardy and brown, and quite strong and tough enough for a long tramp or horseback ride.
After a religious devotion to cold cream for a few nights, Polly had signified her terrible intention of 'letting her nose go.' 'I disown it!' she cried, peeping in her tiny mirror, and lighting up her too rosy tints with a tallow candle. 'Hideous objick, I defy thee! Spot and speckle, yea, burn to a crisp, and shed thy skin afterwards! I care not. Indeed, I shall be well rid of thee, thou--h'm--thou-- well, leopard, for instance.'
One beautiful day followed another, each the exact counterpart of the one that had preceded it; for California boys and girls never have to say 'wind and weather permitting' from March or April until November. They always know what the weather is going to do; and whether this is an advantage or not is a difficult matter to settle conclusively.
New England boys affirm that they wouldn't live in a country where it couldn't rain any day it felt like it, and California lads retort that they are glad their dispositions are not ruined by the freaks of New England weather. At all events, it is a paradise for would-be campers, and any one who should assert the contrary would meet with energetic opposition from the loyal dwellers in Camp Chaparral.
Bell returned one day from a walk which she had taken by herself, while the other girls were off on some errand with the Doctor. After luncheon she drew them mysteriously into the square tent, and lowered the curtains.
'What is it?' Polly whispered, with an anxious expression of countenance. 'Have you lost your gold thimble again, or your temper, or have you discovered a silver mine?'
'I have found,' she answered mysteriously, 'the most beautifully secret place you ever beheld. It will be just the spot for us to write and study in when we want to be alone; or it will even do for a theatre; and it is scarcely more than half a mile up the canyon.'
'How did you find it?' asked Margery.
'As I was walking along by the brookside, I saw a snake making its way through the bushes, and--'
'Goodness!' shrieked Polly, 'I shall not write there, thank you.'
'Goose! Just wait a minute. I looked at it, and followed at a distance; it was a harmless little thing; and I thought, for the fun of it, I would just push blindly on and see what I should find, because we are for ever walking in the beaten path, and I long for something new.'
'A bad instinct,' remarked Madge, 'and one which will get you into trouble, so you should crush it in its infancy.'
'Well, I took up my dress and ploughed through the chaparral, until I came, in about three minutes of scratching and fighting, to an open circular place about as large as this tent. It was exactly round, which is the curious part of it; and in the centre was one stump, covered with moss and surrounded by great white toadstools. How any one happened to go in there and cut down a single tree I can't understand, nor yet how they managed to bring out the tree through the tangled brush. It is so strange that it seems as if there must be a mystery about it.'
'Certainly,' said Margery promptly. 'A tragedy of the darkest kind! Some cruel wretch has cut down, in the pride and pomp of it beauty, one sycamore-tree; its innocent life-blood has stained the ground, and given birth to the white toadstools which mark the spot and testify to the purity of the victim.'
'Well,' continued Bell, impressively, 'I knew I could never find it again; and I wanted so much you should see it that I took the ball of twine we always carry, unrolled it, and dropped the thread all the way along to the brookside, like Phrygia, or Melpomene, or Anemone, or whatever her name was.'
'Or Artesia, or Polynesia, or Euthanasia,' interrupted Polly. 'I think the lady you mean is Ariadne.'
'Exactly. Now we'll take papa to see it, and then we'll fit it up as a retreat. Won't it be charming? We'll call it the Lone Stump.'
'Oh, I like that; it makes me shiver!' cried Polly. 'I'm going to write an ode to it at once. Ahem! It shall begin--let me see -
'O lonely tree,
'Sublime! Second verse,' said Bell slowly, with pauses between the lines:-
'Or did a gopher,
'Oh dear!' sighed Margery; 'if you will do it, wait a minute.
'O toadstools white,
'Good!' continued Bell:-
'Or did a man
For travelling grizzlies, you know. We may go there and see a hungry creature making a stump-speech, while an admiring audience of grasshoppers and tarantulas seat themselves in a circle on the toadstools.'
'Charming prospect!' said Madge. 'I don't think I care to visit the Lone Stump or pass my mornings there.'
'Nonsense, dear child; it is just like every other part of the canyon, only a little more lonely. It is not half a mile from camp, and hardly a dozen steps from the place where the boys go so often to shoot quail.'
