With a background no less authentic than in the book which preceded this in the series, it is equally as exciting to learn how the Golden West became a home to Lucretia Ann and her family, as well as a land o'dreams.
It was two days before Thanksgiving. Nine-year-old Lucretia Ann Prence, of
the sunny curls and the smile like a sudden flash of sunshine, bustled about
the new log cabin, putting the finishing touches to its already shining
neatness. She piled great sticks of sagebrush into the fireplace and
laughed aloud and clapped her hands to see how the dry outer covering danced
and flamed as it scooted madly away up the chimney as though it were in a
hurry to go sailing toward the sun.
My, what spicy-smelling litter it left on the hearth, no matter how carefully you lifted it! Mother did a great deal of grumbling about this untidy sagebrush which all these Western pioneers used for fuel, but Lucretia Ann loved its pungent smell and the way it scattered sudden brightness about the room when lighted.
With a turkey-wing whiskbroom she swept the trash and ashes from the hearth, straightened the hit-or-miss braided rug, and moved the chairs into their proper places.
"Now we are neat as wax," she said, surveying the room cheerfully. Then she went to the big oaken chest which had held many of the family treasures on its trip across the Oregon Trail. The small girl had to tug hard to lift the reinforced lid. Opening it part way, she let its heaviness rest on her slender shoulders while she put her head and arms inside and started searching for her knitting. She spied something else, though, and gave a shout of joy.
"There," Lucretia Ann cried triumphantly, "is my nice little apron! I shall dress up and play that I am my own company."
It lay, the jolly little apron, beautifully ruffled and fluted, a tan calico, with gay pink and blue forget-me-nots dancing about its background. "Hello, you darling little apron," called Lucretia Ann as though greeting a long lost friend.
"Come to me. Why, I do not think I have worn you since the middle of the summer when we were on the Oregon Trail! It was the day I fell in the river when the wagon almost tipped over, and everything got wet. While we were waiting for them to dry I stayed with that dear Quaker lady who lived near the bank, and Mother let me put you on when I dressed up to take dinner with her. Come to me."
She took out the apron, her best strap kid slippers, some stiffly starched pantalettes of white linen trimmed with tucked points, a pale blue hair ribbon, and last of all, the gray and red yarn with which she was knitting. Lucretia Ann carefully lowered the heavy lid so that it might not crush her fingers. Then, taking the hairbrush, the happy child stood on tiptoe and peered into the long carved oval mirror which had been brought from the New England homestead. Each separate ringlet was brushed about her finger until it gleamed like shiniest golden satin. She tied the shimmering bow about her head; it was a little awry, for the small fingers were accustomed to this task, but crookedness did not matter as long as the lovely thing hovered over her curls like a fluttering butterfly eager for flight. Now the child adjusted the cherished apron with its many ruffles, and slipped into the crackling starchy pantalettes which fastened just above each dimpled knee. A deep sigh of pleasure escaped as her feet snuggled into the soft slippers.
"If I were a great lady, or a princess, I should always wear slippers just as soft and just as pretty as these, even when I worked. Though perhaps I shouldn't have to work," she said solemnly. "My but I do look nice!" she added, taking another peek into the mirror, her face dimpling and growing rosy at the sight. She gave the mirror child an airy kiss.
"Hello, pretty little girl, I wish you weren't I so that we could play together" she said softly.
She smoothed down the apron lovingly and carefully. Grandmother Pettigrew had made it from a piece of calico they had both chosen after many consultations, and how Lucretia Ann did like it! She examined the surface with painstaking care. Yes, there it was-the long, jagged tear which had been mended so beautifully.
"Didn't that nice Quaker lady sew carefully?" she sighed. "Almost as nice as Grandmother Pettigrew. Why, isn't it funny, I am dressed almost exactly the way I was when I stopped at her pretty cabin all covered with flowers by the river. How I cried when I was gathering eggs for her, and caught the toe of my slipper in the picket fence and tore this jagged hole in my apron! I wish I had another one of those first early apples of hers that Mrs. Morris gave me to comfort me when she mended my apron. She was a good lady. I wonder if I shall ever see her again?"
Lucretia Ann finished her survey of the apron which brought back so many memories. She drew one foot back and dipped a deep curtsey as she saucily flirted her skirts and looked at herself with a satisfied glance.
"Now I am ready to come a-visiting. How do you do, Miss Prence?" she said hospitably. "Will you draw up your chair to the fire and make yourself at home?"
"Thank you, I will, Miss Prence," she replied, "I have brought my knitting and have come to sit awhile."
Smiling happily at her make-believe game, Lucretia Ann's eyes fell upon Benjamin, beloved tortoise-shell cat, who was stretched in front of the fire. His head wad tucked cunningly between his paws, and he was perhaps dreaming of the jack rabbits he had chased when crossing the Oregon Trail, or else of the mice which used to scamper past him in Grandmother Pettigrew's New England barn.
