"The Emperor must have had a present," observed Virginia. "You catch your first glimpse of the palace around this curve."
Around the curve they went, and into an open, path-cut field through which the creek meandered. The palace lay in the farthest corner. It did not even stand. Its old logs, disjoined and askew, were all but on the ground. How the roof managed to hold the chimney was a mystery. Perhaps, after all, it was the chimney which acted as a prop to the roof. A lean-to of poles, sod, and bark served as an entrance, and boasted a door. Mountain-fringe and other vines had taken root in the sod, and were undoubtedly helping to hold the structure together.
An undisturbed, unbroken silence reigned over the imperial residence. The Emperor was doubtless busy with affairs of state, if indeed he were not away upon official business. Still the flag disproved his absence. He might be simply viewing the domain.
Suddenly from the lean-to came such fierce barking that more than one Vigilante made a hasty return to the safety of her saddle. Then the door opened, and, preceded by his dogs, the Emperor came out into the sunshine. He had doubtless been too absorbed to note their coming.
"Down, Nero! Down, Trajan!" they heard him say. "Is this the way you receive my guests?"
The dogs ceased barking, and stood on either side of him as he surveyed his visitors. They in turn surveyed him. They saw a tall, slight old man, still unbent. It seemed as though dignity defied time and kept him upright. His frayed white shirt was spotless, and his gray trousers, held up by thongs of skin, were neatly darned and clean. The lines in his smoothly shaven face vied in intricacy with the streets of Boston; his thin hair was neatly brushed; his faded blue eyes were gentle. He was the kind of an old man to whom one instinctively showed deference. Moreover, he was the Roman Emperor.
The hats of Jack, Carver, and Donald came off as they greeted him.
"These are our friends, Mr. Livy," Donald explained. "You remember I told you some time ago that they were coming. And you know Virginia Hunter?"
Mr. Livy did know Virginia. He and Nero and Trajan came forward all together to greet her.
"It's good to see your face again, Miss Virginia," said the Emperor. "Your father was here day before yesterday. He mentioned water-cress. Was that your errand?"
"That, and to see you, Mr. Livy," answered Virginia. "My friends wished to come. I hope you're not too busy to show them around a little."
The Emperor was not too busy. He said this with a bow, which was many times repeated as he was presented to the others.
"I regard you as friends," he said with dignity, "otherwise I should hesitate to show you the palace. There is a sad lack of funds of late—a sad lack! All the Senate's appropriations are being expended on the new aqueduct, and on new roads through the provinces. The roads hold our great possessions together, and the Emperor's home can wait. But next year all will be different. Then I shall again plead my case, and money will be forthcoming. This way, please, young ladies and gentlemen. We will first view the grounds."
His guests in respectful silence followed him down a path toward the creek over which he had placed a little foot-bridge. A fish jumped as they stepped upon the logs, and swam away to the safe shelter of the water-cress.
"The stream is well-stocked with the best of trout," explained their host. "It is my pastime to catch them in other streams and to bring them here. You remember Horace upon his Sabine farm? Such pleasures as he enjoyed are mine. Yes, there is an abundance of cress. We will wait until later to gather it that it may be fresh and crisp."
They followed the stream in its meandering course through the fields. Their guide pointed out to them this and that beauty—the fringed gentians in a thicket near the water's edge; a late wild rose which saw its pink reflection in the still, amber water. It was as though he, aided by the Senate's money, had laid out the grounds himself, such was his pride in them. Another foot-bridge brought them back to the other side, and to the field-path which led to the house.
The Emperor felt called upon to apologize again before opening the door of the lean-to.
"The Senate still appropriates for conquests," he said gravely. "I am much opposed. The Empire is large enough."
They went within. The lean-to was a chaotic place, filled to overflowing with pick-axes, spades, elk-horns, musk-rat traps, mining tools, samples of coal, and curiously-colored pieces of rock. Some skins, stretched on boards, were drying on the wall; some rude fishing-rods stood in one corner. The little room was strangely like the Emperor's poor, befuddled brain.
The room in the main house was hardly imperial. A small, rickety stove, bearing corn-meal porridge in a tin basin, stood in the center. In one corner was the Emperor's bed, piled high with skins; in another, a scarred and battered table. Some ragged articles of clothing hung about the room. By the one window was his chair, and on the floor close by lay a soiled and tattered book—Smith's History of Ancient Rome! The Emperor picked it up eagerly and showed it to his guests.
"I was reading over again all that my reign has accomplished when you came," he said. "There are the fire department, and the police, and the new roads, and the patronage of poets. I feel encouraged when I think it all over."
"I should think you would," complimented Virginia. "And then think of all the things you did before you were Emperor! Think of the early days out here—the Vigilantes and all!"
Mr. Livy's faded blue eyes gleamed. Epochs had become as nothing to him. Now he was Emperor of Rome, and then he had fought against robbers and road-agents in a new country. It was all one.
"Don't I remember it!" he cried. "Don't I remember how we hung seven robbers in one night from a single cottonwood! Don't I remember how old Jim Gillis said to me: 'For God's sake, Levinsky, get me one last drink before I die!' I got it for him, and in a minute more he was dead!"
Jack and Carver's eyes shone. They thought old tales were forthcoming, but they did not know the Emperor. He said no more of Vigilante days, but turned toward the stove to stir the porridge.
"I'll get the water-cress for you directly," he said with a return to his old dignity. "Give it to your father with my compliments, Miss Virginia. I sent some but recently to the censor. No payment, I insist!"
Thus dismissed, his guests passed reluctantly outside. Ten minutes later they were making their farewells. The Emperor stood between Nero and Trajan, and watched them go. He was glad of occasional visitors, but more glad to return to the knotty problems which were before the Empire.
"Good-by," he called as they rode away. "Don't forget to notice the statue of Athena just within the gate. It's a recent gift from the Governor of Gaul."
Then he went within the palace, passed through the lofty atrium, and entered his private room, where he sat down to continue the story of his glorious reign.
Meanwhile his guests searched for the Athena. There might be something—a post, perhaps—that signified the goddess of wisdom to the plastic mind of poor Mr. Levinsky. But they could find nothing.
"She's only a dream like all the other things," said Priscilla. "Poor man! I can't see how he can reconcile things in his own mind!"
"He doesn't," explained Virginia. "That's the lovely part of it! He's the happiest Emperor I've ever known of in all my life!"
ON THE MESA
"Pedro," said Virginia, "do you realize for one little minute what's happened?"
Pedro looked back and whinnied. He realized at least that something was agitating his mistress. But half an hour since she had run out of the house to where he was feeding beneath the cottonwoods, and hurried him to the corral where she had saddled and bridled him herself. She had been crying then. Quick little sobs were shaking her shoulders. Then she had sprung upon his back and ridden like mad across the prairie to Elk Creek Valley. Had MacDuff been along, he would not have minded; but it was too warm at mid-day to gallop all alone. Once during that wild ride she had laughed, and once she had leaned forward and put her arms around his neck. It was all a very strange proceeding. Now she had mercifully halted him on the brow of the mesa, and was allowing him to rest and feed while she sat in silence and looked across the sagebrush stretches to the mountains.
A long silence. The air throbbed with a hidden insect chorus. Little waves of heat shimmered above the mesa. Jean MacDonald's three cows, searching for better feeding-grounds, passed by and gazed with grave, inquisitive eyes at Pedro and Virginia. Pedro fed on where he was. At last the girl upon his back spoke again.
"Pedro," she began, and again Pedro raised his head, "Pedro, I've decided that Life isn't such a strange thing after all! I've always thought it was until to-day, but I guess it isn't. I guess it just means loving people—and things! If you love the wrong kind of people and the things that don't count, why, then—why, then Life's a sad, gray thing. But if you love the right kind of people, the kind who've learned that a primrose isn't just a primrose, and things like the mountain and the mesa and you, Pedro—why, then, Life's a golden thing like to-day. And it's the loving that makes all the difference. I discovered that this morning when Aunt Nan told me about Malcolm. When I was in Vermont I thought that Grandmother and Aunt Nan were about the happiest people I'd seen; but this morning, when I saw the light in Aunt Nan's eyes, I understood. I guess it's a home that makes all the difference, Pedro—a home you and somebody else make together!"
Pedro fed on, glad to be talked to, confident that his mistress' world had righted itself again. A passing cloud obscured the sun for a brief moment.
"That's the way it was with me this morning," confided Virginia. "For just an instant I felt sorry. 'Twas the selfish part of me coming out. I didn't want any one to take a bigger piece of Aunt Nan's heart than mine. I didn't want to move over and make room for any one else—even Malcolm. But that mean, drab feeling lasted only a moment. It went right away, and now I'm glad, glad—glad! If Grandmother Webster's only glad, too, there couldn't be any greater happiness in the world, could there, Pedro?"
