The Little Knights of Kentucky by Annie Fellows Johnston
Chapter VII. A Game of Indian.
Keith was stiff for a week after his race on the hand-car, but did his groaning in private. He knew what a commotion would be raised if the matter came to his grandmother's ears. She had lived all winter in constant dread of accidents. Malcolm had been carried home twice in an unconscious state, once from having been thrown from his bicycle, and once from falling through a trap-door in the barn. Keith had broken through the ice on the pond, sprained his wrist while coasting, and walked in half a dozen times with the blood streaming from some wound on his head or face.
Virginia had never been hurt, but her hair-breadth escapes would have filled a volume. An amusing one was the time she lassoed a young calf, Indian fashion, to show the boys how it should be done. Its angry mother was in the next lot, but Virginia felt perfectly safe as she swung her lariat and dragged the bleating calf around the barn-yard. She did not stop to consider that if a cow with lofty ambitions had once jumped over the moon, one which saw its calf in danger might easily leap a low hedge. Malcolm's warning shout came just in time to save her from being gored by the angry animal, who charged at her with lowered horns. She sprang up the ladder leading to the corn-crib window, where she was safe, but she had to hang there until Unc' Henry could be called to the rescue.
It was with many misgivings that Mrs. MacIntyre and Miss Allison started to the city one morning in April. It was the first time since the children's coming that they had both gone away at once, and nothing but urgent business would have made them consent to go.
The children promised at least a dozen things. They would keep away from the barn, the live stock, the railroad, the ponds, and the cisterns. They would not ride their wheels, climb trees, nor go off the Maclntyre premises, and they would keep a sharp lookout for snakes and poison ivy, in case they went into the woods for wild flowers.
"Seems to me there's mighty little left that a fellow can do," said Keith, when the long list was completed.
"Oh, the time will soon pass," said his grandmother, who was preparing to take the eleven o'clock train. "It will soon be lunch-time. Then this is the day for you each to write your weekly letters to your mother, and it is so pretty in the woods now that I am sure you will enjoy looking for violets."
Time did pass quickly, as their grandmother had said it would, until the middle of the afternoon. Then Virginia began to wish for something more amusing than the quiet guessing games they had been playing in the library. The boys each picked up a book, and she strolled off up-stairs, in search of a livelier occupation.
In a few minutes she came down, looking like a second Pocahontas in her Indian suit, with her bow and arrows slung over her shoulder.
"I am going down to the woods to practise shooting," she announced, as she stopped to look in at the door.
"Oh, wait just a minute!" begged Malcolm, throwing down his book. "Let's all play Indian this afternoon. We'll rig up, too, and build a wigwam down by the spring rock, and make a fire,--grandmother didn't say we couldn't make a fire; that's about the only thing she forgot to tell us not to do."
"You can come on when you get ready," answered Virginia. "I'm going now, because it is getting late, but you'll find me near the spring when you come. Just yell."
The boys could not hope to rival Virginia's Indian costume, but no wilder-looking little savages ever uttered a war-whoop than the two which presently dashed into the still April woods.
Malcolm had ripped some variegated fringe from a table-cover to pin down the sides of his leather leggins. He had borrowed a Roman blanket from Aunt Allison's couch to pin around his shoulders, and emptied several tubes of her most expensive paints to streak his face with hideous stripes and daubs. A row of feathers from the dust-brush was fastened around his forehead by a broad band, and a hatchet from the woodshed provided him with a tomahawk.
Keith had no time to arrange feathers. He had taken off his flannels in order to put on an old striped bathing-suit, which he had found in the attic and stored away, intending to use it for swimming in the pond when the weather should grow warm enough. It had no sleeves, and the short trousers had shrunk until they did not half-way reach his knees. Its red and white stripes had faded and the colour run until the whole was a dingy "crushed strawberry" shade. As Malcolm had emptied all the tubes of red paint in his Aunt Allison's box, Keith had to content himself with some other colour. He chose the different shades of green, squeezing the paint out on his plump little legs and arms, and rubbing it around with his fore finger until he was encircled with as many stripes as a zebra. Although the day was warm for the early part of April, the sudden change from his customary clothes and spring flannels to nothing but the airy bathing suit and war-paint made him a trifle chilly; so he completed his costume by putting on a pair of scarlet bedroom slippers, edged with dark fur.
