The earliest daylight of July Fourth found Santa Paloma already astir. Dew was heavy on the ropes of flowers and greens, and the flags and bunting that made brilliant all the line of the day's march; and long scarfs of fog lingered on the hills, but for all that, and despite the delicious fragrant chill of the morning air, nobody doubted that the day would be hot and cloudless, and the evening perfect for fireworks. Lawn-sprinklers began to whir busily in the sweet shaded gardens long before the sunlight reached them; windows and doors were flung open to the air; women, sweeping garden-paths and sidewalks with gay energy, called greetings up and down the street to one another. Chairs were dragged out-of-doors; limp flags began to stir in the sunny air; other flags squeakily mounted their poles. At every window bunting showed; the schoolhouse was half-hidden in red, white, and blue; the women's clubhouse was festooned with evergreens and Japanese lanterns; and the Mail office, the grand stand opposite, the shops, and the bank, all fluttered with gay colors. Children shouted and scampered everywhere; gathered in fascinated groups about the ice-cream and candy and popcorn booths that sprang up at every corner; met arriving cousins and aunts at the train; ran on last-minute errands. Occasionally a whole package of exploding firecrackers smote the warm still air.
By half-past ten every window on the line of march, every dooryard and porch, had its group of watchers. Wagons and motor-cars, from the surrounding villages and ranches, blocked the side streets. It was very warm, and fans and lemonade had a lively sale.
From the two available windows of the Mail office, three persons, as eager as the most eager child, watched the gathering crowds, and waited for the Flower Parade. They were Mrs. Apostleman, stately in black lace, and regally fanning, Sidney Burgoyne, looking her very prettiest in crisp white, with a scarlet scarf over her arm, and Barry Valentine, who looked unusually festive himself in white flannels. All three were in wild spirits.
"Hark, here they come!" said Sidney at last, drawing her head in from a long inspection of the street. She had been waving and calling greetings in every direction for a pleasant half-hour. Now eleven had boomed from the town-hall clock, and a general restlessness and wiltedness began to affect the waiting crowds.
Barry immediately dangled almost his entire length across the window sill, and screwed his person about for a look.
"H'yar dey come, li'l miss, sho's yo' bawn!" he announced joyfully. "There's the band!"
Here they came, sure enough, under the flags and garlands, through the noonday heat. Only vague brassy notes and the general craning of necks indicated their approach now; but in another five minutes the uniformed band was actually in view, and the National Guard after it, tremendously popular, and the Native Sons, with another band, and the veterans, thin, silver-headed old men in half a dozen carriages, and more open carriages. One held the Governor and his wife, the former bowing and smiling right and left, and saluted by the rising school children, when he seated himself in the judges' stand, with the shrill, thrilling notes of the national anthem.
And then another band, and--at last!--the slow-moving, flower- covered carriages and motors, a long, wonderful, brilliant line of them. White-clad children in rose-smothered pony-carts, pretty girls in a setting of scarlet carnations, more pretty girls half-hidden in bobbing and nodding daisies--every one more charming than the last. There were white horses as dazzling as soap and powder could make them; horses whose black flanks glistened as dark as coal, and there was a tandem of cream-colored horses that tossed rosettes of pink Shirley poppies in their ears. The Whites' motor-car, covered with pink carnations, and filled with good-looking lads flying the colors of the Women's Club and the nation's flag, won a special round of applause. Mrs. Burgoyne and Barry loyally clapped for the Pratt motor-car, from which Joanna Burgoyne and Lizzie Pratt's children were beaming upon the world.
"But what are they halting for, and what are they clapping?" Sidney presently demanded, when a break in the line and a sudden outburst of cheering and applause interrupted the parade. Barry again hung at a dangerous angle from the window. Presently he sat back, his face one broad smile.
"It's us," he remarked simply. "Wait until you see us; we're the cream of the whole show!"
Too excited to speak, Sidney knelt breathless at the sill, her eyes fixed upon the spot where the cause of the excitement must appear. She was perhaps the only one of all the watchers who did not applaud, as the eight powerful oxen came slowly down the sunshiny street, guided by the tall, lean driver who walked beside them, and dragging the great wagon and its freight of rapturous children.