Pedro stopped feeding to look back at his mistress, and to shake his head. Virginia laughed.
"You're the only friend I want to-day, Pedro," she said, her arms around his neck, "you and a big Something in my heart. I wanted to come away off up here alone with you. That's why I hurried you so, poor dear! I wanted to hear the stillness all around, and to look at the mountains. I wanted to think about it, and to wonder if, some day, after I've learned more things, it will come to me, too!"
Impulsively she turned in her saddle and looked down the foot-hills. Some one was fording the creek. She knew it even before she heard the splash of water. As she watched, two riders left the ford, and turned north up the canyon trail. They were Malcolm and Aunt Nan. Virginia turned back toward the mountains, and sat very still.
"Pedro," she said at last, her voice breaking, "I guess perhaps we'd better go home, don't you? Aunt Nan and Malcolm have found their trail, you see. They don't need us just now. No, I'm not sorry! I'm glad! I just know it's the most wonderful thing in all the world!"
THE NEW SCHOOL-TEACHER IN BEAR CANYON
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Samuel Wilson, stretching his boot-clad legs to their fullest extent, and twirling his thumbs thoughtfully, "yes, sir, we've got to have a teacher up in Bear Canyon. There ain't a bit o' use in waitin' a week for that teacher from Sheridan. Come December, there'll be snow, and school not out. Accordin' to my judgment, and I'm the chief trustee o' this district, it's best to get some one to teach a week until the one we've hired gets here. I stopped at Ben Jarvis' place on my way down here, and he agreed with me. Says he, 'Sam, there'd ought to be one out o' that crowd o' ladies over to Hunter's who could keep school a week. They're all raised around Boston, folks tell me. Now you go along over, and see.' And I said I would. What do you think, John? Ain't there a likely one among 'em? If Virginia didn't know the children so well, I'd be for choosin' her. But a stranger's what we want. That school seems to need a stranger 'bout every term."
"That's just the difficulty," said Mr. Hunter. "It is a hard school, and these girls aren't used to schools out here. The girl I am thinking of is Mary Williams, but she's young—only eighteen. I shouldn't even consider her if she hadn't said the other day that she'd like to try teaching in that little school-house up the canyon. Of course 'twould be only for a week. They're going back East in a little more than two."
"Her age ain't nothin' against her," reassured Mr. Wilson. "Remember Eben Judd's girl who kept the school last spring? She was only seventeen, and she could thrash the biggest boy there! Supposin' you let me talk with this girl if she's around. Seems to me twenty dollars a week is mighty easy money for just keepin' school and givin' out things you've got in your head a'ready!"
Mr. Hunter, half-sorry that he had even considered the matter, went in search of Mary, while Mr. Samuel Wilson stretched his legs even farther across the floor, re-lit his old corn-cob pipe, and settled himself more comfortably in his chair. He did not rise when Mary, forewarned but very eager, came into the room a few minutes later, but he did remove his pipe. Then he stated his errand, while Mary, feeling very professional, listened with the deference due Mr. Wilson's position as chief trustee of the Bear Canyon District.
"What we want," concluded the chief trustee, with a wave of his hand, after he had explained all the difficulties and expatiated on all the joys of the Bear Canyon school, "what we want is a teacher who can start things right. A heap depends on the startin' things have in this world, I've noticed. Now you look like a spunky young lady. Ain't afraid o' big boys, are you?"
Mary, with the memory of Eben Judd's daughter and the biggest boy fresh in her mind, hesitated. Bear Canyon might offer problems too big for her inexperienced hands. Then she summoned an extra amount of dignity.
"It surely isn't necessary to thrash them, Mr. Wilson, if you can get along with them some other way. No, I'm not at all afraid of them. Are there many big ones?"
Mr. Wilson considered for a moment. No, there were not many. Ben Jarvis' big boy Allan was the worst, and even he wasn't bad if he had enough to do. The trouble was he led all the others, and if he once got "contrary," trouble arose. Mary inwardly resolved that he should not get "contrary."
"Now up here in Bear Canyon," Mr. Wilson further remarked, "we're strong on figurin'. How are you on arithmetic?"
Mary's heart fell. Dismal visions of cube root and compound proportion came to torment her. Her ship, sailing smoothly but a moment since, had apparently struck a reef. Then a never-failing imagination came to her rescue. She saw Priscilla solving her problems in the evening at the table.
"Arithmetic isn't exactly my specialty, Mr. Wilson," she said brightly. "That is, I don't love it as I do other studies; but I assure you I shall be quite able to teach it."
The chief trustee rose from his seat, knocked the ashes from his pipe into the fire-place, and took his hat.
"I guess you're hired for the week, then," said he, "at twenty dollars. I'll stop in at Ben Jarvis' on my way home and tell him. School begins Monday morning at nine. I may drop in myself durin' the week to see how things is goin'. Good-mornin'."
Mary stood in the middle of the room, paying no heed to the curious voices which called her from the porch. She saw the chief trustee ride past the window on his way to tell Ben Jarvis that she was elected. She pictured the incorrigible Allan Jarvis spending the Sabbath in the invention of mischief. It had come too suddenly. She could not realize that she was actually a Wyoming school-teacher. Now the time which she had thought to be four years' distant had come—the time to begin to realize the ideals she had shaped for herself upon the teaching and the personality of her adored Miss Wallace.
The voices on the porch became more curious, and Mary, at last coming to herself, hurried out to tell the wonderful news. She found the Vigilantes and Aunt Nan as interested as she herself, and willing to sacrifice her company for five days for the sake of Bear Canyon's rising generation. Priscilla offered all the proficiency in arithmetic she possessed; Aunt Nan hurried indoors to cut and make two aprons for the teacher; and Vivian and Virginia went in search of pencils and paper. This was Saturday and there was no time to lose.
On Monday morning at eight they all stood beneath the cottonwoods to watch a wide-eyed and much excited school-teacher start for Bear Canyon. In a bag which she hung on the saddle-horn were her pencils, papers, and new apron; in a package strapped to the saddle was her lunch, packed by Hannah's interested hands; and in her heart were excitement, misgivings, and eagerness. She preferred to go alone, she said, as she mounted into the saddle. They might ride up at four, and come home with her if they liked, but she must go alone.
They did go up that afternoon at four—Vivian, Priscilla, and Virginia. As they swung around a bend in the road, and came upon the little school-house, they were surprised at the stillness. Where was everybody? The children had not gone home—that was certain—for half a dozen horses were picketed round about. Had the school adjourned and gone for a picnic in the woods? That would not be unlike the new teacher, but it would be very unlike the former traditions of the Bear Canyon school. No sound came from within and it was long past four. Had the big Jarvis boy triumphed after all, and made Mary a prisoner?
After five minutes of patient, puzzled waiting they added their horses to those already grazing among the sagebrush, and stole quietly to the open window. The new teacher sat in the middle of the battered, scarred, ugly little room. She held her two youngest children upon her lap much to the detriment of her new apron. A dirty eager face was raised to hers from either side of her chair. The others of her twenty charges sat as near as the seats would permit. The big Jarvis boy had not deigned to move toward the front—that was too much of a concession for the first day—but he was leaning forward in his seat, his big, shaggy, unkempt head resting in his folded arms, his eyes never leaving Mary's face. She was telling them the story of the Dog of Flanders. The Vigilantes, crouching beneath the window, heard her as she finished.
"The next day," she said, "they came to the great cathedral, and found Nello and Patrasche dead upon the stone floor. People were sorry then. Alois' father was one who came. He realized how cruel he had been to Nello, and was ready now to help him. But it was too late. Little Alois came also. She begged Nello to wake and come home for the Christmas festivities, and cried when she saw that he could not. Then a great artist came. He had seen Nello's picture of the old man on the fallen tree, and he knew that some day Nello might become a wonderful painter, even though another had won the Antwerp prize. He wanted to take Nello away with him, he said, and teach him art. But he, also, was too late, for Nello and Patrasche had gone away together to a Kinder Country. All their lives they had not been separated, and so the people of their little village, sorry and ashamed, made them one grave and laid them to rest together."
There was a silence in the Bear Canyon school-house until a little girl in a pink apron sobbed. Sobs were at a discount in Bear Canyon, and yet strangely enough no one laughed. Allan Jarvis, in the back seat, was intent upon his finger-nails. The others were gazing admiringly at their new teacher.
"It's such a sad story," said the little girl, using her pink apron for a handkerchief, "but I like it all the same."