With the dropping of their civilised clothing, the boys seemed to have dropped all recollections of their professed knighthood, and acted like the little savages they looked.
"We're going to shoot with your things awhile, Ginger," shouted Keith, coming suddenly upon her with a whoop, and snatching her bow out of her hands. "You are the squaw, so you have to do all the work. Get down there now behind that rock and make a fire, while we go out and kill a deer. You must build a wigwam, too, by the time we get back. Hear me? I'm a big chief! 'I am Famine--Buckadawin!' and I'll make a living skeleton of you if you don't hustle."
Virginia was furious. "I'll not be a squaw!" she cried. "And I'll not build a fire or do anything else if you talk so rudely. If you don't give me back my bow and let me be a chief, too, I'll--I'll get even with you, sir, in a way you won't like. I have short hair, and my clothes are more Indian than yours, and I can shoot better than either of you, anyhow! So there! Give me my bow."
"What will you do if I won't?" said Keith, teasingly, holding it behind him.
"I'll go up to the barn and get a rope, and lasso you like I did that calf, and drag you all over the place!" cried Virginia, her eyes shining with fierce determination.
"She means it, Keith," said Malcolm. "She'll do it sure, if you don't stop teasing. Oh, give it to her and come along, or it will be dark before we begin to play."
Matters went on more smoothly after Malcolm's efforts at peacemaking, and when it was decided that Ginger could be a brave, too, instead of a squaw, they were soon playing together as pleasantly as if they had found the happy hunting grounds. The short afternoon waned fast, and the shadows were growing deep when they reached the last part of the game. Ginger had been taken prisoner, and they were tying her to a tree, with her hands bound securely behind her back. She rather enjoyed this part of it, for she intended to show them how brave she could be.
"Now we'll sit around the council fire and decide how to torture her," said Malcolm, when the captive was securely tied. But the fire was out and they had no matches. The lot fell on Malcolm to run up to the house and get some.
"A fire would feel good," said Keith, looking around with a shiver as he seated himself on a log near Ginger. The sun was low in the west, and very little of its light and warmth found its way into the woods where the children were playing.
"It makes me think of Hiawatha," said Ginger, looking down at several long streaks of golden light which lay across the ground at her feet. "Don't you remember how it goes? 'And the long and level sunbeams shot their spears into the forest, breaking through its shield of shadow,' Isn't that pretty? I love Hiawatha. I am going to learn pages and pages of it some day. I know all that part about Minnehaha now,"
"Say it while we are waiting," said Keith, pulling his short trousers down as far as possible, and wishing that he had sleeves, or else that the paint were thicker on his chilly arms.
"All right," began Virginia.
"'Oh the long and dreary winter! Oh the cold and cruel winter! Ever thicker, thicker, thicker Froze the ice on lake and river.'"
"Ugh! Don't!" interrupted Keith, with a shiver. "It makes my teeth chatter, talking about such cold things!"
Just then a shout came ringing down the hill, "Oh, Keith! Come here a minute! Quick!"
"What do you wa-ant?" yelled Keith, in return.
"Come up here! Quick! Hurry up!"
"What do you s'pose can be the matter?" exclaimed Keith, scrambling to his feet. "Maybe the bear has got loose and run away."
"Come and untie me first," said Virginia, "and I'll go, too." Keith gave several quick tugs at the many knotted string which bound her, but could not loosen it. Again the call came, impatient and sharp, "Keith! Oh, Keith!"
"Oh, I can't loosen it a bit," said Keith. "You'll have to wait till Malcolm comes with his knife. We'll be back in just a minute. I'll go and see what's the matter."
"Be sure that you don't stay!" screamed Ginger, as the scarlet bedroom slippers and green striped legs flashed out of sight through the bushes.
