Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 4: Ware's Wigwam

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER IV.

WARE'S WIGWAM

PHIL TREMONT, driving out from Phoenix in a high, red-wheeled cart, paused at the cross-roads, uncertain whether to turn there or keep on to the next section-line. According to part of the directions given him, this was the turning-place. Still, he had not yet come in sight of Camelback Mountain, which was to serve as a guide-post. Not a house was near at which he might inquire, and not a living thing in sight except a jack-rabbit, which started up from the roadside, and bounded away at his approach.

Then he caught sight of the little whirl of dust surrounding Mary in her terrified flight, and touched his horse with the whip. In a moment he was alongside of the breathless, bareheaded child.

"Little girl," he called, "can you tell me if this is the road to Lee's ranch? "Then, as she turned a dirty, tear-stained face, he exclaimed, in amazement, "Of all people under the sun! The little vicar! Well, you are a sprinter! What are you racing with?"

Mary sank down on the road, so exhausted by her long run that she breathed in quick, gasping sobs. Her relief at seeing a white face instead of a red one was so great that she had no room for surprise in her little brain that the face should be Phil Tremont's, who was supposed to be far away in California. She recognized him instantly, although he no longer wore his uniform, and the broad-brimmed hat he wore suggested the cowboy of the plains rather than the cadet of the military school.

"What are you racing with?" he repeated, laughingly. "That jack-rabbit that passed me down yonder?"

"A-a-a Indian! " she managed to gasp. "He chased me-all the way-from the schoolhouse!"

"An Indian!" repeated Phil, standing up in the cart to look back down the road. "Oh, it must have been that old fellow I passed half a mile back. He was an ugly-looking specimen, but he couldn't have chased you; his pony was so still and old it couldn't go out of a walk."

"He was a-chasing me!" insisted Mary, the tears beginning to roll down her face again. She looked so little and forlorn, sitting there in a heap beside the road, that Phil sprang from the cart, and picked her up in his strong arms.

"There," said he, lifting her into the cart. "'Weep no more, my lady, weep no more to-day!' Fortune has at last changed in your favour. You are snatched from the bloody scalper of the plains, and shall be driven home in style by your brave rescuer, if you'll only tell me which way to go."

The tear-stained little face was one broad smile as Mary leaned back in the seat. She pointed up the road to a clump of umbrella-trees. "That's where we turn," she said. "When you come to the trees you'll see there's a little house behind them. It's the White Bachelor's. We call him that because his horse and dog and cows and cats and chickens are all white. That's how I first remembered where to turn on my way home, by the place where there's so awful many white chickens. I was hoping to get to his place before I died of running, when you came along. You saved my life, didn't you? I never had my life saved before. Wasn't it strange the way you happened by at exactly the right moment? It's just as if we were in a book. I thought you were away off in California at school. How did it happen anyway?" she asked, peering up at him under his broad-brimmed hat.

A dull red flushed his face an instant, then he answered, lightly, "Oh, I thought I'd take a vacation. I got tired of school, and I've started out to see the world. I remembered what your brother said about the quail-shooting out here, and the ducks, so I thought I'd try it a few weeks, and then go on somewhere else. I've always wanted a taste of ranch life and camping."

"I'm tired of school, too," said Mary, "specially after all the terrible unpleasant things that have happened to-day. But my family won't let me stop, not if I begged all night and all day. How did you get yours to?"

"Didn't ask 'em," said Phil, grimly. "Just chucked it, and came away."

"But didn't your father say anything at all? Didn't he care?"

The red came up again in the boy's face. "He doesn't know anything about it --- yet; he's in Europe, you know."

They had reached the White Bachelor's now, and turning, took the road that ran like a narrow ribbon between the irrigated country and the desert. On one side were the wastes of sand between the red buttes and old Camelback Mountain, on the other were the green ranches with their rows of figs and willows and palms, bordering all the waterways.

"Now we're just half a mile from Lee's ranch," said Mary. "We'll be there in no time."

"Do you suppose they'll have room for me?" inquired Phil. "That's what I've come out for, to engage board."

"Oh, I'm sure they will, anyhow, after tomorrow, for we're going to move then, and that'll leave three empty tents. We've rented a place half a mile farther up the road, and Jack and Joyce are having more fun fixing it up. That's one reason I want to stop school. I'm missing all the good times."