"Deary me!" cried the new teacher, depositing the two littlest ones on the floor, "it's half-past four! We must close school at once!"
At that the big Jarvis boy left his seat and came down the aisle, for the first time in his life abstaining from pulling the hair of the girls nearest him.
"Shan't I get your horse ready for you, ma'am?" he asked.
The new teacher smiled gratefully upon him.
"If you please, Allan," she said. "I'll be ever so much obliged." And Allan Jarvis departed for the horse sheds—a conquered hero!
Mary, tired but enthusiastic, told them all about it as they rode home together, followed at a respectful distance by a dinner-pail laden throng. How she had arrived that morning to find Allan Jarvis the center of a mischief-bent circle; how she had begun the day by the most exciting shipwreck story she knew; and how the promise of another story before four o'clock had worked a miracle. They were starved for stories, she said. She thought they needed them more than arithmetic.
"Besides," she added, "probably the Sheridan person knows all about figures. I'm going to put all the arithmetic classes the last thing in the afternoon, and if we don't get around to them, why all right. It's unfortunate, of course, but it can't be helped."
One day was quite sufficient to establish the name and the fame of the Bear Canyon school-teacher. Around every supper-table circled tales of her wisdom, her beauty, her strange way of speaking, and her general superiority over any teacher Bear Canyon had ever hired. Her ability to tell stories was lauded to the skies, and her genius at making six hitherto mercilessly long hours seem like three marvelously short ones was freely advertised. History under this new teacher had become something more than a dog-eared text-book; geography more than stained and torn wall-maps; reading more than a torturesome process of making sounds. They proudly told their parents what the Constitution of the United States had looked like when their teacher had last seen it; the size and shape of Plymouth Rock as recorded by her during her last visit there. They re-told her stories one by one to the children at home, too young for school. Allan Jarvis did his part. He told his father he would go to school without a word, if the new teacher could be persuaded to stay in Bear Canyon.
Because of this Mr. Benjamin Jarvis left his work the third day, put on a clean shirt, and visited the school himself. Mr. Samuel Wilson joined him, as did the third trustee from farther up the canyon. When these three gentlemen entered, the oldest History class was engaged in reproducing the trial of Nathan Hale, the leading man in the cast being the big Jarvis boy. It was a novel method of teaching history, the trustees said to themselves, remembering the barren instruction they had received, but it seemed effectual. That night they offered the new teacher a permanent job in Bear Canyon. The teacher in Sheridan was not over-anxious to come, they said, and the position was Mary's if she cared to accept it.
But Mary was going to college, she explained to the disappointed trustees. Perhaps, some day, she would come back—some day when she had learned more about teaching. As it was, Friday night must end her labors, grateful as she was, and happy as she felt over the reception Bear Canyon had given her.
It came all too soon—Friday night. The children stood in a disconsolate little group to bid her good-by. They knew Bear Canyon teachers of old. There would be no more stories, no more circuses at recess, no more flower hunts in the woods, no more plays. School now would become just a weary succession of days—all pointing toward Saturday. Figures would take the place of reading, and the Rhine would again be just a crooked, black line, not a river surmounted by frowning castles and golden with legends.
The little girl in the pink apron again used it as a handkerchief as Mary rode down the trail.
"I—I'd go to school all my life—with her!" she said loyally.
The school-teacher halted at the residence of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis, second trustee. He it was who was to sign the check for her services, give to her the very first money she had ever earned. He was waiting for her, the check in his hand.
"I—I think I ought to tell you, Mr. Jarvis," said Mary, "especially since you're strong on figures in Bear Canyon, that I haven't taught many this week. I'm afraid I'm very weak on system. That will be one of the things I'll have to learn in college, I guess. The days have gone so fast I just haven't seemed to have time to get them in. And—and to tell the truth, Mr. Jarvis, I'm not very strong on figures myself."
"Figures!" said Mr. Benjamin Jarvis as he shook hands with her. "I guess you've given that boy o' mine somethin' better'n figures, God bless you!"
The boy himself came around the house just as Mary was mounting her horse to ride away. He had left school before the others, and had said no good-by. Now he came up to her, a brown paper parcel in his hand.
"It's a rattlesnake skin I fixed for you," he said shyly. "You said you liked 'em once. And the heavy thing in the end's my jack-knife. I carved your letters on the handle. I thought it might come in handy when you went to college."
MR. BENJAMIN JARVIS ENTERTAINS
Bear Canyon did not forget Mary. A score of heart-broken children was proof against such oblivion. Moreover, hope began to dawn in the hearts beneath pink gingham and outing flannel when the teacher from Sheridan, discouraged perhaps by a total lack of cordiality in her students, resigned after two lugubrious days of service. Then Mr. Samuel Wilson, accompanied by Mr. Benjamin Jarvis and the third trustee rode in a body to the Hunter ranch, and offered Mary a substantial "raise" if she would only stay on until December, and finish the fall term so triumphantly begun.
The memories of the little girl in the pink apron, together with the pleas of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis on behalf of Allan, and the assurance of Mr. Samuel Wilson that his children had cried "five nights runnin'" was almost too much for Mary. In one mad wave of sympathy she determined to give up college and to wire her mother that the Path of Duty for her led unmistakably to the Bear Canyon school. But the more mature judgment of Mr. Hunter and Aunt Nan prevailed, and an hour later three very reluctant trustees rode away, leaving behind them a sad, but much relieved, school-teacher, who lay long awake that night and pondered over the desperate state of affairs in Bear Canyon.
But her worry, like most that encumbers the world, was needless, for the County Superintendent over at Elk Creek lent a helping hand, and sent Miss Martha Bumps to Bear Canyon. Now Miss Bumps was not Mary, but she was assuredly Miss Martha Bumps, and the three trustees, disappointed as they were not to have Mary, held their heads a trifle higher as they drove to town. For the aforesaid Miss Bumps was a character of renown throughout the county, and it was only because of the whooping-cough in the consolidated rural schools of Willow Creek that she was prompted to forsake her larger field and hurry to the aid of Bear Canyon.
For twenty-five years Miss Martha Bumps had dedicated her energies to the teaching of Wyoming country schools. Some who knew her well affirmed that she had made money thereby; and this statement will doubtless be given credence by all who are not themselves school-teachers. After relinquishing the dreams in which most women of thirty indulge, and deciding once and for all that she would give the best of her life to teaching, she had spent much thought and ingenuity in scheming how such a vocation could be a distinctly pleasurable one. Ten years of boarding in homesteaders' cabins, of sleeping with the youngest child, and eating salt pork three times a day, of drinking condensed milk on ranches devoted solely to cattle, and of riding miles to her place of business in all kinds of weather—these experiences had been fruitful in the extreme. Now she boarded nowhere. Instead, she lived in her own two-room house, which, clapboarded, shingled, windowed and doored after the manner of all houses, was mounted upon four stout cart-wheels, and driven by an obliging trustee of one district to the next chosen field whenever Miss Bumps decided that the time had come to make a change. Arriving at her destination, the house was drawn to the best site near the school, the horses were unhitched, and the trustee, riding and leading, started homeward, leaving Miss Bumps to begin her double labors in her new situation.
Now, although this rather unusual mode of living on wheels had attracted much attention and comment, it must be conceded (and will by all country school-teachers) that it was decidedly superior to boarding. In her small but spotless kitchen, Miss Bumps cooked the food which no homesteader's cabin afforded, and at night slept luxuriously in her own comfortable bed which nearly filled her other room. All day she gave herself untiringly to her profession. In the evenings she sat by her small air-tight stove, read, and tatted!
To this last-named accomplishment Miss Bumps had dedicated fifteen years of practice until expert proficiency had made eyes unnecessary. She tatted while she read, tatted while she taught, tatted while she watched the potatoes boiling for dinner. Some even asserted that they had seen her tat on horseback with all the diligence attributed to Bertha the beautiful queen of old Helvetia, who spun from a distaff fastened to the saddle of her betasseled palfrey.
But even such a curiosity as Miss Bumps may have been in the early days of her portable residence and ever-present tatting grows ordinary when besieged by Time, and Wyoming no longer regarded her as a phenomenon. She was just plain Martha Bumps, to whom many a rural community owed much. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that her singular customs of living were considered most eccentric by strangers who often laughed long and uproariously at the portable house. Three amused Vigilantes found in her the best theme material imaginable, and on the day when Mr. Crusoe reported having passed her house and her on the road from Elk Creek, they hastened with their hostess to the mail-box, ostensibly to await the postman, but really to see Miss Martha Bumps pass by.