Only an old hay-wagon, after all; only a team of shabby oxen, such as a thousand lumber-camps in California might supply; only a score or more of the ill-nourished, untrained children of the very poor; but what an enchantment of love and hope and summer-time had been flung over them all! The body of the wagon was entirely hidden by exquisite hydrangeas; the wheels were moving disks of the pale pink and blue blossoms; the oxen, their horns gilded, their polished hoofs twinkling as they moved, wore yokes that seemed solidly made of the flowers, and great ropes of blossoms hid the swinging chains. Over each animal a brilliant cover had been flung; and at the head of each a young Indian boy, magnificent in wampum and fringed leather, feathers and beads, walked sedately. The children were grouped, pyramid-fashion, on the wagon, in a nest of hydrangea blooms, the pink, and cream, and blue of their gowns blending with the flowers all about them, the sunlight shining full in their happy eyes. Over their shoulders were garlands of poppies, roses, sweet- peas, daisies, carnations, lilies, or other blossoms; their hands were full of flowers. But it was the radiance of their faces that shone brightest, after all. It was the little consumptive's ecstatic smile, as she sat resting against an invisible support; it was the joy in Mary Scott's thin eager face, framed now in her loosened dark hair, and with the shadow, like her crutch, laid aside for a while, that somehow brought tears to the eyes that watched. Santa Paloma cheered and applauded these forgotten children of hers; and the children laughed and waved their hands in return.
Youth and happiness and summer-time incarnate, the vision went on its way, down the bright street; and other carriages followed it, and were praised as those that had gone before had been. But no entry in any flower parade that Santa Paloma had ever known, was as much discussed as this one. Indeed, it began a new era; but that was later on. When Mrs. Burgoyne's plain white frock appeared among the elaborate gowns worn at the club luncheon that afternoon, she was quite overwhelmed by congratulations. She went away very early, to superintend the children's luncheon at the Hall, and then Mrs. White had a chance to tell the distinguished guests who she was, and that she could well afford to play Lady Bountiful to the Santa Paloma children.
"One wouldn't imagine it, she seems absolutely simple and unspoiled," said Mrs. Governor.
"She is!" said Mrs. Lloyd unexpectedly.
"I told her how scared most of us had been at the mere idea of her coming here, Parker," Mrs. Lloyd told her husband later, "and how friendly she is, and that she always wears little wash dresses, and that the other girls are beginning to wear checked aprons and things, because her girls do! Of course, I said it sort of laughingly, you know, but I don't think Clara White liked it one bit, and I don't care! Clara is rather mad at me, anyway," she went on, musingly, "because yesterday she telephoned that she was going to send that Armenian peddler over here, with some Madeira lunch cloths. They were beauties, and only twenty-three dollars; you'd pay fifty for them at Raphael Weil's--they're smuggled, I suppose! But I simply said, 'Clara, I can't afford it!' and let it go at that. She laughed--quite cattily, Parker!--and said, 'Oh, that's rather funny!' But I don't care whether Clara White thinks I'm copying Mrs. Burgoyne or not! I might as well copy her as somebody else!"
Mrs. Burgoyne and Barry Valentine went down-town on the evening of the great day, to see the fireworks and the crowds, and to hear the announcements of prize-winners. Santa Paloma was in holiday mood, and the two entered into the spirit of the hour like irresponsible children. It was a warm, wonderful summer night; the sky was close and thickly spangled with stars. Main Street bobbed with Japanese lanterns, rang with happy voices and laughter. The jostling, pushing currents of men in summer suits, and joyous girls in thin gowns, were all good-natured. Sidney found friends on all sides, and laughed and called her greetings as gaily as anyone.
Barry had a rare opportunity to watch her unobserved, as she went her happy way; the earnest happy brightness in her eyes, when some shabby little woman from Old Paloma laid a timid hand on her arm, her adoring interest in the fat babies that slumbered heavily on paternal shoulders, her ready use of names, "Isn't this fun, Agnes?"--"You haven't lost Harry, have you, Mrs. O'Brien?"--"Don't you and your friend want to come and have some ice-cream with us, Josie?"
"But we mustn't waste too much time here, Barry," she would say now and then; for at eight o'clock a "grand concert program and distribution of prizes" was scheduled to take place at the town hall, and Sidney was anxious not to miss an instant of it. "Don't worry, I'll get you there!" Barry would answer reassuringly, amused at her eagerness.
And true to his word, he stopped her at the wide doorway of the concert hall, fully five minutes before the hour, and they found themselves joining the slow stream of men and women and children that was pouring up the wide, dingy stairway. Everyone was trying, in all good humor, to press ahead of everyone else, inspired with the sudden agonizing conviction that in the next two minutes every desirable seat would certainly be gone. Even Sidney, familiar as she was with every grand opera house in the world, felt the infection, and asked rather nervously if any of the seats were reserved.
"Don't worry; we'll get seats," said the imperturbable Barry, and several children in their neighborhood laughed out in sudden exquisite relief.
