Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 5: What A Letter Brought About

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER V.

WHAT A LETTER BROUGHT ABOUT

LLOYDSBORO VALLEY would have seemed a strange place to Joyce, could she have followed her letter back to Kentucky. She had known it only in midsummer, when the great trees at Locust arched their leafy branches above the avenue, to make a giant arbour of green. Now these same trees stood bleak and bare in the February twilight, almost knee-deep in drifts of snow. Instead of a green lacework of vines, icicles hung between the tall white pillars of the porch, gleaming like silver where the light from the front windows streamed out upon them, and lay in far-reaching paths across the snow.

In the long drawing-room, softly lighted by many candles and the glow of a great wood fire, the Little Colonel sat on the arm of her father's chair. He had just driven up from the station, and she held his cold ears in her warm little hands, giving them a pull now and then to emphasize what she was saying.

"The first sleigh-ride of the season, Papa Jack. Think of that! We've had enough snow this wintah for any amount of coasting and sleighing if it had only lasted. That's the trouble with Kentucky snow; it melts too fast to be any fun. But to-night everything is just right, moon and all, and the sleighs are to call for us at half-past seven, and we're going for a glorious, gorgeous, grandiferous old sleigh-ride. At nine o'clock we'll stop at The Beeches for refreshments."

"Yes," chimed in Betty from the hearth-rug, where she sat leaning against her godmother's knee. "Mrs. Walton says we shall have music wherever we go, like little Jenny that 'rode a cock-horse to Banbury Cross.' She has a whole pile of horns and hells ready for us. It's lovely of her to entertain both the clubs. She's asked the Mu Chi Sigma from the Seminary as well as our Order of Hildegarde."

"Oh, that reminds me," exclaimed Mr. Sherman, "although I don't know why it should --- I brought a letter up from the post-office for you, Lloyd." Feeling in several pockets, he at last found the big square envelope he was searching for.

"What a big fat one it is," said Lloyd, glancing at the postmark. "Phoenix, Arizona! I don't know anybody out there."

"Arizona is where our mines are located," said Mr. Sherman, watching her as she tore open the envelope.

"Oh, it's from Joyce Ware!" she cried. "See all the funny little illustrations on the edge of the papah! And heah is a note inside for you, mothah, from Mrs. Ware, and oh, what's this? How sweet!" A cluster of orange blossoms fell out into her lap, brown and bruised from the long journey, but so fragrant, that Betty, across the room, raised her head with a long indrawn breath of pleasure.

"Listen! I'll read it aloud:"

"`WARE'S WIGWAM, ARIZONA.

"'DEAREST LLOYD: --- Mamma's note to your mother will explain how we happened to stray away out here, next door to nowhere, and why we are camping on the edge of the desert instead of enjoying the conveniences of civilization in Kansas.

"'The sketch at the top of the page will give you an idea of the outside of our little adobe house and the tents, so without stopping for description I'll begin right here in the kitchen, where I am sitting, waiting for a cake to bake. It's the cleanest, cosiest kitchen you ever saw, for Jack and I have been cleaning and scrubbing for days and days. It has all sorts of little shelves and cupboards and ruddy holes that we made ourselves, and the new tins shine like silver. A tall screen in the middle of the room shuts off one end for a dining-room, and the table is set for supper. To-night we are to have our first meal in the wigwam. Holland and Mary named it that, and painted the name on the porch post in big bloody letters a little while ago.

"'Through the open door I can look into the other room, which is library, studio, parlour, and living-room all in one. Everything is so spick and span that nobody would ever guess what a dreadful time we had putting on the paper and painting all the woodwork. I spilled a whole panful of cold, sticky paste on Jack's head one day. We had made a scaffolding of boxes and barrels. One end slipped and let me down. You never saw such a sight as he was. I had to scrape his hair and face with a spoon. Then so much of the paper wrinkled and would stick on crooked, but now that the pictures are hung and the furniture in place, none of the mistakes show. 

