"Dr. Brownlee, when did you come?" the boy exclaimed, in enthusiastic welcome. "I didn't know you were here yet."
"I only came yesterday morning," the doctor answered, with a cordial smile which not only included Charlie, but extended to Howard and Ned who were lingering at a little distance, and casting curious glances at Charlie's unknown friend. "I was just in time to hear your new choir, but I never dreamed of finding you in it."
"Yes, I'm in it," returned Charlie, laughing. "I'm all at home here, now. I like it, too; ever so much-better than I thought I was going to. These are my cousin and his chums," he added, as they moved slowly down the aisle to where Grant had joined his brother and Howard. "And this," he went on, turning around abruptly, and speaking with the grace of manner so natural to him, "this is our organist, Miss Everett. Miss Lou, may I introduce Dr. Winthrop Brownlee, the friend I told you about meeting on the way out here?"
For a moment the doctor and Louise stared at each other, too much embarrassed to speak, while the color rushed to their faces. Then the doctor came to his senses, saying slowly,—
"I think I have met Miss Everett before."
And, to the utter mystification of the boys, they burst out laughing, and laughed as if they would never stop.
"O Allie," said Marjorie suddenly; "did you know that next Thursday is going to be mamma's birthday?"
"No, is it?" asked Allie, as she stooped to pick up the long, lean gray cat that was wandering aimlessly around them, and rubbing her hollow sides against their ankles. "I thought you gave Waif away, Marjorie."
"We did," responded Marjorie, laughing. "She was a stray cat that came to us, you know, and she was so homely that mamma didn't want her in the house, so we gave her to Dr. Hornblower, a month ago."
"Where'd she come from, then?" queried Allie, while she stroked the cat as she stood pawing and purring in her lap. "Wouldn't she stay with him?"
"Didn't I tell you? How queer, for we we've been laughing about it ever since! You see," Marjorie continued, "the doctor was lonesome, and wanted a cat for company, and we didn't want Waif, so we gave her to him. He was perfectly delighted with her, and carried her off home in a paper sack, with her head poking out through a hole in one side, and her tail sticking out the other. Two days later he stopped papa in the post-office and told him, 'Your kitty's caught a mouse.' The next week he met mamma and told her 'Kitty's caught three mice.' Then we didn't see anything more of him for ever so long, and we supposed that was the last of it; but, day before yesterday morning, he came to the door and handed a bundle to mamma, and said he didn't like the kitty as well as he thought he was going to, after all, so he'd brought her back. So here she is. Don't you want her?"
"I wouldn't take such a looking cat as a gift," returned Allie disdainfully. "But wasn't that just like Dr. Hornblower? He's very good; but he's as stupid as he can be, and I don't s'pose it ever occurred to him that he could pass the cat along to somebody else. Did you ever notice the way Mrs. Pennypoker always calls him 'good old Dr. Hornblower,' when she's ten years older than he is? I wonder how he'd like it, if he could hear her."
"I don't believe he'd mind, for he likes her so well; at least, he's there ever so much," said Marjorie innocently.
"H'm! you needn't think he goes to see Mrs. Pennypoker," said Allie scornfully. "It's Miss Lou that he likes."
"Not that old man!" And Marjorie stared at her friend in amazement.
"He isn't so very old; and I don't know as I wonder if he does," replied Allie, with an air of great enjoyment in her small gossip. "I should think anybody might like Miss Lou, she's so pretty; and I just believe Mrs. Pennypoker is helping him on. You wait and see."
The two girls were sitting alone in the open front door of the Fishers' house, enjoying the late afternoon sun of a warm spring day. They had been off for a long ride with the boys, as was their frequent custom. The children all had their saddle ponies, and it was their delight to canter off, soon after lunch, for an hour or two among the pleasant mountain roads surrounding the town. On their return, they had stopped for a moment at Marjorie's door, to find that Mrs. Fisher had gone out to make some calls; and Marjorie had begged Allie to stay and keep her company until Allie had at length yielded and allowed the boys to go on without her.
There was a pause after Allie's last words; then Marjorie returned to her original charge.
"Yes," she resumed; "Thursday is going to be her birthday, and I want to celebrate. What can I do?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," answered Allie vaguely. "What do you want to do?"
"That's the worst of it," responded Marjorie thoughtfully. "I want it to be something that she'd like, and I don't know just what. I might—Let me see. I'll tell you," she added, with sudden inspiration, "I'll give her a surprise party."
"What?" And Allie looked at her friend, in astonishment at so daring a proposal.
"Yes, I'll give her a party," repeated Marjorie, nodding her head with decision.
"But do you suppose she'd like it?" inquired Allie dubiously.
"Of course she will. She 'most always has one for me on my birthday, you know," returned Marjorie; "and she wouldn't do that, if she didn't like them. She never had one herself; but that's only because she didn't have anybody to give her one."
Such logic was not to be resisted; and Allie felt her misgivings swept away while she listened.
"Besides," Marjorie went on enthusiastically; "I heard her say to papa, last night, that they'd take that very day to go over to Butte, and buy the new parlor carpet. They'll go in the morning early, and not come back till five, so that will just give us time, while they're out of the way. You'll help me get ready for it, won't you, Allie?"
"If mamma will let me," Allie was beginning, when Marjorie interrupted,—
"Your mother mustn't know anything about it; but we won't go to Mrs. Hammond that morning, we'll come here instead."
"I'm afraid we oughtn't to do that," remonstrated Allie feebly, although she was secretly longing to enter into the proposition.
"Why not?" demanded Marjorie. "Mamma gave up going to missionary meeting, last year, to get ready for my birthday party, and this is just the same thing. Don't be silly, Allie, but help me plan. I know mamma would say 'twas right," she added with an air of self-sacrificing virtue; "to give up our own improvement for the sake of making her happy."
"We might ask mamma," suggested Allie hopefully.
"Oh, no; she'd be sure to tell my mother, and that would spoil all the surprise," interposed Marjorie hastily. "It will be all right, I know. Would you have them come to supper, or just in the evening?"
"It's less work to have them come in the evening, isn't it?" asked Allie, losing her last doubts in the excitement of making plans for so momentous an occasion.
"Well, no," said Marjorie reflectively. "You have to feed them both times; and, in the evening, we'd have to have more salads and fancy things. We won't need so much, just for tea."
"What would you have?" inquired Allie, moving down to the lower step where her friend was sitting.
"Oh, just cake and preserves, and some kind of cold meat," returned Marjorie. "They'll be so busy talking they won't much mind what they get to eat, as long as there's plenty of it. We'll have it early, too, so they won't get so hungry. I can make splendid gingerbread, and the rest we can get down at the bakery; I haven't touched my this month's money yet. We'll work hard all the morning, and get the tables set and everything ready before mamma comes home, so they can be on hand to surprise her, when she comes in at the door."
"Yes," continued Allie, growing enthusiastic in her turn; "and then she won't need to have any care or worry about it; all she'll have to do will be just to sit in the parlor and make sure that they have a good time. At the table, she'll have to pour the tea; but we can pass things. Who're you going to invite?"
"Let's see," said Marjorie, pondering over the matter. "There's your father and mother, and Mr. Everett and Miss Lou and Mrs. Pennypoker; that's five."
"And Ned and Grant?" suggested Allie.
"Oh, no," answered Marjorie; "they'd only be in the way, and, besides, they're too young. This isn't a party for me, you know, and we can't have the boys."
"Not even Howard?" begged Allie. "He could help us cut meat, and wash dishes afterwards. He can do that as well as a girl."
"The boys can all come and wash dishes, after it's over, if they want to," returned Marjorie firmly; "but we can't have them at supper-time. I wouldn't mind Howard; but there's Charlie and the Everetts that would have to come, if he did, so we might as well stop before we begin. Where was I? Two Burnams and three Everetts and two Fishers, to start with: seven."
"And the Nelsons?" asked Allie.
"Yes, nine; and Dr. Hornblower is ten,—I suppose we ought to ask him,—and Mrs. Hammond is eleven, 'cause she might be cross next day, if we didn't invite her. And then that new doctor that Charlie knows—what is his name?"
"Dr. Brownlee?" inquired Allie. "But does your mother know him?"
"I don't think so," said Marjorie; "but he's real pleasant looking, and I've heard her say, ever so many times, that it's polite to welcome strangers when they first come to a place, so I know she'd want us to ask him. And then Miss Lou knows him a little bit, for I saw him take off his hat to her the other day; and she can introduce him. He makes twelve. I don't believe we'd better have any more. I'd like to ask Mr. Saunders, that keeps the fruit store down on the corner; but they say thirteen is unlucky, so perhaps twelve will do."
"All right," agreed Allie. "How are you going to ask them?"
"I shall just say, 'Mamma wishes you'd come to supper at half past five.' I won't ask them till the night before for fear somebody'd tell her; but if she goes on the early train, it will be safe enough."
"Then aren't you going to say it's a surprise party?" asked Allie, rising to go home, as she saw Mrs. Fisher coming up the street.
"No; for I'm afraid they mightn't come," said Marjorie, in a low voice. "Now, Allie, don't you dare to breathe a word of this to anybody, not even to Howard, for I want it to be a perfect surprise. And you know you've promised to help me out in the morning."
Five days later, two flushed and grimy, but triumphant young hostesses stood gazing at the tables before them. Marjorie's plan had been carried into effect; and her guests, one and all, had gratefully accepted Mrs. Fisher's invitation to tea, for they knew of old that her little parties were the most enjoyable ones in the camp. Even Dr. Brownlee had sent a cordial message of acceptance, for though he was surprised at the invitation, coming as it did from a stranger whom he did not even know by sight, he attributed it to the proverbial Western hospitality, and was glad of anything which could bring him into connection with the people among whom he was to live. Early that morning Mr. and Mrs. Fisher had gone away for a long, tedious day of shopping, and an hour later Allie and Marjorie had invaded the kitchen for four hours of hard work. By noon all was in readiness, and they could pause to contemplate the result of their labors.
