Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 13: A Change Of Fortune

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER XIII.

A CHANGE OF FORTUNE

IT was nearly two o'clock next day when the thirtieth programme was finished and placed in the last row of dainty cards, laid out for the family's farewell inspection. While Lloyd cut the squares of tissue-paper which were to lie between them, Joyce brought the box in which they were to be packed and the white ribbons to tie them.

Jack, having saddled Washington, was blacking his shoes and making other preparations for his ride to town. A special trip had to be made, in order to get the package to the Phoenix post-office in time.

"They might wait until morning, I suppose," said Joyce, as she began placing them carefully in piles of ten. "But it is best to allow all the time possible for delays. Then the programmes have to be written on them after they get to Plainsville. Oh, I hope Mrs. Link will like them!"

"I don't see how she can help it!" exclaimed Lloyd. "They're lovely, and I think you'd be so proud of them you wouldn't know what to do."

"I am pleased with them," admitted Joyce, stopping to take one last peep at the pretty rose-garlanded Cupids ringing the bride-bells, which Phil had suggested. It was the best design in the lot, she thought.

"Oh, I forgot!" she exclaimed, suddenly, looking up in dismay. " What shall I do? I promised Mr. Armond that I'd let him see these cards before I sent them away."

"You won't have time now," suggested Lloyd.

"I suppose Jack could wait a few minutes, but I thought we'd start over to Shaw's ranch just as soon as the cards were off. I didn't want to lose a minute in getting my hive of bees, after I'd earned them. It's such a long walk over there and back, that I don't feel like going to the ranch first"

"Let Jack stop and show them to Mr. Armond'' suggested her mother. "He's always so careful that he can be trusted to tie the box up safely afterward."

"Oh, he's safe enough," answered Joyce, "but he'd make such a mess of it, tying and untying the white ribbons on the inside of the package. He can't make a decent bow to save his life. He'd have them all in knots and strings, and after all the care I've taken I want Mrs. Link to find them just as they leave me."

For a moment Joyce stood undecided, regretting her promise to Mr. Armond, and sorely tempted to break it.

"He won't really care," she thought, but his own words came back to her plaintively: "There is so little to interest one here, --- if you don't mind humouring an invalid's whims."

She couldn't forget the hopeless melancholy of his face, and what Mr. Ellestad had said to her about him: "He's just where Shapur was when the caravan went on without him." And she remembered that in the story Shapur had cursed the day he was born, and laid his head in the dust.

"I'll go," she exclaimed. "Jack can follow as soon as he is ready, and I'll hand the package to him as he passes. I'll be back as soon as I can, Lloyd, and then we'll start right over to Mr. Shaw's. You explain to Jack, please, mamma, and give him the money to pay the postage."

Stopping only long enough to write the address on the wrapper, she hurried down the road, bare-headed, toward the ranch. Lloyd sat down on the front door-step to wait for her return. Opening a book, in which she had become interested, she was soon so deep in the story that she scarcely noticed when Jack rode away, a quarter of an hour later, glancing up for just an instant as she waved her hand mechanically in answer to his call.

The kitchen clock struck half-past two, then three. With the last stroke came a vague consciousness that it was growing late, and that Joyce was long in coming, but the absorbing interest of the story made her immediately forgetful again of her surroundings.

It was nearly four when Mrs. Ware, coming out beside her on the step, stood shading her eyes with her hand to peer down the road.

"I can't imagine what keeps Joyce so long," she said, anxiously. "It will soon be too late for you to go to the Shaws."

But even as she spoke, Joyce came in sight, running as Lloyd had never seen her run before. She had left the dusty road, and was bobbing along on the edge of the desert, where the hard, dry sand, baked into a crust, made travelling easier.

"Oh, you'll never, never guess what kept me!" she called, as she hurried up to the door, eager and breathless. Seizing her mother around the waist, she gave her a great squeeze.

"Oh, I'm so happy! So happy and excited that I don't know whether I'm on my head or my heels. I feel like a cyclone caught in a jubilee, or a jubilee caught in a cyclone, I don't know which. There never was such glorious good fortune in the world for anybody!"

"Do stop yoah prancing and dancing and tell us," demanded Lloyd, "or we'll think that you've lost yoah mind."

