Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 11: New Boarder At Lee's Ranch

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER XI.

THE NEW BOARDER AT LEE'S RANCH

MARY could hardly wait to tell the news to Phil and Mrs. Lee. She ran nearly all the way from the Wigwam to the ranch, her hat in her hand, and the lid of her lunch-basket flapping.

Long before she came within calling distance, she saw Phil mount his horse out by the pasture bars, and ride slowly along the driveway which led past the tents to the public road. With the hope of intercepting him, she dashed on still more wildly, but her shoe-strings tripped her, and she was obliged to stop to tie them. Glancing up as she jerked them into hard knots, she breathed a sigh of relief, for he had drawn rein to speak to Mr. Ellestad and the new boarder, who were sitting in the sun near the bamboo-arbour. Then, just as he was about to start on again, Mrs. Lee came singing out to the tents with an armful of clean towels, and he called to her some question, which brought her, laughing, to join the group.

Thankful for these two delays, Mary went dashing on toward them so breathlessly that Phil gave a whistle of surprise as she turned in at the ranch.

"What's the matter, Mary?" be called. "Indians after you again?"

"No," she panted, throwing herself down on the dry Bermuda grass, and wiping her flushed face on her sleeve. "I'm on my way to school. I just stopped by with a message, and I thought you'd like to hear the news."

"Well, that depends," began Phil, teasingly. " We hear so little out on this lonely desert, that our systems may not be able to stand the shock of anything exciting. If it's good news, maybe we can bear it, if you break it to us gently. If it's bad, you'd better not run any risks. 'Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise,' you know."

"Oh, come now, Tremont, that's too bad," laughed Mr. Ellestad. "Don't head her off that way when she's in such a hurry to tell it."

"Then go on, Mary," said Phil, gravely. "Mr. Ellestad's curiosity is greater than his caution, and Mr. Armond hasn't been in the desert long enough to be affected by its dearth of news, so anything sudden can't hurt him. Go on:

Mary stole a glance at the new boarder. The long, slender fingers, smoothing his closely clipped, pointed beard, hid the half-smile that lurked around his mouth. He was leaning back in his camp-chair, apparently so little interested in his surroundings, that Mary felt that his presence need not be taken into account any more than the bamboo-arbour's.

"Well," she said, as if announcing something of national importance, "Joyce has an order."

"An order," repeated Phil, "what under the canopy is that? Is it catching?"

"Don't pay any attention to him, Mary," Mr. Ellestad hastened to say, seeing a little distressed pucker between her eyes. " Phil is a trifle slow to understand, but he wants to hear just as much as we do."

"Well, it's an order to paint some cards," explained Mary, speaking very slowly and distinctly in her effort to make the matter clear to him. "You know the Links, back in Plainsville, Mrs. Lee. You've heard me talk about Grace Link ever so many times. Her cousin Cecelia is to be married soon, and her bridesmaids are all to be girls that she studied music with at the Boston Conservatory. So her Aunt Sue, that's Mrs. Link, is going to give her a bridal musicale. It's to be the finest entertainment that ever was in Plainsville, and they want Joyce to decorate the souvenir programmes. Once she painted some place cards for a Valentine dinner that Mrs. Link gave. She did that for nothing, but Mrs. Link has sent her ten dollars in advance for making only thirty programmes. That's thirty cents apiece.

"They're to have Cupids and garlands of roses and strings of hearts on 'em, no two alike, and bars of music from the wedding-marches and bridal chorus. Joyce is the happiest thing! She's nearly wild over it, she's so pleased. She's going to buy a hive of bees with the money."

Phil groaned, but Mary paid no attention to the interruption.

"The letter and the package of blank cards for the programmes came this morning while she was sweeping, and she just left the dirt and the broom right in the middle of the floor, and sat down on the door-step and began sketching little designs on the back of the envelope, as they popped into her head. Lloyd and Jack and mamma are going to do all the cooking and housework and everything, so Joyce can spend all her time on the cards. They want them right away. Isn't that splendid?"

"Whoop-la!" exclaimed Phil, as Mary stopped, out of breath. "Fortune has at last changed in your favour. I'll ride straight up to the Wigwam to congratulate her."

"Oh, I almost forgot what I stopped by for," exclaimed Mary. "Lloyd told me to tell you that you needn't come to-day to take her riding, for she'll be too busy helping Joyce to go."

Phil scowled. "The turn in my fortune isn't so favourable, it seems. Well, if I'm not wanted at the Wigwam, I'll go to town to-day. There's always something doing in Phoenix. Climb up behind me, Mary, and I'll give you a lift as far as the schoolhouse."

