LAWLESS DEVICES

That night Polly consulted the Admiral. Sitting opposite him in the
study after dinner, she went over her plans very carefully.

“Each of the girls can give something different. I want to have a
birthday party, grandfather dear.”

“But your birthday is in December—” began the Admiral, in faint protest.

“This will be a universal birthday party, everybody’s birthday party. We
will have very good refreshments to start with. Crullers always says the
success of anything depends on the food. And we’ll decorate the lawn and
veranda, and have music too. We won’t charge any admission at all, but
every one who comes in, will be handed a nice little silk bag, and told
to put in it as many pennies as they are years old.”

“Highway robbery,” exclaimed the Admiral. “Think how it will beggar me,
and let everybody know how old I am too.”

“Oh, no, it won’t, because we shall not tell,” Polly promised
laughingly. “Isn’t it a good idea? Nearly everybody’s over twenty, and
some are even over fifty. We’ll invite all the nice old people in
Queen’s Ferry.”

“And treat them as if it were their birthdays, I presume.”

“Oh, yes. And don’t you see, grandfather, if I give that kind of a
party, and Isabel has the strawberry lawn fête, and the others plan
other things, we’ll have quite a lot of money for the trip.”

“It’s worth something to parents and guardians and grandfathers to get
rid of you during the summer,” said the Admiral, gravely, but with
twinkling eyes. “If this is to be strictly on a business basis, I think
that item should be counted in. There should be a sympathy meeting
called amongst us to discuss that phase of it. I will give fifty dollars
towards a relief fund to send girls away on vacations, myself.”

“Will you?” Polly regarded him with interest, her head a little on one
side like a robin as she thought over the proposition. It was a tempting
one, but she remembered the code of honor at the Crossbar. “Maybe we’ll
have to appeal for help before we get through, but we want to try first,
and earn it ourselves. You understand, don’t you, grandfather dear? We
don’t want it to happen so—oh, so easily.”

The Admiral declared it was much better to take the cash outright than
to wheedle it out by birthday parties, and strawberry festivals, and
other “lawless devices,” but Polly went ahead just the same.

Every day, whenever there was a chance, the five met to talk over ways
and means. Sue wrestled with the problem for some time, and finally she
and Ted put their heads together, and decided to hold an auction.

“You can’t hold an auction unless you have something to sell,” Ruth
remonstrated.

“We’ll sell things,” the two promised, and they surely did when the time
came.

Isabel held fast to her strawberry fête, and Ruth pondered over how she
could do her share. Miss Murray had been attracted from the first of the
term to this quiet, old-fashioned girl, with the big brown eyes, and
spectacles, and serious yet whimsical way with her. She knew that while
the other girls had nice homes, and sure prospects, Ruth was dependent
on her aunt, and had to make her own way as soon as she left school.
Perhaps this bred a sort of kinship in sympathy between them. At all
events, Ruth found that nearly every day she would have a talk with
Jean.

Finally, they took Miss Calvert into their confidence, and she had a
suggestion to make at once.

“Why, Ruth, child, don’t you think you could bring the little lame Ellis
boy up in his lessons so he could take the examinations,” she said,
hopefully. “Mrs. Ellis was asking me only Sunday how she could manage
with him, and he is quite convalescent now. The doctor says his worrying
over falling behind will retard his recovery.”

Ruth’s face brightened. The little lame Ellis boy, as every one in
Queen’s Ferry called him, was the only child of Payne Ellis, the senior
warden at Trinity Church. She knew him well at church. He had been ill
with measles for several weeks, and would be certain to miss all of his
examinations.

“He wants so much to finish his grammar work this year, and start in the
fall at St. Stephen’s Military School, and if he fails, it means another
year of eighth grade work,” added Miss Calvert. “I do think you might be
able to bring him up in time, Ruth. I will speak to Mrs. Ellis to-night,
and let you know.”

The next day Ruth’s face fairly shone with satisfaction.

“Oh, girls, isn’t it good?” she said, as they were going up the broad
stairs at noon. “I’ve heard from Mrs. Ellis, and I am to give two hours
every day after school, teaching Phil. She says she will give me fifty
cents an hour. That’s six dollars a week, and there’ll be five weeks
anyway, up to the end of school. The doctor says he mustn’t attempt to
go back on account of his eyes.”

“Lucky grandma,” Sue said, emphatically. “That comes of being a walking
encyclopedia, while the rest of us must pick strawberries, and auction
off all our pet belongings. By the way, we are going to hold our
auction, Ted and I, on Saturday next. Ted has the first poster all made
for it. She hung it beside the looking glass in the hall, where no one
could possibly miss it.”

It was a hand-made poster. Ted was the artist. She had used the plain
ecru-tinted “scratch paper,” as the girls called it, that they all used
in class for scribbling. An original drawing of Sue weeping over the
sale of her treasures occupied the top space, while Ted stood on a
chair, holding out articles invitingly. Underneath it read:

AUCTION!!!

To be held on Saturday forenoon, at the residence of Miss Sue
Warner, 35 Elmwood Road. The personal belongings of Miss Warner
and Miss Edwina Moore will be sold at a great sacrifice at ten
o’clock sharp. The sale includes,

ANTIQUES! MYSTERY BOXES! BOOKS!
BEAUTIFUL POMPS AND VANITIES!
RARE CANDIES! ONE KITTEN!

Various toilette articles, and all the interesting and valuable
objects of art which made Miss Moore’s room in Calvert Hall, the
past winter, a place of diversion and envy.

“The resident girls are all coming to the sale,” Ted announced, happily,
shutting one eye, as she looked at the announcement. “I think that is
very enticing and mysterious, don’t you, Polly?”

“It’s lovely,” Polly declared, delightedly. “Let’s send out copies of it
to everybody.”

“I’ll help letter them, Ted,” Crullers said, anxiously. “I wish you’d
let me help, girls, even if I can’t be in on the fun.”

“Well, so you shall, dear,” Polly promised, and after school hours, they
all went up to Ted’s room, and made copies of the placard. It was Ted’s
first year as a resident pupil, and she had felt somewhat divided from
the others at first. Her father and mother were away from Queen’s Ferry,
at the town house in Washington, and it necessitated Ted’s occupying a
room at the Hall.

“We would have held the auction here,” Sue said, “but nobody would have
come except the girls. This way, I shall sell pink popcorn and peanuts,
while Ted is the auctioneer.”

“I don’t see what you’re going to sell,” Ruth put in, soberly. “You’ll
destroy public confidence in all of us if it’s a joke.”

“A joke. Listen to her, Ted.” Sue shook her head sadly. “Indeed it is
not a joke. We’re giving up all we dare to, aren’t we, Ted? Mother says
she has to keep a watch on everything in the house for fear it will be
auctioned off. But she’s donated a few things too, to help us out. She
made the mystery boxes.”

“Never heard of such things,” said Ruth.

“That’s the charm,” smiled back Sue. “Just you wait till Saturday. I do
hope we’ll have a good crowd.”

“We must send these to all our friends,” Polly said, and each girl took
a supply home with her.

But it remained for Crullers to spring the grand surprise of Saturday.
Not until the fateful hour of ten did the girls discover what Crullers
had done with her poster. Sue’s home was a beautiful, old-fashioned
house set far back from the main river road, and surrounded by trees.
The auction was to be held in the music room, and well-filled it was
too, by ten, with the girls from Calvert Hall, and a lot of Queen’s
Ferry girls besides, and even some of the mothers and grown sisters. But
suddenly Ruth glanced out of the broad bay window, and cried:

“Here come a lot of the choir boys, Polly. How on earth did they know
about it? Rehearsal is just over, and they’re all coming here.”

