The Dinner Call – 17

Marooned in Crater Lake by Alfred Powers

 The Dinner Call


     DURING the reign of good King Arthur, there lived in the county of Cornwall, near the Land’s End of England, a wealthy farmer who had only one son, called Jack. He was a brisk boy and of a ready, lively wit, so that whatever he could not bring about by force and strength he completed by wit and guile. Never was any person heard of that could worst him, and he very often even baffled the learned by his sharp and ready invention.JACK THE GIANT-KILLER.

ANNE CHADWICK, all alone in the log cabin on the Umpqua, had nothing to read. It is true there were books in the cabin a short row on a crude shelf but she had read them all, most of them several times over.

If she only had an absorbing story, she could forget that she was by herself in that Oregon wilderness, five miles from another settlement. She could forget the ragged and stumpy clearing, in the center of which stood her small log dwelling, closely surrounded by a rail fence and protected by no other stockade. She could forget the dark forest, dense with firs, that stretched back in every direction from the borders of the clearing. She could forget, most of all, the Indians, whom she pictured treading somber trails, perhaps toward the cabin, toward herself, with no man near to offer aid.

Her father, driving his slow ox team to Roseburg after supplies, would not return until late in the afternoon. And here it was only half past ten in the morning, and all her housework done up. Tired from working like a man in the woods, she had preferred a day of rest to the hard, jolting ride in the wagon. For that reason she hadn’t gone with her father. Now she wished she had.

She was restless, somehow expectant of trouble, though her father had assured her that nothing was to be feared from the Indians. Nevertheless, he had left her the rifle.

It was a warm day in early summer. The door of the cabin stood open for coolness and for light. In that open doorway Anne found physical comfort in a home-made chair but she could not find contentment of mind. She couldn’t just sit and nurse her hands. She simply had to read something, even if it was for the fourth or fifth time.

She got up and went to the shelf to find it. Her father, though something of a scholar, with a good library back in Ohio, had been able to bring but a few books on that long journey across the plains to Oregon.

Finally, she selected two worn volumes, and an oddly assorted pair they were. One was “First-Year Latin Lessons,” the other was “Jack the Giant-Killer !”

In Oregon, in 1858, there were few pioneer girls who could read Latin, but her father had taught her its rudiments.

She fingered idly through the early pages of conjugations, declensions, vocabularies, and short sentences. Through some mental quirk, she found one of these sentences taking forcible hold of her whole attention.

Cena parata est–Dinner is ready.” This kept repeating itself, willy-nilly, in her mind. She couldn’t rid herself of the tenacious Latin and its translation. It was persistent, haunting.

She tried to rout it with “Jack the Giant – Killer,” but she only added to her mental repetition. “Cena parata est–Dinner is ready” not only remained, but took on an equally importunate companion with which it raced back and forth in the channels of her brain. This companion was the couplet:

Whoever can this trumpet blow

Shall soon the giant overthrow.


Those three Latin words and that foolish rhyme took utter possession of her mind. Over and over they repeated themselves. She even found herself once or twice saying them out loud. First one and then the other, in succession, traveled round in her brain.

But suddenly the phrases released their hold and made room for fear. There stepped from the shadow of the firs into the border of the clearing a big Umpqua Indian. He paused for a moment and looked at her. Then he walked straight toward the cabin.

She was so scared she could not move. She sat and looked and waited for other Indians to appear. But none did. He was the only one.

The gate of the inclosure was at one side of the building. The Indian did not go to it, but instead came up to the fence in front of the door.

Anne suppressed an instinct to scream. Reason prevailed over emotion. She knew it was not wise to show fear or alarm. She saw that he carried neither rifle nor bow. After all, he might be friendly.

He made no move to climb over the fence, but stood staring at her.

“Good morning,” she said, in as natural and controlled a voice as she could command.

But he said nothing, made no sign whatever that be understood.

Klahowya sikhs?” (How do you do?) she tried him in Chinook jargon, but he did not acknowledge or return the greeting.