Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 7: A Surprise

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER VII.

A SURPRISE

In order to understand the excitement that prevailed at the Wigwam when it was announced that the Little Colonel was on her way toward it, one would first have to understand what an important part she had played in the Ware household. To begin with, the place where she lived had always seemed a sort of enchanted land to the children. "The Old Kentucky Home" was their earliest cradle-song, and their favourite nursery-tales were about the people and places of Lloydsboro Valley, where their mother's happy girlhood had been passed.

They might grow tired of Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. Aladdin and even Ali Baba and the forty thieves might lose their charm, but no story failed to interest them that began "Once upon a time in Lloydsboro Valley." These reminiscences had passed from Joyce to Jack, and on down the line, with the high chair and the Cock Robin book and the red building-blocks, belonging to each in turn, but claimed by all. Mary's tears, Holland's tempers, and Norman's tantrums had many a time disappeared as if by magic, at those familiar words.

After Joyce's return from the house party at Locust, the Little Colonel became the central figure of interest, and all the glamour with which their childish imaginations had surrounded the place, now gathered around her like a nimbus around a saint.  To Mary, who had read the "Princess Winsome" until she knew it all by heart, Lloyd was something between an ideal princess, who played on a golden harp, and an ideal little schoolgirl, who lived in a real palace, and did exactly as she pleased. She could talk of nothing else, after the letter came, and followed Joyce and her mother with innumerable questions, pausing often before the pictures of Lloyd and Tarbaby.

The boys' interest in her coming was increased when they found that she was going to bring a rifle, and that her father had promised to hire a horse for her as soon as they arrived.

Phil, who came so often to the Wigwam now that he seemed almost one of the family, caught so much of its enthusiasm over the coming guest, that he planned picnics and excursions for every day of her visit. He even had a voice in what he called the Council of War, in which it was decided to let the two older boys move their cots out-of-doors. Holland had been clamouring to sleep outside the tent ever since George Lee told him that he had begun to do so, and that was what made the cowboys so strong.

So the gaily decorated tent, with its "figures mystical and awful," was made ready for Lloyd, and Norman took Joyce's place in his mother's tent.

"She'll know that she's really out West when she once sets her eyes on those gods of the Dacotahs," Holland said to Mary on their way to school one morning. "As long as we call this the Wigwam, I think we ought to be dressed up in war-paint and feathers when she gets here. I'll do it, Mary, if you will. I'll dare you to. I'll double dare you!"

Usually a double dare never failed to have the desired effect upon Mary. She would attempt any thing he suggested. But it was too serious a matter to risk the first impression that such an appearance would make upon Lloyd, so she trudged on with a resolute shake of her little blond braids and big blue bows.

"No, sir-ree, Holland Ware. I'm going to stay home from school that day, and wear my very best white dress and my rosebud sash. It's just as good as new if it is two years old, and the little spots on it where I squirted orange-juice don't show at all when it's tied. And Joyce said that she is going to put your hands to soak overnight, to see if she can't get them clean for once, for if there's anything the Little Colonel abominates, it's dirty hands and finger-nails. And you've got to wear a necktie every day, and go into Phoenix and have your hair cut. So there! "

"Oh, I have, have I? " repeated Holland, mimicking her tone. "If Joyce has all those plans in her head, she can just get them out again. I'm not going to be a dude for any old girl in the country, I don't care if it is Lloyd Sherman. And if she is so dreadful particular as all that, I'll do something to shock her every day, till she gets used to it. Yes, I believe I'll come to the table the very first meal in a blanket, with feathers in my hair, and if you dare tell anybody beforehand, I'll --- I'll --- well, I'll get even with you in a way you won't like."

"Oh, Holland, please don't! Please don't disgrace us,"begged Mary, who always took his threats in eamest. "It would be too dreadful. I'll give you something nice if you'll promise not to."

"What will you give me?"

"What have I got that you want?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'll have to think about it."

Holland had no intention of carrying out his threats, but he kept Mary in a fever of anxiety all week, saying one hour that he'd think about her offer, and the next that she didn't have anything he cared for, and that he preferred the fun of tormenting the girls to anything she could give.

