A Summer in a Canyon by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter V. The Forest of Arden--Good News
'From the East to western Ind,
The grand performance of 'As You Like It' must have a more extended notice than it has yet received, inasmuch as its double was never seen on any stage.
The reason of this somewhat ambitious selection lay in the fact that our young people had studied it in Dr. Winship's Shakespeare class the preceding winter, but they were actually dumb with astonishment when Bell proposed it for the opening performance in the new theatre.
'I tell you,' she argued, 'there are not many pieces which would be effective when played out of doors by dim candle-light, but this will be just as romantic and lovely as can be. You see it can be played just "as you like it."'
Philip and Aunt Truth wanted a matinee performance, but the girls resisted this plan very strongly, feeling that the garish light of day would be bad for the makeshift costumes, and would be likely to rob them of what little courage they possessed.
'We give the decoration of the theatre entirely into your hands, boys,' Polly had said on the day before the performance. 'You have some of the hardest work done already, and can just devote yourselves to the ornamental part; but don't expect any more ideas from us, for you will certainly be disappointed.'
'I should think not, indeed!' cried Bell, energetically. 'Here we have the wall decorations for the first scene, and all the costumes besides; and the trouble is, that three or four of them will have to be made to-morrow, after Laura comes with the trappings of war. I hope she will get here for dinner to-night; then we can decide on our finery, and have a rough rehearsal.'
'Well, girls!' shouted Jack, from the theatre, 'come and have one consultation, and then we'll let you off. Phil wants to change the location altogether.'
'Oh, nonsense!' cried Madge, as the three girls ran towards the scene of action. 'It's the only suitable place within a mile of the camp.'
'I think it will be simply perfect, when you have done a little more cutting,' said Bell. 'Just see our advantages: First, we have that rising knoll opposite the stage, which is exactly the thing for audience seats; then we have a semicircular background of trees and a flat place for the stage, which is perfectly invaluable; last of all, just gaze upon that madrono-tree in the centre, and the oak on the left; why, they are worth a thousand dollars for scenery.'
'Especially in the first scene--ducal interior, or whatever it is,' said Phil, disconsolately.
'Jingo! that is a little embarrassing,' groaned Jack.
'Not at all,' said Polly, briskly. 'There is plenty of room to set the interior in front of those trees. It can be all fixed beforehand, and just whisked away for good at the end of the first act.'
'That's true,' said Geoff, thoughtfully. 'But we can't have any Adam's cottage. We talked it over last night, and decided it "couldn't be did."'
'Did you indeed!' exclaimed Bell, sarcastically. 'Then allow me to remark that you three boys represent a very obtuse triangle.'
'Thanks, most acid Rosalind!' murmured Geoff, meekly. 'Could you deign, as spokesman of the very acute triangle, to suggest something?'
'Certainly. There is the rear of the brush kitchen in plain sight, to convey the idea of a rustic hut. To be sure, it's a good distance to the left, but let the audience screw round in their seats when they hear the voices, and Adam, Oliver, and Orlando can walk out carelessly, and go through their scene right there.'
'Admirable!' quoth Geoff. 'We bow to your superior judgment.'
'What an inspiration that was to bring those Chinese lanterns for the Fourth of July; they have just saved us from utter ruin,' said Margery, who was quietly making leaf-trimming.
'Yes, the effect is going to be perfectly gorgeous!' exclaimed Polly, clasping her hands in anticipation. 'How many have we? Ten? Oh, that's splendid; and how many candles?'
'As many as we care to use,' Phil answered, from the top of the ladder where he was at work. 'And look at my arrangement for holding them to these trees. Aren't they immense?'
'By the way,' said Bell, 'don't forget the mossy banks under those trees, for stage seats; and make me some kind of a thing on the left side, to swoon on when I sniff Orlando's gory handkerchief.'
'A couple of rocks,' suggested Jack.
