The next letter that Jean sent home contained a full description of the
dinner that evening. There were four very large rooms that took up the
ground floor of the old mansion at Glenwood, the two great drawing-rooms
on either side the hall, and back of these were the Admiral’s study on
one side, and the dining-room on the other.

“And there are two kitchens, mother,” Jean wrote. “Polly showed me them
after dinner, and it made me think of home. I am sure some Southerner
started the fashion in ranch life, having the kitchen away from the main
house. Here, the winter kitchen is the first story at the back of the
house, where the builders allowed for the slope of the land riverward.
But in the summer-time, they cook in an old stone house down the garden,
and there is a vine-covered walk leading to it from the house. From
where I sat, I could see the little colored boy, Stoney, going back and
forth, bearing covered dishes in state, just the way Sally does at the
ranch.”

It was very pleasant being guest of honor, she discovered. Both the
Admiral and Polly were interested in hearing about the ranch, and her
girlhood out there.

“Weren’t you lonesome?” asked Polly.

“We never had time to be lonesome. We all had to do our share in helping
mother and father, and besides, there were so many of us, that I suppose
we were company to each other.”

“But how did you go to school?”

“We rode horseback, or drove over. It was about six miles from our
place.”

“How could you all ride?”

“We each have our own horse, or rather pony, as we call them out home.
When I heard them say pony East here, I thought you meant a pony like
our Indian ponies, and it seemed so comical to see just the little
Shetlanders. I don’t know what we should do without them. Every summer
in the slack season, father takes us for a long cross-country trip on
horseback, and we camp out for a week or more.”

Polly leaned back from the table, her eyes shining with excitement as
she listened.

“Grandfather dear, do you suppose there is any way at all by which we
girls could go up there for our vacation?”

The Admiral laughed, and shook his head.

“I’m afraid not, matey. It would be too expensive a trip for five or six
girls to undertake. Last year the way was made easy for you through the
kindness of the Senator and Mrs. Yates. When you have all your traveling
expenses clipped off your list of expenditures, it is a heavy item
disposed of.”

“There are summer rates out West,” Miss Murray remarked, hopefully,
seeing the look on Polly’s face. “And the board at home would be very,
very little.”

“Would there be room for us?”

“We would make room,” laughed Jean. “We would send the boys all out to
sleep in the bunkhouse, or even in tents. Once you were there, it would
be the easiest part of the trip looking after you. But it’s the
traveling ’way out there.”

“Well, you see, Miss Murray dear, we have a little towards it even now,”
protested Polly eagerly. “Grandfather has laughed at and teased us, and
called us the board of lady managers, but last year we had such a
perfectly dandy time up in Maine that we formed a regular outing club
just among us girls at the Hall. Kate Julian dropped out when she left
for college. She’s at Bryn Mawr now. And Crullers is rather uncertain. I
am sure she could not go. But that leaves Ruth, Isabel, Sue, Ted, and my
own self to reckon. And we’ve every one of us been looking forward to
this summer, and saving towards it. You don’t know how much we have
denied ourselves.”

“Pin her down to facts, Miss Murray,” insisted the Admiral. “I have not
noticed any deprivation at all.”

“Because I never ’fessed up,’ grandfather dear. It was a secret.”
Polly’s face was so serious, and yet so full of suppressed enthusiasm
that both Jean and the Admiral had to laugh at her. “If I dared, I would
tell facts—” she hesitated.

“But you’d better not, Polly,” Jean interrupted. “Not if it concerns the
other girls, too. Talk it over with them, and come to see me any
afternoon after class. I will write and find out about the summer rates,
and the dates. And it doesn’t cost anything to find out, at all events.
The very cheapest architecture in the world is building air castles.”

It was on the tip of Polly’s tongue to say that she knew the Admiral
would help them, when all at once, she remembered what Jean had told her
of the family at the Crossbar ranch, where every one relied on his own
efforts, and worked to help the younger ones. Perhaps it would be a
wholesome undertaking for the girls to have to earn their own pleasure
trip themselves.

It was the happiest and most interesting evening she had spent in a long
while, and Jean pronounced it the best during her entire winter East.

“Don’t give up the idea, Polly, until you have to,” she called, last of
all, as she went out the front door with the Admiral.

“Oh, I never give up a hope until it is really out of sight,” Polly
replied, happily. “Aunty Welcome always says it is better to aim for a
star and hit the fence-post, than to aim for the fence-post and hit the
ground. All of my arrows point right up at the sky.”

“And the fence-post is badly scarred, believe me, Miss Murray,” said the
Admiral.

“I’ll tell the other girls anyway,” Polly declared. “You may expect us
after class Monday, if you don’t mind.”

Miss Murray was very certain that she should not mind. Polly never knew
how full of expectancy the following Monday was to the teacher from the
Crossbar. It had been a lonesome winter there at the Hall amongst
strangers, and she did not make friends readily. Several times during
class on Monday she met Polly’s glance, and smiled back at her.