Joyce drew a star on the kitchen calendar, over the date on which they expected Lloyd to arrive; a big five-pointed red star. She rejoiced that it fell on a Wednesday, for by that time the washing and ironing would be out of the way. Her first experience in laundry-work made her look ahead to the coming Mondays as weekly bugbears. But the second was not so hard as the first. True to his promise, Jack did all the rubbing and wringing, getting up at daybreak to start the fire under the big wash-boiler out in the yard.

This morning, as he touched a match to the little pile of kindling, and fanned the blaze with his hat, the new pony, grazing in the alfalfa field, came up to the pasture-bars with a whinny, and put his head over the fence, as if to watch him.

"Oh, you think you'll boss this job, do you, Mr. Washington?" said Jack, who, in the short time he had had the pony, had grown as fond of him as if he were a person, and who talked to him as if he had human intelligence. "Well, you ought to take an interest in the washing, since that's the way you got your name, and the reason you are here. Wait till I get this boiler filled, and I'll bring you a lump of sugar."

Washington was a wiry little pony. He had a wicked light in his eyes, and was too free with his heels at times, but he had been raised as a household pet, and stood like a kitten while Jack rubbed his nose and fed him sugar.

"Take it easy while you can," said Jack. "If I have to work like a dog all morning on your account, to earn half the dollars that you cost us, I'll put you through your paces this afternoon to make up for it. You'll think that you are the Wild Mazeppa by the time we get back. Oh, you're such a nice old fellow!"

Nobody was near to see the impulsive way in which the boy threw his arms around the pony's neck and hugged him tight. The feeling of possession made him happy as a king, as he sat on the topmost bar braiding Washington's shaggy forelock, while the sun came up over the Camelback, and the morning chorus of bird-calls swelled louder and sweeter over the awakening world.

The fire under the boiler was crackling merrily, and the water was steaming, when Joyce came out of her tent and started toward the kitchen. She stopped a moment by the pasture-bars to reach through and give the pony a friendly stroke, for she was almost as proud and fond of him as Jack She had had several delightful rides on him; once with Jack for company, on Phil's new horse, and twice with Phil, when they had raced for miles down the sandy road, past olive orchards and orange groves, sweet with the coming of spring.

"I'm going to clip his mane to-morrow," said Jack, as he slipped down from his seat, and followed Joyce toward the kitchen. "He must look his best when Lloyd comes."

"We've done everything to that tune for a week," laughed Joyce. "'When Lloyd comes' has grown to be a sort of refrain, running through all our conversation. You notice now, at breakfast, and see how often it will be used."

Holland was the first to repeat the well-worn phrase, as he took his seat at the table, and waited hungrily for his plate to be served.

"When Lloyd comes you'll have some of those good little corn muffins for breakfast, won't you, Joyce? Kentucky people aren't used to cold bread."

Joyce smiled at Jack as the words they were waiting for were repeated, and then almost mechanically used them herself in her answer. "We'll have them once in awhile, I suppose, but we can't afford a very great change in our bill of fare. We'll have a mighty skimpy dinner to-day, for there's not much left over from Sunday, and we'll be too busy washing to stop to cook. But I want to have a big baking before Lloyd comes. If I go in to meet her Wednesday, in the ranch surrey, I'll have to do the extra cooking to-morrow afternoon, I suppose, after the ironing is out of the way."

Mary cast an inquiring glance at the red star on the calendar.

"Only to-day and to-morrow, then I can stay home the day after that when Lloyd comes, and wear my best white dress and my rosebud sash."

"Oh, that will be joyful," chanted Holland, imitating her tone.

"I wish that I were able to help you more with the work," said Mrs. Ware, wistfully. "Then you would have more time for preparation. Norman and I can manage the tent work, I think, this morning. Then I'll go down to the seat under the willows, and finish that Indian head sofa pillow. We must have that done before Lloyd comes."

"Seems to me that I can hardly wait," said Mary, giving an impatient little wiggle that nearly upset her glass of milk.

