Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 3: A Day At School

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER III.

A DAY AT SCHOOL

IT was with a most unwilling mind and an unhappy heart that Mary began her third week at school. In the first place she could not bear to tear herself away from all that was going on at the new house. She wanted to have a hand in the dear delights of home-making. She wanted to poke the camp-fire, and dabble in the paste, and watch the walls grow fresh and clean as the paper spread over the old patches. The smell of the fresh paint drew her, and gave her a feeling that there were all sorts of delightful possibilities in this region, yet unexplored.

In the second place, life in the new school was a grievous burden, because the boys, seeing how easily she was teased, found their chief pleasure in annoying her. She was a trusting little soul, ready to nibble the bait that any trap offered.

"Never mind! You'll get used to it after awhile," her mother said, consolingly, each evening when she came home with a list of fresh woes. "You're tired now from that long walk home. Things will seem better after supper." And Joyce would add, "Don't look so doleful, Mother Bunch; just remember the vicar, and keep inflexible. Fortune is bound to change in your favour after awhile." But the third Friday found her as unhappy as the third Monday.

There were two rooms in the school building, one containing all the primary classes, the other the grammar grades, where Holland found a place. Mary had one of the back seats in the primary department, and one of the highest hooks in the cloak-room, on which to hang her belongings. But this Friday morning she did not leave her lunch-basket in either place.

She and Patty Ritter, the little girl who sat across the aisle from her, had had an indignation-meeting the day before, and agreed to hide their baskets in a hedgerow, so that there could be no possibility of Wig Smith's finding them. Salt on one's jelly cake and pepper in one's apple-pie two days in succession is a little too much to be borne calmly. Wig Smith's fondness for seasoning other people's lunches was only one of his many obnoxious traits.

"There," said Mary, scanning the horizon anxiously, to see that no prowling boy was in sight. "Nobody would think of looking behind that prickly cactus for a lunch-basket! We're sure of not going hungry to-day!"

With their arms around each other, they strolled back to the schoolhouse, taking a roundabout way, with great cunning, to throw Wig Smith off the track, in case he should be watching. But their precautions were needless this time. Wig had set up a dentist's establishment on the steps of the stile, his stock in trade being a pocket-knife and a hat full of raw turnips. Nothing could have been friendlier than the way he greeted Mary and Patty, insisting that they each needed a set of false teeth. Half a dozen of his friends had already been fitted out, and stood around, grinning, in order to show the big white turnip teeth he had fitted over the set provided by Nature. As the teeth were cut in irregular shapes, wide square-tipped ones alternating with long pointed fangs, and the upper lip had to be drawn tightly to hold them in place, the effect was so comical that they could hardly hold the new sets in position for laughing at each other.

In payment for his work, Wig accepted almost anything that his customers had to offer: marbles, when he could get them, pencils, apples, fish-hooks, even a roll of tin-foil, saved from many chewing-gum packages, which was all one girl had to trade.

A search through Mary's orderly pencil-box failed to show anything that he wanted of hers, but the neatly prepared home lesson which fluttered out of her arithmetic caught his eye. He agreed to make her the teeth for a copy of six problems which he could not solve. Mary had much the hardest part of the bargain, for, sitting on the stile, she patiently copied long-division sums until the second bell rang, while he turned off the teeth with a few masterful strokes of his knife.

"Let's all put them in as soon as we're done singing, and wear them till we recite spelling," he suggested. "It's mighty hard to keep from chawin' on 'em after they've been in your mouth awhile. Let's see who can keep them in longest. Every five minutes by the clock, if the teacher isn't lookin', we'll all grin at once to show that they're still in."

Needless to say, the usual Friday morning studiousness did not prevail in the primary room that morning. Too many eyes were watching the clock for the moment of display to arrive, and when it did arrive, the coughing and choking that was set up to hide the titters, plainly told the teacher that some mischief was afoot. If she could have turned in time to see the distorted faces, she must have laughed too, it was such a comical sight, but she was trying to explain to a row of stupid little mathematicians the mysteries of borrowing in subtraction, and always looked up a moment too late.