The table was stretched to its utmost length, and bright with snowy linen and glass and silver, while around it were gathered twelve chairs, taken from the different rooms, in order to accommodate the unusual number of guests. Here a dining-room chair stood beside one borrowed from Mrs. Fisher's bedroom; there kitchen wood and parlor upholstery were placed side by side, in striking contrast. The table itself was groaning beneath the weight of the feast, for Marjorie had been liberal in her selection from her mother's preserves; while a whole boiled ham, fresh from the bakehouse, stood before Mr. Fisher's place, and at the other end of the table his wife's chair was decked with ribbons, and confronted with a great loaf of cake, whose uneven icing bore, in red sugar, the letters "M.C.F.," traced by an inexperienced hand. This was Allie's contribution to the banquet, and Marjorie had thoughtfully surrounded it with a circle of thirty-nine tiny candles, which stood ready for the lighting. Plates of assorted cookies were scattered about the board; here lay a low dish of olives, whose dusky green contrasted well with the ruddy globe of an Edam cheese, placed beside them, and there rose a towering pyramid of golden oranges flanked on either side by a tempting pile of purple and white grapes.
"It does look pretty, doesn't it, Allie?" asked Marjorie for the fifth time.
"Yes," said Allie, as she bent forward to break a corner off from one of the cookies and tuck it into her mouth. "Yes, it is lovely. I do hope your mother will like it. But now I must hurry, or mamma will know something is going to happen."
"Go on, then; only be sure you're back here by five," Marjorie warned her. "And don't let the boys come here this afternoon, for I'm too tired to even look at them."
At half past five, the guests had assembled and were sitting in the parlor, looking a little annoyed and uncomfortable as the moments passed by and their hostess did not appear.
"Come right in," Marjorie had said to them, one after another; "Mamma will be so glad to see you; she'll be here in a minute."
Last of all came Dr. Brownlee. He had been delayed until the last possible moment, and now, just as Mr. and Mrs. Fisher turned the corner far down the street, he rang at the door, to be admitted by Marjorie. Once inside the parlor, he stopped and looked around the room in search of his hostess, in order to offer her a prompt apology for his seeming rudeness in being so late. To his surprise, there was no one present at all answering to the description of Mrs. Fisher which he had received from his landlady.
"Hamlet, without the ghost!" he thought to himself, as he paused irresolutely, just across the threshold, and glanced about in vain for a familiar face.
For a moment there was an awkward hush. Most of the guests knew the doctor by sight, but in the explicable absence of their hostess, no one was sufficiently at ease to rise and bid the stranger welcome to another person's house. They tried to go on with their conversation, in apparent unconsciousness of the young man who stood in the doorway, reddening under their sidelong glances; but their attempt was not crowned with success, and there came one of those seemingly interminable pauses which sometimes fall upon a room. Then, all at once, Louise Everett rose from her chair in the bay-window, where she had been hidden behind the ample shoulder of Mrs. Pennypoker, and, crossing the room, she greeted the doctor as an old acquaintance. A few words passed between them; then she introduced him to the other guests, before leading the way back to her own cosy corner, where Mrs. Burnam sat waiting to welcome him, as the friend of her young nephew.
"Who's that going in at our house?" Mr. Fisher had asked, peering over the top of the pile of bundles in his arms. "It looks like Dr. Brownlee; but why should he be going there?"
"Oh, dear; I hope it isn't anybody coming to call," sighed his wife, with the inhospitality born of a long day of tedious, unsatisfactory shopping. But she quickened her pace, in order to discover who was the guest awaiting them.
At the door she was met by Marjorie, dressed in her best gown, and looking strangely excited.
"Let me take your things, mamma," she said in a low tone. "There's somebody to see you in the parlor."
Forcing a smile to her tired face, Mrs. Fisher advanced to the door to greet her caller. On the threshold she paused aghast, for, to her startled eyes, the room appeared to be thronged with people, who rose and stepped forward to meet her, while Marjorie stood at her side, gleefully clapping her hands and exclaiming,—
"It's a surprise party, mamma! It's a surprise party!"
For one instant, Mrs. Fisher faltered. She had come home in a state of utter exhaustion, and she longed to run away from the parlor and hide. But the next minute her courage came back to her, in the face of her roomful of guests, and she gave them as hearty a welcome as if the party had been one of her own making. Up and down the room she went, speaking a word here, shaking a hand there, all with the tact for which her hospitality was noted. She had sent one appealing glance towards Louise, and the girl, taking in the situation in a moment, had come to her aid, with Dr. Brownlee at her side. In a short time the room was buzzing with voices, as the guests entered into the full tide of conversation.
Suddenly the dining-room door swung open, and Allie appeared on the threshold.
"Please come out to supper, now," she said shyly, as she met her mother's surprised glance.
There was another pause of uncertainty; then Mr. Everett offered his arm to Mrs. Fisher, and led the way to the table, where the guests seated themselves as they wished, gazing, meanwhile, with amused eyes at the feast before them. A short silence followed, and then the conversation started up once more, as Mr. Fisher, with one despairing glance at his wife, attacked the vast ham before him, and Mrs. Fisher began to pour out the pale, watery effusion which filled the teapot. Allie and Marjorie were already bestirring themselves to pass the plates and cups about the table; but all at once Marjorie paused abruptly, with her arm outstretched, as she gazed blankly this way and that. Then her face grew red and the sudden tears rushed to her eyes, as she hurried out of the room, with a gesture to Allie to follow her.
"What is it, Marjorie?" Allie exclaimed in alarm, as the young hostess sank down into the wood box and buried her face in her hands.
An inarticulate moan was her only answer.
"Marjorie! Marjorie!" she urged again. "Tell me what's the matter. Are you ill?"
Then Marjorie raised her head for a moment.
"I'm all right," she said, with a great sob of shame; "but what shall we do, Allie? We ate up all the bread for breakfast, and I forgot to order any more."
It was late that evening when the guests took their leave; and, as they went away down the street together, they said, over and over again, that Mrs. Fisher had never before been half so bright and witty in her talk, so quick to plan new modes of entertainment. Their hostess watched them out of sight; then, after an expressive look at her husband, she turned away from the door, and crossed the hall to Marjorie's room. All was dark within, as she opened the door and entered; but, as soon as her eyes had grown accustomed to the gloom, she went up to the bed, and laid her hand on a small, dark body, curled up on the white spread.
"Marjorie, dear," she said gently.
The childish figure was quivering with suppressed sobs; but there was no other answer.
"Marjorie," she said again; "don't feel so badly about it, my child."
The tone of motherly sympathy was too much for Marjorie's self-control, and the tears began to come, thick and fast.
"O mamma," she cried; "truly we didn't mean to. I'm so sorry."
Mrs. Fisher sat down on the side of the bed, and drew her daughter towards her.
"Don't cry so, Marjorie," she repeated. "I know you didn't mean to do anything out of the way. Tell me how you came to ask all these people here."
Between her sobs, Marjorie told her mother the whole story; and Mrs. Fisher rejoiced that the kindly darkness hid her smile, as she listened to her little daughter's incoherent explanation of the party and its cause.
"And I meant it should all be so nice," Marjorie ended, with a fresh burst of tears; "and it was just dreadful. I forgot the bread, and the candles wouldn't burn, and nobody knew Dr. Brownlee, and everything was horrid. Scold me, if you want to; but I truly meant to give you a good time, only it all went wrong."
"Marjorie, dear," her mother said, when she could steady her voice enough to speak; "I know you meant to make me have a happy birthday, and I am grateful to my little girl for taking so much pains for me. Another time we will talk it over together, and plan the best thing to do, instead of your trying to surprise me. And now forget all about the worry of it, and only remember that you've done what you could to make the day pleasant for me." And she bent over for a goodnight kiss, before she returned to the kitchen for a long hour of dish-washing and putting the room to rights.
"Git up in de mawnin' singin', an' de cat cotch you befo' night," Janey had said oracularly, when Allie ran out into the kitchen, that morning before breakfast, with the refrain of one of Charlie's songs upon her lips.
"What nonsense, Janey!" said Allie, laughing at the strange, old-time saying. "I don't believe the cat'll 'cotch' me any more for singing, and it's ever so much more fun than 'tis to cry."
In fact, there was no particular reason that Allie should not sing, for life looked very attractive to her that morning. The bright June sunshine was lying warm over the town, and giving back a dazzling lustre from the snow-capped mountains which rose up from the midst of the summer landscape; lessons were over for the present, and, best of all, Mr. and Mrs. Burnam were to go out to camp that day, to make final arrangements for the long-talked-of week, when the Everetts, Burnams, and Fishers were to pitch their tents beside the engineering camp, in the Bitter Root Mountains, and enjoy a week of roughing it in the wilderness. Soon after breakfast they drove away from the door, with Victor snugly tucked in between them, while Allie, with the boys and Ben, stood on the piazza, to wave them a good-by. The children lingered there until the wagon was out of sight; then they turned back into the house, feeling very important over the prospect of two days of housekeeping on their own account.
But, after all their anticipations, the morning did not prove to be quite as enjoyable as they had hoped it would be. Marjorie had been invited to spend the day with them; but, unfortunately, Marjorie was in one of her perverse fits, and so successfully devoted herself to the task of being disagreeable that Allie was at her wits' end how to manage her; Howard openly quarrelled with her, and even Charlie, the courteous, marched out of the room and slammed the door behind him, while he sang, with tantalizing distinctness,—
"'Oh, jimineddy! And oh, goody gracious! How I did love her! But she was contumacious.'"
This last insult was too much for Marjorie to bear, for, in her secret heart, she greatly admired Charlie, and longed to have him for her ally and champion, instead of being forced to watch his unswerving devotion to his cousin. As the door closed behind him, she flew after him, to deliver herself of one parting shot,—
"Charlie MacGregor, I de-test you! You're no gentleman, even if you do think you are; and I only hope you'll get what you deserve for being so rude to me, when I'm company."
