Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 9: Lloyd's Duck Hunt

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER IX.

LLOYD'S DUCK HUNT

MEANWHILE, Lloyd and Jack, riding along toward the river, were enjoying every moment of the sunny afternoon. Leaving the road at the White Bachelor's, they followed the trail across a strip of desert.

"Look out for gopher holes," called Jack. "If your horse should happen to stumble into one, you'll be over his head before you can say 'scat.' The little pests burrow everywhere."

As he spoke, his pony sprang to one side of the road with a suddenness that nearly threw him from the saddle.

"You old goose!" he exclaimed. "That was nothing but a stick you shied at. But it does look remarkably like a snake, doesn't it, Lloyd? That's the way with all these ponies. They're always on the watch for rattlers, and they'll shy at anything that looks the least bit like one."

"I didn't know that we'd find snakes out heah in this dry sand," said Lloyd, in surprise.

"Yes, you'll find almost anything if you know just where to look, --- a whole menagerie. There are owls and snakes living together in the same holes. Wait! It looks as if there might be a nest of them yonder. I'll stir it up and see."

Leaving the trail, he rode up between a clump of sage-brush and greasewood bushes, and threw his hat with all his force toward a hole beneath them. A great, sleepy owl fluttered out, and sailed off with a slow flapping of wings to the shelter of a stubby mesquit farther on.

"If we had time to dig into the nest, we'd find a snake in there," declared Jack, hanging down from his saddle, cowboy fashion, to pick up his hat from the ground as he rode along. He could feel that Lloyd admired the easy grace with which he did it, and that she was interested in the strange things he had to tell about the desert. He was glad that Phil was not along, for Phil, with his three years' advantage in age and six inches in height, had a way of monopolizing attention that made Jack appear very young and insignificant. He resented being made to feel like a little boy when he was almost a year older than Lloyd and several inches taller.

This was the first time he had been out alone with her, and the first time that he had had a chance to show her that he could be entertaining when he tried. Joyce and Mary and Phil had always had so much to say that he had kept in the background.

The sun on Lloyd's hair made it gleam like sunshine itself, tucked up under her jaunty little hunting-cap. The exercise was bringing a deeper colour to the delicate wild-rose pink of her cheeks, and, as her eyes smiled mischievously up at him whenever he told some tale that seemed almost too big to believe, he decided that she was quite the nicest girl he had ever known, except Joyce, and fully as agreeable to go hunting with as any boy.

In that short trip he pointed out more strange things than she could have seen in a whole afternoon in the streets of Paris or London. There were the wonderful tiny trap-doors leading down into the silk-lined tunnels of the cunning trapdoor spiders; the hairy tarantulas; the lizards; the burrows of the jack-rabbits; a trail made by the feet of coyotes on their way to the White Bachelor's poultry-yard.

Then he pointed out a great cactus, sixty feet high, branched like a candelabrum, and told her that the thorny trunk is like a great sealed cup, full of the purest water, and that more than one traveller has saved his life by boring into one of these desert wells when he was perishing of thirst.

He told her how the Navajo Indians hunt the prairie-dogs, sticking up a piece of mirror at the entrance to the mound, and lying in wait for the little creature to come out. When it meets its own reflection, and sees what it supposes to be a strange prairie-dog mocking it at its own front door, it hurries out to fight, and the Indian pins it to the ground with his arrow.

"Now, we'll have to go faster and make up for lost time," he exclaimed, as they left the desert and turned into a road leading to Tempe, a little town several miles away on Salt River. "There is an old ruin near this road, where the Indians had a fort of some kind, that I'd like to show you, but it's getting late, and we'd better hurry on to the river. Let's gallop."

Lloyd had enjoyed many a swift ride, but none that had been so exhilarating as this. The pure, fresh air blowing over the desert was unlike any she had ever breathed before, it seemed so much purer and more life-giving. It was a joy just to be alive on such a day and in such a place. She felt that she knew some of the delight a bird must feel winging its wild, free way through the trackless sky.

"I'd like to show you the town, too," Jack said, as they came to the ford in the river leading over to Tempe. "The Mexican quarter is so foreign-looking. But, as we're out to kill, we'll just keep on this side, and follow the river upstream a piece. Chris said that is where he saw the ducks."

