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Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 21048

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Mother, what do you mean? Don't turn so white and do speak! What 'tragedy' could have happened up here in this lovely place?" demanded Leslie, putting his arm around the lady's shoulders and wondering if she had suddenly become ill. She was slender but had never complained of any weakness, nor shown the least fatigue during her long care of him at San Diego. Since then, she had been like a happy girl with him and his father but something was amiss with her now.

In a moment she had calmed herself and was already blaming herself for her disobedience to her husband's request for silence. However, this last matter was a small one; for, if the missing lad was not soon found, all would have to know it. Indeed, it might be better that they did so now. They knew him better than his hosts did and possibly might give a clue to his whereabouts. So she told them all she knew, and the surmise that he had wandered away in a fit of delirium. The very telling restored her own courage, and, as yet, there was little fear showing upon the faces of her young guests.

Except on Dorothy's. Her brown eyes were staring wide and all the pretty color of her cheeks had faded. As if she saw a vision the others could not she stood clasping and unclasping her hands, and utterly sick at heart for the loss of her early friend. Longer than she had known any of these here about her she had known poor Jim. He had saved her life, or she believed so, in her childhood that now seemed far away. But for Jim, the poorhouse boy, she had never escaped from Mrs. Stott's truck-farm when she had been kidnapped and hidden there. He had stood by her in all her little troubles, had praised and scolded her, and known her through and through. It was her talk about him which had made Mr. Ford invite him to San Leon-to his death, maybe.

That thought was too much. Clinching her small hands and stamping her little foot she defied even death to hurt poor Jim, good Jim, brainy Jim, who was to astonish the world some day by his wisdom!

"Oh! If you'd only have told me before! I would have had him found long, long ago! To think of that poor fellow wandering around alone, sick, crazy, suffering-not knowing where he was or what he was doing! And we strolling around, looking at old 'Barracks' and things, and telling silly stories of silly picnics! It was cruel, cruel! Come, Alfy. You like him, too. You don't look down on my poor boy-you come and help me find him!"

She seized her old friend's hand and ran toward the house, which now looked anything save beautiful in her sight; and, turning, she saw the lake, gleaming in the noonday sun as it gleamed in the red rays of sunset with Jim there to admire it.

"The lake! He's drowned! That's where he is, our Jim! In the bottom of that horrible lake!"

Catching Alfaretta's hand more firmly she drew that frightened girl along with her to the edge of the pond and to a little boat that was moored there. Both lake and boat were merely toylike in proportion and the bottom of the pond was pebble-strewn and plainly visible through the clear, shallow water.

"He ain't-he-ain't-he can't-you could see-him-He isn't-Oh! Dolly, Dolly Doodles! I'm sick! It makes me feel terrible queer!" wailed Alfaretta. "But Jim can't-Jim can't be drowned! He can't!"

"Yes he can, too. Shut up. Help me untie that rope. Get in. Take an oar. Row-row, I tell you," snapped Dorothy, distraught.

"I can't. I dassent! I never touched to row an oar in my life. Not in my whole life long, and-I-I shan't do it now!" retorted the mountaineer with equal crispness.

But she had no need to try. The whole party had followed Dorothy to the water's edge and had divined her intent. Not one believed that Jim was drowned, though they could have given no good reason for this disbelief. Only that was too horrible. Such a thing would not have been permitted! Yet Herbert, as the best oarsman there and also as the loyal friend of the missing lad, assumed the place Alfy would not take. Without a word he did what Dorothy desired. He slipped the painter from its post, helped the girl to take her seat in the little "Dorothy," even smiling as he observed that it had been named for her, and quietly pushed out from shore.

It was just as Alfy had said: the bottom of the lake was clearly visible everywhere, and no frightful object marred its beauty. Dorothy was utterly quiet now but her searching gaze never lifted from the water, as Herbert patiently rowed around and around. The group on the bank waited also in silence, though certain after that first circuit of the pond that Jim was not there.

When they had gone around several times, and had crossed and criss-crossed in obedience to Dorothy's nod, Herbert brought the boat back to the little landing and helped Dorothy out.

"He isn't there, Gray Lady. May I go to the doctor?"

"Surely. I'll go with you. And don't look so tragic, darling. The boy will certainly be found. There will nothing else be done at San Leon until he is. Both my husband and myself agree on that point-that Jim Barlow's safety is our first consideration. He will probably be found near at hand, although-"

"Hasn't he been looked for 'near at hand,' then, dear Gray Lady?"