"Benjamin, come here," said Lucretia Ann sternly. "You're not dressed up, and we're entertaining company. Don't you know that Miss Prence has brought her knitting and is spending the afternoon with us? Come here this moment-you look bewitched."
At the sound of his mistress' voice the sleepy cat gave a huge yawn, meowed the funny little b-u-e-rrp with which he always greeted the child, humped his back, and with a long stretch walked slowly up to Lucretia Ann. She took the turkey-wing whisk broom and stroked the purring cat's lustrous yellow and black fur. She tied an orange bow about his neck, and then, placing him before her at arm's length for inspection, said:
"There, young man, you'll do. You look very well. But mind your manners. 'Handsome is as handsome does,' Mother tells us. Do you want to see how you look?"
She held the struggling animal before the mirror. This mirror always puzzled
Benjamin, and Lucretia Ann liked to tease him with it. As ever, his eyes grew large, and he began to snarl and fight at the sight of a strange animal glaring at him with wide frightened eyes.
"O Benjamin, you funny little cat," chuckled his delighted mistress. "Lie down on the hearth and wash your face. It looks dirty to me."
Lucretia Ann took up her knitting. She was making Father a Christmas gift of a pair of striped wristlets to keep him warm when he worked grubbing sagebrush. She placed one slender ankle across the other on the fender and settled back with a comfortable sigh, a pretty picture of contentment.
"Knit-purl. Knit-purl. Knit-purl," she counted slowly. "I declare, it's been such a busy, bustling fall that I am glad to stop and catch my breath."
This was said with such a comical imitation of her lovely Grandmother Pettigrew whom she had left in Vermont that, had there been anyone to smile, there would have been a secret smile at the grown-up manner. But there was no one save Benjamin, tortoise-shell cat, and Carlo, the collie, who had been left to guard his mistress.
"If I wasn't such a slow poke I wouldn't have to start my Christmas presents before Thanksgiving, would I, Benjamin?"
The cat rubbed against his mistress' knee and purred loudly. He was agreeing with what she said as he always did. The cat and the small girl were great friends for they had come across the Oregon Trail together last summer, and several of their exciting adventures on that trip had been caused by Benjamin's heedless, frolicsome ways. He was a naughty little animal who seemed born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. But no matter how deep his disgrace, Lucretia Ann's loving heart always found some excuse for his shortcomings.
"He's nothing but a baby. He doesn't know any better, Father," she would say.
The cat in turn gave her loyal devotion.
"I have counted the days until Christmas, kitty," Lucretia Ann said. "There are just thirty-one. Can you wait? I do not see how I can. What do you think Grandmother Pettigrew will send us? She will give you something, I know. Do you want a package of catnip from her garden, or a new bow for your neck? Perhaps you'd like a fuzzy knitted bouncing ball to play with. I want a hundred things so I cannot choose what I would rather have her send."
Knit-purl. Knit-purl. Knit-purl.
As the slender fingers pulled the shining needles up and down, in and out, Lucretia Ann fell to dreaming of Christmas and the songs she and Grandmother Pettigrew used to sing together as they sat by the grate fire making gifts. Each year they had done that, for Grandmother lived only half a stone's throw from Lucretia Ann who was at her home so much that she often wondered where she did live. Jolly school songs they chorused, gay carols, and lovely soothing hymns.
Lucretia Ann sang some of these songs now. At first she warbled in a lusty voice, keeping time with a sharp tap, tap, tap of the heel and toe of her slipper. Then her voice grew low, and she hummed gently as she dreamed. One particular strain kept running through her head:
Mind ye the stranger who comes to your door
See that he's hungry and weary no more.
Over and over the two lines rang in her mind; perhaps because Mother had particularly stressed upon her the importance of being in readiness to feed the hungry family when it returned, to watch the huge kettle of beans which was simmering, to keep the fires burning and to start making corn bread when the grandfather's clock pointed to five, so that there should be plenty for supper. Tom and Stephen could eat more bread and butter and molasses than any other two people in the whole world, Lucretia Ann said, and she always wondered how they could hold so much.
Was there ever a room so silent? The bubbling of the beans, the faint singing of the wind about the chimney, the purring of Benjamin, the restless moving of Carlo, and the steady tick! tick! tick! of the clock was all that disturbed the stillness. Lucretia Ann kept glancing out over the prairie wishing that someone would come.
Mother had not wanted to leave her alone, but what could she do? Just after the midday meal a neighbor from several miles away had come riding over the desert, asking immediate aid. Pioneers must stand together in a new country, and the greatest needs must be considered. There was nothing for Mother to do but go, and there was no place for Lucretia Ann in the one-room cabin with sickness. Neither was there time to take her anywhere or go for another neighbor.
