"Whew!" whistled Oscar. "You're bright to guess all that; probably 'tis hers. And you didn't tell Aunt Nora or Aunt Nellie?"
"They'll know fast enough now," replied Edmund gloomily, "after all this racket--they're running about yet!"
"Well, we'd had to told them anyhow," said candid Oscar, "and I guess I'll catch it. It's truly my fault. _You_ didn't do nothing. But I ought to have staid and watched and--I declare I'd forgotten it till this very minute--aunt Nellie told me I mustn't run out in the streets, ever, without Celeste; she tells me so many things I can't keep track of all. And there's Lady Margaret too"--
"M-must we tell her?" stammered Edmund.
"Why, it's her snake," said Oscar, opening his honest eyes; "how can we help it?"
"I suppose we _can't_ help it," said Edmund.
"But we might telegraph," said Oscar; "it's a heap easier than writing and you can get lots of words for a shilling."
"No, we'll have to write," said Edmund; "I'll do it."
But Oscar shook his head. "No, Ned, that ain't fair. I'm the most to blame and I ought to do it. Besides _you_ wouldn't say it was my fault."
Then the last barrier of Edmund's pride broke down. "Don't,"
he cried again. "I tell you it's I'm to blame, not you. And-- and--Oscar, I've been very mean to you all along"--
"No, you haven't," said Oscar promptly; "it was me bullying you in the first place made all the trouble. Aunt Nora told me maybe you wouldn't be friends for a while, and she told me all about the mad dog and I thought you were a pretty nice boy and I wished you would like me, but you wouldn't, so I pretended I didn't care. But I did.
It's lonesome travelling around with a feller that's mad with you all the time."
Edmund swallowed a little lump in his throat. "If you'll make up with me, now, I'll never be mad with you again," said he, holding out his hand.
Oscar clasped it across the bed over the mangled remains of the too-adventurous Marcus Aurelius, whose adventures, thus, were not quite in vain.
Edmund kept his word. Indeed, he was surprised to find how easy it was to like Oscar; and Nora's prediction was fulfilled. The two boys were very happy in Europe; but Edmund never forgot Marcus. He told the truth to Nora and she persuaded Mrs. Morris to deal gently with Oscar. He went to the races, after all. Previously Edmund had written the whole story to Lady Margaret in a letter which she read with smiles and tears. The postscript was by Oscar. It ran as follows:
DEER LADY MARGARET:--
Ned wont let me see his letter but I'm sure he took all the blame on himself becaws he always dose but it was me too blame and not him becaws I pined the snake in my coat pocket becaws I was affraid to handel it and ran off too the punch and gudy show and it got out and the head water killed it I didn't give him any tip when he went away I'm very sorry and I'm sorry I kicked the mormossits but they bit my legs No more at pressent from your obedient servent too comand.
OSCAR T. W----.
It only remains to say that Marcus Aurelius is back home, at Lady Margaret's; but she never makes a bracelet of him, now; most ingeniously mended and stuffed, he abides perpetually in a glass case; and she describes his perfections and his lamentable end with tears in her eyes.
ANNA AND THE RATTLER
By Mrs. Cornell
A voice rose wrathfully in the back yard, "Wee-lie! What iss this?
You fell in the pig trough? Come here, that I beat you! Come here, I say!"
Willie did not accept the invitation. A shrill whimpering was his sole response. Twelve-year-old Anna stepped to the kitchen door, peering round the sash. "Pa's scolding Willie," she announced to her mother.
The storm continued to rage in the back yard.
"Shust look at your clothes! Go now! To the creek wit' you! Come _not_ in the house until you are cleaned. Ach!"
Ex-Sea-Captain Schulz, now prune-grower in the mountain boundary west of Santa Clara Valley, turned in at the kitchen door.
"I don't know what to do wit' the boy. Go, mine Anna, get the lad a clean shirt, and take it down to the creek."
On Anna's return from the bathing pool she said softly to her mother, "Willie isn't at the creek. Perhaps he has run off."
"O child, don't bother me about Willie! He'll run back again fast enough, he's that scared of the mountains and the trees."
Anna was conscious of an undercurrent of sympathy with the forlorn waif her father had brought from the city some months before. The very love and awe with which the mountains filled her imaginative soul gave her comprehension of the fear with which they imbued the dull-witted offspring of San Francisco gutters.
Willie did not return all that long, August day. The captain and his American wife spread and dipped prunes busily on the hot south slope. The box-laden wagon rolled by at intervals. Household duties went helter-skelter under Anna's management. At six o'clock Mrs.
Schulz, hot and tired, wakened her lazy little daughter, outstretched beneath the hollyhocks and poppies in the small front garden.
"For gracious sake, Anna! Hurry! You've not done the dinner dishes!"
"Have the cows come?" Anna asked, resourcefully.
"Land! If I hadn't forgotten about Willie! Come--hurry! You'll have to go for the cows. I'll wash the dishes."
Anna felt quite in the mood to go for the cows. It meant an hour or so of patting barefooted and bare headed along the soft dust of the road, or over the slippery brown grass of the mountain pastures, with tall pines on every hand and a gold-blue sky above.
She mused about the missing Willie. Had he carried out his occasional threat to run away?
"The road is open, go when you like," was her father's one reply to such futile outbursts. But they well knew the road was not open to Willie. The six mountain miles intervening between their ranch and the station formed an impassable barrier to his timorous soul.
"I guess he's afraid of the bigness of things," Anna concluded.
"And he's got no call to run away. Papa threatens him, but he's never laid hand on him yet. I s'pose it's on account of the bath he ran away."
There was no Willie at the bathing-pool. The checked gingham shirt fluttered lonesomely where she had that morning placed it.
Some minutes later, shuffling deliciously among the dappled leaves of a hill trail, she sprang aside in quick dismay.
"Goodness!" What had seemed to be a bunch of dry leaves and grass coiled swiftly, with the rattling whir that goes straight to the fear center of the human heart. In a flash Anna's hands were full of rocks. The first article in every California mountain child's education is to destroy every rattlesnake that comes in sight. Anna dodged the first strike of the snake, and before he could get nearer she began a fusillade of such efficiency that the reptile enemy sought retreat.
Then Anna was privileged to witness a strange thing--a very strange thing; so unusual, in fact, that when reported to the head of the zoological department of the State university that conservative gentleman would have given the story little credence had it not been for the unimpeachable authority of a celebrated naturalist, who had reported it as occasionally occurring among the large, much-to-be-dreaded species of the Eastern States--the _Crotalus horrible_, or banded rattler.
To Anna's unutterable surprise, the snake turned for refuge to a near-by oak-tree. Perhaps he came against it unintentionally, as the rattlesnake sees badly by daylight. At any rate, he reared his head against it much as he would have done in ascending the side of a sunny boulder in the early days of his chilled awakening from his winter sleep.
He writhed spirally but slowly up its rough trunk, which seemed from eighteen to twenty inches in circumference. When the rocks ceased flying he would halt, evidently not half-liking his task, to wave his bluntly triangular head in the direction where the moving shadow indicated to his blurred vision the position of his enemy.
But on the resumption of active hostilities, he would begin again his painful ascent.
"Ow-w-w-ch!" sounded a howl from above.
Looking up at the cry, Anna discerned among the clustering leaves of the black oak a huddled figure, with raccoon-like eyes, peering down at the mounting snake, to escape from which he had, in fact, climbed the tree.
"Willie," she shouted, "jump! The snake's coming! Jump!"