Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 6: Wash-Day And Washington

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER VI.

WASH-DAY AND WASHINGTON

IT was wash-day at Ware's Wigwam; the first that Joyce and Jack had personally conducted, as it was the first Monday after moving from Lee's ranch.

Out in the back yard a big tin wash-boiler sat propped up on stones, above a glowing camp-fire. From time to time Jack stooped to poke another stick of mesquite into the blaze, or give the clothes in the boiler a stir with an old broom-handle. Then tucking up his shirt-sleeves more firmly above his elbows, he went back to the tub by the kitchen door, and, plunging his arms into the suds, began the monotonous swash and rub-a-dub of clothes and knuckles on the wash-board.

"We allee samee lak Chinamen," he said to Joyce, who was bending over another tub, rinsing and wringing. " Blimeby, when we do heap more washee, a cue will glow on my head. You'll be no mo' Clistian lady. You'll be lil'l heathen gel."

"I believe you're right," laughed Joyce. "I certainly felt like a heathen by the time I had finished rubbing the first basket full of clothes through the suds. The skin was off two knuckles, and my back was so tired I could scarcely straighten up again. But it won't be so bad next week. Mamma says that we may draw enough out of bank to buy a washing-machine and a wringer, and that will make the work lots easier."

A long, shrill whistle out in the road made them both stop to listen. "It's Phil," said Jack. "He said he would ride past this morning to show us the new horse he is going to buy. My! It's a beauty bright!" he exclaimed, peering around the corner of the kitchen, "Come out and look at it."

Hastily wiping the suds from his arms, and giving a hitch to the suspenders of his old overalls, he disappeared around the house. Joyce started after him, then drew back, remembering her old shoes and wet, faded gingham, as she caught sight of Phil, sitting erect as a cavalryman on the spirited black horse. From the wide brim of his soft, gray hat to the spurs on his riding-boots, he was faultlessly dressed. A new lariat hung on the horn of his saddle, the Mexican quirt he carried had mountings of silver on the handle, and the holster that held his rifle was of handsomely carved leather. While he talked to Jack, the horse stepped and pranced and tossed its head, impatient to be off.

"Come on out, Joyce, and look at it;" called Phil.

" I can't," she answered, peeping around the corner of the kitchen. "I'm running a Chinese laundry back here. Jack says I'm no longer a 'Clistian lady.' "

"Do you want any help?" he called, but there was no answer. She had disappeared. Phil was disappointed. It was for her admiration more than Jack's that he had ridden by on the new horse. He was conscious that he made a good appearance in the saddle, and he had expected her to show some interest in his purchase. Usually she was so enthusiastic over everything new. The work might have waited a few minutes, he thought.

But it was not the urgency of the work that sent Joyce back to the tubs in such a hurry. It was the rebellious feeling that swept over her at the sight of his holiday appearance. She was tired and hot and bedraggled, having splashed water all over herself, and the contrast between them irritated her. 

If I have to be a Polly-put-the-kettle-on all the days of my life, I'll just be one," she said, in a half-whisper, giving the towel she was wringing a vicious twist. "I'm not going out there to have him feel sorry for me. He's used to seeing girls who are always dainty and fresh, like his sister Elsie, and I'm not going to let him see me looking like a poor, bedraggled Cinderella. It isn't fair that some people should have all the good things in life, and others nothing but the drudgery.

"Jack doesn't seem to mind it. There he stands out in the road in his old faded, paint-smeared overalls, and his sleeves rolled up, never caring how awkward and lanky he looks. He's taking as eager an interest in that horse's good points as if he were to have the pleasure of riding it. But then Jack hasn't the artistic temperament. He likes this wild country out here, and he never can understand what a daily sacrifice it is for me to live in such a place. My whole life is just a sacrifice to mamma and the children"

By the time the basket was full of clothes, ready to be hung on the line, Joyce had worked herself up to such a pitch of self-pity that she felt like a martyr going to the stake. She carried the basket to the sunny space behind the tents, where the line had been stretched. Here, with her sunbonnet pulled over her eyes, she could see without being seen. Phil was just riding away whistling. She watched him out of sight. The desert seemed lonelier than ever when the sound of hoof-beats and the cheery tune had passed. Her gaze wandered back to old Camelback Mountain. "We'll never get away, you and I," she whispered. "All the bright, pleasant things in life will ride by and leave us. Only the work and the waiting and the loneliness will stay."