They did not have long to wait. The Willow Creek trustee had used his best team of horses in the transportation, and Miss Bumps' entry into Bear Canyon was a triumphal one. At a brisk trot and in a cloud of dust, the equipage came down the easy grade toward the mail-box and the four interested Vigilantes, who, throwing aside all ostentation, sprang to their feet and stared. They saw a little, blue-ginghamed woman under a huge peanut-straw hat, who sat in her own front doorway beside a substantial trustee and tatted while her interested eyes scanned her chosen country. Spying the four wayside spectators and doubtless mistaking them for members of her future flock, she smiled from behind a pair of gold-bowed spectacles, and waved a welcoming tatting-shuttle.
"She thinks I'm one of the children," said the former Bear Canyon school-mistress. "She doesn't recognize me as a professional friend. But I'm going to call upon her to-morrow if it's the last thing I do while I'm in Wyoming. Maybe, since I know the Bear Canyon school, I'll even dare give her some suggestions. I'm so anxious she should understand Allan."
But Mary's call was never made, for an hour later Mr. Benjamin Jarvis rode in to announce with an air of mystery a barn-warming in his new building for that very evening.
"It's short notice," he explained to those who had met his invitation with instantaneous and delighted acceptance, "it's short notice, but, when you come to think of it, there ain't much time left. You ladies go back East in less than a week, and the threshers may come any day, so I says to Allan this mornin' that seein' the floor was laid we hadn't better wait to get the windows in nor any finishin' touches. It will be a farewell party from Bear Canyon to you, Miss Mary, and a welcomin' one to the new teacher. I just rode past the school-house to see how she felt about to-night before invitin' the others. She's all set up an' settled in the pine grove next the school, ain't tired a mite, and says there's nothing like a neighborhood party to get a person acquainted."
Mary repeated her appreciation as the second trustee, having announced the time of assembling and probable other guests, turned his horse's head homeward. Nor were the others slow to voice their own. Virginia was radiant. A real Wyoming barn-warming, she told Mr. Jarvis, seemed the final joy in their collection of summer treasures, and she could not be grateful enough for his hospitality toward her guests.
Everybody for miles around would be there, she announced that evening as they hurried from supper to dress. All the people in the Canyon and the Valley, and even the forest rangers from Sagebrush Point and Cinnamon Creek. It would not be much like a Gordon dance or one at St. Helen's, but she knew they would enjoy it. Yes, she said in response to Priscilla's questions, it might really be quite like the one in The Virginian where they had swapped the babies.
Vivian, who had been burrowing in her closet for a stray blue satin slipper to match the gown spread upon her bed, was surprised a few moments later to see Virginia's dismayed face.
"Oh, Vivian, dear," she cried, "I thought you'd understand about dressing. You really can't wear that, you know. Why, nobody will be dressed up like that! It's for everybody, you see—Dick and Mr. Crusoe and William and the men at Keiths'. They'll all come in flannel shirts and chaps, and they'd all feel so queer and awkward if we dressed as we would at school. A clean middy is what you want. I'm going to wear that. You see, it's so different out here, Vivian."
It certainly was different out there, Vivian said to herself a little petulantly as she hung up the blue dress, and selected a fresh middy and some lighter shoes. Would she be expected to dance with the Bear Canyon forest ranger and his brethren from Cinnamon Creek and Sagebrush Point—with Dick and William and Mr. Crusoe? They were picturesque, and she would enjoy describing them as characteristic of the West when she returned home, but as for dancing with them, that—she was careful not to admit to the others—was quite another matter.
By seven they were off, Mr. Crusoe being the proud driver of the large rig, and the other men following on horseback. The Keith family with Carver and Jack joined them at the main road, and all together they journeyed up Bear Canyon which was populated beyond its wont with pedestrians and equestrians, all bound for the barn-warming of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis.
Virginia's prophecy was fulfilled. Everybody was there! Not a family in the Valley or Canyon had missed this opportunity. Babies, securely bundled against the night air, slumbered on fresh hay in the unused bins, and allowed their tired parents a few moments to greet their neighbors. Love for their old teacher, and interest in their new, divided the hearts of every child but two in the Bear Canyon school, those of the little girl in the pink apron and Allan Jarvis being immovably anchored. The rangers from Bear Canyon and Sagebrush, together with a bran-new man from Cinnamon Creek, were among the guests, and two cow boys from the great Biering ranch westward had, at the invitation of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis, driven their bunch of cattle into his corral, made camp on the nearby hillside, and stayed for the celebration.
The two guests of honor were escorted to seats on the center platform, expressly built for Mr. Samuel Wilson's phonograph, which by elevation, it was believed, would furnish sufficient volume for dancing. In the few intervals between the quickly succeeding introductions, Bear Canyon's two school-mistresses began their acquaintanceship, and Mary found herself strangely fascinated by plain Miss Martha Bumps. A critical analysis failed to warrant the fascination. Certainly Miss Bumps' appearance was not engrossing. To her, clothes were an economical and a social necessity. She wore her traveling gown of faded blue gingham, which of itself was inconspicuous, had it not been for two pockets of newer material on either side of the front. These proofs of unheeded Scriptural warning, being far different in size, gave the entire garment a sinister, cross-eyed effect, which did not fail to catch the eye of the most casual observer. After a surreptitious examination of the aforesaid pockets, Mary discovered that one was occupied by Miss Bumps' ample handkerchief, and the other by her tatting.
Nor was there anything extraordinary in the features of her successor. Ordinary gray hair was parted most punctiliously upon a most ordinary forehead. Her eyes were the usual blue, and her nose a trifle better shaped than the average. In vain Mary searched for the hiding-place of the fascination which years afterward she was to understand—that fascination which is born of noblest enthusiasm and a passion for service, and which can transform all the Valleys of Baca in the wide world.
Priscilla stood with Virginia and Donald, and with eyes full of eagerness watched the gathering of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' guests. She longed for Miss King and Miss Wallace and Dorothy and the Blackmore Twins—yes, she even longed for her mother, in spite of her apprehension lest her Bostonian mother might not strictly appreciate this Wyoming barn-warming and the cosmopolitan society attendant thereupon. She wanted them all to feel as six weeks ago she had felt that indescribable first thrill at the sight of chaps and lariats and fully-equipped cowboys. She wanted them all to realize that here in Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' new barn was a true democracy of comradeship—a comradeship freed from the obnoxious fetters of ball-room etiquette.
It was the interest sparkling in her brown eyes which made the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger outdistance Carver Standish III in his haste to ask her for the grand march. Carver, in white trousers and an air a little too pronounced to be termed self-possession, was leisurely crossing the floor toward her when his chap-clad rival of Cinnamon Creek slid past him unceremoniously and reached Priscilla first. Even then Carver could not believe she would choose a forest ranger in place of him; and his anger was by no means cooled when he heard her say as though in answer to an apology:
"Oh, but you see I can dance with Carver any day, and I've never danced with a forest ranger in my life. I was just hoping you'd ask me when you came!"
Baffled, Carver sought Vivian in the corner whence he had come. Weak as Vivian was at times, he said to himself, in the matter of associates she showed better judgment than some other girls he might name. Vivian did not turn him down. Secretly she was devoutly thankful he had rescued her from a persistent Biering cow boy to whom she had not been introduced, and with whom, had an introduction been procured, she did not care to dance. Before Carver had come, she had watched Mary talking with that freakish Miss Bumps, Priscilla chatting with a dozen different ranchmen, cow boys, and Bear Canyon children, and Virginia attending to the needs of a fretful baby while its mother went cookie-hunting to the family rig.
In her heart of hearts Vivian envied them all. Inwardly she longed to be one with whom all others felt at ease; but outwardly it was far easier to echo Carver's vindictive mood, and agree with him, as they went to take their places in the ever-lengthening line, that never in her life had she seen such people.
Mr. Samuel Wilson with Miss Bumps as a partner and Mr. Benjamin Jarvis with Mary led the march, which three times made the circle of the new barn before breaking into an hilarious two-step. Mr. Samuel Wilson's phonograph groaned and wheezed bravely from its platform; three great bon-fires outside made the great barn glow with light; the babies in the straw-filled bins slumbered on while their fathers and mothers grew young again.
Carver, scorning a two-step, was teaching Vivian a new dance introduced at Gordon the winter before. Pretty as it was, it was strangely inappropriate in Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' barn, and served to separate Carver and Vivian still farther from their fellow guests. The Cinnamon Creek forest ranger watched them until the straight line between his eyebrows grew deeper and deeper. Then he left Miss Martha Bumps with the excuse of bringing her a glass of cider, and started across the floor. It was too bad, he was thinking to himself, for a likeable chap like that young Standish to get in bad. A good-natured word might give him a hint, and no one be the wiser.