As they galloped gaily down the road, Mrs. Lee looked after them with a troubled expression in her eyes. "There's too much doing in Phoenix for a nice boy like that," she thought. "I wish he wouldn't go so often. I must tell him the experience some of my other boys have had when they went in with idle hands and full purses like his."

Her boarders were always her boys to Mrs. Lee, and she watched over them with motherly interest, not only nursing them in illness and cheering them in homesickness, but many a time whispering a warning against the temptations which beset all exiles from home who have nothing to do but kill time. Now with the hope of interesting the new boarder in something beside himself, she dropped down into the rustic seat near him, hanging the towels over the arm of it while she talked.

"You must make the acquaintance of the Wares, Mr. Armond," she began. "They stayed at the ranch three weeks, and this little Mary and her brothers kept things humming, the whole time."

"They'd give me nervous prostration in half a day, if they're all like that little chatterbox," he answered, listlessly.

"Not Joyce," interrupted Mr. Ellestad. "She's the most interesting child of her age I ever knew, and being an artist yourself you couldn't fail to be interested in her unbounded ambition. She really has talent, I think. For a girl of fifteen her clever little water-colours and her pen-and-ink work show unusual promise."

"Then I'm sorry for her," said Mr. Armond. "If she has ambition and thinks she has talent, life will be twice as hard for her, always a struggle, always an unsatisfied groping after something she can never reach."

"But I believe that she will reach what she wants, some day," was the reply. "She has youth and health and unbounded hope. The other day I quoted an old Norwegian proverb, 'He waits not long who waits for a feast.'  She wrote it on the kitchen door, saying, 'I'll have to wait till I can earn enough money to buy one hive of bees, and then I'll wait for that hive to swarm and make another, and for the two to grow into a hundred, and that into two hundred maybe, before I'll have enough to go away and study. It'll be years and years before I reach the mark I've set for myself, but when I'm really an artist, doing the things I've dreamed of doing, that will be a feast worth any amount of waiting.' Now in less than a week she has found her way to the first step, the first hive of bees, and I'm truly glad for her."

"But the happier such beginnings, the more tragic the end, oftentimes,"  Mr. Armond answered. "I've known such cases, --- scores of them, when I was an art student myself in Paris. Girls and young fellows who thought they were budding geniuses. Who left home and country and everything else for art's sake. They lived in garrets, and slaved and struggled and starved on for years, only to find in the end that they were not geniuses, only to face failure. I never encourage beginners any more. For what is more cruel than to say to some hungry soul, 'Go on, wait, you'll reach the feast, your longing shall be satisfied,'  when you know full well that in only one case in ten thousand, perhaps, can there be a feast for one of them. That when they stretch out their hands for bread there will be only a stone."

"But you reached it yourself, Armond, you know you did," answered Mr. Ellestad, who had known the new boarder well in his younger days. "To have had pictures hung in the Salon and Academy, to be recognized as a success in both hemispheres, isn't that enough of a feast to satisfy most men?"

The face turned to him in reply wore the look of one who has fought the bitterest of fights and fallen vanquished.

"No. To have a sweet snatched away just as it is placed to one's lips is worse than never to have tasted it. What good does it do me now?  Look at me, a hopeless invalid, doomed to a year or two of unendurable idleness. How much easier it would be for me now to fold my hands and wait, if I had no baffled ambitions to torment me hourly, no higher desires in life than Chris there."

He pointed to the swarthy Mexican, digging a ditch across the alfalfa pasture. "No," he repeated. "I'd never encourage any one, now, to start on such an unsatisfactory quest"

"I'm sorry," said Mr. Ellestad. "When I heard that you were coming, I hoped that you would take an interest in Joyce Ware. You could be the greatest inspiration and help to her, if you only would."

"There she is now," exclaimed Mrs. Lee, who sat facing the road. "It does me good to see any one swing along as she does, with so much energy and purpose in every movement."

Mr. Armond turned his head slightly for a view of the girlish figure moving rapidly toward them.

"Don't tell her that I am an artist, Ellestad,"  he said, hurriedly, as she drew near, "or that I've ever lived in the Latin Quarter or --- or anything like that. I know how schoolgirls gush over such things, and I'm in no mood for callow enthusiasms."

Joyce's errand was to borrow some music, the wedding-marches, if Mrs. Lee had them, from Lohengrin and Tannhauser. She remembered seeing several old music-books on the organ in the adobe parlour, and she thought maybe the selections she wanted might be in them.

Mr. Armond sat listening to the conversation with as little interest, apparently, as he had done to Mary's. After acknowledging his introduction to Joyce by a grave bow, he leaned back in his chair, and seemed to withdraw himself from notice.