'Not exactly,' replied the critical Rosalind, with great dignity. 'I am black and blue already from practising my faint, and I expect to shriek with pain when I fall to-morrow night.'
'St. Jacob's Oil relieves stiffened joints, smooths the wrinkles from the brow of care, soothes lacerated feelings, and 'ushes the 'owl of hinfancy,' remarked Geoffrey serenely, as he prepared to build the required mossy banks.
'My dear cousin (there are times when I am glad it is only second cousin), have you a secret contract to advertise a vulgar patent medicine? or why this eloquence?' laughed Bell.
'And, Jack,' suggested Polly, 'you don't seem to be doing anything; fix a stump for me to sit on while Orlando and Rosalind are making love.'
'All right, countess. I'd like to see you stumped once in my life. Shall we have the canvases brought for stage carpets?'
'We say no,' cried Rosalind, firmly. 'We shall be a thousand times more awkward stumbling over stiff billows of carpet. Let's sweep the ground as clean and smooth as possible, and let it go for all the scenes.'
'Yes, we shall then be well GROUNDED in our parts,' remarked Phil, hiding his head behind a bunch of candles.
'Take care, young man,' laughed Polly, 'or you may be "run to earth" instead.'
'Or be requested by the audience to get up and dust,' cried the irrepressible Jack, whose wit was very apt to be of a slangy character. 'Now let us settle the interior, or I shall go mad.'
'Bell and I have it all settled,' said Geoffrey, promptly. 'The background is to be made of three sheets hung over a line, and the two sides will be formed of canvas carpets; the walls will have Japanese fans, parasols, and--'
'Jupiter!' exclaimed Jack, who, as knight of the brush, felt compelled to be artistic. 'Imagine a ducal palace, in the year so many hundred and something, decorated with Japanese bric-a-brac! I blush for you.'
'Now, Jack, we might as well drop the whole play as begin to think of the 'nakkeronisms,' or whatever the word is. I have got to wear an old white wrapper to the wrestling-match, but I don't complain,' said Polly.
Just here Bell ran back from the kitchen, exclaiming:
'I have secured Pancho for Charles the Wrestler. Oh, he was fearfully obstinate! but when I told him he would only be on the stage two minutes, and would not have to speak a word, but just let Geoff throw him, he consented. Isn't that good? Did you decide about the decorations?'
'It will have to be just as we suggested,' answered Margery. 'Fans, parasols, flowers, and leaves, with the madrono-wood furniture scattered about, sheep-skins, etc.'
'A few venison rugs, I presume you mean,' said Geoffrey, slyly. 'Say, Polly, omit the cold cream for once, will you? You don't want to outshine everybody.'
'Thank you,' she replied. 'I will endeavour to take care of my own complexion, if you will allow me. As for yours, you look more like Othello than Orlando.'
'Come, come, girls,' said industrious Margery, 'let us go to the tent and sew. It is nothing but nonsense here, and we are not accomplishing anything.'
So they wisely left the boys to themselves for the entire day, and transformed their tent into a mammoth dressmaking establishment, with clever Aunt Truth as chief designer.
The intervening hours had slipped quickly away, and now the fatal moment had arrived, and everything was ready for the play.
The would-be actresses were a trifle excited when the Professor and his eight students were brought up and introduced by Jack and Scott Burton; and, as if that were not enough, who should drive up at the last moment but the family from the neighbouring milk ranch, and beg to be allowed the pleasure of witnessing the performance. Mr. Sandford was the gentleman who had sold Dr. Winship his land, and so they were cordially invited to remain.
All the cushions and shawls belonging to the camp were arranged carefully on the knoll, for audience seats; it was a brilliant moonlight night, and the stage assumed a very festive appearance with its four pounds of candles and twelve Chinese lanterns.
