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   Chapter 5 THE CALL OF THE MOUNTAINS

Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 22933

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


As the approaching company came around the bend of the road into sight of the inn, a "calico" pony detached itself from the group of riders and before those watching on the porch could hear her words, Molly was shouting to them:

"We're all right! Everybody is all right-except the one that isn't! And he-Wait, I'm coming!"

The three girls ran down the road to meet her, and even Lady Gray walked swiftly after, and in a moment more they had encircled the truant with their loving arms, forgetting that she had given them a needless anxiety.

"They weren't Indians at all. They were just our own folks, but Leslie and I were frightened half to death! I don't know what would have become of us except the pony told our story. And he's only smashed up a little some way. They had to hold him on the horse-"

"What! Leslie, my Leslie, my boy!" gasped Mrs. Ford.

"Leslie? No, indeed! Nothing the matter with him only riding the rack-o'-bones. The 'Tenderfoot' man, and the cowboys say it served him right. Only he got off too easy with just a broken collar bone, and a sprained ankle, and some teeth gone-and a few other trifles like that. He-"

"You can get off Chiquita now, Molly. I want to rub her down. Ain't she the best ever?" said Mattie, calmly lifting the rider down from the saddle.

"Indeed she is! And how strong you are, to lift a big girl like me!" cried Molly, eagerly. "I do believe your little Chiquita saved our lives, Leslie's and mine."

"Tell me what you mean, child. Where is Leslie?" demanded the Gray Lady, placing her hand on Molly's shoulder and peering into her eyes.

"Why-I mean, what I say, course, Mrs. Ford. But Leslie's all right now. He's scratched with the briars and torn his clothes and has had to ride double with a cowboy, or drover, because he couldn't stand Beelzebub again. Mr. Roderick is riding that creature and-Here, here they are!"

Once in sight of the house most of the party came up at a canter, Mr. Ford cheerfully saluting his wife, and the others waving their hats and showing off a few tricks of their steeds-while Dorothy was handed down from riding-pillion behind her host. Everybody's tongue was loosened at once and such a hubbub arose that Mrs. Ford clapped her hands to her ears, then caught hold of Leslie as he slid to the ground and ran like a girl to the house. She wanted a chance to kiss him before the rest came in and had learned long before this that her boy "hated coddling."

However, he submitted to a little of it that night with a better grace than usual, understanding that he had given his mother anxiety; and told her as briefly as possible the whole story.

"You see, Lady Gray, that 'Sorrel Tenderfoot' was too smart, so came to grief."

"A good lesson to remember, son."

"Course. Well, he drove into a road, a trail, and got stuck. The horses bolted, the wagon went to smash and he was hurt. Pretty bad, I guess. The others weren't at all, only frightened and sort of stunned. They were in a tight fix. So dark in there they didn't know which way was out and made up their minds to stay till daylight. That Jim Barlow-I tell you he's great!-he fixed a bed with the wagon cushions and laid 'Sorrel' on it. Then he felt the man all over and saw his legs and arms were sound. After that he got the box of the buckboard right side up and made Dorothy get into that and lie down. He covered her with the robes and made Manuel promise to stay right beside her while he went back for help. Dorothy wouldn't let him go, at first, till he made her ashamed thinking about the 'Tenderfoot.'

"He made his way back all that distance to the main road, just by noticing the branches that had been broken by their driving in. He was going to walk back to Denver for help, thinking that was the quickest way, but when he got out of the woods he couldn't go any further. He'd hurt his arm some way-Dad says it's broken-and the pain made him faint. We found him there-I mean the searchers did, and when he came to be told them the rest.