"I wish Betty were coming, too," said Joyce. "She would be making up stories from morning till night about the strange things out here; but she wouldn't have much peace. You children would never let her out of your sight"

"Like Davy did at the cuckoo's nest," said Mary, who knew Betty's history almost as well as her own, and loved dearly to talk about it. Betty's devotion to her godmother since she had gone to live at Locust, and her wonderful gift for writing verses and stories made her almost as interesting to Mary as the Little Colonel herself. As she moved about the house after breakfast, doing the little duties that fell to her lot before school-time, she chanted in a happy undertone all the play of the "Rescue of the Princess Winsome," from beginning to end.

Sir Feal, the faithful knight, had been associated in her mind with Phil, since the day he rescued her from her fright when she was running away from the Indian. She was the princess, and Phil the gallant knight, who, she dreamed in her romantic little heart, might some day send her messages by the morning-glories and forget-me-nots, as Sir Feal had done. Of course, not now, but some day when she was grown, and wore long, lovely dresses, and had a beautiful voice. She had pictured herself many a time, standing by a casement window with a dove clasped to her breast, and singing the song, "Flutter, and fly, flutter, and fly, bear him my heart of gold."

But now that the real princess was coming, she lost interest in her own little day-dreams, which were of such a far-away time and so vague and shadowy, and began dreaming them for Lloyd. She wondered what Phil would think of her when they first met. She had already recited the entire play to him, and showed him the miniature, and, as he studied the sweet face at the casement, bending over the dove, he had hummed after Mary in an absent-minded sort of way:

"Spin, spin, oh, golden thread, 
He dreams of me night and day. 
The poppy's chalice is sweet and red, 
Oh, Love will find a way."

She was still humming it this morning when she came out of the back door, ready to start to school, and her thoughts were full of the play.

"Joyce," she remarked, critically, pausing to watch her sister put more wood on the campfire and poke the clothes in the boiler with the end of an old broom-handle, "you look like the witch in the play

                            "'On the fire 
I'll pile my faggots higher and higher, 
And in the bubbling water stir 
This hank of hair, this patch of fur. 
Bubble and boil, and snake-skin coil! 
This charm shall all plans but the Ogre's foil."'

Joyce laughed, and Mary, slipping through the bars, followed Holland across lots to school. "I do feel like a witch in this old dress and sunbonnet," she said, "and I must look like one. But no one ever comes here in the mornings but Phil, and he has had his orders to stay away on Mondays."

"What is the use of worrying about how you look?" asked Jack. "Nobody expects a fellow to play Chinese laundryman with a high collar and kid gloves on."

Sousing the tubful of clothes into the rinse-water, Joyce went on vigorously with her morning's work. She and Jack relapsed into busy silence as the morning wore on, and when the clock struck eleven, neither had spoken for nearly an hour.

Suddenly a sound of wheels, coming rapidly along the road, and a child's high-pitched voice made them both stop and look up to listen. "Aren't we getting back-woodsy! "Joyce exclaimed, as Jack shook the suds from his arms, and ran to the corner of the kitchen to watch a buggy drive past. "So few people come out this desert road, that it is really an event to see any one. I suppose we ought not to be blamed for staring."

"It is Hazel Lee," said Jack. "I'm sure that's her voice. There must be some new boarders at the ranch, for there's a strange gentleman and a girl in the buggy with her, and she's standing up in front pointing out the country to them."

Joyce came and looked over his shoulder. "Yes, that's Hazel," she said. "She's the knowingest little thing I ever saw for a child of five. You couldn't lose her anywhere around this region, and she is as good as a guide-book, for giving information. Mr. Ellestad was laughing the other day about her disputing with the White Bachelor over the market price of chickens. She was in the right, too, and proved it. She hears everything, and never forgets anything she hears."

"She's saying something now to amuse those people mightily," said Jack, as a hearty laugh rang out above the rattle of wheels. Joyce transferred her gaze from the chubby, bare-headed child, leaning over the dashboard with eager gestures, to the two strangers behind her. Then she grasped Jack's elbow with a little cry of astonishment. "It's Lloyd!" she gasped. "Lloyd Sherman and her father, two days ahead of time. What shall we do? Everything is in a mess, and nothing in the house for dinner!"

