Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 14: The Lost Turquoises

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER XIV.

THE LOST TURQUOISES

THAT night there was a whispered consultation in Mrs. Ware's tent while Lloyd was undressing in the other one. Sitting on the edge of her mother's bed, Joyce rapidly outlined a plan which she had thought of on her way home.

"You see, I haven't done anything special at all to give Lloyd a good time," she began. "This picnic was Phil's affair. When I was at her house-party, there was something new on the programme nearly every day. She's been here nearly a month now, and her visit will soon be over. I'd like to give her one real larky day before she goes. Mrs. Lee said that I could have Bogus to-morrow, and, as it is Saturday, the children will be at home to help you. So I thought it would be fun for Jack and Lloyd and me to ride over to the Indian school. It's so interesting, and it doesn't cost anything to get in. Then we could go on to the ostrich farm just outside of Phoenix. Lloyd wants to get some kodak pictures of the ostriches. The admission fee will only be seventy-five cents for the three of us. I can pay that out of the money that Mrs. Link sent, and get a nice little lunch at Coffee Al's restaurant, and still have enough left to pay for my hive of bees. We can spend the rest of the afternoon prowling around the curio shops and picture stores. Lloyd wants to get ever so many things to take home, --- bead belts and moccasins, and things made out of cactus and orangewood. I haven't said anything to her about it yet, but Phil said that if we went he would join us."

"I think that is a very good plan," said Mrs. Ware, entering into whatever Joyce proposed with hearty interest. "You'd better not tell her to-night, or you'll be awake talking about it too long, and you'll need to make an early start, you know."

By half-past eight next morning the little cavalcade was on its way, Jack and Lloyd riding on ahead, and Phil and Joyce following leisurely. The road they took led through irrigated lands, and green fields and blooming orchards greeted them at every turn, instead of the waste stretches of desert that they were accustomed to seeing.

"I wish you'd look!" exclaimed Lloyd, drawing rein to wait for Joyce and Phil, and then pointing to a field where a boy was ploughing along, straight furrow. "That's an Indian ploughing there! An Indian in a cadet unifawm, with brass buttons on it. Doesn't it seem queah? Jack says it's the unifawm of the school, and that they have to weah it when they hiah out to the fahmahs. This is paht of their education. I like them best in tomahawks and blankets. It seems moah natural."

"This isn't Hiawatha's land," laughed Phil, "nor the Pathfinder's country. I was disappointed, too, to find them so tame and unromantic-looking, but they're certainly more pleasant as neighbours since they have taken to civilization. You remember the horrible tales we heard last night."

Lloyd had expected to see a large school-building, but she was surprised to find in addition so many other buildings. Dormitories, workshops, a public hall, and the fine, wide streets leading around the central square gave the appearance of a thrifty little village. They lingered long in the kindergarten, where the bright-eyed little papooses were so interested in watching them that they almost forgot the song they were singing about "Baby's ball so soft and round." They went through the great kitchens, where Indian girls were learning to cook, and the tailoring establishment where the boys were turning out the new uniforms. Down in one of the parlours a little eagle-eyed girl, with features strikingly like those of Sitting Bull, practised the five-finger exercises at the piano. Only twice did they see anything that reminded them of the primitive Indians. In one of the workshops a swarthy boy sat before a loom such as the old squaws used to have, weaving patiently a Navajo blanket. And in one of the buildings where dressmaking was taught there was a table surrounded by busy beadworkers, working on chains and belts and gaily decorated trinkets that made Lloyd wish for a bottomless purse. They were all so tempting.

So much time was occupied in watching the classes in wood-carving, and in listening to recitations in the various rooms, that it was nearly noon when they reached the ostrich farm. It was not the ranch where the great birds were hatched and raised, but a large enclosure near the street-car line, where they were brought to be exhibited to the tourists. So, after watching the foolish-looking creatures awhile, laughing at their comical expressions as they tilted mincingly up and down in what Lloyd called the perfection of cake-walking, and taking several snap-shots of them, Joyce proposed that they should leave their horses at a corral farther down the street, and go at once for their lunch.

It was the first time that Jack had been inside the restaurant, and he was glad that Phil, who often lunched there, was with them to take the lead. He felt very young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, as he marched in behind him, and, while he secretly admired the lordly air with which Phil gave his orders, he saw that the girls were impressed by it, too, and he inwardly resented being made to appear such an insignificant small boy by contrast.

He had supposed that they would sit up on the stools at the lunch-counters which one could see from the street. That is where he, in his ignorance, would have piloted the party. But Phil, passing them by, led the way up-stairs. An attractive-looking dining-room opened out from the upper hall, but, ignoring that also, Phil kept on to a balcony overlooking the street, where there were several small tables.