Seats indeed there were, although the front rows were filling fast, and all the aisle-chairs were taken by squirming, restless small children. Mrs. Burgoyne sat down, and studied the hall with delighted eyes. It was ordinarily only a shabby, enormous, high- ceiled room, filled with rows of chairs, and with an elevated stage at the far end. But, like all Santa Paloma, it was in holiday trim to-night. All the windows--wide open to the summer darkness--were framed in bunting and drooping flowers, and on the stage were potted palms and crossed flags. Great masses of bamboo and California ferns were tied with red, white and blue streamers between the windows, and, beside these decorations, which were new for the occasion, were purple and yellow banners, left from the night of the Native Sons' Grand Ball and Reception, a month ago, and, arched above the stage the single word "Welcome" in letters two feet high, which dated back to the Ladies of Saint Rose's Parish Annual Fair and Entertainment, in May. If the combined effect of these was not wholly artistic, at least it was very gay, and the murmur of voices and laughter all over the hall was gay, too, and gay almost to intoxication it was to hear the musicians tentatively and subduedly trying their instruments up by the piano, with their sleek heads close together.
Presently every chair in the house had its occupant, and the younger element began a spasmodic sort of clapping, as a delicate hint to the agitated managers, who were behind the scenes, running blindly about with worn scraps of scribbled paper in their hands, desperately attempting to call the roll of their performers. When Joe, the janitor, came out onto the stage, he was royally applauded, although he did no more than move a tin stand on which there were numbered cards, from one side of the stage to the other, and change the number in view from "18" to "1."
Fathers and mothers, perspiring, clean and good-natured, smiled upon youthful impatience and impertinence to-night, as they sat fanning and discussing the newcomers, or leaned forward or backward for hilarious scraps of conversation with their neighbors. Lovers, as always oblivious of time, sat entirely indifferent to the rise or fall of the curtain, the girls with demurely dropped lashes, the men deep in low monotones, their faces close to the lovely faces so near, their arms flung, in all absent-mindedness, across the backs of the ladies' chairs. And any motherly heart might have been stirred with an aching sort of tenderness, as Sidney Burgoyne's was, at the sight of so much awkward, budding manliness, so many shining pompadours, and carefully polished shoes and outrageous cravats--so many silky, filleted little heads, and innocent young bosoms half- hidden by all sorts of dainty little conspiracies of lace and lawn. Youth, enchanting, self-absorbed, important, had coolly taken possession of the hall, as it does of everything, for its own happy plans, and something of the gossamer beauty of it seemed to be clouding older and wiser eyes to-night. Sidney found her eyes resting upon Barry's big, shapely hand, as he leaned forward, deep in conversation with Dr. Brown, in the chair ahead, and she was conscious that she wanted to sit back and shut her eyes, and draw a deep breath of sheer irrational happiness because this was Barry next to her, and that he liked to be there.
Presently the hall thrilled to see two modest-looking and obviously embarrassed men come out to seat themselves in the half-circle of chairs that lined the stage, and a moment later applause broke out for the Mayor and his wife, and the members of the Flower Parade Committee of Arrangements, and for the nondescript persons who invariably fill in such a group, and for the kindly, smiling Governor, and the ladies of his party, and for the Willard Whites, who, with the easiest manners in the world, were in actual conversation with the great people as they came upon the stage.
At the sight of them, Mrs. Carew, still vigorously clapping, leaned over to say to Mrs. Burgoyne:
"Look at Clara White! And we were wondering why they didn't come in! Wouldn't she make you tired!"
"You might kiss her hand, when you go up to get your prize, Mrs. Burgoyne," suggested Barry, and a general giggle went the rounds.
"If I get a prize," said Sidney, in alarm, "you've got to go up, I couldn't!"
"We'll see--" Barry began, his voice drowned by the opening crash of the band.
There followed what the three papers of Santa Paloma were unanimous the next day in describing as the most brilliant and enjoyable concert ever given in Santa Paloma. It was received with immense enthusiasm, entirely unaffected by the fact that everyone present had heard Miss Emelie Jeanne Foster sing "Twickenham Ferry" before, with "Dawn" as an encore, and was familiar also with the selections of the Stringed Instrument Club, and had listened to young Doctor Perry's impassioned tenor many times. As for George O'Connor, with his irresistible laughing song, and the song about the train that went to Morro to-day, he was more popular every time he appeared, and was greeted now by mad applause, and shouts of "There's George!" and "Hello, George!"
And the Home Boys' Quartette from Emville was quite new, and various solo singers and a "lady elocutionist" from San Francisco were heard for the first time. The latter, who was on the program merely for a "Recitation--Selected," was so successful with "Pauline Pavlovna," and "Seein' Things at Night" that it was nearly ten o'clock before the Governor was introduced.
However, he was at last duly presented to the applauding hundreds, and came forward to the footlights to address them, and made everyone laugh and feel friendly by saying immediately that he knew they hadn't come out that evening to hear an old man make a long speech.