"Back--in--a--minute!" sounded shrilly through the woods.
Keith found Malcolm on the back porch, pounding excitedly on a box which the express-man had left there a few minutes before.
"It's the camera we have been looking for all week," he cried. "Come on and have a look at it."
"Ginger said to hurry back," said Keith.
"Pshaw! It won't take but a minute. I'll pry the box open in a jiffy."
It was harder work than the boys had supposed, to take the tightly nailed lid from its place, and they were so intent on their work they did not realise how quickly the minutes were passing.
"Isn't it a beauty?" exclaimed Malcolm, when it was at last unpacked. "It's lots bigger and finer than the one papa promised. But that's the way he always does. Oh, isn't it a peach!"
"I'll tell you what," said Keith, dancing up and down in his excitement, until he looked like a ridiculous little clown in the faded pink bathing-suit and his stripes of green paint, "let's take each other's pictures while we are dressed this way. We may never look so funny again, and we can go down and take Ginger, too, while she is tied to the tree."
"Can't now," said Malcolm, "it's too dark down there in the woods by this time. See! there is nothing left now of the sun but those red clouds above the place where it went down. I'm afraid it is too dark even for us up here on the hill; but we can try. You do look funny, just like a jumping-jack or a monkey on a stick."
"Surely Ginger won't mind waiting long enough for us to do it," said Keith. "Anyhow we can never dress up this way again, and grandmother will be coming home very soon, so you take mine quick, and I will take yours."
The boys had had some practice before with a cheap little camera, but this required some studying of the printed directions before they could use it. The first time they tried it the plates were put in wrong, and the second time they forgot to remove the cap. There were other things in the box besides the camera: some beautiful pink curlew's wings, a handsomely marked snake skin, and some rare shells that had been picked up on the Gulf coast. Of course the boys had to examine each new treasure as it was discovered. One thing after another delayed them until it was dusk even on the porch where they stood, and in the woods below a deep twilight had fallen.
Every minute that had sped by so rapidly for the boys, seemed an age to the captive Virginia. Her arms ached from the strain of their unusual position. Swarms of gnats flew about, stinging her face, and mosquitoes buzzed teasingly around her ears. She was unable to move a finger to drive them away.
When the boys had been gone fifteen minutes she thought they must have been away hours. At the end of half an hour she was wild with impatience to get loose, but, thinking they might return any minute, she made no sign of her discomfort. She would be as heroic as the bravest brave ever tortured by cruel savages. As long as it was light she kept up her courage, but presently it began to grow dark under the great beech-trees. A frog down by the spring set up a dismal croaking. What if they should not come back, and her grandmother and Aunt Allison should miss the train, and have to stay in the city all night! Then nobody would come to set her free, and she would have to stay in the lonely woods all by herself, tied to a tree, with her hands behind her back.
At that thought she began calling, "Keith! Keith! Malcolm! Oh, Malcolm!" but only an echo came back to her, as it had to the dying Minnehaha,--a far-away echo that mocked her with its teasing cry of "Mal-colm!" Call after call went ringing through the woods, but nobody answered. Nobody came.
There was a rustling through the leaves behind her, as of a snake gliding around the tree. She was not afraid of snakes in the daytime, and when she was unbound, but she shrieked and turned cold at the thought of one wriggling across her feet while she was powerless to get away. Every time a twig snapped, or there was a fluttering in the bushes, she strained her eyes to see what horrible thing might be creeping up toward her. She had no thought that live Indians might be lurking about, but all the terrible stories she had ever heard, of the days of Daniel Boone and the early settlers, came back to haunt the woods with a nameless dread.
She felt that she was standing on the real Kentucky that the Indians meant, when they gave the State its name. "Dark and bloody ground! Dark and bloody ground!" something seemed to say just behind her. Then the trees took it up, and all the leaves whispered, "Sh--sh, sh! Dark and bloody ground! Sh--sh!"
At that she was so frightened that she began calling again, but the sound of her own voice startled her. "Oh, they are not coming," she thought, with a miserable ache in her throat, that seemed swelling bigger and bigger. "I'll have to stay here in the woods all night. Oh, mamma! mamma!" she moaned, "I am so scared! If you could only come back and get your poor little girl!"
