Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 16: Back To Dixie

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER XVI.

BACK TO DIXIE

THERE was another mark on the kitchen calendar now; not a red star, betokening some happy event to come, but a deep black border, drawn all around the date on which Lloyd's visit was to end. The heavy black lines marked the time as only a few days distant.

It was Saturday again, a week after the excursion to the Indian school. Joyce had gone down to the ranch, for Mr. Armond to criticize the drawings which she had made since the last lesson, and Lloyd, on the seat under the willows, was waiting for Phil. He was to come at four, and ride over to one of the neighbouring orange groves with her.

She had a book in her hand, but she was not reading. She was listening to the water gurgle through the little water-gate into the lateral, and thinking of all that had happened during her visit, especially since the night she was lost on the desert, and Phil had found her.

Monday he had spent the entire day at the Wigwam, and, since Joyce had forbidden him to come near the spot where the washing was in progress, he and Lloyd had brought a jar of paste and the little wicker table down to this very seat under the willows, and had mounted all her photographs in the book she had bought for the purpose. There were over a hundred, beginning with a view of the Wigwam and ending with the four laughing faces around the table on the balcony of Coffee Al's restaurant. There was Lloyd on her pony, coming back from the duck hunt, and again in the act of dropping her cherry tart. There was Mary in the hammock watching the bees, Jack in his irrigating boots, and Holland on a burro. There were a dozen different pictures of Joyce, and family groups, and picnic groups, in which was represented every acquaintance Lloyd had made in Arizona. Turning the pages was like living over the pleasant days again, for they brought the scenes vividly before her.

When the last picture was mounted, Phil proposed that they write an appropriate quotation under each one. So they spent another hour over that, Phil suggesting most of them, and at Lloyd's request writing the inscriptions himself in his strong, dashing hand. Some of his apt phrases and clever parodies seemed really brilliant to Lloyd, and they had laughed and joked over them in a way that had ripened their friendship as weeks of ordinary intercourse would not have done.

"Do you know," he said, when the last inscription was written, "I've kept count, and I'm in twenty-five of these pictures. You won't have much chance to forget me, will you? I haven't put my collection in a book, but I have a better reminder of this last month than all these put together."

Opening the little locket that hung from his watch-fob, he held it toward her, just long enough for her to catch a glimpse of her own face within it. Then, closing the locket with a snap, he put the fob back in its place. It was a picture he had taken of her one day as she sat on this same seat under the willows, watching Aunt Emily braid an Indian basket. He had cut out a tiny circle containing her head, from the rest of the group, just the size to fit in the locket.

Lloyd, leaning forward unsuspectingly to look at it, was so surprised at seeing her own picture that a deep blush stole slowly over her face, and she drew back in confusion, not knowing what to say. If he had asked her permission to put her picture in his locket, she would have refused as decidedly as she had refused Malcolm the tip of a curl to carry in his watch.

But Phil had not asked for anything; had not said a word to which she could reply as she had replied to Malcolm. He had showed her the locket in the same matter-of-course way that Rob had showed her the four-leafed clover which he carried. Yet deep down in her heart she knew that there was a difference. She knew that her father would not like Phil to have her picture in his locket, but she didn't know how to tell him so.

It was only an instant that she sat in shy, embarrassed silence, with her heart in a flutter, and her eyes fastened on the book of photographs which she was fingering nervously. Then Jack came out with a pitcher of lemonade, and the opportunity to speak passed. She hadn't the courage to bring up the subject afterward.

"Phil might think that I think that it means much than it does," she told herself. "He weahs the pictuah just as he would Elsie's, and if I tell him that I don't want him to, he'll think that I think that he cares for me the way that Malcolm does.  I don't suppose that it really makes any difference whethah he has it in his locket or not."

He did not mention it again, but it did make a difference. The consciousness of it embarrassed her whenever she met his eyes. She wondered if Joyce noticed.