"Oh, I'd be the proudest thing that evah walked," she exclaimed, "if I could only shoot one. A peacock couldn't hold a candle to me. It would be worth the trip to Arizona just to do that, if I nevah did anothah thing. How I could crow ovah Malcolm and Rob. Oh, Jack, you haven't any idea how much I want to!"

"You shall have first pop at them," Jack answered. "You don't stand as good a show with that little rifle as I do. You'll have to wait till you get up just as close as possible."

Compared to the broad Ohio, which Lloyd was accustomed to seeing, Salt River did not look much wider than a creek. She was in a quiver of excitement when they turned the bend, and suddenly came in sight of the beautiful water-fowl. The ponies, trained to stand perfectly still wherever they were left, came to a sudden halt as the two excited hunters sprang off, and crept stealthily along the bank.

"They'll see your white sweater," cautioned Jack. "Stoop down, and sneak in behind the bushes."

"Then I'd bettah wait heah," returned Lloyd, "and you go on. I don't believe I could hit a bahn doah now, I'm in such a shake. I must have the 'buck ague.' If I bang into them, I'll just frighten them all away, and you won't get a shot"

It was a temptation to Jack to do as she urged. This was the first sight he had had of a duck since he had owned a gun, and the glint of the iridescent feathers as the pretty creatures circled and dived in the water made him tingle with the hunters' thrill.

" No," he exclaimed, as she insisted. "I brought you out here to shoot a duck, and I don't want to take you back without one."

"Then I'll get down and wiggle along in the sand so they can't see me," said Lloyd, "just like 'Lawless Dick, the Halfbreed Huntah.' Isn't this fun!"

Crawling stealthily through the greasewood bushes, they crept inch by inch nearer the water, fairly holding their breath with excitement. Then Lloyd, rising to her knees, levelled her rifle to take aim. But her hands shook, and, lowering it, she turned to Jack, whispering, "I'm suah I'll miss, and spoil yoah chance. You shoot!"

"Aw, go on!" said Jack, roughly, forgetting, in his excitement, that he was not speaking to a boy. "Don't be a goose! You can hit one if you try!"

The commanding tone irritated Lloyd, but it seemed to steady her nerves, for, flashing an indignant glance at him, she raised her rifle again, and aimed it with deliberate coolness. Bang!

Jack, who knelt just beside her, prepared to fire the instant her shot should send a whir of wings into the air, gave a wild whoop, and dropped his gun.

"Hi!" he yelled. "You've hit it! See it floating over there! Wait a minute. I'll get it for you!"

Crashing through the bushes he ran back to where Washington stood waiting, and, swinging himself into the saddle, spurred him down the bank. But the pony, who had never balked before with him at any ford, seemed unwilling to go in.

"Hurry up, you old slow-poke!" called Jack. "Don't you see it's getting away?"

He succeeded in urging him into the middle of the river, where the water was almost up to the pony's body, but halfway across, the pony began to plunge, and turned abruptly about. Then his hind feet seemed to give way, and he went suddenly back on his haunches. At the same instant a gruff voice called from the bank, "Come out of that, you little fool! Don't you know there's quicksand there? Head your cayuse down the river! Quick! Spur him up! Do you want to drown yourself?"

With a desperate plunge and a flounder or two, the pony freed himself, and struggled back to safe ground, past the treacherous quicksand. As Jack reached the bank he saw the White Bachelor peering at him from the back of his white horse. He was evidently on the same mission, for he wore a hunting-coat, as brown and weather-beaten as his swarthy face, and carried an old gun on his shoulder.

"You'd have been sucked clean through to China, if you'd gone much farther over," he said, crossly. " That's one of the worst places in the river." Although his tone was savage, there was a pleasant gleam in his eyes as he added; "Too bad you've lost your duck."

"Haven't lost it yet," said Jack, with a glance toward the dark object floating rapidly down-stream. He kicked off his boots as he spoke.

"Oh, Jack, please don't go in after it!" begged Lloyd. "It isn't worth such a risk." The word quicksand had frightened her, for she had heard much of the dangerous spots in the rivers of this region.

"Bound to have it!" called Jack, "for you might not get another shot, and I'm bound not to take you back home without one."