At first glance Joyce had been a trifle embarrassed by the presence of this distinguished-looking stranger. Something about him --- the cut of the short, pointed beard, the nervous movement of his long, sensitive fingers, the eyes that seemed to see so much and so deeply in their brief glances, recalled some memory, vague and disturbing. She tried to remember where it was she had seen some man who looked like this one.

"Is it very necessary that you should have the wedding-marches?" asked Mrs. Lee, coming back from a fruitless search in the parlour. "Wouldn't a few bars from any other music do just as well? So long as you have some notes, I should think any other march would carry out the idea just as well."

"No," said Joyce. "All the guests will be musicians. They'd see at a glance if it wasn't appropriate, and ordinary music would not mean anything in such a place."

"I know where you can get what you want," said Mrs. Lee, "but you'd have to go to Phoenix for it. I have a friend there who is a music-teacher and an organist. I'll give you a note to her, if you care enough to go six miles."

"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Lee," cried Joyce. "I'll be glad to take it, if it isn't too much trouble for you to write it. I'd go twenty miles rather than not have the right notes on the programmes."

Mr. Armond darted a quick glance at her through half-closed eyelids. Evidently she was more in earnest than he had supposed.

As Mrs. Lee went to the house to write the note, Mr. Ellestad said, smilingly, "Mary told us that this piece of good fortune will bring you your first hive of bees, give you your first step toward the City of your Desire. It seems appropriate that this bridal musicale should give you your hives. Did you ever hear that the bow of the Hindu love-god is supposed to be strung with wild bees?"

"No," she answered, slowly, "but it's a pretty idea, isn't it?" Then her face lighted up so brightly that Mr. Armond looked at her with awakening interest.

"Oh, I'm so glad you told me that! It suggests such a pretty design. See! I can make one card like this."  Taking a pencil from her hair, where she had thrust it when she started on her errand, and catching up the old music-book Mrs. Lee had brought out, she began sketching rapidly on a fly-leaf.

"I'll have a little Cupid in this comer, his bow strong with tiny bees, shooting across this staff of music, suspended from two hearts. And instead of notes I'll make bees, flying up and down between the lines. Won't that be fine?"

Mr. Armond nodded favourably when the sketch was passed to him. "Very good," he said, looking at it critically. Slipping a pencil from his pocket, he held it an instant over the little fat Cupid, as if to make some correction or suggestion, but apparently changing his mind, he passed the sketch back to Joyce without a word.

Again she was baffled by that vague half-memory. The gesture with which he had taken the pencil from his pocket and replaced it seemed familiar. The critical turn of his head, as he looked at the sketch, was certainly like some one's she knew. She liked him in spite of his indifference. Something in his refined, melancholy face made her feel sorry for him; sorrier than she had been for any of the other people at the ranch. He looked white and ill, and the spells of coughing that seized him now and then seemed to leave him exhausted.

When Mrs. Lee came out with the note, Joyce rose to go. She had learned in the short conversation with Mr. Ellestad that this stranger was an old acquaintance of his, so she said, hospitably, "We are your nearest neighbours, Mr. Armond. I know from experience how monotonous the desert is till one gets used to it. Whenever you feel in need of a change we'll be glad to see you at the Wigwam. It's always lively there, now."

He thanked her gravely, and Mr. Ellestad added, with a laugh, "He is just at the point now where Shapur was when the caravan went on without him. He doesn't think that these arid sands can hold anything worth while."

"Oh, I know!" exclaimed Joyce, with an understanding note in her voice. "It's dreadful until you follow the bee, and find your Omar. You must tell him about it, Mr. Ellestad."

Then she hurried away. Half an hour later she galloped by on the pony, toward Phoenix. Lloyd was riding beside her. As they passed the ranch she waved a greeting with the note which Mrs. Lee had given her.

"What do you think of her work?" asked Mr. Ellestad of his friend.

"One couldn't judge from a crude outline like that," was the answer. "She's so young that it is bound to be amateurish. Still she certainly shows originality, and she has a capacity for hard work. Her willingness to go all the way to Phoenix for a few bars of music shows that she has the right stuff in her. But I wouldn't encourage her if I were in your place."

When Mr. Ellestad called at the Wigwam that afternoon, he found Joyce hard at work. A row of finished programmes was already stretched out on the table before her. Through the door that opened into the kitchen, he could see Lloyd at the ironing-board. Her face was flushed, and there was an anxious little frown between her eyes, because the wrinkles wouldn't come out of the sheets, and the hot irons had scorched two towels in succession. But she rubbed away with dogged persistence, determined to finish all that was left in the basket, despite Joyce's pleading that she should stop.

"Those things can wait till the last of the week just as well as not," she insisted. But Lloyd was unyielding.

"No, suh," she declared. "I nevah had a chance to i'on even a pocket-handkerchief befoah, and I'm bound I'll do it, now I've begun."