Polly hurried to the window. It was quite true. Coming innocently and
interestedly up the broad walk from the road, were about fifteen of the
older boys from St. Stephen’s.

“How did they ever find out,” she exclaimed, and then all at once, she
caught sight of Crullers’ face. It was quite red, and a little bit
frightened too.

“Polly, Polly,” she faltered, “I did it. I tacked one of the posters on
a fence near the Parish House.”

“Double penalty,” said Ted, under her breath. “First for giving us away,
second, for tacking notices on fences.”

“You cannot help it now, girls, anyway,” said Jean, smiling over the
mishap. “And boys are not so terrible, anyway. I’ll manage them. They
will probably buy up all the candy, and that will help out.”

So with dignity, and all cordial courtesy, the boys were received, and
ushered into the music room, and while their eyes fairly danced with fun
and mischief, they soon forgot all but the excitement of the sale, and
became, as Jean had prophesied, the best and most spirited bidders.

The candy sold first, boxes of fudge, and nut creams the girls had made
themselves, and nut glacés. Also, Sue did a thriving business at her
stand near the door, in popcorn and peanuts. Ted stood on a chair, and
was auctioneer, and she made a good one. Tactfully she chose things that
she knew certain girls had set their hearts on, and ran rival bidders
against each other. Even the cushions from her couch at the Hall went,
and last of all, the girls put up the historic chafing dish of the old
Hungry Six, the original club that had preceded the Vacation Club. It
was bid in by one of the Senior girls, after a spirited fight for it,
and brought three dollars and seventy-five cents.

The Mystery Boxes were bid in lively by the boys too. All were very much
interested in the small Japanese boxes. They promised so much just by
keeping closed tightly, as Polly said.

Mrs. Warner had prepared these herself, as her share in the auction, and
as one by one they were opened, the contents made the next lot go at a
still higher figure. Inside each were quaint Jap novelties, little
fortunes and mottoes on crepe paper, animals made of bamboo shoots and
wisps of tinted cotton, puzzles, tiny dishes, and trinkets, all from the
far islands of cherry blossoms.

When it was finally over, and the last buyer had passed down the walk,
the five girls gathered in the harvest at the little tea table, and
counted it over jubilantly.

“Thirty-two dollars, and twenty cents,” announced Ruth triumphantly.
“Isn’t that fine, girls?”

“Who bid in the kitten?” asked Sue.

“Crullers,” said Polly. “Fifty cents. Wish we had thought to raise a lot
of kittens, and sell them. Maybe for really trained kittens that could
do tricks, we could have charged a fancy price like they do for polo
ponies, don’t you know, girls?”

“Pocahontas was trained,” insisted Sue. “I trained her myself. She could
eat ice-cream out of a saucer without getting into it, and she could
play ball. Crullers got a bargain.”

“Shall we have the strawberry fête a week from to-day?” asked Isabel.
“That is my share, you know.”

“Won’t it cost a lot for berries and cream, Isabel?”

“All donated by the Lee family for the good of the cause. Father says it
is worth a full spring crop to see me taking an interest in outdoor
sports.”

“Instead of pomps and vanities?” queried Ted, dodging as a cushion
hurtled past her.

“Be good, please, Ted. This is strictly business. I do think that each
of the girls should bring a cake, anyway,—a very large cake—”

“How can I bring a cake when I am a resident pupil at Calvert, goose?”
Ted demanded. “I shall bring store doughnuts.”

“I tell you, Ted—coax Miss Calvert to donate a lot of Annie May’s
macaroon bars. They are delicious. I think cards will do for invitations
to that, don’t you, girls? Isabel, you write better than the rest of us.
You just write a nice little invitation announcement card—you know what
kind I mean—and I’ll make out our social list.”

“Indeed, I’m not going to do that, Ruth,” protested Polly. “It costs too
much in postage. I sent Stoney out to deliver the invitation to my
birthday party. All persons under fifty were undesirable, I told
grandfather.”

“Listen,” exclaimed Isabel suddenly. “I wonder if any one of you girls
has thought of this. Mother was talking over summer dresses with Miss
Gaskell, the dressmaker who sews for us fall and spring. I heard her
saying something about this dress for me, and that one, and it gave me
an idea. Of course, we girls won’t need much up there in the wilds, and
I said one white dress would do, and cut out the fluffy-ruffly ones—”

“You never gave up the fluffy ones, Lady Vanitas!” cried Sue.

“Yes, I did, Sue,” Isabel said, quite seriously. “And when I told mother
of my plan, she said she would help me. I asked if she would give me
half of everything I gave up—”

“What is the market value of flesh pots, Polly?” asked Ted, teasingly.

“Just you try it yourself, Ted, and you’ll be surprised. I was. Mother
says it will be twenty to thirty dollars to add to my summer outing.
It’s worth while giving up things at that rate.”

“Isabel, you’re a wonder,” Polly laughed. “I’ll try that with
grandfather to-night, and coax Aunty Welcome to tell just what it costs
to dress me. Couldn’t we all wear khaki and gunny sacks?”

“What are gunny sacks, Polly?”

“I don’t know. I heard Stoney say once that all he wore till he was ten
years old was a gunny sack, and I thought it must be awfully comfy. Say,
Ruth, did you write to the railroads to find out about summer rates?”

“Miss Murray said she’d attend to that. Don’t forget that I will have a
bunch to hand in to the treasury too, from teaching. And I’m also
getting in an extra hour taking Jack Ellis out in a wheel chair, after
his lessons.”

“If we get as far as the ranch, we’ll be all right,” Ted exclaimed. “If
we haven’t enough to come home on, all our lonely friends and relatives
will be glad to get us back at any cost.”

“But we’ll have enough—” began Ruth.

“Don’t trouble about it, girls,” Mrs. Warner spoke up, as they all
gathered at the door for a last good-bye. “We are in hearty sympathy
with you, especially since you have developed this independence. Every
ten or fifteen dollars that you raise is a good help westward, and also
strengthens your self-respect, and self-reliance. It is one of the
happiest surprises in life when we suddenly find out we can swim alone.”

“Or fly from the home nest,” added Sue.

“Well, we’re trying hard to flutter,” Polly called back merrily, as they
went down the walk. “It will be a wonderful flight—maybe.”

“But it’s the season for May bees,” answered Mrs. Warner, smiling. “Keep
up your courage, and the good fight.”

The days passed too slowly, it seemed to the girls, eager as they were
to get started westward. What had seemed only one of Polly’s balloons,
as Ruth called them, had developed into a very tangible possibility. As
Ted said, when one is afraid of anything, you must not run. You must
turn about, and hit it hard. Ted was a splendid smasher of windmills.

All Queen’s Ferry knew that five of Miss Calvert’s girls were to spend
their vacation on a ranch out in Wyoming, but it took the strawberry
festival, and Polly’s birthday party to make it understand likewise that
they were earning their own way out there. Steadily, the sum in Ruth’s
treasury mounted higher and higher. Mrs. Yates, the Senator’s wife, who
had been so kind to them the previous year, offered her help at the
birthday party, and it was gladly accepted. Polly was radiant as she
stood beside her, receiving guests, and likewise birthday donations, and
her eyes were brimful of fun as she handed back a five dollar bill to
the Senator.

“You’re not telling the truth about your age, Senator Yates,” she said,
rebukingly. “It’s only a cent a year.”