"Lem Hunt and Roderick knew exactly where to look. They found the runaway blacks and captured them, or some of the cowboys did, and they made a litter of the wagon box, covered it with branches and carried him out of the woods. They've brought him all the way here for he insisted on coming. Said he'd be better cared for by Mrs. Roderick than at any hospital in Denver. He was sort of crazy and they didn't dare oppose him. That's why they are so slow. But they'll be here soon and he'll be put to bed. Lemuel says the man'll take a blazed trail the rest of his life, and will have time to get over his smartness while his bones heal. But I think it's too bad. I'm sorry for him, and so is Dad. Now, come. They're going to table and I'm hungry as a bear. Isn't it fine of Mrs. Roderick to get a meal this time of night, or day, or whatever hour it is?"

"It wasn't Mrs. Roderick. Alfy was the moving spirit and the other girls helped. But not one mouthful shall you have till you confess your own fault. Why did you, Leslie, run away into all that danger against my wishes?"

"Why, Molly-" began the lad, then checked himself for shame. "Why, Lady Gray, I couldn't let a girl like Molly ride away alone, could I? And she would go-just would. And the funny part was-we heard 'lions' or 'panthers', or something in the woods behind us. We'd stopped to rest and we thought so. Then we saw the searchers coming back and thought they were Indians! and the way we took to the woods would make you laugh. That's how I got to look like this. We might have been in them yet if little Chiquita hadn't stood like a post right beside the rock where we'd been sitting. Her being there, and Molly's hat and jacket that she'd taken off because she was too warm, told the truth. Dorothy saw the hat and knew it at once. So when Roderick came up and recognized Chiquita they made another search and found-us. But I tell you, Lady Gray, I've had all the lecturing I need just now from the other head of the family. I think Dad would have liked me to ride with him, at first, but he gave me his opinion of a boy who would 'sneak' off and 'leave his mother unprotected in a strange house at night.' Just forgive me this once, motherkin, and I'll be good in future; or till next time, any way. Now, come."

Such a meal as followed had rarely been eaten even in that land of hungry people, where the clear air so sharpens appetite; and in the midst of it came the landlady herself, not even showing surprise, and certainly not offence, at the liberties which had been taken in her house. Fortunately, Jim's arm had been bruised and strained, only; not broken as Mr. Ford had feared.

Then to bed and a few hours of sleep; another breakfast, as good as the first; after which buckboards were driven round and horses saddled; Herbert, Jim, and Manuel electing to ride while Monty was to travel in the wagon with Silent Pete, as driver. He was the better suited thus because Mr. Ford and Leslie were to be his companions, the gentlemen having arranged matters this time without any casting of lots.

Lemuel drove the four-in-hand as on the day before, having as passengers Mrs. Ford and Miss Milliken-who had slept soundly through all the events of the night-with the four girls. Jedediah, Mr. Ford's colored "boy" also rode beside the driver, for the greater protection of the feminine travelers, should any need arise.

But nothing did. All the untoward incidents of this journey to the Rockies had happened during its first stage. "Tenderfoot Sorrel" was left behind, of course, but he did not greatly regret that. He felt that he could more easily endure physical pain than the chaffing of his fellows at San Leon.

As before, the start was made with a flourish of whip and horn, amid good wishes and farewells from the hosts of the Wayside Inn, and a sure promise to "come again!" Then a day's journey steadily onward and upward, through river-fed valleys and rocky ravines, with a mid-day stop at another little hostelry, for a change of horses and a plain dinner.

Then on again, following the sun till it sank behind a mountain range and they had climbed well nigh to the top. Here Mr. Ford ordered a brief halt, that the travellers might look behind them at the glorious landscape. When they had done so, till the scene was impressed upon their memories forever, again the order came:

"Eyes front! but shut! No peeping till I say-Look!"

Laughing, finding it ever so difficult to obey, but eager, indeed, the last ascent was made. Then the wheels seemed to have found a level stretch of smoother travelling and again came Mr. Ford's cry:

"All eyes front and-open! Welcome to San Leon!"

Open they did. Upon one of the loveliest homes they had ever beheld. A long, low, roomy building, modelled in the Mission style that Lady Gray so greatly admired; whose spacious verandas and cloistered walks invited to delightful days out of doors; while everywhere were flowers in bloom, fountains playing, vine-clad arbors and countless cosy nooks, shadowed by magnificent trees. A lawn as smooth as velvet, dotted here and there by electric light poles whose radiance could turn night into day.

