The Cave of Benton's Ridge by F. E. S.

THE cave was a large opening in a ledge of rocks, about half a mile from the village of M——, and had for years been a favorite resort for the boys on the holidays.

’Twas at the close of school, on a bright June day, when, with a rush and a shout, out came a bevy of boys from the school-house, and over the wall with a bound were half a dozen before the rest had emerged from the open door. The first ones took their way across the fields to the cave, and had thrown themselves down on the rock at the entrance, and were busily talking, when the last comers arrived.

“We’ve planned to have a time Saturday; if Miss Walters will take the botany class for a walk, we’ll come here and have supper, and go home by moonlight,” said Fred Manning. “How does that strike you?”

“Count me in,” said Phil Earle. “I second the motion,” said Arthur Ames. “Where shall we go to walk?” said another; “this is nearly far enough for some of the girls.”

“Pooh! no! we can get some nice pitcher-plants, if we go to Eaton’s meadows; we haven’t been there for ever so long,” said Phil.

All agreed it would be fun, and Phil was deputized to ask Miss Walters, and with her complete the arrangements.

“It’s Thursday now; and I’ll ask father if we can’t have some of the hay they are making down in the lower field, to put inside the cave; for we must fix up a little,” said Arthur. Willie Eaton said his mother would make them a jug of coffee; and as he lived near, he would run round that way at noon, and put it in the spring, so as to have it nice and cool. For one of the attractions of this place was a lovely spring, that bubbled and sparkled among the ferns, just under the rock where the cave was.

Fred and Phil began to lay the stones for the fireplace; for though it was not cold on these bright June nights, still a fire was one of the grand features of the occasion.

They all worked, some brushing out the cave with bushes, some getting old wood in piles to burn, rolling stones for seats, etc., until it was time for them to go home, when, with merry shouts, off they ran down the rock, and over the fields, home.

Next morning Phil called for Miss Walters, and on the way told her of the plans for Saturday, into which she entered heartily, and wanted the boys to stay a few moments after the morning session, to perfect the arrangements.

At recess she called the girls of the botany class to her, and said,—

“Girls, can you go on Saturday to walk? The boys have invited us to take supper at the cave.”

“O, yes!” “O, yes!” “Yes, indeed!” “Splendid!” answered half a dozen voices.

“We will meet here at two o’clock; and you must dress for the meadows. I believe the boys are mostly web-footed, by the way they take to such places; however, we do find the best specimens there. Another thing—the boys are to furnish eggs and coffee, they say; and each of you can bring what is most convenient.”

Off went the girls, eager to plan and discuss the welcome project.

Saturday came—a bright, cloudless  day. All were at the school-house at two, or before, and set forth, looking like strollers, as they were.

They did not make many collections on the high land; but when they entered the meadows, they soon found a variety of pretty grasses.

“Fudge!” said Ella Barton; “I’m not going to get any of that old hay—would you, Miss Walters?”

“No, certainly not, if I did not want the trouble of carrying it; but I think them very lovely to put with branches of bayberry, as they form such a pretty contrast of color with the delicate pearl-gray berries and brown branches; and if you add a few bunches of bright red arum berries, you have a pretty, fadeless winter bouquet.”

“Where can we get the bayberries?” said Fred, coming up.

“In most places near the salt water. In the town where my home is, there are acres and acres of it; and may be at Thanksgiving time I can send you some to distribute, or, better still, you might make up a party, and come down. I’ll promise you a fine tramp, plenty of berries, and perhaps my mother will let you taste of her Thanksgiving pies.”

Off went Fred’s hat high in the air. “Hurrah for the pie! I’ll certainly go, if you’d like to have me.”

Miss Walters laughed, and said nothing would give her greater pleasure than to welcome the whole party.

“O, Miss Walters, what’s this lovely flower?” “Come here, come here!” “O, how lovely! here’s plenty more!” “And here, and here,” were the exclamations of several of the advancing stragglers.

All who were with Miss Walters hastened forward; and there, in a wet, treacherous-looking place, grew patches of a most delicate lilac-colored or light purple flower.

“O, that’s Arethusa,” said the teacher; “it is very beautiful.” Rubber boots only can get at them; and two or three boys soon returned with hands full, which they distributed. Miss Walters said they could not stop to analyze any that day, but some of each kind must be put in the botany box, for the class to work with at some future time. As they walked along, Miss Walters told them that the flower was named after Arethusa of Grecian story, who was changed by Diana into a fountain, to escape from the god of the river where she was one day surprised by him while bathing.

They had not gone far when Phil and two of the girls came running up with hands full of the Sarracenia, or pitcher-plant.

“What fine specimens!” said Miss Walters.