When she went back to the house with her empty basket, Jack was rubbing away with a vigour that was putting holes in one of Holland's shirts.

"Why didn't you come out and see Phil's new horse?" he cried, enthusiastically. "He let me try him, and he goes like a bird. And say, Joyce, he knows where I could get the best kind of an Indian pony for almost nothing, at a camp near Scottsdale. It is good size, and it's broke either to the saddle or buggy, and the people will sell it for only ten dollars. Just think of that. It's almost giving it away. The man who had it died, and his wife couldn't take it back East with her, and she told them to sell it for anything they could get. Don't you think we could manage in some way to get it, Joyce?"

"Why, Jack Ware! What can you be thinking of!" she cried. "For us to spend ten dollars on a horse that we don't need would be just as great an extravagance as for some people to spend ten hundred. Don't you know that we can only buy things that we absolutely have to eat or to wear? You've surely heard it dinned into your ears long enough to get some such idea into your head."

"We don't absolutely have to have a washing-machine and wringer," he declared, nettled by Joyce's unusual tone. "A horse would be lots more use. We could have it to bring wood up with from the desert when we've burned all that's close by. And we can't go on all year borrowing a horse from Mrs. Lee every time we want to go to town, or have to have a new supply of groceries."

"But you know well enough that mamma's teaching Hazel, after awhile when she gets well enough, will more than make up for the borrowing we will do," answered Joyce. "Besides it would only be the beginning of a lot of expense. There'd be feed and a saddle to start with."

"No, there wouldn't! There's all that alfalfa pasture going to waste behind the house, and Mrs. Lee has a saddle hanging up in her attic that somebody left on a board bill. She said I might use it as often as I pleased."

"Well, we can't afford to spend ten dollars on any such foolishness," said Joyce, shortly. "So that is the end of it."

"No, it isn't the end of it," was the spirited answer. "I've set my heart on having that pony, and I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll take the place of the washing-machine and wringer. You give me the five dollars they would cost, and I'll do every bit of the rubbing and wringing every Monday morning. I'll borrow the other five dollars, and give a mortgage on the pony. I'll find some way to earn enough to pay it off before the summer is over."

Joyce shook her head. "No, a mortgage makes a slave of anybody foolish enough to chain himself up with one, Grandpa Ware always used to say. I'm running the finances now, and I wont give my consent. I think it is best to get the machine, and I don't intend to change my mind. You may get a position next fall, and then I'd be left to do the work without any machine to help. Besides, you sha'n't run in debt to get something that nobody really needs."

"I do need it," insisted Jack, "and I don't see why, when you are only a year older than I am, that you should have the say-so about the way all the money is to be spent"

"Because mamma wishes me to. Don't you see that the very fact of your wanting to be extravagant in this case, and go in debt and load yourself clown with a mortgage shows that I have better judgment than you?"

"Oh, you've got a great head for business!" sneered Jack. "Don't you see that it wouldn't be the same as buying something to eat up or wear out? It's an investment. You put the money into the pony instead of the bank, and any time you want to get it out, you just sell the beast. I might be able to get twice as much for him next fall when the tourists begin to come into Phoenix for the winter."

"Yes, you might, but it would be more like Ware luck for it to cut itself all to pieces on the barb-wire fences before then, or break its legs stumbling into a gopher hole, or founder itself by getting into a neighbour's oat-bin. Something would be sure to happen. The money is safe where it is, and I believe in letting well enough alone."

"Banks bust sometimes, too," said Jack, moodily, "and I believe that 'nothing venture, nothing have."'

It was the first quarrel they had had in months. Each, feeling firmly convinced of being in the right, grew indignant with the other, and they passed from teasing banter to angry words, and then to an angrier silence. "It won't be any harder for him to give up what he had set his heart on than it is for me," thought Joyce, as she hung up the last garment. "I have to do without things I want all the time. And I'm not going to let him think that I'll give in if he teases long enough. I wouldn't have any authority at all over the children if I wasn't firm with them."

As Jack emptied the last tubful of water, and stood the wash-board up to dry, he broke the angry silence that had lasted fully ten minutes.

"Holland has a dollar in his savings-bank, and Mary has seventy-five cents. We could all chip in with what we have, and then go without butter or something for awhile till we'd saved enough."

Joyce only gave an impatient shrug as she replied : "Much comfort we'd get out of a horse that everybody had a share in. If Holland felt that he'd sunk a dollar and several pounds of butter in that pony, he'd feel privileged to ride it any hour of the day or night, no matter who wanted it, and he'd do it, too. You might as well give it up, Jack. It is selfish of you to insist on spending so much on just your own pleasure."

