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   Chapter 1 THE TRIP IN THE ERMINIE

Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 19663

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The "Erminie," private car of "Railway Boss, Dan Ford," stood side-tracked at Denver, and his guests within it were the happy people whom, some readers may remember, we left keeping a belated Christmas in the old adobe on the mesa, in southern California.

To Dorothy, the trip thus far had been like a wonderful dream.

"Just think, Alfy Babcock, of owning a real car, going and stopping just as you please, same's riding in a carriage with horses! Even darling Aunt Betty, who's been 'most everywhere and seen 'most everything, in her long life, never travelled 'private coaching' this way before. I hate to think it's over, that I'll have to say good-by to her so soon. Seems if I ought not. Seems if she'll be dreadful lonesome without me all summer. I'm her own folks and I-I believe I shall go home with her after all, 'stead of into the mountains to that ranch with the Gray Lady."

Alfaretta gave a vigorous tug to the shawl-strap she was fastening about a curious assortment of her personal belongings and answered:

"That's enough of your 'seems-if-ing,' Dolly Doodles! It's all settled, isn't it? And when a thing's fixed-it ought to stay fixed. Mrs. Calvert don't want either of us. She said so, more 'n once, too. She's tickled to death to think there's such a good time comin' for us. She's got all that prop'ty that got itself into trouble to look after, and she's got them ladies, her old friends, that's been in San Diego all winter, to go home to New York with her. You better stop frettin' and lookin' out o' winder, and pick up your things. You've lots more 'n I have and that's sayin' consid'able. The way that Mr. Ford moves makes other folks hustle, too! Hurry up, do! He said we was all to go to a big hotel for our dinners and I'm real ready for mine. I am so! Car-cookin's well enough, but for me-give me a table that won't go wobblety-wobble all the time."

Dorothy roused from her idleness and began to collect her own "treasures." They had accumulated to a surprising degree during this journey from San Diego to Denver; for their genial host had indulged his young guests in all their whims and, at the various stops along the way, they had purchased all sorts of things, from baskets to blankets, horned toads on cards, centipedes in vials of alcohol, Indian dolls and pottery, and other "trash," as Aunt Betty considered it. In the roomy private car these had given but little trouble; now Alfaretta expressed the thought of both girls as well as of the lad, Leslie, when after a vain effort to pack an especially ugly red-clay "image," she exclaimed:

"A fool and his money! That's what I was. Felt as rich as a queen, startin' out with all them earnin's and presents in my pocket-book. Now I haven't got a cent, hardly, and I'd ha' been better off if I hadn't a had them! There! that paper's busted again! Does beat the Dutch the way things act! Just plain things! If they was folks you could box their ears, but you can't do a thing to things, not a thing! Only-"

"Throw them away! That's what I'm going to do with my stuff!" cried Leslie, from a far corner, standing up and wiping his face, after his own bit of packing. "This old musket that that man in uniform assured me had belonged to General Custer-Dad says never saw a soldier's hands, let alone Custer's. Says he knew that all the time, even when I was dickering for it. Says-"

Dorothy looked up from her own task to ask:

"Why should he let you buy it then?"

"For experience, likely. That's the way he likes to have us learn, he claims."

"Humph! But Aunt Betty says it's wicked to waste money. One ought only to use it for some good purpose."

A shout of derision came from both Alfy and Leslie, at this remark, and they pointed in high glee at a basketful of things Dorothy was vainly trying to make look a tidy bundle. She had to join in the laughter against herself and Mr. Ford came forward to lend a hand or offer advice, as need be.

"So you're up against a tough proposition, are you, youngsters? How much of all that stuff do you really want?"

"Not a scrap!" said Alfaretta, frankly.

"Good enough! Well, let me tell you. There's a poor old fellow hangs out just beyond this station who makes his scanty living selling just such 'trash.' I'll give you just five minutes to select whatever you really wish to keep, five minutes more to stow them compactly for our long buckboard-drive, and about as much longer to make the acquaintance of my lame peddler and give him your leavings. Five seconds wasted already, staring at me! Begin, begin!"

The gentleman's face was aglow with happiness and mischief, but there was a tone in his voice which compelled instant obedience; and long before the first five minutes had passed all three young folks had heaped the most of their "things" in a pile in the center of the car. The rest was quickly strapped in the beautiful Navajo blankets which Mrs. Ford, or the "Gray Lady"-as they best loved to call her, had purchased and given them as souvenirs of this wonderful trip. Blankets that were almost priceless, as only Dorothy knew from Aunt Betty's explanation, but that Alfaretta considered far less attractive than a plain white wool one.