Tuesday he came again, and read aloud all morning while they ironed. Wednesday he spent the day without bringing anything as an excuse. Thursday he rode with them over to the Indian reservation. Her pony had been brought back to her the day after it ran away. When he left them at the Wigwam that evening he said that he would not be back the next day as he had to go to Phoenix, but that he would be up Saturday afternoon to ride with Lloyd to the orange grove while Joyce took her drawing-lesson.

It was of all this that Lloyd was thinking now, as she sat under the willows. And she was thinking, too, of the tale Mrs. Walton told her of The Three Weavers; the tale that had been the cause of the Shadow Club turning itself into the Order of Hildegarde.

Mrs. Walton had spoken truly when she said that "Little girls begin very early sometimes to dream about that far-away land of Romance." Lloyd's dreams might not have begun so soon, perhaps, had it not been for the meetings of the Shadow Club at boarding-school, when Ida Shane fired their imaginations with the stories of "Daisy Dale" and " The Heiress of Dorn," and made Lloyd the bearer of her letters to her "Edwardo." The unhappy ending of Ida's romance had been a grave warning to Lloyd, and the story of Hildegarde in the Three Weavers was often in her thoughts. Part of it floated through her memory now, as she realized, with a start, how large a place Phil had occupied in her thoughts the last week.

"Hildegarde worked on, true to her promise, but there came a time when a face shone across her mirror, so noble and fair that she started back in a flutter. 'Oh, surely, 'tis he!' she whispered to her father. 'His eyes are so blue they fill all my dreams!' But old Hildgardmar answered her, 'Does he measure up to the standard set by the sterling yardstick for a prince to be?'"

"That is just what Papa Jack would ask," mused Lloyd. "And he'd say that little girls outgrow their ideals as they do their dresses, and that if I'm not careful that I'll make the same mistake that Hertha and Huberta did. Besides, there's my New Yeah's promise!"

For a moment she ceased to hear the gurgle of the water, and heard instead the ticking of the clock in the long drawing-room at Locust, as she and Papa Jack kept watch beside the embers, waiting for the old year to die and the new one to dawn. And in the solemn hush she heard her own voice repeating Hildegarde's promise:

"You may trust me, fathah, I will not cut the golden warp from out the loom until 1, a woman grown, have woven such a web as thou thyself shalt say is worthy of a prince's wearing!"

A woman grown! And she was not yet quite fourteen!

"I'll not be the only one of all the Lloyds that can't be trusted to keep a promise," she said, aloud, with a proud lifting of the bead. Resolutely shaking herself free from the day-dreaming that had been so pleasant, she picked up her book and started to the house.

Listening to Aunt Emily's conversation over her stocking darning, about the commonplace happenings of the household, was not half so entertaining as letting her thoughts stray back to the moonlight ride, to the smile in Phil's eyes as he showed her the locket, or the sound of his voice as he sang, "From the desert I come to thee." There were a dozen such memories, so pleasant to dwell upon that a girl of less will-power would not have pushed them aside. Even Lloyd found it difficult to do.

"It's like trying to drive away a flock of cherry birds," she thought. "They keep coming back no matter how often you say shoo! But I won't let them stay."

Such a resolution was easier to make than to keep, especially as she was expecting to see Phil ride up to the door at any moment. But the time set for his coming passed, and when a step on the bridge made her glance up, it was Joyce she saw, walking along slowly. Usually she danced in after her lesson-hour with Mr. Armond in the gayest of spirits. To-day it was apparent that she was the bearer of bad news.

"Oh, mamma! " she began, dropping her sketches on the table, and fumbling to find her hat-pin. "They're all so worried down at the ranch, over Phil! Mrs. Lee says he went to town yesterday morning, expecting to be back in time for dinner, but he hasn't come yet. Jo went in on his wheel, last night, and he saw him at one of those places where they play faro, and all those games, and he was so excited over his winnings that he didn't even see Jo, although he stood and watched him ever so long. This morning Mr. Ellestad went in, and he came across him, wandering about the streets. He had lost not only every cent he had deposited in the bank, but he put up his horse, and lost that, too. He didn't have any way to get out to the ranch.

