A Partner of the Sun
It took Harvey Grannis a long time to live down that scene by the camp fire; for when Elizabeth drew aside there stood revealed, clinging to her skirts, a pair of wire-clippers clutched in her free hand--the Babe. Harvey Grannis stared incredulously for a full minute, and everybody stared at him. Then he turned away with an inarticulate exclamation that was like a groan.
"O, Uncle Harvey!" cried the Babe, rushing forward at the sound of his voice, clasping his knees, bumping him with the wire-clippers, looking up at him, her face streaming with tears.
"It wasn't this child," he declared fiercely, catching her up in his arms and glaring across her head at the others. "The rest of you are puttin' it on her--of if her poor little hands done the work, you all egged her on and made her do it."
"No, they didn't," declared the child, squirming free and getting to her feet, her real courage coming to her aid and sweeping away the nervous fright that had possessed her. "I cut the wire that first night--and then I cut it the next night, because the cows were thirsty, and I knew you wouldn't be mad after all--you were just making believe, weren't you, Uncle Harvey?"
She turned confidentially to him, and the big man looked exceedingly foolish. The tension of the scene slackened a bit, and one or two of the cowboys snickered. But Mrs. Spooner's face was stern as she came forward and took her little girl by the hand.
"You see, Harvey, why I don't want to come and live in your house," she said clearly and distinctly. "Perhaps you understand now why I'm not willing that you should have a chance to discipline my girls. Look what you drive people into!"
Her glance went fleetingly to Roy, and everybody in the cow-camp remembered how Grannis's ideas of discipline had made a sort of horse thief out of a very honest lad.
"This child's a minor," began Grannis, sulkily. "She's not to blame. If you have a mind to let her come and live with me--even part of the time--I'll give her the key to the gate. What do you say?"
Mrs. Spooner looked at her little girl's face and read the terror and distaste in it.
"Please, O, please don't, mother!" came the imploring whisper. The Babe had visions of Queen Berengaria slain and herself set to careering about on a strange pinto that she could never love--and yet expected to be thankful for the change!
"I say that you've proved yourself as hard as usual, Harvey," Mrs. Spooner returned quietly. "I couldn't spare my baby--even if she were willing to go. Why can't you be contented with the children loving and respecting you--and staying independently in their own home?"
The defeat was too public. Grannis would not accept it.
"All right," he growled. "That gate's locked from this on--and you can get along the best way you know how for all of me. It's lucky it wasn't one of your older girls that played this trick--or one of the men you employ. You've got off easy."
The Spooner party went home in despair. The Babe showed unexpected spirit and demanded that, as she had cut the wires, the cattle be allowed to go in and water that night. They were. Nobody interfered with Ruth and Elizabeth when they hauled three hogsheads of water the next morning while Grannis's force was breaking camp and before they had mended the fence.
But that was the end of everything. There was no news from Cuba, and Mrs. Spooner began to look about her for some way to dispose of the cattle. It was the next week, in the midst of her perplexities, that Harvey Grannis rode up to the ranch to warn them that he intended to foreclose his mortgage on the place at once.
"I'm doing it for your own good, Jennie," he argued. "I'll still hold to my offer to give you all a home. Common sense ought to tell you it will be a sight better to live at the Circle G and have a man to look after you than to stay here and starve, depending on a jail-bird, an old fool and a couple of feather-headed girls. When do you think you'll be ready to move?"
"I must consult my girls first, Harvey," said Mrs. Spooner quietly. "They are down at the corral--I'll call them at once. I have a dreadful headache this morning, and when I've explained the situation to them I'll go and lie down. They can answer your questions as well as I."
Her brother fumed a good deal at this, vowing that he wouldn't be surprised if she felt called upon to consult old Jonah and the jail-bird!
"I certainly do intend to consult them," replied his sister mildly. "Only just now they are out hauling water from Munson's pond. But the girls'll be here in a minute--I will do as we all think best."
Elizabeth and Ruth felt their hearts sink at sight of their uncle, certain that his coming meant some new disaster. "He couldn't bring anything else!" they thought indignantly.
Mrs. Spooner, warning Grannis to silence, explained his proposition to the girls very clearly and calmly; she wished them to see it as favorably as possible, for in her heart she could think of nothing better--there seemed to be no other alternative; it seemed they must live with Harvey, hard as it would be. When she had finished she went to lie down.
Ruth looked at Elizabeth for counsel as her mother left the room. If there was any other way, she was sure that Elizabeth would find it.
"We'll agree to give up the ranch at once," began Elizabeth.
"You'll have to," interrupted Harvey Grannis. "Those are the terms of the mortgage. I could put you out to-day, but I'll give you time to pack."
"With the privilege of making our payment when father comes home. Are you willing to do that, Uncle Harvey?" Elizabeth finished.