A porter, laden with baskets, appeared at that moment, as if by previous instruction; and into the baskets were tossed or tumbled the odd collection, everybody working swiftly yet already half-regretfully that they hadn't kept more.

"That horned toad'll get a rush of blood to his head!" cried Leslie, as Alfaretta threw her recent "treasure" into the mess.

"Take care, boy! Don't break that alcohol bottle. That centipede mayn't be as dead as he looks! The horrid leg-gy thing! How in the world did I ever fancy it? Take care!" warned Dorothy, as Leslie dropped an uncouth Indian "image" upon the vial.

"Hi, dere! Massa Leslie! Jed'll do de res'!" cried Mr. Ford's own especial servant, coolly pushing the lad aside and rapidly making a better arrangement of the articles. Then he shouldered his baskets and left the car, Mr. Ford following, with the three young people trailing after him. At the door Alfaretta turned and rapidly surveyed the luxurious coach in which she had spent the past few days. To her it had been a veritable fairyland, and quick tears sprang to her eyes as she exclaimed:

"I never had such a good time in all my life as I've had in this 'Erminie,' and I never expect to again! It 'most breaks my heart to say good-by to it!"

"Don't say it then! I shan't, though I feel as bad as you do. But our worst good-by is to come when Aunt Betty starts east and we west. I can't-how can I?-let her go alone?"

This was sufficient to arouse all Alfy's sympathy. She promptly forgot her own regret in soothing her friend, for Dorothy's grief was most sincere. Ever since that day when she had learned that Mrs. Calvert was her own kin she had loved the lady with all her heart and had, during the past winter of Aunt Betty's lameness, felt that she must now take care of her. She did not realize that the one-time invalid was now quite well and as independent of aid as ever. Indeed, the Gray Lady had laughingly declared:

"Dear Mrs. Betty is the youngest-hearted of us all!"

After that happy day when Dorothy had helped to bring about the reunion of the long parted Fords, the "Railroad Boss" had taken his wife and son away for a little time; but they had soon returned to El Paraiso, that charming home in the southwestern city and had remained as members of Mrs. Calvert's household till the spring days came. Then Mr. Ford had announced his summer plans:

"I'm going to give myself a long vacation. I own a ranch in the Colorado mountains and I'm going to take you all, each and everyone, to enjoy it with me. My wife, Erminie, claims it her turn to play hostess, so we'll all become cowboys and cowgirls, and have a wild-west show of our own, with a continuous performance for three jolly months. All in favor, say Aye!"

"Aye! Aye! Aye!" the youngsters had it, so heartily that, for a moment, nobody noticed that Aunt Betty was silent. Then, when Dorothy observed this, with a down-sinking of her own spirits, the lady made haste to explain:

"Nothing could please me better for Dorothy, and for myself if I were able to accept. But I can't. As you know, my business affairs have become tangled in some way and I must go home to really understand what is amiss. Indeed, I don't know yet where I may have to be during the warm weather and I'm delighted for my little girl, and for Alfaretta, to have such a fine chance. I fancy you'll all come east in the autumn, as brown as the Indians who'll be your neighbors, and in fine health. How soon do you leave, Mr. Ford? That I may make some arrangement about this dear old house, for I shan't want to stay in it after you're gone."

Then it was his turn to explain:

"I have felt all along, ever since I found Erminie here with our boy, that the place should never become again just 'a house to rent.' So I've bought it. I've found Padre Nicolas, the old priest whom the Indians love and trust, and deeded it to him in trust for them as a Home. Here Lazaro Gomez and the other ancients of his race shall dwell in comfort for the rest of their days. The only proviso is that Father Nicholas shall admit none who hasn't reached the age of discretion-say, eighty-odd years, or so! Nor shall any of his charges be compelled to tame wild beasts and sell them for a livelihood. The good old priest is ready to take possession as soon as we vacate and will put everything into what Alfy calls 'apple-pie order,' according to a red man's fancy. So, when everybody is ready-Don't hurry, please!-we'll board my car, the 'Erminie,' and take our leisurely way northward. It isn't as if we had to say good-by, you see, f

or we'll be all together still. As for Mrs. Calvert's plan-maybe we can persuade her to postpone business awhile for a taste of real ranch life. Eh?"