Then the door banged again with even greater violence than before, and Marjorie burst out crying, as she put on her hat and departed, without a word to Allie.
Her irate guest once gone, Allie moved up and down the rooms, putting them in order with much the same dazed feeling as that which comes in the sudden hush that sometimes follows a violent thunder-shower. The more she pondered on the events of the morning, she could not see that either she herself or the two boys were in any way to blame for Marjorie's explosion, and as she forlornly sat down to the lunch table, she felt as if she were in part realizing the truth of Janey's prediction. However, she was too much accustomed to Marjorie's sudden fits of temper, and too well acquainted with her really kind heart, to dwell long upon the matter; so before the meal was ended she was gayly laughing with the boys, and planning for the next day's frolic.
"Come out and have a ride, Allie," urged Charlie, as they left the table. "I have a kind of a sort of a feeling that I'm in disgrace, and I want some fun to console me."
"How silly you are to mind what Marjorie says!" she answered. "She'll be all over it by to-morrow, and like you better than ever; I know just how angelic she always is, after one of these times. But if you want a ride, I'll be ready in an hour. I've promised to write a letter for Janey, first."
"To his Goatship?" inquired Howard disrespectfully. "All right; we'll go out and play ball till time to get the ponies." And they went away, while Allie stood in the door, saucily calling after them to be good boys and not get into mischief.
"Now, Janey," she said, as she went out into the kitchen; "I'll write that letter for you before you wash the dishes or anything; because Mr. Charlie wants me to go to ride with him, as soon as I can." And she seated herself at the table, while Janey went after her writing materials.
"How you done like my paper, Miss Allie?" the girl asked proudly, as she laid upon the table a sheet of vivid, rose-colored paper, and its accompanying envelope, which brought with them an aggressive fragrance of musk. Then she dropped down on the floor behind her young mistress, coiling herself up in the corner, with her back against the wall, that she might dictate at her ease.
"My dear frien'," she began slowly, and with the air of searching her mind for properly sonorous phrases; "I have done receive your letter, an' I take my pen in han' to now reply. I was very glad to know dat you is well, an' I am sorry to say I am not; I think I have de consumption"—
"Why, Janey," interposed Allie; "what do you mean? Aren't you well?"
"Yes, I's well enough," answered Janey, as she shot a sudden mischievous glance from the corners of her downcast eyes; "but I reckon he'll think more of me, ef he thinks I's goin' to die. I am not very happy," she resumed, in the same stilted tone as before; "an' las' night you came to me in a dream, an' tol' me you was dead. I done specks he'll cry like everything, when he reads dat," she interpolated, with a nod of triumph. "Sometimes I reckon we sha'n' never see each other no mo'; but you mus' never forget your Janey. Um-mm," she went on, in an inarticulate mumble.
"What?" inquired Allie, pausing, with her pen in mid air, as she turned around to see Janey with her cap off, a row of hair-pins between her lips, and a pair of gleaming scissors raised to one of her woolly tails.
There was a sudden sound of snipping steel, and then Janey continued,—
"I sen' you a plat of my hair, an' I wants you to sen' me one of yours; an'—an—'" Janey hesitated, while she put on her cap once more.
"Well, what next?" asked Allie, secretly wondering, as she glanced at the sable tress before her, why each could not retain his own hair, since the two locks would probably be so much alike that only the keen eye of an expert or a lover could distinguish between them.
"So no mo' now," dictated Janey. "Give my love to Emma Digson, an' Joe Harrison, an' my mother, an' tell little Bill he mus' be a good boy, an' tell Sarah Johnson"—Here followed a list of greetings and messages, as long as those at the end of the Pauline epistles.
Allie was still toiling her way through them, making conscientious attempts to discover the proper spelling of names, when she heard the front door open and shut. A moment later, Howard appeared in the kitchen, very pale and with trembling lips.
"Come here a minute, Allie," he said, in a tone of command so unlike his usual manner that his sister started up at the first word.
"What is it?" she demanded hastily. "What do you want of me?"
But Howard had already hurried back to the parlor. She followed him, with a dull, cold feeling about her heart, as she became more and more convinced that there was some trouble. As she reached the parlor door, she drew back, for a moment, in alarm. On the sofa lay Charlie, with his handkerchief tied over the upper part of his face, and his cheeks and lips as white as Howard's had been. The next instant she sprang forward to his side, crying,—
"O Charlie, what has happened? Are you hurt? What is it?"
With a strong effort, the boy steadied his voice enough to say quietly, as he stretched out his hand towards the spot where he had heard her drop down on her knees beside the sofa,—
"'Tisn't much, Allie; so don't get rattled. Howard'll tell you about it." And he paused abruptly, biting his lip to keep from crying out with pain.
"We were playing ball, and Charlie went to catch. He muffed, somehow, and the ball hit him in the eye; it smashed his glasses, and they've cut his eyes some," explained Howard, in a hurried, breathless tone, while he tramped nervously up and down the room.
"What can we do? If mamma were only here, Howard! Is it very bad, Charlie?" And for a moment Allie's head dropped beside her cousin's, while she shook with sobs of mingled pity and fear. Then she started up again, to force back her tears as she said, with all the pride and energy of the MacGregors in her firm, clear voice,—
"Howard, don't rush round so; you'll only make Charlie worse. It may not be so bad; but you go, quick as you can, for Dr. Brownlee. Run every single step of the way, and don't you come back without him."
For an instant, Howard stared admiringly at the determined little figure before him; then he rushed away, glad to get out of sight, where he could rub the tears off from his cheeks, and feeling an immediate relief in the need for prompt action. Twenty minutes later he came back, accompanied by the doctor, whom he had met on the street, not far from his office.
As Allie rose from her place beside the sofa, she was filled with a momentary dislike of this handsome, well-dressed young man, with the red carnation in his button-hole, who came into the room with a sort of quiet briskness, and addressed a half-laughing remark of greeting to Charlie. But as she watched him, she soon realized that there was nothing unsympathetic in his cheerfulness; and she felt a quick trust in him, when she looked up into his kind gray eyes, while he bent over Charlie and took the handkerchief from his face. An older person would have read much from the sudden frown which passed across his forehead; but Allie failed to catch it, and was cheered by his next words,——
"Only a scratch or two, and a little cut. We'll patch you up soon, my boy, so you needn't worry. There's a little glass left here, though, that we want to get out of the way, first of all. You say your parents are away?" he asked, turning to Allie. "Do you suppose you can help me a little; or are you afraid?"
Allie's cheeks grew white at the thought; and the doctor, as he watched her, added kindly,—
"Or perhaps your brother"—
But Howard had fled, to shut himself up in his mother's room. Allie could hear him moving restlessly about, behind the closed door.
"I'll help if I can," she said bravely, though her rigid lips would scarcely form the words; and she dropped her hand on Charlie's cold fingers, to feel them close around it, with a grateful pressure, as the doctor said approvingly,—
"That's a brave girl! Now, has your mother anything that I could use for bandages?"
Allie hurried away in search of the great "emergency basket," which her mother always kept well stocked with rolls of old cotton and linen and flannel. The doctor gave a quick nod of pleasure, as he saw the orderly store.
"Good!" he said, as if to himself; "that tells the story. I wish more women would look out for such things. Now," he went on, while he drew a chair to the window, and laid a little case of shining, ugly-looking instruments on a table beside it; "we must get rid of that glass as soon as we can; and I want you, little woman, to hold this boy's head tight, very tight, so he can't move, no matter how much I do hurt him. Any slip now would be very serious."
There followed a short interval of silence, when Charlie ground his teeth hard together, to keep back any sound, and Allie sturdily held her place at the back of his chair, though she felt faint and sick at the sight before her, as those horrible little steel points moved up and down across her cousin's eye. Then the doctor spoke again, in his cheery, pleasant way, while he adjusted the necessary bandages; but to Allie his voice sounded a long way off, and she dropped to the floor in a forlorn little heap, as soon as she received the doctor's nod to assure her that her work was ended.
"You're a plucky pair," said Dr. Brownlee then, as he led the boy back to the sofa, and arranged a pillow under his head. "I don't know which has been braver, but I'm proud of you both. The worst is over now; but we want to get this boy into bed, where he can keep quiet for a day or two. I wish we could send word to your mother; but I suppose that is out of the question, so we shall have to get along without her. Still, you've a good nurse here, Charlie," he added, with an admiring glance at Allie, who had roused herself once more and was standing by the sofa, with one slender hand resting on her cousin's forehead.
"Shall I get his room ready?" she asked, as her blue eyes filled with tears again; for the doctor's kind words were too much for her shaken nerves to bear.
"Yes, he'll be better there," the doctor answered, as he followed her into the room which the two boys usually occupied. "A southwest corner room," he said, glancing around it. "That's too strong a light; isn't there somewhere else?"
"Mine is on the other side," she suggested.
"That's better; but what will you do, my young nurse?" he asked with the gentle courtesy which was habitual with him.
"I'll take the sofa, or anywhere," she said, as she led the way into her own dainty little room. "He can have this to himself, too; and Howard is in the other. I truly don't mind a bit being turned out." She paused and glanced over her shoulder to make sure that the door was shut. "Is it very bad, Dr. Brownlee?" she asked, in a frightened whisper.
"I can't tell yet; but I hope not," the doctor said reassuringly. "Now, little woman, listen to me. Your cousin will have to be shut up here in the dark for a good many days, and your mother will be away till to-morrow night. I might send for somebody to come and stay with you; but it would only frighten Charlie, so I am going to leave him in your care, instead. You've just been doing splendidly with him; and he's used to you, and likes to have you round him. Now, do you suppose you can see to him till bedtime, and through the day to-morrow? A great deal, much more than you know, depends on his being kept quiet and content, without any worry. I will come back this evening, and sleep on the sofa here, where I can look out for him through the night. Do you think you can do it?"
"I will," answered Allie, as solemnly as if she had been taking her marriage vows.