Meanwhile the actors were dressing in their respective tents. Bell's first dress was a long pink muslin wrapper of Mrs. Burton's, which had been belted in and artistically pasted over with bouquets from the cretonne trunk covers, in imitation of flowered satin; under this she wore a short blue lawn skirt of her own, catching up the pink muslin on the left side with a bouquet of wild roses, and producing what she called a 'positively Neilson effect.'
Her bright hair was tossed up into a fluffy knot on the top of her head; and with a flat coronet of wild roses and another great bunch at her belt, one might have gone far and not have found a prettier Rosalind.
'I declare, you are just too lovely--isn't she, Laura?' asked Margery.
'Yes, she looks quite well,' answered Laura, abstractedly, being much occupied in making herself absurdly beautiful as Audrey. 'Of course the dress fits horridly, but perhaps it won't show in the dim light.'
'Oh, is it very bad?' sighed Bell, plaintively; 'I can't see it in this glass. Well, the next one fits better, and I have to wear that the longest. Shall I do your hair, Laura?'
'No--thanks; Margery has such a capital knack at hair-dressing, and she doesn't come on yet.'
During this conversation Polly was struggling with Aunt Truth's trained white wrapper. It was rather difficult to make it look like a court dress; but she looked as fresh and radiant as a rose in it, for the candle-light obliterated every freckle, and one could see nothing but a pair of dancing eyes, the pinkest of cheeks, and a head running over with curls of ruddy gold.
'Now, Bell, criticise me!' she cried, taking a position in the middle of the tent, and turning round like a wax figure. 'I have torn out my hair by the roots to give it a "done up" look, and have I succeeded? and shall I wear any flowers with this lace surplice? and what on earth shall I do with my hands? they're so black they will cast a gloom over the stage. Perhaps I can wrap my handkerchief carelessly round one, and I'll keep the other round your waist, considerable, tucked under your Watteau pleat. Will I do?'
'Do? I should think so!' and Bell eyed her with manifest approval. 'Your hair is very nice, and your neck looks lovely with that lace handkerchief. As for flowers, why don't you wear a great mass of yellow and white daisies? You'll be as gorgeous as--'
'As a sunset by Turner,' said Laura, with a glance at Polly's auburn locks. 'Seems to me this is a mutual admiration society, isn't it?' and she sank languidly into a chair to have her hair dressed.
'Yes, it is,' cried Polly, boldly; 'and it's going to "continner." Meg, you're a darling in that blue print and pretty hat. I'll fill my fern-basket with flowers, and you can take it, as to have something in your hand to play with. You look nicer than any Phoebe I ever saw, that's a fact. And now, hurrah! we're all ready, and there's the boys' bell, so let us assemble out in the kitchen. Oh dear! I believe I'm frightened, in spite of every promise to the contrary.'
When the young people saw each other for the first time in their stage costumes there was a good deal of merriment and some honest admiration. Geoff looked very odd without his eyeglasses and with the yellow wig that was the one property belonging to this star dramatic organisation.
The girls had not succeeded in producing a great effect with the masculine costumes, because of insufficient material. But the boys had determined not to wear their ordinary clothes, no matter what happened; so Jack had donned one of Hop Yet's blue blouses for his Sylvius dress, and had ready a plaid shawl to throw gracefully over one shoulder whenever he changed to the Banished Duke.
His Sylvius attire was open to criticism, but no one could fail to admire his appearance as the Duke, on account of a magnificent ducal head-gear, from which soared a bunch of tall peacock feathers.
'Oh, Jack, what a head-dress for a Duke!' laughed Margery; 'no wonder they banished you. Did you offend the court hatter?'
Phil said that at all events nobody could mistake him for anything but a fool, in his 'Touchstone' costume, and so he was jest-er going to be contented.
Scott Burton was arranging Pancho's toilette for the wrestling-match, and meanwhile trying to raise his drooping spirits; and Rosalind was vainly endeavouring to make Adam's beard of grey moss stay on.