"Certainly. At the beginning. We didn't think he could have wandered far, yet when they failed to find him on the home-grounds, the searchers spread out in all directions. Here is the doctor coming now, if you wish to speak with him."

"Thank you, I do."

The gentleman came toward them and Dorothy ran to meet him.

"Oh! sir, have you found him?"

A negative shake of the head answered her. Then she plied him with all sorts of questions: how long could a sick boy live exposed to the night air, as Jim had been; without food or medicine; and couldn't he think of some place that nobody else had searched, so she might go and try it?

He laid his hand upon her head and gently asked:

"Was he your brother, little girl?"

"No. I haven't any brother. I haven't anybody but Jim, that has known me always, seems if, and-and dear Doctor, won't you please, please find him?"

Clasping her hands about his arm she looked up piteously into his face, and his own grew pitiful as he answered:

"I will do my utmost. What I hope is that he will wander back, of his own will, just as he wandered away. Be sure I shall keep a sharp lookout, but it is Mr. Ford's wish that I do not leave the home-place till-at present. If he is found, I mean when he is found, he will need my care and it wouldn't do for me to be away then. Else I should have gone out with one of the searching parties."

That "when he is found" was reassuring. Evidently, the doctor expected the speedy return of the lad and all were relieved, even Dorothy. Alfaretta expressed her own feeling by saying:

"Out here in this Colorado, seems if there wasn't anything but folks gettin' lost and other folks searching for 'em. I never heard anything like it," she finished with a sigh.

The sigh was echoed by all the rest; then Mrs. Ford suggested:

"Let us have luncheon now, then call on Lemuel to give us our first lesson in rifle-firing." She assumed a cheerfulness she did not really feel, but felt that the happiness of so many should not be spoiled by the absence of one.

"Oh! Lady Gray, will you practice with us?" asked Leslie, eagerly.

"To be sure. I'm going to 'play pretend,' as children say, that I'm just as young as any of you. In my busy life I've not had much time for 'playing' but I mean to make up for lost time. Come, I'm sure that Wun Sing has made something nice for us. He-"

"Wun Sing! Wun Sing? Why that was the name of Aunt Betty's cook at El Paraiso! How odd that yours should have the same name!" exclaimed Dorothy, forgetting her troubles for the moment.

"Not so odd, dearie, because it is the same man. He came to Mr. Ford one day while we were still in San Diego and confessed his regret for his behavior at Mrs. Calvert's home. And my good Daniel can never turn his back upon any penitent; so the result is the Chinaman reigns in our kitchen here. Doubtless he'll be pleased to see Alfaretta who taught him so many fine dishes."

"Oh! good! May we go see him, Mrs. Ford?" demanded that young person, eager not only to see Wun Sing because he was one more familiar acquaintance but because she wished to settle a few old scores. "I'm so glad! I'll make him toe the mark here, see if I don't. Come on, Dolly Doodles, he's an old friend of yours, too."

Alfy's eagerness infected even anxious Dorothy and gave an agreeable turn to the thoughts of all. So, at a nod of consent, the girls sped along the cloister, seeking the great kitchen and the salaaming grinning Chinaman within it.

"Oh! how good you look, Wunny! Same old purple sack! same old shoes; same old twisted cue around your same old shiny black head! Same old nasty messes cooking! and same old Alfaretta to get after you with a sharp stick!" cried Leslie bursting in with all the others.

Even Dorothy was laughing now, Jim quite forgot, while the cook held such a reception as had never been his before. Leslie went through some formal introductions, beginning with the lady of the mansion and ending with Miss Milliken, who had followed unseen till now.

Wun Sing's back must have ached, so often and so low he bowed, while his tongue mumbled compliments to the most gracious and honorable visitors; but a look of real delight was on his swarthy face and one of great affection for smiling Alfaretta.

"My heart! Ain't it just grand to find an old friend up here on the mountains! I declare, it does beat the Dutch!" and to this, her expression of greatest wonderment, Leslie added his own:

"Just downright rippin'! He's worth all he costs just to make our Dolly forget that horrid Jim Barlow. I can't forgive him for running away and stirring up all this mess, sending Dad off on a tiresome ride and spoiling sport this way. He was good enough, I'd have treated him decent, all right, but I wish now he'd never been heard of."

But the most of this was whispered in his mother's ear, as he stood beside her, his hand upon her shoulder, in that familiar, loving attitude which always made her so happy.

Then she demanded of the proud chef how soon he could have lunch ready, and he replied with another gesture of profound respect:

"Light away, this instlant! By my honorable forefathers it is fittee for the most bleautiful!"