But Mistress Elisabeth Cecil-Somerset-Calvert was a matron who never said "No" when she meant "Yes;" and she smilingly kept to her own purpose, yet took good care that no shadow of a coming separation should darken her beloved Dorothy's wonderful trip in a private car. Just here we may recall to the readers' attention that this young girl's earlier experiences have been told in "Dorothy's Schooling," her "Travels" and "House Party" and best of all "In California."

Now those happy days of travel and sightseeing had ended in the city of Denver. The "Erminie" was to be stripped and renovated and put aside to await its owner's further orders. From this point the ranchers were to proceed by a coaching tour over the long and delightful road to the distant Rockies: while Mrs. Calvert, her black "boy," Ephraim, and some women friends were to speed eastward by the fleetest "limited" express. One more short hour together, in a hotel dining-room, and the parting was due. Aunt Betty and Mrs. Ford had already been driven away to this hotel as Leslie and his girl guests followed his father from the "Erminie," and seeing the downward droop of Dorothy's lip he tried to divert her by exclaiming:

"There was never such a man as Dad! He never forgets. Never. I believe he knows every cripple between New York and San Francisco. I do, indeed. This fellow we're going to give that 'trash' to is one of his pets. I remember him now. Got hurt in a railway smash but is as independent as they make 'em. Wouldn't sue the company and wouldn't take money from it when offered. Claimed he was stealing a ride and only got what he calls his 'come-uppance' when he got hurt. Dad was so astonished when he heard about that, he said the man ought to be 'framed and put on exhibition, as the only case of his kind on record.' Then he suggested this way of earning his living. He has the 'boys' keep him fixed up in a little sort of stand just yonder and they see to it that his stock never fails. The cripple's as proud as Punch. Boasts that any honest man can do well in America if he tries. He hasn't any legs left and his arms aren't worth much but his spirit is the bravest ever. It would break his heart if he guessed that most of the stuff he sells is bought for my father by some of his employees, all on the sly. But he'll never know it. That's the best of Dad! His 'boys' love him. They think he's just rippin'! And he is. Look now. See how that man's face lights up when he hears that 'Halloo'!"

Dorothy stopped short to exclaim:

"Bought the stuff and gave us most of it, and now will buy it over again just to throw away! I never heard anything like that!"

"Reckon you didn't, for there is only one Dan Ford! But he doesn't have it thrown away. He has it burned. He says, 'Burned toads tell no tales,' and the worst trouble the boys have is to get folks enough to buy the things for them. When they see a likely lookin' tourist edging around the stand they use him, if they can. If they can't it's a 'short day' for Cripple Andy, but that doesn't worry him. 'The fat and the lean,' he calls it. Oh! I say, he's almost as rippin' as Dad himself, he's so plucky!"

The cripple's face did indeed light up as Mr. Ford appeared before him and shouted that gay "Halloo!"

"Well, well, well! If you ain't the best sight I've had since I saw you last. Halloo, yourself and see how you like it!" With this attempt at facetiousness, the seller of notions leaned forward over his stand and extended his best hand toward his benefactor.

"How's business, Andy?"

"Tollable, sir, fairly tollable. Been sellin' a lot o' truck, lately, to some Cookies, and there was a reduction-school-ma'am-racket that nigh cleaned me out. See that your man Jed here has got a heap more things. How'd he come by them? Must ha' cleared the country of reptiles, judgin' by them samples."

"Oh, he came by them fairly enough, Andy. These youngsters couldn't live without the things when they first saw them, but now they'll be grateful if you'll take them off their hands. Maybe you can make something from them, maybe not. In any case they're not going to San Leon on a buckboard with me! Take them off our hands, lad, and do a good deed once in your life!"

By this time Mr. Ford had placed his own two strong hands over the shrivelled one of the peddler and was pressing it warmly, while the two looked into one another's eyes with mutual respect and liking. Then when the hands unclasped there was left on Andy's palm a glittering double eagle.

Dorothy, watching, wondered at this, after hearing Leslie's boast of the cripple's independence; and there did a flush rise in his face for a moment, till Mr. Ford said:

"For Laddie, you know. If you can't use it-pass it on!"