Joyce sank down beside her on the door-step. Her face was shining with a great gladness, and she could hardly find breath to begin.

"Oh, there aren't words good enough to tell it in!" she gasped.

"Mr. Armond is an artist, mother, a really great one, who has had pictures hung in the Salon and the Academy. Mr. Ellestad walked part of the way home with me, and told me about him. He studied for years in Paris, and lived in the Latin Quarter, and had a studio there, just like Cousin Kate's friend, Mr. Harvey. And that's the man Mr. Armond looks like," she added, triumphantly. "I've been trying to think ever since I first met him, who I had seen before with a short Vandyke beard like his, and long, alive-looking fingers, that seem to have brains of their own."

"And that's what makes you so glad," laughed Lloyd, " to think you've discovered the resemblance? Do get to the point. I'm wild to know."

"Well, he liked my work, thought it showed originality and promise, and, if mamma is willing, he wants to give me lessons. Think of that, Lloyd Sherman, --- lessons from an artist, a really great artist like that! Why, it would mean more for me than years of class instruction in the Art League, or anywhere else. He seemed pleased when I told him that I wanted to do illustrating, because he said that that was something practical, and work that would find a ready market. He told me so many interesting things about famous illustrators that he has known, that I have come away all on fire to begin. My fingers fairly, tingle. Oh, mamma!" she cried, two great happy tears welling up into her eyes. "Isn't it splendid? The story of Shapur is true! For me the desert holds a greater opportunity than kings' houses could offer!"

"But the price, my dear little girl --- "

"And that's the best of it," interrupted Joyce. "He asked to be allowed to do it for nothing. Time hangs so heavily on his hands that he said it would be a charity to give him something to do, and Mr. Ellestad told me afterward, as we walked home, that I ought to let him, because it's the first thing that he has taken any interest in for months; that with something to occupy his mind and make him contented, he would get better much faster.

"When I tried to thank him, and told him that he had showed me a better way to the City of my Desire than the one I had planned for myself, he said, with the brightest kind of a smile,  'I expect to get far more out of this arrangement than you, my little girl. You are the alchemist whose courage and hope shall help me distil some drop of Contentment out of this dreary existence.'

"He is going to drive up here to-morrow, to ask you about it, and to see the work I have already done. I'm glad now that I saved all those charcoal sketches of block hands and ears and things. And I'm going to get out all those still life studies I did with Miss Brown, and pin them up on the wall, so he'll know just how far I've gone, and where to start in with me."

"Get them out now," said Lloyd. "You never did show them to me."

There was some very creditable work hidden away in the old portfolio, and, while they talked and looked and arranged the studies on the wall, time slipped by unnoticed.

"Aren't you mighty proud, Aunt Emily?" asked Lloyd, stepping back for a final view, when the exhibit was duly arranged.

"Proud and glad," answered Mrs. Ware, with a happy light in her eyes. "It was always my dream to be an artist myself, and now to see my unfulfilled ambitions realized in Joyce more than compensates for all my disappointments."

"Phil's coming," called Norman, from the yard.

"And we haven't started for the bees!" exclaimed Joyce. "It's so late, we'll have to put it off until to-morrow."

But all plans for the morrow were laid aside when Phil told his errand. He would not dismount, but paused just a moment to invite them to the promised picnic at Hole-in-the-rock.

"Everybody on the ranch is going," he explained. "Even Jo, to make the coffee and unpack the lunch. There'll be a carriage here for you, Aunt Emily, at three o'clock, and you must let Mary and Holland stay home from school to go. No, don't bother to take any picnic baskets," he interrupted, hastily, as Mrs. Ware started to say something about lunch. 'This is my affair. Jo is equal to anything, even cherry tarts and custard pies, and I must make the atonement I promised to Lloyd, for spilling hers."

Waiting only long enough to hear their pleased acceptance, he dashed off down the road again. Ever since her arrival in Arizona Lloyd had wanted to see the famous hole in the rock. It lay several miles across the desert, in a great red butte. There was a picture of it in the ranch parlour, and nearly every tourist who passed through Phoenix made a pilgrimage to the spot, and took snap shots of this curious freak of nature.