Carver and Vivian did not notice his approach. They were resting from their dance, and talking together in tones low yet perfectly audible to one who might be passing by.
"Did you ever see such queer people in your life?" the tall ranger heard Vivian say, and Carver's rejoinder made the straight line between his brows even deeper than before. Apparently there was double need for his friendly hint.
"Some five hundred, believe me!" said the third Carver Standish.
The scorn in his voice was born of petulance rather than of snobbishness, but no such kindly discrimination would be made by any sharp-eared guest of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis, and the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger lost no time.
"If I were you," he said frankly but pleasantly to the amazed Carver Standish, "I'd be a bit more careful about what I said. You see, here in Wyoming it's not considered good form to talk about your host and his guests. If they heard you, it mightn't be comfortable. And, besides, it seems to me it would be better to dance with other folks. That's why I came to ask you if you'd dance the next dance with me, Miss Winters."
Carver and Vivian were too discomfited to be gracious. Like many persons more mature than they, they sought to cover embarrassment and to gain control of the situation by bad manners.
"I hardly think," said Carver Standish III stiffly, "that I need any coaching on behavior from you!"
And before the ranger had time to reply, had he contemplated such action, Vivian was ready with her self-defense.
"I rather guess New Englanders have about as good manners as Wyoming people," she said scathingly, "at least judging from those I've seen!"
The reply of the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger was brief and to the point.
"I always thought so myself until to-night," he said.
Then he bowed politely, procured a glass of cider for the waiting Miss Bumps, who was tatting during the interval, and quietly took his leave. But his words, angrily received though they had been, bore fruit, for Carver Standish III danced not only with Miss Martha Bumps but also with Mrs. Samuel Wilson who was twice his size; and Vivian, heartily ashamed of herself and seeking redemption in her own eyes, accepted the Biering cow boy without a show of an introduction, and danced with him three times during the evening, not to mention her hearty acceptance of Dick and Alec and Joe.
It was late when Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' barn-warming broke up, and later when the guests rode and drove away down the canyon. In Mr. Crusoe's rig, save from one occupant, conversation and laughter never ceased until they turned down the avenue of cottonwoods. The Cinnamon Creek forest ranger came in for his share of the observations from all but Vivian—his general superiority over the other rangers, his good English, the interesting line between his eyes, and his air of having seen the world. Miss Bumps was admired and complimented. The stature of the biggest Biering cow boy brought forth exclamations. The capacity of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis as a host received loud praise. In short, no one was omitted, even to the youngest Wilson baby, who had looked so adorable as he lay asleep in the bin.
It had been a memorable evening, Aunt Nan said, as they gathered around the big fire which Hannah had kept for them, for a last half hour before bed-time. She thought they all needed just such an occasion, so that they might carry back home with them a knowledge of real Wyoming hospitality which knew no strangers. Of course, they had seen it all summer long, she added, smiling at Virginia, but the courtesy of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis had made them one with all Elk Creek Valley and Bear Canyon.
"I've been thinking all the evening of the little poem we learned last Christmas, Virginia," she said. "You know, the one about the fire. I guess the big bon-fires at Mr. Jarvis' made me think of it, and now this one at home brings it back again. You remember it, don't you?"
Virginia did remember. She repeated it softly while they watched the flames and listened. Vivian, in her corner, was glad no one could see the red which crept into her cheeks.
"'I watched a log in the fire-place burning, Wrapped in flame like a winding sheet, Giving again with splendid largess The sun's long gift of treasured heat—
"'Giving again in the fire's low music The sound of wind on an autumn night, And the gold of many a summer sunrise Garnered and given out in light.
"'I watched a log in the fire-place burning— Oh, if I, too, could only be Sure to give back the love and laughter That Life so freely gave to me!'"
"That's what the people out here do," said Aunt Nan after a little when Virginia had finished. "They're not afraid to give back the 'love and laughter' which Life has given them. I think we reserved New Englanders can learn a lesson from Mr. Jarvis and the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger and all the other people we met and be more willing to give back what we've had given to us."
For a long hour after she had gone to bed Vivian remembered the lesson she might have learned from the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger and would not; the love and laughter she might have given the guests of Mr. Benjamin Jarvis and did not. Thoroughly disgusted with herself, she lay looking through the tent opening at the mountains—great, silent souls beneath the stars. They gave back—just everything, she thought.
"Can't you sleep, Vivian?" Virginia whispered from her bed across the tent. "What's the matter?"
Vivian told half the truth.
"It's that poem," she said petulantly. "Of course it's lovely, but I can't get it out of my mind, and I hate to have things run through my head like that!"
THE CINNAMON CREEK FOREST RANGER
"No, Vivian," assured Virginia for at least the tenth time, "there aren't any cattle on those hills. You just turn up the Bear Canyon road where we went after the bear, and go till you reach the creek. It's only a mile from here. Then if you feel a bit nervous about riding Siwash up the mountain, why tie him to a tree and walk. Perhaps 'twill be easier anyway, for you'll find the kinnikinnick just after you leave the creek. It will be redder in the open places, so hunt for those. You'll love it for Christmas boxes. If it weren't for Caesar, I'd go with you, but I want to finish the third book before Mary goes. Is it at the creek Carver's going to meet you?"
"There or at the crossroads," explained Vivian, as she mounted Siwash. "He went to town this morning with Donald, but he said he'd be back in plenty of time. I tried to 'phone, but I guess there must be something wrong. I couldn't get any one, and it didn't buzz at all. But I know he'll be there, and I'm not a bit afraid of Siwash. Good-by."
Virginia stood on the porch and watched Vivian ride down the lane before returning to Caesar. She was wondering if anything could be the matter, if, perhaps, something had happened at the barn-warming the evening before to displease Vivian. She had seemed so unlike herself all the morning.
But, she concluded wisely, few days were cloudless, and even an almost perfect house-party had its ups and downs. She and Donald had both discovered that. So many different personalities were bound to collide occasionally, and one couldn't be happy always. An afternoon on the mountain was sure to make Vivian's world bright again.
Meanwhile Vivian neared the crossroads. Carver was not there. A scanning of the prairie showed him nowhere in sight. She would ride up the canyon to the ford and wait there, she said to herself. When she rode, her thoughts were less troublesome, and it was far easier to stick to her resolve.
Last evening, just as Mr. Benjamin Jarvis' guests were dispersing, she had made a hasty engagement with Carver to meet her the following afternoon and go for kinnikinnick up Cinnamon Creek. The search for kinnikinnick was not, however, her real reason for wishing to see Carver. If her courage did not fail her, and if her sudden resolve did not wane in the light of day, as resolves so often do, she was going to ask Carver to ride with her up Cinnamon Creek to the ranger's cabin, and there help her to apologize for their rudeness. To admit her regret to Carver would be even more difficult than to apologize to the ranger, and she was not at all sure that she should wish to do so in severely practical daylight.
Yet daylight had come—it was early afternoon of the next day—and she was still ready if Carver would only come. She allowed Siwash to sink his warm nose in the amber waters of the ford while she waited. It was very still up there. In fact, only Virginia's repeated assurances that there were no cattle on the hills and her own knowledge that a homesteader's cabin was just out of sight beyond the quaking-asps on her left, made Vivian endure that stillness, broken only by the hurrying creek waters and the lazy humming of tiny, hidden insects.
To her right rose the mountain wall, dark with pine and spruce, though here and there a flaming service-berry or a hawthorn broke through the evergreens like sudden fire. The tangle of trees and shrubs seemed impenetrable, and yet Virginia had told of a trail which led from the creek not three rods from the ford—led up, up, up for five miles until it reached the Cinnamon Creek Station.
Why did not Carver come? She wished she could be as patient as Siwash who stood knee deep in the ford, hung his shaggy, homely head, and stole a nap gratefully. For the twentieth time Vivian rehearsed her speeches, the one to Carver and the other to the insulted ranger. That is, he had every cause to be insulted, though her memory of the smile with which he had received her thrust would seem to dispute his justifiable indignation. Perhaps here in the mountains people were not so easily insulted. They, the mountains, were so big and generous that they made one ashamed of littleness.
Being sure of the speeches, she grew more and more impatient. Carver, waiting in Elk Creek for a stock train to load up with its living freight, was even more uneasy than she. He could not leave Donald and there was no way of letting Vivian know that he could not meet her at the ford. At last, having convinced himself that he could not help matters, he sat down on the station platform, disturbed in spirit and conscience, and hoped that Vivian had already turned back home.
But Vivian did not turn back. It grew hot by the ford, and she decided to tie Siwash in the shadow of some quaking-asps across the creek, and go up the trail herself to a shady place. Carver would see Siwash and call to her if she did not hear him come.