Striking out into the water regardless of his sweater and heavy corduroy trousers, he paddled after it. By this time the entire flock was out of sight, and when Jack emerged from the river dripping like a water-dog, the man remarked, coolly: "Well, your hunt's up for this day, Buddy. Better skip home and hang yourself up to dry, or you'll be having pneumonia. Aren't you one of the kids that lives at that place where they've got Ware's Wigwam painted on the post, and all sorts of outlandish figgers on the tents?"

"Yes," acknowledged Jack, in a surly tone, resenting the name kid. Then, remembering the fate that the man's warning had saved him from, he added, gratefully: "It was lucky for me you yelled out quicksand just when you did, for I was so bent on getting that duck that I'd have kept on trying, no matter how the pony cut up. I thought he had taken a stubborn spell, and wanted to balk at the water. I'm a thousand times obliged. Here, Lloyd," he added. "Here's your trophy. We'll hang it on your saddle."

He held out the fowl, a beautifully marked drake, but she drew back with a little shrug of the shoulders.

"Oh, mercy, no!" she answered. "I wouldn't touch it for the world!"

"Haw! Haw!" roared the White Bachelor, who had watched her shrinking gesture with a grin. "Afraid of a dead duck!"

"I'm not! " she declared, turning on him, indignantly. "I'm not afraid of anything! But I just can't beah to touch dead things, especially with fu'h or feathahs on them. Ugh! It neahly makes me sick to think about it!"

"Well, if that don't beat the Dutch," said the man, in an amused tone, after a long stare. She seemed to be a strange species of womankind, with which he was unacquainted. Then, after another prolonged stare, he swung his heels against the sides of his old white horse as a signal to move, and ambled slowly off, talking to himself as he went.

"Meddlesome old thing!" muttered Lloyd, casting an indignant glance after him. "It's none of his business. I don't see what he wanted to poke in for."

"It was lucky for me that he did," answered Jack. "I never once thought of quicksand. Queer that I didn't, too, when I've heard so much about it ever since I came. It's all through Southern Arizona, and more than one man has lost his life blundering into it."

Lloyd grew serious as she realized the danger he had escaped. "It was mighty brave of you to go back into the rivah aftah you came so neah being drowned, and just fo' my pleasuah --- just because you knew I wanted that duck. I'll remembah it always of you, Jack."

"Oh, that's nothing," he answered, carelessly, blushing to the roots of his wet hair. "When I once start out to get a thing, I hate to be beaten. I'd have swam all the way to Jericho rather than let it get away. But I hope you won't always think of me as sloshing around in the water, though I suppose you can't help that, for you know the first time you saw me I was over my elbows in a washtub."

"That's so," laughed Lloyd. "But you weren't quite as wet then as you are now. It's a pity you can't wring yourself as dry as you did those towels."

While Jack was tugging into his boots, she went back to the bushes for the gun he had dropped. Then she stood drawing out the loads while he tied the duck to his saddle.

"Pooh thing," said Lloyd. "It looked so beautiful swimming around in the watah a few minutes ago. Now it's mate will be so lonesome. Papa Jack says wild ducks nevah mate again. Of co'se," she went on, slowly, " I'm proud to think that I hit it, but that it's dead and I took it's life, I feel like a murdahah. Jack, I'm nevah going to kill anothah one as long as I live."

"But it isn't as if you'd done it just for sport," protested Jack. "They were meant for food. Wait till Joyce serves it for dinner, and you'll change your mind."

"No," she said, resolutely, " I'll keep my rifle for rattlesnakes and coyotes, in case I see any, and for tah'get practice, but I'm not going to do any moah killing of this kind. I'm glad that I got this one, though," she added, as she swung herself into the saddle. "I'll send grandfathah a feathah, and one to Mom Beck. They'll both be so proud. And I'll send one to Malcolm and one to Rob, and they'll both be so envious, to think that I got ahead of them."

"May I have one?" asked Jack, "just to keep to remember my first duck hunt?"

"Yes, of co'se!" cried Lloyd. "I wouldn't have had any myself, if it hadn't been for you. You have given me one of the greatest pleasuahs I evah had. This has been a lovely aftahnoon.''