“I think we had better tell Miss Calvert, don’t you?” she asked her,
when she came from the classroom and found the girls awaiting her in the
lower hall. “She might wonder what plot we were hatching up in my room.”

“I have just told her,” Polly answered. “I had my French history to
paraphrase, and was a little late handing it in, so I told her we were
going to hold a council of state with you over our summer outing, and
she said it was all right.”

“Then we can go upstairs. I have some snap-shots of the ranch I want to
show you, and some of the children too. And after we talk it over, if it
does seem possible, we’ll get down to real business methods, and see
just what it will cost, and how you can manage it.”

“It isn’t as hard as last year, because we won’t have to learn how to
swim or sail yachts,” Sue said, hopefully. “Isn’t it too bad we are not
boys. We might tramp it, or ride on freight trains.”

“Yes, dearies, or fly, or do a cross-country race over the mountains to
Wyoming. Anything for novelty and diversion. Sue, sometimes you talk
like Crullers.” Ted threw a rebuking look at her chum, but it passed
straight by Sue.

“I didn’t mean that so much. I mean that boys always seem to find out a
way, or make a way.”

“It only seems that way, Sue,” said Miss Murray, putting one arm around
her shoulder. “I have three younger brothers, so I know something about
their ways and habits.”

“Doesn’t that sound zoölogical?” put in Polly.

“I wish it were as simple. Any one who tries to classify boys along
zoölogical lines will find his hands full.”

“I know why, because animals have no personality,” Ruth announced. “And
boys are full of it.”

“Indeed, you’d think they were if you had any brothers,” returned Miss
Murray, laughingly. “But I sometimes think animals have personality too.
I wish you girls could see some of our pets out home. There seems to be
as much difference in disposition between the ponies, for instance, as
between the boys themselves.”

They had reached her own room now, and “settled down for a serious
conference,” as Polly said.

“I’m not going to show you any photographs of the ranch, or tell you
about it until we talk over the business end of this expedition.” Jean
sat down at the small table beside the double windows, and laid out
paper and pencil. “Tell me exactly what your intentions are.”

“You tell, Ruth,” said Ted, urgently. “When Ruth tells about anything,
she puts things just the way they are, and when Polly tells anything,
she puts it the way she wants them to be.”

“What kind of costumes would we need if we did go out there?” asked
Isabel, hesitatingly.

“Listen to Lady Vanitas, Polly,” Ted exclaimed. “Do you remember last
summer? Oh, Miss Murray, Isabel never dared to go in swimming even
without her class pin, and her bathing slippers had pink bows on them.”

“Don’t mind her, Isabel,” Polly interposed. “This will be just a
‘roughing it’ party. If we have shirtwaists and good strong khaki
shirts, it is all we shall need excepting for traveling suits. One
suit-case apiece will be allowed. See how much expense that cuts off,
girls. Laundry bills and summer dresses.”

“The kit is the smallest part you have to think of,” Miss Murray
interposed, cheerfully. “It is so small, that I never even thought of it
in jotting down probable items. You will live at the ranch, and father
can supply us with everything we need out there, fishing tackle, riding
outfits, and camping supplies.”

“What’s the fare?” asked Ruth, leaning forward, her chin on one
propped-up hand, her brown eyes wide and inquiring behind their
spectacles. “It seems to me as if that’s the worst thing we have to
figure on.”

“It is, Ruth. I only wish you were all small so I could cuddle you under
my wing on half fares. But I can’t. You’re fearfully ‘over twelve.’ The
best we can do is to hunt half rate tickets, and summer excursions. The
way I came down last fall, I took a train from Carlile to Omaha, then
east to Washington, and then down here to Queen’s Ferry. Miss Calvert
paid half my fare or I could not have come so far from home. As nearly
as I can figure it out roughly for you, the summer rate is about sixty
or seventy dollars for the round trip.”

“That isn’t so much,” Polly cried hopefully.

“It’s so much that it shuts me out.” Ruth accepted the decree with
philosophy, but the other girls knew how much the chance of a vacation
always meant to her, and Polly added hastily.

“It must not shut out any of us, Ruth. We are an outing club, and if one
goes, the rest go. No picking or choosing. What have we been saving our
money for all winter, I should like to know—paying dues each week, and
giving entertainments?”

“Are you really an organized club, girls?” Jean’s face brightened with
quick interest. It seemed so strange to find her quiet room filled with
happy young faces, and merry girlish voices. A thought flashed through
her mind, as Polly spoke, of how much pleasure it would mean all around,
if the girls could spend a month out on the Crossbar ranch that
vacation.

“Really and truly we are,” Polly replied. “We formed a vacation club.
All last winter, each one paid in twenty-five cents a week dues. Ruth is
our treasurer. And she’s just as good as a safety-deposit bank, too, the
little home toy kind that won’t open till they are full, you know.
Sometimes, when we almost despaired, and were on the point of
disbanding, she would refuse positively to give us back our money, so
what were we to do?”