“We’ll count in something on the extra Sundays and holidays,” the
Senator returned. “I’m always doubly glad to have a birthday on a Sunday
or a holiday, and mine comes on the Fourth of July. Isn’t it worth ten
cents extra and more too, to have the same date as your country?”

“Then I ought to pay more, Polly,” whispered Crullers, as the Senator
went on. “My birthday is on Easter.”

“How can it be on Easter, goose, when that’s a movable feast?” laughed
Polly. “Crullers, you old stupid dear!”

“I think, Polly, I can give you a little chance to make some money on
your trip,” Mrs. Yates said, later. “I am anxious to buy some Indian
novelties. Marbury has his den fixed up like a tepee this year, and he
wants to make things for it, not pretty beadwork, or birch-bark
ornaments, but the real things an Indian boy would naturally have in his
tent. If you want to buy them on commission, that would help too. You
must think of every possible way.”

“Indeed, we’re very glad to,” said Polly, heartily.

And they were too. After the first struggle was over, there was a
literal charm in seeing the little treasury fund grow day by day, and in
adding to it. It was astonishing how many urgent duties the Admiral
discovered which needed to be performed.

“Upon my word, Polly, my books show up badly in this sunlight,” he would
say. “I don’t like to trust Mandy in here, or Welcome. Now if you had
the time, and felt like it, it would be worth a dollar to me to have
those books all dusted, and straightened—a whole dollar.”

The books were dusted, and Polly pocketed the dollar proudly. This gave
the rest a hint, and one day Miss Calvert found herself approached by
four determined young persons, after class. They offered to clean the
library thoroughly, they assured her they would take out all the books,
dust them, wash the glass doors, straighten everything up right, send
the rug down to old Jim, the gardener, to be beaten, and make the whole
room look like new.

“Bless my heart, girls,” exclaimed Miss Calvert, laughing in spite of
her dignity. “How did you ever guess that the cleaning of the library is
my one _bête noire_ of the springtime? I will give you each a dollar if
you can do it right.”

It was accomplished, and the four dollars added to the “main pile,” as
Ruth called the growing hoard.

Miss Murray heard from the railroads, and it was a more encouraging
outlook than she had hoped for. After the end of May, the summer rates
went into force, she found, to encourage a western exodus of “teachers,
poets, homeseekers, invalids, and all of summer’s sweethearts,” as Polly
said later. The round trip tickets from Washington out to Deercroft,
Wyoming, would be $67.50 apiece.

“And mother writes that she will board you at four dollars a head
weekly, and at that figure you must do your own laundry, and take care
of your own shack. How’s that, girls?”

“It seems too little,” Ruth answered, with her quick judgment on things
material.

“But it is not, Ruth. Board at five dollars can be had up where we are
and this is only one less. That will be twenty a week for all five.”

“We plan to stay a month,” Polly interrupted. “Do you think we can
manage it, Miss Murray?”

“How much is there in the treasury so far, Ruth?”

Ruth figured hastily.

“About two hundred and forty-six dollars, I think. Polly handed in
thirty-seven dollars from the birthday fête, and the auction brought
thirty-two, and Isabel made eighteen out of her strawberry festival,
besides what we had, and my money that isn’t all earned yet, you know.”

“It shows what you can do if you try,” Ted remarked, loftily.

“Yes, and that doesn’t include Isabel’s commission on summer clothes
from parents,” Polly added. “I think we can make it all up in time. And
if we are truly vacation seekers, we won’t bother over luxuries. I think
we could even fix up lunches of canned goods that would carry us over
the trip.”

“What about berths, Miss Murray?” asked Isabel, somewhat plaintively.
“Don’t they cost a good deal?”

“Yes, they certainly do. Five dollars, I think, it is, out to Chicago,
and we have one night on the road after that.”

“I shall not go to bed at all,” declared Ted. “I never like to sleep on
the train anyhow. I like to watch for lights in the dark out of the car
window.”

But Ruth, who had forgotten about the berth problem, glanced up at Miss
Murray in despair.

“It might be economy in the long run, girls, to take a stateroom—”

“We couldn’t possibly afford such luxuries, Miss Murray,” Polly said,
flatly. “Those things are for the nobility, not for hard-working
vacation seekers like us. We will take the ‘homeseekers special’ out
from Chicago, probably.”

“What’s that, Polly?” asked Sue, suspiciously.

“It’s a train for people who are in real earnest, and want to go some
place, and don’t care how they go as long as they get there,” pronounced
Polly, gravely.

“I’m in that class,” Ted put in, blithely. “Let’s all be jolly good
travelers, girls, and start in ‘roughing it’ from this end. Why, we’d
have a good time even if we went on a plank through the air.”

“I don’t quite approve of that picture, Ted,” laughed Miss Murray. “I
think we’ll go by the regular route. How does it seem to you, girls, to
be counting the pennies and dollars?”

“Good discipline,” Polly said, nodding her head emphatically.

It surely was. Even the Admiral, who had rather regarded the western
trip as one of Polly’s air castles, was forced to admit that she was a
good general. By the time school closed in June, there was $336.00 in
the treasury, and the girls had earned it all, practically, themselves.
What they had not earned, they had acquired through self-denial, giving
up pretty summer gowns, and hats, and “accessories,” as Isabel said,
rather mournfully—“specially those ‘accessories.’”

“But Polly, you’re giving us only these rough, straw outing sailors, and
the little caps,” Sue protested. “What shall we wear to church?”

Jean smiled at them over the top of her book. They were in the garden at
the Hall during noontime.

“The nearest church to us is thirty-five miles,” she told them. “If we
are very fortunate, we may have service once in a while from the
missionary bishop, or some of his priests, but usually father reads it
Sunday mornings for us all, and we like to hold it out of doors. You
won’t miss your hats, girls.”

“How you must love your father, Miss Murray,” Polly said later, when
they were alone. “I always hear you speak of him as though you—oh, I
don’t know,—as though you believed he always did the right thing. He
must be very nice.”

“He is splendid,” said Jean, simply. “At least we think so. And so is
mother. But you girls will love Captain Sandy, Miss Diantha’s husband.”

“Why?” asked Polly.

“Wait until you visit the Alameda ranch, and then you’ll know why.
Nobody can explain it.”

Miss Calvert knew where they were going, and Polly wondered and wondered
why she never spoke of it, never talked about her sister, or sent
messages out to her. But she did not ask questions, much as she longed
to.

Finally, after eight strenuous and industrious weeks, school closed, and
they could turn with free hearts to the journey. Each girl had followed
Miss Murray’s advice, and bought a pair of stout, high boots for rugged
walking and climbing, and a short khaki skirt, buttoning on the side,
with pockets, and bloomers of the same material.

“These are what all the girl-scouts wear, with shirtwaists, and belts,”
Jean told them. “And from now on that is what you must be, girl-scouts
and ranchers.”

Each girl took a suit-case, and Polly was rigid in her inspection rules
on the contents. Unnecessary articles were strictly tabooed. Underwear,
kimonos, one best dress apiece, toilet articles, a few favorite books,
and that was about all she permitted them.

“Land, I should suttinly say you chilluns were going to rough it,” said
Aunty Welcome, indignantly, as she looked over Polly’s outfit. “What
you-all gwine to do if a big snake gets you by yo’ hind heel?”

“Dance, Aunty,” Polly answered, merrily. “I’m sure we’d dance. Maybe
that’s how the Snake Dance first started. Don’t you wish you were going
along with us?”