"'Jack has gone hunting with Phil Tremont, a boy staying at Lee's ranch. I am learning to shoot, too. I practised all one afternoon, and the gun kicked so bad that my shoulder is still black and blue. Phil said the loads were too heavy, and he is going to loan me his little rifle to practise with. He is such a nice boy, and, oh, Lloyd! it's the strangest thing! --- he has seen you. I have those pictures of Locust hanging over my easel, and, when he saw the photograph of you on Tar Baby, he recognized it right away. He was on the train and saw you ride in at the gate with a letter for your grandfather, and Hero following you.

"'I didn't get any farther than this in my letter (because I spent so much time making the illustrations) before Phil and Jack came back with some quail they had shot. They were the proudest boys you ever saw, and nothing would do but they must have those quail cooked for supper. They couldn't wait till next day. Mamma had invited Phil to take supper with us, and help make a sort of housewarming of our first meal in the new home.

"'We had the jolliest kind of a time, and afterward he helped wipe the dishes. I told him that I was writing to you, and he took this little piece of orange blossom out of his buttonhole, and asked me if I didn't want to send it to you as a sample of what we are enjoying in this land of perpetual sunshine.

"'It isn't a sample of everything, however. The place has lots of drawbacks. Oh, Lloyd, you can't imagine how lonesome I get sometimes. I have been here a month, and haven't met a single girl my age. If there was just one to be chums with I wouldn't mind the rest so much, --- the leaving school and all that. I don't mind the work, even the washing and ironing and scrubbing, --- it's just the lonesomeness, and the missing the good times we used to have at the high school.

"'Save up your pennies, or else get a railroad pass, you and Betty, for some of these days I'm going to give a wigwam-party. It will be a far different affair from your house-party (could there ever be another such heavenly time?), but there are lots of interesting things to see out here: an ostrich farm, an Indian school and reservation, and queer old ruins to visit. There are scissors-birds and Gila monsters --- I can't begin to name the things that would keep you staring. Mrs. Lee has a Japanese chef, and a Mexican to do her irrigating, and a Chinaman to bring her vegetables, and she always buys her wood of the Indians, so it seems very foreign and queer at first. There is no lack of variety, so I ought to be satisfied, and I am usually, except when I think of little old Plainsville, and the boys and girls going up and down the dear old streets to high school, and meeting in the library, and sitting on the steps singing in the moonlight, and all the jolly, sociable village life and the friends I have left behind for ever. Then it seems to me that I can hardly stand it here. I wish you and Betty were with me this very minute. Please write soon. With love to you both and everybody else in the family and the dear old valley,

"'Your homesick                        
 "' JOYCE.'"

Mrs. Ware's letter was cheerful and uncomplaining, but there were tears in Mrs. Sherman's eyes when she finished reading it aloud.

"Poor Emily," she said. "She was always such a brave little body. I don't see how she can write such a hopeful letter under the circumstances, an invalid sent out into the wilderness to die, maybe, with all those children. She has so much ambition to make something of them, and no way to do it. Jack, if you go out to the mines thus month, as you talked of doing, I want you to arrange your trip so that you can stop and see her."

Lloyd looked up in surprise. "When are you going, Papa Jack? Isn't it queah how things happen!"

"The latter part of this month, probably.  Mr. Robeson has invited me to go out with a party in his private car. He is interested in the same mines."

" I wonder ---" began Mrs. Sherman, then stopped as Mom Beck came to announce dinner. "I'll talk to you about it after awhile, Jack."

Somehow both Betty and Lloyd felt that it was not the summons to dinner which interrupted her, but that she had started to speak of something which she did not care to discuss in their presence. "Arizona has always seemed such a dreadful place to me," said Lloyd, hanging on her father's arm, as they went out to the dining-room. "I remembah when you came back from the mines. It was yeahs ago, befo' I could talk plainly. Mothah and Fritz and I went to the station to meet you. Fritz had roses stuck in his collah, and kept barking all the time as if he knew something was going to happen. You fainted when we got to the house, and were so ill that you neahly died. I heard you talk about a fiah at the mines, and evah since I've thought of Arizona as looking like the Sodom and Gomorrah in my old pictuah book --- smoke and fiah sweeping across a great plain, and people running to get away from it."