“Stand pat, as you should,” retorted the treasurer, calmly. “I knew
they’d change their minds again. We have a little over one hundred and
twenty-four dollars in the treasury now, thanks to my safety-deposit
system. That’s a pretty fair start, isn’t it, even towards Wyoming?”

“But how little it seems when we need five hundred.” Polly puckered her
forehead anxiously, as she leaned her chin on her palm, and bent
forward. “I’m afraid that I have really aimed for the gate-post this
time.”

“Maybe somebody that we know, or our fathers know, knows somebody else
who has a private car bound for Wyoming,” suggested Isabel,
meditatively. “I’m sure I don’t see why you girls should laugh at that.
It might happen.”

“And then again it mightn’t,” Ted put in vigorously. “I only wish that
we knew a good way to earn our fares outright without asking any one’s
help. Maybe if we did our best, girls, we could. Don’t you think so,
Miss Murray? I know that we could get some portion of the expense money
at home, of course. A hundred each doesn’t seem much for a lot of girls
like us. I think it is very, very cheap.”

“Well, ladybird, just you wait till we try to earn it,” protested Sue.
“My hair begins to feel gray along the edges just thinking about it.
Show us some of your snap-shots, please, Miss Murray, just to keep up
our courage.”

Jean smiled, and got out her home pictures for their inspection.

“This is our Peggie girl, with her pets around her,” she explained.

“Oh, they’re sheep,” cried the girls.

“Lambs. They were born early in the spring, and father was afraid they
would die, so Don brought them down to the house, and gave them to
Peggie.”

“Where was their mother?”

“She died, Polly. Peggie had to mother them, and they are still home
pets. She calls them Punch and Judy.”

“What funny pets,” Ruth remarked, in her grave, speculative way, looking
up through her spectacles at them.

“Do you think so? Then see here.” Jean handed over another picture.
“That is the kind of pets the boys have, instead of lambs. That one is a
cub bear, Prometheus. You know I told you about his eating up the
Bishop’s Sunday dinner, Polly.”

“What are those things on the boy’s shoulders?” asked Ted. “And who is
the boy?”

“That’s only Don, my youngest brother. Those are his pet ’coons. He has
a tame crow, too, that is a highway robber. It steals everything it can
lay its claws on, and hides it. Don tried to catch a magpie up in the
hills, but they are too wary.”

“I shall like Don,” Ted said firmly. “I love animals.”

“If you win his trust, he may allow you to help Peggie take care of his
pets. During the summer months, we hardly see the boys. They go out with
the men at the harvesting, and eat either at the mess wagons with them,
or out of doors some place.”

“Is it a real ranch, Miss Murray?” asked Sue, suddenly. “I mean with
great roving herds of cattle, and cowboys, and Indians. I’ve been to a
wild-west show once, so I know pretty well what to expect.”

Here Jean did laugh heartily.

“You poor, dear heathen of the Far East,” she exclaimed. “You won’t find
that sort of a ranch around where we live, anyhow. I don’t think there
are many of them left, except perhaps through Texas. You see, since the
vast free ranges have been cut up into homestead plots by the
government, and irrigation has been introduced, the old ranches have had
to give way perforce. Why, father was a settler himself, years ago, a
homesteader, I mean. The old ranchers called them ‘nesters,’ and
despised them thoroughly. But I like the name. It stands for so
much—‘nester.’”

“Why didn’t the big ranchers like them?” asked Ruth.

“Well, where the old-time rancher who had almost limitless land at his
disposal, neglected it, and let nature do all his work for him, the
‘nester,’ cleared land, and improved it, and cultivated it. They took
advantage of every chance Uncle Sam held out to them to irrigate, and
clear their timber out, and build fences. It is getting late, or I could
tell you more. The first important thing is to be sure you want to go,
and then raise the money for the trip. Shall I write to mother to-night,
and ask her what she would charge to feed and shelter five pilgrims from
Virginia?”

The girls rose too, and stood about her, Sue and Polly with their arms
around her neck, and all agreed with the suggestion. Never before had
Jean Murray found herself so popular at Calvert.

“We’ll find a way out. Polly always finds one,” said Isabel, hopefully.

“I think I can see the tip end of one even now,” Polly replied, her
brown eyes full of suppressed excitement. “Girls, Dr. Penrhyn Smith is
going to Wyoming this summer, too, to dig for a—a—oh, what do you call
those long, prehistoric things, Ruth. I know, a thesaurus.”

“Dinosaurus, goose,” Ruth corrected. “The other’s a dictionary.”

“Is it? It sounds awfully antediluvian, somehow, as if it had a ten-yard
beak, and bird-claw feet, don’t you know? Don’t you get the full force
of what I’m trying to tell you? Our Dr. Smith, of Smugglers’ Cove, is
going to Wyoming this summer.”

“Polly, you’re looking wise,” laughed Sue. “I know that you see a
procession of us girls trotting along after the Doctor, and carrying all
his little spades and shovels and things for him, and getting weekly
salaries for it to cover all expenses there and back.”

“Just you wait and see,” prophesied Polly, serenely, and not another
word would she say that night of her plan.

Share