That instant Hazel's bright eyes spied them, her plump little finger pointed them out, and Joyce had no more time to consider appearances; for, springing over the wheel, Lloyd came running toward her, calling in the soft Southern accent that was the sweetest music to Joyce's ears, "Oh, you deah, darling old thing! What made you move away out to the edge of nowhere? I thought we'd nevah, nevah get heah!"

In the delight of seeing her again, Joyce forgot all about things being topsy-turvy, and how little there was in the house for dinner. She even forgot to introduce Jack, who stood awkwardly waiting in the background, till Mr. Sherman, amused at the girls' absorption in each other, stepped out of the buggy and came forward, laughing.

"It looks as if the two jacks will have to introduce themselves,"he said, holding out his hand. Jack's awkwardness vanished instantly at this hearty greeting, and a moment later he was shaking hands with Lloyd as easily as Joyce was welcoming Lloyd's father, wholly indifferent to his outgrown overalls and rolled-up shirt-sleeves.

In the meantime, Hazel, who was a major-general in her small way for comprehending situations, had, of her own accord, raced off to find Mrs. Ware and bring her to welcome the unexpected guests.

"And you are Aunt Emily!" exclaimed Lloyd, turning with outstretched hands as the sweet-faced little woman came toward them. " Mothah said you wouldn't mind if I called you that, because you and she have always been such deah friends."

There were tears in Mrs. Ware's eyes as she returned the impulsive kiss. She had expected to be fond of Elizabeth's only daughter. She had hoped to find her pretty and sweet, but she had not looked for this winsomeness, which had been the Little Colonel's greatest charm since babyhood. With that greeting, Lloyd walked straight into her heart.

The surprise ended more satisfactorily than most surprises do, for, while Jack was unhitching the horse, and Mrs. Ware was talking over old times with Mr. Sherman, whom she had known in her school-days, some one went whizzing around the house on a bicycle.

"It's Jo, the Japanese chef from the ranch," said Joyce, springing up from the front door-step where she sat with Lloyd, and starting back to the kitchen to ask his errand.

"Oh, let me go, too," cried Lloyd, following. "I nevah saw a Jap close enough to speak to."

Lloyd could not understand the pigeon-English with which he delivered a basket he had brought, but it was evidently a funny proceeding to Jo. He handed it over as if it had been a joke, doubling up like a jack-knife as he pointed to the contents, and laughing so contagiously that Joyce and Lloyd could not help laughing, too.

"He not velly nice pie, maybe," giggled Jo. "But you eat him allee same. Mis' Lee say you not lookee for comp'nee. You not have nuzzing cook."

"Did Mrs. Lee tell you to bring the basket, Jo? " asked Joyce.

He shook his head. "Mis' Lee say take soup," pointing to the large glass jar of clearest consommé, smoking hot, which Joyce had just lifted from the basket. "I, me, bling along the pie, for my compliment. She no care. She kind, Clistian lady."

"She certainly is," laughed Joyce. "Now we can at least begin and end our dinner in style. That's a lovely pie, Jo; the prettiest I ever saw:"

The little almond eyes twinkled, as he watched her hold up the dainty pastry with its snowy meringue for Lloyd to admire.

"Aw, he not velly good pie," protested Jo, with a self-conscious smirk, knowing in his soul that it was the perfection of pastry, and eager to hear Joyce say so again. "I make-a heap much betta nex-a time."

Then, with another laugh, he whizzed away on his wheel, pausing under the pepper-trees to catch up Hazel, and take her hone on his handle-bars.

"Joyce," asked Lloyd, as she watched him disappear down the road, "did you uncawk a bottle, or rub Aladdin's lamp? I feel as if I had walked into the Arabian nights, to have a foreign-looking almond-eyed chef suddenly appear out of the desert with consommé and pie, like a genie out of a bottle."

"It doesn't happen every day," laughed Joyce. "I suppose that after you stopped at the ranch to inquire the way here, and picked up Hazel for a guide, that it occurred to Mrs. Lee that we were not looking for you until Wednesday, and that, as this is our wash-day, maybe we wouldn't have a very elaborate dinner prepared, and she thought she would help us out in a neighbourly way. Jo enjoyed coming. When we were at the ranch, he was always making delicious little extra dishes for mamma."