While these antics were going on behind the scenes, the audience was seated on the knoll, making merry over the written programmes, which had been a surprise of Geoff's, and read as follows:-
THE PRINCESS' THEATRE.
APPEARANCE THE GREATEST DRAMATIC COMPANY ON EARTH (FACT).
A Royal Galaxy and Boyaxy of Artists in the play of
'Alas! unmindful of their doom, the little victims play; No sense have they of ills to come, or cares beyond to-day.'
ROSALIND The Lady Bell-Pepper. (Her greatest creation.) CELIA The Countess Paulina. PHOEBE The Duchess of Sweet Marjoram. AUDREY A talented Incognita of the Court. ORLANDO Hennery Irving Salvini Strong. (Late from the Blank Theatre, Oil City.) ADAM Dr. Paul Winship. (By kind permission of his manager, Mrs. T. W.) BANISHED DUKE } SYLVIUS } Lord John Howard } Lightning TOUCHSTONE } } Change Artists. JACQUE } Duke of Noble } (N.B.--The Duke of Noble has played the 'fool' five million times.) OLIVER Mr. Scott Burton. (Specially engaged.) CHARLES THE WRESTLER Pancho Muldoon Sullivan. (His first appearance.)
The Comb Orchestra will play the Music of the Future.
The Usher will pass pop-corn between the Acts. Beds may be ordered at 10.30.
The scene between Adam and Orlando went off with good effect; and when Celia and Rosalind came through the trees in an affectionate attitude, and Celia's blithe voice broke the stillness with, 'I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry,' there was a hearty burst of applause which almost frightened them into silence.
At the end of the first act everybody was delighted; the stage- manager, carpenter, scene-shifter, costumier, and all the stars were called successively before the curtain.
Hop Yet declared it was 'all the same good as China theatre'; and every one agreed to that criticism without a dissenting voice.
To be sure, there was an utter absence of stage-management, and all the 'traditions' were remarkable for their absence; but I fancy that the spirits of Siddons and Kemble, Macready and Garrick, looked down with kind approval upon these earnest young actors as they recited the matchless old words, moving to and fro in the quaint setting of trees and moonlight, with an orchestra of cooing doves and murmuring zephyrs.
The forest scenes were intended to be the features of the evening, and in these the young people fairly surpassed themselves. Any one who had seen Neilson in her doublet and hose of silver-grey, Modjeska in her shades of blue, and Ada Cavendish in her lovely suit of green, might have thought Bell's patched-up dress a sorry mixture; yet these three brilliant stars in the theatrical firmament might have envied this little Rosalind the dewy youth and freshness that so triumphed over all deficiencies of costume.
Margery's camping-dress of grey, shortened to the knee, served for its basis. Round the skirt and belt and sleeves were broad bands of laurel-leaf trimming. She wore a pair of Margery's long grey stockings and Laura's dainty bronze Newport ties. A soft grey chudda shawl of Aunt Truth's was folded into a mantle to swing from the shoulder, its fringes being caught up out of sight, and a laurel-leaf trimming added. On her bright wavy hair was perched a cunning flat cap of leaves, and, as she entered with Polly, leaning on her manzanita staff, and sighing, 'Oh Jupiter, how weary are my spirits!' one could not wish a lovelier stage picture.
And so the play went on, with varying fortunes. Margery was frightened to death, and persisted in taking Touchstone's speeches right out of his mouth, much to his discomfiture. Adam's beard refused to stay on; so did the moustache of the Banished Duke, and the clothes of Sylvius. But nothing could damp the dramatic fire of the players, nor destroy the enthusiasm of the sympathetic audience.
Dicky sat in the dress-circle, wrapped in blankets, and laughed himself nearly into convulsions over Touchstone's jokes, and the stage business of the Banished Duke; for it is unnecessary to state that Jack was not strictly Shakespearean in his treatment of the part.