For a moment nobody spoke; then admiration broke forth in wondering exclamations, while the host helped his wife to alight, asking:

"Well, Erminie, does it suit you?"

"Suit? Dear, I never dreamed of anything better than a plain shack on a mountain side. That's what you called it-but this-this is no shack. It's more like a palace!"

"Well, the main thing is to make it a home."

"Is it as good as the 'cabin,' father?" asked Leslie, coming up and laying his hand on Mr. Ford's shoulder.

"Let us hope it will be! If the first inmates are peace and good will. Peace and good will," he repeated, gravely. Then his accustomed gayety replaced his seriousness and he waved his hand toward the entrance, saying:

"Queen Erminie, enter in and possess your kingdom! Your maids of honor with you!"

"My heart!" cried Alfaretta, following her hostess, like a girl in a dream. "I thought 'twould be just another up-mounting sort of place, not near so nice as Deerhurst or the Towers, but it's splendid more 'n they are, either one or both together."

"Wonderful, what money can do in this land of the free!" remarked Herbert, critically estimating the establishment. "Think of a man having his own electric light plant away up here! Why, if it weren't for the mountains yonder one could fancy this is Newport or Long Branch."

"Without the sea, Bert. Even money can't bring the sea to the mountain-tops," said Helena, though her own face was aglow with admiration.

"It can do the next best thing to it. Look yonder," said Monty, pointing where a glimmer of sunset-tinted water showed through a hedge of trees.

"Let's go there. It certainly is water," urged Jim Barlow.

"Well, Leslie told me there was a strange waterfall near San Leon and I suppose the same money has pressed that into service. To think! That 'Railroad Boss' earned his first quarter selling papers on the train! He was talking about the 'cabin' as we came along. It had two rooms and he lived in it alone with his mother. By his talk they hadn't always been so poor and she belonged to an old family, as 'families go in America.' That was the way he put it, and it was his ambition to see his mother able to take 'the place where she belonged.' Tha

t's how he began; and now, look at this!"

All the young people had now gathered around the pond, or lake, that had been made in a natural basin on the mountain side, for thinking that their host and hostess would better like to enter their new home with no strangers about them, Dorothy had suggested:

"Let's follow the boys! Jim's arm ought to be looked after, first thing, and I'll remind him of it. He'd no business to come on horseback all that long way, but he never would take care of himself."

"Has Leslie ever been here before?" asked Molly Breckenridge.

"No. It is as much a surprise to him as to his mother. But he's mighty proud of his father," answered Dorothy. "Look, here he comes now."

He came running across the sward and down the rocky path to the edge of the lake and clapped a hand on the shoulders of Herbert and Montmorency. He did not mean to be less cordial to Jim Barlow but he was. For two reasons: one that Dorothy had extolled her humble friend till he seemed a paragon of all the virtues; and secondly what he had learned of Jim's eagerness for knowledge had made him ashamed of his own indifference to it. Even that day, his father had commended the poorer boy for his keen observation of everything and read him a portion of a letter received from Dr. Sterling, the clergyman with whom James lived and studied.

The Doctor had written that the lad was already well versed in natural history and that his interest in geology was as great as the writer's own. He felt that this invitation to his beloved protégé was a wonderful thing for the student, and that Mr. Ford might feel he was having a hand in the formation of a great scientist.

There had been more of the same sort of praise and Leslie had looked with simple amazement at the tall, awkward youth, who had arrived in Denver with the rest of his young guests.

"That fellow smart? Clever? Brainy? Well, he doesn't look it. If ever I saw a regular clodhopper, he's the chap. But that Herbert Montaigne, now, is rippin'! He has the right 'air,' and so has the shorty, the fat Monty, only his figure is against him," he had remarked to Mateo, who had instantly agreed with him. Indeed, the Mexican never disagreed with his "gracious excellency, Se?or Leslie."

