List Of Contents | Contents of A Summer in a Canyon, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
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Sizz-z-z!! and I'm OUT!



CAMP CHAPARRAL, July 8, 188-.

My dear Elsie,--I believe I am to inform you concerning the daily
doings of our party, not on any account, however, permitting myself
to degenerate into 'gossip' or 'frivolous amusement.'

They evidently consider me a quiet, stupid fellow, who will fulfil
such a task with no special feeling of repression, and I dare say
they are quite right.

They call me the 'solid man' of the camp, which may not be very high
praise, to be sure, as Geoffrey carries his head in the clouds, and
Jack is--well, Jack is Jack!  So, as the light of a tallow dip is
valuable in the absence of sun and moon, I am raised to a fictitious

We fellows have had very little play so far, for the furnishing of
the camp has proved an immense undertaking, although we have plenty
of the right sort of wood and excellent tools.

We think the work will pay, however, as Dr. Paul has about decided to
stay until October, or until the first rain.  He writes two or three
hours a day, and thinks that he gets on with his book better here
than at home.  As for the rest of us, when we get fairly to rights we
shall have regular study hours and lose no time in preparing for the

I suppose you know that you have a full bedroom set in process of
construction.  I say 'suppose you know,' because it is a profound
secret, and the girls could never have kept it to themselves as long
as this.

The lounging-chair is my allotted portion, and although it is a
complicated bit of work, I accepted it gladly, feeling sure that you
would use it oftener than any of the other pieces of furniture.  I
shall make it so deliciously easy that you will make me 'Knight of
the Chair,' and perhaps permit me to play a sort of devoted John
Brown to your Victoria.  You will need one dull and prosy squire to
arrange your pillows, so that you can laugh at Jack's jokes without
weariness, and doze quietly while Geoff and Uncle Doc are talking

Of course the most exciting event of the week was the mysterious
disappearance and subsequent restoration of the Heir-Apparent; but I
feel sure somebody else will describe the event, because it is
uppermost in all our minds.

Bell, for instance, would dress it up in fine style.  She is no
historian, but in poetry and fiction none of us can touch her;
though, by the way, Polly's abilities in that direction are a good
deal underrated.  It's as good as a play to get her after Jack when
he is in one of his teasing moods.  They are like flint and steel,
and if Aunt Truth didn't separate them the sparks would fly.  With a
girl like Polly, you have either to lie awake nights, thinking how
you'll get the better of her, or else put on a demeanour of
gentleness and patience, which serves as a sort of lightning-rod
round which the fire of her fun will play all day and never strike.
Polly is a good deal of a girl.  She seems at first to have a pretty
sharp tongue, but I tell you she has a heart in which there is
swimming-room for everybody.  This may not be 'information' to you,
whom we look upon as our clairvoyant, but it would be news to most

Uncle Doc, Bell, Geoff, Polly, Meg, and I started for the top of Pico
Negro the other morning.  Bell rode Villikins, and Polly took a mule,
because she thought the animal would be especially sure-footed.  He
was; in fact, he was so sure-footed that he didn't care to move at
all, and we had to take turns in beating him up to the top.  We boys
walked for exercise, which we got to our hearts' content.

It is only five or six miles from the old Mountain Mill (a picture of
which Jack will send you), and the ascent is pretty stiff climbing,
though nothing terrific.  We lost the trail once, and floundered
about in the chaparral for half an hour, till Bell began to make a
poem on the occasion, when we became desperate, and dashed through a
thicket of brush, tearing ourselves to bits, but stumbling on the
trail at last.  The view from the top is simply superb.  The valleys
below are all yellow with grain-fields and green with vineyards, with
here and there the roofs of a straggling little settlement.  The
depression in the side of the mountain (you will observe it in the
picture) Polly says has evidently been 'bitten out' by a prehistoric
animal, and it turns out to be the loveliest little canyon