'Very well,' said the girls. 'We must go there to-morrow morning; and perhaps we'd better not tell the boys,--they are so peculiar. Jack will certainly interfere with us in some way, if he hears about it.'
'Now let us take our books and run down by the pool for an hour or two,' said Bell. 'Papa and the boys are all off shooting, and mamma is lying down. We can have a cool, quiet time; the sunshine is so hot here by the tents.'
Accordingly, they departed, as they often did, for one of the prolonged chats in which school-girls are wont to indulge, and which so often, too, are but idle, senseless chatter.
These young people, however, had been fortunate in having the wisest and most loving guardianship, so that all their happy young lives had been spent to good purpose. They had not shirked study, and so their minds were stocked with useful information; they had read carefully and digested thoroughly whatever they had read, so that they possessed a good deal of general knowledge. The girls were bright, sensible, industrious little women, who tried to be good, too, in the old-fashioned sense of the word; and full of fun, nonsense, and chatter as they were among themselves, they never forgot to be modest and unassuming.
The boys were pretty well in earnest about life, too, with good ambitions and generous aspirations. They had all been studying with Dr. Winship for nearly two years; and that means a great deal, for he was a real teacher, entering into the lives of his pupils, sympathising with them in every way, and leading them, through the study of nature, of human beings, and of God, to see the beauty and meaning of life.
Geoffrey Strong, of course, was older than the rest, having completed his junior year at college; but Dr. Winship, who was his guardian, thought it wiser for him to rest a year and come to him in California, as his ambition and energy had already led him into greater exertions than his age or strength warranted. He was now studying medicine with the good Doctor, but would go back to the 'land of perpetual pie' in the fall and complete his college course.
A splendid fellow he was,--so earnest, thoughtful, and wise; so gravely tender in all his ways to Aunt Truth, who was the only mother he had ever known; so devoted to Dr. Winship, who loved him as his own elder son.
What will Geoffrey Strong be as a man? The twig is bent, and it is safe to predict how the tree will incline. His word will be as good as his bond; he will be a good physician, for his eye is quick to see suffering, and his hand ready to relieve it; little children with feverish cheeks and tired eyes will love to clasp his cool, strong sand; he will be gentle as a woman, yet thoroughly manly, as he is now, for he has made the most of his golden youth, and every lad who does that will have a golden manhood and a glorious old age.
As for Philip Noble, he was a dear, good, trustworthy lad too; kindly, generous, practical, and industrious; a trifle slow and reserved, perhaps, but full of common sense,--the kind of sense which, after all, is most uncommon.
Bell once said: 'This is the difference between Philip and Geoffrey,--one does, and the other is. Geoff is the real Simon-pure ideal which we praise Philip for trying to be,'--a very good description for a little maiden whose bright eyes had only looked into life for sixteen summers.
And now we come to Jack Howard, who never kept still long enough for any one to write a description of him. To explain how he differed from Philip or Geoffrey would be like bringing the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer together for purposes of comparison.
If there were a horseback ride, Jack rode the wildest colt, was oftenest thrown and least often hurt; if a fishing-party, Jack it was who caught all the fish, though he made more noise than any one else, and followed no rules laid down in The Complete Angler.
He was very often in trouble; but his misdemeanours were those of pure mischief, and were generally atoned for when it was possible. He excelled in all out-of-door sports. And indeed, if his prudence had at all kept pace with his ability, he might have done remarkable things in almost any direction; but he constantly overshot the mark, and people looked to him for the dazzling brilliancy and uncertainty of a meteor, but never for the steady glow of a fixed star.
Just now, Jack was a good deal sobered, and appeared at his very best. The teaching of Dr. Paul and the companionship of Geoffrey had done much for him, while the illness of his sister Elsie, who was the darling of his heart, acted constantly as a sort of curb upon him; for he loved her with all the ardour and passion which he gave to everything else. You might be fearful of Jack's high spirits and riotous mirth, of his reckless actions and heedless jokes, but you could scarcely keep from admiring the boy; for he was brave and handsome and winsome enough to charm the very birds off the bush, as Aunt Truth acknowledged, after giving him a lecture for some misdemeanour.
