Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 1: Mary Tells All She Knows

THE LITTLE COLONEL IN ARIZONA
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER I.

MARY TELLS ALL SHE KNOWS

"JOYCE," said Jack Ware, stopping beside his sister's seat in the long, Western-bound train, "I wish you'd go back into the observation-car, and make Mary stop talking. She's telling all she knows to a couple of strangers."

"Why don't you do it?" asked Joyce, looking up from her magazine with a teasing smile. "That dignified scowl of yours ought to frighten anything into silence."

"I did try it," confessed Jack. "I frowned and shook my head at her as I passed, but all the good it did was to start her to talking about me. 'That's my brother Jack,' I heard her say, and her voice went through the car like a fine-pointed needle. 'Isn't he big for fourteen? He's been wearing long trousers for nearly a year.' They both turned to took at me, and everybody smiled, and I was so embarrassed that I fell all over myself getting out of sight. And it was a girl she said it to," he continued, wrathfully. "A real pretty girl, about my age. The fellow with her is her brother, I reckon. They look enough alike. He's a cadet from some military school. You can tell by his uniform. They laugh at everything that Mary says, and that makes her go on all the worse. So if you don't want them to know all our family history, past, present, and to come, you'd better go back and shut up that chatterbox. You know what Mary's like when she gets started."

Yes, I know," sighed Joyce, "but I don't dare move now. Norman has just fallen asleep, and he's been so restless all day that I don't want him to waken until mamma has had her nap." She glanced down at the little six-year-old brother stretched out on the seat beside her with his head in her lap, and then across the aisle at her mother, lying with her white face hidden among the shawls and pillows.

"If I send for Mary to come back here, she'll flop around until she wakes them both. Can't you get her out onto the rear platform for awhile? I should think she would enjoy riding out there on one of those little camp-stools. Slip one of those oranges into your pocket, and whisper to her to follow you out and guess what you have for her."

"Well, I'll try," said Jack, dubiously, "but I'm almost sure she won't budge. It isn't every day she gets an audience like that. It flatters her to have them laugh at everything she says, and as sure as I stop and speak to her she'll say something that I don't want to hear."

"Oh, never mind, then" said Joyce. "They are strangers, and probably we'll never see them again, so it won't make any difference. Sit down here and forget about them. You can have this magazine in a minute, just as soon as I finish reading this half-page."

But Jack did mind. He could not forget the amused glances that the pretty girl had exchanged with her big brother, and after standing irresolutely in the aisle a moment, he strolled back to the observation-car. Slipping into a wicker chair near the door, be sat waiting for Mary to look in his direction, so that he could beckon her to come to him.

Half the passengers had gone to sleep and forgotten that they were being whirled across the great American Desert as fast as the limited express-train could carry them. Some were reading, and some gazing out of the windows at the monotonous wastes of sand. The only ones who really seemed to be enjoying the journey were his small sister and her audience of two. She sat on a footstool in the aisle, just in front of them, a box of candy in her lap, and a look of supreme satisfaction on her face. Two little braids of blond hair, tied with big bows of blue ribbon, bobbed over her shoulders as she talked. Jack was too far away to hear what she said, but his scowl deepened whenever the girl exchanged amused glances with her brother.

"This candy is almost as good as the fudge we used to make at home every Saturday afternoon," said Mary, putting a chocolate-covered marshmallow in her mouth, and gravely running her tongue around her lips. "But we'll never again make any more fudge in that house."

"Why not, dear?" asked the girl, with encouraging interest. This child was the most diverting thing she had found on the long journey.

"Oh, everything has come to an end now. Joyce says you can never go back when you've burned your bridges behind you. It was certainly burning our bridges when we sold the little brown house, for of course we could never go back with strangers living in it. It was almost like a funeral when we started to the train, and looked back for the last time. I cried, because there was the Christmas-tree standing on the porch, with the strings of popcorn and cranberries on it. We put it out for the birds, you know, when we were done with it. When I saw how lonesome it looked, standing out in the snow, and remembered that it was the last Christmas-tree we'd ever have there, and that we didn't have a home any more, why I guess anybody would have cried."

"Why did you sell the little home if you loved it so?" asked the girl. It was not from any desire to pry into a stranger's affairs that she asked, but merely to keep the child talking.