"Selfish! " blazed Jack. " It's you that's selfish, wanting to be so bossy and have everything just your way. I haven't asked you to do without anything, have I, or to put in any of your money? And if I do the work of the washing-machine and wringer, I don't see why I shouldn't have what they would cost, to do what I please with. You're the selfish one!"

He banged the tub up against the tree and walked off toward his tent, buttoning his shirt-sleeves, and muttering to himself as he went.

"Now, he'll go and tell mamma, I suppose, and worry her," thought Joyce, as she went into the kitchen. "But I'm too tired to care. If I hadn't been so tired, I probably wouldn't have snapped him off so short, but it just goes to prove that we can't do without a machine. The washing is too hard for me without one. I can't afford to get so worn out every week. It is all right for him to offer to take the place of one. He might keep it up for weeks, and even months, but next fall, if he should get a position in Phoenix, the money would be spent and I'd be left with the bag to hold. I don't think that, under the circumstances, he has any right to call me selfish. I'm not!"

The word stuck in her memory, and hurt, as she dragged herself wearily into the sitting room, and lay down on the couch. After she had pulled the afghan over her shoulders and buried her face in one of the pillows, a few hot tears trickled down through her closed eyelids, and made them smart. The kitchen clock struck eleven.

"Oh, dear!" she said to herself, "I must get up in a few minutes and see about dinner." But the next thing she knew, Norman was ringing the dinner-bell in her ears, shouting that it was one o'clock, and that Jack had dinner ready, and to come before it got cold.

"Oh, Jack, why didn't you call me?" she cried. "I didn't mean to fall asleep. I only stretched out to rest for a few minutes."

He made no answer, busying himself in carrying a hot dish of poached eggs and toast to the table, and bringing his mother's tea. He was carrying on a lively conversation with her.

"Still mad, I suppose," thought Joyce, when he ignored her repeated question. "But evidently he hasn't said anything to mamma about it."

The meal seemed an unusually cheerful one, for although Jack and Joyce had nothing to say to each other, they kept up such a chatter with their mother, that she ate her dinner serenely unconscious of their coolness toward each other. Afterward she insisted upon washing the dishes, so that Joyce could take a well-earned rest, and Jack go down to the ranch to see Mr. Ellestad's new microscope, which had just come. Joyce would not listen to her appeal that she was perfectly able to do that much work, and that she needed the exercise, but finally consented to her helping wipe the dishes, while she cleared the table and washed them. But Jack, after a little urging, started down the road toward the ranch, to spend a long, interesting afternoon there. As he went whistling out of sight Mrs. Ware looked after him fondly.

"I know he's the best boy in the world," she said. "I wish I could afford to give him some of the pleasures that other boys have."

"Seems to me he has about as much as the rest of us," said Joyce, rattling the cups and saucers in the dish-pan. But a picture rose in her mind as she spoke, that made her wish that she had not been so cross and so positive. It was Phil Tremont, on his horse, as he had looked that morning, handsome, fun-loving, and free to do as he pleased, and then in sharp contrast, Jack, standing in the road beside him, in his old outgrown, paint-smeared overalls, his fingers red and wrinkled from the suds, called from his work to see a pleasure in which he could not share. Now that she was rested and refreshed by her dinner, matters looked different. She could even see the force of Jack's argument about the pony being an investment, and she wished again that she had not been so positive in her refusal.

But having once said no, Joyce felt that it would not be dignified to yield. If she changed her mind this time, Jack would think that she was inconsistent; and such is the unyielding policy of fifteen, that she felt that she would rather be called selfish than to admit that she was in the wrong or had been mistaken.

It was along afternoon. The fact that she and Jack had quarrelled kept recurring to her constantly, and made her uncomfortable and unhappy. He came back from the ranch at supper-time as if nothing had happened, however, and when she asked him sonic question about the new microscope, he answered with a full description that made her feel he had forgotten their morning disagreement.

"I don't believe that he cares so much about that pony after all," she thought. After supper, when Holland and Mary had disposed of the dishes, she drew out the kitchen-table, and began sprinkling clothes ready for the next day's ironing. The boys had gone to their tent. The door was open between the kitchen and the sitting-room so that the heat might pass in to where Mrs. Ware sat knitting by the lamp. Mary was there also, and her voice came out to Joyce shrilly, as if she were in the room with her.