The three girls made their way a short distance up the canyon to a place which they called Prospect Pool, because it was so entirely shut in from observation.
'Dear old Geoff!' said Bell, throwing her shawl over a rock and opening her volume of Carlyle. 'He has gone all through this for me, and written nice little remarks on the margin,--explanations and things, and interrogations where he thinks I won't know what is meant and had better find out,--bless his heart! What have you brought, Margery? By the way, you must move your seat away from that clump of poison-oak bushes; we can't afford to have any accidents which will interfere with our fun. We have all sorts of new remedies, but I prefer that the boys should experiment with them.'
'It's the softest seat here, too,' grumbled Margery. 'We must get the boys to cut these bushes down. Why, you haven't any book, you lazy Polly. Are you going to sleep, or shall you chatter and prevent our reading?'
'Neither,' she answered. 'Here is a doughnut which I propose to send down the red pathway of fate; and here a pencil and paper with which I am going to begin our round-robin letter to Elsie.'
'That's good! She has only had notes from Jack and one letter from us, which, if I remember right, had nothing in it.'
'Thanks! I wrote it,' sniffed Bell.
'Well, I meant it had no news--no account of things, you know.'
'No, I wouldn't descend to writing news, and I leave accounts to the butcher.'
'Stop quarrelling, girls! This is my plan: I will begin in my usual rockety style, sometimes maliciously called the Pollyoliver method; Margery will take up the thread sedately; Bell will plunge in with a burst of enthusiasm and seventeen adjectives, followed by a verse of poor poetry; Geoff will do the sportive or instructive, just as he happens to feel; and Phil will wind up the letter by some practical details which will serve as a key to all the rest. Won't it be a box of literary bonbons for her to read in bed, poor darling! Let me see! I represent the cayenne lozenges, sharp but impressive; Margery will do for jujube paste, which I adore,--mild, pleasant, yielding, delicious.'
'Sticky and insipid!' murmured Madge, plaintively.
'Not at all, my dear. Bell stands for the peppermints; Jack for chocolates, "the ladies' delight"; Geoffrey for a wine-drop, altogether good, but sweetest in its heart; Phil--let me see! Phil is like--what is he like?'
'No more like candy than a cold boiled potato,' said his sister.
'He is candid,' suggested Bell. 'Let us call him rock-candy, pure, healthful, and far from soft.'
'Or marshmallow,' said Margery, 'good, but tough.'
'Or caramel,' laughed Polly; 'it always sticks to a point.'
'Thanks, gentle creatures,' said a voice from the bushes on the other side of the pool, and Phil stalked out from his covert, like a wounded deer.
'How long have you been in there, villain?' cried Bell.
'Ever since lunch; but I only waked from a sound sleep some twenty minutes ago. I've heard a most instructive conversation--never been more amused in my life; don't know whether I prefer being a cold boiled potato or a ladies'-delight!'
'You haven't any choice,' snapped Polly, a trifle embarrassed at having been overheard.
'I'm glad it was my own sister who called me a c. b. p. (the most loathsome thing in existence, by the way), because sisters never appreciate their brothers.'
'I didn't call you a c. b. p.,' remonstrated Margery. 'I said you were no more like candy than a c. b. p. There is a difference.'
'Is there? My poor brain fails to grasp it. But never mind; I'll forgive you.'
'Listeners never hear good of themselves,' sighed Polly.
'Are you writing a copy-book, Miss Oliver? I didn't want to listen; it was very painful to my feelings, but I was too sleepy to move.'
'And now our afternoon is gone, and we have not read a word,' sighed little Margery. 'I never met two such chatterboxes as you and Polly.'
'And to hear us talk is a liberal education,' retorted Polly.
'Exactly,' said Philip, dryly, 'Come, I'll take the books and shawls. It's nearly five o'clock, and we shall hear Hop Yet blowing his lusty dinner-horn presently.'
'Why didn't you go off shooting with the others?' asked Margery.
'Stayed at home so they'd get a chance to shoot.'
'Why, do you mean you always scare the game away?' inquired Polly, artlessly.
'No; I mean that I always do all the shooting, and the others get discouraged.'
'Clasp hands over the bloody chasm,' said Bell, 'and let us smoke the pipe of peace at dinner.'