It was cool and shady beneath the trees that bordered the rocky trail. She would willingly have rested had not her eyes spied the red berries of some kinnikinnick growing on either side of the path. Farther away in an open space she saw more and larger. They were far prettier than holly for Christmas boxes, and would be so different to her friends back East. She loved the tiny leaves and graceful trailing of the vines, which seemed hardly sturdy enough to hold the big, round, jolly-looking berries.
Virginia was right. They did grow more luxuriantly in the infrequent open places, and she climbed farther and farther up the mountain side, seeking like Hansel and Gretel for bigger berries than she had found. Sometimes she stood still and listened. The silence made a queer catch in her throat. Had it not been for her eagerness to find more and better kinnikinnick, and her knowledge that the homesteader's cabin was very near, she would have been frightened. But Carver must be there very soon, and though she often left the trail, the sound of the creek was proof against her being lost. Her own woodsman instinct was not strong, but Virginia had told her always to trust the creek, which would ever lead one down whence she had come.
Once her heart almost stopped beating. Away in the top of a great spruce she heard a hammering sound. It echoed through the silent woods like great blows of an ax, and some long moments passed before Vivian could assure her frightened heart that it was only a flicker searching for his dinner.
Her box was filled with kinnikinnick and she would go back. If Carver were not at the ford, they must make the trip up the trail the next day in spite of Virginia's plan for a ride to Lone Mountain. If necessary, she would be brave enough to explain matters, and then they would understand.
She turned to go down the mountain, when suddenly from above her came a sound of breaking underbrush as though some creature were bursting from its covert. Vivian stood motionless, too terrified to move or to scream. It was not Carver—that was certain. He would never be upon the mountain. It was far more likely to be a bear. Why not one here as well as farther up the canyon where they had caught that monster from the sight of which she had not yet recovered? Thoughts passed like flashes through her brain while that awful sound of breaking twigs continued. Hundreds and hundreds of them came, crowding one another for space—thoughts of St. Helen's, snatches of poems she had learned, memories of things which had frightened her as a child. And last of all, perhaps because without knowing it she had reached a great tree and sunk in a little heap at its foot, came the picture of a sallow youth in eye-glasses and a linen duster, who had once, ages ago, crashed through some underbrush somewhere else!
The crashing ceased. Some one stepped into the trail above her. The thought of a bear had somehow given place to her old knight-errant of the soda-fountain. And yet when she looked up, expecting to see his pale, sickly countenance, she saw instead the khaki-clad form and the surprised blue eyes of the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger!
He was the very person she had wished to see. She could make her speech now, and be spared her long ride, and yet she found herself studying the line between his eyes and wondering why other people did not have a line there, too. It was the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger who spoke first.
"If that were an oak tree," he said, "I'd think you were consulting an oracle; but since it isn't, maybe you're just a Dryad who's fallen out of the branches. What are you doing away up here anyway? I guess you startled me almost as much as I seem to have startled you. I'm mighty sorry I scared you though!"
His apology made Vivian remember her own, and though she quite forgot her speech and just stammered out how sorry she was, the ranger liked it quite as well and assured her he should never think of it again.
"And now," he said, "since you've come away off up here, I'm not going to let you go home until you've seen my garden."
"Your garden?" queried Vivian. "Why, your cabin isn't here! It's——"
"I know," he interrupted, "but my garden is. Follow me. I'll show you. I promise there aren't any bears."
She followed him for half a mile up the trail. They wound around great bowlders and along the edges of steep, forbidding places. Then the ranger paused before a thicket of yellow quaking-asps.
"This is the entrance," he explained. "Now prepare, for you're going to see something more wonderful than the hanging gardens of Nineveh."
Pushing aside the quaking-asps, he made a path for Vivian, who followed, mystified. A few moments more and they had passed the portals, and stood in the ranger's garden.
Vivian caught her breath. Never in her life had she seen such grandeur of color. They stood in an open place—a tiny valley surrounded by brown foot-hills. Beyond, the higher pine-clad mountains shut off the valley from the eyes of all who did not seek it. Some great, gray, over-hanging rocks guarded the farther entrance. Within the inclosure, carpeting the valley and clothing the foot-hills, great masses of color glowed in the gold of the sunlight. The ranger's garden was a flaming pageant of yellow and bronze and orange, crimson and scarlet and purple between a cloudless, turquoise sky.
"Oh!" cried Vivian. "It's just like a secret, isn't it, hidden away up here? I never saw such color in all my life, except in Thais, you know, where the women in Alexandria wore such beautiful gowns." Somehow she knew that the Cinnamon Creek forest ranger did know.
"Yes," he said understandingly, "I remember, only this is better than grand opera, because it's real. You see, I spotted this place last spring. I saw all the different shrubs—quaking-asp and buck-brush and Oregon grape and service-berry and hawthorn and wild currant—and I thought to myself that this would be some garden in September. It's cold nights up here in these hills, the frosts are early, and the sun strikes this valley all day. It's going to be even more gorgeous in two weeks more. It isn't exactly on my beat, but it's near enough so I can make it. Come on. I'll show you all the different things."
So he led her from golden quaking-asp to crimson hawthorn, and taught her the names of everything that grew in his wonderful garden. Before they had made the circle, Vivian mustered courage, and, seeing the jeweled pin upon the pocket of his rough shirt, which his coat had covered the evening before, asked him about himself, and if Wyoming were his home.
No, he said, glad to tell her. He was from Maine, and the pin he wore was his fraternity pin. He had studied forestry in the university there, and then, becoming ill, had been sent West to get rid of a nasty cough which didn't want to go away. But the mountains had proven the best doctors in the world, and he was only staying on a year in the cabin at Cinnamon Creek to learn the mountain trees, and to add a few more pounds before going back home again.
Vivian grew more and more confused as she listened. Here he was a New Englander like herself, and she had been so rude. What would Carver say when he knew?
"It just shows," she said, "that we never can tell about persons on first acquaintance. I'm doubly sorry I was rude last night. I thought you didn't talk like a Westerner, but I didn't dream you were from New England!"
"I've learned since I've been out here," he said, "that it doesn't make any difference where we're from. Wyoming hearts are just like New England ones, and the only safe way is never to be rude or unkind at all."
Vivian agreed with him. She never would be again, she said to herself, as they left the garden and went back down the trail to Siwash and the ford. Carver was not there, and the ranger insisted upon walking home with her. He would not have stayed for supper had not Virginia and Aunt Nan, meeting them at the mail-box, persuaded him.
So it was a very merry party that ate supper beneath the cottonwoods—a party saddened only by the early good-night of the Cinnamon Creek ranger, who wanted to make his mountain cabin before darkness quite obliterated the trail. As he swung into the main road after some cordial handshakes which warmed his heart, he met Carver Standish III.
It was too nearly dark for Carver to see the fraternity pin, and no one had yet told him that the ranger was from New England. Nevertheless, he straightened his shoulders, and held out his hand.
"I've wanted to see you, sir," he said, "to tell you that I was an awful cad last night, and that I'm dead ashamed of it!"
THE WINTHROP COAT-OF-ARMS
Priscilla, sitting under the biggest cottonwood, was writing to Miss Wallace, in her best handwriting, on her best stationery, in her best style. One unconsciously brought forth the best she had for Miss Wallace. She was telling of the Emperor and of the Cinnamon Creek ranger, sure that Miss Wallace would be glad to add both to her collection of interesting people. Interruptions were many. Carver, moody and silent, rode over, looking for entertainment, and she did her best; Vivian, having reached a halt in her daily Latin review, asked assistance; little David, Alec's adorable son, had come over with his mother for the afternoon, and Priscilla found him irresistible; and at last Donald, riding homeward, hot and tired from working on the range, had stopped for rest and refreshment. With Hannah's help Priscilla had provided the refreshment, and the ground beneath the cottonwood was giving the rest.
"Some stationery!" said Donald, raising himself on his elbow to look at the pile of sheets which Priscilla had placed in readiness on the grass. "A shield and an eagle and a lion and a unicorn all at once, to say nothing of Latin. What does it say? 'Courage—my——'"
"Courage is my heritage," translated Priscilla proudly. "It's our family coat-of-arms, and that's the motto. We've had it for years and years, ever since the Wars of the Roses. A Winthrop was shield-bearer for Edward, Duke of York, and Grandfather used to say we could be traced back to the Norman Conquest."
"I see," said Donald politely, but with something very like amusement in his blue eyes. "You New England folks are strong on crests and mottoes and that sort of thing, aren't you?"