“Mis’ Polly chile, I declar’, I wouldn’t go wanderin’ an’ a-mousin’
’round de face ob de earth like dat, not for de world. But it makes mah
ole heart ache when I think how mah lamb’s going away for de first time
in her natural life from her ole mammy.”

“Don’t you cry, dear,” Polly begged, putting her arms around Aunty’s
neck in a vigorous hug of sympathy. “I’ll be so careful, and I’ll
remember everything—not to climb trees, not to hunt bears, not to get
too friendly with Indians, not to—”

“Go ’long, you’s jest laughing now. Ah ain’t got a mite ob confidency in
yo’. Go ’long, chile.”

The night before they left Queen’s Ferry, Polly was feeling subdued, as
in fact she always did, after the fight was won on anything she started.
It was a beautifully clear June night. She stepped out on the broad
veranda, and hesitated. The high, white pillars seemed so tall and
strange in the bright moonlight, and the shadows seemed almost like
living things, so black and clearly outlined they lay all about. Out in
the garden, humming birds darted about the dewy flowers. She could catch
the delicate whirr of their wings. Tan, the Admiral’s big tawny-haired
setter, lay stretched out before the door, asleep. She had to step over
him on her way out to the Admiral’s chair.

“The world just seems all moonshine and roses to-night, grandfather
dear,” she said, sitting down on the cushioned seat that swung from two
heavy chains. “Aren’t they sweet?”

“Mighty sweet,” agreed the Admiral. “When you are in Wyoming, will you
think of your poor, lonely old grandfather sitting here by himself?”

“In peace and quiet, with nobody to bother him?” Polly finished up.
“Yes, sir, I will. And I’ll miss you so much.”

The Admiral leaned forward, his hand on her brown braids.

“Fifteen in November, isn’t that right? Your aunts seem to think
Glenwood’s no place for you, Polly, with an old codger like myself.
Betty wrote in to-day, and declared if I did not let you live under her
wing, or one of the other aunts’, I must get a governess for you. What
do you think of that?”

Polly regarded him thoughtfully.

“They don’t understand how happy we are, do they, dear?” she said
softly. “We never bother each other, do we? And I mind every word you
say—”

“Yes, you do,” interposed the Admiral, gruffly. “You’d persuade a
Nantucket skipper that he was off his course.”

“But wouldn’t you miss me terribly if I ever had to leave Glenwood?”
Polly rested her head against his knee, her lips pressed to the dear old
hand that had never shown her anything save kindness and sympathy in all
her life.

“Miss you? I wouldn’t stay here without you, child,” protested the
Admiral. “Do you think that Glenwood is preserved for a worn out,
retired old salt like myself? It is only a garden spot for the rearing
of my rose, Polly; remember that. Now, to bed with you, or Welcome will
scold me for keeping you out too late. If you should get into any
trouble, or need a relief expedition, remember it is always here ready
to start West.”

Polly rose, and hesitated a minute, as Aunty Welcome called her indoors.
Then she said softly:

“I sometimes think that I am the luckiest girl in the world.”

“Why?” asked the old Admiral, his eyes twinkling with merriment.
“Because you are Polly Page?”

“No, not that, dear,” replied Polly, seriously. “Because I am Polly
Page’s grandfather’s granddaughter.”

And before the Admiral could reply to that parting shot, she had run up
to bed, laughing.

When the 8:35 local for Washington left Queen’s Ferry, the morning of
the tenth of July, it carried Miss Murray and her five girl charges,
westward bound. The Admiral went down to the station to see them off,
together with Mrs. Warner, and Mrs. Lee.

“Don’t worry about them one bit, please,” Jean said, as she clasped each
of the mothers’ hands. “It is not a wild-west affair at all. Ours is a
dear, home ranch, and we will keep the girls out of any trouble.”

“I won’t worry as soon as I am sure you are really there,” Mrs. Lee
replied, “but I am afraid the trip will be wearisome without any special
privileges.”

“Never mind about special privileges for this club,” Polly declared as
she settled down in the car seat finally. “We’ll have the best time yet,
making believe we are homeseekers and land-tourists, won’t we, girls?”

“You’re crowing at the wrong end of the journey, Polly,” Jean warned,
but it surely seemed, from the first, as if the trip promised well for
all of them.

At Washington, they waited in the great, marble depot for the train to
be made up, and the girls found plenty to occupy the time. The very
first outlay in cash was for post-cards. Polly bought some even for
Aunty and Mandy and old Uncle Peter.

But it was not until they found themselves fairly settled on the train
for Chicago, and actually moving west, that they felt themselves true
travelers. As Ruth declared, it was a proud moment when the Polly Page
Ranch Club paid its own way, with money it had earned through its own
efforts. However, the fares lowered their principal so much that they
finally had decided to forego sleepers.

“Real summer tourists never take sleepers; not if they can get out of
it,” Ted said, happily, as she bolstered her suit-case up on a rack in
what they called the Tourists’ Special. Jean had the brakeman turn the
seats over, so that they could all sit together. “I think I’d be nervous
with a sleeper berth over my head, wouldn’t you, Polly?”

Polly laughed.

“Surely would.” She looked about her at all the different faces. There
were many people with children in this day coach, and they looked tired
and worn out even before the journey had fairly begun. “Like wilted
flowers,” Ruth said.

Polly watched the group across the aisle as long as she could stand it.
The mother was weary and flustered, with two toddlers bumping into
everything, and a baby crying in her arms.

“Can’t we amuse the twins?” she asked, suddenly.

“Oh, yes, if you would, thanks,” exclaimed the mother, gratefully. “Baby
is teething, and is fretful, and she won’t go to sleep.”

“How did you know they were twins?” asked Ted, when she helped Polly
trot them down to the wash-room to cool their hot little faces.

“They just looked that way,” Polly said cheerfully. “Sue, why don’t you
get that old lady a drink of water from the cooler? She’s tried twice to
go, and she can’t walk alone with the train jolting.”

Jean said nothing, but she noticed everything behind her new book. This
trip in the day coach was helping the girls in a way they hardly
realized as yet. On all sides of them were opportunities for lending
help to people less fortunate than themselves, and they responded
readily, and far more willingly than she had even dared to hope. In a
way, she had looked forward to the trip under these conditions as a test
for the girls, accustomed as they were to home comforts and utter lack
of responsibility. Not even Isabel complained, as the day wore on.

When dinner time arrived, they secured two small tables from the porter
in the forward parlor cars, for a quarter tip, and made the first raid
on their lunch baskets and boxes. These had been planned directly under
Jean’s supervision. The perishable things were to be disposed of the
first day, and the canned goods saved over for the rest of the journey.

In the beginning, space economy had been the first consideration, but
the lunches had been made very inviting nevertheless.

“It is just as easy to have a lunch look nice as not,” Jean had said,
and these were surely a success, for they were both tempting and
attractive. All sandwiches were wrapped in waxed tissue paper. Jars of
pimento cheese, and olives were opened handily, and there were plenty of
Saratoga chips to help out, and some of Aunty Welcome’s famous hermits.

“We’ll keep the fruit until breakfast,” said Miss Murray. “And we’ll
probably come to some station where we can buy chocolate, or malted
milk. It’s more fun than a dining car, isn’t it?”

“It’s like starting in to camp out, even now,” Polly declared. “And
we’ve all got our traveling duties mapped out, too. I’m to look after
the twins, and Sue has charge of the old lady. Isabel has been loaning
her fan and some magazines to a young girl who is going West for her
health. She sits in the last seat on our side, Miss Murray; you can just
see her hair as she leans back. How much more entertaining everything is
when you forget about yourself, and feel interested in what the rest of
the world is doing?”