Then he bowed them out of the place a

nd they wandered to the pretty room where the meal would be served, and which because of its simple, cloister-like effect, Helena at once named "The Refectory."

It had been a trifling incident, but it had had a happy effect. All tongues were talking now, planning, anticipating, wondering over the things they meant to do and to learn; while a man was sent across to the "Barracks" to tell Lemuel that they would like to begin their rifle lessons that afternoon.

Mrs. Ford suggested naps for everybody, on account of their previous long journeys but none wished to sleep just then.

"How can anybody be tired in this glorious air?" asked Helena, burying her nose in a beautiful bunch of wild flowers somebody had placed beside her plate.

Even Miss Milliken was wide awake now and as happy as she ever could be anywhere. Her one complaint was that it was "so far from civilization."

"But you knew that, Milly, before you came. Mamma stated everything to you as plainly as could be. You knew you were going to an isolated ranch on a mountain, so how could you expect daily papers, visitors, and such things? You've always said you loved quiet and, now you've got it, do be satisfied," begged Helena. She was really fond of the nervous little governess but sometimes lost patience with her.

"Yes, dear, but suppose-suppose something happened? Illness at home, or something serious."

Lady Gray gently interposed, and made, also, her little speech. It was her first and last advice, or request, to her guests and most of them were impressed by it.

"Dear Miss Milliken, don't be troubled by 'being so far from civilization.' You aren't that, at all. My husband has brought civilization with him. I am amazed at all he has accomplished. We have a telegraph line-that he found necessary for his business, but that can be used by any of us. Bad news travels fast. Be sure if 'anything happens' we shall hear of it all too soon. And now I have but one suggestion to make for our life together, and I mean to apply it to myself first of all. It is: Let us put everything unpleasant under our feet, as far as possible, and each do his and her share to make this a wholly joyous summer. I'm inclined to 'worry' and it's a most unfortunate inclination. This is the first time I have had a chance to make a 'home' for Daniel and Leslie and I want it to be perfect. Will you all help me? Will you all take my dear husband's words for a summer text and make life at this dear San Leon a synonym of 'Peace and Good Will'?"

Lady Gray's beautiful face was very earnest, there was even a suspicion of tears in her long-lashed eyes, but they did not fall, and, after a moment's silence, Leslie sprang to his feet with a:

"Hip, hip, hurra, for the Gray Lady and her maiden speech! All in favor of following her lead, say 'Aye'!"

All the company rose and the deafening "Ayes" which those young throats emitted were as flattering as confusing to the "speech" maker. Then she waved them back to their chairs and Wun Sing's perfection lunch was served.

Of course they all missed their jolly host, and their hearts were still troubled because of the missing Jim; but each strove with the other to keep these feelings out of sight. This was hardest for Dorothy, who guessed that the lady's suggestion was meant for her most of all; yet she bravely tried to smile at every witticism made by her mates and to respond in sort as far as she could. They had been a little company of eight and because one was away should the seven be made to suffer? She would try not, and contented herself with one final question, as the hostess rose from the table and, the others hurrying "Barracks"-ward, she could whisper:

"Even if they don't find my poor boy right away, you won't let them give up looking, will you, dearest Gray Lady?"

Mrs. Ford drew the child close into her arms and kissed her tenderly:

"Don't fear that, for a moment, darling. As if James Barlow were our own Leslie, the search for him would never be given up till he were found. Scouts will be looking for him everywhere; though, of course he's sure to be found near home and soon. Now, my dear little girl, shorten up that long face and trust to older heads to do the right thing. Your business now, as it has always seemed to be, is to make your playmates happy. Jim shall be found; and soon-I do believe. You've heard the men say that whatever 'Dan Ford, Railroad Boss' undertook he accomplished. Now let's put that matter aside and learn how to handle a rifle."

"Captain Lem" had made great preparations for his "shooting school." He had called upon his own company, as far as he could find it, to help him. Most of the "boys" had gone searching, but the few who were left soon had a row of benches set out, a target placed, and the finest guns available stacked in readiness. It was really a very business like arrangement and the would-be students soon found Lemuel's rule was business only. For the boys he had placed arm-rests and they were to fire from the ground, aided by these slight supports.