Grannis agreed promptly to this, certain now that he would have his own way with the family.
"Then we'll move next week," decided Elizabeth.
"I'll send my teams over for your things--Monday, say?" asked Grannis, in high satisfaction.
"O, no," Elizabeth demurred, "there'll be no need to bother you. Jonah and Roy can move us without any help. Thank you, just the same."
"Jonah and Roy, is it?" snorted Grannis. "Well, I told your mother, and I tell you, that I won't have that young horse-thief on my place. The teams will be here Monday. See that you're ready when they come."
"But we aren't going to the Circle G, Uncle Harvey," said Elizabeth, mildly.
Grannis was in the doorway, he turned, his look of surprise and dismay was almost comical.
"Where are you going, then? Straight to destruction, I suppose. And dragging your poor sick mother with you. I want a word with Jennie about this."
"Mother has allowed me to speak for her," Elizabeth said. "Ruth and I are going to take care of her. We can--you know we can."
She spoke with assurance, but she had as little idea how the thing was to be accomplished as Ruth had when she offered to pay Maudie Pratt a hundred dollars--with only thirty-five cents at home in her pasteboard box! Perhaps the memory of the triumphant conclusion that matter worked up to, put confidence in Elizabeth's voice. Anyway, Harvey Grannis went storming away, informing nobody in particular that his sister's family were an ungrateful lot, declaring that he had washed his hands of them--all except little Harvie.
That night when the chores were over and supper ended, the Silver Spur household gathered on the porch and resolved itself into a committee of ways and means, with Elizabeth holding the floor.
"I've been thinking of a plan," she said cheerfully. "As Ruth claims, I've a head on my shoulders--whether there's anything in the head, or the plan, is for the rest of you to decide."
"I have a great deal of confidence in your ability and common-sense, daughter," said Mrs. Spooner faintly from her rocker. Her head was better, but it left her spent and white.
"Your scheme'll be a good one--I'll back it," Roy followed.
"Of course--we'll all back what Elizabeth says," agreed Ruth.
"'Cause Elizabeth knows," chimed in the Babe, loyally.
"Well, she ain't so foolish--for a gal," old Jonah put in last.
Elizabeth was fairly overwhelmed by their trust in her. "You see we can't stay here, and we won't go to the Circle G," she began, flushed with her family's praise, "of course we may hear from father any day, but we'd have had to get rid of the cattle--anyhow that bunch Uncle Harvey shut out from the tank. It seems to me the best thing we can do is to go into Emerald to live. There isn't a sign of a photographer in the place; everybody says my work is worth paying for, and Ruth would have a chance of earning something. Besides, there'd be school for the Babe, and we'd be near Cousin Hannah."
"Say, don't think you're the only worker in this family hive!" protested Roy, "I haven't a profession, but I can get a job any day. Mr. Pell's son Joe has gone away to school, and he needs a clerk in the grocery the worst kind. I reckon I'll earn money enough to pay rent, and a little bit over."
"They's jobs a-waitin' for young folks to pick up, but 'tain't easy when you're gettin' on in years," sighed Jonah, dolefully. "Nothin' I kin do in town, I reckon. Maybe the Old Soldiers' Home'll take keer o' me."
There was a chorus of indignant protests from the whole family. Jonah knew they couldn't get along without him! Wherever they went he should go to--that was settled. The tender-hearted Babe, with her arms around the old man's neck, cheered him further by adding: "Me'n you'll help mother, Jonah--she'll need us."
"Bless your heart, honey, if that ain't the gospel truth!" agreed Jonah, now quite cheerful. "They's a gyarden to make, an' a cow to milk--we can't get along without one, and wood to chop. Maybe the ole man will earn his salt, after all."
Early the next morning after this decision Elizabeth and Ruth rode into town to see about getting a house. The only vacant one in the place was an old adobe, rather dilapidated, but with plenty of room, and enough ground fenced in to keep a cow, besides having the garden and small patches they would be obliged to plant for vegetables and cow-feed. It belonged to Mr. Rouse, the station agent who boarded with Cousin Hannah, and he was so glad of the chance of getting it occupied that he told the girls if they would agree to make the necessary repairs, he would let them have it rent-free for the first six months.
This was joyfully agreed to, and the very next day Jonah and Roy went to town to see about making the repairs--mending the roof, putting in window panes, and whitewashing the interior, so that at last it was converted into a very respectable and comfortable habitation--really more comfortable than the ranch-house, for the adobe walls were thick, and would keep out the cold in winter and the heat in summer as well.
During the days that the men worked on the adobe Ruth and Elizabeth were busy packing up, while the Babe and her mother drove about in the phaeton, making arrangements for the keeping of the cattle and ponies, for Mrs. Spooner determined that she would not sell them--it would be like admitting her husband was dead.