Philip and Bell came through the trees, and, as they neared the camp, saw Aunt Truth sitting at the door of Tent Chatter, looking the very picture of comfort, as she drew her darning-needle in and out of an unseemly rent in one of Dicky's stockings. Margery and Polly came up just behind, and dropped into her lap some beautiful branches of wild azalea.
'Did you have a pleasant walk, dears?' she asked.
'Yes, indeed, dear auntie. Now, just hold your head perfectly still, while we decorate you for dinner. We will make Uncle Doc's eyes fairly pop with admiration. Have you been lonely without us?'
'Oh, not a bit. You see there has been a good deal of noise about here, and I felt as if I were not alone. Hop Yet has been pounding soap-root in the kitchen, and I hear the sound of Pancho's axe in the distance,--the Doctor asked him to chop wood for the camp-fire. Was Dicky any trouble? Where is he?'
'Why, darling mother, are you crazy?' asked Bell. 'If you think a moment, he was in the hammock and you were lying down in the tent when we started.'
'Why, I certainly thought I heard him ask to go with you,' said Mrs. Winship, in rather an alarmed tone.
'So he did; but I told him it was too far.'
'I didn't hear that; in fact, I was half asleep; I was not feeling well. Ask Hop Yet; he has been in the kitchen all the afternoon.'
Hop Yet replied, with discouraging tranquillity, 'Oh, I no know. I no sabe Dicky; he allee time lun loun camp; I no look; too muchee work. I chop hash--Dicky come in kitch'--make heap work--no good. I tell him go long--he go; bime-by you catchum; you see.' Whereupon he gracefully skinned an onion, and burst into a Chinese song, with complete indifference as to whether Dicky lived or died.
'Perhaps he is with Pancho; I'll run and see!' cried Polly, dashing swiftly in the direction of the sky-parlour. But after a few minutes she ran back, with a serious face. 'He's not there; Pancho has not seen him since lunch.'
'Well, I've just happened to think,' said pale Aunt Truth, 'that papa came into the tent for some cartridges, after you left, and of course he took Dick with him. I don't suppose it is any use to worry. He always does come out right; and I have told him so many times never on any account to go away from the camp alone that he surely would not do it. Papa and the boys will be home soon, now. It is nearly six o'clock, and I told them that I would blow the horn at six, as usual. If they are too far away to hear it, they will know the time by the sun.'
'Well,' said Bell, anxiously, 'I hope it is all right. Papa is so strict that he won't be late himself. Did all the boys go with him, mamma?'
'Yes, all but Philip.'
'Oh, then Dicky must be with them,' said Margery, consolingly. 'Geoffrey always takes him wherever he can.'
So the girls went into the tent to begin their dinner toilet, which consisted in carefully brushing burrs and dust from their pretty dresses, and donning fresh collars and stockings, with low ties of russet leather, which Polly declared belonged only to the stage conception of a camping costume; then, with smoothly brushed hair and bright flower-knots at collar and belt, they looked charming enough to grace any drawing-room in the land.
The horn was blown again at six o'clock, Aunt Truth standing at the entrance of the path which led up the canyon, shading her anxious eyes from the light of the setting sun. -
'Here they come!' she cried, joyously, as the welcome party appeared in sight, guns over shoulder, full game-bags, and Jack and Geoff with a few rabbits and quail hanging over their arms.
The girls rushed out of the tent. Bell took in the whole group with one swift glance, and then turned to her mother, who, like most mothers, believed the worst at once, and grew paler as she asked:
'Papa, where is little Dick?'
'Dick! Why, my dear, he has not been out with us. What do you mean?'
'Are you sure you didn't take him?' faltered Aunt Truth.
'Of course I am. Good heavens! Doesn't any one know where the child is?' looking at the frightened group.
'You know, uncle,' said Geoffrey, 'we started out at three o'clock. I noticed Dicky playing with his blocks in our tent, and said good- bye to him. Did you see him when you came back for the cartridges?'
'Certainly I did; he called me to look at his dog making believe go to sleep in the hammock.'
'We girls went down to the pool soon after that,' said Bell, tearfully. 'He asked to go with us, and I told him it was too far, and that he'd better stay with mamma, who would be all alone. He said "Yes" so sweetly I couldn't mistrust him. Oh, was it my fault, papa? Please don't say it was!' and she burst into a passion of sobs.