“Are you just finding that out, Polly?” Jean asked, her gray eyes full
of amusement at Polly’s earnestness. “That is only the sweet old motto
of ‘_noblesse oblige_,’ set to modern music. We learn it with our riding
out home.”

“Oh, that makes me think of something,” Ted broke in. “Will there be
enough ponies for all of us girls, Miss Murray? I mean for us to ride
on.”

“I think there surely will be. Father has about six, besides the work
horses, and we each have our own pet pony besides. The boys broke theirs
in, I know. In Colorado they use the burros for mountain climbing, but
our roads are not so rough, at least up around Deercroft. As you travel
westward through the Big Horn country, it is very rocky and wild.”

“Doesn’t it seem queer to think we are really on the way there, girls?”
Sue sighed, contentedly. “I’m not worried over anything in the world
just at this minute except how on earth we are all to sleep on these
seats.”

“Six dollars for three berths to-night, and all double up?” Isabel
suggested reflectively.

“Now, never mind glancing over the flesh pots of Egypt, Lady Vanitas,”
Ruth retorted, placidly. “We will hand that same porter some more
quarters, and get pillows and blankets from his private cupboard—”

“Locker,” interrupted Isabel. “I heard him call it that.”

“That is a good plan, Ruth; I’d never thought of it,” Polly exclaimed.
“We haven’t six dollars to spend on berths, goose. We’re self-supporting
globe trotters now.”

When bedtime came, they watched the preparations of others interestedly.
Polly helped put the twins to bed on seats, and even hushed the baby,
while the mother got a chance to go and bathe her warm, dusty face. The
passengers were settling themselves as comfortably as they could for the
night, and good-hearted Ted slipped her pillow to the girl who had been
ill.

“I can double up my coat and make a pillow of it,” she explained, when
Sue discovered what she had done.

It was not nearly so uncomfortable as they had anticipated. As Polly
announced sleepily, “Nothing is ever so bad as you expected it to be,
anyway.” They had taken Jean’s advice, and worn pongee silk waists, that
hardly showed any creases. Before they knew it, the motion of the train
had lulled them all into good healthful slumber.

Jean stayed awake longer than the girls, thinking of the coming vacation
on the ranch, and what it would mean to them. What a surprise it would
be to Mrs. “Sandy,” when they all rode over to the Alameda ranch to
call; girls from her own home town, and Calvert Hall, Virginia. She
wondered what Peggie would think of Polly’s merry club—shy, low-voiced
Peggie, who was shy even with her own family, and only seemed to feel at
ease with dumb animals. Most of all, she thought of her mother, quiet,
and gentle like Peggie, but always the one who saw farthest ahead down
the trail, as Captain Sandy said. She had assented willingly to the
coming of the girls. Practically, it would help Jean, she knew, to have
them with her, and financially it would also benefit the ranch where
every dollar seemed like five, with the growing brood of hearty
youngsters, and never-ending expenses.

“And it will do the poor lassies a deal of good, too, Jeanie,”
she had written East, “just to be seeing how people manage to
live happily and wholesomely away out here in the hill country.
It is not best always to sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam,
and feed upon strawberries, sugar and cream. How you always
wanted to be Curly Locks when you were a bairnie, though. And
you may be yet. But even if you should you will make a better
mother and wife, dear, for having lived here at the Crossbar
year after year. Bring your Virginia roses out West here, and
we’ll show them prairie flowers, and mountain wild-pinks that
God’s hand tends as lovingly as he does his roses.

“I kiss you good-night, daughter.

“Mother.”

Sometimes, when Jean read over those home letters, it made her more
tender towards Polly, brought up between the Admiral’s happy indulgence
and Aunty Welcome’s frantic admonitions. She looked forward with
interest and some curiosity to watching the effect of life at the
Crossbar on all of the girls, but mostly on Polly herself.

The crying of the baby across the aisle awakened Polly at dawn the next
morning. At first she could hardly think where she was, with the motion
of the train still lulling her, and her body somewhat cramped from the
night’s reclining on the seat.

The other girls were still sleeping, but she met Jean coming from the
wash-room.

“I found out from the conductor that we stop at Fort Wayne long enough
to get some cocoa and fresh fruit, if you girls want it,” Jean told her.
“We can get more in Chicago, when we change cars.”

By the time the train pulled into the Fort Wayne depot, the girls were
dressed and “freshened up,” as Ruth said, and had even helped to
“freshen up” the twins.

“Are you going ’way out to Chicago, too?” asked Sue, of the mother.

“We’re bound farther than that,” she smiled back tiredly. “We’re
homesteaders. My husband is to meet us at Omaha. His health broke down
two years ago at the wood-pulp mills down in Virginia, so he went West,
and took up a claim in Wyoming, and he’s got along so well. First he
stayed out six months, then came back home for the winter, and his
brother worked the claim. Then he went back in April. That’s a year ago.
He hasn’t even seen the baby yet, and she’s so smart! She’s got five
teeth, and can stand all by herself if you just steady her a little
bit.”

“My, won’t he be surprised,” Sue said, happily. “We’re going to Wyoming
too, just for a vacation. We go as far as Deercroft.”

“That’s northeast, isn’t it? Our place is farther along towards Cody.
Seems good to talk to somebody. I haven’t seen a soul I knew since we
left Washington. I’ve enjoyed you girls being so close to me. I like to
hear you all laughing.”

“Don’t you know any one out West here?” Polly leaned forward to say.

“Nobody except my husband and his brother Joe.”

“Aren’t women terribly brave people, Miss Murray?” Ruth said softly,
over in the far seat. “Think of her making this long trip just because
it’s the best thing to do for her husband.”

Jean smiled, and there was a dreamy look in her eyes, as she remembered
tales her own mother had told of the women who followed the long trail
West for love and duty.

“For better, for worse, Ruth,” she quoted, gently.

“Like Miss Diantha,” Ruth replied.

“Mrs. Sandy, you mean. Nobody ever calls her Miss Diantha now.”

“Don’t you suppose it would please her if we did? Maybe she still loves
Queen’s Ferry and the old Hall, Miss Murray.”

“But she loves ‘Sandy’ better, Ruth.”

“Do you know,” interrupted Isabel suddenly. “I don’t think this scenery
is so very different from ours.”

“I do,” Ted said flatly. “There are no blue mountain lines banked up
against the sky, and the earth looks kind of yellow. And where it is dry
it seems very, very dry, and where it is swampy, it is awfully swampy. I
never saw such swampy looking swamp as we passed going through these
Indiana woods.”

“Wait until we find ourselves out in the prairie lands, and the corn
fields rise around for miles and miles, and the wheat looks like a
golden ocean.”

“When will we be there, Miss Murray?”

“When you open your eyes to-morrow morning, and cross Iowa and Nebraska.
We’re cutting across Indiana now, and will reach Chicago about
eleven-twenty.”

“It all seems like a dream,” Polly exclaimed. “Isn’t it queer, the
feeling you have when things come true that you’ve always hoped might? I
love to talk to Mrs. Timony—that’s the mother of the twins, you know.”

“We didn’t know. Thank you, Polly,” murmured Sue. “Doesn’t it just suit
the twins? What are their names? I’ve been calling them Sis and Buddy
ever since we left Washington.”

“Name’s Lafayette,” explained the boy twin, soberly. “Her name’s
Columbia,” pointing a moist forefinger at his sister.

“They sort of went together,” Mrs. Timony said, peacefully. “But we do
call them Sis and Buddy ’most all the time. The baby’s name’s just
Faith.”

