by Ruth Hammond Barrus
The thought - - we must get up really early! - - that had been tucked into the back of their heads the night before had its magic effect, and Retta and Viola awoke just as the sun was projecting its rays, fan-like, from the top of nearby Crow Mountain. Their eyes proudly wandered over the room which was now theirs, and they noted again the details which made them love it so - - the new tied-back scrim curtains, the freshly white-washed walls, the colorful rag carpet underlaid by a thick padding of straw which crunched when they walked on it, the pretty white and turkey-red cover-quilt with its diamond-chain pattern and best of all, the iron bed!
"I wish it had been gold," whispered Viola.
"You know Ma and Pa should have the gold one," returned Retta. "Besides, ours is trimmed with gold. Isn't it elegant the way it curls around? It makes a lot of places we can hang our clothes on at nights."
The girls got out of bed and dug their toes into the woolly, round rug by the side of their bed. They had helped fray the top side of the rug which had been made of old, colorfully died, woolen-knitted stockings. They had cut the stockings into strips, which mother Hale had then sewed onto a piece of heavy cloth. Fraying the woolen strips down to the sewing had resulted in a fluffy, curly, two-inch thick rug. Their toes did not linger long in its depths, however, for Retta and Viola were eager to make their morning pilgrimage through their front door out on their portico which roofed the front porch. There, right in their front yard was Crow Mountain!
"Johnny says its a mile from where we are standing to the top of Crow Mountain. Just look! There are flowers all the way!" exclaimed Retta. Her eyes viewed with appreciation the beds of flowers which followed the block-long path to the road in front. Three rows of flowers adorned the path on either side which contained over one hundred varieties - - all carefully chosen and planted by her mother. The road separated the cultured flowers from the wild flowers which dotted the green of Crow Mountain.
"Isn't it thrilling to own half of a mountain?" exclaimed Retta.
"Pa says we can ride Button to herd the cows with today; and we can take our lunch and stay on the mountain all day," replied Viola.
"I know we will find some sego roots today. Ma says we must find a plant that has a long slender stem, and long leaves fastened at the bottom that look like thick grass. Let's hurry and get ready to go." With this challenge, nine-year-old Retta raced her six-year-old sister, Viola, in getting dressed and tidying the room.
After breakfast and prayers brother Johnny went to help his sisters on Button, the small buckskin Indian pony that he had obtained through a trade a few weeks ago in Gentile Valley. Retta got into the saddle, and Viola was put on in back, and was cautioned to cling to either the saddle seat or Retta. With Retta's guiding Button with one hand and holding the lunch with the other, the procession of cows and horse slowly ascended Crow Mountain.
"How does Johnny know Button's an Indian pony?" asked Viola.
"Because his ears are slit, that's why," answered Retta.
"It won't ever run when I am on him, but he will when you are on him alone," said Viola.
"That's because he knows you are smaller than me. He will run with you when you get bigger," answered Retta.
Viola leaned away from the horse to pick a leaf from a passing bush. Button immediately stopped and turned to see if his charges were still safely astride him. Without signal he resumed his lazy pace.
When the cows were contentedly grazing on Crow Mountain, the children went to search for Sego roots - their faithful mount following behind.
"Pa says to get a stick with a sharp point and curved handle on it. You go find a stick, and I'll look for the roots," directed Retta. Many of the sticks Viola found had to be discarded because they would break too easily when forced into the ground. The Sego Lilies were not so easily found and the sun was well overhead before Retta's excited cry brought Viola running to her side. Yes - - the stem looked like a tulip stem, only the leaves were narrower. Retta took the sharp stick and gently forced it into the earth as their father had directed them to; then, carefully prying back, she forced the sego roots from the earth. They looked at the tiny bulb-like roots, which were about the size of a thumbnail.
"That doesn't look very good to eat," remarked Viola.
"Of course not this way! You have to peal the outside off like an onion or turnip," and Retta proceeded, with the aid of her nails, to peal the brown outer-layers off. Small white centers were left. They looked at them a moment.
"Here, you taste one first," and Retta extended one toward Viola's mouth. Viola drew back and shook her head dissentingly.
"You're a fraidy cat! Pa says he ate these nearly a whole summer when he was a young man and used to herd cows. He said he would have starved without them. I'll bet Button will eat it," taunted Retta. She thrust a bulb under his nose, inviting him to eat it. The short, buckskin, white-maned and white-tailed pony sniffed at the bulb a moment; then curling his upper lip he took the dainty morsel in his teeth and swallowed it.
Retta gave a delighted cry and said, "See, he likes it. I am not afraid to eat one." Retta popped the root into her mouth and reluctantly began to chew it. Her chewing became more enthusiastic when she discovered how sweet and juicy it was. More roots had to be found and dug so Viola could taste them. They gathered quite a little supply so that they could be eaten as candy after their lunch.
As they ate, the two little girls reminisced on things that had happened to them since coming to Smithfield six weeks ago.
"Weren't you scared the first time you went to Sunday School in Smithfield? I was! If it hadn't been for Bertha Done, I know I would have died of fright. She came right up to me and invited me to sit by her."
"Bertha's fat," replied Viola.
"She is not fat," defended Retta. "She just isn't skinny like Rachel Mather and me; but she's the nicest friend I have ever had. Mother says I can invite her and Rachel to dinner Sunday."
"Why can't we ever go play with kids at their places?" queried Viola.
"I don't know," answered Retta. "Ma says Pa doesn't want to have us bothering' other people, and that he wants us home so he'll know what we're doing. The only time I've been in anyone else's home is when Ma took me," wistfully continued Retta.
"Let's pick flowers," came from Viola, too young to understand the ways of parents, and too active to worry about them.
"All right," rejoined Retta, and the two girls began to fill their arms with Johnny-jump-ups, buttercups, cow slips, sweet williams, wild geraniums, sego lilies, indian paint brush, and skunk flowers. They braided them into wreaths and hung them about their necks. They decided to make a big wreath to put around Button's neck, and even entwined some flowers in his mane and tail. Today they had found a new variety - - a brown-speckled, bell-shaped flower. This was the flower they would decorate their room with tonight, and they filled their arms with them. By this time the afternoon was late, and they mounted their much-adorned buckskin pony and began the task of rounding up the cows to take them home.
Father Hale met them in the lane, a worried look-turning into a grin as he saw the flower garden in front of him.
"I can see I shouldn't have worried," he remarked. "I got a letter this afternoon from the man Johnny got Button from, and he warned me that he was the meanest horse he had ever owned, and for us to be sure not to let him around children!"
"Button mean?" exclaimed Retta. "He's the nicest pony we've ever had." She leaned over and patted his neck, and Button turned his head to see if everything was all right.
"I guess it must have been the owner who was mean," concluded father later that evening.