'No, no, my child, of course it was not. Don't cry; we shall find him. Go and look about the camp, Geoff, while we consider for a minute what to do?'
'If there is any fault, it is mine, for going to sleep,' said poor Aunt Truth; 'but I never dreamed he would dare to wander off alone, my poor little disobedient darling! What shall we do?'
'Have you spoken to Pancho and Hop Yet?' asked Phil.
'Yes; they have seen nothing.'
Hop Yet just at this moment issued from his kitchen with an immense platter of mutton-stew and dumplings, which he deposited on the table. On being questioned again, he answered as before, with the greatest serenity, intimating that Dicky would come home 'heap bime- by' when he got 'plenty hungly.' He seemed to think a lost boy or two in a family rather a trifle than otherwise, and wound up his unfeeling remarks with the practical one, 'Dinner all leady; you no eat mutton, he get cold! Misser Wins', I no find pickle; you catchum!'
'I don't believe he would care if we all died right before his eyes,' muttered Polly, angrily. 'I should just like to see a Chinaman's heart once, and find out whether it was made of resin, or cuttle- fish, or what.'
'Well,' said Phil, as Dr. Winship came through the trees from the card-room, 'we must start out this instant, and of course we can find him somehow, somewhere; he hasn't been gone over two hours, and he couldn't walk far, that's certain. Now, Uncle Doc, shall we all go different ways, and leave the girls here to see if he doesn't turn up?'
'Oh, papa,' cried Bell, do not leave us at home! We can hunt as well as any one; we know every foot of the canyon. Let me go with Geoff, and we'll follow the brook trail.'
'Very well. Now, mamma, Pancho and I will go down to the main road, and you wait patiently here. Make all the noise you can, children; and the one who finds him must come back to the camp and blow the horn. Hop Yet, we go now; if Dicky comes back, you blow the horn yourself, will you?'
'All light, boss. You eat um dinner now; then go bime-by; mutton heap cold; you--'
'Dinner!' shouted Jack. 'Confound your impudence! If you say dinner again, I'll cut the queue off your stupid head.'
'Good!' murmured Polly, giving a savage punch to her blue Tam o' Shanter cap.
'Jack, Jack!' remonstrated Aunt Truth.
'I know, dear auntie; but the callous old heathen makes me so mad I can't contain myself. Come, Margery, let's be off. Get your shawl; and hurrah for the one who comes back to blow the horn first! I'll wager you ten to one I'll have Dick in auntie's lap inside the hour!'--at which Aunt Truth's eyes brightened, and she began to take heart again. But as he tore past the brush kitchen and out into the woods, dragging Madge after him at a breathless pace, he shut his lips together rather grimly, saying, 'I'd give five hundred dollars (s'posin' I had a cent) to see that youngster safe again.'
'Tell me one thing, Jack,' said Margery, her teeth chattering with nervousness; 'are there any animals in this canyon that would attack him?'
'Oh, of course it is possible that a California lion or a wild-cat might come down to the brook to drink--they have been killed hereabouts--but I hardly believe it is likely; and neither do I believe they would be apt to hurt him, any way, for he would never attack them, you know. What I am afraid of is that he has tumbled over the rocks somewhere in climbing, or tangled himself up in the chaparral. He couldn't have made off with a pistol, could he? He is up to all such tricks.'
Presently the canyon began to echo with strange sounds, which I have no doubt sent the owls, birds, and rabbits into fits of terror; for the boys had whistles and pistols, while Polly had taken a tin pan and a hammer. She had gone with Phil out behind the thicket of manzanita bushes, and they both stood motionless, undecided where to go.
'Oh, Phil, I can't help it; I must cry, I am so frightened. Let me sit down a second. Yes, I know it's an ant-hill, and I shouldn't care if it were a hornets' nest--I deserve to be stung. What do you think I said to Margery this morning? That Dicky was a perfect little marplot, and spoiled all our fun, and I wished he were in the bottom of the Red Sea; and then I called him a k-k-k-ill-joy!' and Polly buried her head in her blue Tam, and cried a good, honest, old- fashioned cry.