The doctor studied her face intently. Such a little thing, a happy, rollicking child! But, in the past hour, she had shown herself a woman, in the courage and tenderness which her love for her cousin had given her. He felt that he could trust her, even in such a critical case as this. But, as he looked down at the wistful, white face, and the drawn lips which yet made no complaint of weakness or of fear, some sudden impulse made him stoop and lift her hand to his lips.
"I am glad to bend the knee before so brave and true a lady," he said, with assumed lightness to mask his real feeling. "I hope the time may come when I shall be able to prove how gladly I would serve her."
"Cure Charlie's eye, then," she answered, with quaint, serious directness.
"My dear little girl, I will if I can," he replied gravely.
Then he turned away, to close the blinds, draw down the shades, and pull together the heavy curtains, until the room lay in deep shadow. At sight of these ominous preparations, Allie's fear came back to her.
"Oh, must he stay like this, all in the dark?" she cried, in a sudden terror of she knew not what.
"For a little while," answered the doctor, his voice sounding brisk and cheery again, through the thick darkness. "We'll try not to have it last any longer than we can help. Now," he went on kindly, "if you'll go out in the sunshine and take a little run, while you get quieted down, I'll help Charlie into bed. Then I shall leave him in your hands."
But Allie was in no mood for sunshine. She paused for one moment beside her cousin, without daring to trust her voice to speak; then she fled to the kitchen, and cast herself into Janey's arms, to cry as if her young heart were breaking.
"Miss Allie, honey," Janey begged her; "what is it? Tell Janey what's de matter. Don' cry so, Miss Allie, don't."
Allie was past heeding her words. It had taken all her courage and self-control to go through the last hour, and, now that she could have a moment to herself, she could only cling to Janey and sob with a bitterness which brought the sympathetic tears into the dark eyes above her.
"What is it, honey?" asked Janey again, as the child grew more quiet.
"Oh, Janey, it's Mr. Charlie!" And Allie's head went over against the girl's shoulder once more.
Janey looked pityingly down into the swollen, flushed face before her. Then she seated herself in a chair, and gathering up the child in her strong, young arms, she rocked gently to and fro without speaking, while Allie sobbed out the story of the accident. When she paused, the girl's brown cheek lay, for a moment, against the soft, thick hair, in an unspoken caress; then she said cheerfully,—
"Now, Miss Allie, dear, it's too bad, and Janey's sorry for you all. But jus' you dry up your eyes, an' don' cry no mo'. Mars' Charlie's too good a boy for de Lord to give him very bad time, an' 'twon't be long befo' he's all right again. Janey's awful sorry for you; but you jus' try to keep jolly, for his 'count, an' your ma will be home to-morrow. It'll all come out for de bes'," she added, with the simple faith of her people, which somehow comforted Allie, and gave her new strength to go on.
A few minutes later, the doctor sent Howard in search of his sister, and Allie was able to go quietly back into her room. It looked strangely unfamiliar to her; but as her eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she gradually made out the figure of her cousin, who was lying in her dainty bed, with broad white bandages covering his eyes.
"Is that you, Allie?" he asked eagerly, as the door opened. "The doctor says you're to look out for me to-day, and I'm no end glad of it."
"Yes," said the doctor, from his corner where Allie had not yet seen him; "you couldn't have a better nurse. Now," he added, after giving her a few simple directions, "I shall be back early this evening, and, till then, you're in charge. All you have to do," he went on, as Allie followed him to the door, "is to wait on him, and see that the light doesn't get to him. You can talk to him, just as you always do, only be a little quiet. Above all, don't let him get to thinking about his eye, for he mustn't worry. Good-by."
He left her to go back into her cousin's room, while he went down the street, saying to himself,—
"I wish I could often get as plucky a patient and nurse. But I'd give a good deal if I had a first-class oculist in town to-night; I don't like the looks, up there."
IN THE DARK.
Often and often, during the next few weeks, Allie recalled the conversation which had taken place between herself and Marjorie, months before; for Charlie's time had come to prove his ability to bear trouble and suffering as bravely as a boy could do. Early on the afternoon following the accident, Dr. Brownlee had saddled his horse and ridden away to meet Mrs. Burnam, and prepare her for the new care awaiting her; but it was not until the next day that he told her of his real fear, the danger that the injured eye might become so seriously inflamed that its sight would be destroyed. How Howard and Allie found it out, it would be impossible to say; but, before the day was over, they knew the secret, and hovered about their cousin with an anxious care, the real cause of which he understood as little as he did that of the doctor's extreme gentleness of voice and touch, when he came, morning and night, to examine the wound and renew the bandages.
It was a hard experience for the boy, for there were long days of sickening, throbbing pain, that darted up and down about his eye, and painted strange, lurid pictures against the darkness of his closed lids. Then came the time when he was allowed to sit up once more, and to wander clumsily about his narrow quarters, bruising himself by frequent collisions with the unseen furniture, until Allie's heart ached for him, and she longed to tear away the bandages, and let him have one short hour of daylight again. His piano was his main solace in these days, for Mrs. Burnam had had it moved into his room, and he amused himself with it for long hours at a time, when his cousins were busy, or away from home. Of course he grumbled a little at times, as any healthy boy would do; of course he had hours of being undeniably cross; but, for the most part, he showed a quiet endurance which won the admiration of all his friends.
But, little by little, as the danger passed, his privileges increased, and he was free to make daily excursions out into the parlor, which was darkened for his use, and to receive short calls from the Everetts and Marjorie. Allie had been his constant companion in these weeks, entertaining him, leading him about the room, and even feeding him the meals which Mrs. Burnam and Janey prepared so daintily. Then, at length, came the great day when the bandage was taken off, to be replaced by a shade, and only resumed for the hour when Allie was to be allowed to lead him up and down the sunny piazza, and out along the street for daily-increasing distances. For Charlie, all this was like coming back into life once more. In spite of the darkness of his room, he could yet see the dim outlines of objects in his narrow line of vision, and grope his way about without being dependent upon his cousins for his every need; and after a month of perfect helplessness, even this was a relief, and he accepted it gratefully.
And, after all, dark as the days were, they yet had their bright spots. In his constant visits, the doctor had quite won Charlie's heart with his lively talk and fun, until the boy found himself eagerly looking forward to the next call, and wondering what fresh interest his new friend had in store for him. For the doctor, true to the instincts of his profession, knew so well how to cover his real anxiety under his gay, light manner, that his young patient had no idea of the possible danger of his case, and only regarded it as a tedious, painful wound which would soon heal.
"I am getting most awfully sick of this, though," he said one day, after the doctor had gone. "It's a shame to be losing all this jolly weather, and I've forgotten how everything looks. Dr. Brownlee is a first-rate man; but he needn't make such a fuss over a scratch. I say, Allie, let's run away and go for a ride up the gulch."
"Oh, wouldn't I like to!" responded Allie, with a fervor which led Charlie to say gratefully,—
"I'll tell you what, Allie; it's a shame for you to stay tucked up with me in this hole. You've stuck by me like a Trojan; but I'm well enough off alone. Go out and have a lark; I would if I could."
"Sha'n't!" returned Allie composedly. "Besides, there isn't anybody to lark with."
"Where are Marjorie and the boys?" demanded Charlie, casting himself down in the easy-chair, and turning to face Allie, as she stood leaning against the window curtain.
"They went fishing with Mr. Everett, up the canon."
"Bother!" exclaimed Charlie impatiently. "Here I am losing all the fun; and you're so silly, you won't go without me, when you could, as well as not. That's just like a girl."
"Now, Charlie, you just keep your temper," said Allie laughingly, while she covered his mouth with her hand. "If you say anything more that's saucy, I'll go off and never come back. I didn't want to go to-day; it's too warm. Besides, we'll make up for all this when we go into camp."
"Are we really going? I thought 'twas given up." And Charlie started up with quick enthusiasm.
"Yes, the plans are all made, and we're only waiting for you to be able to go. We're going to be gone two weeks, and"—Allie paused, before imparting her final bit of good news—"papa has asked Dr. Brownlee to go too."
"How jolly!" Charlie exclaimed rapturously.
"Isn't it? The doctor didn't want you to get where he couldn't see to you; and we all like him so much that papa said this was the best thing to do, so we're going to start the very first day you are able."
"When does he say 'twill be?" asked the boy eagerly.
Allie hesitated. This part of her news was not so pleasant, for since the first danger was over and Charlie was allowed to be up and about the room, she knew that he was restless, and longing to be out with the boys, enjoying his old free life once more.
"Well," he urged again, "when can we go?"
"Not for three or four weeks," she said gently, as her hand fell down from his face, and rested on his shoulder with a little caressing gesture.
The boy needed all her sympathy, for his disappointment was keen. The prospect of a month more of an existence like that of the past three weeks was too much for his courage; and, shaking off her hand, he rose and tramped up and down the room, frowning and moody.
"I won't stand it!" he exclaimed suddenly, as he paused. "There's no need of it, Allie, and I'm just not going to stand another month of it. I'll risk my eyes, or let them slide; but I must get out of this stuffy old room inside of a week, or I'll know the reason why."
But his temper was always short-lived, and he was soon his old bright self again. That night he was cheered by hearing the doctor say that he might go out into the parlor to see Ned and Grant for an hour in the morning.
From that time on, his days began to pass more quickly. With Ned and Marjorie at their head, the young people showed unlimited patience and ingenuity in planning new amusements for their friend; and not a day passed that they did not descend upon him in a body, laden with offerings of fruit and flowers, trophies of their fishing expeditions, and bits of gay gossip from mine and smelter, choir and Chinatown.
Marjorie, in particular, was his devoted slave. For the past few weeks, she had been carrying, deep down in her heart, a little sore spot, left there by the stinging memory of her hasty words an hour before the accident; and, now that she could see her friend once more, she did her best to make amends for her past sins. But though her endless fun and rollicking kindness gave Charlie many a pleasant hour, it was to Allie that he turned in any emergency, for her long days of devotion to him had proved her a staunch, true friend.