"Oh, mamma was so ill. She had pneumonia, and there are so many blizzards in Kansas, you know, that the doctor said she'd never get rid of her cough if she stayed in Plainsville, and that maybe if we didn't go to a warm place she wouldn't live till spring. So Mr. Link bought the house the very next day, so that we could have enough money to go. He's a lawyer. It used to be Link and Ware on the office door before papa died. He's always been good to us because he was papa's partner, and he gave Jack a perfectly grand gun when he found we were coming out among the Indians.

"Then the neighbours came in and helped us pack, and we left in a hurry. To-morrow we'll be to the place where we are going, and we'll begin to live in tents on New Year's Day. You'd never think this was the last day of the old year, would you, it's so warm. I 'spose we'll be mixed up all the time now about the calendar, coming to such a different climate."

There was a pause while another marshmallow disappeared, then she prattled on again. "It's to Lee's Ranch we are going, out in Arizona. It's a sort of boarding camp for sick people. Mrs. Lee keeps it. She's our minister's sister, and he wrote to her, and she's going to take us cheaper than she does most people, because there's so many of us. Joyce and Jack and Holland and Norman and mamma and me makes an even half-dozen. But we're going to keep house as soon as our things come and we can get a place, and then I'll be glad that Jack has his gun. He can't shoot very well yet, unless it's at something big like a stable door, but you always feel safer, when there's Indians around, if you've got something to bang at them."

Here she lowered her voice confidentially. " Holland scared Norman and me most to death one night. We were sitting on the rug in front of the fire, before the lamp was lighted, saying what would we do s'posen an Indian should come to the camp sometime, and try to scalp us, and just when we were so scared we didn't dare look around behind us, he rolled out from under the bed where he'd been hiding, and grabbed us by the hair, with the awfullest whoop, that made us feel as if we'd been dipped in ice-water. Why, we didn't stop yelling for half an hour. Norman had the nightmare that night. We never did find out how Joyce punished Holland, but what she did to him was plenty, for he hasn't scared us since, not yet, though you never know when he's going to.

" Joyce isn't afraid of anything on earth. You ought to hear about the way she played ghost once, when she was in France. And she just talked right up to the old monsieur who owned the Gate of the Giant Scissors, and told him what she thought of him."

"How old is this Joyce?" asked the tall young fellow whom his sister called Phil. "She sounds interesting, don't you think, Elsie?" he said, leaning over to help himself to a handful of candy.

Elsie nodded with a smile, and Mary hastened to give the desired information. "Oh, she's fifteen, going on sixteen, and she is interesting. She can paint the loveliest pictures you ever saw. She was going to be an artist until all this happened, and she had to leave school. Nobody but me knows how bad it made her feel to do that. I found her crying in the stable-loft when I went up to say good-bye to the black kitten, and she made me cross my heart and body I'd never tell, so mamma thinks that she doesn't mind it at all.

"Things have gone wrong at our house ever since I had the mumps," she began again, when she had slowly crunched two burnt almonds. "Holland sprained his wrist and mamma nearly died with pneumonia and Norman upset the clothes-horse on the stove and burnt up a whole week's ironing. And after that Jack had both ears frosted in a blizzard, and Bob, our darling little fox-terrier that Joyce brought from Kentucky, was poisoned."

"That was a list of misfortunes," exclaimed Phil, sympathetically, "enough to discourage anybody."

"Oh, at our house we never get discouraged to stay," answered Mary. "Of course we feel that way at first, but Joyce always says 'Remember the Vicar,' and then we stiffen."

"The vicar," echoed Phil, much puzzled.

"Yes, the Vicar of Wakefield, you know. Don't you remember what bad luck they all had, about the green spectacles and everything, and he said, 'Let us be inflexible and fortune will at last change in our favour!'"

"Was there ever anything funnier!" exclaimed Phil, in an aside, as this bit of wisdom was rotted out with such a dramatic toss of the head, that the big blue bows on the little blond braids bobbed wildly. "The idea of a child like that reading the 'Vicar of Wakefield.'"

"Oh, I didn't read him myself," answered Mary, eager to be entirely truthful. "Joyce read it aloud to all the family last winter, and since then we've all tried to do as the Vicar did, be inflexible when troubles come. Even Norman knows that if you'll swallow your sobs and stiffen when you bump your head, or anything, that it doesn't hurt half so bad as when you just let loose and howl."