As for Polly, she enjoyed being Celia with all her might, and declared her intention of going immediately on the 'regular' stage; but Jack somewhat destroyed her hopes by affirming that her nose and hair wouldn't be just the thing on the metropolitan boards, although they might pass muster in a backwoods theatre.
'Hello! What's this?' exclaimed Philip, one morning. 'A visitor? Yes--no! Why, it's Senor Don Manuel Felipe Hilario Noriega coming up the canyon! He's got a loaded team, too! I wonder if Uncle Doc is expecting anything.'
The swarthy gentleman with the long name emerged from one cloud of dust and disappeared in another, until he neared the gate where Philip and Polly were standing.
Philip opened the gate, and received a bow of thanks which would have made Manuel's reputation at a Spanish court.
'Going up to camp?'
'Those things for us?'
'What are they?'
'Exactly! Well, are there any letters?'
'Si, senor.' Whereupon he drew one from his gorgeously-decorated leather belt.
Philip reached for it, and Polly leaned over his shoulder, devoured with curiosity.
'It's for Aunt Truth,' she said; 'and--yes, I am sure it is Mrs. Howard's writing; and if it is--'
Hereupon, as Manuel spoke no English, and neither Philip nor Polly could make inquiries in Spanish, Polly darted to the cart in her usual meteoric style, put one foot on the hub of a wheel and climbed to the top like a squirrel, snatched off a corner of the canvas cover, and cried triumphantly, 'I knew it! Elsie is coming! Here's a tent, and some mattresses and pillows. Hurry! Help me down, quick! Oh, slow-coach! Keep out of the way and I'll jump! Give me the letter. I can run faster than you can.' And before the vestige of an idea had penetrated Philip's head, nothing could be seen of Polly but a pair of twinkling heels and the gleam of a curly head that caught every ray of the sun and turned it into ruddier gold.
It was a dusty, rocky path, and up-hill at that; but Polly, who was nothing if not ardent, never slackened her pace, but dashed along until she came in sight of the camp, where she expended her last breath in one shrill shriek for Aunt Truth.
It was responded to promptly. Indeed, it was the sort of shriek that always commands instantaneous attention; and Aunt Truth came out of her tent prepared to receive tragic news. Bell followed; and the entire family would have done the same had they been in camp.
Polly thrust the letter into Mrs. Winship's hand, and sank down exhausted, exclaiming, breathlessly, 'There's a mattress--and a tent- -coming up the canyon. It's Elsie's, I know. Philip is down at the gate--with the cart--but I came ahead. Phew! but it's warm!'
'What!' cried Bell, joyfully. 'Elsie at the gate! It can't be true!' And she darted like an arrow through the trees.
'Come back! come back!' screamed Polly.
'Elsie is not at the gate. Don S. D. M. F. H. N. is there with a team loaded down with things. Isn't it from Mrs. Howard, Aunt Truth?'
'Yes, it is. Written this morning from Tacitas Rancho. Why, how is this? Let me see!'
TACITAS RANCHO, Monday morning.
Dear Truth,--You will be surprised to receive a letter from me, written from Tacitas. But here we are, Elsie and I; and, what is better, we are on our way to you.
('I knew it!' exclaimed the girls.)
Elsie has been growing steadily better for three weeks. The fever seems to have disappeared entirely, and the troublesome cough is so much lessened that she sleeps all night without waking. The doctor says that the camp-life will be the very best thing for her now, and will probably complete her recovery.
('Oh, joy, joy!' cried the girls.)
I need not say how gladly we followed this special prescription of our kind doctor's, nor add that we started at once.
('Oh, Aunt Truth, there is nobody within a mile of the camp; can't I, PLEASE can't I turn one little hand-spring, just one little lady-like one?' pleaded Polly, dancing on one foot and chewing her sun-bonnet string.
'No, dear, you can't! Keep quiet and let me read.')
Elsie would not let me tell you our plans any sooner, lest the old story of a sudden ill turn would keep us at home; and I think very likely that she longed to give the dear boys and girls a surprise.