"It seems a waste of time for me to be learning new pieces to say at school when I know at least a dozen old ones that I recited in Plainsville that would be new out here. But teacher picked this out for me. She's going to keep us in at recess if we don't know our pieces Friday. This has forty-eight lines in it, and I've only four nights to learn it in."

"That is not bad," said Mrs. Ware, consolingly. "Only twelve lines an evening. Read it all to me, then I'll help you with the first quarter."

Joyce stopped her humming as Mary began dramatically:

"'A Boy of Seventy-six.' That's the name of it." She read unusually well for a child of her age, and the verses were new to Joyce:

You have heard the story, time and again, 
Of those brave old heroes, the 'Minute Men,' 
Who left their homes to fight or fall, 
As soon as they heard their country's call. 
Let me tell you of one, unnamed, unknown, 
A brave boy-hero, who fought alone. 
When the breathless messenger drew rein 
He had started whistling, down the lane 
With his rod and line, to the brook for trout, 
But he paused as he heard the warning shout, 
And his father called to him, 'Ben, my son, 
I must be off to Lexington! 
There is little time for fishing now, 
You must take father's place behind the plough.' 
One quick good-bye! The boy stood still, 
Watching him climb the homeward hill 
In and out of the house again, 
With his musket, to join the 'Minute Men.' 
Then he turned the furrows, straight and true, 
Just as he'd seen his father do. 
He dropped the corn in the narrow rows, 
And fought for its life with the weeds and crows 
Oh, it was hard, as the days wore on, 
To take the place of that father, gone. 
The boyish shoulders could hardly bear 
All their burden of work and care. 
But he thought, 'It is for my country's sake 
That father's place at the plough I take. 
When the war is over, and peace is won, 
How proud he'll be of his little son!' 
But they brought him home to a soldier's grave, 
Wrapped in the flag he had died to save. 
And Ben took up his burden again, 
With its added weight of grief and pain, 
Saying bravely, 'In all things now
I must take father's place behind the plough.' 
Seed-time and harvest came and went, 
Steadily still to the work he bent, 
For the family needed bread, and then, 
So did the half-starved fighting men. 
Only a boy! Not a hero bold, 
Whose deeds in the histories are told. 
Still, there fell under British fire, 
No braver son of a patriot sire 
Than this young lad, who for duty's sake 
Said, 'This is the task I'll undertake. 
I cannot fight for my country now, 
But I'll take father's place behind the plough.'"

"I wonder why it is," said Mary, thoughtfully, as she came to the end, "that all the heroes live so far away that nobody knows them except the people who write the books and poetry about them. I wish I knew a boy like that."

"You do," said her mother, quietly. "One who has been just as faithful to duty, just as much of a hero in his small way as Ben. Who said the same thing, 'In all things now, I must take father's place behind the plough,' and who has done it, too, so faithfully and well that he has lifted a great burden from his mother's heart, and made living easier for alt the family."

"Why, mamma, do I know him? Was it somebody in Plainsville? What was his name?"

"John Alwyn Ware," said her mother, with a smile, although her lips trembled.

"John Alwyn Ware," repeated Mary, with a puzzled expression. "Why, that was papa's name, and you said that he was a boy that I knew."

"Isn't it Jack's name, too?" asked her mother.

"Yes, so it is! But how could he take his father's place behind the plough? Papa was a lawyer, and never had any plough."

"Whatever is a man's life-work may be called his plough," explained Mrs. Ware, gently, "and papa's duties were not all in his law-office. They were at home, too, and there is where Jack tried to take his place. He was such a little fellow. My first thought was, 'Oh, how am I ever going to bring up my three boys without their father's help and noble example!' and he came to me, his little face all streaked with tears, and put his arms around me, and said, Don't cry, mother, I'll take papa's place now, and help take care of the family. If I can't do anything for awhile but just be a good boy, I'll do that much, and set them a good example.' And from that day to this he has never given me an anxious moment. He is a high-strung boy, fond of having his own way, and it has often been a struggle for him to resist the temptation of doing as his chums did, when they were inclined to be a little wild. But he has always been true to his promise, and Holland and Norman have both been easier to manage, because of the example of obedience he has always set them. So you see the heroes don't always live so far away after all. You've been living in the same house with one, and didn't know it."