“O, I know where they grow!” said Phil. “I always go for them every year, just over that old fence, in a boggy place. I like them better than almost any of the plants, they are so curious. But where’s a basket?”

“Here, Amy!” called Bessie White; “can’t you let me put my small lunch in your big basket with yours, and let Phil have mine for a specimen basket?”

This arrangement being satisfactorily made, they moved along, one of the girls telling the new comers of the Arethusa and its name. And it was decided that all Miss Walters might tell them concerning the flowers should be written down, for the benefit of all, as they were often separated, searching for specimens.

In the next meadow they came upon beds of Menyanthes—an ugly name, and its common one of buck-bean is not much better. They could find but few perfect specimens of the pretty white velvety flowers, with their yellow and brown anthers, as it was rather late for them.

They found Pogonias and buds of  Calopogon,—pretty pinkish flowers,—both of which Miss Walters told them were closely related, and, indeed, belonged to the same family as the Arethusa. This was the Orchid family, which contained a large number of beautiful but strange plants, about a dozen of which were common in New England.

On the edge of an overgrown ditch near by they found very nice specimens of Andromeda.

“See,” said Miss Walters, “how white and lovely these bells are, in spite of the cold wet places where it is compelled to grow. It is named after Andromeda, famed in Grecian myths, a victim to her mother’s pride of beauty. Her mother had dared to compare herself to the sea nymphs, for which they, enraged, sent a huge monster to ravage the coast. To appease the nymphs, her father thought he must sacrifice his daughter; so he chained her to the water’s edge; but as the monster approached, Perseus, assisted by the gods, killed him, delivered Andromeda, and afterwards married her.”

The party now turned from the meadows on to higher ground. Houstonias and violets, with here and there Potentilla, covered the ground, the last so called because it was supposed to be powerful in medicine, potens, from which it is derived, meaning powerful.

The Saxifrage on the rocks, derived from Latin words, indicating its manner of growth.

Anemones, or wind flowers, were not entirely gone; so named because it was formerly thought the flowers only opened when the wind blew.

Specimens multiplied. Each little group found something new.

Trilliums, remarkable for having leaves, sepals, petals, and seed-vessels in threes; Smilacina, with its clean, green leaves, and white flowers, grew plentifully about them; Streptopus, meaning twisted foot, called so because its foot, or pedicel, is twisted.

About five o’clock they began their homeward walk, which took them round through some grand old pine woods. At last they came to their resting-place. All were more or less tired; and glad were they when they saw the black mouth of the cave open invitingly before them. Some threw themselves on the rock outside, some went in and rested on the fragrant hay that Arthur had piled on the floor.

After resting a while in the cool shade, Phil said, “I have a bright thought that rhymes with ‘light.’”

“Is it the opposite of ‘loose’?”

“It is not ‘tight.’”

“Is it what you are sometimes?”

“It is not ‘bright.’”

“O, I meant a ‘fright’!”

“Thank you; it is not ‘fright.’”

“Is it what we are all wishing for?”

“It is a ‘bite.’”

This was greeted with a shout, and committee number one, self-appointed, started for the baskets. Others arranged the table with boards and rocks put outside the cave door. The eatables were soon temptingly arranged. The jug of coffee and bottle of milk, with rubber mugs, were placed under Arthur’s care; and he soon had as much as he could do to pour the refreshing draughts.

The girls had little to do, the boys doing the honors in fine style. Very merry they grew over the good things; and so intent were they trying to sell the last at auction, that they never noticed a large cloud that had overspread the sky, until a few drops of rain fell upon the table.

“Here’s a pretty go!” said Fred. “Run, Miss Walters; and, girls, get into the cave, and we’ll clear the tables.”

The friends' picnic is spoiled by the rain

Busy hands quickly disposed of all the articles to be kept dry, and the boys were glad to get into the friendly shelter.  Down came the rain, heavily rolled the thunder, and for a little while the lightning was vivid. Soon the rain began to find its way into the cave.

“This will not do. Where’s the table, Fred? We must have up a storm door,” said Phil.

“All ready to slide right up,” said Fred. “Arthur, will you get the chandelier ready? for it will be rather dark when the door is up.”

Arthur crept on his hands and knees to a little crevice in the inner part of the cave, and drew out a tin box, with four holes in the cover. The girls gathered around, and were much amused to see him take out his four candles. These he stuck into the holes of the box; and lighting them, he placed them on a shelf prepared expressly for the occasion.