Jack started to his feet when he heard the laugh that followed, sure that Mary was saying something that ought to be left unsaid. He reached her just in time to hear her remark, "We're going to eat in the dining-car to-night. Our lunch has all given out, and I'm glad of it, for I never did eat in a dining-car, and I've always wanted to. We're going to have ice-cream, if it doesn't cost too much."

Jack's face was crimson as he bent down and whispered in Mary's ear, and it grew several shades redder as she calmly answered aloud, "No, I don't want to go out on the platform. It's blowing so hard, I'll get my eyes full of sand."

He bent again to whisper, this time savagely, and then turned back toward the other car, not waiting for her answer. But it followed him shrilly in an indignant tone: "It's no such a thing, Jack Ware! I'm not telling all I know."

A few minutes later a freckle-faced boy of twelve appeared in the door, looking up and down the car with keen gray eyes. The moment his glance fell on Mary, he started down the aisle toward her with such an air of determination that she started up in dismay.

"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "There's Holland beckoning for me. Now I've got to go."

"Why should you go for him rather than Jack?" asked Phil. "He isn't nearly so big."

"You don't know Holland," said Mary, taking a step forward. "He doesn't mind making a scene anywhere we happen to be. If he was told to bring me, he'd do it, if he had to drag me down the aisle by my hair. Good-bye. I've had a mighty nice time, and I'm much obliged for the candy"

The Ware family were already seated in the dining-room when Phil and Elsie went in to dinner a little later. Mary, over her soup, was giving an enthusiastic account of her new acquaintances. "They're going to their grandfather's in California," she said. "It's the most beautiful place you ever heard of, with goldfish in the fountain, and Gold of Ophir roses in the garden, and Dago, their old pet monkey, is there. They had to send him away from home because he got into so much mischief. And Miss Elsie Tremont, that's her name, is all in black because her Great Aunt Patricia is dead. Her Aunt Patricia kept house for them, but now they live at their grandfather's. Mr. Phil is only seventeen, but he's six feet tall, and looks so old that I thought maybe he was thirty."

"Gracious, Mary, how did you find out so much?" asked Joyce, with a warning shake of the head at Norman, who was crumbling his bread into his soup.

"Oh, I asked him if he was married, and he laughed, and said he was only seventeen, just a schoolboy, a cadet in a military academy out in California. There they are now!" she added, excitedly, as the waiter pulled out two chairs at the little table across the aisle.

Both the newcomers smiled at Mary, who beamed broadly in response. Then they gave a quick side-glance at the rest of the family. "What a sweet-looking woman the little mother is," said Elsie, in a low tone, "and Joyce is interesting, but I wouldn't say she is exactly pretty, would you?"

"Um, I don't know," answered Phil, after another politely careless glance in her direction. "She has a face you like to keep looking at. It's so bright and pleasant, and her eyes are lovely. She'd be jolly good company, I imagine, a sort of a surprise-party, always doing and saying unusual things."

In the same casual way, Joyce was taking note of them. She felt strongly drawn toward the pretty girl in black, and wished that they were going to the same place, so that she might make her acquaintance. Once when they were all laughing at something Norman said, she looked up and caught her eye, and they both smiled. Then Phil looked across with such an understanding gleam of humour in his eyes that she almost smiled at him, but checked herself, and looked down in her plate, remembering that the handsome cadet was a stranger. 

The train stopped at a junction just as Mary finished her ice-cream, which she had been eating as slowly as possible, in order to prolong the pleasure. Finding that there would be a wait of nearly half an hour, Joyce persuaded her mother to go back to the rear platform of the observation-car, and sit out awhile, in the fresh air. Although the sun was down, it was so warm that Mrs. Ware scarcely needed the shawl Joyce drew around her shoulders.

"I can't believe that this is the last day of December," she said to Mary, as Joyce hurried into the station to make some inquiry of the ticket-agent. "The last day of the old year," she added. "These electric-lights and the band playing over there in the park, and all the passengers promenading up and down in front of the station, bareheaded, make it seem like a summer resort."

Mary peered after the promenading passengers wistfully. The boys had disappeared to watch the engine take water, and there was no one for her to walk with. Just then, Phil and Elsie Tremont, sauntering along, caught sight of her wistful little face.

"Don't you want to come too?" asked Elsie, pausing. "You'll sleep better for a little exercise."

"Oh, yes!" was the delighted reply. "May I, mamma? It's Miss Elsie Tremont, that I told you about, that ran away with a monkey and a music-box when she was a little bit of a girl."