Father and Brother Stephen had gone a week ago to the trading station for their winter's supplies. They had been expected the night before and they would surely come any minute. This morning early, Wills, the hired man, and Tom had cantered away on horseback to the nearest gristmill with sacks of corn and wheat for grinding into flour. They, too, were expected by midafternoon or sooner.
"Lucretia Ann," said Mother, as she bustled about getting wraps and needed medical supplies while the neighbor saddled her pony, " I am at my wit's end about what I should do. Never was I more bothered. It seems right that I should go, for I cannot deny a neighbor in trouble. Some of the folks may come at any moment; I shall return as soon as possible, or send someone to you before dark. Nobody travels this way, so you will be all right aside from your loneliness. Watch the fires. Do your stint of knitting and sewing. You have Benjamin and Carlo to keep you company, and don't forget your Bible. Shall you min very much, Lucretia Ann?"
"No, Mother, I think it will be fun keeping house," replied the daughter bravely. "May I parch some corn?"
"That will be fine. Goodbye, Daughter. Be of good cheer." With a kiss mother was gone.
Lucretia Ann knitted peacefully away.
Knit-purl. Knit-purl. Knit-purl.
"Oh, you bad kitty! Why did you grab my yarn? You made me drop a stitch and maybe I cannot pick it up. If I ask Mother she says I should not be so careless, but Grandmother Pettigrew says that little fingers get tired and big ones, too, for that matter, for she often drops stitches. Oh, there, I have it! Behave yourself and don't do that again young man!"
The child grew tired of knitting and added more sagebrush to the fire, stirred the beans, and for the dozenth time hummed the tune which so persistently haunted her.
Mind ye the stranger who comes to your door
See that he's hungry and weary no more.
"Kitty, doesn't the time pass slowly?" she asked Benjamin. "It is not yet three o'clock, and it seems hours since Mother left. I never saw such a long afternoon. Mother says I must sew, and I suppose I had better do that next. But first I will slip on my heavy shoes and run to the river bank and see if I can spy Dimmis. It is a burning shame that she lives across the river. She might as well be in China for all I get to play with her."
Dimmis Greensleave had been Lucretia Ann's greatest chum back in New England, and the two had come across the trail together with their families. Both had built many air castles and dreamed fond dreams about the time when they should live side by side in the new land.
But these dreams had not come true.
There sat the Prence cabin on a little rise of land. Directly opposite on a slight hill, not two blocks away, sat the Greensleave cabin.
Between the two ran a wide, roaring river, and as there was no bridge, when the families wanted to visit they had to drive five miles up the river to the ferry and return five miles down the opposite bank.
Outside was a grey sky, and a chill wind was blowing. Lucretia Ann put on the morocco-topped shoes which had been one of Grandmother Pettigrew's birthday gifts, wrapped a warm cape about her, and ran to the river. Puffs of white smoke, bounding above the roofs of the Greensleave cabin like small balloons, showed that the family was at home. Often Lucretia Ann and Dimmis happened out of doors together and stood on opposite banks smiling at one another. They threw kisses, made word signs, and had plenty of fun. They could even understand some of the faint shouts they hurled across by making trumpets of their hands, and if the river was not too rude and quarrelsome it delivered their messages. Sometimes they wrote notes, wrapped them about flat stones, tied them on with pieces of twine, and tried to throw them across the river. While too often these landed in the stream, once in a while one made a short voyage, if Brother Stephen or Mr. Greensleave lent an arm in the throwing.
Lucretia Ann stood, a lonely little figure, on the bank of the huge river which today was grumbling about the streams of muddy water which the rains had sent down from the mountains.
Only the grey quiet met her sight. She danced and shouted and waved her arms, even though she knew that her voice could not carry across those angry waters.
"I wonder what Dimmis is doing. She might come out. Why doesn't she?" The child waited wistfully.
"All right, Miss Dimmis Greensleave, just stay and sit by your warm fire, if you don't want to play with me," Lucretia Ann said crossly. "We could have such a lot of fun if you would come out, and I wouldn't be so lonely." She kicked the stones one the water's edge to emphasize her words.
A few jolly snowflakes began capering in the air. Lucretia Ann looked up in delight, her anger forgotten.
"I declare, I think it's going to snow. I've been wishing it would for days. We've had so much sunshine here that I would like a good old storm like those we had in New England."
Lucretia Ann began to caper with the flakes; then as they came faster and faster she stretched out eager arms to catch them. They gave her cold little kisses on the mouth and forehead and cheeks until she blossomed like a pretty rose. They whistled and twirled about her head like a filmy, knitted scarf. The faster they came, the faster she flew.
"Isn't this fun? She laughed. "Goody, goody, Benjamin, won't it be nice if we have a white Thanksgiving? I will make you a snow man, kitty."