"He wouldn't drive out with Mr. Ellestad. He was so mortified and disgusted with himself that he said he couldn't face them all. He said his father would never trust him again, and that he had lost not only his father's confidence, but our respect and friendship. He said he was going to look for work of some kind, he didn't care what, and it didn't make any difference what became of him now.

"Mr. Ellestad left him at a hotel, and he felt so sorry for him that, tired as be was, he rode over to Tempe, after he got home, to see a friend of his who is a civil engineer. This friend is going to start on an expedition next week, surveying for some canals. Mr. Ellestad persuaded him to take Phil in his party, and give him some work. Phil said he didn't intend to touch a cent of his usual monthly allowance until be had earned back all he lost. Mr. Ellestad telephoned to him from Tempe, and he is to start in a few days. Mrs. Lee says that losing everything is the best thing that could have happened to Phil.  It's taught hum a lesson hell never forget; and this surveyor is just the sort of a man he ought to be with, --- clean, and honourable, and strong."

As Joyce finished her excited telling with these familiar words, the colour that had faded completely out of Lloyd's face rushed back again. "Clean, and honourable, and strong!" These were the standards of the yardstick that Papa Jack had given her. How far Phil had failed to measure up to the last two notches, and yet ---

Mrs. Ware finished the unspoken sentence for her.

"He is so young that I can't help feeling that, with something to keep him busy and some one to take a helpful interest in him, he will turn out all right. He has so many fine traits, I am sure they will prevail in the end, and that he will make a Manley man, after all."

Joyce openly wiped away the tears that came at the thought of this ending to their happy comradeship, but Lloyd stole away to the tent to hide her face in her pillow, and sob out the disappointment of her sore little heart. She would never see him again, she told herself, and they had had such good times together, and she was so sorry that he had proved so weak.

Presently, as she lay there, she heard Holland come clattering up on the pony, inquiring for her. He had killed a snake, she could hear him telling his mother, and had brought it home to skin for Lloyd. It was a beautifully marked diamond-back with ten rattles, and now she could have a purse and a hat-band, like some she had admired in Phoenix.

Lloyd listened, languidly. " An hour ago," she thought, "I would have been out there the instant I heard him call. I would have been admiring the snake and thanking him for it and asking a hundred questions about how he got it. But now-somehow-everything seems so different."

She started up as he began calling her. "I wish he'd let me alone," she exclaimed, impatiently. "Aunt Emily will think it strange if I don't answer, for she knows I'm out heah, but I don't feel like talking to anybody or taking an interest in anything, and I don't want to go out there!"

The call came again. She drew back the tent flap and looked out. "I'll be there in a minute, Holland," she answered, trying to keep the impatience out of her voice. As she went over to the wash-stand to bathe her eyes, she brushed a magazine from the table in passing. It was the one Phil had brought up several days before to read aloud. She replaced it carefully, almost as one touches the belongings of someone who is dead.

There were so many things around the tent to remind her of him, it would be almost impossible to keep him out of her thoughts. She confessed to herself that it was growing very hard to keep her Hildegarde promise. She started to whisper it as one might repeat some strengthening charm:
"You may trust me, fathah---" She stopped with a sob. This sudden ending of their happy companionship was going to shadow all the rest of her visit.

As her eyes met her reflection in the little mirror hanging against the side of the tent, she lifted her head with determination, and looked at it squarely.

"I will stop thinking about it all the time!" she said, defiantly, to the answering eyes. "It will spoil all my visit if I don't. I'll do the way the bees do when things get into the hive that have no right there. I'll seal it up tight as I can, and go on filling the other cells with honey,--- doing things that will be pleasant to remember by and by. I'll make myself take an interest in something else!"

The same spirit that looked from the eyes of the proud old portraits at home looked back at her now from the eyes in the mirror --- that strong, indomitable spirit of her ancestors, that could rise even to the conquering of that hardest of all enemies, self, when occasion demanded it.

Running out to the wood-pile, where Holland impatiently awaited her, she threw herself into the interests of the hour so resolutely that she was soon absorbed in its happenings. By the time the snake was skinned, and the skin tacked to the side of the house to dry, she had gained a victory that left her stronger for all her life to come. She had compelled herself to take an interest in the affairs of others, when she wanted to mope and dream. Instead of an hour of selfish musing in her tent, she had had an hour of wholesome laughter and chatter outside. It would be a pleasant time to look back upon, too, she thought, complacently, remembering Mary's amusing efforts to help skin the snake, and all the funny things that had been said.