Climbing up the butte toward it, one seemed to be going into a mighty cave, but when he had passed up into the opening, and down over a ledge of rock, he saw that the cave led straight through the butte, like an enormous tunnel, and at the farther end opened out on the other side of the mountain, giving a wide outlook over the surrounding desert. It was a favourite spot for picnic parties, but of all ever gathered there, none had had so many preparations made for the comfort of the guests. Phil rode over several times; once to be sure that the wood he had ordered for the camp-fire had been delivered, and again to take a load of canvas chairs, rubber blankets, rugs, and cushions, so that even the invalids on the ranch could enjoy the outing.

It was the first of March. Where the irrigating ditches ran, almond and peach orchards were pink with bloom. California poppies, golden as the sunshine, nodded on the edges of the waving green wheat. Even the dry, hard desert was sweet in its miracle of blossoming. A carpet of bloom covered it. Stems so short that they could scarcely raise the buds they bore above the sand bravely pierced the hard-baked crust. Great masses of yellow and blue, white, lavender, and scarlet transformed the bleak solitary places for a little while into a glory of colour and perfume. An odour, sweet as if blown across acres of narcissus, made Mrs. Ware turn her head with a little cry of pleasure as they drove along toward the butte the afternoon of the picnic.

"It's the desert mistletoe," explained Phil, who was following on horseback with Lloyd and Joyce the surrey which Jack was driving.

"It is in blossom now, hanging in bunches from all those high bushes over yonder. Mrs. Lee says it isn't like ours. The berries, instead of being little white wax ones like pearls, shade from a deep red to the palest rose-pink."

"How lovely!" exclaimed Lloyd. "I hope I'll see some of the berries befoah I go home. Oh, deah! the days are slipping by so fast. The month will he gone befoah I know it."

Phil, seeing the wistful expression in the eyes raised to his for a moment, laid a detaining hand on her bridle-rein. "Let's walk the horses, then," he said, laughingly. "and make the minutes last just as long as possible. We'll have to fill the few days left to us so full of pleasant things that you'll never forget them. I don't want you to forget this day anyhow, because it's in your especial honour that this picnic is given --- because you're such an accomplished Queen of Hearts."

"Tahts you mean," she answered, correcting him

"Maybe I mean both," he replied, with an admiring glance that sent a quick blush to her face, and made her spur her pony on ahead.

There were more things than that fragrant, breezy ride across the desert to make her remember the day. There was the delicious supper that Jo spread out under the sheltering ledge of rock at the entrance to the great hole. There were the jokes and conundrums that passed around as they ate, the witty repartee of the boy from Belfast that kept them all laughing, and the stories gathered, like the guests, from all parts of the world.

"This is the first picnic I have been to since the one at the old mill, when you had your house-party," said Joyce, snuggling up beside Lloyd against a pile of cushions, after supper, as the blazing campfire dispelled the gathering shadows of the twilight.

"There is as much difference between the two picnics as there is between a cat and a tigah," said Lloyd, tingling with the horror of an Indian story that the cowboy had just told. "Mine was so tame and this is so exciting. I'm glad that I didn't live out West in the times they are telling about. Just listen!"

Phil had asked for an Indian story from each one, and Mrs. Lee had begun to tell her experiences during her first years on the ranch. No actual harm had come to her, but several terrible frights during a dreadful Apache uprising. She had been alone on the ranch, with only George, who was a baby then, and a neighbour's daughter for company. They had seen the smoke and flames shoot up from a distant ranch, where the Indians fired all the buildings and haystacks; and they had waited in terror through the long hours, not knowing what moment an arrow might come hurtling through the window of the little adobe house, where they cowered in darkness.

In frightened whispers they discussed what they should do if the Apaches should come, and the only means of escape left to them was to take the baby and climb down the jagged rocks that lined the walls of the well. The water was about shoulder deep. Even that was a dangerous proceeding, for there was the fear that the baby might cry and call attention to their hiding-place, or that some thirsty Indian, coming for water, might discover them.

Mrs. Lee told it in such a realistic way that Lloyd almost held her breath, feeling in part the same fear that had seized the helpless women as they waited for the dreaded war-whoop, and watched the flames of their neighbours' dwellings. She shuddered when she heard of the scene that was discovered at the desolated ranch next morning. An entire family had been massacred and scalped, and left beside the charred ruins of their home. Even the little blue-eyed baby had not escaped.