Up to this time she had bravely fought back the tears, but just then a screech-owl flapped down from a branch above her with such a dismal hooting that she gave a nervous start and a cry of terror. "Oh, that frightened me so!" she sobbed. "I don't believe I can stand it to be out here all night alone with so many horrible creepy things everywhere. And nobody cares! Nobody but papa and mamma, and they are away, way off in Cuba. Maybe I'll never see them any more," At that the tears rolled down her face, and she could not move a hand to wipe them away. To be so little and miserable and forsaken, so worn out with waiting and so helpless among all these unknown horrors that the dark woods might hold, was worse torture to the imaginative child than any bodily pain could have been.
It was just as her last bit of courage oozed away, and she began to cry, that the boys suddenly realised how long they had left her.
"It must be as dark as a pocket in the woods by this time," exclaimed Malcolm. "What do you suppose Ginger will say to us for leaving her so long?"
"You will have to take a knife to cut her loose," said Keith. "I tried to untie the knots before I came away, but I couldn't move them."
"My pocket-knife is up-stairs," answered Malcolm. "I'll get something in the dining-room that will do."
He was rushing out again with a carving-knife in his hand, when he came face to face with his grandmother and Aunt Allison. The boys had been so interested in their camera that they had not heard the train whistle, or the sound of footsteps coming up on the front veranda. Pete was lighting the hall lamps as the ladies came in, and he turned his back to hide the broad grin on his face, as he thought of the sight which would soon greet them. Mrs. Maclntyre gave a gasp of astonishment and sank down in the nearest chair as Malcolm came dashing into the bright lamplight.
His turkey feathers were all awry, standing out in a dozen different directions from his head, his blanket trailed behind him, and the fringe was hanging in festoons from his leggins, where it had come unpinned. The red paint on his face made him look as if he had been in a fight with the carving-knife he carried, and had had the skin peeled off his face in patches.
Wild as he looked, his appearance was tame beside that of the impish-looking little savage who skipped in after him, in the scarlet bedroom slippers, pink striped bathing-suit and green striped skin.
"Keith Maclntyre, what have you been doing to yourself?" gasped his grandmother. Both boys began an excited exclamation, but were stopped by Miss Allison's question, "Where is Virginia? Have you two little savages scalped her?"
"She's tied to a tree down by the spring," answered Malcolm. "We are just starting down there now to cut her loose. You see we were playing Indian, and she was tied up to be tortured, and we forgot all about her being there--"
But Miss Allison waited to hear no more. "The poor little thing!" she exclaimed. "Tied out there alone in the dark woods! How could you be so cruel? It is enough to frighten her into spasms."
"I'm awfully sorry, Aunt Allison!" began Malcolm, but his aunt was already out of hearing. Out of the door she ran, through the dewy grass and the stubble of the field beyond, regardless of her dainty spring gown, or her new patent leather shoes. Malcolm and Keith dashed out after her, ran on ahead and were at the spring before she had climbed the fence into the woodland.
Virginia was not crying when the boys reached her. She remembered that she had once called Malcolm "Rain-in-the-face" because she caught him crying over something that seemed to her a very little reason, and she did not intend to give him a chance to taunt her in the same way. She was glad that it was too dark for him to notice her tear-swollen eyes.
"Whew! It's dark down here!" said Keith. "Were you frightened, Ginger?" he asked, as he helped Malcolm unfasten the cords that bound her. But Ginger made no reply to either questions or apologies. She walked on in dignified silence, too deeply hurt by their neglect, too full of a sense of the wrong they had done her, to trust herself to speak without crying, and she intended to be game to the last. But when she came upon Miss Allison, and suddenly found herself folded safe in her arms, with pitying kisses and comforting caresses, she clung to her, sobbing as if her heart would break.