Mr. Munson, a man with a big ranch and a big heart, readily agreed to graze the cattle, scoffing at the idea of taking a third of the increase for his share, until Mrs. Spooner declared that, unless he did, she could not allow him to be burdened with them.
"Then I hope for your sake it won't be long, ma'am," said the rancher heartily. "No news is good news, I've always heard say, and there's no tellin' when John may come."
Another neighbor agreed to graze the ponies, and the Babe earnestly begged that he would be very, very kind to Queen Berengaria, who was a good pony, if she wasn't so very pretty!
With everybody working like beavers, it was only a few days before the Spooners closed the doors of the lonely little ranch-house, striving bravely to think that it would only be for a little while, and took up their abode in the old adobe in Emerald.
If there had been, just at this time, a voting contest for the most unpopular man in the district, Harvey Grannis would undoubtedly have won the prize by a big majority. Everybody was so indignant at his treatment of the Spooners that they vied with each other in showing their sympathy and friendship for the family, sending them such loads of vegetables from their gardens and choice cuts of fresh meat when a beef was killed, that it was a long time before they had need of anything else; while Cousin Hannah came over on the first day, laden with trays of good things for the first meal.
Everybody tried to be very cheerful as they gathered around the brightly-lighted supper table that evening, eating the good things Cousin Hannah had provided with, it must be confessed, scant appetite; their hearts were full, but each tried bravely to see only the bright side, and, because they tried so hard, at last became really cheerful, discussing their plans for the future with some enthusiasm. Only the Babe wiped away tears, as she thought of Queen Berengaria out in strange pastures without a soul to think of taking her lumps of sugar at feeding-time!
"I'll plow up the land and sew it down in rye for cow-feed," said Jonah, "before I git ready to go to gyardenin'. I got to hustle, too, for time's a-flyin'."
"I won't set into work at the store till next week," said Roy, "for I want to fix up that shack out in the yard for a studio--with two display windows, if you please, one for cakes and one for 'takes'. A skylight in the roof, and a little curtained-off dark room, and there you are, all ready for business, Misses Spooner!"
"O, Roy, that will be lovely--I simply couldn't get along without you--none of us could, in fact. And I'm expecting my enlarging camera any day. I reckon I'll spoil some pictures before I get used to it; anyway, I can experiment on the family first."
"I'm so glad we've got a good cook-stove," said Ruth, contentedly. "I expect to make money on bread. Cousin Hannah says she'll get me all the orders I can fill."
"And what are me'n you going to do, mother?" enquired the Babe, with interest.
"Well, I'm going down town to the store tomorrow and buy some pretty gingham for cutting out into school dresses which you're to stitch up on the machine, if you'll try to run the seams straight. Then, as soon as they're made, we'll get some school-books, and a little girl about your size will put on one of the new dresses, take the new books in her new book-bag, and go right straight to school--where she'll be a credit to us all, I'm sure."
"I'll learn to read so good that I'll be able to read all the books in the whole round world!" sighed the Babe, happy in the promised fulfillment of her highest earthly desire.
By the time the new studio was finished Elizabeth had quite a display of photographs, having 'taken' the family and all the neighbors who were handy, finding Maudie Pratt a willing and excellent subject, while Ruth in her own show-window set forth a tempting array of tarts and pies and doughnuts, in token that the bakery was in operation.
Mrs. Pell, the wife of Roy's employer, was their first customer, bringing her twin boys of seven to be photographed.
"Their pa says if anybody can make 'em stand still long enough to get a picture, they'll sure deserve a prize," declared the twins' mother frankly, as she arranged Wilfred's big, smothering collar, and tied anew the huge red bow under Wilmot's chin. "I taken 'em to the finest picture-taker in Houston, last summer, and the best he could do was a proof that had three heads apiece on it!"
"I think I can manage them, Mrs. Pell," said Elizabeth, confidently, seeing more orders ahead if she could succeed where the city photographer had failed. "They are such cute little fellows. Now, boys, if you'll be real quiet I'll give you a doughnut apiece, in just one minute," she promised the squirming twins, who brightened amazingly, keeping expectant eyes upon the doughnuts which Elizabeth had placed at just the proper elevation.
They were muffled and choked in stiff white pique suits, not a bit comfortable, and their mother insisted that they should be posed in a very stiff position, with their arms about each other. However, in the end Elizabeth secured a very good negative, "at least it has only one head apiece," she laughed. "But send them over when they have on their everyday clothes, and let me take a picture for my window, if you don't mind."