"The females can stand and shoot, on account o' their petticoats worryin' 'em, lyin'. An' as I can't do nothin' unless it's by rule an' rod, I lay it this way: Mrs. Ford, bein' she's the eldest-though she don't look it, Ma'am!-she'll begin. Nobody can have more 'n two tries to a round. Then Number Two takes it. The schoolma'am next, an' mebbe I mistook in that matter of age. But that's not here nor there. Mrs. Ford, Number One; the schoolma'am, Two; the rest the females follerin' in order. Then the boys. One, two, three-attention! Step right here, lady, and I'll show you the first position-how to hold your rifle."

Captain Lem had put on a rusty uniform, a relic of former grandeur "back home," and carried his bent shoulders with a military precision that quite transformed him. He gave Gray Lady a salute, moved forward and placed her "in position" and handed her the rifle.

"Hold it just this way, scholar, and sight your bull's-eye. Keep your eye on that, allowin' for a little play in the carryin', and now-pull your trigger-let her go!"

Mrs. Ford obeyed, or thought she did. The result was that the gun kicked, she screamed, and threw it as far from her as she could. What became of the bullet she never knew, but she firmly declined any further lessons in the fine art of sharpshooting.

"Look at Lem's face!" whispered Herbert to Molly who giggled and returned:

"Wait till it comes my turn, I'll show him something!"

The Captain, as they henceforth called him tried to hide his look of disgust by turning his back upon the group, and asking in a sarcastic tone:

"Any more females want to take a try? The schoolma'am lady, for instance?"

She ignored his question and sat down by her hostess to soothe that now abashed person for her failure. Captain Lem had withered even the lady of the ranch by his contempt.

"Helena next!" cried Molly, fairly dancing about in her impatience.

So Helena tried and made out fairly well. That is she succeeded in keeping the rifle in hand, she did not scream at the discharge, and she came within a hundred feet of the target. The lads applauded, noisily, and she mocked back at their pretended admiration, though she made one effort only and subsided on the bench beside the ladies.

"All the same it's wonderfully exciting! And I mean to try again, to-morrow, if they'll let me," she remarked.

"Let some of the boys try before we do, so we can see how it's done. Or you, Captain Hunt, you show us!" begged Molly.

This was what he had waited for. With a strut he marched across the space between them and the target and carried that much further back. He longed for a target bearing an arrangement of letters that he could hit and cause to disappear, as at his boasted Seagirt, instead of a plain affair such as this he had to use.

Strutting back to them he lay down, wriggled himself into position, muttered something about the sun in his eyes, hemmed and hawed, took final aim and-let her go!

But she didn't go-not in the least. All unconsciously, he had taken an unloaded piece!

There was no strut left in him as he rose to his feet, rather slowly, and faced his laughing audience; but he rallied after a moment and good-naturedly joined in the laugh against himself.

However, discipline was over for that lesson. Without regard to any rules the youngsters rushed to the stack and took whatever gun was fancied. Then began an indiscriminate firing till Mrs. Ford grew frightened and implored them to stop. They did so, all but Alfaretta and Molly, who had both been fascinated by the sport and felt sure that they could hit the bull's-eye-which nobody else had done.

"Come on, Alfy! Let's get down on our tummy, same's all marksmen do, let's!"

Down they flung themselves and now, as eager for their success as they were, old Lem handed each a fresh rifle and sang out:

"Let her go! A silver dollar to the gal that wins!"

They fired-and the unexpected happened. Alfaretta's untaught hands succeeded where greater skill had failed. Her bullet went straight into the bull's-eye, into its very centre.

"By the Great Horned Spoon! What an eye you've got, child of mortality! Why I couldn't ha' done better myself! Glory be!" shouted the excited ranchman, fairly dancing in his pride and glee. Then he helped Alfy up from the ground, where she still lay, wondering at the excitement about her, and peered critically into her blue orbs.

"However could you see it? That fur away?"

"Why-why, I didn't see it at all. I got scared and shut my eyes when I pulled that thing on it!"

Captain Lem staggered as if he had been hit instead of the target and softly marvelled:

"Such-dum-luck! She done it-with her eyes-shut! She-done-it-with-her-eyes-shut! Somebody take me out and lay me down. I'm beat."

His ludicrous manner amused the others but frightened the too successful Alfaretta. Also, her attention was claimed by Molly's expression. That ambitious young person was looking very white about the lips, and was clasping and unclasping her hands in evident distress.

"Molly, what's the matter?" cried Alfy, shaking her partner in the affair.

Molly lifted one shaking finger and pointed into the distance:

"I-I hit something, too!"

Other eyes than Alfy's followed the pointing finger and a groan of horror burst from more than one throat.

Indeed, and all too surely, Molly had "hit something, too!"

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