“I like that,” Ruth put in gravely. “I think people should be careful
how they name children. Suppose one of the twins got on a track, and you
wanted to call it away quickly. How could you say, ‘Come, Lafayette,
Lafayette, Lafayette!’ It would be run over before any one could get the
name all out. A short name is much better.”

“Maybe, but it’s something to have a name to live up to,” answered
little Mrs. Timony, smiling restfully.

“She won’t mind living out on a new three hundred and sixty acre claim,”
Miss Murray said, as they watched the little mother stroll down the
aisle, when the train halted at a station. “She will take a world of
comfort out of sentiment, girls. She will forget entirely the bother
little Buddy is, as she thinks what sort of a State Senator he’ll be
when he grows up. It’s beautiful to be built like that.”

Isabel had struck up a pleasant friendship with the invalid girl, who
was bound for Colorado, and was to change cars at Omaha. Isabel promised
to help her with her two suit-cases, when they reached Chicago, and Sue
said she would carry Isabel’s in exchange.

“Why do the little pools of water, and even the brooks, look blue and
purple along the edges?” asked Ted, who spent most of the time looking
out of the window. “They look like a gas flame.”

“We are getting into the gas country, Ted,” Jean said. “Gas and oil
wells stretch all along this northern edge of Indiana and Illinois. If
it were night, you would see the huge oil torches blazing here and there
in the darkness like the old Roman flambeaux. Wait till you see the Big
Sea Water to the north in a little while.”

“Lake Michigan?” Sue asked, eagerly. “That was what Hiawatha’s people
called it, wasn’t it? Oh, Polly, that makes me think, are you sure you
can buy those Indian baskets and things for Mrs. Yates up where we are
going?”

“Probably not around us,” Jean replied, when Polly had explained. “We
have no near-by Indian villages. You know that is all done away with
now, girls. You are coming to the new West. But Sally Lost Moon will
know about it. She is our cook at the ranch, and is an old Shoshone
squaw. Our Wyoming tribes are not as artistic as the Adirondack Indians
and the Navajos, but we may find some good bead work. It was nice of her
to offer, was it not, girls?”

“She is interested in us because she used to be a Calvert girl herself.”

“But, Polly,” protested Ted, suddenly, “she must be about forty. Maybe
she knew Miss Diantha Calvert.”

Jean laughed.

“You girls will persist in weaving a romance and a mystery about Mrs.
Sandy, and I honestly think the only trouble is her marrying a westerner
against her sister’s wishes.”

“There’s more than that,” Polly declared, over the curly tousled hair of
Columbia. “I’m going to find out.”

“You won’t from Mrs. Sandy,” Jean said. “She’s a Calvert, you must
remember, and they never tell secrets.”

“But I’ll find out from Mr. Sandy himself,” Polly returned buoyantly.

Chicago was reached and passed almost before the girls realized it.
There was the first vivid flash of the blue waters of Lake Michigan, and
its flat, rockless beaches, with bunches of willow and sand-cherry trees
here and there, and patches of the tall, sharp-pointed sword grass. Then
they slipped into the city, and there came the rush and jostle of crowds
at the changing of trains. Isabel helped her invalid girl, and Polly and
Ruth were with Mrs. Timony and the babies, and Sue and Ted helped the
excited old lady who wasn’t sure whether her son Dan lived at Keokuk or
Osceola.

“It must be Osceola,” declared Sue, finally, “because Keokuk’s the other
way.”

“Ain’t any business a-livin’ in any such outlandish place anyhow,”
declared Dan’s mother, stoutly, as she fanned herself, and smelled at a
bottle of lavender salts. “And he should have met me here too. He never
did have any consideration for his mother.”

“Didn’t you say you were going out to live with him?” asked Ted.
“Doesn’t that prove he loves his mother?”

“Well, mebbe it does. Danny’s sort of pindling in small matters, and
rises to the heights in others. You can depend on him. I guess it was
Osceola, after all. He wrote it down for me. It’s in that handbag—no,
’tain’t. It’s in that basket, or—, wait, here it is right in my
pocketbook. Osceola. Kind of a pretty name, ain’t it, now?”

“Girls, you must make haste,” called Miss Murray, and they hurried the
old lady on her journey, while all she did was talk about Danny at
Osceola, and alternately blame and praise him.

“It looks as if all Illinois were turned into corn and wheat fields,”
said Polly, that afternoon, after miles and miles of the tender green,
and beautiful, feathery corn tassels had been passed. “There’s so much
of the same thing on one place out West here, isn’t there, Miss Murray?”

“Now, girls, isn’t that just like Polly!” laughed Jean.

“But I mean it. Down in Virginia the land is in patches. A corn field
here, over there rye, and then a break of woodland. But out here it’s
all the same thing for miles and miles.”

“Polly Page,” exclaimed Ted suddenly, coming back from the water cooler
at the end of the car, “I’ve just been talking to the conductor, and he
says that we took on three coaches of real homeseekers in Chicago. I
didn’t know that. I’d love to see them.”

“There’s nothing to see, Ted, dear,” Jean told her. “If we could look in
the hearts and read the stories there, it would be worth while, but this
way you’d only see a lot of ordinary travelers.”

“Aren’t they immigrants?”

“Immigrants? Ted! How much you girls have to learn. I don’t know how I
can tell it to you in a few words, but if you had lived out in a large,
new, unsettled State, you would know that the hope of its future lies in
its blessed homeseekers. Where do they come from? Where don’t they, you
mean, Polly. They are people who really need a home, who love the open,
and the new land, and the chance of making good, as we say out West
here. It is hard for you who have lived in the old States to get that
point of view, but there lives to-day in the hearts and souls of our
western homeseekers the essence of the old pioneer spirit.”

“Are they farmers?” asked Ruth practically.

“Farmers! Oh, Ruth, listen. Father and Arch and myself were at the great
land-drawing in South Dakota, several years ago, and I wish you could
have seen the ‘nesters’ then. A little girl like my sister Peggie drew
the numbers, and I know a young girl got the best of the lot. Up in our
section even, there is one school-teacher from New York State, who is
making a success out of her homestead. Her mother and two younger
sisters are with her. Right next to her is old Rattlesnake Bill Perkins.
He used to be a scout, and then a trapper, in the old days. Now, he has
settled down, and has a sugar-beet farm, and is raising sheep too.”

“Seems to me as if out West here, you never stop to fret,” Polly
exclaimed. “When one thing changes, you just change too.”

“We have to, or be left behind in the race,” said Jean simply. “But
we’re all of us pretty wide awake, Polly. We have not had time to sleep
as much as you do when in the Old Dominion.”

It was the next day when they began to see hills, and even before the
gray and violet shadows along the western horizon took shape, the train
turned into the rolling prairie land. For miles there was not a single
tree; nothing but the limitless, billowy sea of sunburnt yellow grass,
with now and then a bleaching skull. Sometimes, they would pass a
grazing herd, with a solitary figure on horseback. If it happened to be
a boy, he would rise in the stirrups, and let out a whoop of welcome at
the train as it flashed by.

The towns seemed like villages, so small were the houses, and all of
wood, and brightly painted. “Like Noah’s Ark towns,” Ted said,
laughingly. Even the trees looked new and precise, set out along the
newly paved streets. But finally, the shadows that trailed low like
clouds took form, and here and there a cone separated itself from the
mass, only to be lost again in the blue distances.