"Then I can count that quite a 'feather in my cap,' can't I," said Jack, laughingly. Reaching down, he selected the prettiest feather he could find, and thrust the long quill through his hatband. Lloyd glanced quickly at him. She would have expected such a complimentary speech from Malcolm or Phil, but coming from the quiet, matter-of-fact Jack, such a graceful bit of gallantry was a surprise.

"You can save the down for a sofa-cushion, you know," he added. "Even if you have sworn off shooting any more yourself, you can levy on all that Phil and I get, to finish it."

"Oh, thank you," she called back over her shoulder. Her pony, finding that he was turned homeward, was setting off at his best gait. Slapping his hat firmly on his head, Jack hurried to overtake her, and the two raced along neck to neck.

"This is how they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix," he called. "I recited it once at school!

"' Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace,---
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place."'

"Isn't it glorious? " called back Lloyd. Her cheeks dimpled with pleasure, and were growing red as a sun-ripened peach from the exercise. Her hat-pin began slipping out. Snatching at the little cap, she caught it just in time to save it from sailing off into the desert but her hair came slipping down over her shoulder to her waist, in soft, shining waves. Jack thought that be had never seen anything prettier than the little golden ripples in it, as it floated back behind her in the sunshine.

"You look like Goldilocks when the three bears chased her," he laughed. "Don't try to put it up again. That's squaw fashion. You ought to wear it that way all the time you're out here, if you want to be in style."

Across the road from the Wigwam, Mary and Norman were waiting for the return of the hunters. They had rolled a barrel from the back yard over to the edge of the desert, where they could watch the road, and, turning it on its side, had laid a plank across it, left from flooring the tents. On this they were seesawing up and down, taking turns at occupying the end which faced in the direction Jack and Lloyd would come. Mary happened to have the coveted seat when they came in sight.

"Gay go up, and gay go down," she chanted, as the seesaw rose and fell with delightful springiness. "All the way to London town." Norman was high in the air when she began again, "Gay go up," but it was anything but gay go down for Norman. With an unexpectedness that he was wholly unprepared for, Mary's chant ended with a whoop of "Here they come!" She sprang off, and ran to meet them, regardless of the other end of the plank. It fell with such a thud that Norman felt that his spinal column must certainly have become unjointed in the jolt, and his little white teeth shut down violently on his little red tongue.

His cries and Mary's shout of "Here they come" brought Joyce to the door. Mr. Ellestad was just leaving. She had prevailed upon him to read the legend to her mother, and then he had stayed on till sundown, discussing the different things that a girl might do on the desert to earn money. The story of Shapur had inspired her with a hope that made all things possible. She was glad that Lloyd's triumph gave her an outlet for her enthusiasm.

As soon as Mr. Ellestad left, she hustled Jack off to his mother's tent to change his wet clothes, and then started to build the fire for supper. "It's a pity that it's too dark for me to take a snap shot of you with that duck," she said. "But the first one that Jack or Phil kills we'll have a picture of it. It will do just as well. Then if I were you I'd make some little blotting-pads of white blotting-paper, put a blue-print on the top sheet, of you and your rifle and the duck, and at the top fasten one of the feathers made into a pen. You can split the end of the quill, you know, just as they used to make the old-fashioned goose-quill pens."

"So I can!" cried Lloyd. "I'm so glad you thought of it. Oh, Joyce, I've had the best time this aftahnoon! I had no idea the desert could be so interesting!"

"Nor I, either," began Joyce. "I'll tell you about it some other time," she added, as Holland burst in, demanding to see the duck that Lloyd had killed. Mary had run down the road to meet him with the news, but he stoutly declined to believe that a girl could have accomplished such a feat, until he had the proof of it in his hands. Then to Lloyd's delight he claimed the honour of picking it. She felt that she would rather throw it away than go through the ordeal herself, yet she could not impose such a task on any one else at such a late hour on a busy Saturday.

"Oh, if you only will," she cried, "I'll let you use my rifle all next Saturday. I didn't see how I could possibly touch it! That down is so thick undah the long outside feathahs, that it would be as bad as picking a --- a cat!"

Holland ripped out a handful with a look of fine scorn. "Well, if you aren't the funniest!" he exclaimed. "Girls are awful finicky," he confided to Mary later. "I'm glad that I'm not one."

Chapter 8   Chapter 10 >