Mary Ware, having written every word of her spelling lesson from memory, and compared it with her book to be sure that she knew it, now had a quarter of an hour of leisure. This she devoted to putting her desk in order. The books were dusted and piled in neat rows. Everything in her pencil-box was examined, and laid back with care, the slate-rag folded and tucked under the moist sponge. There was another box in her desk. It had bunches of violets on it and strips of lace-paper lining the sides. It smelled faintly of the violet soap it had once held. She kept several conveniences in this, pins, and an extra hair-ribbon in case of loss, a comb, and a little round mirror with a celluloid back, on which was printed the advertisement of a Plainsville druggist.

As she polished the little mirror, the temptation to use it was too great to resist. Holding it under the desk, she stretched her lips back as far as possible in a grotesque grin, to show her set of turnip teeth. They looked so funny that she tried it again with variations, rolling her eyes and wrinkling her nose. So absorbed was she that she did not realize that a silence had fallen in the room, that the recitation had stopped and all eyes were turned upon her. Then her own name, spoken in a stern tone, startled her so that she bounced in her seat and dropped the mirror.

"Why, Mary Ware! I'm astonished! Come here!"

Blushing and embarrassed at being called into public notice, Mary stumbled up to the platform, and submitted to an examination of her mouth. Then, following orders, she went to the door, and with much sputtering spat the teeth out into the yard.

"I'll see you about this after school," remarked the teacher, sternly, as she stumbled back to her seat, overcome by mortification.

If the teacher had not been so busy watching Mary obey orders, she would have noticed a rapid moving of many jaws along the back row of seats, and a mighty gulping and swallowing, as the other sets of teeth disappeared down the throats of their owners.

"So this has been the cause of so much disturbance this morning;' she remarked, crossly."I'm astonished that one of the quietest pupils in the school should have behaved in such a manner." Then as a precaution she added, "Is there any one else in the room who has any of these turnip teeth? Raise your hands if you have."

Not a hand went up, and every face met Mary's indignant accusing gaze with such an innocent stare that she cried out:

"Oh, what a story!"

"Open your mouths," commanded the teacher. "Tom your pockets wrong side out"

To Mary's amazement, nobody had so much as a taste of turnip to show, and she stood accused of being the only offender, the only one with judgment awaiting her after school. With her head on her desk, and her face hidden on her arms, she cried softly all through the spelling recitation. "It wasn't fair," she sobbed to herself.

Patty comforted her at recess with half her stick of licorice, and several of the other girls crowded around her, begging her to come and play Bird, and not to mind what the boys said, and not to look around when Wig Smith mimicked the teacher's manner, and called after her in a tantalizing tone, "Why, Mary Ware! I'm astonished!"

Gradually they won her away from her tears, and before recess was over she was shrieking with the gayest of them as they raced around the schoolhouse to escape the girl who, being "It," personated the "bad man."

As they dropped into their seats at the close of recess, hot and panting, a boy from the grammar room came in and spoke to the teacher. It was Paul Archer, a boy from New York, whose father had recently bought a ranch near by. He held up a string of amber beads, as the teacher asked, "Does this belong to any one in this room?"

They were beautiful beads. Mary caught her breath as she looked at them. "Like drops of rain strung on a sunbeam," she thought, watching them sparkle as he turned and twisted the string. Paul was a big boy, very clean and very good-looking, and as little Blanche Ellert came up to claim her necklace, blushing and shaking back her curls, he held it out with such a polite, dancing-school bow that Mary's romantic little soul was greatly impressed. She wished that the beautiful beads had been hers, and that she had lost them, and could have claimed them before the whole school, and had them surrendered to her in that princely way. She would like to lose a ring, she thought, that is, if she had one, or a locket, and have Paul find it, and give it to her before the whole school.

Then she remembered that she had worn her best jacket to school that morning, and in the pocket was a handkerchief that had been hung on the Sunday-school Christmas-tree for her in Plainsville. It was a little white silk one, embroidered in the corners with sprays of forget-me-nots, blue, with tiny pink buds. What if she should lose that and Paul should find it, and hold up the pretty thing in sight of all the school for her to claim?

As the morning wore on, the thought pleased her more and more. The primary grades were dismissed first at noon, so she had time to slip the handkerchief from her jacket-pocket, tiptoe guiltily into the other cloak-room, and drop it under a certain wide-brimmed felt hat, which hung on its peg with a jauntier grace than the other caps and sombreros could boast. It seemed to stare at her in surprise. Half-frightened by her own daring, she tiptoed out again, and ran after Patty, who was hunting for her outside.