"Well, that hour's memory-cell is filled all right," Lloyd thought. "I'll see how much moah honey I can store away befoah I leave."

There was not much more time, for Mr. Sherman came soon, with the announcement that they would leave in two days. Numerous letters had passed between the Wigwam and the mines, so Lloyd knew what was going to happen when her father arranged for her and Joyce to spend part of one of those days in town. She knew that when they came back they would find a long rustic arbour built in the rear of the tents --- a rough shack of cottonwood poles supporting a thatch of bamboo and palm-leaves. Underneath would be a dozen or more hives, humming with thousands of golden-banded bees. And for all the rest of their little lives these bees would spend their "shining hours" in helping Joyce on toward easier times and the City of her Desire.

Something else happened that day while they were in town. Phil made his last visit before starting away with the surveying party. Nobody knew what passed between him and Aunt Emily in the old Wigwam sitting-room, but he came out from the interview smiling, so full of hope and purpose that her whispered Godspeed seemed already to have found an answer.

She told the girls afterward a little of their conversation. His ambition was aroused at last, she said. He was going to work hard all summer, and in the fall go back to school. Not the military academy, but a college where he could take the technical course this friend of Mr. Ellestad recommended. Phil admired this man immensely, and she was sure that his influence would be exceedingly helpful. She was sure, too, that he would be all right now, and he had promised to write to her every week.

As Phil came out of the Wigwam he heard Mary's voice, in a sort of happy little chant, as she watched the settling of the bees in their new home. She had heard nothing of Phil's troubles, and did not know that he was going away until he told her.

"I want you to tell Lloyd and Joyce something for me," he said.

"Try to remember just these words, please. Tell them that I said: 'Alaka has lost his precious turquoises, but he will win them back again, some day!' Can you remember to say just that?"

Mary nodded, gravely. "Yes," she said, "I'll tell them." Then her lip trembled. "But I don't want you to go away!" she exclaimed, the tears beginning to come. "Aren't you ever coming back?"

"Not for a long time," he answered, looking away toward old Camelback. "Not till I've learned the lesson that you told me about, the first time I saw you, that day on the train, to be inflexible. When I'm strong enough to keep stiff in the face of any temptation, then I'll come back. Good-bye, little Vicar!"

Stooping, he kissed her gently on each plump cheek, and turned hastily away. She watched him go off down the road through a blur of tears. Then she rubbed her sleeve across her eyes. He had turned to look back, and, seeing the disconsolate little figure gazing after him, waved his hat. There was something so cheery and hopeful in the swing he gave it, that Mary smiled through her tears, and answered with an energetic fluttering of her white sunbonnet, swung high by its one string.

Joyce's delight on her return, when she found the long row of hives, was something good to see. She could hardly speak at first, and walked from one hive to another, touching each as she passed, as if to assure herself that it was really there, and really hers.

"Joyce is so bee-wildered by her good fortune that she is almost bee-side herself," said Holland, when he had watched her start on her third round of inspection.

"That's the truth," laughed Joyce, turning to face Lloyd and her father. "I'm so happy that I don't know what I'm doing, and I can't begin to thank you properly till I've settled down a little."

There was no need of spoken thanks when her face was so eloquent. Even the mistakes she made in setting the supper-table spoke for her. In her excitement she gave Mr. Sherman two forks and no knife, and Lloyd three spoons and no fork. She made the coffee in the teapot, and put the butter in a pickle-dish. Only Mary's warning cry saved her from skimming the cream into the syrup-pitcher, and she sugared everything she cooked instead of salting it.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she cried, when her mistakes were discovered, "but if you were as happy as I am you'd go around with your head in the clouds too."