Mr. Timony joined his family at Omaha. He was a tall, lean, sunburnt
looking man, with happy eyes, and a habit of rubbing his bare chin. The
baby seemed to know her father by instinct, and Mrs. Timony was like a
busy mother robin, showing off her brood.

The invalid girl got off at Omaha, to change for the Colorado line, and
Isabel made her promise to let them know how she progressed. At Osceola,
Sue and Ted helped their charge off the train with all her bundles and
satchels, and she landed plump into Danny’s arms. Danny turned out to be
about forty, and weighed over two hundred pounds.

“Oh, Miss Murray, aren’t real people splendid?” Ted said, finally. “I
think they’re more account than anything else. They’re books and music
and everything, all at once. I’ve had so much fun on this trip, just
getting acquainted, and being interested.”

“Have you, Ted?” Jean smiled. “That’s because you have found out what my
mother calls the brotherhood of common folks. She says that when life is
all sifted down, we’re only a lot of little children holding hands, and
we must hold tight, or the next one to us falls down.”

“An endless chain of kindness,” Ruth added.

The lamps in the tourist car were being lighted. It was their last night
on the train. Outside, the country looked bare and scorched. Ted stared
out thoughtfully. And Polly began to sing softly under her breath.

“Guide me, oh, thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land,
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me in thy powerful hand.”

“That should be the homeseekers’ hymn, I think,” said Isabel; “that, and
‘Lead, Kindly Light.’”

“I like ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ better,” said Ted. “It must take a
lot of courage and hope to come out here and start all over again.”

“Faith, most of all, Ted,” Jean put in. “Mother says she used up pecks
of mustard seed before she caught sight of the promise fulfilled. That’s
a parable, so don’t look puzzled, Sue. But to those who really love it
and believe in it, our new West is more than a promised land. It is like
a great, brooding motherland, I think.”

“The twins are crying,” broke in Polly. “Let’s put them to sleep, girls.
It’s our last chance. Come on, Buddy boy.”

Buddy trotted across the aisle sleepily, and Ruth held out her arms to
Columbia.

“That’s real neighborly, thanks,” said Mr. Timony, with his slow,
surprised smile, and he settled back for a quiet chat with the baby’s
mother.

“It’s fun being neighborly, isn’t it, Polly?” Ruth said under her
breath. Polly only looked her answer. She had had more fun being
neighborly on this trip West as a second-class tourist than ever before.
She wondered what Aunty Welcome and the Admiral would say if they could
have seen her now.

“We reach Deercroft at four forty-five,” Jean had said; but long before
the scheduled time, suit-cases were strapped and waiting, and hats
pinned in place, while the girls watched from the open windows eagerly,
as the train swung out over the broad stretches of land.

“Who was it said, ‘My heart loves wide horizons’?” Ruth asked once.
“They’re out here, aren’t they, Miss Murray? I just think we’ve caught
up with one range of hills, and we make a turn and find a lot more
waiting for us.”

Now, it was long, swinging miles of rolling land without a living thing
in sight; then suddenly they would pass a hill-slope covered with masses
of sheep, yellow and gray like time-worn rocks, and as motionless,
apparently. Then again, the train would dip into a bit of sparse
woodland, unlike the forests back in Virginia. As Polly said, the trees
out here all looked lonesome.

“They don’t seem to be friendly, or even related to each other. Each has
its own little patch of earth, and stands alone.”

“I think they are all settlers,” Ruth declared.

“How far must we travel after we reach Deercroft?” asked Ted. Jean
smiled and shook her head.

“Miles, and miles, Ted. We won’t be home before ten anyway, and perhaps
it will be later. The roads are dry and good, and father or Don will
meet us with the surrey, or maybe with two teams. It’s moonlight, too.
You don’t know how near the sky seems out here in Wyoming; the night
sky, I mean, when the moon shines, and you are driving. Here we are.”
She leaned forward suddenly, her gray eyes alight with happiness and
expectancy. The train was approaching Deercroft. Lying in the valley
below them was the little town. It looked small and barren, somehow, to
the girls, accustomed as they were to the Virginia towns with their
backgrounds of abundant verdure and foliage. But there was little time
for any fixed impression. Before they fully realized that the journey
was at an end, they were standing on the platform, and the westbound
train was giving out its final call as it slipped through the hill break
on its way to far Vancouver.

Jean marshaled her forces and the suit-cases, but before she had a
chance to look around, there was a rush of somebody right into the midst
of the little group, somebody who fairly flung herself on Jean, and held
her in a royal bear hug.

“Jeanie, Jeanie, you dear old sis. Father and Don are here too. They had
to hold the ponies. When the train came through the cut, they danced
right up in the air,” she explained, too excited to be explicit.

“Girls, this is Peggie,” Jean said, as soon as she could get in a word.
“Polly, Sue, Ruth, Isabel, and Ted, Peggie. You must pick them out for
yourself, and get acquainted.”

“I’m glad to see you,” Peggie said, smiling rather shyly at the girls.
She seemed like Jean at first sight, with her gray eyes, and quick
smile, but her hair was short and curly and brown. “Jeanie’s stopping to
say hello to Jim Handy, the station agent,” she added presently. “Let’s
go to father.” She led the way around to the far side of the small pine
depot, where two teams waited with a couple of ponies to each.

“These are Jeanie’s girl friends, father,” she said, happily. “Polly and
Sue and Ruth and Ted and Isabel.”

“How could you remember our names so soon?” Ted asked impulsively.

“I’ve known them for a long time from Jean’s letters. I know the names,
but I can’t fit them right yet.”

This made them all laugh, and Mr. Murray beamed down on the little group
with a broad smile of welcome. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a
lean, tanned face, and eyes that twinkled out at the world from under
shaggy brows.

“We’re mighty pleased to see you up in this corner of the land,” he
said, heartily. “Where’s Jeanie, Peg? Whoa, there, Clip. Don, lad, put
the suit-cases under the seats.”

“They’re both of them talking to the boys with Jim, father,” Peggie
declared. “Jean’s holding a reception of honor.”

“She always does,” replied her father comfortably, lifting in the
baggage himself. “She has the ‘come hither’ in her eye. Like this lass.”
He smiled down on Polly’s eager, upturned face. “You needn’t blush over
it, either, for it’s nothing one can be acquiring, nor can one say
‘shall one have it, or not.’ It’s born in some. Where I came from, in
the north isles, they call it the kiss o’ the sun. Don, will you be
coming soon?”

“He’s shy of the girls, maybe,” Peggie said merrily.

But just then Jean and Don, her youngest brother, came towards them. He
was about fifteen, this tall, overgrown brother of hers, with a boyish,
tanned face, and bright blue eyes. And Jean, knowing how embarrassed he
was before this group of smiling Eastern girls, introduced him with a
general motion of her hand.

“Girls, this is Don.”

“Are you all dressed warmly enough for the drive?” asked Mr. Murray.
“There are blankets in the back of the wagons if we need them. It gets
pretty cool as we go higher into the hills after dark. Your mother put
in a lot of stuff to eat, Jeanie. She thought maybe you’d all be starved
out by the time you got here. I had hard work keeping it for you,
though. We left home about eight this morning, and Don and Peg almost
finished it.”

“Don’t you believe him, Jeanie,” Peggie protested. “We had our own
lunch.”

“Wasn’t it thoughtful and dear of mother to remember lunch?” Jean said.
“Indeed, we will enjoy it. I am the only one who brought a trunk along,
father. Can we take that with us, now?”