"There won't be any salt in our cake and pepper in our pie to-day," Patty said, confidently, as they strolled off together with their arms around each other. "Let's get our baskets, and go away off out of sight to eat our dinners. I know the nicest place down by the lateral under some cottonwood-trees. The water is running to-day."

"It'll be like having a picnic beside a babbling brook," assented Mary. "I love to hear the water gurgle through the water-gate."

Seated on a freshly hewn log, after a careful survey had convinced them that no lizards, Gila monsters, or horned toads lurked underneath, the little girls opened their baskets, and shook out their napkins. The next instant a wail rose from them in unison

"Ants! Nasty little black ants! They're over everything!"

"Just look at my chicken sandwiches," mourned Mary, "and all that lovely gingerbread. They're walking all over it and through it and into it and around it. There isn't a spot that they haven't touched!"

"And my mince turnovers," cried Patty. "I brought one for you to-day, too, and a devilled egg. But there isn't a thing in my basket that's fit to eat."

"Nor mine, either," said Mary, "except the apples. We might wash them in the lateral."

"And I'm nearly starved, I'm so hungry," grumbled Patty. "An apple's better than nothing, but it doesn't go very far."

"It's no use to go and ask Holland for any of his lunch," said Mary. " By this time he's gobbled up even the scraps, and busted the bag. He always brings his in a paper bag, so's there'll be no basket to carry home."

Cautiously leaning over the bank of the lateral, Mary began dabbling her apple back and forth in the water, and Patty, kneeling beside her, followed her example. Suddenly Patty's apple slipped out of her hand, and she clutched frantically at Mary's arm in her effort to save it, and at the same time keep her balance. Both swayed and fell sideways. Mary's arm plunged into the water, wetting her sleeve nearly to her shoulder, but, clawing at the earth and long grass with the other hand, she managed, after much scrambling, to regain her position.

Patty, with a scream, rolled over into the water. The ditch was shallow, not more than waist-deep, but as she had fallen full length, she came up soaking wet. Even her hair dripped muddy little rivers down over her face. There was no more school for Patty that day. As soon as her old yellow horse could be saddled, she started off on a lope toward dry clothes and a hot dinner.

Mary looked after her longingly, as she sat with her sleeve held out in the sun to dry, and slowly munched her one cold apple. She was so hungry and miserable that she wanted to cry, yet this child of nine was a philosopher in her small way.

"I'm not having half as bad a time as the old vicar had," she said to herself, "so I won't be a baby. Seems to me, though, that it's about time fortune was changing in my favour. Maybe the turn will be when Paul finds my forget-me-not handkerchief."

With that time in view, she carefully smoothed the wrinkles out of her sleeve as it dried, and pulled the lace edging into shape around the cuff. Then she combed the front of her hair, and retied the big bows. She was not equal to the task of braiding it herself, but a glance into the little celluloid mirror satisfied her that she looked neat enough to march up before the school when the time should come for her to claim her handkerchief.

Every time the door opened before the afternoon recess she looked up expectantly, her cheeks growing red and her heart beating fast. But no Paul appeared, or anybody else who had found anything to be restored to its owner. She began to feel anxious, and to wonder if she would ever see her beloved forget-manor handkerchief again.

At recess she dodged back into the hall after every one had passed out, and stole a quick glance into the other cloak-room. The handkerchief was gone. Somebody had picked it up. Maybe the finder had been too busy to search for the owner. It would be brought in before school closed; just before dismissal probably. The prospect took part of the sting out of the recollection that she was to be kept after school that evening, for the first time in her life.

During the fast period in the afternoon, the A Geography class always studied its lesson for next day. Mary specially liked this study, and with her little primary geography propped up in front of her, carefully learned every word of description, both large print and small, on the page devoted to Africa.

"Your hair is coming undone," whispered the girl behind her. "Let me plait it for you. I love to fool with anybody's hair."

Mary nodded her consent without turning around, and sat up straight in her seat, so that Jennie could reach it with greater ease. She never took her eyes from the page. The teacher, who was putting home lessons on the board for the D Arithmetic to copy, was too busy to notice Jennie's new occupation.