"Allie is a pretty good sort of girl," he confided to Ned one day. "She's just the kind to have round when you aren't well, for she's jolly, and takes first-rate care of you, without being soft."
One afternoon, about three or four weeks after the accident, Marjorie and the three boys were sitting on the little front porch at the Everetts', reposing after a long ride. It was a cool, cloudy day; the mist lay low over the mountain sides, and closed in between the walls of the canon, and the wind blew up fresh and sharp. Allie had watched the little group of riders as they cantered past the house and, turning the corner, stopped at the Everetts'. Then she was seized with a sudden inspiration.
"Get up, lazy boy," she commanded, going into her room where Charlie lay on the sofa, stretched out at his ease, with his arms folded under his head. "Mamma's coming in here, in a minute, to put on your blinders, and then let's go down to the Everetts' for an hour. They're all down there, and we'll take them by surprise."
Charlie started up eagerly enough. It was the longest walk that he had taken, and he was glad to get out of his dull routine; so, ten minutes later, he was on his way, with his hat pulled down over his face to cover the ignominious bandage, and Allie's hand on his arm.
Grant was the first to see him coming.
"Hurrah!" he shouted. "There's Charlie Mac!"
"Where?" exclaimed Ned, turning around with a suddenness which made him lose his balance, as he sat on the rail, and sent him rolling over backwards to the ground. He was on his feet again in a twinkling, and tore away up the street to meet his guest, and, usurping Allie's place as escort, bring him back to the steps in triumph. "Sit down here, old fellow," he said, as he deposited him in a chair, and seated himself protectingly on the arm. "How jolly to have you round again!"
"Glad you think so," responded Charlie; "I was feeling fine to-day, and Allie thought 't would be a good scheme to come down here. You can just believe I was ready for a change of base."
The first chatter of eager greeting was not yet ended, when Louise Everett appeared in the doorway behind them.
"I must just come out to speak to Charlie," she said, as she stepped forward to his chair. "It's so long since I've seen you. No, don't get up," she added hastily; "you look too comfortable to let me disturb you, so I'll just sit down on the step beside Howard, if there's room."
"Always room for you, Miss Lou," returned Howard gallantly, as he curled up his feet so that his dusty shoes should not soil her fresh, pink gown. "We've set Charlie up in the middle, like a Chinese idol, and are adoring him."
"You'd better get Wang Kum out here to help," suggested the idol complacently. "I'm afraid I'm not much to look at, Miss Lou; but fortunately I don't have to see myself these days. I leave it to Allie, to tell me if my hair's smooth."
Louise laughed, as she rested one hand affectionately on the girl's shoulder.
"The doctor says she has been a most devoted Allie; and we all think that we haven't seen much more of her than of you, this last month."
"I know that, Howard and I aren't any account, any longer," said Marjorie, in an injured tone, from her seat on the rail. "Howard, which of us shall get broken to pieces, so the other can 'tend to it?"
"What's the use?" returned Howard languidly. "Our noses are out of joint now, and it doesn't seem to do us any good."
"Oh, by thunder!" exclaimed Grant, suddenly.
"Grant, dear, what words!" said his sister reprovingly.
"Can't help it, Lou; look there! Dr. Hornblower is coming down the road, and I can see, by the northeast corner of his weather eye, that he's going to stop and make us a visit."
"Dr. Hornblower? Do put me out of sight somewhere," begged Charlie.
"What for? You've never seen him, and he's lots of fun," said Howard, without the faintest appearance of respect for the clerical brother.
"I know, but I'd rather meet him some time when I don't feel so much like a mummy in a museum," urged Charlie again. "Can't you get me out of this, Ned?"
"There isn't time, honestly. He's right here, or I would," answered Ned in a low voice, as he drew his friend's soft hat forward and turned down the brim. "You're all right; and, besides, he's such an old duffer that he won't notice anything. He won't stay here, any way; he comes to see cousin Euphemia, and help her out when she gets in a tight place with Wang Kum. Wang's been cutting church lately, and most likely the doctor's come to see about it."
The Reverend Gabriel Hornblower belonged to the fast vanishing school of mossbacks, or "old-timers," as they more elegantly termed themselves, the early settlers who had watched the State grow from its first squatter population to its present comparative civilization. A mere boy in the stormy days of Sixty-three, he had joined one of the many trains of ox-teams which started across the country, on their slow, toilsome march to the far West; and, for the next few years, his life had been one of continual excitement and hardship. His father and grandfather before him had been ministers; so it was small wonder that Gabriel, upon arriving at man's estate, should feel that both his family tradition and his name had called him to the life of a wandering preacher among the mining camps and scattered ranches of the region, until he had finally settled down to take charge of the little church in Blue Creek. He was neither a great man, nor an educated one. On the contrary, he was ignorant of any life outside of his own narrow sphere, and intolerant of all spirit of advance or change, singularly devoid of tact, but literal, honest, and well-meaning. Moreover, he was absolutely self-satisfied, but utterly lacking in the sense of fun which makes conceited people so much less disagreeable, since it gives them a glimmering appreciation of their own absurdity.
As far as his outward man was concerned, the Reverend Gabriel Hornblower was not fair to look upon. Although Mrs. Pennypoker never failed to speak of him as "old Dr. Hornblower," in reality he was not far from forty-five; but he looked a score of years older, for his constant exposure to the fierce mountain gales and the burning suns of summer had tanned and dried him until his complexion closely resembled a withered seckel pear, and his body was as thin and wiry as that of a September locust in a season of famine. But, in spite of his dull, yellow-brown skin, his deep-set blue eyes retained all their old life and sparkle, while his thick auburn hair was cut close at the back and sides of his head, and allowed to grow long above his forehead, where it was combed up to form a single curl, which ran straight across the top of his head, from brow to crown. The peculiar nature of this curl had beguiled the time of dreary sermons for many a youthful sinner; for, like Melchisedek, it appeared to have its beginning and ending in nothing, and there was a certain fascination in tracing its placid course above the august forehead.
Approaching nearer to Dr. Hornblower, it was easy to see that he was a close student, either of books or of human nature. His habit of profound thought had developed an anxious frown, which had traced three deep wrinkles between his eyebrows; while, upon the rare occasions when his massive brain was at rest, and his brow was smoothed, two narrow lines of white, untanned skin came to the surface, and gave his face a little the appearance of a fantastic mask.
As he drew near the little group on the steps, Louise courteously rose to greet him.
"Come in, Dr. Hornblower," she said hospitably. "Walk into the parlor, and I'll call Mrs. Pennypoker."
The doctor paused irresolutely, while he looked up into her fair young face.
"Um—thank you," he said awkwardly. "I will—at least I didn't exactly come to see Mrs. Pennypoker, this afternoon. I"—
"Shall I call Wang Kum?" suggested Grant, with an air of ready interest, as he rose and moved a step towards the door.
"Not just now," said the Reverend Gabriel stiffly. "Miss Everett, may I not have the—the pleasure of sitting at your feet?" And he fixed his eyes on the patent-leather tips of her shoes.
"Of course we should be very glad to have you with us, Dr. Hornblower," returned Louise, while the pink color in her cheeks grew a shade deeper, as she heard an irrepressible giggle from Marjorie. "Ned, will you please bring out another chair? This is Charlie MacGregor, Dr. Hornblower," she added, as she saw the doctor's eyes turn inquiringly in his direction.
"In—deed; the young boy who was injured while at play? How do you do, Charles?" asked the Reverend Gabriel, after pausing to contemplate the lad, who had risen to his feet.
"Very much better, thank you," replied Charlie, while Howard gave him a stealthy poke with his foot.
"Ah? I am glad to hear it, for I have been much interested in your case. I hope you are properly thankful that there is now some slight possibility that your sight may be restored to you."
"Take this chair, Dr. Hornblower," interposed Louise hastily, while Charlie turned an appealing face towards his cousins. "It is a long time since you have been here; Mrs. Pennypoker was speaking of it only yesterday."
"Yes, I have been much occupied with the duties of my calling," returned the Reverend Gabriel, as he seated himself in the low chair, which brought his bony knees almost on a level with his chin. "My time has been engaged in visiting the erring members of my flock; and now, to-day, I find that I have an hour in which to call on you."
"I hope you don't look upon me as an erring member," Louise said, laughing lightly.
"Pardon me, my dear young friend, no; you are misapprehending me," answered the doctor, with a stiff-necked bow which sent Grant and Marjorie into the house to laugh unseen. "I only wished to state that"—
"Cousin Euphemia will be here in a minute, Lou," interrupted Ned, reappearing in the doorway. "She saw the doctor coming, and she sent me out to say she'd be right here; she wants to talk up something about Wang. Come on, Charlie, I want to show you something in the house."
"Really," exclaimed the discomfited doctor, as he looked beseechingly at Louise; "I had no wish to disturb your cousin, Miss Everett. I trust that she did not feel that she ought to see me, if it is inconvenient."
"Not at all; she'll be delighted to see you," answered his young hostess, with a grateful glance at her brother as he disappeared through the open door.
"There!" said Ned triumphantly, as the children settled themselves inside the parlor. "We'll stay cached in here, out of the way; and maybe there'll be some fun before long, if Cousin Euphemia and the doctor get after Wang. He's been to our church all the time lately, ever since our choir started up; and Cousin Euphemia doesn't like it. I just heard her telling Wang to go out to them as soon as he could get ready."
Ned's suspicions were well founded. A few moments later Wang Kum came shuffling around the corner of the house, with his hat cocked defiantly on the back of his head, and his hands buried in the pockets of his loose blue toga.
"How do you do, Wang Kum?" asked the doctor, benevolently eyeing the stray lamb before him.
"Heap well," returned Wang Kum calmly, as he kept his eyes fixed on the ground, to avoid Mrs. Pennypoker's warning glance.