Mateo's service was an easy one and his salary good. Besides, he was really fond of his young master and formed all his opinions in accordance. So then he, too, cast a supercilious glance at Jim, and had caused that shy lad's color to rise, though beyond that he took no notice.

Already as they stood there gazing over the lake, crimson with the last rays of the sun, Jim was studying the rocks upon the farther side and squinting his eyes at something moving among them. It was with a startled return to his surroundings that he heard Leslie now say:

"My father wants to have you come in, Mr.-I mean James. The doctor is going to properly dress your arm."

"The doctor? Is there a doctor here?" asked Dorothy, slipping her hand under Jim's uninjured arm, and conveying by that action her sympathy with his feeling of an alien.

But he coolly drew aside. He wasn't going to be humiliated by any girl's cossetting, not even hers. He had never realized his poverty so bitterly, nor been more ashamed of that fact. Just because some richer boys looked down upon him was no reason he should look down upon himself. Also, it angered him that he really needed surgical attention. He had suffered intensely during the ride hither but he had kept that to himself. He meant to keep it to himself whatever happened, and to join in what was going on as if he were physically sound as the other boys.

"It's only my left arm, anyway. I'd be a poor stick of a thing if I couldn't manage with the other," he had thought, bravely, despite the pain. Now here was he being made the object of everybody's notice; and, being Jim-he hated it! There was a surly look in his eyes as he replied to Leslie's message:

"I guess not. I mean-there isn't any need-I'm all right. I'm all right, I say. I'm-Shucks! I'm bully!"

It was Dorothy who blushed this time, she was so mortified by the rudeness of her "paragon." Whenever had he used such an expression? She flashed an indignant glance upon him, then coolly commanded him:

"You come right straight along, James Barlow. You're Mr. Ford's guest now and must do what he wants, just the same as if he were Dr. Sterling. Besides, I know we all ought to be freshening ourselves before supper. Lady Gray hates untidy people. Come on."

Again she linked her arm in Jim's and led the way up the slope toward the house, while at the mention of supper all the others fell into line behind her. And now Jim was already ashamed of his petulance with her. After all, she was the prettiest girl of them all; and, so far as he knew, the richest. She was "thoroughbred;" her family one of the oldest in its native State; and though the poorhouse boy had no family pride of his own he was loyal to old Maryland and his earliest friend. What had not Dolly been to him? His first teacher, his loving companion, and the means of all that was good coming into his life.

"Say, Dolly, I'm sorry I said that and shamed you. Sorry I'm such a conceited donkey as to hate being looked down on. You just keep me posted on what's what, little girl, and I'll try to behave myself. But it beats creation, to find such a place as this up here on the Rockies and to know one man's done it. Kind of takes a feller's breath away, don't it?"

They were a little ahead of the rest of the party and able to talk freely, so Dorothy improved the chance to give "her boy Jim" a little lecture; suggesting that he must never stop short of accomplishing just as much as Daniel Ford had done.

"What one poor lad can do, another can-if he will! If he will, James Barlow! It's just the will, you see. There was a copy in my old writing-book: 'What man has done, man can do.'"

"Shucks! I'm ambitious enough, but 'tain't along no money lines. What I want is learnin'-just plain knowledge. I wrote a copy once, too, and 'twas that 'Knowledge is Power.' I made them capitals the best I could so 't I never would forget 'em."

"Huh! For such a wise young man you talk pretty common. There's no need, Jim Barlow, for you to go back into all the bad grammar and chipped-off words just because you're talking to-me. I notice you are very particular and careful when you speak to our hosts. Oh, Jim! isn't this going to be just a glorious summer? Except when I think about Aunt Betty I'm almost too happy to breathe."

Jim had stumbled along beside her, unseeing the objects that were nearest-the lovely shrubbery, beautiful flowers, and quaint little furnishings of that grand lawn-but with his eyes fixed on a distant mountain peak, bare of verdure, and seemingly but a mass of vari-colored rock; and he now remarked:

"I wonder how much of this country that Dan Ford owns! I wonder if he's got a claim on the peaks yonder!"