Down, down fell the flakes, and Lucretia Ann, with a glance up the trail to see if anyone was coming, danced into the house, where she stood at the window, jumping up and down with glee.
For a while a tiny grey sage thresher, pecking at something in the sagebrush, held her attention. It was fun to see the snowflakes pelt him on the head. They were being very rude, but he did not seem to mind. She watched this for some time and then glanced over the fast whitening desert. The capering stopped. Lucretia Ann's heart stood still.
A lone figure was coming across the plains.
Who could it be? No one ever came afoot that way. Could it be that Father or Stephen had met trouble and was this one of them walking alone over the plains?
"Kitty, come here, I need you," she called to Benjamin.
The figure came nearer and nearer. Then the terrified child saw by the bright blanket and long strands of hair that the oncomer was an Indian.
What should she do?
Where could she hide?
Should she bar the door and have Carlo attack the intruder if he tried to enter?
Then it dawned upon her that something was decidedly wrong. The Indian was walking slowly, at times staggering. Even so young a child as Lucretia Ann could see that his strength was about gone, whether from hunger, illness, or exhaustion she could not tell.
Could she bar the door on a man in trouble, even though he be a savage? Handn't the Indians taken her and Dimmis in when they were lost on the trail? Again, amidst her fright, the song she had been humming flashed through her head:
Mind ye the stranger who comes to your door
See that he's hungry and weary no more.
The Indian had now reached the house and without knocking used his last strength to turn the knob, totter inside, and fall into a chair with his head on his breast.
Carlo's fur bristled, he bared his fangs, and crouched as though ready to spring at the intruder.
"Down, Carlo, down," whispered the child. "Can't you see the poor man is sick?"
Never had Lucretia Ann been in such straits.
Never had she been so frightened.
She must be brave; she must do the right thing. Her strange visitor had been wounded; his arm between the elbow and the wrist was badly hurt. The small hostess did what she thought Mother would have done. With her face as white as the cloth she drew from the chest, she tore strips of soft muslin. She washed the arm in warm water, applied the same healing salve that Mother used for all their hurts, shuddering sickly as she did so, and bound up the wound. She heated a great basin of milk and when the Indian opened his eyes she helped him drink it. With the last gulp the unwelcome guest slipped to the floor and fell into a sleep so deep that it was almost a stupor.
Lucretia Ann covered him with a heavy buffalo robe, her heart filled with pity for the tired, sick, half-starved savage.
Now what to do? She looked about for Benjamin, always her refuge. He was crouched in the farthest corner of the room, his back arched and his tail twice his size, as he gave low hisses and spits toward the visitor.
"Benjamin, you dreadful cat! Stop this minute!" she chided softly. "I think you still remember how that Indian, Big Mouth, stole you and put you in the cave. No wonder you do not like Indians. I do not like them either, but I am not spitting and yelling at this poor men. Behave yourself. Come, comfort me, darling."
Sitting erect in the straight ladder-backed chair, Lucretia Ann took the cat in her arms; then, calling Carlo to her side, she began a long, tiresome wait.
Table of ContentsCHAPTER 1 Lucretia Ann's heart stood still. Her capering stopped. A lone figure was coming across the plains.
CHAPTER 2 Mind ye the stranger who comes to your door; see that he's hungry and weary no more.
CHAPTER 3 Howl all you want, old Wind and Snow, you can't scare me. But please, please be good to my tired, hurt Indian.
CHAPTER 4 Dimmis is coming to-mor-ro-o.
CHAPTER 5 The two frightened children and the tortoise-shell cat looked so small and pitiful and lonely out there on the broad, dark river.
CHAPTER 6 Let us count and see how many lives Benjamin has left.
CHAPTER 7 Dimmis, do you know who I think that is? It is chief Big Foot. Look at those hands! Look at those feet!
CHAPTER 8 Can it be possible that those children are again lost?
CHAPTER 9 Dimmis looked like a lovely dim candle, holding the long torch steadily aloft above her head.
CHAPTER 10 And now Christmas was on the way; holiday preparations were in full swing.
CHAPTER 11 "My sakes alive!" breathed Lucretia Ann. "I hope I never have to worry so fast again as long as I live!"
CHAPTER 12 Where, Oh, where were those who had gone to fight Indians? Father, Brother Stephen, Smiling Uncle Peter, and Willis?
CHAPTER 13 Lucretia Ann's eyes grew wide. Her body stiffened. The sagebrush had moved. Not RUSTLED, but MOVED from where it had been.
CHAPTER 14 I think Benjamin should feed upon locusts and wild honey the rest of his life.
CHAPTER 15 The next few weeks skipped by on ropes of joy.
CHAPTER 16 So it was decided that Little Miss Lucretia Ann Prence was to take a trip to the city.
CHAPTER 17 Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.