“I’m thinking we’ll leave it for Archie to bring up with him. He’ll be
home day after to-morrow. We’ve got all we can manage to-night for the
horses. Jeanie, you climb up beside Don, and I’ll take Peggie with me.
Let three of the young ladies go with you, and we’ll take a couple and
the suit-cases. Look after those groceries at your feet, Jeanie, or the
mother’ll be having something to say to you if you spill out her sugar
and oats.”

Laughing and calling to each other, the girls finally were packed away
safely in the two wagons, and away they went, the ponies shaking their
heads, and “sneezing,” as Peggie said, as they cut out of town into the
open country.

“We have seventeen miles ahead of us,” Jean said. “Better take off your
hats, and settle down to enjoy the drive.”

The girls took the suggestion, and, bareheaded, let the soft night
breeze blow in their faces. Deercroft lay in the valley, and the road
northward climbed the hills. Jean was busy talking to Don, not with him,
but at him, as Polly said afterwards. Nobody ever really talked with
Don, for he had nothing to say; but he was a splendid listener, and
would smile, and nod his head, until you felt that he agreed with you
perfectly. It was easy to see what close friends the two were. Polly,
Sue and Ted were in the same wagon with them, so they could laugh and
listen too.

“How fast the ponies go,” said Ruth, in the forward team.

“They know they’re homeward bound,” Mr. Murray returned. “Wait till you
see them with Archie’s hand on them. He’s broken in nearly all of them.
I suppose you’ll be riding, before many days. You will if you’re like
our girls. Has Jeanie told you of the day she rode from Pegtop Mountain
down to the ranch to give the alarm? No? I’ll wager not. She isn’t the
kind to go about telling of her doings, and praising herself. Pegtop
lies around yon knuckle.” He pointed with the whip at a jut of hillside
ahead. “You’ll see it when we turn eastward again. The sheep grazed on
that upper range those days, and we have no forest rangers up in our
corner of the state. If there’s trouble in the hills, we get out and do
our own fighting. This day in September, I know, it was dry as codfish,
in the hills. The grass was burnt low, and every twig ready for the
snapping. Somehow Pegtop caught fire on its southern slope, midway up
where the spruces commence to fringe it. And around on its other side I
had eight hundred or so sheep, and only one herder to the lot. Jeanie
was a lass of fifteen then, about like this young lady,” pointing to
Isabel. “The boys were helping me down in the valley, and she started
out for a ride over Pegtop, and found the fire creeping through the
brush. Have you ever seen one? No? First there’s the smell of it, and
you can’t seem to find out where it belongs. Then you see the thin white
streaks of smoke curl up and settle in a cloud above the spot, and you
don’t waste time then.”

“But, what could you do way out here without anything to fight fire
with, Mr. Murray?” asked Isabel.

“Do, lass? We did what we could, and no one can do more. Jeanie came
riding back. You should have seen her, riding astride and laying over
the pony’s neck like a slip of an Indian boy. Neil and myself went back
when we heard her news.”

“To stop the fire?” asked Ruth.

He shook his head.

“To save the sheep, lass. We had no time to stop the fire. We rode
straight around the crag there, and up to the hill range where the sheep
were, then drove them down into the coulee, the cut in the hills, mind,
and so to the valley.”

“And the fire just burned until it stopped of itself?” asked Ruth,
again. “Think of all the young trees, and everything.”

“Ay, and we do think too, about it,” smiled back the old rancher,
grimly. “My second lad, Archie, will be a ranger, some day. He’s swift
after that sort of thing. Jean’s glad too. She’s like her mother. I can
see my day’s work before me, and do it, but Mrs. Murray and Jeanie look
out to the hill views, I’m thinking, and they see what the next
generation will demand from us.”

“I know,” Ruth exclaimed, eagerly. “Miss Murray has told us that, too;
how each of us adds our own little part to the building of the ages, and
if it is weak, then the others suffer, more than we do, even.”

“That’s Jeanie,” he nodded his head slowly. “And it is a good builder
she is herself.”

“Girls,” called Jean from the team behind them. “When we turn to the
right next time, it’s the home road, and it used to be an old Indian
trail, didn’t it, father?”

“Sandy will be telling them all about those things,” her father replied.
“I’m a new settler when he’s about. I’ve only been here thirty years,
and he came in the days of the gold digging up in the Hills. He was a
scout with Custer, and long before. Get him well started any night, by
the camp fire or just on the doorstoop with a good pipeful of tobacco,
and it’s no sleep you’ll have for hours. He holds the stories of these
hill ranges and mountain tops in his hand, and he loves a good audience,
Sandy does.”

“Sandy? That is Miss Diantha’s husband, isn’t it?” asked Isabel.

“He is Mrs. Sandy’s husband, nowadays,” replied Mr. Murray, smilingly.
“Nobody calls her anything but that. Mother told her you’d be coming out
to us, and she will drive over next week some day. Ready for the
fording, Don?”

“Ready, dad,” answered Don, and the ponies hit the down trail with a
clattering of the swinging shafts and a thud of hoofs, as though they,
too, enjoyed what lay ahead of them.

Every one of the girls gave a gasp of admiration and quick surprise, as
the creek came in sight, winding, twisting here and there among the
rocks. Before they knew what was coming, they were deep into it, up to
the hubs, and more too.

“Oh, this is nothing,” laughed Jean, as they all called out, and held
tightly to the seats. “We’ve been through here when the water surged up
through the floor of the wagon, haven’t we, father?”

“Don’t be boasting that way, lass,” Mr. Murray called back to her, his
gray eyes full of mirth. “Or I’ll be telling of the night when Neil and
I left the wagon behind, and swam with the pony to the other side.”

“Father never likes to have me tell a bigger story than he can,” Jean
exclaimed, merrily. They came up out of the water, the ponies with
dripping flanks, and swung away again on the home road. This led more
through the valleys, and was easier to travel. Once in a while they made
a turn that brought out new vistas of beauty, quick glimpses into
gullies, and deep, low stretches that were, as Jean said, almost like
Scottish moorland. The sun vanished behind a distant range of mountains,
lying like heaped up clouds against the western sky, and as the twilight
deepened, the girls stopped their talk back and forth, for they began to
feel the fatigue of the long journey.

“If Crullers were here now, she would fall sound asleep,” Sue said,
sleepy herself.

“You will all feel sleepy until you get used to the air here,” Jean told
her. “We are at a very high altitude, and the air is dry and clear. It
will make you feel drowsy for a while.”

“It doesn’t make me feel that way, Miss Murray,” protested Polly,
quickly. “It just makes me want to get out and run, and run. I love it
all so.”

Peggie glanced at her with her quick, sideways smile of sympathy, over
her shoulder.

“I love it too,” she said. “Do you like animals?”

“Dearly,” Polly answered. “You should see my dog, old Tan, and the cats.
That is all I have, but I love them.”

“Maybe you’ll take more back home when you go,” said Peggie, seriously.
“I’ll show you how to make them like you. And I think they would like
you, and Ruth here too.”

“Why not us?” asked Ted.

“You’re too quick to move,” said Peggie, gently. “If you want animals
and birds to like you, you have to keep quiet.”

“But I’m not quiet, Peggie,” protested Polly. “You don’t know what a
flutterfly I am. That’s what my grandfather calls me, and he’s right.”

“But you don’t make a noise about it,” said Peggie. “I’ll show you what
I mean when we get home.”

It was dark when they reached the ranch, but the moon was clear and
cloudless overhead, with the stars about it like sheep, as Ruth said.
All at once Don lifted his head, and smiled, and spoke for the first
time during the long, weary drive.

“We’re home, Jeanie.”

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