We arrived at the Burtons' yesterday. Elsie bore the journey exceedingly well, but I would not take any risks, and so we shall not drive over until day after to-morrow morning.
('You needn't have hurried quite so fast, Polly dear.')
I venture to send the tent and its belongings ahead to-day, so that Jack may get everything to rights before we arrive.
The mattress is just the size the girls ordered; and of course I've told Elsie nothing about the proposed furnishing of her tent.
I am bringing my little China boy with me, for I happen to think that, with the Burtons, we shall be fourteen at table. Gin is not quite a success as a cook, but he can at least wash dishes, wait at table, and help Hop Yet in various ways; while I shall be only too glad to share all your housekeeping cares, if you have not escaped them even in the wilderness.
I shall be so glad to see you again; and oh, Truth, I am so happy, so happy, that, please God, I can keep my child after all! The weary burden of dread is lifted off my heart, and I feel young again. Just think of it! My Elsie will be well and strong once more! It seems too good to be true.
Always your attached friend,
Mrs. Winship's voice quivered as she read the last few words, and Polly and Bell threw themselves into each other's arms and cried for sheer gladness.
'Come, come, dears! I suppose you will make grand preparations, and there is no time to lose. One of you must find somebody to help Philip unload the team. Papa and the boys have gone fishing, and Laura and Margery went with them, I think.' And Mrs. Winship bustled about, literally on hospitable thoughts in-tent.
Polly tied on her sun-bonnet with determination, turned up her sleeves as if washing were the thing to be done, and placed her arms akimbo.
'First and foremost,' said she, her eyes sparkling with excitement, 'first and foremost, I am going to blow the horn.'
'Certainly not,' said Aunt Truth. 'Are you crazy, Polly? It is scarcely ten o'clock, and everybody would think it was dinnertime, and come home at once.'
'No, they'd think something had happened to Dicky,' said Bell, 'and that would bring them in still sooner.'
'Of course! I forgot. But can't I blow it earlier than usual? Can't I blow it at half-past eleven instead of twelve? We can't do a thing without the boys, and they may not come home until midnight unless we do something desperate. Oh, delight! There's Don S. D. M. F. H. N., and Phil has found Pancho to help unload.'
'Isn't it lucky that we decided on the place for Elsie's tent, and saved it in case she should ever come?' said Bell. 'Now Philip and Pancho can set it up whenever they choose. And isn't it fortunate that we three stayed at home to-day, and refused to fish? now we can plan everything, and then all work together when they come back.'
Meanwhile Polly was tugging at an immense bundle, literally tooth and nail, as she alternated trembling clutches of the fingers with frantic bites at the offending knot.
Like many of her performances, the physical strength expended was out of all proportion to the result produced, and one stroke of Philip's knife accomplished more than all her ill-directed effort. At length the bundle of awning cloth stood revealed. 'Oh, isn't it beautiful?' she cried, 'it will be the very prettiest tent in camp; can't I blow the horn?'
'Look, mamma,' exclaimed Bell, 'it is green and grey, in those pretty broken stripes, and the edge is cut in lovely scollops and bound with green braid. Won't it look pretty among the trees?'
Aunt Truth came out to join the admiring group.
'O-o-o-h!' screamed Polly. 'There comes a piece of the floor. They've sent it all made, in three pieces. What fun! We'll have it all up and ready to sleep in before we blow the horn!'
'And here's a roll of straw matting,' said Phil, depositing a huge bundle on the ground near the girls. 'I'll cut the rope to save your teeth!'
'Green and white plaid!' exclaimed Bell. 'Well! Mrs. Howard did have her wits about her!'
'Oh, do let me blow the horn!' teased the irrepressible Polly.
'Here are a looking-glass and a towel-rack and a Shaker rocking- chair,' called Philip; 'guess they're going to stay the rest of the summer.'