"Hello! This seems to be quite a good-sized camp!" exclaimed Phil, as they came in sight of an adobe house, around which clustered a group of twenty or more tents, like a brood of white chickens around a motherly old brown hen. "There comes Mrs. Lee now," cried Mary, as a tall, black-haired woman came out of the house, and started across to one of the tents with a tray in her hands. Her pink dress fluttered behind her as she moved forward, with a firm, light tread, suggestive of buoyant spirits and unbounded cheerfulness.

"She's doing something for somebody all the time," remarked Mary. "If you were sick she'd nurse you as if she was your mother, but as long as you're not sick, maybe she won't let you come. Oh, I never thought about that. This is a camp for invalids, you know, and she is so interested in helping sick people get well, that maybe she won't take any interest in you. Have you got a letter from anybody? Oh, I do hope you have!"

"A letter," repeated Phil. "What kind?"

"A letter to say that you're all right, you know, from somebody that knows you. I heard her tell Doctor Adams last week that she wouldn't take anybody else unless she had a letter of --- of something or other, I can't remember, because one man went off without paying his board. We had a letter from her brother."

"No, I haven't any letter of recommendation or introduction, if that's what you mean," said Phil, "but maybe I can fix it up all right with her. Can't you say a good word for me?"

"Of course," answered Mary, taking his question in all seriousness. "And I'll run and get mamma, too. She'll make it all right"

Springing out, Phil lifted her over the wheel, and then stood flicking the dry Bermuda grass with his whip, as he waited for Mary to announce his coming. He could hear her shrill little voice in the tent, whither she had followed Mrs. Lee to tell her of his arrival.

"It's the Mr. Phil Tremont we met on the train," he heard her say. "Don't you know, the one I told you about running away with his little sister and the monkey and the music-box one time. He isn't sick, but he wants to stay here awhile, and I told him you'd be good to him, anyhow."

Then she hurried away to her mother's tent, and Mrs. Lee came out laughing. There was something so genial and friendly in the humourous twinkle of her eyes, something so frank and breezy in her hospitable Western welcome, that Phil met her with the same outspoken frankness.

"I heard what Mary said," he began, "and I do hope you'll take me in, for I've run away again, Mrs. Lee." Then his handsome face sobered, and he said, in his straightforward, boyish way that Mrs. Lee found very attractive, "I got into a scrape at the military school. It wasn't anything wicked, but four of us were fired. The other fellows' fathers got them taken back, but mine is in Europe, and it's so unsatisfactory making explanations at that long range, and I thought they hadn't been altogether fair in the matter, so I --- well, I just skipped out. Mary said I'd have to have references. I can't give you any now, but I can pay in advance for a months board, if you'll take me that way."

He pulled out such a large roll of bills as he spoke, that Mrs. Lee looked at him keenly. All sorts of people had drifted to her ranch, but never before a schoolboy of seventeen with so much money in his pocket. He caught the glance, and something in the motherly concern that seemed to cross her face made him say, hastily, "Father left an emergency fund for my sister and me when he went away, besides our monthly allowance, and I drew on mine before I came out here."

While they were discussing prices, Mrs. Ware came out with a cordial greeting. Mary's excited tale of her rescue had almost led her to believe that Phil had snatched her little daughter from an Indians tomahawk. She was heartily glad to see him, for the few hours' acquaintance on the train had given her a strong interest in the motherless boy and girl, and she had thought of them many times since then. Phil felt that in coming back to the Wares he was coming back to old friends.  After it was settled that he might send his trunk out next day, when a tent would be vacant, he sat for a long time talking to Mrs. Ware and Mary, in the rustic arbour covered with bamboo and palm leaves.

Chris was calling the cows to the milking when he finally rose to go, and only rapid driving would take him back to Phoenix before nightfall. As the red wheels disappeared down the road, Mary exclaimed, "This has certainly been the most exciting day of my life! It has been so full of unexpected things. Isn't it grand to think that Mr. Phil is coming to the ranch? Fortune certainly changed in my favour when he happened along just in time to save my life. Oh, dear, there come Joyce and Jack! They've just missed him!"

Saturday afternoon found the new home all ready for its occupants. Even the trunks had been brought up from the ranch and stowed away in the tents. Although it was only two o'clock, the table was already set far tea in one corner of the clean, fresh kitchen, behind a tall screen.