After supper she said to Mr. Sherman, as they walked out to the hives again, "You see, I'd been thinking all day how much I am going to miss Lloyd, and what a Road of the Loving Heart she's left behind her on this visit. We've enjoyed every minute of it, and we'll talk of the things she's said and done for months. Then I came home to find that she's left not only a road behind her, but one that will reach through all the years ahead, a road that will lead straight through to what I have set my heart on doing. I'm going into bee culture with all my might and main, now, and make a fortune out of it. There'll be time enough after that to carry out my other plans.

"To think," she added, as Lloyd joined them, "when I first came to the Wigwam I was so lonesome and discontented that I wanted to die. Now I wouldn't change places with any other girl in the universe."

"Not even with me?" cried Lloyd, in surprise, thinking of all she had and all that she had done.

"No, not even with you," answered Joyce, quoting, softly, "For me the desert holds more than kings' houses could offer."

The last two days of Lloyd's visit went by in a whirl. As she drove away with her father, in the open carriage that had been sent out of town for them, she stood up to look back and wave her handkerchief to the little group under the pepper-trees, as long as the Wigwam was in sight. Then she kept turning to look back at old Camelback Mountain, until it, too, faded from sight in the fading day. Then she settled down beside her father, and looked up at him with a satisfied smile.

"Somehow I feel as if my visit is ending like the good old fairy-tales --- 'They all lived happily evah aftah.' Joyce is so happy ovah the bees and Mr. Armond's lessons. Aunt Emily is lots bettah, the boys have so much to hope for since you promised to help Holland get into the Navy, and make a place for Jack at the mines. As for Mary, she is so blissful ovah the prospect of a visit to Locust next yeah, that she cant talk of anything else."

"And what about my little Hildegarde?" asked Mr. Sherman. "Did the visit do anything for her?"

"Yes," said Lloyd, growing grave as the name Hildegarde recalled the promise that had been so hard to keep, and the victory she had won over herself the day she turned away from her daydreams and her disappointment to interest herself in other things. She felt that the bees had shown her a road to happiness that would lead her out of many a trouble in the year's to come. She had only to follow their example, seal up whatever had no right in her life's hive, or whatever was spoiling her happiness, and fill the days with other interests.

"Oh, I'm lots wiseah than when I came," she said, aloud. "I've learned to make pies and coffee, and to i'on, and to weave Indian baskets."

"Is that the height of your ambition? " was the teasing reply. "You don't soar as high as Joyce and Betty."

"Oh, Papa Jack, I know you'll be disappointed in me, but, honestly, I can't help it! I haven't any big ambitions. Seems to me I'd be contented always, just to be you'ah deah little daughtah, and not do any moah than just gathah up each day's honey as it comes and lay up a hive full of sweet memories for myself and othah people."

"That suits me exactly," he answered, with an approving nod. "Contented people are the most comfortable sort to live with, and such an ambition as yours will do more good in your little corner of the world than all the books you could write or pictures you could paint."

The engine was steaming on the track when they drove up to the station. Waffles, the coloured man whom Mr. Robeson had brought with him as cook, hung over the railing of the rear platform, whistling "Going Back to Dixie."

"How good that sounds!" exclaimed Lloyd, as her father helped her up the steps. "Now that we are really headed for home, I can hardly wait to get back to the Valley and tell mothah and Betty about my visit. I don't believe anybody in the whole world has as many good times to remembah as I have. Or as many good times to look forward to," she added, later, when, with a mighty snorting and puffing, the engine steamed slowly out of the station, and started on its long homeward journey.

As they rumbled on, she began picturing her arrival, the welcome at the station, and her meeting with her mother and Betty and the Walton girls. How much she had to tell them all, and how many delightful meetings she would have with the club! Her birthday was only two months away. Then the locusts would be white with-bloom, and after that vacation. With the coming of summer-time to the Valley would come Rob to measure with her at the measuring-tree, to play tennis, and to share whatever the long summer days held in store.

With a vague sense that all sorts of pleasantness awaited her there, her thoughts turned eagerly toward Kentucky. Even the car-wheels seemed to creak in pleased anticipation, and keep time to the tune she hummed half under her breath:

"My heart turns back to Dixie,
And I --- must --- go!"

THE END.

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