Never were boys and girls more happy. They were enjoying excitement without danger or discomfort. They sang, played games; and when the rain had nearly ceased, some of the boys ran out and lighted the fire. They had kept the wood dry. Then turning the table on its side, they put out the candles, and had the full benefit of the fire-light. For a while conundrums were the order of the day; then they drew lots to determine who should tell the first story. It fell to Millie Gray, who, with timid modesty, demurred; but the penalty threatened for default was so great, that though she had never told a story in her life, she thought she had better begin now. Attentively they listened, waiting for her to begin. Presently she commenced.

“There was, once upon a time, a beautiful little girl, with blue eyes and golden hair.”

 “O,” interrupted Fred, “can’t we have this one with black eyes and red hair, or brown eyes; I’m tired of blue eyes and yellow hair.”

“No, no, no,” said Arthur; “I like blue eyes. Go on, Millie.” With a blush—for her own were blue, and she knew what Arthur meant—she continued.

“Well, I like to oblige all parties,” replied Millie. “Suppose we say her eyes were black and blue; but if any one else interrupts, I’ll have them committed for contempt of court, and they shall be bound over to keep the peace.”

“Which piece?” Fred was beginning to say, when Arthur jumped up and placed his hand over Fred’s mouth, saying, “Consider yourself bound over, sir.”

“Well, this little girl lived in a deep forest, in a little bit of a house, with no one for company but her grandmother and a little yellow dog.

“The grandmother was just as cross as she could be, and poor little—let’s see, what shall I call her?”

“Odahbeetoqua,” suggested Fred. “I suppose she was descended from the Indians.”

“Yes,” said Millie, very seriously, “that was her name; but nobody called her by it all at one time; they said Daisy, for short.

“Well, one day little Daisy felt so sad and lonely, and her grandmother had been so cross, that she said to the little yellow dog,—

“‘Tip, let’s run away. I’m tired of staying here. Granny is so cross, I cannot stand it another minute.’

“‘Yes, indeed. I’ll go with you, Daisy,’ said Tip, wagging his tail; ‘for this morning, when I was licking up a bit of butter off the floor, she kicked me, and hit me over the head with a broom, and threw a stick of wood after me as I indignantly left the premises, and wounded my feelings very much.’

“‘But then, Tip, suppose we should get lost in the woods, and die of starvation, and bears should eat us up.’

“‘Trust to me, Daisy,’ Tip replied. ‘I will lead you safely out of the wood, and see that nothing hurts you.’

“Just then a woman came to the door, and said, ‘I have heard your conversation. Come with me, and you shall both live in a nice house, where you can play all day, and have fine clothes, and plenty to eat.’

“‘Ah, wouldn’t that be pleasant!’ said Daisy; and she was just preparing to go with the woman, when she stopped suddenly, and said, ‘But who will get wood for granny’s fire? and who will pick berries for her? She’d die if we should leave her alone. No, I can’t leave her. She’s very cross; but then, she is sick all the time, nearly, and I won’t go.’

“‘O, yes, do!’ said the woman. ‘I have a lovely white pony, as gentle as a kitten, that you shall have to ride, and beautiful dresses. You’d better come.’

“‘Thank you,’ said Daisy; ‘I’d like to go with you. You may take Tip. Perhaps he’d like to go, but I won’t leave grandmother; she’d die if I did.’

“No sooner had Daisy finished speaking, than the woman turned into a beautiful fairy, the shanty turned into a palace, granny turned into a queen, Daisy into a lovely princess, with black and blue—I mean heavenly—eyes, and Tip turned into a beautiful prince, all dressed in embroidered green velvet; and down on his knees he fell at the princess’s feet, vowing love and fidelity untold.

“The fairy spread her wings over the young couple, saying, ‘Behold the reward of unselfishness!’ and vanished, leaving them in all their bliss.”

Millie’s story was greeted with shouts of applause and flattering comments.

The boys were about renewing the fire, when Miss Walters announced that it was seven o’clock.

“O, don’t go yet!” shouted Phil from  the wood-pile. “We’ve wood enough for an hour yet. Seven o’clock’s awful early.”

“Don’t go, don’t go!” came from a chorus of voices; and Miss Walters, who only cared for their comfort, said she would stay if that was the general wish, or would go with any of the girls that were in haste to get home. No one made any movement to go, and she was quietly led back to her throne on the hay, at the entrance of the cave.

A song was proposed, and Miss W. led them in the sweet words of “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” the boys coming out strong with the chorus. Then two girls sang a duet very sweetly. Another hour glided swiftly away, when Miss Walters said, “Phil, your fire burns low; push the blazing ends for a final blaze, so we may get all our things; for we must go now.”

Everything arranged, they bade good by to the hospitable cave, then marched down the hill, the boys whistling “When Johnny comes marching Home.”

On they trudged, dropping various members of their little party as they turned off to go to their homes. All agreed they had had a delightful day.