'Yes, of course they wouldn't want a looking-glass if they were only going to stay a month or two,' laughed Bell.
'Dear Aunt Truth, if you won't let me turn a single decorous little hand-spring, or blow the horn, or do anything nice, will you let us use all that new white mosquito-netting? Bell says that it has been in the storehouse for two years, and it would be just the thing for decorating Elsie's tent.'
'Why, of course you may have it, Polly, and anything else that you can find. There! I hear Dicky's voice in the distance; perhaps the girls are coming.'
Bell and Polly darted through the swarm of tents, and looked up the narrow path that led to the brook.
Sure enough, Margery and Laura were strolling towards home with little Anne and Dick dangling behind, after the manner of children. Margery carried a small string of trout, and Dick the inevitable tin pail in which he always kept an unfortunate frog or two. The girls had discovered that he was in the habit of crowding the cover tightly over the pail and keeping his victims shut up for twenty-four hours, after which, he said, they were nice and tame--so very tame, as it transpired, that they generally gave up the ghost in a few hours after their release. Margery had with difficulty persuaded him of his cruelty, and the cover had been pierced with a certain number of air-holes.
'Guess the loveliest thing that could possibly happen!' called Bell at the top of her voice.
'Elsie has come,' answered Margery in a second, nobody knew why; 'let me hug her this minute!'
'With those fish?' laughed Polly. 'No! you'll have to wait until day after to-morrow, and then your guess will be right. Isn't it almost too good to be true?'
'And she is almost well,' added Bell, joyfully, slipping her arm through Margery's and squeezing it in sheer delight. 'Mrs. Howard says she is really and truly better. Oh, if Elsie Howard in bed is the loveliest, dearest thing in the world, what will it be like to have her out of it and with us in all our good times!'
'Has she always been ill since you knew her?' asked Laura.
'Yes; a terrible cold left her with weakness of the lungs, and the doctors feared consumption, but thought that she might possibly outgrow it entirely if she lived in a milder climate; so Mrs. Howard left home and everybody she cared for, and brought Elsie to Santa Barbara. Papa has taken an interest in her from the first, and as far as we girls are concerned, it was love at first sight. You never knew anybody like Elsie!'
'Is she pretty?'
'Pretty!' cried Polly, 'she is like an angel in a picture-book!'
'Interesting!' said Bell, in a tone that showed the word to be too feeble for the subject; 'Elsie is more interesting than all the other girls in the other world put together!'
'Popular!' exclaimed Margery, taking her turn in the oral examination, 'I don't know whether anybody can be popular who is always in bed; but if it's popular to be adored by every man, woman, child, and animal that comes anywhere near her, why then Elsie is popular.'
'And is she a favourite with boys as well as girls?'
'Favourite!' said Bell. 'Why, they think that she is simply perfect! Of course she has scarcely been able to sit up a week at a time for a year, and naturally she has not seen many people; but, if you want a boy's opinion, just ask Philip or Geoffrey. I assure you, Laura, after you have known Elsie a while, and have seen the impression she makes upon everybody, you will want to go to bed and see if you can do likewise.'
'It isn't just the going to bed,' remarked Margery, sagely.
'And it isn't the prettiness either,' added Polly; 'though if you saw Elsie asleep, a flower in one hand, the other under her cheek, her hair straying over the pillow (O for hair that would stray anywhere!), you would expect every moment to see a halo above her head.'
'I don't believe it is because she is good that everybody admires her so,' said Laura, 'I don't think goodness in itself is always so very interesting; if Elsie had freckles and a snub nose'--('Don't mind me!' murmured Polly)--'you would find that people would say less about her wonderful character.'
'There are things that puzzle me,' said Polly, thoughtfully. 'It seems to me that if I could contrive to be ever so good, nobody ever would look for a halo round my head. Now, is it my turned-up nose and red hair that make me what I am, or did what I am make my nose and hair what they are--which?'