'There, chirk up, poor little soul, and don't you fret over a careless speech, that meant nothing at all. I've wished him in the Red Sea more than once, but I'm blessed if I ever do it again. Come, let's go over yonder, where we caught the young owl; Dicky may have wanted to try that little game again.'
So they went on, calling, listening, then struggling on again, more anxious every moment, but not so thoroughly dazed as Bell, who had rocked her baby-brother in his cradle, and to whom he was the embodiment of every earthly grace, if not of every heavenly virtue.
'I might have known this would happen,' she said, miserably. 'He is so careless that, if we ever find him again, we must keep him tied to something.'
'Take care of your steps, dear,' said Geoff, 'and munch this cracker, or you won't have strength enough to go on with me. I wish it were not getting so dark; the moment the sun gets behind these mountain- tops the light seems to vanish in an instant.--Dick-y!'
'Think of the poor darling out in this darkness--hungry, frightened, and alone,' sighed Bell. 'It's past his bed-time now. Oh, why did we ever come to stay in this horrible place!'
'You must not blame the place, dear; we thought it the happiest in the world this morning. Here we are by the upper pool, and the path stops. Which way had we better go?'
'I've been here before to-day,' said Bell; 'we might follow the trail I made. But where is my string? Light a match, Geoff, please.'
'What string? What do you mean?'
'Why, I found a beautiful spot this morning, and, fearing I shouldn't remember the way again, I took out my ball of twine and dropped a white line all the way back, like Ariadne; but I don't see it. Where can it have disappeared--unless Jack or Phil took it to tease me?'
'Oh no; I've been with them all day. Perhaps a snake has swallowed it. Come.'
But a bright idea had popped into Bell's head. 'I want to go that way, Geoff, dear; it's as good as any other, and there are flowers just the other side, in an open, sunny place; perhaps he found them.'
'All right; let's go ahead.'
'The trouble is, I don't know which way to go. Here is the rock; I remember it was a spotted one, with tall ferns growing beside it. Now I went--let me see--this way,' and they both plunged into the thick brush.
'Bell, Bell, this is utter nonsense!' cried Geoff. 'No child could crawl through this tangle.'
'Dicky could crawl through anything in this universe, if it was the wrong thing; he isn't afraid of beast, bird, or fish, and he positively enjoys getting scratched,' said Bell.
Meanwhile, what had become of this small hero, and what was he doing? He was last seen in the hammock, playing with the long-suffering terrier, Lubin, who was making believe go to sleep. It proved to be entirely a make-believe; for, at the first loosening of Dicky's strangling hold upon his throat, he tumbled out of the hammock and darted into the woods. Dicky followed, but Lubin was fleet of foot, and it was a desperate and exciting race for full ten minutes.
At length, as Lubin heard his little master's gleeful laugh, he realised that his anger was a thing of the past; consequently, he wheeled about and ran into Dicky's outstretched arms, licking his face and hands exuberantly in the joy of complete forgiveness.
By this time the voice of conscience in Dicky's soul--and it was a very, very still, small one on all occasions--was entirely silenced. He strayed into a sunny spot, and picked flowers enough to trim his little sailor hat, probably divining that this was what lost children in Sunday-school books always did, and it would be dishonourable not to keep up the superstition. Then he built a fine, strong dam of stones across the brook, wading to and fro without the bother of taking off his shoes and stockings, and filled his hat with rocks and sunk it to the bottom for a wharf, keeping his hat-band to tie an unhappy frog to a bit of bark, and setting him afloat as the captain of a slave-ship. When, at length, the struggling creature freed himself from his bonds and leaped into the pool, Dicky played that he was a drowning child, and threw Lubin into the water to rescue him.
In these merry antics the hours flew by unnoticed; he had never been happier in his life, and it flashed through his mind that if he were left entirely to himself he should always be good.
'Here I've been a whole day offul good by my lone self; haven't said one notty word or did one notty fing, nor gotted scolded a singul wunst, did I, Lubin? I guess we better live here; bettent we, Lubin? And ven we wunt git stuck inter bed fur wettin' our feets little teenty mites of wet ev'ry singul night all the livelong days, will we, Lubin?'