Joyce, with her blue calico sleeves tucked up above her white elbows, whistled softly as she tied on a clean apron before beginning her baking. She had not been as happy in months. The hard week's work had turned the bare adobe house into a comfortable little home, and she could hardly wait for her mother to see it. Mrs. Lee was to bring her and Norman over in the surrey. Any moment they might come driving up the road.

Jack had offered to stay if his services were needed further, but she had sent him away to take his well-earned holiday. As he tramped off with his gun over his shoulder, her voice followed him pleasantly: "Good luck to you, Jack. You deserve it, for you've stuck by me like a man this week."

Since dinner Mary and Holland had swept the yard, brought wood for the camp-fire, filled the boiler and the pitchers in the tents, and then gone off, as Joyce supposed, to rest under the cottonwood-trees. Presently she heard Mary tiptoeing into the sitting-room, and peeped in to find her standing in the middle of the floor, with her hands clasped behind her.

"Isn't it sweet and homey!" Mary exclaimed. "I'm so glad to see the old furniture again I could just hug it! I came in to get the book about Hiawatha, sister. Holland keeps teasing me 'cause I said I wished I was named Minnehaha, and says I am Mary-ha-ha. And I want to find a name for him, a real ugly one!"

"Call him Pau-Puk-Keewis,---mischief-maker," suggested Joyce. "There's the book on the second shelf of the bookcase." She stepped into the room to slip the soft silk curtain farther down the brass rod.

"I'm prouder of this bookcase than almost anything else we have," she said. "Nobody would guess that it was made of the packing-boxes that the goods came in, and that this lovely Persian silk curtain was once the lining of one of Cousin Kate's party dresses."

"I'm glad that everything looks so nice;" said Mary, " for Mr. Phil said he was coming up to see us this evening. I'm going to put on a clean dress and my best hair-ribbons before then."

"Very well," assented Joyce, going back to the kitchen. "I'll change my dress, too," she thought, as she went on with her work. "And I'll light both lamps. The Indian rugs and blankets make the room look so bright and cosy by lamplight"

It had been so long since she had seen any one but the family and the invalids at the ranch, that the thought of talking to the jolly young cadet added another pleasure to her happy day.

"Oh, Joyce," called Holland, from behind the tents, "may we have the paint that is left in the cans? There's only a little in each one."

"I don't care," she called back. That had been an hour ago, and now, as she broke the eggs for a cake into a big platter, and began beating them with a fork, she wondered what they were doing that kept them so quiet. As the fork clacked noisily back and forth in the dish and the white foam rose high and stiff, her whistling grew louder. It seemed to fill all the sunny afternoon silence with its trills, for Joyce's whistle was as clear and strong as any boy's or any bird's. But suddenly, as it reached its highest notes, it stopped short. Joyce looked up as a shadow fell across the floor, to see Jack coming in the back door with Phil Tremont.

She had not heard the sound of their coming, for the noise of her egg-beating and her whistling. Joyce blushed to the roots of her hair, at being taken thus unawares, whistling like a boy over her cake baking. For an instant she wanted to shake Jack for bringing this stranger to the kitchen door.

"We just stopped by for a drink," Jack explained. "Tremont was coming out of the ranch with his gun when I passed with mine, so we've been hunting together. Come in, Phil, I'll get a cup."

There was such a mischievous twinkle in Phil's eyes as he greeted her, that Joyce blushed again. This was a very different meeting from the one she had anticipated. Instead of him finding her, appearing to her best advantage in a pretty white dress, sitting in the lamplight with a book in her hands, perhaps, he had caught her in her old blue calico, her sleeves rolled up, and a streak of flour across her bare arm. She rubbed it hastily across her apron, and gathered up the egg-shells in embarrassed silence.

"Did you tell those kids that they might paint up the premises the way they are doing?" demanded Jack.

"What way?" asked Joyce, in surprise.

"Haven't you seen what they've done to the front of the house? They haven't waited for your name contest, but have fixed up things to suit themselves. You just ought to come out and look!"