"They serve out here in hot weather," he said, "and it's warm enough to-day, I'm sure. Besides, we'll be all by ourselves, and can see what is going on down below. Here, Sambo!"

He beckoned to a coloured waiter passing through the hall, and soon had him scurrying around in haste to fill their orders. It was the most enjoyable little lunch Lloyd could remember. Phil, who somehow naturally assumed the part of host, had never been so entertaining. Time slipped by so fast while they laughed and talked that the hour was finished before they realized that it had fairly begun.

Then Phil, putting Lloyd's camera on an opposite table, and focussing it on the group, showed the waiter how to snap the spring, and hurried back to his chair to be included in the picture which they all wanted as a souvenir of the day's excursion.

They made arrangements for the rest of the afternoon after that. Jack was to take the camera to a photographer's and leave it for the roll of films to be developed, and then go to a shoestore and the grocery. Phil had an errand to attend to for Mrs. Lee and a few purchases to make. Lloyd had a long list of things she hoped to find in the Curio Building. They agreed to meet at a drug store on that street which had a corner especially furnished for the comfort of its out-of-town patrons. Besides numerous easy chairs and tables, where tired customers could be served at any time from the soda-fountain, there were daily papers to help passthe time of waiting, and a desk provided with free stationery.

It was just four o'clock when Joyce and Lloyd, coming back to the drug store with their arms full of packages, found Jack already there waiting for them. He was weighing himself on the scales near the door.

"I've been knocking around here for the last half-hour," he said. "I'll go out and look for Phil now, and tell him you are ready, and we'll get the horses and bring them around."

"How long will it take?" asked Joyce.

"Fifteen or twenty minutes, probably. He's just up the street."

"Then I'll begin a lettah to mothah," said Lloyd, depositing her bundles on a table, and sitting down at the desk. Joyce picked up an illustrated paper and settled herself comfortably in a rocking-chair.

The big clock over the soda-fountain slowly dropped its hands down the dial, but Joyce, absorbed in her reading, and Lloyd in her writing, paid no attention until half an hour had gone by. Then Lloyd, folding her letter and slipping it into an envelope, looked up.

"Mercy, Joyce! It's half-past foah! What do you suppose is the mattah?"

Before Joyce could answer, she caught sight of Jack, through the big show-window, hurrying down the street by himself. He was red in the face from his rapid walking when he came in, and had a queer expression about his mouth that he always had when disgusted or out of patience.

"Phil's busy," he announced. "He wants me to ask you if you'd mind waiting a few minutes longer. He wouldn't ask it, but it's something quite important"

"We ought to get back as soon as we can," said Joyce, "for I've been away all day, and there's the ride home still ahead of us. I'm afraid mamma will start to get supper herself if I'm not there."

"I think I'll put in the time we're waiting in writing to the Walton girls," said Lloyd, drawing a fresh sheet of paper toward her. Joyce picked up her story again, and Jack went out into the street, where he stood tapping one heel against the curbstone, and with his hands thrust into his pockets. Then he walked to the comer and back, and peered in through the show-window at the clock over the soda-fountain. When he had repeated the performance several times, Joyce beckoned for him to come in.

"It's after five o'clock," she said. "It must be very important business that keeps him so long."

"It is," answered Jack. "I'll go back once more, and if I can't get him away, I'll go around and get the horses and we'll just ride off and leave him."

"Can't get him away!" repeated Joyce. "Where is he?"

"Oh, just up the street a little way," said Jack, carelessly, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb.

Joyce looked at him steadily an instant, then, as if she had read his mind, said, with startling abruptness: "Jack Ware, you might as well tell me. Is he doing what Mr. Ellestad says all the boys out here do sooner or later, getting mixed up in some of those gambling games?"

There was no evading Joyce when she spoke in that tone. Jack had learned that long ago. But, with a glance toward Lloyd, who sat with her back toward them, he only nodded his reply. Startled by the question, Lloyd turned just in time to see the nod.

"I didn't intend to tell on him," blurted Jack, "but you surprised it out of me. He put some money on a roulette wheel, and lost all the first part of the afternoon. Now his luck has begun to change, and he says he's got to stick by it till he makes back at least a part of what he started with."

Joyce looked up at the clock. "We ought to be going," she said, drumming nervously on the arm of her chair with her fingers. Then she hesitated, a look of sisterly concern on her face. "I hate, though, to go off and leave him there. No telling when he'll come home if he feels he is free to stay as long as he pleases. Goodness, Jack! I'm glad it isn't you. I'd be having a fit if it were, and I can't help thinking how poor Elsie would feel if she knew it. Lloyd, what do you think we ought to do?"