We have had one novel experience--that of seeing a tarantula fight;
and not between two, but five, tarantulas.  We were about twenty
miles from camp, loping along a stretch of hot, dusty road.  Jack got
off to cinch his saddle, and so we all stopped a moment to let our
horses breathe.  As I was looking about, at nothing in particular, I
noticed a black ball in the deep dust at the side of the road.  It
suddenly rolled over on itself and I called to the boys to watch the
fun.  We got off, hitched our horses, and approached cautiously, for
I had seen a battle of the same kind before.  There they were--five
huge, hairy, dirty, black creatures, as large as the palm of Dicky's
hand, all locked in deadly combat.  They writhed and struggled and
embraced, their long, curling legs fastening on each other with a
sound that was actually like the cracking of bones.  It takes a
little courage to stand and watch such a proceeding, for you feel as
if the hideous fellows might turn and jump for you; but they were
doubtless absorbed in their own battle, and we wanted to see the
affair to the end, so we took the risk, if there was any.  At last
they showed signs of weariness, but we prodded them up with our
riding-whips, preferring that they should kill each other, rather
than do the thing ourselves.  Finally, four of them lay in the dust,
doubled up and harmless, slain, I suppose, by their own poison.  One,
the conquering hero, remained, and we dexterously scooped him into a
tomato-can that Jack had tied to his saddle for a drinking-cup,
covered him up with a handkerchief, and drew lots as to who should
carry him home to Dr. Paul.

Knowing that the little beasts were gregarious, we hunted about for a
nest, which we might send to you after ousting its disagreeable
occupant.  After much searching, we found a group of them--quite a
tarantula village, in fact.  Their wonderful little houses are closed
on the outside by a circular, many-webbed mesh, two or three inches
across, and this web betrays the spider's den to the person who knows
the tricks of the trade.  Directly underneath it you come upon the
tiny circular trap-door, which you will notice in the nest we send
with these letters.  You will see how wonderfully it is made, with
its silken weaving inside, and its bits of bark and leaves outside;
and I know you will admire the hinge, which the tarantula must have
invented, and which is as pretty a bit of workmanship as the most
accomplished mechanic could turn out.  We tore away the web and the
door from one of the nests, and then poured water down the hole.  The
spider was at home, came out as fact as his clumsy legs would carry
him, and clutched the end of the stick Jack held out to him.  Then we
tumbled him into the tomato-can just as he appeared to be making for
us.  The two didn't agree at all.  One of them despatched the other
on the way home--the same hero who had killed the other four; but, on
hearing his bloody record, Aunt Truth refused to have him about the
camp; so we gave him an alcohol bath, and you shall see his lordship
when you come.  As Dr. Paul says, they have been known to clear
fourteen feet at a jump, perhaps you will feel happier to know that
he is in alcohol, though their bite is not necessarily fatal if it is
rightly cared for.

The girls have been patronising the landscape by naming every peak,
valley, grove, and stream in the vicinity; and as there is nobody to
object, the names may hold.

We carry about with us a collection of strong, flat stakes, which
have various names painted on them in neat black letters.  Jack likes
that kind of work, and spends most of his time at it; for now that
Dr. Paul has bought a hundred acres up here, we are all greatly
interested in its improvement.

Geoff has named the mountain Pico Negro, as I told you, and the
little canyon on its side is called the Giant's Yawn.  Then we have -

Mirror Pool,
The Lone Stump,
Field of the Cloth-of-Gold,
Cosy Nook,
The Imp's Wash-Bowl,
Dunce-Cap Hill,
The Saint's Rest, and
Il Penseroso Fall (in honour of Dicky, who was nearly drowned there).

If anybody fails to call these localities by their proper names he
has to pay a fine of five cents, which goes towards beautifying the
place.  Dr. Paul has had to pay two fines for Bell, three for Aunt
Truth, and seven for Dicky; so he considers it an ill-judged

Our encampment is supposed to be in the Forest of Arden, and Jack has
begun nailing verses of poetry on the trees, like a second Orlando,
save that they are not love-poems at all, but appropriate quotations
from Wordsworth or Bryant.  And this brings me to our thrilling
rendition of the play 'As You Like It,' last evening; but it is
deserving of more than the passing notice which I can give it here.

One thing, however, I must tell you, as the girls will not write it
of themselves--that, although Bell carried off first honours and
fairly captivated the actors as well as the audience, all three of
them looked bewitching and acted with the greatest spirit, much
better than we fellows did.

Of course we didn't give the entire play, and we had to 'double up'
on some of the characters in the most ridiculous fashion; but the
Burtons helped out wonderfully, Scott playing Oliver, and Laura doing
Audrey.  They were so delighted with the camp that Aunt Truth has
invited them to come again on Saturday and stay a week.

At the risk of being called conceited I will also state that we boys
consider that the stage management was a triumph of inventive art; we
worked like beavers for two days, and the results were marvellous,
'if I do say so as shouldn't.'