Mary enjoyed the soft touch of Jennie's fingers on her hair. It felt so good to have it pulled into place with smooth, deft pats here and there. After the bows were tied on, Jennie still continued to play with it, braiding the ends below the ribbon into plaits that grew thinner and thinner, until they ended in points as fine and soft as a camel's-hair paint-brush. Evidently they suggested brushes to Jennie, for presently she dived into her desk for something quite foreign to school work. It was a little palette-shaped card on which were arranged seven cakes of cheap water-colour paint. The brush attached to the palette had been lost on Christmas Day, before she had had more than one trial of her skill as an artist.

The water-bottle, which held the soap-suds devoted to slate-cleaning, stood behind the pile of books in her desk. She drew that out, and, having uncorked it, carefully dipped the end of one of Mary's braids into it. Then rubbing it across the cake of red paint, she proceeded with a joyful heart to paint the African lion in her geography the most brilliant red that can be imagined.

Mary, still enjoying the gentle pull, little guessed what a bloody tip swung behind her right shoulder. Then the caressing touch was transferred to the left braid, and the greenest of green Bedouins, mounted on the most purple of camels, appeared on the picture of the Sahara.

The signal for dismissal, sounding from the principal's room across the hall, surprised both the girls. The time had passed so rapidly. Mary, putting her hand back to feel if her bows were properly tied, suddenly jerked her right braid forward in alarm. The end was wet, and --- was it blood that made it so red? With a horrified expression she clutched the other one, and finding that wet and green, turned squarely around in her seat. She was just in time to see the geography closing on the red lion and green Bedouin, and realized in a flash how Jennie had been "fooling" with her hair.

Before she could sputter out her indignation, the teacher rapped sharply on the table for attention. "Will you please come to order, Mary Ware?" she said, sternly. "Remember, you are to remain after the others are dismissed."

To have been publicly reprimanded twice in one day, to have been kept after school, to have had one's lunch spoiled by ants, and to have been left miserably hungry all afternoon, to have had the shock of a plunge almost to the shoulder in icy water, and the discomfort of having a wet sleeve dried on one's arm, to have had one's hair used as paint-brushes, so that stains were left on the back of the new gingham dress, was too much. Mary could keep inflexible no longer. Then she remembered that no one had brought back the forget-me-not handkerchief, and with that to cap her woes, she laid her head down on the desk and sobbed while the others filed out and left her.

Usually, Holland found her waiting for him by the stile when the grammar grades were dismissed, but not seeing her there, he forgot all about her, and dashed on after the boy who tagged him. Then he and George Lee hurried on home to set a new gopher-trap they had invented, without giving her a thought. The faithful Patty, who always walked with her as far as the turn, had not come back to school after her plunge into the lateral. So it came about that when Mary finally put on her hat and jacket in the empty cloak-room, the playground was deserted. As far as her tear-swollen eyes could see up and down the road, not a child was in sight. With a sob, she stood a moment on the top step of the stile, then slowly swinging her lunch-basket, in which there were no scraps as usual to appease her after-school hunger, she started on the long, two-mile walk home.

It looked later than it really was, for the sun was not shining. She had gone on a long way, when a sound of hoofs far down the road made her look back. What she saw made her give another startled glance over her shoulder, and quicken her pace. Half-running, she looked back again. The sound was coming nearer. So was the rider. Another glance made her stand still, her knees shaking under her; for on the pony was an Indian, a big, stolid buck, with black hair hanging in straight locks over his shoulders.

She looked wildly around. Nobody else was in sight, no house anywhere. The biggest man-eating tiger in the jungles could not have terrified her like the sight of that lone Indian. All the tales that Jack and Holland had told for their mutual frightening, all that she had read herself of tortures and cruelties came into her mind. Their name was legion, and they were startlingly fresh in her memory, for only the evening before she had finished a book called "On the Borders with Crook," and the capture of the Oatman girls had been repeated in her dreams.

Sure that the Indian intended to tomahawk her the instant he reached her, she gave one stifled gasp of terror, and started down the road as fast as her fat little legs could carry her. A few rods farther on her hat flew off, but she was running for her life, and even the handsome steel buckle that had once been Cousin Kate's could not be rescued at such a risk.

She felt that she was running in a treadmill. Her legs were going up and down, up and down, faster than they had ever moved before, but she seemed to be making no progress; she was unable to get past that one spot in the road. And the Indian was coming on nearer and nearer, with deadly certainty, gaining on her at every breath. She felt that she had been running for a week, that she could not possibly take another step. But with one more frantic glance backward, she gave another scream, and dashed on harder than before.

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