"No more than we should be," announced Priscilla a little haughtily. "We are the oldest families for the most part, and I think we ought to remember all those things about our ancestors. It's—it's very—stimulating. The West is so excited over progress and developing the country and all that," she finished a little disdainfully, "that it doesn't care about family traditions or—or anything like that."
"Oh, I don't know," returned Donald. "It isn't so bad as that. We think a fine family history is a splendid thing. I venture I'm as proud of my Scotch forefathers as you are of the Duke of York's shield-bearer, though we haven't any coat-of-arms, and never did have any, I guess. Only back there you think it's a necessity to have a good ancestry, and out here we just consider it a help. I like what Burns said about a man being just a man. That's the way we feel out here. It isn't what you come from; it's what you are, and what you can do. Family mottoes are all right, if you live up to them. I knew a fellow at school when I was East two years ago. He roomed with me. He had the family coat-of-arms framed and hung on the wall. 'Twas all red and silver, and the motto was 'Ne cede malis'—'Yield not to difficulties.' The funny part was that he was the biggest quitter in school. You see, I think it's you who have to uphold the motto—not the motto that has to uphold you."
Priscilla ate a cookie silently. She wished Donald were not so convincing.
"For instance," Donald continued, "suppose Courage is my heritage were Vivian's family motto. Do you think that fact would give Vivian an extra amount of courage if she said it over a thousand times? I don't. All the courage Vivian's got she's gained for herself without any motto to help her out. And I guess that's the way with most of us in this world."
He took his hat and rose to go.
"I've got to be making for home," he said. "Dave's gone, and I've an extra amount of work to do. Thanks awfully for the cookies, and don't think I'm too hard on the family motto business. I can see where your motto means a heap to you, but you're not a quitter anyway, Priscilla."
He jumped on MacDuff and rode down the lane with a final wave of his hat as he galloped homeward across the prairie. Priscilla's cheeks grew red as she watched him. She was not any too sure that she was not a quitter. Disturbing memories came to trouble her—memories of occasions when she had not proven the truth of the motto, which had fired her ancestors. Donald was right, too, about ancestry and coats-of-arms and mottoes being only helps. Her New England conscience told her that, and her weeks in Wyoming corroborated her conscience. Still she was averse to admitting it—even to Donald.
She returned to her unfinished letter, but Genius seemed on a vacation. She could not picture the Emperor to Miss Wallace—could not give the impression which he had indelibly stamped upon her memory as he stood between Nero and Trajan at the palace entrance. The coat-of-arms seemed a disturbing element. She covered it with a strip of paper, but still thoughts would not come.
Disgruntled and out-of-sorts, she put away her letter, and started toward the house. Carver's mood was contagious, she said to herself. In Hannah's kitchen she found Mrs. Alec and little David, a roly-poly youngster of three who demanded too much attention for just one mother. Priscilla, seeing in David a sure antidote for introspection, offered to play the part of the necessary other mother, and took him out-of-doors, much to the relief of tired Mrs. Alec. She had no more time to think of family mottoes or coats-of-arms. David clamored for attention, begged to be shown the horse, the dogs, and all the live-stock which the ranch afforded. Priscilla was an obedient guide. Nothing was omitted from the itinerary. When David, satisfied as to the other four-footed possessions, said "Pigs" in his funny Scotch way, pigs it was!
She led him down the hill to the corral, then off toward the right where the pigs had their abiding-place. A pile of rocks, the crevices of which were filled with all weeds infesting the neighborhood of pigs, offered a vantage-ground from which they might view the landscape so alluring to little David. With his hand in hers, she was helping him mount the rocks one by one.
Suddenly a miniature saw-mill whirred at their feet. A swarm of bees filled the air! Priscilla, intent upon David, had not noticed the flat surface of the rock where the sun lay warm and bright. Warned by the strange sound, her terrified eyes saw the snake, coiled and ready to spring! She had a fleeting vision of a flat, cruel head, and a thousand diamond-shaped yellow dots as she grasped little David by the neckband and pulled him from the rocks to the corral. It was a rattlesnake! The brakeman's prophecy had come true! In spite of Virginia's assertion that they never came near the house, she had seen one!
Little David was crying from surprise and a sore neck. He had not seen the snake. Priscilla was trembling in every muscle. There was no one whom she could call. The men were on the range and in the fields; Mr. Hunter and the girls, except Vivian, were in town; Aunt Nan was at the Keiths. The snake must not be allowed to live. Little David might be playing around there again, or some other child. She herself would never, never have the courage——! She started, for suddenly in place of the sound of the saw-mill and the vision of the diamond-shaped dots, came the memory of a lion rampant on a field of gold, an eagle perched upon a shield, and a unicorn surrounded by stars. As the red came back into her white cheeks, Donald's words came back also:
"You see, you're no quitter anyway, Priscilla!"
Two minutes later Mrs. Alec and Hannah were surprised to receive into their midst a shrieking child, borne by a most determined girl, who was almost out of breath.
"He's all right!" she gasped. "Except his neck, I mean! I dragged him. I had to! I'll tell you why by and by. Keep him till I get back!"
Then she flew out of the house and down the path to the stables. A many-tined pitchfork rested against one of the sheds. It was one which William had used that morning in turning over sod for a new flower-bed. Priscilla in her hurried transit with David had marked the fork, and chosen it as her best weapon. Of all those cruel tines, one must surely be successful. Donald had told tales of forked sticks and heavy stones, but her hands were too inexperienced for those things.
She seized the fork and ran down the path toward the rocks, not daring to stop lest her resolve should fail her; not even waiting to plan her attack lest the memory of that awful head should send her back to the kitchen.
The saw-mill whirred again as she neared the rock. Apparently the snake had not stirred since his last conquest. This time she saw his wicked little eyes, his flattened head, and the contraction of his diamond-covered muscles as he made ready to spring. But Priscilla sprang first. The tines of the heavy pitchfork pierced the coils, and the only whirr which sounded was the whirr of iron against the rock.
Priscilla, on the rock below, held the handle of the pitchfork firmly, and tried not to look at her victim as he writhed in agony. A sickness was creeping over her. There were queer vibrations in the air, and a strange, singing sound in her ears. Memory brought back the picture of an evening in Carver Standish's room at the Gordon School when she had felt the same way. She would not faint, she said to herself, rallying all her forces. She would die first! The snake had ceased writhing. He was surely dead. Little David need be no longer in danger, and she—perhaps she need not feel so unworthy when she thought of the Winthrop coat-of-arms.
She was very white when she reached the kitchen after depositing the pitchfork and its burden by the shed. Grateful Mrs. Alec cried and held little David closer when Priscilla, fortified by Hannah's cider, told the story. Alec, who came in a few minutes later, was grateful, too, in his bluff Scotch way. The snake, he said, was a whopper. He had rarely seen a larger, and Miss Priscilla was a trump—the very bravest tenderfoot he'd ever seen!
She had been true to her heritage, Donald said that evening—worthy to bear the Winthrop coat-of-arms. But then he knew she wasn't a quitter anyway. He had told her so that very afternoon.
But Priscilla's honesty was equal to all the demands placed upon it that night. Donald's praise was but the last straw!
"All the coats-of-arms and family mottoes in the world, Donald," she said, "couldn't have made me kill that snake. It was what you said about them, and about me not being a quitter that did it. I think I was a quitter until this afternoon; but now I can go and write Miss Wallace without covering up the top of the paper. I'm going to do it before bed-time, if you'll excuse me. Good-night!"
A GOOD SPORT
"Whew!" sighed Vivian, shifting her position in the saddle for the tenth time in as many minutes, and taking off her broad-brimmed hat to fan her tanned, flushed face. "I think sagebrush must attract the sun. I never was hotter in all my life! I wish now we'd stayed at the Buffalo Horn and waited till after supper to start back. Of course I don't exactly love riding in the dark, but of the two I'd about as soon be scared to death as baked. Where is the next shady spot, Virginia? I can't see a tree for miles! I honestly can't!"
"There aren't any," said the comforting Virginia, brushing back the damp rings of hair from her hot forehead, "and the next shady spot is two miles away. The trail bends and there are some quaking-asps by a spring. We'll rest there, and eat our cookies, and drink some real water. 'Twill be a change from the river."
"I'm thankful for the river though, even if I have drunk all kinds of bugs. I guess we'd have died without it through all these miles of sagebrush. When will the others get home, do you suppose?"
"Not until late," Virginia answered, "that is, if they wait for supper. I'd have loved to have stayed, but William wants Pedro for the range to-morrow, and I wanted him to have a longer rest. Besides, he runs so with the other horses and gets nervous. You were a peach to come with me, Vivian. Right in the hottest part of the day, too."
Vivian was honest.