"Oh, auntie! It was so awful!" was all she could say, but she repeated it again and again, until Miss Allison, who had never seen her so excited before, was alarmed. The boys, who had run on ahead to the house again, before she gave way to her feelings, were inclined to look upon it all as a good joke, for they had no idea how much she had suffered, and did not like it because she would not speak to them. They changed their minds when Miss Allison came out of Virginia's room a little later, and told them that the fright had given the child a nervous chill, and that she had cried herself to sleep.
"We didn't mean to do it," said Keith, penitently. "We just forgot, and I'm mighty sorry, truly I am, auntie!"
"I am not scolding you," said Miss Allison, "but if I were either of you boys, I wouldn't wear my little white flower when I dressed for dinner to-night. Instead of being the protector of a distressed maiden, as the old knights would have said, you have done her a wrong,--a serious one I am afraid,--and that wrong ought to be made right as far as possible before you are worthy to wear the badge of knighthood again."
"We'll go and beg her pardon right now," said Malcolm.
"No, she is asleep now, and I do not want her to be disturbed. Besides, a mere apology is not enough. You must make some kind of atonement. The first thing for you to do, however, is to get some turpentine and remove that paint. Where did you get it, boys?"
"Out of your paint-box, Aunt Allison," said Malcolm. "We didn't think you would care. I was only going to take a little, but it soaked in so fast that I had to use two tubes of it."
"I used more than that," confessed Keith, looking at her with his big honest eyes; "but I got so interested pretending that I was turning into a real Indian, that I never thought about its being anybody else's paint, Aunt Allison, truly I didn't!"
She turned away to hide a smile. The earnest little face above the striped body was so very comical. Picking up several of the empty tubes that had been squeezed quite flat, she read the labels. "Rose madder and carmine," she said, solemnly, "two of my very most expensive paints."
"Dear me!" sighed Malcolm, "then there's another wrong that's got to be righted. I guess Keith and I weren't cut out for knights. I'm beginning to think that it's a mighty tough business anyhow."
That night, when the boys came down to dinner, no little white flower with its diamond dewdrop centre shone on the lapel of either coat. It had been a work of time to scrub off the paint, and then it took almost as long to get rid of the turpentine, so that dinner was ready long before Keith was finally clad in his flannels. "My throat is sore," he complained to Malcolm at bedtime, but did not mention it to any one else that night. He sat on the side of his bed a moment before undressing, with one foot across his knee, staring thoughtfully at the lamp. Presently, with one shoe in his hand and the other half unlaced, he hopped over to the dressing-table and stood before it, looking at first one picture and then another.
Eight different photographs of his mother were ranged along the table below the wide mirror, some taken in evening dress, some in simple street costume, and each one so beautiful that it would have been hard to decide which one had the greatest charm.
"I wish mamma was here to-night," said Keith, softly, with a little quiver of his lip. "Seems like she's been gone almost always."
He picked up a large Roman locket of beaten silver that lay open on the table. It held two exquisitely painted miniatures on ivory. One was the same sweet face that looked out at him from each of the photographs, the other was his father's. It showed a handsome young fellow with strong, clean-shaven face, with eyes like Keith's, and the same lordly poise of the fine head that Malcolm had.
"Good night, papa, good night, mamma!" whispered Keith, touching his lips hastily to each picture while Malcolm's back was turned. There were tears in his eyes. Somehow he was so miserably homesick.
Next morning, although Keith's throat was not so sore, he was burning with fever by the time his lessons were over. Before his grandmother saw him he was off on his wheel for a long ride, and then, because he was so hot when he came back, he slipped away to the pond with the pink bathing-suit under his coat, and took the swim that he had been looking forward to so long. Nobody knew where he was, and he stayed in the water until his lips and finger-nails were blue. The morning after that he was too ill to get up, and Mrs. Maclntyre sent for a doctor.
"He has always been so perfectly well, and seemed to have such a strong constitution, that I cannot allow myself to believe this will be anything serious," said Mrs. Maclntyre, but at the end of the third day he was so much worse that she sent to the city for a trained nurse, and telegraphed for his father and mother.
They had already left Florida, and were yachting up the Atlantic coast on their way home when the message reached them.