"I was afraid you were ill," observed the doctor, with an approving smile for his own crafty manner of approaching the subject.
"Uh?" inquired Wang Kum.
"I thought perhaps you might be sick," repeated the doctor. "I hadn't seen you at church lately."
Wang shook his head contemptuously.
"Wang no get sick," he remarked.
"Then why haven't you been to church?" asked the doctor.
But Wang Kum only replied with a scarcely perceptible shrug.
"Wang, didn't you hear Dr. Hornblower speak to you?" asked Mrs. Pennypoker sharply.
Wang still stood gazing on the ground and nodding his head in a slow, thoughtful way which communicated a rhythmic undulation to his pigtail. At Mrs. Pennypoker's question, he glanced up.
"Wang no likee your church," he answered coolly. "Pisplykal church heap lot better; smell good, sound good." He paused, then added, with a cunning twinkle in his little dark eyes, "Make heap washee for washee-shop." And, turning on his heel, he marched off towards the kitchen, with the air of a man who had solved vast economic problems.
CAMPING ON THE BEAVERHEAD.
The August sun was shining down from a cloudless sky. He had risen betimes that morning; but he was not the first one up in Blue Creek, for the dim light of the dawn had found Ned and Grant Everett dressed and flying about the house, while, farther up the street, Marjorie was peering out through the window blinds, to assure herself that it was to be a pleasant day. By seven o'clock the Burnams, too, were stirring; and soon afterwards Allie and the boys appeared in the dining-room at the Everetts', to exchange noisy congratulations over the fine weather.
The day had at length come when they were to start upon their long-delayed camping trip. For the past week, the young people had been in a state of ferment, while their elders were in much the same condition, even to Mrs. Pennypoker, whose excitement was largely mixed with dread at the thought of the Bohemian life before her. The engineering camp, which they were to join, was now pitched beside the Beaverhead River; and Mr. Burnam, who had been out with his party much of the time since Charlie's accident, had come back to Blue Creek two days before, announcing that all was in readiness for their reception; so the hour for their departure was fixed upon. The distance to the camp was so great that they were to be two days upon their journey, spending the night at a ranch on their way, and reaching camp late on the following afternoon.
By nine o'clock, the party had assembled at the Burnams', ready for the start. They made an imposing cavalcade as they moved away down the street, for all but the older women were mounted on horseback. At the head of the procession rode Mr. Everett, Mr. Burnam, and Mr. Fisher, followed closely by the four boys, Allie and Marjorie, while Louise Everett, in her close-fitting dark green habit, cantered along in the rear, with Dr. Brownlee by her side. Then came the three wagons, the first driven by Wang Kum, with Janey perched up on the high seat beside him, eyeing her companion askance; while Mrs. Pennypoker, directly behind them, watched them both with an unswerving vigilance, ready to check any sign of levity on the part of man or maid. Mrs. Pennypoker was attired with all her wonted nicety, and her prim black straw bonnet and decorous gloves formed a striking contrast to the plain rough-and-ready gowns and broad hats of the other matrons, who were more accustomed to the needs of the life before them. Last of all came the two baggage wagons, one carrying the tents and stove, the other laden with the generous stock of provisions which Mr. Burnam had laid in for his guests; while in and out among them all raced Ben in a series of mad, elephantine gambols, expressive of his joy at being started for the field again.
Through the town they proceeded quietly enough; then, when they came out into the open ground of the lower canon, the boys uttered a wild whoop, and dug their heels into the flanks of their ponies, as they went scurrying away, far in advance of the rest of the party.
"Just look at Charlie!" said Marjorie, as the boys turned to ride leisurely back to their companions once more. "He acts as if he didn't know what to do next."
"He's just about wild to be out again," returned Allie, gathering up her reins preparatory to joining the lads at the head of the procession. "You see, he was shut up 'most eight weeks, so I don't wonder he wants to make up for it. I expect he'll break his neck, though; for he's so near-sighted that he can't see without his glasses, and of course he can't wear them with that patch over his eye."
"How long is he going to wear it?" asked Marjorie soberly.
"I don't know; a good while, the doctor says, but I don't think Charlie minds much, after the other."
"I suppose he came awfully near"—Marjorie paused, with a little shiver.
Allie nodded understandingly.
"Yes; he didn't have any idea of it, though, till that day he met Dr. Hornblower at the Everetts'. After that he was dreadfully blue; you know he wouldn't stir out anywhere, for ever so long."
"Say, Allie," began Marjorie abruptly; "do you remember that day before he was hurt?"
"When you were so cross?" inquired Allie mercilessly.
"Yes. Did Charlie ever say anything about it?"
"Why, no," answered Allie after a little reflection. "I don't believe he ever thought of it again."
"I am glad of it," responded Marjorie; but still she did not look altogether pleased. She would have preferred that her words should carry a little more weight. Then she went on with her confession, "Well, I kept thinking about it, till I began to feel as if I'd done it all. You know I said I hoped something would happen. I wanted to come straight down here, that very night, but mamma wouldn't let me, not even long enough to just say I was sorry; and then the doctor wouldn't let any of us see him for ever so long, so I never said anything about it. Would you now, or would you let it go?"
"I don't know," said Allie thoughtfully. "Charlie'd never lay up anything of that kind; but I always just like to say I'm sorry, when I've been hateful to him or Howard. It kind of smoothes things out; but you can do as you like."
"Hi, you girls!" exclaimed Grant, dashing past them at this moment, after capering about the wagons in a manner calculated to bring down Mrs. Pennypoker's denunciations upon his yellow head. "What makes you so puppywented slow? Come on!"
"All right!" And Allie scampered off at his heels, sitting very straight and trim in her pretty new saddle.
Howard and Ned went after them, and Charlie was just ready to follow when he heard some one coming up behind him on his blindfold side.
"Wait just one minute, Charlie," said Marjorie's voice in his ear. "I want to say something to you—just to say"—She paused, and swallowed hard for a minute; then she went on steadily, "how sorry I've been that I was so mean to you that day your eye was hurt. I wanted to tell you so right off then, but I couldn't. But I kept thinking about it, all the time you were ill, and 'twas most as bad as if I'd thrown the ball." Marjorie stopped; the very earnestness of her apology made it hard to utter.
Charlie turned his head to look at her. He was surprised to see her face so pale and her lips trembling.
"That's all right enough, Marjorie," he said heartily. "I knew you didn't mean it, and I didn't think any more about it. Give us your fist, and then we'll go after the others."
Sunset, the next night, found the party comfortably established in their new quarters, on the very bank of the willow-bordered creek that plunged into the river, forty feet away. Across the creek and six hundred feet down the valley, dingy and brown with much service stood the tents of the engineering corps; but the officers' tent was deserted, for its occupants had come over to pay their respects at Camp Burnam, as the children had christened it. The site for the camp had been fixed upon, two days beforehand, and it was but the work of an hour to unpack the wagons and pitch the four tents which made up the outfit. At the south were the sleeping-tents, with Mrs. Burnam presiding over one, and Mr. Everett over the other, while at the east, close to the creek, were those given up to dining and cooking, where Janey and Wang Kum held sway by day, with many a wrangle over the possession of the little camp-stove, and many a heated discussion as to the relative merits of Asiatic and African cookery.
The stove had been the first thing to be unpacked, and by the time the last guy-rope was made fast, the last roll of bedding opened and arranged in its place, the welcome call to supper was sounded, and they gathered about the long table, spread in the open air, in the golden sunset light. Then the elders settled themselves for the evening, glad to rest after their long ride, while the children raced up and down the camp, exploring all the nooks and corners of their little domain, before throwing themselves down on a pile of blankets to watch the full moon as it rose from a bank of cloud just above the low hills to the eastward, and threw its white light over their gay group. Fifteen feet away from them Mrs. Burnam sat in the doorway of her tent, with Louise at her feet. The girl's golden hair was glistening in the moonlight, as she raised her head to speak to the topographer of the party, a sandy-haired, jovial young fellow, so lately come from "Sheff" that he retained all the slang and easy assurance of the genuine college boy. Ten months of camp life had made him hail with delight the prospect of paying court to a pretty girl; and he had attached himself to her side to the utter exclusion of Dr. Brownlee and the grave, taciturn leveller, who had retired from the contest and was devoting himself to Mrs. Burnam, whom he had known for years. For a few moments, the doctor stood looking on; then he turned away and joined the group of children, who received him enthusiastically.
"I'll tell you what, this is fine!" said Charlie contentedly, while the doctor seated himself by his side, and the boy stretched himself out at full length, with his head on his friend's knee, and lay staring up at the moon. "This is something I've never tried before, and always wanted to."
"Which?" inquired Allie, as she bent over to tickle his nose with a long straw stolen from the bedding; "taking up twice as much room as belongs to you, or looking at the moon?"
"Camping out, of course," answered her cousin, curling up his feet, in deference to her words. "Looking at the moon, too, for that matter; for I didn't see much of the last one."
"Speaking of moons," interposed Grant, from the corner where he and Marjorie and Howard had been chattering and giggling together; "the last two days have been no end hard on the storm center, and I think we shall catch a blizzard soon, by the looks. Just see her now!"
Grant's comment was in part justified, for the past two days had been undeniably hard upon Mrs. Pennypoker's appearance. The sun is no respecter of persons, and he had beaten down upon her majestic Greek nose with precisely the same fervent caresses which he had lavished upon Marjorie's freckled pug. Unfortunately, Mrs. Pennypoker's neat little straw bonnet was by no means so good a protection as Marjorie's soft scarlet felt hat, with its broad, flapping brim, and, even in the cold light of the moon, Mrs. Pennypoker's countenance gleamed with the luster of polished mahogany, which was enhanced by the great white kerchief that she had tied over her head, to keep out the evening air. No urging could induce her to sit on a blanket on the ground; so, in the absence of upholstered chairs, Mr. Everett had arranged a wooden pail against a tall box, cushioned them both with straw and blankets, and mounted his cousin upon this rustic throne, where she sat with her skirts carefully tucked up about her and her nose in the air, looking as much out of place as a Dresden china dinner service would have done on the rough board table.