'We'll have to ask Aunt Truth,' said Margery; 'that is too difficult a thing for us to answer.'
'Wasn't it nice I catched that big bull-frog, Margie?' cried Dick, his eyes shining with anticipation. 'Now I'll have as many as seven or 'leven frogs and lots of horned toads when Elsie comes, and she can help me play with 'em.'
When the girls reached the tents again, the last article had been taken from the team and Manuel had driven away. The sound of Phil's hammer could be heard from the carpenter-shop, and Pancho was already laying the tent floor in a small, open, sunny place, where the low boughs of a single sycamore hung so as to protect one of its corners, leaving the rest to the full warmth of the sunshine that was to make Elsie entirely well again.
'I am tired to death,' sighed Laura, throwing herself down in a bamboo lounging-chair. 'Such a tramp as we had! and after all, the boys insisted on going where Dr. Winship wouldn't allow us to follow, so that we had to stay behind and fish with the children; I wish I had stayed at home and read The Colonel's Daughter.'
'Oh, Laura!' remonstrated Margery, 'think of that lovely pool with the forests of maiden-hair growing all about it!'
'And poison-oak,' grumbled Laura. 'I know I walked into some of it and shall look like a perfect fright for a week. I shall never make a country girl--it's no use for me to try.'
'It's no use for you to try walking four miles in high-heeled shoes, my dear,' said Polly, bluntly.
'They are not high,' retorted Laura, 'and if they are, I don't care to look like a--a--cow-boy, even in the backwoods.'
'I'm an awful example,' sighed Polly, seating herself on a stump in front of the tent, and elevating a very dusty little common-sense boot. 'Sir Walter Raleigh would never have allowed me to walk on his velvet cloak with that boot, would he, girls? Oh, wasn't that romantic, though? and don't I wish that I had been Queen Elizabeth!'
'You've got the HAIR,' said Laura.
'Thank you! I had forgotten Elizabeth's hair was red; so it was. This is my court train,' snatching a tablecloth that bung on a hush near by, and pinning it to her waist in the twinkling of an eye,-- 'this my farthingale,' dangling her sun-bonnet from her belt,--'this my sceptre,' seizing a Japanese umbrella,--'this my crown,' inverting a bright tin plate upon her curly head. 'She is just alighting from her chariot, THUS; the courtiers turn pale, THUS; (why don't you do it?) what shall be done? The Royal Feet must not be wet. "Go round the puddle? Prit, me Lud, 'Od's body! Forsooth! Certainly not! Remove the puddle!" she says haughtily to her subjects. They are just about to do so, when out from behind a neighbouring chaparral bush stalks a beautiful young prince with coal-black hair and rose- red cheeks. He wears a rich velvet cloak, glittering with embroidery. He sees not her crown, her hair outshines it; he sees not her sceptre, her tiny hand conceals it; he sees naught save the loathly mud. He strips off his cloak and floats it on the puddle. With a haughty but gracious bend of her head the Queen accepts the courtesy; crosses the puddle, THUS, waves her sceptre, THUS, and saying, "You shall hear from me by return mail, me Lud," she vanishes within the castle. The next morning she makes Sir Walter British Minister to Florida. He departs at once with a cargo of tobacco, which he exchanges for sweet potatoes, and everybody is happy ever after.'
The girls were convulsed with mirth at this historical romance, and, as Mrs. Winship wiped the tears of merriment from her eyes, Polly seized the golden opportunity and dropped on her knees beside her.
'Please, Aunt Truth, we can't get the white mosquito-netting because Dr. Winship has the key of the storehouse in his pocket, and so--may- -I--blow the horn?'
Mrs. Winship gave her consent in despair, and Polly went to the oak- tree where the horn hung and blew all the strength of her lungs into blast after blast for five minutes.
'That's all I needed,' she said, on returning; 'that was an escape- valve, and I shall be lady-like and well-behaved the rest of the day.'