The flush died out of the vender's cheek and a soft look came over it. "So I will, man, so I will. Thank God there's always somebody poorer than me! Good-by, and good luck, Boss! By that token I never seen you look that happy as you do this day, man alive, never!"

"I never had such reason to be glad, Andy boy! Good-by, good-by!"

Mr. Ford started off at a brisk pace, the young folks trying to equal his long strides, and Alfaretta asking:

"Is that cripple crazy? What'd he mean by sellin' things to 'Cookies' and what's a 'school-ma'am-racket'?"

Leslie laughed and answered:

"A 'racket' of that sort has nothing to do with tennis, Miss Babcock, at your service; and 'Cookies' are just Cook's tourists. All railroaders call them that; and I suppose the 'racket' was a cheap excursion the school-ma'ams were taking. Odd, isn't it? That though all Andy's trouble came from the railroad he claims to belong to it as one of its 'boys.' He's rippin', Andy is. He told father 't he 'teached school' himself, once! But he got so tired of it that the sight of a spelling-book made him sick."

"It does me, too," said Alfy, with sympathy.

"So he 'cut and run,' and rode on trains in every direction as long as his money held out. Then he stole the ride that ended his travels right here in Denver. Hello! where's Dad?"

They had loitered along the way and he had simply outstripped them. So without even a quarter in his purse but in his most lordly air, Leslie hailed a cab to carry them to the hotel he knew was that habitually patronized by his father; and a few minutes later they rode up to the entrance in state.

An attendant hastened to the curb to assist the "young ladies" out of the cab, but the hackman laid a detaining hand upon Leslie's shoulder with the remark:

"Fares, please."

"Eh? Just settle that with Mr. Daniel Ford, inside. Here, Buttons, you find Mr. Ford and ask him to step here. It'll be all right, Jehu, and let's hurry, girls, else we'll be late for dinner."

He started to enter the building but the cabman retained his hold on the lad's shoulder and remarked:

"No, you don't! You may be all right and so may your Mr. Ford but, as for me, I never heard tell of him and money talks. Fares, please."

Dorothy and Alfaretta clung together, really afraid of the cabman who was now growing decidedly angry. He was a stranger to that city and had just embarked in a rather losing business, his outfit of horse and cab being a second-hand one and too shabby for most patrons.

Also, "Buttons," as Leslie had called the bell-boy, now returned to say that "no name of Ford was on the register and the clerk wouldn't bother."

Here was a dilemma. The trio who had ridden in state now felt very small, indeed, and glanced at one another in dismay. Then Leslie surveyed the name over the hotel entrance and exclaimed:

"Pshaw! This isn't the place at all. That donkey of a driver has brought us to the Metropole and not the Metropolitan. I might have known Dad wouldn't put up at such a third-rate tavern as this! Now, you idiot, we'll get in again and you take us where you were bid! and there, it's likely, you'll make the acquaintance of Mr. Daniel Ford in a way you don't like! Get in, Dorothy-Alfy! We can't stand foolin' here!"

But the cabman closed the door of his vehicle with a bang and calmly folded his arms to wait. Dolly pulled out her little purse. It contained one nickel and two cents. She had carefully cherished these because coins smaller than a nickel are not plentiful in California; but she tendered them to Leslie who smiled and shook his head. Alfaretta discovered a dime, but it was her "luck piece," wrapped in pink tissue paper and carried thus in order that she "might always have money in her pocket," and she hated to give it up. Both she and Dolly thought regretfully of the little pocket-hoard they had begged the Gray Lady to keep for them, lest they spend it on the trip. However, neither the cabman nor Leslie accepted their offering, and the latter exclaimed:

"Ain't this rippin'? Lost in a strange city, in the middle of the day, and not a soul willing to help us out! What in the world will Dad say!"

"What, indeed! But look here, Leslie Ford, we've got enough to pay for telephoning that other hotel, if the man in here will let us use his 'phone! Then your father will send somebody after us or do something. Please try. I feel so queer with so many folks staring at us as if we'd done something bad!"

By this time the hotel clerk had become more amiable. The name of Ford had impressed him if it hadn't the hackman, and though he, too, was new to the town he bade Leslie:

"Go ahead! Call him up, if there is such a man."

With a glance of angry contempt Leslie put the receiver to his ear and rang up "Dad;" only to hang it up again in disgust, as the answer came back: "Line's busy!"

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