Howard laughed, as he looked at her.
"I should think Wang would like her, to put her in his Joss house," he said disrespectfully. "What'll she ever do, before two weeks are up? She'll be a case for the doctor, sure enough."
"We ought to have brought Dr. Hornblower along, to amuse her," suggested Grant. "Come, I'm tired of this; let's have a game of 'I spy.' This moonlight would be fine for it. Come on, Ned!"
"Where?" inquired Ned lazily, for he was thoroughly absorbed in the story that Dr. Brownlee was telling.
"'I spy'; anything to get waked up."
"Sha'n't. I'm too comfortable to move."
"Don't want to," replied Allie, without stirring from her place beside Ned.
"Charlie—anybody?" demanded Grant.
"What's the use? I can't see enough without my gigs."
"Lazy things! Don't disturb them, Grant," said Marjorie scornfully. "If this is the way you're going to do, I wish we'd left you at home. Grant, we'll hide, and let Howard find us. Come ahead!" And they vanished into the shadow beside the cooking tent.
Three minutes later there was a vigorous splash, followed by a shriek from Marjorie, which brought the whole party flying to the spot. Down in the shallow creek sat Grant, blinking up at them in bewilderment, as he wiped the water from his eyes.
"What's the matter?" asked Howard, as Mr. Burnam helped the boy to scramble to his feet, and up the steep bank of the stream.
"Wish you'd whitewash those guy-ropes!" responded Grant petulantly. "I tripped over 'em, and they landed me in that squdgy old creek. Marj needn't have squealed like a cat, though, and given it all away."
"'If this is the way you're going to do, I wish we'd left you at home,'" quoted Allie majestically, as she surveyed the dripping boy before her. "I think Charlie has his spectacles in his pocket, Grant, if you'd like to borrow them."
However, this ended the frolic of the evening, for Mrs. Pennypoker summarily seized upon the young explorer and ordered him to bed, while Wang Kum spread his clothes to dry before the fire. The other boys soon followed Grant's example, and the older people with them; so, after much wriggling and nestling about in the blankets, they at last dropped to sleep, and silence descended upon Camp Burnam.
Camp life began in earnest the next day, and for the next two weeks the party enjoyed one perpetual picnic. The children were up and out by daybreak, ready for the long days of fun, and by seven o'clock the breakfast call had sounded to gather them around the long table. It was good to see Wang Kum, tin horn in hand, emerge from his improvised kitchen, and blow the deep blast which should summon his flock to the meal; it was good to see Janey follow in his wake, armed with the great coffee-pot and a pile of light hoe-cakes, and then rush up and down behind the chairs, trying to serve them all at once, while she struggled in vain to repress an inclination to prance, and never failed to give a vigorous tweak to Wang Kum's pigtail, as she passed him. The relation between the two servants was unique, and, at times, somewhat strained. Although Wang Kum, left to himself, would have been the most peaceable of mortals, Janey persisted in treating him as an embodied joke, and lost no opportunity to tease and torment him, until he came to regard her with a strange mingling of hatred and fear.
"Wang tell Mis' Pen'plok'," he would mutter, with a threatening glance from his beady eyes.
"Ol' mis' won' believe you," Janey would make answer. "She knows dat you's a heathen, an' won' go to church. Cut off your great long plat, ef you don' wan' me to pull it no mo'. I cyarn' help it, ef it gits in my way, all de time." And then she would slyly lift the tip of the offending member and lay it across the table, before setting her heavy iron dish pan upon it. "Don' you year ol' mis' calling you?" she would ask then. "Take care! Don' upset all my dish tub!" And the war would begin again.
The weather left nothing to be desired, and, the party usually scattered soon after breakfast. The older men went on long hunting expeditions, in pursuit of the game which generally proved to be just over the divide; or explored the creek in search of trout,—great, rich-flavored fellows, which put to shame the tiny products of our Eastern streams. The boys, in the mean time, made friends with the engineers, and spent whole days in the field. Howard and Ned attached themselves to the transitman, and took turns as head and rear chain, while Grant superintended the levelling, and Charlie trudged along in the rear with the young topographer, who had taken a sudden fancy to the boy, and gave him frequent lectures on the theory and practice of surveying, until his pupil longed for the time when he too could wear on his watch-chain the tiny blue shield, with its golden date and initials.
Then there were long rides up and down the valley, and merry evenings in camp, when they told over the adventures of the day, played games, or sang college songs to the tinkling notes of the mandolin which Louise had brought with her. There was an elaborate afternoon tea, when Mrs. Burnam and Louise devoted their entire supply of tin plates and cups to the entertainment of the whole corps of engineers, down to the very axmen, and feasted them upon the miscellaneous delicacies concocted by Janey and Wang. Three days later, this hospitality was returned by a grand dinner-party at the lower camp, when venison and trout were the main dishes of the meal, and the table was set and served with a masculine disregard for appearances.
But the last night of their holiday had to come. Evening found them all gathered at Camp Burnam, watching the darkness settle around their pleasant forest home. Both camps were to be struck on the following day, for the engineering party was to move down the river at the same time that the others started for home.
"I have only two things to mourn about," said Charlie meditatively. "I haven't shot a single bear, and I haven't even seen the tail of a cayote."
"Wish you had; 't would have been such fun to see you turn and run," responded Ned, as he indolently settled himself with his head on Ben's side.
"Poor old Ben! Does he use you for a pillow?" asked Marjorie, stooping to stroke the great creature's head.
"I say, Marjorie, stop that," remonstrated Howard suddenly. "When you pet that end of him, this end wags, and his tail whacks awfully. Do let him go to sleep, or else warn me, so I can get out of the way."
"You'd better try this, you fellows," advised Ned. "It's fine; the best bed I've had since I left home."
"What's going on here?" asked Dr. Brownlee, moving up to the group, in company with Louise and her faithful attendant, the topographer, just as Howard and Charlie stretched themselves out beside Ned.
"Nothing, only they're getting ready for a nap," said Allie. "Don't you wish we didn't have to go home to-morrow?"
"I do," groaned Charlie. "I never had so much fun before, and I don't want to go back to town again. I believe I'll run off and set up in life as a brave. Will you come, too, Allie?".
"Not if I have to live in a wick-i-up three feet square, and wear your cast-off blankets," she answered, with some spirit. "I'm just about the right color for a squaw, though; that is, if I look as badly as the rest of you do."
"Thank you, dear," returned Howard laughing. "You're at least ten shades blacker than anybody else; and Charlie is so dark that his patch hasn't showed any for five days."
"How about the freckles?" inquired Charlie composedly. "I don't care; I've had a good time, and maybe 'twon't be fast color."
"It won't hurt you, Charlie," remarked the doctor. "You started off looking rather too white, after living in the dark for a month. This camping trip has been the best thing you could have had."
The two weeks had certainly done the boy good, and, removed from any temptation to use his eyes, he had given them the utter rest which they demanded, until they had nearly regained their former strength. Dr. Brownlee watched him approvingly for a moment. Notwithstanding the dark sunburn on his cheeks and the shade over his right eye, it was an attractive face, in spite of its lack of real beauty, such as had fallen to the share of Ned and Grant.
"It has been immense," said the boy regretfully. "But maybe we can come out again, next summer."
"Don't flatter yourself with any such notion," said Howard. "If you'd been with papa as long as I have, you'd know that there isn't much chance of our being here, by another summer. He may be ordered to Alaska or Arizona, by that time; and we'll have to 'hoppee 'long, too.'"
"Just this way," interposed Grant, starting up abruptly with an inviting chirrup to Ben, who scrambled to his feet with a suddenness which sent the three boys rolling into an indiscriminate pile among the blankets, as their pillow went rushing away across the camp, in pursuit of some imaginary intruder.
It was late that night when the party finally broke up and went to their tents; it was later still before the usual gentle snores arose from Mrs. Pennypoker's corner. Soon afterwards, the silence of the night was broken by the sound of stealthy footsteps, coming up the river bank from the engineers' tents. A moment later, the music from a full orchestra of combs roused the sleepers from their dreams.
"Farewell, farewell, my own true love!" they wailed, in a gusty and oft-repeated chorus, until even Ben's feelings overpowered him, and, running to the door of the tent, he raised his nose towards the waning moon, and howled till his voice was husky. Then the swaying curtain at the doorway of the tent dropped once more, and all was still. The play was over, and the orchestra had ceased. Camp Burnam's story was ended.
UP THE GULCH.
"I do believe every-day things are pleasantest, after all," said Allie contentedly.
It was a month after their camping party, and she and her mother were comfortably settled in the parlor, with the mending basket between them. The windows and doors were thrown wide open, and the room was flooded with the yellow sunlight that lay across the floor, while the warm September wind softly fluttered the light draperies. Outside the door, on the piazza, Ben lay snoozing in the sun, sleepily wagging his tail in some happy dream of full-flavored bones or trespassing cats; and beyond him Victor was trudging up and down the path in front of the house, laden with a tiny scarlet pail filled with sand. Allie glanced thoughtfully about the pretty room, and out at her baby brother; then she turned back to her mother again, as Mrs. Burnam asked,—
"How do you mean, Allie?"
"Why, after all our camping and fun, it seems good to sit down and visit a little, mammy. Don't you see, we haven't had a chance for ever so long, not since Charlie was hurt; and I enjoy it, once in a while. The other is fun; but I like to stop and talk it over sometimes." And Allie paused meditatively, with one of Howard's long stockings drawn over her hand.
"Yes, I know," her mother answered, while she trimmed a patch to fit the hole which it was intended to fill; "we haven't had a quiet afternoon for a long time, hardly since Charlie came out here, last spring. You've been so busy with the boys that I didn't know whether you'd ever enjoy sitting down with me any more."
"Yes, this is nicest," said Allie. "The boys aren't you, any more than Charlie is Howard. I like them both; but I need you to straighten out things sometimes."