"To me it's just a yellow square on a map;" said Betty. "Of course, I've read about the wonderful petrified forests of agate, and the great cañon of the Colorado, but it's always seemed the last place in the world I'd ever want to visit. It's terrible for Joyce to give up everything and go out there to live."

"The Waltons were out there several years," said Mrs. Sherman. "They were at Fort Huachuca, and learned to love it dearly. Ask them about it to-night. They will tell you that Joyce is a very fortunate girl to have the opportunity of living in such a lovely and interesting country, and does not need any one's pity."

Little else was discussed all during dinner. Afterward they sat around the fire in the drawing-room, still talking of the Wares and the strange country to which they had moved, until a tooting of horns and a jingling of bells announced the coming of the sleighing party. Both the girls were into their wraps before the first sleigh reached the gate. They stood waiting by the hall window, looking out on the stretches of moon-lighted snow. What a cold, white, glistening world it was! One could hardly imagine that it had ever been warm and green.

Lloyd put her nose into the end of her muff for a whiff of the orange blossoms. She was taking Joyce's letter to show to the girls.

Betty, her eyes fixed on the stars, twinkling above the bare branches of the locust-trees, caught the fragrance also, and it fired her romantic little soul with a sudden thought.

"Lloyd," she exclaimed, "what if that orange blossom was an omen! What if Phil were the one written for you in the stars!"

"Oh, Betty! The idea!" laughed Lloyd. "You're always imagining things the way they are in books."

"But this happened just that way," persisted Betty. "His passing Locust on the train and seeing you when you were a little girl, and then finding your picture away out on the desert several years after, and sending you a token of his remembrance by a friend, and orange blossoms at that! If ever I finish that story of Gladys and Eugene, I'm going to put something like that in it."

"Heah they come," interrupted Lloyd, as the sleighs dashed up to the door. "Come on, Papa Jack and everybody. Give us a good send-off."

She looked back after her father had helped them into the sleigh, to wave good-bye to the group on the porch. How interested they all were in her good times, she thought. Even her grandfather had come to the door, despite his rheumatism, to wish them a pleasant ride. Life was so sweet and full. How beautiful it was to be dashing down the snowy road in the moonlight! Was she too happy? Everybody else had troubles. Would something dreadful have to happen by and by, to make up for all the unclouded happiness of the present? She was not cold, but a sudden shiver passed over her. Then she took up the song with the others, a parody one of the Seminary girls had made for the occasion:

"Oh, the snow falls white on my old Kentucky home.
'Tis winter, the Valley is gay.
The moon shines bright and our hearts are all atune,
To the joy-bells jingling on our sleigh."

Down the avenue they went, past Tanglewood and Oaklea, through the little village of Rollington, on and on through the night. Songs and laughter, the jingling of bells and the sound of girlish voices floated through all the valley. It was not every winter that gave them such sport, and they enjoyed it all the more because it was rare. It was nine o'clock when the horses swung around through the wide gate at The Beeches, and stopped in front of the great porch, where hospitable lights streamed out at every window across the snow.

There was such a gabble over the steaming cups of hot chocolate and the little plates of oyster pates that Lloyd could not have read the letter if she had tried. For there were Allison and Kitty and Elise passing the bonbons around again and again, with hospitable insistence, and saying funny things and making everybody feel that "The Beeches" was the most charming place in the Valley for an entertainment of that kind. Everybody was in a gale of merriment. Miss Allison was helping to keep them so, and some of the teachers were there from the college, and two or three darkies, with banjoes and mandolins, out in the back hall, added to the general festivities by a jingling succession of old plantation melodies.