There was a blister on one pink little palm, and a long red burn on the back of her hand, but she kept cheerfully on until the basket was empty.

"Tell me about Mr. Armond," said Joyce, as she worked. "He reminds me of some one I've seen.  I've been trying all afternoon to think. You've known him a long time, haven't you?"

"Yes, I met him abroad when he was a mere boy," answered Mr. Ellestad, wishing that he had not been asked to say nothing about his friend's career as an artist. The tale of his experiences and successes would have been of absorbing interest to Joyce.

Armond doesn't like to have his past discussed," he said, after a pause. "He made a brilliant success of it until his health failed several years ago. Since then he has grown so morose that he is not like the same creature. He has lost faith in everything. I tell him that if he would rouse himself to take some interest in people and things about him, --- if he'd even read, and get his mind off of himself, then he'd quit cursing the day he was born, and pick up a little appetite. Then he would live longer. If he were at some sanitarium they'd make him eat; but here he won't go to the table half the time. Jo fixes up all sorts of tempting extras for him, but he just looks at them, and shoves them aside without tasting. The only thing I have heard him express a wish for since he has been at the ranch is quail."

"Oh, we're going to have some for supper to-night," cried Joyce. "Jack shot seven yesterday. He gets some nearly every day. I'll send Mr. Armond one it you think he'd like it. That is, if they turn out all right. My cooking isn't always a success, especially when my mind is on something like this work."

Everybody in the family helped to get supper that night, even Norman, so that Joyce might work on undisturbed till the last moment. The only part that she took in the preparations was to superintend the cooking of the quail, and to call out directions to the others, as she painted garlands of roses and sprays of orange-blossoms on one programme after another.

"Spread one of the white fringed napkins out in the little brown covered basket, Mary, please, and put in a knife and fork. And Lloyd, I wish you'd set a saucer on the stove hearth where it'll get almost red-hot. Jack, if you'll have the pony ready at the door I'll fly down to Mr. Armond with a quail the minute they are done, so that he'll get it piping hot. No, I'll take it myself, thank you. You boys are as hungry as bears, and I've painted so hard all afternoon that I haven't a bit of appetite. I'll feel more like eating if I have the ride first."

The ranch supper-bell was ringing as she started down the road on a gallop, holding the basket carefully in one hand, and guiding the pony with the other. Everybody had gone in to the dining-room but Mr. Armond. Wrapped in a steamer-rug and overcoat, he sat just outside the door of his tent, his hat pulled down over his eyes. Turning from the driveway she rode directly across the lawn toward him. She was bareheaded, and her face was glowing, not only from the rapid ride, but the kindly impulse that prompted her coming.

He looked up in astonishment as she leaned over to offer him the little basket.

"I've brought you a quail, Mr. Armond," she said, breathlessly. "You must eat it quick, while it's blazing hot, and eat it every bit but the bones, for it was cooked on purpose for you. It'll do you good."

Without an instant's pause she started off again, but he called her. "Wait a moment, child. I haven't thanked you. Ellestad said you were working at your programmes like a Trojan, and wouldn't stop long enough to draw a full breath. You surely haven't finished them."

"No, it will take nearly two days longer," she said, gathering up the reins again.

"And you stopped in the middle of it to do this for me!" he exclaimed. "I certainly appreciate your taking so much time and trouble for me --- an entire stranger."

"Oh, no! You're not a stranger," she protested. "You're Mr. Ellestad's friend."

"Then may I ask one more favour at your hands? I'd like to see your programmes when they're finished, --- before you send them away. There is so little to interest one out here," he continued, apologetically, "that if you don't mind humouring an invalid's whims ---"

"Oh, I'd be glad to," cried Joyce, flushing. "I'll bring them down just as soon as they're done. That is," she added, with a mischievous smile dimpling her face, which made her seem even younger than she was, "if you'll be good, and eat every bit of the quail."

"I'll promise," he replied, an answering smile lighting his face for an instant. An easy promise to keep, he thought, as he lifted the lid, and took out the hot covered dish. The quail on the delicately browned toast was the most tempting thing he had seen in weeks.

"What a kind little soul she is," he said to himself, as he tasted the first appetizing morsel, "fairly brimming over with consideration for other people.  As Ellestad says, I could do a lot for her, if it seemed the right thing to encourage her."

Whether it was the quail, which he ate slowly, enjoying it to the last mouthful, or whether it was the remembrance of a pair of honest, friendly eyes, beaming down on him with neighbourly good-will and sympathy, he could not tell, but as he went into his tent afterward and lighted the lamp, somehow the desert seemed a little less lonely, the outlook a trifle less hopeless.

Chapter 10   Chapter 12 >