"What is it now?" asked her mother quietly, for she saw from Allie's face that something was troubling her, and, mother-like, she wished to help her little daughter.
"Why, it isn't so much; only something that Grant was telling, something Mrs. Pennypoker said," answered Allie, while she threaded her needle and stuck it in beside the hole. Then she asked abruptly, "Mamma, is it true that Charlie has ever so much money?"
"Yes; that is, he will have, when he grows up," replied Mrs. Burnam, a little surprised at the question, for she had tried to train her children to feel that wealth was by no means the main end in life.
"How much?" persisted Allie.
"A great deal, for Uncle Charlie was a rich man, and our Charlie is his only child."
"Oh!" And Allie lapsed into silence again.
"What made you ask, Allie?" her mother inquired, after a pause.
"Nothing; only Mrs. Pennypoker said somebody told her he was very rich, and that was the reason you'd let him come here, so maybe we could get some of it; and she asked Mrs. Pennypoker if she hadn't seen the way I hadn't had so much to do with Ned and Marjorie since he'd been here, and all. Wasn't it horrid, mamma?"
Mrs. Burnam frowned. She was sorry to have such ideas put into the head of her young daughter; and, during the past five months, she had grown to feel that Charlie was almost one of her own children; so the worldly-wise tone of these comments grated upon her ears.
"Grant had no right to tell you this," she said thoughtfully.
"I don't care if he did," Allie interrupted. "I knew 't wasn't true, and I told him that I didn't think Charlie had any money, and we didn't want any of it, if he had; we'd plenty of our own. But I wish people wouldn't talk such things. I like Ned and Marjorie just as well as I used to; but when Charlie's here in the house, and just as splendid as he can be, I don't see why I shouldn't like him better. Nobody minded when I was with Howard 'most all the time, and Charlie's just like another brother." And she nodded conclusively as she resumed her work.
Mrs. Burnam watched her steadily for a moment, trying to read whether there was any unspoken thought in her daughter's mind; but Allie looked up, and her blue eyes met her mother's so squarely that Mrs. Burnam was satisfied.
"Charlie does seem just like one of us," she assented heartily; "and I know we've all enjoyed his being out here; but it isn't because he's rich that we've liked him, it's because he's just what he is, a bright, manly boy, without any airs or nonsense. Aunt Helen asked to have him come to us, because he hadn't any other cousins; and it would have been a pleasant six months for all of us, if it hadn't been for his terrible illness." Mrs. Burnam paused; she could never speak of his accident without a shudder.
"I'm glad it happened," returned Allie proudly. "If it hadn't, we shouldn't ever have known how brave he was. And, besides, if it hadn't been for that, we never should have known Dr. Brownlee half so well, and he wouldn't have gone into camp with us; so you see there was some good came out of it. But didn't we have a fine time in camp, mammy?"
"Yes, I think our camping trip was a success, in more ways than one," said Mrs. Burnam, smiling quietly to herself, as she recalled certain scenes in which Louise and the doctor had played a part. There was no doubt in her mind about the enjoyment of two of their number, however the others might have looked upon it.
"But, after all," resumed Allie, going back to her original statement; "I do like getting settled down again; and this vacation has been so stirred up that I believe I shall be glad to have some lessons once more."
"Here comes Ned," said her mother, glancing up from her work as the boy turned the corner and came up the street towards the house. "He's probably after you and the boys for some frolic or other."
"All right; I've just finished my last stocking. Did you ever see anybody make such holes as Howard does?" And she rolled the stockings into a ball and tossed them into the basket, as Ned came up the steps.
"Hullo!" he remarked, dropping into the chair from which Allie had just risen, and helping himself to her orderly work-basket. "Where are the other fellows?"
"They've gone up the creek fishing," answered Allie, watching, with an anxious face, while Ned investigated her papers of needles, and then turned his attention to her button bag.
"They must want something to do," returned Ned scornfully. "I should think you about lived on fish, up here."
"They don't often catch anything," said Mrs. Burnam, laughing; "not even colds. Howard fell into the creek, day before yesterday, and then sat around in his wet clothes all the afternoon; but it didn't seem to hurt him any."
"I tried that once," said Ned, as he stealthily put the basket on the floor, just behind Allie, where she could not fail to step in it and overturn it; "but I had the worst of it, for Cousin Euphemia saw me when I came home. She put me to bed, right in the middle of the day, and made me take some hot ginger-tea. Ugh, what a mess 't was! I'd rather have had a dozen colds than be choked to death, and left to stew in a flannel blanket. But what I came to say, Allie—Oh, isn't that too bad! You've upset your basket."
"What a wretch you are, Ned!" And Allie slyly dropped a large, flat button down inside his collar, as she stooped to pick up her scattered treasures. "You've done this before, and I know just how sorry you are."
"I didn't do a single thing," returned Ned innocently. "How'd I know you were going to put your foot in it that way? But I stopped to see if some of you didn't want to go up the gulch this afternoon. It's not so very warm, and Lou and Grant are going, so I said I'd hurry on ahead and get you to come too. Here they are, now."
"I'll go; wait till I get my hat." And Allie vanished.
"Come along too, Mrs. Burnam," said Ned persuasively.
"I wish I could, Ned; but I must stay with Vic, for Janey has gone out this afternoon. You'd better stop in here, all of you, when you come back, though. The boys will be home by that time, and I want to see Louise, too," she added, as Ned and Allie went down the steps.
At the west side of the town, the mountains rose up, sheer and straight, their slopes ending abruptly at the outer streets, which were carefully laid out and numbered, although no houses had yet been built there. However, the low, even ground was elaborately divided into blocks, and the blocks, in their turn, into building lots, to be in readiness for the possible purchaser, who might appear at any moment. On the boundary line between the town and this suburban region was the little brick school-house; and beyond it lay the open ground which now, in the absence of any inhabitants, was still used as a wood yard for the distant smelter, whose constant fires easily devoured the vast piles of wood daily unloaded by the trains which ran down the spur of track leading to the yard. Beyond this again were the mountains, which rose to their highest point just to the west of the town, where the tips of the tallest peaks were always blanketed with the soft, white piles of snow. At only one spot their unbroken front was interrupted, where a deep, narrow ravine led far up among the mountains, forming a delightful walk in a warm summer day. After the burning glare on the dry, sandy soil of the town, which, in its barren lack of grass and trees, stared back at the sun like a lidless, lashless eye, the cool shadows of the pines in the gulch were a refreshing change. The little gulch had its variety of names: Bear Gulch, it was called, Lover's Gulch, and even Cemetery Gulch, from the lonely burial ground perched on the top of the rugged bluff at its entrance.
Ned and Allie had taken the lead, with Louise and Grant following close behind them, as they picked their way among the countless tin cans scattered over the fields, or paused to look and laugh while the boys clambered to the top of the long wood-piles, and ran slow, unsteady races over their uneven surfaces. Then they came out to the track, and followed along its course, where Ned and Allie joined hands and walked the rails, and Grant trudged along behind them, stepping with an elaborate care upon each one of the ties, or leaping over occasional cattle-guards, as they crossed his path.
They were far past the western houses of the town, and rapidly approaching the foot of the mountain, when Ned gave Allie's hand a violent twitch.
"Look back!" he exclaimed in an undertone.
With a little cry of alarm, Allie sprang from the track; then, as she glanced back over her shoulder, she burst out laughing.
"How you scared me, Ned!" she said, as she stopped abruptly. "I thought 'twas a train, but it's only Dr. Hornblower."
True enough; up the track behind them came the excellent doctor, waving his cane in amicable salutation, as he strode along at a pace which might have put to shame the wearer of the famous seven-league boots. His leathery skin was dark and shining from the violence of his exercise, as he came sweeping on towards them, till he paused by the side of Louise, who watched him with some anxiety while he stood wheezing and panting before her.
"My dear Miss Everett," he said, when he could regain his breath enough to speak once more; "are you not afraid to walk so rapidly at this altitude? I fear you may over-exert yourself some day." He paused for a moment, puffing like the engine of an overloaded freight train; then he resumed, "I called at your residence, and was so regretful at not finding you at home that your cousin, Mrs. Pennypoker, told me that you were bound for the gulch, and assured me that there was—um—some prospect of my overtaking, not to say catching up with you."
"Are you out on the round-up again to-day, Dr. Hornblower?" asked Ned soberly.
The Reverend Gabriel looked at him with a perplexed countenance.
"I am afraid that I do not perfectly apprehend your meaning," he said.
"Why, you said, last time you called on Lou, that you were hunting up stray sheep, and I didn't know but you were out after some more to-day," Ned explained, with a naughty satisfaction in his sister's struggles to repress her smiles.
But Dr. Hornblower was quite unmoved. His professional dignity rose to the surface, and his voice took on its Sunday twang as he replied pompously,—
"No, Edward; the sheep are all in the fold. To-day I am only in search of congenial society." And he bowed gravely to Louise.
"Come on, now," whispered Grant, as he joined Allie and Ned in advance, and left Louise to follow them with her elderly admirer; "the doctor's lost his wind already, and can't keep up; but, if he wants a walk, we'll give him one."
His companions entered into the spirit of his proposition, and they quickened their pace, after casting one backward glance towards Louise, as she lingered along, with a sort of repressed impatience of step and manner, while she listened to the Reverend Gabriel's elaborate explanations of his reasons for following her. Then such a race as they led him! Quitting the track, they turned aside into the open ground, covered with uneven tufts of coarse bunch grass and thickets of sage brush, now racing down a little hillock, now jumping over a tiny stream and forcing their way through the clumps of willows on the bank, but always choosing the roughest, hardest path, and always going at the top of their speed, while Louise and the doctor panted and floundered along too far in the rear to be heard in their calls for mercy. Even Allie was beginning to be exhausted when, a few hundred feet above the mouth of the gulch, Grant turned abruptly to the right and scrambled up the steep hillside leading to the cemetery.