"I think we ought to go straight off and leave him!" she answered, hotly. "It's perfectly horrid of him to so fah fo'get himself as a gentleman as to pay no attention to his promises. He made a positive engagement with us to meet us heah at foah o'clock, and now it's aftah five. I nevah had a boy treat me that way befoah, and I must say I haven't much use for one that will act so."

Presently, after some slight discussion, the girls slowly gathered up the bundles and walked up the street to the corral. Jack hurried on ahead, so that by the time they reached it, the men there had the ponies saddled and were waiting to help them mount and tie on the packages by the many leather thongs which fringed the saddles for that purpose.

It was a quiet ride homeward. A cloud seemed to have settled over their gay spirits. Nobody laughed, nobody spoke much. The story of Alaka was still fresh in each mind, and what Mrs. Lee had said about the curse of the West, and the fate of the men she had known who had become possessed by the same fever.

They remembered how Jo had come in at daylight, red-eyed and sullen, after his night's losses, for the lucky feeling which seized him at the sight of his cut fingers had been a mistaken omen of success. All that he had saved in months of service had vanished before sunrise in the same way that Alaka's turquoises and shells and eyes had gone.

Deeper than the indignation in Lloyd's heart, deeper than her sense of wounded pride that Phil should have been so indifferent about keeping his engagement to meet them, was a sore feeling of disappointment in him. He had seemed so strong and Manley that she had thought him above the weakness of yielding to such temptations.

She recalled the expression of his face the night before when he drew back from the firelight into the shadow, and pulled his hat over his eyes, as Mr. Ellestad began the story of Alaka. Evidently he had played Alaka's game before.

Ah, that night before! How the whole moonlighted scene rolled back over her memory, as she rode along now, slightly in advance of Joyce and Jack. Phil had been with her that night before, and, as the sweet strains of the Bedouin love-song floated out on the stillness of the desert, something had stirred in her girlish heart as she looked up at him. A vague wonder if it were possible that in years to come this would prove to be the one the stars had destined for her. And, as if in answer to her unspoken wonder, his voice had joined in, higher and sweeter than all the others, as he smiled down into her eyes. But now --- there was a little twinge of pain when she thought that he wasn't a prince at all when measured by the yard-stick of old Hildgardmar and her father, much less the one written in the stars for her. He wasn't strong, and he wasn't honourable if he gambled, and she told herself that she was glad that she knew it. And now that she had found out how much she had been mistaken in him, she didn't care any more for his friendship, and that she never intended to have anything more to do with him.

A dozen times on the way home Joyce said to herself: "Oh, what if it had been Jack!" And, thinking of Elsie and the father so far away across the seas, she wished that she could do something to get him away from the surroundings that were sure to work to his undoing if he persisted in staying there.

Supper was ready when they reached home. Afterward there were all Lloyd's purchases to be unwrapped and admired. Mary had hoped for a candy-pull, as it was Saturday, and they had not had one during Lloyd's visit; but the girls were too tired after so many miles in the saddle, and by nine o'clock all lights were out and a deep quiet reigned over Ware's Wigwam and the tents.

The moonlight flooding the white canvas kept Lloyd awake for awhile. As she lay there, listening to the distant barking of coyotes, and going over the events of the day, she heard the approaching sound of hoof beats. Some lonely horseman was coming down the desert road. She raised herself on her elbow to listen, recognizing the sound. It was Phil's horse clattering over the little bridge. But it paused under the pepper-trees.

" I suppose Phil has come up to apologize," she said to herself, "but he might as well save himself the trouble. No explanation could evah explain away the fact that he was rude to us and that he gambled. I could forgive the first, but I nevah can forgive being so disappointed in him."

A moment later, seeing no light, and evidently concluding that his visit was untimely, he turned and rode back toward the ranch. Lloyd, still leaning on her elbow, strained her ears to listen till the last footfall died away in the distance.

"He'll be back in the mawning," she thought, as she laid her head on the pillow. "He always comes Sunday mawnings; but he'll not find us this time, because we'll be gone befoah he gets heah."

Joyce had arranged to keep Bogus part of the next day, so that they could ride into Phoenix to church. So it happened that when Phil came up next morning, it was to find nobody but Mary in sight. Mrs. Ware had gone to the seat under the willows to read to Norman and Holland.