"Oh, I hope our coming soonah than you expected hasn't made a difference! " exclaimed Lloyd. "I nevah thought about yoah doing yoah own work. Mr. Robeson decided not to stop in New Mexico as long as he had planned, and, when I found that would put us heah two days soonah, I wouldn't let Papa Jack telegraph. I'm so sorry."

"Don't say another word about it," interrupted Joyce. "The only difference it makes is to you and your father. You've not been received in quite such good style as if we'd been dressed in our best bibs and tuckers, but maybe you'll feel more at home, dropping right down in the middle of things this way."

Lloyd felt as if she certainly had dropped down in the middle of things, into a most intimate knowledge of the Ware family's affairs. For, as Joyce circled around, setting the table, she saw that a pitcher of milk, bread and butter, and some cold boiled potatoes, sliced ready to fry, was all that the pantry held for dinner. If Joyce had spoken one word of apology, Lloyd would have felt exceedingly uncomfortable, but she only laughed as she put the consommé on the stove to keep hot, and set out the pie-plates on the sideboard.

"Lucky for you," she said, "that the genie came out of his bottle. We were spending all our energy in rushing through the laundry work, so that we could make grand preparations for to-morrow, but we couldn't have equalled Jo, no matter how hard we tried."

While Joyce, talking as fast as she worked, fried the potatoes and sliced the bread, Jack wrung out the last basketful of clothes and hung them on the line, and then disappeared in his mother's tent to make himself presentable for dinner. Lloyd had already had a peep into the tent that she was to share with Joyce, and had called her father to come and have a laugh with her over the green-eyed gods of the Dacotahs which were to guard her slumbers during her visit to the Wigwam. He was to leave that same night, and go on to the mines with Mr. Robeson and his party.

Her trunk was brought out from town soon after dinner, and, while she partly unpacked it, putting the things she would need oftenest into the bureau drawers that Joyce had emptied for her, Jack and Mr. Sherman drove away to look at the horses one of the neighbours kept to hire to tourists. They came back later with a shaggy Indian pony, which Lloyd at once mounted for a trial ride.

Joyce went with her on Washington as far as the White Bachelor's. Lloyd was not accustomed to a cross saddle, or to guiding a horse by the pressure of the bridle-reins against its neck, so they rode slowly at first. When they were almost opposite the camp at Lee's ranch, Joyce saw a familiar little figure trudging along the road, and wished with sisterly solicitude that they could avert a meeting. It was Mary on her way home from school, dusty and dishevelled, as usual at such times, one hair-ribbon lost, and the braid it had bound hanging loose and limp over her ear. Joyce was not near enough to see, but she felt sure that her shoelaces were dangling, that there was ink on her hands and maybe her face, and that at least one button, if not more, had burst loose from the back of her dress. She knew that the child would be overwhelmed with mortification if she should come face to face with the Princess Winsome in such a condition, when she had set her heart upon appearing before her in her white dress and rosebud sash.

Before Joyce could think of an excuse to turn back, Mary had settled the matter for herself. Hazel had stopped her at the gate to tell her of the unexpected arrival, so she was not wholly unprepared for this sudden meeting. Darting up the high bank of the irrigating ditch like a little gray lizard, she slid down on the other side into its dry bed and crouched there till they passed. There had been no water running for several days, but it would have made no difference to Mary. She would have plunged in just the same, even if it had been neck deep. She simply could not let the adored Little Colonel see her in such a plight.

Joyce almost laughed aloud at the frantic haste in which she scuttled out of sight, but seeing that Lloyd had been too absorbed in guiding her pony to notice it, she said nothing, and delayed their return until she was sure that Mary was safe in her tent. So it was that when Lloyd went back to the Wigwam one member of the Ware family was arrayed in all her glory according to the original programme. Mary stood out under the peppertrees, washed, combed, and clad, painfully conscious of her festive garments, which had had so few occasions to be donned on the desert, and in a quiver of eagerness. It was not only Lloyd Sherman who was coming toward her up the road. It was the Little Colonel, the Queen of Hearts, the Princess Winsome, the heroine of a hundred familiar tales, and the beautiful Dream-Maiden around whom she had woven all she knew or imagined of romance.

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