Just consider we were 'six miles from a lemon,' as Sydney Smith would
say, and yet we transformed all out of doors, first into an elegant
interior, and then into a conventional stage forest.

A great deal of work is available for other performances, and so we
do not regret it a bit; we propose doing 'As You Like It' again when
you are down here, and meanwhile we give diversified entertainments
which Jack calls variety shows, but which in reality are very chaste
and elegant occasions.

The other night we had a minstrel show, wearing masks of black
cambric, with red mouths painted on them; you should have seen us,
all in a dusky semicircle, seated on boards supported by nail-kegs:
it was a scene better imagined than described.  This is certainly the
ideal way to live in summer-time, and we should be perfectly happy
and content if you could only shake off your troublesome cough and
come to share our pleasure.  We feel incomplete without you; and no
matter how large our party may grow as the summer progresses, there
will always be a vacant niche that none can fill save the dear little
Saint who is always enshrined therein by all her loyal worshippers,
and by none more reverently than her friend,



This paper is writ unto her most Royal Highness, our beloved Gold
Elsie, Queen of our thoughts and Empress of all hearts.

You must know, most noble Lady, that one who is your next of kin and
high in the royal favour has laid upon us a most difficult and
embarrassing task.

In our capacity as Director of the Court Games, we humbly suggested
the subjects for the weekly bulletin which your Highness commanded to
be written; but, alas, with indifferent success; for the Courtiers
growled and the Ladies-in-waiting howled at the topics given them for

On soliciting our own subjects from the Privy Councillor and Knight
of the Brush, Lord John Howard, he revengefully ordered me to 'edify'
your Majesty with wise utterances; as if such poor, rude words as
mine could please the ear that should only listen to the singing of
birds, the babbling of brooks, or the silvery tongue of genius!

When may your devoted subjects hope to see their gracious Sovereign
again in their midst?

The court is fast drifting into dangerous informalities of conduct.
The Princess Bell-Pepper partakes of the odoriferous onion at each
noon-day meal, so that a royal salute would be impossible; the hands
of the Countess Paulina look as if you might have chosen one of your
attendants from 'Afric's sunny fountains, or India's coral strand';
and as for the Court Chaplain, Rev. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, he has
woefully forsaken the manners of the 'cloth,' and insists upon
retaining his ancient title of Knight of the Brush; the Duchess of
Sweet Marjoram alone continues circumspect in walk and mien, for
blood will tell, and she is more Noble than the others.

In our capacity of Court Physician we have thrice relieved your
youthful page, Sir Dicky Winship, of indigestion, caused by too
generous indulgence in the flowing bowl--of milk and cherries; we
have also prescribed for his grace the Duke of Noble, whose ducal ear
was poisoned by the insidious oak leaf.

Your private box awaits you in the Princess' Theatre, and your
Majesty's special interpreters of the drama will celebrate your
arrival as gorgeously as it deserves.

The health of our dearly beloved Sovereign engages the constant
thought of all her loyal and adoring subjects; they hope ere long to
cull a wreath of laurel with their own hands and place it on a brow
which needs naught but its golden crown of hair to affirm its queenly
dignity.  And as for crown jewels, has not our Empress of Hearts a
full store?--two dazzling sapphires, her eyes; a string of pearls,
her teeth; her lips two rubies; and when she opens them, diamonds of
wisdom issue therefrom!

Come! and let the sight of thy royal charms gladden the eyes of thy
waiting people!  Issued under the hand of

Court Physician and Knight of the Spectacles.


COSY NOOK, July 11, 188- .

My own dear Elsie,--Your weekly chronicle is almost ready for
Monday's stage, and I am allowed to come in at the close with as many
pages of 'gossip' as I choose; which means that I may run on to my
heart's content and tell you all the little things that happen in the
chinks between the great ones, for Uncle Doc has refused to read this
part of the letter.

First for some commissions:  Aunt Truth asks if your mother will
kindly select goods and engage Mrs. Perkins to make us each a couple
of Scotch gingham dresses.  She has our measures, and we wish them
simple, full-skirted gowns, like the last; everybody thinks them so
pretty and becoming.  Bell's two must be buff and pink, Polly's grey
and green, and mine blue and brown.  We find that we haven't clothes
enough for a three months' stay; and the out-of-door life is so hard
upon our 'forest suits' that we have asked Mrs. Perkins to send us

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