Phil followed as they hurried around to the front of the house, then stood smiling at the look of blank amazement which slowly spread over Joyce's face. Down one of the rough cottonwood posts, which supported the palm and bamboo thatch of theirRobinson Crusoe porch, was painted in big, straggling, bloody letters: "W-A-R-E-S  W-I-G W-A-M." Joyce groaned. She had made such an attempt to convert the rude shade into an attractive spot, spreading a Navajo blanket over her mother's camp-chair, and putting cushions on the rustic bench to make a restful place, where one could read or watch the shadows grow long across the desert. She had even brought out a little wicker tea-table this afternoon, with a vase of flowers on it, and leaned her mother's old guitar against it to give a final civilizing touch to the picture. But the effect was sadly marred by the freshly painted name, glaring at her from the post.

"Oh, the little savages!" she exclaimed. "How could they do it? Ware's Wigwam, indeed!"

Then her gaze followed Jack's finger pointing to the tents pitched under the cottonwood-trees. The one which she was to share with Mary and her mother stood white and clean, the screen-door open, showing the white beds within, the rug on the floor, the flowers on the table; but the large, circular one, which the boys were to occupy, was a sight to make any one pause, open-mouthed.

Perched beside it on a scaffolding of boxes and barrels stood Holland, with a paint-can in one hand and a brush in the other, putting the finishing touches to some startling decorations. Mary, on the other side, was brandishing another brush, and both were so intent on their work that neither looked up. Joyce gave a gasp. Never had she seen such amazing hieroglyphics as those which chased each other in zigzag green lines around the fly of the tent. They bore a general resemblance to those seen on Indian baskets and blankets and pottery, but nothing so grotesque had ever flaunted across her sight before.

"Now, get the book," called Holland to Mary, "and see if we've left anything out." Only Mary's back was visible to the amused spectators. She took up the copy of "Hiawatha" from the barrel where it lay, careful to keep the hem of her apron between it and her paint-bedaubed thumbs.

"I think we've painted every single figure he wrote about," said Mary. "Now, I'll read, and you walk around and see if we've left anything out:

"Very spacious was the wigwam
With the gods of the Dacotahs 
Drawn and painted on the curtains."

"No, skip that," ordered Holland. "It's farther down." Mary's paint-smeared fingers travelled slowly down the page, then she began again:

"Sun and moon and stars he painted,
Man and beast and fish and reptile.

"Figures of the Bear and Reindeer,
Of the Turtle, Crane, and Beaver.

"Owl and Eagle, Crane and Hen-hawk,
And the Cormorant, bird of magic.

"Figures mystical and awful,
Figures strange and brightly coloured."

"They're all here," announced Holland, "specially the figures mystical and awful. I'll have to label mine, or somebody will take my turtle for a grizzly."

"Oh, the little savages!" exclaimed Joyce again. "How could they make such a spectacle of the place! We'll be the laughing-stock of the whole country."

"I don't suppose that'll ever come off the tent, but we can paint the name off the post," said Jack.

"Oh, that's a fine name," said Phil, laughing, " leave it on. It's so much more original than most people have."

Before Joyce could answer, the rattle of wheels announced the coming of the surrey, and Mrs. Lee drove into the yard with Mrs. Ware and Norman, and her own little daughter, Hazel. Then Joyce's anger, which had burned to give Holland and Mary a good shaking, vanished completely at sight of her mother's amusement.  Mrs. Ware had not laughed so heartily in months as she did at the ridiculous figures grinning from the tent. It seemed so good to see her like her old cheerful self again that, when she laughingly declared that the name straggling down the post exactly suited the place, and was far more appropriate than Bide-a-wee or Alamo, Joyce's frown entirely disappeared. Mrs. Lee caught up the old guitar, and began a rattling parody of  "John Brown had a little Indian," changing the words to a ridiculous rhyme about "The Wares had a little Wigwam."

Mrs. Ware sat down to try the new rustic seat, and then jumped up like a girl again to look at the view of the mountains from the camp-chair, and then led the way, laughing and talking, to investigate the new home. She was as pleased as a child, and her pleasure made a festive occasion of the home-coming, which Joyce had feared at first would be a sorry one.

Phil shouldered his gun ready to start off again, feeling that he ought not to intrude, but Jack had worked too hard to miss the reward of hearing his mother's pleased exclamations and seeing her face light up over every little surprise they had prepared for her comfort. "Come and see, too," he urged so cordially that Phil fell into line, poking into all the corners, inspecting all the little shelves and cupboards, and admiring all the little makeshifts as heartily as Mrs. Lee or Mrs. Ware.