Norman came clamouring into the kitchen for something that Holland had sent for, and Joyce lost the rest of the conversation, but what she had heard stayed with her. Little scenes that she had almost forgotten came up in her mind. Now she understood why Jack had so often refused to join in the larks of the other boys. It was not because he was lazy and indifferent, as she had sometimes thought, when he had settled down with a book at home, instead of going with them in the evenings. She understood, too, why he never "answered back" or asked why. Not because he had any less spirit than Holland, or cared less for his own way. It was because of the promise he had made beside his father's coffin. He was setting the highest example he knew of obedience and faithfulness to duty.

"How could I have called him selfish?" she asked herself, "when this is the first time he has asked for anything for his own pleasure since we have been here. He has stayed at home and dug and delved like an old man instead of a boy of fourteen, and of course it must be as dull for him as it is for me. I suppose I didn't realize it, because he never complains as I do. I've had so many more good times than he has," she went on in her self-communing. "My trip to Europe, and the Little Colonel's house-party,--- and he was never even out of Plainsville until we came here."

As she thought of the house-party, she caught the gleam of the little ring, the lover's knot of gold on her finger that Eugenia had given her to remind her of the Road of the Loving Heart, and she stood quite still for a moment, looking at it.

"I believe I'll do it," she decided, finally, and fell to work so energetically that the last damp roll of clothes was soon tucked away in the basket. Then taking the candle from the shelf, and shading it carefully with her hand, she hurried out to her tent. Dropping on her knees beside her trunk, she began turning over its contents till she reached a pink bonbon-box at the very bottom.

Inside the box was a letter, and inside the letter was a gold coin, the five dollars that Cousin Kate had sent her Christmas. She had put it sacredly away as a nest-egg, intending to add to it as she could, until there was enough to pay for a course of instruction in illustrating, by correspondence. The address of an art school which advertised to give such lessons, was copied on the envelope.

As she turned the letter irresolutely in her hands, she heard Jack's voice in the next tent, talking to Holland:

" I wonder who'll take my place in the high school nine this year? Wouldn't I give my eyes to pitch for them when they play the Plainsville 'Invincibles'! Wish I could see old Charlie Scudder's red head behind the bat again! And don't I wish I could hear him giving his call for me out by the alley gate! I'd walk from here to Phoenix just to hear it again."

"I don't miss the fellows much as I thought I would," said Holland, who was hunting for a certain hook he wanted in what looked to be a hopeless snarl of fishing-tackle. "There's some first-rate kids go to this school, and I see about as much fun out here as I did at home."

"I suppose it would be different with me if I went to school," said Jack. "But it gets mighty monotonous poking around the desert by yourself, even if you have got a gun. Now that Phil Tremont has his horse, that will cut me out from going with him, for I'll have to foot it wherever I go."

"Oh, I know where there's a dandy Indian pony for sale over by Scottsdale," began Holland. "George Lee told me about it. They're going to put it up at auction Saturday, if they don't sell it before. Don't you wish you had it?"

"You ran bet your only dollar I do! I tried to talk Joyce into thinking we could afford it, but she wouldn't be convinced."

"I don't see why she should always have the say-so," said Holland. "She's only a year older than you are, anyhow. She sits down on everything we want to do, as if she was our grandmother. She's too bossy."

"No, she isn't," answered Jack, loyally. "She knows what she is talking about. She's had a mighty tough time trying to make one dollar do the work of two since we've been out here. And she's worked like a squaw, and it's powerful hard on her having so much responsibility. What she says in this wigwam goes, even if it doesn't suit our tastes! "

A warm little glow came into Joyce's heart as she knelt there beside the trunk, unconsciously playing eavesdropper. How good it was of Jack to uphold her that way with Holland, who was always resenting her authority, and inclined to be rebellious. Hesitating no longer, she reached into the tray of her trunk for the purse which held the monthly housekeeping allowance. Taking out a crisp five-dollar bill, she folded the coin in it, and ran out toward the boys' tent.

The candle light, streaming through the canvas, made a transparency on which the green-eyed gods of the Dacotahs stood out in startling distinctness. Holland's shadow, bending over the fishing-tackle beside the candle, reached to the top of the tent. Jack's waved its heels over the foot-board of the bed on which he had thrown himself.

"Jack," she said, putting her head through the opening of the tent where the flap was pinned back, "I've changed my mind about that investment. I've decided to go in with you. I'll put in Cousin Kate's Christmas money, and if you still want to take the place of the washing machine and wringer, we'll use the five dollars they would cost, to buy the pony. Then I think the most appropriate name we could give it would be Washing-ton!"

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