As the twilight deepened, the stories passing around the camp-fire seemed to grow more dreadful. Mary was afraid to look behind her, and presently, hiding her face in her mother's lap, stuck her fingers in her ears. It was a elief to more than Mary when Jo, who had been packing the dishes back into the baskets behind the scenes, came rushing into the circle around the fire so excited that, in his wild mixture of Japanese and broken English, he could hardly make himself understood. He was holding out both forefingers, from each of which trickled a little stream of blood. Each bore the gash of a carving-knife, which had slipped through his fingers in his careless handling of it, as he kept his ears strained to hear the Indian stories.

He laughed and jabbered excitedly, with a broad grin on his face. Finally he succeeded in making Mrs. Lee understand that the cutting of both forefingers at the same moment was the sign that there was some extraordinary good fortune in store for him. It was the luckiest thing that could have befallen him, and he declared that he must go at once to the Chinese lottery in Phoenix.

"If I toucha ticket with these," he cried, holding up his bleeding fingers, "I geta heap much money; fo', five double times so much as I puta in. I be back fo' geta breakfus'," he called, suddenly darting away. Before Mrs. Lee could protest, he was on his wheel, tearing across the desert trail toward Phoenix like some uncanny wild thing of the night.

"The superstitious little heathen!" exclaimed Mrs. Lee. "If he should win, I may never lay eyes on him again. He's not the first good cook that I've lost in that way. I have found that, if one once gets the gambling fever, I may as well begin to look immediately for a new one."

"Chris says that he has seen men lose ten thousand dollars at a time," broke in Holland, his eyes big with interest. "Prospectors used to come in from the mines with their gold-dust and nuggets, and they'd spread down a blanket right on the street corner and play sometimes till they'd lose everything they had."

"It's the curse of the West," sighed Mrs. Lee. "I could tell some pitiful tales of the young men and boys I have known, who came out here for their health, got infatuated with the different games of chance, and lost everything. One man I knew was such a nervous wreck from the shock of finding himself a pauper as well as an invalid that he lost his mind and committed suicide. Another had to be taken care of in his last days and be buried by a charitable society, and another had to write to his sister that he was penniless. She sewed for a living, and she sewed then to support him, till she worked herself ill and died before he did. He spent his last days in the almshouse."

"We should have showed Jo Alaka's eyes, and told him the Indian legend." said Mr. Ellestad, pointing up to the stars. "Do you see those two bright ones just over Camelback Mountain? Look up in a straight line from the head, and you will see two stars unusually brilliant and twinkling. Those are the eyes of the god Alaka. He lost them in gambling. An old settler told me the story. He got it from an Indian, and, as I read something like it in a Chicago paper this winter, I think we may be justified in believing it. At least it is as plausible as the old myths the ancients told of the stars, --- Cassiopeia's chair, for instance, and Leo's sickle."

"Tell it," begged Lloyd. "I'd rathah heah them than those blood and thundah Apache stories. I'll not be able to close my eyes to-night."

Every voice in the circle joined in the chorus of assents that went up, except Phil's, and no one noticed his silence but Lloyd.

It seemed to her that be had looked uncomfortable ever since Mrs. Lee had spoken so feelingly of the curse of the West; but she told herself that it must be just her imagination, --- that it was the flickering shadows of the camp-fire that gave his face its peculiar expression. He moved back into the darkness against the rock, with his hat over his eyes, as Mr. Ellestad began the story:

"Once there was a young god named Alaka sent by the Great Spirit to live awhile among the cliff-dwellers of the Southwest. Now in that country there is a fever that lays hold of the children of the sun. It comes you know not how, and you cannot stop it. And this fever that runs hot in the veins of men began to course through the blood of Alaka, a fierce fever to gamble.

"At first, when men challenged him to pit his skill against theirs, he refused, knowing that the Great Spirit had forbidden it; but they jeered him, saying: 'Ah, ha! He is afraid that he will lose. This can be no god, or he would not fear us.' So when they had made a mock of him until he could no longer endure it, he cried: 'Come! I will show you that I am a god! that I fear nothing!'

"Forgetting all that the Great Spirit had enjoined upon him, he plunged madly into the game. Now the most precious thing known to that people is the turquoise, for it is the stone that stole its colour from the sky. Around the neck of the young god hung a string of these turquoises, and one by one he lost them, till the morning found him with only an empty string in his hand.