But this was a long period of reflection for Master Dicky, and he capered on, farther and farther, the water sozzling frightfully in his little copper-toed boots. At length he sat down on a stone to rest himself, and, glancing aimlessly about, his eyes fell on a white string, which he grasped with alacrity, pulling its end from beneath the stone on which he sat.
'Luby Winship, the anjulls gaved me this string fur ter make an offul splendid tight harness for you, little Luby; and you can drag big heavy stones. Won't that be nice?'
Lubin looked doubtful, and wagged his tail dissentingly, as much as to say that his ideas of angel ministrations were a trifle different.
But there was no end to the string! How very, very curious! Dicky wound and wound and crept and crept along, until he was thoroughly tired but thoroughly determined to see it through; and Lubin, meanwhile, had seized the first convenient moment, after the mention of the harness, to retire to the camp.
At length, oh joy! the tired and torn little man, following carefully the leading-string, issued from the scratching bushes into a clean, beautiful, round place, with a great restful-looking stump in the centre, and round its base a small forest of snowy toadstools. What could be a lovelier surprise! Dicky clapped his hands in glee as he looked at them, and thought of a little verse of poetry which Bell had taught him:
'Some fairy umbrellas came up to-day
'Oh!' thought Dicky, in a trance of delight, 'now I shall go to the fairies' ball, and see 'em dance under the cunning little teenty umberells; and wunt they be mad at home when nobuddy can't see 'em but just only me! And then if that potry is a big whopper, like that there uvver one--'laddin-lamp story of Bell's--I'll just pick evry white toadstool for my papa's Sunday dinner, and she sha'n't never see a singul fairy dance.'
But he waited very patiently for a long, long time that seemed like years, for Lubin had disappeared; and all at once it grew so dark in this thickly-wooded place that Dicky's courage oozed out in a single moment, without any previous warnings as to its intention. The toadstools looked like the ghosts of little past-and-gone fairy umbrellas in the darkness, and not a single fairy couple came to waltz under their snowy canopies, or exchange a furtive kiss beneath their friendly shadows.
Dicky thought the situation exceedingly gloomy, and, without knowing it, followed the example of many older people, who, on being deserted by man, experienced their first desire to find favour with God. He was not in the least degree a saintly child, but he felt instinctively that this was the proper time for prayer; and not knowing anything appropriate to the occasion, he repeated over and over again the time-worn plaint of childhood:-
'Now I lay me down to sleep,
Like older mortals of feeble faith, he looked for an immediate and practical answer, in the shape, perhaps, of his mother, with his little night-gown and bowl of bread and milk.
'My sakes alive!' he grumbled between his sobs, 'they're the meanest fings I ever saw. How long do they s'pose I'm goin' to wait for 'em in this dark? When the bears have et me up in teenty snips, then they'll be saterfied, I guess, and wisht they'd tookened gooder care of me--a little speck of a boy, lefted out in this dark, bear-y place, all by his lone self. O--oo--oo--oh!' and he wound up with a murderous yell, which had never failed before to bring the whole family to his side.
His former prayer seeming to be in vain, he found a soft place, brushed it as clean as possible, and with difficulty bending his little stiff, scratched body into a kneeling position, he prayed his nightly postscript to 'Now I lay me': 'God bless papa, 'n' mamma, 'n' Bell, 'n' Jack, 'n' Madge, 'n' Polly, 'n' Phil, 'n' Geoff, 'n' Elsie.' Then, realizing that he was in a perilous position, and it behoved him to be as pious as possible, he added: 'And please bless Pancho, 'n' Hop Yet, 'n' Lubin, 'n' the goat--not the wild goat up on the hill, but my goat, what got sick to his stummick when I painted him with black letters.'
What a dreadful calamity, to be sure, if the wrong goat had been blessed by mistake! His whole duty performed, he picked the toadstools for his papa's Sunday dinner, and, leaning his head against the lone stump, cried himself to sleep.
But relief was near, though he little suspected it as he lay in the sound, dreamless sleep which comes only to the truly good. There was a crashing sound in the still darkness, and Bell plunged through the thick underbrush with a cry of delight.
'He is here! Dear, dear Geoff, he is all here! I knew it, I knew it! Hurrah!--no, I mean--thank God!' she said softly as she stooped down to kiss her mischievous little brother.