"Come back to earth, boy! Can't you think anything, see anything but-stones? Here we are at the door and I fancy this gentleman is the doctor. Good evening, sir."

"Is this the lad with the injured arm?" asked the gentleman meeting the pair, and glancing toward Jim's bandaged arm, with the coat sleeve hanging loose above it.

"Yes, sir, but it's nothing. It doesn't need any attention," said Jim, ungraciously.

"Behave yourself, Jim. Yes, Doctor-I suppose you're that?-he is so badly hurt that he's cross. But it's wonderful to find a doctor away up here," said Dorothy. Her odd little air of authority over the great, loutish lad, and her gay smile to himself, instantly won the stranger's liking, and he answered warmly:

"Wonderful, maybe, but no more so than all of Dan Ford's doings. Step this way, my son, and Miss, I fancy you'd best not follow just yet. Nurse Melton will assist me, if I need assistance."

"A nurse, too? How odd!" said Dorothy turning to join her mates.

She did not see Jim Barlow again that night. When the examination was made the doctor found the injured arm in bad shape, swollen and inflamed to a degree that made great care a necessity unless much worse were to follow.

So, for the first time in his healthy life, Jim found himself an invalid; sent to bed and ministered to by a frail, sweet-faced woman in a white uniform, whose presence on that far away ranch was a puzzle to him. Until, seeing his evident curiosity, she satisfied it by the explanation:

"Oh! I'm merely another of Mr. Ford's beneficiaries. My brother is an engineer on one of his railroads, and he heard that I was threatened with consumption. So he had me sent to Denver for a time, till San Leon was ready. Then I came here. I'm on hand to attend any sick folks who may need me, though you're the first patient yet. I can tell you that you're fortunate to number Daniel Ford among your friends. He's the grandest man in the world."

Jim lay quiet for a time, till his supper was brought in. But he could not taste that. The dressing of his wounded arm had been painful in extreme, though he had borne the pain without a groan, and for that been greatly admired by both the surgeon and the nurse. He was now feverish and discontented. The "happy summer" of which Dorothy had boasted was beginning anything but happily for him. He was angry against his own weakness and disappointed that he could not at once begin his work of studying the rocks of this region. To do so had been his chief reason for accepting Mr. Ford's genial invitation, for his shyness shrank from meeting strangers and accepting favors from them. Dr. Sterling had talked him "out of his nonsense" for the time being, but he now wished himself back in his familiar room at Deerhurst lodge, with Hans and Griselda Roemer. They were humble folk and so was he. He had no business in this rich man's "shack" that was, in reality, a palace; where pleasure was the rule and work the exception. Well-things might happen! He'd take care they should! He was among the mountains-for that part he was glad; only regretful of the debt to another which had brought him there.

The hum of voices in and about the big house ceased. Even the barking dogs were silent at last, and the music from the men's quarters, stopped. There was where he, Jim belonged, by right. Out in some of the many buildings at the rear; so many, in fact, that they were like a village. He guessed he'd go there. Yes. In the morning, maybe the Boss would give him a job, and he could work to pay his keep. His thoughts grew wilder and more disordered, his head ached.

The nurse was sitting silent in an adjoining room. Actual watching was unnecessary and she understood her patient's mood, that her presence in his chamber worried him. It was his time-now or never. He crept from his bed and stepped out of the low window upon the wide porch.

Even in his delirious confusion it struck him that he had never seen such wonderful moonlight, nor such a big, inviting world. The vagary of thought altered. He would not seek the workmen's quarters, after all. The mountains were better. They called him. They did not seem far away. He would not feel so hot and then so shivery if he could lie down on their cool tops, with only the sky above him. Aye, they called him; and blindly answering to their silent summons the sick boy went. The things he prophesied had surely begun to "happen."

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