They went through the tents first, then the kitchen, and last into the living-room, of which Joyce was justly proud. There was only the old furniture they had had in Plainsville, with the books and pictures, but it was restful and homelike and really artistic, Phil acknowledged to himself, looking around in surprise.

"Here's the Little Colonel's comer," said Mary, leading him to a group of large photographs framed in passe-partout. "You know mamma used to live in Kentucky, and once Joyce went back there to a house-party. Here's the place, Locust. That's where the Little Colonel lives. Her right name is Lloyd Sherman. And there she is on her pony, Tar Baby, and there's her grandfather at the gate."

Phil stooped for a closer view of the photograph, and then straightened up, with a look of dawning recognition in his face.

"Why, I've seen her," he said, slowly. "I've been past that place. Once, several years ago, I was going from Cincinnati to Louisville with father, and something happened that we stopped on a switch in front of a place that looked just like that. And the brakeman said it was called Locust. I was out on the rear platform. I believe we were waiting for an express train to pass us, or something of the sort. . At any rate, I saw that same old gentleman, --- he had only one arm and was all dressed in white. Everybody was saying what a picture he made. The locusts were in bloom, you know. And while he stood there, the prettiest little girl came riding up on a black pony, with a magnificent St. Bernard dog following. She was all in white, too, with a spray of locust blossoms stuck in the cockade of the little black velvet Napoleon cap she wore, exactly as it is in that picture; and she held up a letter and called out: 'White pigeon wing fo' you, grandfathah deah.' I never forgot how sweet it sounded."

"Oh, that was Lloyd! That was Lloyd!" called Mary and Joyce in the same breath, and Joyce added: "She always used to call out that when she had a letter for the old Colonel, and it must have been Hero that you saw, the Red Cross war dog that was given to her in Switzerland. How strange it seems that you should come across her picture away out here in the desert!"

Mary's eyes grew rounder and rounder as she listened. She delighted in romantic situations, and this seemed to her one of the most romantic she had ever known in real life, quite as interesting as anything she had ever read about.

"Doesn't it seem queer to think that he's seen Lloyd and Locust?" she exclaimed. "It makes him seem almost like home folks, doesn't it, mamma?"

Mrs. Ware smiled. "It certainly does, dear, and we must try to make him feel at home with us in our wild wigwam." She had seen the wistful expression of his eyes a few moments before when, catching Joyce and Jack by the arms, she had cried, proudly: "Nobody in the world has such children as mine, Mrs. Lee! Don't you think I have cause to be proud of my five little Indians, who fixed up this house so beautifully all by themselves?"

"Come back and take supper with us, won't you?" she asked, as he and Jack started on their interrupted hunt. "We'll make a sort of housewarming of our first meal together in the new wigwam, and I'll be glad to count you among my little Indians."

"Thank you, Mrs. Ware," he said, in his gentleManley way and with the frank smile which she found so winning; "you don't know how much that means to a fellow who has been away from a real home as long as I have. I'll be the gladdest 'little Indian' in the bunch to be counted in that way."

"Then I'll get back to my cake-making," said Joyce, "if we're to have company for supper. I won't promise that it'll be a success, though, for while it bakes I'm going to write to Lloyd. I've thought for days that I ought to write, for I've owed her a letter ever since Christmas. She doesn't even know that we've left Plainsville. And I'm going to tell her about your having seen her, and recognized her picture away out here on the desert. I wish she'd come out and make us a visit"

"Here," said Phil, playfully, taking a sprig of orange blossoms from his buttonhole. and putting it in the vase on the wicker table. "When you get your letter written, put that in, as a sample of what grows out here. I picked it as we passed Clayson's ranch. If it reaches her on a cold, snowy day, it will make her want to come out to this land of sunshine. You needn't tell her I sent it."

"I'll dare you to tell," said Jack, as they started off.

Joyce's only answer was a laugh, as she went back to her egg-beating. Almost by the time the boys were out of sight, she had whisked the cake dough into a pan, and the pan into the oven, and, while Mrs. Ware and Mrs. Lee talked in the other room, she spread her paper out on the kitchen table, and began her letter to the Little Colonel.

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