'But what a looking creature!' exclaimed Geoff, as he stooped over the recovered treasure. 'See, Bell, his curls are glistening with pitch, his dress is torn into ribbons, and his hands--ugh, how dirty!'
'Poor little darling, he is thoroughly used up,' whispered Bell, wiping tears of joy from her brown eyes. 'Now, I'll run home like lightning to blow the horn; and you carry Dicky, for he is too sleepy and stiff to walk; and, Geoff'--(here she laid an embarrassed hand on his shoulder)--'I'm afraid he'll be awfully cross, but you'll not mind it, will you? He's so worn-out.'
'Not I,' laughed Geoff, as he dropped a brotherly kiss on Bell's pale cheek. 'But I've no idea of letting you go alone; you're tired to death, and you'll miss the path. I wish I could carry you both.'
'Tired--afraid!' cried Bell, with a ringing laugh, while Dicky woke with a stare, and nestled on Geoffrey's shoulder as if nothing had happened. 'Why, now that this weight is lifted off my heart, I could see a path in an untravelled forest! Good-bye, you dear, darling, cruel boy! I must run, for every moment is precious to mamma.' And with one strangling hug, which made Dicky's ribs crack, she dashed off.
Oh how joyously, how sweetly and tunefully, the furious blast of the old cracked dinner-horn fell on the anxious ears in that canyon. It seemed clearer and more musical than a chime of silver bells.
In a trice the wandering couples had gathered jubilantly round the camp-fire, all embracing Bell, who was the heroine of the hour-- entirely by chance, and not though superior vision or courage, as she confessed.
It was hardly fifteen minutes when Geoff strode into the ring with his sorry-looking burden, which he laid immediately in Aunt Truth's lap.
'Oh my darling!' she cried, embracing him fondly. 'To think you are really not dead, after all!'
'No, he is about as alive as any chap I ever saw.' And while the happy parents caressed their restored darling, Geoff gathered the girls and boys around the dinner-table, and repeated some of Dicky's remarks on the homeward trip.
It seems that he considered himself the injured party, and with great ingenuity laid all the blame of the mishap on his elders.
'Nobuddy takes care of me, anyhow,' he grumbled. 'If my papa wasn't a mean fing I'd orter to have a black nurse with a white cap and apurn, like Billy Thomas, 'n' then I couldn't git losted so offul easy. An' you all never cared a cent about it either, or you'd a founded me quicker 'n this--'n' I've been hungry fur nineteen hours, 'n' I guess I've been gone till December, by the feelin', but you was too lazy to found me 'f I freezed to def--'n' there ain't but one singul boy of me round the whole camp, 'n' 't would serveded you right if I had got losted for ever; then I bet you wouldn't had much fun Fourth of July 'thout my two bits 'n' my fire-crackers!'
It was an hour or two before peace and quiet were restored to the camp. The long-delayed dinner had to be eaten; and to Hop Yet's calm delight, it was a very bad one. Dicky's small wounds were dressed with sweet oil, and after being fed and bathed he was tucked lovingly into bed, with a hundred kisses or more from the whole party.
A little rest and attention had entirely restored his good-humour; and when Dr. Paul went into the tent to see that all was safe for the night, he found him sitting up in bed with a gleeful countenance, prattling like a little angel.
'We had an offul funny time 'bout my gittin' losted, didn't we, mamma?' chuckled he, with his gurgling little laugh. 'Next time I'm goin' to get losted in annover bran'-new place where no-bud-dy can find me! I fink it was the nicest time 'cept Fourth of July, don't you, mamma?' And he patted his mother's cheek and imprinted an oily kiss thereon.
'Truth,' said the Doctor, with mild severity, 'I know you don't believe in applying the slipper, but I do think we should arrange some plan for giving that child an idea of the solemnity of life. So far as I can judge, he looks at it as one prolonged picnic.'
'My sentiments exactly!' cried Bell, energetically. 'I can't stand many more of these trying scenes; I am worn to a "shadder."'
Dicky tucked his head under his mother's arm, with a sigh of relief that there was one person, at least, whose sentiments were always favourable and always to be relied upon.
'I love you the best of anybuddy, mamma,' whispered he, and fell asleep.