He said he didn't believe in speechmaking much, he believed in doing things; there were always a lot of people to stand around and make speeches, like himself--and there was more laughter.
He said that he knew the business of the evening was the giving out of these prizes here--he didn't know what was in these boxes--he indicated the daintily wrapped and tied packages that stood on the little table in the middle of the stage--but he thought every lady in the hall would know before she went home, and perhaps some one of them would tell him--and there was more laughter. He said he hoped that there was something mighty nice in the largest box, because he understood that it was to go to a fairy-godmother; he didn't know whether the good people in the hall believed in fairies or not, but he knew that some of the children in Old Paloma did, and he had seen and heard enough that day to make him believe in 'em too! He'd heard of a fairy years ago who made a coach-and-four out of a pumpkin, but he didn't think that was any harder than to make a coach-and-six out of a hay-wagon, and put twenty Cinderellas into it instead of one. He said it gave him great pride and pleasure to announce that the first prize for to-day's beautiful contest had been unanimously awarded to--
Sidney Burgoyne, watching him with fascinated eyes, her breath coming fast and unevenly, her color brightening and fading, heard only so much, and then, with a desperate impulse to get away, half rose to her feet.
But she was too late. Long before the Governor reached her name, a sudden outburst of laughter and clapping shook the hall, there was a friendly stir and murmur about her; a hundred voices came to her ears, "It's Mrs. Burgoyne, of course!--She's got it! She's got the first prize!--Go on up, Mrs. Burgoyne! You've got it!--Isn't that great,--she's got it! Go up and get it!"
"You've got first prize, I guess. You'll have to go up for it," Barry urged her.
"He didn't say so!" Sidney protested nervously. But she let herself be half-pushed into the aisle, and somehow reached the three little steps that led up to the platform, and found herself facing His Excellency, in an uproar of applause.
The Governor said a few smiling words as he put a large box into her hands; Sidney knew this because she saw his lips move, but the house had gone quite mad by this time, and not a word was audible. Everyone in the hall knew that a tall loving-cup was in the box, for it had been on exhibition in the window of Postag's jewelry store for three weeks. It was of silver, and lined with gold, both metals shining with an unearthly and flawless radiance; and there was "Awarded--as a First Prize--in the Twelfth Floral Parade--of Santa Paloma, California" cut beautifully into one side, and a scroll all ready, on the other side, to be engraved with the lucky winner's name.
She had been joking for two or three weeks about the possibility of this very occurrence, had been half-expecting it all day, but now suddenly all the joke seemed gone out of it, and she was only curiously stirred and shaken. She looked confusedly down at the sea of faces below her, smiles were everywhere, the eyes that were upon her were full of all affection and pride--She had done so little after all, she said to herself, with sudden humility, almost with shame. And it was so poignantly sweet to realize that they loved her, that she was one of themselves, they were glad she had won, she who had been a stranger to all of them only a few months ago!
Her eyes full of sudden tears, her lip shaking, she could only bow and bow again, and then, just as her smile threatened to become entirely eclipsed, she managed a husky "Thank you all so much!" and descended the steps rapidly, to slip into her chair between Barry and George Carew.
"You know, you oughtn't to make a long tedious speech like that on an occasion like this, Sid," Barry said, when she had somewhat recovered her equilibrium, and the silver loving cup was unwrapped, and was being passed admiringly from hand to hand.
"Don't!" she said warningly, "or you'll have me weeping on your shoulder!"
Instead of which she was her gayest self, and accepted endless congratulations with joyous composure, as the audience streamed out into the reviving festivity of Main Street. The tide was turning in one direction now, for there were to be "fireworks and a stupendous band concert" immediately following the concert, in a vacant lot not far away.
And presently they all found themselves seated on the fragrant grass, under the stars. George Carew, at Sidney's feet, solemnly wrapped sections of molasses popcorn in oiled paper, and passed them to the ladies. Barry's coat made a comfortable seat for Mrs. Burgoyne and little Mrs. Brown; Barry himself was just behind, and Mrs. Carew and her big son beside them. All about, in the darkness, were other groups: mothers and fathers and alert, chattering children. Alice Carter, the big mill-girl, radiant now, and with a hoarse, inarticulate, adoring young plumber in tow, went by them, and stooped to whisper something to Mrs. Burgoyne. "I wish you would come, Alice!" the lady answered eagerly, as they went on.
Then the rockets began to hiss up toward the stars, each falling shower of light greeted with a long rapturous "Ah-h-h!" Catherine- wheels sputtered nearer the ground; red lights made eerie great spots of illumination here and there, against which dark little figures moved.
"I don't know that I ever had a happier day in my life!" said Sidney Burgoyne.