However, Lloyd managed to tell Mrs. Walton about the letter, saying: "It almost spoils my fun to-night to think of posh Joyce being away out in that dreadful lonesome country."

"Why, my dear child," cried Mrs. Walton, "some of the happiest years of my life were spent in that dreadful country, as you call it. It is a charming place. Just look around and see how I have filled my home with souvenirs of it, because I loved it so."

Lloyd's glance followed hers to the long-handled peace-pipe over the fireplace, the tomahawks that, set in mortars captured during a battle in Luzon, guarded the hearth instead of ordinary andirons, the baskets, the rugs, and the Navajo portièrs, and the Indian spears and pottery arranged on the walls of the stairway.

"Even that string of loco berries over Geronimo's portrait has a history," said Mrs. Walton. "Come down some day, and I'll tell you so many interesting things about Arizona that you'll want to start straight off to see it."

Her duties as hostess called her away just then, but her enthusiasm stayed with Lloyd all the rest of the evening, until she reached home and found her father and mother before the fire, still talking about the Wares and their wigwam.

"Your mother wants me to take you with me when I go to Arizona," said Mr. Sherman, drawing her to his knee. "Mr. Robeson had invited her to go, but, as long as that is out of the question, she wants to arrange for you to go in her place."

"And leave school?" gasped Lloyd.

"Yes, with Betty's help, you could easily make up lost lessons during the summer vacation. You'd help her, wouldn't you, dear?"

"Yes, indeed!" cried Betty. "I'd get them for her while she was gone, if I could."

"Oh, it's so sudden, it takes my breath away," said Lloyd, after a moment's pause. "Pinch me, Betty! Shake me! And then say it all ovah again, Papa Jack, to be suah that I'm awake!"

"Do you think you could get your clothes ready in ten days?" he asked, when he had playfully given her the shaking and pinching she had asked for.

"Oh, I don't need any new clothes," she cried. " But, Papa Jack, I'll tell you what I do want, and that's a small rifle. Please get me one. I used to practise with Rob's air-gun till I could shoot as straight as he could, and I got so that I could put a hole through a leaf at even longer range than he could. Christmas, when Ranald Walton was home, we all practised with his gun. It's lots of fun. Joyce is learning to shoot, you know. Please let me have one, Papa Jack. I'd rather have it than a dozen new dresses."

Mr. Sherman looked at her in astonishment. "And this is my dainty Princess Winsome," he said at last. "I thought you were going for a nice, tame little visit. I'll be afraid now to take you. You'll want to come back on a bucking broncho, and dash through the Valley, shooting holes through the crown of people's hats, and lassoing carriage horses when you can't find any wild ones to rope. No, I can't take you now. I'm afraid of consequences."

"No, honestly, Papa Jack," laughed Lloyd, "I'll be just as civilized as anybody when I come back, if you'll only get me the rifle. I'll try to be extra civilized, just to please you."

"We'll see," was the only answer he would give, but Lloyd, who had never known him to refuse her anything, knew what that meant, and danced off to bed perfectly satisfied. She was too excited to sleep. To see Joyce again, to share the wigwam life, and make the acquaintance of Jack and Holland and Mary, who had been such interesting personages in Joyce's tales of them, to have that long trip with Papa Jack in Mr. Robeson's private car, and a month's delightful holiday, seemed too much happiness for one small person. All sorts of exciting adventures might lie ahead of her in that month.

The stars, peeping through her curtains, twinkled in friendly fashion at her, as if they were glad of her good fortune. Suddenly they made her think of Betty's words: "What if Phil should be the one written for you in the stars? "It was strange, his having seen her so long ago, and finding her picture in such an unexpected way. She wondered what he was like, and if they would be good friends, and if she could ever think as much of him as she did of her old playmates, Rob and Malcolm. Then she fell asleep, wishing that it was morning, so that she could send a letter to Joyce on the first mail-train, telling her that she was coming, --- that in less than two weeks she would be with her at Ware's Wigwam.

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