"It wasn't all out of kindness," she admitted, "though, of course, I love to ride with you. I didn't especially care about riding home at night, and I don't like such a big crowd either. Siwash always forgets how old he is, and begins to act kittenish, and I never know what to do. I'm thirsty again. Shall we drink a few more bugs?"
"Might as well, I suppose," Virginia replied. "Pedro and Siwash seem ready. Ugh! I got one that time! Actually felt him go down my throat! We ought not to put water on our faces, Vivian. They're peeling now! Here's some cold cream!"
Vivian squeezed the tube and smeared her glowing nose, before she again mounted Siwash.
"We mustn't drink any more of the river," she said. "I feel like an insect cabinet already. Let's get to the quaking-asps as soon as we can and rest."
Virginia's eyes glowed with pride as she watched Vivian mount Siwash and ride away from the river. One would never have known it was the same Vivian who nearly seven weeks ago had begged to stay at home from the getting-acquainted trip. She had learned to ride well and easily, and no apparent fear, at least of Siwash, remained. With still more pride Virginia saw her tanned, happy face, the red color in her cheeks, and the extra pounds which Wyoming had given her. The Big Horn country had been kind to Vivian in more ways than one.
"I never saw any one improve so in riding, Vivian," she could not resist saying. "You do every bit as well as Priscilla, and Don thinks she's a marvel. I'm proud as Punch of you!"
Vivian's cheeks glowed redder.
"I can't help but be a tiny bit pleased with myself," she said hesitatingly, "at least about the riding. And—and there are other things, too, Virginia. Of course I know there have been loads of silly things—Mr. Crusoe, for instance. I'll never forget how awful that was, even though you were all so fine about it. But in spite of everything foolish, I have learned things out here, Virginia, that I never knew in all my life. Mother and Father probably won't see any difference next week when I get home, but there is some just the same. I'm not quite such a—a coward as I was! I feel it inside!"
"I know you do," said Virginia, riding Pedro closer. "It shows on your face, too. I guess what's really inside of us usually does. You're getting to be a good sport, Vivian, and we're all proud of it—with you!"
The knowledge of Virginia's approval somehow made the mid-day heat less intense, and the two miles to the quaking-asps less long. It was good to reach them, and to lie at full length on the cool ground before drinking from the spring a few steps away. Pedro and Siwash were grateful, too, as they cropped the sweet, moist grass. A half hour here would sustain them against the three miles of sagebrush beyond.
Virginia and Vivian lay flat on their backs with their arms straight above their heads and rested, as they had been taught to do at St. Helen's. Above them the interlaced branches of the quaking-asps shut out the sun. The air was still with that strange stillness which sometimes comes before a storm. Even the ever-active leaves of the quaking-asps moved not at all.
"It's the stillest place I ever knew," said Vivian, as she reached for a cookie. "How far is it to the nearest house?"
"Six miles," she said. "No, there's a homesteader's cabin nearer. That's about four, I guess, but Michner's, the cattle ranch, is six. We always call them the nearest neighbors from here. It is still, isn't it?"
"Awfully!" returned Vivian.
Their words were hardly finished when the sound of hoofs broke the stillness. Pedro and Siwash snorted. Virginia and Vivian sat up quickly—one interested, the other alarmed. Some one was coming along the rough trail through the sagebrush. Some one was very near! They peered through the quaking-asps. The some one was a lone cowboy riding a buckskin horse. He was leaning forward in his saddle and clutching the horn. His face, almost covered by the big hat he wore, was close to the black mane of the sturdy little buckskin.
From their shelter they watched him draw near with beating hearts. There was something strange about him—strange as the stillness. They could not see that he was guiding the horse, who apparently knew not only the way, but her mission as well. She came straight toward the shady thicket and stopped beneath the trees a few rods away from the two anxious spectators. Her rider, conscious perhaps from the halt that he had reached his destination, loosened his hold upon the saddle-horn, swung himself with a mighty effort from the saddle, and fell upon the ground, his hat all unnoticed falling from his head.
The buckskin was apparently worried. She sniffed the air dubiously, snorted an anxious greeting to Pedro and Siwash, and moved to one side, lest by mistake she should tread upon her master, who lay in a motionless heap close beside her. Then Virginia's quick eyes discovered blood upon the man's head and face. She jumped to her feet.
"He's hurt somehow, Vivian," she said, "terribly hurt, I'm afraid. We mustn't leave him like this. He might die here all alone! Come on! Let's see what we can do."
Vivian, too surprised to remonstrate, followed Virginia through the quaking-asps. The man lay where he had fallen, unconscious of anything about him. Blood was flowing from an ugly wound just above his forehead. He was a sad and sorry sight. Vivian shuddered and drew back.
"Who is he, Virginia?" she breathed. "You know who he is, don't you? Oh, what are you going to do?" For Virginia's strong young arms were trying to pull the man into a more comfortable position, and farther beneath the trees.
"No, I don't know who he is," she whispered, fanning the man's white face with her broad-brimmed hat. "That doesn't make any difference. He's awfully hurt! I thought at first 'twas a shot, but I guess he's fallen. It looks like that. The horse belongs to Michner's. I know by the brand. Fan him, Vivian, while I fix his head and see if he has any whisky about him anywhere."
The dazed and frightened Vivian obediently took the fan, and turning her face away, frantically fanned the quaking-asps until they danced and fluttered once more. Virginia untied the cow boy's slicker from the back of the buckskin's saddle and folded it into a pillow, which she placed beneath the sick man's head. The buckskin was relieved and whinnied her thanks. Then from one pocket she drew a small, leathern flask and shook it.
"Empty!" she said. "Hard luck! Water will have to do. We were careless to forget our drinking-cups. Rinse this flask, and get some water from the spring, Vivian."
Vivian, still waving the fan in the air, brought the water, which Virginia tried to pour between the man's lips. It seemed to arouse him, for he drank some gratefully, though without opening his eyes.
"I ought to wash some of this blood away," said Virginia, "but I guess I won't take the time. You can do that after I'm gone. There's only one thing to do. We can't leave this man here in this condition. He might die before any one found him. I'll take Pedro and ride on to Michner's as fast as I can for help. Or," she added, seeing Vivian's eyes open wider, "you take him, and I'll stay here. Either you like, only we must decide at once. Maybe we'll meet somebody or somebody'll come, or maybe there'll be somebody at the homesteader's cabin. Which will you do, ride or stay?"
Vivian had decided before she looked at Pedro. She always felt that Pedro entertained scorn for her, contempt that wild gallops through the sagebrush should, together with his youth and speed, present terrors. She knew that he despised her for preferring Siwash to him.
"I'll stay," she said firmly. "Pedro will do more for you than for me. When will you be back?"
Virginia was already in the saddle.
"Probably in little more than an hour, if I find folks," she said. "Keep giving him some water if he needs it, and fan him. He may come to. Good-by."
The sound of Pedro's feet died away all too quickly. The stillness which followed was deeper than ever. It fairly sang in the air. For fully five minutes Vivian stood motionless, loath to believe that Virginia had gone. She did not want to be alone! Something inside of her cried out against it. But she was alone—she, Vivian Winters, alone with a dying cow boy on a limitless Wyoming plain. Since the relentless knowledge pushed itself upon her, she might as well accept it. She was alone! And there was the cow boy!
Virginia had said that he might come to! For her own sake she hoped he didn't. He was awful enough as he was—blood-smeared and dirty—but at least he did not realize the situation, and that was a scant comfort. If he came to, he might be insane. Blows on the head often made persons so. Given insanity and a gun, what would be the demonstration?
A low groan from the quaking-asp thicket brought Vivian to herself. Imagination had no place here. This man was hurt, and she was strong and well. There was a spring of water near by, and she had extra handkerchiefs in her pocket. It was plainly up to her!
The stillness was less persistent after she had gone to the spring for water. She forgot all about it as she knelt beside the wounded man and washed the blood from his pain-distorted face. He opened his eyes as he felt the cold cloths, and Vivian saw that they were good, blue eyes. They, together with the absence of blood and dirt, told her that her patient was young—only a boy, in fact! The cut on his head was ugly! Something fluttered inside of her as she parted his hair to place a clean handkerchief upon it, and for a moment she was ill and faint. The cow boy's "Thank you, miss," brought her to herself. Perhaps he was coming to! It was not so awful as she had thought.
But he again fell asleep, cleaner and more comfortable than before. The buckskin whinnied her thanks, and put her nose against Vivian's arm as she went to the spring for more water. For the first time in her life Vivian felt the comradeship, the dumb understanding of a horse. Then Siwash became glorified. He was something more than a ragged, decrepit old pony. He was a companion, and Vivian stopped to pat him before she hurried back to her patient.