The beehive had been brought over during Joyce's absence the day before, and placed in the shade of the bushy umbrella-tree where the hammock swung, and Mary was swinging in the hammock now, with a book in her lap. It was closed over one finger to keep the place, for she was listening to the droning of the bees, breathing in the sweetness that floated in across the desert from its acres of vivid bloom, and paying more attention to the sunny, vibrant world about her than to the hymn she was learning.

"What are you doing, Mary?" he called, as his step on the bridge made her look around. She held up a battered old volume of poems, and moved over in the hammock to make room for him beside her.

"I'm learning a hymn. That's the way we always earned our missionary money back in Kansas. I'm going to Sunday school with Hazel and George this afternoon in the surrey over to the schoolhouse. Her uncle has one there. I didn't have any pennies to take, so mamma said I could begin learning hymns again, as I used to do back home."

As usual Mary rattled on, scarcely pausing to take breath or give her listener a chance to make reply.

"This isn't one of the singing hymns, the kind they have in church. It's by Isaac Watts. I like it because it's about bees, and it's so easy to say:

"'How doth the little busy bee 
Improve each shining hour, 
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.'

"Joyce picked it out for me, and said that she guessed that Isaac Watts must have gone to the School of the Bees himself, and that was where he learned that 'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.' The bees hate idle hands, you know, that's the drones, and, although they are patient with them longer than you'd suppose they'd be, it always ends in their stinging the drones to death.

"And Lloyd said it was a pity that some other people she knew not a thousand miles away couldn't go to school to the bees and learn that about Satan's finding mischief for idle hands to do.

"And Joyce said yes, it was, for it was too bad for such a fine fellow to get into trouble just because he was a drone, and had no ambition to make anything of himself. And I asked them who they meant, but they just laughed at each other and wouldn't tell me. I don't see why big girls always want to be so mysterious about things and act as if they had secrets. Do you?"

"No, indeed!" answered Phil, in his most sympathetic manner. He stooped and picked a long blade of grass at his feet.

"And Joyce said that if Alaka had gone to school to the bees, he wouldn't have lost his eyes, and Lloyd said that if somebody kept on, he would lose at least his turquoises. When I asked her what she meant, she said, oh, she was just thinking of what Mr. Ellestad told at the picnic, that the Indians thought the turquoises were their most precious stones because they stole their colour from the sky, and she called turquoise the friendship stone because it was true blue."

Phil began whistling softly, as he pulled the blade of grass back and forth between his fingers.

"So they think that somebody is like Alaka, do they?" he asked, presently, "in danger of losing his turquoises, his friendship stones. Well, I can imagine instances when that would be as bad for Alaka as losing his eyes."

Phil had walked up to the Wigwam more buoyantly than usual that morning. He knew that he owed the girls an apology for not meeting them as he had promised, and he was prepared to make it so penitently and gracefully that he was sure that they would accept his excuses without a question. The big roll of bills in his pocket, which he had won by a lucky turn of the wheel, did not lie heavy on his conscience at all. It rather added to his buoyance of spirit, for it was so large that it would enable him to do several things he had long wished to do. Because of it, too, he had come up to plan another picnic, this time an excursion to Paradise Valley on the other side of Camelback.

But Mary's report of the conversation which had puzzled her gave him an uncomfortable feeling. He could not fail to understand its meaning. Evidently the girls knew what had detained him in town and were displeased with him.

"Oh, aren't you going to stay for dinner?" asked Mary, as he slowly rose and stretched himself. "It's Sunday, you know, and we always expect you on Sunday."

"No, thank you," he answered, yawning. "I've changed my programme to-day."

"Aren't you coming back this afternoon?" she asked, anxiously. "They'll all be home then."

He studied the distant buttes a moment before he answered, then squared back his shoulders in a decided way, settling his hat firmly on his head.

"No," he answered, finally, "I promised a fellow I met in town at the hotel the other day that I'd ride over and see him soon. He has a camp over on the other side of Hole-in-the-Rock, with an old duffer that's out here for rheumatism. I took a fancy to the fellow the minute I saw him, and it turns out that he's the cousin of a boy I knew at military school. It's funny the way you run across people that way out here."

One of Phil's greatest charms to Mary was the deferential way he had of talking to her as if she were his age, and taking the trouble to explain his actions. Now, as he turned away, with a pleasant good morning, it was with as polite a lifting of his hat as if she had been nineteen instead of nine.

She watched him swing down the road with his quick, military step, never dreaming in her unsuspecting little heart that he was the mysterious person who, the girls wished, could learn about Satan and the work he finds for idle hands. Nor did she dream that the words she had so innocently repeated were still sounding in his ears: "If somebody keeps on, he'll at least lose his turquoises. It's the friendship stone --- true blue!"

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