Mrs. Pell didn't mind--indeed she was highly gratified, and she sent Wilfred and Wilmot over promptly, as soon as they had changed to their old collarless and tieless play overalls. Then, while the Babe told them a fairy story to excite the proper amount of interest in their faces, and Elizabeth bade them eat doughnuts at will, to promote happiness that "showed through," she snapped her camera on a most excellent likeness--so good, in fact, that their proud father ordered a bromide enlargement to be made, and advised all his customers to go by the studio and see that cute picture in the window--the cutest thing in the shape of a photograph he'd ever seen took.
Trade increased, and both girls soon had all they could do--indeed Mrs. Spooner, in her heart, often sighed to think of the free young souls doomed to have so much work and so little play in their busy lives.
It was plain from the first that the Spooner girls and Roy Lambert could maintain the family, though it took every bit of strength and every ounce of energy the three young people could bring to bear on it. Mrs. Spooner drew a breath of relief when one day she saw her brother Harvey turn in at the gate and calmly walk across to the studio as though he were an ordinary customer, coming on an ordinary errand.
"Be nice to him, dear," she cautioned Elizabeth, when she informed her of the unexpected customer in the studio. "I'm proud of your independence, but it breaks my heart to have you girls working so hard, and getting none of the pleasure nor the education that you ought to have."
"I think we're getting lots of education, if you ask me," laughed Elizabeth, as she put on her business apron and prepared to go out. "As for pleasure--I never was so happy in my life--except for worrying a little bit about father--and he may come home any day of course, and stop that."
She ran across the yard to the little building, where she found her uncle gravely inspecting the photographs in the window, having come to a decision as to the style he preferred for a dozen cabinet portraits of himself, which he announced to be the errand that had brought him to Emerald.
It was to Elizabeth like a little play to keep up her business manner with Uncle Harvey all through the sitting. She was urbane and impressive. She told about it gleefully at the supper table that evening.
"How much? And when can I have 'em?" the customer had asked as he arose from his sitting. Elizabeth got his tone exactly in telling of it.
"One dollar down, five dollars when they are finished, a week from to-day, I'm pretty well rushed with orders, and can't promise them any sooner!" reported the photographer to her family.
"Then he took up his hat, and stood twirling it 'round and 'round, as if he intended to say something else. I suppose he changed his mind, for he went away without another word. I was glad; I wonder what he really wanted. Something more than pictures, I'll bet. Anyway, I think I got a good picture."
On the day appointed Harvey Grannis put in an appearance at the little studio at nine o'clock in the morning. He took the filled envelope Elizabeth handed him without a word, paid his money and lingered a moment, never looking at the pictures.
"Hadn't you better see whether you like them?" asked Elizabeth. "We all think them very good. I took the liberty of giving mother one, because she liked it so much."
"O, er--by the way, how is Jennie?" asked Grannis, uneasily.
"I'll call her if you'd like to see her," returned Elizabeth promptly, and there was a mischievous light in her eyes.
"No, no--not at all," stammered the ranchman. "That is, I have a little matter to talk over later--never mind now."
They were crossing the side yard between the house and the studio. Without waiting for further Instructions Elizabeth called blithely:
"Mumsy--Uncle Harvey wants to see you!"
She was sure that Mrs. Spooner was just inside by the window, anxiously waiting for what her brother might see fit to say or do. The call was responded to with unexpected, and so far as Grannis was concerned, unwelcome promptness. Mrs. Spooner came out on the front porch and walked down the steps to greet her brother. The Babe, always eager for peace, though still shy of the man who had thought of shooting Queen Berengaria, followed. Ruth advanced from her bakery as the two left the studio. Old Jonah came around the house, wheeling a barrow, and to complete the family picture Roy just then drove up in a grocer's delivery wagon and stopped at the curb.
"Well, we all seem to be here," remarked Harvey Grannis, rather feebly.
A bicycle-mounted boy wheeled up perilously close between the delivery-wagon and the gate, Roy turned with a little annoyance, then he saw that the messenger held a yellow envelope in his hand, and was approaching Mrs. Spooner.
The little woman's breath came in gasps, since the ceasing of her Cuban letters she was always afraid of the sight of a telegram.
"Don't let her have it--I want to say something first," Grannis protested, getting between the messenger and his sister.
"I'll open it for her--she would want me to," declared Elizabeth, snatching the envelope from the messenger's hand.
"Why, it isn't addressed to mother--it's addressed to--to--father!" And she let the yellow envelope flutter to the ground, where the messenger regarded it with lack-luster eyes, then picked it up and prepared to depart with it.
"Party ain't living here?" he asked, snapping together his receipt book, which he had opened for signature.
"This here lady's his late wife," asserted Jonah, lugubriously, getting things rather mixed in his excitement to see what the telegram contained. "Give it to her--she's the proper person to open it."
Once more Grannis put himself between the messenger and his sister, protesting again that he had something to say before she read the message. And, at this second protest, there came an unexpected interruption.