"I'm afraid that with such an introduction you'll think I'm not a proper person to trust your daughter with, Mrs. Ware," said Elsie, laughing, "but I assure you I'll never run away again. That experience quite cured me."

"Probably Mary has given you just as alarming an impression of us," answered Mrs. Ware. "She has never learned to regard any one as a stranger, and all the world is her friend to confide in."

"Wouldn't you like to walk a little while, too?" asked Elsie, stirred by some faint memory of a delicate white face like this one, that years ago used to smile out at her from a hammock in the Gold of Ophir rose garden. She was only five years old the last time she saw her mother, but the dim memory was a very sweet one.

"Yes, come! It will do you good," urged Phil, cordially, influenced partly by the same memory, and partly by the thought that here was a chance to make the acquaintance of Joyce as well. According to her little sister she was an unusually interesting girl, and the glimpse he had had of her himself confirmed that opinion.

So it happened to Joyce's great astonishment, as she hurried back to the train, she met her mother walking slowly along beside Elsie. Phil, with Mary chattering to him like an amusing little magpie, was just behind them. Almost before she knew how it came about, she was walking with them, listening first to Elsie, then to Phil, as they told of the boarding-school she was going back to in California, and the Military Academy in which he was a cadet. They had been back home to spend the Christmas vacation with their father, whom they did not expect to see again for a long time. He was a physician, and now on his way to Berlin, where he expected to spend a year or two in scientific research.

At the warning call of all aboard, they hurried back to the car just as the boys came scrambling up the steps. Acquaintances grow almost as rapidly on these long overland journeys across the continent as they do on shipboard. The girls regretted the fact that they had not found each other earlier, but Jack and Phil soon made up for lost time. Phil, who had hunted wild goats among the rocks of Catalina Island, and Jack, who expected unlimited shooting of quail and ducks at Lee's Ranch, were not long in exchanging invitations for future hunting together, if either should happen to stray into the other's vicinity.

"I feel as if I had known you always," said Elsie to Joyce, as they separated, regretfully, at bedtime, wondering if they ever would meet again. "I wish you were going to the boarding-school with me."

"I wish you were going to stop in Arizona," answered Joyce. "Maybe you can come out to the ranch sometime, when you are on your way back East."

"I think that we ought to all sit up together to see the old year out and the new year in," protested Mary, indignant at being hurried off to bed at half past seven.

"You'll see the change all right," remarked Jack, "and you'll have a chance to make a night of it. We have to get off at Maricopa a little after midnight, and there's no telling when that train for Phoenix will come along. They say it's always behind time."

Late that night, Elsie, wakened by the stopping of the train, looked at her watch. The new year had just dawned. A brakeman went through the car with a lantern. There were strange voices outside, a confusion of calls, and the curtains of her berth swayed and shook as a number of people hurried down the aisle, laden with baggage. Somebody tripped over a pair of shoes, left too far out in the aisle, and somebody muttered a complaint about always being wakened at Maricopa by people who had no more consideration for the travelling public than to make their changes in the dead of night.

"Maricopa," she thought, starting up on her elbow. "That is where the Wares are to get off." Raising the window-shade, she peered out into the night. Yes, there they were, just going into the station. Jack and Holland weighted down with baggage, Joyce helping the sweet-faced little mother with one hand, and dragging the drowsy Norman after her with the other, Mary sleepily bringing up the rear with her hat tipped over one eye, and her shoe-strings tripping her at every step.

"Bless her little soul, she's the funniest, fattest little chatterbox of a girl I ever saw," thought Elsie, as she watched her stumble into the station. "Good-bye, little vicar," she whispered, waving her hand. "May you always keep inflexible." I wonder if I'll ever see any of them again. I wish I were in a big family like that. They do have such good times together."

As the train pulled slowly out and went thundering on into the darkness, she tried to go to sleep again, but for along time, whenever she closed her eyes, she saw the little house in Kansas that Mary had described so vividly. There it stood, empty and deserted in the snow, with the pathetic little Christmas-tree, left for the birds. And far away, the family who loved it so dearly were facing blithely and bravely the untried New Year, in which they were to make for themselves another home, somewhere out on the lonely desert.

"Oh, I do hope they'll keep 'inflexible,"' was Elsie's last waking thought. " I do hope they'll have a happy New Year."

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