"Still the fever was upon him, and he could not assuage it, so he put up his shells from the Great Water in the west. These people had heard of a great water many days' journey toward the setting sun, but to the dwellers in the Land of Thirst it seemed incredible to them that there could be so much water in the world as Alaka told them of. But they looked upon the exquisite colour of the shells he brought, which held the murmur of the sea in their hearts, and counted them wonderful treasures. And they gambled all day with Alaka to gain possession of them.

"Still the fever waxed hotter than ever within him, and, when he had lost his shells, he put up his measure of sacred meal. When he lost that, they made a mock of him again, saying not that he was afraid to lose, but that he had no skill, that he was not a god. He was less than a man, --- he was only a papoose, and that he should play no more until he had learned wisdom.

"Then Alaka was beside himself with rage. 'I will show you,' he cried. 'I will venture such mighty stakes that I must win.' He plucked out his right eye and laid it where the turquoises, the shells, and the sacred meal had lain. But the eye was lost also, and after that the left eye, so that, when morning dawned, he staggered into the sunrise, blind and ruined.

"Then he called upon the Great Spirit to give him back his sight, but the Great Spirit was angry with him, and drove him away into the Land of Shadows. And he caught up the eyes and said: 'I will hang them up among the stars to be a warning for ever to the children of men not to gamble.'

"So they hang there to this day, and the wise look up, and, seeing them, pray to the Great Spirit to keep them from the fever; but the unheeding go on, till, like Alaka, they lose their all, and are lost themselves in the Land of Shadow."

That was the last story told that evening around the camp-fire. The moon was coming up, and Phil brought out Mrs. Ware's old guitar, which he had restrung for the occasion. Striking a few rattling chords, he started off on an old familiar song, calling on all the company to join. His voice was a surprise to every one, a full, sweet tenor, strong and clear, that soared out above all the others, except Mrs. Lee's full, high soprano. The Scotchman rumbled along with a heavy bass. One by one the others caught up the song, even little Norman joining in the chorus. Lloyd was the only one who sat silent.

"Sing," whispered Joyce, giving her a commanding nudge. Lloyd shook her head. "It's so heavenly sweet I want to listen," she replied, under cover of the song. The music and the mountains and the moonlight, with the wide, white desert stretching away on every side, seemed to cast some sort of witchery over her, and she sat with hands clasped and lips parted, almost afraid to breathe, for fear that what seemed to be a beautiful dream would come to end.

A tremulous little sigh escaped her when it did come to an end. "It's time to strike the trail again," called Mrs. Lee. "That is the worst of these outings. We can't stay singing on the mountains. We have to get down to earth again. My return to valley life will take me into the deepest depths if Jo doesn't come back in the morning to get breakfast."

"Oh, it was so beautiful!" sighed Lloyd, later, when the party finally started homeward across the moon-whitened desert. It had taken some time to collect all the chairs, hampers, and cushions which George and Holland took home in the ranch wagon. The moon was directly overhead.

Lloyd was riding beside Phil a little in advance of the others. "It was the very nicest picnic I evah went to, Phil," she said, "and it's the loveliest memory that I'll have to take home with me of this visit to Arizona"

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," he answered, taking off his hat, and riding along beside her bareheaded in the moonlight. How big and handsome he looked, she thought, sitting up so erect in his saddle, with his eyes smiling down into hers.

"I don't want you ever to forget ---" he hesitated an instant, then added in a lower tone, "Arizona."

The sweet odours of the night came blowing up from every direction, the ethereal fragrance of the mistletoe bloom, the heavy perfume of the orange-blossoms hanging white in distant orchards. Behind them the picnickers began to sing again, "Roll along, silver moon, guide the traveller on his way."

Lloyd looked around for Joyce. She was riding far in the rear of the caravan, beside the carriage where Mrs. Lee led the chorus. Presently the old tune changed, and some one started the Bedouin love-song, "From the desert I come to thee."

Looking down at her again with smiling eyes, Phil took up the words, sending them rolling out on the night in a voice that thrilled her with its sweetness, as they rode on side by side across the moonlighted desert:

"Till the sun grows cold, 
And the stars are old, 
And the leaves of the judgment 
Book unfold!"

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